Pride (UK, 2014)

All in it together

All in it together

I’m amazed the first I heard of this heart-warming collaboration between Welsh miners and lesbians and gays, during the mid-eighties strike, was in an Observer feature a few weeks ago. Did I just miss it or did the media duck this class conscious alliance? Whatever the reason it’s a great story and is superbly told in this film which, I hope, becomes a big hit. It opened at number three last weekend but I expect the middle aged audience will have been catching weekday screenings. It’s imdb rating is over 8 suggesting the film is hitting the right notes for many.

The strong script, by Stephen Beresford, is aided by an ensemble cast where the well-known, Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine, Imelda Staunton and Dominic West, are matched by the rest, including the up-and-coming George Mackay, Jessica Gunning and, particularly, the American Ben Schnetzer, who plays the charismatic Mark who organises support for the miners. Although Mark is closest the film has to a hero, it’s gratifying that the film is careful to represent the actions as collective rather than individualist. It is through collective action that change is wrought.

There’s plenty of humour gained from the apparent mismatch of macho miners and homosexuals at a time when Gay Liberation was only just finding its voice in UK mainstream media. The choice of music, and there’s lots, made it clear that many of the best songs of the era were part of gay culture. Although the miners lost the strike (how could they have succeeded alone against the repressive state apparatuses?) it’s clear, from the film’s epigraphs, that the events shown in the film had a direct influence on the Labour Party officially supporting Gay rights.

There are many threads to the narrative that are stitched together expertly in this never overlong two hour film and I reckon the only misstep was not to include how the miners were correct in their contention that the Thatcher government were not interested in efficiency in the industry, they simply wanted to destroy the miners as a force of working class politics.

Gloria (Chile-Spain, 2013)

A lust for life

A lust for life

When discussing ageing with pupils I suggest that everyone wants to grow old. After a moment of derision they usually realise that the statement is true. However, the ageing body is clearly a monstrous Other in western society where we, women in particular, are urged to avoid showing the outward signs of decrepitude. Gloria, played brilliantly by Paulina Garcia, is a woman who is ‘past her prime’ and a lone divorcee who we meet in a singles bar. She has a lust for life and that, another taboo in mainstream cinema, includes a lust for sex. Few films deal with sex in old age though Hollywood has dipped into this demographic with films like the funny It’s Complicated (2009) and the dreadful Hope Springs (2012) (where giving her husband a blow job solves the marital problems). However neither of this films show the sex, Gloria does in all its glory and ageing bodies.

Sebastián Lelio directs (he also co-wrote) in a detached fashion, often framing in a medium to long shot with a static camera, in a relatively long take, allowing us observe the ‘always-on-screen’ Gloria at a distance. Sometimes this means the action isn’t clearly framed, however the technique works well to offer a certain detachment to the melodrama allowing us to more readily admire Gloria rather than be too emotionally involved in her situation. Gloria doesn’t want our sympathy, she just wants to get on with her life. There are a couple of marvellous melodramatic emblems: a street puppeteer has a skeleton dancing leading Gloria to give her on-off lover one more chance, it repreesnts mortality writ large; she finally rids herself of the ‘lover’ by shooting him with his own splatter gun.

Gloria’s lust for life includes her children but they, whilst loving, are detached from her and have their own lives; they obviously feel their mother no longer has much of a purpose for them. Garcia is marvellous at portraying her disappointment at her offspring whilst never showing them that she is hurt. This dislocation from the past is also a key part of the film’s politics. A dinner table discussion about Chilean society leads Gloria to suggest that children have been hard done by in the post-Pinochet period. Understandably Chileans want to move on from the brutal dictator’s time but Leilo suggests that the bourgeoisie are only concerned with their own cosy existence.

The film isn’t simply about ageing it’s also about gender and men come across as particularly pathetic. Gloria’s paramour, Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), whilst undoubtedly in lust, and maybe in love, with Gloria cannot break from his past – particularly his needy daughters. He’s shown to be emotionally stunted as if he believes his desire for  Gloria should be enough to sustain the relationship. He gets what he deserves when she shoots him. At the end we see Gloria, as she was at the beginning, dancing alone. At the start of this dance, however, she is surrounded by women. Leilo may be a bit too  harsh one men: we’re not all that bad!

Gloria is a cracking film that shows us oldies still have a lot of life in us.

Better Mus’ Come (Jamaica, 2010)

Couldn't be worse

Couldn’t be worse

Jamaican film made a rare and welcome appearance on the BBC earlier this year with this powerful film made by Storm Saulter and Paul Bucknor; well they directed, produced, edited, wrote and shot it between them. A prodigious effort that tells a story of the infamous extra-judicial killings of the Green Bay Massacre in 1978; the army set up and shot supporters of the opposition Labour Party. Although the narrative is sometimes sightly confused (well I was, it could be a cultural misunderstanding or that it was late) there’s no denying the power of the film. Storm, as he’s known on the credits, directs and films well using the bright colours of the Jamaica to contrast with the extreme poverty of the slums.

The largely amateur cast, well I assume so as they have appeared in few, if any, other films, do well and Sheldon Shepard is a convincing protagonist as the gang leader who wants to ‘go straight’. There are also hints of a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ ‘across the tracks’ love story and if the narrative is somewhat cliched this doesn’t detract because the setting is so unusual.

Lucy (France-Taiwan-Canada, 2014)

An American superhero made in France

An American superhero made in France

In the film ‘corner’ of cyberspace, amongst liberal circles at least, there’s much debate about when Disney/Marvel are going to produce a female superhero. This is when Russia is invading Ukraine; an apocalyptic cult is enforcing Middle Age justice on anyone they can; Ebola is devastating western Africa; citizens can’t feed and house themselves, not new I know but increasingly a problem in the UK. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is the only high profile female superhero in recent films and she only plays a supporting role in The Avengers and Iron Man 3. Yet here she is playing Lucy, a woman who acquires superhero powers blitzing the box office; she’s currently taken nearly three times as much as the ageing males of The Expendables 3 in North America.

Writer-director Luc Besson has a reputation for producing female protagonists, though I found La Femme Nikita (France-Italy, 1990) misogynist, and he’s scored with Lucy. It’s not strictly a superhero film, there’s no costume, but there are superpowers. In this sequel-driven industry it’ll be a surprise if she doesn’t come back and it would be a welcome return even though the film isn’t anything special.

Johansson, as usual, is excellent, particularly as the scatty student inveigled into giving a Korean gangster a suitcase. The gangster is played by the great Korean actor Choi Min-sik and his characterisation will have to down as another example of EuropaCorp’s (Besson’s company) xenophobia – see here; there are no positive East Asian characters. Once Lucy becomes ‘super’ she becomes less interesting but there’s plenty of cod philosophy, and physics, to keep audiences distracted. I liked Besson’s use of Eisensteinean montage in the early scenes when shots of wildlife hunters and prey and cut into the scene when Lucy is the prey of the Koreans.

As far as I remember, Johansson’s body is only objectified once; a shot at the airport that moves up her body from behind. There’s far more of her body on show in Under the Skin a film that probably won’t titillate much given its disturbing qualities. This is an important issue because patriarchy tries use women’s body as a way of controlling females – see the recent ‘hacking’ of nude, personal pictures of female ‘celebrities’. That is as absurd as Seth McFarlane’s ‘We saw your boobs’ song at last year’s Oscars and parades male stupidity to anyone with a maturity beyond adolescence. As Jennifer Lawrence, one of the victims of the release of the images, parody account tweeted today:

‘If a man stands in the middle of the forest speaking, and there is no woman around to hear him, is he still wrong?’

It’s a fair comment even if those of us who do not feel the need to prove they are men are categorised with the idiots who deal with their own inadequacies by trolling women that have the audacity to speak their mind and/or have a high profile.

Lucy is a film with a powerful female protagonist and I particularly like Amr Waked’s cop who can do nothing but get out of Lucy’s way in order to help her.