The Square : A Film Review



The Square

Directed by Ruben Östlund. Produced by Erik Hemmendorf, Philippe Bober. Written by Ruben Östlund. Cast. Claes Bang as Christian, Elisabeth Moss as Anne, Dominic West as Julian, Terry Notary as Oleg Rogozjin, Elijandro Edouard as Nikki, Christopher Læssø as Michael. Cinematography, Fredrik Wenzel. Edited by, Ruben Östlund, Jacob Secher Schulsinge, Production company, Plattform Produktion, Coproduction Office.
Cert. 15. Sweden/Germany/France/Denmark 2017
Duration 142 mins


The Object
The Square is a 2017 satirical drama film written and directed by Ruben Östlund and starring Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West and Terry Notary. The film is about publicity surrounding an art installation, and was partly inspired by an installation Östlund and producer Kalle Boman had made. A co-production of Sweden, Germany, France and Denmark, it was shot in Gothenburg, Stockholm and Berlin.
Christian Juel Neilsen (Claes Bang) is the bilingual Chief Curator of the X Royal Museum in Stockholm. Julian (Dominic West) is the artist. Christian is flanked by a Contemporary Art hierarchy competing with world Museums for different ground breaking art. Where some rely on the old school contemporary artists and reframe their context his object is to project original work and capture the zeitgeist. Unfortunately for him he gathers around him the inauspicious tools of bad observation, repeated times and laboured consciousness. Vital signs are missing and backdrops of tired mendacious perfidious work are cut into the film. Maybe it was an intent. Similarly the centerpiece is a worn concept of conflicting societal battles. The feminist movements in art become like Trojan horses compared to this. Their strength lay in original modernist thought. Here a Carl Andre type warfare is present. The CA whose whole personal resume went up in smoke when the attachment to the death of his partner Cecilia Vicuña having fallen to her death from a 51 floor Hotel window. The erosion of prescriptive art took a new turn of activist art along with the fundamental causal expression of many unknown women artists. The Swedish psyche seems to harbour the checkerboard Soviet pawns of yesterday’s acceptable art. Multiple geometries are persuasive. Place many of the same objects in a Square and you have the crowd acceptance of multiple conventions.



The first thing to say about this film is that its the product of a Swedish psyche. Knowing the social contract, not Rousseau’s, that crazy but intelligent neurosis driven Swiss genius reformer who liked to run naked through the streets and be chastised by women for his brazen behaviour, not this form of social contract though parallel idioms exist and contour this film. Sweden became less polemic after the early part of the 20c as is witnessed in the libiterian plays of Johan August Strindberg, as also the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer began the journey now taken over by the modern Swedish film makers. The dynamic is not at all like Ibsen whose use of a Norwegian folklore and trolls ran almost parallel to Strindberg rationalism. In France the Dreyfus affair is part of this liberality I believe. The Jewish man sworn to have committed treason on France amongst its neighbours. All come together on the same page of the Sarajevo precipitation of the First World War. Divisions and idealist principles were conflicts repercussions.



Idealism is questioned here. It is a random journey though. Having chosen art as the medium of angst head and heart problems our Chief Curator is himself disposed to accept his position as a filter of ideas. The cost is to pander to the associative burden of patronage which uses his skills as a safe haven for their dangerous liaisons with culture. Enrolled under his boss the Peggy Guggenheim type matron with a gold phone a conservative decorous contained anarchy, excited only through her game control of unruly art.


Pitch Black

There is little by way of a story or structure other than the object of the title and how it comes to seal the deal. In conference over the forthcoming exhibition we see the assembly about him of museum staff, a ragtag rebellious contrarian and sometimes visionary humans but all are flawed scarred mental habitats of survival.

There are the subalterns a Arabic woman Nikki  (Elijandro Edouard) and a African American Michael, (Christopher Læssø) whose place is to obey yet their observations are to contribute the pathos to the absurdity of what goes on in their workplace, the boardroom and Gallery discussion groups. For artistic purposes our director throws out some bones to annoy and have an audience hyperventilate at this kitschy putsch for baggage. An elderly grandpa or late father brings a baby to the office. The future is rocked in a baby cradle. The audacious Black comedy of the meetings is like a claw hammer hitting a fine mahogany desk. In come art babes in the form of two male artist agents who are there to market and pitch their patrons product. Then there is a woman at the table who is the laptop recorder and she is seen to get excited at whatever point of incredulity we are at in any given moment. Whether it is satire or a medley of art protocols spoken as ‘art soundbites’ the meaningless is swaying around like a baby innocently in a cradle until the penny drops and the fallacy of the whole venture is brought to a conclusion, sort of. Nothing is even concluded except in the virtual world. Even the viral caustic outpouring which is the outcome of the first artistic gallery conference.


Social Contracts

Rousseauism is of its time coming before our revolt of 1798 and France’s own tumultuous wresting of monarchy from power. Swedish psyche is foremost the subject exposing the dilemmas a social contract creates in the creative environment of an Art curators behaviour and installations. Splendidly I can refer to the recent book which sets out the exact period as a breakwater point. Now it seems the whole of Culture is taking a look back and immersing itself in the canons of the past.
Rachel Hewitt’s A Revolution of Feeling: The Decade That Forged the Modern Mind “In the 1790s, Britain underwent what the politician Edmund Burke called ‘the most importamt of all revolutions… a revolution in sentiments’. …


The Square is the installation. Like the Julie Shapiro The Dining table of 13, 13, 13, dinner plates representing by illustrations of important women by a vaginal image fro each arranged as a triangle the Square is in itself a close, very close companion piece not only playing with geometry but the occupancy of a space in a human scale as object.

The Square is an object. Jean Jaque realised the importance of societal structures well before the reformers of religious freedoms of self organised belief systems routinely disposing eloquent tales of a higher authority. His epoch making breakthrough came on the persuasion of kindness as a tool for life not to be delivered as consigned by adherence to religious privileges.

The Square controls privilege. With a range of 21st century immigrants mainly Romanian, the influx brought with it the relatively new experience of begging to their major cities. Why can’t the state deal with this? Why should I as an individual give to the beggar any money or help? The state of Sweden had and has a social nuanced contract. Plainly the individual giving to another individual will not improve the receiving persons life conditions. It only is s temporary position.


Comparative art

In Judy Chicago’s piece the women of the world were likewise left to one side neglected as to a lesser degree but still totally underrepresented, with a voice – in that case a visual metaphor of a baby making body and it showed beyond that identity and difference. The Square is a series of contests of the choices and dilemmas in behaviors and oddly enough it’s director has taken up a similar theme unintentionally connected to the piece I mention in having the Art curator seen as a user and commodifying translator who is not the bringer of such moral affronts but is himself an indulgent and messy actor in the reality of present sexual and personal politics. That reasoning should become clear.

The Square has been replaced by another square. The Palm d’or winner was made bigger. It is to spite the film industry Director has made his film longer, much longer in order it does not fit the screening operative times of cinemas which is why he believes some critics said of the original Palme d’or winner it was too long. As a filmmaker he had already made the choice to construct the piece as its original package. In some kind of angst ridden protectionist statement he developed a larger square. Why bother? The new and now released edition he fails to name The Square Largesse. Re-editing is always possible and we get a never intended larger square. For densities sake it must be held as a considerable re-atoned ‘completeness’ he is making. Having been to the confession box the priest has told him his original film was too long so he now atones for that by reconfiguration inventing a new branch of the church of film.



One famous American female artist was to once say with great anxiety – the sense of limitation that economics makes this malfunction was realised. The limitation of expression. So when a choice is confirmed by this director for another version on the basis of his economic ability to do so is a corruption of the power politic. As a male director he used his largesse to shift the boundary. I think that speaks as much as the film does about the inequality he tries to wrestle with.

The Square is targeting an art house audience in showing the world of 21st art as a facsimile of life in motion. The Guerrilla Girls are familiar in the modern art movements history. Locally at a recent exhibition out of context, a male artist came with his Gorilla mask and pin striped suit to stand alongside what was a joint exhibition to dandy up his own persona. Dating as a contemporary of the Guerrilla girls and dated in his own unthoughtful resonance this film does likewise with the tome.


The Performance Centrepiece

The Square has as one of its centrepieces a male performance artist, performing – would you believe it! Oleg Rogozjin (Terry Notary) was inspired by a real incident with the artist Oleg Kulik, who performs as a dog and had attacked people at a notorious event in Stockholm. Other artists parodied in the film include Julian Schnabel, Robert Smithson and Carl Hammoud. Much of the art depicted was crafted for the film, with installations influenced by Robert Smithson, an authentic Garry Winogrand image, and another work by Östlund and Kalle Boman.

The setting in this film is a large lavish dining room and carefully laid out decorated tables. This time with a herd of rich businessmen and women invited to the exhibition to witness performance art and they become objects of art themselves. It’s all gone a bit Peter Greenaway or Monty Peyton. (I prefer the Monty Python gorging and the exploding man? – filmed in what was the drained Swimming baths of Seymour Street West London where I often played 5 aside football after work with other soccer mad London based teams) There is announced, over tannoy, a warning and presentation of what to expect and how to behave in relation to what is about to happen. In a bravado scene, full of tension and a mob acceptance, initially, is seen the rich herd mentality explained with the notion of passive response, even staged stasis, group behaviour meaning individual survival. The ape like ‘guerrilla’ performer tries to enact the running man or reactive fear response and is met by group behaviour. The instinct of ‘it won’t be me if I remain the ‘invisible’ within a group. All acting the same way and any seen to react differently become the prey and victim. Dramatic and intense it is overplayed and drawn out with our changing sides and being witness to a moment of absurd violence to the King Kong instincts loosely portrayed.

A behavioural scientist is not needed to see the artifice. I found the actual route of plundering performance art which is the most developed side of multiple themes in art, with particularly the opposite hand of feminism showing themselves ridiculed and abused by male preoccupations with their bodies a conceit in the hands of this director whose shock tactics were unreal. Art world feminist movements acts of brave exposure were sharply real and this is a mediocre particularly Swedish act of analysis given their encounter with the ‘fear’ of their own differences in the ‘economy’ of choices available for immigrants showing their white advantages.


Outside Borders

Non gender political differences are evident but the theme of acting together was flat. Maybe the proximity to Russia allowed this wavering. Vladimir Putin is a practitioner of the control of a social contract which is abstracted and with ‘Loveless’ being a totally more effective and perturbing drama of social realism and which to my mind was streets ahead of the Oscar winning A Fantastic Woman and this film The Square, I have the luxury of not having to review a film for a public expectation but am only making analysis of my own anger at the direction this film narrows to.

Fashionable, visually startling on occasions, remarkable it is not. The pretention of art being the vehicle becomes tedious. As filmmakers take on the visual arena of art the stratification of the horizontal as a metaphor for levelling the very nature of what is being expresses levitates to here a dining table level with ourselves. The arrogance however of making the Art disown its intention and lapse into indulgence is very apparent unfortunately. It is perhaps due to the proximate psyche lines which are worn.

The appearance of Elizabeth Moss is early in the piece when she comes to interview Christian on his vision for the Gallery.  X Royal Museum. It is one of several outings of ‘interviews’ and press gatherings at which the art soundings are most satirized and pathologically uncomfortable in a skirmish sense as well as satirical faux fear content. Enriched we are not. After one of these soirees Anne bags her man. Then they argue about conception obliquely and also about who conquered who and their matings value.

Fully formed

To give Christian a backstory into the equation come his two young daughters. Around ten and twelve they are beyond his parental skills level needing nurturing and love he only barely makes it possible for them to survive as he exposes them to ridiculous danger actually loosing them at one stage. Alongside this he shows remarkable protective skills telling them through the concept of The Square – that “you regard other adults as potential threats” though as they are barely mid-teen it works only partially. Perhaps an intentional focus in on Christian being totally Gallery centric. He illustrates the power over artists he exerts in framing their work. Elena his boss on the other hand is a font of old school control. Maybe the appeal of the Dining Room passed her by. I noticed from one scene outside it when an elderly couple stood for a photograph the next scene was of the dining room and another elderly gentleman of similar appearance was a wine waiter showing the scale of differing roles existing among white people also. The jungle was about to have a visitor. Calamity ensues.


Music cadence

Very effective is the score throughout. It weaves counterpoint and places sweetness under violent thoughts, wicked satire and gruesome intent a rich embroidery. The power dynamics are subtle objectified and I found it overegged, ingrained in our host Christian. His intelligence at odds with the role play of work. He for instance uses the premise of the early encounter of being ‘passively’ mugged on the street to catapult ideas into the Gallery. His role is to bring ideas not become the creator himself which is something Gallery Curation is itself another art form but not product.

The director lays claims to the liberation and justice as it counts in society. By seeing the Museum as a mantle piece for a societies well being or otherwise he places the object in its role as such. The Museum is the Square at times. In it tolerance is explored. A Tourette’s incident at a public q&a becomes a contestable space for the gathering. Whose place is it to disrespect and ridicule by pointing out to the individual how disconcerting it is for everyone else having them remain part of the gathering. It only just survives becoming ridicule itself.

Provocative thoughts

When Christian receives a gift which seems to go to his core belief in having power, itself a misnomer in relation to the incident, he is somewhat emboldened and performance is restructured into the medium of the Museums arc. The Square is becoming a composite piece. The plasticity is taken outside into the streets as when he returns to correct an error of judgement. There is a media storm on the ‘enfants terrible’ who make up their story as it unfolds in relation to The Square. A viral YouTube unapproved short hits the internet and causes great disquiet.

