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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Return visit to Alphaville

This is a review of Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

2 September (updated 17 September - Tweets added, 10 January 2015)

This is a review of Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy (2013)

Some may be disconcerted by the subtitles seeming to be in advance of the dialogue, although largely they lag (if not synchronized) : if that seems like it is a problem to your sort of viewing (of course, it may not be deliberate (please see below), though that seems unlikely), read no further :

Do not make a date with your second chance to see a screening of Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy (2013) at Cambridge Film Festival / #CamFF 2014 (Thursday 4 September at 6.00 p.m. in The Queen’s Building, Emmanuel College)

Those staying with this review can safely be told that there are lots of black-outs, big pink capitals that announce the advancing months, jump-cuts and quick cutting, and both a skilful use of a limited number of locations and an unshowily impressive performance by Patcha Poonpirya (Mary). Nor will it spoil things to know that an incoming head teacher turns Mary’s school’s status from day to boarding, stores and promulgates his own-branded coffee and soup, and that (not introduced by him) her fellow schoolmates wear tops that, in autumn 2012, state :


Yet, although set in and around a school, with Mary's best friend Suri, it is not a coming-of-age film, but one that challenges the notions both of what we expect from cinema and of what we think that reality is. If that is still seeming like a little too much, some of us may be doing some rearranging to be able to watch the film again, but please feel free to alight now.

Nothing draws attention to a budget that must be modest, except that one continues to nudge oneself, impressed by the quality of what one sees, with its search for photography’s magic hour, for (in the title of a series of booklets) Calculating Future Probability, and for recognition that The mouth does more damage than the hand. The film plays to its limited resources, with sly repetitions, variations of light and angle, and that disjunctive use of text.

Which is where some make much of the fact that, centrally on the screen, and most often with a click as they appear, are words, mainly not in English script, but with an unvarying line that appears underneath : Expand / Reply / Delete / Favorite, which may mean little to those who do not Tweet, but which would (before Twitter changed its format) be the line beneath only one’s own Tweets* (i.e. broadly short, public messages (a maximum of 140 characters, including spaces and punctuation), as one cannot delete another person’s Tweets, only (broadly speaking) choose not to see his or her Tweets any more).

What seems of much more interest than whether these are real Tweets from an account in the name of Mary Malony is the fact that this film is steeped in cinema, so much so that Mary’s form has a class – announced by a painted board in the background – in which her film-script is being discussed. Not in the knowing sort of way (which some might associate with Holy Motors) that tries to make you feel that you ‘should’ know all the references (or admit your inadequacy), but that uses film as a dynamic and creative medium, whose capacity – if we enter into it – is enhanced by the image that we watch is writ so large, and being able to explore cinematographers and directors’ works when one learns how they have been an influence on what interests one (though that latter feature is not unique to film).

Here, although the quiet pulse that ran through the film was that of Jean-Luc Godard (those incongruous scenes where the paramedics suddenly appear, the moodily evocative setting of the disused railway-lines, and a US diner full of bike helmets and cake…), it was nonetheless pleasing to have confirmation in the form of open acknowledgements, towards the end, of him and of Nouvelle Vague.

Director Nawapol Thamrongrattanrit has not just absorbed Godard’s key work, but has given it a fresh, strong spirit, and this film is sure to have filmgoers revisiting it to share his enthusiasm.

On again, at the very least, on Thursday 4 September at 6.00 p.m. in The Queen’s Building, Emmanuel College


Watching a second time did not bring very much more into focus, but was more of a battle - albeit a successful one, maintaining the original view of this film - with a sceptical inner voice, which sought to argue that the film was not as strong :

Just picture how it feels to get a friend to watch something that one things highly of, and then seeing it through what one imagines are his or her eyes.

Quite a test to pass - and it also gave a chance to catch the subtitles and the midline Tweets that were in English !

Postlude by Tweet :


* The question being : how could these be the real Tweets of another person, if the person reading them has the privileged option to delete ? That said, @marylony, the Twitter account that the Festival booklet names, does exist...

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

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