Monday 23 March 2015

Festival round-up megablog 2

Love is Strange

Love is Strange (2013) is an increasingly rare slice of life picture, set in New York right now. How else will future generations know about last year’s red trousers outbreak? I paused The Passenger (1975) the other week in order to fathom the apparel of a passer-by. I can’t describe it. Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are getting married after a 39 year engagement, of sorts. They would have done it sooner but it was not in the statute books. Their new status leads directly to George losing his music teacher job at a Catholic school. He does not contest it. Ben’s pension is their only income so they downsize: they sell their apartment, getting stung by the small print, and stay, separately, with neighbours or relatives.

The film improved days after I’d watched it. They are a lovely couple – it’s Lithgow and Molina – but we don’t see them together enough. I would have liked a prelude; we first see them on their wedding day. When the two men embrace, after weeks apart, you remember they’re still newlyweds. The b-story, about a teenage boy’s growing pains, did not add much for me at the time. Though he did have a five pound note pinned to his bedroom wall. They put the budget on the screen. The scenes between his mother, Marisa Tomei, and her brother and lodger, John Lithgow, were far more fun. The credits listed 26 producers, thanks another 70 and I suspect that the artists made a small contribution to have their paintings featured. It’s a sweet, sad, small snapshot. It’s only when I thought of other films about loss of income that its subtleties are revealed. They should have been able to continue from where they left off. If they had not married George would not have lost his job and all the things that followed. This small set-back – Ben imagines it will all be sorted out within a few weeks – has the worst possible consequence. We leave George, remarkably stoic, hanging Ben’s final, unfinished, painting on the wall of their dream apartment. This bad year cost him a further ten years of Ben’s love and company.

Is George too placid? During their date night Ben claims to have campaigned for gay civil rights during the 1960s. They don’t fight any battles, despite several opportunities, during the film. In his sister’s house Ben does not know when to speak and when not. The b-story boy does not attend his own uncle’s funeral. They have been sharing the same bunk-bed for the past few months. George accepts his rationale. It’s an approach that worked blissfully for 40 years and then, like an economic policy, fell apart overnight.

The Tracker (2002), a superb Australian Western, also features an old man holding the middle ground and a young man with some growing up to do. The moment you see his small stringed instrument you know it will be the first of the group to go. He destroys it in a young man’s idea of penance. Westerns have taught us that the man with the gun wins the argument. There’s a difference of opinion, a gun is produced and, as if by magic, the decision is made. Might is right. To think I avoided Whiplash (2014), which everyone says is excellent, because of the aggression. David Gulpili plays The Tracker, leading The Fanatic (Gary Sweet), The Follower (Damon Gameau) and The Veteran (Grant Page) after The Fugitive (Noel Wilton). The Fanatic is a serial killer in a soldier’s uniform.
The Tracker

I first came across game theory, the study of power and how it pans out, watching The All New Pink Panther Show during the late 1970s. (The first Pink Panther animation, The Pink Phink, won an Oscar in 1964.) It included old episodes of The Inspector; the only reason I watched the show. The plots are, to say the least, variable in quality but the music and drawings are great. Pat Harrington, Jr’s take on Peter Sellers’ Jacques Clouseau is extremely good. Anyway, in Toulouse La Trick (1966) Clouseau makes a particularly rash decision whilst transporting a prisoner he’s handcuffed to. He overvalues the extent of his status when compared with the size of the enormous felon dragging him around France. There’s a wonderful French thriller, Point Blank (2010) where allegiances are made and dropped at a dizzying rate. They should show it on election night. So let’s see how the man in chains plays his cards. We soon discover that he’s not the least powerful at all. You can spend the next day figuring out just how much control The Tracker had, from their very first steps. It’s worth focusing upon the fate of the sage old man. He was the only non-murderer among the four – and he was the first to go.
The Salt of the Earth

In The Salt of the Earth Salgado is told that he must not gift his knife to the indigenous peoples he’s visiting. I heard of an island that had existed happily within its own socio-cultural eco-system for thousands of years. A decade after they saw their first movie the divorces started. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014) was the simplest, and most gripping, film I saw all week. It was reminiscent of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film before Winter Sleep (2014), because a group of people do the same thing, over and over, getting nowhere whilst we get to know them. In this case, we witness every blind alley of Viviane Amsalem’s five year long attempt to divorce her husband. A friend of mine is in her fourth year of divorce proceedings. It rang too true. The laughter, the tears, the bad complexion days, false hopes, the sheer frustration at the pointlessness of it all. You could move from BA to PhD in that time. Some people look at trench warfare divorces and, like small children, reason that it takes two to tango. It only needs one to dig in. In Israel divorce falls “under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox rabbinical courts” – and requires the husband’s consent. He would not. She cannot leave her marriage and we never leave the building. We see them waiting to enter the courtroom. We see the courtroom: cheap tables for two parties, Viviane (Ronit Elkabetz), her lawyer (Menashe Noy) and, if they turn up, her husband (Simon Abkarian) and his brother, a rabbi (Sasson Gabai). The three judges are rabbis. Another rabbi keeps a record of proceedings. What is a court case but a storytelling contest? Our picture of their lives outside builds up during the 115 minutes. Sisters Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz have written and directed three films. The other two in their marriage trilogy are To Take a Wife (2004) and 7 Days (2008). Ronit Elkabetz and Simon Abkarian appear in them all.
Gett, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Difret (2014), an Ethiopian film about an incredibly important legal case in their recent history, had to put certain story lines to one side. There wasn’t space enough. Boyhood (2014) does the same. We watch Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, grow from a 7 year old to a personable young adult. How fortunate that Ellar became an actor. The fact that they were able to make the film at all, reuniting the cast for a couple of weeks every year for 12 years, is remarkable enough. I did not want anything more during its 165 minutes. Mason hangs out with older boys – but nothing terrible happens. Mason gets a shotgun for his birthday – but nothing terrible happens.

There aren’t many films that feature a gun without someone getting shot. In fact, in this festival, a sharpened stick is a murder waiting to happen. His father tells him, most deliberately, never to use a mobile whilst driving. He’s 19, driving, and his girlfriend wants him to look at a cute picture on her phone – but nothing terrible happens. They tend not to. Someone else can make those films. Actually, Werner Herzog made a documentary, for four mobile phone manufacturers and the public domain, about that last tragedy: From One Second to the Next (2013). In The Salt of the Earth Salgado photographs the incredible aftermath of the first Gulf War. Werner Herzog also made a documentary about extinguishing the oil fields of Kuwait: Lessons of Darkness (1992).

Mason isn’t the only character to grow up during the next twelve years. Remarkably, his father, played by Ethan Hawke, does too. It’s rare to see an adult character try that. All the terrible stuff happens to his mother, played winningly by Patricia Arquette. She escapes one dismal relationship for the next. There are a lot of miserable marriages in this festival. Poor Mrs. Ruskin, played by the festival’s new friend Eleanor Yates, in Mr. Turner; the perjury Viviane Amsalem is put through; two others – in Pandora’s Box and Difret – last a day and end in manslaughter. But the most unfortunate must be Nihal in Winter Sleep because she’s married to Aydin, one of the vilest men in movie history.
Winter Sleep

Winter Sleep is 196 minutes of Palme d’Or winning High Art. Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is a retired and famous actor of considerable wealth. He owns the Hotel Othello, and several other properties in Cappadocia, Turkey. These dwellings are built into outcrops of lava from previous epochs. It is an astonishing landscape. He tells his lackey, “My kingdom may be small, but at least I’m the king.” Which makes his sister, his wife and his tenants his subjects and, given his profession, his audience. If there were jokes I wasn’t prepared to smile at them. The director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, has stated that Chekhov has influenced all of his films. The film contains extremely long and engrossing scenes examining each interrelationship. He never discusses a subject – he wins arguments. Much of the script would translate to the theatre. Aydin has married a beautiful woman less than half his age, Nihal. In a heart-rending scene he sets about removing, with impeccable philanthropy, her sole intellectual property and, of course, last shred of independence. Having won his beautiful wife his next project will be to leave his mark upon her. The debtor’s reaction to her charity is shocking but understandable. It will have added years. 

I have been on a World tour of legal systems: I have seen the Aboriginal people’s sentences for rape and accidental death and Ethiopian common law, in Difret (2014), deal with the same. I have mentioned Israel Orthodox rabbinical divorce proceedings and now we get to sharia. A scene in Timbuktu (2014) shows two people buried up to their necks. It recalled Beckett’s play Play (2000), starring Alan Rickman in an urn. He directs, and plays King Louis XIV, in A Little Chaos (2014). It’s important to enter the cinema in the right spirit. Mr. Turner (2014) aims to be the definitive, most accurate, portrait of Britain’s most important artist. A Little Chaos is a box of cream cakes. If you hanker for old-fashioned family entertainment every film set before 1880 features a singer, a pianist and a drawing room. You never see many insects in period drama. I bet they were absolutely everywhere.

White God (2013) is the kookiest film I have seen for a long time. It’s a horror film that’s more interested in a Budapest girl’s first rites of passage. I’m sure the father, collecting her from the police after her first visit to a nightclub, had wished he’d let her feed the dog from the table. He should have let that phase play itself out. It’s very uneven – but I suppose dogs are too, fangs and fur. I was reminded of many other films, good and embarrassing. Lili’s search for her dog Hagen echoed The Vanishing (1988). The trip to the nightclub: Christiane F (1981). But it is difficult to portray a dog battalion without stirring memories of adverts for Pedigree Chum. Lili pledges to never discipline Hagen. Later, we’re given a how-to guide on training a ‘fighting dog’. It’s a stray dog’s life. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s first film, Amores Perros (2000) features dog fighting. I can’t recall seeing it in another film, let alone a 15 certificate. Though, after looking up a long-forgotten West Midlands post-punk band that surfaced in a charity shop, YouTube recommended all sorts of ‘underground’ pastimes for me. I only watched a clip from Look! Hear!
White God

We also learned that, in Hungary, a harassed father might ask his daughter, “Are you the Queen of England?” And that they have dogs named Fido. During the credits a spontaneous seminar broke out among the audience. That film was peculiar – what genre was it? White God also includes a clip from Tom and Jerry’s The Cat Concerto (1947). It won an Oscar. Later, Tom and Jerry starred in one of most disturbing children's cartoons ever made: Blue Cat Blues (1956). It ends with the two of them sitting on a railway line, waiting for the next train to put them out of their misery. I suspect the makers weren’t happy with their new contract. Neither animal resembled Henrich von Kleist.
To be continued...

Robin Clarke

No comments: