Posted by nicklacey on 15 November 2012
Trying to live
Roman (Thomas Schubert) is allowed out of a juvenile institution on ‘day release’; his job is at a morgue. So far so melodrama, especially as Roman is almost as emotionless as a corpse. We follow his faltering steps into the ‘real world’ as he tries to find a compass in a society that treats him with contempt; we don’t learn of his crime until well into the film.
The narrative progresses slowly, routinely; typically arthouse as it demands our patience as we wonder whether it’s better to actually live a life rather than watch someone else live theirs. However, it repays patience with intense drama, when Roman is sent to pick up a corpse in the street whilst a distraught wife is still clinging onto hope that her husband’s still alive, an an emotional payoff at the end when… well, I shan’t spoil it.
Death remains a taboo in western society; consumerism is driven in part by a desire to deny it: cosmetics for everyone. Breathing confronts death, particularly in the scene where the morgue attendants have to prepare a corpse of an old woman who has died at home. We get to see what we don’t wish to see as the deceased body is carefully attended to by men who, hitherto, have been generally unlikeable. It’s a particularly powerful scene.
It’s written and directed by Karl Markovics, who played the lead in the terrific The Counterfeiters (Aus-Ger, 2007) and I’m looking forward to his next film.
Posted in European Cinema | Tagged: Melodrama | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 23 September 2012
Toby Jones as Gilderoy. Image © Artificial Eye
Peter Strickland’s debut feature Katalin Varga was such a striking film that I had great expectations of Berberian Sound Studio. To a large extent those expectations were fulfilled, but I also have some lingering doubts – not about the quality of the filmmaking, but about what the film offers to audiences. This is the kind of film that makes much more sense when you read the comments from fans. But I suspect that there are other audiences who don’t have the specific genre knowledge and who will be baffled . Challenging an audience is something I generally applaud, so what’s going on here?
The narrative takes a rather timid and introverted British sound recordist known simply as ‘Gilderoy’ (played by Toby Jones) on a trip to Italy to work on a film called The Equestrian Vortex. This is the mid-1970s and Gilderoy seems unaware of the tradition of the giallo – the lurid form of Italian horror/crime film which in dubbed form played in mainstream cinemas across Europe. The masters of the genre included Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento. Because of my aversion to ‘gore’ and ‘splatter films’, I’ve only seen two gialli that I remember, both by Argento. Even so, I can easily see how carefully Strickland has devised his satire – or is it an hommage? It isn’t a horror film as such, but it is disturbing as well as sometimes very funny.
Gilderoy lives at home with his mother in Dorking in deepest Surrey (and also the site of a Martian invasion in War of the Worlds). His experience is on nature documentaries and children’s films. His arrival in Italy is like the appearance of a sacrificial lamb. The film’s titular sound studio is populated by lecherous Italian production staff, beautiful young women and assorted strange characters. As one of the women points out, Gilderoy needs to assert himself if he is going to get paid. Toby Jones is perfect as the mild-mannered man who will find it hard to survive.
The film never strays out of the sound studio – except in Gilderoy’s imagination. Italian films of the 1970s were all ‘post-synched’ for every element of the soundtrack, so the ‘action’ of the film comprises voice dubbing, forms of music production and lots of foley work involving stabbing, squashing and splattering a variety of vegetables – with the pulpy remnants gradually rotting away in a bin. It doesn’t sound much to go on, but cinematographer Nick Knowland and editor Chris Dickens do a wonderful job with montages of the knobs and dials of vintage audio equipment alongside the rotting vegetables, and various actors attempting to find the right kind of scream for a woman being tortured with a red-hot poker!
The Press Notes tell us that “Peter [Strickland] himself has dabbled in sound art and electronic production as part of the trio The Sonic Catering Band. Tracks written by Strickland are featured in the film. There is a character called the ‘goblin’ in the film (voiced by a man who looks like he has escaped from an Italian golf club): Goblin was the band who provided the music for Dario Argento’s films Profundo Rosso and Suspiria. Strickland has also used the band Nurse With Wound in both this film and his earlier Katalin Varga. The sounds themselves (of the stabbing, squashing etc.) are wonderfully realised and the overall technical quality of the film is very high. Like Katalin Varga, this is a European film made by a ‘European’ Brit and a multinational cast. This time, however, the shoot was at Three Mile Island studios in East London, even though it is partly backed by German money and Screen Yorkshire supporting Warp Films (who are based in London and Sheffield). All the producers were keen to work with Peter Strickland, recognising him as a major talent.
