Tuesday 28 March 2017

Kristen Stewart Magazine Covers

Andrew Graham
To celebrate the release of Olivier Assayas's Personal Shopper on March 17 our Media Partner Little White Lies, set a Creative Brief: to invent a fashion magazine featuring an original illustrated portrait of the film’s star, Kristen Stewart, on the cover.

Personal Shopper was shown at Borderlines 2017 as a preview.

Illustration students at Hereford College of Arts took part in the brief and Andrew Graham's illustration received an Honourable Mention and was displayed on the online version of the magazine. Congratulations to Andrew!

Other Hereford College of Arts entries:

Katie Barnett

Kedall Webb

Full gallery of entries

Thoughts on Moonlight

'Why was he so angry?' I asked myself midway through the BBC adaption of Zadie Smith's novel NW.

A slim contorted Black youth face set in permanent grimace, de rigueur hood up despite the summer heat fatally wounds another Black man on the slightest provocation. The blot of red expands along the white top as the victim recoils in shock, sinks to the pavement, bleeds out. His assailant is gone, his rage released. 

I had assumed that in a drama about seeing and illusion this act would take us on a journey into the internal world of this killer. Not so, he remains that 'menace to society' throughout. We are left with what society already accepts and what the screen has presented, a pumped up ball of Black rage without explanation or rather the axiomatic suggestion that he is a product of the 'Hood.' Fear them, pity them, but most of all fear them. 

A brief summary of Moonlight might give the impression we are in familiar territory – absent father, crack addict mother, deprived community, rare violence - but Moonlight takes you where 'hood' dramas rarely tread to provide a compelling portrait of the world of that surly, angry Black man. 

Split into three chapters, Moonlight charts main character Chiron's journey from self discovery and self acceptance. From an early age Chiron is an outcast among his young peers in the ironically titled Liberty Square district. He is just not like the other boys, he is different. It does not help that he is dark skinned, uncool and skinny. 

We first meet Chiron as he is chased by a group of youths into a boarded up house along a derelict row. He is rescued by a drug dealer Juan played by (Mahershala Ali). Juan takes this boy who does not utter a word to the home he shares with his lover Teresa (Janelle Monae). We discover that Chiron has more than just his friends to contend with – his mother is a crack addict swinging between brief glimmers of maternal affection and the chaos of her addiction. To say Chiron is dragged up is an understatement: he is the epitome of neglect.

Chiron's struggles intensify as he grows older only now his peers begin to name his difference. In a scene of timeless cinematic beauty that difference - the discovery of his sexuality - becomes a moment of shared bliss rather than a curse. All this is taken away as Chiron's ostracism reaches a violent climax. In the final chapter we find Chiron transformed into a trap-loving, gold-toothed, hyper- muscled Hercules drug dealer. Beneath the muscles, little Chiron still lives. A twist of fate offers him an alternative to his bleak present.

This three part structure paints the reality behind the performance of identity and why therefore Moonlight is a education in (Black) masculinity. Each chapter is beautifully played by three different actors, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, and Alex R Hibbert. Remarkably each actor rehearsed their parts separately but somehow between the alchemy of script, directing and fine acting Chiron's intense wounded, brave man-boy is consistently played throughout the film.

Amongst many things, Moonlight is a commentary on father-son relationships. Juan a drug dealer is an unlikely source of unconditional love. A Cuban American, perhaps Juan sees in the abandoned boy a mirror of himself and an opportunity for redemption. But he is not a romanticised figure and his alter-ego role as drug dealer has a direct bearing on Chiron's life. Through Juan, director Barry Jenkins makes a simple statement familiar to Black audiences but rarely seen on a cliché-ridden screens: that paternal love can be found in the most unlikely sources.

Juan's relationship with Chiron brings Moonlight's mythical quality to the fore in particular the scene in which Juan teaches Chiron to swim. The scene evokes Classical, Biblical and West African lore. The home provided by Juan and Teresa is a light filled place of haven while the home he shares with his mother is a stark underworld in the grip of his gorgon mother. It then must also be said that the film is a stark portrait of a mother-child relationship almost as disturbing as that between the main protagonists in Precious. Naomi Harris is darkly superb in her depiction of the highs and lows of addiction whilst also bringing a humanity to her role. She is an emotional coward, but also a child- woman ultimately unable to face the crushing responsibility of her failure.

