Tuesday 30 November 2021

Streaming - John Baxter finds odd Christmas cheer in COMFORT AND JOY (Bill Forsyth, UK, 1984)


Bil Forsyth with his BAFTA

Programmers scouring the shelves for Christmas films won’t immediately be drawn to the 1984 Comfort and Joy.  Had Scots director/writer Bill Forsyth chosen a carol as theme music rather than the incongruous saxophone noodling of ex-Dire Straits’ front-man Mark Knopfler, it would be In the Bleak Midwinter, that bitter anthem which neutralises any hints of Christmas cheer.  Adding to the mood of existential despair, Forsyth furnishes the film with an obligato of half-heard newscasts of wars, slaughters and catastrophes, further illustrating man’s inhumanity to man (and, in one case, giant panda.).  

            Europe’s Christmas, like America’s Thanksgiving, can be less a time for reunion and reconciliation than for taking stock and settling scoresAccordingly, Comfort and Joy has little of eitherThat goes for Scots humour in general, which is closer to that of the Czechs in its dour ruefulness.  Among the classic Ealing comedies, The Ladykillers, The Maggie, The Man in the White Suit and Whisky Galore are the least characteristic, an acknowledgment that their Scots director, Alexander Mackendrick, had no truck with Home Counties cosiness. 

Bill Patterson as Dickie Bird

            Forsyth shares Mackendrick’s pleasure in the tendency of man’s best-laid plans to, as another Scot put it, “gang aft a-gley”. Glasgow radio presenter Alan “Dickie” Bird (Bill Paterson) has just returned from a pre-Christmas shopping expedition with girlfriend Maddy (Eleanor David) when she announces she’s leaving. She’d meant to give some warning, she says vaguely as she takes down pictures and clears shelves, “but the moment didn’t arrive.“ 

            Maddy isn’t seen again, except for some walk-ons in Alan’s dreams, but from what Forsyth shows of her moony manner and kleptomaniac habits, one can’t help feeling he’s well out of the relationship. His best friend, surgeon Colin (an uncharacteristically amiable Patrick Malahide) agrees. A rich and promising world awaits, he counsels, although his optimism is somewhat undermined by being offered while he’s scheduling a kidney transplant.

Clare Grogan as Charlotte

            Hopes of a new life and new women lead Alan into a misplaced exercise in chivalry, during which he tries to help Charlotte, a pretty girl embroiled in a feud within the Italian families that control Glasgow’s ice cream sellers and fish-and-chip shops. That this situation is based on fact and is played out in a wintry northern milieu reminiscent of Mike Hodges’ nihilistic Get Carter doesn’t make it any more probable but Forsyth showed as early as Gregory’s Girl that he understood how  incongruity is a medium in which comedy flourishes.

            He’s never happier than when he’s frustrating expectations, bringing us down to earth with a bump. In Local Hero, a rabbit rescued by a Scottish roadside with a broken leg turns up later, unheralded, in the stew. “ ‘Enjoying the evening’, ” someone observes of the shadowy Christine Lahti in Housekeeping, “which was what she called sitting in the dark.” Occasionally he reverses the effect. Alan escapes a bashing in Comfort and Joy when the thug in a ski mask recognises him and demands that he play something for his mum on the show. 

Bill Patterson menaced by a fan

            Bill Paterson gives a nicely shaded performance as Bird, a shallow man troubled by the suspicion, largely instilled by others, that he should be less contented than he is. Maddy’s lack of affect merely mirrors his own, and his attempts at achieving Significance with a radio documentary expire in the realisation that he doesn’t anything to say. The cheeriness of his early morning show fulfils a need both in his audience and himself, and the film ends with him hosting the Christmas afternoon programme with the promise that it will include nothing of the real world. Just the mindless refuge of jokes, music, comfort and joy. 

