Posts Tagged ‘film’

Sorry We Missed You, East Dulwich Picturehouse 14 November

November 15, 2019

sorry

So after I, Daniel Blake we get another tale of the deserving poor of Newcastle.

The story concerns Ricky Turner, a construction worker who turns ‘self-employed’ delivery driver and the effect the gig economy has on him, his wife Abby (employed as a carer) and his children, Seb and Liza Jane.  The lad playing Seb did an excellent impression of a schooldays friend of mine from Brotton, say 60 miles away, but then the deserving poor of the North East do not go in for much variety.  Liza Jane on the other hand was just Lisa Simpson with a spelling mistake…There were times at the beginning when the actress playing Abby seemed to be overcome with world-weariness at having to mouth such dismal platitudes…

Unlike Daniel Blake, we got a lot of how people in Newcastle talk as imagined by those who have never been there, and very few nostalgia-inducing shots of the pace itself.

The family seemed to be living in rental squalor in a run-down upstairs Tyneside flat, which already begins not to make sense–if you’ve got a family and no money it’s at least worthwhile putting your name down for a council house.  We also got to see an overcrowded A&E and the houses of various clients of Abby’s who share with her improving moments of working-class history.

The hospital was after Ricky had been attacked and robbed of his valuable packages by a group of scrotes who had come prepared with a sack to put stuff in so they must have known where he would be, but how?  Maybe ESP.  That was early in the morning when he had a full load and we got to see the hospital in the evening, yeah it makes sense.  You could ask why he wore his Man U shirt so encouraging timewasting banter when he wanted to get round quickly or what happened to the money he made when he was providing blameless service on a good route or indeed  lots of other things.

Then again I had some sympathy with the boss Evil Bastard Maloney, who unlike the others had clearly read his Marx before expounding his views on the cash (now modernised to data) nexus, but if you are really living by results rather than incarnate evil you don’t immediately crack down on somebody who has previously been a good provider.

It is probably pointless to point out that operatives who are told what to do, how to do it and when to do it would not count as self-employed for tax purposes or to complain at Seb’s obligatory Black friend (about 2% of the population  of Newcastle have at least some African ancestry, so it’s possible but very formulaic).

Apart from the caricature of life in Newcastle, the real problem is that you need to start with the characters and their relationships and then the way that external circumstances get into them if you’re going to call it a drama, otherwise make a documentary.

 

Bellingcat, Bertha Dochouse 25 June

June 27, 2019

****
bellingcat

Bellingcat:  Truth in a Post-Truth World explained how you could work out hidden things from open-source data, and the basis seemed to be that if bad guys were going to flood social media with disinformation they would give away more than they realised.  Eliot Higgins made a charismatic and very English lead figure, and I finally got the point about the MH17 incident–there is not much that can shoot down something flying at the altitude of a civilian airliner.

On the other hand, I did not get much of a feeling for how the members of Bellingcat had assembled themselves into a group in the first place or indeed who it was we heard of extending financial support to Eliot Higgins in the telephone.  The academic talking heads we saw had sensible things to say, but we never found out who exactly they were or what their perspective was.  The film correctly laid emphasis on transparency–or, as I would say, reproducibility–but did not give any examples of Bellingcat’s results being reproduced or verified by other actors.

Eliot Higgins was keen to stress that everything came from open sources, but I am not sure how far the various Russian administrative databases used to identify the Skripal perpetrators would count as open source, more like knowing somebody who had bought a CD of knocked-off data in a Moscow subway.  (The Spectator has an intelligent discussion of the point here.)

Anyway, at the end of the film I felt enthused at the idea that reason and goodwill could triumph, and positively eager to do battle with the forces of darkness.

The Death of Stalin, Curzon Goldsmiths 29 October

October 29, 2017

**

stalin

So going to see this at the Curzon Goldsmiths meant that I paid £ 8-50 rather than £ 5-99 at the Peckhamplex, but my cold and I had an easier cycle ride and the New Cross Gate Sainsbury’s was a bit better than the Morrison’s in Peckham. I suppose it was worth £ 2-51 (the kind of sum which does not grow on trees) to avoid the fascist bag search…

The film is…err…not very good. It seeks to satirise the members of the Soviet leadership panicking and plotting after Stalin’s death, but unfortunately it does this by making them student politicians from Oxford University from the early 1980s. In particular, Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana Stalin not only looks terrifyingly English but seems to be starring in Bad Day at Somerville College with Rupert Friend not so much her brother but more the louche boyfriend from Worcester say.  Simon Russell Beale as Beria–and I can remember him being very, very evil as Iago–too often seemed to be a rather kindly old gent who had somehow got mixed up with allegations of mass murder and raping underage girls.

It’s the ingrained English politeness and gentility that is the problem–there’s no point in trying to replicate the manners of another time and culture, but you need to ask yourself if people do and say such things, what are they like and so how do they do and say them.  Here, they need to be both terrifying and grotesque, not naughty ex-public-schoolboys having their day of fun and destroying their country in the process.

Contrariwise, Olga Kurylenko as Mariya Yudina clearly had the right reactions but her character was undercut for the sake of a cheap joke.  There were some signs that either she (had she not been so undercut) or Svetlana Stalin (had she ever got out of Somerville College bar) might have become some kind of positive pole, but that was clearly not what was required.

There’s nothing wrong in principle with the idea of reducing these monsters in scale to bring out just how grotesque they are, but cockroaches would have been more the level than student politicians.

The jokes got a few laughs a few times.

Even leaving aside contributions from Mozart, Chopin and Tchaikovsky, the cod-Shostakovich of the score was a great deal better than the cod-history shown on screen.

I, Daniel Blake, Greenwich Picturehouse 29 October

October 29, 2016

***

graystreet.png

Grey Street in the rain

This film is about a 59-year-old carpenter who suffers a heart attack and so is no longer able to work.  He is judged not sufficiently incapacitated to receive Disability Allowance, so has to go through the demeaning pretence of looking f0r non-existent jobs.  He makes friends with a young single mother who has been sent a long way from London because it is cheaper than housing her family there and who has her benefits sanctioned because she got on the wrong bus in a strange town and arrived late for an interview.

I have to admit that I did cry during the film, though not as much as the two women sitting next to me, and it wasn’t all because of the I want to go home feeling.  They got the Newcastle accent right, and also the way people speak to each other, which is a different thing.  When the dialogue and actions were allowed to proceed from the characters and their actions it was actually very moving.  There were some shots of Newcastle in the rain, YESS!!

The essay that Loach was determined to write was probably quite correct at a factual level, but it didn’t really mesh with these characters.  In particular, what Daniel needed was clearly some advocacy from the CAB, a Welfare Rights group, or even Age UK.  Now he might not have known that, but after spending two years in a homeless hostel in London Katie certainly would have.  I approve of making ordinary people the central figures of films and plays, but depriving them of agency isn’t the way to do it.  And I was irritated that St Daniel had to be burdened with demonstrating appropriate attitudes to black people, gays and people with mental illness.  Then I start asking myself what kind of a joiner he had been.  If he was employed, he should have been eligible for sick pay.  If he was self-employed, it’s hard to see how he could have managed to remain totally incapable in the face of modern technology.

Did he call the gay black training-shoe entrepreneur the ‘tycoon of Byker’ or similar?  That didn’t look like Byker to me…But the Evening Chronicle has helpfully published a map of the locations.

It is to the credit of director Ken Loach and scriptwriter Paul Laverty that having stupidly decided to include a scene of archetypal Dostoevskian degradation they clearly had no idea what they were talking about–there are some things you just have to be a bad man to get right.

Brooklyn, Peckham Multiplex 15 November

November 16, 2015

****

brooklynfilm

At the end of this showing, a rather full cinema broke into genuine and sustained applause, which is a rare thing indeed.  I think that was because it was a film for grown-ups dealing with grown-up themes, in spite of the extreme youth of the heroine and of the actress playing her.

The action followed the plot of Colm Toibin’s novel quite faithfully, with some understandable simplifications.  It seemed that Father Flood had been turned into a figure of straightforward benevolence, and indeed Colm Toibin’s representative in the film, since I had more than once heard Toibin praising Saoirse Ronan with paternal pride.  Different ways of relating to the symbolic sea seemed to have been abandoned, in favour of Saoirse doing with her face what takes me thirty pages, while there were some advert-y moments like Eilis exiting the immigration shed into a screenful of light.

But it was good to see a film about nice, decent people, and indeed nice, decent, lower-middle-class people…

Bypass, Peckham Multiplex 15 April

April 15, 2015

**

bypass

There were three diverting moments in this film.  To start off with, the manager declined to recognise it as a film he was showing and had to get out a flyer to check that it was indeed on.  Then, since the film started immediately and with no brightly-lit scenes, all three of us in the audience had a fun time trying to find a place to live in total darkness.  The third one came at the end of the film….

In theory the protagonist Tim went through a hundred minutes of misery (his father had already deserted the family) as his brother was banged up, his mother died of cancer, his attempts to make a living through petty crime fell further and further short, his sister skipped school and fell into bad company, his girlfriend fell pregnant when he didn’t want to be a dad, and he persisted in robbing houses while developing meningitis (bad move that one)…

But I was baffled more than anything because while the action was supposed to be set in Gateshead, the characters acted and sounded like would-be hard men and other inhabitants from a council estate in Oxfordshire (which is the background of director Duane Hopkins I think).  You could tell it actually was filmed in Gateshead because you enjoyed some views from the south bank of the Tyne and learned about the family’s history as steelworkers and would-be footballers.  More convincingly, it had to be Tyneside because all the colour was washed-out, as in I am Nasrine.

Leaving aside the facts that the characters were actor-beautiful and well-spoken, and that their material conditions of life looked rather comfortable, I was disappointed to be deprived of a spiritual return to the North-East.  But nostalgia was satisfied with a fine display of the cliches of 1970s Soviet cinematography, especially the departed beckoning meaningfully from behind net curtains at the edge of the screen or striding off silently into the distance, depending on gender.  In fact, the scene at the end where Tim decided not to die in Intensive Care but instead to witness the birth of his child was rather good, and would have been more effective if we’d been allowed some saturated colour for contrast as at the end of Andrei Rublev.

**Sigh**

I am Nasrine, Stratford Picturehouse 4 July

July 14, 2013

***

nasrine

My interest in this film was that I’ve been to Tehran and lived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. That’s a slightly strange perspective and may explain why I didn’t get on so well with the film.

We follow the story of Nasrine (meant to be about 16 I think) who rides home in Tehran on the back of a boy’s motorbike wearing a coloured headscarf.  She is picked up and (we fear) raped by the Vice Police.  Her father decrees that she and her brother Ali have to go to England.

So they arrive in Newcastle; she goes to school and falls in with a community of travellers which gives her the chance to ride horses and have consensual relations with the brother of her new friend Nichole.  Ali meanwhile takes two illegal jobs and struggles to come to terms with his sexuality…

There seemed to be two main themes here:  the idea that you become an adult by casting off what you were before and the treatment of refugees in the UK.  But they weren’t integrated but rather went on in parallel.  There were other points being made in the contrast between the saturated colours of Tehran and a washed-out Newcastle; between motorbike + bad boyfriend and horses  + good boyfriend;  and how even in going to school Nasrine found herself becoming part of a marginal group, while Ali’s encounter with the normal inhabitants turned out to be fatal…

All in all I didn’t quite get it.

Micsha Sadeghi gave a brilliant performance as the heroine, while still looking even older than Carey Mulligan in An Education.

 

The Stoker, ICA Cinema 26 May

May 27, 2013

**

stoker

One of those films where the audience were laughing nervously with relief at the end, hardly believing they had managed to survive something so tedious.

This was the last film of Aleksei Balabanov, who marked it by dying a week or two ago, and is set in St Petersburg in the lawless 1990s.  Our protagonist is Major Skryabin, an ethnic Yakut who was concussed in Afghanistan and is now working as a stoker.  He also has a daughter (Sasha) with expensive tastes.

He obliges a corrupt policeman who he got to know in Afghanistan by disposing of inconvenient corpses in his furnaces.  The policeman’s daughter Masha runs a shop selling Yakut furs with Masha, and they share the affections of the policeman’s silencious sidekick.

It’s not going to end happily…

The structure of the film is that characters trudge through the snow to witness or take part in scenes of stylised evil, and so it very much recalls Of Freaks and Men, where the characters steamed along the canals of St Petersburg with the same end in view.

The major is also writing a book, or rather trying to recreate a book he read before he was concussed–it’s about Yakuts being brutalised by a convict billetted on them.  At the end little Vera, who has been visiting the major to look at the fires in the furnaces, reads the unfinished manuscript and we get some pastiche sepia porn, very like an out-take from Of Freaks and Men.

You could also see this as straightforward Putinite propaganda–in the 90s Heroes of the Soviet Union had not where to lay their head, but order has been restored now…

A Russian Fairytale (with Q&A), Riverside Studios 31 January

February 1, 2013

***

fairytale

Denis, Irina, Ksusha

The film followed the lives of a group of homeless young people in the city of Perm, beginning in Winter and ending in Summer, though it was difficult to see exactly what period it was since footage from different visits had been edited together.  They sniffed glue, they injected drugs, the girls turned tricks at 500R a time, Denis begged in the market…They also laughed and joked and hung out, while Kolya got to visit his family’s dacha, have lunch in the sunshine and swim in a lake.,

My own feeling was that if it had been done more competently it would have been unbearably moving, and even as it was there were many opportunities for tears.  My heart went out to the young women Irina and Ksusha because you could see what they would have been like–should have been like–in different circumstances.  Scenes like Irina going to see her mother in the hostel where she lived with her present ‘boyfriend’ and the mother shouting at her to go away, or Ksusha’s pregnancy test where she clearly had not the slightest resource if it proved positive–apart from a determination not to have an abortion–will be very difficult to forget.

There was a certain amount of the film telling you what to what to think, both in the titles at the beginning giving some over-simplified background information and in the music.  Also it was another of those situations where I knew a great deal more about the subject-matter (drug use and its effects; children in need; Russia) than the film-makers did, which as ever led to discomfort.  The shocking revelation at the end merely caused me a momentary spasm of fucking drug users.

The film was enthusiastically received by a large and predominantly young audience.  Nicolas Doldinger (co-director) said that they had wanted to make a film that dealt with an ugly situation in a beautiful and engaging way.  In answer to a question about whether the young people had been paid, Jake Mobbs (the other co-director) said that they had brought them bread and mayonnaise and lent them a mobile for emergency calls.  They didn’t actually know what their interviews were about until they took the film home and scraped together some money for translation.  The fact that the only rehab available was run by Evangelicals gave rise to a facile comment about this being merely a different form of addiction.   Jake Mobbs said there were plans to show the film in Perm, though there might be difficulties with the authorities.

So I’m left feeling a helpless horror that there should be such lives, and also that the film should have been better to do them justice.

The charity Love’s Bridge works with street youth and at-risk children in Perm.

Living/Жить Curzon Mayfair 21 October

October 21, 2012

**

Grisha is allowed to live because she’s young and good-looking

A severe dose of chernukha (relentless negativity and tedium) here I’m afraid, and delivered rather slowly. Of course if you put a couple of young girls in a marshrutka it will crash, driving their mother from alcoholism to insanity.   Of course if you give a hustler some money on the train home from your wedding he will lure you to an empty carriage and his mates will beat you to death.  Which is just about what you deserve for being so stupid.  Of course the girls’ mother and the never-will-be wife will be unable to show any resistance at all to what has happened to them; their only recourse will be to make believe the dead are still alive and then when that fails to kill themselves and other people as well.  Of course the girls’ mother Galya will manage to find the fatal proportions of gas and air to cause an explosion while Grisha the bride will drag herself back from the brink because she’s young (and good-looking under all the crusty clobber).  And then there’s the story of Artem whose father has run away to live in a hut without shoes and have his bicycle stolen; at least that was obscure enough not to be offensive.

Now the final scene with Grisha at the bus-stop and a woman opens up a stall setting the most godawful tat and Grisha buys herself some crisps and eats them and decides she wants to live in this world tawdry and appalling as it is–that was good, but it wasn’t worth the two preceding hours.