Review: Taxi Tehran

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DIR/WRI/PRO/DOP/ED: Jafar Panahi

 

One of the most evocative features of Jafar Panahi’s Taxi Tehran is the director’s unruffled smile, which rarely falters as he drives (badly) around the streets of Tehran in a taxi. As a filmmaker, who is banned from making films or travelling outside his native country for making anti-government propaganda, Panahi’s smile evaluates the irony of his demoted employment to freely meander through the streets of Tehran and the confinement of his profession, where surreptitious cameras on a dashboard, in defiance of his sentence, symbolically capture the absurdity and reality of his situation. Following on from This Is not a Film and Closed Curtain, which were both shot in the relative safety of interior houses, Taxi Tehran, an eighty-odd minute, documentary-like style film, becomes more than another flagrant touting of the ban, it is representative of a wider confinement engulfing Iranian culture through its potent cultural and political restrictions, where each act of defiance, could signify the very last act of defiance.

As a former assistant to Kiarostami, a specialist of the chattering-and-driving trope, Taxi Tehran draws comparisons with his mentor’s Ten, also composed of a series of elliptical vignettes, in which a succession of conversations with the driver, express religious and political views, condensed into an intoxicating portrait of contemporary Iranian culture. Touching on wide variety of themes from a humanist perspective, old meets new and traditionalism meets modernity to illustrate the complexities and contradictions engulfing Iranian life. Panahi’s nuanced portrait rouses an eclectic mix of characters who penetrate the taxi’s interior with their chaotic urban bustle, ranging from the entertaining to the mundane, who either animate or puncture the driver’s mood through their philosophical discourses, creating an antagonism between the love and revolt for a culture that both suffocates and inspires through its contradictory repressive regime.

Restricted on the outside, the interior of a taxi now becomes the vehicle whereby passengers can exchange impassioned views on contentious topics, to which many citizens have become desensitized. Assuming the role of confidante, councellor and advisor, Panahi listens to discussions within the confinement of a taxi, inviting an ironic sense of surveillance and voyeurism both as passengers and as a filmmaker. Overhearing impassioned conversations on execution and human rights, meeting a black market DVD seller who recognizes Panahi, two superstitious elderly women who must take their goldfish to a spring by noon or they will die and a dying husband who insists Panahi films his final testament so his wife will inherit his money, evoke both a circumspective and openness to a culture that serves as a commentary on the similarities within the human condition and the continuation cultural oppression within Iran itself.

But as is common in Iranian cinema, it is through the eyes and mind of children that the most thought-provoking content about contemporary culture emerges. Panahi’s final passenger, his niece, lectures him on the tenants of Iranian filmmaking and the avoidance of ‘sordid realism’, as dictated by the autocratic regime, inviting reflection upon the relationship between cinema and culture, the director and the censorial theists of the Islamic republic and female oppression, the liberation the filmmaker’s niece now experiences to be cut short as she matures, a notion that sees Panahi’s smile fade.

Renowned Iranian cinema scholar Hamid Dabashi has been critical of Panahi’s three covert films, claiming that his flagrant defiance of the filmmaking ban has seen the director lose some of the sharp, social impact that informed his earlier films. While there is a sense that, as with Makmahlbaf and Kiarostami’s ‘Westernisation’ of their later work, the same political and cultural agenda that motivated an alternative type of freedom or oppression can create complacency in its social impact. While Panahi’s film is littered with recurring themes and style synonymous with Iranian cinema and does not approach his third circumspect film with any novel agenda, it is the narrative of continuation that becomes the its most potent message and arguably the most engaging of his three post-sentence films. He may have moved outside to the relative the freedom of the streets, however the continuation of the same oppressive narrative persists and he is going to still defy it.

