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Showing posts with label Tilda Swinton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tilda Swinton. Show all posts

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

John Berger ~ Always much more than the author of Ways of Seeing*

This is a response to The Seasons in Quincy : Four Portraits of John Berger (2016)

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

18 July

This is a response to The Seasons in Quincy : Four Portraits of John Berger (2016)

End-notes :

* Yet, at the same time, we see how much of him - and of his work - rightly came from properly seeing : to encompass 'listening', 'creating', 'being'...

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

Monday, 14 July 2014

You need a Grand Budapest sticker to go abroad...

This is a follow-up piece to a review of The Grand Budapest Hotel (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)

14 July

Isn't he superb, @WaterbabyFlower @Saffronscreen ! My second time, but his own timing is grand, and Anderson's script / detail nigh perfect

This follow-up piece to a review of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) was written on watching it again at Saffron Screen (@SaffronScreen) : it is less in the nature of a second review, than a rumination on the film's themes and ultimate import

That deft substitution, of a clean ashtray for a dirty one, is only a moment, but it says what's at the heart of The Grand Budapest Hotel ->

The ashtray is mentioned because, at the bottom of the fresh ashtray, we see – which were effaced by butts, ash, soot* (if only as temporary deposits) in the dirty one – the essentials of The Grand Budapest Hotel : the crest, and the ‘GB’ within its swirls, its initials.

-> That moment and when GustaveH. trivializes Zero as a migrant, before realizing what he fled as a refugee and apologizing in remorse / GB

Throughout the film, we are reminded that Gustave H. (personified by the words, manner and decorum of Ralph Fiennes – abruptly swearing like a trooper, but with a heart and caring attitude of gold) is a creature of the past, a man who wants to preserve the things that not only matter to him, but which he also believes do (or, at any rate, should) matter in absolute terms**. Yet, as he travels both to, and back from, Schloß Lutz with Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), he realizes that the future is coming, and, rather than intending to keep the utterly fictitious*** Boy with Apple for the rest of his life (as he first states), he quickly revises his plan to have them sell it and run away to The Maltese Riviera.

Gustave H. offers a share in this to Zero, who tries to haggle before they agree on a deal, which (as an element in Anderson’s mockery of legality during the film****), he dictates to Zero, as if something noted on the back of a cocktail menu suffices for a binding contract – as such a man of his word might, if only to safeguard the interests of the other party (who need only, if memory fails, produce the memorandum of agreement (as, with good reason, such a document is called)).

The deal is to include inheriting from Gustave H., but it is only later – at the other crucial Tweeted moment – that they come to see each other as brothers. More interestingly still, they become equals, with Gustave deferring to Zero with his proposal to escape on the motorbike (just after Zero has saved his life), for which the trigger was Gustave’s heartfelt remorse, having realized how he has maligned Zero by imagining insulting reasons for his originally leaving his homeland. (And, if we are honest, we have all allowed ourselves, through disappointment, envy and the like, to judge wrongly by appearances – we trusted that we know the story from what we [thought that we] saw, only to be proved quite wrong.) :

The second time, near the end of our nest of stories, that Gustave sticks up for Zero, there is a different feel to the confrontation that we see. Which is not just because the ZZ militia are menacing*****, on whose black uniform Gustave commented unfavourably just before (and which we can easily construe as the SS, with the formerly independent Zubrowka (the brand-name of a Polish vodka), maybe masquerading for The Sudetenland, if not more likely for Austro-Hungary, hence Budapest ? – there is further consideration, below, in an Epilogue).

The two other elements in this scene, which are intimately related to each other, are how close our awareness is of the point of view of the narrator, older Zero (having dinner with the younger Author (Jude Law)), which is on the surface of the story at around this point, and also the much greater esteem in which Zero, travelling with his bride Agatha, is held by Gustave, and vice versa (as long as Gustave does not flirt with Agatha !). Gustave is no longer instinctively protecting Zero as a lobby-boy (in training), but altogether as a friend, brother, and former refugee from violence (and we maybe sense that Gustave himself could be the last of these, too).

We know quite clearly that Gustave has his foibles, such as self-interestedly courting and bedding the wealthy female guests, but it is humanity, and his charming mix of naivety and streetwise cunning, that shines through. Right at the outset, with just baldly calling Author the person through whose words and eyes, as Tom Wilkinson (and then Jude Law), Wes Anderson wildly abstracts the story, he challenges us as to whether we are going to believe all this.

