Monthly Archives: July 2010

  • I Hired A Contract Killer – Aki Kaurismaki (Finland/Uk 1990)

    I Hired a Contract Killer Aki Kaurismaki (Finland/UK 1990) Jean-Pierre Leaud; Margi Clarke

    Viewed: 15 July 2010 Star and Shadow Cinema; ticket price £4

    retrocrit: sound as essence

    Aki Kaurismaki (AK) understands music as a portal into other dimensions. I think that his work as a film maker consistently testifies to his ability to use the music as a track that creates mood and state of mind independently of the picture. This is particularly the case with I hired a Contract Killer. Without its use of music I Hired a Contract Killer (IHCK) would be a film that was rather less than the sum of its parts.

    The parts are in themselves finely tuned in a sense of being fluid stylistic statements in relation to film composition. AK’s London is a decontextualised zone comprising any-space-whatevers, inhabited by a supporting caste of geezers and wizzened old gits. The main characters are affectively cool and non emotively engaged in the material which AK has fashioned for cognitive clarity rather than manipulation. The characters lines comprise a series of distancing alienated offbeat observations. The statements by protagonists Boulanger and Margaret are pared back, announiatory, declamatory: statements about situation rather than discourse. As in Film Noir and Godard’s takes on film noir, the dialogue is grounded in bleak sociopathic humour and the absurd, and the action follows filmic logic rather than narrative rules.

    AK’s characters in IHCK work within a set of frames both interior and exterior in which colour provides the affective key note. The city, as it is shot and framed, and the interiors, lobbies rooms bars nondescript entrances and exits, all have an ochre key note. The film look is dominated by the muted colours of autumn, the keynotes of a melancholia that pervades the film and is complimented by AK’s placement of his camera. The ‘still’ shot dominates the film, trapping the audience and the characters in the atmospherics of the sparse mis-en-scenes, giving them and their ochre colorisation, an inescapable dynamic presence in the structure of the movie.

    The problem with IHCK is that it feels like a series of TV sketches, skilfully stitched together. The film seems to be structured as a sequence of discrete scenes. These sequences can almost stand alone each comprising a thesis and an antithesis, an event that is developed within its own logic to its pay-off. The jewellery store robbery is a case in point. Boulanger interrupts the robbery and after a series of gags, ends up the prime suspect. There is a sort of self contained element in this episodic structure which recalls TV comedies such as the Young Ones and Monty Python that perhaps AK viewed at a impressionable time in his life. With the film viewed as a series of linked events a feeling of repetition intrudes and the logic becomes mechanical, each section of IHCK like a contrived device to move the film on until it comes to the point AK decides is the last device and the movie ends. Yet the music and the way it is used by AK changes the dynamic; without the music it is difficult to see what AK is trying to achieve.

    The music changes everything. From the first sounds of Billie Holliday through to the series of songs by Joe Strummer and the blues numbers, I understood that this is a film about loneliness. About the experience of being inescapably alone in the world; about the world being an inescapably lonely place. Billie’s voice, in Time on My Hands exudes the note of personal desolation, a tone that is sustained by Joe Strummer’s plaintive performing of his songs culminating in the number he performs to camera in the pub. His performance here is an extraordinary intensifer of mood: a lament for all that is lost . The only logic for the incorporation of the whole song into the sequence is as an statement of the films emotional colour, blue, and of its alienated existential philosophy.

    Without the music, the ideas supporting IHCK are at risk of being flooded out by the mechaninics of film making however fluid they may be. It was this route that Godard, as thinker auteur, determined never to travel. With his sensitive use of music IHCK is a film that travels. But it it is a problem for AK, as evidenced in his next movie “ La Vie de Boheme.” in which he tries to pull of the same trick with a cod rendering of La Boheme. With this film AK ends up with a less convincing pot pourri of mechanical scquences, showing that to be a film maker is not enough. It’s about ideas. Adrin Neatrour

  • I Am Love Luca Guadagnino (2009 It Uk)

    I am Love Luca Guadagnino (2009 It UK) Tilda Swinton; Eduoardo Gabriellini

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle; 27 April 2010 Ticket price (for matinee) £4.50

    Junk food in a glossy package

    I am Love (IAL) reminded me of the sort of fashion shoot images you find in glossy women’s life style magazines. The model is photographed in front of a series of backgrounds: domestic, grunge, hi-tech industrial etc. The idea behind the shoot as in all advertising, is to associate the product with some quality represented in or by the setting. The model is in effect a superimposition, and the setting is an affective decontextualised alienated space, a backdrop, without linkage to its key expressive component, the figure in the foreground

    IAL takes the form of an installation featuring desirable life style choices. Luca Guadagnino’s (LG) camera tracks and pans continuously as a structural cinematic effect leading the viewer on a guided walk through his movie which features nouvelle cuisine, bourgeois domestic settings and idyllic natural phenomena. These elements are stitched together by a narrative that is that is less acted than mediated by a series of mannerisms and gestures, and which espouses the cause of cliché’d individual freedom as epitomised by sexual relations.

    Luca Guadagnino’s movie feels labouriously dated both in its concerns and in its expressive style.

    Emma is the wife of Tancredi an Milanese industrialist who rediscovers her Russian origins and her real name Kitiesh in the course of her ‘liberating’ affair with a friend of her son, Antonio who is a chef. Antonio’s occupation is a cue for LG to turn over meters of film in shooting his gloopy gastronomic creations. Why are we presented with so many long filmed sequences depicting food? I think that the reason has to be LG’S endemic insecurity with his material. As LG has nothing to say, everything in IAL, as in an advert, has to be literalised. As if by filling out the movie with streams of images that might or might not have symbolic connotation, he could compensate for lack of meaning in the material. When Emma reads a letter revealing her daughter is a lesbian, she is filmed reading it on the roof of Milan cathedral (she takes quite a number of shots to climb up) ; there is talk about industrial relations, the film cuts to the factory; there is talk of food, and it has to be shown as a close-up gloopy image.

    The problem with IAL is that there are no ideas in the movie. It’s just a stream of images that are supposed to represent something more than their presenting banality. It feels like LG has looked at Visconti and Rossellini and imagined that by imitating external aspects of their movies that he could emulate them. GL has failed to see that the externalities of these directors were held together by an inner core of strong concepts employed in the pursuit of purpose.

    The impoverishment of idea extends into the structure of the film. ‘Marked off’ fantasy sequences are used to illustrate Emma’s desires. Like a bad ‘60’s movie when LG cuts to Emma’s fantasy, LG goes for out of focus and soft visual effects. When LG wants to film something real and to communicate the feelings aroused he opts for the montage of signs, as when Antonio and Emma (Kitiesh) make love. This sequence is composed of big close up’s of the flesh of the lovers intercut with close up metaphoric suggestive shots from the natural order: flower stamens, insects, thistles, ants etc. Like the shot of the train entering the tunnel this sequence is no more than a parody representing physical love, and announces LG’s cinematic bankruptcy.

    When Antonio fucks Emma (Kitiesh) what he wants really is her secret Russian recipe for clear fish soup which Kitiesh was taught by her grandmother. Is that an idea or a narrative device? If Kitiesh hadn’t made love to Antonio she would never have given him her recipe and so her son Eduardo would not have died and she would not have been liberated and gone to sleep in a cave.

    The filmic composition through the camera work looks like it is based on the old adman’s adage of: keep the picture moving. In LG’s tracking shots and in the innumerable camera pans, there is little to no purpose in relation to the dynamics of the film. The motive for the camera movement seems to be the director’s fear of allowing stillness to be part of the frame. The audience may get bored. The panning shots in themselves are often slow and devoid of point, to such an extent that many have been aborted in mid movement. in the edit. You can imagine the scene in the editing suite as the editor watches yet another laborious pan meander its way through a setting in order to set up a sequence; the editor politely points out to LG that it might be better to cut out of it and get into the action. adrin neatrour


  • The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Luis Bunuel ( 1972 Fr )

    The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Luis Bunuel ( 1972 Fr ) Fernando Rey; Delphine Seyrig, Bulle Ogier

    Viewed 24 JUNE 2010, Star and Shadow Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne:

    Ticket price £4.00

    retro crit: From inside the mind…

    Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie (DCB) isn’t top of my list of the films by Luis Bunuel(LB). But it’s outstanding as an expressive medium that reveals to the viewer the immanent world of LB. Through DCB in both its form and its content, LB is experienced as a personal film maker. The material with which he works is his: there is nothing extraneous. LB as a writer/director is not selling anything. What he is doing is opening up to the audience his state of mind his way of seeing his obsessions. LB approaches film making as an act of faith, in which he uncovers and peels back the layers of his thinking and perception. Without apology or self censorship within the course of a shot or short sequence, he juxtaposes ideas and interposes values from divergent sources and remote ends of the cognitive spectrum: from the heightened to the venal, from the ‘awake’ to the ‘dream’ from the chaste to the erotic, from the cerebral to the visceral, from the tender to the cruel. In the mind of LB ‘life’ whether it be personal or collective is in constant tensile vacillation between these forces. But the working out of these relations is a moral issue the which underpins LB’s work both with DCB and with most of his other movies.

    In the key recurring sequence of DCB, we see the bourgeois group walking purposefully down a long straight flat road that leads between fields. Normally we only see them move if they are in their limos. But in these shots they are walking: stripped of their normal outer shell. The group seem to come from nowhere and to be going nowhere. There is nothing in their manner or gait to suggest anything other than that they have complete self assurance in their journey or destiny. Within the logic of DCB they may be someone’s dream; they may be playing out a statement of their complete belief in the efficacy of appearances which is central to both the self image of the bourgeois and their claims upon the world; they may be looking for their automobiles. Who knows? But each return to these walking Bourgeois is an opportunity to wonder what is going on in LB’s mind: what’s he pointing to…? We’ll never know for sure.

    DCB like the best of LB’s films is a sort of filmic mortification, a flaying of the skin in order to reveal what lies underneath. The veins and nerves under the dermis: society as a cadaver écorché. Underneath the veneer of exquisite manners, of apparent goodness, savoir vivre, fine apartments and beautiful accoutrements lies the corruption of drugs and gangster money; scourge the façade of religion to reveal that the real concern of this organisation is not with the souls of the poor but rather with the wallets of the powerful rich and cruel whose corrupt money buys the endowments. In DCB, in a brilliant coup, the Bishop of the diocese applies for and is granted, the position of gardener to the drug baron. What is at work beneath the surface is the fear of the Bourgeoisie: their fear of losing their money. Everything follows from this one simple observation.

    It is the genius of Bunuel’s thought in film, that he can never be caste simply as a social satirist. Life is too complex to be formulaic. LB’s mind is claimed by kingdoms other than the social and DCB like other of his films enters the realms of the flesh the dream and the dead. These realms define the actual cognitive ground explored by LB. In DCB dreams radically break up the patina of the depicted ‘actual’ erupting as psychic forces, when least expected to smash open the controlling narrative. But the structure of DCB interweaving ‘actual’ ‘dream’ and ‘dream within dream’ calls in notions and ideas, the seeds planted by LB, that life itself, with its narratives of death, its smug rewarded killers, and its persecution of the innocent, may be a nightmare. That if life is what we make it then we have made of it a bad dream from which there is no escape, simply eternal recurrence.

    LB is a very cool director and DCB is a very cool movie. Cool in the sense that he does not invest his images with emotive significance, au contraire he is careful to empty the image of emotional resonance as image in itself. He does not use image to manipulate: his image is about meaning and it is to the meaning that we react as we may. He films situations and sequences so that they propagate a world of ideas in the imagination of audience. DCB is LB’s vehicle of mind transference: his mind, his players. The incomparable Rey Seyrig and Ogier glide through DCB as ectoplasmic emanations of an idea: perfect in form and in execution of their roles as rulers of the cesspit. DCB in its control economy and audacity is an act of intentionality by a master.

    Adrin Neatrour