A discussion of Ousmane Sembène’s Mandabi. José had never seen it before and found it a revelation. Richard’s now seen it twice, once at the cinema in a beautiful restoration that’s now been put out by Criterion. The film is currently screening on MUBI and we highly recommend it. We talk issues of representation, gender, colonialism, how structures seem designed to oppress a sector of the population which nonetheless constitutes ‘the people’. We also talk film aesthetics and what it was about the film that Youssef Chahine might have found so appealing.
I’ve relished reading Miguel Bosé’s El hijo del Capitán Trueno. Bosé has been a music superstar in the Spanish-speaking world for over four decades. Elsewhere, he’s probably best known for starring in Almodóvar’s High Heels. But he’s worth getting to know better. His father, the most famous and glamorous bullfighter of his day, left Ava Gardner to chase his mother, Lucia Bosé, whose extraordinary beauty brought luminosity to the cinema of Antonioni, Bardem, Fellini, and so many other greats. Picasso and Visconti were his godparents. His first sexual experience with a man was Helmut Berger. Dalí was handmaiden to his teenage affair with Amanda Lear. He has anecdotes about all the greats from all over Europe and elsewhere. He’s worth reading too. It’s perceptive book, well-evoking the smells, textures, structures and feels of different ways of life; rural Spain, a Madrid awakening from its 50s provincialism but still in the yoke of Fascism; the social-cultural see-saws of the Transition to Democracy; even early 70s London. It’s a well-written book, precise and poetic. He devotes four pages of description to the ‘matanza,’ that time of year – and accompanying processes – when the pig is slaughtered, chorizos are made, other parts of the pig are preserved etc; and his memories evoked and jived with mine, probably the only thing that jet-setting son of international stars and I have in common. I hope the book gets an English translation.
A film of surprising delights – certainly for Mike, who hates anything that looks like it could appear on ITV – Mothering Sunday tells the story of one key 1924 day in the life of a young maid. It’s a film filled with grief and lust, beautifully shot and featuring the best of British acting, Colin Firth and Olivia Colman’s performances subtly modulated and multifaceted. It’s imperfect, failing to engage with race as it perhaps should, and a framing device feels rather unnecessary – but it’s a moving and sensitive film.
Encounter at the Station (Taiwan, 1965) is the last of the 5 Hsin Chi films programmed by the Anthology Film Archives in New York and available for all to see for free until November 30. It is a melodrama in the truest sense, music plus drama, with songs narrating or underlining the action at almost every moment. And what action! The film takes on every melodramatic trope possible and when you think it can’t get any more extreme it surprises you by going even further still. A young high school student falls in love with a boy at the station. On her deathbed her mother reveals to her that she is really adopted and to beware of the stepfather. And for good reason, as soon as the mother dies, he sells the young girl to a nightclub to pay for the mother’s funeral. Her love surprises her at the club and buys her out. But it’s no good, her secret’s revealed and she will be forever a B-girl. People have to give up their children, some go blind, some go mad. It’s never boring. We discuss all of this and more in the podcast below:
The Anthology Film Archive introduces the retrospective as follows:
5 FILMS BY HSIN CHI (Nov 17-30, 2021)
Last December, Anthology presented an online series – “Taiwan B-Movies” – in collaboration with the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI) and the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York. That series showcased several films restored by the TFAI as part of their ambitious and vitally important efforts to preserve Taiwanese Cinema, including those that fall under the category of Taiyu Pian: Taiwanese-language films produced between 195581, in which the characters speak only Taiwanese (i.e., Taiwanese Minnan or Hokkien) despite their various backgrounds in the story. During the heyday of this vibrant local film industry, over 1,000 films were produced, but less than 200 have survived. Since 2014, TFAI has endeavored to restore some of these Taiwanese-language gems. As a follow-up to “Taiwan B-Movies”, and in order to continue to celebrate the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute’s preservation efforts, we present another online series devoted to the Taiyu Pian filmmaker HSIN Chi (aka XIN Qi). Born in the Wanhua District of Taipei in 1924, HSIN moved to Japan at the start of the 1940s, where he developed an early interest in theater and cinema. When he returned to Taiwan, he was active in the theater, but in 1956 embarked on a career in filmmaking. During the next two decades he would direct or produce upwards of 90 films – including more than 50 Taiwanese Hokkien-language films – in nearly every imaginable genre: from romances and screwball comedies to crime films, thrillers, and wuxia, not to mention Taiwanese opera and even softcore pornography. Tragically, only eight of these films survive, but several continue to enjoy a cult following in Taiwan to this day. Following the decline of Taiyu Pian cinema in Taiwan in the late 1960s, HSIN turned to making Mandarin-language films, including in Hong Kong, before transitioning into a long and productive career in the television industry. He retired from filmmaking in the 1990s and turned his attention to film preservation and archiving. In 2000, HSIN was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Horse Awards. His work remains little known here in the U.S., however – a situation we hope to remedy with this online film series. This online film series has been organized in collaboration with the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI), and is presented with generous support from the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York. For more information about HSIN Chi, including special video introductions and newly translated articles, click here: http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/film_screenings/hsin_chi
We have now podcast on all the films screened. The podcasts can be listened to here:
In Egypt, The Will (aka Determination) is often voted the greatest Egyptian film of all time, one of the greatest ever anywhere, and a precursor to Italian neo-realism. Youssef Chahine recommended it and provided the impetus for our viewing. In this podcast, we discuss how much we liked it (the representation of a whole way of life with its structures of feeling, the melodrama, the resonances it still has to contemporary life); the limits of its comparison to neo-realism; its influence on Chahine, particularly evident in Daddy Amin; and how and why its claims to being one of the greatest films of all time nonetheless elude us.
I stopped reading a while ago and only started this because a student is using it for a project. Žižek is still ‘translating’ everything into Lacanian language. Hegel and Marx still seem to be the fount. He always states the unthinkable anti-thesis and brings out the synthesis from his hat as some form of a post-drum-roll surprise in a circus of binaries, i.e. what irritated is still there. However, I found this very funny, engaging, and truly insightful about so many things: the Paris race riots, the analysis of the cartoons of the Prophet in Denmark, Palestine, the charity of billionaires. It’s the work of someone fully engaged: he brings in movies, TV, Elton John along with all the philosophers you’d expect. It’s not everyone who could be so illuminating about complex issue whilst being so entertaining to read. Perhaps, my reading of his work previously was overly combative, expecting him to show me how he might be ‘right’. But if one lets go of this and merely reads to think, the work seems more valuable and more fun. This time, even his use of films to illustrate points without mentioning sights or sounds failed to annoy. Plus it’s short.
Reading Le chat and instantly reminded of what a great writer Simenon is. In a few pages, he immerses us in the dynamics of a couple who find comfort in hating each other. She’s killed his cat; he retaliates with her parrot. She has the parrot stuffed as a colourful and constant reminder of his crime. They’re separated by class, in a world they no longer recognise as their own, constantly comparing their relationship to a previous, happier marriage, and on the cusp of their own extinction – which each fervently wish for the other whilst not quite knowing what they’d do with themselves subsequently. Simenon taps into all the senses: the taste of particular dishes and wines, the difference between sex standing up or a roll in the hay, how people smell each other, the pleasure and agony of different sounds; the corner in which sights can remain hidden; what people say, what people mean and how people understand. Simenon evokes the pleasures of a trip to the country; the geography of a Paris that feels like a village, a different one depending on what period of their lives the protagonists are remembering. There are masterful fluid shifts in narrator and the narrative is structured quasi circularly, beginning the story after the incident with which the novel ends. I found it brilliant and interestingly different from the Granier Deferre film where Gabin and Signoret are so great.
