Cinema 76 Film Club Review 2015
A selection of the films we showed in the Cinema 76 film club in 2015.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles - Chantal Akerman
Accattone (1961) / Mamma Roma (1962) - Pasolini
Man of Iron (1981) - Andrzej Wajda
Solaris (1972) - Andrei Tarkovsky
The Hour of the Furnaces (1968) - Fernando Solanas
Women without Men (2009) - Shirin Neshat / About Elly (2009) - Asghar Farhadi
Kaos (1984) - the Taviani brothers
The Pillow Book (1996) - Peter Greenaway
The Golden Dream (2013) / In This World (2002) - Michael Winterbottom
Winter Sleep (2015) - Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Wild Tales (2014) - Damián Szifron / Chile. Obstinate Memory (1997) - Patricio Guzman
Timbuktu (2014) / Bamako (2006) - Abderrahmane Sissako
Film Club Review 2014
Every fortnight for the past five years, I have hosted a film club in our flat in Dalston, East London (projector / white wall / decent throw / blackout curtain). The criterion for film selection is simple: those movies that we might be too lazy to watch otherwise, and would really benefit from a quasi-cinematic sacralized space. Hollywood is banned, though not by me personally. When we started, I was worried that we might exhaust the list of quality art movies quite quickly, and soon be stuck in a second-grade world cinema back catalogue. This has emphatically not proved to be the case, and we feel we've only skimmed the surface of the history of this amazing, short-lived art form.
In 2014 we had a very strong year, from rarely seen classics to outstanding recent movies. If you'd like to come along one Sunday, let me know at richard (AT) visionon.tv
I will add commentary as and when....
Omar (2013) - Hany Abu-Assad
Superbly made political thriller about young men on the wrong (Palestinian) side of the Apartheid wall. The climbing over the wall itself by the protagonist is an excellent metaphor for the drama. It becomes physically harder for him as the hope for his relationship with the young woman on the other side becomes more hopeless. As Cedric pointed out, the film is nevertheless curiously unmoving. Perhaps the main characters are a littel under-characterised.
5 Broken Cameras (2012) - Emad Burnat
Talking of visual metaphors, there are none better than Burnat's decision to make a film around the occasions each of his cameras is broken by the IDF as he tries to record the abuses in his Palestinian village. Sometimes it shows a slight artificiality, with shooting to fill in the narrative, with the domestic scenes in articualr a little stagey. but this is carping. This is a first-rate, deservedly award-winning, doc.
Rust and Bone (2012) - Jacques Audiard
*CONTAINS SPOILER* The magnificent Marion Cotillard again (we saw the superb Two Days, One Night in 2013) in a moving romance between the "disabled by shark" Stephanie and desperado kick boxer Ali. Is there a problem in Act 3, with the rather forced turnaround, where his son's near-death makes Ali realize he should commit? Does it matter?
Read My Lips (2001) - Jacques Audiard
A nice "oddball romance" / crime thriller with excellent performances.
The Secret In Their Eyes (2009) - Juan Jose Campanella
Uses gripping murder investigation to examine love. commitment, justice, and the legacy of the US-backed fascist coups in Latin America. And there's THAT shot, the long tracking take into and around the football stadium as the police find and chase their man.
The Official Story (1985) - Luis Puenzo
Argentina's only country to win the Best Foreign Movie Oscar twice. This first one powerfully presents the intersection of the personal and the political, showing how the "Dirty War" could even destroy middle-class families that saw themselves as immune.
Something Else Brazilian....
Foreign Land (1996)
A Separation (2011) - Asghar Farhadi
Divorce: Iranian Style (1998) - Kim Longinotto
Audition (1999) - Takashi Miike
Dark Water (2002) - Hideo Nakata
Andrei Rublev (1966) - Andrei Tarkovsky
Nymphomaniac (2013) - Lars von Trier
Rome, Open City (1945) - Roberto Rossellini
Germany, Year Zero (1948) - Roberto Rossellini
Games of Love and Chance (2003) - Abdelatif Kechiche
Closely Observed Trains (1966) - Jiri Menzel
A Touch of Sin (2013) - Jia Zhangke
The Flowers of War (2011) - Zhang Yimou
The Conformist (1970) - Bernardo Bertolucci
Red Desert (1964) - Michelangelo Antonioni
Contempt (1963) - Jean-Luc Godard
Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) - Alain Resnais
Hospital (1970) - Fred Wiseman
In the Year of the Pig (1968) - Emile de Antonio
Cries and Whispers (1972) - Ingmar Bergman
Summer Interlude (1951) - Ingmar Bergman
Dead Ringers (1988) - David Cronenberg
Videodrome (1983) - David Cronenberg
Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) - Tomas Gutierrez Alea
Medium Cool (1969) - Haskell Wexler
Summer Palace (2006) - Lou Ye
Crisis - Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963) - Robert Drew
A Pervert's Guide to the Cinema Part 3 (2006) - Sophie Fiennes / Slavoj Zizek
Why the Paddington movie does nothing for migrant rights
The new Paddington movie is witty, exquisitely acted and beautiful to look at. And in a welcome change from the usual more-saccharine-than-a-plum-pudding Christmas fare, it has delighted liberal viewers with its perceived pro-migrant message. "Bear baits UKIP with fluffy immigrant tale" headlines Xan Brooks in the Guardian. Author Michael Bond has long been on the right side on this issue, allowing Paddington's image to be used in campaigns for migrant rights. An immigration lawyer's commentary on the real difficulties which an anthropomorphic bear might face has been popular on social media.
In the film however, this radical potential is tightly circumscribed, as London is represented by a small area from Notting Hill to South Kensington. Ukippers might well scoff that the Browns, with their huge W10 home, can easily afford to take in a migrant. The film very deliberately positions itself as a tale of London rather than the UK as a whole. This allows Londoners to feel smug about their racial integration, while allowing Ukippers from outside the capital to harp on their constant whinge that a London elite doesn't understand them or their issues. Even worse, Peter Capaldi's nosey neighbour Mr Curry, the representative of UKIP ideas in the film, has second thoughts when Nicole Kidman's evil museum director plans to stuff Paddington rather than report him to the authorities. Deportation of migrants is fine, we are left thinking, but killing them is not. Nigel Farage would agree. And all of this is tinsel-wrapped in a Mary Poppins London where non-ursine immigrants are represented by the best-groomed Caribbean street band you have ever seen. At the end of the film, the message is that in London everyone is different and can make a contribution. Note: London, not England or Britain. The UKIP mantra is effectively reinforced.
Sadly, it's a sweet film that is utterly unchallenging to watch for the many low-level racists who will vote UKIP in May, and even endorses them.
Review of our Film of the Week
visionOntv's FILM OF THE WEEK is a key feature of our aggregation of the best video for social change. Here is my first review of the films selected.
It's a real joy to feature thejuicemedia's latest report (play and click through to find it). Giordano Nanni and Hugo Farrant's satirical rapping on the news has been going for almost five years, reaching 25 editions, and here they risk an avalanche of Zionist trolling by taking on Israel/Palestine. Getting hip with the hip hop is none other than activist and son of holocaust survivors Norman Finkelstein.
Heathcote Williams' My Dad and My Uncle Were in World War One is a wonderful antidote to the a-historical jingoism of the likes of Michael Gove, and the reactionary revisionism of TV historians such as Dan Snow. (Snow seemed to parody himself during his recent BBC series, asking questions such as: how did so many soldiers survive the trenches? In fact, Britain lost around 2% of its entire population, or "only 700,000 military deaths" according to Snow. France and Germany lost more than 4%, or one in 25 people. In addition, there were the physical and psychological after-effects on survivors which crippled and traumatized a generation. These effects are calmly recounted in Heathcote Williams' film, for instance how his uncle lost all his friends in the trenches, and never gained another friend for the rest of his life. But he also articulates their quiet, but absolutely indomitable, resistance. How his uncle would scoff at pompous nationalist commemorations, never even collecting his own medal for extraordinary valour, and how he and his comrades-in-arms in the trenches would desist even from loading their weapons.
The video reporting the lockdown of three activists to stop an oil train in their locality in Anacortes, Washington State was chosen because it is a perfect example of how to make a fast-turnaround edited activist report. It is economically but powerfully shot, in a way that can be cut and uploaded the same or next day. In fact it closely mirrors our own video news production template "Edit This!". This template, along with eight others, will soon feature in visionOntv's new publication, the Video Activist Handbook.
Bloggers for Palestine are unnecessarily apologetic about the imperfections of their video A Message to the World (Stop the Killing), as it was made during the height of Israel's latest bombing of Gaza. As they say in the film, "Their F16s, drones and guns can kill our bodies, but they can never kill our voice."
"Giving a voice" to the unheard has long been a mission of radical video the world over, but the voices of people with disabilities who fight back are still comparatively rare. Indefilms33's video of the action in central London to oppose the British government's axing of the Independent Living Fund begins with the voices of the disabled themselves. An insightful moment comes when a cleric from Westminster Abbey is caught saying: "I support everything you say, but Jesus would speak in a nice, quiet way." One of my little hobbies is pointing out to Christians what the Bible actually says, so here is a text this clergyman seems to be unaware of: "He made a whip of cords, and drove them all out of the temple.....; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables." (John 2:15) So much for non-violent direct action! Is the be-cassocked man in the video the actual Dean of Westminster Abbey, who called the cops on the wheelchair-bound?
The only feature length documentary in the list so far is The Internet's Own Boy, made in the year since internet activist Aaron Swartz's tragic suicide. It is both a moving and inspiring biopic and an astutely political film about freedom and the state/corporate nexus against it. Swartz died aged only 26 after hounding from the FBI and zealous, career-ambitious attorneys. He was indicted with no less than 13 felonies in connection with his attempt to download pay-walled academic journals. A further villain of the piece is MIT, an academic institution supposedly committed to empowering its students to undertake risky exploration, but which in this case set a spy camera to trap Swartz to enable a criminal case, and then never interceded to have charges dropped. Like so many institutions of higher education, both in Europe and the United States, which have effectively become money-making corporations, MIT chose to back other corporations over freedom of knowledge.
The Tar Sands Healing Walk 2014 is a stirring and beautiful combination of the traditions of First Nations people in Canada with voices of struggle against the despoliation of their land. In this sense, it reminded me of time I have spent with indigenous peoples in Brazil, who were drawing on similar traditions to oppose illegal logging from their forest. Too often in our societies, a mystical approach is quietist and resigned, an escape from struggle rather than an inspiration towards it. The people in this video show us a clear alternative.
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Film Club Review 2013
For the last four years, I have run a film club where we programme the kinds of movies we might not otherwise "find the time for". The screening is usually a double bill, every fortnight. There are now a vast range of films champing to get into our Sunday nights. Below I've listed all the films from 2013 that I can remember. Last year was unusual in having a larger than normal number of contemporary films, owing partly to a friend bringing a preview selection from the Brussels Film Festival. A particular revelation was Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent classic as part of a "Joan of Arc" night. On my wish-list for 2014: more films from Communist-era Eastern Europe (might sound dull, but the almost unknown films from the Czech and Hungarian New Waves are extraordinary), more documentary, more Tarkovsky, more silents, more Chinese 5th and 6th generation, plus creepy David Cronenberg.....
(I will add review comments as and when...)
Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013) - Kechiche
I loved the almost Wagnerian intensity of this film, about all-engulfing "first love" such as you very rarely see depicted on film. The subsequent controversy around it I found essentially uninteresting (the supposedly "male gaze" in the sex scenes), though we did watch "Lesbians react...." on YouTube, which was quite entertaining and insightful. I agree with one of the women there, that the long sex scene is a kind of recipe book of love-making, and about as interesting.
Joan of Arc - Melies (1900) / The Trial of Joan of Arc (1963) - Bresson / The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) - Dreyer
We moved from Melies hand-tinted frames, through Bresson's typically austere offering to Dreyer's extraordinary photography, full of intense close-ups, rendering the most expensive film set ever in Europe at the time almost redundant. One observation: the marvellous tracking shots - never say silent movies were static!
The Pervert's Guide to the Cinema (2006) - Sophie Fiennes
"Cinema teaches us how to desire" says Slavoj Zizek in 3 parts. Favourite moments: Zizek in Melanie's rowing boat in "The Birds": "You know what I want to do? I want to fuck Mitch!" - Zizek on "The Matrix: "I want another pill!" - Zizek on "Vertigo": "For Scotty, the only good woman is a dead woman." And his commentary on the hotel room kiss tracking shot, where the coordinates of Scotty's fantasy are finally aligned. Is this the greatest scene in cinema. I modestly ask?
To Live (1994) - Zhang Yimou / Lan Yu (2001) - Stanley Kwan
Zhang Yimou's film gives more insight into recent Chinese history than any number of Jung-Chang-style demolition biographies. Stanley Kwan's film is more interesting for its subject matter - the taboo subject of gay life in China - than for its style.
