Archives for category: Cinema

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Today, I got up late. It’s Saturday, and there was no urgency. I can take a later yoga class instead of my usual early morning one. I could have stayed in bed all day in fact, and probably no one would have known.

There is a great freedom in that. To cliché it, “my life is my own.” Pretty much.

It also means, however, that no one really witnesses my life. Especially this chapter in it, this new adventure in a different place and country.

Our lives are the sum of so many moments, the trivial and the not so. All the small things – which matter to me hugely – that constitute my every day aren’t really worth relaying to someone else, later. And so, these days, for the most part I am the only person who “sees” the micro and the macro that threads together my personal narrative.

Mostly, I am pretty content just witnessing myself witnessing me.

But there are times, too, that it feels as if I am looking for proof that I actually exist, that I am here / have been here / did that… Which is probably why I am drawn to writing, a potential affirmation of my existence. A record, of sorts.

Maybe that’s what diaries are all about. A witnessing, a proof to ourselves that yes, we do actually exist.

A few years ago, I saw (twice) the film Dreams of a Life. It tells the true story of a young woman who is found dead in her London apartment two years after a last sighting. She was found accidentally. No one had reported her missing. She literally disappeared, and no one noticed.

I am good at being alone. I like it. But I also thrive on being in the company of others. And I am happy to report that I am gathering “others” in my new land.

In Buddhist teaching (which I am currently studying and getting much from), the notion of the “no self” is a dominant one that challenges the delusion of cherishing the small, individual self. Our perception of our “selves” and others is merely a thought. Perhaps we fight that notion of “ourselves” being no more than a succession of thoughts by doing things, by chronicling them, by having others witness them, so that we can be truly reassured that we do indeed exist.

Of course, the presence of others need not necessarily equate with a witnessing. We all encounter many people every day, but how often are they truly present to us, and we to them?

As always, I look to poetry for further considerations.

First, Norman McCaig, from his poem Summer Farm:

“Self under self, a pile of selves I stand

Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand

Lift the farm like a lid and see

Farm within farm, and in the centre, me”

 

And second, Morning, by Yannis Ritsos (translated from the Greek by Nikos Stangos):

“She opened the shutters. She hung the sheets over the sill.

She saw the day.

A bird looked at her straight in the eyes. ‘I am alone,’ she whispered.

‘I am alive.’ She entered the room. The mirror too is a window.

If I jump from I will fall into my arms.”

 

CQ

 

 

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I have just seen the documentary film Mountain, a meditative consideration of the rocky and often snow-covered peaks that loom large and magnificent throughout our landscape.

Jennifer Peedom’s shots are extraordinary from the outset, almost dizzyingly so. The camera shifts vertiginously from one sequence to the next, the act of the image-capturing itself a marvel how was it even done?!). The text, narrated by Willem Dafoe, and co-written by Robert Macfarlane and Peedom, is understated, and as such aptly complements the sublime images it accompanies. There are many silences, which facilitate a pause, a breath-taking moment to consider the majesty and beauty of what is being revealed.

The film is a 76 minute wonderment. I now realise that I have never really used the word s‘awe’ and ‘sublime’ appropriately before.

Beyond the sheer physicality of the film, Mountain left me a number of things to reflect on.

Firstly, I was struck by something Dafoe said early on:

“The mountains we climb are mountains of our minds”

I guess that this analogy refers to the extraordinary psychological challenge that those who set out to scale the highest mountains face, and one that surely matches if not exceeds the physical demands.

But the words made me think too of the sometimes near impossible goals that we set ourselves in our – non-mountaineering – lives. These ‘climbs’ and ‘scalings to the summit’ are often invisible to others, and as a result too infrequently applauded or even acknowledged.

I have never climbed a mountain, nor really aspired to. Yet I am utterly compelled by the attempts and feats of others to do so. I have read pretty much every book, and seen every film and documentary on climbing Mount Everest, for example.

I tend to seek out ‘me’, and my story, or at least components of it, in pretty much all of the fiction/biography/poetry/cinema that I experience. Consciously or otherwise, I have an innate self-selection process that draws me to stories, whatever the medium, where I might find personal resonance.

