Follow by e-mail

Showing posts with label Mother and Son. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mother and Son. Show all posts

Friday, 22 March 2019

Com’era, dov’era : Claire Denis and L'intrus (2004)

This is a response to L’intrus (The Intruder) (2004)

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


This is a response to L’intrus (The Intruder) (2004)

Watching L'intrus (2004), one immediately has to ask who this intruder is¹ – in the opening titles, the word itself is introduced with visuals that connote suspicious questioning [personne qui s'introduit dans un lieu ou un groupe sans y être invitée] :

Although there are other candidates², one is a male who is inexplicably seen killed at night and, in daylight, his body concealed, whereas another – who, as the film proceeds, certainly seems to intrude – is the perpetrator of these actions. On this question and many others, the film's largely non-directive approach chooses not to give an answer. However, this style of presentation does not wholly leave viewers to make what they will of that which director Claire Denis and her co-writer Jean-Pol Fargeau do show, because they still, at least, follow such conventions as signalling that the preceding sequence has been a dream³ by cutting to the sleeper (Louis), awakening in bed.

It is hardly uniquely true fact of Claire Denis' film that it leaves viewers to piece together what even the events consist in, let alone what they might signify, since a fairly arbitrary list of relevant film-references (i.e. a non-exhaustive one) would have to include the following (in order of date of release) :

* Mirror (1975) ~ Andrei Tarkovsky

* Eraserhead (1977) ~ David Lynch

* The Lost Highway (1997) ~ Lynch

* Mother and Son (1997) ~ Aleksandr Sokurov

* Code unknown (Code inconnu : Récit incomplet de divers voyages) (2000) ~ Michael Haneke


After the opening scenes², which serve to ‘leap-frog’ us to him, the film broadly follows Louis (played by Michel Subor), but, despite our seeing him engaged in his semi-naturist activities, and with his seeming delight in the company of his huskies, we cannot easily understand his living as he does, let alone why or for how long he has done so. In the film’s terms, he just is – depicted as he is, and how he is.

However, just as Denis does not always expressly delineate moving the location to another territory (or where it is – there are no captions, which in conventional films tell audiences ‘where they are’), so she does not leave more than partial clues as to matters such as : the passing of time (again, mainstream films often employ captions with the date and / or time) ; why we might be in that place now ; and what motivates the actions that we see. (As with the mise-en-scène, Louis Trebor is depicted in situ, and we derive any context in an incidental way.) Other continents are simply seen to be where Louis has travelled to, without the narrative contrivance of showing airport departure-boards as other films usually would (or planes taking off or landing), because that is all implicit in the change in what is in front of the camera.

Unlike in the case of Mirror, where Tarkovsky also has the same actor play mother and daughter, and so we must therefore concentrate to discern past from present, memory from scenes that have been imagined, Claire Denis may appear not to deviate significantly from time being seen in a linear way. Instead, in this film, time is rooted in the places to which Louis journeys - as a force from which the past emanates ? Yet, as part of Denis’ directorial telescoping of time, Louis has an operation without our knowing quite how, when or where, quite as if those things both do not matter and will not be allowed to matter to us – because we cannot ‘get behind’ what her fellow screenwriter and she choose to give to us in the artefact that is the film. Even so, Louis’ evident ill-health and a visit to the bank link us to his being away, and to the procedure, before all of which we had hardly heard speak.

We learn his desire for the future, and – in a scene with more dialogue than at any other point – of a ludicrous attempt to satisfy it, a moment that is not only a bizarre 'beauty parade', just between those holding it and taking part and us, but also a connection with the substitutionary universe of the early work of Yorgos Lanthimos. Louis seems satisfied with what happens, and we may accordingly surmise that he cannot be affected by what he does not know – we cannot escape the symbolism that we have seen the scars that the operation gave him now mirrored.


The film has a poetry to it, and there is a release of vibrant colour when a ship is launched, but there is nothing intrinsic to the film that still needs to be found : the act of creation is – engaging with it – in and through us. What would it be to search for greater meaning than this ? (Self-referentially, regardless of what Louis most wants, he almost certainly does not get what he decided that he was seeking.)

What Denis hints at is that, if it is seen as an observer, all life has a quality of mysteriousness – and therefore, perhaps, she suggests the fragmentary nature (or even obliquity) of what, even when we are actual participants, we understand of what is taking place ?


End-notes :

¹ With its title, a film can have us on edge, waiting to see how much (or little) relevance it will have to our interpreting what we will see / have seen : it may be pinned on when, at some telling moment, a character names the word or phrase (as, sensationally, in the closing line of Chinatown (1974)).

In Frances Ha (2012), it proves to be a quirky note that is sounded right at the end (in a visual joke) ; in Lady Bird (2017), it is what Christine insists on calling herself at high school (even if we might not unhelpfully delve into why, and think of the children’s rhyme) ; whereas Aquarius (2016) is named for the featured apartment-block, and its water symbolism.

² Is, for example, 'the intruder' the man whose vehicle has been waved through, on the other side, but who (indicated to stop once he has crossed) a much-congratulated sniffer-dog finds to have something hidden in a container of wipes ? (This man seems to play no further part in the film, but, later, other people are seen disappearing off, into the undergrowth and away from the headlights, during a drive along dark roads at night - are they intruders, too ?)

The customs officer who fêtes the sniffer-dog also proves not to be the film's concern, but is our link to what follows, after a slightly fetishistic sex-scene with her partner that centres on her uniform – might we not equally feel, at that moment, that it is we who intrude ?


³ Or, at the film’s outset (and after a medium shot of a border control), the national flags that we are shown establish that we are on the Swiss side.

Query : in the case of the last shot that we last see, which is followed by the closing credits (and so which cannot be announced in this way), can we even meaningfully ask whether is it 'real', or a dream / fantasy ?




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

Monday, 6 March 2017

Certain Women (2016) : When flatness of affect turns leaden, and less could have been more

This is a critique of Certain Women (2016) – as against what it could have been

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


6 March


Spoiler alert - to talk of the film, as here, it is almost necessarily full to the brim with them


This is a critique of Certain Women (2016) – as made, as against what it could have been (work in progress)

There is an approach in cinema, which is almost as much a state of mind for us, as viewers, as for the depicted places and persons, that is best characterized by citing Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (2011) – though, for those with no patience or feeling for mood and reflective space, Sokurov’s much, much shorter Mother and Son (1997) will seem more of an endurance than around three hours ?



In Certain Women (2016), no such ethos is evoked, but there is a flatness of affect to it from the very opening shot :

A train heads towards the bottom left-hand corner (and, there, the plant that is the only thing in focus). (Even the table-top mountain – and unmoving clouds – look as if unrealistically let into the background to the rail-road in the foreground, and the expanse behind it [i.e. done unconvincingly in post-production].) Then, of sorts, a mood is generated, but not pervasively, by a man dressing post-coitally, extreme right and in another room, and a woman seen just from below her knees, putting on socks – it is the height of trying to create a frisson of dullness around Laura, despite taking time in her lunch-break for an affair.

Laura (Laura Dern) goes on to be, if she were to have survived in the profession for any time, an implausibly malleable attorney (and Fuller, doing the manipulation, a claimant – they are still called plaintiffs in the States – to resist and reject whose demands, with dignity and justification, she seems quite unused, unsuited, and unskilled). The lingering question why Fuller feels aggrieved may deliberately only ever be given in snatches that are interrupted, and so partial, but, then, this is because the story decides to foreground the element of unreasonable expectation / unreasonable acquiescence – just as the opening image does the train, in motion – and leaves the looming question how he actually could have compromised his injury case for peanuts*.

Maile Meloy, in the stories that are Certain Women’s basis, may have evidenced better understanding of real law (practice and procedure), rather than the pretend variety that litters film and t.v., but it is not here. The boring fact of the matter (i.e. the mountain that, after the fact, has not so artfully been grafted in behind) is that attorneys specifically need and have the protection of standard protocols (because, for one thing, their professional indemnity cover would insist on following them) for dealing with clients who ill-advisedly wish to accept settlement offers that, without being as derisory as this one seems to have been, no one with a duty to advise them could recommend accepting.


That may be uncharitably against the unrealism of scenarios with a client and an attorney, and it could equally miss something in the kindred setting of Nebraska* (2013) to ask for strict verismilitude, but making a compromise with the tenable has to be for good reason (not just that it is simple to make up and fake). Whereas this story, told with unutterable flatness as if it is a virtue, and with Laura even being casually manipulated by the law-enforcement officers to endanger herself for no good reason, made one long for Steve Coogan’s take on such matters in Alan Partridge : Alpha Papa (2013) : yes, Laura is one of these ‘certain women’ of the title, and she has a particularity, but it is only of not being persuasive that she could, if twisted thus, survive in legal practice, when client-work is ever full of inter-personal traps.

Even so, the story, even in its own terms, is just as much about Fuller, which means that the film has hindered its own credibility, by making scant sense of Laura’s role as his legal adviser (none of which is much assisted by off-hand remarks from one or two others, who suggest some merit in his feeling aggrieved). Even if one shelves Laura, sitting on the floor in the middle of the night and reading out his case-file to him, onto the level of the symbolic, doing so effectively side-lines issues of whether she did right by him, if the court and she in any way wrongly facilitated a settlement that precluded considering the effect of a prognosis where a provisional award for damages was likely to be better : good law, but a poor story - which should counsel against not adapting the story in film ?


The second story takes up some more screen-time (it would have been interesting to have noted how much the first and second occupy in relation to, and before we get to, the third – after two indifferent segments, one with production values that are not just per se better, but wholly quite other, with qualities of performance / presence / poise, cinematography, editing, sound-design…).

Put more briefly, some awkwardness, along with much more flatness, in a couple’s buying (or being given), some building-stone from a man of 76, whose connection to them is wholly unapparent. (Everyone calls the material sandstone, but it little resembles what that term usually refers to, and more resembles granite ?). The wife (whose wife is she, i.e. who is he ?¹), Gina (Michelle Williams), is the moving force behind asking if they can buy it – yet, at best, it seems to be acquired for no better reason than, as she reasons to herself, if they did not take it, someone else would, because there is somehow too little left, of what was once a school-house, to do much with.


(Apart from a bit of bogus ambiguity whether Albert, the 76-year-old, feels cheated, a story about precious little, although someone somewhere must believe that it said more : it is as if, on a recommendation that one increasingly doubted, one newly started watching New York Stories (1989), but Scorsese’s incendiary opener ‘Life Lessons’, with Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette, had just been substituted by another segment as trite and unchallenging as what follows it, Coppola’s ‘Life without Zoe’.)

What we hear said plenty, but in emotionally largely even terms, is to care for Gina, because she does so much for them (e.g. negotiating this pile of building material, with which little can be done ?). Yet the only moment in the whole section that really spoke of anything that seemed felt was when her husband¹ makes a long reverse down to the gate, which she has opened for him, and. in doing so, he talks to their daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier) in a monologue…


[…]


From a review by Leslie Felperin for The Hollywood Reporter :

Yet while there’s no doubt this is the work of a filmmaker entirely in command of her craft, there’s something a trifle academic and dry about the whole exercise, and slightly lacking in narrative cohesion given the nature of its origins. Unlike, say Robert Altman’s Short Cuts or other films adapted from collections, this feels like three discrete works laid alongside one another, like pictures in a gallery, not a triptych.



Post-script :

There is now another perspective to share, after chatting the film over, with someone who – on another day – just happened to have seen the film (this is the stuff of being at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge (@CamPicturehouse) – not just during Cambridge Film Festival (@camfilmfest)).

After agreement that the second story seemed (for want of the words used at the time) inadequately substantial (though leaving the interlocutor keen enough to read the original short stories), there was more interest in Laura, and less being distracted by the plausibility of her career in law : the suggestion is that she is a small-town lawyer, used to small-town matters, and that, when she took on this this compensation case, she had found herself out of her depth, and thus her inability to parry the demands from Fuller results from something different. Maybe…


To some, the title also appears to offer another way of understating the word ‘certain’, beyond that familiar in some forms of narration (or one could naturally say ‘certain types’), such as ’Now there were certain Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. Reading Certain Women this way would imply that one can ascribe acting decisively to the behaviour of the women, and – except to the extent that most films depend on something happening – might one look for that quality of certitude in vain ? (It is only essential to find if, if one wants to say that each woman acts with certainty, and that there doing so is important to the film. Words [from a review ?] that are being used to promote the film begin 'Three strong-willed women'.)


End-notes :

¹ One forgets, but state or federal law takes the usual position further that a full and final settlement should not be accepted when the prognosis has not resolved, but an interim payment : here it appears that an employer that makes a payment in settlement binds the employee against the person who might have been sued. It is vaguely enough there in the story, but really skated over.

² As in the past, IMDb, lets us down here : the last character in Laura’s story is Amituana, it then lists Gina, her daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier), Albert (Rene Auberjonois), but not Gina’s husband, as the next character is The Rancher (Lily Gladstone), and that is the third story…



However, as looked to be the case at the time - but how does one confirm it (in a Montana ID parade, one big man with a big beard, briefly seen, looks much like any other) ? - Neil White (@everyfilmneil) clarifies, in his review : The lawyer's hook-up (James Le Gros) turns out to be the husband of a businesswoman (Williams) who goes on a weekend family camping trip and visit to an elderly man they know.

³ It would be good to have confirmation of this perception (as screen-time is not always possible to judge accurately), but the running-time of the third story may nearly equal that of the other two combined : with reprises of the latter feeling as if they have been tacked on at the end to provide a sense - not a very good one - of a frame. (Plus locating in Laura's law office in the place where Lily Gladstone's character, in the third story, drives to and makes speculative enquiries).



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)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


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)


End-notes

* 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)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Strange transmissions

This is a review of Father and Son (2003)

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


11 February

This is a review of Father and Son (2003)


Sokurov is often referred to as Aleksandr, but is here credited as Alexander. In any case, his directing gives us a screen-world that mixes (as T. S. Eliot has it*), memory and desire, except that it is memory and desire and dream… Dreaming, though, where son can talk to father from outside it (and vice versa), and ask what it is like, which Russell Hoban prefigured by publishing Amaryllis Night and Day in 2001 (hardly uniquely, since it is likewise the stuff of Ursula Le Guin and Earthsea, which has its roots elsewhere).




In no way repeating Mother and Son (1997), but not disappointing those who watch Father and Son (2003) by the strength of the performances or the writing, Sokurov dwells on the awkwardnesses in life that bring us so close or so far apart (as Peter Gabriel puts it**) : British and Russian politeness / society are not poles apart, and changing the subject is just as much part of (Chekhov or) this film as is suddenly talking about the weather.

A delirious moment, of nigh-febrile intensity, begins the film, bringing us at once inside the physicality of Alexei and his dad’s life and love, both for others and for each other. To this kind of soldierly behaviour, not only Britishness may not easily relate, and so find in it the homoeroticism that Sokurov seems to have wanted to dismiss [NB link is to a review that mentions Sokurov's reaction], even if there is quite intentional ambiguity about so much in what we see.

So, in a beautifully crafted and cut-together scene, where Aleksei Neymyshev (Alexei) talks to Marina Zasukhina through, and around, the narrow aperture of a window, we do not even know for sure though we may surmise, since this is in a barracks why the window cannot be opened more widely, let alone who they are to each other, or why Alexei’s father (Andrei Shchetinin) has also come to visit. Later, the script has Alexei almost stumble upon an encounter that almost mocks, perhaps, Shakespeare’s balcony scene, yet at the same time bringing out the tension and sense of daring in wooing, as in any interaction.

To say little more, because the film needs to speak for itself and to a willing recipient, the dialogue, and Sokurov’s tight direction of scenes, both keep at the human level. Even so, the filming introduces visual distortions, say, with the tram, or has us impossibly trying to follow ‘the action’ of Alexei with, and in the company of, his fellow military colleagues, wrestling and struggling in pursuit of exercise and expertise in hand-to-hand, unarmed combat watching too closely, or trying too much to follow, and missing what else is in the film-frame.




If Chekhov is a struggle (because we cannot see, or relate to, what is unsaid in all that is said in, say, Uncle Vanya, or The Seagull), or if Pinter’s wordy silences seem awkward (which serve a similar purpose, at times, of making us aware of the underlying sub-texts to our lives and actions ?), that may disincline us to watch Father and Son. Yet one could still try it, but by giving oneself to 83 mins in the undiluted medium of cinema without trying to understand how the reimagined musical scores or its interplay with the soundscape work, or the heightening and lowering effects with light : so, surrendering, as to a dream-world that is another’s life, to what the camera shows us, chooses to show us.


End-notes

* In the very opening of Book I (‘The Burial of the Dead’) of ‘The Waste Land’ (although only a cursory look at the Faber & Faber facsimile and transcript that Valerie Eliot edited soon has one wondering whether it is Eliot’s poem, or that of Ezra Pound, to whom (in 1925) it was dedicated, and who is credited : Il miglior fabbro). Whilst we are contemplating Eliot, the fact that filming took place in St Petersburg and Lisbon has given something of the effect of his ‘Unreal City’ (via Charles Baudelaire) in Book III (‘The Fire Sermon’, heading the fourth block of lines).

** To quote the lyrics of the track ‘That voice again’ on the album So (or is it So ?).

*** Symbolically, does either desire it or, rather, to continue to peer through the crack, or through the bottom of the pane ? Cinematically, which is what is posing these questions to us, the effect caught is unnerving, electrifying, and perhaps infuriating both in and outside the action, as we try to address what we are seeing…




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

Friday, 21 February 2014

I don’t want the spring to come

This is a review of Mother and Son (1997)

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


21 February

This is a review of Mother and Son (1997)

* Contains spoilers *

It is not just the nature of the relationship that makes one think of it, because one’s thought is not there, say, with Kristin Scott Thomas as Iva and Marin Orcand Tourrès as Noé in Looking for Hortense (2012) (though she, arguably, is a stepmother, and he too young), but about the quality of the tenderness and the gestures between Aleksei Ananishnov and Gudrun Geyer that makes one think of Jesus and his mother Mary, of the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis), of the crucifixion (Woman, this is your son), and of Michelangelo’s Pietà.