Monday 29 November 2021

Streaming on Amazon Prime - Janice Tong reviews THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF /KUNSTNEREN OG TYVEN (Benjamin Ree, US/Norway, 2020)

Bertil and Barbora - during the first meeting when she is 
asked to do his portrait

The visible and the invisible, the seen and unseen. There’s a continuous slippage between the two, because in truth, nothing is as clearcut as we’d like to make it out to be, ever.

For me, The Painter and the Thief can only be seen a labour of love by director Benjamin Ree, who worked on this film for many years. He is both director and cinematographer. And his use of mixed footages was a clever one. Some of these were retrieved from friends of Barbora’s who had filmed her painting the stolen works; TV reports as well as court transcripts. He was also able to incorporate an actual taped session from the first meeting of Barbora and Bertil during an intermission in court and CCTV footage. All this provided texture to the story. 


The interleaving of the two characters, their separateness, as well as the interactions. The film begins with more of a focus on Barbora and the theft, until Bertil opens up.  Ree also wanted to tell his side of the story. That added different dimensions to the overall experience. The final film brings to bear a celluloid fabric that is both palpable, as though we’re located in the centre of Barbora and Bertil’s worlds, as well as cinematic. 

Bertil in the hands and eyes of Barbora


Ree’s captivating journey explores what it is that fascinates a person, what attracts a person enough for them to want to get close to another. In the process, we wonder whether this ‘getting closer to’ is ever going to be successful or even possible in the philosophical sense. Think Merleau-Ponty- the intertwining of the subjective and the objective body, where sight is, in and of itself, already coded and therefore ambiguous; the mere act of looking is already an approach to the object. And yet, we are both subject and object; a hand can touch and be touched. I found myself thinking about this question throughout the film: is it possible to reveal what is invisible, in other words, is the disclosure of truth, or an understanding of the other, ever possible? 


There are so many revealing moments captured between Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova, the ‘painter’, and Karl-'Bertil' Nordland, the ‘thief’. Those moments are raw as well as rare in a documentary, at times uncomfortable, and yet, completely natural.  The camera did not intrude, we are in Wiseman territory: we are but a fly on the wall, we are in the room with both the painter and the thief. 

The Gallery and window from which the paintings were stolen


The one scene that I recall well is when we are treated to Bertil’s voiceover through a montage sequence of their interactions. He says “She sees me very well. But she forgets that I see her too.” It is that moment of relevation, the hand that touches can also be touched. It is not just the painter who sees, but the thief too, sees. Another layer is added; we are not just seeing the surface of things (what is shown on the canvas), in fact, Barbora’s paintings push through the surface to reveal an essence. We know this because we are in the frame when Bertil sees his own portrait for the first time; the shock on his face says it all, his disbelief that someone was able to really ‘get’ him, and not just be his friend, but was able to see past the tattoos and the stigma of being a thief or a ‘bad boy’. 


Later there’s a lovely painting Barbora does of his injured hand from a car accident that almost killed him. It reminded her of Christ’s hands. Bertil is also stigmatised by society. We realise that Bertil is fragile and self-destructive rather than dangerous. When he was first asked by Barbora why he stole her paintings, he replied that it was because they’re her “masterpiece”. And you can tell that he has enormous respect for her work because he took the pain of removing the 200 nails that fastened the painting to the frame, (which would have taken a long time during a heist), rather than simply cutting the canvas off the frame as per the usual practice of art thieves. 


One of the stolen paintings

Whilst the film starts off with a heist of two of Barbora’s most important paintings (those made when she moved from Berlin to Oslo to begin a new life), and they were stolen in broad daylight from the front display windows of a gallery. The story that follows eclipse the premise. And the arc of Bertil, from being the thief to finally getting out of jail and building a life for himself is interesting and complex. Barbora stayed the painter, or rather, the artist that she is. I also thought much about the multi-dimensional relationship she must have with her partner, Øystein Stene, that remained largely off-screen. 


This brilliant film does perform a sleight of hand at the end, but one that I did not mind at all for the engrossing story we are treated to, of two seemingly very different people who are in fact much more alike than we first realised. Through Ree’s lens, these variable traces of differences and similarities, of the seen and unseen, are brought mesmerisingly to life on screen. 


