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Monday, 31 August 2015

Air-brushed from history ?

This is a Festival preview of Héroes Invisibles (Invisible Heroes) (2015)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

29 August

This is a Festival preview of Héroes Invisibles (Invisible Heroes) (2015) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2015)

Héroes Invisibles (Invisible Heroes) (2015) is subtitled Afroamericanos en la Guerra de España (The part played by Afro-Americans in The Spanish Civil War [NB an interpretative rendering of the title (which is in Spanish) for this blog]).

It is the mark of a well-thought-through documentary that, in little more than an hour, it can not only tell its story, but also although much of what we are told about has happened in the late 1930s, and in Spain have us conclude its significance to where we are now, in the States (amongst many other places), with regard to 'respecting' everyone’s civil rights [dare one say human rights ?], i.e. that euphemism for the fact that such rights are not always respected (?) :

As directors Alfonso Domingo and Jordi Torrent clearly appreciate very well, black-and-white photographs (the visual record mainly takes that form here) can so often, when simply displayed, just somehow invoke disconnection, both from when they were taken, and, as a result, from the lives of those pictured*. On one level, of course, it is a little as if one looks at one’s parents (or grandparents) if lucky enough to have known them without being able to conceive of their having (or ever having had) childish, irrational or lustful desires.

[Not least given that, as fifteen-year-olds, we cannot easily (pleasantly ?) imagine the act that brought us into being], then, on another level, we are at four potential removes, at least, from men such as James Yates (author of From Mississippi to Madrid, and whose life the film partly takes time following) :

(1) He was still a young man at the time of the Spanish Civil War (19361939) [the link is to an article in the Encyclopædia Britannica]

(2) Before going to Spain, and because of being a black man (or some would prefer to say ‘a person of colour’), as well as someone who had stood, in various places of work, for unions to be recognized, Yates had experienced discrimination and persecution

(3) He then took part in a conflict : although Yates was a driver, not a combatant**, the conflict was fierce, and he most certainly saw action in this role (and saw others die, or, in the case of a good friend, Yates only learnt of his death once he had newly arrived in Spain)

(4) When he came back, from a place where he had been treated very differently from at home, his support for what he still believed in had probably hardly begun

By taking steps to make these points clear to us (please see below), this film ensures that there are no hiding-places for what seems, unless checked, to be our human tendency to apathy or lack of compassion, and so it makes better use of monochrome images than did Still the Enemy Within (2014) [a review is still to come...], which had converted some of what it presented to us to 3D : doing so almost became a distraction*** to seeing what participants in the strike by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had shot (or those very few journalists who troubled to cover the story on the ground) ?

Instead (by using various means), Héroes Invisibles much more imaginatively**** visualizes how the Afro-Americans who fought in the International Brigades (specifically, the Lincoln Brigade) have, in our non-specialist conception, been effectively air-brushed from history (though that phrase is not heard in the film). Which is to say that Torrent and Domingo enlarge our understanding of this supposed civil war (please see below), partly because we probably have not had reason to see black American soldiers, nurses, drivers amongst those who stood against the fascist forces under General Franco.

Actually, that is because we do not usually have ready access to the visual evidence, whereas at least half-a-dozen historians, at various points, make appearances in the film to share what their research has established from the contemporary photographic record, alongside documents, and memoirs and other publications. As to the status of the conflict, one also thinks of Syria, and what Return to Homs (2013) wanted to propose, with the accord of Amnesty International (@amnesty), i.e. the assertion that what was happening in that country, if properly described, did not constitute 'civil war' (as claimed).

(That said, unlike with the calls on Yates' longer-lived (if maybe less-demanding) tenacity, we can see in The Salt of the Earth (2014) [which Torrent (@nycjordi), as well as Mark Cousins (@markcousinsfilm), highly approve], how Sebastião Salgado, a photographer who had been committed to covering events in conflict-zones, found that he could not go on with his photographic reportage after the experience of seeing yet more lives destroyed in the former Yugoslavia and, on a return trip, in Rwanda. (This was after the time that Salgado had spent shooting scenes of struggle in the not unrelated sphere of the effect of global economic pressures on jobs and work.))

In this country, significant energy per se may be devoted to marking anniversaries of VE Day, or the outbreak of World War I, but maybe ‘the establishment’ conveniently neglects recalling when the States and Great Britain stood by as a war was prosecuted, on Spanish soil, and very greatly helped by Hitler’s German forces, and those,
from Italy, of Mussolini. It ended on 1 April 1939, yet only for World War II to break out, and Britain to enter it on 3 September, a bare five months later. Catalan film directors (as well as authors, artists, etc.), have, of course, wanted to oppose such neglect of the memory of what happened (quite apart from any consideration of the gratuitous tactical gain that Axis powers had obtained, by being able to practise the tactics of Blitzkrieg ?).

