The Secret Scripture : A Film Review


The Secret Scripture

Director Jim Sheridan, Producer Noel Pearson, Screenplay by Jim Sheridan, Johnny Ferguson. Cast, Vanessa Redgrave, Rooney Mara, Eric Bana, Theo James, Aidan Turner, Jack Reynor, Susan Lynch, Siobhan Redmond, Adrian Dunbar. Music by Brian Byrne, Cinematography Mikhail Krichman, Edited by Dermot Diskin, Production company, Ingenious Senior Film Fund, Voltage Pictures, Ferndale Films. Cert. 12a. Duration 1hr 48mins.


Beyond Dublin in the Green

Some people have got this film horribly wrong and are unable to cross over into it’s tragedy in a trinity of hope. The Irish Times gives it this ‘tribute’ – What’s that? Who’s he? Where’d that come from? When Barry’s novel was published, several critics argued that the final unlikely twist felt at odds with a hitherto disciplined narrative. It says something about the film that the reversal feels perfectly at home among so many even greater lunacies. It even casts sectarianism into a new vein without making comment of how diffuse these things are to convey – it seems in a blind alley Ireland. The mastery of the Bible both potent and conclusive lends written comfort to Rose, a woman betrayed.  It is within the unspoken reading between the lines we go with this film based on the novel of the same name by Sebastian Barry which makes for more imagining than the act of storytelling in film this is.  Nevertheless it is handled extremely carefully with a melding of eras and in themselves drawing comparisons.  The landscape is more familiar to the Irish and the need to know (Philomenas Story is a close relative) diaspora from Canada, America or Britain whose children are the fathers and mothers of new generations of the ‘departed’.  In complete association too are those left beneath fields, institutions buried so none would reflect on their memory except the mothers and those in the know.  From Priests to Police to Orderlies. Into the equationn come knowing townsfolk contributing to the complicity and getting on with their lives by ignoring it in order to straighten their own existence in the changing world.  For the story to begin we enter the present day at Rose’s Hospital and Residential Care home in the midst of it closing down.  Some lessons are learnt and there is clearly an attempt by Director Jim Sheridan to acknowledge Times have changed and the bullying and treatment of people like animals has been removed.  In this present environment there is real care and a making good with what is at hand.  Even the prospect of Rose being able to go to somewhere other than a mental asylum has reared its head.

With the dramatic stroke of a pen Sebastian Barry conjures up a back story to the aging and institutionalised grande dame Vanessa Redgrave playing Roseanne McNulty whose 50 years committal to this decaying and listed for demolition Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, is transported on the journey of her earlier life and circumstances.  Doctor Grene (Eric Bana) is sent to determine whether Roseanne is fit to be released.  The younger Rose is played by the affluent and Irish connected, Rooney Mara whose arrival in a small village in 1940s Ireland causes two men, a fighter pilot and a priest, played by Jack Reynor and Theo James.


New horizons revisited

Jim Sheridan has Oscar-winning debut My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father as home based movies and into Irishmans habitual magnetic pull to tales of immigration he went and it did not fail him with the exile story In America, and was an acclaimed award winning film also.  Some subsequent entries to the mainstream movie still didn’t seem to suit his work and this is a return of more recognisable formats and it is an attempt by Sebastian Barry to story tell the periods which define present day Ireland the diaspora and wars intervention.  This of course brings in relationships as the bolstering narrative force.  The auld triangle of a beautiful young woman and two bantam cocks clanging the auld triangle and creating conflicts?

Rose has kept a dairy all these years and we enter its tableau – shortly into the arrival of Rooney Mara from Belfast where it’s unsafe after bombing there.  The arrival of a beautiful independent woman is on this West Ireland landscape in the shadow of Yeats Benbullben outside Sligo, is to an already developed hybrid of gentry, Anglo patrons and a subdued, suppressed by Religion ‘compliant’ malcontented population.  They are not mercifully at war though many across Ireland went and fought alongside the British as it was 1. an option 2. There was little for them at home.  The mainstay of any small community is its perverse sense of hierarchy and those who disobey and act up are likely cast out.  Rose is recruited into her Aunts Hotel Temperance establishment and quickly the honeypot of the scented air takes her into the midst of village taboos.  The first ‘normal’ encounter is with a young man called Conroy a labourer for a hard nosed local family.  They have a built in hatred on the English and when there is another approach not altogether religious and skirting his own anxieties surrounding masculinity and his sacrifice comes Father ..    Rose deflects such straight eyed advances and goes her own path while accepting invitations to the local dance.  The presence of the Church is everywhere and in the dance hall they are required to keep apart while hoAldi get one another while the Priest including the presence of Father …. they leave enough space not to be sinful.

The film is drawn out using a great deal of passage from the present to the past.  It in done with good untroublingbpassage and with the versatile Vanessa Redgrave playing the Lady Rose and the unnerving accurate Rooney Mara as the younger vunerable Rose.

Inconsistencies and alterations. Implausibilities? 

Very strongly held views on this film have come from many who find the story confusing and too contrived in its far fetched coincidences and shaping of characters that feature less in the book than put to purposes dramatic here.  Some even call it a travesty.  Sebastian Barry having sold the rights keeps his counsel and his silence is taken as being far from endorsement. There certainly are large parts of the long history left in the book and a Rooney Mara’s Rose here has a prominent role in a central love story which contains its central themes.  She is an incomer, she is a beautiful sophisticated woman, she is of independent mind, she is entering a part of ‘remnants of occupied’ Ireland beset with unfettered resentment, she enters a village which has ahigh morality  driven by the Church, she is also in proximity to state institutions which remove children and separate single mothers from their babies and lock them up and give their babies away for money.  She also is in proximity to a Medical system crudely operating the appliances of ECT and shock treatment as normal for mental illnesses or difference.  She also notices the formidable rectitude of everyone to hierarchical status including her domineering Aunt (Siobhan Redmond) who’s name along with a few others are not easy to find on press credits oddly.  So is it deplorable to drop large parts of a book and get Shakespearean in this gazette of Ireland observed by the Filmaker Jim Sheridan who wrote the script along with the late Johnny Ferguson.?  There are central characters in this which do not sit comfortably with some people.  The airman flying a Spitfire – they ignore the reconnaissance tasks in the West Coast Atlantic seaboard where U-boats were often found and Lough Foyle famously being the last outpost for plenty of U-boats and also forget the American airbases – the recent BBC My Mother and other Strangers gave you the opposite to this film, delivering a War soap opera – which were in Fermanagh and all across Northern Ireland full of troops and airmen training to be pilots in preparation for the Secret D-day landings.  8,000 in Kilkenny Co.Down alone. While the book may have consorted with the flying mission instead of being a land based soldier, it matters little.  Bonzos are quite capable of shooting down ‘foreign’ planes and planes crash.  Many flights no doubt took place over this very stretch of Ireland’s republic.   Where do you take fault?  Is it the neatness of parts of the linkages.  Is the element of delving into people’s past too trite?  Sheading interesting characters? Is the ludicrously large white collared Priest Father Gaunt too comical and pathetic a figure. His character is volumously turgid and corrupt of a conflicted man. Are the nurses of the old school too clean and Matronly while being intensely underlyingly cruel? All these questions to my mind are nonsense and in the core of the film Rose is telling you how unstable memory is. The record to has advanced writing out that history.  Some of it is fantasy and in parts some of the grim reality turns out to have another side.  I don’t care if half the time the story finds a simple way to the next part as we are closely kept to the woman at is heart trying to imagine what happened to her.  Can you imagine how much she must have struggled to put that behind her.  For her imaginings of what happened to ultimately coincide with a partial reality?  The questions need not be effecting in terms of how they are coming to you as essentially they are in the realm of broken fractured memory.  The script actually places false directions in Rose’s mind only.  The other characters are real and no such bewilderment is visited through them.  Their part is sometimes savage and brutal.  Rose’s is in a state of protection in a fixed world she has inhabited for 50 years?  Can you imagine the damage caused to her and many women like her?

Similarities

I opened the play The Steward of Christendom at random and came across the same times as here. There are common investigations and trials of the past – society in Ireland – undergone by Sebastian Barry of which I rate the play as masterly, profound, haunting, sad forgotten history, much as this film indeed takes us into and it is quite political but Donal McCann made it definitely ‘other’ about the human improsoned in Ireland. Inside the Institution and outside on the Island fighting seeming wrongs. It made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end in its horrific prescience. Even now it inhabits the same place – even more so given the recent barbaric dreadful disclosures of previous generations guilt and the pain inflicted in those institutions.  Here’s the line I found straight on opening its pages of the powerful orderly Smith – Even in the ward of old dames with their dead brains, have some of them opened their eyes and are weeping to be woken, with your bloody shouting.  Do you want to go in with them, old man? After I beat you! Sebastian Barry on the case even then.

Eric Bana takes a high dose of listening to his requirement for enquiry about Rose.
The rich dramatic material at play and the fascinating historical backdrop means there’s plenty here that proves initially appealing. The young Rose is trapped by her sexuality, arousing interest in men without the slightest provocation on her part yet facing the full force of blame from those around her. The film briefly explores the complicated rituals of dating at the time and the dangers of a bruised male ego when a woman dares to turn a man down.
Initially there was a backlash in contemporary Ireland to the book with its closeness to history and claims of abuse ever in the headlines playing out.  It was seen in reviewers eyes as being far fetched and characterisations of romance purile and simplistic. For the film it’s seen likewise by many. The closing of the film is too contrived and unexpected as Vanessa Redgrave holds centre stage with her marbles intact.  The Secret Scripture use devices of story telling which only flow smoothly in books but it is admittedly hard to convey in the time period of a movie.  Demands of twists and turns though have been dealt with very satisfactorily by Jim Sheridan and there is no overplay of the gestures and realisations as they unfold.  With Vanessa Redgrave playing Beethoven’a Moonlight Sonata, (an accusatory critic paled at its repetitiveness) in solitary moments in a room, we see the breathing diaphragm of a living person recollecting her past.  It is not only sweet and convincing it is powerful and moving.

For the time periods to intermingle we have to have contrast and Susan Lynch playing the part of a present day nurse becomes a key vehicle for the sensitivity of history learnt. Her knowing, caring, is in seeing the woman in Lady Rose and reflecting on what she has gone through over forty years.  With the instruction having been given to assess her being taken up by a psychiatrist who is intrigued by the fortitude and forceful will of Lady Rose, is Eric Bana who plays admirable the ‘outside’ caring professional, quick to note discrepancies in the work of his peer, the notable Dr Jello  of Adrian Dunbar who is in charge with emptying the establishment and sees it as in ‘the line of duty’ as a role he plays with predictable solidity.   Dr Grene on the other hand is given slack and time by Sebastian Barry to develop a quick relationship of patient and Doctor which in present times of austerity are unimaginable.  Nevertheless an authors due – the slack given on occasion to movies due to time scale particularly in adapting books – is to make plausible a story’s reach.  Eric Bana and Susan Lynch form a convincing team and share the sandwiches, lunchbox treats and soups etc. or whatever sustenance is at hand in between Rose’s rest and elderly ramblings.  They too remain in the ghost like building emptying around them.  That is when switches occur back to Rooney Maras action packed life take us into a believable village – preposterous to critics of the book – with fabrications of conflicts infighting and japes and foolery unbetoken of Ireland of the time.


Irony lost on viewers

Sebastian Barry has of course given some ribald irony and an edit of preposterous heft to the story as if to say – Ireland, you were present when this was happening around your ears yet all you could do was turn a blind eye and more than that get caught up in rebellion against a country at war and a religiosity which tore the faith in God out of you and created a purgatory here on earth. It is tangible to see this cussedness in Irish people of that time but it causes more pain it would seem.  The truth always too has its victims. That is the line, the horrific line this film wishes to take us over and into a powerful emotionally troubling period for the characters who represent in fiction real people’s lives unimaginable at this distance horribly corrupted and ruined.  So there is a backlash of morality fighting for concealment as due reflection turns over too many stones close to the perpetrators unable to come to terms with their own families part in these vexing times.  Why drag up the past?  The reason is it uncoils itself in many ways not least in being held in so, it becomes repeated as a manifestation of ancient held in guilt in the sub-cncious passed on.  The doplar effect of the mind.  Séan Hillen in his Irelantis fictional world creates a counter narrative in art with the juxtaposed John Hinde visions of Ireland and as richly as film and novel forms.  More is essential for understanding ourselves the better.

There are scenes in the film which many will find arguable and condonable however I see those particularly disturbing pieces of work as entirely plausible credible entries to the hidden stories Ireland has masked for decades.  It may not be the truth but it bears an uncanny resemblance to the unfurling detail.  It is why it must be examined for what it contains, not for what you would like it to appear.


No chemistry? It’s not totally about their relationship but what hovers around it.

On parallel works

Hence the auld triangle goes jingle jangle. From Galway to Dingle, from Derry to West Cork it’s been happening for decades. Both the internment of the young and vunerable and the institutional abuses therein. The Steward of Christendom by Sebastian Barry was an intensely brilliant play I’ve seen several times and had on it acting – the unforgettable The Dead film character of Gabriel Conroy played by Donal McCann whose performance in John Huston’s 1987 film of the Joyce short is itself a piece of Irish history and also a masterful core part of Irish Cultural excellence in all its various themes.

The themes of the play are not equivalent in this film but provide another shape to the times within this film. For a synopsis of The Steward of Christendom – I’ve extracted the following from a ubiquitous source. The play opens in a county home (an inpatient psychiatric facility) in Baltinglass, Ireland in 1932, some years after Irish independence. In the opening scene, Dunne (Donal McCann) appears to be raving incoherently, reliving an episode of his childhood. As the play continues, Dunne slips from moments of lucidity to reliving parts of his career as a senior officer in the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), especially the handover of Dublin Castle to Michael Collins in 1922 after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He also relives memories of his family, particularly his daughters, Annie, Maud, and Dolly. Dunne is also visited by the ghost of his son Willie, killed in WWI; Willie’s ghost appears to him in the form a 13-year-old child but dressed in the soldier’s uniform of his 18-year-old self.

Here the date focussed on by Barry is the early 1940’s. The institutions had been around and become part of the identity of Ireland. In Belfast the 1932 move to Stormont from what was and had been the Northern Ireland Parliament one hundred yards from QFT in the now Theological College since partition in 1925. Sebastian Barry covers this ground in much of his work, of institutional Ireland of State and Health the life on the streets and rural world grippingly as he loosely affirms family connections with the Thomas Dunne the Dublin Metropolitan Police Commander in the play. So too this film for its depiction of a former period of important movement in Ireland. These histories are intertwined and Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera both had ‘seats’ at the Belfast Union College but never once collected from the fifty boxes of the MPs the Order papers of the day for that emerging Parliament. One could play the card Eamon de Valera was a double agent to the British hegemony as future republicans were to similarly trade their countries status. Not in a film though as truth is mainly stranger than fiction.

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Conclusion ####4

I began with a mindset carrying ideas of the lukewarm critical reception of the book and film, both inhabiting that doubt common to adaption of part historical narratives.  I need not have concerned myself too much because this film opens up a layer of life which is seldom considered in its continued influence and in the magnitude of its shaping usand the identity formed as a Nation on its multiple layers of relationships across continents, across short sea journeys and across hedges and parishes.  It harbours a fiction I see to contain many probable realities. I never read the book.  In the depiction of Lady Rose played brilliantly on both parts. Rooney Mara as the young independent free spirited, intelligent incomer beauty full of warmth and expectation and the kaleidoscopic thespian skills not wasted or lost of Vanessa Redgrave, herself no stranger to loss or to Ireland’s perplexing past, is not only endearingly charming but purposely disjointedly harmonious and comforting in its plainness.  There is nothing plain under the surface no matter what the Irish take or spin on it happens to be or where the deniers – and they are the ‘plain’ folk of Ireland themselves, mostly due to present many frstations of suffering across the world would prefer to banish and put away in a state of complacent bewilderment.  If only that were our only path.  The Secret Scripture is written – a form of blasphemy- in black on the Bible – as in the Temperance Hotel (you could say it was a depiction of Ulster which has many many connections with Sligo) – here is a Lilliputian Jonathan Swift world of male believe.  Now and then.  The Bible being the only book – in this puritan hotel – is the only marginila Rose has to take into her incarceration as a hidden diary.  For its uncovering, not matter it’s Preposterous retrieval there are unsettling truths like the words of the Bible itself.  As it is not a Book which is safe in the Clergies hands nor taken with pillars of salt in communion amongst the suppressed and mal treated citizens, already infiltrated by a siege power of a monarchist force.  Since the 1166 occupation the persistent and systematic entrapment is in plain sight from the pulpit and before the pulpit.  Both the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland contrite and corrupt in unity of suppression against Gods will.  This film will be seen initially as a passing anecdotal fable worthy of a watch but light on appeal.  It will upset and conflict with perceptions narrow and broad but I would say it will after several viewings reveal itself in time to be full of its own contested narrative slowly bringing a reckoning to bear as its bold and more extreme view is received as history continues to recite its clarion vision.  It is there for us to see in a wider sense and while novels, films can only open some fictional presentation of a past long gone it is always a sudden shock to see its proximity to truth and realisation is slow but within reach.  On a question alone of the mix up of plot and some too fanciful occurrences I knock it back from being a 5 as it is to my mind of a very determined voice setting out to familiarise the world and those closer with the inexcusable period in the past in this country – worse if most probably being effected unknown to us in other parts of the world – and it is a piece of the pyramid of truth being built in memory of those children and women.

It is like a whisky chaser hitting your throats but this is why the fondness for diversion is like dashing your head on the rocks.  So much is ventured there is no small comfort to be had except through thinking along the lines I think Jim Sheridan, Sebastian Barry and the fine strong cast found themselves nurturing.  While it is discomforting it is due plenty of deliberation.

John Graham

22 March 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 24 March through to and including  30th March and on General release.

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Post Behan Brectian Proustian stories

In Ireland the confinement of Women and Men distinguished little in Mental Institutions from the Prisons like the Mountjoy that inspired the Dominic Behan The auld triangle goes jingle jangle. The lyrics still are chilling and how the Bi-sexual Brendan Behan came to them is anyone’s guess but the waking traingle of the Prison warder still makes people sit up and listen to these lyrics – the last verse.

