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ISLAND IN THE SUN (1957) dir. Robert Rossen

21 Oct

“Oh my island in the sun” the song goes. It pops into my head on occasions when homesickness swells in my veins. As soon as the island way of perceiving the environment was adopted, the song reminded of the falsity of calling it an island, no matter how island-like a place might be. ‘The island’ – as it was known by locals – is a place that calls out to my instincts. Even though in a busier environment, in Harajuku, in the middle of a vast city like Tokyo where there are many things to do, many activities to enjoy, if I’m honest – as much as I love it in the city – I do miss certain things about the island lifestyle.
A lifestyle where winter evenings were spent cosy next to a hearth with roaring embers, while sipping gin. And summers were filled with swimming, working hard, lounging on terraces enjoying great food. It was idyllic. I miss the bonds with nature. I miss the emphasis on the sea. I miss the importance of the weather. I miss the pressures of community spirit. I miss the obtund gossip. I miss the gorgeous environment – subtropical – where it could’ve been a Caribbean island with palms and azure waters if it wasn’t for the murky fish that swam beneath the waves.
Island in the Sun was a good movie choice for a Sunday afternoon with this lusty mindset. It stars Joan Collins (swoon). Colours and sets are opulent in technicolour. Costumes are exquisite. The island location and historical period make race relations the main topic of the movie. A few white men govern a 90% majority of black people. It was a movie of two halves. At more or less exactly half way through, a crime was committed. The crime didn’t add a lot to the plot, though it changed the pace. What brought more drama to the fictitious island was the following sentence printed in a newspaper article:

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The article went on to reveal the true parentage of Mr. Fleury. The shame! The main family in the story – a prestigious white family – had a secret black ancestor. Joan Collins is 1/32 black! Her brother, running in an election, could persuade the black natives with ‘I’m one of you now!’ to charm their vote from them. It was that ridiculous.
Of course, it was ridiculous and so David Boyeur, an ‘upstart’ (haven’t heard that said about anyone since the village days, in fact haven’t heard a lot said since village days, things that are still influential in my thought patterns, perhaps what is causing this spate of longing), stood up for his people – the island people – by telling Joan Collins’ brother, in a public meeting, that he was delusional. David Boyeur: a man rumored to have powers. We had a glimpse of these when he stopped the crowd’s merry-making just by telling them to be quiet. He’s in an inter-racial relationship with a white woman. He’s a well-respected member of the community, someone who commands the trust of others, no matter what background or race.
At the end of the movie, Joan Collins is a black woman, in an ‘inter-racial’ relationship and starting a new life in England (though the dramatic irony, which kicks in during the second half of the movie, gives the viewer an advantage that the islanders don’t have). Plus the beautiful black checkout assistant (Dorothy Dandridge) from the pharmacy is moving to England to start a new life with the island governor’s white assistant, who was forced to resign due to his inter-racial relationship with her.
In the final scene, David Boyeur’s white girlfriend asked him if they can get married and start a new life together. He then went on a bit of a rant about the importance of the island and the importance of him being on the island – where he is powerful and black – not miles away talking about the island in a place where he is still black but not powerful. And that’s how it ended: David Boyeur ranting to a beautiful blonde against a backdrop of pristine coastline and tempestuous, ravaging seas.
This movie ticked several boxes in my missing rural-coastal isolation checklist:
1. The wonderful scenery and property sets.
2. The great colours and costumes of the 1957 movie world.
3. Watching people living under the silent pressure of community entertain themselves. These kicks aren’t to be found by visiting neighborhood cafes. Even the people I see everyday in the neighborhood – their struggles are imperceivable. The transparency of characters in this movie added something to my day!
As a movie known for its opening song, there’s little singing. It’s not South Sea Pacific and it doesn’t star Elvis. It’s been strange having to draw attention to character’s skin tone when writing this, in life it’s not something that I notice much, not centering around human skin. Overall the sleepy first half followed by the melodramatic conclusion – in a historical window – was just my cup of tea on a quiet, non-eventful Sunday in suburban Harajuku, with its tranquil evening yet to come.

