On Chesil Beach : A Film Review

 

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On Chesil Beach

Directed by Dominic Cooke, Produced by Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley. Screenplay by Ian McEwan Based on On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.
Cast Saoirse Ronan … Florence Ponting, Emily Watson … Violet Ponting, Samuel West … Geoffrey Ponting, Billy Howle … Edward Mayhew, Anne-Marie Duff … Marjorie Mayhew, Rasmus Hardiker … Waiter 2, Bebe Cave … Ruth Ponting, Adrian Scarborough … Lionel Mayhew, Jonjo O’Neill … Phil, David Olawale Ayinde …, Wigmore Audience Concert Attendee, Bronte Carmichael … Young Chloe Morrell, Bernardo Santos … Cinema Couple, Philip Labey … Bob, Ty Hurley … Wigmore Concert Attendee, Oliver Johnstone … Ted
Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West, Adrian Scarborough.  Music by Dan Jones, Cinematography Sean Bobbitt, Edited by Nick Fenton, Production company Number 9 Films, BBC Films. Distributed by Lionsgate, Bleecker Street.
Duration 1hr 50mins. Cert. 15. Country United Kingdom. Language English.

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Short Navigations

This is a story told in three time periods and it begins and mostly occupies the earliest period and its immediate rub up to wedlock. Over 60% hovers around the earlier period. The later times are visited in reflection and as indications of how things have turned out for Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle).  The times change them irrevocably and the outcome of this story is far from the imagined prospect when we first enter the story as it reaches the honeymoon reservation of a posh hotel in Dorset overlooking the shingle headland or bar of pebbles that create an other worldliness of escapism and is harbinger of hope and romance.

Setting

Where is Chesil Beach and is it sunny and hot? ; not always a pair.  Well it is the jurassic coast of Dorset, Southern England and more notable for its shingle and Portland Bill and Portland stone, no sand is to be seen along it.  Apparently the crew where filming this in late autumn 2017 and it was obviously a chilling time but colour grading works wonders.

People in 1962

Both these young people are acutely sensitive to the sensibilities of the times and in their being born during the war are acutely aware of the dynamics of peace and a new frontier of a Cold War developing in the struggle for supremacy in Russia and Germany alongside its reconstructed allies and temporary reparations in European idealised modernity.  Both have first class honours degrees and Edward is a product of a teacher and headmaster father Lionel ( Adrian Scarborough). He has two siblings, twin girls born after an accident befalling their mother Marjorie (Anne-Marie Duff) now housebound, if not naked and watching the squirrels as people inhabiting her comfortable and mature garden.  A recent short film at the Belfast Film Festival concerned itself with dementia and was called Monkeys in the Garden. Not to make light of it, it too was a vision of how lives are affected by a moments occurrence or breakdown of the bodies defences.

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Portraits

We see the view of Edward through this revision in his life, in respect of his mother’s injury and his anger, which is a feature not currently present, is recalled in anecdotes.  Florence (named after the City? hardly the type given the austere ma and pop!) knows little about him other than his reformed side and CND encounters.  An academic he is nevertheless keeping tabs on the grosser forces within him, his aggression is a tool and servant but he feels inadequate as it is his intellect and inability to deduce his own belief system.  He is shifted of course by events and this is borne out over the going back and reveal of certain aspects of his childhood.  OK I said there were three time periods, perhaps there were others crept into for pathos.

For Florence’s story it is also interlaced with similar anecdotes with a delightful toff in the form of mother Violet, (Emily Watson), a constantly austere wannabe Jackie Kennedy alongside her status hungry and sometimes mysterious husband Geoffrey  (Samuel West) and easily rattled egotist electronics factory owner played in intentionally hammy fashion. Florence  is a music student with a leadership quality and is wholly wrapped up in the pathways music opens. Florence has attained a post of behind the scenes general dogsbody at The Wigmore Hall, Wigmore Street which lasts three years. Her own aspirations in performance are fulfilled in lower recitals but cleverly she puts across a form of music which lasts.

Musics healing

I remember on the way home from work often passing the along the Wigmore Hall rear alleyway at a time uncertainty hung over the arts funding of that long established place and lunchtime performances by the and for the BBC Radio audience proved to be a cultural asset heavily embedded in good music played to the highest possible standard open for public consumption and egalitarian defiantly hoping against hope and Thatcher the continuance of the philosophy behind excellence as common property to be cherished.

The alleyway features here intact and unspoiled as before, its indentures prosaic and tangible despite the troubled periods seen through its existence.  It is a remarkable presence and feature of West London a little distance from Oxford Street and Harley Street.  Florence had the opportunity of assisting in performance as page turner to Benjamin Brittain and the evening performances had an international element equal in such a conservatoire atmosphere a smaller bolt hole away from the grander Albert Hall and Royal Opera House.  The atmosphere inside was a musical paradise and retreat.

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Notes as words

Throughout the film the choice of music is a stirring counterpoint othe emotional twists and turns and it is obvious this is a very important strategic tactic as it fills the cinema with a richness of audio pinnacles and troughs accompanying scenes of despair and unalloyed joy. Mozart, Bach, Haydn, Rachmaninov, Brittain, Beethoven all feature in the deliberate layering on us of a timeless appreciation of the emotions evolving. Were the music is at its height often the emotion is mixed and nervously exchanging between us and what we see a sense of elevation while it in reality is a one, visually which had none of the material a book can convey.  These are the awkward extremities of the young lovers own deeply felt disoriented disordered conflict of expectations.

