Insyriated : A Film Review


Insyriated

Director. Philippe Van Leeuw, Written by Philippe Van Leeuw.

Cast. Hiam Abbass as Oum Yazan (no birth name), Diamand Bou Abboud as Halima, Juliette Navis as Delhani, Mohsen Abbas as Abou Monzer, Moustapha Al Kar as Samir, Alissar Kaghadou as Yara, Ninar Halabi as Aliya, Mohammad Jihad as Sleik Yazan, Elias Khatter as Karim, Husam Chadat as Man 1.

Music by Jean-Luc Fafchamps. Cinematography by Virginie Surdej. Film Editing by Gladys Joujou. First Assistant Director, Jean-François Ravagnan.

Producers: Guillaume Malandrin, Serge Zeitoun. Co-producers: Tomas Leyers, Pierre Sarraf.

Duration 1hr 25mins. Country, Belgium. Language, Arabic. English subtitles. Certificate 18.

War in a day.

This is a social political drama which claustrophobically is set in an apartment building, in the war torn Syrian capital Damascus, surrounded with the sounds of war. Occupying the fourth floor of the building is matriarch Oum Yazan played superbly by Hiam Abbass, a very well known Israeli/Palestinian actress whose films include Lemon Tree (2008) Amreeka (2009) The Visitor (2008) and Inheritance (2012). She is despite the war danger all around her, is not for moving. Having found a home it is unconscionable she should give up what has become her family life. Heading the cast she and Juliette Navis and Diamand Bou Abboud are joined by the remainder of the cast, real Syrian refugees who’d never acted before so all the child are on a formidable journey in many different ways.
Cinematographer turned director Phillipe Van Leeuw deals – again, with a stark war situation having previously delivered an equally horrific film; that is a warning already, set in the Rwanda genocide – The Day God Went Away. Like this film it concerns itself with the humanity.   He avoids the politics and us and them scenarios but deals with the war’s impact and people’s mobility, immobility.  This is filmed in Lebanon.  Undoubtedly it is a difficult watch.  Unforgiving in its telling and though slightly overdoes it on occasion, it never underestimates the dreadful negative power of violence underpinning not just individuals but nations.  His use of a hand held camera is a very effective tool in the confines of the apartment and it pulls you in almost as an involuntary observer.  To the sounds continuing outside, rapid fire machine guns, sniper fire, overhead missiles flight, bombings, sirens, explosions, you react and every tension is felt.  Never are the politics of a domestic civil war and proxy international war any part of the message except the axiomatic one of wars never having solutions with these stories part of the telling.

Our interior lives.

For a film to confine itself to the interior world of an apartment it immediate sets up the people within it to interact, by each revealing increment, individual nuances of the characters own place in this Damascus oppressive and stifling setting.  Every character is neatly framed in their willingness or stoicism acceptance of this strange and rapidly altering unstable place.  The children too exhibit fear and confusion of what it means as a part of their lives. All compartmentise their lives within this space.
Seemingly assured and on the other hand, equally concealing her terror, matriarch Oum Yazan takes the audience into the screen.  Each movement becomes, in the hand held direction of the camera, something tangible and present.  We enter the bedroom to be introduced to a sleeping Samir played by Moustapha Al Kar, with crouched leaning back against the bed a softly reflective Halima whose face is like a Botticelli. Played by Beirut born Diamand Abou Abboud, with Void (2013) Stable Unstable (2013) and Doukhan bila nar (2008) on her roster as well as being a writer, she is a mother with turmoil ravaging her thoughts.  The family Samir, Halima and baby son have flight on their minds.   Her expressions draw you into the tragedy of the situation and her part is pivotal with a life changing act following on from another hidden horror.

This sense of insular tense insecurity grows as the fellow occupants of the apartment join the story.  Oum’s daughters Yara (Alissar Kaghadou) and Aliya (Ninar Halabi), a son Yazan (Mohammad Jihad Sleik), her father-in-law Mustafa (Mohsen Abbas), and their maid Delhani (Juliette Navis).  Then there is the family mentioned above, Halima (Diamand Abou Abboud), Selim (Moustapha Al Kar), and their newborn child who have come down from a floor above and Yara’s boyfriend, Kareem (Elias Khatter), child after child is introduced.  The children being non-actors perform extraordinarily and it occurs to you that this is the common currency of their lives, being Refugees now in Jordan. Then the cast absorbs you completely with their story.

This film, as reviewer MK has already quickly noticed, bears a similarity to one of my favourite films of the recent year gone, Under the Shadow. Both are set in an interior World. There is horror in both. There is a common deception and an inability to deal with issues among people and the terror is not held back by withholding truth. People deceive even when they are relied on to be honest.  Coming to dilemma early on, Oum Yazan is confronted with choice and it is a real one with her being told something witnessed by the maid Dalhani.  I think it is a valid choice given the regard for their safety and time needed to take in the enormity of the incident.  Some others record it differently.  Their choice and both valid as neither of us will have had that choice to make.
The burden of knowing is torturous and the tension is felt unbearable within the film.

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Humanitarian chains.

The humanitarian dilemma faced in the place, the apartment building all would call their home, begins to loose its sense of permanence and stable routine has now vanished on the will of others which imperils this group with fate no longer determined by them but by the external and the fragility of living in a war torn conflict zone.  World power struggles are on their street and huge resources of phenomenal destructive war weaponry is the reality just outside their walls. Even weaponry which is banned from conflict use is in being deployed. The bare rule making and war baiting has no longer any place or role. Outside their home, in its streets, it is incandescent with fury and the complete failure of mankind to reconcile or recoil from violent means of governance.  Liberty, equalitarianism is nowhere to be found.

Stark reality.
When the rooms were the film takes place within one day, are seen they too tell a story. Syrian, Arabic decor is never primary in flour and this is part of the design in this film. It puts across colour as intensity removed. Blues, Yellows, Greens, Reds, each soulfully reflective of nature. There are the washed walls which are lightly colour and not dark heavy boundaries. The curtains too are exquisitely patterned in Arabic sometimes modernist interpretations of ancient patterns. In the old kitchen the tall tiled splash back wall tiles are circles and swirls as in micro form natures patterns disclose under the micro scope. This is the home Oum fashions in a decorous respectful history for herself and her children. She looks into the horizontal oval of the bathroom mirror and Syrian life looks back with modernity ranged across the shelf under with a collection of multi colored toothbrushes and the usual soap, shavers, milieu of homes anywhere in the ‘developed world. The bombs and machine gun fire provide a symphony from the devil.  All the rooms have wall hangings. In the room Grandfather sits, the acquired and steadfastly defended ante-room off the Dining Room, he diagonally faces the world from behind the corner of a small square table around which are four chairs. It is strange initially to see him not in a comfortable chair but his chosen spot is too a symbol of the insecurity in everyone’s minds.

Arranged along the wall facing towards the open arch to the Dining Room is a vast collection of Books arranged up to the ceiling. On the wall lithograph black and white pictures, prints possibly, illustrating the Syrian mind.  One is of a pair squatting on the ground in an exterior as if they have stopped on a journey. Something of the Bedouin about it. They look at the centre and above it is and behind is a bird with other smaller birds in flight above. Another has a long mountainous valley with a dark side on one side and slightly lighter on the other as what appear to people walking away through this valley perhaps to an unknown place. There in a few prints you have fixed society, harmony and pressing on. A red rug is hung on another wall and around the Dining Room are family photographs carefully arranged in decorative frames on fine furniture. Then there is a centrepiece on which Oum in a scene displays a longing and almost listens to its pro memora for its advice. A moment which has similarity to a scene in the aforementioned Under the Shadow. The Dining table is a huge eight seater mahogany or walnut split highly polished table with all the matching seats. In prime position as a focal point of the held traditions Oum holds tight to, it is providing solace and assurance of identity, manifest in a continuity of history now in the throes of alteration which might be irretrievable. This is something everyone can relate to and is very cleverly used as a cinematic device of profound significance.
What passes for modern.
In contrast to the interior so far described there comes the hallway decoration which lifts itself into the twentieth century uncompromisingly with on one wall a Warhol type red lithoprint of possibly Blueswoman Janis Joplin. A far more impactive design carefully chosen by the imaginative Phillipe Van Leeuw asserting his wide ranging skills is in the room where the family from above are given. It is a child’s bedroom given over to the young family. On its walls are a Dave Matthews Band Psychedelic band poster.  Above the bed are arranged Small white discs like linking stars. Most imaginative, as we see when we look at a distraught Halima holding her cherished baby, are two space posters. On the left is a spacecraft launch looking like the USA, ballistic missile propelled Voyager, with alongside it a Russian equivalent.  Hugely implying hope and unknown destiny and a race between nations for greater status and I think contextually it has a shocking convergence on screen, within the film, with the image collecting narratives and spilling them out for our digestion.   A pretty remarkable but simply resonance for us and of the Directors overall intent.

