V é r i t é MAY 2014 EDITION
FILM CRITICISM & CINEMATIC DISCUSSION
T OUCH OF SIN And China’s New Cinema Crimewave
The Violence of Heli / Tribeca Film Festival / Ace in the Hole / reviews / and more...
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ast year in the midst of a hectic, firsttime Cannes, I took my seat in one of the beautiful auditoriums to watch Nebraska, the latest film from Alexander Payne. Anticipation was high but my energy levels (depleted by too-late nights and too-early mornings) were low. I emerged disappointed, deflated and underwhelmed by the movie. Last weekend, I was visiting my mother. Her choice of evening entertainment was Nebraska. I hesitated about watching it a second time, and then did so anyway. For the next 100 minutes I was completely absorbed. When the credits rolled, I swear there was something in my eye. We’ve all had the experience of revisiting films and viewing them through a different prism. Maybe in the comfort of my mum’s front room, with a belly full of great food and wine, watching it with our own Bruce Dern figure (my mum’s partner is a taciturn old grump) flipped my emotional response. Who knows? But an element we often don’t write or discuss much – the effect of environment and state of mind on viewing – had turned my feelings around. I began to wonder if my original reaction may have had a lot to do with ‘festival fatigue’. I’m aware as first-world problems go- this is right
up there. I’m certainly not complaining, merely wondering aloud if the critic at a festival (even say, a renowned one for a daily broadsheet) is necessarily the most trusted guide to your upcoming year’s viewing; especially if they’re watching thirty plus films in the space of a few days. In the understandable rush to get the first review out the door there’s a temptation to make a snap judgement, be the first to be heard, set a pace not defined by collective opinion. At Cannes everything seems to run at a lunatic intensity and while there’s an undeniable rush to seeing so much in such a short space of time, so far ahead of everyone else – is the demented merry go round of queuing-viewing-reviewing before the giddy whirl begins again really the ideal? I won’t be back at Cannes this year sadly. But two of the magazine’s most erudite and passionate writers – Joseph Fahim and Evrim Ersoy – will be, so the coverage is in very safe hands. Be sure to check out their reviews on the blog and in next month’s roundup but remember this: if they savage a film you’re looking forward to seeing; well, maybe they did get it right. At Vérité, like any other critical film publication, there’s a huge range of opinions. But maybe – just maybe, a little ‘festival fatigue’ may have kicked in.
Thanks for reading, Jordan McGrath & David Hall
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â€œA director makes only one movie in his life. Then he breaks it into pieces and makes it again.â€?
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Storm from the East - p8
Wild and Crazy Guy - p50
Cheap Thrills - p62
James Marsh talks about the new crime-wave in Chinese cinema as he focuses on the Cannes ‘Best Screenplay’ winner, A Touch of Sin.
Evrim Ersoy continues his expert analysis into filmmakers we should be watching. This month’s subject: Hitoshi Matsumoto.
Beyond the Edge - p63 Chinese Puzzle - p64 Heli - p65
Nothing’s Shocking - p18
Jordan McGrath discusses the critic’s focus on violence and how it affects the audience experience.
Masters of Cinema - p54
Cleaver Patterson takes an in-depth look at one of Billy Wilder’s many masterpieces; Ace in the Hole.
Omar - p66 Patema Inverted - p67 The Punk Singer - p68
Lucky Thirteen - p24
In Defence... - p58
Find out what were the highlights and lowlights of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival from Kelsey Eichhorn.
Jordan McGrath defends Tony Scott’s progressive, stylistic actioner Domino.
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A Touch of Sin - p69 The Two Faces of January - p70
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STORM FROM THE EAST With films like A Touch Of Sin and No Man’s Land, Chinese filmmakers are getting confrontational about the state of the nation
words by James Marsh
ast month, the China Film Directors’ Guild Awards caused a stir at their annual ceremony, when the filmmaker heavy jury refused to name a winner in both the Best Picture and Best Director categories. Announced live on national television by guild chairman Feng Xiaogang, the Aftershock director often dubbed “China’s Spielberg”, the guild declared that the artistic quality of the competing films was too low to be honoured. It has been widely speculated that the decision was made in protest, after Jia Zhangke’s controversial thriller A Touch of Sin was withdrawn from the competition at the last minute, after failing to pass censorship. It’s been almost exactly a year since Jia’s film, which tells four stories based on true high-profile incidents of corruption, murder and economic disparity, debuted at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the award for Best Screenplay. At the time, Jia was confident that the film would become the first of his works to
receive a wide theatrical release in his home country, but to-date that has yet to happen. Furthermore, China’s Central Propaganda Department has ordered the local media not to publish any features, interviews or reviews relating to the film. This month sees A Touch of Sin hit screens across the UK, but that too is likely to go unnoticed in its country of origin. Jia Zhangke has always been considered an outsider in China’s now-huge domestic film industry, shooting his first films, including Pickpocket (1997) and Unknown Pleasures (2002) on video without official approval. Even after Jia turned legit in 2004, making The World within the authorised system, he has yet to secure a domestic release for any of his documentary or narrative features. So far, that looks unlikely to change, as A Touch of Sin proves to be Jia’s most provocative and flagrantly critical film yet. Central among the reasons why A Touch of Sin has upset China’s censorship board, the catchily-monikered State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio,
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Film and Television - or SAPRRFT - is because each of the film’s four stories, detailing endemic corruption, escalating violence, and an ever-expanding income gap, is based on a true incident. Each event from China’s recent past provoked outrage among the country’s increasingly powerful netizens, leading to widespread criticism and condemnation of the government. One example is re-enacted onscreen by Jia’s wife and long-time muse, Zhao Tao, who plays Xiaoyu, a recently-spurned mistress who works as a receptionist at a sauna. Mistaken for a masseuse (who also offers sexual services to their clients) Xiaoyu rebuffs the advances of a drunken, arrogant government official. Becoming increasingly aggressive, the man pulls a thick wad of cash from his pocket and proceeds to slap Xiaoyu repeatedly across the face, while taunting her about his wealth and intentions to force himself upon her, perhaps even worse. Xiaoyu’s efforts to defend herself quickly turn bloody and the situation escalates into murderous mayhem. Xiaoyu is based on 21-year-old pedicurist Deng Yujiao, who was charged with murder in May 2009 after
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stabbing a local official to death following a similar assault. Her arrest sparked outrage across the country and provoked numerous protests online and on the streets. Cited as another example of high-level corruption and immorality, mounting pressure eventually saw prosecutors retract the charges, grant Deng bail, and even commute her eventual sentence to time served, due to diminished responsibility. The police’s handling of the case was also called into question. Each one of the incidents in A Touch of Sin, from Jiang Wu’s gun-toting outburst against his corrupt town leaders, to Wang Baoqiang’s listless wandering gunman, the high-speed train crash and the suicide of a Foxconn-style factory worker, resonates as poignantly with the Chinese public. The film’s numerous award wins over the past 12 months have almost guaranteed that if released domestically, A Touch of Sin would be widely seen, so it’s little wonder SAPPRFT is more inclined to keeping this closet-full of skeletons off cinema screens, rather than celebrate the international success of one of its filmmakers.
“Each one of the incidents in A Touch of Sin, from Jiang Wu’s gun-toting outburst against his corrupt town leaders, to Wang Baoqiang’s listless wandering gunman, the high-speed train crash and the suicide of a Foxconn-style factory worker, resonates as poignantly with the Chinese public.” While Jia continues to wait for his cinematic homecoming, this level of censorship in Chinese cinema is far from an isolated case. Another film that suffered a similar fate was Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land, which was denied a domestic release for almost four years, despite the director’s numerous attempts to re-edit it at SAPPRFT’s behest. Ning had scored back-to-back commercial hits with comedy thrillers Crazy Stone (2006) and Crazy Racer (2009), Guy Ritchie-esque multi-stranded crime capers spotlighting the talents of actor Huang Bo, who has since become one of the country’s most successful screen comedians. Produced off the back of these successes and completed in 2010, No Man’s Land stars fellow comedian Xu Zheng opposite Huang, as a small-town lawyer who journeys into the remote deserts of Xinjiang Province in the North West of the country, where he encounters a motley assortment of poachers, gangsters, prostitutes and other ne’er-do-wells. Ning’s darkly comic portrayal of a
region rife with crime and corruption saw the film immediately denied a release. Multiple versions of the film were submitted, but all were refused. Eventually Ning shelved the project and produced the far less interesting or provocative Guns And Roses in 2012. No Man’s Land was eventually granted a theatrical release last December, and while it is unclear exactly how much this approved version now differs from Ning Hao’s first cut of the film, it remains a fiercely nihilistic and frequently very funny depiction of modern day China. Four years of anticipation, coupled with the winning onscreen partnership of Xu Zheng and Huang Bo (who recently appeared together in The Hangover-ish box office smash Lost in Thailand), ensured that No Man’s Land opened huge, eventually taking more than RMB250 million (£24 million) at the box office - a figure normally limited to holiday blockbusters. For many years it seemed China was only interested in producing large-scale period epics celebrating the
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exploits of their finest emperors and generals, until local audiences began to stay away. In recent years, the cinemagoers of the People’s Republic have been making it increasingly clear that their cinematic hunger for Hollywood blockbusters can extend to domestic product, provided they are given what they want. Despite the censors clamping down on films from provocative directors like Jia Zhangke and Ning Hao, they have generally loosened up and allowed more contemporary stories to be told. Unsurprisingly, this has led to an influx of star-studded romantic comedies celebrating the glamorous consumerism of the emerging, cash-flush middle class. But if they play by the rules, there is a place for genre cinema too, and crime films specifically. The best recent example of this is Johnnie To’s Drug War. The reigning godfather of Hong Kong Cinema, To has enjoyed a rich and diverse career spanning more than 30 years, tasting success with comedies, romances, dramas - but above all - his super-stylised tales of career criminals and those sworn to taking them down. In 2012, To directed his first thriller to be set on the mainland in
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decades, a down and dirty affair that exposed the intricacies of cross-border drug smuggling operations. Pairing Hong Kong heartthrob Louis Koo as a compromised dealer with mainland star Sun Honglei’s indefatigable vice cop in an intricate undercover operation, To found the perfect sweet spot. By cooperating with SAPPRFT every step of the way, To managed to keep Drug War in bounds, while still being an edgy expose of China’s criminal underworld. Even more interesting is Gao Qunshu’s award-winning indie drama Beijing Blues from earlier in the same year. Using non-professional actors to portraying a small crimes unit operating in the nation’s capital, the film proves a fascinating document of a community bursting with con artists, pickpockets and petty criminals, who prey on the growing legions of the nouveau riche however they can. Beijing Blues won both the Best Director prize at Shanghai and the Best Film award at Taipei’s Golden Horse awards that year, and remains the best cinematic depiction of the country’s changing attitudes towards wealth, survival and greed.
2014 is already looking bright for the future of Chinese Crime Cinema, and this emerging sub-genre of gritty, realistic, socially aware dramas and thrillers critical of a country divided into the haves and the have-nots. In February, Diao Yinan’s snow-cloaked murder mystery Black Coal, Thin Ice was awarded both the Golden Bear for Best Film and the Best Actor Silver Bear for Liao Fan at Berlin. The immediately provocative narrative follows a traumatised, alcoholic cop who becomes obsessed with the widow of a murder victim (played by Taiwanese beauty Gwei Lun Mei), whose body was found hacked to pieces and scattered in coal mines across the country. As he searches for the killer, a bizarre relationship evolves between them, while the world they inhabit is shown as nothing but bleak, cold and uncaring. Off the back of its award-winning visit to Germany, Black Coal, Thin Ice has had a surprisingly strong opening in China, rocketing past the RMB100 million (£9.5 million) mark in its first two weeks on release, wholly unexpected for a low budget art film with no real star power attached. No doubt the current success of Diao Yinan’s film is a
final sting in the tail for Jia, who had imagined a similar reception for A Touch of Sin after his victory at Cannes last year. Perhaps he can take some solace in knowing that most industrious Chinese film lovers will already have sought out his film via download or pirate DVD by now anyway, but its small recompense compared with the way his work has been treated by the Chinese authorities. While overseas audiences should certainly make the most of the opportunity to experience films like A Touch of Sin, No Man’s Land and Black Coal, Thin Ice when they get the chance, it is more encouraging to see that China’s own movie-going public is nurturing a hunger for something beyond mainstream fodder, for films that dare to confront their government and question wrongdoings when they see them. While not every film makes it through SAPPRFT’s impenetrable net of inconsistent censorship, the demand is clearly growing, and the filmmakers are only too willing to oblige.
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T E L L IN G S T O R I E S DAV I D H A L L O N T H E
F I L M
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words by David Hall
Touch of Sin belongs to the tradition of portmanteau film – a work made up of several short stories, or segments, that interrelate, crossover, or support a common theme. Definitions around what constitutes a portmanteau (as opposed to an anthology) differ, although most agree a film anthology (or omnibus) constitutes a grouping of separate stories; sometimes with a linking connection, sometimes this is not always the case. In the last decade a more recent term ‘hyperlink’ cinema – coined by Film Comment critic Alissa Quart – has been used to describe a trend for narratives with multiple story strands within one framework, that ‘toggle back and forth’, playing with time, flashing back and forward, usually through disparate stories. It’s all a little confusing but, however you want to badge them, films that utilise multiple storyline narratives have become more prevalent in the last two decades. Whereas many historical examples of portmanteau have been genre works (most explicitly horror) an
international trend for using portmanteau as a platform for heightened melodramatic, geo-political narratives emerged in the 2000s. The success of Pulp Fiction (1995) revealed a mainstream taste for more adventurous story-telling, with Tarantino drip-feeding parts of his multiple stories throughout the movie. It’s perhaps no coincidence that this vogue coincided with the emerging multimedia environment, which is where Quart’s hyperlink thesis comes in. Film portmanteau goes way back of course. The great Hollywood studio MGM brought together a galaxy of stars for Edmund Goulding’s Grand Hotel (1932), in which a disparate group of individuals’ lives intertwine over the course of a day in Berlin’s opulent establishment. The venerable British institution Ealing delivered one of the great anthology/portmanteau works in Dead of Night (1945), with its timelessly chilling ventriloquist dummy segment. Max Ophüls’ La Ronde (1950) is considered one of the great portmanteau works; a sexually charged merry-go round narrative based on Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play of the same name. In The Tales of Hoffman (1951), adapted from Jacques Offenbach’s opera Les contest d’Hoffmann, Powell and Pressberger track the lives of the young protagonist’s three past loves. In Japan, Masaki Kobayashi’s astonishing Kwaidan (1964) wove together macabre folk tales of the supernatural. In Spirits of the Dead (Histoires extraordinaires, 1968) international giants Federico Fellini, Louis Malle and Roger Vadim offered idiosyncratic takes on some of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. The British horror studio Amicus is fondly remembered for its consistently entertaining portmanteau works, including From Beyond the Grave (1974). In the 80s and early 90s the style fell out of fashion somewhat, and the more notable examples tend to be used as examples of the limitations of/diminishing returns of the format, particularly when the stories are helmed by group of directors; such as the hit and miss New York Stories (1989) and the folly of Four Rooms (1995). Although the great works of Robert Altman are not really portmanteau (Short Cuts - his Raymond Carver collection - comes closest to the format) his mastery of large casts, interlocking stories and overlapping narrative strands casts him as the granddaddy of Quart’s ‘hyperlink’ cinema. Quart suggests Altman essentially created the structure for the genre in Nashville (1975), a key influence on the director’s associates (Alan Rudolph) and obsessives (Paul Thomas Anderson) alike. There are evident echoes of Altman’s legacy in such divergent works as Anderson’s Magnolia (1999) as well as Richard Curtis’ queasy but well-intentioned compendium Love Actually (2003). In the last two decades portmanteau films have tended
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to explore a specific theme, with connections between disparate stories slowly revealed to the audience. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s gripping and vital Amores Perros (1999) explores three stories, connected by one car accident in Mexico City, and weaves them together to potent effect achieving instant international acclaim. The films multi-dimensional, spiritual, hyperlinked narrative had a freshness that was dazzling on first view but by the time Innaritu’s Babel (2005) came around, the approach had begun to look somewhat affected and superficial. The nadir of this “see how we are all connected!” style is Fernando Meirelle’s preposterous though intermittently entertaining 360 (2012) which is pure ‘Conde Nast Traveller’ cinema, with a bunch of wealthy characters experiencing various levels of international-class ennui, and at least partly takes its inspiration from La Ronde. That said, the portmanteau format still has a lot of life in it and there’s a sense that audience engagement seems much more geared toward multiple narratives these days, as well as larger audiences having a seemingly greater tolerance for long form cinema. In A Touch Of Sin, Jia
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Zhangke brings a lightness and delicacy to is handling of the four intense threads; maximising their power with an energy lacking in Iñarritu’s more pious works. Or Clint Eastwood’s almost comically overwrought Hereafter (written by 360 scribe Peter Morgan), in which the connections seem superficial and pompous by comparison. In Jia’s film the four geographically diverse stories are all based on real-life incidents, not spurious tales set in wildly different locales on different continents. His tales offer a cogent commentary on a culture tainted by cycles of violence as the economic downturn fractures further a society that on the surface, would appear to be in the ascendancy. Inspired by tweets about local incidents in China that resulted in violent encounters, the film paints a compellingly grim picture of fate and destiny (in that sense ‘Ill-Fated’ (Tian Zhuding), the less-flashy original title, perhaps works better) with stories that would be as riveting in isolation as much as they are when placed together. Perhaps that’s the ultimate test for the power of the portmanteau.
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NO THING’S SHOCKING
Jordan McGrath wonders whether an exclusive focus on violence robs films like ‘Heli’ of their true potency
words by Jordan McGrath
hen the ‘violence in cinema’ discussion finds itself at the forefront of film discourse – as it does every few years – my mind automatically returns to the blood-red screen that precedes Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. As well as that jarring block of colour, a nightmare-inducing synth blares loud – the 15 or 20 seconds before the title finally fades into centre-screen setting an instant atmosphere of unease, horrifying and piercing. It’s a glorious warning, Kubrick’s cinematic ‘shot across the bow’ boldly spelling-out the danger for any viewer who may be a tad naïve going in. In many ways, it’s a visual alarm that rings louder than anything audio can muster. Kubrick seems to be preparing us for “a little bit of the old ‘Ultra-violence’”
to use the phrase his sociopathic lead Alex coins in his memorable opening monologue. Kubrick’s self-referencing pre-credit caution supplies the audience with a firmer understanding of the content they are about watch within the film than the BBFC certificate. The embellished violence may be garish and tormented but it’s fiendishly executed with seething satire. Within the first 15 minutes Alex and his Droogs beat a homeless man to death, instigate a fight with a rival gang and force themselves in the home of an innocent couple where they hold the husband down, making him watch as they rape his wife. All whilst crooning, in demented delight, the feel-good tune Singin’ in the Rain. It’s the unforgivable masquerading as entertainment, and an outlandish, lurid representation of a society that was
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fed-to-the-dogs long ago. It may be violence as sport for Alex, but Kubrick’s commentary is potent, allegorical; commenting on the ingrained ‘fear of youth’ each preceding generation seems to have of the current. It is a film fully about violence so it seems fitting that, when people speak of the film, discussions inevitably lead to the shocking moments of vulgarity. It does seem strange, however, that after screening at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, dialogue surrounding Amat Escalante’s polarizing Heli was dictated by one unsettling violent act that happens half-way through the film. Unlike A Clockwork Orange (or even another film that premiered at the same festival, Only God Forgives), Heli isn’t particularly a film about violence but a window into the social malaise existing within a violent environment. It’s unfair to Escalante’s vision that discussions of the film’s pros and cons were reduced to a single scene. The act in question happens when Heli (Armando Espitia), his pre-teenage sister Estela (Andrea Vergara) and her 17-year-old boyfriend Beto ( Juan Eduardo Palacios) are picked up by Police at gun-point after Beto (who is
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training to be Military Officer) stumbles across a secret stash of cocaine in the desert by accident. Looking to fund his and Estela’s plans to elope, he pockets a couple of bags to sell himself. After capturing them, the police (of course being corrupt) hand them over to a group of local thugs who take Heli and Beto away to torture them for their wrongdoings, unaware of Heli’s lack on involvement in the actual theft. Bound at the wrists, Beto is hung from the roof and beaten with a wooden paddle by his captors. Then one of the men pulls down Beto’s trousers, douses his genitals in lighter-fluid and sets his penis on fire. It’s a truly distressing act. As wicked and barbaric as Escalante’s camera can be, he wants his audience to witness the atrocity, and it doesn’t cut from the horror. Up until that moment, it’s a slice-of-life drama as well as a story of forced masculinity, where Heli works a dead-end factory job, grinding through shift-after-shift just so he can support his wife and infant child. Beto (admittedly more through naivety than forced masculinity) believes his strength supplies him with enough substance to understand what it means ‘to be a man’ - although
his Military training involves rolling around in his own vomit and putting his head down a freshly used, sunbaked lavatory, not particularly acts of masculinity. In a rather amusing scene, he uses Estela as a human weight to complete some bicep curls in an attempt to display just how tough he is. The first hour of Heli, in simple terms, paints a hard life, economically, for everyone involved but a bearable one. It’s when Heli is thrust into the crime-world that he realises just how dangerous his homeland is. In a way, it’s like finally waking up to the ‘Real Mexico’, the one he’s only seen on the news and of which, until now, he and his family had remained unaffected. Heli’s threat for the first half of the story was that of financial survival but it quickly transforms into a threat of mortal survival. Escalante may be guilty of what Scott Foundas called in his Variety review ‘sledgehammer miserablism’ as Heli and his family’s live a life seemingly without a shred of hope of ever having anything better. However, it’s the way the director balances this social dichotomy which makes Heli a stimulating piece of cinema, as if outlining
an example of how easy it is to cross the line between these parallel worlds, both as distressing and desperate as the other, even for the standard Mexican family like Heli’s. The violent act is treated as punctuation for the contemplation of our protagonist; it’s shocking to us as an audience because it’s shocking to Heli as a character, completely turning his life upside-down – realising he is, in fact, stuck between a rock and a hard place. A scene where an armoured truck equipped with a remarkably large gun speeds up to Heli’s front door stays in your mind. Heli exits, the cannon-like barrel of the gun mere feet away from his face. Silence. The tension is undeniable until the truck swiftly reverses and continues down the road. You don’t know whether to laugh or cower in fear. Was it a bold reminder of who’s in charge or a case of mistaken identity? Either way, the absurdity of the image is terrifying to comprehend. Working alongside the talented cinematographer Lorenzo Hagerman, Escalante uses the locale - the desolate, dusty, seemingly dead landscape of rural Mexico to stunning effect. Beautiful, eye-catching shots juxtapose
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with the anguish and fear that floods the screen. Like a rotten apple, it may look attractive from the outside but the core is poisoned. And the director’s ability to place us there with the characters is palpable; the experience created is alien to most of us in first world countries. The well-crafted social commentary that runs through the spine of Heli is troubling and intense, layered and fascinating, and that makes the focus on that one act of brutality a real shame. Of course, I understand why people focus on the violent aspects of a particular film in their writing (violence is controversial and controversial headlines attract readers). But for people to focus solely on that single aspect only misrepresents the actual message at the core of the story. The director said, when talking to the Irish Examiner’s Pádraic Killeen, ‘It’s necessary to talk about the violence’ but shortly followed this up by adding ‘... maybe a little too much has been said about it.’ I believe Escalante began to think in the post-Cannes furore that the violence conversation began blurring his vision of the hopelessness of the Mexican existence; while the drug trade has its bloody hands around the country’s neck.
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Talking about it so blatantly waters-down the actual impact of the act. People who have had to wait for general release are now expecting it just so they can comment on the scene, robbing Escalante’s ability to shock his audience. Not that he’s trying to provoke with its inclusion but a piece of violence so realistic and brutal will always garner a reaction. I remember reading an article on the worthiness of cinema violence by Daily Telegraph film critic Robbie Collin in response to Jim Carrey’s comments about his ‘change of heart’ regarding his involvement with Kick-Ass 2 due to its representation of the violent acts within the film. Collin’s anecdote describes his experience at a screening of Gaspar Noé’s unflinching Irréversible where the audience had readied themselves for the stomach-churning nine-minute rape scene of Monica Belluci’s Alex due the fracas after its premiere at Cannes. What they weren’t ready for was the incredibly graphic violence of the film’s other scene, involving a character using fire-extinguisher to beat a man’s face into nothing less than mush. This disturbing act caused a viewer to vomit and, as he tried to exit the cinema, faint. Shock is one of cinema’s most important currencies.
