Howard’s End : A Film Review

IMG_2635

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

 

 

 

IMG_2615

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.

IMG_2606

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.  

IMG_2621

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.

IMG_2647

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.

IMG_2618

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.

IMG_2622

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.

IMG_2620

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.

IMG_2641

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.

IMG_2640

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.

IMG_2610

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.

IMG_2650

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.

IMG_2648

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.

IMG_2438 This is not a widget!

Donations welcome!

PayPal.me/plainwords

 

 

Advertisements

Risk : A Film Review

IMG_1871

Risk  A Documentary film.  1hr 34mns.

Credits. Julian Assange |Sarah Harrison | Jacob Appelbaum | Joseph Farrell | Renata Avila | Jennifer Robinson | Erinn Clark.

Directed and produced by Laura Poitras. Produced by Brenda Coughlin, Yoni Golijov. Executive Producers. Sam Esmail, Vinnie Malhotra, Charlotte Cook, Aj Schnack, Michael Bloom, Adam Pincus, David Menschel, Jess Search, Josh Braun.

Risk is living.
Watching this film is to reveal the background and recent history of Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, as he continues, up to and including this films conclusion, to be confined within the British based Ecuadorian Embassy, Embadapa under continuing detention. It also take us to the USA and the recent Trump/Russian twists since Trump’s appointments were brokered.

For all the challenges making a film of this sort presents problems, of time and with changes arriving thick and fast it through recent revision stands solidly as an extremely informative documentary – regardless of the complex co traditions it presents.  “I thought I could ignore the contradictions. I thought they were not part of the story. I was so wrong. They’re becoming the story.” confides Poitras at some low hanging fruit of Julian Assanges –
firmly blethering (sorry Julian I couldn’t find another word!) views.  His on-camera intimate talk is a very uninteresting insight to his woolly, almost seeking alarm for the sake of alarm on camera in eyebrow raised marks (tumbleweed) and some sympathy is felt, given his imprisonment, when cameras rolls on.  It is after all though, a platform which cannot be turned away given his enforced hibernation.  It consequently shows the talk as uninteresting but the whole idea of a documentary is one at times of it becoming theatre and the actors are without a script.  Some people have been severely critical of the style and filmic indulgence of Laura Poitras whose shots take on the feel of a drama when misty window reflections and artfully caught shape and darkness illuminate the bleakness of a particular dilemma or circumstance.  I believe it entirely legitimate and it implies the truth is not what we are here to see but a construction dealt with a fixed deck.

Film Review Risk

Time discloses all.

The film starts of with a view of Julian Assange in the company of the Director mulling over the outline of their collaboration.  For Julian Assange this is a much healthier time as he has relative freedom and is (only!) under curfew in a friends house in deepest Norfolk with access to the beach.  It is 2011 and his trial concerning extradition to Sweden is being contested while sundry other things are about to unfold.  The main tiger in the room is the Wikileaks formation digital encrypted document Bradley Manning has placed on the site which a password protects.  The data document, it is learnt in this early part of the documentary, has been uploaded on the interface of Wikileals without password protection.  All of the USA secret files of operations accessed are unredacted and therefore contain good and bad data.  Essentially the window is open and paper is flying everywhere on natures wind – the global internet servers are available for anyone to see classified USA documents and make of it what they will.

The breach is on Hillary Clintons watch as Secretary of State and hurried anxious phone calls from Norfolk – Sarah Harrison, legal eagle, contacts the Whitehouse and try and alert the Presidential Office, as to the carrier pigeons in flight with her Governments information with the impending prospect of ever inquisitive persons monitors lighting up and printing off, for bedtime reading – prior to good wifi, sufficient storage, small tablets which go to sleep and produce real drama and most probably a rainstorm of dirty tricks and unscrupulous methodology which is without moral bounds.

The relationship between the film maker and Julian Assange is one of pragmatism.  He is in the clasp of legal and national sidetracking issues, and the drama of a documentary on one of the world’s most proflific activists probing the internet as a deconstructionist with exposé, after revelation, – high currency for any documentary maker.  So it has a purpose first of all which we must be well prepared for, is of hubris and confident trailblazing while underneath lies a story of individual imprisonment at the hands of powerful forces with his allies equipped with little more than a large corporations staffing levels – the volunteers are widespread and underground as they piece together support and inform the dialogue – they have unknown funds and heavyweight supporters probably.   The narrative is after all a needed platform.  All platforms are fair game and we get a glimpse of a pop star filming an amateur post type interview in the Ecuadorian embassy for fans and the interview is staged less formally than Assange initially conceived of it.  Then came the cringeworthy questions. Cleverly the talk was directed by Assange at the USA where the main audience of the video existed.

IMG_1860

Visionary in the dark

Laura Poitras is a very clever match of combatant for Assange as she disallows his taking over situations and firmly places the focus on the conditions and surrounding circumstances of the news not brought to the everyday exposure of the information war. Laura Poitras is also a fellow activist with the extraordinary film on Snowdon, Citizenfour, a groundbreaking style of news telling and undercover deliverance on her roster.  Then previously The Oath.  We are still not convinced or editorially equipped with disseminating this form of investigation and revelatory truth seeking and telling.  Every scene is chillingly real with absurdity of the everyday crashing in and out with natural dynamism having the alarming contrast just beside it.  It’s our reality of having without due process contrived to risk (first use of the word) allowing the Courts to remove him from the UK and place him in the unstable hands of a Swedish, see what way the wind blows, democracy. ‘… pretending they are a stickler for process.’ Assange.  Venues for the camerawork are Norfolk, Cairo, London, Fort Meade Maryland, (received footage?), Tunis, America (Democratic election convention), Berlin, all places where the Wikileaks narrative tales us.  Some of it is illustrative, such as conferences for nerdy hackers, or venues where Julian Assange draws crowds by his absence.  Frontline Club host large venue quasi conferences with speakers and networking possibilities.  Usually a tube stop or two away from mine hosts M16 and Foreign Office, Home Office spooks.  Although primary taps and surveillance is of more import.  The spies are everywhere and House of Cards needs a backstory.  A very unsavoury moment of trouble in the ranks is the overview of a parallel organisations leader also being wired for sexual misdealings.  Jacob Appelbaum is portrayed as a villain – (the film indicates no charges yet exist) – he drops a sexist comment in front of Muslim pupils of hacking talk.  It would just be as offensive in any location, private or public and here it is on film.  and he occupies another slot in this film, shot in Cairo, when he exposes the state run Mubarak directed, TE Data at a open symposium of internet providers, of shutting down Twitter traffic and platforms for media exchange.  This is accompanied by an outbreak in the room of rapturous applause.  Every country will have its internet traffic police while the ‘Engines’ of social media are themselves being censored or being controlled for improper conduct which a lot of will be politically slanted.

IMG_1866

Situation comedy

An interesting exchange is filmed in a quiet Countrylife inspired lounge, draped, scatter cushions with Dame Helena Kennedy and the non-speaking Gareth Peirce whose silence is equally – better than that actually – entertaining as the ultras trade axioms and lawyer psychology which is to prepare a Assange for his press a Court Appearance.  So Assange’s referencing of lesbian inspired ‘tag teams’ jumps out from the notoriously crass and febrile Assange speech which his blethering style exposes. The flushed and pyretic Kennedy does not know where to look and Poitras catches this English wordsmithing, with the same silence, the by now, presumably, dejected Gareth who has met real victims and fought tirelessly in the frontline of Human Rights sitting with controlled propriety.  Sublime and an example of ethicality.  No wonder Churchill wished Business to be written and agreement not based on conversation. Recall being everything.  The drink from which Wikileaks depends, so the contrast could not be more sweetly expressed.  Physician heal thy self.

The people who feature alongside Julian Assange were constant foils but most were equal to the Assange modus operandi.  The priority was to understand what was at stake. For this you need lawyers.  Not of the level and elevation of Peirce or Kennedy but the rookie type whose Court experience would be limited.  There is no validation of this but it was like having House of Cards interns at your beck and call.   Some were very much above the hubris and grandiose ‘I’m not a martyr’  but a conflicted human being type of projection Assange fronted up with.  Sarah Harrison is the Lawyer in chief.  Her steadiness and practicality and inmate wisdom was a valuable docking in the stormy waters.  Likewise the very clear headed forthright Renata Avila an articulate devilish driver of the nitty gritty and consequential.

In every sphere of public life corruption and catastrophic decisions amplify and Law is the stalking horse most rely on.  In the regimes and democracies it seldom abates. These islands can attest to the duplicitous role of Governance outflanking and disregarding Law and its victims are many.  Attribution happens on either side with the extensive new or relatively new form of scrutiny enabled by Wikileaks has opened up a whole extraordinary proof of this.  Recent events have presented with regard to dealings of nations intent on influencing anothers course.  Some may well be in relation to the safe storage in unblockchain protected localities of immense wealth, accumulated through regimes borderless dealings which have their nation’s looking vain for the money or restitution.  Imagine a prospective ‘West’ Presidential Candidate advising a sitting ‘East’ President (a perceived foe) where the accumulation can be secretly secreted.

Our information is incomplete
Our present dependence on fast electronic communication which is barely 40 years old, across continents and borders without the impediment of time or locality has made us evaluate the systems we use of governance and the open transmission of information.  Around 1960 TV was upon us as a window into other worlds and media dissemination of news and was authorially controlled by the license providers, there came in 1967-69 a western appetite to know what was going on in Eastern block countries, how civil society worked in China, Indonesia, with a vision exposed of inequalities defined in Human Rights terms.  Inwardly the USA became, with Civil Rights activism, a lantern for freedom fighters to demonstrate and to a lesser extent in Paris and London these voices for freedom exploded into living rooms instead of through newspapers but as barely 12 hour old news.  The crush came with the Eastern Czechoslovakian Dubjek being raised from obscurity as an opposition leader into a virtual figurehead for non violent revolution.

That was 1969 and what materialized was a culture of investigative journalism.  The story of much earlier news manipulator/manipulated ‘reporter, Roger Casement and news management comes to mind.  Alongside it the apartheid staining otherwise seemingly benign places such as South Africa and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and nowhere was out of bounds except the totalitarian nations such as China and by dint North Korea a hateful terrorising oligarchy which sat as a de facto attack dog for China and its wider interests.  Our story of Wikileaks contains a terrine of global pottage, c’est-à-dire, a conglomeration of mass ingredients cooking away with sometimes overspill and untasteful results.  The mix is toxic and it’s terrine is Wikileaks and it’s operators, head of which is it’s founder, the Australian Julian Assange.  His name is synonymous nowadays with a frontiersman like truth seeker.  He does not rely on God or mantras but his individual conscious is high toxically for him, developed to speak of the sins of the universe and their authors by revealing not their persona – because participation in the construct Assange wishes to disrupt and reveal its contents is consiratorailly under the control of a minority of the minority who have vast sales of self-identity, perceptions of nationhood and history which has accumulated to a self-representation and nullifying absurdity which is the twin of Julian Assanges own idealism.

IMG_1861.JPG

Despair and loathing

Both Assange and the people whose information is secretively held and the indictments of their corporate collusion is in the folder of the vast exchanges with reliance on technology sparing disclosure.  Wikileaks is a data hungry cyber animal and its food is
everywhere protected by insider traders like Chelsea (Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden whose instincts for change and robust propriety were challenged by the information the American public, in whose name these revealed actions were being disposed, unaccountably, but had reached them – Manning, Snowdon – as persons of conscious whose instinct was to upload the information they had obtained via. protected routes to Wikileaks so they could decide on publication.   This film which must be itself be read as a document with T’s crossed, comas carefully placed, is a reveal of sorts.  It has a news management feel with a climateric cresendo worthy of an opera.  The tailpiece is well known with the election of Donald Trump being sullied by the interventions, presently denied of state sponsored data breaching which firstly created Fake News around Hillary Clinton and saw the infiltration of Fake News of her Democrat candidate runner Bernie Sanders be eclipsed as information became micro managed – now it is contagious with Donald taking to the Twitteriati to spell out in 120 characters his character at others expense.

