The Square : A Film Review

 

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The Square

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

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

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Psychobabble

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

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Boundaries

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

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Pitch Black

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

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

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Social Contracts

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

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Is

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

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

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

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Comparative art

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

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

 

Prescriptivist

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

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

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The Performance Centrepiece

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

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

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

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Outside Borders

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

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

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

Fully formed

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

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Music cadence

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

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

Provocative thoughts

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

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

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Conclusion ####4

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

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

John Graham

23 March 2018

Belfast

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A Fantastic Woman : A Film Review

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A Fantastic Woman

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

Pablo Larraín, Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza.

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

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

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

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

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General synopsis

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

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Gender fluidity

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

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Simple choreography

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

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

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

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Barriers

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

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

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Appearances

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

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

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Fortitude and strength

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

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Directors note

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

-Sebastián Lelio

Conclusion ####4

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

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

John Graham

5 March 2018

Belfast

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Dark River : A Film Review

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Dark River

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

Directors words

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

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Beginning

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

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

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

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

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Recovery

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

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

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Landlocked

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

 

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

 

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

Here my imagination

Tangles through a turfstack

Like skeins of sheep’s wool:

Is a bull’s horn silting

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

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Binaries

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

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

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

 

Mending fences

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

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

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

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Conclusion ###3

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

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

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

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

John Graham

02 March 2018

Belfast

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

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J’Oscar’s 2017 : Film Review Awards

J’Oscar’s    A glass half full?

Here’s the envelope. Thanks. Oh this is exciting and after last year no mistakes, right? Oh it can’t be – didn’t it star, well he was under a white sheet most of the time, but surely you can’t give it to this movie. Didn’t he get embroiled in some sleaze about behaviour onset? OK, there’s no mistake.

The J’Oscar for Best Picture of 2017

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……. goes to A Ghost Story

Through clenched fingers up to my face and I Place at No. 1 of all the films I saw throughout 2017 the remarkable A Ghost Story.  As a Film is greater than the individuals and one should not destroy a films validity I discard malice felt towards an actor whose case has boot been publicly aired from a decision on the meet of a film. While some and those privately hurt by any actions that may have taken place will have their own reasons to denounce such a position it is to be balanced alongside,

 

1. Where it known, would the man have been given the part?

2. Does the entire cast and crew making this astonishing film have to be dismissed along with the actor making their achievements null?

3. Should film producers not have a role in calling out misdemeanours and passing on details to authorities outside the businesses instead of muck slinging inside it which becomes friable as a result when newspapers and other media get to speak of it?

Creating such a remarkable film David Lowery does not deserve to be snubbed in recognising the immense quality of the whole ensemble including Rooney Mara and the editing sound and cinematography contributions.  Blazingly brilliant film.

Perpetuity in a singularity 

A Ghost Story is a film about perpetuity and the ever moving wonderous world we inhabit and has a touch of heaven about it.  Surreality is dictionalised yet the reality is with us as we pause in watching this film to consider the outcomes we have been apart of and how the future will happen regardless of our presence.  The Ghost is us looking in on the immovable constant moving on.

Other awards go to ………

Mary Queen of Scots was a Platform for two brilliant performances from actresses, Ireland’s Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Australia’s Margot Robbie as Elizabeth the First. With them both having accomplished great roles and performances in respectively I,Tonya and Ladybird the closesness to Best Actress must be a sharp call. They are also challenged by Meryl Streep who many are in awe of despite the performance in The Post being lauded largely because it creates a large canvas and she as a fine actress has the skills of ‘pause and reflect’ timing which is allowed here due perhaps to the eras pace not the rush through a more contemporary part would have pushed upon us. So the Oscar goes to – see below!

The I,Tonya story is an excruciating piece of drama for lovers of fair play and points to the winner at all costs mentality pervading many sports. From dodgy injections in footballers to dampen pain before a very crucial match, to the Olympic level drug and substance abuse to the on road ‘replacement therapies cyclists partake in to get to the head of the pack, the story rarely is covered by cinema. No one loves a cheat and the scenarios are usually not pretty. The last time I liken an athletes grime story and reinstatement was the brilliant Matthew Maconaghy in The Dallas Buyers Club which was an epic and underated dramatic off road, road movie. The endurance and counterpunches of Margot Robbie whose immersion was instantly believably in my mind skated off with the Best Actress Award.

The J list

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Extras

Hogh flying films such a short Killing of a Sacrificial Deer and Insyriated will last long in the memory and of course are worth seeing several times.

The Farthest was a remarkable documentary worth mentioning and revisiting.

Notable hypes include Dunkirk and Real Actresses Don’t die in Liverpool.  Along with the over rated – exceptional though of the mark In his choices of going off on his own reading of the man is Gary Oldman. Darkest Hour.  The films Shape of Water and Ladybird rank highly but not notably and it is only through the gifted direction and playing of Saiorse Ronan does Ladybird achieve the distinction of a near miss director award.  That went to a someone whose films are gaining the storytelling and visual connection with audiences. (Jordan Peele – Get Out)

Much more can and will be written about this turn around year for Film making. Jennifer Lawrence is off on Exec. Producing the #metoo as a series. It will unearth and keep the profiling of the film industry high but not unfortunately with the added distinction of keeping belief in a fictional portrayal as a means of entering an issue or providing very important insight on aspects of humanity. Most is seen in the minutiae of drama in the big picture and The Florida Project was a sensitive other form of insight which is near the top in terms of films I rated this past year. It and other stranger ones.

John Graham

28 February 2018

Belfast

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Loveless : A Film Review

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Loveless

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev, 124 mins, Cast: Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Varvara Shmykova, Matvey Novikov.

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A continent unseen

As winters black and white poles contrast the snow covered land and roads blend into fields the view in the opening of Loveless is of a lake with fallen trees alongside tall leafless ones.  Beside them runs a pathway with lampposts high and marking out a route between neighbourhoods.  On the horizon as the film scopes out tower blocks of mass housing and the community of a modern Russian city appear.  It moves onto a scene where a school discharges into the afternoon Alyosha and his friends are despatched from a careworn rudimentary education positing a regular uncared existence of a society in its own limbo.  The vastness of Russia occurs to me in reflection, from St Petersburg in its isolated North Western location from the Urals to the Soviet Kazakhstan and the lands forested and regionally contested over centuries where socialism became a lost ideology, this modernity is playing out right now.

When Director Andrei Zvyagintsev says : ‘Living in Russia is like being in a minefield’ it seems futile to suggest it is a generality after viewing this film.  The horror of that is where the Leviathan director takes us.  Into the minefield. Exploding tropes and myths by using frameworks of cinema familiar to audiences seeing drama of the most perturbingly psychological kind where films – L’Avventura, Scenes from a Marriage are mentioned as similar themes, take us in it is gloriously but troublingly insightful.

Emptying

A couple are in the process of separating, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) Boris, (Aleksey Rozin) and on hearing an argument, itself a witness to his solitude and the lack of love from his parents, 12-year-old boy Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) goes missing.  The household is in a uniformly drab tower block and he is seen initially wistfully looking out over the winter cloak of white snow into the deep horizon of a vast Russian urbanity from his bedroom. The forest and nature is a form of consolation but his world is made ever more harsh by the insensitivity of the mother and father whose only child Alyosha is, giving him little love or conversation.  Zhenya has moved on, Boris has moved on and while they embark on selling their comfortable apartment, the despairing ‘elephant in the room’ taking care of Alyosha, hovers and causes even more antagonism which Alyosha is an unfortunate witness to.  Ignored and distraught he disappears with the abandonment itself becoming an almost fated outcome given the weaknesses and the couples selfishness.

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Boris has a new partner and it’s a bit of deja vu with love and kisses for him like ‘starting over’.  His younger companion is less sure and new to the expectations of making a home. She is also a step removed but not as far as Zhenya, from her own mother.  Some of the pleasant rites of passage are visible in her outlook and it is not played or cast as naivety but as raw concern of new horizons.  In the case of Zhenya her partner has a daughter reached only by Skype whose fortune is outside Russia. He is a oligarch type or class protected older man living in a futuristic ‘dacha’ which allows his thai chi to evolve.  Zhenya has a protector and savior after the mistake she made hastily leaving home and her cantankerous mother for Boris it appears.

Measured scenes

The film follows relentlessly the intensity of emotions clashing around the central loss of Alyosha.  His disappearance heightens the immediacy of untangling the weave and knots of a broken loveless marriage.  Each scene is carefully economically placed in a line of almost fated tragedy but the inferences and questions which arose are put to the viewer as whether or not a good outcome will materialise. As a type the film could be categorized as a procedural crime thriller but as Andrei Zvyagintsev insists through his artful direction it is much bolder and thought entangling.

The tension throughout is heart felt and the possibilities of loss are slowly dawning on and emerging from the recesses of Boris and Zhenya’s insular thoughts. From the moment the rescuers come on board an cautious element of optimism, ever so small but present arrives – after a very well handled portrayal of the police element – a huge and stoic but helpful officer puts the cards on the table as to the probabilities and the needed actions.  The apparatus of Policing is as tough as nails the film proposes but their is goodness within.

