Final Portrait : A Film Review

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Final Portrait
Written and directed by Tucci, Cast : Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clémence Poésy, Tony Shalhoub and Sylvie Testud and is produced by Gail Egan, Nik Bower and Ilann Girard and executive produced by Deepak Nayar, Fred Hogge and Ted Blumberg.

Portrait of the artist by the sitter

The contemporary art world has its many critics and the American art critic James Lord is one who is here shown investigating the ambiguities and parallax views of abstraction and reality, through his invitation by Giacometti in 1964, into his studio to sit for a portrait. It follows James Lord interviewing Alberto Giacometti whose Swiss/Italian is a volatile mix of capitalist and socialist dogmatism. Giacometti sits lachrymose and reflective in the opening scene of their encounter at the Gallery which has as the exhibition title simply – Giacometti. With superb grace and fluid interpretation both Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer quickly set forward a relationship based on the repertoire of Giacometti’s work and James Lord as ‘spokesman’ for the outside world accepts the invitation into the world of Giacometti. Lord who is given through his own love of the work and appreciation, an entre nouses to the act of, in this case painting. Rarely will Giacometti have found someone to speak at length about his work while at the same time being the subject of it. The setting is in the Paris studio and its neutrality of colour produces a psychological difference to the other elements of the film which concern the outside life, contrastingly bright and vital with itself providing an unreal Paris of superficial at times Giacometti’s reality.

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Writers and Photographers

While the book on which this is based is itself a work which endures as criticism there were precedents. I have an edition (1996) hardback book by Photographer David Douglas Duncan who in 1957 did a very similar thing. His book is called Picasso paints a Portrait. It to follows the days chronologically as this films tracing out of time passes over. Poetically visual it deftly and precisely charts the process and an empathy emerges as it does with James Lord the inquisitior and the subject art of Alberto Giacometti in the human being. Giacometti seeks to inform how his work evolves yet the contrariness of both artists is evidenced, as well as ego concealed partially – less so in Picasso oeuvre – a gigantic sometimes overwhelming one – one which a note of caution is delivered by Giacometti in a midway mid-day stroll through the sunny graveyard he fondly uses as a basis for remaining ‘grounded!’. At the foot of this piece you will find some illustrations from that book. Two things stand out as key connections to the simple task in hand, their use of the wicker chair as symbol of today’s modernity and the other Egyptian influences. The ancient in tune with this ‘simplicity’ they cannot acquire except in a object of desire.
This film, Final Portrait is based on James Lords book, Giacometti : A Portrait, which many after seeing this will be seeking out to rehearse the insights we have here in a short time witnessed. The film has, like the title, two meanings and hemispheres. Cubism is to Giacometti one success which Cezanne spoke of as geometry speaking in everything. Cubes, Cylinders, Spheres. After all is trivial. This is also a point to collect a thought on Giacometti’s work which is linear and textured could not show the aforementioned but never recognisable instantly as being cubist.

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His early influences

Giacometti was a prolific student of drawing taught by his artist father and academy led with which he acknowledges his work was able to spring from and become the serious insightful presence of interpretation going back through a lineage to Egyptian art, Cycladic art, also work conceived by the African Dan tribe which eschewed literal by making symbolic protrusions, depressions, and which itself had no notion of itself as Artwork, more a record of the interior life’s present and enjoyed. Replicating the partially understood. So far and not beyond. Here in modern society we are blessed and equipped with tools of interpretation and also the comparison of work having gone before because this is the territory opened up by Gaicometti and our brief excursion into understanding it is part of the overwhelming wash of visual mental stimulation 21st century art through instragram, Pinterest, Google has put in front of us. There is no place it seems nowadays for things to be tentative as we know all too well the temporality of everything. Yet we revisit ad memoirium things and objects arrested moments. We love the memoriter.

There is one point in Giacometti’s life, very early on while he was in the tutelage of his teacher, Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, when his first model, and love probably was sitting for him and he realised this – His approach was inspired by one model. In the winter of 1920 he began a sculpture of a friend with whom he was staying and, after six months of her sitting for the work, he suddenly realised a complete fracture between what he saw and what he could make. This crucial turning point became the reference for every artwork he subsequently created; he claimed every portrait after descended from this one piece – the film does place the same into the narrative exactly when James Lord first sits down.

There is an important point of change in his life which is the death of his and Diego’s father in 1933. He altered his work becoming more ‘ruminant’ perhaps is one way of expressing it.

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Plasticity of words and work

The words, not coined by his Catalogue writer, Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘The figures were never for me a compact mass, but rather like a transparent construction.’ This was written in 1929 to Pierre Matisse on the pieces, Homme et Femme and more persuasively Femme Couche qui rêve (1929) which goes back to the African Dan tribe depiction of a woman and birth. It is telling that Giacometti relied on others as well as his tutors to remove the clouds around his art. Jean-Paul Sartre was trusted but he, Giacometti did depend on success or recognition at least to see it’s worth in continuing to work as he did. It was as most artists worth their salt dependant on shedding some insights on the world while their here.  He explodes at the point of a mark misplaced with the F word.  There is an ambiguity I saw in the latent homosexuality of Giacometti withstanding his prolific indulgence with the ‘fallen’ women he cherished.
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Hard discovery

He also took on the burden of thinking, as this film’s period shows the mortality and proximity and control one had over ones life. He disavowed while at the same time contemplated suicide but was in his bi-polarity state only briefly. Instead he devoured life around him and unlike Virginia Wolff was unable to attest to the sovereignty of life by ultimately cashing in her mind for, it is beyond us to see what state of mind took VW beyond the trouble she conceived existed around her. No explanation is offered into the needs and further explorations Giacometti needs to make except by the otherwise obtuse virtue of the title of the film. The Final Portrait.
As it is a test Giacometti put to himself which is voiced in the film I bring the Virginia Wolff discovery of herself unable to resist her choice in this final letter to her sister Vanessa Bell, herself a painter. “Sunday – Dearest, You can’t think how I loved your letter. But I feel I have gone too far this time to come back again. I am certain now that I am going mad again. It is just as it was the first time, I am always hearing voices, and I shan’t get over it now. All I want to say is that Leonard has been so astonishingly good, every day, always; I can’t imagine that anyone could have done more for me than he has. We have been perfectly happy until these last few weeks, when this horror began. Will you assure him of this? I feel he has so much to do that he will go on, better without me, and you will help him. I can hardly think clearly anymore. If I could I would tell you what you and the children have meant to me. I think you know. I have fought against it, but I can’t any longer. Virginia.” This was ever a similar but converse reaction to the ‘final portrait’ Giacometti never gave up on achieving.

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Telling direction

The ‘Final Portrait’ is itself decided by the very accomplished writing and Directing of Stanley Tucci. His grasp of the subject is immense. He is able to take away the familiar work as it is of a different time. He knows he is dealing with the later matured Alberto. He therefore cannot use the familiar pieces or work to ‘familiarise’ us with the extent and immense groundbreaking work he had produced. Only one piece I have seen before – there are sketches and variations of small and human scale pieces which are in the studio – one in the courtyard depicts this drawings final realisation in the courtyard entrance at the beginning of the film. The work of the twenties, thirties, forties is virtually uncatalogued but ideas are plentiful as is reminiscent stories for James to absorb while being painted. It is revelatory in the time capsule. It shows the duality of the scheme of life between the existence and non existence.

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Form and structure.

Stanley Tucci is very astute in the delivery of this story. For its structure is easy to follow being based on a narrated daily journal of the sitting for the portrait. Day 1, Day 2 etc., and we are given a Film of two kinds. One is the easy chronological insight into the contemporary art world of the sixties and the emotional drivers of Giacometti through his loves and acquaintance’s. The story has love, familial compromise, conviviality, depression, joy, angst, joie de vivre, criminality, greed, regarde, consciousness, worldliness, humour, with very little disposition for effect.
The world is on the one hand depicted as a portrait of the artist with bourgeois representation and light touch Parisian gallic charm ruthlessly exploited with the musical pathos the serene views and historical significance of Liberté, égalité, fraternité and the Marseille Frenchness lightly painted for a film audience not to become vexed by the characters seen but warming to them in a symbolic way. The confronted, the confronted, the aesthete, the consort, the domicile, the contented. There are better representations but these token characterisations are employed here to imply the construct is made this way to give an audience its clear idea of being able to believe in the art and artist. The other way, the second, is Stanley Tucci delving into the very words Giacometti said about his work which he shows us is the basis of an insightfulness achievable through this two handed piece of portraitist and the sitter. In it is life explored. The arc of Alberto Giacometti is clearer for the method used.
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His studio

The studio is a back street 46 rue Hippolyte Maindron and it is what he tells his wife Annette – played beautifully, constrained and wild in equal measure and a devotee, by Sylvie Testud – as home. It is literally like a void only filled by the work and the presence of people. It has not affectation. A word he delights in using. Then there is the Café life, the Café Adrien which is more a fully developed restaurant. The outdoors comprises a few streets and occasional boulevard but mostly is the graveyard with its Mausoleum’s and Standing Gravestones. As well as this we meet in the studio the visiting lover and consort under no pretence of it being otherwise his favoured muse and adulteress Caroline played with coy affected joyfulness by Clémence Poésy. In one scene it is a place he visits disconsolate and adrift in search of the lost Caroline in which there are sheltered under the hood of deaths doorway heavily metaphorically the mistresses of petit morte.

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So his world is captured in a few locations and this allows the words to be expressed between James and Alberto. Ever watchful is Diego played by a very balanced Tony Shalhoiub his talented brother, talented in measurement, of the presentation and value of work who exercises influence whenever he can to see things do not get out of control. He also produces small pieces and lets them alone to exist as material objects not having apportioned value. Diego had a child which Alberto represented, un-childlike but as metaphor, in a famous sculpture which recognised love. Over the days their conversations become more complex and both become at ease. These illuminate the story as Stanley Tucci uses these periods to delve into the place of the primary issue being scoped out. That perhaps being the artists battle with the void in art which is seen in every sculpture and painting, sketch he produces. This emptiness has the force to be greater than its minimal presence. In the studio there is a collection which he either consoles himself with or as stimuli to create better versions of his works. It is a very sparse but cluttered space.

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James Lord is able to follow the painting process while continually, at his partners unamused confusion, postponing his departure and is able to extend for weeks, his insight observing and getting to know Giacometti. He is able to eventually discern which brush Alberto picks up and which stage of the process he’s at. Infuriatingly he also gets to understand the method of working is just working. That A Final Portrait can never be. He is conscious the work in a split second can be over done and then Alberto lifts another brush to put it to negative effect subtracting what he has worked.
The Working of this film has a duality is as I noted earlier. There are very persuasive actions, mostly achieved through the characters, of Tucci finding opportunities to place empathically the core person behind the career which is famously and at times misconstrued.  The tyranny of his loves, the tyranny of money, his oblique but absorbing view of the small habitué of his studio and district, the machinations of dealers some of whom he is very friendly with and grateful to as they recognise largely the work and they facilitate it reaching a wider audience than either his brother or he could contemplate spending time pursuing.

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Conclusion ####4

This is a fascinating film on a fascinating and visionary, special artist whose work as a Sculptor informed us and many other artists of the extremities and location of limits in the pursuit of a depiction of his reality which overlaps and underscores each and everyone of us capable of sight and observation.  The extent of his drawing is seen in the fact the film comprises in the main act of portraiture advancing.  There are two sides to it also – the futile and ordinary everyday particles comprising life which are oversaturated in light touch direction by this first main feature length film by the appreciative Stanley Tucci – then the intense part – the art and its delivery which is in negative tonal black and white colouration mainly.  It exceeds expectations and is much more than a depiction on film of a book by the highly astute observer, James Lord played brilliantly by Armie Hammer.  To act alongside Geoffrey Rush whose interpretation seems flawless, is itself a task well met.  Geoffrey Rush even gauges the walk, including at this time his limp from a car accident and short practices of working a clay or poster mix (the pieces are complex but textural) and his eye shows the sight and detail the work entails.  Also the framing is Giacometti like in its plainness and directness. Detail is examined and good touches of – what might have been difficult within a studios confined, cluttered space – is done with accomplished smooth ease.  It is a work of loving appreciation and as much accuracy and truthfulness such a journey takes or needs.  Beautifully crafted this will be seen as a highly effective insight to the master at work at leat in the window of the narrow time frame.  The exploration it seems it compels into the other work – Diego sat each day apparently for seven years and was his first and last subject – implies his figure is the everyman.  It is quite a unique piece of work in every sense.

John Graham

16 August 2017

Belfast.

FINAL PORTRAIT will screen at QFT Belfast from 18th August 2017 until 24th August 2017

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Influences

 

Annette and Caroline

 

Picasso

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A Ghost Story

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A Ghost Story

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

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

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

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Unconventional and Astonishing 

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

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

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

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Haunted House some quotes from the Director.

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

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

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Other people pass through

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

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

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Ghost in the House

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

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Holistic Cosmos 

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

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

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Uniform form

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

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Bearing comparison

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

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

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

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Prognosticator

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

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

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


Observatory

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

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Unalloyed brilliance.

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

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Conclusion ##### 5

This is an astonishing film.

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

John Graham

9 August 2017

Belfast

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

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Maudie: A Film Review

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Director. Aisling Walsh. Produced by Bob Cooper. Mary Young Leckie. Mary Sexton. Susan Mullen. Written by Sherry White.

Cast. Sally Hawkins. as Maud Lewis. Ethan Hawke. as Everett Lewis. Kari Matchett. as Sandra. Gabrielle Rose. as Aunt Ida. Zachary Bennett. as Charles Dowley. Lawrence Barry. as Mr. Davis (Shopkeeper) Greg Malone. as Mr. Hill. Billy MacLellan. as Frank. Music by Michael Timmins. Cinematography Guy Godfree. Edited by Stephen O’Connell. Production companies, Rink Rat Productions, Screen Door, Parallel Films. Distributed by Mongrel Media. Duration. 1hr 46mins. Rated PG. Country , Ireland, Canada

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Maudie

In Canadian/Irish production the biographical story of Maud Lewis, Maudie, is told loosely dramatising what must have been a devilishly difficult life. Maudie became a folk artist heroine of great standing by observing Canada and its nature in simple naive art. Her art was picturesque ethereal and colourful. Working everyday she painted every season creating a world few imagined existed anymore. It was a form of magical realism without the realm of fantasy.

Maud Lewis is a determined individual as this story shows. With challenges of firstly chronic arthritis and spinal curvature which meant she struggled to move efficiently, also she was very small and accordingly was seen by her family as lacking the ability to look after herself so ended up being looked after by Aunt Ida in Digby, Nova Scotia. Itself a fishing town on the outskirts of a vast continent it was nevertheless a settlement which suited her outdoor nature loving heart I would suggest. The trouble was the arrangement brought about by a financial arrangement with her brother Charles lacked love which she seemed to crave and be absent from. There is one incident which ‘defines’ the notion, she couldn’t look after herself which is where the arrangement presumably came about.
We see Maudie from mid adulthood and nothing is suggested of her life before then or where her artistic skills we nurtured or became mature. The film’s arc is her adult life. Born in 1903 she lived until 1970.  Little is made of her early life and instead of taking a wider arc it puts aside any melodrama, and events which would have affected her enormously.  Nothing of her parents or struggles to survive the severe rheumatoid arthritis but enter the story when she is being cared for by Aunt Ida or early ventures if any into art.

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The town becomes a character as it provides the inspiration for Maud’s painting. In the local general store she overhears Everett Lewis played by Ethan Hawk, whose Hollywood haircut certainly looks out of place.  There are issues to be found throughout with the time passing element hardly depicting the 35 odd years Everett and Maud had time together.  When he puts out a requests for a housekeeper he  barely expects Maud to be the one putting it up to him as a woman who would do his chores when he is away on his wayfarer fish seeking and junk retrieval business.  He lives in a house about 8 metered square with a sleeping room in the apex of the roof.  It is very unkept but it is also a bit of a home.

Maud after an argument with Aunt Ida goes and takes the job and gets into a routine when Everett takes her onboard.  Everett has been brought up at an orphanage which he still calls into from time to time to get any useful junk they are throwing out.  He even sits down at a meal when it’s on offer with the children who are there.  This makes him very flawed when dealing with people an he has a temper which comes out as abuse with Maud.   Maud who has a number of ailments none of which would hardly be clear of pain.  Both characters are therefore set in an internalised world already with little notion or need foe wider ambitions.  So it is disapponting to see these two actors who are a neat fit spoil the exploration of the characters because ther are no scenes of deep recall or of their backstory.  Surely a major failing in gaining leverage.  Sarah Hawkinsat times seems affected which is far from what I would imagine her character to be.  The first instance of this jarring acting was early on when her brother Charlie is ‘negotiating’ the care of Maud.  She swings and swivels and then having caught this as a note twists her hair and this is often parlayed out later on.  Ethan Hawke places his ‘notes’ in picking up a piece f timber or a tool and chucking it behind him.  I got into a game of will he won’t he ‘discard this item’, it may work and maybe I’m over critical but small things matter as do the cars, the scenery and the seemingly implausibly long walks Maud especially takes to get around.

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The compressed into a series of chapters separated or punctuated by the seasons marching on. We see lots of beautiful wide scope sunsets, serenity of snow filled peaks and spreading landscape along with the tableau of wild flowers seasons arrival is announced by. Just this week the story of the flower received a ‘scientific’ attribution. All flowers it seems derive from one of around 130 million years ago. The first one it is believed was a white water-lily.

Artwork

Undoubtedly the film brings a broader perspective to the work produced by Maud.

Out of the small room comprising the living cooking dining and washing duties from the dark green distance of the walls would come shades of light green emerging into the daylight falling on objects.
As Liz (Dame) Smith once remarked about her loosing her mother when she was two, her mother only twenty three – it is an animal trait that if there is no one standing beside you, others can push you around without fear of confrontation.

 

Conclusion ###3

There has been a routinely good response to this film but I found it asking more questions than it answered.  The ‘family’ situation was totally out of the ordinary and the people in what is basically a two handed do not talk about their lives.  They jointly discover intimacy and it is left aside with moments of abuse entering into it.

I have to say it left me totally underwhelmed.

Go see you will most probably learn from it.

John Graham

4 August 2017

Belfast.On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 4 August through to and including Thursday 17 August 2017

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Howard’s End : A Film Review

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Howard’s End

Directed by James Ivory, Produced by Ismail Merchant, Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Based on Howards End by E. M. Forster

Cast, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, James Wilby, Samuel West, Jemma Redgrave, Prunella Scales, Music by Richard Robbins, Percy Grainger (opening and end title), Cinematography Tony Pierce-Roberts, Edited by Andrew Marcus, Production company, Merchant Ivory Productions

 

 

 

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Edwardian period piece.

This remastered release of the classic Merchant and Ivory Howard’s End depiction of the E.M. Forster’ 1910 novel is a favourite and is seen as one worthy of revived rerelease.  It has not worn that well and is a reminder that when it was made in 1991 it gave of a wiff of sentimentality which Tory Britain resided under and still does.  It reflects on handed down residue of imperial warfare when things are not entirely explained.  The question of how we arrived at this state.  Forster is essentially playful and creates characters with complexities of a backstory and the Anglo-German was to be a prescient but fateful insert with how alike the nations of wealth were like.  It was an age of industrial growth and come hell or high water money was to be made and flights to be taken ships to despatch people to far ends of the earth and Henry Wilcox a true British capitalist is one to take interest in all things colonial.  The import export world of trade and stealing wealth in the form of their minerals of helplessly under developed nations such as in Africa and the Middle East where oil wealth was a bottomless pit.  The wars stay outside the nation.

There is a conceit or play on names with the Schlegel family of an Anglo German bourgeoisie class, with whom the Wilcox’s become entangled and unexpectedly so.  The conceit being maybe a realisation of the already modern Europeans.  The brittleness of the comedic almost farcical leanings of both families, across each other’s lives in a time when place and position were unable to recovery from slight and mishap is something Forster and the duo of that pairing of Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory, who were not just creative partners but life partners, savour.

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At least the upper crust were not ridiculing themselves but a colonial pairing who got the absurdity of the characters extremely observantly.  It set out a past which Britain could reflect on.  The suffragette period and optimism of nations trading withoutvwarring but the warring and colonialism of French, Spanish, English were kept of their respective shores.  The wealth of Henry Wilcox is burgeoning throughout and property after property, become acquired – Mayfair, Shropshire, Somerset – so as to present the period as one where the acquisition of money was enabled by compliance to the golden rule of buy cheap sell high.  In whatever commodity regardless of its origin could facilitate it.

This makes Howard’s End, the family home where the Wilcox family all grew up all the more portent yet a simple piece off rural England.  Possibly Hildenborough in Kent which is renamed Hilton.  

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Literal Strength

Random House provide an excellent readers guide.  The following is taken from it.

It was as a university student at King’s College that Forster was first inspired by the liberal humanism of philosopher George Moore, who advocated the contemplation of beauty and the cultivation of personal relations as a spiritual antidote to the rootless, mechanistic ethos of his age. Forster, together with the young men who would later form the Bloomsbury group of writers (Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, and Leonard Woolf, among others), embraced this challenge to traditional religious morality and to the growing commercial spirit of the time. Forster spent some of his happiest days in this company, a lifestyle mirrored in the Schlegels’ passion for art, friendship, and the life of the mind.

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Society

Comparisons are then clearly explored between the two families.  One rooted in intellectual (Cambridge is never evoked) the artistic, cultural explorers, pioneering, liberal family the Schlegel’s and the industrial rampant Wilcox family immersed in ideas of commerciality and gain.

Implicit is Forsters unease with the limitations of the Schlegel families oeuvre so he nails each character into a dilemma and we see we’re their true values reside.  Margaret played immaculately by a extremely well observed, nuanced performance of Emma Thompson, is the most apparently pragmatically incisive one of the Schlegel family, whose about turn is all too conceited and carried of with superb, carefully careworn empathetic playing.  I always have an affinity with a fellow left-hander.  Albeit a the fictional one is not within our more worthy characters and I believe it’s realised by Emma Thompson.  That about turn is huge.

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Away with nature

Frailty is not a trait of Henry Wilcox but we are given insight after insight as to his loose arrangements with human nature.  They betray his weaknesses and all come around again.  Margaret has visions of uniting town and country, man and woman, commerce and culture while she hold also to the wisdom of ancient voices.

The ancient voices she hear through herself and the troubled vexed and impoverished Leonard who has the misfortune to recieve a bit of advice which turns his life upside down.  Their meeting is another happenstance which is a necessity of the story.  The advice given completely breaks him and his loving wife Jackie, who was left as an orphan at 16 in Cyprus through the death of her trader father. On  returning to England found Leonard.  Leonard is the ancient voice of another time.

His scholarly endeavors at home confuse and make for strange relations with his fiancé,  she is a homemaker but they are in poor housing next to a railway.  The sky and the country are a dreamland which he is unable to share with Jackie, intellectually or spiritually and this side of him finds him behaving erratically, very out of normality for what it is.  Nature v Human nature as Margaret Schlegel would have it.  Her rationalit’s scopes out acceptance of peculiar actions while being unable to fully accept them.  On the other hand Helen is a wild rover on the landscape of the new world arriving.

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Forster challenges through his juxtaposition of the symbolic Howard’s End as an idyll and enchanted garden, the comparison of  modernities progress in London where insurers prosper, gather the risk, where Leonard works diligently and effectively as a clerk (the Porphyrion Fire and Life Insurance Company) against his own anxiety of knowing there is something other than this to life. His character development pitches the redoubtable Mrs Ruth Wilcox into the fray.

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As the eldest and Henry’s wife she is totally in love with Howard’s End which is hers and it came to her through an old yeomanry stock route. When he casts Howard’s End as a fulcrum of the story he does so having regretted leaving his own ideal childhood home just north of London, Rooksnest, and through the industrialisation moving at a quick pace found himself living in Tonbridge, or Tunbridge Wells, where the business class congregated. This was very significant to Forster. He seen it, in his own childhood, as a loss of connection to place, a respect for individuality, and a commitment to the contemplative life which he regarded as in essence England.   It shows how strong place means to the young.  Imbedded in the psyche as a function of survival perhaps as essential knowledge of belonging.

As a King’s College student at Cambridge Forster would be influenced by the Liberal humanism of George Moore, who sought beauty as spiritual solace setting his philosophy out of religious and capitalistic values. In later years he would be stimulated by fellow students later to belong to the Bloomsbury Group, Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, and Leonard Woolf, among others. It previous times it would have been Wollstonecraft, Godwin, Stewart, Blake, Paine radicalising the form of governance with ideals of liberal enlightenment. One separated from religion.

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Samuel West as Leonard Bast

When Forster sets the two families across the street from one another; the Wilcox family move into Wickham Place, the inevitable meeting of the two ladies Mrs Wilcox, Ruth, and Meg, Margaret of the Schlegel family whose aunt is the busy body of their family, Aunt Juley (Prunella Scales) is imminent.   Once formalities are over and they meet regularly Ruth forms a bond with Margaret who is she sees, a younger version of herself. Though Sufferage is not the thing for Ruth who is content for men to be the ones to vote, Margaret is a habitué of the former quietly or thunderously disappearing Howard’s End life epoch. Recognising this Ruth introduces unknown to Margaret another plot device which has the rest of the Wilcox family turn to treat her with distrust and distaste. This is a very re-siting of the Howard’s End ‘character’ as a metaphor for the English throwing the baby out with the bath water and ruining the jewel in the crown, its garden of Eden.

The presence of Henry becomes more evident and the Schlegels seek his advice concerning a person of their acquaintance, the young clerk a Leonard whose tenuous introduction into the Schlegel fold has Helen at least a member of the cause celebre class.  She sees in him a worthiness chrysalis wanting to search for light.  Henry is also seen as a possible real estate advisor which he reluctantly becomes involved in.  Very quickly he is established as having enough wealth to himself plan his next move from Wickam Place and a small flat to a salubrious house in Mayfair.  So Howard’s End, Wickham Place, Mayfair.  To that list he later adds stately houses and farmholdings.  It is never clear how different he regards the lives of the classes but certainly Ruth despairs at this less than Human regard for servants and his lackies.

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The events conspire to create a problem Margaret and particularly Helen feel is partly of their making with their assistance for Leonard having not worked out at all as intended.  The two stories overlap and intrigue in the way they unfold.  There are family asides concerning Howard’s End with Henry’s Ruth obedient sons, Paul and particularly Charles played by the magical James Wilby.  Susie Lindeman as Dolly Wilcox his wife is a funny and doting, simpleton for want of a better word.  Charles is covetous of Howard’s End and is the dogsbody in his fathers commercial trading company.  He makes no decisions, is presumably not allowed to and calls father Sir.  He is a for want of a better word, gormless, earlobe tugging, narrow visioned, unambitious man who goes with the tide.  He creates a future for himself based on Howard’s End and maybe this is a simple everyman though limited scope Englishman Forster sees most men’s ambitions.  It’s hard to draw real hard and fixed forms around most of the characters and cast them in either an intentional negative or positive role.  The basic reasoning I make therefore of Forster’s intention is to have us, the reader, (viewer as Ruth/Ismail/James imagined) place our own vision of society on.

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Margaret and Tibby

The Schlegel set were limited towards recognition of social conventions, economic trend, efficiency, with no realisation of their own position afforded them. Forster presumably was more extensive and global in his view while seeing the English garden of Eden as a parody of the Liberty he felt absent.

The Wilcox’s are more ambitious as far as weddings are concerned and Margaret Schlegel oddly is an independent not seeing any need to marry or it appears any capacity for sexual desire.  When you see how luminous and intelligent she becomes in company it’s not confidence she lacks, she is ambitious for others and watchful of her siblings. Tibby played by Adrian Ross Magenty, is I think the youngest and he is academic without having a need to turn his knowledge into money.  He sets of to Magdalen College, Oxford with a certainty of obtaining greater wisdom having committed himself to being as clever as Margaret imagines him to be.  Just how Margaret advances you will have to go on recall dial or wait to see again or maybe for the first time have this complexity revealed to you by going to see the film.  It is worth it and Emma Thompson plays it so well and with a light hand.

Bluebells

In encountering Leonard the other side of life in London is brought from the shadows. With the use of the countryside Ruth/Ismail/James see the nature as constant and seasonal and the touches of colour and it’s abundance are from the opening shot which has Ruth in Evening dress stroll through woodland and grassland, lavender and pansies edging the lawns we are hopelessly drawn into a rhapsody on cultivated splendour.  Leonard is conspiratol in this as he takes in the outdoors at twilight going through Bluebell wood.  Bluebell wood is in Surrey a staple of natures wonder.

“The more people one knows, the easier it is to replace them. It is one of the curses of London. I quite expect to end my life caring most for a place.”

Surrey has these famous bluebell woods where people visit annually as spring moves into summer.  Winkworth Arboretum (near Godalming)
Abinger Roughs and Netley Park (between Dorking and Guildford off the A25)
Harewoods (Outwood, Redhill) but the most famous which is where we are disposed to call to mind (given the Kent connections)  of I think is Emmetts Garden, Sevenoaks, Ightham Mote, (Scathes Wood) Sevenoaks.  Others and well known through asccess being very simple are in grander places. Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Cranbrook, where there are a mere 126 million bluebell flowers in these woods virtue of the maintenance of those gardens, habitat by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson. Then there is Knole, Sevenoaks.  Knole is the perfect place from which to set off to One Tree Hill, where the heady scent of English Bluebells fills the woodland. One Tree Hill consists of a varied mosaic of habitats, with woodland and open glades, providing homes for some rare wildlife species too.  Most of which lies within an SSSI, and motorways, large Tesco apart is in an area of outstanding beauty.

