The Commune : A Film Review


The Commune

Director, Thomas Vinterberg, Writer, Tobias Lindholm, Cast, Anna, (Trine Dyrholm) father, Erik, (Ulrich Thomsen) and daughter, Freya, (Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen) Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann) Allon (Fares Fares) Ole (Lars Ranthe) Mona (Julie Agnete Vang), Ditte (Anne Gry) Steffen (Magnus Millang). Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands. 2016. 1hr 52 mins. Cert. 15.

The Commune – do they exist!

If you’ve ever been to, known someone who has, or heard tell of the world of Communes this is both for you and them.   It not in the least like, presumably, any you may have had previous experience of though. This is set in the 1970’s on the outskirts of Copenhagen, in a rich heirloom mansion.  Erik the university lecturer, whose father has bequeathed it, has his own wife and child.  These gorgeous pastoral surroundings are to be home of a select combination all agreeing arrangements on sharing costs, having some investment in the venture/adventure and freedom of choice on future living.  They are a bunch of friends and acquaintances who share the rat race abandonment with wishes of new age existence.  It requires a large dose of suspension of reality, verging on adopting fairy tale lives, as the idealism needed in most cases, sects, cults, guru, shaken, kibbutz, types have inherent problems as most alternative societies do.  Take Aldous Huxleys The Island, as utopian living, or any dystopian fiction with a narrative such as Margaret Attwoods of alternative existences and the societal divisions they already by way of isolation, set in train.  This Kollectiv is not entirely a failure as an experiment much depending on and enabled by the mix having knowledge of each other to begin with and external encounters go on at a minimal level, schools, jobs etc. about much further on.


The main trio are mother, Anna, (Trine Dyrholm) father, Erik, (Ulrich Thomsen) and daughter, Freya, (Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen).


The basic configuration or notion of living together is a post-agrarian age of living with an age range from elderly, grandparents, defendants, through the procreating couples and relationships within the group, to the children and their own basis as a focus of a self determined future.  The education part is key but in this that is left not to home schooling as at there is only one child here except a boy, nine year old, who is very ill and does stand slightly to the side in the construct of this commune.  Freya is on the cusp of adulthood 14, and just about able for it except this set of arrangements, fresh as they are to everyone, are a bit of a timebomb going off in her head.  If you take Freya as the key person for you to enter the film you will not be disappointed.  If you chose to empathise with and adopt one character which you may of may not connect with then that too will be rewarding.  Can you picture yourself as part of the group? is one of the foremost questions.  Should you flip or sit back exclusive of the group these choices reflect the choices the Commune are making themselves.  It is a bit of a dog rough type of Commune and in Copenhagen – I hope the gentrification of the city village never took place – the Christainia Garden Village in Copenhagen is a famous large alternative ‘Kollectiv’ autonomous group setting which stood against the commercial and industrial direction with a people based needs based peaceful society infrastructure.  It to had its troubles internally and rubbed against but existed alongside the municipal world on its doorstep.  Even outsiders could come and go with the preset of not disturbing the principles that grew and flourished as a kind of amorphous sense of hope.  That was the engaging part for those not choosing to live this way but to experience it at a non-commital way.


Aims and needs

Thomas Vinterberg movies The Celebration (1998) and The Hunt (2014) and Festen were far more serious and demanding though this, despite its friendly appearance as some sort of sideline feature film, has a surprising intensity as it develops taking with it the confrontation of choices and meanings of freedoms shared and spaces expanded.  You could have an emotional breakdown just watching it if you empathise too closely – you need your own space dude.   The concept comes from the most dynamic and complex character Anna, whose portrayal by Trine Dyrholm is stunningly visceral and haunting.  She puts forward the suggestion to Freya and Erik then a group comprising first – with the help of Freja, she talks Erik into accepting – Allon (Fares Fares – I know I don’t believe it either!) a tall well set teary one, Ole (Lars Ranthe) drinker, laidback Mona (Julie Agnete Vang), deep thinker Ditte (Anne Gry Henningsen) and soft touch Steffen (Magnus Millang). Anna herself is a TV news anchor and she intends and does carry on with this as Erik carries on with his lectureship in – it’s important you note the nuance, well not really but architectural types like myself do, the Rational Architecture specialism he advances.  Consider if you will, if the subject suits his approach to life.  I made that enquiry.  His personality is not one of a creator but analyser and shaper. Fundamental as it is, he has a tendency to be tangential, cantankerous and overbearing.  With Anna he has found to his credit a woman of remarkably sympathetic,idealist, virtuous, generous and open outlook.  As well as possessing a typical Danish clarity of beauty and softness of touch together with a figure which would make a priest consider again his choices.  The film does not so much compartmentise individual characters but has a deft touch showing their positions as seen within a group.  Of other Commune films of the same era it’s worth noting the Swedish year 2000 model Together which took the comic line.


The big test.

Anna has a problem which Erik brings.  Both are in need of each other but Erik presses his sexual needs and egotistical needs on one of his Rational Architectural students.  Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann) is half his age and has the beauty and edge of a Briget Bardot, Julie Ege or blonde fairytale goddess.  She fills his new life as his former life may have been with Anna except Anna is still his partner.  This as how Anna believes it now is.  Therein lies the dilemma or new age element of ‘Kollectiv’.  It is not meant to be a facility where men can have multiple partners and women equal to the same freedoms, but is a shared existenance relying on fidelity of the societal form and without crossover of the physical connections made.  The permissiveness of sexual freedoms were not only the new normal of the times in a commune setting but in the wider context also.  As people lived longer so their need for change happened to alter their psyche.  The complex commitments began to unravel as emotional heights never confronted before in this way manifested.  Take modern life and place it in these situations and you will make the connections so well drawn by the devil net, experience of our Director and Ensemble cast.  The script is handled by Tobias Lindholm director of War and his failure is apparent to me in not placing enough social context or liberating the sexual politics or developing more convincingly one or two of the other characters and their viewpoints.  It seems to stagnate but paradoxically brilliantlily in the trio of the family plus one. All of which points to the proper basis being a ten episode Scandinavian TV noir series. Even more intervention of the prominence of TV in revolution or in our case petty domestic squabbles taken out of all sense of proportion.


