Saturday 31 July 2021

Streaming on Netflix - Rod Bishop is not enthused by YOUNG ROYALS (Rojda Sekersöz, Erika Calmeyer, Sweden, 2021)

A teenage Swedish prince misbehaves at a his local high school, prompting the Queen to send him to a traditional boarding school for the privileged - a sort of Nordic class-ridden, co-ed, Gordonstoun.

Pretty much from the moment Prince Wilhelm (Edvin Ryding) walks into the Hillerska School, he gets the hots for Simon (Omar Rudberg) after hearing him sing in the choir. Many side-ways looks, meaningful glances and stony stares later, the boys finally get it on, but wouldn’t you know it? Willy’s older bro, the Crown Prince Erik inconveniently ups and dies in a car accident leaving Wilhelm as the next in line to the throne.

This brings the Prince’s gay flirtation to an abrupt end. Duty, Responsibility, Serving The Nation and Producing Heirs quickly takes over, but the love-struck Simon is none too happy with this. He is openly gay with his family (diversity tick one); a scholarship student (diversity tick two); of Spanish origin (tick three); from a lower-class background (tick four); and has a supportive younger sister - a horse whisperer if ever there was one – and she is on the autism spectrum (tick five).

Edvin Ryding, Omar Rudberg

Simon is also plagued by Wilhelm’s bad-boy cousin August (Malte Gårdinger), a pompous schoolyard bully whose branch of the royal family is going financially kaput. To make matters worse, August steals from the already skint Simon. 

There’s also Felice (Nikita Uggla) who keeps threatening to become a three-dimension character, but whose sole mission in life seems be to marry a royal. That, and having her horse obey her commands.

The usual teen drama tropes come thick and fast, but backdate the out-of-school clothes, drop the hip-hoppy soundtrack and make the cars 70 years older and you’d be forgiven for thinking Young Royals is set in the 1950s.

The gay love story, with Wilhelm swinging between staying in the closet and coming out, eventually saves the day but things get very opaque by the end of final episode suggesting there may be a season two. 

I’d rather re-watch Rebel Without a Cause.

Australian Film Industry Legend Storry Walton talks about the Oral History of the film industry -

Storry Walton has been everywhere in the Australian film industry. His Wikipedia entry is succinct but, to steal an Andrew Sarris joke, like Margaret Dumont in those Marx Brothers movies, it covers a lot a territory.

Storry Walton AM is an Australian academic, writer, producer and director. He produced and directed many television plays and serials, including My Brother Jack. He has directed ABC documentaries on art and on rural matters. While based in London, made programs for the BBC-TV social documentary series, Man Alive.

He was an early director of the Australian Film and Television School and had a long relationship with the National Institute of Dramatic Art.

In 1984 Walton was made a Member of the Order of Australia  for "service to the Australian film industry, particularly as director of the Australian Film and Television School".

Storry recently recorded a thoughtful consideration of many aspects of oral history, its special role as a form of historical record, and the challenges in making it more accessible to more people.

The video interview has been skilfully broken up into bite-sized segments by Malcolm Smith, and we are posting the segments progressively on the  website of the Australian Media Oral History Group - 

The first bit (6'47") is here 

Thursday 29 July 2021

On Blu-ray and streaming - Shelley Jiang examines Orson Welles' film-making method in TOUCH OF EVIL (USA, 1958)

" a peacock headdress...", Orson Welles
Touch of Evil

Jonathan Rosenbaum and Walter Murch cut the third version of Touch of Evil  on the basis of Welles’ desire for greater crosscutting and sense of simultaneity of events. The frequent cutting certainly achieves this but it still doesn’t account for the most striking aspect of this film: the frenetic cutting and diverse framing within discrete sequences. Welles avoids the reciprocity of the shot-countershot, preferring instead to hold two figures in the same canted view together, or to show an over-the-shoulder angle before a low angle emphasis on the single figure in alternation. Level-angle shooting often reveals meaningful identities in framing but here the canted shots eschew this because of the variety of degrees of their projection and their frequency. In its long shots, the detailed scattering of light and dark is almost mosaic. Overall, this heterogeneity and energetic variation gives the film a feeling of ornateness, with the spirited daring of a B-movie. 