For the opening after party (aforementioned soirée) there is venture across a boundary. Behind the Museum lies the Palace. Opulence is genuflected to and decorum is acted out. The ignoble noble ignorance of reality shut out is a dark curtain of relativity. Power is giving to the refugee and receiving being unable to live a basic life. The love interlude is a diversion taken. Following is the scene were they compete with stackable chairs collapsing after a fashion. Christian seems to distill the thought that external forces are what drive him and they are responsible for his emotions. It is an occupancy he lacks control over.


Conclusion ####4

It gets a four out of five due to it being irritating and contestable as a art form itself. The fact I have derived such acrid dislike for its plundering of the arts and who hasn’t before though declared their inspiration, and no one is original discuss. Forms of cinema are tutorial, instructive, informative in relieving the senses of ingrained already born thought. It nurtures it and bring out in us those lesser known details but they harmonise in a collective sense.  Attribution to another art piece is acceptable and leads to coherence in finding out the culture of the contested places. Development of the film involved intense role play both by Claes Bang (Danish) as Christian, Elisabeth Moss as Anne, Dominic West as Julian. Terry Notary as Oleg Rogozjin auditioned or was found by trawling the internet for man performs ape and the U?S. actor had appeared in Planet of the Apes. So central to the satire was a human instinct as to our vulnerability.

Östlund won the Palme d’Or for The Square, marking the first time a predominantly Swedish production received the honour since The Best Intentions in 1992 and the first time a Swedish director won since Alf Sjöberg for Miss Julie (1951).

John Graham

23 March 2018


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We’ll Walk Hand in Hand : Play Review

We’ll Walk Hand in Hand Lyric Theatre 21 March to 31 March 2018

We’ll Walk Hand In Hand is a new play by Martin Lynch marking the 50th anniversary of the Northern Ireland civil rights struggle.

Theatre Synopsis.

Vincent and Lesley meet at University in 1967. Two working class kids from Belfast, they find themselves at the centre of the explosive student reaction to the Civil Rights movement.

Their involvement in the movement leads to confrontations with their disapproving families and ultimately to conflict with each other. Vincent and Lesley are confronted with decisions that will mark their lives forever.

When the story leaps forward to 2018, their granddaughter, Michaela presents the older Vincent and Lesley with a different kind of civil rights challenge, the play then explodes in an entirely different direction. We’ll Walk Hand In Hand explores what civil rights meant in 1968 and what it might mean in 2018.

A co-production by Green Shoot Productions and Queen’s University, We’ll Walk Hand In Hand will have an exciting combination of professional actors and community participants.

Please note this play will contain strong language, potentially controversial scenes of protest and violence.

1968 to 2018

The scene is set by a wide landscape of deep reds blocks, powder blue sky’s, sunset orange and level blocks of layered platforms forming a road of many directions. The cast are all onstage giving a strong sense of community. Rainbow colours flicker and embody the cast’s vitality in the clothes fashion of the first era we enter into. The late sixties. The set is expansive and inviting many interpretations. In the second half notions of a big fish and the Titanic building give approximate identity. Belfast is the setting and a couple who are the centre of this play some fifty years earlier overlook and remark on this nostalgic view. The older pair are played by Lesley Gilmartin (Susie Kelly) and Vincent Maguire (Noel McGee) in this first half. They see their young selves develop and innocence shows in their grimacing or shock at their youthful exuberance and sometimes naivety. This trick by Martin Lynch is to play out the expectations and also look back with hindsight at wrong moves or right ones and the road taken. On another circuit of the story it might be found other relationships are reconciled with a faint nod to the ma’s & da’s finding love outside the ranks.

The play takes care to circumnavigate, death, victims, political unrest, post Good Friday killings and bombings and other issues such as corruption, racism, immigration intolerance and economic division and failing public services. But that’s OK as the nature of the beast is our own struggles to even understand what has come about.

Long view

50 years separate the half of this plays noble celebration of people confronting their lives in places still gripped in fierce prejudice and animosity. Now on the edge of right wing resurgence over Europe and in countries where no democracy exists we look down the road of the future and see intolerance looking back. Almost 50% of the world lives without a proper democracy and daily wars are fought in proxy villages and towns by despots of capitalism and fascism. Crown princes reign over the suppressed.

The narrator of this play is the group of many actors in multiple roles. The past of 1968 is illuminated by the roll call through Ireland’s back history in a short adjusted viewpoint. Anthems are the chosen messenger. Music is to flood the play with its more biographical shorthand. Songs of future past. The group are in the beginning introduced by their allegiances and a picture emerges of two families. The Catholic family and the Protestant family. Martin Lynch has put in place a structure which brings these two families into conflict through the aegis of their offspring. Lesley (Emer McDaid) is a Protestant girl, no siblings, who is set to go to The Queens University in Belfast. Her father is a tradesman working in a timber merchants. Conor Grimes takes the role of both fathers. Maria Connolly also gets cast as both mothers. Grimes also takes the role of a sage old pensioner whose outward glance at the whole shambles is a gravitas amidst the lighthearted skullduggery played for overkill and wicked humour in the absurdity of the circumstances each is entangled in.

Working class stereotypes

We visit the Catholic family and are met by the headscarf wearing, almost never without it, Joan who runs a house with only one in it working. Or most of the time. Conor Grimes playing the father Is a Dock worker. His time is spent in the house getting orders from Joan and she carries the burden of his narrowed choices with the humour he lacks, or the oddments such as an iron he walks out the Dock gates with along with sundry other items. None of particular use only occasionally. The discrimination spelt out in the opening sequences are stark and a political edge enters. The youngest in the family is Vincent (John Travers) who in putting up a case for going to The Queens University is mocked by his father whose choices never reached those heights.

Vincent is convinced he can act. Both lead actors are very expressive and do not fail to project their characters written trajectory. Emer McDaid has a greater task as she is in a women’s place already oppressed and without a voice. Her skills of speech and voice control give layers and gravitas to some otherwise dead lines. She lifts the whole on numerous occasions by the focus she brings in her highly animated choreographed and pure gestural effective acting skills. Nuance is present while that depth is lacking in other places. The ‘edge’ is taken to excess on too many occasions. In a city where there are weekly sectarian clashes among uneducated youths. Where punishment beatings and internecine neighbourhood criminality is rampant. Where the rich are immune to the poor state of the communities health and compromise is to go private door your health. Absence makes the heart go wonder. There are numerous breaches of historical strengths accepted by both sides now sold to the highest bidder.


‘Sold his soul for a soggy roll and a streak of hairy bacon.’ Flann O’Brien. Over the Bridge and tribalism still accounting for territorial rights and rituals to save the two poles of ‘state’ are uncontested in narratives here. A timid disclosure in the play that we are on the brink of equality is both a misconception and an unfounded optimism. The fate of those new to our shores and in need of refuge are neglected and treated abysmally as being without anything other than a presence. The play is short on this issue despite the later wedding scenario. Organisation and Institutions feed of their uncertainty while coining it for their own reasons. Some good some complacent and unchallenging to any degree. The outreach happening is treated as almost ‘state’ intervention yet it amounts outside to minimal assistance portrayed as proof of intent. Endemic camouflage in news control is massaged by those with their hands on power.

