Monthly Archives: July 2016

  • Men and Chicken (Moend og Hons) Anders Jensen (2015 Dk)

    Men and Chicken (Moend og
    Hons) Anders Jensen (2015 Dk) David Dencik; Mads Mikkelsen

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 19
    July 2016; ticket: £9:15

    Mawk and skwark and orcs

    Anders Jensen’s Men and Chicken gives the impression that as a director he may have been influenced by watching too many Scandi-noir TV fillers.

    Men and Chicken is a Danish noir comedy and shows its Danish TV provenance in the way it is structured by drawing on the lessons of these successful dark toned audience pleasers such as the Bridge (to which Jensen sort of gives homage in one peninsula island shot repeated several times). Its scenario is built around one key input idea which is embedded deeply into the scripting ; the key characters are all deeply flawed and have signature facial expressions, looks which are directed both inwardly and outwards and which are inscrutably Nordic.

    Whilst this structural format may work OK with a weekly TV serial format, it is harder to make it work for a one off feature film. This format of TV serial slowly builds up to the ‘big secret’ that lies at the cancerous heart of its scenario. To maintain interest and to develop its characters, a TV scenario works through sub plots counter plots parallel plots and side plots, engaging the audience in distractions, ambiguities and red herrings all the while moving portentously towards its mega exposure. On the small screen the facial tics of the actors, the monopacing, together with the banality of the editing and shooting style can be carried through by a scripting/editing style which uses multiple parallel stories (in the various guises of sub plotting) to shift energy and hold audience attention. These TV pot broilers are designed /intended for broad durational parameters to take up multiple TV scheduling slots. They work mainly through stylistic intensity and the complexity of their narrative strands.

    Condensed into feature film length rather than a 5/6 hour TV sleep over, Men and Chicken looks like a one trick pony, and at the end when the trick is revealed, it’s not very convincing.

    Jensen opens his film, with some egg shots and with the voice of a girl who in fairy tale style tones explains over picture that this is the story of brothers to whom nature hadn’t dealt the best cards. Jensen seems to be trying to cast the film as a fairy tale or perhaps archetype myth (Thanatos the father figure is one of the Greek bringers of death; and Ork the name of the island where the action happens is a fictional humanoid creature that is part of a fantasy race akin to goblin.) But nothing in the film works as myth or fairy tale. And when the girls voice is heard for the second time, it is at the end of the film, where her voice makes a non mythic type of plea for acceptance of diversity. A plea with is in line with political correctness but not with fairy tale or myth.

    The use of the young girl’s voice and her dissociation with anything seen in the film points to Jensen’s insecurity with his material. He doesn’t know what film he is making. Is is a comedy, a horror movie, a buddy movie sci-fi movie or whatever? Jensen tries to cover all bases and ends with a production that is simply tendentious and doesn’t feel like it is about anything. Hence perhaps the mawkish summary at the end, a desperate attempt to salvage something in the sphere of contemporary ethics.

    Unable to focus clearly, Men and Chicken instead plumps out its script. The scenario is pumped up with obsessive masturbation and vomiting, bestiality, mutantcy, cosmetic prosthetics for the actors, the idea of a slightly deranged or simple class of island dwelling people, a boys’ excursion to the nursery. None of this material is developed enough to sustain interest.

    Along other filmic dimensions Jensen’s film has few qualities. The shooting/editing of the film is conventional shot/reverse shot, and adds nothing to style. And the acting, for all the prosthetic work carried on the actors faces, never rises above the one dimensional. Perhaps had more thought been given to mutations that could not be seen, either psychic or somatic…there might have been a more interesting movie. But that movie would probably be better made with the imagination of Lars von Trier.

    Men and Chicken ends up a dull movie. In another life time, the idea with intricate multi-phased elaboration in a closed community, might have made very good TV fodder. adrin neatrour

  • Vivre sa vie: film en douze tableaux J-L Godard (Fr 1962)

    Vivre sa vie: film en douze tableaux J-L Godard (Fr 1962) Anna Karina, Eddie Constantine (spectre)

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 5th July 2016; ticket

    I film therefore I am

    After the opening title sequence Godard’s Vivre sa vie cuts to a long durational close shot in which the camera, tracks between a couple who are seated beside each other on bar stools at the counter of a café. They are talking about the nature of their relationship and its break up. As the camera tracks back and forth across the space between them, only one of them is ever in frame, and the shot set up is from behind, so that as they talk, we see only the back of a head.

    The what is said by this shot is in itself both witty and analytic. It allows the camera to express the opening concepts of alienation, separation within a context of movement. The wit lies in emotionally de-saturating the dialogue from faciality as Nana and her ex talk about the failure of their relationship her beef about his attempts to control her and his economic angle as Nana’s ex signs off with the observation that as a musician, Nana is leaving him because he is poor. The ultimate deficiency in a culture based on consumption rather than production.

    With Anna K playing the role of Nana Godard’s film is in content, a modernist rephrasing of Zola’s eponymous novel charting the transformation of a young operetta star into a high class prostitute, whose allure and cold blooded exploitation of her sexuality destroy all the men who become infatuated with her.

    The power of Nana’s presence is described by Zola as a psychic emanation that irresistibly attracts male desire. Godard’s transposes elements of the Zola story. But because this is now an image driven culture, his Nana in the form of Karina, exists as an object of desire for the camera. It is Godard’s camera that loves her image embraces and devours her. When Nana leaves her job in the record shop and takes up prostitution, her male clients barely seem to notice her. Throughout the film the men are self absorbed, as if playing pinball or engaging in masturbation, they barely notice Nana. She is simply someone they pay. Unlike their wives or girlfriends they have to shell out coin.

