Dunkirk : A Film Review

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Dunkirk

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

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

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Reality is a different thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion ####4

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

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

 

John Graham

21 July 2017

Belfast

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Churchill : A Film Review


Churchill

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


Too important a History to portray wrongly

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

How are errors excused?

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


Light Aircraft etc.

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


Chaptered we move

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


The Modern World

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

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


Spoils of acting

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


Preparations

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


D-Day

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


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

Conclusion ###3

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

John Graham

15 June 2017

Belfast

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

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

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Patton in the Mournes.

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

Frantz : A Film Review

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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

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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

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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.

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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.

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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

Chi-Raq : A Film Review


Chi-Raq

Director. Spike Lee.  Written by Spike Lee and Kevin Willmot.  Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson. Music by Terence Blanchard. Cinematography Matthew Libatique. Edited by Ryan Denmark.

End of

Prevent war remove sex. How does that work when women enjoy it much the same as men do and can be just as distraught if it’s not on the horizon?  Based on the 411bc play by Aristophanes it tells the tale of one woman’s mission to end the Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata played by Teyonah Parris who projects a sexualised image, convinces the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands as a means of forcing the men to negotiate a peace.  In the blink of an eye this scenario presents in Chicago as a modern day philosophy on manhood in the hood with the female carrying the fall out of violence as most of them choose not to carry a gun being polar opposites.  Renaming it as Chi-Raq which is one of the leading gangsters name, that part played by Nick Cannon, is explained in the opening frames which are launched as a set of rap lyrics with smooth multi-faceted lessons on the reality in slanguage spoken by rappers.  The old Dr Johnson meaning – to rap – speak violently augmented in a slick roll of red print on black introducng then the figures of deaths in Afganistan, Iraq then America which are in ascending order and deaths by gun crime amount to more than the other two combined over the period up to the present.  Chi-Raq is in a feud with Cyclops played by Wesley Snipes. The killings go on through their turf wars.

Ammunition

Spike Lee is on the case of Gun crime being a act of community self annihilation by recreating a  closely fixed tragic-comic opera to the cinema screen for consumption by all those wise enough to see the message as relevant to the times and a picture of disconnections between white and black/brown Americans in inner city environments.  Taking a play from 411bc is a act of performance totally formulated on a stage with us as the audience and we have a MC – one Samuel L. Jackson as a compete who is an invigilator expressing to the wide audience range anticipated the shape of the drama as it unfolds.  He is snappily dressed with a cane who comes on between acts. The fourth wall is like a pro-cesium arch with real backdrops.  Spike Lee filters into the set progression reality.  The actors themselves are frequently those who suffered and their injuries are explained whereas the dead don’t speak.  They are forgotten.  Yet into this is reality in the form of memorial with portraits of real live lost shown as a memorial tapestry, a mural of the lost victims.  Like any memorial March, say the Bloody Sunday victims these images are not for suppressing but remembering.  This is our Selma a roster shows.  


Configuring Chicago 

Profanity, sexual patois is dispensed like everyday language, it is layered and layered in effective meter as in Classical drama.  This is Titus Andronicuos with violence a daily experience.  Here it is confined to neighbourhood slaughter off screen with innocent victims – central to the story is the death by a ricochet of Paula a ten year old child.  Her loss is a figurehead cause bringing in a local Ministers involvement, Father Mick played by John Cusack as a man on a mission, who instead of explaining the Christian view of suffering having no reason or purpose other than to examine our own life gift.  He uses the criminality as a signal to mpower the people and entreat their brotherly/sisterly love.  In this there is no cliche.  No make love not war, no woman on cry, no peace no love, but the stirring of the women leader Lysistrata who in meetings and rallies has persuaded many to withhold sexual privileges or options in their relationships, whether lovers, husbands or casual acquaintances.  It is immediately about the sexual politics prevalent in the age then and now.  

The speech and address to the Congregation gathered at the funeral of a child victim, is neither a sermon nor an admonishment.  It is a monologue on the ills of society in his outreach and is a plea muted, support of Lysistrata as the focus is on the child and its loss through gun crime.  It is a brilliantly delivered tirade and is about the only thing I found merited credit in the film.


