Monthly Archives: January 2022

  • Happiness (le Bonheure) Agnes Varda

    Happiness (le Bonheure) Agnes Varda (1965; Fr;) Jean-Claude Drouot, Claire Drouot, Marie-France Boyer

    If music be the food of love….

    I had a look at the Wikipedia entry for Varda’s film Happiness and got a surprise!

    In Varda’s ‘Happiness’ the core family about whom the film hinges was played by lead Jean-Claude Drouot’s actual family: his wife and kids. As far as I can see this was the only acting role Claire Drouot ever played, but it is noticeable that amongst the cast there were a number of other non-actors. So Happiness is a strange and special film: a fictitious family narrative wrapped up within the folds of an actual family narrative. “Happiness’ is Varda’s savage satire/ parody on the family and the woman’s role in the happy family. But you’d think that with all those Drouot’s on set there must have been a lot of humour in the shoot, as reality and fiction kept bumping up against each other.

    Varda’s movie is the slow play out of a script grounded in a comedic drama that is geared to deepest black humour.

    The glory of Happiness is that it is pitched at the same emotionally dead level throughout its duration. As it is at the beginning so it is at the end, it’s Mozart all the way, though more of that later. One sometimes sees references in historical accounts to the ‘actors’ sleepwalking their way towards disaster. ‘Happiness’ is the sleepwalking but without any awakening after the disaster: there’s somnambulation before, somnambulation after.

    In the new consumerist wonderland everyone walks on air with nothing under their feet.

    The key to Varda’s characterisation is not narcissism, but rather the oblivion that has overtaken and shapes the people in her movie. The setting is a modern working class suburb of new conveniently built domiciles. This location is detached from the old working class areas of Paris, with their communal solidarity and tradition of resistance. In this suburb the car the fridge the other appliances have taken over, everything is designed to make the living easy. Life has become disconnected. Varda’s characters are oblivious to the past oblivious to all the interconnecting threads, social political economic that make up the world that exists outside their dream existence. The dream existence comprises an ‘eternal now’ which is the space time metric in which Varda has chosen to film. As the social and communal have collapsed the family is the source of identity and life revolves around satisfying individual needs in particular those of dominant male individuals.

    At one point Francois, Varda’s protagonist defines ‘Happiness’. He says:

    “Happiness is submission to the natural order.”

    Who’s natural order? The natural order of Francois.

    Varda’s is the feminist perspective. The key to the films cinematography is the manner in which Francois is observed. The nature of observation of his actions reactions his off guard moments could only stem from a female sensibility.   In this cinematic scrutiny of the male there in nothing hostile. Indeed any hostility or anything unreasonable or unpleasant in relation to Francois’ actions or words would undermine Varda’s key proposition: that it is definitions of women’s ‘normality’ and the cultural expectations of feminine passivity, that drive the presumptions underlying male attitudes to women. These male states of mind when interacting with women are the key factors supressing women’s ability to control their own development.  

    The ingenuity of Varda’s script is realised in that there is no climax (sic) proper. There is only anti-climax. When Therese drowns herself on discovering Francois is also in love with Emilie (whom he describes as: “…the apple tree outside the orchard.”).   But it is not the climax of the film; there is no climax there is only anti-climax as life continues as normal for Francois in his bubble of ‘love’ and ‘happiness’.  Emilie moves seamlessly into his life to take over Therese’s place. A body for a body; a love for a love; a mother for a mother. As Francois says: “Happiness works by addition.” The apple tree moves into the orchard, and Francois is happy. A happiness dependent on the malleability of the woman in the world of the man.

    Le Bonheure is wondrously shot. Cleverly set up camera pans, intercut signage and subversive shots, and use of colour screens as interstitial chapter cards. But it Varda’s use of music that is stunning and unforgettable. Varda opens ‘Happiness’ with an idyllic pic-nic sequence as the François family pic-nic and relax in the woods. Laid over the picture is Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major.

    Varda has understood this piece of music as synonomous with grace, happiness, and escape. It is almost impossible to listen to this music without experiencing a direct physiological effect coursing through the body, transposing one’s life away from the troubles of this world (written just two months before his death it is Mozart’s last completed major work). In one sense it is the ultimate Bourgeois antidote to the problems of life, carrying the listener off their feet into a parallel trouble free domain. Varda’s use of this music is brutal. As a dominant piece of the West’s audio cultural furniture Varda has aligned this music with the same traditional forces holding women in their place. Varda unhinges the Mozart Concerto from the high firmament of music and casts it down into Dante’s third ring of Hell. Her response in ‘Le Bonheure’ is to relentlessly exploit the Concerto as a destructive force, introducing it over and over again on the sound track, cueing it at unforgiving volume whenever Francois lifts his head. The Concerto is a defining presence in the movie. It directs and shapes the audience’s response to the development of the scenario. Repeated time and again, the familiar beloved passages, the rising chord sequences of the music are deranging and inverted in affect. This so familiar music instead of affirming mocks parodies haunts and taunts the state of mind represented and exemplified by: happiness.

    Final word: Varda has worked with her cast, both amateur and professional to draw out ensemble acting style completely at one with her theme. The acting is monopaced, monosybilic and self effacing. Totally at one with the script.

    adrin neatrour

  • Licorice Pizza         Paul Anderson

    Licorice Pizza         Paul Anderson (USA; 2021) Alana Haim; Cooper Hoffman

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 18 Jan 22; ticket £10.75


    job lot

    Like the waterbeds Gary sells in ‘Licorice Pizza’ (without mentioning their tendency to leak), the movie itself is a constant stream of leakage about the narcissistic culture of which it is both product and beneficiary.

    With its setting in an idealised world of ‘70’s California, Anderson’s movie promotes the simple Panglossian message to the target audience: that all is well with the world in the best of all possible worlds. In this care-free rollover society of shifting suburban mores, entitlement and narcissism have taken the place of Bougainvillea as the new source of life’s colourisation.

    Anderson’s ‘Licorice Pizza’ (LP) is simply an advert. What’s it selling? Like all ads it’s selling wish fulfilment; the possibility of a state of mind enabled by a product. Anderson uses every trick in the Madison Avenue handbook to legitimise adolescent desire by associating it with the positive vibes of American socio-cultural imperatives: music and success. LP’s message is: Buy the Californian Dream.

    The core of the film lies in the character of Gary. He’s a 15 year old actor come businessman come lover-boy, who through the film remains in hot pursuit of Alana, a 25 year old woman – but in the contemporary coin is just about going on 16. Gary like millions of boys before him is infatuated by an older woman; he craves the imputed maturity of her presence grace and favour. It’s what’s usually called a ‘crush’: a state that is often but not always, left wisely undeclared. Not in Gary’s case or we’d have another sort of film. Anderson, because Licorice Pizza is set in LaLaLand which is premised on a fervent quasi-ideological belief in overcoming all obstacles, indulges a script line of adolescent wish fulfilment and of the legitimacy of adolescent male desire. A celebration of narcissism vindicated.  

    The film is made up of a series of interconnected but more or less discrete sequences, chronicling the ebb and flow of Gary’s pursuit of Alana. It’s an exposition of the American Dream, most recently given an outing in Disney’s ‘Minari’: work hard = succeed = get what you want. The success of Gary’s pursuit of Alana is never in doubt – she’s not going to be able to escape, as Anderson has stacked all the cards in favour of a Calilalafornian play out.

    The devices and manipulations Anderson employs in his scenario, not only to bring about the desired union but to sell it to the audience are drawn from the basic primers of the advertising industry: Distract and Associate.

    LP is pitching a sleazy boy-child wish fulfilment masturbation fantasy that has to be decked out as a legitimate love story.   The first page of the ad play book is: listen to the music; exploit the sounds. Every significant event in Licorice Pizza is scored, garlanded full volume, with a feel-good track. The soundtrack is designed into the scenario to subliminally affirm Gary and Alana’s relationship by associating it with the good vibes of the music. It’s a cheap trick designed to overwhelm any of the viewers’ reflective reservations by triggering in them a conditioned emotional response to the familiar songs. Of course it’s effective.

    Anderson’s second main legitimation of Gary’s pursuit, is the plotting out of his career as an entrepreneur. Success in business denotes the ultimate American achievement.   By rights and by implication such success gives you the right to anything you want: including most importantly, women. Gary’s business acumen legitimises his hots for Alana, the more so as at one point he literally buys her by employing her. Individual business success, because it is the ultimate pinnacle of self achievement in this society, brings with it the assumption of other positive character traits such as: maturity self discipline and intelligence The point of Anderson’s scripting is to stack up Gary as an entrepreneur thereby allowing his character to be credited with adult traits that legitimise his ardent desire for a relationship with Alana.

    Dishonesty lies at the core of LP. It feels like a story of faked achievement driven by narcissistic self love and delusion, is being sold as a remedial for the dark atmosphere of the times . Looked at dispassionately, Gary is little more than a self satisfied little prick, perhaps excusable because of his age; Alana a typical retarded adrift child-woman whose judgement is scattered by the first snort of money or success. Clamped together by the overweening music the movie celebrates them in the final sequence as they hurl themselves into each others arms. The final clinch; the kiss that resolves.

    What is disturbing is that LP has struck a chord exactly where it was pitched: at the under 40 demographic. For whom it seems to have sounded all the notes they craved. LP comprises cultural arrogance festering a narcissism that thrives in an economy of conspicuous consumption.   The attraction of Anderson’s movie bodes ill for the future of the planet whose problems are exactly exacerbated by these phenomena.

    adrin neatrour




  • A Hero                        Ashgar Farhadi

    A Hero                        Ashgar Farhadi (2021;Iran) Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Sahar Godoost

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 11 Jan 2022; ticket: £10.75


    What’s in a look?

    There is one moment in Farhadi’s ‘A Hero’ that transfixed me. Protagonist Rahim goes to the bazaar to see the shopkeeper (who runs a photocopying business) to whom he is in debt. He is trying unsuccessfully to sort out the deteriorating situation between them. The man is not there, but his daughter is. In wide shot she spies Rahim lurking outside the shop, turns her head to stare him straight in the face; her eyes fix upon him a look of contemptuous venom, pure refined hatred. As target of this withering assault Rahim psychically crumples, his knees buckle, broken he stumbles off removes himself from the line of fire. He gets the message.

    Farhadi’s film like his previous movies produced in Iran, ‘The Salesman’ and ‘A Separation’ sets the viewer down within a series of densely crosshatched relationships: personal relations, family relations, business and community relations. As in these other films, the core of the scenario of ‘A Hero’ is a particular event: Rahim’s opportunistic attempt to con people into seeing him as ‘a hero’. But Rahim both underestimates the malice felt towards him and the fact that he is not able to control all of the information. Consequently his cover ‘hero story’ ripples outwards in an instable state: some elements have a basis in truth, but his elaboration is fabrication. Rahim’s credibility is slowly undermined, shaping and provoking reactions through the various intimate and social matrices, colouring and recolouring the response to and understanding of his situation by the involved parties.

    The strength of Farhadi’s film is that though the developments in ‘A Hero’ may be complex, though we move between different worlds – prison – home – work – community – the bazaar – there is one fixated line of development: Farhadi ’s script holds focus on Rahim’s actual situation tightly following its erratic course. In ‘A Hero’, though lacking the classic denouement of the plot lines in traditional Hollywood Studio products, Farhadi sustains the fixity of purpose of the classic directors: Huston, Curtiz, Wilder, Ford. There are no sub-plots, digressions; no cuts to mountains, sky or other contemporary digressive psychic tropes.

    There is a critical Brechtian quality to Farhadi’s writing and in the way he films, making strategic use of wide shots rather than close-ups. In classic Brechtian mode Farhadi’s script does not open up Rahim’s interiority. Rahim and the other characters act in relational terms; it is through other people that the audience see what he does and that Rahim actions make sense. It is through situations that the drama is able to reveal something to us about the social matrix and the ways in which people choose to navigate the world.

    In ‘A Hero’ Farhadi films so that we are meant to see what is happening, understand something and draw our own conclusions. As audience we are implicated just by being observers. We cannot view ‘A Hero’ without arriving at some judgement about the complicity of the characters in the play out of the decisions they make. Most relevantly Rahim, who is in prison for the debt he owes to copy shop owner. Rahim is played as likeable chancer, with little awareness of anything outside his own needs. In the opening shot, we see him leave prison on temporary release; in the final shot we see him return to prison. The film covers what happens between these two points in time. Between the going and the coming.

    In this ‘between’ we witness his attempt (along with his girlfriend) to exploit the return of some lost gold coins to their rightful owner. After trying dishonest options, Rahim chooses a course of action that’s calculated to enhance his reputational standing, and giving him leverage to cut his prison sentence. The act is to some extent honest, but it’s an honesty grounded in duplicity, which Rahim either overlooks or is unable to appreciate. The unrelenting hostility of his creditor and others eventually leads to his action being caste as even worse than it was, leading to a deep moral discrediting of his reputation. As the relational ties expand, the creditor’s point of view and his determination not to cut Rahim any slack in his manipulative exploitation, are increasingly vindicated. The copy shop owner may be an unpleasant character, but he has seen right through his enemy. And so have we.

    But there is a coda. Hope. When Rahim’s ally, one of the prison administrators tries to rope Rahim’s young son (who suffers from a debilitating stutter) into the circus of increasingly desperate attempts to save Rahim, Rahim says: “Enough”. He makes the choice to intervene and put a stop, a complete stop to the cycle of lies and deceit. An honest decision that it’s better to return to prison than to implicate the innocent in his own guilt.

    In the opening shot, we see Rahim leave prison on temporary release; in the final shot we see him return to prison.   What has happened between these two events is that Rahim for the first time has made a moral choice.

    Farhadi has been criticised for being an apolitical director avoiding any confrontation with the politico-religious regime. I don’t accept this. Both ‘A Separation’ and ‘The Salesman’ are in a sense satires, playing out the consequences in small scale of the large controlling macro-environment. Incorporated as key elements in the scripting of both these films are probing questions in relation to the Shi’ite theocracy. In both movies a key issue is the destructive and unequal nature of the traditional relationship between the sexes and the power allocated to men over women in key areas of life. In addition ‘A Separation’s’ play out hinged on the putative authority of the pater familias who was in an advanced stage of dementia, an allusion to the old Mullah’s and Ayatollah’s who control the country.

    Likewise it seems to me that ‘A Hero’ is also a loosely drawn analogy pointing up what is going on in Iran today. For Rahim, the likeable urbane non religious protagonist, read the Iranian middle classes and their disastrous pact with the late Shah. In this pact they accepted an easy going urban Western life style as the price they were prepared to pay for living under a corrupt regime that most Iranians felt betrayed and belittled them. Understand the copy-shop creditor (in the business of ‘replication’) as representative of those who felt betrayed by the Shah and his comfortable middle class clients, and there is an analogous notion of debt: a debt of honour. Farhadi is saying that the middle classes have never understood the seriousness of this ‘debt’. They have never understood the root feeling of betrayal that the Shah years represented to the majority, the poor rural and religious Iranians. Farhadi is suggesting that it is not enough for the urban middle classes just to want the Western life style. If some sort of secular change is to come about in Iran, then it has to be accompanied by moral choices. The Middle Classes of Iran, however admirable their intentions, whatever the justness of the causes they espouse, if they comprise of nothing more than an ultimate desire to imitate Western lives, then they are no more than dishonest conmen. Until they understand this they will not succeed.


    Central to ‘A Hero’ as an allegorically contextualised satire, is the nature and quality of the acting. The acting takes its cue from the situation not from the emotionally charged imputed feelings of individuals in their situations.   In ‘A Hero’ the actors’ first duty is to their situation, as in the Brechtian understanding of the demands of drama.   The work of the actor is not to indulge emotive feelings (vide: soap opera) but to work through process. The intensity of the processes set in play by Farhadi requires a disciplined approach to the material by the actors for the issues in the film to retain their clarity and dignity. Within this paradigm the performances are finely tuned to this end, filled out with situational intensity but not bloated and distorted by the emotive overloading of affect.


    To return to that ‘look’: that look of deeply nurtured hatred trained on Rahim by the daughter of the copy-shop owner. It is a pure a intensity of affect. What’s remarkable about it is that it fuses in one moment the personal and the analagous social. The personal hatred of the woman for the man who has swindled her; the hatred of the ordinary poor and religious Iranians for the hypocritical machinations of the middle classes, whose driving concern is to be like the West.


    Adrin Neatrour

  • Titane       Julia Ducournau

    Titane       Julia Ducournau (2021; Fr. Bel.) Agathe Rouselle, Vincent Lindon

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 6 Jan 2022; ticket £10.75

    what’s in a name?

    The female protagonist of Julia Ducournau’s ‘Titane’ is called Alexia, an appellation surely too close to Apple’s own ‘Alexa’ to be accidental? As I watched the opening sequences of the movie it occurred to me that perhaps ‘Titane’ was Ducournau’s reposte to Apple’s ‘Alexa’, a symbolic assault on the Apple corporation’s conquest of human kind and its de-corporalisation of life death sex and friendship. Apple’s ‘Alexa’ the one without a body, parodied by Ducournau’s ‘Alexia’ who is all body; ‘Alexa’ she of the ingratiating soothing voice our little helper, metaphorically turned inside out in the form of ‘Alexia’ who is of the flesh and kills gratuitously, fucks mechines and spawns hybrid life forms. ‘Alexia’ who turns mute the nemesis of ‘Alexa’ who is voice. But of course this is just my own projection onto Ducurnau’s movie; my take on the creative impulse that might have engendered ‘Titane’ as an idea.   But whatever it’s primal concept, ‘Titane’ feels like a idea betrayed. In the end it derails into just another lost meandering scenario, tapers into an act of directorial self indulgence.

    It is evident from the start of the movie that Ducournau has taken J D Ballard as an inspiration. ‘Titane’ opens with three sequences, all of them comprising imagery of Ballardian obsessions : the first a montage of big close shots of an car engine; the second the car crash which results in young Alexia having a titanium plate in her skull; and the third, a spectacular motor show swollen with many of Ballard’s familiar tropes and fetishes, relating automobiles and desire. So we know that Ducournau is starting from a particular point and through Alexia, is trying to explore certain type of territory.

    J D Ballard in a series of novels, most noticeably ‘The Atrocity Machine’ took aim at the psychic incubation of polymorphic desire by the automobile industry. From the detritus of consumerist dreams and nightmares Ballard carved out a roster of disturbed characters pursuing transgressive gratification through the automobile: personalised violent death, strange sexually heightened wounds, obsessive re-staging or replaying of car bourn death. Ballard’s writing focuses on the aberrant fall out from the glossy advertising and sales pitches of the big car companies. His stories document how their associative imagery penetrates our states of minds and leaches into our unconscious. Ballard chronicles with relentless intent how ‘the mechanical bride’ became the hand maiden to mass sociopathy and self destruction.

    Ballard is of course not about plot but about mind as reactive consciousness. And that’s surely a situation we find ourselves into today in a world intrapenetrated with disembodied personalities? We need to strip away the blandishments and re-assurances of the tech behemoths. We need to penetrate through the digital interfaces and understand what lies under the surface of the products we have been sold: murder and mayhem perhaps? New Notes from the Underground.

    In films such as Faraldo’s ‘Themroc’ and Ferreri’s ‘Le Grande Bouffe’ the directors pursue particular targets – the pressures of social convention and western addiction to consumption – with a concentrated unwavering logic. Both these films start as propositions to be developed. From the outset they adopt an extreme premise and use the medium of film to work through implications and consequences to the bitter end. Both films climax in the ecstasy of reaching an ultimate conclusion and closure arrived at entirely on their own terms. There is no compromise; no way out; in Themroc and La Grande Bouffe, the human agents embrace in totality the mechanics of the psychic forces they have set in motion.

    ‘Titane’ at the outset seemed as if it might belong to that category of film which take their form and content from exploring an extreme motif.   In the first section it seemed as if Ducournau might have decided to follow the singular path determined by the closed logic of being ‘anti- Alexa’, of being a severe allergic re-action to everything ‘Alexa’ represents.

    But in the second half of ‘Titane’, Alexia progresses from being a serial killer (with a penchant for dispatching victims by plunging her long hairpin through their ears into their brains) into some sort of multiple Jack of all trades. Titane finds she is pregnant after having sex with her car (the gearstick?). Pursued for her numerous murders, she goes on the run and adopts the false ID of a disappeared boy. At this point Ducurnau’s script seems to spin out of control.   Ducournau doesn’t have either the wit or the visceral ability to craft her material into a singular form, a particular statement. Alexia isn’t a character in any meaningful sense of the term; she is a vehicle for an idea, for a concept. It is apparent that Ducournau simply either loses faith in the idea or never understood her idea in the first place.

    Her movie breaks into a number of strands, each of which has a different theme. Like many contemporary directors she tries to make her film all things to all men, appeasing different demographics: for the horror aficionados there’s an epic gyno-goth pregnancy with full-on gross eruptive physicality; Alexia as girl turned boy become trainee fire-fighter, a strand for the feminist; the theme of redemptive acceptance for the excluded. In final desperation Ducournau resorts to full-on driving dance pop video sequences. These have nothing to do with the thematic content of Titane, they are simply the desperate digressions of a film that has lost the plot, a director struggling to keep the audience entertained.

    ‘Titane’ feels like a lost opportunity. It may be my wishful thinking, but it feels like there is an idea at the core of this script, that is is grounded in the name ‘Alexia’, and what this name represents. Titane is the French for the element Titanium which is a key structural component in the manufacture of computers and of course titanium dioxide is the pigment used in that characteristic ‘white’ look of Apple products.

    At the end of the movie instead of understanding something, I understood nothing, bored I just wanted to get out of the cinema as quick as possible.

    adrin neatrour