Monthly Archives: September 2022

  • The Forgiven             John McDonagh (2021; UK)

    The Forgiven               John McDonagh (2021; UK) Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Ishmael Kanater

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 6th Sept 2022; ticket £6

    Let’s Party!

    The current viewing ‘blockbusters’ are all of course to be found on TV in the form of multi-episode series. (I’m just watching one called ‘The Capture’ on BBC) They come in different flavours: fantasy, procedural/forensic, period/family, but they all share some common structural features. Their plots, with their multi faceted subplots, are based on a design analogous to circuit board diagrams where the current can be routed through different sections of the narrative; and also by way of the same analogy the critical function of the acting is to take on the roles of the sort of components found on printed circuit boards: resistors, capacitors, inductors, transistors etc the players thereby facilitating the connections between the different sections of the board, ie the subplots/digressions. The editing of these productions routes the action/the energy from one circuit to another, from plot to subplot and back again. In the completed final production of these episodic TV series the narrative line is driven by the editing device of cutting between a number of of parallel sequences built into the plotting. The effect of this ‘switchback’ editing is to create a product based on the dynamic of suspense. Each cut from one sequence to another leaves the outgoing situation with unfinished business, engendering suspense in the viewer. As the action switches continuously from setting to setting so the audience is manipulated into continuous states of suspension.

    The consequence of this design is that these types of production are structurally grounded in ‘suspense’ mechanisms rather than ‘intensity’ of relations play out. Hence for the script to work the acting needs to be more or less mechanical rather than organic, as the purpose of the acting is to function as part of the ‘circuit board’ rather than to play out the expressive imperatives of emotionally internalised drives.  The acting in these dramas is about ‘role’ playing rather than internalised expressive character formation, which would not only be a waste of time, but would potentially interfere with the energy flow chart of the circuits.

    Which brings me to John McDonagh’s ‘The Forgiven’. The film’s script/edit is structured on the TV series plot premise: continual intercutting strategy between the two parallel story lines. John McDonagh in using this script design flags his intention to aim no higher than small screen ambition, perhaps anticipating that TV is the audience for his movie. In theory the big screen format allows writers and directors to opportunity to explore and probe the limits of intensity ambiguity intention by the characters who stay with and within the flow of the relations established by the scripting. But John McDonagh has chosen to go with the logic of the circuit board.

    ‘The Forgiven’ is set in Morocco. The setting of one section of the film takes place at a week-end long party in the Saharan palace of a wealthy Western couple. As the party goers cavort in front of the omnipresent all-seeing Moroccan servants the filming of this event shows the shameless behaviour of these wealthy Westerners. The script calls out the revellers core racism, their hypocrisy, their amorality, their insensitivity, their ability buy anyone or anything in a society subjugated to the service economy.  In fact in itself, as a documented record without any pay off, the party’s laboured theme seems a mite overworked, saying the same things over and over again. But with a ‘bit of a fling’ scripted between David’s wife and a randy financial advisor, it’s all grist to mill of the lens and makes for a colourful if repetitive spectacle.

    The heart of ‘The Forgiven’s’ script is the ‘relationship’ or perhaps ‘interaction’ is the better word between David and Abdellah, the father of Driss whom David has run over and killed on his way to the party party.   Within this relational context the themes exploited in the party section might well have been the better and the more appropriately distilled, expanded, exposed by a script that chose to focus on probing intensities. But McDonagh has chosen to bypass intensity preferring to exploit and manipulate suspense as a mechanism. ‘The Forgiven’ is structured as a series of intersplicings between the party party and David’s journey with Abdella, taking Driss’ corpse back to the desert home. ‘The Forgiven’ with the predictability of a metronome cuts back and forth between David and Abdellah and the party party back at the Palace. The timing of the intercuts between the two settings, reduces the David/Abdellah relationship to spectacle, in as much as instead of the script holding and developing the tension points between the two men at the moments of heightened expectation, we suddenly cut back to “party party, the ritzy dance music the champagne and the excited sexy girls enjoying themselves. By the time McDonagh eventually cuts back to David and Abdullah, they’re onto another track. No tension develops, and we’re left with a couple of actors who often look like they’re waiting for the director to say: “Cut!” The players reduced to functioning as the nodes on a circuit board, enablers of the plot’s direction. The two male players are particularly dead, fed the appropriately tagged lines and most of the time looking bored with the mono-expressive diktat issued to them.