Focusing on its topic, Héroes Invisibles steers clear of very much national accusation, and also of the complicating issue of factions that arose amongst the different republican / anti-fascist groupings*****. That said, there are other films that have come to Festival Central in preceding years of Camera Catalonia [the link is to 'What is Catalan cinema ?'], such as Eyes on the Sky (Mirant al Cel) (2008), which movingly centres on the Italian Air Force’s bombing of Barcelona [an era obliquely alluded to in [ ] Born (2014??)].

One thing that this film does, of course, desire is to challenge our impression of those who fought, if we derive it from the famous novel set during The Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls. The reason is that what Hemingway purported to tell us through the character of Robert Jordan, Héroes Invisibles states, in passing, is highly atypical with regard to the actual composition of the International Brigades. The consequence is that our having had regard to, and believed, a fictionalized account, rather than knowing the facts, has significantly marginalized knowledge of what James Yates
did (and others in his position).

Ernest Hemingway, working at his book For Whom the Bell Tolls, at Sun Valley, Idaho, in December 1939 [taken from the Wikipedia® web-page on him : is Hemingway working, or is this another pose (please see below) ?]

Yet, probably more significantly than whether ‘Papa’ Hemingway told truth, or betrayed the nature of the men whom he had met in Spain (as some say, in favour of a portrait of such a man as himself ?), this film informs us, through what happened to Yates, so much about the lives of people who substantially underpinned what is shown taking place in films such as Selma (2014) :

In Spain, welcomed, and treated as equals, but they soon had, as Yates did, unpleasant reminders of the past on their return. Yet they had the continuing courage, vision and fight to want to stake their claim on such better things in the States…


* Likewise, the flickering of a silent film needs a good score, and it is best performed live. Not, though (although it is too often said), to bring it alive / to life, but to ease our way into its world, when, in its own terms, it was made for, and to have, accompaniment. Indeed, such films, after good image-quality and frame-rate had been secured, already do have movement (hence ‘moving / motion picture’, although often styled ‘movie’. (The giving of The Academy Awards ('Oscars®') is decided by The International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [emphasis added] (@TheAcademy)).

The best silent films have arguably and deservedly survived better, and are so much more alive, than many a Cinemascope release in Technicolor®. Yet perfectly posed early silver-nitrate ?? can be gorgeous, but does having a predilection for colour (e.g. even early colour footage of Hitler) cause us to keep our distance ?

** One substituted the word ‘fighter’ with ‘combatant’, because the film shows what a fighter Yates was, and continued to be, for what he believed in.

*** One can only speak as one alive at the time [which, then, benefited watching Generation Right (2015)], whereas other viewers are necessarily too young. However, we all respond with a variety of experiences to cinema (it is almost what cinema is for, to be a malleable medium of the mind and spirit ?), so, for some, 3D-ized photos, rendered almost spectral, would evoke a near-psychotic episode, because of their coupling with the disturbance of the audio [of background voices, making comment too quiet to be wholly audible, too audible to be wholly ignored]...

**** For example, in the documentary Virunga (2014) [which came to Festival Central (@CamPicturehouse) for a Q&A (before its impressive nominations for BAFTAs (@BAFTA) and The Academy Awards (@)], the ‘tick-over’ of a teleprinter was used to help present the pressure of events unfolding because director Orlando von Einsiedel had employed a drama editor (Masahiro Hirakubo).

***** For which, though, we can look to Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom (1995), or Catalan director Óscar Aibar’s El bosc (The Forest) (2012), the latter of which screened at Cambridge Film Festival 2013 (#CamFF), during Camera Catalonia [the link is to 'What is Catalan cinema ?'].

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

Saturday, 29 August 2015

A 300-word story : The Parallelogram of Forces

A 300-word story : The Parallelogram of Forces

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
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The Parallelogram of Forces

For Roland*

Her nippy little Jetta (nippy beyond its years since registration) shunted him before he could think to do anything.

Yes, he could see her coming, once a proper chance to look had made him stop. However, that just tensed him on the wheel, giving him whiplash (alongside, from the belt, the injury to his shoulder). What was almost worse (well, he did not feel those things at the time their way is to come to-morrow) was that horribly familiar, if infrequent, sound that car makes on car.

They surveyed the bits that now constituted the nearside light-assembly, and the nigh-padlocked box of his boot. Somehow, physics, and The Parallelogram of Forces, had been far kinder to her Jetta than his now damp squib of a Fiesta.

She did not remember her insurers, or have her policy. Of course, she readily agreed that he needed to know : much more readily even if it was a momentary and anxious hesitation, suggesting the suspicion that he had ‘designs’ than part with her phone number, which he wrote on his certificate.

As he drove away (thankfully, he could get to that appointment still, albeit late), he strongly felt she was the sort of woman who appealed to a man like him. When he called (after a few days, not to seem eager he had learnt that much), he found she was not exactly local, but it was kind of her to offer dinner, and…

When she died, just three years on (and in childbirth), he found that she had decided to preserve, behind her chest of drawers, a handful of neat notes on yellow A5.

