Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 17.35.47European cinema may not only be eye-opening in regard to undiscovered talent and styles, it’s often an educating portrait of different cultures. Mustang, the Oscar-nominated Turkish film about a young sisterhood, highlights a plentiful amount of new young stars, and also striking cultural sensibilities.

Mustang focuses on five sisters who, after a playful interaction with some boys after school, get confined to their guardian’s house. The reasoning behind it is a profound conservatism, one whereby females have a very selective role in society (one that doesn’t include messing around with boys). For a modern-day story, Mustang is quite shocking, yet refreshingly damning of archaic traditions. Humour and heart comes from the girls’ rebellion, along with the ingenious tactics to escape their encampment.

Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s muted direction, along with her and co-writer Alice Winocour’s writing, keeps a relatively wide-spanning story punchy and poignant. The neatness of the film allows the big issues, and kinetic aspects of youth, sink into your psyche as you lay back and enjoy the narrative. Mustang‘s audience is, arguably, the arthouse crowd, yet there is nothing alternative about the style and storytelling here. Ergüven’s drama could easily compare with more established sister stories including The Virgin Suicides, Pride & Prejudice, and Little Women. There’s certainly something most could identify with – what remains unusual is the antiquated treatment of women. Mustang can be enjoyed and deliberated over, like most great art.

The five sisters who carry this film masterfully are of varying age and type. The combination of character allows you to follow five very distinctive plot strands. At the forefront is the young Lale (an extraordinary Günes Sensoy), watching her older sisters get washed up in the societal structures that will eventually leave her alone with her foster parents. The build-up to this prospect is where a lot of the tension lies, and the gradual pacing makes it for a captivating watch. On the side, there is Lale’s football fancy, and her innocent free spirit that defies what is expected of her. Seeing such blithe disregard for the rules is joyous. When the tone shifts, and drama and despair hits, it hits hard due to the playfulness bookending most of it.

Turkey isn’t regularly featured in the foreign film line-up of awards season, but this year has hopefully changed that. Mustang showcases enormous talent, and a culture awaiting further cinematic exploration. Youth, gender and sisterhood hasn’t been profiled altogether this brilliantly in a while.

A retrospective of the films of Andrei Tarkovsky has just opened across UK cinemas. Organised by the BFI, Curzon and Artificial Eye, the retrospective will see all seven of his films shown in their entirety. For this special screening at the Curzon Bloomsbury, the film was preceded by an interview with the architect Takero Shimazaki. Shimazaki was in charge of the redesign of the Curzon Bloomsbury and talked about Tarkovsky’s influence on his work and the relationship between architecture and film.

In all honesty, the talk was not quite as illuminating as hoped. While Shimazaki seemed like an interesting craftsman, the actual link between Tarkovsky’s films and architecture seemed to go amiss. There were vague allusions to ‘texture’ and ‘space’ which were ultimately meaningless, in that these terms could be applied to any arthouse auteur and any building. Shimazaki said that they were shown a Tarkovsky film at his university on their first day of term, but it was a struggle to define how Tarkovsky influenced his work in a tangible way. The phrase ‘dancing about architecture’ circled around my head as the words flowed.

This was my second viewing of Stalker and I was intrigued to see how seeing it on the big screen would affect my experience of it. In the event, there wasn’t much of a difference. I have always found Tarkovsky a film maker to admire and contemplate after the fact, rather than someone to immerse yourself in. Ivan’s Childhood and Andrei Rublev are fairly accessible and immersive, but the rest of his oeuvre is somewhat of a challenge. I am reminded of those tiny model artists who have to slow their heart rate down in order to concentrate properly. Tarkovsky’s films need a similar level of devotion in which the viewer must give in to the snail-like pacing.

Stalker is perhaps the most heralded of his films. Set in a bleak, decaying parallel world, a ‘Zone’ exists on the periphery of a Soviet city. This Zone is a mysterious, mythic place cut off from mainstream society and guarded by the fearful authorities. The story goes that if an intrepid explorer manages to breach the Zone and enter the ‘Room’, then their innermost desires will be fulfilled. These explorers are called Stalkers, one of whom is played by Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy. The Stalker is assigned to smuggle the Writer (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) and the Professor (Nikolay Grinko) across the treacherous obstacles that lead to the Zone.

