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lights in the dusk

reflections on film

Updated: 2018-02-08T00:54:35.651+00:00


A Sense of History


A short note on several films by Eric RohmerI'm not entirely sure if this blog post constitutes a 'return' in the permanent sense of the word, but I've been re-examining the films of Eric Rohmer recently and just wanted a space to jabber enthusiastically about some of his works. As much as I love Rohmer's contemporary-set films, such as Pauline at the Beach (1983), The Four Adventures of Reinette & Mirabelle (1987) and A Summer's Tale (1996) (to name a few), there's always been a special place in my heart dedicated to the director's rare historical pictures, which seem to take concepts of eccentricity and personal vision to new heights.While his contemporary films are known for their astute naturalism - the rigorous shot-compositions, controlled editing and the use of bright primary colours often being the only hints that what we're seeing is a work of fiction as opposed to documentary - his historical films seem to push for artificiality and a more ornate, painterly sensibility.My Girlfriend's Boyfriend [Eric Rohmer, 1987]:The characteristic Rohmer aesthetic is usually defined by contemporary locations, young, upwardly mobile characters struggling to connect to the world and those around them, and enlivened by static, flatly composed discussions on nature, philosophy and art.Full Moon in Paris [Eric Rohmer, 1984]:The style of the characteristic Rohmer film is relaxed and conversational. Naturalistic settings, lighting and locations are used as a backdrop, but controlled by Rohmer's carefully arranged, often static compositions, and rigorously co-ordination colour palettes.The first of Rohmer's feature-length films to deviate from his characteristic template, The Marquise of O... (1976) was inspired by an 1809 novella by Heinrich von Kleist. The film and its presentation teases at notions of faith and magical realism, creating something that feels very much within the traditions of German Romanticism, but in a way that belies a more sinister, psychological motivation for events.While not as daring in its stylisation as some of the other films soon to be mentioned, The Marquise of O... is nonetheless shot in a way that differentiates itself from Rohmer's previous body of work. The lighting, while still naturalistic, seems exaggerated. While previous Rohmer films employed natural lighting (or the appearance of it), the contrast of light and shadow used in The Marquise... suggests the influence of classical painting, with a particular affinity for the baroque, romantic and renaissance periods.More specifically, the contrasts between light and shadow evoke something of the Chiaroscuro and Tenebrism techniques made famous by artists like Rembrandt van Rijn, Michelangelo de Caravaggio and Gerard van Honthorst.The Marquise of O... [Eric Rohmer, 1976]:The Calling of Saint Matthew [Caravaggio, 1599-1600]:  The Marquise of O... [Eric Rohmer, 1976]:Photographed by Néstor Almendros in the same hazy, lightly sepia, magic hour style that he subsequently brought to Terence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978), the deep shadows and warm tones give the film an ornate storybook quality that at one level suggests romanticism, while on another level creates a barrier between the audience and the true intentions of the text. The style lends itself to a film that is painterly and beautiful, like Stanley Kubrick's immortal Barry Lyndon (1975), but in a way that seems to illustrate the protagonist's inability to see the world (and her situation) for what it really is. In short, the design and photography are not merely decorative, but related to the psychology of the characters.Rohmer would return to a similar style in his last film, the pastoral and poetic Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007), photographed by Diane Baratier. Inspired by a 17th century text, Romance of Astrea and Celadon would find Rohmer ending his career on something of a seemingly uncharacteristic note; applying his same interest in characters and their interactions to a world defined by myth and legend. The magic hour cinematography and carefully composed 1.37:1 shot co[...]

A Year in Film (Part One)


A Viewing List for Twenty-FifteenGoodbye to Language [Jean-Luc Godard, 2014]: The title is non-judgmental.  "Goodbye" in the sense that technology is changing the way we live, but "goodbye" also to the thing that has failed to define us.  The shackles of language that keep us tethered to ideas, forms, thoughts and feelings; a liberation from expectation or the need to understand.  3D shots and the fragmentation of the image (from one into two) again relate to the typically 'Godardian' theme of disparity.  The disparity of ideas, politics, love, etc.  The inability of couples to co-exist.  The filmmaker remarks: we can film a landscape and an empty room, but not the landscape at the back of an empty room.  Yet here he achieves just that, and beautifully so.  At various points throughout, Godard frames his dog with the same zealous heroism of John Wayne, circa Stagecoach (1939), the same quiet stoicism of a van Gogh self-portrait and the same wounded dignity of Falconetti's St. Joan. The dog is at once a surrogate for the viewer, on the outside looking in, attempting to make sense, to understand, but also a surrogate for Godard, the eyes and ears at the centre of things.  Remarkable.Kagemusha [Akira Kurosawa, 1980]: The political implications of the scenario are enthralling.  Throughout the film, themes of power, corruption, leadership and the suppression of the 'self' (in the purely psychological sense of the term), are each carefully woven into the fabric of the film.  However, so much of the subtext can be seen as an extension on the idea of performance; the character compelled to put on a costume, to adopt a persona, to play a part.  As such, it's not only Kurosawa's definitive political statement, but also his most self-reflexive/self-referential commentary on the psychology of the "warrior as performer", and vice versa.  The film is a testament to the talent of Kurosawa and his lead actor, Tatsuya Nakadai, however it is the delirious, near-psychedelic 'nightmare sequence' occurring midway through the film that not only draws a line of influence from the similarly personal Dodes'ka-den (1970) to the richly-autobiographical Dreams (1990) but remains one of the most dazzling, imaginative and purely cinematic moments of Kurosawa's entire career.Los Angeles Plays Itself [Thom Andersen, 2003]: The story of a city on film, both literally and figuratively.  Like many of the films on this particular portion of the list, too much time has passed for me to give an accurate clarification of the film's "objective" merits, but the memory of the work still lingers.  Los Angeles Plays Itself is at once and simultaneously an astounding documentary, a travelogue of a city, a narrative history of that same city on film and above all else a defining work of actual film criticism that offers a quantum leap in the evolution of the genre.  Watching Andersen's visual interpretation of his own text - less a compilation of "clips" than a genuine adaptation, where each image or scene, each cut or juxtaposition, presents a theoretical, geographical, historical or emotional association - can only seem to shame all other forms of contemporary film criticism.Sound and Fury[Jean-Claude Brisseau, 1988]: Arguably the great masterpiece of Brisseau's career and a film to file alongside Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959) and Pialat's The Naked Childhood (1968) as one of the most brutal and affecting works on the subject of adolescent alienation in French cinema.  Refining and re-establishing what would eventually become his trademark style through later and no less controversial features, such as Céline (1992), The Exterminating Angels (2006) and The Girl from Nowhere (2012), Brisseau incorporates a milieu of gritty social-drama against a more alarming series of scenes and images that seem to extend from an un-tethered perspective of magical realism.  The result is a film in which discussions on socialism, unemployment [...]