Learning across the void

One of the objects of the University is to stimulate his political knowledge and grand theatrics is a mode of entry. As a young Catholic wanting no part in his fathers battles with himself. His fathers lack of opportunity and a cause in national identity to atone for he is frustrated and is intent on avoiding the warring past. Like his father and family Vincent is aware of the Unionist vice like grip, vice being the operative word along with the Catholic Church, brothers in harm. Unions and workers rights are not mentioned yet these were among the Labour Party and Nationalist Party (pre Sinn Fein and SDLP for those not paying attention) united grievances also present in the People’s Democracy collective. Solidarity. No mention of G. Fitt MP shoring up a Labour Prime Minister or the use of a Governor to accommodate Unionists in a quasi colonial controlling role. No Shipyard baggage or ballot papers alongside the bombs, burnouts and bullets are roped in. Industry which was the technocrat Wilson’s suit and saving Labour Party vision brought no prosperity to Ireland.


Instead of political name checks, Terence, Michael, Bernadette, we get the Vincent Maguire’s elder brother known as Chip Shop and his orbit is to be a man on a mission to fight for his rights but his weaponry is not his wits alongside his beleaguered and rightly upset old da. The sulphuric on the matchstick.

A University may do the following for a young student. It might first inspire by the liberal humanism of professorial teaching, the contemplation of beauty and the cultivation of personal relations as a spiritual antidote to the rootless, mechanistic ethos of this age. Fruitful or fruitless. Both Vincent and Lesley are given hope and learning by the education few of their age or orbit attain or aspire to. Ideals were not just the pursuit of the radical activists in America and elsewhere. The notion of a set of standards to benchmark progress was initially their aim and unity was a key. The salutary words of those in the Civil Rights Movement were much sharper in terms of the deficit than Lesley and Vincent seem to confront or as envisaged by Martin Lynch to remain ‘le innocents’ for the stories feel good arc not upset anyone.

It actually denies their intellect and they get betrayed by the writers hand by being dressed up as ‘hippies’ on the first march they are to join. Another odd placement was the request of ‘actors’ to use some ‘international students’ flat for rehearsals in the first half when they were as rare as hens teeth except for the transient (Kevin Myers + journos + rads + escapists) who came out of curiosity and found themselves an education albeit a Unionist/Conservative institutional one. Heaney and Longley were a lifeline as the arts were at that time essential to the truth outside the University. Practicing status quo students got along just fine and made sure of securing their boundaries and pulled up the ladder securing divided education.

Unclaimed brutality

Politics was a dirty word except it was a proxy for their fortune come voting time. The awkward questions are avoided and the familial is, and it’s no harm in itself, made the drama, Few casualties are found in the debris though. Read on.

The American Samuel Adams’s saying that “It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men” is presenting the prospect of a minority view gaining power. Trump’s deficit of 3 mill. points to that, therefore unified clarity of purpose and solidarity is how meaningful progress can take hold and we are wiser and better equipped down the ages, or are we? To see the past for its lessons.

Sholom Aleichem said: “Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor.” Ironically those Jewish words are so directional they are not heeded in the world of Israel’s politics in pursuit of greater weaponry to destroy the back of a Muslim faith and push Christianity into further divisions.


First Act Actions

In Belfast there is simmering interest in peoples rights with the far of city of Derry having put down a marker on the sectarian divisions and corruption of power which gerrymandering made housing allocation a major discriminatory practice for Catholics. The International Hotel was the first location of the stirrings of an encounter with the phenomenon of Civil Rights crossing the globe and enfranchising parts of the local body politic. This is the cause Vincent believes he needs to be a part of and join. His family have other ideas not least his father who is driven to set up a cabal of IRA volunteers, his son Chip Shop under his command. The OC is not for pacifist politics. For him and the rest of the core their time has come.

When the two worlds collide the tribes are divided.  Youth has in ‘68 the best ideas. They need change and the television is igniting the flame. For Vincent it is Martin Luther King being assassinated, for Lesley women’s rights to equality are an eye opener with her getting into University and politics is also opening channels where she is free to associate with the other tribe. Hippy ideals and civil rights are seen as the same thing in this view. The television beams out a world of information and vision of nations. The oppressed are kept off the screens and a diet of American pulp television invades Belfast and Irish homes. The stridency of The Peoples Democracy is seen obliquely as an odd doomed to failure mission with Protestant power foremost and initially the progression to marching is filling the stage with unfolding unity across divisions. Lead by student activists and rooted in minority voices now talking loudly of institutional discrimination the province is collectively at a place where it must decide to act or retreat to old divisions. O’Neill (Terence) gets mentioned several times. Michael (Farrell) leads the marches. Devlin (Bernadette) is chivied at the speeches in a minor role. The male prerogative is alluded to.

Incident anticipated

For authenticity the contestable origins are blurred and a general picture is shown without stridency or complexity. Strobe lighting cinematicallly conveys the B Special brutal confrontation with the peaceful marchers. The lights go out on the story. Michael is portrayed as having warned the marchers what to expect. It is from advice passed on by the police. The Free Presbyterian led onslaught of rabble with Police standing by and in the final concluding destruction at Burntollet Bridge top and tail the brutal attack on a mix of juveniles and passivist unarmed marchers. The destination Derry was not to be reached.

Worlds apart together

The American experience is running parallel in the intervening years.

King and the Kennedys are gone, Vietnam never ends, Nixon has been elected to roll Civil Rights back. Committed first and last to the classic rad-lib notion that rigorous thinking and precision journalism can seize the times and talk things better, Small Talk foregrounds the first two stages of Agitate, Educate and Organise.

The issues the second half highlight are transient and not knuckled down in the thesis. No Nama. No Money Laundering. No Drugs. No Poverty. No exploitation of Youth. No Back office Nation. No Holiday illusion. Just the very edges of the immigration story. Without the Larne Camps, Without the Home Office conditions, Interviews, and Living in Limbo, No Higher Level Education Rights. No rights to work in their field of training. No GFA Human Rights, Brexit and EU dawning and no word of a compromise. Homes not being built. Pig in a poke agricultural policy owned by big companies. Land grabs. Even Parliament being shut doesn’t make it to the stage. Marches abound. Women’s right to choose is shown to be a Marie Stopes confrontation – an overlooked and overplayed re-enactment – and the conflict of conscious is between airport announcements and a happy clapping form of worship. Out of many avenues these chosen roads are taken. They are not conclusive nor are they intended to be. Nevertheless they are not sufficiently robust enough to place other meanings on familiar issues as plays ought to obtain. In a minor scene or two – when the bickering and liveliness has died down only occasionally – that is there sufficient time for reflection and with the removed entertaining bawdy and adult humour device which is ratcheted up to often. There is also a misstep in having a Somalian woman swear in delivering what would be even a contested viewpoint that she would otherwise not deliver. Maybe it was hearsay or maybe a lesser being uttered it but I found it very regrettable that it even was included. It serves no purpose and misrepresented the tone as I know it, many others know it.


Where the second half survives without a backstory that is presumed factual, the test comes to create a pathway for the characters. Archetypal cliched types aside there are a moment or two that hit expectation too closely. A reveal by Michaela is so evidently oncoming it is loudly received in its audacious stupidity. Therein it does a disservice to the actual characters solid craft of pacing out the troubled complexities of the abortion on her mind. Would she have been so gullible to fall into the trap and be so unwise? Later voices from her are contrarily astute giving her part a mixed mission. Emer McDaid deals with it extraordinarily well such is her flexible range and it is for women to assess if she is believable in this situation. I thought it was weakened by the ‘trip’ and later sympathy was hard to deliver.

October was cited as a point of no return or as the play had it where the change happened. There are straight lines and paths lead away from other choices. Peace versus War. Terrorising was an instrument for sectarian division to replace passive consensus and resolution. Noises off were the order of the day. Attendance to deals and trades were overlapping degrees of atrocities and the British state sought containment without regard to their overarching conservative colonial hegemony. Making itself important as a world leading force was of more importance than evenhanded delivery of rights. It still is.

The Revolution will not be televised


The Global Scene for Civil Rights unfinished.


Beruit and beyond

For an American take on Civil Rights you don’t go to the normal messages. The people sang about it in words rhyming and music embalming their wishes and worries. Gil Scott Heron one such writer whose words and music were vital and spiritual food.

These extracts from The Wire 108 (February 1993). Continuing racial tensions are apparent in the USA.

It’s Your World (Arista 1976)

Within an evolving, conscious, self-determining continuum – Afrocentric, politically cognisant, historically correct, forthright and indignant – GSH is the disciple of many traditions: of Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez making, in Larry Neal’s phrase, “juju with the word on the world”; of the flaming oratory of Malcolm X and H Rap Brown; of Coltrane and Ayler speaking in tongues ancient and cosmic; and of the fundamental Blues of James Brown and Curtis Mayfield. In the crucible of It’s Your World, these particles of Blackness explode. This is the hour of chaos (or rather, one of many) – Civil Rights is sidelined as America spirals towards the political and economic shut down of a world recession. GSH and BJ respond by steeling their people with sustaining words (“It’s Your World”), by summoning inspirational spirits departed (“Trane”), by reinforcing the power of communal celebrations (“17th Street”), and with bitter socio-political satire (“Bicentennial Blues”). Reworked versions of “The Bottle” and “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” preach abstention from alcohol and drugs on political rather than moral grounds – like, if you’re out of your head on malt liquor and crack, how you gonna fight the white man when he’s down on your back?” (NW)

They created song for their voice to be heard just as now rap and hip hop dominate music shouting out about injustice and disharmony when we are avoiding the obvious and relying on lies.

On a road never taken

From South Africa To South Carolina (Arista 1975)

“Whatever happened to the protest and the rage/and whatever happened to the voices of the sane/and whatever happened to the talks that gave a damn?/Did that justify dying in the jungles of Vietnam?” In the early 70s, even the most popular Black American music shifted into political gear (pop acts like The Chi-Lites, The O’Jays, The Undisputed Truth, War); shattered by defeats and retreats, the general mode by the mid-70s was frankly escapist.


Space Shuttle (Castle 12″ 1989)

Amnesia Express (Castle 1990)

For GSH, the 1980s were a personal wasteland, a long, dark night of the soul that matched pace with the deepening collective anxieties of African Americans as they watched the Reagan administration slap down Civil Rights and liberties. Throughout the 70s, he had chanted of the day-to-day suffering and spiritual degradation of a people trapped in a racist culture. Now he fell silent.

…….. he suffered the consequences of neglect and indifference. He developed a spiralling drug dependancy (which reached an apotheosis of sorts when he was deported during a 1989 UK tour for possession of cocaine). His occasional European appearances – one is documented on the two hour live set Amnesia Express – revealed a withered spirit.

……… on the song “Must Be Something”: “Tell you something, tell you something you can do/Keep on moving, keep on moving for what’s true.”

In Print

GSH began his engagement with creativity as a novelist and poet rather than as a musician; as a teenager in Jackson, Tennessee (he was born in Chicago) he was writing pulp detective stories. His literary direction shifted with his move to Spanish Harlem in the Bronx in the mid-60s, where he began factoring in a vivid socio-political dimension. He followed poet Langston Hughes onto the campus of Lincoln University (where he met Jackson), then took a degree in creative writing at Baltimore before moving on to the University of Columbia (eventually dropping out to pursue less academic callings). To date, his words have appeared across four volumes. The Vulture (World Publishing 1970) and The Nigger Factory (Dial Press 1972) are both novels. Small Talk At 725th & Lenox (World Publishing 1970) is a collection of poetry that provided much of the material for the album of the same name. So Far So Good(Third World Press 1990) reproduces the poems that originally appeared in a booklet that accompanied the 1979 LP The Mind Of Gil Scott-Heron.

When you read these words in conjunction with the play’s trajectory of this Islands history it is apparent there is still a world wide need for Civil Rights to be established representing the original Civil Rights needs and working to ensure battles won are reinforced and made available were they still remain absent. Attitude’s are changeable however the knowledge of this Information Age being much greater than the catalyst of Television broadcasting previously incrementally challenging those visions of National difference and harm has in these digital years, completely altered the framing of the issues. This itself is not generally accepted as a global societal tool outside of government but it is irresponsible not to engage in wider communications based on passive terms towards equality and sustaining our earth’s resource.

Conclusion ###3

For the arc of the play to cover fifty years in History made and being made it is a large task to contain the multi layered conflicted narratives of the past and narrowing on the present predicament of the absence of Civil Rights still apparent.

Reference is made to the outside world and some aspects of struggle s elsewhere are cited.  I have compared the diminishing local reporting of the period as far as the play is concerned but put in several wider elements to illustrate the huge importance of this movement of Civil Rights.  I believe it is the authors aim to show output past in the local sense but it is not challenging enough and never strays into too much contested territory.  The players on all levels do outstanding work lifting the moods of the play and acting roles which at times are stereo typical without the hard edge sacrifice of a dead body or two to mourn over.  It is an extremely difficult subject to handle and hopefully this will encourage other treatments.  The legacy is with us and will never leave.

About the actual work. Martin Lynch has chosen a structure which avoids the them and us polarised viewpoint but restricts it to a formula belonging to a certain sectarian riddled ‘everyman’ dialogue. Incidents fed the first half as hindsight fills the second. The central protagonists of Lesley and Vincent are pegs on a play board in a narrow working class range of experience. The wider community of the Lower Falls and Woodvale are locations where even the pigeons live shortened lives. Unlike the Woodvale Pigeon Club pigeons there are peacewalls and discriminating state institutions to navigate. The road taken is filled with choices. Location is predetermined division and the extremes are in 1968 unreconciled and badly lead by church and political powers. It was Ulsterman Thomas Hutchinson who was instrumental in fashioning ‘The Enlightenment’ in Scotland and the philosopher became a powerhouse with a hand in writing the American Declaration of Independence which happened to be the removal of colonialism from the North American continent. It came at a cost and is a settlement still contested. Black and Negroe rights were the Firestone of the Civil Rights Movement in America and the transgressions of the USA in other countries enabled by the ceding of voting rights to gain recruits to the mainly white armies, was a cause young Americans took to their knowledge driven Political ambitions. Television brought home the disgrace along with the actual witness of fighters and reporting which challenged the Presidential hegemony. The Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland had leadership and ideals which were quickly overan by violent republicanism which was met by a state which never ceded land without a battle and seldom relinquished power as it saw its place in the world, and still does as a force for good. Large built on the locality and condensed management of land, resources and scientific breakthroughs it built upon the assets stripped from around the world. Northern Ireland was and is a service star run from a distant attachment going back into the Street names.

John Graham

27 March 2018


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A Fantastic Woman : A Film Review


A Fantastic Woman

Directed by Sebastián Lelio and written by Lelio and Gonzalo Maza, Produced by Juan de Dios Larraín,

Pablo Larraín, Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza.

Cast: Daniela Vega as Marina Vidal, Francisco Reyes as Orlando, Luis Gnecco as Gabo, Aline Küppenheim as Sonia, Amparo Noguera as Antonia, Nicolás Saavedra as Bruno, Antonia Zegers as Alessandra, Trinidad González as Wanda, Néstor Cantillana as Gastón, Alejandro Goic as Doctor.

Music by Matthew Herbert. Cinematography Benjamín Echazarreta. Edited by Soledad Salfate. Production company Fabula, Komplizen. Film Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. Duration 1hr 44mins. Country Chile. Language Spanish.

It is the first Chilean foreign language entry Oscar since Pablo Larraín’s No, and the first ever Academy award for Lelio, in this follow-up to the highly rated Gloria.

Daniela Vega plays Marina Vidal, her lover is Orlando (Francisco Reyes).


General synopsis

Marina and Orlando are in love and planning for the future. Marina is a young waitress and aspiring singer. Orlando is 30 years older than her, and owns a textile company. They celebrate Marina’s birthday one evening, Orlando falls seriously ill. Marina rushes him to the emergency room, but he passes away just after arriving at the hospital. Instead of being able to mourn her lover, suddenly Marina is treated with suspicion. The doctors and Orlando’s family don’t trust her. Marina is a trans woman and for most of Orlando’s family, her gender identity is an aberration, a perversion. So Marina struggles for the right to be herself. She battles the very same forces that she has spent a lifetime fighting just to become what she is now – a complex, strong, forthright and fantastic woman.


Gender fluidity

Gender fluidity is a subject no longer hidden or made unreal. It is a feature of human beings often misunderstood or not seen clearly. There is no such ambiguity in the portrayal of Marina who is played by Daniela Vega as A Fantastic Woman. She has become transgender and is sharing a relationship with Orlando played by Francisco Reyes, a well off textile company owner whose love for Marina is unqualified. Orlando is a fifty seven year old and Marina an unspoken twenty eight year old or thereabouts. They share an apartment with a docile Alsatian dog called Diabla. It begins after a scene of fluidity in a wide opening shot of one of the wonders of the world Iguaçu Falls, formerly Victoria Falls on the Iguassú River, on the boundary between Brazil and Argentina. This film is set in Chile’s capital Santiago where the city life is international and commercial. Opening with Orlando in a male sauna with its steam and busy masseurs pummelling backs and muscles, his thoughts are on Marina and the gift he has prepared for her birthday.


Simple choreography

Scenes are choreographed almost as rigid set pieces as the story is without any complexity other than the elements and range of emotional responses each conveys. First contact is through their eyes meeting in a club where Daniela Vega who plays Marina Vidal, is a singer and she sings “Your love is like yesterday’s newspaper” while fixing her gaze on her lover Orlando as the love story is revealed. From this introduction they enter a luxury restaurant to celebrate Marina’s birthday and the night continues with them dancing at another club and after to the apartment and a love scene.

What happens is a life changing moment. Orlando suffers a stroke which in a very short time kills him. It sets in train a whole accompaniment of conflicts and dramatic arrangements which involve the families with to a greater degree, Orlando’s family which includes a wife, child and several brothers and extended family. There is a funeral to be arranged and public persona to be kept in this still conservative society.

Marina is with Orlando throughout his last moments except when they are separated in the Hospital Emergency Rooms. The choreography is taken very thoroughly through roles and expectations with the arrival of an older brother, Gabo or Gabriel played by Luis Gnecco, who is aware of the relationship and knowingly accepting of Marina’s depth of love and loss. He asks the authorities to pull back on certain intrusive investigations but there are a sequence of very invasive examinations and a part in this is played by a Medical Officer specialising in gender relations and sexual crimes. The medical officer, Adrienne Cordez establishes quickly that no non consensual criminal acts took place and is does not suspect any abnormal events to have taken place. She is conscious through her own history and long experience of what is going through the mind of Marina when these assaults on grieving and adjusting are taking place. Memory is prominent in Marina’s mind.



The way Marina takes control of the situation is by keeping quiet and not reacting by showing her frustrations and she has to keep down a job as a waitress at the splendidly carnivalesque fun-fair themed restaurant she works at. Marina’s understanding boss is a savvy woman who does not interfere when she becomes aware something has happened as she witnesses a detachment and less ‘gay’ employee. The way the film builds is around these relationships and the comparisons of alternatives in acceptance of Marina for what she is. It is hard always for Marina to be stoic and strong in this grief and it is clear it brings in the prejudices and heightens them in this modern but conservative setting.


There are a series of rebuttals and Marina is faced down by several entities. By showing outward calm this is a way of dealing with the loss of Orlando. His spikey son Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra),turns up at the flat unannounced and reads the riot act, insists in calling her by another name, and stakes a claim to being the bigot of the piece. Others line up throughout to wrest the claim of bigoted and homophobia embittered lives stalk the city. Dignity is a sword Marina draws on constantly as she weaves her way through the arrangements which are not as she was prepared for and which are detaching themselves from her despite her efforts.



Difficult as it may be to put oneself in her shoes. High heels are her mode of walking transport. The outward appearance is precious and a barrier to naysayers and bigots. Transgender life is seen to be a battleground in which the feminine genes are contested by male and female protagonists with crudeness and superficiality. The place of subtlety is oblique. Rendering first a barrier and a convention which for the most part is seldom questioned in everyday situations with Marina’s non-androgynous feminine movement and composure. They simply are to be navigated but always there is an anxiety present for the viewer, hoping it carries at every point and seeing negative aspects arise. The quest for normalcy is shared across the screen. No Culpa, negligence or guilt is worn by Marina.


That Spanish word is latinesque in its casting back to ancient sexual diversity and ‘queer’ practice. An improperia of Catholic censure is evident in this Chilean society. Unbraided intemerate live’s are expected where in reality the worst of things exist and pervade and menace society entirely separated and detached from sexuality and it’s nature. The culpa is seen as self-reproach, avoided by Marina in the most part while in a relationship but now it begins to challenge. The challenge which may have existed earlier when the realisation occurred is revisited. Some of this self-reproachment is delivered in visual questioning, the persecution is real in an event which goes to the depths of hatred without going to extremis. Unatoned parallels are present in this revised world for Marina and happiness will it seems, once again be hard to achieve.


Fortitude and strength

The strengths of the film are in its simplicity and its strong story of a struggle by Marina as a young transgender person in a highly conservative nation trying to achieve their right to happiness and be comfortable and making a life with purpose and meaning unfold as God intended. This is achieved by the continuity of the narrative unfolding. There is a beautiful choreographed set of relationships or scenes of encounter constructed through the film. A relationship which neither would have chosen to have is that between Orlando’s ex-wife, Sonia (Aline Küppenheim) and Marina. It features heavily in the centre of the story and it causes a bit of drag which is one of the films few drawbacks. The middle is slightly larger than is necessary and some tender moments would have had better preference in my viewing of it. The sideline characters are one dimensional although the sides of Sonia are sympathetic in deference to her own dilemma in part giving an alternative perspective. In some passages the hyper anxiety of Marina comes out in hallucinatory experiences. When she is trying to escape the present by going to seedier but safe clubs she is confronted by the overseeing memory. Late on a new dimension of Marina is shown in its full glory with her attending an elderly tutor whose own love for Marina is not hidden surfaces. This aspect of the film is glorious in its modest framing and brings in a major lift and ultimately cathartic moment which is brilliantly created in a requiem of repose for the soul and living beyond. Director has been saving up some very graceful and harmonic notes for us in releasing the grief in an expansive denouement and finale. The musical score by Matthew Herbert’s and the visually gripping cinematographer Benjamín Echazarreta‘s work which makes use fully of the electric gaze and demeanour of Marina. The sea is an undercurrent of the theme of turbulence as well as perpetual life outside human control as is manifest it seems in the events occurring and how they throw the weaker ones to the rocks.


Directors note

I see A FANTASTIC WOMAN as a film of aesthetic splendor, narrative vigor, tension and emotion. Polytonal, multi-experiential, multi-emotional. It’s a film that is both a celebration and examination of its main character: Marina Vidal. What will the viewers see when they see Marina? A woman, a man, or the sum of both? They will see a human being who constantly changes before their eyes, who flows, vibrates, and modifies herself. But what they are seeing isn’t precisely what they are seeing, and this condition turns Marina into a vortex that attracts the viewer’s fantasy and desire, inviting them to explore the limits of their own empathy.

-Sebastián Lelio

Conclusion ####4

The sumptuous and well paced delivery of a story of grief and its aftermath is cleverly and sympathetically played out here and no part of the films object is ever seem to be implausible or overarching. It is a delicately handled story of tensions not least of transgender understanding by outsiders of a relationship which is loving and cherished. The imbalances of wealth, position, status, are seen as barriers which Marina and Orlando have made a pact with. Orlando’s private life and public life are kept separate except from trusted few and also through the break up of Orlando’s marriage. There is an immediate warmth to the film in its beginning and a few red herrings including almost key which turns up as a constant issue as well as a grim and unpleasant medical intrusion set a difficult set of circumstances alongside the rather straightforward and argumentative parts of conflicts around the actual funeral and the keeping up of appearances in a bourgeoisie upper class family. For all its predictablity in terms of – oh her comes a confrontation to type – a Doctor, Policeman, Son, Brother – only slight irritation is taken as the transactions are comfortingly disturbing for the expectancy is borne out of prejudice and bigotry which wrangles and causes the tension to build in the viewer against such unfeeling societal urges. The cast delivers an excellent thought filled movie and carry the dynamic and magnetic Daniela Vegas literally transformative part on to a very high level.

There have been other films of late, Loveless, Insyriated (others appear on the list) which count a great deal more in my mind of pioneering work and A Fantastic Woman is Fantastic as another piece of enlightenment and a very good cultural interpretation of a global issue and human gulf of understanding of non binary sexuality and how the manifestations of gender fluidity need better understanding and most of all acceptance and assistance. The achievement of an Academy Award is an immense lift to the profiling of the issues it raises and is well worth the added momentum. The more political films are obviously going to be less able to be lauded in such a commercial arena as Hollywood given its love of money and selling issues back to people via. stories of ‘atonement’ ‘endearment’ ‘unreality’ ‘creature-features’ and fables of many kinds.

John Graham

5 March 2018


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Dark River : A Film Review


Dark River

Written and Directed by Clio Barnard. Produced by Tracy O’Riordan. Cast : Ruth Wilson as Alice, Mark Stanley as Joe Bell, Seán Bean as Richard Bell, Esme Creed-Miles as Young Alice, Aiden McCullough as Young Joe, Shane Atwood as Tower, Steve Garth as Jim, Una McNulty as Susan Bell, Jonah Russell as Pete, Paul Robertson as Dec, Music by Harry Escott, (credit with PJ Harvey song of An Acre of Land), Cinematography by Adriano Goldman, Edited by Luka Dunkley, Nick Fenton, Production companies, Film4, Left Bank Pictures, Moonspun Pictures. Distributed by Arrow Films. Duration 1hr 29 mins. Certificate 15. Language, English. Country United Kingdom.  Supported by BFI and Wellcome Foundation.

Directors words

The third (after her The Arbor and The Selfish Giant) Clio Barnard film Dark River is a stark rural set familial drama which is unrelentingly grim and a reflection of contemporary unspoken and also prominent incidences of sexual abuse that are now surfacing as never before with revelatory troubling concerns. How Dark River is an example of the hidden domestic sexual abuse which is a scourge of society and is very hard to uncover is brought through the skilful yet sometimes evasive and metaphorical direction taken.  The water of the river in the Yorkshire setting is a place where it is both custodian and cleanser of the revelations made. Dark River is credited with a connection having been made to the book Trespass by Rose Tremain in its title closing credits.



Alice played with grace and substance by Ruth Wilson is returning to the place which is where she was once abused.  Having opened the film with her shearing sheep with equal speed and ease as men on contract farm work the sunny disposition of a shared lunch break is overtaken by the need to return home and lay claim to the farm she left fifteen years earlier.

Here she finds her brother Joe who is played by a strong oxen type of a young man in his thirties by Mark Stanley who must and does create a brooding sometimes menacing and broken keeper of the land of their father.

It begins with a lovely song by PJ Harvey, whose voice like that of Nora Jones, is set back into the folds of radio playlists for late time listening. Seldom is the story as close to the brooding melody and words of “An acre of land.” Differently it is to the scapes of the dales Clio Barnards cinematic eye is cast which is as a mostly dark and seldom warm environment. Beautiful it is but it foreshadows the emotions soon to be brought forth. The Bradford of The Selfish Giant is Beyond this environment. Where the poverty and determination sometimes playful and joyous in that film appeared occasionally no sense of joy is seen here. The landscape is the lasting thing but having returned to where she grew up, the home is too much a haunted place full of recurrent traumatic memories.

There is no mention of any substance to their mother and another departure is not made to explain the relationship which is like having a table with a missing leg. Instead the darkness is kept to be contained in the reaction and emotional torment faced by Alice in all kinds of confronting forms. By choosing to go back she is laying down a recapturing of her rightful legacy as a form of affront to the misdeeds and dreadful abuse she suffered there.



It is not possible or easy to reclaim the land in a bonding or empathetic sense, which is where Clio Barnard is taking the film. The river is not cleansing but is a habitat itself suffused with memory. Water is a splendid cinematic medium as a certain recent film testifies to. Alice in going back is troubling from the outset. She is firstly unable to live in the house. She instead chooses to life in the adjacent prefab. She has immediate flashbacks. The flashbacks are with her also in the life she has just left. Esme Creed-Miles as Young Alice, Aiden McCullough as Young Joe, create a bleak vision of the childhood tensions brilliantly and others such as Shane Atwood as Tower, provide a range of solid character parts.


As well as visits to agricultural markets and the occasional pub, the landscape is significantly large as the land is shown with Yorkshire itself a broad scoping individual of a natural territory which the lens follows a formidable elemental beast. The North Sea is not far away from the river running to it. The weather and conditions are harsh and uncompromising. The skies are huge. The fields and boundaries wide. Some opening shots show the idyllic stone wall close cropped fields and padlocked animals as well as the straggling electricity pylons marching across the land of the white rose of Yorkshire as some behemoth. In exploring the two sides of the story. The land and its occupants it appears as though an attempt which Is unfortunately not achieved of a divination of some sort being sought or impending doom at the door.



Joe is the custodian of the land and is brought to consider the harm caused by his father and carries with it an unspoken sorrow and guilt in having been there and unable to stop it. As well as his own lack of fatherly guidance to find a rebalancing for he is deeply at odds with the cruelty of the world and the bigger picture is someway seen through his innocence. There is talk of the big big world and his sole or limited excursions away from the farm concerned delivery of potato seedlings to and from Ireland.


That is seen as another green field. Where the grass is greener and the ways strange but a set of values of equivalence but not if his own. Such a position as we know is a gigantic misnomer. Keeping with Noe his sense of belonging is more complex than the film is able to document. It relies on conversations of alternative means of farming when challenged by Alice to make it work and go forward. The strength was and is in the soil and I heard Michael Longley speak of the isolation in Co. Mayo in its remoteness and his muse Carrigskeewaun. The town land of the place giving a broad expanse for the imagination to go wild and be entrained by belonging.


That land is mostly empty through immigration and escape to the towns near and far. Yet it remains a muse.

Here my imagination

Tangles through a turfstack

Like skeins of sheep’s wool:

Is a bull’s horn silting

With powdery seashells. extract from M. Longley’s poetry.



The land is cast almost as the ultimate boundary and to it, nature we all return. The lines of Longley’s poems infuse this sense of separation by the necessity of language, names , nomenclature to express their permanence as they newly cast out repetitions of themselves in life’s great mystery of binary codes. The powdery shells of calcium carbonate cast off.

Different lands but primordial things speaking back to us through the land as nature sustains location.

Dark River takes care to reveal this in Joe, and Alice is similarly a symbol for the land. How it is conveyed is through the absence of the connectiveness she yearns for that Joe possibly still possesses. The drama is the conflict of the two as metaphorical damaged people. The harm being internalised in Joe and he does not even know but Alice soon becomes distraught apart from her own remaking sense of belonging. Joe is approached by a land agent after Alice applies for tenancy rights. He is taken aback by the arrogance of Alice with her citing neglect of the farm and decline down to him. The buildings are in disrepair, the land boundaries broken in some places and tillage and unkept fields not consistent with tenancy agreements.


Mending fences

There is a period when the differences could be mended though Joe points out some home truths. The clear inability now she’s back, of Alice to unburden the hurt and harm and the unwitnessed haunting and recurring themes which we visit by flashback. The river is a retreat and a temporary escape. In previous times Alice had made her lover a young farmer called Spider and he is an occasional entry to the film. Joe is deeply disturbed by the possible change of role and the methods Alice uses to work the farm.

When Joe applies for the farm he is approached by land agents who want to remove both of them whatever the methods deployed. Without criminal or lawless action but by manipulation and blackmail the land agents set in play a set of irreversible actions.

There is a confused end to the film in which retreat is to flashback to carry the fathers hurtful and saturating part in the story. Alice is confronted by a set of new challenges which unfold from Joe’s disturbed mind. There is no remission from the causes of harm nor any satisfactory outcome possible but time is constant and this is a period of both their life’s which set them in conflict with each other and in need of repair.


Conclusion ###3

Very occasionally a film comes along to reach into the dark corners of domestic abuse and also the wider incidences in institutional abuses. Sports, entertainment and many Religious institutions are presently in the headlines along with organised criminal and community sexual abuse being uncovered across these islands. This tires hard to tackle the subject through a story taken from the core of the book Trespass by Rose Tremain and visualising and dramatising a single woman’s story.

This story departs greatly from the land ideal and the places ‘genus loci’ being ultimately eroded and land speaking like Longley’s Carrigskeewaun being almost a skeleton of the earths bones being seen again after mans tilling and ancient furrowing of its surface to raise a life on. An Acre of Land – the song speaks of ancient giving and the scrawny legacy it represents unkept. The environment is key as is our relation to it is the message and the human being is sinful in every respect and often unworthy as a keeper. Alice is a retrieval missionary but is thwarted by the sibling ownership of equal resonance. Almost the child is the father of the man in Hugh Leonard’s sense.

from the graphic violence and incest visited on Audrun by her father and brother to Anthony’s near-romantic love for his careless and selfish mother. Then, engineering them into an impossibly volatile situation – kickstarted by Anthony’s immediate attraction to the crumbling Mas Lunel, and Audrun’s determination that it should not be sold – she leaves them to reap the consequences of their wonky desires and impetuous actions.” A reviewers take on Trespass.

The subject matter is a momentous multi layered one which is hard to dial into. Landscape is evoked as a contestable territory where vices are in conflict through the unresolved past and methods and approach’s carry the leaden crook sacrifice of innocence as the nature is fought with and contested without remorse, solace or forgiveness. Like many cases the time has past where the perpetrator has long gone and ultimately the sins of the father are left as remnants of history to be picked over like crows on a sheeps skull. A difficult slightly wandering and confusing watch but a worthy effort on a subject so difficult to handle or bring insight to.

John Graham

02 March 2018


Showing on 02 March 2018 until 08 March 2018 at Queens Film Theatre.

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