NOBODY KNOWS (2004) dir. Hirokazu Koreeda

4 Aug


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.



THE GODFATHER (1972) Dir. Francis Ford Coppola

1 May

The Godfather is one of those classic works of cinematography upon which so much has already been written that it would be a waste of semantics to regurgitate more of the same. The movie has its own Wikipedia page such is its legendary status. My main interest here is with several of the themes; the intention to consider how I can use them in my own life.

As any person trained in film studies or cultural analysis understands, the first five minutes of a movie are the most important. It is here – in the first few moments – that we are introduced to the colour themes, philosophical themes, points of interest, our attention is grabbed. The director directs the viewer with greater intensity (this compression psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud calls always-already); it happens whether or not it is deliberated so in most cases it is. Here, just a little beyond the opening, we get to grips with the look and feel of the completed movie.

A movie might have a beginning, middle and an end, it might have a story, follow a plot. But I would argue that a film is structured more like a paragraph than anything. A paragraph, of course, has a beginning, middle and an end but it also has a topic sentence. A topic sentence is a structure that contains the important information that the rest of the paragraph is built around. It’s usually the first or second sentence from the beginning or end of the paragraph. Every film has a scene that acts as a topic sentence – a kind of concentrated essence – a reduction. It may be located at any point during the film. In most cases it is at the beginning or end of ‘the middle’ section. It’s not the same aspect to the film as the opening moments.

In The Godfather coincidentally the ‘topic sentence scene’ is planted right at the beginning. It’s very simple and powerful. The entire film can be expanded from what we see happen. Just as a man is in the presence of Vito Corleone, head of the family (the family) Michael Corleone will rise from civilian to gangster, he will present himself to the underworld. The man sits and explains how his daughter has been disfigured by two boys who received suspended sentences and walked free. Michael Corleone will take over the family business once it’s power has been diminished, the perpetrators still at large. Can the Don offer a glimpse of justice? Will life as a gangster be an honorable, upright way of life for Michael?

As Don Corleone speaks in reply to the man we learn the following things are paramount to him:
1. Listening
2. Friendship
3. Respect
4. Honour. Being ‘a man of his word’
To our surprise, even though the disfigured girl is his godchild, he does not automatically agree to help. This is because her father has not sought his friendship prior to needing his help. Michael puts his family first when the options are given and the man has given his family priority too to some extent. I mean, really, who wants to get caught up in mafia business? But this same logic means that the act of asking for help is disrespectful. Friends are an extension of family. However, because the request is made on the Don’s daughter’s wedding day, it is custom to agree to whatever is asked. This makes the act of asking for help even more disrespectful, it’s agreed to out of obligation to fulfill promises, not because it is deserved.

The four qualities outlined above are what Michael Corleone must learn in order to be at the head of the family (the family). If he had listened to himself without hesitating, he could have saved Appolonia from the carbomb. His brother, Sonny, doesn’t listen. Friendship (and therefore emnity) is the ever important theme throughout the war between families. Friendship here means loyalty, trust, mutual respect and sharing. Michael stands by his beliefs and can be respected, whereas his brother and brother-in-law are not loyal and so don’t earn our respect or trust. I think Michael differs from his father in that his ‘honour’ is generally revenge rather than keeping his word. Again, this is more marked with Sonny, who doesn’t listen and therefore bursts into rages. Sonny raises his fist in a passion. Michael waits years to serve revenge cold.

On a personal level, I was told to watch this film to see what I could figure out about sustaining interest and keeping attention, so what did I learn? Well, it’s a three hour masterpiece and is entertaining. I’ve seen it several times before and loved the books by Mario Puzo when I read them in y2k. Knowing what to expect didn’t detract from the enjoyment of watching. The black, white and burnished red hues are exquisite and will only look better with time.