Single issue combat

It is not about domestic violence, feminine rights, child sexual abuse, procreation rights which the original play also excludes.  The simplicity of the scenario therefore limits the narrative by making it almost comedic and farcical.  Never are the roles assessed or the possibility of programmed lives as culture dictates.  The sexual behaviors outside this community is not challenged.  When child abuse was prevalent in the upper classes and boys, girls were regularly ‘bed warmers’ the destible practices pervaded all strands of society.  Herecthe play is focusing on the powerless.  Restoring unity among warring factions of society is the aim of Lysistrata.  

It is at once a problematic issue in reconfiguring the premise of the ancient story to a vast group of people in present day Chicago.  Firstly the role of females is crudely stereotyped into different characterisations with the leader 


Methodology

Many parallel plays come to mind in respect of war and methods of creating peace.  The recent film Napoleon while being a War film illustrated a lesser accepted fact that religion has less to do with wars (Ricky Gervais please note) than constantly  trailed out as fact.  The Academic record states otherwise. Napoleon the film might even gesture towards being anti-war.  The Silver Tassie by Sean O’Casey, (banned by W.B.Yeats as being too anti war and anti-British also) is another.  So much for the sentimental poems as sophisms of sense of place.  More than any I’ve seen I constantly return to the Ballet/Play I first seen performed by the Batheseba Ballet Company of Israel perform.  It first was performed in 1934 and is a solemn link to the past and presses the vision of peacemaking without arms.  Powerful as this is similarly powerful.

The use of sexualised imagery is both like a bad rap video exentuating all the hot spots including a rating of women afraid to loose their lovers if they do not fill the stereotypes they occupy.  Relationships are not a battleground but a mutual place for love to flourish in a home and rewarding in all parts.

 The Spike Lee choice to hype up the sexual ramparts of bling culture, rap culture and neighbour hoods presence and effect is definitely overplayed and it saturates the film with profanity a needless representations of misogyny.  Lysistrata is plastered in bling and their are repeated visits where she is visiting every corner of the neighborhood drumming up support.  There are stand off replicating city gun stake outside and delivered operatically.  These are juvenile in concept and over simplification at which point I began to realise – the people who this film is supposed to be about, and the roll call of ‘one eyed monsters’ – Cyclops is indeed sightless in a jeweled one eyed eye patch and carries it to oversimplified responses when confronted with the dynamic.


Americas dilemma

The rest of the country is as recent elections have show are a mirror of racial tensions born out of discrimination, oppresiveclaws and poverty which has a large majority livecin below the poverty line in the disenfranchised communities of non-white background with about $12,000 an annual income to live on for most non-white Americans which includes non state health care provision.  The point quickly made that the poor are a business generating incomes across the board from, welfare workers, lawyers, schools and healthcare which compare unfavourably with the high tech prisons and state bureaucracies leveraged by the poor.

3 themes present in all seriousness.  It’s a serious matter from 411 bc.

The three themes are: peace and unity, power and gender, and politics. Peace and Unity The main theme of Lysistrata is peace and unity. This is the main theme because the goal of the women is to create peace and to restore unity in Greece.

Instead of a group of Old men and Old women choruses we have a nifty police force and military.  They are the power base.  There is then the Trojans and Spartans with religious oversight stuck in the middle as moralists.  The wooden fires of the separate factions is replaced by ear defenders and loud music of indifferent and stereotypical soundings.  The Mayor role covers the Commisioners role who is played as an overaxous to please congressman type who is both a fascist and realist.

The opera is rather long and drawn out and strange choices are made by Spike Lee to put up the resolution and gravitas in a conclusion.   The absence of a workable conclusion makes it presumably be termed a Comedy and one of 11 surviving plays of Aristophanes.