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Mis-steps

Here I have to place my failure to accept, in large parts, the premise inherent in the novella.  I found the absence of enquiry or even a consultation of a Doctor by Florence off kilter.  There is a deficit and no dimension of mental disturbance in the mind of Florence whose horrible construct of the sexual act is a peculiarly obstinate block her life has not prepared her for. There was at the time a new emphasis on the workings of the brain and R D Lang etc. Freud preceding brought it forward into the public realm along with TV and middle class enquiry.  The book is able to push boundaries where a script will not allow and this film depends too much on the concepts of the viewer filling in the spaces and stiltedness of some of the imponderables.  The fluency of prose Ian McEwan is stretched to replicate in this screenplay.  On Chesil Beach she discloses in a speech, her anxiety in a long soul searching yet still unformed or fully expressed contempt of the actual response she articulated in circuitous explanation leaving Edward in a pale of despair.
There is a feeling the film does not convey the real problems on the side of Edward either. While we are left to assume certain things about Florence and then are unable to gauge the extent of hurt and damage they cause and with things also causing her uneasiness and tense suffocating anxiety. There is in Edwards situation a sense of male entitlement of sorts given his deliberations in the led up to the troublesome (more than) bedroom scenes. It would have been, either a sense of duty to perform or be heroic and actually create a magnificent, unforgettable night of continual passion and lovemaking (!) as if it’s something as a male he is programmed to do, he is also contemplating the strangeness of these feelings and unable to equate eroticism with the needs of his partner and new very virginal wife. Then it creates an emasculated reaction and even more harm. There is a chasm between their thoughts and the film does not deal with them sufficiently well to overcome the visual awkwardness. There is still in these times a fearfulness that the awkwardness and newness of the experience may not fit ideals. Those ideals are themselves at the root of the problem and the present day information and education. It depends where it is found and Edward is also a person whose intensity does not help which itself is not adequately explored. Florence has to ask about his character and that is supposed to be a formation of a judgement for a clearly clever woman?!

London, we have a problem.

The way the conversations are developed are very attentive to the authors intent and premise.  The question lurking is has he found a very unusual compelling story and is it to be seen as a wider component of the times and traditions, behaviours of the times.  With both having long spells in London and away from their parental conformity I thought it too much of a stretch to see them as hesitant, micro living reclusive people without own warnings and experiences overlap, usually and relying on their own lives experience which has dramatic absence.  Dorset becomes the past.  No place for Corset jokes.  A flaw is the inclusion of a later phase where shared living, in the 1975 period a collective and therefore contagion of sorts, fleshing out a sixties vibe in the seventies where – while sharing a bohemian household was frequent – the set up appeared forced.  In the sixties it would hardly have been less of a communal existence yet it was not explored or the arrangements for living not examined in detail.

Psychology undeveloped

Audacious as some of the story may appear; the exploration of the psychology at work having an unrealised importance, I felt a lot of the developing story had empty aspects, mostly concerning the limitations imposed on both of the experiences either had of life.  For present day young people this compressed uninformed pathway is unreal.  They are conscious as well as familiar with, such instinctive sexual stirring emotional decisions and are are empowered by numerous, almost too present, events of sexual diversity, behaviour and relationship guidance. Parental intrusion is not a problem and often is a shared appreciation of discovered evaluation. The advice is also overwhelming currently as the meaning of the bodies acceptance of itself is accumulated in a set of terms and outcomes, comparisons are often fluctuating between less obvious mental pictures.

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A lot of time is spent navigating the origins and the precipice we are on which is concealed within the story, in keeping with the dilemma of her heightened displeasure of the sexual act once it sets its seed inside her head in the inevitable pitch of consummating their marriage on their wedding night. This is a narrow filter unsuited to cinema as it is left hanging.  Even cinema itself is not approached although a nod to the times seen in the film which is in their orbit, A Taste of Honey shows a conflict of familiarity with sexual education.  The prospect is imagined and unreal and in her preparation she is compelled to refer to books which he4 younger sister who follows her every move, is equally excited about though not to the extent of imagining the meaning of the words outside her sisters own thoughts. Everything centres around the thoughts and wildest capture of ideas by Florence which she finds necessary and driven too by another set of conflicts which are not forgotten but suppressed. By taking the story through the motions of arrangement and outside diversions she is able to distract herself sufficiently to eradicate some of the worst until it becomes unavoidable once she is in Room 8 at the hotel and eager to please and share herself with Edward and embrace the moment. It heralds great stress and it is a staccato immersion into the ritual of love making which she and he have no notion of how it ought to serve them. Now they serve it and become overburdened lustfully not lovingly entwined.

Neither are practiced at the physical act of union and become transfixed by the prospect of it on their wedding night. Alone they discover that lives can become transformed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.

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Storytelling

In the bibliography of Ian McEwan there first comes, First Love, Last Rites as if it became a precedence of his novella On Chesil Beach. The straining loss of words is compellingly tale of tense human love and bonding past feeling.

