Posts Tagged ‘film’

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.

Short stories/Рассказы Renoir 20 October

October 21, 2012


Tense scene with wedding planner

In this film an author goes to his publishers–in the manner of French films, the publishers have incredibly plush offices and glamorous staff–with a collection of short stories, but they want a nice solid novel.  Then various of the staff start reading through the rejected manuscript and found themselves featuring in the stories.

The first of the episodes, about an engaged couple having their whole lives dictated by a wedding planner so as to be modern and leave nothing to chance was both very funny and extremely boring.  I think the reason for this–and it applied to the other episodes as well–was that the story was really a thesis or lecturette or even joke that did a particular idea to death.

The second episode displayed corruption steadily making its ways upwards (and becoming more expensive) while the fourth portrayed a relationship between a middle-aged man and an uninformed young woman, showing at some length how this was not a good idea.  But this had a line which absolutely cracked me up when she turned to face him in response to questions about what it meant to be Russian and said The Russian Federation is a democratic country with a market economy.

The third episode was some echt Russian nonsense I didn’t appreciate about Pushkin and paranormal powers.

Anyway, the film was loudly applauded by a happy audience at the end.


House with a turret/Дом с башенкой, Renoir 17 October

October 21, 2012


A woman with a microphone appeared to say on behalf of the director (who she just referred to as The Director) that she was glad to see us all there for something completely unlike the other 250 WWII films we had all seen.  This one was about life and relationships and what it was to be human.  The director had been obsessed by Fridrikh Gorenshtein for a long time; first of all he had allowed her to make a short film based on his work, and only then to move on to something more large-scale.  The director had found a producer who owned the largest TV channel in Ukraine and he had made this feature film for 2 million Euro.

Director Eva Neyman

The film dealt with a boy and his mother returning from evacuation by train during WWII.  The mother is sick with typhus, they leave the train and she is taken to hospital.  He battles to find the hospital and send a telegram, surrounded by unheeding adults.  She dies.  Maybe he is going to make friends with the little girl from the housed with the turret by the station.  He rejoins the train with an inadequate substitute family; a couple of rough types are determined he is going to reach his destination.

So the characteristic (and unfortunately autobiographical) Fridrikh Gorenshtein themes, and whether you like the film depends on whether you buy into them.  I do, of course…

Le gamin au velo, Ritzy Picturehouse 7 April

April 7, 2012


I wouldn't let him near your bike if I were you...

The basis of this film is that young Cyril (an amazing performance by Thomas Doret) is in a children’s home after being abandoned by his father and hopes for some miracle to reunite them.  After running away to visit his father’s flat in the hope he will really be there, he ends up clinging on to Samantha (Cecile de France), the proprietor of a local hairdressing salon.  In an act of gratuitous goodness, she recovers his precious bicycle which serves as the symbol for all he has lost and takes him to stay with her at the weekends.

Well that’s what I like.  That’s what people are like.  Well maybe she wanted a kid anyway–He can hold onto me, but not so tight she says when he’s clinging on to her to resist being taken back to the home.  In fact, many of the actions in the film are presented without explicit motivation and you have to work it out just like in real life.

Can we say bike good:  car bad?  The bike is associated with Cyril and also with Samantha and in one idyllic scene Cyril allows Samantha to ride his bike, showing that she has now earned his love.  The car of the dealer Wesker surely represents everything undesirable, while Samantha’s car seems to be possessed by the (ex-)boyfriend Gilles except when it has the bike inside it.  Similarly city good: countryside bad, bad things happen in the waste land next to the estate where Cyril and Samantha live; but they include a kind of resurrection of course.  Not to mention women good:  men bad, but then Samantha is the only female character and really the only positive one as well.

Surely there was at least one plot hole:  Samantha tells Cyril to keep away from Wesker, who tries it on with all the new arrivals in the estate. But Cyril’s not new, he used to live there with his dad, that’s the whole point…

Toryboy (with Q and A), Greenwich Picturehouse 15 March

March 16, 2012


This documentary followed film-maker  John Walsh as he abandoned his lifelong Labour affiliations after working on a Gordon Brown vanity project, then went through the new open selection process for Conservative candidates and stood in Middlesbrough and tried to confront Stuart Bell the sitting and inactive Labour MP.  There were also some animated sections explaining how UK elections work, depicting Stuart Bell reading from a self-penned pornographic novel, and we saw how John and his sidekick Other John came to terms with Middlesbrough and being Tories.

I think the film just about stayed away from bash-the-working-class deprivation tourism, but it’s not clear that anyone would have gained any impression of Middlesbrough other than Featureless Northern Shithole.  It’s also not clear that it had any argument put forward other than ‘Desperately Seeking Stuart’.  John Walsh was certainly extremely engaging–both in person and on film–and you could see why selection panels would have gone for him.

It was also hard to see what kind of a Tory he was in the post-film discussion.  He said quite rightly that what Middlesbrough needed was a good Labour MP.  When asked whether there were not equally useless Tory MPs in the shires, he answered that there if people had problems they could afford to hire someone to sort it out, while in Middlesbrough they couldn’t now that Government grants had been whittled away and so they relied upon their MP doing things for them.  So Middlesbrough needs an active Labour MP and  lots of public money–nothing to argue about there.

