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A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS Winner of six Academy Awards starring a legendary cast that includes Paul Scofield and Orson Welles. Available on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK in a Dual Format (Blu-ray and DVD) edition

February 2017

AVAILABLE FROM

@mastersofcinema @eurekavideo

Rita Hayworth and Gene Kellyy star in one of the most lavish and successful Hollywood musicals of the 1940s. Available on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK in a Dual Format (Blu-ray and DVD) edition

February 2017 @mastersofcinema @eurekavideo

AVAILABLE FROM


Contents March 2017 38 FEATURES

16 COVER FEATURE Rhapsody in blue

Moonlight, the tale of a young gay man growing up against a backdrop of poverty, violence and drugs in Miami, was a deeply personal project for director Barry Jenkins – but one that has entranced audiences around the world. By Gaylene Gould 24 In the company of women

In its portrait of a free-spirited woman struggling to raise a son in California in the era of Jimmy Carter, Mike Mills’s 20th Century Women finally closes the door on unfinished business left by the women’s films of the 1970s. By Molly Haskell 38 PHOTOGRAPHY BY WILLIAM MINKE

A woman’s work

30 Infinite jest

44

Maren Ade, director of the critically beloved Toni Erdmann, discusses comedy and why cliché is the enemy of complexity. By Isabel Stevens PLUS ten great father-daughter films REGULARS

5 6

Editorial La La Land and freedom Rushes In the Frame: Kelli Weston meets the

director of coming-of-age drama The Fits 8 Object Lesson: Hannah McGill offers some illumination on light bulbs 9 Interview: Anna Bogutskaya talks to Alice Lowe, director and star of Prevenge 11 Dispatches: Mark Cousins seeks out a filmmaker equal to our troubled times 12 Obituary: Mark Kermode pays his respects to William Peter Blatty, far more than the writer of The Exorcist The Industry

14 Development Tale: Charles Gant on Indian partition drama Viceroy’s House 15 The Numbers: Charles Gant on the awards season’s theatrical bottleneck

The old pioneer ethics of fortitude and hard work drive the trio of tales that make up Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, a film sharply attuned to life on the margins as it outlines its characters’ determined efforts to forge a connection. By Sophie Mayer

Wide Angle

56 Profile: Adrian Martin succumbs to the uncompromising ecstasies of Werner Schroeter 58 Soundings: Sam Davies gets hep to Italian jazz soundtracks 59 Primal Screen: Pamela Hutchinson focuses on women with a movie camera 60 Archive: Olaf Möller excavates Cuban newsreel’s extraordinary legacy 61 Artist’s moving image: Erika Balsom experiences the delicate power of Laida Lertxundi’s short films

Viola Davis: over the fences

Long fêted for her ability to steal scenes from co-stars, Viola Davis, the star of Fences, has now made history as the first black actress to be nominated for three Oscars. By Jan Asante 48 Obituaries Bob Mastrangelo’s roll-call of the

film world’s departed in 2016

111 Letters Endings

112 Pamela Hutchinson on the tragic final moments of King Vidor’s The Crowd

16 March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 1


newfilms ďŹ lm of the month

wiener-dog out now

life animated out now

the childhood of a leader

also available on blu-ray out now

free state of jones also available on blu-ray 20/02/2017

we are the esh also available on blu-ray 13/02/2017

i am not a serial killer also available on blu-ray 20/02/2017

de palma out now

creepy dual format edition out now

southside with you out now

tumbledown out now

cameraperson 13/02/2017

the wailing

fopp stores bristol college green // cambridge sidney st edinburgh rose st // glasgow union st & byres rd london covent garden // manchester brown st nottingham broadmarsh shopping centre oxford gloucester green

out now

Formats subject to availability, while stocks last.


newfilms gimme danger also available on blu-ray out now

war on everyone also available on blu-ray out now

the unknown girl

also available on blu-ray out now

captain fantastic

also available on blu-ray out now

eisenstein in guanajuato also available on blu-ray out now

heaven knows what also available on blu-ray out now

the last family 13/02/2017

the president

13/02/2017

the black hen 13/02/2017

lazy eye out now

united states of love also available on blu-ray out now

zero days out now

fopp stores bristol college green // cambridge sidney st edinburgh rose st // glasgow union st & byres rd london covent garden // manchester brown st nottingham broadmarsh shopping centre oxford gloucester green

Formats subject to availability, while stocks last.


EDITORIAL Editor Nick James Deputy editor Kieron Corless Features editor James Bell Web editor Nick Bradshaw Production editor Isabel Stevens Chief sub-editor Jamie McLeish Sub-editors Robert Hanks Jane Lamacraft Researcher Mar Diestro-Dópido Credits supervisor Patrick Fahy Credits associates Kevin Lyons Pieter Sonke James Piers Taylor Design and art direction chrisbrawndesign.com Origination Rhapsody Printer Wyndeham Group BUSINESS Publisher Rob Winter Publishing coordinator Brenda Fernandes Advertising consultant Ronnie Hackston T: 020 7957 8916 M: 07799 605 212 F: 020 7436 2327 E: ronnie.hackston@bfi.org.uk Newsstand distribution Comag Specialist T: 01895 433800 Bookshop distribution Central Books T: 020 8986 4854 Sight & Sound is a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (which regulates the UK’s magazine and newspaper industry). We abide by the Editors’ Code of Practice and are committed to upholding the highest standards of journalism. If you think that we have not met those standards and want to make a complaint please contact rob.winter@bfi.org.uk. If we are unable to resolve your complaint, or if you would like more information about IPSO or the Editors’ Code, contact IPSO on 0300 123 2220 or visit www.ipso.co.uk Sight & Sound (ISSN 0037-4806) is published monthly by British Film Institute, 21 Stephen Street, London W1T 1LN and distributed in the USA by Mail Right Int., 1637 Stelton Road B2, Piscataway, NJ 08854 Periodicals Postage Paid at Piscataway, NJ and additional mailing offices POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Sight and Sound c/o Mail Right International Inc. 1637 Stelton Road B2, Piscataway NJ 08854 Subscription office: For subscription queries and sales of back issues and binders contact: Subscription Department Sight & Sound Abacus e-Media 3rd Floor Chancery Exchange 10 Furnival Street, London, EC4A 1AB T: 020 8955 7070 F: 020 8421 8244 E: sightandsound@abacusemedia.com

ILLUSTRATION BY SIMON COOPER AT WWW.COOPERILLO.COM

Annual subscription rates: UK £45, Eire and ROW £68 £10 discount for BFI members Copyright © BFI, 2017 The views and opinions expressed in the pages of this magazine or on its website are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of the BFI or its employees. The contents of this magazine may not be used or reproduced without the written permission of the Publisher. The BFI is a charity, (registration number 287780), registered at 21 Stephen St, London, W1T 1LN

Editorial Nick James

LA LA LAND AND FREEDOM Sight & Sound is not a news magazine, but we can but observe the obvious. With the election of Donald Trump, the political world – for Western liberals at least – has changed for the worse. In being particular about who is affected, I’m noting what Booker Prize-winning novelist Paul Beatty, an African American, says about Trump’s ascendancy. “This is nothing new… this xenophobia, this fear, this insecurity… they’ve always been there.” But with what liberals hold most dear – freedom of expression – under attack (see the recent arrests of journalists covering demonstrations in the US), we have to ask, what will this change of regime mean for film? Film people already know the Trump administration is mostly hostile to them and to the arts in general. His team is already reportedly considering stripping the budgets from the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, which constitute a small measure of support for the arts by international standards, but are of huge symbolic significance. We know, too, that this year’s Oscars ceremony is likely to be used by film people as a platform to attack the government, just as Meryl Streep, Viola Davis (see page 44) and Hugh Laurie did so effectively at the Golden Globes. So arts figures and the Trump administration look set to be butting heads for the forseeable future. That means that Hollywood has some tricky choices ahead in terms of the kind of films it makes. The Oscarnominated titles this year bespeak a wide variety of subject matter and approach, but there are two in particular that you could say are at opposite ends of the field. Should Hollywood back, for instance, more fiction films with an implicit political dimension, such as Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight (see page 16)? Or should it follow the combination of money, kudos and escapism epitomised by Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (‘Dancing with the stars’, S&S, January)? Both films have done well: La La Land is on course, perhaps, to be the biggest Academy Award-winner of all time, and Moonlight is the standout African American film in a year in which black and minority ethnic actors have finally got their Oscar due, with seven acting nominees out of a possible 20. Despite its success, La La Land is not for everyone. Many of my colleagues agree with journalist Agnès Poirier, who tweeted that it’s “a terrifyingly bad pastiche”. When I saw it last year I tried not to measure it too stringently against the MGM and Jacques Demy musicals by which it was influenced. The jazz in the film also demanded to be taken lightly. As for the limited ambition in terms of singing and dancing it required from its lead characters, the actress and the jazz pianist, that seemed a ploy – whether deliberate or convenient – to make them plausibly ordinary as strivers in the world of entertainment. So I took all that as part of the bargain and enjoyed the film. The thunderous

Arts figures and the Trump team look set to be butting heads for the forseeable future, which means Hollywood has some tricky choices ahead applause at the end of the screening made me realise that for the audience none of my caveats would have counted for anything. There is a determination out there that cinema should, above all, give us a good time. That said, in the year of Trump’s ascendancy, I can’t see La La Land sweeping the Oscars board as any kind of triumph. The film is almost hysterical in its need to affirm Hollywood’s centrality to everyone’s individual hopes and dreams. If it does get a clean sweep, the temptation for Hollywood to funnel all its production effort into escapist cinema will be stronger than ever. Against that, how can the likes of Moonlight shape up as an alternative? Though it describes the limited options and lifethreatening dangers faced by a young gay black man on the streets of Miami, Moonlight is itself sweepingly romantic. In that sense it has its own escapist element, but most of the time it faces up to political reality by describing it. You could say the same about many of the other US films featured in S&S this month: 20th Century Women (see page 24), Fences and Certain Women (see page 38). But I wonder if there’s room, too, in Hollywood’s fiction production for the more direct polemical approach perhaps typified by Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake (2016)? It is, I confess, hard to imagine, notwithstanding films such as Erin Brockovich (2000). What’s more likely is that we’ll see more hard-hitting feature documentaries. And it is Trump’s reaction to these that is potentially most terrifying. Could paranoia in his administration build to the point where he’ll want people blacklisted? I wish that sounded like my own paranoia, but I take my cue from Beatty. The kind of xenophobia, fear and insecurity that empowered the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings during the early years of the Cold War have always been with us. If it happens, let’s hope Hollywood doesn’t fold this time. March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 5


NEWS AND VIEWS

Rushes IN THE FRAME

AWAKENINGS An outbreak of seizures among an all-girl dance team provides the background to a young girl’s growing sense of self in The Fits By Kelli Weston

For her directorial debut The Fits, Anna Rose Holmer concerns herself with the unspoken stirrings of adolescence in a meticulously layered, unconventional coming-of-age tale. Set in Cincinnati, The Fits unfolds through the firm, curious eyes of Toni (played with compelling grace by newcomer Royalty Hightower), a tomboy who spends her afternoons boxing alongside her older brother Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor) at their local community centre. All the while, Toni longingly admires the Lionesses, the all-girl dance drill team that practises nearby, and soon summons enough courage to join their group. She trades in her sweatpants for sparkling bodysuits and makes new friends who initiate her into rituals of femininity – pierced ears, painted nails – but as Toni begins to come into her own, one by one her teammates are stricken with mysterious, seizure-like fits. “I wanted a story about a girl,” says Holmer. “For me there was a huge awakening in myself that was before my sexual awakening, and it had to do with my identity as an individual. And I hadn’t seen many films give that space to girls.” Holmer had long harboured a fascination with mass hysteria and mass psychogenic illness, and her previous work as a cinematographer and a producer led directly to her first feature’s inception. The idea for The Fits came to Holmer while she produced Jody Lee Lipes’s documentary Ballet 422 (2014), which followed dancer Justin Peck as he choreographed the New York City Ballet’s 422nd original piece. “I just started thinking about how it’s very exciting to watch choreographers and dancers exchange ideas through their bodies,” says Holmer. “And I started to think about adolescence as a dance of a sorts, a choreography that we all learn.” One of the earliest decisions made by Holmer and her co-writers, producer Lisa Kjerulff and editor Saela Davis, was to cast a real dance team. Originally Toni was written without any specific race in mind, until Holmer stumbled

ON OUR RADAR

6 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

across YouTube clips of the Q-Kidz, a Cincinnati community dance team. Royalty Hightower, who was nine at the time and who had been dancing with the group since she was six, emerged during auditions with a quiet force that floored the director. “I just had an immediate connection with her,” says Holmer. “She’s incredible. She’s not like Toni at all in real life. Royalty is strong and graceful and stunning and I can’t imagine any other Toni now.” The collaborative effort behind the film only grew with the addition of the Q-Kidz. “My philosophy as a director is that authorship is the role of everybody involved in the film,” says Holmer, who lived on location for nine weeks and workshopped dialogue with her young actors, allowing them to rewrite and rephrase for their comfort. “So much about Toni’s identity blossomed and grew when we collaborated with the Q-Kidz,” the director continues. “And a lot of that was about listening and getting feedback and including as many voices as we could in the process.” In keeping with the film’s themes, Holmer and her team approached the various fits in the film as a dance. The actors were given no visual reference for fits or seizures and each dance was designed individually with a choreographer. “That was really important to me because in historical cases all of the symptoms would have been identical,” says Holmer. “But I wanted each fit to function as a very unique experience that was hard to articulate and hard to explain, which is why I wanted it to visually look very different on screen.” But the main challenge Holmer faced was earning her beautifully choreographed ending, carefully drafted with her choreographers and cinematographer. “We were always just trying to be as in tune as we could with where Toni would be, emotionally, spiritually, developmentally,” explains Holmer, “and how we could bring the audience as close to her body and feelings as possible.” The director and her team carefully master the delicate balance of both the literal and allegorical function of the fits, but underpinning that balance is the transcendent experience Holmer was ultimately after. “That’s the best moment both in dance and any creative field, where you feel like you’re at peace with being out of control,” Holmer says, “and that there’s something larger than just yourself and your individual identity.”

i

The Fits is released in UK cinemas on 24 February and is reviewed on page 77

Cover Girl We’ve been waiting a long time for a whiz-bang DVD/Blu-ray of Charles Vidor’s lavish musical. The ‘La La Land’ of 1944, about a woman (Rita Hayworth) torn between her true love (Gene Kelly) and her career, has sumptuous designs and spectacular dance sequences. The Eureka Masters of Cinema release is out on 11 February. Special features include an interview with director and musical aficionado Baz Luhrmann.

Dancing queen: Royalty Hightower as Toni in The Fits

Borderlines Film Festival The rural festival taking place e across Herefordshire, Shropshire and d the Marches celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. New British films like ke ‘Lady Macbeth’ (right) and ‘Their Finest’ inest’ are only half of the story. In the he rep programmes, Cuban cinema ema is in the spotlight, as are female ale directors with the strand ‘Women men Directors of World Cinema’, featuring Lucrecia Martel’s ’The The Headless Woman’ and Samira a Makhmalbaf’s ‘The Apple’.


Independent Frames This Tate Modern season (17-19 February) foregrounds a generation of experimental American animators working in the 1970s and 80s. These were artists with little formal training who were inspired by early pioneers such as Mary Ellen Bute and Harry Smith, and were pushing animation’s boundaries with everything from hand-drawn animation to collage, as in Frank and Caroline Mouris’s 1973 ‘Frank Film’ (right), created entirely from magazine cut-outs.

Glasgow Film Festival Aki Kaurismäki’s latest, ‘The Other Side of Hope’ (right), about a poker-playing restaurateur who befriends a Syrian refugee, is just one highlight of the ever-expanding festival, running across the city from 15-26 February. Other UK premieres include Raoul Peck’s documentary about James Baldwin, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, and Cate Shortland’s dark thriller ‘Berlin Syndrome’. March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 7


RUSHES

OBJECT LESSON

GUIDING LIGHTS Spark of inspiration, flicker of evil, cold light of reality… How many light bulbs does it take to change a film? By Hannah McGill

8 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

The light stuff: (clockwise from top left) Fester Addams, Felix the Cat, Mulholland Dr. and Blue Velvet

beings to lightbulbs: “If you were a lightbulb, let’s say, your ‘glow’ might light up your whole house and surrounding yard. In enlightenment, your ‘glow’ would be unbounded, infinite and eternal. That would be some glow!” Perhaps Uncle Fester in The Addams Family (1991) was showing off his uncommon level of spiritual evolution when he lit that bulb up in his mouth? Certainly Lynch seems to have an affection for the idea: characters with bulbs in their mouths feature in both Blue Velvet (1986) and Inland Empire (2006). The fritzing bulb in the autopsy room in the 1990 pilot episode of Twin Peaks (apparently, like many a Lynch motif, a genuine on-set problem that he elected to retain) indicates in no uncertain terms that all is not well: vision is compromised, signals are jammed. There’s another bad bulb buzzing in Mulholland Dr. (2001), when the Cowboy – one of the film’s symbols of pragmatic, businesslike old Hollywood – counsels film director Adam against adopting “smart-alecky” pretensions; and in Blue Velvet, beauty and ugliness, sincerity and sinister fakery all collide when Ben (Dean Stockwell) lip-syncs ‘In Dreams’ into a utility light that makes a creepy mask of his face. The old Hollywood echo here is of

A naked bulb can stand for theatricality and for reality at its rawest: the dressing-room mirror, but also the police interview room

Norma Desmond in the closing scene of Sunset Blvd. (1950), grotesque and poignant as she mugs for police, reporters, “Mr DeMille” and “the wonderful people out there in the dark”. In The Aviator (2004), meanwhile, the exploding bulbs used by press photographers serve to indicate both the disposable quick-fix culture of Hollywood celebrity, and Howard Hughes’s general discomfort with the world: walking the red carpet for his film Hell’s Angels (1930) with Jean Harlow on his arm, he’s blinded by the flashes, while the camera pans down to show their glass carcasses being crunched underfoot. This is a favourite visual reference of Scorsese’s – similar scenes of characters dazed by flashbulbs also feature in Raging Bull (1980) and The King of Comedy (1983) – which in turn references Hitchcock’s use of flashbulbs in Rear Window (1954), and Fellini’s in La dolce vita (1960) and his ‘Toby Dammit’ segment from the portmanteau film Spirits of the Dead (1968). A naked bulb has contradictory connotations. It can stand at once for theatricality and delusion, and for reality at its rawest: the dressing-room mirror, but also the police interview room. It also has significance as a technical tool: the use of the simplest possible screen lighting to keep costs down on low-budget thrillers helped to create the shady look of film noir. And perhaps, finally, there’s something in the physical form of the lightbulb – the fragile, crushable body; the inner spark that threatens at any time to falter or go out – that reminds us of ourselves.

PHOTOFEST NYC (1)

The idea as illuminated lightbulb is one of the most enduring and efficient of visual metaphors. The association of brightness with intelligence dates back to the 16th century; and when Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb a few centuries later, literal and figurative brilliance were neatly combined in the public imagination. It was not long after, in the Felix the Cat short cartoons of the silent era, that the lightbulb made its debut representing a newborn idea – and this usage has not dimmed since. Indeed, it quickly became ubiquitous enough to be merely hinted at – as when the barmaid pings on a light just as inspiration strikes Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep (1946) – and has continued to supply the odd gently comic in-joke. A fountain lights up behind Cher in Clueless (1995) as she comes to the realisation that she’s in love; in Inspector Gadget (1999) the titular protagonist has a bulb in his hat that lights up when he has an idea; the supervillain in Despicable Me (2010) says the word “lightbulb” aloud when inspiration strikes him. A lightbulb that explodes or shatters, as in Carrie (1976), indicates a psyche pushed to breaking point; while Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) and Oculus (2013) both turn lightbulbs into weapons by forcing them into people’s mouths. In Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Red (1994), a conversation between Irène Jacob’s part-time model Valentine and Jean-Louis Trintignant’s retired judge Joseph is interrupted when he turns on a lamp, and the bulb instantly blows. He’s discussing a miscarriage of justice over which he once inadvertently presided: a guilty man was allowed to go free. The darkness into which the two are plunged, and the flare of light when he replaces the bulb with one from the overhead light, connects with a judge’s power to condemn or to save; to the elusiveness of truth and mental clarity; and to the unreliability of moral vision. It also – as Mike D’Angelo has pointed out in an essay on the scene on avclub.com – allows Kieslowski to very deliberately flood Valentine’s face with red: initially, the new bulb catches her in a harsh white glow, which turns reddish when Joseph shades the lamp. The glow indicates the warm understanding between the two, but also hints at the anger that has trailed Joseph throughout his life. Faulty bulbs occur with striking frequency in the films of David Lynch. Their intermittent light – often accompanied by a harsh electric buzz – may be seen to represent disrupted consciousness, and thus human failure to attain or embrace enlightenment. In his enthusiastic writings on the subject of transcendental meditation, Lynch frequently compares human


INTERVIEW

NATURAL UNBORN KILLER For her first feature as director, Sightseers star Alice Lowe is sticking with serial killing – but still defying expectations By Anna Bogutskaya

Alice Lowe has been a fixture in UK television comedies since her role in Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place in 2004, and has since made the transition to the big screen in a series of leftfield no-budget films such as Black Mountain Poets (2015). Her writing career began with contributions to the TV sketch show Beehive (2008), but she is perhaps best known for starring in and co-writing Ben Wheatley’s cheerfully bad taste serial killer comedy Sightseers (2012). With her directorial debut Prevenge, Lowe further demonstrates her knack for blending macabre comedy and gleeful killing sprees – and may even have invented a subgenre of horror cinema: the ‘pregnant serial killer on a rampage’ movie. Lowe, who was six months pregnant during the production, plays Ruth, the protagonist and monster of the film, a pregnant mass murderer driven by a disembodied voice. Anna Bogutskaya: With Ruth, did you set out to subvert the ‘strong female character’? Alice Lowe: I definitely set out to subvert that.

I wanted to show that pregnant women are individuals, they don’t follow a particular pattern. It’s not like there’s a lot of pregnant women going out murdering people. It’s kind of an allegory, a fantasy, a wish-fulfilment about a frustration about being pigeonholed. In films like Alien [1979] and Halloween [1978], there are kick-ass female characters that are heroic and virtuous. I wanted this to be different. I wanted this character to be a bad person, the scary thing under the stairs. So we’re following and identifying with the monster. I was writing her as a superhero. Ruth is someone who’s stepped outside of society, and there’s an almost supernatural strength to her. I was influenced a lot by classics, and it’s like Ruth is a goddess of vengeance, and the baby within her is this elemental creature, the embodiment of rage. When I’m making films, I’m putting myself through film school, as I never went. My first short film was a silent, because I felt I needed to do more visual imagery, and with the feature film I wanted to investigate these themes of childbirth and identity, and the idea that when you grow up the safety cord is cut and suddenly you’re on your own. AB: The theme of identity comes across very clearly, with Ruth creating different personas every time she goes out on the hunt, and the disguises growing more and more extreme. AL: The film is really about identity. Ruth

Some mothers do ’ave ’em: Alice Lowe as Ruth in Prevenge

I was six months pregnant. Which means we had to make it in the next two weeks. I’ve been doing low-budget work for so long, I could shoot a 10-minute short film in a day. So in theory I would be able to shoot a feature in eight days. I knew you had to have long scenes, because you don’t want to change locations and lighting setups. So, if it’s a series of two-handers with brilliant actors, then hopefully you’ve got enough tension and weird performances at the end of the day that you have 10 minutes of the movie. What we did was kill a character in the morning and then improvise in the afternoon, so the difficult part was over first. One of the worries was whether we were going to have enough footage. That was a bit of advice Andy Starke [Ben Wheatley’s producer] gave me: “You’re going to want to shoot 75 pages, it’s your first film, you’re going to want to do your pretentious shots and that’s going to take up much more of the film.” People often ask, “How did you make a film in a week and a half?” To which I always answer: “15 years of experience.” I don’t think the film is perfect, but I wanted it to have an experimental feel. With a lot of first-time filmmakers, you don’t want to see a perfect film, you want to see a spark of originality.

People often ask, ‘How did you make a film in a week and a half ?’ To which I always answer: ‘15 years of experience.’

sense of security, of normality, so that you’re with this character. The handheld footage is to show what the character is feeling internally, the darkness and the claustrophobia around her. It’s almost a love letter to the city, who she probably sees as more of a companion than humans, who she doesn’t really trust anymore. AB: Ruth is kind of like a spider, drawing people in. The music, which is very beautiful and very creepy, is a huge part of creating this feeling. How did you envision the film’s soundscape? AL: We talked a lot about synth scores from

Argento and Carpenter films, but also Blade Runner [1982] and Kubrick. I wanted it to be like a sci-fi film, because she’s entering a new territory and I want the audience to go with her, but also having this retro familiarity to it. She’s a hero on her own journey, she sees herself as a goddess, she doesn’t see herself as evil. It would’ve been very easy to do a traditional horror score, but it wasn’t about that for me. This is about this weird person, this is her world, this is her head. And the ploddiness and the cyclical nature of the music is because she can’t escape her path, it was always going to happen. I really wanted there to be this epic quality of fate and destiny. AB: What is the most cinematic moment of Prevenge for you? AL: I love the shot of the guy in the skeleton

costume in the underpass. We were filming in this tunnel on Halloween, and this guy just walks down looking exactly like that. It’s controlled chaos, trying to get some amazing footage without knowing what we were going to get. Proper pure cinema, when you’re relinquishing your power to what’s around you, trusting the ingredients you’ve put in place and appreciating watching those things take off and having their own life. I feel like those are the bits that elevate it from being a bog-standard horror.

starts off as this quiet, sensible mum and then rips off that disguise, showing all these layers underneath. In a way, I was trying to comment on how women are often categorised by other people – who we are is based on what we look like. What if we took control of that? AB: How did the budget constraints and the fact that you were pregnant influence your narrative decisions when writing the script? AL: I pitched it to the production company when

AB: The visual style of the film changes from beautifully composed, static shots to handheld, doc-style footage. Was that a deliberate decision or influenced by the production constraints? AL: I wanted to lull the audience into a false

Fertile imagination: Lowe

i

Prevenge is released in the UK on 10 February and is reviewed on page 84 March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 9


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RUSHES

DISPATCHES

CINEMA OF ANXIETY

If you want to watch a film that speaks to the slippery sickness of our times, here’s a bold masterpiece that’s as extravagant as Fellini

ILLUSTRATION BY NATE KITCH

By Mark Cousins

Cinema’s most famous property is its escapism. It allowed workers in the Depression to circumvent their troubles. Entertainment cinema still lets us parry and eschew reality. But what happens when you want to watch a film that reflects your serious mood rather than changes it into joy? How does it work when, instead of fun, escape velocity, transformation or medicine, we want diagnosis and confirmation from films? That’s the mood I’m in. Yes, I want to see La La Land, but I also need to see things that play to the slippery sickness of our political times. Millions of Syrians need a home, but we’ve offered almost none. Establishment politicians pass themselves off as rebels. Truth’s on our side but we still lose the argument. What to watch to reflect this? Fahrenheit 451 (1966) for its portrait of proscribed learning? 28 Days Later… (2002) for its contagion? Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing (1987) for its forensic portrait of human cruelty? Or Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) for its explosive examination of racial injustice and anger? No. I have in mind a film that’s as good as any of these, and which I haven’t seen in years. I’ve a hunch that, despite its age, it is about

right now. Can I not tell you what its name is just yet, but rewatch it and write as I do? The film starts. We’re in black and white. A woman’s husband has died. Friends and family try to comfort her but, instead of accepting their help, she lashes out at them. Everyone in the city where she lives seems to be suffering from nervous exhaustion. On the street she sees a pitifully drunk young man, half her age, takes him back to her apartment, and has despairing sex with him. Suddenly, after 40 minutes, the black and white stops, red curtains close, lights go up and we realise that we’ve been watching a film. The actress playing the bereaved woman walks on stage to do a Q&A, but the whole audience walks out, except one man, who is asleep. Now we are following him. He’s a teacher – passive and pained. He seems to tune in to the jitters and jolts of his society. A squabble in a queue to buy fish from a stall fizzes and is distressing. Then two girls harass a man with learning difficulties. A Good Samaritan intervenes to help the man, but becomes an abuser himself. We seem to be in Michael Haneke territory here. Could he have directed this film? The teacher looks on. Has malaise been better done in cinema? More scenes, and it’s clear that this is a bifurcated masterpiece, as extravagant as Fellini. Suddenly, after all the tension, distress and talking, there’s silence. A young man is lying on a couch in a

What happens when you want to watch a film that reflects your serious mood rather than changes it into joy?

cluttered apartment, looking at the things around him. Quietude, and then we are off again on this hellish wacky race. We go to a dog kennel. Women look into it and start to cry. We stay on their faces as they are appalled by what they see, and then we cut to the dogs. And words fail me… If not Haneke, then Lord of the Flies (1963), perhaps? Is that what this film is? Is that what Trump is? Kill the pig? Do him in? After more than two hours, the film’s mosaic of exhaustions changes tone again, and the teacher talks directly to camera. “A bottle of sadness has been spilled,” he says. And we know, now, that he is in a psychiatric hospital. If not Haneke, or Lord of the Flies, then The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919), perhaps? That’s the closest guess so far, but if I tell you that this film was made right at the end of the Soviet era, and its director lives in Ukraine, can you guess its title? What if I say its director is a woman, and that she’s now 82? Her sense of bravura is extraordinary. She thinks that people need retuning, that – for example – mothers and sons scrape at each other’s surfaces. I once asked her to be in my documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011), but she refused because Andrei Tarkovsky is in it, and she hates him. Got her name yet? The experts among you will have sussed it by now, but it’s not your fault if you haven’t guessed, because movies by this filmmaker, who is as significant a figure in world cinema as Kurosawa or Scorsese, are very hard to see in the UK. As Sight & Sound reported, people fought to get in to her retrospective at the Rotterdam film festival in 2013. Quite right. Fight to see her films, especially this one. It’s called The Asthenic Syndrome (1990). Her name is Kira Muratova. A filmmaker for our times. March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 11


RUSHES

OBITUARY

WILLIAM PETER BLATTY, 1928-2017

‘If there are demons, then there are angels’: William Peter Blatty (right) on the set of The Exorcist with director William Friedkin

Though he was known as an author of horror, the keynotes of his personality were warmth and humour By Mark Kermode

They say you should never meet your heroes, for fear that they may disappoint you. William Peter Blatty, the author and Oscar-winning screenwriter behind the 1973 film of The Exorcist (which I hold to be the greatest movie ever made) did no such thing. He amazed, delighted, entertained and inspired me. More than that, he befriended me – being kind, patient and supportive even when my endless questions about his most famous work must surely have made him want to scream. Instead, he laughed. Long before I saw William Friedkin’s electrifying film of The Exorcist, I had read, and been captivated by, Blatty’s 1971 novel. My very first visit to the BFI was to read his original screenplay, a published copy of which was held in its library, then located on Charing Cross Road. For years, I carried around a battered 12 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

paperback of Blatty’s 1966 oddity Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane, memorising its dialogue, contemplating its theological conundrums. Later, collectable hardback editions of the autobiographical I’ll Tell Them I Remember You (1973) and the mesmerising Legion (1983) became permanent fixtures on my bookshelf. When I first met Blatty in 1990, on the eve of the UK release of The Exorcist III, which he wrote and directed, he was warm and welcoming. But he became particularly enthused when our conversation moved on to The Ninth Configuration (1980), his film version of his 1978 novel, which was itself an expansion of Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane. A surreal tragicomic tale of a top secret asylum in which inmates argue about the existence of God, The Ninth Configuration earned Blatty his second Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. In it were distilled all the recurrent

His belief in the afterlife was thrilling and uplifting, and his ability to evoke it was breathtaking

themes of his writing: the mystery of faith, the problem of evil, the persistence of the soul. Over the years, I was privileged to work with Blatty on a number of projects: from interviewing him for the 1998 television documentary The Fear of God, about the making of The Exorcist, to editing and annotating his published screenplays for Legion/The Exorcist III and The Ninth Configuration, and recording commentary tracks for DVD and Blu-ray releases. Gradually, I came to view him as friend and confidant, although I remained star-struck by his presence, about which there was something magical and ethereal. Beyond his steadfast Catholicism (he described The Exorcist as “a 350-page thank you note to the Jesuits”), the most striking thing about Bill Blatty was his sense of humour. I remember the pride with which he showed me a videotape of one of his early TV appearances, on a 1961 episode of You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx. He treasured a New York Times review of Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane which compared him favourably to S.J. Perelman and asserted, “Nobody can write funnier lines than William Peter Blatty.” Indeed, for the first decade of his screenwriting career, Blatty was known almost solely as a purveyor of


The Ninth Configuration (1980), Blatty’s film of his own novel

The Exorcist (1973)

George C. Scott and Mary Jackson in The Exorcist III

comedy, racking up writing credits on films like Blake Edwards’s A Shot in the Dark (1965), the best and funniest of the Inspector Clouseau farces. The Exorcist changed all that. Inspired by a 1949 Washington Post story headlined ‘Priest Frees Mt Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil’s Grip’, Blatty’s novel and subsequent screenplay located its tale of ancient demonic possession within the solidly secular modern landscape of 1970s Washington DC. The result was terrifying, but also exhilarating, for as Blatty repeatedly pointed out, “If there are demons, then there are angels” – and presumably a life everlasting. Blatty once told me that he had been driven to write The Exorcist after struggling to come to terms with the death of his mother, and longing for proof that she was not really “gone”. His books and screenplays would return compulsively to the theme of the afterlife, and to the existence of a realm beyond this world. His belief in that realm was thrilling and uplifting, and his ability to evoke it through his writing (and later directing) was breathtaking. Indeed, it’s ironic that Blatty should have earned a reputation as a master of ‘horror’, since the underlying message of

his work was always one of reassurance that “it all works out at the end of time”. Last year, a new US Blu-ray of The Exorcist III included a partial restoration of Blatty’s first cut of that movie, reconstructed using a patchwork of VHS dailies and deleted footage. Originally entitled Legion, after the book upon which it was based, this version excised the spectacular exorcism upon which the studio insisted. Instead, it relied upon the “creaks and shadows of the mind” to generate its air of otherworldly mystery. Crucially, its central character, Lieutenant Kinderman (played by George C. Scott), is a rationalist detective who comes to believe that a string of crimes haunting the streets of Georgetown have an explanation that goes beyond the physical, material world. Like The Exorcist and The Ninth Configuration before it (and books like 2010’s Dimiter after), it is a story about faith – a work of entertainment, yes, but also something more profound. The Exorcist may have put the fear of God into millions of readers and viewers, but for me and many others it is with a sense of joy and reassurance that I will remember Blatty and his work. Thank you, Bill. March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 13


The Industry

BUSINESS NEWS & OPINION

DEVELOPMENT TALE

VICEROY’S HOUSE

Empire falls: Viceroy’s House stars Lily Travers, Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson, seated, as the Mountbatten family

Investigating her family history for a TV programme started Gurinder Chadha on a decade-long quest to make a film about Indian Partition By Charles Gant

When Gurinder Chadha was growing up in Southall, West London, her knowledge of the Partition of India came principally from her paternal grandmother – an old lady who, in the filmmaker’s words, “sat in the corner of the house and prayed twice a day”. On the family television set, the soap Crossroads started just as evening prayers ended, and Grandma, taking the rather olive-skinned character David Hunter for a Muslim, would mutter darkly about the horrors she had witnessed during the great migration of populations in India and Pakistan in 1947. “We’d be going, ‘No, it’s Crossroads. It’s set in Birmingham. He’s English,’” Chadha says. “But her trauma stayed with me.” While Chadha made her name representing the British Indian experience in Bhaji on the Beach (1993) and Bend It Like Beckham (2002), she reconnected with her past in 2005 when she filmed Who Do You Think You Are? for BBC TV, travelling to her Kenyan birthplace (she moved to the UK aged two), and also to Dariala Jalib – the Punjabi home of her Sikh father, and a village now in Pakistan. It was here that her grandmother was shoved on to a train with her younger children – Chadha’s aunts and uncles – arriving after three days at a refugee camp in Panipat, India. The youngest child did not survive the journey. 14 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Chadha’s experiences on the programme left her with a determination to make a film about Partition, but she wasn’t sure exactly how to do so. “I didn’t want to make a film that recreated violence,” she says. “I knew I didn’t want to show women getting raped and jumping into wells, or Hindus and Muslims killing each other. I wanted to do something on these ordinary people that I had met, because it was so different from the political discourse.” The starting point for Chadha and her writerproducer partner (also her husband) Paul Mayeda Berges was Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre – the classic text on Partition, published in 1975, featuring lengthy interviews with Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India. Chadha hit upon the idea of an ‘upstairs, downstairs’ approach: contrasting the discussions between Mountbatten and leading politicians Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi with stories concerning the 500 domestic staff who worked at the viceroy’s house. A significant threat to the project arrived when, in March 2009, Working Title announced that it had optioned Alex von Tunzelmann’s book Indian Summer, detailing the end of the Raj, attaching director Joe Wright, and with cast rumours of Hugh Grant as Mountbatten and Cate Blanchett as his wife Edwina. At Pathé, where Chadha was developing Viceroy’s House, boss Cameron McCracken did have concerns about the rival film, but was persuaded by his filmmaker’s passion to tell what was, for her, a very personal story. Also, because the Indian Summer screenplay was presumed to use the alleged affair between Edwina Mountbatten and Nehru as a hook,

Chadha foresaw difficulties: “I said to Cameron, ‘They’re never going to be able to get it made in India. They might be able to go somewhere else and do it. It won’t happen because of the Nehru love story – everyone’s in denial about it.’” Then, in autumn 2010, the UK TV schedules created another wrinkle with ITV’s revival of Upstairs Downstairs and the BBC’s similarly conceived Downton Abbey. What had seemed to Chadha a rather original idea for her film – she acknowledges that Robert Altman had also used the device in Gosford Park (2001) – was now primetime television. “I was like, ‘Fuck: that’s my idea, that’s what I’m doing!’” Chadha says. “Absolutely furious about [Downton]. Watched the first one, and thought, ‘Oh, it’s not very good, I hope it doesn’t last.’ Then of course it became the juggernaut that it was. But I still didn’t get deterred. I always try to find the glass half full. I thought, ‘In a way it’s good, because people will be familiar with that concept again – because the original Upstairs Downstairs was years ago. People in America will understand. And obviously in Downton there’s no people of colour, so mine will be different.’” Viceroy’s House then took a new direction – and under an unlikely influence. Chadha is an ambassador of the British Asian Trust, a charity founded by Prince Charles. At a reception in 2010,

With the casting of Hugh, I thought, ‘Downton, such a massive hit all over the world, yes thanks, we’ll have you!’


THE NUMBERS OSCAR CONTENDERS she was introduced to the prince, and told him she was working on a film about his favourite uncle. “He immediately said, ‘Oh, what are you basing it on?’ And I said, ‘Freedom at Midnight.’ And he said, ‘Hmmm.’ I said, ‘That’s based on your uncle’s words.’ And he said, ‘Yes, it’s a great book, but I would suggest you seek out another book’, and he gave me the name of Narendra Singh Sarila’s The Shadow of the Great Game.” Chadha scoured five London bookshops the next day in order to track down a copy. Within a week, she was sitting in a club in St James’s with the author – a former aide-de-camp to Mountbatten and raja of the small principality of Sarila in Uttar Pradesh, and now a Swiss resident. Chadha was persuaded by Sarila’s take on events, but daunted by the revisionist implications. “It started dawning on me that I would be ruffling a lot of feathers. I’ll be challenging everything I’d been told at school about the history of the Raj.” To explain more would be a significant plot spoiler of the film’s third act. Sarila offered notes on Chadha and Berges’s screenplay, suggesting points where a different historical perspective could be woven in, and introduced them to the Indian woman who served as translator for Mountbatten’s teenage daughter Pamela at the time – the template for heroine Aalia, one half of the inter-faith love story that leads the ‘downstairs’ portions of the film. During the long screenwriting process – years in which the pair also worked on the stage musical version of Bend It Like Beckham and the Sky structured-reality TV series Desi Rascals – Chadha had moments of self-doubt. “But every time I faltered, something spooky happened. Narendra would always be on the end of the phone, or there would be a new piece of evidence, or somehow someone would tell us something that we weren’t expecting. I felt by that point that there was some major force pushing this.” At McCracken’s suggestion, Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe, 2010; Jane Eyre, 2011) was drafted in to help the screenplay cross the finish line, with BBC Films as development partner. “Moira came in and asked lots of questions,” Chadha says. “We had to be really on top of what we were saying, so that was good. And she helped make the dialogue more period.” Chadha stepped back from the writing, taking on the director’s role in the development process; meanwhile, Buffini and Berges worked together for two more years. With finance from BBC Films, BFI, Pathé and Ingenious in the UK and Reliance in India, plus a deal with Film Väst and Filmgate in Sweden to cover visual effects, Viceroy’s House was finally greenlit. The diverse cast includes Michael Gambon, Gillian Anderson, the late Om Puri, The Hundred-Foot Journey’s Manish Dayal and, in the role of Mountbatten, Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville. “With the casting of Hugh, I thought, ‘Downton, such a massive hit all over the world, yes thanks, we’ll have you!’” says Chadha. “Hugh came in just as he was finishing [the final series]. Our journey had been the beginning and end of that show. That’s how long it had taken.”

i

Viceroy’s House is released in UK cinemas on 3 March and will be reviewed in our next issue

By Charles Gant January and February traditionally deliver a headache for indie cinema programmers struggling to accommodate all the films vying for the attention of audiences and awards voters, and in 2017 that headache has been bigger than ever. To understand why, a good starting point is a consideration of the Best Picture Oscar nominations. A year ago, eight films were chosen to compete for the Best Picture category, of which four – Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, Bridge of Spies and Brooklyn – had already been released in the previous calendar year. This time there are nine nominees, of which only two – Arrival and Hell or High Water – came out last year. That means the other seven are arriving in the same five-week period. A year ago, just one Best Picture nominee – Spotlight – had yet to release in the UK on the day of the nominations announcement. This year, that applies to four films: Hacksaw Ridge, Fences, Moonlight and Hidden Figures. Having been positioned for this year’s Bafta Film Awards, all these titles must release into cinemas ahead of the Bafta ceremony on February 12. In other words, cinemas already struggling to accommodate the likes of La La Land, Lion and Manchester by the Sea (all Best Picture Oscar nominees) are having to jam in four more titles, to say nothing of films such as Jackie, Denial, Loving, 20th Century Women and Toni Erdmann, all January and February releases competing for the same audience. Says Damian Spandley, programme director at leading arthouse exhibitor Curzon, “This is the most congested New Year film calendar in memory. Each Friday there are three, four, even five titles to select from, all of which have huge appeal for indie audiences, gilded by the critical acclaim and glamour the awards season brings. For us it would be better to have those titles spread out beyond the bottleneck between New Year’s Day and early February, so we can offer our members a stronger choice of films to see throughout the first quarter, if not the rest of the year.” While cinemas complain about the

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land

annual programming challenge, they at least have the solace of the glut of revenues that traditionally accrue at this time of year. As we go to press, we don’t yet know how the likes of Hidden Figures, Hacksaw Ridge and Fences – all sizeable hits in the US – will fare in the UK. But in Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, cinemas have been gifted one surefire winner that looks set to go the distance. A year ago, the big hit among the Oscar contenders in the UK was The Revenant, which reached £23.4 million by the end of its run. La La Land has opened bigger than The Revenant, running 24 per cent ahead of the pace of the Alejandro González Iñárritu title after two weekends of play, and is dominating the conversation thanks to those record-tying 14 Oscar nominations. It could be that 2017 will be a rerun of past years such as 2009 (Slumdog Millionaire) and 2011 (The King’s Speech), in which one title significantly owned the awards-season marketplace with a massive box-office gross, but for the nation’s cinema programmers that’s a nice problem to have.

2017 BEST PICTURE OSCAR NOMINEES AT THE US AND UK BOX OFFICE

Film

US gross

UK gross

Arrival

$95.7m

£9.35m

La La Land

$89.7m

£14.9m

Hidden Figures

$84.2m

released Feb 10

Hacksaw Ridge

$65.5m

released Jan 27

Fences

$48.8m

released Feb 10

Manchester by the Sea

$38.9m

£1.65m

Hell or High Water

$27.0m

£1.74m

Lion

$16.4m

£1.27m

Moonlight

$15.8m

released Feb 10

All grosses at Jan 23 March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 15


By turns epic and intimate, ‘Moonlight’, the tale of a young gay man growing up against a backdrop of poverty, violence and drugs in Miami, was a deeply personal project for director Barry Jenkins – but its complex portrait of identity and the piercing romance at its heart have entranced audiences around the world By Gaylene Gould

16 | Sight&Sound | March 2017


THE LITTLE PRINCE In Moonlight, the sensitive Chiron, nicknamed Little and played as a child by Alex Hibbert, is terrorised by a culture of aggressive hypermasculinity and must find his own way to survive on the mean streets of Miami

You stand, wrapped in that strange communal spell during

the thunderous ovation, as the memory of cinema floods back. Not the explosive, momentarily gratifying, emptybellied franchise juggernaut that has run rough-shod across the plains of American cinema in recent decades. No, the memory of a medium that lovingly takes a small life and makes the experience of that life epic. In Moonlight we watch as a vulnerable young boy nicknamed Little (Alex Hibbert) becomes an adolescent (Ashton Sanders) and then finally a man, now known as Black (Trevante Rhodes), against the wilds of a poor black community in Miami. Chiron – his given name – is an outcast, abandoned by a drug-addled mother (Naomie Harris) March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 17


BARRY JENKINS

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP In Moonlight by director Barry Jenkins (opposite), Little (above left) finds solace in his growing friendship with Kevin, played by Jaden Piner (above right)

18 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

MOONLIGHT

and a father whose presence isn’t even to be expected. He is terrorised by a culture of cruel and aggressive hyper-masculinity embodied by nemesis Terrel (Patrick Decile). So far, so ubiquitous, you might think, and yet this is a story about love – or the dream of love that can be found even in the midst of a nightmare. First, there is local drug kingpin Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his wife Teresa (Janelle Monáe), whose warm, ordered home is a shelter from the horrors of Chiron’s own. Then there is Kevin, his only friend. Chiron grows to love him deeply but the thwarted desire he feels leads to a startling shift in identity. At some point, you are surprised that this is the first time you have seen a cinematic portrayal of the lonely path many black gay men have walked. You realise with greater surprise that you have rarely seen young black men weep on screen as you do so often in this film. Perhaps the closest cinema has come to creating a vulnerable young black male hero is the Pepto-Bismol-swilling Strike in Spike Lee’s Clockers (1995). On first viewing, Moonlight hypnotises. Set in Miami, to the visual and sonic echoes of the ocean, this comingof-age odyssey plays out within a landscape of deeply protected emotions. On second viewing, you have to fight the seduction to study the craft. From the first prowling single take, reminiscent of the opening of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958), to the isolating wideangle shots butting up against extreme close-ups, coloursaturated tableaux and an immersive soundscape, this is a film designed to speak to your subconscious. Moonlight is divided into three chapters, each charting a period in one man’s life. Each section is introduced by a rear-view shot of the man’s tender, unguarded nape – no black men trapped in a pornographic, full-frontal, low-angled view here. The performances by Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes, all newcomers, are deeply humanising. Harris’s portrayal of Chiron’s mother and Monáe’s Teresa give vivid life to characters who could otherwise be sidelined. Moonlight’s director Barry Jenkins first broke through in 2008 with the smart, stylish Medicine for Melancholy. The film picked up an Independent Spirit Award, but Jenkins then vanished. In certain circles, especially those hungering for complex cinematic depictions of black life, Jenkins’s name would be whispered reverently: “Whatever happened to Barry Jenkins?” So his reappearance with Moonlight, partnering with the playwright

Tarell Alvin McCraney on an adaptation of the latter’s semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, drew immediate attention. It was a meeting of souls, Jenkins says, especially when he discovered that both he and McCraney had grown up in the same part of Miami, where the film is set. Little did Jenkins know how personal this project was to become or how acclaimed it would be – the film went on to pick up a Best Picture Golden Globe, as well as eight Oscar nominations (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Ali and Best Supporting Actress for Harris) and four Bafta nominations. Moonlight’s power is proof that, over the past eight years, Jenkins’s style had been developing. At a recent Film Society of Lincoln Center season in New York, he cited his chief influences as Claire Denis, Oshima Nagisa, Wong Kar Wai, Carlos Reygadas and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Charles Burnett is the only American director on his list – a filmmaker also heavily influenced by work from outside the American tradition. A month or so after seeing Moonlight at its premiere in Toronto in September 2016, where it was met with the awed hush that falls when something undeniably important has happened, I spoke to Jenkins for the first of two interviews. This was on the day of the BFI’s ‘Black Star’ Symposium, held to mark the launch of the BFI’s major project in celebration of black film stars. At the time Moonlight’s spell was widening: the film had not yet been released in the US but the buzz was growing louder. Gaylene Gould: This film is proving to be deeply resonant to so many of us. How are you feeling about the film’s reception so far? Barry Jenkins: So many have had a positive reaction,

which you never anticipate. Structurally it’s a challenging film. What I did anticipate was that the performers are just so alive and honest and authentic that you couldn’t watch this film and not see these people. There was no way. But the fact that they’ve watched with such thoughtful empathy… it’s been shocking. Because this story is partly about the way I grew up. It’s something I don’t talk about very often, and now I’m talking about it quite a bit. So if anything has changed, it’s that I’m having to be honest with myself about how much of me is in this film and how much of me has not been in my past work. That may be the difference in the response.


GG: Were you aware of how personal this film was when you were writing it? BJ: No, I wasn’t. I thought this story was more about

Tarell’s life growing up with his mom, but I think now, I’ve fully placed myself in Tarell’s shoes through this character Little/Chiron, which is beautiful in a way. I’ve always hid myself behind my art. In this one there is nowhere to hide. GG: At what moment did you realise this was your story? BJ: While I was filming. It was when Naomie Harris play-

ing Paula, the mother, walks in and she speaks like my mom, she looks like my mom, she is my mom. Working with her I realised very quickly, “Oh shit, this is me.” GG: What was your initial response to that discovery? BJ: Firstly, Naomie was so gracious in what she was

willing to do. There was a place where I felt the character needed to go, but we had such little time due to visa issues [as she is a British citizen], which curtailed her time. I thought it would be an arduous task to get to that place but she came prepared to go right there. She just showed up and was ready to go. I’d gotten very accustomed to being, not detached, but very workmanlike. Film is crafting, whereas this was like therapy. Naomie Harris is giving me therapy right now and I’m thinking, “Oh, I have to direct her. Oh, I have to work. I have to put the camera here, but holy shit, this hurts.”

in the third – there’s this moment where Little and Paula are standing in this hallway and we just shot-reverseshot, underscored in silence. They look at each other and then he looks away and walks off. That’s not in the script. That was something I felt like I had to do because, once Naomie showed up, I literally saw myself as that kid and Paula as my mom. The whole process of making the movie was about addressing this chasm between myself and my actual mom that has been so difficult to traverse. Unconsciously, I wanted a visual representation of that. Naomie’s so great because I tell her we’re going to do this thing that’s not in the script. “I need you to yell right into the camera,” I say, and she says, “Yes, I can do it.” Also I have trouble sleeping so, somewhere in the film, I wanted to visually represent a nightmare that this character needs to wake up from. I had the idea to place the yell at 24 frames per second at the top of the third story, which finally helped tie the three stories together. GG: There’s a strong feeling throughout the film that we’re drifting into the dreams of these characters… BJ: When I first read Tarell’s play, I told him it was like he

took a memory of my memories and placed them into this fever dream. I’m glad visually, that’s what the translation became. I’ve always tried to find a way to use the aesthetics of filmmaking to tap into the subconscious. That’s the power of cinema. However, there is the machinery of making a film. It can be very arduous and stilted. It can stunt the relay of feelings and emotions. I went to film school with Wes Ball [director of Maze Runner] and David Robert Mitchell [director of It Follows] and I knew nothing about cinema. Back then I didn’t even know you needed light to expose film. I was awful. But one of our professors told me, “You’re only not cutting it because

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RAKEEM CUNNINGHAM

GG: After having seen the film, this doesn’t surprise me. There’s such an intimacy in the work. Did this new knowledge affect your approach? BJ: It did, absolutely. In the very first story – which recurs

I realised this was my story while filming. Naomie Harris speaks like my mom, she looks like my mom, she is my mom. I realised very quickly, ‘Oh shit, this is me.’

March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 19


BARRY JENKINS

MOONLIGHT

you don’t have the physical tools to translate your voice.” So I took a year off and took a photography class. I began making my own 35mm prints in the lab. I started watching as much arthouse cinema as I could because everybody else was watching pretty much all Hollywood. I got a subscription to Sight & Sound because I wanted to read the best film criticism in the world, to see what deep thinkers of cinema were responding to. In that pot-pourri, I got to a place where the machinations of the process weren’t going to hinder the translation of the voice. The way that bears itself out is that now if I’m on a set and I’m speaking to an actor of Naomie Harris’s quality, I’m not going to waste what she gives me. When I ask her to yell, I’m going to shoot it at 48 frames because I know that in post-production we might want to use that to translate that feeling of the subconscious rising to the surface.

The camera, unfortunately or fortunately, is the vessel of the voice. So you need to be aware of what the person who’s handling the camera is doing

GG: One of the wonderful things about Moonlight and Medicine for Melancholy is that we get to know a place, a city intimately. In Moonlight it’s Miami. In Medicine, it’s San Francisco. Is place a big influence on you? BJ: Big time. The first and last sound you hear in this

movie is the sound of the ocean, because in Miami you’re surrounded by water and the horizon is infinite. That also says a lot about a character who is always surrounded in open space and yet feels so locked into himself. We only had 90 minutes to shoot the scene where Juan teaches Little how to swim, because these storms are coming in from the horizon. So instead of this bucolic, golden scene, we have actor Mahershala Ali teaching our young actor Alex Hibbert how to swim as a fucking storm is rolling in. GG: Which is perfect for the story… BJ: It’s perfect! James and I knew we wanted the camera

GG: There seems to be a very strong lineage in your work from the LA Rebellion school [the group of mainly black independent film and video artists that formed at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the 1970s and 80s, including figures such as Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, Billy Woodberry and Haile Gerima]. Those filmmakers also told specifically located, interior stories using this element of dream and subconscious. Is that something you connect with? BJ: Absolutely. Formatively, there were some things

to be in the water, because I wanted the film to be immersive and the audience to be in the water with the characters. So I told Ali, “Look, I’m sorry, but this is a baptism and I need you to teach this kid how to swim really fast.”

that I watched in a very aggressive way, the more esoteric work of the LA Rebellion in particular, like Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep [1978], being amongst that work. That vibed more with what I thought was going to be my filmmaking voice. James Laxton – the cinematographer I’ve worked with for 15 years – and I didn’t want to make a neorealist or miserable version of this character’s story. We wanted the imagery to rise from the character so these portraits pop up every now and then when we felt the character was dislocated from him or herself. We wanted the audience to feel what the character was feeling in that moment. I love the work James did on the film. The characters’ skin just looks so radiant. My memory of growing up and running around with all my peers is that we had this glistening skin, and he captures that. Also, the way the camera moves is very attached to the way the character is moving or not moving.

ing. Usually a black drug dealer is just a black drug dealer. He doesn’t have the space to be anything more. And the whole piece originates with Tarell’s actual friendship with a drug dealer who took him under his wing, in the neighbourhood that we grew up in, the same projects…

GG: What’s your process of working with James? BJ: The way I write the script is very clear. I’m religious

about shot-listing, but then once that’s done I’ll bring James in and together we’ll refine it. When we go out, the shot-list is there but it’s not the law. We work very fluently together, but I have a very clear picture of what I’m going to do. If a certain lens is on, if a certain light is a certain place, I know what he’s doing, and we figure it out. GG: I interviewed Julie Dash recently and she said she came to directing by mastering the camera equipment first, similar to you. BJ: That’s because the camera, unfortunately or fortunate-

ly, is the vessel of the voice. Unless you’re Steven Soderbergh, the director is not handling the camera, so you need to be aware of what the person who’s handling the camera is doing. If the cameraman changes the f-stop [focal ratio], based on what he or she changes it to, I know exactly how the image is being altered. In this film, that was doubly important because sometimes where the focus is says so much about the mental state of the character. 20 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

GG: What’s beautiful about that anecdote is that the film is essentially about the tender relationship between generations of black men – particularly between Juan and Little. So life is mirroring the art in this moment, especially as Ali is an experienced actor and Hibbert a newcomer. BJ: And both just being so delicate and kind and nurtur-

GG: Moonlight’s final scene is extraordinarily potent. Without giving too much away, can you speak about that a little? BJ: You know what I love about that? People keep refer-

ring to it as a scene and I think of it as a sequence, but it’s beautiful because it’s meant to feel like one moment. GG: It feels like that, for sure. BJ: It’s interesting because that sequence is not in the

source material. I don’t know if it got to a point where it was too much for Tarell, but it felt like he just stopped writing. The third story was just the two phone calls between Black and Kevin, but I thought we had to


complete the journey these phone calls start. We’ve seen him as a kid, we’ve seen him as a teenager, we got a taste of him as an adult and then the two longest shots of the film – he pulls up, he’s putting on his shirt, he’s walking, and we’re drifting and then the two characters look at each other. The whole film is working to earn the right for that awkwardness and that tension, that moment when a man slowly rises to the surface. SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS

By the time Jenkins and I met again, in December, Moonlight had risen. The film opened in the US on 14 October and quickly became one of the highest-grossing independent films of last year, doubling its $5 million budget in a matter of weeks. It was also beginning to sweep the awards tables. Jenkins had a terrible cold. Success was proving to be a voracious taskmaster. GG: Last time we met, you spoke about being surprised how well the story had connected. What are your thoughts on the reception the film has had so far? BJ: It’s been overwhelmingly positive. I have friends who

have made really great films that very few people get to see, so I realise how fortunate we are. It’s been wonderful to see so many people – real, everyday people – get to see the film. From the messages I get from them on Twitter and Instagram, these are people who never expect to see themselves in a film. So it’s been amazing to be a part of something that has given voice to voiceless characters. GG: Usually that’s an interesting issue with independent films. Often such films represent a broader demographic but, because of where the theatres are situated, they don’t reach that audience. How did the Moonlight release differ? BJ: We started out in those arthouse theatres because

that’s the usual way you platform-launch a film. But, wonderfully, the press coverage and our opening weekend box office was so strong that an awareness was created around the film. The platform release worked to perfection in our case. We started in LA and New York, built up buzz, and people between LA and New York started to go, “Well, what is this movie?” The more they spoke, the wider we spread the film. That’s why the movie has done so well relative to its budget and its release. I mean if someone had told me this movie was going to make $10 million in its first five weeks, I would have said, “Not this film.” Even I was placing expectations on what the ceiling for the audience is. And that was a mistake on my part. GG: You’re also a programmer, who’s worked on the other side of the sector. So from that perspective, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the Moonlight experience? BJ: That I’m not meant to be in marketing! The wonder-

ful thing I’ve learned is to keep making things with a very determined point of view. Clearly people respect that and respond to it. The American box office right now is very tricky. There are some things that do really well and other things that don’t do well at all. Right now speciality films are performing very strongly. I have been part of discussions with Kenneth Lonergan, Damien Chazelle, Pablo Larraín, Jeff Nichols – all their movies are doing really well. The audience just keep responding. I think it’s because these films are talking about some very real things – marginalised people living marginalised lives. The other thing that’s changed since I last saw you? GG: Ah yes. The election. BJ: The film went out a few weeks before, but I noticed a

change in the way people responded to it post-election. Even more people attended, some going to see the film for a second time, as though to remind themselves of the breadth of the American experience. I keep saying that I went eight years without making a film. Had I gone nine or ten years, Moonlight wouldn’t be here at this moment.

