Eavesdropping at the Movies 51 – You Were Never Really Here

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If there’s ever a movie that needs to be seen on a big screen this is it. A poetic film, a great film made by a great artist. A story that’s told aurally and visual using a wide range of devices. We discuss the extraordinary power of its images, the imaginative use of sound, the depiction  of violence; whether it has a psychologically traumatised editing pattern; how it’s a film that requires visual literacy and what that might mean; the narrative is that of an abused child who goes to the military, suffers post-traumatic stress syndrome and eventually becomes a hitman who’s sent on a quest to rescue a young girl who’s been trafficked sexually. A linear story told in a fragmented way with the narrative making — and changing — sense as it unfolds. Mike is excellent. I remember names better than usually.  At the end of the podcast, we comment on the oscars describing debates the broadcast led to and we forgot to include that engendered by the best foreign language winner: A Fantastic Woman.



The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

A Fantastic Woman/ Una mujer fantástica (Sebastian Lélio, Chile, 2017)

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Like the lovers in Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together, Marina (Daniela Vega) and Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dream of visiting the Iguazu Falls. Marina and Orlando have just moved in together, and in fact Orlando has bought tickets to go. But he’s older, can’t remember where he’s put them and offers her an IOU. That evening, they go to bed in their usual manner but he suffers an aneurysm during the night. As she searches for the car keys, he goes out the door and falls down the stairs. At the clinic, they ask Marina about her relationship with Orlando, begin to twitch that she’s transgender, and the problems begin. As Orlando is declared dead at the clinic, those problems will get worse.

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Everything’s against Marina

The police arrive, and since the change in her ID is still in process, insist on addressing her as a man and treating her as a criminal rather than a bereaved partner. Gabo, Orland’s brother, arrives and apologises to Marina, ‘I’m sorry you had to go through this.’ But his obligation is to ‘the family’, which she is most emphatically excluded from. Soon, the ex-wife comes in to kick her out of the apartment that is the home she shared with Orlando. It starts off polite but ends up being forceful; the police come in, ostensibly to help, but really to humiliate her; the son and his friends will kidnap Marina, distort her face with tape, and dump her on a side street. I expected much worse and find it interesting that the film chooses to end it there and not focus more on physical violence.

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Who Am I?


The violence in A Fantastic Woman is all psychological but no less powerful for that. Marina is denied her history, her identity, her relationship, her apartment, her dog; and even the right to mourn the person she loved, which she insists is a human right. Any gay man d’un certain age will be familiar with this story, particularly those who lost loved ones at the height of the AIDS years and before wider acceptance, legal and social, of homosexuality. The partner who you loved and cared for dies and you’re left with not even a place at the funeral in case your very presence might offend the congregation. The fight for trans rights is a logical continuation of the fight for lesbian and gay rights and this film vividly, in a very personal way, demonstrates the hows and whys.

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The violent deformations of ‘respectable’ people

The film is a complex and fascinating meditation on mourning and on the complexities of identity. Instead of, as is typical, showing us Marina’s effects on people, everything, including that effect, is filmed from her point of view. Her feelings, identities, wishes, desires, dreams are the focus on the film. And people’s well meaning but ignorant, passive-aggressive and ultimately violent denial of her humanity is what the film movingly demonstrates. But she will withdraw, survive and live to fight another day, and with beautiful music.


The film is imaginatively shot by Benjamín Echazarreta and there are some very striking and evocative images. The film is directed with a poetic touch as well, as it moves into dance numbers to evoke Marina’s feelings; dream sequences that evoke the complexities of her situation and her desires, and there are thrilling musical moments, first when Marina performs a salsa song in a nightclub (Periodico de ayer) later, the classic numbers she sings, particularly at the end (Handel’s Ombra mai fu).

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On genitals and Being.

The film has been compared to Almódovar’s work, which surprises me. Yes, there is a transgender protagonist; and yes, it’s a great film. But what strikes me most about this film is the absence of camp. Marina is strong and she suffers; and there are moments of rage; but it’s her quiet, polite, elegant, strength that is the focus of the film. In her home, she might box away her frustration. But on the street she’s soft-voiced, cultured, polite with a quiet strength that will not compromise winning a particular battle for the thrill of an easy laugh. It’s the quiet strength necessary to achieve justice, one embodied by Daniela Vega’s impassive but understanding gaze, that is to me the central thrust of the film. Particularly, in instances where she gazes directly at the camera, as if saying, ‘bear witness to what the world is doing to me; to what it takes for me to live in this world, your world’. I’d like to see it again.

Singing Handel

Currently available to see on Curzon Home Cinema

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies 50 – Lady Bird

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Our 50th! We finally get around to seeing the one Best Picture nominee we were missing, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. It’s been highly praised, but has the hype hurt it? We discuss its female-centric twists on coming-of-age teen movies, the mother-daughter relationship, its attitude to sex, and the Everyman Cinema in Birmingham, which we visit for the first time.

Recorded on 27th February 2018.


The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Camouflage/ Barwy ochronne (Krzysztof Zanussi, Poland, 1977)

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The awarding of prizes for an academic paper in a linguistics summer camp in a Polish provincial University is the setting for Zanussi’s great exploration of hierarchy, power, knowledge, justice, democracy, morality, conformism, corruption, ethics. A jaded, cynical professor, Jakub (Zbiniew Zapasiwicz) tries to enlighten and manipulate an earnest and idealistic younger colleague, Jeroslaw (Piotr Garlicki) and the verbal jousts between them are the occasion for the explorations of the issues the film dramatises. ‘Why not take things at face value’ asks the younger man? ‘Because it’s not all that simple or honest’ responds the elder.

Zanussi’s frame is always full of people or landscape – students staging sit ins, gangs swimming naked in the river, classes replete with students, dozens at dinner — in a way that makes one realise how thinned out much of contemporary cinema has become, not just visually, but thematically. Here when two characters speak in a two-shot it carries the context of the social so many people earlier helped depict. Place, and society are always the background to the protagonists’ thought and actions.

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It’s no surprise that the film was read as an allegory for Poland in the last years of the Communist regime. It’s a film in which signs are often read by the characters as having other referents than its popularly acknowledged ones, but these other referents can only be divulged through avenues of power and knowledge. People are often compared to nature through animals: the cat will have its prey, and only by collaring it with bells will those poor birds and mice have a chance. But the analogy with nature has its limits. Human groups build their own value systems we’re told. But are those honest, just, democratic, ethical; and do they pave the way to knowledge and progress? At the end, Jaky thinks he’s brought out the beast in Piotr but Piotr makes clear that if he had, he’d be dead.

A film that seems particularly relevant in the light of present discussions on the role and purpose of universities. A great film.


Camouflage is currently available to view on MUBI.


José Arroyo





Wùlu (Daouda Coulibali, France/Senegal/Mali, 2016)

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A fine gangster film, novel for being an excellent debut feature from Daouda Coulibali and set in a region of Africa (Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Niger) that is a nexus for transporting cocaine from Columbia to Europe.

The film begins with a series of titles contextualising and explaining as follows:

‘In the Bambara culture, fraternal societies must train their followers to make them into valuable members of the community. In the Ntòmo society new members must pass through five levels:

  1. The lion level teaches a man where he came from
  2. The toad level tells him where he is going
  3. The bird level teaches him who he is.
  4. The guinea fowl level considers the man in the cosmos.
  5. The final level enlightens the member on his place in society. This is the level of the dog (Wúlu).

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 11.58.58The Wùlu of this story is Ladji (Ibrahim Koma), who works in a collective taxi. He’s the one who decides who to pick up and he’s figured out all the angles: avoid the elderly, fat and infirm: they can lose you a lot of money. He dreams of driving his own bus. But in spite of being excellent at his job, he’s passed over for the boss’ nephew, who’s got nothing going for him aside from his relations.

The film starts in 2007 in Bamako, and the corruption is shown to pervade everything and everyone, even Ladji’s sister, Aminita (played by singer Inna Modja) is turning tricks to get by. It ends in 2012. Ladji, the dog, can’t live with himself; his sister, the whore, is sunning herself by the pool in the lap of luxury. The final title card tells us:

‘In creating divisions at the heart of the army; in inciting competition between different tribes, and in constituting one of the sources of financing for terrorist organisations, cocaine trafficking largely contributed to the failures the State of Mali underwent during the course of 2012.’

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Ladji washes away the blood

A very good crime film about the rise and fall of the gangster figure; as in so much of the genre, it is as much a critique of the society its portraying as a depiction of particular characters. And that is a chief attraction for someone like myself: we not only get a film with likeable characters, excellent action and a poetic touch, but we get to find out about the cultures depicted: the tribalism, the meaning of art in these cultures, the corruption of politicians, the way white people are seen, what a rich house looks like to these people, the value of a bus. This is a gangster film in which negotiations takes place in a tent in the desert, in which the way out of a shootout is through a boy with a donkey, a place in which an intelligent, thoughtful and responsible young man has no way out but gangsterism, drugs or death and in which death is preferable to drugs; It’s where whores survive but dogs are put down (there is a slight tinge of misogyny in the film).

Olivier Rabourdin plays the French Entrepreneur who is also the drug kingpin

Screened on MUBI as part of South by South, a collaboration with the South London Art Gallery

49 – Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

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We try out Mubi, a curated streaming service that gives you 30 films at any one time, and only 30 days in which to watch them. Our choice is Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, a 1970s Italian satire on police corruption and the politics of power. It leads to discussions on its expressive imagery, its topsy-turvy plot, sexual kinks, peccadillos, and lifestyles, the performance of power and authority, and male jealousy and rage.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion is one of the best political films of all time, with a great opening sequence. A satire on politics filmed and played in high style. What does an establishment figure have to do to get arrested?

Winner of the Academy Award of Best Foreign Film in 1971 and with a great score by Ennio Morricone.



The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

48 – I, Tonyah (Craig Gillespie, USA, 2017)

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The story of Tonya Harding raises all manner of issues for us to delve into. I, Tonya is a film about class, domestic abuse, celebrity, opportunity, achievement. We examine its visual design and use of competing aspect ratios, its use of direct address to camera, and the conceptualisation of the working class characters and mother-daughter relationship. Mike believes it insists upon Tonya Harding’s fame too heavily, not aware of how she’s only really remembered in the USA. Jose finds its portrayal of working class people uncomfortable. An energetic discussion.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Six Shooter (Martin McDonagh, UK/Ireland, 2004)

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Donnelly (Brendan Gleeson) bids goodbye to his dead wife at the hospital, placing a photograph of their pet rabbit to accompany her on her way. He gets on a train with a loud-mouth kid (Rúaidhrí Conroy) who unsparing in his observations and picks a fight with fellow passengers, particularly a couple (David Wilmot, Aisling O’Sullivan) who’ve just lost their baby in a cot-death: ‘Oh here come Fred and Rosemary’ with the photo of the baby that ‘looks like the gay guy from Bronski Beat’ . It turns out that the trouble-making kid has also lost his mother the previous night. He’s the one who shot her; and so brutally ‘she had no head left on her’.

Thus a carriage encased in grief and anger, differently expressed by each, but so febrile with sadness and pain anything can ignite it into violence, which it will. Three deaths that will in turn result in at least three more deaths. All this told through McDonagh’s trademark vibrantly vulgar phrasing, jokes that erupt out of darkness, sharply unsentimental point-of-view, equal parts mean and funny, and with flashes of surreal violence, the centrepiece of which here centres on a cow inflating from too much gas. ‘Oh Jesus, what a fucking day!’ is the last line in the movie. All we know and like of McDonagh is already fully realised here in this short movie, which I highly recommend.


Part of the McDonagh retrospective currently showing on MUBI

Nominated and won the Best Live Action Short Academy Award in 2006


José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies 47 – Phantom Thread – Second Screening

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Phantom Thread offered us so much to think about that we decided to revisit it, this time with Stephen Glass, who is both a filmmaker and Mike’s brother: very handy. This is our second viewing, Stephen’s fourth. We note how little time these great films now remain onscreen in Birmingham but focus on various aspects of mise-en-scène and performance: are the dresses meant to be not quite right? How fantastic is the Chelsea Arts Ball scene and the wonderful superimposition from the Alps? We discuss the power struggle between Alma and Cyril; the connection between Alma and Reynolds’ mother; the changes of lighting in relation to the characters from the beginning of the film to the end; the narrative deployment of the Barbara Rose character and the use of music. A film that’s endlessly interesting.


The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Avant la fin de l’été/ Before Summer Ends (Maryam Goormaghtigh, France, 2017)

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Before Summer Ends

A road movie about cultural dislocation. Arash has been living in Paris for the last five years but is returning home to Iran to sit for his law exam. He hasn’t taken to France. ‘French people don’t have a reason to be interested in you,’ he says, ‘what I’ll miss most is the alcohol aisle in the supermarket’. All his friends are Iranians. Two of them, Ashkan and Hossein, convince Arash to go on holiday in the last two weeks before he’s due to return home, hoping he’ll stay. Maybe he’ll meet someone and fall in love…


Like with all road movies, what the characters learn on the road is something about themselves and something about the country made of up of the places they visit. What makes this film distinctive, and thus more interesting than most of this type, is that what they learn about the country they are visiting is always dialectically counterpoised to the country they originate from: thus the reference for the South of France is the North of Iran; the girls they meet on the road are shown how women in Iran wear a scarve and what the various ways of wearing the scarve signifies etc.


Through the trio’s travels in the South of France, we learn about Iran:

Arash: I don’t know about you but I’ve been doomed since childhood.

Hossein: Why?

Arash: They used to call me the son of the Devil.

Hossein: why?

Arash: Whenever I heard the call to prayers or religious hymns, I would hide behind the drapes and start screaming.

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We learn that the very obese Arash originally put on the weight as a deliberate ploy to avoid military service; that Hossein had to mortgage his family home in order to give the government the fee necessary to guarantee his return from Paris to do his military service. Hossein who’s since married a French woman is stuck. Imagine at 33 having to return to work for someone else for free for two years. Does he abandon his wife in France, ask her to meet up with him in two years in Iran, or forfeit the home where his family leaves in Iran. Hossein’s problem is that he misses Iran; he sleeps better there; he’s happier there; but he’s more himself in France; can only fully realise himself – come closest to the person he’d like to be — outside of the strictures of home.


The film presents a very different picture of Iranians than one is accustomed to from the media. Here we see an easy, affectionate friendship between three blokes, who talk of love, poetry, and Tarantino; and why they don’t want to go to the mullah’s version of heaven: ‘That’s why I only drink the hard stuff, I’m going to hell on a high speed train’. It’s where he’s sure his friends will be. And who wants to spend eternity with mullahs? We get to see little of French culture, the landscape, a few village parades, the odd exchange of cigarettes with the natives. Even the girls they meet and share part of the road with them seem to me to be immigrants (I don’t think the film is explicit on this but when they perform a song, they sing in Spanish; one of the other girls they talk to, a waitress, is of mixed origin – her father is Moroccan, etc.)

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We do get to see a group of men—funny, open, emotionally at ease with each other — restrained still by the patriarchal, authoritarian culture of home – Arash, surely close to thirty or more – has to answer to his father on the phone like a teenager; distant, perhaps excluded, from French culture but already changed by it in a way that makes a return for most difficult, perhaps impossible. Arash, modest, funny, at ease with himself as with others is a character you’ll come to love. France would miss him if it had ever bothered to get to know him.


