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Thursday, 27 March 2014

That was big of you - oh no, it was bigamy !

This is a review of An Education (2009) (seen on DVD)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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27 March

This is a review of An Education (2009) (seen on DVD)

* Contains spoilers *



Biedermann und die Brandstifter, not least through its Epilogue, implies that what we have seen is a slice from a cyclical pattern. In the scene with Sally Hawkins, we learn that Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is just the last in a line, yet what makes no sense is why (a) the former tolerates this behaviour, (b) Danny (Dominic Cooper) seems to react in private to David (Peter Sarsgaard) as if this is the first time that this has happened, and (c) why the letters that Jenny finds would be in the glove compartment (unless - although such a notion does not accord with what we see - she is meant to find them).

Maybe all that is in Lynn Barber's 'memoir' (and adopted by Nick Hornby in writing the screenplay), but it does not make for credibility that Jenny is (excuse the rhyme !) one of many, and so of less importance (to David), and more of a victim. (Where the resonance with the Epilogue of the Frisch is strongest is when parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) and daughter blame each other, as responsible for what happened.)



As for the two or three longish scenes with Emma Thompson as the head, whether, in 1961, even an intelligent pupil such as Jenny would realistically have been permitted (by such head) to speak to her as Jenny does seems doubtful - Jenny may be spirited, spurred by David's attentions, but figures in authority have never taken to those whom they are dressing down or warning 'talking back', whereas this one seems to take it on the chin (if reserving only the power to reject when ignored).

Otherwise, it is a nice enough tale of duplicity and hopes only postponed, not dashed*, and it does not hang around, at 96 minutes, in the way that a more recent would-be morality story does. However, it tries to end with the rather trite message of I was wiser for what happened as if it is some profundity, not a cliché : by contrast, Frisch's play is Ein Lehrstück ohne Lehre, which is broadly a lesson without teaching, and, in common with Haneke's films, one is not directed what to think about, or how to interpret, what one sees and hears.





Fair enough to nominate Mulligan for an Academy Award for best actress, but best film or best adapted screenplay ??

There is now a follow-up piece about what favours the so-called 'Bonus Features' on the DVD did the film...


Or this review, from Time Out's Dave Calhoun, makes for interesting reading...


End-notes

* Maybe it feels a little like My Week with Marilyn (2011) - important to the young person at the time, but one gets over it ? (Each film has a (different) Williams, too...)




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Via Tasso : No torture for you, just execution…

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


25 March

This is a review of Roma, città aperta (Rome, open city) (1945)

This film has several things in common with both The Third Man (1949) and A Canterbury Tale (1944), in being in black and white, made shortly after (even during, in the case of Powell and Pressburger’s feature) the Second World War, and making a feature of the bombed city, as well as the fact that two cities are spiritual homes of Christian leaders. This observation is made not to confine the film to its epoch*, but to recognize that VE Day and The Allied liberation naturally led film-makers to dwell on the preceding five years, what had been lost, and at what cost regained, and to respond in ways that have gained credit for all three productions.



At the start, the title Roma città aperta is rendered in black capitals for ‘Roma’, on which the other two words are overlaid in white lower case, with a panorama behind : quite striking, in the ways that this film – not just visually – is throughout. Compare this with August : Osage County, where the focus on faces seems to be all over the place, and here the effects are subtle, gently putting Francini (Marcello Pagliero) into softer focus as if to give him a mystique, even sanctitude, as a member of the resistance : one almost feels that director of photography Ubaldo Urata would be taking Adriano Goldman, that of Streep’s film, aside, and telling him a few things, explaining how a film should look.

That aside, no wonder that Martin Scorsese recently listed Roma, città aperta as one of his 85 top films, for it is crisp, clear, and certain as to what it achieves, even if, as an audience, we have to work quite hard, at times, to keep up. In honesty, though the restoration looks grand, the lack, particularly towards the beginning, of subtitles for the German speech makes for difficulty.

(For, although one can infer, for example, from the direction in which the SS goons are sent what their orders have been when they are sent to search a building, the information in the other dialogue at that time is only available to those with a grasp of and ear for the language, which does not help. On another level, for anyone with any Italian, the general lack of synchronization between lips and speech is tiresome, because the film looks as if it has been dubbed, and one also does not have the immediate cue of a mouth moving to be sure who is speaking when it could be one of three men in a dark scene.)



We see the occupying German forces determining to divide Rome up into sectors for the purposes of carrying out searches more efficiently, we hear them grandly declare their ‘rights’ as occupiers, and we see them home in on Manfredi. Is this the meaning of città aperta (‘open city’), rather than some positive meaning (although, of course, we hear mention of Cassino, and we know the course of history) ?

Or does the significance lie in the sacrifices that we see made, by those captured, not to betray their comrades in the resistance to the arch Nazi, Major Bergmann (Harry Feist), who seems rabidly adherent to the idea of a master race**, and thereby to fight for the freedom of the city ? For we see a convoy, which is transporting prisoners, attacked and they are freed, and the film places at its centre the values of trust and protecting others, when, doubtless unfairly, Italian combatants have been given a reputation for cowardice, and the resistance in other countries has been given a much higher profile.

Aldo Fabrizi, as Don Pietro, is unassumingly at the centre of the film, but we have no appreciation of his eventual role when Pina (short for Giuseppina, played by Anna Magnani) sends her son Piccolo Marcello (Vito Annichiarico) to fetch him early on. As the Germans were not the ultimate victors in Europe, the film can, of course, make the locals knowing and skilled in their subversion of the activities of the occupiers. It appears (from what
Wikipedia
says) that the reason for the film was, in part, that a wealthy, elderly lady initially wanted to finance documentaries, first about Fabrizi’s character, and then about Roman children who had engaged in combat against the Germans : Rossellini had already wanted Fabrizi to be the priest, and Federico Fellini and Sergio Amidei suggested a feature film to cover the two subjects.

That
Wikipedia item
, however, goes on to quote Rossellini as saying that it is A film about fear, the fear felt by all of us but by me in particular. I too had to go into hiding. I too was on the run. I had friends who were captured and killed. As portrayed, though the struggle is of a deadly nature and we see death, the zeal of Major Bergmann is amusingly undermined by one of his junior officers, Captain Hartmann (Joop von Hulzen), who is (by his own admission) the worse for drink, and who reports experiences with patriots in France that cast doubt on Bergmann’s faith in his powers of extracting information by interrogation and torture.

