Monthly Archives: June 2023

  • Masculin-Féminin     J-L Godard

    Masculin-Féminin     J-L Godard (Fr; 1966) Jean-Pierre Léaud, Chantal Goya

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 18 June 2023; ticket: £7

    lest we forget

    As per Godard it’s not the romancing that counts but the social constructs that define and delimit it’s possibilities. As romance goes the relationship between Paul (a romantic young idealist) and Madelaine (a wannabe popstar) is cool, as in it’s a cool relationship with, as in the words of the Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields song, A Fine Romance “…with no kisses…” The kissing being replaced by a detached dialogue that probes sex life expectations and political attitudes.

    The relationship is a device for probing the facts of life of the times in the mid twentieth century.

    In ‘Alphaville’ Godard’s scripting exhibited a prescience about the way in which computers were to develop. What Godard understood about computers was not just their inevitable transition into machines that would have the capacity to take over and control all aspects of our society; computers would also imprint their algorithmically contrived language upon human consciousness; our own thinking would inevitably start to align itself with machine communication, turning us into proto automatons. We were going to end up ‘brainwashed’, with our minds invaded by the computer virus and be unable to think in any other way. In ‘Masculin-Féminin’ Godard has also seen into the future. His scenario probes another nascent feature of control technology which was also going to transform the way we live and interact: the opinion poll. The opinion pole as the harbinger of the data driven society.

    At mid point in the film Paul abandons his interest in politics and gets a job with a polling company. Paul’s job is to gather peoples responses to questions about their personal life sexuality and their buying preferences. Godard sees that the forces starting to operate in the social matrix of the mid’60’s are steadily working against and undermining the political and the communal. The real arguments about the division of power wealth and class inequality are in process of being overwhelmed by the burgeoning imperative for everyone to consume…. more and more and more…and for these patterns of consumption to start to define us.

    As the apparatus of capitalism gives consumers the goods they are incited to desire: the car, the TV, the holiday, the clothing, the music, all considerations surrounding how and why and at what cost these things are produced become irrelevant. Everything belongs in the domain of possession. The people are addicted to Coca Cola. But at the same time as this marriage to consumption takes place, something else also happens that marks a change the social psyche: the arrival of the pollsters.

    Where once we might have been defined by class and politics, we are now defined by the data that is collected about us. The pollsters back in the 60’s with their questionnaires and clip-boards were the start of a process where over time we have all become agglomerations of our possessions. Of course there is a feed back loop between the objective and subjective, in which our own self identity and the identity of others are increasingly moulded by the data relating to the way we live. We become what we consume, what we watch, the music we listen to. In 1966 Godard was witnessing and documenting what he understood to be the beginning of an atomised fragmented society defined by patterns of individualistic consumption and the end of community. The pollsters were the start of the data driven society that now with the internet and its ‘likes’ cookies, personalised ads, and tracking, has reached a point of satiation and satiety.

    In his later films I think Godard understood that ‘1968’ and all that had been a final act desperate of resistance against the overwhelming pressure of the capitalist driven forces of consumption, completely remoulding the social sphere as an apolitical realm. His films following 1968 can be understood as acts of defiance and analysis.

    ‘Masculin-Féminin’ is not so much a narrative rather a series of clips pinpointing events in the course of ‘a perhaps’ relationship. Intercut between these sections are clips depicting defining images of the times: the shops the billboards the neon signs and brightly lit boulevards of Paris. Intra-cut into the clips are short sharp depictions of the violence witnessed without surprise and ‘coolly’ by the protagonists, almost complete indifference. These violent actions epitomise the savagery of the times spontaneous sudden destructive actions that characterise a psychotic individualised society fed on images of death and wars of cruelty and murder.

    The era of Vietnam war: the war that runs through Godard’s films as a reference to the ultimate expression of US Corporate and Military Industrial hegemony and to remind the audience that this war was not something that could be forgotten. However much Europe and the politicians might find it convenient real politique to ignore and forget.   It was a cruel criminal war in which the might of the USA attempted to crush a country which was diametrically opposed to capitalism. It was a cruel and criminal war to which Europe for the most part turned a blind eye. Europe was to happy up to a point to allow its youth a luxury of gestural opposition but for the most part Europe simply wanting to get on and join the big fat party of consumer excess and life style celebration that was the necessary correlate of the murder in Vietnam.

    adrin neatrour



  • The Dam  Ali Cherri and Neptune Frost   Anisia Uzeyman, Saul Williams



    The Dam     Ali Cherri (2019 Sudan – Euro finance) Maher el Khair

    viewed at Losing the Plot 10 June 23; ticket £5

    Neptune Frost     Anisia Uzeyman, Saul Williams (2022; Rwanda + US/Eur finance)

    viewed at Losing the Plot 11 June 23; ticket £5

    out of Africa…?

