Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

zz64c5954e1It’s difficult to avoid the influence of superheroes at the cinema today. The blockbuster comic book movies have become staples of not only the American box office, but international theatres as well. Despite the overwhelming visibility of comic book titans like Marvel and DC, many countries have put their own spin on the superhero movie. These are a few of the heroes that have had a lasting impact on the genre or are about to make their own splash.

Guardians

Russia is not one to be slept on when it comes to film. When they finally decided to try their hand at superheroes, the results did not disappoint. Guardians features a gigantic, musclebound, shirtless man with the head of a bear that fires a gatling gun—and makes American superhero films look positively tame by comparison. The movie focuses on a team of Soviet superheroes made during the Cold War who represent the different nationalities of the former USSR. And it manages to tap into the rich culture of the nation while besting the Americans at their own game for superhero spectacle. A recent trailer has the movie looking better than ever and it’s hard not to be excited for this level of cinematic extravagance. It’s officially being released on February 23, 2017 and promises to become an immediate cult hit, proving there’s more to superheroes than The Avengers.

1200

3 Dev Adam

Spider-Man

Spider-Man might be an American hero by origin but his popularity has spawned more than a few imitators throughout the world. Notable among these is the 1973 Turkish action movie, 3 Dev Adam, where Spider-Man is actually the bad guy and fights against Captain America and legendary Mexican luchador, El Santo. Other notable foreign takes on the beloved wall-crawler include the Japanese Spider-Man show where the hero is given his own giant robot and would go on to influence the show that would eventually become Power Rangers. The heroes from Marvel comics are famous worldwide and have long been ripe for licensing through various media, as evidenced through the varying Marvel titles detailed online that are available at popular casino sites. Comic book heroes are frequently used in games like this throughout the world, which only speaks to their incredible appeal. The fan-favourite continues to delight fans
in international markets and his upcoming film, Spider-Man: Homecoming, is sure to be another success.

Krrish

Of course Bollywood was eventually going to offer its own take on the superhero genre with its trademark flair—but it’s also amazing. The franchise has become the second-highest grossing film series in Bollywood (no small feat) with a fourth film set to come out in 2018. The series began with Koi…Mil Gaya in 2003 before going on to become the incredible franchise it is today. 2013’s Krrish 3 was praised for its spectacular visual effects and broke many box office records upon its release. Those records will likely be shattered upon the release of Krrish 4 as the series manages to combine the song and dance staples of Bollywood with the visual explosiveness of American superhero movies.

These are only a few of the heroes that have helped to showcase the international influence of superhero cinema, but there are many other countries that have offered their own unique spin on the genre. There’s far more to the genre than just what hits the American box office, and the trend of more films like this sprouting up around the world is likely to continue.

Read Full Post »

Turning the Holocaust into filmic material forces one to confront the never-ending debate about the responsibilities and limitations of cinema when it comes to depicting historical atrocities. In 1961 Jacques Rivette wrote a brutal review of Gillo Pontecorvo’s Kapò, criticising the way the Italian director had shown the death of an inmate through a tracking shot which called attention to her dead hand. The review did not declare the Holocaust off-limits to artists, but warned against the danger of fetishizing a horror as unthinkable as the Shoah’s.

A few decades after Rivette’s review, Andrei Konchalovsky arrives at Venice’s 73rd International Film Festival to present Paradise, a moving portrait of the horrors of the Holocaust that is both visually stunning and yet does not aestheticize the Shoah.

Conceived in a way that mirrors a chamber play, Paradise concentrates on the way the Holocaust changes the lives of Olga (Julia Vysotskaya), a Russian aristocrat imprisoned for hiding Jewish kids in Nazi-occupied Paris, Jules (Philippe Duquesne), a French-Nazi collaborator who promises not to execute Olga in exchange for sexual favours, and Helmut (Christian Clauß), an SS officer and a former lover of Olga’s who tries to set her free from the concentration camp she is eventually sent to.

Konchalovsky does not depict the Holocaust using the crowded, large-scale violence scenes which had formed the repertoire of other works on the Shoah (arguably the most notable case being Schindler’s List) nor does he take the viewer straight into the lager’s hell the way László Nemes did with his magnificent and revolutionary Son of Saul. Yet he depicts the Shoah in a way that is no less unsettling and thought-provoking. He juxtaposes the idyllic paradises which the three characters long for with the horrors of the Holocaust, so that the full scale of the Shoah’s terror is not depicted through its explicit visual representation but through the way it gradually shatters the characters’ dreams.

Like Son of Saul, Paradise uses a 4:3 screen format, but unlike Nemes’s work, the camera stands still and does not follow the characters around the camp. Konchalovsky’s film opens, ends and is staggered with three monologues which the characters give sitting in front of the camera. It is a brilliant narrative device through which Olga, Helmut and Jules can speak of their lives before and after the war broke out and thus open up to the viewer, and it strengthens the empathy the audience feels for their stories.

Alexander Simonov’s mesmerising photography mimics the aesthetic of the black and white movies of the forties, and the attention to the geometry, symmetries and lights one perceives in each scene makes for some visually spectacular shots. Even so, Paradise never quite turns into a beautiful and yet somewhat cold painting, nor does Konchalovsky’s directing slips into the gratuitous fetishisation of the Shoah’s horror Rivette saw in Pontecorvo’s Kapò. Brilliantly photographed, written and directed, Paradise manages to depict the Holocaust in a way that both moves the audience and honours the victims of an unthinkable tragedy.

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

To audiences outside of North America and Russia, the “Miracle on Ice” won’t mean much save for those few who watched Disney’s adaptation of the Miracle ten years ago. Yet to those countries, this hockey game, which took place during the Lake Placid 1980 Winter Olympics, has such stratospheric importance that Sports Illustrated named it “The Top Sports Moment of the 20th Century”.

While this is arguably an exaggeration, the “Miracle” did capture the imagination of a whole generation of cold war indoctrinated Americans, at a time when tensions between the two nations were at an all time high. Played during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Americans would soon rule to boycott the 1980 Moscow summer Olympics, after decades of tensions came very close to boiling point.

This is the picture Gabe Polsky (an American born of Soviet immigrants) paints early on in his debut feature Red Army to contextualise a familiar world crisis, which can be still universally recognised even 35 years on. What is unique about his film however is that, after all this time, not much is actually known about the formidable “Red Army” hockey team who dominated the sport throughout the 60s and 70s and were the heavy favourites going into the USA match; a team made of college students and amateurs.

Thus Red Army explores the massive socio-political implications of the Soviet’s ice hockey team, who were a tremendous source of pride to the state and seen as intrinsically important to the strength of the USSR both socially and internationally, and its effect on the players and staff involved.

The film focuses on the team’s most decorated and celebrated player Slava Fetishov: regarded as one of the best defensive players in the history of the sport, he grew up in the Soviet academy during their dominance, played in the infamous “Miracle” game, captained during the Soviet’s two 80’s golds and finally defied the oppressive Soviet state to become a successful NHL player in the 90s. While his list of honours may provide something of a spoiler for unaware viewers, Fetishov is a remarkable talent who builds a tantamount rapport with Polsky on screen, creating great moments of escalation and desperation, while reminiscing about his and his comrades’ careers.

Through archival footage and interviews with the players, Polsky shows us the brutal training regimes that ensured the Soviet system was the best. It is hard not to sympathise with these supposed “bad guys”, as they were frequently estranged from their loved ones for almost 12 months a year, and had to fight so hard to be the best as the sport they loved. Yet, to see the bonds formed from this band of brothers is truly inspiring; we see that even in the highest pressure scenarios in sport or politics, friendship can carry people through.

Unfortunately however, there is something that feels frustratingly out of reach in Polsky’s film. While he creates excellent, well contextualised timelines, with some earnestly emotional responses from his subjects (especially Fetishov), Polsky is penchant to glossing over some details a little too easily. Admittedly Polsky packs a lot of weight into the film’s relatively slender 85 minute runtime, but it is does mean that the film’s emotional impact dissipates in personal moments, as too much attention is focused on the might of the team and state.

While emotionally involving documentary filmmaking is always a very difficult task, one feels Polsky is just a little bit restrained at times in respect of his subjects, which makes this otherwise charming story suffer. [Spoiler warning:] The final reveal of Fetishov’s current role in Putin’s government being left unquestioned or largely unparalleled to the past is a particularly interesting oversight, but perhaps like certain details left out from the Soviet era, it is a bit too close to the top to be expressed for now.

Despite this, Red Army is a fascinating look at a team generally regarded as faceless enemies and succeeds in humanising them both as great athletes and normal humans. While the “Miracle” may be met with hostility (ESPN’s recent documentary Of Men and Miracles is a good example of this), there is no denying this intriguing insight from behind the Iron Curtain.

Read Full Post »

1) IDA (DIR. PAWEL PAWLIKOWSKI, POLAND)

Ida, the Polish nun at the heart of Pawlikoski’s WW2 drama, perfectly encapsulates the lightness and darkness of the film, her beetlebug black eyes framed by a saintly, doll-like complexion. Beautifully played by Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida is told she is a Jewish survivor of the holocaust and must meet her aunt before taking her vows. Shot in austere monochrome, the film is a road movie/coming of age tale, with Ida forced to come to terms with her past and decide on her own future. While a black and white holocaust drama might seem heavy going, Pawlikoski has a lightness of touch which elevates it to something greater than simply a sob story.

2) BOYHOOD (DIR. RICHARD LINKLATER, USA)

rsz_boyhood_momentos_de_una_vida_-__ellar_coltrane_mason_finalLinklater’s much heralded drama follows one boy actor from childhood to adolescence, taking in all the growing pains that come with it. While the film often strays into schmaltz and cliche, it is hard not to be affected by the film and project as a whole. Lead actor Ellar Coltrane may have seemed gawky and awkward as the years passed by, but perhaps that is as accurate a reflection of teenager you can get? Estranged parents Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke provide the acting chops and the pathos of adult instability.

3) STRANGER BY THE LAKE (DIR. ALAIN GUIRAUDIE, FRANCE)

StrangerByTheLake_5_Christophe_Paou_Pi.JPGNo-one does voyeurism quite like the French. By a remote lake in rural France Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) cruises the beach for men in order to sate his desires. His attention is piqued by the athletic Michel (Christophe Paou) and soon his lust for him begins to override his moral compass. How dangerous could Michel really be? Guiraudie’s film is a brooding beast, high on intrigue and psychologically complex. It also has a great sense of place; I can’t think of another film that demonstrates the tranquil joy of lake swimming so much.

4) NYMPHOMANIAC PARTS 1 AND 2 (DIR. LARS VON TRIER, DENMARK)

rsz_1rsz_hero_nymphomaniacvol2-2014-1It is a little sad that Von Trier garners more headlines for his antics than his actual films; Nymphomaniac is another interesting addition to his ouevre. Part of his Depression trilogy this epic double header follows Joe, a young girl hurtling through life with a hard-on, unable to satisfy her desire for human flesh. Ably played by Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Joe’s travails are often bleak and brutal- this is Von Trier in a self destructive mood. The film gains power in its sheer scale and rawness of emotion.

5) WINTER SLEEP (DIR. NURI BILGE CEYLAN, TURKEY)

rsz_1rsz_p02ckcsmIf Once upon a time in Anatolia was the brooding, silent brother in the family, then Winter Sleep is the talkative, narcissistic sibling. Aydin runs a remote hotel in rural Anatolia with his sloth-like sister and bored younger wife, all the while indulging his intellectual delusions with vanity book projects. Ceylan’s latest film is occasionally too verbose and meandering in its 3 hour length, yet it often finds its way to a point of real epiphany. The characters are so complex and fluid that you find yourself dividing your loyalty between each of them from moment to moment.

6) LEVIATHAN (DIR. ANDREY ZVYAGINTSEV, RUSSIA)

rsz_leviathanBased on a true American news story but with great parallels with contemporary Russian society, Leviathan is the tale of a local fisherman forced to give up his land for a pittance when the greedy local mayor comes calling. Zvyagintsev arrived with one of the greatest debuts of the 21st century in The Return, but his latest film sees the director opting for a more literal, moralistic form of storytelling. The characters and themes are set out in a blunt fashion but the sheer conviction of the actors and the anger of the director shines through.

7) ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (DIR. JIM JARMUSCH, USA)

This is a peculiar one. While watching the film, and just after, I was left with mixed feelings about Jarmusch’s latest offering. His re-imagining of the vampire genre had a typically thin story, a penchant for sixth form level philosophy and a somewhat nerdy obsession with guitars and literary figures. There were probably a lot more ‘powerful’ and prescient films being made this year, but this one has stuck. The moody streets of Detroit and the gothic twang of Josef Van Wissem’s score has left a lingering atmosphere, while the central relationship between the evergreen vampires played by  Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston is oddly moving.

8) THE PAST (DIR. ASGHAR FARHADI, FRANCE/IRAN)

Film still from The Past by Asghar FarhadiFarhadi’s twisty family drama follows a family’s disintegration in Paris. Ahmad, the estranged father figure, travels to France to meet his ex-partner Marie and sign their divorce papers. However, he quickly becomes embroiled in family tensions as her new partner Samir is causing friction with her offspring. The film is a treasure chest of lies and misunderstandings, Farhadi creating a meaty drama out of miscommunication. While the film may become too tricksy and melodramatic at points, the quality of the acting and the dialogue makes it a very satisfying watch.

9) FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (DIR. JOHN MALOOF & CHARLIE SISKEL, USA)

rsz_211-628x425This excellent documentary unearthed the fascinating story of Vivien Maier, a New York nanny with a secret life as a master photographer. In the 60’s and 70’s, Maier would go out onto the streets of New York and take fantastic photos of everyday life; children, old pensioners, the rich, the homeless. Remarkably her talents were unknown to her well-to-do employers, and she lived a life of relative anonymity. This sparky film documents the discovery of her photographs to her eventual reappraisal, all the while demonstrating what a singular and complex individual Maier was.

10) HER (DIR. SPIKE JONZE, USA)

rsz_1rsz_her-screen-shotProbably one of the greatest films to reflect the ever blurring lines between online and real life, Jonze crafts an unusual and heartfelt work out of a challenging concept. Theodore (Joaquin Pheonix) is a lonely urbanite from the future who falls in love with his OS computer (seductively voiced by Scarlett Johannson), a completely intuitive, human-like system. The film has a woozy, wistful glow to it and Pheonix is excellent as the repressed lead. Jonze deserves all the plaudits, however, for concocting such a prescient, emotional film out of a far fetched conceit.

Read Full Post »

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Lurking in the opening credits for Andrey Zvyagintsev’s new film were the ominous names of the Russian arts council and the government itself. This is quite perplexing because Zvyagintsev has announced himself as a formidable critic of contemporary Russia, which makes the approval of this film rather mysterious. Are Putin and his cohorts playing mind games worthy of Jose Mourinho? Is this a show of power by the government? Make your little film, we’ll even fund it, it won’t make a difference?

Although Zvyagintsev has stated that the film is inspired by a real story originating from America, it is hard not to see it as an explicit indictment of corruption in Russia. The parable-like Leviathan tells the story of Nikolay (Aleksey Serebryakov) and his family’s fight to save his property in a small coastal town in Russia. The piggish mayor Mer (Roman Madyanov) has decided Nikolay’s cherished spot of land is the perfect place to build his new abode, and Nikolay refuses to accept the pitiful compensation on offer for his life’s work.

He enlists the help of his old army comrade, the chiseled Moscow attorney Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), who has unearthed some unsavoury information about Mer which could give them a fighting chance. Meanwhile Nikolay’s wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) struggles to cope with the isolation of the house and her frayed relationship with teenage Romka, who is unwilling to accept her as a new mother figure.  The characters are drawn out in broad strokes; Nikolay is the hot-headed, feisty underdog, Dmitriy the charming rationalist, Mer the bloated, corrupt authority figure.

It is in some ways quite a strange film coming from someone like Zvyagintsev. He started out with the enigmatic, brooding drama The Return, an incisive exploration of masculinity which reveled in the stoicism of its characters. The film was more about what was unsaid than what was said, a masterclass in atmosphere and icy, bleak visuals. Leviathan is quite the opposite, a film where most of the characters wear their hearts on their sleeves, emboldened by too many shots of vodka. The storytelling is quite conventional, dispensing with much of the ambience and intensity of Zvyagintsev’s earlier work.

Leviathan is almost three hours long but it doesn’t feel like it. The story is so involving that you are swept up in Nikolay’s plight and feel the pain and frustration that he is experiencing. It is a supremely confident tragedy, underlining the inherent rotten core of Russian politics. While Mer the mayor seems at times to be cartoonishly buffoonish and evil, the joke doesn’t really last that long as you realise that yes, this is actually the state of the world today. While I might quietly yearn for the mystique of Zvyagintsev’s earlier films, I cannot fault him for taking a hammer to bludgeon home the brutality of a corrupt society.

Read Full Post »

1. BADLANDS (DIR. TERRENCE MALICK. USA, 1973)

There are filmmakers, and then there is Terrence Malick. On the surface this is a fairly conventional road movie following two young lovers on a crime spree. But Malick subverts the story of murderer Charles Starkweather for his own purposes; this is a dreamy, timeless film that hints at abstract emotions that transcend mere happiness or sadness. With his beautifully photographed Hopperesque landscapes and mute characters, Malick gives us something otherworldly and genuinely odd.

2. PARIS, TEXAS (DIR. WIM WENDERS, USA/GERMANY, 1984)

A letter of both love and hate to America, German auteur Wenders perfects the road movie with his tale of Travis, a loner who seeks to reunite his estranged family and rediscover the American Dream. A clever distortion of both the American road movie and the Westerns of John Ford, Paris, Texas really soars as a piece of melodrama. Harry Dean Stanton’s movingly hangdog central performance holds the film together, while the final monologue is both heart breaking and cathartic.

3. ANDREI RUBLEV (DIR. ANDREI TARKOVSKY, RUSSIA, 1966)

Alongside Kubrick, Russian director Tarkovsky is perhaps the only filmmaker to really push cinema to its limits on a large scale. This epic film follows the tribulations of painter Andrei Rublev through a period of religious strife and violence. While some of Tarkovsky’s other works veered too much towards introspective worthiness, this film utilises the director’s inventive technical vision to his greatest heights. The opening balloon sequence and the pagans on the river count as two of the most extraordinary set pieces committed to film. Existentialism and technical vision collide with aplomb.

4. PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (DIR. PETER WEIR, AUSTRALIA, 1975)

Once voted the greatest Australian film of all time, this Peter Weir film is arguably one of the most curious and beguiling works in history. Based on the disappearance of several schoolgirls on a mountain in 1900, the film revels in it’s languid, strange atmosphere and sugar coated visuals. Bravely, Weir never seeks to solve the case- but in this case, it doesn’t matter. Weir challenges the audience to consider the idea that sometimes there are no easy answers, that not everything in this world can be categorised and put into boxes.

5. COME AND SEE (DIR. ELEM KLIMOV, SOVIET UNION, 1985)

Francois Truffaut once said that all war films end up glamourising war, despite their best intentions. Come and See is one of the few films which genuinely challenges this theory. Set in Nazi occupied Belarus during WW2, the film follows the young Flyora as he seeks to evade the army which has killed his family. While most war films tend to lend an air of nobility to the fighting (cough Saving Private Ryan cough), Come and See shows wartime as it really is; a nightmare-ish hell where confusion and inhumanity reign. The film is redeemed as a genuine piece of art by the frequent touches of poetry, both in the vivid imagery and striking sound design. The shot of Flyora lying shellshocked by a dead cow will stay with you forever.

6.  THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (DIR. ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, MEXICO, 1973)

Once you’ve seen a Jodorowsky film, you’ll start to wonder how every other filmmaker is so bloody….mundane. Jodorowsky’s films touch on religion, sex and death, but it is the striking visuals and mind boggling set design which mark his work as cult gems. The baffling plot revolves around the ‘thief’ and his quest for immortality, leading to a series of wild adventures. If Dorothy had taken a tab of acid on her route down the Yellow Brick Road, this film would probably have been the result.

7. TRUST (DIR. HAL HARTLEY, USA, 1990)

Hal Hartley came to prominence in the late 80’s in US independent cinema, embarking on an inexplicably good run of films, like Scorsese/Coppola in the 70’s. His De Niro is Martin Donovan, a chiselled jawed, verbose actor who stars alongside the late, elfin-like Adrienne Shelly. The film follows Shelly as the brattish teenager who discovers she’s pregnant and homeless, and her chance meeting with Donovan, an older man undergoing his own existential crisis. Hal Hartley is extremely influenced by Godard and Bresson, even taking scenes wholesale, yet he is much warmer than Godard and funnier than Bresson. His films have often been compared to choreographed dance, where the characters waltz around each other in torment and lust, and in Trust we have his most defining film.

8. MAUVAIS SANG (DIR. LEOS CARAX, FRANCE, 1986)

Leos Carax is regarded as some kind of renegade in French cinema, with his films usually set around outsiders from society. Mauvais Sang, his second film revolves Alex (Denis Lavant), a prodigious lock picker who gets involved in a heist with Marc (Michel Piccoli) and his young lover Anna (Juliette Binoche). Tensions between the three of them grow as Alex begins to fall for Anna, and the film is essentially a romantic thriller. Denis Lavant is one of the most unusual actors around, his reptilian features and penchant for acrobatics and impromptu dance routines making him irresistible. Binoche has never been more radiant as Anna. Edited in a poetic, elliptical style, Mauvais Sang is a cult gem, full of vitality and life.

9. L’ HUMANITE (DIR. BRUNO DUMONT, FRANCE, 1999)

Bruno Dumont is another French filmmaker influenced by Bresson’s stark humanism and obsession with faith. Yet, Dumont has his own style influenced by his time as an industrial corporate film maker; static images of desolate Northern France and vivid cinematography give the impression of thereness. Pharaon De Winter is the detective of a small rural town where a young girl has been found murdered. A childlike man, De Winter struggles to solve the case, and all the time the audience is questioning his role in the film.  L’ Humanite deals with sex and violence in a non-judgemental, matter of fact way, and the film veers between tenderness and brutality with ease. A sinister, disquieting film yet strangely invigorating in it’s realness.

10. GUMMO (DIR. HARMONY KORINE, USA, 1997)

One of a handful of films that could have potentially hinted at a new direction for cinema. There is nothing quite like enfant terrible Korine’s debut, save perhaps his idol Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small,which has a similarly scant plot and improvisational feel. Set in the fictional town of Xenia in small town America, the multi stranded film meanders through a series of vignettes of the distinctly dysfunctional inhabitants. Mixing pop culture as diverse as Roy Orbison and Sleep, naturalistic performances and moments of poetry, Gummo is a singular oddity that lingers in the mind long after the end credits. While some have labelled it exploitative, there is a sense of compassion and genuine affection running through the film from Korine.

Read Full Post »

Each decade since 1952 Sight & Sound, the official magazine of the BFI, have run a poll to find the Greatest Films of All Time. This year marks a dramatic change after decades of consensus; Vertigo has taken the top spot from Citizen Kane. Inspired by the poll we at Reflections have assembled our own 10 Greatest Films of All Time. Enjoy our greatest & message us with your own:

1. BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ (DIR. R.W FASSBINDER, WEST GERMANY, 1980)

Berlin Alexanderplatz is the artistic and technical pinnacle of R.W Fassbinder’s career and a monumental piece of cinema. The film tells of ex-con Franz Biberkopf (played beautifully by Günter Lamprecht), struggling to go straight in pre-Nazi Germany. Running at an epic 15 and a half hours, the film never loses focus, vigorously translating Alfred Döblin’s source novel thanks to Fassbinder’s lifelong obsession with the material. Berlin Alexanderplatz showcases Fassbinder’s masterful directing skill, using complex camera movements, long takes and intensely demanding performances; this owes to his work in melodrama and crime thrillers. The film is particularly extraordinary for its intellectual use of contemporary music, which acts as a sinister critique of the German society of the day.

2. M (DIR. FRITZ LANG, GERMANY, 1931)

While Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz was about the Weimar Republic, Fritz Lang’s was made during the period. The film tells the story of a manhunt for child killer Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre). Lang made the film later than his remarkable sci-fi Metropolis, but prior to his move to Hollywood. The film develops the seminal German Expressionist style, moving it from the crude stylings of Murnau’s Nosferatu, towards film noir like The Third Man and offerings as unique as Night of the Hunter. Lang’s direction is brilliantly haunting, utilising wide shots, extreme angles, baroque mise-en-scène and terrifyingly gloomy lighting. Its influence resonates throughout cinema history; the films of Christopher Nolan and David Fincher would certainly not be the same without it.

3. MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (DIR. DZIGA VERTOV, SOVIET UNION, 1929)

While early German cinema lead the way in terms of film lighting and miss-en-scène, Russian cinema of the Soviet era pushed the possibilities of editing. Dziga Vertov’s Soviet propaganda piece Man With A Movie Camera is perhaps the greatest feat of editing in cinema history, developing montage far beyond the Kuleshov effect. While the revolutionary Soviet films of Sergei Eisenstein (StrikeBattleship Potemkin) were undeniably powerful, Man With A Movie Camera achieves timelessness because it is not confined by the subject matter of Bolshevik revolution; it is a celebration of life, work and ultimately cinema itself.

4. AGUIRRE: WRATH OF GOD (DIR. WERNER HERZOG, WEST GERMANY, 1972)

Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: Wrath of God deserves status as one of, if not the most ambitious low budget film ever made. Shooting on the Amazon River with Klaus Kinski for only $370,000 US dollars, Herzog created a film that plays more like a hallucination than a story. Aguirre tells the story of Spanish conquistador Lope de Aguirre (Kinski) as he leads an army of soldiers in search of El Dorado, the mythic city of gold. Herzog’s ability to capture the power of nature is on display here, as is his ability to harness the treacherous genius of Klaus Kinski. Aguirre may not be Herzog’s most polished film, but it captures his singular vision and power of will at its most intense; it truly is a display of cinematic greatness.

5. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (DIR. ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, MEXICO, 1973)

Both a spiritual journey and a journey into the heart of cinema, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain is one of the most mind blowing experiences ever committed to film. The film revolves roughly around a petit thief, who bares a startling resemblance to Jesus, who embarks on a quest for gold. The thief’s quest ultimately and unexpectedly leads the film’s audience to enlightenment; it must be seen to be believed. The Holy Mountain is a feast of symbolism, which makes for a film as baffling as it is beautiful. Disciples of Jodorowksy will find the film the most rewarding, but this is ‘cinema for initiates’ and cinephiles would do well to acquaint themselves with Jodorowsky’s world.

6. REAR WINDOW (DIR. ALFRED HITCHCOCK, USA, 1958)

Like The Holy Mountain Hitchcock’s Rear Window is also a film about cinema. Where Jodorowsky’s film is a journey to enlightenment, Hitchcock’s is an exploration of obsessive voyeurism. Telling the story of an injured photojournalist, who suspects a murder in a in the flat opposite his, Rear Window displays Hitch at the height of his directing powers. The master of suspense amps up the drama for nearly two hours using point of view shots, long lenses and tracking shots to increase tension, all while James Stewart is confined to a wheelchair. Rear Window is not as flamboyant as Vertigo or as shocking as Psycho, but it captures Hitchcock’s profound urge to observe at its most essentially entertaining.

7. TASTE OF CHERRY (DIR. ABBAS KIAROSTAMI, IRAN, 1997)

Abbas Kiarostami’s cinema is that of a true humanist. Telling the story of Mr Badii, a suicidal man looking for a way to die, Taste of Cherry plays out like a list of reasons to live. The film relies on Kiarostami’s key motif of driving and the director frames his protagonist’s journey with optimistic simplicity; flocks of birds, winding roads and the sunset outside of Tehran are captured with long takes, on long lenses. The film was dogged by technical trouble after the footage from the final scenes was lost, but Kiarostami inserted digital video that he had filmed while shooting the final scenes. The end plays out like a coda celebrating the vitality of life found in filmmaking, while pioneering Kiarostami’s future explorations with digital technology.

8. COME AND SEE (DIR. ELEM KLIMOV, SOVIET UNION, 1985)

Elem Klimov’s Come and See is the greatest anti-war film ever created. A statement of sheer horror, this film has a hallucinatory quality akin to Aguirre: Wrath of God. The film tells of Flyora a young boy who joins the Soviet Army to fight the Nazis in WW2 and in the process ages dramatically both mentally and physically. The film is shot with a rugged handheld style reminiscent of neo-realism; this underplays any potential for Hollywood-style glamorisation. Klimov emphasises the horror of war when Flyora sees a church full of people burned alive by the SS and a sculpture of Hitler created from a human skeleton. Come and See contains images that burn long into the memory, it is cinema at its purest and most powerful. 

9. THE THIN BLUE LINE (DIR. ERROL MORRIS, USA, 1989)

The documentary The Thin Blue Line is a rare example of a film that genuinely changed the course of history. Director Errol Morris explores the legal case of Randall Adams, a man falsely accused for the murder of policeman Robert W. Wood in Dallas, Texas. The film unfolds like an inquiry by a private investigator, yet it also explores the dubious nature of memory through cinematic reconstructions shot in the style of a film noir. Morris’ interviews are unparalleled in their depth of information and quality of delivery; this ultimately lead to Adams being acquitted of the crime, following twelve years in prison and a stint on death row.

10. LE MEPRIS (DIR. JEAN-LUC GODARD, FRANCE, 1963)

Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (Contempt) is the greatest film ever made about filmmaking. Michel Piccoli stars as Paul, a screenwriter working on an adaptation of The Odyssey at Cinecittà; he is divided between the artistic ambitions of his director, the legendary Fritz Lang (Lang playing himself) and his insolent American producer (Jack Palance). In the opening scene Godard captures the relationship between Paul and his wife Camille (Bridget Bardot) with an authentic intimacy, whilst simultaneously mocking the producer’s demand for nudity as Camille talks in detail about her body parts. Godard is at the mischievous height of his directing powers with Le Mépris; the film is a radical meeting of commercial and subversive filmmaking, but this meeting defines the great French director best.

Read Full Post »

If there’s anything I’ve learned about the inhabitants of Russia in this life, then it’s their fondness for vodka and fixation with mortality. This fixation has cut a cultural path through the centuries, from Nikolai Gogol’s darkly humorous novel Dead Souls  to Andrei Tarkovsky’s existential dramas Solaris and Stalker among others. Director Aleksei Fedorchenko continues with this theme in Silent Souls, a dreamlike take on death and the afterlife.

It is a simple narrative; Aist (Igor Sergeev) and Miron (Yuriy Tsurilo) work in a paper mill in a rundown rural town, inhabited by a people known as ‘Merjans’. Miron, the boss, confides in his friend that his wife Tanya (Yuliya Aug) has died suddenly and asks Aist to help him give her a proper farewell. For the Merjan people have a way of marking events differently than civilised society. The two middle aged men set off on a road trip in order to complete the task at hand.

Nothing much really happens in Silent Souls. The two men sit in silence in the car, Aist cradling his precious Buntings, a delicate set of birds that come to symbolise some kind of transition for them both.  Now and then, Miron tells Aist about his life together with Tanya, a Merjan ritual that the widower reveals all the personal details of his loved one after their death. A cleansing of sorts, but a vulgar one at that.

Silent Souls is a strange, languid oddity that works best if the audience let it wash over them. The elliptical editing, swinging between the present and the past, and the vivid, wintery visuals have a woozy, hypnotic effect on the viewer, lulling them into a trance. The long tracking shots from the car are reminiscent of Stalker’s infamous tunnel sequence, an oddly calming and cathartic experience. Andrei Karasyov’s pretty score veers between the dreamy and the sentimental, echoing the film’s mix of emotion and distance.

Read Full Post »

Inspired by a recent viewing of Peter Watkin’s biopic Edvard Munch, I will be looking briefly at a number of films about artists. There have been countless films concerning famous painters over the years, but I have narrowed my selection down to a few favourites, an eclectic bunch of films.  I will be focusing my attention on Andrei Rublev, Basquiat, Nightwatching, Love is the Devil, Caravaggio and Life Lessons from New York Stories.

ANDREI RUBLEV  (DIR. ANDREI TARKOVSKY, RUSSIA- 1966)

Andrei Rublev is perhaps the most ambitious film about an artist alongside Edvard Munch. For me Andrei Tarkovsky’s best film, combining dazzling visuals and unforgettable set pieces (the balloon escape, the pagans by the river), with philosophical and religious themes. Anatoli Solonitsyn plays the 15th century painter, struggling in a turbulent period of Russian history. This is painting as a religious experience, mirrored by Tarkovsky’s transcendental cinematic vision.

BASQUIAT (DIR. JULIAN SCHNABEL, USA, 1996)

Directed by Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Basquiat stars Jeffrey Wright as the New York painter.  A penniless street artist, he is discovered by some fashionable art insiders and lauded as the next big thing. Basquiat shows the artist’s fertile imagination and creativity, while strongly evoking hip 1980’s New York. An all star cast including Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken add to the glamour.

NIGHTWATCHING (DIR. PETER GREENAWAY, HOLLAND/FRANCE/GERMANY/POLAND/CANADA/UK, 2007)

This is essentially a Dutch film about an iconic Dutch painter. Peter Greenaway, a British exile working in Holland, is a huge admirer of Rembrandt’s work. Martin Freeman plays the title character with both dry humour and a hint of resignation. The film is one of Greenaway’s most moving, but what is most impressive is the way that the mise-en-scene and cinematography conspire to ape Rembrandt’s own paintings. The striking use of light and sparse sets almost seem at one with the subject.

LOVE IS THE DEVIL (DIR. JOHN MAYBURY, UK, 1998)

Derek Jacobi turns in an excellent performance as Francis Bacon in this bleak biopic. The film focuses on his relationship with George Dyer (Daniel Craig), a gangster-like younger man who steals (literally) into his life. Their volatile love affair entwines with Bacon’s ugly/beautiful paintings, filled with distorted bodies. Director Maybury signals how Bacon’s masochistic impulses in life filtered into his artwork.

CARAVAGGIO (DIR. DEREK JARMAN, UK, 1986)

The tumultuous life of the Italian painter is brought to screen by Derek Jarman. Actually, Nigel Terry’s portrayal of the artist is fairly tame when you consider the stories of him as a hellraiser. Sure, there are infidelities, assaults and even murder, but Jarman portrays this almost as a natural progression for Caravaggio. The film looks beautiful and stark, similar to Nightwatching. A striking depiction of a life lived on the edge.

LIFE LESSONS  (DIR. MARTIN SCORSESE, USA, 1989)

New York Stories is a little seen trilogy of mini films directed by the finest New York directors of the 70’s. Woody Allen’s comedy is a joy, but Francis Ford Coppola’s segment (co-written by a pre-pubescent Sofia Coppola) is a fluffy, misguided kids film. My favourite is Martin Scorsese’s Life Stories, starring Nick Nolte as a middle aged professional painter. This is the only non-biopic in this piece, but I thought it was worth including because of it’s depiction of the actual practice. Tormented by impatient dealers and temperamental lovers, Nolte’s character throws himself into violent bursts of painting. Scorsese’s camera lingers over the vigorous brushstrokes as the Rolling Stones’ boom out of the record player.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: