A Film For September: Theorem

The postman skips across the lawn of a beautiful house in Milan waving his arms around and heralds the arrival of a visitor. The opening sepia tones become saturated with colour as the visitor, (Terence Stamp) moves in with the family and one by one becomes the object of their desires. In sexually liberating them he soothes their doubts and anxieties while exposing the angst, dissatisfaction and frustration that they feel within themselves and their lives and reveals the sexual tension and disquiet in the household.

Written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1968, Theorem uses a combination of fake newsreel interviews, realist drama showing familial tensions and something more fantastical and mythic to show the transformation of the family. It’s spiritual and sensual, physical and metaphysical, serious and jokey as each member of the family (which includes their maid) experiences some sort of revelation or epiphany.

But then as suddenly as he arrived it’s time for him to leave – can the family make sense of their lives without him or will they fall apart? Each of the characters’ reactions is explored individually and each is surprising and spectacular in its own way.

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A Film For August: The Watermelon Women

In 1993, Cheryl Dunye was an aspiring film maker when she found a gap in film history research – her own history as a black lesbian. So she turns her research into a film – as she says if no history exists you have to create your own.

Written, directed and edited by Cheryl Dunye in 1996, Dunye also plays the protagonist, a young film maker called Cheryl who works in a video store in Philadelphia. Cheryl is researching black actresses in films from the 1930’s and 40’s when she becomes enraptured with an actress in a little known film called ‘Plantation Memories’ where she is credited only as ‘the watermelon women’. But who is she? Cheryl starts to investigate.

On a shoestring budget, Dunye blends documentary style with a self-reflexive personal narrative that blurs the lines between reality and fiction while negotiating a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-sexual world in a way that I found gorgeously funny.

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A Film For July: Daisies

Daisies is a 1966 Czechoslovakian comedy-drama film written and directed by Věra Chytilová. Two young girls, both called Marie, sit in their bikinis like puppets and decide that as the whole world is spoiled and bad they will act as if they are bad too.

In their babydoll dresses, flower crowns and thick black eyeliner, Marie l (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie ll (Ivana Karbanová) look overtly ‘girly’ but as their youthful pranks play havoc on a world gone stale these two giggly girls are taking up space, being irreverent and wild and making a noise – breaking all the conventions of traditional femininity. Their anarchic spirit and rebellious appetite for food and adventure is captured in a surreal, kaleidoscopic swirl that is a crazy satire of bourgeois decadence.

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A Film For June: Velvet Goldmine

Where is Brian Slade, front man of glam rock band Venus in Furs? In 1974 he was a teen idol in Britain and together with his wife Mandy (Toni Colette) and American rocker Curt Wild and his band Wylde Ratttz created an outrageous storm. Until he disappears .

Ten years later, journalist Arthur Stuart (an adorable Christian Bale), is set the task of tracking him down. As his investigation progresses vignettes of the characters involved in his career are interwoven with Arthur’s own memories of being a fan, glam rock and youth culture in Britain in the ’70’s.

Written and directed by Todd Haynes in 1998, Velvet Goldmine is a carnival of costumes (Sandy Powell) and music. Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ewan McGregor are gaspingly, shockingly, sensational as Brian Slade and Curt Wild. But the wildness stops, often abruptly, when the memories are Arthur’s own. The dreary streets, getting on a bus, feeling an outsider as he remembers being a teenager and idolising Brian Slade, his sexually fluid, androgynous hero who gives him the strength to come out to his dismally repressed parents and leave them in their living room, with their backs to the wall. While I laughed and gasped at Slade and Wild, it was Arthur Stuart and his quest for excitement in the hum-drum, boring ’70’s that resonated with me!

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A Film For May: Don’t Look Now

John and Laura are in Venice a city they’ve visited before to try and escape the pain of their young daughters death. One lunchtime they become aware of a couple of elderly women watching them intently. They find out that one of the women has second sight and can see their daughter. As Laura becomes increasingly friendly with the sisters, John becomes increasingly worried.

When a telephone call comes through from their son’s school in England saying that he is ill, Laura takes the first flight to be with him leaving John to follow with the car the next day. But going along the Grand Canal he notices a vaporetto going back to Venice and on board are the elderly sisters and Laura.

He returns to Venice, but Laura is nowhere to be found and John finds himself getting caught up in a train of strange and violent events.

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A Film for April: Sweet Bean

Based on the novel Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa this 2015 film directed by Naomi Kawase is a slow and gentle story about three people on the margins of society bought together by cooking.

Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) is a middle aged man weighed down by his past. He runs a small bakery selling dorayaki to locals, getting up early to make the pancakes. An elderly lady, Tokue (Kirin Kiki), responds to his advertisement for help and after a while he grudgingly accepts her offer, while noticing her crippled hands. She is overjoyed at the prospect of working but horrified by the offensively large plastic bucket of wholesale bean paste he uses for the filling. Carefully she shows him how to make it himself, listening to the beans and watching, watching. Word soon gets around about the new dorayaki recipe and the shop becomes a destination. But when rumours spread that Tokue’s hands have been disfigured by leprosy, Sentaro has to let her go.

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A Film for March: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

At the end of the 18th century a countess (Valeria Golino) asks a young artist to paint a portrait of her daughter Héloïse, (Adèle Haenel), which is to be shown to a wealthy, prospective husband living in Milan.

When Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives at the remote island near Brittany she’s told that she needs to paint in secret, pretending that she’s come as a companion to Héloïse; to watch and study her closely as they spend their days together, and then paint at night. Written and directed by Céline Sciamma, this is a simple story about women’s friendship and the unfolding romance between the two main characters, told with pared back elegance.

When I think about this film the first thing I think of is the sound of it. There’s no background music, all the sounds are made by the characters. The sea and the waves breaking, the scratching of charcoal, a canvas being prepared, wooden shoes on floor boards and the hollow clunk of a door being shut. Héloïse has been in a convent and has never heard an orchestra play. The only music we hear, she hears too; tentatively produced by Marianne on a harpsichord and then joyfully by a chorus of women singing and clapping traditional Breton folk songs; until at the end, back in Paris, we hear and see a full orchestra together.

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A Film for February: Wings of Desire

I wonder if angels really do live among us? That’s the premise of this ethereal romantic fantasy directed by Wim Wenders and set in pre-unification Berlin. Henri Alekan famously filmed with an old silk stocking covering the lens to give a sepia tone to the black and white of the angels world.

The angels are pre -history and immortal, their role is to observe and record. They move around the city watching, listening and comparing notes, bringing comfort to those in distress. The pacing is languorous and meditative, picking up snatches of conversations and thoughts as if we’re listening to a radio being tuned, but the roving aerial and ground level shots show a desolate city bound by the wall. A hard edge that’s mirrored by the lyrical, poetic dialogue and the post punk Nick Cave music.

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A Film for January: Magnolia

January’s been a funny month. For the first time I couldn’t finish either my Classics Challenge read or this months film and I think in a way The Sound and the Fury and Magnolia have a lot in common. Both are multilayered with each characters story told in their own style as they interweave with each other. Usually I would say this is a style I enjoy, but not this time I’m afraid.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia has a large ensemble cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore and William H. Macy who create a mosaic of interrelated stories centred around their connection to Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) a big shot tv producer, who lies in bed about to die.

Julianne Moore plays his wife Linda raging with raw anger and Tom Cruise his estranged son Frank Mackey; a motivational speaker giving a series of sex advice seminars to single men entitled ‘Seduce and Destroy’. His evangelical strutting and posturing made me feel as offended as I was supposed to and gave his sinister line to a female journalist, ‘I’m quietly judging you’ a horribly chilling resonance.

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