GROWING PAINS Drug kingpin Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, provides a home for Little (Alex Hibbert) and teaches him how to swim (opposite); Ashton Sanders as the adolescent Chiron (above)

GG: You went eight years without making a film and now this one has turned a big corner for you. You’re obviously still in the midst of it, but what has success shifted for you so far? BJ: Because I’m in it so much, not much yet. Every time a

good thing happens, the voice of the film is carried that much further. I keep reminding myself that relatively few people have seen this film, compared to movies that make $500 million at the box office. I feel mostly successful on set. The rest is results-oriented and I can’t manifest those kind of results. I try not to be tied to that because what if nobody decides to ever see this film again? I can’t let that change my perception of the work we did. GG: When results do come though, does it affirm your filmmaking voice? BJ: It does make me feel like I should trust myself more.

A healthy bit of self-doubt is very good for an artist and I will have no problem retaining that. The fact that it’s working for audiences, that is affirming, for sure. Everybody involved took a risk. Naomie took a big risk, our financiers took a big risk, and I’m glad to see that so far the risk is paying off. Also I love [the writer] Michael Kimmelman’s idea about the importance of remaining an amateur. As an amateur you’re always discovering new things about yourself and your craft. GG: It might be too early to ask but have you got a sense of what questions or worlds you might explore next? BJ: I’m not sure because things keep shifting. The better

the film does, the more opportunities present themselves. I have aspirations as a storyteller for many different kinds of stories. Depending on what that story is will determine how much exploration I’m allowed to do in the next project. I do think there’s something with Moonlight that very definitively states that this is the kind of filmmaker Barry Jenkins is, which is interesting because it’s an unorthodox film. I don’t mind being stamped aesthetically as that kind of filmmaker March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 21


BARRY JENKINS

It is kind of cool that all over the globe there are these young black creatives making this work. We’re all just adding our different pieces and we’re all rooting for one another

MOONLIGHT

but the next movie might take a whole different shape. I admire Steven Soderbergh, Alfonso Cuarón… Soderbergh has been able to explore so many forms and work at such a high level for such a long time while still coming down and experimenting. I’ll always be a filmmaker who wants to attempt to do things with as few resources as possible, because that’s where you derive the most freedom in craft, form, theme and story. GG: Where do you go to for inspiration? BJ: Oh, it’s everywhere. Novels too. I love Colson White-

head, Marilynne Robinson, Zadie Smith, James Baldwin. Usually when I read literature, I’m not reading it in a mercenary way, I’m reading to be a part of the culture, to be inspired. Colson’s book [the 2016 novel The Underground Railroad, about two slaves in the antebellum South who escape from their plantation and head for the sanctuary of the North] was different. Right away I could see this massive eight-hour thing for TV. GG: You bought the rights? BJ: Yes, we’re just packaging it now. It’s a great challenge.

BLACK AND BLUE In the third part of Moonlight we follow Chiron as a young adult, now known as Black and played by Trevante Rhodes (above) 22 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

It is kind of cool that right now all over the globe there are these young black creatives who are just making this work. I even got an email from [the singer] Solange last night. It’s different than in the days of Spike [Lee] because he had to shoulder the burden of the entirety of the black experience for everybody till the end of time. Right now, there are so many of us contributing to the diasporic representation of the culture of arts and letters that we can drill down to a very finite piece. We’re each a swatch on a quilt and we’re all just adding our different pieces and we’re all rooting for one another.

When we screened the rough cut for Moonlight for the first time, I emailed and texted anybody I could think of on 18 hours’ notice. [Artist and music video director] Kahlil Joseph was there, [An Oversimplification of Her Beauty director] Terence Nance, [Dear White People director] Justin Simien. It was just amazing. We also had an outdoor screening in the back yard of Kahlil Joseph’s Underground Museum the day after the election. Three hundred people, side by side, sitting on the grass to watch this movie. It was unreal, unreal. GG: There is this very particular moment happening in the United States right now – a burgeoning of young black creativity. How do you feel positioned within that? Do you feel like it’s a movement that you’re part of, a definer, a springboard? BJ: Things are often framed as a reflection of or as a reac-

tion to. For example all these movies are framed as a reaction to #Oscarssowhite, which doesn’t make any sense because it takes so long to make a film. These works come as a response to a lack that we felt in the culture. We don’t have meetings but we do watch each other’s work and link up on social media. I ended up directing an episode of Dear White People, because showrunner Justin Simien came to see the rough cut of Moonlight and offered me an episode. We feel like we’re informally part of something together. GG: And is it important that that something is informal? BJ: Yes, because that way we have the freedom to be our-

selves.

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Moonlight is released in UK cinemas on 17 February and is reviewed on page 83


24 | Sight&Sound | March 2017


IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN

In its affectionate portrait of a free-spirited woman struggling to raise a son on the threshold of manhood in California in the era of Jimmy Carter, Mike Mills’s ‘20th Century Women’ finally closes the door on the unfinished business left by the women’s films of the 1970s By Molly Haskell

THE PARENT TRAP In 20th Century Women Annette Bening’s Dorothea (left) is a child of the Depression living in a grand old house with her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann, above) and lodger Abbie (Greta Gerwig, far left with Bening and Elle Fanning, who plays their neighbour Julie)

In the rollout of Oscar contenders at the end of 2016, the unsung hero was 20th Century Women. Or should I say heroine, since a captivating Annette Bening is the beating heart at the centre of this gloriously unclassifiable movie by Mike Mills. Part comedy of manners, part mother-son love story, it had me laughing and tearing up simultaneously, but it never seemed to register on the US media radar – possibly because it came out at the end of the year here, possibly because critics didn’t know what to make of it for reasons just alluded to (unclassifiable, etc); possibly also because it’s an ensemble movie, and a women’s one at that. Although Bening reigns supreme, Mills zigzags through time and his characters’ lives with a messy amplitude that is downright (dare I say it?) Renoiresque. Everyone has his reasons, everyone has her say. Mills’s first movie, the sprightly Beginners (2010), was a well-received fictionalised story about the coming out of his widowed father. Christopher Plummer played the gay dad, kicking up his liberated heels while his straight son (Ewan McGregor) tried to cope. 20th Century Women is also autobiographical, but this time Mills turns his attention to his mother – and what expansive attention it is: curious, loving, listening, passionate and dispassionate all at once. As a little boy, he felt that his mother, a child of the Depression, was something of a closed book: she, like other members of her generation, didn’t talk about herself, air her feelings, and now, in a retroactive act of love and resurrection, Mills permits himself to

probe and question through his surrogate, 15-year-old Jamie (played by Lucas Jade Zumann). Bening’s Dorothea, born in 1924, dreamt of becoming a pilot, but by then World War II was over and she wound up working in a mill. Her brief marriage produced this child with whom she lives in a grand old house in Santa Barbara, California. Scuffed up but still springy and beautiful like its owner, and emanating the same ramshackle vibe, the structure is undergoing perpetual renovation. Mills’s camera (Sean Porter is cinematographer) swoops or tiptoes up and down the stairs and into the rooms we come to know as intimately as we do the characters who inhabit them. These include Jamie and two boarders, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a purple-haired punk photographer, and William (Billy Crudup), an organically inclined hippie-cum-handyman, ready to bed whichever lady is available. A vital fifth member of this ménage is neighbour Julie (Elle Fanning), Jamie’s closest childhood friend, who is beautiful and precocious, rebelling through sexual promiscuity, while shy Jamie lags behind, his curiosity outpacing his hormones. She climbs through the window for sleepovers, lying alongside Jamie even as they are drifting apart, she driven by wayward desire, he still in thrall to playmate cuddles. The movie parachutes into different eras in the characters’ lives, including the future. Mills hits sociological benchmarks, cultural high spots, as he weaves a tapestry of context, even as the characters wrestle with identity. “What will we become?” they are asking March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 25


MIKE MILLS

20TH CENTURY WOMEN

– and finding out – as they try on different identities, practise self-images on each other. Sometimes they’re in sync, sometimes not; they are different verb forms: ‘becoming’, ‘being’, ‘have become’. In the opening scene, Jamie and Dorothea watch as their Ford self-combusts in a supermarket parking lot. It was an old car, Mom, says Jamie. “It wasn’t old till now,” replies Dorothea, illogically but irrefutably. Isn’t that what old age is? We’re young or youngish until a knee or a hip gives way, and then we’re “suddenly” old. Dorothea, who had Jamie when she was 40, is now a single mother somewhere between young and old, trying to figure out how to raise a son on the threshold of manhood. But what is manhood anyway? The year is 1979. The world is in turmoil. Rock groups compete for airtime, Jimmy Carter is shown on television giving his ‘crisis of confidence’ speech. Feminism is in the ascendant and the genders are redefining themselves. Dorothea operates a sort of open-door policy: after her car burns up she invites the two firemen to her birthday party. Group dinners and high spirits abound, until an awkward silence is produced by the free-talking younger generation. Abbie pushes the envelope, graphically discussing the vagina; Dorothea disapproves. It’s not that she’s a prude or stiff or cold. Wearing blue overalls and Birkenstocks, chain-smoking, she’s more hippie than not. She has been Jamie’s co-conspirator, writing notes for him to play hookey, opening a bank account for him, treating him like a grown-up. In a morning ritual, they pore over the stock market figures together. But it’s hard to be both a free spirit and a mother, especially when the times are a-changin’ and life is fraught with ordinary and life-altering perils. Abbie is crushed by news from a gynaecologist. Then one day Jamie almost dies when, playing a prank with a group of boys, he holds his breath until he goes into a coma. How could he have done such a thing? He was just going along with the gang. The gap between mother and son widens; chaos threatens. Dorothea is beside herself. Baffled as to how to proceed, she enlists her band of eccentrics to help raise her son to be a man. Dorothea’s idea of manhood is Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca her touchstone film. Although books like the feminist health and sexuality manual Our Bodies, Ourselves and those by Judy Blume lie around the house,

Annette Bening inhabits Dorothea like a second skin. There is something so organic about her performance, it makes every other actress look artificial in comparison

BRINGING UP BABY Greta Gerwig plays a punk photographer enlisted by Dorothea to help raise her son to be a man in 20th Century Women

Jamie, not Dorothea is the one reading them. She tries to understand the appeal of bands that sound like caterwauling to her. “They know they’re not good, don’t they?” she asks and Abbie replies yes, of course, but being good is less important than the passion that goes into it. Jamie tries to understand women, but when he relays his newfound knowledge of the female orgasm to his coarse contemporaries, they shriek in contempt. Not just Renoir but the gallant spirit of Ernst Lubitsch seems to animate this story of self-definition through love, the notion of a world turning on male-female relations. As Joseph McBride writes in his forthcoming book on the great director, Lubitsch “made morality plays about sexuality and romance… At their heart, [his] films explore how men should treat women and how women should treat men.” Mills brings that imperative into the modern era, a time of fluidity and radical change when sex is no longer sex but ‘gender’ and the old verities of romance and courtship no longer apply. Without conventions and taboos, there appears to be no safe harbour where men are men and women are women. Yet precisely for that reason, the issue of how we treat each other is more important than ever. Every frame of Mills’s film attests to the value, even valour, of this transaction, not just within the film but in the director’s own regard for his characters. There are movies about women by men who lust after them, and by men who love them, and many even convey – often thanks to the actresses themselves – a woman’s point of view. But how rare is the director who is truly, genuinely, passionately interested in a woman’s perspective, in women’s minds as well as their bodies, and is still interested in those minds and bodies as years and experience pile up, and they are no longer in their camera-ready sensual prime. Bening has stated that she likes to play characters with whom she can identify, and she inhabits Dorothea like a second skin. There is something so organic about her performance, it makes every other actress look artificial in comparison. She’s utterly honest about her physical self, weather-beaten and deglamorised; she also lets us see her chafe, prickle, deliver harsh truths, then wonder if she went too far. And then her face will light up with that unique dazzling ageless smile. In the film’s loveliest, most quixotic gesture, Dorothea and Jamie both want to know each other in a way that cuts through the imposed roles of family. Dorothea envies Julie and Abbie because they can see Jamie as a person in the world, whereas she can only see him as her son. Jamie likewise wants to know Dorothea as a sensual woman with her own secret desires, and reads books about the sorrow of ageing women who are at their sexual peak, with the wisdom to go with it, but without a mate. Dorothea rejects this pitiful picture, without absolutely denying it. She foresees death by lung cancer but is instead granted, against all the odds, a true happy ending, a double fulfilment. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD WOMEN

Recently I was looking at certain key ‘women’s’ movies from the early 70s, the so-called golden age of American cinema. This movement was mostly a guy enterprise: male auteurs spreading their wings, stretching boundaries, seeing how far they could go in forsaking narrative 26 | Sight&Sound | March 2017


BFI NATIONAL ARCHIVE (1)/RONALD GRANT ARCHIVE (1)

tradition and happy endings, making European-style films with Hollywood money. But amid all the testosterone, there emerged a few of what I think of as the ‘neo woman’s film’: The Rain People (1969), Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), Wanda (1970), Klute (1971), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974). These were movies about domestic refuseniks, women breaking out of foreordained roles as housewife/mother, refusing to be defined as sex or love objects – but without yet knowing what that meant and what came after. It was a period shaped by the pill, anti-war activism, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (or, for some of us, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex), the ‘zipless fuck’, and a general (“What have you got?”) rebellion. The war in Asia, seen on television every night, was met with greater violence on the big screen. Of all the anxieties at play, the reconsideration of gender was the most deeply unsettling, yet – unsurprisingly – least in evidence in the new cinema. The demand for equality from the emerging women’s movement was simply too threatening. And for women, the implicit question was, “Who am I if not a woman who lives through and for my husband and children?” The old fantasies were still very much alive (“A kiss is just a kiss”), but women were coming out of “Yes, dear” mode into something much more defiant. A sense of self-determination was taking shape. European counterparts of the Mad Housewife genre

included Chantal Akerman’s epic housewife-with-avengeance tale, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), in which Delphine Seyrig plays a single mother who spends the whole day meticulously performing chores, then turning tricks to support herself and her son. There were two remarkable neo woman’s films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder made for television: Martha (1974) and Fear of Fear (1975), both with Margit Carstensen as a progressively deranged housewife. For Ingmar Bergman, whose TV series Scenes from a Marriage came out as a film in 1974, men and women still want and need each other. But in the long-anguished husband and wife duet enacted by Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, the marital landscape can no longer maintain its old familiar contours. As the 70s wore on, a few movies addressed implicitly or explicitly feminist conflicts: An Unmarried Woman (1978), My Brilliant Career (1979), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), and there were good career-defining roles for women in Opening Night (1977) and Alien (1979). But the 70s and 80s weren’t particularly kind to actresses, with barely enough performances to fill the Best Actress and Supporting Actress slots come Oscar time. As the 80s slid into the 90s, the good roles increased, but rarely addressed the issues that had sparked the women’s movement. The titles are too numerous to mention, but I can suggest the richness of female talent by citing

SINGLE WHITE FEMALES (Clockwise from top left) A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), The Rain People (1969) and Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)

March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 27


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a few powerhouse actresses – Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Sissy Spacek, Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Charlize Theron, Holly Hunter, Annette Bening. They played queens and journalists, killers and con artists, but there were very few movies as explosively, exhilaratingly female as Thelma & Louise (1991). Where do we stand now? The news from the front continues to be complicated. Seen one way, the outlook is bright; in another, grim. Satirising the lack of representation, Alison Bechdel offered the much-cited test: every film should have 1) at least two women in it, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about something other than a man. This seems a pretty minimal request. In inverse ratio, perhaps, to the paltry number of women in Hollywood movies or behind the camera, the chorus of feminists online and in print keep the subject on a boil, citing statistics and quotas. I tend not to put a lot of store in numbers. For one thing, what is Hollywood now anyway? An assembly line for franchise films, for superhero fantasies and action thrillers, for multimillion-dollar globally-oriented blockbusters, without character-driven narratives. If the guys talk more than the girls, the girls should count themselves lucky. For me, the important thing is to look at the screen. Women can do a great deal without talking, show strength without playing a badass Tarzana. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Yet somehow the female action heroes, from Tarantino to George Miller, tend to be male fantasies in female masquerade. I have to agree with the Twitter user – male, I think – who said Mad Max: Fury Road was feminism for guys. That there are so many women raising their voices in protest is itself testimony to change, it’s just that Hollywood’s business model is less small-scale and more like white corporate America than it’s ever been. And if we have a sense of fabulous, ornery complex women everywhere, it’s because television has taken up the slack. First there were Cagney and Lacey, then Prime Suspect’s Helen Mirren, pioneering in their respective series about tough female detectives who also struggle with family and home life. ‘Manic’, ‘pill-popping’, ‘weed-smoking’, ‘mean as hell’, could describe protagonists played by Claire Danes, Edie Falco, Mary-Louise Parker and Franes on ces McDormand in their knockout performances ing or the small screen. And a small army of trash-talking nticewoebegone female comics seem to serve apprenticeblown ship on cable or the internet, then blossom as full-blown resses originals. Even when the slant isn’t feminist, actresses y and have had infinitely more latitude to behave badly shing still earn our respect or love – or not! How astonishing omen to think that though stories will still involve women o that seeing Mr Right, actresses are willing to forego ynes’s staple of feminine appeal: likeability. Todd Haynes’s miniseries Mildred Pierce (2011), with a convincingg Kate e Winslet as that famous pie-baking feminist avant laa lettre, tricia was the director’s best work. His Carol (2015), a Patricia Highsmith adaptation with a script by Phyllis Nagy, dedly won kudos for showing erotic female sex in a decidedly non-macho way. Over the past year we have been treated to a slew tors: of female protagonists and films by female directors: Certain Women, by Kelly Reichardt (see feature on page 36 and review on page 74), featuring Laura Dern,, Miout chelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and, in a breakout ren performance, Native American Lily Gladstone. Maren 28 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Somehow modern female action heroes, from Tarantino to George Miller, tend to be male fantasies in female masquerade

SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL Jamie and Dorothea (above); and Julie, played by Elle Fanning (below), a beautiful and precocious young neighbour who is rebelling through sexual promiscuity

Ade’s wacky and moving screwball father-daughter love story Toni Erdmann (see feature on page 28 and review on page 88), and Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come (2016), starring Isabelle Huppert as a middle-aged philosophy professor whose life is falling apart. As I watched Huppert go about her daily business, walking, bounding here and there, the movie suddenly struck me as an upending of the French male tradition (enacted by her husband, director Olivier Assayas, in the forthcoming Personal Shopper) of watching a luscious girl on the cusp of womanhood wandering through the streets of Paris. Then there is Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, in which Huppert plays a kinky avenger of her rape by an anonymous intruder. Though I appreciated the film’s dark humour, I found it too repellent to like. Nevertheless Huppert turns the tables on her rapist, becoming – that feminist icon – an agent rather than a victim. She looks coldly and unflinchingly into the eyes of all those predatory males who salivate at the word ‘rape’, and gives a performance that will freeze the body parts. Such films signal a co-opting of the ‘gaze’ by women, and thus a new way of looking at the world. As Haynes has shown, as Mike s Mills shows, that eye does not have to be feminine to ally w the mind and body of a female. itself with Tho neo woman’s films of the early 70s left us with Those unfin unfinished business. Now we’ve been given a – maybe thee – w woman’s film of the 70s, one that, with the benefit hin of hindsight, offers a keener perspective on those chaotic times For me, part of the overwhelming satisfaction it times. prov provides lies in the fact that Mills sees the adventure t self not as the story of one particular woman, of the but as a necessarily communal tale, of give and take bet between the sexes and the generations. In 20th Century Women, confusion still reigns, priorities are tested, but womanhood has taken on a vitality, a refusal to be labe labelled or pigeonholed that is no longer a projection or a demand but simply a given. Abbie asks Dorothea ha if having Jamie was the most important thing in her life, and she replies yes. But values and loyalties shift, b life brings unexpected surprises; characters adapt, embrace change. The vital lesson is that if you can’t have it all aat any one time (and who can?), you can have one thing and then another. Many lives are possible.

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20th Century Women is released in UK cinemas on 10 February and is reviewed on page 91


“DEEPLY FELT, RICHLY ARTFUL DEBUT ” TOTAL FILM

FINANCIAL TIMES

THE MORNING STAR

SUNDAY INDEPENDENT

WINNER

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INFINITE JEST German director Maren Ade’s unmissable comic drama ‘Toni Erdmann’ presents a melancholy, beautifully drawn portrait of the relationship between an ambitious young businesswoman and her prankish father. Here the director discusses comedy, casting and why cliché is the enemy of complexity By Isabel Stevens Spoiler alert: this feature reveals key plot details

FUNNY GAMES In the third feature by Maren Ade (above), Peter Simonischek plays Winfried, a German man who travels to Bucharest and adopts a new persona as ‘Toni Erdmann’ (right) as part of an elaborate practical joke on his daughter, who is working in the city 30 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Like all the best comedies, Toni Erdmann is much more than just a film that makes your belly ache. As director Maren Ade commented at a recent Bafta screenwriting lecture, “A joke always has a more complicated raison d’être [than simply humour]; there’s always something more going on.” Ade’s third feature covers much topical ground – the condition of Europe, class divisions, ruthless corporate capitalism, the status of women in the business world – but at its heart is a very melancholic father-daughter story. Much of the film’s humour comes from the father Winfried (Austrian stage actor Peter Simonischek), a divorced German music teacher with bohemian leanings and a penchant for pranks. But it’s clear from the film’s very first scene, in which he tries out a bomb routine on the postman, that larking about is his only mode of communication. The number one object of Winfried’s jovial affections is his all-business daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), who is sick of her father’s shtick. That father and daughter are near opposites is evident just from looking at them: Ines, a Bucharest-based consultant advising an oil company how to reduce its workforce, is rarely seen out of her serious, sharp-tailored wardrobe; Winfried, meanwhile, with his shaggy mop of hair and baggy shirt, cuts a much more unkempt figure. The film follows Winfried’s headstrong quest to ‘save’ Ines and their relationship. He flies to Bucharest to surprise her, but when that falls flat he comes up with a grander caper. Enter Toni Erdmann, Winfried’s alter ego. Many of the qualities that make Toni Erdmann


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so singular were already in evidence in Ade’s previous films The Forest for the Trees (2003) and Everyone Else (2009) – neither of which received proper UK distribution, despite picking up a number of festival prizes. The former, about a lonely teacher desperate for friends, revealed Ade’s ability to squeeze sadness out of comedy and make her audience squirm (the German word for embarrassing, peinlich – literally, painful – captures it best). Everyone Else, about a couple on holiday and the growing pains of their relationship, demonstrated Ade’s knack for imbuing everyday conversations with psychological depth. Above all, the three films are alive to human frailty and social hierarchies. Toni Erdmann has a wider scope, and power dynamics manifest themselves everywhere: the boardroom, a family get-together, even a sex scene that Ines, let’s say, directs. In conversation Ade reveals herself to be a filmmaker who has thought through every tiny detail: she spent two years writing the script and a year casting; wrote biographies for every character, even if they didn’t have lines; shot 120 hours of footage, including different variations of Toni (among them an American cowboy Toni and a strict CEO Toni); and even sent Hüller and Simonischek – in full Toni disguise – to a mall to explore how their relationship played out with unsuspecting shoppers. Isabel Stevens: Just like The Forest for the Trees and Everyone Else, Toni Erdmann is a study of two characters. What do you like about this set-up? Maren Ade: Yes, for me it always starts with two charac-

ters. In my previous films I always had a dual situation. I like to have each character and then a complicated situation that the two are in the middle of. The idea was that Winfried transforms into someone else to try to get to know Ines better; to be undercover in her life. And she allows him to play that game. That was there from the beginning. But there were so many more things I thought about: family structure, that sometimes the role you have achieved in a family is not who you really are, or how you see yourself; or the subject of parents and children finding a relationship on an adult level. And then completely apart from that, I was interested in the business world: what are these people really doing? As I spend such a long time making a film, I think I should at least learn something. IS: How did you research the business world? Did you particularly seek out women who worked in Romania? MA: It was through private contacts, they work the best.

If you call a consultancy and ask for an interview, they all get afraid – they pretend like they’re doing secret nuclear weapon research or something. It’s really a very closed world. I did a lot of research in Bucharest. I was surprised by how many women were there. I found that the most interesting idea: having a woman working abroad and also this job of a consultant. There’s so much performing involved, of really playing a role in this job. Selling is something you have to be good at. And it’s really necessary that you promote yourself. First I needed a project. I was really interested in what they were doing. Then I also talked about being a woman in a male-dominated environment. I talked with them about families and their relationships. Then I told them the story of the film and asked them what they thought, what they would do with that father. That was always interesting: how they reacted. They were like, “Oh my 32 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

NAKED TRUTHS In Toni Erdmann Sandra Hüller plays Ines (above and below right), a German consultant working in Bucharest who is advising an oil firm how it can reduce its workforce

god, he comes there!” and imagining how it would be for them. It’s already courageous in that world to show people your parent, because you reveal immediately where you come from. It’s very intimate, everyone knows who you are. The facade is so important. So it’s really brave of Ines in the film to take Toni to that business drinks reception. IS: For Everyone Else, you alternated between writing Gitti one month and then writing her boyfriend Chris the next. Did you use the same approach this time? Just as in that film, your sympathies are really split between the father and daughter here. MA: For Everyone Else, I really did go through each per-

spective, mainly to be able to focus on Chris. Here it didn’t work like that. They were both always there at the same time. It came more naturally out of the story that I was able to see both sides. The daughter came very naturally to me. The father as well. With Everyone Else I had to decide which story to tell. Toni Erdmann is much more plot-driven. Everyone Else is more characterdriven, so you have to discover your character more in terms of finding a story out of that character. Here I had a lot to do with the plot and what’s lying underneath, that’s what I was working on with the actors, like never making it too simple. Out of that script, you could have made a more simple film, like having another type of Toni, making it faster, things like that. A lot of what makes it slow and complicated came out of the wish to not fall for any clichés. IS: The way both characters tug at our sympathies is really interesting, particularly as Winfried is centre-stage for the first half of the film. For me, it was the scene in the spa when I started to warm to Ines more. Winfried questions her about whether she’s happy and she challenges him. MA: For some people it’s completely different. They say

what an asshole she is. But I liked her then, too, because she is saying, “You cannot ask me a question like that.” And also I think she’s annoyed because it’s a question he asked his daughter that he would maybe never ask his son. That’s something we were saying while we were shooting: that these are things we hope that someone will think about. Toni would have had a completely different approach if he was talking to his son. IS: You see Ines cry a lot. But not Winfried – even when his dog dies. MA: It would have been a big step for a character like him

to do it. And we tried it, but I didn’t choose it, because it’s


not necessary. He’s so emotional. You know how he’s feeling. And I wanted to leave the centre of him, like there is a last, very locked box inside of him. That I found very typical of him. When it comes to emotion, Toni’s that warm character, but that’s something he didn’t learn. You see his mother and she’s quite different to him. For me, he’s very typical of this post-war generation in Germany. It’s a generation that was strong enemies with the generation before and I see this battle as what gave birth to his humour. But Ines with her crying, I was not sure. I think all the crying Sandra [Hüller] did ended up in the film, but [initially] I was not sure if I would put everything in. It’s a different type of crying. I like it when the facade breaks. She stays tough but she cries. The tension inside her is so high. I had a feeling it works. And she’s so good at it. I like it when it’s just rolling out. It’s more realistic than when you feel and see an actor bringing it up, when they have to work on crying. You really have a big sense of this as a viewer later, and so often the facial expression is wrong. It’s very difficult, I’ve always found, to direct crying. IS: Winfried is a very charismatic character. Compared to him, Ines is quite cold. Did you worry about this? MA: I tried not to be afraid of that. I always repeat takes

and do variations and play with different attitudes, to see how they play on a sub-level. In the beginning I decided for a really clear version: she should be cold, zipped-up. I found that it works much better when you have a big contrast until the end of the film. So you have that development. I was longing for a hard-to-like, cold female character. I was really interested in her being the antagonist. That doesn’t happen so often. IS: The balance of who is funny in the film is interesting. How did you stop the film becoming a father rescues daughter story? Ines is often on the other end of his jokes, like when Toni introduces her as his secretary. Although she does joke about with Winfried – at the start, she teases him

about the replacement daughter. But his humour is much more physical and obvious. MA: She’s not as funny as him but then one of the funni-

est parts in the film – the naked party – he’s not there. So that was something nice. She’s definitely able to do his humour. I was relying on the fact that because she has that father, it’s clear she’s not humourless. For me, she just doesn’t want to give in. Because she feels he wants something from her. And she’s so used to it, it’s not funny any more. It’s ritualised what he’s doing. The teeth and so on. He’s hiding behind that humour. So that really gets on her nerves. IS: And, in the end, he doesn’t really change her, even though that seems as if it was his original objective. MA: Yes, actually it’s the contrary. He helps her with her

I was longing for a hard-tolike, cold female character. I was really interested in her being the antagonist. That doesn’t happen so often

job and to go to another consultancy company on a higher level. So again he didn’t get what he intended. But he gets closer to her. For me, it’s not that he wanted something particular. I’m more interested when a character or something starts out of a complicated situation, that someone starts something and cannot stop it anymore. With this invention ‘Toni Erdmann’, he never intended to stay so long in character. He rented that limousine, he thought he would take her for a ride and it would be funny and she would like it. Then they would go home and be united again. This is something I thought that he would have in mind. But then this whole thing goes on and it becomes complicated. Also she’s the one who doesn’t let him out of character. She’s not saying, “Oh, actually, he’s my father.” IS: How did you come up with the name Toni Erdmann? MA: It must have been after I got obsessed with [Ameri-

can comedian] Andy Kaufman, who had that character Tony Clifton. And I liked that Erdmann is a very German name. I liked the contrast in the name. Toni is a very international, business name. And then Erdmann is very German. And also, it’s similar to Erdmännchen,

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TONI ERDMANN

which is a meerkat – so you have something in mind about a certain animal. I researched comedians because I knew a lot of them have alter egos. Everything Kaufman did was so good – not only Tony Clifton, but wrestling women. You have to go check it out. He called himself a transgender wrestling champion and challenged women all over America. There was always a crowd of women and he challenged them by insulting them that they just belonged in the kitchen, and should only take care of their babies, until one woman stood up and was able to wrestle him and was really hurting him. He travelled across the US. There’s a whole book with all this hate mail and challenging letters that women wrote. He made them write what’s so good about women and why they wanted to beat him. It’s really strange and started a little feminist revolution. Well, maybe that’s too much, but it was very interesting. A lot of comedians go back to him. IS: He also sang songs as Tony Clifton. Was that where the idea for the Whitney Houston performance came from? MA: Yes. Tony Clifton was also a bar singer. But the Whit-

ney Houston song, that was really because Winfried was a music teacher. I like very much these television shows where real people suddenly sing something. I don’t know why it has such an emotional pull, with the singing. And it was always Whitney Houston. IS: I’m curious if there were any female comedians that you researched for the film? The idea still seems to persist that women are not funny. MA: It’s not true! But there are still so many fields where

women are under-represented. Standup in particular is more male-dominated. There were some German comedians: Gerhard Polt I like, and Helge Schneider. But no female comedians that I looked at, no. IS: I’ve heard that your casting process is quite intricate. MA: I always need to find out if I can work with an actor.

With men of Peter Simonischek’s age, you often find that they have a certain repertoire and that’s what you’re buying when you choose them. It’s also necessary to know that I can direct them. And that I know what the chemistry between the two will be like. This I need to know because often casting is not about, “Are they good enough for the acting?” I only invite people who I really believe could do this. So it’s more about which version would be interesting. You can still see in her how she was as a child. Then on the other side she’s this very tough-cookie businesswoman. With him, it was both inside him: this weakness on one side – this depending on her, longing for something – but you also feel like he’s a strong and radical person. IS: You do a lot of takes. How does this work with comedy? How do you keep the humour fresh and how do you judge it when you’re so close to the material? MA: Well, when you’re editing it’s easier. It’s more difficult

on the set. Sometimes it’s very dangerous: when you find something funny on set, it’s often not funny later. I’m very afraid of the film team in their bubble, where everyone finds it funny. I realised that it’s often over the top, what we did. I always tried reduced versions. It was very important that Winfried stays a non-actor – that Winfried is playing Toni, he’s playing an actor and he has limited capabilities and is also in constant struggle inside with his courage, about what to do. He’s an amateur so he’s often falling out of the role. That’s something 34 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

FACING THE MUSIC Sandra Hüller’s toe-curlingly brilliant rendition of the Whitney Houston hit ‘The Greatest Love of All’, captures both the humour and sadness at the heart of Toni Erdmann

Peter and I really made sure was always there. And I like it. It’s funny to direct bad acting. It’s much more fun than trying to be so realistic. IS: The film also explores the divisions between old and new Europe and the class divisions within Romania. MA: Romania made a lot of sense because there are a lot of

multinational companies there because Romania had to sell a lot after the fall of [the communist dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu [in 1989]; there were a lot of people trying to get a slice of the cake. That country also lost a bit of its identity through all of these companies coming. I found it an interesting place for a film to be set. There are these Germans going abroad with the attitude that they know things better, or to tell people what’s best for them. I found it interesting how these structures continue within the company. And visually, Romania has this very over-thetop design. They have a very small upper class. And these upper class like to show their money. It was a good setting because it felt so real. Also, through Romanian cinema, I had the feeling I already knew a bit of the country. IS: Has your dad seen the film? MA: Yes, he likes it. He’s a cinephile, so he’s happy that

he likes the film. He was afraid he wouldn’t find it funny, but he did. IS: Your films often have surprises in them, particularly towards the end. The ending of The Forest for the Trees you don’t see coming at all, or the scene in Everyone Else where Gitti jumps out of the window. And here, there’s the naked party, which is a total shock. You said during the London Film Festival that this scene could almost function as a standalone short film, which I thought was interesting. MA: I meant that if it was a short, it would be pretty

disturbing. But in the film I have the feeling it’s like a strange element at the end. Normally it’s never good to go away from the plot or it’s difficult to make an excursion at the very end of a film. But I like it, and I need to try out things like that. It was good that they were all naked then, so you don’t totally fall out of film. It’s very simple. It just raises the tension. IS: And how did you find the hairy kukeri costume? MA: I was very lucky to find it. I like these Eastern Europe-

an costumes so I googled them and that was one of them. It’s made out of the fur of 20 goats. It’s to ward off evil spirits. I wanted a costume where Winfried is totally absent. I thought it suited him very well. It’s like his soul.

i

Toni Erdmann is released in UK cinemas on 3 February and is reviewed on page 88


TEN GREAT FATHER-DAUGHTER FILMS As ‘Toni Erdmann’ shows, the joys, jealousies and sorrows engendered by this most interdependent of relationships offer rich dramatic and comic potential for filmmakers

The Heiress

Ozu Yasujiro, 1949 Ozu explored the intricacies of family life in so many of his films, but none were more insightful than Late Spring in probing the father-daughter relationship. Noriko (Hara Setsuko) lives happily with her widowed

father (Ryu Chishu), but the harmony of their daily life is upset when an aunt suggests it’s time Noriko married. That life must move on for both is in the end inevitable, and Ozu captures the dawning realisation of that change from both father and daughter’s perspectives. (James Bell)

William Wyler, 1949 A feminist classic told through the eyes of the devoted daughter as she gradually transforms into a steely, self-possessed woman who doesn’t care about daddy any more. Hollywood beauty Olivia de Havilland utterly convinces as a plain girl looking for love but cursed with a rich, cruel father who suspects her beau is a golddigger. Based on Henry James’s Washington Square, De Havilland urged Wyler to adapt it after seeing it on stage. In 1997, Agnieszka Holland also adapted it, with Jennifer Jason Leigh in the lead role. (Isabel Stevens)

Father of the Bride

The Furies

Hobson’s Choice

Vincente Minnelli ,1950 Even daddy’s little girls must one day fly the nest, no matter how much their fathers may wish it otherwise. Here Spencer Tracy is doting dad Stanley Banks, and Elizabeth Taylor his prized daughter Kay, who one day announces she is to be wed. While her mother goes about busily preparing for the big day, Stanley is beset by jealousy and anxiety over his own advancing years. Innumerable films since have been cut from the same cloth, from Meet the Parents to the 1991 remake of Minnelli’s classic starring Steve Martin. (JB)

Anthony Mann,1950 A fascinating fusion of western and Freudian melodrama. Walter Huston is T.C. Jeffords, the Lear-like patriarch of a cattle ranch; Barbara Stanwyck is Vance, his beloved daughter, who is set to inherit the property. But Vance is close to a member of a Mexican family T.C. believes are squatting illegally on the ranch, and is also romancing Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey), who bears a grudge against her father. When T.C. brings home Flo (Judith Anderson), who Vance thinks is after her inheritance, the tensions erupt. (JB)

David Lean,1954 A lesson in the dangers of underestimating one’s children. Lean’s version of Harold Brighouse’s play casts Charles Laughton as Henry Hobson – bootmaker, drunkard and father of three daughters. The younger two he’s happy to marry off, but would be loath to lose his eldest, Maggie (Brenda De Banzie), who in any case he mocks as “a bit on the ripe side of 30” for marriage. Smarted, Maggie quickly ties the knot with dim-witted but brilliant cobbler Will Mossop, and vows to take on her father’s business. (JB)

BFI NATIONAL ARCHIVE (1)/ALAMY (1)

Late Spring

March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 35


TONI ERDMANN

FATHER/DAUGHTER FILMS

Bonjour tristesse

Daddy nostalgie

Otto Preminger, 1958 Jean Seberg, the star of Preminger’s Saint Joan (1957), plays Cécile, the free-spirited but daddydoting teenager whose bohemian lifestyle is threatened by the arrival of Anne (Deborah Kerr), a friend of her late mother’s with designs on papa Raymond (David Niven). Opinion is divided as to whether Seberg was a pioneer of minimalist acting or simply out of her league but she made such a sharp contrast in CinemaScope to Niven and Kerr, both brilliant here, that Godard eulogised her and snapped her up for Breathless (1960). (Nick James)

Bertrand Tavernier, 1990 In his final film, Dirk Bogarde plays an Englishman living, or rather dying, in a Riviera retirement apartment with his French wife. He has months at best to live, but when his estranged daughter (Jane Birkin) turns up, their conversations bring on a revival that gives shape to the old flirt’s life, in this subtle portrait of leave-taking. Meanwhile, wife Odette Laure says little, smokes a lot, drinks coke and exudes bitterness. Notably, the script was by Colo Tavernier O’Hagan, former wife of Bertrand. (NJ)

Eve’s Bayou Kasi Lemmons, 1997 “The summer I killed my father I was ten years old,” announces the narrator at the start of Kasi Lemmons’s swampy slice of Southern Gothic, acute to the ways childish hero-worship is tempered by experience, and the murky ways of memory. The narrator is Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollett), recalling one hot Louisiana summer from her childhood, when her eyes opened to the truth about her father (Samuel L. Jackson), first through witnessing his infidelities with local women, and then with the shocking revelation that he had molested her sister. (JB)

Eat Drink Man Woman Ang Lee, 1994 ‘Father Knows Best’ was the semi-official title of Lee’s early-90s trilogy of family-focused films, of which this wonderfully warm comic drama was the third (after Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet). Here a widowed 36 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

chef (Sihung Lung) who’s lost his sense of taste finds that traditional Taiwanese maxim challenged by his three daughters, each of whom represents a more modern way of life, which they reveal to him through ‘announcements’ at the glorious banquets he cooks for them every Sunday. (JB)

Claire Denis, 2008 The opening of Denis’s quiet drama boasts one of the many touching moments that reveal the interdependence between Lionel, a widowed train driver (Alex Descas) and his daughter Joséphine (Mati Diop). When Lionel surprises her with a needed rice cooker, Joséphine tactfully places the one she has just bought out of sight. Denis has spoken of the influence of Ozu on her work, and as in Late Spring, here father and daughter slowly accept that the harmony of their domestic life must give way to the next stage in their lives. (JB)

BFI NATIONAL ARCHIVE (1)/RONALD GRANT ARCHIVE (1)

35 Shots of Rum


THE MASTER BUILDER In Certain Women Michelle Williams gives her third luminous performance for Kelly Reichardt, playing an estate agent hoping to build a stable future with her husband and family by constructing a summer house outside their home town in Montana

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A WOMAN’S

WORK The old pioneer ethics of fortitude and hard work drive the trio of contemporary tales that make up Kelly Reichardt’s Montana-set ‘Certain Women’, a film that’s sharply attuned to life on the margins as it outlines its characters’ determined efforts to forge a connection By Sophie Mayer The first thing you see in Kelly Reichardt’s sixth feature

Certain Women is a train cutting across the frame, bringing with it long histories of cinema (stretching back to the Lumière brothers) and something freshly urgent: a hint of the stories to come, of the small towns and ranches of the rural Midwest, people working to stay afloat, and working to connect. “I drive cross-country a lot and almost anywhere you are, you find the sound of trains,” Reichardt notes. “My family originally went to Miami to work on the first trains down there, but even where I am now in New York, there’s a train that goes by my apartment. Trains are still alive and well. They’re built into the tradition of the western, but in the Pacific Northwest there’s still kids who ride trains. That brings back images of the Depression in the 1920s and 30s, so it brings with it an idea of who is living on the margins.” Certain Women opens as if the train on which unemployed, broke Wendy (Michelle Williams) leaves Wendy and Lucy (2008), Reichardt’s third feature, has come back down the track – bringing Williams with it once more, to turn in her third luminous lead performance for Reichardt. She plays Gina, one of the ‘certain women’ Reichardt found in the work of Maile Meloy, adapting three of the writer’s stories from two collections, Half in Love (2002) and Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It (2009), the titles of which hint at the rare ambiguity and orneriness afforded their characters. Meloy’s writing drew Reichardt east from Oregon, where she had shot her four previous features (her first, 1994’s River of Grass was made in Florida) into Montana. “Maile’s stories were so specifically Montana, even though I’ve read she didn’t have Montana specifically in mind,” Reichardt says. “But her Montana-ness is in there, whether the stories are set in Montana or not.” The film conjures March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 39


KELLY REICHARDT

Reichardt’s softly spoken films could be read as the attentive inverse of Altman’s love of the garrulous: two approaches to sounding out the same questions about American space

40 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

CERTAIN WOMEN

with both what could be called that Montana of the mind, in its references to the western from the opening train to the horse ranch on which the third story is set, and the living 21st-century Montana of local radio, lawyers and Lycra. Williams’s first appearance, wearing bright, highperformance running gear, is startling: not just because it indicates a switch from the opening story, whose protagonist Laura (Laura Dern) is a taupe-clad lawyer disappointed in life and love, but for its note of urban modernity. Gina is brightly at odds with the pace of life in Livingston, and unaware that her husband Ryan (James Le Gros) is having an affair with Laura. She hopes that by acquiring a heap of sandstone blocks – which were once part of the first white settlers’ schoolhouse – she will make certain of her marriage and family by building a summer house outside town. Her encounter with Albert (René Auberjonois), who owns the stone, is at the centre of the film, and pivotal to the development of its themes of listening and communicating. Nervy, forthcoming Gina initially flounders in conversation with the taciturn, solitary Albert – neither of them helped by Ryan’s unsupportive, tone-deaf obfuscations. Eventually Gina and Albert find a way to understand each other, when they listen together to the voice of a quail. He phrases its call as “How are ya?”, finally

able to articulate, indirectly, what it is this lonely, proud man longs to hear from his neighbours. Such shifting patterns of sound – and silence – are central to the storytelling in Certain Women. As well as enthusing about the archive where she located the train sounds for the film – necessary because she and sound recordist Paul Maritsas “were shooting in one of the windiest places in America, so the trains were hard to record” – Reichardt describes a class she teaches in which she asks her students to listen to the barroom scene in Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) in the dark. “Without having seen the film, the students draw a floorplan of the bar, marking who is sitting where in the room, what the weather is, and so on,” she explains, “and just from the sound they can draw a really specific scene about the textures of the space. It was so great that I finally got to work with [McCabe’s] René Auberjonois: he’s such a fantastic character, that bartender. I’ve listened to that voice so much [in class], it was weird to have it come from my headset [during shooting].” Reichardt’s softly spoken films, in which characters are often alone in long periods of listening silence, could be read as the attentive inverse of Altman’s love of the garrulous: two approaches to sounding out the same questions about American space. Auberjonois’s presence as guardian of the sandstone is


KELLY’S HEROES Lily Gladstone plays a rancher (above) who falls for Kristen Stewart’s Elizabeth (right), a lawyer struggling to make ends meet in the face of a mountain of student debt

just one trace that makes Montana’s colonial – and precolonial – history palpable in Certain Women. As in her Meek’s Cutoff (2010), Reichardt is subtly busting myths about how the West was won and whether it was indeed a victory. There, Williams played Emily Tetherow, a pioneer whose narrative Reichardt and screenwriter Jon Raymond composited from historical women’s trail diaries. Emily teams up with an unnamed captive Native American (Crow actor Rod Rondeaux) against the Tetherow party’s trail guide Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), who is based on the historical figure who gave his name to the route into Oregon that completed the European settlement of the West. Meek, in Reichardt’s account, is not only a bully but incompetent, and it is the Native American who leads the Tetherow party to water in the desert, enabling – with a bitter irony he acknowledges – the ‘cutoff’ that will assist the European dispossession and genocide of Native Americans. Certain Women offers just as startling a reversal of norms, being one of the few contemporary films by a white American director to include a Native American character, who is the protagonist of the film’s third story. The rancher, a male character in Meloy’s original story, is played by mixed Blackfeet actor Lily Gladstone, who told OUT magazine that she reads the character as “exploring her gender identity, where she fits on this nonbinary spectrum”. The rancher – as her name suggests – works on a ranch, on the margins way outside town, but connected to it by road. When, on a particularly cold night, she rides into town by horse rather than truck, in order to romance her crush, a young and very tired lawyer called Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart), the film’s play with margins and centre, its delicate web of connections and transportations – between people as well as across the western genre – is heartbreakingly tangible. Elizabeth, a working-poor law graduate struggling with her student debt, has been assigned to teach night school for local teachers. The rancher, having crashed the first class, takes Elizabeth to the local diner after each session. It is only with the proposition of a horse ride, however, that the former’s romantic feelings become clear. Elizabeth doesn’t return the following week. Making Elizabeth’s journey in reverse, the rancher drives all night to Livingston to find her, but happens upon Laura instead as she searches the town’s legal offices, so that the first and third stories briefly, electrically, touch. After being rejected by Elizabeth, the rancher – unslept, dazed, resolute in solitude – drives back to the ranch. Somewhere outside town, her truck drifts, slowly, off the road and into a field: the quietest broken heart in cinema. Afterwards, the film returns to Laura’s story, then Gina’s, offering brief codas that show how they are moving on. When the film comes back to the rancher, she is repeating the chores in the stable where we first met her. Gladstone holds not only sympathy, but also the screen, in what is essentially a two-hander with Stewart, one of the most celebrated young actors, and her story feels like the logical and powerful end of the trilogy. Gladstone, who won the LA Film Critics Association award for Best Supporting Actress and a Gotham Awards Breakthrough Actor nomination, came to the film via the growing Native American film industry. Reichardt heard about the actor via the casting director who had found Rondeaux, and through a conversation with Sem-

inole-Muscogee filmmaker Sterlin Harjo. For Reichardt, the rancher’s story was central to forming a portrait of Montana. “I was amazed to see the influence of Native American culture everywhere: there were hotel lobbies full of images and sculptures in the square, but it was just the aesthetic. There were no brown faces anywhere. I would ask people in town and they would say ‘You have to go out to the reservation.’ Like, really. So I looked.” The film’s look defies Reichardt’s description of the appropriated and commodified aesthetic, even subtly skewering it when Gina describes her search for “native stone, railroad ties, things which fit in” for the construction of her summer house. Sandstone plays a key role as one of a series of pale shades in the film that we first notice with Ryan’s observation that Laura’s sweater, which she optimistically calls “peach” is in fact “taupe”. Whiteness – or, really, beigeness – is made visible through this chain of associations, a pale background against which the rancher is cast. Reichardt noted that the ranch was one of the last locations to fall into place, and that its colour was crucial: “The film got financed faster than I was anticipating. I was leaving Los Angeles to fly home to New York, and my producer called to say we had the money, and I had to go to Montana. So we were scouting. I still didn’t

have the place for one of the Laura scenes, or the ranch. I can’t believe the luck of me and my scout coming on the ranch, after we’d been looking for ages: I wanted a beige ranch. I can’t believe we found it.” It was while location-scouting in Montana that Reichardt heard about and cast Gladstone. “But then Lily had to take horse lessons. Kristen had more horse experience than Lily. I realised that was my bias: ‘You’re a Native American actress, what do you mean you don’t know how to ride a horse?’” Reichardt notes that she “didn’t know anything about ranching” either. “We were into the ranch life by that point so I wanted to shoot that story. We shot with a really small crew so as not to scare the horses – just Lily and four or five of us. I don’t know why I thought that would be easiest. It was four or five below zero [-18º C] the whole time we were there, and we were shooting on film. The poor camera-loaders had a really hard time.” The demanding conditions may have complicated some matters – whether loading film or recording trains – but also produces an observational, embodied sense of place: for example, the sound of the rancher’s boots squeaking painfully through the icy snow on the wintry expanses of the ranch is a magical piece of field recording that transmits the precise sensation of March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 41


KELLY REICHARDT

The sound of the rancher’s boots squeaking painfully through the icy snow is a magical piece of field recording that transmits the precise sensation of extreme cold to the viewer’s body

BEFORE THE LAW In Certain Women, the sixth feature from Kelly Reichardt (above), Laura Dern plays Laura (below), an unhappy lawyer caught up in a dramatic showdown with a former client who is determined to get justice from his ex-employer

CERTAIN WOMEN

extreme cold to the viewer’s body. Reichardt adds that she uses “sounds almost as a musical background, the sounds of commerce and the highway, the working sounds of the city as well as the winter birds”. These blend with a soundtrack that ends with ‘Boats to Build’, an ironic title for landlocked Montana, by Texas country singer Guy Clark, whose voice is described by Rolling Stone as a “warm, ragged coo”. Clark died in May 2016, and his music – along with the character of Albert – lends the film an air of the last of the Old West, even as Gladstone, as the rancher, shades in an older West still. The frictions between the cowboy and the highway, or desert silences and digital noise, run throughout the film, from the moment that the local radio’s weather report (the DJ notes it’s cold enough to freeze the water in dog dishes) comes in over the sound of the train’s whistle. Giving both speakers equal weight, the film outlines the different struggles that people have to be heard, and the value of intense listening. Before the train is either audible or visible, the film starts with the sound of bells jingling: suggestive of a horse and cart, its source only becomes clear midway through the first story when Laura, leaving the personal injury lawyer’s office, stops to watch pow-wow dancers, wearing jingling ceremonial outfits, at the mall. Her story centres not on her sexual relationship with Ryan, but her work relationship with a former client, Fuller (Jared Harris), who wants to pursue a personal injury case against a former employer despite her advice that he has no case. When Jared finally takes no for an answer from another lawyer in Billings (Guy Boyd), Laura muses resignedly down the phone to Ryan about what it would be like to be a man, and to be listened to and taken seriously. When Fuller takes Laura hostage in an office building late at night, along with Samoan security guard Amituana (Joshua T. Fonokalafi), it becomes clear that Fuller also longs to be listened to and taken seriously, that his claim is an attempt to create a conversation about work and loneliness and poverty that Laura has not heard. In a dark open-plan office, there sit a white working-class man, a white middle-class woman and a working-class nonwhite immigrant (who, having Samoan royal lineage, outranks them both). Both men have guns, and Laura is wearing a bullet-proof jacket; police officers wait outside – but the unfolding scene and its conclusion are unexpected. Contra Anton Chekhov, no guns go off. Laura draws Fuller into conversation, listens up and talks him

down. But she doesn’t buy his rebel-with-a-cause story and let him drive away free. In the coda, she visits him in prison where an equilibrium – or even friendship – has been reached, because they are connected. Laura’s story begins as a love/sex story, one that – in its seedy afternoon hotel room tryst – strategically quotes the opening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Laura will drive away from Ryan and find herself caught up in another man’s psychodrama, but we’re not in the Bates Motel anymore. Throughout the first story, we see Laura as a lawyer not a lover; in the second, we’re aware of Gina as both an estate agent (who is her husband’s boss) and a mother. In the third story, the rancher and Elizabeth are, in a real sense, divided by work: by class, but also by the exhaustion and precarity of servicing debt through shortterm contracts in the vast, isolating spaces of Montana. Where love fails in a cold climate, work takes up the reins. Laura and Elizabeth are both competent, thoughtful lawyers, but it is in the chores on the ranch – perhaps because they are the first scenes Reichardt shot – that the film finds itself. “Working with animals, even working with a dog, keeps actors focused,” Reichardt observes. “They constantly have something that they have to be responding to, interacting with, and it keeps the scene alive in a certain way.” Like the trains that stitch the continent together, animals are pervasive in Reichardt’s work, including the rancher’s horses and dog, the final living thing we see in the film. Then the end credits begin with the dedication “For Lucy” – Reichardt’s late dog. “I had to have her in all my early films because she was such a destructive dog,” she remembers. “I had to bring her on set because I didn’t know what else to do with her. So then there she was, and Wendy and Lucy grew from that. But animals are probably part of what drew me to the stories in Certain Women. The film is about moments of connecting and not connecting; our connection with animals can be quite a big thing.” Certain in both senses – specific and decided – Reichardt’s work binds us through its network of connections: virtual train lines that link across geography, species, gender, ethnicity, class and time to remind us that we work with one another, and that keeps us alive.

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Certain Women is released in UK cinemas on 3 March and is reviewed on page 74


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Music to Die For 25.02 LIFE AND DEATH ON STAGE AND SCREEN | Saturday 25 February 7.30pm The BBC Concert Orchestra shines a light into some of the murkier corners of murder and mortality, exploring death and spirituality in music from the stage and screen. This concert includes the famous ‘Carousel Waltz’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, Janácˇek’s eternal cycle of life and death in a suite from The Cunning Little Vixen, Sondheim’s ‘A Little Priest’ from Sweeney Todd and excerpts from Four Weddings and a Funeral. Powerful, poignant and alternative, we know you’re dying to attend.

From Heaven to Hell at the Movies 19.03 SOUND OF CINEMA LIVE | Sunday 19 March 7.30pm You know the moment in a film when it finally gets to the point? When the future ahead could be heavenly or hellish, the power of massed voices is there to make human the emotional detail. Writer, broadcaster and presenter of BBC Radio 3’s Sound of Cinema, Matthew Sweet, presents a concert of these moments. Join us on a voyage that takes you all the way to Omaha Beach with John Williams’s ‘Hymn to the Fallen’ (Saving Private Ryan), before transporting you to other universes including the epic ‘Duel of the Fates’ (Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace).

