The Square, Sweden, France, Germany, Denmark 2017.


This title opened the 2017 Leeds International Film Festival. It was screened in a fairly packed Victoria auditorium at Leeds Town Hall. This has a large well placed screen for the occasion and the illumination levels are suitably low; though you get extraneous light when people enter or leave during the feature, [now reduced as they have dimmed the lights in the foyers]. The acoustics are less favourable, especially for dialogue. This feature offers Swedish, English and Danish with part sub-titles. Presumably because of the English dialogue the soundtrack was fairly loud but one could manage.

The film itself won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. I am not totally convinced by the Jury’s choice but I could see why the film received the award. It was written and directed by Ruben Östlund whose Force Majeure was one of the stand-out releases in 2014. The bad news for those who enjoyed the earlier title is that C20th Fox have acquired ‘remake rights’.

The Square is a worthy follow-up and the style and themes of the film are recognisably similar. However, I thought this title lacked the tight focus and some of the subtlety of the predecessor though I found the ending stronger. This is rather like a picaresque novel as it follows the travails of a curator of a museum devoted to contemporary art in Stockholm. One nice touch is that the museum is called ‘X-Royal’ because it is sited alongside and uses part of  the original Royal Palace.

In the course of the narrative we follow Christian (Claes Bang) at work and outside of the museum. And we meet a range of other characters including his managers and colleagues, his children from a separated marriage and the privileged members of the ‘Friends of the Museum’. The Museum and its patrons are the main target in a feature that is predominately satire. The museum elite and the patrons are holders of what French intellectual Pierre Bourdieu termed ‘cultural capital’. And the film draws a contrast between these members or hangers-on of the bourgeoisie and a range of characters from the lower depths of the working class, possessing literally no or minimal cultural capital.

Some powerful and at times sardonic sequences in the film focus on this class conflict. And Christian’s metaphorical journey in the film appears to be designed to accomplish something similar in audiences. So the film veers between almost slapstick humour, sometimes heavy-handed satire and emotive dramatic moments. It is a long film, 140 minutes. I do not think it is too long but in the weaker moments I was conscious of the length. A member of the audience opined that

‘the film tried to include too much’.

I think this is accurate but it is also that the film has too many targets whereas Force Majeure limited itself effectively to gender and family contradictions. The Square reminded me of the 2016 festival entry Tony Erdmann. Both films follow a picaresque form, both are partly satirical partly dramatic; and each critically examines aspects of European political culture. But both are scripted by the director and I think a specialist scriptwriter would have improved the work. It is the sort of film that Jean Claude Carriere would have been good on.

The film is very well produced. The cast are excellent. Even in some of the more bizarre scenes they are completely convincing. The technical aspects are extremely well done in terms of settings, cinematography, sound and editing. The last named technique uses abrupt cuts frequently positioning the audience to fill in an ellipsis and its consequences. The production team are especially good at the use of stairwells, two finely presented settings. The title was shot on the Codex digital system and on Alexa cameras. It is distributed in a 2K DCP which looks fine.

It is a film I think i will see again. It goes on general release via Curzon [who follow somewhat restrictive practices] and there are further screenings in the Victoria and at the Hyde Park Picture House. The film has a couple of genuinely shocking sequences. The BBFC have not released their certification yet but I believe it will receive a ’15’.

Blade Runner: A Study in Humanity

Blade Runner: The Final Cut – Thursday 28th September 6.00 PM
Blade Runner 2049 showing from October 5th


Blade Runner, released on 25th June 1982.

Its initial run was met by a lukewarm response from critics, but has since grown into a cult film, and essential viewing for most film fans (especially Sci-Fi nerds). Based on Philip K. Dick’s book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Blade Runner has formed the building blocks to the genres of neo-noir and cyberpunk, and with the release of the sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (screening from Thursday 5th October), I’m sure it will continue to build on that foundation.

Set in the far flung future of 2019 (which makes the author of this piece wonder if flying cars are just around the corner for us?), the viewer follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a retired cop, brought back in by Gaff (Edward James Olmos) to help “retire” rogue replicants, androids created by Tyrell corporation. Harrison Ford’s performance as the anti-hero, who is forced to question the morality of his work by the femme fatale Rachael (Sean Young) , is one of his best.