Allegiances among the Wikileaks foundation are an engine room of Lawyers, high octane interns getting a fix on freedom of information as led by their ringleader Julian.  The film is a world wide documentary of events with certain areas seemingly out of bounds.  GCHQ has occasional moles but it is a minor pest control issue.  The unbearably influential rise of independent disenfranchised terrorists as written toxically in Northern Ireland as a template by the IRA is untroubled by any Wikileaks.  Whether it was the authorship of Protestant, State collusion, Catholic freedom fighters that period was when the nail bomb, coffee jar bomb and car bomb all were sworn in as terrosit devoces.  The car bomb as well as lorry-jacking with a driver virtually chained to a bomb became routine methods of attacking authority, consequences be damned, fellow human beings collateral appalling damage.  Property destroyed was not enough.  Institutions stood unaffected, they simply moved locations as and when.  Offices and civil life was targeted and an unwired network prevailed with murderous results.  A large Northern Ireland, British Establishment shaped hole exists in the Wikileaks story.

IMG_1873

Conclusion ####4

Cannes 2016 saw the release of this film which has been re-edited since the Democratic National Committee email leaks and also picks up on allegations about sexual abuse by another activist Jacob Appelbaum in a neat parallel to Assange difficulties which stem firstly from his own private life.  Where there they are to be believed or not is not part of Laura Poitras’s intention.  She must place testimony on the record where given and it is not avoided.  Primarily she has followed this phenomenon, the Wikileaks impact, since before the Edward Snowden film Citizenfour which went places the fictional one was intensely lacking in.  The balance of the film is caught well by the filmmaker and it is brilliantly effective in revealing the revealer insofar as ‘civility’ and privileges of privacy impose.  Having introduced it at Cannes as one thing required an updated version given the significance of revelatory exposés on the Democratic fight for the Presidency.  The reading of the film als needs adjusted.  It is very unfair to see this film as breaking conventions of documentary.  Every documentary you will have seen has a slant or tableau formed through the vision of its author. The Director here is in possession of a subject which intrudes her and delving into the minutiae behind Embassy doors is fascinating.  Not only for what it reveals but for us to see the double standards lives are made to comply with in any democracy.  Forgetting about the subject – temporarily – it becomes a portrait of human condition and conditioning unparalleled as information is our voice and rhetoric.  The everyday confrontation with falsehood is so theatrical.  Amal Clooney is witnessed from a roving overhead crowd shot of a congratulatory walk from the English Court by his side every step of the way.  The spectacle of the press is amazing to witness as we are not yet ready to screen courtroom proceedings and definitely not for tweeting out proceedings.  The knife edge is the Directors and she comes up with some close shaves.  Apparently some zoos have been doctored at the ‘actors’ request while it resonants later with the theatrical disguise of Julian Assange last public appearance.  The one adopted to go to the Ecuadorian Embassy.  The red post box seen outside is one he cannot use.  If he were to step onto the street to post a letter in the stout transmitter of private correspondence.  They were green before July 1874 when they were painted post box red.

It is an outstanding, at times electrifying piece of work and addresses the duality of providing another platform to hype the task undertaken by Julian Assange and the need for filmic storytelling to be compelling and it borders on a sitcom type of sedentary watch with mother at times as a lot of talking from the principal party is only watchable if some twist of narrative or misplaced meaning or word makes you pay acute attention because here is someone who has brought some riveting knowledge to our times.  Don’t blame the messenger.

A credit arose as it closed  –  In loving memory of Michael Ratner (1943-2016), who devoted his life to justice

John Graham

28 June 2017

Belfast

Screening at Queens Film Theatre     Showing: 30 June 2017 until 06 July 2017

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.

img_1657

img_1659

img_1660img_1658


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!
 

Frantz : A Film Review

IMG_0929
Dir: François Ozon; Starring: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber, Anton von Lucke, Cyrielle Clair. 12A cert, 114 mins.

Setting of Post World War 1

IMG_0886
The opening passage of François Ozon’s elegant interwar romance invites us to second-guess the story that links Parisian musician Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney) to Anna’s late love, Frantz. Frantz is Anton von Lucke.

A melancholic period drama, Frantz, is an elegant reimagining of the story behind Ernst Lubitsch’s undersung 1932 drama Broken Lullaby.  It is Post World War One in a central German hillside town called Quedlinburg which is a UNESCO protected location.  It is the backdrop to the family home of the Hoffmeisters whose son Frantz was killed in action on French soil.  The elderly parents remain,  Doctor Hans and Mrs Magda Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner and Marie Gruber) are in the middle of the town and still Hans practices as a Doctor.  They have provided a roof over the head of Franzt’s intended bride whose daily visit to the grave erected in the hilltop cemetery is her place of comfort and the families only memorial.
IMG_0914

Complex emotive story

This is a deeply sad and complex war story told exquisitely by the twin hands of the principles, Anna (Paula Beer) and Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney) alongside a strong supporting cast.  The town Quedlinburg is a lost empty place without the middle aged and young men it has given to the war.  In one scene in the Hotel, Tavern, which is the centre of town life in some respects, it is notable when Doctor Hoffmeister goes along to a meeting of the menfolk, how with only one year having passed and pain, grief an anguish are all palpable and hurt is within the very bodies of the survivors.  Those with whom some responsibility lies in sending their young offspring to war.  This hurt regret, remorse, redress, reflection, is not a redemptive theme explored by the very masterful direction of François Ozon but one of conscious.  Retaining your sense of self and direction is troubling for everyone. Ozon’s past films are absorbing emotional spirited in theme as were, the sensuous Swimming Pool and Jeune & Jolie, with soon to be unveiled, Double Lover marking a return to those emotive personal tales after this more constrained and brilliantly balanced story of the melt within Europe over borders you cannot see in the Isra she shoots across the view from Quedlinburg.  At a height of thought also, he takes this story markedly into a melting pot of ideas and that it took place almost 100 years ago it’s a vision and offering for our own times.

IMG_0882
Anna and Adrien.

Centrally Anna and Adrien are brought together in this aftermath.  This is a summary position of dealing which their individual pasts.  The footsteps are first taken as we see Anna, after an opening shot of a hot simmering country wide view in one frame in colour, then into black and white of Anna buying flowers at he market stalls of Quedlinburg.  The streets rise to the cemetery through ancient narrow cobbles, up a steep set of steps to the open plain of the graveyard.  It is drenched in bright sunshine and François Ozon begins painting frames as an artist does with the drooping darkness of heavy topped trees branches shading parts of the graveyard and it’s random pattern of stones laid in rough rows seem to lend a peace and sense of ease as the order is lost and not heightened as was the third Reich.  This has a poignancy exacting of the sense of place, its genus loci being this infringement between the living and the dead in memories.

The compelling question from the outset is – Why is Adrien leaving flowers on the grave of a German soldier, Frantz?  With a sweep of a leafbrush the graveyard attendant imparts his identity as that f aFrenchman who is staying in the aforesaid Hotel.  The connections have to be pursued and it is the object of both to reach a point where they can talk.
IMG_0915

Skip comparative reviews.

There is a school of thought which I deplore, in some reviewers making connections – as they have done with this in respect of Vertigo, –  the displaced person in a love triangle, – of the other, a Hitchcock rumination akin to Rebecca – which in this film are totally useless. That viewpoint actually labours the point to actually attune it more to this misread being the theme of the film in scores.  The film is enfused with hidden truths, conceits, contrivances made to ease the pain and harm of things past. It is even seen by one as being like the work of another director preposterously so. Being unlike Ozon is very Ozon. It is in fact gloriously rendered which makes any pathetic correlation a nonsense.  The film stands alone as an art piece and while the artist, director have long connections through their own process of becoming directors themselves it is not a place to put those connections to the fore as ‘influences’, that is a tedious comparison.  This artwork speaks for itself.  …. One review has discovered it is nothing whatsoever led by the fore said but still posits …    (although his influence on the final film is undeniable).  As if this should or would have any relevance to a viewer allowing the piece to tell its own story.  Superbly.
IMG_0892

Anna’s horrible dilemma.

The perils of Anna whose life is in limbo, a short time after the war, is polemic.  Her past life and proposed future is totally conflicted by the grief she shares with Doctor and Mrs Hoffmeister.  The performance of Paula Beer is a colossal depiction of grief internally residual.  She holds her grief intact and in so doing is asking questions of herself, throughout the first, second and third acts as she deals with new developments and disclosures.  She, in so doing, makes herself vulnerable and inconsolable at times, internally so.  When she meets with Adrien after observing him from a distance at the cemetery, she is both shaken by his perceived closeness to her lost fiancé.  In seeking answers she also is caught in a despairing, unrelenting story of loss with no parties able to reach out to the truth.  Adrien is adroit at making things appear plausible and acceptable.  He is handsome, has an angular tautness, is eloquent, thoughtful, possibly well educated man.  Perhaps too thoughtful and naive in the possibilities that might arise from his actions.  He is brought into the family home and with that deepens his lachrymose impediment, his imbedded grief, disabling him to points of disclosure, as the hurt would be unbearable.  Seeing them is a barrier to telling what he knows in full, with their openness and hospitality having been satiated by Anna in advance making this dramatic encounter when it eventually is arranged profoundly heartfelt.  What lies beneath this surface is not known nor will it be shared for sometime if at all.  This is the magnificence of the story telling, unfolding in aching timbre emoted visually touching through the actors prearadness softly set out in slow framed consciousness.  The cinematography has a slight taint to it in that it uses cascade at times out of synch with the unfolding piece.  For instance the changes from black and white to colour, the cascade, are intended to visualise the positive and warmth in relations iincrementally developing.  Yet it sometimes remains in black and white while that positivity is surging.  There are flashbacks to scenes described between Anna and Adrien of Frantz in the prior period.  That advances War scenes in colour and disharmony on the part of the rhetoric.  It could have been the intention to depict falsehoods in colour but that is neither the case.

Station to station

The belle indifférence with the previous pre-war world is seen in the French sequences of Paris seen as a repairing regrenerating counterpoint to Germany with strolling through the Louvre.  Looking at Manets The Bathers with beneath it, Le Suicide.  The Parisienne fortunes appear secure until late we visit the city and see its invalided body shattered and barely functional.  Losses are in the second half now relater back to the French mirror image with raw torn hearts spilling with their own grief.  The lack of manpower to rebuild also is evident.  The Cafe Belle Époque of the prewar years have vanished as if they never existed.  These times in France are frequently visited as in Therese Discomany, the Francóis Maurice love story or romance and in England it spurred Hillaire Belloc to read into the French and German dilemma such things as were prescient as his boook simply called The Jews reflects.   The era is a classic place of adjustment on the continent.  The borders of the Versailles Treaty escaping the paper constructs of power brokerage and envisioning some relenting peace are to determine so many revisions and the place of starting over.  Such memories of that war were psychologically damaged stubbing for the human beings that survived and were born into it.  This is a point well travelled by François Ozon.  The tributes to people lie everywhere you step.  The consoling and consoled.  The embittered and the vengeful.  The hardened and positive, negative deniers.  The words of the script are beautifully sharp and breathing every btreath allowing the characters to deeply affect you.  There are no persons within it who are trivialised by being seen as perpetrators, or being the enemy.  Far from it the sensitivities are enlarger by the resort to poetry as in the Verlaine poem recited at one point and the rendition in a public place of La Marseillaise. Discomforting in its – subtitled English excentuates the folly of some heroic words – presence there, right in the time.  The immovable shape of the form of war.
IMG_0884

Conclusion ####4

The film of the year so far for me.  Frantz is a lesson for modern living.  The exploration of the psychological depths people go to to either convince themselves of a truth or naively embark on consuming someone else’s apparent truth are startlingly effective. It is a sad and remorselessly engaging heroic film.  Anna is a flawed heroine as indeed despite his misreading of the reasoning he puts to things, is also an essentially flawed person with a ruined perspective of life brought on undoubtedly by war.  The thought is inescapable as the war poetry of many follows in this malaise of mind tyranny in order to cope and construct something at terms with the present.  Writers like Michel Houllebecq make the morose sexual eaae methods deployed in and out of war a frequent tap root of sorrow. The novel in its 20th century incarnations after Stoker, Shelley, Balzac, Dickens have given literature many versions of the nation and the use of borders as an identity rising as a continual denier of the universal truth of equality before God.  

John Graham
17 May 2017
Belfast

On from this Friday 19 May until and including Thursday 25 May 2017

IMG_0928
IMG_0869
IMG_0866

The Secret Scripture : A Film Review


The Secret Scripture

Director Jim Sheridan, Producer Noel Pearson, Screenplay by Jim Sheridan, Johnny Ferguson. Cast, Vanessa Redgrave, Rooney Mara, Eric Bana, Theo James, Aidan Turner, Jack Reynor, Susan Lynch, Siobhan Redmond, Adrian Dunbar. Music by Brian Byrne, Cinematography Mikhail Krichman, Edited by Dermot Diskin, Production company, Ingenious Senior Film Fund, Voltage Pictures, Ferndale Films. Cert. 12a. Duration 1hr 48mins.


Beyond Dublin in the Green

Some people have got this film horribly wrong and are unable to cross over into it’s tragedy in a trinity of hope. The Irish Times gives it this ‘tribute’ – What’s that? Who’s he? Where’d that come from? When Barry’s novel was published, several critics argued that the final unlikely twist felt at odds with a hitherto disciplined narrative. It says something about the film that the reversal feels perfectly at home among so many even greater lunacies. It even casts sectarianism into a new vein without making comment of how diffuse these things are to convey – it seems in a blind alley Ireland. The mastery of the Bible both potent and conclusive lends written comfort to Rose, a woman betrayed.  It is within the unspoken reading between the lines we go with this film based on the novel of the same name by Sebastian Barry which makes for more imagining than the act of storytelling in film this is.  Nevertheless it is handled extremely carefully with a melding of eras and in themselves drawing comparisons.  The landscape is more familiar to the Irish and the need to know (Philomenas Story is a close relative) diaspora from Canada, America or Britain whose children are the fathers and mothers of new generations of the ‘departed’.  In complete association too are those left beneath fields, institutions buried so none would reflect on their memory except the mothers and those in the know.  From Priests to Police to Orderlies. Into the equationn come knowing townsfolk contributing to the complicity and getting on with their lives by ignoring it in order to straighten their own existence in the changing world.  For the story to begin we enter the present day at Rose’s Hospital and Residential Care home in the midst of it closing down.  Some lessons are learnt and there is clearly an attempt by Director Jim Sheridan to acknowledge Times have changed and the bullying and treatment of people like animals has been removed.  In this present environment there is real care and a making good with what is at hand.  Even the prospect of Rose being able to go to somewhere other than a mental asylum has reared its head.

With the dramatic stroke of a pen Sebastian Barry conjures up a back story to the aging and institutionalised grande dame Vanessa Redgrave playing Roseanne McNulty whose 50 years committal to this decaying and listed for demolition Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, is transported on the journey of her earlier life and circumstances.  Doctor Grene (Eric Bana) is sent to determine whether Roseanne is fit to be released.  The younger Rose is played by the affluent and Irish connected, Rooney Mara whose arrival in a small village in 1940s Ireland causes two men, a fighter pilot and a priest, played by Jack Reynor and Theo James.


New horizons revisited

Jim Sheridan has Oscar-winning debut My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father as home based movies and into Irishmans habitual magnetic pull to tales of immigration he went and it did not fail him with the exile story In America, and was an acclaimed award winning film also.  Some subsequent entries to the mainstream movie still didn’t seem to suit his work and this is a return of more recognisable formats and it is an attempt by Sebastian Barry to story tell the periods which define present day Ireland the diaspora and wars intervention.  This of course brings in relationships as the bolstering narrative force.  The auld triangle of a beautiful young woman and two bantam cocks clanging the auld triangle and creating conflicts?

Rose has kept a dairy all these years and we enter its tableau – shortly into the arrival of Rooney Mara from Belfast where it’s unsafe after bombing there.  The arrival of a beautiful independent woman is on this West Ireland landscape in the shadow of Yeats Benbullben outside Sligo, is to an already developed hybrid of gentry, Anglo patrons and a subdued, suppressed by Religion ‘compliant’ malcontented population.  They are not mercifully at war though many across Ireland went and fought alongside the British as it was 1. an option 2. There was little for them at home.  The mainstay of any small community is its perverse sense of hierarchy and those who disobey and act up are likely cast out.  Rose is recruited into her Aunts Hotel Temperance establishment and quickly the honeypot of the scented air takes her into the midst of village taboos.  The first ‘normal’ encounter is with a young man called Conroy a labourer for a hard nosed local family.  They have a built in hatred on the English and when there is another approach not altogether religious and skirting his own anxieties surrounding masculinity and his sacrifice comes Father ..    Rose deflects such straight eyed advances and goes her own path while accepting invitations to the local dance.  The presence of the Church is everywhere and in the dance hall they are required to keep apart while hoAldi get one another while the Priest including the presence of Father …. they leave enough space not to be sinful.

The film is drawn out using a great deal of passage from the present to the past.  It in done with good untroublingbpassage and with the versatile Vanessa Redgrave playing the Lady Rose and the unnerving accurate Rooney Mara as the younger vunerable Rose.

Inconsistencies and alterations. Implausibilities? 

Very strongly held views on this film have come from many who find the story confusing and too contrived in its far fetched coincidences and shaping of characters that feature less in the book than put to purposes dramatic here.  Some even call it a travesty.  Sebastian Barry having sold the rights keeps his counsel and his silence is taken as being far from endorsement. There certainly are large parts of the long history left in the book and a Rooney Mara’s Rose here has a prominent role in a central love story which contains its central themes.  She is an incomer, she is a beautiful sophisticated woman, she is of independent mind, she is entering a part of ‘remnants of occupied’ Ireland beset with unfettered resentment, she enters a village which has ahigh morality  driven by the Church, she is also in proximity to state institutions which remove children and separate single mothers from their babies and lock them up and give their babies away for money.  She also is in proximity to a Medical system crudely operating the appliances of ECT and shock treatment as normal for mental illnesses or difference.  She also notices the formidable rectitude of everyone to hierarchical status including her domineering Aunt (Siobhan Redmond) who’s name along with a few others are not easy to find on press credits oddly.  So is it deplorable to drop large parts of a book and get Shakespearean in this gazette of Ireland observed by the Filmaker Jim Sheridan who wrote the script along with the late Johnny Ferguson.?  There are central characters in this which do not sit comfortably with some people.  The airman flying a Spitfire – they ignore the reconnaissance tasks in the West Coast Atlantic seaboard where U-boats were often found and Lough Foyle famously being the last outpost for plenty of U-boats and also forget the American airbases – the recent BBC My Mother and other Strangers gave you the opposite to this film, delivering a War soap opera – which were in Fermanagh and all across Northern Ireland full of troops and airmen training to be pilots in preparation for the Secret D-day landings.  8,000 in Kilkenny Co.Down alone. While the book may have consorted with the flying mission instead of being a land based soldier, it matters little.  Bonzos are quite capable of shooting down ‘foreign’ planes and planes crash.  Many flights no doubt took place over this very stretch of Ireland’s republic.   Where do you take fault?  Is it the neatness of parts of the linkages.  Is the element of delving into people’s past too trite?  Sheading interesting characters? Is the ludicrously large white collared Priest Father Gaunt too comical and pathetic a figure. His character is volumously turgid and corrupt of a conflicted man. Are the nurses of the old school too clean and Matronly while being intensely underlyingly cruel? All these questions to my mind are nonsense and in the core of the film Rose is telling you how unstable memory is. The record to has advanced writing out that history.  Some of it is fantasy and in parts some of the grim reality turns out to have another side.  I don’t care if half the time the story finds a simple way to the next part as we are closely kept to the woman at is heart trying to imagine what happened to her.  Can you imagine how much she must have struggled to put that behind her.  For her imaginings of what happened to ultimately coincide with a partial reality?  The questions need not be effecting in terms of how they are coming to you as essentially they are in the realm of broken fractured memory.  The script actually places false directions in Rose’s mind only.  The other characters are real and no such bewilderment is visited through them.  Their part is sometimes savage and brutal.  Rose’s is in a state of protection in a fixed world she has inhabited for 50 years?  Can you imagine the damage caused to her and many women like her?

Similarities

I opened the play The Steward of Christendom at random and came across the same times as here. There are common investigations and trials of the past – society in Ireland – undergone by Sebastian Barry of which I rate the play as masterly, profound, haunting, sad forgotten history, much as this film indeed takes us into and it is quite political but Donal McCann made it definitely ‘other’ about the human improsoned in Ireland. Inside the Institution and outside on the Island fighting seeming wrongs. It made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end in its horrific prescience. Even now it inhabits the same place – even more so given the recent barbaric dreadful disclosures of previous generations guilt and the pain inflicted in those institutions.  Here’s the line I found straight on opening its pages of the powerful orderly Smith – Even in the ward of old dames with their dead brains, have some of them opened their eyes and are weeping to be woken, with your bloody shouting.  Do you want to go in with them, old man? After I beat you! Sebastian Barry on the case even then.

Eric Bana takes a high dose of listening to his requirement for enquiry about Rose.
The rich dramatic material at play and the fascinating historical backdrop means there’s plenty here that proves initially appealing. The young Rose is trapped by her sexuality, arousing interest in men without the slightest provocation on her part yet facing the full force of blame from those around her. The film briefly explores the complicated rituals of dating at the time and the dangers of a bruised male ego when a woman dares to turn a man down.
Initially there was a backlash in contemporary Ireland to the book with its closeness to history and claims of abuse ever in the headlines playing out.  It was seen in reviewers eyes as being far fetched and characterisations of romance purile and simplistic. For the film it’s seen likewise by many. The closing of the film is too contrived and unexpected as Vanessa Redgrave holds centre stage with her marbles intact.  The Secret Scripture use devices of story telling which only flow smoothly in books but it is admittedly hard to convey in the time period of a movie.  Demands of twists and turns though have been dealt with very satisfactorily by Jim Sheridan and there is no overplay of the gestures and realisations as they unfold.  With Vanessa Redgrave playing Beethoven’a Moonlight Sonata, (an accusatory critic paled at its repetitiveness) in solitary moments in a room, we see the breathing diaphragm of a living person recollecting her past.  It is not only sweet and convincing it is powerful and moving.

For the time periods to intermingle we have to have contrast and Susan Lynch playing the part of a present day nurse becomes a key vehicle for the sensitivity of history learnt. Her knowing, caring, is in seeing the woman in Lady Rose and reflecting on what she has gone through over forty years.  With the instruction having been given to assess her being taken up by a psychiatrist who is intrigued by the fortitude and forceful will of Lady Rose, is Eric Bana who plays admirable the ‘outside’ caring professional, quick to note discrepancies in the work of his peer, the notable Dr Jello  of Adrian Dunbar who is in charge with emptying the establishment and sees it as in ‘the line of duty’ as a role he plays with predictable solidity.   Dr Grene on the other hand is given slack and time by Sebastian Barry to develop a quick relationship of patient and Doctor which in present times of austerity are unimaginable.  Nevertheless an authors due – the slack given on occasion to movies due to time scale particularly in adapting books – is to make plausible a story’s reach.  Eric Bana and Susan Lynch form a convincing team and share the sandwiches, lunchbox treats and soups etc. or whatever sustenance is at hand in between Rose’s rest and elderly ramblings.  They too remain in the ghost like building emptying around them.  That is when switches occur back to Rooney Maras action packed life take us into a believable village – preposterous to critics of the book – with fabrications of conflicts infighting and japes and foolery unbetoken of Ireland of the time.


Irony lost on viewers

Sebastian Barry has of course given some ribald irony and an edit of preposterous heft to the story as if to say – Ireland, you were present when this was happening around your ears yet all you could do was turn a blind eye and more than that get caught up in rebellion against a country at war and a religiosity which tore the faith in God out of you and created a purgatory here on earth. It is tangible to see this cussedness in Irish people of that time but it causes more pain it would seem.  The truth always too has its victims. That is the line, the horrific line this film wishes to take us over and into a powerful emotionally troubling period for the characters who represent in fiction real people’s lives unimaginable at this distance horribly corrupted and ruined.  So there is a backlash of morality fighting for concealment as due reflection turns over too many stones close to the perpetrators unable to come to terms with their own families part in these vexing times.  Why drag up the past?  The reason is it uncoils itself in many ways not least in being held in so, it becomes repeated as a manifestation of ancient held in guilt in the sub-cncious passed on.  The doplar effect of the mind.  Séan Hillen in his Irelantis fictional world creates a counter narrative in art with the juxtaposed John Hinde visions of Ireland and as richly as film and novel forms.  More is essential for understanding ourselves the better.

There are scenes in the film which many will find arguable and condonable however I see those particularly disturbing pieces of work as entirely plausible credible entries to the hidden stories Ireland has masked for decades.  It may not be the truth but it bears an uncanny resemblance to the unfurling detail.  It is why it must be examined for what it contains, not for what you would like it to appear.


No chemistry? It’s not totally about their relationship but what hovers around it.

On parallel works

Hence the auld triangle goes jingle jangle. From Galway to Dingle, from Derry to West Cork it’s been happening for decades. Both the internment of the young and vunerable and the institutional abuses therein. The Steward of Christendom by Sebastian Barry was an intensely brilliant play I’ve seen several times and had on it acting – the unforgettable The Dead film character of Gabriel Conroy played by Donal McCann whose performance in John Huston’s 1987 film of the Joyce short is itself a piece of Irish history and also a masterful core part of Irish Cultural excellence in all its various themes.

The themes of the play are not equivalent in this film but provide another shape to the times within this film. For a synopsis of The Steward of Christendom – I’ve extracted the following from a ubiquitous source. The play opens in a county home (an inpatient psychiatric facility) in Baltinglass, Ireland in 1932, some years after Irish independence. In the opening scene, Dunne (Donal McCann) appears to be raving incoherently, reliving an episode of his childhood. As the play continues, Dunne slips from moments of lucidity to reliving parts of his career as a senior officer in the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), especially the handover of Dublin Castle to Michael Collins in 1922 after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He also relives memories of his family, particularly his daughters, Annie, Maud, and Dolly. Dunne is also visited by the ghost of his son Willie, killed in WWI; Willie’s ghost appears to him in the form a 13-year-old child but dressed in the soldier’s uniform of his 18-year-old self.

Here the date focussed on by Barry is the early 1940’s. The institutions had been around and become part of the identity of Ireland. In Belfast the 1932 move to Stormont from what was and had been the Northern Ireland Parliament one hundred yards from QFT in the now Theological College since partition in 1925. Sebastian Barry covers this ground in much of his work, of institutional Ireland of State and Health the life on the streets and rural world grippingly as he loosely affirms family connections with the Thomas Dunne the Dublin Metropolitan Police Commander in the play. So too this film for its depiction of a former period of important movement in Ireland. These histories are intertwined and Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera both had ‘seats’ at the Belfast Union College but never once collected from the fifty boxes of the MPs the Order papers of the day for that emerging Parliament. One could play the card Eamon de Valera was a double agent to the British hegemony as future republicans were to similarly trade their countries status. Not in a film though as truth is mainly stranger than fiction.

img_9540

Conclusion ####4

I began with a mindset carrying ideas of the lukewarm critical reception of the book and film, both inhabiting that doubt common to adaption of part historical narratives.  I need not have concerned myself too much because this film opens up a layer of life which is seldom considered in its continued influence and in the magnitude of its shaping usand the identity formed as a Nation on its multiple layers of relationships across continents, across short sea journeys and across hedges and parishes.  It harbours a fiction I see to contain many probable realities. I never read the book.  In the depiction of Lady Rose played brilliantly on both parts. Rooney Mara as the young independent free spirited, intelligent incomer beauty full of warmth and expectation and the kaleidoscopic thespian skills not wasted or lost of Vanessa Redgrave, herself no stranger to loss or to Ireland’s perplexing past, is not only endearingly charming but purposely disjointedly harmonious and comforting in its plainness.  There is nothing plain under the surface no matter what the Irish take or spin on it happens to be or where the deniers – and they are the ‘plain’ folk of Ireland themselves, mostly due to present many frstations of suffering across the world would prefer to banish and put away in a state of complacent bewilderment.  If only that were our only path.  The Secret Scripture is written – a form of blasphemy- in black on the Bible – as in the Temperance Hotel (you could say it was a depiction of Ulster which has many many connections with Sligo) – here is a Lilliputian Jonathan Swift world of male believe.  Now and then.  The Bible being the only book – in this puritan hotel – is the only marginila Rose has to take into her incarceration as a hidden diary.  For its uncovering, not matter it’s Preposterous retrieval there are unsettling truths like the words of the Bible itself.  As it is not a Book which is safe in the Clergies hands nor taken with pillars of salt in communion amongst the suppressed and mal treated citizens, already infiltrated by a siege power of a monarchist force.  Since the 1166 occupation the persistent and systematic entrapment is in plain sight from the pulpit and before the pulpit.  Both the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland contrite and corrupt in unity of suppression against Gods will.  This film will be seen initially as a passing anecdotal fable worthy of a watch but light on appeal.  It will upset and conflict with perceptions narrow and broad but I would say it will after several viewings reveal itself in time to be full of its own contested narrative slowly bringing a reckoning to bear as its bold and more extreme view is received as history continues to recite its clarion vision.  It is there for us to see in a wider sense and while novels, films can only open some fictional presentation of a past long gone it is always a sudden shock to see its proximity to truth and realisation is slow but within reach.  On a question alone of the mix up of plot and some too fanciful occurrences I knock it back from being a 5 as it is to my mind of a very determined voice setting out to familiarise the world and those closer with the inexcusable period in the past in this country – worse if most probably being effected unknown to us in other parts of the world – and it is a piece of the pyramid of truth being built in memory of those children and women.

It is like a whisky chaser hitting your throats but this is why the fondness for diversion is like dashing your head on the rocks.  So much is ventured there is no small comfort to be had except through thinking along the lines I think Jim Sheridan, Sebastian Barry and the fine strong cast found themselves nurturing.  While it is discomforting it is due plenty of deliberation.

John Graham

22 March 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 24 March through to and including  30th March and on General release.

IMG_9544

Post Behan Brectian Proustian stories

In Ireland the confinement of Women and Men distinguished little in Mental Institutions from the Prisons like the Mountjoy that inspired the Dominic Behan The auld triangle goes jingle jangle. The lyrics still are chilling and how the Bi-sexual Brendan Behan came to them is anyone’s guess but the waking traingle of the Prison warder still makes people sit up and listen to these lyrics – the last verse.

In the female prison there are seventy women 

And I wish it was with them that I did dwell 

And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle 

All along the banks of the Royal Canal

Was the mind of Ireland imprisoned during these times?

From The Quare Fellow of 1956

ACT 1:
A hungry feeling came o’er me stealing

And the mice were squealing in my prison cell,

And that old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

To begin the morning

The warder bawling

Get out of bed and clean up your cell,

And that old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.
The screw was peeping

And the lag was weeping…

(SONG BREAKS OFF HERE)

ACT 2:

A hungry feeling came o’er me stealing

And the mice were squealing in my prison cell,

And the old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

On a fine spring evening,

The lag lay dreaming

The seagulls wheeling high above the wall,

And the old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.
The screw was peeping

The lag was sleeping

While he lay weeping for the girl Sal…

(SONG BREAKS OFF HERE)
The wind was rising

And the day declining

As I lay pining in my prison cell

And that old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.
In the female prison

There are seventy women…

(SONG BREAKS OFF HERE)
The day was dying and the wind was sighing,

As I lay crying in my prison cell,

And the old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

ACT III, Scene II (end of play):

In the female prison

There are seventy women

I wish it was with them that I did dwell,

Then that old triangle

Could jingle jangle

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

To this song provided for The Quare Fellow by brother Dominic we can add along the themes of imprisonment is this universal song. 

I shall be released

By Bob Dylan

They say ev’rything can be replaced

Yet ev’ry distance is not near

So I remember ev’ry face

Of ev’ry man who put me here

I see my light come shining

From the west unto the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released

They say ev’ry man needs protection

They say ev’ry man must fall

Yet I swear I see my reflection

Some place so high above this wall

I see my light come shining

From the west unto the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released

Standing next to me in this lonely crowd

Is a man who swears he’s not to blame

All day long I hear him shout so loud

Crying out that he was framed

I see my light come shining

From the west unto the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released

 

End

Fences : A Film Review

Fences


Directed by Denzel Washington, Produced by Todd Black, Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, Screenplay by August Wilson, Based on Fences by August Wilson.  Cast: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Saniyya Sidney. Music by Marcelo Zarvos. Cinematography Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Edited by Hughes Winborne. Production company Bron Creative, Macro Media, Scott Rudin Productions, Duration 139 minutes. (2hr 19mins.) Country:  United States. Language: English. Rating: 12a.

Play on Today
Venturing into film directing for the first time Denzel Washington has chosen a play to adapt for the screen.  Fences written by August Wilson is shaped as a family drama set in Pittsburgh in the age of the cities growth and expansion.  The couple at is heart are Rose played by Viola Davis giving an Oscar worthy performance as a middle aged woman married to Troy in his mid fifties played by Denzel Washington.  As the two leads they do not place any cultural struggled as the drama but the relationships they have with their close family.  In fact the only outsider is an old colleague of Troy whose acts as a folk for story telling in the backyard.   Discrimination does come into it as an aside but it avoids political messages.  Where can you go wrong with such a good cast?

Primarily it is about the contest of father and son in a rivalry born out of disappointment and poor choices.  It begins with a dialogue between Troy and Bono at work on hanging on dumpster and emptying very lightweight bins. Trash being small beer in those days apparently. They walk home and discuss the complaint Troy has made about not being allowed to become a dumpster driver.  The move is implied as being blocked because of his race.  They exchange sexist and workplace banter, using the n word (which is a 12a classification as it is outdated racist language) as braggadocios they act out the past  in a contrived male language bordering on sexist as well as racial offensive except they have the licence to use it as it solidifies their masculinity in their minds.  It crosses over in a reduced way when Troy talks to Rose with in their case impish comic marital prenuptial negotiations.  Rose is a homemaker totally at ease and comfortable with her home and the possibility of it improving bit by bit without holding big expectations.  Troy is on the other hand in dreamland where he is searching for something other than the inevitable route to the grave which gives the notional premise to the play.


Premise

Sam Cooke wrote Jesus be a fence round me.  He had no fear of death therefore but wished to be protected by the Lord Jesus.  The faith which Troy doesn’t have isolates him and makes him sole defender of his place.  Fences to him are to be constructed here on earth.  Platitudes, clichces are trotted out in the script as reflection and in the language are akin to Church preaching on sinning.  Troy has a gift for sinning.  Sinning against himself in his early life by not concentrating on his baseball skills but getting immersed in crime which put away any chance for sporting advance.  Instead he spent 15 years in jail and it is the period after this when he has brought up two sons with Viola, one who is a man on a mission to be a musician, Lyon played by the mature looking Russell Hornsby, whose attitude of creative and loose come what may approach to things contrasts with the fixed ideas of Troy whose own creativity was lost back in time.  There is an undercurrent of jealousy in this but never fully explored.  There is also a more directly presented parable of their younger son, the 14 year old athletic Cory played with immense sensitivity and strength by Johan Adepo, who is but a mirror of the past Troy has had.  Troys caring side is expressed through his disabled brother.  A war veteran whose cranial damage required a steel plate which contributes to his polarised, asbergers type state, Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), has just moved from the house to display, alongside Lyon’s moving out, a blunt display of his independence which further challenges Troy.  Troy manages to deal with these moves but cannot face the last one.  Two strikes is used often and I see these as the two strikes.  Troy in August Wilson’s mind avoids being menacing though scouts the boundaries the further discontent and disconnection with Gods purpose manifests.

  

Father Son.