“The old argument of a director’s responsibility could be raised once again. Is their job to create digestible audience-friendly content or produce authentic, truthful works of art?” Controversy is, as we all know, a great marketing tool for any film. But a focus on salaciousness can sometimes give attention to a part of a film that isn’t necessarily a huge factor of the overall work. Irréversible, for example, is a love story; deeply traumatic and heart-breaking as we see it unfold in reverse; therefore witnessing the anguish before the beauty, but a love story all the same. Another example would be Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, strangely fitting as it’s another film with genital mutilation. The uproar surrounding the film revolved around Charlotte Gainsbourgh’s now infamous scene where she uses a pair of scissors to cut off her clitoris. People forgot that underneath the controversy was a troubling and completely engrossing performance and film about battling depression. Von Trier’s metaphors are manufactured to provoke and he’s fully aware of that, but that doesn’t mean that the disturbing nature should define the film as a whole. Take a look at Kim Ki-Duk’s The Isle, in Roger Ebert’s review he perfectly describes the film as ‘the most gruesome and quease-inducing film you are likely to have seen. Yet it is also beautiful, angry and sad, with a curious sick poetry, as if Marquis de Sade had gone in
for pastel landscapes’. He understood the violence has meaning, contextualising its place and the role it plays in the overall story. Hollywood mainstream violence doesn’t seem to induce the same reaction, audiences now know tricks of the trade and can differentiate reality from fiction when limbs go flying (Kill Bill) or when bodies get riddled with bullets (The Expendables). It’s when the silver screen becomes transparent that people see the need to warn others, when the cinema becomes a window that attempts to embody ‘real life’. But if this is the case, the old argument of a director’s responsibility could be raised once again. Is their job to create digestible audience-friendly content or produce authentic, truthful works of art? Whatever the case may be, if we must caution every audience member about the shockingly violent acts within a film that may cause offence, my vote is to dust off Kubrick’s blood-red pre-cursor.
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Lucky Thirteen Kelsey Eichhorn reports from a vibrant Tribeca Film Festival
words by Kelsey Eichhorn
rowing up is generally a rather rough process. For all the hype of being a teenager, in hindsight most people realise those fleeting formative years between 13 and 20 aren’t exactly the time of your life. The Tribeca Film Festival turns 13 this year, and while it remains to be seen how this unique festival, which has fast become a staple in the infamous New York City arts scene, navigates the choppy waters of adolescents, it’s safe to say that when it comes to the seminal 13th birthdayTFF nailed it. The Tribeca Film Festival was launched in 2002 by Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro, who in 1988 founded the production company Tribeca Film, and by Rosenthal’s husband the prominent NYC real estate investor and philanthropist Craig Hatkoff. While there’s a whisper of rumours that the festival was already in initial planning prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks, there’s no doubt that the spring 2002 launch was an essential step in the revitalisation of lower Manhattan. With screenings scattered across Chelsea, Tribeca, Union Square and the East Village, not to mention countless industry parties,
interactive events, industry panels, a family-oriented film celebration day in Brooklyn, old school drive-in viewings, and even, this year, the addition of a street fair, Tribeca is truly a celebration of and for New York City. That’s not to say it doesn’t draw the odd outsider. The films selected for the festival hailed from 42 different countries and attracted an estimated three million people from around the world. World, International, North American and United States Premiers attract filmmaker and acting talent to the festival, adding a touch of celebrity while providing a unique point of access into the inspiration and insight behind each film: It’s rare to find a public screening that is not followed by a Q&A session. For twelve days in April, it’s safe the say that the mood in Manhattan - while animated even at the dullest of times - is simply electric. In the vein of all major film festivals, TFF offers competition prizes for a number of different accomplishments, the two major awards categories being the World Narrative Competition and the World Documentary Competition. This year’s nominees certainly didn’t disappoint. While the accolades were ultimately handed to
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In Order of Disappearance
Zero Motivation (Israel, 2014), written and directed by Talya Lavie and Point and Shoot (USA, 2014), directed by Marshall Curry, respectively, the eleven other films making up each category received their fair share of praise from both industry and public audiences. Particularly compelling was sophomore feature X/Y (USA, 2014) from actor/director Ryan Piers Williams. An episodic character-driven drama that carefully and unforgivingly dissects the lives of four NYC 20-somethings revealing with candid emotion how fundamental relationships are to the very meaning of life. Italian writer/director/producer Paolo Virzì’s Human Capital (Italy, 2014), a drama adaptation of Stephen Amidon’s book exploring the overlapping lives of two families, also captivated, garnering a Best Actress award for Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. In the Documentary competition any number of films could easily have walked away with top prize, with Regarding Susan Sontag (USA, 2014), directed by Nancy Kates receiving an honourable mention from the jury and Tomorrow We Disappear (USA, 2014) by Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber emerging as a clear audience favourite throughout the festival. Beyond the expected Narrative and Documentary Feature competitions, and a vibrant short program, TFF divides its offerings into more content-specific categories. The celebrated Spotlight films focus on the
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more marquee directors and performers in the festival, providing a showcase of breakout films that caters to a variety of cinematic palettes. From Director Jon Favreau’s Chef (USA, 2014), winner of the festival’s Audience Award, to Amy Berg’s fiction film debut Every Secret Thing (USA, 2014) and Best New Documentary Director Alan Hick’s Keep On Keepin’ On (USA, 2014), the Spotlight category shines with both narrative and documentary features from across the USA and includes a few notable international releases as well. Following its successful Berlin premiere, Hans Petter Moland’s dark comedic thriller In Order of Disappearance (Norway, 2014) fascinates with its genre-twisting narrative and proves one of the most entertaining films on the festival circuit this year. First time director Gia Coppola’s family is about as close as one can come to filmmaking royalty and Coppola’s more-than-accomplished debut may just prove her the heir apparent. Adapting James Franco’s short stories of the same name, Palo Alto (USA, 2013) is at once hilarious and heartbreaking, providing candid insight into the often-dismissed world of the suburban middle-class adolescent. Coppola’s subject matter is certainly nothing novel, but her treatment of Franco’s themes proves a real cinematic talent for storytelling, producing a film that is sure to charm audiences world-wide.
Broken Hill Blues
If the Spotlight series offers the most mainstream perspective at TFF, the Midnight selections provide the counterpoint. In a no holds-barred approach the Midnight films include horror, sci-fi, fantasy, comedy and numerous genre-defying films from around the globe. Director Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal (Ireland, 2014) emerged the dominant force in a program littered with shocks and suspense. A brilliant take on the age-old ghost story, The Canal offers up chilling imagery complimented by a bone-chilling score to produce a story audiences are unlikely to soon forget. Equally innovative is the festival’s Viewpoints series, an expansive category covering some of the most influential and provocative films of the festival. Embracing international independent cinema, the Viewpoints category offers both documentary and narrative films of distinctive, risky, and utterly original storytelling. There’s simply no telling what you’ll get in a category where John Butler’s ironic Irish comedy The Bachelor Weekend (Ireland, 2013) screens alongside the introspective Slow Cinema style of Sofia Norlin’s Broken Hill Blues (Sweden, 2013) and the fascinating vérité style of home-grown Brooklyn directors Justin Weinstein and Tyler Meason’s documentary An Honest Liar (USA, 2014). Narrative feature Beneath the Harvest Sky (USA, 2013) from Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch” in 2013 Aron Gaudet and Gita
Pullapilly stood out in an already dominant crowd. Using the age-old coming-of-age tale as an entrance point to a much more complex and poignant story about the nature and importance of relationships, the film avoids the hackneyed lens of adolescent epiphany, emerging with an authenticity that honours to the director’s documentary background. Rounding out the programming is a variety of industry talks and panels, interactive installations, master classes and live events. Drive-in film screenings catered to families, showing Mary Poppins, Splash, and new documentary release Next Goal Wins, and offering dancing, face-painting, food trucks and more. The Tribeca Talks Series offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the genius of editor Thelma Schoonmaker, actress Isabella Rossellini and director Morgan Spurlock, among others. In a move that’s not surprising given New York City’s sportcrazed culture, the festival has begun an ESPN collaboration showcasing prominent new sports documentaries from around the world. This year’s program included the highly anticipated UK documentary Maradona ’86 (UK, 2014) from director Sam Blair as well as the obligatory nod to America’s pastime with The Battered Bastards of Baseball (USA, 2014) from Chapman and Maclain Way. The final cherry on the top of a festival already sprinkled with liberal amounts of innovation is the debut of
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the Tribeca Film Festival Innovation Week. Providing a showcase for new, high-tech modes of storytelling and illustrating the ever-narrowing gap between storytellers and innovators, the Innovation week program emphasises the art of collaboration. Games for Change, the largest gaming event in New York City, joins TFF for the first time in 2014, while the newly developed Tribeca Hacks <Mobile> series sees established filmmakers joining technologists and designers to envision new possibilities for visual storytelling in an increasingly digital age. Through an interactive installation, the StoryScapes series offers a rare opportunity for transmedia artists to exhibit their work within the film festival setting, boldly acknowledging the ever-evolving nature of film while paying homage to the rich traditions of cinema’s history. With such unconventional programming rounding out an already eccentric lineup, it’s safe to say TFF is positioning itself as a festival for the 21st century. The harsh reality of film festivals, however, is that they cost money to produce. And while Tribeca is a brilliant experience (packed with unique programming and inspiring industry events) if it’s not careful it runs the risk of marginalising the public. Screenings start at a cool $9, but anything running outside of working or sleeping hours is nearly double that at $17. Entrance to a talk or panel is going to set you back $30. As a one-off expense,
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perhaps not so bad, but the most common complaint to be heard round lower Manhattan this April was “I would have loved to have seen more, but it’s just so expensive!” Partnership with a number of major corporations facilitated the festival’s first “Free Film Friday”, a worthy step towards increasing accessibility, yet it remains to be seen if the move was successful, as the single-day limitation left more than a few wannabe festival-goers slightly perturbed. Tribeca has all the qualifications to continue to be a unique and informative window into the world of film for a vast cross section of New York citizens. Its heart’s in the right place, but the strength of New York City, Tribeca’s self-confessed inspiration, lies in its diverse and dynamic community. The festival walks a thin line between catering to the cinematic elite and marginalising the “masses”. To lose its local core would certainly be to TFF’s detriment. As the festival surges forward with that youthful energy found only in adolescents, it will be interesting to see where TFF goes next. They’re clearly doing something right, as this year’s festival boasted one of the strongest programs on the festival circuit. So, while perhaps still just a fledgling powerhouse on the international stage, it is clear that the comparatively young Tribeca Film Festival has earned its stripes and is most certainly here to stay.
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Everything’s turning to White
Louise Nelson talks Leanne Pooley about the making of 3D Everest documentary Beyond The Edge, which explores the first successful ascent in 1953 of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay
interview by Louise Nelson Vérité: There are a number of films about the great attempts to scale Everest as well as documentaries about the general physical and psychological challenges of climbing the mountain. Why did you feel the story of the 1953 ascent needed to be told afresh?
anniversary year of the first successful ascent.
You and producer Matthew Metcalfe secured the blessing of the families of both Hillary and Norgay before making the film.
This was absolutely critical for us. We didn’t want to tell Leanne Pooley: In recent years, you could say that some the story without their blessing and involvement. It was of the gloss has come off of Everest. You see a lot of news also really important that we didn’t overlook Norgay’s amazing achievements. reports about inexperienced climbers, overcrowding, over-commercialisation and even fights. The attempts to be the first on Everest to do something are becoming The son of Tenzing Norgay, Jamling, once said that more extreme - the first sky-dive off Everest, the first helicopter landing and so forth. There’s almost a percep- Sherpas are “the unsung heroes” of Everest. tion that you can somehow buy your way to the top - that Most definitely. Climbing Everest wouldn’t really be it might even be easy. What we wanted to do was return possible without the support of the Sherpas. They are the mystique to the mountain, particularly in the 60th
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the backbone of Himalayan climbing. And Norgay was an excellent mountaineer. Hillary specifically wanted to climb to with Norgay on their summit push. It was wonderful to have a large Nepali contingent at the world premiere in Toronto last September.
What makes the Hillary-Norgay partnership so compelling? They were outsiders, perhaps even underdogs in a sense. Before making this film, I didn’t know that Hillary and Norgay weren’t the first choice for the actual summit push. The 1953 British Mount Everest expedition was led by Colonel John Hunt who chose Britons Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans for the first summit bid. It was only when Bourdillon and Evans didn’t succeed that Hillary and Norgay had their shot. There was a lot of political intrigue and pressure to deal with given the time but Hillary and Norgay were absolutely tenacious.
What drove the decision to film in 3-D? The story really serves cinema and we wanted to pull the audience into the world of Everest. We really wanted to make the film as experiential as possible and bring the audience closer to the journey. When you see the tents on the mountain, for example, and the shot pulls out to reveal the scale of Everest, it’s extraordinary.
The film also contains new footage of Everest shot by New Zealand mountaineer Mark Whetu as well as reenactments shot in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. What were the challenges of filming at high altitude?
They were real partners who were prepared to make personal sacrifices. And they were both far more complex that most given them credit for which is why we try to delve into their backgrounds. Hillary could be quiet and shy but he had presence, ambition and stamina like no other.
It was enormously challenging. Weather was a huge issue, of course, and the logistics were tough. We had to make about 20 helicopter lifts a day to get all of us and our three tonnes of equipment above 10,000ft for the dramatic recreations. Thankfully we had fantastic consultants who advised us on filming safely and avoiding all kinds of objective hazards like giant crevasses. It’s a dangerous, “live” environment and filming is slow when you necessarily put safety first and everyone has to be clipped in and harnessed.
In recreating of the world of 1950s mountaineering, you’ve drawn on numerous sources.
What do you think this film adds to the canon of Everest films and documentaries?
