Revenge

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Revenge

Directed by Coralie Fargeat

France, 2017

HOME, 24 May 2018

Revenge

Structurally, this is a fairly simple film – a video game, almost.

When a young woman is raped by one of three men, the ringleader throws her off a cliff to kill her and so keep her quiet. They leave her for dead (because impaled on a branch, how could she possibly survive?), but when they idle by later to dispose of the body, it is gone. So they go after her. And as they hunt her down, she tries to pick them off one by one. The dynamic is like Christa Faust’s novel Money Shot.

There have been some comments about this film that see it as being about female empowerment (#metoo, #time’sup, all of that). Actually, it is a film that’s all about spectacle: sexual spectacle, horrific spectacle. Expect to see bold and brazen nakedness, lots of bloody gore, a great deal of grunting and groaning in pain. And at one point two combatants tussle, slipping and sliding in each other’s blood.

I enjoyed it.

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If…. & A Fistful of Dollars

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If….

Directed by Lindsay Anderson

UK, 1968

HOME, 22 May 2018

If....


A Fistful of Dollars

Directed by Sergio Leone

Italy, 1967

HOME, 22 May 2018

A Fistful of Dollars

I saw these two, apparently dissimilar, films at HOME on the same day.

They are, actually, very different indeed: one an explosive allegory of the British Empire 1.0, the other a classic Clint Eastwood Western. Yet in the two films, the hero’s trials and tribulations, the catalyst for their bloody retribution, is more or less the same. Let us look at it.

Mick (the brilliant Malcolm McDowell) is beaten up by the seniors, as Joe (Clint Eastwood) is beaten and tortured and interrogated (naturally, he doesn’t talk) by a gang of Mexican bandits. Away from their tormentors (Joe has to escape first, which he does by getting out of town by hiding in a coffin), both plot their revenge by practising their shooting skills: Mick takes pot-shots with an air pistol at the photos on the wall of his den (later he will use real bullets in a real gun), while Joe gets his injured gun-hand in gear once more by aiming at the heart of a steel shield. There is an all guns blazing showdown at the end of both films, A Fistful of Dollars featuring a gunfight with one man standing (guess who?) at the end of it.

If…. (the ellipsis in the title & the title credits has four dots not three, which will be intensely annoying for some) is a truly classic film, rewarding many viewings: note, for example, the sympathetic portrayal of homosexual desire, young Bobby watching entranced as an older boy, Wallace, practices his gymnastics. And whilst A Fistful of Dollars, a Spaghetti Western, is your typical Clint Eastwood vehicle, it does have its moments: spectacular gunfights, horses being driven at break-neck speed as Ennio Morricone’s martial music throws down a throbbing beat, the bandits’ infectious glee in destruction (their eyes anticipating fire and pyrotechnics), Joe as Jesus Incognito, undergoing death and rebirth and miraculously evading myriad bullets up close. A Fistful of Dollars is also worth seeing because it is one of the fragments that makes up the mosaic of ‘Clint Eastwood, Gunfighter’. The magnificent Unforgiven (a genuine classic) alludes to A Fistful of Dollars as to other films.

The Cremator

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The Cremator

Directed by Juraj Herz

Czechoslovakia, 1969

HOME, 19 May 2018

The Cremator

Set around about 1938, with the Nazis on the brink of invading Czechoslovakia, we follow the fortunes of an undertaker who enthuses about cremation as a thoroughly modern (and eminently humane) way of disposing of the dead.

He has a Jewish wife, and, when we meet him at first, is reluctant to have any truck with the Nazis in his midst, one of them an old childhood friend. Yet he slowly comes around when they take power. To fit in with the new order, he must divest himself of his friends and employees, his wife and children – so that is what he does.

There is an astonishing scene about two thirds of the way through where a meeting turns to talk of mass cremation – the ovens of the death camps, though they have not yet come into existence – and we see a montage of images out of Bosch (it looked like the ‘Vices’ panel of the Garden of Delights, but I may be wrong). It put me in mind of Carl Zuckmayer’s description of the rioting in Vienna in March 1938: he also alluded to Bosch (look here).

This came across as a very disturbing, very powerful film that I would rank alongside István Szabó’s Mephisto as a study of the seductive savagery of Nazi ideology.

Mind, the Tibetan Buddhist spiel seemed a bit out of place.

RNCM Jazz Collective

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RNCM Jazz Collective

RNCM Theatre, 12 May 2018

A concert of many colours.