"...figures in the same canted view ..." Welles, Akim Tamiroff, 
Janet Leigh, Touch of Evil

This film is about obliques. When the camera stays low, figures seem pitched from top of the screen to bottom, their triangulation and thrown aspect appearing to us like spillages (like the acid meant for Vargas), grand forms/splashes of gutsy nonchalance, especially when foregrounded figures appear out of focus, as if seeping through. The characteristically noir casting of long slanted streaks of light through windows onto bodies suggests the same (Suzie is twice subjected to the non-consensual spillage of light onto her figure). Welles outs this motif in a shot towards the end of a deck of cards tipped across the table at Tanya’s as Quinlan asks her to read his future. 

Welles, Marlene Dietrich, Touch of Evil

But the obliques are really Quinlan. A single shot in the film often shows a single motion of a figure rolling or reaching towards or away from us. We see this most prominently in action sequences (the first explosion, Vargas hurling Grandi kids in the bar, Uncle Joe's grasping and struggle with Quinlan). Welles brings the visual schema of the film to a climax in ten brilliant seconds of a seesawing oil pump. The balance and reciprocity of the back and forth motion of the camera on the hammer-like derrick, so that the camera tracks right as it recedes into the air and then left as it plunges towards us, is a total scandal given the upwardly tilted shots and single direction tracking that otherwise characterises the film. 

The long opening shot/sequence, Janet Leigh
Charlton Heston, Touch of Evil

In this moment of unexpectedly/unusually fluid and counterpoised movement, Quinlan (offscreen) admits openly for the first time to a desire for his wealth to better reflect the extent of his power. We've understood that his underhanded methods and deceptively guileless and idle manner have driven the action, but the shot directly connects Quinlan's will to the calculated camera manoeuvres. Suddenly it's as if the whole film has been refracted through the mechanics of Quinlan's character, the film's swung and swinging forms expressing the vigour of the drive for capital and retribution (giving rise to Quinlan's perverted sense of integrity) underlying Quinlan's (and the film's) brashness, as well as depicting its fallout. When the cards topple at Tanya's, what's also represented are Quinlan's sideways (corner-cutting) lunges at professional influence. The bullish tactic has failed to compensate for the loss of his wife in any more complete and spiritually fulfilling (indeed, direct/straight) way, and so Quinlan, at the peak of his power, has exhausted this gambit (his future is "all used up"). Emerson's claim that "an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man" applies to multiple (noir) aspects of this film. 

Mrs Vargas harassed by 'the handsome young Grandi', 
Touch of Evil

In one of the first scenes with Quinlan and Vargas, Welles positions himself in front of a palm tree, its fronds stood up around him like a peacock headdress. The shaking leaves taunt Vargas as Quinlan suggests that Mrs Vargas may have voluntarily followed the handsome young Grandi who lured her. But the palms, like Quinlan's animus, also appear comically flamboyant and insouciant, suggest the lethargy of a tropical retreat.

Wednesday 28 July 2021

On Blu-ray - We welcome back David Hare with his appreciation of the 'lost' Monogram noir I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES (William Nigh, USA, 1948)

When Godard included a title card dedicated to Monogram Pictures in his groundbreaking nouvelle vague A Bout de Souffle he was unwittingly cueing generations of movie fans into the the mistaken belief that Monogram Pictures itself was a totally poverty row outfit. It wasn't. Over time it grew bigger and more efficient with major producers like the King Brothers, and in this case, Walter Mirisch, and it morphed in the early 1950s into Allied Artists. 

And now, from the latest bundle of Warner Archive restoration Blu-rays, a previously "lost" Monogram Noir from 1948, I Wouldn't be in Your Shoes directed by all-rounder William Nigh. The new restoration looks like a gift from Nitrate Paradise, so pristine it's as though the negative had never been used to strike a single print. 


