Archives for category: Film

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

I have some thoughts on what I would like to experience, and to hopefully share, over the forthcoming week:

The Professor of Poetry by Grace McCleen

This work of fiction focuses on Elizabeth Stone, an academic (primarily of Milton) who has been diagnosed and treated for advanced ovarian cancer (thematically reminiscent of the play W;t, previously discussed here https://sufferingandthearts.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/wt/). Unexpectedly given an ‘all clear’ following treatment, the protagonist re-explores her life, and her loneliness.

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

This will be my 6th read from the Booker Longlist. Described as a book depicting ‘overwhelming grief’ and ‘suffering’, it promises to be suitably apt for this blog…

Love’s Work by Gillian Rose

I have just started re-reading this hugely impressive book by the philosopher and writer. It impressively covers many issues, including death, illness and Judaism, in such a short text. One sentence in the book:

‘It was the occasion of my initiation into the anti-supernatural character of Judaism: into how non-belief in God defines Judaism and how change in that compass registers the varieties of Jewish modernity.’

prompted the next item on my list:

The Story of the Jews by Simon Schama

This is a current BBC series that I have started to watch, in order to redress my ignorance of the history of Judaism.

Alexis Hunter and Jo Spence Art Exhibition

This exhibition, at the Richard Saltoun Gallery until September 27, focuses on the development of feminist art. I have previously discussed Jo Spence in the context of the art she created around her diagnosis of breast cancer, and her living with, and dying from, the condition (https://sufferingandthearts.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/jo-spence-art-photography-illness-and-the-body/).

http://www.richardsaltoun.com/exhibitions/26/overview/

When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun

This film screens at the Lexi Cinema on Wednesday. Seven years in the making, it tells the story of the Tibetan movement, and struggle, to free Tibet.

http://thelexicinema.co.uk/2013/08/17/when-the-dragon-swallowed-the-sun/

Finally, a thought

Something I came across today, and am still considering, from Nietzsche:

“We possess art lest we perish from the truth”

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

Whenever I get the chance, I seek out whatever London culturally has to offer. And there is always so much, way more than I can get to see and to experience.

Here are some of my cultural highlights from the past week, both within London and beyond…

Film

The London Mexican Film Festival

I had a day pass over the weekend, and saw two amazing films. Parts of a Family tells the story of the director Diego Gutierrez’ parents’ marriage, how it imprisoned both his mother and his father, and how love died within the constraints of a bond that began so positively and optimistically, yet ultimately became so destructive. An honest, brave and tragic portrayal of life, love, and loss.

The second film was Three Voices, the finale of the festival, a documentary about three women of three different generations, who share their personal stories of life, love and relationships honestly and unflinchingly. Glorious.

Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams

This film, originally released in 2006, follows the struggles of a single mother and her teenage daughter in the aftermath of the Balkan war. Another raw and real reflection of living and suffering, yet this is not a despondent experience, but a redemptive and hopeful one. I loved it.

Theatre

Conor McPherson’s latest play The Night Alive is currently showing at The Donmar Warehouse. Like much of McPherson’s earlier work, this piece also focuses on the plight of the lonely Irish male. The acting is superb, particularly but not exclusively Ciaran Hinds, yet I was less involved than I expected to be. The play felt a little too long and the plot seemed to unnecessarily complicate. Nonetheless, I recommend.

Books

Claude Gallay’s novel The Breakers was first published in 2011. This is a book that exudes loss, constantly alluding to it, yet also never truly declaring itself. An enigmatic piece, I was seduced by it, increasingly so as I became less impatient with the pace and allowed myself to move synchronously with what it chose to deliver.

CQ

This is one of those films that you are still thinking about, days after the event.

An autobiographical work, where various members of Polley’s family speak to the camera, the film attempts to piece together the story of the director’s mother’s life, as well as her own origins.

The film opens with an extended quote from Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace:

“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion, a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything about like a story at all. When you’re telling it, to yourself or to someone else.”

Individually, we are all the sum total of a storied life and irrespective of the fact that the film focuses on one particular family and its story, there is much here that potentially holds resonance for all of us.

As such, the film has encouraged me to consider many things around the narrative form that our lives take.

As I have mentioned here before, I believe that we are born in the middle of someone else’s story. When exactly it becomes our own, when we can claim it as our own (and only ours?), I do not know. But I do know that I feel an increasing responsibility, and need, to reclaim my story, to shape it, and to write all headings for subsequent chapters.

Inevitably, (unanswerable) questions around ‘truth’ also arise. I am no longer sure that truth matters here. There is probably little that is true when we are dealing with the memories that inevitably shape our stories. Thus, truth as a end-goal feels like a self-defeating aspiration in this context.

Even if we are born in the middle of someone else’s story (and it follows that our stories too lead onto anothers), that feels ok. We can still take ownership, and reversion those bits where we have a starring role…

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

I Could Read The Sky, written by Timothy O’Grady with photographs by Steve Pyke, first appeared in 1997.

The photographic novel was later adapted by Nichola Bruce to create a film of the same name (1999). I recently received a gift of Iarla O’Lionaird’s haunting accompanying soundtrack, which also features Sinead O’Connor, Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill, Noel Hill and Liam O’Maonlai. The music inspired me to re-explore both the book and the film.

A deeply melancholic and tragic narrative, I Could Read The Sky has loss, poverty, isolation and loneliness at its core.

It tells the story of one man, as he looks back on his life from solitary old age in Kentish Town. We get flashbacks of growing up in Ireland and of his life after leaving his native land to find work in England. The book unfolds as memories, as a looking back, to what has constituted a life.

The tone of the book is set at the outset, with a poem by Peter Woods on exile:

‘Exile is not a word

It is a sound

The rending of skin

A fistful of clay on top

of a coffin.’

We first see the lone figure in a Kentish Town bedsit:

‘This is me. I have a round bald head. My eyes are blue and watery and my fingers are stained with tobacco. I am alone here with a black dog. I sleep badly.’

His life in England has variously included working in a beet factory in Ipswich, slab laying in Bedford, and working with drainage pipes in Coventry, before settling in London amongst his compatriots:

‘There are men on the Kilburn High Road you can only see unfinished buildings in their eyes.’

He shares his flashbacks and memories, ‘sounds and pictures but they flit and crash before I can get them’, images of long-left Ireland and Labasheeda (‘The day of the Stations is a big day’) interspersed with the reality of his today:

‘I open my eyes in Kentish Town. Always this neutral air.’

‘A chair beside the bed. Tablets. A shirt with little blue squares, the collar shot. A bottle of Guinness here and another on the ledge. Maggie’s rosary, crystal beads.’

‘A wardrobe made my people I’ve never met.’

We return again and again to the Kentish Town bedsit:

‘I roll onto my side. The wardrobe door is open, Maggie’s dress with the bluebell’s hanging there.’

Maggie was the love of his life, and her death its greatest tragedy. The story of how they met, and what she meant to him, is a most beautiful and moving thread that weaves through the narrative.

‘I’ll not be leaving Kentish Town now except in a brown box and when I do I’ll be going to Labasheeda to lie with Maggie. I’ve left the instructions.’

His grief is almost tangible:

‘What is it to miss someone? It is not the throbbing ache of a wound. It is not the pain you get under your ribs from running. It is not a befouled feeling, the feeling of being in mud. It is the feeling of being in a strange place and losing direction. It is the feeling of looking without seeing and eating without tasting. It is forgetfulness, the inability to move, the inability to connect. It is a sentence you must serve and if the person you miss is dead your sentence is long.’

As fragments of his past and present life come and go, he pieces together a list of sorts:

‘What I could do.

I could mend nets. Thatch a roof. Build stairs…I could dance sets. Read the sky…Make a field…I could read the sea…Shear sheep. Remember poems. Set potatoes…Read the wind…Make a coffin. Take a drink. I could frighten you with stories.’

‘What I couldn’t do.

Eat a meal lacking potatoes. Trust banks. Wear a watch…Drink coffee…Follow cricket. Understand the speech of a man from west Kerry…Speak with men wearing collars. Stay afloat in water. Understand their jokes. Face the dentist. Kill a Sunday. Stop remembering.’

It makes you think about what we are, what constitutes our lives, lists of dos and don’ts, the memories we hang onto and those we forget, the people of our lives…

Watching the film again after re-reading the book, I love the collage of images, music and voices that interplay on the screen. How fragmented and bitty our lives in reality are, and the challenge is to try and pull it all together and somehow create a meaningful whole…

‘I remember loneliness and the walls of Quex Road. I remember pure sadness.’

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

This film, by the documentary film maker Marc Isaacs, is an absolute gem, a must-see.

Perhaps I am biased, as someone originally from Ireland who has lived in London for many years. But I believe The Road is essential viewing for anyone living in London, and not only there. It is the story of belonging, of loneliness, of searching for meaning and identity, in essence a depiction of what humanness might be about.

The road Isaacs focuses on is the A5, as it enters London and continues north from Marble Arch, through Kilburn, Cricklewood, and further towards Edgware.

Isaacs focuses on a handful of immigrants, both recent and long-arrived, dotted along the route. Their stories vary, yet converge on a fundamental common issue – leaving one’s homeland (and loved ones) behind. At the outset, Isaacs reflects on the reflective in-between-space such leaving creates, and as we see throughout the film, this questioning never goes away.

Billy, the Irish labourer, who now has too much time to reflect since retirement, which can only be handled through time in the pub, has been in London for more than 40 years. Yet he still feels that he has not fitted in, isolation and loneliness at least partly contributing to his alcohol problem: ‘a day later and a pound shorter’.

This is a poignant, moving, and melancholic film. It is also at times very funny. Isaacs treats the individuals he films with much gentleness, and is always unobtrusive. This is their story, not his, and you get the sense that the film genuinely cares about those portrayed.

Being, belonging, making our mark, is a large part of how we define ourselves. The Road will encourage you to reflect on this, and more, and to perhaps go about your life with a little more generosity and humility.

CQ

The timing of this release, which deals with the awfulness of alcohol excess and alcoholism, is perhaps no accident.

It is a great film, shocking and tragic at times, but also moving and ultimately uplifting.

The story revolves around a young married couple, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, fabulous, and such a challenging role) and Charlie (Aaron Paul), who appear to have a great and fun time together, albeit mostly in a state of drunkenness.

Drinking too much ceases to be fun, and becomes scary and destructive for Kate, a primary school teacher, who starts vomiting in front of her pupils post binge. She also wets the bed. A kindly colleague introduces her to AA, and a road, of sorts, to recovery.

Getting rid of alcohol from Kate’s life throws other issues into sharp focus, particularly her marriage, which she had never before experienced sober.

The rest you will find out for yourself, when you experience this must-see film…

What I particularly admired was the film’s (and director James Ponsoldt’s) refusal to shirk away from portraying the shocking reality of the drunk alcoholic. At times it was difficult to watch Kate’s excruciating behaviour when drunk. This is not a pretty, or funny, or remotely endearing depiction. Just, almost unbearably, tragic.

Smashed makes no attempt to soften the reality of alcoholism. At the same time, it is neither maudlin nor overly sentimental. An almost perfect balance. It is a gem of an authentic, honest, thoughtful and considered movie on a very difficult condition that affects so many, both directly and indirectly.

As a work of art, it unifies humanness and suffering, while at the same time embracing the optimism and hope that drives us to make our lives honest and true and meaningful.

CQ