I thought the year was less productive and interesting than 2013: however I had a lay-off of nearly two months and missed a number of new releases. The ones that really impressed me this year were:
Winter Sleep / Kis uykusa Turkey / France / Germany, 2014.
For me not just the best new film this year, but the best for several years. Nuri Bilge Ceylan and his team have produced a long, but richly complex film. One that reflects on the personal and the social. Despite comments by some critics this is a splendidly cinematic film.
Ida, Poland, Denmark / France / UK, 2013.
An absolute pleasure in black and white academy ratio. Director Pawel Pawlikowski and cinematographers Lukasz Zai and Ryszard Lenczewski have produced a visually stunning film. The cast are excellent. What also impressed me is that the film not only achieves the look 1960s Poland but also of the Polish cinema of the period.
The Patience Stone, France / Germany / UK / Afghanistan, 2012.
This film had one of the outstanding performances of the year from Golshifteh Farahani. The screenplay, from the director Ayiq Rahini’s own novel, by Jean-Claude Carriére suggests he is still the finest writer in European cinema.
Concerning Violence, Sweden / Denmark / Finland / US / Norway / Germany.
This was an outstanding documentary, which showed proper respect for the archive material that it used: something that many films do not. The structure and editing of the film by Göran Hugo Olsson and his team was exemplary. The treatment of the writings of Frantz Fanon was somewhat partial, the most serious failing in the film.
The Missing Picture, France / Kingdom of Cambodia, 2013.
This was another exceptional documentary though its politics were less fully developed than in Concerning Violence. Rithy Panh’s direction and design was powerfully evocative: and the use of models and dioramas gave the film a very distinctive form.
Set Fire to the Stars, UK.
A last minute addition: 2013 ended with a film about a sculptor, 2014 with one about a poet. Beautiful wide-screen black and white cinematography and a fine sound design and music score, (director Andy Godard, Cinematography Chris Seager, Music Gruff Rhys). It also rescues the poetry of Dylan Thomas from its rather facile treatment in Interstellar.
The 20th (and possibly the last) Bradford International Film Festival gave me the discovery of the year – a retrospective of the films of Japanese director Nomura Yoshitarō based on the writings of Kobayashi Mosahiro. I especially liked the 1958 Stakeout (Harikomi) with my favourite Takamine Hideko in a leading role.
The Festival also provided a welcome retrospective of British director Sally Potter.
The 28th Leeds International Film Festival provided the best UK retrospective of the year – five films by the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman in 35mm prints. Included were his masterpiece Persona (1966) and the equally fine Through a Glass Darkly / Såsom I en spegel, 1961.
The Festival also provided the most challenging screening of the year – an immaculate print from the Netherlands Film Museum of Max Ophuls’ 1936 The Trouble With Money. Unfortunately the print had no English subtitles: it says something for Ophuls skill as a director that I could follow most of the plot.
Il Cinema Ritrovato 28th edition offered a film that I have waited long to see in its full format. As part of The Golden 50s: India’s Endangered Classics the Festival screened, in a black and white 35mm CinemaScope print, Kaagaz Ke Phool / Paper Flowers, 1959. One of Guru Dutt’s memorable melodramas with very fine cinematography by V. K. Murthy and music by S. ED. Burman.
The Festival also screened the best digital restoration and screening I saw this year, a 4K version of John Ford’s classic My Darling Clementine, 1946. The ample Arlecchino cinema was packed for the occasion.
The best offering from the silent era was at [predictably] the 33rd Le Giornate del Cinema Muto – The Silent Comedies of Yakov Protazanov unfortunately listed as Russian Laughter rather than the correct Soviet Laughter. I especially enjoyed The Trial Concerning Three Million / Protsess o Trekh Millionakh, 1926.
The nadir of 2014 was February, which saw the release of The Wolf of Wall Street, US. I can understand it being the most plagiarised film of the year but found it unaccountable that it was in the Sight & Sound ‘top listings’. There have been recurring traces of misogyny in the films of Martin Scorsese and this seems to me to be the worse example.
Then it was joined by The Book Thief, US / UK, 2013. Markus Zusak’s novel is an exhilarating and formally audacious piece of writing. The film version reduced it to the worse sort of mainstream conventions.
Finally, notable centenaries. The Hyde Park Picture House passed one hundred years – November 1914. The team still manages a pretty varied programme of films and also we enjoy fairly frequent 35mm screenings.
And then this was the anniversary year of Charlie Chaplin, first appearing in February 1914. I saw a considerable number of Chaplin films during the year, the one I most enjoyed revisiting was Modern Times, 1936. The screening at the National Media Museum was enhanced by a clip from the delightful Cuban film For the First Time / Por primera vez, 1967.
The Leeds International Film Festival Short City included this opportunity for filmmakers working in ‘Gods Own County’. As you might expect the audience included a fair number of the filmmakers and their friends. Despite, or maybe because of their investment they were a very responsive audience.
The Man Who Thought a Hat Was His Wife was the winner of the Spotlight competition at Leeds City College of Art [films of five minutes or under]. The film was developed from a ‘true story’ involving ‘visual agnosia’. It is a film about bereavement. In this case emotionally loaded objects stand in for the lost one. The treatment offered a touch of surrealism. The style and detail were very effective as was the sense of the character’s feelings.
Cushy – 11 minutes. This was set in the Doncaster prison. The protagonist, Vernon, an inmate, talked the audience through his situation with a cocky and at times ‘in your face’ manner. But other currents were at work less obviously: the film leads up to a pair of visitors for the innate. The visit shed a rather different light on Vernon and hi situation. This is a powerful and very effective film: and on area, offending and imprisonment, that receive less attention.
The Devil on Each Shoulder - 18 minutes. This was a fairly bizarre tale. It included a sorry protagonist, the model devils of the title, and an oddball packaged box. The film was developed or inspired by a number from Velvet Underground. I never developed any sympathy with the characters, though I quite liked the devils: and the pixilation and puppetry were effective. However, the audience at the screening found the film fairly funny.
Children of the Holocaust – Suzanne’s story – 5 minutes. The film was funded by the BBC so it enjoyed quality resourcing. Suzanne’s story was of a child who, because of a brave neighbour, survived the Nazi round-up in Paris, whilst her parents did not. There have been a number of films that translate the memories of survivors into visual images. This film was extremely effective. The animation was finely done and treated the story with an absence of despair.
Hunting for Hockney – 3 minutes. The film is as the title, seeking out David Hockney’s Yorkshire home, though the context is recent bereavement. The animation is excellent and captures the colours and style that is found in much of the painters work.
Scrap – 17 minutes. Set in a scrap yard with a protagonist wearing a cardboard box on his [?] head. The film was clearly offering comment on the contemporary world. But the surreal treatment did not work for me. And I also found the film rather repetitive, though that is part of the treatment.
Rare – 14 minutes. The film was about teenage affections and misunderstandings. The young performers were effective as was the use of settings and changes, semi-rural West Yorkshire. I thought some of the style overplayed effects, especially with some of the soundtrack. The film makes a point about relationships which is credible, as is the treatment of teen situations.
The Last Smallholder – 9 minutes. The last of small farms raising livestock owned and run by Carson Lee. His character seems to embody familiar Yorkshire characteristics. The film shows a warm interest in his work and situation. And the filming of his livestock and acreage was very effective.
Don’t Forget Your Hat – 15 minutes. A tale, set to ‘On Ilkla Moor Baht’, of a rambler who encounters more than he expected. The situation soon became recognisable as was also the likely outcome. But the story was told in a stylish manner with lots of effective detail and edits. The film is fairly sardonic, a nice note to end the programme.
We then had a presentation with the Competition Jury. They selected Cushy as the winner, a worthy choice, and the film was also the Audience Choice. There was also a Special Mention for Rare. I thought there were three possible contenders that stood out, but this film did include stand-out performance by a young tyro.
More from Short City at the Leeds International Film Festival. This selection featured another six films from in and near Europe. The length, style and content all varied considerably, though they all offered a dramatic situation.
Last Base (Norway 2014 – 15 minutes). The film featured ‘base-jumping’, jumping off high buildings and places, with some sort of wings to enable gliding. The film opened with an unsuccessful base-jump – wack. The main narrative featured Joachim and Ǿywind climbing Mount Katthammeren to spread the ashes of the departed Roger and honour him one last time. The whole expedition seemed extremely hazardous – they crossed a steep snow slope on foot, a place where I would definitely have used an ice axe. At the summit we watch as the two friends weigh the options to honour Roger’s memory. Well photographed, the landscape is impressive. The friends differencing responses are well explored, and there are two exhilarating moments.
Kapi (Turkey, 2014 – three minutes). This is set on an underground station as characters, partly defined by ethnicity, board and exit a train. The film has a strong sense of atmosphere and is clearly allegorical. I thought maybe it was too compressed but a friend judged it finely done.
Birthday Present (Israel, Austria, 2014 – 23 minutes). Set in Jerusalem the film follows an evening with an Israeli student and a visiting Austrian tourist. It is the eve of his birthday, she leaves next day. They make love, but also wander the city. Their excursion is partly fuelled by his wish/fear that she take a ‘morning after pill’. The character and sense of place is well done. There is a delightful sequence in a late-night pharmacy when the girl converses with the female assistant in French, whilst he stands by uncomprehending. The conversation ends with a smile between the two women, the best moment in very well made film.
Lothar (Switzerland, 2013 – 13 minutes). This was my favourite in a strong programme. The film has a very effective title sequence – Lothar’s birth. A cut brings us to the present where Lothar has locked himself away in a room that resembles a set from Brazil – the parallel is deliberate, this is dystopian fiction. The main prop is a stylish toaster – though the room is filled with suggestive stacks of everyday necessities. Later we see Lothar leave his room for the outside world. This is an apocalyptic tale, but vey witty rather than downbeat and grim.
Bye Bye Melancholy (Bye Bye Mělancolie, France, 2014 – 22 minutes). Set on a Bastille Day in a fairly remote Service Station, we meet Morad. First we see him converse with an ex-girlfriend and then later at night he meets Emma, who drives an ambulance. The film is very much about relationships, loss and recovery. It gave me particular pleasure because it was the first short film to feature and effective canine part: and unlike some films the dog is not forgotten at the end.
The Dancing (Belgium, 2014 – 16 minutes). This is a well staged film, with effective use of music and absence of dialogue. It clearly relates to a classic text like The Bacchae, However, it did not really engage me: I think it was too drawn out; it needed a much quicker pace.
This was a very good programme of films overall. They all enjoyed high production values and generally offered well structured narratives. And they mainly offered the virtues of short filmmaking, inverted, subverted or character led dramas.
One of many retrospectives at LFF 28 featured the work of Álex de la Inglesia in the Fanomenon strand – the wide-ranging genre/’cult’ section of the festival. Ferpect Crime is one of de la Inglesia’s most commercial films with nearly 2 million admissions across Europe – but not in the UK. Although UK distribution was available for some of the director’s early art films such as Acción mutante (1993) the later films have generally not been picked up and especially not a black comedy like Ferpect Crime. (The more recent Balada triste de trompeta (The Last Circus, Spain/France 2010) was reviewed on this blog when it appeared at the Viva Festival at Cornerhouse in Manchester.) ‘Popular comedies’ from other European countries are supposedly the most difficult sell in the UK and distributors simply won’t go there – unless it is Almodóvar. This means that often the biggest hits in Germany, Italy, Spain and even France simply aren’t seen in the UK. It seems that a DVD from a relatively obscure UK company, TLA Releasing (the UK arm of an American company specialising in LGBT and global horror) is available and LFF used this for projection. It didn’t look at all bad.
Ferpect Crime is not that dissimilar to some of Almodóvar’s films from the 1980s, but arguably less complex/surprising. However, it’s very difficult to define precisely why one is ‘art’ and the other is ‘popular’. I should also say that while Almodóvar has depicted all forms of sexuality, often outrageously, he’s never in my view been ‘sexist’. De la Inglesia, based just on the two films I’ve seen, does seem to stray a bit closer to the edge, even if the representations are exaggerated in order to drive a form of social critique.
The plot outline sees Rafael as a super-successful salesman in a Madrid department store. He employs mainly beautiful women as sales assistants on his territory (women’s fashions). They all appear to love him and he spends his nights seducing them one by one in the store after it closes, bribing the security guard. The store is his life – until everything goes wrong and he accidentally kills his rival who runs the men’s department. Miraculously his problems are solved by the one woman who he has never noticed – the plain woman who desires him and who now has power over him. How is he going to get out of this mess?
I confess that I enjoyed the film and certainly laughed out loud at several of the scenes. I suspect as with many Spanish films, that I might have missed some cultural references and I did wince at some of the sexist moments. But I took the film overall to be a comedy about gender roles and a critique about consumerism and reality TV. I’ll file it next to several other popular Spanish films that have failed to get into UK cinemas but which have generally been very entertaining.