As kids, many of us had invisible friends drawn from our heroes or storybook characters. Jojo’s invisible friend is Hitler.
Jojo is a boy who’s been indoctrinated; he’s 10 and a member of the Hitler Youth. He likes marching, he likes uniforms and he likes the camaraderie of an extra-militaristic version of Scout camp. Taika Waititi plays Hitler as seen through Jojo’s eyes – a camp and paunchy, child friendly version of the dictator who acts as a confidant and sounding board for Jojo’s thoughts and fears.
After leaving the Hitler Youth through injury, Jojo finds other ways to get stuck in to the war effort, collecting scrap metal and sticking up posters. Away from the marching and training, without any adult supervision he’s left to his own devices, playing with Hitler and exploring the house he shares with his mysteriously busy single mother. Upstairs she’s kept a secret and Jojo’s discovery of Elsa, a Jewish girl hidden in an attic room throws his devotion to the Nazi cause into disarray.
If you’ve seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) or What We Do In The Shadows (2014), Waititi’s off-kilter silliness will be no surprise. In Jojo Rabbit, he handles the heavy themes delicately with on-brand bursts of humour and irreverence that bring levity without ever quite tipping into disrespect. The casting throughout is incredible; Jojo is Roman Griffin Davis’ first role, his mother is played by Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell is the one-eyed Hitler Youth Co-ordinator Captain Klenzendorf. Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen and Stephen Merchant appear as improbable supporting Nazis.
Jojo Rabbit has been nominated for Best Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards. Scarlett Johansson has been nominated for best supporting actress and four more nominations (for best adapted screenplay, film editing, costume design and production design) bring the total to 6. It’s not just the big awards; audience reception has been rapturous and in 2019 the film won the People’s Choice award at the Toronto Film Festival and the Audience Favourite at LIFF.
Jojo Rabbit will be showing at the Hyde Park from Friday the 17th of January.
So, I found 2019 not a great year for new releases; lots of popular films but not that many outstanding ones. Those that stood out for me both in terms of craft and subject were:
Rosie, Eire. This was a drama about homelessness in Dublin. Very well done and the cast were impressive. It was distributed independently so I am afraid many people may have missed it.
Happy as lazzaro / Lazzaro Felice, Italy. A compelling drama, both of exploitation and the problems of migrants. One of the most imaginative stories I have seen for a long time.
A Season in France, France. A drama about an African migrant family. This was a bleak tale but finely done.
Never Look Away, Germany. An artist travels from East Germany to the West and from Socialist Realism to the avant-garde. Fascinating.
Pain and Glory, Spain. An exploration of sexual orientation and of cinema and of art; beautifully put together.
Bait, Britain. This title only qualified on 35mm. The digital version did not handle the distinctive techniques on the film well.
So Long, My son, China. One of several epic dramas from the territory presenting a canvas that was large in terms of time and space; a study of the contradictions of family relationships.
We also enjoyed several screenings of classics in their original format of 35mm. Sans Soleil / Sunless, France 1983 was part of a weekend of screenings curated by the Pavilion of the Artist Moving Image Network. This is a classic documentary, visually stunning and with a complex tapestry of themes. Among the other gems of the weekend was Colloque de chiens, France 1977; a sardonic 20 minute film on 35mm and in colour. The canine characters were a metaphor.
2019, the year Brad Pitt fixed antennas (Ad Astra and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), Scarlett Johansson tied shoelaces (Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit – out in the UK on 1st Jan), Adam Driver seemed to be everywhere and washing machines featured more than expected (In Fabric and Seahorse).
La Belle Époque – It’s too soon to know if this is really as good as it made me feel during the film festival or an “overegged French time-travel comedy” as Peter Bradshaw claimed in The Guardian.
The Favourite – One of the first films I saw this year which made me think it would be a while until I saw something I enjoyed more and I was right.