With the form of a crime drama this Russian hiatus of intense emotional drama is a warning of how brutal our world is becoming. The themes of realism in concert with dark nationalist, unrelenting Religious angst ridden theocracies, our complaint and complacent conformity is shockingly portrayed through the medium of a lost child.

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Working environments

Disappearance is a wholly unconscionable notion for a parent whose duty is foremost the child while the breakdown of their aspirations affect the state of their family unit. The forces around allow freedom of individual choice. The central protagonist is Boris, (Aleksey Rozin) a lookalike Fidel Castro. I recently learnt of the early demise through mental illness that the late Fidel Castro’s son who bore a striking resemblance to him recently took his own life.  Boris is not easy to like and his workplace environment is a large corporate type well heeled office and it appears as though his job is to create fake news.  The whole building is in the process of regurgitating propaganda for the Government via. an agency run by a Religious zealot whose compromises regarding family issues are finite. Zhenya is in charge of a Beauty salon and is in an orbit of similar disappointments as conversations with her employees draw out lines of dissatisfaction but in a pleasant stoical way. Society is to blame. In the background, sometimes foreground there are TV broadcasts of Russia going wrong and the outsiders being to blame. Society is to blame but not their own society. Rebellions are put down and countered by the fake diet of news the outlets spill out.

This vastness of the Directors ‘minefield’ is part of the bewilderment that franks this film. How the individual is facing contested self image, from the day they are born through a fixed national identity from which it is virtually without moving away to escape.  Escape routes are taken in parts of the story but none are a satisfactory retreat or utopian alternative.  It is a quarter of a century on since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The currency of the occupation and sequestration of the Crimea is seen here.  The former autonomous republic of the Soviet Union, now a region of Ukraine, is configured into the narrative to show the lack of progress and the democratic deficit apparent through the world to observers. The West as ‘actors’ may maliciously have a hand in the Crimea annex but whether it does or not is merely a statement of man made divisions.

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Individuality

There then is the fate of the individual in the context of family and in a wider sense extrapolated here in the workplace where Boris is in a setting where family is a signal of unity of purpose and it is given a religious slant here also. The Lutheran idea of individualism is challenged by the preorder of Catholicism and adherence without scrutiny.  The theory is that (Protestant suicide attributed to free spirits) the greater concessions a confessional group, the less it (Russia) dominates lives, the less its cohesion and vitality makes to individual judgement.  In this film it is perhaps being said that – without the suicidal propensity angle – that the weakness of the mind when empowered by thinking and ‘sensible’ things developing reflective powers renders them susceptible to morbid impressions.   So is the film portraying in a minor part of its vast observation that there is a failure arising in individuals not accepting their affinity within community and necessary interplay?  There is the added dilemma of the titles presence itself.  Lovelessness existing maybe because the lack of self control, earlier as youths when bad choices were made and for intractable headstrong reasons – or finding in their individuality sensations and temporary joy from exploration and satiated desires. Such pitfalls are almost arbitrary in most lives.  The form of the film is of it taking time and taking an external view of the many sexual intercourses – they are short on words and are for the most part in one take – makes me think the intensity of the pleasure seeking is being portrayed paramount as each characters driver.  There is time taken also after intercourse when to differing degrees they express their new found love as a place where they are safe from the outside.  So what does it say about the presence of love in a place where other sacrifices are made for the common ‘good’.  The male is seen to ignore these emotions as the society is harmful from whichever way you look so they take it as it’s found,  by finding also what they seek.  The family togetherness is implicit. The detachment from the birth family is evident in each relationship.

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Hunting

When the disappearance of Alyosha happens another element takes on huge significance.  In the absence of a ‘proper’ process of police management of the required intensive searches it is the whole community who rally voluntarily and in a shape which is performed to take charge of every forensic and civil aspect of the search.  This is again implicit of the community in service for others. Where the state has failed this is the alarmingly professional organised communities answer. Therein implies the strength of Russians beyond the stereotypes of indolence and trammeled individuals found routinely.  Each has forsaken their time and individual diversions, needs, to focus on finding Alyosha. They have his welfare in mind untiringly.

A hero emerges in the form of a leader of the large community unit in the shape of a pragmatic and smart coordinator, veteran (Aleksey Fateev).  Some of the most harrowing scenes are during the period of the searches and stoic stark raw emotions grip with the growing tension of not finding Alyosha.  The searches are coordinated and segmented and woven into the parallel story of the couples breakup and their new relationships forming and the connections each has with their ‘estranged’ families.

The world itself is not loveless but a host to our misguided often secular illusions.

There is then the division individuals within a family unit is on trial and this is central to the films narrative.

Plausible synecdoche
Russia is both a place and an image. The Sochi Olympics in 2014 came into play in Loveless in a simple but significant role. The tracksuit top which the freshly reinvented and reborn Zhenya wears as she steps onto her outdoor treadmill at her lovers and now her home, is a Bosco white and red shock of the new top. Emblazoned with Russia across it the notion – it is symbolic – is challenged by its director Andrei Zvyagintsev as a mere coincidence of our times. Without synecdoche it would not amount to a message of any kind he mildly insists. An actor from the town of Novosibirsk he is responsible as one of the most respected directors of his time in putting out work which is formative and provocative and using storytelling from the initial success, The Return, (2003) about brotherly tensions on reengaging with their father on a fishing holiday, through The Banishment, (2007) Elena, (2011) which is a story of a capital class and marital gloom, to the large scope of examination in rural Russia of Leviathan, (2014) marking a tense conflict in expansive steepes uniquely epic in its portrait of a Russian psyche. The beast is universal, a sinuous, spiraling, undulating, or serpentine line or linear motif, in the obvious mode of Thomas Hobbes philosophical treatise on the organisation of society politically. It floats and pins you and grabs you by the throat with unsettling force. Ballet never was meant to be pure and white as the Russians understood, understand.

If talk of synecdoche is to be made it is only on reflection due to the cinematic exposure and storytelling quality found often in Russian novels from Gogol to Solzhenitsyn and the play’s we are accustomed to seeing being replaced in this time by art of a different luminosity. Film has come a long way to provide other than features in the pleasuredome. Conflicted memories and historical propaganda are challenges filmmakers can treat with the memes of our times. In Loveless, Siri gets a question, so the Oracle is in the detail of storytelling in a candid frank and shocking way not for pure entertainment or underpinning presumption or prejudice. We are as my review of Loveless pressed, 25 years on from the dissolution of the Soviet Union and with sport being the glue of the masses, sans Cicero, about to embark on a post Sochi, World Cup, Andrei Zvyagintsev is probably more concerned with us getting his first name right, Andrey or Andrei, than fixating on the politics which inevitably come with filmmaking. The production of his work takes many players to embrace the work for multiple reasons. Factor in the Russian state support of only Leviathan his task is difficult enough. Shaping the story in a plausible and parallel synecdoche path is a skill which we can ourselves welcome and be fortunate to be presented with. No one actually makes or draws similarities between the films in their construct but it is a common theme to appreciate the human examination in a fully coherent form is achieved in each individual work. When asked about his politics he is clear in those separations given his role is as a filmmaker not as a protagonist or spokesperson for a viewpoint. He considers for example the period over which he has developed his oeuvre. “In the 1990’s there were real hopes. But now, with the re-Stalinisation and the re-Sovietisation, there are negative tendencies.” *. In the report noted it is recollected by Andrei Zvyagintsev the appeal of the mirrors reflection is undeniably at times unattractive. Something un-contestable..

*via. translation in Irish Times 07.02.18 interview, Donald Clarke.

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Conclusion ####4

The simple form this film takes draws you into the harrowing story of the disappearance of a 12 year old boy and provides an unsettling experience seldom found in cinema.  With Director Andrei Zvyagintsev‘s commitment to delving into the conditions faced by his fellow Russians.  The political constraints and formation of society detaching itself through state indifference and corruption from the family of community is foresaken in the materialistic pursuits found on the edges.  The individual is found floundering and having lost the direction of shaping a meaningful life. In the disappearance of a Alyosha many realities become exposed.

For the viewer, this one, it is compassion which is driving through this film despite the invidious world of circumstances and is seen through the societal response.  The true egalitarian response when harm is encountered.  The edginess of the relationships pale into – albeit parallel dominions of supposed utopian thinking – minor concerns.  The real protagonist is the duel of state and the suppression of the individual and at what cost is the freedom sought to be accounted for.  The polarities are Religious, Molecular, Unknowns, Universal and contribute to a very vexing movie.  It was hard to sympathise with the couple at its heart yet there was some sign of they felt enormous pain and an outcome would be found to satiate the pessimism and sense of disorder that grew as the film progressed.   What outcome is likely.  You will have to sit gripped through its daunting telling to find out and draw your own conclusions.  A spiritual minefield.

John Graham

8 February 2018

Belfast

 
Opening at Queens Film Theatre Belfast 9 February 2018 until 15 February 2018.

