Red Road (UK-Denmark, 2006)

How to live life after death

How to live life after death

Red Road asks the question about what sort of life you can lead after you feel, following a traumatic event, there is no longer any meaning to life. It does it via the thriller genre primarily through its labyrinthine narrative; it’s a full 90 minutes into the movie before we actually know what happened. The film has a modern riff with its use of CCTV that accentuates the fact that Jackie is no longer living her own life as she, for her job, watches others.

Writer-director Andrea Arnold astutely uses mise en scene to hint at Jackie’s underlying sexual desires/frustrations and sets up the disturbing scene when she confronts her nemesis Clive. The only misstep, I think, is making the determinedly proletariat character interested in tree sculpting; it’s as if he has to be more than proletarian to be redeemable. A minor complaint about a riveting directorial debut.

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The Silence of Lorna (Le Silence de Lorna, 2008, Belgium, France, Italy, Germany,)

Hustling nationalities

Hustling nationalities

There have been a number of films this century that have dealt with migration: the best include the thriller of Dirty Pretty Things (UK, 2002), the abstruse Code: Unknown (2000) and the realist Ghosts (UK, 2006). The Silence of Lorna is also realist with its handheld camera and focus on life in the margins. The realism, however, hinges on the utterly convincing performance of Arta Dobroshi in the lead.

This is a grim ‘slice of life’ that suggests that the price of a human life is a pittance for many. Whilst this is nothing new it is shocking to realise that this ‘third world’ expectation is in the heart of Europe. I found the ending puzzling: a retreat of the city? A grim pastoral place? Lorna losing her mind? Maybe she should’ve simply taken the money and ran. The relationshipl between Lorna and her ‘husband’ is beautifully rendered and, presumably the shocking twists of the narrative where why the script won at Cannes.

Only Yesterday (Omohide poro poro, 1991, Japan)

Past and present meet for the future

Past and present meet for the future

The only film I had seen by Isao Takahata was Grave of the Fireflies (1988), an astonishing depiction of post-war Japan. Only Yesterday is very different, a pastoral evocation of a second ‘coming of age’ of the 27 year old teacher who ‘takes’ her 10 year old self on holiday.  At the start, the cross-cutting between the 10 year old Taeko and the older version is slightly confusing as it’s unmotivated by the narrative. It’s a wonderful conceit that dramatises the role of memory, and the past, in our lives.

Not without its longeurs during its 2-hour length, it has, nevertheless, some magical moments; such as when Taeko walks on air having made tentative contact with a boy who also fancies her. The Japanese countryside looks beautiful and it’s great to watch a movie that focuses on life as it is rather than life as Hollywood shows it.

Waltz with Bashir (Vals im Bashir, Israel, Germany, France, US)

Regression to Mother

Regression to Mother

There’s been some discussion about how Persepolis and Waltz the Bashir have brought animation to ‘maturity’ with their serious take on the world. No doubt this remark has been made many times and is a symptom of people suddenly having their preconceptions about animation challenged. Why animate a film/drama documentary about the massacres in Sabra and Chatila in Lebanon, 1982 (Robert Fisk is by far the best British foreign correspondent – here’s a recent report)?

Writer-producer-lead actor-director Ari Folman structures the film around his attempt to remember what role, if any, he played in the massacres when he was serving, as a 19 year old, in the Israeli army. The film covers his quest and, given the unrealiability of memory, and the importance of dreams in revealing and suprressing memories,  animation is the perfect medium to render the surreal mix uncovered by Folman.

I had a sense that Folman was speaking to an Israeli audience who are in denial about the atrocities and so gently guides us/them to the truth. By focusing on individuals, mostly teenage boys entirely out of their depth, we see the Israeli participants as victims also; though obviously not in the same way the Palestinians were. Is this an apologia? I don’t think so; I think Folman is looking for the truth and the final image we have of him is of as a man-boy in shock as the survivors leave the camp. The shock is obviously caused by what he’s seeing but is also the contemporary Folman who has, at last, remembered his complicity in the massacre. It is a brave person who publicly admits such culpability.

The Palestinians have no voice, except the wailing women at the end, but this is about the Israeli experience. Of course it would be near-impossible for Palestinians to have their say – but their story needs to be told.

Visually, the film is stunning; cities turned into Ballardian landscapes; the dream sequences mixing horror and beauty; a terrific use of music (PIL’s ‘This Is Not a Love Song’ accompanying Folman on furlough). The image above is a scene where Folman goes to war in a ‘love boat’; or rather, partying on an old boat. There are no women but he dreams of this giant woman rescuing him from war. Women rarely feature in the film; but there are two mothers and one jilting girlfriend.

At the end, the rotoscoped animation morphs into reality with BBC and ITV news footage of the aftermath of the massacre. Inevitably it is a devastating moment but wholly in keeping with the film’s intent: to render the memories into a reality.

It’s the best film I’ve seen this year.