In the female prison there are seventy women 

And I wish it was with them that I did dwell 

And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle 

All along the banks of the Royal Canal

Was the mind of Ireland imprisoned during these times?

From The Quare Fellow of 1956

ACT 1:
A hungry feeling came o’er me stealing

And the mice were squealing in my prison cell,

And that old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

To begin the morning

The warder bawling

Get out of bed and clean up your cell,

And that old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.
The screw was peeping

And the lag was weeping…

(SONG BREAKS OFF HERE)

ACT 2:

A hungry feeling came o’er me stealing

And the mice were squealing in my prison cell,

And the old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

On a fine spring evening,

The lag lay dreaming

The seagulls wheeling high above the wall,

And the old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.
The screw was peeping

The lag was sleeping

While he lay weeping for the girl Sal…

(SONG BREAKS OFF HERE)
The wind was rising

And the day declining

As I lay pining in my prison cell

And that old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.
In the female prison

There are seventy women…

(SONG BREAKS OFF HERE)
The day was dying and the wind was sighing,

As I lay crying in my prison cell,

And the old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

ACT III, Scene II (end of play):

In the female prison

There are seventy women

I wish it was with them that I did dwell,

Then that old triangle

Could jingle jangle

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

To this song provided for The Quare Fellow by brother Dominic we can add along the themes of imprisonment is this universal song. 

I shall be released

By Bob Dylan

They say ev’rything can be replaced

Yet ev’ry distance is not near

So I remember ev’ry face

Of ev’ry man who put me here

I see my light come shining

From the west unto the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released

They say ev’ry man needs protection

They say ev’ry man must fall

Yet I swear I see my reflection

Some place so high above this wall

I see my light come shining

From the west unto the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released

Standing next to me in this lonely crowd

Is a man who swears he’s not to blame

All day long I hear him shout so loud

Crying out that he was framed

I see my light come shining

From the west unto the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released

 

End

Personal Shopper : A Film Review


Personal Shopper
Director. Olivier Assayas, Produced by Charles Gillibert, Written by Olivier Assayas, Starring Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Hammou Graia, Nora von Waldstatten, Benjamin Biglay, Audrey Bonnet, Pascal Rambert. Cinematography, Yorick Le Saux, Edited by Marion Monnier, Production company, CG Cinéma, Vortex Sutra, Detailfilm, Sirena Film, Arte France Cinéma, Arte Deutschland/WDR, Cert. 15. Duration 1hr 50mins.


The Outline

A young American in Paris works as a personal shopper for a female mega-rich celebrity. Personal Shopper Maureen played by Kristen Stewart seems to have the ability to communicate with spirits, like her recently deceased twin brother. Soon, she starts to receive ambiguous messages via. text from an unknown source.  Her travels take her to and from London and she is stalked by these messages while she is figuring out her brother Lewis’s ‘presence’ while advising his late partner and friends on the forms medium enquiry takes, as all try tying up loose ends concerning the former home the couple lived in.  While it is on her mind she remains there in Paris addressing the spiritual effects on her.


Acting Sharps

Love or hate central character Kristen Stewart either a cool, ‘calm and self assured way … in the portrayal of Maureen who is an assistant operating as the title says in a shadow role … ‘ as someone very competent, smart and young as others see her (male and female acquaintances come up with the similar infuriating answers) that she acts perilously close to appearing to have let off a sneaky fart.  Her facial expressions in other words conveying this repose. Not exactly the way of conveying criticism but there is a public appetite for simplification and many ways of expression co-exist.  I differ though as though I am not entirely taken by her acting while appreciating here and in the previous collaboration – she seemed better in – Clouds of Sils Maria, with director Olivier Assayas.  This is a sensational chilling, at times disturbing, ghostly twin peaks thriller.  That is more than overkill as a description and instead it could be – some fellow viewers say it this way – as a plodding vision on spiritualism explored using 1900 references, musical, novel and filmic as well as a large presence of abstract art.  Being critical of Kristen Stewarts presence and acting impress is valid due to the high profile she has attained.  She has her smarts choosing parts suiting her and this again is one that she excells in my view as she ‘inhabits’ the part and allows its slow release.  Optimum high drama is not her style and a lot here depends on her not reacting to situations as a witless overacting actress quite legitimately could have portayed it. It will be interesting when another more dynamic dramatic challenging part requiring altered states of acting rather than altered states of mind – laid on her courtesy or constrictingly here by Olivier Assayas.

Trope trailing trowels

We are no longer in the vulnerable trope female genre age (I sincerely hope) and as a personality the bi-sexual individuality of Stewart operates on a higher plain.  So much more is – in her projection – about you seeing a woman thinking on her feet. That is how it should be. Film making advances and KS is up with tat unquestionably.  Choices in fashion shops for someone else, to Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten) who she doesn’t empathise with and while things happen in many ways as she tries to contact her late brother Lewis firstly via. a stopover in the house he and his partner, who has since vacated it, lived in.  This is something she delivers on.  The shallow part is in the drama internalised.  It is impossible to convey – otherwise our Director would not formulate filmic distortions and overlay them. The layering on of some actress throwing up water of liquified gung down screen and walloping us with ‘fright bites’ tells you the actress is apparently aware of a ‘presence.’  So that’s the chops of limitation gone. Terrifyingly the film ‘Under the Shadow‘ did it so much better as did Narges Rashidi’s Shideh acting even allowing for the presence of a child.  It is light years ahead of this film.


Lessons in doubt

Maureen being a twin has been consumed by her late brothers interst in ectoplasmic experiences and his intoxication with spiritualism. If some viewers actually extend the idea she is herself a medium, it is not quite that distinct in the fiilm and purposefully some dialogue indicates that. The co-relation of the twins is used as a deep connective configuration advancing and allowing us to give credibility to her need to go into this means to connect.  Also advanced as a secondary way is the story of prospective purchasers who Lara, brilliant delivery (Sigrid Bouaziz) has arranged a provisional sale with – providing it’s not haunted.  Quite how they got to be aware of this possibility is another unlikelihood.  Hey but this is story telling and poltergeists are everywhere.  Victor Hugo gets an approval rating by way of a filmic diversion explored by the search engine world all inhabit.  It’s not just employed as a screenshot on a phone but is itself put up in 4×3 ratio as a cut into the film itself – placing it as a condescending educational aid primarily as it is counterproductive and another piece of confirmation Maureen is not fully up to speed on large figures of medium history.  Odd?


General Major Von Ruff (Lars Indiger) from BBC’s SS-GB turns up as a companion of the Mega-rich Celebrity Maureen and equips it with a side story but the sensationalist use of both characters is for drama content only absenting itself from the plot.  Into the ingredients come supposed markers in the form of Phone text exchanges as Maureen continues to buy things from Paris and London, furnish the clients wardrobe and only briefly interacts personally with.


Work of Hilma-af-Kline. (Other images seen in film)

Abstraction

This film takes us through the territory’s of well documented followers of spiritualism from the abstract artists to the novelists though not going as far back as Shelley, Wolsencroft, Yeats etc. and Hugo is highest in exploration while Steiner and Germanic themes dismissing spiritualism are advanced along with an atmosphere borrowed from Cabaret and musical underpinning which adds up to a concoction mash up rather than a rather good recipe which on other occasions may have expanded the thesis or directors aims, understanding for us to be satiated in this complex ‘other’ world.  Presumably Aleister Crowley was a no go area and too unfashionable.  Swedish pioneer Hilma -aft-Klint is the most clearly ‘startling’ face of examination on the subject while Hugo is very obviously the exponent of the written conquest of the forms and ideas.  Conquistador, never thought I’d use that, but the film has Victorian and lots of diverse angles, unfortunately in a mash up.
Maureen is a supremely assured young person in Paris who clings to the memory of her twin brother Lewis who has recently died.  His widow .. is coming to terms with the loss and is almost separate in grieving.  The effect on her of loss is never explored properly which sits badly. Her character is strongly projected and lifts and contrasts with the central dynamic.  The lack of awareness is ascript problem with presence taken with other choices themselves pedestrian and in danger of seeking out artfulness.  Is it attempting to convey the everyday?  Contemporising the vision of ordinariness/complexity each apparent, in our existence with unexplained spiritual questions a fixed part of life explored variously but where is the hook and ponderable intensity of the question?  It’s virtually lost as will become clear by anyone seeing it through to the end.

Subtraction of anxiety

Because there is an appetite for skilful drama on subjects of family loss and the strangeness of further and further examples of concealment – not in plain sight issues and ideas or science based constructs – we are hopeful of it being satiated.  That is where Cinema a sets itself apart from other ‘media’.  Film has delivered the technical age of impersonal interchange.  Scream. Nightmare on Elm Street.  Under the Shadow subverts this completely and intelligently using a blank TV to put the self into and see things there.  Text requires your imagination – it’s no secret – has to put in absent words became se of the truncation. Cinema has past history unparalleled in taking us into challenging peaks and troughs of life.  Life itself defined here crudely in death.  The only part of our awareness of life is experienced by death. Time shaped life is present in the moment collated through memory which itself is plastic.  For a true picture of the phenomenon unstarstruck this is not the place to look for answers and ‘arthouse’ is a looser bond here in the speel given in other reports as to its veracity or filmic depth visually or storywise attributing as it does too many ‘representative’ tokenist tropes and planks of assumed knowledgeability of the topic to have it drop the ball somwhere over the Seine.

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Other psychics are available – Aleister Crowley                         Victor Marie Hugo also wrote his original thoughts on mediums

Conclusion ###3

I was initially interested in where this film might take the ectopsmic hinterlands of spirituality in the authorship of Olivier Assayas but was quickly disappointed in its seemingly directionless plot building.  Fashion houses only are of passing interest – after Comme Garçon all pails.  The bling of glitterati in hot house shops conveyed the Personal Shopper role without intimating any lack of form or shape to the body of the human placed in the centre being at odds with that occupation.  It is and was a mere occupation apyingbthe bills and any opportunity to convey materialist notions of contemporary value systems were non existent.  So what then?  Maureen clearly was using the job to pay the rent and apart from some passing exploration of the sexual content of the choices she was making for her clients identity which were at times matching her own it too was trivial in its effectiveness.  There is not a lot an actress could do with the clothes except cosset nourish herself with their temporary escape and then move on.  The void was so apparent and uninteresting.  As for the spiritual enlightenment none came to pass. Quite a few reactions were of the ‘presence’ of absence which is stretching the task of using language to fit the void in extremis.  It may have worked with emphasis in different places but it didn’t shape up at all.  As for its tendency to factorilise the brief of the ‘medium’ it was tediously condescending it is attempt at gravitas.  While many will like it because they like the look it is hardly going to be held as a new thought provoking exemplary piece of film making.

Kristen Stewart needs better work and can outlast this temporary indulgent blip.  I certainly hope and expect her to excel somewhere along the line.  I was said in a ‘proper’ review! nameless that  She possesses an uncanny ability to turn her natural charisma into diffidence. You can’t take your eyes off her, even as she ..  That view has a different outcome for me as plain blandness.  The view related also paying film fans. Still in a parallel world – the world of Russian Vogue I believe KS turns up recently as a fashion model and all the clothes are radiant and colourful.  See the web for the blonde new look attire.  Strikingly photographed.  No hint of irony but clothes listed in Russian!

John Graham
16 March 2017

Belfast
On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from 17 March through to and including 23 March 2017.  Also on General release at selected Cinemas.

Certain Women : A Film Review 

 

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Certain Women

Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Produced by Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani, Written by Kelly Reichardt. Based on Based on stories by Maile Meloy. Cast. Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, Lily Gladstone, René Auberjonois. Music by Jeff Grace. Cinematography, Christopher Blauvelt. Edited by Kelly Reichardt. Production companies. Film Science. Stage 6 Films. Filmed in And around Livingston Montana USA.  Cert. 12a. Duration 1hr 47mins.

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Orderly nature

Is this a portrait of women on frontiers of life?

We are invited into a slow moving trilogy of women’s stories loosely linked in the vast State of Montana.  Arrival by train either stopping or passing frames the small town together with the freeways and intersections this film borders on.  The narrative sets with the first of the stories introducing Lawyer, Laura Wells played by Laura Stern.  In an unbashful undecorated interior of a hotel or rental we meet her having a lunchtime diversion with Ryan (James Le Gros) before we roll onto her place of work in a town lawyers practice where a client without appointment tries to engage her on his apparently hopeless case.  A story of industrial injury is the wreck of this fifty something year olds life and stoically Laura engages as she has arranged for the annoying irrational but troubled Fuller (Jared Harris) a needed second opinion.  This sets them on an adventure of a dead end kind. The pace of daytime routine, timekeeping is a forerunner to the entirety of the films tableau.  Days are repetitive, boring mostly, stuck in seasonal weather, this time is late autumn going on into winter.  With the next two stories we are tested to enquire if their interlocking as they have tenuous connections.  The frailty is purposeful and as a thin metaphor for the crossing of paths.  Some secrets are held among the excursions of the town we intrude upon. Each story creates a passage of time in the short term and as future anticipated.  The sounds of the train, the cars, natures birds singing, animals in a paddock or stable genuinely create descriptive immersion to a pleasing unaffecting environment.  On one excursion typically random, Ramy Groovy Thunder, the endtitles reveal, is an Indian having taught the Shopping Mall White schoolboy Indians.  It serving as a reminder of farback life. The tow of the film takes us to many places and none confining except through the constructs consciously or unconsciously assembled by the characters we meet.

For anyone expecting action it basically happens when we finish one story and go onto the next.  The Maile Meloy short stories are melodies of brief interludes.  Vignettes of totally different scenarios.  As a stories collection they are known as Certain Women.

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Firstly

The start following Laura as she is alone and excercising her freedom as a free spirit led to Law presumably by its formula of right and wrong in conflict and requiring sorted out.   The extent of her stoic outlook is a famiar middle-aged acceptance of the worlds toil.  In helping fractures mend she is a realist and becomes at times contemplative though this interior life is not really examined or inviting enquiry.  This is a problem in creating divided, seemingly unconnected stories and it is not Women as say, a Robert Altman Short Cuts.  What this film succeeds in is creating a slightly meloncolic and sensitivity with an inquisitive narrative in which you are to form pictures of lives and emotions behind them without creating too many sub-plots.

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Secondly

Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams), wife to Ryan, who we has appeared briefly before.  Gina is walking a forest trail.  A motor track which has sunlight invading in spades of light.  She is kitted for running and stops to scuff her heels and sip a drink.  Her gaze is studious and she absorbs her surroundings slowly.  Everything is done slowly, almost, and she approaches a camp with a bedecked large tent from which a small family argument appears to be in progress.  Ryan and Gina have a teenage daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier), who while herself enjoying the outdoors has limited patience and it is stretched even further when a promise they made is broken.  They go to a elderly lonesome friend, Albert (Rene Auberjonois), who is prone to mishap and has large acreage of barren land between him and the freeway.  His house is a pitched roofed bungalow with what looks like replica wood shingle and it’s wide windows insulate him from the outside which he occasionally listens to.  His recollection of birds is intact.  He maintains a tidy homely house and a minor tendency to forget as he does when the subject of the stone is aired.  This is a relationship which Gina is careful to handle as she it appears in this scene to be the one who most needs the new house to be of her identity and not a joint one which Ryan is happy to go along with.  This presents questions on the extent of discord in realationships and how solid a construct they need.  The home Albert is happens to be a replacement home and as I hinted it is of a compromised modernity replicating what was.  The sandstone also represents a past era and it got knocked down because its use passed.  It was no more than a building blocking a view.

 

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Thirdly

Jamie (Lily Gladstone) is a ranch hand.  Working on her own she looks outside for experience of the town she is on the periphery of town.  With this she free bases an evening class for Teachers interested in School Law at which she becomes interested in the alternative life of woman called Beth (Kristen Stewart). After the class she introduces Beth to the local diner in a food refill before her 4 hour journey back home. Having struck up a friendship Beth provides a diversion from the ranch routine which fills the introvert Jamie with touching connection, (metaphor) to someone who perhaps has similar needs despite being occupied with life in a town.  The simple chosen life of Jamie is a deep contrast to any other characters in the film.  Hers is a solitary occupation where time is driven by the habits of animals.  Feeding them, turning them out, tending to their physical well being, sheltering them and exercising them if needed.  This is a directing calling to be at one with nature though these animals are captive almost dependants on her and create a nascent family.  Their is little in the way of return for her other than the fact they are not humans and don’t talk back or play with her emotions.  This though is a life of isolation which she sees the voids in and her gentle temperament – her back history as the others is unexplained – takes her not to bars or dances seeking a partner but what appears at first a community gathering but turns out to be a class.

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Of all the pictorial stories I liked this most knowing the satisfaction working with animals gives you and the latency of uncovered patterns of nature as seasons and habits rely on the earths cycle rather than a man made one.  Jamie’s quiet mostly manual work has an honesty also.  She is relied on by these animals to a degree and she brings them along as children.  Beautifully photographed and with repetitive acts we enter this soft routine world.  There is contrast from shots of a stable barn interior darkness with a horse entering through the light of the door and there is the unharnessed light of the outdoors filling the frame as the horses cross white snow covered paddocks fenced with metal grids and moving between the hay bales broken and scattered and the pack leader chases of his fellow horses with mild rebuke and gesture and they settle to feed.  Exterior and interior are so clearly marked here.  The stable barn is seen as a long corridor with tack hanging on pegs and sliding stable doors which are open closed as Jamie moves horses about to clean their stable.  The repetitive act of this housekeeping is watched from a distance at the end of barn exentuating the routine and emphasising the habitat.  The editing of this story is more expressive of the county of Montana than is otherwise seen.  While Gina is intent on making a homestead – her ideas are unclear for example as she is uncertain as to the use of the mountain sandstone she acquires – and putting down a marker is her aim mostly while her relationship and the fragility includes ambivalence towards a teenage daughter whose options and choices perhaps exceed hers.  Jamie is in need of contact and her behaviour while understood is odd and not able to fit the normal things expected in life which is oddly reassuring and plays out with a really affectionate scene where Beth gets to male a connection with the animals, a horse which she otherwise would not experience.

