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Margarita Lozano in A Fistful of Dollars

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Seeing a restored version of A Fistful of Dollars a few days ago at the BFI on a big screen was a gorgeous experience. The Morricone score, the melodrama, the sweep of the camera, a young Clint Eastwood. It’s almost like a great silent film of the 1920s but with bits of dialogue and a great score. Beautiful print also. fistful

Part of the thrill of watching A Fistful of Dollars was recognising Margarita Lozano as Consuelo Baxter, the matriarch of the Baxter clan. She gives a great, controlled performance. Why isn’t more made of her presence and her performance in A Fistful of Dollars? There are only two women in the film, the other being Marianne Koch as Consuelo. And for those who know their film history Lozano is a cinema immortal, the mousy maid who gets pounced on in Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana. You’d think  an actress who’s made classics with Buñuel, Leone, the Taviani Brothers (Good Morning Babylon, The Night of the Shooting Stars), Pasolini (Porcile), Claude Berri (Jean de Florette) and so many others would at least rate more of  a mention. Is it xenophobia or is Brexit just making me paranoid?

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies #59 – Journeyman

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A boxing film that opens with its climactic fight and develops drama in its aftermath. We find Journeyman disappointingly contradictory – a showcase of performance, writing, and observation, executed with no cinematic nous or flair. Paddy Considine lacks credibility as a world champion boxer, but captures beautifully the impotent rage and misery of such a star physically and mentally diminished. His road to recovery is a clever and interesting twist on the typical boxing film formula of training for a life-changing fight, executed too sappily and casually.

A film we like but don’t admire.

Plus Bouquets to the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham. What a pleasure it is to see films in such a great place.

 

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film

Recorded on April 17th, 2018

Eavesdropping at the Movies 58 – Love, Simon

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In an illuminating article in The Guardian, Anne Smith quotes Russell T. Davies, writer of Queer as Folk as saying: ‘Love, Simon’s director has championed gay characters in many TV shows, from Dawson’s Creek to The Flash: “Greg Berlanti is a TV man through and through. He’s got acres of successful gay stories behind him. To see him bringing that into the multiplexes is a glorious victory.” In this podcast we discuss the film as a young adult romance with a twist: Love, Simon gives gay teens a high school movie with a decent budget and aimed at a wide audience. We both have mixed feelings on it, but find it a well-meaning and substantially positive film. We discuss some shortcuts it takes – the use of a queeny character to render Simon more acceptable, the setting in upper middle class suburbia making Simon’s sexuality the only issue in his life, a certain generic formulaicity – and ideas the film depicts as simple that could and should be more complex, including conversations we’d like to have seen Simon have with his best friend and the aforementioned queen. Not to mention the rather flat aesthetics.

It’s a discussion that does almost nothing but pick out flaws but nonetheless finds that the breadth of the film’s intended audience mitigates them and its goodness of heart shines through. As Davies says in the article above: ‘“I think we should be very careful if we imagine these changes are permanent. It’s been almost 20 years since Queer As Folk but still, every time I write a gay character, someone somewhere complains, and someone somewhere says, ‘This is new!’ It’s not one battle, it’s a constant fight.”’

Worth a watch!

Recorded on 6th April 2018.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film

 

57 – A Wrinkle in Time

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I hated the bad costumes, pap morality, and smug tone. Mike considers the age of the intended audience a mitigating factor but largely agrees. A Wrinkle in Time inclusively opens the big-budget Hollywood fantasy film to new audiences, but while we agree on the positivity of that aim, we find the film flawed and overly simple.

The film invites comparison with The Wizard of Oz it’s a comparison in which it comes off far worse. Mike fondly remembers the Macaulay Culkin film The Pagemasterand recommends people watch that instead. A film shaped by the discursive strategies deployed by Dr. Phil and Oprah herself that invites  and deserves all the bitchyness I at least heap on it.

 

 

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film

Eavesdropping at the Movies 56 – A Quiet Place

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Thrilling to be in a cinema where you can hear a pin drop. The film sets up a brilliant premise. The world has been invaded by aliens who respond to sound. Once the aliens hear the sound, the living being who originated it will be killed in a manner of minutes. Thus, endless possibilities for generating suspense; and a platform for many experimentations with style and form, including giving actors the opportunity to convey emotion with their faces, gestures, postures; without dialogue.

We talk over its performances, its ending, the way it manipulates and moves characters to generate threatening situations, the intelligence of its editing in moving between storylines, the shortcuts it takes with its internal logic in order to keep the story moving, the theme of family and whether the film can be read as a metaphor for Trumps America. We also mull over a potential for a sequel and decry one plot decision in particular.

But fundamentally, we urge everyone to see it.

 

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film

 

Approaching Ingrid Bergman

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Took a stab at cleaning my office this morning and found this; on the left a poster for a magnificent retrospective of Bergman’s Swedish films, all screened on 35mm. at the Pacific Cinémathèque in Vancouver in 91-92, which I attended religiously, and which greatly informed my knowledge of Bergman’s career; on the left, a box set of some of those films. A more complete box set, mirroring the retrospective from a quarter century ago, is out now from Criterion. Sometimes things take a while to circulate.

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The find made me reflect on how film scholarship and cinephilia have changed since then. As a tween film buff my main point of reference for Bergman was the Curtis F. Brown book on her career for the ‘Illustrated History of the Movies’ series I’d begun to painstakingly accumulate in relentless trawls through Montreal’s English-language second-hand bookshops. Now one looks at these books and it’s clear even the writers had often not seen all of the films they wrote about. But we didn’t know that then, and each volume was  very handy in giving a chronology and a kind of arc to the Hollywood career of each of its subjects.

By reading, one more or less knew what Bergman had done and what she was celebrated for. But seeing the films was another story. I remember magical screenings of Casablanca at the Seville repertory cinema in the late 70s & early 80s; the whole audience with the film every step of the way; I saw it several times there —  it seemed to be on rotation; and each time was the same; the hushed tones; what seemed like a whispered intensity; the glow that seemed to exude from Bergman; the intensity of Bogart’s mingled feelings for Bergman contrasted with his cool irreverence for authority and the law;  the jokes, Dooley Wilson’s songs. It was an incantatory experience.

I also caught Spellbound (1945) and Notorious (1946) at a retrospective of Hitchcock films at Concordia University’s Conservatoire d’art cinématographique. I vividly remember the tiny Place Bonaventure Cinema, the smallest of the two — I saw Star Wars in the other — where I saw Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata and retain powerful images of Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullman’s faces in that film. I was also enraptured by her Golda Meir on television in A Woman Called Golda (1982). I have a memory of seeing the original Murder on the Orient Express (1974) that I don’t wholly trust: I have a powerful memory of the newspaper ads for the movie but can’t remember the cinema; and it makes me wonder whether I did see it in a cinema: I would have been twelve. But I did go to movies on my own then. Still, it’s possible I caught it on its first television broadcast. Her ‘African babies’ monologue certainly made an impression and has always, for better and worse, stayed with me.

All of this to say that it was very difficult to see films. One had to grab the rare opportunities that offered themselves. One saw only some things, mostly only once, and randomly, as they appeared. The restrospective of the Swedish work in Vancouver, was the first chance I got to see so many of her films together, in a certain kind of order, where you could chart chronology, progression, compare the contributions of various directors (Gustaf Molander made a huge impression). It was also my first exposure to Bergman’s early work in Sweden. It would take me many more years to see her extraordinary work with Rossellini in Italy; and her wonderful performance in Elena et les Hommes for Renoir; I did manage to see Saratoga Trunk (1945), The Bells of St. Mary’s 1945), Indiscreet (1958), The Yellow Rolls Royce (1964), Cactus Flower (1968) on tv when  I still lived at home. But it was haphazard; whatever randomly came one’s way, by accident: lovely to see, but very difficult to study.

Now it’s all changed. The films can be obtained: even personal ones like Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words (2015), a wonderful documentary composed of images she filmed herself, and where her love for her children is evident in every composition, in every frame, is available to see currently on BBC iplayer. Anyone can make a project of studying an actor or a director and through purchase (the Criterion set of Bergman’s work in Sweden is superb) or torrenting, be able to see all or almost all of their work that still exists, and in chronological order. The surprise is that so few do.

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies 55 – Unsane

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A low-budget psychological thriller, Unsane is a less involving film than its subject matter and star deserve. Claire Foy is extraordinarily powerful as a paranoid prisoner of mental trauma inflicted on her by a stalker and bureaucratic malfeasance, distressed, knowing, sarcastic, resistant. The film fails her in other areas but is an intriguing experiment nonetheless. We find much to discuss, including its cinematography, relationship to termite art, Soderbergh’s recent efforts, potential audiences and whether the lighting of black characters in this film is inherently racist.

Recorded on 1st April 2018.

 

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies 54 – Isle Of Dogs

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Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is a stop-motion story of the utmost beauty and wit. We discuss its cinematography, compositions, lightness of touch, allegorical relationship to reality, and place in Anderson’s body of work. We also reserve particular praise for Bryan Cranston’s vocal performance and Alexandre Desplat’s score.

Recorded on 1st April 2018.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Agnelli: Italy’s Playboy Titan (Nick Hooker, 2017)

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A terrific documentary, currently playing on Sky, about Gianni Agnelli, head of Fiat. Of obvious appeal to those of you interested in post-WWII Italian history or football (he owned Juventus). Others might appreciate its insights into Pamela (first Churchill due to her marriage to Winston’s son; then Agnelli’s mistress; later a key light in 1950s Broadway theatre history through her marriage to Leland Hayward; later still a key figure in the US Democratic Party through her marriage to Averrill Harriman; and, after that and on her own gas, US ambassador to Paris in the Clinton Administration.) Those of you interested in seeing why Truman Capote named his coterie of super-rich, elegantly dressed women ‘The Swans’, will also find it of interest. Agnelli was a leading light in the politics, society, sports, culture and art of the last half of the twentieth century and the documentary presents fascinating footage of this intersection. I love all the glamorous early sections but what I found most fascinating is the footage of the Brigate Rosse in the 1970s, the FIAT strikes, and the kidnapping of Aldo Moro.

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Marella Agnelli

José Arroyo

Canyon Passage (Jacques Tourneur, USA, 1946)

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An atmospheric Western, almost a noir. Whilst watching it, I asked myself ‘is it still possible to watch Westerns today’? Here, ‘Indians’ are treated with more sympathy than usual. Honey Bragg (Ward Bond), with his lack of ethics and rampant desires, is the real villain of the piece. But we still see the natives as barbaric, anonymous, and vengefully mowing down beautiful blonde women with adorable babies. If one can put that to the side, and the film is unusual in giving the natives cause — this is a retaliation — or abstract it into symbolism that can stand for something else, Canyon Passage offers deep pleasures of composition and lighting, a world where the sublime natural beauty of Oregon’s mountains, forests and rivers is at the same time a shadowy backdrop to all-too human failings: doubt, desire, greed, want, weakness.  Dana Andrews, looking like a sourer version of Mel Gibson in his youth, plays the hero, Logan Stuart. Lucy Overmire (Susan Hayward) is who he ends up with. Brian Donlevy plays George Camrose, the genial but morally weak friend who keeps getting the hero in trouble. I’d never seen Hoagy Carmichael in colour before and he looks unusually handsome warbling his tunes. A very blond Lloyd Bridges is surprisingly lithe and sexy as a moral anchor of dubious reliability. Patricia Roc is Susan Haward’s rival for Dana’s affections. They all play a game of ‘want vs should’ in beautiful world so wild and densely forested that even the light that manages to seep through is itself the source of a shadows. It’s a world filled with danger, death, and in which moral dilemmas get played out in turn by each of the protagonists in ways that shape their fate. ‘. This can now be seen in a glisteningly gorgeous print on MUBI.

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Oregon bound

 

José Arroyo

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Ward Bond framed by dying leaves, and with not too long to live himself
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Hoagy Carmichael, for once handsomely lit.
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Where Jeff must have gotten it from: a very blonde, lithe and sexy Lloyd Bridges makes an impression.

 

 

 

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies – 53 – Ready Player One

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I was bored through most of it and actively irritated by the end of the film. Mike kind of liked it. We talked about references, about address — it’s aimed at boys but some confusion about which generation — the quality of the animation. ‘It’s like a kid’s movie used to be but just not aimed at you,’ says Mike. A work in which the maker of a video game is treated and read as the equivalent of the bible; a sad film indeed. To me further proof that Spielberg doesn’t quite rank with the greatest of filmmakers: incredible technical skills, a prodigy. But to what end? I found it full of pop-cultural references pop-culture geeks will delight in but ultimately dumb and empty. I can’t imagine what people who don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of music, film and video games of the last forty years will make of it. There’s no emotional resonance to this film at all; and its view of human nature and the way the world works is as banal as it gets. Brummies will be interested in seeing how their city is used to signify  a dystopic futuristic Columbus, Ohio. West Midlands News was delighted; more sophisticated viewers might get enraged. Throughout, Mike offers much more generous readings than the above.

 

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

A favourite moment from Easter Parade (Charles Walters, USA, 1948)

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Easter Parade is a treasure trove of delights. My favourite moment is not the great Anne Miller ‘Shaking The Blues Away’ number. Nor is it the legendary Garland-Astaire ‘A Couple of Swells’; nor any of the great Irving Berlin songs: (‘Stepping Out With My Baby’; ‘It Only Happens When I Dance With You,’ so many others. The moment I treasure most is this one above: Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) has been ditched by his elegant and sexy dancing partner Nadine Hale (Anne Miller). He vows that he can replace her with anyone and chooses Hannah Brown (Judy Garland), a singing waitress he picks up at a tavern.

Hewes tries to teach her how to dance, how to dress, how to walk. Hannah Brown’s not good enough if he’s going to be as big a hit as he was with Nadine. To replace a Nadine he needs a Juanita, not a plain Hannah Brown. But when that Hannah Brown is played by Judy Garland…. sigh, what bliss. This is the moment where Hannah Brown has to prove to  Don Hewes that she can become the sexy ‘Juanita’ he’s dreamed up for the act and where Garland shows us why plain old Hannah Brown is so much better. They might not look back to her for sex, but boy will they look back. I’ve always delighted in this moment. It seems to me to speak to the best bits of the Hannah Browns in each of us.

 

José Arroyo

 

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 52 – Annihilation

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annihilationAlex Garland’s curious sci-fi adventure comes to UK cinemas – for one single evening. A disappointing theatrical release in the US made Paramount fear that the film wouldn’t make money elsewhere and thus sold it to Netflix, foregoing a theatrical release in most territories outside North America. But we waited for the special event to see it properly. And it was worth it, its stunning visual design singing on the big screen.

But what did we make of the rest of it? Has it stayed with us? Does it cohere? What would we have liked to have seen more of, what surprised us, what did it do well, how do we evaluate its representational strategies? No matter what we make of the details, it’s certainly deserving of a second look, and now we can be grateful rather than rueful that Netflix gives us that opportunity.

Also, Mike bangs on for a bit about Ex MachinaLifeAnomalisa, and The Beach.

 

 

 

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Sound work in Latin America: Interview with Jose Homer Mora Acosta; La Escuela de Diseño; Altos de Chavón, Dominican Republic; March, 2018

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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.

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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.

The podcast can be listened to here:

José Arroyo

 

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies 51 – You Were Never Really Here

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If there’s ever a movie that needs to be seen on a big screen this is it. A poetic film, a great film made by a great artist. A story that’s told aurally and visual using a wide range of devices. We discuss the extraordinary power of its images, the imaginative use of sound, the depiction  of violence; whether it has a psychologically traumatised editing pattern; how it’s a film that requires visual literacy and what that might mean; the narrative is that of an abused child who goes to the military, suffers post-traumatic stress syndrome and eventually becomes a hitman who’s sent on a quest to rescue a young girl who’s been trafficked sexually. A linear story told in a fragmented way with the narrative making — and changing — sense as it unfolds. Mike is excellent. I remember names better than usually.  At the end of the podcast, we comment on the oscars describing debates the broadcast led to and we forgot to include that engendered by the best foreign language winner: A Fantastic Woman.

 

 

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

A Fantastic Woman/ Una mujer fantástica (Sebastian Lélio, Chile, 2017)

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Like the lovers in Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together (1997), Marina (Daniela Vega) and Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dream of visiting the Iguazu Falls. Marina and Orlando have just moved in together, and in fact Orlando has bought tickets to go. But he’s older, can’t remember where he’s put them and offers her an IOU. That evening, they go to bed in their usual manner but he suffers an aneurysm during the night. As she searches for the car keys, he goes out the door and falls down the stairs. At the clinic, they ask Marina about her relationship with Orlando, begin to twitch that she’s transgender, and the problems begin. As Orlando is declared dead at the clinic, those problems will get worse.

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Everything’s against Marina

The police arrive, and since the change in her ID is still in process, insist on addressing her as a man and treating her as a criminal rather than a bereaved partner. Gabo, Orland’s brother, arrives and apologises to Marina, ‘I’m sorry you had to go through this.’ But his obligation is to ‘the family’, which she is most emphatically excluded from. Soon, the ex-wife comes in to kick her out of the apartment that is the home she shared with Orlando. It starts off polite but ends up being forceful; the police come in, ostensibly to help, but really to humiliate her; the son and his friends will kidnap Marina, distort her face with tape, and dump her on a side street. I expected much worse and find it interesting that the film chooses to end it there and not focus more on physical violence.

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Who Am I?

 

The violence in A Fantastic Woman is all psychological but no less powerful for that. Marina is denied her history, her identity, her relationship, her apartment, her dog; and even the right to mourn the person she loved, which she insists is a human right. Any gay man d’un certain age will be familiar with this story, particularly those who lost loved ones at the height of the AIDS years and before wider legal and social acceptance of homosexuality. The partner who you loved and cared for dies and you’re left with not even a place at the funeral in case your very presence might offend the congregation. The fight for trans rights is a logical continuation of the fight for lesbian and gay rights; this film vividly, in a very personal way, demonstrates the hows and whys.

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The violent deformations of ‘respectable’ people

A Fantastic Woman is a complex and fascinating meditation on mourning and on the complexities of identity. Instead of, as is typical, showing us Marina’s effects on people, everything, including that effect, is filmed from her point of view. Her feelings, identities, wishes, desires, dreams are the focus on the film. And people’s well meaning but ignorant, passive-aggressive and ultimately violent denial of her humanity is what the film movingly demonstrates. But she will withdraw, survive and live to fight another day, and with beautiful music.

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The film is imaginatively shot by Benjamín Echazarreta and there are some very striking and evocative images. The film is directed with a poetic touch as well, as it moves into dance numbers to evoke Marina’s feelings; dream sequences that evoke the complexities of her situation and her desires, and there are thrilling musical moments, first when Marina performs a salsa song in a nightclub (Periodico de ayer) later, the classic numbers she sings, particularly at the end (Handel’s Ombra mai fu).

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On genitals and Being.

The film has been compared to Almódovar’s work, which surprises me. Yes, there is a transgender protagonist; and yes, it’s a great film. But what strikes me most about this film is the absence of camp. Marina is strong and she suffers; and there are moments of rage; but it’s her quiet, polite, elegant, strength that is the focus of the film. In her home, she might box away her frustration. But on the street she’s soft-voiced, cultured, polite with a quiet strength that will not compromise winning a particular battle for the thrill of an easy laugh. It’s the quiet strength necessary to achieve justice, one embodied by Daniela Vega’s impassive but understanding gaze, that is to me the central thrust of the film. Particularly, in instances where she gazes directly at the camera, as if saying, ‘bear witness to what the world is doing to me; to what it takes for me to live in this world, your world’. I’d like to see it again.

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Singing Handel

Currently available to see on Curzon Home Cinema

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies 50 – Lady Bird

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Our 50th! We finally get around to seeing the one Best Picture nominee we were missing, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. It’s been highly praised, but has the hype hurt it? We discuss its female-centric twists on coming-of-age teen movies, the mother-daughter relationship, its attitude to sex, and the Everyman Cinema in Birmingham, which we visit for the first time.

Recorded on 27th February 2018.

 

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

We appreciate your feedback so do keep on sending it.

José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Camouflage/ Barwy ochronne (Krzysztof Zanussi, Poland, 1977)

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The awarding of prizes for an academic paper in a linguistics summer camp in a Polish provincial University is the setting for Zanussi’s great exploration of hierarchy, power, knowledge, justice, democracy, morality, conformism, corruption, ethics. A jaded, cynical professor, Jakub (Zbiniew Zapasiwicz) tries to enlighten and manipulate an earnest and idealistic younger colleague, Jeroslaw (Piotr Garlicki) and the verbal jousts between them are the occasion for the explorations of the issues the film dramatises. ‘Why not take things at face value’ asks the younger man? ‘Because it’s not all that simple or honest’ responds the elder.

Zanussi’s frame is always full of people or landscape – students staging sit ins, gangs swimming naked in the river, classes replete with students, dozens at dinner — in a way that makes one realise how thinned out much of contemporary cinema has become, not just visually, but thematically. Here when two characters speak in a two-shot it carries the context of the social so many people earlier helped depict. Place, and society are always the background to the protagonists’ thought and actions.

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It’s no surprise that the film was read as an allegory for Poland in the last years of the Communist regime. It’s a film in which signs are often read by the characters as having other referents than its popularly acknowledged ones, but these other referents can only be divulged through avenues of power and knowledge. People are often compared to nature through animals: the cat will have its prey, and only by collaring it with bells will those poor birds and mice have a chance. But the analogy with nature has its limits. Human groups build their own value systems we’re told. But are those honest, just, democratic, ethical; and do they pave the way to knowledge and progress? At the end, Jaky thinks he’s brought out the beast in Piotr but Piotr makes clear that if he had, he’d be dead.

A film that seems particularly relevant in the light of present discussions on the role and purpose of universities. A great film.

 

Camouflage is currently available to view on MUBI.

 

José Arroyo

 

 

 

 

Wùlu (Daouda Coulibali, France/Senegal/Mali, 2016)

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A fine gangster film, novel for being an excellent debut feature from Daouda Coulibali and set in a region of Africa (Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Niger) that is a nexus for transporting cocaine from Columbia to Europe.

The film begins with a series of titles contextualising and explaining as follows:

‘In the Bambara culture, fraternal societies must train their followers to make them into valuable members of the community. In the Ntòmo society new members must pass through five levels:

  1. The lion level teaches a man where he came from
  2. The toad level tells him where he is going
  3. The bird level teaches him who he is.
  4. The guinea fowl level considers the man in the cosmos.
  5. The final level enlightens the member on his place in society. This is the level of the dog (Wúlu).

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 11.58.58The Wùlu of this story is Ladji (Ibrahim Koma), who works in a collective taxi. He’s the one who decides who to pick up and he’s figured out all the angles: avoid the elderly, fat and infirm: they can lose you a lot of money. He dreams of driving his own bus. But in spite of being excellent at his job, he’s passed over for the boss’ nephew, who’s got nothing going for him aside from his relations.

The film starts in 2007 in Bamako, and the corruption is shown to pervade everything and everyone, even Ladji’s sister, Aminita (played by singer Inna Modja) is turning tricks to get by. It ends in 2012. Ladji, the dog, can’t live with himself; his sister, the whore, is sunning herself by the pool in the lap of luxury. The final title card tells us:

‘In creating divisions at the heart of the army; in inciting competition between different tribes, and in constituting one of the sources of financing for terrorist organisations, cocaine trafficking largely contributed to the failures the State of Mali underwent during the course of 2012.’

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Ladji washes away the blood

A very good crime film about the rise and fall of the gangster figure; as in so much of the genre, it is as much a critique of the society its portraying as a depiction of particular characters. And that is a chief attraction for someone like myself: we not only get a film with likeable characters, excellent action and a poetic touch, but we get to find out about the cultures depicted: the tribalism, the meaning of art in these cultures, the corruption of politicians, the way white people are seen, what a rich house looks like to these people, the value of a bus. This is a gangster film in which negotiations takes place in a tent in the desert, in which the way out of a shootout is through a boy with a donkey, a place in which an intelligent, thoughtful and responsible young man has no way out but gangsterism, drugs or death and in which death is preferable to drugs; It’s where whores survive but dogs are put down (there is a slight tinge of misogyny in the film).

Olivier Rabourdin plays the French Entrepreneur who is also the drug kingpin

Screened on MUBI as part of South by South, a collaboration with the South London Art Gallery

49 – Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

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We try out Mubi, a curated streaming service that gives you 30 films at any one time, and only 30 days in which to watch them. Our choice is Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, a 1970s Italian satire on police corruption and the politics of power. It leads to discussions on its expressive imagery, its topsy-turvy plot, sexual kinks, peccadillos, and lifestyles, the performance of power and authority, and male jealousy and rage.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion is one of the best political films of all time, with a great opening sequence. A satire on politics filmed and played in high style. What does an establishment figure have to do to get arrested?

Winner of the Academy Award of Best Foreign Film in 1971 and with a great score by Ennio Morricone.

 

 

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José Arroyo and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.