How will it work?

The Commune is an examination of the times and the democratisation of a world connected by television – the media Anna exists in reporting daily on Pol pot – 2.30 – Vietnam – 3.00 – Civil Rights – entering everyone’s lives.  The fact TV advanced these visions and alternative theories of previously held political – meaning wisdom as the definition goes – is Tv = demonstration.  The TV takes to the streets and activism is erupting everywhere including opt out.

The film is emotionally arresting and the concept of ‘commune’ itself is explored through the relationships.  The young boy, a child of one of the couples is terminally ill and it comes as part of the hard unavoidable reality components, inescapable wherever.  Those whose fate is in a larger space find they are the ones offering the other ‘space’, space to have another, additional relationship.  It actual points to the probability it is not the offering of space to another but permission as it happens to invade yours.

It doesn’t take a political theorist to come up with a concept of parallel worlds and how they met as contests in society over the leaders and democratic mechanisms fighting for supremacy.  Whose supremacy?  Whose ideals?  Whose guru, whose religions?  As local philosopher Van the Man said, No Guru, No Religion.  Other titles emerging out of those same times from Van Morrison include, after the sex -Astral Weeks – the commune – Tupelo Honey – Beautiful Vision, Common One, Inarticulate speech of the Heart, Wavelength. Those titles speak of change.  I add the note VM thought the best to be, and presumably still does, Common One.


Conclusion. ####4

I thoroughly went with this film on its time scale, limited scoping range.  As I said it would have, could develop the other relationship portraits more thoroughly.  In fact just a bit would have helped but the primary focus is Anna whose pivotal location as firstly the idea generator, the mother, lover, betrayed, lost, brings quote a lot of issues  and startling effective delivery.  Thomas Vinterberg uses his story and camera very very skillfully as a depiction of the times.  Filmed apparently with a HD video camera this also is homage in cinema to the filmmakers of that era and experimentation.  The film works on so many levels and will remain a good maker for the depiction of an earlier time seen through commune, idealist mostly, partially times. Totally recommended.


John Graham

28 July 2016


on at QFT Belfast from 29 July to 4 August 2016.

rated 15.


Serena : A Film Review


Cast : Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Sean Harris, Ana Ularu, Sam Reid, Conleth Hill, Charity Wakefield, Douglas Hodge, Christian McKay, Philip Zanden, Ned Dennehy.

The pairing of Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are is a proven combination. Having been made in 2012 by the Director and part Producer, the Danish attendee to close detail and a comprehensive storyline without too much diversion is Susanne Bier. A distributed is clearly now in place and we get to see what has been held back for a few years.

This is a period drama set in East America, the North Carolina Forests, soon to become State Parks. The time is 1929 and the colonial fore bearers are gone and the land is allocated on a lost continental basis. The victors took the spoils of much land and the forests were an enormously valuable natural commodity. Like the mining, oil and agricultural wealth grasped post civil war, some winners were founded sufficiently to create their own banking systems.

The character George Pemberton (Cooper) is a young entrepreneur with a vision for making heaps of money from deforesting large sections of forestry which is mainly relatively cheap and easily accessible Pinewood.
He has enlisted a partner to share the risks and also to be an additional pair of eyes.
This is the redoubtable, advisor Buchanan (David Dencik) whose homoerotic attraction to George is a slow burner ignited by the return after a trip to retrieve more funds from a Bank, of George with a wife. Swept up from an encounter his sister who is in the closed elitist society set, is the formidable attractive, fair and astute alluring Serena. The fair fine features of Serena are not reduced as she puts a white horse through its paces.
Her commanding positive teamwork with the animal are enough to impress George from a distance. George’s sister gives him the tale of her loss of her entire family. From her father a large scale timber baron whose empire was many leagues above the North Carolina operation George has started.
To call a woman feisty is I am given to understand an unfettered insult and demeaning as often applied ingloriously to women.
Hot, quarrelsome, courageous and single minded on the other hand can not have those accusations leveled and it is only part of the character summation this beautiful horsewoman turned married woman.
In marrying she thinks she finds her soulmate and fellow adventurer with plenty of common direction and interest.
As a partner in business George is confident of what she can bring outside the house. The comparability of the couple have no sexual shortcomings and she quickly becomes pregnant.
As an operator of business from a horse or in her boots on the hills she carries every action out without error. Her countenance is accepted.
The person who we see most put out by her presence is the directionless Buchanan. There are a couple of head woodsmen that all three rely on to enforce their instructions

These are familiar actors which is a feature of this film.
II is odd to see Douglas Hodges as a fiery logsman with a passable impression of a doughty American shouting the odds of the new America.
Also the squat doleful Toby Jones is cast as the righteous Sheriff of the adjacent town. He is implausibly plausible given the cock a manny story.

Sean Harris and Rhys Ifans are the two dependable.
Rhys Ifans under his ten gallon hat does a mean meany oddball.
Serena accepts his judgement if not his outsider withdrawn, need to be an outsider. Rhys paces alongside things. Rails freshly laid. Logs freshly felled and houses freshly inhabited. He acts feral (not unlike the feral under-panted 4W+1Funeral wimp) as the other dependable Harris we recall from the newly released ’71 in which he plays the Long haired beatnik guised Spook of her majesties finest. He is here an only mildly less savory self interested pugnacious beetler in the wood pile.

It is a right ant-heap and by way of relation Serena sends for a trained Eagle to take care of the snakes which have killed several of the needed workers.