We used archival footage and stills from the Royal Geographical Society, newsreels, recreations, expert analysis from top climbers and commentary from both Sir Edmund Hillary and his son, Peter. We were so lucky to have access to all of the historical material. We also had a great team to work on recreating key moments of the climb that were not filmed at the time. We found amazing actors who bore an immense resemblance to Hillay and Norgay. And we tried to be as authentic as possible, right down to the fabric of Hillary’s hat. Costumes and props had to be exact replicas. I knew we had to go to and fro from different media and we had to make the final product absolutely seamless. We needed all of these
We hope that we’ve captured the spirit of adventure and sense of history and occasion. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were truly going into the unknown. It was like going to the moon. No one knew if they would make it. No one knew if they’d drop dead of an embolism when they reached the summit. Everest was the “third pole”. And although we focus in on Hillary and Norgay, the ascent of Everest was a massive team effort with so many players involved. The determination, bravery and derring-do are awe-inspiring.
Norgay saved Hillary’s life as we see in the film.
elements to come together to take the audience on a journey.
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*Beyond the Edge will be released in the UK on 23 May.
Available today for FREE!
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Vérité’s Top 5 Swinging London
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5. The Knack (and How To Get It) (1965) Between making his two seminal Beatles films, A Hard Day’s Night and Help! (and inventing the modern music video in the process), Dick Lester produced this characteristically madcap Palme D’Or winning comedy further tapping into the emerging youth culture of the era. Nebbish teacher Colin (Michael Crawford) is exasperated by womanising flatmate Tolen (Ray Brooks) and the endless parade of conquests he brings home, yet seeks his advice on how to be get “the knack” of being more successful with the opposite sex. They soon add a third male tenant, Tom (Donal Donnelly) into the mix and their dynamic becomes even more problematic when they encounter recently arrived naïve northern lass Rita Tushingham (the Queen of the Kitchen Sink drama) who proves to be a bone of contention between the two. Crawford and Brooks are better remembered for their work in Television and the film feels somewhat dated today (not to mention rather misogynistic) with its sight gags and self-consciously zany, quintessentially 60s style. Yet its sheer authenticity in capturing, albeit in an exaggerated way, the social and interpersonal mores and attitudes of a time and place (complete with a Greek chorus of disapproving elders bemused by the swinging London generation and their antics), allied with its trademark Lester visual innovation and verve and a jazzy John Barry score, make it worth a look. Tom Gore
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4. Sympathy for the Devil (1968) Godard had initially wanted to make a film with The Beatles (with John Lennon as Soviet Revolutionary Leon Trotsky-surely one of the great cinematic what ifs..?!) but ended up in a more suitable union of stylistic temperaments with The Stones. Juxtaposing session footage of the band rehearsing/recording their eponymous seven minute track from the Beggars Banquet album (at Olympic Studios in Barnes) with images of 60s political and cultural upheaval played out across London: Black Power militants in a Battersea junkyard, a man reading from Mein Kampf in a bookstore laden with pornographic and Nazi titles (a Godardian thesis asserting a link between pornography and fascism)…topped off with a recurring stream of consciousness/pulp-novel style doggerel voiceover (from actor Sean Lynch) name-checking various political and pop-culture figures of the time. Made after the Director had renounced “conventional” Cinema following his apocalyptic 1967 classic Week End, the film is neither an easy watch nor an entirely successful formal experiment, but is included as an example of the kind of creative freedom awarded to big name Directors at this heady time in the capital of the counterculture. Differences between Godard and Producer Iain Quarrier resulted in two different cuts (Godard’s was titled One Plus One and didn’t include a finished version of The Stones track as the film’s denouement) and culminated in the combustible Franco-Swiss auteur punching the producer during a heated confrontation when the film debuted at The London Film Festival that year, with Godard first offering the attendees a refund and then “inviting” them outside to see his version projected in the street. Tom Gore
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3. Repulsion (1965) Turning the tables (whether intentionally or not) on the lairy misogyny of 60s London, Roman Polanski’s outstanding psychological horror still shocks today (sloaney Kensington has rarely seemed so menacing). Catherine Denueve’s Carole Ledoux (either a frigid femme fatale or a misandrous female avenger, depending on where you sit) is a shy Belgian manicurist living with her sister Hélène (Yvonne Furneaux) in a creaky Kensington Mansion Block. Emotionally frail, she is first driven to distraction by the presence of Hélène’s egregious, space-rapey (and married) boyfriend (Ian Hendry) and then left to fend for herself when the couple go away for the weekend. Alone and mentally unravelling having been banished from work, her home becomes a hellish decaying prison as she is nevertheless hassled by a string of unwanted gentleman callers (both real and imagined). Filled with nightmarish imagery (groping hands coming out of the walls, rotting dead rabbits) and abounding with theoretical, psychological and gender-based subtext (the exact nature of Carole’s psychosis-whether schizophrenia and/or residual damage from childhood abuse-isn’t definitively clarified, neither is her sexual orientation and it has been noted that it is one of the few “slasher” movies in which it is a woman who gets to kill men) the film is generally thought of as being the first instalment in the Director’s Apartment Trilogy which continued with Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976). Tom Gore
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2. Blow-Up (1966) In retrospect, one of the best things about the Swinging London cultural scene was how it enticed talented European filmmakers (Godard and Truffaut included) over to Britain to make films. Perhaps the greatest example of this is Michelangelo Antonioni’s masterly Blow Up. Fresh from his existentialist early 60’s trilogy/tetralogy (L’Avventura, LA Notte, L’Eclisse, Red Desert) on “modernity and its discontents”, the Italian decamped to London to capture the freewheeling hedonism of the capital in the mid-60s in all its febrile yet superficial glory; ostensibly using the City as a backdrop over which played out an intricate cinematic musing on truth, perception and the nature of the image. Bailey-esque photographer David Hemmings lives a hedonistic (if empty) playboy existence but when driving his Rolls through South London one day, stops at a park and surreptitiously photographs a couple. When he enlarges the images back at his studio, he realises that he has unwittingly recorded a murder. Through further analysis and manipulation of the image he gradually pieces together some of the evidence (when he’s not busy “pulling birds”), but without tangible proof, does it matter? Making excellent use of London locations (including Maryon Park in Charlton and Chelsea’s Cheyne Walk) and featuring a notable turn from Vanessa Redgrave and a cameo from The Yardbirds who perform “Stroll On” during a club scene, the film proved hugely influential; serving as the inspiration for everything from Coppola’s The Conversation and De Palma’s Blow OutT to certain low-culture pastiches of Hemmings’ laddish character (looking at you Mike Myers). Tom Gore
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1. Performance (1970) The transgressive ne plus ultra of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll films: Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s masterpiece (made in 1968 but ultimately not released until 1970) can be viewed as both bookend and eulogy to a decade of counterculture and excess: Square East London Gangster Chas ( James Fox) is on the run from his Boss ( Johnny Shannon) and (despite initially being repulsed by their lifestyles) hides out with reclusive rocker Turner (Mick Jagger in his first feature role) and his lascivious housemates: Pherber (legendary Stones groupie/girlfriend: Anita Pallenberg) and Lucy (Michèle Breton) in a run-down Notting Hill terrace. Adapting to his licentious free-love surroundings, he gradually opens his mind and partakes in their sexual/pharmaceutical experimentation (after being drugged with hallucinogens). So much so that the identities of Chas and Turner begin to overlap and merge, producing an ambiguous finale. A treatise on the shifting, porous nature of identity masquerading as a Jagger-vehicle-meets Gangster-movie; the behind the scenes goings on during the making of Performance (including scandalous rumours of “orifice cameras” to achieve certain shots, copious on-set drug taking/general debauchery, and Fox becoming an evangelical Christian and withdrawing from cinema for ten years such was the toll the shoot took on him) only added to its legend and these are almost as interesting as the finished work itself; particularly the way in which they uncannily mirror the plot of the film. First time Director Cammell and Cinematographer/Co-Director Roeg even began to somewhat resemble Chas and Turner; working together so seamlessly that their creative personalities seemed to fuse and their individual contributions became indistinguishable. So authentic that as Marianne Faithfull (not present but alluded to in the form of mars bars left next to the milk on Turner’s doorstep) pointed out it “preserves a whole era under glass.” Tom Gore
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T H FESTIVAL G E B N D A words by Evrim Ersoy
oston Underground Film Festival held at the city’s prestigious Brattle Theatre celebrated its 16th birthday this year with a festival line-up designed to please even the most difficult audience members – with a range of films varying from the cult to the sublimely gentle, the line-up was a veritable platter of delight and pleasure. Brattle Theatre is located on the busy and historic Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA and on early Wednesday evening the crowds start queuing up for the opening film despite an unexpectedly cold spell. Inside the volunteers have set-up camp in the theatre’s tiny lobby armed with Ipad’s and lists ready to dish out the rewards to those who donated to the
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Kickstarter campaign. Up a short flight of steps lies the main auditorium – one of the only two back-projecting cinemas left in American, Brattle is a beautiful relic kept in immaculate condition. The lay-out is almost identical to the Prado cinema in Sitges with the exception being the projection room lying behind the screen. Overhead thick beams support the fairly high ceiling and on them sit owls leftover from a long-gone Twin Peaks event. What’s undeniable is the buzz the festival creates. Although some of the film choices are defiantly obscure, the crowd never fails to turn up and fill up the mid-sized theatre. It’s a refreshing sight to look at 75% capacity on a 9.45 Friday screening of Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears in what is effectively the heart of a college town. The festival’s organizers handle every job – there isn’t a big Festival team save the wonderful volunteers – and sometimes it’s easy to tell crossed-wires and last-minute job fraying the nerves. But suffice it to say it’s all
handled with humour and aplomb and even the tensest of moments will soon be dissolved. The other remarkable part of the festival is its sharp focus on the social aspect of the festival experience – opening night onwards there’s a themed party every night and local bands alongside DJs and other acts appear in almost every one of them. Anyone who has bought a ticket to the evening’s film also gets access to the party and there are no divisions between talent and audience – no VIP rooms, separate areas or inaccessible corners – it’s unexpectedly egalitarian and very refreshing. At the end of the five days the audience, the festival team, the volunteers and the hard-working projectionists are all tired but happy – another successful year means the bar has been raised higher yet again. So it’s only moments after that the preparation for the next year begins – a crazy but admirable process. Check out the next couple pages for some of the highlights from the festival:
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MY NAME IS JONAH directors Phil Healy, Jb Sapienza
Having its world premiere at the Festival, My Name Is Jonah is one of the most ludicrous, entertaining and enjoyable documentaries ever made. However for a film about Jonah to be anything else would be highly impossible. Jonah Washnis is one of life’s extra-ordinary characters: a man who has lived his life the way he desired – which sees him dressing up as anything from Conan-like warriors to Punisher-esque law enforces in a series of elaborate cards which went viral in the early days of MySpace. Surround him – and yet the entire story is real. He’s a man who despite all the adversity he has faced has lived his life the only way he knew how. Directors Phil Healy and J.B. Sapienza capture the glory of Jonah’s story in a wonderfully lofi documentary that blends the absurd, the humorous and the wonderful in an able and brilliant format. Perhaps the film’s only fault is that the running time is a little too long. However this is a small complaint in the face of such an incredible discovery as Jonah. The direction is unobtrusive, letting Jonah, his friends and his family tell the story of the man who no-one can quite define. Some love him, others derive him but it’s there’s one thing everyone can agree on it’s that there’s no-one quite like Jonah.
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STARRY EYES directors Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Directors Kevin Kolsch and Denis Widmyer’s dark tale of L.A. greed and corruption was one of the highlights of the festival screening after its incredibly successful premiere at SXSW. Focusing on young actress Sarah who is struggling to find success amidst all the other wannabe actors, actresses and director in L.A, she finds herself offered a dream part by a strange film company titled Astraeus Pictures. Although Sarah is at first resistant to the company’s strange demands and skeptical about their promise of overnight success; she slowly finds herself being seduced by the dream of rising to the top. A vicious, bitter and thoroughly enjoyable moral commentary on our obsession with success and failure as well as examining the moral boundaries of what we will do for success, Starry Eyes puts a new spin on a familiar story and takes it to the absolute edges of what we expect. Coupled with terrific cinematography which reflects L.A as a grey hell where dreams go to die and an incredible synth score reminiscent of 80’s genre classics (which is also reflected in the brilliant title sequence). It’s an audacious and daring film which will divide audiences all across the world.