Ridley Scott takes the viewer on a journey throughout the world, giving us a glimpse into a cyberpunk dystopia (the concept of ‘high tech, low life’ really rings true), the power of the omnipotent state and the unchecked might of corporations (such a Tyrell).

Alongside this exploration of society, is the emerging humanity we see in the replicants lead by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), the Nietzschean Ubermensch of the piece, who really steals the show. We witness their struggle for meaning in their existence and freedom they will kill for.

It’s an existential crisis, but with androids and guns.

I wanted to write about Blade Runner for many reasons, but it was mainly for my love of the cyberpunk genre, and with Philip K.Dick being its spiritual founder, I thought it was quite fitting.

If you like Blade Runner you should also read; Neuromancer by William Gibson, Akira (Manga & Anime) by Katsuhiro Otomo, Ghost in the Shell (manga/film) by Mamoru Oshii, 12 Monkeys (film) and if you really want to get into the Noir side of things,you should check out The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

But what you really need to watch is the original Blade Runner:The Final Cut at the HPPH on September 28th and then soon after the sequel (starring the dashing Ryan Gosling) Blade Runner 2049 from October 5th.

I’ve been Henry Stocks-Fryer. You’ve been great. Follow the unicorn.

La Strada, Italy 1954

Showing Sunday 25th June 3:20pm


The circus is here. “Zampanò e arrivato!”
La Strada (The Road) is a rich mix of love and loneliness, tenderness and violence, humour and sadness. Director Federico Fellini sets this story in Italy soon after World War Two. As in his other films, great photography makes full use of circus, parades, the sea, the weather, and bleak early morning light. La Strada was filmed on location, with local people and settings adding to the atmosphere.
What characters!
Giulietta Masina’s portrayal of Gelsomina (an impoverished, innocent simpleton, described in the film by her mother as ‘a bit strange’) is brilliant. In fact so brilliant that when she attended a showing of La Strada at the Italian Cinema Festival in London, viewers thought that Fellini had really rescued her from a circus. Out of sympathy they sent scarves, socks, sweaters and shawls to the hotel where she was staying. In reality, at that time, she had had been married to Fellini for over ten years. Charlie Chaplin said that he saw Giulietta as his spiritual daughter.
Actor and former prize-fighter Anthony Quinn gives an inspired performance as Zampanò, a brutish circus performer.  He excels as the volatile and dim-witted outcast, racked with jealousy.
Richard Basehart is very engaging as the exuberant, fun-loving Fool, a high-wire performer and clown. And the Fool can’t resist flirting with Gelsomina …
La Strada has had a huge influence on film making.  And apparently it was also the inspiration for  both Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’.
This story of human frailties and personal rivalries should not be missed!
“It is only when I am doing my work that I feel truly alive”
Federico Fellini

Bill Walton

The Handmaiden/Ah-ga-ssi, South Korea 2016

I have seen the original release of ‘The Handmaiden’ at the Leeds International Film Festival but now the general release offers a choice between that [144 minutes] and the longer ‘Director’s Cut’ [167 minutes]. [Both have featured in the Hyde Park Picture House programme]. I found the original entertaining and at times very funny. It seemed to me that it was a film about pornography rather than being pornographic, though I do think it exploits that genre to a degree.

Basically I found the film full of both irony and with a sardonic treatment. It is beautifully done in all technical departments. The way the film uses voyeurism makes it seem longer than necessary. However, I enjoyed the ending when the two male protagonists have their final confrontation and the two young women their rather different conclusion.

A friend has offered these comments on the Director’s Cut:

“I do not think that the Director’s Cut adds much more than time to the overall story . My bottom was stiff but not sore due to the extra spanking. Also , I think we get a little more explicit sex. Also a few scenes with close ups of symbolic items  are more in line with visual story telling.

Question :How old does one have to be to warrant the title ” male voyeur ? ( imagine Harold Steptoe saying it ). Park Chan-Wook is 53 , that is not the answer .A better question might be what does it take to make one feel like a voyeur?

I have viewed the film twice and not felt too worried on that score . I do wonder what couples feel when they watch side by side ( the trailer does not reveal the girls attraction for each other so much ) , a bit like watching a sexually explicit film at home with your parents ? A group of girls at the front laughed once or twice , I could not tell if it was nervous or really because of the obvious mischievous humour involved. I did not attempt a post film discussion to get the female view.