The first section, well over halfway into the story little hens of any consequence. The anti-romance is played. George does not meet her expectations and is easily given instructions without being aware of them, she has a major plan in mind. She has to in my mind emulate and better the achievements of her lost Father. The Father lost in the fire and the ghost of the loss of an entire family explains much of her driven nature.
She is not conscious of this herself and is therefore not able to forgive readily for minor transgressions.
George on the other hand is reflective and cautious. Serena is the risk taker.
When the film becomes a highly intense crime thriller it is complete with murder, conspiracy, corruption and revenge all told.

A side story involves George’s child conceived with his ‘maid’ the delectable Rachel (Romanian actress Ana Ularu), whose continued presence upsets Serena on occasions, despite her instruction to George when she realises, as soon as she arrives that this past and child exist.
Only occasionally does she have cause to make anything of it but on the triangle swings several twists.

Serena is at the centre of this melodrama and with flawless imperious portrayal of restrained imploding self confidence the magnetism I for one see, as many others recognise, Jennifer Lawrence delivers a brilliant performance with the panoply of emotions suited to her poise and beautiful face and stature. It is a character that for the reasons addressed earlier requires the unbelievable passage of the story at times to be delivered in the manner which makes you think of the wider possibilities.

To this it has to be added the impression I took of Bradley Coopers performance was it was wooden not only in the material but delivery. He may have drilled to much; making him out at times was a problem hopefully most didn’t experience. Don’t worry as most of the best lines are Serena’s. Rhys Ifans just comes out with cliches through clenched teeth.
The forest as it turns out is in Czechoslovakia – presumably they have stopped deforesting large sections of North America and now have a preference for Fracking.

I would like to see Jennifer in a political Drama. I wonder if she would play the courageous life of a French woman scorned and driven to show the guys what women can do in Politics. Beware what you wish.

The story turns into a very suspense driven implosion of the relationships which have taken you to the North Carolina timber rough sawn America.
The lush scenic background of the Smoky Mountains and the attention to costume detail are (Czech shoot aside!) very natural and give the film the cosmetic of convincing cinema.

Conclusion. ###3

The full dynamic of the film is from my viewing the character of Serena shaped by the events. That makes it succeed on a couple of levels but it has some one dimensional aspects which takes away from what could be a more incisive film. If the one to one scenes between George and Serena were more complex; after all it becomes a complex relationship.
The challenges and the difficulties of making a life in this territory is there but folk like Toby Jones who succeeds in making a Good guy fighting for the locals acerbic. A bad turn – I dread to think how he will turn us against Captain Mainwaring – yes currently being filmed and Michael Gambon – is the hired ace to play a Buffon – how does that work? What the hell is happening to the Film Industry.
Can you not rely on the actors to choose their parts wisely and to embrace the craft of cinema without looking at the paycheck first?

This film will appeal as a kind of un troubling drama and will hardly bring down too many trees. The he digital age. Will newsprint ever cease?

John Graham

23 October 2014


On at QFT from Friday 24 October to 6 November 2014
Check times

This Week
Fri 24th Oct – 6:40pm
Fri 24th Oct – 9:00pm
Sat 25th Oct – 6:40pm
Sat 25th Oct – 8:50pm
Sun 26th Oct – 6:40pm
Sun 26th Oct – 9:00pm
Mon 27th Oct – 6:40pm
Mon 27th Oct – 9:00pm
Tue 28th Oct – 6:40pm
Tue 28th Oct – 9:00pm
Wed 29th Oct – 6:40pm
Wed 29th Oct – 9:00pm
Thu 30th Oct – 6:40pm
Thu 30th Oct – 8:50pm
Fri 31st Oct – 6:30pm
Sat 1st Nov – 8:40pm
Sun 2nd Nov – 8:50pm
Mon 3rd Nov – 8:50pm
Tue 4th Nov – 8:50pm
Wed 5th Nov – 9:15pm
Thu 6th Nov – 9:15pm

The Two Faces of January : A Film Review

imageThree people. Many faces.

The Two Faces of January.
Dir. Hossein Almani. 12a. 1hr 36mins.

Writers of a certain kind.
Missing from the large print in the Film release poster is the name Patricia Highsmith, the writer of the 1964 novel The Two faces of January which maybe points to insecurity on the publicist’s part knowing the novelist has a certain fixed clientele.
On Patricia Highsmiths part she followed in a tradition of modern female thriller writers, Daphne de Maurier, Agatha Christie and more recently P.D. James, Patricia Cornwell and Ruth Rendel all who liked a good cliffhanger and their readers liked being captured by intrigue. Patricia Highsmith also wrote The Talented Mr Ripleya.

Thriller writers sometimes favoured the heady salty air of exotic locations and following on from the renowned 1963 marriage of the Greek shipping magnate Aristotile Onnassis to Jackie Kennedy and the yacht and gold encrusted lifestyle that lay before the public Patricia Highsmith took up our curiosity of the people you might expect to be holidaying in Athens and the Greek islands, of their pursuits and reasons for being there. Made a change from the Philip Marlowe genre of crime fiction and thrillers with numerous nasty twists and turns.
In her novel the central pair meet up with a fellow American who, like them has his own reasons to be away from his homeland. Very little of it is to do with the wonders Greece has to offer. It is there merely a tool in their own complex refuge from whatever burden is in play that they are unable to face or deal with.

Ancient Mediterranean
The lengthy attraction of the Mediterranean climate was and is one of the wonders of the world. From Athens itself to the groups of islands, like Ios where Homer is buried with its Irish Over Seas manacle and it’s 365 plus churches crammed onto a small piece of paradise with clear blue waters and charismatic spring carpet of violets, to the Apollonian haunts of Naxos where Dionysus the god of fertility, wine and drama, a saintly trinity! worshipped, to the volcanic Santorini, to the island of three known identities, Mythilene, Lesbos or Kastros, to the 3000bc to 1100bc Minoan ruins of Knossos on Crete, home of the Minotaur, the islands were made to explore and dine on by the yachting set as well as the ferried tourist. This was a godsend of a place and time for any novelist to turn up highly imaginative exotic and adventurous drama.