A Year in Film (Part Two)


A Viewing List for Twenty-FifteenMarie Antoinette [Sofia Coppola, 2006]:Coppola transposes her own story - that of a spoiled little rich girl thrust into a position of public notoriety that she cannot comprehend - to that of the title character. In doing so, she exaggerates the naiveté of the real-life historical figure; creating in the process a more piercing feminist commentary on the way young women are often made to suffer for the sins of the husband/father/brother/patriarch; picked on and destroyed (in the case of Marie), not for her own inherently adolescent "decadence", but for the poor decisions of her husband and the generally restricting environment that she's forced to endure. In the title role, Dunst gives one of the great performances of the last decade; maybe even the current century. Unlike so many of the thankless roles she's chosen to play, Marie Antoinette sees her as both natural and radiant; her interpretation of the character arc both subtle and multifaceted; the implications of her final scenes - including the dreamlike moment in which she offers herself up to the braying mob - are haunting and emotionally distressing. Likewise, Coppola's filmmaking is sensitive, full of passion and energy; less a Merchant-Ivory chocolate box piece than a film infused with the influences of Derek Jarman and Sally Potter; specifically films like Edward II (1991) and Orlando (1992). An anarchic, post-modern, but also romantic and painterly approach that like Pasolini finds the past through a reflection of the present (and vice-versa) in order to humanise the central character and to create a political connection to the modern world.Pigsty [Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969]:Pasolini's most impenetrable film is also his most beguiling. The work of a true visionary, Pigsty is a film that blends hallucinatory scenes of prehistoric violence with the extended monologues of the bourgeoisie; creating a juxtaposition that suggests parallels between the past and the present, where the relationship between the two posit the idea of history - and more specifically, persecution, exploitation and corruption, essentially referring to issues of class and entitlement - repeating itself endlessly until oblivion. While difficult to know the true intentions of the filmmaker, the suggestion "a story about pigs to tell a story about Jews" - combined with the overlapping of the two conflicting stories and their different presentations of violence and brutality (physical vs. psychological) - hints at the same anti-fascist polemic of the author's later, more infamous provocation piece, Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975).Force Majeure [Ruben Östlund, 2014]:Östlund direction of the film suggests a genial, less hectoring Michael Haneke; the approach falling somewhere between The Seventh Continent (1989) and Caché (2005) by way of a European sitcom. Like Haneke, the filmmaking style is studied and controlled; rigid, but not inflexible. Colour, composition, editing and sound are impeccable, establishing a feeling of antiseptic middle-class anxiety; an empty "going-through-the-motions" depiction of modern life comparable to a film like Archipelago (2010) by Joanna Hogg. Here, the popular and often contentious "comedy of embarrassment" trope beloved by European filmmakers - from Bertrand Blier to Mike Leigh, etc - merges with the spirit of Buñuel; eviscerating the bumbling immaturity of its characters and their self-created problems of first-world malaise, without becoming too nasty or nihilistic.The Tale of the Princess Kaguya [Isao Takahata, 2013]:  For the first time since Michael Mann's derided but exhilarating Public Enemies (2009), the experience of a film and its filmmaking suggested an almost reinvention of the very language of cinema. Hyperbole? Perhaps, but the purely sensory experience of seeing these images explode within the rich cavernous blackness of the cinema space was like moving towards something almost elemental; the imagery seemingly transforming itself from frame[...]

A Year in Film (Part Three)


A Viewing List for Twenty-FifteenThe Red Spectacles [Mamoru Oshii, 1987]:Oshii manages to corral the influences of '60s Godard (post-modernism) and '80s Godard (poetic ennui) alongside elements of Seijun Suzuki and Jerry Lewis; finding a middle-ground between the pop-art sci-fi reportage of Alphaville (1965) and the comical-philosophical patchwork of Keep Your Right Up (1987) or King Lear (1987). For those that find the director's later (and for me no less essential) films to be largely humourless, self-serious ruminations on tired cyber punk concerns, The Red Spectacles is a work of genuine comic brilliance, both deadpan and slapstick; albeit, with a mystical, vaguely metaphorical climax that questions the nature of reality, existence, perception, etc. It also works as a fairly successful if academic experiment in cinematic stylisation analogous to what von Trier would attempt in films such as The Element of Crime (1984), Epidemic (1988) and Europa (1991); in short, a gnomic synthesis between genre deconstruction, social commentary and self-referential critique.Song of the Sea [Tomm Moore, 2014]:A poetic, intensely lyrical family drama, which, like the greatest works of Studio Ghibli, has been sold as a conventional children's adventure story, but in reality seems a far more penetrating examination of deeply human concerns - such as bereavement, grief, abandonment and the end of childhood innocence - which will only be truly felt by an older, more sensitive audience. The imagery throughout is rich and magical, beautifully designed and animated with great imagination, but always relevant to the central story of the two children and their familiar disconnection. From the old woman transformed by the fearful children into the image of a great owl, to the lonely giant turned into a mountain by his sorceress mother so as to stop him from drowning the world in an ocean of tears, the flights of fancy only deepen the metaphorical interpretations of the work.The Canterbury Tales [Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1972]:Pasolini as the figure of Geoffrey Chaucer gives the film a more tangible through-line than his earlier, similarly picaresque but looser exploration of Boccaccio's The Decameron (1971). Here, the same medley of stories - which run the gamut from satirical swipes at politics and religion to bawdy "sexcapades" and Chaplin pastiche - are tied together by the presence of Chaucer as self-reflexive surrogate for Pasolini; casting his critical eye not just over a medieval burlesque but its reflection on the modern world. The films' third act depiction of Hell as a surreal Hieronymus Bosch-like fantasia elevates the work above the level of the "merely great" to the realms of absolute genius! One of the most bizarre and inventive sequences Pasolini ever filmed. Lyrical, funny and disturbing in equal measure.3 Women [Robert Altman, 1977]:Altman's strangest film. A pre-Lynch take on Lynchian themes of dissociation, identity, alienation, the blurring of perspectives. Nods to Persona (1966) escape the curse of empty "Bergmanesque" imitation by being delivered in Altman's unique and characteristic approach; the camera drifting nomadically across complex scenes; picking out startling shots, strange objects, moments that seems inconsequential but make sense on reflection. A haunting and hypnotic work that rivals the director's earlier psychological study, Images (1972).Nymphomaniac: Vol. I & II (Director's Cut) [Lars von Trier, 2013]:1. Joe fashions a story from the ephemera of Seligman's room. Why? Is she telling her own story or something else? The framing device gives credence to the more preposterous moments; creates a context for Joe to indulge in fantasy but also for Seligman to interject; to deconstruct the material. In this sense the film is not just a thesis on the themes herein, but a self-reflexive study on von Trier's own methodology. 2. Joe's story about the paedophile suggests hidden implications at the end. Why is she telling these stories to [...]

A Year in Film (Part Four)


A Viewing List for Twenty-FifteenThe Visit [M. Night Shyamalan, 2015]:1. A scatological lampoon of dysfunctional domesticity; the gross-out depiction of a rural Americana as seen through the demented eyes of Nana and Pop-Pop recalling the uncomfortable suburban nightmares of Todd Solondz and (occasionally) David Lynch. 2. A mock-documentary fairy story that deconstructs its own conventions through the interaction between characters, further draped in the guise of a Joe Dante style children's survival drama, where serious things are stated without the need to become serious. 3. A semi-autobiographical 'film about filmmaking', in which the director splits his auteurist "id" between his two adolescent characters; the quiet and sensitive Becca, who sees poetry in the landscape and aims to make a film that will heal parental wounds, and the brash and narcissistic Tyler, who only hopes to see his name trending through social media. 5. A film about forgiveness of the "self" and Shyamalan's first masterpiece in (nearly) a decade.Far from the Madding Crowd [John Schlesinger, 1967]:Much of what makes the film astounding is not its translation of Hardy's text into cinematic narrative, but the depiction of a rural lifestyle that throbs with a pastoral, primal beauty. Scenes on the farm and the interactions between characters - either eating, drinking or enjoying the simple pleasures of life, the daily grind - anticipates something along the lines of Pasolini and his bucolic trilogy of life; more specifically, his masterpiece The Canterbury Tales (1972). Far greater than any conventional literary melodrama adapted from a similar source, Schlesinger's film becomes a hymn to the splendour of nature, colour and the drama of the changing light.The Steel Helmet [Samuel Fuller, 1951]:Few films on the subject of war are so brazen in their condemnation of the futility of conflict and all of its inherent prejudices, while still managing to pay tribute to the heroism of those that take part. Fuller's film might not compete with the spectacle of more recent efforts, like Saving Private Ryan (1998), nor the subversive satirical bite of a masterpiece like the Vietnam-eta Full Metal Jacket (1987), but the depth of its ideas and the sensitivity of its intentions are well beyond the level of contemporary example.Cover Girl [Charles Vidor, 1944]:A film about objectification, desire, ambition, regret, jealousy, the thrill of performance; about doing something for the love of it and not just for the fame. On-stage drama spills out behind the scenes; a sense of joie de vivre envelopes both audience and protagonists, finding hope in the hopelessness, beauty in tragedy; traces of Cocteau (as Kelly breaks the mirrored illusion of the surrogate screen to free himself of the "id") and pure romanticism lead to a visual spectacle far greater than anything in today's computer generated blockbusters. If nothing else, Cover Girl illustrates the lost art of "performance" as its own special effect.The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 1: The Moab Story [Peter Greenaway, 2003]:Every sound and image is presented as a series of layered reflections; depicting the surface (the conventional narrative, which is enthralling throughout) but also the subtext, and a deconstruction of the form. Actual history is interwoven with fact and fiction, fantasy and autobiography, as well as Greenaway's continual obsession with the various ephemera of lists and numerical miscellanea, all adding up to a vast but never alienating compendium of sights, sounds and cinematic textures all working in service of a funny and fascinating tale. The film, even without the benefit of its concluding chapters, Vaux to the Sea (2004) and From Sark to the Finish (2004), is nothing less than a total reinvention of the language of cinema.Hard to Be a God [Aleksey German, 2013]:Falling somewhere between the immersive, mystical meditations of filmmakers like Tarkovsky and Tarr and the surr[...]

Francis Ford Coppola - Part Three


A personal ranking of his greatest films11. Dementia 13 [1963]Image: A family facing death.  The unity of "the family" (pre-Mafia) and the spectre of death that comes between them.For directors that don't find an audience until two or three features in their career (sometimes more than that), the critical reaction is often to reduce those early films to the level of vague curiosities; strange artefacts denied the right to ever be approached as legitimate films without comparison to the work that eventually followed.  How often is Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967) acknowledged as the first Scorsese?  The Delinquents (1957) as the first Altman?  Loving Memory (1971) as the first Tony Scott?  Hardly ever, if even at all.  The positive attributes of these movies - ignored at the time as the work of any other anonymous first-time "auteur" unworthy of attention or acclaim - are dwarfed by the success of later films, such as Mean Streets (1973), MASH (1970) and Top Gun (1986), where the cultural identity of the individual director was now apparent and fully formed.  The tragedy of this is that most first-features provide a skeleton key to unlocking the various secrets of a filmmaker's subsequent work; contextualising not just those films that were able to break through the barriers of popular culture and the vagaries of public taste, but also the perceived failures; the films that flew too close to the sun and as such were denigrated and defamed by critics for an assortment of subjective rationale.To use a more recent example, the current ideological approach to the films of M. Night Shyamalan is to view each new film as a kind of competitive sequel to The Sixth Sense (1999).  Audiences go into these films looking for something that plays to the conventions of a recognisable genre (there, the supernatural mystery) when it would be far more beneficial to see the work as a continuation of the same semi-autobiographical thread that was forged in his very first feature, Praying with Anger (1992); a naive "confessional" in which the young filmmaker exposed his deepest passions and fears, while at the same time creating a drama that was rich in sensitivity, pathos and wit.  A film where the influence of the supernatural was both cultural and spiritual, and not just there to placate classifications of genre.  The same is true of a film like Dementia 13; a beautifully shot gothic horror story that works to the influences of Clouzot's Les diaboliques (1955) and Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), while also introducing several themes (such as the thread of familial dysfunction, as well as the line between passion and insanity) that would continue throughout the director's subsequent work.  For instance, here the struggle of three brothers against the experiences and expectations of a woman from the outside initiated into this strange domestic unit provides a blueprint for the filmmaker's era-defining landmark The Godfather (1972), while the generally macabre atmosphere and the film's fevered stylisations would in turn infiltrate the subject-matter and approach of both Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) and Twixt (2011) respectively.While frequently dismissed as little more than cheap schlock - especially in light of Coppola's later acclaim - Dementia 13 is no less a "complete" film and an entirely compelling one.  The gothic ambiance is stylish and otherworldly, the story is interesting and genuinely engaging, while the psychology of the mysterious killer is well developed and fascinating in its inevitable revelation.  More so, the film is significant (in my view, at least) as a precursor to the sub-genre of Italian murder mysteries known internationally as the "giallo" (or "gialli", as plural).  For many critics, the first acknowledged giallo was Mario Bava's excellent Hitchcockian thriller, The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963).  However, wi[...]

The Directors Series


An Introduction To...A long, long time ago (I can still remember) a blog I really liked - which is no longer active, much like 90% of the blogs I once followed, unfortunately - did a series of ranked lists based around a greater ranking of their thirty favourite filmmakers.  The blog was called Goodfella's Movie Blog, and you can check out the link here.Because I recently relocated to a different part of the country and no longer have a large archive of DVDs and no Blu-Ray player (only a small, portable DVD player, with a screen not much bigger than that of a standard smart phone) I'm unable to create frame captures, or to watch as many new films as I once did.  Also, if the Google stats are indeed correct, no one is actually reading the 'Key Films' series anymore (the last once, posted two months ago, hasn't even crossed 30 views; a year ago they were getting close to 300) and I'm so far behind with subsequent titles that I feel like I'm drowning.  If blogging becomes too much like hard work, it's time to cut your losses and get out, or simply cast aside the prior commitments and make a break with something else.For now, I've decided to do something that I'll enjoy and that I've been kicking around on other sites - most frequently, IMDb - and that relates very much to the original idea initiated on the Goodfella's blog.  Essentially, an on-going list-based appraisal of the work of my favourite filmmakers; in short, a personal ranking of films seen.I can't promise thirty directors, but I'm hoping to do something a bit more in-depth than just another illustrated list (equivalent to my recent 'Ranking the Decades' series, which will continue in the new year).  The project will commence in the next few days with the first part of a three part ranking of one of my absolute favourite filmmakers, none other than...Francis Ford CoppolaFor me, the greatest American filmmaker since Orson Welles and, like Welles, one of the most creative, independent and personally inspirational.  The man who throughout his career has risked a part of himself with every great film he's ever made.  A man who brought himself close to ruin on several occasions pursuing personal projects with a passion and recklessness that made him easy to mock, but with an authority and a dedication that made him too dangerous to be taken lightly.  A man who risked bankruptcy, ridicule, his heath and even his sanity in the pursuit of images - such as those found in Apocalypse Now (1979), pictured above - greater than anyone had ever seen.A man who has been at the forefront of several major developments in late twentieth century cinema, from the European influenced American new wave of You're a Big Boy Now (1966), to the prototype "new Hollywood" drama of The Rain People (1969), to his landmark blockbuster The Godfather (1972) and beyond, through a host of intensely personal, eccentric, highly creative films that best illustrate the 1957 maxim of François Truffaut that "The films of the future will be more personal than autobiography, like a confession, or a diary.  Young filmmakers will speak in the first person in order to tell what happened to them: their first love, a political awakening, a trip, an illness, and so on.  Tomorrow’s film will be an act of love."For all his passion, innovation and sincerity, for the ongoing popularity of the four masterworks he released during the 1970s, Coppola is a filmmaker still underestimated and misrepresented by critics and audiences who have bought in to a cruel and unfair approach to film appreciation that only celebrates an artist's work when it draws acclaim and prestige from the mainstream culture, and not for how well the full body of work might communicate the artist's specific or individual point of view.[...]

Key Films #35


Wicked City[Yoshiaki Kawajiri, 1987]:The representation of women in this film is contentious, to say the least.  As with certain other films directed by Kawajiri, such as the analogous Demon City Shinjuku (1988), and perhaps his best known work, the violent and vivid samurai fantasy Ninja Scroll (1993), the female characters here tend to fall into two distinct types.  Although strong-minded and independent enough in their own way, they exist, either as pawns to be placed in perilous situations that arise for no other reason than to facilitate an act of heroism from the archetypal male lead, or they become helpless victims that are subjected to lengthy and gratuitous scenes of sexual sadism and violent abuse.  While the practicalities of this particular example might seem tame when compared to a more notorious title, like the infamous Urotsukidōji series (1987-1989), or even a live-action feature, such as the Takashi Miike directed Ichi the Killer (2001) - both of which seem to objectify sexual violence and degradation to a pornographic degree - the air of sexism still detracts from the other areas of the film, which - in their design and initial direction - attempt to reach beyond the obvious levels of adolescent titillation to instead explore a rich and deeply layered mythology that is fascinating throughout.That Wicked City begins with a scene of male/female seduction that very quickly descends into a physical nightmare of psychosexual dread (as the central character finds himself terrorised by a literal "black widow"; a spider-woman with a snapping vagina that opens up like a ferocious Venus Flytrap) will do little to curb the previously discussed issues regarding the representation of women (and female sexuality) as viewed through the male gaze.  However, in this instance the sequence is somewhat necessary (even justifiable) in establishing the conception of the film, and the basic idea of something "otherworldly", or extraordinary, lurking within the realms of the mundane.  To illustrate, Kawajiri begins the scene as if it were just another routine romantic liaison between two attractive office workers meeting for drinks at the close of an exhausting day.  However, the subsequent revelation of a lifeless hand protruding from one of the washroom cubicles as the woman seductively applies makeup, tips the audience off to a potential threat.  As the couple make their way back to her place - passions enflamed, as if the author is bringing to life a storyboard from an imaginary Adrian Lyne directed soft-core thriller - Kawajiri lets the tension and anticipation simmer and swell.  The seduction and love-making seem too easy, almost staged; the effortlessness of the endeavour at odds with the film's mutating colour palettes, or the growing pulse of an ominous synthesizer on the soundtrack.When the revelation finally occurs the effect is as disarming, frightening and bewildering for the audience as it is for the central character.  Our expectation or anticipation for violence - for the female to reveal her true intentions, as a charlatan, or worse - is far exceeded by the transformation from attractive young woman into monstrous beast.  This moment, at first juvenile and misogynistic in sub-text, represents the sensibility of the film in miniature.  It's an example of Kawajiri dismantling the walls of reality; confronting his audience with the existence of a "Black World" that exists hidden within the walls of our own cities - in the spaces between spaces - like a twisted mirror to our own seemingly polite and cosmopolitan milieu.  From here, Kawajiri will use such images to occasionally punctuate the progression of a supernatural police procedural that predates both The X-Files (1993-2002) and Men in Black (1997), using just enough violence, titillation and surrealism to[...]

Key Films #34


The Man Who Lies [Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1968]:Like the preceding Trans-Europ-Express (1966), the fittingly titled The Man Who Lies is essentially an exercise in cinematic deconstruction.  Specifically, a deconstruction of the conventional devices used in narrative storytelling, and - even more specifically - of the role of the protagonist (or narrator) to provide a greater context, understanding and clarification for the events, as they unfold.  What Robbe-Grillet does to achieve this hypothesis is to dismantle the notion of accepted (or, more "tangible") reality - which conventionally propels the standard cinematic arc - and, in doing so, places the narrator in a greater position of power over that of the viewing audience.  When the narrator (and, by extension, the central character) is gunned down by an armed militia in the film's first scene - only to be brought back to life moments later as if nothing had ever occurred - Robbe-Grillet is communicating the inherent intangibility of narrative form; collapsing the various elements - from reality to fantasy, dramatisation to allegory - in order to remind the audience, in a single gesture, that this is a fiction devised, embellished and told by the central character, and as such at the mercy of his own individual whims.From this point on, the author will continue to obfuscate the significance of the character's identity, his role and his specific intentions or goals, all of which are intended, in a more conventional film, to make us connect with a character, or to identify or even sympathise with their particular plight.  By making the narrator unreliable (and upfront, the particularities of the title already express a sense of duplicity couched in this character's attitude and approach) Robbe-Grillet makes it difficult for the viewer to become embroiled in the minutia of the film's story, its setting, its allusions to actual historical events, or even in the emotional progression of the characters on screen.  Instead, he focuses our attention on the more elusive and often maddening games being played with the malleability of film editing and of narrative in general.  To achieve this, the filmmaker frequently shows us two very different sides of the same scene, action or conversation - in such a way as to provide intentionally contradictory information - however, with no clear or concise delineation as to which of these conflicting perspectives represents an accurate or emotional truth.Shot in the former Czechoslovakia, the visual style of the film is noticeably much closer to the sensibilities of certain other films released during the period of the Czech New Wave - such as The Fifth Horseman is Fear (1964), Diamonds of the Night (also 1964) and A Report on the Party and the Guests (1966) - than those of Robbe-Grillet's contemporaries, such as Resnais, Godard or Malle.  The style, defined by its high-contrast lighting, intense close-ups, wide-angle lenses and a majority of decayed, rural settings, heightens the emotional uncertainty of the film; creating something like a fairy-tale, or perhaps even closer to that of an incessant dream.  While the final scenes of the film eventually hint towards a more psychological (if not supernatural) rationalisation of the story being conveyed, the real motivation of Robbe-Grillet's film is - like the vast majority of the author's works for cinema - closer to that of an intricate parlour game played between himself and his audience.  A self-aware, self-reflexive adventure through the conventions of film narrative, and how such conventions (and their rules) can be used, or even misused by a filmmaker, to further engage the audience in something other than the banalities of characterisation and plot.____________________________________________________Eccentricities of a Blonde-h[...]

Top Ten: 1990


Ranking the DecadesA Year in Film List + Image GalleryGremlins 2: The New Batch [Joe Dante, 1990]:Edward Scissorhands [Tim Burton, 1990]:Trust [Hal Hartley, 1990]:Close-Up [Abbas Kiarostami, 1990]:Innisfree [José Luis Guerín, 1990]:Nouvelle vague [Jean-Luc Godard, 1990]:The Comfort of Strangers [Paul Schrader, 1990]:No Fear, No Die [Claire Denis, 1990]:Miller's Crossing [Joel & Ethan Coen, 1990]:Dick Tracy[Warren Beatty, 1990]:Above, arranged in order of preference, my personal top-ten best films of the year (from what I've seen), accurate at the time of writing.[...]

Top Ten: 1991


Ranking the DecadesA Year in Film List + Image GalleryGermany Year 90 Nine Zero [Jean-Luc Godard, 1991]:The Suspended Step of the Stork [Theodoros Angelopoulos, 1991]:Only Yesterday[Isao Takahata, 1991]:The Fisher King [Terry Gilliam, 1991]:Barton Fink[Joel & Ethan Coen, 1991]:Kafka[Steven Soderbergh, 1991]:Europa [Lars von Trier, 1991]:JFK [Oliver Stone, 1991]:Jacquot de Nantes [Agnès Varda, 1991]:The Visitor (aka The Stranger) [Satyajit Ray, 1991]:Above, arranged in order of preference, my personal top-ten best films of the year (from what I've seen), accurate at the time of writing.[...]

Top Ten: 1992


Ranking the DecadesA Year in Film List + Image Gallery  Céline [Jean-Claude Brisseau, 1992]:Chasing Butterflies [Otar Iosseliani, 1992]:Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me [David Lynch, 1992]:Antigone [Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1992]:Lessons of Darkness [Werner Herzog, 1992]:Light Sleeper [Paul Schrader, 1992]:A Sense of History [Mike Leigh, 1992]:Dream of Light (aka The Quince Tree Sun) [Víctor Erice, 1992]:Candyman [Bernard Rose, 1992]:The Crying Game [Neil Jordan, 1992]:Above, arranged in order of preference, my personal top-ten best films of the year (from what I've seen), accurate at the time of writing.[...]

Top Ten: 1993


Ranking the DecadesA Year in Film List + Image GalleryOh, Woe is Me! (Hélas pour moi) [Jean-Luc Godard, 1993]:King of the Hill [Steven Soderbergh, 1993]:Matinee [Joe Dante, 1993]:Abraham's Valley [Manoel de Oliveira, 1993]:Manhattan Murder Mystery [Woody Allen, 1993]:Three Colours: Blue [Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1993]:D'Est (From the East) [Chantal Akerman, 1993]:Blue [Derek Jarman, 1993]:Carlito's Way [Brian De Palma, 1993]:Faraway, So Close! [Wim Wenders, 1993]:Above, arranged in order of preference, my personal top-ten best films of the year (from what I've seen), accurate at the time of writing.[...]

Top Ten: 1994


Ranking the DecadesA Year in Film List + Image GalleryThree Colours: Red [Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1994]:Ed Wood [Tim Burton, 1994]:Three Colours: White [Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1994]:The Hudsucker Proxy [Joel & Ethan Coen, 1994]:Through the Olive Trees [Abbas Kiarostami, 1994]:Bullets Over Broadway [Woody Allen, 1994]:Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana [Aki Kaurismäki, 1994]:Pulp Fiction [Quentin Tarantino, 1994]:Sátántangó[Béla Tarr, 1994]:Ashes of Time + "Redux" [Wong Kar Wai, 1994-2008]:Above, arranged in order of preference, my personal top-ten best films of the year (from what I've seen), accurate at the time of writing.[...]

Top Ten: 1995


Ranking the DecadesA Year in Film List + Image GalleryGod's Comedy[João César Monteiro, 1995]:Casino [Martin Scorsese, 1995]:The Flower of My Secret [Pedro Almodóvar, 1995]:The Neon Bible [Terence Davies, 1995]:Nixon[Oliver Stone, 1995]:Ulysses' Gaze [Theodoros Angelopoulos, 1995]:Salaam Cinema [Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 1995]:Whisper of the Heart [Yoshifumi Kondô, 1995]:The White Balloon [Jafar Panahi, 1995]:A Close Shave [Nick Park, 1995]:Above, arranged in order of preference, my personal top-ten best films of the year (from what I've seen), accurate at the time of writing.[...]

C'est Le Vent, Betty


Thoughts on a film: Betty Blue (37.2°C in the Morning) (1986)FOREWORD:I'd been struggling to find the words for this film, which seems impossible to define or to explicate in any rational or meaningful way beyond the meagre confession that I saw myself in its moving reflection; a past-life remembrance glimpsed in the fragments of a wayward courtship between a young bum who dreams of being a writer, but who hides from life and its various difficulties and concerns, and the beautiful brunette with the bee stung lips and the wide eyes that seem to burn with the passion and intensity of a protective lioness.In this couple who find paradise in the arms one another - in the skin against skin embrace that becomes a suit of armour that protects them from the slings and arrows of a difficult world - I saw the ghost of something stirring.  A long lost relationship that was as haunting, magnificent and unpredictable as the film itself.  It's possible that without these bare emotions to draw upon, the film might have remained inaccessible, too eccentric, or forever beyond my reach.LA BELLE NOISEUSE:Betty Blue (37.2°C in the Morning) [Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1986]:So often with film criticism - or even film appreciation at any basic, mainstream level - we're taught to approach a work using the parameters dictated by genre and tone.  A comedy is a great comedy if it makes us laugh and smile.  A tragedy becomes a powerful tragedy if it "moves" us; if it forces us to think about the plight of characters, the suffering of people; if it compels the audience to break down and cry.  A romance should be romantic (naturally) and whimsical (maybe), but also contain enough passion and pathos to remind us of our own greatest loves, either lost or won.We cling to these hand-me-down expectations or classifications of intent because it makes it easier for us to put the work into the correct box; to say, "This is a drama, so it should work like this."  But how then do we approach a film that makes us laugh and smile, but also rips the heart out; that is evocative of fond and warming memories, but still brings us to the brink of tears?  How do we move between scenes that are light and breezy, eccentric and full of love, to scenes of bitter remorse, anger, brutality and violent self-harm?  How do we identify with a relationship where the characters are impulsive, selfish, impetuous, but are led by emotions both honest and true?To do so, the viewer must throw out those limitations that we've been taught to embrace.  We have to accept the madness of the work - its contempt for tradition, the emotional highs and lows - just as the central character of the film, the luckless Zorg, must accept the irrationalities of Betty; the free-spirited, impulsive, volatile but deeply beautiful nuisance whose presence and spirit dominates the entire film.  Zorg loves Betty and finds in her a reason to live.  He accepts her often belligerent conduct - tolerates it, makes excuses for her - because deep down he recognises that her presence and love is enough to light the darkness of a bleak and soulless existence.From the earliest scenes the behaviour of Betty is erratic, impulsive, tinged with violence.  It's obvious that this is a relationship doomed to failure (if not worse), but the power of Betty, and her limitless passion, is overwhelming.  She transforms Zorg as she transforms the viewing audience, captivating us both.  Her presence, smile, the sound of her voice, the touch of her body, is enough to bring colour into the world.  She encourages the protagonist, and while her actio[...]

Top Ten: 1996


Ranking the DecadesA Year in Film List + Image GalleryA Moment of Innocence [Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 1996]:A Summer's Tale [Éric Rohmer, 1996]:Irma Vep [Olivier Assayas, 1996]:Brigands-Chapter VII [Otar Iosseliani, 1996]:Drifting Clouds [Aki Kaurismäki, 1996]:Mission: Impossible [Brian De Palma, 1996]:Don't Look Up (aka Ghost Actress) [Hideo Nakata, 1996]:Karaoke / Cold Lazarus [Renny Rye, 1996]:For Ever Mozart [Jean-Luc Godard, 1996]:The Pillow Book [Peter Greenaway, 1996]:Above, arranged in order of preference, my personal top-ten best films of the year (from what I've seen), accurate at the time of writing.[...]

Top Ten: 1997


Ranking the DecadesA Year in Film List + Image GalleryThe Butcher Boy [Neil Jordan, 1997]:Tren de sombras (Train of Shadows) [José Luis Guerín, 1997]:Robinson in Space [Patrick Keiller, 1997]:The Tango Lesson [Sally Potter, 1997]:Hana-bi (Fireworks)[Takeshi Kitano, 1997]:Happy Together [Wong Kar-Wai, 1997]:Labyrinth of Dreams [Gakuryu Ishii (formerly Sogo Ishii), 1997]:A Casa (The House) [Sharunas Bartas, 1997]:The Hips of J.W. [João César Monteiro, 1997]:Taste of Cherry [Abbas Kiarostami, 1997]:Above, arranged in order of preference, my personal top-ten best films of the year (from what I've seen), accurate at the time of writing.[...]

Top Ten: 1998


Ranking the DecadesA Year in Film List + Image GalleryLovers of the Arctic Circle [Julio Medem, 1998]:The Truman Show [Peter Weir, 1998]:The Idiots[Lars von Trier, 1998]:Buffalo '66[Vincent Gallo, 1998]:Festen (The Celebration) [Thomas Vinterberg, 1998]:Secret Defense [Jacques Rivette, 1998]:Bullet Ballet[Shin'ya Tsukamoto, 1998]:The Apple [Samira Makhmalbaf, 1998]:Sombre[Philippe Grandrieux, 1998]:Ring [Hideo Nakata, 1998]:Above, arranged in order of preference, my personal top-ten best films of the year (from what I've seen), accurate at the time of writing.[...]

Top Ten: 1999


Ranking the DecadesA Year in Film List + Image GallerySicilia! [Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1999]:Pola X [Leos Carax, 1999]:The Spousals of God [João César Monteiro, 1999]:Farewell, Home Sweet Home! [Otar Iosseliani, 1999]:L'humanité[Bruno Dumont, 1999]:The Wind Will Carry Us [Abbas Kiarostami, 1999]:All About My Mother [Pedro Almodóvar, 1999]:Eyes Wide Shut [Stanley Kubrick, 1999]:Audition [Takashi Miike, 1999]:Beau Travail[Claire Denis, 1999]:Above, arranged in order of preference, my personal top-ten best films of the year (from what I've seen), accurate at the time of writing.[...]

Key Films #33


The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [Tobe Hooper, 1974]:The film is bookended by two extraordinary if very different representations of light.  At the beginning, darkness is pierced by staccato bursts of flashbulb photography; revealing, in small fractures of illumination, the grisly aftermath of a terrible crime.  Later, at the very end of the film, we find the unforgettable image of the demented antagonist, Leatherface, wielding his chainsaw in a macabre dance against the amber sundowing of a rural plane.  The first scene is significant in as much as it initiates the audience into the story - teasing us with those blink or we'll miss them flashes of violence and gore as an appeal to the viewer's natural sense of morbid curiosity - while the second image is one that seems to exist outside the realms of reality, instead, becoming symbolic; a physical manifestation of the violence that stalks and sears the American landscape.  While the first scene is a prelude to the carnage that will follow - the glimpses of degradation becoming a promise of things to come - the later scene is a culmination; the madness and murder of the preceding seventy-some minutes finding an expression in this strange and unsettling image of a fury, uncontrolled.Both of these scenes - these moments - are inherently cinematic.  By "cinematic", one means, more specifically, an image (or images) where the physical expression of a particular emotion or psychological state is expressed through movement and motion, light and sound.  A moment that could not be written, or even spoken (a short one-line description would rob the image of its significance, or its power to provoke), but only filmed.  Throughout The Texas Chain Saw Massacre it is images like these that define the experience.  Images that can only work on the screen; they need a particular actor, the correct light, the right setting and the natural atmosphere that comes from these locations; the house with its startled chickens trapped in undersized cages, its metal doors, its skull and bone ornaments.  The power of the film is as such entirely visceral; it comes from the impression of different places, the sense of the heat and dirt, the interactions between characters and the accumulation of moments and images that get under the skin; strange images, but ones that are presented with a matter of fact practicality, as if simply documenting a scene of everyday life.For me, this is the essence of cinema; the use of images to evoke and influence a particular emotional or psychological response.  Not something that is written (literature) or even performed (theatre), but something much more sensory; the experience of entering into a pitch-black space with only the flicker of the screen providing a relief from the darkness.  In the gloom of the cinema, the play of light and shadow (which in turns creates the illusion of movement, bringing images to life) and the horrendous din of the buzz saw cutting through a disharmony of shrieking screams will play on the nerves of its audience, putting us on edge.  Just as those staccato flashbulbs at the beginning of the film work to dazzle and disarm us - the brief sight of the rotting corpse unsettling us, but also drawing us in - the later scenes, like the encounter with the menacing hitchhiker, the family dinner or the killer's dance of death, work - like the most iconic and powerful cinematic moments - to translate complex thoughts and feelings into images that are ind[...]

Key Films #32


Stage Fright [Alfred Hitchcock, 1950]:The curtain goes up.  Not on a stage or theatrical setting, but on a London vista; a genuine street scene documentation (no studio interiors, for now, at least) that is alive with action and adventure.  As a visual sleight of hand, it establishes, upfront, the intentions of the film and the way Hitchcock works to subvert the implications of the title, which, without the benefit of a plot-synopsis, might suggest something more predictable; the story of a young ingénue, perhaps terrorised by a masked avenger; one who stalks the theatre - Phantom of the Opera-like - killing anyone who stands in their way.  Of course, this isn't what the film is about - although it does come somewhat close to such expectations in the final third (by which point the audience is well up on the joke) - but another example of Hitchcock taking something that could have been very generic and mundane and elevating it through his usual games of theatricality, deconstruction and narrative misdirection.With this opening shot, Hitchcock is effectively taking his movie out of the theatre and into the streets; into the soon to be studio-recreated reality of life and the everyday.  What this does is the opposite of what we might expect.  Rather than give the film a gritty authenticity – the pretence becoming a reality as the fourth wall is broken; allowing "the play" to spill out into the aisles and seats – the machinations of Hitchcock are instead intended to give the film a self-aware, self-reflexive quality; where "real life" becomes as shadowy, exciting and intriguing as a work of living theatre.  Like the viewing audience sitting down to watch the film, these characters, at first spectators, are eventually co-opted by the filmmaker (and his various creative deceptions) and coerced into becoming amateur sleuths; investigating the details of a story and in the process solving the crime.  Once these characters have become caught-up in the intrigues of the situation - the murder and the innocent accused - they find themselves having to take on and embody the additional roles that they've been chosen to play (from detective, to seductress, to blackmailer, respectively).  This again seems intended to further evoke the very "Hitchcockian" idea of life as an intricate and self-aware system of performances, facades and representations (c.f. Alicia in Notorious, 1946, or Norman in Psycho, 1960).Although a lighter film in comparison to many of Hitchcock's more acclaimed works, such as Rebecca (1940), Shadow of a Doubt (1943) or Vertigo (1958), the ensuing narrative (with its emphasis on role-playing and the presentation of the world itself as a vast and limitless stage) is tailored to the filmmaker's fondness for self-reflection; where the story, or the journey of its central character - an actress, studying at RADA - becomes almost something of a conceptual prelude to the director's later film; the more intelligent and fully formed "meta"-themed deliberation, Rear Window (1954).  Stage Fright doesn't quite succeed on the same level as that particular film - too often sidetracked by comical interludes, bizarre contrivances and bare-faced manipulations - but what it does achieve (and achieve well) is an illustration of what Hitchcock's conception of cinema might have been; his interest in the artificialities of the motion picture, and how this process of manipulation (or illusion) ca[...]

Key Films #31


Ghost in the Shell: Innocence [Mamoru Oshii, 2004]:If the original Ghost in the Shell (1995) used the practicalities of a generic cyberpunk conspiracy to question the moralities of mortality, free-will and the complexities of human identity, this follow-up feature - less a direct sequel, in the conventional sense, than a philosophical reimagining - re-examines the same considerations from an entirely different point of view.  Rejecting the hard-line science-fiction influences and references to Hollywood action cinema that propelled its cult predecessor, writer/director Mamoru Oshii and his collaborators have instead taken the character Batou - a significant if peripheral figure from the previous film - and created around him an obscure but revelatory murder mystery that unfolds like a suspended riff on the tech-noir investigations of the Ridley Scott directed Blade Runner (1982), with the deeper shades of existentialism found in a story like Death and the Compass (1942) by Jorge Luis Borges.  As with that particular narrative, the full course of the inquiry, as it develops through a series of echoes, repetitions and the mysteries of viral-infected dreams, is less about tying up the various loose ends of the investigation, or arriving at a suitable third-act "point", than an example of the character being led on a journey of self-discovery, from refutation to self-awareness and the acceptance of his fate.Like the character of Deckard from Blade Runner, Batou takes on the role of the detective, here investigating a cycle of violent serial-murders involving a system of malfunctioning "gynoids" (essentially: mechanical sex toys, used for illicit means).  Through the development of this macguffin, Oshii is able to introduce not just the dramatic requirements of his narrative (the investigation and Batou's quest), but the various themes and ideas that will come to define the experience of the film and give a weight to its theoretical hypothesis on the nature of individualism and freewill.  The contrasting issues of sex and death, the role of artificial-intelligence and the perseverance of a pretence of human emotion in a world now entirely dominated by robotic technology, are each brought up and explored by the characters in the context of this fictional narrative, but are also deeply entrenched in the design of this character and in the dark and lonesome word that the filmmakers create.  While the first film had Batou as a kind of paternal mentor-figure - offering support, guidance and advice to the conflicted heroine, Major Motoko Kusanagi - the version of the character presented here has been left resentful (possibly even jaded) by his experiences during the previous film, but also by his own sense of alienation and disconnection from the world, as it exists.The progression of Batou though the different levels of the film is really the progression of a character who exists between worlds; no longer a human, in the conventional, biological sense of the word, but at the same time, not quite a "robot", either.  The underlying philosophy of this takes the film back to the same ideological anxieties littered throughout Oshii's original Ghost in the Shell; where the discussions on humanity itself as being the literal "ghost in the machine" - lost or in danger of being replaced - provided a subtext to the more conventional scenes of action and suspense.  In comparison, this follow-up film - subtitled "Innoc[...]