And so it is with the sublime, and the almost impossible stories of scaling the heights, of getting to the top. I am somewhere in those stories, though my climbing is psychical. The truth is that I am way too fearful to attempt the most novice of physical climbs. But nonphysical challenges hold much less fear for me. I get the adrenaline, the euphoria that these physical risk takers experience – ‘the risk is the reward’. So too for me, but in an infinitely more limited physical microcosm.

Secondly, Mountain gives us more serious issues to consider. It encourages us to question why we feel the need to control our environment, to ‘conquer’ it, to make it ours. Getting to the top of Mount Everest does not actually equate with owning anything. In fact, seeing as we do the queues lining up the ascent, you begin to wonder what exactly humans are trying to achieve. My own theory is that we struggle to cope with the unknown, the unattainable, the inexplicable, particularly as so much more is known and explored that it was, say 100, 200 years ago. Uncertainty, a not knowing, has become an anathema to humanity. And thus, we distract ourselves from such uncertainty – which ultimately equates with our eventual nonexistence – by seeking to conquer. If everything is ultimately within our grasp, perhaps mortality might become so, too. A fallacy, undoubtedly, but the illusion somehow fosters a sense of safety.

Thirdly, Mountain encourages us to consider the beauty, and fragility of all our lives. Perhaps we have forgotten what it means and feels to be alive, to truly notice our lived experiences, and to be grateful for such awareness. There is a beautiful moment in the film when Dafoe refers to the risks that extreme climbers take on. We truly live when death becomes an almost reality – so close, we can almost feel it.

It is at that moment that we are most alive.

 

CQ

I have just obtained an annual pass at my favourite cinema group. I love all aspects of the arts, but probably cinema is where my greatest passion lies. From my first movie experience – The Sound of Music with my grandmother in rural Ireland – I have travelled the world, ‘physically’ and emotionally, through the screen. My chronological life could be mapped out by key movie milestones.

There are so many ways to access films from one’s sofa today – MUBI and Curzon Home Cinema are my faves – and I do regularly avail of these options. However, I also love going to the cinema, often on my own, and giving the screen experience my absolute attention for 90 minutes or more.

Highlights from recent trips include Paterson, which utterly seduced me. This was American (Indie) cinema successfully achieving the nuanced approach to film making that has always so drawn me to European – particularly French – moviedom. Over the past week, I have seen Toni Erdmann (quite wonderful, it surprised me with its wonderfully balanced sense of humour and melancholy), 20th Century Women (impressed me, and continues to do so days later; a not-straightforward-narrative, and one that was ultimately gratifying), and then, Manchester By The Sea.

Kenneth’s Lonergan’s third feature (I liked his first You Can Count on Me, and even more so Margaret) is a very very wonderful experience. Having said that, I found it almost unbearably tragic and so unremittingly sad. It is full of broken people, and broken lives. And Lonergan treats his audience like grown ups, refusing to fix stuff so that we can leave the auditorium somewhat relieved and reassured. But he does reassure us, in the sense of emphasising that life is a messy and uncertain affair, and that fiction need not necessarily escape this reality but can be true to it. Manchester By The Sea demands so much from the viewer. Little is verbally revealed of the inner turmoil of the characters, yet we know it and feel it acutely. We complete the story in our own minds because we recognise the fragility of our existence and our sanity.

This is great cinema. And a quite wonderful affirmation of the complicated essence of living.

 

CQ

I welcome the recent increase in the number of films where older people, particularly the ‘older than old’, have taken centre stage. I missed Advanced Style, the documentary film that followed elderly (over 60, some in their 80s and 90s) stylish women in New York. The film was well received, and a Guardian review shared some insights into the positive effects that can accompany ageing:

“Ageing has, for these women, brought with it a kind of liberation. “We all want some kind of approval,” says Lynn Dell Cohen, “but I think you have to like yourself first.”

“I am not afraid,” says Carpati warmly. “That’s what age can do for you. It gives you a freedom! I don’t care. I must sound outrageous to you, do I?” she says. “I’m free.””