A sybaritic and, despite her apparent sympathy, even more ruthless figure is that of Ingrid (Giovanna Galletti), who would not be out of place as a Bond henchman (or even villain), in whom and whose environs Amidei (with the collaboration of Rossellini and Fellini) evokes the feeling of The Weimar Republic that we get from Christopher Isherwood via Cabaret (1972). Against such as Bermann and she, Pina and Don Pietro shine, which, despite our knowing that it is an artificial distinction, does not lessen the power of the story.

With a vibrant score by Renzo Rossellini, and its evocative camerawork, the tension that there is in this film is palpable. With the moral argument that the invaders invoke being against history, the resultant way in which courage and resignation can be shown on the part of those fighting back is the stronger : for some reason, between 1951 and 1960, the film was banned in the former West Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland).


End-notes

* Another example is La Bataille du Rail (1946).

** Some critics, though, seem not to have been kind on Feist’s performance, and set it aside from that of the others.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Let’s make an agreement… ~ Francis

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This is a review of The Darjeeling Limited (2007)



Francis’ (Owen Wilson’s) brothers Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) may have some notion as to why they are in India with him, but we just suddenly start the film by seeing Peter run and make a train that businessman Bill Murray misses*, joining Jack and Francis on the gaily painted several carriages that constitute The Darjeeling Limited. One frankly does not care whether up-market independent train operators such as the Bengal Lancer and this one are a reality in India – one buys into it, because of the sheer persuasiveness of Wes Anderson’s directorial / writing vision :

Just as with the poignantly elaborate set of luggage, Anderson is packaging a concept just for the film, and we do not so much as hesitate to legitimize it with our attention and belief. (Likewise, The Grand Budapest and its mountain perch patently do not exist, but that is the whole point : in that film, the wholly deliberate irony is that the Author who, when younger, met an older Zero, who told of Gustave H. and their earlier adventures and fate, is investing with meaning a story about a non-existent place, and we laugh and cry about it even so.)

The feature, however, is – as stipulated – preceded by a short called Hotel Chevalier (2007), which involves Jack, the room in the hotel in which he has ensconced himself for quite a while (elaborately customizing it), an item of that monogrammed luggage, and a call from and the arrival of Natalie Portman as the woman who has hurt him in some way. The encounter is loaded with suppressed energy, yet at the same time seems low key, with questions and quick-fire, almost knee-jerk, answers, as if this is the endgame to a hard-fought game of chess, reduced to its essentials : she says that she will feel bad in the morning, if they have intercourse, and he responds with ‘That’s OK with me !’.

Such feelings, under the surface but maybe not (fully) acknowledged by either party, prepare us for what is to follow. For the trip on which Peter joins Jack and Francis is on the latter’s obsessive terms (who, we later see, gets it all from their mother Patricia (Anjelica Huston)) – assisted by the enigmatic Brendan (Wallace Wolodarsky), who has been engaged to devise, print and even laminate the itinerary as a convenient card, the trip progresses, trying to get spirituality from scheduled stops at this or that holy place.

One is reminded a little, by the trio’s shakes of the head at nothing happening when they have completed some ritual, of the moment, in Beckettt’s Endgame**, when Hamm, Clov and Nagg (three other males), on Hamm's injunction Let us pray to God, adopt 'Attitudes of prayer' : when, afterwards, all three say that nothing took place, Hamm concludes The bastard ! He doesn’t exist***. This ‘reporting back’ is one of the film’s routines, and there is a comic inevitability that this or that procedure hasn’t worked because Peter and / or Jack did not ‘do it properly’.

Through these stipulated activities from Francis, through Jack’s lust, and through Peter embracing danger – as well as from their casual abuse of pain-killers (coincidentally, they also feature throughout Endgame), and even cough liquid (reminiscent of Beijing Punk’s Madame Pearl’s syrup ) – we come to know them all, their inability to keep secrets, their failure to abide by the agreements that Francis procures, and the rebellion that covers mourning, a sense of irredeemable loss.

What does work for them is an event that is entirely off programme, and which sees the trio, going native in Darjeeling Limited pyjamas, where they had not expected to be, but where they are graciously included in what happens. We see them enter into it in slow motion, just as Peter caught the train at the beginning, but this seems fitting, no affectation. The pyjamas are what they offer as the best that they have to fit in, and that is how they come to relate to where they are, rather than continuing to expect the spiritual to come to order.



Anderson has achieved a rare and lovely thing with this film : not the over-reverential approach of the British in A Passage to India (1984), where India seems so ‘other’ that it is always going to remain at a distance, and not the mixture of the worst of what is almost frivolity and of predictability in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) (such as a hotel not as expected****, run by the stereotypical entrepreneurial dreamer without substance, and where racism can be charmed away by generosity and hospitality).



Instead, Darjeeling gives us an immaculately structured work (including the unusual frisson of an apparently separate prelude to the main act), which has been put together and filmed so carefully, with Anderson’s heightened sense of a unity of composition, that it seems to be in the same relation to India, but no less true than, Henri Rousseau’s The Dream (from 1910) to the jungle : our appreciation is heightened by our awareness of the technique behind the art. Plus, of course, the three strong central performances (all of them are Anderson regulars), in which Brody probably has the edge for presence, but Wilson has done some of his best work, and (with Roman Coppola) Schwartzman also co-wrote the script.




End-notes

* A paradigm for life ? How often do we say I missed the boat on that one ?

** Faber & Faber, London, 1964, pp. 37–38.

*** An utterance censored by order of The Lord Chamberlain (when there was such an office), and required to be something more tame.

**** According to IMDb, the British visitors are ‘retirees’, which logically implies that another person (‘the retiror / retirer’) has retired them, not that they retired.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 22 March 2014

I am a big pile of lies ~ Kingo

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23 March

This is a review of Unforgiven (Yurusarezaru mono) (2013)

It is doubtful that one needs to know the Clint Eastwood original of Unforgiven (from 1992) to appreciate Sang-il Lee’s 2013 tribute version, set on the Japanese island of Hokkaido : one can easily translate a brothel in Wahiro to one in the States, and a ruthless Chief to a sheriff.

What is more likely to attract attention than such comparisons is the sheer beauty of the film, although, because of the samurai component, one is also making mental references to others, such as Kill Bill Volumes 1 (2003) and 2 (2004) and Only God Forgives (2013), neither of which comes off well, especially the latter. The reason being that Tarrantino, as often enough, is so knowing that the result resembles pastiche, rather than homage, and that Winding Refn (as observed) does not even do that skilled work of assimilating his influences.