The situation of nature is not a small one and it is very intentional in my view.  As in Forster’s awakening along the lines of George Moore there is much to be drawn here.  In Ruth’s walk for example.  It is a transition and a walk before twilight.  Just as the floor of bluebells, daffodils and lavender growing in woods open and show amazingly their vital existence; the plant is now a protected species in England, they carpet the close habitats to us with a wonderment.  They come to flower just before the crown of leaves fill the trees and darkness is present under the shade of the trees.  How metaphorical can you get. It is where Ruth is.  Another piece of glory is Leonard striding through, presumably treading down plants in flush of colour, in has ungainly walk.   He lacks the stand back and admire need that presents but ploughs on through.  It is also in the shadows of twilight as he heads into the unknown future with a lack of knowledge to accompany him.  Behind him he leaves anxieties and simpler practical domiciliary occupations of the mind.  Dickens is recollected as a storyteller of the juxtapositions and socitetal mores.  Forster is more ingenious and while utopian Shaw; he gets a mention, science is evident to E.M. as an importance discovering natures atomic secrets and stars astronomy come into Leonard’s field of vision. The Milky Way being a corridor we are in and can see while seeming apart from it.

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Set pieces and Interludes.  

The film is set in chapters of indeterminate length and within one or two of those the error of a fade to black then reintroduction to the same scene at a later point hangs heavy and when initially encountered this appears to be a film reel failure.  It is shown digitally though and is in upscale 4K projection.  So it jars but is only the choice made in the early nineties.

Places

In Tunbridge Wells this vision itself which the original book evokes things changed dramatically ten years after it was written.  I can’t help adding a reflection on the resurgence needed in this part of England and after again in the later War suffering  very badly, it is worth adding more comment.  In TW’s after the War one of the first problems to be faced was the shortage of dwellings. The old houses occupied as billets were gradually reinstated and sold or turned into flats: new houses of moderate size were being put up here and there: there was a desperate need for working class houses. The Corporation had many years before purchased land for the purpose of building small houses, but the opposition to the scheme was such that the land was sold. In 1920, 30 houses of the Hawkenbury Estate were built by the Corporation, but so very high was the price of materials (mostly Government controlled) at the time that the cost was enormous and nothing like an economic rent could be asked. In 1920 an estate was laid out at Rusthall, and in subsequent years additional groups of dwellings have been built to the number of over three hundred houses.

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The late Joseph Bennett who played Paul Wilcox R.I.P.

Conclusion ####4

This is a vision for those unaware that before Downton Abbey there were much better constructs of period drama with a vice like grip on change and changes inherent in people as circumstances alter.  Place is fundamentally symbolic and at the heart of the drama.  The aforementioned stole this too, and feveriously a clash of European idealism itself portending to a future Forster would have had known little or nothing of kept as contrast with the island a petrel blue carpeted idil framed in Forster’s mind, is challenged and is seen to be changing.  Pragmatism is laid out.  Misfortune is experienced.  Love knots are forged and inescapable truths revealed or misread.  Several interweaving strands are for the sake of the book and latterly film are advanced using pardonable device and carry on the story in a wide view.  The alternations are not great leaps and we leave the story for long periods and revisit it in different places and circumstances to see how events have played out.  The characterisations, the celebration of lace and sense of place are at times chocolate box but they are devices with an underplaying part which I describe above.

When I first saw this film I lived in Surrey, was able to take advantage of yearly visits to Bluebell woods and walks in, on Boxhill and visit Knole and Sissnghurst, the Georgian Tunbridge Wells with its beautiful now properly restored, Pantiles.  There is the headless horse rider in Hurst Wood to the 20 ghosts it is said to haunt The Pantiles.  The words and vision is haunting us from ancient times again.

 

John Graham

28 July 2017

Belfast

From 28 July to 3 August 2017 at Queens Film Theatre Belfast and general release.

cant believe its 25 years since it’s made.

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Dunkirk : A Film Review

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Dunkirk

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

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

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Reality is a different thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion ####4

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

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

 

John Graham

21 July 2017

Belfast

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The Midwife : A Film Review

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The Midwife

Director. Martin Provost. Screenwriter. Martin Provost. Music. Grégoire Hetzel. Cinematography. Yves Cape. Editor: Albertine Lastera. Cast.  Catherine Frot, Catherine Deneuve, Olivier Gourmet, Quentin Dolmaire, Mylène Demongeot, Pauline Etienne, Audrey Dana, Marie Paquim.  Producer. Curiosa Films / France 3 Cinema / Versus Production.  Camera (color, widescreen): Yves Cape.  Drama. Comedy | Comedy-Drama. France. Duration 1hr 57mns. 2017.  Cert. 12a.

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What’s expected?

A midwife Claire (Catherine Frot) gets an unexpected  call from her father’s old mistress, Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve) and they overcome long held exclusion from each other’s lives to put together a new relationship of friendship. This is the first time these great actresses have worked together.  The film begins with a picture of Claire at work and the medical drama of new born life is as a metaphor for new beginnings.  Martin Provost has some brilliantly composed lines and it is often like a novelist describing the minor detail, painting the larger picture we are eased into.  That bigger picture is the enduring power of connections sharing different memories and moving on to form a new warmer, tender beginning, in the later chapter of their lives.  Claire’s kind hearted strength of having been the midwife and someone who continues to deliver babies,  is faced with career choice with Hospital ‘efficiencies’ causing a sweeping away of the old and this too is another form of metaphor for change in someone’s life.  We assume we have three acts, the junior, the summer then the winters tale.  The unkind conveyor belt mechanised world is not indifferent but is certainly less intrinsically human and money too features across this film as a ‘commodity’ of trade.  The new regime would be in – out, out, which troubles her conscious of what world we need enter at birth.   Béatrice has been the cavalier capricious free spirit which Claire’s father made his mistress, possibly a paid companion, against the backdrop of Claire’s upbringing and own sense of family which was insular and having had mixed messages.  From her fathers philandering and her mothers burden; little is revealed about her, of being never seen to be happy but moderately raging.

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Tale of two Catherine’s

Frot (Marguerite) and Deneuve (3 Hearts) came at this with half of France, the attached to film half, full of anticipation of a Gallic weft of modern love and fidelity covering a period post 1969 and the quiet revolution dealing in the present with past times and establishing new revisions of life.  Claire’s husband was a swimmer of some skill and a successful sportsman.  Think Mark Spitz lookalike, (younger ones use a search engine) virile, moustachioed, swimmers body and he fell off the public world of sport, no longer attaining the adoration, in the void, of his closest, maybe, so his spirit was held together by Béatrice.  Domestic life for Claire, an only child, was fraught and she recalls the part of Béatrice in her childhood course.  Nantes? is where Claire lives and she is content in this town with long attachments.  A beautiful moment – of directorial/screenwriters complicit, comes later at another birth scene.  There are many and quite graphic.  Some involving presumably ‘clinical’ models.  There is also a clear heads up on Béatrice’s condition which is life threatening.  Béatrice’s condition is a fulcrum to the establishment of a new ‘maternal’ relationship and it has a great deal of very thoughtful and deliciously cinematic force in the minuscule which French Cinema teases out for droplets of screen genius.  Cafe scenes are particularly all enveloping.  Firstly they are basically a place for reasonably priced food of quality and habitually patronised – the polar opposite of the ‘nameless/named’ posh restaurants where good food is seen by the practicing chefs as your privilege to consume, these edible artworks.  Splendidly adroit is the detail,

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Martin Provost delivers key speeches on these moments.  Reveals often happen over a dinner plate. Not the minor ‘I am a vegetarian’ ‘I don’t drink, I get too emotional.’   Lines are a soufflé and rise to perfection – without giving too much hubris to what is simply a good meal well taken – as this film provides.  Some lines I forbid myself from passing on but they are a testimony to the heft and construction of the medium of such ‘soft’ cinema.  Martin Provost’s gift of language and his humanity along with the delivery of the well crafted scenes, is a fundamental graceful exploration of our values, conceits, misinterpretations, bad times, good times with readjustment and a sensuous affirmation of life with new beginnings – if delivered by The Midwife.  Some births are difficult (some recent thought is given to it being the origin of violence at the pre-birth and delivery itself portending fate!) and this is a tale of taking life as it happens to exist.

The pleasure Claire receives from being The Midwife, induces a maternal instinct which seems to kick in over other parts of her life.  From the juniors she tutors, to the to-be father intent on seeing and retaining this memory of his child’s birth, she places him in control alongside her.

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Prowess and excellence

Séraphine (2008 seven César Awards)  Violette, are most renowned Martin Provost films, and the previous years (2015) Things To Come, was a deeper themed film, using premier acting talent (Isabelle Huppert a lapsed professor roping a young man) and now The Midwife, is a companion piece of a seemingly slightly lesser mould but it is accurately playful and scopes out a story without having a doctrine or pledge of moral guidance but instead provokes the ‘well what would I have done?’ test of French ingenuity.  With regard to screen presence and performance ever present in some portion in domestic French film, it recalls Bardots sexual presence, though here the view is reflected back.  Denueve as  temptress is easy to imagine and having used her allure with her compelling sexuality striving to reach her inner spiritual self seeking something different than the banal.  Béatrice has even altered her name we learn, implying the child looking out to a more attractive future.  This is a docile view on sexual capture and how Claire’s father was enraptured by Béatrice.  As Julie Newmar said about her onscreen presence with Batman it was about the sexual chemistry and that was a kids comic story, it was a flirtation with life’s expectations.  So is this little composition piece has, with the richest ingénue, Catherine Denuevue alongside the more staid Catherine Frot, has elements of a feminine story – not as ‘frothy’ as Madame Bovary – but which similarly tells of a middle aged woman seeking fulfilment outside her marriage and seeing the existing bourgeois in its attire, disheartening and unchallenging of her inner spirit.

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These actresses, Queen-pins of French Cinema, have a great time knowingly playing with their own perceptions of womanhood.  Catherine (Béatrice) has instinctively from a child perhaps formed two selves.  The outer complaint one and the inner one who questions and this extends outwardly towards her desires.  Her excessively sensuous charm and strikingly attractive appearance is conflicted with her habitual reserve.  The reserve in Catherine (Claire) is meticulously, serene, ordered and her attractiveness is the whole assuredness, with you thinking her devotion to herself as a construct, is material upon some inner spiritual strength, a Mother Superior who isn’t a gad-fly perhaps a product of her childhood and necessity to prove a way forward to bring up children in opposition to her own upbringing.  Marguerite (a Florence Foster Jenkins comic role) won Gaul, Catherine Frot a César Award, makes ten! She shows her comedic and serious sides here with ease. There are startling moments in the candor of touch which have you thinking outside expectations.  Little accident but superbly crafted acting/directing brought together with more depth for you to absorb.

Two looks at loving.

On relationships, Béatrice who latches on a question from Claire, explains her itinerary of lovers and short lived good times – without delving too much into the longer past – and she is quick to see Claire’s approach to men as having little tact or womanly instinct, something Béatrice has in spades.  That is another foible of Béatrice’s – the money thing and taking un-proportioned risk.  Going beyond the no risk and healthier tact of Claire’s, non-smoking, no gambling, no-drinking, no-sex drive, no-exertion – only fresh air at her allotment and delivering in most senses, a sterile unpassionate directed professional direction with her unfolding life.  The comparison the film provides through the story is revealing to Claire herself.  This relationship she takes on, is as an act of courage, suspending the past but learning through the course of things parts of the backstory she had little proper recall of.

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Into the picture come..

There are two other characters I haven’t got round to mentioning who play a large part. Though this is like a two handed piece it would be lost without other ingredients to shift and press out realities. The characters brought, are both on Claire’s side of the relationship.  One is her son Antoine (Quentin Dolmaire) whose comes along with his girlfriend to see his mother. The young couple both study cadavers and ‘life’ at Medical school.  They are quite startled by the emergence of Béatrice and the maternal instincts Claire has brought home again, which have them concerned.

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There is also a new character Claire meets at the allotment and a friendly, unexpected relationship develops there, much to Béatrice’s happy surprise. Mr Paul Baron (I think he actually tries referencing a name change!) played terrifically lightly by Olivier Gourmet, looks after his ailing fathers allotment and he also is away a lot.  The free spirits now surround Claire!  Mr Paul, after a walk up hills, where his breathlessness Martin Provost includes as testimony of their being past his ‘peak’ – no pun intended, Claire is fit from cycling. Here it becomes a place of normality as she surveys the wide horizon from her new viewpoint. All this and no car to search further! This story of late love is itself very touching in a slightly saccharine – not overly – dramatic way which employs some now – things are happening despite everything that preoccupies the time in both Claire’s and Béatrice’s lives which means they have to grapple with an assortment of things as life provides.

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Anyone fancy a bit of trepanning?

Overtly conspicuously Gallic.

Cruelly some have described ‘pleasantries’ as treacly.  Obviously down to the viewers expectations. There is a scene when Claire eventually takes to the wheel of a car which is a comedy overplaying her incapabilities.  It has the added pleasure of taking us on a tour of backstreets of Paris, the posh bits of Place des Invalides? Rue de Grenelle? Rue de Varenne? Embassy nooks, familiar places and a slow journey along the Seine.  There is a lot of travelling and a Road trip thrown in which is fun for all concerned, viewer included. With no compromises necessary, French Cinema has the ability to express, emphasise parts of the story with some brio and it is sometimes told with bold strokes. Of simple notes such as Claire’s private ‘regard’ of her looks coming unexpectedly or the Road trip where bonding camaraderie are forged notes. The musical score too is plaintive and melancholic at times and some special ‘homage’ is paid by Béatrice’s reminiscences with Paul over a glass or two.  They are not with as some critics would have you believe, done with a blacksmiths hammer but with adroit grace and It is especially true with Catherine Denuenve who is gorgeously indiscreet with her character and fends off nonsense while showing a brilliant vunerablity.  There is no acquiescence made on her taking on the role and not delivering a perfected performance down to her tactility with everything she handles. It sits just so as they say.  As it should.

Very little of the narrative is flexing of French emotional angst.  No ‘fracas’ no ‘terrible consequences’ just clothing references from the extremely fashionable, silk bloused incorrigible at times playacting Béatrice whose life is to hang on.  She wears leopard, tiger prints, gold bold jewellery and flirts everywhere with her pursed red rouge lips.  Com si com sa. Just to be ungallic.

Conclusion ####4

This is played by two wise and gifted performers alongside a troupe of splendidly observant actors whose place is of plenty of import as we embrace the new relationship formed by the two principles.  The course ahead is a rocky one and in md-life the past comes home with a vengeance.  For Claire it is a pathway out of her slumber as a single parent and having the difficulty of a making career choice which itself is problematic.  Béatrice is opposite and once wild adventure seeker and has now to face a health problem which will maybe topple her from her lust for life.  Martin Provost is something of a storyteller who makes films. His way with words and crafting a script have novel forms to it.  There are some lines worthy of an August serious novel and in this cinematic form deepen the appeal of watching an ensemble of talents playing out his narrative with wonderful tact and pace.  There are some fairly predictable elements however these are merely to catch the watchful viewer and accord some states of normality in parts that appear convenient story elements.  Mr Paul for instance turning his potatoes on the allotment.  The work situations as they unfold for Claire and her taking a maternal role.  It’s likely these are the items some regard as staid, and crisis what crisis? type retorts.  Very unkind and not appreciative of the glorious way both play their respective woman profiles and placing nuanced knowing wisdom in the fallow ground of simple concept to make fertile ideas about life’s challenges and how the past appropriates our actions.  This is a very entertaining and enveloping watch.  The comedy is raw at times and others subtle and subversive.  It is a remarkable piece of film making which confirms the status of the author as a wise pair of hands and eyes on the spectral wonder that is French cinema. No devices or contrivances needed.  To watch you need go along with the story as a chorus of multiple played notes which you have to take according to your own perceptions.
John Graham

5 July 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 14 July to Wednesday 26 July.  No screening on Sunday 23 July 2017.

Cardboard Gangsters : A Film Review

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Cardboard Gangsters

Director Mark O’Connor. Writers. Mark O’Connor and John Connors.  John Connors as … Jason Connolly, Fionn Walton … Dano, Kierston Wareing … Kim Murphy, Jimmy Smallhorne … Derra Murphy. Remainder of cast listed alphabetically: Paul Alwright … Glenner, Alan Clinch … Whacker, Stephen Clinch … Ross Kelly, John Dalessandro … Lukey, Damien Dempsey … Curley Murphy, Gemma-Leah Devereux … Roisin, Kyle Bradley Donaldson … Stephen Kelly, Graham Earley … Evers Dempsey, Tristan Heanue … Kieran, Fionna Hewitt-Twamley … Angela Connolly, Ryan Lincoln … Cobbi, Ciaran McCabe … Sean Murphy, Lydia McGuinness … Christina, Corey McKinley … Micka Dempsey, Laura Murray … Mrs. Wilson, Aaron Blake O’Connell … Wilson, Toni O’Rourke … Sarah, Cathal Pendred … Security Officer, Robbie Walsh … House Gangster.

Duration 1hr 32mins.  Cert. 18.

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Darndale story

The Irish crime drama Cardboard Gangsters plots the story of a Dublin community, Darndale, and the infiltration of drugs into its streets and homes.  The culture is at epidemic proportions across Dublin with a crime base largely destroying the communities they were brought up in and now have drug overlords with patches to deal and exploit. Feuds are common with assainations, kidnappings, overseas gang warfare and a public caught in the crossfire. It’s little wonder Mark O’Connor and John Connors want to tackle this subject and give it a treatment which delves into the minutiae of the drugs trade and the fall out as a reality met daily. Matt O’Connor, into his fourth feature, is a conscientious socially driven Director whose film making promises a format which is well paced, as this is, full of good characterisations, which this has, follows social reality without compromise and tailors a crew and cast to deliver striking stand out films. This is one which sets out with those same intentions. The drawback is it falls into too many cliches and formulaic characterisations filling the story with very strong emotional drivers and brilliant performances yet labours with the one dimensional menu.

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Unparalleled Mother Son performances.

Jay Connolly played superbly by joint writer John Connors  just has too narrow a set of markers to put down. He plays a 26 year old who is unemployed and is a part time DJ at nightclubs were drugs are an entry requirement. He makes little money on this skill but has a sideline dealing in soft recreational drugs plus some cocaine. He and his mates are similarly banjacksd by the country, city they live in which has cardboard cut out capitalism on every billboard franked by the receipts of the lowest corporate tax rates anywhere which shored up a decrepit and corrupt government over decades of sham luxury development and high escalating property prices. It began with Zoe Developments and never stopped until the 2008 crash and they wound the windows down and let out the stink of corruption which enveloped the whole shebang – the money trailer they all were on board. The stench was smelt across Europe to the US and the EU Bank removed Irish sovereignty as penance while debts were written off and money trails led everywhere with few debtors thrown into prison.

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Getting shafted

Nama was born as was austerity.   Jay and his friends live off dole money and it doesn’t last long as most of them are into drugs in a small way to escape the mill grinding them into the ground.  Jay is reported for ‘working’ as a DJ and he merits loosing any income he has through welfare while an investigation ensues. This is a major problem and he lives with his widowed mother Angela, played by a very soulful Fionna Hewitt-Twamley and the two share a pragmatic, but despairing state of limbo.  His mother is watchful of him and knows the local criminal background. The background which took away his father.  Both are still in grief after five or so years and it is not getting any easier.

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Early hopes of escape

When the film opens we see four lifelong friends as young boys of about seven and their lives are semi feral as the wilderness as well as derelict buildings, heaps of builders rubble and eventually the woods around their North Dublin homes.  The shift is swift to the present, as they stroll around the Darndale streets, weighing up the pros and cons of various criminal enterprises they rotate in their minds.  As things take that change of direction for Jay, no income, he is in desperate need of cash and his mother is not managing either which he is quick to spot.  Both are pivotal in this film and one of its strongest parts is their relationship.  They are born with this part of Dublin as an unshift-able genus loci of all of their live’s.  God does not feature as a healer for either but his mother has a mothers belief that – if she is true to herself and carries the sacrifices for which she has no reward – except Jay’s unconditional love – then there is no counter alternative.  Love and God’s, a spirits, unseen presence, imagined everywhere.  Whatever the conditions are there is almost an unwritten law held within that life/death exist in parallel for reasons beyond them all. The version preached by the Catholic Church up to a point when their debased behavior came back to confront them was the version most families relied on but it’s far from the simple form of love and peace Jays mum is clinging onto mentally.

Now Jay reaches a crossroads and their is no turning back. The poster says ‘Take back what’s yours‘ yet we do not know in all truth what that could actually refer to. Drugs most instinctively – obviously alluding to their patch – but also take back the stolen respect and dignity and is another John Connors cause célèbre which it is very hard to tease this out with this narrative, despite the presence of ever component of the drugs trade and its immorality and tragic effects on all who come in touch with it.  Undeniably the intentions to go deeper using the story vehicle are there.

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The Gang of Four

Failure of plot happen with the four. They portray types frequently visited. Jay is the quiet leader and decisive one. He acts after a sharp intake of nitrate polluted air when crucial decisions have to be made.  His reactions always are swift.  There is his sidekick, Dano – Fionn Walton, who is a wanna be Jay but lacks the smarts and has an overinflated idea of his strength and animal logistics.  To that pairing add one other pair with firstly,  coloured native Dubliner, (John Dalesanndro?) who is all Dub and a well rounded good natured citizen with his identity fully formed but with the continual racist deflection others make of his colour ever present.  His side kick is an ordinary kid still dreaming of being a rock star – Edge/Bono/Damien Dempsey (whose songs permeate and add very very strong messages to hang the plot and narrative on) while being a rapper with an attitude in the reincarnation of Snoop dog? as Joyce of the Street reborn on the Northside. Music is their escape too.  It is no less than another songwriter, Paul Alwright.

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These two are more passive and get in over there heads when the plan Jay concocts to take over all the heavy drug dealing in Darndale gathers pace. He intends to run rings round them and take over under the noses of two sets of dealers, one a long in the tooth – Derra Murphy,  so implausible as an active Gangster not to have been wiped out by this stage – who has been doing it for 30 years non stop. Around him are a narcissistic bunch of fellow delusional hoods and pastiche Gangsters like something out of the Sopranos junior prom. The other dealer of importance he has to float off in a boat is a Northern Irish itinerant family with a hierarchy also base on the Sopranos but with an implausible young gobby boy whose resemblance in demeanour is stolen from the kid in ’71. the one who bad mouths the army. It is a bit hard to swallow due to it being delivered as one dimension bites.

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There is no slack or nuance. There is of the first mentioned old timer Gangster, Derra a real wife, Gangsters Moll, Kim played with brass by Keirston Waring of Eastenders and her hang out Ricky from The Office. who is put into situations which are far too dangerous in reality to be convincing. Everyone is an informer and it is a very degrading and bedraggled performance by a woman who ticks all the boxes and convinces you of her emotional harm and physical fragility before the inevitable happens.  The main dealer gets on his horse.  His son Sean is a go-between on the streets and his life is also to be entangled in this world as his figurehead, mentor father is the wild old man Jimmy Smallhotne as Derra Murphy.  Not a nice guy when riled.

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Screw ups, RedemptionRevelations

Jay has hit the rails in this whole new environment of his own making.  At 26 he has not modified his survival instinct to accept it could all end very badly.  Why is this seen as possible in a guy as smart as him?  He has an alternate life in a relationship with Sarah played by Toni O’Rourke, again an outstanding believable piece of acting and he has a way towards a happier life but he does see it getting out of shape in screwing it up.

What I get is a story of redemption appearing.  In the void made by his father he sees it as a probable route out of the unbearable grief of losing his mentor – not great on that score – and feels obliged to do it for the sake of his mothers security. Into this path of a future with a cause and a faith in it being the right thing he sets up scenarios which is the embodiment of the phrase ‘Take back what’s ours.’ This is a task he takes on like the universal soldier without fear or idea of wrongness. He is oblivious and a totally different person. The violence of the film is ramped up and the heat is furious as the story moves towards its sorry end.

The twists, plots, betrayals, double crosses are thrown out in every direction and within it is framed Jays realisation of his fate and his journey. It is very audacious way to take on a story which is part of the everyday practically and make it new with edge and believability but it falls down by following – and this is a first go at feature length writing as a collaboration of O’Connors and Connor so it bodes well for more nuances and less predictable tropes. I was reading about the Cartel Wives, a true story written by two sisters married to twins and Mexicos biggest drug dealers into Chicago and much of America and they played the stereo types but we’re in a different league. There is also the Matthew McConagaghy Dallas Buyers Club which wrote an entirely weird and contemporary wildfire take on drug dealing Texas style which I thought superb and a whole Club of emotions entangled in a modern world.

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Conclusion ###3

I have to bite into my critical viewpoint and not become over run with sentiment.  Dublin, Ireland deserves a film such as this, just to lift the lid off ordinary life in the shameful presence of the drugs trade exploiting the wracked minds and medically uncared for addicts and the outpouring of huge societal problems accumulating year after year.  The film goes into a story partly based on criminality which even since it was made – 2016 – is on an unrelenting course of spiraling brutality.  From previous eras these stories also come into day to day conversation and filmmakers such as Mark O’Connor see the task of their own driving force the need to put onto screens in startling effective realistic storylines something of the view outside the cinema or home.  King of the Travelers became an opus in real story progressed film narrative.  This too is neither sentimental, glorified, sexed up, hyperrealised but a searching account without answers as none come forward.  Ever.  The account is full of bloody and messy translations of human fortune delivering a grueling watchable unfolding perspective of a life in Darndale.  It takes you into places beyond the limits its trope ridden script – it follows a formula without jettisoning the usual gangster movie traits for something extraordinary – which it is in proximity of without delivering.  The scenes are beautifully framed in tracking without settling but continuing apace when things get serious, by the wide frame and flowing cinematography of Michael Lavelle and Directorship of Mark O’Connor’s strength of compressive – no out but violent immmersion.  While it is flawed in several ways it is an opening of the view never properly taken before as Cinema material.  John Connors could play a priest or an American suited and booted crooked Businessman or a junkie Coach of a Football team or even I thought. – well your imagination will be challenged as this is pulled out of the fire by performances heart felt and convincing in the deepest way effecting.
On at Queens Film Theatre from 23 June 2017 and that screening will have an introduction by John Connor, possibly Q/A?  and will continue through to and including the 29 June 2017and on general release.

From a writer whose songs have crossed the world and is an inspiration at around 31 for lots of young Irish musicians I found myself looking at his website and a letter from Damo.

Heres a very insightful and thought provoking excerpt. Hope he doesn’t object to the cut and paste!  See it all at http://damiendempsey.com/a-letter-from-damo – he puts down what inspires him.

Sam was sent to Ireland as part of a food removal regiment. These regiments were stationed all over Ireland, guarding the rivers of food that was leaving Ireland all through this terrible period. Cattle, sheep, pigs, grain, wheat, barley, peas beans, rabbits and an array of different types of food was being shipped to England, as millions of Irish starved. Ireland at this time and for many centuries was known as the garden of England. That’s why it angers me that this period in Ireland from 1845 to 1850 is referred to by everyone and in Irish history books as ‘the famine’. The word famine means extreme scarcity of food, yet in one year alone, 1847,over 4000 ships brimming with Irish food left Ireland for English ports. The same year, 400,000 Irish people died of starvation. So I’d implore people to stop using that phrase. Lets call it what it really was. Mary McAleese has referred to this period as the great starvation; I think that’s a more accurate name. Half the British Empires army was in Ireland at this time guarding the foods passage to the coast, (many Irishmen numbered among them), and the soldiers all had to be fed, this gives you an idea of the amount of food that was in the land during this time. This is what Sam Jenkins was doing in Ireland. Like many soldiers from a poor background, he felt more affinity with the poor Irish than he did with the ruling class English (who tried to brainwash the soldiers into thinking that the Irish were white apes, sub human), and he suffered because of this.

If you have the chance my friends please vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the upcoming U.K. elections, a modern day Sam (if your reading this letter I’m sure you will). This leads me onto the song Simple Faith. I feel we shouldn’t have blind faith in institutions like the state and the church and believe all were taught in school. As you can see above the version of Irish history I was taught in school about ‘the famine’ and Oliver Cromwell and Drogheda’s 2000 dead (Cromwell’s new model army killed hundreds of thousands of Irish in the Cromwellian wars) were cover-ups and lies. And not one mention in an Irish history book of the 50,000 Irish slaves sent to the West Indies or their descendants still there today in Barbados, the Red Legs.

I had to find out these truths for myself through research. The same way I found 5HTP after Brian Cowen banned it in Ireland; I try to be questioning and open. I believe we’re on the cusp of a new dawn, new age of enlightenment. People are talking about who really runs the world and owns the banks and the media. Their talking about the poison put into food and the toxins put into the water. Their growing their own food and eating whole foods, getting into spirituality and nature and mindfulness, looking back in time for learning and wisdom. They’re recycling, glass, plastic, paper, food. The things we can learn now on the internet when we sift through the garbage and do a little research is incredible. A friend of mine Dee from my street told me the Shaman are waking up around the world. A South American Shaman told her this. I’m feeling it. I’m talking about this in the song Simple Faith. People are far more open to herbal remedies now and medicating themselves with them. Their looking at what their ancestors used to heal themselves instead of having blind faith in doctors, who often have the answers but not always.

People are far more open to using cannabis for healing than they used to be. Lots of older people I know are using it for pain relief and other sorts of conditions and ailments. This is another thing that rankles me about having simple faith in the government. Some guy in a suit tells us we can’t use the healing properties of a plant that grows out of the ground, that humans have used for thousands of years to heal all sorts of ailments. The government refuses to legalise it even with the THC taken out it. The THC gets you high but the vast majority of people across the land in pain or with a condition that cannabis can help with don’t want the THC, they want the CBD part of the plant. But the powers that be cruelly say no. Yet the same powers refuse point blank to stop dumping a toxic waste. They purchase this waste with taxpayer’s money from fertilising plants, which would have to pay to dump this fluoride if our government didn’t purchase it from them for our water supply. Saying that it’s good for our teeth (countries across the world have banned it out of their water). Maybe this was true in he 1950s when many people didn’t have toothbrushes or toothpaste or mouth wash. This same toxic waste lowers IQ in children, makes people more docile, and makes people sick. And a lot of people make a lot of money from sick people.How sick is that. That’s kind of the jist of ‘Simple Faith’ anyway.

I’ve an iPhone now my friends, I’ve nearly learned how to turn it on and off, so I hope to be posting more on Facebook, if I ever learn how to take a picture on it. And I just got handed a copy of my first ever vinyl album, mother of god, its so beautiful, tears in my eyes here X.

So from Damo to Samo to good old Jeremy!

 

Churchill : A Film Review


Churchill

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky.  Cast: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy, Ella Purnell, Richard Durden, Julian Wadham.  Screenwriter: Alex von Tunzelmann.  Producers: Nick Taussig, Paul Van Carter.  Production company: Salon Pictures.  Cinematographer: David Higgs. Production designer: Chris Roope.  Costume designer: Bart Cariss.  Editor: Chris Gill.  Music: Lorne Balfe.  Casting Director: Daniel Hubbard.  Cert. PG, Duration 1 hr 38 minutes


Too important a History to portray wrongly

There are to some unbearable conceits within this film as it twists historical record and contorts speeches and rhetoric making at times a banality of its very gripping subject.  I on reflection, some time after seeing it, do recognise the scoping of the film to place Churchills ‘black dog’ – he practically made this term ubiquitous, handling the tormenting angst of war and its repellant outcome at the heart of a hostorical period.  The twist is that while this film shows it differently, Churchill had come round to the possibilities and the necessities driving the D-Day landings in France.  Here he is depicted at being totally at odds with Eisenhower right up to the daybreak on the final push and landing.

How are errors excused?

The choreography is not too clever as it is diminishing what are very able and extremely well carried performances, not least that of Brian Cox who to my mind comes home in the part.  His inflections, minor facial expressions, language spoken and in his bodily bulk; he put on nearly a stone in weight to get the swaying walk and posture spot on and it convinces immeasurably as a great performance despite the mistakes of script and history.


Light Aircraft etc.

The budget was restricted it seems.  No planes, tanks or ships are shown as this is in some ways a psychological drama in its determination to portray Churchill as a mentally crippled individual full of compassion with a deep dark hole of self doubt and awareness over the magnitude of the role he has.  Firstly as Prime Minister during the war having successfully dealt with the Blitz three years earlier it is now 1944 and D-Day for which years of preparation, a large part of which was the training in places throughout Northern Ireland, Kilkeel , Co. Down being a particularly good example where 8,000 young American airmen went on training missions, trained in dark barns as gunners shooting at projections in the sand and setting up fun attacks on the beach, in the shadow of the Mournes.  The planning was Eisenhower’s own as a Commander of the Allied forces.  Churchill was a politician and strategist.  He tried to hold the moral high ground but was at times considering chemical weapons as a means to defeat the enemy such was his commitment to the UK.


Chaptered we move

The film takes its time scale as chapters of the countdown to D-Day, Operation Overlord, D-Day minus 3 and takes us into the minutiae of the dealings between the leading militarists. Navy, Airforce, Artillery and Eisenhower heading the campaign and responsible for the ultimate decision of when to land.  Some details are overlooked, like the French airman, General Maurice Challe, on the day before D-Day handing over the Luftwaffe order of battle to Britain giving a significant indicator of where the firepower was to be directed while the Allies were planning a precise attack.  They were disposed, in other words elsewhere and surprise was a key element.  Encounters between Dwight Eisenhower (John Slattery) are somewhat theatrically driven and the screen widens to show majestic columns or stately rooms, as locations heightening modern versus old.


The Modern World

Modern Eisenhower uses language which sours in historical terms.  He would never I suggest have been so dismissive with slighted barbs of Winstons role and place at the battlefield table.  His input was invaluable.  This is one of the reasons I think the script has taken a hammering in critics eyes.  Eisenhower would in fact go on to forge an open America having seen Democracy in action in the U.K. and two decades later would be working (when he wasn’t spending half the year on the golf course) with Macmillan in forming alliances to gain access to the Suez Canal.  MI6 and Middle Eastern Committee’s arrived to advance a new world order and to enter the Cold War.  So the script was light on the forging of these continents.  It was the real beginning of Western power gripping modernity and Eisenhower knew it and gained from Churchills wider world view.

The Australian director Jonathan Teplitzk has set up scenes which stand apart, are mini bites of action and dialogue; a quasi chamber piece, from the very beginning where we see the ‘black dog’ staring into the black dark ocean and having visions, to the internal arrangement making of the Palace of Westminster War Rooms and the secretarial recruitment of his dogs body secretary, Miss (Helen) Garret (Ella Purnell) who is hounded for mistakes and if not for the occasional interruption of Clemmie (Miranda Richardson) she would fold under the abuse directed at her.  This itself is overly dramatic but Brian Cox still hold you gripped to the intentions and inner conflicts of compassion, a desperation for things not to fail despite under whose authorship they may proceed.  There are good performances from Julian Wadham as Montgomery and also Richard Durden as the Boer War veteran aide to Churchill, Jan Smuts.  Danny Webb convinces also as Brook.


Spoils of acting

There are several key scenes in which the staging is also placed under a rigid formula of order.  Entrance, disembark, manouevre, engage.  One is set in D-Day minus 3 where Churchill and later King Edward are summoned to the lawns of the American HQ to see the plans laid out on trestle tables.  Montgomery, Brooke’s, Eisenhower, all standing behind their plans.  The sunny day of June is kind and peaceful.  When postulating is over Churchill rails against the plan as I’ll conceived as the landing areas are narrow and forces thin.  The King George VI (James Purefoy) witnesses this and says little.  Another scene which I found to be a fulcrum in the film was one between Churchill and the King.  With recall inevitable of the Kings speech here is a piece of pure acting brilliance as Purefoy arrives unannounced to speak directly with Winston.  What follows is a perfectly scripted speech which is paced and as nuanced as ever you can imagine it precisely to be.  Within it little gold nuggets have you placing this in the historical record.  He refers to his own security mindful of getting too involved as Winston has just earlier recruited him into a dangerous situation.  The King speaks on leaving behind, ‘Lily-Beth who is only 18 years old‘ and we envision the same Lily-Beth all these years later for the umpteenth time – today May – putting another PM in charge.  We envision the young Elizabeth in this grown up world of mutilation and ongoing hardship in the U.K.where sacrifices are incalculable.  It is worth watching the film to see this alone.  Winston with the character now inhabited by Brian Cox is an eloquent, dignified and considerate, conscious foil to this measured in every word, Kings speech.


Preparations

The preparedness for war had been long and hard fought.  As a lone voice with part recognition from Harold Macmillan Churchill saw Parliment deluded by Chamberlain into believing Germany to be, contrary to fact, in poor economic condition.  In 1940 Churchill spoke ‘We “muddled through” the last war, and in doing so, we needlessly sacrificed hundreds of thousands of young lives ……  .  We cannot, we dare not, “muddle through” again’.  Once Chamberlain had been ousted for the falsity of the mounting ‘Phoney War’ and Churchill appointed Prime Minister he summoned Macmillan to create the supply chain and amongst the wares exchanged unbeknown to either ‘heavy water’ arrived from France and the atomic bomb was to emerge.  This is the preset war tableau which Dwight Eisenhower must have been totally aware of and along with that a companion at war was made of Churchill.  No enemy, despite strategic differences in their ages an advances in armaments.   So the film drops the ball conceitedly for cheap dialogue and stand-off.  By the time the change at the head of Government had taken place Hitler had deployed ablitzkrieg on the Low Countries and conquering France.  One month after France signed an armistice legions of British troops were to escape via. Dunkirk.  Soon to be screened will be a depiction of this World War 2 miraculous escape.  When it came round to Operation Overlord when Eisenhower had been summoned back to direct that campaign from America,  Macmillan was ill and out of most War work having brought together a good relationship, in previous years, with Dwight and his right hand man, Bob Murphy who admired him so much he was to write he would ‘become a great representative of your country …. – would make this world a far more attractive habitation’.  That indeed he would progress onto and attempt Post war – giving Churchill the job of building a million homes or more.


D-Day

The deployment of troops is seen from the War room and Miss Garret is stoically still engaged in communications as is Winston.  Overlord has happened and now the numbers of casualties and the extent of success of the invasion would be part of the record.


It’s a Smartphone – you can book your cinema tickets directly through to Queens Film Theatre and be assured of your seat.   They have a good selection of Whiskeys.  You like Black Bush with ice don’t you?

Conclusion ###3

Films in my mind have to have or have the possisibilty of having 5 dimensions.  Firstly the 3 dimensions we sit in, at home or in the cinema or drive-in, as witness to the 4th which is the screen.  Within the vision we see our world or another placed before us and the 5th dimension is when that screen alights with a realm never encountered or one around us never put before us in this theatrical guise.  We are transfixed and know when we have seen something of that far reaching view.  This film has almost the wit and guile the wordsmith Winston Churchill gave us but it falls short hugely as it has a weakness at the third dimension when at times we cannot advance with it from the comfort of our seats and begin to contemplate alternative narratives. Unspoken truths and witnessing conflicts in the false notes we see and hear.  It’s a bit like Gin, an acquired taste.

John Graham

15 June 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 16 June through to and including Thursday 29 June 2017.

The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. … Planning for the operation began in 1943.

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Patton in the Mournes.

The outspoken and larger than life General reached the high point of his career during World War Two, when he led the US 7th Army in its invasion of Sicily and swept across Northern France at the head of the 3rd Army in the summer of 1944. Late that same year, Patton’s forces played a key role in defeating the German counterattack in the Battle of the Bulge, later liberating the country from the Nazi regime. Patton died in Germany in December 1945 of injuries sustained in an automobile accident.
Patton in the Mournes with the 10th Infantry
Patton visited troops to inspect their training in Armagh and Down in March 1944, flying into Greencastle. He was known for his ‘colourful’ speeches, many of which he gave when visiting the troops in Northern Ireland. Women were not allowed in the vicinity when he was giving these talks, as his language was deemed unsuitable!
 

Gifted : A Film Review

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Gifted

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

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The intro Basics

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

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

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Family Genius

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

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

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Home

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

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

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It not just about Mary

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

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

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Performances par excellence

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

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

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Conclusion ####4

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

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

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

 

John Graham

14 June 2017

Belfast

 

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

 

 

 

My life as a Courgette : A Film Review 

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My life as a Courgette  Duration 1hr 6mins  Rating PG

Directed by Claude Barras, Produced by Armelle Glorennec, Éric Jacquot, Marc Bonny.  Screenplay by Céline Sciamma, Claude Barras, Germano Zullo, Morgan Navarro.  Book. Based on Autobiographie d’une Courgette by Gilles Paris, Music by Sophie Hunger, Edited by Valentin Rotelli, Distributed by Gebeka Films, Duration. 66 minutes. Country. Switzerland, France, Language French with English sub-titles.

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Scenario

Adapted from the Gilles Paris YA novel by France’s youth friendly screenwriter, Celine Sciamma (“Tomboy,” “Girlhood”), Swiss director Claude Barras’ “My Life as a Courgette” shows how life for a young child removed from a family setting, is challenged while he forges his identity as he moves into in a Children’s Carehome home.  His name is a means of ensuring singularity and the writer skillfully deploys this stop animation film as a quasi scoping out of systems of care while making it a benign film suitable and not too troublingbone would hope and so far it’s is borne out, for young children themselves.  There is a dry direct biological sense of humor which goes beyond the nasty smelly forty traits and is partly uses sexual references.  Whether kids not in a French language course get the subtitles they may find it difficult catching up the adults who are skilled at joining visuals and sub-titles up instantly as a by product of seeing good well written art house movies which this is and which delivers its humour with colourful rapid firepower.

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Stop motion identity

Life as an animated Swiss boy is in the hands of many people.  Identity is for others to manipulate and guide.  Courgette has to be flexible and obey the stop motion process to do what is willed.  Tedious as that may seem Courgette manages to escape his mentors and creators to an imagined inner sanctum which hadn’t started too well.  Firstly as a lone child without domestic comforts in an attic we see the colours of Courgette’s world in the sketches and crafts scattered around his loft bedroom. From it is the view of a large town which he explores with his kite.  A Spider-Man character drawn on one side which he submits to his conscious as his lost father.  We hear from below a loud television in the act of transmitting daily dramatic arguments in the form of a dialogue his mother Madame Courgette is transfixed by with the contributing factor of vast quantity of tiniest which are discarded and strewn all over the floor which Courgette observes with a resigned detachment.

Madame Courgette is partially responsible for her own downfall from this point onwards as the scene is set for Courgette moving out and on to a more pleasant stop motion activity involving children of his own age, around 11, and in a pleasing outskirts of town even countrified environment of a detached children’s home.  Before he gets there we meet the paper filling Monsieur Raymond a Gendarme whose function is to oversee the placement into care of this little lost boy.  Monsieur Gendarme becomes attached to the story as an evuncular near retirement policemen which the stop motion life has assigned a slightly disjointed French gendarme type nose, long and typically Gallic-ly thin whose own circumstances relate in a way to Courgettes whose name by the way is of his own invention.  His identity is what is the mast and sailing device needed to navigate the stop motion world and life.  His guide can be his imagination which we see his personality hidden yet emerging as highly coloured under the baggage of this domestic altering life. He comes over as constricted optimistic creative kind with doubts filling many of the junctions he is asked to traverse.  No male guide in the form of a moral compass or initiator open to adventure, no maternal loving parenting or emotional regulator nor any sign of a mind being educated exceptbthrough his own ingenuity.

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Parental Breakdown

Cleverly the circumstances of domestic life are thrown up in the air (literally in a way) and this begins a new adventure which Monsieur Gendarme take him into past the high rise estates, the motorway connections onto open country along the rolling quieter rural idyll which even enables Monsieur Gendarme to relax into his self adopted role. Sturdy an assured in purpose they arrive at a large attractive detached house to be greeted by two staff members and at various windows inquisitive children.  The matronly Madame Principle (have to continue with this means of naming them as it is not in the directors mind to ‘label’ them Raymond excepted, and I presume it must derive from his upbringing as say being know to his friends as Bean or such like.  Then he became a runner for a film crew etc.  for which the this film listing has about 15!) has a large topped hair tower and round Corbusier glasses which apply her short sightedness over onto a Courgette in a Breton black matronly way.  She is formidablé though confident enough in her complexity not to be overbearing and with Rose, a name escapes beneath the allusion, is a young teacher and nurse, cleaner, cook, gardener, general ‘factotum’ whose task it is to do as Nadame asks and without fuss or even being visible.  This is a stop motion circumstance the flexibility of Courgette is well able to handle as his assertive side comes out particularly concerning his name.  Odd as it is it is not to be found elsewhere except the variations across languages give it another more exotic calling as nom de plume, Plum, people have been named even Pip.

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Play time

The new surroundings are populated by a rag-tag of children placed there through no fault of their own from backgrounds of immigration, child abuse, orphaned, drug addition with a company of teachers, attendants whose care is essential to their settlement.  The narrative is one not normally travelled and it is what gives the film a pvery strong story.  Courgette is in a strange environment and shares his dormitory with the other boys and the assertive Simon who is the self appointed leader guide and spokesman being a well developed foil and thought provoking element.  Simon is troubled himself and reacts by being defensive and assertive.  Form early on we see the different personalities around the meal times and playtimes.  The young male teacher with the job of educating them is a lively active kind with an amourous relationship with Rose and together they arrange a trip to the Alps and a ski- resort.  Being a fashionable retreat the kids onl have initially sleighs and the odd set of skis to play with and there is a contrast of class in some interactions.

Another clever detail.  Every Ski-resort has its Apres ski and here Courgette and his pals have a good time in the multi-coloured disco ball atmosphere of the cabin.  Earlier this week while listening to the Radio Ulster duo of – cruel as it happens but I’ll label them! – Smashy and Nicey – Stuart and Rigsy revel in the new radio studio all bells and whistles with 21st century controls.  So when a track starts in the semi gloom the lights dim further and Rigsy can barely control his excitement as a green blob spiralls and decorates all the walls of the space age domain.  Child like frenzy is happening man especially we’re music and disco lights are concerned.  It is one of many delightful carefully segued scenes and the story takes on more characters including Courgettes close love interest, the shy Camille.  Camille is a helper and observes others traits and vulnerabilities while not attending to her own.  Her Aunt arrives on the scene commando style Camille seeks assistance in trying to avoid being taken away from this place of comfort and refugee.

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All the kids have found a place of safety and enjoy the way things open up to them.  Things aalways change and the writer makes concessions to this by placing favourable developments to counter the other less savoury elements, not that they are overplayed in either event.  The world has set them numerous problems and this story is a neat compact telling of the formative years while dealing the smarts on rearing children without harming their future.  They have at the same time to loose the baggage other children do not have which not to bear.  It is a very intelligent and sympathetic film touching in its confronting difficult issues, seldom tacked in film and animated to a level which is infectiously enjoyable.  You may know what a Courgette looks like. Look out for the other oddity veggies, L’Artichoke, L’Aubergine.   The attention to detail is fun and plentiful.

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Conclusion ####4

Running for only 66mins this is nevertheless a fully formed piece not lacking in pace, message, interesting characters, sympathetic and emotional moments dealt with a carefully script.  There is a mad American overdubbed edition which while it helps children keep up with the jokes and continual wordplay, at times involving sexual references in Gallic flavored morsels.  It is essentially a universal story but it Gods up extremely well in the Foreign/Native language version subtitled in the U.K.  Be careful which one you arrange to see as both versions are being screened by Quens Film Theatre and on General release there will also be choices.  Children are very adaptable to cartoon driven and adopt favourites depending on their own personality.  The Ghilbi Animations are pure gold and carry lots of layers often found compelling to adputs in their literacy also.  This is not a vexing or very deep message but is full of good outcomes and peppered with lots of vibrant beautifully visual content which will see the hour and a bit pass without you know it and oddly thinking that it was longervsuch is its immersive connective joy.

John Graham

2 June 2017

Belfast

on at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from 2 June 2017 through to and including 8 June 2017 and on general release.