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ISSUE #10

V é r i t é JANUARY 2014 EDITION

FILM CRITICISM & CINEMATIC DISCUSSION

THE WOLF OF WALLSTREET Is Scorsese’s Latest Another Road to Hell?

also...

Vérité’s Top 10 Films of 2013 / Patrice Laconte / Il Bidone / reviews / and more...


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Editor’s Letter

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s the calendar rolls around, once again to January, we here at Vérité wish you a belated Happy New Year! And as we strain to lose the extra inch or so from our waists that the holiday period has gifted us, we are well and truly fuelled and ready to dive headfirst into 2014. 2013 was a fantastic launch year for us, and the journey it has allowed us to take - opening up doors and creating friendships - wouldn’t have been possible without the magazine. Looking back over the past 12 months of cinema releases seems just as prevalent as gazing forward at this time of year, giving us the opportunity to analyse and evaluate 2013’s offerings in full, which we do on page 22, revealing Vérité’s Top 10 Films of 2013 (a list compiled from over 30 critics submissions). Will your favourite be in the 10? We also take a look at one of cinema’s true darlings - Martin Scorsese. As his new film - and fifth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio – finds its way onto British cinema screens, Paul Martinovic discovers a trend within some of Scorsese’s extensive catalogue and wonders if The Wolf of Wall Street will be yet another descent into hell. We also have new contributor Adam Lowes’

profile on French director Patrice Leconte (Page 16) who, as he highlights some of the director’s best achievements, argues that this director should be held in higher regard within the modern international market, alongside such luminaries as Audillard, Denis and Ozon. James Rocarols continues his search into the 70s films that America have forgot (Page 50), mining the cinematic diamonds that - although rarely seen still shine bright. And Chris O’Neill sits down with Kieran Evans and talks his 2013 film Kelly + Victor (Page 44) , discussing the subject of adaptation, casting and sex scenes. Our monthly features - Masters of Cinema, Festival Agenda, Evrim Ersoy’s discovery series and In Defence – all continue into 2014. For the latter we welcome back Elisa Armstrong, who delivers a fantastic piece on Jane Campion’s misunderstood noir masterpiece In the Cut. 2014 promises big things for us here at Vérité, the first being our attendance of Berlinale in February. You can rest assured that delivering interesting, entertaining content is still our main goal. Your continued support - as we head into a new year - is never forgotten and always appreciated.

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Thanks for reading, Jordan McGrath & David Hall

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“I think this need to recreate movement is a mystical urge. It’s an attempt to capture the mystery of who and what we are, and then to contemplate that mystery.”

Martin Scorsese

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Contents Features

Columns

Reviews

Sympathy for the Devil - p8

Broken songs & Endless journeys - p74

12 Years a Slave - p88

Paul Martinovic spots a trend in a number of Martin Scorsese’s films and wonders if The Wolf of Wall Street falls inline with previous titles.

Evrim Ersoy continues his expert analysis into filmmakers we should be watching. This month’s Subject: Calvin Lee Reeder.

American Hustle - p89 Dallas Buyers Club - p90 Exposed: Beyond Burlesque - p91

An Intimate Stranger - p16

Adam Lowes ponders the career of French director Patrice Leconte, discusses some of his films and argues that he should be seen as a great.

Masters of Cinema - p78

Ben Nicholson discusses the new release from Master of Cinema, the overlooked Il Bidone directed by master Federico Fellini.

Out of the Furnace - p92 Magic Magic - p93 Bastards - p94

Top 10 Films of 2013 - p24

In Defence... - p80

Compiled from over 30 submissions, find out what made the grade as we count down Vérité’s Top 10 Films of 2013.

Elisa Armstrong takes the reigns this month and argues the quality behind Jane Campion’s misunderstood masterpiece, In the Cut.

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The Wolf of Wall Street - p95 Teenage - p96


Join the Conversation

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SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL As The Wolf of Wall Street opens to much controversy, Paul Martinovic salutes Scorsese’s fearless explorations of bad behaviour

words by Paul Martinovic

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here are movies directed by Martin Scorsese, and then there are Scorsese movies. There are films like Bringing Out The Dead, Shutter Island, The Age of Innocence, and The Aviator, which are accomplished and impressive enough to stand as a great filmography in their own right, but are nonetheless films that are rarely vital enough to last long in the memories of either hardcore cineastes or more casual moviegoers. Perhaps no single moment better demonstrates the general well-meaning but patronising regard for most of Scorsese’s late period work than The Sopranos’ resident film-buff wise guy Christopher Moltisanti shouting after the retreating director: “Marty! Kundun? I liked it.” It seems perverse that we would reward arguably the most versatile and talented film-maker of the past 50 years with this kind of condescension but this, unfortunately, is the curse of having made a core group of films

(what constitutes as major/minor Scorsese is of course a matter for debate, but let’s assume no one would be contrary enough to leave Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas out of this particular bracket) that for all intents and purposes are unrivalled in the way they have entered into the pantheon of both high culture and pop culture. Sure, you can find the hegemonic depiction of masculinity in Raging Bull disseminated at length in a Cahiers du Cinema essay most days of the week, but you’re also just as likely to find a poster of Jake la Motta taking up wall space next to a Green Day poster in a teenager’s bedroom. How many other films can you honestly say that about? They are works of such vitality and virtuosity that they provide both the material for Film Studies textbooks while rendering them irrelevant. Sure, knowledge of film history can enrich the experience of watching them, but they are also capable of arresting you almost entirely without context. Put simply, just because you

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might not get (read: have any interest in) the Catholic subtext or the exact mechanics of Scorsese and editor Thelma Shoonmaker’s technical wizardry, doesn’t mean that even the most cine-ignorant aren’t able to detect an irresistible cinematic quality at work. Decades after their release they still feel like something of a culmination of the craft, which goes to explain why the experience of watching them can often be so overwhelming. When Scorsese is operating at full strength you don’t watch his films so much as mainline them into the arteries in your head and steel yourself - and The Wolf of Wall Street, his biopic of renowned Wall Street fraudster Jordan Belfort, arrives this month billed as his most uncompromising and potent work in years. Of course, it would be disingenuous to suggest that these films are universally enjoyed and appreciated purely because of a sprinkling of magic Scorsese cinema dust, just as it would be facile to suggest that he can only make gangster movies. It is not an irrelevance that in his most celebrated movies, there are often heroic amounts of

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drugs (see Goodfellas, Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street); sex (it took Scorsese a long time to show any interest in putting sex in his movies, but he has rectified decades of neglect in some style by filling The Wolf of Wall Street with enough orgiastic perversity to alarm the MPAA and scandalise a septuagenarian screenwriter into outraged heckling at a recent screening for Academy voters); bad language (Goodfellas and Casino have both previously held the world-record for number of ‘fucks’ said onscreen, while the reigning champion is – hey! – The Wolf of Wall Street); and of course violence (take your pick). These things, of course, have always been great levellers in the Art Appreciation Index. If your work is purported to break taboos and blur the boundaries between art and pornography, you’ll generally be guaranteed an audience eager to pay and figure it out themselves. So while crime is a common thread throughout all of his best-known films, perhaps a more accurate through line in the Scorsese canon is bad behaviour. Labelling some of the horrifying things that happen in Scorsese


movies as mere ‘bad behaviour’ might be an understatement that borders on abdicating responsibility, which is perhaps fitting considering a lack of moralising is exactly what Scorsese is currently being accused of in The Wolf of Wall Street. Of course, many of these detractors are still clinging on to the notion that depiction = endorsement, a viewpoint that assumes absolutely no agency or intelligence on behalf of the viewer and one that you would think in 2013 would be scarcely credible. Nevertheless, it’s an argument that (with, admittedly, a number of mitigating factors) managed to torpedo Zero Dark Thirty’s award chances last year and may well do the same for Scorsese in 2014. It’s a familiar rap for Scorsese; too much sympathy for the devil (ironically one of the few Stones songs he hasn’t used to soundtrack a nattily edited sequence of mob mischief ), and Scorsese himself has admitted many times that he is inexorably drawn towards depicting bad people in his movies, arguing: “I always find the antagonist more interesting than the protagonist in drama, the

villain more interesting than the good guy...there’s what I guess is a decidedly Christian point of view: ‘Who are we to judge, to point out the speck in our brother’s eye, while we have a beam in our own eye?’” This willingness to adopt a Christian perspective and incorporate biblical ideas informs pretty much all of his films to varying degrees, most obviously in his worthy but flawed The Last Temptation of Christ (your mileage may vary, but I have no problem putting it into the minor Scorsese pile). Arguably, though, it has never been explored more successfully than in Mean Streets, one of his earliest and certainly one of his most personal movies. Based on his own observations of his Little Italy neighbourhood in the golden age of the nascent American mafia, where everybody carried a gun and his own father’s job was ‘worked out’ with the local toughs, the film follows Harvey Keitel’s Charlie, a classic Scorsese protagonist who attempts to navigate the beguiling but dangerous world of Lower Manhattan while also reconciling his criminal lifestyle with his desire to be a good

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“Every time a crime-focused Scorsese movie comes out, he’s forced to defend himself from accusations of glorification and a tacit endorsement of criminality”

friend, a good partner and, above all, a good Catholic. “You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it on the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit and you know it.” Spoken by the director himself, it’s one of cinema’s great opening lines, but it also serves as a curtain raiser to his career as a whole, a kind of no-nonsense spiritual empathy that has served as the backbone for all of his best work. Scorsese would expand on the line in a later interview, saying that Mean Streets at its most fundamental asks the question: “How do you lead a good life, a good, moral, ethical life, when everything around you works the absolutely opposite way? Charlie’s struggle with this quandary often manifests itself with him burning himself as penance, establishing self-flagellation as another recurring theme throughout Scorsese’s work: think Travis Bickle’s similar self-immolation in Taxi Driver, or Jake la Motta pounding his knuckles bloody in Raging Bull. Scorsese also makes use of inspired visual cues to illustrate Charlie’s fire and brimstone mind-set, with the repeated night-time

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descents into basement bars drenched in blood red light an unsubtle but undeniably powerful representation of Charlie’s journey deeper into the underworld. Then there’s the first of the great Scorsese antagonists: a funny and spectacularly intense De Niro plays the frighteningly capricious, almost certainly psychopathic Johnny Boy, whose inability to modulate his crazy, violent behaviour dooms himself and everybody around him. The spirit of Johnny Boy continues to crop up several times in other Scorsese movies, usually played by Joe Pesci. This character type was memorably described by David Thompson as “the great virus in Scorsese’s work – the demon he cannot deny himself yet the force of destruction he fears to take on.” The characters who share the screen with Johnny Boy/Pesci feel much the same way: they know he’s going to drag them fatally into hell, but what are you going to do? He’s a funny guy. The follow-up to Mean Streets, 1976’s Taxi Driver, took a slightly different tack – this time the dark world Travis Bickle inhabits is an internal one, borne out of a


“People just like seeing themselves on screen: ultimately, you have to regard what Wall Street thinks of The Wolf of Wall Street as about as relevant as how much sharks enjoy Jaws” troubled mind seething with resentment and frustration. The loner projects the turmoil in his mind onto the (already fairly nightmarish) surroundings of 70s New York, before his headspace becomes so pressurised and poisonous that the only viable outlet becomes sudden bursts of violence. It’s a structure that can also be found in the tortured life of Jake la Motta in Raging Bull, and even in Rupert Pupkin’s desperate bid for celebrity in The King of Comedy. Scorsese’s major films hereafter can essentially be divided into two different portrayals of hell: in Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Casino, he follows his protagonists as they attempt to navigate their way through an intoxicating environment of sin and intrigue, while attempting to maintain some degree of personal integrity. Scorsese the filmmaker here acts as a sort of cinematic Virgil, guiding the audience’s Dante on an epic, exciting journey through a vividly detailed world. Then, in the likes of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The King of Comedy, Scorsese puts us inside the personal hell

that lurks within a tortured, disillusioned mind, and uses his filmmaking nous to shows us the world as they see it, perverted and distorted through their eyes. Think of the slo-mo that kicks in when La Motta watches his wife talk to another man, seething with jealousy; or in Rupert Pupkin’s extended fantasy sequences, presented as soberly as the scenes in the film that take place in the ‘real’ world. Interestingly, the societies in all three films only acknowledge De Niro’s characters when they’re at their most violent, and far from rejecting them, they laud and encourage them, from Jake la Motta’s rapid denigration to the status of a bum once his brutal fight career is over, to Rupert Pupkin’s comeback special after a spell in prison, to Bickle’s celebrated vigilante massacre. But Scorsese also asks the question: is it really a personal hell we are watching play out, or did we (the audience, society – take your pick) play some part in creating these monsters? He keeps the answer ambiguous. You may have noticed that none of this exactly sounds like a day at Alton Towers. Yet every time a

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crime-focused Scorsese movie comes out, he’s forced to defend himself from accusations of glorification and a tacit endorsement of criminality. The way violence is depicted in Scorsese movies has been debated ferociously for years – making a film that partly inspired a presidential assassination attempt will do that – but it’s still worth examining. Meanwhile, the sudden, unflinching violence in the likes of Goodfellas and Casino feels unpleasantly realistic in places and almost the opposite of stylised, that isn’t to say that Scorsese’s depiction of it doesn’t also invite you to enjoy it. Take Henry Hill’s ferocious pistol-whipping of a man who attempted to grope new girlfriend Karen in Goodfellas – when he returns to her to give her the weapon to hide, she speaks for the audience when she says “I have to admit: it turned me on”. Repugnant as the smashed-in face is, there’s an undeniable romance to Henry’s actions – we want to see the molester get his comeuppance. Scorsese knows this, and his invitation to us to be titillated by it makes it both more disturbing, and a brutally effective way of getting over a key question audiences might have: namely, why

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mob wives don’t run a mile once they figure out what’s really going on down at the cab stand. Scorsese’s latest abdication of responsibility against which he must defend himself is that The Wolf of Wall Street gleefully glamourizes the worst of the excess that led to the financial crash, and as such the film’s existence is encouraging future Jordan Belforts. This is apparently proved by a recent screening of the film for New York brokers and traders where the more despicable Belfort’s actions became, the more he was cheered to the rafters. It’s worth noting that the financial community is also on record as adoring the 1986 cautionary tale Wall Street, which is heavy on the moralising and written and directed by Oliver Stone, a man hardly renowned for his sympathy towards free market capitalism. People just like seeing themselves on screen: ultimately, you have to regard what Wall Street thinks of The Wolf of Wall Street as about as relevant as how much sharks enjoy Jaws. The biggest problem for many seems to be that, unlike previous Scorsese films, the protagonist doesn’t even feel guilt, or even get a comeuppance: Belfort cameos in the


film and now carves out a nice living as a motivational speaker. But this is merely a reflection of the world: whereas the end for wiseguys is usually either life in prison, the ignominy of the Witness Protection Program, or a hole in the desert, Scorsese realises white collar criminals have a lot more options, and yes, sometimes they become bestselling authors. The sentimentality afforded towards his characters in his mob films has no place in this world: in a recent interview, he wearily noted that there “is no redemption for wolves” and that now he “looks at the world around him and despairs”. People will still ask whether Scorsese needed to make his depiction of this lifestyle quite so enjoyable, but that’s overlooking the fact that this is what Scorsese has done throughout his entire career: he makes the reprehensible into something with which you can engage and understand on a human level rather than dismiss as something that happens to other people. Rather than hell being a scary underground fire pit filled with pointy demons, Scorsese has repeatedly pointed out that in reality it’s either in our heads or custom-built for us here on Earth,

whether it’s the mafia or on Wall Street – and frequently, it can be a really fun, exciting place to be. That’s why so many people end up there. This is what The Wolf of Wall Street is - a Scorsese movie and not a movie directed by Scorsese – it’s another film that is best seen as an amoral depiction of immorality. You know that Scorsese thinks what his characters are doing is wrong, but he also realises that the cinema is not the place to pass judgement on them. Rather it’s a place where he asks us to examine ourselves, to acknowledge our own fascination with bad behaviour and indulge our own titillation if need be: this way, while we gaze upon the worst people on earth, Scorsese can dare us not to see some of ourselves staring back. His kinetic, recklessly enjoyable films make the argument that moralising and condemnation are for church; and that while redemption and a respectful distance from these people might make you feel better about yourself temporarily, ultimately it’s a fraud. You can’t make up for your sins in the cinema. You do that on the streets, or you do it at home. All the rest is bullshit and you know it.

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A N I N T I M AT E STRANGER

Adam Lowes on the sweet sadness at the heart of French filmmaker Patrice Leconte

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words by Adam Lowes

sk fans of world cinema to list their favourite contemporary French filmmakers and names like Jacques Audiard, Olivier Assayas, Claire Denis and François Ozon will invariably be banded around. But there’s another director whose name deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as this illustrious few. Despite a prolific career that has encompassed over 30 features in the last five decades, Patrice Leconte rarely gets the acclaim he so thoroughly deserves. He’s a director who can weave effortlessly between genres (our own closest comparison is perhaps Stephen Frears) quietly subverting them each time and bringing his own distinctive sensibilities to the mix. There’s also a contradictory nature that flows through his work. His films radiate warmth but there’s a deep melancholy too. Some of this work skates

around the edges of whimsy and hints at a magical realism, yet they can turn on a dime and come crashing down to Earth in the most sobering manner. Leconte has a keen understanding of brevity and his films rarely outstay their welcome (a number of his features barely surpass the 80-minute mark). His work doesn’t bare the mark of a showy, indulgent craftsman either, and focuses instead on letting the material do the talking and guide him. Making his feature-length debut in 1976 with Les Vécés étaient fermés de l’interieur (starring his subsequent long-time collaborator, Jean Rochefort), the film was an arduous experience by all accounts, and it would take more than two decades for him to make an impression outside of his native country. This came in the form of 1989’s Monsieur Hire, which was shown in competition at Cannes.