I did see Iris, also a documentary centred on the fashion world. Iris Apfel is a 93 year old New Yorker, and the film follows the ‘geriatric starlet‘ as she continues her life as a prominent fashionista today. The film was directed by Albert Maysles, himself 88 at the time, which perhaps partly explains its upbeatness as it delivers the message that old age can indeed bring fun, laughter and fulfilment. Iris herself contributes in no small way to this. She exudes vitality – even as her body fails her a little – and continues to love living. I suspect that she ages as she has lived, embracing life.

More recently, I saw Ping Pong at the Royal Society of Medicine Global Health Film Festival. Filmed pre and post the 2010 Veterans Ping Pong World Championships hosted by China, this documentary follows seven participants, variously aged between 82 and 100. Some have played ping pong for most of their lives, for others it has been a hobby discovered in old age. For all, it is a hugely immersive, enjoyable, and sustaining part of their lives. During the competition, there are inevitably winners and losers, participants who are much more competitive than others and a modicum of aggression, a human attribute that transcends age, but in the end, all ultimately pulled together with grace and with their shared love of the sport. It is of course significant that the seven characters are ‘older than old’. One cannot but marvel at the ingenuity of their strokes, skill that seems to defy physical frailty, and even more so their sense of humour. We are invited to laugh, not at them, but with them. This is a film about old age, and to a certain extent inevitably also about mortality, but more so, it is a celebration of living while alive.

Last weekend, during the London Irish Film Festival, I saw Older than Ireland, a documentary film featuring Ireland’s centenarians. There are approximately 300 people in Ireland over 100 years of age. The film interviewed 30 of these. It is a gem. Largely driven by the interviewees themselves, the film is funny, moving, poignant, and real. The director Alex Fagan (who created the wonderful The Irish Pub a couple of years ago) joined for Q and A after the screening. Much of the film is hilarious, mainly as the centenarians speak so disarmingly freely and directly. They invite us to laugh as they share anecdotes and stories. This is a feel good movie, yet there is also a palpable sadness at times, and Fagan commented that most of the participants mentioned the loneliness of old age.

I have written previously here about The Lady in Number 6, another inspirational film that featured Alice Hertz Sommer at 109, a pianist and the oldest Holocaust survivor. I have also spoken about the loneliness of old age, exemplified by Timothy O’Grady’s I Could Read The Sky (both a book and a film), and Michael Haneke’s Amour, which celebrates the transcendence of love.

There are of course many more.

As life expectancy continues to increase generation on generation – by 2030 it is estimated that there will be four million people over 80 in the UK – it is good to see representation of this fact within the arts, particularly as the ‘older than old’ population is a relatively recent phenomenon and one with which we have little insight and experience to date. The arts are perfectly positioned for helping us understand and appreciate this experience, thus serving to pave the way for a welcoming of the elderly towards the centre rather than the periphery of our lives.

 

 

Currently on until November 3, I spent an entire afternoon over the weekend at a screening of a series of short animated documentaries.
I love comics and comic books (I learned today that sales of ‘graphic novels’ (I dislike the contrived term) have increased by 1000% over the last decade). Animation offers me something similar, as a transformative medium whose creative power and ability to engage its audience has the capacity to uniquely blend the imaginary and the actual to create, perhaps somewhat paradoxically and surprisingly, a heightened reality of sorts.

Thus it was for the short documentaries that I just experienced.

There were 12 films in all, of varying lengths, themes and formats. I had previously seen some of Tony Donoghue’s work on ‘Irish Folk Furniture’, which has at its theme an Ireland of the past, as represented by neglected and disused traditional furniture, which is restored to a new, but no less grand, splendour. A wonderfully succinct, considered, and funny piece.

The remaining 11 films were new to me. Topics included the harrowing difficulties facing families following recent immigration changes in the UK (‘Visa’), and the experiences of children such as Ali,who fled Afghanistan but his parents were left behind (‘Drawing for Memory’), and Rachel, whose family managed to escape her country of origin only to be subjected to detention centres in the UK and a forced return to her homeland (‘From A to B and Back Again’). These are truly sad stories, but they are also stories that can be shared, most particularly through the medium of animation, as the participants, who so want their experiences to be heard, can retain their anonymity throughout and thus feel ‘safe’ to speak.