NOBODY KNOWS (2004) dir. Hirokazu Koreeda

4 Aug

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When I asked my Japanese colleague to suggest a Japanese movie, she pitched the same film that London’s Institute of Contemporary Art emailed me about that very same week, the film they are showing to their members free this month. I guessed there must be something in it. Nobody Knows: the first movie I’ve watched for three months.

Akira, Kyoko, Shigeru and Yuki are aged between 12 and 5. Accompanied by their mother, Akira moves into a new apartment in Tokyo, with Shigeru and Yuki smuggled into the building inside suitcases because children aren’t allowed. Kyoko arrives later by herself. Only Akira can leave the building or go onto the balcony. None of the kids go to school (there is no compulsory education in Japan, I was told, therefore it is possible to not attend one).

The director, Hirokazu Koreeda, uses a kind of Hitchcockian attention to detail to give us so much more than what is presented. The mother in this film is not so much a bad mother than not a mother at all. They say that sometimes bad homes produce good children and good homes bad ones. Despite dreadful conditions some people grow up to become beautiful with noble values. At the start of the film we see Akira shiftily looking at magazines in a mini-mart, the manager pulls him over to check his bag, finds unaccounted for things, stolen goods. Luckily the checkout assistant noticed some boys putting items into the bag. Akira’s innocence at this moment subtly is retained throughout the rest of the film. He’s a good person; we can be sure. We see him studying, wanting to better himself, rise out of circumstance.

The mother, Keiko, who talks to her children more like a friend than a mother clearly has mental problems. Every now and again in Japan, someone with an annoyingly sweet syrupy voice comes along – for instance, there’s a waitress in a Denny’s that I go to regularly – it makes me totally wonder if it’s all front or how it is even possible to squeak and smile and be so false sounding when at the same time genuine. It’s a voice so sincere it can only be artificial. The Japanese aren’t known for their great expressiveness. Bad feeling can easily be disguised or blockaded by a smile – or a citrine voice, babbling insane. The kid’s mother speaks in this naive way.

She disappears ‘to work’ for a month, leaving them about as much yen as an average monthly salary, only the money runs out and Akira has to ask round Yuki’s possible fathers for money in order to survive. Akira and Kyoko know that really their mother has gone off to be with some man; she promises them a normal life with the education that they dream of when she marries. In Japan, marriage is similar to how it was in the 1970’s in the West and more expected of couples living together. A single parent family is unusual. The kids, each with their different fathers, are odd even with a mother. But without any emotional, financial or physical parental support the kids are super! Mature and well-behaved. Not at all the wild savages one might expect.

Their mother eventually returns. Briefly. Akira tells her, over coffee in Mr Donut, that she’s selfish. The Japanese have a concept called amae, which roughly translates as a bitter-sweet love, like the relationships we have with our parents. I think that more than this, amae is the sweet aspect to the love and it doesn’t have to be so, amae you can give and you can take it away too. If Akira was adult, he might be more deeply pissed off with his mother in the cafeteria. As it is she encourages him to eat his donut, while he quickly forgets his harsh words and laughs at hers. She leaves more money, promises to be back by Christmas, then goes again into the bitter chill of a night lit with the cold, harsh, bright white artificial light common to Japan.

Of course, she’s not back at Christmas. Akira and Kyoko take the male and female domestic roles. When we were kids were used to fantasize that we were fourteen and had younger siblings to rear. It was a game we would play when we were ourselves still babies. The reality is living in squalor, wearing unwashed clothes, a sea of garbage [Japan has totally Americanized my language, no apologies], unpaid bills and (wait for it) a diet of… noodles! If it sounds like life in East London, then you should see it on screen, the kids are so lovely and respectable, despite fending for themselves. It isn’t an entirely bleak movie, although their suffering is presented without much gloss or veneer.

Plus cup noodles in Japan are way better than cheap noodles from the Kingsland Sainsburys! Even tramps in Tokyo, living without social security, wouldn’t eat those soggy relics that taste like recycled cardboard and are actually better eaten uncooked like biscuits. For about 45p, a cup noodle is pretty reasonable, maybe not delicious (oi shi) like the kids ironically declare but not bad. The freeze dried content is ok. There is a whole aisle in Tokyo supermarkets given over to noodles. U.F.O. green are my favorite – yes, soba with wasabi mayonnaise is oi shi! I think cup noodles are fairly average for lunch or dinner in Japan and not as scorned upon as in the U.K.. The kids also eat going off sushi that they get free from the mini-mart. It’s not an idyllic existence.

The key symbolism in the movie evokes a sensation of being in the situation of the mother, even though we haven’t seen her for most of the film, we are sutured into her mindset of absence through clever portrayals. Close-ups of feet and hands. The camera spends just a second or two too long on Kyoko’s frilly socks, making her feet seem half-way between tiny and adult, while walking in the adult role in the household. The manicured red nails that her mother gives her, so grown-up, a final memory of her primary carer, chipping away, fading away like the carefree childhood she doesn’t have, stained by responsibility.

Likewise, Yuki’s slippers, which make a noise, represent the silence the family endures in their secret abandonment. Akira allows her to wear them outside, in his youth immune to the contagious noise that any self-respecting parent would confine to indoors, oblivious to the attention they attract. We know Yuki is dead when we see her hand still and unmoving, upturned, unresponsive. The tacky, noisey, much loved slippers are pushed onto her feet one final time.

An interesting scene is at the start when Kyoko accidentally spills her mother’s nail varnish. “I told you not to touch my things!” the mother says angrily, trying to wipe up the stain. Later Kyoko blames herself for her mother’s departure. But the real insight to be gained from this moment is the idea of ‘my things.’ We spend the rest of the movie watching this woman’s ‘things’ as they go through a winter alone; face the rebirth of spring alone; make friends alone; sell their possessions alone; bury one of themselves alone. We’re kept captive in her psychology because these little hands and feet that we repeatedly see belong to these children. But they are children that have formed inside her body. They are her hands and feet as much as they are theirs.

As a viewer I was expecting the film to end with the mother’s return. But it ended with a sudden still shot. And I could look inside her head because I had unknowingly been conditioned by the director to become the mother. I kept going when the movie stopped; my absence roared deafeningly.

Out there, somewhere, in a miserable marriage that could turn sour, a child-like woman with a dishonest voice keeps a dark secret from her husband. She fears the reprisal of her children for abandoning them. The longer she spends away, the worse it gets, the more difficult it becomes to return. So she doesn’t return. Instead, during the day, she believes the lie she has created for herself, while at night she lies awake haunted by the terror of being found out. She is the mother of four children and nobody, absolutely nobody, knows.

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QUARTET (2012) dir. Dustin Hoffman

25 Jan

Quartet (2012) dir. Dustin Hoffman

I love Hedsor House. The day the director came to look round – to make a decision about using the property in Quartet – I was there. It was great to see what they made. It’s a wonderful place.

Hedsor House (or Beecham House as it is in the film) is situated in sleepy Berkshire countryside, reminiscient of a mansion captured in a Gainsborough painting. The interior is similar to how it is in the film, minus a few winged chairs, less the hotel rooms. Behind those heavy wooden doors in the hallway lies an entire servant’s quarter, pantry system and modernised kitchen. It is an extraordinary building with beautiful views: a mini Versaille!

So perhaps I’d built Quartet up into something equally as spectacular in my expectations? It was only when entering the screening room itself that I considered this film was orientated towards an older generation. I was the youngest person in the cinema! Easily. By twenty years.

The gist is that a retirement home for musicians is putting on a gala to raise funds. Stories tend to be about a problem followed by a resolution. In this case the problem is new arrival, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), a nasty bit of work with the power to make or break the gala as well as the spirit of her old friends. The resolution is, without trepidation, that the gala takes place inclusive of the original quartet of operatic singers from the 1960’s.

It turns out that her friends are a bit talented. The film is crammed with familiar faces from the British screen: Billy Connelly; Tom Courtenay; Pauline Collins; Andrew Sachs; Trevor Peacock. Sheridan Smith plays the relatively youthful doctor in charge of the home, the slouchy role she played in the TV series Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps still popping into my thoughts, although it was a long time ago now. I particularly enjoyed Michael Gambon’s eccentric performance as Cedric (“not Cedric: Ceeedric”).

The ending credits reveal to us the musical connections of many of the cast, giving the sensation of nostalgia or that the film was made in honour of a memory of times gone by, but made me feel a little insecure instead of a warm glow. Here were many figures from television programmes during my childhood playing eighty year olds in a retirement home, people who have embedded themselves upon my youth and who I want to keep there, ageless, immortal, for ever more unassociated with senility or incontinence.

Although the story was warming – it would be great for more films to disengage with violence – the confrontation of becoming an elderly person left me out in the cold. Did Dustin Hoffman anticipate this reaction when turning a play by Ronald Harwood into a film? Absolutely. It’s of the essence. However, it would be interesting to see what Hoffman could do with the more upbeat pace of a thriller. He seemed to understand how to direct.

SELENA (1997) dir. Gregory Nava

15 Aug

There is something about the song Dreaming of You that I seem to remember from my youth. Maybe travelling to windsurfing with the radio on in the car – I don’t know – the American music chart on Atlantic 252, or possibly MTV. Anyway, most of the people who I’ve pestered since ‘discovering’ Selena have never heard of her or say “who?” looking misty-eyed, as if it’s a name they hear around, someone they ought to know. A comment on a youtube video led me to investigate who Selena was, what her legacy is about, and now I’ve been touched I won’t forget.

This isn’t Selena Gomez.  Oh no, this is Selena Quintanilla-Perez, a Mexican-American superstar, a heroine. She was shot in the shoulder by the swindling president of her fan club and bled to death in spring 1995, 16 days before her 24th birthday, 3 days before her 3rd wedding anniversary. This sad occurence ought to be scrubbed out of her history, eradicated, forgotten, and no more associated with her life. She was one of the most wonderful musicians of her generation, Queen of Tejano, a Texan beauty. I feel sorrow that when people remember Selena, they will always remember her untimely passing, alongside her music and spirit.

The film Selena is a beautiful account of a family in Texas facing financial hardship, turning to the band they formed as a hobby ‘to keep the kids of the streets,’ in order to make ends meet. Rebecca Lee Meza plays Selena when she was a young girl with big dreams. It came as a surprise, conflicting with stereotypes, to learn that Selena didn’t speak any Spanish. Her father encourages her to sing from the corazon. They moved to Corpus Christi, which seems a pleasant enough place besides the sea, and began touring round Texas playing at weddings and fetes.

Jennifer Lopez plays Selena in her older years. It’s a role she lives up to the challenge of playing. Selena seems to realise her fame when the tour bus breaks down and some guys pull over to help, not minding that their own car breaks, anything to help ‘Selenas’. EMI Latin signed them. They go to Mexico to play a gig and attract a crowd a hundred thousand strong, ten times greater than expected, the tiny stage inadequate for the ocean of fans.  Everyone is surprised by how smoothly things are going for the group against the odds. Selena has relentless determination and a positive outlook. Whenever her father has doubts, she remains absolutely confident in herself.

When her father forbids her from seeing her guitarist Chris Perez, with whom she is in love, a shotgun wedding occurs, forcing everyone into accepting their feelings for one another. It’s very romantic. But my favourite scene is in a mall in Los Angeles before the Grammys. In a nice shop, she asks the snobby assistant to try on a dress, the assistant replies that she doesn’t think she’ll be interested, that the dress has a price tag of $800. She looks at her as if she is a Mexican maid. Justice is poetic when Selena is spotted in the changing room by a Latino. Before the shop assistant can eat her words, the shop is filled with Hispanics seeking autographs, bombarding Selena. She’s just so lovely and embodies family values that you want her to be a success, to win the award, to be a household name. It’s a triumph when she gets the chance to accomplish everything she always dreamt of, to bring tejano to the mainstream, be a name on everyone’s lips.

J-Lo is great as Selena. The costumes are wonderful. The tejano music is energising. The vast majority of the film is very upbeat and inspiring. Of course, knowing what is to come, my eyes were filling up and I had a bit of a cry towards the end. The portrayal of the last few hours of her life was sensitive and respectful towards the wishes of her family and friends. If you want to know more, then have a play around online for further information. The film isn’t at all morbid but there is plenty of footage to be found on youtube. Selena is one to watch over and over, great for a rainy day, full of vibrancy, enthusiasm and optimism. Plus the music is awesome, you can’t help but wonder how far she would have gone, a star.

A SEPARATION (2011) directed and written by Asghar Farhadi

15 Aug

Iran. I’ve never been there. It’s not a place I can easily imagine because Iranian sociey is not prone to international exposure. America, on the other hand, is straightforward to hazard a guess about. I’m accustomed to what it might be like because it is frequently, daily, in the media here in the United Kingdom.

It’s fascinating that we British don’t clearly separate ourselves from the culture of the United States. Most people are somewhat aware that their culture is slightly different to that of an hour’s drive away but still readily accept as their own, lyrics, style and content of a distant land on the other side of a massive ocean. America seems to incorporate us in its dream. There is something so comfortable about our interpretation of the American way, here in the United Kingdom, that we embrace it as part of ourselves.

What I found interesting as a viewer of A Separation was the Iranianess of the film. The cinematography had that tinge of harshness that once was common to Al Jazeera and caputured so well by Eminem in the Without Me video. It instantly established a distance between my world and the setting. The film opens with passports being photocopied, filmed from the interior of the copier, blackened images pressed flat against the screen. The scanning motif continues with the viewer taking the position of a Judge in shariah court, like the photocopier presented with the passports, confronted by a couple applying for divorce.

Through the eyes of the Judge we watch as they argue. The wife wants to leave Iran to give her daughter a better life. The husband has a senile father to care for. He says he could give a thousand reasons to stay but then settles on this one. He refuses to give his permission for her to take their eleven year old daughter abroad. This is her case for divorce. He’s not a violent man. He’s a decent man. The Judge turns it out.

Unwittingly, we spend the rest of the film judging, evaluating events and characters. This is a film where actions, values and morality are at the core. It’s one of those clever films with an unobstrusive thirty seconds that at least half of the film hinges around. Simin, the wife (Leila Hatami), decides to leave her husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) anyway, with or without divorce. She goes to stay with her mother out of his way leaving Termeh, their daughter, behind with her father and grandfather in order to complete school. The grandfather needs a full-time carer whilst the son is at work, Razieh (Sareh Bayat) turns up to do the job, taking her young inquisitive daughter with her.

After the first day she finds it too demanding and quits only to come back the next. We hear her on the phone to some sort of advice service. She asks if it’s a sin to change the pants of a helpless elderly man. It’s not but that doesn’t seem to transform her feeings towards being in the role of carer, that somehow she is crossing a line by helping this old man, her husband might disapprove. Her daughter promises not to tell daddy. Razieh struggles to watch the old chap and keep him in his bed. She has other concerns to think about.

I would pigeonhole Razieh as one of those people who make mistake after mistake but instead of owning up, they smooth it over, deceive, lie, try to keep their dignity and continue in a state of pretence. It’s one thing being evasive but it’s another living in perpetual fear. People who really do get it right use that canopy to overcome fear; being at the top makes a person look error in the eye, there is nothing to be afraid of, if you are outwardly brilliant. Those who can’t hit the mark, be forthright, have the rest of us wasting our energies and resources by building unnecessary platforms for announcements to be made upon.

 A Separation is a story of these platforms. Just when you form an emotional connection with a character and have played judge, condemned, got comfortable, gathered an opinion, some new fragment of information sways, unsettles, is presented heightened. The Iranian element is ever present: women are not regarded as equals, men are violent, everyone tiptoes around God or ideas of what constitutes sin. This is a movie with a lot of drama about it, much like a film version of a Middle-Eastern Neighbours or Eastenders, events seem grossly distorted by passionate revelations. With every twist and turn we question what and who to believe.