Eighth Grade – A really long wait to see this in the UK but it was worth it, a film about hope, despair, anxiety and it manages to be terrifying and funny in equal measures.
Marriage Story – Everything feels so authentic, it’s heartbreakingly beautiful and also surprisingly funny.
If Beale Street Could Talk – A beautiful film with a beautiful soundtrack.
Knives Out – Another recent film that may not stand the test of time but I had so much fun whilst watching it I had to include it in this list.
Midsommar & Us – Horror is a genre I tend to overlook but both of these films exceeded my expectations, both are carefully constructed and unravel in an enthralling way.
Irene’s Ghost, Seahorse, Our Most Brilliant Friends – Great documentaries that were enhanced by Q&A with the filmmakers.
My favourite film of 2019 only got a single screening as a Tuesday Wonder and (confession time) I didn’t see it at the Picture House. Minding The Gap: An American Skateboarding Story is one of those documentaries where the subject matter is just a cover story for the way it brilliantly exposes just what it means to be human and I absolutely loved it. It’s available on iPlayer as part of the Storyville strand and would make a great double bill with the underrated Mid90s.
Honorable mentions to: Collette, Beautiful Boy, RBG, Pond Life, Vox Lux, Madeline’s Madeline, Booksmart, Sometimes Always Never, Apollo 11, Only You, The Farewell, Peanut Butter Falcon.
Some fortunate Friends enjoyed this film at the beginning of December, courtesy of Curzon Artificial Eye and ‘The Guardian’. It would not surprise me if some of these returned to see again one of the outstanding movies released this year. It is a long title, running 185 minutes. Moreover, it has a challenging narrative which covers the periods from the end of the 1970s until the present. The different periods are presented in a series of flashbacks which are organised, not chronologically, but thematically. And in the different periods the main protagonists move round Chinese urban areas.
This is a family melodrama centred on the couple, Liu Yaojun (Wang Jingchun) and Wang Liyun (Yong Mei). They have two sons in the story, one adopted but both called Xingxing. Li Haiyan (Al Liya) is a friend of Wang Liyun and an official at a factory where they work. Also at the factory Shen Moli (Qi Xi) is at first a trainee alongside Liu Yaojun. The latter two women also have sons who are important in the story. These adults age and change their appearance as the pilot develops. Whilst the offsprings appear at different ages played by different actors. Having noted this the story does gradually fall into place and in the latter stages a viewer can discern the tragic relationships that befall this couple.
One aspect of the tragedy is the ‘one-child’ policy that operated for a long period in China. However, it is the relationships between characters, both in the factory workplace and in the residential blocks and housing, that is most important. Both aspects are afflicted by silences. This is disrupted at the factory when the workers angrily confront the mangers [‘bosses’] as they unveil the new economic [capitalist] policies. And in the family relationships it is the final breaking of another silence that brings some relief to the protagonists.
The director, Wang Xiaoshua, has sixteen previous credits not all of which have been released in Britain. One film that was released, Shanghai Dreams / Qing hong (2005) shared one aspect of the plot in this later release: the policy in the 1970s and 1980s of moving large numbers of workers to new industrial zones. But in this feature the protagonists move from employed workers to self-employed. Another comment on the changing economic world in China.
I have not found a translation for the original Chinese title, but the director sees this as the first in a trilogy of ‘Homeland’ movies. And he talks of charting the effects of the ‘shattering’ changes in the last three decades in China.
The feature has fine production values. There is excellent cinematography and sound; whilst the editing carefully knits the disparate periods and setting into a dramatic tapestry. It is in colour and standard widescreen with the Mandarin dialogue translated in English sub-titles. Chinese films have been a prominent part of quality cinema this year. Earlier titles like An Elephant Sitting Still/ Da xiang xi di er zuo and Ash is the Purest White / Jiang hu er nü offered visual and aural pleasure with complex but fascinating stories. This title offers the same pleasures and three hours is not too long to savour these.