Ken Watanabe (as Jubei) leads a very strong cast, and makes thoroughly credible the struggle that he has with staying true to what his deceased wife taught him – essentially, he is in a double bind, because he either ignores the sacrifice that his friend Kingo (Akira Emoto) made, or he honours him and goes against his new way of life. This, of course, will be what Eastwood faced in some form, but Watanabe is wonderfully open to the contradictions that are in Jubei, back to whether to leave his home and accompany Kingo in the first place.

Directorially (Lee also co-wrote the script), the use of flashbacks, following the historical setting of the scene, to illuminate where Jubei’s character has come from is highly effective : we look at the scenes as if he is reliving them, and, because they are in the snow, they have a strong emotional resonance, because we appreciate that the events that we see are in an environment where food, energy and one’s life’s blood are at a premium.

Koichi Sato, as the Chief Ichizo Oishi, is a force of vengeance and retribution with some resemblances to Only God’s Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), but many times better drawn, for all the presence that Chang has. For, just as that film has its genesis in violence towards a prostitute, we see Oishi mete out what seems to be arbitrary justice, only exacting what amounts to a fine, payable to the owner of the brothel, yet beating up those who are seeking a bounty (which, when it is Jubei, reminds of Julian (Ryan Gosling) taking on Chang).

With Chang, there seems, at times, to be little rhyme or reason in his actions (and we doubt that he is truly human), whereas Oishi is demonstrating that he does not value anything other than what threatens the rule of law (as he interprets and enforces it) : if that requires a humiliating and sustained act of brutality to send a message, that is enough justification for him (as, to an extent, it is for Chang, but then everyone would already have heard of him). And, as viewers, we are torn between the disrespected and disfigured prostitute and her comrades in not having justice (because seen as chattels), and between despising how Oishi abuses his power, even if killing people for reward is clearly a form of lawlessness.

No doubt those pulls in different directions are in the original. Here (although the lack of detail in the IMDb entry does not allow credit to be reliably assigned), the performances from those mentioned, all of the bounty hunters, and the injured prostitute and her champion are all very strong, the music is highly effective, and the sense of place and presence is intense. So far, the film has eight nominations, including one for Watanabe, and two for Norimichi Kasamatsu’s cinematography, and they are well deserved for this strong and beautiful feature.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Echoes of the future in Beethoven's Septet in E Flat Major, Op. 20 ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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18 March

A concert given by Britten Sinfonia (@BrittenSinfonia) at West Road Concert Hall (@WestRoadCH), Cambridge, on Tuesday 18 March

This lunch-time’s concert saw a pairing of Versa est in luctum, a new commission by William Cole for the same forces as and with Beethoven’s Septet in E Flat Major from 1800 (Op. 20), a string trio plus double bass, bassoon, clarinet, and horn – the Sinfonia and the Wigmore Hall asked Cole to write the piece after he won the Cambridge University Composers’ Workshop in 2013.

Cole’s piece preceded its illustrious forebear (as Jo Kirkbride’s informative programme note bears testament – in fact, too illustrious for Beethoven’s liking, as he came to rue it as a cultural straitjacket by means of which others sought to confine his artistic development), and ran to around one-quarter of its length, in one movement.

It opened with what seemed to be a canon*, Clare Finnimore (viola) following Marianne Thorsen on violin, which, as it recurred, had increasing levels of interjections from the other instruments. Not necessarily being anthropomorphic about the composition, but the original theme then started becoming fragmentary (and maybe with hints of an inversion ?) before an extrapolation that reduced any resemblance further.


By now, the sound had become an exciting hubbub, but this appearance subsided, leaving the violin over a repeated interval, and with a beat being kept by the bass (Stephen Williams). When this, too, had become intense, there was a long pause, as if the piece might be at an end, but a short pizzicato moment gave way to a section for clarinet (Joy Farrall), cello (Caroline Dearnley) and bassoon (Sarah Burnett). What then sounded like open notes from the horn (Susan Dent) led to a sonority with the reed players, before the work closed with a gesture from bass and cello.

As an experience, Versa est in luctum did not seem as though it were just ten minutes long, as there seemed to be worlds within it : fitting, indeed, as the text comes from the central chapter of what is known as Job’s closing monologue, and, given all that has happened to him over time, is of a reflective nature. It received its World Premiere on Friday in Norwich, and, of course, played with conviction and verve by members of the Sinfonia, was well met in Cambridge.


As to the Beethoven, its six-movement structure began with two marked Adagio, although the first turned to an Allegro con brio. Words that do not always fit in one’s mouth at the same time as thinking about Beethoven, from the opening unison chord it exuded charm and grace in the Sinfonia’s hands. After some writing that felt its way around the dynamics, and a theme that sounded as though it had a statement and a response built into it, the material proper began with a melody that the composer might have been disgruntled to have described as Mozartian, with that sort of ambience for clarinet that he so liked. The succeeding interplay of voices led us back to the beginning, ending soon after with a feeling of suspension.

The cantabile movement that came next gave the melody to the clarinet, with strings underneath, and then passed it to the violin, before a prominent passage for bassoon. An air of expectancy had been built, into which a series of horn notes fed, the strings then providing support as it went on, but leaving still a sense of restraint until the violin emerged and gave the movement its main expressive force. A short piece in Tempo di menuetto followed, with, as in the opening movement, a theme, of an accented nature, and a paired theme, the whole impression being somewhat grand, perhaps military.

A mildly staccato statement of the theme, as used earlier in the work, in the Tema con variazioni : Andante led to a set of six variations, a form that Beethoven was to turn to throughout his career and where his own voice became more apparent. The first variation began with violin and viola, and then introduced the cello, whereas the second had the other players responding to the violin giving the theme, with the cello in its upper register. Next, clarinet and bassoon with the strings beneath them, and then, in a variation reminiscent of a movement twenty-four years later in the Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, horn and violin together (then playing quickly underneath, with a pizzicato from cello and bass.

In another variation that evoked later writing, the fifth had some of the character of Beethoven’s masterly writing for string quartet, before the brass and reed players joined in, and with a real quality of sweetness of playing from Thorsen, as the theme passed back and forth. Finally, the bass and the cello in its lower voice were to the fore, and brought the set to a close. In the Scherzo : Allegro molto e vivace, a movement of equivalent length to that of the Minuet, the ‘parped’ horn theme reminded of somewhere in the first two symphonies (No. 1 being the next Opus number, and, as Jo Kirbride usefully tells us, performed at the same concert where this work was premiered). The cello then advanced, supported by the bassoon, with a softer version, and the movement proceeded in sonata form, ending quite quickly, but not before a short ‘pa pa’ from the horn to recall the opening.

Again, as Beethoven was to go on to do (and Mozart (and Haydn) had done before), the Andante con moto alla Marcia; Presto began in a funereal vein, before the full-blown finale broke through, with a great feeling of lightness. Nevertheless, he gave an insistence to the theme, and there were glimmerings of his writing to come in the Symphony No. 7 in A Major, just over a decade later, and wrote captivatingly, which Thorsen brought out, for her instrument. When the theme returned, the balance of the ensemble, as had been apparent all along, was just right, and, after a momentary suggestion that we were veering into the minor, this accurate and emotionally careful drew to a close.

There was immense appreciation for the quality and deftness of the musicianship that we had heard, and the concert will be a treat for Radio 3 listeners in the summer, not least for those who find similar evidence in this work of what was to come. At the same time, one can well understand, as he expressed himself to pupil Carl Czerny, Beethoven’s not wanting to be tied to this piece, and to look forward, not to be asked for something in the more agreeable style of the Septet ! How many times are we grateful to true artists for being true to what they felt that they should compose, or paint, or write…


End-notes

* Which Cole tells us, in his note, is from a fifteenth-century motet by Alonso Lobo, setting a verse featuring instruments from the Book of Job (Job 30 : 31).





Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 17 March 2014

Dreams - and impossible journeys

This is a review of The Rocket (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


19 March

This is a review of The Rocket (2013)

A world of tradition, of reverence, of suspicion and ritual, confronted with a force of nature, the one represented by grandmother Taitok (Bunsri Yindi), the other within Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe) : if it had not been for Ahlo’s mother Mali (Alice Keohavong), as a twin* he would not have survived, but he continues to be weighed in the balance as to whether he is a blessing or a curse, one of those self-fulfilling prophecies, in which, despite himself, he places increasing belief. With reason, given what happens in a Fitzcarraldo (1982) sort of episode, when his village’s inhabitants have been required to evacuate.

The representatives of the village have been sold a lie to get them to leave, and even Taitok, despite swearing that she will not leave, does not stay. Dressed and behaving / believing as she does, she seems a constant reminder of what has been left behind, for she is as trapped in her ways as Ahlo seems doomed to be, but we see her make adjustments.

The family leaving their home allows them to become subject to the dynamic of two other people who do not fit in, the young Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam) and her uncle (Suthep Po-ngam), whose real name we once see, but whom Ahlo calls Uncle Purple. It is a surprise in store why that is, but he is as tremendous as the young actors, and an inspiration to Ahlo : once such inspiration means that it is best for the group of adults and children to move covertly on together, as if there appears to be anywhere to go.

Set in Laos, where the States had got involved with the Laotian Civil War in connection with the communist allegiances of nearby North Vietnam and, from 11 December 1965, ran large numbers of sorties with B-52 heavy bombers, parts of the world that we see are littered with unexploded bombs (Sleeping Tigers, as Uncle Purple calls them) and intact bomblets that had been dropped in cluster bombs, and the bombers from 50 years ago are still in the language.

Where the travellers end up, and the ever rebelliously adventurous Ahlo seeks to make his family’s and his footing secure, there is a mixture of the old and the new, of monks embracing the profane, and of beliefs in forces that can make or withhold much-needed rain. Against this backdrop, we see a struggle between mother and son with Taitok and Toma (Sumrit Warin), with mixed messages of encouragement and discouragement and a portion of blame on the side, we find Kia a complementary force to Ahlo (epitomized by the beautiful blooms, dropped on his head, with which she introduces herself), and the functionally ineffectual attempts to rein in Ahlo’s exuberance.

At the end, everyone reaches the improbable prize at the end of the rainbow, and, finally, with recognition for Toma as well as for Ahlo, the former having had to play the underdog and suffer indignation, which was a role of great inner strength for Warin under the spotlight of the more obvious potency of Yindi as Taitok. The exultation not only at the achievement, but what it means for their future, is tinged only by a momentary minor note as Uncle Purple bows out.

Maybe he has sensed that his time has come and that he has fulfilled his purpose by now in Ahlo, maybe it is just his ghost that we see, but it does not stop the film ending on a very high note, with real pleasure at the outcome.

From Red Lamp Films, The Rocket (2013) as reviewed by @THEAGENTAPSLEY - the victory of possibility over probability : http://t.co/UIQT0tTgSR
— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) March 20, 2014


End-notes

* Think of twins, and, once one has swerved around Twins (1988), one inevitably cleanses the palate with the duos from The Shining (1980) or The Matrix Reloaded (2003), where nothing suggests that there is really anything to choose between the siblings.

One might even head out of film altogether and in the direction of The Comedy of Errors, where two pairs of twins wreak havoc (Ahlo ?). In that late sixteenth-century environment, there is nothing to suggest that any moral judgement attaches to one member of a twin over the other, and Viola and her brother Sebastian, in Twelfth Night, are not alone in Shakespeare’s world in being twins blamelessly at the centre of the action : for Anne Hathaway and he even produced twins, Hamnet and Judith.

On the other hand, although what we call the parable of The Prodigal Son is not said to concern twin brothers (as it is really about being in a relationship with a father, but also the envy of not feeling appreciated because another is welcomed home – Abel looked at awry by Cain ?), the sons are quite different from each other in their actions and attitudes, if not at opposite poles as Robert Mitchum’s knuckles are in The Night of the Hunter (1955)…




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Cats are people (Kit Downes)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014
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17 March

This is a review of a gig, given at Cambridge's Hidden Rooms for Cambridge Modern Jazz (@camjazz), by the Kit Downes Quintet


As we must have been told, in various ways, more than half-a-dozen times, this was / had been an acoustic gig – perhaps that truly is a rarity, or for Kit Downes at any rate, but it did feel like pushing a unique selling point (USP) to those who, by virtue of being there, had already bought. (Maybe the USP was being hit home for the benefit of those who might hear, from us, what they had missed… ?)




Personnel :

Kit Downesupright piano

James AllsoppB Flat and bass clarinets, tenor sax

Calum Gourlaybass

James Maddrendrums

Lucy Railtoncello


Unlike some of Kit Downes’ other work, what he had written for the quintet* felt relatively composed – not in the sense of being tranquil (although some pieces definitely were), but less improvisatory (although not necessarily in the texture of his own contribution on piano). What it had was the familiar juxtaposition of moods within a piece that we know from Troyka (@Troykaband), where, as if in a set of Irish or Scottish tunes, there is a sudden, planned transition to the next section.

The first set opened with such a tranquil feel, as a way into the evening, and the ensemble was perfect, the notes of James Allsopp’s bass clarinet fitting perfectly within the scale of the harmony. The next, we were told (Downes gave the introductions, in his confident, avuncular way), had been inspired by Bill Frisell, and was a blues that built, with Allsopp, on B Flat clarinet, wailing, winding up the song**, but ultimately resolving in a quiet way, with plucked notes from Lucy Railton on cello. The third piece had an experimental feel, by now unlike the safety of the opener, with Allsopp giving us occasional blasts on his tenor sax, and with very loud unexpected knocks from James Maddren on drums.

The penultimate piece in the first set was a reflective number, in which Maddren had to keep up a complicated rhythm. Under the apparent calm of the surface, something was happening, and the piece imperceptibly built up, and then as quietly slipped away again. Ivan Hewitt’s description of Downes’ work seems apt : an engagingly slow-burn energy (The Sunday Telegraph). From B Flat, Allsopp returned to bass clarinet in a piece by bassist Gourlay called ‘Smoke’ (which he said, when Downes asked, had nothing to do with smoking), a somewhat sombre, syncopated melody, which was laced with sunnier intervals, and had a complicated theme in the upper voices.

In all of this, less mention than one might imagine of Downes himself, but he was there in all of it, setting the tempo / counting in, giving clear cues (for which Allsopp, in particular, looked expectantly), and keeping the currents under the progression at work, such that there was no doubting who was leading.

This group is an expanded form of the Kit Downes Trio, with Gourlay and Maddren (who, at the time of the release of their CD Quiet Tiger three years ago, had been playing together for six years). They are fellow graduates of the Royal Academy of Music (and Allsopp, another Academician (so is Lucy Railton), guested on the album). In fact, sometimes, what we heard did fall back on those three original players, with Railton and Allsopp patiently silent (but one would not necessarily have thought any more than we had the jazz standard of piano, bass and drums).

After the interval, the second set opened with a pair of pieces, ‘Boreal’ (from Tiger) and ‘Clowns After Dark’, the latter of which Downes explained, humorously at Allsopp’s expense, related to their early acquaintance, when Allsopp had arrived very late to a party (the other guests had gone) as a clown with a smudged appearance, whose efforts at making up might have been better performed at some other time. Another quiet opening, with Allsopp on bass clarinet, and then a jaunty number – as of a clown on the tiles ? – with a raucous solo from Allsopp.

Another pair of tunes followed, ‘Two Ones’ and ‘Bleydays’ (both from Downes’ album Light from Old Stars), the latter said to be a combined tribute to pianist Paul Bley and to t.v.’s Playdays… In the first, Railton’s cello had a keening quality to it, and as a whole the number felt like an air. Changing from Allsopp on clarinet to sax, Downes’ theme had the impression that we know from Thelonius Monk – which led some to the false interpretation that Monk did not know how to play – of music almost falling over itself in its rhythmic diversification. Rare for the gig, Downes had a solo, and then, when the others re-entered, the number ended softly with sax and drums.

The set closed with ‘Skip James’ (also from Tiger), which had the atmospheric mood of a blues, and in which Allsopp’s lower-register notes on bass clarinet fitted in beautifully with the gorgeous ensemble. Altogether, a very fine example of instrumentalists producing a sonorous whole, and some very varied effects.

When called up for an encore, Downes said that they did not often expect one, but decided, after hesitation, on ‘Owls’ – bite sized, he stressed. This is from Stars, and he said that it was in the spirit of David Lynch (the second film reference of the night). It may have been, but, with its nocturnal timbre (complete with owl calls from Maddren !), it also reminded a little of The Addams Family – although Downes predicted, regarding his choice, that it would send everyone off on a low, it was a very suitable end to the session.


End-notes

* Afterwards, Downes said that – which is the only place for him to start with a piece – everything had been with the quintet, and the skills of its players, in mind, e.g. James Allsopp’s great capacity to play in a free style, and Lucy Railton’s classical training : he is doing some gigs as a duo with her, and will be at Cheltenham (#cheltjazzfest).

** To quote the lyrics of a song on a solo album by Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Do you think I'm pretty ?

This is a review of Under the Skin (2013)

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This is a review of Under the Skin (2013)

Rather unlikely though it may seem in retrospect, Tilda Swinton appeared as four characters in a film where a central tenet is that one or more of three genetically engineered ‘sisters’ needs to engage in sexual activity to collect semen to keep them all alive. Teknolust (2002) really is not much better than described, because it leaves nothing to the viewer’s imagination, and does one much care whether Ruby, Olive and Marine perish (let alone whether semen denatures if, as here, heated in a vessel) ?

In Under the Skin (2013), the danger, if anything, is of obscuring the novelistic source-material in a film that is visually very sharp and concerns quiet contemplation, allowing the eye to acclimatize to what is in the shot : a wide view, with, one realizes, Scarlett Johansson (Laura ?*) walking along the road in the middle ground; an assembly of images, faces, gestures in Glasgow that becomes a golden kaleidoscope; looking into the darkness, and seeing that a figure is coming out from it; the fog and what comes in and out of view in it. At one point, the raging of the sea, and people's impotence in the face of it.


At times, #UndertheSkin is unnervingly stylized, like ritual, at others observational of nature, and human nature, in an unassuming way.
— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) March 19, 2014

In an opening sequence, complete with acute musical accompaniment composed by Mica Levi, we are given a sense of the genesis of Laura's character, centring on the iris, but, even then, we cannot be quite sure what we see - nothing to do with the quality, for that uncertainty is quite intentional. The film does not really have a narrative, but a structure, and it deliberately leaves the meaning of quite a bit of what we see unclear. In particular, Laura seems to collaborate with more than one bike-rider, who, as she does in her van**, roam the territory (they almost always seem to be seen at night, as is Laura for much of the film), but what the connection is and what purpose it serves no one could ever say.

It is a fine line to tread between telling too much story (Piercing Brightness (2013)) and ending up crass, and not telling enough (and, inevitably, losing some of the audience), and, although Skin is close to the latter, as the film develops, we are running through the possibilities in our minds, and it gives us quite a mental workout (even if, as said, some of those matters are ultimately going to be a matter of our deciding what was going on, and why : perhaps this is some kind of hive, with Laura as the queen, and the men as drones ?).




