“And they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks”. Borgman is a Dutch film which throws up as many questions as answers to its raison d’etre. It’s weird and mysterious, that’s for sure. Camiel appears to be a vagrant of sorts, living underground in a sort of warren as the film begins. He is pursued by a priest with a gun, and hunting dogs, but quickly makes good his escape and ends up in a well to do suburb, knocking on doors, looking for a place to have a bath. He is repeatedly knocked back, until he comes to wealthy Richard and Marina’s house (a large modernist home with outbuildings, a nanny and a gardener). Richard becomes enraged by this tramp’s impudence, and gives Camiel quite a beating, which shocks Marina, and she feels sorry for this poor down on his luck fellow. And this is where the fun begins. Insidiously, the increasingly sinister Camiel inveigles his way into the life of Marina and her family. Often darkly comic, but always creepy, we never quite find out who Camiel and his “merry” band of accomplices are, but it’s very interesting getting to know them.
Mi Limon! Mi Limonero! At last, Bad Hair is an often uplifting film about a little boy in Venezuela. Junior is nine years old and loves to sing. His single mother, Marta, has lost her job as a security guard, and is struggling to keep on top of her life. The fact that her son plays with girls and is obsessed with straightening his hair is not helping. Junior doesn’t fit with his mother’s idea of masculinity, and as a mixed race boy with an afro, he doesn’t look much like his mother either. His grandmother Carmen aids and abets his urges to “be a singer with straight hair”, leading to increased tensions between the two women in his life. Grinding poverty and desperation are well represented in this charming film, but Junior’s exuberance and Carmen’s singing lessons are enough to leave you dancing your way out of the cinema. Mi Limon, Min Limonero!
I have always preferred Samurai films to Westerns, although I do love the look of a Western on the Big Screen. I am aware of the crossover between Western and Japanese films, Cowboys and Samurai, but need to watch more of each to understand it better. Yesterday evening I went to see a Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Being unfamiliar with the original, I had nothing to compare it to, and I think this was probably a good way to enjoy the film on its own merits. If someone had described the film to me as I eventually classified it to myself, I would have known I was going to love it – Ken Watanabe as a troubled ex Samurai who joins an old colleague as a bounty hunter when his frugal existence becomes unbearable. The film is set in Hokkaido (the only part of Japan I want to visit), with Ainu taking the place of Native Americans in Hollywood Westerns. As well as the storytelling, I loved the use of Hokkaido’s landscapes and the glimpse into the Ainu’s life, something I’ve not seen before. The Director, Lee Sang-il stated that he saw the original film when he was young and didn’t quite understand it, though he was fascinated. What intrigued him most was that the Western trope of good guy/bad guy had been subverted by using complex characters with complex motives, which is played out impeccably in this Japanese version.
There is no guy in the white hat.
Things The Way They Are is part of the CineChile strand at Glasgow Film Festival. Manic Scandi Pixie Dream Girl Sanna (Ragni Orsal) arrives at her rented accommodation in Santiago, where she’s met by massive beardy, Jerónimo (Cristóbal Palma), who lives in and rents out the rooms in his house to foreigners. Turns out Jerónimo is a bit antisocial and strange, while Sanna is free spirited and easily led. Sanna’s cutesy personality really rubbed me up the wrong way, and we never found out why Jerónimo has that massive beard. Probably my least favourite film of the festival so far.
At last, we come to Black Angel. I admit I have got caught up in the hype over the rediscovery of this film, for personal reasons, but as this is a personal blog that’s fine. I have enjoyed reading about the “quest” Guy Veale went on to find and see this film, as much as I enjoyed the film itself. If you’re not familiar with the backstory, let me explain. Black Angel is a short sword and sorcery film filmed in Scotland, written and directed by Star Wars set designer, Roger Christian. It was screened in the UK, Scandinavia and Australia before The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and was subsequently “lost” and forgotten. Guy Veale saw the short film when he was 5 years old, in Shetland, remembered it as an adult, and set out on a mission to find it and have it rescreened in Scotland. And last night was its first screening in the UK since 1980. The film depicts a valaint knight’s return to plague ridden Scotland after the Crusades (I imagine), and his subsequent battle with death. What struck me most about the film was its use of scenery, and seeing the Highlands as they actually are. The filmmakers didn’t have time to wait for a fine day, so they shot in the drizzle, the light was low and the light meter wasn’t registering so they shot anyway, but got the most amazing shots of sunbeams through the trees. The story is mythical, but the film looks beautiful just as it is, with no frills, bells or whistles. The screening was followed by a great Q&A, where Christian regaled us with tales of inventing the lightsaber and R2D2 and surviving on huge pots of porridge while filming Black Angel. More of this sort of thing!
