Posted by Roy Stafford on 5 March 2014
Mahabir (Randeep Hooda) and Veera (Alia Bhatt) on the last leg of their journey.
This is certainly the most intriguing film I have seen so far this year. It’s tempting to suggest that something is definitely happening in mainstream Hindi cinema. For the first half an hour or so of Highway I thought I was watching an independent film. Only when the A.R. Rahman songs start to come thick and fast does it begin to appear conventional. Even then, the performances by the leads Randeep Hooda and Alia Bhatt are extremely good. Bhatt in particular is beautiful and vital in a tricky role without having any of that false Bollywood glamour. Because I don’t follow Bollywood gossip, her performance was very fresh for me and I could enjoy it without the hype. I did wonder if she was related to Mahesh Bhatt (she is his daughter) and she lives up to her family name. The film appears to have had a reasonable budget (around $4.5 million) and most of that seems to have gone on the wonderful cinematography in some difficult locations. The feel of authenticity in many scenes again suggests an independent aesthetic. There is also a device whereby each half of the film starts with what appears like a home movie/video academy frame sequence which then morphs (for no reason I could determine) into a full ‘Scope framing. I’d be grateful for any reading of what this might mean.
Highway is a road movie and a romance as well as a social drama. Writer-director Imtiaz Ali first explored the narrative idea in an episode of a TV series in 1999. Two strong elements of the story appeared in Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding (2001). In the first of these, a bride from a wealthy Delhi family escapes from the wedding preparations, this time with the reluctant groom. Their car is parked at a petrol station when a robbery takes place and the bride is taken as a hostage. She proves to be a lively captive and when her captors learn of her background they swiftly move her out of the region. The ensuing road trip moves through Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. The leader of the gang, Mahabir, knows that because of Veera’s status, ransom demands are going to be met by a police (and military) response. What he doesn’t know is how Veera will behave.
The first part of the film is likely to be difficult for mainstream audiences. There are long periods when little happens plot-wise but we begin to slowly understand why Veera behaves as she does. Veera experiences something akin to the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ when hostages develop relationships with their captors. But Veera’s responses are also informed by her childhood memories and her unhappiness as a rich urban young woman, seemingly cut off from the world around her.
I’m not sure that the film has been helped by the hype that surrounded its release in India (including, I read, tie-in fashion merchandising!). But if you are happy to watch a film with relatively long passages of beautiful scenery, pretty good music and a young actress giving her all, I’d recommend Highway.
Posted in Hindi Cinema – Bollywood, Indian Cinema, Indian independent, Romance | Tagged: Alia Bhatt, road movie | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 2 March 2014
It’s March and in the North West that means the ¡Viva! festival at Cornerhouse in Manchester. Starting on Friday 7 March and running through to Sunday 23 March, this is the 20th edition of the premier Hispanic film fest in the UK. Spanish cinema is suffering badly in the current recession with a right-wing government that seems to care not a jot for film culture except to increase taxation on its diminishing revenues. There’s no better time to show your support for the industry. Cornerhouse has as always found some gems from Spain and the output from Central and South America is increasing in both quality and quantity so this a festival not to be missed.
The opening film of this year’s festival is Días de vinilo (Days of Vinyl, Argentina/Columbia 2012), ”a contemporary comedic tale of friendship and love with a fabulous sixties soundtrack”. Director Gabriel Nesci will be presenting the film at the opening gala screening and taking part in a Q&A on Sunday 9 March. He will be the first of several festival guests and ¡Viva! is famed for its guests and special events. One of these will be a 1 hour intro to Mexican exploitation cinema delivered by Andy Willis of Salford University who is aiming to complement the screening of El Fantástico mundo de Juan Orol (Mexico 2012), a spectacular biopic that covers the barely believable career of the legendary maverick film director. For those who love the bizarre, ¡Viva! offers a new film from the frenzied imagination of Álex de la Iglesia in the form of Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi (Witching and Bitching, Spain/France 2013) which promises an appearance by the wonderful Carmen Maura. Like several other ¡Viva! screenings this will be a UK première.
¡Viva! always offers a ‘classic’ and this year it is Carlos Saura’s début film, Los Golfos (The Delinquents, Spain 1960) with a post-screening discussion led by ¡Viva! regular Carmen Herrero from Manchester Metropolitan University. I’m looking forward to seeing this film and two or three more on a Sunday visit. This year there are films from Cuba, Peru and Venezuela as well as those from Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Spain mentioned above. Don’t miss out! You can download a full festival programme from the Cornerhouse website.