As he read them, they made sense of a pair of luggage-labels : her return flight from Malta, his that had been missing when he landed from Berlin.


* Who wisely leaves to others what they can do best.

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

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The skeletal aspect of cinema

This is a pre-Festival review of Tots els camins de Déu (2014)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
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23 August

This is a pre-Festival review of Tots els camins de Déu (All The Ways of God) (2014) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2015)

A long-form look at Tots els camins de Déu (All The Ways of God) (2014) is headed This is an hard saying ; who can hear it ? (quoting John’s gospel, just after the crowd has been told that it has to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life (King James’ Version)).

That review (which is perhaps more of an essay) is available here, following the screening (and Q&A with director (and co-writer) Gemma Ferraté) on Tuesday 8 September at 8.00 p.m., and begins by quoting Dante’s Inferno (in Longfellow’s translation (as below)) :

‘Now go, for one sole will is in us both,
Thou Leader, and thou Lord, and Master, thou.’
Thus said I to him ; and, when he had moved,

I entered on the deep and savage way.

Inferno, Canto II, 139142

The Tweet tells truth, whereas with a desire not to say too much, or just (as some reviewers like to do) tell the story describing this film as Two men in a forest does not sound as though it might have significant filmic possibilities.

Yet one could say that about the essential premise of other circumscribed films such as Dial M for Murder (1954) (with Hitchcock deliberately being stagey, in the same year as Rear Window (1954)), 12 Angry Men (1957), or Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), but give the wrong impression. Also, at this time, (essentially) two-handed plays such as En attendant Godot and The Dumb Waiter were already being written by, respectively, Beckettt and Pinter*, concentrating on the skeletal aspect of drama / theatre.

For now, though, the best thing to say about Tots els camins de Déu probably lies somewhere between all the literary resonances that it brings out, such as with Dante, and these plays and films that have narrowed down to a few figures. That comes down to the notion of the dramatic and what that says to us about cinematic treatments of it, where Sokurov, before the masses employed in Russian Ark (2002), had made Father and Son (2003), and Mother and Son (1997), in the latter of which it is just those two named figures.

Both of those films by Sokurov look at a reality that is not so much distorted as curved, and where he meditates on the relationship between the two sons and the parent, through memory, and physical proximity and sleep, and dream. In Tots els camins de Déu, it is what happens between men who seem to see each other for the first time when one’s shadow falls on the face of the other, just as he is sleeping on the ground, following emotional rupture and turmoil.

We are then with them in various situations, where patience, trust and nerve are tested, and we are invited to bear with them, not on the journey that they make, as such, within the forest, but in their exploration of each other’s psyches. It is resolutely not a film that is filled with action, and it simply does not engage with the stock cinematic cliché of establishing character-types, presenting a crisis or challenge, and seeing how the character-types deal with / overcome it.

Its business is with how time allows a burden to be shared between them the cause of all that rupture and turmoil at the start of the film. But it really does do so in a way that is informed by :

* The opening of Dante’s Inferno, when he meets Virgil, also in a forest, and learns that his beloved, deceased Beatrice (already waiting to meet him in Paradiso) wants him to grasp God’s purposes, now that he is Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita (Midway upon the journey of our life)

* Who one of these figures is (written about endlessly, but also by Dante and Borges), and what troubles him so

* How the burden of it whose tangible reminder is so closely related to what he did, because it is partly what he did it for alters him, so that his mood or attitude can just switch for the worse

* So there is humour, and also fun, and yet we have seen it snatched away by feelings that are heavy and painful

Ultimately, in this exact situation, we are thrown back on words such as these :

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me ; for I am meek and lowly in heart : and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11 : 28-30 (King James’ Version)


* Earlier, Strindberg and Ibsen (and others after them) could not only write works on an epic scale, and with huge casts (e.g. Strindberg’s multi-part To Damascus and Ibsen’s Peer Gynt), but also focus on a few actors : respectively, Miss Julie and A Master Builder (in the latter of which, it is, out of the cast of seven, with Solness and Hilda Wangel that the play busies itself).

** Before them, possibly most remarkably, Georg Büchner, a scientist with a fascination for Jakob Lenz (he worked on a novella called Lenz), a sort of precursor in Büchner’s extremely short life to Woyzeck.

Sixty years before Chekhov (who, as a medic, was also to be an observer of life), his Danton (in Dantons Tod (Danton’s Death)) already seemed alone in a crowd and so, despite disguising it and / or submitting to a sense of duty, do many of Chekhov’s stage characters. (Can one think of a major play of his without a gun-shot ?) It is that lostness, and the sense of being surrounded by silence, uncertainty, despair and death, that comes through into dramatists such as Beckettt and Pinter the pauses, hesitations, and the heightened awareness that language can be as a sort of reification to fill or deny the void (L'Être et le Néant ?) and which we experience here in Tots els camins de Déu.

