Monthly Archives: May 2015

  • The Tribe Miroslav Slaboshpitski (Ukr 2014)

    The Tribe Miroslav
    Slaboshpitski (Ukr 2014) Grigory Fesenko. Yana Novikova. Rosa Babiy

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema; 19 May 2015; ticket: £8:50

    The new brutality: fear and craving

    The film’s title, the Tribe,
    points away from its actual setting to a new emergent world ethos.

    Slaboshpitski’s Tribe is widely
    remarked for using its setting in a boarding establishment for deaf adolescents
    to dispense with spoken language. The
    whole movie has its interpersonal communication signed. A few films post silent era have done without
    language, noticeably Themroc. As in Themroc,
    so in Tribe the lack of conventional communication is a metaphore, rather than
    a device for suggesting a social realist ethos.

    A metaphore for our inablilty to
    listen or speak to each other.

    The critical element in Tribe is
    the creation of a world that works according to its own internal rules with
    relations to outside worlds restricted to strict economic exchange: Slaboshpitski’s deaf tribe, like a remote Amazonian tribe
    that wants to preserve its own world,
    even if the cost of that preservation is a corruption and distortion of that

    As film, The Tribe creates a world
    where no one can hear and no one can speak.
    Rather than being set in the realm of an actual institution for the deaf, the tribe is set in a world where all
    communication has been reduced to the expression of need and the satisfaction
    of need. Slaboshpitski persues a line of development based on the
    empoverishment and debasement of intellectual and emotional
    life. With no one able to hear or speak
    what is left for the Tribe is a one dimensional premise that constrains their
    relations their communications and lives
    within the crude parameters of fear and craving.

    At its broadest the Tribe encompasses a moral parody of Western consummerist capitalism with its politics increasingly defined by the amplification circuitry of the media. Consumers are whipped up into states of fear and then placated by the soothing balms of holidays or products. But the specific moral target of the Tribe is surely the erruption into the world of a new order of rule by brutality. As a Ukrainian film, Slaboshpitski is pointing directly to the forces unleashed in Ukraine by the break up of the Soviet Union and Russia’s attempt to redraw the map that it drew in 1991. The defining characteristic of the conflict: the inablility of the antogonists to hear or speak to one another and their consequent recourse to mindless brutality that is perpetrated in cold blood and immediately minimalised denied or blamed on the other side. The politics and mind set of Hitler, in which a look is as good as a command to exterminate, re-appear. And in the face of this brutality, civilian aircraft shot out of the sky, the outside world, like the authorities in the deaf insititution, tur away themselves lost for words, unable to respond. The brutal has become the everyday,and the inflation of horror leads to ever greater desensitisation to what is happening. Isil as well as other forces are re- familiarising the West with the rule of brutality. The logic of the one dimensional world governed by religious belief systems establishing a new order of regime based on self destruction and annihilation for the sake of eternal paradise. As under the Nazi’s ethnic beliefs, so under Isil’s religious beliefs, mass exterminations and killings are a calculated expression of the belief system. The ideology of brutality, the public and vicious executions carried out in a manner to maximise pain both to the victim and their relations, carry the twin message of the self confidence of the perpetrators and intimidation of those who oppose. The Tribe reaches out as a filmic expression of the new regimes of Terror. Slaboshpitski matches his moral intent with the way he has shot his film. Filmed almost entirely in long takes there are two predominant types of shot. The still frame shot. Where the action takes place within frame. The camera doesn’t flit from shot reaction shot, it is not interested in point of view or state of mind, it is only intersted in what is in front of the lens, and makes the demand that we look at what is before our eyes without flinching. The cultured West perhaps always wants to look away from what is disagreeable. We turned our gaze away from Nazi Germany. because we found it more comfortable to look away and pretend not to have seen. But what is happening is happening in front of us: on all our media. So Slaboshpitski presents us with a camera that does not turn away. The other type of shot which features is the tracking shot down straight lines: institutional corridors, rows of trucks. This shot builds into the film a representation of a view into the future always restricted to the narrow dimensionality of two sides, vision is always tunnel vision. There are no broad vistas, no outside, just the world tapering to a disappearing point. A world strictly bounded by closed in borders. Tribe is a film without hope. It is a world of brutality. It is a world the West has not yet woken up to. Adrin Neatrour

  • Phoenix Christian Petzold (Ger 2014)

    Phoenix Christian
    Petzold (Ger 2014) Nina Hoss; Ronald

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 12 May 2015; Ticket: £8.50

    McGuffin forgotten

    The history of post war film is riddled with bad movies that take their cue from the Holocaust and exploiting the Camps as either foreground or background for cheap melodrama. Pontecorvo’s Kapo (1960) earnted itsellf the gong from Jacques Rivette for worst shot in the history of cinema, a zoom into the hand of heroine dying on the wire barbed mesh of the camp fence.

    Rivette’s point here is a particular contempt for using the Concentration Camp as an indulgence of individualistic fate. A cheap trick to extort a reflux of emotion from an audience preconditioned to expressive emotive venting by the calamity of this collective disaster. When the documentary evidence is so strong and well known, when the facts of the mass exterminations in the Nazi work and death camps already overwhelm response, anything other than an approach that transcends the individual subjectivity flirts with attracting brazen contempt from both the victims and the survivors, who include us as mute and late witnesses. As with Pavilowski’s recent movie Ida (2013), Chriastian Petzold’s Phoenix does little more than use the Holocaust background as an exploitation device against which to set a melodrama centred on an identity crisis. The core script driver in both Ida and Phoenix is a narrative process in which two women, the eponymous Ida and Nellie have to figure out the meaning of their lives. In both these stories the Nazi death camps serve as a mechanism, a sort of spring loaded contraption for depositing their protagonists out of the past into their present situation, from where the respective scripts pick up the story.

    There is nothing in the narrative structure of either film that requires such a strong determining force as the Nazi camps. Any number of back stories would have worked fine. In fact the camps, as the back story element, in both films are overdeterministic of both Ida’s and Nellie’s situation. Overdeterministic meaning that the enormity of the evil that both the camps and the culture of death unleashed by the Nazis, overwhelms the victims. They are as if emptied out. They have no words. Unable to respond they are incapable of present assimilation of the enormity of their situation and what has happened to them. In both ‘Ida’ and ‘Phoenix’ to countervail the actual affect of the experience of evil, both directors resort to dishonest scripting to rescue their subjects, Ida and Nellie from the maw of history.

    What we see in both Ida and Phoenix is soap operas for the times Ida projected in academy aspect with black and white print has a strong retro look, that works to disguise the plot mechanics. These mechanics comprise of Ida learning about her real Jewish ancestry guided by her maternal aunt (who commits suicide), and subsequently her flirting with modernism before returning to the fold of the Church. Ida is like a machine. We watch her experience all these situations but we never see what she sees. The film avoids relations as the script is like a walk through installation. The film attracts our gaze not our understanding, as Pavilowski is unable to deal with the overwhelming actuality of legitimised murder of Jews in Poland under the Nazis.

    Phoenix amounts to no more than a ‘betrayal situation’. For some reason Petzold has wanted to give ‘betrayal’ experience a sort of borrowed legitimacy by exploiting the idea of a camp survivor.

    Interestingly I saw one reviewer who compared Petzold to Hitchcock! Desperate stuff! Of course Petzold in fact honours Hitchcock only in the breech. Petzold shows no sign of understanding the key element of much of Hitch’s scripting. Petzold has forgotten ‘the McGuffin’ a concept Hitch used time and again in his movies. The McGuffin kick starts the narrative. It is a device. A device that leads into the core of the story. It is not the core of the plotting, which is always in relations. As the film develops The McGuffin seldom retains its importance or centrality.

    So Nellie’s disfigurement is a McGuffin. What should then become the focus of the film is the psychological interplay, the relations between Johnny and Nellie. Instead Nellie’s disfigurement remains at the heart of the film. Her disfigurement becomes an increasingly unwieldy fabrication, played out by the actors in a sort of realist style that becomes less and less convincing as they struggle to maintain the illusion that he cannot recognise her. The Phoenix scenario never takes up the idea of relations between Nellie and Johnny. Instead it becomes bogged down in gestural detail as Nellie goes through the tedious motions of unconvincingly impersonating herself.

    Phoenix comes to a dead end halfway through failing to develop the scenario, to take the film onto another level: the relations that should have been the real core of the movie. No relations between Johnny and Nellie, no tension. No relations no states of mind: the film slides into indifference in its performances. In particular Ronald Zehrfeld, as Johnny, is unfortunate. He acts as if he doesn’t know what to do, or how or why he should be doing whatever it is that he is supposed to do. And Petzold doesn’t seem to have been much help.

    I suspect that Rivette would hold Ida and Phoenix in something of the same disdain as he felt for Kapo. Adrin Neatrour

  • Force Majeure (Turist) Ruben Ostlund (Swe; 2014)

    Force Majeure (Turist) Ruben Ostlund (Swe; 2014)
    Johannes Kuhnke; Clara Wettergren

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema; 30 April 2015; Ticket £8.50

    Postcard from IKEA

    Sweden used to be cinematically defined by the films of Ingmar Bergman. Dark nights, vigils of God abandoned individuals, the impossibility of communication, often set against untamed moody seas. This notion of Sweedishness complemented perhaps by Volvo cars has, as Ostlund realises, long ceased to have any contemporary resonance. Today Sweden has IKEA with its big idea of tasteful design endlessly replicated in a thousand settings. IKEA’S walk through spaces are now a force in themselves conditioning the sensibilities of the Middle Class experience.

    In Force Majeure (FM) the proposition of design forces shaping consciousness, is an idea that is filmically put to the test. A sort of thought experiment if you like. Necessary because IKEA has conquered the world.

    The active dynamic of FM is not so much the characters (Ebba and Tomas) or the plot but the backgrounds against which they are depicted. The film comprises series of interiors and mini settings that might have come from any IKEA store on any continent. It is these background ‘installations’ that condition the reactions of the actors to the script’s provocation: Tomas’ abandonment of his family at a moment of danger and his refusal to admit to his behaviour.

    Ostlund’s camera is his main forensic device, presenting Tomas’ behaviour against the smooth surfaces of the resort hotel. The camera suggesting in the way it frames the action that the ethos of modern IKEA design. and contemporary shifts in the values underlying Western personal relationships, are wired into the same circuitry.

    Like Ozu, Ostlund uses his camera to frame areas. He employs the still frame as his main type of camera shot, within which and through which we see the movement image. However whereas Ozu’s ‘ still frame’ captures screens and bamboo woven walls, the closed- off sight lines that characterise Japanese culture, Ostlund’s still frames capture the open plan nature of IKEA life. The sight lines in IKEAland are wide; an environment where everything is seen. Like Ozu’s closed off spaces, the open spaces which are the focus of Ostlund’s camera weave their own mesh of influence over the actors. The openness of these IKEA zones places everyone in full view of everyone else, everyone is on show, adults and children alike. The hotel with its long corridors open to gaze, the hotel suite with its bed area, with its eating area, its bathroom area all these spaces exert a sort of imperative cultural gravity towards conformity and consensus in relations and in behaviour. The uniform nature of design conditioning a uniformity in response by the actors, the open spaces conditioning a fear of oppositions and a gravitational pull towards consensus

    Particularly interesting in FM are the scenes set in the ‘his and hers’ en suite bathroom. Filmed in the vast mirror against a dark jade background Ebba and Tomas brush their teeth in their individual basins with their individual electric toothbrushes. Lars von Trier might have shown the couple fucking, but the toothbrush shots say more about their relationship then sex. They have left the domain of the pure physical body and now occupy a zone characterised by shared automated gestures. They perform a mechanical soulless duet that celebrates their IKEA identity which has replaced the old opposition of raw sex.