Each man has their own ulterior motive for the journey, which slowly reveals itself throughout the film. Stalker leaves behind his wife and sick daughter, a victim of the fallout from the Zone (echoes of Chernobyl abound). There is a desperation in his eyes, a yearning for the Zone that cannot be sated by his family’s love. The Writer is similarly tormented, his fame and fortune negated by a nagging existentialism. The Professor, meanwhile, is a coy participant, his knapsack bulging with hidden questions.

The idea of innermost desires is an interesting one. Tarkovsky has ruminated on this idea in many of his films, most notably his Solaris adaptation. His protagonist finds himself on a space mission, entering into a Bermuda Triangle-like zone where people from their past come back to haunt them. Like the characters in Stalker, the crew of the ship are yearning for something unattainable, their most prized desires, this time in the form of loved ones that have passed onto the next realm. Fear and desire is a bedrock of screenwriting and storytelling in general, and Tarkovsky more than any film maker has sought to capture this yearning on screen.

Stalker is not an easy film to sit through. It moves at a mournful pace, and while there are moments of gallows humour, there is an overwhelming somberness to the film. The characters talk in long, rambling, sometimes poetic monologues, often preaching to the camera. The film begins in a sepia-drowned world, and explodes into colour once the trio enter the Zone. The colours however are bleached out, otherworldly, timeless. Stalker is a film that exists in itself. It may be demanding, unsettling, even dulling at times, but it has a singular atmosphere unlike any other film.

The camera is often held at mid-height, hovering strangely like a drone observing the action, waiting to pounce on the fragile characters. As we enter the Room, the extraordinary set design comes to the fore, a beguiling, exotic desert scape that makes the viewer think of the sands of time. Tarkovsky and his crew were fantastically adept at transferring interior thoughts and feelings to exterior settings.  The desolation of the Zone, with its wild, untamed nature and industrial wreckage perfectly mirroring the characters inner loss.

Stalker is not an inherently enjoyable film, but that’s not the point of it. We need artists like Tarkovsky to show alternative realities, to think about how and why we exist. Tarkovsky is one of the few film makers who really makes you think about the possibilities of life in a different way. I might not enjoy watching Stalker in the moment, but in the days, weeks and years after it becomes quite invaluable.

 

‘It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring—with immense, even startling power.’

This quote from the writer Raymond Carver seems very apt when we approach the work of Terrence Malick. Malick has a way of drawing attention to somewhat ordinary things, fragments of everyday life, and making them seem wondrous. After watching his latest film, my path home through London took on a different feeling; the tiled skyscrapers appeared majestic and untouchable, the empty tube and escalators eerie and mysterious. Even with a lesser work as Knight of Cups, Malick has the ability to make the audience see the world in a different way.

Christian Bale plays Rick, the jaded Hollywood screenwriter at the heart of the film, a stoic, passive observer of the insanity around him. His world is full of lavish, hedonistic parties at picturebook mansions and an endless stream of wild beauties. People seem to flow in and out of his life like ocean waves; his tyrannical father (Brian Dennehy), his errant brother (Wes Bentley) and saintly ex-wife (Cate Blanchett). There is a portentous voiceover by Ben Kingsley, reciting The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, detailing a man’s descent into hell and ultimate salvation.

Continuing on from the improvisation of To the Wonder, Malick has appeared to strip away all forms of conventional storytelling, relying on sound and image to conjure a mood. Rick is near mute throughout the film, with snippets of breathless narration the only illumination of his character. It is somewhat sad how the last two films in Malick’s oeuvre have progressed. He was once noted for his ability to illicit strong, memorable performances from his actors, yet now he seems to use them as mere floating, emoting mannequins. The pompous narration does little to assuage this disconnect; it is difficult to feel anything for these characters.

What is frustrating about Knight of Cups is that it is a genuinely beautiful film. There are countless images that other film makers scrabble their whole lives for, yet there is an overwhelming feeling of emptiness, of banality. The relentless beauty becomes dulling, and because there is no emotional connection with the characters or the story, they become shallow. I never thought I would use ‘shallow’ to describe a Malick film, but there we are. DOP Emmanuel Lubezki’s camerawork is again astounding, roaming and swooping, ducking and diving, swirling and twirling, but we may have come to a point when it might actually be a hindrance to Malick.

Lubezki’s collaboration with Malick has been the most notable change in his recent career, and it has been an exceedingly rich meeting of minds. However, Lubezki’s eye is beginning to overpower the story, or what little there is of it. The sprawling improvisation that Lubezki has allowed Malick seems to have dulled his senses- perhaps Malick needs to go back to basics for his next one. The still framing of Badlands and Days of Heaven, a more linear structure, more causal development of characters. In Knight of Cups, there is a feeling that Malick has indulged himself too much, much like the central protagonist Rick.

There are some redeeming points to the film. Hanan Townshend’s score is playful and nuanced, giving this contemporary story a classical, mythical grounding. Some images will linger in the mind, even if they are somewhat literal, such as the canine diving into the luminescent pool, yearning to gets its jaws around an elusive ball. It is an obvious metaphor for Rick’s own struggle to find meaning, always clutching out for something more. Sadly, we find Malick in a similar mode, reaching out for greatness and falling at the last moment.

 

Image: No One Knows About Persian Cats (Dir. Bahman Ghobadi, Iran, 2009)

The importance of music in film is undeniable, but there are certain film makers who take this relationship to another level. Nicholas Winding Refn, for example, seems to use music as a guiding force when coming to conceive of his films, and his long running collaboration with Johnny Jewel of Chromatics fame is a match made in heaven. The French director Claire Denis has utilised the English band Tindersticks’ music for many of her films, their low key, brooding atmospherics an apt compliment to her intense filmography.

We also have the musicians who seem to be inspired by cinema; Dirty Beaches is one of the strongest examples in recent memory. His eclectic style is in debt to his love of world cinema, particularly film makers like Wong Kar Wai and Theo Angelopolous (one song is named after the film Landscapes in the Mist). There are countless other cases of this creative flow between two mediums, but here we try and give a few of our own suggestions for potential collaborations:

Arthur Russell-Being It = Harmony Korine

This song is both bleak and beautiful, distorted yet poetic. Would perfectly frame a set of misfit loners roaming through decaying suburbia. Arthur Russell was of course somewhat of an outsider himself, tragically never gaining huge acclaim while he was alive. Like Korine he straddled high and low pop culture, creating something otherworldly and timeless.

 

Karen Dalton-Something on your mind = Wes Anderson

Perhaps controversial, some might say that Anderson doesn’t deserve a song of this beauty but he’s proved capable of perfectly integrating 60’s folk songs into his work at emotional peaks. He might even throw a bit of slo-mo in for this one! But seriously, a beautiful song for people who might not even like folk music that much. Dalton’s vocals are effortlessly heartbreaking, and the guitar is rusty and melancholic.

 

Lizzy Mercier Descloux- Rosa Vertov = Leos Carax

Hip, dark and urgent, this track by the 80’s chanteusse would be perfect for one of Leos Carax’s earlier films. I could just imagine Denis Lavant breaking into a feverish, explosive dance along the streets of Paris to this. Lizzy Mercier Descloux died relatively young leaving behind some startling work, and like the characters in Carax’s films, lived life at full tilt.

 

Mark McGuire- A matter of time =Michael Mann

Mann specialises in moody, neon lit cityscapes, and I think this track would be a great backdrop for one of those scenes. This is by the Emerald’s guitarist Mark McGuire and it’s hypnotic and beautiful. Just imagine a tortured cop looking out across a rooftop onto an indigo sky, with this playing in the background.

 

Beat Happening-Our Secret =Terry Malick

Yeah, it probably wouldn’t fit into any of his films, but this always reminds a lot of Badlands. Firstly, it’s really gorgeous and has a rural feel to it, and secondly, it talks about two young lovers fleeing from their parents. Sound familiar?

 

Buffy Saint Marie- God is alive, magic is afoot = Nic Roeg

Buffy Saint Marie’s earlier music is trippy and magical, so fits right in with Nic Roeg’s hallucinatory visuals. This particularly song is carried by lullaby guitar plucking and woozy reverberating vocals. Spooky.

