Vérité February 2014

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ISSUE #11

V é r i t é FEBRUARY 2014 EDITION

FILM CRITICISM & CINEMATIC DISCUSSION

STRANGER BY THE LAKE Waters Run Deep in Guiraudie’s Transgressive Tale

also...

Marketing Gay Cinema / Ozsploitation / Jim Jarmusch / Wings / reviews / and more...


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Editor’s Letter

W

elcome to February’s issue. When we saw Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger By the Lake at the Cannes Film Festival last year, we knew this taut slow-burner was something truly special. Ten months later, following a hugely successful festival circuit run, it arrives on our shores courtesy of niche distributor Peccadillo Pictures. We’re delighted to present this riveting work as our cover feature, with an in-depth look at the film’s wide-ranging influences and unique sensibility from Kelsey Eichhorn on page 8 and an interview with Pecca chief Tom Abell, who talks to us about the challenges of releasing gay and lesbian themed cinema. Darkness on the edge of town is a preoccupation of Jim Jarmusch’s chilly, cerebral vampire fable Only Lovers Left Alive. Rob Makin looks back at the career of one of American Indie cinema’s true eccentrics (page 19). Geographical danger of a different kind is exemplified by the outstanding 1971 Australian cult classic Wake In Fright – which is fully restored and out

on limited release this March. Evrim Ersoy places this vital and controversial work within the context of ’Ozpolitation’ cinema on page 24. The producer of Only Lovers Left Alive is Jeremy Thomas, a man who knows a thing or two about bringing the best out of some of cinema’s more individual talents. Stuart Barr sits down with Thomas for an extended chat and retrospective look back at a remarkable career. You can read more about their encounter on page 42. Meanwhile, in the regular strands, Ben Nicholson gets his Wings in this month’s Masters Of Cinema, Clarisse Loughry puts Marie Antoinette In The Frame and Shelagh Rowan-Legg adds to the on-going reassessment of Heaven’s Gate. And The Festival Agenda this month plucks out some highlights from two recent London-based Nordic film festivals. Speaking of festivals, Vérité decamps to Berlin for ten days this month, with our team bringing you all the news from the 64th Berlinale. Be sure to check out the blog for our latest updates and reviews from Feb 6-16th. Until then you can check out our five most anticipated titles on page 28.

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Thanks for reading, Jordan McGrath & David Hall

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“The end of a picture is always an end of a life.”

Sam Peckinpah

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Contents Features

Columns

Reviews

Caught in the Undertow - p8

Loneliness by Another Name - p48

The Book Thief - p60

Kelsey Eichhorn dives headfirst into the transgressive waters of Alain Guiraudie’s fantastic new film, Stranger by the Lake.

Evrim Ersoy continues his expert analysis into filmmakers we should be watching. This month’s Subject: Fruit Chan.

Her - p61 Lone Survivor - p62 The Machine - p63

The Thin White (Haired) Duke - p18

Highlighting the release of his new gothic vampire tale, Only Lovers Left Alive, Robert Makin profiles Jim Jarmusch’s impressive career.

Masters of Cinema - p52

Ben Nicholson discusses the new release from Masters of Cinema, William A. Wellman’s 1927 Clara Bow starring classic, Wings.

Nymphomaniac - p64 Only Lovers Left Alive - p65 The Past - p66

The Revolution Down Under - p24 With Wake in Fright being re-released into cinemas this month, Evrim Ersoy takes a look at the Ozploitation movement.

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The Rocket - p67 In Defence... - p56 Shelagh M Rowan-Legg takes the reigns this month as she celebrates the ambition of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate.

Stranger by the Lake - p68


Join the Conversation

@veritefilmmag

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CAUGHT IN THE UNDERTOW Kelsey Eichhorn on the deadly desire at the heart of Alain Guaraudie’s transgressive thriller Stranger by the Lake

words by Kelsey Eichhorn

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013 was quite a year for gay cinema. A number of prominent mainstream films featured homosexual lifestyles as dominant narrative cornerstones. The dark and dangerous underworld of the iconic beat poets enthralled audiences early in the year as John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings premiered at Sundance, while the highly anticipated Dallas Buyers Club was released in America late in November to growing critical acclaim. Across the pond, Abdellatif Kechiche’s searing love story Blue is the Warmest Colour garnered the coveted Palme d’Or at Festival de Cannes. Flying slightly under the radar, yet with no less acclaim, was the year’s Directing Prize winner of Un Certain Regard, Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu Du Lac). The most recent film from French director Alain Guiraudie, Stranger by the Lake has a decidedly more art-house feel than any of these other films, even its fellow French sensation Blue is the Warmest Colour, and as the first of Guiraudie’s films

to garner a US release it will be interesting to see how it plays theatrically, especially given its explicit content. Yet to pigeonhole Stranger by the Lake into the niche of ‘gay cinema’ would depreciate a complex and seductive story. While the narrative relies heavily on the distinct dynamic of the gay community in which it is set, it is simultaneously a story beyond the minutiae of gender, one that echoes the universal traditions of mythology, speaking of love and lust, danger and delusion in an over-saturated world of desire and indulgence. Alain Guiraudie has made a name for himself in French film as a distinctly independent filmmaker. An openly gay screenwriter and director who was born into a farming family in the rural Aveyron region of France, Guiraudie’s portfolio of films spans the realms of both reality and fantasy in a surreal yet subtle way, often striking an alluring balance between narrative and aesthetic influence. His self-taught style is derived from a plethora of influences, from cinema and

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elsewhere, including Sophocles, Pierre Desproges, Bertolt Brecht, Alfred Hitchcock, Éric Rohmer, Édika, and Nani Moretti, among others. Likely many cinephiles will know Guiradie from his 2001 short film That Old Dream That Moves which screened in the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes and was lauded by Jean-Luc Godard as the film of the festival. Following that critical success he released No Rest for the Brave (2003), Time Has Come (2005) and King of Escape (2009), all heavily stylised films featuring unknown actors and borrowing heavily from theatrical tropes. And while Stranger by the Lake is a clear variation from this overtly stylised aesthetic of fantasy, it is obvious the film still embraces a theatrical influence. In fact, the deeper we travel into the world of the lake, the clearer it becomes that while Guiradie’s most recent story may appear on the surface to be realistic, the deep undercurrent of the narrative tugs unrelentingly towards the world of myths and fables. It is there, in that beguiling dynamic, where the power of the film resides. Stranger by the Lake is the story of Franck, a young attractive gay man who frequents the local cruising spot along the shores of the lake every summer. On his first visit of the season, Franck strikes up an unlikely

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relationship with Henri, a newcomer whose overweight and soft physique is in sharp contrast to Franck’s boyish good looks. Although Henri claims to be straight (and, in fact, never disrobes or goes swimming and rarely engages with the other members of the clandestine lakeside community) the nature of their relationship is initially hazy. It soon becomes apparent however that while Franck enjoys Henri’s company, he only has eyes for Michel, a slightly older tanned, muscled and moustached ex-swimmer who may as well have jumped out of a 1980s gay centrefold. Alas, as is always the case in love, Michel is already taken and Franck’s flirtations are cut short by a jealous lover, and while the two retreat into the woods Franck wanders off in search of his own somewhat less-fulfilling sexual tryst. Returning to the lakeside in the shadows of dusk, Franck catches sight of the two remaining beach goers splashing flirtatiously in the water. Yet as he watches, their embrace, which appears loving, turns deadly as one man violently grabs the other round the head and shoves him under the surface, drowning him before swimming swiftly back to the shore. Crouching in the trees, Franck watches in shock as Michel emerges from the lake,


glances warily around and, seeing no one, pulls on his trainers and leaves. In a matter of seconds the object of Franck’s desire has turned from paramour to predator and the underlying tension fed thus far by the overt scenes of sexuality abruptly takes a dark turn. Yet instead of alerting the authorities, the next day sees Franck return to the beach, wary, yet inexplicably still drawn to Michel. The chemistry between the two is undeniable and they begin a fierce affair. When the body of Michel’s drowned lover eventually surfaces, the local police detective arrives to question the men. Suspicion surrounding both Franck and Michel builds to a palpable level until the final scene where passion, jealousy, rage and desire explode in a very primal and literal scene pegging predator versus prey. The film is undoubtedly part of the canon of gay cinema. It’s also a love story. And a crime thriller. And a psychological drama. It is, essentially, indefinable, and many have struggled to digest the film, acknowledging it as powerful but brushing over its brilliance with surface praise such as “haunting”, “tantalizing”, “seductive” and “fascinating”. While the film is undeniably all of these things, such categorisations fail to engage with the story

in any real depth. While Stranger is perhaps a film better suited to experience than description – there is certainly plenty there for the audience to glean on their own without turning to the word of critics – the film is far too sophisticated not to warrant closer discussion. I am hesitant to define Stranger in purely cinematic terms. While I’m an ardent defender of film as film – staunchly refusing leniency to any movie that does not fully embrace the potential of the cinematic medium – when it comes to cinematic genres I find the whole process exceptionally limiting. Much like Guiraudie’s influences span philosophers, graphic artists, filmmakers and playwrights, so too cinema should be discussed and debated utilizing the vast array of narrative influences. So, with this approach in mind, what happens if we view Guiraudie’s masterpiece through the time-worn lens of mythology? Unfolding over ten consecutive days, Stranger by the Lake is set exclusively on the shores of a secluded lake, nestled in the hills of rural France. Each day (barring the ninth day) begins with a long, static overhead shot of the gravel parking lot as Franck’s dusty old Renault pulls slowly into view. Guiraudie acknowledges the limitation

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“A story beyond the minutiae of gender, one that echoes the universal traditions of mythology, speaking of love and lust, danger and delusion in an over-saturated world of desire and indulgence.” of space and setting to one location as a very calculated decision, explaining, “It’s a dramatic process that comes a long way, much like a Greek tragedy that maintains all the action in one same place. This prevents the action from descending into the everyday banality of which we know.” Theatrical staging, consistent repetition and especially the outdoor setting are all ear marks of the traditional narrative form found in ancient myths. The disjointed, incongruous and dream-like qualities of the narrative are furthered by the film’s careful aesthetic composition. The passage of time is marked pointedly by changes in light, capitalizing on the bright power of the midday sun, the soft seduction of twilight and the eerie weight of the gathering darkness. By manipulating his story within these physical confines, Guiraudie is able to effectively create his own world removed from the social structures and expectations of society as we know it. Men literally shed their inhibitions with their clothing as a far more instinctive and primitive social structure subverts that of the outside world. And yet everything about the beach community is highly ritualised and formal. Body language replaces conversation on many levels as glances

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and nods signal sexual interest and the roll of the voyeur becomes a fluid and generally accepted notion, with the camera the most prominent voyeur of all. Much like the myths of old, the story is trimmed back to the bare necessities such that what remains is highlighted and enhanced for narrative clarity and power. For Franck’s story to evolve to its full potential and significance it is necessary for desire to be the dominant force in his community; only then can Guiraudie successfully portray the dangerous relationship between love and death, passion and peril. The admittedly overt and graphic sexuality which may be questionable for some viewers is inherently necessary to place the audience within the community of the lake; rather than view the tale as outsiders we are enveloped in the carnal and irresistible world of lust that Franck inhabits allowing his desires and anxieties to strike a chord in our own psyche. To this end, the entire cast of characters are presented as intensified stereotypes, allegories of philosophical concepts designed to embody different emotional aspects of Franck’s experience. The relationship Franck creates with the somewhat reserved and self-conscious Henri, who sits day after


“In a matter of seconds the object of Franck’s desire has turned from paramour to predator and the underlying tension fed thus far by the overt scenes of sexuality abruptly takes a darker turn.” day, arms folded across his chest merely observing the world he inhabits, is the most honest in the film. Even so, Franck himself realises too late that the companionship he shares with Henri is what he truly craves, blinded as he is by his lust for Michel, who stalks the beach, a picture of confidence and control, the almost deified object of every man’s gaze. The archetypal lone predator, Michel consistently refuses to see Franck away from the beach, despite Franck’s repeated request to spend the night together, and can be distilled to represent pure desire and ultimately the danger of temptation and yearning. In Michel, sex and death begin to blur into the same intoxicating draw, a morbid fascination beyond human control. Much like Henri, the police detective functions as a sort of narrative foil rather than a fully-fledged character. The voice of reason hailing from the outside world beyond the lake’s microcosm society, his is a character representative of the role often occupied by conscience or morality in mythological narratives. While he represents a very real threat of formal authority, his frail frame and hunched stature speak more persuasively of his position in the lake’s community than any badge; his is a futile struggle to assert control and gather information

in a society where hierarchy is skin deep and anonymity is prized. Even the steadiness of Michel and Franck’s passionate affair hinges on the intensity of their sexual interactions rather than any real emotional connection. We never learn the motive for Michel’s murderous ways, nor is the tension of the film “resolved” in any definitive manner. The power of myths is that they never explain themselves – they don’t have to. They are the most fundamental of all stories, ideology as narrative. While Stranger by the Lake does not have the three-headed dog of the ancient Greek myths, nor the man-eating trolls of the traditional Norse tales, the heart of its story unfolds in an undeniably mythical way, as a lesson, a warning and an evocative mirror held up to our own psyche. Guiraudie accomplishes here what many storytellers – novelists, poets, screenwriters and playwrights – wait a lifetime to achieve: a story beyond rationalization. An instinctive, seductive lesson on the power of desire, Stranger by the Lake is a timeless and mystifying masterpiece proving that far from being antiquated stories which are fixed permanently in our past, the construction of myths is a continuous social practice essential to every modern society.

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“Coming Out

has been Done to Death”

Tom Abell (MD and Chairman of Peccadillo Pictures) talks to David Hall about the challenges of running one of Europe’s premier gay and lesbian distribution companies interview by David Hall

Vérité: How did Peccadillo Pictures get started? Tom Abell: We worked with (German-based distribu-

tor) Salzgeber, who specialise in LGBT film, as they were looking for a UK partner for some of their DVD projects. That and a lot of goodwill from sales agents and producers I already knew. The company essentially started as a desk in the bedroom of my flat, and officially launched in 2000 – named after the Piccadilly festival to remember two friends, Mark Finch and Tony Kirkhope, who had both passed away. The name Piccadilly Pictures was already taken, so it was an old friend Nicki Gallani who suggested Peccadillo. The logo was designed by Steve Edwards and based on an existing cat I owned called Bam Bam. She passed away in 2009 but is forever immortalised as the Peccadillo Pictures symbol.

Pecca has been going for almost fifteen years now. What have been the biggest challenges over that time? Financial challenges mainly, such as the UK riots fire which destroyed all of our DVD stock in the summer of 2011. It took a while to recover from that, as an independent distributor with no corporate investor backing. Due to that, we have more limited resources than other bigger distributors to have our films be seen by as wide an audience as possible. HMV is another big challenge – due to the company not having paid us for stock sold, and the loss of revenue following this when they were liquidated. But we have increased our sales on other platforms as a result of this. As a niche distributor, we face the challenge of fighting for space with our audiences. The fast pace of media changes can be daunting for a small company, and

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for our film-makers. The challenge of lots of content too, and there being a limited theatrical space in an already over-crowded market has been a tough one. Before, there were 3-5 films released per week. Now, its 10-15 – so we have to work harder for our films to have the same visibility.

Have you seen a noticeable change in how gay and lesbian cinema is received by audiences during that period? Yes, gay and lesbian cinema has gone two ways in this period. There is the top end, which is a much wider audience than what the original LGBT niche used to reach. Then there’s the bottom end, which is the straight to DVD market that includes quite fluffy, almost softcore porn material. Generally, today, the subject matter is much more sophisticated, which is what Peccadillo looks for. With new ideas and new approaches to film-making and stories. The ‘coming out’ story has been done to death! If we were to take a film on with this at its core, it would be have to very special and a different take. One of the biggest changes we noticed was after we released British LGBT independent film Weekend, which found an audience way outside of a gay audience, garnering nationwide acclaim and adoration from the critics. Everything changed after that film, with exhibitors and our

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competitors taking more notice of LGBT film and its place in the UK film market.

Stranger By The Lake was an instant festival hit, and has already garnered very strong reviews. What was it about this extraordinary film that really caught your eye? The film had such a fresh approach, the construction of it; the way it plays with multiple genres – it had a great originality. I had been a fan of Alain Guiraudie for many years and this was the first time, after Cannes, I could really see his film being commercial. He has a unique sense of humour which is played out beautifully in the film. Out of all of the films we are releasing in 2014, it can definitely be described as a landmark in cinema. It was one I could really see a wide range of audiences seeing, alongside the gay niche.

How do you feel about the diversification of distribution in the digital era? Does the multitude of different release platforms help Pecca reach a wider audience? It’s getting there… I feel very enthusiastic about the range of digital platforms, and optimistic about it. Up until recently, the transition of audiences has been a slow


Weekend

North Sea Texas

one, but now, our digital online sales are increasing exponentially. The big challenge for the new release platforms are windows. If we’re willing to make these platforms work well, we need to have the ability to play with windows. Having a shorter window between theatrical and VOD could actually help the theatrical as well as making the film available to the widest audience at the point of highest publicity and marketing buzz. Because we can’t put the films out in all cinemas and multiplexes, not all of our audience can’t get to the cinema to see our films when they’re released. This in turn can lead to people downloading the film illegally as that’s the only way they will be able to access our releases at the time of the theatrical. I personally think that if there is a legal alternative out there, people will choose this over the illegal option.

What are your feelings about the future of independent cinema, particularly stories told form a gay and lesbian perspective? I think we will continue to find great films and great LGBT stories, and great non-LGBT independent films. There are a great deal of talented LGBT filmmakers who just need to be given a chance to create their work, and allowed to shine. Too often, the funding goes to ‘the old boys club’, and what is considered a safer option rather than supporting and developing new talent. Talent has

Wakolda

Our Children

a way of rising to the top, despite lack of interest from funding bodies, with the example of Andrew Haigh, who has now gone on to have several feature films in development and a successful HBO LGBT TV series in the US.

Which film(s) are you proudest of having acquired? Our Children (which does have a very gay angle in its undercurrent if you watch closely and peel back the layers), Weekend, Drole De Felix (first Peccadillo release), We Were Here, Before Stonewall, Taxi Zum Klo, I Want Your Love, Eyes Wide Open, Cockles & Muscles, Beauty, North Sea Texas, Tomboy, XXY, Wakolda, The Golden Dream, Stranger By The Lake, The King Of Escape (Alain Guiraudie’s feature before SBTL), and of course, what we have achieved with our short films collections, Boys On Film (currently the world’s most successful short film series) and the soon to be launched Girls On Film. Sorry, I realise this is a very long list!).

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Stranger by the Lake hits cinemas on February 21st and VoD on March 7th. For any more information on the film, or Peccadillo Pictures as a company, head over to their website: www.peccapics.com

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THE THIN WHITE (HAIRED) DUKE With his Goth Vampire fable Only Lovers Left Alive about to open, we look at the life and times of 80s US cinema’s great survivor/outsider Jim Jarmusch

I

words by Robert Makin

t was during the summer of 1990 that BBC2, one late Sunday night, decided to broadcast Down by Law (1986) as part of the third series of Moviedrome, the now legendary cult movie season hosted by director Alex Cox between 1987-1994. I was sixteen and it was the first Jarmusch film I ever sat through. Although I was aware of the film’s existence, I’d always avoided it. This was mostly due to the trailer that kept popping up on various video rentals. It looked so strange, grimy, and underground, and kept reminding me of the time I accidentally came across Eraserhead (1977) on Channel 4 one terrifying Friday night during the mid-eighties. I didn’t know much, but I was cinematically aware enough to know that what I was watching that Sunday

night was something often referred to as an Art Movie, which meant that this story could go anywhere, usually somewhere bad and incredibly bleak, or could just end abruptly with no explanation whatsoever. These assumptions only added to the viewing experience. Not only was it an Art Movie it was a Cult Movie, which meant conventional rules did not apply and anything (or nothing) could happen in the next ninety minutes. What surprised me most about Down by Law was how funny it was, and how that oddball humour counterbalanced an atmosphere of impending doom and melancholy. It also felt incredibly surreal, without anything particularly surreal taking place. The strange music performed by stars John Lurie and Tom Waits, the otherworldly Louisiana locations, the stunning monochrome

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Only Lovers Left Alive

cinematography created by the legendary Robby Muller, the offbeat verbal exchanges that didn’t seem to serve the plot in any way whatsoever, and the incredibly languid pace made for a strange and beguiling experience. None of the actors looked like normal actors and none of the film felt like a normal film. Watching nothing happen had never been so compelling, and I liked it. During his introduction of the film, Alex Cox remarked: “All of Jim Jarmusch’s films are sort of the same, which is not meant as an insult, since they’re completely unlike anybody else’s. He’s probably the most original director working in the United States.” Does this statement still hold true? Renowned for being a true advocate of independent cinema, his independence goes far beyond mere funding, with a constantly unique approach to filmmaking and narrative that he has managed to sustain from the very beginnings of his career. Some critics may dismiss some of his later work as being frustratingly esoteric, self-indulgent, pretentious, and often a case of style over content, but you could never accuse him of being predictable. One thing Jim Jarmusch has never been is obvious. Permanent Vacation (1980) isn’t the most dazzling

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debut for such a seminal director, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable. Its sparse seventy-four minutes now form a condensed profile of his obsessions, concerns and trademark stylistic traits that would be more articulately expressed in his future canon of work to the point it almost feels like a mission statement. His commitment to avoiding obvious landmarks, capturing a different side of a location that’s rarely portrayed on film, and giving an overly familiar terrain an otherworldly feel is immediately established within the first few minutes. Slowed down footage of a bustling New York is juxtaposed by static shots of empty, desolate and decaying urban spaces filled with boarded up windows, broken glass, dirty alleyways and rubble, with no signs of human life. The young and somewhat anachronistic protagonist, a moody outcast played by Chris Parker, slowly wanders from one sporadic encounter to another, not sure what he’s looking for but hoping it’s more than he already has. It’s a world populated by random vignettes and modern exiles searching for a story to be part of. The deadpan humour makes an appearance when Parker decides to bust a move to an Earl Bostic 45 in front of his unimpressed


Stranger than Paradise

Permanent Vacation

girlfriend in a purposely-overlong dance sequence. The self-referential moment consists of a poster for the 1960 film The Savage Innocents, a movie directed by Nicholas Ray. Jarmusch was Ray’s teaching assistant during his time at NYU. Other cultural references include Ennio Morricone, The Angels song My Boyfriend’s Back, and French author Leautréamont. There’s even a travelling European ready to experience America, arriving at the same moment that Parker is ready to leave. Permanent Vacation has all the flaws of an average student film. But it also has all the elements that would be refined for the film that put Jarmusch on the map. Stranger Than Paradise was released in 1984, the same year as top grossing box office blockbusters Ghostbusters and Beverly Hills Cop. So it’s no wonder it still feels as if it’s been beamed in from a parallel 80s, with its stark black and white photography, minimal plot and meditative pace. It feels like it is taking place within the shell of a film noir, where all the killers, cops and gumshoes have disappeared leaving empty spaces and a deluge of time that no one knows how to fill. Stranger Than Paradise originally began life as a short

(which remains the first act) that was later expanded into a feature. According to movie lore the original short was made possible by Wim Wenders donating leftover film from The State of Things (1982), his semi-autobiographical tale concerning a film crew who are left stranded in Portugal having run out of film stock. Jarmusch was determined to make something distinctly different, an extraordinary way of celebrating the poetry in ordinariness. First of all he refused to cast trained actors and instead gave the parts to musicians; John Lurie of The Lounge Lizards, Richard Edson of Konk and Sonic Youth’s original drummer, and Eszter Balint, a young violinist and songwriter from avant-garde Hungarian theatre group Squat Theatre. He then filmed every scene in one take with semi-improvised dialogue and shot it with a predominately static camera, with each scene punctuated by a blank screen. Right from the very first moment he irreverently defies cinematic protocol with a complete disregard for dramatic incident. When we are introduced to Eva (Balint), who has just arrived in America from Hungary to stay with her cousin Willie (Lurie), there is no shot of her sitting in

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a plane reading an in-flight magazine then looking out the window, or a montage involving passport control and the luggage carousel. All we are shown is a young woman standing next to a suitcase on what looks like a mound of wasteland, starring out onto an airstrip, as the overpowering drone of an airplane turbine drowns out the world. What else do you need to know? Downtown hipster Willie is initially hostile towards Eva’s presence, adamant that having a relative stay in his squalid apartment is not only a burden but detrimental to his cherished lifestyle of TV dinners, trips to the cinema and hustling card games with his best friend Eddie, comically oblivious to the notion that the disruption to his “lifestyle” is actually giving him a life. When Eva and Willie eventually warm to each and find common ground it’s their sudden impulse to reunite that literally separates them as they’re both inadvertently planted on different corners of the globe. Jarmusch’s creative instincts paid off and Stranger Than Paradise remains one of the most original and influential films to come out of the eighties, proving that low-key, experimental, avant-garde underground cinema doesn’t necessarily have to be bereft of humour. It’s also one of the only American films to reflect a cinematically neglected tier of blue-collar life without becoming a sanctimonious morality play. Willie and Eddie no doubt perceive themselves as outlaw hustlers, although their moneymaking schemes are somewhat slight (betting on horse races and cheating on card games). It’s not the law and incarceration they’re running from, it’s the fear of full-time employment. Jarmusch’s warping of genre conventions begins with Down by Law, a visually immersive, timeless, absurdist fable of enchanted grit, and the only prison escape movie where the intricacies of the escape are neither meticulously planned nor seen. It’s all about the interactions between the characters, Zack the DJ (Tom Waits), Jack the pimp ( John Lurie), and Roberto the fish-out-of-water tourist (Roberto Benigni), inarticulately attempting to survive as they wade through a sad and beautiful world. One of the last scenes, in which Roberto passionately dances with his newfound love in front of Jack and Zack, begins as something socially awkward and embarrassing and then slowly evolves into something far more poignant and life affirming. It’s as poetic as you could possibly ask cinema to be. Jarmusch would end the 80s with the endearing Mystery Train (1989), which consists of three tales that take

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place during one night in a rundown Memphis hotel, all loosely linked by the legacy of Elvis and revolving around the advent of a mysterious gunshot. The film’s triptych uses an overlapping narrative technique associated more with literature than film, later appropriated by a generation of less subtle directors with more mainstream aspirations. It’s a film completely enamoured with the lyrical magic of nocturnal transience and chance meetings, some that have a prevailing significance over one’s life and some that don’t. His follow-up, Night on Earth (1991), does share certain themes and has a similar to feel to his previous film, but the accusations of Jarmusch lazily treading familiar ground are unjust and misguided. It is another anthology, this time taking place during five taxi journeys across five different cities, but its scope is wider, its tones are far more shifting, and I always felt it had far more in common with the stories of Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolf and Paul Auster than the subdued weirdness of Mystery Train. His next full-length excursion into chatty vignettes wouldn’t be until 2003 with the enjoyably uneven Coffee and Cigaretters, a collection of short films he’d been making in between takes since 1986. No one could accuse him of being repetitive when it came to the release of Dead Man in 1991, a film that left a lot of people scratching their heads, mainly fans of Johnny Depp. It’s certainly one of Depp’s finest performances before he succumbed to the unhinged joys of silly voices and face paint. It’s also one of the most enigmatic and original Westerns ever created, along with being one of Jarmusch’s greatest cinematic achievements. A cryptic and genuinely surreal metaphysical adventure, rife with quotable humour that proves far more rewarding the second time around. What initially may seem just plain bloody weird, on second viewing often reveals itself to be steeped in cultural, philosophical and humanistic substance. As much as I’d like to think that Down by Law could be his classic masterpiece, the incomparable experience of Dead Man is a just cause for re-evaluation. Subsequent to the release of Dead Man, Jarmusch would take the progressive creative objective of derailing genre constrictions, character archetypes and audience expectations even further. The excellent and absorbing Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) stars Forrest Whitaker as a Bushido-obsessed, Hagakure-quoting assassin taking down an aging and inept Mafia. Broken Flowers (2005) sees a reluctantly reflective Bill Murray as a middle-aged ladies man searching for a son who may


not exist in a mystery where the mystery is never solved. The Limits of Control (2009) has a Zen hit man (Isaach De Bankolé) fighting the cause for culture, in an action film where all the action has been removed. Which leads us to Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), a horror film without any horror, apart from the fact that the two lead characters (played by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston) just happen to be vampires. His most romantic film to-date follows the relationship between vampire lovers Adam and Eve, immortals trapped in a disposable age, searching for anything equally lasting in a world slowly turning to shit. It turns out the only things that really last are their acceptance and love for each other, and authentic creative endeavours. Although they’re fully prepared to feed off the young and pass on their curse when things gets desperate and too unbearable. Like all Jim Jarmusch’s films, Only Lovers Left Alive is about connections, a theme so prevalent in his work that all of his films are connected in some way. Using visual and auditory motifs, or the re-appearance of certain actors and characters, every new film he makes has at least one reference to his previous work, with the obvious

exception of his debut which contains the previously mentioned reference to his life before becoming a filmmaker. But the images that linger in my mind the most are those final scenes. Chris Parker on a boat heading to France watching New York shrinking in the distance, Willie the hustler dashing to catch a plane as Eva enters an empty room, Zack and Jack walking down two dusty roads in opposite directions, a train leaving Memphis, a severely drunk, recently unemployed Finnish man sitting sprawled on a snowy roadside, William Blake floating off into the unknown, a child sits on a kitchen floor contemplating the book given to her by a man she’s just seen killed, Bill Murray’s Don Johnston stood in the middle of the crossroads, baffled and unsure which route to take, a hired hit man with a new identity walks out of a terminal and into blinding light, a young affectionate couple who are about to have their lives completely altered. They are all moments that capture life in transit, that strange place of uncertainty between recent events seeping into your memory and expectations of what might lie ahead, always moving forward, never looking back.

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THE REVOLUTION DOWN UNDER Evrim Ersoy on the mad, bad and dangerous world of Ozploitation

words by Evrim Ersoy

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he 1970s were volatile times – the progressive revolution of the Swinging Sixties led to further changes in society, with social movements gaining more ground and a wind of change sweeping across the lives of people. The influence of the counter-culture began to bleed into the mainstream faster and faster, with New Hollywood mavericks of the 60s gaining more power and the studios catering more to the tastes of the youth. The economic slump Hollywood faced at the beginning of the decade, coupled with the decline in attendance at the drive-ins as well as the newly repurposed theatres in cities like New York, led to the theatre owners looking to book lurid, taboo titles which would draw in the crowds. In the 1940s these had been cautionary films with sometimes tacked-on explicit segments at the end. However the audiences had grown more sophisticated – it was no

longer enough to screen ‘Mom and Dad’ with an extra reel of an actual birth. Now the product had to promise AND deliver more. Enter exploitation films. Covering almost any topic – from bikers to cannibals, Blaxploitation to chop-socky, these grimy, low-budget marvels blossomed in a way no one could have foreseen. Once America tasted their blood, there was no stopping the demand. However the US was not the only place where a taboo revolution was quietly happening. On the other side of the world Australia was about to create its very own niche. The 1960s had seen Australian film production reach a low-point – only a handful of films had been made in the latter half of the decade. The government initiated several forms of support, including large tax cuts, which attracted plenty of investment. The arrival of this influx of money also coincided with

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the introduction of the ‘R’ rating, meaning audiences members had to be over the age of 18 – creating a new gap within the market which resourceful producers and filmmakers were eager to fill. This newfound liberation alongside investment also meant that the filmmakers could start to make films specifically targeted at the local market – the arrival of ‘Stork’ in 1971 and ‘The Adventures of Barry Mckenzie’ in 1972, with plot-lines closely linked to the ‘ocker’ culture meant that Australians were finally able to see their own everyday culture and stories on the screen. Soon, almost every sub-genre was represented within Australian exploitation cinema: from biker flicks (Stone), westerns (Mad Dog Morgan, Ned Kelly), post-apocalyptic action (Mad Max), martial arts (The Man From Hong Kong), period romp (The True Story Of Eskimo Nell), horror (Patrick, Long Weekend) and even survival films specifically focused on the outback (Wake in Fright, Walkabout, Razorback and Fair Game). This month sees the re-release of Wake In Fright in UK cinemas, one of the most controversial titles in Australian exploitation cinema due to its scenes of excessive

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violence towards animals as well as being a brutal indictment of masculinity in the Outback. Directed by Ted Kotcheff, Wake in Fright tells the story of John Grant – a middle-class teacher from Sydney who is stuck in a tiny Outback town paying for the financial bond he signed with the Government in return for education. The film opens at the beginning of the school holidays, with John preparing to visit his girlfriend in Sydney. Before he can get to his flight however, he must spend the evening at Bundanyabba – a remote mining town. What Grant doesn’t know is that the evening will turn into the darkest exploration of his soul and of Australia. Surrounded on all sides by forceful strangers who strongarm him into accepting their kindness and charity, Grant gets embroiled in a nightmare of gambling, alcohol, sex and violence. His descent into madness, the stripping away of all his middle-class pretensions, his resurgence as a base creature make up the bulk of the narrative with the audience taken on a brutal but unforgettable journey. The film features a uniformly brilliant cast. Gary Bond plays John Grant as a priggish middle-class man who


looks down on what he thinks are primitive people without ever seeing the darkness within his own soul. Chipps Rafferty – one of Australia’s best known actors is seen in his very last role as Jock, the friendly lawman, while Donald Pleasance as Doc Tydon delivers a tour-de-force, perhaps the best of his career: a has-been alcoholic doctor whose friendly façade hides animal lust and brutality which threaten to engulf anyone around him. Wake in Fright was based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Kenneth Cook and its release was surrounded by controversy. First screened in Cannes in 1971, Ted Kotcheff found himself nominated for a Golden Palm award – it was also here where luminaries like Martin Scorsese first fell in love with the film. However despite the critical and professional support, the film suffered poor domestic box-office upon its release. Australian audiences were not best pleased with their onscreen representation. In addition, the scenes of animal hunting displayed in the film were cut in many territories. By the end of its release Wake in Fright disappeared without a trace, later being released on home video in the US in a heavily cut version.

Until recently the only known print of the film was considered insufficient for release – however the discovery of a better-preserved print in the US led to an effort to restore this unjustly maligned title to its deserved place. The re-release of the film also highlighted the significant change in attitude by Australian audiences – whereas audiences of the 70s had found the film offensive in its portrayal of the people of the Outback, modern audiences could see no similarities between themselves and the brutish, brusque people in the film. Within just a couple of generations, Australia had tamed its Outback further and was now able to look back without prejudice. Wake in Fright represents the very best of what Ozploitation can offer – insight into one of the most mysterious and unexplored parts of the world shot through with style and great technical ability. If anything, its re-release should prompt audiences to further seek out examples of this great and once-forgotten genre of cinema.

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Vérité’s Top 5 Most Anticipated Berlinale 2014

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5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) With a ubiquitous, immediately recognisable style that has bagged him commercial assignments for high-end companies, and inspired a wickedly funny and accurate Saturday Night Live spoof (‘The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders’), Anderson is now firmly in a groove that inspires devotion and irritation in equal measure. Grand Budapest looks like more of the same – the director back in mentor/apprentice mode of Rushmore – with a fast and furious trailer featuring an all-star cast of Anderson regulars and Ralph Fiennes in dastardly moustache-twirling form; indicating a return to straight comedy after Moonrise Kingdom’s deft blend of sweetness, melancholy and twee. That film was perhaps (Royal Tenenbaums aside) his warmest and most humane to date and it will be interesting to see if Budapest opts for straight farce as the trailer suggests. Knowing this director some inevitable sadness will creep into the mix – let’s hope its more Tenenbaums sweet and sour than forced Zissou style wackiness. David Hall

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4. Cesar Chavez (2014) Actor Diego Luna makes his second foray first foray into directing with this biopic of American labor leader César Chávez, who cofounded the United Farm Workers. The film stars Michael Peña as Chávez and John Malkovich as Chavez’ industrialist opposition figure Rosario Dawson plays Dolores Huerta who started the union with Chávez. Real-life biopics are notoriously tricky too pull off but this one sounds interesting, and could go either way. There are many things in the films’ favour – not least the casting of Peña as Chavez (he was great in End Of Watch) but cinematic political history lessons have an extremely chequered cinematic history and the fact that this is Luna’s English-language debut raises concerns. That said, Peña can be a strong screen presence and hopefully Luna will bring some of the freaky energy he has as an actor to helming duties. The film’s high profile backers – including Malkovich and Gael Garcia Bernal clearly think so. We are (cautiously) optimistic. Also: Rosario Dawson. David Hall

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3. Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014) A big presence from the Chinese at Belin this year – three diverse films catching the eye immediately. Ning Hao’s action-packed western No Man’s Land, Lou Ye’s melodrama Blind Massage and Diao Yinan’s crime thriller Black Coal, Thin Ice. No Man’s Land has been a huge hit since opening in China recently, but it is Diao’s film we are most looking forward to. From the director of Uniform and Night Train, the movie features mainland Chinese actor Liao Fan and Taiwanese actress Gwei Lunmei and is apparently “the story of a of a former detective who falls in love during a murder investigation with a woman who is linked to the victims.” The film will receive its world premiere in competition at the Berlinale Palast and sounds like a stylish and unique take on the crime genre. We are officially excited. David Hall

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2. Boyhood (2014) Linklater’s new film, rapturously received at Sundance, has been shot over 12 years, and tells the story of a parent/child relationship that follows the young Mason from childhood to college. This conceit is not entirely new of course; the 1964 TV documentary series ‘Up’ returns to the lives of its protagonists – fourteen British children – every seven years and Michael Winterbottom’s recent snooze fest Everyday tried something similar over a shorter timeframe. The director himself has form in exploring the changing fortunes of a relationship over time in his masterful Before trilogy, but this promises to be something unique. Lead actor Ethan Hawke has spoken recently of the excitement of the ‘twelve year project’ and audiences at Berlin will get to see what all the fuss is about. Patricia Arquette and Hawke are the parents, newcomer Ellar Coltrane is the one we follow from childhood to adulthood. David Hall

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1. Snowpiercer (2014) The mouth-watering combo of director Bong Joon Ho and producer Chan Wook Park has – rightly – had genre fans salivating at the prospect of this epic sounding SF (based on a French graphic novel). Bong’s English language debut it features a fascinatingly odd cast including Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Ewen Bremner, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris and is set in a future where practically all life on earth has been destroyed and the only remaining survivors alive are on the snowpiercer – a huge train that traverses the ravaged planet. Incredibly positive word of mouth about the full version has been tempered with the news that many western audiences may well only see (theatrically at least) an eviscerated Weinstein approved cut excising some twenty minutes – causing dismay amongst fans and vocal support for the director from the film’s cast and crew. Berliners will see the full vision regardless and we cannot wait. David Hall

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T H FESTIVAL G E D N D A words by Kelsey Eichhorn

espite their beautiful, sun-kissed summers, there seems to be a generally accepted association between the Nordic countries and the winter season. Not surprising therefore that this recent Autumn/Winter saw not one but two Nordic festivals hit the London scene. Newcomer Ja Ja Ja Festival screened an array of music-themed documentaries to complement the fantastic program of visiting Nordic musicians, while in its second year The Nordic Film Festival showcased everything from experimental to documentary to drama, along with a number of exceptional director’s talks. The following are three of the best the festivals had to offer.

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KIDD LIFE

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verything we set out to achieve, we did in six fucking months,” Nicholas Westwood Kidd declares, laughing down the lens of the camera. “It’s like everyone’s been blinded. They don’t want to open their eyes and see what’s really going on,” the 22-year-old rapper muses. In a film created entirely of candid moments, this scene in Andreas Johnsen’s documentary Kidd Life resonates as particularly illuminating. The comment is amusing, identifying a ruse that has been played on the Danish public at large, who have turned Kidd into a rap sensation virtually overnight. And yet as the film progresses, the above reflection takes on an entirely different quality. I must admit I screened this film at home, on my laptop, and I very nearly turned it off a mere 10 minutes in. The characters were boring, the language vulgar and the lifestyle abhorrent. There seemed to be no point to the narrative and I couldn’t relate to the story on any level. Yet abandoning a film is tantamount to sacrilege in my mind, so I willed myself into giving Kidd Life the benefit of the doubt. The commitment paid off as about 10 minutes later, something clicked. What grows out of a general sense of incredulity is a rather magical and

enlightening tale about modern culture. In hindsight, that first 20-odd minutes of frustration is necessary to experience the emotional “reveal” of Kidd’s story. Documentary filmmaker Andreas Johnsen, Kidd Life creator, is renowned for films that focus on areas of marginalized sub-culture – on the overlooked, the misunderstood and especially those who consider themselves part of the anti-establishment. In 2003 Andreas founded his own company, Rosforth, and since then has produced two series and eight “shorts” (films of 60 minutes or less in length). Kidd Life, his most recent project, is his first full-length documentary offering. On 1st March, 2011, a new video appeared on Youtube – a seemingly inconsequential event for a website where thousands of videos are uploaded daily. Yet within a couple of hours the homemade rap video featuring a song whose lyrics were thrown together by a poor, unknown 22-year-old for the amusement of his friends had registered over 2,000 views. At the end of six months the song, entitled “Kysset med Jamel” topped a million hits. All the while Kidd and his friends are laughing incredulously at the game they are playing. The “Kidd” at the beginning of Andreas’ film is simply

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a parody – a caricature of everything the industry and the public worship. The real Kidd is masterminding a game of satire, writing lyrics he doesn’t mean and consistently refusing to conform to expectation. At one point he comes to blows with his friend and producer, TopGunn, shouting raucously “Why? Why should I behave differently just because it’s the Queen I have to perform for?”, while backstage smoking and drinking prior to performing at a state event full of diplomats and visiting royalty. Kidd, it’s clear, has no patience for the charade of extreme pop culture. And the rebel attitude only multiplies his hype – Kidd is the new hot thing and everyone wants a piece of him. Andreas’ film is perhaps the best example of a purely observational documentary I’ve seen. From 18 months of day-in and day-out shooting emerges footage that weaves a story infused with complex paradoxes. Even the most cynical among us are susceptible to fame and both Kidd the character and Kidd the person are rife with contradiction. As the influence of the sex, drugs and rockand-roll lifestyle takes hold, Kidd struggles to maintain control of his own game. There are, throughout the film, times when Kidd and his friends are certainly aware of director Andreas’ presence, and yet there are more than a few moments of candid brilliance and illuminating ingenuity. Andreas manages to portray Kidd at his most confident and canny, while also capturing him at his most vulnerable. The concept is timeless and the result a film that tells the story not of one young man, but of an entire generation at a time when fame, fortune and all that comes with it are literally only a mouse click away.