THEY WERE young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. So the opening lines of the book draw us towards Florence and Edward in July 1962. Their day had joined their families in St Mary’s Oxford in a ceremony which went well including the reception and here having travelled in Florence’s mothers borrowed car arrived under a cloudy sky and with insufficient warmth to dine as planned outdoors. Instead they are together in the wedding suite dining and savouring the experience unique to both in many ways. In emphasis it is perhaps intentional to begin with the first two words in capitals in the book as they in the readers mind due some sympathy and empathy given their lack of worldliness. In fact it is not as it is a motif used in each chapter though none the less meaningful.

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When those times were presaged by moral virtue and humility it is only proper, as the Vicar might say, that they were chaste lovers on the brink of a loving long relationship not without reward for their sacrifice of self control. For Florence her talk with her Minister is an ordeal and both find it difficult to identify with each other and the preposterous notion of not getting married is one option Elizabeth takes as an absurdity. The pleasure quotient is not spoken of. Duty is the key instrument here and she is as first violin a leader in all she accomplishes. The prologue is not a good one.

Indulgences are meaningful only if they are satiated and lent great impact in the fact they are prove positive of unrequited love.

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Burden of the past

Belief is something neither have a great deal of time for. The realities of home life are its representation and compliant structure is the invocation. Some mores have it as a societal burden on pain of loss of a godly blessing.  The morality first coming from a Church and sanctified by a class of ancient ritual.

Ian McEwan compresses into a short novel the disturbance of tranquil exquisite expectation by moving into the bonding of a young couple empty illusion. The physical prospect of penetration was for Florence no longer a misty concept formed out of friends explicit stories or happenstance and part knowledge obtained by the troubling loud engorged actress screaming in high pitched orgasmic ecstasy engagement. Of Edwards pleasure and own needs she would have no knowledge only in his expression would she see his physical endurance while both would be marrying each other’s thoughts in their new union and one neither had felt before. Before the Vicar and hiring of the hall for the reception Florence seems to have mislaid her concerns until the moment of the actual aloneness.  If in the journey to the Hotel she was anxious it was suffused with the pleasure of filing away all the memories and even the road ahead was newly seen.  Observation does not seem one of Edwards strong points either as the anticipation is always countered by the more effervescent reality. Twenty two years have passed and new things happen all the time. These are however formative moments and ones to signal and lay down markers for the future they would share.

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Hidden Histories

Edward knew from University about the collapse of empires and his sojourn into conquering his love would have been shaped beforehand by a strategy to be a most humble and obedient servant to his new wife in satisfying her desires he would have comfort, not of a strange woman (The Comfort of Strangers another notable McEwan!) or innocent (The Innocent) passing encounter but a long to be lasting companion for life with all others forsaken. It is an occupied territory long held by Ian McEwan, this folly of loves testimony. Regardless of motive or morals he has attested to the problems enduring through many creative characters all having a degree of familiarity in our recollections but some are born out of sheer fantasy and the innocents here are in a realm which would have been common enough if borrowed thoughts and language are required to see it manifest in the pages.

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How accurate?

There must have been couples off to the seaside hotel with anxieties and pleasure equally mixed in a heady cocktail of expectation in earlier times, say the fifties and even earlier. Would protection be worn would they have enough passion or energy after the matrimonial ceremony and ritual acceptance of good wishes that heralded their journey into this future? They would not sometimes have had a rehearsal of lovemaking or been conscious of the powers within to see them comfortably through and in isolated limbo until they lay sleeping newly married and partly fulfilled in their dreams of finding a partner who became in that moment a formula for life. Improbable as it may sound or seem, the casting of Saiorsce Ronan whose previous collaboration with the authors vibe was her breakthrough movie, Atonement, and then as a fourteen year old, is once again fixed in the lines of the book.

Ian McEwan has described (at his lucid best) his twenty two year old bride ‘as bringing to mind an American Indian woman, a high born squaw. She had a strong jaw and her smile was broad and artless, right into the creases at the corners of her eyes.’ the remarkable aesthetic of the beautiful candescence that Siarsce Ronan can occupy the screen with.  In one publicity picture she is (freezing) on the Chesil Beach sitting with a forlorn gaze looking to embrace a situation that is exciting alarming and new while pouting over thoughts of days ahead. She fits the part remarkable as most illustrious actors do. having the facial balance and restrained openness and beauty which beguiled and captured truth of a kind rarely seen in cinema.  While sexuality was always present they each have, had an allure beyond that which is where this character is required to be in her worldly thoughts of beyond sexual pleasure and its meaning and wanting to know what that building block is in essence why they need to stick together.

Both are on the front of this dilemma as they are at twenty years old inadequately prepared in the era and societal cultural doctrines open to new consciousness. As adults together learning.

While watching, it is ones own knowledge and experience which fill in the gaps of language used by Ian McEwan in the book, a novella which is searching in this film to pass on the eloquent and carefully composited words and juxtapositions employed in the book.  Without self knowledge this film will not work and it is obviously crafted and made for a mature audience. With it als obeying seen in our media profuse times there is a connection to be made by the younger viewer and empathy is even more raw and intensely gripping. A sliding doors routine of what ifs.

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Weather the storm?

