Chevalier : A Film Review

Chevalier. Directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari. Greece. English subtitles. Duration. 105 mins. Cert. 18. Written by Athina Rachel Tsangari and Efthymis Filippou.

Makis Papadimitriou, Yiorgos Kendros, Panos Koronis, Vangelis Mourikis, Efthymis Papadimitriou, Yorgos Pirpassopoulos, Sakis Rouvas, Giannis Drakopoulos, Nikos Orphanos, Kostas Filippoglou.

Synopsis of sorts

The short synopsis provided by a film theatre does a fine job.  As follows. During a week-long excursion on a luxury yacht, six men decide to pass th time by engaging in a game to determine which of them is ‘The Best in Genral’. As the competition escalates through a series of increasingly bizarre contests – which range from deck-swabbing to sleep posture to IKEA assembly – God sportsmanship goes out the window as the men jockey for position.  My blog is intended as additional background without divulging much more than the forementioned.  It tells of the psychology at work, the important pre-existing relationships and of course something about how the Director, Writer, Actors, obtain your interest and entertain.  It is also very funny in stretches as the ‘games’ develop.  Another attendee thought it slow, as I also mention further on, but I think maybe the ‘men’ jokes which I imagine Athina Rachel Tsangari, harvesting over a glass or two of wine with her girlfriends what they might imagine men testing each other with – the funnier for outcome sake – the better.

Director of the finest contemporary auteur order

In 2010 with the film Attenburg, (a mispronounce of Dear David Att..) it was apparent a perceptive social commentary of contemporary Greek life had arose in the form of Athina Rachel Tsangari with an assured grip on technique, abstraction, suspension, all propelled by a tight group of young actors themselves unattached to the mores of the uniform diet of cinema within their nations grasp. This was also followed by what I have to say is an amalgam of cinema, art, drama, and with theatrical intimacy in The Capsule, 2012, which separated, as this film does with men, women into a gender extrapolation as they exist in parallel worlds and own values and rules of conduct.  Here comes a totally different construct with several men in a boat owned by an elderly Doctor  (Yorgos Kendros).  The close proximity of a shared holiday and depredations, rebonding together and as an aside or perhaps even their aim, seeking to know the others form as men for whatever it means and obtain the same about themselves.

The pairings or closeness of the men.

The 6 well to do men have connections in pairs you might say.  The Doctor has a colleague, the unsuccessful suitor as in-law Christo – a well known Greek figure as singer, (Sakis Rouvas).  The next pairing being long standing business partners, the bearded pair  Yorgos (Panos Koronis) and Josef (Vangelis Mourikis) whose exchanges already are tests of each other’s strengths and weaknesses succeeding mainly because of a dignity of evenhanded see practices over decades. Each character shows us how they relate – first through these longer relationships – then as they go on solo runs as it were establishing new or imagined hierarchies.

The pairing of the Doctor and Christos is hinged also to the brothers Yannis (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos) the Doctors actual son in-law, and Dimitris (Makis Papadimitriou) a brother whose dependencies are due to a form of unexplained autism which has him living at home with his their mother and who requires to be twinned in the accommodation with his over-confident brother. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – some attainment of wealth brings them to a luxury onyx marble walled palatial floating marine hotel.  It is very quickly the case of discovering any issues they, each, have is caught inside, condensed and compressed into a large glass bottle with the lid tightly fixed like a Kinder jar.  An amount of OCD appears. Also  Neurosis, Narcissim, Paranoia, thankfully no psycotic, psychosis I disclose for the overly concerned – ratings must divulge levels of violence anyway. There is a Captain and two crew, cook/chef and gofer, commischef in attendance whose presence is not entirely secondary as they facilitate certain discretionary and have their own outlook on life which they funnily replicate the game which has the 6 transfixed as they reach the end of their otherwise spear fishing, water sports, occupied holiday.  I wanted to use the line – he’s had more issues than the New Yorker but it doesn’t adhere to any of them, as far as me thinks.

Yorgos asks Christo
Magnificent ancient civilised location.

The Aegean is a majestic place which Athina Rachel Tsangari cleverly conscripts to place the tale as a timeless study; modern refinements of a comfortable well provisioned boat and assortment of toys at their disposal aside, of male machismo and foibles.  Astutely she fashions a set of parameters; the Captain retains separation with tan not announcements modestly humorous unwittingly of weather forecasts, today will be .. 9 reaching high 20’s .. Please notify any of the crew should you propose to dive later.  The exchanges follow a shore bound spear-fishing exercise which has each party except for Dimitris wet-suited approach a deserted stony beach with their floats, fish and spears.  They separately kill, Octopus, Calimari, and the bream etc, caught before returning together triumphantly satiated with hunter zeal  to the yacht.  There they co-operate in removing the suits as a joint ritual, they then do the round table after fishing talk of the recentl thrill sharing their own separate versions and comparing their sense of the sea ad its purpose.  It is a striking entry and with the sometimes out of focus camera tracing their movements in the beginning in this the merging heat filled environment, who begin emerging as distinct characters with a range of issues.  None immense, if you consider they have devices to manage them for their and they’re companies dignity and are relatively tolerated.  The psycologogy of males interests both the writer and she asks us to concede, with ease, the group share the same curiosity for self or other more obtuse reasons.  Certainly the pairings exact tensions even though there is no visible or extension of mental bonds on the surface for anyone to take into account.  It is when they embark on the authors device of challenging each other to obtain their status within the general scheme of things they embark on the strange game of ‘The Best in General’.  It is the trophy sentiment of the title which is a contest to conquest over their fellow compatriots.


The friendships alliances are set the test of scrutinizing every aspect of their behaviour, from their physical appearance, self management, resistance to temptation, manner of speaking, addressing strangers or companions, sharing of intimate details of their lives to some degree, of erudition and learned skills such as meal preparation and all degrees of civility or culpability in between.  And there is an ongoing fertility exam of the erection kind which has various meas of delivery of proof of content.  Along with the Doctor lead medical exam which Dimitris displays a phobias to and his   is to provide an entertainment interlude which is to be judged as all things are judged under each mans watchful eye. There are genuinely serious singular internalised torments held inside each of the characters heads.  If you think long enough you will grasp a dilemma of some seriousness image within each person.  One fellow watcher said it was very slow to get going, had little to interest the youthful her, and it was damned with faint praise because of its eccentric European vibe.  It is after all of enough substance to attain Best Film at the London Film Festival. 

Alternative over informative views

Reviewers I have now read concerning this film spend too much type on telling you the entire story, not its shape of comparative states of entry to it but one even gives a blow by blow account of the completion of the spoils referencing the hole shebang and frankly it does not even come close do doing any, any part of the film or the Directors sense of the male construct – physical content defrocked, or any sense of place in contemporary life in this part of Europe.  The abandoned resort hotel which is a large part of the central location of the film doesn’t get a mention – (I saved that bit! – it’s not a spoiler in ant event!) but it is as annoying as bejesus to have that seen as a valid review given its overt dependence on – looking at, noting word for word repartee?  Everyone will come away with favourite lines, there are plenty of gems to choose from, and many surprises and individual performances and formidablely questioning scenes ar invested in by actors for our study and interpretation.  It is beautiful in that sense – that you go with it and find out about the characters I have the beginning loosened you into by describing some elements of already existing relations that add value to the concentration required in the minutiae of detail, cinematographer editor and camera person dispose for the Director, Writers on the story.