Conclusion ###3

Giving this time to develop and for it to piece together without demeaning Chi-Raq citizens is a tall order not achieved by Spile Lee.  He patronises his possible audiences and maybe communities with the stereotypes of people who actually experience the deaths visited in the city of Chicago.  The jigsaw pieces are large and fitted together but it’s all bling and gung-ho and does not do justice to the people who actually are in the community.  It uses their experiences and mirrors them back in a disfigured, profane and facile way.  Sure it hits hot spots and reconfigures, contextualoses the notion of life there but it is a lost opportunity given the – and the choice of play is merely ironic – might of film and the reach to audiences.  It will offend plenty and it will get lots of plaudits but it fits into a category of being too sensationalist and crude representation of very proud people who have come through a lot.  Greek wisdom is partial as a projection of a problem not a summation and fresh viewpoint.  The overall display pace and look of the film despite some repatativeness os a work finely crafted.  It is such a shame the contents are supplanted by mockery and lack of soul, Minister Mick excepted.

There are lots of good performances and one of the standouts is Angela Bassett in the role of Miss Helen who is one of the more articulate joiners and has less ‘rhyming s language to slaughter the ordinal pay with and its audience.  There are plenty of interesting provocative one-liners but they are scattered in the middle of a ‘slanguage’ contest for who can be the profanist unfortunately.

John Graham

1 December 2016

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from 2 December through to 8 December 2016.

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.

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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.

Fires were Started : A Film Review

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The complete Humphrey Jennings disc two. Fire were Started. 1943. Documentary. 

35m Director Humphrey Jennings
Production Company Crown Film Unit
Producer Ian Dalrymple
Script Humphrey Jennings
Story Collaboration Maurice Richardson
Photography C.M. Pennington-Richards
Cast: Commanding Officer George Gravett (Sub-Officer Dykes); Leading Fireman Philip Wilson-Dickson (Section Officer Walters); Leading Fireman Fred Griffiths (Johnny Daniels); Leading Fireman Loris Rey (‘Colonel’ J. Rumbold); Fireman Johnny Houghton (S.H. ‘Jacko’ Jackson)

The Blitz depicted

War on Britain some 75 years on from the blitz – the frequent and widespread bombing of cities, ports, towns, strategic infrastructure by German War planes – is catalogued in documentary form by the rereleased BFI film Fires were Started.

7 September 1940 saw the first bombardment in the London docks.  That place before the war the vital trade port for the United Kingdom and now dispersed but still a joyous sight and feature of humanity converting itself to other things in peacetime.  The Olympic Park for example.  This 1943 film was also known as I was a Fireman. Because of the war continuing and various attempts at capturing the times not just in newsreels or cinema propaganda stoic bravado their were people conscious of the individual moments which put the fear of God into people not on the frontline.                             The frontline was brought to them.

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Mass-Observation

As a documentary maker Humphrey Jennings was a very driven man.  As the upper middle class background gave him a sense of entitlement, and took it upon himself to forge allegiance with anthropologist Tom Harrison a group known as Mass-Observation in 1935.  For whatever reason he never went to war andcinstead became an academic and some say dilettante not realising the ‘whatever’ wheels and cogs making Britain tick.  It’s industrial health. An irony surely exists in their organisation. When it came to expression, beyond writing, painting, he got to know the power of film and embarked on experimentation even dabbling in surrealism.

Making the film

Fires were Started is a bizarre title in itself.  A meaning existing, they deliberately in 1943 started fires to represent 1940 scenes. London can take it was a 1940 film of his along with Listen to Britain. 1943. Even after the film considered herechecdeveloped a by now perceptive forward thinking imaginative underrated work called Diary for Timothy 1945 wondering what future lay ahead.  This profound piece and idea is often discovered in Newspapers or novels of the time in prospective articles etc. but applying thoughts on the future on film must be and remain unique. Actors were given scripts to follow in this documentary therefore subverting the form to begin with.  This was not done to sway the argument or construct falsehoods but became necessary because setting up in the midst of war, using people to take part in recently gathered history, finding film stock, finding time and locations etc. would have been a burden to anyone.  What was that film Martin Scorsese did in London docklands ‘recreatively’ and costing a forrtune equal to the war debt? Jennings also employed another dynamic of realism and avoided commentary.  This in itself must have had contemporaries have hairs stand up on the back of their neck and that includes the war time children.  I remember watching war ‘documentary’ as a youngster and have a spine tingling moment or two.  On reflection I was assuming perhaps the clowns with guns and bombs outside in the street dictating what way our lives should be in the sevenitites were no different from these warlords except the men who went to war as well as being conscripted went in the most part willingly.

This film blog is included as a remembrance, not a commemoration or as celebratory homage to the losses in all conflicts around the world.  This 11 November 2016 is again a time to reflect on violence applied in all its forms.

 

John Graham

11 November 2016

Belfast

Apologies for not providing a blog on the intended review (Gimme danger which is on at QFT Belfast from Friday – also note the epic Napoleon is screening from 12.00am at QFT this Sunday.) It is somewhere in the ether and I’m still trying to track it down as it’s for the most part written on a rock chronicles type film. I will post of and when it turns up as it raised quite a lot of things. Take for instance this weeks Democrat/Republican Election in the USA which you may have heard of. Michigan were Jim Ostenberg (Iggy Pop) hails from which Gimme Danger is all about actually stands aside only one other state in America, New Hampshire in it not having inclusion in the normal electoral form used everywhere else. Being the radical state it once was – I point this out as a distinction worth exploring in the psyche of this American Iggy – it resembles the election format of GB more! A lady who watched the Election on a Portuguese channel to improve her Portuguese told me this oddity.

Son of Saul : A Film Review

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Son of Saul.  A haunting compelling, utterly unflinching embarkation into the Hungarian and Jewish experiences of the Holocaust told by a debut Director and profoundly affecting delivery from the collective ensemble.
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Writer Director: László Nemes. Starring: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Sándor Zsótér. 107 mins. 15 cert.
This a bewildering audaciously confronting examination of the complex trail of events taking those involved into a zombie like zone which cannot be imagined except through desperate experience. It opens a door onto needed understanding in its intention.

It’s beyond comparison

The day I saw this film the report on Hillsborough when the Liverpool fans died of asphyxiation and crushing included a reaction from Bruce Grobbelaar. It was an FA Cup semi final against Nottingham Forest. Asked if he had seen anything like it, after witnessing the dead being brought onto the pitch and him using and directing those carrying bodies to use advertising boards he said it was probably the worst way to die. There was no blood, no shrapnel, no outward sign of death he recalled. There were around fifteen dead bodies he saw straight away being carried onto the pitch. It is as close we can get to imagining the horrific testimony of the Holocaust this film goes into in a telling, partially of the story of those conscripted to act as labourers to carry out the actions surrounding and including the extermination of many thousands in their camp.

1944 bordering on the invisible

The scale is the first striking thing you notice. The invisibility of this so far into the war is incredible.  The almost industrial organisation and manipulation through fear and merciless enforcement put to work to carry out the Holocaust within the forests of Germany and here in South West Poland.  
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Sonnerkommando Auschwitz 

Saul is one of many Sonnerkommando whose job it is to perform the tasks of in the Auschwitz Concentration camp. He is seen firstly shepherding large numbers of people off trains rounded up by the Nazis and transported here. For this film I noticed that children were not asked to take part in these re-enactments though many thousands of children were among those who stepped of these very same trains. It was obviously too horrific a concept to inflict upon children for them to be involved.
Saul is marked by a red X on the rear of his overcoat and he continually wears a cap as it also enables him to be identified. He as a Hungarian is among many fellow men and women from that country who are ‘appropriated’ to carry out the most vile and dehumanising tasks such as disposal of the ‘pieces’ as a human body is known. They are separated in camps by gender also and he in his work is able to, or required to adapt to the work going on in different places. It may be in the gas chambers cleaning out the detritus of left over body waste. Or in the coal house where boilers are stoked to burn to ash the ‘pieces’. He is also able to visit through tasks given, the room where autopsies are performed. The living amongst the dead feel the dead speak to them somehow.
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Intricate and intimate following Saul.

Through this film the camera, hand held and giving mostly head and upper body shots, follows Saul everywhere he goes making the story his exposure and link to all the various things that go on in this Concentration camp. To say it is replicated elsewhere is now known to magnify what we are viewing here. It is the piecing together of the pieces and those people who were alongside the destroyed people. The potency of the images are continually immersive and bring forward a view of the unimaginable. No senses except sight and sound are with us on this viewing encounter. No contact by touch, by smell, by taste is possible so the amplification through those present circumstances are portrayed through elements of imagery such as scarfs, masks in parts of the camp. By following Saul there is a contention being made of the redemptive journey of Saul to Paul in the biblical reading. How is that depicted? It is possibly through the wasteland depicted of life destroyed and treated meaning less and worthless. It is also conceivable that the redemptive journey the film takes is showing how whatever adversity faced Saul is on the journey to become Paul.
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Sweeping along with God

Of all the prisoners in the camp around one hundred are deemed fit to carry out the arduous tasks. They have in effect a stay of execution by co-operating by carrying out assigned work. Otherwise they would be dead and join the others. What is taking place among them is the fulfillment on behalf of the many thousands that pass through this camp; there are one one day around three thousand sent to be massacred. The act is itself one of betrayal once they arrive. The fulfillment of the duties carried out is a defiance of will by the ones left to live in that they all believe in the creator and see this is the work of those who defy Gods word. The judgement on them not the prisoners sweeping up the remains and following instructions.
Despite this retention of belief which is fixed here on Saul and his journey, there come frequently others practicing in secret and discreetly their religion giving memorial those thos e just perished. There are Rabbi celebrants with distinctive appearances both Hungarian and Arabic Hebrew priests. They are a conduit through which this persevering faith is held and exemplified. It is entirely misunderstood by the German Command as baseless worthless and based on sentimental tokenistic beliefs. It is not seen as a vision or life force given and held by these disparate people whose Destiny is defined by their faith and Religion which has brought about their purge. Saul is not a Messiah but a prophet of a kind who has through one act which is central and the purpose of the journey undertaken that of giving a young boy a Jewish burial.

Boy remembered 

The young boy not yet a man, and be is the only child depicted, is the Son of Saul of the title. He has come across him in an extraordinary way as a boy left behind and dead to the world, seeing him as his own son. We learn he is the father but not from his wife who is in a separate part of the camp carrying out storage and domestic duties in the units were clothes valuables and the like are processed. 
To achieve his aim which is commenced in the earlier part of the film he has to obtain the corpse of his son and to find a Rabbi to perform the burial. Both these tasks are seemingly impossible but he puts himself in jeopardy many times to carry out his wishes.
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Principles and hope unextinguished

I thought during the early parts of the film each act taking him away or exposing hi,self bybnot acting as expected or normally he would be spotted very easily but for reasons unclear he navigated virtually ever occasion where it seems he is about to be caught carrying out something which does not fit in with his supposed assigned tasks he escapes the moment to move onto another act of courageous and seemingly foolish risks.
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Conclusion #####5 

This film cuts into your psyche asking phenomenally difficult and prescient questions.  Covering so many aspects of humanity we are stil struggling with the writer director, 38 year old Laszlo Nemes whose first feature film this is.  For a relatively young man he has seen the necessity of putting uncomfortable to say the least of it an on screen examination real dialogue and politically hamstrung forums cannot go or have no possible common embrace, this film gives us a fully extentialist means to embrace the problems and narratives it again unfolds.  It gives them uncompromising stature and directs the viewer into asking themselves to ask more and to confront their hidden constructs and dismantle barriers and walls they have and all have erected to keep these issues – here giving a contrasting compelling reflection on present visited miseries to the necessary wider forums we engage on.

The youth of Laszlo Nemes and his Hungarish nature have compelled him to use his inherently observation editorial and concious skills to provide this directly immersive viewpoint.  We can only thank him for his foresight and insight and hope as he undoubtedly hopes it provides shape and form to current interpretations and avoiding the perils of reductive analysis.  Such is the value of Cinema as an outlet to vent and confront unspeakable things.
John Graham

28 April 2016

Belfast

Son of Saul opens at QFT Belfast http://www.queensfilmtheatre.com on Friday 29 April until Thursday 12 May 2016.

Check above site and other information outlet’s for details of opening times.