The Painter and the Thief  is currently showing on Amazon Prime.

Saturday 27 November 2021

On Blu-ray - David Hare notes a new edition of Josef von Sternberg's JET PILOT (USA, 1950/1957)

Two screens from the new Kino Lorber dual format release of Sternberg's 1950 (released 1957) Jet Pilot.

At the very least the 1.37 full matte transfer brings the movie back to its original photographic intention. Even the briefest comparison with the hideous 1.85 widescreen matte makes that clear.
But like the widescreen transfer from Universal which was also used by the German label Explosive Media for their widescreen on Blu-ray a few years ago, the transfer is from the same source and the sins are legion.
The image is obviously sharpened to buggery with visible EE and other giveaway digital artefacts all over the joint. And the color has been pushed through a combination of high gamma, deeper black levels and more digital manipulation into something that doesn't look anything like 1951 three strip Technicolor IB print.  

There was a period around 10 to 15 years ago when Universal began rescanning and preserving a lot of its deep archive library with 2K workflow. A lot of these are very dubious and they even extend to an atrocious rescanning of Marnie which is plagued with digital artefacting and mosquito noise/faux grain until the last reel. Jet Pilot I believe precedes even that era and I suspect the Universal master sources for both wide and regular ratios were made during the basic 1080p or upscale days for bare bones DVD. 

My old DVD-R copy of Universal's laserdisc from 1994 while far softer and less detailed than this has much cleaner and I think truer color grading, and it reflects a print from the era far more faithfully.
God knows, though this is hardly Sternberg's greatest picture but there's a lot in it to like besides the cold war camp aspects (ably aided by Jules Furthman's tongue in cheek screenplay) with the notion of a big juicy steak representing the triumph of American Capitalism over Soviet Commie austerity to say nothing of Janet Leigh's extraordinary red and gold metallic gown sourced from what must have been a Florida branch of Fredericks of Hollywood with which Janet Leigh captures John Wayne's eternal lust and desire.
And what else, really are the movies about?

Thursday 25 November 2021

Streaming on Netflix - Peter Hourigan looks at healing from paedophile priests - PROCESSION (Robert Greene, USA, 2021)

Oh, no.  Not another film about paedophile priests? Isn’t it becoming almost a genre in itself? Though we know there are so many histories to provide material?  Well, Procession doesn’t follow the usual route, and it becomes something different and far richer.

The story goes that Robert Greene started on the film when he saw a segment on television where three survivors of priest abuse declared they were ready to publicly name 230 priests in the Kansas City area who had participated in an organised child sex-trafficking ring. An excerpt from this program starts the film.  Greene developed connections that led to the involvement of three more men who’d been abused – and a qualified drama therapist. 

And instead of a sensational exposé we join the six men, the therapist and a film crew as they set out to make small films about their own individual experiences of the abuse. Locations must be scouted – which can lead to a hunt to identify the actual places of abuse.  Or casting must be arranged.  Who can play you as an innocent eleven-year-old?  It’s not just a matter of finding a sweet innocent looking boy but being actively concerned about the boy’s own welfare in being exposed, albeit second-hand, to the horrors of abuse. 

The six men who were victims of paedophile priests.

An interesting situation arises when a couple of the men play abusers in the re-enactment of some of the other men. And what convincing (and jolly) priests they are!

One of the outcomes of the approach is that we have a stronger sense of the damage done by abuse than often emerges from other such films.  These men are not now drug-addicts or dead beats.  Or dead from suicide in trying to escape their nightmares. Though these have been the outcomes for many victims. Rather they have had successful working lives, and generally successful private lives.  But they have achieved this over ongoing nightmares, insecurity, inability to trust and perpetual anger.  With one of the men, you feel that never was profanity filled language so justifiable. 

This boy played one of men at the age he was abused.

The opening titles give the names of the six men in the card, “A film by…” rather than director Robert Greene.  This is a beautiful and fitting acknowledgement of the contributions of these in shaping the film – and in fact giving permission for the film in the first place. But it is still clearly a film by Robert Greene who has explored this structure of using the process of reconstructing an event to impart information about that event and explore its meaning. 

In Bisbee ’17 (2018) he explored the labour busting tactics in Bisbee Arizona in 1917, when mine owners illegally transported at gunpoint over 1000 miners who had been trying to gain better, and safer working conditions. He did this through the local residents of Bisbee in 2017 working to stage a re-enactment of the forced deportations.  We learn about the event itself, of course.  But also, we get an insight into the meaning of the event 100 years later. Those who’d never heard of it. People finding themselves challenged as they find out about the actions of an ancestor. What impact do 100-year-old events have on the political values of some of those people today, perhaps through family traditions passed down, but never questioned. 

In Greene’s Kate Plays Christine (2016) we’re with an actress preparing to play the role of a television news reader who killed herself on TV in 1974.

So, re-enactments have been an important tool in Greene’s directorial kitbag.  But there is a stronger, richer element here, where these preparations and performances become an important cathartic, healing element for the men. Ultimately this is not a sordid story, but a beautiful, and joyful work, where you can feel exultant as these damaged men experience beautiful healing and invite us to share it.

Wednesday 24 November 2021

The Current Cinema - David Hare expresses some reservations about THE POWER OF THE DOG (Jane Campion, UK/NZ/Australia/Canada/USA 2021)


Benedict Cumberbatch (foreground), 
New Zealand (background

The biggest problem with The Power of the Dog,  and I agree with Christos Tsiolkas in The Saturday Paper totally about this, is Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as directed by Jane Campion. 
In any case I have several issues with this movie, much as I do with The Piano (which I do not care for at all.) 

When Campion goes into arthouse mode there's a sharp distancing from the characters and an absorption in setting that tips the movies into Malick-like pictorialism. Admittedly in both these movies she has New Zealand and our amazing high UV light to photograph. But I never once bought Cumberbatch's reading of the part and frankly I don't have much time for the story. Comparisons are always odious but I will nevertheless make the obvious one with Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain

Heath Ledger's performance in Brokeback is an great piece of interior acting, in which virtually nothing is exteriorized or dramatized in any look-at-me manner. And Lee, consumate director that he is, understands that Ledger's performance (as well as the other players) particularly shines in big open compositions and staging, surrounded by air and landscape all of which serves to amplify the interior drama of these torn men (and rarely women.) 

I really think the mountains of praise for Power are drowning the small merits it actually does possess.

  • THE RITZ, THE ITALIAN INSTITUTE OF CULTURE and CINEMA REBORN present for one screening only a tribute to Nino Manfredi - WE ALL LOVED EACH OTHER SO MUCH (Ettore Scola, Italy 1974)

     Critics applaud C'EREVAMO TANTO AMATI (Ettore Scola, 1974) screening at a special one-off homage to celebrate the 100th birthday of the the great comic actor Nino Manfredi, a much admired and loved Italian classic, screening in a beautifully restored new copy at the Ritz Cinemas Randwick Monday 29 November at 6.30 pm. To Book Tickets CLICK HERE


    “…smart and entertaining …one of director Ettore Scola’s most engaging movies.” (after viewing the film at its world premiere at the 1975 Locarno Film Festival

    Stefania Sandrelli, Nino Manfredi


    With the possible exception of the more recent body of work by China's Jia Zhangke, no film has summed up a nation's political, social and cultural history with such clarity and humanity as We All Loved Each Other So Much/C'eravamo tanto amati(1974), the first international success of a director known primarily for comedies.