There was also a fascinating piece on sleep paralyis (‘Devil in the Room’), and a very considered film on loss, based on the real experiences of five people who shared their feelings on losing something precious and how it had informed them about living (‘Good Grief’).

I was particularly moved by ‘SPD and Me’. In this work, the director Matthew Brookes, who suffers from Semantic Pragmatic Disorder, which is part of the autism spectrum and mainly affects comprehension and reading, shares his experience of coping with his condition. At the end of 4 minutes, you do get it, and you at least partly understand what SPD is and how it has challenged him. Four minutes in any other medium is very unlikely to achieve something similar…

CQ

…which is one of the opening questions of the must-see documentary In Real Life.

I saw the film yesterday, when it was screened simultaneously in many cinemas across the country. My 15 year old daughter accompanied me. The screening was followed by a live satellite discussion with a panel that included the director Beeban Kidron, as well as Tom, a 15 year old who featured in the film.

As Kidron shared during the discussion, the aim of the documentary was to start a conversation on the impact, both positive and negative, on today’s teenagers of living in an almost exclusively digital society. Our children have been born into a world where most of us look at our mobile phones between 150 and 200 times a day, and where, even more scarily, 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. Data is collected from all of us all the time and every time we use the internet. The film emphasises the current ‘glorification of sharing’, as it is perceived, albeit subconsciously, by teenagers using social media. ‘I share therefore I am’ has become the new sensibility. The internet archives our history, and social media increasingly uses the data it collects to define who you are. As Julian Assange states. “Google knows you better than your mother does’.

In Real Life follows teenagers whose lives almost exclusively revolve around the internet and social media, including those addicted to online porn (the teenager interviewed candidly admitted to the attraction of constantly revisiting these sites, where he can briefly step outside of his own life and into one where ‘it’s you and all about you’) and those dependent on gaming.

There was also the heartening story of Tom, who came out on Twitter and subsequently met his boyfriend on social media. The boys have now met in ‘real life’ and seem to have truly connected. This was the one positive story within a very sobering and often shocking film.

Kidron states at the outset that the film began from her observation that all teenagers today seem to be constantly connected to the internet and to social media. This is the era our children have been born into, and one that we are all adapting to (children most rapidly) as the digital network expands exponentially and way beyond the imagination of its founders. But, as one expert interviewed commented, adaptation comes at a cost, and he questions what might have been lost alongside that adaptive process.

Of course, we can never quantify what might have been lost, or exactly what the internet might have replaced in our children’s lives. What we do know, is that teenagers spend 40% more time with friends online that with them ‘in real life’.

Our children have also been born into a society that has witnessed the collapse of where children can physically go and be safe. Today, being at home is usually assumed to be safer than being out on the streets. In Real Life highlights the myth that can underlie this assumption. Teenagers can be exposed to much more danger on their laptops behind the closed doors of their bedrooms than we might want to believe. We hear the tragic story of one teenager, a victim of internet bullying who committed suicide. Bullying has increased exponentially on the internet. It is easier to cyber bully than to do it ‘in real life’…

The issues around the ethics of digital networks and of internet safety and privacy are multiple and complex. This technological phenomenon is here to stay, and it will continue to increase and to expand in ways that we cannot even imagine right now, all of which is to be embraced. Inevitably, dangers lie within such a huge cultural revolution and these need to be addressed first and foremost for the young and for the vulnerable, who do need protection, but not control.

For me personally, I plan to stop my practice of ‘fractured presence’, when I am in the same space as my daughter but only semi-present, distracted by something vital on the internet, which of course is never that critical, or important, or even necessary, in the end…

CQ

I have just seen this film by the acclaimed director Jem Cohen.

I loved it. I already have a strong sense that this film will linger and haunt me for some time.

It is not a happening film. A story of sorts is gently weaved, but this is not a narrative that feels plot driven.

Amazingly, the production of this Museum Hours involved only seven people, and mostly non-professional actors. Even more amazingly, no artificial light was used throughout, all of which help to explain the authenticity that the work emanates.