BBC Concert Orchestra at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall Book now: southbankcentre.co.uk | 020 7960 4200


44 | Sight&Sound | March 2017


VIOLA DAVIS

OVER THE FENCES Long fêted for her ability to steal scenes from co-stars, even in her fleeting early roles, Viola Davis has gone on to establish herself as one of the finest actors of her generation – and her acclaimed role in ‘Fences’ has seen her make history as the first black woman to be nominated for three Oscars By Jan Asante If cinema is a barometer of a nation’s values, there’s an irony in the recent success of several American films that explore the lingering wounds of cultural disenfranchisement. Against the backdrop of the ugliest and most polarising presidential election in recent American history, a small yet poignant body of counter-culture filmmaking has prevailed – in films such as Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures and now Denzel Washington’s Fences. An adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1983 play, Fences is set in the mid 1950s and tells the story of Troy Maxson – a garbage collector and former baseball player consumed by the injustice of having been denied entry to the major leagues in his youth because of the colour barrier – and his friends and family, including his spirited, beleaguered wife Rose. Talk of a big-screen adaptation had been heard for years, with attempts apparently frustrated by studio resistance to Wilson’s insistence that a black director be hired. But now Wilson’s demand has been honoured – even if, having died in 2005, he did not live to see it. As well as lead actor and director Denzel Washington, the film boasts an ensemble cast of seasoned African

American actors, among them Stephen McKinley Henderson, who plays Troy’s co-worker and old friend Bono; Mykelti Williamson, as Troy’s older brother, mentally impaired since sustaining a head injury in World War II; and Jovan Adepo as Troy’s son Cory. But standing out among the many magnificent performances is the film’s formidable leading lady, Viola Davis, who earned a Tony Award for her portrayal of Rose in the 2010 Broadway production alongside Washington, and who went on to take the Best Actress award at this year’s Golden Globes. She has since earned an Academy Award nod for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first black woman to be nominated for three Oscars. Davis breathes depth and compassion into the role. Visiting London in January, she spoke of what attracted her to Wilson’s play. “It’s something I don’t get to do a lot [as an actor] – sit with the characters’ pathology,” she explained. “You see them unravel. There’s not one time that you feel that they’re a social mouthpiece, that it’s didactic, and a lot of times that’s what they do to actors of colour. You’re just watching these relationships unfold and you begin to see the universal in the specific.”

CLIMBING ROSE In Fences, Viola Davis plays Rose (opposite), the spirited, beleaguered wife of Troy Maxson, a tragic patriarch fixated on the lost dream of his former baseball career

March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 45


VIOLA DAVIS

FENCES

“I don’t know how you’d turn down a role like this,” she continues. “To have a character who is so complete in her journey. Sometimes [as an actor] you’ve got to force a journey. I was so tired of making things work. On this, I didn’t have to do any of that. And to be with Denzel and the actors who did it on Broadway – which almost never happens. To shoot it in Pittsburgh... I wonder if people understand how different this is?” Where Washington’s Troy is verbose and loud, Rose is quietly determined, with Davis adding depth and nuance to her portrayal through her reactions to Troy’s monologues, as well as on the rather fewer occasions she gets to deliver more expansive dialogue. For Davis, Rose was fascinating for the way she represented the women of her times. “1957 had the highest rate of alcoholism and depression in women [in the United States],” she explains. “We were absolutely relegated to the kitchen. It’s like Betty Friedan said in The Feminine Mystique, we hid our pain behind perfectly applied lipstick and waxed floors. We smoked a lot – a lot of women died of lung cancer. So Rose is a reflection and an extension of her time. She’s also one generation removed from slavery – a very specific generation. By ignoring that and putting judgement on that, you’re dishonouring the character. Our job as artists is to expose, not to mask.” Wilson’s story had strong personal resonances for Davis, pushing her to confront truths about her own background. In her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, she gave an emotional nod to her father, Dan Davis: “During the course of shooting Fences, it occurred to me that for the whole generation of men in Troy’s era, which included my father, who was born in 1936 – that is, at the height of Jim Crow laws in St Matthews, South Carolina – their stories need to be told. My dad died of pancreatic cancer; he could barely write, he was an alcoholic. He was a very complicated man, but it occurred to me when he was dying that I wanted to preserve his stories. In life, too often the only stories that are preserved are the people who somehow shifted the culture. The Martin Luther Kings, the Medgar Evers, or a great musician. But the average man, somehow their stories are forgotten – especially the average black man. Those are the stories that August Wilson preserves, because that average person is really the keeper of history. They’re the ones who let you know what was actually happening.” Davis was born to Mary Alice and Dan Davis in South Carolina in August 1965, moving to Rhode Island shortly after she was born. By her own admission, her childhood was one marked by abject poverty. Her mother had no more than an eighth grade education, her father even less. Yet with limited literacy, he supported the family and worked grooming horses. Humble beginnings did

46 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Actors walk through life almost like ghosts. They see all the stuff people take for granted – the idiosyncrasies, the mess, the shortcomings. They soak it up. And that’s what I did

MAID IN AMERICA Denzel Washington as Troy and Viola Davis as his wife Rose in Fences (above); and Davis in Tate Taylor’s The Help (2011, below)

little to temper Davis’s confidence, though – in fact, she credits her childhood with informing her intuition as an actor. “It’s about being a keen observer of life and being affected by the things that you do see,” she explains. “Actors walk through life almost like ghosts. They see all the stuff that people take for granted – the idiosyncrasies, the mess, the shortcomings. They soak it up. And that’s what I did in my life. I knew all the drug dealers. I knew the people who were the paedophiles, and I looked and I watched and I soaked it in. It really has been those kinds of observations that have informed my work much more than confidence.” Acting became a focus at high school, and Davis went on to win a place at New York’s Juilliard School, graduating in 1993. A string of supporting roles came in quick succession in the late 1990s and early 2000s, during which Davis alternated stage and screen work (winning her first Tony Award in 2001), and established herself as a memorable presence in often fleeting parts, even if leading roles proved mostly to be elusive. To pick just a handful: she worked with Steven Soderbergh three times, on Out of Sight (1998), Traffic (2000) and Solaris (2002), and won particular notice for her performances in James Mangold’s Kate & Leopold (2001), Denzel Washington’s Antwone Fisher (2002) and Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven (2002). Her reputation for stealing a film in supporting roles continues to this day, particularly when playing no-nonsense authority figures, as in the sci-fi adaptation Ender’s Game (2013), or Michael Mann’s Blackhat (2015), in which she played an FBI agent. Her breakthrough role, though, came with the Broadway adaptation Doubt in 2008, in which she played alongside Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Although Davis had only one scene in the film, she made such an impression that she was nominated for a Golden Globe, an Academy Award and a Screen Actors Guild award. Davis confirmed her status in the industry when she played 1960s domestic worker Aibileen Clark in The Help (2011) – a role criticised by many for sitting within a time-honoured tradition of limiting roles for black actresses, even as Davis brought far greater depth to the part, resulting in a second Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Academy Awards. Some critics saw The Help as typical of white America’s tendency to mythologise


(2014-). Talking about the role, which she admits has been a career “game changer”, Davis says: “In the centre of that narrative is someone who looks like me. Someone whose sexuality, whose pathology does not have boundaries based on her colour. It’s almost a redefinition of a dark-skinned black woman of 51, and I want it to remain that way. I don’t want her to be pigeonholed. I don’t want to walk into an episode and go, ‘Annalise wouldn’t do that.’ I don’t know what Annalise would do. I don’t care if it’s screwed up, I don’t care if it’s all over the place!” Davis says she has revelled in the imaginative freedoms offered by playing a razor-sharp black, female, ethically ruthless and arguably sociopathic character. She also rebukes society’s tendency to make actresses answer for such defiant roles. “I love every bit of it,” she admits. “I am aware it’s a soap opera, that it’s melodrama, that people don’t see it the same way as House of Cards [2013-]; but what [the character] allows me to do is play other adjectives: she’s sexualised, she’s sociopathic, she’s messy, she’s smart. She’s all those things, and the best part is, you can’t put your finger on her. I see Annalise Keating as a fantastic experiment. I always say, ‘Who on TV is like me?’ It’s interesting that I have so many interviews where people say, ‘Viola, do you have a problem playing someone so unlikeable?’ No. I don’t. And I don’t think that they would ask a man that question. They wouldn’t have asked James Gandolfini that. And also, no one’s going to ask a white woman that. No one’s going to ask Glenn Close or Robin Wright, ‘How does it feel to play someone so cold?’ They’re going to celebrate it. So I saw Annalise Keating as an opportunity to explore all of that. I just felt like I scored in How to Get Away with Murder.” But even with the influence that Davis and several others have amassed, black actors and filmmakers still face undeniable hurdles. Nevertheless, Davis feels that the present moment does offer cause for optimism: “Movies like Hidden Figures and Fences were distributed in 2,000 theatres in the States, which is almost unheard of,” she notes. “You have people like [African American producer] Charles D. King’s Macro Films, which did most of the financing for Fences, which is really instrumental with black films. They’re going to be the game changers. You have [Selma director] Ava DuVernay, who does have a distribution company [Array]. We’re trying. Taraji P. Henson, Halle Berry, Kerry Washington, Octavia Spencer... we’re all trying. Because we are completely tired of waiting. Listen, I don’t like change. I’m a creature of habit, but I have a six-year-old daughter and she’s forcing me to change. The world is changing, and art has got to reflect that. The audience is going to demand it.”

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Fences is released on 10 February and is reviewed on page 76

After ‘The Help’, I was just done with the aprons. I was done with what I felt was a gag order on my humanity and my sensuality and my womanhood

MAKING A SCENE Viola Davis in (below, from left) Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven (2002), Michael Mann’s Blackhat (2015) and US TV drama How to Get Away with Murder (2014-)

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itself on screen, when compelled to reconcile race, class and the vestiges of slavery. “Nobody wants to stain the memory of that black woman who loved them probably more than their mothers loved them,” Davis says. “They want to preserve that memory of them being loving, and so they want to keep them pure. And so there was a constant battle that I had.” Hollywood’s bias towards a Eurocentric standard of female beauty is a matter of historical fact, so the emergence of the dark-skinned Davis as a star, and as a beauty, is exceptional. Davis remains frank about the obstacles still faced by women of colour in her industry. “I always say that you step up when you’re forced to, when you have no other choice,” she says. “After The Help, I was just done with the aprons. I was done with what I felt was a gag order on my humanity and my sensuality and my womanhood. There’s a sense that black actors are not as technically proficient or not as good – that’s because we have a gag order on us! We are doing the best we can to give you the truth, but if the people who are in power are the people who don’t want to be indicted, who feel uncomfortable, they don’t allow you to do what you do to make you technically proficient.” Davis is wise to the fact that change comes slowly in Hollywood, and so with business savvy, off-camera, she’s been producing work with her husband and business partner Julius Tennon. “It was after The Help that my husband and I started the production company [JuVee Productions]. There was something about going into these rooms and fighting for these narratives that forced me to be that woman. It forced me because I had to find my voice. I came to the realisation that there are specific narratives that I want for me and that would fulfil me as an artist. And I don’t apologise for it.” JuVee has since sold seven shows to television, and has inked a lucrative development deal with ABC studios. Also in the pipeline is an HBO biopic on the life of Civil War-era activist Harriet Tubman, who helped hundreds of enslaved blacks escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad, and a feature based on the life of congresswoman Barbara Jordan, who in 1972 became the first African American woman from the Southern states to be elected to the House of Representatives. What links these projects – and lies at the very heart of JuVee’s mission – is a determination to find stories that accurately reflect the diversity of American society. It’s a guiding principle Davis and her husband share with another successful African American producer of recent years, Shonda Rhimes, who along with show creator Peter Nowalk helped tailor what has perhaps been Davis’s defining role: as law professor Annalise Keating in the US television drama How to Get Away with Murder

March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 47


Obituaries 2016

ANTON YELCHIN

Anton Yelchin: the actor added depth, intelligence and sweetness to great movies, including Star Trek into Darkness, Green Room and Only Lovers Left Alive

11/03/1989 – 19/06/2016

The day after Prince died, I happened to catch a screening of Jeremy Saulnier’s punk-band horror thriller Green Room (2015), starring a superb Anton Yelchin, in the ArcLight cinema in Hollywood. At one point, trapped in the green room by sundry Nazi skinheads, the punks are asked which singer or group they would take with them to a desert island, and the badass of the band (Joe Cole) spills his heart: “Prince!” The ArcLight audience let out a collective “Aw!” and clapped, mourning the shocking loss of a genius while celebrating that even a punker would love Prince. Some time afterwards Saulnier released a statement expressing how moved he was by this accidental tribute in the film. Nearly two months later, Saulnier released another, more personal, tribute: Yelchin had passed away. Goddamnit. How could this happen? All young death is tragic but that he died in a freak accident in the driveway of his home, and at such a promising time in his career, when he was so artistically productive and curious and wonderful, was too awful to think about. Green Room wasn’t the only film starring the talented young man that summer. Star Trek Beyond was to be released in July, and producer J.J. Abrams expressed a touching statement of loss towards his (and our) beloved new Chekov. Tributes and in memoriams poured out, from both Hollywood and around the world. Yelchin’s parents were former figure skaters and sometime stars of the Leningrad Ice Ballet who had already endured years of oppression by 48 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

the Soviet authorities because of their Jewishness when, for the sake of their six-month-old son Anton, they decided to sell all their worldly goods and emigrate as refugees to Los Angeles in 1989. “The move was brutal for them… But they did it so I could grow up here and have a better life than they did,” Yelchin told the Daily Beast in 2011. And Yelchin proved his talent early. His parents proudly encouraged him as he pursued his bright, multifaceted career, starting out in movies such as Along Came a Spider and Hearts in Atlantis (both 2001). He was soon making interesting decisions, doing big-budget movies as well as independents, as his curiosity about both life and film grew. Yelchin was a unique face and presence in movies. Not a standard leading man, but one who could carry a picture no problem; his gorgeous, expressive eyes and curious smile drew you in. Depending on the role, his eyes seemed to hold a secret he would never tell you or one he needed to reveal. He was open, but also subtle and mysterious, which is why his sensitive lead in Green Room was so perfect, much like nervous, wide-eyed Jon Voight becoming the hero of Deliverance when you might think it would be the wilier, tougher Burt Reynolds. Yelchin was a sort of sneak attack, adding

There was nothing false about Yelchin’s work, largely because he seemed curious and smart – and, in real life, he was

depth, intelligence, edge and a sweetness that felt genuine and lived-in to great movies (Star Trek into Darkness, 2013; Only Lovers Left Alive, 2013) or ones that could have seemed flimsy or melodramatic but weren’t, partly because the movies were actually good, partly because of Yelchin’s centring, soulful presence (Alpha Dog, 2005; Charlie Bartlett, 2007). There was nothing false about his work, largely because he seemed curious and smart – and, in real life, he was. His victim in Alpha Dog is a powerful depiction of adolescent excitement, rebellion and confusion – never once do we doubt why this kid would agree to be kidnapped, and believe his captors would keep him safe. When he’s driven off to be killed, we know what’s coming, but he doesn’t, so when he says that he loves his mom and why, it’s one of the most moving scenes in the film. It all comes so instinctively to Yelchin, moments often taken for granted, but these things aren’t easy to do. He was a natural. Yelchin was also a true cinephile, a musician, a photographer and an aspiring director himself. He acted in short films, frequented LA’s revival cinemas and contributed to classic DVD releases, narrating a documentary on Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon. I recently rewatched Green Room and marvelled again at Yelchin’s performance – the one band member who makes it to the end, the one we connect with most. We watch his fear, realistic bravery, vulnerability, cynicism and humour. That much talent? With that much ahead of him at 27 years old? Not fair, world. Kim Morgan


Ronit Elkabetz, 51: leading Israeli actor (Late

January to December 2016 Compiled by Bob Mastrangelo Denotes an extended obituary at bfi.org.uk/sightandsound

LATE 2015 Douglas Dick, 95: actor who had some prominent supporting roles in the late 1940s and 50s before becoming a psychologist (Rope; Home of the Brave; The Red Badge of Courage). Paul Gregory, 95: producer of The Night of the Hunter and The Naked and the Dead.

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ACTORS Tarik Akan, 66: Turkish actor who came to international attention with his roles in The Herd and Yol and received honourable mention at Berlin for Pehlivan. Giorgio Albertazzi, 92: distinguished Italian stage actor, most prominent in films as X in Last Year at Marienbad. Alexis Arquette, 47: supporting player who broke ground for transgender performers in Hollywood (Last Exit to Brooklyn; Bride of Chucky). Kenny Baker, 81: actor who operated R2-D2 in the Star Wars films and was Fidgit, one of the title characters in Time Bandits. Terence Bayler, 86: starred in the groundbreaking New Zealand film Broken Barrier, played Macduff in Polanski’s Macbeth and had a memorable bit in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Brian Bedford, 80: stage actor often in classical roles, all too rarely in films (Grand Prix; Disney’s Robin Hood). Amelia Bence, 101: one of the biggest stars of Argentine cinema’s golden age from the 1930s through the 50s (The Gaucho War; The Most Beautiful Eyes in the World). Margaret ‘Maggie’ Blye, 73: actor best remembered for her role in Collinson’s The Italian Job. David Bowie, 69: music icon and occasional actor who continually reinvented himself (The Man Who Fell to Earth; Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence; Labyrinth). Richard Bradford, 81: white-haired toughguy character actor (Penn’s The Chase; De Palma’s The Untouchables) who also starred in the TV series Man in a Suitcase. Bobby Breen, 87: child actor and singer who was briefly a Hollywood star in the 1930s (Rainbow on the River; Make a Wish). Tony Burton, 78: former boxer who played Duke in the first six Rocky films and one of the prisoners who defends the police station in Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. Charmian Carr, 73: ingénue who made her mark as Liesl, the oldest of the von Trapp children in The Sound of Music. Joan Carroll, 85: child actor who was the thirdeldest daughter in Meet Me in St. Louis and a troubled student in The Bells of St. Mary’s. John Carson, 89: actor who had some of his most memorable roles for Hammer (The Plague of the Zombies; Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter). Billy Chapin, 72: child actor who was Dan Dailey’s son in The Kid from Left Field and young John, memorably pursued by Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter.

David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth

Franco Citti, 80: Italian actor who starred

in several films for Pasolini (Accattone) and played Michael Corleone’s Sicilian bodyguard in The Godfather. Adrienne Corri, 85: striking redhead with prominent roles for Renoir (The River), Lean (Doctor Zhivago) and, most notoriously, Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange). Nicole Courcel, 84: French actor who first came to attention in Jacques Becker’s Rendezvous de juillet, then had notable roles for Carné, Guitry and Serge Bourguignon. Richard Davalos, 85: played Aron Trask in East of Eden but subsequently was seen in smaller roles (Cool Hand Luke). Nancy Davis (Reagan), 94: US first lady and wife of Ronald Reagan who was a Hollywood leading lady in the 1950s (Donovan’s Brain; Hellcats of the Navy). Gloria DeHaven, 91: made her screen debut with an unbilled part in Modern Times, then became a singing star of MGM musicals (Two Girls and a Sailor; Summer Stock). Patty Duke, 69: spent much of her career on TV, but won an Oscar for playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and starred in the campy cult film Valley of the Dolls.

Marriage; The Band’s Visit) and filmmaker (Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem). Pierre Etaix, 87: see box on page 52 Frank Finlay, 89: expert scene-stealer who became a household name through his starring role in the BBC’s Casanova series, and played Iago to Olivier’s Othello, and Porthos in Lester’s Musketeers trilogy. Carrie Fisher, 60: introduced a new breed of action heroine to the screen as Princess Leia in the Star Wars films, then reinvented herself as a fearlessly sharp-witted writer (Postcards from the Edge) and mental health advocate. Bernard Fox, 89: actor who warned, “Iceberg dead ahead, sir!” in A Night to Remember, then returned as a passenger in Cameron’s Titanic and also played Dr Bombay on TV’s Bewitched. Zsa Zsa Gabor, 99: glamorous actor who ultimately became better known as a colourful personality and tabloid fixture (Huston’s Moulin Rouge; Lili; Queen of Outer Space). Michel Galabru, 93: leading French actor, equally at home in drama and broad farce (The Judge and the Assassin; La Cage aux folles; Kamikaze). Rita Gam, 88: leading lady of the 1950s and early 60s (Sign of the Pagan; King of Kings). Valerie Gaunt, 84: had brief, but critical roles in two of the foundational films of Hammer horror, The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. Götz George, 77: highly popular star of German TV (Tatort) and films (Schtonk!; The Deathmaker) whose career spanned seven decades. Vivean Gray, 92: British actor who found fame on TV’s Neighbours and had two key roles for Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock; The Last Wave). Eva Henning, 95: star of Swedish cinema, notably for her then-husband Hasse Ekman (Girl with Hyacinths) and Bergman (Thirst). Ken Howard, 71: veteran TV actor, on film as Thomas Jefferson in 1776 and a ruthless CEO in Michael Clayton. David Huddleston, 85: played a gang leader in Bad Company, the mayor in Blazing Saddles and the title role in The Big Lebowski. Anne Jackson, 90: eminent stage

Space odyssey: Carrie Fisher introduced a new breed of action heroine as Princess Leia in Star Wars March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 49


OBITUARIES 2016

actor, often teamed with her husband Eli Wallach but only occasionally in films (The Secret Life of an American Wife; Lovers and Other Strangers). Jayalalitha, 68: popular star of Telugu, Kannada and especially Tamil cinema who abandoned acting for a political career (Aayirathil Oruvan; Nam Naadu). Fran Jeffries, 79: singer, dancer and actor who performed memorably seductive renditions of ‘Meglio Stasera’ in Edwards’s The Pink Panther and the title tune in Sex and the Single Girl. Tommy Kelly, 90: child actor who played the title role in 1938’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. George Kennedy, 91: played Paul Newman’s rival-turned-ally in Cool Hand Luke, was a staple of the Airport disaster movies in the 1970s and showed a knack for comedy with the Naked Gun films. Burt Kwouk, 85: busy character actor seen as villainous henchmen in Bond films and as Cato, the servant who keeps Clouseau on his toes in the Pink Panther films. Chus Lampreave, 85: colourful Spanish character actor who was a favoured member of Almodóvar’s stock company from Dark Habits to Broken Embraces. Madeleine Lebeau, 92: French actor who tearfully sings ‘La Marseillaise’ as Yvonne in Casablanca, and costarred in Ealing’s Cage of Gold. Ruth Leuwerik, 91: one of West Germany’s top box-office stars of the 1950s and early 60s (Königliche Hoheit; Die Trapp-Familie). Richard Libertini, 82: character actor, often at his best in broad comedy (The In-Laws; All of Me). William Lucas, 91: had notable supporting parts in Sons and Lovers and a couple of Hammer films, and later starred in the TV series The Adventures of Black Beauty. Nicole Maurey, 90: French actor (Diary of a Country Priest) who was also active in Hollywood (Secret of the Incas) and England (The Day of the Triffids). Marc Michel, 83: Swiss actor who co-starred in Becker’s Le Trou and played Roland Cassard in Lola and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Noelle Middleton, 89: Irish actor whose film career was largely confined to the 1950s (Carrington V.C.; The Iron Petticoat). Michèle Morgan, 96: see box, right. Noel Neill, 95: played Lois Lane opposite Kirk Alyn in the movie serials Superman and Atom Man vs. Superman and opposite George Reeves in the TV series Adventures of Superman. Marni Nixon, 86: soprano who famously provided the singing voices for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Bill Nunn, 63: gained recognition as Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing, and thereafter played a variety of supporting roles (Regarding Henry; Spider-Man trilogy). Hugh O’Brian, 91: actor frequently in westerns, on film (The Man from the Alamo; The Shootist) and TV (The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp). Jacqueline Pagnol, 95: French actor and wife of Marcel Pagnol who starred in most of his post-war films and played the title role for his 1952 Manon des sources. 50 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

ACTOR

MICHELE MORGAN 29/03/1920 – 20/12/2016

Michèle Morgan’s early career resembles a fairytale. Born Simone Renée Roussel in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, she was ‘discovered’ while still in her teens by the director Marc Allégret, who grew a reputation for spotting potential female stars (including Simone Simon and Brigitte Bardot). Morgan immediately made an impression opposite veteran stage actor Raimu in Allégret’s melodrama Heart of Paris (Gribouille, 1937), with her exquisite pale beauty and the huge blue eyes that would become her defining feature. But her pre-war career was marked forever by Marcel Carné’s 1938 Le Quai des brumes, in which, alongside Jean Gabin, she projected the quintessential vision of poetic realist femininity: a fragile, romantic young woman, the love object of the proletarian hero in a doomed relationship. Her unforgettable first appearance in this film, in a beret and shiny transparent trench coat designed by Coco Chanel, turned her into an icon, especially as she and Gabin reprised their roles as a screen couple in Maurice Gleize's Coral Reefs (Le Récif de corail, 1939) and Jean Grémillon's Stormy Waters (Remorques, 1940), echoed by an offscreen relationship. These and other films traded on her melancholy sex appeal and mysterious glamour. As Ciné-Miroir put it in 1938: “She seems to long for the inaccessible.” This transcendental quality and mask-like beauty prompted comparisons with Greta Garbo. As for many of her generation, the war marked a major break. Morgan left for Hollywood, where she made half a dozen films that she and her critics on the whole found mediocre. Two war-effort movies are not without interest, however: Robert Stevenson's Joan of Paris (1942), and especially Michael Curtiz's Passage to Marseille (1944), opposite Humphrey Bogart. (Morgan was rumoured to have lost the lead role to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca). In Hollywood she married actor Bill Marshall (who later married Micheline Presle), with whom she had a son, Mike. Her return to France was difficult, as wartime exiles to Hollywood were often suspected of having taken the easy way out. However, her role as a blind woman in Jean Delannoy’s Pastoral Symphony (La Symphonie pastorale) in 1946, a major critical Silvana Pampanini, 90: Italian actor and sex symbol of the 1950s (A Husband for Anna; The Belle of Rome). Conrad Phillips, 90: star of TV’s William Tell, though less prominently cast in films (The Desperate Man; Sons and Lovers). Jon Polito, 65: gravel-voiced supporting player who had some of his best roles in films by the Coen brothers (Miller’s Crossing; The Big Lebowski).

and popular success, re-established her at the top of her profession for the next decade and a half. In high-profile costume films her maturing image took on a dignified, if still melancholy, identity, films epitomised by René Clair’s The Grand Maneuver (Les Grandes Manoeuvres,1955) and Jean Delannoy’s Shadow of the Guillotine (Marie-Antoinette reine de France, 1956). The tragic image she projected in contemporary melodramas was reinforced by the real-life tragedy of the premature death of her second husband, the actor Henri Vidal, in 1959 (her subsequent partner was the filmmaker Gérard Oury with whom she remained until his death in 2006). In the 1960s, the impact of the New Wave made her classic composure seem old-fashioned (although she was only in her forties) and her career slowed down. She continued to appear sporadically in film and, increasingly, television, up to the late 1990s, remaining a respected grande dame of French cinema. She wrote a popular autobiography entitled With Those Eyes (1978), a reminder of her poetic realist days and Gabin’s memorable line to her in Le Quai des brumes: “You have beautiful eyes, you know.” Ginette Vincendeau Joe Powell, 94: veteran stuntman

renowned for his ability to perform falls from great heights (The Guns of Navarone; The Man Who Would Be King). Prince, 57: highly influential musician-singersongwriter who also scored a major hit as the star and composer of the film Purple Rain. Debbie Reynolds, 84: see box on page 53 Alan Rickman, 69: charismatic actor who could play psychotic villainy, dashing


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romanticism or anything in between (Die Hard; Truly Madly Deeply; Sense and Sensibility; the Harry Potter films). Brian Rix, 92: actor-manager of stage farces, infrequently in films (Reluctant Heroes; Dry Rot). Theresa Saldana, 61: actor who eventually resumed her career after being stabbed multiple times by an obsessed fan (I Wanna Hold Your Hand; Raging Bull). William Schallert, 93: character actor often cast as fathers, doctors and officials (Lonely Are the Brave; In the Heat of the Night). Angus Scrimm, 89: actor largely in horror films, most famously as the menacing Tall Man in Phantasm and its sequels. Garry Shandling, 66: trendsetting TV comic (The Larry Sanders Show), only occasionally in films (What Planet Are You From?; Caron’s Love Affair). Madeleine Sherwood, 93: Canadian actor and Actors Studio alumnus, prominent in two Tennessee Williams adaptations (Cat on a Hot Roof; Sweet Bird of Youth). Shirakawa Yumi, 79: star of such Toho sci-fi films as Rodan, The Mysterians and The H-Man. Sheila Sim, 93: actor and wife of Richard Attenborough who made a striking debut in A Canterbury Tale, and retired just a decade later (Dancing with Crime; The Night My Number Came Up). Liz Smith, 95: came to acting in middle age and built a long list of credits on TV (The Royle Family) and film (Bleak Moments; A Private Function) over the next 40 years. Bud Spencer, 86: burly star of spaghetti westerns and frequent sidekick of Terence Hill (God Forgives… I Don’t!; They Call Me Trinity). Ruth Terry, 95: actor with Republic in the 1940s (Heart of the Golden West; Pistol Packin’ Mama). Lupita Tovar, 106: star of early talkies, notably the 1931 Spanish-language version of Dracula and the groundbreaking Mexican film Santa. Peter Vaughan, 93: actor who showed his versatility as one of the menacing villagers in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, a government official in Brazil and Anthony Hopkins’s father in The Remains of the Day. Robert Vaughn, 83: star of TV’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., on film he was the drunken Chet in The Young Philadelphians, one of The Magnificent Seven and a corrupt politician in Bullitt. Abe Vigoda, 94: hangdog-faced actor who played the traitorous Corleone henchman Tessio in The Godfather, and later turned to comedy as Detective Fish on TV’s Barney Miller. Fritz Weaver, 90: actor often cast as authority figures (Fail-Safe; The Day of the Dolphin). Gene Wilder, 83: comedy giant celebrated for his collaborations with Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein) and Richard Pryor (Stir Crazy) and for his portrayal of the mysterious chocolatier Willy Wonka. Douglas Wilmer, 96: supporting actor (The Brides of Fu Manchu; The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on TV in the 1960s. Xia Meng, 83: leading actor of Hong Kong cinema in the 1950s and 60s (A Night-Time Wife; A Widow’s Tears) who later became an independent producer (Ann Hui’s Boat People). Anton Yelchin, 27: see box on page 48

Jean Rabier, 88: French cinematographer

who worked with Varda (Cléo from 5 to 7) and Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and shot more than 40 films for Chabrol. Douglas Slocombe, 103: versatile DP famed for his work with Ealing who also shot The Servant, The Lion in Winter and the first three Indiana Jones films. Wolfgang Suschitzky, 104: started his career shooting documentaries for Paul Rotha, then moved into features (Children of the City; The Small World of Sammy Lee; Get Carter). Donald E. Thorin, 81: cinematographer on a string of Hollywood hits in the 1980s and 90s (Purple Rain; Brest’s Scent of a Woman). Vilmos Zsigmond, 85: see box on page 54 COMPOSERS & MUSICIANS Gato Barbieri, 83: Argentinian jazz

Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe

Alan Young, 96: light comic actor of radio, TV (Mister Ed) and films (Androcles and the Lion; Pal’s The Time Machine).

ANIMATION Frank Armitage, 91: animation background artist and production illustrator known for his tenure at Disney (Sleeping Beauty; 1967’s The Jungle Book). Robert Balser, 88: served as an animation director on Yellow Submarine, worked on Heavy Metal and founded his own animation company in Spain. Al Brodax, 90: producer and co-writer of Yellow Submarine. Futaki Makiko, 57: leading Japanese animator who worked on Akira, When Marnie Was There and almost all of Miyazaki’s features. Willis Pyle, 101: long-time animator noted for his credits with Disney (Fantasia; Bambi) and UPA (Gerald McBoing-Boing). Zdenek Smetana, 90: leading filmmaker of Czech animation (The Umbrella; The End of a Cube). Tyrus Wong, 106: painter and designer who was credited only as a background artist on Bambi but was later acknowledged as being instrumental to creating the film’s distinctive visual style. Yasuda Michiyo, 77: animation colour designer on many of Studio Ghibli’s celebrated films, from its first feature Castle in the Sky to The Wind Rises.

CINEMATOGRAPHERS Raoul Coutard, 92: cinematographer closely linked to the nouvelle vague, especially Godard (Breathless; Le Mépris) and Truffaut (Shoot the Pianist; Jules & Jim). Franco Di Giacomo, 83: veteran Italian cinematographer, notably on The Spider’s Stratagem, The Night of the Shooting Stars and Il Postino. Sue Gibson, 63: DP who was the first female member of the British Society of Cinematographers and later served as its president (Hear My Song; Mrs Dalloway).

saxophonist whose best known film work is composing the score for Last Tango in Paris. George Martin, 90: innovative record producer most associated with The Beatles, he was also musical director on their films (Yellow Submarine) and scored Live and Let Die. Harry Rabinowitz, 100: prolific conductor who contributed to such films as Chariots of Fire, The English Patient and several for Merchant Ivory. Tomita Isao, 84: Japanese composer who was a pioneer of electronic music (Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival; The Twilight Samurai). DIRECTORS Alexandre Astruc, 92: French critic, theorist and

filmmaker (The Crimson Curtain; Shadows of Adultery) who influenced the nouvelle vague. Héctor Babenco, 70: Argentina-born Brazilian director who garnered acclaim for Pixote, then found Hollywood success with Kiss of the Spider Woman. Michael Cimino, 77: experienced the extremes of Hollywood success and failure, celebrated for The Deer Hunter, then all but ostracised following the box-office disaster of Heaven’s Gate. Tony Conrad, 76: musician who created the soundtrack for Flaming Creatures, then became an influential experimental filmmaker in his own right (The Flicker; Film Feedback). Paul Cox, 76: one of Australia’s most independent and personal filmmakers, of both dramas (Lonely Hearts; Innocence) and documentaries (Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh). François Dupeyron, 65: French filmmaker known internationally for The Officers’ Ward and Monsieur Ibrahim. Julio García Espinosa, 89: director (The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin), screenwriter (Lucía), co-founder and later director of ICAIC, Cuba’s film institute, and author of the influential essay ‘For an Imperfect Cinema’. Guy Hamilton, 93: respected journeyman director (The Colditz Story; A Touch of Larceny) who also helmed four Bond films, starting with Goldfinger. Curtis Hanson, 71: versatile writer-director who was influenced by classical Hollywood (L.A. Confidential; Wonder Boys; 8 Mile). March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 51


OBITUARIES 2016

Abbas Kiarostami, 76: brought Iranian

ACTOR/DIRECTOR

PIERRE ETAIX 23/11/1928 – 14/10/2016

“Twice in my life, I understood what genius meant,” Jerry Lewis once said: “The first time when I looked up the definition in a dictionary, and the second time when I met Pierre Etaix.” Actor-director Etaix, who died last year aged 87, earned the label of the ‘French Buster Keaton’ early in his career for his mastery of deadpan slapstick. Debonair Etaix also channelled a French legend of the silent era, Max Linder, in his romantic and often fanciful films. His movie career, although unfortunately brief, resulted in works of great charm and sophistication, revealing an intuitive understanding of silent comedy. Etaix was born in 1928 in Roanne, in the Loire region of France. His childhood ambition was to become a clown, and so he studied music, dancing, gymnastics and magic. In 1953, he moved to Paris to work in cabarets and as a cartoonist. He was extremely taken with Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, released the same year, and applied to work for its director Jacques Tati, another profound influence on his work. Etaix was kept busy with a number of jobs on Mon oncle (1958), including writing gags and a brief onscreen appearance. Around this time he also had small roles in Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959) and Truffaut’s The Army Game (1961). His friendship with the writer Jean-Claude Carrière led to the pair collaborating, first on dialogue-light short films. In Rupture (1961) Etaix plays a young man whose attempt to write a letter to a lover is perpetually stymied. In Happy Anniversary (Heureux anniversaire, 1962), he is a husband attempting to cross the city for dinner with his wife, but haplessly failing. The latter film won the Oscar for best short subject and the duo turned their attention to feature filmmaking. Etaix’s first full-length film was The Suitor (Le Soupirant, 1962), his most Keatonesque work, in which, in the mode of Seven Chances (1925), he plays a young bachelor who must marry in order to receive a large inheritance. Although he could have chosen to convey the narrative and the comedy in complete silence, Etaix betrays Tati’s influence in his use of a soundtrack of unexpected noises to add another dimension of deadpan humour. The masterful Yoyo (1964) was set in the era of Etaix’s youth and paid tribute to the Robin Hardy, 86: director whose

reputation rests almost entirely on the enduring cult horror film The Wicker Man. Arthur Hiller, 92: had a box-office smash with Love Story and was also known for his comedies (The Hospital; The In-Laws). Annelise Hovmand, 92: a pioneering female director in Denmark who had her biggest hits in the late 1950s and early 60s (Be Dear to Me; Sekstet). Peter Hutton, 71: globetrotting filmmaker 52 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

circuses that fascinated him as a child. Shot in black and white, it tells the story of a man who joins a circus after losing his millions in the stock market crash. It’s witty, surreal and full of expertly accomplished sight gags. This was followed by As Long as You’ve Got Your Health (Tant qu’on a la Santé, 1966), a portmanteau film about modern malaises. Le Grand Amour (1968), another of his finest films, came next: a small-town workplace sex comedy in which a married man fantasises about a fling with his secretary. The highlight is an extended dream sequence in which Etaix trundles into open countryside on a runaway bed, entering a traffic network of more beds and their reclining owners. His next film, satirical documentary Land of Milk and Honey (Le Pays de Cocagne, 1971) dismayed the critics, however, and after signing away the rights to his old work, Etaix’s run as a director of superlative comedy features was at an end. He continued to perform in front of the camera – in films from Lewis’s The Day the Clown Cried (1972) to Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre (2011) – and founded France’s National Circus School, but his cinematic reputation declined as his films were no longer screened because of a bitter wrangle over distribution rights. Then, 40 years on from his heyday, a petition signed by fans and filmmakers helped to unlock his work after years of legal battles, and after 2009 his films were finally seen again – at festivals where Etaix’s personal appearances charmed a new generation of cinephiles, and in an overdue DVD box set. Pamela Hutchinson of silent experimental works (Budapest Portrait: Memories of a City; Study of a River). Dan Ireland, 57: director who also co-founded the Seattle International Film Festival (The Whole Wide World; Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont). George Kaczender, 83: Hungarian-born director who worked in Canada (Don’t Let the Angels Fall; In Praise of Older Women). Mohamed Khan, 73: long one of Egypt’s leading filmmakers, known for his realist style (The Wife of an Important Man; Factory Girl).

cinema to world attention and became one of the most revered filmmakers of his time (Koker trilogy; Close-Up; Taste of Cherry; Ten). Andrzej Kondratiuk, 79: Polish director of cult films (Hydrozagadka; Wniebowzieci). John Krish, 92: director of various genres, most famous for his documentaries and sponsored films (The Elephant Will Never Forget; Sewing Machine). Bruce Lacey, 88: performance artist, sculptor, comic actor (Help!) and experimental filmmaker (Everybody’s Nobody; The Lacey Rituals). Herschell Gordon Lewis, 90: filmmaker whose low-budget, gory horror films earned him a devoted following (Blood Feast; Two Thousand Maniacs!). Colin Low, 89: filmmaker of both animation (The Romance of Transportation in Canada) and documentaries (City of Gold; In the Labyrinth) who was a major force in Canadian cinema. Nabil Maleh, 79: director and dissident who was an important figure in Syrian cinema (The Leopard; The Extras). Garry Marshall, 81: TV sitcom writerproducer (Happy Days) who later directed popular film comedies (Pretty Woman) and occasionally acted (Lost in America). Ted V. Mikels, 87: independent filmmaker of zero-budget exploitation films (The Astro-Zombies; The Doll Squad). Jan Nemec, 79: directed key works of the Czech New Wave (Diamonds of the Night; A Report on the Party and the Guests), but was largely banned from filmmaking after the Soviet invasion. Don Owen, 84: director who was an innovator of English-language Canadian cinema in the 1960s (Nobody Waved Good-bye; The Ernie Game). Miguel Picazo, 89: director whose debut feature La tía Tula ranks as a classic of the new Spanish cinema of the 1960s. Jacques Rivette, 87: critic-turnedfilmmaker and one of the leaders of the nouvelle vague (Paris Belongs to Us; Out 1; Celine and Julie Go Boating; La Belle Noiseuse). Philip Saville, 86: spent much of his career directing for TV (Boys from the Blackstuff), but occasionally worked in the cinema (The Fruit Machine; Metroland). Niklaus Schilling, 72: Germany-based Swiss filmmaker, most prominent in the late 1970s (The Expulsion from Paradise; The Willi Busch Report). Ettore Scola, 84: writer-director who emerged from the commedia all’italiana (We All Loved Each Other So Much; A Special Day; The Family). Anthony Simmons, 93: director of documentaries, features, commercials and TV programmes (Sunday by the Sea; The Optimists of Nine Elms). Eliseo Subiela, 71: acclaimed Argentinian director of Man Facing Southeast and The Dark Side of the Heart. Jeremy Summers, 85: directed Tony Hancock in The Punch and Judy Man and Christopher Lee in The Vengeance of Fu Manchu. Tonino Valerii, 82: assistant director on the first two Dollars films, he then directed


ACTOR

DEBBIE REYNOLDS 1/4/1932 – 28/12/2016

Two things, at least, will keep Debbie Reynolds etched indelibly in the minds of her fans. The first is the sad circumstances of her death, suffering a stroke the day after her beloved daughter and fellow actor Carrie Fisher died of a heart attack. The second is her 1952 role as Kathy Selden opposite Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain. How she got to that early peak gives some insight into the Hollywood of the 1950s. She was born into poverty as Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas, conditions which she said gave her the confidence never to fear penury again. When she was 16, she won a beauty contest, attracting the attention of talent scouts from Warners and MGM. Both studios wanted her but the winner was decided by the toss of a coin. Warners won, and dubbed her ‘Debbie’, but two years into her contract the studio stopped making musicals – already her forté – and she switched to MGM. Her way with a tune and her performance in the romantic musical Two Weeks with Love (1950) got her, respectively, a hit record (‘Aba Daba Honeymoon’) and the co-starring role in Singin’ in the Rain. Reynolds would later show adulation for Kelly, saying he “made me a star... and taught me how to dance and how to work hard and be dedicated”, but it’s also said he insulted her over her lack of dancing experience and that it was Fred Astaire who helped her out. Kelly subsequently admitted that he was not kind to her. Her standout musical number in

Singin’, ‘Good Mornin’, captures the essence of what Reynolds was about: an irrepressible chutzpah delivered in a sweet voice just below shrill and a joyful zest that found expression in the gamest of group dance routines. A succession of competent musicals came her way in 1953 – Give a Girl a Break, I Love Melvin and The Affair of Dobie Gillis – followed, in 1955, by the celebrity union of the age when she married pop singer Eddie Fisher. Her verve and versatility kept her at the forefront of such successes as Bundle of Joy (1956), The Catered Affair (1956) and Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), the last of which showcased her sugary 50s lament ‘Tammy’, which became a number one hit in the US. When, in 1959, Fisher left her for ‘family friend’ Elizabeth Taylor, Reynolds’s fame reached its apogee through fan sympathy for her wronged woman status. She starred in How the West Was Won (1962) and got Oscar-nominated for Best Actress in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), but her lead in The Singing Nun (1966) presaged a slow draining away of Hollywood roles and by 1969 she had begun amiably fronting The Debbie Reynolds Show (1969-70) on TV. Her later years were taken up with risky business ventures and appearances in such series as Will & Grace and Rugrats. But she was generally regarded as Hollywood royalty right up to her death. Her final film performance was as Liberace’s mother in Behind the Candelabra (2013). Nick James

PRODUCERS & STUDIO EXECUTIVES Sylvia Anderson, 88: pioneering TV producer, writer and voice actor who also produced a handful of films (Thunderbirds Are Go; Doppelgänger). Anne Balfour-Fraser, 92: prolific producer of short films (I Think They Call Him John; Never Go with Strangers). Gene Gutowski, 90: produced three films for Polanski in the 1960s, beginning with Repulsion, then reunited with him decades later on The Pianist. Barry Hanson, 72: producer of influential works for TV (The Naked Civil Servant) and film (The Long Good Friday). Jud Kinberg, 91: producer and protégé of John Houseman (Lust for Life; The Collector). Euan Lloyd, 92: publicist-turned-independent producer known for his all-star international action pictures (The Wild Geese; The Sea Wolves). Donald Ranvaud, 62: film journalistturned-producer who worked on an international scale (Farewell My Concubine; Central Station; The Constant Gardener). Simon Relph, 76: producer (Reds; The Ploughman’s Lunch; Hideous Kinky) who championed British film as the founding CEO of British Screen Finance and as chairman of Bafta. Robert Stigwood, 81: Australian music and theatre impresario who also produced films that drew upon pop music (Tommy; Saturday Night Fever; Grease). Michael White, 80: famed theatrical producer whose film ventures included Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and My Dinner with André. SCREENWRITERS

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Alice Arlen, 75: journalist and

his own noteworthy spaghetti westerns (The Price of Power; My Name Is Nobody). Andrzej Wajda, 90: major filmmaker who established his reputation with his war trilogy and whose subsequent work includes Man of Marble, Danton and Katyn. Andrzej Zulawski, 75: provocative Polish director, often working in France (The Devil; Possession; L’Amour Braque).

EDITORS Jim Clark, 84: distinguished editor (The Innocents; The Killing Fields) who also frequently worked with John Schlesinger (Darling; Far from the Madding Crowd). Antony Gibbs, 90: frequent collaborator of Tony Richardson during his New Wave period who went on to edit key films for Richard Lester, Nicolas Roeg and Norman Jewison.

biographer who then switched to screenwriting (Silkwood; Alamo Bay). Eric Bergren, 62: co-wrote the screenplays for The Elephant Man and Frances. Bob Ellis, 73: Australian author, journalist, political speechwriter, playwright, screenwriter (Newsfront) and occasional director (The Nostradamus Kid). Daniel Gerson, 49: screenwriter on animated features (Monsters Inc.; Big Hero 6). Michael Herr, 76: journalist, author (Dispatches) and screenwriter (Full Metal Jacket) who also wrote the narration for Apocalypse Now. Barry Hines, 76: novelist who adapted his own work for film (Kes; Looks and Smiles) and wrote the acclaimed nuclear apocalypse TV movie Threads. Norman Hudis, 93: wrote a string of B movies in the 1950s as well as the first half-dozen Carry On films. Stanley Mann, 87: Canadian screenwriter who worked in both England and the US. (The Mouse That Roared; The Collector). Matsuyama Zenzo, 91: screenwriter for Naruse Mikio (Yearning) and Kobayashi Masaki (The Human Condition) who later worked primarily as a director (Happiness of Us Alone). Bill Richmond, 94: journeyman drummerturned-comedy writer who co-wrote seven films for Jerry Lewis (The Ladies Man; The Nutty Professor). March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 53


OBITUARIES 2016

SET & COSTUME DESIGNERS Ken Adam, 95: visionary production designer, particularly noted for his work on seven Bond films and two films for Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove; Barry Lyndon). John B. Mansbridge, 98: art director, long associated with Disney (Bedknobs and Broomsticks; Tron). Norma Moriceau, 72: Australian costume designer who helped create the look for the second and third Mad Max movies, Crocodile Dundee and four films for Phillip Noyce. Gil Parrondo, 95: art director and production designer, often on films shot in his native Spain (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad; Patton; Robin and Marian). Janet Patterson, 60: Australian costume and production designer who worked with Jane Campion (The Piano; Bright Star) and Gillian Armstrong (Oscar and Lucinda). Paul Sylbert, 88: production designer who created the different worlds of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Heaven Can Wait, Wolfen and The Prince of Tides. SOUND & SPECIAL EFFECTS Tony Dyson, 68: effects artist and robotics expert who built the R2-D2 models for the original Star Wars trilogy. Kit West, 80: special-effects artist known for his work with mechanical effects (Raiders of the Lost Ark; Return of the Jedi; Young Sherlock Holmes). Ray West, 90: sound mixer who won an Oscar for Star Wars and also worked on The Fog and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. MISCELLANEOUS Mithat Alam, 71: Turkish film connoisseur, collector and benefactor who inspired generations of Turkish cineastes and filmmakers, and lent his name to Istanbul’s Mithat Alam Film Centre. Robert S. Birchard, 66: film historian, preservationist and author (Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood). Fern Buchner, 87: makeup artist on All That Jazz, the two Addams Family movies and almost 20 films for Woody Allen. Jack Davis, 91: illustrator whose distinctive style left its imprint on Mad magazine, comic book and magazine covers, and movie posters (It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World; Bananas). P.K. Nair, 82: founder and longtime director of the National Film Archive of India. Michael O’Pray, 70: writer, professor, founder of Film and Video Umbrella and champion of experimental cinema. V.F. Perkins, 79: critic and educator who co-founded Movie magazine and authored the influential book Film as Film. 54 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

CINEMATOGRAPHER

VILMOS ZSIGMOND

16/6/1930 – 1/1/2016

Few cinematographers can have started their careers quite so close to the cutting edge of reality as Vilmos Zsigmond. In October 1956 he was an apprentice at the state film studio in his native Hungary when Budapest was rocked by the popular uprising against Soviet domination. Zsigmond and fellow film school student László Kovács took an Arriflex from the school and filmed the clash between Budapest citizens and the Russian troops. The next month the pair fled to Austria with 30,000 feet of film which they sold to a producer. Footage from it was shown on CBS TV in 1961 with narration by news anchor Walter Cronkite. By then Zsigmond, along with Kovács, had moved to the US. He began working in Hollywood in 1963, initially on under-theradar stuff like The Nasty Rabbit (1964) or Satan’s Sadists (1969). His breakthrough came in 1971, as DP on Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand and Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller. On both films he deployed what would become recognised as his characteristic style of subdued lighting and muted colours, drawing on his memories of “the villages in Hungary where there was no electricity and they used kerosene lamps”. As he explained, for him “creating the mood is more important than making everything look realistic”. During the 70s Zsigmond worked with many of the leading directors of the American New Wave. He went on to shoot more films for Gian Luigi Rondi, 94: Italian film critic and

screenwriter who ran the David di Donatello Awards and served as president of both the Venice and Rome film festivals. Gianni Rondolino, 83: Italian film critic and

Altman – Images (1972) and The Long Goodbye (1973) – as well as for John Boorman (Deliverance, 1972), Jerry Schatzberg (Scarecrow, 1973; Sweet Revenge, 1976), and Brian De Palma (Obsession, 1976; Blow Out, 1981). He shot Spielberg’s bigscreen debut, The Sugarland Express (1974), turned down Jaws (1975) as he considered it a “stupid script”, but then rejoined the director for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). It won him his sole Oscar, though he recalled that “they wanted to fire me several times. The only reason they didn’t was because they didn’t have a replacement who could take over.” Zsigmond’s subfusc style didn’t please everybody. Having worked on Michael Cimino’s hugely successful The Deer Hunter (1978) he went on to shoot the same director’s box-office disaster Heaven’s Gate (1980). Among the critical brickbats hurled at the film was Roger Ebert’s comment that the attempt to replicate the look of period photos was “so smoky, so dusty, so foggy, so unfocused and so brownish yellow that you want to try Windex on the screen”. Still, the film’s debacle didn’t seem to damage Zsigmond’s career. He went on to work with George Miller (The Witches of Eastwick, 1987), Jack Nicholson (The Two Jakes, 1990), Sean Penn (The Crossing Guard, 1995) and more than once with Woody Allen, and was still working well into his eighties. In 2012, along with his colleague Yuri Neyman, he founded the Global Cinematography Institute in Los Angeles. Philip Kemp historian and founder of the Turin Film Festival. Bill Warren, 73: critic and historian whose book Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties is a classic work on the subject.

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Peter Shaffer, 90: playwright of Equus and Amadeus who also wrote the screenplays for the film versions. Dennis Shryack, 80: co-wrote Burt Kennedy’s The Good Guys and the Bad Guys and two films for Eastwood (The Gauntlet; Pale Rider). Barbara Turner, 79: screenwriter and the mother of Jennifer Jason Leigh (Petulia; Georgia; Pollock).


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PROFILE

German cinema’s greatest marginal figure, Werner Schroeter stuck uncompromisingly to his own style of ecstatic filmmaking By Adrian Martin

“In Werner’s work, the actor’s performance always develops in a crescendo – but a crescendo which begins on an extreme emotion.” This is the testimony (for the French magazine Vertigo) of Alberte Barsacq, who was in charge of costumes and/or production design for many of Werner Schroeter’s films and theatre pieces from the mid 1970s until his death in April 2010. Malina (1991), on which Barsacq worked, is a prime example of this process. Scripted by Elfriede Jelinek from Ingeborg Bachmann’s largely non-narrative 1971 novel – and situated between Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) and David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006) in an unwritten history of a modern ‘cinema of hysteria’ – it portrays a character known only as ‘The Woman’ (Isabelle Huppert) going completely to pieces, especially

in relation to the mixed messages received from the two men in her life, the seemingly protective Malina (Mathieu Carrière) and the elusive dream-lover Ivan (Can Togay). The Woman’s swift descent into madness is not merely a personal affliction, but also – as is often the case in Schroeter – the reflection of a wider social malaise. (A similar premise powers his 1982 Day of the Idiots, starring Carole Bouquet.) The assumed, conventional realities of time, space and action shift with every edit. We can never be sure whether Ivan actually exists, or what Malina’s feelings and intentions toward the heroine really are. Huppert spends most of the film in paroxysmic states, shouting, crying, setting things alight – so many things that the final act places her and Carrière, for nearly 30 minutes, amid real flames on an enclosed set: Schroeter refused the option of special effects. The actors sweat and flinch as they handle burning papers and telephones. Yet, as Huppert relates in Elfi Mikesch’s film portrait Mondo Lux: The Visual Worlds of Werner Schroeter (2011), the director was able to inspire total trust and loyalty in his collaborators, no matter what extremity of emotion had to be reached.

Firestarter: Werner Schroeter on the set of Malina (1991) 56 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Born in 1945, he was a sensitive child, regularly mistreated by his school peers and taken away frequently on trips to other countries (hence, no doubt, the cosmopolitanism and multilingualism of his later work). He began his artistic career in the 60s as a dabbler in the cultural underground, using Super 8 film to match still photos and reproductions of paintings to opera recordings of Maria Callas – the passionate, youthful experience which he always cited as the origin of his creative drive. Having won a cult reputation, Schroeter became the regular beneficiary of German TV’s ‘little television play’ policy. Extremely low-budget films – The Bomber Pilot (1970), Gold Flakes (1976) – developed his unique style and method. His early masterpieces date from this period: the collage of music and images Eika Katappa (1969) and the unconventional opera biopic The Death of Maria Malibran (1971) both feature his very own ‘superstar’ – in the Andy Warhol Factory mode – Magdalena Montezuma (both films are available in fine DVD restorations from Filmmuseum Austria). Thomas Elsaesser once called Schroeter “German cinema’s greatest marginal filmmaker”, and he has been revered by fellow directors from Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Chantal Akerman to José Luis Guerín and Rita Azevedo Gomes; but he has inspired surprisingly little Englishlanguage film criticism and academic scholarship – some scattered articles and book chapters and one monograph (Allegorical Images: Tableau, Time and Gesture in the Cinema of Werner Schroeter by Australian scholar Michelle Langford in 2006). In French, a rather novelistic evocation by Philippe Azoury, entitled To Werner Schroeter, Who Was Unafraid of Death, appeared in 2011, a year after the director’s passing. And Filmmuseum Austria promises that a major survey and analysis of Schroeter’s multifaceted career, edited by Roy Grundmann, will appear in print by early 2018. Schroeter is, in one significant sense, very much a filmmaker of his time – a time that is increasingly an object of fascinated nostalgia for today’s cinephiles. This is the period between the end of the 60s (especially post ’68) and the start of the 80s, characterised by, on the one hand, innovations in narrative feature filmmaking (especially in Europe) and, on the other hand, developments in radical cinema theory in journals such as Screen). Highlights of this immensely fertile era include the delirious films of Carmelo Bene in Italy (a figure sadly even less well-known than Schroeter) and Ulrike Ottinger in Germany, the early work of Fassbinder, Akerman’s most experimental films, Raúl Ruiz’s discovery by European critics, and Jacques Rivette’s least inhibited explorations (Duelle and Noroît in 1976). All these movies were, to a fault, baroque, florid and excessive. Some were ‘costume dramas’, though never pretending to a naturalistic recreation of times past. They sometimes inhabited – to the point of high camp – the

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KEEPER OF THE FLAME


husks of dead genres, such as the high seas pirate adventure or the social problem melodrama. Their trademarks were lurid colour schemes, outlandishly theatrical performances, and stop-start, never entirely coherent narratives. Often they flaunted a classic (perhaps archaic) literary, theatrical or operatic text as their point of departure – not so much enacted as pulverised and then requoted, frequently out of sync with the dramatic action. Something more than outrageous fun was at stake for the more intellectually oriented fans of this cinematic trend (and bear in mind that Schroeter boasted of committing a little housebreaking in Marseille with his drinking buddy, the philosopher Gilles Deleuze: for this in-crowd, theory and practice were never too far apart). Excess mattered, because what needed to be exceeded was, on the one hand, fixed meanings (such as the standard interpretations of classic texts) and, on the other, fixed identities (conservative and conformist class or gender roles). Schroeter’s movies were, in this regard, not only among the beachheads of a future queer filmmaking; they were also explosions of what theorists hailed as a ‘cinema of the signifier’. They hurl the chaotic materiality of their colours, images, rhythms, sounds and gestures at us with such brute force that – as Timothy Corrigan suggested, writing about Schroeter’s USA-shot Willow Springs (1973) – they create a place “outside the confines of history… where history is redefined finally by the excesses and possibilities that escape it”. The most remarkable aspect of Schroeter’s oeuvre is that he never gave up, or substantially compromised, his aesthetic approach. Bene returned to theatre (and TV), Akerman detoured into art galleries, Rivette took on a more classically Balzacian guise and Fassbinder negotiated a rising curve of mainstream production opportunities; Schroeter stuck to his uncompromising path. His career did diversify – into personal documentary, beginning with his ‘poetic collage’ of a theatre festival in Dress Rehearsal (1980); into the deceptive semi-realism of The Kingdom of Naples (1979) and Palermo or Wolfsburg (1980); and into slightly more upmarket, star-driven vehicles like Malina, thanks to the opportunities offered by sympathetic producers like Paulo Branco in Portugal. His work in theatre was steady and prolific from the early 70s to the end of his life, too. But the audience for his films has always remained marginal and the full extent of his work difficult to access, even in the age of digital downloading. Why this lingering resistance to a director whose films are, as Fassbinder proclaimed, “as important as [Josef von] Sternberg’s”? One can learn as much, and maybe more, from those who loathe and dismiss Schroeter’s work as from those who devote themselves to it: when Vincent Canby reviewed the Jean Genet/ Kenneth Anger-drenched The Rose King (1986) for the New York Times, eager to mock its avantgarde affectations, he inadvertently stumbled upon the key to the director’s very particular montage technique. Faced with a cascade of fragmented scenes and obsessively reiterated

Tales of ordinary madness: Isabelle Huppert and Can Togay in Malina (1991)

Werner Schroeter’s movies hurl the chaotic materiality of their colours, images, rhythms, sounds and gestures at us

“each new musical cue propels the film forward while keeping it from achieving definitive shape”. Above all, with that characteristically constant and undecidable slippage from reality to fantasy noted in Malina, we are plagued by a fundamental doubt worse than that which gnawed at Canby: not the question of whether things are happening “more than once”, but whether they truly have happened even once. Ultimately, it is a question of that hopeful space “outside the confines of history” that Corrigan flagged. Schroeter’s faithful collaborator, Barsacq, had her own view of what she called his “anachronistic time of utopia”. His films aimed to be timeless, in the sense that they suspended themselves between the intense, perfect, remembered passions of youth and a better future to come – perhaps in death, which is swathed in such romanticism by Schroeter. But between the lost past and the phantom future is the horror of the present, with all its political ills (laid bare in his final feature This Night, 2008) and constraining role-play. Luckily, against the paralysis and dysfunction induced by present-day reality, there remains the subversive force of Schroeter’s proudly discombobulated mise en scène and his remarkable work with charismatic actors. His goal, Barsacq says, was “to attain ecstasy, to figure passion”. Few filmmakers have gone so far in this quest.