    Ettore Scola (1931-2016) began his career as a screenwriter of broad farces, many of them for Dino Risi, credited as one of the maestros of the Italian film comedy style to emerge in the 1950s and 1960s. After a dozen years scripting such hits as Risi's classic Il Sorpasso(1962), Scola directed his first feature, Let's Talk About Women(1964), an episodic comedy of romance and relationships starring the actor who would become his most frequent star, Vittorio Gassman. It's a mistake, however, to think of Scola's work as mere comic entertainment. Like Risi, his pictures, funny as they are, derive much of their humor from satirizing the class disparities of everyday Italian life and the high-level corruption that has frequently characterized the country's government.


    Scola's stands out by incorporating into its saga a detailed and passionate consideration of Italy's greatest artistic movement of modern times, neorealism, the cinematic style that emerged in the 1940s. Its early proponents, among them Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica (to whom We All Loved Each Other So Much is dedicated), focused on stories about the poor and working class, filmed on location and often with non-professional actors, depicting the difficult conditions of Italian life….


    To drive home his point, Scola incorporates excerpts and evocations of films by De Sica, Rossellini, Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni. Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni appear as themselves in a funny recreation of the filming of the famous Trevi Fountain scene in Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960), and De Sica is seen in archival footage talking about Bicycle Thieves. There are snippets of other movies and a seduction played out as one character attempts to instruct another in the wonders of Eisensteinian montage on Rome's Spanish Steps. …(Announcing the films recent premiere on Turner Classic Movies on TCM.com)


    Stefania Sandrelli, Vittorio Gassman


    Here is a quote from Canby in The New York Times, in  1977 when the film first opened in the US. (It has never screened at all in Australia as far as is known.)


    "We All Loved Each Other So Much," which opened yesterday at the Beekman, is full of fondness, rue, outrage and high spirits. It is also—surprising for an Italian film—packed with the kind of movie references that French filmmakers like, and it is dedicated to the late Vittorio DeSica, whose "Bicycle Thief" plays a prominent part in the picture. 

    Ettore Scola

    Monday 22 November 2021

    Ray Edmondson issues an Invitation to a webinar about and screening of FUNNY THINGS HAPPENED DOWN UNDER (Joe McCormick, Australia/New Zealand, 1965)

    Dear all,


    This coming Sunday the Friends of the National Film & Sound Archive will be offering a free webinar led by film critic Peter Krausz, reflecting on the pre-renaissance years of 1965 to 1971 - now becoming forgotten, as the films of that era are rarely seen.  It is open to everyone - especially those who have their own memories of those adventurous years. The webinar will be recorded and added to the Friends website, where it will continue to be available.


    Zoom webinar  - This Sunday 28 November at 2pm 

    To join the webinar  BOOK FREE HERE

    But before that watch Funny Things Happen Down Under (1965) -  free on Vimeo for one week: https://vimeo.com/648407032/0c587bca0d

    (Download Not Allowed, Only People With The Link Can Access.)  Note: This is a .MKV file. You may need the free app VLC to watch it.

    Funny Things Happen Down Under is a light hearted musical comedy, featuring Olivia Newton-John and set in the Australian countryside. It is still a breath of fresh air! It was actually made by a New Zealand-based company, Pacific Films, and prophetically it exudes an optimism for better days to come. The teenage singing star makes her first venture into the movies, and shares the limelight with the "Terrible Ten" and Maori singer Howard Morrison. Music is from the irrepressible Horrie Dargie Quintet, and a flock of multi-coloured sheep complete the dramatis personae. It is enough to get you intrigued!

    Historically, the film came at a turning point for the Australian film industry.  It was made after the creation of the children's series The Terrific Adventures of the Terrible Ten, and the "gang" from the series provide the basic cast for the film, so there was already audience familiarity with the characters.  It pre-dated the release of They're a Weird Mob the following year, which fed on the same family audience, and presaged the re-establishment of regular feature film production in Australia. From this point on, a range of local feature films - such as You Can't See Around Corners, 2000 Weeks, The Naked BunyipJack and Jill: a Postscript, Skippy and the Intruders  - start to appear with regularity. They are disparate, but deal with an emerging understanding of Australian culture and society. They lead us into the feature film "renaissance" of the 1970s and thereafter.

    You're invited to view the film beforehand, and then join in the webinar, coordinated by film critic Peter Krausz, which will discuss the making of  Funny Things Happen Down Under, the audience it attracted and whether it led to more films for children as a prime audience. It will also look generally at the pre-renaissance years of 1965 to 1971 and the films which defined a re-emerging industry, finding its stride again after two decades of sporadic production.    


    Sunday 21 November 2021


    Film Alert 101 has just sailed past its seventh birthday. There were over 300 posts and 140,000 page views during the course of the year.

    My thanks to every one of the contributors who wittingly or occasionally unwittingly had their thoughts published here. In all, as far as I can track down, these were the contributors who made it all happen.


    Gary Andrews, Ross Barnard, John Baxter, Ina Bertrand, Rod Bishop, Martin Bradley,  Dean Brandum, Al Clark,  Adrian Danks, Marshall Deutelbaum, François Forestier, Antony I Ginnane, Ira Joel Haber, David Hare, Bruce Hodsdon, Peter Hourigan, Bruce Isaacs, Liz Jacka, Shelley Jiang,  Simon Killen, Adrian Martin, Emmanuel Macron, Jane Mills, Ken Mogg, Stephen Morgan, Scott Murray, Margot Nash, Barrie Pattison, Karl Quinn, Tony Rayns, Tom Ryan, Susan Potter, Zali Steggall, Simon Taaffe, Peter Tammer, Janice Tong,  Quentin Turnour, Louis Skorecki, David Stratton, Storry Walton, Sue Williams and Blythe Worthy

    As for the most popular posts, well once again it's controversies that won out. 

    The Trouble with Being Born

    Top post went to David Stratton who had some thoughts about MIFF's decision to withdraw THE TROUBLE WITH BEING BORN (Sandra Wollner, Austria, 2020) from its program CLICK HERE


    After that….these were very poplar


    Ken Mogg on Hitchcock’s Rope (one of many of Ken’s posts on Hitchcock that drew tremendous numbers) CLICK HERE


    Tom Ryan takes exception to MIFF censoring its selection CLICK HERE


    Karl Quinn responds to Tom Ryan and David Stratton about MIFF’s decision to pull THE TROUBLE WITH BEING BORN from its program and reports on his interview with the director Sandra Wollner CLICK HERE

    Youssef  Chahine 

    The biggest surprise of all. I reckon it provided much thought for some place where the director was on the syllabus, Peter Hourigan on Youssef Chahine CLICK HERE

    The enduring interest in Hitchcock - David Hare on a new UHD 4K - Hitchcock box set. CLICK HERE

    A  gratifying interest, even if no answers were provided - The NFSA finds a champion in Federal Parliament - Zali Steggall asks some pertinent questions.   CLICK HERE


    Our youngest contributor - Shelley Jiang on Touch of Evil CLICK HERE

    Margot Nash introduces THE JUNIPER TREE (Nietzchka Keene, USA, 1990) and her own film SHADOW PANIC (Australia, 1989) at Cinema Reborn CLICK HERE


    Rod Bishop on Shadow Play CLICK HERE


    John Baxter on The Dig CLICK HERE

    Jean-Claude Brisseau

    Janice Tong rediscovers two films by Jean-Claude Brisseau  


    Adrian Martin Defends Cinephilia 2020 CLICK HERE


    Barrie Pattison on John Farrow CLICK HERE


    Lina Wertmuller

    Jane Mills introduces Lina Wertmuller CLICK HERE

    Saturday 20 November 2021

    Sydney Film Festival - 🎥Janice Tong's Second Filmic Postcard - THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Japan, 2021) and THE STORY OF MY WIFE (Ildikó Enyedi, Hungary, 2021)

    Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

    For those who are unfamiliar with 
    Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s works, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is very much of the realm of Haruki Murakami’s short stories; three vignettes that ruminate on the themes of love, betrayal, chance encounters and coincidences.  

