Desde alla

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Desde alla

Directed by Lorenzo Vigas

Venezuela, 2015

HOME, 20 April 2016

Desde alla

This dark film has at its centre a relationship between an older man and a younger one, who is a sort of sensitive street punk.

It is an edgy, fraught relationship: callous, needy, sadomasochistic, on one side increasingly passionate. The two men are mismatched and it is not clear who is using who, or indeed whether love might blossom from out of this arid soil. Breaking through the barrier that prevents intimacy seems to require an act of violence – and it comes soon enough. There is something of the flavour of the fiction of Genet, Mishima and Goytisolo to this very dark and fascinating film.

A study of trust and intimacy and the inability to love.

Dheepan

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Dheepan

Directed by Jacques Audiard

France, 2015

HOME, 13 April 2016

Dheepan

Dheepan, a Tamil Tiger, seeks asylum in France with a fabricated family – wife and daughter – and finds gang warfare and violence there too.

The woman posing as his wife wants to go to Britain and Dheepan watches the BBC to get news of Sri Lanka. That’s interesting, as is the way Britain is depicted at the close: it is a peaceful country, a calm paradise. Also interesting is the absence within the film of any kind of an asylum camp in France, either the Jungle at Calais or the camps that preceded it. It is almost as though the film was made to deliver a message to migrants: Apply for asylum in France, get an EU passport, then go to Britain if you want. Don’t go to a makeshift asylum camp and attempt to enter Britain illegally.

This is a very fine, closely observed drama. The growing intimacy between Dheepan and his ‘family’ is deftly done but what I particularly admired was the way Audiard showed the ‘otherness’ of France as it must surely appear to (some) migrants’ eyes. It put me in mind of Clifford Geertz’s magnificent statement:

To see ourselves as others see us can be eye-opening. To see others as sharing a nature with ourselves is the merest decency. But it is from the far more difficult achievement of seeing ourselves amongst others, as a local example of the forms human life has locally taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds, that the largeness of mind, without which objectivity is self-congratulation and tolerance a sham, comes.

 

 

 

Victoria

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Victoria

Directed by Sebastian Schipper

Germany, 2015

HOME, 5 April 2016

Victoria

A young woman, a Spanish pianist, hooks up with a quartet of hoodlums – blood brothers, like in Haffner’s classic novel of that name – one night in Berlin.

When one of these hoodlums – a birthday boy who has had too much to drink – passes out, they persuade her to come along to drive their car while they do ‘this thing’. The ‘thing’ in question being, as it turns out, a bank robbery. After that, some big fallout follows.

I enjoyed this film very much. It seems meandering but actually sets a fair propulsive pace. Accident and happenstance engender seeming accident and happenstance, but it’s all been worked out in advance. There are echoes of Godard’s A bout de souffle towards the close. Laia Costa in the title role is excellent: an intrepid ingenue. And Frederick Lau as Sonne, one of hoodlums, has all the charm of a young Brandauer – as the writer and director Sebastian Schipper, at least, must have realised: Victoria plays the Mephisto Waltz for him in one scene.

You see the outskirts of the Tiergarten dimly through a car window but it is not actually a Berlin travelogue.

Ran

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Ran

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Japan, 1985

HOME, 7 April 2016

Ran

Kurosawa’s free adaptation of King Lear is in essence an antiwar film.

There is a montage of images of death following a virulent castle siege that almost stops your heart. You think of Bosch and Grunewald. A few times the Lear figure (here a Japanese warlord, played by Tatsuya Nakadai) lifts his eyes to the sky: terror can come from the air as well, as Kurosawa and we well know.

The men (Lear has sons not daughters in this adaptation) are weak and the woman (the Edmund figure, here reminiscent of Lady Macbeth) is fiendishly strong – Mieko Harada gives a fierce performance.

It is an epic, yes, and Kurosawa the storyteller commands your attention. Yet each scene is a poem.

Ran apparently translates as ‘Chaos’; it is an apt title.

King Lear @ the Royal Exchange Theatre

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King Lear

By William Shakespeare

Talawa

Royal Exchange Theatre, 6 April 2016

Don Warrington as King Lear. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

Don Warrington as King Lear. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

At the end of this absorbing, top-notch production of the great classic tragedy, you hardly realise that well-nigh four hours have passed.

You do realise, however, that this is a drama not so much about old age or madness or majesty as about the relations between the generations, Gloucester and his sons as much as Lear and his daughters, and the preservation of what one might call the human project (society, culture, whatever), what Edmund Burke writing in a later age would call the partnership between ‘those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born’.

Burke goes on to describe what happens when this partnership (‘the great primaeval contract of eternal society’) is broken:

Nature is disobeyed, and the rebellious are outlawed, cast forth, and exiled, from this world of reason, and order, and peace, and virtue, and fruitful penitence, into the antagonist world of madness, discord, vice, confusion, and unavailing sorrow.

And that’s a fair summary of what happens in King Lear – though Burke was actually reflecting on the consequences of the French Revolution.

This excellent production has light and shade, pace and pathos, even blood and gore – as when Gloucester is blinded: a reminder that Uncle Will could do the nasty stuff as well as young John Webster. Don Warrington pulls off the title role with majesty and Fraser Ayres as the bastard Edmund also stood out among a very fine cast.

King Lear is showing at the Royal Exchange until 7 May, further details can be found here.

 

Disorder

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Disorder

Directed by Alice Winocour

Belgium, 2015

HOME, 30 March 2016

Disorder

This fine French film – a tense, stylish thriller – is perhaps best seen as the cinematic equivalent of one of those wonderfully terse Dominique Manotti novels.

It has Matthias Schoenaerts as Vincent, a soldier in between tours of Afghanistan, who takes a security gig protecting the wife and child of a dodgy arms dealer. At the start, we are given to understand that he may be damaged goods – the army might well not want him back – and in his security role he responds to threats that might be more apparent than real. Being at war, that is his constant state of mind, and it places a distance between him and other people. He is an hyper-attentive, ever vigilant guardian.

Gesaffelstein’s score is highly effective in conveying Vincent’s state of mind and well worth seeking out. It’s a suite of discordant, atmospheric, electronic music, very classy. There’s something of Sliver about the film and a neat, subtle homage to Blow-Up. So you can enjoy the filmic literacy of the director. On a deep level, mind, Discord is about the unbridgeable distance between any two people. This distance may arise from the experience of violence and threat, or for other reasons.

Hitler

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Hitler: Volume I: Ascent 1889-1939

By Volker Ullrich

Translated by Jefferson Chase

Bodley Head, 2016

ISBN: 9781847922854

Hitler

It could all have been very different.

If he had been accepted into the Austrian Academy of Fine Arts – and Hitler did pass the first round of the entrance exam when he first applied in September 1907, so he was not without artistic talent – or if he had gone to see the great Alfred Roller, then a professor at the Academy of Applied Arts, with a portfolio of his work some months later. Roller had extended the invitation in February 1908 but Hitler never took him up on it. Too shy, he said later. Yet if Hitller had gone he may have become an artist and then, who knows…

This nuanced, well researched and often reflective biography follows closely upon the heels of Peter Longerich’s books about Himmler and Goebbels and a new scholarly edition of Mein Kampf. Apparently, there is renewed interest in what the Nazis did and thought, and this is perhaps because our world, as Timothy Snyder notes in Black Earth, is becoming more like theirs.

Some people, probably most, will take the view that Hitler was simply an evil monster, his wretched life and perverted world view noxious and of absolutely no interest. No sympathy for this devil. Yet he was, to state the obvious, an actual living human being: he liked music (Wagner especially, though not exclusively), films and cakes. He was fond of dogs and loyal to his comrades. And he had not only followers, but people who loved and admired him. Ullrich has a chapter entitled ‘Hitler as a Human Being’ just to remind us of these facts. The man was also popular for a long period with the German people; he was in touch with his age.

That the Great War, a confict where he served dutifully, formed him, there can be no doubt; so too Germany’s defeat (wholly unexpected to Hitler as to many of his contemporaries) and the humiliation of Versailles and the rise of communism within Germany, particularly in Bavaria, after the war. It was there in Bavaria that he met a man who was to be a key influence: Alfred Rosenberg. Rosenberg believed that the formation and rise of the Soviet Union was part of a global Jewish conspiracy (the so-called ‘Judeo-Bolshevik myth’), a notion known to Hitler from his reading of other writers, notably the American tycoon Henry Ford. Hitler’s world view and political programme – to remove the Jews from public life in Germany (to purify the Volksgemeinschaft)and to colonise Eastern Europe – was crystallised in Munich in the 1920s. In all this, there is one thing you have to give Hitler credit for: he was quite open and frank about his intentions from the start. And he was consistent and diabolically effective in following through on them, as we know.

We pretty much end the book with the Munich Agreement, a momentary relief after the violence and tyranny of the Night of the Long Knives, the Nuremberg laws and Kristallnacht. The usual tack to take with the Munich Agreement is to comment that Chamberlain was duped and that appeasement never works with dictators: true enough, no doubt. But Ullrich makes a different and a more telling observation, which is that the German people around this time would enthusiastically applaud Chamberlain for his diplomacy wherever he went (so they were clearly duped as well), an occurrence that caused Hitler to become depressed and downhearted. And you can understand why. They want peace these people, you can imagine him thinking, and he wants them to wage a racial war. That’s why he has been rearming Germany throughout his rule. Will they be up to the task?

As we know, worse, much worse, is to come.

The publisher’s description of the book can be seen here.

 

High-Rise

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High-Rise

Directed by Ben Wheatley

UK, 2015

HOME, 23 March 2016

High-Rise

It is an allegory, kind of, of pre-Thatcherite Britain: the toffs at the top of the tower block, the plebs at the bottom.

He moves in, this fellow called Laing (Tom Hiddleston, James Bond-elect), his name an allusion no doubt to the cult psychiatrist, and he tries to move up, but social mobility is as dodgy as the power supply and the rubbish disposal system. (Don’t block the chute!) This is the winter of discontent.

Anyway, there is a suspicious death and various social machinations and it is all very dark and dystopian and disenchanted.

Why make this film now, you may well ask, unless it looks forward as well as back? Indeed, the film seems to paint the future for Britain should we leave the EU, as some establishment figure will no doubt pipe up and pronounce shortly. And it proffers the same advice as the now  little read and sadly under appreciated Hillaire Belloc:

…Always keep ahold of nurse

For fear of finding something worse.

High-Rise is a very good film.

The Atrocity Exhibition

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The Atrocity Exhibition

Directed by Jonathan Weiss

USA, 2000

HOME, 25 March 2016

The Atrocity Exhibition

There is a lot to take in in this really quite decent adaptation of Ballard’s provocative and challenging novel.

Yet even to attempt to make a film of it is laudable; and at the end of the film you come away with a renewed appreciation of the novelist as poete maudit.

In The Atrocity Exhibition we can see the influence of Sade and Jarry, the kinship with the Vienna Actionists (during the film I thought more than once of the video exhibition My Body Is the Event, which I saw at MUMOK last summer) and a determination to engage with the horrors of the modern world. For Ballard this meant Hiroshima, Napalm and the assassination of President Kennedy, while we have our own myriad atrocities to call upon.

We always live in a state of apocalypse.

King Jack

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King Jack

Directed by Felix Thompson

USA, 2015

HOME, 2 March 2016

King Jack

One way to approach King Jack is to view at it as an edgy, raw reworking of Stand by Me.

There is Jack (Charlie Plummer), a troubled adolescent who lives with his mother and elder brother, the father dead. Their vexed family is joined by a cousin, Ben (Cory Nichols), whose mother is ailing. We follow Jack and Ben’s fractious bonding.

It has a luminous immediacy, this excellent film. Violence erupts on screen a fair few times but – as threat, as possibility – it is in truth always present. Violence is social currency in this world. Incidentally, some allusion to Deliverance is in here as well.

This is better, way superior fare than most such coming-of-age films.

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