Posted in Festivals and Conferences, Latin American Cinema, Spanish Cinema | Tagged: !Viva¡ | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 2 March 2014
This is just to remind you that some of our new posts are now appearing on The Global Film Book Blog. Recent posts include Cape No. 7 (Taiwan 2008), Boomerang Family (South Korea 2013) and Jack Strong (Poland 2014).
Posted in Korean Cinema, Polish Cinema, Taiwan Film | Leave a Comment »
Posted by keith1942 on 28 February 2014
This documentary revisits the now notorious period in which the Khmer Rouge attempted to implement a very particular form of rurally-based Communism in Cambodia / Kampuchea. This brutally distinctive experiment is usually lumped together with socialist revolutions in other states and/or what are termed ‘totalitarian’ states. Regarding the former it needs to be recognised that the political line of the Khmer Rouge had little in common with the writings of Marx and Engels on a Socialist alternative to Capitalism. Regarding the latter this concept fails to address the very different political economy of the variety of states so described.
I make this point because this film directed by Rithy Panh is very much a personal journey back to the past of the country from which he hails. He was a child when the Khmer Rouge seized power: he was 15 when he escaped to the west. The basis of the film is a contrast between Panh’s memories of Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge revolution and the genocidal practice that characterised this regime when it seized power. The film’s title makes the point that Panh has no filmic record for the first, and only the Khmer Rouge’s own film records for the latter.
To recreate the world of his childhood Panh uses beautifully modelled clay figures set in both urban and rural model settings. He also uses the same technique to partly recreate the world of the Khmer Rouge as he himself experienced it. This is interspersed with predominantly black and white film footage of the latter. The use of the models is impressive. And during the end credits we get to see the small studio where these were set out and filmed. They become even more impressive when you see the techniques in action.
This is very much a personal vision. The film is not really analytical. It offers a Manichean division between the pre-Khmer Rouge period and their own period of rule and misrule. His viewpoint is supported to a degree by the Khmer Rouge’s own film propaganda, which presents a world of horrific brutality and of grossly simplified political ideas and practice.
The visual material is supported by as commentary written by Christophe Bataille and Rithy Panh. This appears to be modelled on the commentary from Alain Resnais’s seminal documentary Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog, 1956). Both commentaries are in French, but more than that, the phrasing recalls the earlier film as does the tone and rhythm of the reading. For me though this film’s commentary lacked the complexity of the earlier one. It also appears to reference comparisons that have been drawn between the Khmer Rouge regime and that of the Third Reich. This ignores that the former was a response to the experience of French colonialism, the Japanese occupation, and a later US backed military junta. In the case of the latter its practices developed from those inflicted by colonial powers across Africa and other continents: those inflicting including France, Britain and Germany.
However the film does not just critically expose the Khmer Rouge. There are brief references to the exploitative form of the pre-Khmer Rouge Cambodia. And there is also the briefest mention of the bombing of Cambodia: carried out, of course, by the USA. The politicians of the latter state have been loud in their criticism of the Khmer Rouge but mainly silent on their own war crimes against Cambodia. Panh also briefly makes a point about the post-Khmer Rouge Kingdom of Cambodia with a shot of proletarians involved in labour as exploitative as that of the earlier society.
Rithy Panh has made a series of films about this sad period in the history of Cambodia. The most famous was S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2003). This film has some parallels with Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1965), as it uses a series of testimonies from both perpetrators and victims.
The Missing Picture is a finely created and presented documentary. It conveys a powerful sense of the violent inanities of the Khmer Rouge period. And with justice it criticises the atrocities of the regime and the venality of the leadership. I am disappointed that it came joint 17th in the Sight & Sound annual critic’s poll, some way behind the winner The Act of Killing (2012, the latter also up for an Oscar for Best Documentary). Rithy Panh’s film is both a finer and a more honest documentary than the study of equivalent atrocities in Indonesia. The Missing Picture is still on release: in Leeds the Hyde Park Picture House screens it on Tuesday March 11th.
Posted in Documentary, East Asian Cinema | Tagged: Indo-China on film | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 27 February 2014
Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as the lovers
I’m intrigued by the production credits for this film. I was going to classify it as an American Independent, but the credits make clear that it is mainly a German production (like some of Jarmusch’s earlier films) with a UK partner and some financing from a Greek company (which IMDB reads as ‘Cyprus’).