While the book has to set up the atmosphere of locations, the harbour side tavernas, the ever present antiquity, the opulence of some quarters and the pace of life, the film drenches you from the get go with the entrancing images in which the characters pop up. The laidback relaxed anonymity of the tourist locations suits it seems, the main characters, Colette the breezy Kirsten Dunst, all attractive, refreshing and as intoxicating as a mint julep only a permanently sustaining delicacy. Her husband Chester, Viggo Mortensen is onto his third marriage and this one might be for keeps, foolish not to, as his chain smoking and whiskey chasing lifestyle might in any case make it his last marriage anyway and so he hopes it will endure. They are a loved up union and clearly react to each other’s take on life on an equal footing. Adventure seems a real driver for both. There is a considerable difference in age also.

When they encounter the young tour guide Rydal, Oscar Issacs they establish a rapport almost instantly and hook up on a firm footing to share each other’s compainionship as fellow Americans. It suits both parties and the not so impressionable Chester has his guard up straight away and marks up one initial day to try out the tourist and tour guide thing. He has his reasons for getting into the tourist mindset, if only to actually become one and take whatever is on his mind off it, take stock, forge an experience for himself and Collette.

So there you have it a chance encounter has set up the intrigue of what these people are really about. Apart from being here as opposed to the lesser choice of elsewhere, it is not a bad place to wander into this dilemma. The scenery and old buildings, the luxury of Grand living are there. Chester fills ashtrays in the swankIest joints and has the beautiful wing woman Collete as his dearest and adored partner.

This aperitif, the luxurious quarters, the random choices made of itinerary are a prelude to the anticipated twists within this fortuitous situation, one that changes once the engagement of Rydal is in play. A flick of the pen and Patricia Highsmith alters things. Rydal does a routine rip off routine when it comes to trading with the locals as is nothing more than a boost to his earnings. It also is a racket most seem to engage in as far as the relatively rich tourist is concerned.

We come hopeful of well worked narrative and jeopardy and are not in the least going to be disappoInted. They did things differently when this film was set. 1964. Apart from smoking a great deal, they had no double jeopardy of late night clubs, cheap alcohol and decibels piled high. No overcrowded streets. This was old Athens and from Piraeus port the ferries docked and transported all and sundry to and from the islands.
The only thing that struck me as unreal being the efficiency of the seafaring and transport. Taxi cabs were as usual cash devouring and fares etc. ad hoc but they were clean and shiny and the city had a sense of deserved pride. Waiters, (no waitresses) were not hard to find and while the writer/director did not introduce any discourse of anxiety it was probably because the tables the companions were usually at tipped generously. Part of the Greek dining experience is that it is expected to be laid back.
There is also a Greek relaxed engagement when Ouzo and wine loosen the atmosphere. As far as lively entertainment, well it is also relaxed and normal as you would expect culturally. Today is totally different so this period piece enjoys another set of standards.

It packs a punch
In Athens the two faces of Chester become quickly apparent and it begins an hectic journey of suspense, disbelief, emotion and sequences cleverly conceived and delivered by screenwriter, director, Hossein Amini whose mix of close ups and action, dark interiors, period exactness – in an early scene, was the terrace taverna of the Grandest part of Athens so probably indecently correct in every detail, table lights instead of candles and fine unrusticated furniture. Indecently correct and opulent.

Oscar Issacs has his work cut out from the get go also and given his lust which outmanoeuvres any money advancement to be gained from his rich commisioner, he is kept sufficiently on his toes to know he should chose his footsteps carefully.
Both men do not trust each other and at a level up from normal tourist mistrust.

There is movement of location and some Greek islands feature.
The season is indeterminate but for a ‘January’ it looks a shade too unshady.
There are a few other destinations in line and this only reinforces the period atmosphere and the continuity of life, the pace pre Visa card, pre backpack and scooter, pre packaged, pre bucket shop holidays. Pre Troika and bad, really bad banking and governments juicing its public to pay for it and its cohorts corruption. This was religious, (generalising) flat capped Greece, marine and agrarian, getting on with its gift of hospitality and their loyal attachment to the ancient, almost intrinsic essence of their intriguing heritage and present lifestyle.
It is also an irreversible time never to be replicated except in books and works of drama.

The Two faces of January
If anything the drama we encounter is relativly off centre and not ground breaking or world changing. It is a tight drama which has nerves (for the more sensitive among you!) jangling befitting the writers compulsion to surprise. They knew also how to tailor, making suits tough, as Chester’s lasts a very long time and seems to have been constructed by James Bond’s apparel maker.
Heavy grade linen compressed and refined Irish super stock?!

I was going to mention there was no mention of January and just did.
This allusion seems to fit the story and the film title very loosely.
The purpose of the title, I have not read the book, could be intrinsically linked with the following if you wanted to extend credit to the authors ultimate framework which does merit much credit and should and does offer cunning facility to the story.

The Two faces of January is far removed from the pace of mainland Europe than we are used to imagining but such is the adroitness of the director, and the cinematographer in nimbly framing this past era it instantly evokes the Patricia Highsmith attentiveness to the crucial isolation found in the narrative. She gives the characters narrow choices in this Mediterranean cluster by virtue of its many faces.

There is a clear play on words in the title with the Roman diety Janus, Janus-faced having the implicit recognition of two contradictory aspects found.
Who could that possibly be?!
Being an Aquarian (January) I am quite upset at the notion and contest it vigorously but on the other hand … !
Given the Roman habit of creating Saints; a miracle took place recently in Rome when the JP2 and the other one were welcomed into the fold, St Januaris may have fallen short of the administered deity we imagine is necessary. Men make Saints and ignore God’s teaching.