Just when Skin seems to be in danger of having become repetitive, with variations on a theme, it is careful to deviate from what we have seen before - at first, still at its pace and nothing dramatic, although, in such terms and on all sorts of levels, the ending is a shock, not just because we have started to care about Laura when she resembles a black widow spider less. Moving to being less in control, we forget even that the famous face is that of an actress, and think of Johansson as a woman, no longer predating.

All in all, as Edgar Allan Poe would not, nothing to stretch the boundaries too far, an interesting journey, and some devastatingly impressive images.


Postscript

A somewhat spoilery review from Mark Kermode (in The Observer) is quite interesting


End-notes

* Apparently (according to IMDb, she (her name is never heard) is called Laura (which may have been taken from the book, as may the fact that she is English, as Johansson perfectly sounds).

** The same IMDb entry asserts that hidden cameras captured the men who get into the van, who were not actors, and director Jonathan Glazer only told them afterwards about the film. Equally, it describes the film as An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland whereas being asked for directions or walking to the local shop is hardly hitching...




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

From the archive : Miró at Tate Modern

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17 March

I do not know whether those who purchase a ticket on the day are allowed re-entry (and I have heard people in the past talking about ‘doing a show’ in 90 minutes because they have an art-history background), but I tend to find these Tate Modern exhibitions quite demanding, because they are so extensive and there is often almost too much to look at.

(I have seen some comments about the ticket-price: maybe the exhibitions will seem expensive if, apart from the availability of toilets (and they are not very obvious), one understands that the only time to look around is the two or three hours before needing lunch or dinner.)

If not, this is where Tate membership is a real benefit, because I am free to go off to have a coffee or something to eat, if I am getting fatigued and realize that I am no longer taking in what I am trying to look at. I can then go back into the exhibition once or twice more, or even leave the rest of it until another day.

However, in this case, apart from the Barcelona series – which I left to the end and only had time to spend a few seconds in front of each print – there was no one group of exhibits that represented a very significant amount of time needed to look at it properly. (I would say that the display-cases in the Gauguin show represent the other extreme.) Room 1 had been seen on another day, but I managed to look around yesterday in the five hours until 10.00 p.m. that I had available.

That, too, is a benefit of Friday and Saturday evenings, with the gallery thinning out towards closing time. Others have commented on the two rooms with two triptychs each (Rooms 10 and 12, although the fireworks triptych was displayed differently, and well), but it was only later that one could get a clear view of all three canvases, and I deliberately waited until past 9.30 p.m. to view them.

They were stunning, both pairs, and I will hope to see them again when the gallery is quiet, but I wondered whether they really needed a little more space to themselves, and the fact that they were back to back meant that a viewer standing away to take in one triptych as a whole, as I did, would inevitably (if there had been anyone there then) have been in the way of anyone wanting to see the other.

With an artist as prolific as Miró (and I had not been aware that he was working at his death until I saw the video, which was not in its normal place at the exit), the exhibition was inevitably selective, but it was a very good selection, not least for the Constellations series, and, again, the triptychs.

That said, including the burnt pictures but not having footage from the video that I saw displayed on a screen in Room 11, which could have showed the artist burning a canvas (and even stepping on it and leaving red footprints) was, I believe, a mistake: with the video where it is, not everyone would see it, and I consider it as of much more interpretative value to have something relevant to the creation of a series of works in the place where they are being shown.

Above all, I now appreciate that Miró related to series (and, although he is quoted as saying that two and two do not make four, he had some sort of personal mathematics that related one item in a series to the next), and also to sequence, so it was also unfortunate that the captioning in Room 7 did not more clearly draw attention to his request for the Constellations to be displayed in order. They were displayed in order, but the casual viewer would not obviously have known where to start, or (except from the date on the caption to each painting) that they were in any definite order.

Which takes me to my final few observations about the exhibition and how it was curated:

1. Unless I am much mistaken and misunderstood the footage, the curators of the exhibition themselves (shown, on the video, visiting Miró’s studios, both of which he had used since 1959) confused the studios, and seemed to be saying that works created in one were the product of the other.

In any event, it would again have been helpful to understand the artist’s working life to have had the history and views of the studios, and his way of working, set out in the exhibition (not just references to them in the captions).

2. Inevitably, the captions to the paintings (as well as those for each room) tease out meanings, and make suggestions as to how work and life relate: the ones in this exhibition were generally suitably tentative, but, after a while, the proposition introduced by ‘maybe’ kept eliciting my quiet retort Who says so ? (What evidence is there for what the ladder imagery means, I want to ask.)

On this level, not least when the video footage of Miró gave a very different impression of the genesis of the burnt canvases, and set his producing them in a different context, I sometimes felt misled by what was being suggested as to his motivation or meaning (Room 11, for example).

3. Finally, the fact that the chronology of his life was (as it usually is) outside the exhibition, but was essential reading to flesh out one’s understanding of Spain and its history did not help. (I do not even recall a map of Spain for that matter, showing where Mont-roig and other significant places are, and not everyone has yet visited Barcelona.)

This was a particular problem where such help was most needed: I was being asked to understand the paintings from 1931 onwards against the background of what was happening, but I could not tell from what was presented to me when Franco actually gained power, or when the Spanish Civil War began and (how it) ended.

Details of that war as a whole, including German involvement and the anti-fascist movement, seemed to have been assumed to be common knowledge, which I doubt is true: information and images would have informed viewing the paintings greatly. The Phoney War was also referred to, but we were not even told (it was the anniversary on my visit) that Britain (and France) declared war on 3 September, or when Germany invaded France and The Low Countries.

Unfortunately, I end up thinking that I will have to look out texts on the civil war myself to understand better the times in which Miró was painting.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Paul : The distinction of being not just a bore, but a boor

This is a review of Midnight in Paris (2011)

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This is a review of Midnight in Paris (2011)

People have, apparently, likened this film to Manhattan (1979), which they mean in a back-handed way, as saying that Allen has returned to form, but this view is wrong on two counts: Allen may have made occasional recent films (e.g. Match Point (2005)) that do not work (or only work clunkily), but he has never lost his form; and Midnight has almost nothing, opening montage excepted, in common with Manhattan (or, for that matter, Annie Hall (1977), the other chosen point of comparison – why choose two films made more than thirty years ago ?).