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Monsieur Hire

The Hairdresser’s Husband

Using voyeurism as a springboard for the narrative, Monsieur Hire is an austere and atmospheric film that sits somewhere between a Hitchcockian thriller and a more measured, strangely poignant dark character study. The titular figure (Michel Blanc) is a tormented introvert who takes to spying on the beautiful young lady named Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire) in the apartment across the block from him. He is also under the watchful eye himself of a local detective, who is determined to pin the murder of a young woman on him (the discovery of her body opens the film). Taking a methodical approach to his daily peeping (he insists on playing the same haunting melody by Brahms every night) the object of his obsession begins to realise what is happening and she, in turn, initiates mind games of her own. They begin to engage in a series of hushed, deliberately orchestrated rendezvous, where Monsieur Hire attempts to persuade Alice to leave her thuggish emotionally aloof boyfriend and run off with him. Awash with a striking red and green colour palette that wouldn’t look out of place in the hyper-stylised worlds of that period’s filmmaking duo Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, Monsieur Hire is a film of deceptions. The

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protagonist may be an introverted outsider, but he is far from the wallflower the audience is led to believe when Alice begins to ingratiate herself into his world. Leconte creates an emotional to-ing and fro-ing, where our feelings for Hire run from sympathy to a more objectionable attitude when his coldly calculated behaviour surfaces, back to compassion as he himself is finally dealt a dishonestly devastating blow. In a scene towards the end, Hire turns up at a chaotic boxing match, where Alice and her boyfriend are in attendance. While said boyfriend and his criminal associate rejoice in the violent clash unfolding in front of them, Hire steps in to steal a discreet and furtive pleasuring of Alice, who silently acquiesces. That moment of muted, subtle eroticism is brought to the fore in Leconte’s follow-up, 1990’s The Hairdresser’s Husband. That film begins with a middle-aged man named Antoine ( Jean Rochefort) gazing into the camera’s lens (the audience is the mirror) as he tends to his hair. A rumbling, Lynch-like soundscape can be faintly heard whilst Antoine begins to reminisce about his seemingly idyllic childhood and the key figure that brought about his sexual awakening. It’s triggered by a visit to the local


Ridicule

Ridicule

hair salon and being treated to a shampoo and haircut by the proprietor, Madame Shaeffer. Silently immersing himself in the pleasures this routine, it grows into a full-blown obsession for him. Telling his bemused family of his future intention of marrying a hairdresser, he does just this, and is happily in love as an adult with Mathilde (Anna Galiena) who also owns her own shop. The grown-up Antoine doesn’t appear to have a job of his own. Instead he spends every day observing his wife at work (the film mostly stays within the confines of her salon) and he seems to be living the absolute embodiment of his childhood longing. His adolescence perpetually playing out in adult life, he has maintained a childlike perspective on the world in his later years. The film’s opening credits have a young Antoine moving ecstatically and contorting his body to lively Middle Eastern music, which he later plays and dances to in his wife’s salon to help pacify an agitated child into getting his hair cut. Guided again by Michael Nyman’s richly evocative score, Leconte’s glimpses at Antione’s formative years possess a warm nostalgia and humour not too dissimilar to the thinly-veiled autobiographic moments in Woody Allen’s best work. Antoine awkwardly gallivants around

the shores of his seaside hometown in flashback, wearing the knitted swimming trunks his mother made for him, and makes frequent trips to see the object of his affection. If this was a Hollywood film, Madame Shaeffer would be portrayed as a slender, model-like creation. Refreshingly, here she is fuller-figured, reflecting a naturalistic depiction of first lust, and not a fetishized version. But it’s not all rose-tinted for the youngster. One day as Antoine is making his regular visit to the hairdressers, he discovers the corpse of Madame Shaeffer who has committed suicide inside her shop. Upon moving in to examine the body we are offered the film’s most telling line (“death is yellow and vanilla-scented). Love is entwined with mortality and events ultimately have a way of repeating themselves as the overwhelming love Mathilde feels for her spouse becomes too much for her to handle. The film’s enigmatic ending offers both a deep sadness and ambiguity as a lonely Antoine sits skimming through magazines in the empty salon, informing a visiting customer that the hairdresser will return. 1996’s Ridicule marked something of a turning point for Leconte. A captivating and visually-luxurious variation on the “pen is mightier than the sword” adage, the

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The Girl on the Bridge

film is set in 18th century Versailles where verbal sparring has replaced that of the rapier and the ability to hand out witty insults and devastating quips represents a means of climbing the stringent social ladder. The Baron Grégoire Ponceludon de Malavoy (Charles Berling) is a nobleman who is more concerned with human rights, campaigning about the squalid living conditions of the peasants outside of the castle walls, and trying desperately to find funds to drain the nearby swamps, which are the root cause of all the sickness and death. On his journey to the palace to seek help, he is both mugged and beaten. Taken in by the kindly Marquis de Bellegarde (Rochefort, again), a physician who has some social standing in the courts, he is schooled in the ways of wit and wordage. Ponceludon does what he must to succeed, bedding a rich widow (Fanny Ardant) and his sponsor at court, even though his heart belongs to the doctor’s daughter Mathilde ( Judith Godrèche), who has herself agreed to wed a wealthy old aristocrat whose wife is dying. Like Ponceludon, Mathilde’s aims are of an altruistic nature, and she is hoping to support her science experiments and help pay off her father’s debts. While Ridicule may ostensibly be the least auteur-led of Leconte’s films, it’s a richly textured film, and like the best period dramas, is full of grace and grandeur without shying away from the duplicitous and conceited behaviour of the pampered aristocracy. Arguably the director’s most accomplished work, it’s the film that has

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brought him the most recognition and praise. Sweeping the boards at France’s Oscar equivalent, the Césars, it played in competition for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, as well as receiving a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Award themselves. If Monsieur Hire saw the director channelling the Master of Suspense and The Hairdresser’s Husband was partially imbued with an Allen-like wistfulness for childhood recollections, 1999’s The Girl on the Bridge (La fille sur le pont) dips into that intoxicating Fellini-esque carnival world. Shot in glimmering black and white, it’s the story of a symbiotic and mutually dependent relationship between two seemingly disparate figures. The film opens with a bravura eight-minute single take of lead actress Vanessa Paradis being interviewed in character. She plays Adèle, a young suicidal waif who is talked out of jumping from a bridge by a middle-aged gentleman called Gabor (Daniel Auteuil). He happens to be a renowned knife-thrower and convinces her to become his assistant in his act. They make a tight partnership initially, as they travel around Europe with the act. Their companionship brings about an almost uncanny level of luck for both of them. Although they have a platonic relationship, Adèle is continually looking for her desires to be satisfied with a number of attractive suitors on her travels. Gabor is forever trying to steer her away from them. He does offer her fulfilments of sorts with his knife skills, and once again, a character from Leconte’s world seeks sexual


Man on the Train

gratification from the unlikeliest of situations. With its dramatic use of shadows and exaggerated Dutch tilts (the gravelly tomes of Marianne Faithfull invade the soundtrack) the scene of Gabor practising on the increasingly aroused Adèle could have resembled a faintly ridiculous Dior ad in lesser hands, but Leconte offers a darkly sensual moment in a film that revels in the surreal and fantastical. 2002’s Man on the Train (L’homme du train) reunited the director with Rochefort yet again, who stars alongside aging French pop icon Johnny Halladay. A slower-paced and much more grounded affair than Girl on the Bridge, this is yet another two-hander, once again tackling the burgeoning friendship between two seemingly opposing souls. Rochefort’s character is Manesquier, a retired poetry teacher who unwittingly offers bed and board to Halladay’s Milan, who happens to be a seasoned bank robber in town to pull off a heist. Over the course of a few days, the duo strikes up a friendship and camaraderie that has a real warmth. Milan wakes the teacher out of his relationship torpor and a mutual respect is forged between the men, although both are facing their own fates at the end of the week. Man on the Train is a visually subdued film by Leconte’s standards. Set in a wintery, almost-deserted small town, the colour is drained out of this setting in the same way a joie de vivre has left the two characters, particularly Manesquier. Mortality looms large over both men, and the performers bring a wonderful gravitas and weariness

to proceedings. The retired teacher slowly learns of his new friend’s vocation and intended plans but is far from judgmental, and he evens suggests, matter-of-factly, he would have loved to have teamed up with him on the heist if it wasn’t for his other engagement. You really believe Manesquier when he says this, and the film’s ethereal conclusion hints at a world where these two souls find a closure and crossover of sorts. Man on the Train proved to be a big success for the director, even performing well over in the US and prompting a 2011 English-language remake, which starred the improbable pairing of Donald Sutherland and U2’s Larry Mullen, Jr. making a rare excursion into acting. Leconte’s later work seems to have fallen out of favour with an international audience, and the last decade or so has seen only 2004’s Intimate Strangers and 2006’s My Best Friend receive UK distribution. Despite featuring an English cast headed by Rebecca Hall and Alan Rickman, his new romantic drama, A Promise, looks unlikely to buck the trend, after being met with less than enthusiastic reviews when it debuted at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. That creatively fertile decade-plus period beginning with Monsieur Hire represents a body of work that showcases a truly versatile talent, and if Leconte’s recent productivity hasn’t quite gained the prominence of those earlier features, he’s nevertheless a filmmaker who deserves to be recognised amongst France’s very best.

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Vérité’s

Top 10 Films of 2013

Jordan McGrath’s 2013 Review

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he multiplex audiences maligned much of the cinematic output of 2013, with huge tent-pole releases such as Man of Steel, Pacific Rim and any other number of sequels leaving more than a sour taste in many a mouth. However, from a personal perspective, hand-on-heart, I believe we couldn’t have asked for a better film year to launch this magazine. Now, I agree, the main exporter didn’t step up to the plate in 2013, I guess that’s why there are only three American releases in my Top 10, however, for films that fall within our niche guidelines – and for those with a more eclectic taste – I believe it’s been quite a stunning year for off-beat, independent and world cinema. All you need do is take a glance at the festival circuit in 2013 to see that it’s been brimming with a near onslaught of incredible titles. From Berlin, through Cannes (five of my personal Top 10 premiered on the sunny promenades) and finishing with the BFI’s festivities in our very Capital. Personally, it only highlights the sheer strength of the market when every choice in my list played at least two festivals this year. Films like Gravity united critics and the masses with a near perfect haul of positivity, the blend of art-house sensibilities and mainstream thrills returned to general discourse for the first time since Inception exploded onto our screens in 2010. 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen’s third feature became an Oscar front-runner,

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promising to expose the true horror of slavery with the biographical heart-breaking and heart-warming tale of Solomon Northup. But 2013 for me will always be the year of the bastardized American Dream. Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers quashed the Disney-Princess veneers of Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson, with James Franco delivering perhaps the best performance of his career-to-date. Sofia Coppola returned to our screens with The Bling Ring, cementing her status as one of the best and most interesting filmmakers working today with her chronicle of the lives of the rich and dysfunctional, and finally, Michael Bay delivered a robot-less instalment to his ever fascinating oeuvre. Shocking, hilarious and bordering on self-parody, Pain and Gain’s sun-drenched oiled musclemen gave us a twisted glimpse into the underserving’s belief of ‘what it means to be American’ which would make Steinbeck not only turn in his grave but rise again and strangle modern society. We’ve had surprises and disappointments, have been whisked away to magical worlds and brought back crashing down to earth again by gritty realism, watched superheroes save the world and a single person strive to survive, history has been retold and literature breathed back into to life. Cinema is always a journey and as each year reaches its finale it’s comforting to look back and access. 2013 has been a one hell of a trip.

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Stoker directed by Park Chan-wook words by Clarisse Loughry

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venomous snake. A femme fatale. Stoker seduces and destroys. A theatrical run and DVD release later and I’m still left trying to break out of the maze of questions, of where India Stoker’s reality ends and her fantasies begin. On the one hand, it’s so clearly a twisted tale of sexual awakening, but at the same time attempts to explore all those grand ideas of nuture vs. nature that men with beards love to discuss so much. It nods to that trendy obsession of the ‘pyschopath gene’, that there could be something lying deep inside our veins that’s just waiting to be triggered. A great evil beyond our own control. Is India Stoker’s bizarre, primal connection with her uncle one of incestual desire or of two dark horses of the family bound together by their secrets? Stoker stands at the polar opposite of a movie like Blue is the Warmest Colour, it eschews every sense of realism in favour of a film in which every action and every line of dialogue is a metaphor, a piece of the puzzle (but the kind where it’s mostly sky): a line of childhood saddle shoes, a spider crawling up a leg. It’s cold and distant like India’s ice queen mother (so perfectly played by Nicole Kidman), yet the enigma of it is as irresistible as it is frustrating, like Bradley Cooper’s perm in American Hustle. It repulses me yet all I’ve ever wanted is to get my fingers all up in those tight, little curls.

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Only God Forgives directed by Nicolas Winding Refn words by Shelag M. Rowan-Legg

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n action film in slow motion. An Oedipal tale (nearly) devoid of sex. A love story filled with hatred. I don’t know any film that could have combined all these elements so seamlessly. Refn may have taken inspiration from Asian martial arts films, but he combines this with a very European art house mode of focusing on character rather than action. The Asian influence feels more Tsai Ming-Liang than Johnnie To, for example; Only God Forgives feels almost like Tsai’s style of slow, minimalist cinema. As opposed to movement, these are (for the most part) moving photographs. It has a kind of Renaissance composition; it shows what is reflected in the mirror on the wall, not what is in front of the artist. By this, I mean that Refn goes for the style; but while many critics think that Refn eschewed substance, I disagree. There is a solid story here, one as basic and deep as any Greek tragedy. The tragedy is seen through the amazing production design that designates colour for characters (blues for pain, reds for anger and lust, yellows for justice). Even the violence is actually quite minimal, so when it does happen, it’s all the more, well, like a Greek tragedy in its importance. But Refn disposes of the dialogue in favour of close-ups on stoic faces. Refn invents if not a new language of cinema then a new dialect, one that can meld seemingly disparate modes of action, tragedy and minimalism.

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Spring Breakers directed by Harmony Korine words by Kelsey Eichhorn

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pring Breakers, along with Only God Forgives, was one of the Marmite movies of 2013. Harmony Korine fans had understandably high hopes, following the controversial cult hit Gummo (1997) and the more recent Mister Lonely (2007). Spring Breakers is arguably his finest work to-date, and easily his most visually striking. Spring Breakers is a master class in film aesthetics, specifically a tour-de-force of non-linear editing. Through a barrage of colours, loops, overlays and near perfect sound mixing, Korine tells his story viscerally through the senses. In the mode of the increasingly prominent slow cinema movement, Breakers is less plot-driven than it is dependent upon perception and emotion. Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine turn in awe-inspiring performances as four university friends fed up with the boredom of small-town America. When they decide to rob a fast food restaurant to fund their spring break trip it’s clear we’re in for a wild ride. But once there, the girls attract the attention of local drug and arms dealer Alien, played to perfection by James Franco, and the story begins the slow surreal slide into the seedy underworld of the already-controversial spring break life. Those searching through the carefully constructed chaos for some deeper meaning or cultural commentary will continuously find themselves frustrated; but if that’s your goal then you’re completely missing the point anyway. If you let this film simply be, what unfolds is one of the most visually stunning and powerful odes to the artistic potential of cinema. Utterly surreal and simply sublime.

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Inside Llewyn Davis directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen words by David Hall

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uffused with melancholy and quite grace, Inside Llewyn Davis may well be Joel and Ethan Coen’s most downbeat and pessimistic work to date, but it’s also one of their most recognisably human. A more sophisticated and nuanced film about music and artistry than O Brother Where Art Thou?, Lllewyn Davis smashes the myth of the Coens as cold, calculating and distanced directors. Its comedy derives entirely from tragic circumstance, and while its hero has been perceived in some quarters as a dislikeable protagonist, closer watching reveals a more complicated, empathetic side to this self-destructive, embittered folkie. Gently puncturing the folk mythos and hagiographic treatment of the 1960s East Village scene, and carrying an almost spiritual undertow, Llewyn Davis expertly and amusingly explores the fractious relationship between art, commerce and self-expression. There’s an inherent soulfulness and to the way the familiar notes are played out. Typically for a Coen film there are various mythological allusions, in-jokes and references, but Llewyn Davis is not a distanced work; remaining warm even when the tone darkens, and Davis’ journey turns ever more painful, despairing and inevitable. Breakout star Oscar Isaac is a charismatic front man, who commands your attention throughout , and there is delicate, expertly played support work from Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake as well as some special guest performances that will delight aficionados of 60s music. Llewyn Davis isn’t one for the masses, and deliberately so. This feels like one for the fans in many ways – a perfectly realised concept album about failure that, in almost every department, is a resounding success.

