Sonita : A Film Review

: Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami. Cast: Sonita Alizadeh, Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami and further members of the family and the organisations supporting her.  Wasatch Academy. Utah. Genre.  Art House & International, Documentary , Musical & Performing Arts. Written by: Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami. Duration: 90 minutes. Cert. PG. Subtitled.

A real life story told differently.

This film, set in Tehran, Iran, Herat, Afghanistan, and Utah, America, is creatively astonishing and alarming as well as delivering to a wider audience the issue of the still practiced female subjugation in the form of, mainly child forced marriage in Afghanistan still manifest and unlike Iran un-evolved.  It is the story of Sonita Alizadeh, a young Afghan girl whose overflowing gifts of performance art, drama, singing, songwriting, theatre design for a fifteen year old whose creative world is driven (and you may wonder the magnitude of her gifts outside this) by the politics and plight she finds herself in.  Spanning broadly, 2014 to 2015, filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami turns this story into a crossover of documentary drama having found Sonitas story, presumably via. the social media, SoundCloud, or whatever platform her main song met the world audience in which it is acclaimed as being a breakthrough rap song of immense clarity, succinct hard hitting lyrics.  How Rokhsareh was drawn to it doesn’t really matter but it presents for us the form which is sometimes viewed as staged, rehearsed, eavesdropping in the family situation Sonita is locked into.  

Here is a review sentence from the FT which quite rightly draws attention to the fine line documentary makers – for this is the onlay genre the makers wish to push the film, its in my mind a format which genuinely takes in theatrical performance and sublimely, if that’s not too pejorative – taking care to deal sensitively with the very harsh subject.  The view stated was FTGhaemmaghami’s various, blatant interventions in Alizadeh’s life (shooting and posting a video to one of Sonita’s songs that went viral, negotiating her passports and visas) probably broke every documentary-making code. 

It definitely crosses the line, I’ll agree. Backtrack it with the song Crossing the line Yamasata Winwood and Shrieve.  Long gone tune which expresses lots of things.

Sonita a refugee

Sonitas life is within a Tehran charity called The Society for the Protection of Working … (and nowhere can I find a link – yet OMID is a similar but women not child based charity) run by an Iranian woman, herself an irrepressible honest broker with vision whose wisdom allows access to Sonita who is after all under her guardianship, so no small element.  It is a place where, with due respect and local cultural deference she is, within the building they are housed; a free person, allowed to move around the city as an ordinary citizen, and able to mix with other girls her own age. We see through the vision of this refugee workers insightful management of what is an emotionally damaging situation – separation from her family, no papers to establish her identity formally, no proper education, no role or life management – what in fact is The Society’s purpose is to provide life skills to a girl entering womanhood.  The charity delivers hope to all the children in its care, not alone Sonita.

The cloud she’s moves underneath from.

By telling the story from an initial school based situation the parameters are defined.  Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami takes the role of an interviewer and asks Sonita as she beds down in a small sparse room on which she has a scattering of posters including one artist whose reception in Manchester this week was such that it’s overwhelming volume near hyseria had —-! leave the stage as it was impossible in their eyes to perform normally.  The next night in Birmingham was more constrained and both concerts showed the pinnacle of musical status her looked into in Tehran as an impossible dream. 

The questions are about her situation and Sonita keeps a private art diary/notebook of ideas, expectations/ambitions/observations full of perceptive irony and fledgling artistic ability.  By probing away, advancing the narrative Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami is delivering a deep involving complex picture of the background Sonita comes from and the central issue. Sonita has come from a now relatively – and that is only notional – safe environment of Herat after Taliban conflict she has not seen her mother for six or seven years.  Her father has died.  Father was old and mother was young as she shows Rokhsareh a family photo.  She tells of her Dad marrying a young bride, her Mum obviously and this is what is expected of her.  A marriage to be arranged which her mother shall sell her, and to someone of twenty years senior has already been put forward, for around $9,000 which may even be as little as $3,000 given her current exile status.  If she were to leave Tehran she would not be able to return.  To establish her identity properly she would have to return to Herat to authenticate her passport application no longer making her a refugee.  Another twist of passports is that Iran will accept all passports except American ones as valid.  The whole scenario is as complex as it sounds and in the film is shown though the sequencing, directorial clarity brought through the surreal depictions, ‘flashbacks’ cleverly linerally delivered by the astute Director and with I would imagine the input of Sonita and the primary ‘actors’.

Conventions of Female Subjigation

The pressures of being subject to a course of action out of her control and being manipulated from afar – it is the families ‘proposal’ back in Herat – along with a brother who appears not on the very fringes of this film, exherts pressure on Sonita to acquiesce to this child marriage for the sake of the family.  Beyond the immorality of the sale as is tradition in Afghanistan, not Iran, by being sold for so many dollars, – the figures of the film take on a life of their own – $9,000 say – it would allow her brother to then buy a bride in turn.  This trap is only a peculiarity and the number of girls in a family allow the Male dominated society to perpetuate the sale of daughters for such sums of money which amounts to the same as sheep or cows being sold and hence a basis of livelihoods.  It is this Sonita is highly charged about centrally, no surprise there then, and is what is behind Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami’s diligence in making this risky politically charged exposure of a specific family situation.  It brings plenty of risk which strangely and perhaps inevitably she has been able to convince various members of the family, especially Mother to participate and ‘act’ out their roles under her direction in order to project the story.  Several scenes are clearly rehearsed and not spontaneous as is the prospectus.

  An uncannily similar image appears film and Goya speaks!
Going viral

The songs are put together through a series of encounters which managed or unmanaged bring out the darkly striking rap song Brides for Sale which went viral.  The accompanying video and the interspersed additions of work take this film beyond any perceptions of transgression or willful interference.  It is an act in need of sustenance, established accord, and wide, very wide exposure which Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami has employed in the past.  She knows exactly what she is doing/has done and far from clouding the boundaries with irrevance of orginisational finger pointing she uses the art of film making to create in itself a poignant emotionally complex drama theatrical performance piece establishing Sonitas art.  Her art happens to explore her hardship and like many who cannot get to express their hardship in any shape or form Sonita charges ito also fully aware of the boundaries and is so imaginatively advancd as to grasp it for those who cannot.  The rappers in Chicago, Hidden China, Remorseless India, Battered Britain, Bombarded Palestine and many other exploited, suppressed regions share the same humanity as all of us but cannot express it.  Even such as Pussy Riot, Malala, The Idol, Deephan along with recent films are centrally political and important.

Conclusion ####4.

As the play’s of Shakespeare, the traditions of No theatre, the Morality plays Film again takes over the wider view of intensely important visulisation of ourselves in our times – since the invention of Film! Cast as a documentary to all platforms, Sonita evolves with magnetic, crushing, compelling engagement.  It is impossible to avert your eyes or shift your mind to blank out the at times surreal, avant garden polemic foisted on you rewardingly by Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami and Sonita Alizadeh whose life is at the centre.  Oblivious as most of us are to the extraordinary desparate conditions of culture inflicting subjegation on extensively, women.  We are present among our own preoccupations and prejudices and on a much reduced level – though clearly many women at the heart of a crisis rightly would disagree – in the so caled developed world.  The thrust of daily live often places compromises in front of us but we need to be aware of the ramifications of indulged political parameters and speak out against them.  Sonita provides documentary, wide vision and self awareness seldom seen in any other locatity enormously assisting those in the front line of argument to fight these outrages.  By having groups of allies outside who can support their fight is how it can advance change.  This film is a nucleus for change among many.  It is deeply entrenched in the goodness seen portrayed under ridiculous circumstances and delivered to our view by its many contributors including Grandma Alizadeh whose tentative but knowingly astute presence lever’s up an other plank from the rocky road.  

John Graham

27 October 2016


On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from Friday 28 October through to Thursday 3 November 2016.

I, Daniel Blake : A Film Review

Director, Ken Loach, Screenplay, Paul Laverty.  Cast. Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Dylan McKiernan, Briana Shann, Kate Rutter, Sharon Percy, Kema Sikazwe. (English dialogue) Duration. 1hr 40mins. Camera (color), Robbie Ryan; editor, Jonathan Morris; music, George Fenton; production designers, Fergus Clegg, Linda Wilson; costume designer, Joanne Slater; sound (Dolby Digital), Ray Beckett; sound editor, Kevin Brazier; line producer, Eimhear McMahon; casting, Kahleen Crawford. Production. U.K.- (France-Belgium) A Le Pacte (in France) release of a Sixteen Films, Why Not Prods., Wild Bunch (Rebecca O’Brien), BFI, BBC Films, Les Films du Fleuve, France 2 Cinéma, Canal Plus, France Télévisions, Le Pacte, Cinéart, Ciné Plus, VOO and Be tv production. 


Side by side not taking sides

If you want to avoid a politcally charged piece based around the outrages perpetuated our name in Great Britain and Northern Ireand, on which this film has attempted in its narrow focus to show then I suggest you go to the bottom of the review and the conclusion instead of wading through the politics.  I find people’s perceptions of the politics intruiging and repulsive from the so-called support mechanism of handouts on legal advice and support through the class orientated Legal system – access to justice and the like pure fantasy and peripheral – other ‘agencies’ – charity wars where they are in High Streets ‘chugging’ being unpleasant in a face frame as you pass, to handing out supermarket disposals at food banks then you can get a bit distraught and ashamed.  So move on.

Moving on the story

This journey is a script opening eyes to actors then audiences.  Research needs dictate the timeline for this compressed schedules so the assembled team can come together very quickly, in three months after the get go, finances in place – France is the main arena to show it.  It opens in about 600 screens in France and about 100 in GB/NI.  This story is discovered in so many places it shocks producer Rebecca O’Brien and the outlet, outcome will come touch so many who no the story at some level. Loaches way of working is to shoot in sequence then give script pages say a few days in advance if some scenes need ‘discovery’ let down gently so the performance evolves more naturally.  So actors have the most explained scripted but are taken on a journey also.

Foreign fields in our country

In the early summer at the end of May the European Cinema community meeting once again in Cannes expressed their acclaim of this Ken Loach film.  It should be mentioned the screenplay delivered by Paul Laverty is exceptional and their combined skills, talent have created a very clear depiction of the atrocious Department for Work and Pensionsxorganised abuse of human rights and morality.  Here is a report in May announcing the Ken Loach acclaim action in Cannes.

Last week there was an article in The Guardian about how Labour candidates in the last elections were like “middle class Ryanair passengers,” trying to suppress their metropolitan squeamishness while canvassing in traditional Labour areas.

The voters on the doorsteps said of the politicians: “You’re all the same” – by which they meant: “You’re nothing like me”. 

On the same day, it was reported that Ken Loach, nearing his 80th birthday, had just won prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes for I, Daniel Blake, a film about life on benefits.

This is great news for the makers of this thoroughly decent but very straightforward portrait of the film maker, which looks back over his career, while showing him making that very film. 