Viggo Mortesen is convincing and consistently unpredictable, playing this part with a restraint and affability true to his character and displays some wry confidence belying the stacking changes that occur. A well constructed, hard won confidence ‘attribute’ of the personality acted out. His concerns are not helped by a growing worry he is being challenged in the relationship stakes by his new companion and what he might have in mind.
He might not get a mint julep but having access to whiskey helps his mind organise and wipe out temporary concerns. Things always change.

Kirsten Dunst plays a classic companion with little misjudgement in evidence save her unstated desires, which makes her slightly unreadable and occasionally her fragility surfaces and Kirsten Dunst gets to create a little more depth to the simplified characterisation she has to deal with, alongside the evolving story dominated by the intensity Viggo Mortensen gets to play out. Patricia Highsmith maybe was not interested in framing bigger and complex detail not wanting it to get in the way of a basically formulaic adventure story. Only sometimes does it conspire to give Collette more memorable and provocative feminine traits in grabbing custody of events.

#### 4

This is an excellent classic thriller piece with a tight narrative. With hooks and little space to manouvre it creates a tension all the way through with fluctuating and never straight moral choices impinging. Certain fixed positions are taken for self preservation reasons mainly and the Mediterranean location heightens the contrasts of sedentary and adventure driven lives. There is little antiquity involved. When it does appear initially it is the youthful, Parthenon, then the civilisation of some almost five thousand years ago makes an appearance as a mere backdrop setting for more twists.

Hossein Almani has crafted a very attractive movie, well acted by all characters, with spot on minor roles also and Almani relied on his wise cinematic instinct to tell his version of a story with changing pace, alteration, changing evocative scenery and dramatic sequences all working at what cinema is best at delivering convincing dramatic environments. This is where also ecapism, emotional realism, historic tales and fantasy convey story.

This film should succeed in convincing you the art of cinema has many faces as it captures the sense of genus loci of Greece with a characters and human interest at the edge of rare dilemma.
The Two Faces of January is entertainIng, fairly intense, taut and offers up the Janus personality traits of characters you hopefully avoid on your travels and for that matter anytime.

QFT Friday 16 May 2014 through to 29 May 2014 (check June listing to see if any carry over into June.)

John Graham

15 May 2014


The Sea : A Film Review

imageThe Sea by John Banville, for which he has written this screenplay film adaptation is a novel which one does not immediately see as being of a visual narrative.
In reading the book the overwhelming compassion and intimate description of feelings and minds, conjuring tricksteresque beautifully and flowingly prose, we are caught in wave after wave of thought and little dialogue.

The joins for film are the dialogue in the book so the viewer of the film need assume these portraits of the cinema and have revealed to them certain traits and habits common in mankind, which here is of the Irish variety.
It is constructed by John Banville as thoroughly as possible as a form of abridged storytelling with acknowledged differences yet incomparable to the excellence, as is inevitably the case with such a stylized novel, the written form. You can of course return to both time and time again.
Fate and time.
It is always possible to identify anyway with the fates, which Sebastian Barry recently related, “…..suddenly you see that everyone has been half drowned by the tsunami of things that happen.”
The sight of Ciaran Hinds in the very first frames, in a heavy coat in the waves and beached, breathing relates as much as this immediately.
The Sea. The title appears.
Our island selves
John Banville in the book describes the contradictions we all come across. He uses Acts in reference, but disdains of God “…creation..belief…an impiety”, unvenerative of the deity but holding onto spirit. A perfectly Irish view given the three Gods worshiped, the trinity and the order of things having only one pure God. No film has that ability of communication.
He would find in the Bible the shaping of the meanings he seeks also.

Where seaside holidays in the southern coastal resorts from in the northern side of Dublin, Laytown, (Neil Jordan’s origin) Ballbriggan, and to the southern retreats, beyond the vast Wicklow mountains – a terrain not for the fainthearted, Waterford , Tramore, Wexford beyond, provided beaches and as of the time in which the story is set around, the post war years of the world kind, a climate which was, well an Irish summer of easy going enjoyment with no cultural sentiment, though the illusion of the John Hinde postcard is one way of seeing it.
Character and Plot
Escapism was easy then and did not involve exotic parties, vast airports, for that matter small ones or distant oceans and ethnic guidance. Despite the hidden nature of the smaller places on our coastline and the state collusion there was little to see as an obstacle to happiness. So the urban well heeled and not so well heeled escaped or tried to.
Cairan Hinds is the art historian Max Morden torn back to reconcile his memory and his unadjusted feelings for losses that have happened in and since those sunny days.
His memory circles not around his own family, the father who leaves the village at the shore, (in the book Ballyless) to work in Ballymore and returning each night. His mother makes little appearance in the film and Max is an only child.
Of his seaside experiences he has a great deal to formulate for himself and it is thus he becomes entangled with fellow holiday makers from the big house behind his shack, the twins. Chloe and the mute Myles. Chloe does a lot of talking and the protecting for the both of them and has adopted, contrary to the desires and wishes of the easily infatuated Max, an allure of being a little madam. She and Myles have a mother, Connie Grace, Natascha McElhone who is radiant beautiful and host to a sensuous nature which for the most part is satiated by her pleasure seeking husband Carlos Grace, Rufus Sewell and they had as chaperone for the erratically tempered Myles, the aide de camp Rose whose age was on the cusp of adulthood.

The book is chapterless and has simply two parts though both carry references to each part, then and now.

Max Morden has the tragedy of loss himself to overcome and his relationship with his wife Anna played quietly and with compassion by Sinead Cusack is a formidable pairing of souls.
When this return to the house which the Grace family occupied, as opposed to the chalet, shack or ‘hut’ as Max described his holiday nest, there is a kaleidoscope of filmic playback and nudges in the developing backstory and foreground apparentness of the change which always results from association with the sea. The hardened memories which attach wildly and refuse to let go of the inhabited psyche. Along with the infinite joy that the mind recollects of times at or near the sea, there are disproportionate pains also in the recovery made in places revisited. Those feelings more so on a island such as ours and insular, maybe provincial, parochial as the interplay – the literal interplay – of different classes this film and book conveys; the separate local and blow ins, holiday makers who alight in your own playground. The local people feature as asides. The colonials are represented by the Grace family in the first part.