The parent-child dynamic is one of several ways in which Moonlight closely mirrors the personal biographies of director Barry Jenkins and the writer of the original story, award-winning playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. Both were born and raised where Moonlight is set: Liberty City, a nearly all Black poor, insular neighbourhood of Miami Florida. 

 McCraney describes Liberty City as“...the confluence of madness and urban blight/Yet, it is incredibly beautiful.” Both men had mothers who through drug addiction became HIV infected and both men were passed between or taken in by families and carers. 

Indeed echoing the mythic elements Jenkins was looked after by a woman called Minerva for a number of years during his childhood. He and McCraney attended the same High School although their paths did not cross until years later when the script was passed onto Jenkins by mutual friends. It was a combination of story, the potential to display his craft as a film maker seeped in cinema's heritage but mostly its proximity to his personal story that inspired Jenkins to make this film. Colour, texture, the Chiron's childhood rituals are all inspired by the lives of director and original writer. 

Moonlight then comes from a place of truth. It does not wave a rainbow flag nor a Black Lives Matter banner, it does not need to. At every level it beautifully but simply captures a community, a people a young man in pain and searching for a way to heal.

To discuss Moonlight in the context of #OscarssoWhite, as some commentators have done, is reductive. It risks the implying that praise for the movie is informed by a guilt-ridden response to 2016's absence of Black Academy Award nominations. This would be a gross injustice. Moonlight is a unique powerful yet understated wonder that will reverberate long after the award season. This will be a competitive year for the Oscars - for me Moonlight will be at the head of the table whatever decisions are made. It is unique. It resonated with me on so many frequencies that I was caught between whooping and tears of joy.

Returning to my starting point Moonlight differs from the back catalogue of 'Hood' films because most are based upon the mythologies which the 'Hood' tries to sell. A story told through the eyes of the Other amongst Others bears witness to a truth that many are not yet ready to reveal.

 Edson Burton (Come the Revolution)
Edson introduced the screening of Moonlight on Friday 10 March at Borderlines 2017

Saturday 25 March 2017

...To Be Rid of N...rs

Edson Burton speaking at the I Am Not Your Negro screening
A Comment on I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck

This is an edited version of the introduction to the screening of the film at Borderlines on Friday 10 March by Dr Edson Burton of Come the Revolution

I want to start with a spoiler but one, which I hope will enhance rather than ruin your viewing. The title of the Raoul Peck's documentary is a softened version of a question raised by African American author James Baldwin upon whose unfinished work this film is based.

The question the White population of this country has to ask itself is why was it necessary to have a nigger in the first place? But I'm not a nigger I am a man? But if you think I'm a nigger that means you need him and you have to find out why?

The question is posed in the final third of this searing examination of race in the USA. Having pushed through the permutations of racism in the USA the question attains a climatic power found in the best works of fiction.

'Negro', 'coloured', 'Black, 'African American' these terms have been the accepted parlance among Whites and Blacks. 'Nigger' was the coarse, constant, counterpart to these terms. Nigger opened the door to a more brutal relationship, a more brutal reality which has been the subtext to race relations in America and Europe.

Peck's impeccable visual choices provide layer upon layer of our understanding of the term. At 'worst' Nigger is criminal, licentious, and deceitful, at best lazy, deceitful, cretinous, impotent and servile – the antithesis of all that is good, pure, virtuous White. 'The Nigger is a dread figure an entity that exists only in his [White society's] mind.'

Baldwin's extraordinary understanding of Black America lies at the heart of the documentary. His unfinished essay 'Remember this House' is structured around his profound connection to the civil rights leaders Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers. But beyond the great and good his work explores the lives of the preachers, the hustlers, the junkies, the intellectuals, the lovers. He knew the high and low places, the celebrities, the hustlers the civil rights leaders, the intellectuals.

His fury is directed against White ignorance of this rich and varied world. As he surmised Black Americans were intimately aware of white realities – after all survival depends on being highly sensitive to the whims of one's oppressor - the same could not be said in reverse. 'I know more about you than you know about me.' This ignorance was the child of segregation. To Baldwin ignorance and apathy were more perniciously pervasive in American society than hate. In the absence of knowledge the Black person become an object of fear and dread. But moreover this object this entity was an essential building block to a 'euphoric' construction of Whiteness. A Whiteness which however infantalized those who believed in it.

