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Friday, 18 May 2018

Self-killing : the ultimate act of self-harming ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

7 June

The word suicide itself defies us : if we know the word homicide, we are still stumped without a knowledge of Latin that sui means the particular, the self.

But the word gets heard - and used - often enough for us to know the meaning, without needing to know that it is an act of self-killing, and it even appeared, when Céline Deon took a career-break (for motherhood ?), in a French headline sa suicide incroyable (I quote from memory). The word, just now referring to 'career suicide', is with us in such manifestations as 'financial suicide' and 'intellectual suicide', and, if I am honest, it has become a little too cheap for my liking, a glib notion when what is embodied is that of choosing to end one's life.

And there we come against the taboos, the misconceptions, the prejudice.

We all know about 'suicides' (as, equally cheaply, those who carried through that choice are sometimes unfeelingly called) not being buried 'in consecrated ground', and so we have a lasting sense of the shame and crime that ecclesiastical law deemed this act to be. We will know also of the shame and penalty of bastardy, of 'being born out of wedlock', and the stigma is quite similar in origin, the shame of the state of affairs, but different in how the twentieth century came to view illegitimacy and suicide :

Legislation enacted by the UK Parliament in 1925 repealed the consequences of being born to parents who happened not to be married, and, in my view, the prevalence of people living together in the last thirty years suggests that little or no societal disapproval attaches to being unmarried parents (as against a young single mother, it must be said). The inability to inherit in certain situations had been swept away by the reforming legislation, and, with it, the negative and hampering limitations of being illegitimate, a notion also done away with. (All that survives are the feeble jokes about doubting my parenthood when the speaker has been called a bastard, etc.)

With suicide, we had to wait until only fifty-two years ago for Parliament to pass the Suicide Act 1961, and thereby decriminalize someone trying and failing to kill him- or herself : before then, because the act was a criminal offence, someone known to be a survivor of the attempt was open to prosecution.

I know only when the two changes that I refer to, not (for want of having researched the matter) what the policy and other considerations were that led to the disparity in timing : more than 35 years to correct the injustice of being open to prosecution for wanting to end one's life, as against remedying the things that a person born to an unmarried couple was prohibited from doing.

In both cases, the history of the law's disapproval of illegitimacy and of suicide lay in Christian theology, with a Biblical notion of birthright (and of the primacy of the legitimate first male child), and a belief that suicide was the unforgiveable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Yet (as I have said), why decriminalizing suicide was less of a priority is not known to me : by analogy, I can say only that, under the law prior to the Mental Health Act 1983, being an unmarried mother made one liable to be detained under the predecessor Act, which is an almost incredible time for repealing such a policy.

Looking back to Greek mythology, whatever we think of Oedipus, it is clear enough in Sophocles' The Theban Plays that there is a taboo against suicide. There were also The Fates, whose Greek name (Moirai) means 'the apportioners', from which we partly get the idea of an allotted span on Earth, maybe three score years and ten : the strand representing each human life was spun by Clotho, measured out by Lachesis, and cut to length by Atropos.

You have your allotted span, and you don't seek to defy the Gods by prematurely shortening it, because there are penalties, if you do. Christian doctrine that this unforgiveable sin was that of suicide involved similar notions that God determines the length of one's life.

All of this history feeds in to the attitudes towards - the words used to describe - suicide now, and many object to the words 'commit[ted] suicide' on the basis that 'to commit' suggests a criminal offence. Whether that usage is a real hang-over from the days before the 1961 Act, I do not know, but it is not unlikely.

All in all, the public is so confused by the messages about suicide, assisted suicide, whether the former is a crime, or whether either is an act of courage or of cowardice (no neutral view here), that is no wonder that those who feel death to be the only way out are hurt and hindered sometimes by them : amongst which, they have the fear of being thrown into Dante's Inferno, of the stigma that will attach, and of being perceived as having acted selfishly.