Supercharge tension.
Only occasionally moments of terror and their pace seem wrong. When it is mentally rushing scenes occasionally lack the consistent pace and fall flat or flow in the wrong way. One which is fully on pace and very intense is the treatment of a core brutal act of violence which has the horror of mindless acts enter the flat itself. There is a climb towards a horrific attack inside the apartment which has a deeply impacting very brutal effect on the group. With the outside militants having the home in brutal fashion one young family member goes outside, as another had done in the beginning, to take on the courageous act which puts him in the same danger. He sees it as his duty and bravery is implicit through the whole ensemble facing down entrapment.  For a young person this is testimony to him of the proximity of war and the need to survive.  We see how all symbols of war, conscripted ancient allies have been corrupted unimaginably and it puts forward too the very present act of mans suppression of woman in search of power and control which these infidels see as a medusas head or a hydra of myths of Andromeda and the space allusion again used as an allegory which is a departure from God.
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Infidels
Infidels, they are known in the Muslim faith as kaffirs have contested meaning.  Both, according to my own beliefs, signify someone who lacks all and any faith Christian, Muslim or other.  For faith is to have belief in the simple message of the Word a God the Messiah, a Prophet or messenger of religion found in acceptance to a higher dominion one no one has complete knowledge or control of.   Fundamentally this places the infidel as someone who rejects all dominions of faith. It is not exclusive to one religion or another but is a part of the human flaws which religious beliefs seek to offset and overcome through faith.
Using these terms as absolute is not adequate either. It seems Infidels themselves appropriate rejection and not inclusion as a belief to suit their own worldly means. To me an Infidel is a person who disbelieves or doubts a particular theory, belief, creed, and other extensions of the spiritual world and each belief form has within it detractors and ‘infidels’. This film puts across a faith in humanity despite the infidels war on people’s souls right outside and visits their home. Some religions have not found in their own faith enough to appeal to reconcile differences and project the ‘love thy neighbour’ credo. This is through perhaps division and separateness from a core simplicity. The Word if you like.
There are no shortage of views on this fundamental disconnection with the intrinsic human core of goodness. One we see in its various forms in Insyriated. The distractions have been overwhelming across the millennia and this film places another fine contemporaneous view which is extremely explicit in its focus on the humanity trapped inside and by false projections brutalisng all humanity.

Here are some other words I revisited lately. These words are recalled Well, God is in his heaven And we all want what’s his, But power and greed and corruptible seed Seem to be all what there is. Some might remember it is Bob Dylan’s Blind Willie McTell describing for me the void, absence of common sense and covers and crosses boundaries will remaining within the pain. The peril of the people is even more tragic.

Conclusion ####4

For some the title will appear uninformative and it is a strange choice especially as the European Director (Belgian) must have a handle on what is impactive.

        

Insyriated is perhaps a Syrian translation ongoing and a portrayal of interventions uncalled for and unwelcome. More than unwelcome the are faced with a tyrannical regime and a counterinsurgency with multiple heads and aims. Captured in a domestic vice with war raging all around in one day we follow the outcomes as they change within seconds facing further and further brutalisation of their existence. The very connections with Bedoiun nomadic lives are kept fast as the film takes care and very vividly drawn us into its claustrophobic world which gathers and grows ever menacing and disturbing through events unfolding before our eyes. We are a the eyes of an observer who is in the direction almost within the rooms where the scenarios unfold.  Each room tells a part of the story and the apartment is sizable enough for scenes and people to separate and be alone with their knowledge. Each of the children play a great part in seeing as we do things as they contrast with their world expectations. The hand held camera is a device which grips us and won’t let go of the escalating and worsening fate. As invisible characters our eyes are intimately gathering and making comparisons and judgements based on our own views. The nerves bristle and sudden changes impress on the viewer and force reactions which are in the moment as you place yourself inside it albeit avoiding the consequences in others harms way.

There will be few films to match this dramatic gripping treatment of a conflict we know little of. Aleppo is another place and where another entirely different but genocidal War is being carried out while other detached twin warfares carry on in other cities and settled rural communities. Documentaries and heavily edited news reporting are often the only means of being witnesses to the wide arena of war zones. This film takes us away from the politics and culturally fights a battle for humanity with the brave and superb acting of people whose investment in the film is over and above anything you see on a regular basis. The actors have invested themselves in this and it is clearly something which they care for with passion. There is one scene where they retreat to the kitchen which is the ‘safest’ refuge on hearing explosions are close by. The camera remains still and the rooms atmosphere pours out in the movements and reactions of individuals as their movements shift in harmony and with individual anxiety. It is like looking into a Biblical painting as it is intensely absorbing. One of the occasions when they pause and wait and we watch flabbergasted, shocked and overcome along with them. Disbelieving and suppressing the truth of the reality happening everywhere.

John Graham

14 September 2017

Belfast

Insyriated will screen at QFT from 15th September 2017 until 21st September 2017.

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God’s Own Country : A Film Review


God’s Own Country 

Directed by Francis Lee. Produced by Manon Ardisson, Anna Duffield, Diarmid Scrimshaw,  Jack Tarling.  Written by Francis Lee. Cast . Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Ian Hart, Gemma Jones.  Cinematography Joshua James Richards.  Edited by Chris Wyatt.  Production companies. Inflammable Films, Magic Bear Productions, Shudder Films. 1hr 45mins. Cert. 15.

Introduction

The BFI sponsored Gods Own Country provides this introduction – Both post-gay and pre-Brexit, Francis Lee’s debut feature is anything but a straightforward coming-out tale. Instead it’s an eerily beautiful love story between two men and the wild Yorkshire landscape. The film is partly based on writer and director Lee’s own life, where he also had to make a decision to either stay and work on his family’s farm, or whether to go off to drama school.

Basis

Francis Lees first feature film is a portrait of contemporary life in the Pennines for a family beset with troubles keeping their small farm going. Johnny Saxby played with grim determination, by a frequently sullen Josh O’Connor has the task of taking on his fathers chores and running the isolated hill top farm above the city of Bradford in its foothills. Keithley is in the civic boundaries of Bradford yet is a generation or two away from the complexities of urbanity and the arduous task of taking on a farms relentless time consuming running.


Ponderous Pennines

Endless labour and maintenance sits badly with John. He is nevertheless conscious of the help needed, as his father Martin played with sturdy robust effectiveness by Ian Hart, is in recovery from a stroke and is unable to walk without the aid of crutches.   His grandmother who runs the house is the resolute Gemma Jones making up a strong cast who are joined by the fourth pillar of the film, Romanian worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) a seasonal worker. They have put out requests for assistance on the farm and his was the only reply.
From the beginning this film is framed simply around the central activities of the locality familiar to rural people and the land is suitable only for sheep grazing and rearing and the keep of some heifers.  They are few and they are equally on a limited mission to produce the occasional calf.   The work is centred on the sheep flock and the season is spring when plenty of work is needed. Day and night.

Labour

Johnny is seen in the initial stages as this forlorn character who is capable and knowing, in the labours and tasks which his father daily repeats.  Martin still in charge, puts across his replayed management regardless of the wishes of a Johnny whose job is lonely and unsatisfying.  The forlorn part of him sees no evidence of a future as the daily grind is unremitting.   Also clear from the beginning is his waywardness and mental need for company and he embarks on satisfying his wants by having gay sex with a local who offers him this release which he uses as a separate but fraught fulfilment.  It is contrasting with his bi-sexual failings with a young woman who has briefly returned from College and shows his anxiety at not being able to construct what might have been, signalled only, an alternative relationship of mutual satisfaction.  He rails against this young brief returnee who all too clearly puts in place his fixity.   He cannot and will not let down either his father or Grandmother and sees the road ahead as a tough and daunting reality which he must endure.


The predicament is played out extremely sensitively to show the sensitivity of commitment, to severance,  with what is – the other member of the cast I failed to mention – Gods own Country – and the beautiful countrysid.  It has barely altered rugged stones hill as grasslands climbing above the tungsten lights and sodium arcs other city of Bradford below.  It venerates both the city and the locality of the farm in essence placing town against country in the narrative.

Land aplenty –  another country

Gheorghe Is the incomer and Johnny is in need of his assistance big time.  The work is gathering pace with work on fences, stone walls tumbled, feeding, heifers as well as sheep in the throes of birthing new born calves and lambs.  Gheorghe is a stronger and more mentally attuned to the agricultural labours needed around him.  That quickly becomes apparent this is something of a salvation for Gheorghe as it takes him back to the farming he grew up with.  He comes from a country which has a greater wealth of agricultural land and is capable of feeding a large part of Europe but is is as he tells John, a Dead Country. Despite the Romanians having kept hold of a tough and contested country and past the days where the Romanians, because of some of their nation’s population being nomadic, denying them the rights of ‘landowners’ – the landgrabbers exploiting the displaced as well as the soil.


