Fran Hughes talks to Tom Farrell about Mike Mill’s 20th Century Women, a coming of age film that deals with masculinity from various feminist perspectives. These get explored in the podcast along with considerations of Jimmy Carter’s ‘Crisis of Confidence Speech’ both historically but also in relation to the various characters who share the same house in the film. The conversation recasts the main themes of the film through the lens of other key films by Mike Mills. Fran and Tom also discuss parent-child relationship, community vs individuality and how all of this relates to history and changes through time. A conversation that brings unexpected depth to a film that might seem ‘low stakes’ to some.
Lizzie Uzzell discusses Joe Wright’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice with José Arroyo. The podcast touches on the various adaptations of Austen’s work, the particular virtues of this one, the uses of light and landscape, the interplay between the uses of Chatsworth and the uses of mud and livestock, achievements of wit and tone, and what individual cast members add to it all.
Lily Edwardes-Hill and Luke Brown return to the podcast, this time to discuss Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010). There are three foci of discussion: body horror, the coming-of-age film and mother/daughter relationships. Lily and Luke explore how the film makes us question what truly happens in the narrative. We see the action through the perspective of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) but the whole film is about her descent into madness, making the viewer question the reliability of that narration. Black Swan brings up images just at the end of shots and then drops them to convey this idea of things being on the edge of vision or the unconscious. The film is structured as a change from the white swan to the black swan, a mournful and uncomfortable one in which the push and pull between Nina, her mother (Barbara Hershey) and her director (Vincent Cassell) play the central role though her adoration of Beth (Winona Ryder) and her competition with Lily (Mila Kunis) also figure prominently in developing themes of coming of age, independence and the price of artistic integrity and success. Lily and Luke discuss the use of mirrors and the way Aronofsky uses devices familiar to viewers of other films such as Requiem for a Dream (2000). In the end, Lily and Luke deem the film akin to a two-hour panic attack, and a success for conveying it so complexly and powerfully. A podcast that makes one want to see the film again.
How does one begin to describe the experience of 1917? A film so visceral and arresting, a grandiose spectacle of cinema, yet at its core a deeply human and moving story. 1917 was a rare cinematic experience – a film that captures the very essence of cinema itself.
1917 has a simple premise: two soldiers must carry and deliver a message to call off an offensive attack, an attack that would result in the senseless death of 1600 men, but it is in the way in which this film unfolds that makes it truly mesmerising.
The one-shot approach is simply breath-taking. Roger Deakins doesn’t hold back as he delivers yet another crowning achievement in cinematography. The use of the one shot is not only irrefutably immersive but is purposefully used to convey story, theme and character. The one shot is relentless in its motion, never allowing its audience to feel at ease. It captures and induces the terror of war and its unrelenting nature; danger is or could always be around the corner with the lack of cuts allowing no escape from this limited point of view. It seamlessly brings the audience into the experience of our protagonists, aligning us with the harsh realities they find themselves in. Yet it also captures beauty in the horror: juxtaposing a gritty realism with surreal beauty that results in a sequence of sheer wonder, awe and terror.
The film’s technical mastery extends to its sound design. How sound is used and where it’s used is purposefully informed, subverting and challenging expectations that result in visceral, jarring effects. Thomas Newman’s score is restrained yet sprawling; he manages to capture a plethora of tones, atmospheres, and emotions that beautifully and potently bolster the weight and power of the film, using a contrast of classical and electronic influences that further propels the film to soaring tonal and emotional heights.
But while film’s breath-taking awe cements its unbelievable technical mastery, the film is wholly underpinned by a truly personal and human story. Characters are revealed through action – with a lack of exposition throughout the film; the film succeeds in what cinema should be: show not tell. Audiences aren’t given entire backstories about our two leads; the characters are revealed visually, and we connect with their endearing humanity. The film sets up visual clues and motifs that reveal character which amount to poignant emotional pay offs at the film’s close.
1917 is a war film, yet so much more. The film isn’t necessarily interested in larger notions and commentaries on the rights and wrongs of war. Its focus is on a personalised, human story that explores the experience of war and asks the audience to place themselves in the shoes of our characters – what would you do in this situation? A film so grounded by the utter simplicity and mundanity of two ordinary soldiers, as they are propelled into the trepidations of a futile and meaningless war. It begs the question, what was it all for in the end?
1917 is pure cinema. It pushes the technical boundaries of filmmaking but is motivated and purposeful, driven by character, theme and narrative; a technical masterpiece with sincere humanity at its core. American Beauty may still be considered Mendes’ best film, but 1917 is undoubtedly his most technically remarkable and his most personal.