    If IKEA conquers the world it does so in the sense that it becomes a conscious type of choice for a certain class or strata of people who seek to define their lives not through oppositions but through something we might call consensus. IKEA’s design and graphic constructions represent a decontextualisation of history. IKEA design (ditto Apple design) bypasses history social cultural ethnic and race divisions, all the messy stuff, with something that appears to come out of a hat from nowhere. Pure techno products unreferencing of anything but themselves. IKEA artefacts, like Apple products blue jeans and T shirts are the products for those who embrace a ‘silicone identity’, living out careers ( not lives) detached from the old analogue oppositions. The relationship between products and constructed environments is locked into circuitry that reinforces a continuous loop of mutual product /identity affirmation. And the reward for staying in the Ikea /Apple consumer loop is to become a tourist. Decontextualised, de-gendered the person/consumer is free to live like a tourist. Free from history and culture, free to roam the earth, guided and hooked up through the mobile phone in a constant stream of information.

    And it is interesting to see that Ostlund’s own title for the film is: ‘Turist’ (Tourist). The title FM foisted on the film by its UK distributors points to what is ephemeral in the film, the phantom avalanche. Ostlund’s title Turist points to what is essential to the film. The intrapenetration of desire and design to create a strata of tourist people. A people living in one domain a consensual domain where space is abolished not just by acceleration, but by the rendering of all environments as consensually equivalent and similar. Environments are built so that oppositional realities are engineered out of them, so that they always comprise familiar non conflicting representations of reality.

    And for the new tourist, nature herself must ideally be conformed to the same ethos that defines built structures. The forests and woods must look wild but have safe paths and sanctuary. The mountain sides which are the specious object of the tourists’ visit must look white and wild but conform to the moulding of the ski industry which lights them up, sanitises them, builds natural looking dwellings in the valleys and covers the slopes with mechanical contrivances for effortlessly lifting the tourists up. The IKEA impulse now transforms nature which becomes an extension of the en suite twin bathroom.

    So the world reconfigures itself according to the tourist gaze which demands nothing less than benign detachment of their career from the actual.

    In FM Ostlund points up the dangers of the new ethos A ethos based on self referencing de contextualisation of the world sets up a self reinforcing and amplifying circuit of consensus. But if oppositions arise this type of consensus culture may be critically unprepared and too inexperienced to meet this kind of problem.

    Japan’s model prewar society based on partitions and compartmentalisation represented in Ozu’s filmic projections of a world of screens and woven bamboo, created a cultural dis-connected state of mind that made it possible for Japan to embrace the madness of brutal war and visious colonialisation.

    Threatened by a phantom avalanche, Tomas abandons his family to save him own skin. And then denies it. Was his failure to admit to what he did, conditioned by the IKEA installations in which he lives? Is his inability to admit to his act of omission directly caused by the amplification consensus circuitry of this homogenous environment? The tourist defined by conventional gesture and consensus forgets the the reality of opposition Tomas could only recognise behaviour in himself that accorded with the IKEA consensual world in which he lives. And Ebba struggles with the same problem. She cannot initially cope with the discordance provoked by oppositions raised by Tomas. Slowly Ebba summons up the will to shift the IKEA furniture and challenge Tomas. But the process is difficult. The furniture is big and heavy and when she finally moves it, it falls on Tomas. He floods out, unable to handle oppositional stress. So Ebba replaces the furniture and the IKEA equilibrium is restored. The problem of opposition unresolved.

    In the penultimate sequence Ebba and Tomas leave the ski resort as tourists. But in the final sequence something happens. Ebba frightened by the manoeuvres of the bus driver, demands to be let off the bus mid way down the mountain road. The fellow travellers, bar one, follow her off the bus. The final shot of the film is this group of de-bussed tourists, walking long ways down the road. They look like they have escaped from a Lars von Trier film like the Idiots. But they haven’t . Perhaps Ebba has learnt the wrong lessons from Tomas’ oppositional crisis, and is now fatally overreacting becoming an Idiot striding meaninglessly towards engagement with false oppositions.

    The IKEA effect de-intensifies and mutes the experience of life. But it becomes a source of danger when situations arise that it can no longer contain. Wild energies. Adrin Neatrour