Review: Arabian Nights Trilogy

Arabian Nights Trilogy

Filipino director, Lav Diaz, once said of his epic, sometime 10+ hr films, is that he likes the idea that audiences could leave the cinema, go to work, then return and carry on watching. That his films just breathe, exist, like we do. Parts of Miguel Gomes’ 6.5 hour Arabian Nights felt like that to me; These ambling, slice of life portraits of modern day Portugal, structured in a style inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, as told by Scheherazade. They show a Portugal in the shadow of austerity, yet plugging on. Breathing, Existing.

For example, the final 90 or so minutes, entitled “The Inebriating Chorus of the Chaffinches”, is about a group of disparate men, some of whom we’ve met already, who engage in the hobby of trapping and training chaffinches for singing competitions. The section, much like the rest of the trilogy, is at once sublime and ridiculous; weaving together their everyday existences, with Scheherazade’s anecdotal, at times bizarre narration, shedding light on their insular world whilst birds tweet and trill constantly in the background.

I hope plenty of people, like the audience at the Picture House today, get to watch the Arabian Nights films as a whole. I think they benefit from being in close proximity with each other, especially the final volume. I also hope audiences go home and watch Gomes’ previous films; The Face You Deserve (which is on Mubi until the 22nd ), the critically lauded Tabu (2012), and the (in my opinion) masterpiece, Our Beloved Month of August (2008), both of which screened at LIFF 26.

Black Mountain Poets UK 2015

On 20th April – 11.00 AM [BYOB]On 20th April – 9.15 PM

BLACK_MOUNTAIN_POETS_6Strictly speaking this is a wry Welsh film comedy. It is uneven but engaging. If you have seen writer and director Jamie Adams’ early films [Benny & Jolene and Christmas Time, 2014)  you will know if it is your sort of comedy. The basic story is set on a weekend rural ‘Poet’s Poetry Society’ event. In fact there is only  a limited amount of poetry, with two complete poems, one in Welsh. The film is really interested in the characters. At the centre are sisters Lisa (Alice Lowe) and Claire (Dolly Wells). They are excellent, as are the supporting cast which includes another pair of sisters. The event and the attending poets are whimsical and slightly absurdist.

The film has an improvised quality, it was shot over five days. The continuity is not so much full of holes as coming and going as the whim takes the film. The editing has a fragmentary quality, it is as if the audience are listening in to the characters as they wander round. But there is a definite trajectory in the relationships over the four days. Bizarrely the poetry event includes camping on the Welsh hills. This provides innumerable settings for very fine widescreen cinematography by Ryan Owen Eddleston.

The film is unconventional and rarely formulaic. There is quite a lot of music on the soundtrack, sometimes unnecessarily so. But the film provides a warm and quietly humorous 85 minutes.

The Pearl Button / El botón de nácar Chile 2016

Wednesday 6th April at 4.00 p.m. and on Thursday 7th April at 6.15 p.m.


This is the new film by Patricio Guzman. His most famous work is The Battle of Chile. This epic documentary was made in exile in Cuba in three parts. These are La batalla de Chile: La lucha de un pueblo sin armas – Primera parte: La insurreción de la burguesía 1975: Segunda parte: El golpe de estado 1976: Tercera parte: El poder popular 1979. The last time it was shown locally was five or more years ago in one of the screenings ‘tween’ festivals and then I think only Part 1 and Part 2. There were 35mm prints in the UK [Metro Pictures], if they are still here it would be good to have a fresh opportunity to see what Time Out praised as “among the best documentaries ever made”.

Guzman’s new film is a companion piece to the earlier Nostalgia for Light / Nostalgia de la luz 2010. Both films combine a sort of poetic essay with a documentary treatment. The earlier film was mainly set in Chile’s northern and arid Atacama desert. In part it followed widows and family members of the ‘disappeared’ under the Military Junta looking for traces of their lost ones. The new film is set in the southern Patagonian region and initially addresses the genocidal treatment of the indigenous Indians but then draws parallels with victims of the Junta who perished in the same region. The button of the title is one of the links between these groups.

In both films Guzman uses a physiological and cosmological metaphor to bind the issues together. In this film it is water: bought to earth originally by comets and one of the major features of the Patagonian region: the others are mountains and glaciers. Both films are full of impressive visuals and enjoy distinctive sound designs. I thought the metaphoric aspects worked better in this film. It also has a freer form which allows/demands that the audience think through the interaction.

The film is in standard widescreen and colour with English subtitles. It also uses black and white archival stills and film. My only reservation was that the film follows that increasing and problematic habit of reframing early film: not exactly respectful for the predecessors of today’s’ filmmakers.

The film is showing on Wednesday and Thursday. The Wednesday screening will also offer one of the short films from The Artist Cinema 2016: El Helicóptero, which turns out to have an intriguing link with the feature, [Thursday’s may also screen this short film]. Thursday’s screening is followed by a recording of a Q&A with the film director.

Changing the World One Film at a Time

Friends committee member Bill Walton picks out some highlights from the first week of the 29th Leeds International Film Festival.

What I really like about the Leeds International Film Festival is the sheer variety of  subjects, styles, genres, formats, and cultures. Thus the Festival gives me a glimpse of the world seen through other eyes.

A few examples of films that were both entertaining and thought-provoking are Tangerine (2015): a lively, low budget film set in Los Angeles, which gives food for thought about sexual identity.


Continue reading

Marshland / La isla minima, Spain 2014.

Screening this Wednesday Sept. 9th and Thursday 10th.

Marshland pic


This combines the police procedural genre with that of the serial killer: a common combination these days. This is very much a genre film, and it is easy to detect the influences of earlier film. I was struck by the parallels with True Detective (HBO, 2014). The film is well produced and the detective duo, Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) and Juan (Javier Guttiérrez) are excellent. But what makes the film really interesting is that the story is set back in late 1980. This was the transitional period after the end of the Franco dictatorship and the ushering in of a ‘democratic’ Spain. This was the period following the ‘Pact of Silence’, also known as the ‘Pact of Forgetting’ by those who had opposed and suffered under fascism. And 1981 was the year that saw an attempted military coup against the new Spain. The film references both of these [in the latter case the reactionary military establishment] and intriguingly in the characters of the detectives references both the reactionary and the radical currents about in Spain at that time.

The parallels are carried in both the visual and aural patterns of the film: which also bear the influence of other serial killer films. The director, Alberto Rodriguez, has a penchant for dramatic overhead shots; emphasising the distance of the contemporary audience. The opening such shots also strike an interesting variation of the serial killer labyrinth.

The English title is a variation rather than a direct translation, I suspect the settings in the film have strong resonances in Spain. We are in the province of Andalucía where the events occur. Much of the film takes place in the Doñana National Park and the Guadalquivir marshes: the Park was established under the Franco regime in the 1950s. Whilst the name of the town [fictitious?] is Villafranco!

I did have reservations regarding the gender and the victims and the violence. This is one of the problematic aspects of the serial killer genre: though the best films treat this critically. There are brief but disturbing visual images, and a short but disturbing description of the violence in the dialogue. I wondered once again about the criteria of the British Board of Film Classification. This film has a fifteen certificate, meanwhile the recent The Diary of a Teenage Girl received an 18 certificate. I am sure that Marshland is the more disturbing film: perhaps being a foreign language film the supposed audience differs.

45 Years, UK 2015

Continuing until Thursday September 10th.


The film garnered Best Actor Awards for both Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtney at the Berlin Film Festival – serious critical prizes. Both are deserved, but it is Rampling’s character Kate who is the centre of this film. She is a skilled actress with an ability to use extremely subtle expressions and movements. The film is a pleasure to watch as we explore the character and situation of Kate and her husband Geoff (Courtney). And they are well supported by a several fine British actors in minor roles. They are preparing for the forty-fifth wedding anniversary party: the unusual anniversary is something we learn about in the course of the film.

The film is beautifully crafted around these performances. The cinematography by Lol Crawley is especially fine. There is a precision in the use of close-ups and two-shots: and well judged use of long shots and long takes, with the occasional slow forward track. The design, sound and editing all ably support this: and visually and aurally [at a second viewing] I was struck by minor but significant detail. A good example is the opening credits with non-simultaneous sound, which acts as a plant for later in the film. Max, the German Shepherd, the settings in the Norfolk Broads, and a piece of piano music by Liszt, all bring resonances to the story.