Of course, by the end, Gustave and the whole cast is indelible (with Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and others taking star turns), even if refracted through Zero, and through him as he ages, and what (according to older Author) older Zero then tells younger Author – of course, none of this ever happened (as we may sense with Stefan Zweig’s writings), but it feels as though it could have done, on some level - where Mendl’s is a make of cake (apparently, the principal confection is a Courtesan au Chocolat).

Is the film just Andersonian entertainment, or is it saying more to us amongst the sight-gags (such as that cheeky Schiele painting, or the rib-tickling skiing / sledding sequence) ? As with Moonrise Kingdom (2012), there are patent depths amongst the humour – the pairs of young lovers have the same frank awkwardness (e.g. Zero giving Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) the gift, in which we have another ‘Z’, with his having dedicated it ‘From Z to A’), which in no way detracts from their love, but the sense of doom that is in the earlier film (and lifts (somewhat)) only enters in earnest with the ZZ. At the same time, the trigger-happy firefight with the ZZ set off by Dmitri (Adrien Brody) reminds of easy-spirited boneheaded moments in films such as Westerns from the 1960s, or skits on them by the likes of Mel Brooks or Woody Allen (all looking back to the era of The Keystone Cops / Kops), and is part of making this grand hotel seem utterly real (with that shot of the glass ceiling, amazingly unscathed by gunfire !).

The hotel, though, and the other-worldly, old-fashioned decency and good manners of its concierge, what about them… ? When older Zero says, effectively, that Gustave had been, even then, fighting a rear-guard action for such principles, are we not reminded a little by the initials GB in that ashtray of our own Great Britain ? Billy Bragg, on the album England, Half English (especially in the song ‘Take Down The Union Jack’), certainly wants to pose questions about the ‘greatness’ of Britain (and such honours as Orders of the British Empire), but is it possible that Anderson is being as political with this film – that his ‘bloody immigrant’, as Gustave first really sees Zero, is our refugee, our asylum-seeker, condemned for years by an element of the British press, and mocked along with human rights ?

Well, Anderson’s non-specific / generic ‘Author’ is British, and his younger self, at the end (and as if ashamed of himself, and how he came by the basis for writing a book called The Grand Budapest Hotel, which we see at the beginning with the Author's young fan), relates how he did not ever see Zero again (after nerving himself to ask, through curiosity, what he thinks an impolite question, just before M. Moustafa and he part that night), and how he continued ‘his cure’ for a long time elsewhere in the world – whereupon the layers of narration promptly unwind again.

Put crudely, he came to this hotel that smacks of The Eastern Bloc, and, having what he wants (and which gets a statue erected to him in due course, and admiring hotel-key-bearing fans), casually absents himself : at times, M. Moustafa feels as though he has told too much, whereas, for young Author, it is the standard British mode (more so perhaps in that era than now) of getting away from feelings that are ‘near the knuckle’ by just suddenly closing down.

Anderson would hardly be the first writer / director to get our attention on issues such as what makes a refugee by setting the film / play / novel somewhere else : we see it in Ken Loach / Paul Laverty’s Jimmy’s Hall (2014), just as we did in the former’s Land and Freedom (1995) (collaborating with screenwriter Jim Allen), and we equally see it in Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, tackling in Philomena (2013) issues that are not unique to that time or that Irish setting. (It is perhaps, there, too easy to get riled and identify with the fictionalized reactions of Steve Coogan as Sixsmith, whereas the film, as The Railway Man (2013) also desires, seeks for us to identify with the response that Philomena, and Eric Lomax, find within them.)

But, of course, the fantastic Fiennes is overflowing with lusciously camp aristocratic British manners, but breaking into hilarious coarseness when he cannot quite see the point of maintaining the illusion : Anderson’s gives him, and us, hope in The Order of The Cross Keys, which embraces everyone, and is a lifeline that feeds both the plot (with the elaborate arrangements to meet doomed Serge (Mathieu Amalric – an actor with a perpetual look of surprise)), and restores Gustave’s bonhomie, aided by puffs of his precious Air de Panache (the joke / clue is in the name) – as he said to Zero at the sewage-exit and with mortified self-disgust, I smell ! (and Zero, with a sniff, concurs).

Perhaps an appeal to the fair-mindedness that once mattered about being British. For, in this film, if Gustave had not saved Zero, Zero could not, in return, have saved him – and been around to tell the tale… In Gustave H., and despite the brilliant humour and wonderful high jinks, cannot Anderson be seen to be asking the British (amongst others) a question ? :

Gustave, in his decency and striving to put people at his ease, embodies a notion of Britishness that, if not gone already, is soon to disappear – are we happy to lose it, if we do not look beyond our stereotypes of immigrants, and our ostrich-like (it-is-not-my-business) failure to stand up for our fellow human-beings when we can (as we also see exemplified in Loach and Laverty’s portrayal of the real-life Jimmy Gralton…) ?


Finally, it is mentioned above that Zubrowka, which is clearly stated to be an independent republic (so there is an act of war by the invading ZZ forces), shares its name with that of a brand of Polish vodka.

Here, Anderson is certainly playing with us, just as he is by ending with a grand sequence for balalaika orchestra over the closing credits (he usually dispenses with opening ones) – which suggests, despite all the Germanic names, that maybe we are further into Eastern Europe – and likewise by having Vivaldi transposed for mandolins as a stately musical accompaniment to when we are ‘getting to know’ the GB.

To close, here are some hints at what is recollected of a few other ways in which Anderson has laid little jokes or clues (beyond such running jokes as Gustave quite casually saying Uh-huh every time that he is asked if he is who he is, until he finally and superbly loses his rag and magnificently swears in exasperation !) :

* The resort where the GB is appears to be called Nebelstadt, which crudely translates as Fogtown – we see the fog at the observatory, and earlier when the stag-statue is introduced with the first sight of the hotel's façade

* Why are we stopping by a barley-field ?, asks Gustave on the train to Lutz (also called fucking Lutz) : which begs the question how, when the ground is covered with snow, Gustave knows what sort of field it is, or calls it that :

Well, die Gerste is German for ‘barley’, so a field might be Gerstenfeld – or, as der Acker also means ‘field’ (our word 'acre', plural die Äcker), one might be reminded of Gerstäcker, a character who is part of K.’s maddening experience in Kafka’s unfinished novel Das Schloß (The Castle - a link here for those to whom it is unfamiliar, despite Michael Haneke’s excellent film), as well as the fascinating life of Friedrich Gerstäcker, one-time proprietor of a hotel in Louisiana during his first travels in the States.

* Made by Mendl’s, though Gustave has little time for Mendl himself, we see a confection that is at the root of much gleeful mischief, as cakes bribe Agatha’s - then Zero and Gustave’s - way into anything (despite an iron-heeled regime, whose forces just end up shooting at each other), and also provide the way out of confinement, too, as well as being a soft landing for Agatha and Zero (just as, in Moonrise, Suzy and Sam are faced with plummeting, but spared) :

The friar Gregor Mendel is the most famous bearer of the name, as the man who experimented with pea plants and discovered something about inheritance between different generations – the contraction to Mendl is a habit of alpine regions (amongst other places), and so the name itself appears to be a diminutive of die Mandel, meaning ‘almond’ (a significant ingredient in marzipan, of course)

* We go to a Schloß, Schloß Lutz, where Gustave pays his respects to an Anderson regular in Tilda Swinton (the embodiment of the functional and largely soulless Social Services in Moonrise, pushing papers, etc., and just doing a job) :

The jokes at the coffin (and on the train to Lutz) aside, Swinton is splendid as this 84-year-old with zest – maybe that name Lutz reminds us, deep down of the jump in figure-skating of that name, and thus prepares us for the snowy antics / acrobatics to come (as we are unlikely to see it as a short-form of Ludwig, with the connection to Ludwig of Bavaria’s fairytale Rhineland castles, of which the GB is, of course, reminiscent) ?

* Last, we have Gabelmeister's Peak, which translates as Forkmaster's, since the place-setting in German is das Messer (knife), die Gabel (fork), and der Löffel (spoon) (one of each gender)

As if all that were not enough, there is an interesting piece about the film's locations from The National Geographic...


* As we know, through having seen it, crushing the cigarette to extinguish it produces the former, and with it, that sooty residue, unlike true grey ash.

** A film such as The Way Way Back (2013), through Sam Rockwell as the attractive Owen, shows a similarly encouraging father-figure to a slightly younger equivalent of Zero in Duncan (Liam James). Or The Book Thief (2013) has Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) as a new, kind father to the very much younger Liesel (Sophie Nélisse). (One could go on and on, with ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) in The Color of Money (1986), or Pacino as Lt Col. Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman (1992), etc.)