    Two films seen at the Star and Shadow’s ‘Losing the Plot’, both with African settings, both written by non Africans, though Neptune frost has a Rwandan co-director, Anisia Uzeyman (who also is credited with the cinematography). Ali Cherri is a Lebanese artist; Saul Williams a New York poet rapper music-artist.

    With directors such as Diop Mambéty, Sembene, Sissako, Lacote we have African directors making films in Africa, depicting African situations and issues. So when artists/filmmakers enter the continent to make films with African players that depict Africa the question is to what extent are they playing out their own imported scenarios and using the African actors and settings simply as a legitimising backcloth against which they can endorse or give a spurious legitimacy to their own outlooks and ideas. Sometimes ‘outsiders’ can bring a fresh dynamic vision to new areas of concern; sometimes they simply exploit novel settings to foist their own preconceived notions upon situations they do not understand.

    There is one other point to consider in relation to the co-directors of Neptune Frost: Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman. The latter is Rwandan born and described on-line as an international actor playwright and director. The ‘international’ tag of the description has a putative implication about the self image of Uzeyman who is married to her co-director Saul Williams and lives in LA. But these are perhaps unfair observations. More to the point about the claim by ‘Neptune Frost’ to be an African film is that the script was written by Saul Williams. ‘Neptune Frost’ is a film in structure and content that has been formed by the writer, who has then co-directed his own script. The film comes across as being at least 75% Williams.  In particular the dialogue and the faux sci-fi thematic is strongly marked out as being part of the substance of the body of his work over the past 25 years. It’s a New York film characterised by the concerns (legitimate in their own right) of black African Amerikans. Williams owns the Neptune Frost script. The rest of the movie is scissors and paste.

    Ali Cherri’s movie ‘The Dam’ has a primal authenticity, both actual and psychic. Because the film has core concerns in relation to the forces working through the social and psychic interplay of inequality, to a certain extent these issues might be depicted anywhere (in this particular ‘The Dam’ reminded me of Mark Jenkin’s ‘Bait’: the setting was perfect but the issues underlying the script would have fitted other places other times). Again in the case of ‘The Dam’ Cherri’s concerns are all the stronger for being set in Sudan, at a location by the river Nile. Cherri’s script foregoes the use of classical narrative connections.  It is an associative scenario. The film is structured around an oppositional contrivance: the 2019 popular uprisings (relayed through television pictures) in Khartoum against al-Bashir (which led to the military coup that toppled him), set against the men labouring at a mud brick works situate on the banks of the Nile beneath the Merowe Dam, from which his film takes its title.

    The making of the mud bricks is done entirely by hand. Hard back breaking work that has a physical language that references Pharaohic times, ‘the dawn of civilisation’. The process is covered in detail by Cherri: the shaping drying stacking firing. Cherri’s opening comprises a wide shot of an antediluvian desert valley (reminiscent of Monument Valley). A man on a motor cycle, Maher, rides across the vista. He is one of the ‘brick’workers. As the film develops we understand that Maher rides out regularly to a remote hidden gorge where he is constructing a huge mud human effigy. It’s a vast figure, with its own wood scaffolding, that he builds and moulds with the skills used in his work.

    This effigy is the product of Maher’s mind. His psychic response to a primal urgent unbearable need to externalise the monstrous forces that are consuming him, as if all the evil forces abroad in the world could be contained, compressed in this figure. But of course as a product of the intensity of his need to create this figure (which like the biblical Adam, like the Golem, is made of mud) it comes alive with an awful vividity its terrible aspects working burrowing through Maher’s consciousness bestowing on him deluded but awesome and chaotic powers of destruction. He experiences delirium that mimics the experiences of Sudan itself, like the Merowe Dam that both bestows and takes away life, contains and unpredictably unleashes its waters according to its own hidden deathly logic. In the end a Biblical torrent of rain destroys Maher’s effigy, dissolving it back to the liquid mud from whence it came, the liquid mud from which all life came. And as the sluice gates of the dam open once again, the huge pipes spewing out millions of litres of water, there is a sweeping away of all before it, the mud and Maher himself who swims away with the current.

