Films of 2014 remembered pre-Oscars

image

And the winners are….

The awards are in the cupboard for distribution on Stages floodlit and spot lit across the Globe in 2015 for works that reached us in the year just gone.

So many days of entertainment has been brought to us by the Film Industry without which the world would be more of a collective basket case than it already is.

It speaks against war,poverty, genocide, corruption and mostly our own harm on harm.
Human Harm
In a film not to go on the list ‘The English DoctorHenry Marsh tells of his career which he delftly, lyrically, philosophically, breathtakingly, heartwarmingly but last and most distinguishably honors his own skills with humility and amazing unheard insightful ness of his term as a surgeon of the brain and all that placed him there in the book his wife provided (plagurising the plagiarist himself – nothing’s new I’ll find it for you Larry Page) called Do No Harm. Hippocrates must have heard in from the Barrista or Barman at his social hut.

So already you have a Film unready for the Oven of Acclamation by the Semi-Greenhouse dwelling – LA – hothouse flowers renegades all and sundry.

Two films on Human Rights I have seen and neither makes it onto the Documentary category and one that enters my list but comes off it as few have seen it is Apples of the Golan.

Burn a list out.
My list is to be short -The Guardian listing 10 in 12/12/14 g2 do it ten down to one.

It is short because on any given day they could be in the top spot. So much film acclimation is about its timely delivery. Other times it is due to compelling world themes. Boyhood is particularly good and very good at that. So is Mr Turner, Under the Skin, The Grandmaster, Leviathan, The Imitation Game, there are more. Other film performances are battering down doors and some not having even been on General Release in the UK.
JK Simmons in a film reviewed elsewhere for instance is apparently a shoe-in for Best supporting actor – well being among the early viewers I think not.
He is limited in the role by the very nature of the part and is stereotypically the bad ass teacher with hidden gripes.

Keira Knightly is excellent and is convincing as the Turing foil which BC has in the same sphere every chance of nailing the Big one.
KK is a worthy Best Supporting Actor winner in my eyes.

I find it hard to restrict the year end list to 5 but it is a necessary task in my mind.

A Touch of Sin
Starred up
In Order of Disappearance
Ida
Two days One Night

They are however arranged in the order I table today with my favorite last.

Two Days One night is a beguiling, bewildering, belligerent and superfine edge of the nerves chilling visual narrative told with the finesse of any director you could care to name.
Marion Cotillard creates this part in the manner Fonteyn created her Fredrick Ashton roles. That is with exceptional artistic and wonderous enthrallment. In seeing this film I was literally thinking alongside the walking the movement of seeing Margot Fonteyn completely rowing us into the dance, into the path of the story and us being with her.
How could the comparison be made except through the lucidity and poetry of an exquisite serious acting performance? Only one answer sheer artistry of a performer on their game.

When you watched MF and RN but particularly the women, as all ballet of significance and importance is a homage to the body of a woman.
The waif like strength of Margot Fonteyn beholden alongside the extraordinary masculine figure of the supreme male dancer Nuryev could not be more telling.

Telling is the word. Fellow French actress Juliet Binoche who inhabited my favorite contemporary film ‘Les Amant du Pont-Nuef‘ sought to herself engage with herself and have witnessed through dance this perilous journey.

I was totally absorbed beginning to end with this film for it’s telling of our times.

It’s delicate properly respectful pride of the French people whose identity is a contested place as far as a lot of Europeans are concerned.
(Rider: a lot of this film is shot in Belguim but that’s not the point).

I love the French people though there may be one or two exceptions that spill that cannot deign to wipe it up.
The essence of the people is encapsulated, the French character, flesh and bone, not just in The mesmeric Marion Cotillard but her fellow performers who each also reach the levels of the film making intent and delivering it so extraordinarily.

For me there is no question of it every being taken off the 2014 top of the mantle pride of place. For the second year in a row a French film gets my top vote. Last year it was the quite literally incredible ‘Holy Motors.’
The beauty of film making is distinctly alive in France (..and by locale Belguim..!!)

Further up and down the see-saw are found the wonder filled Polish film, Ida which I defy anyone not to be thoroughly engaged by. It has a generosity of will and sacrifice, saviour, coming of age emotion enriched as it is treated without necessity to adjust to much for the past circumstances which are carried and refuse to leave the stage of life’s drama.

Then there is one which I do not list as it is far too close to home to be yet considered as a depiction of truth. It takes as it’s timeframe 1971, abbreviated it, ’71 and turns it into a slave of the events in Northern Ireland.
It is framed in and around the city of Belfast and uses settings configured and still standing in Sheffield as the flats.
image
I once was a colleague of Brian Anson the GLC Architect who employed his Liverpool guile to turn against London’s philistines and was THE prime saviour of London’s Covent Garden – not the Opera House (since reformed and Floral Halled keeping the stage and Main Auditorium as it’s appendage – but the Market. Now Covent Garden District is a lesson in retention of civic space. Brian Anson came to challenge and have pulled down the Division Flats featured in the seventies for their cumbersome social experimentation – ghettos satin is an equally applicable franchise. Franchise Architecture doesn’t work – Jean de Renet and Mies Van de Rohe – never related their compositions of buildings, streets in the sky or skyscraper hip Philosopy much farther than their adopted surfaces. France and USA.

‘71 is a depiction and a violent one. As a film it gives insight to a degree but has no insider knowledge of the huge kind which The Guildford Four had.
On which in my view was only a scratching at the truth.
I am assisted in this view with the absurd way in which Twelve Years a Slave is held in totally undeserving acclaim. It is film racial porn. Fletcher was a name used in Whiplash and that has more Fletching as integral abuse in scale.
While Fassbinder flails and assaults the scene shots of horseman in the fields is disgusting hubris given what actually went in and widely chronicled. It would have turned out to have more credibility had Sam Taylor-Wood tackled it and twice as much delivered. But there you go awards and opinion.

image

Who is the slave – the Film Industry?

John Graham

15 January 2015

Belfast

A Touch of Sin : A Film Review

image

Director Jia Zhangke-Ke. (China)  2hrs 10 mins.  Cert. 15.

Chinese Chapters

Unprecedented Access
It starts off with Village corruption and takes in Corporate destruction.
This is an unprecedented film giving insight and exposure to a view of contemporary China in a Le Haines type social immersive narrative.
Through small incidents, for the most part true, it conveys a vast continent of great beauty, varied landscapes and a pioneering drive that is seemingly relentless.
There has been a protected idealism in revolutionary China which concealed very harsh conditions resulting in a slow industrial revolution.
Nevertheless China was first to come up with iron steamships and has many other world changing contributions to our modernity. It does not differ a great deal in national terms, being a combination of provinces and integral uniquely individual development patterns. Think ex. Germany, Ex. Soviet Union and the identity trials are deadly similar.