The weakness for the general audience, apart from a lack of familiarity with all the references, is going to be the way that the narrative loses its drive in the last third. I won’t give away the ending and I think that it is an appropriate way to end this particular narrative, but it doesn’t perhaps live up to what audiences might be expecting.
Artificial Eye Pressbook
Official Artificial Eye trailer:
Posted in British Cinema, European Cinema, Horror | Tagged: giallo, Goblin, Peter Strickland | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 14 December 2011
Ironically, when British Cinema has had arguably its best year as a cultural producer for a long time, we are saddled with a Con-Dem government that makes me ashamed to whisper my national identity. The Europhobic zombies who sit on the Tory backbenches look as if they have managed to damage everything this last weekend by putting pressure on a cowardly Prime Minister who has used his veto to take the UK into exile while the rest of the EU tries to work co-operatively.
But we shouldn’t be surprised. The British film industry has often been slow to take advantage of European audio-visual support programmes, preferring to spend time worrying about Hollywood rather than looking towards our European partners. There are plenty of exceptions of course and this year we have celebrated the success of the new StudioCanal operation and the UK/French/Swedish co-operation on Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy.
Most independent film producers in Europe look for support from Eurimages – the fund set up by the Council of Europe and its 36 member states. Today it was announced in a Screendaily report that Eurimages, “the Strasbourg-based fund” had “an interest in working relationships with third countries who are close to Europe and have a European tradition such as Israel, Argentina, Canada and South Africa where you have a certain common understanding about film.”
This seems like a good idea. It’s interesting to note that only one European state is not a member of Eurimages. Which country could that be I wonder? See if you can find the UK amongst the 36. No? Well that will be because the UK is a ‘special case’. It’s pathetic really.
Posted in British Cinema, European Cinema, Film industry | 2 Comments »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 1 October 2011
As we suggested in our comments on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, StudioCanal are shaping up to operate as a pan-European producing and distributing studio. On 29 September an announcement in Paris outlined a three-year deal with a London-based private investment fund, Anton Capital Entertainment (ACE) worth €150 million and helping to create a total fund of €500 million for productions and acquisitions over the whole period.
Screen International, which broke the story included a quote from StudioCanal CEO and chairman Olivier Courson:
. . . productions could be divided roughly into four categories: international (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), family entertainment and animation (Samy), genre films (Last Exorcism, Unknown) and features aimed specifically at one of its base territories of Britain, Germany and France (Cloclo).
This is a significant move and establishes StudioCanal as a significant player in the international film market. Courson singled out Tinker Tailor as the kind of international production with a spread of European creatives that the company hopes to go on making. Two future productions quoted are a Coen Bros. US-set film (possibly via Working Title again?) and a starry Michel Gondry film with Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris.
Posted in European Cinema, Film industry | Tagged: StudioCanal | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 28 September 2011
Mark Strong as a British agent sent to Budapest
I was eager to see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (the lack of commas appears deliberate) simply because of my admiration for Tomas Alfredson’s previous film Let the Right One In. I wasn’t disappointed in his direction. I enjoyed the film very much and I think it is one of the best designed films (by Maria Djurkovic who has a long line of credits in UK film and television) I have seen in a long time. If I’m not overly excited by its success, it is simply because it is an adaptation that follows the earlier lengthy TV series from 1979 rather than being something new. Still, there are several interesting aspects to the production and to this release.
The first is that despite the (middle-class and public school) Englishness of the property, this is very much a European film. It marks the first official release for the re-branded StudioCanal – a French company which has autonomous British and German subsidiaries that are both involved in this production, alongside StudioCanal’s long-time UK partner, Working Title. The film shot in Budapest and Istanbul as well as London. It was directed by a Swede, photographed by a Swiss-Dutchman (Hoyte Van Hoytema), edited by a Sweded and much of the effects work and design work was carried out in Sweden. The excellent music is by the Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias. (There is some excellent use of songs in the film with George Formby’s Mr Wu and a great rendition of Charles Trenier’s ‘La mer’ by Julio Iglesias.)
The acting is, as expected, exemplary and I’ll leave it to others to work out whether Gary Oldman achieves as much or more – or less than Alec Guinness in his portrayal of George Smiley. Otherwise it is splendid ensemble work all round.
