Monthly Archives: March 2022

  • Petrov’s Flu     Kiril Serebrennikov (2021; Russia) Semyon Serzin, Chulpan Khamatova

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 28 Feb 22; ticket: £10.75

    the country’s at war

    Kiril Serebrennikov’s ‘Petrov’s Flu’ is a graphic depiction of the collective state of mind that fuelled the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February ‘22.

    With colourisation that soaks the film in a sick liverish yellow hue, life in Russia is depicted through the filter of an alcohol induced jaundiced haze. Kiril Serebrennikov’s scenario (based on a novel by Alexey Salnikov, which I haven’t read) is a dispatch from the front line of the Russian psyche: all is derangement. Reality is an hallucinogenic spectre, experienced as a constant state of fear characterised by paranoiac acts of violence. Everything is as it seems: a collective death trip.

    Serebrennikovs movie is divided into two parts: the first part shot in colour; the second section in black and white. My opening paragraphs describe the first part of ‘Petrov’s Flu’ which calls up the subconscious forces abroad in Russia evoking visceral brutal fantasies projected onto life. The second section, as befits its black and white patina more or less indulges the flip side of Russian violence: sentimentality – with the action centring on and around a ‘Snow Queen’ New Year children’s party from long ago.

    It’s the first 90 bilious minutes of ‘Petrov’s Flu’ that enthralled me as Serebrennikov reveals his Russia, the Russia that had finally taken action against the propagation of Serebrennikov’s terrifying vision and sentenced him to 18 months of house arrest. It was immediately after this sentence was served that Serebrennikov made this film: a response.

    ‘Petrov’s Flu’ – the first section – links together albeit ambiguously a series of violence splattered sequences – opening the film with the local bus service, set on a bus from hell. The bus is crowded, sulpherously lit, and dominated by a monstrous woman conductor presiding over a set of passengers whose unprovoked utterances in foul language comprise streams of pure malice. As Petrov stands coughing his guts up on one side of the vehicle we hear the intermittent warped banter, expressing hatred of foreigners, cursing liberalism and the state of Russia, which echo across in perfect resonance with Putin’s resentments and obsessions. Then the cut: the bus stops, the doors open, Petrov gets off at a small square where suspects – Jews Uzbeks foreigners etc have been rounded up. Handed a submachine gun, Petrov fires at the group killing them all. Coughing hacking he climbs back into the bus which lurches forward into the night.

    Central to Serebrennikov’s concept is life in Russia as delirium: all is hallucination all is real. This delirium has a literary precursor: it is certainly Dostoevsky. With strong pointers in particular to: Raskolnikov (coughing sickness permeates ‘Crime and Punishment’), the atmosphere that suffuses ‘The Demons’ (both ‘Petrov’s Flu’ and ‘The Demons’ take on suicide: Kirillov in ‘The Demons’ to prove man is God’s equal, the seer in ‘Petrov’s Flu’ sees suicide as proving there is no God) as well as his blistering assault on rationality, ‘Notes from the Underground’. Dostoevsky of course was a vehement opponent of nihilism and the metaphysical cynicism which he saw as destructive forces, dangerous and destroying the Russia he loved. In his works the strength of Dostoevsky’s writing was that he was able to draw empathic psychologically accurate pictures of the states of mind and purposes of his desperately motivated characters, giving credibility to their actions.

    Serebrennikov (and presumably Salnikov) draws on precisely that same Russian propensity towards nihilistic delirium as Dostoevsky. But whereas Dostoevsky placed his faith in the mystical salvational essence of the Slav people, and under the terror of Stalin, the Russian soul was nurtured and protected by the teleological ideals of egalitarian communism. Post 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the idealistic belief system that sustained it, the people have been caste into a psychic pit of self destruction bringing perdition both to themselves and to their world. In this abject state of delirious nihilism, Putin rises up as the anti-Christ, the Lord of Misrule and harbinger of Death without hope. Through ‘Petrov’s Flu’ Russia’s fall from grace her descent into a world without meaning rings like a prophecy come true, the final living out of a nightmare future long foreseen.