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THE GHOST OF PIRAMIDA

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often struggle with the term “documentary” – it is simultaneously limiting and all encompassing. As an audience member, engaging with “Documentary” as a genre can be both a frustrating and enlightening experience. A distinct lack of genre guidelines or conventions can mean a refreshing aesthetic approach; the phrase “the world is your oyster” comes to mind here. And yet more often than not this lack of structure yields instead either a barrage of amorphous images and sounds lacking direction and narrative cohesion or an uninspired and monotone offering. My delight is tenfold, then, when I encounter those pristine examples of the loosely defined genre – those rare gems that embrace opportunity and refine their creativity within the possibilities of their medium. Such is the case with Andreas Kofoed’s most recent production, The Ghost of Piramida. The strength of the film clearly emanates from Kofoed’s patient and reflective creative process. The Ghost of Piramida began as a simple invitation from the musical group Efterklang for Andreas to accompany them on a “sound collection expedition” to the abandoned Russian mining town of Piramida on the Norwegian arctic island of Spitsbergen. While keen to tag along and see where the adventure might take him, Andreas admits that the start of the process was quite challenging: “At first I didn’t really know what the film would be about. There were only sounds – so many different sounds – that they collected, but I was looking


for interesting ways to follow the process of collecting the sounds all the way through to the finished product, to the album.” Laughing, he notes how so many music documentaries tell the story of a band – their ups and downs through personal and professional life. But Efterklang, it seems, are an atypical musical group; they all actually like each other. “If I were to make a film like that it would be very short”, laughs Andreas, “there is no drama.” So the skeleton of an idea in Andreas’ mind when he went to Spitsbergen was a short “behind-the-scenes” film of the Making of Ekterklang’s album. Through ingenuity and chance the film became so much more. The best way to categorize TGOP is perhaps as a “collage”. Comprised of three major strands, the film weaves a cohesive narrative of memory and place in a genuinely unique fashion. Strand one is the original mission: the explorations of the three members of Efterklang as they “collect” sounds for their new album from the abandoned landscape of the town. Strand two is the album itself. By choosing just 3 or 4 songs that play out in their entirety, Andreas was able to let the songs breathe through the visuals of the film. In one particularly inspired scene, band member Casper Clausen is wandering slowly along an isolated boardwalk that parallels the shore listening intently through his headphones to the almost desolate silence of the abandoned settlement. As his shoes impact the rotting wood he picks up his pace until he is jogging to a steady tempo. Back and forth he runs, the reverberating tread of his feet increasing in prominence as the white noise of Piramda yields to the haunting final track off the band’s album. The subtle integration of diegetic and non-diegetic soundtrack resolves Andreas’ early predicament – how

to follow the process of the sound collection through to completion – as sections of the film take on an almost music-video quality that is breathtakingly powerful. Yet it is the third narrative strand that elevates this film from good to sublime. The band was insistent that they wanted the film to be not about them as people, but about the place. On the final day of their journey, they met a Russian man named Alexander Ivanovic Naomkin. Alexander had lived in Piramida with his wife and children years earlier, when the town was a thriving and prosperous Russian mining settlement. He had traveled back to Piramida, before he became too old to make the journey, with a group of Russian workers, wanting to revisit the town that had become a lost paradise for him. The meeting is one Kofoed describes as pure serendipity; Alexander’s story opened up the ghosts of Piramida’s past – the strong, lingering memories of a vibrant, yet forgotten place, which brought the town temporarily back to life. Through Alexander’s reminiscences of a life now long gone and a treasure trove of old 8mm videos, TGOP evolved into a synthesis of present and past – a soundtrack of memories and exploration, with the unique perspective of looking simultaneously back in time and forward to the promise of the future. A haunting eulogy and a truly progressive step for documentary and music films alike, TGOP is not to be missed. Released digitally in September of last year, the film is available to rent or download at Vimeo.com/ondemand/ piramida. Kofoed is currently at work on two more documentaries, the first of which is scheduled for completion in the Spring of 2014.

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YOU AND ME FOREVER

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’m usually a pretty tough critic of “coming-of-age” films. It may simply be because there are just so many of them. As a sub-genre, they are possibly the easiest for audiences to relate to; a bit like the daily horoscope in the back of the newspaper, we look to attach meaning that is directly significant to our own lives – whether it is truly there or not. Yet, as coming-of-age films are often over-saturated with emotion it is no surprise they can slip so easily into the clichéd and conventional. All this is not to say that coming-of-age films are bad; in fact, quite the opposite. Some of the most powerful stories are a result of this timeless struggle for self-understanding. The fundamental need for introspection makes this one of the most powerful and challenging genres of expression across all means of storytelling. You & Me Forever, the second feature from Danish director Kasper Munk, breathes new life into the longstanding “coming-of-age” tale with inspirational spontaneity. It wasn’t until after I’d seen the film that I learned it had no script. While Munk knew very specifically the ins and outs the story would take, and each day’s scenes were carefully constructed and considered, there were no lines for the actresses to learn, no confines to their characters. It is philosophical method acting taken to an extreme, and the effect is captivating. While Munk weaves an authentic tale of the symbiotic friendships that often develop between teenage girls, it is virtually impossible not to find pieces of one’s self in each of the three main characters. Living in the suburbs of Copenhagen, Denmark, Laura and Christine have al-

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ways been best friends. Yet at sixteen, the lure of adulthood proves too intoxicating for Laura; when she meets a mysterious and exciting new girl at school, Maria, she abandons Christine’s friendship for an increasingly intense world of sex, drugs, and inhibition. It is a decision that may prove the defining moment in the lives of all three girls, as Munk expertly crafts a portrait of vulnerability, independence and the enduring strength of friendship. The conviction of the characters, maintained to perfection throughout an emotionally charged narrative is the essential success of Munk’s film. The spontaneity in the production process permeates the film so completely that the aesthetics of the film itself embody a sense of youthful impulsiveness. Hand-held camera work emphasizes the dynamism of the story, while the dominance of close-framed shots accentuates the complexities of emotion inherent in the narrative. Frustration, excitement, fear, loneliness and above all doubt splash across the blank canvases that are Munk’s teenage protagonists. It is a film where what is said is often less important than what is left unsaid. The element of unpredictability is intoxicating. In the blink of an eye the viewer can go from anxious to excited – unsure what might happen next, much like the young protagonists themselves. Throughout the film the sense of possibility teeters on the brink of elation and heartbreak, the kind of real-life thriller that needs no special effects or sensationalized suspense sequences. I left the cinema not only with a sense of hope for the potential inherent in the power of cinema but also the reaffirming strength of friendship and possibility illuminated by You & Me Forever.

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Check out the teaser issue of CultTV Times... covering everything from NCIS to anime! Broadcast the news – the first full issue of Cult TV Times will be available to buy soon at Culttvtimes.com Follow us on : (@CultTVTimes) for the latest news and issue updates For subscription enquiries contact: subscriptions@culttvtimes.com VERITE FEBRUARY 2014

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Dirty

and

Ragged

Prophecy In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview Stuart Barr quizzes Jeremy Thomas, the individualistic and idiosyncratic producer, about his long and colourful career

words and interview by Stuart Barr

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he modest London headquarters of Recorded Picture Company, the company founded by producer Jeremy Thomas in 1974, is a far cry from the spacious open plan offices of many distributors and production companies dotted around Soho and Fitzrovia. Often these could double as furniture design showrooms but RPC, tucked away in a side street it shares with a tiny basement bar and a second-hand vinyl store, has the slightly musty feel of old Soho. The furniture is mismatched and well-worn, and the walls encrusted with posters of Thomas’ films. The producer’s personal office is something else. Rather than the imposing mahogany desk and expertly placed, spot lit awards cabinet one might anticipate from a Weinstein or Rudin, the room is a film lover’s Olde Curiosity Shop; festooned with scripts, old newspapers, and items of memorabilia. A set of shelves sags under the weight of books, DVDs and VHS tapes, not just of his own productions, but other films by the eccentric auteurs

Thomas likes to work with (I spot a VHS of Takeshi Kitano’s Violent Cop). Framed awards and clippings hang crooked on the walls and behind Thomas’ desk is a pin-board of photographs from film sets, black tie movie gatherings and evidence of the producer’s other passion, sports cars. I’ll be honest, I’m feeling somewhat intimidated. This is only exacerbated when I see a framed sketch of Donald Duck signed ‘To Jeremy from Walt’. Thomas sits behind his desk with the air of a jovial bear in a cosy den. So it is with unwise bravado that I launch into my opening gambit, a diatribe about the way producers are portrayed in films about film that ends with me quoting Lee Donowitz (the action movie hack played by Saul Rubinek in True Romance) and ending my introduction with the phrase: “I’ll fucking have you killed”. It is at this point that I notice there is a genuine samurai sword resting against the wall behind Thomas’ chair. Happily rather than parting my head from my body, the producer smiles faintly. “Well, it’s a cliché of course.

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Born out of the movies… the vulgarian with a cigar and no feeling for anything except ripping people off and going for the blonde. The reality is no film happens without a producer… The producer promotes the movie, and in the case of myself, chooses what films to make. I choose what I want to work on… My function is [the] old, traditional, independent producer, in at the beginning of an idea, promoting the film.” Born in 1949, Thomas comes from a family steeped in the builder’s tea that fuelled the old British studio system. Both his father Ralph Thomas, and uncle Gerald Thomas were directors. Working for the Rank Organisation, Ralph Thomas directed (among other credits) the Doctor series of films starring Dirk Bogarde. Thomas recalls shooting a 16mm film during school holidays in Bogarde’s house. His uncle Gerald had left an even more indelible mark on British film culture as the director of thirty Carry On films. “I was lucky; I grew up in a house full of movies. My earliest memories are movies. I was born near Ealing Studios, grew up there, played there every holiday…”. Thomas’ family connections certainly steered early life choices, but they were not a ticket to the front of the queue. “When I left school I went into a film laboratory to try and get into the film business because it was a closed shop, you had to get into the union.” After apprenticing, Thomas became an assistant editor, working for Ken Loach on Family Life (1971), The Harder They Come (1972) and on Ray Harryhausen’s The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973). Probably the key

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film of his very early career was a documentary, Brother Can You Spare A Dime (1975). By this time he had progressed to editor and it was on this film that he met the Australian director Phillipe Mora, leading directly to Thomas making the leap to the producer’s chair with Mad Dog Morgan (1976), a violent Outback western starring Dennis Hopper. The film went on to play at the Cannes film festival. When I ask him about the movie, he reaches behind his desk and pulls out a framed set photo. “They still talk about it to this day. We were very young and we had Dennis Hopper. Everybody was working hard, playing harder. [Hopper] was finding it very difficult to get work and we came in with a little lifeline of seven or eight weeks in the Outback and his agent or manager was happy to get rid of him and get him out there with us.” This was at the dawn of the Australian new wave. “We were there at the beginning, Picnic at Hanging Rock was being made and we were one of the first films through the Australian Film Development Corporation. Philippe Mora was well known as a painter and artist in the Sydney community.” The film was made for $400,000. “I don’t know how we managed to find the money, I was introduced to some people in Australia by my father and we got some money from them, Mora’s father was a very good art dealer, he found money. We made the budget on pencil and paper, ‘how many horses do we need?’ It was incredibly simple. It was all done in a very analog way. “I came out of [Mad Dog Morgan] with a huge


amount of experience, it was a jump off a diving board and I managed to keep swimming. I look back with incredible affection, those were some of the best times I’ve had… They were irresponsible, totally irresponsible; we didn’t know what responsibility was.” Although the film was not a financial success, Thomas moved forward with his new career, producing Jerzy Skolimowski’s strange, elliptical, psychological horror film The Shout (1978). This was followed Julian Temple’s film The Great Rock and Roll Swindle (1980) and Nicholas Roeg’s Bad Timing (1980). A fan of The Sex Pistols, Thomas was attracted to the idea of producing a film that would capture the energy of punk, however the idea was not one that met with widespread approval. “People in the film business said to me ‘you shouldn’t’t be doing this, it will leave a scar on you.’ People were terrified of the Pistols.” When Thomas joined the project it had a different title (Who Killed Bambi), a script by Roger Ebert and a different director in Mammary Maestro Russ Meyer. “I was involved in that film every day for a year and a bit with Malcolm [McLaren] and first with Russ Meyer. Six months with Russ Meyer, and then Jonathan Kaplan.” After a number of false starts because of nervousness on the part of the financial backers led to these directors exiting, Thomas suggested Temple. “Julian followed the band, and somehow he managed to pull out The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle, which really is an incredible film. It was his next project that really cemented his reputation, Nagisa Ôshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

(1980), on which he would met both Ryûichi Sakamoto and Takeshi Kitano, both of whom he would work with again. “Merry Christmas was a big hit, a worldwide hit, the first one I had, which brought a lot of money into my business and changed my life. I met Bertolucci through Merry Christmas and that’s how my relationship with him started, because he saw I had made a film in Asia and was a producer who could share his brilliance and his idea.” That idea was The Last Emperor (1987) which would go on to sweep the board at the 1988 Academy Awards, winning an incredible nine Oscars. This was filmmaking on an epic scale, grand in ambition and scope. A film about the end of a dynasty, made in China with a cast of thousands, The Last Emperor now looks like a glorious last stand for independent film on this scale. “You couldn’t do it today, you would have to CG everyone in. It is still an incredible story, an emperor who became a citizen. It was an amazing, special moment in time. “It was another era again, without canvassing and spending millions of dollars on an advertising campaign for an Oscar. It just happened. We were an independent movie, bought by Columbia, never released properly, and somehow won nine Oscars. I don’t know how, it just did. Which was virtually every category, it was an amazing event. And that changed my life, I was 37 years old or something, and suddenly that happens. This will never happen again, and can’t happen again. I’m not even dreaming of it, it just won’t happen again.”