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

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Pre-Festival reviews of films in Camera Catalonia I (for Cambridge Film Festival 2015)

Three films in Camera Catalonia (for Cambridge Film Festival 2015)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
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23 August

Three films in Camera Catalonia (for Cambridge Film Festival 2015)

For the fourth year, Ramon Lamarca has curated Camera Catalonia screenings (films with a connection in language, themes, directors or actors with the autonomous Catalan region within Spain*), and it is a pleasure to have worked with him and with the kind help of the producers of the films to prepare pre-Festival reviews this year : Ramon is thanked for his generous assistance and encouragement (as in 2014).

The titles are links to full-length, 'non-spoilery' previews of three films from Camera Catalonia at Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (@camfilmfest / #CamFF) (the links to the others are here, in a second posting) :

* Born (2014)

* El Cafè de la Marina (The Harbour Bar**) (2015)

* Tots els camins de Déu (All The Ways of God) (2014)

The films can be seen as follows, and the title, in each case, is a link to the booking-page for that screening***

NB Except for the second screening of El Cafè de la Marina, which is at The Light cinema (@lightcambridge) and now at 1.15 p.m. (originally at 1.00 p.m.), all screenings are at The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse).

The time of another screening has changed since the programme booklet was produced : the correct time for the screening of El Cafè de la Marina is now 9.00 p.m. (not 8.00 p.m.), in Screen 1 (not Screen 3).

Sunday 6 September

9.30 p.m. Born (Screen 3)

Monday 7 September

1.15 p.m. Born (Screen 2)

Tuesday 8 September

8.00 p.m. Tots els camins de Déu (All The Ways of God NB listed under the English title) (Screen 3)

Friday 11 September

9.00 p.m. El Cafè de la Marina (Screen 1)

Saturday 12 September

4.15 p.m. NB At The Light cinema El Cafè de la Marina (Screen A)


* Please read further about the region and its cinematic style in What is Catalan cinema ? [with 1,800+ page-views, though now in need of being updated].
** Since it is not a café, the title seems better translated thus than The Marina Café.

*** Notes on screenings :

NB The allocation of films between the three screens at Festival Central (and elsewhere) can always change (as can, if one is coming from a distance for a specific film, the programme as a whole) : if the audience for a film scheduled for Screen 3 (the smallest screen, around half the capacity of the largest, Screen 1) proves greater than expected, it may end up being swapped, so there could be a change in the exact time of the screening, too.

In the programme (that is a link to the where the PDF file can be consulted / downloaded printed copies are available at Festival Central and all good local outlets), some slots are also kept blank, so that popular screenings can be repeated : announcements are on Cambridge Film Festival 2015's (@camfilmfest's) web-site, as are alterations to the programme (or the allocation between screens).

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

A historically informed and painterly work of cinema

This is a review of Born (2014) for the ICA's #CatalanAvantGarde series

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
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22 August

This is a review of Born (2014) for the #CatalanAvantGarde series
at The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)

Tickets can be booked here

Note on the title of the film* :

Born is nothing to do with birth, but denotes an area of Barcelona known as El Born (or El Bornet), sometimes conflated with that of La Ribera (meaning ‘the bank’ (of the coastal variety)) in such a way as to denote both areas by the term ‘Born’.

A late-nineteenth-century building survives, called the Mercat del Born (constructed from iron, and formerly a public market), and on its site, when development was planned there (in 2002), extensive remains of the mediaeval city were discovered. Amongst other people, Albert Garcia Espuche has written about this area’s history, and his La Ciutat del Born was an inspiration for this film.

Two years ago, at Cambridge Film Festival (2013) [@camfilmfest / #CamFF], there were two screenings of Eyes on the Sky (Mirant al Cel) (2008) in the Catalan strand (Camera Catalonia) :

That film centred on memories of, and one’s present relationship to, the time when the Italian Air Force was helping Franco’s fascist forces by bombing Barcelona (16 to 18 March 1938), and is described in What is Catalan cinema ? as Movingly mixing documentary, acting, and faux-documentary to dig into past pain. Born evokes that period in Catalan history by observations that one of the characters makes in tidying up the wreckage, and whatever can be salvaged, during the city’s bombardment in the War of [the Spanish] Succession (17011714) :

First time was ten years ago. Then it was the French. Now the British. And they will do it again. And every time it will be worse. And us, the poor… the people who only want to earn an honest living, will always be under the bombs. Until we say enough.

In this one way, the writers of the screenplay [credited as including Albert Garcia Espuche (please see the note on the film’s title (above)), and director Claudio Zulian] momentarily step outside the period, making a reference that necessarily reaches forward in time to those both attacking, and trying to defend, Barcelona more than 220 years later [and, in turn in Eyes on the Sky, to the lives of combatants, on each side, 70 years later].

The cover of Albert Garcia Espuche's publication

Not that concerns such as whom to trust, borrowing money to feed one’s family, and being subject to external forces, influences and events are not, now as then, what we will recognize as part of life, but in every other respect than this passing allusion Born does what it can to keep closely to its period : the approach of Claudio Zuliano, with which both his cast and crew show themselves to be quite in accord, seems to be not to convince us that the action is in the early 1700s, but for them to believe it themselves. So, not for the first time with Catalan film-making, one finds oneself referencing a piece by Borges (previously, it was with Hammudi Al-Rahmoun Font’s Otel.lo (2012) (@otel_lo), from this blog's review of which this is quoted) :

The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, composing a story, in essay form, that touches on the life of the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (Pierre Menard, ‘Author of the Quixote’ (‘Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote’)), imagined how someone (in this case, the fictional Pierre Menard) becomes as Cervantes, partly, at first, by living in exactly the same circumstances as Cervantes and then ends up recreating, word for word, parts of his most famous oeuvre (so, maybe, Borges mocking - amongst literary and intellectual fashions and factions the Laplacean theory of determinism (as well as the writer(s) whom academics consider the model(s) for Menard) ?)

Not method acting as such necessarily, but, as one looks at these locations and how the actors are deporting themselves, one never has in mind that stagey character of, say, some BBC adaptations of Dickens, where one just senses that a street of Georgian properties has been doctored to look as if it is now being occupied in Victorian times [sometimes, one recognizes the Inns of Court in disguise, as they have been well preserved by the legal profession]. Much more, one thinks of how Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman (2013) looked and felt, and because it was so beautifully lit: Born has a painterly regard for how its scenes are composed, and in the use of light and dark*** (another point of contact with Otel.lo (and also El Cafè de la Marina, which screened earlier in the #CatalanAvantGarde series please also see below).

The film falls into three sections, named after Bonaventura (Bonaventura Alberni : Marc Martínez), his sister Marianna (Vicky Luengo), and Vicenç (Josep Julien), an ambitious businessman, who is one of the former’s creditors : in this respect, as well as in the interconnectedness of people who live in proximity to one another, one is reminded of Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy (on which there is more information here in relation to El Cafè de la Marina (2014) (another film in #CatalanAvantGarde)) : the first two parts, in Daniel Auteuil’s version, screened at Cambridge Film Festival in 2013, Marius (2013) and Fanny (2013).

Unlike, though, Auteuil’s films of gorgeous technical clarity of image, this film resembles Otel.lo, by making good use of an edgy, documentary style, which really first comes into its own after fifteen minutes : we track Bonaventura, following a confrontation with his landlord, and the immediacy involves us in his inner workings, through the language of demeanour and expression, as he walks the streets.

As we will see both Marianna and Vicenç do, we are with Bonaventura when, after refreshing himself with water from the spring, he makes an important realization / decision in his life, and not conveyed in speech no moment of soliloquy, but in his look, and then in his movements and gestures, until his purpose becomes clear with what the Notary announces a couple of minutes later. For those who like this sort of approach, and realize that a really good piece of cinema may have been made with dialogue not in English, Born has great dramatic quality, and all the rootedness in how ships and trade govern people’s lives and fortunes that we esteem in a play such as The Merchant of Venice.

Tickets can be booked here


* Derived from the Wiki articles and

** Essentially, to see whether Charles III or Philip V would rule Spain (amongst other countries).

*** The director of photography and art director are, respectively, Jimmy Gimferrer and Lali Canosa. One is reminded of the use of darkness in masterpieces by Caravaggio, such as The Supper at Emmaus :

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

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Useful footage on the Thatcher premiership – if you already know the contexts ?

This is a review, by Tweet, of Generation Right (2015)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

20 August

This is a review, by Tweet, of Generation Right (2015)

The film was seen as a result of Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015 (@sheffdocfest), on Videotheque

Society does things – things happen – because of inequality.
Norman Tebbit (Lord Tebbit)

We’ve privatized industry after industry. Government ought not to control business – it doesn’t know how to do it, it interferes.

I don’t believe that economic equality is possible. Indeed, some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy, and keeping up with the Joneses and so on, that is a valuable spur to economic activity.
Boris Johnson

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

Monday, 17 August 2015

This is an hard saying; who can hear it ?¹

This is a pre-Festival review of Tots els camins de Déu (All The Ways of God) (2014)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

16 August

This is the original pre-Festival review [ahead of what was published] of Tots els camins de Déu (All The Ways of God) (2014) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2015)

‘Now go, for one sole will is in us both,
Thou Leader, and thou Lord, and Master, thou.’
Thus said I to him ; and, when he had moved,

I entered on the deep and savage way.

Inferno², Canto II, 139142

Two men in a forest does not sound as though it has significant filmic possibilities. [Sadly, in the case of Prince Avalanche (2013), one would be right (because one yearned for what makes The Odd Couple (1968) alive).]

In the case of Tots els camins de Déu (All The Ways of God) (2014), though, one’s cultural resonance is not even with that play about which, in 1955, Philip Hope-Wallace thought himself drily observing that if about anything, [it] is ostensibly about two tramps who spend the two acts, two evenings long, under a tree on a bit of waste ground ‘waiting for Godot’. What it evokes more is Molloy, the two-character first part of the trilogy of Samuel Beckettt’s great mature novels (to which we return below), regarding which Beckettt described En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot) : written as a relaxation from the rather awful³ prose I was writing at the time :

In our being with Judes (Marc García Coté) and Oriol Pla (Iu), we know, if not from the opening scene of the film (Jan Cornet’s sole appearance, with Coté), then from the quotation from The Bible that directly follows (Matthew 27 : 35), that, taking us from The Mount of Olives onwards, there is a scriptural grounding for what we see : as one will, it is exegesis, re-imagining, or re-interpretation of Judas, betraying Christ with a kiss for money, and how those pieces of silver weigh on him (in English, we refer to 'pieces of silver', because of the King James’ Version). (At times, they fascinate, horrify or even seem to reassure Judes (though he wanted to repel them), yet he also fears them being taken, so they give him care about losing them.) And, with cultures where there is a Spanish-speaking tradition, even if the language of the film is firmly Catalan, one is never far from Jorge Luis Borges thinking, most immediately, of his daring short-story-cum-scholarly-paper from 1944, ‘Tres versiones de Judas’ (‘Three versions of Judas’) [the link here is to the Wikipedia® web-page for the story, and here to an English translation].

Not uniquely for him, Borges mixes fact and fabrication, bogusly ascribing quotations at the same time as presenting real ones (many a short story of his is headed with quoted words, such as ‘El milago secreto’ (‘The Secret Miracle’), citing The Koran). Yet there is also the level on which, not just through the transmission of thought down the centuries, different times merge and become confused in his canon : in ‘El milago secreto’, the miracle is the relativity of Time, where the writer Jaromir Hladík’s divine petition is answered by its stopping for one group of people, but not for him). So it is that, towards the end of the third of the learned footnotes to ‘Tres versiones de Judas’ (Borges, in and in spite of his academic poise and style, is always prompting us to consider How much is jest, and how much am I in earnest ?), we read the passage that probably connects Borges most to Tots els camins de Déu⁴ :

He [Erik Erfjord] writes that the crucifying of God has not ceased, for anything which has happened once in time is repeated ceaselessly through all eternity. Judas, now, continues to receive the pieces of silver ; he continues to hurl the pieces of silver in the temple ; he continues to knot the hangman's noose on the field of blood.

And the foot-note ends with a comment in parentheses : (Erfjord, to justify this affirmation, invokes the last chapter of the first volume of the Vindication of Eternity, by Jaromir Hladík.) Yes, Borges (through this [real or imagined] Erik Erfjord, is relying on the same Jaromir Hladík who, in ‘El milago secreto’, prayed for a miracle concerning Time, and was granted one…

Self-referentially, whether this work by Borges was per se known to, and prompted, director Gemma Ferraté and her co-writer Eduard Sola then becomes immaterial, because the patterns of ideas themselves, as of events, will be subject to circularity, repetitiousness, even recursivity… Regarding the place that their film partly inhabits, Judas, as Borges’ quoted words have it, ceaselessly through all eternity […] continues to hurl the pieces of silver in the temple. And, in the same way, the spirit of Dante is present here.

For, in his great Divina Commedìa, right at the start of Inferno (and within just the first of a further thirty-three Canti) his personified self, too, finds himself within a forest dark, / For the straightforward pathway had been lost, meets Virgil, his guide through Inferno and Purgatorio (as far as Canto XXX), and learns that he will be enlightened as to God’s perspective on his and other human lives. In the title of the work, the word ‘Commedìa’ is better understood as a cosmological, rather than a comedic, view [even if Dante does, of course, also delight in settling scores with political and other opponents in what he presents (e.g. in Canto XXXIII)] :

‘Through me the way is to the city dolent ;
Through me the way is to eternal dole ;
Through me the way among the people lost.’

Inferno², Canto III, 13

Those who know their Dante will know that the most lost of all not exactly an Orwellian All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others are beheld in Canto XXXIV, in the three mouths of Cocytus. They are those who betrayed : Brutus, Cassius, and our own Judas Iscariot, so, in recursive terms, the film feels Dante-esque, and, by invoking Dante, leads us back to Judas ?

But also back to Beckettt, a talented linguist³, who relished Dante, and some of whose texts from the 1950s to the 1970s deliberately conjure up hellish place (or spaces, one even being called The Lost Ones¹ (Le Dépeupleur )), and whose two narrators, in his novel Molloy, are inextricably linked with each other [and with those of Malone Dies (Malone meurt) and The Unnamable (L’Innomable)] : Moran is sent to bring Molloy back, and Molloy has an other-worldly awareness that help is on its way. Both travel on foot (or end up travelling thus both had bicycles at one point), if not, becoming more and more decrepit, crawling. Both have sinister encounters with others, en route, that feel close to the sometimes taut interplay between Judes and Iu, but there is also the more explicit co-dependency of Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo) in Godot, although they do struggle with a desire for freedom / separation [as foreshadowed in Mercier et Camier].