To be continued

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Too posh to answer the telephone ? [work in progress]

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

8 May

Some comments [work in progress], following a screening and Q&A (as film-maker in residence at The University of Cambridge's Centre for Film and Screen), of Lucrecia Martel's La Ciénaga (The Swamp) (2001)


'You were all drunk'

Film-references :

* Babel (2006)

* Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

* Drevo (The Tree) (2014)

* Unrelated (2007)


It has been firmly postulated to be a feature of Andrei Tarkovksy's work that where, say, one sees Fire, the remaining Four Elements (of Earth, Water, and Air) can be found contiguously, but which is a pattern that one might otherwise overlook. In La Ciénaga, whether or not one can seek out the others in proximity (or they are simply pervasively present), one could impose - with some slight 'fudges' - an order on various recurrences to make a new Four Elements :

* Mud

* Blood [+ red wine]

* Water / ice / glass*

* Air


End-notes :

* Or 'Glass' could be an element in its own right, and substitute for 'Air' - though the latter is palpably there, as when

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

On first watching Yorgos Lanthimos' Kinetta (2005)...

On first watching Yorgos Lanthimos' Kinetta (2005)...

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

2 May

On first watching Yorgos Lanthimos' Kinetta (2005)...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

At Lunch Three with Britten Sinfonia

This is an account of Britten Sinfonia in At Lunch Three on Tuesday 17 April 2018

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

17 April

This is an account of At Lunch Three, as given by members of Britten Sinfonia at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, on Tuesday 17 April 2018 at 1.00 p.m.

Thomas Gould (ThomasGouldVLN) introduced the concert, and welcomed Tom Poster (@PosterTom) to play with Clare Finnimore (viola), Caroline Dearnley (cello) and him in two works for piano quartet (and mentioned the deftness of Poster's playing in the latter). The first, a world-premiere performance of a composition by Caroline Shaw, Gould described as ‘pretty beautiful’, and invited interested members of the audience to stay for the post-concert talk with Tim Watts from The University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Music.

Caroline Shaw (1982-) ~ ‘Thousandth Orange’ (2018) :

Several iterations of what seemed like it was to be a piano ostinato (the ‘very simple 4-chord progression’ to which Shaw’s programme-notes referred) began the piece. Before the material was shared with, and widened out, by the string-players, we then began by hearing them harmonizing it in different ways. Although, as a whole, the piece tended towards tonality, it did not do so simply in a sunnily emphatic way, but with edge, instruments rising and swelling - or playing pizzicato (with bowed cello) - at different tempi.

The work sounded quite filmic in its approach, and one could have imagined that it was a close reading of a cinematic short. However, it by no means needs visuals, but – as Shaw had also said in her programme-notes – she was evoking seeing, and the act of looking, and so ‘Thousandth Orange’ relaxed into the general rhythm of, and gave the impression of, different shots or alternative takes (but not at all in a Cubist way) : Maybe after the tenth, or the hundredth, or the thousandth time one paints an orange (or plays a simple cadential figure [ she differently describes that ‘4-chord progression]), there is still yet more to see and to hear and to love.

The piece had a quiet, but effective ending, with a version of the cadential figure – as envisaged earlier on – partitioned between pizzicato strings, and just hanging in the air.

As with the Brahms that followed¹, this was quality playing as of a unit, and well received by the audience : the work plays again at Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 18 and at St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich, on Friday 20 April, and one trusts that there will be other opportunities to hear it afterwards.

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) ~ Piano Quartet in G Minor, Opus 25 (1861) :

1. Adagio

2. Intermezzo – Allegro ma non troppo - Trio : Animato

3. Andante con moto

4. Rondo all Zingarese : Presto

Rather than reviewing the whole performance, which was excellent (and caused one person, on leaving the venue, to say that she never knew that Brahms could sound like that – almost everyone seemed to have found the work and its playing electric), here are just the written-up form of a few comments that were noted along the way.

The Allegro opens with a sun-lit statement in simple form, and we were fairly immediately in that initial lyricism that Shaw captures in her opening chords : she had chosen this work ‘as a natural partner to her new commission’². What one most wonders at is whether such a cello-line as that of Brahms could be contemporaneously written, or with such easy vibrancy or enthusiasm ?

In the Intermezzo, Gould, then Poster, could be heard to be prefiguring the Finale, and imbuing it with sadness in the repeat. In talking of the movement's exuberance, the programme-notes used the phrase ‘nervous sense of disquiet’ to say that it is kept in check ; however, the words fit better as a description of the Andante con moto, with its motif of repeated couplets, before it hints at and then builds up to grandeur, fuelled by energetic playing by Poster : eventually, out of the ashes of a huge explosion from the piano, Dearnley’s cello and Finnimore’s viola emerge and prove to have survived. (Likewise, in the Rondo, an elaborate cadenza drops down just to Gould's violin³ - imagine Brahms, as a man of 28 (exactly a year after Clara Schumann has given the premiere), making his playing and compositional début with this piece in Vienna in November 1862 !)