*** Model and artist are named (separately), as those who stay to read credits – and therefore see and hear the balalaikas (one with a boar within a boar, another people by chimneys of industry) – will know… This state of affairs is quite as we would expect of an Anderson film, and of this world, because of what he created in and for Moonrise Kingdom (2012), but employing the just as real Noye’s Fludde (Benjamin Britten, Op. 59) (and many other Britten works), alongside (as here) a score by Alexandre Desplat : the Wikipedia® entry for the film says more about why Britten is important to Anderson...

**** Both in the person of Jeff Goldblum as Deputy Kovacs, with the attempts that makes to get Dmitri (Adrien Brody) to come to heel (the second of which is more costly), and when, for example, Gustave insists on interviewing not only Zero (a sly little echo of Beckettt’s Endgame with all those zeroes ?), but also Agatha - or when he tries to tell the same thuggish Dmitri that the legal nicety is that his mother’s house is not his until after probate.

***** This, though, without the physical brutality – and the first pair of bloody noses – of the earlier encounter with authority (until Henckels, played by Edward Norton, intervenes, which he does on Gustave’s customary personal level of grace, courtesy, and gratitude).

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

Sunday, 6 April 2014

I always wished I was an orphan [Suzy] ~ I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about [Sam]

This is a review of Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

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

5 April

This is a review of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) - sweet, but not saccharine

* Contains small spoilers *

It is not until the very end of the film – and then it is not really an explanation – that its title makes an appearance, as a description of a place where things seemed to be very sweet. (Moonrise Kingdom (2012) has a suitably quirky web-site, which may say more.) Except that life was going to catch up with the idea that it conjures up, that of getting away from it. For, as twelve-year-old Sam (Jared Gilman) confidently says to Suzy (Kara Hayward) (and, by now, we know that he paints) :

That sounds like poetry. Poems don't always have to rhyme, you know. They're just supposed to be creative.

Bob Balaban (familiar from a recent repeat viewing of Deconstructing Harry (1997), where he plays Richard) is credited as The Narrator. Garishly, even gnomishly dressed, he is perkily moved, by magic as a static figure, from scene to scene to paint the backdrop to what we will see in the course of the following three days : from his measurements (for his narration is an omniscient one, and – without the grandiosity, but with assurance – reminds of Hamm telling his story in Beckettt’s play Endgame), he makes us aware of what is to come. Nonetheless, it is a sort of surprise.

With Suzy and Sam, their secret correspondence and their desire to get away together illicitly, we may feel that the film is operating on one level : there are gentle ways in which they seem to be more adult than the adults (say, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as the Bishops, Suzy’s parents), so Sam has a pipe and that Heath Robinsonesque flair for designing mechanisms that we see featured in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), and Suzy is dressing to impress*, and hurt by the booklet that she has discovered her parents have, called ‘Coping With the Very Troubled Child’.

Yet the climax takes us beyond all these small things to the big question of what life is all about. Mr and Mrs Bishop, for example, think that it is a matter of asking how the other’s litigation went, but their formal manner shows that it is a duty to remember the detail and ask, by contrast with the commitment that Suzy and Sam have to each other. Their letters to each other may have been oddly matter of fact and have made us laugh or smile, but this belies the connection that they have made.

When we first saw where The Bishops lived, it was in elevation, but one that proved to be a decoration for one of the walls of their precise abode, a bit like a castle, as Wes Anderson has us scan it up and down and through, seeing, say, Mr Bishop both upstairs relaxing and downstairs about something less passive – however, it has an unreality to it, as fully as if it were Wemmick’s Castle in Great Expectations, or Kafka’s The Castle, a quality that it shares with The Grand Budapest.

Engaging both with Benjamin Britten’s music in a very impressive way, and also having the film scored by collaborator on Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Alexandre Desplat**, Anderson creates a scope for this film, building on the story and imagery of Noye’s Fludde (Britten’s Op. 59), that transcends its particulars. It feels, early on, a bit like a fable, and looks less like a cartoon than Budapest, but it has the impact of a Biblical account like that of The Flood :

The Khaki Scouts flee to St Jack’s Church, because it is high ground (smacks of Father Ted, as a feature that Anderson has given to New Penzance Island ?), which aptly seems to be where Sam first saw Suzy and talked to her – in the organ loft, two figures amongst those with masks are momentarily there, then gone. What unfolds is a stand-off, which provokes an offer from Captain Sharp (of the police, played by Bruce Willis in a fairly unaccustomed subdued style of role (Looper (2012) ?) that pacifies the embodiment of Social Services in Tilda Swinton***, complete with a stamp to certify that she has done her duty.