Conclusion ####4

A excellent entertaining psychological mind twisting drama.  Loving written, tender realisation in a sun splitting post Ancient Greece, neuvo post EU crash austerity almost criminal disregard of a nation by its neighbours despite their all along know tax discrepancies – who in the EU watched on?  Turned a blind eye and left the vultures in.  This is periferally addressed by the use of a once luxurious sea fronting hotel slap bang in the midst of the azure Aegean.  Reflections on self are made and on others via. comical inquisitive games which touch raw nerves as well as expose the realties existing – an iceberg analogy is not misplaced with the visible public multi-faceted self the top while underneath are the – and there are possible connections made in reference to the experiences of each individual to actual diving – vulnerabilities ever present.

Athina Rachel Tsangari is a very gifted all rounder with a mind plundering the male and female psyche and the allegiances, separations, risks and rewards taken and with an insightful magical way of developing the themes around an apparent story of men enjoying each other’s company away from conventional pressures and indulging in sports or explorations which are the stuff possible of younger energetic souls.  It’s complex and emotionally intelligent despite the presence of the ‘make up girls weird games’ possible trawl which my imagined generator for the different weird aspects.   Some culinary tips no doubt correct are snippets of finessing story relationships along with the boat owner – the Doctor – having an outward control while underlying problems emerge.  He and Christos use fitness rowing machines – not like Srs Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinset – more routine and this is typical as a a means of proposing your insight to character being lead by nuances and otherwise – the use of games makes the viewer adopt it is suggested – the same queries seen.

Very watchable but slightly hard to get into – empathy on my part counts – and a rewarding watch.  Not a massively mind shifting experience but certain to make you rearrange some thoughts, allow some slack or give further thought to otherwise ‘for appearances sake’ propositions.  Excellent.  Music is excel

Net also but early very compelling bass, garage, loose funk as they get on the boat after their beach landing is not followed up unfortunately – nor is there the mercurial Vangelis Papathounoisious music utilised.  I can tell you the ending song is byChessingtons greatest and beautiful.  There is a soxties Karaoke very good insert which you will remember long after i imagine.

John Graham

20 July 2016


On at QFT Belfast from Froday 22 July to 28 July 2016.  On general UK release. I wonder if Mark Kermode likes it?  It’s occasionally his excuse he’s forgetting minor things as Mayo quizzes him on his industrial strength film prober mind.

His take on the last film I reviewed The Neon Demon was by his account worthy of its mixed – I like mixed opinions he proposed (a bit of a guide I think between those who ‘watched it’ and those who viewed it) – reception.  It was fairly and plainly not as worthy as many make it out to be.  One was completely off the mark saying it could become a cult classic.  It was unfortunately unrewarding and a waste of the talent on view.

The Neon Demon : A Film Review

The Neon Demon

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn Produced by Lene Børglum Nicolas Winding Refn Screenplay by Mary Laws Nicolas Winding Refn Polly Stenham Story by Nicolas Winding Refn. Cast. Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves.  Music by Cliff Martinez Cinematography Natasha Braier Edited by Matthew Newman. Cert. 18. Duration 1hr 57mins. USA/France/Denmark co-production.

 Horror is not a good fashion look. (The above is!)

The Neon Demon is a 2016 internationally co-produced psychological horror film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, co-written by Mary Laws, Polly Stenham, and Refn.  It follows an aspiring model in Los Angeles whose beauty and youth place her jealous conflict with her co-industry aspirants.  Even the players of the behind the camera roles place her as an enemy.
The pages of fashion magazines need new product displayed on the captivating physical presence of beauty such as the Elle Fannig character here Jesse.  Unencumbered by a lack of self belief or confidence she almost automatically tunes into the model world she has embarked on in the opening 16th year of her life, seeming destined by choice to become a supermodel with whatever besides her looks it takes.  The world of modeling according to Director and Production company lead, Nicolas Winding Refn, who is unsurprisingly on a path of female psyche and force of horror employed in a contemporary world removed from the tame The Devil Wears Prada.  They do a nice very comfortable black slip on shoe so the Devil is a conformist these days.  Bella Heathcote as Gigi and Abbey Lee as Sarah are installed as the pair of horror monster models as jealous as hell of the monochrome photographer, bypassing them and selecting her for special treatment, which results in an audition at a fashion designers misoginist casting.  Ignoring each woman as he looks for the perfection he sees in the post Lolita nymph like Jesse he dismisses all others and a calamity befalls the rejected.


Bella Heathcote

Born troopers 

Sarah and Gigi have a very thin foliage to match their very thin and tall raw beauty.  They are in anyone’s eyes as beautiful and perfect as the magazines and runways ought to need for this cosmetic circus.  Mostly in ill fitting, clothes and absurd facial makeup with for this film an emphasis on bondage, leather costume, they have little to play with and add were possible a sense of character, especially in Bella Heathcotes part as an Australian who is too vunerable to self reflection – and as Fifty Shades Darker is a role soon filled by her it is a touch sardonic whereas Abbey Lee (Kershaw)  flushed with blond looks and sultry stare employed in Mad Max : The Fury, is only able to play with wit alongside her Australian beauty.  Elle Fanning has a difficult role cast firstly as a malleable youth, with looks almost prepubescent and waves of blond curls and feigned awkwardness along with youthful knowing.  Her parents are non-existent, literally, and her only foil is a male pal of the same sort of age but with a driving license, who has the role of feeding her ambition and allaying some insecurities until he becomes himself more knowledgable of the environment of West Hollywood and the Los Angeles culture.  Jesse is at times, usually off call more of a natural teenager and this is I suppose a purposeful contrast used on instruction or shear wise move acting.  It provides her with a scope to train emotions into what sometimes might be called reality until it goes off tangentially on a peculiar ‘video music centered’ dreamscape or sub-textural plot thickening mush. Her own child like good looks are partly convincing as the ‘perfection status’ is cast as beguiling but it is random and over employed.  To such an extent it is not fashion or photography – the core industry necessity – but this directors moving image contest of poetic filmaking which frankly is a bit of a void which a very good professional photographer would have had more ingenuity with. Stand up Australian Danish French English photographers who are true masters of the unusual.

Abbey Lee (Kershaw)

Plot thinning with Music thickening

This film is very poor on narrative and has only the lonely path of rising to a pinnacle in a short time which causes insane jealousy and in some cases derangement which unhinged the horror element.  Fast and slick this construct is flawed in aping as a segmented piece the music instead of story heralding any change of tack.  It follows from the Dorectorsxown previous history with advertising, music video short filled episodic film making.  It consequently has a very good score with initially heavy industrial house leading us in expectation of something special.  It promises through one entry to a party performance piece that falls flat on its own pretentions.  In Holy Motors a video holographic episode is handled with a narrative edge. The music even dies away as a visual companion entering into gothic electronic somber sobriety fairly quickly as we are invited to afford gravitas and complicit narcissism along with the menagerie of the composite fashion industry.  I also thought the facial paintwork and body paint far off the scale of portraiture offered in aperiodof professional photography have a lot have moved on from.

