Fake Tattoos (Les Faux Tatouages, Canada 2017)

Mag plays for Théo

After starting to watch five features and completing three I was a little disappointed with ‘My French Film Festival’. The three films I watched all the way through were OK, but not really ‘special’. I’m glad I was able to see them but I doubt that they will open in the UK. Fake Tattoos was my last film before the festival closed and at first sight I didn’t expect much. But it was wonderful! A sweet romance between two young people that came across as ‘real’ without any form of contrivance or genre pressures: I loved this film.

Les Faux Tatouages is a Canadian feature, another Québécois treasure to add to those breakout films by Denis Villeneuve, Xavier Dolan, Philippe Falardeau etc. a few years ago. (I noted that a couple of the actors in the film had also appeared in Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar (Canada 2011).) I’m not sure why Les Faux Tatouages is in a French Film Festival as it seems to be a 100% Canadian production, but it is a French language film (and it’s presented in 1.66:1).

The film opens with dialogue over a black screen. Only towards the end of the film will we realise what this dialogue might refer to. When the first images appear we are in an off-licence where Théo (Anthony Therrien) is buying beers on his 18th birthday. Downing them quickly round the corner he joins the crowds heading for a concert. Afterwards, in a late night café, he’s chatted up by Mag (Rose-Marie Perreault) who admires his fake but well-drawn tattoo. Théo is at first reluctant to respond to her advances but Mag is persistent and they end up back at her house. In the morning, Théo is uncomfortable meeting Mag’s mum and her little sister. Will he try to build a relationship? He’s 18, she’s 19. They seem well matched but there is a darkness about Théo (whose only colour choice appears to be black).

You can probably work out some music culture pointers from this still.

What follows is a slowly developing relationship which is totally convincing. The dialogue is beautifully written and feels ad-libbed. The two young actors had some previous experience, but mainly this is a first cinematic feature for writer-director Pascal Plante and many of the other cast and crew members had only limited experience. The film is not fast-paced. Plante and his cinematographer are quite prepared to let scenes run and Théo pauses before he speaks. The two young people both play the guitar to each other and music is a shared passion for them, though they like different types of music. (I’m not competent to discuss the selections in the film but my guess is that these are authentic music fans.) Accepting each other’s tastes is an important part of building their relationship. This isn’t a genre film as such so there are no rom-com like narrative devices and no real climax to the narrative. This kind of film just creates a glow of pleasure for me. In a way I want it to end (in the way this one does) so that I can really enjoy basking in its affects. It’s a relatively short film at under 90 minutes.

Is that for fun or school?, he asks (non-judgementally). It’s good to see Salinger is still something worth reading.

I said that we do find out about the mysterious dialogue at the beginning – or at least we are shown a scene which the dialogue probably refers to. It explains something about Théo’s behaviour and why he has to do what he has to do. But in keeping with the rest of the narrative it is something important but not necessarily terminal for his relationship with Mag. The other aspect of the film that is thankfully not concerned with genre is the fact that most of the characters we meet are ‘nice people’. Both Théo and Mag are with their mothers as single parents and both have sisters – Théo’s is older and takes him out for a drink. Mag’s is much younger and playing with her brings out Théo’s artistic and caring nature. He wants to become a tattoo artist and the possibility is one of the few conventional ‘drivers’ of the narrative.

Both the leads in the film are attractive but not conventionally so. They play their roles very well and I was happy to spend time with them. Fake Tattoos was well received at Berlin in the 14+ section of the festival and at other international festivals. As one of the IMDB reviews suggest, this is just the kind of film that should do well on VOD platforms. So please do a search across whatever streaming platforms you use and try to track this down. And look out for more from Pascal Plante.

Do Right and Fear No One (Tue recht und scheue niemand, Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1975)


The catalogue described the film thus:

A portrait of a woman’s life between 1915 and 1975, in Jutta Brücker’s documentary, her mother looks back at the 60 years of her life . . .

In fact, I felt that this was only part of the film and most notable in the early stage. This in part due to the style and content that is used,

An ingenious collage of picture and sound accompanies the mother’s narrative, a tapestry of proverbs [as in the title], pop songs, marching music , and the noise of war.

Jutta’s mother provides much of the narration, some of it personal some of it commentary on the incidents displayed. The picture that emerges if a complex interaction between one life and the broader social canvas.

This is less a criticism that noting how the film works. The key element are family photographs together with 100s of photographs taken by August Sander between 1901 and the 1940s; and more recent photographs by other artists. This is effectively a montage as is the soundtrack. Black and white photographs, when handled effe3ctively, are powerfully resonant of their subjects.

The film does generate a sense of the mother’s milieu, lower-middle class, but at the same time takes in other classes and situations, both of the bourgeoisie and of the proletariat. As the Brochure adds,

references that transcend the personal.

The photographs are well chosen, Sander has become a famous artist in more recent years. The sixty years of the film, [presented in 62 minutes], contain some of the most dramatic and tragic events in modern German history. And the series develops a real sense of the times and the people involved.


Jutta Brückner was there to introduce her film. Her project was decided before she was able to develop an effective form. There were only limited photographs from her family. The discovery of Sander’s photographs enabled her to broaden the narrative into the social and historical area. She remarked that when she made the film Sander was not well known. This meant that she was able to acquire access to the photographs at a low rate. She reckoned now that he has an international reputation the photographs would be beyond any likely budget.

The film was shot on 16mm and in black and white academy. So there is little reframing of the photographs. We watched a digital version restored by Deutsche Kinemathek in 2016. Like most of the digital versions at the Festival it looked fine. Note, IMDB has another German film with the same title from 1976, but with little detail.

The main feature was preceded by a 16mm black and white short documentary, The Father (Der Fater, 1986). [The change in formats was something that the projection team handled with aplomb]. This was a compilation of films shot by the director’s father who was doctor based in Shanghai in the 1930s. The home movies also included Egypt and India. The film was intercut by colour film shot by the director, Christine Noll Brinkmann. I did not find these particularly revealing though the aim was,

to make the father’s footage speak, so it would reveal its meaning to the daughter


But the footage of Europeans benefiting from a colonial situation was interesting.

Netflix and Roma – the repercussions mount

Screen International reports that Tim Richards, CEO of Vue International has written to BAFTA threatening to withdraw support for the industry body if it doesn’t change its eligibility rules re films ‘made for television’. With the prospect of more possible awards for Roma at the Oscars, Vue could be just the first of the major exhibitors to make this kind of threat.

In the UK, Netflix signed an exclusive deal with Curzon to show Roma only in Curzon cinemas in a controlled manner aligned with the film’s launch on Netflix. In the event, Curzon did later allow a handful of independent cinemas a limited number of showings in the UK and Ireland. Even so, as Screen International expressed it, this ‘Curzon ecology’ represents only 0.9% of the UK and Ireland market. The major cinema chains might expect to see a reasonable amount of extra box office from a film that wins a BAFTA. Roma won four BAFTAs including Best Picture.

Vue International operates 215 cinema sites across Europe (with 1 in Taiwan). These are nearly all multiplexes and Vue offers over 1,900 screens in total. Its main business is in the UK and Ireland with 864 screens on 90 sites. As an operation, its cinema business is similar to its two larger UK rivals, Odeon (AMC) and Cineworld.

Odeon operates 360 sites in Europe with over 2,900 screens. Its parent company AMC is the world’s largest cinema exhibitor with nearly 1,000 sites worldwide and nearly 11,000 screens on offer (the majority in North America).

Cineworld currently operates 9,548 screens across 793 sites in the US, UK, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Israel.

It’s worth reflecting on a number of other similar issues arising from film exhibition/distribution disputes in the last few years. In October 2018 Vue in the UK also had a dispute with Warner Brothers, distributors of A Star is Born. This was said to be about ‘booking conditions’ and was relatively quickly resolved but even so, Vue would have lost the business of the first couple of weeks of a major release. We’ve also seen similar disputes between Disney and Odeon. In 2016 a different dispute saw Tarantino’s film The Hateful 8 get some exclusive screenings in 70mm as stipulated by the director. As a result Cineworld boycotted the film. (See Keith’s review of the film at an independent in Barnsley.)

