Watched this interesting documentary today, made in 1982 by Wim Wenders at Canne it’s a collection of his contemporaries views on the history of cinema, filmed in a numerical hotel room of the title. As a historical document it is fascinating, not only for the appearances of those that have since left us (Antonioni, Monte Hellman, Fassbinder) and the perspectives of those at a particular juncture in their career (Spielberg ruminates on the rising costs of production having just made E.T., which cost an astronomical $10 million!!) but the opinions expressed are amusing with the benefit of hindsight, as many of the delegates bemoan the rise of VHS and the popularity of television as the death knell of the movies. As always, Herzog steals the show;
‘You can’t answer a question like that with your shoes on’ is vintage Werner, and ’we’ll be ordering food on our computers’ – well, quite. You can watch the whole thing here, it’s only 44 minutes so give it a whirl.
Well, there is only one news item today isn’t there? First review here from the critically admired Todd McCarthy, a 1,300 word treatise posted quite impressively in less than two hours since the credits rolled – and here is a video item which makes me quite certain that the naysayers are fucking idiots. But, to be fair, I haven’t seen it yet so I should reserve judgement, but this does sound like it’s right up my alley – big, brash, visionary film-making with no concessions to demographics, a visual poem by all accounts which will either bewilder or bewitch. I can’t fucking wait;
The official film site is also quite different. Further observations here and here. Lynne Ramsay’s long awaited new film We Need To Talk About Kevin has also got some remarkable reviews – sounds like a tough watch.
From Faye Dunaway in Network to her tortured performance in Chinatown, a link that should dovetail nicely into my imminent review of Polanski’s The Ghost which I’m looking forward to seeing tomorrow during a well deserved day off. My plans for that review are getting a little unwieldy so it’s a nice opportunity to break things up with some early commentary, I’ve been reading this biography which is far from being a hagiography of the pint-sized tyrant, I’m only 100 pages or so in and it’s already exploded a few myths about his early career and provided some interesting background to his breakthrough Repulsion which I revisited last night – it was good.
The elephant in the room of course is the controversial rape trial that hangs over any discussion of Polanski’s career so let me be clear – he should have gone to jail. Regardless of his horrendous childhood, the impossibility of his achieving a fair trial in the States and the so-called ‘liberated’ atmosphere of the Seventies you don’t drug and have sex with a thirteen year old girl - it’s indefensible, stomach churning and throughly reprehensible. How’s that for stating the obvious eh? Not wishing to sound flippant however it does provide a bookmark to any reading of Polanski’s career, the prevalent themes of sexual neurosis and the macabre atmosphere that permeates his movies throughout his forty-year career, he is unquestionably an incredibly talented director (which again I stress is not suggesting a defence for his behaviour) and such events should inform but not derail any analysis of his work – that’s my two cents. So, moving on, Canne has had its line-up announced with no sign of either a potential Inception or Tree Of Life premiere (although there are six pictures still to be announced), there are a few interesting entries including some new projects from the likes of Kitano, Tavernier, Iñárritu, Nakata and Godard whom I’m not terribly excited about but was surprised to see was still working, it could be his last film which should be interesting. The US productions – Wall Street 2 and Robin Hood leave me cold. Right, I’m off to watch The Wild Bunch on Blu-Ray, that’s American cinema you can get excited about…
One of the most lauded films from this years Festival de Canne finally reaches London and given my love of crime movies I was happy to see this Italian language film being screened at my local multiplex. Based on the best selling journalistic reportage of Roberto Saviano, ’Gomorrah‘ is a powerful presentation of the modern day Mafia who run rife through the poverty stricken tenements of Naples. The film is comprised of a half dozen or so threads detailing all strata’s of the Comorra clan, building a complex picture of a terrible criminal enterprise that seems to have permeated all aspects of contemporary Italian society. We are taken through the lives of the middle ranking thugs who are involved in waste disposal and government liaison, the aspirant minded teenagers and their Tony Montana influenced truculence, the traditional money managers who spend their days managing a byzantine web of protection rackets and the lives of the law abiding citizens whose lives are tragically wrecked by the Mafia’s pervasive criminal conspiracy.
The film takes the best elements of Italian neo-realism, namely the use of fluid and scrappy handheld camera work, the employment of non-professional actors along with the absence of any soundtrack to deliver a powerful punch of gripping vérité, punctuated with moments of horrific violence. This is obviously a close reference point, given its design and attitude. The myriad strands of the film are managed skillfully, I will certainly be keeping an eye on director Matteo Garrone and checking out his past work, for instance this looks intriguing.
It’s quite an antidote to the romanticised portrayal of the Mafia that the films of Scorsese and Coppola have projected or of course the adventures of a certain rotund gentleman from New Jersey. There is no sense of honour among thieves or any sense of ‘omertà‘ that is explored in those cultural milestones, in ‘Gomorrah‘ we are immersed in a hell on earth which is comprised of random violence, frequent betrayal and explicit brutality. The action unfolds in a tableau of Neapolitan urban decay which also marks a distinctive shift from the impeccably lit New York that has frequently served as the backdrop to previous organised crime films, the various threads all reaching their inevitable, blood drenched conclusions to build an uncompromising and frankly exhausting cinema experience.
It has something of the intertwining, macro level reportage feeling of the (MAJOR SPOILERS) ‘The Wire‘ to it and I can’t think of any higher praise. It concludes with some grim text on the history of the Comorra clan which blends into the final titles with a killer musical score. Highly recommended and a film whose story is constantly evolving…..
Got half way to work yesterday and just thought ‘naah, can’t be bothered’ so decided to go suit shopping and take in a movie instead – one of the joys of working for yourself. Slim pickings at the cinema at the moment until the final Oscar release push by the studios so I opted for ‘Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days’, a film I knew very little about other than it’s set in eastern Europe, it won the Palme d’Or at Canne last year and has been universally praised by the critics. 1987, Ceausescu’s Romania. Two students, Otilia and Gabita hire a hotel room and arrange for a meeting with the menacing Mr. Bebe – Gabita is pregnant and abortion is strictly forbidden in the communist state forcing young women to turn to the black market. Mr. Bebe’s questioning of Gabita reveals that she is four, not two months pregnant which leads him to make a sickening proposal to the girls if they wish him to continue with the illegal termination….
As you’d imagine from the subject matter, time period and locale this isn’t exactly a laugh a minute knockabout comedy. Director Cristian Mungiu has opted (appropriately) for a naturalistic approach which makes the film feel like an eastern European Ken Loach film – Long takes help scenes breathe, the film employs static mid-shots rather than any obtrusive, distracting camera work and there is no soundtrack or score. It doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to the medical procedure and aftermath nor in it’s depiction of a sombre, restricted communist society. I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ it or indeed could see why it was receiving such universal goodwill – don’t get me wrong, it’s very effective and compelling in it’s grim realism – but I’ve seen similar films before so it’s not exactly the breakthrough triumph it’s claimed to be other than being Romanian. Still, recommended for a more serious cinematic experience.
One crucial advantage the film has is the presence of Ana Maria Marinca who is a very brave actress and I think we will be seeing much more of her in the months and years to come - she crafted a heartbreaking performance in ‘Sex Traffic’ which was one of the very few TV drama’s I’ve watched in the past few years which genuinely moved me and I think she may, if the stars are in alignment, garner an Oscar nomination for this role.