Actually I don’t think anyone had a kind word to say Middlesbrough or its inhabitants during the course of the film, unless 15 seconds of Chris Rea were meant to provide the positive side…

People in the audience were quite shocked to learn that John Walsh had spent £ 15,000 of his own money seeking election, and it would have been £ 30,000 if it had been a winnable seat.  I don’t remember him having a convincing answer to how normal people could become Conservative MPs, or indeed how he was doing anything other than aping Michael Moore.

You can buy a download of the film for iTunes here.

The Iron Lady, Peckhamplex 07 January

January 8, 2012


That looks like an American woman's gesture...

The first thing to say is that if you see this at Peckhamplex Screen 2 then it’s better to sit at the back:  there’s a defect or pimple in the middle of the screen that can be distracting if you can see it.

As everyone knows, the film follows the daily routine of an elderly, widowed Thatcher succumbing to dementia.  At the beginning she escapes from her minders to buy a pint of milk and at the end…well best not to say…

Meryl Streep certainly gets both the accent and the voice.  She also does a brilliant performance of your mother (well certainly my mother) when she’s losing it and the old charm will still work on you but it’s just embarrassing when she speaks to outsiders.

The politics is just put in as flashes of backstory–one woman doing it her way against all opposition.  The film doesn’t really tell you much about how or indeed why she did it.  And it’s not exactly true either–according to the Wikipedia article, it was marrying a rich (older, divorced) man and having her children young that enabled her to devote herself to a political career.

Denis looks just as young as Margaret here

I think there was some general melioration as well:  Alderman Roberts for instance was a much better speaker than small-town politicians are in my experience.

If you compare this with Aleksandr Sokurov’s  Taurus, which deals with a stroke-afflicted and dementing Lenin, it’s clear that the dementia is also somewhat prettified.  And if you want to convey the effects of dementia, it would be better to use some dimness and distortion, not just leave everything Hollywood-shiny.  The film suggests that Thatcher’s overconfidence on the Poll Tax was connected with the onset of dementia, when simple dizziness due to success is a much more straightforward explanation.

It’s also interesting that the trailer and the stills you can find on the Internet show scenes from political life when most of the film is the dementing old lady.

I think this is a film representing  Carol Thatcher’s viewpoint:  at the very least, since she’s the only one of the family in any position to sue she must have consented.  The justification for the film is probably that it will give an opportunity for discussing issues around dementia, just as Dreams of a Life was meant to foreground the modern absence of community.  These films share the problem that they try to conflate the older dead or demented heroine with the younger bright and sparky one and leave out what happened.

I really don’t know any more about Margaret Thatcher’s life and personality than is in in the Wikipedia article, but it seems more than likely that she was a driven, demanding, obsessive and perfectionist individual willing to sacrifice a very great deal for her career, and as such very like many people in Hollywood–possibly including the one Meryl Streep sees in the mirror several times each day–and not very like the one portrayed here.

In spite of all of this, I found myself buying into the film because of Streep’s brilliant portrayal of my late mother (if not Margaret Thatcher) in her declining years, and because it was about my time which will never come again.

Dreams of a Life, Greenwich Picturehouse 24 December

December 24, 2011


This film is about Joyce Vincent, a woman who died alone in her flat around Christmas 2003 and remained undiscovered until 2006.  Since she was apparently a popular clever pretty young woman it was difficult for it not to be unbearably affecting.  But the film managed to deaden its impact by a confusion of approaches.  We had interviews with people who had known Joyce (friends, flatmates, colleagues–not her family).  We had reconstructions of scenes from her life and of the grisly process of clearing up her flat.  We had something of ‘Desperately seeking Joyce’ in the form of a whiteboard attempting to piece together her life and a taxi driving around with an advert appealing for information on its side.

I think that what you need is hard facts containing raw emotion, but there was neither here.  It would have been possible to at least establish what she did for a living and when–instead we were left in confusion as to whether she had a responsible position in the Treasury Department or was she just a secretary?  I suppose establishing the facts might have been a little difficult in the face of determined obstruction from her family.  But surely not impossible.

Then the film ended with a reconstruction of her last hours, but since they hadn’t decided what they thought had happened to her it wasn’t very convincing.  T S Eliot did it a lot better:

When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

In fact, Joyce Vincent seems to have been an absolutely typical heroine out of Jean Rhys, which once more gives me the feeling that this has been done before as well as better.

The question of time continues to worry me.  We learn that Joyce Vincent was 38 when she dies in 2003, so she was born in 1965.  The former boyfriend who relates holding a 21st party for her and then regrets not having saved her when she stayed with him later on is surely being too guilty–assuming she was in her mid-20s when they broke up that was ten years in the past.  More importantly perhaps, the colleagues and acquaintances interviewed are more or less Joyce Vincent’s contemporaries so they look pretty bad when contrasted with a beautiful 27-year-old actress in Zawe Ashton.

It is just not the case that the very young woman we saw being  played by Ashton died alone in her flat.  First of all she got older and at an age when she might have learned better she had a relationship with a violent man so that she was in a Women’s Refuge and then in her final flat.  So I feel the film is just being dishonest–it insists on showing us a beautiful young woman to engage our sympathy.

Elegy of Life: Rostropovich. Vishnevskaya, BFI Southbank 18 December

December 18, 2011


This was a further rarity in the BFI Sokurov season.  Before the film began, a man adorned with a red scarf appeared to tell us that what we were going to see was on tape rather than film.  I can’t say I noticed.  But I did notice that the titles were in English, and there this was called ‘Part 2’.  So what happened to Part 1?  The hard copy handout certainly described the whole thing…a whole thing that I’ve never seen…

To start off with, I was most interested in the health condition of the two subjects:  they both spoke like they’d had strokes, his worse than hers, and Vishnevskaya had a puffy steroid face.  And there was this grand celebration dinner packed full of crowned and titled nonentities; unlike Hitler, Hirohito and Lenin, Sokurov didn’t think that these ones were worth shrouding in darkness.

Then there was the description of their early lives over faded photos, the immense unbounded emotion and the cramped particular circumstances; and a stocky old woman in an unfortunate embroidered jacket rehearsing a young singer in the role of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Lyubasha (from Tsarskaya nevesta) and something happened I believed–it was worthwhile.  I even managed not to get to annoyed by Vishnevskaya drivelling on about the Russian national character.

That was worth seeing, even if only half of it was there.

Update 22 December

BFI have now emailed as follows:

Dear Member,

We are pleased to announce that the screening of ‘Elegy of Life Rostropovich Vishnevskaya’ on Wednesday the 28th December at 20:40 will be the full-length version.

The box office would like to offer free tickets to those who booked for 17th December screening or alternatively you can recieve a  refund for the previous screening.

Please contact the BFI Southbank Box Office on 0207 928 3232 between 11.00 AM to 08.30 PM daily (sadly we will be closed on Decmber 24th, 25th and 26th).

Thank you for supporting The BFI Southbank

Kind Regards,

BFI Southbank Box Office

Taurus (Телец) BFI South Bank 4 December

December 5, 2011


A film by Aleksandr Sokurov and not for the first time he makes it difficult to see what ‘s going on.

It is 1924 and Lenin (a kind of Lenin) is dying in a country house outside Moscow.  His wife and sister squabble over him.  He can’t do 17 x 22, but wants still to know about corporal punishment.  There is no telephone, there are no letters.  Stalin arrives in a posh motor car and spends a long time preening before threatening in a thick accent.  Lenin has an outburst of impotent fury over the soup at an overelaborate dinner table, like Hitler in Sokurov’s Moloch as I recall.  Snatches of Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations play slowly from time to time.  Also on occasions, Leonid Mozgovoi playing Lenin forgets that the right side of his face is meant to be paralysed, as well as his body.

Lenin dies at the end, after Nadezhda Krupskaya has gone to answer a phone call from the Central Committee.  Nature goes on, unheeding and unkempt.  The audience departs thinking Now that’s over and I’m glad it’s ended.

Twilight Portrait (Портрет в сумерках) 5th Russian Film Festival Apollo Piccadilly 7 November

November 8, 2011


At home with the rapist

At the beginning of this film three traffic cops chase down and rape a prostitute.  Marina who is slumming with friends and family at the edge of town hears the victim’s scream.  After some pointless love-making with family friend Valera he tells her she can make her own way home.  She breaks her heel, has her handbag (money, passport, everything) stolen and is picked up by the traffic cops who rape her.

Marina is a social worker with a fine lifestyle, thanks to her father’s money.  She works with youngsters who have been physically or sexually abused.  She lists the treacheries and inadequacies of her husband and friends at an impromptu birthday party in her honour.

She takes to haunting a seedy cafe near where the police picked her up.  One evening she catches sight of Andrei, one of the cops and tarils him home.  In the lift with him she has a broken bottle but instead sinks to her knees to fellate him.  She comes to stay in his flat while telling her husband she’s gone to visit her mother.  She and Andrei have vigorous sex, and she also plays the little wife, cooking and cleaning.  When she says (frequently) I love you he hits her hard.  Also once when she kisses him affectionately.  She looks at him–at both of them–as at subjects of an experiment she’s carrying out.

At the end Marina accidentally-on-purpose fails to meet her husband at the airport and walks down the edge of the road.  Andrei takes of his pistol and leaves it with his comrades in the patrol car and follows her irresolutely (in the interim they have have killed three girls with their car and covered it up).

What’s the point of this?  Not that women enjoy rape, especially since it was co-written by director Angelina Nikonova and lead actress Olga Dykhovichnaya.  Partly it’s who is controlling who in the relationship between the central characters; there’s also class–the well-off and the lower classes live separate and inimical lives and location–life in the outskirts is different from that in the centre of town.

There are some classic scenes of Russian life, especially where Marina tries to report the theft of her passport and is only allowed to submit a declaration written under dictation about losing it while tipsy.

I don’t really think the film makes its point though–or if it does, the point about Marina’s psychology comes at too high a price (the woman raped at the beginning and the three killed offscreen).