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The ethics of torture
Is torture ever right? No The answer is simple and absolute with no qualifications possible. The reason as this film showed is the effect torture has on a society. The values that have been hard fought for in Western society through centuries of revolution and struggle are for ALL men and women to be allowed to live in a free and open society. One where individuals are treated equally and with respect to their essential rights as humans. To protect this society institutions have been developed to deal with wrongdoing openly, fairly and honestly. These institutions have been adapted and honed through generations of hard work. One could argue that these are the true bedrock of democracy as they belong to us all, allow us all to be heard. If we allow undemocratic, inhumane acts to be committed in our name, if we split our society into those who have rights and those who don't then we undo the work of our ancestors. Moreover we are all complicit and all guilty and tainted. Whether those that we accuse are guilty or not is of no importance. We are defined by our attitudes and our responses.
A Way of Life (2004)
Good material, wooden delivery
This film certainly had a lot of potential. The film certainly pulls no punches when it comes to portraying the main characters. We are shown their violence, racism and bigotry in depth. Not that they are averse to exploiting their own, as several episodes show.
Whilst the main characters certainly have many unsavoury characteristics the film does allow time to explore what made them what they are. Many factors are highlighted, lack of stable partnerships, low self-esteem, lack of commitment, lack of parenting skills, drugs, unstable violent backgrounds, unemployment, discrimination and lack of opportunities.
My main criticism of the film is not that it isn't well researched. The problem is in the production. The direction is so leaden and obvious. The characters have no space to develop and the director rams their points into your face. You could almost imagine that this was produced as a course material for a school sociology program.
The camera-work and sound tract only reinforce this. The angles and shots are all so daytime TV, zooming into faces for close ups in those confrontation moments, giving the obligatory 2 second scenic scene setting shots at all the appropriate moments. Need I say that the soundtrack is hardly subtly or seamlessly enmeshed.
All in all whilst this film has good intentions, good material and some good acting the whole thing feels poorly put together and ends up loosing a lot of its impact between the cracks in the production.
Sexy Beast (2000)
An instant classic
A hugely impressive debut. This film crashes into the stagnant pond of recent British crime drama like the boulder at the beginning of the film crashing into retired gangster Gary Dove's pool, smashing the twin heart logo. A herald indeed for the whirlwind of evil that Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) brings into the film when he arrives to try to recruit Gary for another job back in London.
The film works so well because it dares to inject an intelligence into the genre so lacking in many recent offerings. The characters are caricartures for sure but beautifully sketched. Like a Hoggarth painting there is emotional depth here which draws you in. Though never explicitly stated you feel that Gary and Dee Dee are exploited characters, drawn into the underworld and now escaping from it. These are played off against Don and Teddy who are sociopaths of the first order. The tension generated between them is electrifying and sometimes almost unbearable.
Lucía y el sexo (2001)
Heavy handed symbolism and contortionist plot
What is sex and Lucia all about? This isn't as clear from the title as it would seem and after churning it over nothing gets any clearer. Sex does appear, quite frequently, and links many of the characters together but the film isn't all about sex. In fact sex is unembarrassing, pleasurable and regret free and although it appears often it seems simply to be presented as a fact of life.
Unfortunately everything else seems to be part of a dizzying metaphor in a cyclical plot. Unless deconstructing convoluted narratives is your thing this can be a problem. Lucia is a waitress who follows and seduces Lorenzo an author who writes books about passionate encounters and into cycle we go. Couplings, fantasies and melodramas unfold, events mirror each other, and the timeline twists and turns on itself and in the end (it all gets very metaphysical) I think Medem tries to tell us that imagination makes reality what we will. What's real and what is invention becomes irrevocably blurred (is this the point?). The symbolism becomes heavy handed, even the holiday island that the characters revolve around itself is almost not an island, criss-crossed by subterranean sea caves where one can enter at one point and emerge at another and fantastically rocks in stormy weather.