A Small Gesture


Thoughts on a film: Praying with Anger (1992)A film of moments; not quite coalescing, as a cohesive narrative, but nonetheless expressive of the emotions of the film; its meditations on race, violence, cultural dislocation, anger, love, tradition.  A film that begins like something from Apocalypse Now (1979); all amber-lit scenes of ordinary life made exotic and fantastical by the slow-motion cinematography, the iridescent glow of the lighting, the richness of the colours, the fluidity of the compositions; our first glimpse of Shyamalan, the impressionist, which will flourish in later features, such as The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2006), even his weakest film, The Last Airbender (2010).The voice on the soundtrack then establishes the central character as a visitor to this place; a young man with a troubled past trying to find himself in a world that seems beyond any understanding; more a fever-dream - shimmering and intoxicating - than a place to provide stability or the comfort of the everyday.  Throughout this opening montage and the early scenes, Shyamalan works hard to make the world of the film seem as strange and startling and enticing for the audience as it is for his own protagonist, so that even the recognizable - a middle-class family sitting down to get to know their new guest - is exaggerated through the inter-cutting of flat, objectifying wide-shots, with more intrusive close-ups; the tone of the scene, like that of an American sitcom, but again, somewhat off-key.Praying with Anger [M. Night Shyamalan, 1992]:From here the film settles into a more conventional narrative, as the central character, Dev Raman, bonds with his two cousins (the affable Sanjay in particular) and tries to conform to life at a new school.  The preoccupations here are the stuff of any daytime soap-opera, as the character tenaciously struggles to maintain his identity amid rumours of early hell-raising and a violent temper; both exaggerated by idle gossip and the rivalries of school bullies, who enforce the establishment's strict codes of honour and tradition with the eager brutality of hoodlums in an old Hollywood gangster movie.  The feeling of TV sentimentality is not helped by the faux-orchestral score of Edmund K. Choi, which - while serviceable enough for a low-budget film - tends to overwhelm scenes with a heavy melodrama; illustrating just how significant the influence of James Newton Howard has been on the growing development of Shyamalan's work.However, the look and style of the film, the emotional sincerity and the intensity of certain scenes, more than compensates for this naiveté, or the film's rough-around-the-edges approach.  For instance, the way in which Shyamalan uses the camera, not just as a tool to tell the story, but as something that expresses the emotions of his characters, or the dilemmas they face, highlights a clear understanding of how the conventions of cinema work to bring the audience into the drama; allowing us to share moments of passion, fear, anger and confusion, subjectively, alongside the characters on-screen.Praying with Anger [M. Night Shyamalan, 1992]:The first instance of what will soon develop into an iconic image in Shyamalan's cinema; two hands meeting in an embrace; a show of commitment and solidarity...The Village [M. Night Shyamalan, 2004] eventually becomes an unspoken promise between characters; a declaration of lov[...]

Key Films #30


Carrie [Brian De Palma, 1976]:What feels like one of De Palma's less personal films - at least in terms of how well it communicates the various interests and obsessions that most often define his work - is ultimately informed, if not elevated, by the remarkable lead performance of Sissy Spacek and by some of the most daring and elaborate stylisations of the director's career.  Perhaps because De Palma was conscious of the lack of individual investment - the influence of his own preoccupations, such as voyeurism, dual personalities and the self-reflexive relationship between the viewer and the work are all absent - the filmmaker over-compensated by indulging in all manner of audio-visual tricks.  The end result is a veritable showcase for De Palma's unparalleled ability to manipulate and stun the senses of an audience through an active experimentation with the filmmaking form.  Slow-motion is intercut with images played at twice the normal speed; split-screen effects convey contrasting perspectives; saturated colours suggest the growing emotional intensity of the title character; while the use of jump-cuts and those long, carefully choreographed sequences (which define the third act) create incomparable feelings of both terror and suspense.Surprisingly, such cinematic extremes never distract (or detract) from the emotional context of the story, nor from the subtle nuances of Spacek's work.  If anything, De Palma's bold and often dizzying direction enhances the drama, imbuing the film with a dreamlike quality that succeeds in presenting the life of its character almost as if a fairy-tale-like fable - a Cinderella distortion complete with real-world manifestation of the evil step-mother - but in a way that makes the progression of the narrative and the treatment of its character all the more convincing.  The audience is able to share in the loneliness of Carrie - her fear and exclusion - just as easily as we can share in the pain, anger and inevitable retribution, precisely because De Palma has worked so hard to place the audience (through the use of editing, sound, design and cinematography) in the same emotional and psychological sphere.  This not only makes some of the more sudden shifts from high school melodrama to full-blown supernatural hysteria more palatable, it gives the drama a genuine heart and poignancy that allows the audience to better identify with something that is, on the surface at least, entirely paranormal.____________________________________________________The Girl from Monday [Hal Hartley, 2005]:The narrative requires no greater elucidation.  The themes are explicit, established via the initial voice-over, or through the discussions between its various protagonists, providing context and clarification throughout.  The depiction of a (near) future society where consumerism has become more than just a new religion but a genuine obligation(human interaction as commoditisation; everything a product, a brand; monetary transactions; goods & services, etc), owes a clear debt to the work of writers like Aldous Huxley, Margaret Atwood and Philip K. Dick.  Likewise, the stylisations of the film and its cold, modernist metropolis - where emotional commitment and individual expression seem punishable by exile, if not death - are very much influenced by the no less unconventional dystopia of films like Alphaville (1965) by[...]