Taking each point in turn, there is nothing to be apologetic about in either Whatever Works (2009), perfectly suiting Larry David, or You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010), although probably less successful for reasons of plot – Midnight is not a welcome recovery, but simply surpasses them both.

The wide situational and character sweep of Midnight is also nothing like that of Annie or Manhattan, which are arguably more like chamber music than this piece, which, if not a symphony, has clear claims on being a concerto.

In addition, it is not as if Paris has not been the backdrop before, unless people have already forgotten Everyone Says I Love You (1996), and it is common knowledge that Allen is truly American in feeling the French capital’s charm and attraction – just as he does London’s very different pull.


Midnight is not perfect, either, but there are some very good elements to it, some of which look back in the canon: for example, the lead character, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), has definite similarities, not just in mannerisms and pacing, with Kenneth Branagh as fellow writer Lee Simon in Celebrity (1998). Such figures, if not Allen-substitutes per se in the films in which he does not (choose to) cast himself, function in the same pivotal sort of way, and often have the pick of the lines. Taking that further, Lee, as does Gil, finds himself in an exciting new world that he does not know, but it is one of elitism and opportunity – Gil has opportunity, perhaps, but of a different kind..

The film feels very close to Allen’s short stories, and he very casually has Gil enter the world of the 1920s by being offered a lift, when he is lost, by a group of revellers in a vintage Peugeot: nothing overt in this transition, except for the bubbles in the champagne that they insist that Gil join them in drinking, and he is taken he and we know not where.

Thankfully, we can get away from regarding the scenario as magical realism (whatever it may be, though it little matters). For Gil not only gives us the benefit (probably partly because he is tired after an evening of wine-tasting, in which he favoured quantity over quality) of letting us be several steps ahead, but also because, just because of the dramatic irony, we can watch his reactions of disbelief more closely. (As the film goes on, they may, however, do Allen fewer favours : how few even know that Eliot’s initials stand for Thomas Stearns, let alone would blurt out the names ?)

Yes, it is just a given that this travel to the earlier decade happens, and that, although Gil can repeat the experience, he cannot explain it to anyone in his own time. (As is usual, e.g. Lucy first visiting Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.) Yet it is never just a shared magical assumption about the nature of the world, unless one includes the viewer.

The feel of the era is good, which, when this is not an art-historical recreation, is what matters, but Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) could still have had a chance to shine more with a less functional role (which may have fallen prey to editing): after all, Stein herself was no mere editor or midwife to other’s creations, and was just as much a character as Hemingway and Dalí, in particular, are shown to be. (As to whether she would have called them ‘crazy Surrealists’, one is less sure.)

With Adriana (Marion Cotillard), one is less sure whether it is that she gives Gil attention (which Inez (Rachel McAdams), though she is also sexy, seems less keen to do), as that she can claim Modigliani and Braque as lovers (in this film, at least), that draw him to her company : let alone the t.v. series, Goodnight, Sweetheart dealing with such a theme, it is at the centre of The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and Allen’s early story ‘The Kugelmass Episode’ (first collected in Side Effects).

As a parable of what one can and cannot have, Paris of the 1920s may be where Gil would have himself be, but he has not foreseen that it might not be everyone’s choice, and he finds himself making other choices for the future instead.

Where the film really does not work is with facts about the contemporary literary and artistic circles, and, if one were the ‘pseudo-intellectual’ whom Gil dubs the very irritating character of Paul (who is of a type whom Allen likes creating, and does so well*), one would have had them to hand in the screening :

Not that it matters, because it may be that all this is Gil’s imagination, and that he is capable of being confused about facts as even Paul (who apparently confounds the figures of Rodin’s wife and mistress, and then insists that the guide is wrong**): if so, then, as with a dream, or as with psychosis (the explanation offered by Inez for Gil’s behaviour and utterances), what he experiences is the product of his will and mind.

In a dream, it is just as much we who are in the dream, creating the people whom we meet, be they Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, or Papa Hemingway (obviously not then called that, but that is how Gil relates to the man whom he has met). One curiosity is that, except for the party to which Gil is first taken, everyone is dressed much more casually than photographs show was usual at that time. Another is that, when it comes to Buñuel, Allen has made him a rather sullen character, and with no suggestion, around the table, that Dalí and he are – or are to be – film-makers together (in Un Chien Andalou (1929). Largely as a private joke, because few might know the reference, Allen has Gil give Buñuel the essential details of the plot of The Exterminating Angel (1962) (which are also supposed to be dealt with in a scene within L’Age d’Or), but Buñuel rebuff him with very unreceptive questions about why that would or would not happen – as if he has not got a Surrealist bone in his body.

This does not seem to suggest that we believe that Gil is dreaming, even if what he experiences is a deep wish on his part, but rather that too much licence has been taken with showing this period, probably in an attempt not to confront an audience with the truth, that the free and easy Surrealists and other artists of the time were to be found in suit and tie.



End-notes


* E.g. Alan Alda as Lester in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). (Alda is also in Everyone Says.)


** However, it seems that Rodin did nothing as bourgeois as intending that either woman – let alone any of the others ! – could contemporaneously claim to be married to him: it was only after knowing Rose Beuret for 53 years that, in 1917, the year in which they both died (she just two weeks afterwards), they married.

By then, Camille Claudel, the other woman, had already been confined to a psychiatric unit for more than twenty years, following a breakdown when Rodin and she split up in 1898, and died there in 1943.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Don’t play hide and seek with reality !*

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9 March

This is a review of a special screening (from 35mm) at The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse), Cambridge, of Ken Loach’s Hidden Agenda (1990), as presented as part of the series ‘Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories Season’ (http://www.conspiracyanddemocracy.org) by the University of Cambridge’s CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities)

The invited guests of CRASSH’s own Hugo Drochon, historian Tony Craig and film producer David Hickman, introduced the film and usefully put it in its political and cinematic context. That said, the film was made a quarter of a century ago, and what we might know now (assuming that Sinclair is right that there is a consensus) about the truth of claims that there was a Tory smear campaign against Harold Wilson may not have been available at the time of this film (and in 1998 – please see the title cited, below) – or not easily to director Ken Loach (or Jim Allen – please see below). (Hickman stated, both before and following the screening, that he thinks that Loach did believe the story about a smear.)  