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EAT SLEEP DIE 46
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Finding Life Kelsey Eichhorn continues our partnership with the Swedish Film Institute highlighting some of their personal favourites from their collection. This month’s addition - Eat Sleep Die
introduction by Swedish Film Institute
istory, as the saying goes, is written by the victors. Art, too, is created along the same lines: people with power have a voice, a voice that gets heard. And it’s through their eyes that portraits of the world take shape. So too in the world of film. Most Swedish filmmakers are based in the major cities, so it’s in the cities that most Swedish films are set. Even if those films show people from all walks of life, not just life’s ‘victors’, it’s important to realise that there’s another Sweden which is neither urban nor a rural idyll. Eat Sleep Die is set far away from Stockholm, in a small village in the countryside of Skåne in the deep south of Sweden. A dump of a place in the middle of nowhere, it’s not remotely cosy like Wallander’s Ystad. A place where the buildings are ugly, the winter is gray and very little happens. It’s here that 20-year-old Raša lives with her lone father. Immigrants from the former Yugoslavia, they were part of the large wave from that country who arrived in Sweden in the 1990s. The father is in poor heath and can hardly speak
Swedish, so it’s Raša who takes care of him and provides for the family. She works in a factory packing salad leaves, until one day the boss announces that since times are hard he needs to make cutbacks, and Raša loses her job. Her world suddenly falls apart. The film presents her struggle to remain in the village despite the lack of jobs and the authorities’ demands that jobseekers have to try to find work right across the country. Eat Sleep Die is a story of identity, belonging and pride. A story of love and of loyalty to friends and family. It’s also a story of racism and unemployment – of Swedish society as it is today. Newcomer and amateur Nermina Lukač is sensational as Raša, a role for which she scooped a Swedish Guldbagge award for Best Actress. The film marks the feature debut of Gabriela Pichler, who also picked up Guldbagge awards for Best Film, Best Direction and Best Screenplay. The film has also won plaudits at film festivals in Italy, France, the US and elsewhere. Hardly surprising really – Eat Sleep Die shows a side of Sweden that few have ever seen on film, yet one which is a reality for many. And it does so with razor-sharp brilliance.
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words by Kelsey Eichhorn
owards the end of Gabriela Pichler’s Eat Sleep Die (ÄTA SOVA DÖ, Sweden 2012) is a scene in which lead character Raša takes her father to the doctor. They’ve already been to see the doctor once before in the film, enquiring unsuccessfully after a medical referral as Pappan’s back and leg pain make it nearly impossible for him to work. One gets the sense these two doctors visits are predicated by many, many more. Raša sits in the chair next to the examining table, the camera focusing on her face as she nervously chews her thumb, her brow furrowed as she watches the doctor go through the same routine checkup, asking her father the same routine questions. Her worry is palpable - worry for her father’s health, obviously, but this most fundamental of concerns is compounded by an equally harsh and much more immediate concern. As the doctor completes his evaluation his disembodied off screen voice berates Raša’s father for his lifestyle: the doctor simply cannot understand why, when Pappan had been to see him only a few months prior, he would then go to Norway to work in manual labour. When Raša’s father replies incredulously that he must work, the doctor’s smug reply is “money isn’t everything”. While perhaps not the most subtle of scenes, the
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exchange is shockingly effective. In a country widely praised for its welfare system and quality of life, the blatant naivety on the part of the doctor for Raša’s family’s situation is bewildering and no doubt intended to be more than a little offensive in the eyes of the audience. While money is not, in fact, everything, it is, in fact, essential. Such is the reality of the modern world, and Pichler’s honest, detached portrayal of Raša’s story brings this fact home with resounding poignancy. The film follows a traditional narrative structure, using Raša’s redundancy as an early instigating plot point and her eventual re-employment as the meaningful climax. Yet unlike a traditional narrative, the film doesn’t revolve around progression, employing instead a more languid, observational storyline. While the first third of the film sets the tone and builds in dramatic fashion to the moment when Raša is laid off from her job, the real meaning of the film lies in the insight into her life and personality revealed through her subsequent search for employment. Pichler’s tale offers a really window-onto-a-world, illuminating not only harsh political and social realities but also affecting truths of humanity. Raša’s world is grey. The streets of the town centre are grey, the buildings pale and muted against the dull backdrop of parched grass, dead leaves and dirt roads. While
the film covers some four-odd months, there is never once a sunny day. The grey clouds settle over Raša like an ever-increasing weight of responsibility, and while she stubbornly sticks out her chin, determined to match the world blow-for-blow, the mounting pressure closes in undeterred. The monochromatic palette of the film reflects the singularity of Raša’s life. Evoking the provocativeness of the film’s title, one of Raša’s rhetorically asks the group of family and friends around her what is Raša supposed to do? Eat, sleep, and die? Is that a life? The answer is obvious, no. And yet the reality is that for many, like Raša, the answer is perhaps not so obvious. In another poignant yet seemingly what inconsequential scene, Raša is making the rounds to local shops looking for employment. While the bulk of the film concerns Raša’s job search after she is laid off from her position at a lettuce-packaging factory, this scene see’s the young Muslim Swedish immigrant actively travelling around, asking specific townspeople for odd jobs. An unobtrusive and truthful camera shadows Raša as she stops in at a local convenience store towards the end of the day, asking the woman inside who is slowly closing up shop, about the petition on the door. The woman tells her it’s a petition, to get a carnival to come to town, and Raša in return asks if she can take it with her, to get more signatures. In
a later scene, as she meets up with friends for a drink and asks them to sign, she calls the petition “work”. While the concept is a bit ridiculous -gathering petition signatures is not a job- and they all laugh at her, the inference is important. For Raša, the quest for petition signatures is a purpose, a goal, and as such, gives her life meaning. In a world where her immigrant status, foreign name, dearth of formal education and lack of a driver’s license all conspire to make her powerless against impending poverty, the importance of having purpose and worth is as basic as collecting signatures. The film is simultaneously a portrait of strength and vulnerability. And as Raša visits the carnival alone, swirling round and round on her solo ride, the heart breaks for her lonely, uphill struggle. In her debut feature, Pichler says she wanted to tell a story about the people she has “always loved, but was sometimes ashamed to be part of. Sweden has an uneasy relationship with its self-image that has to come to terms with its status as an immigration and asylum country.” * The resulting film serves as a call to action for both her country, and the world, and is one of the most authentic questions posed to modern society in recent years.
* sourced from the Anagram Produktion website
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WILD AND CRAZY GUY 50
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Divide Comedy Hitoshi Matsumoto In this month’s discovery strand, Evrim Ersoy celebrates the unique comedic sensibility of Hitoshi Matsumoto
words by Evrim Ersoy
ven amidst the out-there comedies from Japan, director Hitoshi Matsumoto holds a special place. Since his debut in 2007 he has persistently pushed the definition of comedy, expertly blending both philosophical and emotional quandaries with a keen grasp of absurd and physical comedy creating works which have no equal in Asian cinema. Originally one half of the famous comedy duo Downtown, Matsumoto is also a famous television and radio personality as well as a writer with almost a dozen books to his credit. A documentary on the director introduced him as ‘a man who sold his soul to comedy’ and perhaps that’s the most apt way of beginning to understand him. Although Matsumoto’s eclectic approach is apparent in his shorts, it’s his debut feature which clearly states the director’s intentions: to craft comedy with an absurd edge unlike anything on offer.
Big Man Japan is a sublime blend of the ridiculous and the unexpected: a mockumentary that follows Masaru Daisato, an everyday salaryman who would appear to be normal but in fact possesses the ability to grow to almost 30 metres, which he uses to protect Japan against the various monsters that appear from time to time. Blending the Japanese love for the monster movies with social commentary, Matsumoto concocts a heady mix of comedy and satire whilst referencing the classic Kaiju films of Japanese cinema. The camera crew follows Daisato through a normal day; interviewing the witnesses to his fights whilst Daisato goes through his duties without as much as a major thank-you. He is estranged from his family and, whilst others seem to benefit from his efforts, Daisato seems destined to live through a life of poverty even though it’s his efforts which keep protecting Japan. This dissatisfaction with culture and those who abuse
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it is a theme Matsumoto returns to in other films – he finds dissatisfaction in the way things are all across Japan; whether it’s the fate of Kanjuro which no-one seems to be able to change, or the fantasies of Takafumi which clearly are trying to cover his feelings over the fate of his wife and his relationship with his own son. Hitoshi Matsumoto’s next film, Symbol, is also his hardest to describe: an unnamed Japanese man wakes up in an empty white room with no doors or ways of escape. The only objects available to him are a number of white switches on the wall. As he starts to experiment with the switches, more and more absurd occurrences are triggered by his choices. Meanwhile in Mexico, a luchador prepares for a match with his partner whilst his son cheers him on. Although the odds are against him and his partner as their opponents are younger and more aggressive, he seems determined to see the match through. How these storylines converge, in Matsumoto’s hands, becomes a treaty on faith, religion, God and spirituality. Whilst the majority of the film relies on sublime slapstick for laughs, the final act transcends all the comedy that’s gone before to become a truly moving piece of cinema – the ending seems to purposely encourage debate about
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what the film is trying to bring across. Matsumoto takes the lead in the film as the Japanese man trapped in the room of oddities and his comic timing is perfect – the hapless reactions to the action around him mine the audience for laughs, even from repeat jokes, and his switch from comedic foil to symbol of faith is an interesting journey. Matsumoto continues the exploration of faith and belief in his next film Scabbard Samurai – which focuses on Kanjuro, a has-been samurai who refuses to fight after the death of his wife. His sheath no longer contains a sword but instead just the scabbard. He’s followed by his spirited daughter as he travels throughout the land. When he’s captured by the local lord and put on trial for having abandoned his position as a samurai he’s given a choice: either he has to make the Lord’s son (who has not cracked a smile since his illness) laugh or he has to commit seppuku to regain his honour. Although Kanjuro is reluctant at first – with the goading of his daughter and some heavily involved prison guards, he’s trying to find the most unexpected ways of mining comedy to make the Lord’s son laugh. Matsumoto’s Kanjuro is an empty, hollow husk of a
“It’s rare to discover a director whose understanding of comedy allows him to blend religious, spiritual, satirical and dramatic elements into what are effectively slapstick comedies, but this is exactly what Matsumoto does.” man – played beautifully by T.V. personality Takaaki Nomi and it’s his transformation and the evolution of his relationship with his daughter which gives the film unexpected heart. The jokes are again visual wonders, impossible to explain, but mining the comic potential from moments of absurd wonder such as a giant kite and people being shot out of cannons. An unexpected coda adds an honest, effective sentimental edge to a film that has been building towards an unusual climax. Matsumoto once again draws the audience in with humour and turns it all upside down by letting his characters change through the course of the movie. R100, Matsumoto’s most recent and perhaps risqué works combines sadomasochistic comedy with meta-film plot: in a darkened room in Japan a 100-year-old film-director is showing his newest work to the censorship office members who are so offended that they keep wanting to put a R100 certificate on the film: only suitable for those 100 years and older. Within the film, Takafumi Katayama signs a contract with a weird and kinky sex agency which promises him beatings from a series of wicked dominatrix. The catch? He will never know when the women will strike; creating a tension and apprehension which will supposedly
add to the sexual pleasure. However Takafumi has a wife who is in a coma and a son he needs to look after. As the interludes with the women start happening at more and more unfortunate moments, he tries to break the contract which only enrages the dodgy boss of the sex agency. A war begins between Takafumi and the dominatrix and it’s never clear as to who might win. A bleached-out colour palette gives the film a tired, mysterious look, reflecting on Takafumi’s mindset. His desire for the encounters stems more out of desperation with the way his life has gone than anything else – once again Matsumoto gently satirizes Japan’s inability to deal with their emotional problems by hiding behind secondary means. The results are both over the top and amusing. It’s rare to discover a director whose understanding of comedy allows him to blend religious, spiritual, satirical and dramatic elements into what are effectively slapstick comedies, but this is exactly what Matsumoto does. Through the use of exquisite jokes, he gives the Japanese people a chance to look at their own shortcomings and perhaps ponder upon their own lives in order to improve them.