Setting the film in late September 1965 allows Anderson to take a sideswipe, from the seeming perspective of history, at the forces that would normalize (or, conversely, pathologize****) everyone and, if deemed necessary, do so with uncaring foster homes, and highly invasive treatment for those who do not fit in, and focus our attention on the couple.

Suzy, in Noye’s Fludde, is a raven, the first creature let out of the ark (Genesis 8 : 6–7), and probably usually forgotten because of the dove with that olive token. Suzy says of herself to Sam I like stories with magic powers in them. Either in kingdoms on Earth or on foreign planets. Usually I prefer a girl hero, but not always. Though the books that we see are fictitious (artists are credited with the cover images), and within a fictitious story in a fictitious place, Sam and she still have a lot to share with us in a film well worth watching more than once.


* One is put in mind a little of the appearance and delivery of Emma Watson (as Nicki) in The Bling Ring (2013) (or one of the more feminine girls in Foxfire (2012).

** Who has scored some significant films, from Budapest to Philomena (2013), Marius (2013) and Fanny (2013) to Argo (2012).

*** It seems a little hard to credit that IMDb is right that Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons were considered first for the role (and offered the part)…

**** At the same time, the rise in diagnosis of – and shockingly adult treatments for – ADHD (see, for example, Benny in Bombay Beach (2011)), and the sizeable recent controversy in the UK about the classifications in DSM-V, the latest (fifth) edition of the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual suggests Plus ça change

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

Monday, 3 March 2014

My lobby boy !

This is a review of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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

3 March

This is a review of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

One of the few films that not only understands the difference between an immigrant and a refugee, but will make you laugh, about it – and much else :

Maybe one should not be surprised, but Fiennes (Gustave H.) brings such poise to this role that we happily accept all the absurdity, and embrace this ludicrous confection of an edifice (of the striking pinkness of a battenberg), with all its bygone airs and attitudes, themselves a passing metaphor for life. Set in some fictitious mountainous region with insistent balalaikas, but place-names in German, the film frolics through the confusion arising from the death of a regular guest – I sleep with all my friends, says Gustave H. disarmingly (though to his cost) at the assembly of the relatives hearing her last wishes.

The old saying goes Where there’s a will, there are relatives, and many a Bond villain had less of a henchman than the deceased’s (Tilda Swinton’s, as Madame D.) offspring do in Willem Dafoe (Jopling), who casually throws the executor attorney Deputy Kovacs’ (Jeff Goldblum’s) prized possession out of the window (he, like Llewyn Davis, even likes to travel with it). The name of her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) keeps up this tenuous Russian connection, but avoiding much imputation that his real wickedness is any more than heightened avarice, since real misdeeds are always best delegated.

The film is a romp, with, amongst other things, a deliberately over-complicated series of frames*, a series of sight-gags (for example, the old one of knocking on a huge door, and a small door opens), and crisply composed shots of alpine-type absurdities** (such as lifts and gantries that allow one access to a statue of a stag rampant). With many big names taking cameos, and a carefully crafted script, the film soars because of how Fiennes embodies Gustave H. and has comic timing that many on the stand-up circuit would die for :

F. Murray Abraham and Jude Law in their capacities* do the job, but the sheer lightness and deftness of touch of Fiennes is matchless. Of course, they are foils for him, as Tony Revolori is as young Zero (though not without his own visual expressiveness, and the running joke of telling Fiennes to stop flirting with his fiancée), but that in no way detracts from his achievement here, for the film would fall flat without the ebullience, charm and flair of Gustave H. The comparison is inexact, but imagine Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) without the bubbliness of Julie Andrews…


* Tom Wilkinson is a revered writer (credited as Author), with a bizarre monument seen visited by a woman with a copy of his Hotel book (no author’s name on it), whose younger self (Jude Law as Young Writer) stays at the hotel and talks to and hears the story of the older Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham), whose younger self (Tony Revolori) is a lobby boy at the hotel, in training under Fiennes.

** Ralph Fiennes, in the Q&A for The Invisible Woman, described himself as ‘obsessive’ – in this world that Wes Anderson has created, the attention to detail is minute.

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