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Thomas is undaunted. “You have to go with the flow, you have to change, you have to mutate. The film business has changed so much in forty years… [but] you can still make beautiful films. Beautiful screenplays, shooting shot/master shot, pickups, camera moves, that’s all the same. [It’s] the delivery of it is so different, and what people want to watch in the age of box sets and video games… films have a tough time competing for people’s time and money.” Thomas’ best films seem to occupy a rather unique space in cinema, they often play with genre without fully committing to genre; they tackle difficult subjects, often in unusual styles; but they also strive for an audience that is not confined to the art-house. Thomas has an obvious attraction to auteur directors. He has worked on multiple films with Bertolucci, Roeg, David Cronenberg, Wim Wenders and Takashi Miike. While he acknowledges the pull of particular talents, Thomas denies his career has been planned; he is very fond of using the expression “the river of life” during our discussion. “It’s a subconscious thing, it’s forty years of work, and it’s all subconscious. I’m not working in the marketplace. I’m a sort of… obviously I’m part of the establishment, but I’m sort of counterculture in literary tastes, musical tastes and acting tastes. In the sort of places I want to go, in the sort of stories I want to tell, and the filmmakers that I work with, and the films. “I know when I read a screenplay, with a director and actor, whether I’m going to make it or not… What I can do [is] make that attractive enough for people in the film business that I can get this thing together. Get the money, get the resources. Which is something I have learnt over the years, but I started with a lot of luck. Now it is not just luck it’s become something that is second nature. But in the beginning I had lots of luck with those films; they were in the zone of what I liked. My father made very commercial films, my uncle made very commercial films, I was going to the NFT and watching Japanese cinema and Indian cinema, that’s what I liked. “I loved the movies, and I’ve been able to fortunately… pretty much all the films that I’m doing, I like the idea of what the film is. They’re not genre films, and they’re not art-house films, I don’t know what you would call them. Even my genre films are not genre films, like Sexy Beast (2000) or Dom Hemingway (2012), they transcend it. They fit into a gangster film, or a road movie, or the Jarmusch [Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)] which is a sort of gothic horror, but it also isn’t a genre film like that, they’re are not meant for those people… well they are, but they’re meant to be fascinating and draw audiences in of a discerning filmmaker who don’t want to see the same kind of films that I don’t want to see. One could level an unpleasant word at that, which is ‘snobbish’ but I’m just following the track of things that I find interesting.” Of the auteur directors Thomas has worked with, his

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films with David Cronenberg have perhaps provoked the most controversy. Thomas first met the Canadian director at TIFF when he showed Bad Timing. In those days he was still regularly referred to as Dave ‘Deprave’ Cronenberg and regarded by the mainstream as merely a horror film director. However Thomas was already a fan of his work. “I was at a bar next to Cronenberg drinking a Red Stripe, and I started to chat with him and asked him what he wanted to do and he said he wanted to adapt Naked Lunch. It was like a flash of lightening in my brain ‘you’re the only person who could do it in the world’. I knew the book from counterculture... exploration. And I knew Cronenberg’s films intimately, and my producer brain told me… this producer’s brain, I don’t know if any other producer’s brain would have… you are the only man and I am going to get the rights immediately. “He’s quite extraordinary David; he’s an extraordinary filmmaker, and very easy-going character with a very vivid imagination which he is able to translate into cinema. And he’s being doing that since the beginning. He occupies a unique space as a filmmaker; there is no other David Cronenberg out there. He’s very special and his films… even the one’s which… A Dangerous Method (2011), which was the last film we did together… and also his other films like A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, without any goo at all in them, they still had that strange Cronenbergian atmosphere, to say nothing of course of his films that involve body… stuff. Like Scanners, Videodrome and Dead Ringers. And Crash (1996) which is somewhere in the middle, which has body parts and scars and all that kind of strangeness that makes it fascinating to work with him.” Crash would, however, become the most controversial film Thomas has ever worked on when it was subject to a scathing review by noted critic Alexander Walker. Walker then led a concerted tabloid campaign to have the film banned, which led Westminster Council to forbid it being shown in any of the cinemas in the borough (a ban that stands to this day). It should be noted that the controversy did not invoke the BBFC, which passed the film 18 uncut. At the mention of this Thomas again begins rummaging behind his desk. “I have the review framed… I don’t know where it’s gone, but the headline was ‘A movie beyond the bounds of depravity’. It was one of my favourite headlines… “Thank you for the publicity Alex.” As Thomas was chairman of the British Film Institute at the time, the controversy was both professionally and personally difficult. “It was an assault! It was terrifying… I was working on a film in the Isle of Man at the time the film came out, and there were people at the next table, Daily Mail readers, and they were absolutely cursing it. I was frightened there for a moment [laughs]… I had people on the front door taking photographs. It was


“It was another era again, without canvassing and spending millions of dollars on an advertising campaign for an Oscar it just happened. We were an independent movie, bought by Columbia, never released properly, and somehow won nine Oscars. ” quite strange. It was very confrontational for people. I didn’t realise when I was making it, I thought I was just adapting a wonderful Ballard book with Cronenberg. It’s unimpeachable. But it created an incredible stir. Only here! Only in the UK!” Ambition and a commitment to independence are clear traits of a ‘Jeremy Thomas production’. His drive to work outside the studio system can be traced back to the experience of Eureka, a very expensive film made for MGM. “That was a very punishing experience and really one of the catalysts for becoming fully independent and controlling my films. It was a film that said if you find what you are looking for, and if you succeed, it’s all messed up. Your life will be messed up. And that was a message and… subtext that was unappealing. “Plus we were in a very troubled period in MGM’s history with David Begelman [then CEO and president of MGM] putting us into production, then being fired with Eureka being used as a reason that he wasn’t choosing the right movies, and it was a self-fulfilling prophecy that the film wouldn’t be released properly. It never got a shot.” Eureka is a film ripe for reappraisal, a great work by Nic Roeg, one of the finest ever British directors, yet unlike United Artists’ flop of a few years previous, Heaven’s Gate, it remains obscure and difficult to see. I wonder if this is to do with the British tendency to become terribly embarrassed about cinema and our achievements in the form. Thomas sees a lack of grounding in film culture as a contributing problem. “The least popular course at film school is always the history of film, which is bizarre

because in architecture or painting it is the most important. Cinema seems to be ‘gimme a camera I’ll do it.’ So unfortunately there is only a small band of real cinephiles here. This in France is gigantic of course.” Thomas also acidly notes that when begrudgingly it was decided to build a national cinema (the NFT, now BFI Southbank), it was hidden away under a bridge in embarrassment. Thomas continues to be a force for good on the international film scene, and going forward he is excited about bringing another JG Ballard novel to the screen, even if Alexander Walker is no longer available to aid the publicity. For many years Thomas has been trying to make a film of Ballard’s potent dystopian novel High Rise, after an attempt to make it with Cube director Vincenzo Natali and Richard Stanley scripting (Thomas does not mention the creative team by name) he has found a new creative team in director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump. “I wasn’t getting anywhere with the film, and I heard that Ben was incredibly keen to do High Rise as a movie. I’d seen Sightseers and his other movies which are brilliant, Kill List and Down Terrace, I was very positive about him being a strong voice in British cinema. You need a director who is at the beginning, and I thought this was an incredibly good proposition with his wife Amy, his partner writing the script. I’m on that now to start shooting next year. I think it’s a good combination of sensibilities, I think JG Ballard would be very pleased.” Oh, a final note, the samurai sword was from Miike’s 13 Assassins (2010).

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Loneliness by Another Name


The Wild Inventor Fruit Chan Inventive Hong Kong auteur Fruit Chan is this month’s discovery. Your host: Evrim Ersoy

words by Evrim Ersoy

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n iconoclast in his hometown of Hong Kong, Fruit Chan is one of the brilliantly fruitful directors of his generation: his reputation as a wild, inventive director is well deserved – shooting Made In Hong Kong using only leftover film stock he changed exactly what an independent production could achieve with very little money. His two trilogies - Prostitute Trilogy and The 1997 Trilogy - explored complex issues about the social life in Hong Kong but never felt the need to resort to the trappings of worthy drama. And his ability to work with actors gave people like Andy Lau and Bai Ling the chance to show off their best performances. So why is it that Fruit Chan’s work remains by and large unknown outside of the festival circuit? Other than a brief foray into the mainstream with Dumplings at the boom cycle of extreme Asian cinema, his filmography

remains largely unexplored. With such a large body of work behind him, trying to examine all of Fruit Chan’s films would require a much larger article and more time to research. But to allow the audience to understand a bit more about his work and the man behind it, it’s important to look at some of the key works – the two trilogies and of course Dumplings whilst also casting a glance at his legacy and influence within the industry. Although Chan’s first foray into filmmaking is 1993’s Finale In Blood, the film remains a largely unconvincing affair: this is a first-time effort for a director who wants to flex his directing muscles and is no more than an exercise which only shows some of his talent. To really understand Fruit Chan, Made in Hong Kong is the best starting point. A true independent film shot on a shoestring budget on leftover film stock, the film is

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a realistic and complex exploration on the effects of the Hong Kong handover, as well as alienation amongst the young. The main character of the film is Autumn Moon played with incredible energy by Sam Lee. A low-level might-be triad his character embodies the dissatisfaction of the Chinese youth and is one of the most intriguing antiheroes to ever grace the screen. A restless narrator, Autumn Moon convinces the audience to see the world through his eyes and through Chan’s clever writing, a character who might normally be considered minor, becomes the centre of attention. Chan also uses technically impressive shots and a style all his own to make Moon’s story visually unique. His ability to fuse together classic trappings of Hong Kong cinema makes for compelling viewing and feels like a breath of fresh air. Chan’s follow-up was more impressive still. The Longest Summer took a hard look at the locals who found their circumstances changing wildly after the handover. While China, by and large, celebrates the departure of the British, a band of British Army soldiers resign themselves to becoming robbers after losing their jobs. Chan uses the classic genre elements to create a social commentary encompassing class, depression and the destructive nature of change. Giving Tony Ho the role of Ga Yin, a soldier at odds with the crime he’s committing, Chan also demonstrates his ability to find new talent. A shocking, powerful and unforgettable film, The Longest Summer

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remains one of the highlights of Hong Kong cinema in any century. The third part of the trilogy, Little Cheung is perhaps Chan’s calmest – his focus here is on Little Cheung and his family as well as the people who populate the surrounding neighbourhood. A mini version of Hong Kong, through Chan’s lens we are privy to the lives of these ordinary yet mesmerizing people: former opera singers, street market traders and other assorted oddballs who seem like slight variations on everyday characters. Again Chan examines the effect of the handover, this time through the eyes of a 9-year-old and the results are nothing short of gob-smacking. Following such a strong trilogy would always be hard work – however Chan manages a rare trick – he manages a second trilogy of equally powerful films. Durian Durian is the first film of what is known as the Prostitute Trilogy. The subject remains the same: life in Hong Kong, the hardship and heartlessness of the city, nostalgia, economic survival and the handover. This time the story is told through the eyes of Fan (Mak Wai-Fan) who cannot wait for the return of Hong Kong to China so her family can move over to start a better life. Through an accidental friendship with a young prostitute who also harbours the dream of being in Hong Kong, Fan slowly has to face the realities of life. Beautifully nuanced and incredibly tender, Durian Durian is further proof


“The abstract nature of the film will be difficult for some, but there are still shots of striking beauty here serving as reminders of why Chan is so well regarded.” of Chan’s masterful ability of making the everyday into something more special. In Hollywood Hong Kong, the second film of the Prostitute Trilogy Fruit Chan turns his attention to Chu and his family who run a food business. Living in a shantytown overshadowed by a huge apartment complex named Hollywood Plaza, the family exist mainly on routine. The arrival of a prostitute by the name of Tong Tong signals things are about to change – and not necessarily for the better. Chan here creates an otherworldly metaphor for life in Hong Kong and uses one of the most garish palettes to paint a town drowning in excess. Keeping emotions on the back-burner, Chan presents these people who are forced to exist and survive no matter how impossible. The final film within the trilogy is Public Toilet; perhaps Chan’s least accessible – a story of public toilets around the world. Unlike his previous movies, Public Toilet is shot on digital video and as a result loses some of the visual flourishes that audiences may be expecting. The film is heavier than usual on symbolism and Chan’s raw energy is present but more scattershot than ever before. The abstract nature of the film will be difficult for some, but there are still shots of striking beauty here serving as reminders of why Chan is so well regarded. Chan’s next film Dumplings is a title so rich in plot and content that Chan made it twice – first as a 40-min-

ute-segment in the anthology film Three… Extremes, and then again on its own as a feature. Whilst the 40-minute-version serves as a terrific primer, it’s the feature version with the expanded plot that merits in-depth examination. In Dumplings Chan explores the obsessive nature of desire – in this case one-time actress Mrs. Li’s desire for eternal youth. Finding herself desperate to regain some of her good looks, Mrs. Li is willing to try almost anything – and in Aunt Mei she finds exactly what she needs – dumplings that can restore her youth and virility. However there is a catch – the dumplings are made from aborted foetuses. Armed with a controversial narrative Chan rips into the desperate quests and lengths people will go to to attain what they want. Similarities between consumer culture and Mrs. Li’s obsession to obtain more and more of the dumplings makes it clear exactly how Chan feels about the cannibalistic materialistic society. A stylish exercise, Dumplings is a brutal, brilliant satire of Hong Kong and a remarkably powerful film. Since completing Dumplings in 2004, Chan has made four more films – his latest is screening at the Berlin Film Festival in February. He remains a powerhouse – creating morally intriguing films with Hong Kong society at their heart and it is a continuing disappointment that his fame is not spreading to further corners of the world.

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Masters of Cinema

Wings This month, Ben Nicholson analyses a Clara Bow starring gem, William A. Wellman’s 1927 classic, Wings words by Ben Nicholson

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ith the 86th Academy Awards fast approaching, Eureka Entertainment seems to have selected the perfect opportunity to release the latest BluRay entry into their Masters of Cinema collection; the airborne WWI extravaganza, Wings (1927). The silent film has gone down in history as the first to claim the top prize at the annual Hollywood shindig and is brimming with the qualities we have long come to expect from films recognised by good ol’ Oscar. Interestingly, that inaugural ceremony honoured two outstanding pieces of cinema, rather than one, with F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) proclaimed victorious in the Unique and Artistic Production category. Of course, the Academy no longer differentiates between artistry and entertainment in that way but the re-release of Wings coincides happily with this year’s Best Picture nominees including Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity (2012). It is hard not to find appreciate

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parallels between the two films, at least with regards to their exhilarating spectacle and mass appeal weighed against a perceived lack of depth. The First World War is traditionally a conflict with which poetry is associated as the primary method of artistic representation, but the effects were also evident on the fledgling art form that was cinema. Throughout the war years Hollywood churned out propagandistic fare, production of which halted completely when the combat did. It was in the 1920s that filmmakers really began to tackle the subject matter again in a form that sought to reflect the prevailing mood of the time and present the struggle and folly amid compelling drama. As far back as Abel Gance’s J’Accuse (1919) WWI was used as the backdrop for anti-war sentiment, but it was King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925) that is widely considered Hollywood’s first attempt to realistically explore the horror, struggle, and loss of The Great War. Devastating conflict was being examined on the silver


screen with authenticity and artistry whilst maintaining mass appeal and it was within this context that William A. Wellman was given his big break at the helm of Paramount Pictures epic bi-plane adventure. Producer Jesse Lasky had been approached by aspiring screenwriter John Monk Saunders with a pitch. It could capitalise on the potential market made evident with The Big Parade’s success, as well as tapping into the hype surrounding Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic. This was a point in film history where aeronautical features had yet to really take off, so for a picture about fighter pilots, they wanted a director with real life aviation chops. Thus, the relatively inexperienced Wellman was hired. The result was a thrilling cinematic experience that literally soared through its white knuckle dogfights - which remain incredibly exciting to this day - without laying a great deal of emphasis on anti-war messages found in many films of this ilk. The setup of Wings is one that may have a ring of familiarity to those that have ever happened upon the aforementioned J’Accuse. Two young men, the boyish Jack (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers) and the brooding David (Richard Arlen), vie for the affections of the beautiful socialite, Sylvia ( Jobyna Ralston). Sylvia clearly only has eyes for David, but when the two men hear the call of Uncle Sam and sign up to join the war effort, a confused goodbye leaves Jack under the impression that he has won the heart of his beau. When he and David end up in the same aero regiment, tensions initially run high before giving way to a brotherly bond threatened by their dangerous German adversaries rather than confrontation over their mutual sweetheart. What Wings adds to this romantic recipe is a second woman, Mary, who was written into proceedings during a late rewrite. She is the girl next door, smitten with the scampish Jack by whom she is continually overlooked - even when she follows him over to war-torn Europe. It is Mary, played by plucky ‘It girl’ Clara Bow, who steals the show and tethers the elevated hijinks to an emotional, if sentimental, heart. This all makes for a heady concoction of melodrama, comedy, romance and action, but it is one that proves consistently appealing, whether it’s the Immelmann turns up top, or the misadventures of the couthie Mary in ravaged France. In his essay ‘The Situationalist,’ Daniel Kasman writes that Wellman’s films resemble boxcars, as opposed to his beloved planes. “Cinematic texture is the order of the day over the theatrically dramatic,” he asserts, explaining that the director focuses on the constituent segments which will connect to form a feature length train. In this instance the writer is referring to Wellman’s entire body of work, much of which differs greatly from that on show in Wings. Indeed, in the booklet accompanying the Masters of Cinema release, Gine Telaroli quotes Michael Henry Wilson’s claim that “Wings provides a list of everything the mature Wellman will throw overboard.” He continues that the “champagne bubbles” and “glorious air raids” would be replaced by “beer mixed with the blood of bootleggers” and

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“ambiguous combat and bitter victories.” These observations are absolutely true, but there is more to the film than just some jingoistic jolly and it actually incorporates the moral and formal elements, although they would come further to the fore in the director’s later work. The spurious overarching plot of Wings is one of the aspects of the film that is most often cited by its critics, and this is perfectly understandable. It is regularly considered a series of scenes shot with the sole aim of getting the heroes back in their planes for another electrifying exchange, but in taking Kasman’s boxcar analogy we come to see an early example of Wellman’s formal style. Taken as a single whole, the film is guilty of tonal loop the loops that can easily be overlooked but may disengage some viewers. Instead of considering the opening moments in small-town America to be cut from the same cloth as the Paris recess, or the battle sequences, they are perhaps better considered as vignettes providing contrasting textured components of the overall piece. An interesting example of this is the aforementioned

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segment in Paris. Ace pilot Jack has been given some leave from the conflict and Mary seeks him out on the streets strewn with American soldiers, eventually tracking him to the night club, Folies Bergère. The watering hole proves the location of the film’s finest shot, as the camera glissades across tables, bustling with activity, to reveal Jack and his pals enjoying champagne. The silliness of the following action, in which the soused flier becomes obsessed with imaginary bubbles floating up from the fizz is often cited as being jarring and unnecessary. Arguably, the audience’s awareness that he is about to be called back to active duty undercuts the playfulness - instead serving to remind the viewer of the hotshot’s immaturity. The loss of innocent youth is a major factor in many WWI works and although neither Rogers nor Arden appears as young as their characters would doubtless have been, this apparently frivolous sequence makes for a subtle reminder. This is ultimately where Wings holds its anti-war leanings - at arm’s length - but there are several thought-provoking moments throughout what is otherwise a barn-


storming romp. Gary Cooper’s cameo in flight training both heightens the stakes for the protagonists but also reaffirms the wastefulness of life that was lost. Likewise the sequences of soldiers on the battleground or in the trenches, and - of course - the tragic aerial denouement all remind us of the sobriety of war despite the picture adopting a fairly gung-ho attitude for the most part. It is by no means a pacifist work - it was made in conjunction with the army - or condemning of the conflict in the way that many other contemporary pictures were, but Wellman did manage to inject a little of this sentiment into an otherwise glorious crowd-pleaser. For that is what Wings ultimately is. A technical marvel elevated ever higher thanks to the exceptional practical stunt work; Arden had flown in the war but Rogers required lessons before flying for the role (and hated it by all accounts). Much like Gravity, it unabashedly sought to entertain with its spectacle whilst it is also lent a certain pathos through the relationships the pilots have with those they leave behind - particularly Bow’s scene-stealing

Mary. In acting everyone else off the screen, she centres the audience’s hopes and dreams, providing the sentiment and emotion to counterbalance the action. Although Murnau’s film may have been the more visionary, it is perfectly understandable that the Academy would have picked out Wings as a worthy victor at the first awards. Despite the fact that it is often hidden amongst the grandstanding, the film does not entirely forsake thoughtful and authentic engagement in favour of thrills. Still, it would be disingenuous to suggest that the primary reason for picking up Eureka’s wonderful new print of the film should not be to experience the dogfights, and tear up along with Clara Bow.

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Wings is available on NOW courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. www.eurekavideo.co.uk

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In Defence... Celebrating the ambition of Heaven’s Gate

words by Shelagh M Rowan-Legg

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ismissed by critics and audiences when released in 1982, writer/director Michael Cimino claimed Heaven’s Gate ruined his career. Cimino is not the first director to be the victim of success; negative criticism of a film that comes after a great success happens to many filmmakers. Coming off the success of the award-winning The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate ran into trouble almost as soon as it opened, and was the biggest flop of its time. The late 1970s and early 1980s were a time of great transition in American and Hollywood film. While independent cinema had flourished in the 1970s, that ended with the creation and success of the big budget blockbuster. Films such as Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977) and E.T. (1982) showed studios that there

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was more money to be made by investing in one or two big films, flooding the audience with P.R. and marketing, and getting the money back with the use of high concept scenarios and special effects. Heaven’s Gate was supposed to be one of these blockbusters for studio United Artists. Alas, without aliens, spaceships or giant killer animals, the film almost disappeared into obscurity. The film has grown in reputation over the years to become a revered classic by many, and the release of a restored print has been making the rounds at cinematheques around the world over the past year. And yet, whenever I speak to someone (a friend, a fellow film critic, a cinephile) about it, the response is usually, “I like it, but….” Yes, they mention the gorgeous cinematography, the beautiful score, but they also (in the negative)


“It is perhaps not surprising that it is at this time that Heaven’s Gate is receiving the attention it deserves. It comes with a strong and overt anti-corporate political message. The early 1980s were the Reagan years in the US. This was a time when corporate greed began to flourish”

mention either the length (3 ½ hours in its original cut), the strange opening sequence at Harvard University which seems to have nothing to do with the main narrative, the final scene which almost suggests the entire film was a dream, and a host of other issues that prevent them from giving it their complete love. But there were many films at that time (though arguably fewer today) of that length; the beginning and the end are necessary (at least to me) to understand the main character, Jim, and the ensuing class struggle. Heaven’s Gate is firmly rooted in its time, both in terms of its political themes and its use of the contemporary technology for storytelling; but this is the perfect time for it to be rediscovered, as so much of its message is timely for the current political climate, and Cimino’s use of cinematography and the way he manages his characters (both main and supporting) speak to a lost involvement in deep narrative development. Certainly, it came at a time when the western was out of favour. The first wave of westerns in the 1930s and 1940s tended to be classical and favoured a strict adherence to the image of the lonely cowboy as hero. The

second wave of the 1950s and 1960s were somewhat more critical of the ideal of the uncivilized hero. By the time Heaven’s Gate came out, few westerns were even being made. Cimino had come off two very successful films, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, and the aforementioned The Deer Hunter, and so his choice of an obscure series of events in American history seemed perhaps a bit odd. In addition, the film was unlike any western before it; indeed, its only connection to the genre is arguably its time setting and location (Wyoming in the late 1880s). It is more akin to a historical drama, looking at a particular place in history that aims to speak to a wider situation, to perhaps be symbolic of what the United States had become, or was to become, in the 1980s. It is perhaps not surprising that it is at this time that Heaven’s Gate is receiving the attention it deserves. It comes with a strong and overt anti-corporate political message. The early 1980s were the Reagan years in the US. This was a time when corporate greed began to flourish, unions were being broken, and the vilification of the poor was becoming the norm. (Oddly enough, Warren

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Beatty’s film Reds was released in the same year; a sympathetic portrait of American communist John Reed, it was a success both critically and financially). Heaven’s Gate shows clear sympathy towards the poor immigrants, a distrust bordering on hatred of rich corporate interests, and nostalgia for a ‘simpler’ time yet with an acceptance that such a time has passed and will not return. The three main characters in the film, Jim (Kris Kristofferson), Nate (Christopher Walken), and Ella (Isabelle Huppert), present the class war in all its complications. The romantic triangle is a deception; not that it does not exist, but it is the characters’ political class that is the triangle. Jim is a rich man, educated in the east at a prestigious university, now returning to his hometown to bring his alleged wisdom and sympathy. Despite the initial scenes where he declares his love for a ‘beautiful woman’ whose picture remains at his bedside during his time in Wyoming (this is not neglect of research on my part, this is what her character is called; never given a name, perhaps the embodiment of the American Male dream, a beautiful woman who exists only for her beauty), he loves Ella, who is not only not of his socio-economic class, but

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not American. Jim claims to have high ideals, and attempts to help the immigrants both by speaking to the cattle barons on their behalf and warning them of the impending danger. But in the end he falters, only entering the fight when it’s already lost. Jim is this liberal elite, speaking of his high morals but barely acting on them; having the comfort of wealth and status that would allow him to leave whenever he wants, which he does, to return to his privileged life. Nate is the first generation American, born to immigrants, but happy to work (and be, we would assume, well paid) for his work to keep the new immigrants away from the cattle barons’ land. He believes and tries to fulfil the American Dream of wealth, position, and a wife. That he would choose Ella speaks to both sides of himself: the made man who can ‘buy’ a wife and care for her, and the man who still remembers the immigrant experience. He might not have a problem with killing those whom he thinks legitimately break the law (and as much as the killing was wrong, in the story, it was the law to steal someone else’s cattle, though that law had its problems as well), the murder of the prostitutes and the rape of Ella go too far. Nate realizes that, in the end, the cattle barons will turn on


him as well. Nate represents those forces that the rich use and discard, but who will ultimately (we hope) turn on them. Ella is arguably the most complex character; her arrival in America and her decision to move to this wayward place, far from civilization, is never explained. She claims to love both Jim and Nate (though takes money from the latter for her services), and operates a successful business. Indeed, she is the most successful capitalist in the film; she offers a service that everyone wants, treats her workers well, and earns a good living. But even before her rape, she knows very well how the cattle barons see her, and while she will protect her own interests, she also helps her fellow immigrants. These three characters and their love/class triangle not only represent the history they are portraying, but anticipated many of the political debates of the 1980s, debates that are resurgent today. The final battle scene is reminiscent of many protests seen today not only in the United States, but around the world: the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, finally shouting to be heard, only to be cut down, metaphorically and literally, by the moneyed classes and the government-backed armies that support them.

I would argue that Cimino almost anticipated long-form television. To my mind, the vast majority of films are far too long. Even at 3 ½ hours, I wish it were longer. That is to say, if made today, this would have made an incredible 12-part series. It anticipates television shows not just such as Deadwood (for its parallel time period), but Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and even Breaking Bad. These are all shows that seek to spend time not only in their time setting, understanding the hows and whys of their time period politically, socially and culturally, but seek to reflect on our contemporary situation. Not only does it show how beautiful 35mm can be when it has almost disappeared, but also its politics are almost frighteningly identical to what western countries are facing today. Cimino juggles an intimate love story against a dramatic backdrop; he manages to balance an intricate study of a few individuals without neglecting the more epic saga. It is fitting that Heaven’s Gate is being rediscovered now for the masterpiece that it is.