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Rocky Ros Muc : A Film Review

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Rocky Ros Muc
Documentary
Director Michael Fanning. Contributors Alphabetically : Seán Bán Breathnach Broadcaster, Kevin Cullen – Boston Globe, Ronan Mac Con Iomaire Author Rocky Ros Muc, Peter Kerr Trainer, Pat Nee, Mike Newell, Sean O’Mainnin, John ‘Red’ Shea, Marty Walsh – Mayor of Boston, Mary Walsh, Mother of Marty, Micky Ward. Production. Below the Radar, Máire Bhreathnach producer,, Trevor Birney executive producer, Michael Fanning executive producer Music by Andrew Simon McAllister, Cinematography by Ronan Fox, Film Editing by Michael Paisley, Visual Effects by Chris Scott visual effects artist, Music Department Jake Jackson score mixer. Ireland. Duration 1hr 32mins. Cert. TBC. Partially subtitled.

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Boxing Documentary

This film is a tale of one mans journey from his home village of Ros Muc in search of his identity and fame which takes him to America and back again. It involves the diaspora identity and the identity of Ireland itself. Even the introduction has nightime shots of Times Square and Madison Square Garden. For contrast the sky drone takes us over Ros Muc. The famished regions and outskirts of larger cities which draw in the young from near and far. The man is Sean Mannion a middle weight champion boxer who rose to be a contender for the World Title Belt in 1984. The journey was a tough one and in between bouts of boxing he often became derailed by that diaspora scourge of drinking heavily. A strong man he could handle it but the mental damage it must have caused would have been a great drawback. Angelo Dundee as C. Clays trainer said if he had Sean at twenty instead of thirty which is when they eventually joined up he would have been a World Title holder many times over.

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The story is told in the most part by a fan whose book is central. Rónán Mac Con Iomaire who is also a Ros Muc man who has written the whole story or as much as lines on a page can deliver, this extraordinary life. It is a capsule though of many people’s diverse lives as immigrants whether Italian, Polish, Irish and the simple truth of the Country they reach never viewing home. The bi-polarity of a mind in two places is hard to deal with. His mother lived a long time and he has brothers and sisters who were distinctly Irish Gaels as Sean himself was. This inculcated identity was of a locality is about 35 miles south west of Galway.

One doesn’t need to be into pugilism or well-versed in Gaelic to appreciate “Rocky Ros Muc,” a documentary that is as much about roots and identity as it is a portrait of Irish American boxer Sean Mannion. Hailing from the village of Ros Muc, some 37 miles south west of Galway, Mannion, like many of his fellow emigrés, formed a tight-knit community on South Boston’s Dorchester Street, where the light middleweight would find eager sparring partners including members of Irish crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang. LA Times reviewer Michael Rechtshaffen delivers a shot on the chin.

Seán Ó Mainnín, Rocky Ros Muc é féin

America Constructed

As Americans and MR will know this perhaps having an migrant background of some sort, the story is as much an American story as an Irish one. Martin Walsh of Ros Muc stock himself, his parents emigrated years ago when they were very young, as Boston’s Mayor ‘Marty’ Walsh, is another from the stage of America’s fortunes or misfortunes. Walsh was brought up in Southside Boston, Dorchester and he participates in telling what he knows of the life of Sean and the Irish of his neighbourhood. The Director Michael Fanning puts across through interview and film footage from ESPN and HBO sports along with family friends and others Irish diaspora who took a criminal route to their lives, he uses the central biographical account of the native Rónán Mac Con Iomaire heavily and journalistically forensic in telling Sean Mannion’s journey with huge respect and homage to the man, Ros Muc, the region and Island.

The Ros Muc origins are worth telling as they bring in the imagination of the man. Within him he realised his strengths and his athletiscm which would later be focused in Boxing. With a pal he would spend time exchanging blows with a sparring partner and together they bought a pair of Boxing gloves. This would mean they would swap and Sean ended up using them most. The Television of Crystal dreams of black and white Boxing was a staple or escapism. GB had Henry Cooper popularise the appetite and Jack London with eventually the one who Cooper famously knocked down, Cassius Clay known later as Muhammad Ali coming into the scene with a legion of followers after the Olympics and he brought out the Irish and GB love of Boxing as a sport. From Hemingway to Shaw through, Conrad, Runyan many writers have taken in this rawest of sports. It was this magnet which put into Sean the notion he could be as good as them if he worked hard. There was a local club found and it was run by Michael Flatherty whose own knowledge and wise head as well as counsel would create a ring fighter. Very soon the young Sean Mannion would hold 17 County and Provincial titles which would taken him further to the National Amateur Boxing Championships. These were six round contests and they were televised. On the back of his ring vest the words – St Oliver’s A.B.C. Girley were printed in copperplate letters. If I’m not mistaken on commentary, uncredited, was Eamon Andrews. This is your Life sharply ironically his claim to fame alongside his astute eye for sporting drama.

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Boston’s twins

The Boston part of the story is the arrival to fight for further fame and glory by joining a gym still a teenager. At Connolly’s Gym his sparring partners included a member of Whitey Bulger’s Winter Hill gang, Irish-American mobster Patrick Nee, who, another Ros Muc native. Also around was another Irishman, former mobster John “Red” O’Shea. Author of a All Souls Michael Patrick MacDonald who lost a large part of his own family to Gangsters is active in combating violence and now lives in New York. The arrival brought many bouts as Sean rose to as they say to become a contender and the appetite among the Boston Irish for a Champion was not lost on Sean and he saw the virtue in ring craft as opposed to gun craft. Both sets of groups in the Southside were not at loggerheads but one probably detested the other for the image of their identity being compromised. There were many Champion boxers in America of their own making. Hearn, Duran, Hagler, De La Hoya, and one Mannion would eventually meet in the ring, Michael McCallum. The later was and is lesser known but he was a lean tall long reach fighter who was not a warrior but a truly great boxer. His encounter with Sean Mannion whose unorthodox Southpaw style; it couldn’t be tagged as even truly southpaw was one which only a gifted boxer could adapt to and counter. Mike McCallum now 60 and paunchy was a Jamaican boxer who competed from 1981 to 1997. He is a three-weight world champion.

In-Chul Baek was a boxer Mannion had to face to go up a level and fight McCallum. There was a very unusual outcome to this fight which is covered in the film with damage having been caused by Baek through him hitting the sorest punch of all on the small rib on the torso. He clearly injured Mannion but other things happened to make the title bout happen.

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Being a Contender

If you don’t know your Boxing look away and continue to next section. The fight was for the vacant WBA Junior Middleweight title of which Roberto Duran had been stripped of when he chose to fight Tommy Hearns for the WBC title instead. McCallum coasted to a fifteen round unanimous decision. The fight marked the first time in history two women judged a world championship boxing fight. 1984-10-19 : Mike McCallum 153¾ lbs beat Sean Mannion 154 lbs by UD in round 15 of 15. Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, USA. Referee: Tony Perez. Judge: Carol Polis 149-136. Judge: Carol Castellano 150-134. Judge: Johnny LoBianco 149-133. So despite the controls being handed to two women which was itself a big move they were unanimous in declaring the fight which went the full 15 rounds in McCallums favour.

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This is the ibroresearch.com part of McCallums history at this time.

….Four more wins, three by KO and McCallum was declared the mandatory challenger for Roberto Duran’s WBA Junior Middleweight Title. The Panamanian was given until April 10, 1984 to meet McCallum or face being stripped of the crown. Although the “Body Snatcher” was a dangerous challenger he was not a super star in the eyes of the boxing public. Like Wall Street, boxing is all about risk versus reward. For Duran this meant a fight with McCallum’s teammate at the Kronk Gym, Tommy Hearns made more sense. Facing Hearns would be risky for the WBC champ but, worth three times as much at the box office as facing McCallum.

Adding to the Jamaican’s predicament was Emmanuel Steward. As trainer of both Hearns and McCallum he would make far more money from his cut of the purse if Hearns faced Duran. McCallum was odd man out, as Duran elected to face the “Hit Man” instead of the “Body Snatcher.” Stripping Duran of his title, the WBA declared that Mike McCallum would face number two contender, Sean Mannion for the vacant WBA title. On October 15, 1984, Mike McCallum became the first Jamaican to win a world championship in the Island’s history. Mannion showed he had a tremendous chin and courage but not the skills in losing a unanimous fifteen round decision at Madison Square Garden in New York City. When McCallum returned to Jamaica it was to a hero’s welcome and a national holiday of celebration. Needless to say the business relationship between Steward and the new WBA champ was over when Duran agreed to face Hearns. McCallum signed with Duva Promotions and acquired a new trainer in George Benton.

Boxings knife edge

There are fewer boxers who would be as brave and fearless as Mannion as this fight showed. McCallum was a brave and master of his craft and wily as both were the Boston Irishman was in a league full of many different fighters whose status is now legendary. The wear and tear on Sean Mannion was carried with great grace and in the ring respect is crucial despite the hype and Entertainment content before and after. Fans love an equal match up no matter the level and each form get is unbelievably tough when this happens for both. McCallum would have gained plenty in this battle for the title. Sean Mannion would have gained his inner knowledge he took part in a dream. For Ros Muc and the man this was a sacrifice of his own body on the line at the utmost height of his capabilities. The fighting Irish would never have been more soundly represented and he was able to hold his head high and still can given the shear bloody mindedness.

The film puts over the main facts of diaspora identity challenges.  The homeplace Ros Muc is one many had been forced to leave. The land and commerce were limited. The former potato blight would have seen many very able people leave under duress and failure of the State governed under the yolk of a Sovereign Britain whose colonisation was upset in the USA which is the sole place immigrants could seek their ‘fortune’. They sought only to be given the tools to live if truth be told and many went beyond their own self beliefs and went to prove a point. That they were as good as anyone on the planet.

The likes of the mobsters featured self analyse with hubris and unwarranted inflated egos. A bullet is no replacement for a mans humanity or warrants a life being regarded as having value. Their sum is lost values and they have taken peoples lives without any remorse. The Boston Mafia also involved itself – after destroying people by exploiting addiction tendencies through monetising cocaine, then later heroin – in more money making schemes sending consignments of Arms and Semtex to Ireland to fuel a terrorists campaign which was itself bound in warped sense of self and national identity. The identity they chose to construct was a fantasy way beyond any Irish probity.

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The Cottage Padraic Pearse grew up in.

An fear a thug an Piarsach go Ros Muc
D’iarr Pádhraic Ó Conghaile ar Chonradh na Gaeilge duine a chur anuas as Bleá Cliath le scrúdú a chur orthu. Ba é an Piarsach a tháinig

The Other Star

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Conclusion ####4

A verdict is easily found for this film of it being a great life story of a brave Irishman well told.  The challenges in and out of the ring were contests which face many in less dramatic or intense ways.  A book Motherland came to mind as it involved travelling the length and breadth of Ireland to explore identity.

Certain things on the periphery but important to explain the man were tentatively danced around. Also the fate of MCallum was never given the strength of telling it deserved. Sean Mannion fought a man who none of the main men would fight – again an extract from ibroresearch.com –

the “Four Kings”, as writer George Kimball had called them; McCallum had failed in his attempt to get any of them into the ring. Marvin Hagler retired in 1987 after losing a disputed decision to Sugar Ray Leonard. Leonard was inactive in 1990 and would lose to Terry Norris by lopsided decision the following year. Roberto Duran, like Sugar Ray was also inactive in 1990, and would lose by TKO due to a shoulder injury to the infamous Pat Lawlor the following year. Tommy Hearns won a decision over Michael Olajide fourteen days after the Watson fight for his only activity of 1990. Did the “Four Kings”, duck the “Body Snatcher” or was he just a victim of timing. Boxing historians can debate the merits of that charge for the ages, but we can only speculate what would have happened if McCallum had been able to get any of them into the ring.

This is a telling part of a story not told. It’s a bit novicey to leave out the background in order to focus on the main event. McCallum fought in the UK a lot because of this. Ever good boxing show has an undercard and this is missing it. Connemara itself is a great underlying facto but again only family and drone shots give any true shape to this Atlantic outlier. America will love this underdog type approach as well as largely focused on the diaspora and Irish abroad. Nonetheless the story is only partially told and it is a sociologically complex one which has currency in our world today. What is the identity of Ireland now?

John Graham

24 November 2017

Belfast

from Friday 24 November 2017 until Thursday November 2017

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Movement is Political – more thoughts.

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Film Star’s Don’t Die In Liverpool : A Film Review

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Directed by Paul McGuigan, Produced by Barbara Broccoli, Colin Vaines, Written by Matt Greenhalgh, Based on Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool by Peter Turner, Cast Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Vanessa Redgrave, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham, Frances Barber, Leanne Best, Music by J. Ralph, Cinematography Ula Pontikos, Edited by Nick Emerson, Production company Eon Productions, IM Global, Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, Lionsgate. Duration 1hr 45mins. Cert. 15.

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Short and Bittersweet

Love stories can be rife and fleeting as this one, a tale told firstly by Peter Turner in his memoir. A British actor who encountered and formed a bond with the famous actress provocateur come auteur Gloria Grahame is the story he reveals. Annette Bening was found an ideal partner in Jamie Bell as a foil to her elegance and fire. Outrageously nailing the actress part, as you half expect, Annette Bening scopes out this story in a fiendishly accurate portayal suited only to an actress of her own standing. The part would be meat and drink to many actresses but it is a fine line to be over indulgent and too expressive and here the trap is held shut. Jame Bell is at ease throughout showing his own mastery of roles. Both run the mill of emotions. Bell playing Peter Turner is adept at being a chameleon he proves again here. He is in his element fancying a much more successful actor and getting back a mutual attraction.

Tabloids love sirens

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The Mirror Newspaper tells it as it is! But what on earth brought Gloria Grahame from palm-fringed Sunset Boulevard to the no-nonsense reality of Liverpool; from the gold-paved Rodeo Drive to Penny Lane, the heartbeat of the Beatles’ music?

To understand that, you need to know of the carnage of a life which preceded it.

You need to know why, on September 29 1981, a critically ill Gloria Grahame phoned Peter Turner from a Lancaster hotel and pleaded with him to take her to his home in Liverpool.

Told she was dying, she refused to believe it. She was convinced that her streetwise ex-lover could outsmart the doctors.

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Acting excels

Despite the sterling troubadour performances it is not immediately clear why it needed to make it to the screen. As a true story it was something of a two hander and the families of whom Turners feature quite significantly aware brought it as they provided a roof over her head while ill and in support of their son. It shamefully reminded me, through its resounding central casting of place, of the Liverpool series, The Liver Birds, or eighties series The Boswells. Stephen Graham channels his Liverpudlian spats as Peters brother with a curly mop of black hair and minor detail spoiler here he is Sans Moustache. No young souscer  in the ‘Pool would be a man without the Ian Rush, Terry McDermott, Graeme Souness, (Liverpool Footballers) and numerous others tashe in the early eighties. It might be because this household were Everton supporters. As a brother he is an argumentative but ultimately supportive type. Stephen Graham has little to work with. Mother Turner is the delightfully immersive Julie Walters striving under another era wig and suitable kitchen friendly poor costume selection. She channels her rough tongue Liverpool style. Also in the frame is the robust and earthily appropriate Ken Cranham. Vanessa Redgrave and Frances Barber have camp roles as Gloria’s mother and sister respectively.

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1981 to 1979 flashbacks galore

The opening is a scene which shows Gloria Grahame getting a curtain call for opening a play in the Watford Palace Theatre. She collapses and it is then forward to the diagnosis and then the games people play. GG had four husbands and two were movie producers of some clout. She also had great parts in some very famous movies from Oklahoma to Its a wonderful life. Hollywood provided the warmth and the pain. While we reel (no pun intended) from one scandal to the next the fakery of cinemas main value itself becomes an overlarge obstacle to truly absorb the experience as knowledge forming and it becomes a part of the narrative. This is one aspect of the film which it inadvertently assists in analysing.  GG also saw a realism she lacked in Hollywood in Liverpool.

Oasis swampland Hollywood

There is a dream called Hollywood and it often turns into a nightmare as recent revelations accord. This would have been even more so in Gloria Grahame’s time and she worked with the biggest stars around. Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn the latter whose life as a rake made progress to the escape through women of this ‘stinking bloody world’ as he patrolled the film world and beyond the affections of the siren film noir Gloria would not have escaped his attention of conquest. Errol Flynn The Untold Story by Charles Higham covers this sordid world or alternatively if preferred for sensitive folk, the ‘disturbed dream state’ of Los Angeles. Flynn’s own autobiography was a fictional version to cover ‘My Wicked, Wicked Ways’.

Gloria Grahame was not as careless wise as Flynn probably as the weakness for drugs and other substances harmed him during his career and despite this even a tamer version of him during illness, such as in The Prince and the Pauper brought screen brightness. Gloria Grahame’s screen presence during the same period was as an electric siren and idol for women having strength. So it is characteristically Hollywood’s pathos of touch to bring a dramatic and ruthless conclusion to her career.

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Another JAMES BOND

It would have been more interesting if the film had not laboured on it being an account of Peter Turners involvement in a few years if it were to introduce more of the wider career and then stories of great interest from her early years and her drawing those comparisons. Instead we are in third and fourth gear and stop most of the time. I5 became irritating to see the device of one door open and the change of time scale to change as it was made theatrical without it having any stage presence, never mind screen presence. It just was a formless device as were the backdrop illusions.

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Billy Elliot can dance

The thing Jamie Bell channels is his louching Chris Eccleston Everyman. The hands diving into his jean pockets, the legs, one straight the other pointed to the side. It must be an acting school think and though unlikely an in joke. The acting is theatrical as is the direction. Emphasis is on framing and static views mostly. It is clearly a choice of direction to scene set with the use of ‘backcloth’ motion and moving skies, sunsets and car drives. It does not fill a hole which is story size. Everyone who watches this film can see where it’s going and it’s not too cheerful. It involves the fall after the rise through a very debilitating period in the 57 year olds life.

Look Jamie – This is THE way to stand.

Conclusion###3

It is a dampener to place a three on this but it is full of very boring and unalarming notes. The famous actress is not as well known as some from the same period but the consumption of movies is multi-versed. Biopics are a subject which can serve brilliantly in Cinema. This one is a Case of a good cast being there and on their game without a robust approach to the story. They are a pleasure to watch as performers. They know the business. Billy/Jamie wants JAMES Bond. Barbara Brocolli is in the producers throne so you get the picture. You wanna be in pictures.

Over the recent past the scrutiny of the public is focusing on behaviors and they are at a loss a lot of the time what they are confronting. The mild manners of the male are in this case at opposites of the usual role call and the male is a cougars conquest and some detail of being used as well as loved is scoped out but it still did not add up to much for me unfortunately.

John Graham

18 November 2017

Belfast

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool will screen at QFT

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The Florida Project : A Film Review


The Florida Project

Director … Sean Baker, Writer …Willem Dafoe … Bobby, Brooklynn Prince … Moonee, Valeria Cotto … Jancey, Bria Vinaite … Halley,  Christopher Rivera … Scooty, Caleb Landry Jones … Jack, Macon Blair … Tourist John, Karren Karagulian … Narek,  Sandy Kane … Gloria, Jason Blackwater … Ticket-Buying Dad, Carl Bradfield … Charlie Coachman,  Jim R. Coleman … Cabbie (as Jim Coleman) Kelly Fitzgerald … Twistee Treat Girl’s Mom, Seitz Sabina Friedman-Seitz … Church Group Sarah.

Produced by Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Kevin Chinoy, Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Francesca Silvestri, Shih-Ching Tsou, Written by Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch. Drama. USA.  Cert 15.  Duration 1hr 55mins.

 


Synopsis

Warm, winning, and gloriously alive, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is a deeply moving and unforgettably poignant look at childhood.

Set on a stretch of highway just outside the imagined utopia of Disney World, The Florida Project follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince in a stunning breakout turn) and her rebellious mother Halley (Bria Vinaite, another major discovery) over the course of a single summer. The two live week to week at “The Magic Castle,” a budget motel managed by Bobby (a career-best Willem Dafoe), whose stern exterior hides a deep reservoir of kindness and compassion. 

Despite her harsh surroundings, the precocious and ebullient Moonee has no trouble making each day a celebration of life, her endless afternoons overflowing with mischief and grand adventure as she and her ragtag playmates—including Jancey, a new arrival to the area who quickly becomes Moonee’s best friend—fearlessly explore the utterly unique world into which they’ve been thrown. Unbeknownst to Moonee, however, her delicate fantasy is supported by the toil and sacrifice of Halley, who is forced to explore increasingly dangerous possibilities in order to provide for her daughter.  a24films.com summary.

Baker’s immersive examination of lives lived in the shadow of a fantasy world holds no clichéd, feel-good lessons about love or families. Instead, it boldly takes us to a place where momentary joys, a mother’s devotion, and a spirited girl called Moonee can find a home.  QFT inticement.

If your growing up in Florida expect sunshine tornados and fantasy. The very grounded film The Florida Project directed by Sean Baker brings together as a societal compound, the life’s of a group of residents in a Florida State Housing project on the periphery of swarms of tourists descending on Disneyland and to play the local golf courses. The swath of colour which opens this film – unusually main characters cross as titles at the beginning – over a musical blast of dance music coming down the speakers rom Earth Wind and Fire. This is the sunniest intro to a film I have seen in an age. The ‘project’ is top to bottom, roof to car park floor, in lurid garish purple and other neon colours in shocking shades. The columns supporting the three storeyed open landings are a contrast in white. Under the staircases kids sit bored and vocally intolerant of it. They are the encapsulation of what The Florida Project is about. They provide the Florida orange juice effect in spades or by the juicer, wringing out their life’s path. A six year old girl with a fine skill of acting is central. Brooklynn Prince, real name! plays, literally, Moonee whose mother is in a flat on the second level. Bria Vinaite brilliantly gets to match her acting partner daughters skills and gets the vibe and process of this emotionally conflicting film. Both warm and scarily hard it is a take on contemporary America and also in its purpose a depiction of what it is like for a particular, and probably generally like for a kid growing up in these times and first on their mind to fulfill is the nearness of the fantasy which infiltrates the world projected through the adults construction of a world vision. The adult world also involves fantasy and fiction and is short stopped by reality several rungs along the rope bridge walkway they traverse.


This is America

Following on from the remarkable Tangerine filmed entirely on an iPhone director once again outplays other more prominent mainstream directors by choosing alongside the films chief Central pivot Willem Dafoe in a height of his skills, he has assigned roles to actors who are inexperienced and yet totally on message and getting the nature of this socially pragmatic fare. Brooklyn obviously has not acted before and the same applies to her little friends. Bria as the mother Halley is astounding and triggers all kinds of empathy and sympathy. The ensemble is by Sean Bakers method of hyper confrontational close up very unlike Stanislavsky and inward emotions hidden and difficult to read. The warmth of the piece is driven I think by the rationale of Willem Dafoes part playing the janitor come social worker and The Florida Project’s fulcrum. He has obviously put his fellow cast members at ease and allowed them to achieve a presence of themselves getting their emotions out and expressed. How Brooklyn has found the skills to act in this important shifting part is staggering to watch. She is not to be outdone by a legendary, Platoon, Hollywood elite actor. Dafoe is careful and knows these children’s own discovery and fascination – which the film outrageously brilliantly delivers in spades – the wonders of seeing the world open its peculiarities and beauty and dismal consequence of extremes of life. The tribulations are seen by the children as they are in the process themselves of interpreting it and this is simply another means. Astory told on camera and laid out by adults who ensure they enjoy what they are doing no matter how vexing or troublesome – lots of tears and tantrums – they know about.


Other side

Set on the wrong side of the tracks, the highways and roads leading to the fantasy capital – Disneyland – this is outside the tourist and hotel traffic of middle America or savings America seeing the fantasy in reality. It is far removed from the bought experiences of chosen illusion, the Golf Ball circuits and the entertainment hype is a commodity the people of the Project see as a daily crazy juxtaposition. Helicopters lift off as the children gesture finger wagging at the drone of the whirling bird ascending into another world. The children walk the edge of the drainage collection waterway. All but dried out and unkept. The houses beyond after the global property meltdown now lay empty and as a ghost of hyperville brought home to roost. The colorful dwelling each a reminder of the dreams sought and put up to obtain. Now empty the kids see the world as aa playground. A forest in their midst. The waterway hidden by reeds and alligators get a mention. The project itself is the left over spaces of a rundown hotel which has recut its cloth by leading to the State ‘The Project’ for a surplus of need. The hotel itself is out of bounds and only Bobby, Dafoe, gets to trade in the grounds by way of advising his host of the management he has in place for the breaches, and there are plenty, of the rules and regulations of fraternizing with the incomers. A fine piece of observation is the proximity of a Christian Foodbank which shows up outside the front of the Hotel to distribute food and wrapped meals and an abundance of donations. When they are first seen to be too close to the Hotel the host tells them to go round the back.


Poverishment

Form the early sunshine overspilling and the imaginative diversions – they are a directors guided tour of the elements of Wonder – the kids – Brooklyn mainly, set off on as adventure and the Aristotelian ethic of striving for arete, is seen – like the child seeking out the top of a mountain in its mind.

Brooklyn is on a mission. Able to know what a virtuos life might entail, they are on the road to – and Bobby, Halley keep their optimism up – to discovering a road of exertion is needed not only delving into intellectual or physical endurance, satisfaction, amusement is not always the co-traveller. These elements of the story are set to contrast with the adult plight of poverty and need with Halley and another parent, a woman whose daughter could not handle her granddaughter and they bond after a furious argument. The kids do to. The choices that Halley has to make are knifedege existence. To find her rent is a daily struggle. Bobby as ‘social worker’ is a kind, firm but fare Sargent. He is seeing this as a reality his own circumstances remind him of. His son is briefly in the storyline to show where he is and has come from.

There is through the film hope alongside the despair and the contrasting fortunes of each character is very well charged. Even the generosity of the Hotel patrons and a bit of criminal and predatory proximity is salt and pepper to the films societal examination. You will go a long time before finding a film so buoyant and atnthe same time drowning under the eweitghtbof the humanity flagged up so perceptively by Sean Baker and delivered by the cast.

Conclusion #####5
It is a joyful must see film which will have you feeling strongly about the sharpness of its meaning and perhaps for the portrayal of a filmic view of what must be a very familiar plight in America where the poverty is still a major issue. When you think of the number of homeless in GB at a level of around 350,000 you can Project and add some to the scale seen in the USA. Federal changes are rolling out and also incrementally rolling back with it becoming a lottery where you end up. This film shows one state project. The Florida Project is a beginning of a indictment of Republican Politics and failed, Capitalist based Obamanomics which itself is being pummeled and redesigned. You don’t have to be Aristophanes to understand where children fit in this future. The al to plain to see fantasy of materialism is captured in the simple existence of Moonee and her gang. Instead of the remake intended of the Lord of the Flies. The Girl version look no further to than this for a coruscating example of the nature of child’s anxieties and the place of them. It might be summer break and schooling is not on the agenda but healthcare and education as well as having a safe and good environment to grow up in is paramount. A good name for a flimsy company. The upshot is this is a terrifically emotionally complex film warm in its weird way and hopeful in its quest of putting it out there for America. An artist I spoke to Sean Campbell, who had conceived and created an American Stars and Stripes in a large Plastic Bricks (Lego!) on the floor of a Gallery at Platform arts said he intended to take out bricks as the show went on. I asked was this representing the dismantling of US values and he took the opposite view and said (or words to the effect) that it was an act of taking out individual parts as they can create the anew the future without that burden of the flag so often a wrongfully adopted symbol of nationhood or the individual. It is very true to look at the positive things as this film testifies. The burden is upon the individual not the state to act correctly – the state can follow.

with award season soon to be up there the prospects of a new Film World wracked with scandal and sexual abuse and exploitation there is sure to be no La La Land moment or Moonlight shading this years films.  The Florida Project sneaks in behind The Ghost Story as one of the best of the year.
John Graham
10 November 2017
Belfast

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The Killing of a Sacrificial Deer : A Film Review

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The Killing of the Sacrificial Deer
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos, Produced by Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos. Written by Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou. Cast. Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp. Cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis. Edited by Yorgos Mavropsaridis. Production companies. Film4, New Sparta Films, HanWay Films, Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board, Element Pictures. Duration: 2HR 1MINS Cert. 15.

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Synopsis

Dr. Steven Murphy is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon who presides over a spotless household with his wife and two children. Lurking at the margins of his idyllic suburban existence is Martin, a fatherless teen who insinuates himself into the doctor’s life in gradually unsettling ways. Soon, the full scope of Martin’s intent becomes menacingly clear when he confronts Steven with what appears to be a long-forgotten transgression that will shatter his domestic bliss forever. It is not until midway through the story takes an unexpected twist but it requires a stretch of the imagination as to is basis.

Variety Magazine reviewer Peter Debruge writes of the tome  – Nara Park, Japan, spotted deer were long believed to possess divine properties. To cause the death of one, even by accident, was a capital offense. Halfway across the world, in ancient Greece, King Agamemnon learned this the hard way, invoking the wrath of the gods for killing one of Artemis’ beloved deer, for which he was obliged to sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigenia. The obvious lesson: Don’t kill deer. But what if the deed is already done? … it does feature two key scenes in which a hunting rifle plays a critical role.

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Pulse racing performances

Colin Farrell in his element as the the male archetype in the movie by Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” whose films have found a co-conspirator in the shape of Farrell.  With jest, indirectness, satirical amusement along with Nicole Kidman he possibly continues to play with audiences in the after screening press interviews – this is after all part of the intruque which filmmakers keep up the hype and surrounding mystery of their film.

I think he and indeed Nicole Kidman are entirely onboard the bombast and delivery of cinematic cathartic supernatural realism which they connect on with the directors flaming lunacy. As it is another bizarre take on all our lives and all humanity swerving to avoid the nasty death scenario, which was brilliantly provocatively absurd in the Farrell and Lanthimos tale Lobster.  https://johngrahamblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/the-lobster-a-film-review/ Here normality takes a central role and gets turned upside down by an outsider. Using a medical backdrop is crucial in our expectation of ourselves burying thoughts of fate intervening and Farrell is a composite survivor. He is both survivor and repairer.  Clinically adept at keeping people alive where major organs go into a test of will against your brain in trying to tear down each edifice constructed to thwart the reckoning.  Dr Steve is intimidating in an unfashionably easy going way. Never one to concede he up’s the ante every time by diverse and quite clearly self deception with his wife Nicole Kidman is a fellow traveller on the make believe.

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A shape of truth

Lanthimos has constructed the archetype in the Jung manner as a universal truth or shape of the truth. The pathway to success of any kind having choices in respect of home life and family as well as protecting the young ones from evil and ensuring they too have a chance to exploit their potential. Full realisation is probably what Lanthimos is aiming for and the troubadours are both Kidman and Farrell. It is not all things in the sense of any universal truth but realised as section of it. I thought throughout the film of the scenes playing out as sections of life’s absurdity placing its own direction in front of everyone in a happenstance way. Jung’s was more a collective idea, of possession of inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches. Mastery is debunked here in the film lots of times.

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A boy who is revengeful and is prostyled as a God with special powers. The film opens beautifully with a Franz Schubert choral heraldic outpouring of the master at work. Colin Farrell at work as the renowned and respected heart surgeon Steven Murphy alongside a rich but inferior cardio-anesthetiser Matthew. The whimsy feigns on the walk through after the operation we’ve just seen as they exchange the bourgeoisie optics of a choice in diving watches. Steven is quizzical and monotone. Reviled, known, accepted. Dr Steven is after none of these attributes to adjust his psyche, he just portrays out the facts, the shape of his and his family’s life in their simplicity. At home this is particularly evident when the tasks are divided on the grounds of logic. For instance Bob their son who declines to have his hair cut before a school party is told by his father in gentle reasoned terms that it is too dangerous for him to walk the dog.

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Characterisations

Nicole as Anna is splendidly anti-Stepford wives as another archetype and is happy with the odd indiscretion and is as a clinician and I think of ophthalmologists thus, able to smoke the odd cigarette, it may even be weed given her off the cuff and leisurely comfort when indulging in a smoke. It is the same with Steven. A scene or two throws up their bedroom routine which is also a vision of their private selfs when this coupling is itself purely on their terms and not a formulaic expression of love which ‘tropes’ ‘protoreality’ might encumber them with. I think Lanthimos has, and it’s almost hidden within the film as a calming notion, a signal the achievement both have is the joy of sexual love on their satisfying terms. Without any sign of inner anxiety Anna embraces the composite union of their sex life as a non material act or with either partner having a dominant leading part. The parts are equally erotic and evolving. The nuances again are played out through the medium of their adopted speech patterns so it only becomes tangible – for them as human beings acting on their own instincts, and as a satisfying ultimately pleasurable and worthwhile shared gift – it spools out (film simile!) when they are in silence. Give or take a few noises off. It is one way of looking at their world but then the horrific enters and upsets all parables or prophetic notions.

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The covert boy steps up

Early in the film we get to know of a boy who is close to Steven and whose relationship might even be taken as a divorcees son having set times for meeting up. That’s not the case and their meeting is also not thought to be sexual but presents us with a problem why and what it actually amounts to as it passes on covertly. Barry Lonegan who turned up alongside Mark Rylance on the boat in Dunkirk puts on his best American accent (a very good all round take for a young Irishman) plays Martin whose father died on an operating table with both Stephen and Matthew holding the dinner plates. (Defibrillator needed?). For Martin it was a murder and he embarks on a conversational journey with Stephen.

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Quite how Dr Murphy allowed himself to be a foil for a Martin in the first place is beyond reading. They meet in picturesque, solitary open aired spaces under the Cities bridge, Cincinnati a likely location but it’s an anywhere place. Or they meet in a cafe or diner. The set up is odd to say the least and part of the ensuing implausibility which never looses it’s annoying grip. Allowing for the metronome action of sections of life going onward, in which most is highly predictable, an illusion is constructed to be shattered. At around midpoint dark and strange unexplained things happen.

Martin has acted to visit these appalling life changing acts upon them or that’s the premis and the family Murphy are drawn into a battle with life itself. The rolling story is now at its scariest and darkly intense. Moods alter somewhat with Doctor Stephen no longer a spokesperson for medical triumph but is set on a course to discover it has no solutions to what seem to be psychosomatic conditions. A fanaticism/realitist is in the Nicole Kidman stroke of genius as she alters her verbal continuity of external wafer thin communication in unison with Steven – they up to then are participants in a fantasy neither want to disrupt – and she is the fluctuating chime on the timepiece that is misbehaving. Family Murphy are in chaos.

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Superbly realised

The cinematography is immersive and beautiful cleansing as each location is pristine and choreographed to within an inch of is serenity. The nerveless cascade of a couple in the wonderful lifestyle and home immunised American success story is where we begin to intrude. Nicole Kidman plays no lesser a wonderful medic as an ophthalmologist with her own clinic and she is fit to the boards in terms of screen presence and the couple as actors share this gift of portraying absurdity as normality. Farrell in Lobster and Kidman in Dogville, The Hours, The Beguiled.  The cadency of this pairing is part of the fallacy, false world we are to be absorbed into.

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I chose the word cadency as it is primarily a function of both actors to not use any voice technique which is normalised. As with the a slight falling in pitch of the voice in speaking or reading, used by Colin Farrell in Lobster, he perfects once again the clinical talking and its as if it’s being read asa read through. Except the story is entirely told this way. Nicole Kidman to a lesser extent engages in this device and the deliverance is acutely jarring and then mediates as a voice of comfortable upper middle class America or any national ‘pride’ in being along for the merry joyful ride. You begin to wonder are we going down a path of horror movie and revenge driven hate for an act of – it is never conclusive – on the operating table accounting for the pain inflicted. Satirical, metaphorical, meta psychological it may be but once more Yorgos Lanthimos’s direction is not potable as any cocktail of these genres.

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Pain is at the end of the line always

At around halfway as I’ve noted earlier the film takes a nasty turn. As a revenge movie and it’s formulaic only in the sense no one gets out without pain or hurt being inflicted and even death is a visitor, it provides twists and agonising drama cinematically intense and involving. The cinematography is a clinical beautiful sweep of the inner pages of the narrative with also real emotional depth in close ups being sought out alongside the framing of rooms and corridors methodically and invisibly forceful. The colouring is contrastingly sharpest when a few bloody acts are contended and claustrophobia kicks in the deeper the harm becomes.

To elaborate further on the different scenes or twists taken would be to spoil the immediacy of the shocking effect which happens often. The black comedy and satirical take on supposed bourgeoisie is not a place to park you ideas but as a troubling film it delivers much more. It is no laugh a minute for the child actors and strains a bit however adaptable and good they are. Kim (Raffey Cassidy), a wide-eyed teenage girl, and her younger brother, Bob (Sunny Suljic) are the children in the story and they will be equally perplexed as to their part in it.

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Conclusion ####4 

The breadth of this film does not match the previous works of Yorgos Lanthimos but is need not be compared to his previous work given each piece is of a particular well honed view on life as each narrative shows separately the energy and profoundly valuable cinematic experience it composes.  Neither should you be too troubled the male character is again in the place where blame arises.

This film is a dream like journey of success which is destroyed by the traverses of life which interrupt and have elements of love and tragedy.  Sacrifice is a huge word.  The greater claim is what haunts this film which is at times horrific and bloody (Cert.15) and it graphically delivers both the beauty of a deer and the tragedy of a killing.  If you also park the male lead again ‘to blame’ in the absurdity, you’ll get by.  The surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim means Dr Stephen makes a choice holding to these thoughts. It is a claim therefore of the Director that good people become spoiled by apparently small acts and reason is lost. On both sides of this film anger is controlled until an awful outcome seems too – and you have to go along with the absurdity to aquaint yourself with another reality – is visited upon this happy successful family. A success which is based in medicine.

We see the surgeon at work and incidentally also dealing with saving lives routinely. As a hero he does not embrace the healed or the recovered in a heartfelt (sorry for the inexcusable pun) hug but routinely moves onto the next endeavour.  This is a brilliant conceit which Colin Farrell masters along with Nicole Kidman whose acting is superbly nuanced and provocatively challenging to the twin peaks of the present and the past.  Surveillance of the present and going forward as one is their menacing, troubling (to any outsider now in possession of the view) attitude and behaviours grit and twist while the plausibility is tested with pathos of speech styles and patterns forming.  It is both breathtakingly smart and highly disturbing and we’re it not for the completely visceral violent content which is in all probability actually close – you could imagine – to a real life tragedy – it is nevertheless a troubling element of the film and not a five rate drop film.

John Graham
2 October 2017
Belfast

The Killing of a Sacred Deer will screen at QFT from 03 November 2017 until 16 November 2017.

 

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Bad day for the Cut : A Film Review

Bad day for the Cut

Directed by Chris Baugh. Written by Chris Baugh and Brendan Mullin.

Nigel O’Neill as Donal O’Neill, Susan Lynch as Frankie Pierce, Józef Pawlowski as Bartosz, Stuart Graham as Trevor Ballantine, David Pearse as Gavigan, Anna Próchniak as Kaja, Stella McCusker as Florence, Ian McElhinney as Eamon, Brian Milligan as Jerome, Shashi Rami as Vivian Lalor Roddy as Leo McMahon, Ryan McParland as Ossie, Andrew Porter as Damien.
Production Katy Jackson and Brendan Mullin, Music by James Everett, Cinematography by Ryan Kernaghan, Film Editing by Brian Philip Davis. Six Mile Hill Productions. Cert. 18. Duration 1hr 39mins.

Before I start I update the blog as I’ve discussed s covered the meaning of the title but not its allusion to the Film itself other than a lot of people get cut down.  Apparently it’s an Agricultural colloquialism – I’m sure it’s not confined to Tyrone, or Antrim – and it is when the conditions are foul or the forecast is foul for the necessary cutting of crops and harvesting.  I hope the Sundays Harvest Service (29/10/17) All Souls Church goes peaceful and s uneventful. Today (Sat.) the preparations are going well inside, decorating ever nook and cranny.  That is Entrance, window cills, corners, pillars, pulpit and Choir pews. Looking forward to it.

Debut promise
The Chris Baugh debut feature Bad day for the Cut is a modern Irish revenge thriller with a broad scoping and complex plot driven along by the dark secrets of different family histories in this troubled province.  At times it becomes a trail of bodies and sets off after a flashback, more later, with a farmer living the quiet life with his mother in an Co. Antrim farm.  Scenes of domestic rustic rural harmony  prevail with the caring son Donal (Donal O’Neill) eager to ensure his frail mother is not neglected and this is seen initially as a caring need and relationship.  Donal is fond of shooting rabbits for a stew and his country and western music, which is not a rarity here and he listens while he fixes old cars or does work on anything that takes his fancy , away from the tedium of routine farm work.  Into his existence comes another star of the film a neglected Transit as a payment for work on an old banger which he turns into his boys shed over a period of time.


Open Country

Donal’s world becomes forever turned upside down when he catches the wrong end of an act of violence one night at his own home.  An absentee from the film are the Police except for the presence of two Detectives (back view only) as a result of this disruptive and gruesome act of violence at the farm.  This is quite probably due to it being entirely filmed here in Northern Ireland were the risks of reprisal are clear sadly and it may be why ‘impersonation’ was not an option.  From then on in the violent frenzy that happens they are not to be seen. Filmically too is a stoic political call by the Director/Writers on the Scandinavian noir of clever troubled detectives not being a Northern Ireland familiarity.  (Shallow thought!)  Crime fiction is a local speciality (look up No Alibi’s independent bookshop) and like this film it is seldom a reflection of more destructive truth no matter where the written word takes you.

Donal is completely at a loss to explain why this atrocity has happened until he himself becomes a target of violence. Then the wheel turns and it is his turn to act. From small beginnings Donal is now the avenger/revenger and the genre becomes a wide expanse of multi-cultural links forming a jigsaw puzzle no one has completed image of and it is this we are drawn into.  The Latin word, synonym, for incredulous is Aporetic.  From the word Aporia which is thrust into and occupies much of Northern Ireland rhetoric.  The film could have appropriated that name.  A local artist, Gail Ritchie has a forthcoming show at Platform Arts Belfast on external War memoria which will co-incide with all kinds of Remembrance. This film is about not knowing the full story as people never do.

Aporia : a difficulty encountered in establishing the theoretical truth of a proposition, created by the presence of evidence both for and against it.

For empathy and good versus evil there is no actual clear station of rectitude or resolution.  Once Donal is in his revenge mode he looses any rationality or credibility.  One feature of the film poster is its likeness to the Spaghetti Western standards, Django, Fistful of Dollars or the one with a Belfast connection – A Town called Bastard starring Robert Shaw of (some connection!) to these parts. This genre approach is a virtual context and allusion which is narrowly made.  Comparisons of inner city hoods can be found in the Dublin centric Cardboard Gangsters reviewed here earlier.  (Put the film name in the white box top right to obtain the post likewise other notable films)

While it is true the chronic violent riddled town/city certainly Belfast and Northern Ireland has been, with its tragic magnitude of violence and as it still has hurt as an undercurrent to the everyday, the post traumatic shock has embedded in many citizens whether directly affected or not. Hence the medical bill.  Other cities are subjected to variations of the lack of moral discipline and the film tries to reflect here in Belfast the story of families affected by their tragic misfortune and wrong choices theirs or others.   I happened to be re-reading a chapter or two of the 2000 book, Northern Protestants – An Unsettled People by Susan McKay which documents district by district across the province the interrelation of acts of destruction and their impact and legacy left of very similar disregard for life.  The untenable becomes tenable and the ‘new normal’ (media speak), goes further as past lives causal projection is cyclical which is seen as one of the most forceful effects of this film.  Unforgiving and God forsaken is the message to be taken in deploring all acts of violence and the meaningless outcomes they accumulate. The ‘actors’ of violence perpetuate the hurt creating new grave passages.


Currency

New times have arrived and racketeering and the gangster riddled combatants work the undercurrent of a superficial peace.  Memories and family stories are woven in a weave no one has a complete picture of.  Aporia.  An unlikely mobster is a family woman.  Susan Lynch plays her femme fatale best inhabiting the part brilliantly, her face expressing rage, inner strengths, bitterness and she conveys potent sexual latency as a jewel among thorns.  As a highly driven woman her role is large in the film as she is intent on achieving her objectives regardless of the cost but with a motherly hand towards her own daughter in contrast to her own past.  So two vengeful people are the at the centre of the story and the opposites create a battle of wills.  Let the contest begin or as Northern Ireland has it continue.

Without a male partner she runs a prostitution racket with her stock and trade initiating in a bodies count, a ruthless and violent streak of heavy malevolent business as she tries to remain in control.  There is no indication for the largesse of wealth, – ‘the drive’ is Belfasts go to hidey hole, – she has become used to as she brings up a single child, 5 year old daughter whose exposure to the everyday business is mostly obscured though Mother does let her mouth loose with words and temper tantrums no child should be witness to.  The script realises it but it is ‘accomplished’ in one or two scenes.
The lead male character and co-driver of the film is the large stocky farmer we know called Donal O’Neill, played grittily and with determined off the scale rage, a man in his fifties whose part in the machinations or outcomes of the ‘troubles’ is miraculously innocent and of little affect.  How he has avoided the obvious is not clear.  His mother Florence is portrayed by Stella McCusker, whose part requires a completely convincing woman carrying as many women in the country do, a burden of grief and remorseful tears locked up and unseen while secrets are held. Stella McCusker carries it off superbly in a sensitive subtle nuanced way, with her reservoir of theatre and film expertise, the convincing portrayal of a woman with memories, secrets, worried but still in charge of her own world courting for us nevertheless a source of intrigue. Acting as a shield to others, her offspring, her peace is disrupted as the past unravels.

The film opens with to revenge taken on a man in palliative care with a breathing mask filling his lungs with oxygen while he is in the last stages of life. Lalor Roddy is the man. With his usual prime attendance to his craft he opens the film in an interesting short introduction which turns out to be a flashback.



Sunny skies

From there the action returns to the present and a Northern Ireland picturesque and getting along nicely with the entrails of back office culture jobs and telephone call centres in the very heart of Belfast City.  New tech and science STEM is a sole captivator of nuanced 21c life.  Sidelines are the artistic interpretations. Game of Thrones being only a symbolic us of this Ulster theatre in a vaguely conjectural transportive escape.  Capers and criminality is a parallel world real and unreal.  Life in redressing the postcard image is on message. Any murky past is not for outward consumption. An archive of injustices and the undealt with past is locked up in memories along with state and terrorists files never to see new light. Property is lush and shows signs of prosperity as the braces are attached to pull up the ragged trousered philanthropist cloth of the Linen City in true entrepreneurial Ulster style.

The past traffic of ingenuity which was and still holds up, is scotched by the economic equator we live on. New commerce a roguery is the diet we enter. The other villainy is the stock and trade of impure violence.
The vision in the film is of the fictional underworld in a confined and largely inaccurate form.  It is a fiction based on contemporary instinct.  No telling of the real story would be sufficient as access to understanding. These strands are separated and contingent on whose version of events you believe.

The truth would be completely scary and would in many cases lead to greater unconstrained levels of revenge violence – excepting the likehood generations are unlikely to form into self-destructive groups – except the no-hopers hanging on to the coat-tails of handed down myth as a means to lever power and accentuate their projected legacy of ill read history and infect new generations with their appalling virus.


Whether the film is embraced as a depiction of a society continuing to be incapable of dealing with its past and truth hidden harbouring realities of unspeakable betrayal and insurgence is questionable.  Outside the Island the narrative will come across as a unnerving catastrophic revenge movie full of provocative instinctive shades of red mist exploding causing more cyclical damage and as an action piled up body count it puts it on the same shelf as revenge thrillers of equal intensity – it will be interesting to hear how the Chinese subtitled version went down. It is already out of the blocks as it premiered at The Egyptian Theatre at the Sundance Festival last year and Edinburgh Film Festival and was locally was the closing film of the Belfast Film Festival of this year.

Because it is adult cinema and particularly a local community based narrative with a fictional web making connections to many people’s lives and understanding of the legacy in their lifetimes, it is to be toured across Northern Ireland in venues chosen to bring out a wider audience than the ‘Moviehouse’ screens across the province.  The tour dates are below.  As a film of universal cinematic value it also is intentionally provocative and any tool in the box – lead character Donal is a man whose ingenuity is seen as someone who reaches more than metaphorically for what’s handy, ‘that ‘ill do the job!’ – which makes people deal with their own past and the get on the path to resolving differences of blockchain theory’s in their heads. New light and fresh dilemmas are surmountable only if the past is recalled with truth and remorseful probity.

Dark light

Polish actor Józef Pawlowski as Bartosz, Anna Próchniak as Kaja, carry the new international phenomenon of a transitory youth into Belfast and Ireland.  Neither have a desire to remain here and one of them has stronger reasons than the other to get out.  By scoping out the story the writers bring a reality of immigrants settling in a cove of their own narrowness through concern of not belonging and integration torturous and complex with the backdrop of sectarianism on acting on their will.  Existinence is survival to be built on.  The tailoring of other characters, chiefly the hoods is deftly cast. Florences younger brother Eamon (Ian McElhinney) is a townie who keeps himself away from trouble and leaves it in the past. Stuart Graham playing Trevor Ballantine who is the no.2 to Frankie likes to be suited and clean shaven.   He gives off an air of being on the precipice of incompetence while unaware of were he is and what his motivations are. Why he chose the work is pure guesswork and he is always one step behind the curve. Frankie on the other hand is a woman who is compelled to joining the action as her edifice crumbles. Bartosz and Kaja are in this drama up to their necks and centrally Józef Pawlowski excels working alongside this mad bunch out on the edge of their acting chops and getting into it with as much nuance as his eyes can convey. A learning experience for all no doubt.


Conclusion ####4
Like a narrow gauge railway traveling too fast this is a train of thrilling revenge souring and escalating beyond redemption and for practically all on its journey the lurching and weaving slow down and wrong turns add up as the film careers out of control down into some soon to be discovered abyss.  Then there will be silence. There will be liberty.  There will be peace.  Not on these terms the cast say.  We need a result to suit our knowledge and our grief is the premise.  We do it for the sake of everyone gone before and to follow. By being completely deranged ejjits high on the adrenaline rush of survivors instinct they boil the stew of violence into a deathly conclusion.  The deliverance is summoning up lots of sage parables while partly glamorising the affects by not making it dark enough.  They skip the bloodied heads, the unrecognizable body parts (I conject for the possible scenes the viewer may or may not see!) and it draws back to gain audience retention yet is still Cert. 18. A badge of dishonour?  It becomes a shade predictable and no character really is seen as someone to empathise with save the foreign ‘visitors’.  Those need foreign audiences.

Be warned it’s mad and at times bloody and totally bonkers.  It has a feel of a step back to following in the aftermath of spaghetti westerns trying to find a new field. The field is Belfast/Templepatrick with the North Coast of Ireland thrown in for chutzpah. Slightly demented but truthfully entertaining as a misguide to the violence around us.
John Graham

20 October 2017

Belfast.
The 8:30 pm screening on Tues 24 Oct at QFT will be introduced by writer/producer Brendan Mullin and writer/director Chris Baugh.  After a run at Queen’s Film Theatre (20 – 26 Oct) the tour calls at:

The Picture House (Ballyclare) 28 Oct
Portrush Film Theatre 9 Nov

Subterranean Film Club (Omagh) 10 Nov

Dungannon Film Club 15 Nov

Fermanagh Film Club 15 Nov

Newcastle Community Cinema 18 Nov

Foyle Film Festival (L/Derry) 23 Nov

Tí Scannán (Mullaghbawn) 1 Dec

Some events will also feature Q and A session with Chris and Brendan (tbc) so audiences will get to hear the (literally) gory details of the process of making the film and taking it to the big screen.

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The reality predicted in around the late 1960’s by Guy Debord never took on the self-radicalization of people as combatants for nations but it has tangible companionship as his fellow traveler Raoul Vaneigem accounts in The Revolution of Everyday Life.  It is a form of prophecy as is the intended alteration of history which combatants always see as their revolutionary act in their age.  The violence continuing on a scoping out of spectacle for themselves.  We are not just talking about the phenomenon of  ‘Mad Men‘ and spin but the vestigages of memory remployed as almost regal revelatory mindful discovery.

Inauthenticity is a right of man … Take a 35-year-old man. Each morning he takes his car, drives to the office, pushes papers, has lunch in town, plays pool, pushes more papers, leaves work, has a couple of drinks, goes home, greets his wife, kisses his children, eats his steak in front of the TV, goes to bed, makes love, and falls asleep. Who reduces a man’s life to this pathetic sequence of cliches? A journalist? A cop? A market researcher? A socialist-realist author? Not at all. He does it himself, breaking his day down into a series of poses chosen more or less unconsciously from the range of dominant stereotypes.”