Archives for category: Film

Somewhat embarrassingly, I agreed to be interviewed about my movie addiction a few months ago for a newspaper that I have never read. And never plan to. No idea why I agreed to the proposition (no money or free cinema tickets involved). Possibly because film and cinema is so central to my life, and has been since my first experience as a child seeing The Sound of Music with my grandmother, that I wanted to share something of what it all continues to means to me.

I once plotted the shape of my formative experience against specific films that moved/shaped/inspired me at various timepoints. My observations of life on the screen have indeed moulded my own lived experience, and for sure served to make me, me. I have physically travelled relatively little, but I have journeyed through many worlds, landscapes, and cultures through the medium of film.

The London Irish Film Festival took place just over a week ago. I didn’t manage to see as much as I would have liked, but the events I did attend were hugely rewarding. On Thursday November 24th, I was at the Barbican to see silent Irish films (a first for me), with a live musical accompaniment from the wonderful O’Snodaigh brothers and Cormac de Barra. The music was an event in itself, and I marvelled throughout at how the musicians responded and reacted so acutely and viscerally to what was enacted on the screen. The series of silent films were not only part of the festival, but also of the 1916 commemorations, charting the Anglo-Irish relationship from a cinematic perspective. Fascinating. This theme was carried through to a day long event at Birkbeck on November 26th – specifically focusing on the relationship between Ireland and England in the 1980s, again through the eyes of filmmakers. I left Ireland in 1989, and much of what I saw at Birkbeck resonated with me – both the Ireland that I left behind, and the London that has become home. The discussions that emanated from the screenings were equally fascinating.

On the final day of the festival, I saw the premiere of Emerald City, directed by Colin Broderick. All the cast, and their families and friends it seemed, were there for the screening, which made for a vibrant, joyful and moving event. I enjoyed the film, yet it was the Q and A afterwards that completely sold it to me – the passion and commitment that created Emerald City is truly inspiring.

I was back at the cinema the following day, to see Paterson. It is an absolute gem. I was seduced and enthralled by every second of this film, by its inherent unfolding narrative where little actually happens. Which is why it is a triumph. Jarmusch has created an ode to the ‘ordinary’ life, to the mundane. Glorious in its banality, Paterson is a celebration of life. Not a life that is searching for something different, more exciting, more exotic. But a life that takes pleasure in the essence of what it already has. Few directors would have the courage to present such ‘ordinariness’ so triumphantly. Deeply steeped in the cultural history of New Jersey, with passing references to William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg amongst other, Paterson is more explicit about its connection with the poet Frank O’Hara. Adam Driver (wonderful), who plays the character Paterson in the film is a bus driver who writes poems during his lunch hour. Since watching the film, I have been re-immersing myself in O’Hara’s Lunch Poems:

‘It’s my lunch hour, so I go

for a walk among the hum-colored

cabs.’

from A Step Away From Them

I left Ireland in 1989 because the mundane and the routine of life that I saw around me, and believed that I would fall into if I stayed, terrified me. Paterson has shown me something else – our expectations of what life might, even should, deliver reveals so much about ourselves, and our need for the external to fix the unresolved within.

Paterson reminded me of another film that I saw a couple of years ago – Shun Li and the Poet – which is a very different cinematic experience but it moved me in a similarly lyrical way.

Twenty four hours later, Nocturnal Animals. I did not really know what to expect from this film. I had liked Tom Ford’s earlier A Single Man, and his current feature has a similarly sleek, minimalist and polished feel. But Nocturnal Animals is much more disturbing. I found some of the scenes hard to watch – the sense that something awful is about to happen was deeply distressing, at least for me. Yet I enjoyed it. It is a good, very good cinema experience, with some great acting.

Finally, The Unknown Girl. I had been so looking forward to it, being a huge Dardennes brothers fan. But I was disappointed. The plot was flimsy, the storyline lacking a sense of mattering. I did not connect with the protagonist, Dr Gavin, played by Adele Haenel. In fact her character irritated me, intensely at times. The Unknown Girl never captured my sympathy, or my involvement. Which was a huge disappointment as I expected so much more from these particular directors.

CQ

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One of my heroes, the director Patricio Guzman was in London this week for the screening of his latest film The Pearl Button. It has been four years since his harrowing masterpiece Nostalgia for the Light (reviewed here). During that time he has been exploring the Patagonia hinterland of his native Chile.

The Pearl Button bears many of the hallmarks of Guzman’s earlier works. It is extraordinarily – and eerily – beautiful. Sublime feels appropriate. The landscape of Patagonia – the coastline, the ocean itself, the mountains, the lakes – is breathtaking, and the cinematography does it poetic justice and more. Guzman creates a world, interweaving narrative and images, where the history of the indigenous people of Patagonia, and their tragic fate at the hands of invaders and settlers at the beginning of the 20th century, is slowly revealed. Rich in metaphor – water, sky, planets, infinity – The Pearl Button is a story of loss, not only of the Patagonian people and their culture, but more recently – 1970s and 1980s – of those thousands who died during the Pinochet regime, and whose bodies were dumped anonymously forever in the ocean. It is almost impossible to comprehend the cruelty of not only killing loved ones, but to compound the grief of those left behind by deliberately denying them the possibility of burying their dead.

Guzman confers an animate and almost spiritual significance to water. It contains secrets, and ‘colluded’ with the atrocities that Pinochet sought to keep hidden. The exiled Guzman continues his work in The Pearl Button of revealing these secrets, and of exposing the horror of the dictator’s regime.

During the Q&A after the screening, Guzman confirmed that a further film will complete the trilogy, this time about the Andes and its people.

Good news, indeed.

 

CQ

This film will haunt me forever.

Although I had a pretty clear idea what the content contained before the screening, I was totally unprepared for the reality of its images.

Night Will Fall is a documentary that traces the story of film footage that soldiers/cameramen of the Allied Forces created when they arrived to liberate German concentration camps – including Breslau, Dachau, Aushwitz – in April 1945. A full length film was planned, produced by Sydney Bernstein and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but for political reasons in the sensitive and charged political post war atmosphere, and with the Cold War already threatening, its release was vetoed. The Imperial War Museum has now completed and restored the original film, called German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, which will be screened at The London Film Festival this October.

Night Will Fall contextualises the original footage and also includes interviews with those who were involved in its creation – soldiers who saw first hand the horror of the camps – as well as with those who survived the camps. The film also includes images from German Concentration Camps Factual Survey. I see them these images again now as I write, almost unbelievable in terms of the scale of the horror and human devastation that they reveal. But undeniably believable too, as authentic archives of the reality that they depict, speaking of a truth that remains so difficult to countenance.

The archival footage shows vast numbers – thousands upon thousands – of dead bodies, cast aside and decaying in mounds amongst the living when the Allies arrived. We see bodies thrown like slaughtered animal carcasses (by SS officers who were still in the camps at the time of liberation) into mass graves. The sheer quantity of human loss and suffering defies words.

Bernstein’s aim was to create something that made the fact of what happened in those camps undeniable. To this end, he also filmed local German dignitaries visiting the camps post liberation, forcing them to witness the mass burials, to see what had been happening short distances from where they themselves had lived throughout the war. For some it was all too much, and they had to be carried away as they fainted, faced with a horror they had either been totally unaware of, or had chosen to ignore.

If we learn nothing from such human devastation, the prophecy of the film’s title – night will fall – will be realised. And have we learned? I am not sure.

I wondered afterwards why I endured a screening of such relentless horror (I wanted to turn away from many of the images). I am glad that I experienced Night Will Fall. As I watched so many of the concentration camp dead being thrown without dignity or compassion into mass graves, creating layer upon layer of death and annihilation, it felt like it mattered, at the very least, to witness and to acknowledge the suffering of the unknown and the now long dead, but who remain today, fellow human beings.

 

CQ

Jon Sanders follow up to the earlier Late September is also a quintessentially British and theatrical piece. Set in Kent, Back to the Garden features the reunion of actor friends one year on from the death of one of the group. His widow remains stuck in her grief, and the film delves into and around issues of loss, of the meaning of mortality, and how terrifying the finality of death can be.

For the grieving widow, she now realises how totally bound up in her marriage, and in their love, her own identity had been. Following her husband’s death, it is as if she has not only lost him, but has also lost her self.

Her friends gently probe and question her feelings and her experience of grief.

‘Are you still in love with a dead person?’, one asks. An intriguing question, and one that proved hard to definitively answer, despite the fact that love was clearly consistently central to their relationship.

‘Does time heal?’, asks another. No, but taking one day at a time helps.

‘Is death the annihilation of self?’ ‘Do we just, stop?’ Also unanswerable and unknowable, but the discussions around these and other questions were illuminating.

Similar to his earlier work, Sanders encouraged improvisation in this recent release. This approach heightens the natural feel to the film, and its authenticity, and serves to make the experience of watching and listening to Back to the Garden real, thought provoking, and lingering.

 

 

The fact of dementia is inescapable, as its incidence threatens to reach epidemic proportions in the not too distant future.

Thus, unsurprisingly, dementia as a theme is increasingly prevalent in the arts, including literature, theatre and the visual arts. I discussed the artist William Utermohlen in a previous post, and the impact of dementia on his life and creativity (https://sufferingandthearts.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/art-and-alzheimers/). I have also experienced wonderful theatre that has focused on the subject, such as Tamsin Oglesby’s Really Old, Like Forty Five (https://sufferingandthearts.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/dementia1/), and Melanie Wilson’s Autobiographer (https://sufferingandthearts.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/dementia-autobiographer/).

A few years ago I came across a short story by Alice Munro, The Bear Came Over the Mountain, which first appeared in The New Yorker in 1999 (http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2013/10/21/131021fi_fiction_munro). The story was later adapted for the film Away from Her (2006), which was directed by Sarah Polley.

The short story concerns Grant and Fiona, who have been married for many years, and do not have any children. When Fiona was 70, Grant started to notice little yellow notes stuck all over the house. The notes were detailed and included prompts on where to locate household items as well as aids for remembering what her daily schedule should be. Fiona then started to call Grant from town when she could not remember how to get home. Fiona herself comments:

“I don’t think it’s anything to worry about,” she said. “I expect I’m just losing my mind.”

The forgetfulness and memory loss get worse. Eventually, the time arrives for Fiona to move to institutional care at Meadowlake, where she creates her own and not unhappy life, separate and detached from Grant. The story is a profoundly moving and sad portrayal of love and of loss.

Today I read a more recent short story by Munro from her collection Dear Life. In In Sight of the Lake (reminiscent of Meadowlake in the earlier story), Nancy’s story slowly unfollows as one also of dementia, or of a ‘mind problem’ as she herself sees it, although then correcting herself: “It isn’t mind. It’s just memory.”

In Sight of the Lake is a more obtuse and enigmatic piece than The Bear Came Over the Mountain, and it only really reveals itself at its denouement. Nonetheless, it is every bit as moving and as touching as its thematic predecessor, and leaves much to consider about the far-reaching and tragic impact of dementia, a condition that perhaps few of us may ultimately escape.

CQ

This is the title of a documentary film that I saw today, the final day of the UK Jewish Film Festival, at the Tricycle cinema.

What a cinematic gem it is, a profoundly moving and authentic piece of art, which is so affirmative, and reassuring, of the goodness that humans are indeed capable of. And more importantly, a goodness and a genuine caring of the other, which transcends that most divisive of forces, religion.

The film tells the story of Albanian Muslims who protected Jews from the Nazis in WWII. Unlike almost all other countries, Albania welcomed Jews during the Holocaust, and we hear the stories of some of the very many Muslim families who sheltered the refugees, despite the inherent dangers to themselves, as well as the those of the Jewish people and their descendants who, as a result of the humanity they received, managed to survive the war.

Albania was the only country where the number of Jews increased from pre-war, approximately 200, to post-war, approximately 2000. It remains a relatively poor country.

Albanians see themselves as just that – not as Muslims or Orthodox or Christians – but as the people of Albania, and all of whom share and enact Besa, an honour code that offers assistance to all those who knock on their doors looking for help.

Besa: The Promise is a gripping and humbling story, which concerns a nation that lost so much during WWII and even more so in the subsequent communist years, but which nonetheless holds steadfastly to the notion of kindness and and generosity towards those in need, irrespective of religion and creed.

CQ

A first experience for me, this festival, seemingly the largest european film festival, is on at various venues in London until November 17.

Thus far I have seen two great films.

Firstly, The Lady in Number 6, which introduces us to Alice Herz Sommer, who, at almost 110, is the world’s oldest pianist and holocaust survivor. She is truly inspirational. Charismatic and engaging, her optimism and enjoyment of life is uplifting. She is grateful for her life, all of it, the good and the bad, and for every day that she continues to experience. At 109, she enjoys life and people hugely, and continues to devote time and self to her greatest passion, playing the piano:

‘Music saved my life and music saves me still.’

As one of the co-producers Chris Branch stated when he introduced The Lady in Number 6, this is not a film about the holocaust, but about one remarkable person.

Secondly, Orchestra of Exiles, which was preceded by 15 minutes of wonderful live music (violin, including the very moving title track to Schindler’s List). Again, this film was much more about the good achieved by one person rather than a documentary about the holocaust. The Polish violinist Bronislow Hubermann rescued many of the world’s greatest musicians from Nazi Germany and eastern europe in the mid 1930s, facilitating their exit to Palestine, which led to the creation of the now world-famous Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Two things struck me while watching both films: the extraordinary goodness and kindness that exists in humanity and which can sometimes be easy to forget, and the power of music to enrich and to transform both the lives of individuals and of nations.

CQ

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

Just came across this on YouTube, an independent film about the young Irish arriving in London in the 1980s.

I arrived here in 1989.

Much resonates…

CQ