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The Book Thief

cert (12a)

director Brian Percival writer Michael Petroni starring Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson

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Review by Cleaver Patterson

release date 26th February

It never ceases to amaze how much, in the name of entertainment, has over the years been derived from a subject which so many still find sensitive almost seventy years after it ended. However, when films like Brian Percival’s The Book Thief are as moving in their depiction of humanity and courage as they are unflinching in their evocation of the atrocities of World War II, you begin to understand their continual fascination and justification. After the death of her younger brother, Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse) is sent for safety by her Communist mother to live with foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann. Bewildered and lonely in a hostile new environment Liesel withdraws from those around her, until the kindly Hans teaches her to read. This newfound magic, along with the friendship of a boy at school called Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch), brings the girl out of herself, making her happy for the first time in her new home. However these pleasures are short-lived as the outbreak of the Second World War brings untold horrors upon her adoptive family, as well as a visitor to their house whose presence has dangerous and far-reaching repercussions for them all. It’s not just the haunting and beautifully realised setting against which these harrowing situations play out that make this visualisation of one of history’s darkest periods such an arresting cinematic experience. The masterly Rush (in films like Shine) and Watson (in Angela’s Ashes) have built solid screen careers embodying an array of characters who manage to survive, even flourish, through the harshness and adversity of life. Through Rush’s depiction of the gentle Hans and his obvious distress when conscripted to fight for the glorious motherland, or Watson’s embodiment of Rosa’s outward coldness, which hides a devotion to family and steely tenacity to survive they bring a humanity and bleak realism to a period which in the past has often been sanitised by Hollywood. Even more than Rush and Watson however, it is Nélisse who steals the screen in a breakthrough role which has already seen her win a host of international awards. Her depiction of a young girl bewildered and traumatised not just by the separation from her own family and inclusion into another, but also by the life altering world events which at times literally explode around her, is mesmerising to behold. It is also the simplest of things - such her interpretation of Liesel’s delight in books (and the potential danger this regularly puts her in) or the incident (taken from historical fact) where Liesel almost breaks down during one of the infamous book burnings carried out by Hitler’s army (which will move anyone who loves the printed word) - that display a depth and maturity in the young actress which many more experienced thespians would be envious of. This - along with her connection with Max (Ben Schnetzer), the young Jew hidden in their home portrays an innocence and childlike naïvety towards life’s cruelties, which is lost the older we get. The Book Thief is a masterpiece of celluloid storytelling which, like all great literature, draws its audience in until they feel a part of it themselves and also, like the war it depicts with frequently harsh realism, will live in their memories long after it has finished.


Her

release date 14th February

Review by Craig Williams

What a peculiar experience it is to watch a new Spike Jonze film that already feels passé. The subject of Her is so of-the-moment, it feels like Jonze has uncharacteristically become a slave to the zeitgeist rather than gleefully skirting its margins. The film has much to recommend it, not least the sterling central performances and gorgeously muted cinematography, but its narrative drive is propelled by the kind of didacticism that undermines any deeper thematic textures the film may otherwise have. Unlike the techno-apocalyptic musings of Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess, Her does not wear its subject lightly; it pummels and emotes, all chorus and no verse. It’s a reminder that our favourite Gen X auteurs are getting older; but while Linklater hustles to stay fresh, Jonze may have begun to coast. Her is set in the near future (with Shanghai standing in for Los Angeles) and stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly, a man recently separated from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). He works as a writer for a company that pens emotional, heartfelt letters on behalf of other people. Theodore is lonely; he’s drifting through life, moping and playing video games. One day, he decides to purchase OS1, the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) is the voice of OS1 and Theodore soon finds himself becoming attached to “her”, retreating into a very internal world. Strip away the flashy high concept and what we’re left with is a film about the meaning of presence in the digital age. Her takes place at the logical peak of the ascendancy of social media and the corresponding shift in the way we relate to one another. It essentially posits the oldest question in modern science fiction; when computers become sentient, where is the line between truth and artifice? This grand ideal is a great starting point, but Jonze seems unwilling to delve any further. Instead, Her plays out like a more conventional indie romance, albeit with fitful moments of brilliance. Ultimately, it’s not a film about technology, but a film about the mutuality of modern relationships. Thanks to the admittedly observant, intelligent writing, we accept the notion of Samantha as a complete human being almost immediately. This allows Jonze the space to focus on his broader question – what is the importance of physical presence to a satisfying relationship? It’s a fascinating idea and it often yields dividends. Indeed, Her is at its best when it operates as a cinematic manifestation of this central question. When that focus slips, Her retreats into more plodding, familiar territory, with a nagging tendency towards emotional signposting. It would be churlish to resent Jonze’s gradual shift from the cerebral eccentricities of his Charlie Kauffman collaborations to the more emotionally driven work that culminates with Her, but there’s a sense that he’s capable of more. He’s a director who can elicit wide-eyed wonder from his audiences and, while that may be an unfairly high standard to hold him to, it’s still legitimate to feel that Her lacks a certain dazzle.

cert (15)

director Spike Jonze writer Spike Jonze starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson

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Review by Paul Martinovic

Lone Survivor release date 31st January

cert (15)

director Peter Berg writer Perter Berg starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster

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Lone Survivor has to be one of the more unlikely box office success stories in recent years. War on Terror movies have been notoriously unpopular with audiences, and the film is directed by Peter Berg, a man who is fresh off the back of helming Battleship. Not only that, it stars notorious box office poison Taylor Kitsch in a crucial role. But despite these handicaps, the film opened in America to positive reviews and packed houses, and has even managed to occupy the agendas of politically partisan television personalities for a number of weeks, becoming a cause celebre for those on the Right and a tricky proposition for those on the Left. Essentially, the two narratives are either a) if you didn’t like Lone Survivor, you hate America, and b) if you like Lone Survivor, you’re a cheerleader for the war in Afghanistan. Luckily, this straw-man bullshit isn’t likely to travel beyond Stateside, and anyway, it’s pretty apolitical in its treatment of the conflict of the war itself. It is vehemently pro-soldier, however: written by the titular lone survivor Marcus Luttrell. But for those of us who aren’t currently serving or intending to, is there anything in Lone Survivor that raises it above the level of a recruitment video? It’s a tough one – the simple true story of a group of Navy Seals left stranded and outnumbered by waves of Taliban soldiers is never less than involving, and Mark Wahlberg gives a typically solid performance as Luttrell. It’s also expertly made, with superb editing and sound design that realise the battle sequences with a visceral intensity that rivals the Omaha Beach sequence in Saving Private Ryan. That’s part of the problem, however – Berg’s determination to depict every single injury inflicted on the soldiers in lingering close-up makes this feel less like Zero Dark Thirty and more like The Passion of the Christ, as we’re forced to repeatedly watch young men’s bodies gruesomely ripped to shreds, presumably in penance for…well, what? Apathy towards the war effort? Enjoying stylised violence in movies? Whatever it is, the experience of watching it is neither enlightening nor entertaining. One of the most interesting twists to the story is relegated to a post credits footnote and there are gaps in the narrative that perhaps undercut the film’s clear ambition to provide an almost documentary account of the event. Worst of all, the film’s final act is to show a compilation of real-life footage to the strains of a soft-rock cover of David Bowie’s ‘”Heroes”’. It smacks of a filmmaker who lacks confidence in the power of his own story, and conversely its nakedly brazen assault on your tear ducts feels cynical. But while it largely fails to satisfy as art, journalism, or entertainment, Lone Survivor is rarely anything less than interesting, and it’s a tribute to how well-executed it is that it still feels like a film worthy of the column inches that have been devoted to it, despite it ultimately leaving an unpleasant taste in the mouth.


Review by Daniel Montesinos

In the Dystopian Future, China and Britain are embroiled in an unexplained Cold War. As superpowers old and new waltz uneasily around each other, Britain moves into the age of the mechanical soldier. Scientist Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) pushes forward with the help of an American graduate, Ana (Caity Lotz). Ana’s curiosity at her surroundings finds her in deep water, forcing Vincent to move forward with crafting an entirely conscious piece of Artificial Intelligence – The Machine of the title (Lotz, pulling double duty). Vincent secretly hopes the technological advancements can benefit his ailing daughter; meanwhile, his boss (Denis Lawson) plans to turn The Machine into the perfect killing machine. Early on, Lawson’s character tells his scientists: “Chop chop, war is coming.” The casual flippancy of that statement jolts, acting as a reminder of this indie’s British pedigree among the expected “off the grid” location and international warmongering. Director Caradog James presents a well-assembled dystopia, one with intriguing touches: war veterans turned mute by AI experiments communicate with a dialect that sounds like bubbles and inverse growling; androids are hinted to being repackaged to other nations via handily liquid racial identities. These details brighten up a series of typical sci-fi trappings –dollops of Abrams-esque lens flare, Tom Raybould’s ominous electronic score and plenty of clear-glass touch-screen design. James and his technical team impressively find ways to flex these standard blockbuster visuals despite minimal budget, yet find few ways to make them fresh. Stephens works well enough as a standard tortured hero, flitting between stubbly surliness and bouts of anger. Lotz is given the biggest challenge: first having to give Ana an appealing curiosity, then embodying The Machine with a syllabic delivery intriguingly at odds with her physical fluidity. However, Denis Lawson’s sycophant is a misfire – imbued with a smugness imported from TV’s New Tricks, he appears under-rendered as a conflict-thirsty Big Bad and distracting as a light-relief snark machine (he has the “chop chop” line). Lawson’s casting seems linked to his tenure in the original Star Wars trilogy, just as Lotz’s appearance is reasoned by her involvement in the televised DC adaptation Arrow. (The presence of an American ex-pat and their relevance in a conflict between East and West is never touched on.) In trying to prove genre bonafides – from the flashy aesthetics to the casting decisions – James’ film tires itself out from being too eager to stand amongst its forefathers. The Machine illustrates a series of futuristic concepts and ideals that are rarely utilised in an interesting way, not helped by a jumpy edit that leaves little time to focus on a future the audience should be bowled over by. At other times, the mechanics of the plot seem to be wary. A subplot involving AI characters is foreshadowed well in advance, yet seems to come out of the blue come the time-honoured gunfire-ina-complex finale. There are brains evident to The Machine in its search for genre bonafides, but little grace as it fumbles to do so.

The Machine release date 21st March

cert (18)

director Caradog W. James writer Caradog W. James starring Toby Stephens, Caity Lotz, Denis Lawson

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release date 22nd February

cert (18)

director Lars von Trier writer Lars von Trier starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgård, Shia LaBeouf

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Review by Luke Richardson

Nymphomaniac Volume I & II

Split into two, two-hour tomes by the producer bigwigs at Zentropa, Nymphomaniac is more structurally akin to Trier’s audacious modern-horror Antichrist, with an elliptical story sequenced into eight chapters. Volume One begins with snow gracefully kissing rusty rooftops and the distant hum of human flurry. These serene establishing shots are the first of many ruses Trier unveils throughout the film, as he pulls away from a scene of unsullied splendour and throws us into the gutter with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), beaten unconscious and left for dead while the maniacally camp sounds of German industrialists Rammstein blare. Before the night chill can take her, Seligman (Stellan Skårsgard) stumbles across Joe and invites the anti-heroine into his hermetic bedsit to sip tea, seek solace and, after the benevolent German’s incessant cajoling, entertain him with her turbulent life story. Anyone who’s been fooled by the orgasmic promo posters will be surprised how unsexy Nymphomaniac really is. This coming from the puerile, ‘F U C K’ finger tattooed provocateur; Trier begins by playing out the nookie for childish laughs. Perhaps unsavoury in anyone else’s film about sex addiction, this primitive glee reflects the sense of unbridled female liberty that Joe personifies most vivaciously during the lengthy flashbacks of her as a venereal young woman (played staggeringly well by British newcomer Stacey Martin). From locomotive sex games to faux-anarchistic demonstrations; dangerous liaisons and first love frissons (featuring a convincing yet dubiously accented Shia LaBeouf as the bullish rogue Jerôme); these embellished moments reflect the guileless ennui of youth found so commonly in middle-class suburbia, yet perhaps less frequently exposed from the female’s perspective; and are all the more riveting because of it. If Volume One was a thrilling exploration into juvenile desire tiptoeing on the borders of moral decency, Volume Two - both more sexually explicit and oddly aloof - sees Joe falling headfirst down the rabbit hole. It follows the inevitable, yet no less turbulent twist of affairs; catching up to the time of the frosty epilogue and where Joe’s decades of lustful bedroom activities make it harder for her to reach a point of sexual gratification or even find love. Rather than just letting the deviant debacle play out uninterrupted, Trier adopts a Victorian literature narrative device that interrupts the dramatic chapters and returns us to Seligman’s decrepit pad-turned-Freudian chamber. As locked-in as the hapless Joe seems to be, the scholarly German attempts to psychoanalyse Joe’s licentious lifestyle through a series of comparisons with Ancient Roman dynasty, the symphonies of Bach and the wonders of fly-fishing. While some of these erudite asides are amusing enough, suffered en masse they undermine the critical, engendered underpinnings of Joe’s odyssey, which Trier unsuccessfully tries to exorcise in the film’s predictable denouement. With the bona-fide five-and-a-half hour director’s cut landing later this year, this truncated version of Nymphomaniac certainly has its fair share of brilliant moments and noteworthy performances, but they are all perforated by dross. A convoluted work in progress to what could eventually become an obscene modern masterpiece.


Only Lovers Left Alive

release date 21st February

Review by David Hall

Jarmusch’s latest – a gnomic, comic riff on vampiric immortality and ennui – is a great deal more enjoyable than his last film; the strained and affected Limits of Control, which suggested that the cult director had not so much, lost the plot as discarded all notions of it entirely. And if it feels slight and somewhat inessential when placed beside some of his stronger, earlier films, it still has two A-game performers having fun with their respective personas, the director’s trademark deadpan sensibility and a great sense of atmosphere. The plot is as wispy and underfed as lead actor Hiddlestone’s cadaverous frame. He and Tilda Swinton are the ageless lovers, Adam and Eve – Adam is a Detroit-based reclusive rocker, pottering about a massive, decaying Withnail-ish flat and putting out droney industrial rock like a Goth Burial in between pilfering premium grade blood samples from a nervy doctor (an amusing cameo from Jeffery Wright). Reunited with centuries old paramour Eve, who returns from Tangiers after receiving a panicky call (via FaceTime!) from her depressed ex, they reunite to reminisce about all the famous tortured artists they’ve loved and lost; discussing Burroughs, Poe, Byron and Nikola Tesla in lengthy, portentous exchanges. This temporary idyll is broken by the arrival arrival of Eve’s disruptive sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) a hard-partying dervish who has no respect for the undead. It’s interesting that two indie flicks about vampire love triangles have come out within a few months of each other. But where Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss of the Damned is an ersatz Jean Rollin affair with pervy trimmings and faux 70s score, Jarmusch’s take is arid, almost sexlessly androgynous. This is essentially an actor’s showcase for the leads. Hiddleston, wiry pipe-cleaner thin and comically morose, extends his range here and it’s good to see Swinton letting loose in a more relaxed performance than usual. John Hurt provides gruff comic relief as a world- weary Christopher Marlowe. Where Only Lovers scores big, as you would expect given the marriage of director and subject matter, is atmospherics. The Detroit landscape, battered by economic hardship and practically deserted, is the perfect terrain for these nocturnal aesthetes, and the score (by Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL) is unexpectedly textured, with middle-eastern vibes bumping up against dark electronica. The languid torpor experienced by Adam occasionally seeps through into the viewing experience – and while Wasikowska provides spiky, much-needed distraction when she finally appears, the anticipated fireworks never materialise. Jarmusch has always worn his niche obsessions heavily and Lovers is about as niche as you can get; aimed essentially at ageing Goth ex-students who miss The Sisters Of Mercy and dig out Rimbaud for a re-read now and again. In many ways this is a very silly and inconsequential film – but there are moments to savour and Jarmusch hasn’t lost his knack for droll comedy. Like the old 45s Adam likes to rock out to, it plays out a little wonkily from time to time but still has crackle and hiss in all the right places.

cert (15)

director Jim Jarmusch writer Jim Jarmusch starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska

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Review by Paul Martinovic

The Past

release date 28th March

cert (15)

director Asghar Farhadi writer Asghar Farhadi starring Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa

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Following the spectacular double-header of About Elly and, particularly, the transcendent A Separation, Asghar Farhadi has established himself as one of cinema’s greatest craftsmen, one of a select group of filmmakers able to skilfully realise a unique, intelligent cinematic vision without comprise towards budget, industry, or expectation. This achievement of integrity is made all the more remarkable by the fact they have been hitherto all been produced in his native Iran, a country whose distaste for filmmakers and, in particular, works critical of the government, often manifests itself into outright hostility. The Past sees Farhadi move away from his homeland for the first time and into the domestic lives of Parisians; despite this the film feels like a spiritual sequel to A Separation, in no small part down to the plot picking up directly after a lengthy separation. Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), who has spent the previous four years in Iran, returns to France to divorce his French wife Marie (Berenice Bejo), who lives with her two children from a previous relationship. Ahmad discovers that Marie is in a serious new relationship with Samir (Tahir Rahim), a young man with a child of his own. Ahmad then finds himself inexorably drawn into a fresh dispute at the heart of this makeshift family, one that is already threatening to tear them apart. The by-now familiar Farhadi style is present and correct in The Past, with his weary humanism prominent in every shot, every line of dialogue, and in every one of the film’s many plot twists. Every unforgivable action perpetrated by his characters also feels understandable if not outright inevitable, but whereas in his previous works it was the constraints of Iranian society that often proved the catalyst for a subsequent descent into tragedy, here the removal of that as a rationale means that Farhadi’s pessimistic portrayal of the human condition is rendered somehow even bleaker: his characters are doomed to make the same mistakes and make them repeatedly, regardless of their religious or cultural differences. His depiction of domestic life as a terrifying minefield is compounded by his uncanny ability to wring unthinkable amounts of tension from relatively mundane household incidents: in his hands, a holiday gift being imparted to a child is rendered as suspenseful as a bomb diffusal. That said, The Past feels slightly more amenable towards sentimentality than his previous works, particularly in an elegiac final third that, while retaining his trademark ambiguity, feels more attuned to stirring the emotions than it does to provoking debate. The final scene, in particular, is a wonderfully realised mini-masterpiece with as haunting a final image as any film has managed in recent years. The Past will suffer by comparison to A Separation – it isn’t quite as focused, and it pushes the boundaries of credibility in a way that he has avoided previously – but it is still a brilliant work from one of world cinema’s most essential talents. His films aren’t necessarily flawless, but they do feel perfect: less two-hour distractions built out of parts and labour than they are stories wrenched wholesale from their surroundings, and The Past stands up as another stunning entry in a remarkable filmography.


Review by Ben Nicholson

In 2007, Kim Mordaunt’s Bomb Harvest documented the unprecedented amounts of ordnance dropped on Laos by the US during the Vietnam War, and the horrifying number still lying active throughout the country. These half-forgotten munitions litter the exquisite landscapes of the director’s narrative debut, The Rocket, which follows the travails of a 10-year-old boy, Ahlo. Played by real-life street kid, Sitthiphon “Ki” Disamoe, his feel-good tale takes place in a state still being pillaged by foreign powers, and inhabited by ghosts both personal and national. The film opens with Ahlo’s delivery into the world alongside a stillborn twin - condemning him, in the eyes of his very traditional grandmother, to a cursed existence. The noxious phantom of his deceased sibling seems affirmed when a tragic accident follows news that the family is being forced to relocate from their ancestral home to make way for a new dam. Ahlo becomes the scape-goat in the eyes of the embittered matriarch but it is the faceless multinational corporation that will be submerging their homeland for profit. When they arrive in their new home, promised a paradise, it turns out to be an derelict shell of a settlement, converted to shantytown with any corrugated steel people can find. Scrap metal is more plentiful in the form of the countless bombs that are strewn throughout the countryside, a rusting reminder of America and the war, just like the eccentric Purple (Thep Phongam). A nutty James Brown enthusiast, decked out in coiffured hair and a suit to match his name, he drinks to silence the voices calling to him from the conflict, though it is clear that he’ll never banish them completely. Everything seems composed to create a surprisingly morose milieu considering the central plot and characters’ more populist leanings. As such, The Rocket veers around in terms of tone; undercutting everything, from frolicking children to a village festival, with the ever present spectre of death. Although Ahlo always seems destined for some obvious triumph that will rid him of his reputation, the brazen and charismatic performance from Disamoe makes him a perceptively nuanced child character. His pre-pubescent romance with Purple’s orphaned niece, Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam) provides the picture’s sweetest asides with the two actors belying their age in the crafting of a charming couple - both in tenderness and during the odd spat. The problem is that despite all this, even Ahlo, the veritable star of the show, lacks a truly engaging emotional arc, and it is something which limits the inherent potential of the premise. For a debut fiction film, this will undoubtedly prove a successful calling card for Mordaunt. It is consistently enjoyable with a winning pint-sized protagonist and a kinetic, soaring finale, not to mention an offbeat James-Brown-a-like. Andrew Commis’ beautiful photography captures both the intimacy and the desolation of the characters and their surroundings, so it is a shame that the film never quite manages to perfect that particular balancing act itself.

The Rocket

release date 14th March

cert (tbc)

director Kim Mordaunt writer Kim Mordaunt starring Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnam Kaosainam, Suthep Po-ngam

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67


Stranger by the Lake cert (18)

director Alain Guiraudie writer Alain Guiraudie starring Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumçao

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Review by David Hall

release date 21st February

Strikingly explicit, with deliberate pacing and a slow-burning Haneke-like atmosphere throughout, Stranger by the Lake is an intelligent, darkly comic, riveting piece of genre subversion. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is an inscrutable, quiet young man who, during summer months, goes to a secluded lake far from public view to sunbathe, meet – and have sex with – other men in the nearby woods. He sparks up an easygoing friendship with the older Henri (Patrick D’Assumçao) but his attractions are solely on the eminently more sexy, dangerous and desirable Michel (Christophe Paou). One evening, after an unfulfilling encounter, Franck sees Michel engaged in a passionate embrace with another man, only for the situation to turn murderous. But rather than put Franck off, what he has seen both excites and terrifies him, and the two begin an affair which Franck wants to take to the next level, though Michel prefers it to remain firmly hidden. The situation complicates a burgeoning friendship with Henri, who clearly wants more, and the arrival of a policeman at the setting increases the tensions further. Stranger takes the standard dynamics of hetero lust and desire narratives and places them within a fresh, compelling and defiantly gay context; using subtext and transgression to explore the kind of pyschosexual terrain that Hitchcock often traded in. This is also a film about the (ahem) blurred lines between personal and private fantasy, the place where subconscious desires and public interaction clash. In this hermetically sealed world it is perhaps Henri who is the stranger – and not just in the cruel aesthetic juxtaposition of his soft, flabby middle-aged body in comparison with the diver-like athleticism and perfection of Michel and Franck. Sex and death clash throughout explicitly and implicitly – it’s no coincidence that the key death scene – slow, languid and viewed from voyeuristic POV – follows on from a close-up cum shot. Stranger’s complex equations of love, lust and death render those of many an erotic thriller childish and banal. There is a fantastic running joke involving an eager voyeur Eric (Mattieu Vervish) who merrily masturbates out of sight watching the other guys have sex. Guaradie directs with utter assurance and authority, sustaining a fascinatingly ambivalent attitude toward his protagonist’s moral compass, along with some sly digs at the hook-up culture, with its demands of immediate gratification, physical perfection and hot sex. There’s an undercurrent of tragedy in Henri’s unrequited desire for Franck too. And while it would be easy in this terrain to paint the inspector as an authoritarian menace, instead he is a man with serious moral misgivings about and concern for (or is it attraction to?) Franck’s lifestyle. This is a beautiful and elegant film to look at (even more so if you enjoy looking at athletic, naked men), edited with scalpel like precision by Jean-Christophe Hym and lushly photographed by Claire Mathon. There is no score, except for the natural environment that surrounds the idyllic setting, which only serves to increases the uneasy tension throughout.


In the Marie Antoinette Frame: (2006)

words by Clarisse Loughrey

I

t’s OK; I don’t expect you to remember this particular shot. It’s hardly the narrative centrepiece of Sofia Coppola’s ode to 18th century excess and it’s probably easily dismissed as visual fodder for expository dialogue. It’s something for your eyeballs to do while a letter received by Marie from her mother is read out, regaling the triumphs of her brothers and sisters: a pregnancy here, a marriage there. All while urging Marie to consider the “dangerous situation” she finds herself in: the pressure to conceive a child by a man made unavailable by sexual neuroses. But to me, this briefest of scenes is actually that moment of pure perfection when a single frame can capture the entire mood of a film. It’s a cacophony of clashing fabrics: her whimsical pastel dress pattern fighting against the riotous explosion of flowers, ribbons, and peacock feathers of the wallpaper. Our eyes are seduced by all the excitement and movement; only then do we see the pale, frail figure of Antoinette. She is drowned out by

the luxury that surrounds her. She’s not the cackling debaucher declaring from her gilt chambers: “let them eat cake”, she’s a little girl who was married at fourteen and flung into a world completely alien to her. And thus we’re constantly reminded of her youth and innocence: in Kirsten Dunst’s girlish voice laughing at people who’ve fallen asleep in church or bursting into tears at the thought of being torn away from her pet pug. Coppola’s Antoinette is a fascinating slice of feminist revisionist history as she seeks to find the empathy, and thus deconstruct the misogyny, behind history’s labelling her the great villain of the French Monarchy. Because why blame the failings of the system when it’s so much easier to blame the girl with all the wigs? While it might seem an anti-feminist move, the way Coppola somewhat diminished Antoinette’s sense of agency only speaks to the historical truth. We’re so often presented with pictures of the “strong” women of history, of the Elizabeth Is and the Joan of Arcs, but they don’t necessarily speak to the experiences

of women of the past as a whole. This scene tears down the preconceptions of irresponsibility to present to us a young girl crushed by own ineffectualness. Her taste for luxury was a means of escape from these burdens, an addiction bred from desperation. Which brings me back to this scene. As she sinks to the ground as her mother’s voice crushes her sense of freedom, it’s almost as if the folds of her dress consume her. Maybe this is dragging on into the territory of overly extended metaphors, but there was always something about this shot that really struck me. To see this huge historical figure be literally enveloped by the luxury that ultimately signalled her doom. Which really extends to the rest of the film. The extensive scenes of dresses, champagne, and macarons are overwhelming in the sense that luxury was Antoinette’s only reality; it suffocated her view beyond the palace gates. If she told them to eat cake, it’s only because cake was the only thing she knew.

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Jordan McGrath

David Hall

Founder / Editor-in-Chief / Designer

Managing Editor

jordanmcgrath@veritefilmmag.com

davidhall@veritefilmmag.com

thanks: Contributors Evrim Ersoy Stuart Barr Robert Makin Paul Martinovic Kelsey Eichhorn Luke Richardson Clarisse Loughrey Ben Nicholson Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg Craig Williams Cleaver Patterson Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy

Proofing James Marsh, Dan Auty & David Hall

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Image credits: Peccadillo Pictures - 1,8,10,11,12,13,16,17,68,71 / Soda Pictures - 19, 20,23,65 / Eureka Entertainment - 24,26,27,52,53,54,55,67 / killitfilms - 37,38,39 / Second Sight - 56,57,58,59 / 20th Centurty Fox - 60 / Entertainment Film Distributors - 61 / Universal Pictures - 62 / Red and Black Films - 63 / Curzon Film World - 64 / Artificial Eye - 66 / Pathe - 69

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