Jim Jarmusch is a distinctive filmmaker and I enjoyed his first two films in the 1980s. I remember the later films less well. I know I saw Broken Flowers (2005) but I’m much less sure that I saw Dead Man (1995). I mention this because Only Lovers has such a languid feel that I could have dreamt that I saw it. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
I was expecting a vampire film and there are many of the tropes of that genre in place but this is mainly a film about romance and ennui – an unlikely pairing but probably quite common for anyone who is a few centuries old. What plot there is sees ‘Eve’ (Tilda Swinton) leaving her house in the old city in Tangier to travel to the wastelands of crumbling Detroit – a city gradually reverting to its natural state – to see her husband ‘Adam’ (Tom Hiddleston). She leaves behind her equally aged friend ‘Kit’ (John Hurt). Apart from a sudden interruption by Eve’s sister Eva (Mia Wasikowska) not a lot happens. Certainly there is little in the way of ‘horror’. Instead this a film that offers gentle pleasures of erudition. I think the script, by Jarmusch himself, is clever and witty. There are little jokes about real historical figures and characters from literature as well as meditations on fame, the artistic temperament and the difficult problem of finding things to do when you have had so long ‘alive’ and have learned so much. In some ways the best things about the film, apart from the dialogue are the production design and the music.
I had a pleasant afternoon’s entertainment and now I want to visit Tangier. One shot in particular will stay in my memory. It has the lovers in long shot framed through an alleyway or possibly an arch and lit only by moonlight and the dim yellow streetlights. They are sat on a low wall and behind them is a pair exquisitely decorated panels that represent the best of Islamic art. Of course this is old Tangier and it has been ‘dressed’ for the part. Sadly the Ciné Alcazar which the couple passes is actually closed. Still Tangier is a powerful presence – I’m guessing that the location is partly an hommage to Bertolocci’s film The Sheltering Sky (1990) based on a Paul Bowles story (with Debra Winger as ‘Kit’) since Jeremy Thomas’ Recorded Picture Company was involved in both films. One mystery is why Adam and Eve refuse to fly via London – are there too many painful memories?
Posted in American Independents | Tagged: German-UK co-production, Jim Jarmusch, Vampire movies | Leave a Comment »
Posted by keith1942 on 18 February 2014
Felicity Jones as Nelly Ternan and Ralph Fiennes as Charles Dickens
This film is based on the study by Claire Tomalin of Charles Dickens’s (Ralph Fiennes) illicit relationship with Ellen Ternan (Nelly – Felicity Jones). I decided to see it a week after its UK release. It turned out to be quite difficult. The two independent cinemas in Leeds may screen it, but that is not yet certain. None of the Multiplex listings I checked has the film in their programme. Finally I found it programmed at Bradford’s National Media Museum: though even here it was in the smaller of the Museum’s auditorium. The larger had Her; which had a dozen or maybe two dozen punters. The Dickens’s film had over fifty. I put this down to the dead hand of the Distributors, accentuated by it being the Award season. Our Distribution Companies clearly have little sense of British culture: Dickens may not be the celebrity focus he was in his own lifetime, but following on from his bi-centenary he remains a popular figure and writer.
The film’s title refers to the hidden nature of the relationship between Dickens and Nelly: hidden from the prurient gaze of the dominant Victorian public discourse. The film has been adapted from the book by Abi Morgan and directed by Ralph Fiennes. It has the expected graces of a British period film: beautifully composed and authentic looking production design and a sterling cast, including Kristin Scott Thomas as the Ternan matriarch and Tom Hollander as a delightful scapegrace Willkie Collins. The plotting however is less conventional. The presentation is elliptical, not just in the use of flashbacks but also in the ellipses from the description of the affairs development. I did wonder if the limitations of a commercial running time, 111 minutes, had not had an effect. There were several missing emotional developments, including aspects of how Dickens bought his passion to fruition. This fits with the sense of the title, the woman hidden from view: but I was aware of these lacunae whilst watching the film.
It is Nelly’s viewpoint that pre-dominates as she provides the main narrative voice. There are however sequences which she will not have seen. One is when Dickens has the connecting door between the rooms of himself and his wife Catherine (Joanna Scanlon, another fine performance) boarded up. One imagines that Dickens never told Nelly of this incident.
The absences in the film are not just down to discretion. We see sex scenes between Dickens and Nelly and also between Nelly and her later husband, George Wharton (Tom Burke). These throw an interesting and unexpected light on sexuality in the Victorian era.
