4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

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4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Directed by Cristian Mungiu

Romania, 2007

HOME, 22 March 2017

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

It is grim in the East.

There are all these concrete blocks, a burgeoning Brutalism gone feral, there is darkness and rain. That’s outside. Inside you see pokey rooms with fire-hazard furnishings, leading out to cramped corridors.

So we are thrown into this world alongside a pregnant student and her friend, a friend who tries to help her get an abortion. The people they turn to are as awful as the buildings outside: there are the surly and indifferent sort who feel at home under fascism and communism both; the gross and obnoxious party elites; a weak insipid boyfriend; a doctor who won’t accept money for an abortion, oh no, he would just like to be paid in kind. You find the best people working in the black market.

A few scenes stay with you, like that insistent, demonic haggling in the hotel room.  Or the time when the girl’s friend goes out to dispose of the foetus, stepping into a world of darkness and fear. Later that evening, in a restaurant, there is meat and marrow on the menu.

A bleak and beautiful film.

The Salesman

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The Salesman

Directed by Asghar Farhadi

Iran, 2016

HOME, 23 March 2017

The Salesman

This film shows us a marriage, Iranian society, indeed a whole world seen through the prism of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

A woman is assaulted and perhaps raped. She refuses to go to the police: because of dread at the thought of recounting the experience, of being disbelieved, plain fear. Her husband, wanting justice or some form of retribution, tries to track down the offender. And there is a bruising confrontation.

That in broad outline is Asghar Farhadi’s richly textured, subtly nuanced, utterly absorbing film. It has many fine performances, particularly from Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti (the husband and wife) and  Farid Sajjadi Hosseini (who plays the offender).

A very fine film.

Personal Shopper

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Personal Shopper

Directed by Oliver Assayas

France, 2016

HOME, 23 March 2017
Personal Shopper

Kristen Stewart is the star of this film, so naturally she appears on screen most of the time.

The thing is, Stewart is a good actress but not an outstanding one and she cannot carry the film on her own. She is beautiful but bland. Also, we see her alone usually, riding her moped through the streets of Paris, going to or from shops, messing with her phone while on a train…

And that’s another thing. The other notable presence in the film is Stewart’s mobile phone, or to be precise its text interface. Stewart receives menacing messages from an unknown stranger (though, in truth, you can easily guess who it is), an attempt to inject suspense into what is a slow paced, lacklustre, implausible and deeply confused film.

More glamour, more horror and fear, fewer New Age guys with beards (yes, I know, there is only one) would have improved it.

The Suppliant Women @ the Royal Exchange Theatre

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The Suppliant Women

By Aeschylus

Royal Exchange Theatre, 14 March 2017

THE SUPPLIANT WOMEN

David Grieg’s new version of Aeschylus’ great tragedy, a dramatisation of the myth of the fifty daughters of Danaos, is exciting from beginning to end.

The young women come to Argos as suppliants, having fled Egypt to escape forced marriage to their so-called barbarian cousins. So now the question becomes whether they will be granted asylum, and at what cost.

Though the contemporary resonance of the play is clear, it is never laboured, and those who like their Greek tragedies served straight, no nonsense, will be well satisfied here. My one qualm with Grieg’s version of the text is that it does not make it plain that while Danaos and his daughters are granted protection and asylum they are not given full citizenship rights. Instead, they are given the status of resident aliens (metics or metoikoi), not citizens, by the Argive assembly. And I expect there were many Argives who saw the newcomers as bogus Greeks, barbarians even… (Though it is interesting to note here that Aeschylus’ text remarks, without prejudice of any kind, on the girls’ dark skin.)

This production uses song and dance and music to great dramatic effect; and even when the actors speak there is music, the effect being to make you happily and acutely aware of the rhythm and metre present in the spoken dialogue. For this we must praise the two musicians, Ben Burton and Callum Armstrong. I got a lot out of this excellent, exciting, thought-provoking Royal Exchange production.

The Suppliant Women is showing at the Royal Exchange until 1 April, further details can be found here.

Dancer

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Dancer

Directed by Steven Cantor

UK, 2016

HOME, 16 March 2017

Dancer

A very full, an enlightening and sympathetic portrait of the Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin, still only 27 and with great promise still.

He was trained in Kiev and in London, a graduate of the Royal Ballet school and one of that company’s youngest ever principal dancers. Clearly an immense and maverick talent, he is someone who asks a lot of himself and of others too.

Art hurts; if you doubt it, look here at the one scene where we see Polunin in his dressing room after a performance. His feet and calves are reddened and bruised, his toes cruelly curled with cramp. You think of Michelangelo’s drawing of Christ being taken down from the cross.

A very fine documentary, and here is the famous YouTube video:

Elle

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Elle

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

France, 2016

HOME, 16 March 2017

Elle

It may sound paradoxical to say it, but this black comedy has a, well, a light touch.

It is light and ludic too, appropriately enough you might think, since Michèle (Isabelle Huppert), the victim of a brutal rape, runs a company that makes computer games. This is film as play: there are sex games, death games, Hitchcockian games involving violence and betrayal and jeopardy. And you cannot really call it a disturbing affair, since the film refuses to take transgression, or even evil, seriously.

At the end the men go to pot – to the grave or to the bottle – and the women prosper, so it is a feminist film, sort of.

Women know everything.

Blind Chance

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Blind Chance

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski

Poland, 1987

HOME, 15 March 2017

Blind Chance

An early example of film as hypertext, a fiction along the lines of Queneau’s A Story as You Like It.

Witek (Bogusław Linda) takes a break from his medical studies and we see him running for a train. In one outcome, he catches the train and becomes a communist, joining the party and inadvertently (or not?) betraying some friends who print and distribute samizdat literature. One outcome sees him miss the train, fight with a train guard, and get arrested. Later he fights against the regime, in time converting to Catholicism. For the third and final outcome, there is a variation on this: he misses the train but this time espies a pretty girl, a fellow medical student, whom he falls for and loves. He marries her after recommencing his studies. This version sees him as a doctor, a humanitarian and a healer, but apolitical and apart from historical events.

The upshot of the film, its take-home message, seems to be that all actions have costs and consequences, all decisions involve compromise. That’s all part of the fabric of life; it is inescapable.

There is a discussion in the middle section of the film (outcome 2) of the so-called ‘anti-Zionist’ expulsions of the late 1960s: Poland’s communist regime finishing the job begun by the Nazis (or by the pre-war Polish government with its so-called Madagascar Plan and the exportation of terrorism to Palestine). The great historian Jan Gross, author of Neighbours and Fear, was part of this 1968 exodus, a wilful and shameful impoverishment of Polish culture.

Bogusław Linda is an engaging actor and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film is a masterpiece, with many memorable scenes.

Budafest: RNCM Chamber Music Festival

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Budafest: RNCM Chamber Music Festival

RNCM

10-12 March 2017

Budafest: RNCM Chamber Music Festival

For this year the RNCM Chamber Music Festival focused on Hungary: a so-called Budafest.

Bartok featured prominently, notably in Saturday’s evening concert, so too did Kodaly and Dohnanyi, and space was found too for a few of the many great composers influenced by Hungarian folk music. During the festival you could hear works by the likes of Brahms, Haydn and Liszt.

Perhaps the highlight of the weekend occurred in the second half of the aforementioned Saturday evening concert, where Gabor Takacs-Nagy conducted a group of experienced and promising, young musicians as they performed Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste. It was a magical work, possessing a quicksilver shimmer and a rare transformative quality. After you heard it, there was an afterglow and the world seemed chockfull of possibility.

So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighbourhood

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So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighbourhood

By Patrick Modiano

Translated by Euan Cameron

MacLehose Press, 2016

ISBN: 9780857054999

So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood

It begins with a phone call.

When Jean Daragane picks up, the fellow on the other end of the line tells him he has found his address book and wishes to return it. The two men agree to meet at an out-of- the-way cafe, which is where the stranger asks Daragane about a name in the address book, a name familiar to him, perhaps a mutual acquaintance. An apparently innocent question, but one which draws Daragane back into his fractured past and towards a search for the woman, Annie Astrand, who at one time was his fierce protector. He begins to pour over each precious memory, every fear-encrusted, obsessively sifted detail of his formative years…

There is an insistent note of anxiety and unease in Patrick Modiano’s fiendishly constructed novel. Daragane is a novelist too, a man who lives an isolated existence and has a wary relationship with the world, and you are confronted at the close with the question: when and how does being alone come to mean being safe? Further, at what point do you cherish being lost because it offers a sort of freedom?

You are uncertain of exactly where this novel is headed for a long while but it is not to a pleasant place. And the betrayal when it comes, as in life, is barely noticed. Like a moment when a vine gently slips out of your grasp and you fall, a fall seeming to last forever. Before, that is, you hit hard ground.

So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighbourhood is an enervating read but a rewarding one.

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

 

 

Margarita Wood

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Margarita Wood

Carole Nash Recital Room, RNCM

9 March 2017

Margarita Wood

This wonderful concert, rich in tone and colour and variety of mood, showed the width of Margarita Wood’s range.

There was heartfelt emotion, wry humour, and particularly in the final piece, sassy attitude to be found in the songs, which included pieces by Mozart, Schubert, Liszt, Sibelius, Debussy and a couple of others besides. They asked lots of different questions of Margarita Wood yet her powerful performance answered them all with aplomb. She displayed an impeccable technique and her expressive rendition drew you into the drama of each song. You, the audience, had no choice but to succumb.

A superb programme, and demanding with it, superbly executed.