The Dark Knight Rises (US, 2012)

Men fighting

I need to stop watching Hollywood blockbusters… well I already said that re The Avengers. However I am an admirer of Christopher Nolan, and thought The Dark Knight was great, so I forfeited a few hours of my life again and was bored…

The Nolan brothers, the film’s co-scripted by Chris’ sibling Johnathan, are adept at placing contemporary references into the Batman universe. In The Dark Knight this was through the use of torture, the Bush administration’s interrogation technique. In Rises the destruction that bankers have wrought is included. ‘People’s justice’ is meted out to them but, and this firmly places the film in Frank Miller’s right wing world, the judge, malevolently played by Cilian Murphy, is clearly shown to be several screws short of a full brain. Yes there’s the schadenfreude of seeing those who remain untouchable in the real world being punished but aren’t we meant to be relieved when batman, inevitably, regains his manhood and restores the status quo? Thus the punishment becomes wrong. Well that’s wrong, these bastards that have screwed the economies around the world for their personal gain should pay (with time not their lives).

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da, Turkey-Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2011)

Nothing happening in the middle of nowhere

Most of this long film consists of a group of policemen and officials looking for a corpse but the perpetrator can’t remember where the body is buried. This leaves plenty of time for beautiful compositions, the direction is quite brilliant, and discussions between the men involved. They talk about everyday things, things that matter to all of us so the context of the setting is no barrier to engagement. At times it’s funny, the doctor goes for a piss and is frightened by a rockface ,and some of discussions border on the ridiculous, but writer-director Nuri-Bilge Ceylan never pokes fun at his characters.

The title may have echoes in Sergio Leone’s film, and there is a slight sense of the frontier in Anatolia; a village major takes the opportunity to politick with the prosecutor. Women are barely present in the film but their stories are important; presumably a comment upon the marginalisation of women in ‘outback’ Turkey?

I found the film riveting for all of its two and a half hours.

Import/Export (Austria, France Germany, 2007)

Surreal reality

This is Ulrich Siedl’s second feature and followed a career as a documentary-maker; despite ‘going fiction’ Siedl’s concern is still very much with reality. The film concerns the victims of globalisation who aren’t paid a living-wage, the Ukrainian nurse Olga, or struggle to get work, the Austrian security guard Paul. Olga goes to Austria, after trying internet porn, to work as a ‘nanny’; Paul ends up in Ukraine apparently going nowhere, like the Jack Nicholson character in Five Easy Pieces (1970). In this, the film is similar to Micheal Haneke’s Code Unknown (France, Germany, Romania, 2000) and Michael Winterbottom’s In This World (UK, 2002), both of which also deal with economic migration. However Import/Export is also, potentially, like Carlos Reygadas’ Battle in Heaven (Mexico et al, 2005) which used non actors in extremely explicit sex scenes.

However, while I found Reygadas exploitative – the scenes sex scenes seemed to me to be designed to shock in themselves – Siedl’s portrayal of internet sex was representing a very real employment opportunity for young people and so the shock derives from the existence of the activity and not his filming of it. All the actors, it has to be said, are immensely convincing; a tribute to Seidl’s direction.

Also potentially exploitative are the scenes in the geriatric ward, where Olga ends up. These old folk are clearly at ‘death’s door’ and Siedl’s unflinching camera makes this obvious. As the image above suggests, there is the potential to make fun of these people but Siedl is careful to individuate them and so we can feel sympathy for them (and fear of being geriatric!).

The film is also beautifully shot with some stunning compositions and locations; the Romany’s dilapidated (which understates the case) block of flats is quite astonishing. Neither of the characters meet, we have merely dipped into a few months of their desperate lives enabling us to see the consequences of unbridled capitalism. A brilliant film.

Une femme est une femme (France, 1961)

Anna Karina est une femme

I love the first half of this film where Godard’s playful modernism still doesn’t feel dated. Karina, as the ‘unfathomable’ woman of the title, winks at the camera and sings for the audience; of course, I could find this completely charming simply because it’s being performed by one of the most photogenic film stars in history. There’s playful camera trickery, a homage to silent Hollywood, as well as the tributes to the musical. The soundtrack mismatches images, drawing attention to the artifice, and the street scenes have a verite quality that look both modern and historical.

However, the second part is dominated by discussions between Angela (Karina) and Jean-Claude-Biraly, who plays her boyfriend, as to whether they should have a child. This isn’t exactly riveting 50 years on; I similarly find the long conversation in the bedroom in Breathless (1960) a longeur. However Jean-Paul Belmondo enlivens scenes as the would-be suitor, and mate of Brialy, who would happily inseminate Karina. Belmondo’s wonderfully charismatic as the ‘bad boy’ much in the same way as Vincent Cassel is today.

Original poster

This sums up another problem with the film; a problem with Godard really. Although politically left charges of misogyny are not difficult to point at the director. This is slightly unfair as the second feminist movement had yet to get into full swing but that doesn’t negate the fault. For Godard, women are a capricious and unknowable mystery; and it suits some men to think this, so that any female upset is caused by their nature and not male (ie their) behaviour.

So the film is part a period piece (hmm that assumes society is less sexist now than it was 50 years ago and I’m not sure about that) and part a marvelous ‘new wave’ film where Godard is still in love with Hollywood but also looking beyond it.