One Mile Away (Penny Woodcock, UK, 2012)

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one mile away

I really hated One Mile Away. At the Q&A session after the film, Penny Woodcock, the director, said something like, ‘I wanted to show how there are invisible lines that you or I might not see but that are real to other people living in the same neighbourhood. To them, a street is a barrier and a danger and they could get killed if they cross it. And the problem is not just in Birmingham, but London, Liverpool and internationally. And it’s not just an issue of race; in Liverpool it could be white gangs’. She went on, but really, that’s not how the film comes across. One Mile Away is about the rivalry, one so long-standing no one seems to remember how it started, between the Burger Bar Boys and the Johnson Crew, two gangs whose postcodes – B21 and B6, are just one mile apart.

The film shows Birmingham as a sort of cross between a British Hell’s Kitchen and a banana republic, with everything ugly, dangerous, lawless; which I think outrageous if one compares crime statistics or criminal justice systems. Also, the film is exploitative: very charismatic leads show up on camera really because they want to be rap stars, they do their little number in exchange for telling something about their lives. And they don’t tell us very much, one cliché after another about not having a father, and being poor, and the system being racist; but then again, I’m not sure they’ll get very much in exchange either.

The film offers very little analysis. Is there so much drugs and crime in that particular community compared to other ethnic or racial communities and if so why? Is the system unfair to them in comparison to Pakistanis or Poles or members of other ethnic or racial communities? Are there internal problems these communities should be addressing? The film avoids these issues. Its treatment of the police I found particularly disgraceful: as if there weren’t people behind those masks.

I so wanted to like it; it’s a rare film dealing with Birmingham ; but it’s a foreigner’s view of the local; actually a patronizing foreigner’s view of the local; a London ‘artiste’ visits the ‘jungles’ of Aston and Handsworth and, heart bleeding, condescends to objectify and vilify the police only to conclude that really everything would be less ugly and dangerous if people would only talk to each other. The film has already won all kinds of awards, more for its subject matter and its good intentions than for its achievements as cinema I should think. Be that as it may, I didn’t’ find it worth my time and I suspect Birmingham City Council will not be thanking the director.

José Arroyo

The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, USA, 1999)

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Sofia Coppola’s first film. The title’s such a turn-off that I avoided it until 2012. I thought it would be depressing but it’s not: I was a fool. It’s an engaging and humorous work with a real feel for teenage female desire and angst. ‘What are you doing here honey’, says a doctor to one of the sisters after a suicide attempt, ‘you’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets’. ‘Obviously Doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen-year old girl’. The situation and humour are slightly dark but the story is told with a welcome light touch throughout. The film’s  got depth too: the scene where Trip (Josh Hartnett) leaves Lux (Kirsten Dunst) in the football field without being able to quite comprehend it himself is one of many examples. Plus Coppola’s direction allows for  other pleasures: the callow attractiveness of Josh, the real beauty and skill of Kirsten, James Wood for once underplaying, and a suddenly aged Kathleen Turner, all marvellous. It’s beautifully directed but still falls apart at the suicide. What leads up to it is not quite conveyed. Surely being treated badly by a boy and not being allowed out for a while by their parents is not sufficient cause for it  otherwise so many more of us would be dead. Still, it’s a delight  to see a work of such skill and feeling from a first time director.

José Arroyo

Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, USA, 2006)

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The story of the tragic queen, a kind of contextual preamble to the French Revolution, shot as a tragic teen film. The film is a sumptuous, lively production, amongst the most beautiful and entertaining films of the last decade, distinguished by its use of music, its beautiful mise-en-scène and its evocation of a long-gone world in a way that makes it timely and relevant. Sets, props, and costumes have to be amongst the loveliest ever. Clearly, a lot of that is due to the period itself, but credit must also be given to the filmmakers in having the wit and knowledge to see the value in conveying it in a way that allows a contemporary audience to understand and appreciate it. The film is wonderful at showing the enervated obsessions with lifestyle, entertainment, shopping and consumption, so similar to that of our own epoch, as a frenzied refusal of unshakeable anomie, one doomed to failure. Everything about the film evokes a delicious dialectic between luxe and loss. Kirsten Dunst, at the peak of her melancholic beauty, is peerless as the tragic queen, doing her dutiful best to please other, and when failing, which is most of the time, at least striving to please herself; but Dunst’s face palpably evokes a foretaste of doom, as if all the palaces, clothes and jewels with which she tries to shoo away boredom and the burden of duty, will not keep her from her fate. Jason Schwartzman as Louis XVI is almost as good, though he doesn’t erase the memory of Robert Morley as she does that of Norma Shearer in the 1938 version directed by W.S. Van Dyke. Yet another masterpiece from Sofia Coppola.

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Worth noting that as Rosalind Galt  in her great Pretty: Film and the Decorative Image (Film and Cutlure Series: New York: Columbia University Press, 2011) rightly  points out ‘Sofia Copppola’s Marie Antonette (2006) addresses precisely the relationships among rococo style, radical politics, and gender, but its deconstructive deployment of the Versailles decorative regime prompted critical response to view the films as equally clueless as its protagonist. If we regard the film as something other than a discourse on girly frivolity, it is possible to read its emphasis on the decorative image as precisely the location of its political intervention’ (loc 336 on the Kindle edition).

 

José Arroyo

A Royal Affair/ En kongelig affære” (Nicolaj Arcel, Denmark, 2012)

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A time of revolution, a mad King, the dictatorial imposition of Enlightenment values, bosoms heaving across class lines in sumptuous palaces; all laid out neatly, proficiently, worthily into the melancholic dullness of A Royal Affair. What Sofia Coppola could have done with this material!

The performers  (Mads Mikkelsen, Trine Dyrholm, Mikel Boe Folsgaard, Cyron Bjorn Melville etc), are good, and I love the plump felinity of  Soren Malling’s face, but the overfamiliarity of some, particularly through their exposure on popular Danish crime dramas, diminish their effectiveness here.

 

José Arroyo

Jack the Giant Slayer

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I noticed that Jack the Giant Slayer was still playing and finally went to see it because it’s directed by the man who made The Usual Suspects. I should have remembered Bryan Singer is also responsible for Superman ReturnsImage. The film is bloated, charmless and dull. Ian McShane and Ewan McGregor twinkle with decreasing success as the film proceeds; and I’m simply beginning to hate the sight of Stanley Tucci; I suspect the reason he keeps getting cast in so many gay roles is because an air of effetely disdainful superiority, all he currently seems to offer as an actor, is all that casting directors expect an actor to exude in such roles.

 

José Arroyo

Love is All You Need/ “Den skaldede frisør” (Susanne Bier, Denmark, 2012)

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Love is All You Need is a romantic comedy, one aimed a middle-aged audience which it doesn’t condescend to. It’s interesting because it is a European film, because it’s directed by Susanne Bier and because it’s got wonderful actors one recognises from Danish television and Italian gangster films, actors one loves  but can’t quite yet name, actors who can still pass as real people.  Pierce Brosnan is the film’s real object of desire, and  few 60 year-olds can be as attractive and appealing as Brosnan seen through the haze of so many longing females gazes in front and behind the camera. It’s out now but won’t be for long.