Paolo Sorrentino reaches into his childhood to tell a story that’s in equal parts comic and tragic, with access to the off-kilter and fabulistic, in The Hand of God – whose title references that infamous goal scored by Diego Maradona, who Sorrentino semi-seriously credits with saving his life – as he dramatises here. We discuss the imagery, the familial banter, the curious opening scene, choosing Naples over Rome, and an oddball friendship with a happy-go-lucky smuggler.
Voir, the series of video essays produced by David Fincher, is now on Netflix. The first one, on Jaws, directed by David Prior and written and narrated by Sasha Stone, looks big-budget and is unlike most video essays you might be familiar with: it has a lot of filmed fictionalised accounts of the writer’s childhood. It is also clichéd — ‘(Spielberg’s)whole creative team was firing on all cylinders’ — self-indulgently autobiographical — who aside from her family cares about Sasha’s coming of age at and out of the movies ?– and banal in the extreme. There are other video essays to follow by the likes of Tony Zhou, whom i admire, so I hope the series improves. It is not a good start.
I’m enjoying Jaguar, a Netflix series about Spanish survivors of German concentration camps who group together as Nazi hunters in early 60s Spain. The twist is not only that they’re Spanish but that they’re hunting down Nazis within a fascist regime. Action sequences are interpolated with brilliant young singers versioning the coplas of the period. Maria de Madeiros with her wide dark eyes and soft tentative voice, appears as the secret head of the operation, always at the Prado museum, framed against beautiful paintings that are a backdrop, a point of conversation between the characters, and an added signifier to the narrative. Madeiros is lovely to see. I also enjoy the animated credit sequence (though not the song). Only two episodes in; commercial fare not of the top rank; and stylistically it’s nothing to scream about, but the story is holding me, clichés and all. It’s on Netflix.
The show is set in the Spain of the early 1960s but looks nothing like it. No poor people. No peasants wondering around selling their garlic on street corners. Jaguar seems to have been made by a generation without memory, or is it perhaps just means? Pop music does help with this, Marisol singing Tombola; Spanish versions of Rolling Stones hits on the radio; you sometimes get the occasional poster (Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel appears as a background poster but even that, though correct to the period feels anachronistic).
Jaguar has a look that is out of time, contemporary, generic. A depiction of a Francoist Spain made by Spanish filmmakers who seem to have very little knowledge of it. There’s a bit where Blanca Suárez as Isabel Garrido/Jaguar, a waitress in an expensive restaurant frequented by Germans, walks around the streets of Madrid in trousers where you think ‘in Madrid in 1962? A waitress wearing trousers? Never!’ The upside to this ahistoricism, at least in relation to film history, is that the protagonist is now a woman, the head of the operation is also a woman, and one of the gang is a gay man struggling with his sexuality and finding sympathy and understanding from his colleagues (in a Spain with severe anti-gay laws and where there had until recently been concentration camps for gay men).
But perhaps none of this matters. I binged it, and did so with pleasure. It’s clichéd but competently done and moves along at pace. It’s comic book scenario — and this is not meant as an insult. I love comic books and I suspect that there’s a comic book the show is based on that’s better than the series — but with a great central idea, a modern approach to a Mission Impossible-type scenario (a group on a mission — in this case Nazi Hunters in Spain), the the narrative propulsion of a good serial or comic book, interspersed with pleasurable actions sequences throughout. I look forward to the next series.
We continue our little exploration of Middle-Eastern Films that connect to the work of Chahine. This discussion is on Maroun Bagdadi’s Beirut, oh Beirut, currently playing on Netflix. We discuss the beauty of the film. Richard connects it to late sixties Godard in style. I found it more moving and sad than what I remember of that period of Godard’s work. We discuss the film in relation to Chahine’s The Sparrow and to Al-Karnak. The film has a particular nostalgic feel, the depiction of buildings, landscapes, places and spaces for feeling that are soon to be destroyed, perhaps forever, and the way of live and set of dilemmas that this film documents just before they explode and are obliterated, so this poetic drama can also be read as a historical document, now imbued with sadness for what humans do to places once much loved.
The podcast can be listened to here:
The shot mentioned in the podcast that José was particularly impressed with was turned into a little ad for the podcast and can be seen here:
José also did a composite of all the nostalgia-evoking landscape shots of the city, and that can be seen here:
Listeners might also be interested in seeing this video Richard mentions in the podcast, which references the film through its title, “Beirut Oh Beirut”. It looks like the person filming livestreamed himself travelling around the damaged area of Beirut after the most recent explosion
In the podcast, Richard mentions how Netflix has dumped big collections of world cinema with no fanfare and no context, which on the one hand is great because its available to a wide audience, but on the other hand isn’t because nobody knows it’s there.
José hasn’t seen a worse film from David Fincher than Mank, a contentious biopic of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the screenwriter whose collaboration with Orson Welles resulted in The Greatest Film of All Time™, Citizen Kane. Mike had rather a good time, despite seeing numerous problems with the film, raising the question: How much background knowledge is the right amount for enjoying Mank?
Mank doesn’t even explain, for instance, that the film Mankiewicz and Welles would create is considered one of history’s greatest, so some knowledge of the subject is clearly necessary; too much, though, and its missed opportunities and purposeful alterations to and adaptations of the facts become evident and impossible to ignore. Mike finds that he’s just ignorant – or is that informed – enough to understand the film’s background and setting without going crazy, as José does, as it clashes with his knowledge of the history.
We discuss Mank‘s obvious inspiration in Pauline Kael’s discredited essay, Raising Kane, which argued that Mankiewicz deserved sole credit for Kane‘s screenplay; its flashback structure that shows us where the screenplay came from and why Mankiewicz is the only person who could have written it; its depiction of Hollywood in the 30s (not to mention Mankiewicz in HIS 30s); the parallels that it draws with Hollywood and, more generally, the state of the world today, and more. Almost every criticism José makes, Mike agrees with – but he cannot and will not deny that he had a good time, finding the film witty and energetic where José felt it musty and lethargic. It’s a poor showing from a filmmaker with a largely exceptional oeuvre – unless you’re in that Goldilocks zone with Mike.
The Youssef Chahine Podcast returns for a discussion of Destiny, with its images of book burnings, its themes of love and religious tolerance, its genre-bending mix of historical epic and musical extravaganza, and Chahine’s characteristic artfulness with the techne of filmmaking. This and other Chahine films are currently on Netflix in very good versions with english sub-titles. .
The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT
The discussion brings takes on board points made by Laurie A. Fintke and Martin B. Schichtman in ‘Song, Dance and the Politics of Fanaticism: Youssef Chahine’s Destiny’ regarding the absence of Jews, Jonathan Rosenbaum’s observation on musicals as well as a separate article also from The Chicago Tribune on the film:It’s as if Gene Kelly and Errol Flynn had joined forces for a movie bio of Aristotle.
. The podcast also comments on these clips:
Coming Out of Water:
A bath and a dance:
An ambitious, large-scale Netflix production, The Old Guard throws special ops, behind-enemy-lines-style action together with intriguing superhero-style mythology. Charlize Theron leads a team of immortal warriors, ranging from hundreds to thousands of years old, who find themselves on the run from corporate and military-industrial pursuers.
José is captured by the film from the beginning, his love for Theron’s action stardom and the film’s mysterious setup pulling him in; Mike takes an age to warm up to it, his inherent suspicion of all things Netflix keeping him wary. But when the story develops its romantic side, he softens, and both agree on what the film does best: the defiant declaration of love from one man to another, surrounded by armour-plated, heavily armed police. The Old Guard approaches representation of different sexualities and ethnicities in heartfelt, open ways, and the prospect of sequels that develop that further – perhaps even a universe – is promising.
Ultimately, José loves The Old Guard much, much more than Mike, but it wins us both over.
We return to Youssef Chahine’s The Emigrant (1994), this time with Richard Layne and I discussing the film — even better and more resonant on second viewing — but also responding to the previous podcast with Martin Stollery and to Martin’s excellent book on the film: Al_Muhajir_LEmigre_The_Emigrant_Youssef. The discussion can be listened to below:
Richard has also provided some very interesting links that get discussed in the podcast:
‘here is the 1961 Joseph film, pretty terrible from the looks of it but interesting to skim through to note the similarities
‘Here’s a version of Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat screened for Israeli Television’:
‘This is a 1972 ITV broadcast which the end credits reveal to be a TV version of the Young Vic production with the same cast as the stage version. Ian Charleson can be seen in his first screen role as one of the brothers. Better quality version here but it’s missing the first couple of minutes’:
‘Here is what I believe to be Mohsen Mohiedden’s film as star and director , Shabab ala kaf afreet:
Lastly, here is a trailer I made for this podcast:
Martin Stollery is the author of a monograph on Youssef Chahine’s The Emigrant (see below), the most sustained analysis of any one Youssef Chahine film I’ve been able to find in English. The film is available to see on Netflix and seems more pertinent and resonant than ever. In the podcast above Martin and I discuss the film itself; how it allegorises; the meaning and uses of water in Chahine’s films; the famous court case that is part of the context of the film’s release; and the tension between the film’s relationship to Biblical epics as well as Youssef Chahine’s more personal style of filmmaking. An illuminating discussion of texts, contexts and modes of analysis that ends with a renewed appreciation of Chahine’s achievements as a director.
In conversation, Martin mentioned that his work on Chahine was sparked by a series of Arab films programmed by Channel Four in the late 80s/ early 90s. I asked Sheldon Hall to check up on this for me, and he generously provided a pdf of all the films screened from 88-91, which you Chahine-films-1988-91. Sheldon notes that ‘For the record, the Arab ‘season’ seems to have been only three films: ALYAM ALYAM, CAIRO CENTRAL STATION (sic) and REED DOLLS. CCS was repeated in the Cinema of Three Continents series on 05/08/1990. ALEXANDRIA ENCORE was shown in the same series on 17/11/1991. The TVT review is by David Quinlan, the RT one by Derek Winnert. First showing of CCS was 08/02/1988′.
Martin has very generously uploaded his book so it can be freely accessed on Academia.edu here: martin stollery – Academia.edu . For those of you who might not have access to the site, you can access a copy of it here:Al_Muhajir_LEmigre_The_Emigrant_YoussefAl_Muhajir_LEmigre_The_Emigrant_Youssef.
The Youssef Chahine Podcast has never been so lucky before: you can now see the film on Netflix, listen to the discussion above, and then follow up the author’s discussion by reading the book on the film.
Martin has also very generously provided this link to Chahine’s editor: ABDEL-SALAM, RACHIDA – Edited By.
Below is the shot mentioned by Martin in the podcast from Cairo as Told by Chahine – about fourteen minutes into the film – ‘quotidian spirituality and the sensuality of cinema combined in an inclusive, utopian image of what Chahine wants Egyptian culture to be’.
This is the longest trailer Martin’s been able to find for the Marianne Khoury film:
I include the gif I made to advertise this podcast
….as well as the trailer, merely because I had fun making them and they do give a flavour of the film:
I was watching The Old Guard on Netflix last night — junky but enjoyable and surprisingly ethical — thinking things like: ‘Charleze Theron’s career has become what Demi Moore dreamt for herself but failed to get in the 1990”s; ‘Isn’t Mathias Schonaert’s good? Why isn’t he getting top roles any more?; ‘amazing that the old guard is handing power over to a young black woman (an excellent Kiki Layne)’;’ the make-up of the group is such a seamlessly dramatised ethnic mix, unlike The Avengers’ …and so on when I was floored by the scene below:
What makes it potent and unusual is that it occurs almost exactly halfway through the film (1 hour into a 2h5m minute film: subtract the credits, and it’s practically on the dot); that it takes place amongst subsidiary characters that are given a very considerable moment. I would add that it’s in a mainstream film streaming to 72 million people and likely to join the ranks of one of Netflix’s most popular movies of all time, though that is perhaps more common than the film being directed by a woman of colour, Gina Prince-Bythewood.
I don’t find it particularly well acted, and the dialogue rings a little bit false. It’s not a patch on the Frobisher sequence in Cloud Atlas …and yet…. it moved me so. To have those sentiments expressed in a public setting, showcased in the very structure of the film the way the film does, expressed with sincerity, even if the editing gives it a witty but slightly deflationary ending…..sigh.
Moreover, as Andrew Grimes Griffin observes, ‘One of the more interesting things about it is that the declaration is made while they are surrounded by homophobic, armed men. They are supposedly prisoners and supposedly in a vulnerable position, and yet there is not only the speech, but the kiss.’ It’s almost like it makes you cry for yourself. What it wold have meant to see this forty years ago. It felt an illustration of the visual equivalent of Noel Coward’s old joke about the potency of cheap music.
And, of course, as Kieran Galpin writes.
This is not all there is to the show and it goes beyond Joe and Nicky’s story: ‘there has also been a lot of speculation around a second queer relationship woven into the story’s narrative.
Andy (Charlize Theron) and Quynh (Veronica Ngo) have very little screen time together and yet all signs pointed to something more profound than friendship. “Just you and me,” Quynh whispers while chained to the wall, ushering a reply of “until the end” from Andy.’
Theron and Ngo’s brilliant performances definitely hint at a romantic relationship, and though it is never explicitly confirmed, queer Twitter seems to be unified in the belief that they are immortal lovers.
“Andy and Quynh are a power couple and no one can tell me otherwise,” writes one user, while another candidly captions a video clip of the pair, saying: “The Old Guard says give the gays immortality.”
So much to appreciate and so much to look forward to.
A discussion of Youssef Chahine’s The Land, also known as The Earth, with José Arroyo and Richard Layne. The film was released in 1970 and is based on Marxist Egyptian author Abd al-Rahman al-Sharqawi’ novel The Egyptian Land, first published in 1954. It was part of a wave of cultural works named Iltizam, referring to a serious, committed approach to fiction, of which we can see Chahine’ film as a cinematic equivalent. We find The Land to be so far the best in the series of works currently being shown on Netflix and which we are watching in chronological order.
The film makes connections between anti-colonial and class struggles. It dramatises how it is the strength of collective resistance that determines the outcome of major social upheavals. We discuss the beauty of its images, such as the opening image, rough hands tending cotton flowers, which is then rhymed with the closing image: a freeze frame of bloodied hands scratching the land so as to try to hold onto it. Each character in The Land is not only a fully rounded three-dimensional character but is also symbolised as an extension of social class and cultural dynamic reflecting the complexity of the village’s life.
We discuss the story of how a rich man wanting a road to his mansion destroys the life of a village, and how its elders and leaders — Abu Swailam (Mahmoud El-Meliguy), the hero; Sheikh Hassouna, the religious leader;Sheik Yusuf, greedy village merchant; and Muhammad Effendi (Hamdy Ahmed), the local school teacher — are unable to resist what is clearly going to destroy them all, either because they are corrupted, or because individually they don’t have the power to. We also discuss the role of women in the film: Wasifa (Nadwa Ibrahim), Abu Swailam’s daughter and Khadra (Tewfik El Dekn), the landless orphan. The film has a powerful depiction of the intersection between class emancipation and national liberation and was nominated for Golden Palm at Cannes.
There are fascinating scenes: the fight over irrigation which ends when they must come together to rescue a cow; women fighting over shit; the allusions to a previous revolution and ongoing struggles. The film is set in the 30s but has resonances with Egypt’s contemporaneous battles with Israel over land. It is also a fascinating film on gender, with calling a man a woman being the worst insult and yet the women themselves depicted in the film as strong of feeling and of action. What The Land achieves is a firm demonstration of how cinema can allude to dynamic interrelationships between the personal and the social. The film simultaneously provides a perspective on how social dynamics affect and are affected by individual and collective commitments and political struggle.
I’ve been having fun making gif ads:
….and also trailers:
We’ve begun to be better informed and, alongside Malek Khouri’s The Arab National Project in Youssef Chahine’s Cinema, mentioned in previous posts, I also recommend Ibrahim Fawal’s book below, which has proved invaluable for, amongst other things, its account of the development of the film industry in Egypt.
I enclose the entry for the film from Ritrovato’s 2019 catalogue:
These are some extraordinary clips from the film that made it neither to the trailer or the gif ad but that are referred to in the podcast:
and to underline the richness of Chahine’s imagery I have extracted these images which are also discussed In the podcast:
Barrie Wharton has written a very interesting article on the creation of national identity in Nasser’s Egypt that references The Land :
Barrie Wharton, ‘Cultivating cultural change through cinema; Youssef Chahine and the creation of national identity in Nasser’s Egypt,’ Africana, Vol.3, No. 1, 2009
and can be found here:
José Arroyo and Richard Layne discovered the work of Youssef Chahine at a retrospective of his work at Bologna last year, are thrilled that so many previously difficult-to-see films of his are now available on Netflix, and hope that these podcasts encourage people to watch and discuss the films. This is the first in a series. We hope to cover as many of them as possible, and in chronological order. We hope you join us on this journey
In Film Alert 101,Peter Hourigan alerts readers to the Chahine treasure trove on Netflix but writes of Blazing Sun: ´BLAZING SUN (aka Struggle in the Valley 1954, 116 min) An example of his early work, when he was trapped in commercial Egyptian film production. This is a hoary melodrama – but enormously entertaining, and with brilliant b & w photography. There is also an absolutely ravishingly beautiful young man called Michel Chelhoub in the lead. Later, he was to find fame in the west as Omar Shariff´.
We agree on the film being enormously entertaining and on the extraordinary photography but I also happen to think it´s a great melodrama and a great film, the struggles of the poor against the wickedness of the rich, about love, life, community, the material aspects of life that reproduce it, all bound with questions of morality and justice. It´s very moving, extraordinarily beautiful to look at — Chahine is a visual poet — and the moments of awkwardness that often accompany cinemas of poverty seem to me to only add to its power.
A great opportunity to see these films and we hope the podcast will convince you to take a look,
Richard Laine has been able to track another Faten Hamama/ Omar Shariff vehicle, with English sub-titles if not in the best condition, and you can see it here:
Other websites of interest:
A straight couple take over a gay book shop/sex shop as a business. They become the biggest distributors of gay porn in the country — Blueboy, Honcho, Mandate.They start distributing Matt Sterling films and hosting Jeff Stryker sign-ins. The shop becomes a community hub. They´re at the center of the 80s obscenity wars and get charged by the FBI. They´re also there offering support during the pandemic. And with all of that, the mother still has trouble accepting her gay son. Circus of Books is social history, very moving …. but …it certainly gives one a lot to think about. It´s on Netflix.
A three-and-a-half-hour epic in his signature genre, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman looks back on the life of a gangster, hitman, enforcer, and WWII veteran, who loses everything. There’s a familiar tone to much of the film, Scorsese getting the gang back together – Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel are wonderful to see, but perhaps the most enjoyable performance comes from Joe Pesci, his Russ a calm, knowing presence, a characterisation that feels like a deliberate defiance of the volatility we remember so vividly from Tommy in Goodfellas. The film weaves a tapestry of power structures throughout 20th century New York, incorporating the mob, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and politicians, all tied together by the wild, paranoid, braggadocious figure of Jimmy Hoffa, played by a brilliant Al Pacino in his first ever collaboration with Scorsese.
Scorsese’s use of digital technology to take years off his cast is a matter of debate between us. José thinks that the use of younger actors would have been beneficial, comparing it to De Niro’s portrayal of Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather Part II; Mike arguing that the technology convinces, facilitates a smooth telling of the story, where, had different actors been used, he might have felt like he was waiting for the ‘real story’ to begin, and doesn’t hamper the facial performances as it might have – though he agrees wholeheartedly that, in his mid-70s, Robert De Niro simply can’t convincingly kick a baker as a man thirty or forty years his junior should be able to.
José asks whether Frank feels enough guilt about having to kill Jimmy, by this point a man who’s been his friend for years. We agree that we think his emotional state is too opaque, though Mike suggests that he’s also tamping down his feelings for the sake of getting on with a task he can’t avoid. The feeling of loss and guilt that this event leads to, though, enormously affects the final half hour of the film, and for Mike it’s a beautifully moving coda to a film that, while hugely enjoyable, often felt free of a clear destination – something José disagrees with, never wondering where it was going.
We also consider Scorsese’s recent remarks on Marvel, suggesting that his perspective is a surprisingly ahistorical one, and that had he been making films in the 1950s he’d have had identical complaints about Westerns, for instance – the dominant genre of the time. But José takes time to agree with his aesthetic and artistic complaints, arguing that Marvel’s films lack ambition, and Mike suggests that his issue really comes down to a level of dominance that is marginalising films of lower budgets and greater ambition. We also discuss the fact that Scorsese has made The Irishman for Netflix, hardly the home of a lover of the cinema, as their model is Internet-based and doesn’t allow for wide theatrical releases, Mike suggesting this represents a conflict between Scorsese’s words and actions; though José argues that, as limited as it is, the film has been given a theatrical release, and one would be stupid to turn down money if it gets one’s film made, no matter the source.
But to bring it back to The Irishman, we had a terrific time and the film throughout is layered with great jokes, considered compositions, and brilliantly written, performed and directed set-piece scenes in which conversation is king, stakes are high, and power is in play. If you get a chance to see it during its brief theatrical window, do so.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
I was too tired to sleep and too tired to do anything yesterday so I watched ´Tacos’ on Netflix, wonderful, and made more so by the appearance of Lady Tacos de Canasta, my new heroine, who explained the role of the Mutje, two-spirit people in her culture, rather like the Berdache in North America, whilst making her tacos ´de canasta´and then selling them on her bike in full drag, looking, as she says, ´tan guapa/ so pretty´y ´con esa vocerrona aguerdientosa /loud and deep whisky voice´. All these types of shows are inevitably Ministry of Tourism, but I think this one is also more than that. For one thing, I love the relish with which the various people speak of the tacos, and also I love that voice-over, epic, grandiloquent, noble but about poor people´s pleasures…….and as you can see from the Lady Tacos de Canasta episode, very inclusive. Lady Tacos de Canasta appears in the third episode (see clip above). She´s fabulous and her story is very poetically told. Actually I like the way the whole series connects the taco to working people, and regions and nations, poetically. I don´t know if the series got better or if I simply got used to the rhythms of the language and expressions. But ti´s a show that will have you salivating, offer a social geography of food, and mixes it all up with a bit of poetry. I recommend.
A wide-ranging conversation with Kieron Corless, Deputy Editor of Sight and Sound on the magazine itself and issues that arise from it: What is film criticism? What is good criticism? What is the changing function of criticism? How has the digital turn affected not only what cinema is and how we see it but also what film criticism is and how it is now done? How has the eco system or matrix in which audio-visual work is produced, distributed and exhibited changed over the years, with galleries and museums displaying moving image work on one end; and perhaps Netflix on the other.
We talk about cinephilia and film culture at home and abroad; and further discuss the importance of advocacy, particularly in relation to international films that often get seen only in small film festivals. We agree that the online environment has immeasurably improved criticism and helped create a different way of appreciating and writing about cinema, pushing film criticism in new directions, not least the increasing importance of the video essay. It’s an exciting time.
Because I was so gobby in the podcast, I’v also added some excerpts from a workshop Kieron led at Warwick. The short one below is on Sight and Sound itself.
The longer one below is on writing film criticism in general and writing for Sight and Sound in particular. Kieron’s talk ranges from how to pitch, the writing of a draft, right up to the submission and editing stages. Top tips from Kieron, rather choppily edited by myself. But bound to be useful and certainly interesting.
Much to Mike’s disdain – he throws tantrums about Netflix films – we settled in with a KFC to discuss Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, a semi-autobiographical film about the live-in housekeeper to an upper middle class Mexican family. Carefully composed and inflected with a neorealist aesthetic, it’s been making countless year-end lists and is being touted as potentially Netflix’s first Best Picture nominee at the Academy Awards, so Mike wasn’t allowed to say no.
The film is remarkable for depicting modern-day indigenous Mexicans, people to whose existence many outside the Americas might not have ever given any thought. Yalitza Aparicio, Roma’s star, is a non-professional actor of Mixtec and Triqui origin, and simply her appearance is interesting, let alone the film’s use of Mixtec language (Mike gets this name wrong at first but don’t hold it against him) and its development of the indigenous population as lower class workers. We consider the use of black-and-white imagery – José questioning what it brings to the film – and the ways in which the sound design and long panning shots attempt to place the viewer within the film’s environments. Mike explains a prejudice he holds against “personal” films, and José considers Roma‘s place alongside Cuarón’s previous work, and the melodrama of the birth scene.
Mediático, a film and media blog focused on Latin American, Latinx and Iberian media, took an immediate and deep interest in Roma and marshalled eight academics to each write a short essay on the film, and we refer to some of the points raised throughout the podcast. The dossier is well worth reading, will enrich your experience of the film, and can be found here: http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/mediatico/2018/12/24/introduction-to-the-special-dossier-on-roma-alfonso-cuaron/
(The links to the essays are on the right hand side of the webpage.)
In addition, the dossier refers on several occasions to Richard Brody’s review of the film in The New Yorker, in which he is critical of the lack of a voice given to the main character and finds the film asks more questions of the world it depicts than it answers. We refer to this, too, and you can read it here: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-front-row/theres-a-voice-missing-in-alfonso-cuarons-roma
As for us? We find areas of interest, things to both agree and disagree with, in all the articles we read. José was deeply riveted by Roma despite a reservation or two and continues to see Cuarón as a great director. Mike was less interested, admitting that had he been watching the film alone, he would likely have turned it off before the halfway point; an issue with watching things at home that isn’t as pressing at the cinema (he wouldn’t have walked out of a screening). But that’s a tantrum for another day.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
Those of you who love celebrities and fashion will enjoy this documentary on the world’s most famous shoe designer. An eccentric of Hungarian descent who grew up on the Canary Islands, modelled himself on Cecil Beaton and constantly dreams of Sicily, Manolo Blahnik, wearing beautifully tailored suits and with scarves and socks carefully colour co-ordinated, is very much himself and a joy to behold. His career is legendary and touches on everyone who’s anyone in fashion: Diana Vreeland encouraged him to focus on shoes; Anna Wintour took solace in his company and his shoe-shop before either of them were famous; Paloma Picasso hung out with him in Paris; a thin André Leon Talley became pals with him in London in the 70s; he was the first man to grace the cover of Vogue in 1974, shot by David Bailey and with Anjelica Huston by his side. All of these people alongside Rihanna, Rupert Everett, Penelope Tree, Sofia Coppola and many others come to sing his praises. The film itself charts his career from an unknown emigré in Paris to becoming a fixture in fashion in the 1980s and household name in America in the 90s thanks to Sex and the City. It’s an enjoyable film to watch and, as expected, a delight to the eye.
There is only one moment however that seems to break out of the luvviness of the fashion world and hint at something deeper. John Galliano appears at Blahnik’s shop in the middle of a shoot. They clearly adore each other, lavish each other with compliments and then begin an homage to legendary Spanish flamenco diva Lola Flores. As they look into each other’s eyes and sing ‘Pena, penita, pena’, that classic and classically excessive song of hurt, both equally adoring but each trying to out-trill the other for the cameras, two lost boys are revealed; homeless, exiled, lonely and finding a connection in a shared appreciation of a culture they’ve largely lost but perhaps the more meaningful for that: it’s camp, silly, touching. I wish the film had gone deeper. Manolo Blahnik claims that there is nothing deeper to find, that shallowness is all there is when it comes to him. That’s what the film offers. But Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards, in flashes of moments like those with Galliano, hints that it’s not quite so; that there’s a much more interesting story to tell, although it could very well be it’s not one Blahnik wants told.