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Mitt Liv sum Hund/My Life as a Dog (Lasse Hallström, 1985)
El Abrazo de la Serpiente/Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2015)
Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986)
La Pianiste/The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001)
Amy (Asif Kapadia, 2015)
Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
Biruma no Tategoto/The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa, 1956)
Cléo de 5 à 7/Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994)
Cloclo/My Way (Florent-Emilio Siri, 2012)
Crash (David Cronenberg, 1996)
Dobermann (Jan Kounen, 1997)
Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972)
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)
Güeros (Alonso Ruiz Palacios, 2014)
Il Postino/The Postman (Michael Radford, 1994)
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)
Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
Jesus Christ Superstar (Norman Jewison, 1973)
Jésus de Montréal/Jesus of Montreal (Denys Arcand, 1989)
Hable con Ella/Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002)
La Battaglia di Algeri/The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo , 1966)
La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995)
La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962)
La Vie de Jésus (Bruno Dumont, 1997)
Le Fil/The Son (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2002)
Leningrad Cowboys Go America (Aki Kaurismäki, 1989)
Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse/The Gleaners & I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
Le Voyage dans la Lune/A Trip to the Moon (Georges Méliès , 1902)
L'important c'est d'aimer/That Most Important Thing: Love (Andrzej Żuławski, 1975)
Lust och Fägring Stor/All Things Fair (Bo Widerberg, 1995)
Molière (Laurent Tirard, 2007)
Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau, 2011)
One of Our Aircraft is Missing! (Powell & Pressburger, 1942)
Peter & the Wolf (Suzie Templeton, 2006)
Popiól i Diament/Ashes and Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, 1958)
Santa Sangre (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989)
Spalovac Mrtvol/The Cremator (Juraj Herz, 1969)
Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
Sur Mes Lèvres/Read My Lips (Jacques Audiard, 2001)
Swingers (Doug Liman, 1996)
The Fall (Tarsem Singh, 2006)
Vagabond (Agnès Varda, 1985)
Went the Day Well? (Cavalcanti, 1942)
Werckmeister Harmóniák/Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, 2000)
Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1987)
Z (Costa-Gavras, 1969)
From A Field in England: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzLnRXtHO0M
On Primo Levi: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/07/wiesel-primo-contrasts/
On London's privileged in the wake of Brexit https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/25/london-separate-city-state-leave-voters-class
We are life which wills to live in the midst of life which wills to live.
Fortunately some are born with spiritual immune systems that sooner or later give rejection to the illusory worldview grafted upon them from birth through social conditioning. They begin sensing that something is amiss and start looking for answers. Inner knowledge and anomalous outer experiences show them a side of reality others are oblivious to and so begins their journey of awakening. Each step of the journey is made by following the heart instead of following the crowd and by choosing knowledge over the veils of ignorance. Henri Bergson
Writing comes partly out of being wounded by life. Something has had to have been bruised and shaken you a little bit; otherwise, why do we ask questions? It's very rare that people who have lived perfect lives become artists because the need to create art is connected to a need to heal something that is imperfect. Ben Okri
Africa is not only a continent in exile but also a land where people emigrate to.
The impetus is northern but the theft is local, done with our complicity ... I strongly oppose the idea that Africa's key characteristic is poverty. She is the victim of her riches. I would rather we talk about pauperisation than poverty. In talking of pauperisation you pinpoint the mechanisms (of poverty) ... I say that the West has created and imposed two fears on itself: terrorism and immigration. We must stop presenting the problems' causes as the solution ... Everything can be bought or sold ... pay or die. That's the West's lesson that we inflict on ourselves. Being a writer doesn't mean I don't have a certain experience at dealing with aggressive stances in an open debate or on issues that I experience from the inside ... Why should the fate of people depend on their ability to produce and sell abroad? Today we see Africans who opt for emigration, who are economic refugees, arrested, handcuffed, deported, humiliated and sent back home. Our countries are not imploding today because, on a domestic level, the women play an important role. That is why they must refuse to be imprisoned within the conventional interpretation of the situation that says they are victims of their culture, society and men.
Madame Traore during the trial of the World Bank and IMF in Bamako
I want to tell you a story. It's a Jewish story. Jacob was alone in a valley. And there he met a stranger. They started to fight. They fought and wrestled through a long, long night. But as dawn broke Jacob realised he could never defeat the stranger because the stranger was an angel. Or God. Or perhaps, all along, Jacob had simply been wrestling with himself.
Sally Potter from The Tango Lesson
After an unjust death, there's nothing to say. Nothing at all. As will become plain below. From the branch of an olive tree there hung a tiny chrysalis the colour of an emerald. Tomorrow it would be a butterfly, freed from its cocoon. The tree was happy to see his chrysalis grown but secretly he wanted to keep her for a few more years. So long as she remembers me. He'd shielded her from gusts, saved her from ants. But tomorrow she would leave to confront predators and poor weather alone. That night, a fire ravaged the forest and the chrysalis never became a butterfly. At dawn, the ashes cold, the tree stood still but his heart was charred, scarred by the flames, scarred by grief. Ever since then when a bird alights on the tree, the tree tells it all about the chrysalis that never woke up. He pictures her, wings spread, flitting across a clear blue sky, drunk on nectar and freedom. The discreet witness to our love stories.
The Tree and the Chrysalis by Bachir Lazhar from Monsieur Lazhar
Out of Ireland have we come, Great hatred, Little room, Maimed us at the start, I carry from my mother's womb, A fanatic heart.
WB Yeates from Remorse for Intemperate Speech
I feel that the balance between fiction and reality has changed significantly in the past decades. Increasingly their roles are reversed. We live in a world ruled by fiction of every kind - mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the pre-empting of any original response to an experience by television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. It is now less and less necessary for the writer to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality.
In the past we have always assumed that the external world around us has represented reality, however confusing or uncertain, and the inner world of our minds, its dreams, hopes, ambitions, represented the realm of fantasy and the imagination. These roles, it seems to me, have been reversed."
In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realized, through it all, that… In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.
From my favourite author Joseph Conrad:
All a man can betray is his conscience.
Being a woman is a terribly difficult task since it consists principally in dealing with men.
I can't tell if a straw ever saved a drowning man, but I know that a mere glance is enough to make despair pause. For in truth we who are creatures of impulse are creatures of despair.
They wanted facts. Facts! They demanded facts from him, as if facts could explain anything.
Go into the arts … The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practising an art no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow … Do it as well as you can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
God's Country (1985)
Ordinary people living unremarkable lives
Makes for interesting viewing when a wry and empathetic eye captures their lives. On commission from PBS to make a documentary in Minnesota, Malle and his team drove through Glencoe. Along the way they spotted a beautiful garden tended by an older lady whose age we discover was 85 in 1979! She didn't look it at all.
Malle and his film team stay in Glencoe and become acquainted with the small town and its folk. The documentary seems to amble without much directed narration but Malle is exploring what makes Glencoe the place it is and who are its people. He asks some probing questions about race and sex/homosexuality but mostly lets the people tell their stories. It's quite clear from things Malle says that he likes Glencoe and becomes close to some of the inhabitants. But even without saying such things his camera evidences his fascination with Glencoe.
There are some really poignant moments; e.g. Glenhaven, the elderly care home. Malle meets one of its folk shuffling along a path. He tells Malle that he wants to die. This is our introduction to Glenhaven. Malle films the recreational room in which 10 or so elderly people, most in wheelchairs sit aimlessly whilst the TV blares in the background. The TV adverts are so incongruous given the audience that it makes for a very funny moment. But then Malle focuses on one female resident who stares at the camera. She stares and stares and Malle stares back. What she's thinking is anyone's guess but her eyes suggest many things. This elderly woman is a strong contrast to the woman we meet at the beginning who tends her beautiful garden and who in 1986 at the age of 91 was still going strong, canning vegetables from her garden as she goes rather than deteriorating in a soulless care home.
Another funny moment occurs when Malle's camera pans up into a shot of a female's bottom. The female turns around and Malle introduces her formally at this point for the camera but of course the camera's already met her!
Steve was the most eligible bachelor in Glencoe in 1979 and a man who inseminates cows! Who knew that Malle could be quite so irreverent of his subjects whilst so generous with them at the same time?! When Malle returns in 1986 Steve is still single and still inseminating cows. As Malle remarks to Steve "too busy with your cows".
There are moments of heat in the documentary regarding race, politics, who controls America's finances (the Jews declares one of the farmers), young marriage and sex. But it's all part of the richness and complexity of the society. Of every society. It leaves me imagining how I might be documented in such a film were one to be made of my community.
Les sauteurs (2016)
Abou Bakar Sibide (slight spoilers)
Abou is from Mali. He left Mali in 2013 and travelled via the Sahara to Morocco. There he, like so many other young men from West Africa, settled in a temporary camp in order to try and cross the land border between Morocco and Melilla, a Spanish territory -one of two - on Morocco's northern coast. The border consisted of four barbed wire fences, many metres tall, under video surveillance and protected by the Moroccan and Spanish police with brute force.
This film is the project of two former film students who are from Germany and Denmark. Their joint interest in Mount Gourougou and its migrant camp led them to make contact with Abou via a Meliilian photographer. They decided to let Abou make the film of life for the migrants so that it became a story from them rather than another about them. This film is the result of filming over an 18 month period whilst Abou tried to make it onto Melilla's Spanish soil, which he did in 2014. He is presently in Germany as an asylum claimant whose case has yet to be decided.
The film that has been edited by the three parties is compelling footage. It shows many facets of the migrant life on Mount Gourougou, which is raided on an almost daily basis by Moroccan police. The men scavenge for food. They have little personal effects and these are risked in police raids which result in everything being burnt by the police. The assaults on the fence result in death for some, as happens in the film to Abou's friend Mustapha. Yet the men have energy and enthusiasm for football. They sing songs about their experiences and dance. They are joined in the camp by stray dogs and some errant donkeys, including a foal who loves jumping around the camp - a poignant moment. The men find water for washing. They trade, barter and pray. In short, they do not stop being human because they have become "migrants" in a camp.
The film is very much on Abou's side; how could it be otherwise when it is filmed by him. It does not preach though and Abou and his compatriots are stoic and philosophical, if angry, about their predicament. It is fascinating whatever your view on the many migrant crises around the world where wealthy countries tighten borders to keep migrants out resulting in more migrants and more organisation to find passage.
NB Not all of the information in this review is in the film. Some of it was shared by one of the directors (Mortiz Siebert) in a Q/A session at the London Film Festival.
Life, death and Mount Fuji (slight spoilers)
Presented at the London Film Festival as an experimental film, this is an art house feature of great beauty and poignant reflections on life and death. Using photographs collected from members of the public, director Fiona Tan shows us Japanese society, reflecting human society, with the omnipresent Mt. Fuji. Against this we hear of two lovers, the woman - narrated by the director - and Hiroshi, who is ascending Mt. Fuji. We learn early on that the woman's conversation is part of her grieving process as Hiroshi is dead. Hiroshi is very much alive in his part of the conversation but, having reached the mountain's summit, his descent is curtailed. Was this when he died? We are left to wonder.
The film is seductive and simple in presentation whilst rich in ideas and thoughts that are undercut by powerful feelings and take in Japan during and post-WW2. The photography is sublime and, according to the director, not digitally enhanced. The film needs to be seen more than once because it is so full. My favourite thought, and a romantic one, is that "when you cannot sleep at night, it's because you are awake in someone else's dream".
Dancer ... or an ethereal form of celestial fire?
Without doubt Sergei Polunin is one of the most amazing dancers ever with a body that is strong, powerful and light. When he dances his movements are incandescent. He possesses something that goes beyond nurtured talent.
Documentaries are sometimes the best form of film because they take something true, which is either remarkable in itself, or the context in which they present the truth is remarkable. This documentary is evidence of the former.
Sergei was born to a family of modest means in Southern Ukraine and as a baby was hyper mobile, which lends itself to gymnastics (his first enterprise) or ballet (his second as chosen by his mother - which is significant). By the age of 8 Sergei was destined for a ballet career for which his family made enormous sacrifices; his father and one of his grandmothers (maternal, I think) emigrated to work in the EU to support financially his ballet studies in Kiev. The cost of this to Sergei emerged when he was an adult and, sensationally, quit the English Royal Ballet where he was a Principal dancer.
In his teens Sergei joined the English Royal Ballet and by 19 he was a ballet sensation in the UK and gained notoriety a few years later because of his use of cocaine, self-harming and tattooes. I was curious about this young man psychologically; he danced like fire but was troubled. My one disappointment with the documentary, which prevents it being perfect, is that only the surface psychology of Sergei is presented. To be fair to the director he arrived in Sergei's life when the latter was at his most cynical and least trusting. The film took 5 years to make but to know Sergei probably takes a lot longer. Nonetheless the niggle remains.
What the film gives in abundance is footage of Sergei dancing and Sergei filmed by his mother and then the English Royal Ballet as he grows up. The visual impact of Sergei's body with tattooes and scars is an aesthetic marvel. My favourite piece of the film was Sergei on-and-off stage whilst dancing in Spartacus in Siberia where we see the man suffering for his art and his damaged feet. There is private footage too, which is endearing as Sergei's warmth, sense of fun and sincerity abounds.