Education and self definition via. Religious or Cultural establishment was the legacy brought up to and into the 21st century. The land in Romania is unlike any other but migration has destroyed that country after fascist leaders and dictatorial penance brought on by countries neighbouring Romania continuing the explorations and failing to restore a country in turmoil from generations of internal torture and wilful suppression. The EU stood and watched and acted very slowly and inadequately which outcomes now confirm all too evidently.


Ways of living 

Gheorghe Represents another way of doing things and he is in some harmony with this Pennine landscape as it reminds him of the lost opportunities fixed in his mind. Every task is fairly routinely known for him to manage as a farmer should and as many hands make light of work he brings a sense of comfort. John is drawn into exploring the world of Gheorghe and in a central part of the film they converge as both creatures needing each other’s form of contact. They become explicitly intimate and as with earlier scenes they engage in sexual acts which are filmed as escalating bonding.

With this central bonding taking place on the hills in the lambing season and the work interrupting their figuring out what their relationship means to each, the film tries to boil it down in the simplest terms and follows actions as each work away separately and in unison.


This period in which their friendship moves from initial hostility and challenge to friendship and then intimate sexual acts is also a time when John is less in need of the alcohol which his frequent disabuse of has his father and Grandmother outraged and despairing of. He also begins to appreciate the nature and the location more though it’s far from clear what is to happen.
In the hills they are alone to develop their unbridled kinship. It is drawn from their resources and from emptiness and creates a bond which John finds unquenchable. The story is lifted into a soulful place which is matched by the physicality of their relationship.


Bonding alters things

When they return after many days away on the hills living rough in tumbledown stone buildings and only a ‘student staple’ for a diet, (some lager is labelled but no product placement takes place!) it is to a different atmosphere as the routine is shifted with the father Martin being less clear as to his son’s mood and detects its alteration. It is a film about challenges and family with compromises and uncertainties. Both men are at similar points in their lives and are in choices are appearing. Gheorghe Is more fatalistic while at the same time is optimistic. John has no direction in mind and sees only the family responsibility as his primary focus. The stakes rise and the choices are starkly addressed.

I have colour enhanced some of the photographs from the online screen source and trailer and this is a brighter visual than the one seen.

There are a limited number of scenes away from the dales but when it reaches the dales in the hill camp while they tend the lambing sheep and look around them there is a rough and ready state contrasted with the natural continuity provided by the seasonal changes. Though shot for springtime the weather is harsh and little sunlight reaches here.   It would have a brilliant resonance where it to carry on as a film into the ‘summer’ of a relationship as the fragile bond is seen in my mind as one which is left in the compass of things like an uncrossed border.  Though everyone can make up their own mind there is a limbo of thought involved.  There are shades of the family coming out narrative but again the backstory is unfleshed and comprises only the four principals.  Apart from those shades the colour of the film is dulled beyond recognition and there is no metaphorical brightness of contrasting emotions on view.  It is unfortunately meek and dull in colourist terms, which conflicts with the way the place and emotions might and could be envisaged.  It is fixed in the melodramatic depressing theme in all honesty.


Spatial wonder of colour

When it is played out the only seemingly permanent thing possibly to be drawn from it would appear to be the relationship of people in need of helping one another and their being no sole path nor right or wrong way of approaching things but to be capable of discerning what choices are bad ones and not to be reliant on expectations.  The other is the title provides, Gods own Country may seem a bit cliched as a title.   It probably is and no God fearing etc. Tolerance was contained within it – to the naked eye – but it revokes a lot of prerceptions people might have on how relationships form and what attachments are drawn to them. It is a naked attempt quite literally by the writer to have audience affected by what they see and to put down their judgements and not to place notions of – cliched rhetorical retorts – onto something which ought not to concern them while putting forward means to adjust. While it is something of a long drawn out film to make such a point given the meter of open discussion on same sex marriage or civil partnerships, it also seems it an axiomatic subject and deals with the formation of relationships from wherever they gather.

 

Conclusion ###3

The initial stages of the film are a shade dismal with the central figure, Johnny binge drinking, random sexual encounters and overstate the dynamic with some predictability on show.  The authenticity is only raised by the farming composite – in Gods own Country – as it feeds the narrative and the quad bike is a staple road trip type journey into that landscape. Johnny on the farm duties after being told like a schoolboy what his tasks were by a disabled and confined bitter father.  Bitterness rubbing shoulders.  Mud and trailers and binder twine.   There is a lot of shaking of hay later numerous sex scenes and they are sometimes overdrawn and I thought pointless in length and voyeuristic.  They are mixed in locality for variance but after the initial physical bonding they develop little conversation of what they initial thought of each other or about themselves as relationship of any type require. The dialogue is brusque flat Northern and abrupt as well as dulling ly avoiding the centrality of what’s meant behind the words.

The encounters do fill space and the unfolding dynamic is perhaps necessarily spoken through the intimacies.  There is an excellent eye for detail and the film was presumably able to get by with a limited budget and is not overstretching itself by being something of a cinematic juxtaposition of city versus rural visions and it seldom actually puts itself over as being of a lesson on England. It could in fact be anywhere. Montana. Utah. Austria. Romania. Spain. Shades of Brokeback Mountain perhaps.  With the reliance on all those places on patterns of living which are changing rapidly and old values are being supplanted.

The realism is a feature which has the characters develop with some surety in their story and it is believable in that regard. It is an odd set up though with an only son, no relatives, – a scene at which some might be expected is a no show – and the mother never mentioned is not a narrative enabler but a stumbling block perhaps. It is a commentary made, narrow ranged, very well acted and thoughtful film of interest to many quarters but it laboured for me and didn’t offer too many tokens of insightful oblique unique view warranting it’s greater exposure. It was great do to see the exchanges though between the generations and the opposites colliding.

And there are plenty of secrets here. Following his father’s stroke, Johnny Saxby (a terrific, stoically anguished performance from Josh O’Connor) has been forced to take over the daily running of the farm. Surveying his efforts with thin-lipped disapproval are his grandmother (Gemma Jones) and his dad (Ian Hart). With vowels as flat and hard as flagstones, they pass judgment on his efforts. It’s hard to say which weighs him down more – the responsibility or the massive chip on Johnny’s shoulder. To numb his dissatisfaction, he binge-drinks and engages in angry bouts of gay sex with strangers.
Then Romanian worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) arrives to help out over the lambing season. Limpid-eyed and almost painfully handsome, his presence unnerves Johnny, who finds it hard to unpick the difference between aggression and attraction. Their first sexual encounter is all sweat and spit, dirt and urgency. But Gheorghe brings some of the tenderness he shows to the animals into what soon becomes a relationship fuelled by Pot Noodles and stolen moments. Through Gheorghe, Johnny can once again see the beauty in the land he had started to regard as a tomb.

John Graham

7 September 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 8 September through to and including Friday 21 September 2017.
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A Ghost Story

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A Ghost Story

Directed by David Lowery, Produced by Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, Adam Donaghey, Written by David Lowery

Cast, Casey Affleck as C, Rooney Mara as M, Will Oldham as Prognosticator, Sonia Acevedo as Maria, Rob Zabrecky as Pioneer Man, Liz Franke as Linda, Grover Coulson as Man in Wheelchair, Kenneisha Thompson as Doctor, Barlow Jacobs as Gentleman Caller, McColm Sephas Jr. as Little Boy, Kesha as Spirit Girl.

Music by Daniel Hart, Cinematography Andrew Droz Palermo, Edited by David Lowery, Production company Sailor Bear, Zero Trans Fat Productions, Ideaman Studios, Scared Sheetless.  Duration, 1hr 37mins. Country, United States, Language English.  Rating 12a.

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Unconventional and Astonishing 

Classic literature and cinema as varied as Virginia Woolf and “Beetlejuice.” “Poltergeist” inhabit this film.

This is as good a ghost story as your ever likely to see. Not that it’s a conventional form of the horror genre some taking a straight read from the title might anticipate.  It is highly original and dependant on your immersion into its delivery as the tautly drawn characters of the two principles, Rooney Mara as M and Cassey Affleck as C portray the sadness of loss which pulls apart their life as it edges forward with expectations and a highly developed bond halted by arbitrary cruelty.

With a simple device of a costume, in A Ghost Story, David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) is able to fix on place as an integral point of storytelling narrative.  Things happen here in a plot development. Beyond the central presence of the Ghost which is C, Casey Affleck there is a scoping out of place and locality in this borough within Texas.  Corporate America even has a small role. Fundamentally it explores the universe as well as being reliant on the sciences of otherness available with an eye to see, the night sky.  Here it is intensified like a kaleidoscopic moving tableau, like rain in suspension but a surreality we are cosmically involved with some way or other.

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Haunted House some quotes from the Director.

Huffington Post Matthew Jacobs note.  “A Ghost Story” opens with a quote from “A Haunted House,” a Virginia Woolf story that captures an entire lifetime of experiences in fewer than 700 words. “Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting,” a black screen declares within the first few minutes. Woolf’s paragraph continues thusly: “From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure―a ghostly couple.”

“Virginia Woolf’s literature really transformed my own ideas about how to formally represent the passage of time and how time affects us,” Lowery said. “Specifically, the benchmarks are Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and Orlando, all of which have time as a central conceit.” 

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Other people pass through

There are parallax views.  One story within the story is of an occupant of the house, a single Spanish speaking mother who is herself confronted by a ghost.  Her children encounter the disturbance of C presenting himself with only the boy initially seeing this being.  They possibly have a backstory which is perhaps their father as the presence which is their own manifestation of the unreal other world beyond their life boundary.  Only later will it become evident, a house can have competing ghosts.  Also nearby in the house next door is a lost spirit Ghost who has no perception of why the place they are in is of their history.  History is mentioned and M who provides many percussive notes, like tiny bells being hit and signalling to you pellets of knowledge to be taken and consumed. For History C declares its place in his feelings for the house.  M alternatively connects, ‘is got history, not as much as you think.’    This in fact is like a mutation.  In the story this place has several visitors, from frontierspeople, the hopeful Europeans in search of Gods land.  The Real Estate entrepreneurs making a new kingdom – which C visits and observes from foundation stone to its topping out.  This is the same place.

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A vision appears here of a future landscape with Corporate identities fresh and graphic lighting in colour and multiple skyscraping buildings a city advanced on the adjustments made by time.  Sure it has history but it is not one of connection except through sentiment. There is a science where a note is left under a stone.  There is another where a note is slid behind the architrave of the house M and C lived in on a frame which is adjacent to a continual natural, unreal shadow refraction which both caressing their minds. People it is observed like to leave elements behind for others to find. There is not much dialogue and in the beginning as the couple first get out of their small double bed on account of hearing a noise in the night, (the previous ghost?) or the house guest piano – came with the house – vibrating unseen, both go and investigate.  We as observers are on the slow smooth ghostly pace tracking them and stop outside the room.  Rooney Mara draped in a towel stands beyond the doorway as C walks the length of the room to explore.  This is the living room with the old piano still intact and itself a companion piece to the film in oblique ways.  On one occasion it is a dismembered upturned cabinet with its keys still there, barely recognisable but repairable, for anyone with a liking to play something, say Beethovens 9th.

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Ghost in the House

When they return to bed M’s heart beating fast. David Lowery cleverly remains here with an overhead shot as they both return to each other’s space and join up in sharing their life’s existence to almost the point they breathe together at the same pace and heartbeats are in concert.  It has an effecting balancing within the whole locality as well as a very important persuasive points this unified couple with such hope abroad.  It is such a strong and delicate subtle and delicious scene it lets you absorb its connotations and later place them back into the story.  Brilliance of a kind.  Supremely well acted as well it is a powerful force of the life affirmation in the relationship.  A ghost will not trouble them.  You will encounter some issues of these. Small cases full of big dreams. Intensity. Complexity. Surreality. Verity. Impossibility.

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Holistic Cosmos 

The importance of the assessment of life and the creative notion of another world begin where someone prefers to live.

There is only one resolved thing. The present. Neither the future or past can be resolved as we trustingly use memory to embark on journeys of remembrance and formation of reality. The questions keep coming. How has the past concealed such important facts? The facts that determined, while not looking, a life and future. They seem obvious truths but they never occurred to be anyones making. Love existing in places in never looked. Absent or in a void time was wasted, believed in and never saw through.

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Uniform form

Reflection and light is spectral. I organises sight and who we are and shows to others us. The Ghost is in sight as we are in darkness not present in the presented world now visited but part of its recollection. The feeling of being there is real because the emotional state has gone beyond the physical messages. They are not suppressed but surpassed and para-normality, a sense of altered state, is how The Ghost Story perpetuates a vision gone and unsettled. You are just a visitor with only part of the software codes that are in many others hands. Their codes differ and where they link is found meaning and the whole is realised but it’s gaps too are seen as vast empty spaces. The film reveals a pattern and the void. No one has a complete code. Only each will fit and link with the whole as that is the uniformity we share but do not control.

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Bearing comparison

It compares and contrast well with the last memorable Ghost story I really liked Under the Shadow. Similarly the tight reliance on a few characters and the participation of the audience in dissembling the psychological elements and triggers which evoke a personal intimate portrait of someone at the edge of their perception of life. We are here asked to go with the rally M makes as she is so young and will her on. Similarly the female lead in Under the Shadow is in crisis and she internalises it to such a degree she turns her daughter into a powerful spirit who is really in control. But who is in control. Perceptions are what dement her placing new zones of reality in her intellectual capacity to self perceive.

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Form of the narrative
From the beginning this is a story of a couple separated by death. Casey Affleck is of course the Ghost. To take us from the beginning and the split of the loving relationship we see developing, manifest, we are taken into several layers of the sense of place and location by previous and future occupancy of the small piece of land they presently occupy. The principle one ocourse being M and C.

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With an explanation to follow of the relationship and ultimate separation between M and C with the film, showing us they profundity of the new irrevocable relationship – however stagnant or in limbo – we see other people in the second half of the film who come to live there. As implied elsewhere the Spanish speaking family could have been previous occupants. There is a shared house occupancy which is contemporaneous of a group of young people with an older set of cultural disseminators. They are the generation – here in Northern Ireland they are post conflict thirty, forty something, ‘normal’ folk rejecting religion as it is a burden too far, who neverthelesssee in themselves a spiritual dimension nothing speaks to them on. Reliance on ‘adventure’ through mind camps at pseudo intellectual festivals, incorporating everything back into the beat poets and tangentially different racial perspectives right through to the cloak and dagger of science, chemistry and cosmology such as Dr Grof and experiments with oneself is the landscape.

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Prognosticator

Here we have another piece of cultural visitation made eloquently and volubly by a prognosticator who in the shared house at a point in the discussions creates a monologue of totemic breadth while counterpointing the intangibility of a mixed opinion while individual thought (Virginia Wolff enlightenment again) is beyond everyday expression and meaning which shows languages limits. It’s like the search for liberty itself. Liberty is silence. The prognosticator is another giant positive aspect of this film’s trajectory. The meaning being in the above analysis of its own unalterable material restraint and restriction. So the layers alternate and combine to show the second half after this first piece of the story emerges.  This s like a diaphragm of the body of the piece.

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Emergence
When we see M return home in the earliest post death period and see her adjustment move gradually, she is able to leave her door unlocked and a friend comes into the house. She leaves on the living room table a condolence pie. Observed in every action by C Who is standing alongside. The pastry crusted pie is cooked and chilled and covered in silver foil with a note C reads. You are about to witness an extraordinary piece of Cinema. In single take.

M returns shortly afterwards and we have one of the most beautifully crafted scenes of all as M discovers this gift. The extraordinary passage was done twice to arrive at what we witness. The lighting is superb and we see the 4:3 format provide a framing of the notion of grief. From M’s perspective she is responding to a good will gift. C is static and his presence in frame has a bizarre intimacy. Loss on both sides of life. When David Lowery filmed this he was aware of what he wanted from it in terms of dealing with grief but was unaware of reactions it would present or indeed his own. It is of such a forceful affecting mechanical, subjective, composition it tears pages out of the manual of how grief is present and dealt with. There is nothing like it and David Lowery I believe was totally unexpectedly thrown by the effect it makes. The simplicity delivers enormous value for the passage known to almost everyone of process and holding onto a person without abandoning them in the passage through their loss. Internally the scene also contains a love of an entirely invisible remaining link shown never ending. It is mesmerising, spellbinding, hypnotic and compelling.


Observatory

Without going too far into it, the observance is a fixed frame of this location. Its essence of homeliness still intact and reinforced in its simplicity and we are able to ingest the character of M while sharing her current state. It is unnerving and is an essay on the life, life itself. Goodness is everywhere. It can be taken at the stride and in balance. No references are immediately at hand as she is struck by loneliness. You cannot imagine what she is thinking but David Lowery allows multiple interpretations on the factual life, the reality, the past and present in a reorganised place is encapsulated, virtually incontrovertible and not a place any what to be in. The condolence pie has many sweet and sour notes like life itself. It must not be seen as manna from heaven but a part of the passage through. Sweetness and tart combine unbelievably. Food also is life. David Lowery allows this to prove a point in a seminal way and for it to be impactive, providing you with the choice of taking or leaving its core, as it is intensely complex and as multi-tonal as to be as important a piece of Cinema you wish it to be. It’s about you or versions of you as you may have been or shall become. C sees it all. Essentially it provides intangible truth people do not have access to. This never happens.

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Unalloyed brilliance.

I am utterly astounded at how this no-budget movie has in its basic feature film length taken on polarities of our lives as widely, rich, intoxicating as showing for example, the history of the USA and the individual practices and compliances that combine, combined to create the present. The past is visited in the vertical thin pinhooking of a place in Texas. Bosque County. Two principle characters perform the Everyman embodiment of highly normal and undemanding ambitions for themselves as people the future comes from. They are unaware of the agonies arbitrarily ahead of them which they gladly accept for alternatives are rare and we are likewise propelled into a set of new observations which cause you to question the creation and our very existence in this universal dream. The management of life is so finely balanced and M, Rooney Mara, whose playing is immersive and intensely readable, is incredibly persuasive. Casey Affleck as C, is the Everyman with which the connections in the intimate compass, so important and fundamental are joined. They are on the cusp of a beginning and actually on a mission to trade up and ship out of the Texas location they are in; the ideal is itself not sufficient it would appear, and the plans fall apart. The single storey longhouse has a verandah and a connecting rooms layout with all the basic needs and more. The tone is set by a small upright piano which has a sky of thoughts and melodies in its 88 keys.

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Conclusion ##### 5

This is an astonishing film.

It depends so much on your rallying to its central characters two lives. The place of other personalities are just that. Personalities they have no connection with other than the third character, the place. Yet the place could be anywhere. There could be multiple variations of this and I really hope it happens. Taking the basic premise of people in a location which is their locality of living could be set in China, South Korea. France or Ireland. Anywhere basically. It takes just two matched people and a place which – inevitably – has its own back story. It’s like walking on a Donegal beach and forgetting the sand has been hewn from famine victims bones as well as layers of rock and cascading waves. Every step is on someone else’s place and it is to be taken at the deliverance given by God without hurt or harm. The point is to take those steps unfearful.  C is a ghost who retains fear and exercises it and implodes at times.
The film is just astonishing and it is by degrees as evocative as Virginia Wolff’s visionary, exponentially multifaceted, personal intellectual integration with life which she held up and outside looking back down into meaning as seen for herself and how others perceived meaning.

John Graham

9 August 2017

Belfast

A GHOST STORY will screen at QFT from Friday 11th August 2017 until Thursday 24th August 2017.

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Dunkirk : A Film Review

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Dunkirk

Director, Christopher Nolan. Produced by Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas.Written by Christopher Nolan. Cast, Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy. Music by Hans Zimmer. Cinematography Hoyte van Hoytema. Edited by Lee Smith. Production companies, Syncopy Inc. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures

Duration,  1hr 46mins. Country, United Kingdom. Cert. 12a

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Reality is a different thing

A Narrow Sea.                                                                                                                       Every fully formed war film is required to adhere to the history formed beforehand without too much movement to alternative disparate views unless it is to provoke an alteration in the mindset held in perpetuity.  Very clearly Christopher Nolan in firstly conceiving of this depiction of the Dunkirk evacuation is steadfastly complicit in the narrative of heroic proportions in its fullest conception, delivered and spun as a decisive turning point of the Second World War in the sounds of Churchill shaping the morale of the soldiers families sacrificed, lost at war and not returning these 300,000 upwards of 350,000 perhaps, of the troops, massed on the foreshore of Dunkerque  – the French seaport in N France: site of the evacuation of a British expeditionary force, generally taken as 330,000 men who were under German fire May 29–June 4, 1940 have long been memorized in the accounts of the conflict of nations.  The French were to suffer long after under their occupied lands and Great Britain had been fending for itself without the American assistance which culminated in the D-Day landings and bombing raids where frequent across the British aisles.  The Warships and Fleet of the Navy were constructed by the efforts of one nation to be a seafaring warrior invincible force or as its motto pronounces –

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“Si vis pacem, para bellum” (Latin); “If you wish for peace, prepare for war”

Seagoing vessels were the materials of war in the face of a stranded army of the numbers reaching 400,000.  A city population.  A measure, in only small proportion, of the military engaged in the War.  Yet it was of unconscionable, irrational and unparelleled significance for a relatively small and diverse nation like Great Britain and Northern Ireland to believe it had come to this.  So early in the War a catastrophe had been encountered and seen off albeit at great cost.

Here in Northern Ireland mortar shells and aircraft where made and ships repaired, sent out again to the battle for freedom. Other nations sent their battleships.

The troops stranded were of all ranks and former occupations.  So we’re the masters of the little armada across the channel.

Virtue is requisitioned for the parade of heroics on the screen. The Everyman character of a South coast pleasure craft boatman in the shape of Mark Rylance who plays a key role in framing the ordinary understanding of militarism.  Set against the other roles of Army Colonel    Whose men are ranged along the beach of Dunkirk, all 400,000 of them, against the fleets force of around 50,000 to 70,000 there is a conflict of man management ranged along the stretch of the Mole jutting out from the port into deep waters.  The draft of low and high water, as Kenneth Branagh playing the shoreline commander,  advises his Army counterpart of the realities and nearness of danger, in some 21 feet, while both witness and are part of the shearing of piers structure in parts in the strange of heavy bombardment by German fighter planes targeting them and the prone beach. This is a Theatre of breathtaking life taking jeopardy and multi stories of bravery weave in and out against the backdrop of a constantly returning sky and ceaselessly flowing tides.  On the tides of men journeys are taken as the conditions present.  Ships, even Hospital Ships are no safe heaven, some even becoming victims of the constant barrage from above.  The Royal Marines are also in close proximity as agents of the Navy and Infantry which is summed up in their motto –

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“Per Mare, Per Terram” (Latin); “By Sea, By Land”  Royal Marines.

As this was a conflict with opportunist pilots of the Luftwaffe targeting the beachheads and any approaching or leaving vessels the strength of the Spitfires and the training of British pilots was a key element and behind the visors of three Spitfires feature some of the dramatic air dogfights and in a suitably masterful expedious treatment the Tom Hardy we relate to is a standout hero of invincible acuity.   He brings hindsight – the Directors fashioned role relating writers conceited backward motioned nod to the British Bulldog and delivers in waves.  Whether he is a victim of the deep or survives is for you to find out.

The role of the Infantry is very interesting in the whole composite of War.  They are the masses and in this film they are the victims alive or dead.  Captain of the tiny Moonstone vessel Mark Rylance ponders this axiom in the spoils of War.  The spent shellshocked men who live and will survive to march on Remembrance Sunday remembering their comrades and even families bombed in uderground railway stations or their homes.  The indivisible invisible death toll mere memory.  Mark Rylance has reflected on it to his youngest son, the eldest having flown a Hurricane.  He puts the imparted knowledge of his son into full speed dial at the helm of his boat in the face of danger the nearer they are to France.

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Recreating History
In the recently broadcast Reith Lecture choreographed by the indulgent Sue Lawley, Hillary Mantell strifes gallantly to address the consciousness of raw History by telling us in mild self adulation that she ‘got the reformation done in two pages.’ History is as you navigate it and the preposterously Catholic hating or hurtfully damaging, telling of the brush strokes of Cromwellian liquidity was moderately annoying in the books themselves. They are big selling books with hierarchical hubris and English conceit pressed and sold in vast blocks of paper. The film Dunkirk has a backdrop in which Historical advisor Joshua Levine states “Everything that’s celebrated about World War II – in Britain, in the United States and …. is about the preservation of freedom”. So Christopher Nolan is caught finely balancing too much glorification of the spirit delivering the evacuation and the enormity of the catastrophic losses and effect on moral brought about by the cornering of 400,000 British, French, Belgian and Canadian troops.

Taking the participation of the removal commanders, with Kenneth Branagh prominent as the British Naval Commander who strides the border in Dunkirk between land and sea with the knowledge the tidal difference is 21 feet between tides and the majority of the time it has a shallow draft beach which is suitable over long periods to land small craft only and evacuate as many as possible. 26 miles separate England and France. Stories overlap in this multilayered film as many incidents are followed as they occur in long passages over a week say with the troops stranded for over a week, the Spitfires in action in just a day and in rough seas the boat crossing over 12 hours passage.

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Factual portrayal
While Writer, Director, Producer, has set aside using CGI and has mounted a three tiered plot interweave it has in all three elements large gaps un-filled. The beach warfare may be suitable, but not in my mind, for a younger audience, the darker, weather beaten, weakened force who have trekked to this staging post to find it is not an established escape route, are themselves embattled and are by the fact 16 groups of Infantry form a bastion of defense all around Dunkirk, this element does not feature. It also for my viewing begun with a shaky start as a more film school prologue in its arrival of a group of soldiers and they have not yet reached the Infantry line and the soldiers on that line practically stand up in the face of gunfire from an unseen enemy. There is no enemy seen, even in the Messerschmidt’s our on the ground. So it lacks credibility on those counts in my mind.

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On the sea there are several things despite the magnitude of the production which the production designer has dropped in some unaccountable scenes of a small flotilla seen at a critical point as if Enid Blyton like, the Famous Five have arrived and the very, very, heavy densely packed seas are a tokenistic gestural vision.  Even the lack of Warships is noticeable.  The French, Belgian, Dutch, English vessels which lifted 95% of the survivors were unaccounted for visually.  The weather also played a part in the sky as well as the beaches and the cloud cover was much heavier.  The Spitfire combat sorties were much bigger.  Two squadrons each time with air time of no greater than just around an hour came to 24 Spitfires.  A group of fighter planes no matter how effective and startling they convey the rawness of the or mission fell well below actual events and in more were conducted in more compact and hostile weather windows.  We see instead a trio of planes in most action.

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Technique
Every sequence is differently approached. For the filming of the air battles it is the vastness of panoramas IMAX is deployed. Very little us of CGI or underpinning digital effects is utilised. In doing this the audience is pulled into the action in as realistic a way as Cinema can provide in the comfort of a movie theatre. Primarily it is a world away from actual events and due to its familiarity as a feature of the British inherent spirit long embraced, it is harder to suspend the immersion and maintain viscerally the connections sought through the screen.

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Very little can be faulted in the enormous logistical planning and forming of each time cycle with its fast interweaving edit by Lee Smith. Cinematography by Hoyle van Hoytema. Special effects supervisor Scott Fisher co-ordinating a legion of extras as stunt men – the credit roll shows a vast number of participants – in perilous uniform motion diving from ships, climbing ropes, ditching from planes boats and bridges, along with the onrush of cascades of water within confined below decks, tilting sinking footholds and the rip of explosions behind in from and on top of the many deployed in scenes of hugely impressive action sequences.

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The onward beat of the several lucky strikes, unlucky strike conveyed the bitter irony of the arbitrary nature of victim and survivor. Medals are despatched with notes and worn in memorial and posthumously by the few who saved the many and sacrificed unfathomable courage and their psyche to the destructive violations of war. Ever town has its memorial and each is related to particular events formed under the broad church of what is know as World War II. For the task the technique of IMAX utilised before in The Dark Knight, along with those that followed, Inception, Interstellar, gave creative credibility to scenes with a tautness, fixity, and tension unnerving absorbent.

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Cockpit scenes in particular are key to this connectivity of motion, while scenes skip from the burning oil slicks of sinking ships with men floating every which way and submerging, bouncing on the rough seas, some atrophied corpses not suitable in either imaged or perceived form for young audiences given the determination of the production to convey the brutal ‘nature’ of war.  Wide shots of static Spitfire with the pilot maneuvering to which we are quickly returned as cockpit scenes sometimes in submersion tanks take on a screen wide frame of the pilot working out what to do next.

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Natures is life’s balance and the removal from of life artificially through abhorrent actions and resulting tragedy is very difficult to absorb even cinematically.  It has the effect of being voyeuristic and removed while done in the name of ‘informative entertainment’ drawing you into a consumption of a false concoction of a historical unfathomable, except for those who were present, even then their memory has sent the worst of the experiences to the depths of their minds beyond everyday retrieval but instantly recalled.

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I went away recalling the pacing of the frames as in beats of five, five, for around particular scenes the jeopardy is quickly drawn in, five, five then as the science became more intense closing in on conclusion, it became three, three, and over it built a factory of sound echoing and firing around the walls of the cinema ramped up indecorously by the overly absurd music of Hans Zimmer. I was put off by much of the score for reasons put down below. The pilots I reference in Primary Roles below.

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Primary roles
Mark Rylance is the common denominator I take, in firstly describing the cadence of this Movie epic. It has no restful reflective moments.  Except one or two in the reading of text on the way home and on arrival – in England where apparent insults and majorly mistaken guilty bitterness of a survivor who is processing his survival it is already a case of wrong interpretation as reflection begins.

Mark Rylance as Mr Dawson, is for me a key entry to this film and it’s construct. He is an acknowledged master of the stage an fully versed in directorial tasks. It is his stage presence he relies on here. He is not concealing his nature but immediately strikes you as what he projects. A man in his late fifties, a pleasure craft boatman in Weymouth Harbour with a 19 year old son Peter, very neatly played by Tom Glynn-Carney sidestepping the more ‘deliberate’ style of Rylance, creating his own in what is a confined environment of the boat, to assist and share the short journey across the sea to Dunkirk. The boat is a mini theatre like a stage inviting into its world stranded soldiers, airmen, and important amongst them it the battle worn unarmed character played by Cillian Murphy. As Moonstone leaves Weymouth Peter’s friend George leaps on board and he is determined to have a role. He is played by the very young Barry Keoghan expertly in shy reservation once on board this haphazard cause. Young Barry (George) has gathered in a number of recent roles and a while back appeared in ’71’. He also has a presence in the Irish TV drama, ‘Love/Hate’ so is no stranger to creating a self image of the role he takes on here with brilliance again, as with Peters role, a measured layered performance.

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The boat also brings out the claustrophobic mind adopted in war situations. Adaptability is no stranger to tight situations and Cillian Murphy majorly fails to adapt having gone through one version of hell. This is why the boat is symbolic of the drift of war violent and subdued at the mercy of outside things off stage and on it.

To be apart of an ‘orchestra’ scored and conducted by US/UK citizen Christopher Nolan, it is proper to set aside the small tokens of acting currency and rely on firmer and clearly understood portrayal of the person within the event. Multiple viewpoints are used in the intrinsic three act memorial to a time which has fastened onto the British psyche for better or worse. Despair is kept hidden and remorse and memorial elevated so the bulldog spirit can be called upon as is the root and knot of the Dunkirk spirit.

Nolan has through necessity found a way to inter weave the various components of the evacuation by segmenting Infantry, Naval, Airborne sequences in a series of set pieces. In the very beginning, Fionn Whitehead playing Tommy as the young soldier having made it to Dunkirk with a few of his comrades, on arrival on the beach he is without a regiment and he encounters another loner, Aueurin Barnard as Gibson, busily burying a soldier in sand. For the story of the Infantry men Nolan takes this ‘model’ soldier to interpret the trap of the beach and he takes his story to other places, sometimes confined, sometimes alone again and it mixes claustrophobic environments with, proximity, close proximity to death. Attempts at leaving are thwarted several times and likewise onboard frigates there is no certainty of escape. One scene relatively short on dialogue like most of the film, a conversation on escape routes from below deck. Every vessel hold has a submarine type door locking and compartmenting zones of the ship. Escape hatches are needed in and are sometimes the only means of escape. The frenzy of the moment of survival is sharply hit like a tuning fork alarm reverberating under water heightening enclosure.

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The RAF despatched fighter planes, Spitfire’s for brief combat sorties and our introduction is into the cockpit of plane where their base controller (sounding a lot like a muffled Michael Caine – playing Commander Maurice Michelwaite?) briefs them on the fuel carried. The pilots are Collins, the youngest, played by Jack Lowden. Tom Hardy plays Farrier and he is small enough and physically and mentally well cast as the rest bust leader of the squadron. His fixity to objects was a talisman. Every loft of the head, hand, adjustment was noticed and noted as precise as would be required.
Bring in Luftwaffe planes as tailgaters and every manoeuvre can be your last one. Over the boats and over frigates targeted by the Luftwaffe planes the planes would dogfight with witnesses in the boats below. The pontoon built on the rocky breakwater known as the mole jutting even further out into the Channel was another site of claustrophobic warfare as hordes of troops packed onto its whole length in readiness when summoned to embark upon a moored vessel. Farrier overfly this as do the bombing German planes and the random hits are arbitrarily the bringer of fate.

Historical drama, be it costume drama – along the lines of a Wolf Hall and the Elizabethan fairy cake dalliances are designed to serve up an expected version. This too as a Historical drama has to conform to the widely held perspective, looking backwardly into a dark history as the narrative and direction takes on itself the tones and words of a dark perilous fate, while viscerally discharging, with a roll of the dice, sacrifice in the lives of men under semi directional bombs and mortars. Scenes of carnage on a scale unprecedented in military warfare are captured and sent into the history books as events with casualties living and dead.

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Key to Reading the Film                                                                                                    Mark Rylance is for me a key entry to this film and it’s construct. He is an acknowledged master of the stage an fully versed in directorial tasks. It is his stage presence he relies on in not concealing his nature but immediately strikes you as what he projects. A man in his late fifties, a pleasure craft boatman in Weymouth Barbour with a son to assist and share the short journey across the sea to Dunkirk. To b apart of an orchestra scored and conducted by US/UK citizen Chrstopher Nolan it is proper to set aside the small tokens of acting currency and rely on firmer and clearly understood portrayal of the person within the event. Multiple viewpoints are used in the intrinsic three act memorial to a time which has fastened onto the British psyche for better or worse. Despair is kept hidden and remorse and memorial elevated so the bulldog spirit can be called upon as is the root and knot of the Dunkirk spirit.

Mark Rylance has created many roles but in taking on in Peter Kominsky’s TV movie the role of The Government Inspector I’m afraid he was beaten to the delivery of the punch in my view as it was more brilliantly played (on The National Theatre Olivier stage) by Rik Mayall who was compellingly brilliant and I revisited it as it was an astounding production a number of times now less enthralling then when first encountered. So the BFG is not on Rik’s roster.

Sound sculpting
There is in view of the broad brush strokes of epic film making, without for long periods any dialogue other than formal outbursts and acknowledgement, recognition, signaling, an overtly simple reliance on the auditory experience. Mixed into the cocktail of petrol laden sound of mechanical collapse and engine expulsions are the over layered raw sounds from the music repertoire. With no hint of irony, Germans don’t do irony, Hans Zimmer adulterates firstly Edward Elgars Nimrod whose whole metre is one toxically balanced on the hatred of loss and final judgement. The Enigma Variation is very crudely deployed for popular audience consumption and it stigmatises otherwise photographically infusing moments. A relentless barrage of gut and wire (the violin is such a beast) is suffused into a digitised melancholy savagely corrupted as ‘experience of wars corruption’ inset as a pedal of connective minor scales and frivolous tinkering on a carefully realised piece of adored music. It would not work in its unadulterated form neither would it convey appropriately the sense it sets out to project.

It irritates and diminishes the whole.  Elgar had originated the piece as one of a combination of pieces illustriously, industriously, as epigraphs of people and characterises live’s with a humanistic majesty lasting way beyond this removal.  It’s like being at a wake in a parallel universe. Hans Zimmer uses with similar ignorance and brutal thievery, Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio for Strings. It has been done to near extinction by such as Yamashta, Dolby and less adequately by any number of chill baroque artists. Along with Pachabel (not used) Elgar is noted in credits while Albinoni is not. The adulteration is just as bad. In sequences of resolving the events just experienced, the music overlayering of the adagio, is sequentially interrupted in an almost loop version, before, until, until, sic, its resurrection, in an uplifting deliverance of the denouement familiar to a great number.

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It is another irony that Tomas Albinoni, Vienna 1671-1751, was unknown to the 20th century music world until a sonata was discovered in the ruins of a library the Allies bombed in Dresden in World War II. An Italian, Remus Giazotto, created from it the piece we now know, which itself must have and does in his arrangement, alter the baroque melody within. It takes on a Vivaldi like distinction he may have eschewed (probably accounting for musicologist’s turning their cloth ears away from it). The discovery lead to the recovery in the annals of his place in music history of several other pieces and I have a 1995 EMI edition of Concertos and Sonatas illustrated with a painting in The Louvre, Titelseite, En couverture: “Concert”. It has three sets of performers, Orchestre de Chambre Toulouse, Würtembergisches Kammerorchester and The English Chamber Orchestra. Engineered at Abbey Road. So it covers as a legacy of music a singularly liberal and wide history of our listening.

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For Sale. The figures of Christopher Nolan films in net income are staggering and they are redefining the way epic films are made. No longer are the heights of usual event films such as Star Wars able to conform to raised expectations and never make it to the award ceremonies with any advancing clamour. The Dark Knight Trilogy was a series of inventive leaps of imagination utilising a Mercedes SUV mounted crane, its equivalent being a water based catamaran with the nimble fast throttle needed to deploy its 26 feet long telescoped IMAX camera at sea level and over and above action. The reconstruction brought in adapted gaint replica ships, as minesweepers readapted for example to be destroyers, and within the Moonstone the bulk of wide screen hand held camera filming required a lot of planning and effort so as to not prolong the shoot to levels of exhaustion. Rain and the elements of offshore winds and tidal surges conducted their own manners on actors who took on the sense of the drama as well as many Dunkirk residents as extras whose place in the work added for many a real sense of historical unfolding events that preceded them.
Craft of every kind were sequestered and today if not sold already their is a 1926 sailing barge, 86 feet long called Xylonite which took on a role of conveyance but it will cost you £450,000 to acquire and its second hand. It is in the Limehouse basin.

 

Conclusion ####4

There is no doubting the production achievement of this task of portraying the unimaginable scale and magnitude of the event we refer to as Dunkirk.  The expansive far reaching form of the film is searching through depiction of real events the sequence and efforts put in place for the evacuation of around 400,000 troops by the assorted allies of French, Belgian, Dutch, English sea going vessels and the armada of small boats here represented totemically by the Moostone which forms a fulcrum of balancing fate and tragedy. Christopher Nolan is primarily an auteur of the kind which imagines juxtaposed conflicting memory and alternative viewpoints. From the time we see one of the principal actors, Kenneth Branagh as the Colonel set onto land or a pontoon as the person in total command of the evacuation it is apparent this drama is to be bold and as accurately conveyed as is possible.  Even with the mastery of a legion of production elements and the brilliance of the interweave which is at levels rarely seen in Cinema and indeed heightened by the distinction, literally brought to the screen – very clear and apparent as not digitized in the broad sweeping cinematography as whole coastlines and sky is evident in its presence before your eyes, also expanded by IMAX delivery of which I’ve put in quite a few notes on how it is achieved, the whole composition is a reach towards a reality we never visited nor are even capable of receiving.  The drama is not Shakesperian, Becktettian, Millar or Welles in its heft for our perception of an unreachable truth but a very dogged attempt with severe limitations in providing an immersive experience in recognition of the act of courageous determined bravery and the cowardice of war in confronting the reality of a failure in ourselves which brought mankind to this.  Repeatedly.  One thing I see rewarding in this is the shock of War and the fact this is rated as a 12a.  Parents should be aware it has not received this from a softened projection of War but because it has not relied on bloody scenes of shock value maiming and un implied violent acts.  Instead it is very clearly a violence in the aftermath of explosions where drownings, disappearances, loss of ships. planes, troops shown in the grave moment of loss and the suffering is very potent.  Seeing men floating in boiling oil and submerging to avoid that burning fate of death as given the choice between it or drowning it is I believe a purpose of Nolan to convey to the young – don’t become involved in war.  In fact don’t sanction others to go to war.

As Colonel Branagh directs the only ‘joke’ or lighthearted banter of the film to a group of arriving small vessel rescuers it’s a biter/sweet moment which falls on a worn path lacking insisive alacrity.  It is a mere indication of the impossible transposition of viewer into this scenario as being hidden from view in immense proportions.  Far from providing it with gravitas it spells other voids.  When another conversation between D’Arcy commanding the Infantry and Branagh takes sight of ships, the growling lipless KB summons an element of facial relief and the result is pale when you take account of – the lack of scope for KB – the dramatic intent.  Somehow it is vexed and awkward despite its purposeful conveyance.  That is not to deride anyone on the score of the portrayal but to fasten onto the point that drama has to be segmented much more incisively and rawly to be drama.  We learn through this film but it is primarily not its function to be valued but to be taken on the tide of other versions, other war films as entry to the complexities of conflict.  Others – recently Churchill, previously The Imitation Game, came at the subject in oblique abstractions with sole events making up around ssixty seventy percent of the storyband the wider bigger scale providing context and connection.  The smaller stories are here but the big connective pieces are not – the prologue, the aftermath, the embedded centre and the enemies viewpoint.  It’s understably complex and this is a bold and excellent attempt but it certainy underscores the brutality of the whole event.

 

John Graham

21 July 2017

Belfast

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Gifted : A Film Review

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Gifted

Director, Matt Webb. Cast: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Michael Kendall Kaplan, John M. Jackson, Glenn Plummer, John Finn, Elizabeth Marvel, Screenwriter: Tom Flynn, Producers: Karen Lunder, Andy Cohen, Executive producers: Glen Basner, Ben Browning, Molly Allen. Production companies: FilmNation Entertainment, Grade A Entertainment, Distributor: Fox Searchlight, Director of photography: Stuart Dryburgh, Production designer: Laura Fox, Costume designer: Abby O’Sullivan, Music: Rob Simonsen, Editor: Bill Pankow Cert. PG. Duration 1hr 41minutes. America.  Genre, Comedy – Drama.

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The intro Basics

This is a throughly engaging and rewarding film to watch with a very smart kid at its centre. Whether or not 10 year old Mckenna Grace is as smart as she plays is not clear as she delivers a performance brimming with belief and funny childish guile. She is not to be outdone in the acting smarts either by the very good performances from 35 year old Chris Evans playing her father Frank, Lindsey Duncan playing her Grandmother, Jenny Slate playing her school teacher Bonnie or Octavia Spencer playing next door neighbour Roberta. It is about how best it is to bring up a Gifted kid who comes from a line of Gifted kids from previous generations. She has no siblings. Frank has raised her from her being 6 months old, she is now 7 years old. McKenna Grace is a ten year old and has plenty of work already amassed and looks thoroughly at home acting.

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The central core of the film is a custody battle which itself disrupts and places huge conflicts into the mix which is of no benefit to her whatsoever. It is full of engaging funny moments as well as obstacles and pitfalls but will keep you held tight to the story as it unfolds. Such is the potential of kids to entrall and create new visions everyday.  Having many hands deciding the future for Mary is a tug of war.

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Family Genius

Genius is rare and humans equipped with advanced brainpower are as this film suggests rarer than radium. From a Director whose got has shone through with (500) Days of Summer, he is very good at telling human interest family stories.  The modern day of Florida and the sunshine state has a mix of Americas class advantages and disadvantages. Frank is an Uncle to Mary who he has brought from an orphan’s indecisive future from a family tragedy in Massachusetts and Boston to a timber chalet in a seaside village with only the basics going for it and as he likes it. The brother of Diane, Mary’s mother has passed away around seven years ago and Frank has given up an assistant Professorship at Boston University. (Philosophy) in order to recalibrate his life and become a parent away from the heat of academic elite education.

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Mary’s father is an unknown. Diane’s wealthy mother Evelyn is played by Lindsey Duncan, taking on the role, in a high maintenance coutured appearance, hiding her insecurities, one of which is never having connected with her own children. She too was another vehicle of Mathematical brilliance and also been a driver of her daughter towards the high isolated gifted brilliant existence around a world class facility of University research.  She is into a second marriage also.
Her sacrifice was to have given her skills over to child rearing and now sees the world differently as one which has short changed her as she feels in respect of her own talents. Diane never intended to have children it might be said but her nature was such she had an intensity she has not been capable of holding together while missing out of parts of normal children’s lives. These are the basic elements of this tremendously engaging story. It has twists and turns in plenty of permutations and its calculus is finely balanced and beautifully shot.

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Home

The conflict which drives the film is the right and wrongs of child rearing. Frank is not in a relationship and has no children of his own and works as a self employed boat repairer at marinas in and around the coast. It is a hand to mouth existence but it seems to pay the bills and Mary attends a state school with a bunch of kids which she says are stupid, but she warms to the talents of one or two and steers her way through school being bored as she is so far ahead of the rest and she is contented with the diversity the company brings. On a school bound bus however she gets collected and then has a barney with another kid which has her before the stern school principal (Elizabeth Marvel), Frank is offered choices and he is not sure if he is right in those he makes. Evelyn turns up from Boston standing on the porch like a Californian Lizard in big shades. On a mission she has taken it upon herself to become not only involved with Mary’s life which up to now hasn’t been one of much involvement, but as a replacement mother.

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Throughout the film Mary sees the adults own lives for what they are. Like her they need love and resasurance. Being careful not to upset people she knows is an art in the family and she picks up on mood very easily. Her interests are in the strategies of the patterns the world presents and she continually searches through mathematics and their equations the patterns as a means of access to the bigger picture. Mary asks about the big questions on faith, etc. and their next door neighbour is a coloured woman called Roberta who is a great friend to Mary. They share Saturday nights and Sunday mornings as Roberta babysits giving Frank some time to himself which usually involves continuing to work on boats. Frank has a friend in Mary’s teacher played by as she values Mary and looks out for her at school. By the time Evelyn has arrived on the scene and put down a marker the education and upbringing of Mary becomes a whole greater level of complexity setting up for a troublesome middle story.

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It not just about Mary

A favourite part which will get him a feature in the Animal Oscars is the one eyed ginger cat. One life is nearly lost as a side story itself a purposeful act, while it is the only other living creature sharing Mary and Franks home. Outdoors is what was denied Diane in her upbringing as were lots of other things revealed during a prolonged custody battle Evelyn feels is necessary to embark on, which is central to the story. These elements are not found to be plot spoilers as much is levelled in the trailing of the film over custody and it is the nature of the parenting which becomes the key as well as the superb watch it is to witness Mary’s every turn and nuance, which she does with astonishingly quick belief and accuracy as to pin the fact the script is entirely natural and believable.

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Mary is played by a confident animated, subdued, kid with vitality and energy. The appearance of playing a genius is not hard. The Director has paced the sequences for Mary allowing each portion to run without any sign of interruption or coaching by a swift editing process seeing things in the blink of an eye as they unfold. Mathematical equations chalked up speedily, shouting matches – ever kid has its moments so no spoiler there then – and sequences in the journeys in Franks pick-up are very cleverly run without any pretension or jangly loss of pace – ever. The whole lends itself to lots of comedy and laughs from the audience as the lines – especially Mary’s – gets to deliver bring warmth, recognition and wisdom in large doses.

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Performances par excellence

There are parts played by folk in minor roles which are crucially delivered with the same level of excellence as the major parts. The courtroom being a particular place of the solidity of performances to show. Some scenes are very testing and revealing while the whole system of family courts felt ludicrously public, formal and of legally heightened absurdity, its access being for a few rich who could afford the luxury of seeking justice and fair judgement. Evelyn comes into her own here in Court and placing herself as an adversary against her own son is a bit of a leap though absurdity being what it is no doubt it occurs frequently in families. Some scenes are equally important and learning is not only within the classroom as Frank recognises.

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Mary has ha a very good upbringing so far and it is this balance of having a mathematical savant to be a guardian too but recognise the things children need around them, one children, the outdoors, risk, breadth of outlook, patience, giving and receiving love and knowledge of other people views and making choices based on goodness knowing everyone is not the same and she has certain advantages which are to be nurtured carefully and no wasted of taken for granted.

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Conclusion ####4

It takes Massachusetts to state the case for Americas dream of success and failure through its institutions like Cordell and MIT Universities. Protégées and Savants, Technically brilliant minds and adulterated brilliance of a kind requiring stimuli to land the answers to mankind’s biggest questions are the millstones of grinding young people into adults of stature. This film embarks on as lesson of humility at the heart of a child’s best ingests with it contracted by failings, within her immediate family of having lost the ability to control their inherent genius. Mary is a brilliant kid of a ten years old with an settled future but is brought into a place where her very home life is contested territory as well as her burgeoning and advancing skills and aptitude for learning appear as she grows towards the important teenage years when learning takes on a routine and formulaic structure.

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Seeing this develop in a Florida seaside retreat come homeplace, is her Uncle Frank whose task it has become to be Mary’s guardian. He has abandoned his own professorial aspirations, it runs in the family and usual ends up not turning out to be all it’s cracked up to be, and is content patching up boats instead of grinding away at the academic millstone which is so strictly cadenced as brilliance itself works on the handed down work of genius, he is quite estranged from this contradiction brilliance has thrown towards him. Mary is just a kid but not like many others and it is not wise to let her become disturbed by the notion she is different as around her other kids play and develop alongside each other at more or less the same pace. Mary also doesn’t watch TV and doesn’t pester Frank to take her to see Smurfs. I doubt she would like The Mummy also.

Nobody likes a smart ass says a principle character during the well balanced beautifully paced and shiningly sunshiny script delivered like an Aristolian play with much contained within its outward ordinariness. I enjoyed this film simply because it was handled so intelligently delivering normal absurdity in contrast to worldly wisdom. The counterpoints were subtle and well paced and not overly drawn out. Performances were key and as I noted above all the ensemble are to be credited with knowing which way to go with their part. No overindulgence, no out of place characterisation but all was skilfully handled. It didn’t break new ground but held its own in telling a story which will interest many and provide certain insights. A very enjoyable, rewarding watch.

 

John Graham

14 June 2017

Belfast

 

Gifted (2017) Movie Release date in UK: 16 th June 2017