                                                                                                                              Dee O’Donoghue

82 minutes

Taxi Tehran is released 30th October 2015

Taxi Tehran – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: The Legend of Longwood

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DIR: Lisa Mulcahy • WRI: Nadadja Kemper, Lisa Mulcahy, Gwen Eckhaus • PRO: Michael Garland, Nadadja Kemper, Paul Myler, Rob Vermeulen • DOP: Richard Van Oosterhout • ED: Gráinne Gavigan • MUS: Patrick Neil Doyle • DES: Diana van de Vossenberg • CAST: Lucy Morton, Lorcan Bonner, Fiona Glascott, Thekla Reuten, Brendan Conroy, Lorcan Cranitch, Séan Mahon

 

Best known for directing critically acclaimed television dramas such as The Clinic and Red Rock, Irish director Lisa Mulcahy’s second full-length feature film is the children’s fantasy quest The Legend of Longwood. This coming-of-age adventure follows twelve-year old, horse-mad Mickey Miller, whose life is turned upside-down when her horse dies and her mother uproots the family from New York to an eerie backwater in Ireland. Struggling to adjust, Mickey begins to see sinister apparitions linked to the local legend of a mysterious Black Knight, who has been tormenting the village for three hundred years. She soon discovers the legend, a nasty witch called Caitlin and seven precious horses are all connected back to her and she holds the key to unlocking the secret, redeeming the knight and restoring harmony to the village.

Set amidst vast rolling landscapes seeped in majestic mountains, lush hillsides and mystical moors, the Legend of Longwood provides both a beguiling and foreboding platform from which to spring the magical fantasy and supernatural intrigue the mythical legend evokes. While the cinematography is suitably enchanting, lending well to the menace of ill-omened knights, blazing fires, unexplained deaths and imposing castles, the adventure quest narrative fails to commensurate with the tone and mood established by the film’s polychromatic portrait, largely owing to a transparent imbalance within the script. Fusing a mysterious mythological tale with a contemporary fable of greed and deception, to which a young, fearless heroine must overcome adversity to restore order, is always a good starting point in the fantasy quest genre. The problem within the narrative is that despite some impressive performances, the film is just a little too short on mystery or fantasy and stripped of these crucial narrative elements, very little else remains.

Structured upon two narrative strands, whereby a plucky heroine attempts to thwart the dastardly deeds of the wicked witch while attempting to solve a supernatural riddle, should interweave to consolidate a coherent core narrative driven by the heroine’s transformation as she faces many adversities. The script however, fails to affect such a balance and the narrative takes a wild detour away from the mysterious paranormal quest into the realms of comedy and farce as the witch’s sneaky shenanigans gain momentum, engulfing the entire narrative. As such, the story now meanders from the spellbinding promise of mythological adventure to hoodwinking an incompetent castle lord, devaluing the film’s fantastical elements and losing much of the mystical weight the quest should be seeped in. The real adventure now lies with Caitlin’s cunning strategies, Mickey’s fantastical exploits becoming mere afterthoughts, peppered at random around the witch’s sadistic schemes.

Aside from the standout performances from Fiona Glascott as the calculating shrew (also currently starring in John Crowley’s Brooklyn) and Lorcan Cranitch as her partner in crime, the rest of the cast underwhelm and fail to penetrate the limitations of a script evidently burdened with too many screenwriters. Far too many characters, surplus to requirements, add to the uncertainty of the script’s direction and problematic storytelling, lacking any sense of cohesion between the cast. Seán Mahon as the hoodwinked lord, through no fault of his own, is wholly ineffectual, providing no foil to his fiancée’s plot and is representative of the many of the impotent supporting characters who dot the narrative but pose no serious threat to Mickey, depreciating her status as a heroine and situating her as a rather unidentifiable character.

With so many quest films oversaturating the market, The Legend of Longwood is unsuccessful in delivering a narrative that satisfies the crucial components of any fantasy adventure film. Without a high level of mystical intrigue and unnerving eeriness fuelling the story, the plot fails to ignite on a level that would allow for audience investment and identification. As such, the heroine’s anaemic transformation and spiritless adventures, devoid of emotional punch, merely trundle forward at a lackluster pace, lacking the robustness required to hold the attention of sophisticated audiences of the genre, both adults and children alike. Without a substantial heroine driving the narrative, in a plot that is too light on fantasy and mystery, The Legend of Longwood fails to make much impact, despite its captivating façade and unfortunately the film becomes just another forgettable adventure quest drama.

                                                                                                                                       Dee O’Donoghue

PG (See IFCO for details)

99 minutes

The Legend of Longwood is released 23rd October 2015

The Legend of Longwood Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: The Program

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DIR: Stephen Frears • WRI: John Hodge • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tracey Seaward, Kate Solomon • DOP: Danny Cohen • ED: Valerio Bonelli • MUS: Alex Heffes • DES: Alan MacDonald • CAST: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Stapleton, Jesse Plemons, Guillaume Canet

 

Despite years of persistent allegations and categorical denials of taking performance-enhancing drugs, when the US Anti-Doping Agency in 2012 found that Lance Armstrong’s career was not only punctuated by drug use but that he was also the mastermind behind one of the most systematic doping programmes cycling had ever seen, it hardly sent shockwaves throughout the sporting world. For his most ardent fans, however, it was the tangled web of deceit, woven on the back of a seemingly insurmountable battle with cancer to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times, that was the ultimate betrayal. Acclaimed filmmaker Alex Gibney laid bare such perennial cat-and-mouse games between the media and the ignominious cyclist in his fly-on-the-wall documentary The Armstrong Lie in 2013, which not only challenged audiences’ perception of honesty but also ruffled Gibney’s own objectives in uncovering the ultimate truth, such was the conviction of the fabulist’s own sympathetic narrative.

British director Stephen Frears’ dramatization The Program, is not a fictional recounting of Gibney’s documentary but is rather an adaptation from David Walsh’s book, Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, the myth-busting sports journalist who spent years trailing the untouchable myth-maker of cycling. Starring Ben Foster as the mercurial champion and Chris O’Dowd as the Irish crusading newshound, Frears’ bio-drama delves into one of the most professionally orchestrated doping programmes in sport, which for almost two decades seemingly hoodwinked the UCI, the media and a legion of fans to allow Armstrong to become one of the greatest cyclists of the twentieth century.

Structuring the narrative around the intricate operations of the doping racket, which began with Armstrong’s first 1999 Tour win to his public fall from grace in 2009, The Program races through the cyclist’s biography at a thumping, cyclonic rate. Charging through his early formative years, from an unknown but cocksure competitor to a testicular cancer diagnosis that should have halted his obdurate ambition but led to an unrivalled golden age of victory, until a restless retirement and doomed comeback exposed the extensive use of performance-enhancing drugs. Executing the hyperactivity of a whirlwind career blighted by controversy and suspicion, The Program pulsates with furious pace, explosive energy and a razor-sharp visual style. Mirroring the real-life saga itself, the film’s intensity, evoked through a seductively luminous aesthetic, on the one hand gleams with the electrifying heat of inexorable bravado, while unpredictable, obscure camera angles jerk from a ferociously fidgety lens with a tour de force that shatters the mood, abruptly suspending the narrative in a directionless, disconcerting limbo.

If Gibney stands accused of becoming too emotionally embroiled in the complexity of Armstrong’s sophisms resulting in a somewhat tangled narrative, Frears has no such qualms in keeping a safe emotional distance, allowing the absurdity of the Armstrong character to unfold in accordance with the prevailing mythology constructed by the man himself. Refraining from judgment, not even through the moral compass of nemesis David Walsh, disappointingly played by a miscast Chris O’Dowd, who never appears hungry enough in catching his man, Frears is fully cognizant of the potency of the Armstrong myth, never allowing fiction to blur fact, when the facts themselves are potent enough. With the benefit of hindsight through Armstrong’s public confession, Foster relishes in the creation of a calculating, superhuman monster, avoiding any descent into caricature, simply because he does not need to, his compulsive, full-bodied performance interchangeable with the real-life construction of a man so familiar to audiences through his own manipulation of the media.

