Sunday 4 March 2018

Hail to thee Borderline spirits

Sweet Country
We browsed the brochure, we picked and booked our films, we booked b&b and self-catering accommodation out in 'the sticks' and we were all set to arrive in Hereford on 1 March. Only we didn't because of, yes, the snow.

Our first film was to be Sweet Country the second fictional work by director Warwick Thornton since his debut Samson and Delilah in 2009, followed by Loveless by Andrey Zvyagintsev, both directors whose work deserves to be seen on the big screen. Our first film now will be Custody directed by Xavier Legrand, the winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice International Film Festival. Our second film to view will be Zama directed by Lucrecia Martel whose work The Headless Woman, which was screened at Borderlines in 2017 is one of our favourites of the last decade and which speaks of lies and the power to avoid punishment endemic in the wealthy classes.
However, we managed to get into Cambridge today to see Greta Gerwig's film Lady Bird which is funny and touching and was one on our list of bookings. We now hope to see Free and Easy by Geng Jun as we are intrigued by the comparisons to Keaton, Beckett and Kaurismaki - we are big fans of all three.
Free and Easy
In our local supermarket on Thursday we were able to pick up copies of The Party and The Death of Stalin - we watched and enjoyed both but were unable to recreate the Borderlines experience of a convivial viewing alongside other film enthusiasts in a drafty village hall with, possibly, a tea and biscuits pause half way through. But at least we were warm, watching films and safe.

We must thank the Borderlines Team, particularly Naomi, as it was agreed that we could either find other films to see using the tickets we could not take up or hold them over until next year. It is this love of film and appreciation of its audience that makes Borderlines an incredibly friendly experience and we appreciate the gesture very much.

We remain loyal supporters of the event and will see you tomorrow.

Christine and Mark Renney
from flat and dull Bedfordshire

Saturday 3 March 2018

A Distorting Lens of Directors

You Were Never Really Here
In one piece in Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler: Celluloid Tirades and Escapades (2000), Joe Queenan waits in the lobby of a multiplex, fully prepared to hand actual money to any member of the public who can name the director of the movie they have just watched. It did not cost him much. Even the ‘name’ directors didn’t register. I suspect that most other people recall their visits to the cinema in order of preference.

One pleasure of a new Borderlines programme is looking for work by directors who have delivered the goods in the past. They all have of course or they wouldn’t be in the schedule. When a former Borderlines selection is screened on Film4 I know it’s going to be worth catching. If someone made a Super Size Me for watching every new release, six hundred in the UK alone last year, I wonder which part of mind & body would fold first? There are many directors whose body of work I don’t know – but I do know that online reviewers rave about every single one. Here are my ravings.
Jeune Femme
There was some excitement among film society types in 1999 when Lynne Ramsay’s first feature Ratcatcher was released. Here was a new, young, female Scottish director who could really put a film together. In 2002 this excitement spread to the review sections of selected broadsheets when she followed it with Morvern Callar: Samantha Morton’s portrait of a modern woman sans archetype to a 'hold the zeitgeist' soundtrack. It was Generation X’s Lady Bird (2017) sans box office, leur Jeune Femme (2017) de l'époque. Since then Ramsey’s rate of output makes Stanley Kubrick look like Takashi Miike. To give you some idea of how long it’s been, Morton’s characters are still low-waged but they’ve moved beyond casual sex in the Costa del Sol. She played the cook in August Strindberg’s Miss Julie (2014). After Morvern Callar Ramsey spent two years adapting an early draft of The Lovely Bones – and then Alice Sebold’s novel was completed, published and became a best-seller. Peter Jackson directed the movie version in 2009; it stars a 14-year old Saoirse Ronan. Source: The Guardian 