My favourite beach is at Blakeney in Norfolk where the seas-edge is forever moving, appearing to me as the edge of the temporal and physical world. That horizontal bent line which formers the outermost point is out further than the moving edge. The curve of the earth visible in the melding of the sky and seas infinity ingathered but going untouched out beyond us. Chesil Beach possibly has the same frontiers. There is the headland of Portland Bill to be found close by.  Behind it is the masons yards where hewn stone is cut and honed to facilitate a memory or vision to be put into a building.  Land is present there.  In Norfolk the elements see to it there is continual erosion.  No land is safe as the coast is claimed incrementally in tiny invisible motions of waves relentless cycle.  That turning of land into minerals swept away is almost the tangibility of the lovers quest to become another human being by having cause and effect.  There is no going back.  Immortality is attained while life is still present. Such are the promises and such are the illusions.

Conclusion ###3

It is difficult, particularly after ladybird to critique a film Saoirse Ronan is in and which she is on her game and filling her obligations and more.  Alongside an equally  strong performance by Billy Howle who goes through a more exposed later life, and with a very well cast supporting group there is a painful conclusion this film is not reaching the high bar it sets given the prose and narrative strength and form the original book achieves in spades.  No spades on this beach but a lot of digging and hiding of sensitivities none more alluded to than the core of the psychology Florence has become accustomed to.  There are few of any joyess parts and sadness is always present in particular what might have been.  The couple are ideally matched and are able to dispose of their similar but separate forms of middle classery.  They are intellectually matched but both are without the stronger need of emotional intelligence and it is obtained through hard learning.

Ian McEwan has created a new version of the story and my recommendation after seeing the film would be to visit the book if you have t altedy done so all that time ago.  There is a good display of the boundaries of film and story which is requires masters of the genre to overcome.  In the book those mis-steps seen here are not in the least visited and the beauty of language – the spoken words are few in the book and the reliance is on your constructing and building your own characters even visually and the casting has lent as much support as possible.

An enclosed compressed tale which it is hard to unravel.  Complexity exists though there are narrow confines expressed here denying access to what you have come to understand.

 

John Graham

25 May 2018

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 25 May to Thursday 7 June 2018 and on general relaease.

 

 

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Jeune Femme : A Film Review

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MONTPARNASSE BIENVENUE Jeune Femme

Director: Leonor Serraille, Cast: Laetitia Dosch, Souleymane Seye Ndiaye, Gregoire Monsaingeon, Jean-Christophe Folly, Nathalie Richard, Arnaud de Cazes.
Produced by, Sandra da Fonseca, Bertrand Gore, Nathalie Mesuret, Written by Léonor Sérraille, Music by Julie Roué, Cinematography Emilie Noblet, Edited by Clémence Carré. Production company, Blue Monday Productions.

Duration : 1hr 38 mins. Cert. 15.

QFT note: Léonor Serraille’s Cannes Camera d’Or winning drama stars Laetitia Dosch as a 31-year-old struggling to find her place in the world following a break-up

Prone to being her own worst enemy, Paula lugs her ex’s pet cat around Paris in a cardboard box, freewheeling but determined to get back on track in life. As she meets different people along the way, there is one thing she knows for sure: she’s determined to make a new start – and she’ll do it with style and panache.

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Jeune Femme

The starting over in the world of relationships requires many things. Firstly the previous baggage of the previous life choice is in need of assessment and revision in the learning or unlearning or making sense of other people as they find you and you find them.

Paula is out of a 10 year relationship which has been a high reward low risk conscript. Safety and no children or ties. So to find herself without the means to survive is a shock of the first order and she is in a compelling meltdown when we enter the picture. As for the future it happens from the circumstances outside the flat her ex partner, Joachim Deloche’s identity is not brought in for a long period.  Fraught phonecalls only.  The only companion going forward happens to be their estranged cat, rescued from the neighvours store.  This is a very sharp fall from a high level of what seems a normal existence and the suggestion of difference or reason for the break up is not clear. Every indication is it ought to have been sooner which is probably nagging throughout the following period while new answers are sought.

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Outside looking in

Horrible as it may be the notion of breakdown is treated comedically here. Horrible as the notion of looking inward on someone’s problems is almost voyueristic and as approach it requires for our benefit to be done with sensitivity and prove unlike any invasion of privacy. Believing this is relatively easy as the outward play of antics unfolds. The new partnerships of herself with every aspect of her life are calibrated. We are asked to engage and engage we do with the dilemmas false and positive states Paula encounters.

If it is not refreshing, refreshing in the sense Paula is freed from this past, she verbalises it instantly.  Paula is a realist and needs to be.  While the circumstances have altered greatly, she is virtually without funds, resources, or outlook or job and has been estranged from her family. No siblings, just a Mum whose one live is as a loner who all have left her to her own devices.

Ten years investment even without creating a body of work in concert with another, anything representing a life lived is almost ambiguously absent here. The high reward has been the cocoon of comfortable living which may have superficially or otherwise been of benefit to the onward and upward Joachim but is the total opposite as it is found for Paula. Weird as this may seem it is were we are. This is Paula.

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Travelling companions

Paula is here in the central representation of a modern woman whose future is in flux at 31.  Therein lies the test of the film. Do we believe this pretext do we engage and go on with the premise? As it is it is very easy to become part of the whimsy and progress if only because it is not our journey. The meltdown mentioned at the beginning is a force which exorcises the anger. That says plenty of the observed strength Paula gas and similarly you ask would I be so strong? The authorial interest is writing a series of questions.

Who am I Paula begins to ask and when asking herself is able to suggest she is who she makes herself.  Not defined but someone else’s love. ‘You the world to me’ type of trope which presents as when reversed, ‘I no longer have you so I’m nothing’. A variation of this is a positive and mortality is better than immortality if your alive sort of thing. The viable life is all that need be of concern to Paula and her focus is played out by her adopting various personas on a trial basis so to speak – in increments she tries various tactics of approach in meeting people which is problematic often and surprisingly gainful in others.

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Pulsating self

Clubbing an music are in her heart as a strong connective muse or even identity though that is not entirely properly explored. I saw her embrace the music and discard the palyacting and physical involvement often overarching its ambience and drive.

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Determined to set a fresh positive start again, going at the objective of finding a partner is a priority for Paula and her assistant is a curate cat. There is a premise in the making here where the prospective lover must like cats though not necessarily be as driven and cat dependant as Paula. Meeting new people is not a problem and with the whole of Paris, the city of romance a map of lovers imaginings in all directions Paula has the positive notion of claiming her rightful place in the bewitching quest mere mortals find a life’s work. The different people she meets is the passage of this story and it reveals to Paula and us the audience revealing aspects even a 31 year old had forgotten or mislaid in the past, 2solemnly lost faith in the other part of a relationship taken for granted and through that misled into the future.

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Redesign

By creating a new future and being adaptable – Paula insists in an interview one of her opportunistic happenings – she constructs a person who is meticulous, sporting, methodical, unconflicted ambiguity employed in a beautifully framed episode plus humour. One of several identity formulating encounters which makes for great cinema and form neatly composed portraits and each asking and straining to avoid placing Paula in a pigeonhole of convenience. Paula is evasively loveable. She is attractive in more than mere presence and given the reddish aspect of long locks she combines outfits in a multiple method acting ethos sometimes a ‘hint pop star’ haute couture aficionado or arty bohemian. It is all productive in the sense it provides us with multiple viewpoints but for a Paula it is a case of being all over the place. We learn as she – gently – does that she is her own worst enemy. For empathy we are fellow travellers, at least I went with it and given the superb mix and flow of the various disparate elements each following very different paths it was very watchable and entertaining often gruesomely funny while also having edgy bottom notes which are typically well handled as French cinema is at ease with. Never leaden and stale the good and bad are evoked with relativism and beefier in Paula’s problems and her dealing handsomely and genuinely with warmth to claim the prize of delivering a very good film.

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Transient visual loving eye

Visually this film carried with it the history of masters of the art of storytelling in French cinema. There were overhead views of street scenes taken at the poised easy pedestrian pace importantly defining place and other elements passing by unobserving what we are watching from above. Their are several scenes you will probably want to remember as they are formative. One I loved was during an on the move job interview where the interviewee who was a dancer took us on a joyous sense of movement up to a maids room in a longish sequence. It was beautifully done and in its contrast with previous and later scenes lent choreography to the viewers experience while removed from dance. A piece of confident and imaginative cinema.

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There were other scenes. Roaming scenes, one with her Mum, one inside and out of a shared sofa apartment with someone who believes Paula connects her with her past. The Paris invoked is not over sentimentalised or over evoked but is compellingly real which is certainly a big positive for a debut feature director.

Portraiture by camera

An instinctive panache means ever new beginning is treated with sumptuous panache and devilry by Léonor Serraille’s habit of playing the positive and not subscribing and making Paula subscribe to the desperate negative aspects and sometimes harsh reality in play. This is then visually expressed in the vivid colours and interchangeable almost clothes horse persons of Paula herself as she mediates her self in the circumstances as thrown up or found, actively sought out.

Parachutes are deployed metaphorically and an internal mechanism is activated announcing new starts. She is able to land a job, in fact two and one is as a babysitter to a young girl whose introspection and absence of ‘love’ is given life after several errors and misreads by a paula. This is the dancers part and it is a constructive form providing contrast to the other shopping mall job where she meets again another earlier acquaintance. Ousmane is another character we meet whose job does not fit his ambition and the comprises all round are length and common. Material things are not the object of many but the consumerism is what has them survive wither as sales people selling a dream or minding the spectacle it is another strand. Also I began to think the professions similarly were in a strange place.

Choices

Deep into the film there are choices arising for Paula involving relationships and there are further encounters with a Doctor who herself is open, and in keeping with the exploration, she too is seen to look into the past for meaning.  They spill out from everywhere, emotions caught in memory, always present and demanding.  The past tells Paula things she has not been bothered with and newness presents a clean slate in many ways.  The estrangement with her mother is also a recurring theme and Paula is kept searching in that part of her life for its meaning. Something is still harming her from within.  It I spoke something’s that she holds onto and cannot free.  My take on it was of her looking for an inner sanctity which she never had and only occasionally does she find it and it appears to her in aloneness when with other people.  The music and Yuki influence draw on this.  Even the job in the lingerie mall has its aspects of learning.  Men pay attention! The luxury of lingerie is a means to pamper which all women look to as preening for themselves and is a solitary thing, a skill in touching their feminine empowerment and from that whatever comes comes.

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Comes discovery

Towards the end these choices however hard in the gathering are considered in the new mindset. While it is seen to evolve and accumulate throughout their is a knowing Paula played with drive and passion bearing fruit in every scene, by the exquisite multi faceted Laetitia Dosch whose companions in the action provide a superb robust support and ever pairing is special in some way. To name them would be be mildly patronising. There are several very, very solid performances which are needed to connect and deliver the levels reached by Laetitia Dosch in her emotional gymnastics and electric sound performance.