I’ve enjoyed some Le Carré’s later novels but I haven’t read the Smiley titles. I’m a little concerned that the success of this film will start off a series of further adaptations, possibly with Alfredson attached. Not that he wouldn’t do a good job, but I’d like to see him try something else. For the moment though, Alfredson’s spy story stands up well against two other sober spy dramas, Sidney J. Furie’s Len Deighton adaptation The Ipcress File (UK 1965) and my admittedly hazy memories of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (UK 1965). The latter directed by Martin Ritt was another Le Carré adaptation with (I see now) George Smiley as a minor character played by one-time Maigret star Rupert Davies. Richard Burton was in the lead. Perhaps because I saw this as a teenager not that many years after the Berlin Wall went up, it made much more of an impression on me. Tinker Tailor now appears as more of a good yarn than a commentary on the times.
Interesting official website.
Posted in British Cinema, European Cinema | Tagged: Le Carré, spy story, Tomas Alfredson | 9 Comments »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 5 December 2010
Stejn carries a sick Carmen
(This entry was originally published in September. The film was released in selected cinemas in the UK on December 3rd.)
The English title of this hit Dutch film is somewhat misleading. It may be ‘puntastic’ and clever, but unsuspecting audiences could find themselves watching something rather different to their expectations. The original title is Komt een vrouw bij de dokter – roughly translated as ‘A woman goes to the doctor’. What she and her partner discover is that she has an aggressive tumour in her breast. Since this happens fairly early in the narrative, most of the film concerns the different reactions of the couple and how their relationship is affected by the developments.
The film was the biggest hit of the year in the Netherlands. It is based on a best-selling novel by ‘Kluun’ (partly based on his own experiences) and then adapted as a film by Reinout Oerlemans, who, as far as I can work out, is something like the Simon Cowell of Dutch TV. A former TV soap star he became an all-round TV presenter/personality with his own production company and one of the richest young men in the country (born 1971). The film stars Carice van Houten as Carmen and Barry Atsma as Stejn. Van Houten is arguably the biggest star in the Dutch industry and Atsma is an experienced performer, mostly on TV, with a six-pack that seems to be an important of his appeal. (I mention this because there are many nude scenes – for both actors.)
It should be apparent immediately that the film is potentially controversial as a high profile story with well-known celebrities in a Dutch context. The immediate question is whether the film will travel outside the Netherlands – not many Dutch films have attracted audiences in the UK. I won’t give away the main plot points although it’s fairly obvious which way things will go and of course the Dutch audience already knew the outcome. The important factors are that Carmine and Stejn are rich – very rich by most people’s standards. They meet when both are rising stars in the advertising industry and eventually Stejn and his business partner Frenk set up their own agency and the money pours in. By this point Carmen, despite her undoubted talents, is rather sidelined in the business and is bringing up the couple’s daughter. Stejn is hungry not only for wealth and power, but also for sexual excitement with other women, both in Amsterdam and on his trips abroad. This starts soon after the couple are married and continues after Carmen is diagnosed. As well as the nude scenes, the film also shows the effects of cancer treatment in fairly graphic (but very artfully ‘composed’) scenes. It is this mix of ingredients – a rich and spoiled man who many (me included) would love to smack in the face and an attractive young woman humiliated by medical treatment – which is likely to cause a fuss.
Anyone who reads the comments on IMDB knows how some Americans get very excited/agitated about the nude scenes in European films and this one will get them going. Variety‘s reviewer described the film as ‘like a TV movie’. It’s true that this kind of narrative material often does turn up on American TV – but not I think in treatments like this. Shot in CinemaScope with a very glossy look, the film certainly doesn’t look like its production budget was less than 4 million euros. The only way to describe the look of the film is ‘expensive’ (the couple go to a Pacific Island beach resort and the houses and offices are like monuments to the lifestyle of the modern Dutch haute bourgeoisie) and full of aerial and crane shots. I was very much reminded of J.G. Ballard and his novels of alienation in modern hi-tech cities. For me, dealing with this kind of lifestyle is a real struggle and although I found the film fascinating, I can’t say that I ‘enjoyed’ it.