    Petrov’s visions during his visit to the drunker ‘seer’, the ride with the corpse in the back of the station wagon, the violent episode kicked off by his librarian ex-wife in the library itself, the sci –fi out of body experiences of Petrov and his son all meld into one delusional experiental reality. A reality to which the Russian psyche no longer has the resources with which to cope; only response left is either cynicism and violence or complete passivity.

    Serebrennikov points us to Russia as it is in this time of Putin, with the implicit warning that this Russian sickness, like all psycho-social sickness, is a virus that has riddled through the body social. In many respects this Russian virus is the mirror image of the American virus.   With its output of Hollywood ‘Superhero’ movies many of which end in cataclysmic violence signifying the apocalyptic end of the world, American is also a society unhinged, detached from any sustaining belief system. Buoyed by technological arrogance, deluded America too is only capable of unleashing the forces of destructive nihilistic omnipotence, in order to sustain itself.

    As these twin viruses spread unchecked throughout the world, we move inexorably towards some sort of final reckoning, either as war or as destruction of the planet’s environment.  

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

  • The Batman

    Tonight I went and saw ‘The Batman’.  This is the first movie I’ve seen set in this universe since 2019 and ‘Joker’ (With which the film could be part of the same universe.) and the first Batman movie since 2008 and ‘Dark Knight’.  Both these movies are highly regarded and both had critical success.  I have serious problems with both these movies and think they are overrated.  In MY OPINION ‘Joker’ is gorgeous.  Fantastic set design, great cinematography, fantastic performances, great soundtrack and sound design…  The movie as a character study was meh.  Generic and uninteresting.  ‘Dark Knight’ I have an even lower view of.  Me and my mate went to see it and we both thought the same.  Fantastic start with that bank robbery scene.  Heath Ledger Truly deserved the Oscar for his Joker.  The film was over bloated, somewhat confusing and predictable and that Batman voice…  A choice?  Really that was a choice.  Here endeth the unpopular views.

    ‘The Batman’ is the best Batman film for me since ‘Batman Begins’.  I really do love that one.  Still my favourite.  It doesn’t quite have any performance as great as Heath Ledger’s, or Joaquin Pheonix’s Jokers’   But all the performances were top notch.  Zoe Kravitz as Selina kyle/Catwoman was fun, Colin Farrel as Penguin nicely chewed scenery, John Tuturro as Falcone was good form as to be expected from the seasoned actor.  The weakest for me was Robert Pattison as Batman (He didn’t really do a Bruce Wayne.  It wasn’t a terrible performance and still watchable.  Long stares instead of replies.  It was a bit to emo for me but it had potential.  You knew this was the Batman still on the early days of his journey and he was not yet who was going to be but you can see Pattison’s Batman has the potential to be the batman we all know.

    What was great about ‘The Batman’ was the story.  It’s the first live action Batman film that really is a detective story nearly all the way through.  This film relies less on Batman physical attributes, which are here, including gadgets and the best live action Batsuit and relies more on his knowledge and observation skills.  Pacing is great, mostly, it lingers in some areas.  It suffers from the modern film habit of being overly long but it isn’t as bad as some others.  Maybe 20 minutes of stuff that didn’t need to be there.  The cinematography is great and has plenty of hero scenes and enigmatic silhouettes.  This film has lots of influences and wears them proudly noir, Hitchcock even Nolan’s Batman but mostly 2 obvious stand out influences.  Gotham city felt like it was pulled out of the ‘Arkham’ games and of course David Fincher’s ‘Seven’.  It was ‘Seven’ in so many ways but not in a bad way.  It could very much have been a good sequel.  Paul Dano’s Riddler shared a lot with John Doe.  The murder’s and the clues shared a lot with the seven deadly sins styles of murders and clues and there was part, that has to be said was ripped right out of ‘Seven’.  Even that didn’t annoy me though.  Rather it was a familiar moment.

    ‘The Batman’ was a pleasant experience, even surprise as I wasn’t expecting much.  The first live action production I’ve enjoyed in this universe since 2005.

    This is not Adrin…  The pirate reviewer.

  • Eyes Wide Shut     Stanley Kubrick

    Eyes Wide Shut     Stanley Kubrick (UK/USA; 1999;) Nicole Kidman; Tom Cruise

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 3rd March 2022; ticket: £7

    Titillation

     

    My thoughts after viewing Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ were that this movie represented the aging director’s personal search for the elixir of youth in the form of placing himself in proximity to hundreds of nubile semi-naked young women. This is the mother of all ‘bare tit’ movies outscorring any putative rivals by a factorial amount: ‘tits’ at the beginning, the middle and the end, in long shot and close up. ‘Eye’s Wide Shut’ looks like an old man’s attempt to command vicarious exposure to the delights of the flesh by virtue of his elevated status as a ‘famous’ film director.

    The film opens with a series of domestic shots set to the soundtrack of a Shostakovich waltz. Perhaps Kubrick thought that using this waltz, he could emulate, albeit on an intimate scale, something of the impact of the Strauss music he used with effect in 2001. But what works with the epic doesn’t necessarily synch up in the same way to the intimate. In fact Kubrick is not a film director who is able to handle the intimate, it is a domain that is alien to his nature. Kubrick’s best films are about power relations, thinking in terms of Paths of Glory, Strangelove and certainly the Hal / Dave subplot in 2001. But intimacy seems a foreign language to him cinematically. His successful characters for the most part are developed along the lines of one emotional dimension, though it is a dimension that is examined in some depth. But in Eyes Wide Shut, Bill and Alice, as played by Kidman and Cruise, seem to have slipped off a Times Sq electronic billboard. Having nothing more to offer than the expected complexity of characters in a ad, they do not so much act rather they perform as sales agents. Kubrick is to Relationship Movies as Eric Rohmer is to Hollywood Westerns.

    And Kubrick’s script for ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ lays bare his inadequacy as a writer of dialogue for the sort of film he’s directing. The stilted nature of the writing is heard in the early party scene where Alice is aggressively propositioned by an old Hungarian roué. The overtly theatrical dialogue, in particular that which is put into the mouth the old Count (who does a stentorian job in keeping a straight face) is toe nail curling, comprising the sort of cod lines one might hear in a bad European play of the 1930’s. In fact most of the dialogue is written and delivered in a sort of mock theatrical style that does little for the concept of film intimacy. The idea may have been to compose the sort of lines for the main characters that a playwright such as Edward Albee might pen, lines that would stand up to this style of delivery. But Kubrick and co-writer Frederic Raphael are not in Albee’s league, and instead of incision and intuitive psychic insight, there is mainly banality and trite riposte. The exception is perhaps Alice’s early monologue to Bill, in which she talks to him about herself as a woman and her desire.

    And then we come to the film’s centre piece: the in-calling ritual, the invocation orgy. This scene is probably based on the reasonably well known and documented rituals devised by occultist high priest Alistair Crowley. But all that can be said of Kubrick’s attempt to create a believable representation of such a spectacle is that he should have left this sort of stuff to Hammer Films, or even the British Carry On series. They did this sort of thing much better. They did it better because in particular, in the case of the House of  Hammer, these sort of ritual/orgy scenes were always composed stylistically to create a distance between the shot and the audience. Such sequences were ‘hammed’ up to a certain extent, which enabled the audience avoid any sort of investment in the putative meaning of what they were seeing. Hammer knew how handle these things – not too seriously.  Kubrick in comparison seems clueless: he has no filmic recourse other than replication. Replication may have served him well artistically in some of his movies (as well as perhaps feeding serving his own dictatorial nature) but it doesn’t wash well with Black Magick stuff. The reason of course is that with mere replication you cannot embed the meaning for the participants of what is happening for them. It is those very subjective elements that collectively fill out the the psychic space of ceremonial practice and lend it power. Kubrick fails to fill out this set piece with anything other than Bill’s uncomprehending gaze, and the long scene, filled out only with titillation, drained of significance, elides into tedium.  The scenes look what they are a bunch of people doing what the director tells them.  We are pleased when Bill finally leaves or rather is kicked out, and we no longer have to watch Kubrick’s empty spectacle.

    ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ Kubrick’s final movie was 400 days in production and after a protracted edit, he delivered his ‘cut’ to Warner Bros on 1st March 1999, five days before his death. On the face of it, it looks like a chronicle of time wasted.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Freaks     Tod Browning Fallen Angels – Wong Kar-wai

     

     

    Freaks     Tod Browning   (USA; 1932;) Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams,Henry Victor, Daisy and Violter Hilton, Harry Earles, Daisy Earles

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 17 Feb 22; ticket: £10.75

    Fallen Angels – Wong Kar-wai (HK; 1995) Leon Lai; Michelle Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Charlie Yeung

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 20 Feb 22; ticket: £7.00

     

    worlds apart

    Browning and Kar-wai’s movies are both projections of worlds but very different worlds. ‘Freaks’ is set in and revolves about the moral imperative of the world of the Circus Freaks; ‘Fallen Angels’ is set in Hong Kong and revolves about the amoral world of a people detached from their environment.   Freaks is about the ties that bind the people together into a socially cohesive society; ‘Fallen Angels’ is about the way the HK world breaks the bonds that unite people and castes them adrift in a world of individuated alienation.

    ‘Freaks’ is defined by its warmth; ‘Fallen Angels’ is defined by its coldness.

    ‘Freaks’ is about how love and hate stream through the body. Physicality features prominently in Browning’s film: the shared Loving Cup at the Wedding Feast, touch is the way in which the people relate to one another. The body in whatever form it takes, is celebrated by Browning as a vibrant channel for: nurturing pleasure love compassion but also for betrayal and deceit. Both the straights and the freaks accept their bodies as they are. There is no shame, there is a simple openness of the body to the hazards of life.

    In Wong Kar-wai’s world there is no love no hate. Life is reduced to the bare functionality of living – survival. The body itself is almost an abstraction; the people who populate his film are fallen angels and angels have no bodies. There is little physical contact between people, and when there is contact it takes the form of brief solace, that is quickly disengaged. The physicality most intensely portrayed is that of the Killer’s Agent who is filmed in two long sequences masturbating, sequences which encapsulate the painful loneliness of this world’s isolation. All that is left to the Killer’s Agent is to subject her body to a tedious desperate futile ritual in order to affirm her physical existence.

    ‘Freaks’ is a world of contrasts: day and night. love and hate, normal and abnormal. ‘Fallen Angels’ is a world without contrast: there is only darkness; there is only isolation, there is only alienated space. Lack of meaning defines existence, the characters are people in existential crisis.

    ‘Freaks’ is set on the fairground, in the trailer homes of the circus folk and the intimate space of the ground between them. In ‘Freaks’ the people belong. Their homes speak of: domesticity, preparation of food and drink, intimacy.

    ‘Fallen Angels’ is all: hard ass fluorescent lighting, long labyrinthine corridors, impersonality. The characters occupy cells rather than living in rooms, cells that are appropriate for fast food, masturbation and the oblivion of sleep.

    ‘Freaks’ of has a underlying narrative but it’s as a statement of affirmation of life that it is characterised.

    ‘Fallen Angels’ is structured about the loose intertwining of the lives of its four main characters. It is a statement of the emptyness of existence in a city dedicated to all that defines modernism – its industrialised food poverty of relations impersonality of architecture and design. Accompanied by an upbeat sound track designed to emotionally offset the images, ‘Fallen Angels’ has the feeling of a prolonged extended pop video using the music track as an ironic counterpoint to the bleakness of the visuals and the scenario. Set to music HK as a proving house for loveless worlds to come.

    And yet: ‘Freaks’ is of course an idealisation of what was a very harsh world. But even as a movie model, it communicates to its audience something precious about life and social ties.

    And yet: ‘Fallen Angels’ however self destructive the environment typified by HK may be, this is the same city which saw in 2019 the brave idealistic protests against Carrie Lam and the imposition of the mainland China mandate. This revolt by predominantly young people was unsuccessful but no one who followed the course of events over two years could deny the commitment bravery and determination of those who were prepared to take on the full might of the state.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk