Monday 20 April 2020

Plague Times Diary (16) - Peter Hourigan reports on Week Three with rarities from Eastern Europe

Movies in the Plague 3
        A couple of times this week, I had to really stop and check to be sure I knew what day it was, as one day merges into another without the usual kind of markers – Release day at the cinemas, entertainment guide day in the newspaper and so on.  At least the rubbish was collected on the regular day.
       Again, no pattern or consistency in what I was watching – decisions often made on the spot.  This week, Stan provided some of the best stuff, including one I strongly recommend. This was THE LOAD, by Ognjen Glavonić(b. 1985). Still not a year old, this surely should have had more of a Festival impact here and overseas. Some of the sparse reviews want to compare it to Clouzot’s Wages of Fear.  Sure, it is about a person driving a truck with an unknown load. But apart from this the two films could hardly be more different.
    Set during Nato bombing of Serbia in 1999, the action takes place on a single day. There are many moments where you’re tempted to read a cop in the rear-view mirror, a hitchhiker, an opportune theft from the truck cabin and more as harbingers of some dramatic showdown. Wrong. In a way, nothing seems to happen, at least not in the usual dramatic sense. And at the end do we know for sure what the cargo was? But, this is not a weakness in the film, quite the contrary. 
   It’s winter, so the landscapes are drained of colour, misty, almost threatening, yet perhaps ultimately benign. This film is a gripping, hypnotic 98 minutes. This is Glavonić’s first fiction feature. May we see many more in the years to come.
    Another discovery on Stan was also from Eastern Europe, this time Russia. And what other subject could you have but official corruption. Again, this also takes place in a time span of less than a day. The eponymous character of Yuri Bykov’s The Fool hasn’t earnt that name because he’s a simpleton. No, Dima is a plumber who tries to report a large apartment building in danger of collapse when he’s called there to fix a leaking water pipe. And he’s a fool because he should know this could expose a lot of officials who’ve been on the take from the building stage itself right through to maintenance and routine inspections. At times you’re not sure if the story is piling on too many levels of corruption and slippery slopes and melodrama. Then you’re persuaded it really is as rotten as this in the state of Russia. The film is held throughout by a wonderful, restrained performance by Artyon Bystrov as Dima.
   And then if you’re still thinking it was perhaps a bit too much – I’m currently watching Dirty Money, a Netflix doco. series about corporate corruption, securities fraud and so on. The day after watching The Fool I watched the episode on Jared Kushner “Slumlord Millionaire”, and there in the US was even worse appalling behaviour. I should not be surprised.
  I usually have one drama series on the go. This week I finished Caliphate a Swedish series on Netflix. Such a change from crime to have this one about radicalised kids, and adults who have gone to Raqqa where Islamic State is not really what they’d expected and want to get home.  Refreshingly, female characters are more focus of events – on both ‘good’ sides and ‘bad’ sides, as well as victims. Quite gripping.
 Looking for a new series,  I picked up Geoff Gardner’s hint from last week about Southcliffe on Stan.  Again, it’s back to the crime/mass killer genre.  But this is refreshingly different in that it’s not a whodunnit – that is clear almost from the start.  Nor is it really a “whydunnit”. Rather, it explores the impact of the killings on a small town, and some of the people who varius levels of connection with the event. I enjoyed it. 
  A couple of repeat viewings of fairly recent films.  When Julio Medem’s The Tree of Blood debuted on Netflix last year, I was new to streaming, and didn’t realise I could dodge the English dubbing.  I was a bit less than involved but put some of that down to the alienation of dubbing. So I watched it again this week, definitely selecting the original language and sub-titles. This was a better experience – but I realised that the film really does have problems. Largely I think Medem adopted a structure that was over-ambitious and confusing. Past and present intermingle – sometimes in the one shot, you’ll have a character from one moment watching action happening in the same space but years earlier or later. Not necessarily a bad idea – but it just didn’t work clearly enough for me here. In the different time periods I couldn’t always work out who those people were in terms of the scenes  we’d seen of them when they were older. It’s stunning to look at, and there are some worthwhile thoughts floating about.  But not his most successful work.
  A happier repeat viewing was Laszlo Nemes’ Sunset. Last week I mentioned re-watching his earlier Son of Saulbefore moving on to this. Sunsetis still a wonderful film – and certainly with subject matter that is easier to sink into than his Concentration Camp film. 
  I haven’t explored many of the extra sources coming online as different archives and cultural groups start streaming their collections.  After some urgings from a friend, and problems with buffering from the source,  I did get round to watching Maurice Tourneur’sBroken Butterfly from 1919. It’s a bit of a cliché story line – a lonely girl raised by an unfeeling woman in the Canadian wilds meets handsome rich young man. But discovering her true pedigree can solve class issues – though will it be in time? The satisfactions and pleasures in this little film come from its glowing camera work, beautifully restored by The Film Foundation.
  And my last bit of viewing was a bit out of character for me – a film about a sportsman. My friends know I’m hardly interested in sport at all. But that hasn’t stopped me appreciating good films about sport or sportspeople. I was really interested in Asif Kapadia’s Senna about a racing car driver – perhaps the sport I am almost aggressively uninterested in. And his Amy interested me in another field I’m not really into. So I had hopes for Diego Maradona.They weren’t fulfilled.  Maradona certainly has a very interesting life story. But this one just didn’t come together for me. 

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