    Fantasy or fortune?

    I was lucky enough to catch one of Hamaguchi’s film, Asako I & II which was screening on Stan about 2 years ago. It had a dreamy quality: elliptical and haunting, the story stayed with me for a number of days and although I can’t recall the storyline in detail, that feeling still remains when I think of this film.

    Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy aims to create those kinds of connections and feelings, and succeeds especially well in the last of the three vignettes. And unlike Rohmer, (the director cites him as his main influence), his stories seem to have a less sunny disposition. 


    The three stories have their own distinctive narratives, casts and impulse; and each are a self -contained exploration of the human psyche. The first piece is called Magic (Or Something Less Reassuring) and unfortunately I found that for the first 15 minutes or so the screen was too dark, and I saw virtually nothing...either the key light was not set correctly (which I doubt) or the cinema (Dendy Newtown) had not calibrated it’s screens properly. The simple two-shot sequence in the cab was obscured and made it hard to establish a character’s motive or intent without the ability to see their faces, to read their eyes. The saving grace was at the end of this segment - where fantasy ends.


    Chance and coincidence

    The three stories are mainly two-handers and work extremely well as chamber pieces heightening the melodrama that unfolds, sometimes in real life, and sometimes within our mind’s eye. The only clue that provides a connective thread across the pieces is Robert Schumann’s Of Foreign Lands and Peoples played extra-diegetically on the piano (as though someone is practising), and this earworm so far has not left me. A beautiful rendition of this piece played by the great Martha Argerich when she performed with the Berliner Philharmoniker at 73 years of age can be found here; and boy, can she play! She still has the most graceful and lightness of touch).


    This piece of music perfectly describes each of their encounters.  Human endeavour and behaviour are generally strange and foreign. Even when we’re in the act of thinking or doing something, we never consider its strangeness except in hindsight. And whilst it all makes sense at the time, like those stolen moments between love-making in the second story Door Wide Open, where anything promised is possible and any attempt at realising these promises should, of its own accord, take on its own impulse and may even develop into something special. But in hindsight, we all know that these actions, tempting as they may be, will ultimately lead to an unfortunate demise for those involved. It is written. The story notwithstanding, in this segment Kiyohiko Shubukawa was fantastic as the deadpan professor and novelist. 


    Second Segment- Door Wide Open
    with Kiyohiko Shubukawa in the foreground

    And for those who come together unexpectedly, such as the two women in the last segment, Once Again, they may find an altogether a different ending to the one they set out to achieve. It is through these small moments of observation and dialogue that Hamaguchi re-invents the episode genre, and you come away with the feeling of having experienced, visually, a Murakami collection of short stories. 


    To get to a deeper understanding of this film (without further spoilers) there is a really good interview with the director from this year’s New York Film Festival here.


    Ildikó Enyedi

    Ever since I saw Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul and heard her speak about her film at the SFF back in 2017 (it took out the SFF Award for Best Film that year), I have been full of admiration for her and her very unique way of relating the magical realism of nature, in particular, animals, to her narratives and, of course, to us, the very extraordinary thing of being human


    I found The Story of My Wife to have that same enchanted quality, but with a maturation of perspective and treatment of a similar subject matter. Sure, we can say that this film is a story about love, or about a man (a Sea Captain) and his wife (the first woman who walked through the door on that fateful day). But can women and men ever really understand each other? Because falling in love, or loving another person is altogether a different matter. 


    Léa Seydoux, Gijs Naber, Louis Garrel

    The greatest folly of mankind is our ability to be influenced by love’s tidal tempers, and our greatest extenuative is our inability to understand this profound sentiment and our ineptitude in our search for its yearning. 


    Or perhaps what is to be found in the oscillation between these two states, (alas, these two worlds), of being in the state of love (the swoon that sweeps you off your feet), to the way we need to overcome it is by way of creating misdirections, seeding doubts, mythmaking; all in order to break the same bonds we so desire, lest our hearts may never recover from them.


    Those critics who have given this film and it’s glorious 2 hours and 49 mins a thumbs down review, I dare say dont have not the patience or subtlety to truly want to grasp at the mysterious heart of the story.  That Otherness is an essential and constitutional part of the formulation of Self. The Other is always mysterious and cannot be otherwise. All we can do, is to take delight in navigating in the unknown waters in between.


    The story unfolds in a series of episodes, each with a chapter heading, the last one is “On Letting Go”.  The film is adapted from a novel of the same name The Story of My Wife: The Reminiscences Of Captain Störr by early 20th Century Hungarian writer, Milán Füst


    Ildikó Enyedi’s film transports us to another time, with Imola Lang’s gorgeous production design - the 20s and 30s set pieces offer up a centre of balance. But the home is the loci of both love and illicit thoughts, a husband and wife’s private space is also the scene of confrontations.


    Léa Seydoux's Lizzy and Gils Naber's Captain Störr -
     at a time when they were very much in love.

    For Léa Seydoux, her Lizzy was always true to her husband, Captain Jakob Störr, played by the handsome and Viking-like Dutch actor Gijs Naber, but she is totally mysterious to him. She was the Eve of dry land, and all Störr could do was to dream with the sperm whales ‘standing’ vertically in the water. These deep ocean sirens sleep standing up, and Störr is at one with their songs. He walks on land as a man, but has a heart of a whale. His dream literally comes true when he declared that he was going to marry the first woman who stepped through the door, and he did. 


    The homely setting, the hearth, the chaise and a reclining Lizzy reading, this scene welcomed the sailor back as though he was Ulysses, and her, Penelope. After all, this home was in Paris, and she has not yet been displaced to Hamburg. 


    Lizzy is ambivalent, and that perhaps is her charm after all, setting aflutter all the hearts of men (and women) who come across her path. But she is very much the faithful wife to Störr, whether he saw it or not, understood it or not, believed it or not. Her small jibes “what an absurd thing to say”, or “what a ridiculous notion”, were her only defence of the deeper wounds his suspicions and jealousy drove into her, (he did try to strangle her), and perhaps as an aggrieved woman, there was simply not a way to express this feeling except to be a creature of contradiction: contemptuous (pushing idly, inch by inch, the ink well until it falls off the edge of the table), charming (coming home tipsy and proud of the fact of having spent a good evening out), and sensual (dancing in front of mirror when no one was watching). That was the person whom Störr fell in love with.

    "Before the inkwell hits the ground"

    But for Störr, unfaithfulness, just like trafficking illegal goods, is a common affair. Hints abound throughout the early parts of the film eluding to his shipmates’ having a ‘wife’ at every port. Though he confessed of having ‘no wife’, but later, having given up his seafaring days (partly to keep an eye on Lizzy), his own calculated ways made him think the worst of his wife. And Louis Garrel’s dandy, Dedin, affronted the worst in him. He has still to learn how to sing Lizzy’s siren song.


    Later, when Störr mistook his own indiscretion for love, having been attracted to Grete (Luna Wedler (from the fantastic German Netflix series, Biohacker), he wanted to take their stolen relationship further. But Grete knew it to be useless, she was “like him” she said, with a truthful heart; and we know it was her innocence that spoke. She was already in a double bind whether she saw it or not. To be his mistress (it doesn’t matter that he asked her to marry him - as an audience, we knew he meant to have two wives), or to be without him. 


    There was to only be one eternal ending to this story. A sequence towards the end of the film was of Störr holding a posy of violets and standing at the back of a tram. As it pulled away from the cafe he was at earlier (where he had eyed a girl who had caught his fancy), he sees her, Lizzy. The posy falls from his hands. The beautiful blue violet that symbolises modesty and faithfulness, and also of remembrance; and in Shakespeare - of sorrow and death. This single gesture tied to this flower tells the entire story of Captain Störr and his wife.