Posts Tagged ‘Belle’

In case there was any doubt about the sheer relevance of Ava DuVernay’s exemplary Martin Luther King, Jr. drama Selma, it is expressed succinctly in the lyrics from the closing song Glory by Common (who acts in the film) and John Legend: “Resistance is us, That’s why Rosa sat on the bus, That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up.” As we well know at the beginning of 2015, the struggle for black civil rights against the willingly violent powers-that-be is still not over.

The story of Dr. King’s civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama illuminates (with shocking clarity) the means by which black voices have been forcibly silenced from American democracy. We only need to recall the horrific choking death of Eric Garner – an asthmatic man who was arrested and subsequently killed by police, when he had in fact just broken up a fight – to see how incidents like these create a climate of fear, in attempt to demoralise and oppress a minority.

During the protests in Ferguson, ex-Philadelphia cop Capt. Ray Lewis explicitly stated an utterance that could so easily be applied to the time depicted in Selma: “I want to try to get a message to mainstream America that the system is corrupt, that police really are oppressing not only the black community, but also the whites. They’re an oppressive organization now controlled by the one percent of corporate America. Corporate America is using police forces as their mercenaries.” Chilling words, given how closely this description resembles the events of 1965 depicted in Selma.

Selma is fascinating, because it clearly illustrates the power dynamic that allows this systematic oppression to function; and it does so with a richly drawn cast and elegant visual identity. Much has been said already about the film, with specific historical details being debated thoroughly, such as the extent to which President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) supported, or subjugated the civil rights movement. Selma’s relationship with history is of course deserving of analysis, but its emotional power comes from a genuine sense of the uncanny.

With his lead performance David Oyelowo has given the screen a benchmark representation of Dr. King. It is no small task to portray any historical figure, let alone one so revered. Oyelowo captures the unique rhythmic cadences of Dr. King’s voice, and the preacher’s delivery that gave his speeches a lyrical power. One of the most fascinating elements of the performance is the suggested sense of mortal anxiety felt (but seemingly overcome) by Dr. King as he bravely takes on the state. This quality is integral to DuVernay’s interpretation of the story, as King contemplates what might become of his family should he die.

The film’s great strength is in how it dramatises the hardball tactics employed by Dr. King in order to advance the civil rights movement. Deaths are a tragic byproduct of this power struggle and DuVernay goes to great lengths to humanise every loss; this is in part owed to a script that affords each character space to become relatable. The film’s cast is also exemplary, with powerful turns from Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper (who famously punched Selma Sheriff Jim Clark), Colman Domingo as Ralph Abernathy and Wendell Pierce as Rev. Hosea Williams.

Cinematographer Bradford Young’s colour pallet – faded sepias, naturalistic blues and crushed blacks – adorns the film with the melancholic qualities of an Edward Hopper painting (for the days) and The Godfather (at night). It is a beautiful film to look at and perhaps one of the finest uses of the Arri Alexa so far in feature filmmaking. The most impressive aspect of Young’s treatment, is that while the camera does evoke a time gone by, it retains a crucial sense of the now.

Through and through there is a timelessness to the filmmaking of Selma. It is a film that should, along with Twelve Years A Slave, The Butler and Belle, be celebrated for its fine cinematic storytelling and as a necessary examination of the folly of white supremacy and the solemnity of black resistance. Forget the transience of the awards season; Selma is a robust and elegant film and its impact will be felt for years to come.

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1) 12 YEARS A SLAVE (DIR. STEVE MCQUEEN, USA/UK)

An ultra-early release of 2014 in the UK (January 10th to be precise), Steve McQueen’s third film 12 Years A Slave has endured, in my memory, as the most moving cinema experience of the year. Prior to this film McQueen had established himself – with Hunger and Shame – as one of the most important feature directors in the UK, for his ability to merge demanding topics with fresh visual language. With 12 Years A Slave he proved himself capable of this on a much grander scale, earning a Best Picture Oscar, a $187.7 million box office return and widespread critical support. It is essential that we revisit history through the eyes of great artists and Steve McQueen is one such artist.

2) 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH (DIR. IAIN FORSYTH & JANE POLLARD, UK)
In a strong year for cinema documentaries 20,000 Days on Earth expanded the paradigm. Composed of elements from dramatic fiction, observational documentary and the rock film this Nick Cave biopic, set over the course of a day, is an expertly framed Petri dish of fascinating ideas. While the film might primarily appeal to Cave fans, it should interest anyone who creates, or simply wishes to understand themselves and their human impulses. Cave’s transcendental live performances feature prominently, while the meaning of these occasions is explored in moments of fascinating examination, as the frank and eloquent Cave reflects on his life to a therapist and lives out his life in atmospheric Brighton.

3) THE WIND RISES (DIR. HAYAO MIYAZAKI, JAPAN)
The Wind Rises is the final film of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki and it is a bittersweet achievement, not only about about the cost of innovation, but the cost of dreams. Based loosely on the true story of Japanese engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who was responsible for designing fighter planes during World War II, the film surrealistically captures the glorious freedom of imagination and intellect and contrasts it with the devastation these powers can bring. In line with Horikoshi’s own attitude towards the futility of WWII, the film’s tone is one of profound melancholy. The film presents a man whose talent for innovation and love of flight is tragically undermined by the impulse, in others, for war.

4) ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (DIR. JIM JARMUSCH, USA)
In the cinema, 2014 was a special year for the more esoteric side of rock n’ roll. With Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch took the horror genre into reverent territory and drew a line straight back through the history of art. The film, which centers around the reunion of a pair of vampire lovers (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston), resonates with a universe of fascinating culture for those ready to listen. With locations in Chicago and Tangier the film takes us on a poetic punk journey, into a world once inhabited by Shakespeare ghost writers, Nikola Tesla, William S. Burroughs & The Stooges. The film’s soundtrack, featuring Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL, Jozef van Wissem and Yasmine Hamdan is also not be missed.

5) VIRUNGA (DIR. ORLANDO VON EINSIEDEL, UK/CONGO)

This extraordinary film from prolific director Orlando Von Einsiedel is a thrilling piece of journalism and another fantastic expansion on the possibilities of documentary cinema. The film follows the current crisis of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as the park’s security team and rangers attempt to hold off an onslaught from Congolese rebels who appear to be collaborating with British oil company Soco. The documentary creates extraordinary emotional stakes by telling the stories of Andre Bauma, who cares for the park’s gorilla population, park director Emmanuel de Merode and journalist Melanie Gouby. These individuals put their necks on the line for the park, which the film depicts as an integral element to the survival and autonomy of the DRC, while the filmmakers capture the unfolding violence and human displacement.

6) THE KIDNAPPING OF MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ (DIR. GUILLAUME NICLOUX, FRANCE)
Back in 2011 controversial French author Michel Houellebecq (Whatever, Atomised, Platform) disappeared during a book tour for The Map and the Territory, leading to media speculation that he had been kidnapped by al-Qaida. The contention created by the author’s works may have justified such a possibility, but director Guillaume Nicloux’s dramatic interpretation of the situation (starring Houellebecq as himself) speculates on a much different – and hilariously funny – scenario. The integral joke of the film is that Houellebecq, in sly deadpan style, rather enjoys the experience, as he encourages his surprisingly benevolent captors to cater to his whims and vices. However you may feel about Michel Houellebecq, this film riffs brilliantly on his dark humour and outsider status.

7) NIGHTCRAWLER (DIR. DAN GILROY, USA)
Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gilroy (The FallReel SteelThe Bourne Legacy) made his directorial debut with Nightcrawler and doing so brought to the screen a career best performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, as aspirational anti-hero Louis Bloom. The film takes it’s cue from the post-recession job crisis, with Bloom as an ultra-opportunistic news cameraman who dispenses with all moral values to succeed in the business. His ambition leads him to film increasingly grisly crime scenes, as he simultaneously loses contact with the reality of what he films. The film is a thrilling romp, starring an unusually manic Gyllenhaal, which also works as a critique of the potentially exploitative nature of American news broadcasting.

8) 22 JUMP STREET (DIR. PHIL LORD & CHRISTOPHER MILLER, USA)
22 Jump Street is an unexpectedly great sequel, to an unexpectedly great feature adaptation (21 Jump Street), of a late 1980’s TV police comedy primarily remembered for kicking off Johnny Depp’s acting career. The beauty of 22 Jump Street is the way in which it comedically writes itself off as a pointless sequel. The irony of the film is that this bold sense of flippancy (embodied through the perfect buddy-chemistry of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill) is precisely what makes the Jump Street films relevant. After years of terrible sequels, remakes and computer game adaptations, these films are the evidence that someone in Hollywood is finally thinking what the audience has been for a long time.

9) BELLE (DIR. AMMA ASANTE, UK)
Following her 2004 debut A Way of Life, Streatham born writer/director Amma Asante made a strong return with Belle. The film tells the story Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) – the daughter of Maria Belle, an enslaved African woman in the West Indies, and Captain John Lindsay, a British career naval officer – who encouraged her uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (and Lord Chief Justice) to recognise slavery as illegal in England and usher about its formal end. The film is directed with elegant style and frank sincerity, influenced no doubt by the 1779 Johann Zoffany painting that it was inspired by, in which a headstrong Belle appears animatedly alongside her cousin Elizabeth Murray.

10) THE ROVER (DIR. DAVID MICHOD, AUSTRALIA)

David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom was one of the most striking debuts of 2010, showing Michôd to be one of the most gifted directors of contemporary Australian cinema. The film was a dense and engaging drama of a Melbourne crime family, made with an impeccable grasp of tension and great style. With The Rover Michôd stripped down the scope of his vision, focusing primarily on Guy Pearce’s mysterious protagonist who harbours an undisclosed agenda. The minimalist approach to his second feature pays off, with Michôd delivering a lean, bleak and thrilling film with excellent performances and a beautifully simple central conceit.

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