One of the actors in Blue is The Warmest Colour accused the director of exploitation , the other more experienced actress did not .Again it was a male director and the ‘male gaze’ question crops up. The two girls in The Handmaiden seemed to be having a good time , but perhaps the inscrutability of the Orient hides a multitude of sins ?

This is not a pornographic film obviously , especially considering what young boys can see on the internet . The set up of a costumed virgin telling gothic style tales of ladies jade gates etc would certainly not interest a modern audience , not even the puppet sequence . The two main actresses are beautiful and lively with enough physical difference to cause no confusion and they certainly make bells ring . I have not read ‘Fingersmith’ , the source material for the story and do not intend to even to check what elements of sexual play Park has added.

I believe that I am not a ‘mere voyeur’ , but did enjoy watching the girls dressed and not , But confess that I did not go to see the film for the things that the critics focus on : Japan and Korean politics and social aspirations , the playing parts and constantly shifting allegiances , the costumes and elaborate sets , etc

It is a beautiful film to look at and the girls are part of it . Perhaps the Psychologist in ‘The Dirty Dozen’ has the answer . When showing the Rorshac images to Charles Bronson , he gets sex as the answer each time .You seem to have a one track mind , says the Shrink , You’re the one with the dirty pictures , says Charley .Is it all in the mind or just the ‘male gaze’ (I  must dig out my De Sade )” DILLIPS “

I did think that Blue is the Warmest Colour did exploit female sexuality whereas I did not feel that about The Handmaiden. Of course the two young actors are performing, but the characters they play are meant to enjoy their sexual activity. Where is the border line between act and performance?

As for the ‘male gaze’ it has so many and varied meanings that it is difficult to pin down. I think, rather like Elle, that this film exploits the borderline between art and exploitation cinemas. A very contemporary sensibility.

Elle, 2016

Bill Walton was impressed by Elle and recommends you catch one of the remaining screenings this week…
Our question today is:
“A woman should never be a victim of male violence. Discuss.”
The answer:
“Male violence is obviously intolerable, no exceptions, the ultimate threat of patriarchy.
Nothing more to say …”
We may know where we stand on this, but is there anything else to say? What if a ‘victim’ doesn’t accept victimhood? Is revenge the answer? What are the impacts on friends and family? Might the resulting feelings get complicated? Elle explores this disturbing territory with style and humour, and not a few very uncomfortable moments. The film works so well because of the great cast, with a standout performance by Isabelle Huppert as Michèle Leblanc, and the edgy direction of Paul Verhoeven.  A whirlwind of thrills, suspense, plot twists, shocking behaviour, and so many funny moments.
Michèle “Shame isn’t a strong enough emotion to stop us doing anything at all. Believe me.”

Review: Eternity and a Day

Friends member Rob Baker reviews Eternity and a Day which screened recently as part of a small season of films in conjunction with Amnesty International Leeds.


After Arrival (2016) we have another film playing with concepts of time. Eternity and a Day (1998) is the second of three screenings at the Picture House organised by the local Amnesty group’s Refugee and Asylum Seeker Sub-Group.

Alexander (Bruno Ganz) is an aging Greek poet who believes he is facing his last day on earth. An unnamed medical intervention is planned for the next day, and he does not expect to recover – we almost get an impression of voluntary euthanasia. He starts the day trying to find a home for the dog he knows he must leave behind.

Alexander time-shifts through the day, re-living encounters with his parents (only his ailing mother now survives), his young wife (deceased), and his daughter both as a child and grown up (bringing us to current time).  With the exception of a couple of scenes showing him as a child, playing on the beach with other children, with his Mother off-screen calling him to come in for dinner, Alexander appears in most of these scenes as his current late middle-aged self. We are even taken back to the mid 19th century with the appearance aboard a Thessaloniki night-bus of a long dead poet, whose key unfinished work  Alexander  has set himself the task of finishing, though of course he hasn’t – “Nothing is finished” he laments.