Besides which, although Loach has close relationships with his writers, Jim Allen is solely credited with producing the script (i.e. not as a co-writer with Loach) : if, therefore, it were germane that talk in the film of a Wilson plot does not accord with the evidence that we have (for it may not be germane, if this is a fiction - please see below), Allen as well as Loach must presumably have ‘bought into’ that notion at the time, even if only enough to make it a part of the skeleton on which the piece is built.

And, historically verifiable accounts apart, the basic message remains : rubbishing others and their reputations can and has been used throughout history by those seeking power (or seeking it for others, e.g. from the US operations with various regimes in Central America to Julius Caesar and Ralph Fiennes' film Coriolanus (2011) (as based on Shakespeare)), irrespective of what are asserted as laudable reasons for so doing.

In other words, the film need not just revolve in its own world, but can be a paradigm for how power is sought, gained and held. This is probably what Loach means in his description of the film (quoted interviewed by Graham Fuller as part of the favoured Faber & Faber series on this blog, Loach on Loach**) :

I guess it’s best described as a fiction inspired by fact

Earlier, Loach talks to Fuller, the book’s editor, about the film’s critical reception, saying that :

You hope some of these notions [sc. about what British forces or public servants have done] linger with people in the audience, but in terms of public debate it’s very difficult to get anything started. One of the ongoing frustrations of film-making is that you try to put out a set of ideas or a piece of evidence in front of an audience, while being as gripping and as entertaining as you can, but critics never deal with the substance or follow up on the questions you’re asking in a film.

Is this why you regard most film criticism as decadent ?

I think so, yes. The critics will examine the brush strokes, but they won’t stand back and see the content of the painting. I don’t know why that is.
[Ibid., pp. 82–83]


Paradigm or not as the film may be intended to be, it is, as Hickman pointed out, beautifully lit, using available light – not strictly so, as he explained afterwards, but as near to it as could be, and a model that, he observed, has been taken over by Hollywood in the interim. (Regarding watching the print, Hickman observed how different the scene looks when Harris is partly in darkness, and then comes into the light, with which the DVD version does not compare.) In the introduction to the chapter in which he deals with, amongst other films, Hidden Agenda, Fuller explains where the film and Loach’s collaborations fit in with his career to date :

Following the critically acclaimed and appropriately controversial Hidden Agenda (1990), their [sc. Loach and Allen’s] initial film collaboration, they went on to make Raining Stones (1993) and Land and Freedom
(1995).

[…] The third factor [in ‘this not unextraordinary renaissance’]*** was the teaming of Loach and Barry Ackroyd, who has photographed all of Loach’s features since Riff-Raff and has brought to them the kind of uncompromising visual rawness that had been lacking from Loach’s films in the Looks and Smiles era. Ackroyd’s cinematography restored to Loach’s and his writers’ world its aesthetic integrity. […]
[Ibid., pp. 78–79]

To contemporary viewers, Brian Cox and Maurice Roëves may be very familiar faces****, from which we can take some comfort in this sinister scenario, and both seem just right for their roles (supported, in the former case, by John Benfield (as Maxwell)) – even physically, Cox has the solidity to be a high-ranking policeman (which we believe will translate into moral and intellectual weightedness), Roëves the wiriness that fits a man on the run. The triangle of principals is completed by Frances McDormand, who shows singular self-determination and sheer spunk as Ingrid Jessner, the woman whose partner, with Harris, is at the (apparent) centre of matters. Unknown to her, and to Kerridge and Maxwell, everything about them has been researched, and they are less the investigators (she with a civil liberties group to which her partner and she belong, he to the police force) than the investigated.

We have high hopes, almost alongside Loach, that Kerridge will do the job with which he has been entrusted, and not worry about putting a few noses out of joint, as we see him happily doing for much of the film. The nub of the film is to lead us to understand how limited his room for manoeuvre is, hence the relevance to a season about conspiracy and the theories that postulate its existence : it is a moot point whether all who infer 'hands at work behind the scenes', and hence a hidden agenda, embrace the terms ‘conspiracy [theorists / theory]’ to describe themselves and what they believe happened or is happening, or whether it is a term of abuse***** from those who dismiss both theories and theorists. Not always from a position of power, such as that from which the film’s Sir Robert Neil (Bernard Archard) and Alec Nevin (Patrick Kavanagh) address Kerridge, but usually with derision.

As the film’s tension builds from that point, one wonders whether it is going to end, for Ingrid, as for a young-seeming Meryl Streep in Silkwood (1983) – or for Harris… In the event, one is reminded of those shocking moments in other depictions when the ground has, stealthily and step by step, been taken out from someone... until the teetering denouement is, because of the physics of gravity, an inevitability – for want of a better analogy, a demise of the kind that David Carradine (as Bill), in Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004), is unaware of facing.

Loach and Allen tell their story with care, and are, for example, content to show us Harris amongst the vividness and noise of the Orange Order parades, but without telling us till later who he is, because they trust that we will recall him and his behaviour. Kerridge and Ingrid are both intended to invoke our sympathies as seeking the truth, although they take different paths and end up diverging (which, of course, only adds to the drama).

This is a film that looks very good cinematically, and still has much to say, Sinclair’s objections as to its historicity apart (it is a document, of a sort, of its own time, however we judge Loach’s politics and where they have him lean) – both emotionally and as to how the world works. As to what Allen and he sought to weave together, perhaps the final word should be left to Loach (continuing the short quotation above) :

It’s very close in the depiction of the murders that were carried out by the RUC and in the corrupting effect of the British presence in Northern Ireland, but the whole issue of fact or fiction gets quite tricky at this point, and I’m not sure we solved it altogether satisfactorily – or the attempt to weave together the Stalker elements with the conspiracy against Wilson.
[Ibid., p. 84]


End-notes

* As Kerridge (Brian Cox) is told, before he is ultimately manipulated into accepting the reality propounded by the film’s conspirators (rather than exposing the reality behind it) : for, as they candidly tell him, they did what they did, it cannot be undone, and they did it – and still think it – ‘for the best’. (The old Machiavellian-style ends over means argument…)

** London, 1998, p. 84.

*** The second being sympathetic producers Rebecca O’Brien and Sally Hibbin.

**** Cox, for example, from Menenius in Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2011) (as well as the voice of disembodied and recreated Alan Watts in Her (2013)), and Roëves from the Chief Inspector in Brighton Rock (2010) (or even Colonel Munro in The Last of the Mohicans (1992)).

***** Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3) has renamed its late-night arts programme Free Thinking, but there were times when to be called a freethinker was meant in a wholly derogatory way.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)