Horror elements

Fifty shades of derangement are appropriated as the roles of male svengalis strive to obtain and some of the women, what they haven’t got.  The looks or beauty of Jesse.  Or try to debase it while controlling the verve or visual ‘narrative’ cloyingly.  The place for blood is in shiny interiors so .. that’s delivered .. the place for glamour is the hilltop Ruby (played by Jena Malone who has a good time and a role to get her teeth into) house sits with pool Chanel decor and decadent and fashion styling out of its skin.  The vistas are beautifully realised as the moon even puts in a peerless appearance.  Hank (Keanu Reeves) is a Motel manager with a caustic streak and an attitude problem as Dean (Karl Glusman) finds as he chaperones Jesse.  The best shot in my estimation is one where Jesse comes onto the ‘boulevard’ outside the motel and meets Dean whose car is parked under the evening Neon of the street doused in colored light.  Not only descriptive of the Los Angeles Micheal Connoly and legions of writers screen and pulp fiction find so borderline and visceral. It could have been over in half an hour.

Conclusion ###3

This is going to press many buttons for the heady cocktail of superficiality it projects. Some like the ridiculous in film and this sharply spectacularly fits the bill. It is showy but not ironic or plaguristic enough to be a fixed animal.  No real head on its story or for that matter any real idea of insightfulness.  Even Jackie Collins came to mind as the sleazy side was as buttoned down thinly coated realism given its LA look.  Very graphic and uncompromising in its unfolding hate conspiracy it has, as mentioned earlier, an episodic feel with the music signaling a change of plot line or new look to impart a direction of travel.  The house music is intensely invigorating and pretty decent as a vehicle but it cannot hide a rather unchallenging film.  The epitome of good taste is bad taste and this descent blurs the boundaries.  Irony is too obvious a move as is vacuous juxtaposition of beauty – an animal in its magnificence does appear! – in all its forms.  Ruby is excellent as are the other females in the cast but the men play it cliched including KR who is more of a cowboy than a Motel manager.  Christine Hendricks has a very short role and ever her deadpan sardonic wide expansive curvy beauty doesn’t get much to be delivered through its briefity. Her looks alone would make celibate priests question their vocations devotions.    Of limited appeal.

John Graham 
6 July 2016

From Friday 15th July to Thursday 28th July 2016 inclusive at Queens Film Theatre BELFAST.

Notes on Blindness : A Film Review

 Notes on Blindness.   A film written and Directed by PeterMiddleton and James Spinney. Cast Dan Skinner and Simone Kirby. Duration. 1hr 30mins. UK and Cert. U.

The minds deep perceptions

Dan Skinner (John Hull) and Simone Kirby (Marilyn Hull) are the actors throughout this film who lip-synch to the tapes made over many years by the sightless John Hull.  They have four children at various stages through the timescale of the film and they are acted also filling in with precision and authentically the dropped phrases and sometimes pivotal emotional moments by child actors.  The book which is the core centre piece was called Touching the Rock (1990) and the amazing Peter White describes it thus.

Peter White, presenter of Radio 4’s In Touch programme, has described Hull’s impact on him as a blind person: “He had an uncanny knack … of analysing the experience of going blind. Not sentimentally, but with a forensic understanding of what it meant and how it felt. Until I read … Touching the Rock, I didn’t think there was very much anyone could teach me about what it felt like to be blind. After all, I had been blind all my life. But John’s description of what the sound of rain could tell you about your surroundings took my breath away.”  Peter White is on the radio practically every week and In Touch this week was without him as the only 20min. Show was of two people experiencing Glastonbury – one partially sighted and one non sighted.  It was a scary but thrilling ride for them.  Mud, going for a wee, and some crowd crushing the main downers.


The story 

This is a deeply moving film of a life’s journey which follows a path of disability which many have to take.  The subject is John Hull and how he deals with his loss of sight in extraordinary insightful ways.  I use that word because John Hull unwittingly, through his only having his individual take on blindness, discovers so much about his life, himself and his friends, family and his pupils, for he still maintains that academic place of teaching as a University lecturer  – Theology.

It is a truly remarkable and unique depiction and story of how sight loss affects people and deepens our understanding of that loss of a fundamental sense.  The why’s, and for a theologian they are no different are constantly at the forefront.  In a  way it is as a cessationist; a term I have only lately learnt that he is put in a place which God cannot restore his sight.  Gods part in his life remains and as he would have it, I am thinking, begins with the sacrifice of Jesus that we may come to accept the word of the Lord.  For John Hull this is a means of coping with the loss and of understanding his own being.  The presence of faith in people with or without their full capacity and senses is a constant.  The cessationist must atone for the sins within their compass and be faithful to one another according to the Word.

There is not a Holy emphasis of the plight John Hull finds himself dealing with.  There is little mention of the faith element.  It is nevertheless one strand of his apparatus for dealing with it, it is afterall his chief mainstay and it’s as submerged in an everyday life, a family life carried on regardless.  His wife Marylyn features strongly as the rock he is fortune to have besides his faith.  She is almost our view of the external perspective but with it being so close to the vulnerability that is present throughout the intensity is seen in this film.


Project on the Notes

Put together by PETER MIDDLETON & JAMES SPINNEY – Writers & Directors, they gathered the tales of the ‘Notes’ from both the book transcriptions and tapes on cassette of John’s recordings.  His recordings taking in everything about home life and his analysis.  It also made him invent projects which were phenomenonally useful for others in his condition.      The Audio books aspect is of awesome value alone.

After losing sight, John Hull knew that if he did not try to understand blindness it would destroy him. In 1983 he began keeping an audio diary. Over three years John recorded over sixteen hours of material, a unique testimony of loss, rebirth and renewal, excavating the interior world of blindness. Published in 1990, the diaries were described by author and neurologist Oliver Sacks as, ‘A masterpiece… The most precise, deep and beautiful account of blindness I have ever read.’

Following the Emmy Award-winning short film of the same name, the feature version of Notes on Blindness takes a creative approach to the documentary form. Actors lip-synch to the voices of the family, embedding John’s original audio recordings within compelling cinematography and textured sound design. The result is a poetic and intimate story of loss, rebirth and transformation, documenting John’s extraordinary journey into ‘a world beyond sight’.
The film is released in UK cinemas on 1st July 2016.

Recovering the Base.

John at once embarked on a way of retaining his main occupation – that of teaching Theology and that in itself was and is a challenging moving doctrine as we begin to understand our minds and with it the failings which are globally fracturing.

He found the only books readily available to non sighted people were either Crime fiction or Romance.  His question was therefore to ask where do I find books on knowledge, academic subjects such as sociology, Social Sciences, Theology itself and all the Sciences?  It was an unending task in front of him and he began it by enrolling – at one stage there were forty eight alone under his direction – reading onto cassettes Audio books of all kinds and to suit the myriad of interests.        With unheralded humility he just started it and the protocols, ideas entered into common usage with the Royal National institute for the Blind. RNIB primarily the main suitor.


Story as story

This film reveals so many aspects of ourselves as John Hull uncoils his memory onto tapes.  The first thing appreciated is our access to a private situation.  His domestic and family life along with the adjustment needed to perceived values.  The cassette is an instrument of vision.  It replaces sight with sound pictures.  The film itself is directed by PETER MIDDLETON & JAMES SPINNEY in granular detail.  Framing is acute.  Unnecessary detail is obscured and the focus is intense on every close proximity to the man at the heart of it.  Whether it is of Marilyn, his rock and foil – to which we are set to probe, in reaction shots and as she speaks often in the tapes while constructing a continuity to the lives they live.  It is a detail focus of Marylyn also.  The foil for thought and reason is there within her at every level you can think of including the religious conversations John has within himself and about their joint faith.  He explains how he imagines all are smiling when he relates to a conversation.  This and other little notes are persuasively engaging.  He has what everyone through this may appreciate as an insight on sight.  No counter factual reasoning here but analytical progression to the ‘next’ step.  For him we learn about the significance of texture, solidity, space and it is shown to us through the use of rain.  A lot of it!

