A Film For September: The Headless Women

The film begins with a group of children playing on their bikes by a road. Later the same day elegant, middle aged Verónica (Maria Onetto), is seen driving along a deserted road when her phone rings, looking down at it she hits something in the road, bangs her head and suffers mild concussion. We follow her as she gets treatment and we see that she is having a relationship with someone other than her husband. So far, so simple.

But as the days go by with her family and extended family her emotional realities of everyday life start to become a bit hazy. Gradually all her activities from the previous day seem to disappear and under intense observation we watch as her grip on reality starts to unravel. Did she hit a dog or was it worse, was it a child? And this we don’t know, from the opening scene of the children playing it’s a possibility. And is her detachment from her world purely the result of the concussion or is it also guilt? Because of her affair, or is there more for her to feel guilty about? Verónica’s murky, disoriented mindset is portrayed as dreamlike and foggy as her paranoia makes her increasingly isolated.

Written and directed by Lucrecia Martel and co-produced by Pedro and Agustin Almodóvar, this is a very slow paced study of a life becoming detached from the world as she deals with the psychological aftermath of an accident.

Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian said it was ‘a masterly, disturbing and deeply mysterious film about someone who strenuously conceals from herself the knowledge of her own guilt.’ But Kevin Maher in The Sunday Times said: ‘The pacing is so leaden, and the direction so heavy-handed, that it’s fundamentally hard to care.’ And I’m somewhere in the middle.

There were a lot of details that I missed and it’s the sort of film that will definitely get better with each view, but for a first viewing I struggled to care enough about her to give it the attention it needs. But I haven’t given up on it – given the right time I would watch it again and try and find out what I was missing.

A Film For August: Do The Right Thing

Set on one street in Brooklyn on one boiling hot day, Mookie (Spike Lee) delivers pizza for Sal (Danny Aiello) the owner of ‘Sal’s Pizzeria’, while Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L Jackson) is the DJ watching the street and providing the soundtrack.

Smiley (Roger Geunveur Smith) wonders along the street trying to sell pictures of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; a Korean couple have opened a convenience store; Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) blares Fight the Power from his boombox and three men sit like a Greek chorus opposite Sal’s passing comment. As the camera follows them through the day we get to know them all and watch as the temperature rises and hate and bigotry smoulder. It’s hot, bold and provocative from the very beginning when Tina (Rosie Perez) dances to Public Enemy’s Fight the Power, from then on its like a ticking bomb.

Continue reading “A Film For August: Do The Right Thing”

A Film For July: Elephant

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Written and directed by Gus Van Sant, Elephant chronicles the events of an ordinary day in a fictional high school in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon – a day when two of the students carry out a shooting based in part on the Columbine High School Massacre.

Using new and unprofessional actors who largely keep their own names, the characters are introduced by name and then followed through their day but in a fragmented style that goes over the same events but from multiple points of view. The camera catches up with the students as they walk along corridors, meet up in the cafeteria or the locker room or the library and we hear snatches of frivolous, inane conversations which are often quite funny. Of course we feel tense because we know what’s going to happen and an early scene of the gunmen walking towards the school, before the camera skips off to show another group, is an example of how we can try and piece the fragments together to build up some sort of time line; but what’s extraordinary is the blankness.

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A Film For June: Persepolis

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Written and directed by Marjane Satrapi in collaboration with Vincent Paronnaud, Persepolis is based on Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. I must admit that although this has been on my radar for a few years I’ve always been put off by the animation, so I’m glad I’ve been made to watch it for my film challenge because it was brilliant.

A coming of age story set against the background of the Iranian Revolution, it’s both harrowing and exuberant. Marjane is 9 when the film opens in 1978, a precocious child who wants to be a prophet and obsesses over Bruce Lee.  Growing up in comfort with her liberal, politically active family they have high hopes for a better society post the revolution. Continue reading “A Film For June: Persepolis”

A Film For May:Cleo From 5 to 7

Icleo from 5-7t’s  5 o’clock in the afternoon in Paris in 1962 and Cléo (Corinne Marchand),a beautiful young singer is waiting for the results of her biopsy, which she is to collect from the hospital at 7 o’clock.

Beginning with a tarot reading that shows the ominous cards in full colour before turning to black and white, the time span is split into chapters counting down the minutes as she goes to a café, rehearses with her band, meets a friend. She is a superficial young women who revels in her beauty, skipping lightly through life, she believes herself to be more alive than others because of it. And yet, in the time that is traditionally meant for lovers to meet, she is having to face her mortality and she’s scared.

Produced and directed by Agnès Varda the Parisian streetscapes were refreshingly real, people walking along look directly at the camera in curiosity and overheard fragments of conversation form a wonderful collage of city life as Cléo walks, takes a bus, a taxi or two. At one point she meets a friend, Dorothée, (Dorothée Blanck) who’s modelling for a  sculpture class. cleo from 5 to 7 Cléo asks her why she isn’t embarrassed about being naked, she says she would be worried the students would see a flaw.  Dorothée says she isn’t embarrassed at all she’s happy with her body not proud of it. I loved that subtle scene that showed the vulnerability of Cleo.

I don’t want to give anything away about the ending, obviously it’s not a thriller, but it was lovely to watch unknowing.  This is 90 highly recommended minutes viewing.

A Film For April: Our Little Sister

our little sisterSachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) are sisters in their twenties, living together in their family home in the sea side town of Kamakura. Left by their father fifteen years earlier and by their mother a year later, the girls’ are a tight knit, happy group who, although they had a grandmother, have ostensibly bought themselves up.

When they hear about the death of their father they agree to go to his funeral and meet for the first time their fourteen year old half sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose). They easily form a bond and since she is now orphaned they ask her to come and live with them. Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, this is a beautifully delicate look at the lives of the four young women. Continue reading “A Film For April: Our Little Sister”

A Film for March: Paris, Texas

Paris, TexasWinner of the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, this is a simple story about family ties, love and redemption directed by Wim Wenders and written by Sam Shepard.

Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) mysteriously wanders out of the desert and is found unconscious by a German Doctor who calls the only number in his pocket.  Having been missing for four years, his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) is amazed when he comes to collect him and drives him from Texas to his home in Los Angeles, which he shares with his French wife Anne (Aurore Clément). On the road we find out that Travis’  eight year old son Hunter has been living with them after Jane, his mother (Nastassja Kinski) also disappeared. What has happened to Travis and where is Jane? Continue reading “A Film for March: Paris, Texas”

A Film for February: The Arbor

ArborBleak, bleak, bleak but compelling. Directed by Clio Barnard in 2010 this is a film about the dramatist and author Andrea Dunbar (1961-1990), who wrote plays The Arbor and Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Dunbar came from Bradford’s tough Buttershaw housing estate and a street know as the Arbor. Her life ended in a brain haemorrhage bought on by alcoholism when she was 29, a scene straight from one of her own plays. The second half focuses on Dunbar’s eldest child Lorraine (Manjinder Virk) and her tragic story of parental neglect, racism, domestic violence and finding her refuge in drugs. Continue reading “A Film for February: The Arbor”

A Film For January: Diabolique

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In a boys’ boarding school in provincial France a bullying and domineering headmaster, Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) is loathed by the boys’, the teaching staff, and his wife Christina (Vera Clouzot). The science and maths teacher is Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) who until recently has been having an affair with Michel.  The fragile wife and willful mistress form an alliance and hatch an elaborate plan to murder Michel and get rid of his body. But then things start to appear and disappear and nothing is as it seems – are they going mad?

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Just Watching A Film

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In 2018 I asked my daughter for a list of films that she thought everyone should see, it was a lovely eclectic list that covered different genres, nationalities and decades. I learnt a lot about cinema and watched some films I would never have chosen myself. This year she’s given me a list of 12 films, each chosen for its specific month:

January:  Diabolique (France, 1955)
A psychological horror/thriller directed by Henri-Georges Clouzet

February:  The Arbor (UK, 2010)
A documentary with fictional elements that tells the story of playwright Andrea Dunbar and her life growing up on a Bradford housing estate. Directed by Clio Barnard.

March:  Paris, Texas (USA, 1984)
Directed by Wim Wenders, ‘A tale of loss, redemption and the ties that bind a family together.’

April:  Our Little Sister (Japan, 2015)
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian calls this ‘A touching but unsentimental take on sisterly love.’

May:  Cleo From 5 to 7 (France, 1962)
What to do when you have 2 hours to spare in Paris. Directed by Agnès Varda.

June:  Elephant  (USA, 2003)
A drama that chronicles the events surrounding a school shooting directed by Gus Van Sant.

July:  Persepolis (Iran, 2007)
Written and directed by Marjane Satrapi, this animated film is based on her autobiographical graphic novel.

August:  Do The Right Thing (USA 1989)
A comedy drama produced, written and directed by Spike Lee, following one scorchingly hot day in Brooklyn.

September:  The Headless Woman (Argentina, 2008)
Psychological thriller directed and written by Lucrecia Martel.

October:  Poetry (South Korea, 2010)
Written and directed by Lee Chang-dong, a women in her 60’s develops an interest in poetry while struggling with Alzheimers and her grandson.

November:  The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie (France/Spain 1972)
A surrealist fantasy drama directed by Luis Buñuel.

December:  The Big City (India, 1963)
Directed by Satyajit Ray, life changes for a middle-class women from a conservative family in Calcutta when she starts working as a saleswomen.

At first glance the one I’m most looking forward to is Our Little Sister, because the Japanese film I watched in the previous list Late Spring, was so beautiful. But who knows, a real surprise of 2018’s list was MFritz-Lang’s 1931 film about the hunt for a serial child killer. . .