Sunday, 28 May 2017

Mr Klein | Joseph Losey, 1976

Adriaen van Ostade's The Analysis (1666) haunts the home of Robert Klein, an art dealer in occupied Paris who buys paintings such as this for a fraction of their worth from desperate Jewish families fleeing the war, who's unwittingly cast into the labyrinthine life-swap scheme of his mysterious Jewish namesake and doppelgänger.

A student of Frans Hals and a contemporary of Rembrandt, van Ostade, who'd changed his name from Adriaen Jansz Hendricz, was a celebrated painter of the Dutch Golden Age, whose younger brother, Isaac, later became his student, emulating his style and taking his new surname. The two van Ostade's, however, had vastly different careers, and Isaac, forever stuck in the shadow of his brother, never found the same success as an artist. He died in 1649 at the age of 28, just as he was beginning to step out on his own.

The portrait owned by Klein, The Analysis, painted by Adriaen several years after the death of his brother, is not only a souvenir of the cruel business he profits from, but one which suggests that the best way to survive in this wintry, war-torn world is be one step ahead of it, to cast your own shadow, to develop your own style, to make your own terms — for Klein, however, it's too late. Like Isaac, he's already lost, doomed to chase the shadow of his own name as the world leaves him behind.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Light Sleeper | Paul Schrader, 1992

"Is there luck for me?" A two-years clean dealer is looking for normalcy. His associates are going straight with a cosmetics venture that has no place for him. His way of life is ending. For now, he's wordlessly driven back and forth across the city on delivery, feigning friendship to mask transaction; brief encounters, then on to the next one. He's becoming an island. His apartment is shrouded in darkness, the floor lamp a faded lighthouse on the shore, illuminating only the objects in its immediate vicinity: a desk, a notebook, a bottle of wine, cash money from the night before; the remaining space is an uncharted silhouette longing to be filled, a nothingness that could be everything — then fate intervenes. Two chance encounters in as many days with the love of his life, an ex-lover he has neither seen nor spoken to for years. Their addictions tore them apart. But now they're both clean. They reconnect, passion consumes the darkness and the past fades away. There's nothing but the present. They spend the night together in her small apartment, red light bathes the room, but they don't wake up in the bed. They're naked on the floor, pushed between the wall and the bed frame. The room is now an inexplicable shade of green. The intimacy he craves is there, but the pieces don't fit together as they should. Beds are meant to be slept in. For him, this could be everything he's ever wanted, but for her, "this is the end." The past comes rushing back. The night before and the morning after. They've relapsed. She gets dressed and tells him to do the same. He tells her he loves her but she doesn't hear him. Bridges crumble into the ocean. The islands remain alone.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Retribution | Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2006

“I felt lonely for so long. Since then, all my senses, memories, and emotions as a human disappeared one by one, and only despair was left at the end.”

The pain of Kurosawa’s ghosts is the perpetual despair of lost love, and an agonising emptiness impelled by the loneliness of the modern world. In Retribution, two ghosts in red dresses embody this pain in oppositional ways: a woman taking revenge on those who she believes killed her through inaction and neglect, and a detective’s ex-lover pretending to be alive to spare him the anguish of her death. One's dress is vivid red, unadorned, invasive; the other's is more muted, emblazoned with red flowers and splashed with the green of their leaves. An evocative emptiness and an imitation of life, a murderous rage and an enduring love. Both are stuck irretrievably in death, and neither can leave life behind — but empty rage can be satiated. Fake flowers never die.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Lost World: Jurassic Park | Steven Spielberg, 1997

"We're here to observe and document, not interact"
"That's a scientific impossibility"

A small army of experts and local muscle hired to transport dinosaurs from the original park’s “site B” to San Diego are armed with technology: phones, guns, tranquilliser darts, cages and restraints, radios, cameras, trucks, boats, helicopters. Palaeontologists spew facts about the dinosaurs they look at disbelievingly at rapid speed, barely stopping for breath. Educated precaution. They want you to know that they know everything, that they have everything covered. That nothing can go wrong. But they have no control here. Their technology fails more than it works, and their words have no purpose in the wild. They’re emboldened, but they don’t know what they’re dealing with. At a distance, these dinosaurs are pixels on a landscape, weightless and unreal, but spectacular giants, nonetheless, miraculous and impossible, demanding to be studied. But up close, these CGI creatures are puppets and models, awkward and ugly, still unreal but within reach. It’s easy to forget that these are wild animals, so they get too close, and the animals defend themselves. These dinosaurs are manufactured, but they've become natural. Technology can’t control them. Science can’t control them. People are killed by them. The events of The Lost World: Jurassic Park are hubris masquerading as curiosity. A human failure rather than a natural one. Survival of the fittest.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Accident | Joseph Losey, 1967

"There is nothing to keep her here."
"She loves me."

Rooms darkened by overflowing bookshelves, tables alongside tables, and mantelpieces loaded with ornaments, ashtrays, lamps, glasses and bottles; an enclosed tennis court surrounded by overgrown flowerbeds; the claustrophobia of an overturned car. Joseph Losey's Accident is designed to push people close to one another and make them fight for limited space. One idyllic summer afternoon, a professor is invited on a boat ride with two of his students: a beautiful “Austrian princess” and her high-achieving boyfriend. He jumps in next to her and his eyes soon dart around her body: legs, chest, neck, face. He’s enthralled by her, and is emboldened to impress her by swinging from a tree overhanging the water. But, of course, he falls in. Her boyfriend, propelling the punt with a pole, laughs, his show of strength having defeated his professor's. Humiliated and soaked through, the professor bashfully returns to his office to change clothes as his students walk hand in hand behind him. The failure to understand that physical closeness doesn’t equate to intimacy will always be the undoing of men.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Flags of Our Fathers | Clint Eastwood, 2006

"Looking at it, you could believe the sacrifice wasn't a waste."

A dessert served at a fundraising dinner held in honour of the three surviving subjects of Raising The Flag on Iwo Jima, an iconic photograph that became a sign of hope during World War II. The horror and tragedy that surrounds this picture is lost on American soil, where the war is seen in black and white and the blood is away from the headlines. But for these men, stolen from the front-line to become poster boys of war bonds, the blood is vivid red. As they're paraded around the country, their friends die on the battlefield. They're more valuable as symbols than as soldiers now, but, to them, their absence is the same as blood on their hands. And the photograph keeping them from war is now served to them on a plate, smothered in blood-red strawberry sauce. Symbols mean more than men. Images mean more than reality.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Scarface | Brian De Palma, 1983

Paradise as wallpaper to die in front of; the world is yours.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Chocolat | Claire Denis, 1988

The unburdened perspective of a young child meets the entrenched entitlement of French colonialists in Cameroon, mystified by the idea of an off-handed comparison to Nazi soldiers.

"I want a variety of French food!" 
"I sleep better with a gun under my pillow."

Saturday, 24 December 2016

still got some good nights memorised // and the look back’s getting me right 
Nights | Frank Ocean

David Bowie died this year. Prince, too. Muhammad Ali. Kiarostami, Rivette and Cimino. Leonard Cohen. And countless others. It’s easy to get caught up in negativity when so much of what we love seems to be dying. I’ve found myself in my darkest moments re-living aspects of the life I lived as a teenager, spending hours sat despondently in the dark listening to emo bands and reading about aviation disasters on Wikipedia, wallowing in good memories and blocking out painful thoughts. When the present is too much to deal with, nostalgia is an easy crutch to lean on. It’s safe. There are no unknowns when you hide inside your memories.