In these terms, then, several dimensions away from the connotations of Prince Avalanche, and rather, in its cinematic resemblance, close both to the emotional darkness of the work of another Catalan director, Hammudi Al-Rahmoun Font, with Otel.lo (Othello) (2012), and to its intriguing approach to an established text. [Before Preti Taneja’s (@PretiTaneja’s) article appreciative of the film appeared in The Guardian (@guardian), Al-Rahmoun Font (@Al_RahmounFont) was interviewed at last year’s Cambridge Film Festival (@camfilmfest / #CamFF) (before, of course, having a punting lesson)].

Despite the physicality of Judes’ journeying⁵, this film is less like others such as How I Live Now (2013) and Lore (2012), though, where what we see Eddie and Lore, respectively, endure is part of what changes who they are when they get ‘home’ (but at least as big a part is reacting to what war does to them). Nor is it the Everyman-type temporal and scenic progress of Mick Travis in Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man ! (1973), but rather a voyage in the inner territory of the mind :

Nearly at the very end of the film, there is an exchange of dialogue, which the film, to begin with, makes us keep out of except to see it develop through gesture and body language. Then, when we are able to hear their utterances, we find that Judes and Iu have touched now on eschatological topics that have been present to our mind all along, and which a closing image, quoting Michelangelo, makes clear : Dante, Borges, Beckettt are all part of it, but there is also confirmation of how relevant, in some of the locations and the overall feel, all along has been the remarkable piece of film-making that is Hors Satan (2011).

‘Thee it behoves to take another road,’
Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,
‘If, from this savage place, thou wouldst escape […]’

Inferno**, Canto I, 9193

The music of the film has been sparing and subtle [from two instrumentalists (Jens Neumaier / Maik Alemany) on guitars and keyboards (piano / synthesizers), and Sandrine Robillard on cello], but it is used to prevent us being in the early part of that conversation between Judes and Iu. At the start of the film, it only emerges, as snatches of sound that we catch at whether we have heard, and marking the first real point of contact between the men.

Previously, we have seen Judes, hesitating as to whether someone is really there behind him, and with long shots that linger until, from his point of view, maybe we see movement. At two other significant moments, which signal the place where a change of heart / mind then occurs, the kinds of motion are mirrored differently, first with a degree of energy by guitar and synthesizer, and, then with tentative elegiacism of keyboard arpeggios, against which the cello weaves its line. All in keeping with a film that is not so much meditative as contemplative a reflection, as the literary parallels are, on life and its mysteries, and an encouragement to give due heed to the latter in evaluating the former.

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him ; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord

Isaiah 55 : 78 (King James' Version)


¹ John 6 : 60, in the King James’ Version, which both ends the section that began with 6 : 25 (at 6 : 44, No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day), and links with 6 : 6171, which concludes with a parenthetical mention of ‘Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon’.

² The first part of Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedìa, in Longfellow’s translation.

³ Not least since Beckettt begrudged deriving recognition for his works from Godot, it is unlikely that he meant ‘awful’ to mean bad in the sense of ‘of poor quality’ (and maybe actually in that of full of awe) ? He may well have written these words originally in French, his preferred language (although he was Anglo-Irish), since he had a master’s degree in foreign languages from Trinity College, Dublin, where he had studied Dante. (In Beckettt’s early prose work More Pricks Than Kicks, one of the stories / sections is even called ‘Dante and the Lobster’.)

⁴ Though there is also the poem ‘Matthew XXVII : 9’.

⁵ In the passages of rough-going, we are right there (through use of a close microphone and hand-holding the camera without a stabilizer) with Marc García Coté’s breathing, and the ups, downs and stumbles of the way, whereas we are more steady, and at a distance, for some shots when he seeks repose.

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

Friday, 14 August 2015

Light floods in : through windows, and into souls

This is a pre-Festival review of El Cafè de la Marina (2014)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

14 August

This is a pre-Festival review of El Cafè de la Marina (2014)
(for Cambridge Film Festival 2015)

Funny how a few words on a ticket can say so much

It is a tribute to a cinematic adaptation of a play, let alone of a celebrated one in verse, when such a film feels cinematic, and when there are not great traces of its origins : the review, on these pages, of August, Osage County (2013) was probably not alone in finding that the film badly failed both tests (so did Venus in Fur (La Vénus à la fourrure) (2013)).

The place on the Catalan coast that director Sílvia Munt, when in conversation, said that she had been scouting for has, as we will movingly see at one point, a history, but meaning more than that what once happened here : recognizable individuals, who made a living from the sea, and had families and their community on this shore. It is two centuries on from the time of Born (2014), also showing in Camera Catalonia (at @camfilmfest / #CamFF), but we have that same sense of how the past is still with us, and has given us what we call the present*.

For those who know it, the story of Josep María de Sagarra’s play El Cafè de la Marina has similarities to that of Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy** (coincidentally referred to in the informal interview with Munt, before the film screened for the first time in the UK). (The first two parts in Daniel Auteuil’s adaptation, Marius (2013) and Fanny (2013), screened at the Festival in 2013, with Auteuil playing César, the anxious father.) The resemblances are there, though it is hardly as though de Sagarra’s status should depend on this single play or its origins. (In company with A. A. Milne, he seems to have been prolific as poet, playwright, novelist, translator and journalist, even if Milne is forgotten for those things.)

Four great films on one #CamFF 2013 page : Not only the Pagnol / Auteuil adaptations, but the colourful Drako Zarharzar (@DrakoZarharzar) [and a Q&A with the equally colourful Toby Amies (@TobyAmies)], and the best film missed (in error) at the Festival

Moreover, from Chaucer using dream poetry in French to found his own to Shakespeare never seeming to have a plot (even of plays such as Lear or Hamlet) for which he had not relied on one or more sources writing can be far more about the telling than the story itself (and we do not denigrate One Thousand and One Nights, or The Decameron, for that). Just as de Sagarra wrote a play in verse form, what we need to respect is that Munt has distilled its essence into a film of around eighty minutes.

We begin with two young friends, larking around in what turns out to be the cafè of the title (a bar, to the edge of the foreshore, rather than what English means by the word), on the beach, and in the village : back at the bar, one of them (Rosa) is our means of introduction to her sister Caterina, and Libori, their widowed father, and it is the eve of Rosa’s wedding (to Rafel). Already, Munt has taken us out to the fishing-boats and around about, and, although much time is concentrated in the bar (or on tables outside for the wedding), the film feels liberated from having had an original stage-setting.

An important element is in the soundtrack, which is partly Joan Alavedra’s original melody ‘Marinada’ (and his arrangements for accordion of other compositions), partly a traditional Catalan fishing song, and partly Xavier Capellas’ compositions for himself on piano and various combinations of six other instrumentalists (including Josep Vila Campabadel ?? on accordion). When we meet Rosa and her friend Gracieta, their excitement whose exact cause is unknown to us is there in what sounds like a zither, mandolin, and guitar. Later, when Caterina is first talking about her life, as Gracieta makes herself up, we just have soft guitar that does not detract from a visual encapsulation of her position : in focus, just Gracieta’s reflection, and, blurred, Caterina (seen in the mirror (right)) and Gracieta (foregrounded (left)). Likewise, as bride and groom leave the reception, accordion and the chalumeau register of the clarinet catch Caterina’s feelings.

Rosa, and her father

The film is all about feelings. We may, though, have seen during Camera Catalonia at the Festival in 2014 in Tots volem el millor per a ella (We All Want What’s Best for Her) (2013), and Ficcío (Fiction) (2006), that there is a reserved side to Catalan behaviour, morals and personality that is not so different from British equivalents (or, for that matter, traditional Russian ones ?), and the playing helps guide us : when someone is being looked out for, we have quiet guitar, piano and cello, but the same instruments, with energy and rhythms, comment on a scene where encouragement has been offered. (Likewise, there is the intensity of light, both when it penetrates into the bar, and in its heightened quality on the walls of the inescapable buildings.)

Ultimately, it is in highly poetic imaginings (easily delivered as more than the equal of those of Marius in Auteuil’s film), and otherwise just in silence, that what matters most is going to be spoken in El Cafè de la Marina. However, Munt has, twice before, effected a wholly filmic transposition between parallel scenes, where the scoring (or, in the latter case, the use of accordion), by leeching from one into the other, has helped prepare the ground for us.

Maybe more importantly, we also gain, in this act of cinema, a sense of a world of events where our connectedness is not mere cause and effect, or consensus rationality [@russellhobanorg], and where what we dare to do, or hope for, matters : utterly different references, admittedly, but the sort of message that continued to attract The Wachowskis in making Cloud Atlas (2012) (or, even if others may have disparaged it, Jupiter Ascending (2015)).


* Through the histrionics of the mother (Meryl Streep) in August, Osage County (2013), maybe we are meant to see something other than the stage-ridden behavior of an aggressive and abusive woman, who has tried to dominate her daughters, and about history… However, dislike it though the contemporary critics may have done, Woody Allen achieved far more in Interiors (1978) (and then in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) [first seen at Cambridge Film Festival]), the former of which influenced Mar Coll with the look of Tots volem il millor per a ella (We All Want What’s Best for Her) (2013), which screened twice at last year’s Festival (both screenings had Q&As afterwards).

** Those who have the desire and a good grasp of Catalan can find on the Internet what is thought to connect Pagnol and de Sagarra, whereas this link (to the Wikipedia® web-page) tells one fairly little :

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