Monthly Archives: April 2014

  • Calvary John McDonagh (2014 Uk Ire)

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    Calvary John McDonagh (2014 UK Ire)
    Brendan Glesson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 22 April 2014
    Ticket £8 20

    Forgive them father…

    Calvary opens with a quote from St
    Augustin about the fate of the two thieves crucified on Calvary on
    either side of Jesus: that no presumptions should be made about the
    fate of the first thief. A suggestion that inspired Sam Beckett’s
    Godot. It is also the basis for the proposition that underlies
    McDonagh’s film examining: the relations of hope to despair,
    innocence to guilt, salvation to damnation. And Calvary is a rare
    thing a film grounded in a proposition.

    The core of the film is its ‘Rock’,
    Brendan Glesson’s Father Lavelle, a good priest and a good enough
    imperfect man. The film’s moment pivots on his performance: his
    physicality his psychic integrity his energy. And Gleeson plays out
    the scripted function of his role, that of holding the film together
    as a theorem of cosmic relations, like one of the old heroes of Irish

    The proposition that McDonagh’s script
    puts to the audience is that an innocent has to die in order to
    balance the psychic scales of evil. Christ – suffer little
    children to come to me, died to save the sins of the world; Father
    Lavelle will die to save the sins of the Church that suffered little
    children to be buggered. An old story an innocent sacrificed in
    propitiation to the powers that that oversee the playing out of the
    life force. Calvary’s script, in its mapping of Lavelle’s
    psychological movement towards his execution, is in step with
    elemental religious and initiatory ideas about the path individuals
    take when confronted by forces endemic in the nature of the world.

    fear – questioning – rebelling –
    rejecting – chaos – understanding – acceptance – compassion –

    denial of self
    Steps of this kind were taken by
    Christ as he moved towards the cross. In terms of today’s lifestyle
    ideologies that stress ‘overcoming’ not acceptance, ‘self assertion’
    over acquiescence, they are less than fashionable. But it is the way
    that Lavelle chooses.

    But it is not just that the moment of
    Fr Lavelle that is unfashionable in an aspirational culture. The
    metaphysical connections that link his fate to the fate of his killer
    Brennan oppose Western rationalism. The purpose of a rational
    system of justice is to establish: that a crime has been committed,
    to find the offender and to punish them for their acts. These
    linkages are the crux of contemporary justice, the basis justifying
    law and punishment. Calvary invokes another order of Justice. Its
    explores another inner human urge: to tear open the curtain of reason
    and to find a more primal idea of justice. One for which Necessity
    not rationality, defines the nature and the form of Justice.
    Necessity as a quasi judicial formulation is of course derided (but
    of course often resorted to, in disguised fashion, by established
    judiciaries) but the derision betrays the fear of the friends of
    rationality that the forces that drive ‘necessity justice’ lurk at
    the edge of the shadows of our nature, ready to enter the light as
    soon as vigilance wavers.

    The metaphysical notion of necessity is
    well symbolised by the scales of justice. The idea that there is
    such a thing as cosmic balance. That such a balance can be put out
    of true by events or occurrences, and that humans as significant
    elements in the cosmos can play a central role in the realignment of
    the scales. Human sacrifice stands as one example of the logic of
    law of necessity. A victim is needed: a victim does not have to be
    the guilty party. Sometimes necessity prefers a virgin or an
    innocent representative to rebalance the scales; another victim to
    mediate the reharmonising of our psychic and physical state with the
    cosmos. A restoring agent.

    There are signs that not only in
    religious psychology but in our own basic responses that something of
    this response is hardwired into our brains.

    McDonagh as writer understands
    ‘necessity’, and that it is the central idea in his script. But he
    seems to be a little embarrassed by it as a film maker. Embarrassed
    to the extent that this idea so cogently stated in the confessional
    scene becomes progressively overlaid by other images in the main body
    of the film, only emerging in clarity in the penultimate beach
    sequence. For much of the film Lavelle seems lost in a comic book
    world of contemporary stereotypes; abandoned by the film in a series
    of partially misfiring comic cameos.

    McDonagh substitutes a new grouping of
    moral mutants to replace the old standby caste of traditional Irish
    Country dwellers. Father Ted’s congregation has been superseded by
    characters transposed from the world of Irving Welsh. They are
    larger than life and scripted to provoke canned studio audience

    The main body of his movie suggests
    that McDonagh hasn’t thought about the nature of film: that you can’t
    script two big ideas at work simultaniously through the same material
    without having a filmic solution. His idea of Lavelle and his idea
    of a ‘Welshian Ireland’ with all its moral implications, cannot just
    be spliced together as one entity. To succeed in interweaving two
    themes you need to think in terms of film, and how film holds ideas
    together. On the basis of Calvary, McDonagh doesn’t understand this.

    Glesson holds his ground amidst this
    Channel 4 type bean fest but his presence is too often swamped and
    overwhelmed. The film, mostly shot like a situation comedy,
    struggles to find a filmic form to make the encounters anything more
    than obtrusive cameos that disengage the viewer from the film.
    These sequences often seem little more than a opportunity for writer
    director McDonagh to flaunt his skills at one liners and stand up
    repartee, rather than carve the film out into its own space.

    As mentioned above the delimiting
    factor of Calvary is the manner in which it is shot. It is shot
    like sit com. This can be an inflexible structure for a film with
    thematic propositions, as the material has no unifying hub; the edits
    flit from face to face scene to scene shot to reaction creating an
    agitation that is difficult to control. McDonagh seems to have
    fallen for the current fashion of interposing long landscape shots in
    films, so show that the film maker is in touch with nature or natural
    forces. In this case the conceit only leads to confusion in the
    audience, a feeling that they may have zapped the remote to an Irish
    Tourist Board promo. There are of course many ways in which Calvary
    could have been worked filmically: a point of view, a voice, a
    shooting style that invoked a ‘seeing’ in the viewer. As it is
    McDonagh took the line of least resistance, and the film pays the

    Adrin Neatrour

  • The Past (Le Passe) Asghar Farhadi (Fr. 2013)

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    The Past (Le Passe) Asghar Farhadi
    (Fr; 2013) Benebice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Moustafa

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 8th
    April 2014; Ticket £8.80


    Farhadi’s film The Past, left me
    with the opposite set of feelings from when I had viewed his earlier
    movie a Separation.

    Separation, set and filmed in Iran,
    left its plot unresolved in the hands of the couple’s daughter.
    Resolution of the plot was suspended, the film leaving the audience
    on a note of the possibility of hope in the figure of daughter Termeh
    and the choices she was about to make in relation to her life.
    There was also in Separation an underlying but palpable optimism
    engendered by interactions with the agencies and institutions of
    Iran. They were painted as being mediated by people, not
    automatons. Despite and in spite of the heavy hand of religious
    authority there was determination by people to live between the cogs
    of the bureaucracy which gave life a wary degree of freedom, vitality
    and unpredictability. The manner in which film was shot, from the
    opening shot of the replication of documents from under the glass of
    a photocopier, to the presence of the hand held camera. lent insight
    and edge to the way social relations were seen and represented.

    In Separation the process of living
    never seemed a matter mechanical contrivance. Islamic diktats
    provided the psycho social constraints within which individuals had
    to fashion their own solutions and subjectivities. A creative

    Cut to the Past.

    The Past feels like a mechanical death
    trap. Farhadi’s machine of exile. The Past feels like the film of a
    man exiled and reduced to going through the motions of being alive
    when cut off from the mainspring of his home life force. The Past
    communicates as a film of entrapment, the kind of entrapment that we
    choose for ourselves. An exile facing nothing but the perversity of
    the self. When socio-religious forces impose, those feeling
    imposition work within the interstices of life to find free movement
    particularly in thought When we entrap ourselves within psychic
    mechanisms of our own making, there is no way out. We cannot even
    think. We experience a mental entombment. And this is the picture
    that Farhadi paints of exile in France. French society (in no
    significant respect different from any other Western society) as a
    deterritorialised subjectivity. Fahadi’s subjects, both native and
    exile are doomed to recurrent failure of the body and soul, locked
    into pointless replication of their emotional emptyness. They
    resign themselves to going though the motions of living, as
    incapable of movement as the woman on life support, on whose image
    the film appropriately ends.

    Another situation
    As with a Separation Fahadi begins the
    Past with a situation that centres around the issue of uncontested
    divorce between two parties. In Separation the situations expressed
    contain several narrative lines; none of these lines ever take over
    the energy and forces at work within the scenario.

    In the Past however the situations
    comprising the emotional and social forces that contain his subjects
    are quickly consumed by the narrative, that entraps the protagonists
    into the unwinding of a sort of whodoneit (more accurately a
    whyshedidit). The situations are gradually taken over by one event in
    the past, the attempted suicide of the wife of one of the
    protagonists. The plot development, with its contemporary
    Scandinavian intricacies) takes over all the relations in the film,
    and spreads though the scenario like a cancer, until with only the
    mechanics of plot revelation at work, nothing else is left alive in
    the film. Everyone is reduced to being a cipher of the plot.

    The Past moves from being observational
    to purely reactive. As the plot is subjected to increasing emotional
    amplification; its only recourse is to increased melodramatic acting
    out by the actors. Fahadi leaves himself no space to develop the film
    other than the conventions of soap opera.

    This default to soap may have been a
    deliberate artistic decision. A parody of the poverty of European
    dramatic expression if so Fahardi doesn’t make this clear. Perhaps
    it was a business decision; to bow to the pressure of the production
    companies that he should make a film with a plot that would comply
    with the conventions recognisable to Western Audiences.
    But whatever the reason, the
    consequence for the Past is that this form simply takes over the
    film. And the Past yields decreasing returns as the situational
    aspect of and relations in exile are glossed over. The real
    problems are thrown overboard for the melodramatic machinations of
    the plot within which every one becomes a puppet attached to the
    apron strings of soap necessity.
    In accordance with its soapy structure,
    The Past is shot in the style of industry standard set ups. The
    camera is mounted on tripod or steady-cam, stable and recording shot
    and reaction to shot, mostly in confined interiors. The nature of
    the confined interiors do introduce an element of claustrophobia but
    not sufficient to counterbalance the constraining conventions of TV.
    For a film of two hours duration the standard camera work becomes
    another impoverishing element that is locked into the film, as if the
    director had given wanting to think and had decided just to push
    through the set ups.

    There are features within the scenario
    that suggest Fahadi had a original glimmering of another movie.
    The rain: the incessant rain experienced by the exile, both real and
    metaphorical. Fahadi’s delight, particularly at the start of the
    film, in slight mistakes, corrections and missteps, all
    characteristic of actual life and pointing to associated states of
    mind. And his scripting device that exploits the idea of
    individuals needing to return to go back to finish or clarify
    something incomplete. A Dostoevsky type of compulsion and
    determination to get to something underlying. A device that invoked
    reflective issues that were lost as melodrama won out.

    The Past felt like a movie that started
    out as one thing, the situation of exile; but ended up as an other, a
    series of events pressed into reactive drama. As in Separation
    Farhadi tries in the Past to balance the scales of his discourse on
    the perspective of the child. But in the Past his wise child Fouad,
    simply does not have the necessary freedom of Termeh in Separation,
    to make a real contribution to the balance of the script. He is too
    young and too overwhelmed by the mechanics of the events to have a
    real voice. So the film dies back and ends without a thought to
    sustain. The final shot is a close up, of the clasped hands of the
    man and his deeply unconscious wife. Perhaps a little like Fahadi
    himself, in exile torn between life and death.

    On a final note the script does have an
    elementary confusion at its semantic core. Celine the comatose wife
    is repeated referred to as having committed suicide. But she has not
    committed suicide, she attempted unsuccessfully (as far as the script
    reveals) to commit suicide. She is still alive. I often feel when a
    movie presents a basic inconsistency at its core, it is a sign that
    there are deeper problems with the material, personal or structural,
    that were never resolved.

    Adrin Neatrour

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel Wes Anderson (USA 2014)

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    The Grand Budapest Hotel Wes Anderson
    (USA 2014) Ralph Fiennes, F Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe.

    Viewed Empire Cinema Newcastle upon
    Tyne; 1st April 2014; ticket £4.00

    Time codes

    Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel is
    a anodyne vehicule for an admixture of Sfx and strong set design.
    It’s also a chance for a number of established Hollywood stars to
    earn easy corn playing out the cartoon like characters who front the
    predominantly red decors. In cinematic form it is sort of retake
    on tried and trusted studio box office favourites such as Lumet’s
    Murder on the Orient Express. It is formulaic movie making. And a
    good formula like a good recipe can be a risk free way of getting the
    bums on seats and making a buck for the backers. To that extent it
    is very successful.

    With the formula there are no real
    surprises. The pleasure lies in how it is done and at least in its
    engagement with its audience allowing a sort of soporific easement of
    time. In this respect at least Anderson and or his producers have
    recognised that GBH, as an exercise in simple pleasing, weighs in at
    100 minutes. so doesn’t outstay itself. There are a lot of films of
    two hour plus duration, that are simply temporally challenged. So in
    this respect, Wes Anderson has known how to cut the cloth.

    The cast go through their two
    dimensional impersonations with an enjoyable aplomb, a wink here and
    a nod there, keeping the audience amused. And amusement sums up the
    pay off for the audience, Wes Anderson playing off his characters
    against sets and settings expressive of Hollywood’s notions of a
    vanished aristocratic past. It’s an old trick most memorably
    effected by Robert Hamer’s Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). Kind
    Hearts had a good measure of black humour and the self effacing
    performances of Alec Guinness, so that it not only transcended its
    formulaic mode but also made it a very funny film. GBH is not funny,
    only humorous. During the screening the biggest elicited laughs were
    for Gustave’s use of expletives like “fucking’ and “shit’ . The
    laughs being the audience’s perception of expressive disjunction
    between Gustave’s usual manner of discourse and suave self
    presentation, and the crudity of his real thoughts when actually

    There is at the core of the script,
    based on the Stefan Zweig stories, an entangled temporal confusion.
    The Zweig stories are set mostly before the first world war in a
    disappeared world. Wes Anderson and perhaps his producers seem to
    have been unable to decide in which era to set the script: either
    just before the first world war (authentic and in keeping with the
    scenario and sets and source material) or just before the second
    world war (inauthentic and out of keeping with the sets and source
    material) The film gives the impression of a manic battle between
    these two alternatives, which ends understandably with a schizo
    outcome and a script that opts for one time and a scenario that is
    opts for another. Everything looks and reads pre-1914, but the
    scripted references are all to the 1930’s and the rise of German

    The schizo relation between the makers
    of the film and their material is caused mainly by the framing
    devices used to structure time. There are three time frames in the
    movie: the opening sequence, with a contemporary setting in 2014
    comprising a piece to camera by an author explaining his work and an
    event in the past that occasioned a novel; the second time frame, set
    some 50 years earlier perhaps c.1960 in which we see the same author,
    now seen as a young man, being told the story of the hotel by the
    current owner; finally the time frame of originating story which
    features the owner as an adolescent. Setting the first piece to
    camera in the actual present, locks the other two time frames into
    position, leaving the original story set in the 1930’s immediately
    before the second world war. In terms of the age of the hotel owner
    and the author nothing else would make sense in terms of the
    arithmetic of age. But this era, is totally out of kilter with the
    Zweig novel Beware of Pity, one of the key works upon which the
    script is loosely based. This novel is set just before the first
    world war, a war that implicitly according to Zweig, ended an era.
    All Zweig’s referents: the class structure, the codes of conduct and
    honour, the patch work geopolitical shape of the Austro-Hungarian
    Empire, the dress codes and fashions of men and women are retained by
    Wes Anderson, who then tries to pass them off in the movie as
    representing Europe in 1939. Which it doesn’t.

    This temporal schizoid lesion buried
    into GBH gets in the way of the flow of the film in as much as it
    doesn’t permit the script to properly celebrate the unique madness
    and eccentricity of the period immediately before the first world
    war. The script has to permit the intrusion of attitudes and
    invasions of style that are not at one with the mis en scene and the
    SFX. I think GBH is a lesser film , less entertaining less funny
    because Anderson failed to sort out his time codes.

    As a lesser but not irrelevant concern
    it also takes the audience for a ride. The script either holds them
    in contempt for not recognising the difference between two historic
    eras. Or it renders its audience or certainly some of them into a
    state of confusion or stupefaction as to what exactly is going on in
    relation to GBH’s time frames.

    Adrin Neatrour