The Red and the White (Csillagosok, katonák, Hungary-Soviet Union, 1967)

Knowing where to look

Miklós Jancsó‘s extraordinary mise en scene dominates this film that was meant to celebrate 50 years of the Bolshevik revolution that formed the Soviet Union. The ‘reds’ are the communist whilst the ‘whites’ are reactionary forces opposing the working classes. You’d expect, of course, that the reds would be celebrated over the whites however Jancso, instead, shows there are only losers in war. His steady tracking shots are usually more interested in the landscape than the action which seems, almost accidentally, to happening in front of the camera. Characters, and conflict, appear, and reappear, whilst the camera flows on its stately way. This estranges us from the action, giving the film a Brechtian dimension that encourages to think about what we’re seeing.

Similarly, we are often unsure who is which side and our Hollywood-conditioned seeking for the ‘good guys’ is undercut by the cruelty, and humanity, of both sides of the conflict. Similarly, we are not invited to identify with the characters so there is no bourgeois individualism. Jancso’s compositions are often extraordinary; such as the one above at the film’s climax.

Quite simply a brilliant film.

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Ill Manors (UK, 2012)

Not about rich kids

It was with trepidation I sat down to watch Plan B’s feature film debut, which he directed and scripted, after the negative reviews I’d seen. However, though it sprawls across 121 minutes it’s never boring and even if the narrative might’ve been tightened by a more experienced writer, Ben Drew has still produced a striking debut.

In recent posts (see Kill List and Dead Man’s Shoes) I’ve commented upon the difficulty of mixing realism with generic conventions. Drew does the same, though more successfully. What appears, in the first hour or so of the film, to be a collection of ‘slices of life’ on an East London Estate, turns out to be a melodrama that contrives to weave these strands into an unlikely – if typically melodramatic – web. Melodrama and realism are antithetical and maybe it’s this jarring combination that has put many off; certainly it’s not garnered much support at the box office.

Another ‘off-putting-on-paper’ aspect is the interpolation of music video sequences. However, these are used particularly well as they fill-in the characters’ back stories and Plan B’s music (he’s unsurprisingly in hip hop rather than soul mode here) is excellent. Dorian Lynskey has proclaimed the film’s title track as the best protest song for years and the video that accompanied it was similarly powerful. Its righteous, and rightful, anger probably won’t burst bourgeois complacency but that’s hardly Plan B’s fault.