Intriguing, calm, witty, touching. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, winner of the 2018 Palme d’Or, is a modern-day Oliver Twist with real depth of feeling and naturalistic charm. Deceptively simple, it asks big questions of its audience, questions about family, love, loneliness, and how to live a good life.
It’s largely free of significant plot points – it begins with a very young girl, abused by her parents, being taken in by a motley crew of a family living on the poverty line, but from there takes an approach to story that is driven by character and situation. Everything is rendered complex – on the one hand, the young girl is taken in by a group of rescuers who care for her; on the other, they are kidnapping her. It would be true to say the aren’t easy answers to be found, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a harsh watch. It isn’t. There’s an impressive lightness of tone, the film refusing to wallow in victimhood, instead focusing on getting on, day to day. And it has a great sense of humour and keen eye for the romantic and emotionally open. It’s truly moving.
Amongst our praise for the film, we find time to discuss the projection and atmosphere at The Electric, a cinema we’re probably a little unkind to at times, and José orates on the relative lack of circulation of films such as these to a cinephile culture that does exist outside London and would gratefully receive more arthouse and foreign cinema.
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I’ve been obsessed with 120 BPM and I was very keen to hear what Mike, who is much younger and not gay, thought of it. Is my obsession due to purely personal reasons – the film seems to reflect a part of my youth – or is the film also as good as I think it is? Is it a niche film or does it have meanings and feelings to communicate to a broader audience? Is the movie really great or is it something I’m just particularly vulnerable to and merely weep at the thought of? We talk about it in relation to Matthew Lopez’ The Inheritance currently on at the Young Vic in London. We also discuss the film as ‘director-as-editor’ filmmaking. We agree that there isn’t a moment to cut in what is quite a long film. We discuss the opening sequences, all meetings, political actions, and introducing of characters; we also discuss the sex scene in the hospital, as one of the best ever filmed. We discuss how sex and desire in the film is always on the table and how it takes on different meanings within the film. We also touch on film form but always only as a way of understanding what the film shows in a historical context. Mike liked it and was not sorry I’d bullied him into seeing it.
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After the screening of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ an elderly man stood up and shouted at the auditorium, ‘We are the fifth largest economy in the world and this is a disgrace.” There were only five of us there. I felt moved to hug him, though the best I managed was to put a hand on his shoulder. That a film can do this is amazing. Yet, I don’t think it’s a good film. It’s preachy, relentlessly grim, you see things coming a mile away, and know it’s going to go from grim to grimmer to grimmest. It holds no surprises. It offers no delights. Images highlight or evidence the telling rather than constitute it as part of dramatised show and tell. Yet, if I were to put a document in a time capsule to evoke how a sector of the British population lived today, this is what I would choose. According to The Guardian, ‘Statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) revealed that during the period December 2011 and February 2014 2,380 people died after their claim for employment and support allowance (ESA) ended because a work capability assessment (WCA) found they were fit for work’. This figure is higher than that of all UK service personnel killed in action since 1962. What happens to Daniel Blake in the film is shocking. Yet it is happening recurrently and relentlessly all over the country. Those who voted for such policies should be ashamed. Ian Duncan Smith should be brought to an international tribunal to answer to those statistics. The film is true and effective. Yet why do I still persist in thinking that it is not a good movie?Is it possible that it’s also false? That all poor people aren’t so nice and mutually supportive ,so in solidarity with each other? The Cannes Palme D’Or could just be evidence that ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is merely how the French prefer to see the British. Should we change our criteria of value? Apply different ones? Likewise, the film made me wonder: is it that I can’t confront reality or that I don’t agree with Loach’s view of it; and what aspects? It’s an undeniably powerful film, an important one, with a final speech that bears testimony to current conditions and is sure to draw tears from a stone. I was sad to see such a low attendance. But how good a film is it? I’m still not sure and suspect it’s very flawed indeed.