We were taken all around the world, as Mike Hall and his talented collective played jazz from all four corners of the globe. Duke Ellington featured a few times, there was a tango suite by Astor Piazzolla, and a wonderfully atmospheric street tapestry of sound (conjure the noise of a boisterous Arabian bazaar) by a Lebanese composer whose name I cannot now recall.

Of the countries represented, vivid impressions of Africa (particularly South Africa) and the Carribean (a joyous calypso number), Norway and Egypt, occupy a firm foothold in my memory still.

There were brilliant solo performances on saxophone, trumpet, piano, guitar… And as a collective, the musicians were storming. Global warming? Nah, full-on global roasting.

RNCM Symphony Orchestra

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RNCM Symphony Orchestra

RNCM Concert Hall, 3 May 2018

RNCM Symphony Orchestra

Listen now.

Attentively, mind. To this grand, ebullient orchestra.

The concert hall is cool and they are playing works by Saint-Saëns, Bartók and Brahms. Several musicians reinforce the orchestra’s number after each performance. Wyn Chan plays piano for Bartók’s Piano Concerto No 1.

Brahms’ sonority is so sumptuous in his Symphony No 2 that it calms the heart, soothes and uplifts the soul. Somehow you loosen, feel the warmth of sunlight. Your breath flows freely, even though you are ascending some sort of hill. A phalanx of strings evokes a verdant Wienerwald landscape. Careful as you go, don’t stumble. You are at he peak

Listen now.

Long Day’s Journey into Night @ HOME

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Long Day’s Journey into Night

By Eugene O’Neill

HOME & Citizens Theatre

HOME, 11 May 2018

Sam Phillips (James Tyrone Jr) and Lorn Macdonald (Edmund Tyrone) in Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill, directed by Dominic Hill, at HOME Manchester, Thu 10 - Sat 26 May 2018. Photo by Tim Morozzo.

Sam Phillips (James Tyrone Jr) and Lorn Macdonald (Edmund Tyrone) in Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill, directed by Dominic Hill, at HOME Manchester, Thu 10 – Sat 26 May 2018. Photo by Tim Morozzo.

It is a journey that starts slow, steadily gathers speed, then accelerates wildly, this marvellous production of Eugene O’Neill’s grand-hearted, largely autobiographical (mind, all these people are real) play, so that by the end it is a wonder that the car is still on the road, and everyone is still (just about) standing.

There is the regular rhythm of the day and, alongside that, another motion too, an insistent, invasive digging into what makes this family tick, what keeps these people alive and together, coming back for more. The family is made up of James and Mary Tyrone (George Costigan and Brid Ni Neachtain) and their two sons, James Junior (Sam Phillips) and Edmund (Lorn Macdonald). Edmund, based upon O’Neill, has a ‘summer cold’ which may prove to be a more serious illness. On this fateful day he visits the doctor to learn of his fate, and afterwards has it out with his father and mother and brother about their mutual flaws and failings. They are none of them bad people by any means, they love each other, but they have been stunted and scarred by experience.

He digs deep here, does O’Neill, wielding an incisive scalpel, and the cast, particularly Sam Phillips as the elder brother James, are fully engaged in the operation. What is especially fine about the play is this increasingly urgent, eviscerating reveal. What is invisible and/or obscure in daylight (everyone’s secret motor) becomes gradually more distinct as day yields to twilight, twilight gives way to flickering lamplight. Then darkness falls.

Long Day’s Journey into Night is at HOME until 26 May 2018. Details here.

You can watch a trailer of this production of Long Day’s Journey into Night here.

Western

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Western

Directed by Valeska Grisebach

Austria, 2017

HOME, 25 April 2018

Western

These industrious German workers, led by a hard-driving foreman, are in Bulgaria to construct a water pipe or irrigation system or something of that sort.

Anyway, they aim to construct some badly needed infrastructure in a former Soviet bloc country, courtesy of the European Union and its principal net contributor. Not all of the Bulgarian villagers welcome the German presence, it has to be said, some seeing them as alien interlopers. Mind you, a few are perhaps overly enthusiastic, speaking in warm, nostalgic tones about the last time that Germans had arrived there, bringing a badly needed (new) order.

It is an engrossing drama, actually, and you follow the fate of one of the workers. He forms a bond with certain of the villagers, putting him at odds with his workmates and his boss. In Germany, we come to learn, there is nothing really for him – that is why he joined this work gang – and so he tries, tentatively, to put down roots in the village. One family lets him buy a horse, which he comes to love. Certain women notice him, an appraising, speculative gleam in their eye. Another, better chance might lie in store for him here; as Europe offers Germany another, better chance.

Although not a Western as such, despite the horse and the odd firearm, the film does give you a vivid picture of the politics of village life: casual corruption, sudden danger if you step out of line. I was put in mind of The Passport, an old, rather excellent Herta Muller novel – it is the same world. And you could view the film as a kind of comment on Karl May (Hitler’s favourite novelist: the fool had no taste) and the old notion of Lebensraum. All of that.

A fine film.

Let the Sunshine in

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Let the Sunshine in

Directed by Claire Denis

France, 2017

HOME, 25 April 2018

Let the Sunshine in

I found this film ever so slightly disappointing: I mean, you expect more than the standard chick-flick fodder when Claire Denis directs and Juliette Binoche is the lead actress.

Man, do these men – and they are young and old, rich and working class, married or/and free spirited – let our noble heroine, who moreover is an artist and a good liberal kind of gal, down. She works her way through a fair few of them in her pursuit of wellness and a healthy fulfilling lifestyle, and they’re a right royal shambles and no mistake. If one of these men, just one mind, could be laundered clean, formed while damp and crisply ironed into a partner for life she’d be sitting pretty, sorted for security. All her travails would have been worth it, maybe. She could sit down and relax with a nice glass of herbal tea. But of course that cannot ever happen in chick-flick world, or not for long anyway. Yet even so, the hope of love, the torment of longing, the possibility that communion can be found, must be kept alive.

Not Claire Denis’s best film.

Ghost Stories

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Ghost Stories

Directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman

UK, 2017

HOME, 25 April 2018

Ghost Stories

There is a TV star, a certain Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman), who is a sceptical psychic investigator, a debunker of superstition.

He is handed three very different, equally difficult cases by his role model, a celebrated predecessor. They are all tough insolvables, immovable mysteries, designed to challenge his firm faith in reason and science.

It is compelling throughout, this extremely elegant, cerebral horror film, the portmanteau structure harking back to cheesy British horror films of yore (do you, like me, remember watching Tales from the Crypt and others late on a Saturday night?). And the way in which the three stories, and Goodman’s story too, cohere at the close is very satisfying indeed.

I would add as well that the theme of anti-Semitism, at first subtly hinted at and then made overt and insistent, gives the film a curious contemporary resonance. Europe’s old malady has returned and is abroad in Britain now.

The Cherry Orchard @ the Royal Exchange Theatre

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The Cherry Orchard

By Anton Chekhov

Royal Exchange Theatre and Bristol Old Vic

Royal Exchange Theatre, 24 April 2018

The Cherry Orchard

There is much to praise about this production of The Cherry Orchard, one of Chekhov’s great plays.

The performances were steely and strong, with Jude Owusu as Yermolai Alekseyevich Lopakhin, the self-made businessman descended from serfs (as was Chekhov himself), a realist who urges Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya (Kirsty Bushell) and her brother Leonid Andreyevich Gayev (Simon Coates) to get with the times, to sell their only asset, a bountiful cherry orchard at once, before it falls in value. They cannot countenance its destruction and the encroachment of the railways, a force bringing great change. There is the spectacle of aristocrats living hand to mouth, subsisting on borrowed money and time, delaying the inevitable. Existing beyond their means.

They were supremely chiselled individuals, all these people, which is a great tribute to the cast. In particular, Eva Magyar as Charlotta Ivanovna, an athletic older woman, caught the eye, one compelling performance amongst many.

Throughout the play, few individuals were able or willing to adjust to the sizeable quakes of seismic historical forces. Cometh the hour, no one showed up. Some were catatonic, lost in the febrile labyrinths of their personal affairs, some seemingly lacked energy and drive. There was a bit of a Brexit resonance to it all. The cherry orchard (poppies unseen) as nostalgia for a lost empire, all of that.

Which brings us to Tom Piper’s design. The Royal Exchange offers theatre in the round, of course, and here the actors looked outward at the cherry orchard, at a bounty that was always off stage. On stage, Piper’s design was minimalist but, to be frank, nothing special. I like Tom Piper’s work very much: the poppies, the Blood exhibition at Jewish Museum London, Endgame at HOME, but I didn’t see anything distinctive here. Perhaps at the Bristol Old Vic it looked different.

The Cherry Orchard, a great play redolent with futuristic speculation and humour, passion and muted tragedy, is showing at the Royal Exchange until 19 May, further details can be found here.