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Upstream Colour directed by Shane Carruth words by Jordan McGrath

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he question people seem to ask me, and of which I ask others, about Upstream Colour (Shane Carruth’s long-awaited return after baffling audiences with his debut Primer) is ‘How did you feel after it?’ and a more relevant question about this film does not exist. As an experience, it’s a viscerally emotional gut punch, a blow to the senses and a shock to the system. You struggle to pluck worthy enough adjectives to describe its effect. It exists to get lost in, to horrify and leave you in awe, and those fanatical about compartmentalising its meanings have missed out. Primer was mathematical precision – cold and collected – Upstream Colour is a poetic puzzle of free will. Lyrical and expressive, two distinct experiences but one memorable voice. Auteur remains a fashionable word within cinema criticism but even with only two films under his belt, the singular control Carruth has on his films – directing, writing, producing, starring, and scoring – means you’d struggle to argue that label when it comes to him. He’s one of independent cinema’s poster boys and rightly so, an enigmatic creator and probably the nearest thing to a ‘true original’ to come out of America this century. Upstream Colour is a hypnotic, beautiful and deeply unsettling piece of cinema that not only transfixes you with Carruth’s narrative astuteness, but provides a platform for meaningful and proactive discussion: the epitome of the kind of cinema we love here at Vérité.

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The Act of Killing directed by Joshua Oppenheimer words by Joseph Fahim

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ugust 14, 2013. I woke up to gunshots emanating from my neighbor’s TV set. Since January 25, I’ve become accustomed to hearing gunshots everywhere and anytime in Egypt, but that noise — the screaming, wailing and blaring aggression of rapid fire — was quite different…more horrifying than anything I’ve witnessed in the past two and a half years. Adamant about eradicating the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the country’s recent rulers and now public enemy no.1, following the military coup of June 30, the police and army forces, backed by the vast majority of the public, decided to disperse a large protest of theirs that went on for nearly a month. In four days, more than 1,000 MB supporters were murdered, including women and children — the biggest mass massacre in Egypt’s modern history. The police and the army described what happened as a vital campaign against “terrorism”; that the number of casualties was “acceptable.” The consequences were even more disheartening: the August 14 butchers have now become the rulers of Egypt as the country continues to descend into corruption and fascism. As I watched this nightmare swiftly become reality, the one film that stayed with me ever since was Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing.” The similarities between the aftermath of Suharto’s military coup in Indonesia and present day Egypt are eerie. History repeats itself and herein lies the importance of Oppenheimer’s film: the universality of the experience it relays. Former paramilitary member, Anwar Congo, the central figure of the film, is no different than hundreds of unpunished murderers who continue to lead a guilt-free and largely prosperous life in Egypt and elsewhere. In this world, justice is nothing more but a romantic ideal that only exists in fiction. The Act of Killing is not a documentation of the mass killings that saw more than half-a-million communists murdered by the army’s henchmen, nor is it a probing into the mindset of a killer. Rather, it’s an examination of the banality of evil. Anwar and his partners in crime knew exactly what they were doing; they spend half of the film’s duration bragging about the brutality and sadism with which they carried out their murders. They claim they had to rationalize their heinous misdeeds in order to live with them; at the same time, they attest that wiping out the communists was the right thing to do for the wellbeing of their nation. Yet, it is quite apparent they did it for power, fame and money…and perhaps for the sheer thrill of being in control of someone else’s life. A handful of critics have rightly questioned Oppenheimer’s method, and real purpose, of forcing the killers to reenact their murders through their favorite films, and later, assuming the roles of the victims. Is he attempting to bring them to justice? Does Anwar genuinely feel remorse over his crimes? Is he finally having a conscious awakening after decades of successfully repressing the true nature of what he did? All are valid questions with no clearcut answers. What The Act of Killing ultimately accomplishes is graciously granting us the hope, or perhaps illusion, of justice; the hope that even in a society where evil is permitted, justified and celebrated, a form of punishment, of retribution, can be attained.

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Frances Ha directed by Noah Baumbach words by Jordan McGrath

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ometimes a film strikes a chord with you; something deep down you’ve been keeping submerged in the depths of your subconscious that you’re not quite ready to do battle with yet. Frances Ha is that movie and that’s why it’s the film most personal to me on this list. Under its obvious charms, below its shell of quirkiness, lays a truth, a pain that everyone must face – to let go of dreams and finally face the ‘real’ world. It’s a simple truth, but one of which we all must encounter, to shred the layers of naivety aside and become an adult, and it’s that melancholic essence that attaches me to Noah Baumbach’s best film to date. Infused with the style of the French New Wave and the wry, witty humour and heart of Woody Allen, the film fully understands its influences and homages, confronts them, and uses them in a way that seems original and refreshing. The film is indebted to the eccentricity and loveable nature of Greta Gerwig’s titular character – we sympathise and empathise with her situation and her attraction to youth. She may be a frustrating character to watch at times but it’s in Gerwig’s truth and the confusion she embeds within the character that makes her so appealing. And it only speaks of the films effortless quality that in the era that birthed HBO’s Girls, Frances Ha can stand alone as a completely original presentation of a similar subject. After Greenberg, and with another project on the horizon, the duo behind Frances Ha has elevated anything they now produce ton the status of ‘must-see’.

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Before Midnight directed by Richard Linklater words by Luke Richardson

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s the only sequel featuring in our cream of the 2013 cinematic crop list, Before Midnight was met with preposterously high expectation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The third in consummate filmmaker Richard Linklater’s love-dunked Euro trips, not only is it an expectedly, yet effortlessly charming watch, it portrayed how relationships, like a fine cheese, evolve, mature and crumble over time. A lot has changed in the lives of star-crossed lovers; warts-and-all novelist Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and environment advocate Céline ( Julie Delpy) since they last graced our screens in 2004’s Parisian smooch, Before Sunset. Committing to their enduring love, we find the fortysomething married pair holidaying in Greece’s Southern Peloponnese with their twin daughters and Jesse’s visiting son from his failed first bout of wedlock. Roaming around together through the beautifully timeworn Greco-Roman streets, they evaluate the life they have shared together; contemplating the jobs, loves and desires they have curtailed for the sake of each other. Despite a brief moment of lethargy when a dinner with other bourgeoisie types descends into cod-philosophy chit-chat, Before Midnight is a surprisingly exhilarating ride. Emotionally impaling, it all builds to a devastating crescendo in the lengthy penultimate scene where the two battle it out in a hotel room before the witching hour. Fuelled by the catastrophic chemistry between Hawke and Delpy, the savage altercation reaches the same fervency as the 34-minute squabble between Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot in Godard’s Le mépris – and at only two thirds of its running time! Shot in just 15 days with a collaborative, yet tautly structured script, perhaps Before Midnight’s simplicity and expeditiousness is what makes it such an essential part of the 2013 film canon. Eschewing fanciful gimmicks or narrative clichés, this is the best cinematic rendering of enduring love and all its problems. If tradition persists, I’m already looking forward to 2022 when I can drop-in on them again, probably sometime Before Noon.

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The Great Beauty directed by Paolo Sorrentino words by Michael Pattison

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avish, sumptuous and euphoric, Sorrentino’s finest film seduces one into an overwhelmed adjectivalisation that does little more than describe and synopsize. While we wait to read a more analytical appreciation of this frequently bedazzling film, we may sit and sit again through the sublime energy of its hairs-on-end rush and foot-tapping swell. As a writer procrastinating his way through an intellectually paralysed Rome still run by a Church feeding off the politically dependent and the wilfully duped, Toni Servillo—perhaps our greatest working actor— lends warmth and weariness in equal measure to a character both blanketed and horrified by his own social privilege. In many ways, the problem with Rome is its beauty. In the opening scene here a tourist is so overcome by a postcard-ready panorama that he dies right there on the spot. Elsewhere, a whole entourage of self-deluding writers live out an often vacant existence of rooftop parties, while a younger generation of conceptual artists gains acceptance and applause by sprinting ahead naked and banging their skulls against stone or chucking paint at a canvas with hearty gasps of anguish. Sorrentino pans, tilts, tracks and cuts with wondrous precision, presenting the kind of aestheticised gift-wrap that looks and seems to be the work of accident—the second greatest trick the devil ever pulled. Whatever, the film feels like the real thing: an art-house film in the old-school sense, a terrifically ambitious work that boasts the conviction of its own faults.

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Blue is the Warmest Colour directed by Abdellatif Kechiche words by Jordan McGrath

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here are love stories and then there are love stories. Love is cinema’s most prevalent and used currency, human existence in both its most pure and most corrupt; a fascinating dichotomy of self and other. We could look as far back as Bogart telling Bergman to get on the plane at the end of Casablanca or, more recently, the raw power of Derek Cianfrance’s soul-destroying depiction of the bliss and heartache of a relationship’s beginning and end in Blue Valentine. It doesn’t matter when or where, love is cinema stock and it’s been trading in it since the art-form began. So what makes Blue is the Warmest Colour so special? Well, what Kechiche does so poignantly is illustrate an undiluted version of first love and also heighten it? Delivering a version of love that is all encompassing, engulfing, taking an empty statement such as ‘If you leave me my world will come to an end’ and use it as a metaphorical barometer in the stakes of the relationship. As an emotional experience, there isn’t a film that has come close to delivering the amount of anguish and delight of this year’s Palme d’Or winner. Adèle Exarchopoulos is 2013’s greatest discovery, an actress with such natural beauty and talent and whose countenance, although incredibly nuanced, seems to have no limitations. She and Léa Seydoux deliver the bravest performances of the year, laying themselves bare (no pun intended) for all to see. Blue is the Warmest Colour is, frankly, an astounding piece of cinema that even months after viewing find myself pondering over the spell it cast over me.

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Young LUST Chris O’Neill sits down with Kelly + Victor director Kieran Evans and discusses adapation, casting and sex

words and interview by Chris O’Neill

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elly (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) and Victor ( Julian Morris) meet on a dance floor in a Liverpudlian club. That night he goes back to her place. They drink, do some drugs, and have incredible sex: she aggressively takes control, gets a bit rough; he loves it, never having felt sensations of this kind before. They part ways the next morning, each wanting to see the other again. So begins Kelly + Victor, one of the most startling and significant British films of 2013. Based on the novel by Niall Griffiths, the first-person perspectives of the source material are abandoned and the story stripped down to the bare essentials. Coming from a background of documentaries and music videos, director Kieran Evans makes his narrative film debut an intimate and affecting tale conveyed through images, sound design and sparse dialogue. At the centre of the film are the lead performances from Campbell-Hughes and Morris, who together have great chemistry while each exuding a unique screen presence. As well as being influenced by European cinema and specific directors such as Nicolas Roeg and Ulrich Seidl, Evans has crafted a film that will

either immerse or alienate the viewer. Regardless of the individual’s response, it is commendable to see a British filmmaker tackling literary material in such robustly cinematic terms.

Vérité: When did you first become aware of the novel Kelly + Victor? Kieran Evans: I was a fan of Niall Griffiths’ previous two novels, Grits and Sheepshagger, so when an arts show for BBC Wales asked me for ideas for a short film, I su’ggested doing something on Niall Griffiths. I met him, we got on really well, and he said “let’s not do a short film about me, let’s do something completely new for the show”. So while Niall worked on a story, I was going away on holiday and he sent me a proof copy of the novel Kelly + Victor to read, just as a gift. It completely blew me away. A dominant female sexual role rather than a male role I thought was interesting, the way it was told from the point of view of their thoughts, and the structure – the way it tells Victor’s story first, then it starts again with Kelly – was a challenge. So it ticked a

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number of boxes about what I wanted to make. I wanted a challenge, I didn’t want to do a rom-com or something. Around this time I met producer Janine Marmot, who was keen on me developing a feature film, so when I came back from holiday I gave it to Janine and said ‘I think this might be the book’.

thinking about tone. When I was writing I was a little more descriptive than scripts usually are, to get a sense of what the mood was. This was for me but also so when people read the script, tonally they got a feel for it.

Originally it was going to be me and Niall adapting it, so we set down three rules we couldn’t break. One was the story cannot be moved from Liverpool. Another was Kelly shouldn’t be a ‘looker’, what we meant by that was when she walks into a room she turns the head of one man, not thirty. And the other rule was no voiceover. What was useful about having Niall around in the beginning was usually writers are precious about their work, but he wasn’t. Niall knew we couldn’t squeeze a whole book into the film, so we went through it and filleted out bits we didn’t need and amalgamated characters. That really helped, but after that first stage Niall got bored. He felt that ‘these are characters I wrote two years ago, I can’t really write about them anymore’, so the ball came to me. I read a lot of scripts and watched a lot of films, I was

Part of it is about how, as a human being, you relate to other people. Simple as that. Actors are creative like anyone, but they use their bodies and voices. I haven’t worked a lot with actors, to be honest, but I have worked with a lot of egos so you learn from experience how to manage a situation. If you cast well, that’s half your job done, then it’s about setting up the camera and creating the mood. Antonia and Julian had an innate sense of what their roles required at the casting stage and they brought something new to the party. With Antonia, she turned up a day after we had finished casting as this almost wispy character framed in the furry hood of her parka jacket. She spoke softer than other actors, but when I was reading the lines with her she demanded that I looked her in the eyes, so I knew I could develop a relationship

How did you come to cast Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris and how did you How did you go about adapting the novel? The film feel directing actors for your first narrative and the book have distinctly different structures. feature film?

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with her. Same with Julian, he came in I think off a Red Eye flight and was a bit fucked, a bit tired, that meant he read the lines softer than any of the other actors had done. When we were shooting, I kept them apart, so they stayed in different parts of the city and I asked them not to socialise at all outside of working hours. I didn’t want any discussion or plan of action between them. I wanted to keep that frisson going.

There is an immense sense of intimacy and passion to the sex scenes, how did you achieve this? When it came to the sex scenes, it was important in regards to where you schedule them. So if you shoot the sex scenes at the start, that’s going to go wrong. So we blocked off four or five days in the middle of filming where it was a closed set, and everyone knew what was going to happen. On the day, it really was about communication. Knowing when the time was right to shut the fuck up and knowing about how to tell them what I wanted. I did a lot of preparation for these particular scenes and watched a lot of films. I watched Nicolas Roeg films and read up on how he had directed the sex scene in Don’t Look Now. It’s very romanticised how they filmed it, but when you read Julie Christie’s account,

it much more practical like ‘Nic telling Donald to pinch my tit’ and that kind of thing, and that’s what actors need. What I did differently was I got them to do the whole act, right from the removal of the clothes – not because we knew we were gonna use every element, but because it’s a part of a process, you let them get into it. It’s about creating that space to allow it to happen. I was keen to avoid it feeling like an ‘edited’ sex scene, where it’s timed to go to a shot of a breast, or a breathy shot, or a gasp. Without making it voyeuristic, I wanted us to be there with them.

There is a strong emphasis on mood and atmosphere rather than dialogue exposition. It is a trait not often seen in English-language filmmaking. In a lot of British films there is an emphasis on talking, but I wanted to create a sense of mood. A lot of European cinema dispenses with dialogue, it’s less about what they say rather the vibe. I wanted to avoid too much exposition, so you can just drop into the scene. ‘You’re here at this point, this is the moment, it’s gone’. This lack of handholding can irritate people, but this was also dictated by how the scenes were written. The story is very episodic, sometimes scenes ran into each other. It would

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be Kelly’s story, then Victor’s story, with no direct connection. So you don’t have to rely on what they are saying, what is significant is what they are doing, or how they are reacting. Some of the dialogue is almost throwaway conversation, particularly the scenes with Victor and his mates. They are all on the periphery, they are not important to his world, but they are the only people he’s got. When Kelly enters his life, he has something else. Victor almost becomes a ghost to them.

The use of music and the overall sound design of Kelly + Victor are striking in their subtlety and abruptness. I like sound to be exactly as you hear it, I like the collision of things. I like not having everything perfect. I didn’t want a composed soundtrack, there’s a sense of perfection to scores with a start, a middle and an end as it responds to the picture, I wanted a slight inverse of that. I wanted to use songs that I knew had a sound that fitted the scenes. Working with the editor Nathan Nugent, it wasn’t about working the pictures to the song, there’s nothing worse than watching a film and it suddenly becomes a pop video halfway through it. If I want to watch a pop video, I’ll go to Youtube or whatever. I’ve always been a lover of sound in films. I remember going to a screening of Lost Highway at NFT1 and the writer Barry Gifford was introducing it. He had a personal message from David Lynch to read out and it went ‘Hello everybody, I hope you enjoy the film, but more importantly,

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it’s not just the picture but the sound. So Mister Projectionist: turn it up!’ Listening to Lost Highway loud, really loud, is one of the most amazing experiences I ever had.

In the novel, Kelly and Victor meet on 31st December 1999, while the film takes place in the present. Do you feel this change of time period offers a different perspective of the characters? I had a long chat about that with Niall, because the book was written around the time of the Millennium, hope and Blair. The characters were really the first casualties of the acid house generation, when there was this idea of building a new world and drugs would free your mind. By having the film set now, I think it rounded off the characters a lot more. In the book they were a lot more hedonistic, there was a lot more drug taking, which I found quite honest to how I experienced people at the time of the Millennium, but that’s not how I experience the club scene now. It’s a lot more secretive and dangerous. Without being overtly political, we wanted them to exist in a world where hope has truly gone, where they are desperate for a job, whether it’s working in a card shop or working in a scrapyard. It just seemed to fit the mood of the city in the years since the coalition came in. Liverpool had a lot of money pulled straight away and it always seems to be in the crosshairs of the Tories. So we let the mood of the city influence the characters of Kelly and Victor a bit more in writing the film adaptation. They are less visible, more ghostlike.