If you love dance, you will like this film. If you marvel at what the human body can do physically, you will like this film. If you want a very human story of sacrifice in the quest to improve the lot of the children, you will like this film. If you love, like or are remotely interested in Sergei, then this is a film for you. With his dance Sergei has gifted the cinematic world a unique form. He has abandoned ballet, by which he felt constrained and which was not his choice but that of his mother's, but is continuing to dance.
Isabelle sings ...
And that is what matters.
This is an unapologetic 'feel good' film, which could fall into being saccharine but for Isabelle Huppert's fine performance as actress and chanteuse. The film wishes to recall the musicals from Hollywood's classic era in a decidedly modern way. e.g. with mobile telephones.
The premise is that Liliane (Huppert) was once a rising singer, whose stage name was Laura, until her marriage to her manager fell apart. Afterwards she withdrew into such obscurity that no one would guess a pate packer was once a rising star who represented France in the Eurovision song contest.
Enter a young man, Jean, who is considerably younger than Lilian but who remembers Laura because his dad was a devotee and Jean knows all her songs. When he confronts Liliane she denies being Laura initially but eventually she admits her former existence. After a one-off performance for Jean's boxing club, Liliane - and Jean - find it hard to return Laura to obscurity and so begins a tale of desire, unlikely love and lost ambition.
The story all makes sense when viewed through the eyes of a 1930's audience whose desire for wish fulfilment would be unconcerned with plausibility. To enjoy the film it helps to place realism to one side and follow fantasy and yearning especially when it beckons in the form of Huppert singing love songs with specific hand/arm choreography and costumed in resplendent dresses.
Isabelle Huppert did her own singing to music from Pink Martini and lyrics co-written by the director and producer. Her moments on screen singing are some of the best. Is there nothing this woman cannot do? The best way to enjoy this film is when you need a tonic, a pick me up because life is being punchy. It is, as the director said, a "Sunday afternoon" film.
Un homme qui crie (2010)
A man screams whilst his country cries
This is the last of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's feature films that I have watched; not with intent to view this director's filmography but because I have a strong interest in African cinema and his films have intrigued me. This is the most satisfying of his four films. It is nearly perfect.
Every detail of the protagonist's life - Adam - stands for Chad's struggles: Tension between the new age of technology and the older perspectives that are seen as unnecessary to a brave new world that includes colonisation by stealth from China in the form of business investments. From factional fighting that would destroy the country and its young men while making refugees of the rest of the population. To questions about the wisdom of the elders and faith in God. It is not just Adam who screams but Chad. I will not elaborate on the story because other reviewers have fulfilled that role. The story is only one element of the plot as there is the political subtext as well as personal suffering that the director serves hence the film's epilogue.
Youssouf Djaoro is the tall, charismatic actor who plays Adam in all his complexities. His is a fine and nuanced performance. The decisive moment in the film where father betrays son was artful as the camera moves in slowly towards Djaoro's inscrutable face. It is a profound betrayal of much that Adam and so Chad, were invested in. It is terribly sad as is the consequences of the betrayal; again delivered in an acutely poignant manner.
The film is slow and still. It requires attention to the little that is said, to how things are portrayed and to what is unspoken and unexplained. It features the young actress and chanteuse Djénéba Koné, who, I have just discovered, is missing and presumed dead having disappeared in Mali in 2011. Discovering this after seeing the film has deepened my sorrow and is a cruel, if not poetic, footnote to the film.
Oedipus Rex (spoilers)
In recent years French cinema has been wooing American audiences and this TV series courts an American public, somewhat unsuccessfully it seems from reviews and comments.
Initially Marseille was unsatisfying; playing as brief scenes consisting of a series of lines here and there before jumping to another scene. The political story has been seen before and combined with its twitchy format, the series seemed unremarkable. Once the emotional heart of the series was exposed - a battle between father and son with obvious nods to the tragedy of Oedipus Rex - there was a change and the merciless skulduggery was given depth and edge by son trying to destroy father.
The acting was hindered by the format with good actors like Depardieu and Magimel playing caricatures of roles they have played in earlier and better days. Only Pailhaus, as the mayor's wife, had screen time to embody her character and her suffering, as befits a good tragedy. As the story line morphed into the father-son dance of death the acting improved somewhat although Magimel remained stifled.
Overall it was enjoyable and if they make a second series I will watch. I hope that if there is a second series and as big revelations were revealed in the first, more time is devoted to characterisation so that the quality of the actors is allowed to shine and where there is more mood than pace.