    The Cool.

    The ethos of cool detachment pervades Vivre sa vie. The guys all wear coats turned up at the collar as they move through a world of artefacts, cafes, and automobiles. The women, immaculately coiffed and kitted out with couture outfits and shoes. It is a world without emotion, the world of advertising, where there are settings backdrops and product display.

    But Godard fixes his movies with pure concept. To oppose Nana’s image defined world he uses a number of cinematic devices, simply interpolated that he cuts into the body of the film. Like the chapter headings they comprise a breaking up of flow, an opening up different idea spectra about what we are seeing.

    The intercutting of a section of Dreyer’s The Passion of Jean d’Arc. Godard uses a scene with Artaud, theoretician of the theatre of cruelty who plays the monk, Massieu questioning Falconetti’s Jeanne. The Material grilling the Spiritual. A section of Edgar Allen Poe, the master of unnameable dread (uncool) is read on camera and later during one of Nana’s assignations with a client, the results of the statistical survey of Parisian prostitution are intoned as voice over.

    There are two more extraordinary interpolations inserted of the body of the film. The scene where a guy mimes the process of a little boy blowing up a balloon. As performance it is intense funny and suddenly in its intensity and power feels like a transposition of male ejaculation. A hyper parody of inexistent sexuality. In a nondescript section of a cafe, Nana and a Philosopher talk about life specifically focusing on ‘love’ (uncool) at the end of their discussion. Unlike the tracking two shot at the front of the movie, this is shot full face with and pans from Nana to the Philosopher, with the Philosopher finally concluding, in response to Nana’s question that love is real “…on condition it is true.”

    In a culture of image how to find what is true and be able to distinguish it from what is not true? In a world of mirrors….

    Eddie Constantine appears as a spectre throughout Vivre sa vie. His presence as an image inside Nana’s head a constant source of reference. And it is almost as if he were in the film, and if you squint your eyes you may see him.

    With Godard, film doesn’t just think, it lives and breaths a world of unseen possibilities . adrin neatrour

  • Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare) Gianfranco Rosi (It 2016)

    Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare)
    Gianfranco Rosi (It 2016)

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 28 June 2016; ticket £9.25

    knock knock who’s there…? someone missing…? Lampedusa as filmed by Gianfranco Rosi is a visual paean to oppositions: the empty /the full, the ordered/ the chaotic, the open/ the closed, internal / the external, within time/without time And more. Oppositions organised in geographic proximity. Islanders and refugees both sharing space on this small Mediterranean island. But now you see them now you don’t. On the island we see the islanders but we don’t see the migrants, they are invisible, their new European identities as the ‘unseen’ already anticipated. On Lampedusa the streets are empty, the escapees confined to their own enclaves. The islanders lead out their traditional lives on Lampedusa, life ordered by a natural unfolding of time that divides into past present future. The refugees and migrants live outside the order of time, compressed into a chaotic hallucinogenic now. The islanders are rooted on rock and lapped by the sea. The migrants travelling across water, crashing onto the rocks or scooped out of the Mediterranean are alive if they are lucky, dead if they are not. They are trapped in endless motions in which time has ceased to be a significant marker of life. For the migrants the imperative is ‘escape’ to not stop fleeing until they find something. When in due course, they leave Lampedusa they leave no imprint on the island other than on the statistical compilations of NGOs. More than 400,000 thousand passed through, ghosts rather than solid entities. Without commentary and working though image simple, many of Rosi’s shots comprise two great encompassers of Lampedusa: sea and sky. Images that Rossi exploits, but which conjure different associations for the islanders and migrants. The sea before and sky overhead stretch out around and over, containing the sentience of all beings. For the islanders the surrounding waters are their environment, a living testament to their collective history, the source of their food and livelihood. For the arrivees, the migrants the sea is experienced otherwise: as barrier ordeal and death. The sky that hangs over Lampadusa hangs over all beings. For the islanders this sky with rolling clouds signifies the here and now, the intensity of the present, it mediates action, reflects back consciousness of life. For the arrivees it barely exists as a psychic immediacy. On Lampedusa the migrants are as if in a state of trance they are trapped in their own internal landscapes.

    An island boy whittles wood to make his catapult; a Nigerian recounts as a liturgy in collective form the ordeal of his flight: “We crossed the dessert the dessert could not stop us, we crossed the mountains the mountains could not stop us, we ran to the sea, the sea could not stop us.” The effect of his words echoes the power of the old testament, the cry of a people lost in the wilderness, a people possessed by the spirit. Although the images are not juxtaposed in Rosi’s edit, I somehow connected this liturgical listing of ordeals survived and overcome with the long duration shot of the grandmother making up her bed. The order the certainty represented in this act of meticulous physical geometry; the ecclesiastic lay out of her bedroom with its saints and sacred objects. A feeling of deadness in this bedroom, reflected and compounded in the images of dead migrants suffocated in the steerage hold of their boat, lying in filth and squalor, perhaps many of them without names. The dead are everywhere. I understand that Rosi wanted to make a pure film. In which images manipulated and exploited would stand for any words that might or could be said. But the human voice is part of our world. Rosi’s Fire at Sea felt like a piece of filmic surgery, a clinicians assemblage of images. As Rosi knocked on the door of Lampedusa it seemed as if he was not there. He had absented himself. And perhaps this is OK. No voice. Rosi in avoiding the stories of refugees and migrants the staple of radio and TV, Rosi, abstracting his material reaches out into the reality of the the void of refugees and migrants. They are people stripped out of time, stripped out of history, a group of people living in a timevoid. A void which groups like Isis seek, in their own time to fill, by giving back to those lost in time the precious gift of time. This is a film about the medium of time. adrin neatrour