I will leave you to discover how it is illuminating.  Both for John and us.  There is a visit to his parents in Australia within the timescale of the film which is fraught with displaced or dislodged memories.  It becomes a further lesson for us.       How is it so important for us to be able to go back somewhere and through  – 1.  A view or picture of the past.  2. A view and analysis of the present. – Allow ourselves to combine those memories and edit them into bearable, consumable scales for are life’s assembly.  The lesson is here.  The importance of sight is everything and it has in its absence a terrible unbalancing effect when all is said and done to Johns perceptions or absence from them now unsighted.  It is such a forceful element.  Johns return from Australia is full of thoughtful detail and the direction once again deployed is for detail, for obscurity, for out of focus moments remained on.  I found leaving the screening that it took longer time for my eyes to adjust as the sense I had been exposed to had within it a prevailing immersion.  It may not be everyone’s experience but I found without consciously asking myself that my eyes were themselves responsive to a molecular adjustment.  It was like a reconfiguring and recalibration.

Conclusion ####4

This is a unique approach fortunately taken by the co-operation of the couple John and Marilyn Hull by the adventurous filmmakers Peter Middleton and James Spinney as joint directors and writers and consolidated by the whole raft of the production team. It brings to us with varying knowledge of sightless to get deep into the experience of people affected by it.  The story is one even more remarkable for the manner in which John Hull shaped things for others over a long period to expand their encounters with the normal things we take for granted. Ca selfless act and just as importantly his wife and partner Marilyn together with his quizzical, thoughtful children took hold of a curse of a disabilitating condition and reinvented it for themselves and others making it possible for others to benefit from the selfless acts of enduring kindness and rationality which does not sit well alongside the injustice of any infliction of health cast upon individuals in almost shaken revolt to our maker.  The words of John put onto tape are reflections of poetic memory here pictorialised in a remarkable way and given voice to the normality he lives within.  A truly valuable piece of collaborative work seen by those participating as a continuation of their open voices.  There is accompanying this film a virtual reality experience of sight loss which I have nor engaged with or yet experienced.  It is an extension out of the work which will accentuate for the world of three dimensions a physical reality embolding those game enough to try it to visit a part of themselves never before visited.  Dan Skinner and Simne Kirby are remarkable and brilliantly effective as are the children recruited to play their family at all stages.  It is a restrained engrossing take and casting.

John Graham

30 June 2016


Some special screenings including a Directors (2!) talk at QFT – see below.

On at Queens Film Theatre (screen 2 has luscious comfy new seats as screen 1 is also simultaneously being fitted out! So relaxing and never a moment of cinematic excitement, bewilderment, astonishment, awe will escape you given the rooted place you will have to experience it from!)   The dates 1 July to 7 July 2016 inc. at QFT. Go see in every sense of the word.

PLEASE NOTE: all QFT screenings will include audio description played through audio description headsets available from the box office.
MON 4 JULY – the 6.30pm screening will be followed by a Q&A with directors Pete Middleton and James Spinney, and Belfast-based cinematographer Gerry Floyd.
TUES 5 JULY – the 6.30pm screening will feature an enhanced audio version. The enhanced audio version of the film was created by the filmmakers and features an entirely different audio mix of the feature. This version contains additional dialogue and the levels have been mixed to make this suitable for audience members who may have a visual impairment.

This is exile : A Film Review


For The Save the Children Fund to explain the current situation in just one location in human terms and to provide a focus on the problems and seemingly indifferences to resolving the displacement of many they have undertaken to produce this documentary. This is exile.

The largest refugee crisis in the world is without question currently, the Exodus of Syrian people from their homes to places of apparent safety.  These places are first location states of displacement.  Some are actually within Syria and on the border with for example Lebanon.  Others are actually in Lebanon and are transit camps of massive size largely run by NGO’s UNHCR can be classified as such given no one Government holds sway and is a joint International aid response alongside more removed NGO’s such as Save the Children and Red Cross.

The scale is horrendous.  4,000,000 have been displaced in Syria and over 2,000,000 of them are children.  Of those about seventy percent would be classified as unaccompanied, meaning they are only with a family or group because they rendered assistance and helped them move through places to reach a ‘place of safety.’  Many children have not made it and their story and plight is an unknown.  Families are separated and the location or survival of parents is unknown in the majority of cases.

The film opens with a picture of wide open spaces with distant snow capped montainscand rough ragged terrain barely manageable as argicultural land and thereby in the main uninhabited.  It conveys the size and scale of Syria.  The relative peace is juxtaposed with convoys of trucks and a virtual caravanseri of displaced people.  It is as if a new nomadic race has been there and seasonal movements are taken but this is the deception.  This place is open land and inhospitable and a likely target for Jets to bomb given the movements through Syria of pockets of Diash (Isis) who also up use the convoys as cover for their own purposes.

 Our question is – How to we take in unaccompanied Children refugees, provide them with a safe environment, to restart their education, to give them freedom to express themselves, create opportunities to assimilate, learn languages, contribute to the society they are in, to become healthy peaceful human beings and finally enable them to assert their sense of their own identity in relation to their birthplace and to establish connections again with their families and obtain the truth together with justice for their plight and flight.

 Politics = Wisdom.      That believe it or not is its goal and purpose.

The Department for Health and Social Services has created a set of protocols to manage the few numbers of Unaccompanied children but with the size of the problem so vast it must engage in constructing a new set of principles and accords which equate with our own freedoms and establish accommodation models which international aid can be found to finance new build and monitoring staff and observers who will work on programmes equating as closely as possible to our and their expectations.  An aspect of this could be I would suggest members of the refugee community working alongside specialist Social workers, care providers, to guide, report, implement procedures which are workable and cut out layers of bureaucracy and hinderances.  There is sufficient capacity; there are so many unemployed, there are so many willing to help and put down from wherever it comes, racial hatred, prejudices of many diverse kinds and also to rote to against internal race on race exploration, control and bullying.

The film

This Is Exile: Diaries of Child Refugees is an extraordinary, intimate portrait of the lives of child refugees forced to flee Syria’s civil war.

The documentary tells children’s stories in their own words, capturing the moving truth of how they deal with the loss and hardship of living in exile from their homeland.

This is Exile was funded by friends of Save the Children and filmed in Lebanon by the Emmy-award winning director Mani Benchelah.

Made by the independent production company Make Productions, the film offers an uncompromising portrayal of refugee children’s experiences.

Holding your own screening.

If you’d like to hold your own screening of This is Exile, please download our screening pack, which contains information, step-by-step instructions and discussion points. You could also collect donations for our Syria appeal from those attending. To request a DVD, contact us on

A newsdeeply interview with Director Mani Benchelah.

From war-torn homes to near permanent refugee status, Syrian children in Lebanon are living in a situation of never-ending insecurity, award-winning film-maker Mani Benchelah tells Syria Deeply. His film provides an intimate view into the lives of a generation whose world has been turned upside down.

Told in their own voices, the film allows these children, who have already at such a young age witnessed violence and atrocities the likes of which most will never see, to tell their own story.
The film is a beautifully crafted insight into the human cost of Syria’s ongoing civil war, which has forced more than four million people – half of whom are children – to flee the country.
The U.N.’s refugee agency estimates there are more than one million Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon – a number equal to a quarter of the country’s population – but the number is likely closer to more than 1.5 million.
Nearly five years into the conflict, the fighting in Syria only seems to be getting worse, and as fall quickly turns to winter across the Middle East, many of the children featured in Benchelah’s film are facing a chilly winter in tents in unheated buildings across Lebanon.

WRITTEN BY Dylan Collins   For 

Syria Deeply caught up with Benchelah last weekend before his film screened at the annual BBC Arabic Film Festival. In four bloody years, over four million people have fled Syria to neighbouring countries. More than half of the refugees are children who have experienced both the brutality of war and the painful insecurity of exile. Most Syrians believed their escape would be temporary. They hoped to return to their homes when the bombs stopped falling, when schools opened again, when the violence ended. Few predicted their exile would last years, and potentially decades.

The interview

Syria Deeply: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to make this film?

Mani Benchelah: I’m a film-maker now. I used to live in Syria, years ago, in the 90s. I went there to formally study Arabic. So, in 2011, when the uprising started, I decided I wanted to find a way to get in and to report from where the uprising was taking place. I was originally working as an independent photographer. After a few weeks in Damascus, I found a way to sneak into Homs and to report on the ongoing repression and civil uprising. That was in October and November of 2011.
I went back to Syria in February 2012 when the fighting started to be much more intense. I was still working as a photographer – for Le Monde this time – but I also started to film. I stayed a month there, in Homs again and some surrounding areas, documenting what was going on. That led to some new photography work and a film, entitled The Horror of Homs (UK Channel 4). I continued working as a filmmaker in Syria after that. I kept coming back – mainly to the Homs area.
At a certain point though, it became impossible for me to get back in. Too many of my colleagues were getting killed and kidnapped. This is about the same time the refugee crisis started to become a pressing issue in the surrounding countries, and obviously for the Syrian population. When I was in Syria, interviewing children was never a main focus of mine, but it was an underlying issue that kept coming back. It became clear pretty quickly that children were a huge chunk of the refugee population. And, because obviously they will become the new ruling generation some day, it’s important to focus on what’s happening to them and what their prospects for the future are. Around this time, I was contacted by Save the Children to make a film about children – I chose Lebanon because of the numbers and the pressing issues for refugees there. So yeah, I guess that’s how it all started.

Syria Deeply: So could you give us a brief overview of your film?

Mani Benchelah: The film is a series of portraits of Syrian children living in Lebanon as refugees, who came with their families. I followed them throughout a year, coming back to Lebanon every three months or so, following the evolution of their lives. It’s filmed in various areas in Lebanon, some in the southern suburbs of Beirut, like the Shatila refugee camp, some in the Beqaa Valley, some in Arsal, other parts are in Tripoli. The children were all of different ages, from about 7 to 16 or so.
Initially, as I met them in early 2014, the idea of returning home to Syria was still realistic in their mind. Many of them had just arrived over the previous year, most had only been there for a few months or weeks even. They thought they were there [in Lebanon] momentarily, and then they would soon head home. But as the year passed and months went by, the prospect of going home became more and more remote, and the difficulties of having to adapt to this new reality started to become their reality.
The film really isn’t very optimistic. Most refugees flee the war with the idea that it will be a temporary measure they must take in order to find shelter from the violence and that they’ll return home as soon as possible, but as the war seems to be never-ending, this prospect becomes more and more remote. This is a general reality for most refugees – not just Syrians, actually. Most of them never return home, and often end up in some kind of limbo situation as refugees for years and years. The temporary refugee status becomes permanent.
And when we think of refugees in Lebanon, I mean obviously you can’t help but think about the Palestinians, who’ve been there for over 60 years. They, too, left home with this same idea – that they’d return home sooner rather than later. Camps made of tents become neighborhoods, and they start pouring concrete and they become new parts of the cities, like Shatila and Sabra. It’s the same in Pakistan for the Afghani refugee population that has been living there for years and years now, and the same in Africa for refugee populations that cross a border and five years later, 10 years later, they are still there.

Syria Deeply: So in terms of your year or so of experience with the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon, what are the largest issues they are facing?

Mani Benchelah: I mean, I focused on the children, so for them, the main issue is education and access to health. And obviously, just being able to provide a stable environment and adequate food. Mostly though, it’s access to education and access to health. It’s very complicated for Syrian children. Even if the Lebanese authorities, with the help of the U.N., have launched programs, they’re only able to reach a small percentage of the kids.
And many many kids are dropping out of school. They’re impoverished. Their families have no income. They need the teenagers to start working. Many of the kids I was following had to drop out of school to help support their families over the year I spent with them. Others simply had no access to schools because they were too far from a school or they weren’t living in a refugee camp, and even the schools in the camps weren’t proper schools.
Syria Deeply: Over the year you spent, is there any particular moment that stuck with you as an explicative
Mani Benchelah: Every child I followed highlights an aspect of the overall plight. For example, one of the young teenagers I was following had to drop out of school despite his deep desire to learn, to continue studying and to someday go to college. It was a tipping moment when he realized he really couldn’t continue learning. It was, for me, a moment indicative of so many other Syrian children who simply cannot continue their education.
For others, the situation in Lebanon itself was the story. They fled violence in Syria to find safety in Lebanon, and after months living in a somewhat more stable and peaceful situation, the violence found them again. Militants connected to ISIS crossed the Lebanese border into the city of Arsal in 2014 while I was working there, so there were clashes between the militants, Hezbollah and the Lebanese army, and for the children I was following, the war had started again. They couldn’t escape. The psychological trauma they’d lived with in Syria started to reappear. It is a never-ending insecurity they are living with. They are children, so they don’t differentiate between who is who – it’s just another situation of an armed man that keeps on following them and trying to kill them. Or like [President] Bashar al-Assad is like some kind of monster man who is following them…like the Boogie Man or something.
One of the children had the chance to relocate to Europe with her family, and was able to start a new life in Switzerland. She’s among the very, very few who’ve been granted relocation through UNHCR [the U.N.’s refugee agency]. So, at least for her, her prospects for the future were much more optimistic. She was very optimistic when she arrived in Switzerland and realized that she had turned a page and that Syria was completely behind her. But her story is only indicative of a very small minority of the Syrian refugees. It re-emphasizes how grim the prospects are for most Syrians in Lebanon.

Syria Deeply: From where you stand, what is the most pressing issue facing the global community when it comes to Syrian refugees?

Mani Benchelah: More countries should be willing to take in refugees. In terms of the girl I just mentioned who managed to make it to Switzerland with her family, the only reason they were granted relocation is because she had been paralyzed after being hit by shrapnel while she and her family still lived in Syria. There are many kids who have similar cases that haven’t been granted the same opportunity. There should be more legal ways specifically for those refugees who are in such a vulnerable situation, particularly so that they’re not forced to make the journey illegally. I was in Greece less than a month ago, and you keep on seeing refugees who you would hope could be granted asylum or at least have their case considered. These are families traveling with handicapped kids … but if you look at the numbers of refugees compared with the number of actual relocations, it’s nothing. If you look at the number of asylum seekers most states in Europe and in the Gulf are taking, the gap is enormous. There are literally millions living in this limbo type of situation, and winter is coming

Repair the childrens minds.  All of us share the blame for allowing the damage to happen.