Baldwin, voiced unrecognisably, by Samuel Jackson, speaks in broad strokes - 'White', 'White America.' Subsuming all Whites within such broad strokes risks his dismissal as a wounded victim of racism with no great insight. But Baldwin the essayist must be experienced alongside his fictional works. His novels such as Another Country, Giovanni's Room, and short stories transcend race. They ooze a compassion for White and Black subjects, for men and women. While he had wished for the sake of ease, to be a racist, his formative experiences barred the door to that particular sanctuary. Peck incorporates Baldwin's TV interview to give us an insight to Baldwin.

Baldwin defends his use of race as a primary marker of social reality as empirically drawn from lived experience. As stated in the film he does not know what every White person thinks or feels about the Negro but 'we can conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions.' The evidence writ large in schools, housing, policing suggest that White society is comfortable with Black marginalization. Comfortable as it confirms the mythology of the 'Nigger.'

Baldwin's is part of the canon of American writing. His work is poured over by scholars, post and undergraduates, discovered by niche activists groups, the self educators and literary circles. But Peck does not excavate Baldwin for the sake of nostalgia but to force us to see his contemporary relevance. I Am Not Your Negro restores Baldwin to a vitality he enjoyed in life. His voice is once more that of the writer intellectual, sage orator who cuts through the social smog. Peck's flawless reaches into and beyond the meaning which Baldwin articulates in words. Peck not only offers the visual narratives and answers to Baldwin's rhetoric he supplies the continuity with current discourses through powerful juxtaposition. We are in short treated to a dialogue between film maker and writer that gives rise to a new bolder, complete work.

Baldwin did not write for his time but for those generations to come which he knew would still be grappling with this problem and it is a testament to Peck that he has visualised the prescience in Baldwin's work. It is therefore entirely apt that we consider the LA riots, the Black Lives Matter campaign both sparked by police brutality that had been legitimised by a White judicial system that failed to supply redress.

With the passing of Obama's presidency I Am Not Your Negro becomes all the more urgent. Donald Trump is not an extraordinary figure 'bully' 'manboy' 'buffon' 'narcissist' the list of descriptors for this most egregious character are almost endless. What is more alarming is why would millions vote in his favour.

Sympathetic narratives towards displaced Whites have silenced the reality that many African Americans feel – Trump's victory cannot be explained without reference to race. Loss and greatness remain the watchwords of Trump's strangely ongoing campaign but whose loss? Whose greatness will be recovered? It is clear from those who are now to be subdued that this White President for a White masculinist America feels mandated to protect a supposedly threatened White privilege. To borrow the lens used by Peck and Baldwin the new president and his supporters are united in an attempt to roll back the civil rights gains that opened the flood gates to the Women's Movement, the Gay Rights movement' and return to psychic infancy with all the ugly ignorance that entails. I Am Not Your Negro cuts to the chase when political language dog whistles and the press are hesitant if not obsequious.

This is not a safely American (his)story documentary. While the documentary notes the freedoms which Baldwin enjoyed in Europe the line 'the West has no moral authority' shows writer and film maker are under no illusions.

The 'Nigger' is an invention of the 'Euro-American imagination' exported, refined, and re-exported much like the traded goods which gave birth to the trope of the Nigger in the first place. Post slavery we have been even more circumspect in describing racism in Britain preferring the more genteel 'colour-bar' to legalized segregation. This partly in order to preserve our good standing in the world' – the counterpart rhetoric to America as the land of the free. But beneath this semantic dance are realities as stark as that which occurred on US soil.

The atrocities of slavery and Empire are too varied to be recounted in this short piece moreover they have the safety of distance and time.

But the trope of the 'Nigger' lies behind the troubled history of race inside Britain's borders. Fears of interracial relationships propelled the 1919 race riots in Liverpool and Cardiff and years later in the 1958 Notting Hill. In the wake of the latter racism swept into mainstream political discourse most crudely in the 1964 'Do you want a Nigger for a Neighbour campaign' in Smethwick Birmingham.

The Sun newspaper's hyper reporting of sexual crimes, street robbery, and scroungers during the 1970s & 80s reproduced the trope in bold.

Today of course we are reassured that Brexit has nothing to do with immigration. But on the morning after the debate the discussion hinged on controlling our 'borders.' But for who's sake and who should be kept out. Visual language during this campaign was explicit. The spike in racist attacks suggest that this was not confined to the so called 'new communities.' Black and Asian second and third generation migrants experienced a new question mark over their right to claim belonging. Our discourse creates new 'Niggers' that share the traits but not the colour of the original trope.