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Conclusion ####4

Very often the title such as Jeanne Femme is a prologue to a let down but here the title only introduces a very well gathered opening into the observed world of one young women after a breakdown.  Never trivial but incredibly full of fun and light-hearted air filled space, the visual appeal is intimating the approach taken by a Paula who is – as cliches go – her own worst enemy except once ‘free’ so to speak after a very long and significant relationship is only concerned with being positive. A cat (Muchacha) gets much publicity and air time as a reclusive friend and foil.  It is a female of exotic fussy tastes and contrast to, it has to be said, of the chameleon taste and forced re-identity moves Paula is forced into confronting.

This is a very brave and rewarding tale on just a view of feminine worlds and the multiple characters, many formed very robustly and assuredly, are thrown at the complex recalibration going on and shedding some more and valued insights along the way. The slate may be wiped clean but is it to be subject to putting down new markers and reinterpretation of the past and memory and how do the fates unfold. A lovely film and instinctively sharp delivering a very decent story of contemporary searches for self.

John Graham

18 May 2018

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre form 18 May until 24 May 2018

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Michael Inside : A Film Review

 

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Michael Inside

Written and directed by Frank Berry. Cast : Dafhyd Flynn, Lalor Roddy, Moe Dunford, Robert Walsh, Steven Blount, Hazel Doupe, Tony Doyle, John Burke, Shane Gately, Stevie Greaney, Elaine Kennedy, Ally Ni Chiarain, Terry O’Neill, John Quinn.
Production Subotica, Write Direction Films, Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board.
Produced by Donna Eperon, Tristan Orpen Lynch, Aoife O’Sullivan.
Executive Producer for Bord Scannán na hÉireann/ Irish Film Board, Keith Potter.

Cert. TBC (probably 15)  Duration 1hr 36mins.

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‘Michael Inside’

Press release
Michael Inside tells the story of Michael McCrea (Dafhyd Flynn), an impressionable eighteen-year-old who lives with his grandfather Francis (Lalor Roddy) in a Dublin housing-estate. Michael’s life is changed dramatically when he is caught holding a bag of drugs for his friend’s older brother, and is sentenced to three months in prison.
Researched and workshopped with former prisoners from the Irish Prison Service’s Pathways Programme, the story of Michael Inside is an expression of many real-life experiences. The film takes a realistic look at the circumstances that lead to Michael’s conviction, his time in prison, and how prison has affected his thinking and his behaviour when he gets out.

Truth on Irish Prison System deficiencies http://www.iprt.ie/key-issues from the Irish Prisoners Reform Trust (please read after review)

Structure
By keeping a tight focus on the narrative of the ‘rites’ of passage the story of Michael traces him into adulthood with his ‘life is changed dramatically’.  No longer a  juvenile he ends up in the Prison system instead of the youth system which then provides the revelatory, insight sought by the director of this part of the justice system and shown in all its complexities.  It is the portrayal of a life going into a spiral out of control, the chosen direction of Frank Berry in writing and making visible Michael’s life, he brings in all aspects of the journey.  It is well paced and the Prison element features only some way into it.  In the arch of the story at the beginning a wrong choice is made and Michael is enticed into helping a friend whose older brother is dealing drugs on a wholesale scale.  It is serious business and the act of crossover is shown in the brother been seen to be a fundamental part of the internal life of their neighbourhood.  The trade is all around kids of all ages and very few indicators of surveillance are present though somehow Michael is trapped.  From there onwards the story continues to follow the trail of downward struggles and the domestic interactions are finely woven into the film indicating boundaries.  There is throughout the film an exchange of place going on.  The Courtroom, The Police Station, The Prison environments, the outdoor rambling hills, the routes to and fro are used very effectively as frames for the story.  On the road and inside their is also the mediation in the mind of what is happening and why.

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Sense of a story
This is a story based in metropolitan Dublin in a city estate where most of the houses cover acres looking exactly the same. It focuses on an 18 year old whose life is moving in the right direction, after what appears to be a period where his Grandfather has moved in with him in the absence of his imprisoned father as we learn.  His mother’s not around either.  As we see the story going forward in the present we are filling in some elements for ourselves. I guessed that his Grandfather was no recent arrival and we are told Michael has been out of school previously, hence my saying he is moving forward, he is on the relearning path back attending school and with hopes of a professional qualification which he is well capable of achieving as encouraged by his teacher.  The cast in this film is unbelievable first class and very intelligently formed.  The young female teacher approaches the task of teaching Michael with warm encouragement swathed in reality and humorous mild cynicism for example.

For this story to form director Frank Berry has meticulously scoured the prisons and youth communities researching via. workshops, as noted on the Subotica and Write Direction Films press release, yet there is no laboured documentary replication or false dialogue in any scene.  He has taken the subject matter of the reality of contemporary life in the justice system and the conduits of social deprivation and lack of social development to shape a vision which goes beyond the mere postcode of Dublin.  The stories lineage is from the home to school to employment and self development, the absence of suitable role models and the historically corrupt system, presents that which envelops most youth, not given the learning opportunities and advantages of the ‘gameplayers’ whose sole interests seem embedded in their chosen corporate or government chosen level of existence.