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Lost i n America (take two) Part two of James Rocarol’s quest for the missing of 70s American Cinema

words by James Rocarols

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lan Arkin has sometimes been painted as one of the decade’s forgotten directorial heroes. All three of the feature-length films he directed were, until recently, all unavailable on home video, although the recent rehabilitation of his superb black comedy Little Murders (1971) has gone some way to rectifying that. The one 1970s entry that remains rescinded is Fire Sale (1977), but anyone expecting a similarly accomplished comic masterpiece is likely to be disappointed. Fire Sale is a very different beast, and seriously less impressive. Featuring two of the period’s top TV comics in the form of Sid Caesar and Rob Reiner, united with Vincent Gardenia and Arkin himself, the film resembles a TV sketch show in terms of both its ramshackle plot and cheap production values. It’s certainly not cinematic enough to be considered a contender for lost New American Cinema,

but fans of Jewish humour may get a few laughs out of it, if they can track it down. Another TV success story from the other side of the camera who fared less well in film is Richard C. Sarafian. A former accomplice of Robert Altman, Sarafian had amassed a decade of experience on prestigious shows like Batman, I Spy, Gunsmoke and The Twilight Zone before he directed his most famous feature, the nihilistic road movie Vanishing Point (1971). Sarafian died last year and his passing went largely unnoticed, yet Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973) is another of his credits that’s worthy of attention, and it’s a film that’s struggled for recognition despite boasting a sensational cast of male acting talent: Rod Steiger, Robert Ryan, Jeff Bridges, Gary Busey, Randy Quaid, Scott Wilson and Ed Lauter. Partly this may be down to basic misconceptions. The title perhaps conjures the idea that it’s about

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Lolly-Madonna XXX

pornography, or just porn itself. Or otherwise the film is often categorised as a ‘moonshine’ drama despite the absence of bootlegging in the plot and a contemporary setting. However the film certainly conforms to many of the features of the ‘hicksploitation’ genre popular in the early 1970s, although aesthetically its sweaty, claustrophobic atmosphere (plus the presence of Scott Wilson) recalls Robert Aldrich’s 1920s-set The Grissom Gang, released just a couple of years before. Like that film, Lolly-Madonna XXX also takes a kidnapping as its starting point, but a botched one, when the innocent Ronnie Gill (Season Hubley) is mistakenly identified by the Feather family as the entirely fabricated ‘Lolly Madonna’, a would-be paramour for Pap Gustall, patriarch of the Feather’s deadly rival clan, the Gutsalls. The Feather-Gutsall War is one of those conflicts that’s been waging for so long the original motives have become lost in the mists of time, and further complicated by the web of relationships that have built up between the families as a result of their proximity and geographic isolation. The peculiar love-hate relationship between these almost co-dependent families is the defining quirk of the film: each family threatens, cajoles, spits blood towards and generally professes to despise the other, but they’re also mutually interlinked. In between the beatings and rapes members frequently pop to each other’s ranches

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for semi-cordial chats and updates about their respective mindsets, as if the whole charade is some kind of schizophrenic replay of The Waltons. Tellingly, when their war does spill over into real violence the effects are more self-destructive than decisive. Clearly here the filmmakers are making a point about the futility of war, as you’d expect from a film made towards the end of the Vietnam conflict, and Sarafian cleverly highlights the absurdity of the families’ animosity by designing their two homesteads as barely distinguishable, confusingly cutting from one ranch to another in quick succession so that they’re almost perceived as a contiguous whole. Sarafian also attempts some wild shifts in tone, and somewhat surprisingly the film’s most effective moments are the series of quiet, touching two-hander scenes between various members of the families. Lolly-Madonna XXX is a complex work with much more going on than I’ve got room to describe here, but the film’s ambition may also explain its failure on initial release. It feels like Sarafian and screenwriter Rodney Carr-Smith tried to cram in too much of Susan Grafton’s source novel (The Lolly Madonna War) and then burnished it with even more of their own preoccupations and conceits. Logically and dramatically the story should be told through the eyes of outsider Ronnie Gill, but Sarafian relegates the character to the margins and the result is an unfocused


Wanda

yet fascinating - and highly typical - example of 1970s cinema that’s worth hunting down for its exceptional cast alone. The most significant finding from my investigation into unearthed 1970s cinema would be the identification of a recurring feature in absent works that tells us something about the qualities (and limitations of ) the existing canon. The most common element I discovered in my relatively limited research was that many of the most significant missing 1970s films were centred around women or from female filmmakers. It’s perhaps no surprise that the history of New American Cinema has been dominated by towering macho figures like Coppola and Friedkin; alpha males with the heft and confidence to take on Hollywood with singlehanded (occasionally literal) force. But it’s surprising how few films from this supposedly liberated, plural and radical era focus primarily on women. The only titles to have cemented their place in the 1970s canon that spring readily to mind are Klute (1971), Images (1972), Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under The Influence (both 1974), 3 Women (1977), An Unmarried Woman and Interiors (both 1978) – all of which were, of course, directed by men. Thankfully the Film Foundation made a significant gesture to restoring such inequality with its restoration and rerelease of Barbara Loden’s seminal Wanda (1970)

a few years ago, a film now available on DVD (in the US) from Parlour Pictures. Loden’s portrayal of a female character unconsciously drawn to violent relationships and so desperate for a hint of self esteem she becomes an accomplice to an abusive bank robber, is a searing depiction of inexorable female subservience in the vein of Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). The film can’t really be categorised as New American Cinema in the definitive sense because (despite Loden’s efforts) it was produced completely outside of mainstream Hollywood, and its aesthetics and production values are closer to something like The Honeymoon Killers (1969) than the 1970s film it most closely resembles thematically, Badlands. Wanda is one of a number of 1970s films about the effects of societal pressures on female psychology, many of which were hard-to-find for many years or are still unreleased commercially. Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970) isn’t strictly unobtainable, having been released on disc in France, but its absence from the US and UK markets is inexplicable, especially given the recent reappraisal of director Jerry Schatzberg’s following film, Scarecrow (1973). Puzzle is classically New American Cinema in every sense. Ageing model Lou (Faye Dunaway) recounts her dramatic life story to a photographer who wants to

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profile her (Barry Primus). As she delves back through a succession of failed relationships and career mishaps, culminating in a drug overdose and mental breakdown, it becomes clear her recollections are deluded and at odds with the contrasting onscreen evidence we’re presented with (similar to Badlands, again). With Berliner’s dictums of narrative meandering, discomfiting themes, irresolution and non-linearity all satisfied, the film completes the collection with its explicitly European outlook. The story idea of a faded glory recalling her life and mistakes is reminiscent of Lola Montès (1955), yet the film stylistically resembles the work of Ingmar Bergman, with its cold colour palette and, especially, the secluded beach house where Lou ends up, which might have been transported straight out of Bergman’s beloved Fårö. Another film about the mental disintegration of a female character is Frank Perry’s Play It As It Lays, which really is one of the truly great unseen films of the 1970s. Highly sophisticated and subtle in its treatment of the story and it characters, the film is often labelled pretentious and difficult but in fact is no such thing. Tuesday Weld plays Maria Wyeth a semi-reluctant actress who seems to have been almost persuaded into stardom by her director husband (Adam Roarke). The classical filmmaking triumvirate is completed by their producer BZ (Anthony Perkins), a married yet none-too-closeted gay hedonist who acts as Maria’s soulmate and spiritual mentor. As Brad Stevens noted in a Sight and Sound column about the film (Nov 2012), Perry draws parallels between gay and female experiences of oppressive patriarchy, and Perkins’ performance cleverly trades on the real-life ambiguity around his own sexuality. (Although arguably Perkins is most interesting when playing against type, such as in his hyper-masculine role in 1973’s Remember My Name – another lost 1970s classic!) Like Puzzle, the story is told achronologically, with Perry dissembling Joan Didion’s novel into dozens of very brief scenes, requiring us to work out what’s going on via snippets of bitchy sniping and innuendo-laden dialogue that only hints at the characters’ indiscretions and histories. Such a script could easily have turned out a camp satire of Californian dysfunction in the vein of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), but Perry is determined to fabricate a serious drama from the material and uses any stylistic device necessary to disrupt and challenge his audience, from overlapping dialogue to breaking the fourth wall. If such a tricksy approach to a female-centred story makes the film sound like a clone of classic-period Godard, then it’s an accusation that’s nearer to the mark, yet Perry’s film firmly stands on its own. And while there have been countless films about vacuous and insecure performing types searching for their own identity, Perry’s

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wants us to envisage Maria (and BZ’s) struggle as indicative of the universal, existential desire to achieve spiritual serenity in the face of societal pressures. Again, the film is less pretentious than that sounds. Previously, Frank Perry had directed another film with almost precisely the same themes, Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), which, unbelievably, is also missing in action. Diary approaches the idea in a more typical later ‘60s/early ‘70s manner by focusing on the stultifying, outmoded conformity of the classical nuclear family and the title character’s attempts to break free of it. Carrie Snodgrass plays Tina Balser, a housewife whose superhuman efforts to support her husband Jonathan’s risible efforts at social climbing go completely unacknowledged. This time Perry completely exaggerates his female character’s predicament, presenting Jonathan (Richard Benjamin) as an absurdly monstrous, self-obsessed control freak, and even portraying their children as equally obnoxious brats, yet somehow a degree of thematic seriousness is retained. Perry switches tone once Tina begins an affair with the caustic and similarly self-obsessed George (Frank Langella), and the contrast between Tina’s almost sitcom-like home life and the more nouvelle-vague naturalism of George’s apartment make for an interestingly textured film. While less accomplished than the later Play It As It Lays, Diary is still impressive and makes for an interesting companion to Wanda – both films explore the same idea about women becoming so conditioned to exploitative behavior that they begin to desire it - yet Loden’s treatment is naturally more incisive, coming from a woman director. Frank Perry may seem extremely unlucky to have two of his key works from the period hidden from view (especially as his 1968 film The Swimmer helped formulate many of the characteristics of New Hollywood) yet he’s far from alone. Elaine May is another filmmaker whom history seems to have treated rather unkindly. A key figure in improvisational and satirical theatre in the US, she was a relatively big star in the 1950s for her comedic partnership with Mike Nichols, but while Nichols progressed into a successful Hollywood career, May’s attempts at travelling the same journey never really worked out. May quickly gained a reputation in Hollywood for shooting mountains of footage, spending an age in the editing suite and delivering three-hour cuts of her films. Her critical standing also took a battering in the 1980s after the failure of her big-budget flop Ishtar (1987), but the likes of Jonathan Rosenbaum have set about rehabilitating her reputation in recent years. May made three classic films in the 1970s, A New Leaf (1971), The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and Mikey and Nickey (1976). Only the latter of those was widely available for many years, until Olive Films thankfully released A


The Heartbreak Kid New Leaf in 2012. The Heartbreak Kid remains unavailable and it’s a real shame because for my money it’s a funnier and more formally accomplished film than A New Leaf. Charles Grodin is a surprisingly effective lead as Lenny Cantrow, a newlywed who realises he’s made a terrible mistake while on his honeymoon, falling for the irresistible beauty of Kelly (Cybill Shepherd) at the poolside and completely dismantling his life to follow her, and his desires. May’s general approach to comedy is subtler and less direct than many of her contemporaries, setting up jokes far in advance and gradually developing scenes to reveal their inherent hilarity. No wonder her work required careful editing. The most impressive scenes in her films are usually long, unbroken comic sequences that are presumably at least partly improvised. The best of them in The Heartbreak Kid is a dinner scene in which Lenny tries to win over Kelly’s implacably unimpressed parents; May arranges the actors so we can see all four of their faces as the drama unfolds and the result is a wonderfully synchronised example of ensemble comedy – all four characters reacting in different, equally hilarious ways to Lenny’s increasingly torturous self-justifications. Could a case be made that the above films are unavailable because they all derived from female talents, the perceived lesser mortals of Hollywood history? Possibly,

though it might be a difficult one to substantiate. Often the reasons for films’ elusiveness can be more diverse and less sensational. For example, Looking For Mr Goodbar (1977) is another unreleased 1970s title with a prominent female role, notionally about woman’s issues. Yet the film’s conservative message is hardly a threat to patriarchy, and in any case the real reason its rerelease has been precluded is due to licensing issues around its disco-heavy soundtrack. Yet more perplexing reasons abound. Take the case of Mark Rappaport, the experimental director of missing 1970s films like Casual Relations (1973) and Local Color (1977). The principal cause of those films’ unavailability is the controversial Boston University scholar Ray Carney, who became custodian of their negatives and now disgracefully refuses to return them. The truth is, as the wandering nature of this article suggests, that the missing 1970s films are a disparate bunch. In most cases their enigmatic elusiveness is simply just symptomatic of the cold complexities of the cinematic distribution system. But if we agree that the overall quality of a cultural movement can be surmised by the strengths of its minor works, then perhaps we can conclude that the significance of the New Hollywood era isn’t so easy to overstate after all.

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Vérité’s Top 5 Scandanavian Cinema Post 2000

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5. Reprise (2006) Boiled down, Joachim Trier’s Reprise offers all the honesty and depth we’ve come to expect of Scandinavian drama, with the playful flair of French New Wave style. With a loose-knit plot and nimble pace, the film not only portrays but simultaneously embodies the anxiety and excitement of over-grown youth. Best friends Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman) are two idealistic young writers full of hope and possibility. In their quest for fame and enlightenment, their paths will diverge, cross and come together again, while a foil of accommodating girlfriends, inspirational idols and vivacious friends shape their impressionable personalities. One can’t help but draw parallels between the protagonists and Trier himself; the youthful energy that permeates the film is perhaps what gives it its enduring and universal appeal. With an aesthetic that constantly reinforces the old adage “you have to understand the rules to break them”, Reprise is a breath of fresh air for the somewhat tired coming-of-age drama. Tackling poignant questions on success, jealousy, love, death and all the trials and tribulations of growing up, the film still never takes itself too seriously. Each time I watch it is more empowering than the last and with each roll of the credits I’m left with an overwhelming sense of hope. Kelsey Eichhorn

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4. Together (2000) The story of a small dysfunctional hippie commune in 1970s Stockholm, Together pays homage to the long tradition of social realism in Scandinavian cinema, while treating the narrative with a light-hearted and playful hand. When Elisabeth leaves her abusive husband, she and her two children move in with her brother Goran, who lives in the leftist commune from which the film takes its name. The arrival of these outsiders shakes up the delicate and volatile balance of the small commune and, through laughter and tears, the lives of everyone involved will change forever. In contrast to the minimalist style of past Swedish cinematic giants, most notably the static and subdued cinematography of Ingmar Bergman, Lukas Moodysson empowers his camera as a fully integrated character in his narrative. Overt zooms, abrupt tracking shots and hectic pans help create a dynamic aesthetic that emphasizes the intensity and emotions of the actors. The film is a collection of overlapping stories, as Moodysson’s characters struggle with the charged political atmosphere of a changing world in the context of their own personal lives. The result is a hilarious and deeply moving film that proves all of us, children and adults alike, are continually subject to that strange and surreal process of “growing up�. Kelsey Eichhorn

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3. O’Horten (2007) Filmmaker Bent Hamer is something of a national treasure in Norway, following his wildly successful art house films Eggs (1995) and Kitchen Stories (2003). Perhaps less well-known on the international stage is his 2007 feature O’Horten, the story of a national rail service train driver and the bizarre and life-changing series of events that befall him in the days immediately following his retirement. Hamer considers all stories to be somewhat autobiographical, as all stories grow out of a collection of the storyteller’s experiences. It is perhaps this attitude that makes O’Horten so accessible. It is, admittedly, a story about old age, but more importantly a story about contemplation, reflection and perception. The premise and power of the entire story could be summed up in the beautifully simple metaphor of the crazy old man who tells O’Horten his hobby is driving while blindfolded, for in the ridiculousness of this exchange lies the poignant beauty of both life and film as hinging on the unknown. Add to this the charm of Oslo and the stark beauty of the Norwegian landscape and the effect is almost magical. Unfolding at a languid, effortless pace, with the perfect blend of wacky and warm, O’Horten possesses a subtle precision. Kelsey Eichhorn

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2. The Hunt (2012) It’s no secret Scandinavian art often embraces the difficult and taboo questions that so many of us shy away from. The Hunt tackles the timely and delicate issue of child sex abuse with an objectivity that removes it from the realm of hysteria to a poignant question of humanity. Mads Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a divorced primary school teacher who lives a lonely life with his dog, Fanny. When his teenage son comes to live with him and he simultaneously finds gets a new girlfriend, things seem to finally be looking up. Yet his happiness is shattered by a casual yet not-so-innocent lie, leading to accusations of child abuse and a scandal that shakes the very core of his small Swedish community. With all the atmospheric suspense expected of a murder mystery, the emotional agony of the story hits home with a ferocity few directors could harness. Mikkelsen is outstanding in perhaps his most subtle and challenging role to-date. In a story with no real heroes or villains, greater questions of good and evil take centre stage with a rare sense of objectivity – a modern-day witch hunt that haunts you far past the rolling credits. Kelsey Eichhorn

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1. Oslo, August 31st (2011) Joachim Trier’s second feature sees Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) released from rehab for the day to attend a job interview back in Oslo. He uses the time to reconnect not only with family and friends, but also the city that shaped his life, both for better and worse. A meandering plot line lacks the tensions of dramatic narrative, but instead asks questions of the characters and audience that turn a spotlight on the ever-elusive quest for the meaning of life. In one of the most affecting scenes, Anders sits in his best friend Thomas’ kitchen while his girlfriend nurses their baby. Anders is talking about rehab and his job interview, and Thomas responds with a literary quote. His girlfriend laughs, bouncing the baby on her knee and says, “Jesus. He’s trying to be personal and you hit him with a quote!” Seemingly inconsequential dialogue, but in truth the concept is a powerful one, and indicative of Trier’s filmmaking as a whole. There are no gimmicks, formulas or clichés. Trier is a master of visual storytelling, latching onto powerful images and building narratives around them to tease the most poignant and powerful messages out of his characters. Kelsey Eichhorn

