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!

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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?

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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.