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Showing posts with label The Lobster. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Lobster. Show all posts

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Some Tweets and other text about My Cousin Rachel (2017) (work, once in progress)

Some Tweets and other text about My Cousin Rachel (2017)

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


13 June

Some Tweets and other text about My Cousin Rachel (2017) (work, once in progress)











[…]







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

Saturday, 30 January 2016

I have to believe everything in order to make things up ~ Mick Boyle¹

This is a review of Youth (2015)

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


30 January (link substituted, 19 May)

This is a review of Youth (La giovinezza) (2015)

The film is dedicated to director Francesco Rosi (who died on 10 January 2015)


The list of key-words below had probably been noted before, in white capitals, the title Youth appeared [above a division of the screen, as if in a colour-field painting, comprising the colour of a low partition-wall, its rail, and the wall behind it], and then the sky, above an Alpine view (which, one estimates, was 10-15 minutes in – it was not quick, because, by the time that it arrived, one had forgotten not having seen the film’s name [the BBFC (@BBFC) certificate does not count]) :

* Light = use of, and our awareness of, light [Luca Bigazzi is Sorrentino's cinematographer again²]
* Fluidity, of the image, and how it changed with the camera’s movement
* Composition, i.e. of shots, and the Viewpoint from which they were taken
* Transition between shots
* Tactility, in that (as did its predecessor²) it has and conveys a keen sense of our physicality / our corporeality

All of these impressed one with the film’s quality, and the care of its making : as one expected², and hoped would be so.



Points of cinematic comparison are, sadly, not hard to find, even at this time of the year, i.e. despite what worth it might be reasonable to assume that nominations for awards recognize, whereas films Based on a true story seem sufficient unto themselves (as with Tim Burton's Big Eyes (2014), at this time last year), without speech, for example, seemingly needing to sound as if anyone might have uttered it :




* This paragraph contains Spoilers (if intending to watch Trumbo) *
The choice of film is not irrelevant (even if the relevance was in someone else’s mind, in devising the trailers to show) in that Youth (La giovinezza) (2015) has Harvey Keitel as a writer / director (Mick Boyle), whereas Trumbo (2015) purports to save us the trouble of finding out why Dalton Trumbo was not credited, say, with the screenplay for Roman Holiday (1953) (and it was only forty years later that the Academy Award for ‘Best Writing, Motion Picture Story’ was credited to him). (Whereas, in 2 hrs 4 mins, one could watch Roman Holiday instead, and, on IMDb (@IMDb), there is what seems a very full biography of Trumbo (it is staggeringly longer than usual), just for the reading.)



Youth most clearly does reference both (1963) and, more fleetingly, both The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), and even Metropolis (1927). However, director Paolo Sorrentino is not being derivative of Federico Fellini, Wes Anderson, Fritz Lang ; rather, he is showing us his reverence for these films and, albeit with playfulness, asking us to share his appreciation. (Likewise, Stardust Memories (1980) - which Sorrentino clearly values - is a massive tribute to European cinema, hardly least also to [Fellini is an acknowledged inspiration to Woody Allen and his work], but it sees those films / that film through another director’s eyes (but as if through the eyes of his character, Sandy Bates). (It is sad [dare one say, simplistic on their part ?] that contemporary critics and audiences, feeling insulted, insultingly mistook Sandy Bates, and his opinions, for Allen and his.))

When it comes to The Lobster (2015), a film that achieves far less, but with far more effort, the link between Lanthimos’ film and Sorrentino’s is, as well as in the type of location (and in a first film scripted in English), in the person of Rachel Weisz : here, Fred Ballinger’s (Michael Caine’s) daughter Lena ; there as a form of emotional outlaw, without a name (but, significantly, narrating the story, one has to feel - please see the next paragraph). (If the films were, more than superficially, so irremediably different, one might have asked in whose film Weisz seemed ‘a spy in the camp’ (for, according to Wikipedia® (citing dates in Cineuropa and ScreenDaily, respectively), principal photography for The Lobster ‘began on 24 March 2014, and concluded on 9 May 2014’, and that for Youth started in Flims, Switzerland, in May [also according to Wikipedia®].)