Max eschews the local kids and sets himself apart though not as a loner but of wanting something greater.
He wants and lusts a lot over Mrs Grace who he adores and young Max played by gives an easy comfortable performance as a boy on a quest.
He has a suitor maybe in Chloe, played by Missy Kavanagh ,the little madam who herself is a simultaneous protective twin acting out one part her life and looking out for the confounding, except to her, Myles, whose part is also at ease and convincing. Diecast as the voiceless twin he struggles without malice but frustration. The children as directed act out confidently and with subtlety.

The cast is equal to the task of portraying the philosophical, psychological traits of each character and when older Max returns to the house he had never boarded in, he meets the sanguine landlady, Miss Vavasour, played by the cheekbones of Charlotte Rampling. Something of a repetitive smoker who enjoys and quietly endures her own conpany. She understands the relapse to achohol which the return of Max brings about in him and his daughter of whom he is both proud and in need of have both got his best interests in sight.
Mind and Material
It is good to see a remarkable book, it is one of the previous decades best books as a period stretched drama. The direction of Stephen Brown is unobtrusive and the screenplay enabled by John Banville is the track along the which films direction takes us.
By taking on such a book, one which has intense feeling and much of it under the surface the director and actors have to draw out the undercurrent of; and this is again worth recalling that phrase of Sebastian Barry’s used above with which as a fellow writer John Banville will have no problem in endorsing, using alongside his narrative I would think – “…..suddenly you see that everyone has been half drowned by the tsunami of things that happen.”
It is plain Max Morden as most other characters, indeed ourselves, can occupy that place John Banville places him and it is a measure of both Irish authors they are plainly on the same astute page. The share the art, the gift of story telling I distinctly different ways but as a lineage of literature.

The music is as is my taste has it, clawing in parts and in final credits is only retrievable as it has been present throughout. Familiarity. Not a real problem but less is more.
Of product placement none I could report on, though Smithwick’s beer, now where is that brewed?

***3 stars

This is a strange brew as a film, a Miss Vavasour herbal tea of a film, with the figure of Ciaran Hinds, odd fleck of grey, with and without beard, furrowed face quite dominant and his rendering of the character is, as necessitated, expressive of the underlying emotions and he kind of lends melancholia to the part. There is little in the way of youthful exuberance and it is rather deliberate in pacing out the story and somewhat vague in parts unlike the book which has not (see below) been a book at the end of time. Rather it is in its title The Sea at times sunlit under an orange ochre sun or dark and revengeful taking in and taking out our memories.
It is well worth seeing and it does well being familiar with the book before or after to see the all round impressive nature of the work in both forms.

At QFT Friday 18 April to Thursday 1 May

John Graham


16 April 2014

I recently asked John Banville at a book launch, if he foresaw any changes developing in the novel form; he had been talking about his new Raymond Chandler novel, which took him last summer into a new genre and perhaps fixed form storytelling that might in the authorship have told him certain limits of the novel as a media for our communicating ideas and examining or finding meaning in life.
He responded by saying that it had not made itself apparent, he was immersed in his subject alone, that for his part since Madame Bovary and Ulysees the novel had possibly reached its apogee (my word) that it has revealed as much as it can, that so many great writers have preceded the current times and only by continuing to write; – there remains a veracious appetite which will never die it seems for novels and this way of storytelling, – will there be any discovery or advance not yet apparent in the novel.
Without doubt John Banville is one of the top one Irish writers working today. The Sea is but a small element of the writing and in it he asks himself in the first person as Ciaran, if he has the correct word for conveying a message.
It need not be judged (as a question needing answered) as his art is to impart to the reader an essence of a story. The novel form comes across with characters who sometimes cannot articulate in speech or gesture their meanings. They are perhaps plain stupid or constrained by background, situation and education. The gift of the writer is on those occasions, without pandering to explain everything to us in excruciating detail, is to play the role of the person, (my interpretation) with inner thoughts and reactions minimal and fleeting. In The Sea when Banville asks if it is the right word as Cairan, he goes on with a symphony of words (no a composer could not adorn the film with music as substitute) and he puts into Ciaran’s life a concoction of emotions to bide him in this time. It is not replicated on film.
Irish writers from short story writers, where the necessity is greatly condensed, have this gift as part of their own immersion in the Irish formation of the novel in their reading and writing.
We live in hope that a mutation of the seed will change our direction of thought but can settle for the great variations which exist and are added to in continuum.
It is a lineage of writing that John Banville is on which is how he found himself describing it when vexed by his adherence and duty to his art.