    A couple of more points:

    The credits are a mess. Normally you get opening credits shot against some simple background: the money, the stars, production, direction. Then the opening shot. McDonagh slaps all the credits major and minor over his opening sequence without the sensitivity of how to effectively blend captions with or over shot. The result is the the film begins as a horrible visual mess in which the audience can see neither the shot or the credits as interposed they interfere with each other, neither image not text being ‘readable’.

    ‘The Forgiven’ sets great store by the externalised filmic authenticity of the production. The Moroccan music, the Arabic captions, the aphorisms, all built into the ‘The Forgiven’ as if it wants to give out signage that it formally distances itself and excuses itself honourably from its own critique of Western arrogance. The problem is that instead of introducing within the film the voice of a dissenting character which would lend the critique a degree of subjective intensity, the Moroccan ‘devices’ are simply subsumed into the structure of ‘The Forgiven’ and become just another facet of spectacle.

    adrin neatrour  


  • Paris Texas   Wim Wenders; script Sam Shepard (1984, USA)

    Paris Texas   Wim Wenders; script Sam Shepard (1984, USA) Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 8th Aug 2022; ticket £4.95

    voice recognition technology

    In structure Wenders’ ‘Paris Texas’ has much in common with Wenders’ ‘Alice in the Cities’. Both films develop as road movies featuring a child accompanied by an adult engaged in a quest. The quests in both movies have an absurd element at the heart of their structure, involving the tracking down a place or a person on the basis of a minimal amount of information, so that the basis of the pursuit is grounded in something of a joke. The difference between these two quest themed movies is that ‘Alice’ transmits a lightness of touch, a refreshing naivety of relations that does not take itself over seriously. ‘Paris Texas’ in contrast is self consciously primed as a heavy duty emotional rap trying through its self conscious Sam Shepherd script to say something about America in words, whereas for the most part Wender’s cinematic imagery is sufficient unto itself to relay its message about contemporary America.

    Wenders opens ‘Paris Texas’ with a shot of Monument Valley. In this sequence we see the lone figure of protagonist Travis meandering at high noon through this symbolic landscape, location of so many Hollywood westerns. Monument Valley as a hostile natural environment is the default home of John Wayne, the all American rugged individualistic cowboy and his cinematic poet, John Ford. In contrast Travis is not at home in Monument Valley. He’s sick fatigued barely able to walk, finally he collapses and has to be rescued. He can’t make it; he’s unable to survive in this primal filmic environment.

    Opening in big sky country, Wenders ends ‘Paris Texas’ with Travis’ night time flight from the claustrophobic interior of a maybe-whore house to the equally claustrophobic interior of his truck which he drives off down the containing parallel marked lanes of the highway. Both the cowboy and Travis are characterised by their movement and in their isolation: both are men set apart. The cowboy moves through an exteriority: horse, desert, mountain, river pool. Travis, the contemporary equivalent moves through an interiority: house, truck, motel, diner, highway. The American psyche has moved ‘home’, moved away from the natural environment into the artificial world of man made structures.

    Initially like the Cowboy, Travis is a man of few words – an isolate – spending so much time alone talk has become unhabituated inhibited unnecessary. But Travis as Shepard’s script develops becomes more talkative and his increasing willingness to speak reflects Shepard’s background as playwright, his need to generate words for his lead player. But Shepard’s writing doesn’t work well as film dialogue. It tends to lean towards the theatrical or as in the penultimate scene, drives straight at the front row of the stalls. As ‘meaning’ rather than ‘situation’ drives utterance, line delivery becomes increasingly arch and the theatrically tempered dialogue induces the players into wooden and/or overemphasised phrasing.  