 

Broadcast- You and me in time = Jaromil Jires

Broadcast were noted fans of ‘Valerie and her week of wonders’, so this selection is cheating a bit. Keenan’s soft cooing and the delicate, dreamlike xylophone notes instantly finding kinship with the childlike, pastoral wonder of Jires’ film.

 

Dirty Beaches- True Blue/Lord Knows Best = Wong Kar Wai

Dirty Beaches is a noted cinephile and this is clearly, CLEARLY influenced by Wong Kar Wai’s movies. Could see either of these songs set to a ballroom dance scene, ill fated lovers having their last dance together. Sad and sultry.

 

PJ Harvey- To talk to you= Jane Campion

National treasure PJ Harvey took a left turn with her 2007 album White Chalk- it was downbeat, mournful and seemed to arrive from another time. The parallels with Jane Campion’s film The Piano are clear, as we Polly Jean dressed in an ethereal white period dress on the front cover. The music is, as you might have guessed, mostly focused around Harvey’s piano and the haunting mixture of repression and desire coming through, much like in the film.

 

Intrepid cinematic adventurer Colm Sewell explores the North Korean cult classic Pulgasari. Find Colm’s blog here.

Pulgasari was produced by a tyrant, directed by a hostage and features the acting talent of some of the most oppressed people on Earth. The fascinating backstory makes it an intriguing historical document, but it stands on its own as damn acceptable cinema.

I usually believe that films should be removed from the whirlwind of spin surrounding them and assessed on their own merits, yet with Pulgasari this is incredibly tricky. Too fascinating is the story of South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his wife Choi Eun-hee, kidnapped by leader Kim Il-Sung’s notoriously eccentric heir (and slightly less notorious movie-buff) Kim Jong-il and forced to make feature films for the hermit kingdom or languish in the labour camps. Even if you were ignorant of this story, there’s the extraordinary world of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea itself, which you surely do know. Why else would you be watching?

Still, give it a go. Within the first few minutes it will become apparent that this is not the movie you expected to see. A massive thematic break from usual North Korean fare (whose themes are chiefly the glorious might of the Korean people and the evil of the Japanese and Yankee imperialist pig-dog oppressors), Pulgasari is no propaganda flick.

Set in medieval Korea, an evil king confiscates the farming tools of an impoverished peasant village, eager to melt the iron down for weaponry. Pulgasari is the name given to a tiny figurine molded from rice and mud by a starving farmer. Brought to life by blood accidentally pricked from his daughter’s finger, he eats metal to survive and grow. Initially, he’s a cute little fellow who lives in a sewing kit and feeds on pins, but before long he’s gobbling pots, pans, swords and leading a revolt against the king.

It boggles the mind that Shin Sang-ok would have dared film this story of peasants in open revolt against a corrupt leadership. Of course, one could argue that the plot is a metaphor for the creation of the DPRK itself, the story of agrarian masses waging communist revolution. However, when we follow this allegory to its conclusion (which I believe was Shin’s intention), we see the people become slaves to the beast that liberated them and thus toiling in servitude to him. It seems the Great Leader was fighting not for liberation, but for his own material gain. “There is no end to it”, laments one villager bitterly when Pulgasari defeats the king and turns to demand more iron; as harsh a critique of the vanguard as you are likely to see in all of Western cinema.

Pulgasari is, however, not a perfect film. The score features some of the worst eighties synth you’ve ever heard, which is its one major drawback (besides all the forced labour.) The visual effects are primitive, but impressive in light of North Korea’s isolation and endearing in a kind of retro way, presenting a kitsch appeal to us in the era of mindnumbingly perfect CGI (thankfully Dear Leader was a better producer than George Lucas in this regard and did not go back and tamper later). The acting might seem melodramatic to Western audiences, but intense emotion is simply part of the aesthetic in Korean cinema, north and south of the border. Though jarring to foreigners at first, this expressiveness is one of many charming aspects to a truly rich cinematic culture.

Much of Pulgasari’s spirit is borrowed from Godzilla. Japanese company Toho (who created the franchise) helped with production and Pulgasari himself was played by Kenpachiro Satsuma (the man in the Godzilla suit at the time), meaning, in essence, North Korea has created a decent Godzilla adaptation, something the American imperialist pig-dogs have yet to do.

Leonardo Goi sat down to talk to Mexican director Michel Franco about his powerful set of films, since his directing debut in 2009 with Daniel y Ana.

Michel Franco is a 36 year-old Mexican screenplay writer, producer and director. After his 2009 directing debut, Daniel y Ana, he won Cannes’ 2012 Un Certain Regard award for his second work, Después de Lucía and went on to win best screenplay for his 2015 Chronic, starring Tim Roth. A few weeks ago another one of Franco’s works, A Los Ojos, was finally screened for the first time across Mexico’s cinemas, a belated celebration for a movie he had presented in 2013 at Morelia’s Film Festival and co-directed with his sister Victoria.

Why did you choose to share your camera with someone else, and how was it working with your sister?

I liked the idea of combining my sister’s documentarist vision with my own, which is much more oriented towards fiction. To be sure, the idea came with a number of challenges attached, both on an aesthetic and on a content point of view. We had the privilege of working with a great actress, Mónica del Carmen, as well as with several homeless kids who had never acted before, and our goal was to make sure they would feel just as spontaneous in front of the camera as Mónica. My sister and I have a very similar film taste, and this allowed us, after long chats, to reach an agreement over how we wanted the story to be filmed. Merging together fiction with reality, so to speak.

How did you find working with non-professional actors, especially kids suffering from dire poverty as those you chose as part of A Los Ojos’ cast?

We were helped by a local organisation, Casa Alianza, with years of experience working with street kids. Casa Alianza was there to help us establish a connection with the kids, and we ended up following the social worker’s approach: we would begin talking with the kids, explain them our story and our goals, and eventually got them to be relaxed and spontaneous around the camera. This was a very long process which my sister oversaw, whilst I worked on the story’s more fictitious elements. Mónica del Carmen herself played a key role in these early stages, earning the kids’ trust and fostering the legitimacy and meaning of our presence around them

Elsewhere you mentioned that A Los Ojos’ screenplay was “created” on the spot, meaning that you did not have a set text upon which you based your scenes. Those familiar with your work and the attention you put into writing might find this a puzzling choice. Why did you choose to work with a seemingly improvised script?

We had a very clear storyline we wanted to follow, but we did not want to somehow “impose” a set of dialogues to our actors, professional or non professional. That was especially the case for Benjamin, the young drug-addict whom Mónica will take care of in the film. We did not want the boy to feel constrained when he would tell his story, we did not want his tale to follow a trajectory we had previously defined. So whenever he speaks about his own experiences and his own past he does so freely, and the same happened with the exchanges between him and Mónica’s son, Omar. The friendship that the audience sees building between the two on the screen is real – all we did was just film the chemistry which soon developed between the kids. That’s what I mean when I say we did not work with a fixed screenplay: we had four written pages, a clearly defined storyline, and nothing else.

A trade mark of your directing style is the choice to keep the camera fixed, which allows you to blur even further the boundary between documentary and fiction…

I like the technique because it allows me to leave it up to the viewer which elements of the scenes he can concentrate on. I don’t want to tell him what to focus on, I don’t want to guide his attention by constantly changing frames. Which is more or less the same reason why you’ll never hear music in my films, and very few dialogues. I look for the purest and most direct way to generate emotions in the audience, without manipulating their reactions in order to achieve this. My aim is to elicit an emotional response from the viewer in the most transparent way possible.

There’s a leitmotiv which spans from your first film, Daniel y Ana (2009) to your 2012 Cannes triumph, Después de Lucía: public shame. What is it about it that fascinates you?

I like to focus on human relations, on the intimate connections that emerge and die in our families and outside of them, the way people relate with the outside world and how they project themselves into it, especially when this is something performed by adolescents. I think these are dilemmas which concern their age group more than any other. I like to talk about the difficulties we face when we try to establish a connection with other people, regardless of our educational background or culture. Sometimes the easiest things are the most difficult ones.

In 2012 you won Cannes’ Un Certain Regard award, and it was there that you first met Tim Roth. How did you find working with him in Chronic and how did the film’s production come along?

We were very lucky to be able to work with people we were already familiar with – the Mexican crew of Lucia Films, other Mexicans in the States, and my New York-based casting director – and people we soon established a great chemistry with – Tim Roth’s own entourage. We made a movie that was co-produced between France and Mexico and spoken entirely in English, which of course presented its own challenges. And Tim Roth too was key in these first, pre-production stages.

In Chronic you show the last days of several terminally ill patients. How did you find it working on such a delicate theme, and what is it that piques your curiosity about the idea of illness and death?

I must warn you that the only actor with a real medical condition was the teenager in a wheelchair who makes his appearance towards the end of the movie, one of Roth’s last patients. Except for him, the other members of the cast were all actors, including the first terminally ill girl Roth will take care of, who accepted to lose a lot of weight just to take part in the movie. As for the theme itself, I am fascinated by the vulnerability of our human nature, and the fragility which illnesses unveil as a somewhat inescapable fate. As a director I find it impossible to escape the topic of death, and I like the idea of being able to talk about how much it can teach us about life. I believe cinema is a great means to convey these messages.

Your stories develop as icebergs, of which the audience can only see the top, and the rest is up for us to imagine and intuit, so that one must concentrate on silences as much as words. How do you go about choosing the stories that you then turn into movies, and how does your writing stage unfold?

More than a story, what really interests me is a big theme. In the case of Chronic, I wanted to come up with a character as psychologically complex as possible. And that is how I go about writing my screenplays: I first start with a theme, or a character, trying to say a great deal of things with very few words to establish a dialogue with my audience. After all, cinema is first and foremost a constant interaction between a director and his public. The most difficult part of making a film is writing it, and knowing what to do with one’s story. I normally write, direct and ultimately produce my own movies, so a screenplay is the backbone of my work. But whenever I need to decide whether or not to embark on a new project the question I must ask myself is whether or not the topic will still interest me in two or three years’ time, and whether the public too will find it a theme worth knowing more about. That’s why the stories I film are almost all universal tales – things that ultimately concern us all.

After the accolades earned for Chronic – winner of Cannes best screenplay award last year – Michel Franco is currently busy promoting a film he co-directed with his sister Victoria, which is finally being released in Mexico: A Los Ojos. Presented at the 2013 Morelia Film Festival, A Los Ojos seems to follow the path Franco had undertaken with his first great international success and 2012 Cannes Caméra d’Or winner, Después de Lucia.

Once again, the 37-year old Mexican director draws from a widespread social malaise to conjure up a moving and crude depiction of contemporary Mexico. If bullying had been the catalyst of Después de Lucia’s drama, here the camera focuses on another, equally terrifying plague: organ trafficking.

Michel and Victoria Franco guide us through the lives of Mónica, a single mother working for a foundation helping street kids, her only child Omar, affected by a degenerative eye disease, and Benjamin, a homeless and drug addict teenager whom Mónica seeks to rescue from the streets.

Mónica is dedicated and thoroughly committed to her patients, at times even to the detriment of her own safety. Those fluent with Franco’s filmography may recognise the zealous, almost excessive dedication that would characterise Tim Roth’s character in Chronic. But Mónica’s care only goes up to a point, and that is when her son’s disease worsens and forces her to take a decision that will change their lives forever.

The Francos’ directing style is sober and minimalistic, so much so that at times the film feels more like a documentary than a work of fiction. And indeed it is, or at least partly so, for while Michel worked on the story’s fictitious elements, his sister Victoria worked closely with the street kids who turned into the drama’s protagonists, in order to focus on the reality the film sought to address. The camera stands still for most of the film, as if camouflaged in between the furniture or the slums’ debris, and the lens lingers on the scene even after the characters have gone out of frame.

The blurring of fiction and reality is a purposeful (and remarkably effective) move. The merging of the two styles manages to paint Benjamin’s universe as a crude and credible wasteland, populated by kids who simply can’t get over their past and are condemned to endlessly try to escape it – to no avail. It is telling that when Benjamin and Omar’s sight begins to deteriorate and the doctors try to cure the two, only Omar begins to show any progress. Benjamin will never truly “see” a life away from the streets.