I had seen the title Calvary bandied about before the Surprise Film, but all I knew about it was that it starred Brendan Gleeson as a priest. It turned out to be much much more than that. As it ended, it was clear that the audience was completely stunned. I have only experienced that before with Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, where the final scene is a depiction of the end of the world. Featuring Chris O’Dowd, Aiden Gillan and Dylan Moran, the humour (and there’s a lot of it) is pitch black throughout. The film opens with a surprising “confession”, that I won’t spoil for you, and explores themes of revenge, redemption, and fate. The performances are excellent, the script is fantastic, with some fine meta-referencing evident, but only so much as you’d notice, not enough to annoy.
If you like noir, you’ll love it, but get your house in order first.
By Monday I had been doubly traumatised (see previous post) by powerful films, and vowed to see more comedies next year. So seeing my next film on the schedule was The Great Passage, a Japanese comedy-drama about compiling a dictionary, I was much relieved. I am a linguistic geek. More of a phonetics geek (hence the moniker), but yep, I love all the words. So, watching a film about compiling a dictionary is combining two of my great loves (film/language). Our hero Majime (which means diligent) is a charming geek working at a publisher’s office. When the dictionary editor decides to retire, they need a replacement, and Majime is plucked from his sales job to work on the new dictionary. Majime (Ryuhei Matsuda) is probably the most awkward, socially inept leading man you are going to see in a film for a long time. He doesn’t know how to speak to girls, and rarely says the right thing to anyone at the right time, leading to much cringing hilarity. But he is true to his name and after falling for his landlady’s granddaughter, his life falls into place and The Great Passage (a new modern dictionary) is eventually published. The film is gently amusing, with some classic over-the-top Japanese slapstick, but I did feel throughout that something was lost in translation. The English language is so different from Japanese in sound and form that it’s unavoidable that there would be some omission. But maybe that’s my linguistic reflexes kicking in. Maybe some Japanese speakers could confirm my suspicions.
In the evening I saw Exhibition, Joanna Hogg‘s examination of an artist couple in the process of selling their home. D (Viv Albertine of The Slits) has a strong attachment to the house, and appears to be trying to stall the process, as her relationship with H (Liam Gillick) goes through a sticky patch. The house itself is a major character in the feature, with its stylish sliding doors, block colours, and sparse, minimal furniture. Recurring visual motifs included the spiral staircase and horizontal lines, which reminded me of Tubbs from the League of Gentlemen. The film studies the relationship of the couple and their relationship with the house. D is seen curled around a rock in the garden, H wants to erect a gate saying “Fuck Off” by the parking space. Their sex life is a source of frustration for both partners, and is played out exceptionally by the lead actors. I left the film wondering what happened next when they moved out, and that can only be to the film’s credit. Plus, Tom Hiddleston.
Image via Indiewire
After day 3’s films I felt like I needed to see more comedies, and then I saw The Hour of the Lynx and was broken. I decided I wanted to see it when I saw the photo of The Killing’s Sofie Gråbøl, in a strange archaic ruff. I love the whole Nordic Noir thing and decided that I needed to see it on that basis alone. When I choose my film festival films, I usually go for a mix of films that I’ll never see again on a big screen, something mad, a few familiar faces or styles and a sprinkling of FrightFest. The FrightFest tickets weren’t available with the Earlybird Pass this year (shame), so I think I have ended up with more than my fair share of the weird. Anyway, This wasn’t really one of the weird, apart from the ruff thing. Helen (Gråbøl), a priest, is approached by Lisbeth (Signe Egholm Olsen), a research psychologist, who has noticed that one of her patients at a high security hospital may benefit from the ministrations of the clergy. Helen is intrigued by the story of the disturbed young man in cell 03-07 and he opens up to her, with his devastating story of love and loss. The film also features Søren Malling as the chief warden of the institution, and it was great to see him team up with Gråbøl again after The Killing. In addition to a powerful and moving story, The Hour of the Lynx has some beautiful cinematography, making full use of the striking scenery of Northern Sweden. Take tissues, it’s quite a ride.
It’s been a long while since I saw Koyaanisqatsi, but when I saw there was a new film by the same director I knew I had to see it. Visitors is billed as “a painterly evocation of humanity’s relationship with technology slowly expressed across a stark black and white cinematic canvas,” I was intrigued. Featuring a score by Philip Glass, with his trademark repetitive, minimal lines, it is impossible for me to explain how this poetic piece of cinema evokes such strong emotion. The film itself is entirely in high contrast black and white, and features a gorilla, the moon, and a series of faces (and occasionally hands), young and old interacting with technology. The film is largely shot in slow motion and we see the faces of people watching sport and playing computer games. The footage of faces is occasionally intercut with slow sweeping shots of skyscrapers, dereliction, wilderness and waste, and when I left the cinema I wanted to apologise to Mother Earth, and Triska the gorilla.