9 771745 916024 Issue 36 Jul/Aug ’11 £3.95
T h e S k i n I L i v e I n
D i r e c t e d b y Pe d r o A l m o d 贸va r S t a r r i n g A n t o n i o B a n d e ra s, E l e n a A n aya , M a r i s a Pa r e d e s Released August 26
S pa n i s h l e g e n d P e d r o A l m o d 贸va r r e t u r n s w i t h h i s m o s t m a c a b r e m a s t e r p i e c e to d at e .
006 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
Wo r d s b y A da m W o o d wa r d
hat man creates with one hand, he destroys with the other. This hard-wired human paradox forms the crux of Pedro Almodóvar’s simmering tale of betrayal, revenge and Promethean obsession. But before passions flare and the plot accelerates headlong into madness, Almodóvar establishes order. We open in Toledo (the rustic capital of the Castile-La Mancha region synonymous with so much of the Spaniard’s work) with a postcard shot of the old city that echoes a frame from Luis Buñuel’s 1970 film Tristana. The overlying caption tells us it’s 2012, an early disclaimer that points to a pseudo-science-fiction subplot. ‘Once Upon a Time…’, it could read. In a nearby lecture theatre, Dr Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is presenting his latest breakthrough to the science community. Through the use of transgenesis, a highly controversial interspecies cell-splicing process, this modern-day Dr Moreau has invented a revolutionary new tissue. But this dabbling in the dark arts horrifies his peers. The bones of the character are lifted from Thierry Jonquet’s 2003 novel Tarantula, but the rest is all Almodóvar. Like many tortured cinematic villains, Robert’s moral judgment was clouded in a previous life by a series of traumatic ordeals. In this ‘horror story without screams or frights’ (as Almodóvar has described it) he is an appropriately silent antagonist, honing his laser focus during endless nights developing a hybrid skin in his basement laboratory. All the while, his timid guinea pig, Vera (Elena Anaya), paces tirelessly in her first-floor prison, flexing her flesh-toned bodysuit with yoga practice and skimming second-hand literature. The grandeur of Robert’s palatial abode contrasts the sanitised nakedness of Vera’s chambers, where the walls have been defaced in typical penal fashion with eyeliner tallies and existential graffiti: ‘I breathe. I know I breathe’, reads one tag. Almodóvar, inspired by Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock’s surviving silent noirs, originally intended for the film to be shot in black-and-white. For someone renowned for his aesthetic flamboyance it’s hard to imagine what that monochromatic homage might have looked like. But a trace of it survives in Robert’s kitchen, where his live-in helper Marilia (Marisa Paredes) observes Vera on a colourless closed-circuit monitor. Marilia is at first an idle voyeur. Her duties are domestic, and she carries them out with unflinching obedience until an
outsider shatters this illicit equilibrium. In a delightfully spontaneous turn, Marilia abandons protocol and answers the door to a tiger on the lam. He’s Zeca (Roberto Álamo), a cutlass-scarred slavering brute who’s seeking refuge following a bodged heist. It happens to be carnival season, and a garish tiger-print costume (equipped with penis-tipped tail) has so far enabled him to evade the fuzz. With Robert away, the cat pounces on the chance to play, restraining Marilia before overwhelming and ravaging a helpless Vera. It’s a catalytic incident that ends as explosively as it began. It’s also where the genetic link that binds Marilia, Robert and Zeca crystallises. In the Almodóvar tradition of keeping it in the family, we’re presented with a portrait of a mother torn between feuding sons in a family touched by evil. “I’ve got insanity in my entrails,” accepts a crestfallen Marilia. After the chaos of this scene, Almodóvar is quick to lighten the mood. Now swelled with lust, Robert retires with Vera to his private quarters. Despite the allure of loosened shackles and satin sheets, however, his advances go unrequited: “The tiger really messed me up,” says Vera nonchalantly. Their bodies remain entwined as flashbacks reveal the disturbing truth behind their union. The exquisite aerial composition of the shot evokes a scene in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, where Banderas’ Ricky studies a sleeping Marina, the heroin-addict porn star he’s abducted. It was here that audiences first glimpsed Almodóvar’s curiosity with Stockholm syndrome. Now he’s flipped the psychological phenomenon on its head, as Frankenstein is seduced by his own beautiful monster. And with Robert’s guard down, Marilia switches from submissive mother figure to jealous housewife, threatened as she now is by Vera’s burgeoning empowerment. She watches Vera like a hawk, but Robert’s blindness renders her vigilance futile. Like all the women in Almodóvar’s films, Vera and Marilia are born survivors. Forces beyond their control have altered their life paths, but they have the will to handle anything fate may throw their way. So where does this leave Robert? His genius is irrefutable – he is, from the get-go, an architect of identity, a magician of biometrics. But playing God comes with a heavy price: it exposes his mortality. The films Almodóvar and Banderas made together in the 1980s – Labyrinth of Passion, Matador, Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! – formed the bedrock of a collaboration that rivalled the most iconic onscreen parings. Banderas was the Bobby to Almodóvar’s Marty; the Kurt to his Carpenter. It would prove as fruitful as any of the director’s flings with Carmen Maura, Marisa Paredes or Cecilia Roth. Banderas’ next film scheduled for theatrical release is Spy Kids 4... How Hollywood has wasted him. Back then Almodóvar saw an intensity and virility in his young Andalucían muse that would inspire him to write some of his most brutal and intriguing male characters – from a gay Islamic fundamentalist in Labyrinth of Passion to an affable rapist in Matador. Today, Almodóvar has said that, at 50, Banderas is the right age to play a psychopath. Dr Ledgard is possibly the director’s most unambiguous villain, but his lunacy is rooted in a domestic tragedy that is instantly humanising. This is reinforced by a triple-team of Castilian charisma, merciless good looks and a caramel machismo that makes Banderas perfect for the role. Like many of Almodóvar’s men, however, his power is transitory. Acting on his impulses puts Robert in a vulnerable position, but his
undoing is entirely of his own making. Ultimately, there’s always a sense that the women will seize control. In an early scene, Vera mounts an unsuccessful jailbreak. After gazing longingly at her on a large flatscreen fixed at eye-level on his bedroom wall, Robert heads to Vera’s room, pausing outside to plan his next move. She forces her way past him with furious determination, grabbing a kitchen knife in a last ditch bid for freedom. But Robert is prepared for any such event; his immaculate home doubles as a remote-controlled fortress. During the messy episode, a single jet-black lock of hair breaks rank, falling limply onto his sweat-beaded brow. It’s the briefest moment of fallibility, but it’s enough to suggest that his patriarchal foothold might be slipping. In this instance, however, Vera finds herself back on the surgical table in the skilled hands of her captor. A haunting cover of Elliott Smith’s ‘Between the Bars’ accompanies this reassertion of Robert’s authority – offering poignant respite from Alberto Iglesias’ lustrous crescendo of panicked strings and rippling bass notes. This mix of classical and contemporary is a recurring Almodóvar trademark. Robert’s mansion is furnished with both Baroque and Cubist art, while contorted Louise Bourgeois sculptures pepper mantles and work surfaces. The self-referencing doesn’t end there. We’ve seen transsexuals in All About My Mother; rapists in Labyrinth of Passions, even a tiger in Bad Habits. Different puzzle. Same pieces. It all fits. The Skin I Live In is an education in escapism. Its Chinese-box plot is a joy to unravel, each layer taking you further and further past the point of no return. The truth, of course, is that you won’t want out. Almodóvar’s vision is more sinister than anything that’s been conjured up in the darkest recesses of Park Chan-wook or Wes Craven at his peak. Yet this is a film of acute tact. Bursts of sexual violence are unsettling but never gratuitous; bodily mutilation is shown tastefully or not at all. Like Broken Embraces and Volver before it, The Skin I Live In shifts through the gears with natural grace. Genres are effortlessly interchanged. It is a controlled demolition of a movie, efficiently and confidently set off by an auteur at the top of his game. Almodóvar has nothing left to prove, but his refusal to slow down or bow to popular convention ensures that his films, while homogeneous in their stylistic and narrative tropes, retain an enigmatic quality. He’s still infatuated with introspection, but in engaging with ultramodern ideals he’s invigorated our anticipation for what’s still to come. It’s impossible to second-guess where he’ll take us next, and we wouldn’t have it any other way
"the Chinesebox plot is a joy to u n r av e l , e a c h l ay e r t a k i n g you further and f u r t h e r pa s t the point of no return. The t r u t h i s t h at yo u w o n ’ t w a n t o u t. "
008 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
C h e c k o u t p a g e 2 4 f o r Pe d r o A l m o d óva r ' s t h o u g h t s o n f i l m m a k i n g , f a i t h a n d h i s e x t e n d e d a c t i n g f a m i l y.
Anticipation. An Almodóvar body-horror? Sold.
N o t e x a c t l y. T h e S k i n I L i v e I n i s a n i n t ox i c a t i n g e l i x i r o f d a r k f a n t a s y, sick obsession and all-consuming desire.
In Retrospect. A n e v o l u t i o n a r y leap from a true master of his craft.
010 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e
And the moon gazed on my midnight labour s, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eager ness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places. Frankenstein, Mar y Shelley
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SEE FILM DIFFERENTLY Vo l k s w a g e n’s S e e F i l m D i f f e r e n t l y i s a l l a b o u t l o o k i n g a t m o v i e s w i t h a f r e s h p e r s p e c t i v e , a n d c e l e b r a t i n g t h e g r e a t l o c a t i o n s t h a t h av e b e e n p u t t h r o u g h t h e t r a n s f o r m a t i v e g a z e o f f i l m . I n M ay, w e h e l d a s c r e e n i n g o f S t a n l e y K u b r i c k ’s c l a s s i c A C l o c k w o r k O r a n g e a t B r u n e l U n i v e r s i t y ( w h e r e k e y s c e n e s we r e f i l m e d ) . N e x t u p i s M i ke M i l l s ’ B e g i n n e r s a t FA C T P i c t u r e h o u s e , L i ve r p o o l , o n T h u r s d ay J u l y 2 1 . C h e c k o u t s e e f i l m d i f f e r e n t l y. c o m f o r m o r e d e t a i l s a n d e x c l u s i v e f e a t u r e s .
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cool, steady breeze carries a perfume of fresh bread and jamón from a nearby pastelería up a slumbering Madrid backstreet to the front door of El Deseo. It’s a cloudy day in June, and the mirrored rows of plain apartment buildings that hem this suburban vein are passive in the dull light. The glass and steel-knit exterior of Pedro Almodóvar’s production company headquarters is modern but teasingly inconspicuous, starving you for the sensual banquet that awaits. As if spiting the unseasonable weather, inside, El Deseo is a kaleidoscopic metropolis of colour and light. Posters of the writer/director’s films dress the walls like family portraits while pot plants sway in the misty emissions of desktop dehumidifiers. The place has an infectious, harmonious energy about it. For all the material opulence of his art deco office space, however, Almodóvar himself cuts an unassuming figure. He’s 62 in September – almost exactly one month after The Skin I Live In is released – but a shocked silver bouffant is all that distinguishes him today from the quiet mule-driver’s son who rose from impoverished surroundings to lead ‘La Movida’, the cultural renaissance that transformed Spain during the 1980s. What’s most striking on first impression is that, 32 years and 18 films into his career, Spain’s most decorated working filmmaker meets questions about the shaping of his artistic identity – about growing up in La Mancha, about the women in his films and the mother who would become a thematic cornerstone, about challenging the mores of postFranco Spain, about faith and sexuality – with such sparkling enthusiasm. “La Mancha, you have to understand, was a terribly harsh, austere place to live in back then. It was all about pure survival in post-war Spain, which was a period that went on and on, lasting about 20 to 25 years until the mid ’60s when economic development finally took hold. It was a really bleak period in our history.
026 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
“The people who made an impression on me then were the female figures,” he reflects. “My mother, the female neighbours, they were the ones who were capable, the ones who were the strugglers and the fighters. And in fact they were the ones that lifted up the country; they were the ones that allowed Spain to survive through all of the hardships of that post-Civil War period. They were the ones that had to be very crafty and imaginative, always having to invent some new way of subsisting. “La Mancha at the time was a very, very conservative part of the country to live in. Very chauvinistic, as well, very male-dominated in its attitudes. But men never realised that it was actually the women who were running the household; they were the ones in charge.” He continues, alluding to the formative impact of this collective matriarchal muscle: “I think that came through in the films that I made because it was part of my own natural makeup. I was surrounded by all these women and they were the ones that really made me.” Almodóvar has remained doggedly loyal to his roots. The rare occasions on which he’s strayed from his provincial pulse have been followed by ceremonious, largely triumphant, returns – to the village, to the women and the actresses that have inspired him and who in turn have been elevated by him. Trace back from his most recent autobiographical outing, 2006’s Volver (literally meaning ‘to come back’), to his delectably kitsch 1980 debut Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Mom and you’ll see the pattern.
Whether revisiting people and places, recycling themes or losing himself in the wilds of his youth, Almodóvar has long been a habitual filmmaker. Consistency is the key to his critical and commercial success, not to mention his prolonged independence. Now, however, he’s broken tradition by developing a borrowed story. Thierry Jonquet’s Tarantula tells of a nefarious plastic surgeon who keeps his lover under lock and key in his luxurious Le Vésinet chateau. It’s pacy and robust, ripe for big screen adaptation.
A twisting, snarling revenge thriller that’s disquietingly seductive in its narrative ugliness. Almodóvar picked up Tarantula nearly 10 years ago, read it, then discarded it. His first and only previous adaptation, 1997’s Live Flesh (based on a novel by Ruth Rendell), had taken its toll both physically and mentally, only remedied by the euphoric reception to All About My Mother – the film that finally won Almodóvar the acknowledgment of the Cannes jury and US Academy – two years later. But was this calculated procrastination or a more straightforward case of hesitation? “The best way to make an adaptation is to read it once and then forget it,” he asserts. “It will come back to you when it is necessary.” This may seem like an unorthodox approach, but in the back of Almodóvar’s mind was the realisation that Jonquet’s prose would have to yield to his vision. “It’s much more difficult for me to make an adaptation because I think very freely. I’m glad we shot the movie, but the writing process was awful. When I wrote the script there were moments that I saw many, many complications within the plot and I actually found myself fighting against the novel. It’s true that these types of novels can be very fun to read, but when you look at it with a view to adapting, you discover many things that don’t work.” Despite the numerous tweaks, Almodóvar has kept the core of Tarantula intact, meaning that The Skin I Live In runs against the grain by featuring an alpha male as its primary character. Antonio Banderas is shrewdly cast as Robert, the scalpel-happy antagonist, but what prompted Almodóvar to reunite with his former male muse 21 years after Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!? “Whenever you work with an actor or actress and it works very well then you always want to go back and work with them again. He’s like part of my artistic family,” replies Almodóvar. “It was the moment to do it because of the character,” he continues. “One of [Antonio’s] characteristics is he’s incredibly skilful; particularly with his hands. If you think about the character, he’s a man who’s very skilful; he’s a man who’s
transforming people’s bodies, and Antonio is very skilful. When he made Zorro, he had a very old trainer – the same trainer that Errol Flynn had – and he said that Antonio was the best actor that he had met. He knew what to do with a sword; he was the best, very physically agile.” Whether suturing cuts of genetically tailored skin, splicing DNA or coiling wire around the infantile limbs of a bonsai tree, Robert’s delicate, precise touch is in equal parts chilling and mesmerising. But there’s more to this reunion than a steady grip. “I really wanted Robert, even though he is evil, to look really good. I wanted to have someone very suave and dapper – and Antonio is still very attractive. Okay, he’s knocking 50, but he still looks really great; he looks normal in the character he plays. It was time to go back and offer him a role again, and I was lucky that it was the same time that he’d decided that he wanted to come back and do another film in Spain, in Spanish.”
As well as the opportunity to team up with an old friend, the character of Robert enabled Almodóvar to broaden his horizons and explore new ground; namely science-fiction, a genre alien in his catalogue of fiery romance and domestic melodrama. Though ostensibly a Frankenstein body-horror, The Skin I Live In is underpinned by real science. In an early scene we see Robert grafting a patchwork of prosthetic skin in a Kubrickian laboratory, deep in the bowels of his Toledo mansion (where the action has been relocated). At this point we know nothing of his sinister intent. Almodóvar is simply setting the scene; relishing every measured pinch of a pipette, every Petri dish stain, hoping to catch the birth of some genetic miracle. With the conversation turning to transgenesis, Almodóvar’s eyes widen. “Right now transgenesis, this genetic therapy, is being used in practically everything – apart from in human beings,” he explains. “Although people are aware that it could be used, it could be something that could be so helpful in getting rid of all
these illnesses, to help cancer patients. But there’s a massive moral question mark over therapies like this because if we actually started using it for human beings then we will be able to decide exactly how future human beings will be; what their children will be like. We’ll be able to pick their characteristics and I think once that happens then that will take us into a whole new area. “If you think about history, all throughout history human beings have suffered from disasters – normally caused by people who are just off their heads, absolutely crazy people. Just imagine Hitler, what he would do if he had the power to use something like transgenesis to create a world made to measure to his ideals.” Almodóvar shivers at the thought, composes himself and gets deeper. “If that ever starts to happen then where will the existence of God be? What about Creation? Transgenesis will almost wipe them away completely. I don’t know to what extent the code of conduct that exists now for people who perform bioethics can stop this happening, but I think science will move forward. “Even if people have reservations now about the direction it will go in, I think it will carry on and maybe in 50, 60, 70 years time people will start to use these therapies and then God and Creation will disappear from the whole picture.” But what of his own beliefs? Does Almodóvar live in fear of transgenesis, or is he ready to embrace it? “It’s a really delicate matter. If transgenesis is being used for good, for these so-called miracle children that can be healthy because they are able to get transplants from members of their family, then it’s really something that should be fundamental for treating fatal illnesses. But I’m so afraid that people will not use it properly, that there’s a possibility that people will design made-to-measure children. I don’t think we should be doing that. “On the other hand, it’s a very attractive idea to think that we may be moving into a future without religion. Not just Catholicism; what I mean is we’d have a religion-free world. In other words, no more of the negative connotations that religions have
028 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
in the world today. I think we’re all the product of chance. Once the life-giving cell is discovered, everything that’s perpetuated through religion will disappear completely. I think we’re on the brink of the dawn of a new type of mankind.”
The air around us is now charged. Almodóvar has just set out his stall and shared his most intimate political and philosophical views with startling candidness. These facets of his personality are ordinarily veiled by the rich idiosyncratic lustre of his films, or else instilled in subtle metaphors and disguised rhetoric. But that’s not to say he is shy about expressing them off-camera. Indeed, he has a reputation in Spain for showing his vitriolic disdain for many of the country’s foremost political figures of the past three decades. He heavily criticised José María Aznar over the former leader’s foreign and cultural policies – culminating in a public apology in 2004 for comments he made about the behaviour of Aznar’s Partido Popular following the Madrid bombings on March 11. The cine elite has also felt Almodóvar’s scorn. In 1985 he attacked the Cannes selectors for, as he saw it, their blatant snobbery towards Spanish cinema. Perhaps it’s no surprise that it took him the best part of 20 years to pick up his first Palme d’Or nomination (he’s now a regular fixture at Cannes: Volver, Broken Embraces and The Skin I Live In have all screened In Competition). It’s no coincidence that it has been Almodóvar’s most recent films that have exalted him as an auteur of transcontinental appeal, however – The Skin I Live In is his most ambitious film in years. And yet there’s an insecurity obscured by this effortless masterclass in filmic composition, with Almodóvar admitting that butterflies still gather when the time comes to call ‘acción!’ on a new project. “When I start shooting a new film I never feel that I’m really able to go ahead and get through it. This is film number 18 – I should feel confident and comfortable with what I’m doing but you never have that certainty when you start. I don’t have
that certainty when I start a film because a film is a living being itself, it has a life of itself, and it’s full of other people as well. “Those people can also influence the direction that the film moves in and you have to be constantly keeping tabs and making sure you’re in control of the film in case it’s been led elsewhere. I think [François] Truffaut summed it up really well: he said it was like being on a runaway train because the brakes have failed and the director is the only one who can stop that train going off the tracks. That’s how it feels sometimes. How’s it going to turn out? You just don’t know. “What I do know is I’m going to give it my all,” he says emphatically. “I put my whole heart and soul into a film, 24 hours a day. I completely devote my life to making that film and that should give you some confidence about the way things are going to turn out. The other thing that I’m absolutely certain about is I still feel passion for filmmaking; I still feel the same passion as I did when I made film number one.”
That Almodóvar was an anarchic extrovert who exploited cinema as a means of provoking social change. He’s softer, more strategic now. The feminine intuition that gave his early Super 8 shorts and unreleased 1978 feature Folle... folle... fólleme Tim! such potent flavour has been diluted over time. The subjects and characters that fascinate him most – family, love, power, rapists, prostitutes, transsexuals, psychopaths and victims – are still there, just less assertive, less palpably grotesque. Though Almodóvar dismisses the notion that age is a tourniquet for creativity, have the margins of his passion shifted? “I’m still working with the same freedom that I’ve always worked with and the same passion, but passion when you’re more mature is completely different to when you’re young. When you’re young you’re thoughtless and you’re carefree and passion can be something you can embrace, like when you fall in love. Now that I’m older I’m aware of the passion that I feel. If you’re 25 and you fall in love
030 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
with someone, you just go ahead and take it and run with it. When you’re older you still feel that passion, that love, but you’re weighed down by the pressure of all the uncertainty around it. Adult passions are not the same at all.” This self-awareness has unquestionably fortified Almodóvar’s filmmaking ideology, yet he still describes each film he makes as a ‘learning curve’; a means of compiling his myriad ideas and inspirations into a cohesive form that’s anchored by an insatiable lust for knowledge. As our discussion continues down this self-reflexive avenue, Almodóvar skims over The Skin I Live In’s influences in tangents. Given the time, you get the sense he’d happily deconstruct every scene. Georges Franju’s 1960 Eyes Without a Face and Don Siegel’s original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers are offered as more direct points of reference, while Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel season the mix. Nods to underground comics (Almodóvar is, after all, a transmedia master: he cut his teeth with the experimental theatre group Los Goliardos while penning articles for counterculture magazines and later mainstream periodicals such as El País under the pseudonym ‘Patty Diphusa’), Cold War thrillers and silent film noirs (“I really wanted to make something along the lines of a Fritz Lang black-and-white movie”) follow. There are doubtless many others. These influences, by Almodóvar’s own admission, have not always been transparent in his work.Yet a final panorama of his office reveals a man of extensive taste – books on Paul Verhoeven and Michael Mann proudly intersperse hardback spines etched with ‘Maruja Mallo’, ‘Miquel Barceló’, and other more obvious local dignitaries. His films may chime with a Celto-Hispanic language all of their own, but his devotion to cinema extends far beyond the contours of La Mancha. Still, for the moment Almodóvar seems wholly content at home. And why not? This unpretentious innercity sanctuary has nurtured his imagination since 1986 and it looks set to stoke his creative passion for many years to come. No wonder he named it ‘El Deseo’: it means ‘desire’
P e d r o
A l m o d ó v a r
Spa n i s h
f i l m ,
s p o t l i g h t ,
c h a r a c t e r i s e d H e r e ,
t r a c k
t h e
h i d d e n
i t s
c o u n t r y ’ s
h i s t o r y b y
m o s t
f r o m
e x p e r i m e n t a l t h e
W o r d s
032 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
m a y
b u t ,
a n d
A l m u d e n a
f a m o u s
t h e
t e n d e n c y
h a s
a l t e r n a t i v e r e m e m b e r
E s c o b a r
f a c e
i n t e r n a t i o n a l
L ó p e z
l o n g
c i n e m a .
i t s
h e r o e s .
he international perception of Spanish cinema is a procession of singular figures – a vision of individuals blessed with a particular genius fuelled by romantic passion and other exotic Iberian stereotypes. Almodóvar, Víctor Erice, Julio Medem, Bigas Luna: all are well-known creators of an imagined Spanish film culture. Less is known about the others; the ones who are hidden, the visionaries who keep the motor of the dream factory running. They move against the current, from coast to coast, opening new routes within these apparently unconnected islands. Theirs is the cinema of the senses, which investigates new ways of seeing and thinking. It is a long-distance cinema that gains new significance and visibility with time. This is the story of those anonymous historical orphans, looking for a place where they can be fairly remembered.
The poet Antonio Machado talked in 1913 about ‘two Spains’; one that was stretching and getting ready, and another one that was barely opening its eyes to the rest of the world. The first one – liberal, progressive, cosmopolitan – was mainly situated around the urban centres where an imminent middle-class was starting to develop its own leisure culture. While the other remained traditional, highly illiterate, living off the land, ignorant of the effervescent cultural life in the cities. The sediments of this other way of creating moving images were in the more culturally advanced of the two halves. The pre-filmic germ was the Student Residence created at the beginning of the century in Madrid. Here,
fundamental personalities of the Spanish cultural world such as García Lorca, María Zambrano and Salvador Dalí, among other major names of the Spanish Silver Age, had congregated since 1917, when Luis Buñuel joined the circle. The importance of Buñuel as a filmmaker is widely known. Although his Surrealist works are mainly French productions and hardly influenced the Spanish film panorama until later, his personality at this embryonic stage was pivotal. In 1927, Buñuel began organising screenings of French avant-garde films at the Residence – the starting point of the first Spanish film club, which Buñuel also coordinated. This film club, together with the magazine La Gaceta Literaria (The Literary Gazette) planted the seed of a new aesthetic attitude, which drew together three generations of intellectuals in Spain (the Generation of ’98, including Antonio Machado; the Generation of ’15 personified by liberal philosopher Ortega y Gasset; and the Generation of ’27). These sessions were similar to the screenings seen at museums and art centres today. They featured debates, poetry recitals and live music, in addition to the presentation of the film. This model was reproduced throughout Spain as numerous cine clubs began to appear nationally. It was in La Gaceta Literaria that Dalí described cinema as ‘the most unreal way of expressing reality’. Although they were late, new winds were beginning to blow in the Iberian Peninsula. The Second Spanish Republic in 1931 changed the course of this alternative ship. The new cultural openness allowed foreign technical improvements and the creation of critical spaces; however, the cine clubs became a collection of different political positions and cinema started to show a higher objectivity
as a result of the crisis. Social cinema, together with documentary, became dominant in the national scene (Buñuel made Las Hurdes in 1933). In addition to the late arrival of this potentially good base for the future development of an avant-garde cinema, it was also prematurely restrained by the Civil War in 1936.
After the interlude of the war came a long period of dictatorship (1936-1975) when the country was under the authoritarian control of Francisco Franco. The film industry was in pieces; the government heavily influencing production through a rigid system of censorship. Within the limited film industry of Francoist Spain, amateur film clubs were one of the few circles where it was possible to see any experimental tendency. These homemade films in Super 8 became a laboratory in which directors could create a new cinema that didn’t have to deal with the same censorship as feature films. One director, José Ernesto Díaz-Noriega, is considered the ‘father’ of Galician cinema. He was part of the Amateur Film Club of A Coruña, and although his films didn’t deal with big issues in terms of narrative, they showed an interest in technically experimental visual effects. He was the reference for all Galician filmmakers; a living cinema school. His house was a film institute, with a collection of clandestine copies of American films. “He didn’t do industry, he did poetry,” is how Marcos Nine described Díaz-Noriega in a recent documentary about his life. But although well known at the time, he didn’t make any ‘real’ (that is, 35mm) films and was quickly forgotten. Not everything was amateur; there were other positions that connected with the ideological
034 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
and aesthetic seeds planted during the ’20s. Indeed, periods of repression tend to give rise to intelligent critical discourse, where cinema can avoid controls and become visible to the public. In the last decades of the dictatorship, the screen started to be understood as an open space for the exploration of human sensations, and form became a representation of certain political or aesthetic ideas. Today, José Val del Omar is reappearing after many years in the shadows. His cinematic experiments from the late 1920s included work with bionic optics and lasers. Val del Omar formulated the concept of PLAT (Picto-Luminic-Audio-Tactile), which materialised in different techniques such as the ‘tactile vision’ used in his Tríptico Elemental de España (Elemental Triptych of Spain) – a visual poem and work of art that truly moved the audience. While Val del Omar was based in Madrid, the second centre of alternative cinema was the Basque Country, where an industrial middleclass showed interest in the arts. As in the rest of Europe, these other prophets were linked to the art and music scenes. They were interested in the image, presenting an abstract, absolute cinema originating from Constructivism and the Abstract-Expressionist aesthetic. Key figures include the sculptor Jorge Oteiza, the painter José Antonio Sistiaga, and Javier Aguirre, who researched the concepts of time, space and perception with his anti-cinema. But it is Sistiaga who is the fundamental figure in understanding the development of the experimental moving image in Spain. He introduced the work of Canadian animator and director Norman McLaren, and was interested in the dynamic dimension of painting. Through his camera-less animation technique,
Sistiaga found in cinema the ideal medium in which to bring alive his abstract expressionism. The other front, in terms of revolutionary moving images, was Barcelona. Pere Portabella was without a doubt the shooting star, whose tail is still visible today. He revised established codes, presenting different ways of making cinema and questioning the mainstream market. Moreover, his efforts as a producer of controversial and pivotal Spanish films such as 1961’s Viridiana, as well as less known experimental projects by musicians and artists – together with his political work during the transition period – makes him a clear example of the importance of these stowaways and their continuous fight against the main cinematic and, in this case, societal structures. His work shows as well how it was possible to create an anti-establishment cinema in the apparently grey and quiet days of the dictatorship in Spain.
The arrival of democratic Spain brought new impetus to the cinematic scene. The political apparatus of the country made it possible to talk about ideological and social issues without having to avoid censorship, but it didn’t bring any formal changes. Nor did the new legal structure improve the precarious production and distribution situation for alternative Spanish cinema. Although minimal, experimental video creation in Spain was still alive and trying to catch up. In 1977, Eugeni Bonet, Eugènia Balcells and Manuel Huerga founded Film Video Informació (FVI) in Barcelona in an attempt to promote avant-garde production. FVI became the first effort to institutionalise the independent experimental Spanish cinema,
proposing critical methods and historical research about the subject, as well as bringing information about the international scene to a newly democratic Spain. The visionary instinct nowadays has been reallocated to different spaces. On the one hand, a new generation of filmmakers like José Luis Guerín is making cinema that reformulates narrative codes, but it is sadly more appreciated and distributed internationally. On the other, new filmmakers such as Elías León Siminiani or Oriol Sánchez are doing progressive work with video and digital. The voyage hasn’t finished. In Spain there are still many ports in which to dock. Opened in 2002, the Xcèntric film centre at Barcelona has become the first Spanish archive dedicated entirely to experimental moving images, offering an open space for filmmakers and curators, and promoting the exchange between international experimental scenes. Other centres offer alternative film programmes, such as La Casa Encendida or the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. There are also film festivals dedicated to new approaches to cinema such as L’Alternativa in Barcelona, S8 Cine Periférico in A Coruña, or the festival Punto de Vista in Navarra. There are even artist-run distribution companies dedicated to exploratory filmmaking in Spain, such as Hamaca or Playtime. Andrés Hispano and Antoni Pinent, curators of the season ‘From Ecstasy to Rapture: 50 Years of the Other Spanish Cinema’ that recently ran at Tate Modern, wrote that ‘the recognition of avant-garde art in Spain has two possible directions: foreign countries or the future’. Now the future is here and the current crop of artists are finally able to reflect on the past, and this journey that shows how these islands are connected
036 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
F r o m
g l o w - i n - t h e - d a r k
m o n k e y s , l a t e s t k e y
d o g s
j e l l y f i s h
x e n o t r a n s p l a n t a t i o n
F r a n k e n s t e i n u n l o c k i n g m i s s t e p W o r d s
n e w
i n t o b y
s c i e n c e . m e d i c a l
t h e
J a m e s
ou are 5’9”, weighing 13 stone. Every day you eat a nutritious diet. You exercise daily – running, jumping, lifting and stretching. Your body is a temple. So the doctor breaks the news slowly: you have a rare heart defect and, like many others, you are on a long transplant list. You’re going to die before you get your turn and there’s nothing you can do about it. Except, now, there is. While in recent years scientific scare stories have centred on nightmare visions regarding the ethical concerns of stem cell research, it’s xenotransplantation that has proved the most intriguing, and potentially controversial, of all modern-day medical breakthroughs. According to official NHS figures, more than 10,000 people in the UK are waiting for a transplant. Of these, 10 percent – three a day – will die before they receive an organ. However, through xenotransplantation, the process of harvesting organs from transgenic animals, a lack of donors could become a thing of the past. The procedure involves introducing a foreign gene into a living organism – which could be anything from a pig to baboon – in the hope that it will eventually exhibit a new property in its gene sequence and transmit that property to its offspring. It’s delicate and complicated stuff, but potentially xenotransplants could alleviate shortfalls around the world and save thousands of lives by increasing the number of available donor organs. “Right now, there just aren’t enough hearts for all the patients who need them,” Dr Barry Starr of Stanford’s Biomedical Sciences programme explained to a visiting student. “Many people die while they’re on the waiting list and clearly we need a new supply of hearts;
m o r a l
t h e t h e
m a r v e l s , m a z e ?
W r i g h t
pigs may be just the supplier we’re looking for.” So what are we waiting for? “Unfortunately, there are lots of problems with putting pig hearts into humans,” he continued. “First off, our bodies hate pig hearts. Our immune system immediately attacks it, like trying to get rid of a foreign invader. Rejection is a big problem with all transplants, even the human-to-human ones; patients need to take medicine that weakens their immune system for the rest of their lives just for it to work. But a pig’s heart is just too different for this medicine to work. This is where genetics can help. Scientists are trying to make pig hearts our bodies won’t reject by fiddling with the pig’s genes. “A second problem,” revealed Dr Starr, “has to do with hidden viruses. Animals have harmless viruses [called ‘endogenous retroviruses’] that hang out in their DNA. These viruses don’t infect other animals and are passed down from parents to children. But we don’t know if the viruses will stay harmless if they’re moved into another animal. This means we don’t know what pig viruses will do in people; it’s possible they might do nothing and stay in the pig heart. The worry, though, is that they might spread into the patient’s cells and make the patient sick. The even bigger worry is that they might gain the ability to move easily from person to person. Then we’d have a worldwide epidemic on our hands. We might have another case like the Spanish Flu that struck right after World War I. That virus probably came from a bird and it killed 25 million people worldwide in a single year, so scientists, rightfully, need to do everything they can to make sure it won’t happen.” “There are also real moral and ethical issues here,” argued Alan Berger, Executive Director of the Animal Protection Institute, in a panel
“ M i l l i o n s s e e
a n i m a l s
b l o w s
o u t
s h o u l d
h i s h e
a n d
u s e d
p e o p l e i n
l i v e r
a b l e
b l o w
t h a t
discussion on xenotransplantation. “Do we want to create a genetically altered species? Remember, we’re creating an animal that’s genetically altered slightly to be closer to humans. Do we want that species to be a container for spare parts that can be used by humans? “Millions of people don’t want to see animals used in research,” he continued. “We should spend more money on prevention and public health programmes rather than researching transplants, which only benefit a minority who can afford them. If a person blows out his liver by being an alcoholic, should he be able to get a pig’s liver and blow that out, too?”
With animals being used for medical science since Ancient Greece, providing cures for everything from leprosy to malaria, it’s a tough task for activists to completely stop animal experimentation without a knock-on effect to humans. But it’s more recent experiments that have people worried. Dolly the sheep was undeniably a giant step forward, but could she glow in the dark? Cloned back in 2009, Ruppy the Puppy is one of five beagles that produce a fluorescent protein which glows red under ultraviolet light. The puppies were created by infecting canine protein cells with a virus that inserted the fluorescent gene into the cell’s nucleus. Shortly afterwards, scientists transferred the nucleus to another dog’s egg cell, which had already had its nucleus removed. Eventually, researchers were able to implant the cloned embryo into a surrogate mother whose offspring were born with the fluorescent gene. Remarkable? Revolutionary? Pointless? “What’s significant in this work is not the dogs expressing red colours, but rather that we planted genes into them,” Professor Lee Byeong-Chun told the Associated Press. But as fantastic as it may be to own a portable glow-in-the-dark dog, the question being posed by many people is what significance these experiments have. “The overall objective of the programme is to learn about the root causes of diseases,” explained Dr Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
038 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
d o n ’ t
w a n t
r e s e a r c h . b e i n g g e t o u t ,
t o p e r s o n
a l c o h o l i c ,
p i g ’ s
l i v e r
t o o ? ”
Likewise, Chemyong Ko at the University of Kentucky stated that these puppies should be considered a “proof-of-principle experiment” that could “open the door for transgenic dog models of human disease.” Ruppy isn’t the only scientific animal wonder to surface in the last 10 years. There have been everything from cows yielding human milk and mice resistant to both spontaneous and artificially induced tumours, to genetically engineered monkeys spliced with jellyfish that glow under UV light. In 1997, after Dolly burst onto the scene, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and physician Charles Krauthammer noted in Time magazine that many people would start having ‘Frankensteinesque thoughts’. That prediction has come true. The real test of these transgenic experiments will come when studies have shown that they can be successfully utilised in human procedures. Based on previous evidence, that could still be some way off. The last xenotransplantation into humans was completed in 1992, when surgeons from the University of Pittsburgh transplanted livers from baboons into two human recipients with advanced hepatitis B. Patient one lasted only 70 days after surgery, and the other just 26 days. Equally horrifying was the death of Jesse Gelsinger in 1999. Gelsinger was the first person publicly identified as having died in a clinical trial for gene therapy. A team at the University of Pennsylvania was attempting to cure the 18-year-old’s genetic disease, known as ‘ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency’, an X-chromosomelinked genetic disease of the liver, which affects the body’s ability to get rid of ammonia. He died from multiple organ failure just four days after starting the treatment. No one knows how long it will be until the promises of sporadic experiments and radical scientists come good. Are we on the brink of ‑a possible cure for genetic diseases? Will there be a wealth of donor organs available for the very first time? In the meantime, the debates that rage will be largely hypothetical. Ali G once asked: “What about if you could clone Foxy Brown? I bet you wouldn’t say no to that?” We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it
HHHH TimeOut New York
‘FUNNY AND TOUCHING’
‘DELIGHTFUL AND MOVING’
‘CHARMING AND UNEXPECTED’
Mark Adams, Sunday Mirror
Kate Muir, The Times
‘GENUINE WARMTH AND REAL HEART’ Red Magazine
Matthew Leyland, Total Film
EWAN McGREGOR CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER MÉLANIE LAURENT
THIS IS WHAT LOVE FEELS LIKE.
IN CINEMAS JULY 22
I n s p i r e d F r a n k e n s t e i n p e o p l e
P e d r o
t a l e ,
t e l l
A l m o d ó v a r ’ s a s k e d
a b o u t
t h e i r
m o d e r n
b u n c h
m o v i e
g r e a t e s t
f e a r .
P e d r o A l m o d ó va r Director, The Skin I Live In
Colin firth A c t o r, T h e K i n g ’s S p e e c h
I’m claustrophobic. Being trapped in a lift would be my Room 101. I get in lifts, I make myself do it, but it’s always at bay. It’s happened to me a couple of times, and it’s something I do have a problem with.
Ma l c o l m McD o w e l l Actor, A Clockwork Orange
This is my greatest fear. Talking to you about bloody... What was the thing called again? ‘Little White Lies’? I just hope this is going to be around in the next year...
Nicolas Winding Refn Director, Dr ive
I’m frightened of anything that goes fast and spins around. Or anything that’s physically dangerous – anything that makes me dizzy. Ryan [Gosling] tricked me into going on some adventure ride at Disneyland. I thought I was going to have a fucking heart attack. I literally thought I was going to die. For an hour afterwards I couldn’t feel my legs. It was fucking horrible.
A u d r e y Ta u t o u Actress, Beautiful Lies
What is my greatest fear? Ah! No. I don’t actually want to say it because I’m so suspicious. It’s the fear of saying my fear.
040 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
041 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e
042 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e A N D
A N D
B O D Y Y E T
P E R V E R S E ,
E T H E R E A L L Y
A R E
H U M A N
S E D U C T I V E .
