Free Fire

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Free Fire

Directed by Ben Wheatley

UK, 2016

HOME, 5 April 2017
Free Fire

Two groups of men (and one woman) go to an abandoned factory, which is where the deal goes down.

These dissident (or maybe real) IRA types want to buy some guns (M16s preferred) and this South African poser and a black guy who he calls his ‘boy’ (an ex-panther) seem obliging enough. All goes smoothly,  then there is an altercation and a shot fired – and that’s all it takes, as Sir Mick Jagger pointed out in ‘Gimme Shelter’ and Donald Trump should take note. ‘War is just a shot away, shot away…’  It is one long gunfight from then on.

The film is a bit monotonous – I mean, you are looking at a theme with a limited set of variations – but entertaining for all that. If you like gunfights, that is. Picture guns clicking; no bullets left – scenes like that. Or think of a zombie movie with just zombies, no humans, and no one to root for. A bit nihilistic and meaningless, would you say? This, I would suggest, is that movie.

Seven Days in January

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Seven Days in January

Directed by Juan Antonio Bardem

Spain, 1979

HOME, 5 April 2017

Seven Days in January

This impressive film, in making reference to actual events and fatalities, charts the dying days of fascist rule in Spain.

The central figure Luis (played by Manuel Angel Egea) is a young man who sides with the old regime: you think of Lucien, the protagonist of Sartre’s story ‘The Childhood of a Leader’. Luis and Lucien are cut from the same cloth.

It is curious, in retrospect, that Spain stuck with fascism for such a long while. Was it due to the force of Franco’s personality? Or because fascism entwined itself with church and state, bolstering their authority and making them loath to give it up? Anyway, on Franco’s death it virtually collapsed in on itself.

Graduation

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Graduation

Directed by Cristian Mungiu

Romania, 2016

HOME, 6 April 2017
Graduation

Romania itself is the subject of this excellent film.

Our momentary EU colleague is apparently moving from being a nation where favours are handed out on the understanding that they will be reciprocated to one where fair, transparent rules apply to all. And we chart this change through one family here.

They are a troubled family: the father and mother in an unhappy marriage, he having an affair on the side; the daughter anxious to get high grades in her exams so as to earn a scholarship to study in England; the grandmother in ill health.

It was good to see the actor Vlad Ivanov, here playing a police officer, again. I saw him as well in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, also directed by Cristian Mungiu, where he was a dodgy doctor.

RNCM Symphony Orchestra

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RNCM Symphony Orchestra

RNCM Concert Hall, 31 March 2017

A very enjoyable, no-nonsense concert – you came for the music, that’s what you got.

We heard Schoenberg at the start, the whole of his Five Pieces for Orchestra, then after the interval it was time for Mahler’s ninth symphony. In approach and aesthetic they are two very different composers, of course, still they’re both children of Beethoven – one a devoted, another a prodigal son – and, like him, were living in Vienna when they met and became friends.

The two works shared a sumptuous sweep and required a rich, varied palette of instruments: violins and harps, drums and gongs, horns and trumpets and much else. The stage was full of musicians. You were immersed within the music while it lasted and when the waves of melody receded, you stood up and strode homeward.

Nine symphonies he wrote did Mahler, ten if you count the one unfinished at his death, which is not at all bad. He had been busy.

The Eyes of My Mother

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The Eyes of My Mother

Directed by Nicolas Pesce

USA, 2016

HOME, 29 March 2017

The Eyes of My Mother

It is a spare and elegant conte cruel where, as you would expect, horror engenders horror.

We have young girl living out in a farm in America. Francisca idolises her idiosyncratic mother, who is Portugese and was once an eye surgeon. When her mother dies, killed by a peripatetic stranger, she doesn’t so much take revenge as follow in her footsteps, by doing what her mother would have done. Her childhood, always sheltered and strange, becomes stranger still. She grows up in solitude and her sense of what is normal becomes skewered.

There are several deliciously disturbing moments here, evoking feelings of dread and horror, helplessness and atavism, but all seem somehow necessary. The film is in black and white, which makes you think of Edward Gorey’s weird stories with their monochrome drawings. There is a fine narrative economy here, also as with Gorey. Francisca’s love of Fado music, a music of extreme passions, adds a further layer of weirdness (yet as well plausibility to Francisca’s story) to what is already a well-weird affair.

This is a beautiful film and Kika Magalhaes’s performance is very impressive indeed.

The Age of Shadows

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The Age of Shadows

Directed by Kim Jee-woon

Korea, 2016

HOME, 30 March 2017

The Age of Shadows

This one is set in the 1920s and has Korean resistance fighters kicking back against the Japanese occupation.

An engrossing, fast-paced, stylish thriller with lots of vivid period detail, the main character is Lee (Song Kang-ho), a cop with divided loyalties. You don’t know where Lee really stands until the very end.

There are gunfights and street sieges aplenty yet also subtle scenes of intrigue and espionage. Some of the torture scenes are gruesome and off-putting, explicit and realistic in a way that some of the wide-angle action sequences are not (the latter are balletic and cartoonish in nature). So be forewarned. Calibrate your expectations and endure them.

On the whole, I enjoyed The Age of Shadows and I appreciated as well the odd reference to that old Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper film, Vera Cruz.

Oscar Niemeyer in Algiers

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The Great Gesture – The Unknown – Oscar Niemeyer in Algiers

By Andreas Rost

Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2015

ISBN: 9783869845593

The Great Gesture – The Unknown - Oscar Niemeyer in Algiers

Of the three titles of this book – The Great Gesture; The Unknown; Oscar Niemeyer in Algiers – I very much prefer the middle one.

The book contains a little over seventy photographs of the building complex of the Université des sciences et de la technologie Houari-Boumediene in Algiers, a complex designed by Oscar Niemeyer and completed in the 1970s. Although uncaptioned, each photo has been assigned a numeral (I to XII), allowing all of them to be mapped to a blueprint of the University on the inside back cover. For clarity’s sake, it should be mentioned that some of Niemeyer’s ideas and intentions – a design for a tower, for example – were not realized and so cannot be seen in the blueprint given here. He apparently abandoned the project late in its lifecycle and certain compromises were made before it was completed.

Oscar Niemeyer was a great architect whose work centred on public buildings. He designed many churches, museums and theatres. A characteristic of  his practice, always, lay in his use of concrete. In his hands, concrete possessed a miraculous, epic quality. It had solidity yet great versatility, assuming a wealth of geometric forms. He played with it as a child plays with plasticine.

Many of the buildings here look like alien pyramids. They stand in an antagonistic, yet fragile relation to the natural order. You could be looking at a survivalist colony on another planet, an uncertain imposition, a community under threat. Some few of Andreas Rost’s photographs show people, or at least signs of human life, yet the vast majority do not; and this brutal absence adds to their errie quality. It is as though on a beautiful sunlit day, long ago, a neutron bomb struck…

There are two things that I particularly like about Rost’s photographs. The first is that their viewpoints genuinely startle and surprise (surprise being, incidentally, the quality that Niemeyer prized most in great architecture) while collectively they reveal a cumulative vision, an artist’s eye. The second thing is that the photographs’ viewpoints are liquid enough as to never let you forget that architecture is at root an ecological art: when you walk by and through and into buildings, you look at them as you move. And when you traverse Niemeyer’s buildings in particular – I have had this privilege four times in my life – their solidity assumes a sort of propulsion. They seem to flow. Niemeyer’s well known comment that for him ‘the space is part of the structure’ seems apposite here.

Although Rost’s photograph’s are beautiful and fascinating and richly suggestive, you sense at the last that this architect’s work – at once roseate and epic, brutal and lyrically sculptural, rooted and anti-organic – resists disclosure. It will never fully reveal itself. It will always be unknown.

Andreas Rost’s website is here.

The publisher’s description of The Great Gesture – The Unknown – Oscar Niemeyer in Algiers can be read here.

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The Commitments

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The Commitments

Book by Roddy Doyle

Palace Theatre, 28 March 2017

The Committments

It feels good!

This is a terrific show which delivers high-octane entertainment from start to finish. Brian Gilligan as Deco, a soulboy who finds a momentary salvation, is supreme.

Yes, it is a jukebox musical – and yes, we get to hear a slue of soul classics live on stage, songs that were originally sung by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and James Brown. But what makes it stand out is the book and the story, Roddy Doyle’s transformative magic touch. He gives us vividly wrought, all too human characters, generous dollops of Irish humour and a story tender and true – all about a group of troubled souls who come together and then slowly drift apart.

The Committments is a show that hits all the right notes: I knew that it would, now!

The Committments is playing at the Palace Theatre until 8 April and then tours the UK.  Further details can be found here.

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.