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Masters of Cinema
Ace in the Hole Cleaver Patterson on the caustic wit and casual cynicism in a Billy Wilder classic
words by Cleaver Patterson
ince its inception during the early years of the twentieth century, Hollywood has always had a love/hate relationship with the press - whether in reality; through coverage in publications owned by the likes of media baron William Randolph Hearst, or in films themselves, such as the Cary Grant comedy His Girl Friday (1940), or Michael Keaton vehicle The Paper (1994). The two factions have always had a dependency on one-another, though you’d seldom get them to admit it. Few films capture this relationship better than Ace in the Hole - a gritty drama in every sense. Classic is a word used too frequently by film writers, particularly when dissecting productions from Hollywood’s glory days. Ace in the Hole may be one of the few which justly deserves the moniker. Viewing this hard-boiled human drama most recently, it now comes across as not
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only one of the archetypal films from the fading days of old Hollywood’s preoccupation with the media and fame, but also amongst the best work of both its director and its star player. There was probably no-one better than Billy Wilder to direct a film which revolved around journalism and fame and their destructive effects on both the individual, as well as more generally on the wider public. Born in Austria-Hungary in 1906 Wilder, a Jew, had worked as a journalist himself in Berlin, before leaving for Paris and then Hollywood in the early 1930s, following the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. It was after his move to America’s West Coast that he found success as one of Hollywood’s most celebrated filmmakers, writing, producing and directing some of the industry’s most famous films. As well as the comedies he made in later years such as Some Like
it Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960), it was dramas like The Lost Weekend (1945) and Sunset Boulevard (1950), which captured the murkier side of human nature, that showed Wilder at his darkest. The story follows Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) - a down-on-his-luck reporter who, having been sacked from a string of well paid jobs on national newspapers, finds himself in a dead-end post on a local rag in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sent by his boss at the paper Jacob Q. Boot (Porter Hall) to report on a local rattlesnake hunt Chuck stumbles on what he sees as the story of the century, and his ticket back to big time reporting. Local man Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) is stuck underground after the roof collapsed in a cave where he was digging for ancient artefacts to sell to passing tourists. Realising there is more of a story in keeping Leo in the cave for as long as possible Chuck does all he can to string out the rescue operation. However, as hours stretch into days and Leo becomes increasingly weak trapped underground, Chuck begins to question his reasons and motivation for prolonging the innocent manâ€™s suffering, whilst milking the growing media and public interest in the story for his own ends. Considered a critical and commercial failure at the time of its release, this film has stood the test of time, cultivating in later years something of a cult status. The most likely reason for this is that at its core are timeless elements recognisable to everyone; whether itâ€™s the central thread which revolves around Chuck, the fiercely competitive, blinkered and self-centred hack journalist, or the media obsessed crowds who gather with morbid fascination to ogle the unfortunate Leo (whose accident in the remote cave is the catalyst that brings the storyâ€™s characters together). Ace in the Hole is a dark and broody, even frightening film which on the face of it has (like its central characters) very few redemptive qualities. It works due to its sense of realism, probably due in part to the story being based on two real-life events. In 1925 W. F Collins was trapped after a landslide inside Sand Cave, Kentucky. Smelling a story a Louisville newspaper, the Courier-Journal, sent William Burke Miller to report on the story. The ensuing nationwide media frenzy which Miller generated through his coverage earned him a Pulitzer Prize, but did little good for the unfortunate Collins who died before help reached him. In a similar event in April 1949, a three-year-old girl Kathy Fiscus from San Marino, California, fell into an abandoned well. The ensuing rescue lasted for days, attracting thousands of people to gather and watch as the proceedings unfolded, though Fiscus also died. On reflection the name under which Ace in the Hole was first released seems as appropriate - though perhaps less incendiary - as the one by
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“Some charges of cruelty and cynicism have been levelled at Wilder already. Phyllis is hateful in Double Indemnity. Walter is not the insurance man we hope for. The nurse and the barman are harsh figures in The Lost Weekend. And we don’t have to spell out the cruelty in Sunset Blvd. But Ace in the Hole goes much further in its portrayal of a kind of gloating malice. Kirk Douglas holds nothing back.” David Thomson, 'Have You Seen'
which it’s better known today. The original title, The Big Carnival, captured in three words the feelings of ‘media circus’ and family day-out, which pervaded the film; from the group of journalists who - once Leo’s story is leaked by Chuck - set up in a tent outside the mine, from where they hot-wire the latest bulletins on the story to their editors across the country, to the fast-food kiosks and funfair which emerge as if from nowhere to feed and entertain the masses who gather to gorge on the sensational human interest story unfolding in the desert of New Mexico. The title ‘Ace in the Hole’ places attention, indirectly on Leo and his plight in the mine, on what ultimately proves to be the real focus of the story. That in the end, his predicament and life are depicted as almost subsidiary to the lives of those around him, is again a reflection of what often happens in similar situations in real-life. Aside from the topical storyline of Ace in the Hole, the most striking aspects of the film now are its roles as a vehicle highlighting the talents of both Wilder as a master behind the camera and Douglas in front. Wilder was not a director given to visual exuberance on screen, though his films made good use of settings and
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locations. Ace in the Hole was filmed largely in New Mexico, with its arid, sun-bleached and dusty landscape perfectly reflecting the dry and barren lives of the individuals who people the story. Wilder was more interested in the motivations which drove his characters and the situations in which they found themselves. As highlighted by David Thomson, Wilder often created characters that were less than attractive. Chuck is the archetypal example of this, and Douglas was the perfect person to play him. Not only does Chuck exploit the plight of the unfortunate Leo for his own advancement - he tries to make amends for his deeds towards the end of the film, though it’s unfortunately too little too late but he also manipulates and treats with contempt anyone else who comes across his path. From his colleagues at the local newspaper - both of which he clearly believes are well below his station, to his often callous disregard for Leo’s disillusioned wife Lorraine (played with frustrated brittleness by Jan Sterling) whom he constantly confuses with apparent sexual interest, only to cast aside when he is beset by feelings of guilt, here is a man with few (if any) redeemable traits. Douglas’ upbringing in a New York ghetto during the 1920s, shaped an actor
who became known for playing hardened lawmen like Doc Holliday in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and historical characters such as Spartacus. In Ace in the Hole the role of Chuck plays on this, even though his obvious bitterness is leavened with an apparent desire for redemption in the film’s closing moments. Though Wilder and Douglas would both go on to do work for which they are now better remembered, Ace in the Hole may well be the one film which best highlighted the true personalities of both men from a professional stance. Watched now. the film can be viewed as a commentary on the public’s obsession (particularly in 1950s America) with the idea of instant celebrity and the media’s manipulation of ordinary people; in retrospect here is, albeit in fiction, an early depiction of the reality television which now so fascinates contemporary audiences.
Ace in the Hole is available on NOW courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. www.eurekavideo.co.uk
“Though Wilder and Douglas would both go on to do work for which they are now better remembered, Ace in the Hole may well be the one film which best highlighted the true personalities of both men from a professional stance.”
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In Defence... The Abstract Madness of Domino
words by Jordan McGrath
here hasn’t been much written about Tony Scott’s Domino since its release back in 2005. And that’s a shame. Because, as biopics go, Domino is a beast – a shotgun discharge to the face with an over-embellished style and technique so manic it makes an ADHD-riddled child look practically tranquil. But it’s that audacious, slightly absurd, visual and narrative exercise that makes Domino such a memorable and distinctive experience. Over the years, it’s easy to say the brothers Scott made some divisive films; The Counsellor, Ridley’s underrated lament on greed and wealth, the latest in a growing list to walk in front of the critics’ firing-line. But when Tony Scott sadly passed in 2012, many cinema lovers – rightly – flooded back to his films to salute fine examples of
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action and thriller filmmaking; praising the blockbuster enjoyment of Top Gun, True Romance’s brutal ode to blooming love and Crimson Tide’s gripping intensity. What didn’t happen was a re-assessment of the enigma that is Domino. It really does seem to have become the forgotten film in his canon. The story follows real-life rich-girl Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley), daughter of English actor Laurence Harvey and 60s fashion model Paulene Stone, when she moves to sunny LA after her father dies and her mother remarries. Disinterested by the lives of preppy socialites (working as a catwalk model for a short time) she finds herself in the dangerous world of bounty hunting, falling in with mentor and father-figure Ed (Mickey Rourke) and dreamy but dangerous Choco (Edgar Ramirez). I will admit, calling Domino a biopic is a little bit of
“With the kinetic camerawork and hyper-saturated yellow tinge that filters most scenes it is as if Los Angeles has survived its own personal apocalypse and the story unfolds in the aftermath; a crumbled society that exists in its own poisonous, contaminated swill.” a cheat, more influenced by the madness of Domino Harvey’s story and her personality than choosing to depict her life truthfully. ‘This is based on a true story’ a title-card explains at the beginning of the film, before being followed quickly by another that simply adds ‘sort of ’. It’s a playful, punk-sensibility that leads the audience (and the filmmakers) into a hyper-realised, frenzied world of violence and reality TV. It’s by far Scott’s most progressive film as a director, throwing in distraction after distraction, making any chance of a classically structured narrative impossible. Scott’s adoption of his own fast-paced film-language fits fully within David Bordwell’s theory of a hyperclassical visual style (quick shot times, close angles, restless camera movement). But Domino seems to incorporate and broaden those ideas highlighted by Bordwell and use them on a narrative level too, with Richard Kelly’s
script blurring the perception of present, future and past. The main thread is narrated by Domino in the fashion of ‘what they knew to be the truth at the time’. This choice allows the film to give the audience the first-hand experience of proceedings – to experience these again when the full-picture has been revealed. The director is intentionally pushing boundaries and preconceptions of filmmaking as a whole which, to some, may be a push too much. Domino’s role as a woman in a male-orientated industry highlights her strength and efficiency at her job (which she is better at than most of the men). In the scene where she performs a lap-dance to a gang leader so that she, Ed and Choco can escape a sticky situation (which some may criticise as degrading) there isn’t any frame where Domino isn’t in control. She sees an opportunity for everyone to get out alive and executes it. It would be a stretch to call Domino a feminist picture
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– but you’d find it difficult to supply examples of better hard-hitting women leads in mainstream Hollywood cinema in last 10-years than Knightley’s foul-mouthed, nunchaku-slinging heroine. Style over substance is a repeated argument when it comes to the latter films in Scott’s career and it could easily be made regarding Domino. But with Domino there is so much style. With the kinetic camerawork and hyper-saturated yellow tinge that filters most scenes it is as if Los Angeles has survived its own personal apocalypse and the story unfolds in the aftermath; a crumbled society that exists in its own poisonous, contaminated swill. The film presents the Hollywood lifestyle and business with sharp distain; from the flashbacks to Domino’s sorority to the gurning face of a joyfully mad performance from Christopher Walken as the producer of new reality show Bounty Squad Mark Heiss. Hosted by the incapable and incompetent Beverly Hills 90210 duo Brian Austin Green and Ian Ziering, the show starts following the bounty hunting trio around half way through
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the movie. The inclusion of the show becomes an integral plot point in the later stages of the film, its clear aim to illustrate the idiocy of the Hollywood Machine and the individuals who find themselves associated with such shows, including the leads. Another example would be a hilarious scene involving Mo’Nique’s Lateesha appearing on the The Jerry Springer Show in a failed attempt to promote her new book on mixed-raced identity in America. She introduces herself as a ‘Blacktino’ woman and subsequently classifies an audience member with Black and Chinese heritage as ‘Chinegro’ before bringing out a flowchart of all the major mixed races in the US – each with their individual identifier. She gets on the show claiming to be the country’s youngest grandmother at 28 just so she can attempt to gain enough interest in her book to pay for her granddaughter’s operation to fix a rare blood disorder. Kelly’s script shows the societal and cultural pressures of middle-class America; that sometimes you need to use the lowest common denominator to have a shot to get your
message heard. ‘There’s three types of people’, Domino explains, ‘The rich, the poor, and everyone in between’. Not everyone has the world at their fingertips. Domino paints LA as a multi-race, multi-cultural hybrid; where black, Hispanic, Afghan and white are able to live alongside each other without prejudice. The main reason I love Domino? It’s cool. Like, really cool. It’s a completely insane, action-packed drug-trip that’s nearly impossible to define as it constantly shifts style, tone and pace. Tony Scott’s aesthetics may be an example of the MTVisation of cinema but the velocity and energy running through Domino is fresh and appealing. Where a music video has 3 to 5 minutes to keep your attention, Scott tries to use that technique for a feature. It’s like Usain Bolt running a marathon at full pace, it’s madness. He threw The Last Boy Scott, Enemy of the State and Man on Fire into a blender and managed to concoct something memorable and unique – a heavy metal Ocean Eleven with more guns, violence and most importantly, balls.
“It’s like Usain Bolt running a marathon at full pace, it’s madness.”
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Cheap Thrills cert (15)
director E.L. Katz writers David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga starring Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton, David Koechner
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Review by Evrim Ersoy
release date 6th June
Director E. L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills is an incredibly timely and unexpectedly thrilling dark comedy which goes to places which you never expect it to. An astute and wicked journey, it’s shot with a keen eye for the absurd and the grotesque. The script by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga centres on a family man named Craig (Pat Healy putting in an exceptional performance). On the day Craig finds an eviction notice on his front door and is determined to ask for a raise at work in order to cover his family’s costs, he finds himself made redundant. Desolate and desperate, he goes to a bar to have a drink as he can’t bring himself to face his wife and their newborn child. By luck, he runs into his old friend Vince (Ethan Embry on top form). The two are soon approached by a strange couple who buys them a round of drinks – Colin and Violet who are out celebrating Violet’s birthday. Over an increasingly strange night, the two will put Craig and Vince through a series of dares which will test the two friend’s desperate need for money with ever-increasingly odd challenges. Fitting snugly within the current social climate, Cheap Thrills acts as both social commentary and black-comedy without ever becoming preaching. The tight set-up allows Katz to pile on the tension as the evening keeps taking ever stranger turns and because the characters are so well defined, he’s able to elicit responses from the audience which otherwise would not be possible. If Craig appears at first as a man desperate for money in order to support his family and Vince as an alpha male thriving on the competition, the roles constantly change over the course of the film’s run-time. Although Sara Paxton’s Violet is largely silent throughout the movie letting the fast-talking, charmer with a glint in his eye Colin (played by David Koechner) dominate, she still manages to bring a depth to the character which builds throughout – through gestures, looks and lines delivered with sly knowing, it’s obvious that Violet is as involved and in control as Colin here – never an unwilling participant or forced audience member but both manipulator and thrill-seeker. Perhaps the greatest pleasure of the evening comes from watching the tight, taut script handled with such expertise by Katz – what would have been an outright thriller or just a mumble-core drama straddles a razor sharp line between satire, black comedy and thriller building up to a climax and a final image which will be impossible for the audience to get out of their heads. Cheap Thrills is the sort of film that makes you want to applaud as soon as it ends - filled with great lines, terrific acting and the sort of cheap thrills you never thought you’d see, it’s a must for anyone with a penchant for the darker side of cinema.