A painterly or sculptural sensibility in the composition and lighting of shots is evident from the opening scene, with the foreground – the mother’s dramatically foreshortened supine body, which yet seems to ripple like waves – relatively dark, and the son lying at right angles, his head by her head, in an uncertain space, and with what seems as though it might be an opaque window onto the luminous sea and sky behind him (for we can hear the ocean, the waves and the wind).

There is a playfulness as well as a more serious connection between the mother and her carer, with her saying that she is ‘pretending’ to be ill, and, though seemingly seriously, concerning herself that she has nothing to wear in the spring, whereas there seems no one to see what one wears (and the son says that he has nothing special to wear either).

When the pair are first seen together in the light, she pale, he ruddy, there is a momentary flicker of Beckettt’s Endgame (Hamm and Nell) in the contrast of the faces, and, over the whole 73 minutes, set in and around what appears to be a small former church or chapel, there is an air of finality, as of something playing itself out*. It is partly built by the fragmentary musical accompaniment, which seems to be a familiar theme refracted (it sounded like Bach, later Brahms, but is credited as Glinka, Verdi and one other), which causes the mind to ruminate, but not reach an answer.

The topography of indoors and the world beyond remain oblique, though, in the former, there is a raised area that could be an altar (or a stage), and the mother, when lying in bed, is in a recess that is surrounded by a stone lintel and so resembles a side-chapel, a bier, or a tomb. The sea that is so much part of the soundtrack is only seen twice, once indistinctly**, and near this place the railway runs, and, at one point, we half wonder whether the son might catch a train and disappear.



Atmospheric in the extreme (because of the skilful use of sound and music), and with even the motion of the train that we see seeming restrained, held back, this is a film at a pace that is determined by the body, by falling in and out of sleep (where the dreams of the two seem to be the same, and to be overladen with poetic words), and by slowly going on ‘a walk’, which is the son carrying his mother. We have no notion how many times these things may have happened before (as with Endgame), but are in the immediacy of the present :

When she is laid on a bench at the front of the building, and – until he comes back into shot and cradles her head in a sort of crouching position, which brings their faces together again – we fear that she will fall, her physical fragility is emphasized by how the camera moves around her, first from a view that heightens the sense again of her being laid out, and then by him coming into shot and the support that he gives, touching her hair, and covering her over. The direction dares keep us wait and beg our patience, time and again, and so heightens the stillness at the centre of this place, despite being in the midst of the noise of the elements.

During the walk, he at least twice puts her on her legs, and countless times lays her down in a comfortable spot, which stresses, large man though he is, at what cost he takes her out in this way. The second time, in a clump of four silver birches and where he leans her against one, we again feel that she is defying gravity, so closely do we believe that this is not an actress who is, of course, capable of standing up - the uncertainty adds to their brief moment, standing side by side and exchanging a few words.

In such a moment in particular, the external world resembles indistinct watercolours, ones that seem to have been deliberately smudged***, not unlike the impression of some of Gerhart Richter’s paintings. This aesthetic of the film, both in its visual and musical elements, feels quite akin to that of Tarkovksy, say where the lens roams over a print of The Adoration of the Magi (by Leonardo da Vinci) in The Sacrifice (1986), his last film, and where the sound of the organ approaches, and then moves away from, a motif that cannot quite be placed****.

Just in a couple of places, the translation (originally rendered into German with dubbing, so the film bears the title Mutter und Sohn) foxes us, such as where the son urges ‘Yourself, yourself’, and, less obscurely, where she later says ‘You got me out’, but this is a slight defect, and cannot detract from the intense feeling in this film.

In its heart, it embodies a meeting with the truth, such as when she says that she was told that he would be clever, but heartless, and he replies I am a cold person : bit by bit, we are subtly asked questions about our own humanity and mortality.


End-notes

* Beckettt’s text has other phrases, which are resonant with this mood, such as Outside of here it’s death.

** The other time is during his walk alone, where we progress from cliffs to a glade, tree trunks, the sound of a bell, and a sailing-vessel at sea.

*** The Wikipedia page for the film suggests some of the techniques used.

**** There, as in this film, the result is more effective, and less inducive of a sensation of nausea, than Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen.




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