Listening is obviously an important skill. Without listening there would be no understanding. (I could have included reasoning in the list above but reasoning is a subsidary of the others in the same way that trust is a subsidary of honour and friendship). The music in The Godfather keeps us interested. There are scenes (like at the hospital) where no music would’ve had us hitting fast forward. If we are listening we are still, so the inner strength to stay in one place for three hours and pay attention is transferable, particularly possible when what’s going on in the background has that audible quality.

Friendship is comprised of many other components. In life, generally, I’ve had extreme experiences of friendship, some really outstandingly good, some unbelievably bad. I’ve moved so many times that I’ve learned that very few relationships are about more than what is readily available. I guess what Vito Corleone was saying at the beginning of the film I agree with – matey hasn’t come to him for friendship so why does he think he can come to him for justice? But I also have concerns about defining friendship so simplistically. He seems to be saying that friendship is sharing. From my own experiences, sometimes I’ll bump into people and they’ll say “I haven’t been in touch with you for six months” and apologise (beg forgiveness). This is always weird for me because I have moved around a lot and with this a perception of time changes. Six months, three years, a decade – it’s nothing. What is special is that the bond is still there without any scrap of resentment, without any fear of resentment. That’s friendship, for me. It’s more than just sharing in such simplistic terms. But is this enough to keep other people interested?

Also, what is rude about the request for help is a principle that I try to live by, much to the aggreivance of some who say “why are you afraid to ask for help when you need it?” The plain truth is that when I have problems, I try to keep them away from other people, in the same way that I do when I have a contagious cold because I care about people and believe in myself. So if I need something with alacrity (a job, a house, a confidante, a friend) then I try to confine myself to myself.

It didn’t used to be like that but when I needed my friends to support me this one time, they all vanished behind polite smiles, and – to cut a long story short – because I didn’t listen to gossip and tried to help someone genuinely in need. That incident changed my view of friendship. It make me see how superficial a lot of people are (I’m probably a really bad friend). That incident made it difficult to make new friends and believe in what most people think of as friendship. As a consequence, self-reliance became more important than dependence. Still, what Vito Corleone is talking about at the beginning of the film about sharing time together is interesting, especially in light of “will you add me?” rather than “can I add you?” In other words ‘will you show me you are my friend?’ rather than ‘can I be your friend?’: a contemporary situation where the dynamic is similar, where the show of friendship is the special quality. Don Corleone suggests that showing respect, sharing each other’s company, is the purpose to a friend. And that is a wise expectation of friendship, particularly when situated next to emnity.

While we’re on the subject, the ‘I haven’t heard from you for a long time’ indignance that supposes a kind of contempt is utterly absurd, particularly from my perspective when I have so many friends and so little time to contact everyone. When you are thinking in terms of a much greater area geographically then there is naturally the demand of the more compact zone to feel included within that. On a practical level ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and responsibility is passed.

Respect. I sometimes hear people speaking about how so-and-so has lost respect. But they still speak to them like they normally would. Surely interacting with the disrespected is odd as it leads to a circuit of disrespect? This led to the conclusion that respect is similar to value but not interchangeabe. If so-and-so has lost their value, then it isn’t necessary to lose respect. Better to respect all people at all times. Does Michael respect Connie when he murders her husband? Yes, he offers his compassion and understand her situation. Does he value Connie and her child amply, as they would like to be valued? No, he does not; the value he does have for them does not prevent his actions. Does he love her? That’s for Connie to decide.

Honour and integrity are intregral to civilised society. They form the core to morality and therefore interaction. We all each have differing morals, what is acceptable to some is unacceptable to others, religion shouldn’t matter on Earth because of the deeper truths and principles superceding all religion but in practice it defines an individual’s personal integrity. If you are raised so that you believe you can not make right a mistake you have made, then you will have a completely different set of values and use your integrity in a different way to defend your honour than if you have the inbuilt belief that it is possible to influence retribution.

Michael is forced to kill the husband of his sister to keep his integrity. He needs to be seen to have a certain standard and not deviate from it. In The Godfather, generally mistakes are ok as long as they are acknowledged, and as long as their resolution is beneficial for integrity. This is a positive safety net for personal growth. There is the fear of dishonour through loss of integrity rather than a fear caused by dishonour. Integrity is under a person’s control whereas dishonour is not. In The Godfather, believing that the outcome of one’s actions can be determined by striving to correct one’s mistakes is very different to the stark contrast of a purity of action, which many of us deceive ourselves is our own standard.