Palermo or Wolfsburg (1980)

Eika Katappa (1969)

imagery, Canby gibed: “This is the sort of film in which so many shots are repeated I’m not at all sure that anything happens more than once.” The narrative temporality of Schroeter’s films is indeed peculiar. At the very moment they begin, they flash forward to initially inexplicable glimpses of later events and outcomes. At the end, as in Malina and The Rose King, there is sometimes a literal conflagration, apocalyptic in its implication. In between, the story is (as Michelle Langford suggests) “caught in a state of stasis”, obsessively repeating certain performative gestures (fainting, screaming, kissing, beseeching, dying…) and group tableaux (recalling everything from grand opera and the pietà to Murnau’s Nosferatu and Mishima Yukio’s ritual suicide). But these repetitions never take on a predictable, systematic pattern; irregularity is everything. Even on the formal plane of image and sound patterning, nothing neatly rhymes or ‘folds over’ in a conventionally satisfying way; as David Ehrenstein notes of Eika Katappa in his Film: The Front Line 1984,

March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 57


WIDE ANGLE

SOUNDINGS

JAZZ, ITALIAN STYLE The neorealists were wary of an American intrusion – but jazz still became a significant part of Italian film in the 50s and 60s By Sam Davies

58 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Sleeves for (clockwise from top left) La notte, L’avventura, Gli arcangeli and Audace colpo dei soliti ignoti

silence. The performance comes from the latenight garden party that concludes Michelangelo Antonioni’s La notte (1961) – literally: according to Selwyn Harris’s liner notes, the music was recorded live on set (unlike the dialogue), a curious reversal of the norm. Jazz had been on Antonioni’s mind before La notte, though. Recruiting Giovanni Fusco to provide the score for 1960’s L’avventura, Antonioni gave him an awkwardly speculative brief: to compose jazz “as though it had been written in the Hellenic era”. Fusco’s finished cues suggest he pretended not to hear this request, with their rhythms more bolero than swing, and austere woodwind lines reminiscent of Debussy’s Syrinx. Antonioni also bears out Hobsbawm in one respect: that jazz tended to soundtrack crime (Big Deal on

Madonna Street, The Widower), sex (Fiasco in Milan, L’assassino) and generational disaffect (La notte). One frustrating aspect of Jazz in Italian Cinema is its brevity – just 11 tracks, where Jazz on Film’s Jazz in Polish Cinema and Film Noir ran to five full CDs, providing full scores for films such as Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm or Welles’s Touch of Evil. The material for an expanded set is out there: Gaslini recorded more than 40 scores (even, in 1975, working on Dario Argento’s Deep Red). There’s Franco

Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958)

The Assassin (1961)

Antonio Gramsci warned that for Europeans to adopt jazz would be a regressive step

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Writing in 1959, full-time communist historian and part-time jazz critic Eric Hobsbawm observed that the late 50s had ushered in “a fashion for giving films, often about crime, sex, and lost generations, serious and uncompromising jazz scores, mostly very modernist ones. Musically the French have been most successful in arranging such liaisons, notably with soundtracks by Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet.” In America, Hobsbawm goes on, this jazz-film relationship is a marriage; in France it will be a brief affair, “for jazz in America is a common language and not merely, as in France, a form of upper class slang.” The recent work of the Jazz on Film reissue label seems dedicated to correcting Hobsbawm’s Francocentric assessment. The 2014 collection Jazz in Polish Cinema rounded up the work that bloomed in Poland after Stalin’s death in 1953, when composers such as Andrzej Trzaskowski and Krzysztof Komeda took advantage of a looser cultural climate to explore jazz scores for films like Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Night Train (1959) and Andrzej Wajda’s Innocent Sorcerers (1960). And now the label’s curator Selwyn Harris has turned his attention south, with a new vinyl collection called Jazz in Italian Cinema: Spreading New Sounds from the Big Screen, 1958-62. At its core are a ‘big three’: Piero Umiliani, Armando Trovajoli and Piero Piccioni, who between them would go on to score dozens of films. But what Harris’s selection argues is that the jazz moment in Italian film came with the advent of the commedia all’italiana – the sly, irreverent films, directed by Mario Monicelli, Nanni Loy, Dino Risi and others, that followed the economic and aesthetic austerity measures of neorealism. So the keynote here is provided by Piero Umiliani’s ‘Blues for Gassman, Part 1’, written for Mario Monicelli’s heist-turned-farce Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958). Like much of the jazz woven into film noir, its horn section tiptoes across the beat, evoking a sense of slowmotion pursuit – chase sequences that take place not in speeding cars but through dialogue in underworld dens and backrooms. Trovajoli’s ‘Oscar Is the Back’, written for Risi’s The Widower (1959), is even more laconic, with a walking bassline so deadpan you want to check its pulse. Not every piece translates well from its film setting, though. In Elio Petri’s The Assassin (1961), Piero Piccioni’s title theme is heard diegetically: Marcelo Mastroianni, idling around his elegant flat, cues it up on his turntable – the picture of sophisticated repose. Heard off screen, as part of the anthology, Piccioni’s baritone sax lines, descending the scales like a Slinky down the stairs, have an inadvertent hint of Pink Panther. Beyond the big three, the Giorgio Gaslini number included on the Jazz in Italian Cinema LP is a particular highlight: a weary, stumbling blues in which piano and saxophone seem to take turns managing the inevitable decline into


PRIMAL SCREEN THE WORLD OF SILENT CINEMA Ferrara’s lovely impressionistic sketch, trumpet, saxophone, guitar and vibraphone melting into each other, for 1962’s Boccaccio 70, an anthology film directed by Visconti, De Sica, Fellini and Monicelli. Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution (1964) throws together Verdi, pop ballads and some mordant, mournful themes by Argentinian saxophonist Gato Barbieri. And Piero Umiliani and Chet Baker collaborated on the score for Franco Rossi’s Smog (1962), set in Los Angeles – an instance of a film reversing the cultural current that was bringing American pop culture into Italy. Francesco Martinelli’s essay for the LP notes a wariness about jazz on the part of the leftleaning neorealists, ascribing this to a warning in Antonio Gramsci’s prison notebooks that for Europeans to adopt jazz would be a regressive step. Yet Italian directors weren’t notably slower than their European contemporaries in adopting jazz scores. The compilation’s 1958-62 timeframe fits neatly with a similar flurry of jazz activity in British films: Basil Dearden set All Night Long, his 1962 reworking of Othello, in a London jazz club. And jazz was the preferred soundtrack for the angry young man: Tony Richardson’s Look Back in Anger (1958) opens with an extended blast of a scene in which Richard Burton’s Jimmy Porter rips through classic ‘hot’ trad jazz solos in a crowded pub. Later, his full-volume all-hours practice sessions form part of the psychological warfare he wages against his landlady and longsuffering young wife. In The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), jazz breaks out as Tom Courtenay’s character is trusted to leave the borstal grounds for an unsupervised training run. Out in the woods, through which Courtenay isn’t running so much as gambolling , his mazy ramble is doubled by the major-key breeziness of the Pat Halcox Group (Halcox also dubbed Jimmy Porter’s trumpet-playing, and coached Burton to mime convincingly with the instrument). Perhaps Hobsbawm was right, too, about the brevity of jazz’s moment on European film screens, a point underlined by this record’s 1962 cut-off point. From 1963, rock ’n’ roll’s resurgence dimmed the voltage of jazz as youth culture. Antonioni’s decision to soundtrack Blowup in 1966 with Herbie Hancock creates an oddly anachronistic mood: it’s a fantastic score that never sits as well with its material as do the two tracks tacked on by The Yardbirds.

ILLUSTRATION BY MICK BROWNFIELD WWW.MICKBROWNFIELD.COM

i

Jazz in Italian Cinema: Spreading New Sounds from the Big Screen, 1958-62 is available from jazzonfilmrecords.com

La notte (1961)

In the film world, operating a camera is still seen as man’s work. But in early cinema, women took every job going

Woman with a movie camera: the Kinora in action

By Pamela Hutchinson In 1911, the Kinora Motion Picture Camera – a small camera designed for amateur use – was marketed with a striking set of images: in the catalogue, an elegantly dressed Edwardian lady leaned over the machine with her hand on the crank. An advert showed a woman training her Kinora on a happy baby gurgling in the bath. Imagine – a camera so simple even a woman could use it! Cinematography remains one of the most male-dominated professions. The American Society of Cinematographers was founded in 1919 but didn’t invite a woman to join until 1979 (a second was admitted in 1994). In 2015, Deadline.com reported that only four per cent of the body’s active membership were women. This is an unnatural state of affairs. At the birth of cinema, there weren’t enough people in the studio for anyone to hold back from a job that needed doing. The first official record of a female cinematographer is in Italy in 1915, when Rosina Cianelli did the honours for Uma Transformista Original, but it is likely that director Alice Guy-Blaché turned the handle herself when making her very earliest films, such as La Fée aux choux (1896). In the early British film industry, it was ‘all hands on deck’. May Clark, who had started working for Cecil Hepworth in 1898, gave her job title as “cinematographer” on her marriage certificate in 1907: the tasks she juggled in her career ranged from costume design to pyrotechnics to developing and printing negatives, as well as acting and set building – camera operation was likely among them. In Brighton, Laura Bayley performed for her husband George Albert Smith as a comic actress in films such as The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899). But, according to research by Tony Fletcher, her duties in the family firm included working as a sales rep for the amateur film camera George had developed, the Biokam, and when needed, demonstrating its ease of use. An 1899 interview with Smith in the Brighton Herald about the Biokam was interrupted when “Mrs Smith came in to borrow the identical camera to go off and photograph

the waves breaking over the Hove sea wall.” Like the Kinora catalogue 12 years later, the impression is given that in a professional setting, a woman would not tackle such a task. As the industry grew, the idea of a woman operating a camera remained a rarity, in America as well as in Britain. In an interview with the magazine Photoplay in 1914, Francelia Billington, who worked both as actress and camera operator, is quoted as saying: “I suppose that it is still a novelty to see a girl more interested in a mechanical problem than in make-up.” In 1916 the magazine Picture-Play visited Grace Davison manipulating her camera on set and asked: “How many of you have ever heard of a woman cameraman? That such a person exists will doubtless be a surprise to the majority of people in the film business, as well as those outside it.” The diligent reporter is concerned that Davison’s work will not be up to scratch, but after timing the accuracy of her handle-turning and examining the quality of her images and skill with special effects, is finally convinced. Davison would eventually concentrate on acting, although she did start her own production company. In another set visit in 1916, Photoplay described camera operator Margery Ordway’s working wardrobe of cap, blouse and trousers as “the New Fall Style in Camera ‘Men’”. Ordway, according to the picture caption, is a “regular, professional, licensed, union crankturner” who has “gone in to camerawork as nonchalantly as other girls take up stenography, nursing, husband-stalking”. The language reflects the gender hierarchy in the film studios. Women belong in front of the camera, with men behind it, deciding how they are looked at; and women’s creative and technical input is not welcome. What’s shocking is that the attitude still exists. In an interview with the website Lenny Letter last year, cinematographer Ellen Kuras (A Little Chaos, Be Kind Rewind) was happy to talk about the clothes she wore to work, just as Davison and Ordway were asked to a hundred years before her: “I wear dresses whenever we do crane shots just to make a point. I wear skirts and dresses; you’re blowing up cars, being yourself, and dressing as you do.” March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 59


WIDE ANGLE

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REELING IN THE YEARS Cuba’s newsreels, newly restored, offer a remarkable record of state propaganda – but also of exciting, innovative filmmaking By Olaf Möller

Three weeks after the Viennale ’16 ended, Cuba’s former prime minister and president, Fidel Castro, died peacefully in the country he created. The Republic of Cuba was always an exception among state communist nations, smart and sexy in a way that Bulgaria or even the USSR never managed. In cinema, this was in no small part due to the genius of Santiago Alvarez, best known as the director of short monuments like Now (1965), LBJ (1966), Hanoi, Tuesday the 13th (Hanoi, martes Trece, 1967) or 79 Springs (79 Primaveras, 1969), to name but the best-known and most often shown examples. That is telling, given that Alvarez also directed several extraordinary feature-length documentaries – Born of the Americas (De América soy hijo… y a ella me debo, 1972) and April in Vietnam in the Year of the Cat (Abril de Vietnam en el año del Gato, 1975): these seem to be of little importance for his fame, however, and are rarely screened. A major part of Alvarez’s massive output has remained essentially unknown, even though its importance is often evoked: this is the Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano, Cuba’s newsreel, which he helped shape from its inception in 1960 until its end in 1990 (ICAIC is the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos – the Cuban film institute). You could even argue that the Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano makes up the bulk of Alvarez’s œuvre: 52 editions a year over four decades add up to some 2,000 productions; the number of editions he actively directed is usually given as somewhere in the upper 500s). These newsreels were evidently considered of less lasting value than his shorts – they were actualities in the truest sense of the word: made for the week, then stowed away and quickly forgotten (though images and sounds were often recycled in later work). Occasionally, editions of the Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano were also distributed as standalone shorts. The most famous of these is ¡Muerte al invasor! Reportaje especial sobre la agresión imperialista al pueblo de Cuba (Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano, 30 April 1961: the title translates as “Death to the invader! Special report on the imperialist aggression against the Cuban people”). Alvarez made this one in collaboration with Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Alfredo Guevara, the occasional filmmaker and full-time administrator who was the architect of Cuban cinema. Under the heading ‘The Rebellious Image’, selected editions of the Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano were shown at this year’s Viennale: Maria Giovanna Vagenas put together six programmes, including more than three dozen works covering all of the 60s – the period during which communist Cuba found its own way and its image. This unprecedented retrospective was made possible because of an epochal restoration project by France’s Institut national de l’audiovisuel, which acquired all the Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano negatives, 60 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Say you want a revolution: images from the Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano

scanned them, did the usual digital repairs, and made them available on their website – in Spanish only. For the Viennale, the films were subtitled into English, so that at least these can now reach a somewhat wider audience. It was not just Cuba that found its own voice in the 60s: so did Alvarez. Early editions of the Noticiero – all of 1960 and most of 1961 – are credited to Alfredo Guevara, though Alvarez was already working on them. It has been suggested that Alvarez was the director right from the start, and Guevara was only credithungry, but that seems a bit too simplistic – the first editions are rather different, conservatively edited, unimaginative in their use of music, with a heavy-handed, occasionally hectoring voiceover; also, the different items are clearly separated from each other by way of titles. ¡Muerte al invasor!… is remarkable in this respect, conforming in principle to this early, somewhat clunky style, but chock full of flourishes and moments of montage bravado which mark the presence of a creative mind hell-bent on going somewhere very different. Once Alvarez was officially given sole responsibility for the Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano things changed fast. That is not to say that every edition is a milestone of agitprop art – far from it. Only rarely does a whole edition deliver; in most cases, it’s one or two items (such as the funeral of legendary

The newsreels were actualities in the truest sense of the word: made for the week, then stowed away and quickly forgotten

bandleader Benny Moré in the edition of 25 February 1963) that are genuinely mind-blowing – though the others never fail to engage. Alvarez used the Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano to keep in shape, train, hone his artistic sensibilities, while also trying out new stuff; they can be seen as an artist’s sketchbook. But there’s also the nation and its leader. Alvarez loved to show Castro in a somewhat playful mood, talking to the people and sounding more like an older brother, cheeky and wise-cracking, egging them on to come up with a motto for the next year or some such; or when he grabs a machete and starts chopping cane during the annual harvest – virile, attractive, but also curiously unaffected. Castro is always good for a moment of casual befuddlement, too, when he’s once again wrestling the microphone before a speech (that one comes up in seemingly endless variations); or an even more humorous item, like the hunting party with Nikita Khrushchev from the 27 May 1963 edition, in which – eight months after the Cuban missile crisis – both seem to be having a high old time. Cuba in these early films feels like the nation of the moment – modern, sensual, au fait with the latest developments in design and the arts in the US or Europe. But it’s telling that towards the end of the decade, with Castro’s consolidation of power, the revolutionary enthusiasm of the mid-60s Noticiero ICAIC Latinoamericano gives way to a more mellow, less agitprop tone: easy-listening tracks set to images of happily harvesting people for whom the fight for a new record is more delight than duty – things flow. Cuba has become more like the rest of the state communist world. The heroic period of invention has ended. Normal life begins.


ARTISTS’ MOVING IMAGE

LANDSCAPES OF FEELING Laida Lertxundi’s short, selfreflexive, enigmatic and intensely beautiful films read like subtexts to stories waiting to be told

IMAGES COURTESY LAIDA LERTXUNDI

By Erika Balsom

Laida Lertxundi’s 16mm films revel in the kind of emphatic localism that perhaps only an outsider can capture. The Bilbao-born artist has lived in Los Angeles for a decade, filling her films with images of the sun-bleached concrete, citrus trees, cacti, and airy interiors of Southern California. But frequently, as in Cry When It Happens (2010), this specificity is offset by periodic departures into the uncertainty of the sky. Lertxundi returns again and again to visions of drifting clouds, that profoundly cinematic motif that interrupts solidity and permanence in favour of capricious transformation. Whereas the landscape offers regional detail and tangible ground, a frame within which to place experience, the sky is a dreamy anywhere that abstracts and loosens, that resists circumscription. In this charged play of earth and air, one finds an oblique hint of Lertxundi’s larger concerns: her films are poised between the rigour of control and the fancies of imaginative suggestion, between the stability of structure and the mutability of affect. Lertxundi’s films leave one shaken by a delicate power of form and feeling that is all the more forceful given their brevity, always under 15 minutes. Yet they are recalcitrant, too, yielding little in the way of easily articulated meaning. To call them cryptic would be to wrongly presume that there is a buried secret to be revealed through decoding; it would be better to say that they insist on a poetics founded in the dense opacity of repeated motifs and in tiny moments that court narrative without ever creating it. Footnotes to a House of Love (2007), Lertxundi’s first film made in California, establishes several of the artist’s signature gestures: chiselled images of long-haired beauties hanging out in the desert, a sentimentality scrubbed of expressionism, and the appearance of a cassette tape player as the sometime source for an intermittent soundtrack of 1960s pop by Lesley Gore and the Shangri-Las. These are footnotes to a text gone missing. When a female figure lies sprawled face-down on a bed in 2011’s A Lax Riddle Unit (one of the many supine bodies in Lertxundi’s films) or when the artist herself dumps a bucket of ice water over a man’s head while apologising repeatedly in The Room Called Heaven (2012), we encounter intimations of romance and failure, but no love stories. Following the tape player of Footnotes, devices to record and play back sound frequently reappear, as do scenarios of motion picture exhibition (whether 16mm projection or video, displayed on television monitors) of images seen elsewhere in the film. Figures often play – or play with – musical instruments, and participate overtly in the act of filming, clapping hands at the start of a shot to synchronise the sound. This emphasis on the process of production signals the high level of reflexivity Lertxundi brings to her orchestrations of sound and image. Her works

A crimson peek: 025 Sunset Red (2016)

Lertxundi’s films leave one shaken by a delicate power of form and feeling that is all the more forceful given their brevity show an attention to the craft of filmmaking in the best avant-garde tradition – an increasing rarity in the age of ‘artists’ moving image’. Critics often mention that Lertxundi’s work is indebted to that of Morgan Fisher, James Benning, and Peter Hutton. Perhaps this is a shorthand for contextualising the rigour of her work or a way of shedding light on her formation (Benning and Hutton were her teachers). Whatever the reason, the proprietary, patriarchal logic of naming filmic fathers has its limits and its problems. Lertxundi departs from these men as much as she follows them, questioning the faith in structure that has indelibly marked the history of experimental film. She casts doubt on the aspiration to mastery that can inhere in the fetishism of form, insisting that form is not a pre-given frame to be filled

Cry When It Happens (2010)

with content, but something generated by an encounter with experience that will always exceed it. Live to Live (2015) begins with a quote from the Argentinian writer Adolfo Bioy Casares: ‘If I want to remember what happened on this trip, what should I do?’ The remainder of the film proposes multiple answers, exploring how the messiness of life – heartbeats, orgasms, desires, recollections – gets channelled into representation, meanwhile undergoing both creative transformation and loss. Lertxundi’s latest film, 025 Sunset Red (2016), takes its name from the lighting gel used sporadically throughout to cloak landscape and lovers alike in a crimson hue. Lertxundi’s work has long been presumed to be personal – at times to the artist’s chagrin – but here for the first time she moves into explicitly autobiographical terrain. Revisiting archival photographs of her father’s involvement in the Basque and Spanish Communist parties in the 1970s, to the sounds of Sixth Station’s ‘Scar of Love’, Lertxundi takes on the complexities of inheritance. From Spain to America, from the end of Franco’s dictatorship to the start of a Trump presidency, 025 Sunset Red rearticulates the artist’s longstanding concerns through the lens of politics and its place in intimate and creative acts. As menstrual blood is poured on a blank page, it summons the sublime formlessness of Helen Frankenthaler’s soak-stain painting technique; later, it is spilled on the ground next to an image of her father. The labile resonance of the film’s many evocations of red is in tension with the industrial standard of its title, just as its clouds challenge the rationalised form of gridded glass that at one point shares the frame with them. With beauty and poignancy, Lertxundi here continues her sensitive pursuit of form and what exceeds it. March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 61


from intellect books Kin

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OUT NOW

A NEW BOOK SERIES

The series provides concise companion guides to the most important and interesting films to emerge from Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet cinema from its inception to the present day. While based on solid scholarship, the books are written in a clear and accessible style, with each volume sharing a common structure.

Aleksandr Askoldov THE COMMISSAR By Marat Grinberg ISBN 9781783207060 | Paperback | £20

Filmed in 1966 and ’67, but kept from release for twenty years, The Commissar is unquestionably one of the most important and compelling films of the Soviet era. This book is the first companion to the film in any language. It recounts the film’s plot and turbulent production history, and it also offers a close analysis of the artistic vision of its director, Aleksandr Askoldov, and the ways that viewers can trace in the film not only his complex aesthetics, but also the personal crises he endured in the years leading up to the film. The result is an indispensable companion to an unforgettable film.

Sergei Paradjanov SHADOWS OF FORGTTEN ANCESTORS By Joshua First ISBN 9781783207091 | Paperback | £20

Paradjanov’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) is a landmark of Soviet-era cinema because of its emphasis on folklore and mysticism in Carpathian Hutsul culture, which broke with Soviet-realism. This book, as the first full-length companion to the film, offers readers a close analysis of the film’s symbolism, a plot synopsis, and a history of the legendary production process. It closes with an account of the film’s reception by critics, audiences and Soviet officials, and the controversies that have kept it a subject of heated debate for decades.

Aleksandr Sokurov RUSSIAN ARK By Brigit Beumers ISBN 9781783207039 | Paperback | £20

Russian Ark (2002) drew astonished praise for its technique: shot with a Steadicam in one ninety-six minute take, following the Marquis de Custine as he wandered through the vast Winter Palace – and through three hundred year of Russian history. Providing a comprehensive synopsis, in-depth analysis and an account of the production history, Beumers offers an insight into the now-legendary work of Aleksandr Sokurov.

intellect | publishers of original thinking | www.intellectbooks.com


87 T2 Trainspotting

The tone is not exactly nostalgic, and the style is hardly meditative – Danny Boyle is more kinetic than ever, swinging the camera around with abandon, alternating filters as the mood takes him, defying film-critical decorum with his jump-cuts and freeze frames

64 Films of the Month

72 Films

94 Home Cinema

104 Books March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 63


FILMS OF THE MONTH Mommy dearest: Nathalie Baye and Gaspard Ulliel as Martine and her son Louis

It’s Only the End of the World Canada/France 2016 Director: Xavier Dolan Reviewed by Pamela Hutchinson

Québécois wunderkind Xavier Dolan has built a controversial reputation out of stories of troubled young men and the men and women who love them, with an emphasis on warped mother-son dynamics, from his feature debut I Killed My Mother (2009) to Mommy (2014). His latest wayward son is Louis, a 34-year-old playwright who travels home to break bad news to his family in It’s Only the End of the World. Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) is a successful gay playwright living in a city far removed from his rural origins, and terminally ill. A member of what would now be called the metropolitan elite (though the film is set in “some place, some time ago”), Louis hasn’t seen his family in 12 years, missing his older brother’s wedding, the birth of his niece and nephew, and half his younger sister’s life. The introduction begins with a small boy clinging to Louis on the plane as he contemplates his return to his origins, and finishes as the camera comes to rest on his mother’s kitsch cuckoo clock in the hall of her shadowy house. In this passage, which pulses with symbolism, Louis gazes at a series of sexualised visions from his cab window: a hooker soliciting, a couple grimly mismatched in age and size, a mural of two skeletons embracing and a feminine boy, as two red balloons drift into the sky. Intercut with his sentimental voyage are his mother’s 64 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

preparations for his visit, from the fussy buffet of dips and crudités to the coat of deep-blue polish on her nails that completes her vamp makeup. Played by Nathalie Baye, Louis’s mother Martine betrays less vulnerability in the face of his abandonment than his siblings do, but it’s clear that this is only as a result of coping strategies, chief among them that thickly painted brave face. “I love you,” she says, jabbing a finger at Louis as if it were a warning, “and they can’t take that away from me” – then self-consciously offers her own bons mots for use in one of his plays.

It’s Only the End of the World is Dolan’s second stage adaptation, after 2013’s psychosexual thriller Tom at the Farm. Despite its visual style, relying on tight framing of the characters in close-up and shallow-focus photography, it betrays its theatrical origins in its dexterous verbosity. The intricate dialogue is delivered by an expert, starry French cast with impressive naturalism, but their virtuosity can be as alienating as it is impressive. In fairness, the detachment prompted by a pause for admiration offers a welcome relief in what is otherwise a

Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel as Catherine and Antoine


FILMS OF THE MONTH

gruelling hour and a half of mounting emotional intensity. The source is Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play of the same name, written five years before his Aids-related death in 1995. The implication here is that Louis has far less time than that. Louis’s brother Antoine, played explosively by Vincent Cassel, is a working man with a quick, violent temper, burdened with so much resentment that he skulks outside the group with his back turned, his shoulders hunched. Marion Cotillard is his wife Catherine, softly spoken and put-upon. She is the quietest of the group, sympathetic – despite her careless assertion that her youngest boy is named after Louis because “you people don’t have children” – largely thanks to Cotillard’s graceful performance and piercing eyes. She may stumble over her words, misuse tu and vous and greet Louis as a stranger, but Catherine is surer of herself than the others, and almost at once she seems to intuit his secret. Suzanne, the youngest sibling, is played by Léa Seydoux as a gawky, frustrated rebel, devoted to her mother despite her raw outbursts, tattoos and the drug habit she shares with Antoine. The baby of the family, she may not have missed Louis the most, but she is least capable of hiding it. The signs of Louis’s illness, the sweatiness and red rings around his eyes, are hidden both by the gloom inside the house and the heatwave oppressing the whole group. The lurid eye shadow worn by the women matches Louis’s dark sockets, and the film also reveals signs of physical damage or decay in all the younger characters, otherwise a remarkably pulchritudinous clan: Suzanne’s love bite, Antoine’s grazed knuckles, raised with menace in Louis’s face, Catherine’s haplessly ill-fitting clothes. This scruffiness is at odds with the gaudy array of trinkets in Martine’s home, from her cuckoo clock and chintzy prints to the bauble Catherine (pointedly?) fixes to Louis’s wine glass. These diversions would crowd the frame except for the fact that André Turpin’s restless cinematography insistently selects only one object or face at a time, pulling focus or shooting through frosted or steamed glass to mask the rest. Rather than facing his family as a group, Louis and the audience are forced to tackle them one-on-one, intensifying each conflict. A clamorous soundtrack of orchestral sweeps and tacky pop music fights against the screeching dialogue and the white noise of engines and thunder – throughout, this film throbs like a migraine. At the fiery climax, the storm that breaks the heatwave roars on the soundtrack, and then the orange glow of sunset bursts into the house: an absurd instance of the pathetic fallacy that is completely in tune with the film’s heightened emotional state. It’s Only the End of the World returns to the claustrophobic interdependent energy of Mommy, but the larger gallery of characters multiplies rather than dilutes the angst. Despite the relief provided by a few joyful flourishes – a remembered plaid picnic blanket spread against the sky, a klutzy kitchen aerobics routine – Dolan’s film is a feat of exquisite emotional torture, designed to scrape every last nerve in the auditorium. Each time Martine draws the family together, a conflagration of anger forces them apart, scattering them to the corners of the house. Perversely, the family are divided by the neurosis they all share, exemplified by their secret smoking habits: Suzanne gets high in her bedroom, Martine sneaks a scented cigarette in

Guess who’s coming to dinner: Cotillard, Cassel, Ulliel, Léa Seydoux and Baye

the garden shed, and Antoine storms off to buy smokes in a rage. Out in the garden, steeling himself for the big announcement, Louis sucks on his final Lucky Strike while the camera circles. With his lips frequently clamped shut, Louis is a taciturn hero, notably so in this talky piece. While he’s been away he’s communicated with the family only by postcards, and hasn’t even shared his current address with Martine, who still writes to him at a place she calls a “homo

Louis’s sudden reinsertion into the family dynamic, far from salving the years of absence, dredges up the anguish caused by his estrangement

ghetto”. Louis’s sudden reinsertion into the family dynamic, far from salving the years of absence, dredges up the anguish caused by his estrangement. His death may be a less painful loss. For Louis, the visit brings to the surface happy memories of his youth, and a rush of nostalgia (for his mother’s scented hand soap, for the home of his early childhood) that baffles his family. “What if I have words to say?” Louis asks Martine, but his family misunderstand the purpose of his visit, assuming it’s a time for them to voice their anger and for him to listen and make amends. Which perhaps it could be. When Antoine drops a stinging death announcement into the conversation, his apparently cruel timing raises the idea that foreknowledge of a death only gives the people left behind more time in which to grieve. After all, as the title has it, it’s only the end of the world.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Nancy Grant Xavier Dolan Sylvain Corbeil Nathanaël Karmitz Elisha Karmitz Michel Merkt Screenplay Xavier Dolan Adapted from the play by Jean-Luc Lagarce Director of Photography André Turpin Editor Xavier Dolan Art Director Colombe Raby Original Music Gabriel Yared

Sound Recordist François Grenon Costume Designer Xavier Dolan ©Québec Inc. (a subsidiary of Sons of Manual Inc.), MK Productions, France 2 Cinéma, My Unity Production, 120 Films Production Companies MK2 and Diaphana presents a Sons of Manual and MK Productions co-production With the financial participation of

Téléfilm Canada, SODEC Société de développement des entreprises culturelles - Québec, Crédit d’impôt cinéma et télévision - Gestion SODEC, Crédit d’impôt pour production cinématographique ou magnétoscopique canadienne, Le Fonds Harold Greenberg, Radio-Canada with the collaboration Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Centre National

Louis, a 34-year-old gay playwright, travels home to tell the family he hasn’t seen in 12 years that he is dying. He is greeted awkwardly by his mother, his younger sister Suzanne, his elder brother Antoine and his sister-in-law Catherine. Louis goes with Suzanne to her room, where she talks about how much he is missed and what his postcards home mean to the family. The group converge in the kitchen, where Louis’s mother reminisces and Antoine flies into a rage. Louis vomits in the bathroom and receives a phone call – he confides to the caller that he is scared to tell his family the news. He is met outside the bathroom by Catherine, who tells him that Antoine thinks Louis is not interested in his life. Louis talks to

du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée with the collaboration of Fonds Québecor, France Télévisions, Canal+, Ciné+, My Unity Production, 120 Films, Super Écran A film by Xavier Dolan With the participation of My Unity Production, 120 Films In co-production with France 2 Cinéma With the participation of France Télévisions, Canal+, Ciné+ Executive Producer Patrick Roy

Cast Nathalie Baye Martine, the mother Vincent Cassel Antoine Marion Cotillard Catherine Léa Seydoux Suzanne Gaspard Ulliel Louis Antoine Desrochers Pierre Jolicoeur William Boyce Blanchette Louis aged 15

[1.85:1] Subtitles Distributor Curzon Artificial Eye Theatrical title Juste la fin du monde

Dolby Digital In Colour

his mother, who says that she loves him and that he should give his brother and sister encouragement. At the lunch table, Louis asks to visit their old home, angering Antoine, who picks on Suzanne. Suzanne and Antoine leave the table and Louis goes to look at his belongings, remembering a teenage affair. Catherine seems to know that he is dying but doesn’t make it clear. Antoine takes Louis out for a drive, and becomes so infuriated that he speeds dangerously. Back at home, Louis nearly makes his announcement but Antoine misunderstands and insists on driving him to the airport. The family becomes embroiled in a row, and Louis is left alone in the hallway to make his exit.

March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 65


FILMS OF THE MONTH

Le Parc France 2016 Director: Damien Manivel Reviewed by Jonathan Romney

Jean-Luc Godard once complained that filmmakers no longer know how to photograph the sky. A handful of shots in Le Parc suggest that French director Damien Manivel is very adept at shooting the sky – in this case, deep blue and graced with delicate clouds – as well as lawns, light through foliage, and the slow passage of time. Le Parc is Manivel’s second feature, following A Young Poet (2014) and two previous shorts – Un dimanche matin (2012); La Dame au chien (2010) – which elaborated a detached, slow-paced aesthetic. In some ways this narratively sparse piece really feels like a short that has been allowed to stretch out languorously and take its time, as its young lovers do in the open air on a quiet summer’s day. Le Parc is a film of extreme simplicity – or rather, in its establishing of a quiet, uncluttered space in which thought can breathe, it is one of those apparently simple films that produce an extraordinarily rich proliferation of meaning. Manivel is no doubt tipping us off early about its hidden depths, when the unnamed boy tells the girl (addressed in one of his text messages as ‘Naomie’, like Naomie Vogt-Roby, who plays her) that he has recently discovered Freud. His explanation of psychoanalysis may be partial and semi-articulate, but it will stand as far as Le Parc is concerned. For the boy, psychoanalysis is all about the proposition that simple everyday gestures and

actions have secret meaning. Indeed, the gestures of Manivel’s characters, undemonstrative as they generally are, become resonant in ways that their generally functional, mundane words do not. When the boy dumps her by text, the little tense shifts in Naomie’s body language and the nuances of expression on her ostensibly impassive face are examined in an extraordinary fixed medium close-up lasting eight-and-a-half minutes. In it, the girl exchanges texts with the boy at twilight, as the park grows darker and her face comes to be lit only by the glow from her smartphone screen; the combination of faint light and encroaching darkness, all centring on the girl’s placidly inscrutable features, contributes to a quiet but intense evocation of her hurt, isolation and vulnerability. The shot beautifully displays a sensitivity to passing time and changing light on the part of Manivel and DP Isabel Pagliai, who is also the film’s co-writer; throughout Le Parc, the specific qualities of light in each shot acutely pinpoint a particular time of day. In the long take, the melancholy of the image is enhanced rather than disturbed by the blue and yellow texts that flash up on screen. Superimposed phone text has become a painfully obtrusive mannerism in much modern cinema (see Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children) but it works eloquently here, accompanied rhythmically by the quiet buzzes and whooshes of texts sent and received. Throughout, the film elegantly mixes natural effects – birdsong, rustling foliage – with human sounds such as the offscreen murmur of speech, children playing and the invisible racket of the city beyond the fringe of trees that marks the boundary of this urban oasis.

Park life: Naomie Vogt-Roby as Naomie and Maxime Bachellerie as her date 66 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

The film explores a particular kind of green space: the park is an autonomous territory in which nature and culture meet, as do reality and dream. Its smoothly contoured lawns suggest not so much nature tamed as an entirely artificial space installed within a city. But the park also offers a gateway to a wilder nature: the sometimes barely penetrable woods that seem to become a jungle after closing time, with a previously unseen river running under a full moon in a night dense with the chirp of crickets. By day, the park is a venue for culturally coded, permissible desire, the place of tentative youthful trysts: this is the manicured Nature of French 18th-century paintings (Watteau et al) or the melancholic zone evoked by 19th-century poets such as Verlaine. (Manivel voiced his literary bent in A Young Poet, whose hero visits Paul Valéry’s famous marine cemetery in Sète.) After twilight, however, a different space emerges – a sexually charged nightscape that the girl appears to summon up by a conscious act of magical thinking. She says she wants to “turn back time”, as the subtitles put it; in fact, the French, “revenir en arrière” means to go backwards, which the girl does quite literally in her reverse nightwalk. It’s at this turning point, as the girl retreats as if in a

After twilight, a different space emerges – a sexually charged nightscape that the girl appears to summon up by a conscious act of magical thinking


FILMS OF THE MONTH If you go down to the woods today: Vogt-Roby and Bachellerie

trance, that the film takes on a dreamlike quality. For the film’s first 40 or so minutes, however, we are in the realm of a seemingly mundane realism. The young couple meet and exchange stiff, inconsequential, sometimes monosyllabic chat, only gradually loosening up; we might be watching a working-class – or at least less manifestly bourgeois – variant on the cautious interactions of Rohmer’s ‘Comedies and Proverbs’. The liaison gradually becomes more physical, notably when the girl tries to teach her date handstands. Eventually they kiss, then embrace as he removes his top, his chest dappled with sunlight through the foliage. It may not be suggested that the couple actually have sex at this moment, though they briefly disappear from the action, to reappear in a symbolically post-coital position on a bench, she resting her head in his lap. But it can be said that they have at least figuratively slept together – at which point the boy is ready to leave. This brief, gauche contact opens the portal to a stranger, more lawless experience for the girl. As she walks backwards, she is followed through the night by the park keeper – a baffled representative of authority with whom she refuses to engage as he trails her through the dense woods, helplessly trying to make radio contact with a colleague. She leads him a bewildering dance through a territory that effectively seems to be her domain – until she falls, and the balance of power changes. A long, eroticised exchange of questioning looks follows, before the keeper moves off through woods that are clearly now his kingdom – at first keeping the girl amused through a series of martial-arts moves that become a comical dance.

The film’s shift into the language of dream is finally consolidated in a single edit. On a rowing boat, the keeper moves towards the now anxious girl, possibly with menacing intent – but he is replaced in the next shot by the boy, unexpectedly moving into the frame. The reunited couple kiss – but in a reversal of their previous encounter, the formerly shy Naomie takes control, refusing to let go of her palpably terrified swain. There are overtones of Catherine Breillat in the girl’s final transformation into a sexually forthright being who seems – through the detour of dream, danger and forbidden desire – to have found her own agency, literally overnight. In the morning she wakes and walks away – not towards home, the tower block seen over the trees, but further into the park, following her own trajectory.

The question is where this leaves the park keeper, who may be a figment of the girl’s imagination, appropriated for her dream life from an earlier glimpse of him cycling through the park. It is problematic that this black man, played with downbeat humour by Sobere Sessouma, should represent danger, sexual attraction and threat, although in Le Parc, blackness is not entirely associated with dream: early in the day, the boy and girl meet an older African woman who wishes the newly constituted couple good luck. But it is unsettling that the keeper changes from protective ally to apparent threat in a jungle-like space, before being promptly dismissed – an equation of male blackness with sexual danger and taboo that even by-the-book Freudians might find too classical for comfort.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Damien Manivel Written by Damien Manivel Isabel Pagliai Director of Photography Isabel Pagliai Editor

William Laboury Original Music Julie Roué Sound Jérôme Petit ©MLD Films, Shellac Sud Production

Companies MLD Films presents in association with Shellac Sud With the participation of Ciné+ A film by Damien Manivel A MLD Films

France, present day. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, meet in a park and spend the day chatting, tentatively flirting and getting to know each other. Eventually, they embrace. At the end of the afternoon, the boy leaves but the girl stays sitting on the grass. He texts her to say that he likes her but is still with his girlfriend; she replies that she wishes she could go back in time so that she would never have met him. As night falls, she gets up and walks

production In association with Shellac Sud Executive Producer Martin Bertier

Naomie Maxime Bachellerie Naomie’s date Sobere Sessouma park keeper

Cast

In Colour [1.33:1] Subtitles

Naomie Vogt-Roby

Distributor MUBI English subtitles title The Park

backwards through the park. A concerned park keeper follows her; she keeps walking, finally falling down in the woods. The park keeper shows off his martial-arts moves. The two walk off together, and the park keeper takes the girl for a ride in a rowing boat. She becomes anxious. The park keeper moves towards her, but is replaced by the boy; the girl kisses him passionately. In the morning, she wakes on the grass and walks off through the park.

March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 67


FILMS OF THE MONTH The return of the living dead: Milla Jovovich (centre) has played Alice, the survivor of a zombie apocalypse, over the course of six films and 14 years

Resident Evil The Final Chapter Germany/France/United Kingdom/USA 2016 Director: Paul W.S. Anderson Certificate 15 106m 26s Reviewed by Nick Pinkerton

Assuming that Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter intends to live up to its title, it is now possible to consider the Resident Evil franchise as a completed whole, and to proclaim it one of the most absurd, magnificently baroque cinematic edifices of the 21st century. It is the result of an ongoing collaboration between Anderson and his star, essential creative partner and wife Milla Jovovich, who has played Alice, the indefatigable, resourceful and very limber survivor of a zombie apocalypse, over the course of six films – all of which Anderson produced, and four of which he directed, including the last three – and 14 years. The source material for the franchise is a series of videogames begun by Capcom in 1996, which doesn’t exactly sound promising, but then neither do Mario Puzo or Dragonwyck or Mickey Spillane or any other number of potboilers that have made cinema of the first order – it ain’t the size of the intellectual property but how you make it move. This time around, Anderson happens to have landed somewhere in the vicinity of the currently apocalyptic zeitgeist. After offering a brief recap of the series history, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter 68 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

reconvenes with Alice as she emerges from the rubble of a razed Washington DC, initiating a wordless musique concrète overture of Hemi engines struggling to roaring life, industrial clangour and jump scares beside the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. The poignancy of such throwaway images as Alice contemplating a wounded Washington Monument notwithstanding, Anderson is working in his favoured register of broad metaphor – the individual versus the system, in this case the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, whose hidden eschatological endgame is herein revealed. Anderson has never given evidence of being a self-important or high-minded director – his Channel 4-financed debut Shopping (1994) is the nearest thing he’s done to something that could be termed an ‘art film’, and it’s about smashing cars through department-store vitrines – but he always puts a premium on craftsmanship, and on giving paying multiplex audiences bang for their buck. His populist bent has thus far underwritten a jealous drive to selfdetermination; he has worked with producer Jeremy Bolt under the independent Impact Pictures imprimatur since 1992, and since 2001 they’ve enjoyed a mostly happy relationship with the German distributor Constantin Film, making genre spectacle on the cheap outside the Hollywood system in something like the fashion of Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, though with a much better gold-to-dross ratio. I’ve long ago stopped trying to untangle the

knotty narrative of the Resident Evil series, a floating party that’s moved through Raccoon City, Tokyo, Alaska, Los Angeles and Kamchatka, to return in The Final Chapter to a nuke-cratered Raccoon City, in which characters routinely disappear and reappear – even after being killed off, thanks to the magic of Umbrella Corporation cloning. Anderson is mostly interested in plot as a vehicle to deliver set pieces, among which are a siege on an office tower with an open, cylindrical centre that’s perfect for napalming, and an elaboration of a corridor-sweeping laserdefence-system bit from the first movie that involves some splendid gymnastic contortions from the still-spry Jovovich, who at this point has probably snapped more necks with her thighs than any actress in film history. The cutting in The Final Chapter moves at a cracking tempo far fleeter than that of the first film, but Anderson knows that speed alone is not enough – as Alice suggests when signing out of a ribcage-rattling slugfest with Korean star Lee Joon Gi: “You’re fast, but you’re not too smart.” The pleasure and the individuality of Anderson

The latest ‘Resident Evil’ is a survivalist tutorial, offering lessons in how to neutralise your enemies when dangling upside down by your ankle


and Jovovich’s action pieces isn’t, obviously, in the cliché-grab-bag dialogue, but that they’re fast and smart, paced at the exact speed of thought, keeping the viewer apace of the workings of Alice’s mind as she, in real time, solves practical problems encountered when negotiating a monster-infested hellscape – something we should all be interested in as we enter this new year. The latest Resident Evil is a survivalist tutorial, offering lessons in how to neutralise half a dozen heavily armed enemy combatants when you’re dangling upside down by your ankle from a highway overpass, for example, or how

leading lady, here coming to resemble something like a multimillion-dollar sci-fi home movie. The Final Chapter is perhaps the most eccentric and poignant of the Resident Evils, if not the most purely pleasurable; that honour belongs to Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), whose bravura backwards-running slow-mo opening is one of the most ravishing style-for-style’s-sake show-offs in recent memory. Though marked by parenthetical moments of CGI grandeur – of epic desolation and zombie armies stretching endlessly to the horizon – Anderson’s latest mostly keeps things boots-on-the-ground and drum-tight, with no time for costume changes and the action pushed up to, but never over, the very brink of legibility. (Though the shoot was plagued by safety breaches, one never senses that things are being patched up in post.) A study in sheer propulsion, and a purifying breeze to blow the stale odour of awards-season prestige pictures out of the theatres. Once more unto the Hive, once more! Credits and Synopsis Produced by Jeremy Bolt Paul W.S. Anderson Robert Kulzer Samuel Hadida Written by Paul W.S. Anderson Based upon Capcom’s videogame Resident Evil Director of Photography Glen MacPherson Edited by Doobie White Production Designer Edward Thomas Music Paul Haslinger Sound Mixer Nico Louw Costume Designer Reza Levy Visual Effects Mr. X Inc. Stunt Co-ordinator Grant Hulley ©Constantin Film Produktion GmbH Production

Companies Screen Gems, Constantin Film and Davis Films present a Constantin Film, Davis Films and Impact Pictures production A film by Paul W.S. Anderson Executive Producers Martin Moszkowicz Victor Hadida Film Extracts Resident Evil (2002) Resident Evil Apocalypse (2004) Resident Evil Extinction (2007) Resident Evil Afterlife (2010) Resident Evil Retribution (2012)

Ruby Rose Abigail Eoin Macken Doc Fraser James Razor Rola Cobalt Lee Joon Gi Commander Chu William Levy Christian Iain Glen Dr Alexander Isaacs Dolby Digital In Colour [2.35:1] Some screenings presented in 3D Distributor Sony Pictures Releasing UK

Cast Milla Jovovich Alice/Alicia Marcus Ali Larter Claire Redfield Shawn Roberts Albert Wesker

Post-apocalyptic North America, ten years after the release of the T-virus. Following a disastrous siege of Washington DC by the zombie armies of the Umbrella Corporation, lone human survivor Alice emerges from the rubble. Wandering the ruins, she encounters the Red Queen, the AI avatar of the corporation, who informs her that the DC siege was a set-up, and that there is an airborne antivirus which kills anything infected with the T-virus and is neutralising the zombie hordes at the Hive, the Umbrella Corporation’s underground research facility in Raccoon City. Alice makes her way there, and en route falls foul of Dr Alexander Isaacs, the corporation’s renegade head, now a religious fanatic, who is leading a zombie swarm in the same direction. In Raccoon City, Alice helps a band of surviving humans, including her old comrade Abigail, to repulse Isaacs’s assault, then leads a team into the Hive in search of the antivirus. Fighting her way into the Hive she discovers the real Dr Isaacs – the one she met on the road was a clone. He tells her that she herself is a clone of the daughter of Umbrella’s late co-founder, afflicted with a degenerative disease that advanced her ageing. After the original Alice appears, in a wheelchair, a final confrontation brings together both Isaacs and his clone. Alice escapes with the antivirus, which spreads destruction through the zombies but leaves her alive. Waiting for the antivirus to be spread by the wind and do its work, Alice returns to the task of hunting the undead.

The end of the world as we know it: William Levy as Christian, among the last of humankind’s survivors March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 69

FILMS OF THE MONTH

to get off a rolling war machine on a motorcycle that operates on handprint recognition (borrow someone else’s hand, of course). This quality is explicitly detailed late in the film during a faceoff between Alice and an old nemesis, Umbrella enforcer Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), in which Anderson visualises Alice plotting her possible next moves and Wesker plotting his responses, like two chess grandmasters. Diehard Andersonians will recognise other signature moves at play in The Final Chapter. The director has a passion for booby traps and a marked preference for subterranean settings, which has sometimes been attributed to his having been raised in a family with a history in the collieries around Newcastle upon Tyne, and which is indulged here in a return to the Hive, the setting of the first Resident Evil – there is a particularly poetic long shot of a dropped flashlight revolving as it slowly falls towards a gloomy underground sea. This goes along with an acute attention to topography, to faithfully keeping an audience apprised of the ‘lay of the land’: after watching Pompeii (2014), his most recent film, you felt you could get around the Roman city without ever having to ask directions; and as befits someone who has more than once turned to videogames for source material, Anderson often employs threedimensional onscreen maps. (Or, as in 2011’s The Three Musketeers, an inlaid marble battle plan of Europe.) His most pertinent points of reference, however, are cinephile ones – his Mortal Kombat (1995) was a very early western adopter of Hong Kong action choreography, to whose spirit he remains greatly indebted, while space-station splatter pic Event Horizon (1997) is full of on-the-cheap borrows from Stanley Kubrick, particularly The Shining (1980) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Anderson’s affinity for the latter film is very evident in the climax of The Final Chapter, in which Alice convenes with the images of both her age-shrivelled prototype and the holographic version of herself as a young girl – the Red Queen, AI avatar of the Umbrella Corporation – a meeting that prompts probably the funniest line Anderson’s ever written: “The holy trinity of bitches, united in their hatred.” It’s an improbably moving moment, actually, for the Red Queen is here played by Anderson and Jovovich’s daughter Ever Gabo Anderson, and this family reunion makes a fitting capstone for a series that is, among other things, a record of a director’s loving regard for the image of his


FILMS OF THE MONTH If I had a hammer: Pyotr Skvortsov as Venya

The Student Russian Federation 2016 Director: Kirill Serebrennikov Reviewed by Hannah McGill Spoiler alert: this review reveals a plot twist

It’s a preoccupation that reliably surfaces in the wake of high-school shootings and terrorist incidents: that, with sufficient vigilance, potentially dangerous attitudes or behaviour in young people could be identified prior to any such disruptive action. A short film recently released as a public-service message by parents who lost children in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school appealed to viewers to notice something in the background of the main narrative: a black-clad loner working on nefarious plans. The assumption, of course, is that the behaviour and inclinations of such a person would be clearly identifiable as antithetical to the shared values of immediate figures of authority and the wider society alike. Kirill Serebrennikov’s The Student posits a distinctly pertinent alternative 70 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

possibility: that a young person exhibiting signs of misogyny, religious dogmatism and violent authoritarianism might in fact meet with approval and encouragement from the people around him, and that the alienated outsider might be the rationalist who resists his worldview. When Venya (Pyotr Skvortsov) disrupts a school swimming lesson by flinging around apocalyptic bits of the Old Testament (“He

Svetlana Bragarnik (left) and Yuliya Aug

destroyed them utterly and gave them to the slaughter… The stench of their carcasses will be vile and the mountains run with blood”) and jumping fully clothed into the pool, before explaining that he is declaring war on the depravity exemplified by his female classmates wearing bikinis, one might expect his teachers to discern the not too distant sound of alarm bells. Instead, a meeting with Venya’s mother sees most of the staff concede that the female students are insufficiently aware of their “unconscious physical appeal” and should indeed be more modestly attired. Young biology teacher Elena (Viktoriya Isakova) offers a dissenting voice, only for the headmistress (Svetlana Bragarnik) to criticise the appropriateness of Elena’s own appearance (she has her hair in a bun and is wearing a buttoned-up shirt). So commences a power struggle that sees Elena become preoccupied enough with discrediting Venya to begin mirroring his tactics, like a detective growing obsessed with her criminal quarry in a police thriller. To the irritation of her boyfriend, sports teacher Oleg – who tells her, “You’re like a doctor snorting coke to test it;


FILMS OF THE MONTH

you’ve become a religion junkie” – she stays up late copying out Bible verses to counter Venya’s positions. But the most rigorously researched facts have negligible impact on either true faith or the stubbornness of adolescence. Whichever of those is Venya’s primary motivator (his mother’s take is that “he couldn’t care less about Holy Scripture; he just wants to annoy me”), his response to Elena’s criticism is simply to find new ways to provoke her. He strips naked in her sex-education class; comes to a lesson on evolution clad in a monkey suit; and declares that her campaign against him is prompted by the Judaism he infers from her surname, Lvovna. The headmistress and her cronies, meanwhile, persist in seeing Venya’s point. Sex education would be less risky, Elena is told, if she would use less explicit language: “Everything has a Latin name!” When Venya nails together a large wooden cross and affixes it to the classroom wall, the headmistress’s comment is that “it’s a little lopsided”. Elena, like anyone being successfully gaslighted, begins to go slightly mad for real; Venya, meanwhile, attempts to convince his one true disciple – a sweet disabled boy named Grisha (Aleksandr Gorchilin) – to kill her by tampering with the brakes on her motorcycle. Constant activity and overlapping dialogue establish a feeling of building hysteria, as well as a stagy, declamatory register that fits Serebrennikov’s background as a theatre director and the film’s origins as a play, Marius von Mayenburg’s Martyr. It’s not just the atmosphere that’s theatrical. Elena and Venya apart, the characters have a stock, symbolic quality, like the supporting cast of a modernised passion play: the schoolmarmish schoolmarm; the goodhearted but emasculated school nerd; the teenage vamp who uses her sexuality as a weapon. Some unconvincing notes are thereby struck – did ever a schoolgirl outside the realms of male fantasy state that “all men want me” or labour the point by whipping her top off? – but the febrile atmosphere around Elena successfully conveys the sense of a world gone mad, in which qualities

Pyotr Skvortsov as Venya with Aleksandr Gorchilin as Grisha

hitherto associated with serious instability meet with affirmation, while the effort to keep things rational and functional is jeered. That Venya finally accuses Elena of molestation, and is believed, is a further indication that irrationality has triumphed: mud sticks; sexual gossip is a more effective currency than intellectual

There just might be a shred of insight in Venya’s allegation – for isn’t there something quasi-erotic about the power he has to get under Elena’s skin?

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Ilya Stewart Diana Safarova Yuriy Kozyrev Written by Kirill Serebrennikov Based on Marius von Mayenburg’s play Martyr Cinematography

Vladislav Opelyants Editing Yuri Karikh Production Design Ekaterina Shcheglova Music Ilya Demutsky Sound Boris Voyt Costume Design

Tatyana Dolmatovskaya Production Company Hype Film

Cast Viktoriya Isakova

Russia, present day. Schoolboy Venya begins disrupting classes, using quotations from the Old Testament to attack the morality of his fellow students and the content of the syllabus. The headmistress and other staff indulge his behaviour, with the exception of staunchly atheist biology teacher Elena. Venya forms an alliance with fellow pupil Grisha, who is bullied because of his limp. At home, Venya tears wallpaper from the walls and attacks his harassed mother Inga for the sin of having divorced his father. Inga visits their priest, who encourages her to pray for forgiveness. Venya creates chaos in Elena’s sex-education lesson by taking off his clothes; the headmistress upbraids Elena for the content of the class. Venya argues with the priest about the wealth of the Church, and complains that not enough Christians sacrifice themselves for their faith. At home, Elena obsessively trawls the Bible for passages with which to counter Venya’s positions, to the annoyance of her boyfriend, sports teacher Oleg. Venya forms a tentative relationship with class beauty Lidia. At Grisha’s request, he attempts to cure Grisha’s lameness by the laying on of hands.

Elena Lvovna Pyotr Skvortsov Veniamin, ‘Venya’ Aleksandr Gorchilin Grigoriy, ‘Grisha’ Yuliya Aug Inga, Veniamin’s mother Svetlana Bragarnik headmistress

Irina Rudnitskaya history teacher Aleksandra Revenko Lidia Anton Vasiliev Oleg, PE teacher

Distributor Matchbox Russian theatrical title Uchenik English subtitles title The Disciple

In Colour [2.66:1] Subtitles

Frustrated when this doesn’t work, he accuses Grisha of having insufficient faith; Grisha embraces him. Venya disrupts another of Elena’s classes, on Darwin, by turning up in a monkey suit and mocking the idea of evolution; the headmistress intervenes, again blaming Elena for provoking the situation. Venya encourages Grisha to kill Elena by sabotaging the brakes on her motorcycle. Lidia catches Venya once more attempting to heal Grisha; she films them on her phone, and mocks them cruelly. Venya builds a large wooden cross, carries it through the town and hangs it in the school. Discovering that Grisha has not carried out the plan to kill Elena, Venya hits him on the head with a rock. When Venya and Inga meet with school staff to discuss Venya’s behaviour and failing grades, Venya accuses Elena of molesting him; Oleg backs this up. Elena hits Venya, and flees the meeting. Grisha is found dead. Elena has a vision of him. She returns to the classroom and uses a hammer and nails to secure her shoes to the floor, declaring that she belongs there and won’t leave. Police cover Grisha’s body.

argument; those who regard themselves as morally superior are wont to deploy the most scurrilous of tactics in discrediting others. A further level to the drama is that there just might be a shred of insight in Venya’s allegation – for isn’t there something quasierotic about the power he has to get under Elena’s skin? Responding to the ludicrousness of his accusation by hitting him in the face, she declares, “Now I’ve touched him” – a triumphant declaration which also acknowledges that by granting him the position of victim, she’s giving this would-be martyr exactly what he wants. Turning his detractors’ objections back on themselves is Venya’s most effective tactic: when he brings Grisha home to dinner and finds that his mother has insufficient food in the house, he piously reminds her, “The Lord fed 5,000 people with three fish; if there isn’t enough, it’s because you have no faith.” Grisha is also accused of faithlessness, when Venya’s attempts to heal his lameness fail to work; and yet it is Grisha who successfully unsettles Venya, by attempting to divert the laying on of hands into a sexual encounter. Elena is easy for Venya to needle and discredit, because she reacts to him with loathing; it’s Grisha, mild and credulous, who presents a real challenge, and whom Venya ultimately acts to destroy. And it is the news of Grisha’s death – followed by his appearance before her as a ghost in the school corridor – that pushes Elena to her final gesture of defiance. Whether this act – a symbolic crucifixion, in which Elena nails her shoes to the floor to convey her determination not to be driven from her post by the hysteria that Venya has incited – constitutes a victory or defeat is left for the viewer to ponder. She has won by using Venya’s own melodramatic tactics against him, but she has also lost by stooping to his level. If the film clearly satirises a modern Russia in which church and state have aligned to consolidate power, its closing scenes – Elena willingly immobilised, Grisha dead – hint at a liberal opposition rendered ineffective by being too enthralled and confounded by its enemy. March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 71


Assassin’s Creed

Best

France/USA/United Kingdom 2016 Director: Justin Kurzel Certificate 12A 115m 24s

United Kingdom/Canada/USA 2016 Director: Daniel Gordon Certificate 12A 92m 10s

REVIEWS

Reviewed by Vadim Rizov

This adaptation of Ubisoft’s popular videogame series spent five years in development, with star Michael Fassbender also acting as a producer, allowing him to recruit his Macbeth director Justin Kurzel and co-star Marion Cotillard for a would-be franchise starter. The videogame’s mythology, established over the course of nine instalments, is predictably impossible to streamline in succinct fashion. The Assassin’s Creed is an organisation dedicated to keeping the Apple of Eden out of the hands of the Templars. The Apple contains the genetic code for free will, which the Templars want to eradicate so that violence can be eliminated. That’s as simple as it gets, and there’s much more where that came from, with lots of made-up terminology ns for nonsense. trotted out as weak explanations ubjected to reams Callum Lynch (Fassbender) is subjected s, frequently of exposition on a regular basis, delivered in unwieldy chunks by Cotillard’s mises that, Dr Sofia Rikkin. When she promises “If you listen to me, everythingg will udience make sense,” it’s a plea to the audience as much as to the protagonist. Assassin’s Creed is terrible in a way that, on a technological level, would not have been achievable until very een recently. The film toggles between y wildly endless exposition delivered by ably overqualified, presumably suitably compensated performers, and large action set pieces. In interviews,, Kurzel ment to has touted the film’s commitment real stuntwork, noting a 125ft freefall dive performed by stuntman Damien ke Walters. The problem is that, like p looks almost all the action, this jump Michael Fassbender

fake: when real stunts are composited on to endless CG landscapes, any sense of reality is eroded. This isn’t a celebration of old-school, tactile derring-do but an active insult to the stunt performers laying their lives on the line. The whole movie is like this, and there’s no response but to yawn at characters skipping weightlessly from one fake clothes-line to another. A scene that’s effectively just a fight on a stagecoach is chopped into a rhythmless mess: two punches, cut to an overhead, a shot of the driver, a shot of the hostage in a cage, two more punches, etc. Even these real fights can’t accumulate any sustained momentum. Colour correction is heavy-handedly inept: an early scene ostensibly lit by candlelight flickers in a way that’s never been seen previously, and for good reason. The dialogue is impossible (eminently exam typical example: “Our own lives are nothing. Appl is everything”), irredeemable by The Apple perf any performer: Charlotte Rampling and a cameoin Brendan Gleeson have never looked cameoing disp so dispirited and lifeless. There’s a weird, false b binary posited between ‘science’ and ‘violen ‘violence’ that never quite makes sense. Und Underlying all this is unnervingly Infow Infowars-friendly anti-globalist paranoia, wher where conspiracy theories about the Temp Templars meld with ones about the Unit United Nations, which Jeremy Irons’s Alan Rikkin is seen addressing. Every clich cliché imaginable is present, including a bad guy yelling “Noooo” in slow motion at a crucial cr moment. The result is an assem assemblage of everything terrible about the worst w contemporary blockbusters, in which wh dreams of Lord of the Rings-style grandeu grandeur are interchangeable with dozens of C CG cameras darting nowhere in pa particular through a hazy fake space.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Jean-Julien Baronnet Gérard Guillemot Frank Marshall Patrick Crowley Michael Fassbender Conor McCaughan Arnon Milchan Screenplay Michael Lesslie Adam Cooper Bill Collage Based on the Assassin’s Creed game series Director of Photography Adam Arkapaw Edited by

Christopher Tellefsen Production Designer Andy Nicholson Music Jed Kurzel Production Sound Mixer John Casali Costume Designer Sammy Sheldon Differ Visual Effects Double Negative Cinesite One of US Stunt Co-ordinator Ben Cooke ©Ubisoft Motion

Pictures Assassin’s Creed Production Companies Regency Enterprises and Ubisoft Entertainment present a New Regency, Ubisoft Motion Pictures, DMC Film and Kennedy/ Marshall Company production Made in association with Ratpac Entertainment Executive Producers Christine BurgessQuémard

Spain, 1492. Aguilar de Nerha is inducted into the Assassin’s Creed, a group trying to keep the Apple of Eden, which contains the genetic code for free will, out of the hands of the Knights Templar. In 1986, Aguilar’s direct descendant, teenager Callum Lynch, finds his mother dead at his father’s hands. Thirty years later, Callum is seemingly executed on death row for murder, but awakes to find himself at the Abstergo Foundation in Spain, where other descendants of the Assassin’s Creed are being held captive until the Apple of Eden can be found. The Foundation is dedicated to finding the Apple in order to control free will and, by extension, eradicate

72 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Serge Hascoët Jean de Rivières Markus Barmettler Philip Lee

Cast Michael Fassbender Callum Lynch, ‘Cal’/ Aguilar de Nerha Marion Cotillard Sofia Rikkin Jeremy Irons Alan Rikkin Brendan Gleeson Joseph Lynch Charlotte Rampling Ellen Kaye Michael K. Williams

Moussa/Baptiste Denis Menochet McGowan Ariane Labed Maria Khalid Abdalla Sultan Muhammad XII Essie Davis Cal’s mother Matias Varela Emir/Yusuf Callum Turner Nathan Carlos Bardem Benedicto Javier Gutiérrez Torquemada Hovik Keuchkerian Ojeda

Dolby Atmos In Colour [2.35:1] Some screenings presented in 3D Distributor 20th Century Fox International (UK)

violence from society. Callum is plugged into the Animus Project machine, which allows him to tap into Aguilar’s memory and experience his ancestor’s life in Andalusia so that he can find out where the Apple is. Repeated sessions with the Animus are monitored by doctor Sofia Rikkin, daughter of the project’s Templar founder Alan. Callum learns that the Apple was given to Christopher Columbus and hidden in a church, enabling the Knights Templar to collect it and begin wiping out the Assassin’s Creed. Callum leads his fellow descendants of the Assassin’s Creed in an escape from the Abstergo Foundation. At a Templars ceremony, Callum kills Alan.

Reviewed by Trevor Johnston

When Oscar Wilde dubbed the Irish “a nation of brilliant failures”, he could have had no idea just how pertinent those words were to prove in the case of footballer George Best. The painful contrast between the youthful, untouchable wizard with the ball at his feet and the pitiable drunk stumbling through TV chat shows and tabloid headlines during his twilight years remains as unfathomable now as it was to those who knew him during his lifetime. As such, it sets a real test for any documentarist to make sense of it: archive footage, stills and testimony can lay out the facts, but coming to terms with the psychology behind such alcohol-soaked self-destruction requires a daunting combination of interpretive skills and formal enterprise. Director Daniel Gordon here assembles much strong material, yet his efforts remain slightly stymied by the constrictions of the biographical collage format, which intrinsically lacks the expressive leeway for Best’s ecstatic highs and abysmal lows to register as powerfully as they might in a dramatic context. Still, the opening is certainly striking. Framing a rainswept road from a car driver’s viewpoint, it unfolds as Best’s first wife Angie tells the story of a late-night dash to the doctor’s with their son, when she spots a tramp walking headdown in the middle of the road and realises it’s her husband staggering back from his latest bender. This, then, is as much the story of an alcoholic as a paean to a sporting idol. Nevertheless, it does right by Best’s vintage triumphs in Matt Busby’s Manchester United team of the 60s, with clips of the club’s European Cup victory – followed by doomy images of water trickling away in the dressing-room showers and the accompanying revelation that this celebrated moment filled Best with an aching anxiety he’d never reach such heights again. At 22 years of age, here’s a man racked with self-doubt in the face of his own legend. It’s a potent insight, and for all the marvellous pop-culture mosaic laid out elsewhere in the film – packed with choice clips of Best the boutique proprietor, Best the advertising cash-cow, Best the night-club groover – the film doesn’t set much stall by the notion that too-much-too-young proved Best’s undoing, pointing instead to deeper, darker psychological foundations behind the world-weariness and the drinking that took hold and never let go. The fresh start subsequently afforded him by the North American Soccer League was to hint at past glories on the field, but among all the former teammates, friends and ex-agents on hand for a valuable array of newly shot interviews, it’s again Angie’s testimony that proves the most heartbreaking, as she recalls the day she tracked him down after he’d disappeared on another bender and was met with a look of drunken numbness when she announced she was having their first child. Such moments suggest a despair so profound that the film’s intelligently curated assembly of archive and testimony isn’t quite equipped to do it justice, but together Gordon and writer Peter Ettedgui impose a firm authorial perspective, lifting Best to the upper echelons of sporting bio-docs. While they treat the misadventures


Bitter Harvest Canada 2016 Director: George Mendeluk

The man with all the gifts: George Best

of the final years with a certain discretion, they don’t let their subject off the hook either, firmly registering the gifts Best squandered and the people he hurt in pursuit of the next drink. His singular life might never get its own Raging Bull to distil it into a transcendent piece of art, but this astute and clear-sighted record at least gives us a strong outline of the scale of its tragedy. Credits and Synopsis Produced by Trevor Birney Brendan J. Byrne John Battsek Deirdre Fenton Screenplay Peter Ettedgui Directors of Photography Michael Timney Danny Rohrer Film Editing Andy R. Worboys Original Music Tim Atack Location Sound Andrew Boag ©Fine Point Films Ltd Production Companies BBC, ESPN Films & Northern Ireland Screen present a Fine Point Films production in

association with Passion Pictures, VeryMuchSo Productions & Fadoo Productions A film by Daniel Gordon Developed and made with the assistance of Northern Ireland Screen Fine Point Films Ltd in association with Passion Pictures Films, VeryMuchSo, Fadoo Productions, ESPN Films, BBC, BBC Northern Ireland Executive Producers for the BBC: Jamie Balment Clare Sillery Susan Lovell Justin Binding for ESPN Films:

John Dahl Libby Geist Connor Schell for Northern Ireland Screen: Andrew Reid In Colour [2.35:1] Part-subtitled

Bitter Harvest is a perverse affair, a sweeping Doctor Zhivago-like romantic drama that’s actually about mass starvation. It is set against the backcloth of the ‘Holodomor’ (death by starvation), the famine in Ukraine in 1932-33 which is said to have taken the lives of up to 10 million people. Director George Mendeluk, working from a screenplay by Richard Bachynsky-Hoover, takes a very melodramatic approach to his material. The film opens with a tremulous voiceover from its main character, Yuri (Max Irons), alongside footage of golden wheat fields and happy peasants. Yuri talks of the life of “hard work and simple pleasures” that the Ukrainian farmers experienced on the land; he also tells us that before he grew up and learned that “dragons are real”, he fell in love. As the Bolshevik Revolution rages towards his home village, Yuri can think only of the beautiful Natalka (Samantha Barks). They frolic together in the woods; he draws her picture. She’s the equivalent of Julie Christie’s Lara in Zhivago. Soon, however, they are separated amid the tumult of the times – but you don’t need to be a script doctor to guess that they’ll be reunited one way or another by the final reel. Disconcertingly, most of the Ukrainian rustic folk are played by British actors, speaking in cut-glass English. Terence Stamp puts in an appearance as Yuri’s grandfather – a sabrewielding patriarch and expert horseman far too proud ever to bow down in front of his Soviet oppressors. Stalin is played by Gary Oliver as a bluff Edwardian gentleman with a walrus moustache, whose fierce hostility towards the Ukrainian farmers is never explained. “Take all their food, everything. Do not let one of them leave,” he instructs his minions. The filmmakers throw in stereotypes and clichés: the politicians keep vodka in their top drawers; Yuri is an artist who “has a duty to tell

Distributor Dogwoof

Credits and Synopsis

Festival title George Best All by Himself

Produced by George Mendeluk Ian Ihnatowycz Stuart Baird Chad Barager Jaye Gazeley Screenplay Richard BachynskyHoover George Mendeluk Story Richard BachynskyHoover Director of Photography Doug Milsome Edited by Stuart Baird Lenka Svab Production Designers Volodymyr Radlinskiy Martin Hitchcock Ganna Tavlinkska Music Benjamin Wallfisch Sound Mixer Ivan Zabaluyev Costume Designers Gala Otenko Tatyana Fedotova

An unauthorised biography of the Northern Irish footballer George Best, drawing on archive footage and newly shot interviews with colleagues and family to tell the story of a player whose extraordinary natural gifts made him a legend in the game, but whose self-destructive alcohol addiction curtailed his career. Discovered by a Manchester United scout in his native Belfast, Best starred in the Matt Busby side that won the European Cup in 1968. His good looks made him the first British footballer to attain pop-star status, but his playboy lifestyle soon began to take its toll. He moved to the US to play in the nascent NASL, where he occasionally revived former glories on the pitch, but his unabated drinking made him a liability for employers, precipitated the break-up of his first marriage and eventually brought about his death in 2005 at the age of 59.

©Andamar Entertainment Inc.

Production Companies Andamar Entertainment presents a film by George Mendeluk Produced by Andamar Entertainment Inc. Executive Producer Peter D. Graves Dennis Davidson William J. Immerman

Cast Max Irons Yuri Samantha Barks Natalka Barry Pepper Yaroslav Tamer Hassan Sergei Aneurin Barnard Mykola Alex Pecherytsia Vlodio Ostap Stupka Ihor Boyko Tom Austen Taras William Beck Stefan

Lucy Brown Olena Jack Hollington young Lubko Terence Stamp Ivan Gary Oliver Joseph Stalin Dolby Digital In Colour [2.35:1] Distributor Arrow Films

REVIEWS

Reviewed by Geoffrey Macnab

Hunger reigns: Samantha Barks

the truth”; and the villainous and lecherous Soviet commissar (Tamer Hassan in Rod Steiger mode) asks Natalka what she would “give to save” her family. “Everything,” she replies on cue, “except my soul.” In its own cornball way, the film is diverting enough. There is plenty of action (with Stamp often in the thick of it), and scenes of characters narrowly avoiding death by firing squad. A sequence showing Natalka with a bread knife evokes memories of Anny Ondra in Blackmail (1929), and all the references to icons and religious faith are perhaps intended to echo Andrei Rublev (1966). What’s most incongruous here, though, is the foregrounding of the love story. There are shots in the background of corpses heaped up in railway trucks, or of starving passers-by in the forests when Yuri returns home, but the filmmakers aren’t really interested in the people’s plight. Their main preoccupation is with Yuri’s burning love for Natalka. The downside of this approach is that it risks trivialising the tragic events that inspired the movie in the first place.

Ukraine, prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Yuri, a talented artist, lives an idyllic life in a rural community. He is in love with the beautiful Natalka. The tsar is toppled and killed. The Bolsheviks invade the village, try to steal the church icons and enforce collectivisation. Yuri’s grandfather, legendary warrior and horseman Ivan, fights back but is powerless against the Soviet weapons and narrowly escapes with his life. Yuri leaves for Moscow to study art. Knowing that Natalka is pregnant, he is briefly happy, but it soon becomes apparent that Stalin’s genocidal policies are causing starvation and misery in Ukraine. Yuri is forced to leave the art academy and eke out a living as a rag-and-bone man. His best friend, leader of the Ukrainian communist party, commits suicide. Yuri gets into a brawl with Soviet soldiers and is sent to prison and threatened with the firing squad. He escapes. In Ukraine, Natalka and her family are close to starvation and are being preyed on by a lecherous Soviet commissar. Yuri makes his way back to Ukraine and joins the resistance. Outnumbered, the resistance forces are massacred. Yuri survives and befriends a young orphan boy. He steals a truckload of Soviet grain and returns to his village, where he is reunited with Natalka and his family. In a final battle with the Soviet army, most of the villagers are killed, but Natalka, Yuri and the boy make it to the river and swim away seemingly to safety.

March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 73


The Bye Bye Man

Certain Women

USA 2016 Director: Stacy Title Certificate 15 95m 55s

USA 2015 Director: Kelly Reichardt Certificate 12A 106m 56s

REVIEWS

Reviewed by Nick Pinkerton

Reviewed by Kate Stables

A psychoanalyst once described the phenomenon to me thus: “The hardest thing in the world is to not think of something. If I tell you not to think ‘pink elephant’, what do you immediately think of?” Replace ‘pink elephant’ with the significantly more ridiculous phrase ‘the Bye Bye Man’ and you’ve got the premise of Stacy Title’s film, in which those who hear the name of the eponymous villain are gradually driven mad by the insidious, alliterative earworm, which once learned cannot be unlearned. That someone might have trouble keeping the words ‘the Bye Bye Man’ out of their mouth is about the only feasible aspect of the film, which is from a screenplay by Title’s husband Jonathan Penner. In fact, since seeing The Bye Bye Man, I haven’t been able to stop saying ‘the Bye Bye Man’ – usually followed by peals of laughter, which almost certainly wasn’t the desired effect. Like much recent genre material, The Bye Bye Man brings a moderately promising set-up to the table and does exactly nothing of interest with it – the same phenomenon is epidemic on the contemporary festival circuit, where films increasingly under the influence of conceptual art are content to limit themselves to a single idea per two-hour running time. The Bye Bye Man concerns three undergraduates at a fictional university in Madison, Wisconsin, who, as undergraduates are wont to do, move many miles off campus into a huge, dingy, draughty house. The trio – boyhood best friends John (Lucien Laviscount) and Elliot (Douglas Smith) and Elliot’s girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) – begin to suspect that something is wrong with their new digs on the evening of their housewarming party, the occasion of the film’s first and only moderately successful scare, which involves a static longshot composition and two small attic doors. All hopes of the movie developing into something properly unsettling are, however, undone with

Farewell my lovely: Douglas Smith

the first reveal of the Bye Bye Man himself, looking like a guy who, caught unawares on Halloween, has thrown together a last-minute costume with leftovers from previous years – a Grim Reaper cowl here, a little corpse-paint there. Hardly more care is taken with the characterisation of the Bye Bye Man’s victims. Elliot is given a backstory involving dead parents, though this is never exploited for its full sadistic potential; and while the Bye Bye Man ignites jealousy between John and Elliot over Sasha, the friends’ racial dynamic – John is black, Elliot white – is never taken anywhere that might skirt discomfort, just as the whole affair stays respectfully in bounds of its teen-friendly MPAA rating. In fact, about the only defining characteristic that Elliot has is a penchant for plastering band logos on himself and his belongings – Dead Kennedys, Joy Division and other acts as venerable as these horror clichés that likewise long ago lost any transgressive shock of the new. What pleasure there is to be had in The Bye Bye Man stops at the title: less a watchword for horror than the punchline du jour.

Credits and Synopsis

Produced by Trevor Macy Jeffrey Soros Simon Horsman Screenplay Jonathan Penner Based on The Bridge to Body Island by Robert Damon Schneck Director of Photography James Kniest Editor Ken Blackwell Production Designer Jennifer Spence Music The Newton Brothers Sound Mixer Marlowe Taylor Costume Designer Leah Butler ©LAMF BBM LLC and STX Productions, LLC Production Companies STX Entertainment and Los Angeles Media Fund

present an Intrepid Pictures and Los Angeles Media Fund production Executive Producer Seth William Meier Patrick Murray Marc D. Evans Donald Tang Robert Simonds Adam Fogelson Oren Aviv

Cast Douglas Smith Elliot Lucien Laviscount John Cressida Bonas Sasha Michael Trucco Virgil Doug Jones the Bye Bye Man Carrie-Anne Moss Detective Shaw Faye Dunaway Widow Redmon Jenna Kanell Kim

74 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Erica Tremblay Alice Cleo King Mrs Watkins Dolby Atmos In Colour [2.35:1] Distributor Entertainment Film Distributors Ltd

Beyond a sliding stable door, a muted but ravishing Montana vista fills the frame with horizontal ribbons of snowy peaks, blue-grey ranges, frosted plains and weathered fencing. In front of it, a lone ranch hand drops off feed for horses, immersed in her daily tasks. Winding women’s quiet stories into north-western landscapes traditionally given over by film to men and their noisy Manifest Destiny is Kelly Reichardt’s speciality. But rather than the homeless roamers of Wendy and Lucy (2008) or Meek’s Cutoff (2010), the stoical, struggling heroines of this triptych of lightly linked narratives are rooted in town or ranch: lawyer Laura (Laura Dern) is dogged by her troublesome client Fuller, his hostagetaking dropping her directly into his revenge plans; businesswoman Gina (Michelle Williams) plots the perfect rural house to underpin her wavering marriage, seeking authentic local stones from an elderly neighbour; and a rancher (Lily Gladstone) gets a crush on night-school teacher Beth (Kristen Stewart), a frazzled rookie lawyer worn down by working two jobs. Around the four sharply observed character studies, the landscape lingers without pressing in, to be picked over by acquisitive Gina, worked on by the rancher or traversed by the exhausted Beth. Visible through every window and car journey, the Montana mountains preside over everything. Shot by long-time Reichardt collaborator Christopher Blauvelt in 16mm, giving grain and subtle texture to the film’s slate-and-beige palette, they have a painterly look that’s never overworked. There’s a hint of Milton Avery’s blocky landscapes about them, as Reichardt has acknowledged. Looming large, they add to the film’s discreet echoes of north-western history, successive inhabitants signalled by the costumed Native Americans dancing in the mall or Gina’s townie hunger for the original sandstone blocks that were once the frontier schoolhouse. A meticulous natural soundscape underlines all of this, its outdoor silences embroidered almost imperceptibly with river splashes, birdsong, wind in the trees and the distant hum of a car. Reichardt is a master minimalist whose style suits the short story form. Laura’s and the rancher’s tales in particular are delicate, paredback miniatures that deliver both character and story skilfully. The three tales are taken from Maile Meloy’s collections Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It and Half in Love, nimbly feminised, and connected so lightly that they just brush past one another; it’s utterly unlike Altman or Crash’s heavily interwoven plots. But their short span, coupled with Reichardt’s austere storytelling, allows us less time to trace the links between character and setting. This only becomes an issue in Gina’s section, where the sliver of story and Williams’s deliciously tetchy and contained performance feel slightly ambiguous. Is this cheated-on wife simmering with suppressed rage? Or is she a selfish yuppie pushing others aside in pursuit of her ‘authentic’ Montana home? Or perhaps both at once. By contrast, Laura’s experience with Jared Harris’s despairing, life-swiped client is See Feature on page 38

Madison, Wisconsin, 1969. A shotgun-wielding man wanders through a suburb, killing people who have relayed a particular piece of forbidden information, or have been told it. Present day. Three college students – childhood best friends John and Elliot and Elliot’s girlfriend Sasha – move into a large house off campus. Elliot discovers the name ‘the Bye Bye Man’ etched into the drawer of a bedside table and, after a housewarming party, as the group attempt a seance in the company of psychically sensitive friend Kim, he says the name aloud. The name becomes lodged in the minds of all involved, and they are beset by strange and troubling visions. Elliot researches the name and discovers that it is linked to the 1969 shootings. He goes to collect Kim to attempt another seance, but en route she jumps out of his car and runs in front of a speeding train, lured to her death by a hallucination. These visions continue to sow anger and distrust among the housemates. Shortly after attacking John with a baseball bat, Elliot discovers the address of the 1969 murderer’s widow, and goes to visit. Having spoken with her, he devises a plan to vanquish the Bye Bye Man. However, before he can inform the others he is tricked into murdering Sasha, which drives him to suicide. The house begins to burn. John emerges from the wreckage.


Close Relations (Rodnye)

Russian Federation /Estonia/Germany/Ukraine/Latvia/USA/Lithuania/Finland 2016 Director: Vitaly Mansky

Loose connections: Michelle Williams

a beautifully sketched mix of frustration and sympathy, expressed in exasperated meetings and a slyly comic hostage standoff where the police cheerfully pitch Laura into danger. What the triptych structure nicely amplifies, however, are the women’s plights and their tiredness, as they struggle with debt or loneliness, unhappy marriage or male neediness. With minimalism as an organising principle, characterisation is pieced together from scant dialogue, worn-in clothes or fleeting expressions. Reichardt shoots her actresses’ faces with the same lingering attention that she gives to the landscape – Dern long-suffering and game, Williams pursed and irritable, and newcomer Gladstone shyly eating up a bone-weary Stewart with her eyes. This last story is the film’s best, a slender handful of scenes creating an emotionally engaging tale of infatuation, with Gladstone’s standout performance speaking volumes with a bitten lip or darting glance. It’s quite

an achievement, in a film where the playing is uniformly excellent. Threaded through with the chores that the rancher undertakes daily (reminiscent of the fascination with the work of women pioneers in Meek’s Cutoff), it’s a pitch-perfect portrait of loneliness and longing. Gladstone and Stewart infuse their characters with an exquisite awkwardness, which melts only during a late-night horse ride, a rare tender moment. In all three stories, traditional ‘women’s film’ territory is traversed (infidelity, a disintegrating marriage, a near-miss love). But just as she made an innovative no-action western of Meek’s Cutoff, here Reichardt has created a ‘women’s film’ that never tips into melodrama. Her stories pierce the viewer without resorting to violence, marital showdowns or any kind of over-dramatic gesture. Spare but wide-ranging in its concerns, quietly played but emotionally powerful, Certain Women’s whispers are more penetrating than most film’s shouts.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Neil Kopp Vincent Savino Anish Savjani Screenplay Kelly Reichardt Based on stories [Native Sandstone, Tome, Travis B] by Maile Meloy Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt Editor Kelly Reichardt

Production Designer Anthony Gasparro Music Jeff Grace Production Sound Mixer Paul H. Maritsas Costume Designer April Napier ©Clyde Park, LLC Production Companies Filmscience

Made possible in part by the Montana Big Sky Film Grant Support provided by the Wexner Center for the Arts Film/Video Residency Award - The Ohio State University With support from Cinereach A film by Kelly Reichardt Executive Producers Todd Haynes

Three tangentially linked stories set in present-day Livingston, Montana. Lawyer Laura’s affair with Ryan is petering out. Her client Fuller, injured in a workplace accident, rejects her view that he has no further legal recourse, but accepts the same advice from a male lawyer. Ryan dumps Laura by phone. Fuller takes a security guard hostage. Laura is sent in to persuade him to give himself up; he releases the guard, and asks Laura to give him time to flee. She sends the police after him. Businesswoman Gina is camping on the rural site where she is building a new home, snapping at her husband Ryan and teenage daughter. She asks elderly neighbour Albert for the sandstone blocks

Larry Fessenden Christopher Carroll Nathan Kelly

Cast Laura Dern Laura Wells James Le Gros Ryan Jared Harris Fuller John Getz Sheriff Rowles

Michelle Williams Gina Sara Rodier Guthrie René Auberjonois Albert Lily Gladstone Jamie, rancher Kristen Stewart Elizabeth Travis, ‘Beth’ Guy Boyd Billings, personal injury lawyer Joshua T. Fonokalafi

Amituana Dolby Digital In Colour [1.85:1] Distributor Park Circus

Likely reactions to a referendum result that will totally reshape your country’s political/economic structures and overall place in the world: go about your daily life but feel paralysed by your inability to change things; celebrate; take it out on your significant other; protest on the streets. Such sentiments are no doubt fresh in the minds of UK citizens who, at the time of writing, still don’t know what exactly is meant by a ‘hard Brexit’, only that it’s coming sometime in the future. For the people of Ukraine, who have been in a state of uncertainty since the Crimea referendum of March 2014, these options have grown cold on the table, yet they have no alternatives. After reneging on a promise to sign an agreement with the EU, President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in February 2014, leaving behind a large national debt and a custom-built palace befitting a tsar. What happened next depends on who you talk to: either Russia annexed Crimea and occupied Donbass (a mining province in eastern Ukraine) because Vladimir Putin recognised that the peninsula and its vast natural resources were vulnerable; or a referendum was passed to join with Russia to defend themselves against neo-fascists weakening the nation – and, very helpfully, Russian troops were sent into Donbass to prevent western-backed radicals from forming independent republics in Donetsk and Luhansk. None of these events or their radically different interpretations is detailed in Vitaly Mansky’s sprawling and beautifully composed documentary Close Relations; instead, we’re given only his extended family’s messy, frank responses to what’s in the air at any particular moment. There is a timeline that occasionally appears to clarify at what point in the recent past (2014-15) the interviews are taking place, but there’s little else to guide the underinformed or completely ignorant viewer. The director begins in his hometown of Lviv and then goes on to Odessa, Sevastopol, Kiev and finally war-torn Donetsk. How everyone is related to Mansky sometimes gets a bit foggy but ultimately it doesn’t matter – the camera effortlessly nestles itself into these homes and captures intimate moments of rambling reflection and familial ties: a grandmother complains about her

from the old frontier schoolhouse on his land, for her house; he reluctantly agrees. At a ranch some miles away in Belfry, female ranch hand Jamie is spending the winter alone. She audits a night-school class taught by frazzled young lawyer Beth and is attracted to her. They have a tentative rapport over weekly after-class suppers. Jamie gives Beth a ride on her horse. When Beth quits suddenly, Jamie drives overnight to Livingston to search for her office. Beth is discomfited by her unexpected visit. Returning home, Jamie falls asleep at the wheel and drives off the highway, but is unhurt. She returns to her daily round. Laura visits Fuller in jail. Gina hosts a BBQ at the site of her house, ruminating over the piled stone. Ties that bind: Close Relations March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 75

REVIEWS

Reviewed by Violet Lucca


Fences

REVIEWS

USA/Canada 2016 Director: Denzel Washington Certificate 12A 138m 39s

grandson’s conscription; sisters squabble over Skype; a husband and wife tipsily argue on New Year’s Eve about the lyrics of the Ukrainian national anthem; an aunt reveals that her Burnt by the Sun-era Nikita Mikhalkov beefcake poster has been sent to the recycling pile because any vaguely Soviet stuff makes her sick. The vast majority of these conversations take place in Russian rather than Ukrainian (the subtitles helpfully indicate the switch), which points not only to Mansky’s family history but also to the fluid nature of Ukrainian identity. The number of ethnic Ukrainians depends largely on which part of the country you’re in, but who’s a ‘true’ Ukrainian is unclear. Lithuanian Poles had the border moved for them, while others chose to migrate; western Ukraine was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and still carries the legacy of its architecture and varied cultures; and, of course, Stalin’s policies moved large groups of people around before and after WWII, particularly to parts of Ukraine that had mining jobs. The seemingly radical act of joining up with Russia might not be as radical to most Crimean residents (who are by and large ethnically Russian and speak Russian at home) as the western media tells us. Mansky never downplays the stickiness of these subjects, which is why the issues he presents might seem impenetrable at times – or, for a nation wondering how long its own transition will last, analogous or acutely painful. Regardless of your political affiliation at home or abroad, it’s a remarkable document. Credits and Synopsis Producers Natalya Manskaya Marianna Kaat Simone Baumann Guntis Trekteris Written by Vitaly Mansky Camera Alexandra Ivanova Editing Peteris Kimelis Gunta Ikere Composer Harmo Kallaste Sound Designer Harmo Kallaste ©Vertov, Baltic Film Production, Saxonia Entertainment, 435, Ukrainian State Film Agency, Ego Media Production

Companies Vertov, Baltic Film Production, 435 Films, Saxonia Entertainment, Ego Media present a film by Vitaly Mansky In association with LTV, Bayerischer Rundfunk, ERR, LRT, YLE Supported by MDM - Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung, Eesti Film Institute, National Film Centre of Latvia, Ukrainian State Film Agency, Eesti Kultuurkapital, Creative Europe/ MEDIA A co-production by Vertov.Real cinema,

Ego Media, Saxonia Entertainment, Baltic Film Production, 435 Films, Mamaki Productions In Colour [1.78:1] Subtitles Distributor DocHouse English subtitles title Close Relations

Lviv, Ukraine, shortly before the 2014 referendum that will decide whether Crimea should become part of Russia or should be an independent state that remains formally a part of Ukraine. Director Vitaly Mansky (who is Ukrainian-born but now lives in Russia) visits his mother to discuss his family history. She discovers that her polling station is elsewhere, and declines to vote. Mansky travels to interview his sister and aunts, who are struggling with the economic problems caused by the Euromaidan political unrest. The aunts have relations from Donetsk (which recently declared itself an independent republic) staying with them. Mansky then goes to Odessa, Sevastopol and Kiev for more interviews with his extended family. After visiting elderly relations in Donetsk, he returns to Lviv and reveals that he has decided to leave Russia.

76 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Household god: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis

Reviewed by Nick Pinkerton

Watching Fences, Denzel See Feature Washington’s adaptation of on page 44 August Wilson’s 1983 Pulitzerwinning play of the same name, I thought about an old Eddie Murphy stand-up bit in which Murphy does an impression of his Caribbean father getting drunk in the living room and going on a patriarchal tirade. “This is my house,” Murphy slurs, “and if you don’t like it, get the fuck out.” There is more than a little of this swagger in Washington’s portrayal of Troy Maxson, a 53-year-old former slugger in Negro Leagues

baseball, now content to pick up his pay as a garbage collector and play domestic potentate over his little Pittsburgh townhouse, which is in fact kept up by Rose (Viola Davis), his wife of 18 years. Troy, who we see early in the film draining a payday pint of gin with his faithful sidekick Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and regaling his friend and Rose with well-rehearsed stories about his wrestling match with the Grim Reaper, is a bit of a ham – one of those men who, you suspect, started a family just so that he could be guaranteed a captive audience at the dinner table. The role is tailor-made for Washington, who has made something of a specialty of preening, self-

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Scott Rudin Denzel Washington Todd Black Screenplay August Wilson Based on his play Director of Photography Charlotte Bruus Christensen Edited by

Hughes Winborne Production Designer David Gropman Music Marcelo Zarvos Supervising Sound Editor Per Hallberg Costume Designer Sharen Davis ©Paramount Pictures

Corporation Production Companies Paramount Pictures present in association with Bron Creative, Macro Media Executive Producers Molly Allen Eli Bush Aaron L. Gilbert Andy Pollack

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the late 1950s to the early 1960s. Troy Maxson, a garbage collector for the city, comes home from work on Fridays and goes through his end-of-week routines: drinking gin with friend and co-worker Bono; petting and playfully harassing his wife Rose; and arguing over money with Lyons, his 34-year-old son from a previous marriage. Troy relishes playing the patriarch, whether dictating terms to his and Rose’s teenage son Cory or regaling a willing audience with stories of his prowess as a Negro Leagues baseball player. He is, however, shy with his mentally disturbed brother Gabe, whose money, received from the government after he was injured in World War II, in fact paid for Troy’s house.

Dale Wells Charles D. King Kim Roth

Cast Denzel Washington Troy Maxson Viola Davis Rose Maxson Stephen McKinley Henderson

Jim Bono Jovan Adepo Cory Maxson Russell Hornsby Lyons Maxson Mykelti Williamson Gabriel Maxson, ‘Gabe’ Saniyya Sidney Raynell

In Colour [2.35:1] Distributor Paramount Pictures UK

Dolby Digital

Troy’s dominion is disturbed by new tension when he blocks Cory’s ambitions to play college football and reveals to Rose that he has been having an affair with a woman who is now pregnant with his child. The resulting rift between Troy and Rose is only partially repaired when his girlfriend dies giving birth to the baby girl, which Rose agrees to take in and mother. The split between Troy and Cory, however, becomes irreparable after a backyard argument turns violent. Some years later, Cory – now in the Marines – returns to the house, where the family are gathering for Troy’s funeral. Rose defends Troy’s tough parenting to Cory. Gabe arrives and plays a fanfare for Troy on his trumpet.


The Fits

mythologising blowhards – think of Training Day’s chest-thumping “King Kong ain’t got shit on me!” Here he can be seen standing on his front porch and letting rip with a Tarzan-style ululation, or prowling around his living room, thrusting his paunch with an imperious arrogance that recalls Rodin’s sculptures of Honoré de Balzac. He even makes the act of absentmindedly scratching his arse seem downright imperious and purposeful. In counterpoint to Troy’s restless prowling and Promethean thundering is the steady, watchful performance of Davis – when first introduced she’s a spirit of good-humoured scepticism whose well-practised role is stepping in when Troy’s high-flown jibber-jabber about his principles gets too much or his tales get a little bit too tall. Davis has perhaps the most penetrating gaze of any actor working, and she makes the most of any pitch she gets to swing at – Troy, it should be noted, is addicted to talking in baseball metaphors, in part because they bring him back to his favorite topic: how he was shafted out of his shot at the big leagues by endemic racism. Fences is awfully fond of metaphors too – there’s a whopper of one right there in the title. Wilson wrote the stage-to-screen adaptation himself, and aside from a few brief changes of scene that take the action out into the city, little has been done to ‘open up’ the material as cinema. The better part of the movie takes place within the property lines of the Maxson home, with an especial privileging of the back lawn; we hear people talking about the wider world and the changes taking place in America, but we never see what they’re talking about first-hand. Washington has never given evidence of being much more than an unfussy, workmanlike director – in truth, he hasn’t worked with enough consistency to get into a rhythm – and that doesn’t change here. His blocking for widescreen is capable if unimaginative, privileging clear recording of performance, with occasional lapses into cornercutting handheld. The entire affair might easily be dismissed as ‘filmed theatre’, which is usually considered the gravest of insults in cinephile circles, though in fact it encompasses such varied works as Marcel Pagnol’s Marius and Fanny, Danielle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub’s Moses and Aron (1974), Robert Altman’s Secret Honor (1984) and William Friedkin’s Tracy Letts movies, to name just a few of hundreds of worthy examples. Washington’s filmed Fences doesn’t take the sort of risks that might put it in the above company. It’s instead a sturdy job of work that isn’t so far removed from the Playhouse 90 or Play for Today tradition. But it’s hard to feel ill will towards a movie that gives a showcase to Davis in her prime and also contains the minor pleasures of Bono’s burly bonhomie and Russell Hornsby as Troy’s eldest child, a part-time musician and low-key failure who’s given up on fighting back against the old man and anyway doesn’t seem all that terribly put out to have made nothing of himself. And then of course there’s Washington, who gives his line readings real cadence and swing, the very aspects that are absent from the film itself. His Troy enjoys himself immensely in spinning his yarns – one hopes that Denzel Washington, director, will someday evince the same sense of pleasure in his filmmaking.

REVIEWS

2015 USA/Italy Director: Anna Rose Holmer Certificate 12A 72m 22s

Step by step: Royalty Hightower, Da’Sean Minor

Reviewed by Ginette Vincendeau See Rushes, page 6

Anna Rose Holmer’s first feature (which was financially supported by the Venice Biennale College) made a big splash on the 2016-17 international festival circuit, earning a raft of nominations and awards. It is indeed an impressive debut that works strongly on a purely cinematic level. The Fits is a film built on the senses: looking, listening, moving, dancing, hitting. The image that remains in the mind is that of its young heroine Toni (Royalty Hightower), and especially her unwavering gaze as she observes her surroundings: a Cincinnati community sports centre where young black men train for boxing, and young black women rehearse for drill dancing. The mysterious (or rather polyvalent) title refers on an explicit level to the epileptic-style ‘fits’ that affect the older adolescent girls, and for which no explanation seems to be found. Holmer credits various historical cases of – mostly female – mass hysteria, from medieval ‘dancing disease’ to a contemporary dance team in Le Roy, New York, as inspiration for her film. But this is also, on an equally obvious though more symbolic level, a film about fitting in, rites of passage and growing up. It is not difficult to read the narrative of Toni learning ‘the moves’ to fit in with the girls’ drill dance group as about

learning to fit in with dominant femininity. As she gets her nails painted gold and dons the garishly coloured sequined dance costume, she tentatively begins to leave behind her tomboyish self, just as she leaves behind the male gym where her boxing-coach brother Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor) makes her train to take up the sport. Such a narrative of a pre-adolescent search for sexual identity evokes the work of Céline Sciamma, in particular Water Lilies (2007) and Tomboy (2011). But The Fits is also reminiscent of Sciamma’s Girlhood (2014), as the work of a white middle-class female director turning her attention to a black working-class milieu. And here the film enters a more complex, uneasy territory, treading a line between the social and the ‘poetic’. Lightly, but unambiguously, The Fits constructs its setting as a black working-class neighbourhood (the housing projects are glimpsed on a few occasions as Toni and her brother walk home). And lightly but equally clearly, the film avoids any engagement with social issues. The Fits celebrates young black women, with an accent on their bodies. The moves of the drill dance are energetic, athletic, occasionally suggestive, but also aggressive, at times like a war dance (the group call themselves The Lionesses). There is a lot of hair flipping, air punching and finger pointing. This is an intensely physical film, for which the director used real boxers and a real drill-dance team, March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 77


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Q-Kidz, involving them in the filmmaking process, with even ‘the fits’ choreographed. The Fits does celebrate girlhood: the easy intimacy in the changing room, the sharing of makeup, while boys remain peripheral. But if the film captures the ‘universal’ anxieties and joys of growing up female, it does so again through the body (the hysterical fits, Toni’s literal and metaphorical soaring at the end). We have no access to the girls’ wishes or ambitions, and certainly no idea of their lives outside the gym. In this sense the film is opaque and verges on the claustrophobic, placing the social in a vacuum. This is reinforced by the stylistic decision to show Toni quietly observe the happenings around her while reducing dialogue to a minimum, leaving the soundtrack largely to silence and occasional bouts of discordant music. Rolling Stone referred to The Fits as “the girl power movie of 2016”, but it is power that yet again falls back on the trope (not to say cliché) of black people as athletes and performers. The glimpses of dance numbers are, however, invigorating, leaving the viewer wishing for more. And throughout the film, Royalty Hightower, who was barely ten at the time of shooting, is mesmerising, able to project complex feelings through her watchful face and steady gaze. This is certainly a striking debut for her too. Credits and Synopsis Produced by Anna Rose Holmer Lisa Kjerulff Written by Anna Rose Holmer Story Anna Rose Holmer Saela Davis Lisa Kjerulff Cinematography Paul Yee Edited by Saela Davis Production Designer Charlotte Royer Music Danny Bensi Saunder Jurriaans Sound Designer/ Re-recording Mixer Chris Foster Costume Designer Zachary Sheets Choreography Mariah Jones

Chariah Jones ©Fits Film LLC Production Companies Oscilloscope Laboratories and La Biennale di Venezia present a film by Anna Rose Holmer Supported by La Biennale di Venezia – Biennale Cinema College, Cinereach, The Sundance Institute, IFP, Rooftop Films, Brigade Marketing, Women Make Movies

Da’Sean Minor Jermaine Lauren Gibson Maia Makyla Burnam Legs Inayah Rodgers Karisma Antonio A.B. Grant Jr Donte The Q-Kidz Dance Team The Lionesses [2.35:1] Distributor Lionsgate UK

Cast Royalty Hightower Toni Alexis Neblett Beezy

US, present day. Toni is a pre-adolescent AfricanAmerican girl living in the projects in west Cincinnati. The film depicts her mostly in the sports centre where her older brother Jermaine is a boxing coach. She herself trains to box but is gradually drawn to the women’s activities in the gym, where they train for competitive drill dance. Despite her initial lack of skills, Toni tentatively joins the group and begins to learn the moves, becoming friendly with a few of the other girls. However, some older girls in the group begin to experience a series of strange fits, similar to epileptic seizures. At first the authorities believe that this is due to water poisoning, but the theory is discarded after tests are carried out; in the end no explanation is found for the phenomenon that seems to affect all the girls in turn. The dance competition they have been training for is cancelled as a result, but finally Toni and the other girls put on their parade costumes and dance. Toni experiences levitation and soars above the group.

78 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

The Founder

Hidden Figures

Director: John Lee Hancock Certificate 12A 115m 10s

USA 2016 Director: Theodore Melfi Certificate PG 126m 37s

Reviewed by Henry K. Miller

Reviewed by Kelli Weston

There will be ketchup: the tale of how Ray Kroc, thwarted milkshake-maker salesman, diddled the McDonald brothers, small-town burger restaurateurs, even as he turned their name into one of the world’s greatest brands, is well worth telling – but how? Working from Robert Siegel’s script, director John Lee Hancock, previously responsible for Saving Mr Banks (2013), another fable of a corporation prevailing over stubborn individualism, tends to take the obvious route of indignation at Kroc’s deception on behalf of the small business owner. But in showing how Kroc appropriated not only the McDonalds’ business model and name but also the stratagems he used to bury them, Hancock creates an equally dubious myth around those Kroc swindled or took advice from. As rendered in Hancock’s blandly literal visual style, the original McDonald’s restaurant was the site of a revolution in kitchen management and eating habits, and a culinary nirvana to boot. It goes without saying that questions of labour and food supply do not intrude. The film is more interesting when it allows a sneaking admiration for Kroc’s part-wily, part-sincere entrepreneurialism, as when he convinces the McDonalds that the ‘golden arches’ will take their place in America’s civic architecture alongside the church and the courthouse. Notwithstanding scenes like this, Hancock never commits to the manifold satirical possibilities of a story whose dramatic crux is the decision to substitute powdered milk for ice cream.

In one scene in Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures, a woman is kicked out of a public library in 1960s Virginia for daring to look at books in the white section; she is black, and the book she seeks cannot be found in the ‘coloured’ area. “Separate and equal are two different things,” she tells her children later, as they sit in the ‘coloured’ section of the bus. The film is full of familiar scenes like this, obvious moments that draw uncomplicated moral lines – and with every outrage our protagonists’ triumphs become all the sweeter. But if Hidden Figures often makes for a conventional tale of racism overcome by hard work and preternatural grace, it is saved by the sheer obscurity of its subjects. Based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name, Hidden Figures traces the inspiring true story of the black women scientists behind the mission to put the first American into space. Working at Nasa’s Langley research base in Hampton, Virginia, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) is supervisor in all but name to a group of human ‘computers’ – women charged with doing calculations in this pre-digital age; among them are her best friends Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a maths prodigy, and Mary Jackson (singer Janelle Monáe), an aspiring engineer. The women find themselves doubly hindered by racism and sexism: Dorothy is repeatedly denied a promotion by her manager Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst); Mary must find a way to take engineering courses at an allwhite high school; and, despite an impressive reassignment to a special group directly tasked with calculating astronaut John Glenn’s trajectory around the Earth, Katherine is made to feel especially unwelcome by her new team. Her prickly colleague Paul Stafford (a serious Jim Parsons) undermines her at every turn, and the nearest bathroom she can use is half a mile away. With their individual brilliance and each other’s support, the women surmount every hurdle they encounter. It is a joy to watch, thanks largely to the radiant performances of the leads. While the film honours the efforts of all three, Henson gets the most room to shine – and shine she does – for Katherine’s narrative emerges as the central driving force. She finds an ally in her boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), far more concerned with conquering space before the Soviet Union does than with racial politics. In a typically melodramatic scene, he desegregates Nasa’s bathrooms with a sledgehammer. The film marks a second turn in the director’s chair for Melfi (St Vincent), whose script (co-written with Allison Schroeder) is mercifully restrained. Skirting the convention that dictates one villainous character imbued with all the evils of racism, the film unveils the true perniciousness of white supremacy, its normalcy; an insight it achieves without succumbing to pessimism. Warm, endearing characters and frequent moments of comic relief give a serious topic a hopeful edge, buoyed by a soulful score from Pharrell Williams, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. Hidden Figures breaks few rules, but in a genre crowded with sentimental history lessons, it shines as an empowering tale of community and perseverance.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Don Handfield Jeremy Renner Aaron Ryder Written by Robert Siegel Director of Photography John Schwartzman Editor Robert Frazen Production Designer Michael Corenblith Music Composed and Conducted by Carter Burwell Sound Mixer Aron Siegel Costume Designer Daniel Orlandi Production Companies The Weinstein Company and FilmNation Entertainment present in association with Faliro House Productions

a FilmNation Entertainment/The Combine production A film by John Lee Hancock Executive Producers Glen Basner Alison Cohen Karen Lunder Bob Weinstein Harvey Weinstein David C. Glasser Christos V. Konstantakopoulos Holly Brown David C. Greathouse William D. Johnson

Harry J. Sonneborn Laura Dern Ethel Kroc Justin Randell Brooke Fred Turner Kate Kneeland June Martino Griff Furst Jim Zien In Colour [2.35:1] Distributor Studiocanal Limited

Cast Michael Keaton Ray Kroc Nick Offerman Dick McDonald John Carroll Lynch Mac McDonald Linda Cardellini Joan Smith Patrick Wilson Rollie Smith B.J. Novak

US, the 1950s. Midwestern travelling salesman Ray Kroc persuades brothers Dick and Mac McDonald to franchise their California burger restaurant nationally. Over time he starts calling himself the founder of McDonald’s, reneges on his promises to maintain the company’s high milkshake standards, and breaks up with his wife. He ruthlessly cuts out the brothers, to the point where their own restaurant, no longer permitted to operate under the family name, goes out of business.


iBOY

United Kingdom/USA 2017 Director: Adam Randall

Rocketeers: Janelle Monáe

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Donna Gigliotti Peter Chernin Jenno Topping Pharrell Williams Theodore Melfi Screenplay Allison Schroeder Theodore Melfi Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly Director of Photography Mandy Walker

Edited by Peter Teschner Production Designer Wynn Thomas Music Hans Zimmer Pharrell Williams Benjamin Wallfisch Re-recording Mixers Andy Nelson Derek Vanderhorst Costume Designer Renée Ehrlich Kalfus

©Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and TSG Entertainment Finance LLC Production Companies Fox 2000 Pictures presents a Chernin Entertainment/ Levantine Films production Made in association with TSG

Virginia, 1961. Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson work at Nasa’s Langley Research Center, where they must contend daily with sexism and racism. Dorothy is repeatedly denied promotion to the rank of supervisor, despite carrying out the duties of one. Mary’s only hope of becoming an engineer is to take courses at an all-white high school. Katherine is assigned to a special task force under the direction of Al Harrison, and is charged with calculating astronaut John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth. She immediately faces hostility from her colleagues, and the only restroom she is allowed to use is half a mile away. When Dorothy discovers that Nasa is installing an IBM mainframe that threatens to put her and her fellow ‘computers’ out of work, she learns how to program

Entertainment Executive Producers Jamal Daniel Renee Witt Ivana Lombardi Mimi Valdés Kevin Halloran Margot Lee Shetterly

Cast Taraji P. Henson Katherine G. Johnson Octavia Spencer

Dorothy Vaughan Janelle Monáe Mary Jackson Kevin Costner Al Harrison Kirsten Dunst Vivian Mitchell Jim Parsons Paul Stafford Mahershala Ali Colonel Jim Johnson Aldis Hodge Levi Jackson Glen Powell

John Glenn Kimberly Quinn Ruth Olek Krupa Karl Zielinski In Colour [2.35:1]

When Marvel’s UK division introduced Captain Britain – a mystically empowered British counterpoint to both Captain America and Spider-Man – in 1976, the country’s comics industry voiced a great deal of scepticism. Marvel initially couldn’t find British creatives to work on the strip (original writer Chris Claremont was British-born but a US resident since childhood). The notion of a British superhero was seen to be so inherently ridiculous that it could only be used satirically, in the likes of the sitcom Super Gran, drawn from the books by Forrest Wilson, or the cartoon Bananaman, based on a character who has appeared in The Dandy and The Beano. However, Alan Moore, Alan Davis, Jamie Delano and other British writers and artists made the unpromising Captain Britain work in a series of strips in the early 1980s. In parallel, Moore revived Marvelman, a 1950s British knock-off of the American Captain Marvel, and gave that character depth and a specific British identity (even after a lawsuit changed the title to Miracleman). Despite persistent homefront cynicism, expressed by tiresomely repeated jokes about underpants worn over tights and a general assumption that the highest achievement of the superhero form was the camp 1966 Batman show, a tradition of British superheroes has evolved in such distinctive forms as Grant Morrison’s Zenith (for 2000 AD), Mark Millar’s (New York-set, Glasgow-inflected) Kick-Ass, and the mutants-with-asbos TV show Misfits. All of this activity resonates in Adam Randall’s iBoy, based on a 2010 novel by Kevin Brooks, which sticks closely to conventions such as secret identities, arch-nemeses who are father figures or former friends of the hero, a complex love triangle between heroine and both the hero’s identities, an origin story (frankly, having bits of iPhone embedded in the brain is on a par with 60s Marvel tropes like ‘bitten by a radioactive spider’) and the burgeoning legend of a vigilante mutant stalking an embattled tower block. A colourful costume would be de trop for Britain (the Misfits wore orange community-service jumpsuits), so a scarf and hoodie make do for the gawky Tom, fitting iBOY into an urban-avenger tradition that goes back as far as the Shadow and was recently embodied by Bruce Willis’s superhuman in Unbreakable (2000). Bill Milner, whose CV includes playing

Distributor 20th Century Fox International (UK)

it in order to save her team. Mary wins her court petition to attend night classes, with the support of her previously sceptical husband Levi. Katherine meets veteran Jim Johnson at church and they begin a romance. When Al confronts Katherine about her long breaks, she breaks down and explains how far she must walk, sometimes in the rain, to use the bathroom. Al desegregates the bathrooms at Nasa. John Glenn is launched into space; with Katherine’s help, the team precisely calculates his safe return home. Mary becomes America’s first black aeronautical engineer. Dorothy becomes the first black supervisor at Nasa. Katherine goes on to do the calculations for the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and the Space Shuttle.