Proper Society demands

I am finding this film very hard to review as having now seen it twice can attest to its fiercely upsetting and concerning depiction of Britain – the United Kingdom – that is shown to have a rejection by proxy of large sections of vulnerable and virtually starving people trammeled by Government punitive Social Security actions.  Based on the Public Health. act they distort and reject basic human right principles of social provision for those in need of welfare assistance and breach the rights to privacy as attested by the system shown for all its harmful effect in this film.  Seeing it twice produced the view – seeing it twice assured me it was in fact a work of fiction though it may well have been a documentary of validity and authenticity given its flawless careful handling of a large societal picture which is treated like a soiled limited section of the support system people believe – wrongly – is a safety net.  

The depraved reformers

A local spokesperson for these Social Security ‘Welfare Reforms’ Dr Eileen Evason, who has been an advisor over many years to the Social Services Committee, adding insult to injury over the period appeasing and making noises on/off about possibly unworkability, while failing to solve the problems put up by the Social Security Committee, grandly attests that ‘she’ has advised the First Minister and Deputy First Minister ‘she’ has copper fastened the bottom of the safety net in the latest measures of ‘Welfare Reform’ – which are a removal of further support and diminution of Social Security – in every sense of the word and are as much an insidious harmful assault on people disadvantaged in numerous ways accessing Welfare.  

Reforms are the further rejection of people’s rights and betrayal of the Welfare Society on which our whole ‘sovereign’ entitlement has affirmed through the Public Health Act. It is how our civility has been established.  I could cite several Laws which are breached, among them the provision of emergency and hardship funds which are ‘means tested’ in becoming a claimant.  Worse still is the treatment of Asylum seekers, Refugees and some Immigrants and their diminished rights of access to shelter and the means financially to live in a dignified and civilised way which basically all consider alienating and intensly degradng on purpose by design by the Home Office.  They maintain their dignity as a measure of contrast to those who subjugate them, the depraved reformers. The Attorney General fails to find fault here while he contests the liberty of cakes and rights for access to criminal files by victims and has expressed his views on gay marriage, abortion and sexual prostitution practices.  Human trafficking and Healthcare deficiencies along with long term mental health problems cramming prisons with TV licence evaders, avoiding the rackettering going in also in drugs, property scams and theft from trammeled owners is left to one side when it comes to enforcement of legalities.


The powerful in all generations beat down the populous in order to create a means to accumulate and amass, grow their fortunes.  Corporations now unleash the threat of ( now mostly seen off) suing Nations who transgress their Commercial practices by regulation – in contrast to other locations – as a means of finding lowest common denominator compliant States to carry out manufacturer and trade.  This is very much a part of the Political embrace, or the Corporations wrestling Governments into surrender by the throats into submission to their plans of work practices.  You may have noticed the floodgates having opened once Thathcher destroyed Manufacturing industries as the tooth nail and claws of overseas economic conditions took a nosedive and resurrected on a Conservative compliant employers agenda.  Followed by the breakneck catastrophic avoidance of needed market reforms when New Labour arose Phoenix like and adopted Neo-liberal economics which achieved what? Fairly evident. The Conservative backlash to the attempt at restructuring tax credits dealt with by the stop gap DWP minister Stephen Crabbe said there were to be no further cuts to Welfare.  What remains however are economic measures creating hardship not alleviating it as is the Conservativve way.  There remains no link to prices in terms of Benefits so any inflation will diminish their value.  The zero inflation likewise meant the adjustments needed were never going to reduce the vulnerability of very low ‘incomes’ never realistically matching survival needs as is clear from social deprivations the length and breadth of the islands.

Both Governments actually banned Ken Loach films which now find themselves on the right side of history.  Some elements (Wind that Shakes the Barley excluded as it was so naive in my view) relate to policies implemented in Northern Ireland which were volatile exposures of criminality of criminal proportions.  In NI film is pronounced ‘filim’ which also connects to the spooks Le Carre points to as finding legitimacy when the ‘sovereign cause’ was imperilled in the Northern Ireland troubles.  We have an o added to NI giving us the Northern Ireland Office and the begetters of many a violent consequence.  Ministers in Government/Assembly rather like the idea the truth is left concealed as to the real savage brutality of regimes acting out their power lust here. It suits their criminal acts and duplicity/double agent positions and hides their joint enterprise efforts of concealment.  The Blair contention he was responsible for healing the process is another myth.  George Mitchell if anyone, alongside wise counsel from Mary Robinson and others not up to their necks in corrupt dealings, stroke parties are the real authors along with the law abiding populous in creating peace.

Katie and Dan, Daisy and Dylan.
Mercy doesn’t come into it.  This film is harrowing and the awareness of both Ken Loach, in putting this account of a shifting period in our history, when the further effects of the 99% globally daily inflict greater influence and harm in the shaping of our society is coruscating and baleful.  It is like watching cities, generations, turned into enumerated sub-Orwellian dehumanised robots functioning to extract as much value from commodities goods and services as is mechanistic ally possible.  The machine age where those owning the power of process from land to building to healthcare extract more than they contribute along an economic symmetry, uniformity which is destroying the planet and its inhabitants.  More and more obvious by the passing years.

Katie, Dan, Dylan and Daisy come to the crest of a hill in a wide street shot, with Dylan acting up and playing on the relatively quiet suburban road.  I saw this as a pivotal point and it’s not a spoiler to be discussing it.  In ‘films’ about the making of this movie I have seen the set up being discussed as Loach and others converge to discuss and KL inevitably calls the shots!  This is where things look to be on the improve.  As you will have likely read the coming together of these people is through their treatment at the hands of the state.  ‘JobCentrePlus’ Newcastle.  After two years in a hostel in London after having lost a rented private flat (note here KL chooses the scenario to point up the lack of council, local authority built homes) through a minor complaint, they are doing separate things in the Job Centre and after another knock back Dan and most in the centre hear raised voices as a stressed Katie faces a knock back which will see her with no money for food or electricity.  Despite the condition, which has Daniel there in the first place, Dan intervenes ad sticks up for her in a scene which is being controlled by unreasonable overstretched staff.  They cannot be seen in their ‘role play’ to move one inch from the rules and agenda.  They are complicit and compliant nevertheless.  It does nothing to resolve the situation as the staff always control the situation by assertion.  By the passive aggressive violence of their inhuman interaction. Ca particularly abhorrent version of which is displayed your a thirty something floor manager whose bulk and belligerence is like a blank wall purposely.  In local offices it is just the same with blank walls and uniforms, badged floor staff acting like prison guards and traffic police.  Entirely designed as intimidatory and just as Latie and Dan find.  The children have to witness this humiliation also. Being so young they will have in futurectimesxstrong memories of this imprint of society they were brought up in.  

Dan cannot separate himself from this encounter given he is like them in the same sinking stinking boat.  Refugees in their own country.  Like anyone of any worth he helps and so Katie is given some hope and he sets about turning around the house she has been given.  It is barely habitable and lacks most things.  Beds, table and chairs excepted. The London policy of shifting out trouble families, single parents in their estimation a problem, all three have to detach themselves from their roots and go to Geordie land where they have no connections.  It is a form of cultural amputation loosing friends and family and all support. It might be regarded as like students, new job prospects – you move to a good job with arrangements for xyz prepared but here it is a complete nightmare and extremely low levels of support and even means to live and with few ‘possessions’ in tow or even storage.  It’s what middle class England voted/votes for and every aspect has implications undreamt of or excluded from the mind by the latest offer of the Sunday roast lunch at the supermarket.  Delivery can be arranged.  The carefully managed tiers of commercial life teased out into jumbo size excuses for lifestyle choices seen and tantalisingly mirrored back at expectations by the political manipulators governing.

  A town anywhere

The Foodbank

A minister recently reflected on Coffee shops – his observation continues into other places restaurants, shops, bars – that they install pews from disused and happy flappy churches who think nothing of ripping out the seats and bare bulbs, rusting grid lamp covers, galvanised mini buckets, boards as platters evoking a back to basics – unafraid of the distressed plate the sirloin steak sits on along both the rustic chips.  When Katie, Dan, Daisy and Dylan are at the crest f that hill they are heading to that phenonomen – the ‘Church’ led charity group – government authenticated – Foodbank.  There are a startling number in most major towns. Our four come to the ‘Church’ Foodbank and are greeted by an enormous queue of everyday folk standing chatting in orderly fashion. The experience inside is something which cuts to your core for many conflicting reasons.  Everyone is doing their best to alleviate the need for people to collect food to survive on top of their ‘income support’ IS ‘wages’ Workers support ‘Jobseeker’s Allowance’ JSA ‘Employment and support Allownce’ ESA and some on ‘Personal Independant Support Allowance’ PIPS. and each person has a Doctors, MPs, Social Security, Police, referral form stipulating they are likely to benefit from Food Aid.  Here in Belfast there is a Foodbank reached by four flights of stairs down a ammonia smelling lane way and with a lift (out of order?).  It is somewhere only the relatively fit and able can access , elderly and those unable to travel back and forth arriving what they get over long distances cannot avail of the meagre provisions.  There are very limited alternatives and despite this numerous deaths on the streets have occurred some not fifty yards away and destitution is hidden under trees and back lanes with an overhanging doorway or at the bac of arestiarant where the hot air comes through the vents.  In daytime in winter I have seen destitute backed up to a dry cleaners hot air discharge vent which is virtually as steam vent.  KL and PL could have continued to make numerous films on destitution and involving those of no status whatsoever who find themselves here but this should incinerate the lies of Poiticians on the relative wealth of this state’ should silence the complicit entrenched waged apologists – for creating a narrative – for having to enforce it – The Law Centre Northern Ireland is also in this category having played host to the doctrine and ignored all legal contexts of Human Rights in so doing.

Poverty of spirit

Acceptance of poverty is bound with having made sacrifice, poverty is nothing without some form of deprivation.  Imposed by others or oneself.  It is not a Christian renunciation – felt by some to to obtain an anti-worldly attitude – and it does not lead to the removal of social malaise but the opposite.  It is a pharisaical damaging concept for oneself.  It is especially clear in some religions as a belief in, confimation of the excecution of Gods will.  In addition to this how many could you name who hold this humility while themselves safe in the knowledge they shall not be impoverished.  The Church fulfills its aims while controlling the minds of the supplicants entreated in their role play.  Having wealth and holding it is primarily a function adopted in religions, nations and societies.  The use of wealth was intended in Gods world to create social fulfilment.  Be it the production of food, transport, education or health and caring it serves no purpose other than to create social purpose.  Manifestly detached from this is the vast accumulation of wealth which has neither function or form.  It is seen as a barrier against misfortune.  Calamity comes in many forms and natural disasters are common and reactions of an earth balancing its elemental fixed laws and structures disrupt many notions.  It has a randomness with which we consider the consequence of – act.

Humans relate to laws and instilled societal forms set in a familial almost fixed set of behaviour relying almost everyone ill defined and not of any real note or consequence.  It foresees a pattern and bonds.  In every moment expanding this is seen as obligatory.  Not so God will.  Telling the rich man if he wished to be perfect he should give to the poor is all that God willed.  So what might that  were made in the time of Constintine between the ruling establishment and the will of God – Christian values.  The progression though led to the diminution of those values and the application – routed in assumed power – hoarding and stifling distribution not based on supplying people’s legitimate means.  Social obligation is the key. Those keys are established through Marxism through Tolstoy, through continental mineral exploitation to create social and human fulfilment.  Where are we headed?

Conclusion #####5

We are thankful (once again) Paul Laverty for bringing forward a societal ill composed of State bureaucracy the malaise that is the UK Welfare system to a wide audience.  It opens on 21 October 2016 in 100 cinemas in The UK and 600 in France showing the depth of awareness films can have on societal issues. This is a compelling story of a man driven to the edge of his existence by bureaucracy and his life is shown with compassion and understanding by the filmmakers. He (Daniel) is joined in the aim to seek benefits by a young single parent, whose plight he finds when visiting the JobCentrePlus almost a confirmation of a conspiratorial system leaving people at the edge of their dignity and strength seeking the means to live a simple life and deal with their specific circumstances. Daniel is a figure summarising the breadth of the diminishing values and morality shrinking daily. With a condition denying him the health to work he is as a 59 year old required to apply for Benefits to sustain himself. He is advised by his GP and Consultant that he is unfit for work and applies for Employment and Support Allowance. Withstanding his Medical condition, confirmed by his physicians, he is compelled against his legal entitlement, to disclosing to a third party his health condition by statements in a q and a with a ‘Healthcare Professional’ (someone who has no responsibility for well being whatsoever and untrained in any medical analysis or part of any treatment plan) on the phone in a black void at the very beginning of the film.  It is a complete invasion of privacy by a third party and is itself a breach of Article 8 of The Human Rights Act,regarding privacy, going unrecognised by such as DWP, DSDNI, ATTORNEY GENERAL, DFC, LAW CENTRE NI, CAB, PATIENT AND CLIENT COUNCIL and the legislators in Parliament and an a priori defence for everyone in terms of its provision. 

It also is a breach of Client/Patient confidentiality as expressed in the General Medical Councils own codes (Hippocratic Oath) for confidentiality which the State by design subvert and disregard along with the apologists in a train behind them, the Citizens Advice Bureau, The Law Centre, the Social Affairs Committee, the Government Legal Services Department and The Attorney General for Northern Ireland who all refuse to acknowledge the a priori existence of these rights. So Daniel Blake represents the – again explained succinctly, more than my detailed account, – the sisyphean struggle – the task is endless and one of monumental endurance – eloquently described by Variety reviewer, OWEN GLEIBERMAN, on seeing it when it won the Palme d’Or. Wrote the following very insightful words in response – among others equally attesting the strength of the film – ” …it’s about something so much larger than bureaucratic cruelty (although it is very much about that). It captures a world — our world — in which the opportunity to thrive, or even just survive, is shrinking by the minute. With the right handling, the movie has a chance to connect with audiences as few Loach films ever have. It’s a work of scalding and moving relevance.”

When an outsider can see so clearly the desperation and degradation society is perpetuating it is a very clear warning.

Such is the picture of what plainly is a mirror of our divided, fractured, malfunctioning Government and Governance the case for a moral and just society is made all the more relevant and important by this films approach which is a dignified response to the perpetrators of the atrocious conditions they consider lawful and fair.  It is ruinous.
John Graham

20 October 2016

On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from 21 October until 3 November 2016 and at selected Cinemas up to 100 screens in the UK will be showing it while it starts on 600 screens in France who provided considerable backing.

American Honey : A Film Review

Director: Andrea Arnold. Cast: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, Arielle Holmes, McCaul Lombardi, Will Patton, Bruce Gregory, Crystal Ice, Dakota Powers, Shawna Rae Moseley, Chris Wright. Duration : 162 min. Cert. 15.

Directed, written by Andrea Arnold. Camera (colour), Robbie Ryan; editor, Joe Bini.

Cast. Sasha Lane, Riley Keough, Shia LaBeouf, McCaul Lombardi, Arielle Holmes, Crystal B. Ice, Verronikah Ezell, Chad McKenzie Cox, Garry Howell, Kenneth Kory Tucker, Raymond Coalson, Isaiah Stone, Dakota Powers, Shawna Rae Mosely, Christopher David Wright.


Walmart Art piece.

From an eyes connect moment the song – dance throb Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s 2011 track “We Found Love (in a hopeless place)” sounding out in a cavernous Mid-West American Walmart places you in a love story evolutionary curve.  At the risk of immediately setting off cliche ridden, conceptual freefall idiotic drama, Director Andrea Arnold nonchalantly wraps up this splendid no holds barred uplifting music as the gateway to the oncoming love story.  It is a very adept intro heralding, as those into Electronic dance music (as I am) a fair helping of more dynamism and makes us hopeful of a soundtrack not likely to overwhelm the main body the story and movie.  This is a road movie of colourful concepts and motivations.  Colour dynamic is quite possibly down to Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s loose and sharp eyed connection with the Director Andrea’s targets she focused in on.

The set up

Director Andrea Arnold has formulated a storyboard belonging in the long tradition of road movies set in North America. She combines an analytical view of the pressures, context of choices available – or not – to children entering the outside world with a group fixed upon adventure in a crowd.  Taking inspiration from an article on door to door sales of magazine subscriptions, notionally attached to University education the gang (of mainly non-actors) here are lead by a the uncompromising Krystal played by Riley Keough. She seems to be pitched as a savvy young attractive slim symbolic cheerleader of this generations American Dream.  She is fond of wearing USA regalia pitching up in a Stars and Stripes bikini as an identikit.  Alongside her is of on boyfriend Jake played by Shia LaBoeuf whose mall recruitment brings our principle Star played by a thoroughly immersive, knowing and alert Sasha Lane to the roster of workers.  Star brings an abusive childhood where we first meet her in the mall in charge of very young siblings who she eventually leaves behind with her dysfunctional, self obsessed guardians.

Star is the everywoman

She also brings to this film a normalcy which might be lacking in the remainder of the ad-hoc crew.  In a new A5 pound land notebook (essential gear) I’ve scribbled down, Missouri, West Virginia, New Jersey, Florida, Nashville among the origins of the crew. Star is form Texas and now in middle America.  This is a film about the road trip as life. The discovery on the journey of – 1. Current state America. 2. Potential for dreams.  The soundtrack aforementioned kicks of the continued vibe, is part of the script in that it speaks much better at times than any interaction between the players might.  It conveys like many movies before it from … to music films on Kurt Cobain, Brian Wilson, Oasis, Amy Winehouse, the troubadour content of generations attaching themselves to various professors of Hamelin, spokespersons and pied pipers for their generation.  The dub and rap features alongside the Rhianna, Calvin Harris collaborative dance music pop with this generation also pursuing via. Lady Gaga, the Andy Warhol, Madonna trick artifice born into performance art after the fifties.  A Dadaesque sequencing of expressive youth.


Krystal’s US of A Methods (she is strikingly confident in her s/s bikini, her uniform and guard – a bit needy of identity?)

Here it happens in white mini bus with a attached low box closed trailer for their suitcases.  Krystal and Jake travel everywhere in their white open topped convertible. Krystal high fives and roll calls and sets strict rules – frequently broken – sex between crew happens often and the relationship between Jake and Krystal is open and this sets up a problem for Krystal.  Admonishment or keep the crew working and bringing in the money.  Advance to the goal – make money by lying connivance, shades of sexual favours in entrapment of punters? noises off, and a variety of areas are targeted. Very wealthy and authentic mid-America which is seldom depicted in this way.  The movement, road takes them into the huge heavily populated city of Kansas where a few Superman jokes are thrown in – a dog is in on the act.  Spot spotty.  Also the Motelsa re better stop overs.  Their is an arrangement of rooms booked by Kyrstal – “you’ve got to pay for all this shit.” – are usually three. Boy, Girl, Gender LGBT? and Krystals.  They keep to themselves except one encounter, with some black guys, musicians possibly, which had a nice vibe going is seldom repeated.  Krystal gets more tetchy and control freaky as the film dynamics appear as a team and the inherent sacrifices, places in the hierarchy evolve.  Some are along for the ride and adventure and do a days work and enjoy the side stuff such as a plentitude of weed.  How a certain companion doesn’t become an addict is anyone’s guess.


Love love, hate hate.

This is every generations hopes and dreams in a short dose.  It is also one of the songs of this generation and will be around for others as well I would think being a cultural staple.  Others including one chosen by a Christian beef trucker is a target song respected far and wide.  Talking of which the group splits up at each location in pairs and they go about their business and into this is felt some jeopardy creeps in because behind some doors lunatics live.  The first encounter the freshman team of Sky and Jake whose relationship is up close and central to the film is with a wealthy woman in charge of a no holds barred birthday sleepover at which the contrasts of American live’s infiltrate the statement projected by Director Andrea Arnold and it is a gloriously multi-faceted scene portraying greed avarice sexual tension polarity niavity and political bankruptcy.  It augers well for the forthcoming elections (not) with this diversity.

The central pairing and Krystal.

We only follow the one pairing. Who will win out in the chase for the dream? A conscious choice is made.  Firstly the Star/Jake/Krystal triangle is set up.  How will it unfold or erupt? What sacrifices are justified or made by each of them?  What are each of the three pursuing?  How do they see their future?  How do they relate to others?  How many roads can you travel before you find one that feels like you belong?  It is the question you could put out America and Americans as well as stopping of to discuss the effect on the world.  Director Andrea Arnold has an environmental message also as she explores this vast continent as a living organism.  Star’s name is an allusion to it, the road is a seldom seen view.  It is exploratory.  There is a core element of the crew going into an oil state where every hobo (one whose fortunes been made and didn’t want it after all?)  driver, worker, is possibly a millionaire and fortunes are made in 17 hour days with suburbs and families set up alongside.  Savvy Krystal points out their psychological profile acutely accurately as a piece of training advice of how to act and approach their target.  This happens, Krystals pep talk, advice, tactical nous, and notably a going into battle song which is as in war separates you from the projected enemy you are about to face and he are rip them off for as much as possible.

I spent an age trying to upload Director Andrea Arnold’s photo as a kind of insistence she is beautiful without the zany hair!  Her film on the other hand is zany chaotic beauty and a new testament to youth who need overcome previous generations greed and attempted ruination of this planet we all live on!

Conclusion ####4

It’s easy to say this film is overlong – as it is – at 2hrs 44mins – it is without question entirelybfeasible a condensed draft could have delivered in sharper detail the central themes, characterisations and left as many questions and answers as we needed to appreciate this contemporary take on a slice of American youth.  Director Andrea Arnold has seen it as an outsider and it’s generally been held as an honest and vivid colourful tapestry of choices faced by youth and of mid-American relentless pace and how it defines a country.  Jokes are made about the Kansas skyscrapers for example – whoa look at those huge buildings or something along those lines comes to mind –  because it fits the message, as a kind of alien invader, a time traveller looking out of a window at the cluster of buildings and wondering why and what they are for.  Indeed why does every enterprise have to have its own statement skyscraper and likewise which is your condominium?  How high up and isolated can you be.

The actual themes are for me delivered gently and as a free form of film making which you are asked or invited to take at whatever level and pace you see fit.  Nevertheless after seeing it the themes do weave together into a cohesive mural of realisation what it entailed.  It is as mentioned soundtracked with a more than mood setting environmental steer but a cohesive integrated part of the script.  An enlightened, heightened innovative way to work.  It is despite its scuzzy nests a very attractive beautifully, sensitively, modestly, evocative intelligent film and due to its length concentration may not be up to scratch making it viewable several times opening up new ‘vistas’ – a word lock arrived and that’s the best I can do!  It’s been a longish review! entirely well worth the admission ticket.  As for those kids born in America, some have grounds for asking for their admission money back. The three principals are extremely on their game with Sasha Lane never putting a foot wrong despite the emotionally complex parameters and Shia LaBoeuf becoming a very skilful actor portraying the serious, nerdy, sexual, moody, un-confident, confident niches this film puts him in. It augers well for him and hopefully further surprises are in store. ##News## just in !!! Shia LaBoeuf (30) and his longtime girlfriend and co-star in Nymphomaniac Mia Goth (22) born London, got married in Las Vegas in an Elvis themed wedding at the Viva Las Vegas just last week apparently. What can you say about Krystal, Riley Keough, consummate controlled, sublimely attractive and despite her forceful attitude she depicts the USA icon wannabe, stereotyped person at the head of the road drive.  Antlers, horns, cow bars all to the fore and she does it brilliantly and could easily be overlooked with the Stella performances of the other two which is not deserving.

John Graham

12 October 2016


On at QFT Belfast from Friday 14 to Thursday 27 October 2016 inc. and selected Cinemas.

Little Men : A Film Review


Little Men 

The listing

Directed by Ira Sachs and Co-written by Mauricio Zacharias and Ira Sachs. Duration … 1hr 25mins, Cert. PG. Country …United States, Language … English, Cast. Jennifer Ehle … Kathy Jardine, Paulina García … Leonor Calvelli, Talia Balsam … Audrey, Clare Foley … Sally, Greg Kinnear … Brian Jardine, Alfred Molina … Hernan, Andy Karl, Yolonda Ross, Michael Barbieri … Tony Calvelli, Theo Taplitz … Jake Jardine, Arthur J. Nascarella … Stu Gershman, Elia Monte-Brown … Bianca, Stella Schnabel, Melanie Mahanna … Customer, Mauricio Bustamante … Acting Teacher, Johnny Serret …Visitor at the Museum, Ching Valdes-Aran …Merlene, Kevin D. McGee … Audience member, Stan Carp …Sal Bartolini, Yolanda T. Ross, Teeka Duplessis … Eva, Madison Wright … Julia, Kellan McCann …Tony’s teammate and classmate, Bryan Webster …Park Ranger.


Previous form

The writers, Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias, directed and co-wrote the hit Love Is Strange movie reaching a fairly wide audience and this is another New York-set tale that is as charming, insightful, clever, bittersweet and a compelling story well developed.


The basics

Jake (Theo Taplitz ) is a quiet, sensitive middle schooler with dreams of being an artist. He meets the affably brash Tony (Michael Barbieri) at his grandfather’s funeral, and the unlikely pair soon hit it off. The budding friendship is put at risk, however, when a rent dispute between Jake’s parents (Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle) and Tony’s mother (Paulina Garcia) threatens to become contentious. (QFT trailer)



Adulthood divides

There are authors, writers who give a twist and flavour to New York along the lines of, literally, Paul Auster and this urban observer Ira Sachs, whose partnership in writing this screenplay with Mauricio Zacharias, does similar things and produces another dialogue on relationships here honed in on sexual awakenings of youth rebelliousness and in altering states of self construct.  The principles at the heart of the narrative are the boys, 13 year olds who are instant neighbours.  Dealing with LGBT issues in most works, here Sachs allows the sexual to be less apparent and very, very understated via. natural discover alone though is contexurally present.  It avoids and will inform some parents in a similar situation (not in a property dogfight!) giving entry in a different way; there are many to choose from, to the subject of pre-adult teenagers sexuality.  It is so balanced here in the sensitivities needing care and enlightened reasoned, film formatting, of boyhood sexual urges.  Jake (Theo Taplitz ) whose parents move into the flat, apartment in Brooklyn, above the under priced rental shop accommodation.  The two teens are first timers at this acting business and adapt to the strangeness, quirksome, off main boulevard street story.  Streetwise Tony (Michael Barbieri) is a prospective painter, while Jake aspires to act.  Both have opposite personalities. Jake the introvert and Tony the extrovert.  Occasionally you may see some Midnight cowboy type undertones of New York LGBT variety.  The notion has crossed people’s minds before of the homoeroticism in that film.  The naive cowboy is in this construct then Jake.  Wise guys, streetwise folk exist on every street corner and the boulevard of dreams steams up neighbourhood vents and has done for decades.  I saw a bit of – in the prospective actor Tony – his spoof on being the Al Pacino of 2016 but back in the day!  He has a few tries at it for his and your amusement. So NY. So Hip.


Real Estate bites

Harsh as it is, here there is a conflict to test friendships.  The deceased grandfather was close to the Tony’s mother and therefore it is obvious they had an arrangement for her improving her life, probably explaining the minuscule rent.  Pauline Garcia, Leonor, the Chiliean actress seen previously in Gloria, has a hard enough life running a dress business and raising Tony.  Sentiments count for little and Brian under pressure from his sister Audrey who on my view gets a bit of a hard nosed deal being made to be a baddie, and conscious his own endeavours on the work front (Theatre acting and production) are parlous – he is immersed in an allegorical Russian play favoured by NY’s who don’t get GBS or Henric Ibsen – and the real driver work wise is Jennifer Ehle, a psychologist? who not only outperforms the under animated Brian – he doesn’t jack up emotion terribly well here, making me question is it deliberate, Greg Kinnear is playing a (under geared? directed that way?) misguided man whose relative security has in these real estate leveraged times become somewhat liaise-faire and it is a security he is ill equipped to adjust to – he gets easily into overbearing insensitive territory without a back up plan and without regard to those around him.  This playing has a man choker style, meaning the stereotype is white collar man whose traits are mysoginistic if unintentinal through self-awareness – the lack of it –  puritan based, conservative, while the Leonor independant character is a smoker impelled on a mediocre limited scene sullen contrive. She is seen most times in confrontational mode which can’t be great for an actor.  Her part certainly has moments, is gesture driven, but is wrested away by the surrounding cast and playing.  The boys themselves have a tendency to produce heavy tasting wine. Too explicit not implicit.  But they are young first time actors without fulsome direction and sterling work is still delivered.  The only tool in their kidultkit is communication and they use it to devastating effect.  Knowing its presence and absence is learnt unfortunately fast.  Reverting to the baby phase.  Lacking the intellectual argument.


Political stakes.

The Ira Sachs development is cleverly advancing. Mauricio Zacharias as collaborator also has a voice.  The NY set of observations on contemporary – noises off – think Gordon Ramsey kitchen assault on cultural background for the flaming burnt offering implicitly close always.  We are kept away from that but it lurks with very considered homage to the opposite – the glory of the place of a mix of nationalities pushed into mind ghettos by power play with property mainly – you don’t need to look to far to see ‘the ugly face of capitalism’and it seeks election very soon) and NY is in some kind of nasty meltdown and Ira knows it.  Insisting on conveying a near Naom Chomsky archetypal class in a glass. Red or white which do you prefer dining table politik, the worthiness is grafted on.  Chomsky is direct, this isn’t.


Perhaps, and the sexual flourishes in earlier movies which inevitably in each step have occurred, though a tad over developed, may move his art nearer the heartland of Auster, of David Mamet, if social power play is to be found – away from the George Clooney ‘captured in Tv mogul’ vogue, and more Glengarry Glen Ross. It way be a mission worth joining.  I saw all the plays of David Mamet put on at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloan Square, at least twice with Glengarry Glen Ross making it to the NT Cottesloe  The equivalent was a key of Mamets work, the urban kitchen sink drama, sexually energised, Chicago American sociological canvas contempories such as the revived Ken Loach has spectacularly delivered with soon to be released I’Daniel Blake.  I’ve seen it and it is devastatingly good. A Faustian, William Blake Canterbury Tale of 21 post 1066 revolutionary shift!  Brexit as a titbit to a reconstituted Adam Smith based, Francis Hutcheson, new Age of enlightenment.#. The stillness of filmic political narrative in the USA has reached a bit of a lull, post Michael Moore docufilm.  More innovative work is needed. Ira Sachs hasn’t reached there yet; he’s only aged fifty so many films ahead hopefully, with this very accomplished work an indicator but it seems tantalisingly close so perhaps excuses my going of on a tangent.

Conclusion. ### 3 1/2

This is not a stereotypical LGBT movie as others seem to place without having perhaps having seen it but a more considered withdrawn look at boyhood unfolds in a natural sort of way and while having obvious tones of a gay childhood entering adolescence it is not the be all and end all.  In fact many will be pleasantly surprised by its mature tones and the delicate way the adolescence is seen.  It is more figuratively about the boys being piggy in the middle as a parental battle over real estate values become not quite toxic but heated and ugly.  Ira Sachs has displayed again an ingenuity for sensitive relationship matters but it becomes slightly stuck in the adult sterotypes he creates.  The sister of Brian, Audrey, for example is seen as pushy, especially at a family gathering, but is in actual fact meant to be a joint benefactor of the bequeathed Brooklyn two storey building.  Neat in a civilised pre-modernity/21st century rapacious way with ‘neighbourhood’ meaning that.  Excellently atmospheric it gives the appearance of the set of values Ira Sachs is talking about or is in mourning for the diminishing returns real estate greed delivers.  This would be a very good film for parents meeting gay issues for the first time with their own children perhaps or to warn them you can’t always chose yor neighbours.  Leonar and Tony had no choice but out of the deal only one got any friendship. I liked this film quite a bit and will remember it’s story and allow it the further consideration it deserves by further viewing at some point.  It did lack the optical bite it harboured though.  This is a very decent film troubled in my mind not by any lack of integrity but the lack of character dynamics, being controlled and with limitations within the eloquent script.  It’s shades are cast to limiting effect.

I hope it is a good point to allow this team to enter the more complex waters of the themes of corporate and civic worlds indifferent to each others needs and have they, those worlds, personalities at all?  Lille men? Well I suppose as adolescents growing up fast teaches several important but fast life lessons.
John Graham

5 October 2016


On at QFT Belfast from 7 October to 13 October 2016 inc.
# a movement locally is gathering steam to employ some Francis Hutcheson philosophy into our hamstrung times. I’m only myself learning of this recent emergence courtesy of one know locally as the Rev. Mac.

His location is at Dunmurry Belfast which has long association with leaders of liberal and inclusive thinking – seen by many still to be abhorrent and – quite incorrectly – against their heritage and values.  A position favoured by the One per-cent to perpetuate divisive values.  All religions without exception have their destructive elements.