A Los Ojos does not follow the same brutal rhythm of Después de Lucia, nor is the terrifying truth underpinning the plot as explicit as it is in other works by Franco. But if the drama develops more slowly, it does so in a way that is no less haunting. The combination of fiction and realism which permeates A Los Ojos makes it stand out as a powerful and moving cry against one of Mexico’s enduring malaises. The overarching question one is left with is not whether the two kids will ever be able to see again, but whether society will stop turning a blind eye on its horrific plagues.

It takes a lot of courage to touch a theme as delicate as teenage bullying, and a great amount of talent to do so without fetishising the brutality behind it. After Daniel y Ana (2009) Michel Franco confronts an old leitmotiv, public shame, and does it through the story of Alejandra, a young girl who suddenly loses her mum in a car accident and is forced to move to Mexico City to begin a new life with her dad, a forty-something-year-old chef.

The film’s first twenty minutes unfold at a slow pace, as we follow Alejandra’s efforts to fit in the new environment and integrate in a new circle of friends, until the story hits a turning point: Alejandra is filmed having sex with a friend of hers, and the video is then rapidly shared with the entire student body.

What follows is a dramatic portrait of the repercussions Alejandra will suffer as a result of the moment of intimacy with a boy. Just as fast as they had accepted her within their circle, her friends will repudiate her. They will insult her, humiliate her publicly, cut her hair, force her to drink, violate her, and eventually urinate over her sleeping body – activities which, interestingly, the girls enjoy as much as the boys. Alejandra’s body is degraded and turned into an object of shame. In some fundamental sense, Franco has the teenagers de-humanise Alejandra by sexualising her instead.

There are moments in which the level of abuse she is subject to is so extreme that one wonders whether Franco may have exaggerated his story, for the sole purpose of shocking the viewer. But stories of teenage bullying and sex abuse abound, in which the level of humiliation suffered exceeds Alejandra’s and the victims often resort to suicide as the only possible way out. More than exaggerating then, perhaps Franco is only guilty of showing a social malaise to its full extent.

But even when the camera captures the most atrocious moments of Alejandra’s humiliation, it does it in a way that does not fetishize them. Franco keeps the camera still throughout the entire film, whether it is placed inside the girl’s house, a classroom, a hotel room or a car, as if to document the story.

It is this minimalist, somewhat neutral style that has helped Franco to deal with complex themes (bullying, as in here, or terminal illnesses, in Chronic, and organ trafficking, in A Los Ojos) without being smothered by their weight. Franco’s directing does not add anything to make the story more gruesome or shocking, as the camera merely registers the story for what it is, with a sense of honesty and impartiality.

This does not mean the directing style is not sophisticated – quite the contrary. It takes a great degree of work and study to make sure one sees a movie without feeling the director’s ego behind it. And this is precisely what one senses upon watching Después de Lucia.

Winner of the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes in 2012, Después de Lucia may not be an easy film to see, but it is a necessary watch – a story told with a powerful mix of empathy and ruthlessness.

With the cinema year well and truly underway, and Cannes just around the corner, here’s a month-by-month rundown of the films we’re (already) looking forward to seeing on British cinema screens in 2016. Featuring art-house darlings, bold remakes of movie classics, timely re-releases, as well as an abundance of strong docs and enticing oddities, there is plenty to keep your Cineworld Unlimited Card busy (for those of you who don’t have one, it entitles you to see as many movies as you want for £16.90 a month) and your mind thoroughly occupied throughout the year:

April:
Eisenstein In Guanajuato (Dir. Peter Greenaway)
Louder Than Bombs (Dir. Joachim Trier)
Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (Dir. Randy Barbato, Fenton Bailey)
Son of Saul (Dir. Son of Saul)

May:
Johnny Guitar (Dir. Nicholas Ray, re-release)
Knight of Cups (Dir. Terrence Malick)
Green Room (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
Mustang (Dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven)

June:
Where to Invade Next (Dir. Michael Moore)
No Home Movie (Dir. Chantal Akerman)
Blood Orange (Dir. Toby Tobias) [Pictured above: featuring Iggy Pop]
Embrace Of The Serpent (Dir. Ciro Guerra)

