Posts Tagged ‘Jean-Luc Godard’

“This film is about my late mother, about that woman who came to Belgium in 1938, fleeing the pogroms and violence of Poland. This woman who has only ever seen the inside of her apartment in Brussels. It’s a film about a changing world my mother doesn’t see”. There are some movies whose poetry and complexity can only be fully appreciated if one knows the history behind them. No Home Movie is one of them.

Chantal Akerman’s mother Natalia had a huge influence on the director’s life and work. She encouraged her daughter not to marry young and supported her passion for film-making ever since a 15-year-old Akerman fell in love with Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou and decided to devote her life to cinema.

No Home Movie is the portrait of this relationship, of the love between a mother and her daughter, which Akerman paints with a compassionate and delicate gaze. The 115 minutes show the life of her elderly mother in her Brussels apartment. It’s a minimalist painting, a still life where the flat turns into a character in its own right. Akerman documents her mother’s gestures and sees herself through her eyes. Very little is said: the conversations flow unscripted as Natalia recalls her daughter’s youth and Chantal asks about her mother’s time during World War II, her escape from Poland and search for a new home.

The camera stands still for most of the film, as if camouflaged in between the furniture, to catch glimpses of the women’s lives and their conversations. There are moments in which chats and actions take place outside the frame, and one feels somewhat constrained, as Akerman turns the viewer and the camera into a single thing and the spectator becomes a silent observer of the drama’s unfolding.

Natalia Akerman’s agoraphobia and her post-Auschwitz anxiety are themes that run through much of Akerman’s oeuvre. At times we hear the director asking her mother to leave the house and go out for a walk. But Natalia almost never does.

Yet the movie opens with the camera looking out towards an arid area, with some trees bending down for the ferocious wind that shakes them. It is not an isolated case. Akerman scatters these outside shots throughout the film: a man sitting on a bench with his back towards the camera, the sight of a desert passing through the window, water splashing against the director’s feet. If Natalia won’t leave her house then it is up to her daughter to show her the beauty and the ordinary life of the outside world. The vast immensity of a desert and the brutal cries of the wind are juxtaposed to the still, almost soundless life of the apartment.

Chantal Akerman committed suicide on October 5 2015, a year and a half after her mother passed away at 86. As Natalia’s health deteriorates the film slowly turns into a daughter’s desperate call for her mother not to leave her, and for her history to survive. No Home Movie is a daughter’s love declaration to her mother, to her memory, and to the invaluable help cinema can offer to the preservation of one’s history and past.

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The BFI will re-release Jean-Luc Godard’s stunning post-modern classic Le Mépris in selected cinemas UK-wide on 1 January 2016. It will be the centrepiece of BFI Southbank’s Jean-Luc Godard season running 1 Jan – 16 March.

Brigitte Bardot, Michel Piccoli, Jack Palance and Fritz Lang star in this visually stunning, emotionally charged New Wave masterpiece, which epitomises 1960s style, modernity and glamour. The trailer strongly features the film’s evocative score by Georges Delerue.

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With a track record that included Winchester ’73, The Man from Laramie and The Far Country, Antony Mann’s knowledge and tact with the Western genre was very substantial. Man of the West marked one of his last efforts tackling stories on the Great Plains, an influential piece of cinema that you can see seeping into the Spaghetti Westerns, famed for mature, raw tales and violence. The restoration of the film is, thanks to Masters of Cinema’s meticulous efforts, superb. The clout of the film, however, is less stunning, sadly dated despite some gritty aspects.

Jean-Luc Godard was one of the most vocal fans of Mann’s 1958 film, claiming it was stunningly simple, with a realm of complexity behind it. This quote, unlike the film, has not dated and still stands up in relation to the film, in whichever way you are affected or unaffected by its story and power. Gary Cooper plays a retired crook, moving to a new town to find teaching staff for a new school. His shady past is only revealed a third to half of the way through, always keeping you guessing as to what the silences and awkward conversations between him, Julie London’s Billie and Arthur O’Connell’s Sam are truly about. The mystery never feels entirely uncovered, with Cooper’s Link Jones such a multifaceted character. Cooper plays the role beautifully, reflecting his own past with the Western image altering into that of a more modern actor. He takes control of the film, asserting his movie star persona and veteran cowboy/crook facade. There is a very straight-forward hero versus the baddies narrative, with all of the questions lurking beneath the surface.

It is a much stripped back film, focusing more on character and cinematography. You have to watch and listen to the characters, as you aren’t drawn to much else; the framing and scenery behind, perhaps is all else. Cooper, as said, is an imposing and authoritative figure, overshadowing singer Julie London and a quirky, yet forgettable Arthur O’Connell. It is the entrance of Lee J. Cobb – as Dock Tobin – where things get tense and exciting. Here is a formidable presence, hell-bent on crime and masterfully played with a booze-crippled drawl by Cobb. Despite the obvious age difference, Cobb and Cooper are very believable as uncle and nephew/past partners in crime/enemies of the present. Tobin pushes Link to many extremes, with each actor clearly enjoying the characters’ incompatible, yet harmonious relationship.

The shocking elements of the film maintain their resonance (to be clear, it is the slow pace and slightly uninteresting side characters that drain it of its enduring strengths). Rape, coldblooded murder and sudden hostilities are usual tropes of the genre, but often only implied, or watered down. Many vile occurrences in Man of the West feel beyond their time and censorship, giving it a slight edge in over the universally-aimed Westerns still shown often on afternoon TV. Man of the West is a niche piece of cinema, catering to those die-hard genre fans, whilst clearing having the ability to deter them. If you want to catch it, don’t wait out for its place on Channel 5 Monday at 1pm in place of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; it is different and meandering, lacking the spark of Ford and Hawks, leaving to find attention through recommendation and the search for nostalgia.

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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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Last night a sold out audience at the National Film Theatre in London had the privilege of listening to Bernardo Bertolucci, director of The Conformist, Last Tango In Paris, Novecento, The Last Emperor and The Dreamers talk about his life and work.

Now 70 Bertolucci talked energetically about his career and said that he intends to return to directing soon, after almost 10 years of back surgery which has resulted in him having to use a wheelchair.

He expressed great enthusiasm for James Cameron’s Avatar as well as Wim Wender’s 3D dance film Pina and said in his return to directing he will “use a new technology”, that technology being 3D. Like his art house peers Bertolucci intends not to use 3D for sheer spectacle, but instead to tell a story of adolescent love in an adaptation of the Italian novel Me and You by Niccolo Ammaniti.

He also pondered what it would be like to witness a Jean-Luc Godard film in 3D and reflected on what it was like to make his first films in his early twenties. Though 50 years on, it was easily apparent that Bertolucci is as young in spirit as he was when he directed his first features back in the early 1960’s.

Photo by Chiara Capponi

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