Writing this review has showed me how important enjoyment, consistency, listening, being self-effacing, being self-reliant and encouraging dependency are if you want to be captivating and therefore become trusted with rewards of loyalty. I wasn’t expecting a gangster film to be full of the kind of qualities I wanted to explore in this review but The Godfather is full of quality.

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) written and directed by Sean Durkin

25 Feb


If I were to ask you to provide some watching material on domestic violence, you might create a list that looked something like this. Once We Were Warriors jumps out as a particularly brutal vision of what a violent relationship means. I expect the majority of the population associate domestic violence with images of women dealt a black eye or worse. The reality is that domestic abuse is pretty much akin to Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has been living for two years under the guise of Marcy May in a commune somewhere. She’s not sure where exactly but she thinks it’s in New York state. We see her running away from it at the beginning of the film. She’s hiding, trembling, clearly afraid, being approached by a man. Recognised, paralysed, then relieved when he doesn’t make her go back – she telephones her sister, who comes to collect her, marking the beginning of Martha’s return to society.

If you’ve ever found yourself living in fear, you might relate to her plight. All she can do is run from the commune, from the brainwashed state, but by starting the process of running away she has also started the process of confronting herself, having to figure out and cope with whatever it was that made her so compatible to this damaging relationship with a cult. She has to work out what segments of her personality are actualised from other people’s values, what parts of herself originate in her own beliefs, like any broken relationship. Only this was a prolonged disfunctional affair with a whole group of people – influenced by the presence of a leader whose power was continually reinforced by their agreement – where she found comfort in losing individuality, losing a sense of identity. But where was the security among that? Where was Martha?

A psychoanalyst once told me that he didn’t think the nuclear family is the ideal state for raising offspring. The appeal of a cult is that as human beings we’re driven towards groups, yet we also need leadership and someone or something to direct us. Otherwise we’re faced with fear of ourselves, disorder, inertia. Being in an individual state, instead of being led, is a frightening state. Martha has found the courage to leave and look her fear of being an individual in the eye. But back in the big bad world she is juxaposed against a background of ‘normal’ and starts to behave like a confused chameleon who has lost its ability to transform the pattern of its skin in order to go unnoticed. She cannot adjust.

Still shrouded in paralyzing fear, she hallucinates, she is trapped in memory, strung out like a fly lured into a web designed by a pain that she has not yet begun to elaborate upon or understand. We learn that when her mother died, her sister and aunt became her only family. We learn of the domination of the cult by the leader, Patrick, drugging the new girls and then ‘cleansing’ them with his cock, at first unacceptable but then her roommate tells her ‘you’re lucky,’ which sparks a path of internalisation. Eventually Martha herself is delivering girls to Patrick’s door.

Out of the cult, at her sister’s retreat house, normal stuff like not getting into bed with two people when they are fucking, or drinking alcohol, or swimming naked, becomes such an intense challenge that Martha flips. She picks up the phone and calls the cult. An eerie girl’s voice answers. But even creepier is the moment she hangs up the phone. It rings right back. It serves as a reminder that you can take the girl out of the cult, but you can’t take the cult out of the girl.

And that’s how it is with domestic violence and psychologically abusive relationships. No matter how far removed you are, no matter if bruises have faded, it’s stepping back to examine more closely what occurs inside yourself, inside the relationship, so difficult to do, to turn what’s wrong on the outside inside out and cleanse yourself, lead and teach yourself while removed from the problem, while a long way away physically; self-perpetuating, still going through it, still working it through. For the cure to what’s wrong is the same as the poison already consumed.