As the piano part established itself again, the other instruments could be heard, modulating beneath its harmonic forms : one keenly sensed that Brahms has a massive compositional structure at this point, which he is keeping aloft, until he finally pulls away into a close.

The Rondo started with lively string-tones and with Poster’s piano luminous in its upper register, but soon descended to just keyboard, with then the addition of pizzicato strings. We may know Brahms’ version of Hungarian from [his orchestration from piano four hands of ten of] his Hungarian Dances, but the most enduring theme here is a stately progression of chords in a theme of orchestral proportions - as is often said of this work as a whole, which Schoenberg indeed took the trouble to orchestrate.

Not maintaining this head of steam that he has built up, Brahms lets some of the pace off, as he can be heard doing in the Symphonies or Concerti, by adopting a dance-form (a waltz ?) – prior to that dramatic cadenza, mentioned above, very shortly before the end of the work, and in the context of a summative visitation of the principal themes, en bloc, before some fast playing. He still has time to be meditative once more, however, until an onward current of piano notes drives us to the conclusion, and an even-faster passage that makes what passed before seem like a canter.

Tremendous acclaim met this thrilling playing of an exciting piece – as the audience-member remarked, this was a Brahms that she did not know !

End-notes :

¹ Except when Caroline Dearnley momentarily seemed to be awaiting overlong a cue, from Tom Poster, that he was ready to come in.

² Shaw is quoted, in the programme’s introduction, as saying This new piece for piano quartet is a kind of deep dive into my own memories of rehearsing and performing Brahms’ Piano Quartet as a violinist.

³ Albeit quickly joined by the other string-players.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 6 April 2018


More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

5 April


[For the Winter Solstice]

I stand, and
(Having teased
Other lips) quiver
Now, 'twixt these
And your tongue -
Till I explode
Ambrosian gouts,
Thick and warm,
To savour
Sweetly down

© Copyright Belston Night Works 2018

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Stalin ate my homework

Some Tweets about The Death of Stalin (2017)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

5 March

Some Tweets about The Death of Stalin (2017)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

A grievous dereliction of duty at Cambridge Film Festival

A grievous dereliction of duty at Cambridge Film Festival

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

4 April

A grievous dereliction of duty at Cambridge Film Festival

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Tweets from Easter at King's 2018

This attempts, by Tweet, to give a taste of the best of Easter at King's

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

27 March

This is the annual attempt, by Tweet, to give a taste of the best of the Easter at King's Festival

Tuesday 27 March ~ St John Passion :

Wednesday 28 March ~ Recital by Joy Lisney (cello) and James Lisney (piano) :

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Chief : I’m a stray / Nutmeg : Aren’t we all (in the last analysis) ?

This is a review (work in progress) of Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs (2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

25 March

This is a review (work in progress) of Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs (2018), as seen in the non-dog-friendly preview screening* at The Arts Picture, Cambridge, on Sunday 25 March 2018 at 6.15 p.m. (in lovely Screen 1)

It is a pleasure to watch and want to write about such a film.

Rather than why The Square (2017) shows scant connection with the world of art (and might as well have been set in a bus station as a museum-style gallery ?), or wishing that Martin McDonagh's [ ] Billboards (2017) film [@3Billboards] had the credentials of his In Bruges (2008) - assuming that people realize that there are two McDonaghs, the other one being his brother Michael, who is the one who made The Guard (2011) and [ ] Calvary (2014)* ?

Meanwhile, both offending films will sell plenty of tickets, and no one will notice that Sally Hawkins deserved The Academy Award for 2017, not Frances McDormand...

A theme of injury or mutilation has been part of Wes Anderson’s world(s) since at least The Darjeeling Limited (2007), and, at the start of Isle of Dogs (2018), is introduced by the narration of Jupiter, who lacks his left eye… Other recurrent situations are being orphaned (e.g. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)), absent fathers / father-figures, escaping (right from the opening of Bottle Rocket (1996) onwards through to The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)) and imagined places (especially islands, and exploring them).


End-notes :

* Much advertised, the dog-friendly screening had been at 11.00 a.m. on the same day.


Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 23 March 2018

Celebrities who can help your mental health - unless, of course, you disagree with them...

