Out of Blue, (Britain / USA 2018)

Wed 24th April at11.00 a.m. [BYOBaby], 8.30 p.m. and Thu 25th April at 5.30 p.m.

This movie has received mixed reviews. But Mark Kermode, whose visits to the Picture House have been very popular, was really positive. The drama presented in this title is rather unconventional. The narrative mixes objective scenes [the audience assume we are watching a record of realistic events] and subjective scenes [a character’s internal memories and musings] and it is likely to take time for viewers to be able to clearly distinguish them. The plot also mixes actions by characters with philosophical musings by them.

The latter aspect is exemplified by the opening sequence which commences with the night sky and an astronomer speculating on the cosmos. This would appear to be a homage to the British film masterpiece, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ (1946). It also sets up a treatment of the characters and their experiences which suggest issues of existential consideration.

On the surface this is a story of a murder investigation shot in a noir manner, with a world of chaos, a ‘seeker’ hero, flashbacks, triangles of relationships and nights and chiaroscuro. The setting is New Orleans and the production makes good use of the varied character of this city, which at times has an exotic tinge. It is though a symbolic city and despite location filming it is not the city seen in contemporary news. Visually the film is treat. The colours are evocative and suggestive, not just the ‘blue’ of the title but a range of tones which match the different facets of the city. The cinematography, in colour and a ratio of 2.35:1, by Conrad Hall is excellent and the title is well served in all production departments.

The other compelling aspect of the film is the performance of Patricia Clarkson as detective Houlihan, the investigator. This is a tour de force. I actually pay little attention to the Academy Awards but this performance deserves a Best Actor trophy. It is also a still rare pleasure to see an older actress with a lead role in a thriller.

This is the latest movie by Carol Morley. Her Dreams of a Life (2011) stood out amongst recent British documentaries. Mark Kermode commented that she was ‘born a film-maker’. I actually think that quality film-makers develop by commitment and hard work, attention to detail and a serious study of cinematic form. Carol Morley seems to have done all of this. And, uncommon among the ‘new auteurs’, she has mastered both the direction of film and script-writing for film.

The film is adapted from a novel by Martin Amis, ‘Night Train’ (1997) though, apparently, changing the tone and the plot. Amis’ novel aimed to be a parody, this is a fairly bleak film noir. It was mainly funded by the BBC and the BFI. This may be part of the reason that it stands out in productions by British directors working on US-based stories. Frequently such films are a disappointment and less satisfying than earlier British-based stories by the same film-maker. Here Carol Morley succeeds with a really effective treatment which also develops some of the themes found in her earlier works.

Definitely a film to see. Mark Kermode suggests it repays seeing more than once; I fully agree. If you do enjoy it there is an article, ‘Under Investigation’, privileging the female protagonist in the April edition of Sight & Sound, and followed by an interview with Carol Morley.

Certain Women, USA 2015

April 8th and 9th only.

This film was screened at the 2016 Leeds International Film Festival but inextricably it was not in the top twenty ‘picks’. It is a very fine film from the talented and stimulating filmmaker Kelly Reichardt. This is a portmanteau film with three stories, all centred on female characters and set in Montana. Laura Dern plays Laura a lawyer: Michelle Williams plays Gina, a business woman, mother and wife building her new house; Kristen Stewart plays ‘Beth’ teaching an evening class on the law. All three actors provide fine performances and the final story also offers stand out performance by Lily Gladstone as Jamie, a worker on a horse ranch.

Reichardt’s films frequently fit into contemporary treatments of the western; such as Brokeback Mountain (2005), though that is a rather different film. She also has a fine feeling for landscapes, assisted her by her regular cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt. Reichardt herself edited the film.

The director also has ‘simpatico’ for our canine friends: witness the fine Wendy and Lucy (2008). In this film Laura is accompanied by a faithful canine retainer and Jamie patrols the ranch in the company of  madcap sheep dog.

These are all reasons to make sure you see the film, or see it again. Note, it is only on Saturday and Sunday as the Leeds Young Film Festival kicks off on Monday. Meanwhile, if like me you are a fan of Kristen Stewart, then she also appears in Personal Shopper (2016) at the cinema: and that film is preceded by high praise from critics. It was directed by Olivier Assayas who also wrote and directed the excellent Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) in which Stewart worked with Juliette Binoche to fine effect.

Fruit of Paradise

(Ovoce stromu rajských jime), Czechoslovakia/Belgium, 1970.
Thursday 30th April 7:00pm at The Hyde Park Picture House

Fruit Paradise

This avant-garde classic comes courtesy of the Czech National Film Archive and the Czech Centre in London where film buffs have enjoyed a major retrospective of the work of Vera Chytilová. She was one of the outstanding filmmakers in the Czech New Wave and, whilst she rejected the label of feminist, an important female director in times when they were even rarer than at the present.

The Czech New Wave was notable for its observational approach to cinema: an important influence on our own Ken Loach. And the filmmakers were also drawn to unconventional techniques and forbidden topics. The later led to regular attempts to ban or censor films, something that afflicted Fruit of Paradise. Following on from this film Chytilová became a ‘non-film person’ for six years.

But there has also always been a strong surrealist strand in Czech art and film. Since the 1930s Prague has been an important centre for this movement, tying in to a longer tradition of mannerism. Jan Švankmajer is certainly the most important surrealist filmmaker in the contemporary world.

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