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T H FESTIVAL G E B N D A words by Joseph Fahim

efore the inception of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) 10 years ago, the cinematic landscape in the Arab World was drastically different. Mainstream Egyptian cinema was four years into what was resurgence in film production, drawing throngs of moviegoers to its comedies and thrillers. Palestinian cinema was finding new exciting ways to tackle the occupation and taking the international fest circuits by storm in the process. Moroccan cinema was starting to plant the seeds for what has become a largely self-sufficient industry. Tunisian and Algeria cinemas were still preoccupied with women pics catered for foreign consumption. Lebanese cinema was beginning to dabble in different terrains away from the Civil War. Gulf film did not exist and serious films from across the region were heavily reliant on foreign money. The festival scene in the region was different as well. Cairo and Carthage in Tunisia were the two biggest showcases for Arab cinema, with the former edging the latter with its international lineup and alluring crop of the latest art-house pics from Europe and the U.S. All of this changed when Dubai, the glitzy young metropolis, decided to launch the first film festival in the Gulf. The seemingly infinite resources at its disposal along with its foreign staff propelled pundits in North Africa, Egypt and the Levant not to take it seriously. This understandably unfavorable impression gradually evaporated as DIFF began to find and establish

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its identity. Ten years later, DIFF has become the most important film festival in the Arab World and the biggest display for Arab cinema. Three initiatives aided DIFF in earning the adulation and respect it presently enjoys: 1) its focus on developing cinemas. In addition to its various Arab film sections (narrative features, documentaries, and shorts), the fest presents competitions for Asian and African cinemas (narrative features and documentaries) along with a wide array of pan Arab films. 2) its generous monetary prizes ($50,000 for best feature, $40,000 for best documentary, $30,000 for best short among many others) that have given boosts to various filmmakers in financing subsequent projects. 3) The Enjaz grant for post-production. Previous recipients of the grant include Haifaa Al-Mansour for her award-winning Saudi production, Wadjda. Enjaz is part of the Dubai film market, the biggest business hub for Arab films in the region. Two more film festivals in the Gulf were established in the wake of DIFF’s success: Abu Dhabi and Doha. Both followed the DIFF model, offering formidable exhibition for Arab films and providing grants for different production stages. The proliferation of the Gulf fests has led not

only to an increase in production but also to a stronger and larger presence of Arab film in global film festivals. The rise in prominence of DIFF, Doha and Abu Dhabi has, most important of all, enriched a regional culture scene that was deprived for years of independent and foreign films. For audiences hungry for different cinemas, the regional fests have become a mecca; a chance to examine the latest trends in world cinema. The picture of course is not entirely rosy; all three fests continue to fight over a small pool of good Arab films every year, although it’s a far cry now from the aggressive acquisition policies each was following few years ago. The noticeable budget cuts all film fairs in the Arab World are suffering from (an issue critics, industrials and programmers are fully aware of yet refrain from discussing) has also raised question marks regarding the future of the regional film scene and the sustainability of these fests. Celebrating its 10th anniversary last December, the 2013 edition of DIFF — which took place from Dec 6-14 — was adamant to fend off the burgeoning rumors regarding its downsized budget with lavish daily parties, an extravagant opening and mouthwatering line-up featuring works by some of the biggest names in Arab

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cinema (Mohammad Malas, Rashid Masharawi, Mohamed Khan, Jillali Ferhati) along with an impressive crop of the latest Oscar contenders (12 Years a Slave, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Fruitvale Station, August: Osage County, Saving Mr. Banks,) and European arthouse hits (The Great Beauty, The Past, The Selfish Giant, Miss Violence, Abuse of Weakness). Hollywood stars flocked in droves to the Arab peninsula: Cate Blanchett, Martin Sheen, Mark Ruffalo and Rooney Mara. The closing film was an even bigger event: the world premiere of David O. Russel’s star-studded Oscar hopeful, American Hustle. Movies culled from Sundance, Cannes, Venice and Toronto delivered the goods. Arab films, on the other hand, showed a persistent lack of consistency as major filmmakers failed to meet expectations set for their otherwise dreary new works. The Cinema of the World section was stuffed with gems small and large. A highlight was Rok Biček’s “Class Enemy” from Slovenia. An Entre les murs meets Confessions with a dash of Haneke, Biček’s debut feature centers on a high school class that descend into disarray when one student, Sabina (Dasa Cupevski), commits suicide. Fingers of blame point at the new German language teacher, Robert (Igor Samobor), whose unsympathetic treatment of his class may have been responsible for Sabina’s death. Inspired by true events, Biček takes this seemingly conventional premise and turns it into a fascinating study of classroom dynamics, self-delusion and power play. The anger and grief shown by the students become tools to ascertain their dominance over their remorseless, upright teacher as the focus of the story shifts from reasons behind Sabina’s death to how students perceive themselves and the world around them. Another film examining power play between individuals was Alexandros Avranas’ sophomore feature, Miss Violence from Greece. Winner of the best actor and director awards at the last Venice Film Fest, the family drama charts the impact of the sudden and inexplicable suicide of 11-year-old Angeliki on her seemingly normal family, who insist that her death was an accident. Filmed mostly in still frames, the sparkling veneer the unnamed patriarch of the family (a chilling Themis Panou) hides his wife, daughter and grandchildren behind steadily unravels to reveal horrifying truths the viewers may anticipate but thoroughly wish weren’t true. Deftly structured and impeccably acted, Miss Violence is the most nihilistic entry in the Greek weird cannon; so nihilistic in fact that one is drawn to conjure up political connotations to digest the cruelty and misanthropy of the story. The Greek weird was no match though for Onur Ünlü’s utterly bonkers Thou Gild’st the Even from Turkey. A highly original black & white mediation on the ordinariness of life magnified through characters with

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super powers; Cemal (Ali Atay), the down on his luck hero of the story, is an assistant referee who can walk through walls. After surviving a suicide attempt (suicide is a common theme in the 10th DIFF), he attempts to court factory girl Yasemin (Demet Evgar), who can move objects with her hand. Later, he would meet street vendor, Defne (Damla Sönmez), who can move objects with her hands, and attempts to murder his invincible boss. The fantastical is inseparable from the mundane in Ünlü’s universe through which he explores the elusive nature of love, the search for meaning and the debilitating impact of small-town life. The most challenging work screened at the fest was Tsai Ming-liang’s much-hyped Stray Dogs. A narrative-free picture that loosely chronicles the struggle of a poor factory worker and his two children to survive in a colorless Taipei. The What Time Is It over There? director’s latest act of aesthetic provocation contains his signature themes of cinematic time vs. real time, the absurdity of the real and the futile search for love. Progressing in a series of long still shots (the last one runs nearly 11 minutes) with little to no action, Tsai’s strong sense of place — which informs every element of the film — artistic audacity and beautifully composed frames makes what is rumored to be his last work a beguiling and strangely rewarding experience for patient viewers. Few movies in the Arabic sections contained the kind of unbridled innovation found in other sidebars in the recently concluded edition. The most high-profile entry in the narrative feature competition was Hany Abu-Assad’s big comeback vehicle, Omar, which earned the best film and director gongs. A nerve-racking thriller about a Palestinian teen (a striking Adam Bakri) forced to become a collaborator with the Israeli intelligence, Abu-Assad’s first Palestinian film since his Oscar nominated smash Paradise Now (2005) falls short of the heights reached by the highest grossing Arab film of all time, but nonetheless offers another intriguing look at the grueling psychological toll of life under the occupation. Consciously nodding to classic Egyptian melodramas (the director thanked Egyptian cinema prior to the screening at the opening ceremony), Abu-Assad expertly blends elements of espionage thrillers, political dramas and romantic melodramas to augment an atmosphere of epidemic paranoia in a society where trust is a rarefied commodity. The same atmosphere of paranoia also permeates Factory Girl, the latest production by Egyptian master of realism, Mohammed Khan. Newcomer Yasmine Raees (winner of the best actress award) is the eponymous working class heroine who falls for her new handsome middle-class supervisor (Hany Adel). When he abandons her, her life spirals out of control as her family and workmates turn against her. Also paying tribute to classic Egyptian cinema, Factory Girl has little of the urgency


“DIFF saved the best for last, and out of virtually nowhere, young Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania came to conquer the festival with her debut feature, Challat of Tunis, easily the most entertaining, most hilarious Arab film I’ve seen in years.” and vitality of Khan’s edgier first movies, and visually, this independently-financed production is rather staid for the most part, yet it still manages to engender a stimulating argument about class division, sexism and religious hypocrisy. Moroccan cinema had the larger share of participation in competition with four films, but only Hicham Lasri’s They Are the Dogs succeeded in winning over both critics and audiences. Set in 2011 against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, a group of video reporters follow an elderly political activist detained for more than 30 years for protesting against the rule of late monarch, Hassan II, as he tries to find the whereabouts of his family. Shot with handheld camera, Dogs is a wild amalgam of German expressionism and documentary aesthetics that uses outlandish humor to supplement its visual palette. The most remarkable feat of the film, however, is its bold attack on the monarchy — a topic that remains a major taboo in Moroccan cinema. Lasri paints an exceedingly bleak portrait of a society at a standstill, haunted by a foreboding past and shackled by a stagnant present. The great potential Lasri showed in his equally daring debut feature, The End (2010), comes to fruition in They Are the Dogs and establishes him as one the most exciting voices in Arab cinema. DIFF saved the best for last, and out of virtually

nowhere, young Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania came to conquer the festival with her debut feature, Challat of Tunis, easily the most entertaining, most hilarious Arab film I’ve seen in years. Playing herself, Ben Hania embarks on a journey to unveil the mystery of the infamous Tunisian challat (slayer) who at the beginning of the noughties caused terror across the country by spiking the backs of women he deemed to be provocatively dressed. Blurring the line between fiction and cine verite — the challat story, in reality, took place in various countries across the Arab World — Ben Hania cleverly interweaves documentary footage with the unfolding drama of the Challat mystery into one coherent whole that brilliantly lays bare the chauvinism embedded in Arab society. The mania surrounding the challat, now an icon to thousands of sexually repressed misogynists of different age groups, proves to be a fertile terrain for Ben Hania’s deliciously acerbic black comedy, reminiscent of Christopher Guest. Even when she ventures into the absurd, Ben Hania never loses control over her material, finely tuning the various strands of her story to the rhythm of the film. Challat of Tunis is a remarkable film by a truly remarkable new talent and a euphoric ending to what remains the biggest celebration of Arab cinema in the region.

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The

Way

Back Joseph Fahim explains why Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man is not the Oscar-bait fodder many believe

words and interview by Joseph Fahim

I

n February 1942, at the peak of World War II, a young Scottish lieutenant named Eric Lomax was detained by the Japanese forces after the invasion of Singapore. An electrical engineer with a passion for railways, Lomax was forced to join thousands of war prisoners to build a railway line between Thailand and Burma (the construction of which was detailed in David Lean’s classic, The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957). Falsely accused of transmitting vital information to the Allied Forces from a radio he constructed, Lomax was subjected to soul-crushing torture by a young Japanese officer named Nagase. After his release, Lomax failed for years to find a cure from his post-traumatic stress disorder, which left him imprisoned inside his horrific past. Nearly half a century after his release, Lomax would find the whereabouts of his tormentor by sheer coincidence and decides to confront him. This inspiring real-life story was documented in Lomax’s best-selling 2008 autobiography, ‘Railway Man: A POW’s Searing Account of War, Brutality and Forgiveness,’ and is now the basis for a new Australian/British production

directed by Australian helmer, Jonathan Teplitzky, and starring Colin Firth, James Irvine, Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgård. On paper, The Railway Man sounds like a run-ofthe-mill Oscar contender with a formulaic narrative; and while it contains no tangible aesthetic innovation, its honesty, emotional generosity and unabashedly firm (almost childlike) belief in human goodness is a refreshing antidote to a cynical age where stories of its ilk are exceedingly uncommon. Teplitzky tiptoes back and forth between 1942 and the 1980s. Two narrative strands march in parallel to each other: the young Lomax’s life in the army and his eventual capture and torture, and the middle-aged veteran’s troubled marriage to his loving, supportive wife, Patricia. Both strands ultimately intersect with the highly emotional, deeply moving confrontation with Nagase; a tense, nail-biting sequence that left several audience members in the screening I attended in tears. The Railway Man is not a mere story about the brutality of war; Teplitzky’s adaptation is a study of trauma and failure of communication — universal themes that

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transcend the locality of similar tales. The older Lomax (Firth) and his comrade in arms, Finlay (Skarsgård), represent an older veteran generation who found it difficult to address their traumas after the war. Neither Lomax nor Finlay can find a justification for their suffering. They spend decades living with the horrors they had been subjected to and witnessed, hoping that time would heal their wounds. But as they both discover, time heals nothing. Lomax finds in Patricia (Kidman) a ray of hope, a potential savior who could make this pain go away. This also never materializes as the pair’s relationship starts to suffer. The confrontation that constitutes the last third of the film thus becomes a last stab at reclaiming the life that was stolen from him at war. Revenge initially seems like the ideal cure, a potent weapon to undo the wrong that has been done to him, an exterminating device to cast off the demons that have haunted him for most of his adult life. Revenge gives way to forgiveness and acceptance, but before it does, it reveals the meaninglessness of a pointless strife both men did not choose to be part of. The war has been and gone. Lomax’s valor — his acceptance of the blame for manufacturing the radio — may have spared other men the agony inflicted upon him, but in the end, they all suffered the same unfortunate fate, lived with the same fears and continued to lead

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half lives. Nagase (Hiroyuki Sanada), on the other hand, turned out not to be the villainous savage Lomax always presumed, and secretly wanted him to be. He may have managed to lead a more prosperous existence, but his life was no less disfigured than his victims. Lomax’s final gesture of clemency is not only another act of courage but rather an admission of the insignificance, of the worthlessness, of a vainglorious conflict that damaged their lives. Central to the film’s success is the flawless turns by Kidman, Irvine (as the young Lomax) and especially Firth in one of his most heartfelt, most absorbing performances to-date. With striking control and impeccable restraint, Firth perfectly modulates the various conflicting emotional fluctuations of a noble soul desiring to free itself from the goodness responsible for its wretchedness. With a $16 million budget, The Railway Man is Teplitzky’s biggest and most ambitious production. Teplitzky made his name in Australian cinema with a series of contemporary relationship dramas — Better Than Sex (2000), Gettin’ Square (2003) and Burning Man (2011). The Railway Man is his first foray outside Australia and his first project to boast a cast of Firth and Kidman’s caliber. I spoke to Teplitzky at the Dubai International Film Festival last month about the genesis of The Railway Man, his aesthetic approach and the inspiring message at the heart of the story.


Vérité: The Railway Man is your first period piece. What prompted you to change course and what drew you to Eric Lomax’s story?

You added plenty of details that were not in the book. Were you concerned about being faithful to Lomax’s written memoir?

Jonathan Teplitzky: Well, tackling a period piece doesn’t ultimately change the way you go about your filmmaking. It’s just a different world and a different environment, and you just immerse yourself in that world. We were very lucky to have had the chance to build up a relationship with Eric and his wife Patty over a number of years. We talked to them a great deal about everything really. The project started as an adaptation of his book but eventually came about through the conversations we’ve had together. They told us a huge amount of things: their feelings towards each other and what happened to Eric when he returned from the war — his behavior, the psychological damage that struck him. It’s always a challenge when you do a period piece though. We chose 1980 roughly for the contemporary part of the film because in Scotland, it hasn’t changed that much; the houses there are 400 years old. We did put plenty of resources in recreating the prison camps. The railway footages were actually shot on the real Burma railway. Much of the railway has been pulled up, but to walk down there is quite an experience. It’s a very strange and eerie place; many men suffered and died there.

Eric and Patty understood that we couldn’t get everything in. Adapting any book is all about what you leave out. The most important thing was simply to tell a story and whatever served that story was kept in and whatever didn’t was left out. Eric and Patty read every draft of the script and they were happy because the script captured the essence of the story and honored Eric’s experience.

The film has a rather classical visual style, focusing primarily on the story itself. Can you discuss your visual approach for the film? I did feel that it’s a classical story demanding a classical visual style. The story jumps back and forth between two different time frames and we wanted to make these jumps as seamless as possible. I also felt it was a very intimate story, between Eric and Patty and between Eric and Nagase. That’s why I used a lot of close ups: the psychological and physical pain is often felt through the eyes; through subtlety of the face; and we wanted to have as much of that as possible on screen. I liked the idea of going from these tight images of faces to wide shots; that

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was the foundation of my visual palette in a way. We used long lens photography and short depth of field to induce a sense of claustrophobia because for Eric, claustrophobia was a big issue for him, not only when he was at war but when he came home — that sense of emotional and psychological entrapment.

did not kill themselves. It was a morally bankrupt idea. We tried to show as much of that as possible, but to have two characters caught up in that was very hard. These were kids after all, in their early twenties, and to make sense of these huge moral questions…it takes a lifetime to work that out.

