Archives for posts with tag: Cinema

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

Advertisements

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.

 

 

IMG-20130907-00756

Last night’s viewing of Museum Hours inspired me to re-read Auden’s poem Musee des Beaux Arts today:

‘About suffering, they were never wrong,

The Old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position; how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along…’

‘In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling from the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly by.’

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

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

… which I highly recommend.

Released in 2012, I missed Barbara during the recent and short cinema run, and only just caught it some months after its London screening.

I know little about German cinema – Run Lola Run was probably my most recent experience – and it was the storyline that intrigued me most about Barbara. A couple of years ago I read, and was very much taken by, Anna Funder’s book Stasiland. The setting of Barbara in 1980’s East Germany fuelled my interest in the hidden world of that era. I first visited Germany, and Berlin, shortly after the wall came down. It felt then like I had only experienced a fragment of the aftermath, with no perspective on what had gone before.

Barbara, directed by Christian Petzhold, tells the story of a female doctor (played by Nina Hoss) in East Germany in 1980, who has been banished to a hospital in the provinces from Berlin as a result of her attempts to escape to the West. Barbara finds herself in a world where she does not know who she can trust, or love, including herself.

This is not a hugely action-packed film but a deeply compassionate and redemptive one. Watching it, for me, was a restorative experience.

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

I went to see this film primarily as I was interested in how it portrayed mental illness. The experience of mental illness has often been skimpily and superficially dealt with in most fiction films, and so I was hoping for something deeper and more meaningful from this current release.

I was indeed entertained by the romantic, redemptive, uplifting storyline, where loves cures all (even crazy, which is not unusual in cinematic depictions of mental illness, for example Spellbound and Prince of Tides).

Undoubtedly, we need feel-good stuff in our lives.

But, and this is a significant ‘but’, I was not at all sure about the film’s depiction of mental illness, specifically bipolar disease.

Bipolar disease, or manic depression, can be devastating for the sufferer, albeit the severity of the condition varies from one individual to the next. What was reassuring in Silver Linings Playbook was to see those suffering from the condition leading a ‘normal’ life, which is certainly possible for many sufferers.

In the film, the sufferer Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, appears to be mainly affected by problems with anger management. We learn that his 8-month stay in a psychiatric hospital resulted from beating up his wife’s lover. Presumably this event alone did not lead to a diagnosis of bipolar disease, but we are kept in the dark as to what else defined his condition.

When he leaves hospital to live with his parents, we do see some (vaguely) manic episodes. Pat decides, for example, in an attempt to win back his wife, to read all the books on her teaching syllabus. Incensed by Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, he wakes his parents up at 4am to espouse on all that is wrong with the book, and eventually hurls the offending tome through a closed window. Anger, inappropriate behaviour, yes, but mental illness, bipolar disease? I am not so sure that this is necessarily so…

I was also perturbed by the comedy. In parts, the film is funny, and cleverly so. But I struggled with the humour in places, particularly where it felt like the audience was laughing at symptoms of bipolar disease, the acting out and inappropriate behaviour that mental illness can entail, and which also alienates and isolates sufferers in real life.

A further issue that bothered me was compliance with medication. Pat didn’t like how the pills made him feel, which is a very reasonable and common management problem. However, there is so much evidence that bipolar disease can be contained, even controlled, with appropriate treatment, and this was such a golden (and missed) opportunity to stress the importance of compliance.

I suspect that Pat did eventually take his medication on a regular basis, but in the end the film leaves one with the powerful sense that love, not medication and compliance, conquered mental illness.

So, overall, a missed opportunity I felt, as the portrayal of mental illness, specifically bipolar disease, is rarely the subject of mainstream cinema (and, interestingly, most of what we have to date originates from the US), and also the fact that the director David O Russell has such a way of winning over his audience, so much more could have been achieved. Most fiction films that deal with the topic of mental illness portray sufferers as victims in a melodrama (for example Splendour in the Grass (1961)). Documentaries and autobiographical works, for example The Devil and Daniel Johnston, are different, and often much more harrowing, and need to be explored as a separate entity.

Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy, which is also billed as having mental illness within its core focus. Observing Pat’s journey and recovery through the film may serve in some way to de-stigmatise mental illness, but I suspect that many of those in the auditorium with me a couple of nights ago will remember it as a sweet and endearing romantic story, rather than as a melodrama that dealt with the real, and less immediately solvable, issues that underlie the experience of living with mental illness.

CQ

Saturday July 21, 2012

This French film has just opened in London. I was drawn to it for a few reasons, but particularly as I admire Kristin Scott Thomas, and I was also intrigued as to how the film would deal with Stockholm syndrome.

Following on from real life events, Stockholm syndrome has been much done, even overdone, in the world of fiction. In Your Hands is not implausible, yet for me it did not feel authentic, and as a result I struggled to connect with both the plot and the protagonists.

There are two protagonists. Anna Cooper (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a surgeon who performed a caesarean section on a young woman who subsequently died from a hospital acquired infection. The widower (Pio Marmai) seeks revenge two years later, and kidnaps Anna, although with no apparent plan as to what he would do next. It would be unfair to reveal the plot, but it is not unpredictable.

When Anna checks her voicemail after she has ‘disappeared’ for a few days, there are just five messages, two from her mother. Much emphasis is placed on her aloneness, her solitary life, and I, uncomfortably, sensed that some kind of association was being presented between Stockholm syndrome and the repressed needs of a lonely middle aged woman.

Notwithstanding, the performances of both actors are sensitive and at times compelling, even if empathy for either did not happen for me.

CQ

Sunday, June 24, 2012

This Russian arthouse piece, directed by Aleksei Fedorchenko, has just arrived in London cinemas. It is short, just 77 minutes, but nonetheless inspires much for the viewer to think about and linger on.

The film opens as one of the two main characters, Aist (Igor Sergeev), buys a pair of birds, ‘buntings’. He is unsure what has drawn him to the birds, but they triggered a vague memory that eludes him. The birds, in their cage, accompany Aist on his journey throughout the rest of the film.

The film focuses on a pair of human friends, Aist and Miron (Yurly Tsurilo). Miron’s young wife, Tanya, has just died (we never find out why) and he asks his friend to accompany him on a journey that concludes with the cremation of her body and returning the ashes to the sea.

Both men tenderly wash and prepare Tanya for the journey. Rituals connect the dead woman to life, and the journey feels like an interim space, between bodily death and the final relinguishing of what remains as it is returned to the sea.

The journey involves bleak forlorn landscapes and ‘orphan’ villages. The birds’ cage sits between the men as they travel. Although the film has many long and silent takes, the men also talk, often deadpan-like, even when Miron introduces Aist to ‘Smoking’, a practice where the newly widowed shares details of his sex life with his wife.

At one point, we are reminded that ‘only love has no end’. It is unclear how happy Tanya was in her marriage to Miron (in fact, there may have been something between the dead woman and Aist), but this is not a film of cliches. The end is unexpected, though perhaps not surprising in a film that weaves a path between living and dying, a melancholic and sad place, yet perhaps not so tragic.

CQ