The sporting coaches' guide to mental health

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

23 March

The sporting coaches' guide to mental health

The premise (put by a well-respected campaign) :

The pitch and the query :

Getting all defensive straightaway :

The passive-aggressive 'apology' :

Maybe actually saying something ? :

The long adieu :

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 19 March 2018

Empty sex is better than no sex, right ? ~ Stardust Memories (1980)

This is a review of The Square (2017)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

19 March

This is a review of The Square (2017)

Art has - though in no way uniquely - spent more than a century in both learning from itself and oftentimes rejecting its previous practices or cosy beliefs about what art is or is for.

In an imaginary 2020, The Square (2017) is squarely and falsely predicated on the notion that the director of a gallery and his or her board typically could have decided to put on an exhibition (we see it being mounted), but without knowing why it would be of interest or how 'to sell it'. Contrary to which, in the last sixty years the so-called art-world has rarely not understood - though there have been some notable mistakes - how to publicize its practitioners and to encourage viewers into all sorts of galleries to see their work.

How well does writer / director Ruben Östlund show that he understands and has observed the world of galleries and their ways of operating ? - probably as well as IMDb has, in giving us this one-liner about the film :

A prestigious Stockholm museum's chief art curator finds himself in times of both professional and personal crisis as he attempts to set up a controversial new exhibit

If that sounds like Guido Anselmi, trying – as the phrase used to have it – ‘to wing it’ in Fellini’s (1963), then that is exactly what Christian Jules Nielsen* (Claes Bang) evokes, rehearsing in the toilet – so we realize – pretending to abandon his printed speech and speak impromptu. Other film-references early on are, patently, La grande bellezza** (The Great Beauty) (2013) and, arguably, Holy Motors (2012) - for its ending, and its nature as episodes, very loosely strung together ?

This is fine, because (although this can be overplayed, and is not exclusively so) film is meant to be referential in its nature - except that The Square never seems to have anything of its own to say, other than this small idea of a show that is being installed, but without clear ideas of promoting it (enter what IMDb calls 'PR Guys', Daniel Hallberg and Martin Sööder, in the mode of the destructive duo in Michael Haneke's Funny Games (1997)) :

The film is not about those who work with art***, but it feels as little close to showing them as Elisabeth Moss' (Anne's) vacuous interview with Christian (for which he is woken from a nap), or the equally vapid interior of the head of Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) in Nocturnal Animals (2016)...

And when I love thee not
Chaos is come again
Othello (Act III, Scene 3)

If this is satire (please see below), rather than the naivety of insulting the viewership with a weak premise (and the latter can sometimes be passed off as the former), then it is a shame that it does not have the conviction of Roy Andersson. Except, that is, in the attention-grabbing, 'stand-alone' scene with Terry Notary that is made into the film-poster : even so, it is a high-energy episode that depicts another débâcle for Christian****, but without troubling to relate it to ‘the main action’ – unless generously seen as a depiction of the reign of Chaos, or an unannounced dream-sequence [and so more in the vein of than the explicable exactitudes of divine wrath that Lorgos Yanthimos would treat of in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)].

On the other hand, no one would take the premise of this entertainment of Antonio Salieri’s at face value – we are not meant to engage on a literal level with the fact that the poet is required to write a libretto in four days, and for an opera whose music has already been composed, and no one could seriously so construe the intentions of Salieri and his own librettist, Battista Casti. Yet, on this sort of construction (as with Amy Adams as Susan Morrow in Nocturnal Animals, managing, but significantly not making, art), it no more matters that Ruben Östlund has written real things that happened to him and to others into the setting of, say, a traditional three-ring circus (almost inevitably, back to Guido as circus-master in ), or of a cheese-shop with no cheese (Monty Python).

Cabaret (1972), comsummate, acerbic satire, does something useful with the conceit of a sort of circus-master, but the lack of credibility about the art at Morrow’s gallery, when she is supposed to be successful (an issue that writer / director Tom Ford misjudges, by making the work with the film's artistic team), sadly means that it boots nothing to show her as shallow and uncreative in relation to her ex-husband’s novel. However, it is Python that is closest to The Square, not for cramming more names of cheeses into one sketch than a stick can be shaken at, but perhaps for the haphazard way that (according to The Pythons Autiobiography by The Pythons) The Meaning of Life (1983) came into being.

The difference is that, amongst other things, the best sketches from that film – it is, essentially, a sketch-film (though not as is And Now For Something Completely Different (1971)) – and from four t.v. series have stood the test of time. Whoever Elisabeth Moss is meant to be (other than someone called Anne, who conducts a brief interview), it is unlikely that we will find her repeatedly saying the word Cunt !, or the bedroom tussle, on our mind next year, let alone amusing us.