Anger management: Bill Milner, Maisie Williams March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 79

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Reviewed by Kim Newman


Live by Night

REVIEWS

USA 2016 Director: Ben Affleck Certificate 15 128m 40s

young Magneto in X-Men: First Class, is Peter Parker translated to East London, living with an Aunt May-like practical gran who writes erotic fanfic on the side (Miranda Richardson) in a rundown, gang-blighted tower that persists amid the glittering hi-tech redevelopments his new powers plug him into. Interestingly, iBOY gets an aspect of Spider-Man the film versions have so far been uncomfortable with – his simmering, possibly uncontrollable good-guy anger when personally buffeted (betrayed by his best friend) or forced to witness a horrific (but tactfully filmed) assault on his MJ-like school crush (Maisie Williams). In a version of the escalation-of-evil tactic (seen in Batman Begins and others), iBOY’s enemies are initially bullying classmates and then upscale to flash gangsta wannabes, before peaking with a Kingpin-type fixer (Rory Kinnear, wisely underplaying evil charm with “Yeah, I wouldn’t like me either”), who thinks he can talk Tom out of being virtuous. Very much in the Miracleman tradition is a detour into horror-movie territory in a slightly too small-scale telekinetic holocaust, where a villain who was expecting moves out of Spider-Man is suddenly grasped by a mental assault from the Scanners playbook. Credits and Synopsis Produced by Gail Mutrux Nate Bolotin Emily Leo Oliver Roskill Lucan Toh Written by Joe Barton Mark Denton Jonny Stockwood Based on a novel by Kevin Brooks Director of Photography Eben Bolter Edited by Jesse Parker Production Designer Catrin Meredydd Music Composed by Max Aruj Steffen Thum Sound Designer Roland Heap Costume Designer Raquel Azevedo

©Crow Ventures Production Companies Wigwam Films and Pretty Pictures presents a film by Adam Randall Executive Producers Tore Schmidt Aram Tertzakian Nick Spicer Ian Bricke Matt Levin Will Machin Natalie Brenner Sam Parker

Aymen Hamdouchi Cutz Rory Kinnear Ellman Miranda Richardson Nan Armin Karima Ant McKell David Hazzard Shaquille Ali-Yebuah Cass Leon Annor Keon Petrice Jones Shotgun

Cast

In Colour

Bill Milner Tom Maisie Williams Lucy Jordan Bolger Danny Charley Palmer Rothwell Eugene

All seven sins are on display in Live by Night, but the deadliest by far is vanity. This lushly decorated saga about the rise and near-fall of a Boston stick-up man turned rum-runner at the end of the 1920s is presented by Ben Affleck at his most blandly self-aggrandising. Casting himself as Irish-American hustler Joe Coughlin, the writerdirector-star eschews obvious traces of blarney in his accent, only to fill the script with them; when they’re not simply generic, the dialogue and dramaturgy border on the embarrassing. It’s not enough, for instance, that Joe is a crackshot ladies’ man who’s always able to outsmart and/or outshoot his rivals (who are manifold and played by far less handsome actors), and who displays an elevated sense of underworld ethics. He’s also a proto-Civil Rights warrior: after relocating from Massachusetts (where he’s persona non grata in the eyes of the local Irish mob boss, whose mistress he’d been seeing on the down low) to Florida, he turns all of his resources to protecting his predominantly black and Cuban clientele from the predations of the Ku Klux Klan. In striving for historical and ethnic specificity, Affleck achieves only a desultorily topical political correctness that smoothes out rather than complicates the character’s arc. Imagine a version of Once Upon a Time in America or Goodfellas where the protagonist’s basic decency was stressed at regular intervals and you’ll have some sense of the nearly paralytic boredom on offer here. Considering the relative energy and efficiency of Affleck’s three previous directorial efforts – even the infamously ahistorical and pandering Argo (2012) – the near-total torpor of Live by Night comes as an unpleasant surprise. The film has been photographed so beautifully by Robert Richardson that the old saying about silk purses and sows’ ears comes to mind, and the gorgeous surfaces only barely disguise the vacuum underneath. Rumours that Affleck was forced to

As crime goes by: Zoe Saldana, Ben Affleck

trim nearly an hour of footage from the final cut make it irresistible to look for rough joins within the story, and while they’re surely there – never more obviously than in a subplot featuring Chris Cooper as a police chief driven slowly crazy by the multifold exploitation of his young daughter (Elle Fanning) – the end result feels less like a truncated epic than an episode of Boardwalk Empire swollen to unmanageable length. The only grace notes here are sounded by the actors surrounding Affleck, especially Chris Sullivan’s oddball characterisation as a hare-lipped racist thug who unexpectedly splits the difference between stupid and cunning (he’s deeply, uniquely hateful, and the film comes alive whenever he’s on screen). The long middle section where Fanning’s wouldbe Hollywood starlet is reborn as a revivalist preacher finds Affleck briefly dropping the wannabe-Coppola shtick to futilely chase the PTA of There Will Be Blood, but the actress’s final scene is so natural and heartbreaking that it seems to belongs in a different, better movie.

Credits and Synopsis

Distributor Vertigo Films

The Crowley Estate, East London. Teenager Tom is shot in the head when he comes across a gang of youths raping his friend Lucy. With parts of a mobile phone embedded in his brain, he develops abilities to manipulate electronic devices – which he uses to harry the gang. He discovers they are working for Ellman, a successful gangster who was born on the estate but has prospered. Using his powers, Tom sabotages Ellman’s drugs business and prompts the gangsters to turn on each other. He also tries to protect Lucy, on whom he has always had a crush. Danny, Tom’s friend, suspects that he is the vigilante iBOY and sells him out to Ellman, who has Lucy kidnapped by the gang and forces Tom to use his abilities to transfer funds into his bank account. However, Tom and Lucy turn the tables on their captors and Tom – who can also interface with people’s brains – uses his power to take down the gang. With Ellman out of business, Danny becomes a rising gangster. Tom and Lucy get together.

80 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Reviewed by Adam Nayman

Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio Jennifer Davisson Ben Affleck Jennifer Todd Screenplay Ben Affleck Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane Director of Photography Robert Richardson Edited by William Goldenberg Production Designer Jess Gonchor Music Harry GregsonWilliams Production Sound Mixer Jose Antonio Garcia Costumes Designed by Jacqueline West ©Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC Production

Companies Warner Bros. Pictures presents an Appian Way/Pearl Street production in association with Ratpac-Dune Entertainment Executive Producers Chris Brigham Dennis Lehane Chay Carter

Cast Ben Affleck Joe Coughlin Elle Fanning Loretta Figgis Brendan Gleeson Thomas Coughlin Chris Messina Dion Bartolo Sienna Miller Emma Gould Zoe Saldana Graciela Suarez Chris Cooper Chief Irving Figgis Robert Glenister Albert White

Remo Girone Maso Pescatore Chris Sullivan Brennan Loomis Dolby Atmos In Colour [2.35:1] Distributor Warner Bros. Pictures International (UK)

Boston, the 1920s. Stick-up man Joe Coughlin robs a card game presided over by Irish mob boss Albert White, whose mistress Emma is also Joe’s clandestine lover. After a bank robbery goes wrong, Joe is betrayed by Emma and savagely beaten by Albert’s men. He serves three years in jail. On his release, he learns that Emma is dead. He is hired by White’s rival, the powerful Italian gangster Maso Pescatore, to run a bootlegging operation in Ybor City in Florida (with the incentive that he will have his revenge on White). Joe thrives in Florida, falling in love with his Cuban partner Graciela and enjoying the protection of local police chief Figgis, until his clubs are attacked by the Ku Klux Klan. To get Figgis onside, he blackmails him with compromising photographs of his drug-addicted daughter Loretta, who returns from Los Angeles as a revivalist preacher. Loretta’s sermons warn against the casino that Joe is building, but he can’t bring himself to kill her and falls out of favour with Pescatore. Loretta commits suicide and Pescatore comes to town, with White in tow, to kill Joe. Joe lures both gangsters into an ambush and kills them with the help of his men, but quits the bootlegging business immediately afterwards. Chief Figgis, who has gone mad, takes a potshot at Joe’s home and accidentally kills Graciela before being gunned down. A grieving Joe lives on, raising his young son alone.


Lost in France

LoveTrue

Reviewed by Sam Davies

Reviewed by Hannah McGill

USA 2016 Director: Alma Har’el Certificate 15 81m 58s

Right in the middle of Lost in France, Niall McCann’s documentary about Glasgow indie label Chemikal Underground, there’s a hairraising account of a ferry trip made by The Delgados, Mogwai and other bands on the label. The tour manager’s account of shepherding several dozen highly inebriated twentysomething Scottish musicians from Glasgow down to Mauron in Brittany for a mini-festival in 1997 makes clear that the film could very nearly have been called Lost at Sea. In the end the only things that went overboard were “most of the chairs”. The premise of the film is that members of The Delgados and Mogwai, along with Alex Kapranos (who at the time played in short-lived group The Karelia but later found huge success with Franz Ferdinand), return to Mauron together in 2015. There’s something entirely appropriate about the way the journey from Glasgow to Brittany literally bypasses London, seeing England only through a steamed-up coach window. Rather like those markers that behavioural economists look for, such as lipstick sales foretelling a stockmarket boom, in the Glasgow music scene of the mid-1990s you find a slightly uncanny presentiment or predictor of Scottish devolution and near-independence. Down south, Britpop was booming, a Camden-centric burst of cultural nostalgia that took all the tropes and reference points of 1960s Swinging London and filtered out anything too weird or difficult, to produce a kind of jingoistic musical comfort food. Glasgow essentially seceded from this: the reference points for Chemikal Underground weren’t The Kinks, the Beatles or Small Faces, but American groups like Pavement, Beat Happening, Slint and Tortoise, and the DIY punk culture of labels such as K Records in Olympia or Merge in North Carolina. But the return trip is also a non-fiction macguffin, a device to get the participants talking to and about each other, and about the wider Glasgow scene documented by Chemikal Underground (the label essentially run by The Delgados). As Kapranos, Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai), Emma Pollock and Alun Woodward (The Delgados) wander the cobbled streets of Mauron and rehearse in a farmhouse for a low-key commemorative gig you get those reminiscences. There’s an added poignancy to the way their subsequent careers played out: The Delgados had a brush with mainstream success, nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2000, before eventually splitting in 2005. A few bands later Kapranos sold millions with Franz Ferdinand. Braithwaite meanwhile has a wry summary of

The way we were: Andy McGlone

Mogwai’s famous intensity: “I like music and I like fun, but no’ at the same time. Fuck that.” But the nostalgia isn’t merely local. Lost in France becomes not just a recollection of the musicians’ own lives but of a lost era; a time before file-sharing and online streaming almost fatally enfeebled the music industry. Woodward is the most acute observer of this slow but irreversible change, marvelling that Chemikal Underground was able to sell thousands of copies of a single by Bis, the teenage trio who were a kind of altered image of Altered Images, and whose hyperactive ‘Kandy Pop’ landed them on Top of the Pops. Or that they were once able to send bands out on American tours with guitar techs in tow, where now they’re grateful to sell 1,000 of each release. There’s an acknowledgement of fortunate timing too, and anger, in Kapranos’s memories of the way the dole and student grants – a system of support that feels all but completely eroded in post-crisis austerity Britain – made so many bands possible, giving them just enough to survive, rehearse, refine and create. Lost in France ends on a quietly warm and fuzzy note, with memories replayed, hugs exchanged. But there’s a residual melancholy: of loss, but also anxiety, precarity and worry about the future. Faced with having to give up music for a nine-to-five job, “the whole thing, my whole identity, disappears”, says Pollock at one point. “If there’s just enough money to get by the next six months… I’m all right.”

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Nicky Gogan Paul Welsh Written by Niall McCann Cinematographer Julian Schwanitz

Editors Cara Holmes Nicky Gogan Sound Design Fiadhnait McCann ©Still Films Ltd/

Edge City Films Ltd Production Companies Still Films and Edge City Films in association with Creative Scotland

In 1997, a handful of bands from Glasgow independent label Chemikal Underground were invited to play in Mauron, a small town in Brittany. The documentary follows some of those musicians (including members

and Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board Supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland

Developed with the assistance of Bord Scannán na hÉireann/ The Irish Film Board Executive Producers Keith Potter Leslie Finlay

In Colour [1.78:1] Part-subtitled Distributor Curzon Artificial Eye

of Mogwai and The Delgados, as well as Alex Kapranos, who would later form Franz Ferdinand) on a return trip to Mauron 18 years later, where they play live and discuss the Glasgow music scene of the mid-1990s.

Sharing with her feature debut Bombay Beach (2011) a trio of interwoven stories, a dreamy aesthetic and layered, multiform storytelling, LoveTrue continues Alma Har’el’s project of expanding the boundaries of conventional documentary truth-telling. Her characters – ‘ordinary’ people all, drawn from three widely separated areas of the United States – occupy not only the film’s present but also their own remembered pasts and imagined futures. A mix of interviews, re-enactments and scraps of old Super-8 footage deliberately confounds the viewer as to which story threads have occurred in the course of filming, and which are being related long after the fact. Still other developments appear to be influenced by the filmmaking process itself, as when the actors interact with the real people they are portraying. “Thank you to those who opened their hearts and improvised with me through all the unknowns this film presented,” states a note in the end credits, which also name a number of “psychodrama advisors”. In Alaska, we see the vulnerable but tenacious Blake pursuing her work in a strip club, nurturing her relationship with her boyfriend Joel, and trying to reconcile the two. In Hawaii, coconut farmer and loveable surf doofus Will notes the auspicious signs that attended his relationship with his girlfriend Tasida – they were delivered by the same midwife, their astrological signs were freakishly compatible – only for her infidelity and the revelation that their son is not biologically his to make a mockery of such happy omens. And meanwhile in New York City, solemn teenager Victory retains her faith in God even as her mother’s instability and her father’s insistent pursuit of a polygamous lifestyle keep her family in constant tumult. The notion that each of these individuals is driven on by love – Blake’s for Joel, Will’s for the little boy he has raised, Victory’s for her father – is a sweet if slightly insubstantial throughline. Whether the love they feel is especially pure and authentic or whether their circumstances and personalities have simply cast them in the role of devotee is likely to settle differently with different viewers. But if the film is impressionistic in its feel, and the ‘truth’ of what we see and hear open to question, it’s also upfront in its direction of our understanding and our sympathies. The three main participants have been granted what humanistic psychotherapy terms ‘unconditional positive regard’: their accounts aren’t challenged; they govern their own narratives. “Let it go,” Blake’s child-self sagely advises her, of a memory of being cruelly bullied by a group of girls. “I don’t think I can do that,” Blake responds, before adding in voiceover, “I will hate them till the day I die. And I realise that’s unhealthy – but I’m OK with that.” In the light of this flattering, non-judgmental attention, the three players unfold their petals: Blake moves on from stripping (which is semisympathetically presented, as an important source of physical confidence for a girl who was still a virgin when she began, but no sort of lifestyle choice for an older woman); Will affirms his bond with his son Honu. Victory’s situation seems rather more complex – her domineering father and elusive mother March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 81

REVIEWS

Ireland/United Kingdom 2016 Director: Niall McCann


Marauders

USA/United Kingdom 2016 Director: Steven C. Miller Certificate 15 106m 45s

Reviewed by Vadim Rizov

REVIEWS

A more apt title for Marauders, were it not already firmly claimed, would be Blue. This action film has been colour-corrected in the dominant orange-and-teal mode of the lazy moment, largely the former; there are moments when it appears to be more or less monochromatic. Heavy on exposition yet never improved by sporadic action sequences – witless assemblages of gunfire exchanged with no real sense of space or tempo, punctuated by bursts of brutality – Marauders follows FBI agent Jonathan Montgomery (Christopher Meloni) as he investigates a series of robberies at banks owned by sinisterly glowering titan Jeffrey Hubert (Bruce Willis, looming largest on the poster but effectively cameoing for some half a dozen scenes in a minimal number of locations). The robbers have donated the stolen cash to charities: as dirty cop Mims (Johnathon Schaech) complains, “If the press finds out about this, they’ll look like the fucking Boondock Saints!” The nod to that film is among an unusual grouping of cultural citations, which also includes Corona’s ‘Find Your Beach’ ad campaign and H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Lurking Fear’, giving some sense of the macho and limited dramatic sensibility and frame of reference. The moral – nobody thinks they’re the bad guy, everyone is compromised – is presented as some sort of great discovery. Credits and Synopsis

Splash of the titans: LoveTrue

show no sign of reconciling – but her own ability to cope is implicitly improved. The implication is that the filmmakers have not merely observed positive change, but catalysed it. The fact that life knocks the sensitive about, meanwhile, is lent neat allegorical expression by Joel’s medical condition: brittle bones that all too easily fracture. At times, the juxtaposition of emotional hyperbole and quotidian language is

gently comical. “I was contemplating suicide,” confides Will. “And that shit’s gnarly.” Dignity in the face of gnarly shit is where this film finds its force. Some may find a measure of mawkishness in its upfront emotionality and the trust it places in its subjects’ testimonies; but few could doubt its sincerity, nor the skill and diligence with which Har’el opens out these small but richly complicated lives.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Alma Har’el Producers Christopher Leggett Rafael Marmor Rhea Scott Cinematography Alma Har’el

Edited by Terry Yates Alma Har’el Production Design Film Unit, New York: Joshua Stricklin Film Unit, Alaska: Joshua Stricklin

Film Unit, Hawaii: Joshua Stricklin Grace Alie Original Music Flying Lotus Sound Designer Zach Seivers

A documentary with dramatic re-enactments. In Alaska, stripper Blake recalls her troubled childhood, and finds solace in her relationship with aspiring doctor Joel. In Hawaii, coconut farmer Will splits care of his son Honu with his ex-girlfriend Tasida, but is distraught when a DNA test reveals that the boy is not biologically his. In New York, Victory, a performer in her family’s gospel singing troupe, recovers from a bike accident. Blake meets Joel’s family, and worries what they will make of her job and lack of a college education. Will gets drunk with friends, and contemplates dating again.

82 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

©Pet Peeve Films LLC Production Companies A film by Alma Har’el Fiscally sponsored by Women Make Movies With support from Cinereach

Supported by the TFI Documentary Fund In association with Chicken & Egg Pictures Executive Producer Shia LaBeouf

In Colour [1.78:1] Part-subtitled Distributor Dogwoof

Victory explains how her father John’s infidelities drove away her mother, who now lives in a shelter; Victory still hopes they will reconcile; scenes between the couple are re-enacted, with an actress playing Victory’s mother. The actress meets the real mother, who says that John was violent and that she will never take him back. Will encounters and fights with Honu’s biological father, but remains dedicated to raising Honu as his own. Joel breaks up with Blake. Though devastated, she resolves to change her life, and applies to a college. Victory has a birthday party with her family.

Produced by Randall Emmett George Furla Joshua Harris Rosie Charbonneau Mark Stewart Written by Michael Cody Chris Sivertson Director of Photography Brandon Cox Editor Vincent Tabaillon Production Designer Niko Vilaivongs Music Ryan Dodson Sound Mixer Geoff Maxwell Costume Designer Bonnie Stauch

association with Aperture Media Partners, 4th Wall Entertainment, The Fyzz Facility Executive Producers Jared Underwood Andrew Robinson Slava Vladimirov Wayne Marc Godfrey Robert Jones Barry Brooker Stan Wertlieb Montgomery Blencowe Steve Saxton Anthony Jabre Jason Trawick Ted Fox Vance Owen Jamie Marshall

©Georgia Film Fund 44, LLC Production Companies Lionsgate Premiere, Grindstone Entertainment Group and Emmett Furla Oasis Films present an Emmett Furla Oasis Films production in

Cast

Brian Mims Lydia Hull Agent Chase Tyler Jon Olson Derohan Texas Battle T.J. Jackson Christopher Rob Bowen Teegan Ryan O’Nan Chris Hall Tara Holt Vanessa Adler In Colour [2.35:1] Distributor Munro Film Services

Christopher Meloni Jonathan Montgomery Bruce Willis Jeffrey Hubert Dave Bautista Greg Stockwell Adrian Grenier Michael Wells Johnathon Schaech Detective

Cincinnati, the present. FBI agent Jonathan Montgomery investigates a series of robberies carried out at banks owned by Jeffrey Hubert. Montgomery discovers that the robberies, whose proceeds have been donated to charity, were committed as revenge against Hubert by a rogue army unit manipulated into killing Hubert’s brother so that Hubert could take control of the family business. One of the robbers is Montgomery’s new agent Wells. Hubert flees the country. Later, Montgomery meets Wells in a Mexican café, where Hubert is also present. Montgomery kills Hubert.


Moonlight USA 2016 Director: Barry Jenkins Certificate 15 111m 9s

Reviewed by Adam Nayman

The process by which a small movie like Moonlight comes to loom large over global film culture is a complicated one. The most admirable thing about Barry Jenkins’s adaptation of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue is its commitment to intimacy; this strength is manifested in the skilful proximity of James Laxton’s cinematography and the small-scale parameters of the storyline, which follows a single character as he ages from a child to a young adult. But Moonlight has come to symbolise something bigger: perhaps more than any other release of the past year, Jenkins’s film has been anointed a Movie of the Moment. Whether or not that designation refers triumphally to its status as an artwork describing contemporary African-American life through the eyes of one of its own or, more tenderly, as a final, valedictory exercise in Obama-era identity politics before America Makes Itself Great Again, it’s a lot of significance for one film to bear. Moonlight betrays this weightiness at the top of its third section, which begins with a piece of onscreen text reading ‘iii. Black’. The word is being used as a proper name, or rather a street moniker, for the film’s Miami-born protagonist, who has previously been encountered in chapters entitled ‘Little’ (his childhood nickname) and ‘Chiron’ (the name that’s on his birth certificate). Introducing the character by different names at different points in his life is a clever, economical way of suggesting that he contains multitudes, and yet Jenkins is also reaching a bit with that conspicuous, calculated use of ‘Black’, which could be seen as an attempt to universalise Chiron’s story, or to turn him into a stand-in of sorts for the intersecting racial and sexual demographic he inhabits. In this final, twentysomething incarnation, played by Trevante Rhodes, Chiron is hulked-up and physically armoured to the point that he looks almost indistinguishable from the alpha-male cowards who bullied him when he was a kid: a suggestive bit of dramaturgy barbed spikily with sociology. Moonlight’s uniqueness as a film about a queer black youth cannot be overstated, and it skilfully filters rhetoric through realism, as when Little (Alex Hibbert) is chased aggressively into an abandoned crack house by his playmates. It’s a stark bit of staging that reflects a bigger, sadly credible ghetto trajectory. Little’s saviour in this tight spot is a dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) who literally breaks through the barrier separating the terrified boy from the outside world and quickly becomes a dedicated father figure: the majority of the film’s first vignette describes the tightening of their bond. Driving Little back to his house, Juan palms his car’s steering wheel with a family man’s easy grace. It’s the same relaxed mastery that Black will demonstrate driving his own vehicle later on, after relocating to Atlanta, where he’s taken up dealing as well – a revelation that’s given extra sting by our knowledge at this point in the story that Juan didn’t make it out of his own professional trap alive. Moonlight is awash with these kinds of visual and dramatic rhymes. Jenkins builds each section

REVIEWS

See Feature on page 16

Father of the man: Alex Hibbert, Jaden Piner

around a close encounter on or near a beach, and there’s an exhilarating symmetry between the early scene where Juan teaches Little how to swim by holding him steady in the surf and teenage Chiron (Ashton Sanders) kissing his friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) in the dark on the sand: paternal intimacy and adolescent experimentation each rendered with fleshy, tactile eroticism. Jenkins has cited Wong Kar Wai and Claire Denis as inspirations, and both are duly evoked, although an even more apropos reference point might be the Hou Hsiao-Hsien of Three Times (2005), another triptych designed as a series of interlacing motifs (and similarly pivoting on the theme of repressed desire). In addition to his agile formalism, Jenkins has a real sensitivity for actors, and other than Naomie Harris – whose unconvincing performance as Chiron’s mother Paula is a by-

product of her thinly written role – Moonlight boasts a superb ensemble. Not only the three Chirons, who have been carefully guided along a continuum of shared cadences and gestures, but also Ali, whose handsomely hard-lined face is alternately a tough-guy mask and an open book; and André Holland, perfectly cast as the wary, regretful older version of high-school peacock Kevin, a character whose gradual movement to the story’s very heart is beautifully engineered. In the closing encounter between Black and Kevin, the actors’ gently shape-shifting rapport in a dimly lit diner has the uncanny feel of a surreptitiously overheard conversation. Even as the two old friends talk cautiously around their shared history, the emotions between them cut loud and clear through the background clatter, proving that Moonlight is at its most eloquent when its subtext is soft-spoken.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Adele Romanski Dede Gardner Jeremy Kleiner Screenplay Barry Jenkins Story Tarell Alvin McCraney Cinematography James Laxton Edited by Nat Sanders Joi McMillon Production Designer Hannah Beachler Music Nicholas Britell Production Sound Mixer Christopher Giles Costume Designer Caroline EselinSchaefer ©Dos Hermanas, LLC

Production Companies A24 and Plan B Entertainment presents a Plan B/ Pastel production Executive Producers Brad Pitt Sarah Esberg Tarell Alvin McCraney

Cast Trevante Rhodes ‘Black’ (Chiron) André Holland Kevin Janelle Monáe Teresa Ashton Sanders Chiron aged 16 Jharrel Jerome Kevin aged 16 Naomie Harris Paula

Mahershala Ali Juan Shariff Earp Terrence Duan ‘Sandy’ Sanderson Azu Alex Hibbert ‘Little’ (Chiron aged 10) Patrick Decile Terrel Jaden Piner Kevin aged 9 In Colour [2.35:1] Distributor Altitude Film Distribution

Miami. Ten-year-old Chiron, aka ‘Little’, is chased into an abandoned housing project by a group of kids and discovered by Juan, a prosperous, thirtysomething drug dealer; Juan realises that the boy lacks a father and takes him under his wing, teaching him how to swim and letting him stay at his house with his girlfriend Teresa. Eventually, Chiron grows wary of Juan’s hustle as a drug dealer. Some years later, Juan is dead but Chiron still visits Teresa’s house when he needs to get away from his mother, who is a drug addict. Chiron is deeply closeted but comfortable in the presence of his friend Kevin; one night by the beach, the two have a sexual encounter. A few days later at school, Kevin is coerced into beating Chiron viciously. Chiron retaliates by breaking a chair over the back of another bully. After serving jail time and relocating to Atlanta, Chiron reinvents himself as ‘Black’, a bulked-up dealer who dresses and drives like Juan. One night, he gets a call from Kevin, who invites him to come to Miami to eat at his restaurant. The two old friends flirt subtly over dinner and go back to Kevin’s house.

March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 83


Patriots Day

Prevenge

USA 2016 Director: Peter Berg Certificate 15 132m 59s

United Kingdom 2016 Director: Alice Lowe Certificate 15 87m 27s

REVIEWS

Reviewed by Adam Nayman

It takes a very special kind of filmmaking to make a real-life tragedy ring false. That’s the dubious achievement of Patriots Day, a bigbudget, star-studded recreation of the events leading up to and following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, an event considered at the time to be the worst act of domestic terrorism in America following September 11. With this in mind, the model for Peter Berg’s docudrama is probably United 93, which it resembles in a number of ways, including the choice to include the perpetrators as featured characters right alongside their victims and their pursuers. The difference is that where Paul Greengrass’s 2006 film drew criticism on its release for removing politics from the equation – thus alienating commentators on the right and the left – Patriots Day seems designed to appeal, if not flat-out pander, to a conservative audience. The jingoism has been laid on thick; there’s enough material here to write an entire doctoral dissertation about the intersection of ideology and mass entertainment. Not that Boston PD officer Tommy Saunders would ever sit down and read something like that. ommy is the sort As played by Mark Wahlberg, Tommy in, big-brassof brusque, blunt, door-kicking-in, rattling lone wolf who despises paperwork, mself would a guy Dirty Harry Callahan himself cept that have taken to the gun range, except he also has, as a fellow cop tells him, ath”. As “something beautiful underneath”. eks a protagonist in a movie that seeks to honour Boston’s boys in blue,, ue. Tommy seems too good to be true. tely That’s because he’s a completely fictional character. In a film that otherwise makes a fetish of its carefully crafted realism – ws including integrating ersatz news

and cellphone footage into its editing scheme, and an honest-to-goodness documentary coda – Tommy is a walking embodiment of poetic licence. Kevin Bacon, John Goodman and J.K. Simmons have been fashioned into waxwork doppelgangers of real, living policemen and intelligence officials, but Wahlberg gets to play the Platonic ideal of a Boston cop: he even warns a tourist wearing a New York Yankees cap to lay low or get pounded by the locals. Leaving aside the actor’s genuine, mook-next-door-appeal (he’s very good here), the character of Tommy embodies everything questionable about Berg’s approach, which is caught between faithful, journalistic reportage and simplistically slippery myth-making. The way that Patriots Day keeps placing its star on the scene without letting him actually do anything to directly affect the course of events (and thus warp the historical record) is unintentionally hilarious. What’s less amusing is Patriots Day’s martial tone and unambiguous embrace of the expansive surveillance-state mechanisms that led to the identification and capture of bombers Tamerlan and Jahar Tsarnaev (a manhunt that Berg stages via the visual language of a commercial thriller). poin is not that a film about an The point appalli act of violence and cowardice appalling should do more to blur the line between a evil’, a dichotomy unpacked at ‘good and length b by Tommy in a late cards-on-the-table monolo monologue. Rather, it is the film’s continual and hysterical insistence on avowing (if nev never quite successfully dramatising) the strength, decency, courage and moral character of ‘ordinary’ Am Americans, as well as its awed de depiction of a spectacularly militarised p police force, that invites and demands sscepticism. Beware of movies that try tto repackage trauma and violence as excitement and uplift.

Mark Wahlberg

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Scott Stuber Dylan Clark Mark Wahlberg Stephen Levinson Hutch Parker Dorothy Aufiero Michael Radutzky Screenplay Peter Berg Matt Cook Joshua Zetumer Story Peter Berg Matt Cook Paul Tamasy Eric Johnson Director of

Photography Tobias Schliessler Edited by Colby Parker Jr Gabriel Fleming Production Designer Tom Duffield Music Trent Reznor Atticus Ross Sound Mixer Michael B. Koff Costume Designer Virginia B. Johnson ©CBS Films Inc., Lions Gate Films Inc. Production

Companies CBS Films and Lionsgate present a Closest to the Hole, Leverage Entertainment, Bluegrass Films, Hutch Parker Entertainment production A Peter Berg film Executive Producers Eric Johnson Paul Tamasy Nicholas Nesbitt Dan Wilson John Logan Pierson Louis G. Friedman

Boston, 2013. Police officer Tommy Saunders has been forced to work the finish line at the Boston Marathon as punishment for an earlier job violation. The other officers make fun of him for drawing this assignment. He is thus on the scene when two homemade explosive devices are detonated during the race, wounding dozens of onlookers and killing three. In the aftermath of the bombing, Saunders tries to help in the FBI manhunt by suggesting the release of surveillance images, so that Boston’s

84 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Cast Mark Wahlberg Sergeant Tommy Saunders Kevin Bacon Special Agent Richard DesLauriers John Goodman Commissioner Ed Davis J.K. Simmons Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese Michelle Monaghan Carol Saunders Alex Wolff Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, ‘Jahar’

Themo Melikidze Tamerlan Tsarnaev Jane Picking Officer Sean Collier Jimmy O. Yang Dun Meng Rachel Brosnahan Jessica Kensky Christopher O’Shea Patrick Downes Melissa Benoist Katherine Russell James Colby Superintendent Billy Evans Michael Beach Governor Deval Patrick

Khandi Alexander interrogator Vincent Curatola Mayor Thomas Menino In Colour [2.35:1] Distributor Lionsgate UK

citizens can help to identify the perpetrators. The bombers – brothers Jahar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev – attempt to flee the city en route to New York for another bombing, but after killing a police officer in nearby Watertown and taking a hostage, they’re hunted down; elder brother Tamerlan is killed in a shootout, while Jahar is apprehended alive. A documentary coda shows what has happened in the lives of several of the reallife characters in the years since.

Reviewed by Anton Bitel

Prevenge begins and ends, literally, on a cliff edge. This is also the primal scene where Matt was killed in a climbing incident on the very same day that his wife Ruth (played by writer/director Alice Lowe) discovered she was pregnant. Now in her third trimester, Ruth is tracking down and killing one by one those she holds responsible for her husband’s death, spurred on to these acts of murder by the vindictive voice of her unborn child. This is comedienne Lowe’s feature debut as director, though her previous screenplay for Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers (2012), written with her co-star Steve Oram, also exposed a psychotic serial-killing double act to hilariously banal effect, and also ended on a precipice. But here the buddy comedy is entirely internalised, with a well-spoken (if occasionally foul-mouthed) foetus standing in for Oram’s fellow traveller Chris. Ruth comes with her own edge as a character: this heavily gravid slasher (Lowe was herself pregnant at the time of filming) is an improbable amalgam, subject not only to the control of the embryo within but also to the disparate influences of Mia Farrow’s prepartum anxieties in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Uma Thurman’s vengeful hit list in the Kill Bill diptych (200304) and Ryan Reynolds’s schizophrenic dialectics in The Voices (2014). Meanwhile Ruth takes more immediate inspiration from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s Crime Without Passion (1934), which is seen playing on the television in her hotel room and which similarly features alter egos and insanity. Further edge comes from Ruth’s eroding moral high ground. Her first two victims are odious, sexually predatory men (played by Dan Renton Skinner and Tom Davis), so that their deaths are figured as rebellious acts of emasculation – literally so, in one case – perpetrated by a vulnerable (albeit manipulative and murderous) woman against the prevailing patriarchy. Yet soon Ruth is killing women (Kate Dickie, Gemma Whelan) too, as well as an innocent bystander (Mike Wozniak) who, she admits, is “really kind”. Her biggest ethical conundrum comes when she faces a man who is – as her own husband was – married to a pregnant woman (“I can’t put her in the same position,” says Ruth). Moreover, as the film goes on it becomes clear that Matt’s death was not, as Ruth insists, a deliberate act of collective murder, but rather a horrific accident – and that their relationship, though romanticised by Ruth, may have been as rocky as the landscape that killed him. While all this shifting ground plays havoc with our sympathies (replicating the emotional turmoil within Ruth herself), Prevenge pivots its tensions around different kinds of ‘cut’: the shearing of Matt’s rope by his climbing companions; the severing of jobs by Dickie’s ‘cut-throat’ executive Ella; the slashing of Ruth’s blades; and finally the need for Lowe to call “Cut!” on set before she actually gave birth. “When it’s life and death, we have to make that cut,” Ruth is told by her midwife (Jo Hartley) – and those words resonate in complicated ways through a film whose conflicting, transformative gestations are never less than razor-sharp. See Rushes, page 9


Rats

Southern Fury

Reviewed by Hannah McGill

Reviewed by Kim Newman

From the propagandistic vermin of The Eternal Jew (1940) to the ‘super rats’ endured by Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and the murderous familiars of Willard (1971), rats in the movies almost always function as either embodiments or symptoms of human degradation and corruption. Morgan Spurlock’s ‘horrormentary’ takes this idea and scurries with it, diligently doing all it can to repulse its viewer with grisly rat deaths, grislier rat diseases and rats that launch themselves out of dark corners accompanied by shrieky horror-movie sound effects. It’s a little hard to determine who any of this is pitched at, since if you’re phobic about rats you likely won’t be able to stomach it, and if you aren’t, it won’t scare you all that much. But the film does become more interesting when it expands on its crude gross-out project by seeking out human communities that endeavour to welcome rats. “There are so many ways to cook rat,” enthuses a woman in Vietnam, “but my favourite is barbecued.” The Karni Mata Temple in Rajasthan, meanwhile, is described as “the only place where rats are safe”. There they are revered as part of a chain of human reincarnation: “They become man; we become them.”

Director Steven C. Miller has managed to turn out nine films in the decade since his zombie apocalypse debut Automaton Transfusion. He has handled supernatural horror (Scream of the Banshee, Under the Bed) and slasher movie (the Christmas-themed Silent Night) but has recently specialised in a brand of hyper-violent crime liable to secure slightly more marqueevalue star names (he’s made a couple of Bruce Willis pictures, including Marauders, reviewed on page 82) – though his best work to date is 2012’s The Aggression Scale, a grisly reverse parody of Home Alone in which a meticulous autistic kid defends his turf against invaders. Arsenal, retitled Southern Fury in the UK for obvious reasons, boasts Nicolas Cage and John Cusack, reteaming after The Frozen Ground (in which Cage was the cop and Cusack the killer), but is built around decent – under the circumstances – performances from Johnathon Schaech and Adrian Grenier, as contrasting bad and good brothers mixed up in the sort of kidnap scam that’s been going gruesomely wrong since Blood Simple (1984). The film teases with a long prologue showing Mikey (Schaech) and JP (Grenier) as poor Southern kids, and there’s a soapy stretch establishing how things are between them these days – before Cage’s maniacal mobster Eddie suggests to Mikey that they should put the sting on JP for “a sixfigure sum”. The camera cuts away before we see Mikey’s reaction – returning only later to reveal that he’s an unwilling participant in the scam, after scenes in which supporting characters try to persuade the fiercely loyal JP that his brother’s a no-good he should cut loose. The contrast between the brothers, with JP prospering in business without abandoning his roots and married to a sexy Christian while Mikey is a divorced deadbeat dad who can’t even manage a simple drug deal without getting ripped off and beaten up, is reflected in the film’s oil-and-water tone. On the one hand, this offers a near-caricature hymn to Southern family values, brotherly love and baseball (“Katrina couldn’t break us”), with much padding as the guys toss balls at each other. On the other, it’s ultra-violent to the point of grand guignol: a bestial Cage roars in slow motion while ripping his brother (played by Cage’s real brother, sometime director Christopher Coppola) to pieces in a welter of scarlet blood; the individual pellets of a shotgun blast

Death expectancy: Alice Lowe

Credits and Synopsis Producers Vaughan Sivell Jennifer Handorf Will Kane Written by Alice Lowe Director of Photography Ryan Eddleston Editor Matteo Bini Production Designer Blair Barnette Original Score Toydrum Sound Design Martin Pavey Costume Design Sarah-Jane Perez ©Pre-Venge Limited Production Companies A Western Edge Pictures

production for the Gennaker Group Western Edge Pictures is supported by Ffilm Cymru Wales Executive Producers Mike Rattenbury Vaughan Sivell Will Kane Franki Goodwin Mike Shirley Andrew Thomas

Dan’s mum Kate Dickie Ella Kayvan Novak Tom Mike Wozniak Josh Tom Meeten Zac Marc Bessant Matt Gemma Whelan Len Della Moon Synnott baby

Cast

In Colour [2.35:1]

Alice Lowe Ruth Dan Renton Skinner Mr Zabek Jo Hartley midwife Tom Davis DJ Dan Leila Hoffman

Distributor Kaleidoscope Film Distribution

UK, present day. Ruth’s husband Matt was killed in a cliff-climbing accident on the same day that she learned she was carrying their child. Now heavily pregnant, Ruth is instructed by the voice of her unborn daughter to murder Matt’s climbing companions, whom she blames for his death. First Ruth kills innuendo-spouting Mr Zabek in his exotic pet store. Then, after seducing DJ Dan and castrating him in his home, she helps his demented mother with the washing. Ruth tries to confide in her midwife, but the latter regards conflict and confusion as a normal part of pregnancy. Pretending to be a job applicant, Ruth cuts executive Ella’s throat in her office. She visits climbing instructor Tom at his crowded workplace, and menaces him. She then goes to Zac’s apartment, where his flatmate Josh, thinking that she’s applying for the spare room, treats her kindly; however, when Zac arrives, Ruth kills them both. Ruth visits Len in her home, and stabs her. At Tom’s Halloween party, Ruth sees that Tom’s own wife is pregnant, and hesitates. Tom tells Ruth that Matt was thinking of leaving her. Ruth is rushed to hospital, where she has an emergency caesarean. Returning to the cliffside, Ruth raises her knife to a stranger who resembles Matt.

USA/United Kingdom 2016 Director: Steven C. Miller

Creature feature: Rats

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Jeremy Chilnick Morgan Spurlock Suzanne Hillinger Written by Jeremy Chilnick Morgan Spurlock Inspired by the book by Robert Sullivan Director of Photography Luca Del Puppo Editor Pierre Takal Composer Pierre Takal Sound Mixer Jason Todd

©Realistic Pictures LLC Production Companies Discovery presents a film by Morgan Spurlock Produced by Warrior Poets in association with Dakota Group Ltd and Submarine for Discovery Channel Produced by Warrior Poets, Dakota Group Ltd, Submarine Entertainment, LLC, Discovery Channel

Executive Produced by David Koh Josh Braun Dan Braun Stanley Buchthal Executive Producer John Hoffman In Colour [1.85:1] Part-subtitled Distributor Picturehouse Entertainment

A documentary in which Morgan Spurlock looks at rats in cities around the world. Exterminator Ed Sheehan talks about tackling rat infestations and the respect he has gained for the creatures’ intelligence. Scientists in New Orleans track the changing sizes of rats and document the diseases they carry. Sanitation workers around the world take differing approaches to rats – killing them by hand in India, chasing them with dogs in the UK. Rats are cooked and eaten in Vietnam, but respected as reincarnated human souls in a temple in Rajasthan.

Scarlet fever: Nicolas Cage March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 85

REVIEWS

USA 2016 Director: Morgan Spurlock


Split

REVIEWS

USA/Japan 2017 Director: M. Night Shyamalan Certificate 15 117m 7s

proceed in slow motion towards the impact area of a gangster’s crotch. Along with Cage’s truly bizarre look – a wig Gary Oldman might have refused to wear in The Fifth Element, a putty Gérard Depardieu nose, a false moustache less convincing than Groucho’s smear of burnt cork – this over-the-top element suggests parody, but the rest of it is played with thudding sincerity. The film keeps pausing so that characters can deliver soliloquies about their formative betrayals to close friends and relatives who surely must have heard all this before – in one case, the listener has literally to be tied to a chair to put up with a ramble from the thug guarding him about his unhappy childhood. First-timer Jason Mosberg’s script has room for these monologues but stumbles over basic plot points such as how JP knows where Mikey is being held captive, and why he didn’t try to rescue him sooner, and overdoes the Chekhov’s rifle thing by stopping three times for a chat about the concussion grenade Mikey happens to have in his private arsenal, which (of course) comes in handy in the climax. In Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore, a character is under a curse that obliges him to commit one criminal act a day; it’s beginning to seem as if Nicolas Cage is suffering from a similar condition, compelling him to make one criminal film a month. Credits and Synopsis Produced by Randall Emmett George Furla Written by Jason Mosberg Director of Photography Brandon Cox Editor Vincent Tabaillon Production Designer Niko Vilaivongs Music Ryan Franks Scott Nickoley Production Sound Mixer Dick Hansen Costume Designer Rachel Stringfellow Stunt Co-ordinator Steve Griffin

Entertainment Group and Emmett Furla Oasis Films present an Emmett Furla Oasis Films production in association with River Bay Films, Tinker Productions Limited Executive Producers Marc Goldberg Mark Stewart Wayne Marc Godfrey Robert Jones Steven Saxton Vance Owen Ted Fox Barry Brooker Stan Wertlieb

©Georgia Film Fund 52, LLC Production Companies Lionsgate Premiere, Grindstone

Adrian Grenier JP Lindel Johnathon Schaech Mikey Lindel Nicolas Cage Eddie King

Cast

Lydia Hull Lizzie Christopher Coppola Buddy King John Cusack Sal Megan Leonard Vicki Tyler Jon Olson Gus Christopher Rob Bowen Rob Abbie Gayle Alexis In Colour [2.35:1] Distributor Signature Entertainment

Biloxi, Mississippi. Disgraced ex-Marine Mikey Lindel runs into gangster Eddie King, for whom he worked as a teenager. Eddie suggests they collaborate on a fake kidnapping to extort $350,000 from Mikey’s property developer brother JP. When JP receives ransom demands, his wife Lizzie and cop friend Sal both suspect that Mikey is in on the scam, but JP believes, rightly, that his brother would never betray him. When Buddy, Eddie’s more successful criminal brother, comes to town to bully him into abandoning the extortion scheme, Eddie murders him. He also abducts Alexis, Mikey’s daughter, to put more pressure on the brothers. Realising that Eddie plans to kill them both anyway, JP arms himself and frees Mikey from Eddie’s safe house. Both brothers turn up at the ransom drop and attack Eddie and his gang, who are all killed. The Lindel family celebrate.

86 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Reviewed by Jason Anderson Spoiler alert: this review reveals a plot twist

“The broken are the more evolved!” As bellowed by James McAvoy’s many-faced villain after he assumes his most formidable persona in Split’s finale, this declaration is part of the film’s cockamamie supposition that sufferers of dissociative identity disorder have the capacity to assume superhuman powers. By M. Night Shyamalan’s reasoning, a mind shattered into many parts may be greater than a whole. But like a lot of lines in Split, this one holds a second meaning when applied to a filmmaker whose career has broken many times over and yet who has stubbornly maintained his own evolutionary trajectory, however maddening the results may often be. An exquisitely crafted low-budget thriller that arrives with the expected (if semi-disastrous) lastact twists, Split is another turn in the Shyamalan saga that began with the massive success of The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002). But Shyamalan’s Midas touch evaporated with the derided if endearingly weird Lady in the Water (2006). The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013) further tarnished a once powerful brand. His recovery began when he allied himself with horror producer Jason Blum for 2015’s surprisingly nimble found-footage thriller The Visit. That said, the film’s treatment of the subject of elderly dementia was arguably as exploitative as Split’s take on the multiplepersonality trope, a standby for horror filmmakers ever since Marion Crane checked in at the Bates Motel. Though nods to Psycho (1960) aren’t hard to spot in Split, early scenes of the ordeal endured by the three teenage girls held in the villain’s windowless lair are equally evocative of the post-Hostel torture-porn cycle, particularly Roland Joffé’s execrable Captivity (2007). Thankfully, Split turns out to be far weirder than any other tale of youngsters trapped in dank cells. Flipping between personae with impressive dexterity, McAvoy retains an edge of menace even

Torn identity: James McAvoy

while acknowledging the ludicrousness of his task(s). There’s a similarly daring approach to the intimations of sexual violence that are a familiar aspect of the abduction genre. One of Split’s wittiest moments arrives when McAvoy, this time in the persona of the childlike Hedwig, asks his terrified victim Casey for a kiss, briefly nuzzling her cheek before crying, “You might be pregnant now!” Enlisting cinematographer Michael Gioulakis after seeing his work on It Follows (2014), Shyamalan favours a visual style that combines the sinister Steadicam glide of The Sixth Sense and Signs with more unusual framing, as when Hedwig drops below the frame while showing Casey his dance moves. West Dylan Thordson’s doomy score and the casting of Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) as Casey are two more suggestions that the director has paid close attention to recent American indie-horror hits. Split’s skilful execution makes it even more disappointing for it all to culminate in the sight of a stone-faced Bruce Willis. The turn reveals that the film’s cynical purpose all along was to provide a supervillain origin story in the sub-Marvel mythology that Shyamalan devised for Unbreakable but abandoned to pursue more misguided career moves. Viewers who made any emotional investment in the sufferings of the abducted girls may be left feeling burned. Then again, even Shyamalan’s best movies tend to have that effect.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by M. Night Shyamalan Jason Blum Marc Bienstock Written by M. Night Shyamalan Director of Photography Michael Gioulakis Edited by Luke Ciarrocchi Production Designer Mara Lepere-Schloop

Music West Dylan Thordson Sound Mixer Tod A. Maitland Costume Designer Paco Delgado ©Universal Studios Production Companies Universal Pictures presents a Blinding Edge Pictures/

Blumhouse production A M. Night Shyamalan film Presented in association with Dentsu Inc./ Fuji Television Network, Inc. Executive Producers Steven Schneider Ashwin Rajan Kevin Frakes

Philadelphia, present day. Teenagers Claire, Marcia and Casey are abducted outside a restaurant by an unknown man. As they wake to find themselves held captive in a windowless room, their abductor visits his psychiatrist, Dr Fletcher. Their conversation indicates that the abductor exhibits 23 different personalities, the sociable Barry being predominant. Back in their cell, the girls variously encounter him as the fastidious Dennis, the severe Patricia and nine-year-old Hedwig. All three personalities talk about the coming of the Beast, a heretofore unseen 24th persona. The girls are separated after several escape attempts. Flashbacks reveal that Casey was sexually abused by her uncle. Dr Fletcher realises that in her meetings with

Buddy Patrick

Cast James McAvoy Kevin Wendell Crumb, ‘Dennis’, ‘Patricia’, ‘Hedwig’, ‘The Beast’, ‘Barry’, ‘Orwell’, ‘Jade’ Anya Taylor-Joy Casey Cooke Betty Buckley Dr Karen Fletcher

Haley Lu Richardson Claire Benoit Jessica Sula Marcia Izzie Leigh Coffey Casey aged 5 Brad William Henke Uncle John Sebastian Arcelus Casey’s father Neal Huff Mr Benoit

[uncredited] Bruce Willis David Dunn Dolby Digital In Colour [2.35:1] Distributor Universal Pictures International UK & Eire

her client – whose real name is Kevin, the disorder being the result of childhood abuse – she has not been dealing with Barry but with Dennis and Patricia, who are now serving the Beast. She visits Kevin but is trapped; he assumes the superhuman form of the Beast and kills her. Casey escapes from her cell to find Marcia dead and Claire being eaten by the Beast. The Beast chases Casey, but does not kill her after seeing the scars that signify her abuse. Rescuers later take Casey out of Kevin’s lair, which is in an unused wing of the city zoo. At a diner, a news report describes Kevin’s crimes and escape. Among the viewers is David Dunn, the superhero established in ‘Unbreakable’.


Sweet Dreams

T2 Trainspotting

Italy/France 2016 Director: Marco Bellocchio

Director: Danny Boyle Certificate 18 117m 14s

In terms of output, Marco Bellocchio comes close to rivalling Woody Allen. Since his debut feature I pugni in tasca (Fists in the Pocket, 1965), he’s notched up near on 40 feature films, plus shorts, documentaries and TV dramas. Such prolificacy hasn’t always worked to his advantage: in his later films, critics have often noticed a softening, even a sentimentality, that never tainted the venomous fierceness of early work like Pugni or Nel nome del padre (In the Name of the Father, 1971). One of Bellocchio’s stronger films of recent years was L’ora di religione (My Mother’s Smile, 2002): a deceased woman being groomed for canonisation by the Church is recalled by her atheist son, in whose view she was a pious hypocrite with a “lethal, indifferent smile”. Sweet Dreams reworks something of the same material, as Massimo (Valerio Mastandrea), a journalist in his mid-forties, relives childhood moments with his beloved mother, who died suddenly when he was nine, having (his father tells him) succumbed to a heart attack. Massimo’s attitude to his mother is more nuanced: shattered by his loss, he clings to an idealised memory of her, only gradually coming to suspect that her devotion to him was less absolute than he believed. There’s a last-reel revelation about her death that you’ll probably have guessed well ahead of time. You’ll have time to do so, since this is a long film (and often feels like it), broken up into multiple episodes. Some of them relate clearly enough to the central theme, as when teenage Massimo visits his affluent school

friend Enrico and is shocked by the youngster’s contemptuous treatment of his mother; others – a trip to the besieged city of Sarajevo; Massimo interviewing an arrogant industrial tycoon who shoots himself when the police arrive to arrest him – seem largely irrelevant. Sentimentality periodically threatens, and floods in when Massimo, at the urging of his editor – he writes for La Stampa, the Turin-based national daily – composes an open letter to a reader called Simone who’s written in saying how much he loathes his mother. Massimo’s response, relating his childhood loss and telling his readers to feel “incredibly lucky to have a mother”, is shown being pored over by multiple readers and reaps a huge postbag. (“Your simple truths are so moving.”) This saccharine episode, though, is neatly undercut when we see Simone himself emotionally reading the piece to his mother. Purse-lipped, the old lady tartly responds, “Now – are we supposed to hug each other?” Moments like this, when the early, cynical Bellocchio makes a brief welcome reappearance, keep Sweet Dreams at least intermittently watchable. As does the presence of Bérénice Bejo as the compassionate hospital doctor Massimo falls for, though she’s not given much to do beyond making sympathetic noises. A couple of times Massimo confronts priests with awkward questions; but here again, the sharp scepticism of earlier films is absent. The screenplay is adapted from a memoir by journalist Massimo Gramellini, and altogether it feels like a story that might well have worked better on the page.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Beppe Caschetto Screenplay Edoardo Albinati Marco Bellocchio Valia Santella Story Edoardo Albinati Marco Bellocchio Valia Santella Freely inspired by [the book] Fai bei sogni by Massimo Gramellini Director of Photography Daniele Ciprì Editor Francesca Calvelli Art Director Marco Dentici Music Carlo Crivelli Sound Recordist Gaetano Carito

Costume Designer Daria Calvelli ©IBC Movie, Kavac Film, Ad Vitam Production Companies Beppe Caschetto and Rai Cinema presents In association with Impresa Pizzarotti & C. S.p.A., Banca Sella Patrimoni under the rules on tax credit With the financial contribution of Ministero dei beni e delle attività Culturali e del Turismo Direzione Generale per il Cinema With the support of Regione Lazio - Fondo regionale per il

Cinema e l’Audiovisivo An IBC Movie, Kavac Film and Ad Vitam production with Rai Cinema A film by Marco Bellocchio With the participation of Canal+ and Ciné+ With the support of Film Commission Torino Piemonte Executive Producer Simone Gattoni Film Extracts Cat People (1943) Nosferatu Eine Symphonie des Grauens/ Nosferatu (1922)

Turin, 1964. Nine-year-old Massimo’s loving relationship with his mother is shattered when she dies suddenly – of a heart attack, his father tells him. Thirty-five years later, Massimo, now a journalist on ‘La Stampa’, is packing up the apartment he grew up in prior to selling it. He recalls past events in his life: his mother’s funeral; his relationship with his emotionally detached father; his schooldays, when he loved swimming; professorial lectures from a priest about the origins of the universe; his school friend Enrico and meeting Enrico’s mother; an interview with an industry tycoon that ended with the man killing himself; a trip to Sarajevo in 1993; meeting his father at a memorial service for the Turin football team who died in an air crash in 1949; and an open

Cast Valerio Mastandrea Massimo Bérénice Bejo Elisa Guido Caprino Massimo’s father Nicolò Cabras Massimo as a child Dario Dal Pero Massimo as a teenager Barbara Ronchi Massimo’s mother Miriam Leone Agnese Pier Giorgio Bellocchio Desperado Arianna Scommegna Madrina Bruno Torrisi Madrina’s husband Manuela

Mandracchia Elisa’s aunt Giulio Brogi Cavalieri Roberto De Francesco Father Baloo Dylan Ferrario Enrico Fausto Russo Alesi Simone Piera Degli Esposti Simone’s Mother Roberto Herlitzka Father Abisso Fabrizio Gifuni Athos Monica Piseddu Emmanuelle Devos

Distributor Soda Pictures Italian theatrical title Fai bei sogni

In Colour [2.35:1] Subtitles

letter in ‘La Stampa’ which he wrote to a reader and which achieved a wide and enthusiastic readership. When his father sends him a matchbox that used to belong to his mother, Massimo suffers a panic attack. He phones a hospital and speaks to a sympathetic doctor, Elisa; he later meets her at the hospital and is strongly attracted to her. She invites him to a party to celebrate her grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary, and they become lovers. Clearing the apartment, Massimo phones his godmother and asks her to come over; he demands the truth about his mother’s death. She reluctantly reveals that his mother threw herself from the apartment’s fifth-storey window. Massimo remembers playing hide-and-seek with his mother in the apartment.

Reviewed by Henry K. Miller Spoiler alert: this review reveals a plot twist

It’s dull to pretend there’s no such thing as the zeitgeist, foolish to deny that accounts of it are heavily subjective. Trainspotting was the defining British film of the 1990s, and its soundtrack was everywhere for a few years. Which is to say that I was 15 when it came out, and bowled over by its fast cuts, trippy angles and flashes of fantasy, all as good as new to me. I doubt that I knew the director’s name, and I had yet to be half-educated into the notion that stylistic flourishes needed to be ‘motivated’, or that ‘restraint’ could be a term of praise. I haven’t seen it in two decades; now, like an ageing junkie, pleasure circuits calcified, I need to find more convoluted ways to enjoy the same thing. Not dissimilarly, this sequel’s relationship with its times was bound to be less direct and spontaneous. The protagonists of the original chose not to choose life – meaning a family, career (it was the 1990s), mortgage (ditto) – but, being still young, were not completely estranged from their peers. One reason the film resonated was its connection with club culture, even though the main club drug was ecstasy not heroin, and even though Irvine Welsh’s characters belonged to an earlier era. William Burroughs had used the secretive realm of the addict to illuminate the repetition-compulsions of the straight world, but Trainspotting took place in a world where hard drug use was almost mainstream – no metaphor necessary. And now? Spud (Ewen Bremner) is back on smack, and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) has been in prison. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) has switched to coke and is trying to set up a brothel, in league with aspiring madam Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Renton (Ewan McGregor), returning to Edinburgh from Amsterdam, has cleaned up and moved on, but the years of addiction have inevitably extracted their due. Apart from his dislocation from home, there is the suggestion that his marriage is coming to an end because of his infertility. His grip on ‘life’ is tenuous and, partly tempted by Veronika, he is eventually drawn into Sick Boy’s scheme. The original characters are now middle-aged, out of touch and prone to looking back, not only to the events of the first film, directly interpolated, but back beyond that, to their first needle, to the incident that explains the title, to childhood, rendered as 8mm home movies. Spud begins to write down stories that we know from the first film, retrospectively becoming its author. The tone is not exactly nostalgic, and the style is hardly meditative – if anything Danny Boyle (I looked it up), working with Anthony Dod Mantle, is more kinetic than ever, swinging the camera around with abandon, alternating filters as the mood takes him, defying film-critical decorum with his jump-cuts and freeze frames. All of this I not terribly guiltily enjoyed, but the soundtrack is a drag, being mostly composed of tasteful 6 Music fare. There is a pop-cultural logic to having the Prodigy remix ‘Lust for Life’ – ‘Firestarter’ was a hit around the time the first film came out – but the result sounds dated, unlike the original. Only Blondie’s ‘Dreaming’, which better reflects the characters’ retrospective March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 87

REVIEWS

Reviewed by Philip Kemp


Toni Erdmann

Germany/Austria/Romania/Monaco 2016 Director: Maren Ade Certificate 15 162m 14s

REVIEWS

See Feature on page 30

Turn over a new Leith: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller

bent, cuts through. An emblematic scene involves a coked-up Renton and Sick Boy blasting out a John Barry score and boring the much younger Veronika senseless with tales of George Best – echt 90s laddism left to fester, and served up in a concentrated dose. Not everything works. The focus on the past to the near exclusion of everything since 1996 becomes oppressive. There are some wry remarks on Leith’s partial gentrification, and Boyle has a sharp eye for locations – Sick Boy’s flat, in particular, captures the feel of what Owen Hatherley has called the ‘new ruins’ left behind by 20 years of so-called urban renewal; but there is a surprising absence of Scotland.

With what, though, are the protagonists no longer in touch? It was inevitable that Renton would revisit the ‘choose life’ speech, inevitable that it would mention social media, and inevitable that it would therefore elicit groans on social media from its first appearance in the trailer. But Renton isn’t wrong, and social media is more akin to addiction than anything named in the earlier litany. Moreover, Renton’s condemnation of social media’s enablement of destructive regret unconsciously reveals his murky reasons for being back – at one point Sick Boy accuses him of being a “tourist in his own youth”. As before, the film holds up a mirror to the outsider but reveals the citizen.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Andrew Macdonald Danny Boyle Christian Colson Bernard Bellew Written by John Hodge Based on the novel Porno by Irvine Welsh

Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle Editor Jon Harris Production Designer Mark Tildesley Production Sound Mixer

Colin Nicolson Costume Designer Steven Noble Rachael Fleming Executive Producers Irvine Welsh Allon Reich

Edinburgh, present day. Renton returns to the city after 20 years in Amsterdam and comes into contact with the old friends he cheated out of the proceeds of a drug deal. Begbie, having escaped from prison, is trying to induct his teenage son into a life of crime. Sick Boy and Veronika, who are in an ambiguous relationship, are blackmailers, intent on establishing a ‘sauna’ (brothel) in a dilapidated pub that Sick Boy has inherited from his aunt. Spud is estranged from girlfriend Gail and back on heroin. Renton arrives in time to save Spud from suicide, then repays Sick Boy the £4,000 he stole in 1996. Nonetheless, both Sick Boy and Begbie want revenge. Attracted to Veronika, and revealing that his marriage has broken down, Renton stays in Edinburgh

88 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Cast Ewan McGregor Mark Renton Ewen Bremner Spud Jonny Lee Miller Sick Boy Robert Carlyle Begbie

Kelly Macdonald Diane Shirley Henderson Gail Irvine Welsh Mikey Forrester Anjela Nedyalkova Veronika

Dolby 5.1 In Colour [1.85:1] Distributor Sony Pictures Releasing UK

and helps Sick Boy win a £100,000 EU regeneration loan to set up his ‘artisanal bed-and-breakfast’. Spud, making an effort to go clean, helps with the building work; with Veronika’s encouragement he begins to write up his stories for publication. Renton reconciles with Sick Boy and begins an affair with Veronika. Sick Boy and Renton are forced to abandon the brothel scheme by a local gang boss. Begbie tricks them into meeting, and almost kills Renton before Spud knocks him out. The three friends leave Begbie in a locked car boot outside the prison. With Spud’s help, Veronika steals the £100,000 and goes home to Bulgaria, promising to send Spud’s share to Gail, with whom he is attempting to reconcile. Renton decides to move into his father’s house.

Reviewed by Catherine Wheatley Spoiler alert: this review reveals a plot twist

During the Q&A that followed the UK premiere of Toni Erdmann at the BFI London Film Festival, director Maren Ade expressed surprise at its inclusion in the comedy strand. She’d made a love film, not a laugh film, she insisted: a work that is bookended by two deaths and turns on the broken relationship between an increasingly desperate father and daughter. Make no bones about it, on first viewing, Toni Erdmann is as strange, delightful and dementedly funny as the hype has it. But repeat watching reveals a film that plays first as comedy, then as tragedy. The humour is broad and situational, centred on the tension between highly strung career woman Ines Conradi’s focus on climbing the ladder at the management consultancy where she works and her father Winfried’s attempts to get her to lighten up. This he does by donning a wig and false teeth and, assuming the persona of lifestyle coach ‘Toni Erdmann’, effectively stalking Ines as she undertakes a series of professional engagements (Peter Simonischek is an extraordinarily good actor playing a mediocre one here, to great effect). It’s a satisfyingly retro set-up, summoning such 80s/early-90s gems as The Secret of My Success, Big and Mrs Doubtfire. But where those films found comedy in the clash between personal happiness and the pursuit of the American Dream, Toni Erdmann is set against the backdrop of globalised Europe in up-and-coming Bucharest, an expat playground where shiny high-rise hotels and neon-lit malls stand backto-back with shacks made of corrugated iron. Winfried is baffled by the city’s venality. A child of the 60s, he’s been mocking the establishment for years, as an extended opening sequence makes clear. For the most part, his friends and family take his silliness in their stride, dismissing him with a gentle eye-roll. The only person shocked by his behaviour is his ex-wife, an earnest woman who lives in a tasteful, book-lined apartment. Ines on the other hand keeps no books in the furnished apartment sourced by her put-upon assistant; there are few clothes in her closet; wine but no food in the fridge. Her sterile lifestyle is clearly a rejection of her parents’ liberal values, but at stake is power rather than money. Bullied at work by the laddish colleagues who describe her as “business nail varnish”, she fires people for a living, and takes no small pleasure in berating a spa attendant who falls below her exacting standards, or indeed a boyfriend who lets slip that he’s been indulging in locker-room talk about their sex life. To Ines (played dead straight by dramatic actress Sandra Hüller), humour is one more weapon. From the first encounter we witness between father and daughter, she picks up his jokes and flings them back at him (“I’ve hired a substitute daughter,” he tells her. “Great. She can call you on your birthday so I don’t have to,” she deadpans back). She’s learned from the master, of course. Winfried may have the look of a dopey St Bernard, but just occasionally he bares his teeth. Their game of one-upmanship climaxes with him goading her into a glorious yet utterly humiliating rendition of Whitney Houston’s ‘The Greatest Love


Tower

USA 2016 Director: Keith Maitland

Parental guidance: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek

of All’ that sends her running from the room. Patrick Orth’s camerawork is mostly minimalist, the better to show off the astounding performances. Scenes often open on a character at rest, abiding with them as they move into action. Indeed, the real strength of Ade’s film lies in its pacing. Every sequence of the 162-minute running time feels significant, but then another comes along that feels even more so. The elisions are potent, too. A cut from Winfried mourning his dead dog to him alone in his garden at dusk to him waiting in Bucharest is particularly striking. So there is liberation – genuine liberation – in the characters’ ostensible reconciliation towards the film’s end, as the camera, for the first time,

takes flight for an extended tracking shot. But in keeping with the rest of the film, the scene is also weirdly ambivalent. Dressed in a traditional Bulgarian fur costume that covers him from head to toe, Winfried is not visibly himself, and remains entirely silent. Ines, meanwhile, is shadowed by a little girl who is completely, unabashedly enamoured with this great furry beast in a way that Ines herself is not, and perhaps can never be. There is a bittersweet coda to the film that suggests something has changed between father and daughter in the aftermath of this event. But what has been lost that cannot be regained? When the laughter has faded, this is the question that lingers.

Credits and Synopsis Producers Michel Merkt Janine Jackowski Maren Ade Jonas Dornbach Screenplay Maren Ade Camera Patrick Orth Editor Heike Parplies Production Design Silke Fischer Sound Patrick Veigel Costumes Gitti Fuchs ©Komplizen Film,

coop99, Missing Link Films Production Companies Komplizen Film in co-production with coop99, HiFilm, KNM, Missing Link Films With the support of Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, Eurimages - European Cinema Support Fund, Filmförderungsanstalt, Deutscher Filmförderfonds, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg,

Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien, Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein, FilmFernsehFonds Bayern, MEDIA, Österreichisches Filminstitut, FISA Filmstandort Austria In co-production with SWR, WDR, ARTE Film Extracts More Than Honey (2012)

Germany, present day. Winfried Conradi is a divorced, sixtysomething music teacher with a fondness for practical jokes. He lives alone, though his mother and ex-wife are nearby. His daughter Ines, a management consultant in Bucharest, rarely visits. After Winfried’s dog dies, he pays a surprise visit to Ines, who is busy with work. Winfried accompanies Ines to several networking events, but proves something of a nuisance. After an argument, he leaves for Germany. Soon afterwards, though, Ines is surprised by Winfried, disguised in a wig and fake teeth and introducing himself as life coach ‘Toni Erdmann’. An aggravated Ines calls his bluff, inviting him to a party where she snorts cocaine. The next day, Winfried handcuffs himself to Ines for a lark but loses the key. He attends a site visit with her, where he meets the workers she

Cast Sandra Hüller Ines Conradi Peter Simonischek Winfried Conradi, ‘Toni Erdmann’ Michael Wittenborn Henneberg Thomas Loibl Gerald Trystan Pütter Tim Ingrid Bisu Anca Hadewych Minis Tatjana Lucy Russell

Steph Victoria Cocias Flavia Alexandru Papadopol Dascalu Viktoria Malektorovych Natalja Ingrid Burkhard Annegret Jürg Löw Gerhard Ruth Reinecke Renate

Subtitles Distributor Soda Pictures

In Colour [1.85:1]

is planning to fire. On the way home, they stop at the house of Flavia, a woman Winfried met at a party, where they join in the celebrations for Orthodox Easter; posing as Ambassador Erdmann and his assistant Frau Schnook, they perform ‘The Greatest Love of All’ for the assembled guests, before Ines flounces out. The following day, Ines hosts a brunch for her colleagues; she strips bare and announces to her baffled team that it is a ‘naked party’. Winfried arrives, dressed as a ‘kuker’ – a furry spirit thought to ward off evil. When he leaves, Ines chases after him and the pair embrace. Later, Ines and Winfried attend his mother’s funeral. Ines pops her father’s false teeth in her mouth and he goes in search of a camera. The film closes on Ines, waiting for his return.

Given how much impact the events of 1 August 1966 had on his beloved hometown, it’s little surprise that Richard Linklater included a reference to Charles Whitman in Slacker (1991), still his most Austin-centric feature. In that film, an elderly anarchist charms the young man who is intending to rob him, persuading the would-be burglar to join him for one of the movie’s many ambles. The anarchist reveals that his greatest regret is that he was nowhere near the University of Texas tower during Whitman’s shooting spree, which he calls “this town’s finest hour”. Though the line is darkly funny in the context of Linklater’s ode to Texan-style eccentricity, it seems far more callous when placed in proximity to the terrors recounted in Tower, Keith Maitland’s tersely constructed and cunningly rendered reconstruction of the day. Maitland’s film has a more direct connection with Linklater via its use of the rotoscoping techniques familiar from Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006) – indeed, Tower’s animation director Craig Staggs worked on the latter. Like Linklater, Maitland uses liveaction scenes shot with actors as the basis for the animated sequences here. That said, the rotoscoping is just one of the effective tactics Maitland uses to give vividness and urgency to his film, even as it retains a firm basis in the facts and perspectives provided by the archival footage and the eyewitness accounts adapted for his script. (Tower hews similarly closely to the details in ‘96 Minutes’, Pamela Colloff’s article for Texas Monthly magazine on the shooting’s 40th anniversary in 2006.) Eschewing the emphasis on perpetrators that’s typical of true-crime films – including Blue Caprice (2013), Alexandre Moors’s admirably restrained feature about the sniper attacks in the Washington DC area in 2002 – Maitland strongly prioritises the experiences of victims and bystanders over any speculation about Whitman’s motives. In the early animated sequences, as the actors playing survivors Claire Wilson James (who was pregnant at the time, and whose unborn baby was killed) and Aleck Hernandez describe their bewildered responses to being shot – James initially thinks she must’ve stepped on a live wire – the gunman might as well be some malevolent deity, sending senseless death and destruction down from above. The predominant reaction among those on the ground is one of utter confusion: the people of early-60s Austin lack the frame of reference that Americans would later bring to each new iteration of the tragic template Whitman created; they are not yet inured to this cycle of horrors, one in which the particulars of the crimes vary less than their locations (a San Bernardino government office, an Orlando nightclub, an elementary school in Connecticut). Maitland uses newsman Neal Spelce’s account to highlight another aspect that makes the Whitman shootings seem so prescient: the media’s then fresh ability to present events as they happened. It feels like a short jump to our era of Periscope and Facebook Live, when the victims are often the ones wielding the cameras and providing the commentary. Yet Maitland isn’t chasing some ideal March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 89

REVIEWS

Reviewed by Jason Anderson


Trespass Against Us United Kingdom/USA 2015 Director: Adam Smith Certificate 15 99m 30s

REVIEWS

Reviewed by Trevor Johnston

Grave new world: Tower

of verisimilitude. Instead, the use of animation adds a more abstract aspect to the most visceral and upsetting moments here, as when the largely monochromatic colour scheme shifts to solid red as the bullets strike, or when wounded figures are isolated in backgrounds denuded of detail. Aiming to achieve a fidelity to the victims’ subjective experience with images that could never be captured by conventional means, Maitland even visualises James’s trippy hallucinations as she slips closer to death. Even more striking are the moments when the animation gives way to live action and the real-life subjects provide their own testimonies. In an interview recorded before his death in 2012, police officer Houston McCoy expresses his regret that he didn’t make an earlier effort to reach the top of the tower and prevent more deaths. Just as acute as these feelings of grief and guilt are the

expressions of shame by those who witnessed the courage of others but were afraid to act. Of the seven main subjects, James provides the most haunting and moving scenes, especially when she describes her love for the child she’d later adopt (she was unable to get pregnant again) and claims she’s forgiven Whitman, who she sees as a damaged kid like so many she encountered in her career as a schoolteacher. Because Maitland emphasises personal perspectives and experiences, the story’s political aspects are more implicit than overt. It’s especially galling that tragedies like the one in Tower have paradoxically emboldened US politicians who want to relax gun restrictions. Thanks to a state law that caused heated divisions at the University of Texas last year, students can now carry concealed weapons into classrooms. This is the town – and the reality – Whitman helped to create.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Keith Maitland Susan Thomson Megan Gilbride Based in part on Pamela Colloff’s Texas Monthly article 96 Minutes Directors of Photography Keith Maitland Sarah Wilson Edited by Austin Reedy Art Director Keith Maitland Original Music Osei Essed Sound Design

Lyman Hardy Director of Animation Craig Staggs ©Tower Documentary LLC Production Companies Co-producers: Minnow Mountain, Texas Archive of the Moving Image In association with Meredith Vieira Productions, Killer Impact Fiscal sponsor: The Dallas Foundation

Supported by TFI Documentary Fund - presented by The Orchard, Austin Film Society, Humanities Texas, IFP – Spotlight on Documentaries A co-production of Tower Documentary LLC and the Independent Television Service (ITVS) with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) Produced by Tower Documentary LLC Executive Producers

Austin, Texas, 1966. Neal Spelce of local TV station KTBC arrives at the University of Texas to report on a sniper who is firing on passers-by from the university’s tower. Earlier, Claire Wilson James, an 18-year-old student who is eight months pregnant, is walking across the campus mall with her boyfriend Tom Eckman, when they are struck by bullets; Eckman is killed and James gravely wounded. Another early victim, paperboy Aleck Hernandez, is shot off his bike. Police officers Houston McCoy and Ramiro Martinez arrive at the scene. After aiding Hernandez, bookstore manager Allen Crum makes his way to the base of the tower. Meanwhile Spelce’s reports inspire vigilantes to join police and return fire on the tower, but they lack

Steve Eckelman Luke Wilson Sally Jo Fifer Lois Vossen Meredith Vieira Amy Rapp Louis Black Sandy Boone Pamela Colloff Adrienne Becker Rachel Gould Sarah Wilson Keith Maitland

Cast Monty Muir Neal Spelce Violett Beane

Claire Wilson James Cole Bee Wilson Tom Eckman Aldo Ordoñez Aleck Hernandez Jr Blair Jackson Houston McCoy Vicky Illk Brenda Bell Chris Doubek Allen Crum Séamus Bolivar-Ochoa John Fox, ‘Artly’ Louie Arnette Ramiro Martinez, ‘Ray’ Josephine McAdam Rita Starpattern

In Colour and Black & White [1.78:1] Distributor Picturehouse Entertainment

Taking its title from the Lord’s Prayer, this crime saga of father/son frictions in an Irish traveller community suggests a spiritual gravitas that it rather struggles to live up to. From their rural camp in the West Country, the Cutler clan seem to be trespassing for a living, funding their seemingly ad hoc existence from petty thefts, culminating in the more ambitious plunder of a stately mansion that unbeknown to them is home to the county’s Lord-Lieutenant. How much forgiveness the viewer is supposed to feel for their actions is a moot point, since Adam Smith’s debut feature proves in thrall to a certain outlaw cool, while at the same time suggesting that the travellers’ abiding levels of ignorance, illiteracy and irresponsible parenting hardly add up to a sensible life plan. Perhaps this sort of ambivalence is supposed to challenge politically correct suppositions, but the overall effect is the narrative equivalent of a have cake/eat cake scenario. Still, the film has some powerhouse performers in its favour, in particular Brendan Gleeson as the corpulent, leisurewear-clad patriarch Colby Cutler, convincing us that his very presence is enough to instil order among the assorted family members and misfits making up the caravanning community at the story’s heart. Alastair Siddons’s script allows us to read his gimlet-eyed paranoia and ingrained anti-establishment attitudes as cover for a lack of education (or even literacy), but having him insist to the listening young folks that the world is indeed flat – and don’t believe them pesky teachers who tell you otherwise – is surely overplaying things to the point of caricature. Colby’s medieval worldview does, however, make the whole question of schooling significant enough to have his son Chad thinking of leaving the nest to give his own boy a proper education. While Gleeson convinces us that he belongs in these surroundings, the same can’t quite be said of Michael Fassbender as Chad, looking throughout like a movie star dressed down and grimed up for the occasion. To be fair, he has a decent go at the chewy accent and traveller slang (anyone know why the cops are called ‘gavvers’?), attempting to bring some consistency to a role that’s caring dad one minute, automotive speed-demon the next and throughout a would-be filial rebel who never quite manages the once-and-for-all confrontation

weaponry that can reach the sniper. James is eventually carried to safety. Martinez ascends to the tower’s observation deck and, with the help of the hastily deputised Crum, McCoy and another officer, leads an attack on Whitman. Martinez and McCoy shoot and kill the sniper, ending the 96-minute ordeal. Investigators identify the sniper as Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old former Marine who murdered his wife and mother before his spree at the tower, ultimately shooting 49 people and killing 18, including James’s unborn child. James and other witnesses speak of the longlasting effects of these events. A montage combines newsman Walter Cronkite’s comments on the tragedy with images of later mass shootings. Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson

90 | Sight&Sound | March 2017


20th Century Women USA 2016 Director: Mike Mills Certificate 15 118m 16s

REVIEWS

with Gleeson that we’re all expecting. Indeed, the lack of a satisfying set-to leaves us wondering why the film has spent so long seemingly leading us up that particular garden path. Its point ultimately remains elusive, and its apparent sympathies for the plight of travellers are rendered rather problematic by its depiction of them as a load of thieving headcases. By far the most persuasive elements here are the realistic car chases down country lanes and across open fields; these give the movie much needed bursts of energy, and hint that the pre-digital methods of an earlier age of British cinema (see Robbery and The Italian Job) still hold good today. Credits and Synopsis Produced by Andrea Calderwood Gail Egan Alastair Siddons Written by Alastair Siddons Director of Photography Edu Grau Edited by Kristina Hetherington Jake Roberts Production Designer Nick Palmer Music Tom Rowlands Sound Recordist Andy Hoare Costume Designer Suzanne Cave ©BFI, Channel Four Television Corporation and Trespass against Us Limited Production Companies Film4 and BFI present in association with Protagonist Pictures, Animal Kingdom, LipSync LLP, Westgrove

Partners, DMC Film a Potboiler production An Albert Granville film Produced in association with Kreo Films Developed with the support of the MEDIA Programme of the European Union Developed by Film4 Made with the support of the BFI’s Film Fund Executive Producers Tessa Ross Rose Garnett David Kosse Zygi Kamasa Daniel Khalili Natascha Wharton Frederick W. Green Joshua Astrachan Peter Hampden Norman Merry Nigel Williams Phil Hunt Compton Ross

Cast Michael Fassbender Chad Cutler Brendan Gleeson Colby Cutler

Lyndsey Marshal Kelly Cutler Killian Scott Kenny Rory Kinnear PC Lovage Sean Harris Gordon Bennett Gerard Kearns Lester Tony Way Norman Kingsley Ben-Adir Sampson Barry Keoghan Windows Peter Wight dog owner Alan Williams Noah Anna CalderMarshall Vic Mark Lewis Jones PC Pollock Georgie Smith Tyson Cutler Kacie Anderson Mini Cutler In Colour [2.35:1] Distributor Lionsgate UK

Rural Gloucestershire, present day. Brooding patriarch Colby Cutler lords it over an Irish traveller camp, which also includes his son Chad, Chad’s wife Kelly and their son Tyson. However, Chad thinks that his own future lies in town, where he hopes Tyson can receive the education he himself never had. When Chad leads the local police a merry dance during a car chase, officer Lovage resolves to put him behind bars. Colby presses Chad into a nocturnal break-in at a nearby stately home. On their return they are followed by the police, and Chad is eventually forced to run across country and hide under a cow to evade a surveillance helicopter. The fact that the house they’ve just burgled is home to the county’s Lord-Lieutenant will likely cause trouble for the travellers, but Colby is unrepentant. When Tyson goes missing from school, Chad angrily assumes that Colby has taken him to the county fair. In fact the police have found the boy wandering the streets, giving them a pretext to mount a heavyhanded raid on the camp. Tyson is subsequently expelled from school, making Chad more determined to leave, much against Colby’s wishes. Tyson’s birthday prompts his father to steal a puppy from local breeders, who inform the police, leading to a chase which finishes with father and son up a tree while Colby and the police look on. Chad knows that prison awaits, but says he trusts his son to choose the right path; both take a leap from the branches.

Turning point: Annette Bening, Billy Crudup

Reviewed by Pamela Hutchinson

20th Century Women, Mike Mills’s third dramatic feature, promises to be every bit as autobiographical as Beginners (2010), which confronted his mother’s death and his father’s subsequent decision to come out as gay. Mills’s new film is a throwback to his teenage years in the late 1970s, when he was raised by his mother with the help of two older sisters. Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), the boy in 20th Century Women, is an only child, but his divorced single mother Dorothea (Annette Bening) asks two younger women, her twentysomething lodger Abbie and teenager Julie, to help him grow into a man. So, like Thumbsucker (2005), this has a fragile teenage boy at its heart, though as the title suggests, Jamie’s personal development is not the film’s sole focus. 20th Century Women is mostly a portrait of Dorothea, a fascinating and elusive woman who carries values from her childhood in the Great Depression into her later life as a bohemian single mother in 70s California, but it’s Julie and Abbie’s story too. As a concept, 20th Century Women risks becoming a sweeping study of generations of womanhood, but in practice it’s far more generous than that – the characters are too singular to become types, and Dorothea herself actively resists analysis and categorisation. Set in 1979, a year when, according to American politicians, both energy and confidence were at a crisis point, 20th Century Women is poised selfconsciously on the threshold of a new decade that will abate both the punk music that excites the younger protagonists and the hippie values that bring the generations together around a kitchen See Feature on page 24

table laid with earthenware bowls of salad and tumblers of red wine. Reaganism, Aids and global capitalism are held just at bay in a summer of self-discovery, experimentation and feminist awareness-raising. It’s a charmed and sometimes chemically enhanced time – the photography surrounds the characters in a sunny haze, and rainbow flares appear when their cars accelerate down the coastal highway. Photomontages inspired by Abbie’s own autobiographical project punctuate the narrative, as do quotations and film clips. Dorothea lives in a house that was built in 1905 but is being remodelled, so it seems new, or at least under construction, again. Everywhere around her, time is in flux, and the film flashes forward to events outside its own timeframe – omniscient announcements that keep the future, including the consequences of her chain-smoking, close to hand. Dorothea is manifestly a product of an earlier era: a wisecracking screwball maverick who loves Casablanca and poses as Humphrey Bogart. She wears bobbed hair and silk blouses that recall the fashions of her youth, as well as overalls summoning her frustrated dreams of becoming a pilot. But her Depression-era habits, from tracking stock prices to her independent thinking, suit her well in 70s California, where she wears Birkenstocks, says Jamie, “because she is contemporary”. She demands, “Show me this modern world!” and attempts to make sense of records by Black Flag, The Raincoats and Talking Heads. As she says of her own beloved car: she wasn’t always old, she just got that way recently. Bening plays Dorothea as wry, warm and determinedly unreadable. When Jamie recites a passage that seems to describe her March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 91


Underworld Blood Wars

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USA/Czech Republic 2016 Director: Anna Foerster Certificate 15 91m 23s

(Zoe Moss’s essay ‘It Hurts to be Alive and Obsolete: the Ageing Woman’) she lashes out – a liberating moment that warns the viewer away from simplistic interpretations of the film. Her fellow 20th-century women are enjoyably complex, and androgynous, too. As women’s libber Abbie, Greta Gerwig has never been better: movingly, she grapples with life-changing health issues that isolate her from her art-school pals, while maintaining her commitment to Jamie. Elle Fanning’s fragile, wise Julie is an expert mimic of men, who prioritises strength as the core virtue but reads Judy Blume between one-night stands. During the film, it’s the women who become bolder, more sure of their identities, not Jamie, their failed project, driving around in a car spraypainted to reflect the musical tribes that bisect his peer group: are you Black Flag or an ‘art fag’? 20th Century Women is a refreshingly rich and intelligent female-led drama. It’s also a poignant character study that draws first-rate performances from its cast. If Mills intended to make a film about his own youth, the result is a story about the lives of women, the challenges of parenthood, the value of art and a recent past that now seems unreachable. Credits and Synopsis Produced by Megan Ellison Anne Carey Youree Henley Written by Mike Mills Director of Photography Sean Porter Edited by Leslie Jones Production Designer Christopher Jones Music Roger Neill Supervising Sound Editor/ Sound Designer Frank Gaeta Costume Designer Jennifer Johnson ©Modern

People, LLC Production Companies A24 and Annapurna Pictures present a Modern People/ Archer Gray production Executive Producer Chelsea Barnard Film Extracts Casablanca (1942) Koyaanisqatsi (1983)

Billy Crudup William Alison Elliott Julie’s mother Thea Gill Abbie’s mother Vitaly A. Lebeau young Jamie Olivia Hone Julie’s sister

Cast

Distributor E1 Films

Annette Bening Dorothea Fields Elle Fanning Julie Greta Gerwig Abbie Lucas Jade Zumann Jamie

Dolby Digital In Colour [2.35:1]

California, 1979. Fifty-five-year-old divorcee Dorothea lives with her teenage son Jamie, as well as their lodger Abbie, a 24-year-old photographer, and William, a potter. Jamie’s friend Julie, a promiscuous teenager, is a frequent visitor. Dorothea asks Abbie and Julie to help raise Jamie and teach him to be a man. Julie is reluctant, but Abbie agrees. Jamie wants to have sex with Julie, but she refuses. Jamie nearly dies during a schoolboy game and later takes off to LA for a night with friends. Abbie has sex with William. Jamie accompanies Abbie to a hospital appointment, where she is told that she cannot have children. Abbie takes Dorothea and William to a punk bar, and after Dorothea leaves she gets into a fight. Abbie lends Jamie feminist books and takes him to the bar, where he drinks and later kisses a girl. Jamie is beaten up by a boy who also vandalises his car. Dorothea and William become closer; they listen to Abbie’s records together and go out to a bar, where they dance. One night, Dorothea and friends watch Jimmy Carter’s ‘Crisis of Confidence’ speech on TV, and at dinner, Abbie and Julie shock Dorothea by talking frankly about sex and menstruation. Julie and Jamie go on a road trip, but fight when she still won’t have sex with him. Dorothea andJamie decide to end the experiment, and their closeness doesn’t survive.

92 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Reviewed by Violet Lucca

“I have lived beyond my time,” murmurs Selene, the ageless death dealer (a vampire trained to kill werewolves) whose stock-intrade voiceover about her wandering lifestyle could double as a commentary on this fifth instalment of the Underworld franchise. Underworld has been criticised from the beginning for rehashing elements of other movies (namely the trench coats and bullettime ballets of the Matrix), but Blood Wars also repeats footage from previous instalments more than once in the hope of explicating the plot… and is only partially successful in this. Originally intended as a reboot of the series, the new film offers exactly what its title promises – a war over blood – but also a continuation of a centuries-old fight between Lycans and vampires. At the start, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is still on the run from both camps: the vampires seek to punish her for killing two of their elders, while the Lycans want her Hybrid daughter in order to make a Hybrid army. She is invited back into one vampire clan by Elder Thomas ara Pulver), only (Charles Dance) and Semira (Lara man murk a to have Semira and her henchman group of death-dealer trainees, frame Selene for it and then steal some of herr Hybrid blood, which grants the best of vampire and rinks it. werewolf powers to whoever drinks ful But there’s this other delightful ing the ichorous contrivance: by drinking ne can blood of a vampire or Hybrid, one ections see their memories – not recollections of pottering around the garden,, of vant to course, just things that are relevant the plot. Towards the end of thee film, ves his Selene’s Hybrid ally David proves Kate Beckinsale

pure-blood vampire status by bringing vials of his mum’s blood to the coven leaders; they drink it down and, out of all the parts of her life, handily learn the truth about his birth. It’s so absurd that it’s kind of endearing, touching on the irrationality of the truly mystical. I savour this ingenious sanguineous tidbit because there is so little else to enjoy here – even the PVC goth fashion seems off the peg rather than bespoke. Perhaps it’s the self-seriousness inherent in the ‘vampires at war with other supernatural creatures’ genre that makes the proceedings interminable; maybe it’s the dullness of seeing someone ‘on the run’ across only three or four locations. Either way, the film feels much longer than its 91 minutes. Although director Anna Foerster wisely chooses to use actors in werewolf costumes rather than CGI creatures for close-up battle scenes, adding a layer of verisimilitude to these dust-ups, the Lycan-versus-vampire fight choreography is mostly unremarkable, and relies far too heavily on machine guns – it’s criminal that combat between bein beings with super-speed and super-strength ultimately comes down to something somethin as boring as pointing and shooti shooting. (Vampire-on-vampire scraps inc include broadswords, but there’s no nothing remarkable to report.) T There aren’t any human characte characters in Blood Wars, yet there is no tang tangible difference between the battle scenes here and those in any ru run-of-the-mill action or war mo movie. Although the ending leaves tthings open to a sequel – what se self-respecting franchise doesn’t nowadays? – none of the pre predetermined conflicts will like likely appeal to mortals.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Tom Rosenberg Gary Lucchesi Len Wiseman Richard Wright David Kern Screenplay Cory Goodman Story Kyle Ward Cory Goodman Based on characters created by Kevin Grevioux, Len Wiseman, Danny McBride Director of Photography Karl Walter

Lindenlaub Edited by Peter Amundson Production Designer Ondrej Nekvasil Music Michael Wandmacher Sound Mixer Michal Holubec Costume Designer Bojana Nikitovic Visual Effects and Animation Iloura Luma Pictures Cutting Edge Celluloid Visual Effects, Berlin Supervixen

Stunt Co-ordinators Todd Schneider Pavel Cajzl ©Lakeshore Entertainment Group LLC Production Companies Screen Gems and Lakeshore Entertainment present in association with LStar Capital a Lakeshore Entertainment production In association with Sketch Films

Selene, a death dealer (vampire trained to kill werewolves), is on the run from both Lycan and vampire clans: the vampires seek to punish her for killing two of their elders; the Lycans want her Hybrid (half-vampire, half-werewolf) daughter in order to make a Hybrid army. When fighting off a group of Lycans, Selene is assisted by David, a Hybrid. He informs her that there’s a new Lycan leader, Marius. David’s father Thomas meets with Semira, leader of the Eastern Coven, and asks her to help him convince the other vampires to forgive Selene for her crimes and train new death dealers. Semira and Thomas successfully present their case to the Eastern Coven’s council. Selene trains the recruits, but Semira’s

Supported by the Czech Republic through the State Cinematography Fund film incentives programme Executive Producers James McQuaide Eric Reid Skip Williamson Henry Winterstern Ben Waisbren

Cast Kate Beckinsale Selene Theo James David

Lara Pulver Semira Tobias Menzies Marius Bradley James Varga Peter Andersson Vidar James Faulkner Cassius Clementine Nicholson Lena Daisy Head Alexia Oliver Stark Gregor Charles Dance Thomas

Dolby Atmos In Colour [2.35:1] Distributor Sony Pictures Releasing UK End credits title Underworld 5

henchman Varga poisons her during an exercise and kills the trainees. Semira kills Thomas. The blame falls on Selene, who flees with David into the daylight. They go to the Nordic Coven. Marius and the other Lycans arrive and fight with the vampires of the Nordic Coven. Marius seemingly kills Selene, but Lena, a member of the Nordic Coven, prepares her to be resurrected. David goes back to the Eastern Coven and proves that he is the rightful leader because of his pure-blood status. The Lycans attack, and Selene returns to help. While fighting Marius, she discovers that he killed her Hybrid lover Michael. She pulls out his spinal cord. David kills Semira. Selene, David and Lena become the new leaders of the Eastern Coven.


xXx Return of Xander Cage

Zer0 Days

Reviewed by Henry K. Miller

Reviewed by Trevor Johnston

“Xander Cage, back in action,” says one of Vin Diesel’s co-stars at some point in this third instalment of the xXx franchise. “Did I ever leave?” he replies, the answer to which is um… yes? Yes you did. Quite a long time ago. Xander is back after 15 years of laying not especially low and doing a hell of a lot of press-ups in the Dominican Republic, assigned by the CIA to find a magic box that can not only bring down satellites but also spy on every living person on earth or something. Hot babes keep throwing themselves at him and presenting themselves for the camera, though as with the violence everything is entirely sanitised. The script may have been written by a robot. Within a minute we have the lines “Now it’s a party,” “Shit’s about to go down” and “Let’s do this.” This is the cinematic equivalent of ‘shitposting’ – the practice of deliberately filling internet forums with valueless garbage. Like an image macro encrusted with digital artefacts from repeated screengrabbing, cropping and compression – the result of which meme blogger Brian Feldman has termed the ‘shitpic’ – it is the end product of a process of uncreative recycling. None of the bloodless action sequences engender a jot of suspense, being sloppily thrown-together assemblages of the overfamiliar; and none of the selfreferential dialogue about the film’s hackneyed plot raises a smile since it merely compounds the cynicism of the whole enterprise.

The hows and whys of online chicanery are not widely understood, but most of us will be aware of the criminal activity that snaffles our creditcard details and the ‘hacktivist’ operations that result in sensitive official information being leaked to global media. Even murkier, however, is the offensive cyber warfare that’s possibly happening at a governmental level, precisely because – as this thorough and timely effort from Alex Gibney lays out – those in power don’t want us or anyone else to know what they’re up to. The events surrounding the Stuxnet virus, which proliferated worldwide in 2010, are a case in point, since Gibney was greeted with a frustrating wall of silence from former intelligence officials and even independent security analysts when he broached the subject. Hence he sought out the boffins from top internet security company Symantec whose job it was to unpack the actual code and uncover Stuxnet’s inner workings. What follows is an intriguing passage of investigative procedure, in which cheery techies Eric Chien and Liam O’Murchu take us through their increasing levels of incredulity as they realised that the most sophisticated virus they’d ever encountered was specifically designed to hobble the centrifuges at a particular Iranian nuclear fuel enrichment facility – and as such was evidently the state-supported work of Iran’s strategic enemies. It’s worrying enough that this obviously points to the US and possibly Israel, but in broader terms the notion of a fiendishly constructed piece of code with physical, real-world implications primarily flags up an urgent warning that such technology is now mature enough to impact, potentially, on crucial infrastructure such as utility supplies and train networks. The thought is certainly chilling, though to some extent Gibney’s film is so dense with information that it doesn’t quite leave enough room for these terrifying implications to impact fully. Of course, Gibney’s sheer organisational skill shows here in the way he’s constructed a wide-ranging two-hour feature out of what’s fairly unprepossessing visual material (lots of code on screen, twinkling mainframes and talking heads); as in Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) and Mea Maxima Culpa (2012), the investigative momentum seems to bring out the best in this

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Joe Roth Jeff Kirschenbaum Vin Diesel Samantha Vincent Written by F. Scott Frazier Based on characters created by Rich Wilkes Director of Photography Russell Carpenter Editors Jim Page Vince Filippone Production Designer Jon Billington Music Brian Tyler Robert Lydecker Sound Mixer Glenn Gauthier Costume Designer Kimberly Tillman Supervising Stunt Co-ordinator Bobby Brown ©Paramount Pictures Corporation, Rox Productions, LLC Production Companies

Paramount Pictures and Revolution Studios present in association with Huahua Media and Shanghai Film Group an RK Films and One Race production A D.J. Caruso film Executive Producers Vince Totino Scott Hemming Ric Kidney Gloria Borders Zack Roth

Cast Vin Diesel Xander Cage Donnie Yen Xiang Deepika Padukone Serena Unger Kris Wu Nicky ‘Nicks’ Zhou, ‘The Hood’ Ruby Rose Adele Wolff Tony Jaa Talon Nina Dobrev Becky Clearidge Rory McCann Tennyson Torch

Toni Collette Jane Marke Samuel L. Jackson Augustus Eugene Gibbons Hermione Corfield Ainsley Tony Gonzalez Captain Paul Donovan Michael Bisping Hawk Ice Cube Darius Stone Dolby Digital/ Dolby Atmos In Colour [2.35:1] Part-subtitled Some screenings presented in 3D Distributor Paramount Pictures UK

Present day. A mass-surveillance device called Pandora’s Box is stolen after being used to bring down a satellite, and XXX agent Xander Cage is brought out of retirement to find it. He soon discovers that those who have stolen it are fellow agents and that his CIA bosses are not to be trusted. After retrieving a second device, he and his team are targeted, but they live to fight another day.

USA 2016 Director: Alex Gibney

REVIEWS

Director: D.J. Caruso, USA/People’s Republic of China 2016, Certificate 12A 106m 45s

Panic stations: Zer0 Days

prolific documentarist. The slowly unfolding reveal that leads us to the conclusion that America’s newly established Cyber Command, in collaboration with Israeli intelligence’s special cyber section Unit 8200, put the Stuxnet virus into effect – and then kept quiet about it even when the malware escaped worldwide – is certainly engrossing fare, but Gibney also follows through to chart the telling consequences as the code wound up in Russian hands and galvanised Iran to create its own Cyber Army. The strength of the film is that it doesn’t merely press the panic button with its cautionary conflict scenarios, or indeed gloat over the Stuxnet affair as ultimately an own goal for the US and Israel. Instead it draws on highly credible sources, including former NSA and CIA director General Michael Hayden and esteemed New York Times correspondent David Sanger, to conclude that international collaboration on the regulation of the online espionage arena should be a priority, before enhanced covert activity escalates into deadly, remotely activated cyber warfare. That Gibney also uses disguise to conceal the contributions of serving NSA staff, who confirm the film’s findings and themselves argue for new international regulatory agreements, could conceivably come across like using subterfuge while making a plea for openness. Viewers are entitled to treat this (seemingly scripted) element of the proceedings with a touch of scepticism, yet in the end the film’s sleight of hand is surely justified in delineating a bigger picture that would otherwise have remained behind a ‘classified’ wall of silence.

Credits and Synopsis Produced by Marc Shmuger Alex Gibney Written by Alex Gibney Cinematography Antonio Rossi Brett Wiley

Edited by Andy Grieve Art Director Rebecca Senn Original Music Will Bates Sound Designer Bill Chesley

©Stuxnet Documentary, LLC Production Companies Magnolia Pictures and Participant Media present in association with Showtime

A documentary investigating the malware Stuxnet, which infected numerous computers in 2010. With events shrouded in US government secrecy, director Alex Gibney interviews the online security experts who analysed the code, which they discovered was specifically designed to damage the centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear fuel enrichment infrastructure. ‘New York Times’ journalist David Sanger confirms that American and Israeli intelligence cooperated on this attack,

Documentary Films a Global Produce/ Jigsaw production A film by Alex Gibney Executive Producers Jeff Skoll Diane Weyermann Sarah Dowland

With Joanne Tucker NSA character performed by

Distributor Guerilla Films

In Colour [1.85:1] Part-subtitled

only for the Israelis to add a more aggressive second generation of the malware, which then spread worldwide. Anonymous agents inside America’s Cyber Command clarify that the US is forging ahead with covert cyberwarfare operations, which are likely to be met with a similar threat from Iran, Russia and China. These agents and former top US officials believe it’s now time to regulate the cyber-warfare sector through international agreement, before a full-scale cyber conflict erupts.

March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 93


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Press gang: Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday

Howard Hawks’s fast and furious His Girl Friday reboots newsroom classic The Front Page with a battle-of-the-sexes ‘switcheroo’ HIS GIRL FRIDAY Howard Hawks; US 1940; Criterion/Region B Blu-ray/ Region 2 DVD; 92 minutes; 1.33:1; Features: 4K digital restoration of ‘The Front Page’ made from recently discovered print of director Lewis Milestone’s preferred version, new interview with David Bordwell, archival interviews with Howard Hawks, featurettes from 1999 and 2006 about Hawks, actor Rosalind Russell and the making of ‘His Girl Friday’, radio adaptation of ‘His Girl Friday’ from 1940, radio adaptations of the play ‘The Front Page’ from 1937 and 1946, ‘His Girl Friday’ trailers, booklet

Reviewed by Pamela Hutchinson

Halfway through production of his press-room comedy His Girl Friday (1940), Howard Hawks set up a little experiment. As guinea pigs, he used some newspapermen who had praised the famously high-speed dialogue in the previous film adaptation of the same material, 94 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Lewis Milestone’s The Front Page (1931). He projected reels of both The Front Page and his rushes of His Girl Friday, alternately, until the hacks in his screening room conceded the point: “Holy smokes, the old one’s slower.” If you’ve seen the 1931 film, included on Criterion’s exemplary release of His Girl Friday in an excellent new 4K restoration, you’ll appreciate their surprise. The Milestone adaptation pushed the tempo of the patter about as far as it could go at the time. As Hawks and Peter Bogdanovich discuss in an archival extra, Milestone used cuts to speed up the back-and-forth, but with more advanced sound recording Hawks could overlap the dialogue, altering the script so that the beginnings and ends of lines were dispensable, with the quotable nuggets in the middle. Hawks argues that this machine-gun speed is more realistic, but it is also an opportunity for his actors to display their virtuosity and cram as many gags, topical references and cynical asides into the film as possible. Most viewers today will be more familiar with His Girl Friday than with The Front Page. Hawks bought the film along with the rights to

the original play when he set about making his adaptation, which may partly explain why it fell out of circulation – the restoration included on this disc is a substantial improvement on previous releases, using the preferred domestic print of the film, from the Howard Hughes archive. Then again, His Girl Friday, though praised by critics in 1940, was for years not included among Hawks’s most celebrated works. In fact, it was so neglected as to fall out of copyright in the 1970s, whereat, as David Bordwell explains elsewhere in this two-disc set, fledgling university film-studies departments bought cheap 16mm copies and began teaching it as an example of classical Hollywood comedy. It’s a movie that repays repeated views and also the formal analysis that Bordwell offers in his segment, in its own right. In this edition, however, it can be seen as it was in 1940, as a “bold-faced reprint” (as Frank S. Nugent described it in the New York Times) of the earlier movie. Having moved from Chicago to New York to work as a playwright, Ben Hecht, who had started out in the sleazier side of newspaper journalism as a tabloid ‘picture thief’, paired with Charles

BFI NATIONAL ARCHIVE (2)

PAPER TIGERS


The machine-gun speed is a chance for the actors to cram in as many gags, topical references and cynical asides as possible

Mary Brian and Pat O’Brien in The Front Page

of journalistic skulduggery, invention and hyperbole. Most notable among the hack-pack is Edward Everett Horton, hilarious as Bensinger, the poetic germophobe whose rolltop desk becomes the hiding place for the escaped convict. A few years later, Howard Hawks felt The Front Page was ripe for what we’d these days call a reboot. It was common at the time to remake earlier films but with a ‘switcheroo’ that was often a gender swap, and Hawks felt Hildy’s lines read better voiced by a woman. Foxed by the question of how to turn Walter and Hildy’s professional dispute into something more romantic (because why would one character be a woman if sex were not involved?), Hawks sought assistance from Hecht, who reportedly wished he’d had the idea in the first place. It was Lederer who found the solution: making Hildy not a romantic prospect for Walter but his rueful ex-wife, seeking to rubberstamp their fresh divorce with a second marriage. Rosalind Russell brings brisk professionalism to Hildy, while Cary Grant plays Walter as a deceptively gentler tyrant, attempting to win his woman with a scoop. It’s Grant’s character who slips the sex into their sparring: offering Hildy his lap, thrusting himself between her and her fiancé (Ralph Bellamy), proffering his dimple or rewriting the history of his proposal as if she were the ungentlemanly rogue who took advantage of his intoxication. Not to mention the way he kicks out his hip, flutters his eyelashes and simpers “Oh, Walter!” As Farran Smith Nehme’s sparkling supporting essay points out, Russell turns Hildy’s femininity into a career asset, with her emotional intelligence set against Walter’s brazen flirtation. While Milestone’s camera is restlessly mobile, circling the press room, swooping in and out of its dingy windows, Hawks’s is more restrained, content to do little more than track Hildy’s powerstride through the office, letting his actors take the strain. It’s remarkable how much of the dialogue carries over intact despite the reinvention, along with a few matching compositions. That said, some of the most memorable lines in Hawks’s film come from on-set improvisation – Grant’s glancing reference to ‘Archie Leach’, or describing Hildy’s groom as a Ralph Bellamy type. According to the opening cards, The Front Page is set “in a mythical kingdom” and His Girl Friday in “the dark ages”, disavowing any similarity to City Halls or city desks of their respective eras, but they’re fooling no one. There’s little in this legend that couldn’t be rebooted all the way into the post-truth era. When the time inevitably comes for Walter to scrub the Post’s front page, the 1940 version amps up the original’s “Junk the League of Nations” gag into “Never mind the European war… Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page.” Though the rediscovered print of The Front Page is the star of the set, in a cinematic fistfight His Girl Friday just bests it, thanks to the genius of its ‘switcheroo’ and its charismatic leads, even if it falters at the end, as Walter and Hildy stumble towards a second honeymoon, and perhaps a second divorce. If they get further than the first train stop, that is.

New releases ACCIDENTALLY PRESERVED VOL 4: RARE/LOST SILENT FILMS FROM VINTAGE 9.5MM PRINTS J. Stuart Blackton, Jack White, Vin Moore et al; US 1920-26; Undercrank Productions/Region 1 DVD NTSC; 121 mins total; 1.33:1; Features: some technical exegesis

Reviewed by Michael Atkinson

A New York-based silent-film entrepreneur and busy piano accompanist, Ben Model has been discovering, archiving, scoring and programming ‘lost’ silents for years now (any theatre in the metro area that wants live piano knows who to call), and this latest accumulation of wayward antiques has a format peculiarity. In 1922, Pathé invented the first film gauge designed exclusively for home use, and proceeded to print existing movies in 9.5mm for that market. It survived for several decades – naturally, some collectors still revere it – and often while the 35mm originals of a film have been long lost, their “Pathé-Baby” versions have survived. That’s what Model collects here, mostly examples of “cruel and unusual comedy” (to use Model’s phrase for his own annual Museum of Modern Art series of silent slapstick), including Jack White’s Nonsense (1920) and the Pee Wee Holmes and Ben Corbett knockaround A Man’s Size Pet (1926), both violently hilarious (and lightning-quick) faux westerns happily indulging in rampant destruction and, in the latter’s case, the unpredictable presence of an all too real bear. Bristling with action, the edited melodramas The Ninety and Nine (1922), with Colleen Moore, and Tides of Passion (1925), with Mae Marsh, both otherwise lost, employ, respectively, toy miniatures for a train race through a forest fire, and very real on-location lifeboat rescues on the treacherous rocks of the Canadian shoreline. The programme rounds out with the Walter Forde comedy Walter’s Paying Policy (1926), Bobby Ray’s outrageous stunt-fest Meet Father (1925) and the Dave Fleischer-directed ‘Carrie of the Chorus’ entry ’Morning, Judge (1926), which is distinguished by a Keystone-ish fire crew who axe a house to the ground looking for a fire. Disc: The prints, from the Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive, show their home wear but are perfectly watchable, and Model’s score is, as always, simple and apt.

BLACK ORPHEUS Marcel Camus; France/Italy/Brazil 1959; Criterion Collection/Region B/2 Blu-ray/DVD; Certificate 12; 107 mins; 1.33:1; Features: archive interviews with Marcel Camus and Marpessa Dawn, video interviews with Robert Stam, Gay Giddins and Ruy Castro, ‘Looking for Black Orpheus’ documentary, essay booklet

Reviewed by Kate Stables

Bursting with energy, right from the band erupting through a stone relief of Orpheus and Eurydice at the opening, Marcel Camus’s tropically coloured, samba-fuelled take on the classic myth is a musical in all but March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 95

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MacArthur, another ex-hack from the Windy City, to write The Front Page. Between them, they knew most of Chicago’s dirty secrets, the mesh of corruption that knitted together the city’s politicians, gangsters and journalists, and they ploughed all their best, and funniest, yarns into the play. The story hinges on a real-life jailbreak, but the heart of the tale comes from the time MacArthur tried to leave town to get married. His editor called ahead to the first stop for the train carrying the happy couple and had him arrested there in Gary, Indiana. That incident inspires the play’s, and the first film’s, rug-pulling conclusion, but also encapsulates the central tension between editor Walter Burns, a lifer in the paper business, and his star reporter Hildy Johnson, who plans to march away from the newsroom and down the aisle. The Front Page hit Broadway in 1928 and was a big success with audiences who revelled in the rat-a-tat-tat talk and the black humour. When Hollywood took notice, Hecht was already a successful screenwriter, having won an Oscar for his first credit, Underworld (1927), and he worked uncredited on the adaptation for The Front Page, with Bartlett Cormack and Charles Lederer. Milestone’s film is a grim beast, opening with (and frequently switching back to) the gallows where the escaped convict is due to be hanged for murder, and closing with Burns’s act of marital sabotage and a salty payoff that’s almost, but not quite, swallowed by a sound effect. The murder plot is doused in Depression-era politics, with Red Menace scaremongering on top of racial tension and civic corruption. Adolphe Menjou plays Walter as underhand, ruthless and embittered, while Pat O’Brien’s Hildy is all too easily seduced by the adrenaline of a fresh crime scene or the scent of a byline. The supporting cast of grey-faced hacks are introduced before the leads and are given many of the funniest lines – most culled from Hecht and MacArthur’s shared memories


name. Shapeshifting from a romantic comedy to a tragedy, the onscreen stream of partying that draws guitarist Orfeu together with Death-dodging Eurydice flows from shantytown to Rio Carnival on a current of songs – though, as the excellent extras point out, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfá’s breezy bossa novas (which the film introduced worldwide) had little to do with favela samba. On release, all of this captivated international audiences largely ignorant of Brazilian culture (Barack Obama’s memoir has a fascinating account of the very different takes he and his mother had on the film, which she had loved as a teenager) and though Camus proved a one-hit wonder, Black Orpheus scooped the 1959 Palme d’Or and 1960’s Best Foreign Film Oscar. But for Cinema Novo director Glauber Rocha, its picturesque view of favela poverty dressed up a social ill as a primitivist party. Certainly, Camus’s exoticised, European-eye view foregrounds blackness here in ways both exultant and problematic, occasionally exhibiting a respectful curiosity (the Umbanda spirit-calling sequence displays an almost anthropological interest in the rituals). However, Michael Atkinson’s sharp-eyed, celebratory essay, one of the extras on Criterion’s disc, steps up for its “rainbow romanticism”, hedonistic fizz and Homeric mediation between life and death. Leads Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn give raw-edged, touching performances (previously he’d been a footballer, she a small-part player) that lift the quieter love scenes – still patches of pleasure in an otherwise ecstatically kinetic, drum-and-whistle shimmy of a film. Disc: A terrific transfer, which makes the Eastmancolor golds and purples of the Carnival costuming glow. In a well-rounded package of extras, Robert Stam’s historical analysis stands out. So does a telling sliver of a 1959 Cannes interview with Camus: “Brazil is the easiest place in the world to be French.”

BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY/RAINY DOG/LEY LINES Miike Takashi; Japan 1995/97/99; Arrow Films/Region B Blu-ray/Region 2 DVD; Certificate 18; 102/95/105 mins;

two movies – though the stories are otherwise unrelated. Rainy Dog is the high point of the trio, since Miike dials down the loopy black comedy and gives this chronicle of a Japanese gang member marooned in rainswept Taipei a spacious melancholia that plays like a more genre-inflected Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Ley Lines, in turn, is its thematic flipside, as Chinese-born youngsters try to make a go of it in Tokyo and mix with the wrong criminal company. High jinks are again back on the agenda, but Miike finds a canny balance between rapscallion laughter and a genuinely affecting sense – evident across the entire trilogy – that these mongrel outsiders really have nowhere to go. Overall, an impressive triptych that’s fresh, loose-limbed, yet sincerely in tune with its uneasy misfits. Disc: Excellent new subtitles clarify the Japanese- and Chinese-language elements crucial to the storytelling. Transfers are clean, while new commentaries by Miike expert Tom Mes are packed with useful information, and fair in assessing the accusations of misogyny sometimes thrown at the director. Substantial interviews with Miike (unpretentious) and V-Cinema icon Aikawa Sho (a charmer) add to a splendid package that will make you wish the rest of Miike’s output was this good.

BODY DOUBLE

obligatory killer uses an implausibly huge electric drill on his female victim pushes the Freudian envelope to the max. And that’s before a second half set against a backdrop of the porn business, represented here by Holly Body (Melanie Griffith), who becomes sidekick to claustrophobic actor turned amateur sleuth Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) as he tries to solve a murder of which he was the deeply reluctant long-distance witness. More a greatest-hits compilation than a wholly satisfying thriller, Body Double gets by on what booklet essayist Ashley Clark correctly identifies as its genuine strangeness – the homages are so obsessive (like Blow Out, it opens with a terrible film-within-the-film) they often work against narrative plausibility, but that’s unlikely to be a major obstacle where hardcore De Palma fans are concerned. Disc: An outstanding audiovisual presentation, supported by some hefty extras. De Palma and his stars feature in interviews exploring the production and its reception from multiple angles, though it’s first assistant director Joe Napolitano who has the liveliest production anecdotes. The superb booklet is restricted to the limited edition (as is the DVD), but is well worth tracking down for its central essay, blunt De Palma interview and a strongly negative Monthly Film Bulletin review from the time of the original release.

Brian De Palma; US 1984; Powerhouse/Indicator/ Region-free Blu-ray and DVD Dual Format (see disc

DAS CABINET DES DR CALIGARI

Features: production documentary, multiple interviews (including Brian De Palma, Craig Wasson, Melanie

Robert Wiene; Germany 1920; Eureka/Masters of Cinema/Region B Blu-ray/Region 2 DVD; 77 mins; 1.33:1; commentary, video essay, documentaries,

Griffith), isolated score, stills gallery, trailer, booklet

trailer, booklet, bonus disc with documentary

Reviewed by Michael Brooke

Reviewed by Pamela Hutchinson

By a delightful coincidence, 1984 saw two talented but controversial directors making films that were at least partly (and gleefully) intended to flip the bird to their more hidebound critics. Sadly, Paul Verhoeven’s delirious art-movie satire The 4th Man remains in out-of-print limbo, but Brian De Palma’s Body Double offers similar pleasures with his equally bizarre take on not just Hitchcock (Rear Window and Vertigo are strongly evoked here) but also himself – the fact that the

Das Cabinet Des Dr Caligari is a benchmark in silent and horror cinema, and also in production design, with theatrical sets creating impossible perspectives that mimic its notorious narrative contortions. Conrad Veidt plays Cesare, a sleepwalking ghoul apparently killing at the demonic whim of Dr Caligari (Werner Krauss). Masters of Cinema has reissued its excellent Blu-ray, in which this lurid thriller is as strange and terrifying as ever, but boasting the crisp lines and deep colours of the most recent restoration. Disc: “What does the cinema know that we don’t?” The question is posed at the beginning of From Caligari to Hitler, a two-hour documentary surveying the cinema of the Weimar Republic, included as a tempting bonus disc here. While it borrows its title from Siegfried Kracauer’s much debated study of the era, published in 1947, it deviates from his psychoanalytic analysis, outlining historical trends, the emergence of genres and directors of note. The documentary covers both the classics (Faust, Metropolis, The Blue Angel, M…) and lesser-known works such as Robert Reinert’s Nerven (1919), Paul Czinner’s Fräulein Else (1929) and Marie Harder’s Lohnbuchhalter Kremke (1930). This is a journey from expressionism to escapism, as German filmmakers stumbled out of wartime into a world irrevocably altered, discovered horrors in its subconscious (typified by Caligari) and embraced dangerous myths,

information below); Certificate 18; 114 mins; 1.85:1;

1.85:1; Features: commentary by Tom Mes on all three titles, new interviews with Miike Takashi and star Aikawa Sho, trailers

Reviewed by Trevor Johnston

Since the third of these crime stories was released in 1999, Miike Takashi’s output has been full of energy and vast in scope but decidedly variable in quality. His anything-goes stylistic excess and penchant for outrageous brutality have won him an international fanboy following, yet the Miike canon is indeed a broad church, and this trio of relatively early offerings shows him capable of filmic substance and even emotional sensitivity as well as madcap carnage. While it stems from Japan’s era of ‘V-Cinema’, low-budget genre items for the home-video market, Shinjuku Triad Society was actually Miike’s first theatrical feature. There’s certainly enough sex and gunfire here to suggest a straight-to-video spirit, yet its half-Japanese, half-Chinese cop investigating a Taiwanese organ-smuggling ring introduces a key theme of uneasy identity that ties it together with the next 96 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Going platinum: Melanie Griffith in Body Double

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HUNGARIAN RHAPSODIES Michael Curtiz when he was still Mihály Kertész, newsreels of 1956 – the Hungarian Digital Film Archive is a treasure trove FILMS FROM THE HUNGARIAN DIGITAL FILM ARCHIVE THE UNDESIRABLE (A TOLONC, 1914); DEADLY SPRING (HALÁLOS TAVASZ, 1939); HUNGARIAN NEWSREEL COLLECTION (MAGYAR FILMHÍRADÓ ÉVFOLYAM, 1956); THE POOR RICH (SZEGÉNY GAZDAGOK, 1959); THE ROUND-UP (SZEGÉNYLEGÉNYEK, 1965); LOVE (SZERELEM, 1970); ANGI VERA (1978); THE STUD FARM (A MÉNESGAZDA, 1978); ANOTHER WAY (EGYMÁSRA NÉZVE, 1982); OH BLOODY LIFE! (TE, RONGYOS ÉLET, 1983); THE MIDAS TOUCH (ELDORÁDÓ, 1988); WILLY THE SPARROW (VILI, A VERÉB, 1989); MaNDA, region-free DVD (separate releases)

Reviewed by Michael Brooke

For the past six years or so, the Hungarian Digital Film Archive (MaNDA) has been regularly releasing what now amounts to a substantial catalogue of restorations of classic Hungarian films: at the time of writing, they’ve produced around a hundred DVDs, although sadly no Blu-rays as yet. Britain’s Second Run label has licensed the MaNDA restorations of such titles as István Szabó’s Confidence (1980), Miklós Jancsó’s Electra My Love (1974), István Szöts’s People of the Mountains (1942) and Zoltán Huszárik’s Szindbád (1971), but the vast majority are only available in Hungary itself. Realistically, most are likely to stay that way. Of 2016’s thirteen individual releases, titles that non-specialist S&S readers might recognise include the above-mentioned Confidence, the recent restoration of Miklós Jancsó’s reputationmaker The Round-Up (1965), Pál Gábor’s Angi Vera (1978) and Károly Makk’s Love (1970) and Another Way (1982). The Gábor and Makk films are part of an ambitious multi-disc project, ‘Terror and Revolution’, exploring the pivotal year of 1956 from a number of cinematic angles: other films include András Kovács’s The Stud Farm (1978), Péter Bacsó’s Oh Bloody Life! (1983), Géza Bereményi’s The Midas Touch (1988) and a four-disc compilation of every official state newsreel from 1956. (Fascinating though much of the latter is, completism means that there are a lot of “tractor production up 300 per cent” pieces to wade through alongside the historically important material, and certain key events of the year – Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin, the Hungarian uprising itself – are pointedly not mentioned.) The series is continuing into 2017, with future releases including feature films made in and around 1956 itself. Other one-off discs include a recently rediscovered silent film made by the future Casablanca director when he was still going by his birth name of Mihály Kertész: The Undesirable, also known as The Exile (1914). Narratively, this

The Undesirable (aka The Exile, 1914), directed by Mihály Kertész (aka Michael Curtiz)

is a fairly standard-issue wrong-side-of-the-tracks romantic melodrama, and its mise en scène is strongly tableau-driven in common with much pre-Griffith silent cinema, but Kertész clearly has an eye for a striking image, a great sense of pace, and the exterior locations are particularly well chosen, not least for the way they capture images of rural Hungary immediately prior to World War I (especially valuable given the scarcity of such moving-image footage elsewhere). The film’s already highly visible nationality is enhanced by Attila Pacsay’s score, with its Bartókian folk tunes and cimbalom interludes. (This restoration has also been released on Blu-ray in the US, via Olive Films.) László Kalmár’s Deadly Spring (1939) is another romantic melodrama, this time set amongst the moneyed classes of a still recognisable Budapest. What might have been a straightforward love story is shrouded in perpetual shadow, thanks to the opening-scene revelation that it will lead to attempted suicide, and there are a few appealingly quirky touches: the endearing use of ‘cut your own disc’ services to convey ardent love messages, or a dancer’s movements reflected in a stuffed squirrel’s eyeball to make it come across as a quizzical observer. (Unwanted surveillance by disapproving relatives and love rivals is a recurring motif.)

Fascinating though the newsreel compilation is, there are a lot of ‘tractor production up 300 per cent’ pieces to wade through

Two decades later, Frigyes Bán’s The Poor Rich (1959) uses colour and a wider frame to tell the story of the black-masked bandit Fatia Negra (the film’s alternative title), first seen waylaying a wealthy couple on a vast plain straight out of a Jancsó film. There’s little else reminiscent of Jancsó here, but it’s a very enjoyable costume romp with delightfully archaic subtitles (a stern-faced patriarch warns his daughter of the dangers of consorting with “that haphazard youth”), interspersed with an eye-catchingly colourful presentation of Hungarian folksongs and dances. The Robin Hood (or, in central Europe, Juraj Janosik)-inspired message about the political and social necessity of robbing the rich to succour the poor is well to the fore, a decade into Hungary’s communist era. And finally there’s József Gémes’s fully animated feature Willy the Sparrow (1989), to add to a growing number of MaNDA discs exploring Hungarian animation (they produced a useful taster in 2014 called Gems of Hungarian Animation Volume 1, covering 1960s short films). Allowing for the limitations of the DVD format, technical presentations are usually first rate. Every disc offers English subtitles on the main feature and a selection of extras (usually a very BFI-style mixture of short films and documentaries), although it’s pot luck whether the latter are subtitled as well. But when they are, they’re often fascinating – for instance, The Undesirable has an hour-long portrait of WWI-era theatre manager turned film mogul Jenö Janovics, who amongst other things talent-spotted Michael Curtiz and Alexander Korda. Film history owes him a great deal. March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 97


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New releases THE HIRED HAND

before taking to the streets with urbane youths and new women in the spirit of Sachlichkeit. As financial crisis hit again at the end of the 1920s, audiences preferred the escapism of genre, from musicals starring Lillian Harvey and Willy Fritsch to mountain films (‘German westerns’) and Lang’s action thrillers. As the documentary points out, Weimar cinema begins and ends in lunatic asylums – with Caligari and Mabuse alone and deranged in their cells.

Peter Fonda; US 1971; Universal/Arrow Academy/ Region B Blu-ray/Region 2 DVD; Certificate 15; 90 mins; 1.85:1; Features: audio commentary by Peter Fonda, ‘The Return of The Hired Hand’ 2003 documentary, deleted scenes, ‘The Odd Man’ (1978 documentary about Scottish screenwriters, including Alan Sharp), appreciation by Martin Scorsese, interview with Warren Oates and Peter Fonda at the National Film Theatre in 1971 (audio only), stills gallery, trailers, TV and radio spots

Reviewed by Robert Hanks

CHRISTINE John Carpenter; US 1983; Powerhouse/Indicator/Region-free Blu-ray and DVD Dual Format (see disc information below); Certificate 18; 110 mins; 2.35:1; Features: commentary (John Carpenter, Keith Gordon), production documentary, deleted scenes, isolated score, stills gallery, trailers, booklet

Reviewed by Michael Brooke

“John Carpenter’s Christine” claims the opening title, but it’s source novelist Stephen King whose authorial stamp proves the most indelible here. Not least because the core theme of a relentlessly bullied victim turned paranormally assisted righteous avenger is resurrected from King’s debut Carrie, though with the twist that Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) is male and assisted by ‘Christine’, a newly acquired red 1957 Plymouth Fury which has already asphyxiated at least two former occupants and has a fair number of other homicidal tricks up its gleaming chrome sleeve. Despite some terrific images (a blazing car stalking its perceived prey down a nocturnal highway or ‘self-repairing’ with the aid of impressively pre-CGI effects) and accomplished suspense set pieces, it’s one of Carpenter’s more workmanlike films, certainly toning down if not completely suppressing the quirky touches that made his 1974-82 run so memorable. However, the decidedly Ballardian feel to the climax, a duel between an overtly masculine digger and a sleek feminine car (its damagejagged bonnet offering more than a hint of vagina dentata) compensates for a lot, as does Gordon’s performance as the embodiment of the age-old notion that all it takes to effect a complete personality transformation is the acquisition of a desirable set of wheels. Disc: Picture and sound are both knockout, and the extras package is no slouch either, with a lively (and self-critical) director-star commentary, a 48-minute retrospective and other odds and ends – although the ‘isolated score’ track only plays Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s original score, not the classic rock ’n’ roll that fuels Christine’s killing sprees. The booklet has an essay by Jeff Billington and an uproarious piece by Carpenter about his guiltier film pleasures. (The booklet and DVD are exclusive to the limited edition.)

DAISY KENYON Otto Preminger; US 1947; Kino Lorber/Region A Blu-ray; 99 mins; 1.33:1; Features: audio commentary by Preminger biographer Foster Hirsch, documentary ‘From Journeyman to Artist: Otto Preminger at Fox’, featurette ‘Life in the Shadows: The Making of Daisy Kenyon’, animated image montage, trailers

Reviewed by Nick Pinkerton

It has sometimes been the case that Otto Preminger’s reputation as a controversy-courting, 98 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Engine trouble: Christine

taboo-busting, self-promoting ballyhoo man has overshadowed his estimation as an artist of unusual intelligence and delicacy – and so undue attention is given to his open defiance of the Production Code with the relatively minor diversion The Moon Is Blue (1953), and not enough to his earlier Daisy Kenyon, a sober, bracingly adult melodrama in which the meddling mitts of Joseph Ignatius Breen are sensed not at all. The title role belongs to Joan Crawford, a successful commercial illustrator living in Greenwich Village and carrying on an affair with married uptown lawyer Dan O’Mara (Preminger regular Dana Andrews). Playing the other woman hurts Daisy’s pride – an emotion Crawford never had a hard time embodying – and so she decides to assuage this by stringing along another man, recently returned war veteran Peter Lapham (Henry Fonda), only to lose her head and marry the guy, which is where her conundrum really begins. The film’s source material is a 1945 novel by Elizabeth Janeway, a writer with leftist sympathies, here manifest in a subplot that has O’Mara taking on a case involving the Japanese-American internment camps. What’s interesting isn’t just the inclusion of this Dore Schary-worthy topical subject matter, but the film’s insight into the inevitable entanglement of personal and political commitments, the manner in which egoist O’Mara can’t resist using his newfound ‘wokeness’ as a flanking manoeuvre in his campaign to win back Daisy’s heart. Fonda is never more touching than when playing manic-depressive courtship mode (“The world’s dead, and everybody in it’s dead but you”), but as his Lapham regains his equilibrium he takes up a watch-and-wait tactic. Preminger likewise keeps his distance, and his typically pragmatic approach, as well as choice location shooting, gives potentially overwrought material a surprising earthbound heft – the weight of real places, real people, real desire, real feelings. Disc: Foster Hirsch’s commentary offers useful biographical background on all involved personnel, and while the source materials show some slight wear and tear, Leon Shamroy’s photography shines through.

Peter Fonda’s first film as director flopped on release, critically and commercially, but since a restored version was shown at Sundance a few years back its reputation has been resurgent: it sits comfortably in the cycle of early 70s revisionist westerns that also includes McCabe & Mrs Miller, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and – an outlier – Blazing Saddles. Fonda stars, as a drifting cowboy who decides to return home to the wife and daughter he left years earlier, but his laconic, somewhat distancing turn is frequently overshadowed by Warren Oates, the partner who comes along for the ride; and Verna Bloom, tough and unprettified as the abandoned wife, manages to suggest both an authentic 19th-century frontierswoman and a second-wave feminist. The studio was evidently hoping for something it could market as a follow-up to Easy Rider (“Peter Fonda Is Riding Again” trumpeted the misleadingly action-packed trailers). Certainly there are resemblances in Fonda and Oates’s understated friendship, the reckoning with a coarser, more violent America that provides what plot there is, and the trippy atmosphere of the heroes’ ride cross country. Vilmos Zsigmond’s gorgeous cinematography is backed up by a battery of effects (montage, slow-motion, freeze frames) more at home in 80s pop videos; the effect is occasionally irritating, more often woozy and beautiful, thanks in part to Bruce Langhorne’s folksy guitar-picking score. The West here becomes a place for wandering and self-discovery rather than the land-grabs and gunfights that are the staple of westerns, even the revisionist ones. The hippyish overtones grate; more satisfying is the close attention paid to the texture of western life – the coarse fabrics, the scuffed, weighty revolvers the men tote. It is a dream of the West, but a dream full of lifelike details. Disc: The Blu-ray does justice to some of the most astonishing skyscapes ever committed to film. The disc presents Fonda’s preferred version, a fair bit shorter than the cut shown for some years on TV: the deleted scenes reveal that, rightly, he favoured mood and inference over incident and exposition. The NFT interview is a hoot.

METROPOLIS Rintaro (Hayashi Shigeyuki); Japan 2001; Eureka/Region B Blu-ray and Region 2 DVD Dual Format; Certificate PG; 113 mins; 1.85:1; Features: ‘The Making of Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis’, interviews with the film’s creators, animation comparisons, original and promotional trailers

Reviewed by Jasper Sharp

Rintaro’s adaptation of Tezuka Osamu’s seminal 1949 manga, five years in production at a budget equivalent to $15 million, is a monumental work in the anime field. The plot, taking Fritz Lang’s film of the same name as its starting point,


Flower power: Daisy Kenyon

SACRIFICE! Umberto Lenzi; Italy/Burma 1972; Raro Video USA/ Region 1/A DVD/Blu-ray; 93 mins; 2.35:1; Features: ‘Cannibal World’ (‘Mondo Cannibale’) documentary, illustrated booklet

Reviewed by Nick Pinkerton

Perhaps better known by the title The Man from Deep River, Umberto Lenzi’s Sacrifice! (its moniker for its Times Square release) is the film credited with initiating that most scurrilous of subgenres, the Italian cannibal movie. Ivan Rassimov, wearing a peroxided coiffure that marks him out as an Anglo abroad, stars as John, a swinish British photojournalist in Bangkok who spends his nights squiffed on J&B, dripping casual misogyny and watching Muay Thai matches. John’s appetite for bloodsports is to be slaked many times over when he flees the local cops to head upriver towards the Burmese border, where he’s taken captive by an

indigenous tribe – not man-eaters themselves, though they have hungry neighbours. An opening text posits Sacrifice! as a sort of semi-documentary, and Lenzi devotes a great deal of time to showing the tribe’s dubiously authentic rituals: a widow’s release from the ownership of her recently deceased husband, involving a gangbang atop his smouldering ashes; John’s initiation into the tribal ranks, staged to evoke the sufferings of Saint Sebastian; and a courtship by glory hole, whereby John acquires his wife (Me Me Lai). There is also a great deal of undeniably veracious onscreen slaughter of animals, including a goat, a crocodile and more snakes than I’d care to count, including one who gets done by a mongoose. This insistence on non-fiction bona fides would become a staple of the cannibal film up until the apotheosis of Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980), and in fact the subgenre developed as an extension of the ethnographic exploitation of the ‘mondo’ documentary, which had first appeared a decade before Lenzi’s film, and which likewise trafficked in the game of cultural compareand-contrast, at once an invitation and a punishment to the leering westerner’s curiosity. On the basis of titles Almost Human (1974), Violent Naples (1976) and Ironmaster (1983) alone, not to mention his later cannibal efforts, Lenzi belongs in the first rank of Italian quick-change genre directors, but there are only periodic glimpses of his combination of tensile camerawork and sunstroke delirium in Sacrifice!, a landmark in the shadow history of shock cinema nevertheless. Disc: Heavy grain on this high-quality transfer, which offers good detail in Lenzi’s crowd scenes and taut widescreen compositions in depth.

SOMETHING WILD Jack Garfein; US 1961; Criterion Collection/Region 1/A DVD/Blu-ray; 113 mins; 1.66:1; Features: new conversation between Garfein and Kim Morgan, new interviews with Carroll Baker, new interview with Foster Hirsch on the Actors Studio, excerpts from 2014 lecture by Garfein on acting technique, essay by critic Sheila O’Malley

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Reviewed by Nick Pinkerton

Something Wild Interesting new elements are here – a bold score, explorative location shooting, Serious Adult Subject Matter – but the whole never quite ignites

In the pantheon of not particularly successful movies with spectacular Saul Bass credit sequences, Jack Garfein’s Something Wild ranks up there with Edward Dmytryk’s Walk on the Wild Side (1962). Mainstream American narrative cinema has never been quite so bad overall as it was in the early 1960s, but its failures were at least usually interesting failures, the sorts of things that befit a moment of upheaval – the studio farm system coming apart at the seams, leaving the field open to influences from theatre, from upstart television and from European cinema. Garfein represents all of the above: he was a member of the Actors Studio, where he met his wife (and Something Wild lead actress) Carroll Baker, and he nurtured the career of a young Ben Gazzara, star of Garfein’s potent if stagey first film The Strange One (1957), in which Gazzara plays Jocko de Paris, dormitory tyrant at a military boarding school and exact psychological prototype of the new American president. In television, he directed the unusually sober-minded, short-lived March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 99

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is dense yet accessible: despotic Duke Red’s plans for world domination go awry when the figurehead for his newly constructed ziggurat, a robot named Tima modelled on his dead daughter, develops human emotions after getting lost in the labyrinth beneath the city with the adolescent nephew of a detective investigating her creator’s involvement in illegal body-part trading. It might be seen as anticipating Tezuka’s most famous creation, Astro Boy, on whose 1960s TV incarnations Rintaro began his career. The bustling art deco cityscapes, realised through a then groundbreaking combination of computer and cel techniques, character designs in the Hergé mode and Honda Toshiyuki’s jaunty Dixieland jazz score all lend a distinctive retro air to the proceedings, though the jubilant symphony of destruction that brings an end to the majestic multi-tiered metropolis reveals the hand of an altogether more modern force in the anime world, that of the film’s screenwriter, Akira-creator Otomo Katsuhiro. Disc: A new HD transfer preserves the textures and vibrant colour palette of the 35mm negative, while 5.1 DTS-HD and 2.0 stereo audio options are included for both original Japanese and English-dubbed soundtracks, alongside newly commissioned subtitles and those from the original Japanese translation and the US theatrical release. The extras – a 33-minute ‘making of’ documentary, an eight-minute interview with Rintaro and Otomo and two scene comparisons detailing the various stages in compositing the layers of the hand-drawn and CG elements – are carried over from Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment’s earlier DVD release. Also available as a limited-edition dual-format SteelBook.


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Television CONNECTIONS Mick Jackson; UK 1978; BBC/Simply Media/ Region 2 DVD; 500 minutes; 1.33:1

Reviewed by Robert Hanks

James Burke made his name as a reporter for the BBC science magazine Tomorrow’s World, and then as frontman for the BBC’s coverage of the moon landings. Having established himself as a spokesman for technology, he went on to make this lavish, location-heavy ten-part documentary series, subtitled ‘An Alternative History of Change’. It occupies a peculiar tract of intellectual territory, between the humane scholarship of Jacob Bronowski and the conspiracy-building of Adam Curtis (it is worth noticing that director Mick Jackson had worked on Bronowski’s 1973 The Ascent of Man). Like Bronowski, Burke aspires to offer an overarching view of human development, from the Stone Age to the late 20th century – though Bronowski’s gravity could hardly be further from Burke’s gleeful, sometimes glib conjuring of paradoxes and surprises. (Not the Nine O’Clock News caught the tone a few years later, “James bloody Burke” greeting the viewer with “Good evening – or is it?”) Like Curtis, Burke delights in showing how a set of seemingly disparate facts converge on a single, startling outcome – you start with Dutch sailing ships in the 17th century and proceed via German 19th-century agricultural policy (Burke bouncing up and down, literally, in a wheat field, next to a combine harvester swathed in German flags) to the invention of nylon. Like Curtis, too, he occasionally wants to make your flesh creep. In the first episode, he sets out his thesis that every advance in technology becomes a trap: the invention of agriculture tied us to the land, the invention of electricity has tied us to the infrastructure of power generation. This section ends with him walking along a freeway strewn with wrecked and abandoned cars, asking the viewer, when civilisation collapses, how will you escape from the cities, and once out, how will you survive? Can you be ruthless enough? (Mick Jackson went on to ruin a lot of people’s adolescence with the grim nuclear drama Threads in 1984, before decamping to Hollywood to make The Bodyguard.) Connections often feels all over the place, intellectually and geographically – you see Burke, in his white trousers and white zip-up jacket, cruising down the Nile in a felucca, like Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me, or sitting in the cockpit of the Enola Gay, or striding down the steps of a temple in Penang. In between you get local colour (jovial Germans swigging from their steins in a bierkeller), some clunky dramatic reconstructions (the 16th-century silver miners in episode three are a highlight) and some awful jokiness (Burke jingling coins and squealing “Moneeeeey!”, or denouncing Joseph Priestley as “a real creep”). The narratives can be tenuous and arbitrary, but that is partly the point: Burke wants you to see that you could follow any number of paths through history; stories are always structures we impose. The butterfly-wing style of historical explanation – in which a volcanic eruption leads to the invention of the bicycle – has in recent years 100 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

The Young Pope Jude Law plays a youthful, hardline American pope. Sorrentino’s story mixes a sense of religious intensity with a streak of vulgar fantasy become a familiar, perhaps overfamiliar, way of doing pop science and history. That may get in the way of seeing that, 40 years ago, Burke was doing something quite original and bold. Disc: Fortunately, this was filmed rather than taped; the transfer is solid.

THE YOUNG POPE Paolo Sorrentino; Italy/France/Spain/UK/US 2016; Spirit Entertainment/Region B Blu-ray/ Region 2 DVD; Certificate 18; 480 minutes

Reviewed by Robert Hanks

Jude Law as a youthful, hardline American pope in a drama created by the director of The Great Beauty: the prospect sounds both gorgeous and weird, and it lives up to both parts of the promise. The nearest thing to compare this to is Frederick Rolfe’s 1904 novel Hadrian the Seventh, a wish-fulfilment fantasy about an impoverished English seminary drop-out who is unexpectedly elevated to the See of Rome, and through his wisdom, asceticism and good taste transforms the Church and the world. Sorrentino’s story likewise mixes a sense of religious intensity (whether felt or merely evoked is hard to say) with a streak of vulgar fantasy. Law’s Pius XIII – formerly an American bishop called Lenny Belardo – is charismatic, pious, funny, but also cruel and egotistical. When the Vatican’s head of merchandising tries to arrange to take his photo, to plaster on postcards and souvenirs, he refuses: he is of no personal interest. But his vanity about his good looks is displayed over and over. He says he doesn’t believe in God, but we see him pray

in private. He is an ascetic, but drawn towards an erotic entanglement with the wife of one of his Swiss Guards (Ludivine Sagnier). Law – at his best playing robots and psychopaths, characters who aren’t fully human – is well cast, apparently happy to keep the audience at bay. Some Christian commentators, particularly in the US and Italy, have been repelled by the programme, and in a way that is fair enough. The Young Pope repels comprehension and sympathy the way a duck’s feathers repel water: none of the characters settle to being one thing, their motivations remaining opaque; and the tone is capricious, wrong-footing the viewer – is this meant to be funny? Is this meant to be real? At times the dialogue feels clumsy, but is this because Sorrentino, writing in English, lacks control, or is it deliberate? Still, the play of power and suspicion is gripping, much of the time. It’s fascinating to watch the clashing styles of American and European actors – Diane Keaton is surprisingly anonymous under a wimple, as the nun who raised young Lenny; and I particularly like Silvio Orlando’s cardinal, a schemer and a shit who may also be something of a saint. Sorrentino, naturally, makes it entrancing to look at – nuns in black robes playing football in slow motion; nuns in white robes praying in a garden, ruffled by the wind: if the images were less absurd they would be heartbreaking. Disc: The music sounded a little rough in places on the Blu-ray I watched; but the picture does justice to the cinematic expansiveness and rich colour.


NBC series The Marriage (1954). As for the European influence, Something Wild contains a baldly Bergmanesque dream sequence, and it’s impossible to see the film’s overture of Manhattan’s gridded skyscrapers set to Aaron Copland’s cacophonous score and not think of Michelangelo Antonioni and his La notte, released the same year. Antonioni’s register of ‘urban anomie’ is also the dominant tone of Something Wild, which unfolds in the immediate aftermath of the rape of college girl Mary Ann Robinson (Baker) by a stranger while returning to the New York townhouse where she lives with her neurasthenic, xenophobic, conservative Christian mother (Mildred Dunnock). Mary Ann soon takes to aimlessly roaming the city, and here the comparison to Antonioni, or even a fellow Criterion-approved NYC street production like Allan Barron’s Blast of Silence (1961), is unfavourable to Garfein, who explores the expressive possibilities of the city only by having his star strike distressed postures against suitably authentic slum backdrops. Once Mary Ann is accosted by a seemingly sympathetic Brooklyn mechanic (Ralph Meeker, self-conscious and phoney for the first time in his career) while contemplating suicide on the Manhattan Bridge, the movie loses even documentary interest, settling into an overacted tenement-bound two-hander. Interesting new elements are here – a bold score, explorative location shooting, Serious Adult Subject Matter – but the whole compound never quite ignites. Still, anyone interested in the New Hollywood to come can learn something by studying the experiment. Disc: A miraculous, nuanced transfer of the black-and-white image, bringing out detail without sacrificing grain.

TOSHIAKI TOYODA: THE EARLY YEARS PORNOSTAR/UNCHAIN/9 SOULS Japan 1998/2000/2003; Third Window Films/Region B Blu-ray and Region 2 DVD; 316 mins; 1.85:1; Features: new audio commentary by Tom Mes, new interview with Toyoda Toshiaki, deleted scenes, music videos

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Reviewed by Anton Bitel

“What’s the use of losing?” reads text in Toyoda Toshiaki’s documentary Unchain (2000). “There is none.” A child prodigy at shogi, Japanese chess, who suddenly quit at 17, Toyoda’s early directing career celebrated Japan’s marginalised male losers. Typical is ‘Unchain’ Kaji, a likeably punkish real-life boxer from Osaka who never won a match and spent years in a mental asylum after raiding a job centre. In following Kaji and his friends, Toyoda depicts life as a ringside struggle without any conventional underdog triumph. Toyoda’s feature debut Pornostar (1998) explores the yin-and-yang relationship between a pimp (Onimaru) hesitant to kill or become a full-time gangster and a disaffected young man with no name (Chihara Koji) who rides into Shibuya station with a bag of knives, intending to murder all ‘unneeded’ yakuza. It was made with money that production company Little More had raised from two nude photobooks of actress Esumi Makiko, but Pornostar’s only penetration shots involve blades and blood – it’s an urban

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New releases

It’s got legs: Emil Jannings and Lya Di Putti in Varieté

western/chanbara/noir that comes with existential doom and flashes of lysergic surrealism. Blue Spring (2001) is missing from this collection, but Toyoda’s fourth feature 9 Souls (2003) concerns itself ostensibly with an ennead of hardened criminals on the run from prison, before becoming a tragicomic parable of disrupted lives, lost dreams and masculinity in lock-up, as these fugitive antiheroes elaborately disguise their identities and fancifully pursue the existences that they had long since left behind them. Opening (and closing) with a vision of Tokyo in apocalypse, 9 Souls lays bare the limbo of guilt, hope and despair to which its characters have become confined, giving temporary release to their pent-up psychic energy. When they lose, the viewer wins. Disc: This hi-def debut for Toyoda’s early films particularly benefits the stylised steel-blue hues of 9 Souls. The best extras are a new interview with Toyoda himself, and commentaries on Pornostar and 9 Stars from Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp, insightfully situating the films in the context of Japan’s millennial New Wave.

VARIETÉ E.A. Dupont; Germany 1925; Eureka/Masters of Cinema/Region B Blu-ray; 95 mins; 1.33:1; Features: scores by The Tiger Lillies, Stephen Horne and Johannes Contag, US version of the film, booklet

Reviewed by Pamela Hutchinson

In E.A. Dupont’s eminently stylish backstage drama Varieté (1925), Emil Jannings hits a downward moral slope as only he can. No matter how far-fetched the scenario – Jannings as a gymnast! – he proves once again that he was a virtuoso player on the theme of spiritual degradation. As Varieté opens, he’s in prison, a broken man who has refused for ten years to talk about how he came to be a criminal. However, the prospect of leniency for his sentence, and his wife’s forgiveness,

prompt him to unburden himself of his grotty secret. And so the bulk of the film is taken up with his confession: a flashback to how he abandoned his wife and child, his reason and his principles, for the sake of a heartless woman. Lya de Putti plays the temptress, a waif washed ashore, given the name ‘Bertha-Marie’ and lodging with circus performer Boss Huller (Jannings) and his humble family. Their skimpy quarters and Bertha-Marie’s skimpier costumes make a seduction inevitable – and de Putti is memorably captivating as a feckless Weimar sex kitten. Soon Boss is hitting the road to Berlin with Bertha and a new trapeze act that is every bit as risky as his love affair. In Berlin, there’s another man (English actor Warwick Ward), and more temptation for Bertha-Marie… Varieté excels at showcasing the onstage thrills of a big-city Weimar variety bill – from the Tiller Girls to the clowns and the terrifying trapeze act where a stand-in clearly doubles for Jannings. Though Dupont would flaunt his expertise at spectacle of this kind a few years later in Piccadilly, the real star here is Karl Freund’s relentlessly innovative camerawork, which rises and swoops with the acrobats, and lampoons the salivating audience. Nearly nude dancers are perfectly reflected in gleaming opera glasses, just as a grimier audience of goggle-eyed sailors once gawped at Bertha-Marie in the circus tent. The drab prison is every bit as geometrically precise as the flashy theatricals, a shadowy place where Boss is forced along a joyless path, the punishment for his crimes of passion. Disc: The digital 2K restoration is exceptional, with sharp detail that does justice to Freund’s trickery. A choice of soundtracks means the controversial Tiger Lillies score with narration vocals that debuted with the restoration at Berlin is not the only option. The other options, by Stephen Horne and Johannes Contag, are far more sympathetic. March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 101


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Lost and found

UPTIGHT OVERLOOKED FILMS CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE ON UK DVD OR BLU-RAY

Mixing noir and neorealism, Jules Dassin’s drama tackles the alienation of black Americans amid the seismic upheavals of 1968 By Andrew Nette

No American film characterises the political tumult of 1968 better than Jules Dassin’s Uptight. It is the quintessential movie for the year that saw Washington realise the Vietnam War was unwinnable, mass student demonstrations across much of the world and the assassination of Martin Luther King. It is also the earliest big studio film to tackle the alienation felt by a growing section of America’s black population in the face of poverty and racist violence, and their search for radical alternatives to the non-violence of the earlier civil-rights era. As one of the black militants puts it at the film’s beginning, “Memphis proves the answer is guns and more guns.” Uptight was Dassin’s first US film since leaving the country in 1953 after being blacklisted for his past communist affiliations, and was a collaboration with prominent black leftist journalist and playwright Julian Mayfield and Ruby Dee, the civil-rights campaigner and actress who’d started her career in lowbudget films created for African Americans and shown in segregated cinemas in the 1950s. It’s an adaptation of John Ford’s 1935 film The Informer, based on a story by Liam O’Flaherty about a disgraced IRA militant who informs on a fugitive comrade in return for a reward that he hopes will buy him and his girlfriend passage to America, with disastrous consequences. Dassin and his co-writers moved the location to the tough industrial city of Cleveland, Ohio, and placed the story in the city’s black political milieu on the night of King’s death. Black militant Johnny (Max Julien) leads a mission to steal guns from a warehouse, an enterprise that ends with the death of a security guard and Johnny a fugitive from police. His childhood friend Tank (Mayfield), an alcoholic ex-steelworker, was supposed to participate in the heist but didn’t, due to his heavy drinking; the militants, led by B.G. (Raymond St Jacques) and Johnny’s sister Jeannie (Janet MacLachlan), shun him for his failure to help. Pressured by his single-mother girlfriend (convincingly played by Dee), who threatens to dump him unless he comes up with money, and by manipulative police informant Daisy (Roscoe Lee Browne), Tank gives Johnny’s location to the authorities, who gun down the latter as he visits his elderly mother. The militants suspect Tank of being the informant, and begin to investigate him. Uptight received mixed reviews and was a financial failure, despite a reasonable advertising campaign on the part of Paramount, who pushed it as “the first time an American film has tried to show the real motivation and depth of feelings felt by contemporary black Americans”. Ultimately it 102 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

Everything ain’t alright: Uptight

It proved too hard and uncompromising for white audiences, not tough enough for many black viewers pleased no one – too hard and uncompromising for white audiences, not tough enough for many black viewers. It was relegated as a little-known anomaly of late-60s filmmaking until US label Olive Films released a DVD version in 2012. Stylistically, Uptight is a strange mix. Cleveland’s rain-drenched streets and factories at night, and the narrative – Tank trapped by forces he neither understands nor can control – are reminiscent of classic film noir, which is unsurprising given Dassin’s cinematic pedigree. The final moments, showing Tank on the run

WHAT THE PAPERS SAID ‘W may be entering the ‘We era where every screenplay e will have at least one angry w black militant, and even if b tthe characters are never portrayed more honestly p tthan they were in Uptight it will still be closer to telling w itt like anything Hollywood has like iitt is is th tthan han a done thus far’ Ruthe B. Stein ‘Cinéaste’, April 1969 ‘Uptight is such an intense and furious movie that it’s impossible not to take it seriously’ ‘New York Times’, December 1968

from black radical executioners, echo Richard Widmark being chased through Soho by the gangsters he has double-crossed in Dassin’s Night and the City (1950). But other aspects, especially the street scenes and the depiction of the white police as an occupying force, exude a more neorealist style. This includes the film’s most powerful sequence, in which police arriving at a crowded tenement block to arrest Johnny are met with a hail of bottles thrown from the balconies by the hostile inhabitants. A major criticism has been the stereotypical nature of much of the characterisation, particularly the ruthless black revolutionaries, epitomised by the steely resolve of Jeannie and B.G. in his Mao jacket, contrasted with elderly civil-rights veteran Kyle (Frank Silvera), who still believes in reform of the system. While some of the dialogue, to quote one reviewer, sounds like “Group Theatre propaganda”, the script gets more right than not about the operation of much of the militant left in the late 1960s. Tank, the least formed character, at times slows the narrative, but the depiction of a blue-collar worker who is the representative of an older style of politics rejected by the black militants, and who is lost without the certainty of his job, adds a layer of political sophistication that resonates more strongly today. For all its faults, Uptight deserves credit for creating black characters who are different from those previously seen in American film, and as a precursor to blaxploitation, which would explode on the scene in 1971 with Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and Shaft. It is also an early example of the challenge, still felt today, of making studio films about African Americans, or any other group marginalised in cinema for that matter, that are authentic and meaningful as well as commercially viable.


BOOKS

Books

‘Here’s looking at you, kid’: Dooley Wilson, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca

ROAD TO MOROCCO

The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie By Noah Isenberg. W.W. Norton & Co, 336pp, $27.95, ISBN 9780393243123 Reviewed by Jonathan Rosenbaum

I’ve never been asked to select my favourite guilty pleasures in movies, but I suspect that if I were, Gone with the Wind (1939) and Casablanca (1942) – two highly accomplished and engrossing pieces of dubious Hollywood hokum – could easily head the list. Yet it’s one of the signal virtues of Noah Isenberg’s We’ll Always Have Casablanca to suggest that the true sources of Casablanca’s popularity place it well beyond the racial and racist subtexts of Gone with the Wind. 104 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

In the case of the latter film, we have the benefit of Molly Haskell’s Frankly, My Dear (2009), a superb critical and ideological unpacking of both the Margaret Mitchell novel and the David O. Selznick blockbuster. Isenberg, an academic and a scholar more than a critic – he is director of screen studies and professor of culture and media at New York’s New School, and best known among cinephiles as an Edgar G. Ulmer specialist – hasn’t given us the same sort of book as Haskell, although he’s produced a volume that’s equally accessible and nearly as valuable in explaining the appeal of a popular classic. An even more pertinent cross-reference to what I find most rewarding in this book is Alexander Nemerov’s Icons of Grief: Val Lewton’s Home Front Pictures (2005), which persuasively shows how the very souls of Lewton’s RKO quickies are expressed, and can be felt, less in

their main characters than in their bit players – Darby Jones as the title zombie in I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Glen Vernon as The Gilded Boy in Bedlam (1946). Without mentioning Lewton, Isenberg adroitly conveys how much the soul of Casablanca, in communion with the souls of the film’s fans, belongs not to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman but to secondary members of the cast, mostly Eastern European, such as Paul Henreid, Dooley Wilson, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, S.Z. Sakall, Madeleine Lebeau and Leonid Kinskey – all directed by a Hungarian, Michael Curtiz, who struggled with English

The soul of ‘Casablanca’ belongs not to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman but to secondary members of the cast

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WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA


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COMING BACK TO A THEATER NEAR YOU A History of Hollywood Reissues 1914-2014 Brian Hannan, MacFarland, 481pp, £45.95, ISBN 9780786498130 Reviewed by Bryony Dixon

Brian Hannan’s ambitious tome on the underexplored area of the film reissue repays the patience it requires to pick through the detail. While confined largely to the output of Hollywood in the American market, it has just enough international dimension to interest all, and should act as a spur to large-scale surveys of this kind. The book extends the period covered by the only other book on the subject I know of, Eric Hoyt’s Hollywood Vault (2014), which ends in the 1960s. These works are topical because we are in a moment of transition as media companies try to reposition back-catalogue film in new digital market places. Very likely we’ll need to revisit the subject again soon, as things are moving fast in the world of film distribution and exhibition. But in the meantime, this provides solid background, surveying the economics of the film reissue over time, and exploring why certain titles are rereleased. Theatrical reissues are important because they have contributed substantially over time to the income of studios – in some cases making the difference between survival and bankruptcy. Before films were generally available for home viewing, reissues indulged the public’s taste for stars and for certain genres of films they could not otherwise see. But as Hannan’s review across the decades demonstrates, the reissue was a risky side business, for no one could predict the public taste. In the early days, reissues often led to practices so debilitating to

the industry that it required legislation, as films were renamed, padded out, recut and retitled to cash in on stars such as Chaplin. In later years the reissue was strongly associated with the Hollywood star system, and affected – but never halted – by technological changes such as the coming of sound, television and home video. The book has some nice illustrations of reissue marketing which give a flavour of why and when particular films were rereleased. No prizes for guessing the big titles – Disney, Bond, Gone with the Wind, Chaplin, Hitchcock, Star Wars, etc – but at the next level it’s interesting to see what comes up at particular moments in history. Tables at the back of the book list the top reissue successes, but only for certain decades, and they are not always well labelled, so you need to scrutinise the notes – and there are lots of notes. The final chapter illustrates the capacity of the reissue to resurface in different forms that offer audiences something that will keep them coming back – the spectacle of 70mm, Imax or 3D, the ‘reissue communality’ of the sing-a-long or enhanced versions such as Fantasia 2000, director’s cuts, secret cinema, and ‘live cinema’ for silent films, with new scores for the likes of Metropolis or Napoleon. And then there is anniversary mania born of the internet. Understandably, with such a historical sweep, Hannan has not allowed himself to get diverted by digital and the convergence of cinema, online moving image and TV, but the format change has had, and will have huge impact. With HD and domestic screens nearing home cinema size, is the ‘big screen’ the attraction it once was? And even though we love ‘event cinema’, is it enough to keep cinemas open? Hannan concludes, “You could almost say the reissue has a knack of squeezing through wormholes… it’s likely that the reissue in ever-evolving patterns will go on forever.” Well, let’s hope so, but I have a feeling it’s all about to get a lot more complicated.

Olivia De Havilland in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1967 for the theatrical reissue of Gone with the Wind (1939) March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 105

BOOKS

himself. As a columnist for Aufbau, a Germanlanguage émigré newspaper, put it in the early 40s, “It’s a grotesque, almost freakish situation; Hitler’s gangsters, trying to annihilate all these [European-born émigré] actors finally succeeded to weld them to an almost perfect ensemble and give them the chance of their lives, artistically as well as financially.” Isenberg goes on to say, “Nearly all of the some seventy-five actors and actresses cast in Casablanca were immigrants. Among the fourteen who earned a screen credit, only three were born in the United States: Humphrey Bogart, Dooley Wilson, and Joy Page, Jack Warner’s stepdaughter, who plays the Bulgarian refugee Annina Brandel. At the studio, Stage 8, where Rick’s Café was assembled, was known as International House… Hailing from more than thirty different nations, the majority of refugee actors in the film served merely as day players, performing small parts – generally either as Nazis or as refugees fleeing the Nazis – most without significant dialogue. Among them, however, were many distinguished European artists with illustrious pasts on stage and screen.” All this helps to explain why the movie’s emotional peak – the climax of a steady build in political force, from the moment that Rick, shedding his neutrality, allows a young Bulgarian to win at roulette, thus allowing him and his wife to afford exit visas – is the playing and singing of the ‘Marseillaise’ to overcome the Nazis’ rendition of ‘Die Wacht am Rhein’. This is ordered by Laszlo (Henreid) with what Isenberg rightly calls “a torrent of urgency, echoing Rick’s earlier demand that Sam play ‘As Time Goes By’”. There have been many other books about Casablanca, and not having read any of them, I can’t provide any useful comparisons. But I can log a couple of minor complaints: nowhere in the book can one find an exhaustive list of Casablanca’s credits, which would have been very helpful, and Isenberg seems unaware of the late Robert Sklar’s City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield, which makes a convincing case for Bogart’s Rick being a former communist. But otherwise, Isenberg seems to have covered all the bases. He knows why and how the rumours about Ronald Reagan or George Raft almost landing Bogart’s part are false, and he’s especially good on the rocky career and tribulations of Murray Burnett, co-author of the unproduced 1940 play Everybody Comes to Rick’s, inspired by his own visit to Europe two years earlier, which furnished Casablanca with its atmosphere, settings and most of its characters. He understands the importance and brilliance of Umberto Eco’s 1984 essay, ‘Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage,’ including its identification of “some two dozen [mythical] archetypes” in the film, and is alert to such unlikely spinoffs as a Chinese musical adaptation in 2005 that blended ballet, opera and musical theatre, and a glitzy Japanese musical version performed by an all-female cast, the Takarazuka Revue, a few years later – not to mention earlier appropriations by the Marx Brothers and Woody Allen. You might say that this Casablanca compendium’s a keeper.


DAN DURYEA Heel with a Heart By Mike Peros, University Press of Mississippi, 221pp, US$35, ISBN 9781628462326

Like so many of the great movie heavies – Basil Rathbone, Edward G. Robinson, Robert Ryan come to mind – Dan Duryea seems to have been in his private life a gentle and civilised person. Exceptionally so, indeed: according to Mike Peros’s account, he was a devoted husband and father, happily married to the same woman for 36 years, a good neighbour and a public-spirited citizen. Away from the studio, his favourite activities were gardening, carpentry and building sailing boats. So anyone looking for ripe Hollywood scandal in these pages will go away disappointed. No womanising (though we’re told he liked to flirt), no heavy drinking, no addiction to drugs, gambling or fast cars; not a single brush with the law. On set, Duryea was courteous, helpful and supportive to his fellow actors. Though friendly with several blacklistees, he kept his politics to himself and avoided the attentions of the House Un-American Activities Committee. The worst Peros can accuse him of is a lack of skill with accents and the occasional tendency to overact. Yet at his best – which was a lot of the time – Duryea could project, as Peros puts it, a “patented blend of menace, sleaze, confidence and superficial charm” more effectively than almost any other actor on the screen. The “superficial charm” was a crucial element, making us believe – as in Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street (1945), one of Duryea’s best films – he

JAZZ AS VISUAL LANGUAGE Film, Television and the Dissonant Image By Nicolas Pillai, I.B. Tauris, 192pp, £64, ISBN 9781784533441 Reviewed by Ehsan Khoshbakht

Developing alongside cinema in the 20th century, recorded jazz, like film, epitomised art in the age of mechanical reproduction. The two artforms complemented each other too. “Jazz was never just a music,” Nicolas Pillai claims in Jazz as Visual Language, “live performance promised spectacle.” In this regard, cinema helped us to better understand jazz; to see Thelonious Monk playing, for instance, the gestures made with his elbows and feet, is a fundamental part of the jazz experience. Jazz has seen its own period of auteur theory – Duke Ellington being its Orson Welles, Lester Young its Jean Renoir and bebop its nouvelle vague. Some recent studies, however, are shifting the emphasis away from such personalities. A camera might be considered as essential a performative element as a saxophonist. There still seems to be little agreement on what jazz means, let alone a clear definition of jazz film. Pillai’s study provides possible answers, debunking some myths before introducing new concepts, to elaborate on the impact that film technology had on the perception of jazz. Pillai describes the “dissonant image” that resulted from the tension between the two; 106 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

‘Menace, sleaze and superficial charm’: Dan Duryea with Joan Bennett in Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street

could viciously beat and abuse a woman and still count on her devotion. Roles of this kind, it seems, were a deliberate choice on his part from the outset. Interviewed in 1950 by Hedda Hopper, he told her he realised early on that “I couldn’t pass for a leading man, and I had to be different… so I chose to be the meanest s.o.b. in the movies... strictly against my mild nature, as I’m an ordinary, peace-loving husband and father.” Now and then he succumbed to a yearning to play a nice guy for a change, but it rarely worked very well: neither the critics nor the public were convinced, and Duryea resignedly went back to playing the charming heel with the crooked grin. When film roles started to dry up in the late 50s he made a successful

transition to TV; he was much in demand as a guest star in long-running series such as Rawhide and Wagon Train, and at the very end of his life appeared in nearly 60 episodes of Peyton Place. What Peros’s biography lacks in raunchy revelations it makes up for in sheer thoroughness. He seems to have tracked down and watched pretty well every one of Duryea’s 60-odd movies, as well as the vast majority of his even more numerous TV appearances, and describes most of them in detail. It’s also written with admiration and affection: though the author never met Duryea (who died in 1968), he’s spoken to his surviving family, friends and colleagues, and the verdict is unanimous. This book is a tribute to a fine actor, and a thoroughly likeable man.

between a musical medium that could exist both live and through reproduction, and the cinema, experienced only through recording. Pillai’s analysis is dedicated to three non-narrative works, starting with the abstract animation A Colour Box (Len Lye, 1935) before turning to the avant-garde documentary Jammin’ the Blues (Gjon Mili, 1944), a remarkable reiteration of the ‘jazz after hours’ myth. The chapter on BBC2’s Jazz 625 (1964-66) is recommended not only as a comprehensive study of the seldom

explored area of jazz television, but for its specific focus on the classic series. Its title alluding to the new 625-line technology in broadcasting, providing higher image quality, Jazz 625 captured the excitement of the newly launched BBC2 and showcased the cream of American and British musicians. Describing the eclectic style of the series, each episode shaped by the music featured and the different teams behind the camera, Pillai asks us to reconsider the notion of jazz on screen as simply a recorded performance, instead emphasising a “mutually transformative” collective authorship. Pillai hits a couple of wrong notes. He writes that Jazz 625 was achieved with the help of mobile 35mm cameras, but the programmes were in fact recorded with TV cameras and only telerecorded to 35mm for preservation and sale purposes – with 35mm, the ‘live’ editing and the ‘halo effect’ mentioned couldn’t have materialised. Reference is also made to an audiovisual format distinct from cinema: Jammin’ the Blues is seen as part of the ‘Soundie’ cycle, which could be more accurately described as an early form of on-demand music videos rather than as films. Pillai’s examination of the ways in which jazz and film can be usefully compared and linked is especially welcome following the revival of a number of notable jazz films in the past two years – documentary, fiction and archival restorations. Yet the connections remain to be fully explored, to uncover how jazz’s “calculated imprecision” and unbounded freedom, its sound of surprise, has given birth to equally surprising visions.

There is still little agreement on what jazz means, let alone a clear definition of jazz film. Pillai’s study provides possible answers

Tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet

GETTY IMAGES (1)/ALAMY (1)

BOOKS

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Sue Thornham’s study explores issues in feminist filmmaking through an examination of a wide range of films by female filmmakers. The book ranges from the avant garde to mainstream Hollywood, and from the 1970s to the present day; the directors discussed include Sally Potter, Jane Campion, Julie Dash, Patricia Rozema and Lynne Ramsay. bit.ly/2jJKHv1

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Julie Christie’s prickly relationship with stardom is legendary. This fascinating text provides a comprehensive account of Christie’s career, from her emergence in the 1960s to the present day. It moves from analysing her star persona, to exploring her performance and her politics, and in doing so raises important questions for the film industry. bit.ly/2jJOZm2

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September 2012| Sight&Sound | 107


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LETTER OF THE MONTH THE RUFFIAN IN ASTAIRE

DO THE MATH

David Lane (Letters, S&S, February) is wrong to champion Ted Chiang’s short story over the film version of Arrival. Science fiction writers often favour science over fiction, and Chiang’s original is a schematic piece, structured like an equation. It is repetitive and to the layman periodically incomprehensible, filled with graphs and algebraic explication. Hollywood did what it sometimes does best, humanising the tale, sharpening it and giving it clarity without sacrificing the chamber-piece aesthetics. It’s a tricky act to pull off in SF, as Interstellar proved. When critics ask why more SF classics aren’t filmed, the answer is that they don’t have a director who knows what to leave out. Christopher Fowler London THAT FIGURES

Robert Hanks, reviewing the Blu-ray of Ken Russell’s film based on D.H. Lawrence’s novel Women in Love (Home Cinema, S&S, February), says that “Rupert Birkin’s rude anatomising of a fig” is “entirely Russell’s own invention”. The words so lovingly delivered by Alan Bates are actually taken from Lawrence’s poem ‘Figs’, published in Birds, Beasts and Flowers in 1923. Bob Pegg Scotland SILENT WITNESS

In response to Geoff Brown’s report from Pordenone’s silent film festival (Primal Screen, S&S, December 2016), I’d like to add a few comments on the Polish films. Ryszard Ordynski’s Janko the Musician might have got reviews, in 1930, marvelling at hearing songs at the right time, but it was not made with synchronised sound – the dialogue was intertitled, the sound on disc. Surely what prompted Brown to describe it as “superbly eloquent in its silent version” was the music we heard (the original discs are lost), wonderfully evocative in the way it pulled into and out of the syuzhet. Maybe it was the projection – at 18 fps, rather than the expected 22 (stretching the film nearly half an hour longer than billed) – that elicited such transformative music from Günter Buchwald, Frank Bockius and Romano Tedesco. I agree that Ordynski’s Pan Tadeusz (1928) was “partly impenetrable”, but disagree that it was “worthy”. Pan Tadeusz had been pointedly omitted from the Polish film archive panel’s list of recommendations. Introducing it at Pordenone, Krzyzstof Zanussi noted that Adam Mickiewicz’s poem is central to the Polish curriculum – but told us to watch the 1999 version by Andrzej Wajda! I can only hope that Wajda explains better how Lithuanian place names are cause for Poles to join Napoleon in arms. What finally, for me, made the film problematic was the romanticised going-off to war at the end to a bucolic polonaise. I managed to catch Krzyzstof Zanussi in London later and asked him what he now thought of Ordynski’s Tadeusz. “Kitschy.” He didn’t buy my idea that Wajda’s closing polonaise in Ashes and Diamonds leant against a cinéma de papa.

When Dan Callahan declares of Gene Kelly, “There was a little bit of the gangster about him sometimes” (‘Motion slickness’, S&S, January), he’s echoing the sentiments of James Cagney – about Fred Astaire. As Ginger’s partner recalled in his 1959 autobiography Steps in Time, even though Cagney had sent him admiring telegrams, Astaire was nervous when Cagney showed up to observe the filming of the famous title number of Top Hat (1935) in which the dancer mows down a line of chorus boys with

his cane while his taps simulate a machine gun. Astaire typically insisted on multiple retakes, but Cagney urged him to quit after the second take: “Don’t shoot it again, kid – you’ll never top that one.” “Next morning when I saw the rushes,” recalled Astaire, “Jimmy was right, that second take was the one.” Astaire also records that, on another occasion, Cagney told him, “You know, you so-and-so, you’ve got a little bit of the hoodlum in you.” Preston Neal Jones Hollywood, California

Wajda has since died: even now, I trust, the BFI is busy planning a full retrospective of his films, including the unreachable Pan Tadeusz. Hopefully, a Polish expert will introduce it, and explain how we (or at least I) have got it all wrong. Roger Macy London

walk away. There is a recent precedent. Katharine Whitehorn pointed out acidly years ago that it is alleged that when the queen is criticised, she can’t answer back, when, in fact, of course she could. But why would she bother? Adele Paul London

ROYAL PAIN

Additions and corrections

Why, in the Peter Morgan piece (‘Drama queen’, S&S, December 2016), is the royal family described as “trapped in a kind of hellish predicament”, “with no choice in the matter”? They can always

February p.75 Gold, Certificate 15, 120m 38s – in the review credits we listed Matthew McConaughey’s character as Danny Wells. He is, in fact, called Kenny Wells; p.77 Irreplaceable, Certificate 12A, 102m 42s January p.90 Reset, Certificate PG, 109m 45s; p.77 Endless Poetry, Certificate 15, 128m 25s December p. 84 Paterson: Film Extracts: Island of Lost Souls (1932) March 2017 | Sight&Sound | 111


ENDINGS…

THE CROWD

For the finale, King Vidor sent in the clowns to complete his protagonist’s humiliation, and to dissolve it in laughter By Pamela Hutchinson

The Crowd (1928) may have been King Vidor’s most personal film. As late as 1980, he told an interviewer that this relatively early work, a project he returned to with proposed remakes and updates, was “very definitely of myself”. Yet the direction of The Crowd, which evolved from Vidor’s own short story, was not always assured. Vidor was still amending and improvising while on location, which led to MGM production head Irving Thalberg receiving fretful telegrams: “VIDOR UNCERTAIN WHAT TO SHOOT STOP CANNOT GET DEFINITE DECISION FROM HIM …” As to the ending, there were several. Vidor and MGM havered over seven drafted conclusions, shot at least three and in the event offered a choice of two – one happy, one unhappy – to exhibitors. There was only one request for the former, in which the downtrodden hero has become rich, and celebrates Christmas with his once hostile, now proud in-laws. The unhappy ending proved more popular, but rather than merely downbeat, it is almost obscenely disconcerting: folding tears of grief and estrangement into silent laughter, as the troubles of the Sims family are not swept away but only drowned out by the noise of the crowd. John Sims, a young American dreamer, was born on the fourth of July to a quaintly optimistic father: “There’s a little man the world is going 112 | Sight&Sound | March 2017

to hear from.” Any American-born child can grow up to be president, after all. John (played by former extra James Murray) grows up, and doesn’t become president. He moves to New York and gets a boring job, a miserable wife (Eleanor Boardman, wife of Vidor) and vicious in-laws. The couple have two children, but when the younger dies in a terrible accident, John soon loses his job and his marriage collapses. He’s alone, and reduced to a humiliating job as a juggling street clown, carrying a sandwich board on the Manhattan streets. But John still has one card in his hand – tickets to a vaudeville show, and even though she’s about to walk out the door, his wife can see it would be a shame to waste them. So the film ends with John, his wife, their son and his best friend guffawing at clowns taking a kicking, as the camera travels past them to show that they’re surrounded by fools just like them, yucking it up over other people’s suffering. Surrounded by reminders of his own mortification, John continues to chortle. The clowns on stage reflect his demeaning job, one he once ridiculed: “The poor sap! And I bet his father thought he would be president!” In the programme, there’s his terrible advertising slogan – his pathetic attempt to strike it rich, which was followed swiftly by the death of his daughter in the city’s relentless traffic. And next to the slogan, a pitiable sap of a juggling clown.

MGM offered a choice of endings – one happy, one unhappy – to exhibitors. There was only one request for the former

The camera movement recalls another swoop in the film, designed to make people smaller and the city bigger – the slow track up a seemingly summitless skyscraper, and then through a window to fly over a grid of identical desks, manned by identical clerks, one of them John. Billy Wilder famously appropriated the second half of this shot for The Apartment (1960). In Bicycle Thieves (1948), another film inspired by The Crowd, Vittorio De Sica achieves a similar feeling of vertigo tracking up a pawnbroker’s shelves of linen. In the final scene, though, the camera pulls back and down, an unsettling movement. John no longer reaches upward either. He is ‘one of the mob’ (the film’s working title) that surrounds him, and the mob that faces him, our mob, in the cinema. Once, John wanted to beat the crowd, and now he joins them. An earlier intertitle has cautioned (although Vidor disowned authorship of the line), “The crowd laughs with you always… but it will cry with you only for a day”: humour will bring you more friends than sorrow. In between giggles, even his wife seems to forgive him. John unconsciously accepts that his struggle is over, and now his dreams are humbler, but easier to win – he just wants to be like everybody else. We’ve spent an hour or so absorbing John’s personal drama only to forget him – after all, everyone in the audience has their own worries. Even if we don’t feel bad about dismissing John’s sad history from our mind, this cruel ending recalls our callousness, back at the beginning of the picture. We laughed when his father said he would be president, but look who’s laughing now.


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