The issue that underpins all of these disputes has two separate parts. First, modern film exhibition assumes that any film can be shown in any cinema on its first release (what was once called ‘first run’). This is assumed as part of the concept of the multiplex. This wasn’t always the case. In the UK the ‘duopoly’ of Odeon and ABC assumed up until the 1980s that Hollywood films appeared on one circuit or the other except in places where there wasn’t a local competition. Second, the exhibition sector works on the basis of a set ‘window’ during which a film on a cinema release cannot be shown on any other ‘platform’. This window is being gradually closed. It was once two or three years, now it is commonly 14 weeks or less. Netflix wishes to abolish the window completely and this caused the latest problem with Vue. On BBC Radio 4 last night, Tim Richards implied that they could have screened Roma but to do so would have undermined the concept of the window and he wasn’t prepared to do that.

There is a third issue that relates to the above and we saw this a few years ago, again with Curzon at the centre of the dispute. This is the issue of ‘barring’ which was banned in the UK by the regulatory authorities in the pre-multiplex era but occasionally threatens to re-emerge in the specialised cinema sector. When Curzon opened a cinema in Sheffield, it refused to release a film which it was distributing under its own distribution arm to the long-standing specialised cinema in the city, The Showroom. Curzon is now in a powerful ‘gate-keeping’ position as the major distributor of arthouse films in the UK with the a significant number of West End screens. It also has its own streaming service, allowing it to release both in cinemas and online on the same day – making it a good match for Netflix. Curzon’s actions must have an impact of some kind on both Picturehouses (now part of Cineworld) and Everyman. The latter is the fastest growing of the smaller chains at the moment and seems to have focused mainly on comfort and good rather than programming to drive its commercial offer to middle-class audiences. Picturehouses has its own distribution business but doesn’t seem to have responded to Curzon with a joint theatre-online exhibition offer.

On this blog, Nick has emerged as a Netflix fan, or at least a prolific viewer. I think Rona and Des both use Netflix but I suspect Keith is not interested. I’m trying to resist Netflix as well. Having subscribed to MUBI I now have more films to watch than I can handle. I’m trying to judge whether subscribing online is making me less likely to go to the cinema – or whether the poor local offer of foreign language titles and other specialised films is pushing me towards that Apple TV box winking at me from below the TV.

The Operative (Germany- Israel-US-France 2019)

This was the title that I saw at the Kino International. This is one of the venues in the Berlinale, but it has a cachet of its own. It opened as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik ‘s prestige cinema in 1963. It has a spacious auditorium seating 551. The cinema is equipped with projection for 35mm, 70mm and 4K digital with Dolby Digital sound. It is an impressive building. The façade of the building carries especially designed sculptures of ‘every day socialist life’. One enters the sloping auditorium through extremely large oak panelled doors. Impressive drapes draw back to reveal the large screen, 17 by 9.2 metres. The title of the screening, part of the Berlinale Competition programme, was less impressive than the venue. An example of a sub-le Carré spy thriller. In fact several aspects of the plot reminded me of le Carré’s work and there was also a strong resemblance in the plot to the 2001 Spy Game (US).

Rachel (Diane Kruger – this is not the character’s real name) is a linguist looking for something out the ordinary. She is recruited by Thomas (Martin Freeman) as an operative for the Israeli Mossad. Because of her particular talents Rachel is assigned to Tehran undercover as an English teacher. The actual project is to sabotage the Iranian nuclear programme. Once embedded Rachel is given the target of a business man whose firm is involved in the nuclear programme. This is Farhad (Cas Anvar). But the headstrong Rachel goes beyond her brief and starts a sexual relationship with Farhad. When the full extent of Mossad’s plans dawn on Rachel she goes AWOL.

The film opens as Thomas receives a cryptic phone call: a coded message from Rachel signalling panic. Thomas is called in to a Mossad agency office in Austria. The story is told in a series of flashbacks as he is debriefed. These bring us up to the dénouement of the film.

The film is adapted from a novel by Yiftah Reicher Atir. He worked in the Israeli secret services so one assumes that the trade craft in the story is relatively accurate. However, the plotting in the script is increasingly implausible. At one point Rachel is involved by Mossad in an illegal border crossing. This does not make sense in terms of the project on which she is working. What it does serve is to colour her motivation and her actions at the climax of the movie.

The discussions in the Mossad office seem conventionally accurate as do the secret service operatives. Thomas though seems an odd recruit to the agency. When we arrive in Tehran the city scenes are alright but the character of the Iranians seems more in line with Western stereotypes than more realistic representation in film from Iran. What is more interesting is the representation of Mossad. These are not the conventional idealists protecting an embattled community from terrorism. They are exactly like the secret services of the western imperialists; brutal, violent, amoral and retaining their humanity solely for their fellow Israelis. This is where the film’s representation comes closer to le Carré.

Kruger and Freeman are both good in their parts, and the supporting actors are generally convincing. The production values of the film are good. The excellent cinematography by Kolja Brandt and both the editing by Hansjörg Weißbrich and the Production Design by Yoel Herzberg are well done. The title offers English, German, Hebrew and Farsi dialogue; there are English subtitles but at some points another character translates lines of dialogue. The film is both scripted and directed by Yoel Herzberg so I think he bears the main responsibility for both the weaknesses and the strengths of this movie.

It is clearly a mainstream genre production. So I would expect a proper British release for the title. In the International projection and sound systems the film looked and sounded good. It probably stands up enough to watch at a theatre.

The Bicycle (Das Fahrrad, Deutsche Demokratische Republik 1982)

This East German film offers what seems to be a frank and fairly realistic portrait of a working class woman. The protagonist is Susanne (Hiedemarie Schneider) divorced and caring for a young son. When we meet her she is working as a punch press operator; repetitious work in a dingy factory. Outside of work she cares for her son. Her main leisure activity appears to be drinking in a bar with her friend and dancing in its disco. Susanne and her friends are all marginalised people. They are in part outsiders in this society and far from the ‘all-round developed person’ which is the officially approved stereotype.

The film opens as Susanne leaves her apartment to take her son to the nursery on the titular red bicycle. The son’s bright yellow jackets stands out in the grey rush hour traffic. But when the rain starts they are splashed and then drenched by other traffic.

A the nursery Susanne is overdue with the money for her son’s lunches. It is clear that Susanne’s lives on the edge of penury, just about balancing her income and expenditure. Something of a ‘free spirit’, when she packs in her boring job her finances come apart. A friend explains how she can make some ‘illegitimate’ money; an escapade that comes back to haunt her later.

There is an interesting sequence when Susanna enters a factory celebration. The main hall is full of smartly dressed people and Susanne in her everyday wear stands out. This partly explains how she catches the eye of Thomas (Roman Kominski) a rising young engineer; endlessly congratulated at the social on being promoted to management. Susanne continues to her usual haunt, a bar beneath the hall, with lurid lighting and far less sedate music. It is like ‘hell’ beneath the official ‘socialist ‘heaven’ above. Thomas follows her. Thus starts a hesitant relationship which will finally lead to their becoming partners for a period.

The film catches the different aspects of working class life really well. Susanne’s apartment lies alongside an older woman, ‘granny’. Neither is especially integrated into the society of these buildings and they help and support each other. Susanne and her son have a strong relationship as well. Susanne’s regular bar is a marginal site, lacking all the prized virtues ascribed to the working class in a supposedly workers’ state.

Thomas’s work as a manager, including dealing with the ordinary workers, is closer to this. However, he is frustrated by the out-of-date techniques and management. This is a recurring sense in all the East German films; they are decades behind the western style seen in West Berlin; in factories, in streets, in homes and in social centres.

Susanne’s relationship leads to her obtaining a job in the factory managed by Thomas. But her scam now threatens both the relationship and her job. This segment of the film is interesting in terms of East German employment practice. Susanne works with a female group who are split in their sympathies when they learn of her earlier action. However, factory rules include ‘conflict resolution committees’ where Susanna’s fellow workers have an input. It seems that this mechanism will save her from the law.

The relationship with Thomas however does not survive this episode. And it is Susanne, ‘self-determining’, who makes the break. At the end she seems more confident in herself and her economic situation has improved. Her relationship with her son, finely represented in key scenes, remains positive and rewarding.

The film was shot in colour and widescreen by Roland Dressel and was scripted by Ernst Wenig. The film’s style is conventional but the use of locations offers a real sense of the environment. The editing takes us forward in a mainly linear fashion. There are two dream sequences when we get a sense of Susanne’s emotional state; she does become desperate at one point. The cast is convincing and Schneider, dominating the narrative, is excellent. She is at times refreshingly forthright but also capable of generating a sense of strong emotion.

The East German film system, like the western mainstream, preferred conventional characters.

Dismissed by critics and the studio heads as “confusing” and “flawed . . . ” (Retrospective Brochure).

The director Evelyn Schmidt was there to introduce the film. Because of the disfavour the film was refused invitations to International Festivals. [It was screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in a retrospective in 2005]. In East Germany itself it was only screened for a few days. The problems included

showing the working class divided

In other words an accurate depiction of the disguised class structure in the state. It also affected Schmidt’s career. She made only seven features, three of them scripted by herself, including The Bicycle. And for much of the time she was reduced to working as an assistant director. She also gave us an enigmatic comment,

watch for when the colour red is taken out.

I did not actually spot this exactly but I think it was during the deterioration of the relationship between Susanne and Thomas. However, I was aware of red as a sign. The colour is prominent in the lower bar when Susanne and her friends relax. Whereas the staid social, like the factory spaces, has only an occasional red. There are a lot of exterior sequences which have a lively colour palette. As with ‘red’ the colour contrast contributes to the film’s representation. The bright yellow jacket and red bicycle are followed later by the drab, grey factory interior. When Susanne gets a new job later she works with a group of women in a workshop full of light from large windows. At another point we see Susanne in a cramped grey telephone box talking to her brusque ex-husband. But later, in a park with her son, the image is all sunshine with bright blues and greens. The grey alienation of East Germany was presumably registered by her censors. Unlikely to be easily available but definitely a film to see.

Get Cracking (UK 1943)

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George Formby always has the last laugh

George Formby was the top box office star in the UK every year between 1938 and 1944 – an unequalled achievement and, I was surprised to see, Get Cracking stood up very well to viewing beyond nostalgia. The plots of his films were mere vehicles for Formby’s brand of gormless humour where it always ‘turns out nice again’ – his catchphrase. In fact he starts Get Cracking with it, a testimony to how well known he’d become. It’s no stretch to say that Get Cracking has avant garde elements with several minutes at the start featuring a voiceover that, he says, is reading the script and has a conversation with George.

Formby, and massive ’30s star Gracie Fields, both had working class backgrounds and were from Lancashire. No doubt they were seen as fresh in comparison with the Received Pronunciation that infected much of British cinema at the time. There are plenty of regional accents on show though George’s love interest, played by Dinah Sheridan, has unnerving cut glass pronunciation.

Much of the humour, derived from Music Hall, consists of slapstick and daft line, that never fail to tickle me, delivered absolutely straight:

“He has to be on guard on Thursday to stop the Germans if they invade.”
‘What! On his own?”
“No there’ll be six of us.”

Irene Handl (uncredited) is great as a character that’s even more dim than George. The sexual politics of the film isn’t too bad: Vera Frances, a child actor who made her last film in 1948 and is still with us, plays a teenage Cockney evacuee who works in George’s garage and she’s one of the brightest characters in the film.

No doubt people needed cheering up in 1943; as we still do in the UK now.

Under the Skin (Mit Haur und Haaar, Deutschland 1999)

This was one of the documentaries in the Berlinale Retrospective and one of the outstanding films.

“Six women born between 1907 and 1925 look back at “their” century. The directors use a series of sophisticated questions to draw out the experiences of their subjects. …

The montage of their many voices and memories produces a tightly-woven oral history, in which constants specific to women and individual experiences have equal prominence.”(Retrospective Brochure).

