Friday 16 March 2012

[readwritertreat] Re: Look back at movie going

I am now two years into my new relationship with Borderlines Film Festival - no longer just an enthusiastic film goer - now a guest blogger who needs to pay a different kind of attention to what she is seeing on the screen.  This new role has enriched my experience of  Borderlines and made me more aware, not just of which films I would like to see, but also how hard the organisers work to make it happen.  It is quite a feat to bring new and also less widely shown films to every corner of Herefordshire and Shropshire during an almost three week jamboree of cinema.   Based at The Courtyard Theatre in Hereford, films are shown in remote village halls along the Welsh Borders where this year the locally filmed Resistance was a particular hit.

As a blogger I have also attempted to capture some of the atmosphere of the festival.  The enthusiastic drinkers and diners, the garrulous audience members sharing their impressions and the friendly volunteer staff reminding us to hand in our post-film feedback!  

To show my serious intent, I even signed up to be a friend of the Courtyard this year.   

Thursday 8 March 2012

Images from the second weekend of the festival

The highlight of the second weekend for me, was the screening of Mother and Child which proved to be moving and very believable. A film on the subject of adoption, loss and dealing with separation could so easily have been sentimental and maudlin.  Annette Bening was outstanding in the role of a woman forced to give up her child for adoption at the age of fourteen and who has closed herself down emotionally in order to live with the pain of separation.
Earlier in the day, we were among a very small audience in the large Courtyard theatre to see A Useful Life which I am afraid was too "Art House" for both of us.  Filmed in underlit black and white and featuring long sequences in real time, it was not surprising that several audience members took a short nap.   The story of an unconfident cinema projectionist who finds he must leave the fantasy life of film to fulfil a fantasy in his own life was charming, but the slow pace and the indistinct images made it tiring to watch.
Sunday brought the cancellation of Las Acacias which meant exchanging our tickets for the screening of W.E. and filling in two empty hours reading Sunday papers and drinking tea. We found Madonna's film disjointed, disappointing and self-indulgent.  In short, we learned nothing new about Wallace Simpson while her modern day fan Wally brought no fresh perspectives to such a well-known story.
Reeling from the Studio at 7.59pm and into the theatre at 8.0pm to see Miss Bala we were assaulted by a fearsome plot centering on drug gangs in Mexico and the callous treatment of anybody who comes into their orbit.   Laura seeks help to find the friend with whom she is entering a beauty pageant, only to be captured and used by one of the gang leaders. The film showed the brutality and lack of concern for human life that is rife in Mexico, but it was a painful experience and we came out wishing that there had been a measure of light relief to make the film more bearable.
After 10pm we went out into the car park where my friend found she had been fined £40 for neglecting to buy a second ticket after 6pm.   This was the final straw as far as she was concerned. These photos are from her camera.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Versions of the past

After Resistance and The Well Digger's Daughter the second pair of films I saw were My week with Marilyn and The Artist.
Both of these films gave us a view of the past which allowed a glimpse behind the scenes on a film set. In the case of My week with Marilyn the action took place during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl and with The Artist we were treated to a gentle melodrama based on the period when Hollywood was going through its transformation from silent movies to the talkies. Twentieth century film history received very different treatment in each of these films and I felt it was more successful in The Artist where well known actors were not being portrayed but stars of the silent screen were merely evoked.

The Artist also had the unbeatable presence of Uggy the Jack Russell to appeal to the Courtyard audience who could be heard muttering to one another as they came down the steps "I really liked the dog".

Quite unintentionally, most of the films I chose to see this season were made in the twenty first century while being set in the past, The Last Waltz was an exception as it was made in 1978 and for that reason seemed more authentic. Seeing Bob Dylan and Van Morrison looking so much younger was a treat. It also made those of us who could remember that decade feel a genuine nostalgia. Comments on leaving the Studio were full of lively memories of concerts and gigs from long ago!

A week at the Courtyard

Images from my week at the Courtyard.


Saturday 3 March 2012

How to end a movie

Compare and contrast: ‘A Separation’ and ‘The Well Digger’s Daughter’. Two more contrasting films it would be difficult to imagine. Iranian social realism v French romantic nostalgia. True grit or soft focus. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both. I emerged from A Separation physically and emotionally drained; I came out of The Well Digger’s Daughter with a smile on my lips and a rosy glow on my cheeks. They are both good films and A Separation is possibly a great one. In the informal post screening debates (one of the best bits of Borderlines) there were some who said that WDD was ‘too romantic’. This is a bit like saying that grass is too green or that Ronseal does what it says on the tin. Of course it’s too romantic. It’s French! It’s romantic! What did you expect?
Where WDD may have missed a trick was in the ending, where they could have added an element of sad wistfulness without ditching any of the romanticism. WDD has now finished its run so I think I can reveal that the opportunity missed was the rather risible return of the war hero, dapper and unlined, having survived crashing his aircraft in flames behind enemy lines. In the risibility stakes, this is admittedly pretty poor fare. The moment in ‘Downton Abbey’ where the war hero leaps athletically from his wheelchair when his feeble fiancĂ©e is unable to carry the weight of a tea tray – now that’s what I call risibility. You could win a BAFTA with that.
So WDD may score modestly, risibility wise, but the fact remains that the film was just coming to a satisfactory end, with the reconciliation of divided families and fathers and daughters, when the hero returns to tie up loose ends and ensure that everyone lives happily ever after. Leave the lad in some foreign field that is forever Provence I say. The End. Fin. It’s a wrap.
Take a lesson from A Separation. No romance here, or easy answers, or you could argue no answers at all. But they knew how to end the film. It won’t spoil the film to tell you that there is a heartbreaking choice to be made at the end. After two hours of ambiguity, I (as the man in seat D5) wanted to know the answer. The movie director in me (as if) was screaming ‘end the film NOW!’ And right on queue, the credits rolled……

Friday 2 March 2012

Melanie Walters at Resistance show, Dilwyn


Melanie Walters with Flicks in the Sticks promoter, John Gerrish, at interval of packed out Resistance show at Dilwyn Cedar Hall. Interestingly we did the Q&A halfway through the film (which had left Andrea Riseborough in mid-sentence). Melanie had had to turn down preview screenings in London and New York so her first viewing of the film was in a village hall in Herefordshire. Damn, forgot to get omelette tips.

Iran is not Japan

It’s premature to say ‘the best movie at this year’s Borderlines is…’, but I’m pretty sure that A Separation will be hard to beat. A middle class Iranian couple are embroiled in an acrimonious separation, which neither of them wants. The practical and emotional fallout of this draws in family members, colleagues and a religious working class family drafted in to look after an Alzheimer’s father. Each of the characters is forced into taking sides and to make a series of moral choices where telling the truth may have consequences that they cannot morally accept. Their lives become agonisingly entangled – a process not helped by the frequent intervention of the Iranian judiciary, who are portrayed as surprisingly liberal but hopelessly overwhelmed. The religious state is invisible but ever present. As a friend of mine heard at a meeting recently ‘there’s an elephant in the room and we need to get it on the table’.
It reminded me of Still Walking (Borderlines 2010). The films are united by the same tangled relationships, uncertainties and ambiguity, but divided by cultural differences so profound that the comparison is at best a bit odd. In the Japanese film almost everything is unspoken; emotion and feelings are portrayed by a barely raised eyebrow, an oblique phrase, a moment of silence. In the Iranian film, all is on the surface. Nothing that could be said is left unsaid.
We are often told that ‘getting it out in the open’ is a good thing. After watching A Separation, I’m not so sure.