The "Poverty Row" slur on the studio is a deeply flawed view of the outfit which by the end of the war was making near A-level, length, budget and quality movies in the most loathed of genres by highbrow critics of the time like Agee. 


Elyse Knox, Regis Toomey

Their loss. Some outstanding titles from year 1945 and 46: Max Nossek's Dillinger  with Lawrence Tierney in the title role, and the superb Noir-on-Ice,Suspensewith Skating Queen Belita, Barry Sullivan and surrealist production design directed by Frank Tuttle. Both these titles were released in 2009 by Warner Archive on DVD.  Ulmer's Detour from the even less gifted studio PRC, clearly a masterpiece of the genre was released in its astonishing new 4K restoration by Criterion two years ago. 


This leads us to the picture at hand,  I Wouldn't be in Your Shoes. Running 70 minutes, the movie is based on a short novella by Cornell Woolrich, writing under the "William Irish" moniker. A number of happenstances lead a guileless sucker and his wife to take the fall for a murder committed by someone else after they find a wad of cash that can lift their impoverished lives. 


Don Castle

The trajectory of the screenplay for the movie sticks tightly to Woolrich's layout thanks to screenwriter Steve Fisher, right down to a completely unexpected "bend” in the movie's POV when detective Regis Toomey tries to find evidence to exonerate the husband which takes up the entire middle act of the picture. The leads are more than alright for "B" fare with Don Castle as the sucker husband, and Elyse Knox, taking the Ella Raines type Phantom Lady role as the wife who effectively prostitutes herself to detective Toomey to save her husband now on death row for the next 40 minutes of the 70 minute picture 


Each principle character is "bent" in some way or another. Husband "Thomas" played by an efficient, masochistic Castle seems to almost immediately accept his relegation to death row as some kind of joyous martyrdom for his failure as a husband. The three major scenes in the death row quarter are photographed with diagonally lit, totally asymmetrically composed shots within a montage that forms several verses of a condemned chorus and is one of the highlights of the picture's visual style. The only wrong note here is the overly soupy Chopin Fantaisie Impromptu adaptation to "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" which one of the condemnees plays in a conveniently stashed phonograph. 

Elyse Knox

While not at the heady level of Ella Raines in her Siodmak pictures, Elyse Knox as Anne plays a more than creditable heroine, here on a budget with the rest of the picture for under 300 grand which would have barely paid for only the first thirty minutes of an equivalent Universal or RKO "A" picture. 


Most remarkable of all a terrific performance from the redoubtable Regis Toomey (Spellbound, The Big Sleep, Raw Deal) who takes his part, Inspector Clint Judd right to the top of the genre's tone and form. Some of director William Nigh's mise-en-scène takes up the latter half of the picture with quite ravishing exercises in growing and diminishing shadow playing on Toomis' face while he reads his lines like a true leading man in what he wishes were a bigger, other scenario. It's quite something and I won't plot spoil by saying any more. 


The disc comes with an interminable 1932 Vitaphone short crime fiction mess of a thing directed by Warner's "C" budget specialty unit maestro, Joseph Henabery, The Symphony Murder Mystery, an endurance test to be sure, and one of my favorite Merry Melodies cartoons from 1945, Holiday for Shoestrings, a masterpiece in fanciful storytelling and a perfect fit for the main feature.


Monday 26 July 2021

"In most movies there are some moments, some miraculous moments" - Tom Ryan talks to Costa-Gavras at the time of the release of his film THE AX/LE COUPERET (France, 2005) - First of a new series

My interview with Costa-Gavras (above) took place in November, 2005, at Le Meurice, a luxurious hotel in Paris, directly opposite the Tuileries and near the Louvre. The Ax (Le couperet) had been released earlier in the year. I was there as a member of a small team of Australian journalists invited by Unifrance as part of a promotional exercise for French cinema. I guess you’d call it a junket, although all interviews (aside from a couple I did with Stephanie Bunbury and Philippa Hawker) were done on a one-to-one basis.

