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Thursday, 17 October 2019

In around three initial Tweets (and then a little more), a #UCFF reaction to Rocks (2019)

In around three Tweets, a #UCFF reaction to Rocks (2019)


More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


17 October

In around three Tweets, a #UCFF reaction to Rocks (2019)





Other (non-spoilery) comments :

* The set-up is that what happens, early in the film, has happened before ; yet, the film seems to want ‘to have its cake and eat it’, because the other things that follow it appear as if new (and, given that the starting circumstance has happened before, some of them (or the idea of them), or some of the means of finding out where someone might be, would not be new)

* The occluding of the view, when Rocks and her friends are all together (somewhere), and when we know what looms in the background even as it is talked of, establishes that group, but promises other things about the story-telling that are not given to us

* For, although it is understandable that a new person at her school would ask Rocks why that is her name, we indistinctly hear what is said so do we feel that we need never have heard her ask for the explanation – when, by then in the film, we were quite happy not to know ? (Unless, perhaps, it was an act of telling, but we were not intended to understand what she said ?)

* A film can, of course, end without an ending – Rocks does not appear to end as it does, i.e. to subvert the story-telling that brought us into these lives, or to provide a resolution that is not a resolution, and yet it does seem (unlike that in, say, Abgebrannt (2011)) to serve to take us casually away from the conundrums with which we have seen Rocks wrestle




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

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Infinite series : A Festival preview (work in progress) of 7 Raons per Fugir (de la societat) (7 Reasons to Run Away (from society)) (2019)

This is a Festival preview of 7 Raons per Fugir (2019) (for Cambridge Film Festival)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


13 October

This is a Festival preview (work in progress) of 7 Raons per Fugir (de la societat) (7 Reasons to Run Away (from society)) (2019) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2019)


One of the cast, Aina Clotet, is expected as a Festival guest of Ramon Lamarca, programmer of Camera Catalonia, for a Q&A following the screening on Tuesday 22 October (please see below) - and also that of La filla d'algú (2019), earlier that evening


The #CamFF synopsis, duration and other details for the film can be found here,
and it screens on Sunday 20 October [in Screen 2 at APH (Festival Central)] at 6.30 p.m., and again on Tuesday 22 October [in Screen 1 at APH (Festival Central)] at 10.30 p.m.


Principal themes (alphabetical order) :

* Callous behaviour
* Inconvenient reminders
* Money
* Opportunism
* Self-preserving pragmatism


Just as reactionary politics, or the corporate and fiscal push for so-called neo-liberal values (a term itself an insult to the real notion of 'liberality' ?), might promote policies in the name of, and by invoking, such seemingly positive things as order, progress or commitment, but hypocritically mean the opposite (and challenge others to say so), so Esteve Soler flips those words (and four others) on their head in this film, in an open, but ironic and creative, critique of our subversive attitudes towards each other nowadays.

7 Raons per Fugir (de la societat) is of a highly Swiftian, satirical nature, and, where there is most humour, it is often of an audacious nature – our laughing despite ourselves, in surprise, or at the working-out of a scenario to a logical but grim conclusion (or, again, at its casually working-through to an end that we had not envisaged) : we might know (or think that we know ?) Jonathan Swift from Gulliver’s Travels*, but it was he, after all, who gave the world that sustained but succinct killer essay that we know as ‘A Modest Proposal’…



Not uniquely in Camera Catalonia 2019, as it so happens, 7 Raons per Fugir (de la societat) (7 Reasons to Run Away (from society)) (2019) is a multi-stranded film. Yet it is more obviously so (as if it were New York Stories (1989) - or, more relevantly (though not a film), David Eagleman's Sum : Forty Tales from the Afterlives), and it is most likely to appeal to those who rejoiced in the film-making of Marc Crehuet's El rei borni (The One-Eyed King) (2016) and / or Rudy Gnutti's In the Same Boat (2016), which were both screened during #CameraCatalonia 2017 at Cambridge Film Festival (@camfilmfest).




As some will recognize, pairs of images from, respectively, The Wachowskis' The Matrix** (1999), Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), and François Ozon's Dans la maison (In the House) (2012) - all at the intersection of individual behaviour or drives and of the societal force(s) that [we let] govern us (and give us those drives and behaviour ?), but, of which, Germain Germain (Fabrice Luchni), as manipulated by Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer) (and Jeanne Germain (Kristin Scott Thomas)), is most cynically 'on the nail' for 7 Raons per Fugir.


[...]


End-notes :

* So we may know Swift's most famous title, but do we as little know it, from a children’s or other heavily edited version, as the true work of this Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin as if we do not know that it was actually published as Travels into Several remote Nations of the World. In four parts. By Lemuel Gulliver (1726) ?

** The latter is now proving highly relevant to the greater prominence and recognition of the causes that Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion are promoting.

*** Somewhat arbitrarily, these are likely to be the most famous ones from what, with The Animatrix (2003), are the four connected films (five, if The Matrix 4 does get released in 2022), because there are likewise multitudinous possibilities, in The Matrix Reloaded (2003), when Neo meets The Architect, and, in Matrix Revolutions (2003), the possibilities – witnessed by a score of other Agents Smith – reduce to 1, then 0, when Smith and he fight :


(But the many serving-girls cum sex-slaves in Cloud Atlas (2012), of whom Sonmi-451 is the one who ‘got away’ (once she had undeniably been shown her future), and the fate(s) of many, at the hands - and whims - of the warring Abrasax siblings, in Jupiter Ascending (2015), are all pertinent additional examples of Crowds and Power.)




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

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Back in Berlin¹, the silence(s) behind the chatter : A Festival preview of Les distàncies (Distances) (2018)

This is a Preview of Les distàncies (2018) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2019)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


19 September

This is a Festival preview (uncorrected proof) of Les distàncies (Distances) (2018) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2019)


The #CamFF synopsis, duration and other details for the film can be found here,
and it screens on Friday 19 October [in Screen 2 at APH (Festival Central)] at 5.45 p.m.


Principal themes (alphabetical order) :

* Fears
* Friendship
* Jealousy
* Possessiveness
* Surprises


If it makes you happy
It can't be that bad
If it makes you happy
Then why the hell are you so sad ?


'If It Makes You Happy' ~ Sheryl Crow (from her album If It Makes You Happy)


Those who recall the films Barcelona Summer Night (2013) or Barcelona Christmas Night (2015), during #CameraCatalonia² at Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (@camfilmfest), will find themselves recollecting another side of meeting to party : which is when the heart, and its affections, and the mind, and its afflictions, will not necessarily co-operate with such aims.

Les distàncies (Distances) (2018) is not a million miles away, in mood, from texts by Milton, and how Handel sets them, in L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, HWV 55 - or even from the Pixar film Inside Out (2015) ?

Hence loathed Melancholy,
Of Cerberus, and blackest Midnight born,
In Stygian cave forlorn,
'Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy;
Find out some uncouth cell,
Where brooding Darkness spreads his jealous wings,
And the night-raven sings;
There under ebon shades, and low-brow'd rocks,
As ragged as thy locks,
In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell



'L'Allegro'³ ~ John Milton

For, whereas the Barcelona films arguably took up the frailties of our relations with each other, be they ineptly saying the wrong thing, vying for another's attentions, or (nearly) making the same mistake again, two factors mitigated against those elements being treated 'heavily', and so risking over-balancing the lighter feeling of the film(s) overall⁴ (than that of Les distàncies) :

First, those films were in strands⁵, which meant that one did not (or could not ?) easily follow the film as a whole, and yet leave one's thoughts for long, say, in over-analysing, in Barcelona nit d'estiu (2013), the stages of interaction / attraction between Albert and Roser. Or, in both films, with the plight of Miki Esparbé - who is also in Les distàncies (Distances) - as the hapless prospective, or actual, father (as the case might be).


In addition, some of the strands were, in themselves, intended to be lighter in mood, such as Miki Esparbé, barely knowing how to react to fatherhood, let alone the fact that it becomes known to others when he only just knew of it, or the two friends, chasing after the same girl in a way that did not preclude a ruthless mistranslation from English by the one who speaks it.



In Les distàncies (Distances), we see writ large how a difficult situation for the entire cast of five, albeit one of their own making or choosing, so quickly puts finer feeling beyond easy reach, and thereby exemplifying our tendencies to sleuthing, sabotage (and self-sabotage), and side-lining or side-stepping others : for example, we see someone, who has no more right to be in a building than the person who comes to call, pull out all the stops to be deflective and intrusive of that other’s feelings, and then to find and be very disrespectful to that person’s possessions afterwards.

As we will find out, almost no one has a good reason to be in Berlin – at least, not one that, behind the pretext, was known to the others – and the hurts and the expectations, the unspoken attitudes and the assumptions, soon become exposed and raw. As with the double-doors between the parts of the flat in Michael Haneke's Amour (2012), we those in the one that Comas / Alex has acquired being used to partition and barricade the space.


Except that it was a pair of principals, the great Nora Navas (Natàlia) and Francesc Garrido (Daniel) in L’adopció (Awaiting) (2015) (during Camera Catalonia in 2016) showed how a stressful situation and having to be in another country did not merely double their difficulties, but magnified the uncertainties within the relationship, and, in Júlia ist, the new experiences and opportunities in Berlin are tempered by ambivalences that arise from being there.


In a very effective touch at the close of the film, all the lack of communication comes out all at once, and some things that we thought that we understood at the time have assumed a different meaning.


End-notes :

¹ During #CameraCatalonia 2018, we were also in Berlin (most of the time) for Elena Martín's brilliant Júlia ist (2017) : Martín played Júlia, and directed and co-wrote the film. (As well as the preview (by #UCFF), Sarah Henkel wrote this review for TAKE ONE.)

² Plus Q&As afterwards, with guests from the cast(s) in conversation with the Catalan programmer, Ramon Lamarca : always a feature of Camera Catalonia, for guests to come from Catalunya to talk about their work, with Ventura Pons and Claire Bloom last year (2018), talking about Miss Dalí (2018).

³ 'Il Penseroso' embraces Melancholy, as the opening of 'L'Allegro' (as quoted) rejects it / him, but - for the purposes of Handel's libretto, in setting them for L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato - James Harris arranged and interleaved Milton's orginal antithetical poems, and Charles Jennens originated the text of a third voice, in 'Il Moderato'.

⁴ Though not just the darker nights around Epiphany (6 January), which is when, in Catalunya (as in Spain as a whole), gifts are given (not the UK's wonted 25 December), perhaps made for a slightly more sombre (reflective ?) feel to Christmas Night ?

⁵ However, these were not strands in the discrete, but interlocking, sense of a unity, which is what Esteve Soler gives us, for this year’s #CameraCatalonia, in 7 Raons de Fugir (de la societat) (2019). (The film is Soler's adaptation, for cinema, of portions from his dramatic work, and which (with David Torras and Gerard Quinto) he co-directed.)




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

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Scheherazade reads Tolstoy - to some effect : A Festival preview [work in progress] of La vida sense la Sara Amat (Life without Sara Amat) (2019)

This is a preview of Life without Sara Amat (2019) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2019)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


19 September

This is a Festival preview (work in progress) of La vida sense la Sara Amat
(
Life without Sara Amat) (2019) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2019)


Director Laura Jou is to be the guest of Ramon Lamarca, the programmer of the Camera Catalonia strand at Cambridge Film Festival, for a Q&A following the film


The #CamFF synopsis, duration and other details for the film can be found here, and it screens on Wednesday 23 October [in Screen 2 at APH (Festival Central)] at 6.00 p.m.


Principal themes (alphabetical order) :

* Deception
* Desire
* Family
* Friendship
* Loss


[...] Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would',
Like the poor cat i' th' adage ?

Macbeth (Act I, Scene 7)


If one were to mention other film-adaptations, such as My cousin Rachel (2017) [adapting Daphne du Maurier], Oscar and Lucinda (1997) [Peter Carey] or The Go-Between (1971) [L. P. Hartley], they are illustrative only, in cinematic terms, of a certain type of trajectory - in no way do they limit or define Laura Jou's playfully colourful La vida sense la Sara Amat (2019). Quite the opposite, because the allusive qualities of the script and the film-making, the use of the diurnal rhythm of scenes at night and by day, and the liveliness and crispness of the cinematographic image - they all make what is a sort of twist on Scheherazade, and what Scheherazade's situation and story-telling might fully signify*, wholly fresh.

Therefore, a film-reference such as The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018), itself quite different from Sara Amat (please also see below), is just as relevant. For here, too, there is a sense of a time, and (in our twenty-first-century terms) both of its limitations and yet also permissions, and an (equally constructed**) sense of place - it might likewise usefully put one in mind of the locale envisaged by James Ivory, in his script for Call me by your Name (2017). But, as Sara Amat itself might be seen to do (depending how one 'reads' it), one is here making suggestions, not giving exact Reasons to Watch, whereas, just in a few jottings (after a first viewing for this preview), some of them certainly are :


* Very strong trio of Pep, Sara and Pep's grandma !

* Easy to recommend to those who saw Jean-François i el sentit de la vida (2018) last year (2018)

* One also realizes the connections with other previous Camera Catalonia choices, such as La vida lliure (2017) (also last year), Fill de Caín (2013) [Camera Catalonia 2014] or La propera pell (2015) [Camera Catalonia 2017]

* Other references : The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) and Todos lo saben (2018)

* Tightly edited, with neat use of jumps of perspective within a scene, as well as cutting-away to external shots - we do not ever stay with a scene or shot longer than we need to

* Mirrors and making use of light

* Atmospheric score [Pau Vallvé]


This film dwells with what it is like to keep a secret, and what it is like when one learns that others have been keeping secrets ; not unconnectedly, its stuff is the things that have been left behind (whether a book, or pairs of shoes), and the question what purpose it serves, and for whom, to continue with something when one is tired of it.

Others, such as Henrik Ibsen or Mike Leigh, have made secrecy about the past, and especially the destructive potential when it is discovered, prominent themes in their work, but Sara Amat’s protagonists*** face it with pragmatism, as something verifiable that simplifies the need to perpetuate pretence : albeit the content and context are definitely more adult, this is a strong point of connection with The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) (and with director Desiree Akhavan's work in her earlier film Appropriate Behaviour (2014)).


[...]


At the centre of this film is what, typically, in a slow movement in a Sonata or Concerto (or even some intimate central section of it), might feel like its emotional heart : taking the example of J. S. Bach's so-called Italian Concerto (in F Major) [played, in that YouTube link, by Glenn Gould], BWV 971, the inner, tender movement - amongst all that one beautifully listens to in the composition (if one likes Gould) - may be what seems to matter most to the composer (or performer).

Not that Life without Sara Amat (2019) cannot be seen, more obviously, to engage with other topics - the literal and other distance that there is (and which Pep desires to maintain), between his unseen parents and how and where his grandmother lives, or, connectedly, of growing into or occupying a different place there in one's circle of friends or in their esteem.


[...]


End-notes :

* Time, and the passing (or implied passing) of Time, is sometimes embedded into the stuff of stories, dreams, and the best of cinema - for example Orphée (1950) (or, not unrelatedly, La belle et la bête (1946)).

** Since film-making has an almost innate need to mix and 'mash up' separate locations to create a new reality - in a film as pleasingly made as Colette (2018), locations such as parts of Kecskemét, Budapest, can be passed off as France (or a farm in Witney, Oxon., used for the library / study scenes). (Let alone in one like Bel Ami (2012), where it is, often enough, too obviously London, not Paris...)

*** #UCFF does not subscribe to the belief that there can never be more than one protagonist.




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

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Fearful of shadows - and phantoms : A Festival preview [work in progress] of La filla d'algú (Somebody’s Daughter*) (2019)

This is a Festival preview of La filla d'algú (2019) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2019)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


25 September

This is a Festival preview (work in progress) of La filla d'algú (Somebody’s Daughter*) (2019) (for Cambridge Film Festival 2019)


Aina Clotet as Eli, who is expected as a Festival guest of Ramon Lamarca, programmer of Camera Catalonia, for a Q&A following the screening on Tuesday 22 October (please see below)
- and also that of
7 Raons de Fugir (de la societat) (2019) on the same night


The #CamFF synopsis, duration and other details for the film can be found here, and it screens on Friday 18 October [in Screen 1 at APH (Festival Central)] at 12.00 p.m.,
and again on Tuesday 22 October [in Screen 3 at APH (Festival Central)] at 6.00 p.m.


Principal themes (alphabetical order) :

* Anxiety
* Confusion
* Danger
* Family
* Suspicion


Now we're busy making all our busy plans
On foundations built to last
But nothing fades as fast as the future


From 'More than This' ~ Peter Gabriel (on the album Up (2002), Real World Records)


A recent screening at Festival Central (APH) of the 4K restoration of Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949), complete with pre-show and a guide by zither to the film’s thematic material, as introduced by Matthew Sweet (who also hosted a Q&A), reminded one of two things :

Both how quickly Holly Martins is met with the fact that Harry Lime, the man whom he flew to Austria to meet, is no longer around to greet him**, and how, almost from the start (when faced by what he cannot grasp or understand), Martins cannot but pick away at what he has been told, collating and questioning all its inconsistencies. Several times called Harry (instead of Holly), Martins (Joseph Cotten), and this story about him, are one whose genesis in Vienna, in voice-over, is given by a narrator who then 'vanishes' – leaving us and Martins alike with the enigma of working out who Lime (Orson Welles***) is - and who, in relation to Lime, that then makes Martins.

Arguably, Martins might have been happier, if he had not had a desire that impelled him to keep uncovering things : in common with Eli in La filla d'algú (Someone’s Daughter) (2019) – wonderfully played by Aina Clotet in a performance that deserved a win at Málaga Spanish Film Festival 2019 [Zonacine - Best Actress (Mejor Actriz)] – he loses the everyday certainties of person and place on which, in such experiences, we find that we have put so much reliance (and have needed to do so).


Though not wishing to press these incidental parallels too far, the disembodied opening voice that tells us about the work with and for Lime, which (as well as wanting to renew their friendship) brought Martins to Vienna, yet it is a phone-call over the opening credits for La filla that suggests to us various things : high-profile legal practice, involving the pressures of travel to another city (and having to perform court-work there), but with the expectation of returning to familiar surroundings, and, with her interlocutor, of a plan of action for important proceedings back in Barcelona.

From the point when Eli is, again, in Barcelona, we seem no more to stray from her side than we do from that of Martins, but, in Eli's case, all that is familiar and expected seems to have strayed into some other domain, and the certainties seem to start to desert her...


[...]



End-notes :

* So the title La filla d'algú has been rendered, but perhaps Someone’s Daughter would have had more richly resonant connotations… ?

** Hammered home by our next being in the all-important cemetery – though the word Friedhof captures the atmosphere so much more, despite the edgy glances of those whom we will meet fully later, and (starting with when one asks Wer ist das ?) with no quarter given to non-speakers of German.

*** As for Welles, he was the man who was often enough not in Vienna when he was needed for the shoot (so stand-ins had to be used), and who, in contradiction to the opening credits, claimed that he, and not Reed, had directed it.




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

Monday, 30 September 2019

Musings after re-watching The Third Man (1949)

Musings after re-watching The Third Man (1949)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


29 September

Musings after re-watching The Third Man (1949)







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

Monday, 2 September 2019

We Are Undefeatable : Some Tweets

We Are Undefeatable : Some Tweets - anyway who said anything about 'being defeated' ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


2 September

We Are Undefeatable : Some Tweets - anyway who said anything about 'being defeated' ?







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

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

BBC One's Who Do You Think You Are ? : Paul Merton

BBC One's Who Do You Think You Are ? : Paul Merton

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


28 August

BBC One's Who Do You Think You Are ? : Paul Merton



The image (by Stephen Perry (?)) seems more like
the
tristesse of Chris Patten than a resemblance to Merton ?








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

Monday, 19 August 2019

Animals (2019) - Good and bad (mainly, if anything, the latter)

Animals (2019) - Good and bad (mainly, if anything, the latter)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


19 August

Animals (2019) - Good and bad (mainly, if anything, the latter)


In brief :

First, and foremost, this is a film-festival film*, which, with Australian / Irish film-industry funding, has somehow obtained distribution

It may not have been made as a television film, but it could not even 'fill' Screen 3 at The Arts Picturehouse - not that there was no audience, but that Animals felt small, trying to occupy a space, and use silence and its funky score, in a way that just had no impact, and seemed effort with no result. It would work much better on t.v., with its bubbles of out-of-focus street-lighting, glitz, and characters / their positions, which often seem insubstantial

The moments with the wildlife (were they any more than rushes ?) were, so much more so than Dylan Thomas' stuffed fox, would-be portentous - or with a sickening literalism to Who were the animals here ?

Good use of location (an establishing shot, and suitable noises of the sea and its birds, sufficed to make the interior of where Jim lived match that exterior)

Fixation on masturbation and cunnilingus ?

We are to believe / credit that Laura 'is a writer', because she has a poster for Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own** to the left of the desk where she works (let alone, nearby, another image of Ginny)...


In detail :

The film is well enough made and shot, but one takes those as given - although the real or seeming artlessness of an early Yorgos Lanthimos film, Kinetta (2005) may be an impediment to some (in a sense, it is meant to be one), it is part of the affect of the film, and heightens its worth : on the scale of Animals, those things about everything being in focus and lined up, etc., are absent, but that does not make Animals a better film, and Kinetta is arguably far finer despite and /or because of them.

On the Road (2012) scarcely did a worse job, with Sal Paradise, of convincing anyone that he was not only a writer, but also could even - just by soaking it up, and writing it down (i.e. typing onto the probably mythical continuous roll of paper) - self-referentially create what we were seeing :

Except that we know that Jack Kerouac was a published writer, whereas nothing that Laura does suggests that she writes / can write anything beyond note-like observations, and her decade-long pretensions, although the film may feel that we spent that long with them at times, are just irritating. Laura is Frances, in Frances Ha, but Frances (Greta Gerwig) has real emotional reasons why she cannot do what she actually can do, and Laura (Holliday Grainger) has over-indulgent people who listen to her talk about it instead.


[...]



End-notes :

* Very often, 'film-festival films', once so viewed, stay viewed in that way (and with suspicion), and so are not thought of as commercial. Many films of this quality or better do not even get a screening at a significant film festival - a film's being distributed is therefore not, in itself, a measure of its worth.

** The book that, first delivered in two lectures at Cambridge (at Girton and Newnham Colleges), puts a case for why a woman needs space, let alone one who would write, who has to have one in which to do it : A Room of One's Own could almost have been the tag-line for the film ?




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

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Almodóvar's Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria) (2019) : A first-blush response (yet - somehow ? - a work in progress)

Almodóvar's Pain and Glory (2019) : A first-blush response, after a preview screening

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


Almodóvar's Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria) (2019) : A first-blush response (yet - somehow ? - a work in progress), after a preview screening at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, on Sunday 11 August 2019 at 5.30 p.m.



Early on, Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria) (2019) might have resembled a re-make - not unwelcome ! - of Broken Embraces (2009)*, in more accessible form - with elements of (1963) and others of his films such as, most obviously, Bad Education (La mala educación) (2004), thrown in for good measure :

However, in Pain and Glory, Almodóvar outgrows both those references, and a sly wink at Cinema Paradiso (1988) (not to this film alone), to bed in and then engagingly transcend such usual pre-occupations of his as betrayal, gay love, happenstance, and the physical body.


Enemies of Promise** ~ Others are the saboteurs - or is it the enemy within ?


Indulged, without the ostensible - if not actual - charm of Fellini's Guido Anselmi, Salva(tor)*** (Antonio Banderas) has been given the medical history (which he relates / narrates himself), if not necessarily of a hypochondriac, then, it is soon suggested to us, of someone who has neglected self and others. Yet he does not, or will not, attribute fault for his ills except to those others : in some measure, although the picture is exaggerated for effect, we could or should all be able to see where guilt has similarly held us back (and may even have become expressed in body and / or mind).


Salva is thus writ large so that we cannot but see both his condition, and how Almodóvar fleshes out its origins for the character at the same time as for us - indeed, as Fellini does, with Guido in (though this is not , nor even Nine). (Or, equally, in Allen's tender tribute to the film, in Stardust Memories (1980), with Sandy Bates (Allen himself)**** ?)

RT img

Though perhaps, but without his bitter-sweet poignancy, there is actually a closer resemblance to Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo****) in Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza / (Immense Beauty) (2013), and to what - and how - Jep (re-)discovers about himself... ?


Caveat :

Admittedly, what follows is on the basis of having skipped The Skin I Live in (La piel que habito) (2011), having avoided being adversely reminded of the camp excellence of Alan Cumming (Sebastian Flight), Forbes Masson (Steve McCracken), Siobhan Redmond (Shona Spurtle) and Patrick Ryecart in the t.v. series The High Life (1994) by I'm So Excited ! (2013), and just plain cleverly missing a theatrical release of Julieta (2016). However, this is still a more cutesy - dare one say commercial ? - film than Broken Embraces and therefore something of a shock... (And, as with Yorgos Lanthimos, maybe the earlier films have more imaginative power and depth ?)




End-notes :

* It seemed that the ink was, as it were, no sooner dried on Match Point (2005) than its themes were re-worked in the grief- and guilt-ridden Cassandra's Dream (2007) - the latter of which, though far better, few seem to know...

** The title of a book by Cyril Connolly, which reminisces and reflects on British public schools, amongst other things.

*** Maybe wrongly, but one reads an irony into those called 'Saviour' in films, e.g. in Rosi's Salvatore Giuliano (1962).

**** Perhaps reassuringly, Ryan Gilbey (in RT [edn 24-30 August 2019, pp. 32-33]) 'touches the same bases' in The World of Cinema : the Fellini, Allen's Stardust and even Almodóvar's own Embraces...

***** Another 'Anthony', and St Anthony (presumably of Alexandria, not Padua - unless Salva is what / who 'is lost'?) indeed has a cameo in Dolor y gloria.




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

Monday, 22 July 2019

Stop trying to hit me - and hit me ! ~ Morpheus

A response to re-watching Kill Bill : Vol. 1 (2003) and Vol. 2 (2004)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


22 July

A response to re-watching, but on a cinema-screen, Kill Bill :
Vol. 1 (2003) and Vol. 2 (2004)


For Jim 'TAKE ONE' Ross






In Kill Bill, Tarantino has set himself not only making a revenge story into a film, but also one where he has delayed addressing what happened that gave rise to it at least until the beginning of Vol. 2 (2004) - even if he does not completely do so until Beatrix Kiddo ('The Bride' / Uma Thurman) has tracked down and confronted Bill (David Carradine), whom we do not even see until Vol. 2.



Suspending the full account for what we have seen for around four hours (since Vol. 1 (2003) is very nearly two hours, and Vol. 2 is longer) puts an especial need to represent the 'chapters' of the film (and parts of them) in a way that makes them varied and discrete, because Tarantino has to maintain our interest in what we see, without our really knowing why we are seeing it.



In Vol. 1, Tarantino cannot resist the bloody fountains that are loosed by decapitation (Boss Tanaka / Jun Kunimura) or severing an arm (Sofie Fatale / Julie Dreyfus), and, whatever anatomical truth there may be in such depictions, he knows that he needs to keep the imagery fresh : so, for example, he switches into monochrome during the onslaught by The Crazy 88s ; when O-Ren Ishii first witnesses killing, he has it rendered in anime ; and The Bride’s first meeting with Hattori Hanzo¹ is quirkily in the style of a picture-story.


There is humour here (as well as passion), but there is more in Vol. 2, and it is more overt - for example, Gordon Liu (who headed The Crazy 88s in Vol. 1) as the amusingly tetchy Kung Fu Master Pai Mei. What remains covert and unexplained – and just as a given (apart from when alluded to in the edgily hilarious stand-off with Karen (Helen Kim) and the pregnancy-test) – is the exact purpose of Bill's having, at his disposal, the killers of The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad : because Tarantino wisely does not flesh it out, and Bill appears both a dilettante and fairly irrational, it seems to operate not as a commercial venture, but a vanity-project. (Which seems quite fitting.)


When, as if to make a statement by their full deployment (though, for the reasons given, it is unclear what that statement would be²), they attack The Bride and her wedding-party, the squad comprises three other women and Bill’s brother, Budd (Michael Madsen). By the time of the opening of Vol. 1, two remain active (O-Ren (Lucy Liu) and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah)), so it is not as if this is an outfit that one can never leave, because Budd (Michael Madsen) and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) are in forms of domesticity, and, in Vol. 1, The Bride indeed meets (and kills) the latter in a stage of motherhood that is consistent with having quit from working for Bill soon afterwards.


We all deserve to die ~ Budd
[before he qualifies his utterance]


As we would expect with Tarantino, by Vol. 2 we have looped around on ourselves in this respect, and dialogue has forearmed us, at least, that The Bride’s daughter also survived the shooting (now called B.B., and played by Perla Haney-Jardine). (We know no more than that, or how Bill brought about the current state of affairs, but it must have been the influence of money - as in Chinatown (1974), a film-reference that has greater relevance below.)


Even without knowing the film itself, we may well doubt whether Bill’s influence as a parent is for good when we hear that one of those from which B.B. makes a choice, when she asks if her mother will watch a video with her, is Robert Houston and Kenji Misumi’s Shogun Assassin (1980) : at the same time as Tarantino also appears to be evoking the dubious battle, in Chinatown, for Evelyn Mulwray’s (Faye Dunaway’s) daughter Katherine, born to her own father (Noah Cross), he somehow satisfies us, at the end of the film(s), that The Bride and Bill have wholly different motivations, and that her motherhood will be very different from his fatherhood.

John Huston, James Hong, and Belinda Palmer in Chinatown (1974)

For all the deceptions that Evelyn Mulwray practises on J. J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson), and his indulgence of them (not patiently borne), perhaps we have good reason similarly to believe that she would have been kinder to her daughter than Noah Cross will be…






As co-creator with Tarantino of the character of The Bride, Uma Thurman carries us along with her.


Not unusually for the genre of revenge in film (or for its motives unfolding slowly and backwards), this story of a suffering figure, whom we see bloody and beaten, resembles the opposite of hagiography, or of the purpose of an allegory such as that of Constance in Chaucer's Clerk's tale in (The Canterbury Tales), because The Bride expressly endures to kill those who would have killed her and for that motivation :


She is identified strongly with motherhood only towards the end of Vol. 2, and, despite her having a daughter, killed Vernita Green (albeit not as intended) in Vol. 1. Vernita talks of somewhere else to go for a fight (as, later, Bill does), but means it only as a distraction from their murderous plans, whereas, in moonlight and unexpectedly fallen snow, O-Ren provides another an unexpected venue for their fight to the death (although, as she admits, she expected to have tired The Bride out indoors, with The Crazy 88s).



Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest, and, like a forest, it’s easy to lose your way, to get lost, to forget where you came in ~ Hattori Hanzo


Ashen when, Christ like, The Bride defeats the grave and cheats death, but still slogs it barefoot to rendezvous with Budd and Elle, she stands for some different force : driven by retribution, and, although she is calm, her serenity does not resemble that of The Annunciation from the predella of an altarpiece by Veneziano³, but the bloodiness and brutal energy of the deeds in A Miracle of St Zenobius, which, accompanying the former, helped form part of one whole :



For the life of the flesh is in the blood : and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls ~ Leviticus 17 : 11a [KJV]


As if abiding by some code of honour (and in a scene that involves too much screeching⁴), we have seen Bill persuade Elle not to kill The Bride in her sleep. Yet, as we find at the close of Vol. 2, it is not, except on his terms, a sense of fairness such as suits him (as does her being in a coma, and the humiliations to which it subjects her ?).

The familiar Orwellian allusion will not escape us when we see that Bill is in Room 101 in the complex where The Bride finds him - just as, by firing a dart at her, he does not allow her to escape saying that she did not believe that marrying Tommy Plympton would actually work out.


Although the immobility of The Bride's bottom half is alluded to by Buck (during his coarse briefing to the sex-client who wants to sleep with her), she is arbitrarily still accorded use of her arms and torso. Having freed herself from Buck, she is seen exerting herself to retire to the back-seats of his Pussy Wagon, and willing strength to exist and make itself manifest in her lower body - a scene that Tarantino and Thurman's characterization has given such emphasis (through voice-over and her repeated injunction to her big toe) that we know, and should keep recalling, how extraordinary are the powers, now and later, with which she gains control of her physical body.



Talking to The Bride at the close of Kill Bill, as well as saying – an understatement ! – that he over-reacted when she disappeared, Bill claims that motherhood was not going to change her nature as a killer.


By the incidental bite of a mosquito (as she is a form of Sleeping Beauty), The Bride woke to a full and vivid awareness of the enormity of the horror of what happened to put her in a coma⁵. We have since seen her screw her energies to kill all those who denied her motherhood and would have stood in her way, as it turns out, of getting not only to Bill, but to her daughter.



The conundrum that the film poses is whether, by doing all that she did, she has actually proved him right.






Epilogue :



There is an entry for Kill Bill : Vol. 3 on IMDb, but, unless you have guessed, you might not wish to know what it tells you...


End-notes :

¹ It is just ‘one of these things’ about Kill Bill that The Bride is so easily able to enlist the services of Hattori Hanzo (Shin’ichi Chiba (Sonny Chiba), who also tutored the cast) just by alluding to the debt that he owes because of his former disciple (whom Hanzo himself readily identifies as Bill) – presumably, this is why he went into retirement, and breaks a sacred vow to come out of it (Bill, yet only through expedience, is surprised that he did).

² Beyond, that is, the impact in the internal world of the film(s), although voice-over tells us that, in news-reports, the killings went by at least two names – despite hearing the police chief’s pronouncements at the scene, we are simply not invited to consider in any detail what it would actually have looked like for four weapons to be used against less than a dozen unsuspecting people.

In the first film, we not only see the devastation, but also the plea from The Bride to Bill ; in the other, after the two have talked, the camera retires to a safe distance, up and to the left of the chapel, when the four assassins are entering, so that the episode becomes aural, not visual (as we have already seen, what was to be seen).


³ Domenico Veneziano (Domenico di Bartolomeo da Venezia) (1400-1461) ; painter ; Italian artist. Church of Sta. Lucia dei Magnoli, Florence : both panels are now in The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

⁴ The 'marked-on' nature of Daryl Hannah's attire signifies more than it may seem. She may come good in her last couple of minutes on screen, but otherwise, unless Tarantino saw something in her in The Tie That Binds (1995) (or her role as Morticia Addams), she both seems an odd choice (as Sean O'Hagan put it, in The Observer, Tarantino's latest chosen candidate for career resurrection), and nearly did not carry it off. (Nonetheless, Kill Bill may have led on to other things for her.)

⁵ Although Almodóvar’s Talk to Her (Hable con ella) (2002) may look more like coma-care ?




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