The film is organized partly chronologically and partly thematically. The most frequent sequence is a series of the women talking about a common topic. The film casually cuts from one woman to another, but at time we view a tightly packed and fast montage of clips of comments. These sequences are interspersed between shots of extremely large close-ups of the women’s skin, hair, hands and bodies. Most of the music, here a solo piano, accompanies these latter shots. The texture of the skin and hair is beautifully lit and photographed; a series of human tapestries.

The women are filmed mostly in mid-shot or close-up, either head-on or at a slight angle. Late in the film we see four of the women in a wide shot with brief biographical details. Two of the women are not identified, presumably at their request.

The voices are addressed direct to camera. Occasionally we hear part of the questions. And towards the end there is over-lapping sound which runs into the intervening shots of skin. The war years and the Nazi regime receive particular attention. Most of the film consists of shots of the women or the close-ups of them; however, the Nazi period is illustrated by a series of black and white stills. As the Brochure notes point out:

“World War II represents a decisive point in the lives of these women, one of whom was a member of the Nazi party and another of whom joined the Social Democrats after the war.””

Another worked in ceramics; one was an actress, she is the most bubbly of the characters. One lost a husband during the war.

The directors were Crescentia Dünßer, who has been acting in films since 2002, and Martina Döcker; this was their first feature. The documentary was made for television but shot on 35mm in black and white standard widescreen. The luminous cinematography was by Sophie Maintigneux and the complex editing by Jens Klūber with sound by Daniel de Oliveira. We were fortunate in viewing a fine 35mm print which showed off the effect the luminous images of the women’s bodies.

The All-round Reduced Personality – Redupers (Die allseitig reduzierte Persönlichkeit – Redupers, Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1978)


This film hovers between fiction and documentary with the director Helke Sander playing a created part but setting the action in Berlin locations and with actual practitioners as well as actors.

Edda Chiemnyjewski is 34, a divorced mother who works as a press photographer and takes care of her clingy, school-age daughter. [Dorothea – Andrea Malkowsky] – (Retrospective Brochure).

Edda is working in a collective preparing a funded project for posters of the city. We see her with other photographers and with agents of the city. As well she has her work as a press photographer. We see her pitching to a newspaper editor. And we see her in her flat where she has a makeshift lab for processing.

[This] essayistic narrative film is an ironic and clever depiction from a feminist perspective of the universal dilemma of a working woman whose fragmented life leads her to feel like anything but what in East German jargon was called “an all-round developed person”.

The latter point is emphasised as the collective have a particular project set on the wall that ‘protects’ the East from the West of the city.

Sander is excellent as the photographer-cum-mother. The other characters are not that developed but they combine to create a sense of authenticity as does the fine location filming. The minutiae of photographic work and domestic work is one of the ways that the film catches the interest and creates the sense of watching people go about their actual lives.

The narration takes us in and out of Edda’s home life and her work round the city. The latter enjoys frequent tracking shots that both offer a sense of the faces of the city and the perambulations of the photographers. The fine black and white cinematography was by Katia Forbert. Whilst the editing by Esther Dayan and Ursula Höf takes in both the physical context and layout and the important detail of action. The collective projected rendering of the East, whilst unsuccessful, reminds us of the divisions; stark in this period of the early seventies.


The episodic nature of the narration is reinforced  quotations in titles. Most frequently these are from the works of Christa Wolf. Wolf was an important East German writer and activist. She was a member of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. The use of her ‘voice’ aligns both with the feminist critique and the presence in the film of the East and ‘the wall’. Some critics have suggested a metaphoric parallel between the divided city and the divided sexes.

Sander studied film at Deutsche Film-und Fernsehakademie in Berlin (Berlin Film and Television Academy). This title was her first full-length film. She has continued to make films right up to the present. As well as a film-maker Sander is noted as an educator and activist. Helke Sander was present to introduce the film. We were given some of her background. And she explained the significance of the film’s title. She emphasised the import in the film of the divided city, yet ‘neither East nor West’.

We enjoyed the film in a black and white 35mm print. I was completely absorbed by the 98 minutes of the title. There was the sense of the city, of the life of a particular character and situation, and the intriguing detail of her practical work. This was, for me, one of the really impressive productions in the programme.