A funny, enjoyable and illuminating documentary.

Seen on MUBI

José Arroyo



Eavesdropping at the Movies 46 –The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro, USA, 2017)

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A discussion of the great Guillermo del Toro’s Shape of Water, a film full of what he’d describe as eye protein. It’s beautiful to look at and that visual beauty is shaped for meaning and feeling. We discuss how the opening shot evokes Sirk in Written on the Wind, Sally Hawkins’ performance; we have problems with the conceptualisaton of the Richard Jenkins character; note how the film, though it’s set in the Kennedy, era feels 30s. We discuss why all the musical clips are from Fox musicals of the classic era. In short, we discuss its characterisation, its performances, its cinematography, its relationship with the classic cinema and fairytales from which it builds. We use the word “beautiful” about two hundred times. Michael Shannon retains my vote for best actor of his generation in spite of playing a one-dimensional type rather than a fully rounded character. He conveys more with the planes of his face than other actors do with soliloquies. A fascinating but not perfect film.



The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Swagger (Olivier Babinet, France, 2016)

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An imaginative and exhilarating documentary on a group of teenagers in Aulnay-sous-bois, a council estate on the outskirts of Paris. The film is made up of interviews, recreations, and imagery usually found in slick sci-fi pictures (drones invading la cite, an owl descending for its kill). It looks very beautiful but more importantly, the film’s subjects and what we learn about them feel true, rounded, lovely.


These teenagers are first generation immigrants from various former French colonies. Some dream of the village they left behind, others hope never to return to it; none feel French, or rather they do, but second-class French, not like the ‘real’ French, the French de souche, who they imagine as being blonde and blue-eyed. They rarely see them because though they used to live in this council estate, they moved out once the blacks and arabs moved in.


Unlike most films of this type, this one doesn’t focus on the drugs and shootings on the estate, though that is constantly there as background but instead on the dreams and aspiration of these children: they want to be architects, stylists, successes in a world that they know doesn’t have much room for them and will try to keep them out.

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Fears for the future

All of them seem to have suffered from some trauma; some are in care, others have parents who are strangled by debt, many of them live with a single parent; those rare ones who enjoy two parents rarely see them as they work all the time; the children talk about the responsibility of illiterate parents who rely on them even to fill out the simplest forms. The voices of some of them seem silenced by the memory of past traumas. Most of them have a problem with trust. They talk of all the fights. The girls are ostensibly the worst they tell us. One of them started looking like Beyoncé but during the fight all her hair got pulled out and she ended up like 50 Cent. Many of the boys talk about the temptations of getting work as a lookout for the drug dealers. You’ll wonder what once happened to these beautiful children and the lives they’ll lead subsequently.

Aissatou Dia opens up

The film’s success is that it draws them out. As the film unfolds, each child, from so many different countries, believing in so many different religions, but with a shared experience of life in a council estate where drugs and killings are a way of life, is caught in that cusp of adolescence. Still children but on their way to adulthood, capable of independent thought, very articulate, and each in their own way beautiful.


My heart particularly ached for a fat young queen who’s an avid fan of the American soap opera ‘The Young and the Restless’ and can voice every plot detail. Régis N’Kissi likes being different, makes his own clothes and dreams of being a stylist: ‘all my dreams are about fashion’. He swaggers through the school corridors wearing fur and shades. He’s well-known and well-liked he tells us, then adds modestly ‘not like Beyoncé,’ but well-liked nonetheless. Though he always wears a bow-tie, Régis’ earned the respect of his colleagues by fighting one of the tough guys in the parking lot behind the school they call the Stadium, going three rounds and winning. No one’s bothered him since.


Each child is allowed to tell his or her story and voice his or her aspirations. The drugs and the shooting are part of their shared culture but so is the school and their experience of each other. Swagger’s a film that both gladdens and brings a slight ache to the heart.

Beautifully shot by Rimo Salminen.

Nominated for a César for best documentary.

Currently playing on Mubi. I highly recommend.


José Arroyo


Ausente/Absent (Marco Berger, Argentina, 2011)

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Martín (Javier de Pietro) is a 16 year-old student, gay, in the closet, and with an insistent gaze that speaks of assertiveness and danger. He wanders around the locker room at the swim club he belongs to, holding that gaze for that second too long, that extra bit of time that creates discomfort. Yet, when the objects of his gaze look back to return or challenge it, he’s vamoosed.

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Encased in the closet, wandering through the locker room


Martín tells his gym-teacher Sebastián (Carlos Echeverria) that something’s lodged in his eye whilst swimming. The teacher kindly takes him to the doctor who finds nothing. When the teacher offers to drive him home, we hear that Martín was meant to sleep-over with a friend; that he left his phone is in his knapsack and now can’t use it; that he lives with his grandmother but she is now visiting an elderly relative, and that he doesn’t know where his friends lives. In short, he’s stuck. All this information unfurls in the first half hour of the film and we quickly sense that Martín isn’t telling the whole truth.


Sebastián feels he has no choice but to let him sleep over, nonetheless making explicit to the boy the danger he’s placing him in, bringing a student and a minor to sleep in his home. Sebastián calls his girlfriend to relieve some of that tension and bear witness but he doesn’t tell her why. She in turn is too distracted and busy with her own troubles to pursue it and simply says no. Her only concern is whether the boy might steal something from the home.

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copping a feel

The teacher offers the student food, a place to stay, a change of clothes. But the student wants more. In the middle of the night and in a moment which feels both daring and tense, the student goes over to the sleeping teacher, puts his hand on Sebastián thighs and slowly moves it up and places it firmly on his crotch. This eventually wakes up Sebastián and though he senses something is not quite right, when he gets up to see what could be wrong Martín looks asleep, though provocatively positioned like a male Lolita.

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Lilito asleep

Sebastián suffers the snoopy gaze of a neighbour who discovers Martín, coming out of the shower, and flashing the crack of his bum at her. In the morning, the gardener sees them leaving the house together, says nothing, but looks on disapprovingly. The world’s judgmental gaze is on the teacher, who has done nothing but be kind. In the meantime, the boy is wearing the teacher’s deodorant, his perfume, his shirt. He’s found a way of having the older man on top of him by stealth and without his consent.

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Flashing the teacher’s neighbour

The morning after, in the teachers’ common room Sebastián hear how the parents of a boy had come to the school with the police that morning crying that their son was missing only to find him there and the father was so upset that he wacked him. Sebastián realises it’s Martín they’re speaking of but why has Martín lied to him? The discovery of the lie takes place 45 minutes into the film; why Martín lied, and the effects of that lie will occupy the rest of the film.

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External examination

Ausente is a film structured through a series of absences, which begin with the boy’s absence from home the night he tricks Sebastián into letting him stay over, continues through with absences from school, ends with the ultimate absence from the world itself, and is figuratively dramatised for us by what has by now become a trope traced to Bareback Mountain (2005): the sniffing of the shirt of he now loved but lost. But, like in Ang Lee’s film, those absences are in dialectical tension with another structuring device: the closet. It’s a film that begins with the boy’s external physique being examined in minute detail by a doctor and in huge close-up of every piece by the director. But as the film demonstrates no one is taking care or paying attention to the boy’s interior: his feelings, wishes, desires.

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The obligatory sniffing of the shirt

Social oppression is what creates the closet, and Martín having to live in the closet is what creates those sidelong glances, the looking on in secret, the interior yearning facing external barriers and lived through lies, the danger, the endangering and finally death and absence and guilt. And if the first part of the film is concerned with dramatizing the thrill, power and danger of a younger man pursuing an older one; the last half of the film is concerned with guilt over how the older man could have helped the younger one more, a guilt that’s woven through with the suggestion that Sebastián might not be entirely heterosexual himself.

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of furtive glancing

Ausente is a minor film, and the last third is to me quite muddled with all the flashbacks, woven in to make sense of past events and not quite succeeding in doing so. But it’s a film that delights me. It is now possible for gay filmmakers to take a small cast of characters, a small crew, and explore a situation and an idea on film, thus articulating various aspects of gay men’s lives in miniature. Here, the shooting is mainly in the close-ups Berger favours, the leisurely pace; the furtive glances (both the characters’ and the camera’s); the literary allusions (Milan Kundera’s Laughable Loves – ‘The book doesn’t tell me what I would like to hear’);camera moves that linger on empty spaces as spaces of possibility where things may (and sometimes do not) happen; and then there are the open lively faces Berger shows us (the young Javier de Pietro’s in particular), beautiful and full of feeling, a drama in itself. It’s a film that requires and rewards patience.


José Arroyo





Eavesdropping at the Movies 45 – Black Panther

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Unlike with most of our podcasts — in which Mike and I usually go blind to a movie, rush home, make a cup of coffee, and then just chat about our responses to the film and try to get each other to better articulate what we think and feel about it — Mike and I had already seen Black Panther before, separately, and we’d also read quite a bit about the film before hand. It was unavoidable, as so many of our friends had already begun discussing it, passionately and vociferously. I found Jelani Cobb’s piece in The New Yorker; Christopher Lebron’s article for the Boston Review; Kenan Malik’s op-ed for The Guardian; and Adam Serwer’s analysis of the character of Killmonger in The Atlantic to be particularly thought provoking.

Thus this is, unusually, a first discussion after our second screening. My first took place in Stockholm and it was fascinating to see it with a young, Swedish, mainly but not exclusively male audience, that responded avidly to all the jokes.  The audience in Birmingham was worse behaved and rowdier, with many people confrontationally turning on their phones, texting, taking pictures — like they’d never been in a cinema before. A fight broke out at the back in the middle of all of it, though it seemed to be mainly verbal. It’s a film that seems to be bringing in a lot of people who don’t usually go to the cinema, probably because most of it doesn’t have much to offer them. In spite of the irritations, it felt great to be a part of it.

So this podcasts finds us in the midst of an already feverish conversation taking place online and amongst friends. So much to discuss! How does the film build compelling conflict between the characters, what are the nuances of its commentary on racism, colonialism and masculinity, what were our shared experiences with the audiences, what did we draw out of its costume and character design – and is really really really obviously the best Marvel film?



The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

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José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.





The Fabulous World of Jules Verne/ Den Dødbringende Opfindelse/ Vynález zkázy/ The Deadly Invention/ An Invention for Destruction (Vynález zkázy/ Karel Zeman,Czechoslovakia, 1958)

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IMG_1169The Deadly Invention:


I was lucky enough to visit the Karel Zeman museum in Prague. I’d not known of his work before. His ingenuity in creating so many marvellous special effects for films is dazzlingly on display at the museum, and in imaginative and interactive ways children of all ages delight in. But I was too cheap to actually buy one of his films. I thought it would simply be added to the growing mountain of DVD’s one should watch but probably won’t. Also, upon first glance, the films seemed too crude, ‘primitive’ even, the kind of Eastern fantasies ok for Communist era audiences then or film historians who makes this a specialty now but… All my prejudices spilled out. How wrong I was.

When travelling in foreign parts I’ve been making a point of visiting their Cinémathéques or Film Institutes. The Danish one is a marvel. A retrospective of Luis Buñuel was the highlight of the varied programme on offer (see below).8794482E-A667-4F6A-9A2D-3B68F31061CD.jpg

There were varied exhibitions children could join in:


There was a fantastic blu-screen interactive display, which as you can see below, was a great delight to myself and my companion.


And you could hang around at the Asta (aster Asta Nielsen) bar whilst in between activities at the Danish Cinemateket:


The young people selling tickets are cinephiles and their enthusiasm and knowledge is what led us  to buy tickets to Straub Huillet’s The Chronicles of Anna Magdalena Bach (which for reasons I won’t go into here we did not manage to attend) and a marvellous and long-prolonged encounter with Zeman’s work.


The most important aspect in any Cinémathéque is the films curated, programmed and screened. And it was here, amongst a selection of film adaptations of works by Jules Verne, that I once again encountered the work of Karel Zeman, The Deadly Invention/ Den Dødbringende Opfindelse / The Fabulous World of Jules Verne/ An Invention for Destruction/Vynález zkázy: it’s a work that goes by many names and is ostensibly the most popular film ever in the old Czechoslovakia.  The look is like that of a Victorian engraving of Jules Verne’s novels mixed with live action; and I can do no better than quote Pauline Kael’s mini-review in full:

Among Georges Méliès’ most popular creations was his 1902 version

of Jules Verne’s A TRIP TO THE MOON (which was used at the

beginning of Michael Todd’s production of AROUND THE WORLD IN

80 DAYS). Another great movie magician, the Czech Karel Zeman,

also turning to Jules Verne for inspiration, made this wonderful giddy

science fantasy. (It’s based on Facing the Flag and other works.) Like

Méliès, Zeman employs almost every conceivable trick, combining live

action, animation, puppets, and painted sets that are a triumph of

sophisticated primitivism. The variety of tricks and superimpositions

seems infinite; as soon as you have one effect figured out another

image comes on to baffle you. For example, you see a drawing of half

a dozen sailors in a boat on stormy seas; the sailors in their little

striped outfits are foreshortened by what appears to be the hand of a

primitive artist. Then the waves move, the boat rises on the water, and

when it lands, the little sailors-who are live actors-walk off, still

foreshortened. There are underwater scenes in which the fishes

swimming about are as rigidly patterned as in a child’s drawing (yet

they are also perfectly accurate drawings). There are more stripes,

more patterns on the clothing, the decor, and on the image itself than a

sane person can easily imagine. The film creates the atmosphere of

the Jules Verne books which is associated in readers’ minds with the

steel engravings by Bennet and Riou; it’s designed to look like this

world-that-never-was come to life, and Zeman retains the antique,

make-believe quality by the witty use of faint horizontal lines over some

of the images. He sustains the Victorian tone, with its delight in the

magic of science, that makes Verne seem so playfully archaic.’

Released in the U.S. with narration and dialogue in English.


According to Wiki, ‘ In 2011, the science fiction writer John C. Wright identified Vynález zkázy as the first steampunk work and Zeman as the inventor of that genre, commenting that if the film “is not the steam-powered Holy Grail of Steampunkishness, it surely ought to be.’

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Seeing it was a delirious delight, and one which I’m grateful to the Danish Cinemateket for providing. I am also grateful to Ian Banks for pointing me to this wonderful documentary on Zeman’s work, the Magical World of Karel Zeman, which well demonstrates Zeman’s techniques and how he achieved some of the effects that make his films so magical. It can be seen on youtube here

José Arroyo




Eavesdropping at the Movies 44 – 2018 Oscar nominations

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oscar nominations

Mike and I have not seen all the films nominated. But we have seen most of the work nominated in the main categories and, with those qualifications in mind, we engage in preliminary discussion on the films, performances and cinematography nominated in the major categories. It’s also an opportunity for us to revisit and renew our appreciation of some our favourite films.

José Arroyo

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We also have a facebook page here

Thank you very much for your feedback. It’s most welcome.  It’s already  led to some changes we hope you see as improvements. And it’s always great to have a dialogue on film so please keep the comments coming.


With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)

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phantom thread


Phantom Thread gives us a lot to talk about; films about recessive people trying to communicate, the superb use of sound, quite extraordinary performances from all three leads; the beauty of the images, the complexity of the themes, the extraordinary ending, the coolness of the tone; filmmakers who excel at inciting thought versus those who excel at inciting feeling (and the full spectrum in between. We discuss the film in relation to Anderson’s ouevre and we will bring Mike’s brother into a further podcast on this film to help us delve into it further. The film makes you want to do that.


José Arroyo

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We also have a facebook page here

We’ve been receiving quite a lot of comments and we welcome them. Keep them coming. They’ve led to some changes we hope you see as improvements. And it’s always great to have a dialogue on film.


With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

The Commuter (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2018)

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The Commuter



I like these relatively low-budget star vehicles featuring action. They’re often much better than they’e thought to be. Here we discuss how Collett-Serra frames a wonderful opening scene through innovative use of editing, the superb montage of dissolves that highlight the commuter’s lonelyness, the wonderful shot that tracks through all of the carriages of the train, the ingeniousness of the central promise. There’s more cinematic nous and contemporary relevance here than in all of Downsizing. Mike likes it less than I and we discuss these differences of opinion whilst highlighting the many pleasures this film offers. Neeson, who I think is terrific, is surrounded by a great cast: Elizabeth McGovern, Vera Fermiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill. A good example of today’s Termite Art.

José Arroyo

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We also have a facebook page here

We’ve been receiving quite a lot of comments and we welcome them. Keep them coming. They’ve led to some changes we hope you see as improvements. And it’s always great to have a dialogue on film.


With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Hawaii (Marco Berger, Argentina, 2013)

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Eugenio (Manuel Vignau) drives into a small town. Martin (Mateo Chiarino) knocks door-to door trying to find work. Eventually, Martin knocks on Eugenio’s door. The premise is almost that of a porn film: the handyman knocks on the door, the householder eyes him up and before you can say ‘Bob’s your uncle’, cut to the bedroom.

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looking through doors, windows, bars

What Hawaii does that extends this basic premise is to offer social context, background, and to dramatise the partial perceptions, lack of knowledge, and barriers to communication that impede romance and act as blocks to the fulfilment of desire.

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outside, looking in, not quite in focus

Martin’s mother died when he was 13 and he went off to live with his grandmother in Uruguay. The grandmother’s now died and it turns out she didn’t own the house they shared. The current owner, a distant relation, let him stay on three months longer. But eventually Martin had to leave. He’s got a promise of a job in Buenos Aires in the Autumn. He’s left his few boxes of belongings in the garage of a cousin but said cousin has barely room in his place for his wife and his three children and Martin doesn’t want to impose. He’s returned to the rural village in Argentina where he grew up to kill time in familiar surroundings whilst enduring scraping a living. He’s homeless. He’s been living outside in the woods, though Eugenio doesn’t know this yet. Martin’s been lying to him about this. He’s a childhood friend but also a homeless migrant. His nickname’s ‘The Russian’, only partly due to his colouring.

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games people play whilst they’re trying to hide what they want

Eugenio is a writer trying to write a novel called ‘The Germ’ about the conflict between a landowner and the young daughter who questions how come it is that he owns the land rather than someone else. Eugenio is a couple of years older than Martin but he’s the baby in his own family, younger than his brothers: Flor by five years; Santi by 7. His family is extensive and they are close: an uncle bought his childhood home so he and his brothers could enjoy the money it brought but also continue to enjoy the use of the house. In the beginning we see him pictured reading, writing, doing yoga, typing away in the dining room on his mac, at a handsome table on which rests piles of books, a soup tureen and other signifiers of bourgeois respectability.

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the body outside, looking in, both object an subject of desire

What separates Eugenio and Martin is class and this is depicted in the starkest of terms. But throughout the first part of the film what keeps them apart is also the uncertainty about the other’s sexual orientation, the false clues they give each other regarding their sexuality, the insecurity that their own desire will not be returned. They play peekaboo games with each other. But what they hope to win by doing this is at the cost of real understanding and becomes a block.

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Longing, partial and distorted

Eugenio leaves pictures of himself with a naked woman for Martin to find. What does he hope Martin will think of this? He asks Martin to not be a faggot and feel free to undress in front of him. But where is this leading? Eugenio’s desire for Martin is shown palpably, even as he gives all these mixed signals to Martin. Martin’s desire is less clear, though at one point we do see him going into Eugenio’s room, sniffing his shirt à la Brokeback..and well.

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Anticipatory space in a narrative that’s full of anticipation and barriers to consummation


All this is brought to a head when one of Eugenio’s brothers comes to visit, quickly assesses the situation and is not shy to share it: ‘You like him. Do you think I’m an idiot? You gave him work because you fancy him. What are you going to do? Are you going to fuck him and then are you going to tell him, ‘Hey sorry, I gave you a job because you turned me on?’ Do you want to be his boyfriend? Did something happen already? Does he know? And if you fuck him and the summer ends, what are you going to do. You’ll take him to Buenos Aires, to a Levi’s store you buy him some clothes. You take him to Palermo and support him? Or you’ll send him to work on a construction site and you’ll wait for him at six with tea prepared at yours?’ A bourgeois’ perception of the horrors of cross-class elected affinities of any kind.

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Just when you think you understand….wrong!

