Let’s talk about ‘Let’s Talk‘, Marianne Khoury’s exploration of mother/daughter relationships across generations. The film is of interest to us because we wondered if it would enhance our understanding of Chahine’s cinema; and it does! Marianne’s mother was Chahine’s sister, and the raw materials of her story finds echoes in Chahine’s in Dawn of a New Day (1964). Khoury also demonstrates how part of the family’s narrative is the origin and source of strands of Alexandria …. Why (1979) and An Egyptian Story (1982), so the accounts on this film give us an interesting spin on how Chahine treats the same material. We discuss the relationship between Iris and Marianne and Marianne and her own daughter Sara: is it self-reflexive enough? Is the film aware of the historical context in which those lives were lived and various decisions were made? We discuss cosmopolitism and language (a gift/ a burden?); the pleasure of the old photographs and how they evoke whole ways of life; we rant about BFI Player; José purrs when he sees footage of the EICTV film school in Cuba and at the footage in Havana. We recommend as a film that enhances our understanding of Chahine’s work and also a film that is a very personal reflection of mother/daughter relationships.
EICTV, the International School of Film and Television in Cuba, is making freely available and sub-titled in English some of the work produced at the school. I recommend this beautiful documentary by Juliana Gómez Castañeda. Teresa lives in a small village in an unnamed island off Santiago in Cuba. Her daughter´s away and she´s taking care of her grandaughter, Maria, who she doesn´t see as often as she´d like because she goes to boarding school away from the island. Teresa´s got a dog — Diana — she goes fishing with, on a raft, which she paddles with her sandals. She often comes home with nothing; she mourns her mother, her daughter´s away and she´s anxious about her grand-daughter, she drinks rum, dances and sings her pain with her friends; she goes to Church. A film that gives you a glimpse of a life, leads you to love the central character, and helps you understand structures of feeling that are not your own, with some indelible images, beautifully filmed to capture all the vagaries of light. I loved it and recommend.
EICTVianos por el mundo se re-encuentran en Madrid para hablar de cine en una noche de verano. Pablo Ascanio es de Puerto Rico, Jaime Guerra de la Repulica Dominicana. Los dos son cinematógrafos, asique empezamos hablando de lenses. José Arroyo, EICTViano, honorario solamente, es crítico en Inglaterra. La pelicula es una grande que nos pide todo lo que sabemos: El peral salvaje de Nuri Bilge Ceylan . Mucho de hablar y de disfrutar. Al final nos reunimos con Claudia Caremi, otra EICTViana entre los cines Golem de Madrid y la libreria Ocho Y Medio, despues de una gran pelicula, y con amigos viejos y nuevos: una noche perfecta hablando de cine.
Todos somos marineros (in English, We’re All Sailors) was partly inspired by a workshop in which a group of students spent eight hours discussing the opening line of The Merchant of Venice, and a news story about three Russian sailors left stranded in a Peruvian port due to the sudden bankruptcy of the company they worked for. Writer-director Miguel Ángel Moulet developed a story about just that predicament, a story in which two of the sailors are brothers attempting to find their place in the world, stranded in the coastal city of Chimbote, able neither to go home nor to establish a stable life in Peru, living in limbo, tentatively making connections with the locals.
Moulet is a graduate of EICTV, the Cuban film school, where José visits and spends a few days teaching every year, and this is how we come to bring this podcast to you, José having been screened Moulet’s debut feature recently and keen to share it with us. We’re far from the first to see it, the film being on the festival circuit and already having picked up a number of nominations and awards, including the prestigious FIPRESCI Prize at the Toulouse Latin America Film Festival. A screener was made available for us to watch, and we’re so grateful that it was, as it’s a beautiful, sensitive film.
That line from The Merchant of Venice reads: “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad”, and that simple thought informs the tone and themes of Moulet’s entire film. Todos somos marineros is a story about isolation, displacement, loneliness, and a kind of all-encompassing, ethereal sadness. The central four characters pair up throughout the film – the two brothers, Tolya, the elder, who feels a degree of paternal responsibility towards his younger brother Vitya; the cafe owner and her delivery boy, Sonia and Tito, who function as a kind of surrogate mother and son; Tolya and Sonia, who are in a loving relationship, and Vitya and Tito, who grow close and whose relationship leads to the film’s climax and quiet cliffhanger ending. These pairings are developed and expressed subtly, intelligently, and with heart.
The film makes significant use of long takes, both moving and still, and doesn’t exactly discriminate between when they should and shouldn’t be used. At their best, these shots allow the performances space to breathe, contribute to a delicate, slow pace, or help to convey a rich sense of the characters’ environment; at their worst, they distract from or even obscure what the film is showing us. There’s also use of a trope in which the film opens on a flashforward we’ll return to later, one that effectively establishes a strong mood and mystery but which Mike argues is not purposefully used, and which detracts from the film’s later scenes. (At least, that’s his argument for why he didn’t grasp what was going on in the film’s final third.) On the other hand, there is simply gorgeous cinematography by Camilo Soratti, his camera capturing dense, diffuse natural light infusing the air over Chimbote with extraordinarily beautiful colour and texture. And, overall, Moulet’s direction exhibits a strong control of tone, the film surging with the sense of sadness and loneliness so crucial to it.
There’s more besides all of this to discuss, and we take our time to do so. Todos somos marinerosis an imaginative, rich debut feature that is deservedly earning praise and winning prizes. There’s no predicting if and when it will come to a cinema near you, but if you do get the opportunity to see it, we urge you to jump at it.
José spoke to Miguel Ángel Moulet recently, and their conversation (in Spanish) can be heard here.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
In conversation with Miguel Angel Moulet, in Spanish. Everyone will want to know more about this young Peruvian director once his debut feature, Todos somos marineros/ We´re All Sailors gets more and better seen. It´s currently doing the festival rounds and has already picked up an enviable array of prizes, including the FICPRESI, the International Federation of Film Critics prize at the Toulouse Latin Amerincan Film Festival.
For those of you who don´t speak the language, the gist of the conversation is as follows. The film arose out of a class on adaptation: He wasn´t too sure what to do and then he went to an inspiring class by Manfred Pfister who gave a two-week workshop on Shakespeare´s The Merchant of Venice. The first day, about eight hours or so, was spent discussing the first line, which is Antonio saying:´ In sooth, I know not why I am so sad´. From that starting point, time passed. He then developed a story that happened in two places, a boat and a port. Then he saw a news story on TV where three Russian sailors were stranded in a boat in the port when the company they worked for went bankrupt. They were left without water and electricity and went into the market in town every few weeks where they were gifted enough detergent and vegetables to get by. When asked what they did to avoid boredom, they said nothing, they already knew each other well enough to make chat unnecessary. When asked if they wanted to return, they said yes, but without enthusiasm. They were just as happy to stay. So he set a relationship between two brothers stranded in a boat in a provincial port town of Chimbote, which is about five hours from Lima.
It´s a very beautiful film visually, with extraordinary cinematography by Camilo Soratti, exploring very current themes: the Rotterdam Film Festival catalogue included this suggestive sentence: “Without any heavy-handed comparisons, we can clearly make out the contours of a global diaspora: the rootless army wandering the world in search of a place to survive.” The film also treats the many kinds of love, sexual, romantic, but also fraternal through which we they try to break through an isolation that nonetheless can only be momentarily pierced and which overhangs the film as a kind of sadness made bittersweet by a love that is nonetheless heartfelt. There´s a dramatisation of internalised homophobia also, the results of which have unintended consequences. It´s a moving film, that well conveys not just people and a story but entire structures of feeling of a particular place in a particular time. This conversation with Miguel Angel Moulet is very much an initial and exploratory one of how the film came to be. We tried to not be too specific on the film so as to not spoil people´s pleasure once they see it. As an aside, the town of Chimbote, where some of the film was shot, should offer thanks to the filmmakers: the images of the town, and particularly of the light, are enough to make anyone want to visit. The podcast can be listened to here:
A podcast review from Eavesdropping at the Movies will follow shortly, as will a more extended review from myself,
An interview with Samuel Larson Guerra, distinguished sound designer (a term he hates), author of one of the few books in Spanish on sound in the cinema, ´Pensar el sonido (Thinking Sound)´, award winning sound designer (Ariel award for Fibra Optica in 1998), editor (Diosa de Plata award for best editing for Dos Abrazos, 2007), composer (Ariel for best original music for Vera, 2008), and an award-winning teacher (CILECT teaching prize from the Asosiación Internacional de Escuelas de Cine y Televisión). Larson is a member of the Academia Mexicana de Artes y Ciencias Cinematogáficas (AMACC, the Mexican equivalent of the American Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences that hands out the Oscars) since 2008. He also composed the music that leads in and out of the podcast.
In terms of sound quality this is one of the worst interviews I´ve ever recorded: Ironic and embarrassing when its subject has devoted much of his life to thinking about sound. However, the conversation is so interesting that I decided to go ahead and put it out, particularly when Jose Homer Mora Costa kindly offered to clean up the sound. He was successful in eliminating the worst offences though it´s still not ideal. The conversation with Samuel Larson ranges from the beginnings of EICTV, film culture in Mexico; the influence of Michel Fano and Walter Murch, both of whom his studied with, on his work, his filmmaking in Mexico and Central America, the effects of changing technologies on sound capture, mixing and design, the changing importance of sound within Mexican film culture and institutions, and finally his own book.
Julia Scrive-Loyer is a young filmmaker, publisher and critic from Bordeaux who graduated from the EICTV film school in Cuba and currently resides in the Dominican Republic. I´ve been wanting to talk to Julia ever since I saw her beautiful new magazine, Simulacro. Its first issues is entirely devoted to the recently deceased Stanley Donen and it´s a joy to behold. Those of you who can´t speak Spanish won´t be able to read it, though its visual beauty will be evident to all. You can see it here.
If you understand English, however, you will be able to follow this conversation, which ranges from an earlier zine she published called Les oranges bleues, to ways that a younger generation is struggling to articulate and express the intersection of individual and social concerns; to the tensions inherent in balancing originality and sincerity. We do talk about Donen´s work: how Charade (1963) has a perfect script, how Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) couldn´t be made today; the infinite number of delights Funny Face (1957) offers, and the generosity inherent in those who focus their energies on transparently conveying what utopia would feel like and inciting joy.
Like with the very best conversations, one is surprised by the unexpected and memorable anecdote — here relating to a workshop with Abbas Kiorastami — and one also learns: in talking about her love of cowboys and westerns, Julia tells me how a cowboy is constantly moving through landscape and how that movement is an emotional one. Nostalgia also comes from movement: if you don´t leave somewhere, even mentally, there´s no nostalgia and there´s no longing. A cowboy is movement in every way. A cowboy´s companions are the wind and the horse. I´ve been teaching for a long time, and Julia expresses this better and with more feeling than I´m able to muster. The podcast can be listed to here:
The first of a series of conversations with young artists and intellectuals from Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
Juanjo Cid is an activist and filmmaker from the Dominican Republic. I first met him at the EICTV Film School in Cuba, the year there was a great gay carnival, a mini-pride parade in the courtyard of the school with rainbow flags, and drag, a bonfire and lots of music and dancing. The whole school joined in the celebrations. It was a joyful event which seemed amazing to me in Cuba, even if it did take place in the protected socio-cultural bubble that is the school.
I´ve been wanting to talk to Juanjo since I reconnected with him in the Dominican Republic last year. He´s at the centre of an intersection of art-making, night-clubbing and activism that is so interesting to me because it´s so archetypal of queer cultures world-wide. This is the first of a series of a series of excerpts of a very long conversation which took place in his home and which I will publish as different podcasts.
In this first one I wanted to know what constitutes gay activism in a poor country that, despite a recent burst of prosperity, is still ridden by poverty, inequality, corruption; one in which the Catholic Church still enjoys considerable power, and one in which an increasingly popular and very homophobic evangelical church is gaining in influence. Juanjo gives a thoughtful, articulate, and highly entertaining account of what drove him into queer activism ten years ago and why he continues to be involved today in organisations such as IURA (Individuales Unidos por Respeto y Armonía/ Individuals United for Respect and Harmony)
Juanjo´s account in this particular podcast should be of particular interest to those of you who are currently queer activists elsewhere or are working for NGO´s and International Agencies: ‘International Aid is amazing. Thank You!
I’ve just returned from teaching at the Altos de Chavón School of Design in the Dominican Republic. The Romana campus not only offers a degree in film and all aspects of the audiovisual but has a very particular connection to film history: Charles Bludhorn, who owned Paramount pictures during the years it produced hits such as Love Story, The Godfather films and Chinatown, bought and developed the Casa del Campo, the extensive landholdings in the Dominican Republic which houses the school; the buildings, squares and even the church in Altos de Chavón’s Village of Artists, where the school operates from, were designed by the great Roberto Coppa, set designer for Visconti, Fellini and many other celebrated directors.
Aside from my own teaching, one of my goals for my one-week residency was to come home with three or four interviews with film professionals operating in and around the school. The idea behind it was two-fold: a) to learn about various aspects of cinema usually credited below the line but absolutely essential to filmmaking; b) to learn about the praxis of filmmaking in Latin America today. My only ambition was to make a record of it so that at least if no one was interested in these interviews today, there would be a record for future reference that researchers on, and students and fans of, Latin American Cinema could consult. Due to various problems, from scheduling to excessive ambient noise, this one with José Homer Acosta was the only one I could complete. The sound is not the greatest, and all my fault: you will hear cats meowl, glasses clink, and my voice much louder than Homer’s. In spite of that, I hope people will find it of value.
Jose Homer Mora Acosta is at 29 years old, only the third accredited sound person in his Honduran homeland. One of the things I was curious about was how some one from a small Latin American country ends up being a sound person, and he tells me how the interest in film really started as an interest in music, which he’s been playing since he was 13. After graduating from University, Homer began working in advertising and subsequently landed at a newspaper. After, the coup d’étât in Honduras in 2008, the newspaper was shut down so the team that ran the newspaper spread out to work in documentaries as a way of re-starting the paper and keeping themselves in work. Homer recounts how there was work to be found in documentary filmmaking in Honduras, largely because NGO’s wanted to record and disseminate what they were doing there, thus documentaries on the coffee crises, rural electrification, poverty. These were all small-scale projects where Homer got professional experience in production management, camera and editing. He also learned how to present and manage a project so as to make it eligible for funding and then how to go about to actually getting that money. During this time Homer earned a Master’s degree in Production Management.
Homer and I then go on to talk about what led him to study sound at EICTV in San Antonio de los Baños in Cuba. Aside from the formal training he says that EICTV has afforded him a family, “I don’t feel alone with that crazy stuff that recording emotions and feelings brings out. The school offers support. It’s a place where others understand. You arrive knowing nothing but it’s OK because cinema is more than technique or tools. It’s another thing.’
Homer and I discuss the various projects he’s worked on and also his goal of recording emotions and feelings. Some of this involves doing research into recording methods, sometimes even restoring old microphones and seeing what different sound qualities result. He talks about how in 3/4 inch tape or celluloid the work on sound can be tactile ‘You can touch the sound’.
We discuss several films as well: Blow Out, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s The Man Who Lies and Lucrecia Martel’s work. Lucrecia Martel had run a workshop whilst Homer was teaching at Alto de Chavón and we talk of her practice of beginning with the dialogue, moving onto structure and then images, something I’d rarely heard of before. Homer points out that you can create a whole world in the film by the use of sound, particularly in the way offscreen sound becomes the world inhabited by characters within the frame.
Homer also tells me of a particular experiences of working in film. He’s lived in Honduras, Costa Rica, Cuba, now the Dominican Republic; and his work has led him to shoots in Mexico and Peru. A transnational experience of cinema quite common for countries with a relatively small audio-visual production industry.
It’s a late night conversation fuelled by rum and cigarettes, meandering, interspersed with cat’s meowl’s, recorded imperfectly, yet interesting for the history Homer so generously shares, and for the insights into the work on sound in film.
Juan Madrid was, alongside Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano is named in homage to the Catalan writer), González Ledesma and Andreu Martín – one of the founders of what came to be known as la novela negra Española, a combination of hard-boiled detective novel, investigative journalism, a semi-Marxist analysis of structures, a thrall to the darker dimensions of sex and society, all textured within a pulp style of story-telling..
I taught at Ramon Lllul university in Barcelona at the turn of the last century, and reading Vázquez Montalbán’s novels was a way of learning about the city; in each, investigator Pepe Carvalho burned a book, cooked a dish, and was badly beaten up exploring one element of the city’s structure – the construction industry during the Olympics, football, etc.—through the investigation of a crime that then proceeded into an investigation of corruption at the heart of the city, its neighbourhoods, its social structures; all with a wise-guy lippyness and a lightly-worn learnedness, one tinged with the ennui of a man who knows too much, that’s simultaneously funny and sad.
Madrid was in EICTV in San Antonio to launch his new novel, Los hombres mojados no temen a la lluvia, already winner of the 14th Premio Unicaja de novela Fernando Quiñones in Spain, but published in Cuba as part of the Colección ORBIS, Editorial Arte y Literatura, by the Instituto Cubano del Libro.
I’d not had the chance to read Juan Madrid’s work before but his talk, impressively erudite, ranging from the quotation of Marx’s opening sentence in The Communist Manifesto (“A spectre is haunting Europe”), to a history of the formation of national police forces in Europe, their rationale (to preserve order and protect the interests of the ruling class) and so on, made me want to read Los hombres mojados no temen a la lluvia (which translates literally as ‘Made’ Men Don’t Fear the Rain).
It’s a novel with a world one happily sinks into and is absorbed by: it’s structured as a paternal melodrama, which gives the resolution of the crime not only a hook and a coda but also texture, an extra layer of depth. The spark that starts off the drama is a missing DVD of an S&M orgy featuring the rich and the powerful. Liberto Ruano is the lawyer who gets embroiled in the case and, in exploring the links between high finance and the mafia, ends up finding out who he is. The ingeniously plotted narrative is set in a Madrid of low-rent brothels and long-standing watering holes in the process of change. Though it’s set in the present, Madrid’s Madrid is always dialectically imbricated in the past; thus an exposition of a particular place, is also an explanation of what it once was, what it meant, who owned it, who went there and how much a meal cost.
The story is set now but the Francoist Spain of the sixties with its strictures, norms and power relations are an important, even necessary, part of the story and its telling: the answer to the castrations of the present lie in the forbidden sexuality of the past, yesterday’s taboo is today’s totem. I was also very intrigued by the paraphrasing, so light as to be almost an unacknowledged quotation, of the Johnny Guitar dialogue (‘Lie to me. Tell me that you love me’) I wrote about recently here; or rather by the way the protagonists in the story, Liber and Ada, use it to talk to each other; they reiterate but without attribution. Thus, to the uninitiated, the impression is of a heightened romanticism; to those in the know, that plus a suggestion that what links the characters is a love for what Johnny Guitar represents, precisely this type of heightened, fatalistic romance. I liked Los hombres mojados no temen a la lluvia so much I scoured central Havana to find another novel by Madrid and succeeded in finding Pájaro en mano/ Bird in the Hand (2007), which I liked just as much. I mean to read more.
I wanted to interview Madrid. Some of his novels have been adapted into films: Dias Contados (Imanol Uribe, Spain, 1994) is especially notable for Javier Bardem’s extraordinary performance as a rattled drug addict and small-time police informer. He also wrote the script or the Brigada Central TV series. I wanted to find out more about his views on noir and on cinema and also about how one of the key chroniclers of Spain’s transition to democracy and its aftermath is now being published in Cuba and printed by the ‘Imprenta Federico Engels’. I sense there’s a story there. But though we met and I told him how much I liked his talk, I was too shy to impose any further.
Paul Bush from the National Film and Television School arrived at the Escuala Internacional de Cine y Televisión (EICTV) in Cuba on Monday to show some of his films and talk about his practice. He’s of the Damien Hirst generation that studied Fine Art at Goldsmith College he says, but was always more interested in conceptual art than painting and somehow drifted onto film (I was amused by the translator, who was excellent with all the difficult terms and technical language, not knowing who Damien Hirst is, as was evidenced by the many different gos she had at the name).
He puts a picture of a cow onscreen, not showing the film but indicating how that was from his first film, entitled The Cow’s Drama (1984), the result of following a cow in a field in Wales for two days, and how it took him over a decade to make the first film he was paid for, His Comedy (1994), a stop-motion rendering of Dante’s Inferno, using Gustave Doré engravings as a model through which to cut right into the celluloid. The cutting into the colour film was a surprise, as he found himself also scratching into layers of colours, thus creating a series of striking colour effects, at first unintended, then worked through and consciously deployed.
It’s a very beautiful work and led to his being able to make a living making short films, a considerable achievement. He says he was of course aided by the founding of Channel Four in those years which had as its remit a provision of minority programming, which aside from works for the disabled, people of colour, gay communities etc, also included a remit for experimental cinema, a term he says he dislikes due to its connotations of seriousness and dullness. He says he likes movies, shown in a theatre and that there’s room for frivolity and fun in seriousness.
Bush also showed his latest work, The Five Minute Museum (2015), beginning with stop-motion images of stone, then swords, porcelain, chairs, clocks, all giving the impression of being constantly in flux. The most striking of these was a montage of the drawings on Greek pottery, through which he created the striking sensation of the history of the world being all about love, sex, art and war all in communication with each other and all exploding together before ending in a museum behind glass.
His work is intriguingly conceptual; in Furniture Poetry (1999), he takes Wittgenstein’s question of ‘Is a chair a chair when we’re not looking at it? Does it become one only in response to our gaze?’ a starting point to show us tables changing before our eyes, then green apples turn red, apples turn into pears and so on, converting before our eyes, 24 x a second. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2001), Bush uses the same set-ups that Victor Fleming deployed in the 1941 MGM version with Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner, but condensed in stop-motion and accompanied by dream-like excerpts from the original soundtrack to create an effect similar to human schizophrenia by subtly changing every single frame but leaving the narrative superficially intact. It’s marvellous.
Bush offers the usual advice to students — ‘keep your collaborators with you as long as you can even though there will be fights’ – but what I remember most is his example of the concept of ‘tree’; how when we read the word ‘tree’ in a book we all share in the imaging of a tree but the tree which each of us actually imagines is different, and thus the role of the filmmaker is to create that ideogram, that image which each member of the audience can share but also take hold of, create something with it they can treasure, that is also uniquely theirs. Lovely thought from a stimulating talk by a charming man.
A young girl nicknamed Pomme (Isabelle Huppert) works is an assistant at a beauty salon, living a quiet live with her mother and enjoying a close friendship with Marylène (Florence Giorgetti), the owner of the salon, a bitter, aging romantic who seems to lay herself open to any new relationship only to be regularly dumped. Marylène and Pomme go on vacation to Couburg, on the coast of Normandy, so that Marylène may recover from her latest heartbreak. This happens swiftly and Pomme is left alone, to her own devices, and rather vulnerable. Pomme is quickly spotted by François (Yves Beneyton), a tall angular bourgeois who’s charmed by her reticence and purity. They fall in love. He tests her, asking her to close her eyes and follow his directions so that he takes her right to the edge of the cliff to prove her trust in him. But really she shouldn’t have.
On their return to Paris, and wrapped up in each other and in a haze of love, they quickly set-up home together in a tiny apartment. Soon, however, class differences appear, start pecking at their happiness, and eventually shatters it: She doesn’t know how to handle the cutlery at dinner in his parents’ country house; the best his mother can say about her is that she’s honest; she can’t really participate in the conversation with his radical intellectual friends. But he really can’t explain the dialectic to her, much less its historical materialist variant. For all his tremulousness, delicacy, and shows of concern, he’s a selfish phony. Eventually, he leaves her. He’s surprised and guilty that she offers no resistance. But she sinks into a depression, faints on the street and is brought to a sanatorium. He goes visit her, but Mr. Sensitive needs his friends to come along for support. He’s more interested in being reassured that he hasn’t done anything wrong than in seeing how she really is. He asks her what she’s been doing. She’s been to Greece she says. Has she been with other men? Oh yes, many. He takes his leave and she returns to the sanatorium reading room, adorned by tourist posters of Greek holidays she’s obviously only been to in her dreams, as she starts to knit her lace; her future a reliving of the only love she’ll ever know, from one, who like her father, and like all of Marylène’s friends, wasn’t worthy.
It’s a lovely film, edited in languid rhtyhms, and interestingly feminist. The film begins at the salon, women beautifying themselves, making themselves up, putting on masks of femininity so that they can perform the masquerade as they leave the salon, masks which Pomme rejects: she can’t help being too much herself; she’s got no guile; it’s what will attract François to her and the reason he’ll eventually leave her. Despite living for the ideal of romantic love, none of these women get to experience it past the first stage of courtship and sex, except the intellectual Marxist friend of François, the independent woman, who by the end of the film is settled with her husband and expecting a baby.
Isabelle Huppert is extraordinary, first as a plain girl, barely past adolescence, then someone mysterious and astonishingly beautiful (one can understand why François is so taken with her) and lastly as someone so withdrawn she’s barely there, with a measured tentative walk and a pinched blank face; her future an endless clicking of herneedles; her lace-making ensuring that any thought is kept mechanically but efficiently at bay. A close-up image of her so made-up that she’s like a mask of the woman she thinks he wants — which then turns out to be the moment he chooses to reject her so that the mask is shattered by tears — is moving, beautiful and mysteriously resonant. It’s an extraordinary performance and the main reason to see the film.
But not the only one. Claude Goretta is probably best known in Britain as one of two young Swiss filmmakers (Alain Tanner was the other) so inspired by the two first Free Cinema programmes that they were inspired to make the marvellous Nice Time (1957) documenting London’s Piccadilly on a Saturday night. But abroad, Goretta made a name for himself in the 70’s and 80s with acutely observant and complex films such as Pas si méchant que ça/ The Wonderful Crook (1974) and La Provinciale. Pauline Kael said of the former, rather derisorily, ‘we know we’re seeing films made by artists’. But we do; and we are; and they’re worth seeing again. The Lacemaker is an excellent place to start.