Now 88, he was in his early 70s then. Born Konstantinos Gavras on February 12, 1933, in Loutra-Iraias in Greece, he moved to Paris in 1954 and is still there. After studying at the Sorbonne, he worked as an assistant director during the 1960s with the likes of Rene Clair (on Tout l’or du monde), Jacques Demy (La baie des anges), Jean Becker (Échappement libre), and Rene Clement (Les félins and Le jour et l’heure). 


His first feature was Compartiment tueurs (The Sleeping Car Murders), released in 1965. He’s probably best known internationally for films such as (1969), L’aveu/The Confession (1970), État de siègeState of Siege (1972), Missing (1982), Betrayed (1988), Music Box (1989), Mad City (1997), Amen (2002) and The Ax (2005). Much of his work has been politically confronting, meaning that controversies have followed him everywhere he has gone. 


Since I spoke with him, he’s made three features. The first, Eden à l’Ouest/Eden is West (2009) concerns itself with the plight of the world’s refugees. Dumped off the coast of France by people smugglers, Elias (Riccardo Scamarcio) heads for Paris, his journey introducing him to, and providing a scathing critique of, the myopic ways of the West. There are many snakes waiting to strike in this Eden.


I haven’t seen the other two – Le Capital (2012), about the international money market, with Gad Elmaleh and Gabriel Byrne, and Adults in the Room (2019), dealing with Greece’s money crisis in 2015 and based on a memoir by then Finance Minister Yanus Varoufakis – and they don’t appear to have been released in Australia.


In addition to his filmmaking work, Costa-Gavras has been an active participant in the wider film culture. Described by the Institut français as “an icon of activist cinema”, he was the president of the Société des Réalisateurs de Films for three years during the 1970s, and the president of the Cinémathèque française (near the Sorbonne) for six years during the 1980s, and then again from 2007 to the present day. 


In person, I found him affable and forthright, a man with a good heart and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. The fire was still burning bright.




Your films all seem to pose the same question, and it’s there in Jack Lemmon’s line in Missing when he asks, “What kind of world is this?”

Jack Lemmon, Missing

Yes. I want them to ask why the world is like this, because all the possibilities are here to have a better world. I mean, the technology, the money. They say, ‘There’s no money,’ but there is money, so much money being spent in Iraq today doing stupid things. And in other places too, even sometimes sending rockets to other planets… 


So why is the world like this? A hundred years ago, two hundred years ago, we didn’t have education, we didn’t have the communication that we have today. We didn’t have all the necessary things to enable people to communicate with each other. Today we can communicate with everybody. It’s possible to have friends in Australia, in Chile, in China… So it’s a permanent question, unfortunately. But it has to be asked again and again if we want to change something.


Does America have something to do with the way the things you’re talking about have come to be?


Without falling into easy anti-Americanism, it can be said that today that they would like to be, and they are, the leader of the world. They are an important civilization, central to our culture, and the political pressures they apply here and there are very important. So, yes, a lot of things come from America, there’s no doubt. 


Then there’s the imitation. Here in France, the kind of blind admiration for everything that happens in the United States and the attempts to imitate the same system is a mistake. This is a different country with a different past, different traditions. But essentially I think the problem is the greed that we have in our society.


But humankind has always been greedy.


Yes. For more and more things. Absolutely. A few weeks ago, we had a scandal here about an old man who was 75 years old stealing money. What do you do with the money you steal when you’re 75 years old. It’s amazing. Companies are now throwing out thousands of people, even when they’re making lots of money. You know what happened? When we were shooting The Ax on the first day here in Paris, Figaro’s front page in big print said that never had French companies made so much money in a year. Then the next day, it said that never had stockholders in France made so much money. And we know that in France at the moment, never have we had so many unemployed people. Ten per cent of the population, which is just enormous.


So the plot-line of the Donald Westlake novel on which The Ax is based must have seemed to you like a gift from above?


Well, yes. As you know, it takes place in the United States, but it fits so well with France and Europe. So I immediately tried to get the rights, although there were some difficulties because Paramount had them and a director was already attached to it. But my wife said, ‘Don’t worry. They’ll never make the movie.’ So we waited for two years and then the rights became free and I called Westlake.


What happens in it is so close to what’s happening now for professionals who lose their jobs when they’re 40 or 45 years old. Suddenly they don’t have work anymore, and it’s forever. Some of them completely lose respect for themselves because they have to work in lesser jobs which they hate. They’re not paid as much either, so it’s a huge humiliation for them. It’s this that our character refuses from the beginning. So that was the attraction.

José Garcia, Costa-Gavras on set, The Ax

The producer told me that we should do it in the United States. I refused because I thought we had to do it here.


You made other changes as well.


Yes. Before everything, I changed the end. Because at the end of the book, the character has his job and he’s happy. 

The Ax/Le Couperet


Really? Without any irony?


No irony whatsoever. 


His relationship with his family was not so strong either. I worked on making it much closer. And what happens in the book is that after a while he starts to get pleasure from killing. He becomes a real serial killer. To me it was important to have a character whom you hate at the beginning and then, little by little, you come to sympathise with him. And when the police arrive, you find yourself hoping that they don’t arrest him. Which is insane, but exactly what I wanted to achieve. Because I think the audience identify with him as a human being, not as a killer.


I felt like the man in the garage shop who laughs when Bruno says, ‘You should kill them.’ I felt that was me.


(Laughing) Exactly. 


In almost all of your films that I’ve seen, the protagonist starts out naïve – like Jessica Lange in Music Box, the father in Missing, the FBI agent in Betrayed, and the scientist and the priest in Amen. But they end up learning something. Does Bruno learn anything?


Oh, yes. Bruno learns something too at the end. He discovers that he has been a predator and that there’s another predator waiting for him that he has to deal with. You cannot fight alone in a society. It’s not possible. Which is what he learns when he’s confronted by that girl who can destroy him also. 


Normally at the end of the story about the knight who has a mission to complete, he rides off after conquering the enemy and so it’s Mission Accomplished. Except Bruno does all that, accidentally, and then somebody says ‘No. There’s something you didn’t see'.




It’s like a battlefield.


It’s a war. And he says, ‘My father fought a war to save his country from the Nazis, and I’m fighting a war to save my family.’ So he doesn’t care if the people he kills are good people or not. He’s an ordinary person but his problem is he becomes pragmatic. He says, ‘I have to win that war, whatever the enemy is.’ Like his father, who’d killed for a cause. He had to do it, so his son does the same thing. 

Karen Viard, José Garcia, The Ax

We’re more and more isolated in our societies and it’s so hard to find ourselves. Societies are our way of getting together just to help each other.


I’m struck by the similarity in terms of subject between your film and Laurent Cantet’s Time Out (L’emploi du temps), even though that film takes a completely different route.


Why do you think so?


They’re similar in the way that the main character finds himself in the same situation and then leads a double-life. But Cantet’s character doesn’t kill anybody.


No, certainly not…


Although, now that I say it, there’s a moment when his character goes home and he’s looking in from the outside and, as a viewer, I thought, ‘Is he going to kill his family?’ And it’s based on a story where the man does kill his family.




So maybe they’re even more alike than I’d thought…


When I create a character, I try to find in the character things coming from myself, things I know or that I’m familiar with from people who are close to me. All of us have at one point or another had the desire to kill somebody, but we don’t do it. That’s the big difference. But here we are in a movie, so we can kill in a movie…


(Laughter) Yes that’s true.

In The Ax, you use advertisements in the streets a lot, billboards. And you did that in Missing as well. Are they part of the enemy?


In a certain way. But they’re organically linked to the story. We have people who don’t have enough money to buy all these good things that advertising proposes to us on the streets, on television, in newspapers and magazines and everywhere. So it’s a kind of permanent aggression directed against my character and those like him who see that they cannot buy the things they’re supposed to want, and so on.  

As well as that, I put women who are more or less naked in the advertising because they’re a permanent part of it. And I believe that in our society the people who do the advertising have created a new model of woman which is there just to feed our sexual obsessions. She doesn’t have a head, just a body, or she’s very young, under 25 – the age of 45 doesn’t exist anymore. 


And this is linked to the family in the film in the way that the young daughter, when the police come to their home, gets half naked because she knows. She’s seen it on the street, how men can be influenced and taken by that. I tried not to do it gratuitously, but to organically link it to the story.

José Garcia, The Ax

Despite the persona he’s established, José Garcia doesn’t smile at all in The Ax. What kinds of discussions did you have with him about playing Bruno?


Look, he’s a comedian. In France, he goes down the street and everybody loves him. He’s very funny. So I told him we should play it serious. If there are moments of comedy in the movie, they must come from the situation. People will laugh at that, but you don’t have to use your skills at making people laugh by pulling faces or whatever. So we kept to that line all the time.


So he wasn’t really happy to do that at first?


At first, he was a little bit scared and he kept switching in the wrong direction all the time. But finally he got over that because he’s a clever man and he’s also very ambitious in the right way.


I’ve always believed he is an extraordinary actor. You know why? Because I saw him doing a kind of slapstick show on television with a live audience and he was imitating Lady Diana and actors like Pacino and De Niro. He would never play to the audience. He was always playing the character, from the beginning to the end. And that was very strong because, you know, when there’s an audience there’s always the temptation to try to make them laugh a bit more by overplaying. He never did that. And I’ve also seen him in a couple of serious movies which showed that he had a huge range.


He’s very strong in the film. When I saw him on television, I didn’t recognize him. He’s a different character altogether.


Sentimentally, I like him also because he looks a bit like Jack Lemmon. Because I had a really nice relationship with Jack.


That brings up working in America, where you’ve worked a lot. Did you find it fascinating or frustrating?


You know, I worked in America under certain conditions. I always had final cut, and final approval of the casting and the script, and then I used my French crew and did the post-production in Paris. Everything I did, I did that way. I remember meeting George Miller in Hollywood. He spoke to me in Greek and I was very surprised. We talked about how to beat Hollywood and he said to me what a difficult place it was for people like us, coming from outside. And he was right. It’s something that doesn’t fit with our way of living, with our everyday relations with other people. So I insisted on doing the movies on those specific conditions. And I did all of them like this.


That’s very interesting. And in France, you’ve always worked under the same conditions?




Nobody’s come to you and said, ‘We have to have a happy ending here,’ or…


We have discussions. Always. We have meetings with executives about this and that and it can become very heated. We had huge discussions, for example, at Universal about my wanting to use Jack Lemmon [for Missing]. ‘Why Jack Lemmon?’ they asked. They were proposing other actors to me. I tried to explain that I wanted someone who represented middle America. They said, ‘But he does comedies. He doesn’t play serious characters.’ The discussion went on and on up to the point where I said to the producer that I wasn’t going to do the movie. The other actors being proposed weren’t suitable. He said, ‘OK. I’ll take care of that.’ He told them and came back and said, ‘OK. Do it the way you like it.’


I think also that the Americans like that kind of relationship. Or they used to. I’m not sure about today. I think it might be much different. I was speaking two days ago with my friend John Landis who was passing through Paris [and who makes a cameo appearance in The Ax] and we were talking about Missing. I told him that I didn’t sign the contract for the movie until just before I went to present the movie to the press. ‘That was normal,’ he said. Because the studio heads gave their word and that was it. Today the companies belong to whom? Nobody knows who’s running them anymore. So you have to sign beforehand. I think Hollywood today has drastically changed, there’s no doubt.


How does Hollywood see you? As a troublemaker because you demand your own way and because you make films that are very political?


Probably. They would sometimes take photographs of me and label them ‘Troublemaker’. [Laughter] Charlie Chaplin was a much bigger troublemaker when he made Modern Times and The Great Dictator.


I understand there was a scandal in Paris about the poster for Amen (merging a cross and a swastika, above)… 


Oh, yes. Some Catholics felt that I was insulting the cross. But the cross was insulted by the Nazis at the time, and everybody accepted it.


It’s a terrific poster, because it contains the themes of the film. For once the promotion is being honest.


Yes. And I had photos from Catholic and Protestant churches of the time in Germany where you had flags with the swastika alongside the cross. Here most of the church people were pro-German, pro-Nazis. But with our poster we had to go one, two, three times to court and we won three times.


It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen about the Holocaust. And for me it’s such a brilliant idea: you don’t show it. You show the people looking at the horrors but you don’t actually see what they see. Because to represent the Holocaust…


Is impossible. How do you put in a chamber men, women and children, naked. How do you get actors to play them? And being gassed? Nobody can do that, nobody can play that. It’s insane to try. But you also have to trust the audience. You have to trust the viewers who have their own sense of history and who can make their own movie in their heads.


There have been many films made on this subject. Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog is wonderful. 


It’s a documentary. So it’s the real thing. I saw it when I was at senior school, and it was a real shock.


Are there other films on that subject that have impressed you? Because your film seems to be a reaction against many of the ones that actually try to show the horror. Whereas you say, ‘No.’


Yes. I believe strongly that I cannot do it. For other people, maybe it’s possible. But for me, most of the movies trying to deal with it simply can’t get the actors to play the parts. For a start, you can’t find actors with no fat… We eat normally. But the people in the camps were very thin.

François Ozon


Are there other filmmakers you admire for various reasons or that you feel are somehow soul-mates?


Generally, I admire movies and I know that all directors can make mistakes. Yes, today there are a lot of directors I like. Sometimes there are films that are meaningless to me. But I believe also that there are young directors today who keep a very sharp eye on our society. Right now there are two young directors in France. Ozon is one of them, [Xavier] Beauvois is the other. Ozon’s last movie, Le temps qui reste, you can like it or not, but it gives you an insight into a certain part of society. Beavouis’ Le petit lieutenant just came out a week ago. I believe these young people have freed themselves from the nouvelle vague, and are part of a new generation of filmmakers who’ve been able to find their own way of looking at the world. They don’t see things through their own problems, but they see the problems. Le petit lieutenant is about the difficulties faced by policemen today and it’s amazing. It’s like a documentary.

Xavier Beauvois

It’s interesting that you say that about the nouvelle vague because it was a reaction against the cinema du papa and now you have…


Yes. Because, you know, every school, every ideology, every philosophy gets old and needs changing. And I believe the influence of the nouvelle vague has lasted too long and has created some victims…


That’s interesting you should say that because I saw Anne Fontaine’s film, Entre ses mains, the other day and it seemed to me like Le Boucher many years on… I felt I was home. I felt safe. I really admire the film, but it doesn’t challenge us.

Are there filmmakers who influenced you when you were a younger man… Of course, you’re still a younger man…


Oh yes. 62, no 72, going on 73. Oh, yes. I remember, of course. I came from Greece after the civil war there. It was impossible to see good movies then and I came here and I saw Greed. It was my first movie. And then I kept going to the Cinémathèque and other small cinemas where I discovered the films of the time. And then later I discovered Kurosawa and the classic French directors like René Clair, Renoir, Duvivier and Clouzot. It was amazing. Then there were the Americans, of course: John Ford, Kazan. And I saw that every time these directors touched a human problem, a social problem, they made great movies. 


I’m reminded of the time, during the German Occupation, when we were little boys living in a small house in a village. We were sleeping next to the fire and listening to my father’s friends who were there telling stories. And I couldn’t sleep. I was fighting to stay awake so as I could listen. And, really, it’s the cinema that can give us that pleasure. Sometimes the stories are disappointing, but I think that in most movies there are some moments, some miraculous moments. And I like to discover them.

Sunday 25 July 2021

Streaming on Mubi - Janice Tong recommends WHITE ON WHITE (Théo Court, Spain/Chile, 2019) and MAESTA, THE PASSION OF CHRIST (Andy Guérif, France, 2013)

The landowner Mr Porter's child bride

Blanco en blanco (White on White) 
 is director Théo Court’s second feature. It  premiered at the 76th Venice Film Festival in 2019. The film was awarded three prizes, including the FIPRESCI Prize and also Best Director award for the Horizons section of the festival.  