Genre Observation

11 Feb

Genre Observation

DJANGO UNCHAINED dir. Quentin Tarantino (2012)

7 Feb

 What Quentin Tarantino does well in a movie is create the feeling of mythology, a kind of significance, building the slightest action into what seems like the grandest gesture. I suspect during filming he gives his actors clear instructions about exactly what he sees working and gets them to do it again and again until there are enough takes to choose from. But that’s what directors do. So what else does Tarantino do?

For a start Django Unchained could equally nobly be titled just Django, like the original 60’s western. But Django Unchained gives insight into the over-emphasis so typical of the director. In fact, after I came out of the Curzon on Shaftesbury Avenue, the thought of having seen Django Unchained was enough in itself to cause a supressed laugh.

Django (Jamie Foxx) we don’t know as a slave, other than for a minute at the start, naked and chained, about to be freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a bounty hunter posed as dentist. Django has the info that will help Dr. Schultz locate a band of badmen. Together they arrive at the plantation in time to witness a flogging. Of course, Django is black, thereby raising some eyebrows riding his own horse while wearing fancy silks. But when he dismounts, spies the wanted men and rescues a girl strung for whipping, it’s more than eyebrows that are raised. He takes the men out, one by one, with venom, securing his revenge.

Before watching Django Unchained, statements on facebook that Tarantino is past it left me intrigued, but even more so once I’d seen it. It’s not the best of his films but it’s not at all bad. As brutal as the rest, Jackie Brown is my favorite Tarantino movie; a crisp white shirt packs a slick punch that no amount of punching can pack. Django Unchained, from the moonlit forest opening, would appear to be on par. A spin on a parody of the classic spaghetti western genre, the detail, the significance, the subtle force that leaves the viewer mesmerised and wondering how the effect was achieved – wanting to unpack the punch so to speak – it was just right. Incidentally, Anthony Lane of The New Yorker agrees (you can read his review here). He spells the downturn of the film out as the word Mississippi sprawling across the screen halfway through, the cutting point, beyond which the pace changes.

Mississippi is where Django and Dr. Schultz gain the trust of Calvin Candie (Leonardo di Caprio), a Francophile slave dealer specialising in fights, who happens to own Django’s wife Boomhilda (Kerry Washington). Violence in the second half of the film appears thrown in for the horror of it. It keeps the pace ticking over: a stick of dynamite here, flesh beaten to pulp there. Is this cause for contempt towards Tarantino’s style? Or reason for celebrating it? It certainly raised a laugh amongst the crowd. Plus the director made a cameo or three.

Django escapes from the film unscathed, fresh faced, with his woman by his side, glowing and ready for the sequel, should there be the need to make further comment on shadows of the past. And if there were it would be a bolder, grander, larger, brighter, intenser and more tactile, more marvellous, more superlative comment than anything else.

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.

LOOPER (2012) directed and written by Rian Johnson

30 Sep

Starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, Looper was an entertaining way to have spent the evening. Joe exists in 2072 and 2042 simultaneously. The younger Joe works for a man called Abe, who is from the future, living in 2042. The majority of the film is set in this year with one short sequence explaining what happens to Joe in the thirty year interim.

I’m scanning my mind back to this flashing glimpse of a man’s life.

In 2042, Joe is a hitman – a ‘looper’ – who has signed up to Abe’s gang who are concurrently operating in 2072. By then time-travel is invented and available. But the lawlessness of everything means that it’s highly illegal. Victims are sent back in time bagged and bound, and assignated by loopers.

A bizarre part of the employment contract of a looper states that when the risk to the gang’s operations becomes too great, the looper will be sent back in time to the barrel of his own gun, to close the loop by death. By way of recognition, the payment is gold bullion strapped to the victim on these occaisons, rather than silver. From this moment the looper is granted thirty years left to live as a free man.

However, Joe returns to himself and escapes. By not killing his future self he has put both their life-united in danger. He continues to try to track himself down in the hope of appeasing his mistake. What happens is that they meet, the older Joe is madly in love with his wife, and wants to change 2042 so that he can live to see 2080 with her.