John Graham

23 June 2016


Most of this blog is a repost of the  Syria deeply interview and excerpts taken from the Save Children Fund site.
About the Author
Dylan Collins

Dylan Collins is an independent journalist based in the Middle East since 2010. His work has appeared with The Guardian, Al-Jazeera America, Al-Jazeera English, Syria Deeply and L’Espresso among others. Follow him on Twitter: @collinsdyl

Tale of Tales : A Film Review

Director, Matteo Garrone. Cast, Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, John C Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Toby Jones, Bebe Cave, Guillaume Delaunay, Hayley Carmichael, Christian Lees, Alba Rohrwacher, Massimo Ceccherini.  Duration 2hrs 14 mins.

In English. An Italy/France co-production.  Cert. 15.

Height of Nonsense violently rendered

Even at five foot two inches Salma Hayek is in anyone’s eyes a fullsome vision so becoming a Queen bee is no stretch.  She is centrally the Queen Of Longtrellis who creates through witchery and incubation an albino son. The King to her melancholic Queen is Longtrellis, obidient (Reilly), then King of Strongcliff, sex crazed (Cassel) and King of Highhills, a ninkcompoo (Jones), Princess Violet (Bebe Cave) whose performance bricks and twists with ferocious skillful intensive acting as Jones intelligent self driven daughter.  Fellow Italian director Paolo Sorrentino (Youth) who bizarrely lived in the same building as the 47 year old Matteo Garrone without exchanging more than pinched expressions, due to attributed rivalry, has followed the theme of age obsession, most recently in the purely forthright Youth, set in a recuperation setting without compromise to modern cosmetic rituals and is probably best remembered by the naked walk of Madalina Diana Ghenea to the pool Caine and Kietel rest their bones poolside. This film is good looking but is at the other extremity – compelling throughout with the three stories interwoven it is very engaging visually.  Unfortunately it falls down by the injudicious skipping from one story to the next.  There may be a chronology to it but each time a switch is made the viewer may dislike it because they were getting into or carried away by the previous story.  A loose narrative; and Matteo Garrone said they are loosely based on the originals, leads us into calamity, conflict, twists and turns.  There are many, many dramatic shifts well choregraphed and delightfully executed. The good old terror strikes and the use of violence is sometimes heavy and of extreme visual effect.  Similarly the actors, from the poster girl chewing a heart with a bloodied face are part gore and part satirical.  It’s a cut throat world they live in and Matteo Garrone compares it to the present.  He should get out less. Comparisons with monarchies, governments and regimes and feudal terrorists apart it is a more civilised time we live in and factually so in war statistics.


Strands of Golden Royalty

Three strands of royalty are each splendidly baroque fairytales .  The third strand has Toby Jones daughter taken into marriage with a cave-dwelling ogre (Guillaume Delaunay).  This is perhaps the funniest and more adhered to narrative.      It uses special effects to provide a fourth character – after Toby the King, Violet his unattached husband seeking daughter, an unsuitable candidate in Guillaume as the ogre – comes a flea which as legend has it has supernatural strength.  At least that’s what school taught us with them apparently towing small carriages.  The locations are stunning and this story has dense woodland and steep mountains as well as a hexagonal turreted castle in a barren hot dry landscape with more plain interiors than the others.  As locations go I noted down the credits to the areas. It listed as an Italian French co-production and locations, Sicily, Tuscany, Sermoneta, Alcatara.  This enterprise of the Production team is a major attempt at making Italy once again a renowned producer of quality cinema.  It looks to be an attempt at establishing ‘studio’ based film making; some of this was shot in Rome and the titles hinted at the tax incentives utilised and may steer any unscrupulous ‘investors or hangers on’ – Matteo Garrones Gomarrah concerned the Mafia but I’m not suggesting for a moment that cinema could be infiltrated by such nerdowells, heavens no!

This genuine skilfull adaptation of the 17th-century yarns of Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile whose followers were Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm becomes a bold retelling without using special effects, using minimal post edit manipulation.  The previous Mafia tale Gomarrah was a unique insightful form and here Matteo Garrone has an equally gritty approach as that ‘noir’ thriller and seems not so long ago but is of 2008 vintage.  Decant sets and adult themes are provocatively temptingly and unflinchingly choregraphed in this piece of three fairytales woven from the same surreal cloth.  All the actors play it straight which itself is a tough ask of self control but a reason it works.  They dispatch ludicrous situations in sumptuous settings and with nonchalant theatre as if it is reality.  Real as – feed a flea to become as big as a human, or real as – eating the heart of a dragon cooked by a virgin, hard to find there presumably to procreate or real as – a fight a sea monster for dinner.


Roccascalegna Castle, Roccascalegna, Chieti, Abruzzo, Italy

Castel del Monte, Andria, Bari, Apulia, Italy Toby Jones therefore IS the man from del Monte.  Who’d have guessed!


Bebe Cave


The Universe must obey our will.

Royalty has its pioneers and in Elizabethan England, particularly London the Queen set the tone for opulence and luxury. She had over three thousand dresses. Taking her inspiration from 1509-1547 Henry VIII House of Tudor, (1547-1553 Edward VI House of Tudor, 1553-1558 Mary I House of Tudor) 1558-1603 Elizabeth I House of Tudor was the fashionista of state brocade, lace, sables, baubles, magnificent surroundings and a mountain of learned volumes bound in velvet of Greek and Latin and more adorning the libraries. It is these allusions of court this film aspires to emulate in its decorous decant era setting design. Spanish, French and Italian all had an aesthetic seeking no comparison.

With every design of any object there is a rule not to be initially the same as anything seen before though all objects have their roots in others and are inspired by the lineage of design.  Everyone wants to stand out and be different, to define themselves by their surroundings and what they alter their appearance with.  Hunter S. Thompson had an opposite view, maybe because the first has limited prospect of being obtained and even exceptional wealth has its limits – just look at Donald Trump and his apparent 700 billion dollars – growing diminishing depending on who you listen too – HST said something along the lines of ‘there’s no point in turning up for your own funeral looking great and well preserved, in the finest condition because you looked after yourself, you could just as easily take the risks, experience difficult and challenging things, take one or two or more wrong turns and turn up and be proud to say, to yourself, My, that’s been one helluva ride!’  

Palazzo Vecchio

So while it speaks of the purity of a lust for finding all the life preserving comforts – with the cost of obtaining them – it speaks also of acting on instinct alone and tempting fate where all is thrown up in the air to land who knows where – the opposites overlap and create choices that confound.  Here the vision is caught with a sense of the fairytales realism in pursuit of the impossible dream.  It for example places great store by the creation of a Prince or Princess, except paternalistic politics of gender status are played out here as they would have been in the Italy of Giambattista Basile and right up to the present.  So no feminist vibe there then.  Also the drama of the settings is organic as well as man made, with ogres, creatures, the power of nature stating its case and the power of it is also on the ‘menu’.  Strong structural competing forces pressing on humanities composure.  The composure of being in charge of the grand magnificent universal truth commanding it to obey. The alchemy of material is one of mans finest achievements empowering as it does the molecular recalibration of our ability to exist longer than the ascribed predicting centuries.  It is also the author of an population apocalypse not awaited but upon us.

 Donnafugata Sicily       

and above right Castel del Monte, Andria, Bari, Apulia, Italy.  Toby Jones therefore is the man from del Monte!

The films theme(s)
The theme unhooking here in the film is as he Matteo Garrone suggests in interviews, one of contemporary vice also the words”violent desires can only be satisfied by violence” are central to the films pressing prescience.  Moral compacting of stories about vanity, desire and greed from the screaming fairytales of old and blood-spattered Neapolitan functional spleen bursting enormity of human depraved acts the film settles for less improvisation and Matteo Garrone manages to work the sets, the actors through much preparation and his abandonment of an earlier gift and skill for painting here becomes a mechanism to make you feel the emotions through a) The straight acting b) the visual feast of imagination realised without artifice of usual cinematic proportions.  Giambattista Basile’s “Pentamerone,” predates and even inspired many of the classics in repeated interpretations today through Disney from Rapunzel to Cinderella. As unhinged as the poet’s five-volume collection aggregated 50 fantastical stories where, it spun a spell of contemporary Neopolitain behavior with wildness, sexual insatiable appetites, animalistic projection, imploding violence. Little change out of the Euro or even lurid Old Britain there then.

The formula of fairytale moralising is ditched here to expose the Directors own mantra relating to the cosmetic values of life employed across the world with brand ‘Italy’ high most in the stakes of ‘model’ unique. Not exactly Shakespearian in analysis but fundamentally observant nevertheless. Audiences will extract therefore a more loosely picked narrative and incidental lesson of accepted values with these desires stronger than the individuals they belong to.  The person is to take a message of a self commanded life not measured against these extrodinarily hyper real visually stimulating tales propose.


Matteo Garrone commands his own authoritive mark and what is interesting is the fact he has left creating paintings for his own reasons and invested that creative verve in cinema which we can enjoy and frankly be entertained by.  It is a very interesting take on things relying for its heft on instinct.  The feel of the film has gaps and occasional annoyances.

It matters not as this is the purpose of film, to reach into narrative and extract a new take on aspects of – ourselves mostly.  For the film maker he is intent on entertaining and doing so with an allegorical set of stories that hopefully bizarrely met with resonances in our lives.  This he and the whole cast and huge team delivering it do so handsomely.

Even the Star Wars and Fantasy genres approach comparisons with our own lives also, being necessary for audiences.

In interviews he cites Fellini’s studio Casanova and the giallo of Mario Bava as cinematic influences. The biggest influence by far comes from Goyas Los Caprichos, prints about 18th-century Spain saying “I kept them with me throughout the film. In those drawings I found all I was looking for.”  That is a very informative unselfish insight to the way the work comes out and is realised.  He also rejects because of the many constraints being tempted by the big magnets of American budget films.  Here he has a crafted indulgence in Englsh which defies many principles of not just life but theatre.

Conclusion ####4

Phantasmagorical sumptuous piece of emblematic Italian cinema interwoven with Italian fairytale folklore which predates and therefore informs the works produced by Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm.  While this set of three stories of Kings and Queens are only very loosely related; they come together and it is not of any import, at a funeral and a wedding as far as I can detect.  The stories interweave not intersect and follow the fables according to director Matteo Garrone only loosely and his take on them is to deliver high grade, romantic settings in a believable set of surreal type environments which he creates using old screen crafts.  There is one period interior which is the setting for the Queen Longtrellis, which I take to be utilizing high tech printed white geometric wall paneling with a decorative colored dado which is theatrical and beautifully understated focusing on the drama it is within and not typical of any period though I’m no expert.  It’s just so intelligent a way to convey the intricacy of the environments.  Architecturally other exteriors interiors contrasting are well tended genuine period pieces well chosen.   The actors all play it without laughing at its bonkers themes and where it calls for blood and gore they welcome it with open engagement.  A very important element of one of the three stories requires two actresses to don prosthetics to make them the ugly mother and daughter in a reclusive village hideaway.  Cassels is the King to encounter this pair and it is a centrally brilliant piece of original fable telling with very unusual and beautifully delivered though fractured storylines.  This is a very strong piece of original film making contrasting as said previously – on the same theme of youth and vigour – with the other Italian approach Youth – and neither subtract from the the,Es but expand them showing cultural Italy is as good as ever.
John Graham

15 June 2016


On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from and including 17 June through to 23 June 2016.

When Marnie  was here : A Film Review

When Marnie was here is based on the book by the English author Joan G. Robinson.

From the Studio Ghibli. Co-Founding Directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.

ACTORS. Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Hana Sugisaki, Hitomi Kuroki, Ryoko Moriyama (voices)DIRECTOR. Hiromasa Yonebayashi. GENRE. Animation. RATING. U. DURATION  1hr 43mins.   SUBTITLED. ORIGIN. JAPAN. 2014. At QFT they will show the English dubbed version on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 June 2016 matinees.  Remainder are the original Japanese voiced and subtitled version.

Era of Japanese Animation closing.

This apparently; things are never certain, is the final film to be made under the Studio Ghibli filmhouse studio.  As this is the third (of three) signing off pieces following on from two years ago, Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese chief, announcing retirement after the release of The Wind Rises then six months later, his co-founder, Isao Takahata, doing the same in releasing The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.  The young pretender Hiromasa Yonebayashi (42) unabashed follows up with the closer. When Marnie was here apparently or looks like a consensus on his own choosing given the listing of children’s books cited as favourites, The Borrowers, Heidi and The a Secret Garden which entail the tropes associated with the studio, ghosts, memory and growing up this fits the stable and closing the door – on an empty flown offspring?

The story of When Marnie was here (a bare introduction.)

This is a traditional fairytale taken into a modernist setting.  Out of the high speed train setting of the large City, Sapporo, is where we begin.  Anna, a 12 year old, is a lone child fostered by her ‘Aunt’ and dutiful stand in mother, Yoriko, who is herself alone and with Anna having an ailment, being as asthmatic is soon sent to another ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle’ carer whose own children have grown and they are in a comfortable peasant late middle age. So it is to a place of rural beauty on a beautiful magical impressive shoreline Anna is to find herself growing up.

New places.

Anna (voiced by Sara Takatsuki, and by Hailee Steinfeld in the upcoming English-language version), comes to this new place full of self-concious wonder and uncertainty of her true self with her lonely upbringing so far.  Because it is thought a summer here will clear her head and she will open up to her life ahead she is struck with all the wonderment she immediately encounters.  From getting off the train and off the City connected to the rural coastal offshoot which most all have lost sight of she is taken by her new ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle’ the Owia family in a bone shaker of a tiny pick-up red van off the highway and along the beaten track to what some would have as an idyll.  A lovely hillside quaint ramshackled top and bottom balconied homely timber dwelling.  

Uncle is a tall thin man given to tinkering about and crafting interesting things; junk probably to his ebullient warm tubby contented wife whose ease and warmth never once falters.  It is indeed an idyll except the absence of companions of Anna’s age.  The local village kids have ‘reputations’ and she has no dealings with them due to it being summer and her own place providing a lone child with her own imagined adventures.  This is reinforced with her immersion in her gift of drawing.  While she mistrusts her own ability she is an assured sketchers and is intently drawn, excuse that .., to sketching this new place.  In Japanese – pay attention to this subtitled version, the word for Sketching is Sketchin’. So I believe!

This new place has tales to tell and I won’t tell you them.  The Marnie of the story is like another little girl of similar age who is to become her companion through this story.  It is the central plank of the narrative.  Beautifully, sublimely rendered animation just pours out with a gentle undercurrent of orchestrated strings and bows.  The scenic value of a marshy inlet provides a wonderful ghostlike setting for where the story wafts and weaves. The elegance of screen painterly framing and ease through the animation is simply awesome.  Very accomplished and rewarding subtlety is everywhere throughout.

New voices.

The Marnie character is voiced by Kasumi Arimura (and by Kiernan Shipka, Mad Men’s Sally Draper – redub).  Both shall meet but how and where and what will the relationship bring? How different are they? How alike?  In Japan according to a local philosopher; yes there’s more than me, it is a familiar idea to internalize your questions by asking Why, five times after each bring an answer it apparently discovers a core – well Mr Toyota himself used it, Sakichi Toyoda and when was the last time anyone of his cars broke down. Opps! there goes another maxim.  A recall? See snags need overcome.  Anna needs to find out what makes her work.  What her feeling mean and why she must attend to her own needs and see the outside while having a contented core, just like ‘Aunt’ Owia who never fails to be happy in sharing everything from giant toms, to juicy magnificent watermelons as she just teases these fruits of the earth – clue there they are both fruits and therefore you now know what toms are kids. This is a U friendly blog.  

Abundant nature.

The abundance of the surrounding nature from the clear star filled sky’s, with a crescent moon reflecting on the water, the tidal course bringing not the marsh little islands, paddies their called here, is ever present timeless territory for fairytale like stories.  This is in the tradition of Grimms fairy tales and no less scary making me once or twice wondering how unsettling this film might be to children of tender years.  12 up may like its familiar problems and be able to dismiss as folklore, or fable some of the moralising – no one gets hurt in essence but emotions  become very heightened and there will be adults in tears at times and it is a testament to the strength and propulsion of the animation of the dreamlike or real narrative drive.  What is behind this journey? We engage with Anna and Marnie as their story unfolds apace.  Genuinely moving it is a bracingly well told story or yarn.  I put beneath a link to another story only yesterday, put on another blog by me concerning a Japanese fable translated by an English author concerning The Stone-Cutter.  It followed on from a favourite painting of mine of a stonecutter illustrating a poem of – actually a boy knapping flints on Boxhill, often used to adorn cottages they split giving a lovely flat white plane – I used them once when the opportunity arose at Walton-on-the-Hill. See Stone shapes, for incidentals!

This film has a calling for teenagers everywhere as they reach those teenage years – Anna is 12 – soon therefore to be one and it shares the pangs and pains of formulating around your given genes your own shaped identity.  Opening up and becoming a confident human being and being able to distinguish between falsehood and meaningful experiences and of learning to trust with compassion.  These arts and gifts are partially found in the expression Anna is able to give her sketching.  She also meets along the way another more mature lady artist who shares her skills and encourages her as well as providing more grown up insights on life.  They don’t dwell on sentiment either of them but as artists define the basic essence and how to separate it from the unnecessary.

Conclusion ####4

Beware of imitations, including rediscovered remakes of the animalistic variety.  Splendid and accomplished though they are the voices and visual realism brought through giganticism gifted animation and – familiar stories is giving children and grown up expected treats.  What is on the box is not the same as the contents, you get slightly under nourishing fare.  Favourites devoured and some left unconsumed, is not the diet children deserve with films that have lately come down to highly fashioned within an inch of their hides.  Pictorially or mentally they are not challenging enough whereas this form is.  It is a viscerally engaging skilfully crafted story keeping its tension throughout and showing another world almost believable but not quite scary enough to be unsettling for the more attuned youngsters, meaning perhaps ten up.  Not Seven up it is too fizzy!  

This animation os a class above and is an art form best seen in the widescreen environment of a Cinema or even in a crowded group of children in their own little Cinema Club.  Preceded by The equally though longer and more directionally culturally ‘Japanese’ – The Princess of Kaguya, it has a loud why would any amity want to go to those extremes? Unusual in fabric beautifully presented but not giving the ‘lifelesson’ its origins intended. It was named by a male Spanish acquaintance as one of his favourites of all time which is a marker of how effective this style within the genre is and in this relative newcomers hands,  Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s hands, it is as stories with a twist and resonance for eras from the ancient through the Swedish, Scandinavian, Transylvanian, scope of fables and ghostly Gothic tales revivalism have been and served here in this manner is always welcome.  It is superbly done for and will appeal to a wide audience.  Some have said it is slightly the weaker of the trio closing Studio Ghibli, with it being a long winded ending, it is not quite that or even close to being the weakest in a triptych.  It has its own palatte and story and is brilliantly realised. The measure is not it being part of a triptych but as and of its self within a genre which houses manybsplendourscto take forward.  There is a series also to be appreciated.  See below.  Well worth seeing and several times over perhaps as a classic tale for children each generation maybe forming their own take on it.  Tested through the ages as all good yarns are.  This is like a story told intimately round a fireside except here it’s it magnificent technicolour widescreen beauty.

John Graham

7 June 2016


Thank you to Studio Ghibli for the opportunity to provide such a visually interesting blog!  It’s great to look at I think.

On at QFT Belfast from Friday 10 June through to and including 16 June 2016

Matinees on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 June will be the English dubbed version.

Special note regarding more screenings of Japanese Animation from the same Studios.

Also note a series entitled Studio Ghibli Forever starts on (started 5 June) Friday 10 with this film (normal full price/member/other concess.) subtitled unless as noted, others £4.00 on Sunday 19, Princess Mononoke, Sunday 26, Spirited away, Saturday 2, Howl’s Moving Castle, Saturday 16, Ponyo (dubbed), The Wind Rises, Saturday 23, The Tale of Princess Kayguya.  See for specific times of all screenings.

Also on web is
The Stonecutter
Once upon a time there lived a stonecutter, who went every day to a great rock in the side of a big mountain and cut out slabs for gravestones or for houses. He understood very well the kinds of stones wanted for the different purposes, and as he was a careful workman he had plenty of customers. For a long time he was quite happy and contented, and asked for nothing better than what he had.

Now in the mountain dwelt a spirit which now and then appeared to men, and helped them in many ways to become rich and prosperous. The stonecutter, however, had never seen this spirit, and only shook his head, with an unbelieving air, when anyone spoke of it. But a time was coming when he learned to change his opinion.

One day the stonecutter carried a gravestone to the house of a rich man, and saw there all sorts of beautiful things, of which he had never even dreamed. Suddenly his daily work seemed to grow harder and heavier, and he said to himself: “Oh, if only I were a rich man, and could sleep in a bed with silken curtains and golden tassels, how happy I should be!”

And a voice answered him: “Your wish is heard; a rich man you shall be!”

At the sound of the voice the stonecutter looked around, but could see nobody. He thought it was all his fancy, and picked up his tools and went home, for he did not feel inclined to do any more work that day. But when he reached the little house where he lived, he stood still with amazement, for instead of his wooden hut was a stately palace filled with splendid furniture, and most splendid of all was the bed, in every respect like the one he had envied. He was nearly beside himself with joy, and in his new life the old one was soon forgotten.

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