L'important c'est d'aimer (1975)
Man is "the ugliest things he can do" (spoilers)
I thought that Pasolini's film "Salò o le 120 Diornate di Sodoma" was the best portrait of depravity I would see but this film exceeds "Salo". It is entitled "The Important Thing is to Love" because love is the sole good thing one can do amidst a world of utter ugliness where the sum of a man is "the ugliest things he can do".
Żuławski has created a film replete with sadness, melancholy, grief and misery and it is crafted so well that it is dazzling and, at times, beautiful. He is well assisted by his cast of actors, including his three beautiful leads, and the film's composer Georges Delerue, whose signature tune haunts the film as a discordant plaint.
The film depicts the relationship of a married couple to a man who becomes infatuated with the wife. They share the world of acting, film and pornography and each is a 'prostitute' in their own way. The husband, Jacques, is suicidally depressed and finds himself outside of life and not willing to enter life and engage. His wife, Nadine, is a broken personality who feels that Jacques saved her and she desires an acting career whilst making money as a porn star. Servais is a loner with a broken father; he has become involved with a porn/sex wheeler dealer, Mazelli, who is a gangster of sorts. All yearn to break free from the world they inhabit and Servais's plan, paying to have Nadine cast as Lady Anne in an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Richard III", seems a possible means of release. Like Richard III, the film's characters are somewhat deformed yet they are less ugly in their deformities than the superficially glamorous world they inhabit.
Of course Servais's plan fails. Words attributed to Rimbaud, which are the final words of Servais's late friend who died from liver failure, capture the tormented pains of the characters:
"Turmoil originated your poetry/ Immense forces served you/ Your entrails burst, death menaces/ Chosen City!/ Consume your shrieks In the deaf trumpet."
The film's themes seem clearer than the characters and their dense opaqueness. It is a series of brief, fast changing scenes that I found jarring, perhaps the intent to underline discord and distress. It is like one long howl. It is powerful and almost perfect.
Mon pote (2010)
Likable film (slight spoilers)
With a basis in truth this film tells the tale of two men from different social worlds whose chance encounter at a prison lecture changes both their lives in unexpected ways. So unexpected that it is hard to believe and I waited throughout the film for there to be some sort of fall, especially for Bruno, the ex-con.
Leaving aside the slightly wild tale of serendipity and golden fortune, one's enjoyment of the film hinges on the authenticity of the friendship between middle-class magazine editor, Victor, and Bruno, a car thief who hails from one of Paris's notorious banlieue. Playing these respective characters are two fine French actors - Edouard Baer and Benoît Magimel.
Baer plays the sanguine Victor with an urbane ease and it would be easy to assume that Baer plays himself, such is the comfort of the fit. The film does not permit us greater access to Victor whose charming existence is undercut by money worries. Magimel plays Victor with a deft touch easily mixing light with rough. Another character fitting his actor like a glove. When Victor and Bruno laugh together it is easy to believe this is Baer and Magimel laughing together. The matches are that seamless.
The film seems weightless and easy without much to offer. It does offer us optimism and a tale of friendship. There is a subtle theme of loyalty running throughout the film. Ultimately what really pays is not crime but loyalty.
Black & White & Sex (2012)
A story of women (spoiler)
First of all, this is a beautiful film to watch. The black and white photography is sharp enough to carve out details in the skin of the actresses who all play a single sex worker called 'Angie'. At important moments the black and white is soft and casts shadows. It is erotic as Angie is never coloured in and slightly elusive in her shadows. A screen for projection yet the black and white illuminates her fleshiness.
The plot is straightforward but the content is not. 8 different actresses speak of their experiences of sex, using the 'f' word that IMDb will beep out were it to be written here, in front of a male director who can be heard but not seen - aside from the odd shot of the set and crew. The conversation begins as an interrogation from the director to Angie. She rejects this quite quickly and becomes provocative and challenging; taking control of the interview. Angie gets the director to strip naked and masturbate.
After this point the conversation relaxes into a nice to and fro that sees Angie soften and both she and the director share confidences. The film culminates, aptly, with Angie masturbating to orgasm. This ending fitted the conversation but I was not satisfied. Some important boundary seemed to have disintegrated for me.
I found watching and listening to the different actresses compelling. I found what they had to say witty and at times, very illuminating. My favourites were Angie 4 and 5, I think; an older blonde woman who sported a black mac and an Asiatic woman wearing a satin night gown. Their dialogue was the most interesting as they discussed fantasy and reality and then what sex is for women and the role pain has to play. I was riveted and felt I was learning something about my own sexuality. This is one of the gifts of film.