I want to discuss your approach to violence. There There’s a humane message in the heart of the movis certainly plenty of cruelty on screen, but nothing ie; that finding the right person and having the cagruesome or graphic. pacity to forgive can grant a tortured soul like Eric the redemption he was seeking for decades. Do you I wanted all the violence to be contextualized. To me, honestly think that Eric managed to forgive Nathere’s nothing interesting about violence for the sake of gase and cast out his demons? violence. I wanted to be strong enough with where Eric’s journey goes; to make his reconciliation with Nagase feel legitimate, real and powerful. In order to get there though, you had to understand the brutal and violent context from which he was coming; from which he was letting go of, and that tells us how remarkable the story is. It was also important for me to have the people understand that violence on that level is actually brutal and does harm to other human beings; that it comes from a place of insecurity, from a place of fear and uncertainty. The Japanese were excessively violent to their prisoners because they were fearful of what would happen to them if they acted otherwise. I think anger and hatred often comes from a misplaced misunderstanding, of your perception of whom and what your enemy is. What’s also bizarre about them is that they often went very respectfully and let their prisoners have proper funerals. They even attended them themselves and gave their respect — they had greater respect for the dead than the living. For the Japanese mentality, when you surrender, you have no honor. It was all about honor for them. Yet what was also weird is that when the Japanese surrendered, they often

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Yeah, I honestly believe that. I think Patty at times was skeptical, but I think he eventually did forgive him. I’m in no position to define the idea of evil in a definite way, and what I liked about this story is that it told something about the very best and very worst of human nature — of how humans can harm each other but also of what they’re capable of giving each other. To me, evil only exists because of the other extreme: love. I’m not sure of the idea that someone is born evil. There are evil organizations that set out to do bad things and they indoctrinate people into that behavior. I could be wrong, but the idea of pure, irredeemable evil…that I’m not sure about. To me, the human journey seems to be a series of moral tests, of the capability to go from hate to love, or going from the point of fear or bitterness to acceptance. It’s that journey I believe is what makes this story fascinating. The end result is emotional and powerful but at the end, the story is about this man realizing that unless he lets go, unless he forgave this man, he wouldn’t rid himself of this darkness, of this nightmare.

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Broken songs &

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The Dark World Calvin Lee Reeder Evrim Ersoy invites us into the world of Calvin Lee Reeder – and asks the director about his work and blackly comic vision

words by interview Evrim Ersoy

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mongst the plethora of up and coming talent from the US, Calvin Lee Reeder occupies a special place. While his counterparts are busy challenging genre conventions and re-invigorating stereotypes, Reeder has focused on filmmaking with an experimental slant: the very soul of Americana filtered through a broken prism. Calvin Lee Reeder burst onto the movie scene with a co-directing credit on the 2005 oddity Jerkbeast – the extension of a successful public-access show, the film tells the story of an eight-foot tall furry creature, and Sweet Benny and Marty; who start a band and quickly find themselves on the road to stardom as their single ‘Looks like chocolate, tastes like shit’ becomes a smash hit. Calvin Lee Reeder is not only the co-director of Jerkbeast but also plays Sweet Benny – a trend which he

continued throughout his career by acting in shorts and friend’s films. Whilst Jerkbeast might only have limited appeal; with crude humour and its assault on sense, the film still displays a glimpse of what’s to come. The limited budget and resources show the film for the passion project it is. Yet there’s a quality to the composition to some of the scenes which clearly indicate that these are kids to watch. Reeder followed Jerkbeast with a quadruple attack of shorts – Piledriver, Little Farm, The Rambler and finally Snake Mountain Pina Colada. Although tracking these shorts is not easy, they’re well worth the effort. Imbued with a sense of the otherworldly, each one explores a strange universe where the familiar has become almost frightening. Reeder carries this theme on to his second feature The Oregonian – which mixes some of the surreal horrors

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experienced in his shorts with a different sort of ‘monster’ character brought into the mix like in Jerkbeast. Lindsay Pulsipher plays the young woman from Oregon who wakes up bloodied behind the wheel of a crashed station wagon. Outside lays the body of a dead man. Nothing is certain or clear. As she goes to find some help (or perhaps just to get away from the scene of the crash) she encounters a variety of odd and unnatural characters ranging from a strange old lady to other crash victims. Sometimes she encounters the same people but there are slight differences in the encounters or the characters of the people have changed. If David Lynch’s The Straight Story told a journey that was as straight as can be, Reeder’s odyssey is filled with the dread of uncertainty: the landscape, the cars, the houses, the gas stations and even the people are of our world. Here are familiar sights that we all recognise – and yet it’s like Reeder has broken through the looking glass; everything is twisted and distorted in one way or another. A figure in what looks like a school mascot costume haunts the young woman at every turn, while her flashbacks indicate she might have known the dead man at her car. What’s really happening? No-one knows, least of all

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not the audience – and yet the journey is far from unsatisfying. Reeder drags the viewer into a state of distrust, paranoia and shock and yet curiosity is piqued, too. These figures, like leftover characters from other films, appear to be stuck in some sort of frightening limbo. The film is shot on 16mm and super 16mm, with the grainy quality of the stock really bringing to life the scenery the young woman passes through. The erratic camerawork is as much there to confuse the audience as to indulge them, and the soundtrack buzzes with discord. What does Reeder want? His deliberate intention to not create an easy ride seems to stem from his dedication to the feel of his world. The Oregonian adheres to a kind of logic only those that exist within its world understand. To say The Rambler might exist within this same universe as The Oregonian would not be too far off the mark. Again, the film tells the story of a journey: this time our protagonist is an unnamed man, the Rambler of the title, played with incredible range by Dermot Mulroney. As the film opens, The Rambler is released from prison after completing an unspecified prison sentence and returns home. Trying to settle down to life, he gets a job in a pawnshop and returns to live with his girlfriend. But the existence suffocates him: his friends have


“Even on the festival circuit where unusual talent is easier to find, Reeder represents something exciting: a young filmmaker not afraid to take risks in favour of creating something unique.” become strangers, his girlfriend is an aggressive drunk and the only interest he has seems to be in a letter sent by his brother inviting him to join them on the ranch. So The Rambler leaves one early morning, hitting the road only with his bag and his guitar. The journey that The Rambler makes is as nightmarish as anything Cronenberg ever devised and as epic as The Odyssey or Ulysses. He’s a man haunted by his past actions, by regrets, by the consequences of his actions and as he encounters a strange variety of people (ranging from a scientist who has invented a machine to record people’s dreams onto VHS to a driver with a peculiar fetish) the journey slowly stops being the way and becomes the aim. Reeder’s success lies in creating a film with a rhythm of its own: from the opening montage of The Rambler’s prison sentence cut to a soundtrack of clanging metal and cut almost on each beat to the musical sequence at the end, The Rambler clicks at a pace which the audience can’t help but fall into. From the bleeping of the strange star that appears in broad daylight, to the speaking rhythm of the characters, The Rambler is a film that takes pleasure in the workings of its own rhythm. It’s a musical without songs, a symphony without a score.

The Rambler’s world might seem strange and warped and yet it adheres to its own logic – there are no sudden shifts in focus, no changes in tones – as the journey of this odd man who remains mainly a passive viewer throughout the film continues, the nature of his encounters become odder and odder. People become more stilted, violent and sometimes downright depraved – and yet it all feels correct – fitting with the flow of the script. No examination of The Rambler can be complete without mentioning the central performance of Mulroney who proves without a doubt that, given the right role, he can deliver a stellar performance. As The Rambler he is stoic, passive and weary, and in turn haunted, angry and devastated – all without resorting to any lengthy monologues. An acting masterclass of pure cinema delivered with the most restrained of gestures and looks. Even on the festival circuit where unusual talent is easier to find, Reeder represents something exciting: a young filmmaker not afraid to take risks in favour of creating something unique. Calvin Lee Reeder is a talent to watch for anyone who wants to take their cinema with a razor-sharp edge.

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Morally Dubious for the

Foreseeable Future Calvin Lee Reeder interview: Vérité: Both The Oregonian and The Rambler are films with an otherworldly feel, but what sets them apart from other experimental titles of the same ilk is there adherence to an internal logic. Within their own terms the films make logical sense. How important it is for you as a writer and director to ensure the films are internally coherent as opposed to just neat and tidy script-wise?

much like this year’s Upstream Color. Do you have a pre-set plan for the sound design?

For me it all goes back to maintaining the tone and feeling that inspired me in the first place. There are many sound cues in my screenplays that are all part of me trying to decode the language barrier between feeling and word. I record sounds in advance that get as close to that feeling as possible and if I can’t find that sound I’ll describe it as best I can in the script so my editor and sound designer, Buzz Pierce, can get it there. Calvin Lee Reeder: I guess more than anything I just try to We spend an awful lot of time on sound. There isn’t much convey my ideas. When I get a hold of one I don’t try to stuff difference between music and sound design in my films so it into a tidy script. It’s important to me that I get it across to far but I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with some great my audience as clearly as possible and try to maintain the tone musicians that like to experiment that way. and feeling that inspired me in the first place. A neat and tidy script doesn’t leave a lot of room for wonder. I’m always How did the story evolve for The Rambler? The differprobing the unknown.

ences between the feature and the short suggest in the time it took the process the film into feature length, the Remarkable performances abound in both films – escharacter had grown within its own space. Was this an pecially Mulroney in The Rambler. When working with actors, how do you ensure the tone of their perfor- ongoing process or did you just sit down and wrote the whole thing? mance matches the film? In the case of The Rambler I got pretty lucky. Dermot really responded to The Oregonian and wanted to make sure my ideas were getting across all the way. In the short I play The Rambler, I invented this quiet drifter guy that observes life rather than interfering too much. Almost like the discovery channel guys never try to alter the outcome of a water buffalo’s fate, they just bear witness. I think I painted that picture clearly enough; Dermot just knew what to do. He’s really freaking good at his job. Casting is everything, if you don’t put the right actors in the right roles there’s no telling what will happen.

The basic story arc and main characters came very quickly. But the details and dialogue took a while; it had to be just right. I never knew where or when those ideas would come, it was sort of a blessing that I had so much time between the short and the feature to find those details. I’m a big detail guy. I heard someone say “detail is the soul of narrative”. I think that works for me.

What will the future bring for you? Do you have plans to continue making films set within the same (and I abhor using the word here) universe – an otherworldly place of dubious morality and black humour?

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound I just hope I get to continue making films but I can assure you within both films. There’s a soundscape within them my morality will remain dubious. that seems to resonate with energy and suggestions -

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Masters of Cinema

Il Bidone This month, Ben Nicholson assesses an overlooked – and undervalued – Fellini in the form of his 1955 picture Il Bidone words by Ben Nicholson

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ederico Fellini is one of those directors that forged for himself, throughout a distinguished career, an undeniable sense of authorial style in the collective mind of audiences and cinephiles. His tone and technique were so individual as to have inspired a term now employed by commentators when he is channelled by other film-makers; ‘Felliniesque’. Described by Bernard Cook as a “certain flamboyant lyricism” it encapsulates the thematic concerns and the wonderful form of expression prevalent in the great Italian director’s oeuvre. Despite his later affinity for surrealism Fellini was, of course, apprentice to the masters of the Neorealist movement and it’s within the conventions of that movement that he first began to tell stories and make movies. After several screenwriting credits – including on Rossellini’s classic Rome, Open City (1945) – Fellini moved behind the camera himself. Coming fairly early in his directorial career was the oft-neglected Il Bidone (1955), or

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The Swindle, which is one of the latest releases in Eureka’s exceptional Masters of Cinema series. Influenced by the Hollywood gangster yarns of the period, Il Bidone provided the middle chapter of a loose Fellini triumvirate referred to as his ‘trilogy of loneliness’. It followed on from his sequence of pictures sometimes labelled ‘the character trilogy’ that included the lauded I Vitelloni (1953). A trio comprising celebrated works La Strada (1954) and Nights of Cabiria (1957), it saw Il Bidone dwarfed in such illustrious company. In fact, the disastrous reception that the film received upon its premiere at the 1955 Venice Film Festival not only resulted in a decade wait for an international release, but also prevented Fellini from showing subsequent films at the festival until Satyricon in 1969. The problem that the film faces, especially for a modern viewing audience, is that it lacks the vitality and verve that people have come to expect from Fellini. It failed to live up


to his reputation at the time, and that was prior to crowning glories like 8 1/2 (1963) and La Dolce Vita (1960). Regrettably, it is understandable that Il Bidone is marginalised in discussion of the director’s thematic explorations and formal experimentation, but that is far from an assertion that it lacks merit or interest. It was whilst he was shooting La Strada that Fellini met and conversed with a confidence man upon whose tales he based the Il Bidone screenplay. To hear the director tell it, his source looked a lot like Humphrey Bogart and so when writing the script, the lead thief, Augusto, was imagined as the aging Casablanca star. Sadly, Bogey was ill when it came time to cast the part (and would pass away just two years later) so instead the role went to another American actor, Broderick Crawford. Well known for playing in gangster movies, Crawford proved the perfect choice for the hangdog protagonist of Fellini’s Neorealist-inspired spin on the mainstream Hollywood genre. He plays the aforementioned Augusto, who along with two other grifters, ‘Picasso’ (fellow American Richard Baseheart) and Roberto (Franco Fabrizi) dupe innocents out of their hard-earned cash. This is most effectively portrayed in a well-constructed opening ruse in which the threesome disguise themselves as clergy and prey on unsuspecting and already downtrodden farmers in rural Italy. The con is simple; they drive up to the farmhouse and recount the tall tale of an unidentified man who bequeathed buried treasure to the landowners. All he asked in return, before he croaked, was for five-hundred masses to be held in his memory so that he might be saved from the likely result of his sinful life. The treasure has previously been buried on the land by a fourth member of the gang and so they all go and dig it up together and then convince the unwitting rubes to part with their savings, rather than a ‘far more valuable’ item from the treasure, to fund the prayer. It’s a shameless trick which Fellini makes pains to remind the audience is being played not on the rich bourgeoisie, but on the honest and desperate working class. This, it seems, proves the crux of Augusto’s ensuing moral crisis. Throughout the following episodic narrative, which presents similar confidence schemes on those awaiting social housing as well as other minor scams, Augusto grows ever more disillusioned with the life he has led. Overweight, middle-aged and balding, he is finally coming to understand the misery that he and his cronies pile on their unfortunate marks in pursuit of ill-gotten gains. Indeed, Peter Bondanella, in his writings on Fellini’s films, asserts that Augusto is in fact an interpretation of the Christian story of the penitent thief. This would fit with his wider opinion that the ‘trilogy of loneliness’ is better read as a ‘trilogy of salvation’ in which the director is breaking free

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of the limiting trappings of Neorealism to tackle a more weighty and psychologically complex religious existentialism. Repent, and Augusto may be saved. Fellini’s own comment on this period in his career was that he was eternally grappling with one of humanity’s most pressing issues – an inability in modern society to communicate and construct meaningful relationships. This can be seen in both of the other films in this loose trilogy, as well as the preceding I Vitelloni, and it is most certainly the case with Augusto. Despite something approaching camaraderie with his fellow fraudsters, he is unable to fully bond with any of his acquaintances and is struck by an almost paralysing fear when he unexpectedly bumps into his estranged daughter. This chance encounter becomes another major catalyst for his descending malady, especially when he finally arranges to take her out for the day – only to be recognised by a prior victim and arrested in her presence. Although it does feature several of the hallmarks of Fellini’s early work, Il Bidone is widely considered a lesser endeavour and it’s a position that is easy to sympathise

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with. It is very pared down with regards to the stylistic ticks that most often furnish his cinematic outings, though having said that, this would appear to neatly compliment the dour and seamy Augusto. His existential funk naturally deviates from the flights of fancy experienced during Guido Anselmi’s director’s block for instance (in 8 1/2), regardless of the creator’s evolving style. Still, whether intentional or no, it is conventional in its presentation even if critic Bosley Crowther’s description of it as an “obvious cheap-crime picture” is a somewhat glib appraisal. It is perhaps due to a lack of invention that the desperation of the lead, and the iniquity of the crooks, never quite reaches the heights that it might potentially have. There is a great deal of drama in the (possibly) tragic finale which speaks volumes for Fellini’s skill. A broken Augusto decides to double-cross his new partners in the hope of quitting the life for good. Unsurprisingly, this does not go according to plan – the other thieves don’t believe his tale of piteous morality and they find the money hidden about his person. Left for dead on the side of a mountainous road,


he ironically reaches out – in the film’s final frames – for a passing religious group, perhaps seeking salvation like the fictional man he’d described to the peasants in the opening scam. The remorse reaches its zenith in these final moments and one can imagine the false monsignor pleading for salvation from a real one, but the outcome is left ambiguous by Fellini’s desire never to wrap things up neatly for his audience. He once said that “you cut out the audience the moment you present a solution on the screen. Because there are no ‘solutions’ in their lives.” Although Augusto’s fate seems certain, there is always room for interpretation. One thing left utterly unequivocal is the opinion expressed of the pretentious middle class whose corruption is made evident during a waffle-spouting party in the middle of Il Bidone. Such sequences would become a recurring motif throughout Fellini’s career and have gone on to inspire similar scenes in future generations, most recently in Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza (‘The Great Beauty’). Here we see one of the earliest incarnations of one of the director’s greatest trademarks. The fact that many of the

other recognisable facets are absent is ultimately what will continue to keep Il Bidone on the margins of discussion of Fellini’s work. ‘The loneliness trilogy’ was undoubtedly the time that he began to explore his interests beyond that of Neorealism and just like the other two films in the series, this one focuses on internalised conflict but remains far more objective than later Felliniesque exploits. Il Bidone will never quite stack up when compared to the exceptional quality of his filmography, but a lesser Fellini is still a Fellini. It strikes an interesting chord as a companion to those other films and is of great interest in charting his voyage beyond Neorealism.

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

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In Defence... Down and Dirty Noir: In the Cut

words by Elisa Armstrong

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have always believed you can split your favourite films into those you love intellectually, or for sentimental reasons, and those that have shaped you as a person. With the latter, if someone argues their faults it insults you to the very marrow of your bones. Jane Campion’s An Angel At My Table (1990) is firmly in that category for me. Although at 10 years old I didn’t fully understand the psychological impact, nor would I have understood that Janet Frame was a real person, it resonated with me more than almost any other film at that point. From the lush landscape to the new representation of a young woman, Campion opened the door to my idea of what cinema can achieve and reveal. From then on, every Campion film has been an event and whether they match

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the standard that Angel set or not, her work is continually interesting and subversive. Thirteen years after Angel, Campion made In the Cut, based on a 1995 novel by Susanna Moore, who also cowrote the screenplay with Campion. The film garnered attention when released with Meg Ryan, replacing Nicole Kidman who ended up producing the film, shedding her America’s Sweetheart image and plunging into the seedy world of sex and murder. To understand the response the film received, one just has to look at its position as an attention-grabbing 34% on Rotten Tomatoes. Described as “a dreadfully inert late-night cable movie”, “a mess” and “nasty, gruesome, pointlessly kinky and gratuitously awful”, I do think that most critics fell for the obvious and missed what was going on beneath the surface.


“Whether or not you completely believe Ryan as Frannie (and I do), she inhabits the character without trying too hard or relying on rom-com mannerisms. She seems to give herself over very easily to Campion’s direction as she did with Luis Mandoki in 1994’s When a Man Loves a Woman”

The greatest outcry seemed to be that the film wasn’t thrilling enough, since the killer was so obvious. I think that Campion knew that response would come about, hoping that the ‘obvious’ reveal would help people focus on the other aspects of the film. However, this didn’t work, with the New Yorker calling it an “art thriller” and The Hollywood Reporter saying it “fails to hit those all-important marks intrinsic to the success of every screen crime thriller.” Little examination was placed on Campion’s depiction of a woman’s sexual awakening in relation to the constraints of the society she inhabits. This is a theme that Campion explores in all of her work, most recently in the mini-series Top of the Lake, and she is one of the few directors that I can think of who navigates this area more than once. Campion herself said about her perspective, “I’m speaking through the body of a woman, the psyche of a woman, and that’s my particular insight.” Furthermore, it is always done with an overt confidence, whether it be 1800s Hampstead (Bright Star) or contemporary Sydney (Holy Smoke). I saw the film in an arthouse cinema in Perth, West-

ern Australia, having journeyed to New York City for the first time only a few months prior. I distinctly remember loving it. Being enraptured by the look of film and the representation of men and women on screen, perhaps it brought me back to being 10 years old and seeing Campion’s work for the first time. Meg Ryan plays Frannie Avery, a literature professor, who is researching a book about slang (for Frannie slang is either “sexual or violent”). When she meets up with a student in a bar, she sees a sexual act and becomes a witness to a murder. Seen through a peephole, the killer’s identity is only distinguished by a three of spades tattoo. This leads her to Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) and they begin an affair, whilst Malloy hunts down the killer. The film could not have worked without a strong lead performance. Frannie is rather an oblique character, who we get to know through her interactions with others. She doesn’t have simple, easy to define relationships, whether it be her half-sister Pauline ( Jennifer Jason Leigh), to whom she is the closest, or a man she dated twice who is now stalking her (an uncredited Kevin Bacon). Even

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with a student, she moves into a conversational intimacy that would be frowned upon. She is constantly observing the world around her, a voyeur until she is thrown into the investigation and becomes a subject. It is unfortunate that actors who become so associated with a trope are held up to high scrutiny for trying something new (as Ryan was, which led to a disastrous Michael Parkinson interview. Parkinson seemed disdainful of the film and potentially also by Ryan’s left of field choice of role). Whether or not you completely believe Ryan as Frannie (and I do), she inhabits the character without trying too hard or relying on rom-com mannerisms. She seems to give herself over very easily to Campion’s direction as she did with Luis Mandoki in 1994’s When a Man Loves a Woman (another under-appreciated gem). Ruffalo was making a name for himself after breaking out with 2000’s You Can Count on Me, so taking a role like this may have been seen as risky, yet he seems far more comfortable playing morally ambiguous characters than as a generic love interest. Like Michael Shannon and Michael Fassbender, Ruffalo has a dangerous screen presence which slots into Campion’s world perfectly. Jennifer Jason Leigh is probably

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too perfect for her role. The character is called Pauline but was probably described in the script as a “Jennifer Jason Leightype”. However, the bond between Ryan and Leigh seems very real and makes that sister relationship a strong point in the film and a depiction of love without violence. Technically, the film is masterful and I wonder if Dion Beebe would have won the Oscar (he was nominated for Chicago the year before) had the film been better received. I have never seen New York City represented in quite such a dichotomous way. Sometimes hazy, sometimes vibrant, yet full of greasy, murky colours; every frame is like a woozy Gerhard Richter portrait that intrigues but also repels. At times the film looks like it has been shot through a glass of urine (but that works). Beebe also uses shallow depth of field and hand-held camera work, which bring us instantly into Frannie’s world: off balance but in motion. The way Campion chooses music further plays into her ideas of subversion. Two pieces in particular stand out. “Que, Sera, Sera” which opens the film, becomes menacing, echoing Doris Day but altogether more frightening. After Pauline has been found dead, a toy mouse sings “I Think I Love You”, its helium-tones striking a discordant note with the


plot. You’ll never think of the Partridge Family again. In writing this In Defence, I didn’t want to ever use the term “Post 9/11 New York”, but Campion brilliantly depicts a New York with the air sucked out if it, like a child that has been playing all day and collapses, spent, in the afternoon. Perhaps due to the fact Campion is a New Zealand-born, Australian-residing director, she is never jingoistic or heavy-handed in her symbolism. With the lack of crowds on the street, the lone American flags hanging limply and the constant police lights, we immediately understand this is the “other” New York, not the one on postcards or in other movies. The idea that Campion is exploring the link between sex and violence, between reaction and desire, is obvious. However, it is the way she depicts both acts, and the link between them, that is new. Sex scenes are de rigueur in Campion films but this must be the sexiest film she has made. Every character is slightly flushed and covered in sweat (not always a winning combination I know) and the city is languid in its pace. Similarly she doesn’t shy away from the aftermath of violence, with the head in the bag being the most symbolic and gruesome, but I was also disgusted by the graphic sounds of blood pouring.

When Frannie is under the belief that Malloy is the killer, she dresses up and puts on makeup, then handcuffs him and has sex with him. Erotic and physically aggressive, this scene is also notable as I am sure this must be the first time “fuck yourself ” is used as a turn on, not as an offensive idiom. This might be a stretch, but I would argue that Campion even manages to turn filmmaking on its head by subverting the idea of a male gaze: the male lead is seen as a sex object from a woman’s perspective and the female characters derive pleasure without shame from sex. Unsurprisingly, Campion changed the ending of the novel to make Frannie the “master of her fate/the captain of her soul” rather than perhaps being saved by Ruffalo. She calls back to the Virginia Woolf novel brought up at the beginning of the film, To The Lighthouse. In Woolf ’s novel, the characters return to the lighthouse at the end, comparing how they were as children to now as adults. The main female character is emancipated from the male gaze by the end and free to be an artist. At the end of the film, Frannie is liberated, alive and finally out from in the cut.

v

VERITE JANUARY 2014

87


12 Years a Slave release date 10th January

cert (15)

writer John Ridley starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender

88

JANUARY 2014 VERITE

Review by James Marsh

director Steven McQueen

Steve McQueen’s third feature is a grand old-fashioned Hollywood epic that confronts America’s disgraceful past with a steely, unflinching gaze. But while the beautiful photography and barnstorming performances have seduced awards voters, 12 Years A Slave proves the director’s least interesting work to-date. Based on the memoirs of protagonist Solomon Northup, a free man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841, 12 Years A Slave documents the horrifying conditions under which slaves were forced to live and work in the plantations of Louisiana. Northup’s book, published soon after his rescue and hot on the heels of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, became a notable bestseller. In addition to throwing light on the atrocities these men and women were subjugated to, the text also helped expose slave markets and the illegal infrastructure under which Northup lost his freedom. After falling out of print for close to a century, Northup’s text has become a definitive document on this dark chapter of American history. Perhaps because it has been referenced and pillaged ever since, informing every book and film that has broached the topic, the visceral impact of 12 Years A Slave has inevitably been dulled. Individual moments will rightfully shock and appal audiences – persistent physical & verbal abuse, wretched living conditions, and unforgiving labour regimes – but the film shoots for the dramatic high notes so unapologetically that much of the endeavour feels clichéd and derivative. In the wake of films as recent as Quentin Tarantino’s extravagantly indulgent Django Unchained, McQueen’s approach feels less respectful than coy, even hesitant. Steve McQueen, the Turner Prize-winning artist-turned-filmmaker, proved with his harrowing debut, Hunger, that he could deliver a coherent narrative about individuals fighting against persecution and personal sacrifice for the greater good, while simultaneously exploring the limits of the cinematic medium, both visually and aurally. His follow-up, Shame, was a more character-focused work, but in 12 Years A Slave, McQueen has delivered a beautiful, stately, yet soullessly conventional awards contender, complete with a cut-&-paste Hans Zimmer score that lifts heavily from his earlier work in Inception. 12 Years A Slave is a heart-breaking true story, brought to life by a troupe of incredibly skilled storytellers – but it’s nothing more than that. Chiwetel Ejiofor finally gets the breakout role he has deserved for over a decade. His Solomon is earnest, sympathetic, yet flawed and all the more human and forgivable for it. Michael Fassbender, who has featured prominently in all McQueen’s films to-date, is monstrous as slave owner Edwin Epps, yet still manages to give this most despicable of God’s creatures a soul and humanity. Lupita Nyong’o also deserves credit as the pitiable wretch whose beauty and unmatchable cotton-picking skills earn her the unwelcome attentions of her beastly owner. While too good to be accused of being Oscar bait, 12 Years A Slave is so unavoidably awards-worthy, so inoffensively earnest, elegant and impeccably presented, that ultimately it proves somewhat underwhelming. It is a perfect Best Picture candidate, but the true horrors of slavery deserve to be told with a little less beauty and grace.


American Hustle cert (15)

release date 1st January

director David O. Russell Review by David Hall

Misread in some quarters as a Casino copy or Boogie Lites, O. Russell’s latest – which follows (very) hot on the heels of his Silver Linings success – is another of his screwball farce/romantic comedies in genre clothing; this time the extravagant wardrobes and furnishings of the 1970s. O. Russell’s interest is not really in the FBI ABSCAM operation of the period that engulfs his quartet of beautiful dreamers, or in the political corruption which forms the backdrop to this convoluted, mostly true caper. We’re used to this director selling us a bunch of screwed up, dysfunctional head cases and American Hustle is no exception. Also, the near-parodic level of stylisation on display is perfect for a film that is essentially about people adopting personas in order to escape, get-ahead and be a success. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are con-artists, partners in both crime and romance, operating an international scam in which she plays a fake English aristocrat to his loan shark. When their ruse is intercepted by FBI agent Richie Di Maso (Bradley Cooper) the pair are forced to cooperate in an undercover sting operation, which Cooper’s cop on the make has fashioned in order to bring down a cabal of corrupt politicians and smear respected Mayor Carmine Polito ( Jeremy Renner). Complicating matters further is Rosalyn ( Jennifer Lawrence), Bale’s unpredictable wife with whom he has an adopted son and who resolutely – and amusingly – refuses to play the game. A big, brassy pantomime of a movie – unashamedly indulgent of its actors – it’s best to approach American Hustle as a lavish 70s fancy dress party in which everyone is out to have a really good time. Clearly, O. Russell’s sets are a more enjoyable place than in his Huckabee’s hissy fit days of yore. His game cast are indulged to a ridiculous degree and go for broke is practically every scene. Bale brings an inherent warmth and sadness to Irving – sporting an absurdly elaborate comb over and monster gut – while Lawrence continues her white hot streak with a funny, flaky performance that shows immaculate timing and extends her comedic range. But the surprise package is Adams. A consistently impressive actress, she he delivers the most nuanced and human performance of all the leads. Clad in eye-wateringly revealing dresses that are a tribute to wardrobe handling, she’s alternately vulnerable and steely and everything in Hustle – from the complex undercover operations to the romantic entanglements – basically pivots around her. This is probably the most romantic film about American crime since Carlito’s Way, but if O. Russell’s’ shtick (and, as I argued in last month’s Vérité cover feature, he’s definitely honed a recognisable style now) grates, or you find his approach too tawdry, tacky and too much, Hustle is not going to convince you. But if you rejoice at his consistent ability to deliver amusing and alternately light and dark adult entertainment, this tricky confection won’t leave you feeling conned.

writers Eric Singer, David O. Russell starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence

VERITE JANUARY 2014

89


Review by Emily A. Kausilek

Dallas Buyers Club release date 7th February

cert (15)

director Jean-Marc Vallée writers Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto

90

JANUARY 2014 VERITE

We are currently experiencing the renaissance of Matthew McConaughey. Just take a look at Killer Joe and Mud to get an idea of how far he has come since his shirtless hunk days of the 1990s. Don’t let his accent fool you, for this is far more depth to the actor than his stereotypical Texan accent may lead you to believe. His physical appearance is so far removed from the dreamy Magic Mike version of the actor that you may not even recognize him. The same goes for his co-star Jared Leto, whose supporting role brings heart to the hustle that actually extended the lives of countless Texan AIDS and HIV-positive victims in the 1980s. The strength of Dallas Buyers Club is its utter honesty in the face of the outbreak of a horrible illness that was little understood in America in the mid-80s. It was largely seen as a “homosexual” disease, which is why when skinny hustler and blue-collar electrician Ron Woodroof contracts the disease his reaction is almost entirely denial. Fortunately for himself and the people of his community, he heads to the library to figure out the truth; years of unprotected sex and drug use made him especially perceptible to AIDS, leading to contracting HIV itself. In an Übermensch act of denial and self-preservation he goes to whatever lengths he can to save himself, taking him to Mexico for off-the-radar treatment from a former doctor treating patients over the border. Being a hustler by trade, it doesn’t take long for Woodroof to realize he can make himself some money on the side. Like one might expect from a film about fighting a virus, the FDA poses a threat when in the course of trying to destroy the illness they reject treatments that better and extend the lives of its victims. So while Woodroof finds himself fighting the government to save himself, he’s also fighting to save the live and defend the well-being of a community across the country that was continually being sold little hope for survival. What makes Dallas Buyers Club particularly compelling is that it doesn’t try to build up sympathy for the main characters; they are real, chock full of emotional and psychological issues, troubled, flawed, and from a variety of backgrounds. Through the growth of Woodroof ’s character in this film we get to see the growth of America’s attitude toward its LGBTQ members, realizing that the only way to have a strong community is to have a unified one. But what is even more powerful is how Jean-Marc Vallée taps into both sight and sound to put the viewer in the shoes of someone at the mercy of disorienting and uncontrollable physical and psychological discomfort. While the end of the film is hard to see coming while watching, its meandering, grasping narrative style perfectly parallels the fight against HIV and AIDS in the 1980s. No end in sight, no cure on the horizon, and a lot of desperate people doing whatever they can to survive.


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Review by Kelsey Eichhorn

Burlesque is such a sexy word. It slides off the tongue with the smooth softness of feminine curves, catches in the throat as a raspy whisper, emerging in a cloud of cigar smoke and conjuring hazy images of men in suits enraptured by a glittering, majestic Venus on stage. Eroticism romanticised. If you’ve found yourself nodding in agreement thus far, you need to stop whatever you are doing and go see Beth B’s documentary Exposed: Beyond Burlesque at the ICA in London, immediately. Burlesque is a sexy word, but not for the connotations listed above. Rather it is the sexiness of freedom, of the taboo, of defying mainstream definitions of vulgarity and embracing the liberation this offers. It is the sexy, joyful, “unencumbered” (as one of the film’s featured performers so eloquently explains it) response to life that we all secretly and subconsciously crave. The sad truth about burlesque is that like many subcultures it has been appropriated by the mainstream to the extent that it has come to represent almost the polar opposite of its inherent meaning and message. Burlesque as an art form is immediate, honest and brutal, much like Beth B’s film. It relies on the existence of the taboo - without rules to break and boundaries to push, burlesque would lose the soul of rebellion that makes it so powerful. Rebellion, as Beth B’s film shows, comes in many guises. For each of the performers featured in the documentary, burlesque is both a very personal journey of expression and an acknowledged lifestyle and community. The film is a compilation of individual artist’s stories with a collective spirit, giving the work a sense of intimacy and spontaneity that really does justice to the essence of the stories it tells. While subcultures are a popular draw for many filmmakers, it is often difficult as an outsider to produce works that fully do these communities justice. In the Q & A session with performing artist Mat Fraser following Exposed’s opening night screening, Mat commented playfully that the one thing he learned through the experience of making the film was that it’s essentially for filmmakers to be pushy and annoying. And yet, he said a bit more thoughtfully, he personally has forgiven Beth B her general aggressive approach because the film she has created is a moving, powerful and honest account of which he, as a performer is proud to have been a part. If you think you know subculture, if you think you know taboo, if you think you know burlesque, think again. This astonishing, inspiring, visceral and often comedic film forces audiences to confront their own inhibitions and in the process learn a little something not only about burlesque, but about ourselves and what we all really want out of this beautiful, crazy, mixed-up world.