The Secret of the Grain (2007) - Kechiche
Kechiche's film-making is so intense. This film has mesmerising scenes, burning close-ups and terrific acting to tell this story about a Tunisian family trying to establish a boat restaurant despite bureacratic hurdles and the family's dysfunctions haunting it.
L'Avventura / La Notte / L'Eclisse (1960-62) - Antonioni
Beyond the Hills (2012) / 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) - Cristian Mungiu
Festen (1998) / The Hunt (2012) - Vinterberg
Losing Your Mind (A Perdre La Raison) (2012) - Joachim LaFosse
Cyclo (1995) - Tranh An Hung
Die Welt (2013) - Alex Pitsra
Viva Belarus! (2013) - Krzysztof Lukaszewicz / Alphaville (1965) - Godard
Baby Blues (2013) - Kasia Rosłaniec
The White Ribbon (2009) - Haneke / Lancelot du Lac (1974) - Bresson
Blackboards (2000) - Samira Makhmalbaf
East Palace, West Palace (1996) - Zhang Yuan / Poetry (2010) - Lee Chang-Dong
The Road to Freedom with Open Source
Finally I'm completely liberated from Windows and Mac.
For a while now, I've been running a "dual boot" Windows 7/Ubuntu machine. Open programmes on the Linux OS were able to match or better any pricey software made for Bill Gates' system. And Windows insisted on treating me like a child. I mean, how the fuck does Windows 7 have the right to disable my sound card from recording audio streams? Open source software was as good or better for everything, that is, apart from one solitary activity: video editing. My reliance on the professional features of Adobe Premiere was the final thread tying me to the dark world of monopoly-capitalist control. The open source editors were never quite up to snuff.
But then I discovered Kdenlive.
Powerful, intuitive, with a host of professional features, Kdenlive straight away passes the most fundamental of tests - import and export. Its compression of Full HD mobile phone footage was both high quality and fast. It has its idiosyncracies, but so do Premiere and Final Cut Pro, as any long-suffering user will agree. Editing with cut-aways, the basis of reportage, is integral rather than an awkward and reluctant add-on, as in iMovie and MovieMaker. A very useful feature is the ability to edit Full HD at lower resolution, then export the movie at full spec.
Never having tried it before, I had a tight deadline for a news report about the struggles in Turkey (see below).
So bye bye Mr Gates. Being infantilised by you and Steve Jobs hasn't been fun, and now I can enjoy my adulthood as part of a massively helpful community. Plus it's free of charge (though they really deserve a donation).
Finally a suggestion, in full "cyber-utopian" vein. Isn't the victory of open tools actually inevitable? (Think Linux, Open Office, etc). And are they not vital in the fight against the most serious threat to our freedom and our creativity, the corporate enclosure of the internet?
A Psychopath Comes Home: "Skyfall" and the Zeitgeist of the Elite
The latest 007 adventure “Skyfall” has been widely praised by reviewers, and welcomed by fans as a return to the series' core values. For me, though, it was probably the divergence from those values that made me so keen on the much criticised previous outing “Quantum of Solace”. But “Skyfall” goes a lot further than a mere return to the conservative spirit of the 50-year-old series. Any mistaken idea that Berkshire-born director Sam Mendes is a typical London theatrical liberal is decisively squashed by this deeply reactionary movie. Mendes' British stage productions are normally described as “dark”. I haven't seen them, but I'm guessing they belong to a very contemporary zeitgeist of paranoiac grimness, with very little critical ideology at all. Incidentally, I have never been able to understand the ecstatic reception given to Mendes' first Hollywood movie “American Beauty” (1999), a mild and inconsequential drama of suburban manners.
As for the half-century-old Bond, we can make a brief retrospective by looking at 007's enemies. In the Sean Connery / Roger Moore age, the real, drab, if sinister, Cold War adversary from the KGB is substituted by much more entertaining Pacific-island-owning, cat-stroking megalomaniacs bent on world domination. Mike Myers' Austin Powers derives much of its hilarity from being only a small step further down the road of caricature. Only when the Soviet Union was finished could communists actually appear. The Russian Futurist design of Pierce Brosnan's first film “Goldeneye” (1995) is one of its more appealing features. Communist-capitalist rapprochement even became possible in “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997). Michelle Yeoh's agent Wai Lin and Pierce Brosnan provide a more sexy version of Mao Tse-Tung and Richard Nixon's meeting of more than 20 years earlier. “Who said Communists have no sense of fun?” quips Bond, yoking Yeoh's character to the same stereotype as Garbo's Ninotchka of 70 years before. Coming back to villains, it was a very pleasing departure to see the colourlessness of Mathieu Amalric's Dominic Greene in “Quantum of Solace”. In the only left-wing film of the series, the villainy here lies not in a crazed individual, but in an impersonal corporation which wants to steal Bolivia's water supply. This is clearly a reference to real events, the water privatisation tried at the behest of the World Bank in the city of Cochabamba in 2000, heroically overturned by mass protest. These events were themselves recently made into a film, “Even the Rain” (2010). “Quantum of Solace” is “Even the Rain” with sex and stunts, and without of course the actions of the people.