Despite the maturity and tenderness with which the love scenes are treated, the heavy handed symbolism and contortionist plot work to throw off any emotional intensity that the acting and powerful soundtrack can build. It ends up being too clever to exercise any real intelligence.
The Man Between (1953)
Welcome to Reeds world
Vintage Reed with all the elements from his films of the period. The innocent (Bloom) whose view needs to be muddied. The world weary, complex hero/villain. The confusion and ambiguities veering between love and hate, trust and betrayal, weakness and strength. Humans pulled from their comfortable lives and twisted by circumstance. The worn surroundings of war torn Berlin an extra character in the plot. All this in typical stark angled Reed view, with an atmospheric signature tune used noticeably towards the end, and a scene sequence mirroring the ambiguities of the characters.
Whilst the film doesn't flow as fluently and seamlessly as The Third Man, Mason and Bloom create eminently watchable if not entirely rounded characters.
Touching the Void (2003)
Real, raw, terrifying adventure
This sumptuously filmed documentary drama follows two climbers' adventure in the Peruvian Andes. This documentary wonderfully captures the essence of the adventure. The two climbers step outside of mainstream life, hustle and bustle, 24hr support, advice and help. In doing so their raw humanity is bared. When things go terribly wrong this film displays some of the raw ingredients of our soul; fear, love and a driving desire to survive.
La pianiste (2001)
Michael Haneke explores complex emotions with cold objectivity
Pianists in films are often subject to high emotions. Shine and the The Piano also feature characters in some way damaged by the rigors and strong emotions of mastering such an instrument.
Isabelle Huppert in the piano teacher is another damaged pianist to add to the list. She misses an absent father and is stifled by a neurotic, claustrophobic love/hate relationship with her mother with whom she lives. More than that she is saturated with the strong emotions of the music she so painstakingly perfects. With no emotional outlets she is driven to self harm, with no sexual outlets to voyeuristic acts that you feel she almost wants to be caught in.
However Haneke doesn't try to make us pity her. Rather this is a cold objective view, mirrored in the cool colours and highly constructed frames in which this film is shot. She is both a victim and cruel in her own turn. Cold to her students and given to sadistic acts such as the mind games she plays on the pupil she spots looking at a porn magazine in a newsagents.
Into this Benoit Magimel comes a wonder boy, infatuated with Huppert. Foppish good books and the mannerisms of a stage lover are jolted when Huppert sets out her S&M agenda. The relationship becomes violent and damaging in unintended ways leading to the shocking climax.
This is a terrifyingly believable (if extreme) view of a chain of damage that emotionally distressed individuals inflict on each other. The film is all the more painful as there are no good or bad characters, simply characters who the more they want to be loved the more they are hurt and do harm.
The perfect emotional pitch of the classical music they are producing only serves to highlight their emotional turmoils. Striving for perfection is their downfall.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
This slick heart-warmer floats above the ocean of cliched romantic comedies. The punchy pacey script and polished acting make it stand out on one hand. On the other hand dark undertones, lurk beneath the surface.
The protagonists in a variety of ways vie to deceive themselves about their position in life whilst trying to hold down a poorly paid job in the middle of a recession, simply to keep living.
The two lovers to be make fantastical, successful, alter egos for themselves in their letters as extravagantly as Rudy acts up after his promotion. Meanwhile, Matuschek happily deludes himself to the point of ruin about his wife, pouring money via her into the dandy Vadas' jewelry box. The shop itself sells vanities to the affected middle classes epitomised by the musical cigarette boxes. Pirovitch alone is happy with his simple family life acting as a counterpoint to the self-deluding fantasies of the rest of the cast.
This could be a set up for a tragedy, and indeed seems to be heading that way when Stewart looses his job and trades barbed comments with Sullivan. But we are offered the chance of redemption. Rudy saves Matuschek from the bullet, Vadas is uncovered (by perhaps an almost revelingly cruel Stewart) and we swing back into romance territory. The underpaid workers are happy selling their knick-knacks again, the tills ring for Christmas and romance fills the air, their salvation, or another happy deception?