The real issue is whether UK audiences will go for a story about a man who can’t reconcile his love for his sick wife with his desire for sex. Dutch viewers like this blogger seem to have gone for it in a big way. I’m glad I’ve seen it more because it offers a weird example of a male-centred melodrama focusing on a woman’s physical and emotional pain. Yes, I think it is a melodrama of sorts with its ‘excessive’ visual allure and some interesting fantasy sequences using digital effects. I think that my main problem is that although the film made me think about the issues (and indeed how a man deals with his sex drive when his partner is reduced to vomiting and weakened by radiation treatment is a real issue), I didn’t really learn much about these characters – there is very little ‘back story’ and we learn little about how they ended up rich and successful. Stejn has male friends as well as his ‘other women’ and they momentarily look like they might fill in the background, but this isn’t developed.
If you get the chance to see this on a big screen, it is certainly worth considering. Here is the UK trailer so that you can get a sense of the glossy look. Stejn’s ‘other woman’ is Roos played by Anna Drijver.
Posted in European Cinema, Melodrama | 3 Comments »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 25 April 2010
Ewan McGregor as the ghost writer
The Ghost (in the US The Ghost Writer) proves that it is still possible to produce grown-up mainstream films. Ewan McGregor can act (why does he take so many crap roles when he doesn’t need to?), Olivia Williams is electric and on a technical level this is the best-made film I’ve seen in a long time.
The most often quoted reference is North By Northwest and it’s not hard to see why. McGregor is no Cary Grant but he has a similar mix of naivete, charm and base cunning (though not enough in the end). The score by Alexandre Desplat is very Hitchcockian (Herrmannian?) and the photography by Pawel Edelman is particularly good. The script is terrific – especially delivered by performers of this standard directed by Polanski. I was surprised at just how witty the film was – I laughed more than in most so-called comedies.
The negative critics of this film are completely at sea. There is no point attacking the ‘seriousness’ of the plot. In a thriller like this, realism is not really an issue. The entertainment depends on the performances, camerawork, editing, music and design – and a director who knows what to do. I hope Martin Scorsese watches it and reflects on Shutter Island. A 4-2 win for Polanski I think.
Posted in British Cinema, European Cinema, French Cinema, German Cinema | 4 Comments »
Posted by Roy Stafford on 22 March 2010
Paul and Eusebio outside the farm.
Animal Heart played on DVD in one of the ‘satellite venues’ of the Bradford International Film Festival at the Playhouse in Ilkley, a theatre space used as a digital cinema by the Ilkley Film Society. Ilkley is a genteel small town in Yorkshire and I’m not sure what the audience made of this quite brutal story of rural marital strife – but I’m sure that they admired the quality of the filmmaking.
Camille Japy as Rosine
In many ways Animal Heart is a traditional and familiar story. Paul is a farmer in the high mountain country with a mixed livestock farm. He sends cow’s milk to the dairy and makes cheese from goat’s milk (or rather Rosine, his wife, makes cheese). He also has horses, pigs and chickens, but he treats most of his animals better than he treats Rosine. We read the signals early on that she is not well but he assumes that she is pregnant. Having a son seems his only concern. The necessary agent of change comes in the form of Eusebio, a Spanish farmworker who he hires for the summer. Thereafter the plot is not totally predictable. There isn’t a strong narrative. Instead, this is a film about the three characters and as such it works very well. The mountains are both majestic and inhospitable, the performances are very good (especially the farmer’s dog) and all the technical credits are excellent. The three lead actors are very experienced. I don’t mind watching films on DVD projection, but as one local film society member suggested, the film would have looked even better on a huge screen on film.
The director and co-writer is Séverine Cornamusaz and this is her first feature after training in New York and returning to Switzerland to make shorts. The film was financed by Swiss television and various public funds – including the French film agency, CNC, (it was made in the canton of Vaud in the French-speaking region of Switzerland). The script is based on the novel Rapport aux bêtes by Noëlle Revaz. I’m not sure if there is a generic hill farmer type across all of European literature but Paul did seem recognisable from other films – though perhaps not as extreme (he doesn’t seem to believe in medical care for humans and routinely uses the first-aid kit designed for animal welfare). Coeur Animal has won several prizes at festivals, but I don’t know of any plans to release it in the UK.
There is a high quality trailer here. This gives a sense of the locale and the shifting tones of the film, but also confuses a little and doesn’t show the brutality.
Posted in European Cinema, Festivals and Conferences, Films by women | 3 Comments »