Beyond the Edge release date 25th April
Review by Louise Nelson
Beyond the Edge recounts the story of the first successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. New Zealand filmmaker Leanne Pooley weaves together a wide range of material including film and stills from the epic climb as well as commentary from those on the expedition and carefully selected leading mountaineers. The film also uses dramatic re-enactments to recreate moments of the ascent not recorded at the time, notably the final summit push by Hillary and Norgay. Dramatic recreations are not without their critics but Pooley draws on extensive and corroborated records to re-enact key moments of the climb. The integration of the re-enactments with original film and photographs is startlingly seamless and done with great care. Commentary from expedition members, the Hillary and Norgay families, and a handful of world-class mountaineers is carefully selected and pieced together to convey the emotions, tensions, and drama of the summit attempt and events preceding it. The net effect is potent and Pooley here creates a moving (and perhaps the most complete) account of the extraordinary 1953 expedition. Beyond the Edge also incorporates striking new footage of Everest, shot by veteran climber and cameraman Mark Whetu. These particular shots convey the enormous scale and treacherous beauty of the mountain. Footage for the recreations was filmed in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, which bear some resemblance to parts of Everest and where many climbers cut their teeth for the Himalaya. The technical and physical feat of filming at altitude in unpredictable, freezing conditions should be applauded. Perhaps slightly less effective in parts is the use of 3-D which can darken some shots of the mountain and is not a necessary addition when the action takes place outside the Himalayas. A stunning 360 degree shot from the summit of Everest by Whetu is breathtaking, however. The pacing of the story could also afford to quicken given the exceptional and emotional narrative that the epic story of the 1953 expedition provides. This may be the result of the film’s exploration of the lesser known, and fascinating details of the expedition and of Hillary and Norgay themselves. Hillary is famously known as the bee-keeper who discovered a passion and brilliance for climbing. But he was not without his demons and doubts. Stubborn and strong-willed, Hillary was unequivocal in his choice of climbing partner for the summit bid: Norgay.Norgay was a mountaineer in his own right with perhaps more experience on Everest than anyone at the time, with six attempts under his belt before the 1953 expedition. As recreated in the film, it was Norgay who saved Hillary from near certain death after his fall into a gaping crevasse. After the recent tragedy on Everest where 16 Sherpa’s lost their lives in an avalanche in the perilous Khumbu icefall, the acknowledgement of the integral role and superior skills of Norgay - and of the monumental efforts of all the Sherpa guides and porters on the 1953 expedition - is poignant.
director Leanne Pooley writer Leanne Pooley starring Chad Moffitt, Sonam Sherpa, John Wraight
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Review by Adam Marshall
release date 20th June
director Cédric Klapisch writer Cédric Klapisch starring Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile De France
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It was either a stroke of crystal ball gazing genius or monumental good fortune with which Cédric Klapisch brought together Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou for his cult hit L’Auberge Espagnole (Pot Luck) in 2002. By the time both actors returned for a sequel (Russian Dolls in 2005), they were two of the hottest properties in French cinema. Ostensibly the finale of Klapisch’s “Trilogy of Xavier’s Travels”, we catch up with Duris’s middle-aged novelist at something of an existential junction in his life. The relationship with his anglophone wife is fractious, and when Xavier agrees to artificially father the child of his lesbian best friend - she leaves Paris for a new man in New York City, taking their two children with her. With nothing remaining on his home turf to stay for, Xavier takes the transatlantic plunge in a bid to salvage a formative relationship with his kids and see what life amidst the bright lights of NYC will offer. It was always going to need more than reading the tea leaves or a visit from Lady Luck to satisfyingly conclude the series, and Kaplisch’s script and direction fail to do so. In an over-enthusiastic first act that flits between present and past, he never gives the viewer a chance to settle down with the characters or plot, seemingly banking on auditoriums filled with adoring fanboys of the first two films. Pitching himself somewhere between Woody Allen and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, he crams the first hour with post-modern vignettes: a roughly animated synopsis of events; visits from 19th-century philosophers Schopenhauer and Hegel; and sperm bank magazine glamour models peeling off of the page in to real life. Unfortunately Xavier lacks both the wit of Alvy Singer and the charm of Amelie Poulain to transfer these Meta apparitions into anything more interesting than irritating asides. The bombastic opening is particularly jarring when compared to the conventionality of the film’s second half, which lulls in to a straightforward, gimmick-free ‘man rebuilds life in a foreign country’ narrative. It’s so conventional in fact, that it even appears to borrow heavily from archetypal 90s romcom Green Card. Duris’s ease and affability is the film’s saving grace and Kaplisch’s élan is enough at least to drive the story forwards, with highlights including a well-constructed farce set-piece and a delightfully excruciating encounter between Xavier and his wife’s new beau. But the humour is too broad to be consistently enjoyable; typified by the movie’s homosexual relationship which comprises a foulmouthed wild child with roving eyes and an uptight career woman. “It’s complicated”, Xavier repeats as he pulls together the titular interlocking parts of his life. But when they’re uttered from the mouth of a successful, dashing French novelist with beautiful women from every continent fawning over him, two unfeasibly attractive and immaculately behaved children, history’s most amicable custody battle and least effective immigration officer, the pieces form a picture that’s just too difficult to conceive.
Review by Joseph Fahim
There comes a point in your film writing career when you become fully immune to violence; when you become numb to the brutality on screen no matter how graphic and vivid it is. We’ve had our Antichrists, Clockwork Oranges, Cannibal Holocausts, Human Centipedes, Serbian Films, and there’s virtually nothing left to be shocked by anymore. That’s why the entire hubbub that greeted Amat Escalante’s third feature, Heli, last year in Cannes felt overblown. There are certainly a number of grotesque sights on display, yet Heli remains, first and foremost, a blunt, sometimes smug, act of provocation that uses unsuccessful shock tactics to conceal its hollowness. Mexico’s war on drugs is increasingly becoming a genre of itself in Mexican cinema, with a number of recent films — the most prominent of which is Gerardo Naranjo’s high octane 2011 thriller, Miss Bala — exploring the various facets of this ongoing, far-reaching calamity. Escalante takes a more subdued, if not entirely effective route into dealing with the issue, presenting a study of an ordinary working class family inadvertently caught in violence and its ensuing aftermath. The most remarkable aspect of Escalante’s filmmaking, also evident in his previous works, is the use of landscape to augment both the mood of the films and the emotional state of the characters. Heli is set in a barren, godless wasteland situated at the outskirts of civilization. The violence is deeply ingrained in the quotidian, carried out so nonchalantly to affirm the particular nature of this place. Escalante refrains from using music, entrenching his world in eerie, foreboding silence broken by the bouts of brazen aggression. The camera is often fixated on the characters’ faces, trying to penetrate their psyches and failing; trying to make sense of the suffering inflicted upon them and failing. This sense of detachment, as remarkably daring as it is, further blunts the impact of the violence, lending the procedures with a lingering aura of absurdity. In the most telling scene of the film, as the unfolding violence reaches its peak, a little kid, quietly watching this spectacle, ask his friend: “What did this one do?” The latter responds: “Who knows?” The violence may have no cause, but it certainly has consequences, and only at the haunting last scene of the film when the audience are finally given the chance to grasp, and digest, the gravity of what Heli and his family have experienced. Yet even then, we continue to feel little to nothing for the characters. Escalante’s aesthetic approach emphasizes style over emotional involvement — a fundamental element when sketching out an account of blameless victims. We ultimately find ourselves as detached as those two kids, baffled by this sadism rather than shocked or responsive to it. Heli is neither an expose of a lawless Mexico devoured by poverty and ignorance, nor is it a profound probing of trauma — it’s an exceedingly familiar drama about an exceedingly familiar place that has nothing remotely new to say.
release date 23rd May
director Amat Escalante writer Gabriel Reyes, Amat Escalante starring Armando Espitia, Andrea Vergara, Linda González, Juan Eduardo Palacios
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director Hany Abu-Assad writer Hany Abu-Assad starring Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Iyad Hoorani
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Review by Joseph Fahim
release date 30th May
It took two-time Oscar nominated Palestinian director, Hany Abu-Assad, eight years to deliver a follow-up to the 2005 smash, Paradise Now — the highest grossing Arab film of all time — in the shape of Omar, the latest entry in a singular body of work exploring the psychological, emotional and physical impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian life. The eponymous character (Adam Bakri) is a young baker embroiled in the never-ending armed conflict with the Israelis, a rite of passage Abu-Assad refuses to provide any explanation or validation for. Omar is a no-shame-ridden child of the camp and son of a collaborator like Paradise Now’s forlorn Said; he’s confident, energetic and devilishly smart. He’s deeply in love with Nadia (Leem Lubany), the teenage sister of his partner in crime, Tarek (Eyad Hourani), whom he plans to marry and whisks off to Paris one day. His humble dreams are soon dashed to ground when he’s arrested by the Israeli intelligence for participating in a sniper attack on a military base along with Tarek and his other childhood buddy, Amjad (Samer Bisharat). Before long, he finds himself outsmarted by an Israeli agent, Rami (an outstanding Waleed Zuaiter) who offers him two choices: a lifetime in prison or collaboration. Unable to give up on his love, he opts for the latter, hoping to buy time and find a way out of this debacle. Naturally, things go haywire as guilt and fear take over his once tightly controlled little world. The central crisis of the story is not the catastrophic situation Omar finds himself in; it’s the crushing freedom of choice. The course of Omar’s life seems to have been drawn before his birth; he duly follows a path he never questions or rebels against. When you’re a mere cog in a large machine, you are never equipped to make choices. Omar is mostly framed in tight shots, inducing a sense of claustrophobia that spills out to his external surrounding; the kineticism of his movement reflects a desire to escape from an unknown destiny, or perhaps elude an inevitable one. Movement signifies the possibility of a getaway; stillness; designates a dead end. In his all of his works, Abu-Assad has successfully riffed off Egyptian melodrama — the most popular genre in the Arab World. In Omar however, it proves to be its Achilles’ heel. The main plotline diverges at the second half of the film to focus on Nadia’s virginity and her fraying relationship with Omar. Abu-Assad infuses his climax with plenty of twists and turns that may have worked had Lubany, the sole weak performer of the film, been somewhat enigmatic. Alas Lubany’s wooden delivery renders the last 20 minutes utterly predictable, killing the mounting tension Abu-Assad has been building up to that point. Abu-Assad’s use of melodrama was perfectly compatible with the plot structures and explored genres of his previous works. In Omar, it feels increasingly artificial and slightly implausible, staining an otherwise intelligent film asking daring, complex questions that may not necessarily appeal to either side of the conflict.
release date 2nd May
Review by Cleaver Patterson
Patema (Yukiyo) is the princess of a race of people who live beneath the world as we know it. Forbidden to venture beyond the safe borders of her village, she yearns for adventure and to explore beyond the restrictive confines of her insular existence. One day - following an encounter with a mysterious figure that suddenly appears above her on the ceiling of a corridor - she inadvertently falls down a shaft and into the world above, which she has heard so many terrifying things about. Here - because gravity is reversed for Patema and her people - she finds herself turned upside down and dangerously suspended above the ground. However she also meets Age (Nobuhiko), a boy from the outside world who has more than a few problems of his own to contend with. Together Patema and Age must overcome not only their own fears of what they initially see as people from an alien race, but also the prejudices and preconceptions of their respective races, if they are ever to move forward and live harmoniously in a brave new world. Animated films have a built-in disadvantage, which many are seemingly unable to overcome namely that they seldom rise above the fact they cannot be anything more than an imaginary rendering of the real world; no matter how hard they try to look realistic, they seldom manage to wholly evade an underlying air of faux authenticity. Even live action films which depend heavily on CGI, generally use it when wanting to depict something which cannot exist or be executed in everyday life. Animated films that work, such as this, embrace the surrealism of the art form using it to create worlds which, though utilising elements which are recognisable and familiar, leave them with enough surrealism to retain an element of alien fantasy Yoshiura’s story captures wonderfully the sense of what it is like to be lost in a world alien to your own. Patema and Age find each other’s versions of reality terrifying and mesmerising in equal measure, with each depicted on screen as both beautiful and sinister. The underground land where Patema lives, with its warren-like tunnels and hard, industrial appearance is as magical as the post-apocalyptic vision seen in Age’s world above, where green and pleasant meadows are ravaged by massive crater-like hollows and futuristic cities where what is left of the human race live in unquestioning, robotic subservience to the ruling classes. Interestingly - as with many films which attempt to visualise what our world may look like some time in the future - the lesser, ‘troublesome‘, factions of society (in this case Patema’s people) are depicted as bohemian and wild in their appearance and dress, as opposed to the more regimental, clean cut look of Age and his ‘advanced’ race. Patema Inverted’s real joy lies in its visual embodiment of friendship and how the acceptance of things beyond our understanding can broaden and enhance our existence and the world as we know it.