And, now more than ever, nostalgia seems to be echoing throughout pop culture. Stranger Things, Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, Pokémon Go, the revitalised Craig David and blink-182, Finding Dory and Bridget Jones’s Baby among others have all found success this year by drawing heavily on sounds, images, characters and experiences that resonate primarily because they have resonated before. This increasingly symbiotic relationship between the past and the present is something I’ve repeatedly seen confronted in cinema this year. Films about people struggling to free themselves from the ghosts of their pasts. About people living in the knowledge that they're no longer part of the future. About people questioning their lives and memories, about people forced to forget them. And about people lost to the present, living with no real concept of the past and no real thought to the future.

This, of course, isn’t a new thing, but it feels more prevalent this year. The films I seemed to gravitate towards all come imbued with their own sense of history: the outline of a rock formation reminding a surfer of her late mother in The Shallows; the burning statue of Joan of Arc in Nocturama; an antique dressing table formerly owned by a retired music critic’s beloved aunt in Aquarius; a once vibrant but now abandoned football stadium seen through the window of a sportswriter’s childhood bedroom in Sweet Dreams; a child’s drawing of a family given pride-of-place on the wall of a single woman’s home in Arrival. Each a monument to a feeling that no longer exists as it once existed, and to a life that has been changed forever.

The following twelve films, all of which I love, treat the present as an opportunity to break free from the past. In a year defined by regression, I think that's a valuable thing to see.

In alphabetical order:

Aquarius | Kleber Mendonça-Filho
Arrival | Denis Villeneuve
Creepy | Kiyoshi Kurosawa
The Death of Louis XIV | Albert Serra
Nocturama | Bertrand Bonello
Personal Shopper | Olivier Assayas
The Shallows | Jaume Collet-Serra
The Son of Joseph | Eugène Green
Sully | Clint Eastwood
Sweet Dreams | Marco Bellocchio
Things To Come | Mia Hansen-Løve
Yourself and Yours | Hong Sang-soo

how far is a light year? // how far is a light year?
Futura Free | Frank Ocean

The great nostalgist of modern music ends his latest album with a look to the future, repeating the voice of a child eagerly trying to understand the universe. Perhaps there's hope after all.

Street of Shame | Kenji Mizoguchi, 1956
Stromboli | Roberto Rossellini, 1950
Forever Mine | Paul Schrader, 1998
Starman | John Carpenter, 1984
Career Girls | Mike Leigh, 1997
Dracula | Francis Ford Coppola, 1992
Lifeforce | Tobe Hooper, 1985
House of Tolerance | Bertrand Bonello, 2011
Vive L'amour | Tsai Ming-liang, 1994
Something Wild | Jonathan Demme, 1986

Some ghosts I busted this year.

Memories. 1) Stumbling back to London Victoria after seeing Blissfully YoursTropical Malady and a ton of Weerasethakul shorts at the Tate Modern through hazy eyes one night in April, leaving the screen to daylight. 2) Slipping away from an AirBnB in the centre of Brussels to see Michael Cimino's Desperate Hours on 35mm. 3) Watching David Brent: Life on the Road to see Brad's name in the credits. 4) Sitting in stunned silence with Mike after seeing Personal Shopper at the London Film Festival, disappointed that more people weren't doing the same. 5) Throwing myself into Inside (2007) and In My Skin (2002), two disgusting films that I wouldn't have mustered the courage to see if it wasn't for The Final Girls. 6) Every conversation I had with people who love cinema, whether it was about cinema or not.

I need to broaden my horizons.
Maybe next year will be better.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The Comfort of Strangers | Paul Schrader, 1990

Two lovers on holiday in Venice stop and ask a local to take their photo. The couple smile, and the picture is taken. But the angles don't match. Unbeknownst to them, the couple are being watched. This moment of romantic togetherness has been corrupted. It's not just theirs anymore. Somebody stole it. By setting up one thing and showing us another, Schrader links romance and voyeurism together. An invasion of privacy makes them objects of desire, something to covet, to possess. And they don't even know it's happened.