Building fences is the clumsy metaphor of the play and how it is made drama.  With it originating as a stage play it is very compressed and reliant on the set pieces around the interior of the house, the living room of which reminds you of the cornflour blue of the film Moonlight which has the colour line through it.  The interior is bright and very well kept in shiny chromium sixties style with furniture on hire for 15 years still in use.  They have no TV and they have a refrigerator which is the first thing Troy reaches into for his Jackhammer Dry Gin when he returns from work while he discusses the dinner and local gossip with Rose and how she’s been making out during the day.  The home is a stable place for Cory, Rose and Troy and the job on the rota is building a fence to an empty rundown property next door.  In a back yard type place the raggety overgrown unkept disorder is in a way comforting ascorder means urbanity and the trees, bushes, vegtable garden and others variety of tending makes for a casual mix of what might be a plantation workers yard.  The order and disorder are an important methapor in Denzel Washington’s approach as are other touches.  Troy takes his sons gift and puts it below the work and studying mantra he believes would better equip Cory.  To Cory this runs against plans he has made as adjustments.  His job at a store is to be replaced by a scholarship to a school requiring his baseball skills above academic skills where at the same time he will be able to study outside of the baseball training and paling.  He also has organised work at the store on available weekends. He has Rose’s backing.  Troy on the other hand is fixed and this is regressive for everyone.  Moving on is not in Troys mindset.  He is so selfish and everything around him relates to his own battling with the devil.  He also has cause to be contrite in later events.  As I noted musician Lyon’s has escaped the grip of his father and chosen his own future. There is solidity reflecting this in the paying by Russell Hornsby.

 

Setting

Being a play without the range of a Macbeth or Three Sisters this somewhat restricts staging as so many scenes are in the same set, the backyard or kitchen, living room.  For it to work takes a very clearly crafted order and this film moves from having at times flowing interludes to the jumping around framed set shots pictorially pretty but basically daylight lit nice couplets and monologues.  Thankfully in an important scene involving Viola which will be recognised as a career performance is filmed as a static framed head shot mostly which is right on the emotional visceral painful thrust of the narrative.  Rose brings a major problem of heart over head and examines Troy’s framework in unusual confrontation showing how deep her previous compliant self has gone along.  It shows up how much Troy himself has not addressed his past or confronted his demons.  In another scene a technique which I ‘dissed’ as a poor choice at the beginning of Moonlight, is here used to carry the flow and externalises briefly the carry of the narrative.  It is when a revolt shot is used and each face is ful of expression as they speak and the rotation carries the dialogue effortlessly.  If only the rest of the film had been laid out in a pattern and not patchwork of cinematic choices.  It has the feel of a play too much of the time and even theatre screenings of plays, National Theatre Live for one, have a form and fixed style and structure which does not flit about.  The style is rich on occasions and when time has passed – to the final act presaged by a snowfall – the formula is unbroken and fixed as before.  Some wisecracking critics often come out with directional reposts described as ‘well directed’ an underpinning of a film ‘not being well directed’ as if drawing attention to the cinematic values present at times – I think it’s important to say we’re a breakdown occurs and where a flow and assured passage carries is achieved or an outcome.  It is part of the viewing experience as is sitting in a theatre would be watching Denzel and Viola on stage would be totally different to this film.  Maybe it is Washington’s choice to cool down, to remove the menace and ramp up the garrulous aspects as his own persona is able to carry it more convincingly.  In a review a scene is described thus – “… of claustrophobia … there’s clear evidence that careful thought has been put into the quiet visual architecture of this film; …  example,  where Bono warns Troy of impending ruination, places the actors in the bottom right of the frame (a scene which does not occur in the play and is basically a wise move in choosing a spot to film/replicate impending trouble visually) while rubble and an empty field symbolically take up most of the screen. I disagree on the basis the film has few moments such as this. When they do as I previously noted, they only serve to disrupt a flow so important and not replicating a stage plays approach. They have not choreographed it for screen and several shots are staple stage replicates.  The atmosphere is achieved with the back yard being reminiscent of the rural they would prefer to bring up children in.

  

Film Futures

America is lost in its Entertainment mould with the decades of Crime thrillers, Space age, Sci-Fi, War heroics, Pratfall College, Financial swindle, Corporate greed, Sexual shenanigans, and many more genre flowing towards the expectations of an  unsatiated Public whose expectations follow the hype and out of the mainstream ,assively omportant groundbreaking movies emerge despite the – and this critique is broad given it’s within a review – vast production and sometimes failing box office hit and miss targeting of audiences.  Manhattan, Apocalypse Now, Goodfellas, The God Father and many others of equal stature are not the norm.   They follow incredible journeys in cinema, On the Waterfront, In the Heat of the Night, the influence of Foreign Cinema, in creating a landscape where present day filmmakers struggle to be seen.  The films, especially in ethic rooted film is fresh and full on in examining issues and positions.  Society is reflected.  Also Fences is; and this is no slight on a Denzel Washington, there is a pecking order in the screening and output.  Denzel Washington’s profile is such that this film gets more traction than it might otherwise have had.  It is a very good debut and fairly safe and challenging as Troy’s character is not one you would immediately empathise with.  It opens up performances though which are from the first division.  Viola Davis and Jovian Adepo spectacularly inhabit their parts.  The screenplay for this 29 year old play was penned by the late August Wilson himself.  He carries through on Troy Maxson’s dance with the devil over a fence he is slow in building and likely to be caught out.  The baseball similes or straight references even, take to the park throughout.

The August Mr Wilson  

Conclusion ###3

I really enjoyed the introduction to the work of August Wilson and the stage plays set 29 years before in Pittsburgh must accumulate a large library of varied purposeful interpretation of the ethnic conditions playing out in a big city along similar lines to Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams or as a contrasting backdrop to the more explicit approaches to political hatred and manipulation in Orson Welles Mancunian Candidate. The demons are still around and while this film brings to new audiences including the Cory age, very well conceived drama depicting the important things in life.  The family and direction of travel for equality and a sense of a creator whose work is us.  Where is the life manual except in our genes and these now are being conquered daily as coping mechanisms for ill health and the mind is yet capable of controlling itself without derangement and falsehoods or projections which are baseless and void of fact.  The magic of plays is lost and the era is well documented by now so the primary focus of the father son relationship must be disposed to inform our enquiry.  This it does in part by the confrontational aspects which are repeated in various guises until the more informative exacting deep delving dialogue gives you in very rewarding viewing central reasoning and what the message concerns.  It is certainly an approachable watch and opens alternative viewpoints America and the rest of the world would do well to examine. The central themes may even be Aristolian or Homeric with male, female needs apart. Unresolved masculinity.   The blue don’t strike out.  They consider,  needs and wants and dreams as the film suggests at one point.  You would think music would be an important part but it is kept for Rose’s church going and A song passed down through Troy.  It makes for a well counterpoint to Gabes bashed trumpet and the ‘motif’ of collected and disused brass instruments unplayed, neglected and unloved.  There is a lot of love in this film and the hardship is in the entrapment. The poet said “Good fences make good neighbours” my current read, Prodigal Summer, reminds me and adds from Miss Rawley, “Oh, people just adore fences, but Nature doesn’t give a hoot.” Strange expression that as if suggesting without a hoot comes Road kill?

John Graham

22 February 2017

Belfast

On general release and a 12a rating.  2hr 19mins.

Loving : A Film Review


Loving

Directed by Jeff Nichols, (Mud, Take Shelter, Midnight Special) Produced by Ged Doherty, Colin Firth, Nancy Buirski, Sarah Green, Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf. Screenplay by Jeff Nichols, Based on The Loving Story by Nancy Buirski.  Cast.  JOEL EDGERTON -RICHARD LOVING, RUTH NEGGA – MILDRED LOVING, MARTON CSOKAS – SHERIFF BROOKS, NICK KROLL – BERNIE COHEN, TERRI ABNEY – GARNET JETER, ALANO MILLER – RAYMOND GREEN , JON BASS – PHIL HIRSCHKOP – MICHAEL SHANNON – GREY VILLET.  Music by David Wingo, Cinematography Adam Stone, Edited by Julie Monroe, Production companies – Big Beach, Raindog Films. Cert. 12. Duration 2hrs 3mins.


The blurb

The true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who were arrested in 1950s Virginia for the crime of getting married.  The year is 1958 and the Civil Rights Movement has barely begun. Richard, a white construction worker, decides to propose to Mildred, a black woman. What should be a happy beginning to their life together soon becomes an arduous legal and political battle against the state and society. Driven out of their hometown, Richard and Mildred Loving spend almost ten years fighting for the right to live as a family in the town they consider home. They push their case as far as the Supreme Court, resulting in the landmark annulment of the discriminatory Virginian law banning interracial marriage.

 

Story unfolds

Opening with the face of Ruth Negga, pensive and seeming forlorn the frame extends to include Joel Edgerton as they contemplate an event that will cement and form their relationship.  It is in this context of inter-racial harmony, togetherness and unity we are then shown the integrated social Virginia backdrop.  The backdrop of motor racing or as they have it, drag racing petrol heads and enthusiasts of different races, no pun intended, relax and compete and show their macho skills in basic road souped up cars.  Nothing too fancy.  In the late fifties when this is an automobile high customised era of ‘winged’ chariots with valances, fins, chrome, tailegate motors expressing freedom these racers are mere tools of competition and all the scrutineering follows the rules.  Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) is a bricklayer/blocklayer working mainly on new houses with a white crew.  It’s noticeable the workplace is segregated and I didn’t see any black workers on the sites where it is a good payer and is regular work.  Mildred Loving nee Jeter (Ruth Negga) is s field worker in a plantation of tobacco and is part of a young coloured community whose work is labourious and achingly demanding.  The mix and split of these Virginias is already an orchestrated unity.  They are joined but separated by class.  The hoe-down after the Drag racing shows them together as free spirits raised and enjoying themselves. The reality is the separation is constructed by the state racial fundementalists to manage and control them.  The sense of order is plain as no revolution is happening and only later when the marches of Martin Luther King emerge via. the TVs screen which is a new medium delivering its dose of engineered mostly white produced programmes, is there a consciousness of the underlying oppressed people.


Breaking the circle

By telling this true story with an impeccable faithfulness to the events and without overdramatising the conflicts Jeff Nichols knows what matters.  The couples relationship is dealt with as an everyday love between neighbours.  Richards family is a farmstead with a few barns and no father.  His father in the past worked with for a black man andtherefore Richard’s heightened awareness of difference has another dimension.  He knows the establishing of a means to make a living is so important and management of the returns, resources, is a separate thing entirely.  Unions and workers rights themselves in their infancy.  Richards home is a 5 step timber house. I call it a 5 step verandah house as it is the Southern style of open porch under a roof edge raised as a stoop common throughout the vastness of the country they live in.  There is room to breathe the night air.  Mildred’s house hasby contrast a 2 step verandaed home.  There’s is a slightly lower less long established home.  The settlers of white stock brought this form as a colonial imprint and the black people who they now lifted with took up the style of living. Jeff Nichols takes this environment as his main template going forward in the story.  The day to day is familiar and working to mutual advantage within the restraints and constrictions.  It would be acceptable for a white and black person to live together, sleep together providing they were not married and they would have to suffer the isolation having offspring would bring and perhaps be forced to move under those circumstances.

Humanitarian rights

In this story the most important thing is the groundbreaking change the Loving’s bring about.  It is told from the very first instance when they decide to get married out of state in Washington D.C. Colombia and in a matter of fact way it happens in a registry office with Mildred’s Dad as a witness.  They all have a journey to D.C. Which underlines the backwardness of where they came from.  In the recent elections the states around Washington D.C. were distinctly democrat hence the poor turn out for the inauguration.  The movement of reconciliation – first of ridding themselves of the colonialist English/British enslavers then the Abraham Lincoln abolition of slavery had its focus here.  The slavery remained in effect through the inequality and suppression of cultural freedom which the right to choose who they married underlined.  

So the first time the legal side of things arises is when they live openly as a married couple and the local police act on instructions to arrest them.  It results in a court case and with local representation they accept their fate and move out of state to avoid incarceration and separation.  Mildred is very much now the focus of the film as she raises a family with the help of relatives they have a home and we notice the children growing in a small enclosed space.  Some direct referencing by Neff Nichols to the urban nature of this existence is played out but now the singularity of their case comes to the notice of the American Civil Liberties organisation and in steps another principal performer. Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) who is a rookie human rights lawyer full of optimistic favour but little common sense.  There then is the highlight of the movie for me a meeting in which he sequesters an office of a Law firm and manages to take on the gravitas and bearing to welcome Richard and Mildred to the concept of challenging through the courts the injustice they met in their home state of Virginia.  His niavity is very funny if it were not so devoid of reality.  Nevertheless as things move on they find a way to advance the case.  Into the package comes a Human Rights Lawyer who knows which buttons of legislature to press and the sequence is followed through.  Quite interestingly and it’s an obvious choice made, little ‘Courtroom Drama’ by way of the tension filled portrayal of landmark cases some directors ratchet up, we are treated to a matterfact brief hearing of the issues in succinct facts which is a very, very important factor in this films mastery of a difficult a prolonged process. It is a very wise move not to Labour on the machinations but put the case up front and central.  Cohen. And his cohort spelling it out. Judgements follow.


Pace and time

 The film is slow and changes in the story are therefore anticipated given the known history if not the longevity of the whole sorry apartheid.  Racial conflicts and violence are eschewed and it is a story well told due to the simplicity of the families confined to the story.  The movements between them for certain events and the passing of time is only loosely appreciated by the children.  An awful lot of the time Richard is tinkering at cars and is on the sidelines but fully behind the  battle Ruth takes a great deal of interest in and is the titans holding on to the political and gigantic nature of it.  Possibly it might be true to say the film sags in the middle and is in need of an uplift which comes in the form of the case taking on its seniority.  The state of Virginia need be challenged in the Supreme Court where about one in 400 cases assigned to it are every taken up at this level. As interracial marrying was against the law – a matter of “miscegenation”, that notably science based attribution, has them after the harassment and being locked up, guided through Mildred’s having initially written to Bobby Kennedy,  the ACLU is able to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court and change America’s ugly Jim Crow race laws of the 50s and 60s.


Conclusion ####4

I found this film worked by following in the middle of the story the emotional switches and triggers Mildred Loving nee Jeter (Ruth Negga) produces from the very first frame.  She is intelligent, graceful, dignified and assured of her worth.  Richard is also sure of his love and is unable to express it the same way which shows when he is a backcourt no comment reply outside a courthouse to the TV whereas Mildred is despite the signs to the contrary – hopeful. Jon Bass as Phil Hirschcop is splendidly youthful and fits the pieces of the jigsaw together in terms of the Law.  Both he and Nick Kroll as Bernie Cohen derserve a second mention as they are a unit playing off each other’s belief in the strength of the Law and the ability of the Supreme Court to hear and accept their arguments which in effect they do and it is no small achievement.  Micheal Shannon who appears in several character roles in Jeff Nichols films is cast as the Life photographer reporter who visits the Lovings and creates a US media phenomenon of them as a normal couple in a normal state of marriage growing up raising children.  They are hard working and it’s is as he shows it.  Despite the dip in the middle this is a carefully crafted and very watchable film and has important nuances and insights which are seldom given space.  I thoroughly recommend a viewing.

John Graham

2 February 2016

Belfast
 Screening at QFT from Fri 3 Feb – Thurs 16 Feb

.

Jackie : A Film Review


Directed by Pablo Larraín. Produced by Juan de Dios Larraín, Darren Aronofsky, Mickey Liddell, Scott Franklin, Ari Handel. Written by Noah Oppenheim. Cast. Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt. Music by Mica Levi, Cinematography Stéphane Fontaine, Edited by Sebastián Sepúlveda, Production companies, LD Entertainment, Wild Bunch, Fabula, Why Not Productions, Bliss Media, Endemol Shine Studios, Protozoa. Duration. 1hr 35mins. Cert. 15.


A moment changes the World

You are in for an engrossing watch through the dramatic performances and palpable tensions over an event which will last long in the memory of the Political and Social history of America. The 1963 assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  He was artly responsible for setting the foundation stones of modern America which were laid by a unity of purpose naively set up on the false hopes of the ‘All American dream‘ and even proposing – in a space race with the then USSR – landing a man on the moon. Most of America was fed through the very new media of TV and infinity of lifestyle magazines from Life to Playboy.  GQ would come later and in the Trump towers supermo’s office he has framed covers of Playboy and GQ featuring DT and with this film opening in the U.K. on Friday 20 January on the inauguration of the New President of the United States it is Donald Trumps turn to shape the USA dream or sign its death nail.

The blurb on the film is After her husband’s assassination, Jackie Kennedy’s (Natalie Portman) world is completely shattered. Traumatized and reeling with grief, over the course of the next week she must confront the unimaginable: consoling their two young children, vacating the home she painstakingly restored, and planning her husband’s funeral.  Jackie quickly realizes that the next seven days will determine how history will define her husband’s legacy – and how she herself will be remembered. Chilean director Pablo Larraín (Tony Manero, No) plunges us into the devastation using a series of finely crafted flashbacks that cover the fateful day in Dallas, Jackie’s return to the White House, arrangements for the President’s funeral, and her time spent accompanying her husband’s coffin to Arlington Cemetery.  

The role came to Portman through Darren Aronofsky, who directed her in Black Swan, for which she won an Oscar in 2011. He shepherded Noah Oppenheim’s script of Jackie for a number of years. Meanwhile, Larrain’s star was rising beyond Chile, in films largely about his home country’s history (No, The Club, Neruda). The Club won a prize at the Berlinale in 2015.  Sydney Morning Herald.


Performances to celebrate

It is a very tightly crafted film, very much keeping its focus on the psyche of Jackie Kennedy in a short period and time of immense change.  With all seeming to be heading sweetly for JFK heading into a second term, this was a joyous time and full of hope but is cruelly shattered in seconds.  The script is chillingly absent of sentiment, ideology, lecture or incidental fill.  It has a welcome electrifying directness giving insight to the persons at the heart of the event.  The conversations and efficiency of words infiltrate the mood swings and juxtapositions, allowing fractious clashes to ignite believably while personalities vie to capture their own space in the story.  The likes of the senior clerical Priest, Father Richard McSorley, played with assurity and gravitas by John Hurt, who is asked by Jackie to conduct the Funeral, is a fatherly figure with a breadth of intuative and needed kind wisdom, which he delivers in a long conversation with Jackie as they survey the landscape prior to the Funeral. The suggestion Jackie has a conversation with Father McSorley is not simply him seeking her approval of the arrangements but to have her unburden the thoughts he is aware she will not release. That in itself is a vivid illumination of the key central characters and the complexity of this world shattering event. Richard E.Grant is also wholly convincing as the ‘Master of Ceremonies’ in the White House, William Walton, anticipating and conflicted by the choices of Jackie in the now decorous White House she has recently restored and transformed into a ‘peoples’ house yet extravagance is not exiled.  The chairs once used by the Lincolns are retrieved from the English aristocrat family who obtained them. Peter Sarsgaard is tremendous as Bobby Kennedy.  He has the unfortunate job of burying a brother and looking after a widow both in grief. He is fragile and has black secrets. Bobby acted a lot of the time to keep the private side of his brother hidden while he also plays someone who deals with a wife who was aware of her husbands infidelity and mixing with the wrong folk.

Jackie asks

Jacqueline (Lee Bouvier Kennedy), (“Jackie”) 1929–94, wife of John F. Kennedy (1953–63) and Aristotle Onassis (1968–75).

What happened? Who done it? the questions on the free worlds mind in 1963 when JFK, Jack Kennedy is assassinated.  It is not often mentioned but the Cold War was in people’s minds so the USSR would not only have eyes on it, they could – though we’re never cited – as possible assassins.  The immediate aftermath is the focus of this story as seen through the eyes of the highly traumatised and troubled Jackie Lee Bouvier, the widow with two small children, Caroline and John.  The world is watching and she is in a state of Post traumatic shock with few medics to help and just the White House entourage to relate to.  No one is close to her except Bobby Kennedy and her aide de camp, the lady in waiting type, Greta Gerwig whose guidance is both practical and humane.  She for instance tells Jackie how to tell the children, in the whirlwind of thought she offers clarity. It is a stellar performance on  Greta Gerwig’s part too.  Towering as she does, over the small grieving woman Jackie/Natalie whose only friend is her. Others to note if only for their presence excepting JFK are  Caspar Phillipson as John F. Kennedy himself, John Carroll Lynch as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Julie Judd as Ethel Kennedy, Brody and Aiden Weinberg as John F. Kennedy Jr., Mathilde Ripley as Jean Kennedy Smith all lurking in the wallpaper of the White House.  When HBO first conceived of the idea along with Darren Aronofsky, around 2010, it was envisaged it would be a four part mini-series, then word got about and grander plans were put together.  While it ‘rested’ at times it eventually gathered the full engagement of LD Entertainment and Wild Bunch with Darren Aronofsky at the helm if not the Directors chair.


The White House

The CBS TV black and White tour fixes us back in the day through contemporary and modern interplay of the actual footage and inserts for the actors which is in grainy b/w and the sound is raw.  Even watching black and white TVs dotted around and particularly one in a g-plan cabinet contrasting with the French decorous style of Jackie contrast and realise the era.  In the Presidens office there are many old maritime portraits of ships with masts contrasting with the decorated heros marine past. Alongside these the massive portrait of Bison and Bison (so singular an animal it retains the name unaltered on plural!) on stampede.  The Oval Office is late in receiving its bold red circular carpet.  The whole replication of the White House interiors was carroed out on the Paris studios. The sound is delicately adjusted from the b/w footage back to a smooth dialogue, say of Billy Crudup and the footage is also integrated extremely well with it having apparently been shot on 35mm film.  I had an issue with the choice of music and while it was not maudlin it was at times irritatingly harsh and unnecessarily present.

 img_8051

The American Route map to success.

The opening of the film begins on the Presidential plane with the entourage, the full works, preparing to land in Texas to go on that fateful journey into Dallas.  It is visceral expectation of her home state reunion and celebration of JFK having gotten to the White House and this stellar couple being examples of the American dream realised in a form of success matched by smartness and anticipation of a better future.  TV is the elephant in the room.  The intervention and prime inventor of those dreams.  The elephant in the room being the thought – you think you had and you sitting on the back as it’s pilot as it takes you where you think you intended to go – except the elephant is doing all the driving.  As with La La Land all is colour and CinemaScope.  The TV though is still black and white.  The arc of the film is the Life series of interviews and in this immediate period, with use of flashback and CBS footage of a White House tour – a key widening view of the hidden inner workings of the White House – the Life Magazine interview which is carried out by in Massachusetts after the event; only a week actually, with – ‘The journalist’ Billy Crudup  – as end credits have it.  It is of course the Theodore White interview which Jackie Kennedy sought and demanded total control over as she did with the State Funeral which went global in its TV and cinema showing of its extraordinary homage to a leader.


Life (other magazines Time, GQ are available)

Theodore White turns up at her remote lakeside home in Massachusetts at Hygennis Port in a timber colonial style high ceilinged mansion.  The brusque cautious greeting of Jackie is a trigger of thought and disclosure setting the tone and delivering a new way of journalistic intrusion.  Albeit a forthright discussion and serious interview, it is through the personality of Theodore White – whose loose collar and tie belie his penetrative technique – which loosens Jackie tongue and the core innermost telling emotions inside Jackies mind pour out easily.  His technique is simply using a notepad and pen, and his manner is stoic, serious and non judgemental, being notionally slightly deferential although he does not allow Jackie to get away from his inquisitive delving by upsetting her.  He is instead the astute and independent author of her words. Being agreeable is a ploy he will have used many times as a seasoned journalist knowing the thirst for this story and it’s massive trajectory in print. It will be her story, he tells her, as she ruminates over this slackening of the pressures post funeral  and of the historical marker she laid down.  “What I think of history?  Does that make it true?”  Her own struggling with the facts and perceptions. The truth of the assassination is always under the surface. For Natalie Portman  she had the stories to go to as the part was researched by reading the interviews, Her primary source was the seven-part eight-and-a-half-hour Life magazine interview conducted in the early part of 1964 by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. with Kennedy. One of three interviews she gave following her husband’s assassination, it was kept private throughout her life – so wiki tells me!

More insights to the way it evolved as a film are interestingly revealed on wiki and this is in a four year period which began with Racheal Weisz in the ‘titular’ part it goes on to – May 2015, Portman was confirmed to star in the film.  That same month, Chilean Director Pablo Larraín was hired having been approached by Darren Aronofsky to direct the film with Aronofsky subsequently working as a piloting producer.

    

Conspiracies aside.

The fact is this film does not dwell on the conspiracy theories or the killer(s) Ruby killing, the alleged assassin Oswald and it is intensely about the choices made in the immediate aftermath.  Natalie Portman is extraordinarily convincing in portraying a vulnerable fragile diminutive wife whose world is shattered and all known compasses are lost.  Portman was working on another film – Planetarium, with Lily-Rose Depp – during pre-production of Jackie in Paris. She prepares in depth for any role, but this one did not allow much time. She read everything she could find and studied footage of Jackie, especially her distinctive voice: silky, patrician and breathy, with touches of Long Island, where Portman spent part of her own childhood. That voice is a huge part of the performance.  Sydney Morning Herald. The strength Natalie Portman portrays, definitely Oscar worthy, is as if she is pulling her up, Jackie up and out of this extraordinary maelstrom event and is breathtaking through its simplicity and nuanced magnificently with subtlety and vocally with gesture, inflection and cadence.  From her adjusting her attire, make up, hair, and walking routine, for the outside world to her rehearsal and rehearsal of the tasks ahead with her lady in waiting, it becomes a legendary performance in itself.

 

Legacy for who?

The Life magazine and TV background of the aftermath is the question Jackie places centrally, concerning the public spectacle and projection of the legacy of her husband. The legacy is prime. She does all she can to make the cavalcade match the Lincoln funereal despite their legacies being poles apart.  With the help of Bobby Kennedy and Nancy Tuckerman, the lady in waiting, in a whirl wind she commands strength and the understandable flaky persona we have insight to, mainly due to the PTSD (as is our probable likely post-overview) which conceals an inner trauma with a sense of self she is continually framing the world view of both herself and Jack John Kennedy.  She and the Life magazine interviews which she retrieves partially – it is the widows prerogative exercised – as she is prepared to deny the journalists writing of it if need be.  This is clear to Theodore White in the journalists role and one he is prepared for.  It is too revealing so soon after the assassination she takes steps to reframe things.  In any event or so it is believed the truth may be revealed in time, however it never has been.


Conclusion ####4

In terms of reality, Jackie herself proclaims it very well, as she knows having been a Presidents wife, Public perception is often far from the truth, the managed truth.  She is at ease declaring the story is servant to the legacy.  The truth is another matter entirely.  The interview which works extremely well as the central plank of the film, is as though the legacy is assured as the fulfilment of what she wished for in terms of the funeral statelike removal of JFK was in itself testimony to the woman’s will and strength. This interview is a tail piece of extraordinary insight and it’s legacy is also hers.  Nancy Tuckerman, the splendidly relaxed and grounded Greta Gerwig is seen remaining and apart, left alone at the White House when Jackie leaves.  Don’t let it be forgot.  The words of Camelot. The invincibibility of the Camelot musical beloved of JFK who played the song, Victrola, as a refreshment after a hard day’s grind, is recalled by Jackie but she’s conscious there will be new presidents but there will never be another Camelot. On the page and of it darkness has its many shades.  The day today is just the first. A remarkable and very touching biographical memoir in a historically vexing film. While many will not be interested in the historical perspective it is a very touching story of how grief of any kind sends new priorities and shapes things so differently going forward.  It as a film asks more questions and is very contrasting for the current inauguration of a world leader going ahead right now.

       
John Graham

19 January 2017

Belfast
On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from 20 January through to 2 February 2017.  And on wide General release.

What’s not on General release is the ‘road movie’ a political thriller of 104mins. 2016. by Pablo Larrain

Neruda


It’s 1948 and the Cold War has reached Chile. In congress, Senator Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco) accuses the government of betraying the Communist Party and is swiftly impeached by President Gonzalez Videla (Alfredo Castro). Police Prefect Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal) is assigned to arrest the poet. Neruda tries to flee the country with his wife, the painter Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán), but they are forced into hiding. Inspired by the dramatic events of his new life as a fugitive, Neruda writes his epic collection of poems, Canto General. Meanwhile, in Europe, the legend of the poet hounded by the policeman grows, and artists led by Pablo Picasso clamor for Neruda’s freedom. Neruda, however, sees this struggle with his nemesis Peluchonneau as an opportunity to reinvent himself. In this story of a persecuted poet and his implacable adversary, Neruda recognizes his own heroic possibilities: a chance to become both a symbol for liberty and a literary legend.

From the fibula.cl website where you can also see trailers of other films by Pablo Larrain like Fugue.
La Casa Films logo is so good I have to show it! 

The range of Cinema in Chile is astoundingly captivating.

Silence : A Film Review


Silence

Director. Martin Scorsese. Cast. Andrew Garfield (Fr. Sebastião Rodrigues), Liam Neeson (Father Cristóvão Ferreira), Adam Driver (Fr. Francisco Garrpe), Yōsuke Kubozuka (Kichijiro), Issey Ogata (Inquisitor Inoue), Tadanobu Asano (Interpreter), Nana Komatsu (Christian Villager #1), Shinya Tsukamoto (Mokichi). Language English. US/Taiwan/Mexico. Drama. Cert. 15. Duration 2hr 41mins.

Bicameral doubt

Silence refers to the God unheard.  If your listening, the bat kol that boundary of the divine voice is silent.  Over time everlasting God has been silent and in the words of Jesus he alone speaks of the Lords guidance of supreme glory and seeks our passage into the kingdom of God. That is of course a personal view and one about pursuit of truth.

“The nature of secularism is fascinating to me, but do you wipe away what could be more enriching in your life, which is an appreciation or some sort of search for that which is spiritual and transcends? Silence is just something that I’m drawn to in that way. It’s been an obsession, it has to be done… It’s a strong, wonderful true story, a thriller in a way, but it deals with those questions.” – Martin Scorsese


Silent story

Set in the 17th Century, the film follows two Jesuit priests who face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to find their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) and propagate Christianity. The priests, Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver), arrive in a country that, under the Tokugawa shogunate, has banned Catholicism and forbidden almost all foreign contact. There they witness the persecution of Japanese Christians at the hands of a government that wishes to purge Japan of all western influence. Thousands have already been executed and they eventually convince the Jesuit leader Cairan Hinds, to allow them to travel from Europe to Japan, in the prologue as we are introduced to the subject of finding out the actual whereabouts and circumstances of Liam Neesons fate.

Young missionaires

It is through Andrew Garfields as Rodriguez a Portuguese Jesuit Priest who along with Garrpe played by a gaunt and frail looking Adam Driver, the main bulk of the post history of Christianity’s penetration of Japan is told.  By enlisting the very dubious help of a guide played by Yōsuke Kubozuka (Kichijiro), who features throughout and is hugely integral as a link between the races, they enter Japan in the remotest island paradise, ironically verdant, beautiful and incongruously capable of sustaining a civilisation without hindered even of any kind.  By Gods design.  They instead reach a place where the remaining Christian Inhabitants are isolated unable to trade or move and are in a despairingly wretched place barely able to eke out an existence.  There are parallel and also isolated village communities which also do not communicate between each other as their memories and fears are ofspies and the inquisitor of severe repercussions that may manifest.


The ‘return’ of missionaries in the form of the brash, over confident, singularly fixed and uncompromising Rodriguez who is the opposite of the questioning, more grounded, philosophical and extentialist Garrpe, gives the Japanese Christians Renewed hope as Kichijiro introduces them to a group of villagers literally on landing.  They are welcomed into this fragile barely existing remote territory and the Christian faith is uplifted by their very presence and re-ritualising of the faith.  Even confession – that extremely dubious form of thetorical sin and absolution (meaning it is not in the gift of anyone to forgive as only ‘God’ can be asked to forgive) – is performed.  Ritualisation and order is established in – and this is fundamental to this religiousity – belief if only in formalised ‘uncertainty’ – and reproach is wasted within the confines of Jesuit minds and Catholicism.  That symbolises why the whole embarkation in mission in any age is subjected to ridicule, resentment, manipulation and scorn.  The symbolic universality is fixed not flexible in the human hands and ungodlike.  Image and theatre which Martin Scorsese is well practiced in is about – as religion is – about storytelling – not about the sciences of universality and human values inherently the same and equal – is employed as a narrative slightly old school as voice over and flashback but impeccably conveyed.

The elucidation in gesture and mannerisms and enunciation of the Japanese and American, Irish Actors is brilliantly delivered. Seldom in modern cinema have I been alerted to the importance of the delivery of language and line as a primary and essential aspect of dramatic filmmaking (Macbeth was the last time when I was conscious of making the required mental shift to adapt to the Scots accents and cadences within the Shakespearian rhythms of speaking as storytelling which worked for me but not as I said in that review for American friends) and as a consequence it makes this story very penetrable at all the levels it sets out to achieve.


Test of Faith

The assurance and confidence of Rodriguez is gradually changed and his character comes across doubt internally building and shaking beliefs at their fundamental level as they do in all that acknowledge it as humans.  In the desperation of one young Priest asking God for the truth of the suffering in Japan,  we realise the contemporary, familiar desperation known to the faithful and the secular, the atheist, we have no divine right to this life we embrace and share.  Less do we know it’s purpose and recoil in the conflict of good and evil in the presence of a creator in silence.  Silences are the root and branch of religious devotion and it is to the interior self the analysis brings determination and externally that alteration exists when the ‘real’ world is continuing on its vile course of inhuman acts, unable to listen to the guidance for all.  In one moment it is apparent ‘God’ speaks to Rodriguez.  In a moment when his faith is tested at the very threshold of his advocacy, in which denial becomes a very real necessity or choice, he is given the advice that forgiveness shall be forthcoming no matter what choice he makes.  It is an Abrahamic moment of judgement.  Allow the Son to die to live.

Directorial brilliance

Martin Scorsese has crafted a very profound and commanding film speaking ironically of the place of Faith religions in Japan and responding to the questions asked by placing different polarities of a point of view on religion.  He does it mainly through the cost of Priests and Christian followers of the infiltration to Japan in early 1600 of missionaries when confronted by National identity.  It is when they are called on to reject their faith publicallyband humiliatingly they begin to focus on the Silence.  First of these to face the call to reject their religion and faith is Father Ferreira played by Liam Neeson.  How come though it takes a no fee director and a cast on a pittance in Hollywood terms and maybe several other chips cashed in production, technical etc, wise, to make a film of this magnitude.  It is not a crowd pleaser nor is it pandering to convention in telling – in a year 75 years after the Japanese sinking of several submarines and vessels off Japan causing the loss of thousands of American Servicemen and women? – this narrative which has many many aspects which in any forward thinking civilised community can open up several strands of debate on our relationships in and through religions and with difference and how it is apparent that all choices are of a sacrificial kind. A loss to gain Not a gain to gain and then ultimately loose again.

 

Tadanobu Asano (Interpreter),


The power

The Japanese inquisitor Inouye, brilliantly, fulsomely, played by Issei Ogata, is almost a Devil incarnate playing with the emotions of Rodriguez when eventually they meet.  In several scenes, Inouye tells him that Christianity may be right for Europe, but it is wrong for Japan. Inouye is a supreme leader whose actions he characterised as symbols of his state.  His state and control therefore has no need of religion, it has its own as Liam Neeson explains, him having taken the Priest road less travelled and points to the Sun as their Son of God meaning all is in nature to employ gratitude and self identity which invokes astrology and cosmology as brothers in the science of discovery.  Inouye is mercurial and believable, a portray creating a real sense of Nationhood and most of these Japanese actors male and female deploy a level of gravitas and characterisation which Scorsese it seems has enabled them to ‘act’ to be unafraid of employing traits and characterisation to inhabit the part and screen.  It is absent in a significant part in my view.  Of that later.  By behaving as a evuncular wise old man with only his nation in mind and feigning sympathy – knowing the universality of religion God or no God undermines regime rule totally.


I think of the new polemic in Poland where feminism is challenged by a virtually statecrun monopoly on religion by Catholic based faith religious, forcing women who wish to have an abortion to underground risks and 10,000 women a year seeking abortions outside Poland.  There are now Welfare groups unattached to the issue of abortion being set up to recalibrate woman’s identity through yoga, fitness and general conversation and in relaxing environments.

It is the investment in common factors of emotion Inouye confronts Rodriguez with what he tells him is arrogance and puts forward the suffering he is responsible for in his presence and continual ministry to the faithful.  As every religion it is met with its own downfall through separation.  It is also the perpetrator of division in areas it succeeeds in bringing nations forward with it.  Be it imperialist Great Britain and the Church of England, The Demagogues of Jewish religions in Israel leaving behind the Judaism of their faith, the Catholicism spread as universality while being the foremost hierarchical assembly of Faith preserves on the panet.  China and large parts of Africa have no ‘established’ church and few places in Western civilisation have no presence of other than ‘established’ church which all secondary non-established non credal and non sectarian religions are supplanted minor followers in the body faith inherent in human kind.

 Yōsuke Kubozuka (Kichijiro)

Historical base

For this cinematic portrait to succeed as story and story it is, it has been based on the 1966 novel by the Japanese author Shusaku Endo, preceding it and priding that is a level of construction fictionalised through small written texts remaining of the whole failed attempt at Christianising Japan.

Throughout I had a concern regarding the playing of Rodriguez and Andrew Garfield for me lacked credibility in his emotional regard and over involved in lingering looks and stopping his facial expressions as footprints of emotion – frozen faces I call them – not acting is not acting it’s real? –  instead of the dexterous and malleable and at times throughly surprising for me who was not a great AD fan,  sings and laments as every inflection and word craft is used in its strength ultimately due to the well crafted script into reaching out to the audience to be illuminated in the intensity of meaning.  It was thoroughly old school in performance terms and in itself the Japanese and our own duo of Cairan Hinds and Liam Neeson invoked acting as a craft and art form that is very thin on the ground in a lot of modern films.  Meryl Streep has stood up at the Globe Award ceremony having a set delays stab at Donald Trump while her curios Albert Nobbs or Florence Foster are not in my view ‘acting supremacy’ – the kind of performances we see too often and the yet Meryl Streep gives in to the trope of being a character actor in the way Glenda Jackson never could nor does/did.

Conclusion ****4

It will be sometime before it is realised how important this film is in the Martin Scorsese filmmaking library.  Before have come works of dramatic historical and societal challenge.  Each constructing a view of the world based on real events and characterisations of the stories they inhabit.  This is no different.  The Last Temptation of Christ took on a historical figure and the most significant of all and he layered his own telling of the quest within the Bible to his own imagined extrapolation.  It formed a huge divide in opinion as it was partially construed as sacreligious and wild imaginary diversions not appropriate to understanding.  Given the Protestant claim at the time of Erasmus and the reformation as belonging to the Mother of Jesus born of a young woman as the Bible actually states, not the Virgin Mary extolled by the Catholic Church, the pRotestant faith claimed itself to be more Catholic and since the division erupts from time to time.  On the origin of Jesus religions bent and twist. Aristotle included.  The ultimate repost is – What is important?  The baby Jesus being the child of God or Mary as the Mother of Jesus.  Provide your own analysis but it is plain what faith resides in.

The film captures so many levels of understanding it would serve many to examine the questions which Martin Scorsese provides elements which concern mankind and the search for truth and peace among mankind.  So it not only looks superb and atmospheric depicting a very beutiful, intensely civil, complex and challenged Nation, – except the filming takes place in America/Taiwan/Mexico – it shows all sides of the existence of humanity and questions versions of our origin and ultimately challenges all to consider our creator and our need to fulfill the morality and lawfulness of rational organisation of our life’s and sustaining time.

It is a film which is calling people to listen, hear and be enlightened.

John Graham

11 January 2017

Belfast

Continues on General release and at Queens Film Theatre until 19 January 2017

The Innocents : A Film Review


The Innocents

Directed by Anne Fontaine, Produced by Éric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer, Philippe Carcassonne.  Written by Sabrina B. Karine, Pascal Bonitzer, Anne Fontaine, Alice Vial. Based on an original concept by Philippe Maynial.  Cast.  Lou de Laâge, Agata Kulesza, Agata Buzek, Vincent Macaigne.  Music by Grégoire Hetzel.  Cinematography Caroline Champetier. Edited by Annette Dutertre. Production company, Aeroplan Film, France 2 Cinéma, Mandarin Cinéma, Mars Films, Scope Pictures.   In French, Polish and Russian with English subtitles. Cert. 15. Duration: 1 hour, 55 minutes. 

 Polish Immediate Post-War Recovery

From the same era and almost same territory as the highly rated, superb Ida comes another overwhelmingly harrowing war story. This is a Franco-Polish tale of founding of new live’s, of Mother and child which is based on a true story set in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.  The principals include the French Red Cross Nurse, Mathilde Beaulieu, (Lou De Laâge) tending soldiers injured at the local hospital who is asked by a Nun, who has found her after trekking through a forest from her Convent to the Village nearby.  The Nun seeks her help and her task is to tend to a Nun at the Convent and in secrecy. Having persuaded her, in a visionary way they set off in her Red Cross Twnsporter back to the Convent were the actual scenario quickly becomes established.  The Nun has been a victim of retreating Russians who left their calling cards.  As told to the Nurse she is first inclined to report it to the authorities – Polish and Russians still in joint occupancy – but the Mother Superior (Ida actor Agata Kulesza, the Judge and Aunt who drove Ida back to her roots) of the Benedictine Convent has to relent as here could be more suffering. Through the French speaking Nun named Maria (Agata Buzek) acting as translator and the closed order has a newcomer and this is where the story starts to unfold.  It is a case of dealing with new life in each and putting away thoughts, however ludicrous to outsiders, of shame.  So the the characters set before us initially; more or the order become involved, are three Nuns.  The Abbess who rules with a fierce discipline, Novice Nun Maria who is a focal interpreter of both language and emotions, then the Novice Nun Zofia who has been victimized by the Russians.  To see this trio as the holy trinity is an elastic take but one is the fundamentalist, one is the mediator, one is the innocent victim.  Mathilde is the fulcrum of the outside unknown world the order are enclosed from.  They have also to pass through to the next phase when the novices adopt the order in its fullest sense.  So we are on the cusp of desparate problems and challenges for all.

img_6374

Mirrored worlds old and present.

The layers are twin emotional opposites but mirrors.  The Order of Nuns obviously regard themselves wedded to Christ and there has been a violation of the most personal kind with as a consequence, the horror of confronting the thought God has permitted this to happen.  Novice Nun Zofia is he first to be traumatised in the act of childbirth.  Her rape has been supressed within her and now this revisiting is the symbol and token of shame and is now present in a new form of life.  This is potentially the destruction of all their concepts of God other than Mathilde who is intent on saving life.

She is the other side, the beautiful practical, skilled,French Nurse whose primary aim is to ensure all life she comes across is maintained and taken care of.  The thin line traversed between these seemingly inextricably linked forces is brought out with feminine sisterhood and morality being upheld through the living forms they share.  Hence the initial gesture of the Abbess relenting and allowing her into her world.  She has also secrets throughout and is in quickly failing health a legacy of the past.  Being accepting of medical assistance pushes the limits of her faith.  Here Agata Kulesza portrays the angst as torridly as she dealt with the delusions of War in Ida and he aftermath when she became reduced to a small court circuit judge dealt out tokens of Law when the greater magnitude of injustice had justed been visited upon an entire continent.  Here the stakes are no less explicitly defined.  The magnitude is the depth of depravity that ranges up into the lives of the Innocents,  the sinfulness of the world which is now brought inside their order and is seen as part of the grand design and mechanism of Divine worship.  The merest consolation is as directed by the Abbess, to the devotion to prayer and it is little reconciliation with the outside, now inside world.


Worn characters

Mother Superior has the role of being a defender of the faith and ways of the Lord which she summons up the most fervent chains of belief which have the capacity to devour her devotion in the midst of this conflicting maternal grounding.  Along with this the effect on the Nuns, Maria and as some others reflect on their lives among men, discuss it now with the core central presence of Mathilda, one which facilitated new thought.  Mathilda herself is set some challenges which she submits too comfortably to and with greater ease than you might expect.  The strands of personality are thus shaped into very individual needs and the Mother Superior’s world is the one with the greatest challenges it seems.
Inspired by the journal notes of Madeleine Pauliac, a young French Red Cross doctor who worked in Poland at the end of World War II, “The Innocents” (which was called “Agnus Dei”)  it is set in 1945 Poland occupied by Russian troops with the opening frames are within the Convent of the Benedictine closed order of Nuns at Daily prayers.  From this capsule of peace and tranquility will spill the infiltrations of the Outsiders and those still surrounding them.  It is graphic in its gripping sense of evil and wickedness as visited upon this location and still resonates with seclusion, self denial, faith and feeling interlaced with God and humanity all subjects around today.  The portrayal of beauty is the tangible simplicity of core inner beings and the imperious self reflection done through denial of all objective things and this is how the scenes, drama is thrust forward relying on phrases looks and almost minimal monotonal effects.


Mathilda has to keep the whole presence of this secret inner Convent story away from her colleagues she travels back and forth to, for fear of bringing down the Orders whole presence and she is not least tasked in this, through her male colleague a Jewish French Doctor whose parents went to the Bergen-Belsen Concentration camp.  He is Samuel (Vincent Macaigne) is a self deprecating suitor of this young and beguiling Nurse.

While this film pushes the limits with heartfelt tremors of emotion which will have many coming away sickened, elated, coruscating about the needs of women of all timescales, elements of history, not having the instilled goodness to life according to need, the story does take some fairly plain, consoling overtures and simplifies certain aspects for the sake of film making I guess.  It reaches conclusions rather too radidly and conversations which begin to explain the personal hidden views and they vary immensely, are unfortunately short while centrally illuminating.  Each Nun has a reason or belief drawing her into this Christ union.  A book I’ve read, probably one of the finest, is a short true story of the early life of Through the Narrow Gate: A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery Paperback – January 27, 2005 by Karen Armstrong (Author) telling of her time as a novice and the considerations she had to make.  

 

The look and feel of story telling.

The appearance of the film is vivid and lucid like a representation of renaissance painting having moved on from being as the allegorical Biblical paintings preceding, telling a story from the Bible.  Here the framing and cinematography is a moving interpretive painting elegantly disposing of its interior messages as much through dialogue and expression as in giving a sense of separateness the film has concerning these Nuns in their secluded life and the contrasting confounding outside which has only just set down, temporarily the guns of war.  They have to deal with the violation of a deeper self and abortion is not among their options.  Where this seems to stand up for  Anne Fontaine and the writers is the contrasting of certain worlds.  As of today and victims of rape they are no different circumstances but simply deeper questioning f where morality has taken us.  The sin is first in the war and in the belly of the warring soldier is a desire to shed his guilt through violence upon women as a deliberate defiant act.  An expression of the lost masculinity war invokes.  The experience opposite to its portray and as betrayal of themselves as human beings.   Anne Fontaine has a sharp story with which to explore those aspects however simplified some elements here turn out.


Conclusion ####4

This is perhaps an attempt at a redemptive film but I see the conclusions not informative of the unique experiences then or as they intend to advance.  Too many loose ends are bundled into neat reflective outlets.  It nevertheless stunningly  grasps its raw material as insight and is told without judgement, a surprising word to use as the actors have to convey the differences and complex challenges it makes of their own vocations.  Even the Nurse has to seek out her own values and then separate them from her ability to help everyone. This film covers war, rape, religion and all strands of humanity in trouble and as a quest for understanding how these issues have and are being dealt with will stimulate many more discussions and create better informed views hopefully.  It is thoroughly recommended as one of the Best Foreign Films of the Year in which there are several other excellent contenders including Son of Saul which was itself a Polish depiction of a the Concentration camp at Berger-Belsen and as such fits into a set of unknown or barely conceived brutality which film makers now take on with greater clarity and effectively.

John Graham

17 November 2016

Belfast

THE INNOCENTS will screen at QFT from Fri 18 – Thurs 24 Nov.
Well worth the effort in going to see and the large widescreen does amplify the experience.