Starred Up : A Film Review

Director David MacKenzie. Written by Jonathan Asser. UK 2013. 1hr 46mins.
12 x 7 x 10 feet high
Every cell in the Crumlin Road jail was around these dimensions. Every prisoner shared a cell sometimes three to a cell. The windows were high and each of the 4 wings came off a control centre. The symmetry of the place is as unsettling as the restricted spaces inhabited by the regime and the inmates. Crumlin Road Jail is the centerpiece non-speaking part in this dark film.
Desolation Row
It was into this environment, first into a secure single basement unit young Eric Love, played with intensity and mastery by Jack O’Connnell is introduced to Adult Prison life. He has graduated in the slippery scale of prisoner status having Starred Up, been a leader without a cause in the young offenders unit he has been here despatched from. The rows of cells face each other like surreal bedsit flats with three inch thick steel doors and a letterbox viewer at just below eye level for vertically challenged screws. This really is the end of the current road. Many inmates due spending extremely long periods in these vile in-humane conditions. The narrative of prison reform is portrayed only a control freak. The character Oliver, a self contained anger management teacher whose instinct he selflessly deploys in managing those few attendees at his Governor authorised encounters with the prisoners. His skills are borne of his own well educated and unknown derangement with a singular role of being someone he defines as being of use to fellow human beings. At continual cost to himself. So the borders and boundaries for Eric are the confines. What of the fluid state of the rest, those whose bodies comprise around 87% water? The other inmates whose only defence seems to be their physicality and bruised minds.
Jail House Rules
On his first exercise the second main character dissects the circling inmates, signaling an existing status above the rest as he crosses and approaches an isolated Eric standing alone and surveyor of the factions and clocks all around him as he smokes or looks to smoke beneath the high mesh fence.
This is his father, Neville Love, played by a twitchy Ben Mendelsohn.
The role is equally as demanding and is collected and carried as a force of anger pent up and without sense of time or purpose. As a means of communicating beyond basic verbal discourse, other than the primary token of male presence, body language, Neville nudges, communicates a great deal with a bow, shuffle of the feet or his shoulders which begin rotating and halting as a hunched internal piston wrapped in swarf laden oil.
They play off each other’s unspoken love. The never purposefully expressed love.
The love absent and through lack of, the love missing when the demons appeared to enter their lives. The narrative develops progressively deepening the fault lines present in their lives, adding new layers on this layer cake violent environment without cliche or sentiment.
The writer, Jonathan Asser, himself an ex, Wandsworth Prison therapist – which I assume he has extemporalised a great deal on, (otherwise he has had a life of caning himself on finding a new route for others), has taken each scene of the relentless gruesome violence which makes this film grab your attention and wrung the blood and water out of it until everyone has a dry disembodied taste in their mouth. The director David Mackenzie ratchets up the bi-polar criminalistics of naked ruthlessness and somewhat nascent racist division. The group which Oliver operates acts as a racial forum showing the capacities to hate irregardless of race and how most violence occurs through primordial fear. Kick offs are the glue that binds the prisoners existence. They establish the knocking order and the pyramid has its head within the prison where issues can be taken.
A large part of the film is devoted to the ruinous state the regime is in. Far from reforms being exercised or even given some scope the inn-keepers are fractured and flawed and not involved on any emotional level and given the conditions it is not the least surprising.
If I saw a Chapel or a Congregational spiritual place where no words were to be spoken, thoughts could come and go and a higher essence be reached then it must have been in a nano second of light because I remember no such place. It had no visible drug issues either, except the hand to hand transactions – and one hand beneath pillow act, that seemed to have been the writers only hint of it. The use of force and values extended by the regime however were of a level which gave little prospect of reform or even retention of self belief. The fuses were very short for good reason in a lot of cases. That belied the measures and not the means.
The entry of Eric into this prison became a contest and battle with his self control. His father with a belated interest in his son begins to see sides of himself and his son that he wasn’t bargaining for. One kick off happens when it becomes obvious to him the son can make his own choices and the fact Eric is in his Neville’s long resided in establishment Neville find his marker has moved so menaces his son into explaining what he is at. The don’t answer back slippage used is well gone. Along with the characterisations and full on interactions, this is what engages and lifts the viewers expectations. How will this pan out? Will Eric reach a goal he has yet to be shown or will it end up in the bin as lives un recyclable?
It takes both an accomplished director and writer not to overwhelm and in creating a contemporary piece it carries without proselytising a message that much of what we are seeing could be the present condition somewhere of incarceration. The prisoners in the therapy group or the place were those attending get to speak their minds, to some extent show how things can improve and their dialogue speaks volumes more than reports by institutions written for institutions. The Regime has its conspirators as do the prisoners. The actors doing the rounds as warders and the ordinary joes caught up in their own choice of failures as criminals are very well acted throughout. The coloured prisoners work out who they can and cannot trust across the races and their own instincts tend to serve them at this sharp end where time boredom and reflection feature most of the time.
That is when it doesn’t kick off. But if I could give the prisoners a piece of advice it would be to keep their door on the landing closed as there are a lot of criminals about. Grayson Perry apparently couldn’t believe it when he was on in the streets of the Newtownards Road a while back – that people still left their front doors open. “It’s not like that around Islington where I live” he apparently said.

****4 A very well made British film which ‘captures’ the eye and takes no prisoners. Sorry couldn’t help it. Very compelling narrative and densely packed with bravura performances worthy of high award when the season comes next around. No small part played by Northern Ireland Screen and local contributors. Shame some nob is going to be distilling exotic drink near its walls. You would think someone would have learnt how bad addictions have taken hold here and elsewhere. Enough crime being drug and alcohol based locally to keep lock ups like the 4M’s – Magaberry, Magilligan, Mountjoy, Maze in business for years to come.
And why were there no drugs etc on the wings in show?
The product placement was of cigarettes and a shout out for a brand of rolling tobacco. Another of Belfasts poor trade history perhaps.

John Graham


23 March 2014

QFT Belfast Friday 21st March to 27th March 2014.
On general release.


Hebrews 13:3

Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt the pain in your own bodies.

Matthew 25:3

Then will they make answer, saying, Lord, when did we see you in need of food or drink, or wandering, or without clothing, or ill, or in prison, and did not take care of you.

HER : A Film Review

Spike Jonze directs.
We are ahead of ourselves. The future has not arrived. A broken heart need not the computer love this narrative prophesies. If anything it closes a journey or pathway for Joaquin Phoenix while destroying his self identity.

In this story he is not without hope however despite the contentment sought which is a concept the near future apparently commodifies.
Even down to his job as a writer hired to create something the real world needs. The scope is a clean, banality yet a hive of life lived or so the superficial environment in which there are bartenders, buses, monorail and a constant – imagine a biosphere where you cannot see the stars perhaps see the occasional cloud – kindly warm atmosphere, insanely white and cosmetic. No product placement but a funny fashion bypass is dispensed.
Buttons, high waistbands and impractical homes exist. Kitchen etiquette is lost if it exists at all. Neighbourliness is Amy Adams as a friendly ear with her own partner. No hanky panky is on Theodore’s agenda whose interest in another is entirely off kilter with the love of his life having broken up with him. The Scarlett (Johansson) woman who has been his partner from College is adrift. Into the near world of altered reality. The unaccustomed but accepted vehicle to extract, enliven the cheerful demeanour of which Theodore is apparently constructed. She also voices as the other Her.

What will be the space we will exist in and how will that greatest of all mysteries – our relationships with a significant other or others – choosing partners for – a life – where is the how in the here and now? Back to the movie and what is your partner thinking just now?

The missing part for Theodore is the old one, ancient one of having a partner. Of this past relationship there has been no encumbrance of children though the near future, where break-ups seem common enough – and an virtual majority are in and around thirty something of age – there is a loss in the story of family and tonality. The love story is central though which is how it is being hyped. Good enough for that and a wonder enough for St Valentines Day. It works best when real folk confront each other though and some great one loners come out of the construct presented.

Will it ever be so? You have a sparkling escapism in store. Dovetailed love is requited, mirrored emotion and mutual but not all consuming need for shared and responsive reflection on your giving to another their needs.
The presence of skin is an issue. The complexities arrive.

The Theodore Twombly dilemma is that he has lost a partner that he loved so deeply he has yet to overcome his emotions and so immerses himself in a virtual answer to his physical loss apart from the retained mental loss. Flashbacks dialogue the moments of reflection of memory. No pretense is supplanted, in fact he believes in this new scenario as another level of relationship. So near future yet so far. Other self or Opposite sex. What is works, it seems to be still within grasp. Little tell tales of picking out visions of preference are an availability. In this world the evolution is developing the story, which holds only tenuously and it is not presumably intended to be much else, a morally unchallenging, jeopardy free, fear free place film environ into which the viewer escapes for a while. The film is not a situational flood. Did I say that? The flood is mind breached.

Awesome it is not. Pleasant it is. Law papers appear so there is an attachment to Law but so much order. The colours are peachy. Citrus.
Another one liner is eschewed but not squeezed.

Twombly you may know is the name of a celebrated American Contemporary painter, the celebrated Cy Twombly whose motive is abstraction with a mix of Impressionism and that provision of an escape route you are given with abstraction to make of it what you will.
He presents colour, distinctive present colour which this film is awash with.
It is a pseudo Cy Twombly canvas.
It is not a Rodin sculpture you can circle. It is not a Goya or portrait of realism which is intended to project the sitter or the artists perception of the subjects perception of themselves or their place in a picture, the picture being the time that is before them is a lesser art in Twomblys eyes.
I venture Twombly is present in Jonze mind as he paints mind states which are subtle as the now only. The now being visible from another direction at all times.

Spike Jonze is retrieving the person all through this movie by exposing frailties, vulnerabilities, limitations of us as we evolve in relationships and how challenging this is and ultimately rewarding it is and need, is thirst for another.
Taanith Esther’s is fast day on the 13th day of the month of Adar which is the sixth month of the Jewish calendar. I digress but there is a – as those familiar with the Jewish calendar will know – an intercalary month.
This occurred to me during the film. That in the stem of life we have there is another point, not a thirteenth month nor a elongation of time but a separation we enable or are enabled to inhabit along that stem we have as life. An abstraction invested in without time lapse or gain.
The film maybe supposes if this ‘future’ positions an additional dimension for us to create the other self or form we are. That we shall become capable at some point or other to do this. The server does not enable human development. The server is the restricted mind. A planet under control.
Everyone will react so differently in the given circumstances and if you take that home and relate the questions it appears to produce then the Spike has it nailed.
I can accept lack of certitude contained within us and thus allow contentions to intrude. This is after all how we adapt. What the film explores is how susceptible and natural we are. The denouement is not transgressive nor is the ending. So no flood?
The muse is the fabulous Scarlett Johansson as a virtualous, virtuous sparky, bright and beautiful fulfillment of self (Her) and himself. She is also Her the former partner. Is he – Spike – loosening a swipe – unworthy of her as a viewpoint of the male? The Her. It is a lame aspect if the Her is used as a virtual solution for male emotional expression. All the women are present but only through the male needs are they documented. No event of the woman alone in a similar place is explored. Hence lame.

As a muse, model woman, the artist is a contrivance, the embodiment that Scarlett inhabits, as the real woman Twombly loves sits outside vulnerably. Her is whom? Amy’s, real name Amy, own situation has Twombly enter the perfect therapy. He as therapist. A subtle inside scoping place within the story. The Her is one character and all.

It is an old fashioned triangle(ish) weave made in a colourful, delightful, insightful, forward thinking strangeness which helps uncover a cloudy view in our poor partial sight.

How does the story develop and how important is story to it?
If only we knew we wouldn’t watch films. Stories need telling.
The filmmaker uses the visual, the portraiture of faces, all real to tell it in a very well paced movie neatly scripted.

By the way the Cinema trailer which I have also seen is far too filling as an appetiser as is the habit these days but it is pathetic and does little for the audience except feel cheated.

Familiar territory this is with enough twists and turns to make you shake off moral judgement as it is here accepted it is not a fixed staple, this future now it ventures is a quest, is a pursuit of knowledge of ourselves and others through others and in the mutual behaviours we become conspiratorial but in a relaxing way! The fretfulness happens when another narrative arrives to be explored. Turn left or right or straight ahead but never backwards. There is no backwards.

John Graham
12 February 2014

Belfast. Northern Ireland.

Friday 14 February to Thursday 27 February 2014
QFT Queens Film Theatre
University Square