The true point of connection is in Rachel Weisz’s very distinctive voice and the rhythms of her way of speaking. Here, she makes a striking speech as to whose status, immediately afterwards, we are (or should be) uncertain : for, literally from the first visuals to the last (and not just when it is patent), this feeling of uncertainty is built into the fabric of the film - as with Allen in Stardust Memories (or, equally, with Deconstructing Harry (1997)), or Fellini, whom Allen had used as his model. It is suggested that, in The Lobster (as has been argued at the conclusion of the review on these pages), we ought to have been watching throughout with a view to what this use of the device of a voice-over actually signifies (and not just take it for granted). (Are we meant, say, to take that element simply as read in American Beauty (1999), or even Sunset Blvd. (1950)?)


Grand Hotel Waldhaus Flims

But the connection with where Sorrentino filmed proves to be a quite different one, in that Wikipedia® tells us that the primary location was the nineteenth-century five-star Grand Hotel Waldhaus Flims, but that filming also took place in Davos (in Switzlerland), particularly at The Hotel Schatzalp - where the novel Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) is set. That novel is is highly relevant to a setting in a spa (although its characters are more unwell, e.g. tuberculosis), but it is also a link with another novel by Thomas Mann, which one thereby sees confirmed as having been in Sorrentino’s mind, Dr Faustus (published in 1947, more than twenty years later). This later work is more allusive and, even though it is considerably shorter, its subject-matter makes it feel more dense : albeit an extreme one, Mann’s composer-character Adrian Leverkühn seems a perfect reference for a character-type such as Fred Ballinger’s (Michael Caine’s)³.



Having had a prominent piece at the opening of La grande bellezza, David Lang scored Youth, and, amongst his work (particularly ‘just’), we hear such musical touch-stones as, three or four times over, excerpts from Triste et lent (number 6 from Book I of Debussy’s Préludes [the occurrences are considered further in another posting), and the Berceuse from Stravinsky’s The Firebird, with their clear associations for those who know them. With other allusions, there is a set-piece, which is reminiscent of the ‘friendly’ and wholly ‘well-meant’ honesty of Arsinoé towards Célimène (and then vice versa) in Molière’s Le misanthrope (which has been described as a ‘a fencing-match’ (of sorts)), between Keitel and Jane Fonda⁴.


Of course, we know, on the surface, that there is a film within a film, and that, as with the scene with flamingos on the balcony (for example) in La grande bellezza, there is another dimension to reality. (In fact, there is more than one film, but Paul Dano, as Jimmy Tree (developing his film-character), amounts to a sub-plot (if a major one).) In the development of the main film (the relevance of whose title cannot be overlooked, but which is not stated within this review), with Harvey Keitel (Mick Boyle) and his collaborators, Boyle demonstrates, as an analogy for Time, how a telescope (depending on at which end one looks into it) can make objects look nearer or farther :

Does that second film not seem to zoom in on the first (in which Caine and Keitel exist, and the second film is a project), right in the closing shot⁵... ? [That question is now considered, at length, in another posting.]


End-notes

¹ When trying to recall the name of Harvey Keitel's character (a film-maker), one was not totally erroneously led to the name Frank Boyle...

² Having seen La grande bellezza (2013) three times [which it seems better to translate not as The Great Beauty, but as Immense Beauty] :



In Youth, we not only hear the line You understand everything with your hands, don’t you ? (spoken to a young masseuse [with whom we recurrently spend moments off duty]), but it also (as Albrecht Dürer or Godfrey Reggio may do in Visitors (2013), or some of the films that Youth references) reminds of the very tangible nature of our mortal form.

³ As does that of Daniel Auteuil’s Stéphane in Un Cœur en Hiver (1992).

