By 1929 Gloria Swanson was thirty and had appeared in nearly 70 films, a real star of the silent era. She would make just 7 ‘talking pictures’. The first of which was The Trespasser, a melodramatic morality tale about a strong women who 'gets above her station’ by eloping with the son of a Chicago tycoon, becoming a working mother and then having an affair with her boss.
This film doesn’t provide any clues as to why Swanson’s career stalled with the introduction of sound. It’s a meaty role, she commands the screen and was nominated for an oscar for an excellent performance. The film, which she bankrolled, is no masterpiece but an entertaining piece that’s typical of it’s time with a feel good happy ending a hearty helping of moral certainty. Despite this there’s some good ground covered here. Whilst some of the acting is a little 'mannered’, there’s a real insight into how openly class ridden America was in the early twentieth century.
2008-11-02 20:17:00 GMT permalink
French co-directors Gustave Kervern and Benoit Delepine claim to be Belgian saying that although the French love French cinema the rest of the world is pretty ambivalent. If more French films contained the level of intelligence and humour found in Louise-Michel then French cinema would be displacing Hollywood in peoples affections.
This dark comedy contains some smart observations about the changing nature of employment and the world economy. But the movie is more than mere agit-prop. Some great performances particularly from Yolande Moreau in the lead role and a nicely observed cameo from Mathieu Kassovitz provide some real comic moments and perhaps create a new film genre: Franco-Belgian Anarcho Farce.
Ninety minutes of intelligent, hilarious and thought provoking entertainment. Maybe French cinema will be prepared to welcome Kervern and Delepine home.
2008-10-26 17:42:00 GMT permalink
Before the screening of ’Better Things’ at the London Film Festival, Duane Hopkins spoke about the what had motivated him when making the film. He started by saying he wanted to get away from using plot and narrative to build a story. This would have been a good point to make our excuses and leave.
Hopkins employs a pointillistic style, with short scenes (often of only 10 or 15 seconds) to build up a picture of the alienation and isolation of (mainly young) people in a rural community. The film presents an unrelenting negative view of the characters, both young and old, with no relief for either the viewer or protagonists. The film is beautifully shot and coloured but there’s little else to admire beyond the bucolic photography. The dialogue is awful, like a Pinter send-up and the stunted scenes restrict any opportunity for the actors to engage with the audience.
Fundamentally though the problem lies with Hopkins’ view of humanity, which is so negative and joyless. Many people live difficult and complicated lives, but few would struggle on if they had as little humanity and spirit as Hopkins portrays in the film. There are many ‘Better Things’ than this.
2008-10-20 13:05:00 GMT permalink
The Bicycle Film Festival rolled into London last week, and with it Road to Roubaix, a documentary about the Paris-Roubaix cycle race. From a film making perspective this is fertile ground, most notably the subject of arguably the greatest cycling film “A Sunday in Hell” directed by Jorgen Leth.
Where Leth focused on the battle between Eddie Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck, directors David Deal and Dave Cooper take the battle between terrain and rider as their inspiration. The film is beautifully photographed, lingering shots of the treacherous cobbles are interspersed with rider interviews, some excellent photography and television footage of the 2007 race.
The access to some of the big names on the current cycling circuit is impressive, even Lance Armstrong pops up - however, some of the editting decisions seem awkward, and the battle to entwine the progress of the 2007 race into the story is sometimes a little heavy handed. It feels a little stretched at 86 minutes and might have been better nearer the hour mark.
Overall though it’s a cracking insight into the ‘Queen of the Classics’ and pro-cycling. If it wheels itself your way as part of the BFF world tour, then it’s definitely worth watching.
2008-10-05 12:49:00 GMT permalink
Autumn. Crisp mornings, longer evenings, golden trees and films. Over the next few weeks there’s a run of festival films that I’m looking forward to:
Better Things @ LFF
Debut feature from British director Duane Hopkins.
Louise-Michel @ LFF
A new feature by French anarcho-surrealist directors de Ververn and Delepine.
The Trespasser @ LFF
Gloria Swanson’s first talking feature from 1929.
Reviews to follow.
2008-10-03 10:35:00 GMT permalink
Dir. Ross Cairns
In ‘Lives of the Artists’, Ross Cairns takes three different, but in his view, related 'artists’. These are not painters or sculptors, but a British and Irish trio of surfers (Tom Lowe, Fergal Smith and Mickey Smith), a French free-riding snowboarder (Xavier De La Rue) and a hardcore band from Watford (Gallows).
Cairns’ belief is that these disparate creative practitioners, through their commitment, dedication and the passioned execution of their various disciplines are true artists. They are able to communicate in a powerful yet abstract way. This thesis, here beautifully illustrated in high-definition and often in slow-motion, is often found in more cerebral soul sports publications, and when accompanied by such stunning cinematography is persuasive. However, Cairns’ exposition is undermined by his subjects.
To be an artist is to communicate, and all three subjects are communicative, both in their chosen fields and in individual pieces to camera. But to be an artist, as opposed to an aspiring artist, there must be something to communicate, a life lived. Unfortunately, as so often in soul sports and contemporary music, the candidates offered here know too little of life to be genuine artists.
That’s not say that the talents of those on show are not exemplary, and in time they may go on to excel and transcend their individual disciplines, but only Xavier De La Rue is able to suggest something other than committed obsession. In one chilling sequence De La Rue talks of his renewed resolve and love of the mountains after a near fatal avalanche. It’s a moving moment, especially when accompanied by footage of the 'chute’.
Ultimately the film fails to prove the theory. It is a beautifully illustrated and argued point, but perhaps due to budget or sponsors involvement the triptych is uneven. This is unfortunate as Cairns is able to move effortlessly between the disciplines and carefully constructs his narrative. A flawed, but engaging film.
2010-02-07 23:28:39 GMT permalink
Pacing a film seems to be a fading art, a skill whose time has passed, left only to the dedicated craftsmen. Fortunately one such cinematic artisan is Eric Guirado, the director of Le fils de l'épicier (The Grocers Son). The film, beautifully shot by Laurent Brunet, is a gentle tale that combines stunning Hautes-Alpes scenery with the tensions of familial obligation and the decline la belle France.
French cinema seems to be going through particularly nostalgic phase at the moment, and although Guirado’s first ‘fictional’ film showcases the beauty of rural France, with sun drenched valleys and sleepy villages, it doesn’t pull too many punches. There’s an all too direct undercurrent of anger and alienation, not amongst the young urban poor, of the kind explored by Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine, but an older, bitter and subtle disaffection of the those at the end of their youth whose lives are drifting.
There’s a wonderfully naturalistic feel to the film, especially in the performances of the elderly villagers, perhaps aided by the directors long career as a documentary filmmaker. The camera is allowed to linger and pause and the film breathes at a slow pace. Unfortunatley the ending is strangely rushed, and after such a largo rendition the finale seems to tumble slightly out of control towards it’s conclusion. Despite this the film is a beautifully observed piece with some lovely performances. One to watch on a Sunday afternoon, perhaps with a small pastis or two.
2009-10-30 23:54:00 GMT permalink
A critical failure on it’s release in 1970, David Lean’s follow up to Lawrence of Arabia is an unusual and beguiling film. Robert Bolt’s screen play reworks Madame Bovary to occupied Ireland in 1916. The star studded cast includes Robert Mitchum, Trevor Howard and John Mills. Sarah Miles is the ‘daughter’ of the films title, the emotional heart of the film as Rosy Ryan/Emma Bovary. However, it’s the scenery and dramatic west of Ireland coastline that dominates the film.
Shot on Super Panavision 70, by Lean’s cinematographer Freddie Young, the rugged coastline of the Dingle Peninsula is both beautiful and sinister. More than just a backdrop, the coves, castles and storms play an important narrative role in the film. The vast beach at Inch (now one of Ireland’s leading surf spots) is the setting for many of the films most important scenes. The film was nominated for 4 academy awards, winning 2 Oscars for John Mills, Best Supporting Actor and Freddie Young, Best Cinematography. If the Oscars had a category for best supporting scenery then the film would easily have won another.
Whilst the plot centers around the relationships between the Rosy and her lovers, the emotional heart of the film is the relationship between Miles’ character and reality. Her perception of love and life are so at odds with the day to day reality of living in a poverty stricken village that she exists in a parallel dream world, only occasionally visiting the mundane struggle of daily existence. Sarah Miles’ portrayal of this vibrant yet troubled and dislocated woman is excellent, her vivacity smashing onto the rocks of Mithcum’s taciturn school teacher who, although initially seems emotionally literate, sinks into a sullen silence in the face of his wife’s infidelities.
The film was much criticised on it’s release and seen by various interested parties as a critique of the Easter rising and the church’s dominant role Ireland. However, to read the film in this way is surely to see this subtle and complex film as a simple piece of agit-prop. Such a view also underestimates Lean as a film maker who makes great use of the location and cast. Audience attitudes to Ireland and the central characters have changed considerably in the 30 years since the film was made, in some ways this highlights the strengths of the film rather than undermine it.
2009-06-28 15:37:00 GMT permalink
Looks like I’m about to start on a small film binge over the next few months. Here’s what I’ve queued up:
Man on Wire (2008)
My Winnipeg (2008)
Ryan’s Daughter (1970)
Saint Etienne - Finisterre (2005)
Belleville Rendez-vous (2003)
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Big Wednesday (1978)
Jules Et Jim (1961)
The Endless Summer (1964)
The Getaway (1972)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
Wild Strawberries (1957)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Beckett On Film (2004 - 4 discs, 19 films)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
The Grocer’s Son (2009)
Breaking Away (1979)
Hell on Wheels (2006)
Looking for Eric (2009)
2009-06-09 12:03:00 GMT permalink