The younger Joe and the gang fail to kill the older Joe. But the gang also fails to kill the younger Joe. Before the older one flees he passes the details of the gang leader in 2072 on to his younger self. It turns out to be a little boy who lives on a farm. This is where they meet again.

Rian Johnson’s vision of a future is depressingly believeable: a world filled with poverty and extortionate wealth. The tragic story reminded me of The Door in the Wall by HG Wells. All the characters are trying to find something that has already found them.

On the surface not that much was different about the future to 2012 but the detail was blackandwhite better version of our technology. Keeping sets as they are today but more extreme was a touch of class. It will ripen as a film I expect. There is plenty to think about beyond the end; not everything is immediately crystal clear.

THE TURIN HORSE (2011) dir. Bela Tarr

5 Sep

Have you ever had a flash of insight – for a just few seconds – into a mind-boggling idea that you couldn’t ever quite grasp again in the same way?  Physical events can lead to an inexplicable, monumental, moment of marvel. Reading Wittgenstein in the Freud Museum, for example. For a catastrophic instant the notion that this could be possible secreted awesomeness.

Whatever he acknowledged, Frederich Nietzche – great philosopher, saw a horse being flogged in Turin. He flung his arms round it, sobbing, before descending into a weary, bedridden state that he lived through for ten years before dying. The Turin Horse follows on immediately after the encounter between man and horse, taking the path of the stubborn horse and her owner, back to their rural abode.

Perhaps the reason for the intense fascination at the little we are presented with on screen is that – filmed in monochrome – it is almost as if we are travelling back in time to January 3rd, 1889 and watching the mundane lives of the owner of the horse and his daughter. It doesn’t seem acted, the slow pace and clever camerawork give a level of realism that’s extraordinarily easy to watch, albeit with minimal action.

The wind is howling, the girl boils some potatoes, they get dressed, they get undressed, the girl fetches water, they muck out the horse. This is their daily routine. This is being human. Stark. Mysterious. What about variety? Why don’t they want more to happen? Don’t they tire of potatoes? There is a strong sense of purpose heightened by the camerawork creating something resembling a moving black and white photograph.

Some people will find it as interesting as being locked in a dark room with some straw to lie on and nothing else to do. But I found it strangely mesmerising. I expect in the cinema this is an extraordinarily relaxing movie. Perhaps the repetitive melody on strings for the score – music to leave a sense of anticipation and excitement, music that makes my heart race through listening – helps lull the viewer.  

I’m left curious about connecting to this motion picture experientially during a theatre screen view.

The other characters that come into the plot remind us loosely of Nietzsche’s ideas.  The girl reads out loud from a book given to her by gypsies in an exchange (with water). There is a visitor incorporated into the script. He sits at the table and talks. It’s as if we can see an occurence in history, somewhere near the apex of the philosopher’s suggestions, as they begin to filter down through the pyramid of mind and embed themselves into the collective-consciousness of human psyche.

Just as a small child can these days discern between a circle and a square, when this was once a ‘discovery’ of great men, all ideas sink deeper and deeper into our being. Whatever was always already there troubling Nietzsche, what might have happened to his mental faculties on that fateful day, is not known although the tale is not lost to aeons thanks to The Turin Horse.

THE POSSESSION (2012) dir. Ole Bornedal

27 Aug

The name Sam Raimi might be asssociated with this movie but as producer his role was to make the soil fertile, not to grow the crops. Don’t be surprised either, that something is all too familiar about The Possession. The greatest downfall of the film is that it has already been done elsewhere.

If we hadn’t seen an exorcism film before, then we might enjoy it more, although it lacks the tingles of ultimate exorcism-gore film The Exorcist, it does have an appeal and beauty. It is well researched and inspired by a true story written about in an article by Leslie Gornstein that you can read here.  

A young girl (Natasha Calis) buys a wooden box at a yard sale. It is engraved with Hebrew letters and is mysteriously unopenable. When she finally gets to look inside it, she finds it filled with creepy bits and bobs: a ring, a dead creature and a tooth amongst other things. The possession begins with a plague of moths. The girl is obviously behaving strangely by this point – she sits on her bed hugging the box – oblivious to the insects that surround her.