But moral panics and legislative moments are flashpoints played out against a general acceptance of racial inequality that mirrors that which is found in Baldwin's America. Arguably we manage inequality rather than truly attempt to transform the conditions upon which it is built. To accept such an unequal society raises the question of whether we take seriously our commitment to diversity, multiculturalism, or meritocracy. The words of Baldwin return to haunt us ' I know what you think from the state of your institutions.'

One might be tempted to avoid such a visceral portrait of racism at a time which is already bleak. But this is to miss an essential albeit understated aspect of the film. Baldwin is an optimist: 'I still believe we can do something with this country that has never been done before.'

To do so we may first have to be rid of 'Niggers.'

N.B. Quotes (and images) are from I Am Not Your Negro.

Dr Edson Burton is a member of the programming collective Come the Revolution

Thursday 16 March 2017

Café Society review

A film most at home described as a ‘visual novel’, Woody Allen’s most recent drama, Café Society, set in 1930’s Hollywood/New York, has a clean, rolling style that plays on the strengths of the writer/directors love for whimsically authentic, lavishly flowing dialogue.

The story of young, Jewish, New Yorker, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), who decides to leave the shackles of his fathers New York jewellery business with the hopes of pursuing some form of a career in Tinsel Town, the film follows the smirk-inducing domino of events that are instigated as a result of this decision. A meeting with his uncle, Phill Stern (Steve Carrell) - who happens to be a big shot producer in town - finds Bobby not only a job but an addictive fascination in the form of Stern’s Personal Secretary “Vonnie” (Kristen Stewart), a character with whom ‘deer in the headlights’ Bobby falls deeply infatuated. However the dynamics of this relationship and, in fact, Vonnie’s other ‘relationships’ promise to threaten the electric chemistry between these two while spurring the city-hopping story that unfolds as Bobby tries to understand what makes him truly happy.

As ever, Allen’s greatest strength in this film is his wondrous skill with character and dialogue - something that definitely makes itself heard as one would struggle to find a section of this film not commentated, either by the onscreen characters or by Woody himself. Combined with a redolent
score of intercutting, ever-present Jazz - much of which sports recognisable melodies such as the likes of Lorenz Hart’s ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ - Allen manages to capture a picture postcard cross section of the era that establishes a flowing, exotic, atmosphere that suitably accompanying the whimsy of his plot.

This atmospheric approach to his films sound, combined with Allen’s decision to play down his use of cinematography - often doing little more than introducing a scene with a push in followed by conversational intercuts - makes the film a visual vessel for what is essentially as close as one can get to a physical novel on screen. Instead of taking the classic liberties of cinema - emotion through cinematography, creation of atmosphere through soundscapes, dictation of dialogue tempo - this film instead pushes all of its content through its ever-present blanket of dialogue and simplistically elegant mise en scene (the two elements that film shares directly with writing). With this in mind, the film is heavily stylised and the atmosphere it creates is far more reminiscent of written stories than visual ones.

Working in this way, Allen asks his audience to really listen to the dialogue, much as one reads a book - you have to really engage with the language to understand the emotion because you’re always hearing words, there’s no pause to tell you when things are sad. One's memories of the film and its characters become much more like those of a fond book than of a film. It feels to watch much as Fitzgerald's Gatsby feels to read.

Chris Usher
6th Form Ambassador

Tuesday 14 March 2017

Interview with Kelly Reichardt, director of Certain Women

This interview was circulated via Film Hub SWWM and will be of interest to anyone who came to see Certain Women at Borderlines 2017.

Mia Bays: Can you talk a bit about how you came to the stories of Maile Meloy and what attracted you to their situations and characters?

Kelly Reichardt: I can't remember where I first read the stories or even which one I read first. All the characters are so good and she has a beautiful way of writing and a really relaxed way at getting at things. The characters were just people you wanted to stay with longer and they were all built into the environment they were from, and that's up my alley. I get hooked in pretty quickly and then spent a long time trying to make these stories work together. She was very generous let me have my way with her fine work.

MB: Did you work with her on the adaption?

KR: No.I didn't really know her. I had made the last four movies with John Raymond and we were very good friends, so we worked really closely together and hung out a lot but this was a much more lonely. But it was good for me,

MB: You swop the gender of the character played by Lily Gladstone.