Director and writer Andrew Haigh has adapted the film from a short story by David Constantine. Apparently he has shifted the focus of the film to Kate. It is beautifully judged. This is a character study and tale with great complexity. It also [consciously I assume] references a British film tradition of denial. There are subtle parallels with the classic Brief Encounter (1945): more recently The Deep Blue Sea (2011).

It is a film of ambiguities, as with the characters. Inattention can mean you miss an important point: and I think you need the big screen and a clear sound system to take in all its aspects. Whilst it is immensely rewarding I suspect that it will generate different responses, depending what experiences and values audiences bring to the film. After a screening I heard the tail-end comment of a discussion in the foyer:

“I’ve come to see a wonderful film with a bunch of cynics!”

Manuscript workshop and The Secret of Kells

Anna Turner from Leeds University’s Medieval Society takes a look back at the first event at the Hyde Park Picture House as part of their International Medieval Film Festival

The Secret of Kells

Rainy Saturday mornings have a way of slipping away from you – lost somewhere between the duvet and the television. However, on this dull and grey Saturday morning a group of University of Leeds students gathered in Hyde Park Picture House to hold a small but effective protest against waste weekends. It’s not often that a revolution comes along in the form of a Medieval workshop and film screening – but there you have it. What could be more revolutionary than succeeding in getting a group of kids to part with their bed, teaching them about medieval print culture and having them sit silently through a beautifully animated movie about a unique artefact from Irish history, all before lunchtime?

I was one of three University of Leeds students lucky enough to be invited to lead a workshop about ‘The Book of Kells’, and medieval manuscripts more generally, as a sort of interactive introduction to their screening of The Secret of Kells. The event took place as part of the LUU Medieval Soc’s ‘International Medieval Film Festival’ – an offshoot of this year’s International Medieval Congress. The words ‘International Medieval Film Festival’ seem to conjure up images of stiff men in tweed jackets lamenting the lack of period-accurate armour in the latest Crusades docu-drama. Far from it!

Continue reading

The Act Of Killing

As The Look Of Silence starts it’s run at the Picture House, Friends committee member Bill Walton takes a look at Oppenheimer’s earlier companion piece The Act Of Killing.

The Act Of Killing poster
Truth can be stranger than fiction. This is my favourite film documentary of all time … but maybe it will take second place in my heart after I have seen its follow-up The Look of Silence showing daily from Friday 19th June.

A military dictatorship took power in Indonesia in a coup in 1965. The new regime gave its blessing and protection to death squads who massacred over a million communists and other activists, particularly among the ethnic Chinese population. With Western assistance, the Suharto dictatorship kept its grip on power and ensured that their propaganda version of their rise to power remained largely unchallenged.

What is a radical film director to do?

Continue reading

Federico Fellini’s Otto e Mezzo / , Italy 1963.


I am afraid if you’ve just noticed this then you missed seeing this great film – it was screened on Thursday June 4th. There was a fairly good audience, 70 or more I reckoned. And they were clearly divided about the film. A couple passed me as the end credits rolled by – he hated it, she thought it was great. In the foyer a group of four were debating the merits or demerits of the film. Outside there were trios and pairs, one couple considering their responses. I was surprised so many people were seeing the film for the first time: I have had the pleasure of being familiar with the film for years. But it is reassuring that a film can stimulate so much intense discussion.

The HPPH Brochure notes that the film was selected in the Top Ten in the 2012 S&S Critics Poll: at number 10. Mote notably, it was number 4 in the parallel Director’s Poll and Federico Fellini was top director.

The film has so many virtues, fine cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo; a great score by Nino Rota; and superb editing by Leo Catozzo. And the cast! – at times it felt as if Fellini was throwing a party for all the wonderful actors who had graced his films. This screening was sourced from a DCP. I thought the transfer was good, but the digital version did not do full justice to sparkling contrast tween black and white, especially in the long shots. But the sound was great.

And despair not. I last saw this film two or three years ago – so it will come round again. And it is worth waiting to see it ‘real’, on the big screen.