Exposed: Beyond Burlesque cert (18)

release date 10th January

director Beth B writer Beth B starring Julie Atlas Muz, Mat Fraser, James Habacker VERITE JANUARY 2014

91


Out of the Furnace director Scott Cooper writers Brad Ingelsby, Scott Cooper starring Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Woody Harrelson

92

JANUARY 2014 VERITE

cert (15)

Review by Jordan McGrath

release date 29th January

Bookended like two tonal hammer blows, Eddie Vedder’s deep melancholic voice croons as Pearl Jam’s Release greets and draws the curtain on Scott Cooper’s second feature, Out of the Furnace. Dark and morose, with a brooding masculinity, the song reverberates throughout the film like the seemingly inescapable shackled ankles of small-town depression. The film, like a classic Springsteen song, peels away the façade of working-class Americana and paints the picture of real people just trying to get by, long forgotten by their economy. The furnace referenced in the film’s title is that of the state penitentiary where Russell Baze (Christian Bale), after his involvement in a fatal car accident, has been released back into society. And if we were to continue the famous saying ‘the fire’ he goes into is returning to his hometown where the life he left, prior to his incarceration, is nowhere to be seen. The girlfriend he loves Lena (Zoe Saldana) has left him for the amicable Sherriff, his father is dead and his Iraq war vet little brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), defiant to not work the same life – slaving hard in the local steel mill – as his brother and father, has fallen into the world of illegal backyard fighting to pay off the gambling debts he owes to club owner Jon (Willem Dafoe). What evolves is a serious story of grave decisions and even graver consequences, highlighted with an impressive clean-sweep of flawlessly tuned performances; leads Affleck and the always engrossing Bale are obviously worth a special mention. Cooper’s decision to concentrate more on atmosphere and character than the plot that unfolds is mostly successful. However, predictability and a clumsily handled, and quickly forgotten, sub-plot attempting to pander to the effect of the2008 economic crash are its two biggest sins, meaning the film struggles to deliver the goods on a purely narrative level. What is actually brought to Out of the Furnace in the terms of depth – very much like Cooper’s previous effort, Crazy Heart – is done so by the ‘lived-in’ authenticity the actors instil within their roles. This alone allows the audience to discover the emotion the film so sorely strains to evoke, which opens up an argument to whether an effectively crafted narrative is a weakness in Cooper’s cinematic arsenal. And, although too much for some, its languid style, dearth of colour and heavy dose of sanguinity works in effortless unison with the film’s – and Cooper’s – vision, boasting a drama that is directly aimed at an adult audience but doesn’t seem like its sole purpose is to attract the attention of the awards organisations. A rich and textured revenge tale set in front of the background of the imposing Appalachias, its heart-breaking representation of an individual’s want for a better life, the brutality of not being to achieve it and their obstinate search for a ‘release’, Out of the Furnace is Scott Cooper’s ballad of lost souls.


Magic Magic release date 18th April

cert (15)

director Sebastián Silva Review by James Marsh

Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown have been a cinematic mainstay since the birth of the medium, fuelled by everything from jealousy and claustrophobia to demonic possession and cephalopodan copulation. In Sebastian Silva’s Chilean-US co-production, Magic Magic, Juno Temple’s fragile heroine becomes increasingly unhinged thanks to a potent imbalance of jet lag, insomnia, prescription medication and an overbearingly obnoxious Michael Cera. Soon after arriving in Santiago, fresh-faced tourist Alicia (Temple) is abandoned by her cousin Sara (Emily Browning) and left to take a road trip into the countryside with Sara’s disinterested Chilean friends, Barbara and Augustin, and Cera’s lecherous expat, Brink. While Sara is evasive about her reasons, she promises to catch up in a day or two, but Alicia immediately feels abandoned and helpless, a state-ofmind perpetuated by language barriers, unpredictable behaviour from her companions and the growing disorientation triggered by long-haul travel. Silva uses a barrage of visual ticks and aural peccadilloes to increase the audience’s sense of unease and discomfort. Rather than making us empathise with Alicia’s compounding discombobulation, instead it accentuates our frustration with the film, as it quickly grows repetitive and illogical. Alicia is far from a sympathetic heroine, while her companions range from the bafflingly aloof to the teeth-grindingly obnoxious. Magic Magic is an incredibly unsettling experience, and as Alicia’s list of issues and ailments lengthens, Silva continues to flirt with interesting themes: namely our preconceptions about modern vs. traditional medicines, coupled with the characters’ fondness for recreational drug use and over-medication. Even when Sara’s reasons for going AWOL are eventually revealed, it is exposed as another quick-fix solution to a biological problem. Unlike similar Chilean-US co-productions from Eli Roth and Nicolas Lopez, which eschew character development for amorality and cheap gore, Silva here aspires for something more subtle and cerebral. Michael Cera, who has never shied away from lampooning his unthreatening screen persona, is credited as a producer and gifts himself the film’s most outright unlikable character. Brink is an American student who has spent too long overseas, which in turn has allowed an unchecked arrogance to overwhelm him that borders on the eccentric. Brink is under the assumption that Alicia’s innocent schoolgirl abroad will prove easy prey, but her insomnia-fuelled paranoia makes Alicia overly defensive to the point of violence, and Brink becomes both agitator and victim. Inevitably, the star of the show is Juno Temple, who does a fantastic job walking the fine line between being sympathetic and incredibly frustrating, in a way that will bring out the despairing parent in the most patient of viewers. Constantly in a state of sleep-deprived agitation, Alicia becomes increasingly unsure about what around her is real and what is hallucination, dream or even a supernatural force. Whether we ultimately side with her or not will divide audiences, but Silva has certainly created one of the most delicately unnerving and disorientating psychological dramas to emerge in some time.

writer Sebastián Silva starring Michael Cera, Juno Temple, Emily Browning

VERITE JANUARY 2014

93


Review by David Hall

Bastards

release date 14th February

cert (TBC)

director Claire Denis writer Jean-Pol Fargeau, Claire Denis starring Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, Julie Bataille

94

JANUARY 2014 VERITE

A film of arresting images and vignettes teased out to the viewer like intricate pieces of a much larger and disturbing puzzle, Bastards (Les Salauds) is often more effective for what it leaves unseen and unknown. That’s not to say Claire Denis’ latest film is a particularly difficult or oblique work; in many ways it’s one of the tightest and most straightforward films this still-underrated director has made. But the act of not knowing, of concealment and murky, shadowy goings on is intrinsic to Bastards’ elliptical, fragmentary narrative structure. In true noir style, the viewer is invited to be part voyeur/ part detective. Marco (Vincent LIndon) is a naval captain who goes AWOL when he learns of his brother-in-law’s suicide. Returning to Paris to comfort his sister and visit his devastated, hospitalised niece Justine (Lola Creton), he stays on in the city to investigate Laproret (Michel Subor); a shadowy, powerful businessman who has a mistress Raphael (Chiara Mastroianni) and a young child holed up in an expensive apartment. Foolishly Marco and Raphael begin an affair, which has devastating consequences and reveals sickening connections between Laprorte and Marco’s family. This is an extremely pessimistic and downbeat work; were it any longer (it clocks in at a tight, but surprisingly lengthy feeling, 100 minutes) the air of suffocation Denis weaves around these flawed, often debased characters would perhaps have been too much. Free from any kind of moral standpoint, Bastards, as its blunt title suggests, deals in a brutish and unforgiving terrain of secrecy, duplicity and human weakness. Denis’ film is filled with fascinating faces, ones that are hard to read – much like the movie itself. This is pure neo-noir, and almost everyone in the film, male and female, is a right bastard. Lindon essays a classic noir anti-hero, ambivalent, laconic, desperately flawed, weakened by women. The female characters, somewhat surprisingly, are the sketchiest and poorest drawn. Raphael, in particular, remains a distanced, victimised and almost entirely passive presence. An uncharacteristic but typically excellent score from Denis’ musical collaborators Tindersticks, strongly reminiscent of Tangerine Dream’s work with Michael Mann (especially Thief ), heightens the mood considerably. And the film is full of arresting, startling individual images – from the opening shot of a stark naked young women walking somnambulistic ally in high heels through a rain-sodden Parisian night to the series of grainy pornographic home movie images in the films’ reveal. Agnes Godard’ s rich use of digital is memerising; locating texture and grain in the darkest corners of Paris. This is high-class trash – philosophical pulp – for sure, but it’s also disorientating, often frustrating and, ultimately, there’s a nagging sense that underneath the artistry and Chinese puzzle box narrative lays a thin and emotionally unsatisfying update of Polanski’s Chinatown. A flawed yet undeniably fascinating film, but in many ways the journey is much more satisfying than the destination.


Review by Paul Martinovic

There is no shortage of pharmaceuticals to be found in The Wolf of Wall Steet’s three hour depiction of the life of degenerate drug addict and repugnantly rich stock broking fraudster Jordan Belfort, with weed, cocaine, crack, and most memorably Quaaludes getting more screentime than almost any actor bar DiCaprio himself. But the high that Scorsese captures better than any other is that of risk, and the sheer thrill of getting away with it. Belfort, comfortably one of cinema’s all time biggest assholes, consistently appears to put everything on the line – his money, his body, his health, his marriage, his freedom – and every time you think his excess will finally prove too much he comes out smelling of roses. Scorsese and screenwriter Terrance Winter’s grim point is that the world we inhabit and the structures we have built for ourselves do not allow for people like Jordan Belfort to fail: as long as people remain weak and greedy, the strongest and greediest will survive. It’s the law of the jungle, and no coincidence that the commercial for Belfort’s company Stratton Oakmont features a lion parading around desks, or that Belfort’s nickname is ‘the Wolf ’, or that him and his employees fuck around with the polygamous intensity of hyenas in heat: these people aren’t badly behaved, they’re outright atavistic. Watching them, then, is spectacularly fun, which has proved a moral obstacle for the many people who believe Scorsese is glorifying the Wall Street lifestyle and making Belfort a hero. Putting aside the many genuinely repulsive and horrifying moments to be found throughout, they also appeared to have missed the many clues provided that a) narrator Belfort is clearly a bullshitter printing his own outlandish legend and b) that he is at pains to never allow the bleak reality of the impact he had on people’s lives to broach his own myth-making. Every aspect of the film is outstanding: Leonardo DiCaprio will likely never top his work here, embracing the cartoonish Gordon Gekko by way of Doctor Gonzo persona in a way that results in comfortably his most liberated and unaffected performance. Jonah Hill is equally excellent in the Joe Pesci loose cannon role, Margot Robbie is trashily compelling, and Matthew McConaughey in his one scene would, in ordinary circumstances, steal the movie outright. Winter’s script is also punchy, hilarious and clever – a brilliant scene between an FBI Special Agent (Kyle Chandler) and DiCaprio is reminiscent of the writer’s former work on The Sopranos, a tense game of verbal chess where every line obfuscates an ulterior meaning. But it’s Marty’s movie. He demonstrates his total mastery of the craft perhaps for the first time since Casino. Whether it’s in a garrulous dinner table scene, an erotic domestic tete-at-tete, an inspired, extended slapstick comedy set piece, or in its masterful final shot: at this point in his career it’s clear there are few things he can’t do on screen better than almost anyone else. It’s pointless at this point to say where TWoWS ranks alongside the likes of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and the rest: all you should know is that it stands alongside that esteemed company and doesn’t look out of place. A masterpiece.

The Wolf of Wall Street

release date 17th January

cert (18)

director Martin Scorsese writer Terence Winter starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew Mc Conaughey

VERITE JANUARY 2014

95


Teenage

release date 10th January

cert (15)

writers Jon Savage, Matt Wolf starring Jena Malone, Ben Whishaw, Alden Ehrenreich

96

JANUARY 2014 VERITE

Review by David Hall

director Matt Wolf

Full of rare, arresting and unexpected footage, showing us a side to youthful rebellion rarely glimpsed or discussed, Teenage would make for a potentially great BBC4 documentary series. As it stands, the attempt to blend archive film with fictionalised footage to tell the story is only partially successful. Directed by Matt Wolf, who has a background in documentary filmmaking and has created shows for PBS and The New York Times, Teenage is frequently fascinating – but perhaps acts best as a visual primer for the Jon Savage book upon which it is based, which, understandably, is far more comprehensive and insightful. The standard historical viewpoint has been that the ‘teenager’ as a distinct social concept and group began in the mid-1940s (the term itself was coined in 1945). Punk writer and social commentator Savage’s book turns this mythology on its head completely, posting an alternate history that begins in the in the late 19th century and encompasses, amongst other social developments; the scout movement, the roaring twenties culture of society girls and moneyed decadent toffs, and teenage soldiers in the First World War trenches as all being intrinsically linked to the gestation of youth subculture. “This is a story that ends with a beginning”, intones narrator Ben Whishaw. Just as in Cameron Crowe’s film Almost Famous (2000), where weary rock journo Lester Bangs talks about the spirit of music as rebellion having already been and gone (‘‘it’s just a shame you missed out on rock n’ roll. It’s over…. I mean you got here just in time for the death rattle. Last gasp…last grope.”), Teenage also suggest that – by the time the youth movement had its official genesis in the early 50s – it was immediately rendered less threatening and subversive due to being very swiftly capitalised on, and exploited by, advertising and TV industries eager to extract cash from the wallets of young consumers . That’s not to say there aren’t genuine pleasures to be had in Teenage. The patchwork quilt and blended footage approach at times is seamless and bewitching. The strand focusing on the Hitler youth is extraordinary, with mind-boggling footage and docudrama expertly blended, taking in super 8 recreations alongside actual dairy extracts. The sub-debs section too, is amazing and revelatory. Some of the voiceover, provided by Whishaw and actors including Jena Malone, is really effective too. It’s that marvelous vintage footage throughout though that truly brings Savage’s theory to startling and sometime shocking life. For much of its brisk running time Teenage is an entertaining mosaic piece and a must for any fans of pop cultural history. If there is a fault line in this documentary though it’s that, for a film about teen culture and reckless abandon, it is surprisingly sedate and perhaps lacking in edginess.


In the Fitzcarraldo Frame: (1981)

words by Robert Makin

D

eep in the Peruvian rain forests, bankrupt entrepreneur Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski), known to the locals as Fitzcarraldo, has one obsession. His dream is to build an opera house within the harsh and unforgiving jungle terrain of Iquitos, and in doing so free his beloved music from the ornate, marble palaces of the dry bourgeoisie. Persuaded by his understanding, brothel-owning lover, Molly (Claudia Cardinale), Fitzcarraldo arrives at a social gathering for local rubber barons in the hope of gaining investors for his elaborate scheme. His plan is simple, to entice them by letting the music speak for itself. Surrounded by bloated decadence and opulent displays of food and riches, Fitzcarraldo puts his gramophone on a small table in the centre of the room and places a needle on his shellac disc of choice. As the music begins he gestures for others to join him in his euphoric appreciation of all

things operatic, expecting them to feel the same emotional pull as he does. But he is met only with derision as the guests continue to chatter incessantly amongst themselves and mock his efforts. These are people who feed money to fish and export their laundry in fear of the “impure” waters of the Amazon. These are the pompous bastions of spineless mediocrity: insular, spiritually redundant philistines. A drunken guest attempts to remove the record and Fitzcarraldo reacts with force. As several servants and guests attempt to restrain him, Fitzcarraldo breaks free and grabs hold of his gramophone, desperately holding it to his chest as if his life depended on it, as if it contained his actual soul. It’s not just a machine that makes sounds – it is part of who he is. It’s the very thing that keeps him alive and resilient against the odds. The host implies that he is no better than a dog, a conquistador of the useless. Fitzcarraldo responds by violently downing several glasses of champagne, toasting

Verdi, Rossini, and Caruso, and accusing the host of living in a world that is nothing more than a rotten caricature of great opera, before making his exit. The most celebrated moments in Werner Herzog’s masterpiece may involve a massive boat being pulled over a mountain, but it’s this scene that tells you everything you need to know about Fitzcarraldo. What he lacks in social etiquette and status he makes up for in vision and determination. The solemn and self-appointed elite, those that take refuge in the vapid posturing of social hierarchy, often misconstrue passion for madness. Fitzcarraldo’s passion lies in music itself, and like most people with an affinity towards music; it is a pure and unconditional love. A belief that in those harmonised vibrations is the transcendent promise of freedom. It is not the avoidance of adversity that brings peace of mind and contentment to Fitzcarraldo, but the acceptance of it. For when the river you travel becomes a stagnant pool, it is a fate far worse than death. VERITE JANUARY 2014

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Jordan McGrath

David Hall

Founder / Editor-in-Chief / Designer

Managing Editor

jordanmcgrath@veritefilmmag.com

davidhall@veritefilmmag.com

thanks: Contributors James Marsh Evrim Ersoy Robert Makin Paul Martinovic Kelsey Eichhorn James Rocarols James Marsh Luke Richardson Clarisse Loughrey Joseph Fahim Emily A. Kausalik Adam Lowes Chris O’Neill Elisa Armstrong Ben Nicholson Shelag M. Rowan-Legg Michael Pattison

Proofing James Marsh, Daniel Auty & David Hall

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Image credits: Universal Pictures - 6,8,10,11,12,13,14,22,28,95,99 / StudioCanal - 22,30,65 / Paramount Pictures - 22 / Fox Searchlight - 24 / Lionsgate UK - 26,68,70,71,72,92 / Metrodome - 32,36 / Dogwoof - 34 / Sony Pictures - 38 / Artificial Eye - 40,42 / Verve Pictures - 44, 46,47,48,91 / Entertainment Film Distributors - 65,89 / eOne Entertainment - 65,88,90 / Eureka Entertainment - 80,81,82,83 / Pathe - 84,85,86,87 / Koch Media - 93 / Content Media - 94 / Soda Pictures - 96

VERITE JANUARY 2014

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Vérité - January 2014  

Vérité welcomes 2014 with a cracking new issue - discover if Scorsese's new film, The Wolf of Wall Street will fall inline with a trend spot...

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