KR: I can't remember where exactly when that happened but made the whole work better. In Maile's story it's a boy with Polio and it is set in a different time. I was trying to make the whole thing more contemporary and I thought that the lonely old rancher was something that had been done as far as cinema went.

MB: Making her a woman and then the power of the interaction with Kristen Stewart's character just frames it in a very different way.

KR: It leaves room for different interpretations. From my point of view, and I don't know if this was true from Lily's point of view, the teacher was someone you might have a crush on her or might have a crush on her life and you might wish that you had more access to the things she had access to. There's more ambiguity to it.

MB: There is a sense of people looking in some way to connect.

KR: There is also the lack of connection. I think there is a sense of this in all my work. It’s also in the writing of Raymond. I was influenced by Chantal Ackerman. I even have a book of hers with me. I really had not shot interiors, a lot and I was worried about whether I could afford to do it. I could never afford the lighting set up so I became very accustomed to shooting outside. This was especially true on Night Moves and the anticipation of shooting the scene at the dam. But I was also worried about the fact that I had a kitchen scene to shoot on Thursday with four walls and have four walls and what the fuck do you do with four walls? So, in Certain Women one of the things I wanted to conquer was, how to shoot inside. When I was leaving New York, I put this Ackerman book in my bag, in case I should I get stuck in a space . And I did, in the bedroom scene.

MB: And Chantal Ackerman guarded you?

KR: She’s a good guide. I keep being guided by Chantal...

Interview conducted by Mia Bays, Director-at-large, Birds Eye View Film. Spotlighting the best work by women to UK audiences
@miafilms Mia Bays

Friday 10 March 2017

Certain Women, Simple Life

Certain Women (2016) is a drama which offers a glimpse into four women's lives in Montana. It features Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone who plays the role of a rather lost ranch hand - whilst Michelle Williams and Laura Dern play even more contrasting roles to Lily, they are women in control in a town which doesn't seem to have any element of rushing. 

The scenic shots of the American Northwest feel more like pictures than in motion. The film is very slow paced and offers a glimpse into people's lives - there is no ‘spectacle’ as such like most Hollywood films. To me it feels almost though someone is telling a story but emphasising the minor details of the plot. We are left waiting for more.

The characters seem quite isolated and withdrawn from Native American life except for Jamie (Lily Gladstone) who seems as though life is almost passing her by. There's almost a sense that she is blending in with her background of gentle landscapes. 

The film resonates with me because I couldn't imagine such a simplistic life. Certain Women really gives an insight into the way people live in Montana, this dedramatisation of narrative leaves us with questions that we realise we can probably answer ourselves.

Whilst watching the film we are waiting for the next thing to happen - something that is usually fulfilled in mainstream cinema. The simple dialogue allows for the images and emblems to tell the story instead of big dramatic plot points.

My final thoughts are that this film like most, certainly isn’t for everyone and to each person will mean something else, some may see it as a work of art and some depressingly dull. The film shows audiences a different life, a very simplistic and mostly lonely life. If it wasn't for the technology used by characters you may think you have been taken back to a more modest time. As a viewer you almost forget about the materialistic society in which we live because this seems so far detached.

Iona Francis
6th Form Ambassador

Friday 3 March 2017

Film Festival viewing: memories, masks and true stories

 One of the pleasures of watching films at a film festival is how you come to notice common themes. Both Jackie and Lion, which I took in as a double bill yesterday at Malvern, are based on true stories, and true stories are there again in Denial and in The Viceroy’s House, also in the Borderlines programme. In Lion, the story of how an Indian child was lost, adopted, grew up and retrieved his memories and his original home and biological mother becomes a semi-miraculous tale of survival and healing. The first half of the film, showing Saroo as a child blessed with resilience and luck, accrues incredible power from its undeniable documentary dimension. It was heartbreaking to watch the child unknowingly swept away, negotiating a place to sleep with other street children in Calcutta, and at the mercy of a range of adult strangers. Dev Patel as the adult Saroo has less to do in the second half, but the passages where he begins to remember through a Proustian encounter with the food he yearned for as a child, and as he eventually journeys back, back, along the alleys of his old home village, are archetypal. It’s a deeply satisfying film about regaining our childhood pasts.