Claire Tomalin has an excellent piece in The Guardian Review (01-02-2014). She describes how she persuaded Ralph Fiennes not only to direct but also to take the part of Dickens in the film – clearly she is a fine judge of actor and character. She also comments on some differences between her study and the film. These have affected the ending of them film, making it less downbeat. However, it also has the effect of making Nelly a less interesting and less complex character.
This is an excellent production and deserves better than the ‘limited release’ accorded it.
Posted in Biopic, British Cinema, Home, Literary adaptations | 2 Comments »
Posted by keith1942 on 17 February 2014
It would seem that the majority of BAFTA members are lacking in any sense of irony: they awarded the Outstanding British Film Award to Gravity. Technically they are correct, and apparently about 90% of what we see and hear [much of it debris] was Made in Britain. However one wonders what criteria they were following: two Hollywood stars and the logo of Warner Brothers. I thought the latter resided under the famed Hollywood sign rather than overlooking one of the plinths in Trafalgar Square?
One wonders how many of the members actually watched all of the nominees in this category. Not that this mattered that much: they included Philomena, The Selfish Giant and then the South African Mandela biopic, Rush and Saving Mr Banks. The last two were celebrating Formula 1 and Walt Disney. I assumed that given Best Picture frequently goes to a Hollywood movie that the function of Outstanding British Picture was to celebrate home-made films. I rather think we are in danger of losing the plot.
Gravity also won the award for Best Cinematography. This would seem slightly more appropriate. If like me you listened to Radio 4 on Friday morning, you would have heard one of the skilled technicians explaining about the Computer Generated Images in the film. Monday’s Radio 4 had a critic justifying the awards, including that for Gravity. ‘Me thinks they protest too much’.
To balance the above the officially listed US film 12 Years a Slave won Best Film and Best Actor – the director and lead actor having crossed the Atlantic to present a film about slavery in the USA. This is a film that also has no visible presence from these shores: but the invisible presence includes the British ships that transported the majority of Africans across the same Atlantic Ocean.
Posted in Film industry | 1 Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 17 February 2014
Mike Verdrengh as Raymond Jonkhere, the owner of the private bank that is robbed – and the ‘face’ of ‘Salamander’?
For some reason that is beyond me, the British seem to be quite willing to mock Belgium. “Name 10 famous Belgians” is a tired old joke. I’m not sure how much of this prejudice is behind the generally negative reception of the Belgian drama series Salamander now airing on Saturday nights in BBC4′s ‘euro drama’ slot. I’ve watched the first four of 12 x 45 mins episodes and I’m not going to rush to judgment at this stage. I’m certainly going to ‘read’ the serial seriously over its full length but it is worth making a few initial observations.
‘Salamander’ is revealed to be some form of secret cabal operating within the Belgian establishment. In the opening episode a well-executed robbery at a private bank leads to potential exposure for the members of Salamander when their safety deposit boxes are opened and papers taken. A Brussels detective is tipped off that a bank robbery has occurred somewhere in the city. He begins to investigate but it soon becomes clear that the authorities want to hush up the crime and the detective finds himself isolated as a ‘wanted man’ when his informer is killed.
The main charge against the serial is that it isn’t The Killing or The Bridge. This is silly for several reasons. First it’s a different genre. I’m not quite sure yet which genres are important but the best bet seems to be the conspiracy/paranoia thriller with elements of political drama like House of Cards. Second this is 12 x 45 mins rather than 10 x 60 mins. I think that this is probably because Salamander was made by a Belgian independent (best known for animation as far as I can make out) for a commercial TV channel. 45 mins is a standard length for advertising-led television. The Danish version of this was Those Who Kill and in fact Salamander does follow similar thriller narrative lines.
The more serious charge against Salamander that I’ve noted is that the women in the serial seem too quiescent (and that the central character Inspector Gerardi is too ‘old school’, macho etc.). Again it’s a bit early to make this charge and anyway in Episode 3 we are introduced to a woman who looks like she will be ‘active’ and the Inspector’s own daughter looks like she too may become involved. I have to say that Filip Peeters seems well cast. The one thing that does intrigue me is that this a Flemish language serial, despite being set in Brussels (which I’ve always taken to be Francophone). Given the current state of Belgian politics re the language/culture division I wonder how this will be handled in terms of the conspiracy?
At this point I can’t quite imagine how the remaining eight episodes will work out – and that must be a good thing. I’ll be watching over the next four weekends.
Posted in Belgian Cinema, Global television | Tagged: conspiracy, Flemish language, paranoia thriller, political thriller | 5 Comments »