The latitude of film making allows for and is representative for those without voices. This is a truth spoken on the complex state composition and boundaries which are challenges set before youth.

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What’s Inside
Michael Inside is both the internal mind and thinking of a young man as he sees each day. He is seen to be intelligent and diligent while his peers are a mixed less well equipped group and he hangs around sharing the outlook without options.

GAA is not on the horizon and handpicked sports other than boxing are off the radar. Michael is on the edge of trouble as it becomes evident the drugs scene around his postcode is strident and has his peers as bait and prey.
The Inside part of the shaping of the mind is very hard to convey. The way it is dealt with is through the learning experiences passed on through the generations. School is now re-engaged and this is read by Michael as attainable and within his scope and self understanding.

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Francis the carer
From the beginning of this film to the end you are never far from realty.  The story is based on those examined events and interviews/workshops found by Frank Berry of those in prison and outside.  The role of the central character is to maybe show the viewer that young person Michael as someone on the interior of a nightmare and live with it and it’s message.  Every scene is collected in a tangible tacit way with the viewer in almost within the story. Hard as it seems the closeness is delivered by the direction and cinematography which is devastatingly immersive.  There are the pacing scenes of the tracking outdoors and between places but mostly the scenes are as witnesses.

My early attention was drawn to the dynamic which is the relationship between Michael McCrea (Dafhyd Flynn), and his grandfather Francis (Lalor Roddy) because in itself it became a core balancing act of dilemmas facing each. The family now consists of them. It becomes evident the father is missing and incarcerated. Michael’s mother is no longer around and Francis is looked after by a paternal grandfather down from the North whose job it is to raise Michael in the parents absence.

This has been a programme of involvement appearing to have been in existence for some time. Francis and Michael help each other out with the day to day tasks. Another thing is the bond which is warm and positive. While there have been issues regarding education and breakdown there is in place a future which Francis sees developing with Michael on both their parts containing an outlook determined to beat the shared history disrupted by the family circumstances.

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Even a future addition (I’m stretching it! his girlfriend is very young and the incredible actor Hazel Doupe who has become a go to in so many short films and other TV drama roles) to the family is suggested to acquaint Michael with a love interest. Dafhyd Flynn is restrained and controlled in his playing of this difficult part. His approach is to be lean and often reflective and relies on the skills he has in small gestures and unhurried but electric delivery. Along with the film this might be compared to Starred Up with its central character played by Jack O’Connell (Unbroken, ‘71) they are twinned in having created their parts with equal skill and give superb performances in this zone of seldom engaged role.

There are questions for the young woman/girl, Michaels girlfriend Orla Kerr (Hazel Doupe) to think on. There are messages to be found in the words softly spoken but ultimately delivered – noises off – by the sparsely attended pine lined Courtroom female judge whose own tones are very youthful. There is the excursion to the Prison and the process where the pace is slowed down and incremental taking in detail such as pier pressure from other prisoners whose language is their own anxiety spat out at the wrong person in absence of mind. The detail of the blue lit holding room where it is impossible to see a vein if the prisoner has smuggled in a drug to self administer is seen.  There is the non-threatening pleasant demeanor of the Prison officers, themselves doing only their duty and never being abusive or overstepping the mark or authority this ‘justice’ hierarchy has put in place which is considered truthful and honest currently.  There is a harmony which Frank Berry makes sure you become aware of through the pace this core part of Michael actually crossing another threshold into an adult world fee are prepared for or find as they perceive it.  Then the journey of the Prison incarceration is dealt out with unpredicted sharp short shocks as they follow on, opposite in character from the closing naive words of the Courtroom Magistrate echoing all around Michael. The journey is dealt with in revelation for those not familiar and even as fresh insight to the ‘system’ users (both sections) themselves.
While this is a fiction of the state of life surrounding societies justice system in Ireland and the pressures and relentless challenges brought about as manipulated by victims and perpetrators the acting out of a story in this way can only have positive outcomes. It informs on many levels and it may persuade more than conventional and framed sectoral prognosis some in the bleak place this conveys.

 

The political bit (avoid if editorial)
The tolerance and mutual strengths are explicitly laid out and engaged with it becoming apparent Michael has ambition which is driven by a renewed vigour in his life in education. Being in the environment – which in one instance is read by a fellow prisoner as a trap they are all caught up in as if they are being institutionally victimised. The life strategies are limited and very bleak given the mess the corrupt system and spoiled institutions harbour for the neglected communities which make up the suburbs and inner city ‘ghettos’ . The hope delivered over the years is powder and dust since the period of modernity following the sixties and the JFK spoiler of the state of the Republic of Ireland. Backwater tax machinations are the industrial hegemony inherited. Where Ireland began and faltered on the backbone of division of the Island in the 1920’s socialist, Republican idealists held empty political promises and became corrupted by its own violence. A delivery of labour to manifestly be subjugated in a mimicry of the British working classes while the rich rewarded themselves even becoming Premiers and messengers for fantasy politics. From De Valera, Lemass, sycophancy and Church adherence, to Abernathy meeting the Golden circles pig swilling and in exile money laundering, Reynolds and Haughey showing their vestages of impurity in ego driven leadership. Mothers of Ireland hanging their heads in shame of the child. Absent and forlorn or in flux.

