Archives for posts with tag: film

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.

 

 

I saw the film Philomena at the weekend. I had initially been reluctant to see it, finding the stories that have unfolded following The Magdalene Sisters deeply disturbing and tragic. Yet, the stories need to be told, and their telling needs to be witnessed.

Philomena shares one such story, from an Ireland of the 1950s, where to be pregnant and single was profoundly sinful, with the sinner duly brutally punished in the eyes of Catholic Church by God’s most loyal and complicit servants, the nuns.

The story that unfolds in Philomena is gripping and revelatory, not for the obvious reasons, but because, at least for me, the film made me consider issues around forgiveness – how truly admirable a virtue it can be, and how difficult it can be to achieve.

I thought of Philomena again today, when a poem I came across reminded me of the hidden away graves in the convent where the mothers-to-be were incarcerated.

The poem, Stillborn by Derry O’Sullivan, appears in 3Quarks Daily (http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2013/11/tuesday.html) and an excerpt follows:

‘You were born dead

and your blue limbs were folded

on the living bier of your mother…

…The priest said it was too late

for the blessed baptismal water

that arose from Lough Bofinne

and cleansed the elect of Bantry…

…You were buried there

without cross or prayer

your grave a shallow hole;

one of a thousand without names

with only the hungry dogs for visitors…

…Limbo is the place your mother never left…

where she strains to hear the names of nameless children

in the barking of dogs, each and every afternoon.’

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

This documentary film, directed by Dirk Simon, focuses on the Tibetan movement to free Tibet.

Seven years in the making, it is an ambitious piece of work, and one that doesn’t quite deliver. The most interesting sections are those involving interviews with the Dalai Lama. His calm, pragmatic and charismatic approach to a non-violent way of living is truly impressive. This approach, which is mirrored in his followers, has, however, failed to provide a solution to the Tibetan problem, and Tibetans, both those who remain in their native land and those in exile, appear torn between their loyalty to the Dalai Lama and their frustration at the lack of any resolution of the political situation.

There are numerous comments from Tibetan activists, as well as Chinese people who seem to be equally entrenched (and totally lacking in any insight or empathy).

I was particularly struck by the non-involvement of the US (and everywhere else) when China invaded Tibet in the late 1940s. The film claims that at the time the US was trying to woo China away from Russia, and therefore did not want to jeopardise the relationship by involving itself in the Tibetan situation.

There is much passion, and distress, to be witnessed in this film. Overall, however, despite its earnestness and its well meaning premise, it felt like an overlong meandering through Tibet’s history post invasion. In terms of the movement to free Tibet, I was left with the depressing sense of a ‘political’ activism that does not seem to be going anywhere.

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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

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…

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… 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.

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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