Monthly Archives: September 2023

  • Afire   Christian Petzold 

    Afire   Christian Petzold   (Ger; 2023)   Thomas Schubert; Paula Bier

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 12 Sept 2023; ticket £11.75

    damp squib

    Christian Petzold’s ‘Afire’ is a typical contemporary movie that tries to be about everything and ends up being about nothing, an empty vessel that rings out hollow.

    ‘Afire’ feels like a bad joke, but a bad joke that is mistold and so loses the point that it is even a joke, leaving the audience simply lost in banality. At the core of the bad joke is the use Petzold’s script makes of the forest fires raging about his setting of a Baltic seaside town. Initially the fires are seen as a background element suggesting perhaps that the scenario will exploit them as an encroaching universalistic phenomenon that will develop into a catastrophic overwhelming effect that defines the movie. But the fire line taken by Petzold is to reduce the presence of the burning forest to a particular simple device. By which I mean that the inferno instead of representing a force of nature, is co-opted by the script as a means of ensuring his two lovers come to ‘tragic’ end, their charred bodies found in the middle of the forest, entwined in a death embrace. It’s Petzold’s way of signing them off as a camp re-enactment of a referenced similar event in Pompeii.

    For the most part the plot doesn’t even even cohere on its own terms, and the script feels like an unsuccessful and desperate effort to rescue a failed idea; though what the original idea may have been is anyone’s guess. Besides exploiting film as a bad joke at the expense of the environment it’s difficult to see that Petzold was doing in making this film. Surely he can’t have made ‘Afire’ simply because the tax credits and production money was easily obtainable by the shoot taking place in a remote and seldom utilised part of Germany? Perish the thought, much too cynical.

    adrin neatrour

  • The Lobster       Yorgos Lanthimos

    The Lobster       Yorgos Lanthimos (Euro co–prod; 2015) Colin Farrell; Rachel Weisz

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 7th Sept 2023; ticket £7

    The Lobster Quadrille

    Dancing or shall we say the dance, features prominently in both Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and in ‘The Lobster’. Like ‘Alice’ Lanthimos’ film is based on a proposition. It’s a proposition in which the relational expectations of the everyday are undermined and replaced with an otherworldly semantic logic. I don’t know whether Lanthimos has read Carroll but there is no doubt that ‘The Lobster’ not only appears to assimilate some critical elements of Wonderland’s situational humour but in addition aligns Carroll’s logic to a cruel Swiftian moral compass.

    ‘Tis the voice of the Lobster’ I heard him declare,

    ‘You have baked me too brown I must sugar my hair.’

    As a duck with its eyelids so he with his nose

    Rims his belt and his buttons and turns out his nose.

    Carroll’s ‘Alice’ books were at one level parodies, albeit affectionately expressed, of Victorian England’s child rearing nostrums with their strange morally uplifting certainties. Swift was the arch satirist, author of ‘Gulliver’ a sardonic critique of human nature and the scathing vicious ‘A Modest Proposal’.  Lanthimos like Carroll and Swift begins his film with a narrative device that involves arrival in a parallel universe. Thus in the first section of ‘The Lobster’ his ‘hotel/institution’ is located in a ‘Wonderland’ of his own devising, but loaded with a biting Swiftian satirical critique.

    The target of ‘The Lobster’ is the 20th century’s obsession with coupledom.   The tyranny of ‘the couple’. The feeling that in not being part of a twosome and all the conceptual baggage that goes with it, children home comfortable life style etc individuals pale into an inexistence – or worse. Protagonist David deserted by his wife is taken to : The Hotel. The Hotel is a sort of Ministry of Marriage whose particular concern is to match up its individual guests as couples. Special rules apply in this place, absurd strictures governing all aspects of life: comportment dress code sex relationships activity. The Swiftian thrust into the darkness devised by Lanthimos is that the ‘residents’ have 45 days to ‘partner up’ or be turned into an animal of their own choosing. David choses to become a lobster if he doesn’t make the grade. The principle in-house Hotel activities – the nightly dance for instance – revolve about finding a mate within the 45 day window. The main external activity is tracking down and hunting (Again Lewis Carroll’s ‘Hunting of the Snark may have been a suggestive influence here) ‘the loners’. These are hotel guests who have escaped, gone over the wall (rather than be zoomorphed) and hang out in the local woods. The idea is to hunt for these renegades, tranquillize them and haul them back in order for them to undergo ‘their transformation’.

    ‘The Lobster’ is a film of two parts.

    The first part is built about the rituals and the mission of the Hotel. It pulls on an acting style in which the characters, although retaining an individuality are invested in the logic of their situation; and a script, which in the Carrollian tradition honours the logic of the Hotel’s existential demands, building them into the autonomic response cues of the roles, and feeding the actors with lines representative of the logic of their positions.

    The second part of ‘The Lobster ‘tells the story of David’s escape from ‘The Hotel’, after presumably deciding he didn’t want to become a lobster. David makes his escape from the structured life of ‘The Hotel’ by fleeing into the woods where the loners hang out. At this point Lanthimos parts company with both Carroll and Swift. Both these authors contain their protagonists within the respective worlds in which they find themselves – Gulliver experiences a number of worlds but the action all takes place within them. Carroll’s narrative simply records Alice’s strange encounters as she endeavours to find her way back home.

    My feeling is that the second part of the movie, doesn’t work, it falls apart when the action moves into the trees, losing cogency and the tensions endemic to the space of ‘the Hotel’. ‘The Lobster’ becomes crabby and uninteresting. The problem is that the style and nature of the structured relations have become so firmly established, that outside the bounds of ‘The Hotel’, in an oppositional setting, the controlling proposition loses focus, the film becomes fuzzy, lacking clarity in what it is doing. And this lack of clarity engenders a fall off in audience interest.

    The proposition entails that the characters presented in ‘the Lobster’ are ciphers. They represent and express certain positions in relation to both the hotel and to each other. We are interested in them because of their positional criticality and their cognitive responses; we do not care about them. Like the pieces of a chess set what matters is where they are on the board, their attributes and powers, their relationship to the other pieces; they do not generate emotional resonance.

    Much of the second part of the film simply drifts. Lanthimos indulges his vague notions of the loner community’s struggle against ‘the Hotel’ and the arbitrary (but sometimes amusing) trips to the City. But central to these two narrative strands is the developing relationship and bonding between David (who is short sighted) and the short sighted woman. As the film flips into muddled oppositional incoherence, the problem is that this developing relationship cannot hold the film together. It is uninteresting because Lanthimos cannot re-calibrate his script so that the relationship in itself and the attempt to destroy it, matter.

    However the script does re-focus itself in the final scene in which the proposition re-establishes itself triumphantly and the script moves to test its central thesis to destruction. The short sighted woman, now blinded. escapes with her lover David to the City. In the final shot, locked in his internalised psychic struggle with ‘the Hotel’s’ precept of Coupledom, we see David, in front of a mirror in the toilet of a coffee shop, brace himself and prepare to gouge out his eyes with a steak knife. Lanthimos cuts the scene and ends the film before there is any outcome as to whether David will follow the inexorable logic of mutilation in order to be conjoined in blindness with his new partner.

    The unevenness that characterises the two parts of ‘The Lobster’ is apparent even in Lanthimos’s filming. The shots that make up the forest scenes in the second part of ‘The Lobster’ lack conviction and intentionality of frame. They are a mess of foliage that struggles to locate the presence of the characters. This contrasts with the shooting of The Hotel section, where Lanthimos’ framing, camera movement are integral to the script and lead deeper into heart of the proposition. ‘The Killing of the Sacred Deer’ an earlier film is testament to Lanthimos’ ability to exploit particular framings of the situational architecture of contemporary interiors and exteriors as part of his filmic exposition.

    This ability of Lanthimos is also most intensely seen in the final section of ‘The Lobster’ which intercuts between David with the steak knife in the aforementioned washroom and his blinded woman partner who is seated at a window table of the coffee shop. In the background through the window we see that the coffee shop is located beside a huge truck stop with a busy highway in the far background. We watch through the window as the trucks like huge mechanical animals slowly manoeuvre back and forth against the light. There is something ominous and indifferent in this view which the blind lady cannot see. It’s like a real life Lobster Quadrille.

    adrin neatrour

  • Scrapper     Charlotte Regan   (UK; 2023)

    Scrapper     Charlotte Regan   (UK; 2023) Lola Campbell, Alin Uzun

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 31st August 2023; ticket £11.75

    “It’s a scrapper!”

    Charlotte Regan’s ‘Scrapper’ portends to be a film about a child, 12 year old Georgie who has been brought up by her mother. The situation is that after Georgie’s mum dies, she manages to continue living by herself in their family home on an East End Estate. Then she’s suddenly confronted with the re-appearance of her dad Jason, who abandoned her when she was a baby and whom she has never known.

    There is a significant roll call of movies with children at the heart of their script: Truffaut’s 400 Coups, Bresson’s Mouchette, Clio Bernard’s The Selfish Giant, all of these directors work to locate us in the world of child. We see something of what the child sees, the scripts open up alien vistas out of kilter with the way things are normally understood by adults. But Regan’s movie is not about a child. Regan’s protagonist, 12 year old Georgie is a transposed adult woman and the film is about adult relationships.

    ‘Scrapper’ opens with a sequence of Georgie hoovering, doing the housework. The film closes with Georgie and dad Jason becoming friends, the final shot shows them walking off hand in hand into the sunset.

    The film seems to actually chronicle the subsuming of Georgie into her mother’s persona scripting the reconciliation of what had been failed relationship. Georgie’s presentation as a child by Regan doesn’t work. Dressing her up in an old football top and leaving her hair dangling in a pigtail is simple window dressing, it can’t disguise what’s in the shop. Georgie in poise attitude and dialogue is a contemporary woman; there is no vision of the child, no entry into the parallel space of the seeing of the unformed mind.

    Consequently this is a film in which the Regan’s script is unable to set any real tensions into play. In the films of Bresson Bernard and Truffaut that centre on the child, the scripts work in a particular way by engendering critical tensions between the worlds as experienced and acted on by the child protagonists, and the realities of the grown up world. Tensions that are endemic in the mismatch between the formed and the unformed psyche, the attached and unattached consciousness; perhaps the types of tensions that play out today in the kind of knife crime committed by children.

    But Georgie is not a child: she enters the film as a preformed adult without emotional or psychic tensions between her and the world. Without tensions ‘Scrapper’ becomes a dead movie, dull beyond distraction offering the viewer only the slow play out of what turns into the closure of a faux-romantic relationship.   

    This narrative trope is reinforced by the care taken by Regan over the art direction of ‘Scrapper’. Much has been made of Regan’s design, in particular the colourisation of ‘Scrapper’, it’s candy coloured gloss suggesting her film as a contemporary ‘Disney’ style fairy-tale, a ballad of a returning Prince rescuing a Princess. With the transformative technology of digital editing systems, Regan’s colouring mimics the type of look used by films such ‘Barbie’ and foisted on us by adverts whose creators of course aim to lure us into associating their products with a make believe wish fulfilment. Regan’s adoption of this look, which she justifies as giving up-lift to the usual down beat depiction of Working Class life, seems to me disingenuous: as if subsuming working class life into the world of MacDonalds and late capitalist consumerist projections makes everything better.

    If the film says anything at this point it’s that all relationships have become infantilised, but it is not clear that Regan intended her film to be such a sophisticated parody of contemporary life.

    Regan’s problems in understanding the issues implicit in building scripts centred about the child may stem from her script which replaces content with form. Given that there are no structural tensions built into the scenario Regan has opted to give her film an interpolated form. The action is regularly interrupted by regularly cutting away to a series of characters who are scripted to give an opinion or make a judgement about what has been going on in Georgie’s life.

    Like as if I write: “Macdonald’s I’m loving it.”

    Her notion was perhaps to create a form of visual interchange that would serve to energise ‘Scrapper’. This sort of structural device is well exercised in current cinema adverts and the Macdonald’s ad before Regan’s movie was certainly a case in point. But what works for a two minute ad doesn’t transfer to a feature film; the more   these tricksy devices were repeated the less they delivered. Regan seems to have believed she could make her film work by gimmicks rather than understanding the forces her idea might release.

    There is little left to say. The scenario is monopaced, and overlong. It’s easy to see that some sequences in ‘Scrapper’ have been over-extended so that the film can collapse over the finishing line of ‘feature film length’ demanded by the ‘Money’. The script is plodding, mostly badly written. When I saw the film at the Tyneside, the sound was strange, in particular the dialogue tracks. It may have been the cinema’s system but Georgie’s voice in particular had a peculiar hyper real quality.

    There were 6 people in the cinema, a large 300 seat auditorium.   It felt like they were present to witness the death of cinema if films like this keep getting made. I don’t know what meaning Regan intended to be understood by her title ‘Scrapper’, but before I saw this film I had always understood it to be a colourful term used by second hand car salesmen to describe a vehicle that had been sold to a punter which should have been scrapped. ‘It’s a scrapper’.

    adrin neatrour