White on White is a masterful neo-western that acts as a critical commentary exploring art as an avenue of manipulation; the ability to falsely create a reality. Court’s film has an episodic and elliptical structure as he tells of the genocide of the indigenous Selknam people through the lens of its main protagonist, Pedro. 

Alfredo Castro as the photogra pher Pedro 


Chilean actor Alfredo Castro is superb as Pedro, an experienced daguerreotype portrait photographer; quiet and reserved, he appears to have a nondescript persona. But that is only an exterior shell; and this tension between exteriority and interiority is something that helps tease out fine line between the visible and the invisible. 


It is the turn of the 20th century and Pedro has been hired by an unseen plantation owner by the name of Mr Porter (it must have been so exotic to have an American name in that region of Tierra del Fuego) to take portraits of his future wife - a child bride really, she couldn’t be more than twelve years old. 


As Pedro’s trained eye sets up the scene for these pictures, he started to position the girl, helping her pose, semi-undressing her by slipping down a shoulder strap of her dress, raising her dress hem, and making her sit, lie or stand in oddly evocative poses. The resultant image has an extremely jarring effect that makes one uncomfortable; when the face that stares back is that of a sullen child’s. 


The camera eye does not hide anything, precisely because it is not a human eye. The eye of the camera does not judge, it cannot think; it is the human eye that does. 


Pedro soon lands himself into trouble when he gets the child bride to pose for an artistic composition in his own rooms before dawn; and he is duly dismissed by the landowner; who in turn fails to show up to his own wedding. The wedding feast was a sad and odd assortment of drunk people dancing; and the forceful seduction of the indigenous women brought there for entertainment. Courtis an extremely accomplished storyteller.  


In the film, there’s a whole series of beautiful portraits, of people and places around the town; these looked authentic to the period, but given what Courtis trying to tell us, we know that they have been composed by the photographer - perfectly.

One of a series of photographic portraits within the film

Court’s DOP José Ángel Alayón also provided us with a series of memorable and evocative night time shots, outdoors in pitch black, the actors’ movements lit by branded fire torches tracking their actions in a powerful and symbolic way. As though we have misappropriated our power, by stealing fire from the Gods, we behave as though we were Gods; and the only way through this hell is led by these same misguided men. That is in effect what happens, our power to manipulate reality to ‘create’ art, culminates in the very last shot of the film. With this closing shot, it’s easy to see that we are in fact leading ourselves intohell, rather than through it. 

Night-time sequences nothing short of masterly


Court says of his film: “In this way, Blanco en Blanco, little by little, unveils what is hidden beneath the virgin, white snow that covers everything, showing, as it melts away, the origins of our society, the foundations on which our civilizations have been built. The acts of that continuously are repeated on a blank page over and over again as we look on. The film lays bare this final moment when the gaze of the film camera, the photographic camera, the spectator and the main character blend together into a single image as absent yet complicit witnesses of the crimes exposed before them. A place where horror becomes free of guilt.”

Do we turn away from this closing shot of the film?

Maestà is a completely new invention of the filmic form and beautifully conceived and depicted. It is a filmic adaptation of the Maestà of Duccio altarpiece that is made up of individual 26 panels. 

The magnificent altarpiece Maestà of Duccio

It depicts Christ’s Passion from his entry into Jerusalem to his resurrection. 

Guérif’s interpretation of the altarpiece in cinematic form


Whilst the narrative of the passion of Christ is well known, the way that Guérif’s film has brought this to life is a labour of love. The inventive artistic direction and choreographed narrative within each panel played out in chapters, whilst adding other small details to panels away from the main ‘active’ panel continued to bring life to the piece overall. It would have been good to see this film on the big screen, so that we get the full effects of it. But nonetheless it is still very watchable on the small screen; and thanks to #mubi, we are able to experience this very interesting and different cinematic work.


Maestà is currently showing on #mubi and note that White on White is only available on #mubi for another few days.