I Am not your Negro

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I Am not your Negro

Directed by Raoul Peck

USA, 2016

HOME, 19 April 2017

We hear the testimony of James Baldwin through the voice of Samuel L Jackson.

James Baldwin had apparently written a memoir, an account of his encounters with three murdered men – Martin Luther King Junior, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers (the last named the subject of Bob Dylan’s most ferocious song) – unfinished at his death. It is this text that Jackson reads from and, as you would expect, it is full of raw insights and startling emotion. He says, for example, that a witness is always in as perilous a predicament as an actor. There is, as well, footage of Baldwin speaking at the Cambridge Union and appearing on the Dick Cavett show. Often, his pronouncements strike you as prophetic.

Those familiar with Baldwin’s work might think of this film (and the spoken text) as a sequel to The Fire Next Time, a book which takes its title from the Bible: ‘God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time.’ Here too Baldwin’s subject is black people in America and his great fear is that America cannot be saved. Some recent footage of a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest in Ferguson underlines Baldwin’s relevance.

A Quiet Passion

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A Quiet Passion

Directed by Terence Davies

UK, 2016

HOME, 20 April 2017

A Quiet Passion

This is a biopic of the poet Emily Dickinson.

It is quite a long film and that is part of its character and charm. You suspect Terence Davies wanted to make an old fashioned weepie, a Gone with the Wind or a Bette Davis-type affair, the sort of melodrama that you used to see on BBC2 on Sunday afternoons, and in this he has succeeded admirably.

There is a brilliant performance by Cynthia Nixon as the poet and you get to hear a lot of the poetry as well. You really need to read it on the page, mind, as Dickinson herself is made to say here: her punctuation is all important.

I would like to see Davies adapt a Henry James novel next – this fine film is almost that.

Raw

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Raw

Directed by Julia Ducournau

Belgium, 2016

HOME, 20 April 2017

Raw

This is the story of Justine (played by Garance Marillier), a sweet girl, a vegan who acquires a taste for meat.

During a domestic accident there is a gross (I will not say tasteless) incident involving her sister Alexia’s (the very beautiful Ella Rumpf) finger and, at the very end, there is an obvious payoff. But it is a fun film, seductive, full of black and bloody humour.

While watching it, I thought of the fifth rule of Jan Svankmajer’s Decalogue (you can read the full text in Vertigo magazine here) where he states that film-makers, despite cinema being a visual or audiovisual medium, should prioritise the body over the eye: ‘Always trust the body, because touch is an older sense than sight.’ The aim should be to create cinema that has a haptic, visceral dimension rather than simply placid, painterly qualities. It is one view – there are other, very different approaches to cinema, of course. However, it is clear that this is what horror films tap into; and it is key to why they appeal or repel.

Raw is, anyway, a full-blooded embodiment of Svankmajer’s imperative. It is red in tooth and claw.

 

Aislados

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Aislados

Directed by Marcela Lizcano

Colombia, 2016

HOME, 11 April 2017

Aislados

We are shown an elsewhere that is a little too close to home.

It is a small island off the coast of Columbia, an island that is overpopulated, its streets cramped. Human beings have been very successful here but to the detriment of their quality of life and at the expense of the natural environment. Fish and other sea-life, once so plentiful, have dwindled.

To many, it is clear that habits must change – the old ways are simply not sustainable – but then how will people eke out a livelihood? Most worryingly, at certain points during the year, the tide rises and the streets flood. Not by much, but still… People must change or pay the cost of remaining the same. And if they change, well how much are they in control of their world, really?

Aislados is a fine documentary and it may also be our future.

El Mundo sigue

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El Mundo sigue

Directed by Fernando Fernán Gómez

Spain, 1965

HOME, 11 April 2017

El Mundo sigue

It is a tale of two sisters.

One takes the conventional path of marriage, winding up with a gambler and a no-hoper for a husband, while the other becomes a mistress to a succession of rich and powerful men. Though both women are passionate, one has a fierce catholic morality. She persecutes.

All human life is here; it is a magnificent film rich in drama and poetry. Take as an instance the scene where the husband decides to steal from his boss. He sits in a seedy stairwell dragging on a cigarette and we get to see a close-up of his face. Spasms, distortions, grotesque shapes appear as he inhales and exhales smoke. It is as though a witches’ pot were bubbling over. Or as though maggots were crawling under the surface of his skin. To steal, to become a thief, to fall low – it must come at a cost. He must become an impoverishment of the person he is. We are looking at the corruption of a man’s soul.

 

La Tierra roja

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La Tierra roja

Directed by Diego Martinez Vignatti

Argentina, 2015

HOME, 13 April 2017

La Tierra roja

I found this one overlong and long winded, though the performances are agreeable enough.

A paper mill is using herbicides on the land and it is damaging the workers‘ health and the health of the local people. Pierre (Geert Van Rampelberg) is the gang master and his loyalties are tested to breaking point when a doctor is killed.

It is a worthy film but stodgy and slow-paced. You think it has hit a climax, a turning point where it will really kick on, and it stalls – and then it stalls again. Mercifully it is put down in the end.

 

Kalebegiak

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Kalebegiak

Various Directors

Spain, 2016

HOME, 13 April 2017

Kalebegiak

Twelve short films set in and about San Sebastian, the European Capital of Culture 2016.

There was a chess tournament held in the port city in 1911 which took place in the Grand Casino, in what is now the City Hall.  The great Jose Raul Capablanca won it, scoring his first international victory. But these films focus on other stories.

In one, Julio Medem’s The Real Whale, Queen María Cristina, an Hapsburg, takes a boat out to see a whale. Another, Narciso by Koldo Almandoz, has a gay man travelling back in time to have sex with his younger self. The best, the most moving for me anyway, was The House of Cold by Imanol Uribe, a documentary about a shelter for homeless people. It is hard to look at people who are sometimes so desperate to please, who have had their heart kicked in by life. It is hard for me anyway. But that is what you have to do in this last film.

 

La Puerta abierta

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La Puerta abierta

Directed by Marina Seresesky

Spain, 2016

HOME, 4 April 2017

La Puerta abierta

We are taken to the courtyard of an apartment block where many of the tenants are prostitutes.

One woman dies, ostensibly of a drug overdose, while her daughter flees to a neighbouring flat. And the two women who live there, a mother and a daughter, one a former and the other an acting prostitute, together with another, a transgender friend, try to do what is best for the girl.

What are the options? Well, her brother is a waster and his father (who is not the girl’s father) does not want to know – it is a family dysfunctional at best. Handing her over to the police and social services is fine in principle and an upstanding citizen would likely do this without thinking, but for these women that would be washing their hands of the girl. Children placed in care are apparently no safer in Spain than Britain. She stays then, little Lyuba, with the whores protecting her from the world’s treacherous xysts.

It is a fine film, burgeoning with abrasive banter and with a bit of a fairytale flavour – not at all grim. A women’s film too – the men are either dogs or, in the case of a police officer, a puppy.

Fear Eats the Soul

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Fear Eats the Soul

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Germany, 1974

HOME, 4 April 2017
Fear Eats the Soul

Fassbinder’s beautiful film is about love, a sudden illumination, between a German woman and a Moroccan man.

Her world rejects him because he is an Auslander and has dark skin. His world rejects her because she is old, a grandmother. Both worlds agree on one thing, anyway: their relationship is unnatural. Yet it endures, because Emmi (Brigitte Mira) and ‘Ali’ (El Heidi Ben Salem), for all their flaws and misunderstandings, need each other.

Some of the social observation and attitudes seem simple and crass now. It is also a bit patronising: just feed ‘Ali’ couscous and he will be happy. And when your friends come around, invite them to feel his lovely muscles. Point out that he is such a useful chattel to have in the house. But for all that, this is a film with a big and brave, a Brobdingnagian heart.

A magnificent film.

La Novia

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La Novia

Directed by Paula Ortiz

Spain, 2015

HOME, 6 April 2017

La Novia

An adaptation of Lorca’s Blood Wedding, so you are looking at the story of a love triangle/vendetta set amidst Grenada’s desolate terrain.

There is a lot of symbolism here , some phallic though some not, but there is no intense or genuine passion. Perhaps it is because the actors are so clean and pretty and photogenic; even when they make love in the countryside they don’t sweat or get dirty. Their lovemaking is the very opposite of what passion, duende, should be – so hardly in the spirit of Lorca’s work. It looks like tasteful soft porn or a tourist ad: ‘Come Visit Spain’ or, better, ‘Visit Spain, Come…’

You feel throughout as though you are watching a costume drama.