Wednesday 17 April 2019

Labours of Love

Irene's Ghost
Documentary film-makers have always been well represented at Borderlines and 2019 was no exception. Irene's Ghost (2018), directed by Iain Cunningham, was a quest to resurrect the memory of his mother who died when he was just three years old. Watching it was a deeply immersive and highly emotional experience. In the Q&A afterwards, Cunningham revealed that he had worked on the film for five years. This got us thinking and talking about other great documentaries where the film-makers had been willing or driven to put in the time: Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1995) followed the hopes and aspirations of two young basketball protegees over the course of four years, for example. Marcel Ophuls worked for decades on Hotel Terminus (1988). This was the documentary maker on an heroic quest, to track down and expose the war criminal, Klaus Barbie, the infamous 'Butcher of Lyon' and in which he succeeded and procured justice in the name of all who suffered and died because of this man.

Of Love and Law
Of Love and Law (Hikaru Toda, 2017) follows two young lawyers, who live and work in Osaka, over the course of a year. Openly gay in a still deeply patriarchal and closeted society, they specialise in minority cases. The camera throughout is effortlessly unobtrusive and it is a little startling when, whilst bickering across the breakfast table, one of the lawyers turns directly toward the camera and talks to the film-maker and of course, by extension, to we the audience. 'Are you happy' he chortles, 'to have caught us arguing?' When the film ends we feel as if we are deserting the lawyers mid-stride, as they continue to strive for change and equality one small step at a time.

The Raft
The Raft (Marcus Lindeen, 2018) documents a flawed social experiment from the 1970s where anthropologist Santiago Genoves wished to explore human behaviour in a confined setting without access to the outside world. He, together with six women and four other men, set sail on a specially commissioned raft to cross the Atlantic. Genoves had very set ideas about what would probably happen but when the sex and violence failed to materialise as he had envisaged he became somewhat disengaged and acted in the very way he had expected of his 'specimens'. Fe and Maria, the raft's captain, clearly recognised Genovese's deep rooted sexism and prejudices and these two came across as the ones who most challenged and angered him. It was interesting that the other women interviewed for this compelling and revealing documentary seemed accepting of his behaviour even when he placed their lives in danger having mutinied and taken over as ship's captain during a life threatening hurricane and then had to relinquish this role back to Maria. The ending, which records his not particularly convincing apology, also shows him turning it all to his own advantage when he later published a book about the experiment. Thankfully, this documentary has helped to set part of this record straight.
Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg (Margarethe von Trotta, 1986), was introduced by Selina Robertson, Film Programmer at Club de Femmes and ICO, who explained that von Trotta had inherited the project from Fassbinder following his death. Von Trotta spent some two years researching her subject and was given access to 2,500 of Luxemburg's letters to study. This level of dedication and commitment is up there on the screen and this is a richly detailed and masterful biopic because of that research. Along with actress, Barbara Sukowa, von Trotta brings Luxemburg vividly to life.

Performance (Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg, 1970) was written by Donal Cammell, his Ortonesque gangsters a gallery of camp grotesques, their banter shocking and absurd. Cammell co-directed the film with Roeg, who of course went on to have a distinguished career. Not so Cammell who faded into obscurity and who committed suicide in 1996, aged 62. It is difficult not to draw comparisons with Jagger's reclusive musician Turner. 'He's stuck', Anita Pallenberg's Pherber tells James Fox's Chas. Cammell's script is wonderful, witty and subversive and quite literally one of a kind.

Christine and Mark Renney ©Matthew Evans
Christine and Mark Renney
From Dull and Flat Bedfordshire