Very good theatrical autobiography. The class element, the importance of speech, the home-made clothes, the lack of food, the Shirley Temple wannabee shaking her curls and knickers at dirty old men in Working Men’s clubs; the dampness and cold of the war and immediate post-war period are all vividly evoked. The memoir ends when she finally becomes a name with The Killing of Sister George in 1965 — a long haul –so one also gets a vivid depiction of theatrical life in the 50s; repertory, walk on parts in Stratford, troupes in sea-side towns, Butlins, live television. I was glad to spend a day in her company.
Halfway through The Normal Heart I thought ‘why is it being revived’ and ‘why here’? The COVID parallel is too blunt and doesn’t hold up. The American politics are distinct. The play is one of ideas, often crude, and activism. But it all comes alive in the second half. It succeeds in capturing the structure of feeling of the moment, the panic, the fear, the suffering, the lack of knowledge, the argument of whether not to have sex or to have as much as possible in order to build up immunity; how it all seemed so unfair and so incomprehensible. How activism and alliances found a way, but too late for far too many. It put me in that moment and reminded me of all those I loved and lost then and it got me in the end, and the audience too: the actors were rewarded with an enthusiastic standing ovation and I with an answer to my initial questions
The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s love letter to The New Yorker, is, as you might expect, a charming way to pass a couple of hours – but not as funny or as tight as we might like, and certainly a disappointment in the light of his last two films, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs (although, in fairness, reaching those heights even twice, let alone a third time consecutively, would be a big ask for anybody). Still, despite The French Dispatch‘s pleasures, some gorgeous imagery and a terrific, star-packed cast, we’re left asking what it’s all about, really – is it more than a vaguely diverting trifle based on Anderson’s favourite publication? And why can’t an ode to an icon of American sophistication be set in America?
A discussion of Peony Birds, part of a strand of films by women directors or films focussing on women that is a most welcome additions to the Taiwan Film Festival in Edinburgh. It is also a slight historical corrective to what may be seen as the ‘all-boys’ account of New Taiwanese Cinema from the 1980s and 1990s. In the podcast we discuss, how Peony Birds an inter-generational film focussing on mother-daughter relationships that deal with themes of love, money, class as well as differing perspectives on similar actions. Richard and José are divided on the film itself, with Richard perhaps more persuasive on the film’s virtues.
In our final podcast on the Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh 2021, we praise its programming, its accessibility, and its decision to also include live events alongside the digital. We also delve into other types of films in the programme not covered by this podcast so far, Pai Jing-jui’s Morning in Taipei (1964) with its similarities to Humphrey Jennings cinema and the ‘city symphony’ films of the 1920s and with its superb new score by Lim Giong; Den Nan-guang’s 8mm Home Movies; and we delve with considerable depth into Chen Kuo-fu’s The Personals (1998) , a film anyone interested in issues of gender and sexuality will be interested in seeing (it has a fantastic queer moment very relevant to current discussions, see bottom of post). The podcast can be listened to below:
Don’t believe the trailer, which gives a poor impression of what’s in store: Ridley Scott’s latest historical epic is lighter on the action than you’d expect, and, for a blockbuster, formally adventurous. Based on true events that took place in 14th century France, The Last Duel tells the story of a lifelong feud and a sexual assault… then it tells it again, and then once more. Three perspectives are brought to bear on the events, those of Jean (Matt Damon), a soldier and vassal; Marguerite (Jodie Comer), his wife and the daughter of a treacherous lord; and Jacques (Adam Driver), his oldest friend, and squire to a count – each controls a third of the film, shaping the story as they understand it. It’s an ambitious project, drawing consciously on narratives and discourses around patriarchy and sexual assault whose importance to our cultural conversation have become increasingly established in recent years – but does it work?
FI saw Blow Out again this week, and what I noticed was the skill evident in even the relatively ‘minor’ shots. This is a visual illustration of an instance (It might have been quicker to read and more precise had I written it. But it was quicker to do this way and hopefully the point will be more vividly and accurately illustrated):