It was another 9 years until Ramsay’s third feature, another adaption of a novel, the uncompromising We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011). The next person to describe Lynne Ramsay’s work as “uncompromising” or "long-awaited" could have clichés in their copy. By way of comparison, Michael Winterbottom directed 13 features between 2002 and 2011. Since 2011 Ben Wheatley has directed 5 films without surpassing his work on BBC3 Johnny Vegas sit-com Ideal. The long-awaited You Were Never Really Here (2017) is Lynne Ramsay’s fourth picture.
The Third Murder
You may have seen Nobody Knows (2004) by Hirokazu Kore-eda at Borderlines 2014. You may still be recovering. In modern day Tokyo four abandoned siblings are left to look after themselves. Kore-eda played me like an accordion for 141 minutes. His latest is at Borderlines 2018: The Third Murder.
During Borderlines I seek out depressing Eastern European movies that my local picture palaces would never dream of screening. So I’m always in the market for the latest by Andrey Zvyagintsev. His Elena (2011) was particularly bleak; I want to see how Loveless (2017) portrays today’s Russia. The plot also sounds a bit close to a notorious Christopher Morris sketch, Unflustered Parents, from his BBC Radio 1 show Blue Jam (1997 to 1999).
A Fantastic Woman
Billy Wilder watched Brief Encounter (1945) and wondered about the unseen character who lends Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) his flat. What was his story? Then he made The Apartment (1960). Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria (2013) was inspired by Laura Branigan’s disco classic of the same name (1982). All together: “Will you marry for the money? Take a lover in the afternoon? Feel your innocence slipping away; don’t believe it’s coming back soon. And you really don’t remember? Oh, was it something that he said? Are the voices in your head calling, ‘Gloria?’ Gloria, don’t you think you’re falling? If everybody wants you, why isn’t anybody calllllling?” Now that’s a character description. It’s a Film4 regular. Lelio returns with A Fantastic Woman (2017), a big winner at the Berlin Film Festival. There have been many, many movies about gender identity. There are the ones you’ve heard of and the rest are plotted against deranged and exploitative, scattered beyond the Psycho (1960) to Dressed to Kill (1980) trend-line.
Lean on Pete
Andrew Haigh directed 45 Years (2015) – in my opinion the smartest British movie this century – so I am looking forward, quietly, to Lean on Pete (2017). I notice that it stars Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny. Before her name grew an umlaut Chloe Sevigny’s second movie, Trees Lounge (1996), was Steve Buscemi’s first movie as director. He was an alcoholic who worked an ice cream van; she wore leggings and hung out. In 1994 Jay McInerney took seven pages in The New Yorker to call Sevigny “the coolest girl in the world”. Buscemi was still a bit cool because he’d played Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs (1992). Trees Lounge wasn’t that great – it took me two goes to realise I’d already seen it – but it was the mid-1990s, the internet was coming closer and the World was getting ready to party like it was 1999. Lean on Pete will be their second movie together.

Talking of the 1990s, spotting Claire Denis in the Borderlines 2018 brochure made me smile. I am very fond of the Nenette et Boni (1996) OST by Tindersticks, a Nottingham band who contributed to or composed six of her soundtracks. Nine of these numbers were compiled on a cover-mount CD free with the May 2011 issue of Sight & Sound (Volume 21 Issue 5). I was also reminded of screening the superb Beau Travail (1999) at Worcester Film Society, a few years before art house film societies were scuppered by, erm, Film4, the internet and a flood of cover-mount DVDs.
Let the Sunshine In
Seeing Juliette Binoche and Gérard Depardieu cast together gave me the giggles. Let the Sunshine In (2017) will be the first film to star both but it will not be their first memorable co-production. An entertaining little tiff began when Depardieu opined (2010): “Please can you explain to me what the secret of this actress is meant to be? I would really like to know why she has been so esteemed for so many years. She has nothing. Absolutely nothing! She is nothing. Compared with her, Isabelle Adjani is great even if she's totally nuts. Or Fanny Ardant - she is magnificent, extremely impressive. But Binoche? What has she ever had going for her?”

La Binoche responded in a dignified fashion: which is to say she landed a few digs whilst responding in a dignified fashion. They put on a great show. Recently, Depardieu starred in Marseille (2016), a Netflix series that garnered frenzied reviews in France. The rest of the World quite liked it however and he’s making a second series. He was also in Valley of Love (2016) with Isabelle Huppert. His gut dwarfed Death Valley. Binoche’s previous Borderlines appearance was last year’s surreal comedy Slack Bay (2016). Opinion was divided: I enjoyed it. The local linguists were in hysterics every time Inspector Malfoy spoke. And one-eighth of the audience left long before the end.

Sight and Sound (December 2017) observed that Happy End (2017), “Michael Haneke’s most interesting film since Hidden (2005), and also superior to his back-to-back Palme d’Or winners The White Ribbon (2009) and Amour (2012)” was his first feature since 2003 not to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. To the magazine’s own surprise it did not feature in their ‘Best Films of 2017’ poll. The Borderlines 2018 selections Zama, Western, Faces Places, Loveless, 120 BPM, You Were Never Really Here, God’s Own Country, The Shape of Water, Lady Bird and Let the Sunshine In all made the Sight and Sound Top Twenty. Such slips are relative. I really enjoyed The Lobster (2015) and so did many others. I could not find a cinema screening Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up, The Killing of the Sacred Deer (2017), nearer than Bristol. Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell are in it! Some movies just disappear.
Journey's End

Finally, Journey’s End (2017) adapts R. C. Sheriff’s 1928 play of the same name. It was first filmed in 1930 and has been made for television at least five times since then. The BBC’s 1954 version, probably live to air, starred Bryan Forbes, whose The L-Shaped Room (1962) is part of this year’s Borderlines programme. The book Hollywood’s World War I Motion Picture Images (Bowling Green State University, 1997) notes that the public appetite for war films waned after World War I – until The Big Parade (1925), a $10 million making hit for MGM, found “a kind of perfect neutrality between embarrassing flag-waving and noxious despair”.

It was followed by What Price Glory? (1926), based on a long-running Broadway play, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Journey’s End (1930), The Road to Glory (1936), The Road Back (1937), Three Comrades (1938) and many more depictions of life and death in the trenches. As many movies again were set among ‘the young Knights of the air’. In 1929, one of these, Wings (1927) was the first winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. It might be worth watching a few of these for context then revisiting The Marx Brothers’ war movie Duck Soup (1933): “You're a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you're out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in here thinking what a sucker you are.” This was before The Great War was re-made with a more convincing bad guy.

Journey’s End (1930) is of particular interest because it was directed by James Whale. Whale was born in Dudley, Worcestershire in 1889, the sixth son of a blast furnace man and a nurse. During World War I he served as a second lieutenant in the Worcestershire Regiment. He spent the final year of the conflict as a Prisoner of War. It was at the Holzminden POW camp that he first became involved in theatre. Ten years on he directed the premiere of Journey’s End, casting the little known Laurence Olivier in the lead role. Journey’s End soon transferred to the Prince of Wales Theatre where it ran for two years. In 1929 Whale was called to Broadway to direct Journey’s End there. It ran for a year. In 1930 he directed the movie version. In 1931 he directed the definitive Frankenstein. Well, how do you picture the monster?

Robin Clarke

Thursday 1 March 2018

Human Flow

Tuesday’s 1.30 screening of Human Flow at The Courtyard, alas the last of three, was all but sold out. Remarkable, for a 2hr 20 min doc that can at times feel unrelenting. But entirely appropriate. We all know, or think we know, the story - but the scale of it - 65 million displaced people across the globe - alone justifies the length of the movie. Ai Wei Wei’s documentary, however, is far more than an exhausting catalogue of suffering. Duncan Wardlaw’s BFF notes and multiple laudatory reviews make that very clear. But what’s less noticed is the scale of the effort that both Ai Wei Wei and his crew - over 200 people worldwide, a dozen of them, including Ai himself, cinematographers, sixteen additional cinematographers, thirteen drones and one steadicam operator. An extraordinary but wholly justified camera department that produced some stunning results - including two aerial shots that alone are worth the price of admission.

Ai Wei Wei’s mobile phone footage features throughout, as does Ai Wei Wei, cutting hair, swapping passports, respecting, investigating, collaborating, witnessing. The editing of 1,000 hours of footage had at its helm Niels Pagh Andersen, best known for Joshua Oppenheimer’s Academy Award nominated documentaries about Indonesia, The Act of Killing and The Look Of Silence. Anyone who wants more should go to the comprehensive press kit.
The Courtyard projection team at work

Even if you stuck around for the credits, there’s plenty more there, but what it won’t have is a big shout out to Simon Nicholls and the projection crew at The Courtyard. Pin sharp pix, beautiful sound - they produce excellent results day in, day out. Not easy. Anyone spurred to action by Human Flow found People In Motion at the door with flyers about their work with refugees. In a country whose proud record includes the Kindertransport, they, and Ai Wei Wei’s film, are more than deserving of our support.

Stephen Hopkins