July:
Notes on Blindness (Dir. Peter Middleton, James Spinney)
The Neon Demon (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
Weiner (Dir. Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman)
Author: The JT LeRoy Story (Dir. Jeff Feuerzeig)

August:
David Brent: Life On The Road (Dir. Ricky Gervais)
Ben-Hur (Dir. William Wyler, re-release)
Julieta (Dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

September:
The Magnificent Seven (Dir. Antoine Fuqua)
The Man Who Fell To Earth (Dir. Nicolas Roeg, re-release)

October:
Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World (Dir. Werner Herzog)
Kate Plays Christine (Dir. Robert Greene)

November:
Bad Santa 2 (Dir. Mark Waters)
Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny (Dir. Louis Black, Karen Bernstein)

December:
Life, Animated (Dir. Roger Ross Williams)
Star Wars: Rogue One (Dir. Gareth Edwards)

This is a sponsored post for Cineworld.

Berlin, February, 2016: French film editor Patricia Rommel sat down to talk craft and career with Berlin based fashion designer Paula Immich.

Patricia Rommel has editied the films of established, as well as of independent directors and her work has taken her to Mexico, India and Los Angeles. Among the many films Patricia has edited are two Oscar winners: Nirgendwo in Afrika by Caroline Link and Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Currently she is editing a new film directed by Angelina Jolie.

Speaking in the terms of film language, I would describe Patricia Rommel as a jumpcut: she is full of energy, in a constant change of movement it seems like a new thought or impulse comes to her mind every minute.

Her mercurialness is in sharp contrast to the moment she enters her world of editing: this is the instant where she blends out everything around her. She focuses like a sniper; concentration, patience, silence, flow.

Patricia, what exactly do you do when you start editing a film?
Editing is quite similar to writing. A writer has his thoughts and his words. As an editor I work with the shots, the sound, the music and my thoughts. I string takes together, play around with the space of time or deplace the intended order of the shots and the meaning will be completetly different. There are endless possibilities of how a story can be told.

When things become challenging my ambition is fueled because, all the more so, I have to use my creativity and think out of the box.

What do you love about your job?
For me the most beautiful part in the process of filmmaking is the editing. The atmosphere in the cutting room is communicative and calm at the same time and I can follow my own schedule. I love working at night when the city goes to sleep, when everything around me –  the constant mails, the phone calls, the assistants – calms down.

What are the down sides?
The pressure of time. There are always tight deadlines within which I have to be creative. I would love to have the freedom to experiment even more.

How do you deal with this pressure?
After so many years I am still passionate about editing and the process itself is still rewarding to me, which compensates for the pressure.

Are men and women judged by the same measure and do they have equal opportunities in your profession?
Opposed to the women’s poor representation in the film industry in general, editing used to be a women’s domain because film was shot on celluloid, which physically had to be cut and then taped back together in the editing room, which was a very meticulous affair. A labour which was to be found more apropriate to women. Since film editing has become digital more and more men are working in this job. For myself I feel lucky to be working with women directors, such as Caroline Link or Angelina Jolie, who again themselves enjoy working with women. It is not uncommon to find women assigned as heads of department on Caroline Link’s team

Patricia, you are currently editing Angelina Jolie’s new movie. There is so much larger than life glamour associated with her, were you nervous the fist time you met her; did you find her intimidating?
Because of her celebrity I was a little hesitant during the first handshake, but I soon realized how sincere and how down to earth she is.

Is it important for your career how you dress?
No,  not really. In general I like to alternate between a casual style and simple elegance. But when I have meeings for first interviews I deliberately try to dress neutral, since I don’t want peolple to put a label on me right from the start.

Patricia, you’ve had a fantastic career so far, any advice to other women about how to get ahead?
Always be honest with yourself, be clear about what you want and what you don’t want. Be patient and open minded. Be respectful. Learn to listen, and …smile.

Patricia , thank you for sharing.

Text & image copyright of Paula Immich. For more on Paula’s work visit www.paulaimmich.de

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 220 other followers

%d bloggers like this: