Posts Tagged ‘Fassbinder’

Just off the back of its theatrical release in the United Arab Emirates (via MAD Solutions) and one of the most intriguing entries at the 2016 Dubai International Film Festival – and recipient of the festival’s Muhr Emirati award – is the stylish, taboo courting, arthouse melodrama Only Men Go To The Grave.

The debut feature of 30 year old Emirati director Abdulla Al Kaabi, who previously made a name for himself in 2010 with The Philosopher starring Jean Reno, Only Men Go To The Grave tells the story of a group of women trying to deal with the loss of their blind mother and a secret she kept from them. Set following the Iran-Iraq war, the film introduces us to an ensemble of bold, complex women; it is a film that recalls the radical cinema of Fassbinder & Almodovar and hints at great things to come from the director.

Independently produced over a 5 year span and shot in Iran, with a cast made up of Iranian and Iraqi actors, Only Men Go To The Grave is a film made of many bold decisions. As director Al Kaabi explained, the challenge of making his first feature pushed him to tackle themes that he initially felt uncomfortable exploring, as well as to shoot in a neighbouring country he thought he might never visit.

We spoke to Al Kaabi about making bold Arab films and finding peace through cinema.

There is something of Pedro Almodovar in the perspective of this film. How did you develop the story and what inspired the central character of a blind woman?

I came to learn later on that Pedro Almodovar draws inspiration from Douglas Sirk, who is a fantastic ‘mood film’ director. I love his movies very much. During the period when I came up with this story I was watching a lot of his movies, I got the DVD collection. I got really obsessed by him and that’s how my movie came together. I was just looking for that story: where would I find this story that would be very much inspired by his movies? I was on a flight coming back from Spain to Dubai and next to me was a blind lady and I could have sworn that that lady could see, because half way through the flight she woke up, grabbed the menu and looked at it and put it back and then when the flight landed she was blind again. So she stayed with me that woman and I started to think: why would she do that? And then slowly, slowly, I found myself having a story that I could work on and that’s how the idea of Only Men Go To The Grave came about. I knew I wanted to shoot it in Arabic. I just wanted to show powerful women and I love how Pedro Almodovar portrays his women; they are extremely powerful. Arab women, in my opinion and the way I see them, from my perspective, are powerful individuals too. That’s why we came to do that.

As an ensemble the characters are really strong. How did you go about casting them? I know you had Iranian and Iraqi actresses…

If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would be talking to you right now about a movie I shot in Iran – a feature film, my first and all of that – I would say you’re out of your mind. I didn’t think that would ever happen, let alone for me just to visit. But it came about because I thought I had the opportunity to do whatever I can with this movie. We can talk about financing later. This movie was self-financed, so I had the freedom to do whatever I want and I wanted to explore the Arabs over there in Iran. I have a lot of Iranian friends who are fantastic individuals, I love Iranian cinema very, very much; one of my greatest filmmakers and mentors that I was fortunate to meet was Abbas Kiarostami. So that’s how it came about. It’s a country that’s just an hour away, films are there to bring people together and despite of all the disagreements and all of the problems that we might have with the Persians, I believe my film echoes a beautiful message to the world which is that cinema only understands one language: it’s peace. It is bringing people together despite everything. Not only that we also had Iraqi actresses coming into Iran and shooting this film, so there was a lot of firsts in this movie I believe and I think that’s why it’s so talked about in the festival this year, in addition to the themes that we’re exploring.

The film looks at certain taboo issues and i’d be surprised to see issues such as transgender in many films. What was it like dealing with those themes? Did you have any limitations or were you completely open?

You know when I first started off I didn’t have much courage to explore these themes. They were there but they weren’t so bold and over the years, as it started to get harder for me to finance the movie and to get it on it’s feet I started to push the boundaries even more and more and more. By the time I was ready to shoot and had got the project green lit I had reached the point of no return, so I was sure I wanted to shoot these themes. I wanted to explore transgenderism, I wanted to explore gender identity in the Arab world and I wanted to explore alternative love in the Arab world. I wanted to expose these themes through the storytelling of an Arab filmmaker. So because today that’s the only thing that people want to watch: they want to watch something original. Nobody wants to watch a replica of a Hollywood movie, because they’re doing a great job themselves, why should we copy? So I think that’s the only thing that sells today. If you have an original, unique perspective I think this career is great for you and it’s my first feature you see and I wanted to create my own mood and universe and introduce myself to the film industry, that this is my style.

And in terms of the practicalities of doing that, this took 5 years, which is not a strange amount of time for a first feature, but it’s a long time. I’m wondering how that was broken down, so what kind of period did you shoot in? Or was it a long protracted shoot?

Well the script took almost two years and that I think – and i’m so glad I took two years to work on the script because it’s the foundation of my story – so that took a long time, I didn’t think it would take such a long time. And then after that I started to shop around the script and it was really hard for me. I think it was too daring and, not only with the themes it has, but also too daring with the plot. I had a protagonist who was dead and yet alone she was the hero of the film, so a lot of people didn’t get that and I thought why couldn’t we get that? In the end we screened it last night and I heard that most of the audience were completely gripped by the story until the end of the movie, so that’s a good sign. We were able to do that with such a bold, unique plot. So then I went into a period, honestly I can say I was very discouraged, depressed, so I completely gave up on the film for a period and shelved it and I was quite sad for a while until I met a producer, actually an art patron, who was very much in the art world, who had the means. He loved the script, he’s in the contemporary arts scene, his name is Farshad Mahoutforoush, he’s in the credits in the movie as a producer and he said “lets shoot it.” He had no experience in film and I think the universe gave me that.

How long was the actual shooting period?

We took a long time preparing for it, because as I shot it in Iran most of my actresses haven’t spoken Arabic. They were Arabs, but they haven’t spoken Arabic for a very long time, so we had to train them for a while to bring back their language. A lot of people yesterday were actually shocked that my actress didn’t speak Arabic because she speaks Arabic so well in the movie. Well you know I’m a perfectionist, I had to take twenty takes [laughs.]

Did you have to go phonetically?

No, no, she worked on her Arabic. She was actually speaking Arabic. I haven’t seen her for a year since we wrapped up and I think during this year she might have forgotten a bit [laughs.]

What are your plans for your next project after this?

Well my plans right now, i’m really focused and invested in this one. I need to get it distributed, it needs to be screened across the Middle East. In Europe I think it’s going to do big. I’ve also got the festivals going on. Probably I am going to be travelling a lot for another year. Hopefully during these travels I will pick up inspiration for a new script, but for the time being i’m really invested in this one.

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The forty plus films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder are among the most honest, ruthless and personal of any director. With near sadomasochistic force, Fassbinder dealt relentlessly with social problems and taboos that he encountered throughout his short 37 years, up until his untimely death in 1982.

In Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands Christian Braad Thomsen – a friend of Fassbinder – attempts to tell us more about the troubled German auteur, but this is a difficult task. In his films Fassbinder told us much about himself, and simultaneously he was a master critic: he was able to use drama to dissect, critique and examine his own nature and the wider social conditioning of German society. What might another filmmaker be able to tell us about Fassbinder that the man himself couldn’t?

The results of Thomsen’s film are mixed, but not without value. For those uninitiated in Fassbinder’s work, the film provides a solid introduction to the way in which RWF’s films dealt with human relationships as a web of oppression. Fassbinder saw love as a near fascistic form of dependency, whereby one weaker individual would be at the mercy of their stronger partner. Almost all of his films attest to this in some form, from the gay class drama Fox and his Friends to the disturbing Weimar era epic Berlin Alexanderplatz.

In newly uncovered interviews – shot by Thomsen at the Cannes Film Festival during the latter stages of Fassbinder’s life – the exhausted, workaholic director talks bluntly, but eloquently about his concerns and we gain a sense of the sadness that informed much of Fassbinder’s existence. This was a man who suffered for his art and – even at Cannes – there is very little glamour on show.

It is Thomsen’s own relationship with Fassbinder that is the most interesting aspect of To Love Without Demands, along with the recent insights of actress Irm Hermann and actor/production manager Harry Baer. The admiration of these individuals for RWF naturally shines through and although they have now aged into more mature perspectives (being almost double the age of Fassbinder when he died) it is clear that their former director continues to impress them with his talents and unique perspective on the world.

The documentary does feel, in some ways, rather old fashioned for a film released in 2015. Formally speaking, it is very much a film of the 1960’s, and its cultural benchmarks – such as Sigmund Freud – feel key to that time too. However, while the film may appear less accessible to the younger generation, the visceral energy of Fassbinder does remain and it is still as vital to cinema as ever.

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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.

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