Monthly Archives: February 2018

  • Loveless Andrei Zvyagintsev (Russia 2017)

    Loveless Andrei Zvyagintsev (Russia 2017) Maryana Spivak, Alexsey Rozin

    Tyneside Cinema 13 Feb 2018; ticket £9.75

    Mechanical film

    Like Three Billboards, Loveless has a pretext at the core of its script: the disappearance of Boris and Zhenya’s son Alyosha.

    This pretext is in itself rather ridiculous and barely stands up to even superficial scrutiny as it supposes that the son of this blighted couple was enough of a clueless sap not to realise that he is totally unloved. Given even the glimpses we get of the parents’ relationship with Alyosha before his disappearance event, it is not believable that his overhearing of their attempts to divest themselves of responsibility for him can have done anything other than confirm what he already knew.

    Zvyagintsev’s real intent in Loveless is to make some sort of critique of the relations characterising Russian society by stripping bare the nature of his characters self centred existence, existences detached from any sense of the shared life.

    But it is typical of Zvyagintsev’s conceit that he imagines the audience will accept Loveless as any sort of real critique. It’s a movie that using the resources of script, camera work and face is packed out as a realist fable but is simply an exercise in manipulation.

    Manipulation is all that Zvyagintsev has to offer. As if Zvyagintsev was the first to observe that the continual obsession with mobile phone impoverishes being, indicates lives cut off from the world and their own feelings; as if Zvyagintsev’s camera with its continual slow tracking into the object of the lens: the couples fucking, the people sleeping, means anything other than manipulative dramatic heightening of the image; as if the exaggerated hard faciality of Zhenya was anything other than a director’s trick to pander to the audience.

    With its slow tracks, its hard rictus, its closed off script with its soap opera retorts and gestures, feelings of hopelessness are scored into the grain of movie. The audience are in effect excluded from Loveless, as Zvyagintsev doles out his banal insights with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. There is nothing to see in the film other than Zvyagintsev’s diktat. In a film about relations there are no other meanings than what the literalism of the director construes.

    In indication of Zvyagintsev’s literalist method is to be found in the scene where Boris and Zhanya visit the morgue to see if they identify a body as that of their son. With the camera on the parents there is the moment of theatre as the drape over the body is pulled over to reveal the corpse. There is the reaction of shock as the parents (Zhenya in particular) reacts to the horror to the sight of the dead boy. Eventually both parents stammer out that the body is not their son. That is enough. The scene is complete. We need to know, to see no more. For a second I was a little surprised thinking: Wow! Zvyagintsev has resisted his compulsive literalism for once has not shown us the body we do not need to see. But at the very instant of the thought Zvyagintsev cuts away from the faces of the parents to the body that we don’t need to see. This body we have already appraised. You can’t keep a good man down. Zvyagintsev’s compulsive literalism and his need to show it all, win out.

    This scene is characteristic of the movie. The script is heavy handed, soap opera stuff with every biting insulting line delivered by the divorcing couple underlined – so that we get it. The acting the fucking deliberately orchestrated by the banality of the camera work, construed so that we get it.

    Zvyagintsev has nothing in common with Tarkovsky. He is a sort of obverse social realist tripping out an individualised moralism. Looked at form one point of view his direction shares many of the traits of his protagonists. In Loveless, there is no perception of what is happening only mechanics (including the mechanics of the organised search for Alyosha which rakes up a lot of time) , no state of mind, no point of view. Just Hollywood back stories and strips of action from the location of work.

    Opening his film with a series of black and white shots of the nature, the forest the lakes the birds, and finishing the film on the strand of construction tape lodged in the tree where Alyosha had thrown it in an earlier sequence, doesn’t not make Zvyagintsev a Tarkovsky style film maker. He has simply learned from the surface of Tarkovsky’s ideas and missed the substance.

    And Alyosha stays disappeared. He doesn’t show up in the final reel. But there again Zvyagintsev might not have known what to do with him. adrin neatrour

  • Downsizing Alexander Payne (USA 2017)

    Alexander Payne (USA 2017) Matt

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 30 Jan 2018; ticket £9.75

    downsizing the movie industry

    Looking at the mid week audience of about 20 people scattered throughout the sizeable 300 plus auditorium I was thinking that if this was a representative mainstream movie, then the feature film exhibition industry was itself about to be downsized.

    Alexander Payne’s film opens with a promising proposition, an allegorical proposition concerning the discovery of a scientific procedure to miniaturise humans. The altruistic purpose behind the development of downsizing by a Norwegian research group was to benefit the environment of planet earth, that downsizing would mediate the catastrophic human effect on the environment by enabling our footprint on earth to be reduced to a sustainable smaller level.

    Thus far so good. A classic scifi proposition with a rich allegorical vein to explore. There are ideas that as starting points, could set up any number of lines of development. But all Alexander Payne can do is drive his film into an allegorical and conceptual dead end. His script suffers from the current Hollywood malaise of not only being unfocused and unable spin a clear narrative; but also of seeming to want to placate and keep onside the myriad phantoms of political correctness that now flit through the inner psychic calculations of American directors like swarms of censorious bats.

    Downsizing is a confusion. Payne’s script tries on all sorts of allegorical clothing. Abandonment, as Audrey Paul’s wife ducks out of downsizing without telling him, appears for a moment as a core theme. Downsizing trips out as: cryogenic style hard sell where the big cynical corporations cash in on the desires of the gullible; downsizing is pitched as a quasi religious conversion experience; as a noble ecological experiment. It is also looked at as an individually tailored solution to the suburban cash flow problem. When downsized the cost of living is reduced so that the American dream (which is basically doing nothing except sitting in the sun and consuming stuff) is attainable by everyone. All you have to do is trust the banks to handle your money wisely.

    But each of these ideas, and their inherent contradictions, is picked up and put down like a tourist bauble in a bazaar. Any one or combination of these ideas carries the internalised satiric drive that could energise the core of a script. Further, Payne only skirts the dark side of downsizing: it’s potential use as a control mechanism; downsizing as a punishment; the vulnerability of being as small of being prey to the rapacity of birds vermin and insects. And of course the potential for the vicious malice of the world to intercede in the little world to make its power and presence itself felt. The possibility of the normal sized people capturing the little people and keeping them for entertainment and torture.

    In the first sections of the movie the defining shots worked to suggest the oppressive collective consensual uniformity of the suburban culture in which Paul is located: tracking shots of the meat processing plant, with its myriad ranks of sterilised butchers gutting and stripping flesh; the series of shots detailing the mass downsizing chambers with their attendant technicians; and Paul’s emergence bereft of his wife, into the downsized world opens up a filmic vista reminiscent of the Truman Show.

    But at this point Payne’s movie starts to simply unravel, drifts off into forgetfulness.

    Failing to fit out Downsizing with any sort of envelopment, Payne eventually opts for the hippy trip as the solution to his scripting direction. About half way through the film Paul is invited to his neighbour’s party, an event that is filmed to look like something Russ Meyer might have shot in the 60’s or 70’s ( Beyond the Valley of the Dolls), a typical Hollywood rendition of the Hippy Happy all night Party with drugs sex and soundtracked with anodyne generic feel good american rock music.

    The Russ Meyer party scene becomes defining moment in Downsizing. From this point on, Payne loses all interest in his miniaturisation concept. The proposition is just dropped. The film instead transforms into a rather dull ‘quest’ movie. Downsizing simply fills out its duration with characters and settings: Paul’s spunky Vietnamese girl friend, two Russ Meyer escapees and an old hippy colony on Norwegian Fjord. Again the Hippy Cult with its echoes of Manson, Jones and Koresh might have provided a rich vein of black satirical probing. But Payne plays it sort of straight. The Hippy colony disappears down into a hole in the ground to find salvation, with Paul at the last moment changing his mind and escaping back to his chums.

    The ending has forgotten its beginning. No one cares.

    Of course by leaving his ending open, with Paul and his girlfriend free agents above ground, Payne leaves open the possibility of a Downsizing 2, to drive even more people out of the downsized cinema.

    adrin neatrour