Monthly Archives: May 2019

  • High Life      Claire Denis (2018; Fr UK)

    High Life      Claire Denis (2018; Fr UK) Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche

    viewed: Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 14 May 2019. Ticket £10.75

    time for the deck chair

    Claire Denis is reported as saying that she made this sci-fi romp as an English language film: “…because people speak English – or Russian or Chinese – in space but definitely not French.” I think this statement is as crass as the movie she has directed. People now speak Hindi and Hebrew in space. Of course French would be a perfect language for outer space where one day the astro-muppets are going to have to learn to cook proper meals.

    Denis’ film is about a group of criminals deported into space to try and run through a black hole and see what happens to them. The narrative device is just a pretext as used by many sci-fi films as a set up for exploring particular issues outside the trammels of present time. Notable themes that have been examined in the sci-fi canon include: A1, the particular nature of history and and time, fear of the unknown. In Denis’ scenario fertility, fertility anxiety seem to be the cause of her concern. Given the reproductive trends we are witnessing in technologically advanced societies, in particular Japan, there is certainly something to probe; the confines of a space ship hurtling through deep space on an uncertain mission, would seem to be a promising setting.

    But if her film is about fertility rather than going shopping in a black hole, the trouble is that Denis doesn’t seem to have anything coherent to say about fertility. Or, if she does then doesn’t know how to say it.  We see the idea of fertility expressed in the watery mist soaked on-board garden, a short montage of which provides the opening shots for High Life. The greenery looks fertile enough, although except for Monte and his baby eating a strawberry, we don’t see much brassica put on the table.

    The thrust of the script concerns coupling or rather non-coupling and decoupling. Aboard spaceship there are men and women in more or less equal numbers. But there is some sort of barrier between the sexes that inhibits or diminishes libido and creates anxiety. Perhaps this anx is caused by the radiation storm.   Perhaps Dr Death (Dibs) has been paid to put something in the water. Perhaps mission control anticipated or manipulated the mass on- board sexual turn-off. For pleasure, not for fertility, they have provided for the crew a nice sex box. This a cubicle reminiscent of the pleasure/death machine that Barberella vanquishes in the eponymous movie. Dr Death expertly demonstrates that she knows how to use its pop-up steel dildo and pronounces to Monte that it is surprisingly effective. Dr Death herself is obsessed with collecting semen and using it for in vitro fertilisation which never works because of the radiation. Something always goes wrong in space. She then has a light bulb moment and screws Monte in his sleep, collecting the semen dropping out of her fanny and slapping it onto one of the sleeping women. This relatively crude stratagem works: for ‘Lo!’ A girl child is born. Halleluja! Houston we have fertility. But the only insight provided is a sort of old wives tale maxim that: “The old ways works best!” Get rid of them petrie dishes.

    In a sequence positioned early in High Life, which is structured non-sequentially, Monte murders all th esurviving crew (I suppose he does have form) as they lie in their cryogenic pods. This is done dispassionately, gently, by Monte and is remeniscent of a similar sequence in 2001 in which Hal murders the spaceship crew. But whereas we understand the logic of Hal’s action, Monte’s motivation is obscure. Perhaps its to spend the rest of his life alone with his baby, to have her all to himself so he can watch her grow up and teach her about life. However seen togather they seem a bit of an odd couple. In the last section of the film (which is in sequence and is the last sequence and not the first) he and the girl child (now called Willow who is insufferably precocious and all knowing) are left in the square ship about to penetrate the black yellow hole, thereby setting up the terrible prospect of a sequel.

    Denis has a script which with its lacuna and its vaulting temporal logic adds up to nothing. In the mish-mash of ideas churned through by the scenario, nothing comes out in the wash except the naturally conceived Willow who despite being brought up for 16 years alone on a spaceship with her taciturn dad, only represents smugness.

    This is a dead film. It is monopaced and without tension. Unless you count the tension caused by baby-Willow’s incessant screaming at the start of the movie. This screaming is a heavy handed statement by Denis of the obvious, as if we did not know baby’s are screamers. Denis’ dialogue sounds like it has been written by an AI-script-writing-botnik trained on early episodes of 1930’s Flash Gordon serials. And the cinematography is leaden and unimaginative.

    Judging by their recent work, some director’s like Lars von Trier and now Claire Denis feel like they are tired people. They are still making films because they are self conditioned to going through the motions of making films that are about nothing.. Perhaps they have the need to persuade themselves that they are not dead. Time perhaps to fold up that chair and go home.

    adrin neatrour









  • Welcome ll the Terrordrome   Ngozi Onwurah (UK 1995)

    Welcome ll the Terrordrome   Ngozi Onwurah (UK 1995) Suzette Llewellyn, Saffron Burrows, Felix Joseph

    Viewed: Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle UK, 9th May 2019; Ticket: £7

    style is king

    Ngozi Onwurah’s ‘Terrordrome’ is a production defined completely within style. As a filmic statement it attests to the triumph of the outer over the inner, surface over depth, darkness over light.

    To carry through this project Onwurah had to understand how she could push the capacities of a minority film project to express the experience of black culture in a white society. Most contemporary films when set in ethnic groups highlight the content and the primacy of character. Typically narrative structures drive the characters towards some outcome and the characters are normally defined through their association with conventional feelings experiences and attachments. These are relations such those with mother or with children which are of course reassuringly indistinguishable from those kinds of relations in the majority culture. Everyone is kind of the same – if you prick me do I not bleed?

    Onwurah has taken a radical step of relegating plot and characterisation from being the core defining qualities of her film. They are still present but not the primary characteristic. She has seen that most Hollywood movies, with the exception of Spike Lee’s films, when taking the black community as subject matter use scripting to normalise the black experience. Blacks were explained as being just like the white people: same types of relationships, same types of problems. No different. But of course this singular emphasis on the extent to which black and whites were similar in outlook experience and expectations denies what is crassly obvious: being in a black minority there are huge differences in life, huge differences in experience. And these differences are structured into their understanding of life .

    Onwurah starts with the perception that the defining aspect of black experience is the ghetto – here realised as the Terrordrome. An experience that is both oppositional to the majority power structure that contains them, and creative in using its own resources to to be seen and heard. The particular response of the blacks living in the Terrordrome is to take its defining situational aspects and assume them into expressive modes of the body. The collective experience is transformed into a stylistic statement, a collective part of individual subjectivity.   A culture of unashamed minority assertion, a feature of black identity alien to majority culture.

    Style then is the pure product of the Terrrordrome which Onwurah realises within a particular setting. Grounded in minority oppositional style, normalised settings such as apartments houses hotel rooms kitchens bathrooms would have lent a discordant visual signing to the film. Onwurah’s Terrordrame space in alligment with the film’s stylistic sympathies: the disassociated spaces of the shanty town, clapboard dwellings, subterranean service areas, abandoned basements. In the spacial configuration there are no markers dividing off kitchen area, bathroom, bedroom, lounge, dining room. No bourgeois division of zoanal function. This is the Terrordrome territory. A ghetto that’s like an excavated space, hollowed out of emergency need and press of population.

    Within in the immediacy of the settings and the presence of the bodies, hip hop lips tell the voice the people their story and their life in the shadow of the white world.   The drama that unfolds in Terrordrome is moulded and given direction by Onwurah’s creation of a filmic world defined as pure stylistic construct. The narrative develops as a black – white revenge saga. It is fuelled by white male sexual jealousy and spun out on the wheel of stylistic opposition that completes the full tragic cycle of death destruction and miscarriage.

    Terrordrome points to the primacy of style in minority culture, a primacy that not only is an identity resource but also shapes and predetermines responses. This stylistic determinism is seen not just in the opposition of gang culture to the majority, in particular the police and authority, but also in internecine warfare. This conflict is experienced in London 2018-19, where there’s been a large number of fatal stabbings. The hoodie ghetto territorialised style admixed with ‘Drill’, a bass driven form of hip-hop, creates a series of reactive responses that quickly escalate to the extreme act of knifing and killing.

    As the violence in Terrordrome escalates, both in the rage of the minority and in the calculated reaction of the majority, Onwurah ‘s depiction of the situation renders a clear understanding of the forces in play in our world.

    adrin neatrour








  • Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai)   Hirokazu Kore-eda (2004; Japan) 

    Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai)   Hirokazu Kore-eda (2004; Japan)   Yuya Yagira, Ayu Kitora

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 5 May 2019; ticket: £10.75


    Haircuts just about sums up ‘Nobody Knows’ in which Hirukazu Kore-eda as both writer and director, shows that at this point in his career he knows how to set up the superficial externalities of a scenario.   ‘Nobody Knows’ is light-weight TV style drama, that takes as its theme the notion of abandonment but what is missing is any idea of how to kindle the relations endemic in the situation so that Kore-eda can develop his film beyond the manipulation of his child actors.

    Hirokazu Kore-eda has recently gained acclaim for his 2018 movie ‘Shoplifters’. It seemed appropriate to have a look at his earlier movies amongst which is ‘Nobody Knows’.   ‘Shoplifters’ shares many situational aspects with ‘Nobody Knows’. ‘Shoplifters’ is located in an ‘any space whatever’, an interstitial urban zone and set on the margins of society. This situation is developed through the scripted tensions expressed between the way of life of the ‘enclosed’ shoplifting family and wider society. Also as ‘Shoplifters’ details the family’s ‘absorption’ into its bosom of waifs, wandering children, without bothering with legal niceties there is a creative dynamic between the world of the children and the worlds of the adults.   The possibilities within the situation were exploited, in quasi narrative form, so that relations set up in the script changed and intensified, intertwining and feeding back as the film progressed.


    By way of contrast in ‘Nobody Knows’ the situation of the abandoned child remains a comparitively undeveloped idea.  As in ‘Shoplifters’ the locational parameters of Tokyo’s ‘any space whatever’ (in this case nondescript low rise low rent apartment blocks) are established, as is the notion of a family milieu. But, unlike ‘Shoplifters’ after establishing these elements, Kore-eda by-passes the relational and psychic aspects attendent on abandonment.


    Kore-eda’s script observes. We see Akida befriend schoolboys of his own age, we see him contact his mother’s ex’s and join in a school baseball game. But these scenes are played out as inconsequentialities, even the death of the little girl leaves only a faint mark on the film’s bland exterior. Instead of a script that probes the possibilities in the situation: the relations between the children, the relations between the family and the outside world, the relations between adults and children, Kore-eda’s movie meanders through time and across space following the main child protagonist Akira as he copes with coping. What we understand is that although the living conditions deteriorate, psychically everything is fine. All the children get on with each other, even when dead.


    Nothing happens in any relational sense tying the children to other forces outside themselves. We see in ‘Nobody Knows’ that the state of the apartment slowly goes down hill as utilities are cut off for unpaid bills, and the children in particular Akira try to handle the mess. Kore-eda might reply this is what really happened (Nobody knows is ‘inspired’ by a true story – whatever that means). But this mechanical rendering of the situation leaves a void at the heart of the film, the lack of any probing into the dynamics of children’s relations to each other. This abrogation of the children’s psychic and emotional zones leaves a void, a hole at the centre of Kore-eda’s script. Kore-eda might say he observes but for the most part what he observes is that children are rather cute.


    In place of probing into about the state of children left in their own world (perhaps Kere-eda perceives nothing) Kore-eda has a series of cute exploitative images of children to offer the viewer: Chocolate box cinema. ‘Nobody Knows’ feels like an offering to the average septuagenarian Japanese viewer bereft of grandchildren due to an aversion to sexual relations in the Japanese child rearing population.

    Instead of development, Kore-eda uses gimmicks.   ‘Nobody Knows’ is continually intercut with shots of little feet. These shots inserted with ever greater predictability into the film encapsulate the film’s poverty of expression. These shots, perhaps intended to express a sense of the vulnerability of the child, in repetition simply pander to conventional advertising imagery and the audiences’ desire for children to rendered as a consumerist product. And the beautifully stylised haircuts of the children serve the same end, to make for easy viewing.


    Kore-eda also seems to have understood that location and setting are significant features of film. But at this stage of his career, in ‘Nobody Knows’ he has not understood that in themselves they are not enough to make a movie. So we have a film comprising settings and the locations: the steps, the canal, the street, the store, the interior and exterior of the apartment. Shots that are repeated throughout the film, as little more than backdrops with little relational significance.

    A coherent time frame is absent from ‘Nobody Knows’. The film avoids giving the audience any real sense of the time passing. It is not possible to know the length of time for which the children were abandoned.   However judging by the perfectly styled and sculpted and unchanging cut of Akira’s hair, Kore-eda is not interested in the passage of time, he is more interested in a frozen image, a non dynamic holding the film together. His time image is static, and his response to ‘time’ is not to fill it in, but to fill it out. Like the haircuts in Nobody Knows, Kore-eda doesn’t signify time, he defies it.   .

    adrin neatrour