Or even wanting to hear the trite question asked of her whether picking up her handbag and putting it in the gallery-space would make it art – trite, in terms of a century of debate about what art is, not least with Duchamp’s ‘ready mades’ such as Fountain (1917) (if, that is, he really was the R. Mutt who signed the original work (now lost)).


Even so, the biggest debt (not nearly repaid) is to Michael Haneke's Caché (2005), and to obsessively trying to figure out how and why one has been wronged, countless of the cost.

Film-references and others :

* Caché (Hidden) (2005)

* Funny Games (1997)

* Holy Motors (2012)

* Nocturnal Animals (2016)

* [ ] Songs from the Second Floor (Sånger från andra våningen) (2000)

* The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

* Intouchables (Untouchable) (2011)

Nude descending a staircase ~ Duchamp

End-notes :

* To IMDb, he is just Christian, because it can rarely give you detail that is in the body of the film – or tell you better than [ ] watching the closing credits what that piece of music used was (so IMDb does not mention the most obvious thing that we hear, i.e. Gounod, arranging Bach, in ‘Ave Maria’…)

** What a shame not to be re-watching, in Screen 1 at The Arts Picturehouse, the immense beauty of Paolo Sorrentino's clever, insightful and thoughtful film instead ! The flamingos, Jep Gambardella effortlessly taking down artistic pretension, La scala sancta...

*** Gerry Fox does such an excellent job with that in Marc Quinn : Making Waves (2014).

**** A regular @CamPicturehouse interlocutor, who contributed in this way to the (incomplete) #UCFF review of Certain Women (2016) and saw The Square during @camfilmfest 2017, had found this episode both realistic – in terms of having experience of happenings or performance art – and fun, and suggested that Ruben Östlund had placed it in his film (he had said so, apparently) because he could : which, if so [it was also agreed that it might denote Christian's having a nervous breakdown, i.e. Fellini's Guido again], definitely seems the approach of Holy Motors of Never mind the quality, feel the width ?

Please, please, please ! Of course, there is so much very obvious hypocrisy in the film (at which self-contented people in the screening happily laughed, but - awful realization - don't say that, as he is 'Christian', that this is some sort of re-working of Pilgrim's Progress... !

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 18 March 2018

A small remembrance of something more solid¹ ~ Blondie

This is a long-unfinished review of Mistress America (2015)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 March

This is a long-unfinished review of Mistress America (2015)

Spirit says ‘Five feet to the left and unhappy (not dropped into body)’ ~
Dr Yang (Alice (1990))

That Blondie track contains a pertinent reference, but ‘Souvenir’ by Orchestral Manœuvres in the Dark (or OMD) is actually part of the soundtrack : a perfect (but British²) single for a skittish take on the ways of New York City [though, for some reason, Wikipedia® styles the band ‘English’] – even for someone who lived through those times, redolent of that era, but maybe less easily placeable (one first thought of Gary Numan…) ? :

My obsession
It's my creation
You'll understand
It's not important now

'Souvenir' (by Paul Humphreys and Martin Cooper)

Personnel (in order of appearance) :

* Lola Kirke ~ Tracy [Fishlock ?]

* Greta Gerwig ~ Brooke Cardinas

* Cindy Cheung ~ Karen / tax attorney

Its fast-talking quipping is exhausting - for them, as well as for us ? - before they settle to it. Till it mellows, and slackens the pace, more like the imaginary game of billiards in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, which is a conversation, cannoning off another one, that is quite parallel :

The film is a lot like the strands that go on, at the same time, in Deconstructing Harry (1997), with a hooker, an old friend who dies, and an abducted son - all in the car with Harry Block on his way to be honoured by his old college. Except that Woody Allen (a) knows to keep it short, and (b) to have the lines better complement each other than the height of intricate Renaissance polyphony, where the text, even if one has it before one, can often barely be followed.

Deconstructing Harry is the apt film to think of, not only because of its stranded nature (in one sense), but because the characters become stranded (in another) in a situation of difficulty that is almost wholly of their making (or, in Harry’s case, of his). Brooke, who barely knows Tracy (but who is impressionable, not to say suggestible), has insisted to her³ :

You have to chase down the things that you say

Tracy, though she protests Me ? I don’t know anything !, is the willing participant on this Möbius-strip of a ride, However, she is as when Ben Stiller, embarrassingly, tries to make a pitch in While We’re Young - out of her depth with what she is doing.

