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Showing posts with label KST. Show all posts
Showing posts with label KST. Show all posts

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Catching up with Kristin - and her venerable ma

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

26 June

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

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Ever-ambitious¹ Aimard wows with authenticity

This is a review of Pierre-Laurent Aimard's solo piano recital in June 2014

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

24 June (updated, with link, 6 July)

This is a review of a solo piano recital given on Monday 23 June 2014 at The Maltings, Snape, by Pierre-Laurent Aimard during the 67th Aldeburgh Festival (@aldeburghmusic) – relayed live on Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3)

Also on Aldeburgh...

A swaying, snarling, even spitting Schubert for our times

The Humphrey and Andy Show (Britten on Camera)

The best £13 ever spent !

Why are all concert / recital programmes not like this, mixing memory and desire, as Eliot once wrote ?

That was written at the end of the first half, but it could have been inspired by later seeing the Aldeburgh music booklet ‘Leaving a legacy in your will’, which has Eliot on the back cover (You are the music while the music lasts (which seems sure to be from Four Quartets)), and the words Make Your Mark¹ on the front :

If Pierre-Laurent Aimard (PLA – just as Kristin Scott Thomas is always KST in these postings) has not made his mark on people’s consciousness to-night, that of the bewitched audience at The Maltings, Snape, and in those listening to Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3), he never will !

PLA at The Friends' Reception

(One almost hesitates, having perfectly seen those fingers and hands crossing, separating, interlocking, even one above the other, to go to the Radio 3 web-site and Listen Again (for seven days only), but, as one of my fellow occupants of the front row suggested, one wants to hear again the juxtapositions that PLA has made here.)

He has built on the wonderful curation in past Aldeburgh Festivals, both in partnership with the amazing Tamara Stefanovich (on both one and two pianos), and his solo piano non-stop miscellanies, which had seemed, until last night, to be ground-breaking music marathons. Not that they were not, but PLA has now shattered the unhelpful image of separateness in and between composers and their compositions, and, with the sheer dynamism with which he interpreted these two, differing halves, thrown down a sort of gauntlet to the question of what we listen to – and why : with the first sounding as though it contained some Scriabin (although it actually did not, because studies of his, exquisitely rendered, had only been scheduled, according to the running order, after the interval), the second with a complete short set of pieces by Bartók, whose score alone (and not exclusively) was remarkable for resembling pyramids, upwards triangles of notation.

Afterwards, when a couple was heard comparing this Festival very positively with previous ones², they appeared (unless they were talking about another performer) to be saying that PLA’s response is an intellectual response, not an emotional one, whereas one could not agree less. Yes, he is clearly a shy man (on the level of being unassuming, but proud of what he has the conviction to attempt, and succeed with), but he clearly accepts that a public face is part of performance (as, maybe, Glenn Gloud could not), and he entered into this recital as another John Ogden (who, one is glad, is being recalled just now on Radio 3) :

No one who saw Ogden, for all that he had these feats of memory and technique at his fingertips (pun intended), could doubt how brilliantly he felt the music in his soul. (Quite apart from whether having the experience of worlds known to Alexander Scriabin [the programme prefers the spelling 'Skryabin'] allowed Ogden to enter into the landscape of his harmony, and make so many remarkable recordings that we can go to³.) With PLA, one could see the pleasure, joy, surprise, anguish and discomfort with what all this music, at its height, had to say to him from the page.

He has little physical resonance with the look of Ogden on stage, but there was a resemblance in that he had clearly fixed the order of works in his head not only so that he could transition into the next one as the page-turner moved the concertina, booklet or collection of pages that was (as the case might be) the score, but be fully present to the music in each case :

And this was not ‘compartmentalization’ at all, in no sense a glib characterization of the next composer, but internalizing the essence not only of the moment, but also of the connection that he had, in scheduling the works, made with what went before : the quotation from Eliot is so relevant here, that, whilst the music – in each case – lasted, he was not only with it, but was it.

A butterfly on the lavender in the lovely garden at By The Crossways
(where The Friends' Reception was held)

Performers as different as Stile Antico (@stileantico), Britten Sinfonia (@BrittenSinfonia), and (to name but one other pianist) Vladimir Horowitz⁴ all have had their notion of a sequence, but the programme of PLA’s two halves was curated in such a way that we only (especially if one had a clear view of PLA’s hands, and where he was on each score) incidentally noticed the practice-elements in these various Études, such as octaves, chimes, dissonances, or even what, at the beginning of the very first piece, presented just as a simple scale (and how it developed from there !).