director Yasuhiro Yoshiura writer Yasuhiro Yoshiura starring Yukiyo Fujii, Shinya Fukumatsu, Masayuki Katô
VERITE MAY 2014
Review by Stuart Barr
The Punk Singer
release date 23rd May
director Sini Anderson writer Sini Anderson starring Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon
MAY 2014 VERITE
What does ‘punk’ mean to you? A musical genre? An attitude? The roots of ‘punk rock’ are debatable. Born in the seventies or possibly the sixties, punk emerged somewhere on the King’s Road, or New York. Maybe it was Detroit? A short burst of creativity that went far beyond three chords and a safety pin. If there is a basic padstone upon which punk’s spirit rests it is the DIY ethic. The idea that raw creativity and energy can transcend class, education, privilege, even ability. Punk is an outsider’s art form, open and inclusive to all. It appeared that the initial squelchy spurt of 76 spirit had dissipated by the late 80s and punk never had quite the same cultural impact in the US as the UK. So Washington State in 1990 was not the most obvious time and location for the spark to reignite. But ignite it did. The ‘grunge’ scene of Seattle was about to explode. Grunge primarily showcased male-centric bands but in nearby Olympia, Kathleen Hanna a young feminist photography student with some big ideas was about to radicalise an alt-rock. Bikini Kill, the band she formed, rejected the machismo of the mosh-pit and made in front of the stage (and indeed the stage) fem-centric. The Riot Grrrl movement was formed. Despite the title, Sini Anderson’s documentary is not a chronicle of nineties alt-rock, it isn’t even an exploration of the Riot Grrrl manifesto as penned by Hanna. Initially this is frustrating, it feels as though The Punk Singer lacks context, and fails to explore the history that led to this movement. This just isn’t the film’s aim, what emerges after some necessary scene setting cuts much deeper than a VH-1 rockdoc - an intimate portrait of an artist with raw nerves exposed. The film sets up a mystery from the start, at the apparent height of her success and near canonisation as an icon of ‘third-wave’ feminism Hanna quit music. Even close associates didn’t know the reasons. Why did she choose to fade away? The Punk Singer is clearly a film made with the full co-operation of its subject. This question is answered, but the truth that emerges is far from the clichéd rock rise and fall, and ultimately emotionally confrontational. I will not mince words, Kathleen Hanna emerges as an awesome human being. Smart but vulnerable, funny but non-evasive, self-assured but often appeared lonely and isolated. Riot Grrrl was something I thought I knew all about, but I realise I was actually pretty ignorant of (the movement was subject to a fair amount of backlash from a patriarchal music press on both sides of the Atlantic). But that’s okay, Riot Grrrl wasn’t for me, Riot Grrrl was for legions of girls and women who felt excluded from even alternative culture and just wanted a space to be safe and creative. That audience is still very much present, and will embrace this film. The Punk Singer presents a fascinating and inspirational story. It is the very best kind of cultural documentary.
Review by James Marsh
For his seventh fiction feature, Sixth Generation Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke strings together a quartet of stories - all adapted from infamous real-live events - into a compelling portrait of injustice, desperation and violence in modern-day China. Each of the four tales depicts how high-level corruption, socio-economic pressures, and a suffocating atmosphere of helplessness and malaise in the world’s fastest growing economy, drive four ordinary people to commit horrific acts of violence. A disgruntled mine worker ( Jiang Wu), despairing at the corruption he sees in his town and workplace, is driven to take justice into his own hands. Meanwhile, a small-time hoodlum (Wang Baoqiang) embarks on a rampage of robbery and murder when he comes into possession of a pistol. A sauna hostess (Zhao Tao), recently spurned by her married lover, has a violent altercation with a powerful client, while a young factory worker (Luo Lanshan) struggles to find gainful employment in a fiercely labour-intensive workplace. While on the surface China is booming, with newly-crowned millionaires appearing every day, the poverty gap between these new champions of business and everyone else swells exponentially. Jia is unafraid, perhaps even eager, to point the finger of blame squarely at regional, second and third-tier government officials, who squeeze their local communities, exploit their constituents, while the higher-ups turn a blind eye. It is little wonder that more than a year after winning the Best Screenplay award at Cannes, A Touch of Sin remains unreleased back home. Jia has claimed he sees A Touch of Sin as a modern day wuxia, or classical martial arts film, despite a lack of any such action appearing on screen. While this no doubt inspired the film’s English title (a play on King Hu’s classic A Touch of Zen), rather than a direct translation, “Destiny Decides”, perhaps Jia sees his (anti)heroes as warriors fighting greater, unseen forces of evil on behalf of the common man. Stylistically, A Touch of Sin retains Jia’s signature documentarian’s eye, allowing events to play out at a measured, deliberate pace without the accompaniment of flashy editing or a pulse-pounding soundtrack. That said, there is a definite noirish quality to the film, a fondness for flawed characters, a propensity for explosions of shocking violence, and a downtrodden acceptance that fate has dealt these people a bum hand. They act, or rather react, out of frustration, desperation, but there is little faith that their actions will achieve anything other than seal their own fates. Standouts in the cast include Jiang Wu (younger brother of actor/director Jiang Wen), as the almost flamboyantly outraged Dahai, who snaps in most spectacular fashion after local officials refuse to explain their misdeeds. Jia’s wife and muse Zhao Tao also achieves almost femme fatale status as sauna receptionist Xiaoyu, whose wild-eyed, blade-wielding response to a drunken official’s unwanted advances proves one of the film’s most arresting visual takeaways. All told, A Touch of Sin is the most important Chinese language film of the year and absolutely essential viewing.
A Touch of Sin
release date 16th May
director Zhangke Jia writer Zhangke Jia starring Wu Jiang, Lanshan Luo, Li Meng, Tao Zhao
VERITE MAY 2014
The Two Faces of January cert (12a)
director Hossein Amini writer Hossein Amini starring Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac
MAY 2014 VERITE
Review by Timothy E. Raw
release date 16th May
Full of burning passions, two-faced mind games and glamorous locales, The Two Faces of January is a gloriously old-fashioned ‘Hitchcockian’ thriller, the best since Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Like that film, Two Faces is based on source material by Patricia Highsmith. First time director Hossein Amini hasn’t produced something on the level of a Hitchcock or a Minghella, but if he’s not yet a master of suspense, the accomplished screenwriter of Jude, Wings of the Dove and more recently, Drive has already proven himself a master of adapting classic and contemporary novels into films worthy of their source material, and such is the case here. In 1962, charismatic conman Chester McFarland (Viggo Mortensen) is on the run in Athens with his alluring, younger wife Collete (Kirsten Dunst). Blending in as sightseers at the Acropolis they encounter Rydal (Oscar Isaac), a young, Greek-speaking American drifter scamming female tourists while working as a tour guide. In the way of much film noir, their lives become fatally intertwined after Rydal visits the McFarlands at their hotel and catches Chester disposing the body of one of the men who was after him. Searching for adventure and attracted to Chester’s wife, Rydal makes a rash decision to assist in covering up the murder and help the couple escape the country. Both thieves, and with no honour between them, the seeds of mistrust are soon sown after spending some more time together. Realising how he has compromised himself, Rydal starts to suspect Chester will use his substantial capital and connections to put him in the frame for murder, while Chester can barely contain his paranoia over the growing intimacy between his wife and this shady third wheel he now finds himself dependent on. Once again, Amini demonstrates his ability of capturing the spirit of the page on film. Refreshingly, his three criminal protagonists haven’t been betrayed in translation or test screenings to make them more likable or easier to understand. In this love triangle between three self-centered and ruthlessly unpredictable schemers, each is written with an uncommon amount of psychological depth and intriguing complexity. While their contradictory flashes of compassion and implausible behavior might not hold up to three-act film logic, that same inconsistency of character makes them much more realistic and relatable for the viewer. The characters are compellingly portrayed by three fine actors cast against type. Chester is another of the estimable, rarefied sort that Mortensen does so well, but nowhere near as honourable, and it’s nice to see him getting his hands dirty. Isaac is a self-justifying sleaze who makes Llewyn Davis look like a positively nice guy in comparison, and Dunst’s Collete, far from a corrupted innocent, is a woman whose wealth gives her no pause in concealing a crime. It’s hard to remember a time she had this much fun, between being a prop in the CGI set pieces of Spiderman and being so utterly depressed in Melancholia.
In the Theatre of Frame: Blood (1973)
"Oh forgive me, I forgot. It was your reverence and admiration which drove him to take his own life.”
words by Cleaver Patterson
here is something captivating, though impossible to decipher, about this film. The thespian talent (led by Vincent Price and Diana Rigg) which brought the various disparate characters to life on screen included a veritable who’s who of English film and theatre that could likely not be afforded today even if it could be found. Douglas Hickox’s mordant, blackly humorous film may be best remembered for the numerous, cleverly contrived murders which pepper the plot. However, when watched again, its depiction of the relationship between Edwina Lionheart and her father Edward (the late, great Shakespearian impresario) is never far from the viewer’s mind. Indeed it is the close (almost unnatural) bond between the two, which is often the catalyst for the gruesome proceedings which play out on screen, meaning that the film can also be seen as a study of a father/daughter relationship, and the strength of the bond between the two.
Though Lionheart is regularly assisted in his nefarious dealings by the spirit fuelled saviours who, it emerges rescued him from his own potentially watery grave. It is his devoted daughter who is his real partner in crime, always at hand as he carries out his murderous revenge. Our chosen scene is the first time Edwina is seen out of disguise. At this stage there has only been one killing - numerous more are to follow - and the viewer is still in the dark as to whether Edwina is actually aware that her father is still alive let alone that she, in conjunction with him, has just overseen a particularly vicious murder. That Edwina is as guilty and involved as her father in the proceeding mayhem only becomes evident as the film unfolds. For the moment however she is seen as the grieving daughter, a part she plays to the hilt during the following encounter with Peregrine Devlin beside her beloved father’s grave. As Edwina and Devlin debate the probability of her father still being alive, and the possibility that he may be stalking the members
of the Critic’s Circle (who Lionheart blamed for stymieing his career) another relationship is seen to simmer beneath the surface. Clearly nothing could ever come of it, but there is a sexual frisson between the beautiful Edwina and rakish Devlin. You can tell that secretly, deep down, they have a grudging respect for one-another- though they’d rather die than admit it. The two meet again several times throughout the film, and you can’t help but feel that, under different circumstances, there might have been something more between them. In truth however there was only ever one man for Edwina - one whom she would, quite literally, kill for. With hindsight it seems appropriate that the statue on Lionheart’s tomb included an effigy not just of him, but also his adoring daughter. Prophetic also as, during the film’s climatic scenes, they were to make their final, triumphant exit in each-other’s armstogether forever in death as they were in life. VERITE MAY 2014
Founder / Editor-in-Chief / Designer
thanks: Contributors Evrim Ersoy Stuart Barr Cleaver Patterson James Marsh Kelsey Eichhorn Timothy E. Raw Tom Gore Louise Nelson Adam Marshall Joseph Fahim
Proofing David Hall, Dan Auty Jessica Chamberlain
MAY 2014 VERITE
Image credits: Arrow Films: 1,8,10,11,12,13,14,69,73 / Network Distributing: 18,19,20,21,22,23,65 / Tribeca Film Festival: 24,26,27,28 / Metrodome: 30,63 / Boston Underground Film Festival: 42,43,44,45 / SFI: 46,48,49 Eureka Entertainment: 54,55,56,57 / New Line Cinema: 58,59,60,61 / Koch Media: 62 / StudioCanalUK: 64,70 Soda Pictures: 66 / Anime Ltd: 67 / Dogwoof: 68
VERITE MAY 2014
MAY 2014 VERITE
Published on May 7, 2014
In this issue, Asian film expert James Marsh talks about Cannes winner A Touch of Sin and the new crime-wave taking hold of Chinese cinema....