Blind (Norway, 2014)

What we cannot see

What we cannot see

Film is possibly not the most obvious medium to investigate blindness, however Eskil Vogt’s debut feature brilliantly portrays the psychological trauma that can accompany the loss of sight. Central to this is Ellen Dorrit Petersen’s excellent performance as Ingrid who, unsurprisingly, has issues of trust after her world has darkened. How this is shown would spoil the narrative somewhat so I won’t say.

As you might imagine sound is particularly important and Gisle Tveito’s design is exemplary and cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis’, of Dogtooth (Greece, 2009), offers some superbly disconcerting moments. Eskil Vogt looks like his a talent to watch.

Klute (US, 1971)

Typically misogynist noir

Typically misogynist noir

Klute is one of the feted films from New, or Renaissance, Hollywood; the fews years at the start of the ’70s when the studios backed films ‘with something to say’ as well as making entertainment. I recently watched the same director’s, Alan J. Pakula, The Parallax View (US, 1974), and found it had dated badly though its paranoia about large corporations is extremely sane now. Klute stands up far better with brilliant cinematography from Gordon Willis and Jane Fonda’s exceptional performance in the lead. Fonda plays Bree Daniels, a would-be actor and part-time prostitute, who is investigated by Donald Sutherland’s (exceptionally wooden) John Klute who’s looking for a missing friend. To be fair Klute is meant to be ‘a straight’, hippy for ‘boring’, but Sutherland’s usual charisma is severely lacking. Fonda’s high powered performance, however, is sufficient to make the film to be worth watching. Klute was an important film for feminists at the time, Diane Giddis, for example, in ‘The Divided Woman: Bree Daniels in Klute’, argued that it that it foregrounded women in a way that was new to Hollywood. Others, such as Christine Gledhill in ‘Klute 2: Feminism and Klute‘, pointed out that the film wasn’t quite as progressive as feminists hoped. Gledhill is right. For a start the film isn’t called Daniels, making Klute the supposed centre of the narrative suggests the primacy of the male experience and he does get to play the usual Hollywood knight rescuing the damsel. However, I think it is better to think of Daniels as the true protagonist, in a way that Giddis meant even if she misread the film, because it makes the film far more interesting. It is a psychological portrait of a ‘liberated’ woman of the time who is anything but liberated as she has to sell her body to get control over her life and requires a ‘good’ man to save her. Although the film seems to think it is being progressive it is mired in the misogyny of the time and does not free itself of patriarchy. There’s an excellent Senses of Cinema article here. Pakula offers us striking widescreen compositions and the dark heart of 1970s  America  is caustically exposed.

Metro Manila (Philippines-UK, 2013)

Hustling in the urban jungle

Hustling in the urban jungle

British director Sean Ellis follows Peter Strickland (Katalin Varga), Gareth Edwards (Monsters, UK, 2010) and Gareth Evans (The Raid, Indonesia-US-France, 2011) in moving abroad to get their films made: the Philippines, Mexico and Indonesia respectively. Basically it’s cheaper; Ellis reportedly remortgaged his house to help fund Metro Manila. These are all good films and indicative of the increasing ‘transnationality’ of the film industry. Whilst Hollywood is looking to China for its box office salvation, Ellis chooses to make a film that is rooted in its setting and, indirectly, comments upon globalisation. It’s true, though, that the narrative of ‘innocent’ farmers being forced to the city after being unable to make a living off the land could be told in many places.

Ellis shoots cheaply and the cast translated his English script into (street) Tagalog as it was filmed.  The principals are all excellent with special mention for Jake Macapagal as the ‘good man’, Oscar, forced into terrible circumstances. He conveys, with the merest hint of a change of expression, his distress in finding his decency assaulted at almost every turn. The first part of the film is a suitably depressing tale of the exploited underclass before the film morphs into a thriller as Oscar tries to provide for his family.

The existence of the underclass

The existence of the underclass

I watched the film the day I read about Martin Sorrel’s £40m pay packet for doing his job last year. I struggle to understand why such people need incentives to do a good job, for which they are well paid anyway. The truth is such obscene ‘wages’ directly cause the poverty suffered by the underclasses of the world. The cost of the self important, who believe they are worth more than most, is a hellish existence for many. Ellis’ film depicts the degradation of the world’s ‘losers’ with great skill.

 

Rabbit Proof Fence (Australia, 2002)

Crimes against humanity

Crimes against humanity

This ‘cry from the heart’ rattled Australia, apart from right-wing apologists, as it dramatised the racist treatment that ‘mixed race’ (‘half-caste’ in the words of the time) children suffered. The true story, set in the 1930s, of three young girls who rebelled against their treatment is intensely shot, Chris Doyle’s cinematography is as ‘out of this world’ as the story, and brilliantly performed. The three youngsters seem naturals for the camera and Kenneth Branagh is suitably stuffed as the ‘Protector’ of the Aborigines.

Director Philip Noyce, who made his name with some great films made during the renaissance of Australian cinema in the 1970s, frames the action with striking compositions. He’s equally at home with the drama of action and the necessary slow pace of the girls’ journey.

I’ve said very little about the narrative because it is barely believable: an extraordinary tale. The ending is particularly devastating. I’ve seen the film four times now and it improves with age.

10 Films for International Women’s Day

Vera Chytilová, writer-director of Daisie

Vera Chytilová, writer-director of Daisies

10 cracking movies made by and about women; in alphabetical order:

  1.  Antonia’s Line (Antonia, Netherlands-Belgium-UK-France, 1995)
  2. Daisies (Sedmikrásky, Czechosolvakia, 1966)
  3. Dance Girl Dance (US, 1940)
  4. The Day I Became a Woman (Roozi ke zan shodam, Iran, 2000)
  5. Frida (US-Canada-Mexico, 2002)
  6. Ginger & Rosa (US-Denmark-Canada-Croatia, 2012)
  7. Meshes of an Afternoon (US, 1943)
  8. The Piano (New Zealand-Australia-France, 1993)
  9. Where Do We Go Now? (Et maintenant on va où?, France-Lebanon-Egypt-Italy, 2011)
  10. Winter’s Bone (US, 2010)

 

Giovanni’s Island (Jobanni no shima, Japan, 2014)

Magic and the reality of war

Magic and the reality of war

Whilst the demise of Studio Ghibli, after Miyazaki Hiyao’s retirement, has been exaggerated it is still reassuring to see an anime released in the UK; particularly one as good as Giovanni’s Island. It was screened as part of an ambitious programme, at the Kala Sangam centre, that attempts to keep arthouse cinema in Bradford after Picturehouse’s takeover of programming at the National Media Museum. After an almost sold out start, only three turned up the evening screening of this film. There are two more showings in the current season – check them out here and here.

Giovanni’s Island is a child eye’s view of the aftermath of  war when  Soviet soldiers occupied the northern Japanese island of the  setting. It’s also a ‘coming of age’ story, not as extreme as JG Ballard’s Empire of the Sun, however nonetheless it portrays the way in which children, in particular, are psychological (as well as physical) casualties of war. The relationship between ‘Giovanni’ (the non de plume of the protagonist is a reference to a famous Japanese novel Night on the Galactic Road) and Russian girl, Tanya, is heartbreakingly drawn. Some critics found the film sentimental however as the film is a child’s eye view this is entirely appropriate. Whilst there is a fine line between bathos and pathos, I do wonder if critics, who find themselves ‘tearing up’ tend to resist their emotional response by blaming the film.

The animation, as is usually the case with anime, looks fabulous though the drawing of characters is particularly undefined, even by anime’s standards.