I wonder who Farhadi had in mind when he made A Separation? Is it aimed at the outsider to Iran? Is it a showcase of everyday life? A cliche? Or is it as it would appear, a well-acted delineation of a good story, made by Iranians for Iranians and whomsoever else? It would be excellent to see more come out of this enigmatic country, if this is the standard of production. It would be great to engage more often with this refreshingly different, altogether less familiar society.

DARK SHADOWS (2012) dir. Tim Burton

15 Aug

Johnny Depp in serious role shocker! Not really. This time he plays Barnabas Collins, a vampire over 200 years old, who has come to the rescue of the current Collins family led by Michelle Pfeiffer. Barnabas belongs to a time where women had ‘good birthing hips’. His eccentricities no more and no less the idiosyncrasies of Depp’s particular style. Barnabas Collins is as equally as likeable (fanciable) as any other character that the actor has played.

It’s similar to Sleepy Hollow, a 1999 Burton/Depp movie, although with more darkness. Sleepy Hollow was essentially bright with sinister places dark for contrast but Dark Shadows is sultry, gloomy and mysterious. Shots of quaint fishing boats bobbing about during the day appear creepy.

Set in 1972, my favorite thing about the film was Pfeiffer’s hairstyles. Quasi-early seventies beauty styling is hot! Alice Cooper gets a cameo and the rest of the soundtrack contains The Carpenters, Deep Purple, Iggy Pop and Elton John. Chloe Moretz, playing teenage daughter Carolyn, is proving herself to be an incredibly gifted young actress, even if this is the least dynamic role she has been cast in up until now, sulking in her room with its cosy rugs, geometric patterns and lava lamp.

The Prologue to the film explains that 200 years ago the Collins family emigrated from Liverpool. As the family board the vessel that will bring them across the Atlantic, a young girl stood staring, is told to avert her eyes; when they arrive in America she becomes the servant of the Collins family. The girl, Angelique, is a witch. She murders Barnabas’ sucessful parents using her magic. Barnabas then sets out to master the dark arts. When he falls in love with another woman, Angelique puts a spell on her, prompting her to take her own life, simulateously evoking a curse on Barnabas to become immortal, to become a vampire. She accomodates revenge by arranging for him to be buried deep in the ground where he will not die: a fate worse than death.

Centuries later the coffin is accidentally dug up. Barnabas sets out in search of his distant Collins descendants, who still live in spooky Collinswood Manor, doing very little. David, a young boy who sees ghosts, is refusing to accept his mother’s death. His father is putrid. His live-in psychiatrist (Helena Bonham-Carter) is an alcoholic. His newly arrived governess, Victoria, a mystery. The family fishing empire was long since superceded by another company: a company run by a certain Angelique.

Barnabas reveals his true identity to the head of the family, Elizabeth (Pfeiffer). She makes him promise to keep his freakiness a secret, leaving room for plenty of farce with misunderstandings of twentieth-century life, associating the signature MacDonalds ‘M’ with Mephisopheles (helper of the Devil); avoiding sunlight; drinking blood via murder; wanting to court a woman ‘in these times… er… places’. There were no great surprises to the plot, no dramatic revelations, all was as gothic, charming and enchanted as expected.

CAFE DE FLORE (2011) dir. Jean-Marc Vallee

15 Aug

Cafe de Flore is a beautiful film that connects two apparently unrelated stories: Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis), a single-mother with a young son who has Down Syndrome and Antoine (Kevin Parent), forty years old, an international DJ who has recently split with his wife. 

Jacqueline’s story takes place in 1969 in Paris. She works as a hairdresser and lives alone with her son in a small chic apartment. He is a cute little boy who likes to listen to the song Cafe de Flore. She teaches him to assert himself to playground bullies at the mainstream school he attends. When a new girl begins the school, who also has Down Syndrome, the two of them become inseparable.