By contrast, the fatal political weakness at the heart of Thomas Paul Anderson's “There Will Be Blood” (2007) is the grand guignol villainy of Daniel Day-Lewis' oil prospector central character. Watching the film, I was more curious about the other oil executives he encounters at one point in a restaurant: a group of normal, family men, who are presumably exploiting both people and natural resources in ways similar to Day-Lewis' character. This depiction of wrong-doing, that it is the act of twisted individuals rather than a function of the system, dogs many otherwise political films. Good examples are the treatment of Nazis in many post-war dramas. For instance, in both Bunuel's “Diary of a Chambermaid” (1964) and Bertolucci's “1900” (1976), the fascist character is not a dispassionate bureaucrat sending Jews to the camps, but a child rapist and killer. But of course if Nazism had been able only to rely on the participation of people like Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the Holocaust could never have happened. This is one of the great strengths of Pontecorvo's “Battle of Algiers” (1966). Ruthless, torturing paratroop colonel Mathieu is so admirably objective, turning French journalists' questions back on them: “The question is: should France be in Algeria?” If it should, then he needs to torture. If not, not. There is no way to have both human rights and the empire, as pro-war liberals often try to maintain.
The enemy in “Skyfall” is Javier Bardem's turncoat MI6 agent, a computer geek. Chillingly, the substituted enemy here is neither the KGB nor Osama Bin Laden, but Julian Assange and the masked youths of Anonymous. “Skyfall” has therefore taken an exceptionally reactionary turn to focus on the “enemy within”.
Mendes' “dark” world is very much in evidence, showing a menacing London not far from the dystopia of “V for Vendetta”. So much is this the case that I was impelled to ask, what is MI6 protecting exactly? Presumably the 1%, target of the Occupy movement and those same masked Anonymous youths. Can I have been the only viewer who was not upset to see MI6' notorious ziggurat on the Thames blown to bits?
Judi Dench's role as M has also become darker. Since her first appearance in 1995, she has been Jocasta, mother to Bond's Oedipus. In his “The Life of Ian Fleming”, John Pearson suggests that M may even be based on Fleming's own mother. In “Skyfall” she is more the child-murdering Medea, or Woody Allen's mother in “Love and Death”, ever prepared to sacrifice him for the good of the nation.
Apart from Dench's character, “Skyfall” is incredibly negative in its portrayal of women.
OK, I know that being shocked by James Bond's sexism is like being surprised by the Pope's religion, but here once again Mendes has given the standard Bond line a further twist to the right. There are a number of progressive currents running through the 007 canon. There are consequently choices that producers and directors can make. One of the attractive aspects of “Quantum of Solace” was the feistiness of Gemma Arterton's Bond girl. As such, in this world of sick, sorry, playful male fantasy, she must of course be killed, but that only gives her the same fate as every mere sex doll he meets. In “Skyfall”, though, we have Naomi Harris' hapless Eve Moneypenny, who, having accidentally nearly killed Bond, at the end of the film retires to a woman's “proper place” as secretary.
For the first time, in “Skyfall” we see Bond's social origins, as a member of the presumably English landed gentry in Scotland. These very “1%” roots are consistent with the political world of the rest of the film. Recent research on happiness in a deeply divided society suggests that the 1% may be as miserable and unfulfilled as the 99% in this state of affairs. Bond's strangely unmoving childhood trauma, and his consequent shallow and callous hedonism, make him the perfect agent to protect this grim world, in which he may be sacrificed at any moment. In this world individual human beings count for nothing. The preservation of the system is all.
A quick name-check on the Taiwanese New Wave
Here are three leading Taiwanese directors, in addition to the more Hollywood-friendly Ang Lee:
Catch them if you can.