    Starting from Monument Valley Wenders’ movie reaches its destination in the scenes set client meet-room of the maybe-whore house where Travis’s ex, Jane works. Travis is travelling with his seven year old son Hunter (named for another filmic reference to the pioneer days of the American West) whom after some four years of separation, he wants to re-unite with Jane his mother.

    There are two scenes between Travis and Jane in the client-meet room of the maybe- whore house (it seems odd that no money seems to change hands in the maybe-whore house. After all ‘talk’ is expensive whether with a prostitute or a therapist (some whores claim to be therapists). ‘Time’ doesn’t seem to be ‘Money’ in this establishment which in ‘people’ business is unusual) The key feature of the room is that it is divided into two sections partitioned by a one way mirror set up. Both parties can speak to and hear each other; but only Travis can see Jane; she can’t see him. Wenders has designed this set so that it functions as a spacial analogy to characteristic psychological features of ‘cowboy’ or ‘male’ dominant marital relationships. The couple are isolated, each in their own ‘space’; they speak and hear across psychic dividers, they can’t touch and they can’t actually see each other as equals.

    The Wenders/Shepard’s client meet-room device works effectively on Travis’ first visit to see Jane. The set works to concentrate certain features of Travis’ attempts to communicate to establish a relationship to Jane: hesitancy, inarticulacy, inadequacy, deference, confusion. All traits intrinsic to the male cowboy type.

    If the film had ended at this point, it would have rendered an impressionist take on contemporary America, expressing qualities of diffuseness of intent, indeterminacy and dispersal. A feeling that cowboy Travis had attempted something beyond the capacity of his personal resources. An honourable failure. A failure in the traditional mode of the cowboy.

    Instead Wenders /Shepard opt for a finale that’s a slam dunk piece de theatre. The client-meet room is turned into a Catholic truth-booth. The playwright gives his protagonist words of self explanation, self justification, as ‘Paris Texas’ transposes in form from film into declamatory theatre. Shepard kits out Travis with a long durational monologue, archly disguised as a story about someone else. This displaced confession amounts to an account of how his uncontrollable jealousy had pushed him to abuse the object of his ‘love’, tie her up not let her out of the house. Shepard’s writing at this point articulates an indulgent sentimentality. With Jane’s response and her sudden ‘realisation’ that she’s been talking to her ex-husband all this time, ‘Paris Texas’ has been shaped up so that Wenders can sign off with a banality, a genre conforming reconciliation and plot resolution. Hunter is re-united with his mum through the good offices of cowboy Travis, who drives off into the traditional distance.

    Wenders choses an easylistening ending in a world where there are no longer easy endings. Today’s American cowboys have to live not with certainty and permanence but with indeterminacy and ambiguity. Wenders’ forensic shots of contemporary America, are a context within which we can see directly the shape America has taken: the shots of LA from the home of Travis’ brother contrast with the rugged masses of Monument Valley, the silence of the cowboy contrasts with the screaming of the man on the bridge over the freeway. The nature of the land leaves its mark on the people. Perhaps Wenders wanted to make a movie that was act of homage to Wayne and Ford, but mere imitation of their genre of film making is surely a lesser achievement than following the impulses instincts that define the current times.

    adrin neatrour

    after thought….On viewing ‘Paris Texas’ it seemed strange that the central scene in Paris Texas, Travis’ storified confession to Jane, had to viewed with a particular suspension of belief!

    I mean Jane had lived with Travis. according to the script for at least some 6 years – perhaps more. During that time he’d loved, fucked and abused her. His voice would have seared itself into her memory as he accused her, berated her humiliated her. You don’t forget the voice of your long time tormentor. Whilst people’s faces may change (and of course in the one way mirror set up Jane cannot see Travis) people’s voices remain very constant. I found I had to ‘suspend belief’ that in the course of two sessions with him at the maybe-whore house, Jane does not recognise his voice. Of course movies always demand suspension of belief from the audience, usually in relation to plot development – that’s part of the fun. But filmmakers are pushing their luck when it comes to suspending belief in relation to features that lie at the heart of emotional relationships.