Antoine, on the otherhand, is obsessed with music, in Montreal, in 2011. His is the Cafe de Flore of Ibiza chillout sessions. He has two daughters with his wife Carole (Helene Florent), who, as a child, looked a little like Vanessa Paradis. Their whole lives they have only had eyes for each other, they met when they were children, almost thirty years earlier. Until Antoine fell for Rose, leaving Carole and his daughters to be with her, this other soulmate.

Carole is disraught and haunted by dreams. Her sleeping disorder consumes her as much as her ex-husband’s relationship with Rose does. A reoccurent vision she has is a small boy with Down Syndrome in the back of her car. Here we begin to see the mystery that coheres the two eras into one united plot (other than the boy and DJ both owning an LP with the original Cafe de Flore tune). Carole follows her instincts and visits a medium. 

The medium explains that Antoine and Rose were children in love in another incarnation. From this understanding, Carole can begin to heal her sorrows and recognise her place in this life. The story that began in 1969 can continue to flourish until it reaches completion.

Cafe de Flore builds the layers exquisitely with flashbacks occuring within each of the stories to establish the complexity of events and relationships. The setting in Paris is elegant, the costumes are peachy, the bond between mother and son touching. The way disability is dealt with is sensitive and constructive. Marin Gerrier, who plays seven year old son Laurent, is superb, spellbinding and absolutely adorable. 

In Montreal, the sometimes vacant Antoine is genuine, dynamic, without any dreary superficialities or superfluities of romance across the ages. He has divided his family with his love for another woman, there’s no glossy packaging: he has a therapist. The innocence of two people in love is striking, leaving the viewer pleasantly purplexed by synchronicity, the holistic beauty of creation. Yet also giving a sense of resolution, meaning and purpose.

INCENDIES (2010) dir. Denis Villeneuve

15 Aug

During a recent trip I had nothing better to do than lounge around watching films online. The blurb ‘Staggering… feels like a mighty film in our midst,’ which features on the poster and is taken from a review in Time Out New York, was, if I’m honest, off-putting. It couldn’t be that good surely. It’s in French.
   Yet Incendies is one of the best films I’ve seen in ages. It’s a long time since I’ve seen anything quite as gripping. Literally, it was a voyage. For this reason, I want to say only a minimal amount about the story.
   A mother, a troubled mother, has passed away leaving her children a letter each to give to someone else. One written for a brother they didn’t know they had; the other for the father they didn’t know existed. With nothing more to go on than a fragment of an old photograph, the daughter sets out to the Middle East in search of her mother’s past. If you’re a fan of great stories, what she uncovers will stay with you for a while once you’ve finished watching. It’s an emotional rollercoaster.  
  Directed by Denis Villeneuve and adapted from the play by Wadji Mouawad, Incendies reverts from shots of Lubna Azabal playing the mother as a girl and her later life in Canada, to the daughter’s (Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin) struggle to understand her mother’s troubled relationship with her family in the desert decades earlier. The acting is superb. The character who brings it all together so smoothly is the son (Maxim Gaudette). He arrives in the distant land disinterested, trying to stop his sister from wasting her time, thinking her flights of fancy will lead to nowhere but disappointment and heartbreak, only to find his own role in the drama ever more involved.
 Incendies is a thriller, mysterious, it’s dark, it’s political, and in places it is heavy. The dusty and verdant contrasting imagery, shimmering heat, piercing gazes, the sense of a happy ending emerging round every new corner will make you smile and your heart lighten its load, whilst at the same time you weep.

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ANOTHER EARTH (2011) dir. Mike Cahill

15 Aug

  It seems logical to me that if there were no concept of free will there would be no responsibility taken for behaviour or actions. Whether our choices are erroneous or successful largely depends upon our thinking or attitude. Not looking where you are going, with the result of killing a pregnant woman and her five year old son, is a weighty mistake for a seventeen year old girl driving under the influence. Much worse than stepping into a deep puddle whilst looking at constellations for example. How can Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling, who was also the writer) turn her failure around?
  The accident happened on the night Earth II first became visible in the sky. Rhoda, an amateur star-gazer, simply gets distracted, isn’t paying attention to the road. She spends four years in gaol before serving her sentence and being sent home. By this time Earth II appears larger than the moon. “It’s a real planet” we hear on the radio as she signs her release forms. It appears to be an exact replica of this familiar world.
  Fortunately for Rhoda, life on Earth (the original earth) has continued with the usual inverted apathy, carrying on as anticipated and drying itself off regardless, apparently unaffected by the massive gravitational influence of another version of itself. Like the astronomer learns – when stuck in the puddle in the fable – looking up to the other Earth doesn’t provide explanations to life here on this.
  If I were Rhoda I would hate Earth II, blame it for turning me into a puppet, destroying a promising future in astrophysics. Rhoda, on the other hand, takes responsibility for her actions. She copes with the spilt-ego planet by entering a competition with Space Ventures to actually visit it, whilst tracking down the only other survivor of that fateful night, musician John Burroughs (William Mapother).
  The rest of the film would be predictable if it wasn’t for good story-telling based around a human desire to believe that bad things happen to bad people. There is a scene where Rhoda is puking down a toilet she is so appalled with herself and how she is dealing with life on the outside. Good people sometimes make bad choices – a colleague has chosen, for his own reasons, to eliminate sensory illusions of the external world – necessity is not always obvious, sometimes we are touched by events synchronising into place unnoticed until after the rhythm alters. Maybe actions are determined beyond our own personal influence. Maybe things do happen for a reason.
  Despite that the physical collision of the two earths (alarming aspect to earths-in-sky situation) is overshadowed by the plot putting emphasis instead on the probable cosmic collusion between events, Another Earth – no matter how far-fetched – is weirdly plausible. The score by Fall on Your Sword compliments the shaky indie camerawork.
  The film raises some pertinent questions about existence. What would our reactions be if we weren’t sat in the dark whilst multiplicities of ourselves on identical planets were whirling around somewhere within sight in space? We could shrug our shoulders to metaphysics or, as I suspect, turn our astronomical mimic into another excuse when trying to avoid the gaze of blame. As Rhoda attempts to atone for her mistakes, the ending leaves the viewer to wonder if she has, in fact, been successful.

NORWEGIAN WOOD (2010)

15 Aug

I expect unless you have experienced the rare emotional hurdle of the suicide of someone close, there is no way to imagine the range of feeling, the intensity of grief or tremendous terror. Norwegian Wood explores this situation. The title is taken from the classic Beatles’ lyric ‘She showed me her room, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood,’ a song that resonates with the situation of Watanabe, the narrator. Throughout much of the film Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) is trying to show Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) not just her room but a piece of her heart. Their best friend, Kizuki, has committed suicide.

Watanabe deals with it by moving to Tokyo and not talking about it to anyone. Naoko, following a sexual encounter between them, eventually has a breakdown and goes to an asylum outside of Kyoto. Beautiful scenery and nature, giving us access into sublime emotional states, is both spectacular and soothing.

 In Tokyo, Watanabe forms friendships with his sophisticated housemate Nagasawa, also a girl called Midori, who is uber confident, forthright, far from the sensitivity of Naoko. Neither of these characters confronts loss; they keep themselves contained. Nagasawa, when moving abroad, is materialistic, superficial. Midori, when her sick father dies, seems to find it a relief, a natural process. This is in contrast to his relationship with Naoko, who cannot collect her disorientation, function in the world nor understand herself since the death of Kizuki.

The film is dark and agoraphobic; the scenes in expanses of wilderness seem to pick away at a scab, apparitions of both inner and outer states. Watanabe has kept himself busy in Tokyo, although his thoughts are often with Naoko, who is at rest in the mountains. Tran Anh Hung has turned Haruki Murakami’s novel into a visual soda of the self-expression of non-physical pain. Relationships are catalysts to understanding other relationships; wounds can only be healed by resistance. There is no choice other than to experience.