Powerful symbols of “passing on” intrude on the scene, with buses and ships, even a trio of cyclists in yellow oilskins, hoving into view behind the protagonists. The constant leitmotif of the film is the Aegean shoreline where nearly all the family encounters of the past and present play out. The sea, the final frontier for us all to cross, sparkles in the sunshine.

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The Man Who Filmed the Somme BBC 2016

The Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt mine

The Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt mine

This is a short programme about a key First World War documentary film shot mainly during the battle whose centenary occurs this year. The programme was shown on the BBC News Channel and is currently available on the BBC I-Player, [till the end of July]. Apart from the relevance of the topic itself there are some interesting shots of the Hyde Park Picture House. The cinema was the venue for a screening of the original film to an invited audience.

The Battle of the Somme was a filmed and released in 1916. It was five reels in length and ran for around 70 minutes. The film footage was shot by Geoffrey H. Malins and J. B. McDowell. Both were employed by the Cinematograph Trade Topical Committee, a number of production companies involved in early newsreels, who negotiated with the military authorities for cameramen to film on the front line. The military were initially against letting filmmakers into combat areas, but the needs of wartime propaganda [at which the Germans were especially effective] overrode this. [Effectively these cameramen were official cinematographers and ’embedded’ as the phrase goes].

Malins was to become the most famous wartime cameraman, partly through the success of the Somme film and partly through his book How I Filmed the War (1920). He was already involved in Newsreel filmmaking, having started out in still photography. J. B. McDowell had worked in the film industry in production prior to the war and joined Malins on the Western front. When the film footage was returned to Britain it was edited under the supervision of Charles Urban [an important pioneer producer and filmmaker] with Malins. It seems that it was Urban who proposed that the footage be turned into a feature length film, an unusual event at the time. This feature was released in August 1916, whilst the Battle of the Somme continued. Continue reading

Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach UK 2016

Screening On 11th June – 6.45 PM : On 12th June – 3.30 PM Wednesday 15th June 8.50 p.m. 


This new biopic comes out at a propitious time. Ken Loach has won his second Palme’ d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for I, Daniel Blake. He joins an elect group of filmmakers, Bille August, Emir Kusterica and Shohei Imamura, who have also won this prestigious award twice since its inception in the current form in 1975. The award confirms Loach’s status as one of the most important of contemporary European filmmakers: though one who has been honoured more on the continent than in his home territory.

The documentary has been produced by Loach regular Rebecca O’Brien, scripted by his colleague Paul Laverty, and directed by Louise Osmond. It also includes many of the people who have worked with Loach, including Tony Garnett, whose output at the BBC is also seminal. My main reservation is that Osmond’s previous film, Dark Horse (2015), was made like a typical television documentary and utilised archive and found footage of rather low quality. But its focus was ordinary working people who are the recurring centre of Loach’s own films.

It was shot in 2.35:1 and that ratio does allow some striking shots by cinematographer Roger Chapman. But it also means that the extracts from Loach’s own films have been re-framed to fit this format. This does not do them any favours, in some frames heads are cut off. The footage of Loach working on I, Daniel Blake is in the same ratio. Some of this is interesting, but often it feels like a ‘making of ….’ treatment.

Where the films scores are the interviews with Ken Loach and Tony Garnett. Loach is unassuming but rigorous in his comments. And Tony Garnett is both intelligent and stimulating. We also get a brief interveiw with Nell Dunn [Up the Junction] and recordings of Jim Allen. The latter was an important collaborator and influence on Loach. And there is an excellent comment by Gabriel Byrne on the suppression of the production of Perdition. It would have been good to have more from other important collaborators like Rebecca O’Brien and Paul Laverty.

The documentary is also strong on the frequently myopic and predjudiced treatment of Loach’s film among British critics. As Derek Malcom remarks, he is much more honoured on the continent. Whilst he has won many awards at the Cannes Film Festival, The Berlin Film Festival and even a French César. None of his films has ever been awarded a BAFTA!

Certainly Loach’s film and television output has deserved this. From the pioneering work in the 1960s, notably Cathy Come Home, made for the BBC with Tony Garnett, to the recent series of annual film releases, his work has been among the best and most interesting produced in the UK. And this film does pay due attention to his early work for the BBC. Whatever its limitations this documentary is worth seeing as a deserved retrospective of his contribution.

Cathy come home

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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.