2016: September and the rest of the year…

September

It appears that I watched two films that came out in September.  I had positive feelings about the pair of them but before all that – what happened in the post summer malaise where serious films for serious people start to get wheeled out?

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2016: August

Barack Obama and Heath Ledger are equally difficult acts to follow

August

The end of the summer seemed to mark a return to quality. Or it would have done if Warner hadn’t released the teenage marketing machine that was Suicide Squad. A film that so desperately wished it was zany, wacky and edgy that it genuinely made me cringe with its pandering. It used a collection of extraordinarily on-the-nose pop/rock songs pumped over a neon imitation Banksy with the clinging awkwardness of your dad dancing with you at your 18th Birthday.  All of that bravado, all of the cloying, screeching ache for attention couldn’t distract from a completely run-of-the-mill storyline so dull that it gave up roughly halfway through.

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2016: March & April

March

Did you know that Badlands director Terrence Malick released a film this year? No, me either. Based on the $500,000 takings no one else knew about Knight of Cups. Regardless of that odd information, this is the month that some very loud, very stupid things happened. London Has Fallen effectively remade its predecessor and a lot of loud noises as a different range of landmarks fell about the place. Summit Entertainment continued to flog its Divergent horse, pushing Shailene Woodley into some increasingly tortured young adult fiction nonsense. But all that was overshadowed by the monstrously cretinous entry into our superhero addled brains when Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice landed on our screens. A riotously fractured film made of adolescent dreams and the scent of desperation. It made money. Sort of. But people didn’t really like it. It made very little sense.

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2016: January

Grab ’em by the puritancals…

2016 certainly happened, didn’t it? Ignoring a global lurch to the right wing and the bold rebirth of European nationalism, it happened on screens as well. Here’s the first part of a review of the year with highlights of the films I actually managed to watch. Read it.

It is, at the very least, well intentioned.

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Forever in Electric

Sylwia, the girl with the pink hair.

Suicide Room is the story of Dominik, a Polish teen wrestling with the problems of his own emerging sexuality, career-driven parents and living in the world that doesn’t understand him. Poland. Just in case you’re unaware, being gay in Poland is not a great thing to advertise.

Driven to living in his room by bullying and being repeatedly harassed online, Dominik finds solace in a group of online friends who inhabit the ‘Suicide Room’.

It’s very easy to be trite about a film like this, a film which focuses on the problems of a teenager. A time in your life when emotions are felt more keenly and reactions often seem more dramatic or exaggerated. But the vibrancy of these experiences shouldn’t diminish their validity. Suicide Room is a film about something real and vital. Certainly in parts of the world where homosexuality is criminalised or marginalised to the extent that it is a social death sentence this is not an outlandish story.

Jakob Gierszal is excellent as the awkwardly beautiful Dominik, curling and contorting his wire frame into all manner of tortured knots. Whilst his appearance and the subject matter veer dangerously close to a My Chemical Romance music video at times it’s held together through liberal and interesting use of the Suicide Room virtual community itself. A Second Life-esque virtual arena where the interactions of the characters are as genuine, if not more so, than their real life experiences. Here Jan Komasa can further explore the main overriding theme of the film, masks.

Dominik’s main contact in the virtual world is Sylwia, a pink haired mystery woman who rules the Suicide Room. She appears in webcam conversations wearing a clear plastic mask and reminding me of Mirror’s Edge character Faith. She is masked and somehow protected. It’s not a complex or even original exploration of the ‘We wear masks to the world’ concept. But it is effective. As a teen you are going through the process of tuning and manipulating your mask to acquire its final adult form. Dominik’s mask is fractured – he exposes too much of himself, literally. And in the age of constant, and instant, digital communication any weakness or crack in the armour is ruthlessly and immediately exploited by the pack mentality. In one scene in the Suicide Room a banished member rails against the avatars presented before him pointing out how their design seeks to cover the weakness of real life. Slender characters mask obese humans, muscle-bound hulks cover withered bodies. And in this space these compensating character avatars find the safety and solace they need.

Perhaps Komasa is trying to say something about the need for more space. That by constantly exposing the masked and the protected we are forcing them further and further into darker recesses of the world. Perhaps. Either way, Suicide Room is a fine exploration of a very relevant set of issues using a classic motif.

My Year with Andrei

Tarkovsky w/Camera
My mate Andrei

On reading plenty of end of year reviews of books, films, games and TV I realised that this year, more than any other as an adult, I’ve just not had any time for any of that. There are several reasons for this, none of them particularly bad, one is very good (he’s 5 months old and sleeping soundly upstairs). But it doesn’t stop the feeling that I’ve missed out. You’ve lost out on experiences and things that other people have had. I’d promised myself that I’d do much more writing too, all I managed was a solitary horror story during the summer and a brief piece of freelance for a website.

So, what did I watch instead? Well, at the start of the year, inspired by Mark Cousins’ ‘The Story of Film: An Odyssey’ (watch it!) I went about watching Come and See. A film so shuddering, so affecting, that I spent the rest of the year convincing people to see it. There is no flicker of doubt in my mind that it is a defining film about war. Other films from around the world, from Black Rain (the Japanese one!) to Schindler’s List, from Nuit et Brouillard to Full Metal Jacket all pale in my mind. The broad assault on the senses is so all consuming that it overshadowed anything else that I watched.

come-and-see
Watch it. It will haunt you.

Well, almost.

I’d decided, along with a friend, that I needed to cover the missing spots in my knowledge (read his excellent end of year list here!). Major works of film that we’d missed out on or avoided so far.  After Cousins and the experience of Come and See I was finally inspired by reading this, fairly random, list article. Tarkovsky was the only director whose work I’d never seen any of. A DVD box of the seven films he’d made was a mere £30 (it now costs £150 inexplicably). Even if all his are available online for free I did want the best available package.

So, this year I watched the seven films of Andrei Tarkovsky. It is true, he hasn’t made a bad film. He’s made a boring one. Solaris. But even that is so fundamentally brilliant and thoughtful in construction that you have to engage with it on an intellectual level. The ideas, the sheer magnitude of thought outweighs its pace. I liked them all. I felt better, smarter, enhanced for watching them. There is something special about the cinema of Tarkovsky, something so different. He’ll never get a populist revival, the pace of his work is at odds with modern life, his stories are merely skeletons, foundations of bone on which the beauty of everything else hangs.

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