    Cherri’s ‘The Dam’ presents as an allegorical tryst which contrasts the collective action of people to change the political regime with Maher’s individualised need to fashion a psychic response to his situation, his urge to fashion a symbolic structure that represents the terror he lives with. It’s a projection that can only consume him and allow him to embrace his own self destruction. A fate which given the consequences of the conflict in Sudan today between the two opposing war lords, also seems to have overtaken the optimistic projections of the collective. In a sense the collective and the individual response though very different in form both flow from the same well spring of injustice oppression and the daily threat of annihilation.

    William’s and Uzeyman’s Nepture Frost, shot in Rwanda feels like an opportunist projection of New York/ US black culture onto the screen of Africa. Perhaps taking cue from Bowie’s Ziggy, William’s has fostered a script, inspired by the mining of coltan, revolving about a cyber sci-fi conceit, that allows the characters to travel through space and time. It comes across as one thing after another, a script that serves no other purpose other than to get from one music video set up to another. The music is fine; the interlinking dialogue by contrast is clunky. What might work in the context of rap, spat out in conviction, when spoken as ‘lines’ comes across as po faced gnomic utterances so tricked out with meaning as to be meaningless: metaphysical gobbledegook. As image is piled on image – masks – extreme make up – magical realist stuff – shimmering graphics – the feeling is of an exploitation of Africana exploiting the exotica of Africa to express an Afro-American not an African rap sheet.

    adrin neatrour

  • Review for ‘SISU’ – 2023 – Director Jalmari Helander – Finnish production.

    Whoever said violence and murder isn’t funny never saw ‘SISU’…

    It began when I was watching a review on YouTube of the upcoming sequel to ‘Becky’, a film I really enjoyed.  The reviewer, ‘Beyond the void horror podcast’, a YouTube channel I recommend for the enthusiasm alone was making some comparisons to ‘SISU’.  I thought, ‘SISU, what is this, is this an action gore fest?’  I watched the trailer and I thought I had to see this film.  It looked bonkers.  This had been a dry year so far real enthusiasm for a film, for me so far.  Although I have very much enjoyed the variety of S&S company I have gone with.

    The night began with me going for dinner to a Chinese restaurant and having a bowl of PIG’S EARS and some noodles.  I thought I’d never had pig’s ears before and I am a bit of a chancer.  Alas I literally made a pigs ear of it and it was all rather bland but at least that’s something ticked off someone’s bucket list somewhere.  ‘SISU’ on the other hand was not bland although I can understand how some would think it is because they are tired of violence and murderous mayhem.  I on the other hand am not tired of these delicacies and this film delivers so much of it and often in very creative ways.

    ‘SISU’ proudly puts its homages to film history and action/violent tropes front and centre.  There is no message and there is minimal story and its goal is to make the audience to experience a  catharsis through the fear and bloody, violent deaths of the cartoonishy, villainous Nazis who have evil scarred right in to their flesh.  At this the film is far more than successful.  There is very little dialogue in the film which is welcome in a sea of films that rely so much on exposition and our hero says nothing until the end of the film.  The spaghetti western’s man with no name of the 21st century.  This film take many other cues from the Sergio Leone classics including long close ups on rugged faces and its own version of the title cards seen in ‘The good, the bad and the ugly’.  Title cards which gradually deteriorate in conjunction with the on-going suffering of our heroic prospector.  A level of both comical and squeamish levels of suffering that is very much in the vein of John McClane making his way through the Nakatomi plaza.  Realistic it ain’t, so if this is what you are expecting you will be disappointed.  The violence is laugh out loud funny and the film leans in to this, however this does not mean it does not take itself seriously.  No one is playing this for laughs.  The humour comes through in the editing and cinematography.    

    ‘SISU’ is completely a Finnish production although is mostly in English language with just the title and the ending being in Finnish.  Which is fine, most of the characters are supposed to be German Nazis and they don’t speak German.  The cinematography and set design is fantastic.  Like the film it is sparse with spots of destruction which look great.  The music too is simple and satisfying complementing the lead up to and the outbursts of ultra-violence.  The editing is where this film really shines using all the tricks at its disposal.  Slow motion hero shots of armed women coming out of the smoke after being freed from imprisonment and torture.  Close ups of our hero treating his wounds in ways that that will make you squirm in your chair.  He really couldn’t care less about his own body.  My main criticism would come in some of the effects, where the film makers on occasion bite off more than the budget could carry.  Especially on the exteriors of the plane.  Thankfully these were brief moments.

    ‘SISU’ is a blast.  It well deserves the 90% it has on Rotten Tomatoes.  An instant, cult classic