The brother’s choices are stark and brutish. But it’s the first time in the narrative that we’re certain that Eugenio is gay and out to everyone but Martin. And this spins the story onto another level. Martin is only certain of Eugenio when he’s helping him move things, a bunch of explicit homoerotic drawings drops on the floor, and they’re clearly ones that Eugenio has been doing of Martin on the sly since the beginning. But then the plot gets complicated further because Eugenio then interprets Martin’s coming onto him for all kinds of reasons that have little to do with simple shared desire. And Eugenio’s rejection is so frustrating and hurtful to Martin that he leaves.

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the game of childhood

Eugenio wins him back by finding viewfinder slides of a shared childhood experience of marvelling at images of Hawaii, fixing the old machine, and leaving it in the woods where Martin previously took shelter so he may find them. And it’s this shared love of being in accord and at ease doing things they’ve enjoyed since childhood that finally brings them together at the end.

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Hawaii as symbol of childhood and fitting together

Hawaii, though in a way less successful than Plan B, has deepened my love of Marco Berger’s films. The way the viewer is always shown things at a distance, through a corner, via bars, glass, windows. The way the protagonists’ own mode of looking becomes a barrier to seeing and understanding. The way sexual reverie means the sound goes off, one isn’t listening, and thus one doesn’t understand anything other than one’s own want.

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What Eugenio’s been drawing. A revelation that results in a misunderstanding


I love the the kindness evident throughout; the confident gazing on people’s faces so that they might reveal; the intermingling of fear of rejection with desire. In other words, whilst his films provide quite a bit to incite desire in the viewer – these are handsome and charming men, gazed at longingly – the desire for going deeper, for finding character and understanding in people, over-rules and subsumes the libidinal desire that drives the narrative. Sexual desire is seen and dramatised but also put in its place. It’s only carnal, and carnality is not all there is to people in Berger’s films. There’s hugging and sharing and trust and companionship, and all those marvellous things that continue to glow in memories of childhood companions. I have two quibbles: a) the music is better than in Plan B but not good enough and the film ends too abruptly.



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I’m amazed that this was a Kickstarter project, delighted to see Manuel Vignault again. It’s a slow film in which nothing seems to happen unless you concentrate and look. But look; at the faces, the shots, the composition, the way things come and in go out of focus, the way spaces are places for feelings, and looks a way of suturing not only space but hearts and minds. A film that I liked the first time but learned to love by looking and looking better, the second time around.

José Arroyo


Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter, Adapted and Directed by Emma Rice

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One feels one is in a 1930s Kardomah before the play even begins. There’s a small orchestra —  bass, ukelele, accordion, various vocalists — singing to the audience at the bar, and they then serenade us all into the theatre. The brilliantly pink curtain, shining in luxuriant folds, rises, and we see the British Board of Film Censors card which prefaced every movie and which here  announces the start of the show. Laura (Isabel Pollen) and Alec (Jim Sturgeon), who’ve been sitting at a table in front of the stage, run onto it.  Laura’s husband, shown on a screen, beckons to her, and she seems to teleport from stage to film.


The film, part of the cultural history of several generations, both iconographically and in terms of sensibility, is both backdrop and a shared knowledge the play builds on. The show kids the movie, just like Victoria Wood’s famous sketch did, but with equal fondness. That shared memory, and that shared love for it, is the very structure of feeling the play draws on and develops, both in the way it is constructed and the way individual performances move from light and slightly farcical (most of the supporting characters) and those that are deeply felt and played straight (the lovers).

The audience is serenaded into the theatre

What we see onstage is necessarily very different from the film. The film makes us cry at the impossibility of this love, at all the social restrictions, from the institution of matrimony to the censure of neighbours, to the weight of the state itself, as seen when Laura goes to sit in the park bench, by the War Memorial in the movie.

The show brings puppetry, circus, a band, acrobatics, songs  –‘Mad About the Boy and ‘A Room with View’ by Coward but many others as well — and brilliantly evocative and poetic use of images; sometimes used as a backdrop to evoke mood; sometimes front of stage to show passing trains; once, wittily, to permit Alec to enter the train.


The actors sing to us in a world of images we know and love. In a world of sounds that are a backdrop to English culture. But what does the show do with them? It in no way replaces the power of the film. What we get is an entertaining and witty love letter to it, done in a completely different mode. Sights, sounds, and live actors here deployed to evoke nostalgia for norms, cultural forms of understanding, speech patterns, prices for drinks, and narrative tropes that no longer exist but that we recognise, acknowledge as a shared history, and are fond of.

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A production that makes imaginative use of many screens and often ‘steps into’ movies

This production of Brief Encounter, from Kneehigh Theatre and the Birmingham Rep, was first produced in Birmingham in 2007.It’s a wonderful, imaginative evening at the theatre. I particularly enjoyed the sound of Jos Slovick’s voice —  lulling and full of feeling —  and Dean Nolan’s many comic turns. But all the actors are brilliant.

It’s all rather enchanting, and the production enchantingly uses our memory of the film but without once evoking the depth of feeling the film surprises every audience I’ve ever seen the film with. And yet it’s not a disappointment. It’s a wonderful something else that uses every trick in the book available in theatre to both send a love letter to the film  that the show still can’t keep itself from slightly sending up. Those states of feeling presented in those ways might no longer be available to us. And maybe it’s a good thing. They were a bit ridiculous. But weren’t they lovely?


Jose Arroyo