He had not, of course, not just jumbled these pieces all together, and the programming alone deserves enormous acclaim (though could another have brought off delivering it ?), alongside the precision and pianism with which PLA played. (Some might have wanted to follow the listing, to see what he was playing, where ‘we had go to’, but that seemed unnecessary (although one was partly still playing The Radio 3 Guessing Game, when, having switched on during a piece, one tries to guess what it is, before it is announced).)

More so than through enviable technique and stamina, it was in the integrity, the conviction that this should – and would – work. Rarely, then, in a second half will we have heard the top note struck and stroked to such effect, but entirely integrally and organically, as much as finding pentatonic scales, or bell-notes, and chimes. PLA did seem to be saying two things very clearly :

Why do we need opus numbers, keys, and sets of pieces so often brought to us as sets⁵, etc. ?

More importantly :

Why, in all these things, do we seek what divides music from music ?

Do not just take @THEAGENTAPSLEY's word for it that this recital excelled - read The Guardian's review, which gave it five stars, and with the following extract from which one cannot at all disagree !

Yet he will surely never make a more heartfelt tribute to Ligeti than this recital, where he placed the Hungarian composer squarely in the context of the piano greats. This was an exquisitely constructed programme, interlacing 12 Ligeti studies with 12 by Debussy, Chopin, Bartók and Scriabin, first paired and then heard in blocks of three. It made for spellbinding listening.

Rian Evans

Also on Aldeburgh...

A swaying, snarling, even spitting Schubert for our times

The Humphrey and Andy Show (Britten on Camera)


¹ In the good way, that of extending an ambit, here that of musicality and the true life that is, and is of, music.

² Not, though, that they seemed in any way let down with them, but highly impressed this time, whereas, at The Friends’ Reception on Sunday, someone had sounded a note that there had been uncertainty about how successful of this year, but that it – and PLA – had proved him or her wrong.

³ An excellent choice, made available by gullivior, is his interpretation of Beethoven's Opus 111...

⁴ Who could seem almost impatient to move on to the next piece in a recital, and not to be ruffled by applause…

⁵ In a recent piano recital (15 February) in King’s College Chapel (@ConcertsatKings), Leon McCawley (@leonmccawley) had brought us Rachmaninov’s whole Opus 32 (from 1910) in his second half, Thirteen Preludes, and, stunningly nice though it was to hear them through (the familiar and the less familiar), they made no connection of this kind :

Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Brahms were still the other side of the interval, in another place. And, with the Songs Without Words, there had seemed little feeling for the three pieces played : how often (and what does it tell us ?) might we have been to a recital where we could take or leave staying after the interval ? (Yet, to give an example, Sodi Braide’s all-Liszt second half redeemed a performance at Cambridge Summer Music Festival where one had initially felt exactly that.)

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

Friday, 7 February 2014

Lit by Saul Leiter

This report is from a special preview screening of The Invisible Woman (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

6 February

* Contains spoilers *

This report is from a special preview screening of The Invisible Woman (2013) at The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse) on 1 February, followed by a Q&A with director and lead actor, Ralph Fiennes

The time of the film is clearly the nineteenth century, but labels are largely given to places, not to dates. Charles Dickens died in June 1870, and an important scene has him showing Nelly (Felicity Jones) the galley-proofs of what would have been chapter 59 of Great Expectations, which was being published in instalments between 1 December 1860 and 3 August 1861.

The title-character really has to be Nelly, but, when Catherine Dickens (Joanna Scanlan) visits her with a gift that the jeweller wrongly had delivered to Catherine, she says what the following question, asked of Fiennes (during the Q&A in Screen 1 at The Arts Picturehouse), summarizes :

Mrs Dickens, probably out of envy, warns that her husband is drawn to his audience as well as to her. Is the challenge that Nelly faces to know Dickens not as a writer, but as a man*?

Catherine does not appear to have wanted herself the acclaim that Charles receives, from other things, at public readings, so she presumably allowed herself to be relatively in his shadow : after such a reading, Nelly’s mother, Frances Ternan (Kristin Scott Thomas), expresses regret that Catherine could not have been there (and Charles gives some reason why she is not there), which means that she is unlike a royal consort, and is free not to do what he chooses to do.