Her obsession with the weird box begins to alarm her father (Jeffery Dean Morgan), who is surprisingly intelligent for someone in a horror film, quickly drawing the conclusion that she must be possessed. He goes off to find a Rabbi to do the work.

In the meantime, the mother (Kyra Sedgwick) also discovers something is wrong with her daughter, her newly warped behaviour is inexplicable. Instead of typing ‘possession wooden box’ into google, she sensibly takes the girl to hospital to investigate further.

The tension between the recently divorced parents was excellent and added to the sharp pace of the film. The well-delivered script drew some light relief and raised a laugh in places (but not Evil Dead style). There were just enough frights to stay alert.

The cinematography gave the impression of being well thought through, with muted colours creating light and dark contrasts, slowly building a wall of fear. I would say that it was easy-going horror, the kind of film that you might want to put on when you get in from the pub, when you want to curl up and feel safe and be a voyeur.

BRAZIL (1985) dir.Terry Gilliam

25 Aug

 Brazil is named after the song of the same name. It’s a stupid, cheery mindless song that occurs as theme music at moments of dreary monotony, symbolising the totalitarian state. ‘De de der de der dede der…’ insanely colourful in Gilliam’s vision of a grey future, in which a tendency for systems to return to disorder is exaggerated.

The irony of the juxtaposition between ideal and reality are summed up in the billboard we see in the background:

Could anything be more depressing or terrifying than losing your own identity amongst a sea of exacting others? When the protagonist, Sam Lowry, finally escapes from the dystopia he ironically hums Brazil.

The psychedelia of reminding the viewer that they are the viewer has something healing about it, a kind of self-reflexive appeal that releases our inner self, connecting to the universe in a new way. Withnail and I has this ability, The Holy Mountain also, both films remind us that we are watching actors act whilst the world turns around us. All three films are highly re-watchable – the  script has incorporated our contact as viewers, it takes a bit of our soul and we in turn take the message it contains and involve it in our lives, better people for the experience.

Brazil works upon our psyche in a subtle way. The passive theme music – as we are passive viewers – is part of another dimension until Sam hums it. Then he makes the world belong to him rather than submitting to the world. The dream sequences are symbols of his awareness of a dimension bigger than the screen (he has dreams where he is flying and fighting and in love with a woman). When the woman, Gill, comes into his life he must take possession of her. In the same way, the film comes into our sphere of reality and we must give it our attention. The underlying message is to try to make dreams realities: to believe in imagination.

Set in the future, the brilliance of Brazil is down to three things: the casting, the script and the sets. Casting Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry was an excellent choice. He is attractive without being imposing, has a lack of self-importance, is believable and likeable. The other stars in the film include Robert de Niro, Michael Palin, Bob Hoskins and Kim Greist as Gill. The script was written by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown. It keeps a fast, entertaining pace. The sets are intriguing; the future world, designed in the 1980’s, is filled with imaginary items in a guess at contemporary life in the future.

Of course, much like it really is, the world of gadgets is plagued with malfunction and error. What must have been laughable twenty years ago is in 2012 the way things are. Who would have thought that using a pen and paper, our legs, or just generally doing things the long way could be more efficient than a computer? How many hours are spent staring at the screen while some engineer tries to fix it? Sam’s central heating is on the blink (alongside everything else electrical in his flat). Before Central Services can get an engineer out to him, Harry Tuttle, renegade heating engineer and suspected terrorist, arrives on the scene to work his bravado.

Brazil is full of detail masquerading as normal that is absolutely absurd. Renegade heating engineer? It’s rediculous. Sam’s well-connected mother and her obsession for plastic surgery, her ‘keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ friend, make hysterical viewing. The farce of the bureaucracy, form-filling and procedure. The irony of the child playing in the torture office. Meeting the stranger of your dreams in person and falling in love? It’s so much bullshit, it’s great!