There is a perception in lots of political conversation that there is a one part enemy to be taken down.  While a political philosophy may have its positives there is the overriding human negating the order sought and it is – once ‘licenced from above or below – the latter being a vile act repeated such as the introduction by the IRA of the car bomb – in this film the brother of the friend is caught up in this mechanism of political abuse.  He imitates those above and below.

It remains those egregious methods once blamed on the top echelon of society (it is quite legitimate so to do) only progress by the use down the rungs as those below use them to clamber up. Seeing there is a contract it is broken denying the Wesleyan concepts being not misunderstood but discarded. That is a notion coming straight out of the novel descriptive of 16th century society I happened to be reading! The Mermaid and Mr Hancock.

Prison reform

Here I have to mention the reform happening within the Republic of Ireland Justice and Prison system. Incrementally change is happening. Lord Longford once was heralded as a legendary lone wolf prison reformer. (His daughter Antonia Fraser once said he couldn’t boil a kettle and Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously stated that Longford had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old.) Privileged as he was and totally wrong on many issues he nevertheless found a clarity if not notoriety in Prisoner Rights and formed some shock filled relationships. There came from it good works. ‘He also initiated practical measures to ease offenders’ reintegration into society. He founded the New Bridge in 1955, the first organisation dedicated to ex-prisoners’ welfare. In 1970, he established, in New Horizon, the first drop-in centre for homeless teenagers. Until the end, he spent time at New Horizon’s offices, oblivious to its users’ sometimes rough teasing, anxious to understand what had alienated them from the mainstream.

He also contributed a series of learned reports on penal reform during Labour’s period out of office between Attlee and Wilson. He chaired the committee which, in 1963, recommended the setting-up of the parole system, still the bedrock of the current system.’ Guardian 2001.

Now such reforms are a staple of the work of Prison and Justice practice. In ROI the justice system is improving but many issues remain. With the idea of ‘privatization’ abandoned in the early part of the decade, and a new approach to practical measures this is borne out in the approach this film takes. Nevertheless the listening to Prisoners phone calls, the use of a separate Healthcare system, (4 babies born last year in Mountjoy) and the class of rehabilitation stymied by cost and process there is much wrong with the resolution of the causes and effects presenting.

 

Real Cinema
This film is as close as cinema can get to a subject without destroying the object of exploration and learning by the process. I am reminded of the modern Irish Shakespeare, Dave Duggan and something he said at the time of his second encounter with a major health problem – thankfully he is out of the vicinity of that, in 2014, – while writing Makaronik, an archival piece! He traverses the same topography know in the Irish psyche that cinema is using in specific people driven storytelling. (Read more at: https://www.derryjournal.com/news/the-indestructible-dave-duggan-1-6402054) of which he states on Theatre “My plays may seem to be varied, but they are essentially all about the same thing. They are all about humans in a small group, be it in a family or a work place – and they are dealing with an issue against a bigger backdrop. There is a unity to their experience – what I write may seem to differ greatly from work to work, but my plays are all about the human experience, the human condition. “They are about the choices people make and how those choices affect them and those around them.”
Along with this approach he covered ‘the troubles’ by the method adopted in AH 6905 (2005), produced in Afghanistan in 2008. (1969 to 2005) Well worth seeing.

You can see the family setting he refers to applied here with the disintegration almost palpable and coming at you out of the screen. Lalor Roddy is superb in this and brings the soft gentle Beckett strange delivery he has within him, that it needs to soften the blow. He does this for Michael and with decent well honed words this astute wisdom is tangible and the actors gift which is delivering the core of the elements gathered and intersecting. The weave is complex and difficult and could easily have gone wrong numerous times. It is totally astonishing how well this film is able to hold onto its simplest message while calling subconsciously for your thoughts to continue beyond the walls in taking this third wall onward to read beyond this time.

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Conclusion ####4
From the opening of this film it creates a picture seldom visited in Cinema other than in search of heroics or misfeasance often over saturated with alarming violence and few shades of truth. Amid the diet of crime situational drama and the oversimplification of crime dramas this is a portrait of a family facing its destruction unless the struggle is confronted with stoic and stark realism. Michael Inside demands a very questioning approach from the viewer in order to receive the accumulation of wisdom the method of workshops, listening, scripting and story telling have unearthed. Frank Berry probably seeks your attention to the interior mindset as it is equipped at this age, 18, of Michael in this set of circumstances, in a modern Dublin in an educational system as divided by class and wealth as most western ‘democracies’ in Europe. (Scandinavian education aside!) to which further circumstantial predicament presents. The film observes through a brilliant visual and meticulously developed script a story conveying a small element of struggle which is huge in its message and insightful approach.  There is no over reliance on the violence which is both present and frequent.  There is a crossing from Home to Court to Home. From Home to Court to Jail.  Journeys are relayed by Francis and Michael and paths traced out.  Together and alone. Almost visions of reflection themselves.  Interludes and false ends are visited and complexities reasoned with. When it reached its conclusion it made a very distinct manourvere which made me recall the film Ordet by Carl Theodor Dreyer. The ending is similar in that it leaves you hanging and wondering what happens next in a way seldom seen in cinema. I wondered how connected the two films might be with this device being used, where there is absolutely a pure expression of something beyond that you will have to find and fill in for yourself.  Extraordinary and valued achievement.

John Graham

14 May 2018

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre form 11 May until 24 May 2018

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