(If she is envious (see more here), maybe it is of Nelly that she can see Charles as a writer, for a comment early in the film (when The Ternans, mother and daughters, have travelled to Manchester to the production of Wilkie Collins The Frozen Deep (published in 1856), which Dickens is mounting with Collins) suggests that she does not personally view the novels as more than entertainment (‘Tis a fiction, designed to entertain), at which Nelly, expressing her surprise, says what she sees in them. So, in Manchester, Catherine was with Wilkie and Charles, but she later appears to withdraw from that role.)

In Collins, we have the example of a man co-habiting since 1858 (with Caroline Graves (Michelle Fairley) and her daughter Harriet (known as ‘The Butler’)), but perhaps at the expense of the greater reception of his writing** ? If so, he compromised greater success and not living with Graves (they were only apart for two years, when she married another man), and with spending part of his time with her and with Martha Rudd, a woman whom he met as a nineteen-year-old when researching Armadale. The family arrangements that we know so well from The Pre-Raphaelite Brethren (founded in 1848, and initially secretively operating under the initials PRB) and from Dickens in this film (based on Claire Tomalin’s book of the same name) were actually closer with those of Collins than we might have imagined.

It is for those such as Tomalin to explain and speculate why Dickens felt himself different from his friend Collins, in not being able to copy an arrangement that was less complicated than his own would have been. It was not until a century later that our present divorce laws were enacted, but it appears that an informal separation, such as Dickens is quoted as announcing to his family in The Times, might have been an acceptable position, whereas an affair with Nelly being known of during it clearly would not. Only such reading can shed light on this question…

Back at reviewing the film, Abi Morgan had written a script that sounded as though it might have been spoken 150 years ago, but without drawing attention to its age :

The emphasis is on the spoken words resembling speech. Amanda Randall (@amandarandall5) reports that the dialogue in Slave sounds as it does, because it is taken directly from Solomon Northup’s book, which can easily be believed : it satisfies her that it should be, but, to some, that might seem a cop-out… (After all, Northup wrote his memoir, with the help of a writer, during the course of three months, and he is in, in this way, writing dialogue that could have occurred ten years earlier, so it can scarcely be verbatim.)

This is not one of Andrew Davies’ celebrated adaptations of Dickens or of other classic novelists, but giving a plausible voice to Dickens the man. It is a voice that is strengthened by the judicious use of very effective music by Ilan Eshkeri (who scored Fiennes debut as director, Coriolanus (2011)) – more detail will have to wait until another time, when (furniture-shifting for) the Q&A (and the consequent lack of detail about musicians on IMDb) does not obtrude reading the credits…

None of that would be worth a candle without Fiennes, who brought to the figure, familiar through Simon Callow (and even Doctor Who), a conviction and a humanity – it was not for nothing that Dickens was amongst those who campaigned for sanitary conditions for all, and we see him here at a benefit for The Hospital for Sick Children, and also hear him privately speak poignantly of his father’s and his family’s plight in poverty***.

A character very different either from Fiennes’ last Dickensian film role, as Magwitch, or his self-directed part as Caius Martius Coriolanus (let alone in Potter), and there we find his compelling versatility. To Dickens, a man shown to be not without tetchiness or anger, Fiennes seemed to bring some of the qualities that his character Stephen Tulloch had in his sister Martha Fiennes’ writer / director feature Chromophobia (2005) : despite that film’s fate in history, nothing is wasted.

Opening with a gorgeous expanse of the coast at what we are told is Margate, and, with Nelly’s introduction, anxious, quick cutting, and one wants to know what drives her there, what her anguish is. We know of a connection with Dickens, but has she just come from him**** ? Nelly is a true Wilkie-Collins-type heroine, in her black against the washed-out sand (in more senses than one), and this could be The Shifting Sands, and some source of mystery.

Both within the dynamic of a scene, and from one to the next, the film is paced beautifully : once we have seen a later Felicity Jones in a Dickens-laden situation where she is unable to say what she knows, it unfolds with her in an almost Becketttean way, seeming to revolve it all, and without a friend to turn to*****. Nelly has been out too long, yet she knows what she must do, and straightaway does it, throwing herself into the rehearsal of Collins and Dickens’ No Thoroughfare.

Perhaps they are her memories, or maybe it is purely by the medium of cinema, but the play connects with the event of arriving in Manchester on a foul day, and first meeting our two writers in another collaboration. Nothing is over-explained, with ambiguity to keep us involved (Is the young man called Charley with the umbrella somehow the young Dickens … ?).

It is a fairly dark rehearsal space, and the polarity between so many interiors to come and the luminescence of views such as that beach at Margate is one of the themes of the film : the interiors are shot, by Rob Hardy, in a way that Fiennes told us came out of finding that Hardy and he had a common interest in the photography of Saul Leiter, and with Hardy’s eye for composition, but using Leiter’s effects and aesthetic. The effect, and the result of shooting on film, is gorgeous and inviting.

We guess at what has happened between Nelly and Charles, but it is only when Wilkie and he take her to the former’s home that it becomes clear that the state of affairs is more fragile, this coming hard on the heels of Catherine’s visit that day. In fact, it is apparent that Charles does not seem to know what he seeks, although he enjoys Nelly’s company, his writing, and appearing in public, but that more has been claimed in the press.

In all of this, Kristin Scott Thomas, as Nelly’s mother Frances, has been more apt than any to see what is happening early on, and to raise her concerns about Nelly with Charles – hers is a modest part, but, along with that of Wilkie (Tom Hollander), central to what unfolds, and both convincingly portray a circle of those close to Nelly, which later she seems to lack. A reflective and poignant film, which will repay watching again.


* Fiennes, although questioning Catherine's envy, did indicate that Jones had followed such a path in preparing her role with him. The way in which what Catherine says to Nelly about Charles' public is structured does, however, suggest not only that she is sharing her experience of Charles to benefit Nelly, but also that she may hope to put her off by it.

** Having said that, Collins wrote four novels in ten years, which allowed him to give others financial support : The Woman in White, No Name, Armadale and The Moonstone.

*** Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dogson (1832 – 1898), i.e. Lewis Carroll courted social danger in this same century not only by going to the theatre, whether to see, say, the celebrated Ellen Terry perform, or his child-actor friends, but also by his association with Terry, such as seeing her backstage, or keeping up a correspondence. (In Carroll’s case, that might partly have been because the theatre was not thought a fit place at which a member of the clergy should be seen.)

As the opening scene of the film wisely avoids making clear (because having due regard to class and social distinctions would have complicated the story : Rev. Benham’s (John Kavanagh’s) admiration for Dickens’ works and seeming interest in theatrical matters), the theatre was frowned upon often enough, and there would have been an attitude towards Mrs Ternan and her daughters for the way that they supported themselves, and the film does not disguise their lack of means at home, and so why they act.

**** We are told that it is 1883, but the year might not register (not least because of the stunning view of the shore), unless one knows Dickens’ era well.

***** We do not know what has befallen her mother and sisters, but she is the youngest.

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

Thursday, 2 August 2012

KST / Bradshaw

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

This was meant to be a draft, for me to use to comment on what the great Messrs Bradshaw and French have 'made of' this film, but it seems to have gone live - whatever they have to say...

Philip French:

In Your Hands (aka Contre toi) is a subtle psychological thriller, the second full-length feature by the French writer-director Lola Doillon, but the first to be shown here. A claustrophobic virtual two-hander, it stars Kristin Scott Thomas as confident, childless divorcee Anna Cooper, a surgeon working in the obstetrics and gynaecology department of a prison hospital, and Pio Marmaï as Yann, a wild young man.In Your HandsProduction year: 2012Country: FranceCert (UK): 15Runtime: 81 minsDirectors: Lola DoillonCast: Jean-Philippe Ecoffey, Kristin Scott Thomas, Pio MarmaiMore on this filmAt the beginning Anna appears distraught but carefully controlled, running from a shabby suburban house to her smart Parisian apartment. The movie doesn't leave us long to wonder about her conduct. She goes to the police to report her abduction, and in a tensely developed flashback we learn that she has been held in a cellar by Yann, the vengeful husband of a patient who died during a Caesarean operation carried out by Anna. In this first part there's an emotional ebb and flow, the threat of violence and some physical conflict, as the two discuss the case and its emotional ramifications.In the second part, a delayed instance of the Stockholm syndrome, some mixture of guilt and sympathy seems to draw Anna to seek out Yann. A passionate affair ensues that is in its way as dangerous as the period of incarceration, possibly more so. The end is abrupt and not entirely satisfactory, but it's a convincingly performed and constantly intriguing film

Kristin Scott Thomas gives us another movie in a distinctive genre that she has made her own: modern day, no makeup, speaking French, transgressive sex. It's an intense and claustrophobic two-hander, well acted – especially by her – but frankly a bit of a shaggy-dog story with a faintly unsatisfactory ending. Scott Thomas plays Anna Cooper, a single professional woman living on her own in Paris and a bit of a workaholic. The name signals that, though a fluent and idiomatic French speaker, she is British but otherwise there is no back story. At the beginning of a rare holiday, Anna comes into traumatic contact with an intense figure: Yann, played by Pio Marmaï, and their encounter becomes a terrifying ordeal. The film begins intriguingly and promises much, with an interesting flashback structure which initially conceals as much as it reveals. But in its third act, the movie runs out of ideas and has no more to tell us. Set alongside Philippe Claudel's I've Loved You So Long (2008) and Catherine Corsini's Leaving (2009), In Your Hands showcases of one of this country's most remarkable screen performers, a vividly intelligent presence – but it does not quite work. PB

Monday, 27 February 2012

Kristin allures again

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

28 February

* Contains spoilers *

A friend in the cinema had already warned me of what his friend and he had found not only a surprising, but an inexplicable, ending to The Woman in the Fifth (2011), so I was on the alert.

That said, in the dark and not tempted to look at my watch (or the phone), I nonetheless knew that it was an eighty-four-minuter, but had no sense of how far in I was. Waiting for this surprise actually helped me concentrate wonderfully, and it did not, when it came, seem out of place.

What did keep me waiting was when Kristin Scott Thomas, who was presumably the woman of the title, was going to appear, and I had forgotten about the invitation that Ethan Hawke (as Tom) had been given to a literary evening:

Which, it must be said, seemed as dire as one might imagine, with even the effrontery of being asked for a contribution of twenty euros on arrival. If I didn't know that KST would be much better company than all of these old bores, I still wouldn't have blamed Ethan for, having caught sight of her, wanting to follow her (up to the roof, with the base of Le Tour Eiffel seemingly in touching distance) and leave them behind.

As to the way that everything was told (although, quite in the right way, nothing did get told), what arose from an initial feeling that things were uneasy was one of mysteriousness, especially in relation to KST (playing Margit Kadar, half-French, half-Romanian). The seductiveness that she had shown so tellingly well in her role in Leaving* (2009) was not to the fore as such, although she did greet Tom in a very intimate way when he came to her flat for the first time, but was simmeringly, almost glitteringly, present.

And it was fine that she could see an attractive quality in Tom, because his glasses (I am probably not one to speak) didn't suit him, and his face was much better without them when, in the same scene, she removed them (we possibly hadn't seen him properly like that before, because, talking to his daughter through some railings, we just catch him when he swaps glasses with her).

Tom had an inward quality to him that made it seem as if he had not even noticed that another woman (French-speaking Ania from Poland, played by Joanna Kulig) was taking an interest in him, until she arrives at his door very obviously dressed up and (likewise) takes him up to the roof. One almost thought, in the same way, that his curiosity would not get the better of him when on duty in his mysterious night-job (although his employer must surely have thought that, sooner or later, he would have that impulse), and that he would never go to the 5th arrondissement (the Fifth of the title, or, in the French, La Femme du Vème).

I wanted to see this film again, but I may not have the chance - not at my usual cinema, as it turned out that I had made it to the last screening - and I have ordered the book by Douglas Kennedy on which Pawel Pawlikowski based the screenplay that he has directed.

All in all, this was a film that credited me as a filmgoer to follow connections, to be confused, to work it out, and to construct a reality. I was deeply reminded of Kafka, largely the sort of internal logic of The Castle and (to a lesser extent) The Trial, but that's always fine with me.

Tom, I think, is also creating a reality, and his drifting (e.g. his apparent lack, after the initial concern, of action when he finds that his luggage has been taken from him when he is woken at the bus terminus at Quai de l'Ourcq, and then his inertia when, despite having no real money, he is given a room (no. 7) at Le Bon Coin) is part of that. If I get the chance, I will watch it all over again...


* I hadn't thought, when I saw it on DVD, that its title translated Partir, but I think that it does so effectively enough.