The story centres around Anne, who travels from her home in Montreal to visit a dying (and comatose) cousin in Vienna, and Johann, a guard in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, who Anne befriends during her frequent visits to view the art in the museum in between hospital visits. The film interweaves various narrative threads, including those of loneliness, aloneness, friendship, life, living, and death. There is much to interest any art lover, and I particularly loved how the camera shifted seamlessly from people to art. In terms of the latter, insights into works within the museum, for example Rembrandt and Brueghel, were fascinating and illuminating.

To some extent, not being plot-driven, the film goes nowhere, and yet everywhere. It is a life journey of sorts, and as such offers much to consider, especially the possibility of a new ‘way of seeing’, both in relation to art, and to its mirror image, life.

I was not surprised to see John Berger acknowledged in the credits.

I was uplifted by this film, moved by its optimism in terms of how we might see things anew, particularly if we choose to truly pay attention to what we are actually observing. Yet Museum Hours is also suffused by melancholy, of which it is aware but does not force, and in turn does not overwhelm. In the final moments, Johann reminds us of the transience of things, which may at first seem to contradict the lasting impact of the works of art we have seen throughout the film.

What is really transient is us, the ever-changing population of viewers.

All the more reason to ‘see’ what we can, and while we can…

CQ

I just saw this absolute gem of a film at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) London (http://www.ica.org.uk/37425/Film/Its-Such-a-Beautiful-Day.html)

Created by the animator Don Hertzfeldt in 2012, It’s Such a Beautiful Life is actually an edited feature length version of an earlier trilogy of chapters: Everything will be OK, I Am So Proud of You, and It’s Such a Beautiful Life. The 65 minute film tells the story of the stick man character Bill, from the everyday mundane happenings in his life, to mental illness, and to coping with being told he is soon to die (which serves to awaken Bill to the wonders of life: ‘clumsy, beautiful and new’ ‘Isn’t it amazing?’).

It is difficult to categorise this film, a fact that probably adds to its value. It explores much of what it means to be human and to be alive, and as you leave the auditorium, you cannot help but feel uplifted and grateful for such a cinematic treat.

Genius…

CQ

This film (2011) tells the story of the impact of the recovery of three boxes of photographs, the ‘Mexican Suitcase’ of the title, that had been lost during WWII and only reappeared in 2007.

The boxes contained negatives of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), as taken by the war photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David “Chim” Seymour.

The negatives are fascinating, and essential, because of the amazing story of war that they reveal, at the frontline and with the immediacy and urgency and authenticity that photographers who were actually there at the moment of action could witness and share. Thus, the images allow us, today, to gain an unique insight into war, with all its attendant brutality and destruction and tragedy.

I had not realised that the Spanish Civil War is one of the most unspoken events in the nation’s history. It is shrouded in silence, or has been until relatively recently, and few who lived through it have chosen to speak publicly. This culture is changing, as younger generations begin to question and to demand answers on their national inheritance – one commented that the Spanish Civil War, of which he personally played no part being born many years later, was the single greatest influence on his life and upbringing.

Photographs play a unique role in both our personal and national archives. They serve to corroborate the truth of the existence of place, and of people. For many of those who died during the Spanish Civil War – over half a million people in total – no bodies have been found, and relatives, reminiscent of Pinochet’s legacy as depicted in Nostalgia for the Light, continue to search for their remains. In the meantime, the only tangible legacy they have are photographs, and the contents of the ‘Mexican Suitcase’ significantly contributes to the reality of their remembering.

All three photographers, Capa, Taro and Seymour, died during combat. Taro was killed during the Spanish Civil War, and the other two later, in the 1950s. It is now extraordinary to see the extent to which all three were involved in frontline action, willingly risking their lives for representations of the reality of war.

And thus, long after the event, we can witness, as we should, the horror of it all.

CQ

Amazing.

This is superb cinematography, and tragic poetry on the screen.

The acting is also truly impressive, but what I loved most about this gem, was the fact that it refused to offer redemption as feel-good closure. It is a disturbing film that very successfully highlights what it means to be human, and thus vulnerable, uncertain, alone, suffering, lost, and struggling with the confusion that is life, and how we negotiate relationships, loss, grief, and love…

CQ