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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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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Stuck in Neutral

The Consequences of Love
Quite an Italian Picture

People lend me films, a lot. I get sent films sometimes. It’s a very cool position to be in. Not quite as cool as being paid to write about them but pretty damn cool nonetheless. But there is a responsibility for you to be generous with your praise afterwards. I’m not an expert by any stretch but I know my Herzog from my Murnau so maybe, occasionally, I can offer a hint of help.

So it is with The Consequences of Love (Paolo Sorrentino, 2004). My opinion is wanted.

Mysterious hotel guest Titta di Girolamo is disconnected from everybody and everything apart from the case he delivers to a bank once a week posologie du viagra. It is all he does. Until he decides to talk to the barmaid in his hotel, and his life changes. It’s a simple premise, a straightforward reveal of a person’s life. I haven’t seen any of Sorrentino’s other films but he clearly has deft touch with the camera, smoothly sliding through the glassy minimalist Swiss architecture. He likes a mirror too, Douglas Sirk style multi-layer shot compositions are the order of the day. Like Sirk’s films this has the dubious effect of pulling you away from the story and dazzling a little with technical ability. A minor complaint but one that can stop you completely falling in with the story.

Stylistic qualities aside, the film forms a curiously neat partnership with another that I’ve watched recently – Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice. Another film with twinned central themes of love and death. And that’s at the centre of Sorrentino’s film. A life without risk, without chance, is not a life at all. And what is love if not a risky enterprise? So we see the routine and serenity of Titta’s life disturbed by his gentle, burgeoning and occasionally clumsy love for the barmaid, Sofia. Various second string characters factor in to this particular view. The ageing couple who room next to Titta are caught in a spiral of debt, having sold once great riches to fund a gambling habit. The husband, desperate to die with meaning and purpose, wants to go to Monte Carlo and live his last days extravagantly; the wife still clings to former glories, objects and regrets. They wrestle with burning out or fading away. Their fate is suggested and seems to agree with Sorrentino’s own view for his main character, Titta.

Consequences benefits from a superb central performance from Toni Servillo as Titta, who reminds me somewhat of a less expressive Stanley Tucci. This minimalism of expression is part of Titta’s armour. Eyebrows gently twitch, eyes cast downward and away. It’s a wonderfully measured delivery. A more demonstrative performance and it would be an unwatchable pantomime.

As an example of a national cinema it’s interesting to plot where Consequences lies (though admittedly limited by my own knowledge). Here, the mafia are a combination of aging businessmen and thorough tracksuited assassins. Coldly sterile buildings separate the true power of the Cosa Nostra from the street level dealings. It’s glimpsed only briefly, but the obvious complicity of the bank is interesting to note. This film could be paired with the modern Italian criminal epic Gomorrah. The myriad levels of criminal enterprise don’t operate separately but instead function in the heart of Italian society.

That’s it really, an expulsion of thoughts and ideas about a film that was enjoyable, if not loveable.

Watching the Stalker

Not sure of the origin of this poster but it is lovely...
Not sure of the origin of this poster but it is lovely…

Two men, known only as ‘Writer’ and ‘Professor’, hire a Stalker to guide them through the ‘Zone’, an off limit area where danger is supposedly ever-present. Their aim: to get to the room at the heart of the zone where their innermost desires will be realised.

It’s been a few weeks since I watched Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and I’ve wanted to write about it since then but, well, I’ve had to give it some time to settle in my mind. It is, first and foremost, a beautiful film. Cate Blanchett has talked about how each frame is ‘burned’ into her retina; on watching, it quickly becomes apparent why. Each frame is an exquisitely composed piece of art. Colours drip and drain whilst the textures of the world are the crumbling evidence of a creative space in a state of decay and disrepair. Because it is Tarkovsky you get plenty of time to appreciate these compositions too (141 shots in 160+ minutes, several over four minutes and one clocking in at 6 minutes and 50 seconds – Johnson/Petrie). There’s a few other familiar things in here too, his focus on the backs of people’s heads is evident and recurrent religious iconography as well as his father’s poetry being read out.

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