The drama opens with two German shepherds running across a darkened lawn outside an old and large mansion in the early hours. The two dogs are not developed as characters but they turn out to be important clues in the solving the question posed in the story. This is a self-conscious exploration and exploitation of the classic country-house murder mystery. It is a very entertaining presentation of the genre, at times with the air of pastiche. It offers frequent references to both cinematic and literary precedents, especially that of the Agatha Christie oeuvre.
A family patriarch (Christopher Plummer) is dead; the question whether is this suicide or murder? And if the latter, who is the killer? The investigation is in the hands of a gentleman detective (Daniel Craig). Possible suspect include all the members of the family who stand to inherit a fortune; (Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon and Dom Johnson). They are an unprepossessing group of nouveau riches. The key witness, possibly also a suspect, is the nurse and carer (Marta Cabrera).
The plot is labyrinthine and fairly implausible. But the scripting has created this complicated series of events and exposures with real skill. Moreover there are many witty scenes where the excellent cast exploit the changing aspects of the story to the full. The production values are good. And the characters and unfolding plot hold the attention well; though the film is slightly indulgent and slightly over-long. As the title suggests knives matter and the patriarch’s portrait is a recurring prop.
As well as paying homage to a long-running and successful genre the title updates the premises to skewer some of the foibles of the modern USA. One family member tells the nurse, who is [possibly and variously] identified as coming from Brazil or Paraguay or Uruguay, that
‘You’re not even an American!’
If this is not a quote from Donald Trump it sounds like one.
Deliriously funny and with a brilliant cast including Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, Billy Wilder’s 1960 classic returns on 35mm as this year’s Friends of Hyde Park Picture House Christmas screening.
All friends/members are welcome to join at the cinema from 5.30pm for free pre-screening sherry mince pies and mulled wine. To RSVP and reserve for your free ticket, please email email@example.com or call the cinema on 0113 275 2045. The film will start at 6:30pm.
C.C. Baxter is an office clerk who courts favour with the executives in his office by giving them the key to his small apartment for their extramarital flings. Among them is his callous boss, J.D. Sheldrake, who Baxter eventually learns is using his place to sleep with Miss Kubelik, the sweet elevator operator the clerk has loved from afar. When Sheldrake coldly dumps the vulnerable young woman, she tries to commit suicide in Baxter’s apartment, giving the clerk the opportunity to save the woman of his dreams but possibly lose his job.
As well as the film, mince pies and drinks we’d also like to hear your thoughts and ideas on what you think the Friends group should be doing in a number of different areas:
Promoting the cinema and its activities
Preserving and sharing our heritage
Consultation with Friends’ membership/cinema audiences
During the Picture House closure we’ll be looking at how we can best serve our members to achieve our charitable aims and your feedback will play an important part of the process. This will be first of many consultations but if you have any ideas at any time please contact us.
This new independent British film returns to the Picture House in a 35mm print. It was shot on a 16mm Bolex and the director, Mark Jenkin, processed the film himself. It seems that he wanted to make the film look like older titles that originated on ‘reel’ film and in the processing added some of the signs of age and usage with scratches and the like. It first circulated on a digital transfer and, to be honest, the effects that Jenkin aimed at did not translate to that format; they looked artificial. On 35mm the 16mm original should look as intended; so this is a film worth revisiting if you have already seen it.
It is a powerful drama set in a Cornish village. The film, through the use of camera techniques such as large close-ups and a non-linear narrative develops a intense feel and effect. The village in this film is an old fishing port which has now become a summer venue for holiday-makers. The conflicts generated by these two separate worlds are personalised in two leading characters, brothers born and raised in the village.
The form and the style of the film is at times challenging but always absorbing. It is definitely a stand out film drama from this year’s selection of British film. And, like the earlier and equally fine Gods Own Country (2017), finds drama and compelling characters away from the urban settings that are more common in film stories.