The fantastic Brazilian film Aquarius is out on DVD/Blu-ray now…
Here’s my review over at FM and below…
Aquarius is a resolutely intelligent work detailing a whole lifetime of experience, passion and commitment to the things that matter most in life (not in any particular order): art, family, love and community.
Sonia Braga gives an intensely radiant performance as Clara, a 65-year-old retired music critic and widow born and raised into a well to do family in Recife, Brazil. While enjoying a comfortable life of leisure amongst friends and neighbours, it becomes apparent that a development group has its eyes on the home that has been an integral part of her life for so long – the original 1940’s building the Aquarius. All of her neighbours apartments have been rapidly bought up, leaving her as the only resident left. The unscrupulous modern developers – personified by the young graduate of an American business college Diego (Humberto Carrão) – are dead set on acquiring the whole building and will stoop to any means in order to do so. Clara soon realises she has a fight on her hands, and must incorporate her considerable powers of determination in order to see that a semblance of justice prevails.
As a detailed pinpointing in miniature of many of the demands facing communities across the world, regardless of class, nationality or background, on a social level Aquarius provides an assortment of talking points. Most obviously is the modern fact of neighbourhoods and areas becoming redeveloped creating tensions amongst neighbours and families, often coupled with greed, opportunism or both. The film constantly portrays this threat and the paranoia inducing tension it has on Clara in a creepy ways. This psychological thriller aspect of slamming doors, mysterious noises from upstairs and strangers or workmen encroaching on the privacy of home all leave their mark. Clara has to display a steely toughness in order to stay put and the film is great at chronicling her trials and tribulations while displaying the daily activity of her interactions with family and neighbours. This plus a healthy sexual appetite only strengthen Clara’s formidable realness and humanity.
The passionate encounters – in Clara’s case one very successful and one not-so – serve as a reminder of her aunt Lucia (who we meet in the first chapter set in 1980) who linked a dresser piece of furniture with intense and memorable love-making. Part of the success of Aquarius as a film is this ability to traverse different times through memory and feeling. It is a singularly powerful and poetic film, and has quite rightly already won itself top plaudits in the minds of anyone interested in place, memory and identity.
Pablo Larrain’s Neruda is out on home release now.
Here’s what I thought over at Flickering Myth and below…
Taking the conflict between poet and political senator Pablo Neruda and the anti-communist Chilean government as its background, this latest from Pablo Larrain (No, The Club, Jackie) plays out like a metaphysical chase movie, with the rich imagination of the writer being harnessed as a creative suit of armour to protect him and his interests.
During political congress in 1948, Senator Neruda (Luis Gnecco) accuses President González Videla’s (Alfredo Castro) government of betraying the Communist Party and is then impeached and a warrant put out for his arrest. Police Prefect Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) is assigned to arrest the poet. Fearing for his safety, Neruda tries to leave Chile with his artist wife Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán) but they are turned back and forced into hiding. This new life of refuge and uncertainty inspires the poet to create new work new myths and new legends.
While the setting and mood of the piece is beautifully represented and there is genuine tension built up with Peluchonneau’s determination to ‘win’ his arrest, the film as a whole is starkly unconventional and all the better for it. Without giving away too many details, the story is partly based on Neruda’s private imaginings, and how much is fact or fiction becomes increasingly unimportant. What is necessary is the power of belief, memory and poetry itself, to build up a workable formation of reality. So, we have a deconstructed – and then re-constructed – biopic.
the end is the start
the start is the end
this is a straight line
but watch how it bends
an explosion of red and black
just outside my window
i do not know if i am looking
the end is the start
the start is the end
this is a straight line
but watch how it bends
Review of Holocaust Survivor doc is at Flickering Myth and below…
An in-depth and personal look at one of the bleakest points in history, Claire Ferguson’s Destination Unknown surveys the human stories at the heart of the events of the holocaust.
Skillfully inter-playing the stories of 12 survivors with archival footage from during wartime, the film allows an insight into the memories, passion and courage of these individuals. The film documents their various routes to escape the confusion and systematic evil of Nazi work camps such as Kraków-Płaszow, Mauthausen and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Amongst those interviewed by producer Llion Roberts is Mietek Pemper, who helped Oskar Schindler compile the famous List and save thousands of people. Also featured is a survivor’s tale of meeting the fearful Amon Göth, the sadistic commandant of Kraków-Płaszów.
The struggles to survive did not simply end with the closing of the war. One of the things that the film does so well is highlight the tragic psychological damage that was done to these people, and the pain that does not simply go away after escape, survival or victory. Indeed in the case of Ed Mosberg, who gives lectures dressed in prison uniform, the past and pain of it does not seem to have dissipated very much at all. There is the sense that there is some power in keeping it where you can still see it.
The post-liberation period of the war is dealt with in some detail. The sheer chaos of Europe trying to come to terms with itself in the fallout of the war is given personality and intensity through these people’s stories. Mostly all in their eighties and nineties, the film lets them speak and does so with clarity and vision. A wonderful feature of the film is the energy given off by these survivors. When they have been through so much, it is amazing that they can still laugh and smile and dance. Yet, as evidenced through home video footage and photographs some can and do. And that tells us so much about human strength and resistance.
Destination Unknown is a powerful film and, ultimately, a profoundly moving one.
My review of the excellent Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith is over at Flickering Myth now… also below…
A meditative and blissfully soothing piece of art cinema, Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F Percy Smith is a 55 minute tribute to the work of the pioneering microbiologist, inventor, artist and filmmaker. Released on dual format DVD and Blu-ray by the BFI, the release is essentially a Staples’s creatively selected montage of Smith’s defined and elegant films of flora and fauna. Making use of previously untested techniques of time-lapse, animation and micro-photographic elements, Smith was part artist and part scientist, constantly looking for new ways to describe the secrets of nature.
With the true commitment of a hobbyist (Smith initially developed his film techniques part-time while working as a clerk), Smith found brilliant methods of showcasing the world just beyond our senses. The film, sharing that clarity and vision, beautifully brings about the energy and passion of his work. Graceful images of insects dancing and flying about alien seeming landscapes are wonderfully sound-tracked by the composers, and help to create a powerfully relaxing effect. This alien-ness is intensified by the fact that there are no human voices at all in the film and no narrative to bring context to what the audience is witnessing. Simply put, it is life. And as alien and dreamlike as it all is, there is always the knowledge that all of this is around us all off the time. Mesmerising stuff.
Eight short films from the Secrets of Nature series, made by both F. Percy Smith and his fellow filmmaker Mary Field.
Find more information on Minute Bodies at www.minutebodies.com
Working on ideas
New ways to clear out the cistern
Transform the system
Filter out the noise
From outside speakers
Bent double-time in scriptures
A pointless so-ill-oquy
That tarnishes the hi-fi
And chucks blue dirt in blind eyes
This journey needs a new compass
Because we need to see
North from South
Up from Down
Right from Left and Right from Wrong
All wrong and no mistaking
No more cries or bellyaching
Things cannot remain the same
Things cannot continue as they are
Full Review of The Shepherd over at Flickering Myth
The Shepherd, is a powerful film about the struggles to keep one’s identity and way of life intact in the face of global economics and modernisation. As architectural developments and housing project take up more and more space and land, it is a story that will only become more pertinent as time goes by. The transformation of the story into a darkly beautiful film featuring a rugged anti-hero who asks for nothing in return that nothing is asked of him is a great and memorable achievement.
After the Storm, Hirokazu Koreeda’s (Still Walking, Our Little Sister) latest work of social realist drama beautifully captures the insecurities and doubtfulness of middle age angst. Laced with a darkly wry humour, the film is full of universal observations about ageing, family relations and finding a way in the world. The film is funny, touching and humanistic. Profound in its look at the passing of time and life, the work manages to display a confident and philosophical treatment of hopes, desires and family.
The film follows Shinoda Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), a prize-winning author in his younger days, who while reminiscing on his past glory lives an unsteady life as a gambler and a private eye. Barely able to pay his ex-wife Kyoko (Yôko Maki) child support money for his only son Shingo, Ryota leads a troubled existence bullet-pointed by various scams and dodgy plans. At various times, stressed out and belligerent or humble and resigned, the character is nevertheless likeable and his pained expressions and aggrieved outlook at life’s treatment provide plenty of bitter-sweet humour to what is a poetically honest and refreshingly produced story.
Much of the humour also comes from Ryota’s mother Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki), someone who sees life as an opportunity for acerbic one-liners and darkly funny observations about modern life. While always remaining tough and philosophical about her own solitary (since her husband passed) life, she still values the company of her son and holds out hope that he and his former wife will someday reunite. From the outset this looks unlikely, with Ryota and his mother symbolising the past, and the hard-working career driven Kyoko the present and Shingo the future. Whether these different strands of time and thinking can link up again is part of the film’s success. A beautifully written piece and further evidence of Koreeda’s ability to get to the very heart of human nature.
My review of Spaceship is over at FM now.
Aiming to bring a sense of the intensity of feeling associated with adolescence, Spaceship is an ambitious attempt at illustrating the spirit and psychology of growing up. Using every single colour in the make-up box, it’s partly successful in showcasing teen-age confusion and wonderment, but ultimately disappoints with a mish-mash of styles and an insubstantial and wayward plot.
Essentially the story of Lucidia (Alexa Davies), a teen who dissapears in pursuit of aliens and unicorns, and her friends and grief stricken father Gabriel(Antti Reini) who try to find her, Spaceship works best when describing the seemingly insurmountable gap between adulthood and childhood. It does this in an even handed way, and it is one of the film’s strengths that it doesn’t resort to lazy cliches in its examination of youth sub-cultures and lifestyles. The numerous tics and obsessions of the youth on show are not mocked or laughed at, merely presented as part of the nature of things.
Indeed, Alex Taylor’s debut feature certainly looks the part, with hazy shots of halcyon views emphasising the film’s essential dreaminess. The young actors, along with Lucidia’s main two friends Alice (Tallulah Rose Haddon) and Tegan (Lara Peake), are an integral part of the film’s visual focus, with a day-glo hyper stylised ‘cyber-goth’ dress sense informing the whole construction of the piece in every sense.
Unfortunately, this examination of ‘cyber-goth’ doesn’t seem to have carried over into the soundtrack, a confused melange of indie folk-rock and bargain bin electronica. Still, the visuals are remarkably effective and authentically weird and psychedelic at times, admitting the audience – and Gabriel – into a strange world of circus acts, hallucinations and wonder.
The innocence of youth is well highlighted, with the group of teens seemingly more interested in philosophising and day dreaming rather than in drugs and sex . This heightens the fairy tale nature of the film, bringing out its fantasy play and make-believe. This certainly isn’t a home-counties Kidulthood.
There are also some nice examples of dry humour, with the tale of the forgotten soldier at Aldershot barracks who wants to set up a rave one that could have been expanded on. The main story itself seems to have been left unattended after the first few drafts and the dialogue would have benefited from further edits. In all then, something of a mixed bag. Strange and interesting, but with less to say than it initially thought it did, Spaceship is nevertheless worth a look and Taylor is a name to look out for in the future.