If a true-life story can authenticate the untold experience of a street child, though (and offer a rare happy ending), a film like Jackie has a different task. The project here is surely to offer a new twist to one of the most familiar events of the twentieth century, and clearly the focus on Jackie Kennedy was always going to be about the tensions between her public role and her private emotion. Those images of her in the blood-stained pink suit, her dramatic black veil as she walked behind the coffin at the funeral, have always been memorable, and they are right at the centre of the film, a disconcerting combination of anguish and control. I was rather distracted, though, by the fairly extensive sections about Jackie’s ambitious ideals for the White House while she was First Lady. This was a different story, about the abrupt indignities of losing both status and home, immediately after undergoing the violent traumas of the assassination.

We see rather a lot of close-ups of Jackie as she ‘unwinds’ in private, which seems to amount to rather repetitive instances of staring into a mirror and of smoking. Natalie Portman gives a mannered performance of someone who was also a mannered performer for much of the time. In the end, the brittle persona of the young woman in the midst of immense loss (we are also reminded that she lost two babies) remains a bit of a mystery.

So, what about some common themes? In Saroo’s memories and dreams in Lion there was some consonance with the manipulation of Lee’s flashbacks and suppressed memories in Manchester by the Sea – both directors give us a fresh take on a conventional technique. In terms of the camera’s love affair with the human face, the scrutiny of a woman’s mask in Jackie was fascinating to compare with Asta Nielsen in the 1921 Hamlet, screened last Sunday at Hereford Courtyard. This by the way was a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a hugely complex performance – and it was a treat to enjoy the live piano accompaniment by Lillian Henley. Worth it just to appreciate the music and the skill.

Finally, houses, homes and bigwigs. I’m not sure that I can face The Viceroy’s House, with Hugh Bonneville playing another toff (why doesn’t he make more of the comedic abilities he displayed in 2012?) but there’s clearly a current preoccupation with the symbolism of bricks and mortar – the White House, Lutyen’s imperial buildings of Delhi - representing both state and family. Let’s hope that budding screenwriters are not seduced into thinking that this one has legs. I couldn’t bear a story about the pain of giving up No. 10.

Catherine Neale

Thursday 2 March 2017

The Making of Soy Cuba

Anyone fascinated by the very excellent Soy Cuba, or indeed by cinema as a whole, would find Vicente Perrez 2004 documentary about the making of 'Soy Cuba’, the oddly named I Am Cuba: The Siberian Mammoth, well worth seeking out. It can be hard to find, but, fortunately for afficionados, it is available to watch online at the IDFA (Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival) website. That site is a little idiosyncratic, but a search under ‘I am Cuba, the Siberian Mammoth | IDF’ should put you in the right place (more hit and miss:  even more hit and miss: ). It’’s well worth persisting - Perrez documentary covers far more than just the making of ‘Soy Cuba’, though it does that in satisfying detail - it sketches a history of Cuban cinema (and beyond), the technical aspects of making the film, discusses the terrible reception Soy Cuba got when screened in ’64, its rediscovery and critical re-appraisal, and all usually through the eyes of those who spent fourteen months or more making Soy Cuba back in 1962. Terrific.

Stephen Hopkins
Audience Member

Remaining films in our Cuban strand: Return to Ithaca and A Wedding in Havana.

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Coming Soon to a Peripatetic Projector Near You: Part 2

After Almodóvar, and on the subject of singular directors: Café Society (Dir. Woody Allen, US, 2016). Every year I go to the latest Woody Allen movie. (I do know I didn’t back when they were better.) Everyone says it looks delightful – but even terrible movies can manage that these days. He deserves more respect. The movie starts very strongly, moves along nicely then fizzles out, perhaps because Steve Carell’s character just accepts his lot. There are many good gags and Ken Stott (Marty Dorfman) gets most of them. [Ken Stott’s agent: “Ken, I’ve got a Woody Allen film. Your character’s name is Marty Dorfman.” – “I can do that.”] Last year’s Allen, Irrational Man, was more satisfying in terms of plot, character development and a tidy ending. It reminded me of those American radio dramas from the 1940s that BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast occasionally, where Hollywood movie stars of the era give their reading of a James M. Cain script.

Some critics wonder why movie stars want an Allen movie on their CV. When his body of work is complete, and the reassessment comes, they will want to be part of it. There’s a story with acting required. Nice wardrobe, nothing dangerous. The shoot’s a wrap within a month. It’s an opportunity to make a studio-system-style movie few directors still know how to do. You know when you mooch about Freeview and you stumble across a 1950s B&W movie starring Humphrey Bogart so you give it a go. Then the opening credits reveal that it’s directed by John Huston, you wonder why the Information button never mentions the important details, and ninety minutes of enjoyable fluff ensue. That’s what I mean. Woody Allen is 81. Who else is going to make them?

The Borderlines 2017 programme features several ‘state of the nation’ movies from around the world: Aquarius (Dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil, 2016); Graduation (Dir. Cristian Mungia, Romania, 2016); Moonlight (Dir. Barry Jenkins, US, 2016); and, I, Daniel Blake (Dir. Ken Loach, UK, 2016) is ours. During December my home cinema, Number 8 Pershore, sequenced three trailers together: Allied (2016) – the UK news features graffiti; A Street Cat Named Bob (2016) – Luke Treadaway walks past graffiti; and, I, Daniel Blake (2016) – Dave Johns creates graffiti. The writing is on the wall. It recalls Loach’s My Name is Joe (1998) when Peter Mullan (Joe) daubs paint on the car of someone taking photographs of him. I, Daniel Blake also echoes Loach’s Poor Cow (1967), not to mention a thousand other examples of British social realist cinema, when a desperate young woman goes on the game. Ken Loach – his work has as many call backs as a Bond movie.

British films that comment upon recent UK social history have improved a great deal in the past 30 years. During the 1980s Channel 4 screened issue movies every month. There would be soap-box speeches and heavy-handed, broad-brush moralising – particularly during the comedies. Were The Comic Strip Presents that driven by a good word from the New Musical Express? A Keith Waterhouse script would include a rant about the friends he lost when he passed his eleven-plus. In Hanif Kureishi’s London Kills Me (1991) a young British-Asian man steals a police car, removes its roof, drives around – and nothing happens. Is it a dream sequence – or did I dream it? In Pawel Pawlikowski’s The Last Resort (2000), two policemen in a patrol car have nothing better to do than spend their shift spying on the common-or-garden asylum seeker housed in a Margate tower block. No they wouldn’t. It’s a good film otherwise. And as for that one with Pete Postlethwaite, rock climbing and electricity pylons, Among Giants (1998): it’s worse than water-boarding – but still preferable to Shopping (1994). When you’ve seen enough UK cinema you know what it is to suffer.

I, Daniel Blake merits its awards: Palme d’Or at Cannes, BAFTA Best British Film. Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) has no luck but his plight is entirely plausible and credible. Listen out for the opening bars of “Spring”, from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”, on the soundtrack – and by the knowing groans of laughter from members of the audience you will know their line of work. You yearn for Daniel to drop into Citizens Advice but, after a lifetime of paying his stamp, it’s understandable that he might expect a bit more help from the public sector than he gets. And the moral is: Deference Always.

I don’t know where to fit Sweet Bean (Dir. Naomi Kawase, Japan, 2015) into this preview – and that’s quite right. We adore Akira Kurosawa’s samurai movies but his 1950s films set in post-war Tokyo are much less known in the West. They’re a bit long. I’ve only seen Stray Dog (1949), the baseball stadium sequence is much-stolen, and Ikiru (1952), a very moving political drama. To my delight the cheap, made in China, Kurosawa box-set I own also includes Late Chrysanthemums (1954) – even though it was directed by Mikio Naruse. Neorealism wasn’t confined to Italian film-makers. The undercover detective in Stray Dog and the dying bureaucrat in Ikiru are your guides to post-war Tokyo: the American night clubs, the huge difference a few more Yen each week can make to living standards, the corruption. Like the superb Nobody Knows (2004) you are there with them: the sun in your lungs, street dust up your nose. Sweet Bean fits into this tradition: its tone, pacing and humanity. William Blake could “see a world in a grain of sand” and Kawase finds it in a quick snack.

A 76-year-old woman, Tokue (Kirin Kiki), short of money, wishes to work for a dorayaki pancake franchise owner, Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase). She has a superior sweet bean paste recipe she would like to live on after her death. Inter-generational understanding, a trade-off between business and teaching, develops gradually into friendship. I heard this film, and Ethel & Ernest (2016), described as “gentle”. Only if you’ve forgotten what bereavement feels like. They mean that it’s a thoughtful film with few characters. It’s also a food film: like Tampopo (1985 - noodles), Babette’s Feast (1987 – seven course banquet), Big Night (1996 - omelette), even Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014 – I don’t know but they looked delicious). The most humble of food films: a pancake paste.

Robin Clarke