Monthly Archives: April 2013

  • A Taste of Cherry Abbas Kiarostami (Iran 1997)

    A Taste of Cherry Abbas Kiarostami (Iran 1997) Homayoun

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle
    4 April 2013 Ticket: £5

    retrocrit: all is revealed (perhaps)

    In his direction of A Taste of Cherry,
    Abbas Kiarostami (AK) is like one of those magicians who put on a
    great show of revealing to an audience the method by which they
    accomplish their tricks, and then undermine the explanation by
    pulling off the trick in contradiction to principles of the
    explanation. A switch in framing that deepens the appreciation of
    the audience.

    In AK’s Taste of Cherry there are also
    two frames at work. They mark out the two different perspectives that
    AK has incorporated into the movie. In a Taste of Cherry the subject
    matter, suicide, is presented within two contrasting frames of
    reference which point to the different formal issues brought into
    play. There is the conventional film frame which in itself sustains
    the narrative with its convention of the privileged camera; and there
    is the meta framing device that shows the camera and the crew,
    revealing the film as a certain kind of product. The one frame
    develops the fiction of the narrative whilst the ensuing frame strips
    away this artifice and focuses attention on the construct.

    The frame of filmmaking is revealed in
    the final sequence of the film when we are shown the film crew at
    work collecting the last pieces of material needed to finish TC.
    This final framing points to the fact that TC was not intended to be
    taken for anything ‘real’ in itself; it was never conceived as a pure
    replication. The issues embedded in the story are real issues, the
    way in which they are presented is real, but the narrational
    presentation of them was always intended to be understood as a
    construct. Perhaps in much the same way that a Platonic dialogue is
    a construct; a transparently artificial device intended as a vehicle
    for ideas, acted out by a set of characters, who follow a preordained

    As Plato set up his dramatis personae
    in such a way that we understand that what is happening is a benign
    fabrication for our entertainment and instruction, so AK exploits the
    potential of film to first mask the perspective of the camera, in
    order in the end, to dramatically reveal its meta presence. So that
    we understand that what we have have been viewing and absorbing, as
    ‘real’, or rather a product designed to replicate the expressive
    indicators of ‘real’, is in fact a simple mechanical product of
    intentionality. Virtual not real. Most narrative film is of course
    simply an expressive function of intentionality: a means of giving
    form to mental representations. It takes an AK or a Godard to
    exploit the possibilities of this truism, and reveal it in an
    entertaining enlightening manner whilst remaining true to film as a
    state of mind rather than as a didactic lesson.

    In TC, the final shots comprise a
    philosophical coup de film, a moment of pure re-evaluation. The
    exposure of the film crew at work compels the viewer to drop from
    their eyes the scales of any emotional purchase on the story, to drop
    any illusion that there can be a real outcome or playing out of the
    vectors of the narrative, and to understand the material and the
    issues therein, as pure proposition. Like the magicians final act,
    it is a joke, but a good one, that jolts us into consciousness.

    The issues which provoked AK’s script
    revolve about the idea of suicide and the sorts of claims this manner
    of death makes upon intimacy. The idea of intimacy, fear of
    intimacy, lies at the heart of the film. In the opening sequence we
    see Mr Badii, (B) drive around looking for a man to help him . B
    drives the car as if he were some predatory beast. B looks for his
    man with the kind of intense desperation that characterises a man
    looking for sex. B has that mixture of concealed desire and anxiety
    that perhaps AK has observed in homosexual men cruising for sex, a
    dangerous undertaking in a country where some 4000 homosexuals have
    been executed since the revolution. B, furtive and anxious is not
    looking for sex. He is looking for a man to partner him in a more
    intimate entanglement: to help B to die.

    Reflection: AK will certainly know the
    phrase, le petit mort, often used to describe post coital sadness.
    It is possible that consideration of the analogous intimacy of sex to
    death, underlies TC. Overall I think that it would be doing scant
    justice to AK as a thinker and filmmaker to reduce TC to such narrow
    band of meaning. The filmic use of the car, B’s proposition of
    suicide and the responses of the others engaged in the discourses
    all point to a imperative in the film to use its devices to say
    something about the human condition. The fact that suicide
    illustrates both loneliness and need for intimacy.

    And at the crux of the human condition
    lies death through suicide. Perhaps in the human domaine it is the
    last repository of meaningful dialogue. Sex, education, work have
    all become subjects of mechanical discourses, often determined by the
    shibboleths of social political or ideological beliefs. Suicide,
    eludes the semantic clutches of the times and the easy passage of
    formulaic responses. It remains a proposition for humans about which
    there is a moral dilemma. At the heart of the proposition of
    suicide lies the question as to why we should continue to live when
    we feel overwhelmed; when life has become intolerable. What is
    life? AK in his poetic realism sets the mulberry tree against the
    cherry tree. The sweet opposes the bitter.

    In its narrative opposition AK employs
    the voice of one who has overcome the impulse to kill himself against
    the voice of one on the cusp of fateful decision. The taxidermist
    has come through a self destructive state of mind consequent to
    personal disaster, and survived with a deeper insight not only into
    life as a decision, but into death as a decision. This individual
    although in his being opposing the stated intention of B to kill
    himself in the hole by the cherry tree, understands his need for some
    one with whom to share an intimacy and accepts B’s invitation to play
    a part in his death. The dialogue between the two men itself wavers
    between life and death, the spirit and body. Poised on the delicate
    balance of frail human judgement the outcome is perhaps
    philosophically irresolvable and so resolved in the structure of the
    film itself. But it is the intimacy of the dialogue that compels,
    revealing an essential loneliness in human experience. It was this
    equation of suicide and intimacy that frightened and warned off the
    other men whom B approached in the first sequences of TC. In our
    modernity the pretext of self destruction can open us up. Like B we
    spend all our time going through the motions of being alive, the big
    car the expensive tastes and clothes, only for all this to be a
    pretext for our decision to die.

    The way in which C is shot from first
    to last is to use the actual filming as a layer of meaning built into
    the film. AK transposes in the filming of TC his concerns and their
    conceptualisation into the style and form of the shooting script.

    AK loves cars. There can be no doubt.
    And part of his love of cars expresses itself in the way for which
    they have come to represent us and to define our way of life.
    Incessant movement and agitation. The transversing of space the
    contraction of time: and suicide is the ultimate contraction of time.
    And nearly all the film is shot on the move. The opening shots of TC
    are all tracking shots from the car. The haunted peering of B out of
    the window; always moving on; and despite his searching, barely able
    to stop, because stopping is not in the nature of the car. As if
    when you stop you are dead; when you stop moving you cease to exist.
    When B stops there is only the grave under the cherry tree.
    Filmmaking crafted out of the enduring and powerful states of mind
    associated with car culture. In TC, AK builds this car culture of
    infinite unlimited movement into the idea of the search for the
    assured stillness that is death.

    Movement and stillness. as if death
    were the only way out for us. The long shots of B driving his car
    down the myriad meandering roads that lead about the countryside and
    hills outside the city provoke thoughts of the nature of life itself
    as a twisting road. And again the only manner in which the car is
    stopped is the lure of intimacy or the lure of death, which in TC
    have been subsumed within each other: a transcendence finally
    revealed by the film crew which marks the end of the film.

    Adrin Neatrour

  • At five in the afternoon Samira Makmalbaf (2003 Iran.Fr)

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    At five in the afternoon Samira
    Makmalbaf (2003 Iran.Fr) Agheleh Rezaie; Abdolgani Yousefrazi

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 4 April
    2013 Ticket price: £5

    shoes seen in a mirror

    The phrase,
    At five in the afternoon (5AN), the recitation of which, spoken over
    a desolate and empty landscape, opens the film, is taken from the
    Lorca poem with the same title. The Lorca poem is a lament for the
    goring to death in 1934 in the bull ring, of his friend, the matador
    Ignacio Sánchez Mejías. Samira Makmalbaf’s (SM)
    film is also a lament for the loss of something vital in the world,
    the independent spirit of the female. Perhaps 5AM also has a
    resonance, in that the harsh exposed public elements of Afghan
    society have characteristics that make it similar to the bull ring.
    Afghanistan as a place where those who expose themselves to the five
    o’clock light of the public arena and its judgement, are gored to

    Enfolded into the 5AN is the
    journey towards the lament. A lament for life suffocated and for the
    type of death that awaits independent spirit, in particular but not
    exclusively the female, in a society that has been twisted by brutal
    external forces, and taken blind refuge in tradition. But although
    5AN, has a pessimistic ending with the death of Laylomah’s child and
    the deeper exile of Nograh into the Taliban heartlands, the film is
    remarkable and sustained by its affirmation of spirit. I think SM
    avoids the simplistic crass iteration of despair;
    SM has produced a true lament that whilst marking the point of
    death, affirms the forces that are life bestowing. The flesh may die;
    spirit is a flame that can always be rekindled. The lament it seems
    to me is always about humans as worlds, humans as a totality in
    themselves of a world, that always has the possibility of reaching
    out and interpenetrating and affecting contiguous beings. Body and

    And this is the strength of
    SM’s film. Though life may now, in 2013, for Afghan women and men be
    lived out in the enveloping shadow of reactive fundamentalism, the
    shibboleths of Mullahs: – God knows all
    we do – women refrain from dancing. These dour
    incantations cannot extinguish the actuality that the
    expression of joy and the gift of personal voice are in themselves
    the flame of life.

    5AN establishes that it is,
    the within, that nurtures spirit. Oppressors whether religious or
    political have always attempted to suppress ‘within space’. In 5AM
    the girls/ young women, sit with their veils off in the courtyard of
    the girls school. Without veil they are alive and vital as they
    discuss the Taliban and its repression of women, and then discuss the
    idea of the possibility of a woman becoming the president of
    Afghanistan. The vitality of this debate is electrifying and

    These young women, in a film
    made in 2002 ( released 2003), the first year of the American (UN/
    IFOR) invasion after 14 years of Taliban rule, have come to life like
    seeds in the desert after rain. There is evidenced a collective
    female courage that simply has lain low until conditions changed.
    The debate is innocent and naive but passionate. It affirms
    something precious in life that always endures. Even the later death
    of one of the most outspoken young women in a suicide bombing, and
    the foreseen deterioration of security, cannot lessen the intensity
    of feeling expressed and the certainty that these feelings and
    insights can never be totally crushed.

    Today we see the
    courage of Malala Yousafzai from
    the tribal lands in Pakistan and we recognise in her the young women
    in this film

    In 5AN, SM finds a visual
    complement to her script in way she uses images of women in
    Afghanistan. These images of women in burqas destroy the cliches
    that we normally accept as signifying women in Afghan culture. The
    shots of the young women moving en masse in their blue burqas take on
    a different meaning because we have seen this visual collective of
    burqas represent themselves effectively as individuals: we have heard
    their voices. We now know they have voice. The usual shots in both
    photographs and in film of women in full burqa huddled in groups,
    normally signify to the Western gaze a passivity of being, a lacking
    of individual will. SM confronts and demolishes the cliche by giving
    the viewer access to the simple fact that behind the image of a group
    of women traditionally attired, there are as many individual voices.
    Voices denied but nevertheless actual. This outer aspect of
    uniformity is only an appearance behind which lies that which is to
    be revealed.

    The protagonist, Nograh gives
    the film its psychic movement. It again seems that SM has not wanted
    to produce a sort of Afghan Mouchette or Rosetta. In some senses
    both these films close down their female protagonists and allow them
    little inner or outer space to do other than to slide down into
    death. Nograh has multiple dimensions
    through which her being is defined. Nograh locked into an actual
    world. creates worlds, other spaces for her existence outside of the
    fundamentalist cage that her father has put her in. Nograh
    externally complies with the strictures of her father; and in SM’s
    scenario there is no implied criticism of the father. He is severe;
    perhaps his freedom and groundedness consist in his strict
    observance. He has no ability to see any other choice for his
    daughter other than to impose on her his own beliefs. Outwardly
    Nograh obeys, each act of obeisance closing down
    her outer world. But within there is another story. The debate in
    the school captures her imagination and transforms her internal
    world. The idea of a woman becoming president of Afghanistan, like
    Bhutto in Pakistan, infiltrates her consciousness feeding her
    imagination. Her excitement communicates itself to the young poet
    who is enchanted by her vision and encourages the expression of the
    fantasy. The idea becomes part of her meaningful world of

    The leitmotif running
    through the film is the pair of white heeled shoes secreted by Nograh
    (N). This is the second time in a couple of weeks where I have seen
    women’s shoes have featured as a significant force in a movie.
    Park’s Stoker uses the cathectic charge of heeled shoes as part of
    his movie’s signage, as a symbol. In the case of Stoker the high heel
    shoes act as a fetish for an erotically charged rite de passage from
    adolescence to womanhood. In Stoker. The high heeled shoes are used
    as a laboriously fostered symbolic cliche for sexual potency and
    freedom, a movement from infantalised incest to sexual independence.
    In 5AN I think it is otherwise. SM uses the modest pair of white
    heeled shoes that Nograh has somehow acquired not as a symbol but
    rather as a practical tool; a means by which N may pass from one
    world through into another. The shoes have a fairy tale quality. The
    shoes are secret shoes, secreted shoes, power shoes. Slipped onto her
    feet they are in themselves the entry into another world.

    N’s shoes, above all for
    her are a form of practical magic. They transform reality. They are
    not a statement. They are not a symbol. They enable her to move.

    5Am was cogently and
    powerfully shot amidst the ruins of Afghanistan. SM films a country
    that has been smashed up and is overwhelmed by internal migration of
    refugees. It is collapsing into chaos; perhaps the only order is
    religion. But 5AM seeks out in its scenario the visual
    possibilities of the ruins. N’s father fleeing from what he sees as
    profane chaos, finds shelter in the ruins of a old colonnaded palace,
    with huge high ceilinged rooms. A vastness and emptiness define this
    structure in opposition to the density and fullness of the cities.
    And, there is one shot of N, in her white heeled shoes as she walks
    on the flagstones between the monumental colonnade, taking possession
    of the space in her billowing blue burqa. It is a moment of magic.
    As N walks she becomes a queen or the president of Afghanistan, alone
    in this palace. The walk is an unforgettable act of personal power.
    Her power; a woman’s power.

    Although cruelly and
    honestly pessimistic in its tone and in the final destination of N,
    stranded in desolation and emptiness and death, with her father, 5AM
    does not leave a psychic legacy of hopelessness. The characters are
    not, as in so many movies, mere mechanical puppets attached to the
    working out of script. 5AN is set and shot in a real world in the
    rawness of Afghan society. A society molded by the terrible forces
    released by invasion and war. But the characters have dignity of
    their own worlds, both father and daughter and it is this inner
    dignity that carries them and carries us through the movie without

    Adrin Neatrour

  • The Paperboy Lee Daniels (UK 2013)

    P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; } The Paperboy Lee Daniels (UK 2013) Matthew McConaughey; Nicole Kidman; John Cusack; Zak Efron Viewed Tyneside Cinema 25 March 2013; ticket price £8.00 Ending up in the swamp The writers who have chronicled the dirty corrupt core of schizo USA, Robert Thompson, James Cain, Raymond Chandler, James Elroy have all usually written from the first person perspective. What they knew was that this perspective enabled them to express the state of mind of their protagonists. And the key to their writing is how events unfold within this state of mind. Writing from the first person allows expressive penetration in understanding the situations and events that comprise a story. The committed narrator gives the story a psychic framework through which actions and purposes can be grounded in a social and cultural but individuated matrix. When the first person device works, the reader/viewer is drawn into a particular subjective world governed by particular psychological rules. Lee Daniel’s (LD) The Paperboy (PB) which he co-wrote with the author (Peter Dexter) of the novel, does not use a first person narrative. The device used to set up and tell PB’s story, is a retrospective interview, the recalled memory of the black housemaid to the family at the time of the events. Aside from fitting up the film; which is set in the 60’s, with its retro political correctness, the device is purely mechanical. It’s a non-perspective in the critical sense of mediating understanding. The maid’s telling works as an aide-narrative to trigger and prompt the situations that engage the doings of the main characters: Charlotte Jack, Ward and Hilary. This interview device fails to deepen engagement with the material; it does not open the movie out into the possibility of entering into an immanent world. The only world engendered is a world of backgrounds, a world as a series of possible suggestions against which the action is construed. And yet PB like the works of the American noir writers is set in an unbounded world. PB is set in a particular place, Florida, at a particular time, the 1960’s, and proposes a particular set of situations: an investigation of the possible wrongful incarceration of a man for murder and the effect on this situation of his would be gaol-bird bride. These situations are mediated through human agencies (newspapers, law enforcement agencies,social agencies) which link the characters fatefully to the wider world. Unlike for instance the works of Tennessee Williams which are tightly bound into the psychic realities of the settings and the characters, and in which all development takes place within these boundaries. American noir style works to construct an individual take on the complex of relations with social agencies, so that they are absorbed by the reader/viewer as a subjectivity. Without a first person to suggest a world and to open up the story and to place it in a particular psychic state, LD is left with manipulations of other variables in attempting to establish the authenticity of his material. Failure to establish some claim on authenticity in PB’s story, condemns its actors, whatever qualities they bring to the scenario, to the role of puppets, cardboard cut out figures of the type that regale us in the adverts before the movie. All show no depth. On viewing PB it seems as if LD has targeted the settings the locations and the sound track as affective attributes to gain some traction on the attention of the viewers; attributes that are fashioned to lay some claim to signifying a reality, an authenticity against which the actors can strut their stuff. But the backgrounds in PB have been fabricated for their authenticity as period settings in themselves; not for their effect in suggesting or creating a world. In PB, LD’s settings do not comprise psychic containers for his material. The locations or situations all look right, but they are no more than wallpaper, they bring nothing of substance to the film; they lack qualities in themselves that might bring a sense of foreboding or prescience to the film and envelope its narrative. The film ends in the swamps (perhaps figuritively in the swamp of filmmaking), but there is nothing in the film that leads us to this world of the swamp. It seems more like a tourist destination where we can go to experience an otherness of environment and weird people. The swamp is swamped out by the desultory narrative that leads us there for want of anywhere else to go, not through some psychic imperative of drowning or sinking or being sucked in. The purpose of the swamp in PB is shown in the final shot of the film. The swamp is not a state of mind that pulls you down drowns you in its fetid reptilian waters, it is just a place from which to escape. This last shot sees Jack leave the swamp on the boat carrying out the murdered bodies of Charlotte and Ward. The camera pans from the narrow channel of the swamp water to the blueness of the ocean and its vast and boundless possibilities. And the voice over, which by this time has lost any credibility, informs us that, just like in the old fairy tales, it all works out ok for Jack: he ends up becoming a famous writer. Another lay of old Hollywood. It’s the familiar formula: trick out the film in a period (50’s 60’s 70’s – take your pick!) pay great attention to getting the ‘look’ right and then allow the script to play on the anachronistic gap between the period setting ( in this case ’60’s Florida) and today’s sensibilities. Finally fill out the sound track with lesser known unfamiliar but groovy records from the period. The purpose of the music is to fill out the psychological dimension absent from the scenario; and it is often more interesting than the image. (It used to require a certain specialist knowledge to track down these records but the use of the internet now makes it very easy: hence a number of films exploit this method of ‘filling out’ their material – Seven Psychopaths { another woeful Brit movie} also used this ploy) But the music in itself, in PB. is not employed with sufficient nous to add anything authentic to the film. It’s just a juke box in the pub stacked up with some old records. LD’s use of his tracks in PB, except for the bar scene, feels as if the music has been dumped on the soundtrack at opportunist moments with the aim of jigging up the audience’s attention a little. It is not planned or scored into PB’s sound track as part of the film ( or if it was in the scenario this might show how little the scenarist knows about film). Tarentino, Weir among others have understood how to use prerecorded records to affect. Otherwise it’s just background music. No affect. Just a trick. Lacking entry into a world mediated by a state of mind, the actors are forced to jump through LD’s ridiculous hoops to try and convince the audience of the credibility of their actions. The worse afflicted is Nicole Kidman (NK). A particular instance is the first visit to the prison by the ‘group’ in order to see Hilary. As the Charlotte character is no more than a series of gestural demands from both script and director, the visit is reduced to extracting just another gestural action from her; in this case the crude and unconvincing acting out of masturbation gesture at the demand of Hilary. Because there is no access to psychic reality both Cussack and NK are forced into a caricature of forbidden discomforting (perhaps) sexual desire. (This type of physical gesturing of fucking is repeated to equally uninteresting effect when we do see them at work later, when Hilary is released, engaging in penetrative sex). For all her gesturing, eyeballing and accent KB is little more than a coat hanger onto which to drape a number of costume changes and listen to a number of old records. Adrin Neatrour