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Conclusion ####4

Kelly Reichardt’s film is a set of miniature dramas to savour.  Her script, control of framing and pacing, editing and work with a very effective and wise cast deliver a modern allegory representational of our control of our habitation and our proximity as always to the nature we move east, west, north and south through.  Only here are the NW, SSE movements as we track across other people’s lives with degrees of impact kept for later questioning, while the freeways, trains, mountain tracks, forests provide a view of wider world reminding us of its eternal presence.  In Prodigal Summer, a book set in a similar part of America, I’m currently reading, a sentence reads, Out of the light she could almost see the calm air beginning to gather itself for the afternoon, the oxygen burgeoning between the damp leaves.  The trees were the lungs of the mountain, – not her mountain, nobody’s damn mountain, this mountain belonged to the scarlet tankers, puffballs, luna moths, and coyotes.   Kelly Reichardt’s film is a figurative treatment of one subject – our living world – under the guise of another – our living with the world, with thecrelationships though nots as detailed and integral as the aforementioned novel nevertheless place contemporary life and the variety of choices, without even a birth death, marriage or priest, minister to be seen as a complex picture.  It is not a movie of assurance, but and assured depiction of perpetual motion along which lives move among each other and this being an adaption of short stories weave a wonderful rewarding insight to the human adaption in every era.  This is a very satisfying watch which contradicts its simple form by illuminating several angles in life’s tapestry against a familiar backdrop.  No large life shifting things are present.  No child in a hospital fighting for their life, no violent intrusion, no traffic or domestic accident or unnamed catastrophe.  It is an ensemble delicately woven and splendidly transformed from the page.  Very different from the usual cinematic experience which is a feat in itself.  If any feelings of incompleteness occur at the end it’s because life is.

 

John Graham

1 March 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast 3 March to 9 March 2017

Kelly Reichardt

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Here's an arrival this week - a colt foal by Kingston Hill mum not credited at Coolmore

Here’s an arrival this week – a colt foal by Kingston Hill mum not credited at Coolmore

Fences : A Film Review

Fences


Directed by Denzel Washington, Produced by Todd Black, Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, Screenplay by August Wilson, Based on Fences by August Wilson.  Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney. Music by Marcelo Zarvos. Cinematography Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Edited by Hughes Winborne. Production company Bron Creative, Macro Media, Scott Rudin Productions, Duration 139 minutes. (2hr 19mins.) Country:  United States. Language: English. Rating: 12a.

Play on Today
Venturing into film directing for the first time Denzel Washington has chosen a play to adapt for the screen.  Fences written by August Wilson is shaped as a family drama set in Pittsburgh in the age of the cities growth and expansion.  The couple at is heart are Rose played by Viola Davis giving an Oscar worthy performance as a middle aged woman married to Troy in his mid fifties played by Denzel Washington.  As the two leads they do not place any cultural struggled as the drama but the relationships they have with their close family.  In fact the only outsider is an old colleague of Troy whose acts as a folk for story telling in the backyard.   Discrimination does come into it as an aside but it avoids political messages.  Where can you go wrong with such a good cast?

Primarily it is about the contest of father and son in a rivalry born out of disappointment and poor choices.  It begins with a dialogue between Troy and Bono at work on hanging on dumpster and emptying very lightweight bins. Trash being small beer in those days apparently. They walk home and discuss the complaint Troy has made about not being allowed to become a dumpster driver.  The move is implied as being blocked because of his race.  They exchange sexist and workplace banter, using the n word (which is a 12a classification as it is outdated racist language) as braggadocios they act out the past  in a contrived male language bordering on sexist as well as racial offensive except they have the licence to use it as it solidifies their masculinity in their minds.  It crosses over in a reduced way when Troy talks to Rose with in their case impish comic marital prenuptial negotiations.  Rose is a homemaker totally at ease and comfortable with her home and the possibility of it improving bit by bit without holding big expectations.  Troy is on the other hand in dreamland where he is searching for something other than the inevitable route to the grave which gives the notional premise to the play.


Premise

Sam Cooke wrote Jesus be a fence round me.  He had no fear of death therefore but wished to be protected by the Lord Jesus.  The faith which Troy doesn’t have isolates him and makes him sole defender of his place.  Fences to him are to be constructed here on earth.  Platitudes, clichces are trotted out in the script as reflection and in the language are akin to Church preaching on sinning.  Troy has a gift for sinning.  Sinning against himself in his early life by not concentrating on his baseball skills but getting immersed in crime which put away any chance for sporting advance.  Instead he spent 15 years in jail and it is the period after this when he has brought up two sons with Viola, one who is a man on a mission to be a musician, Lyon played by the mature looking Russell Hornsby, whose attitude of creative and loose come what may approach to things contrasts with the fixed ideas of Troy whose own creativity was lost back in time.  There is an undercurrent of jealousy in this but never fully explored.  There is also a more directly presented parable of their younger son, the 14 year old athletic Cory played with immense sensitivity and strength by Johan Adepo, who is but a mirror of the past Troy has had.  Troys caring side is expressed through his disabled brother.  A war veteran whose cranial damage required a steel plate which contributes to his polarised, asbergers type state, Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), has just moved from the house to display, alongside Lyon’s moving out, a blunt display of his independence which further challenges Troy.  Troy manages to deal with these moves but cannot face the last one.  Two strikes is used often and I see these as the two strikes.  Troy in August Wilson’s mind avoids being menacing though scouts the boundaries the further discontent and disconnection with Gods purpose manifests.

  

Father Son.

Building fences is the clumsy metaphor of the play and how it is made drama.  With it originating as a stage play it is very compressed and reliant on the set pieces around the interior of the house, the living room of which reminds you of the cornflour blue of the film Moonlight which has the colour line through it.  The interior is bright and very well kept in shiny chromium sixties style with furniture on hire for 15 years still in use.  They have no TV and they have a refrigerator which is the first thing Troy reaches into for his Jackhammer Dry Gin when he returns from work while he discusses the dinner and local gossip with Rose and how she’s been making out during the day.  The home is a stable place for Cory, Rose and Troy and the job on the rota is building a fence to an empty rundown property next door.  In a back yard type place the raggety overgrown unkept disorder is in a way comforting ascorder means urbanity and the trees, bushes, vegtable garden and others variety of tending makes for a casual mix of what might be a plantation workers yard.  The order and disorder are an important methapor in Denzel Washington’s approach as are other touches.  Troy takes his sons gift and puts it below the work and studying mantra he believes would better equip Cory.  To Cory this runs against plans he has made as adjustments.  His job at a store is to be replaced by a scholarship to a school requiring his baseball skills above academic skills where at the same time he will be able to study outside of the baseball training and paling.  He also has organised work at the store on available weekends. He has Rose’s backing.  Troy on the other hand is fixed and this is regressive for everyone.  Moving on is not in Troys mindset.  He is so selfish and everything around him relates to his own battling with the devil.  He also has cause to be contrite in later events.  As I noted musician Lyon’s has escaped the grip of his father and chosen his own future. There is solidity reflecting this in the paying by Russell Hornsby.

 

Setting

Being a play without the range of a Macbeth or Three Sisters this somewhat restricts staging as so many scenes are in the same set, the backyard or kitchen, living room.  For it to work takes a very clearly crafted order and this film moves from having at times flowing interludes to the jumping around framed set shots pictorially pretty but basically daylight lit nice couplets and monologues.  Thankfully in an important scene involving Viola which will be recognised as a career performance is filmed as a static framed head shot mostly which is right on the emotional visceral painful thrust of the narrative.  Rose brings a major problem of heart over head and examines Troy’s framework in unusual confrontation showing how deep her previous compliant self has gone along.  It shows up how much Troy himself has not addressed his past or confronted his demons.  In another scene a technique which I ‘dissed’ as a poor choice at the beginning of Moonlight, is here used to carry the flow and externalises briefly the carry of the narrative.  It is when a revolt shot is used and each face is ful of expression as they speak and the rotation carries the dialogue effortlessly.  If only the rest of the film had been laid out in a pattern and not patchwork of cinematic choices.  It has the feel of a play too much of the time and even theatre screenings of plays, National Theatre Live for one, have a form and fixed style and structure which does not flit about.  The style is rich on occasions and when time has passed – to the final act presaged by a snowfall – the formula is unbroken and fixed as before.  Some wisecracking critics often come out with directional reposts described as ‘well directed’ an underpinning of a film ‘not being well directed’ as if drawing attention to the cinematic values present at times – I think it’s important to say we’re a breakdown occurs and where a flow and assured passage carries is achieved or an outcome.  It is part of the viewing experience as is sitting in a theatre would be watching Denzel and Viola on stage would be totally different to this film.  Maybe it is Washington’s choice to cool down, to remove the menace and ramp up the garrulous aspects as his own persona is able to carry it more convincingly.  In a review a scene is described thus – “… of claustrophobia … there’s clear evidence that careful thought has been put into the quiet visual architecture of this film; …  example,  where Bono warns Troy of impending ruination, places the actors in the bottom right of the frame (a scene which does not occur in the play and is basically a wise move in choosing a spot to film/replicate impending trouble visually) while rubble and an empty field symbolically take up most of the screen. I disagree on the basis the film has few moments such as this. When they do as I previously noted, they only serve to disrupt a flow so important and not replicating a stage plays approach. They have not choreographed it for screen and several shots are staple stage replicates.  The atmosphere is achieved with the back yard being reminiscent of the rural they would prefer to bring up children in.

  

Film Futures

America is lost in its Entertainment mould with the decades of Crime thrillers, Space age, Sci-Fi, War heroics, Pratfall College, Financial swindle, Corporate greed, Sexual shenanigans, and many more genre flowing towards the expectations of an  unsatiated Public whose expectations follow the hype and out of the mainstream ,assively omportant groundbreaking movies emerge despite the – and this critique is broad given it’s within a review – vast production and sometimes failing box office hit and miss targeting of audiences.  Manhattan, Apocalypse Now, Goodfellas, The God Father and many others of equal stature are not the norm.   They follow incredible journeys in cinema, On the Waterfront, In the Heat of the Night, the influence of Foreign Cinema, in creating a landscape where present day filmmakers struggle to be seen.  The films, especially in ethic rooted film is fresh and full on in examining issues and positions.  Society is reflected.  Also Fences is; and this is no slight on a Denzel Washington, there is a pecking order in the screening and output.  Denzel Washington’s profile is such that this film gets more traction than it might otherwise have had.  It is a very good debut and fairly safe and challenging as Troy’s character is not one you would immediately empathise with.  It opens up performances though which are from the first division.  Viola Davis and Jovian Adepo spectacularly inhabit their parts.  The screenplay for this 29 year old play was penned by the late August Wilson himself.  He carries through on Troy Maxson’s dance with the devil over a fence he is slow in building and likely to be caught out.  The baseball similes or straight references even, take to the park throughout.

The August Mr Wilson  

Conclusion ###3

I really enjoyed the introduction to the work of August Wilson and the stage plays set 29 years before in Pittsburgh must accumulate a large library of varied purposeful interpretation of the ethnic conditions playing out in a big city along similar lines to Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams or as a contrasting backdrop to the more explicit approaches to political hatred and manipulation in Orson Welles Mancunian Candidate. The demons are still around and while this film brings to new audiences including the Cory age, very well conceived drama depicting the important things in life.  The family and direction of travel for equality and a sense of a creator whose work is us.  Where is the life manual except in our genes and these now are being conquered daily as coping mechanisms for ill health and the mind is yet capable of controlling itself without derangement and falsehoods or projections which are baseless and void of fact.  The magic of plays is lost and the era is well documented by now so the primary focus of the father son relationship must be disposed to inform our enquiry.  This it does in part by the confrontational aspects which are repeated in various guises until the more informative exacting deep delving dialogue gives you in very rewarding viewing central reasoning and what the message concerns.  It is certainly an approachable watch and opens alternative viewpoints America and the rest of the world would do well to examine. The central themes may even be Aristolian or Homeric with male, female needs apart. Unresolved masculinity.   The blue don’t strike out.  They consider,  needs and wants and dreams as the film suggests at one point.  You would think music would be an important part but it is kept for Rose’s church going and A song passed down through Troy.  It makes for a well counterpoint to Gabes bashed trumpet and the ‘motif’ of collected and disused brass instruments unplayed, neglected and unloved.  There is a lot of love in this film and the hardship is in the entrapment. The poet said “Good fences make good neighbours” my current read, Prodigal Summer, reminds me and adds from Miss Rawley, “Oh, people just adore fences, but Nature doesn’t give a hoot.” Strange expression that as if suggesting without a hoot comes Road kill?

John Graham

22 February 2017

Belfast

On general release and a 12a rating.  2hr 19mins.

Moonlight : A Film Review


Moonlight      Oscar time and the winner is!     This time they eventually got it right.

Director. Barry Jenkins. Cast. Alex Hibbert as Little; Ashton Sanders as Chiron; Trevante Rhodes as Black; Mahershala Ali as Juan; Janelle Monáe as Teresa; Naomie Harris as Paula; André Holland as Kevin; Jharrel Jerome as 16-year-old Kevin; Jaden Piner as 9-year-old Kevin.


Story in 3 parts

Barry Jenkins has taken a history of a boy to man and set it in three chapters.  There is a different name given to the same person taking the journey.  From Little to Chiron to Black we do find out what becomes of him in these chapters as these are the phases in life which mould and control the advance of the boy.  He is so small all call him Little in the beginning.  His choices are few.  His drug addict mother is a loose cannon and he is a wild child who makes his own way to find food and survive on Miami’s streets.  Liberty Square and Liberty City project were key.

 “It was the first time someone had come to their community and wanted to represent it onscreen, and since Barry Jenkins had grown up in that area, there was this sense of pride and this desire to support him. You felt this love from the community that I’ve never felt in any other location, anywhere in the world, and it was so strange that it happened in a place where people were expecting the complete opposite.”  Local reaction.  Police escorts filming were also needed.

It is another film without the father figure to lead the boy through the wilderness.  He is of the type of child whose wits need to be sharp and he is streetwise switched on kid.  The survivors instinct remains as a child and it builds barriers other circumstances more civilised will have an immunity to.


A substitute or replacement father figure is presented in the form of a low life dealer Juan aka Blue.  Chiron also is given an alternative mother in the form of Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa.  She provides a place of refugee when home is off limits.  There is an identikit friend, Kevin, who acts as a foil to the apparent destitution Chiron finds himself in, as a kind of compass point.  In dealing with all around him he becomes aware of his sense of self and sexuality and masculinity in particular.  Kevin the friend is the daytime school crutch and compass. Life becomes a shade perplexing when his mother enters his alternative world also due to her addiction. If you want to see this as a love story then it would serve that purpose well as a means to carry it through to the end.  It clearly has a central focus of love.  Absent or emerging.  All those experiences of the exhilaration, hurt and beauty of loves roll call are heartfelt and dealt with, with precision and clarity, for an boy caught in a mess not of his making.  The pleasure, if you can call it that, is the directors ability to draw us into the imperfections and choices made.  Gracefully tenderly and astutely levity of kind deeds and sometimes redemptive acts occur.


Filmic sense of place

There is a claustrophobia about the ‘hood’ the techniclour neighbourhood which if it were not for the separateness,  the sense of entrapment, the shut off segregation by class context, its so discordantiy uplifting.  It is a failure of integration and also generated by the mood music of America – the sure and undealt endemic racism –  which has credal, national boundaries.  Into the first frames we see the neighbourhood and relaxed men talking on the street, and Juan played superbly by Mahershala Ali crosses the street to meet a pair talking and they then imply upfront talk about the deal on drugs going array.  Juan settles things and shows his dominance an function as the top man on this neighbourhood.  He identifies with the role with a tall cool gait.  The cinematographer, director annoyingly follow and old circular walk around of these three before moving on down the street where a parked car and its occupants have drawn his attention.  This start is easy but limiting.  It presents no contrast or order or place.  Fortunately that is a minor blip on starting a story which involves Chiron and his mother – the Oscar nominated Naomie Harris.  Her living conditions are less well kept and are a backstreet compound of chalets in blocks and most with boarded, or grilled up windows.  The transition central to the story as coming of age is for some plain others get the subtlety of brotherhood and Little looking up to Kevin who is ‘gifted’ in pleasure potency.  Little borders on loving Kevin and they share a blunt and Chiron gets to know a bit more of how he works.  Seldom clear it shows the muddle he is in. The lack of sexual insight and experience continues and the only therapy is his imposed identity persona as a crutch which ends up in the third act well expanded. Barry Jenkins makes the point not to be clear to an audience and leave them thinking despite the numerous comments that it is a gay based movie.  That’s not what he intends it or wants it to be.  More evidently it is a mixture of social and human frailties and strengths in circumstances which they are trapped by.


Performances

For Chiron there are 3 actors each giving a very connecting depiction of their adopted character.  The innocence and uncomfortable, questioning, uncertain and with a ready smart intellect clearly challenged Alex Hibbert as Little is first to capture your interest and enquiry.  His co actors in principally, Mahershala Ali as Juan; Janelle Monáe as Teresa; Naomie Harris as Paula; all give him latitude.  As they react and relate they summon belief in these people and the grim unequal situation they are in.  It is pure unpoliticised but a sense of real America without the dragging in of hot notes of comparison.  It is all done through the characters themselves gathering in the audiences belief in them.  There is a humanity and faith underlying but again no Chaplain or holy moment to underpin an anxiety or piece of hateful racism.  All is done on its own terms.  The central ‘Chiron’ has another age of reason to play with, Ashton Sanders as Chiron does it again with his portray of the sexual emergence of the self put to the test and masculinity including bullying from a constant Terrel school classmate excentuate the hurt and confusion while Juan rfeatures less here but he and Teresa provide more help as things get worse.  


Barry Jenkins in interview points out – : I think in the story, one of the strongest moments is when Juan unpacks the word [faggot]. I think for a kid to see that scene whether they identify as LGBTQ or not is important. There’s this great quote about the film that says, “Juan unpacks the word but he doesn’t unpack Little with it.” I think that distinction is very important. I think because of the journey this character goes on in the film; you watch, and you see how this guy gets further away from who he is. I think when you see the power we have to affect people for ill; I would hope that kids would humanize and identify with that character.

In a further element on period which is 1987 in feel he returns to his own upbringing  No work. [to the Liberty Project buildings] I don’t like to talk about time stamps; 1987 or 1989 or things like that. But that place feels to me, largely the same as it did when I grew up. It’s part of the permanence of whatever is the spiritual and cultural gumbo that’s in the air. To be honest, when I read the script that’s what it was. I thought, “This feels like my childhood, but it also feels like now.” It felt like a very contemporary story or how stories are rooted in our past. So we didn’t have to do a lot to augment Liberty City to make it feel like the place where we grew up. It literally is the place where we grew up, and it hasn’t changed a ton. People who have watched the film talk about the imagery, but I didn’t do much. The walls are painted that color, and they have been since I was a kid.  From http://www.chocolategirlinthecity.com/      An interesting blog for a great variety of reasons.


Colour

Finally the significance of colour.  In the original play which itself has provided audiences more insight its title says it all – In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Tarell Alvin McCraney: It’s difficult to narrow down why I wrote it in a way that feels generous to the process of it. It was really self-serving. There was no real representation of myself to see, and to purge ideas on and to look at for models of. I was trying to figure out my manhood, my childhood, and my personhood. I was the son of a crack-addict who had just died from AIDS-related complications, but at the same time, I was on the precipice of a life-changing moment.   The writers view.

I was struck by the visul imprint based solely on the title.  From the appearance of the Cornflour Blue of Juan’s Buick to rooms, to looking down on chairs outside, the colour turns up with frequently as a subtle glow of the saturated good life taunts the screen characters.  The saturation on Niaomi Harris in her home is significant and redolent of type.  As for Oscar worth it’s not up there for her in my view despite her throwing herself into the acting and working with a ‘type’ scripted in her part lamely.  She took a bit of persuasion as she did not want to play a crack addicted woman and it shows the script let her own also.  The rest get a better deal.  So if inference and facial angst is enough for an Oscar it wouldn’t be the first time.  Talking of which this has coming of age similarities to Boyhood.  Equally enriched and out of type, mainly.


Conclusion ####4

Being on the surface a coming of age film it differentiates itself by putting up the conditions and everyday mostly drug dominated complexities of restricted life.  The restricted containment and lack of connective integration seen in New York and very large conurbations, where the sheer scale allows for little else other than integration of a more natural kind, is expressed here because perhaps paradoxically the people have the space.  America is so huge the enclaves happen as a easy out.  Not many look at it this way but Planning, Counties, States have grown up and been shaped this way over years perhaps excentuated by the 50’s Political driven life.  This film has broken through the barriers and provides an astute though at times trope laden story which crosses boundaries in inhabiting the characters space and giving huge performances.  It has certain limitations but it is undoubtedly a very unique and great film for these times and predicates more and carefully created work ahead. There is also a very good musical score and sound tapestry. Very mature and spot on.

John Graham

18 February 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from 17 February to 02 March 2017.

Prevenge : A Film Review


Prevenge A Searingly Tragicomedy Slasher film set in London with a .vengeful Alice Lowe as Ruth in a prenatal state of fantasy.

Director. Alice Lowe. Screenplay by Alice Lowe. Cast.  Alice Lowe, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, Jo Hartley. Music by Toydrum, (Pablo Clements and James Griffith), Cinematography Ryan Eddleston, Edited by Matteo Bini. Alice Lowe as Ruth, Jo Hartley as the Midwife,Gemma Whelan as Len, Kate Dickie as Ella, Kayvan Novak as Tom, Tom Davis as DJ Dan, Dan Skinner as Mr Zabek, Mike Wozniak as Josh, Tom Meeten as Zac.  Duration 1hr 27mins.  Cert. 15!  Others call it an 18!


Pre-Emptive Strike. (The Baby’s)

Alice Lowe writes, stars in, directs her first film in a genre which is fantasy comedic drama.  It is a twist of threads unraveling in her pre-birthing state.  In her womb is a child who has began life with a set of instructions from within.  A fierce moving story, set in built up London, of the advanced maternity state is advanced with a role play of murderous apparent revenge.  Playing Ruth whose partner has met his death in strange circumstances which are revealed incrementally.  The actual circumstances of how Ruth picks out her victims is slow to emerge, at least for me, it took a while to click with me.  Alice Lowe follows her work with Ben Wheatley in Sightseer’s a similar if slightly more tasteful black comedy set in the Lake District doing tourism no favours, alongside Steve Oram.  Having made this film in an incredible shooting over 11 days and with a script it took 2 days to write it is a remarkably fluent film.  The everyday language is heard giving it added authenticity even if it is a bit laden thick on the dark side humour wise. All baby manuals and prenatal, antenatal parenting and calming influences are set aside.  Oddly Ruth is holed up in a hotel and is routinely outdoors in pursuit of answers of some sort while she deals with the stress of losing her partner.  A birth is something which comes at a very bad time and she is catapulted into a bizarre bout of acting on hallucinatory presented thoughts of her yet to be born child.  The yet to be born girl is slightly robotic in speaking to her, we hear her voice and loud instructions, reprimands two a penny, with adult inflections mixed into her high pitched emotionally totemic voice.  Ruth is receptive and is in fact complicit in thinking all out there is not as intended and revenge is necessary for her peace.


Body talk

In the story she has a guide who is a Nurse, Jo Hartley as the Midwife, with her own bamboozingly off track advice.  Bodies and parts of them feature in scenes of unflinching acts of violence.  Ruth’s weapon of choice is a ten inch kitchen knife which she carries in her handbag. Ambidextrous she flits from having it in her left hand (for self preservation I was on the lookout for tell-tale signs – there are none!) to slitting throats with her right – not a spoiler as this is a slasher movie of gruesome ironic pulsating visceral brutality.  Alice Lowe is emotionally capable of appearing as all things and in only one aside – where a massive slasher movie trope is enacted in homage to the death living thing, make up is needed.  Her expressions manipulate with cruel ease.  ‘Acting’ is also deployed in Ruth’s skill set as one vengeful attack – partially – loosely based on baby’s dislike of free and selfish men which are identied in Ruth as users. The actual motive takes time to complete the circle for me at least. Ruth acts very smooth as a possible employee in a Pet Shop, where we start basically – even before the intro titles – as we visit the wildlife – caged – is that a possible motive? – with up close shots of lizards, and exotica for which the minutiae of living is also enrolled to kill (no pun intended) any a serial killer might induce.  While we move between the Nurse come Midwife who’s slightly suspecting of the difficulty Ruth may have dealing with things she only barely senses, Ruth is involved in this Police free slasher quest and pops up for her medical visits which she lays flat is poked and prodded, told about choices she has to make and stresses out when Social Workers are mentioned setting off alarm bells of adoption.  Unnamed ‘Midwife’ in our eyes should fear for her life.  The city is viewed sun shining out the hospital clinic window and untamed Ruth goes onto the next victim.


Symbolism

For a film to work for me it needs a component of symbolism meaning it is made with some kind of message or idea.  Inherent in this film is motherhood and giving life.  It commands a space where the maternal body is focussed on the life inside.  Into the equation comes a trauma and one actually involving a partner who is part of the child.  Transference of trauma and tragic outlook come in the shape of the unborn.  Hallucinations happen even outside chilbirth and obedience is as strong as is the fear of not taking control.  Ruth signals all the outward symbols of control but is deranged.  A fantasy has taken over.  In terms of exposing the trials of paternity and the variety of circumstances some of which deny the child life through abortion are held.  The only person who is able to control what is now part of her body is the woman and host to the life yet to reach the separation of life as a solitary being.  Into a set of circumstances a child requires love, nourishment, support and growth determined from its external cradle.  In even sense the film takes us on a course we’re the appropriate things happen in a caring society.  Withdrawl of parenthood in recognition of an incapability to raise a child in the way it deserves and warrants is seen as destructive in normal society. It is a course of least acceptance yet all kinds of situations present in the everyday to formulate and evaluate ways of bringing up orphaned, institutionalised children which are very specific and strange.  Unquestionably they are life altering for the child at the heart.  Ruth is shedding her identity by behaving as a victim casting of responsibility and is not her real self.  The extent to which she is displaced is treated here in a comedic vein.  By writing this while undergoing pregnancy herself any topics are thrown out there for us to swallow.  The strength of Alice Lowe is fixed into the story and it how it deflects from her own experience is unknown but is never far from development and it would be good to know how much she was informed about parenthood during the making of the film and any untangibles or brutal realities presented.


Performances

The casting of the film is immaculate and after a few out of focus moments, shaky handcam early doors, is very polished and with some of the mpre graphic scenes the work is in your face as slasher movies tend to be.  After the first (1 down) I looked about in shock and seeking similar reactions and they varied from open jaw to laughter to nonchalance. In the first instance the creepiness of No. 1 is ratcheted up with innuendo and you don’t quite see where it’s going.  The delivery in close confined spaces is edited extemelly well and balanced with the facial speech led story and we ponder the wildlife along with it.  We see the Scots actress Kate Dickie at one stage.  In Tom Geens Couple in a Hole she was unnervingly rich in character and bleakness and here she is playing the Boardroom executive with a cut throat (pun intended) intractable corporate kitten loving business head.  It goes on the block metaphorically speaking in a brilliantly acted and light touch subtlety acting thoroughly gripping and tense conveying a great piece of action.  There are other artful enriched performances and it is a film which is not slow and no hanging about while it progresses and materially gets worse as it is intensely an unstoppable mission.


Conclusion.  ###3

Tread careful you innocent viewers as this is packaged as being a brilliant debut, and it is, from an actress Alice Lowe, whose versatility is on show. I can’t see the bump as a very good prosthetic – can you – did she have a baby?  We deserve to know.  So I’ll tell you she was in her third trimester, it’s a new born.  It is insightful in lots of ways and has sufficient story morality – thin but present – dispatched to have us put rationality in its cross hairs and ask could something like this happen?  Obliquely the characters have lots of positives and negatives.  Some have said Ruth is a character you have no sympathy for.  I neither sympathised nor harangued her in terms of morality as it is no more than a very advanced form of horror come slasher film and pretentious are slight if at all present.  I derived a little from it but it was in terms of directorial excellence – at times – fidgety and broken – its over the top script – the performance of some who didn’t deserve their come up pence and the unparalleled lack of pursuit for the attacker.  No sirens only the lead.  It concludes as a well rounded story with a finalality bordering on normal but it is lacking in truth.

John Graham

8 February 2016

Belfast
On at QFT Queens Film Theatre from 10 February 2017 until 16 February 2017

Loving : A Film Review


Loving

Directed by Jeff Nichols, (Mud, Take Shelter, Midnight Special) Produced by Ged Doherty, Colin Firth, Nancy Buirski, Sarah Green, Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf. Screenplay by Jeff Nichols, Based on The Loving Story by Nancy Buirski.  Cast.  JOEL EDGERTON -RICHARD LOVING, RUTH NEGGA – MILDRED LOVING, MARTON CSOKAS – SHERIFF BROOKS, NICK KROLL – BERNIE COHEN, TERRI ABNEY – GARNET JETER, ALANO MILLER – RAYMOND GREEN , JON BASS – PHIL HIRSCHKOP – MICHAEL SHANNON – GREY VILLET.  Music by David Wingo, Cinematography Adam Stone, Edited by Julie Monroe, Production companies – Big Beach, Raindog Films. Cert. 12. Duration 2hrs 3mins.


The blurb

The true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who were arrested in 1950s Virginia for the crime of getting married.  The year is 1958 and the Civil Rights Movement has barely begun. Richard, a white construction worker, decides to propose to Mildred, a black woman. What should be a happy beginning to their life together soon becomes an arduous legal and political battle against the state and society. Driven out of their hometown, Richard and Mildred Loving spend almost ten years fighting for the right to live as a family in the town they consider home. They push their case as far as the Supreme Court, resulting in the landmark annulment of the discriminatory Virginian law banning interracial marriage.

 

Story unfolds

Opening with the face of Ruth Negga, pensive and seeming forlorn the frame extends to include Joel Edgerton as they contemplate an event that will cement and form their relationship.  It is in this context of inter-racial harmony, togetherness and unity we are then shown the integrated social Virginia backdrop.  The backdrop of motor racing or as they have it, drag racing petrol heads and enthusiasts of different races, no pun intended, relax and compete and show their macho skills in basic road souped up cars.  Nothing too fancy.  In the late fifties when this is an automobile high customised era of ‘winged’ chariots with valances, fins, chrome, tailegate motors expressing freedom these racers are mere tools of competition and all the scrutineering follows the rules.  Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) is a bricklayer/blocklayer working mainly on new houses with a white crew.  It’s noticeable the workplace is segregated and I didn’t see any black workers on the sites where it is a good payer and is regular work.  Mildred Loving nee Jeter (Ruth Negga) is s field worker in a plantation of tobacco and is part of a young coloured community whose work is labourious and achingly demanding.  The mix and split of these Virginias is already an orchestrated unity.  They are joined but separated by class.  The hoe-down after the Drag racing shows them together as free spirits raised and enjoying themselves. The reality is the separation is constructed by the state racial fundementalists to manage and control them.  The sense of order is plain as no revolution is happening and only later when the marches of Martin Luther King emerge via. the TVs screen which is a new medium delivering its dose of engineered mostly white produced programmes, is there a consciousness of the underlying oppressed people.


Breaking the circle

By telling this true story with an impeccable faithfulness to the events and without overdramatising the conflicts Jeff Nichols knows what matters.  The couples relationship is dealt with as an everyday love between neighbours.  Richards family is a farmstead with a few barns and no father.  His father in the past worked with for a black man andtherefore Richard’s heightened awareness of difference has another dimension.  He knows the establishing of a means to make a living is so important and management of the returns, resources, is a separate thing entirely.  Unions and workers rights themselves in their infancy.  Richards home is a 5 step timber house. I call it a 5 step verandah house as it is the Southern style of open porch under a roof edge raised as a stoop common throughout the vastness of the country they live in.  There is room to breathe the night air.  Mildred’s house hasby contrast a 2 step verandaed home.  There’s is a slightly lower less long established home.  The settlers of white stock brought this form as a colonial imprint and the black people who they now lifted with took up the style of living. Jeff Nichols takes this environment as his main template going forward in the story.  The day to day is familiar and working to mutual advantage within the restraints and constrictions.  It would be acceptable for a white and black person to live together, sleep together providing they were not married and they would have to suffer the isolation having offspring would bring and perhaps be forced to move under those circumstances.

Humanitarian rights

In this story the most important thing is the groundbreaking change the Loving’s bring about.  It is told from the very first instance when they decide to get married out of state in Washington D.C. Colombia and in a matter of fact way it happens in a registry office with Mildred’s Dad as a witness.  They all have a journey to D.C. Which underlines the backwardness of where they came from.  In the recent elections the states around Washington D.C. were distinctly democrat hence the poor turn out for the inauguration.  The movement of reconciliation – first of ridding themselves of the colonialist English/British enslavers then the Abraham Lincoln abolition of slavery had its focus here.  The slavery remained in effect through the inequality and suppression of cultural freedom which the right to choose who they married underlined.  

So the first time the legal side of things arises is when they live openly as a married couple and the local police act on instructions to arrest them.  It results in a court case and with local representation they accept their fate and move out of state to avoid incarceration and separation.  Mildred is very much now the focus of the film as she raises a family with the help of relatives they have a home and we notice the children growing in a small enclosed space.  Some direct referencing by Neff Nichols to the urban nature of this existence is played out but now the singularity of their case comes to the notice of the American Civil Liberties organisation and in steps another principal performer. Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) who is a rookie human rights lawyer full of optimistic favour but little common sense.  There then is the highlight of the movie for me a meeting in which he sequesters an office of a Law firm and manages to take on the gravitas and bearing to welcome Richard and Mildred to the concept of challenging through the courts the injustice they met in their home state of Virginia.  His niavity is very funny if it were not so devoid of reality.  Nevertheless as things move on they find a way to advance the case.  Into the package comes a Human Rights Lawyer who knows which buttons of legislature to press and the sequence is followed through.  Quite interestingly and it’s an obvious choice made, little ‘Courtroom Drama’ by way of the tension filled portrayal of landmark cases some directors ratchet up, we are treated to a matterfact brief hearing of the issues in succinct facts which is a very, very important factor in this films mastery of a difficult a prolonged process. It is a very wise move not to Labour on the machinations but put the case up front and central.  Cohen. And his cohort spelling it out. Judgements follow.


Pace and time

 The film is slow and changes in the story are therefore anticipated given the known history if not the longevity of the whole sorry apartheid.  Racial conflicts and violence are eschewed and it is a story well told due to the simplicity of the families confined to the story.  The movements between them for certain events and the passing of time is only loosely appreciated by the children.  An awful lot of the time Richard is tinkering at cars and is on the sidelines but fully behind the  battle Ruth takes a great deal of interest in and is the titans holding on to the political and gigantic nature of it.  Possibly it might be true to say the film sags in the middle and is in need of an uplift which comes in the form of the case taking on its seniority.  The state of Virginia need be challenged in the Supreme Court where about one in 400 cases assigned to it are every taken up at this level. As interracial marrying was against the law – a matter of “miscegenation”, that notably science based attribution, has them after the harassment and being locked up, guided through Mildred’s having initially written to Bobby Kennedy,  the ACLU is able to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court and change America’s ugly Jim Crow race laws of the 50s and 60s.


Conclusion ####4

I found this film worked by following in the middle of the story the emotional switches and triggers Mildred Loving nee Jeter (Ruth Negga) produces from the very first frame.  She is intelligent, graceful, dignified and assured of her worth.  Richard is also sure of his love and is unable to express it the same way which shows when he is a backcourt no comment reply outside a courthouse to the TV whereas Mildred is despite the signs to the contrary – hopeful. Jon Bass as Phil Hirschcop is splendidly youthful and fits the pieces of the jigsaw together in terms of the Law.  Both he and Nick Kroll as Bernie Cohen derserve a second mention as they are a unit playing off each other’s belief in the strength of the Law and the ability of the Supreme Court to hear and accept their arguments which in effect they do and it is no small achievement.  Micheal Shannon who appears in several character roles in Jeff Nichols films is cast as the Life photographer reporter who visits the Lovings and creates a US media phenomenon of them as a normal couple in a normal state of marriage growing up raising children.  They are hard working and it’s is as he shows it.  Despite the dip in the middle this is a carefully crafted and very watchable film and has important nuances and insights which are seldom given space.  I thoroughly recommend a viewing.

John Graham

2 February 2016

Belfast
 Screening at QFT from Fri 3 Feb – Thurs 16 Feb

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