P R O V O C A T I V E
T H E
S H A P E - S H I F T I N G
D E C O N S T R U C T I O N S
N U D E S
V I S U A L M A C A B R E
J E A N ’ S
A R T I S T
J A M E S
T A I W A N E S E - A M E R I C A N
T h e p e r v e r s i t y i s s h r o u d e d i n b e a u t i f u l , f a c i l e d r a w i n g , w h i c h k e e p s i t p a l a t a b l e . I ’d p r e f e r t o b e o b n o x i o u s a n d o f f e n s i v e , b u t i t ’s n o t i n my n at u r e . T h e s e i m a g e s a r e wove n t o g e t h e r f r o m t h e i m a g i n at i o n , a s t r e a m o f i m a g e s t h at i n c l u d e s f l owe r s , f u n g i , succulents, wedges of ear th, skeins of spaghetti and body par ts. There is no preconceived sketch – I star t these directly on the page a n d l e t t h e m a r k s g r o w i n t o a j u n g l e o f i m a g e s t h a t h i n t a t a s t o r y. I c o u l d b e m i s t a k e n , b u t I b e l i e v e t h e m a j o r i t y o f a r t i s t s a r e per ver ts, and that inspiration springs from the seat of per versity; that smooth stretch of consciousness between the balls and ass.
H o w w o u l d y o u d e s c r i b e t h e s e i m a g e s i n y o u r o w n w o r d s ? T h e r e ’s a s o r t o f n o n - t h r e a t e n i n g p e r v e r s i t y t o t h e m – where does the inspiration come from?
044 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
There is cer tainly a divide between the ar tist I aspire to be and the ar tist I am. I didn’t expect my work to be so feminine, f o r e x a m p l e . I ’ m d r aw n t o wo r k t h at ’s c o n f i d e n t , b r u t a l a n d m i n i m a l , bu t my wo r k t e n d s t o b e d e t a i l e d a n d p r e c i o u s. A s a k i d , my drawings were violent and filled with muscles. But as I grew older, the weight of ar t histor y became more terrifying, and I became more fr ightened and embar rassed. Perhaps these petals and overlapping for ms point a way back into the womb.
Assuming you didn’t star t drawing like this as a kid, was it a strange kind of discover y to s e e y o u r o w n i n t e r e s t s t a k i n g s h a p e ? Wa s t h i s t h e s o r t o f a r t i s t y o u e x p e c t e d t o b e c o m e ?
In modern art, the body is deconstructed into oblivion: from Manet to Picasso to Duchamp to the end of painting. In its contemporary context, the nude is immaterial. The body is demystified and obsessively documented by porn, magazine covers and reality television. What can art do but reflect and transmutate this grotesque fascination with tits, tans and abs? Or it can completely ignore it.
How has the role of the nude changed in modern art? What does it mean today for artists like yourself?
046 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
I ’ m f a s c i n at e d a n d r e p u l s e d b y my ow n b o d y a n d t h e b o d i e s o f o t h e r s. I ’ ve a lway s b e e n a b l e t o d r aw we l l , a n d I t h i n k i t ’s f u n ny t h at a s an ar tist, I’m supposed to question whether or not I should draw at all, and whether or not I should retrain that ability in deference to a greater idea. Drawing creates an interesting and distor ted insight into the core of a person. That communication between mind and hand is corrupted and changed through surroundings, through time and the fallibility of the ner vous system. Ideas are transformed through t h e f r i c t i o n o f t h e wo r l d . B u t s o m e t i m e s a n a r t i s t c a n a c h i e ve a v i r t u o s i t y t h at s e e m s t r a n s c e n d e n t . M ay b e t h at ’s w h at I ’ m a f t e r.
Yo u r w o r k s h o w s t h e d i s r u p t i o n a n d m u t a t i o n o f t h e b o d y , w h y d o e s t h a t f a s c i n a t e y o u ?
Do you change your approach when youâ€™re working in fine ar t as opposed to fashion or editorial spheres?
048 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
I n b o d y
2 0 2 9 w i t h
D o n ’ t
y o u ’ r e a
l i k e
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inema has long prophesised the rise of the machines. From Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis, to the contemporary scifi spectacle of Terminator and I, Robot, we have imagined – sometimes with awe, more often with horror – an age in which artificial intelligence has surpassed our own. One man, however, is free from doubt. Behind the professorial manner, Ray Kurzweil is an agent of chaos whose predictions about the coming age of human-machine harmony have riled everybody from the academic establishment to the religious right. Inventor, futurist, transhumanist – Kurzweil is a cross between Thomas Edison and HG Wells. He envisages a world in which the body as we know it has outgrown the limitations of biology. Released from its cage of flesh, humanity will become a recombinant organism of artificial intelligence, machine augments and digital upgrades, unleashing our full potential for the first time. Fuelled by the exponential growth of technology, we will reach this event horizon in 2029 – when human and machine intelligence intersect on an evolutionary curve. Known as the ‘Singularity’, it marks the point where artificial life forms –
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machines, robots, computers – effortlessly outpace the capabilities of the human race, offering us a stark choice: extinction or transcendence. So he’s a kook, right? Well, no. What’s striking about Kurzweil is that he’s no Terence McKenna, dropping acid in the jungle and returning with theories of human consciousness. He’s terrifyingly rational and has the track record to back up the big predictions. He made his name in the ’70s and ’80s with inventions like the flatbed scanner, before amassing a fortune in the computer industry. He first articulated the Singularity in 1990, in The Age of Intelligent Machines, the book that put his decades of research and development into a fresh context. All those inventions now seemed part of a concerted effort to make the Singularity happen. Kurzweil wasn’t just a prophet – he was an architect. His aim is to drag us, single-handedly if he must, up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – the foundation stone of developmental psychology that envisages mankind moving towards a moment of selfactualisation. ‘What a man can be,’ Maslow wrote, ‘he must be.’ To believers, this flowering of creativity and consciousness is a moral imperative. But for the apostate, this transcendence looks very much like transgression.
LWLies: Your ideas about the Singularity and a post-human age are hugely controversial. Do you understand why people are sceptical? Kurzweil: I’m definitely used to it. I constantly encounter people who haven’t heard ideas along these lines. They have contempt for the notion that our species is unique in its ability to transcend biological limitations. People have been rationalising their philosophies about things like death and ageing for millennia, and these ideas are not easily dispensed with. You’ve faced a lot of criticism, some of it ethical, some religious, but much of it from people who simply believe that your timeline for the Singularity is unrealistic. I actually welcome intelligent criticism, of which there’s been relatively little. The majority are ad hominem attacks that have nothing to do with the ideas. What about Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly’s comment that it’s ‘convenient’ that the Singularity will happen just before you die? Kevin is thinking linearly. Halfway through the Human Genome Project people started panicking because it had taken seven years to complete one percent of the genome, and they believed that therefore it would take 700 years to complete the whole thing. But they were ignoring the fact that progress is exponential, not linear, and as such the whole project was finished seven years later. I recognise that my conclusions are surprising, but I didn’t start this a week ago; I’ve been making predictions for over 30 years that have tracked very well.
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What will the Singularity actually mean for humanity? Our intelligence is directed at having a body; that’s part of our conception of being alive. But we can have different kinds of bodies – we’ve already experimented with that in terms of virtual reality. The essence of what I’m predicting is that the distinction that we make between virtual reality and everyday reality in terms of realism is going to disappear. Similarly, the distinction between biological human intelligence and artificial intelligence is going to disappear. Look at Watson [the IBM supercomputer famous for beating champion contestants on game show Jeopardy]. Critics have emphatically argued that AI isn’t at human level because of this or that mistake Watson made, and I agree: it’s not there yet. My prediction for the Singularity is 2029, and we’re not at 2029 yet. But Watson nonetheless trounced the best two human players in the world – it actually scored higher than the two of them put together – because whatever level of intelligence it did have, it combined with the tremendous skill and accuracy of a computer. You and I could read all of Wikipedia, but we wouldn’t remember much of it, and we wouldn’t be able to recall it all in a few seconds. Watson has read all of Wikipedia, plus various other encyclopaedias, and remembers it all, and can access it extremely quickly in a way that does have human levels of understanding. Computers will eventually be able to go out and read everything on the web, billions of pages, and truly master human knowledge. That’s a very powerful combination.
Same with virtual reality and virtual bodies: soon we’ll be able to have different bodies for different situations, we’ll have millions of virtual environments that we can explore, and they won’t have the cartoon-like quality of [online role-playing game] Second Life; they’ll be highly realistic. So it’ll be an expansion of our world. We’ll still be limited by our imaginations, but they’ll be expanding also. People say we’ll lose our humanity, but that is the essence of humanity in my view: the ability to transcend limitations. We didn’t stay on the ground, we didn’t stay on the planet, and we didn’t stay within the limitations of our biology.
a hair-trigger. But overall I’m optimistic that we won’t destroy ourselves completely.
I’m not saying we’ll lead lives without limitations: we’ll still be up against the limits of human knowledge, even if they’re greatly expanded. That’s where our struggle will be, as it very much is today. But very little of human activity was devoted to expanding human knowledge a hundred years ago – back then it was about surviving and meeting the basic demands of daily life. So we are moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, at the highest level of which we seek beauty and transcendence.
There are certainly downsides – I’ve actually written in great detail about them. Bill McKibben of the Relinquishment Movement wrote a book called Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, basically arguing that we should not pursue artificial intelligence, nanotechnology or biotechnology because of the dangers. I disagree with Bill’s prescription for addressing these problems.
You’re also exploring the darker, more pessimistic sides of the post-information age. This isn’t a utopian idyll that you’re describing. I have a reputation as an optimist, which I suppose is fair in the sense that optimism isn’t just an idle speculation about the future, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I think you have to be an optimist to be an inventor or entrepreneur. But I’m not oblivious to the dangers. I’m optimistic that we’ll make it through without destroying civilisation – which doesn’t go without saying, because even as we speak there are still 20,000 thermonuclear weapons that could wipe out all of humanity on
I’m less optimistic that we will completely avoid painful incidents along the way. A future populated with warring groups of humans enhanced with AI is obviously a worrying possibility, which is all the more reason to put the necessary safeguards in place as soon as possible. How realistic are the warnings from those who envisage a future in which humans are subjugated by the machines they create?
Relinquishment [the idea that there should be a moratorium on technological progress] is a bad idea for three reasons. Firstly, it would deprive us of profound benefits: I think we have a moral imperative to try to cure cancer, for example, and overcome the suffering that still exists in the world. Secondly, it would require a totalitarian government to implement a ban on technology. And thirdly, it would force these technologies underground, where they would actually be more dangerous, and the responsible scientists we’d be counting on to create defences against abuses wouldn’t have the tools to do so. My prescription is for ethical standards to prevent abuses or accidental problems. The Asilomar guidelines in biotechnology are a good
example: there have been no significant accidents in the 30 years that biotechnology has existed, and more importantly we’ve developed rapid responses to detect and counteract people who will try to be destructive. Another good example of where we’ve done that successfully is in the field of software viruses. If we’d simply sat back and assumed that no one would do something so antisocial as create a software virus then the internet wouldn’t have lasted a week. Instead we have a structured immune system that detects and reverse engineers viruses, and then virally spreads antidotes across the web. It’s been a very robust, reliable, decentralised system. Technology has always been a double-edged sword: fire kept us warm and cooked our food, but was also used as a weapon of destruction, and it destroyed both accidentally and on purpose. These new technologies are even more powerful – a biological virus could be designed to be highly communicable, stealthy and deadly, and spread across the world before you noticed it. Nanotechnology will eventually be self-replicating, and artificial intelligence can of course ultimately be destructive. If something much more intelligent than you is bent on your destruction then that’s not a good situation to be in; the only answer would be to get another AI on your side, one even more intelligent. But [AI researcher] Hugo de Garis’ concept of an ‘Artilect War’ – a war between those who choose to enhance themselves with AI and those who choose not to – is absurd. It would be a pretty short war, kind of like a war between the American military and the Amish. That’s not to say that a world filled with weapons fused with AI – which exist already, because a lot of cutting edge weapons today have in-built AI – isn’t a potentially destructive scenario. The greater danger is a conflict between groups of humans,
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all of whom are enhanced with technology. I’m definitely not oblivious to that, but that’s also where my optimism comes in. I am optimistic that we won’t destroy ourselves; I’m less optimistic that we will avoid painful incidents along the way. How is your health? Have you recovered from your congenital heart problem? I recovered from that pretty quickly and was back at work within a matter of weeks – it really wasn’t that big a deal. I don’t claim to have a perfect body, but I do believe we can transcend a lot of the problems that we have. So far I’ve been fortunate in facing biological challenges that I have been able to overcome, but I’m not guaranteed. I might well encounter something tomorrow that we don’t have a ready answer for, and I might have to invent something entirely new on the fly. But none of this will ever be guaranteed: even when we’re able to back up our mind files, there’s nothing to say they’ll be accessible forever. If you go back and try to read a bunch of old files on a format like WordStar you might find that the format is no longer supported – the helpdesk is abandoned and the computers it ran on don’t exist anymore. That could be exactly the same sort of problem we face with our own minds. There’s a philosophical component: information only lives if somebody cares about it, and to the extent that we consider ourselves to be information – which I do – we can only continue to live if we care about ourselves. People that don’t care about themselves don’t live very long. I’m obviously motivated by life and what we can do with it, and that encourages me to live longer. It’s no accident
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here’s a moment in Robert Zemeckis’ black comedy Death Becomes Her when Isabella Rossellini’s character — a vain Hollywood beautician who has unlocked the secret of immortality — explains why women attempt to rejuvenate themselves with plastic surgery. Life, says Rossellini, “offers us a taste of youth and vitality, and then it makes us witness our own decay.” The only way to offset life’s cruelty, she maintains, is by reversing its effect on our bodies. The words of that 1992 flop will strike a chord with any actress of a certain age working in Hollywood today. Does the camera not exploit youth and vitality, before recording the body’s decay with its unflinching, highdefinition lens? Surely that’s why plastic surgery is so common amongst actresses approaching middle age – the flame-haired Australian with the curiously inexpressive features, say, or the once-kooky romantic-comedy mainstay whose lips now resemble a novelty pillow. Not for much longer, perhaps. Signs are pointing to a revolution in Hollywood against the tyranny of surgical perfection. It began in 2010 with a simple casting call for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which made headlines by barring actresses with breast implants from auditioning. Top casting agents quickly emerged to say they were now telling talent agents to discourage actors from having rejuvenative surgery. Margery Simkin, who cast Erin Brockovich and Avatar, told New York
Magazine that Hollywood’s gatekeepers weren’t interested in a cosmetically altered ‘look’ anymore. Producers and directors chimed in, too. “Ten years ago, actresses had the feeling that they had to get plastic surgery to get the part,” Shawn Levy, director and producer of the Night at the Museum movies, told The New York Times. “Now, I think it works against them.” If anything, that backlash has intensified in recent months. Juliette Cohen, a talent agent based in New York, confirms that casting agents now routinely send back photos of actors with obvious enhancements with a ‘do not use’ note taped to them. “I have to tell [my clients] not to get these things done,” she says. “Agents just won’t accept it anymore.” Mindy Marin, casting agent for Up in the Air and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, confirms that Hollywood is on the hunt for authentic-looking, natural stars. “It is far more compelling than looking like the replicants everyone does with plastic surgery,” she says. Francene Selkirk, who cast Dodgeball and now works as a casting agent for commercials and TV movies, agrees. “I do try not to bring in people whose faces look overly ‘done’,” she says. “Today’s directors don’t like it.” But what kind of surgery are we talking about here? And is this just Hollywood having a fit of pique before going back to the surgically enhanced norm?
Having your face ‘done’, as Selkirk calls it, can mean anything from a facelift to rhinoplasty (a nose job) or Botox, the supposedly invisible treatment that burnishes wrinkles and unsightly lines with a simple injection. “I can spot it immediately, in a photo or in a screen test,” says Selkirk. “Especially the collagen on their mouths. You want to say, ‘Did you look at yourself in the mirror before posing for this photo?’”
But actors have been having surgery for years. patients if the procedure they have requested will The vogue for rhinoplasties during the 1980s make them look different. Most of the time with and ’90s changed the faces of everyone from people in the entertainment industry, that’s the Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey to rom-com queen last thing they want.” Jennifer Aniston. Why is Hollywood reacting For top-flight actors and actresses, having against it now? “There’s a trend for reality, for surgery is a process of maintenance rather than a natural look, in the movies today,” says Cohen. a quest for improvement. “When actors become Today’s generation of leading men, she says, famous, they have a certain look,” says Miller, are known just as much for the character of their “and with age, there’s the risk of that going bad.” faces as their inchoate beauty. “Look at someone Hairlines may recede, folds and lines on faces like Jesse Eisenberg,” she says. “Fifteen years ago, may deepen or crease, and brows may thicken. would he have been a leading man in something “Our job is to maintain their look in such a like The Social Network? Of course not. It would manner that their distinctive features, the things have been Brad or Tom [Cruise] or Johnny that make them a star, never disappear.” [Depp].” Of course, traditionally handsome Miller, who has a lot of experience working actors are still among Hollywood’s most bankable on actors and television personalities, scoffs at stars – think Ryan Reynolds or Bradley Cooper – the idea that Hollywood’s leading ladies and but actors like Eisenberg, Seth Rogen and Jason gentlemen will suddenly quit their surgeons for Segel are just as likely to be alongside them. good. “Are you kidding?” he says. “It’s ubiquitous. Technology has played its part, too. HighWhen you see these actresses accept their Oscars definition television and film not only highlights or their Golden Globes or whatever and they any flaw or imperfection on a person’s face or thank their agents and the studio, we’re always body, it ruthlessly shows off scratching our heads going, the unnatural smoothness ‘Why aren’t you thanking us “ I t ’ s u b i q u i t o u s . and abnormal dimensions too?’” Good cosmetic surgeons, W h e n y o u s e e t h e s e of surgical enhancements. he says, play as essential a role as a c t r e s s e s a c c e p t It’s a little-known fact that publicists or managers in keeping t h e i r O s c a r s o r t h e i r the producers of Avatar stars on the front of magazines or G o l d e n G l o b e s a n d discouraged casting directors on the top of marquees. t h e y t h a n k t h e i r from selecting actors and Any talk of a backlash is a g e n t s a n d t h e actresses who had used a symptom of our celebritys t u d i o , w e ’ r e a l w a y s Botox treatments. Why? obsessed media, he argues. s c r a t c h i n g o u r h e a d s Because James Cameron’s When young starlets are shown g o i n g , ‘ W h y a r e n ’ t sophisticated motion-capture enhancing their breasts to y o u t h a n k i n g u s t o o ? ’ ” technology – the same cartoonish proportions on reality technology that is supposedly TV, it gives an unrealistic idea set to change the future of movies – requires faces of its popularity and lack of quality. On this that are able to express anger, doubt, weakness point, Selkirk agrees. “That kind of surgery isn’t and every other human emotion that Botox wipes everywhere,” she says. “You see it a lot when away. “The faces have to move,” one animation you’re casting for bikini models, but not when supervisor said. you’re looking at the average actor.” But what difference does a little surgery Even if talk of Hollywood imposing a blanket actually make? Is it really that apparent? Cohen, ban on plastic surgery is premature, there are the talent agent, thinks so. “Beauty, the way still encouraging signs of a change of heart. we see it, has a natural symmetry,” she says. Think back to Death Becomes Her. It’s notable Surgery can’t replicate that. “The human mind that, in the 20 years since the film’s release, the recognises it as false, as something not real.” leading ladies who played its surgically obsessed No matter how good a job your plastic surgeon stars have become two of the most naturally has done, she argues, the average human being aged sixty-something beauties in Hollywood. will always be able to tell. Meryl Streep has resisted the urge to reshape “That’s not quite true,” says Dr Philip her aquiline features with the surgeon’s scalpel, Miller, a New York-based facial plastic surgeon. while Goldie Hawn proudly wears the wrinkles It all depends on how much and what kind of and freckles of a life lived in the California sun. work you have done. “Some facial work, Botox “Natural beauty will shine through,” says injections and the like, it’s so non-invasive it’s Selkirk. “Laura Linney, Holly Hunter, they’re really no different to having a facial,” he suggests. the same. They work out, they live healthily and The plastic surgery ‘victims’ who crop up in they look great. I think, maybe, that generation Heat magazine or on gossip blogs will have had of actresses is thinking twice. They’re not the repeated surgeries, sometimes against the advice exception anymore – and Hollywood is sitting of their doctors, says Miller. “I always tell my ‑up and taking notice.”
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Last Year in Marienbad Directed by Alain Resnais Starring Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoëff Released July 8
ere’s a riddle: if you took the horror out of The Shining and Triangle, the comedy out of Groundhog Day, the science-fiction out of Inception and Source Code, or the stopmotion grotesquerie out of the Quay brothers’ The PianoTuner of EarthQuakes, what would be left? The answer is Alain Resnais' 1961 Last Year in Marienbad, an enigmatic mind-melt that sends characters and viewers alike on a chronologyconfounding loop down labyrinthine corridors – and up garden paths – in pursuit of a (re)solution that, even after it has been found, remains elusive and ambiguous. There is the passion and pain of a classic love triangle, the intrigue of a mystery, there are even hints of a rape and possibly a murder – but all these sensationalist thrills are buried deep beneath a calmly reflective surface of staid, chilly perfection. Here, the pleasures of genre remain tantalisingly out of reach, even if one or two of the characters yearn for something, anything, to break the ice. In a baroque hotel, as guests gossip in hushed tones about a past scandal and last summer’s impossibly frosty weather, an intensely earnest man (Giorgio Albertazzi) woos an elegant, languorous
woman (Delphine Seyrig), repeatedly insisting that they had not only met in a previous year, but also fallen in love, and even planned to leave together. At first she denies remembering him or an affair, but over the course of what might be days, weeks, years or an eternity, his words draw her out of her oblivion into complicity with his memory – or is it fantasy? Meanwhile, the woman’s cadaverous husband or guardian (Sacha Pitoëff) observes this courtship with grave resignation – when, that is, he is not challenging all comers to an absurd game of wits that he always seems to win. As the woman is both confused and gradually seduced by a suitor who seems all at once mesmerist, abuser, Theseus-like rescuer and Orpheus-like resurrector, we too become lost – not just in the maze-like hallways and trompe l’oeil perspectives that Sacha Vierny tracks in his exquisitely fluid cinematography, but also in the web of echoing words and recurring scenarios that make the screenplay (the first by Alain Robbe-Grillet, pioneer of the nouveau roman) such a dizzying modernist construction. Heavily laden with décor from the past, peopled with stuffy haute bourgeoisie (whose discourse and gestures are on occasion literally frozen), and stuck in
a 1920s that apparently never ends, Resnais’ rococo resort is a monument to the claustrophobic trappings of cinéma de papa. Unlike, however, his fellow surfers of the French New Wave, who were breathlessly demolishing every received value of filmmaking, Resnais prefers a more nuanced approach to cinema’s heritage. For, his film suggests, those who simply forget the past are doomed to repeat it; set adrift, like his undead characters, in a haunted hall of mirrors where nothing new ever happens. It is a nightmare of entrapment, but nightmares are rarely so graceful, so stately and so utterly ludic. Anton Bitel
Resnais’ classic gets better with ever y viewing.
As elegant in its symmetries as it is perplexing in its paradoxes.
In Retrospect. A l a b y r i n t h i n e enigma of chillingly perfect construction.
James Marsh Monkey Business
Filmography James Marsh Project Man on The Wisconsin Death
Nim Wire King Tr i p
(2011) (2008) (2005) (1999)
Interview by Martyn Conterio
riter Franz Kafka wrote a short story titled A Report to an Academy, in which an ape discusses his life experience having been taken from the wild and taught human traits and language by his masters. Despite the inherent absurdity of such a premise, James Marsh’s new feature documentary, Project Nim, explores a university research project which took place in the 1970s based on ideas of nature versus nurture, and ambitions of communicating with our closest cousins. As wacky as it sounds today, back then it was an exciting, radical idea – with the likes of Noam Chomsky’s ground-breaking 1968 book Language and Mind paving the way. It was against this backdrop that Columbia University psychology professor Herbert Terrace took a newborn chimpanzee from its mother and cheekily named him Nim Chimpsky. The subsequent experiment – steeped in academic and ethical controversy – failed in its objectives to humanise and educate Nim, but changed the lives of those involved. Before he came to the project, Marsh had never heard of Professor Herbert Terrace, Nim Chimpsky or Elizabeth Hess’ 2008 book Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human. It was producing partner Simon Chinn that brought the material to his attention. He was hooked. “I found it completely gripping as a narrative, and my first reaction to it was, ‘This is a great story with so many unpredictable twists and turns.’ It seemed to be this benign language experiment about nature and nurture but then goes off into all kinds of different realms.” Having read the book it didn’t take very long for Marsh and Chinn to start planning a feature documentary. There were, however, obstacles to overcome. “I started talking about it immediately and went about trying to option the book and get in touch with all the key players in Nim’s story. There were two criteria we had: will people talk to us and what footage was there of Nim to construct his life story?”
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Having directed two acclaimed docudramas – 1999’s Wisconsin Death Trip and 2008’s Man on Wire – Marsh understood how he could manipulate the format to include fictional recreations of actual events at various stages where historical and dramatic gaps needed to be filled. The opening scene, shot with the tension of a thriller, reconstructs the moment Nim was taken from his mother at the Oklahoma lab where he was born. “The opening scene is very transgressive as it goes against nature. It is an abduction, where Nim is taken from his mother and given to a human mother. We opened with the scene which is perhaps the original sin of the story.” Despite the heaviness of the topic Marsh found the experience of directing the film a smooth process until the editing stage. Start to finish, it took the best part of two years. Having managed to get all the participants involved, he was then faced with mountains of footage. “It was tricky in terms of structure. In fact, it was very hard to find a balance between Nim’s story and this human story which unfolds around him while keeping the focus on Nim and his chimp point of view. The human dynamics are an interesting part of the story. The wealth of material meant a lot of compression was involved to make the story into a 90-minute film.” This ‘human story’ frequently gives Project Nim its shock factor. Marsh conducted interviews himself, which took between five and six hours to shoot individually. One scene, which is likely to induce a collective audience gasp, is the moment Nim’s human mother, Stephanie LaFarge, admits to breast-feeding the chimp and developing a sort of erotic bond, which borders some very dark territory. “I want to immediately leap to her defence. There was no textbook on how to be a mother to a chimp and she followed her instincts,” says Marsh. “When you find out she breast-fed him and begins to have quite a sensual relationship with him, it does seem a bit kooky when isolated in the film, but she did her best and there was no road map. She brought
him up as if he was her child, perhaps, to a fault. You can certainly misinterpret what she was trying to do. When she’s talking about giving him a joint, I don’t think that’s any fucking weirder than putting Nim in a classroom and teaching him words. I’m sure he preferred a beer and a toke on a joint.” Alongside some incredibly candid interviews, Marsh’s film is strikingly unsentimental despite the emotive issues it presents. “I think the story carries with it many interesting ideas. Many of which we don’t get into. I was focused on narrative: how do we come out of this as human beings? I didn’t want to make those judgements. There were judgements the film makes implicitly about the conduct of the experiment but I didn’t want to make simple-minded moral judgements. The story is way too complicated for that.” Marsh realised the audience would provide their own ideas and extract what they wanted from the story. “The film will speak for itself,” he says. Admittedly, he does have his own personal opinion, but didn’t want to clog the film with it. “Herbert Terrace’s question on language was a very simple one but a very reductive one: can a chimpanzee use grammar? People had a rich communication with Nim but it didn’t always involve sentences and grammar. I think Terrace missed a whole level of communication that was a bit more interesting.” For inspiration and reference, Marsh sought out Robert Bresson’s 1966 classic Au Hasard Balthazar, the story of a suffering donkey, which acted as an allegory for Christian virtue. Project Nim isn’t quite the same thing, but it provided a guiding hand. “Most filmmakers don’t own up to immersing themselves in other works, but I do. Bresson’s film – the clarity is a wonder to behold. It was useful to go back and watch it. It has such a bracingly unsentimental depiction of animals and doesn’t project any warm, human qualities. It was important I didn’t anthropomorphise Nim and fall into that trap.”
Project Nim Directed by James Marsh Star r ing Bob Angelini, Ber n Cohen, Reagan Leonard Released August 12
ames Marsh, director of ace documentary Man on Wire, again utilises narrative techniques more associated with fiction to produce a startling and eccentric biopic. With a curiously Dickensian sweep, Project Nim explores the sinister power structure that develops when a chimpanzee is chosen to lead a potentially revolutionary language experiment. Psychologists may have given the ape a cute name and treated him with love and affection (at least during his years of infancy), but Nim was first, foremost and forever a ‘project’. Fated to live an inauthentic life away from his own kind, he endured a tragic journey from cradle to grave, dying of a heart attack aged 26, alone and despondent. Professor Herbert Terrace, head of the Primate Cognition Laboratory at Columbia University (and the closest thing to a villain the film possesses), took a baby chimp from its mother at his research lab and placed it with a wealthy family in Brooklyn with the intent of raising the ape as if it was a human baby. Of course he wasn’t a well-behaved child. Manipulative, strong and even bullying, Nim Chimpsky would trash their house at any given opportunity. The second phase would be to note intellectual development and abilities taught through sign
language. The big question was this: would the chimp demonstrate clear ability and put together a grammatical sentence to express inner thoughts and experience? Or would Terrace and his team get no further than a real-life case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’? Marsh’s approach as director is to remain detached and non-judgemental, even if audiences are unlikely to be so restrained. However, as Marsh refrains from offering a moral message or even editorial condemnation, that very neutrality becomes a key strength of his film. Another major success is how deftly these complex issues are handled. Mixing archive material, retrospective interviews, dramatic recreations, Super 8 and home video footage, Project Nim rolls along an inevitable course as activists, conservationists, psychologists and scientists give their expert opinions and recollections. Gradually, two things become clear: all were profoundly affected by their time with Nim, and hindsight is a bitch. Shunted from pillar to post, animal sanctuary to medical lab and, finally, to a home for neglected animals, Nim made a painful transition from cute baby to fully grown, unmanageable, unwanted adult.
Reunited with his first ‘human’ mother, Stephanie LaFarge, later in life, Nim proceeded to bash her head repeatedly against the cage wall. How’s that for unambiguous communication? There’s a great deal to take in and at just over 90 minutes the film feels short. The sometimes selfjustifying statements and sheer illogic of supposedly clever individuals will no doubt rile some, and deserved (perhaps demanded) more rigorous deconstruction. Even those who genuinely loved the chimp seem unable to grasp certain ethical points. Maybe poor Nim wasn’t the sole casualty of this unfortunate affair. Martyn Conterio
Can James Marsh top Man on Wire?
He triumphs again. The life and times of Nim Chimpsky make for an extraordinary and tragic tale.
In Retrospect. O n e o f t h e b e s t documentaries of the year.
The Salt of Life Directed by Gianni Di Gregor io S t a r r i n g G i a n n i D i G r e go r i o, Va l e r i a D e F r a n c i s c i s , Alfonso Santagata Released August 12
he Salt of Life is baked from the same spongy dough as Gianni Di Gregorio’s previous film, Mid-August Lunch, which saw him playing a jovial doormat charged with hosting a soirée for a group of elderly ladies. This new one feels like a sequel, with Gianni now feeling the melancholic pangs of a future without sex; his fear of a waning libido spurring him on to prove his manhood and sow his wild oats once more. As such, Di Gregorio has his character haplessly saunter through a garden of female temptation, and when urges are not flared by the phalanx of buxom beauties in his constant orbit (specifically, his touchy-feely neighbour, and his elderly mother’s scantily clad nursemaid), we’re given innuendofilled shots of plump cherries and fizzed-up Champagne bottles.
If this provokes images of a leering Sid James carrying on, then that couldn’t be further from the reality. Di Gregorio unfurls his (admittedly feather-light) material with a satisfying, semiimprovised feel for the bittersweet comedy in everyday encounters. And while some may accuse him of presenting old age as nothing more than a descent into madness, he does so in a way that provokes feelings of empathy rather than scorn. The comedic highlights of the film are, once again, Gianni’s dealings with his mother (Valeria De Franciscis), a leathery-skinned harridan with a heaving bulb of peroxide blond hair and a tenuous grasp on the extent of her liquid assets. While she is, in no uncertain terms, shown to be appalling, there is an affectionate bond between the pair, which suggests that Gianni’s hot pursuit of amorous action could simply be an attempt to prove his worth to his daffy old mum.
It lends the oddly out-of-kilter soundtrack used for the climatic moments – ‘Here Comes Your Man’ by The Pixies – a touching ambiguity. Alan Mack
is simply too trusting of his new companion, whose magazine-model appearance makes him stick out among the prison’s cavalcade of criminals, which consists of cocky Colombians, Basque separatists and cartoonish, mumbling goons. Such local fl avour is welcome, entangling the messy protocol of a riot in touchy regional politics. Indeed, as the vested interests outside the prison exploit the uprising to their own gain, our erstwhile innocent hero’s worries and intentions gradually fall more into line with the criminals than the law. That said, these moments are little more than emotional froth, whipped up by director Daniel Monzón’s pursuit of an effective thriller, with unflinching violence, copious twists, and meticulous destruction of the prison set, which by the end resembles a desolate war zone. Cell 211 subverts the expectation of its haunting prologue, where an anonymous prisoner opens his veins with a blade moulded from flame-sharpened
cigarette filters. Reminiscent of last year’s other Euro-prison film, A Prophet, in retrospect it shows Cell 211 to be less concerned with poetry, than it is with punch. Michael Leader
Anticipation. T h e
d i r e c t o r ’s delightful debut was a smallscale sleeper hit.
I f t h e r e ’s a m o r e wistful and easygoing comedy this year, it will have been an amusingly low-slung 2011.
In Retrospect. I t d o e s n ’ t s h o w a director evolving, just one happy to do what he does well.
Directed by Daniel Monzón S t a r r i n g L u i s To s a r , A l b e r t o Ammann, Antonio Resines Released July 15
he prison is one of the more potent backdrops for onscreen drama, and the list of iconic jailhouse films is longer than most attention spans. The mixture of enforced containment, community and introspection offers a fertile melting-pot for stories that run from the personal to the political, the poetic to the gut-punch visceral. The Goya award-winning Spanish thriller Cell 211 is more of the latter. Hoping to make a good impression before taking up a job as a prison officer, youthful Juan (Alberto Ammann) asks for a tour of his new workplace – which, as luck would have it, occurs during a full-blown prison riot. Abandoned by his employers in the eponymous cell, Juan is soon brought before the ringleader of the uprising, the towering Malamadre (Luis Tosar), with only his wits for protection. It’s a rather unlikely set-up, and it isn’t helped by Juan seeming a little too cool and resourceful under pressure. Likewise, despite a remarkably idiosyncratic performance from Tosar, which veers from menace to unnerving warmth, Malamadre
062 T h e S k i n I L i v e I n I s s u e
Anticipation. W h o
can argue with an armful of Goyas?
Po l i s h e d a n d brutal in equal measure, with one beguiling performance and some novel national details, yet unsubtle and contrived nonetheless.
In Retrospect. T h e t w i s t y plot soon gets knotted, but in the process shows a deeply broken system born of violence and corruption.
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The Guard Directed by John Michael McDonagh Starring Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham Released August 19
t’s not often a character swaggers onto the silver screen with such an air of cool, such self-assured aplomb, such a winning beer belly, that only one word will suffice to describe him. That word is ‘dude’, and the dude in question is Sergeant Gerry Boyle; played by Brendan Gleeson in John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard. While no one could live up to Jeff Bridges’ Big Lebowski blueprint, Sergeant Boyle is certainly the kind of guy you could imagine sharing a White Russian or a dirty joke with. This particular Irish policeman’s drink of choice, however, is Guinness – and plenty of it. Along with a penchant for hiring prostitutes and dropping tabs of acid confiscated on patrol, Boyle’s methods are far from orthodox. So when he’s teamed with straightedge FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to investigate an illegal cocaine-smuggling ring operating around the Emerald Isle, the result is Lethal
Weapon gone Gaelic. Whether it means watching him inappropriately grope a corpse for clues, or drink a whole milkshake in one go to assert his authority, Everett must patiently accustom himself to Boyle and the Irish way. In a hilarious clash of cultures and conduct, the loudest laughs will emanate from the absurd way both cops and robbers traipse around Ireland attempting to mimic the Americanisms they have adopted from television shows and pop culture. A pastiche of both American metropolitan and Irish agrarian values, The Guard is a high-octane world of drug-smuggling, dollar bills and explosions, frequently interrupted by shaggy dogs, small-town racism and dodgy dealings with the IRA. The film even ends with a Mexican standoff that unabashedly pokes fun at audience preconceptions of crime dramas while cleverly upholding the thrill of the kill that the genre demands.
With the exception, perhaps, of Nicolas Cage’s mercenary cop in last year’s Bad Lieutenant, the unlikely (yet strangely likeable) antihero has been a much missed archetype in recent years. Though his physique is careworn and his comments cringe-worthy, Gleeson’s Boyle offers a defi ant and triumphant return. Zara Miller
American cop show meets the Emerald Isle. W h a t ’s t h e c r a i c ?
Enjoyment. The craic is grand.
In Retrospect. T h e f u n n i e s t action comedy for a long time.
Poetry Directed by Lee Chang-dong S t a r r i n g Yu n J e o n g - h i e , Lee Da-wit, Ahn Nae-sang Released July 29
here is something about blank pages – or empty screens – that demands we fill them with a bit of ourselves. This is why writer’s block has proved such a common narrative vehicle in films that deal with the creative process itself (think Barton Fink, Adaptation. and Swimming Pool), dramatising their own imaginative construction of something from nothing. In Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry, sprightly sexagenarian Mija (Yun Jeong-hie) must face her own blank page. Having just joined a community poetry course in pursuit of a talent that was recognised – and then abandoned – when she was still a schoolgirl, Mija is instructed to write a poem by the end of the month. Inspiration does not come easy: her struggles with self-expression are hampered by the early symptoms of dementia, while her efforts to find beauty in everyday life are seriously challenged by the discovery that her feckless teenage grandson Wook (Lee Da-wit) played an ugly (and
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unrepentant) role in the recent suicide of a 16year-old girl. Yet from all her feelings of sorrow and loss, guilt and regret, Mija will write her first – and quite possibly last – poem; a song of innocence and experience that will, as one of her fellow poets puts it, “create a forest of empty void.” In Mija’s first poetry lesson, the teacher holds up a simple apple, telling his pupils, “If you really see something, you can feel something naturally.” Such naturalism also governs the poetics of Lee’s film, where heightened aestheticism, special effects and even a musical score are eschewed in favour of an unfussy focus on the ordinary, leaving us to locate our own feelings in all the blank mundanity of Mija’s life. Korea’s best known actress, Yun Jeong-hie, returned from a 16-year retirement to play Mija, and her performance anchors the entire film. Yet, paradoxically, the film’s final sequence derives its emotional impact from her absence. “Where has
she gone?” the teacher asks, when all that remains of Mija is poetry. As with all poetry, this is best appreciated by those prepared to read between the lines. Anton Bitel
Anticipation. T h e
name L e e C h a n g - d o n g ( Pe p p e r m i n t Candy, Oasis, Secret Sunshine) g u a r a n t e e s u n e a s y q u a l i t y.
Builds slowly but surely to its affectingly restrained conclusion.
In Retrospect. F r o m A l z h e i m e r ’s , r a p e a n d s u i c i d e , L e e h a s c r e a t e d r e a l p o e t r y.
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The Tree Directed by Julie Bertuccelli Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Morgana Davies, Marton Csokas Released August 5
harlotte Gainsbourg is screaming “SIMONE!”, and because it’s Charlotte Gainsbourg screaming “SIMONE!”, and Simone is her daughter, you expect Simone (Morgana Davies) to be in trouble. But Simone’s fine. The 10-year-old is sitting in a tree, talking to the ghost of her recently deceased father. The death wasn’t violent (heart attack, driving, crashed into the tree) and the ghost isn’t spooky (he may not even exist) but, again, as it’s Gainsbourg doing the screaming, something strange must be going on. In fact, nothing odd is happening at all. And that’s the weirdest, weakest thing about Julie Bertuccelli’s soft, semi-spiritual family drama. Gainsbourg – still fresh in the mind as the grieving, psychotic ‘She’ of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist – is really hard to accept as heartbroken Dawn O’Neil, a French émigré in rural Australia left to look after four kids in the aftermath of her husband’s death. She’s perfectly good in the
role, but she’s detached from it, too. With the death of Marton Csokas’ father figure, it’s as if we’ve lost two central characters in one blow, and it leaves the film hollow. Grief and reconciliation in the Australian outback made for fertile cinematic ground in Scott Hicks’ 2009 film The Boys Are Back, in which Clive Owen starred as a young-ish dad left to look after his kids when their mother dies. Both films suggest that, for the immigrant, there is something about the colloquial nature of the country that makes it hard for an outsider to survive. Dawn and Owen’s Joe are pitied – but not helped – by their neighbours, but while Joe’s rage against their condescension invigorates The Boys Are Back, Dawn’s drift into spaced-out depression enervates The Tree. Perhaps it’s ungracious to criticise an actor for failing to play against (recently acquired) type, but The Tree is essentially a two-hander (between
Dawn and Simone) with a hand missing. The supporting roles – a mute younger brother, an older sibling who wants to escape rural family life, the dishy plumber who offers Dawn a reprieve from her grief – need something to play against. Davies – excellent, but too young to carry a movie – can’t provide that on her own. Henry Barnes
Anticipation. T h e
is not promising.
Morgana Davies is great. Charlotte Gainsbourg is good, but ver y oddly cast.
In Retrospect. S l o w, o v e r l o n g and short on emotion.
A Separation D i r e c t e d by A s g h a r Fa r h a d i S t a r r i n g Pe y m a n M o a a d i , Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat Released July 1
his deceptively powerful movie by one of Iran’s finest directors starts out simply enough. Restless for a better life and frustrated by her husband Nader’s unwillingness to emigrate, Simin (Leila Hatami) moves in with her mother, leaving Nader (Peyman Moaadi) to cope with a young daughter and senile father. To watch over the old man while he’s at work, Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat,) a pregnant woman whose husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) is in and out of jail due to mounting debts. The first act presents an engaging picture of generally likeable people struggling to do the right thing in a world that hurtles along at a frantic, westernised pace. When Nadir’s father soils himself, Razieh calls a religious helpline to find out if it’s a sin for her to change his underwear. And Nader, despite the regular roastings he gets from Simin, makes quite sure his daughter grows up to be just as independent
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and capable by teaching her to pump petrol and stand up for herself. But the ‘separation’ of the title isn’t just between husband and wife. It’s also between classes, as represented by the well-educated, near-secular Nader on the one hand, and the unemployed, unskilled, godfearing Hodjat on the other.These are the also the lives they bequeath their children: one nurtured and with a future full of options; the other neglected and bound for the same drudgery as her parents. This division becomes apparent when Razieh has a miscarriage and Nader, held responsible and accused of murder, finds himself facing a possible prison sentence. The consequent claims and counterclaims see both families sucked into a frightening Kafkaesque bureaucracy. As the story unfolds, religion, honour and justice are all put under the spotlight. It’s a gripping experience, far from hopeless or depressing thanks to the precision of Asghar Farhadi’s writing,
the spryness of his direction and the generosity of his outlook, which can even spare a moment of sympathy for the police interrogator burdened with the case. The cast is uniformly excellent, adding to the appeal of this shrewd and subtle film. Julian White
Fa r h a d i ’s n a m e promises fine filmmaking.
Enjoyment. Yo u
warm to the characters, then fear for them as you come to understand w h a t ’s a t s t a k e .
In Retrospect. A m o v i e y o u ’ l l muse upon for new shades of meaning.
“VISIONARY CINEMA ON A HUGE SCALE... A MAGNIFICENT FILM”
PETER BRADSHAW, THE GUARDIAN
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY TERRENCE MALICK
GEOFFREY MACNAB, THE INDEPENDENT
IAN NATHAN, EMPIRE
KEITH UHLICH, TIME OUT NEW YORK
IN CINEMAS JULY 8
Super 8 Directed by JJ Abrams S t a r r i n g J o e l C o u r t n e y, E l l e Fa n n i n g , Ky l e C h a n d l e r Released August 5
he reason Steven Spielberg and Stephen King are two of the most beloved – and richest – storytellers of the modern age is because they tap into the hopes and fears of childhoods past. It’s a canny strategy. By speaking to the adults in children, and vice-versa, they win the hearts of the widest possible audience for the longest possible time. Nostalgia never dates. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Like a long-lost Spielberg movie glimpsed through a post-modern filter, Super 8, written and directed by Lost and Star Trek ace JJ Abrams (with Spielberg producing), is set in small-town ’70s America, and makes you feel woozy for your own Hollywoodised youth. The BMX bikes and unattainable girls; the bad hairstyles and worse shirts; the sparkler-lit adventures with a mismatched clan of friends (see The Goonies and It). It’s a time when, to borrow Wim Wenders’ phrase, America was colonising our unconscious; when the movie came ahead of the event or, at least, before we knew what we were being sold. If two of the biggest filmmakers in the world can release the blockbuster of the year without spoilers, we’re damned if we’re going to give the game away, so let’s just say this: Super 8 follows Joel Courtney’s clan as they shoot a zombie movie – and something more besides – on the eponymous camera. Framed with a cinephile’s obsessive eye, this is a film about falling in love with film. Often we watch Courtney and co shooting against ‘real-life’ backdrops that could only exist in a film, all in service of ‘production values’, as a mini Orson Welles played by Riley Griffiths is fond of reminding us. Meanwhile, George A Romero and make-up legend Dick Smith get fond mentions, while Courtney has a Star Wars TIE fighter swinging from his bedroom ceiling.
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But this is far from empty homage; Abrams’ script shows real heart and guts throughout. Absent mothers wreak emotional devastation far worse than any sci-fi threat (“She used to look at me this way… really look,” says Courtney as home-filmed footage of his mum sadly unspools before us, “and I knew I existed.”). Meanwhile the kids bicker and bitch, swearing like troopers and acting like they don’t know they’re in a movie – pretty rare in these stage-schooled days. There are also some great jokes nodding to the as-yet-unlived 1980s without breaking the fourth wall, a trick Back to the Future managed so well. Like King and Spielberg before him, Abrams recognises the shadows between the fairground rides – the painful truth that the people who are supposed to save us often can’t or won’t; that the disappointments we once felt so keenly may one day submerge our lives by stealth. It’s a thrilling, transporting experience that brings to mind a quote from King and Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12,” recalls Richard Dreyfuss, looking back across his life. “Jesus, did anyone?” The same could be said of films like this. Matt Glasby
Hollywood royalty and his heir apparent join forces.
Enjoyment. T h e
best blockbuster of its kind since the Spielberg era.
In Retrospect. We a r s o f f l i k e a w a r m c h i l d h o o d m e m o r y.
Hobo with a Shotgun Directed by Jason Eisener S t a r r i n g R u t g e r H a u e r, M o l l y D u n s w o r t h , B r i a n D o w n e y Released July 15
he second film to originate from the fake trailers created to promote Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse project (the first being the ridiculously entertaining Machete), Hobo with a Shotgun is an homage to ’80s exploitation thrillers in which subtlety and restraint is held in scant regard. The eponymous hobo (Rutger Hauer) finds himself in the delightfully named Scum Town. A haven of brutal beatings, degrading sex and sickening violence, it makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like Vatican City. At the centre of it all is the twisted Mr Drake (Brian Downey) who – along with his psychopathic sons, monstrous henchmen and a corrupt police force – keeps the few decent citizens living in constant fear. When he reaches breaking point, the hobo decides to fight back by (as the film’s tagline proudly proclaims) dispensing justice one shell at a time. Hobo is sick pantomime taken to an absurd degree. Its clichéd story – the stranger arriving in a corrupt town to clean it up – owes as much to the western as the horror genre, and in reality is little more than a hook for various grotesque
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characters and situations. Wondering whether someone is evil? Fine, let’s have them barbecue a school bus full of children just so you’re sure. Is that cop corrupt because he takes a sly bribe? No, it’s because he helped carve the word ‘scum’ into somebody’s chest. Yet this absurdity is also the film’s saving grace. From the palette of muted primary colours chosen to parody its ’80s grindhouse counterparts, to the neverending gobbets of bright red blood, Hobo is too ridiculous to take seriously and – by extension – to cause any serious offence. Of course those who are squeamish need not apply. There’s no ‘let’s turn the camera away and leave it to the audience’s imagination’ here. Body parts disintegrate and heads are reduced to pulpy mush, while lawnmowers and ice-skates are used in ways that the manufacturers surely didn’t intend. While the majority of the acting befits the film’s low-end aspirations, Hauer really gives it his all. After a decade of Euro-trash features and Guinness ads, it’s easy to forget that he possesses an amazingly charismatic screen presence. Here his performance
anchors the insanity and proves that, despite knocking on in years, he can still be a convincing action star. Nostalgia often forgives a multitude of sins, but director Jason Eisener has written a winning love letter to the lost films of his youth with enough humour and chaos to delight any fan of the genre. Laurence Boyce
I t ’s c a l l e d H o b o with a Shotgun. The hobo is Rutger Hauer. Epic win.
Enjoyment. Yo u
like gore? T h e n y o u ’ l l b e i n h e a v e n . Yo u don’t? What the hell are you doing watching a film called Hobo with a Shotgun?
In Retrospect. P r o v i d e s i t s target audience with exactly what they want while still being aware of just how silly it is.
A FILM BY ERIC LARTIGAU
BASED ON A NOVEL BY DOUGLAS KENNEDY
“THOUGHTFULLY AND SKILFULLY DONE. DURIS IS SUPERB” HENRY BARNES, LITTLE WHITE LIES
“DURIS DOMINATES AS THE RIPLEYESQUE ANTI-HERO” DAVID PARKINSON, EMPIRE
GETTING THE LIFE YOU WANT MEANS LOSING THE LIFE YOU HAVE
IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE JULY 22
Audrey Tautou Beautiful Canvas Interview by Zara Miller
aving confined himself to the carpeted walls of his Montmartre apartment for 20 years, Amélie Poulain’s brittle-boned neighbour passes his time repainting the same Renoir watercolour over and over. The one subject whose expression he has been unable to capture after all these years, however, is the young girl holding the glass. Today, curled in an armchair, wearing jeans and cupping a glass of water, Audrey Tautou is just as unassuming as she was in her breakout 2001 role. Although she has starred as many a pretty-Polly in France, and enjoyed a fleeting stint in Hollywood with conspiratorial blockbuster The Da Vinci Code in 2006, when the camera stops rolling Tautou is not one to revel in her stardom. “That’s my paradox,” she shrugs, “I love being an actress, but I don’t especially appreciate being in the spotlight; under the spotlight.” It’s a strange career choice for a wallflower, some would say. “But I love acting,” she insists, “because I love playing a part and sharing a story with other people. And I love the craft. Oui, yes, that’s what I like; to create a character. But everything around it? Well, it doesn’t really match my nature.” From her most recognisable role as shy do-gooder Amélie to her most recent role as Émilie, the matchmaking hairdresser in Beautiful Lies, Tautou’s parts have often mirrored this more aloof side in her nature. After the success of 2006 rom-com Priceless, director Pierre Salvadori wrote his latest script with Tautou in mind. But if the film is anything to go by, it would seem Salvadori has, like most of us, found it hard to shake the memory of Amélie when thinking of Tautou (who is now 10 years Amélie’s elder). Beautiful Lies sees Tautou swapping bow and arrow for comb and scissors in order to play cupid once again.
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Unlike Amélie, however, whose good deeds started with strangers, Émilie fixes her sights closer to home; unwittingly creating a love triangle between herself, an anonymous sender of love-letters, and her own mother. “She’s not as professional as Amélie!” laughs Tautou, who admits she didn’t find it hard to see the funny side to such a potentially tragic story. “Comedy is usually a tragic situation that’s done in such a way it makes us laugh,” she explains. “You always laugh about other people’s problems. Comedy is made on mistakes and problems and troubles. You will laugh because someone falls over the carpet. It’s Chaplin!” Falling head-over-heels is certainly the misfortune of the love-struck Jean, played by Sami Bouajila, but what happens when the girl is not only the apple of one’s own eye, but thousands upon thousands of eyes around the world? To be adored is an occupational hazard for the actress in the limelight, and one that Tautou tackles with characteristic nonchalance. “Of course I read all my own fan mail,” she swears, “but I’m quite far behind in replying.” And in this pile of letters (which one can only imagine must tower over the tiny five-foot three-inch actress), is there anything particularly memorable? “There was once a guy who composed some music and a poem for me, and he drove all the way from Greece to deliver it,” Tautou recalls. “I was extremely touched by it, but you have to keep a distance.” After starring alongside Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code, Tautou has managed to keep her distance from Hollywood’s advances, too. “Mainly because I had offers in France that really interested me first,” she reasons. “And also because I’m not someone who’s looking to be completely exposed in the way you are if you’re in a Hollywood film. I prefer to be in my quieter space, in my craft.”
Select Filmography A u d r e y Ta u t o u Beautiful Lies Coco Before Chanel Priceless The Da Vinci Code Russian Dolls A Ve r y L o n g E n g a g e m e n t Dirty Pretty Things Pot Luck Amélie The Libertine
(2010) (2009) (2006) (2006) (2005) (2004) (2002) (2002) (2001) (2000)
Turning her back on Hollywood’s amputating gaze, as well as the paparazzi flashbulbs that accompany it, has perhaps been a wise move for Tautou, who admits she prefers watching than being watched. Nonetheless, like the girl in Monsieur Dufayel’s painting, there is unarguably something about Tautou that catches the eye. Whether it is the impishness of an Amélie, the sultriness of an Irène, her character in Priceless, or the classiness of a Coco Chanel, it is Audrey who really gives very little away. She won’t reveal her greatest fear, nor which character she would most like to be remembered for. “It’s not for me to decide,” she shrugs. “It’s for the public to decide how they want to remember me; which character brought them the most happiness or pleasure.” Tautou is not, after all, the type of girl you will catch doing the can-can or twiddling her cane to the tune of ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’ any time soon. Unlike many of the eccentric characters she has played, Tautou does not act on impulse. Especially when it comes to her job. “It’s a personal thing. I don’t want something permanent on my body because I get bored of things too quickly,” she says, clearing up the question of whether her tattoo in Beautiful Lies is real or not. “But also because it clashes with being an actress. I need to disappear into the character.” Like the girl in the painting, tattoo-less Tautou is adamant that she must remain neutral. “I am everything that I have done, but it’s not my decision anymore how the public sees me. It doesn’t belong to me anymore. I’ve put it out there,” Tautou declares with the wisdom of a much older actress. Then, with the gusto of a child sticking out their tongue she adds: “And I don’t care!”
Beautiful Lies Directed by Pier re Salvador i S t a r r i n g A u d r e y Ta u t o u , N a t h a l i e B a y e , S a m i B o u a j i l a Released August 19
hat is Pierre Salvadori’s problem with Audrey Tautou? She may be France’s sweetheart and the face of Chanel, but Salvadori sees something less innocent beneath the sunny façade of Amélie. After casting her as a coldhearted gold digger in 2008’s Priceless, here the director envisages Tautou as a scheming narcissist intent on meddling in other people’s lives. Or does he? There’s a deep streak of ambivalence running through Beautiful Lies. Shot with glossy vitality against the backdrop of the Cote d’Azur, it sees Tautou struggle gamefully to play an everyday working stiff, Émilie, a hairdresser admired from afar by Jean (Sami Bouajila), her salon’s aloof handyman. One night, in a fit of romantic longing, Jean pens Émilie an anonymous love letter, only to watch, devastated, as she tosses it into a bin. But Émilie will retrieve that letter for her own purposes – sending it to her divorced mother, Maddy (Nathalie Baye), in an attempt to snap the older woman out of the midlife crisis that has brought her to a standstill. Though Émilie’s intentions are noble, crossed wires, desperation and some classic French farce will lead to a bizarre love triangle between mother, daughter and would-be suitor, in which everybody is trying to seduce the wrong person.
Émilie is a fascinating character – cynical, manipulative and callous, she mistreats both Jean and Maddy, while petulantly expecting forgiveness and love from them both. The question is whether Salvadori is truly aware of the monster he’s created. There’s something almost psychotic about Émilie’s capacity for deceit (including her selfdeception), but the film’s light-hearted grin never fades. Sticking determinedly to this playful demeanour, embodied by Tautou’s broad, ribald performance, Salvadori fails to interrogate the emotional devastation that Émilie wreaks. The script, co-written by Salvadori and his Priceless partner Benoît Graffin, is so self-consciously constructed, it begins to feel more like an intellectual exercise – a game – than a real human drama of loss, pain and betrayal. Sami Bouajila comes closest to realising the film’s darker implications with a subtly shaded performance that captures something of the anger and vulnerability beneath Jean’s apparently placid surface. He excels in a terrific scene with Tautou, in which Jean finally reveals his true feelings – trampled and tainted as they now are. Even then, having set up an ending that defies rom-com cliché, Salvadori drags the film
back towards convention with an epilogue that embraces unquestioning forgiveness rather than hard truths. That’s Beautiful Lies all over: flirting coyly with something bold and bitter and real, but retreating in the end into the comforting familiarity of fiction. Matt Bochenski
A u d r e y Ta u t o u and Pierre Salvadori are back together for the first time since the surprisingly good Priceless.
Glossy and gorgeous to look at, Beautiful Lies is a skin-deep examination of love and betrayal that intermittently entertains nonetheless.
In Retrospect. T h i s w a s a n o p p o r t u n i t y f o r Ta u t o u to represent a new kind of romantic anti-heroine, but nobody seemed to be interested.
In a Better World Directed by Susanne Bier S t a r r i n g M i k a e l Pe r s b ra n d t , Tr i n e D y r h o l m , M a r k u s R y g a a r d Released August 19
t’s rare that cinema treats an examination of masculinity in crisis with anything approaching sympathy. With one or two notable exceptions, films either resolve with a roll of the eyes or a stab at melodrama. In a Better World, however, treats the subject in a commendably complex yet perceptive manner. Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a doctor working in a Sudanese refugee camp who commutes between his (often dangerous) work and his Danish home. His estranged wife, Marianne (Trine Dyrholm), and older son, Elias (Markus Rygaard), struggle in his absence – and when Elias meets new classmate Christian (William Jøhnk Juels Nielsen) things threaten to take a dark turn. Christian has recently lost his mother and, faced with a seemingly ineffectual father, tries to find a new outlet for his conflicted emotions. The protagonists will be brought together when events begin to overtake all concerned.
Susanne Bier’s film examines the ways in which men are expected to act when confronted with a perceived injustice. Revenge? Retaliation? Forgiveness? The film offers no easy answers beyond the (unsurprising) conclusion that the inability of many men to confront their emotions causes them to act in damaging ways. The acting is superb, with Persbrandt offering a layered performance as Anton, showcasing both strength and vulnerability. Also excellent is Nielsen as the vulnerable and confused Christian, with a scary charisma for one so young. Bier, an excellent filmmaker, directs scenes that manage to be dramatic without ever resorting to staginess. However, there's a sense that the film sometimes overstretches itself. With one subplot focusing on Anton’s confrontation with a Sudanese warlord, and another on Christian and Elias’ painful
attempts to come of age, the narrative thread gets slightly frayed. Despite this small hiccup, In a Better World is a powerful slice of social drama told with flair. Laurence Boyce
Has a certain cache as a major awards winner.
Enjoyment. T i g h t l y
acted and well directed, though it sometimes tries to do too much.
In Retrospect. A c o m p e l l i n g coming-of-age story and an intriguing examination of n o t i o n s o f m a s c u l i n i t y.
Bobby Fischer Against the World Directed by Liz Garbus Released July 15
heckmate’. The one word the chess player hopes never to hear. Unless, of course, it is announcing his own victory. As Liz Garbus’ documentary reveals, this was usually the case for World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer. Considered a master of the mind games that rage across the board, tragically for Fischer he was less able to deal with the psychological battles that took place within himself. The film documents his rise from chess-obsessed young Bobby, to international chess star Bobby, to ‘slowly step away from the chessboard and put your hands in the air, Bobby.’ From the age of six through to his teens, Fischer was always more interested in pawns than porn. Though this obsessive pre-occupation would spawn a prodigal player, it also silently planted a seed of schizophrenia. Using archival footage and firsthand interviews with old chess champs, Garbus has compiled
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a history of Fischer’s life anchored by the most important match of his career – the World Championship decider against Boris Spassky of the USSR in 1972 that became a proxy conflict for the Cold War. Representing not only himself but the entire free world, Fischer plunges into a lonely post-match state of paranoia, depression and anti-Semitism – despite the fact that he himself was Jewish. At first Fischer retains a strangely likeable air, his curious charisma not just captured but magnified by Garbus’ portrait. As she delves into the latter part of his life, however, any fondness towards Fischer fizzles out. Whether he was preparing for the second coming of Christ, reading The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or sparking up a conversation about nuclear disarmament, Fischer’s extreme views were as black-and-white as a chessboard.
At times Bobby Fischer Against the World is about as riveting as, well, watching a chess match, but it does snap back the attention as it pries into his bizarre downfall. Zara Miller
Chess genius turned mentalist? Go on.
Enjoyment. W h o
would have thought chess has the power to send men to war with themselves?
In Retrospect. C h e s s ! W h a t i s i t g o o d f o r ? Pe r h a p s a t e l e v i s i o n documentary instead.
Studio Ghibli Image: Princess Mononoke © 1997 Nibariki – GND
6 – 31 Jul 2011
A season of groundbreaking Japanese animation including rarely screened gems Princess Mononoke, Grave of the Fireflies and Spirited Away. for all the latest news, Join us on special offers and competitions. Part of
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The Tree of Life D i r e c t e d b y Te r r e n c e M a l i c k S t a r r i n g B ra d P i t t , S e a n Pe n n , Je s s i c a C h a s t a i n Released July 8
ike Halley’s Comet, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life feels very much like the kind of cosmic spectacle that most good, law-abiding citizens will get to see just once in their lifetime. The term ‘masterpiece’ feels inadequate, both as down-the-line hyperbole and because it infers that the work we’re watching is operating on the same formal and technical level as that shiny, lovable mass we like to call ‘cinema’. And as you’ll realise very early on, that’s just not the case. It’s a film which, famously, cost more money to make than this sort of film ordinarily should do. It’s also a film that feels torn from the heart, an unqualified triumph of personal artistry that puts the abiding interests of its maker into crisp focus and overlays them with a rousing orchestral flurry. Yes, Malick may have come dangerously close to perfection in the past with his rhapsodic studies of innocence lost and found – Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The New World – but this new film feels like the purest and most perfect expression of his unique cinematic worldview. It arrives on these shores in a blizzard of hype and debate – the subject of both vicious critical pans and breathless decrees of stultified awe. It’s a hot potato, for sure, but the passion and ruthless articulacy with which most have defended/attacked it stands as a testament to a type of cinema which, to understand, enjoy and, hell, connect with on a profound spiritual level, does require a small leap of faith. The 1950s: the O’Brien clan of Waco, Texas, are an extraordinarily average bunch, and it’s the very humdrum nature of their activities, aspirations and personal interactions which supplies this film with its universal philosophical reach. Brad Pitt, making for a supremely melancholy presence as father of the brood, delivers a performance so guileless, so full of soul, that you can’t quite believe it’s him. His loving wife, played by radiant newcomer Jessica Chastain, is the free-spirited Yin to his suppressed tough-guy Yang, and the large part of the film is comprised of ornate, stand-alone snapshots of their lives, specifically the way they go about raising their three errant sons. Emmanuel Lubezki’s restless camera snakes around their house and across their front lawn, visually stockpiling emotional minutiae at the expense of straight scene after straight scene. Initially, these evocative fragments feel formless: they never coalesce into stand-alone anecdotes, actions are often shorn of reactions, nothing is manipulated into conventional drama. But context is paramount, and Malick doesn’t just want us to consume these
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moments on their own terms. Therefore, he escorts us on a swift excursion to the origins of the universe, an occasion visualised as an elaborate infusion of colour and sound that’s reminiscent of the abstract handpainted short films of Stan Brakhage and Len Lye. Some have suggested comparisons with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but this film is far more attuned to human experience. As stars gradually align, we bear witness to the first stirrings of life, the first family, and even – via an eccentric stand-off between two dinosaurs – the first instance of physical compassion. In this light, the seemingly meaningless exploits of the O’Briens take on an unbearable fragility. The Tree of Life is a glorious ode to the improbability of existence, a film of immense sincerity, which asks us to cherish the simple processes of living and loving. Sean Penn also has a supporting role set in the present day. He’s the weather-beaten second son who’s now fully grown and working as a hotshot architect. The film is framed as an amorphous blur of personal memories, making the fractured formal approach feel totally natural. Some have accused it of carrying an evangelical Christian undertow, but that is simply not the case. Everything we see and hear in this film is refracted through personal perspectives and juxtaposed against grand celestial backdrops. Any religious content is the result of Malick making sure that we’re seeing the world through the eyes of his characters. The politics, the sentiments, the ideology – all are theirs. In true Malick form, The Tree of Life does not advocate or refute religion as much as it offers a third way. Heaven exists, it says, and you can find it here on Earth. It’s the fields, it’s the streams, it’s the structures, it’s the sensations, the people, the sunshine – it’s the whole damn thing. There’s no way to like The Tree of Life in parts. It’s all or nothing. To put it in the vernacular of the film itself: every second counts. Alan Mack
Anticipation. No comment.
Enjoyment. See above.
In Retrospect. One for the histor y books.
The Devil’s Double D i r e c t e d b y L e e Ta m a h o r i S t a r r i n g D o m i n i c C o o p e r, L u d i v i n e S a g n i e r, R a a d R a w i Released August 12 s the opening scenes of The Devil’s Double cut from archival news footage to a palpably falselooking Iraqi desert, Lee Tamahori establishes the central premise of his film. This is a hall of mirrors in which we are repeatedly reminded that we can’t trust the evidence of our own eyes. Based on the true story of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier who became a body double for Saddam Hussein’s psychopathic son, Uday, The Devil’s Double is clearly intended to be a kind of knockabout nightmare; a bad trip through the Middle East of the late ’80s and early ’90s, as seen through the eyes of a bewildered bystander.What actually occurs on screen is a tone-deaf melodrama of abusive ugliness and poor taste. Dominic Cooper takes on the task of portraying both Uday and Latif, with only the tyrant’s buck teeth, squeaky voice and slicked-down hair to distinguish them. That, and the visible evidence that he’s been
digitally stitched into the frame. Cooper huffs and puffs to portray the manic energy and knife-edge insanity that made Uday so dangerous, but there’s something fundamentally inert about the performance. It’s an experiment that simply doesn’t work. Partly that’s because Latif’s narrative lacks drama. Yes there are the women, the nightclubs, the escape and retaliation. But compare it to the similar story of Nicholas Garrigan in The Last King of Scotland and a flaw becomes apparent. Garrigan was fooled by Idi Amin – for a brief but crucial moment he believed in the dictator. Latif never sees Uday as anything other than a monster; without that seduction, he has nothing to learn or to lose. In a broader sense, Tamahori has no interest in whether Uday – rapist, torturer, murderer – was a product of a system that permitted these abuses. Or whether, given the circumstances, there may
be an Uday in all of us. Instead, he is a reductive, cartoon villain – an Oedipal paedophile. You know you’re in murky territory when your movie’s voice of reason is Saddam himself. Matt Bochenski
Looks like a great stor y with a bold a c t i n g g a m b i t o n t o p.
Enjoyment. W h a t
is this exactly? What are these horrible c o m p o s i t i o n s ? W h a t ’s g o i n g o n ?
In Retrospect. O n e o f t h e ugliest films for a long time, visually and otherwise.
Beginners Directed by Mike Mills S t a r r i n g E w a n M c G r e g o r, C h r i s t o p h e r P l u m m e r, Mélanie Laurent Released July 22 espite hitting the age of 81, it seems that nothing is slowing down Christopher Plummer. He still manages to find bold, distinctive roles that dodge the stereotypical casting for old film folk, from voicing heartbroken grouch Charles Muntz in Pixar’s Up, to appearing in the title role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. While Beginners seems to be yet another showcase for the octogenarian – here starring as Hal, a widower who, in his final years, admits to his family that he’s gay – it is in fact surprisingly slippery, and somewhat disappointing. Beginners, the sophomore effort from Thumbsucker writer/director Mike Mills, focuses on Hal’s son, Oliver (Ewan McGregor), who subsequently has trouble coming to terms with his father’s death. Mills creates a psychological landscape, mildly Proustian in its associations, in which Oliver’s meanderings through the lives of both his parents fades into little glimpses of years prior. Meanwhile, in the present, he makes tentative moves towards his own emotional rehabilitation by courting a coquettish French actress (Mélanie Laurent).
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As if to remind viewers of his own indie pedigree, Mills ties together these threads with a brooding narration from Oliver, illustrated with his own faux-naïf sketches from a book called The History of Sadness, and slideshows providing historical context (“This is what pretty looked like in 1938!”). But these flashes of style are of a piece with the film as a whole: Beginners is too often superficial, unable to tease any insight out of its compelling central conceit. Perhaps it’s telling that where Beginners finds its most comfortable configuration of complexity is in those flashbacks, where Oliver’s parents’ own idiosyncrasies rise above quirkiness. Mary Page Keller deserves more than the very minor role she has here, as a wife and mother bored out of her wits, with her fanciful, impulsive relationship with Oliver hinting at an internalised torment. However, most delightful is Plummer. He revels in the camp of a character excitedly gobbling up a previously forbidden culture, but he especially shines when batting away the onset of cancer with
a still-handsome grin, without masking the mortality behind it. It is yet another prime late-period performance from the star. If only Mills had given us a more straightforward look at this man’s life, instead of merely examining the remains. Michael Leader
A strong cast, working with an uncommon concept.
Neither wholly funny nor fulfilling, Beginners drones along in a state of melancholic navel-gazing.
In Retrospect. D e s p i t e a stand-out performance from an old pro, it keeps the audience at a distance.
“A visionary, game-changing masterpiece” Robbie Collin, News Of The World
© 1988 MASHROOM/ AKIRA COMMITTEE. All Rights Reserved.
Super Directed by James Gunn S t a r r i n g R a i n n W i l s o n , E l l e n P a g e , L i v Ty l e r Released July 8
ou’ve gotta forget about that bitch, she’s a fuckin’ whore,” Frank (Rainn Wilson) is consoled after his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler), a recovering addict, leaves him for jovial drug dealer Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Frank, however, cannot forget – after all, the day of his marriage to Sarah was one of only two perfect moments in a life of otherwise constant pain, humiliation and rejection. To Frank, Sarah is an angel who needs to be saved. Inspired either by a vivid dream, a psychotic episode, or (as he believes) a divine vision, Frank becomes the Crimson Bolt, a red-suited vigilante on a mission. Armed with his trusty wrench, Frank puts into aggressive practice an uncompromising moral code, and is soon joined in this crime-crushing crusade by manic 22-year-old comic-shop clerk Libby (Ellen Page) who, in the guise of the exultantly ultraviolent Boltie, is all too ready to help. In Jacques, Frank will confront his final adversary – and also discover the meaning of his life. On paper, James Gunn’s Super might sound like a derivative inferior to a recent spate of films featuring nerdish would-be superheroes. Yet unlike its contemporaries, it is not based on a pre-existing comic source (although it is full of comic-book references), and was in fact written by Gunn back in 2003, before even the original comics behind Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World had yet surfaced. Not that, even back then, this zero-to-hero morality tale was penned in a vacuum. Gunn acknowledges the influence of, among others, 1984’s The Toxic Avenger by giving a cameo to Lloyd Kaufman, director and co-founder of Troma, the modern B movie’s spiritual home. Gunn himself had previously scripted The Specials – a madcap comedy about a second-rank superheroic ensemble – but Super offers humour of an altogether less comfortable variety. Comparisons to the cartoonish brutality
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of Kick-Ass are inevitable, but where Matthew Vaughn’s film played a wilfully duplicitous game, simultaneously condemning and celebrating its characters’ violence, Gunn refuses outright to make anything about Frank’s vigilante rampage seem slick, cool or sexy. Gunn includes many familiar superhero movie tropes, but denies us the usual pleasures associated with them (wish fulfilment, cathartic outlet for sense of injustice) by focusing unflinchingly on the arbitrariness, not to mention the bloody consequences, of Frank’s always questionable – and often questioned – actions. Frank is a whining, pathetic oddball with extreme prejudice – and Wilson, in a fearless performance, leaves us uncertain whether to sympathise with, or be repulsed by, this ridiculous schlub who bludgeons not just a queue jumper but also his understandably protesting girlfriend; who acts on prophetic visions that he sees in his own vomit; and who ignores pleas for mercy from a (literally) unarmed man. And yet Frank is, as Sarah tells him, ‘good’. Super is funny alright, but only because, in the moral and emotional disorientation that it so skilfully conjures, nervous laughter seems the only option. Bitchin’ unforgettable! Anton Bitel
Sounds super – but will it do more than just kick ass?
Comedic, confronting, confounding.
In Retrospect. Yo u w o n ’ t s e e a masked vigilante movie more morally responsible or edgy this side of The Dark Knight (which Super is nothing like).
Meet Monica Velour Directed by Keith Bearden Starring Kim Cattrall, Dustin Ingram, Br ian Dennehy Released July 4 or years, female stars in need of bolstering their integrity have sought refuge in the ‘no make-up’ film – usually an independent drama involving addiction, family crises or true stories – in order to inject some sincerity into their work. So it follows that Kim Cattrall, after years of dollar-generating success with the Sex and the City franchise, should try something supposedly more nourishing, quirky and earthy. That something is Meet Monica Velour, the debut feature from writer/director Keith Bearden, in which Cattrall plays the title character: a middle-aged, post-prime porn star in need of a guiding light. There is, however, a conflict at the film’s heart between vanity project and love letter to American kitsch. Lanky protagonist Tobe (Dustin Ingram) may be the local oddball, but his character is by no means unfamiliar. He resembles Napoleon Dynamite,
right down to his mix stubborn awkwardness, and resides in a similarly off-kilter, timeless world, where weirdness is a common affliction. Tobe soon scarpers, crossing state borders to visit a grotty strip club for a rare appearance from his favourite porn idol. What develops from the encounter is an unconventional relationship, by turns sexual, tentative and obsessive. But, while Cattrall’s boozy, husky turn has some bite, the shift in focus towards the faded star’s anguished life, and Tobe’s development from maladjusted teen to responsible young adult, drags the film into the doldrums. Tobe is more entertaining when ranting about Russ Meyer and Night of the Living Dead. Likewise, Bearden seems more confident – and is certainly at his best – when teasing cheeky humour out of the situation, revelling in homages to trashy porn parodies with titles like Pork ’n’ Mindy.
These two aims – one of celebration, one of maturation – sit as uncomfortably beside each other as the lead characters. But unlike Tobe and Monica, they don’t benefit from the collision. For while Meet Monica Velour may be a minor success for Cattrall, it is a relative failure for Bearden. Michael Leader
Anticipation. P r e t t y ( O l d ) Wo m a n .
Enjoyment. R i d i n g M i s s D a i s y.
In Retrospect. Harold and Flawed.
The Light Thief Directed by Aktan Ar ym Kubat Starring Aktan Ar ym Kubat, Ta a l a i k a n A b a z o v a , Askat Sulaimanov Released July 29
yrgyzstan’s official submission to the 2010 Academy Awards, The Light Thief is a visually accomplished political allegory about the economic situation in the country since the collapse of the USSR. Though dry as a bone on paper, writer/ director Aktan Arym Kubat avoids didacticism, creating a work that manages to be warm, witty and engaging. They call him ‘Svet-Ake’ (‘Mr Light’). The electrician is responsible for bringing more than just light to the people around him. Like moths, everybody is drawn to his kindness: those with short circuits in their electricity; and those with short circuits in their marriage; those who have taken all the power in the city; and those who have given up the will to live. He helps everyone and is everywhere. He doesn’t even shy from breaking the law – rewinding an old and lonely pensioner’s electricity meter so the State owes him money. The economic devastation of the country has had an enormous impact on the working
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people, and yet despite the upheaval they have not lost the ability to love, to suffer, to share their lives with friends, and enjoy what they have. Winningly portrayed by Kubat himself, Svet-Ake is a resilient synthesis of Amélie and Robert De Niro’s renegade handyman from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Working against the backdrop of economic and political upheaval and a country in the midst of a revolution, the electrician offers an antidote to the obsession with greed and personal enrichment of the ruling class, existing as a quiet but always present symbol of hope. Though an attempt to capture the atmosphere of the director’s childhood, The Light Thief steers clear of a documentary aesthetic. It is pure fiction, despite being drawn from the collapse of the USSR and the attendant demise of the entire Kyrgyz industrial system that left an entire nation unemployed. Adopting a highly intuitive approach to filmmaking, which welcomes happenstance and
rejects reconstruction, Kubat and his largely nonprofessional actors have created a distinctive and distinguished work that is often quite magical and radical. Jason Wood
Featured in the 2010 Cannes Directors For tnight where it created quite a stir.
A film of hope, optimism and small acts of heroism. The visual backdrop is also stunning.
In Retrospect. A s e e m i n g l y l i g h t and even simple work, The Light Thief has hidden depths.
The Interrupters Directed by Steve James Starring Tio Hardiman, Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams Released August 12 omparable in scope and scholarship to David Simon’s Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, but taking a radically different perspective than that account of the Baltimore Police Department, The Interrupters documents 12 months in the life of CeaseFire, a Chicago-based violence prevention unit that intercedes at street level in the city’s murderous gang disputes. Channelling the narrative impact of The Wire, the political and racial dynamics of Street Fight, and an emotional weight derived from a complete engagement with the lives of its many protagonists, The Interrupters is timely, necessary and, for much of its two hours and 20 minutes run time, devastating. If the logistical accomplishment of director Steve James (and editor Aaron Wickenden) seems heroic, it pales compared to the work of the ‘interrupters’ themselves. Drawn from former gang members and ex-felons (in one meeting, it’s
suggested that there’s over 500 years of prison time in the room), their job is to be present on the streets of Englewood and other notorious neighbourhoods in Chicago’s South Side, getting in the middle of situations that are threatening to turn violent. It’s extremely dangerous – at least one interrupter was shot during the making of the film – but these aren’t your average charity workers. The star of the show is undoubtedly Ameena Matthews, daughter of Jeff Fort, a man described as Chicago’s biggest gang boss since Al Capone. Matthews emerged from the ‘game’ after being shot herself, and now shows astonishing courage to dissuade others from following her path. Her bravery in situations that could have been ripped straight from something by the Hughes brothers is extraordinary. But she’s just one of a cast of inspirational characters that includes some of the gang members themselves. Though at times the attitude of both the kids
on the streets and the politicians in office will put your head in your hands, the great strength of The Interrupters is its positivity – its belief in a better future. It trades in that most fickle of currencies: hope. Matt Bochenski
Wo n a S p e c i a l J u r y Award at the Sheffield Doc/Fest.
Engrossing, moving, at times overwhelming, The Interr upters should be seen b y e v e r y b o d y.
In Retrospect. A t i t a n i c p i e c e of documentary filmmaking destined to have a real impact.
Mademoiselle Chambon Directed by Stéphane Br izé Starring Vincent Lindon, Sandrine Kiberlain, Aure Atika Released July 15
n director Stéphane Brizé’s low-key film, Veronique (Sandrine Kiberlain) is a faded schoolteacher and Jean (Vincent Lindon) a married builder/renovator with the world on his shoulders. The two become acquainted when Jean gives a talk to his son’s class, and Veronique asks him home to get his thoughts on her draughty window. Next thing he’s replacing it, and she’s laying out the petits fours. There’s a palpable frisson – she’s fascinated by his beading and grouting, while he’s intrigued to learn that she used to play the violin and presses her to perform. But will the affair go any further than borrowing a few CDs of classical favourites or picking out a nice shade of emulsion for the new window-frame? There’s a subtle eroticism in the way the two characters size each other up in the confined quarters of Veronique’s flat. When she stands with her back to Jean, playing the violin, his eyes are drawn to the
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long line of her neck, and the moment is far more sensuous than most nude scenes you will see. But ultimately, Mademoiselle Chambon suffers from a certain lopsidedness. Jean’s background is sketched in with some care; we get to see his low-wattage home life and his efforts to care for his ailing father. We get none of that with Veronique, and what we do get we don’t much like. Brizé expects us to take her at face value, as a figure of mousy virtue and long-suffering patience. But to a cynical eye much of her behaviour seems manipulative and passive-aggressive (she’s the one who puts things in motion, but Jean’s the one who ends up offering apologies to her answerphone.) Because of this you’re not exactly dying to see her break up Jean’s marriage. There are also problems with the performances. Kiberlain winces through her part, while Lindon
wears the puzzled expression of someone who’s been unexpectedly smashed over the head with a bottle of Beaujolais. As a result, the only cinemagoers likely to relish this film are ones as patient and longsuffering as the central characters. Julian White
No one does gentle character pieces like the French, right?
Enjoyment. T h i s
tale of a b u i l d e r ’s l ove a f f a i r i s a b i t l i k e w a t c h i n g p a i n t d r y.
In Retrospect. U n l i k e l y t o t r o u b l e y o u r m e m o r y.
ACCESS TO FILMMAKING The Met Film School filmmaking courses range from MA, BA and Certificate of Higher Education qualifications, to short, part-time and weekend programmes. Study is focused on filmmaking, with training options in visual effects, animation and digital cinematography. The majority of Met Film School programmes focus on developing practical skills; meaning students on the longer courses write, direct and edit their own short films. The Met Film School is also part of the Met Film group, which includes a production company and post-production facility, all based at Ealing Studios. Subsequently Met Film School students gain a unique, industry-relevant learning experience.
For those looking for postgraduate study the Met Film School offers a Postgraduate Diploma in Filmmaking that leads to a Masters in Filmmaking qualification, whilst the one-year courses provide comprehensive study within a timeframe that causes minimal career disruption. To find out more, visit the website or contact the Enrolments Team.
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Break My Fall
hat will those kids get up to next? While tabloid junkies know that the abuse of Grade A drugs at illegal raves leads to casual sex, eating disorders and homosexuality, Break My Fall may still shock many a grandmother out there. In actual fact, even gran might sneer at this unabashedly emo exploration into the urban underbelly of London’s East End. From midnight parties to midday fry-ups, the film follows the emotional breakdown of four friends; each trying to find the answer to the same question: who am I? Unless you have a genuinely interesting story to tell, however, trying to ‘find yourself’ is best done in your own time, with the door closed. Being a fly on the wall in Break My Fall will only have you waiting for the bottom of a Converse trainer to put you out of your misery. Zara Miller 2 1 1
arking the point where an era-defining legend passes into irrelevance, Film Socialisme is, for all the wrong reasons, an important historical moment in cinema. The octogenarian Jean-Luc Godard has produced a film of such miraculous flatulence, such aggressive opacity and tone-deaf boredom that the only sensible response is to look away in embarrassment. Described as a ‘symphony in three movements’, what transpires on screen is a meaningless babble of snatched conversations – many of them in untranslated French – that might, vaguely, stitch together to form an adolescent critique of ‘contemporary life’. And yet Godard is a man out of time, a director unmoored from the world and the medium he used to love so much. Consign the filmmaker to history, and his film to the bin Matt Bochenski 4 1 1
usuf (Bora Altas) is a young boy of few words whose isolation at school is made worse by a severe stammer. Unable to speak to anyone except his beekeeper father,Yusuf is destined never to win the merit ribbon he so desperately craves. But when his father fails to return after searching for honeycombs in a perilous part of the woods, young Yusuf is left with no one he can communicate with. Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu’s contemplative drama is a sweet and brilliantly performed entry in his ‘Yusuf’ trilogy (in which the character has been a poet returning home in 2007’s Egg, and a young graduate in 2008’s Milk). Full of glorious photography that makes full use of natural light and static, sometimes curious camera angles, Honey is a visual treat. Though occasionally a little academic in its execution, Kaplanoglu pulls it back in the end, closing the film with a haunting finale that ultimately makes it a rewarding experience, full of grace and natural beauty. Lee Griffiths 3 3 3
amie Thraves’ self-financed third feature is the genial story of an unlikely but touching friendship between a disillusioned middle-class man and a cheerful chancer. It begins when, without warning or explanation, gentle giant Tom (Tom Fisher) walks out on his family and seemingly comfortable life. He travels to London, where he encounters – and unintentionally befriends – the comical but spectacularly irritating Aidan (Aidan Gillen), who takes to following him around like a loyal, noisy hound. Treacle Jr. is abundantly charming but, like Aidan, a touch too simple – and this lack of psychological illumination can frustrate. Nevertheless, it has a marvellous momentum, roving, fluid camerawork and a terrific soundtrack. Fisher, too, is likeably hang-dog, and Aidan Gillen is unexpectedly hilarious as an effervescent motor-mouth. Entertaining if slight, Treacle Jr.’s heart is in the right place; after all it’s a film named after a kitten. Emma Simmonds 2 3 3
Directed by Kanchi Wichmann Starring Kat Redstone, Sophie Anderson, Kai Brandon Ly Released July 22
Directed by Semih Kaplanoglu Starring Bora Altas, Erdal Besikçioglu, Tülin Özen Released July 15
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Directed by Jean-Luc Godard Starring Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Jean-Marc Stehlé Released July 8
Directed by Jamie Thraves Starring Aidan Gillen, Tom Fisher, Riann Steele Released July 15
The Devil’s Rock
n the Channel Islands on the eve of D-Day, two Kiwi commandos arrive with a mission to destroy German gun emplacements to distract Hitler’s forces from the landings at Normandy, but run into the head of the Nazi’s occult Gestapo squadron instead. This New Zealand thriller from first-time feature director Paul Campion (a WETA visual effects graduate) sets up the proceedings for a neat little two-hander but sadly subsides into a far less thrilling three-way between soldier, Nazi and possible-ex-girlfriend-but-probably-demon. Though there are some fairly neat but restrained physical effects on offer thanks to WETA, the film ultimately loses its edge to familiar and tiresome mind games between good and evil. The Devil’s Rock finally dwindles into a somewhat disappointing climax that fails to bring anything new to the Nazi-horror subgenre. Lee Griffiths 3 2 2
hough it may be a blow to anybody who believes that the men in black aren’t all a bunch of primadonnas courting the limelight, The Referees is an occasionally intriguing glimpse into a hidden lifestyle, but one that doesn’t present a particularly comprehensive or coherent picture. Shot over the course of Euro 2008 (and so feeling somewhat dated now), we follow the trials and tribulations – on field and off – of top refs, including the UK’s own Howard Webb, as they face the biggest test of their careers. Directors Yves Hinant and Eric Cardot have an access-all-areas pass, including on-field recordings of conversations between refs and players. But this potentially revelatory stuff never goes beyond snippets. Rigidly uneditorialised, The Referees offers definite surprises and insights, but it isn’t the compelling case study it might have been. Matt Bochenski 4 3 2
The Violent Kind
itchell Altieri and Phil Flores’ (you might know them from their sobriquet ‘the Butcher Brothers’) latest demented entry follows a trio of young upstarts from infamous biker gang ‘The Crew’, who head off into a cabin in the woods for some beer, brawling and brainless banter. However, when the party winds down, the Crew members find themselves up to their belt buckles in possible supernatural activity. Gathering inspiration from cinema’s weirdest Davids (Lynch and Cronenberg) and throwing in a touch of HP Lovecraft, Stephen King and Philip Kaufman’s 1979 greaser gem, The Wanderers, The Violent Kind is a baffling but ballsy low-budget mind-bender which suggests that these Butcher boys may be just a bloody axe throw away from producing something truly inspired. Sex, violence, biker ghosts, possession (and a possible alien invasion): it’s Sons of Anarchy meets Evil Dead by way of Sometimes They Come Back… and then some. Lee Griffiths 2 3 3
sweet but unambitious zookeeper played by Kevin James thinks he needs to get a high-flying job to find love. To be honest, the rotund loser is probably right, but that’s not the point. The point is that the animals in his care don’t want to lose their favourite keeper, so they take the bold decision to reveal their greatest secret – they can talk! – in order to coach him on finding love the animal way. Cue James holding down random women and brutally inseminating them whenever the mood takes him. Just kidding, which is more than can be said for Zookeeper. The comedy premise isn’t strong enough to sustain an entire film, and the internal logic of the idea is quickly chucked out in favour of obvious jokes. The animatronics and special effects are arrestingly bad, which lends the comedic scenes a weird quality. The romance between James and a colleague, played by Rosario Dawson, is poorly handled – we never learn why these people should be together beyond reasons of plot expediency. Orla Cunnane 2 1 1
Directed by Paul Campion Starring Craig Hall, Matthew Sunderland, Gina Varela Released July 8
Directed by Mitchell Altieri, Phil Flores Starring Cory Knauf, Taylor Cole, Bret Roberts Released July 22
Directed by Yves Hinant, Eric Cardot Starring Howard Webb, Manuel Mejuto González, Roberto Rosetti Released August 5
Directed by Frank Coraci Starring Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb Released July 29
Back Section The
ILLUSTRATIONS BY Malika Favre
a n e di t e d e x t rac t f ro m his b o o k , Andrei Ta rkovsk y, Sea n Mart in of f e rs an ins ight into the ea rly life o f o n e o f c i n e m a’ s m o st m yst e r i o u s i c o n s.
ndrei Tarkovsky (1932–86) was a part of the generation of Soviet filmmakers that emerged during the Khrushchev Thaw years, alongside Sergei Parajanov and Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky. Though he made only seven full-length films, this slender oeuvre has established him as the most important and well-known Russian director since Eisenstein. In Europe, his genius was recognised within his own lifetime by Jean-Paul Sartre, who championed Tarkovsky’s first feature, Ivan’s Childhood, and Ingmar Bergman, who regarded Tarkovsky as ‘the greatest of them all’. His films are slow, dreamlike searches for faith and redemption, and it comes as no surprise to learn that, during his years in the Soviet Union, he was often criticised for ‘mysticism’ and his continued failure to tackle subjects in a style more acceptable to Socialist Realism. And yet Tarkovsky and his films were very much a product of the Soviet system, which ironically allowed directors a great deal of freedom to express themselves. Andrei Arsenevich Tarkovsky was born on April 4, 1932, in the village of Zavrazhie, on the banks of the Volga, about 60 miles north of Moscow. He began his schooling in Moscow in 1939, but with the Nazi invasion of Russia two years later, was evacuated with his mother and sister back to the village of his birth, where they remained for two years. Although a confirmed Muscovite, Tarkovsky’s early life in the country would leave an indelible impression on him which he would later portray in Mirror (1974). Tarkovsky claimed that his mother groomed him from childhood to be an artist, making sure that he was exposed to art and literature from an early age. To further this end, Tarkovsky studied music for seven years, as well as having three years of art lessons at the 1905 Academy. He seems to have resented his mother’s attempts to foster in him a sense that he was an artist-in-waiting, as a result rebelling by hanging out with kids his mother didn’t approve of, playing football and acting tough. However, despite his rebelliousness, he did love books, and was apparently only quiet when reading. At school, he was an average pupil, a ‘dreamer more than thinker’. It was perhaps his lack of academic aptitude that made Tarkovsky realise that he might indeed become an artist one day,
perhaps as a composer, painter or writer. Although as a boy and teenager, the young Tarkovsky caused his mother a lot of worry – in addition to his difficult behaviour, he also suffered from tuberculosis – he was to write in later life of his high regard for her, although this would seem to be, in part, a retrospective judgement. In 1951, Tarkovsky enrolled in the School of Oriental Languages to study Arabic; he had been interested in the East since an early age (perhaps as a result of hearing stories about his family’s supposed origins among the Daghestani nobility during the reign of Ivan the Terrible). However, he did not finish his course due to concussing himself in the gym one day, and he found employment instead on a geological expedition to Siberia, where he spent a year (1953-4) prospecting the remote Turuchansk region for mineral deposits. Alone with nature – and himself – for the first lengthy period since his days as an evacuee, he resolved to become a film director. His year in the Siberian taiga would serve as a dramatic baseline for nearly all his subsequent work. Nature is ever present in his films – often celebrated, always mysterious – as is the lone protagonist, struggling to come to terms with his own life and the world around – and within – him. Upon returning from Siberia, Tarkovsky applied for a place at the prestigious All-Union State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK). In 1954, there were around 500 applicants for only 15 places. Tarkovsky was among those chosen, and he began studies under the veteran director, Mikhail Romm. Romm appeared to be temperamentally at the opposite end of the spectrum to Tarkovsky. Given that, and combined with Tarkovsky’s less than inspiring academic record up to that time, one could be forgiven for assuming that his time at VGIK was not to be a success. Yet Romm was a brilliant and unorthodox teacher, and unorthodoxy was precisely what Tarkovsky needed. Romm believed that one could not be taught to be a director, but had to learn to think for oneself and develop an individual voice. Tarkovsky made five feature films in the Soviet Union between 1962 and 1979. All of them were seen – at least in Western Europe – as major masterpieces, even one of which would have guaranteed their director a place in cinema history. He died in Paris from lung cancer on December 29, 1986.
A n d r e i Ta r k o v s k y b y S e a n M a r t i n i s o u t n o w , p u b l i s h e d b y K a m e r a B o o k s , k a m e r a b o o k s . c o m
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Ci n e - t e r r o r i s t , u r b a n n i h i l i s t , r a b b l e - r o u s i n g p r o v o c a t e u r . Romain Gavras has been tearing shit up ever since he crashed into France’s national consciousness as part of the Kourtrajmé collective, a band of banlieue hooligans whose music and film work is reenergising the Paris underground. Gavras’ first feature, O u r D a y Wi l l C o m e ( i n s p i r e d b y B o r n F r e e , t h e m u s i c v i d e o h e m a d e f o r M I A t h at wa s s u b s e q u e n t ly ba n n e d f ro m Yo u T u b e f o r e x p l i c i t i m a g e s o f p o l i c e b r u t a l i t y ) , i s r e l e a s e d o n DVD o n A u g u s t 2 2 .
LWLies: Our Day Will Come is sort of a coming-of-age, buddy road movie. Were you purposefully avoiding genre categorisation? Gavras: It’s really hard to put it in a genre because it’s not exactly a buddy movie, or a comedy, or drama. In my head, it’s a romanticcomedy. It’s romantic because it’s kind of a weird love story between two guys – two guys going on a quest is a romantic notion. And it’s a comedy because it’s funny. So the best way to categorise it is as a romantic-comedy. It’s very dark comedy though, isn’t it? The idea was to have a very silly story – two redheads trying to get to Ireland – but treat it very seriously. So it’s this weird type of film. Some people didn’t laugh at all. In France they took it very seriously and [thought] it was a fascist film. We did Toronto and SXSW and it went really well. Festival audiences are more used to films, but it had a good reaction. It’s not slapstick comedy, but we had laughs at good moments. You’ve worked in music videos before, are you wary of having that as a label? When I did the film I tried not to be aware of anything. I was trying not to fall into the trap of the music video director who makes a cool movie. The film is way more quiet and framed, and has its own rhythm that isn’t frenetic like in some music videos. Your music videos were considered quite shocking. Are you interested in the ability to shock? Well, for a filmmaker it’s always good when you have reactions, good
or bad. I’m not trying to shock people. In my mind, the music videos I did for MIA or Justice… I’m not shocking, because that’s stuff that you can see on the news. I think shocking or controversy is really a point of view. I’m more shocked by bad taste – in movies, or in music videos like Lady Gaga. The bad taste rapes my eyes. Do you want to make films that will test audiences? I’m 29, so I’m in the generation that doesn’t believe it can change the world. We just have fun. We’re not in the ’70s generation. I do like it when – whether they like the film or not – the audience leaves the room and they still have strong images and strong feelings afterwards. Even the people who didn’t like the film, they have a part of the brain that’s been a bit raped. Talking of strong images, there’s a bit in the movie that’s crazy on a Britney Spears level… That was the reference when we wrote the script, at some point they have to ‘do a Britney’ and collapse. Vincent Cassel’s character has, like, a small suicide – a very cheap visual suicide, and that’s what she did. I think a lot of things should be done the way Britney does it. Showing your pussy when you get out of the car… How was it working with your friend Vincent Cassel? He brought a lot to the table. Even when he plays bad guys in films, he’s always cool. In this one he’s old and says horrible stuff. During the two months of shooting, he and Olivier Barthelemy sort of lost themselves. They lived together during shooting, and Olivier came on set one morning and said, “Yeah, in the middle of the night Vincent knocked on my door naked and asked me if he could sleep with me, I can’t take it anymore!” It was hard for Olivier, but it was funny. Josh Winning
The Kremlin L e t t e r (1970)
D i r e c t e d b y J o h n H u s t o n A vailabl e J uly 2 5 A Cold War-set espionage thriller adapted from a Noel Behn novel with a stellar supporting cast including Orson Welles and Max von Sydow, The Kremlin Letter presents a world at first indistinguishable from that of a mainstream post-Bond spy flick but which gradually gives way to something altogether more disturbing. Rone (Patrick O’Neal) is an American naval officer with a photographic memory, employed by an unnamed intelligence agency to recover the eponymous letter, which contains a poorly judged diplomatic promise from the US to join Russia in a war against China. Also looking for the potentially disastrous letter are Bresnavitch (Welles) and Kosnov (von Sydow), high-ranking Russian agents willing to employ the most fearful methods where necessary. With the help of expert back-up, including a stealthy safe cracker with supermodel looks (Barbara Parkins), Rone attempts to infiltrate Kosnov’s inner circle and track down the letter. Huston’s film flopped both commercially and critically (though opinion has since been elevated). On a superficial viewing, it’s not hard to see why. The plot is convoluted, the MacGuffin uninspiring, the set-up perfunctory and the first act clumsy. Crucial establishing sequences feel like poorly conflated page-to-screen transfers, unusual for a Huston script given his success with literary adaptations. But from then on things become interesting. Huston again and again subverts our moral expectations, beginning when hero Rone willingly takes on the role of male prostitute in order to seduce Kosnov’s emotionally drained wife Erika (Bibi Andersson). Coerced by her amoral husband into marrying the letter’s previous owner in order to gain his trust, and now wrecked by guilt, she resorts to drugs and male hookers to indulge her self-hatred. In an unconventional seduction sequence she repeatedly taunts Rone by calling him a whore and questioning his heterosexuality – not something Connery or Moore ever had to deal with. When finally she discovers Rone’s manipulation, she breaks down before being stripped naked and beaten. It’s worth remembering that Eve Kendall, Hitchcock’s honeytrap in North by Northwest, performed similar deeds in the name of subterfuge and wound up on honeymoon with Cary Grant. But despite such engrossing deviations from genre convention, it’s hard to ignore the tropes Huston didn’t throw out. One wonders why, for instance, he introduces his kittenish stealth expert in a skin-tight catsuit, cracking a safe using only her toes and then offering herself up to the hero for his sexual satisfaction. Typically, Rone’s love for this unreconstructed Bond girl serves thereafter as a moral compass guiding him through a treacherous terrain explicitly and atypically designed to counter-intuit such genre expectations as unreconstructed Bond girls. Ultimately, then, Huston’s film operates within the same structure and with the same stylistic approach as the high-camp girls ‘n’ gadgets spy thrillers he sought to deconstruct, and suffers for it. Nevertheless, there is much to admire, and the lack of any additional material whatsoever is disappointing. Christopher Neilan
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Fist of Fury: U ltim ate Edition
D i r e c t e d b y W e i L o R e l e as e d J uly 4
Bruce Lee’s second major western hit is a furious confection of hard-hitting kung-fu and ethnic chauvinism. Lee plays Chen Zhen, a Chinese martial artist forced to take down some evil Japs and their Russki chums to avenge his murdered master. Look out for Jackie Chan in a supporting role.
The Kingdom: Complete Series 1&2
D i r e c t e d b y L a r s v o n T r i e r R e l e as e d J uly 4
Before Dogme 95, before the Palme d’Or, Before Nazi comments and Cannes controversy, Lars von Trier was just another Danish director looking to make his name, and he did it with The Kingdom. Think ER as reimagined by David Lynch, and you’re close to the terrifying reality of this seminal TV series.
W e n t t h e Day W el l
D i r e c t e d b y A l b e r t o C a v a l c a n t i R e l e as e d J uly 1 8
Celebrating 80 years of Ealing Studios, Went the Day Well is part of a raft of releases revisiting the glory days of British cinema. In this fine piece of wartime propaganda, Leslie Banks leads the local resistance to a unit of German paratroopers preparing the way for an invasion of Blighty. Stirring stuff.
In the Realm of the Senses
D i r e c t e d b y N a g i s a Ô s h i m a R e l e as e d J uly 2 5
This legendary Japanese skin flick was only passed uncut for UK cinemas in 1991, 15 years after completion. But anybody expecting titillation was to be disappointed. Nagisa Ôshima’s film is an intense exploration of obsession and eroticism that still has the power to unsettle.
D i r e c t e d b y P a u l G r e e n g r a s s R e l e as e d J uly 2 5
Paul Greengrass hinted at the blending of handheld docu-authenticity and nail-biting cinematic tension that would become his hallmark in this Falklands War-set drama. David Thewlis plays the soldier accused of desertion, and although the film isn’t all that, it’s an important debut nonetheless. MATT bochenski
D i r e c t e d b y R i c h a r d Ayo a d e
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Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut is an intensely likeable piece of indie cinema that somehow manages to defy expectations without doing anything too genrebending. Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige are great as awkward young lovers coming-of-age in South Wales.
T h e L av e n d e r H i l l M o b
D i r e c t e d b y C h a r l e s C r i c h t o n R e l e as e d A u g ust 1
Also getting a release as part of the Ealing celebrations, The Lavender Hill Mob sees Alec Guinness on sparkling form as a bank employee-turned-master thief. This knockabout crime caper is also a reaction to straitened post-war England, and the bottled up rage of the middle-classes.
Solaris / Stalker
(1972 / 1979)
D i r e c t e d b y A n d r e i T a r k o v s k y R e l e as e d A u g ust 8
The celebration of Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky’s dazzling career continues apace with the re-release of two of his classic movies, each of which in its own way offers a meditation on the exigencies of human life.
D i r e c t e d b y I a n Pa l m e r
R e l e as e d A u g ust 8
Ian Palmer’s depiction of bare knuckled fighting took Sundance by storm earlier this year. A bruising documentary that tries to make sense of the 12-year feud between two families in a travelling community, Knuckle is already being lined up for a fictionalised Hollywood remake. Get ahead of the game.
The Humphrey Jennings Collection Volume One : T h e F i r s t Day s (1934-40) Directed by Humphrey Jennings
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Britain’s first superstar documentary maker, Humphrey Jennings co-founded the Mass Observation movement in the mid-1930s. His films about everyday life in twentieth century England count among the most important historical records of the era. Collected here are 15 of his earliest works that show him developing his craft, including the charming 1936 short The Birth of the Robot, 1939’s seminal SS Ionian, and 1940’s patriotic Spring Offensive. MATT bochenski
Before the R e v o l u t i o n (1964)
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci A vailabl e A u g ust 2 2
At the age of 19, Bernardo Bertolucci, the privileged son of a poet and already an award-winning author, was working for one of Italy’s greatest filmmakers, Pier Paolo Pasolini, as first assistant on Accattone. At 22, he emerged from under Pasolini’s wing with a raft of American, French New Wave and Italian neorealist influences to make his debut feature. By 23 he had shot and released this, his second film: an amorphously structured cinepoetic coming-of-age hymn, loosely influenced by Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma, about a young man with a burgeoning political awareness who embarks on an ill-fated affair with his seductive but unstable aunt. A precocious start, certainly, but Bertolucci was the child of an era when young men walked into professions early, and 23-year-olds could gather the finances that allowed them to find their voice behind the camera. And much of this film can be seen as voice-finding, with all the creative dynamism and ill-discipline that suggests. Fabrizio (Francesco Barilli) is a conflicted youth, keenly political but struggling to define his beliefs; a cinephile whose last words to his friend (whose death, possibly from suicide, propels Fabrizio into his incestuous affair) remind him to see Red River at the local cinema. He is told by another friend “one cannot live without Rossellini”. His aunt, 10 years his elder, is a sensuous bourgeoisie, a jumble of aimlessness and self-involvement, whose glinting eyes lock onto her nephew from the moment she arrives, and who begins her seduction during his friend’s funeral. In extended expressionistic sequences she rants in soliloquy, losing her loose grip on her errant emotions, as Bertolucci’s camera darts across her, cutting with a freedom typical of ’60s European cinema. This visual technique is the most striking element, sketching Bertolucci’s home city of Parma in swift, repetitious pans and unsteady zooms, matched to a portentous voice-over of Godardian proportions, giving us the sense of inhabiting the characters’ subjective realities. In this way, the young Bertolucci eschews classic storytelling in favour of a poetic-realist expressionism, replacing causal narrative with loosely sequential glances at his characters’ inner worlds. It doesn’t always work – as the film ambles toward its closing act only the most patient viewers will still be engaged by Fabrizio’s plight – but for long periods it instils an ethereality that can be rewarding. Like Bertolucci’s first feature, Before the Revolution garnered little interest and led to a five-year fallow period (a situation rectified in 1972 when The Conformist wooed Cannes, Pauline Kael and just about everyone else). But with the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to admire as a sensuous and experimental precursor to his later, greater works. This release comes with a pristine transfer, Blu-ray version and an array of extra features including an extended interview with Bertolucci. Christopher Neilan
Dir e c t e d by J o h n H u s t o n S tarrin g H u m p h r e y B o g a r t , G i n a L o l l o b r i g i d a , P e t e r L o r r e C h e rry p i c k : “ T h e r e a r e s o m a n y b a d c h a r a c t e r s t h e s e d a y s – t a k e m i n e , f o r e x a m p l e ! ”
tar and producer Humphrey Bogart said that anyone who claimed to like it was a phony. Critic Roger Ebert has hailed it as ‘the first camp movie’. Director John Huston conceded that its hopeless, anti-Quixotic bent left audiences bewildered and confused. Happily, ERH has long been in thrall to camp phoniness, and it is the tilted windmills of infernal bewilderment that claims cinematic suzerainty over our celluloid soul. And so, while at first glance it might seem that a black-and-white ’50s rom-com from one of the most esteemed directors of the age could have little in common with the garbage barge of unglued ’70s exploitica, VHS ram-raids and cack-fisted ’90s piffle ERH has both the honour and temerity to consider its usual beat, we here serve up 1953’s Beat the Devil as the very first example of gonzo filmmaking. Conceived on the hoof, palpably compromised and quite unconcerned with its many short-fallings, this most gleeful and wanton film is little more than an extended sojourn with a ratty grab-bag of rejects, dopers, pansies, rogue agency hoodlums, brigands and pimps, with Peter Lorre as an accent-neutral Irish claim-jumper named O’Hara (“A tip-top name in Chile, I’ll have you know!”). All are stranded in an Italian fishing village waiting for… actually, it doesn’t much matter what they’re waiting for, merely that their louche limbo kills enough time for an eternal reacharound of grifting, backbiting and conniving in which hubris holds sway, busy innuendo carries more weight than stone fact, and life is writ grubby and inconsequential. And where the biggest surprise of all is when somebody actually turns out to be what they seem. This is a resolutely anti-existentialist stance. Whereas other such films – Vertigo, The Passenger, Weekend at Bernie’s – cast their morally shipwrecked protagonists against equally vast, exotic backdrops in
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an attempt to map out the vague traces of the human condition, Beat the Devil sticks to Club Med concerns. Does anyone really care about questions such as ‘Who are we?’ and ‘Why are we here?’ as long as the G&Ts keep coming and there’s a steady line of suckers off the noon stage? If cheating is indeed the gift that man gives himself, then these men are rich indeed. Bogart – a little past his prime and too busy sending up his cucumbercool persona to put in an actual performance – plays Billy Dannreuther, negotiating agent for a gaggle of lethal popinjays led by the excellent Robert Morley, who have got wind of uranium deposits in Africa. But with such behind-the-camera chaos as Huston instructing the crew to dismantle and rebuild perfectly good sets so he and scriptwriter Truman Capote could gain a few hours to rewrite an upcoming scene (as well as gamble, booze and arm wrestle) the plot never really stands a chance. And yet even this is woven into the fabric of the film, with the characters wisely allotting the ensuing spy shenanigans and desert intrigue far less importance than what to wear to dinner and who’s stepping out with whom. Cinematically, there’s very little to recommend Beat the Devil, either. Not only is Huston’s staging fairly pedestrian, but the film is also public domain property, which means no one’s ever likely to risk enough geld to restore the badly scratched, foggy version doing the rounds. So if the acting is sub-par, the direction all at sea and the script a witches’ brew of overripe nonsense, then what, you might reasonably ask, is the exact appeal of Beat the Devil? Films are concertos, not ditties; juggernauts, not simple coils and carburettors. Beat the Devil is singular and memorable in combining its wayward, disparate, discordant constituents into a muscular whirl of jazz filmmaking. Cinema, you magnificent bastard, you’ve done it again! adam lee davies
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W or d s by P a u l F a i r c l o u g h
he story is as simple as it is familiar. A family divided; two brothers whose different paths in life place them on opposing sides in a bitter civil war. It’s a narrative that stretches back into Greek mythology and plays itself out again and again in movies from Cromwellian adventures and birth-of-a-nation American legend to Ireland, the Balkans and the surreal murder of Sierra Leone. In the Spanish film Raza (1941), the embattled brothers are caught up in the war between the Republic and Franco’s Falangist insurgency. When one is captured, it falls to the other to convince him of the cruelty and terrible destruction he has brought on his own people. But wait! There is a happy ending. The imprisoned brother comes to understand that he has been duped by his paymasters, recants his misguided socialism and informs on his former comrades before dying happily reunited with the Holy Mother Church and in the service of sacred Spain. Because Raza (‘Race’) is a fascist film, and its director was one of the greatest exponents of what, in the 1940s and ’50s, became known as ‘patriotic cinema’. José Luis Sáenz de Heredia made scores of films that infused Spanish cinema with the fantasy nationalism of the Franco era and retrospectively justified the right-wing coup d’état. De Heredia’s cousin, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, had founded the Falangist movement that was the spiritual heart of Franco’s anti-communist crusade, and de Heredia himself served as an officer on the Nationalist side during the Civil War. He was a life-long, unrepentant Francoist; he was also one of cinema’s great propagandists – a prolific interpreter of life in a nation which, with the victory he helped inspire, entered a decades-long stagnation. Raza is an audacious mix of soap opera, Boy’s Own fantasy and stark imagery inspired by Eisenstein and German Expressionism. It remains de Heredia’s most famous and influential work, not least because his scriptwriter and editor on the movie went by the pseudonym ‘Jaime de Andrade’. In his other job as saviour of Catholic Spain, Jaime was known as Generalissimo Francisco Franco, or simply ‘El Caudillo’ (‘The Leader’). Politically, de Heredia couldn’t have been more closely allied to the regime, but his filmmaking betrays a more rounded man. There’s a tendency to see Francoist Spain as culturally monolithic, but the reality is far more chaotic. The same was true for de Heredia: as one of Franco’s most dedicated hagiographers (his 1964 profile of El Caudillo is called Franco the Man) he was as creatively bankrupt as the worst hack portraitist prettifying an unappealing monarch. But in his noirish Los Ojos Dejan Huellas (1952) and the neo-realist The Reprieve
(1961) he transcended crude propaganda to make films that remain a window into the closed world of early Falangist Spain. Like all survivors in repressive states, de Heredia both served and dismissed the regime to differing degrees to suit his own ambition. The complexity of his relationship with film and politics is illustrated in his early big break, when the screenplay he wrote, Patricio Miró a una Estrella, attracted the attention of the executive producer of the Filmófono company, who commissioned him for two more scripts. It was 1934, and that man was Luis Buñuel. The pair worked together for two years, and their relationship was such that when de Heredia was arrested by the Republic during Franco’s coup, Buñuel used his influence to get him released. De Heredia’s cell mate, his cousin Primo de Rivera, was executed. Given his experiences in the artistically free period in the late ’30s, we might wonder why de Heredia allied himself so closely to a suffocating ideology. The truth, however unpalatable it might be, is that he was a true believer.The Falangist ideology that underpinned Franco’s nationalism was part of his family tradition and was suffused with fantasy and mythmaking – not unattractive traits for a filmmaker. Does his ideology make his work any less important? It’s a vexing question for fans of film, because their favourite medium came of age in an era when democracy seemed a tired and insufficient model on which to build the bright new machine age, and when the murky political associations of some of the great practitioners of cinema can make us wince. Eisenstein worked enthusiastically for Stalin during the war; de Sica was a Fascist-era matinee idol in Italy. Does ideology invalidate art? Is Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will really a worse film than Will Hay’s The Goose Steps Out, because the former puts Hitler on a pedestal, while Hay’s kicks him up the arse? De Heredia’s gift was to understand that ‘historic cinema’ was nothing of the sort. He was one of the few Spanish directors of the Right to understand the power of Italian neo-realism and the new cinema sweeping Europe in the late 1950s. His connections with Franco helped him circumvent, if needed, the national censor of Spain, who had developed a formula to calculate exactly how many Spaniards he had helped to bypass Purgatory and enter heaven directly by preventing on-screen nudity. Not that de Heredia needed such privilege. Like a good Falangist, his ideology was immune to the encroaching reality of the modern world. Even in 1987, when a group of left-leaning Spanish directors staged a tribute to him, his only reaction was to declare himself ‘more Francoist’ than he had ever been.
L W L ies reports o n t h e h its a n d misses f rom t h e 2 0 1 1 C a n n e s F i l m F e s t i v a l
Directed by Julia Leigh ETA 2011 Opening the Competition was Australian director Julia Leigh’s would-be controversystirrer about a young girl sucked into high-end erotic intrigue while being paid to sleep naked and drugged as a series of old men have their way with her. Handsomely produced, Sleeping Beauty’s determined inertia – though mirroring the alienated anomie of its lead character – fatally hobbles any dramatic impact, despite a gutsy performance from Emily Browning.
Directed by Peter Chan ETA Early 2012 With action choreography by Donnie Yen, Wu Xia positions itself at the head of the current crop of kung fu movies streaming out of China. Yen plays an apparently mild-mannered villager haunted by a past that revisits him with violent intent. Takeshi Kaneshiro plays a doubting sleuth, but the awesome fight sequences are the real stars.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Directed by Sean Durkin ETA Late 2011 From Park City to the Palais, Sean Durkin’s tongue-twisting psychodrama has already picked up a fervent buzz on this year’s festival circuit. And rightly so. The first time director enlists the mighty John Hawkes as a charismatic cult leader, and newcomer Elizabeth Olsen as a schizophrenic teen who escapes his clutches. This is American indie cinema at its most haunting and assured.
Directed by Maïwenn ETA TBC This ambitious, polarising slice of life inside Paris’ Child Protection Unit is a difficult film to like. Veering from black humour to stark realism to corny melodrama, Polisse sees itself as a shocking exposé of the toll that child abuse takes not just on the victims, but those assigned to protect them. The ensemble cast throw themselves at the (often shocking) material, but there’s a TV feel that the film never escapes.
Directed by Lynne Ramsay ETA October 2011 Despite not walking away with an award, Lynne Ramsay knocked audiences for six with her menacing adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s popular 2003 novel. Tilda Swinton is superb as the crestfallen mother carrying the burden of her teenage son’s high school killing spree. Ramsay’s bold symbolism is a little overpowering at times, but she achieves a fluid harmony between sensitive subject matter and crowd-stirring cinema.
Directed by Ivan Sen ETA TBC Destined to win praise at film festivals but unlikely to experience life in a multiplex, Toomelah is an admirable if flawed drama set in an isolated Aboriginal community in New South Wales. Here, 10-year-old Daniel fights social circumstances and historical tides as he struggles to piece together a future. Shot on location and with non-professionals, the result is gritty but amateurish.
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Out of Bounds
Midnight in Paris
Directed by Lars von Trier ETA September 2011 Festen collides with Deep Impact. Floating on tides of grandiose classical music and rapturous cinematography, Lars von Trier’s cosmic disaster movie sees Best Actress-winner Kirsten Dunst’s crushingly depressed bride discover that a giant planet is on an apocalyptic crash-course with Earth. A curious metaphor/therapy for the Danish director’s ongoing voyage through depression, it all feels just too far out of reach.
Directed by Hagar Ben-Asher ETA TBC Israeli writer/director Hagar Ben-Asher casts herself as Tamar, the eponymous ‘slut’ servicing three happy men in her farming community. Her life seems to have changed when Tamar and her two daughters take up with kindly new lover, Shai (Ishai Golan), but when the slut succumbs to old instincts, Shai takes a terrible revenge. Sledgehammer endings are one things, but Ben-Asher’s final twist is unearned, nihilistic and beyond the pale.
We Have A Pope
Directed by Nanni Moretti ETA TBC The fact that We Have a Pope slipped under the radar during Cannes might not bode well for a future UK release, but it’s a castiron crowd-pleaser nonetheless. Writer/ director Nanni Moretti plays a renowned therapist who’s called in to the Vatican to fix a Papal dilemma: unable to bear the weight of being thrust into the Catholic hot seat by his peers, the Pope-elect (Michel Piccoli) has fled the scene and hit the streets of Rome incognito for a spot of soul searching. Expect mischievous geriatric guffaws aplenty.
Directed by Gus Van Sant ETA October 2011 The fact that Gus Van Sant brought some levity to the festival’s early days with this story about a dying cancer patient gives you a good insight into the mood of Cannes this year. Henry Hopper (son of Dennis) looks a real find, here playing a kooky adolescent who hooks up with a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) to help her through her final days. Occasionally sentimental but finally very moving, Restless has charm to spare.
Directed by Frederikke Aspöck ETA TBC Picking up the baton from Susanne Bier, Frederikke Aspöck becomes one of very few female Danish filmmakers making waves on the international festival scene. That said, Out of Bounds is a relatively slight, if serious-minded, story of a woman on the receiving end of some nasty revelations when she visits her father on an isolated island with her miserable boyfriend in tow. It’s intense and austere but not that involving for all the issues it raises.
Directed by Woody Allen ETA 2011 Woody goes on holiday with some familiar faces in this sweet but slight time-skipping comedy. Owen Wilson is Gil, the director’s latest fidgety alter ego, a thirty-something writer who hits the French capital to shop and sightsee with his fiancé (Rachel McAdams) and in-laws-to-be, only to wind up rendezvousing with his literary heroes in a reverse Cinderella fantasy. Midnight in Paris won’t win over any Allen haters, but some decent cameos and a few well-observed gags will keep the masses amused.
Directed by Naomi Kawase ETA Late 2011 If introspective Japanese arthouse is your bag, Naomi Kawase’s delicate naturalist drama is a must-see. Set in the mountainous Asuka region, once the location of the country’s ancient capital, a tragic love triangle narrative is bookended by a wistful voiceover that evokes the mystical grasp Mother Nature holds over human civilisation.
Oslo, August 31
Directed by Joachim Trier ETA TBC In any other festival, a Scandinavian socialrealist flick about a suicidal recovering drug addict would carry a hefty amount of clout. So crushingly bleak was the general tone of this year’s Un Certain Regard, however, that Joachim Trier’s film simply failed to turn heads. That said, anyone who likes their drama like their bacon (lean and Danish) will take great pleasure from this impressive feature.
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Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn ETA September 2011
Dreamy romance, pulsing atmosphere and spectacular violence characterise this fairy tale thriller from Best Directorwinner Nicolas Winding Refn. Everything – including Ryan Gosling’s near-wordless performance as a lone-wolf getaway driver who falls for sweet MILF-next-door Carey Mulligan – is hyper-stylised and ridiculously cool. Even the savagely awesome set-pieces (a slo-mo motel shootout and a breakneck road battle) will make you swoon.
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai
Directed by Takashi Miike ETA TBC A combination of the unadulterated awesomeness of 13 Assassins and the giddying novelty of being handed a pair of 3D specs in Cannes’ second largest cinema saw our expectation skyrocket ahead of Takashi Miike’s latest. Alas, Hara-Kiri turned out to be more cerebral borefest than samurai blitzkrieg. Gashomon.
The Kid with a Bike
Directed by Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne ETA TBC
Another Cannes, another prize for the Dardennes. Sharing the Grand Prix with Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, this is yet another remarkable story of redemption from the Belgian maestros. Non-pro Thomas Doret is tremendous as the 11-year-old kid who’s dumped by his father, manipulated by crooks and saved by Cécile De France. Quiet, bright, incredibly tender.
This Must Be the Place
Directed by Paulo Sorrentino ETA TBC If only it had been as good as the premise: former goth rock star (Sean Penn) goes on the hunt for the Nazi tormenter of his dead father. But Italian director Paulo Sorrentino’s US roadtripper This Must Be the Place is something both weirder and less focused. Surreal and sincere, this wannabe cult curio is less than the sum of its eccentric parts.
“‘Riz’ is Japanese for ‘Liz’!”
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Published on Jul 7, 2011
LWLies is a bi-monthly, independent movie magazine that features cutting edge writing, illustration and photography to get under the skin of...