Just Another Love Story (Kærlighed på film, Denmark, 2007)

Be careful what you wish for

Be careful what you wish for

This is a brilliant neo-noir telling the tale of a frustrated dad who wants more adventure in his life and when he gets it… Well, go and watch the film. Ole Bornedal is a director new to me (he did the English-language Nightwatch (1997), but as writer-director of Just Another Love Story he is clearly a great talent.

Although it’s best described as a neo-noir, it doesn’t particularly have a noir visual style; however there is the femme fatale, a convoluted plot and play on identity and memory. It also references Sunset Boulevard (1950) by having the plot narrated by a dead man (not a spoiler – it’s in flashback) and a character tells us noirs always have mysterious women in them. Although, apart from the protagonist’s demise, it’s not shot as noir the direction is exemplary. Bornedal uses the ‘scope frame beautifully, particularly in the shots of the home when the ‘good woman’, wife of bored Jonas, realises her marriage is struggling. There’s also great use of CGI, for Jonas’ National Geographic fantasies, and possibly the best shot car crash I’ve ever seen.

The soundtrack is also brilliantly manipulated. Often we hear what’s happening in a parallel scene, which ‘comments’ on what we’re seeing. As Jonas falls in love with the mysterious woman, we hear the dialogue with her but see him sitting at a dinner party in his home.

In short: fabulous. I’m going to have to find his other stuff.

Tokyo Sonata (Japan-Netherlands-Hong Kong, 2008)

'Who are you looking at?'

‘Who are you looking at?’

I found this a frustrating film as, after a fabulous two thirds, it charges off into  absurd narrative developments. As the image above suggests, this is a dysfunctional family headed by a recently fired ‘salaryman’. The framing in the home is terrific, using stairs, doorways etc. to divide family members, as in the melodramas of Minnelli, Ophuls and Ray. Add to that the almost-surreal images of long queues in an employment agency stairwell and besuited business men amongst tramps at a ‘soup kitchen’ (they can’t afford lunch) you get a marvellous representation of how changes in Japanese business are throwing men onto the scrap heap; the protagonist, Sasaki Ryuhei, has lost his job as admin has been cheaply outsourced to China.

Sasaki’s wife is bored, stuck at home constantly tending to her family’s needs; his sons are alienated from work and school.  He cannot come to terms with his loss of job so maintains, like Michael Douglas in Falling Down (1993), his daily routine of going to work. This long set up is fantastic but maybe the scriptwriters didn’t know how to finish it? Roy likes that ‘fantastical’ elements, for me they worked against the tone of what happened earlier; the moment the narrative flashes back ‘3 hours earlier’ the film lost its grip on me.

Still, the film’s worth seeing for the first part and maybe you will enjoy what happens after.

The Long Day Closes (UK, 1992)

Watching the past

Watching the past

Terence Davies certainly knows how to frame and edit scenes to signify ‘memory’. It’s the elision time, Bud enters a cinema then seconds later of screen time the crowds teem out at teh end of the screening, and expressionist framing, such as the overhead shots in church, that emphasise the subjectivity of what’s being represented. Clearly the music will also evoke powerful emotions in those who remember the 1950s.

It is certainly a decade I’m glad I avoided (just) but there’s no doubting the warmth of the community (rose-tinted Terence?), Edna and Curly are archetypal witty, sharp-mouthed scousers, but Bud’s loneliness (as a nascent homosexual) is palpably presented.

The evocation of the era is terrific, the lighting and colour palette – not to mention the set design – reek authenticity. The realist presentation of everyday life is counterpointed by the stylised film form (coal delivered to a cellar looks – and sounds – stunning) demand that the word ‘poetry’ be used. It is lamentable that Davies has only been able to make a few films in his career.

As a teacher I wonder what Ofsted would have made of the lessons: how did this generation get an education?! There’s an excellent article on Davies’ work here.

The Navigators (UK-Germany-Spain, 2001)

Working the railtrack

Working the railtrack

This is a wonderful dramatisation of the stupidity of ‘free market’ economics. As British Rail was dismantled, having been starved of investment for years, the private sector moved in with flashy logos and cut price practices. As ‘headline’ unemployment in the UK barrels over 2 million, it is useful to be reminded of the the ’80s recession (when the film’s set) that decimated communities in the name of efficiency. As the film shows, the ‘free market’ (it can never actually be ‘free’, that doesn’t exist in reality) takes no account of people on its balance sheet. The bullying boss who insists that if you can’t implement the cost-cutting policies then you’ll have to resign knows that he won’t suffer as long as he’s exploiting others.

As is usual in Loach film’s, the camaraderie and humour of the working class looms large. The authenticity of milieux allow us to engage sympathetically with the characters; why then do Loach’s films fail to engage on audience in the UK? This film was even premiered on television! Maybe its because the British (English?) working class are greatly lacking in class consciousness (though that wasn’t true of the miners) or the anti-intellectual strand in British culture is suspicious of films that try to be more than entertainment.

It would be worth putting this in a double-bill with The Full Monty (UK, 1998) – both are set in Sheffield – and discussing afterwards what messages and values these films convey.

28 Weeks Later (UK-Spain, 2007)

American occupation

American occupation

This is a genre film teeming with good ideas: it picks up on the theme of a rampaging virus from the original film (now very close to home – er, the whole world – with swine flu) and adds American military and its occupation of a foreign country. Of course, from a UK perspective, that foreign country is home and so throws a light on how Iraq and Afganistan – amongst others – might be feeling. Add to that the brutality of military behaviour, then you have the potential for a subversive narrative.

The film’s effectively directed, if not quite as dynamic as Danny Boyle’s original, with a good use of reflections and some terrifying montages of carnage using the ‘less is more’ formula for representations of violence. However…

Genre films also require narrative cohesiveness and so the ideas can be subordinated to ‘crowd-pleasing’ arcs. For example [spoiler alert], Robert Carlyle’s marvellous vulnerable character, when ‘zombiefied’, continues to seek his children for reasons beyond me. True he seeks them to kill them but how does he track them across London; the Rage virus does turn them into mindless killing machines after all? So the final confrontation is absurd and drains the vitality out of what preceded it.

I had assumed that the film was a UK-US co-production, but the images of American soldiers being ordered to shoot indiscriminately made it obvious that Hollywood would not have touched this script; not only would it seem to be unpatriotic but they never want to upset the military as they won’t get access to their equipment and advice. Hollywood films are often used as recruitement vehicles by the US military.

Looking for Eric (UK-France-Italy-Belguim-Spain, 2009)

New career for Cantona

New career for Cantona

There can be few more surreal moments than Eric Cantona blasting out La Marseillaise on a trumpet high up on a block of flats in Manchester to have appeared in a Ken Loach film. Loach is renowned as a realist filmmaker so to dramatise a figment of Eric’s (beautifully played by Steve Evets) imagination with Cantona (‘I am not a man, I am Cantona’) himself is surprising. What’s not surprising is that Loach, and script writer Paul Laverty, pull it off. If the visual style and downtrodden milieux is recognisable, as is the working class solidarity of Eric’s workmates, then the feelgood ending is also unusual for Loach.

Cantona, of course, is Cantona; he acts as he did in Elizabeth (UK, 1998) but here it doesn’t matter as he is playing himself. There are plenty of clips of his genius on the pitch and he was one of those players that you had to admire even if he was playing for Man Utd.

The Sight & Sound reviewer complains that the sequence excoriating Malcolm Glazer’s takeover of Man U (by borrowing money then loading the debt on to the club thereby, in effect, buying it for nothing) is didactic. So what!? These things need to be said; there are many fans who don’t realise that football has been hijacked by money men.