This film is a present portrait of four stories of four people each living separate lives. Seldom do they overlap and only as a loose interplay never likely to have occurred is used as continuity.
1st Act
Jiang Wu as Dahia
The first and most violent part is the unsettling governance and treatment of the villagers in a Mining operation which has been wrested from them by corruption. A one man crusade against the new owner and his backhander conspirators outrage the lone coal miner who now lives in a false environment, with immigrant labour and a disintegrating village which is turning into a Wild West frontier town. This is a compelling first act with the acting and realism shockingly face on. The miner is played with increasing compassion and unleashed rage by Jiang Wu, broad of back and morals which themselves are quickly unravelling, so we are seeing him in effect ditch his protocols and enter into the heinous world of destroying things.
An irreligious uncoupling like a broken down train carriage in a siding, he casts off this shell and enters another modern and not so modern world fast tracking his own form of justice.
2nd Act
Wang Baoqiang as Zhao San
Second up is another worker who travels by motorbike and has a preference of being a highway robber and city thief. He is driven by a thrill seeking narrative. It allows him to leave his family and mail back earnings.
He eventually returns to see the extended family at New Year when migrants are on the move all across China and in buses, in cavernous rail stations.
He has a natty tatty desperado dress sense with huge leather knee pads akin to equine saddle kit and other bravado flourishes.
Youth, senility, hard worn faces, fleeting lives cross each other’s paths In the astonishing transit places as the director shares this sensation of movement in through the many provinces..
The action is China’s restless and indulgence in the forbidden fruit of meaningless symbols of assumed sophistication and Nuevo riches.
The outlaw of this second installment returning to his hometown rejects their hanging onto the rudiments of agrarian life and their still intact community. He possibly resents their hard, comfortable, honesty and ancient ways, as he witnesses the China of many provinces, link arms in a culturally divisive plan, also watching as it fails to reinvent itself having lost its way with the grave digger, capitalism. He takes flight again leaving his son with a memory of a mysterious father.
3rd Act
Zhao Tao (Wife of Director) as Xiao Yu
In the third act we come across a couple who have an affair which is across one marriage and a young woman whose city life is working in a sauna and whose lover is reluctant to cast of his other life. When they split, putting off once more, a new life, he in a carriage, her alone on the departure platform, from a state of the art railway station with the future pointing down the endless platform into an out of focus future.
A breathtaking shot which is a kind of stop and observe the undercurrent of the worlds progress. It echoes the over confidence found in recent years when several high speed trains went off their concrete freeways killing many. In returning to her work she is accosted by a sauna client while on a break, the recurring pestering drives her to a radical solution and gIves the film one of its stand out visual statements and  she is on the move again. Her womanhood is violated mentally and physically in this prostituted existence.
Direction : Credible Case for China
Director  Jia Zhang-Ke is quick to visualize the baseless and disintegration of identity as China carries on with as yet unrealised outcomes. While the West has had its comeuppance and is trying to address war and greed, China is in a limbo type state as demand for goods and production slows, and as Western scavengers exploit the ready made labour force and mineral wealth in businesses as diverse as solar wind energy, to pharma exploitation. Jia Zhang-Ke is doing China a huge favour in much the same way cultural ambassadors Lang Lang and Wei Wei give global credibility to the underlying, ever present ancient sensibility and innate confidence which all struggle to build upon. He depicts the human cost and the visceral amnesia or wrong diagnosis of the Chinese condition. It also may be exporting its youth as many
It is as comparable as all human condition enveloped in its own backstory.
4th Act
Li Meng as ???? and Luo Lanshan as Xiao Hui
When we are now thoroughly immersed in the pace and revelatory passage of this wonderous vision of misunderstood place, it brings forth a youth perspective. We meet up with a young journeyman factory worker who finds routine and repetition jaw droppingly gruesome. He inadvertently causes harm and, given what seems a reasonable punishment with bearable consequences, he takes off on his own to another city and enlists help which comes in the form of a ‘waiter’ ‘youthful Conceirge ‘ and rapidly becomes entranced with his beautiful co-worker who comes from the same town. Hunan. This youthful ‘lotus flower’ Li Meng has a handle on social media ‘fish wanting water’. Both these young actors are dangerously stoic and accepting of their circumstances and they rely partially on each other’s company to extract the real human out of each of them instead of the false acted part of this well heeled corporate aimed sex hotel. Li Meng very capably shows the contrasting realities and the newcomer Luo plays his role with conviction. Fish needing water is unnervingly accepting of her fate and like a restaurant fish tank, her companion girls swim up and down their sink pool.
When he returns to DongGuan the industrial city where Foxxcon is located he sees nothing changed. When Li and Lou had off time she took him to a Buddist Monastery to which she took her soul for nourishment. It is her greater self standing for her and as her, the spirit is present and the only religious consideration on this film’s which in itself spoke volumes.
There is as Dostoevsky sense of vast spaces in China as in Russia where Churches/Temples reach upward above the skyline, seen distant as a village signifiers, yet empty places on arrival in the main. The spiritual life invisible and untended.

Conclusion
####4
The China Element
It, the extra element, is the landscape, culture and cultivation. Amongst the construction which provides a continuity of focus depicting the ongoing China rush, much of it incomplete, in progress. The cinematic metaphor for the forces of change is a convincing motif of Jia Zhang-Ke learned talent, using it in tunnels, roads carved through beautiful stone, pristine stations city edges unmade, (like Joni Mitchell Hissing of Summer Lawns, stylized album cover, confrontation of nature and cityscapes coming to mind) – one LA based reviewer took the USA disparaging tack, – conspicuously lame and off beam, considering (perhaps because of desired detachment) with his apparent Chinese origins, – that this was a drama without psychological or social truism. It is a bit rich coming from the gross nature of Hollywood or the US and his conclusion that it was a mish mash is a case of art denial. Probably never made a Film in his life and under appreciates the vexatious problematic individual and national generaliseations necessary for this media.
It is a memorable important part of the developing Chinese cultural landscape and though heavy on the depression and violence conveys much.

John Graham

22 May 2014

Belfast

QFT Friday 16 May until 22 May 2014 and other good cinemas.
Sorry for late review – didn’t spot this one coming.