* Contains spoilers ? * Finally appearing as Brenda Morel, after audaciously referred to for much screen-time – not unlike the very slow appearance of the film’s title, perhaps willing us to forget that Fonda is still absent ? (As Barry Norman once said about Henry Fonda, in The Hollywood Greats : Fonda made the heart grow absent.)

* Contains spoilers * After we have been put much in mind of the opening of Stardust Memories, with (again referencing ) what we initially see turning out to be in a screening-room - where the end of Sandy Bates’ film, much to his dismay, has been outrageously changed by the studio without his knowledge so that the characters all end up in Jazz Heaven...




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

Friday, 1 January 2016

Mont Blanc Sings The Blues

This is a review of Alps (Alpeis) (2011)

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


1 January

This is a review of Alps (Alpeis) (2011)

Not intending, in these first paragraphs, to tell the film, but indicate its significance, one can say that Alps (Alpeis) (2011) opens in the same place, and way, as it closes. Shortly afterwards, there are terrible, very specific threats made to the young gymnast whom we have seen performing (Ariane Labed*), if she ever doubts again her coach’s (Johnny Vekris’) judgement that she is not ready to dance to pop yet. It is an overt and watchful assertion of assumed power (which is not directly challenged, but through underground measures of a certain naivety** – please see below).

Perhaps not best characterized to ourselves, in naturalistic terms, as the clumsy attempt of the coach, as an egocentric and proud man, to deal with losing face by putting the other three present in fear of reprisals – the fact that they are out of all proportion is the given undercurrent to what happens in this film : the ever-present possibility that one might be found to be in disfavour is what gives an edge of almost Pinteresque proportions to much of the dialogue.

Shortly after confronting the gymnast, the coach puts forward the fatuous suggestion that all four of them should collectively be Alps, and invites the others to say which one they want to be. As well as dealing straight off with the question of the title, this moment is a microcosm, as one chooses Monte Rosa (they are well versed in mountains), and so on. Maybe more by luck than judgement, this leaves him to stake a claim to Mont Blanc, and dominate by his comments about its – and so his – status.

One emphasis in what is expected of them, as with training the body in gymnastics to perform seamless and exact sequences of movements, is on repetition, on getting the words (one’s part) right, otherwise menaces have been made that may be realized – they may not be hanging offences, but we perceive that they could be hanging upside-down offences. Or can one buck the trend or current by pretending to comply** ? That is what Angeliki Papoulia – a nurse and the main character of the four whom we follow*** - tries, and one thing that she succeeds in doing is by buying, apparently through sex, the agreement of the ambulance man (Aris Servetalis) that the young gymnast should be allowed to perform to pop.


The idea and practice of play-acting goes back long before recorded Time, with European examples in the tradition of the Feast of Fools (especially in France) and The Lord of Misrule (also Abbot or King) in late-mediaeval and early-Tudor England. For some, in a film such as [ ] Holy Motors (2012), play-acting is something new (and not, heavily reliant on dazzling with what is little more than make-up and prosthetics, a slender conceit on which a whole film desires to found itself), whereas Alps takes it in its stride, and does not try hanging a film on it.)

What form play-acting takes in the film will not be told, but, as we start with a gymnast, one could think mysteriously in terms of a sporting substitution in a team game. The how and why of that, and the significance of who the substitute is, are what the film revolves at its heart, as is the continuing disquiet that the workplace is another nexus of domination : in a way that suggests menace, we hear an enquiry about coffee-mugs, where it seems that something less everyday and innocent is actually being talked about. More effective than The Lobster, for its opacity and lasting registration in the memory, Alps challenges as the best of cinema, theatre and prose can.


End-notes

* She also appears in The Lobster (2015), which this film’s director, Yorgos Lanthimos, likewise co-wrote with Efthymis Filippou.

** Which The Lobster* makes an even larger part of its remit.

*** Although this blog’s review of The Lobster effectively suggests that we may be mistaken about the person whom we are following, there is the same principle there as to the point of view in the film’s being predominantly one person’s.





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

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Trying too hard to be strange ?

This is a review of The Lobster (2015) (seen at Saffron Screen)

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


13 November (quotation added, 26 December ; link to a new review added, 1 January)


This is a review of The Lobster (2015) (seen at Saffron Screen)



Director Yorgos Lanthimos (and his co-writer Efthymis Filippou) may tell us that they (intend to) subvert the notion of a film having a story with The Lobster (2015) – though they would hardly be the first, in the history of cinema, to set out to do so. Certainly, in the overlong first forty-five minutes*, they may set up a situation that is relatively internally coherent**, but it appears to be as a point of departure and contrast, and, until then, we could be frankly little less concerned or engaged with what is presented***.




In the original t.v. series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (with Arthur Pewty (Michael Palin) and his wife Deirdre (Carol Cleveland) visiting the marriage guidance counsellor (Eric Idle)), unexpectedly disinhibited behaviour was used to provoke both shock and laughter (partly through shock / embarrassment, partly through incongruity). However, it was never more than a sketch, to which an end – of sorts – was brought (after Pewty has challenged the counsellor and, being told to go away, just does so) : the script has the direction Arthur is then hit in the head with a chicken by a man in a suit of armour.

Fourteen years later, with The Meaning of Life (1983), one essentially has a loosely connected series of sketches (as The Pythons themselves describe it and its genesis in The Pythons' Autobiography By The Pythons (heard via the audio CDs of the interviews)). There, the topic is revisited, as a lesson on sex education to a class of boys abruptly changes gear and (again provoking hilarity, for the reasons given) becomes a practical demonstration of sexual technique****.



Into The Lobster, and - not for the first time - seemingly for no more than a gratuitous laugh (since the scene does not obviously have any bearing on what happens*****), Lanthimos brings this familiar conceit, and adopts it as the inappropriate behaviour of two so-called loners (Colin Farrell (David) and Rachel Weisz (Short-sighted Woman)). In the film’s initial locale (which proves not to be unique in this regard), it dealt with, amongst other things, punishments for what the regime has decided are crimes, and retribution was both swift and Dante-esquely fitted to the offence : in all of this, a curious acquiescence, and with scant notion of rebellion or refusal. (Later on, as will be explored further, there is no sign that anything is different in another place, with other just as arbitrary prohibitions, and painful practices to secure compliance.)



If Farrell and Weisz’s [characters] bizarrely behaving in company has a meaning (beyond a laugh), it is, if not lost, almost submerged. Their trying too hard to look a couple (was Seydoux also meant to be one, with Smiley ?) has now become excessive, but we never did know the conceit behind their needing to be in the company of Seydoux’s parents and play up their status : earlier on, with his flowery speech, Farrell’s character had over-acted (more laughter), but it did not seem to have counted against him, but won him congratulation (though, one must repeat, seemingly purposelessly – what was all this pretence for (other than as a clothes-horse for gags), and to show Farrell better at it than someone else confronted in a shopping-centre).



However, if we do believe the narration (and it is open to question whether we should – please see below), the draconian prohibitions seemed never to have meant anything to Weisz and Farrell (the ‘love story’ that the poster promises ?). Indeed, beyond another joke - albeit, this time, in passing - with the idea of a coded, private language, there actually seems so much freedom (and absence of surveillance or control) that we have scant evidence of needing the elaborate communicative subterfuges of which we are told in the narration (designed, by making Semaphore sound like child’s play, to amuse : as can be seen in this video-clip, linked from the web-site of rottentomatoes.com, @RottenTomatoes).



In fact, having lovers with their (actually or imagined) unseen ruses is no more unique as a subject of comedy than the Pythonesque excess (and it may actually be from another Python sketch, where the team ridicules romanticism – if not from Woody Allen (doing the same with Russian literature) in Love and Death (1975) ?). For The Telegraph (though seemingly only as an endorsement, not as any review that one can conventionally find), Robbie Collin calls the film ‘dizzyingly funny’, but one has to ask, if so, how much other humour he knows, for the first part of the film, when it is not setting out to shock (which it manages with some skill), is arguably not breaking new ground, but doing no more than stringing together largely unrelated satirical material.



Too much, and not all that interestingly, revolves [the wisdom / content of] adages and truisms such as Alone in a crowd, Love will find a way, Birds of a feather flock together, Two’s company, three’s a crowd, and the film actually spends a lot of its extended opening doing no more than exaggerating, in the form of a rigid hierarchy, how those who are not in a couple can be ostracized (often in ways no less cutting than here, if more subtle). (Although we largely leave this setting behind, there is a foray back, but it also serves no clear purpose : it confronts selected people with the truth, but, at best, this sequence really only seems designed to challenge ourselves, with our on-screen desire for blood and retribution [as Haneke does in Funny Games (1997)], and not to move anything on in structural terms.)

The Lobster is well-acted and thought-provoking. It works as a commentary on the way that society conditions its population to pair off and the stigma which surrounds single people.

As a point of reference in Lanthimos' films, and not, of course, to say that he (or his co-writer Filippou) has to do the same again, their last feature-film Alps (Alpeis) (2011) (of which a review is, as yet, still incomplete) also gives us the arbitrary assumption and use of power, at times to violent effect, in a reality that resembles ours, but yet is of its own kind. (As one reviewer of The Lobster remarks (Nick Pinkerton – please see below), the world we are introduced to looks very much like our own in the present day—specifically Ireland, where the film was shot.)

Alps works by duration and disturbingly, by playing out a few strands, principally through one central character. What governs those strands, though not incomprehensible on the level of agreed rules (if agreed under threat), defies being accepted or assimilated because of what it demands. There, Lanthimos achieves his aim without additional elements, baffling us not as to those rules per se, but as to what it implies about this world that things are as they are – again, a world recognizably ours, and so it makes us ask, in our disquiet, why it came to be that way.

[This words displayed above are from a review by Neil White (@everyfilmdteled) who, seemingly insufficiently content with the demands of being Editor of The Derby Telegraph (!), every year sets himself a challenge (largely given by his Twitter-name) : to review it for his blog, trying to watch every film released in the UK, and clocking up hundreds in the attempt. He seems to have surprised himself by now warming to Lanthimos…]



If artistry does come into this film, it does not consist in an ill-judged and repeated failure to resist the temptation to tell a gag (even in the service of superficially giving The Lobster commercial credentials ?), or even in the ‘unconventional love story’ that the poster wants to promote : that part of the story may be, in terms of the rules that are accepted to apply to forbid it, subversive or transgressive, but one can still effectively ask So what ?, because, despite the blatant reference in the first few minutes, we are not talking of those in the position of a Winston Smith or a Julia.

[As alluded to above, there is underground activity, but scarcely in the same way (since it seems centred more on survival ?), and with no real rationale that the screenplay cares to give. At the same time, an absurdist claim could, of course, be made : to show what one will to challenge perceived notions of reality / rationality… Then one is in the territory of Holy Motors (2012), which, however much it may reference cinematic history, for some has a fairly tenuous basis for what it does, and one which also – much more extensively and explicitly – seeks to include discrete and disparate episodes by means of a very modest (undeveloped ?) linking device.]

Though maybe – just maybe – The Lobster is doing something, and much more subtle, that is to do with what it means to use an authorial voice (of, one has to suggest, doubtful reliability therefore) ? Partly on account of the bipartite nature of the film, the narrator is unplaced for a very long while : during that time, and in a cursorily fleeting way, the voice tells us what the loners, as a category, do that means that they behave indistinguishably and as a group. (It is another gag, this time oral, and at the expense of those who listen to electronic music (though headphones), but the jibe comes, and it goes : except to recur as a visual joke, with people in one place, but dancing separately to what they are listening to, it expendably seems to lack rootedness in the fabric of the whole.)


As elsewhere – in a distinctively brittle, almost dry, manner – we were told this so matter-of-factly, so unemotionally, that we might have started wondering why any of this is being told at all (and whether whoever the narrator is pictures it to herself as a story that, maybe unwillingly, she believes). Indeed, just after the brief initial scene, and the shot of Farrell over his right shoulder (which very gently telescopes in on him), we hear this voice, telling us what ‘he’ did, and how he chose his brown shoes : only was there the suggestion, right from the off, that this was an adapted short story or novella ?

The Lobster uses that form, and sometimes the voice-over is very present – and not always adding, but, by over-interpreting or even unnecessarily stating what can be seen, it acts to interpose itself between us and the on-screen world, i.e. an alienation technique (Verfremdungseffekt). (Other reviewers have commented on the stiltedness of the characters' speech. [So, for example, Nick Pinkerton (please also see below) writes all of them deliver dialogue in much the same mannered, tin-eared cadence : unvaryingly measured, stilted in tone, unnervingly to-the-point, and devoid of any softening niceties.] However, if one regards those who are speaking as created by, or creatures of, the narrator, that quality is put in another context : it remains, as it ever is, meaningless to talk about 'what really happened', but here the film is well nigh brought into existence by the voice that tells it.)

At other times, though, it is quite absent, and it seems possible that the device may have been abandoned, yet not, for example, with what happened in The Transformation Room : let alone how what, in general terms, is supposed to have happened there took place, we are kept outside the door that we see Farrell go through. The voice's ignorance (of what went on), that of the unknown 'she', becomes ours – but, in the first place, we only know any of this by placing credence in what the voice tells us, and we might wish to reflect on the silence and the lapse of time with which the film concludes…

Of course, the deliberate allusion to Room 101 put one in mind of Nineteen Eighty-Four, but, along with thinking that we are in the dystopian genre***, it is probably a misdirection to see Orwell here any more than to make a connection that, in a way, is just as much there with Animal Farm.



For those in search of other thoughts :

* This review (from Nick Pinkerton, of Reverse Shot), from which there have been quotations above, may tell too much for those who have not yet seen the film, but is interesting...

* Peter Bradshaw, for The Guardian, has some good points to make, but lapses - in the third to the fifth paragraphs of his review - into telling us what happens, rather than why we should be watching. (As, for example, he did with a review of The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) (2013)).

* Finally, with the review by Demetrios Matheou (The Arts Desk), we have to bear with his worryingly getting his facts wrong (such as calling Farrell’s character John (not David), and saying that he has been widowed), but it is worth a read.



End-notes

* Except on the level that the film creates a desire, for this scenario in the screenplay not to continue as it is, which is then sated – even if we scarcely welcome what takes its place, or how that resolves…

** By contrast, those who have read in David Eagleman’s small collection Sum : Tales from the Afterlives will know the superlative concision and exactness with which he conceives of numerous different futures.

*** People who only choose to look at the world within the film as dystopian are thereby easily failing to credit that elements of it, at least, operate not only on the level of satire, but also of allegory : does calling this filmed world a dystopia, by imagining it as a possible future, thereby miss its applicability, as a deliberate distortion, to our present social norms, practices and trends (such as our expectations of couples, or of single people, and how they may tend to stay with their own kind) ?

**** Other examples surely abound, but Hale and Pace (not a little obsessed with a stereotypically sexual portrayal of Sweden) could not resist confronting a British couple with a Swedish one, being unnecessarily frank.

***** * Contains spoilers * If it is what did change anything (and not what, nearer the relevant time, we hear read aloud), we never have any idea, in all honesty, whether there is an ultimate and licensed aim that their Leader (Léa Seydoux), at whose instigation they are acting, when she, they and one other loner (Michael Smiley) make it The City for short periods, pretending that they belong there.




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