Film writing

[Cross-posted from Kamera, and written in 2001]

Perhaps the most succinctly insightful critical response to the work of Nicolas Roeg might be Michael Clark’s portrait of the British director in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Entitled “al-jebr”, this Arabic word means “the bringing together of broken parts”. There are certain keywords that recur in critical appraisals of Roeg’s work: fractured, shattered, collapsed, labyrinthine. This is no less true of his now thankfully re-released 1973 masterpiece, Don’t Look Now, which forms part of an early body of work, including 1970’s astonishing Performance (co-directed with Donald Cammell), the deeply pessimisticWalkabout (also 1970), and the glacially prescient The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). These films inspire similar “what ifs” to the contemporaneous career of Francis Ford Coppola. After his under-appreciated 1980 film, Bad Timing, Roeg seemed unable to reach the intense complexity his earlier work had shown, and has since managed to succeed where even Coppola has failed, by earning the epithet “largely forgotten”.

Don’t Look Now begins with the tragic drowning of Christine, daughter of John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie), and in a sequence famed for its elliptical yet instinctively communicative editing, introduces the key symbols and themes of the film. The motifs of water, of the colour red, of breaking glass, of criss-crossing (noted, in the left-right alternation of shot angles, by Manny Farber in his 1975 essay on Roeg), of spirals, of aural/visual disjunction, of deception/perception, of restoration (forgery/authenticity), are all introduced and established. An early, Hitchcockian, jumpcut from Laura’s scream of horror to the screech of a drill in Venice brings us forward in time, and establishes also Hitch’s presence as an influence. John and Laura have travelled to Venice, where John is working on the restoration of a Byzantine church (which, in a Gothic film, provides a pleasing counterpoint of styles). There they encounter two eccentric sisters, one of whom, apparently psychic, claims to be able to see their dead daughter standing between John and Laura, but also warns them that their lives are in danger while in Venice. John is sceptical, while Laura is willing to believe, and finds a degree of calm in the sisters’ words. The sisters even suggest that John himself possesses second sight, a possibility he denies to himself, in spite of otherwise inexplicable sensations. Read More

[Cross-posted from Kamera, and written a long long time ago.]

Fucking Åmål, retitled Show Me Love for more sensitive markets such as the USA and the UK, is Swedish poet and novelist Lukas Moodysson’s debut feature, and already the biggest Swedish film of all time. The film follows Agnes (Rebecca Liljeberg) who, even after 18 months in the provincial town of Åmål with her family, still has no friends, and Elin (Alexandra Dahlström) who is sick of the fact that by the time something is ‘in’ in ‘fucking’ Åmål, it is ‘out’ everywhere else, and is also keen to rid herself of her virginity. Read More

[Cross-posted from Kamera, and written in 1999/2000.]

Showing in its original version rather than the longer “director’s” cut (widely held to be a more balanced and complex film), the tenth anniversary re-release of this 1989 winner of the Palme D’Or at Cannes, and the Best Foreign Language Film at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes, offers an opportunity to reassess a film that was panned by critics on its release, but proved something of a hit with the public. Read More

[Cross-posted from Kamera, and written in 2001]

Not overly sophisticated (thank God), indeed somewhat crude at points (excellent), and rather like a mixture between The Sure ThingBeavis and Butthead and Shadowlands (just kidding), Y tu mamá también is extremely good-natured, thoughtful and enjoyable – far more so than the witless trailer (which makes it out to be a teen gross-out comedy) suggests.

It follows two seventeen-year-old Mexico City friends – Tenoch (Diego Luna), a corrupt politician’s son, and middle-class Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal, of Amores Perros) – and Luisa (Maribel Verdu), the beautiful young Spanish woman they meet at a party. To impress her they invite her on a road trip they are planning to go on, to what they say is the best beach around, La Boca del Cielo, or Heaven’s Mouth – which they’ve invented. She declines, but when her husband (Tenoch’s writer cousin) calls her in tears to tell her of an infidelity, changes her mind, and calls the boys – who are forced to rustle up a car, and a plan. The ensuing road trip tests their friendship and their sexuality. Read More

[Cross-posted from Kamera, and written in 2001]

Asif Kapadia’s accomplished debut feature (following on from his acclaimed short “The Sheep Thief”) offers a variation on a classic story – feared bad guy tries to go straight, and his former employers put a price on his head. 29-year-old Kapadia himself has described it as a samurai film set in India (in, erm, “Hindu”, as the BBC review has it), and has said that it took its inspiration from a Japanese folk tale. The film was awarded the Sutherland Trophy at the 2001 London Film Festival, and lives up to the brief: an original and imaginative first feature. (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)

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