When Greta Gerwig and he co-wrote Frances Ha (20??), which Noah Baumbach directed, it was delightfully knowing in its allusions to Woody Allen of the 1970s, and it was a delightful film. In life, as in film, you have to Know what you’re selling, and What you’re buying, and Mistress America does not

A note on lighting :

In the use of light and dark, towards the end of the film, Greta Gerwig is in the darker part of the room, which is not just as it happens that way, but to reflect that another character is much more brightly lit – at what distance can we imagine them to be that there is such a gradient that the former is in shadow, the latter brightly lit ?

As was seen in While We’re Young (2014), although much more subtly than there, where insight and gullibility / naivety / self-deception (the recurring themes here) are also vividly pictured by extremes of lighting (Ben Stiller in darkness, Adam Driver iluminated)…


¹ From 'Picture This', by Debbie Harry, Jimmy Destri, and Chris Stein.

² Hope Springs (2012), too, pleasantly surprised with the Scottish strains of Annie Lennox.

³ Which is self-referential to the story, though not in the rather patent and unsatisfying way of Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths (2012). One related, difficult element (to joking with 'psychopathy') of Mistress America was mention of a mother with bi-polar experience (or diagnosis ) – talking about someone as if that person is a creature from a fairy-tale or myth...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Don’t you think they’re the same thing, love and attention ?

This is a review of Lady Bird (2017), written and directed by Greta Gerwig

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

This is a review of Lady Bird (2017), written and directed by Greta Gerwig

As actor and as writer, Greta Gerwig has always seemed at her best when she embraces the fact that, polished veneers apart, life is full of awkwardnesses (although, at the same time, this actually seemed to be the least successful aspect of Mistress America (2015) – perhaps the extent to which others felt awkward was too great¹ ?).

Both tall and immature, awkward and graceful, blundering and candid, annoying and engaging, Greta has won all hearts in the title role of Frances Ha(liday) ~ Greta Gerwig's biography on IMDb

In no bad or derivative way, the script of Gerwig’s film feels as though it is harking back to that which she co-authored with Noah Baumbach for his Frances Ha (2012), though hardly because both title-characters (the latter played by Gerwig herself) have both adopted their names, since, in the case of Frances, it happens through pragmatism and at the very end of the film. What is more enlightening is that it is part of both of them that they have to find a way of being comfortable in the world, before they can relate to it. In the case of Lady Bird – insisting on being called that, because she can – we know how she plans to give herself what she seeks, and how, despite everyone else’s refusing to do so, she credits her abilities.

On that level, although the film does not make this a message, we do see someone who perseveres, based on her self-belief. It is on the level of her relations with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) that things are really interesting, however. As her father (Tracy Letts) puts it, in talking to Lady Bird, You both have such strong personalities, and we find, in the car at the outset, how that can be good and also less good. One is reminded that it is said of psychiatrist R. D. Laing that he gave much to his patients, but was distant from, or even hard on, his own children (which, though it can be rather loose with its facts, is how Mad to be Normal (2017) portrays him).

Saoirse Ronan excellently plays the part of Lady Bird, and her friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and she behave, and have been dressed to look, convincingly the right age (which Greta Gerwig, born a decade earlier, could not have done). Whether she is feeding into the script her own experience (she was, in fact, born in Sacramento, CA²), or solely her imagination, is less important than that she clearly does so with a level of plausible absurdity that makes what we see feel genuine, coupled with knowing when we will be interested, amused or touched by it. It matters to her that she tell this story, and that makes the film-making powerful and worthwhile.

Frances Ha is trying to find, personally and professionally, the way of being comfortable with herself that will let her just be in the world. It is almost as though, when she does ‘fly away’ to where she feels home (as the children’s rhyme has it), Christine drops the high-school cover of calling herself Lady Bird. She is a figure akin to Frances, but seen earlier in life, and whose ways of being we see being shaped by her background.

End-notes :

¹ It seems like Bottle Rocket (1996), except that Wes Anderson’s film is a whole, so that its close makes it complete in itself and cohere – rather as does The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), when one might be wondering where it is going ?

² Where scenes in Frances Ha (2012) are also set (with Gerwig’s actual parents cast in the role), and, according to IMDb, Gerwig did attend an all-girls Catholic school, and describes herself having been ‘an intense child’…

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)