A Season in France/Une Saison en France (France, 2017)

Friday 28th June at 6.15 p.m. and Wednesday 3rd July at 6.15 p.m.

This is the new film by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, a filmmaker from Chad who has lived and partially worked in France since 1982. His new film deals with the important issue of refugees and migrants and dramatizes the experience of an African widower and his children who  are forced to flee to France from Central African Republic.

Several of Haroun’s earlier films have screened at the Picture house. There was Bye Bye Africa (1999), an unconventional docu-drama in which a slightly fictionalized Haroun visits and films his native country of Chad. It is an ironic and occasionally bitter record of Neo-colonialism in Africa. His next film Abouna (France, Chad 2002) follows two young boys who seek their father across Chad, including in the desert regions. A powerful drama which was beautifully filmed by Abraham Haile Biru, it won the prize for cinematography at The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou or FESPACO). This Festival is a major forum for African film.

Daratt  (which translates as ‘Dry Season’, was funded by France, Belgium, Chad and Austria in 2006). The film follows a young boy who has suffered in the Civil War [2005 to 2010] but who finds a new life in a bakery. A Screaming Man  / Un homme qui crie  (France, Belgium, Chad 2010)was once again set in the period of the Civil War as a father and son struggle to cope with the adversities of their situation.  Grigris (Chad, France, Belgium 2013) only received a single screening at the London Film Festival but no British-wide distribution.

Haroun’s film dramatize the ill effects of Colonialism and Neo-colonialism in Africa, especially that region once termed ‘Francophone’. His stories also frequently revolve around fathers and sons, making for powerful and emotional dramas. And he has a fine sense of visual presentation and has worked with really talented craft teams. Now his new film is receiving the release [though limited] his work deserves. But the two screenings at the Picture House are likely to be rare opportunities to see the movie in its proper theatrical setting.

If you want a preview:

Agnès Varda (1928–2019)

One of the most distinguished and most sympathetic of European film-makers died last week. She enjoyed a film-making career of fifty years and made 54 films including documentary shorts and feature length films. At the revered age of ninety Varda was the doyen of a cinema that harked back to the influential and transforming new waves of the 1960s. Varda was part of what was called ‘the left bank group’ which also concluded Alain Resnais. He edited her first film, La Pointe Courte (1955), screened in a Varda season at the Picture House in 2018. Another colleague was the film essayist Chris Marker. Varda also made film essays and the pair shared a strong affection for cats.

Regulars at the Picture House have had a number of opportunities over the last year to enjoy some of her other films. Cleo from 5 to 7 / Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) was screened in the Leeds International Film Festival. This film that established Varda’s reputation bought a distinctive content and style to European cinema and remains a film that takes on new aspects when revisited.

The Picture House also screened One Sings, the Other Doesn’t / L’une chante l’autre pas (1977) which dramatises the struggle by French women to win legal access to abortion in that decade. The film demonstrates how Varda’s politics were not just confined to the cinema screen but involved her active participation.

The Beaches of Agnès / Les plages d’Agnès (2008) found Varda in playful mood as she revisited her earlier work and the themes and motifs that really interested her. These included the beaches of the title, cats, mirrors and art works; in the latter area she demonstrated a renaissance style grasp of visual art.

Her most recent film to be screened was Faces Places / Visages villages (2017) in which, with a fellow eccentric artist J. R., she explored rural France through a distinctive form of photography. This also returned her to her first artistic forays in the 1950s when, as a young photographer, she recorded key theatre moments of the decade. The relationships in the film showed Varda’s empathy for ordinary people, something found throughout her long career.

Her final film debuted at the recent Berlinale, Varda by Agnès / Varda par Agnès (2019). The film presents excerpts from a series of illustrated talks that Varda gave about her career. Her talks are intelligent, precise, fascinating and full of charm and occasional irony. The film offers a worthy testament to her impressive career. We can look forward to enjoying this last offering later this year.

Faces Places / Visages villages, France 2017

Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons in the coming week

Happily here is one more chance to see the most recent film by Agnès Varda. Now ninety years old Agnès Varda has graced the world of film since the days when the nouvelle vague transformed both French and European cinemas. Her style is often eclectic and she has a whimsical turn of cinematic phrase. But she always brings a real empathy to her subjects and her films are fascinating but at the same time complex essays into contemporary society. Her new film follows a journey and odyssey with a French photographer known as JR. His approach to the medium is eccentric and unique. Travelling round in a vehicle shaped like a camera he snaps people in places and produces seriously enlarged copies of the image. This is followed by pasting the pictures on public places, mainly walls of buildings. This practice sheds a whole light on the subject and on photography itself.

In the course of their odyssey Agnes and JR discuss topics, revisit places and people and reminisce. Both are often playful but there is an underlying seriousness to their work. And the tone of their encounters and of their installations generates real charm.

A number of titles from Varda’s work over the years have been screened in programme ‘Gleaning Truths: The Films of Agnès Varda‘. These have included features like her early and seminal Cleo from 5 to 7 / Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) or her documentaries like The Beaches of Agnès (2008) Les plages d’Agnès (2008); films from either end of her long career.

The latter film like this new title is less a documentary and more like a film essay; the forte of one of her peers Chris Marker. This friend and peer is referenced in the film by the ubiquitous cats; another peer, Jean-Luc Godard has a less happy reference. The film is in colour and with English sub-titles, running for 94 minutes.

Things to Come / L’avenir, France 2016

From 9th September – 15th September

Mia Hansen-Løve wins the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival

Mia Hansen-Løve wins the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival

French cinema seems better than either the British or the USA industries in bringing on the talents of women filmmakers. And this film which opens this week is a good example. It won the prestigious Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The director, Mia Hansen-Løve, is Parisian who has directed several fine films including Father of My Children (Le père de mes enfants 2009), Goodbye First Love (Un amour de jeunesse 2011) and Eden (2014). She writes her own screenplays successfully, something that many young directors would be well advised to avoid. She also has some experience of acting in films, which probably helps her work. And she partners the filmmaker Oliver Assayas, which probably also helps, though they have very distinctive styles and interests.

Isabelle-Huppert2

Starring in the film is one of the outstanding contemporary actresses Isabelle Hubert, a fellow Parisian. She has deservedly received a profile and extended interview in the September issue of Sight & Sound. She was recently seen at the Hyde Park Picture House in Valley of Love (2015). This was not a great film but was worth watching for the performances of Hubert and of her co-star Gérard Depardieu. Both are formidable presences in European cinema, and indeed beyond. My earliest memory of Isabelle Hubert is dashing from NFT Screen I to NFT Screen II to watch The Lacemaker (La dentellière, 1977). It was a great introduction and I have enjoyed every facet of her career since. Not all her films are great, but if she has appeared in a bad movie it is one I have missed.

So reckon a real treat in store and a must to see.

Le Mépris France / Italy 1963

Sunday 14th February – 3.00 PM

le-mepris

A film by Jean-Luc Godard is always an occasion. Readers may not think that he is necessarily one of the cinema greats: but he is certainly one of the most fascinating filmmakers working in World Cinema. This film hails from the 1960s, the period when he delighted, confounded and upset audiences and critics alike. The starry cast, Brigitte Bardot, Jack Palance and Michel Piccoli, may suggest a relatively mainstream story, but, as ever, Godard both subverts and innovates.

Importantly the cast also includes the veteran filmmaker Fritz Lang. This is a film about cinema set in the world of filmmaking. Lang is directing a version of The Odyssey. Whilst the film does not literally transpose the plot of Homer’s epic poem, there are intriguing parallels with the triangle at the centre of this film.

The Aegean locations were filmed by the talented Cinematographer Raoul Coutard and they look great. Watch for the beautifully executed tracking shots. There is excellent mise en scène and editing: the latter by Agnès Guillemot   and Lila Lakshmanan. There are a series of exemplary shot / reverse shot that have been much copied, including I would think by Michael Mann in Heat (1995).

The film has been restored and transferred to digital. One would expect it to look good and it has the original 103 minutes running time and the French release soundtrack [with subtitles]. It was filmed in Technicolor and on Franscope, 2.35:1. The last time I saw it I loved the sound and visuals and was fascinated as the cast presented this tragic tale.

Black Orpheus| / Orfeu Negro, France 1959.

Screening on October 18th at 1.30 p.m.

blackorpheus_091

This is an early success from the burgeoning art cinema of the late 1950s. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Set during the Rio de Janeiro Carnival it transposes the classic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice to that setting. The idea of such a mythic tale in one of the most famous and colourful events in Latin America was brilliant. And the film is well served by the fine colour cinematography of Jean Bourgoin. The film opts for a very simple depiction in terms of characters but the excitement of the masquerades, dance and music in the Carnival make it visually and orally compelling. There is though more than a trace of ‘exoticism’ in the representations.

The film is screening in its original format of 35mm, which should do proper justice to the stunning colour palette in which the drama is set. It was filmed in Eastmancolor, which sometimes suffers the ravages of time. Intriguingly for the date it was also filmed in the old Academy ratio, i.e. a nearly square frame. The language is Portuguese, though I think there was also some patois in there: it will have English sub-titles. On its original release in the UK it was certified as an A: now it is PG: ‘mild violence and sex references’ according to the BBFC. Note, two important characters are children and I thought they were very good.

Scalarama, 2015

Various venues between September 1st and 30th.

Scalarama heading

This ‘unofficial month of cinema’ runs throughout September. Following the mantra ‘Go forth and fill the land with cinemas’ there are a varied range of events in major urban areas in England and in Scotland: there is also an event listed in the north of Ireland. To help punters there is a free Newspaper which includes listings which can be found at the various venues: in Leeds I picked one up at the Hyde Park Picture House and at the Arch Café.

As well as listings the Newspaper includes a range of articles on the various forms of cinema. The filmmaker Peter Strickland looks back at his experiences, including visiting one of the key venues for alternative and counter cinemas, The Scala. I remember many fine screenings there, including great all-nighters. Other writers sing the praises of 35mm, digital and [even] VHS. This is cinema in all its shapes and guises.

At the Hyde Park on Saturday September 12th at 11.00 p.m. we will have La Grande Bouffe (Blow-Up, France, 1973), a film that rather puts John Waters in the shade. And there is a Scalarama Special on Saturday September 26th themed round Creatures of the Night.

There will be two more of the excellent films from Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema. On Sunday September 13th at 3.00 p.m. we have Provincial Actors (Aktorzy prowincjonaini , 1979). The film was co-scripted and directed by Agnieszka Holland. She worked in Polish film as a writer, director and occasional actor. The film is set in a small town, [partly filmed in Lodz] as a theatre company prepare a classic play for performance. On September 22nd at 6.30 p.m. there is The Illumination (Iluminacja, 1973) written and directed by Kryzstof Zanussi, another major filmmaker drawn to moral concerns. The protagonist in the film works as a physicist and the film explores his search for identity: his personal life affected by the larger social world.

On September 27th there is a double bill of films by US independent filmmaker Shirley Clarke. One film is a must for jazz enthusiasts, Ornette – Made In America (1985). Alongside this is her early and rarely seen The Connection (1961), a fine film adaptation of a ‘beat generation’ play. You can read about her in the profile in the Festival newspaper.

Other film venues in Leeds are also participating in the Festival. There are several screenings at Minicine, at the Oblong Cinema, and individual screenings at Little Reliance Cinema and Leeds Queer Film Festival. And there are events at The Heart and the Arch Café. You can check events here and in other cities on the Scalarama website, impressively put together. Note, fresh events are being added, so check the website and do check individual events, I have discovered a couple of minor errors. If you going to the Hyde Park over the next week you may enjoy among the trailers a showreel of the films on offer. It make September a great month for film buffs.

The New Girlfriend / Une nouvelle amie, France 2014.

Screening from Saturday June 4th.

the-new-girlfriend-

Friends familiar with the films of François Ozon, like Jeune & Jolie (2013) or Dans la maison (2012), will expect something  slightly off-key with his new film. Essentially this is a ‘rom-com’ [romantic comedy], but one that is atypical of the genre. Among the pleasures that it offers are wit, and humour but also the unexpected. Moreover, the film is adapted from a novel by Ruth Rendell, a writer who, like Ozon, is able to confound expectations.

The film opens with a family tragedy but then explores the development of a new relationship, one full of ambiguities and ambivalence. The film manages to offer moments of emotion together with frequent and pleasurable surprises: note the UK trailer unfortunately pre-empts one of the best of these.

The lead protagonist is David, played with assurance and a sense of enjoyment by Romain Duris. He is possibly the most gifted and charismatic of the younger French actors, and he is always willing to explore different roles. Opposite him is Claire, played beautifully by Anaïs Demoustier. At times she reminded me irresistibly of the young Isabel Hubert.

I found the film both entertaining and involving.

Au Revoir Les Enfants

Directed by Louis Malle, France, 1987
Screening on Sunday 17th May at 3.30p.m as part of the Friends AGM.
Poster-of-Au-revoir-les-enfants_non-dated_equad

This is in many ways the most personal film of the distinguished French filmmaker Louis Malle. The basic story is taken from experiences in his early years during World War II.

What happened in January 1944 was instrumental in my decision to become a filmmaker. It’s hard to explain, but it was such a shock that it took me several years to get over it, to try and understand it – and, of course, there was no way I could understand it. What happened was so appalling and so fundamentally opposed to the values that we were being taught that I concluded that there was something wrong with the world, and I started becoming very rebellious.

The film is set in a boarding school in occupied France, rather like the one that Malle actually attended. The film develops a narrative depicting a tragic chain of events, but as he recalls, one that was traumatic for the participants as well as the victims.

Malle started out in filmmaking in the 1950s. Even for a noted European director he has worked in unusually wide variety of industries and settings: in France, but also in the UK, in North America and on documentaries made in Asia. Malle comments that he had three great passions: Music, Literature and Film. The role of music in his work is exemplified by the marvellous score improvised by Miles Davis for his first feature, Lift to the Scaffold (Ascenseur pour l’echafaud, 1957). A good example of the contribution of literature is in the very fine Vanya on 42nd Street (1994) with its exploration of and homage to Anton Chekhov. Film itself crops up regularly: in today’s feature there is a sequence when the school students watch old movies:

…it was in the following years that they showed films in the school on Sundays, that’s when I saw the first Chaplin shorts. They were projected in this strange format that was rather popular in the late 1930s and 1940w, the 9.5 mm, which had a perforation in the centre – a terrible invention. Chaplin was forbidden during the war by the Germans, not only because he was Jewish but also because he’d made The Great Dictator. But his films, I was told, were still being shown, very discreetly, in schools and cine clubs. It was one of the great memories of my childhood, those Sunday evening, we’d darken the room, there’d be a white sheet, and everyone would sit and watch those films. I chose The Immigrant because, first, it was one of the great ones, and second, it was an evocation of freedom for those Jewish children when they see the Statue of Liberty, America being the Promised Land.

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