Although the film honours the chronology of the doping programme, the ‘EPG generation’, and Italian physician Michele Ferrari’s pivotal role in the scheme, it is the ambitious arrogance without compunction with which Armstrong perpetuated the myth, in full awareness of his role as a cancer survivor, champion and cultural icon, which ultimately defines the cyclist’s narrative. Foster paints an unambiguous, one-dimensional portrait, eliminating any sympathetic characteristics Gibney may have perceived, to illustrate a deeply calculating and smugly charming man, whose overriding fear of failure motivated a ruthless modus operandi of recurring lawsuits, silencing his detractors for almost two decades. Foster’s portrayal becomes so destructive and poisoned because Frears perceives Armstrong’s egotistical actions were destructive and poisoned, his manipulative tactics in competitive sport no different to his strategy in gaining public sympathy and support for his charitable work. Gibney’s flawed hero has now become Frears’ shameless and disingenuous anti-hero, moving from empathy to disgust and it is the audience who feel the most uncomfortable.

While Gibney’s attempts to unearth the truth behind the lies still evoked sympathy towards the fallen champion, Frears’ film serves as a reminder to its audience of its own flaws, taunting those who perpetuated the myth through an obsession with the cult of celebrity. Frears implies the Armstrong myth endured because those who deified the fraudster allowed it to do so. Foster’s performance is so compelling because in its entire monstrosity, it touches a raw nerve, not only exposing the feebleness of the man but more particularly, the feebleness of those who championed him. Frears points the finger as much at a gushing audience as he does at the make-up of a highly flawed man, the irony not lost that his mythical 2009 comeback came on the back of such highly-charged adoration as much as ego, ultimately leading to his final downfall.

Those familiar with Gibney’s documentary may be slightly disappointed that Frears does not take any new perspective into the prevailing Armstrong narrative nor offer fresh insight into the psyche of the man behind the painstakingly moulded mask. His complicated personal relationships remain closely guarded and The Program instead is about culture’s love affair with celebrity as much as it is about Lance Armstrong’s love affair with himself and success. The film doesn’t romanticise, condemn or exaggerate the mythical hero for dramatic purposes but rather aims to expose a truth, which Gibney could not quite infiltrate. Thanks to Armstrong’s manipulation of the media, he himself has constructed the brutal and ugly portrayal that Foster assumes in The Program. There is no room for compassion towards the truculent cyclist, who used his battle with illness to deceive the integrity of competitive sports and particularly the integrity of adoring fans, whose faith in Armstrong’s successes should have been a source of inspiration but instead has left them feeling exceptionally cheated and fundamentally flawed themselves.

Dee O’Donoghue

 

15A (See IFCO for details)

 103 minutes

The Program is released 16th October 2015

The Program – Official Website

 

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Review: Suffragette

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DIR: Sarah Gavron • WRI: Abi Morgan • PRO: Alison Owen, Faye Ward • DOP: Eduard Grau • ED: Barney Pilling • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Alice Normington • CAST: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson

 

The distinct lack of films depicting the Suffragette movement in cinema since the silent era is unsurprising. Despite a host of documentaries and television movies exploring one of the most pivotal events in women’s history, cinema has predominantly shied away from the subject, possibly under the (mis) conception that suffrage is now irrelevant and contemporary audiences are better placed aligning their sympathies with more pertinent, identifiable social struggles. While most of the silent era films have been lost, those that survive delineate a collective portrait of aggressive, defeminized termagants, whose abandonment of traditional gender roles created havoc within existing social structures, allowing cinema to engage in negative propaganda and persistent stereotypes.

Sarah Gavron’s ambitious interpretation on British women’s suffrage follows its foot soldiers highly-charged campaign for social change in London, circa 2012. Penned by The Iron Lady writer, Abi Morgan, Suffragette, originally entitled The Fury, makes no apologies for its categorical feminist perspective, honouring the forgotten working-class women who fought to secure the right to vote and stand in political elections. Carey Mulligan stars as working-class washerwoman, Maud Watts, who is persuaded to join the movement, despite disapproval from her loving husband and lascivious boss. Under the encouragement of local pharmacist and seasoned activist, Edith (Helena Bonham Carter), downtrodden cockney, Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) and the watchful leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) Maud finds herself engaged in a flurry of violent, illegal activity to increase media publicity for the cause. Soon her defiant activism compromises her family and job and with the guileful police inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) determined to derail her efforts, Maud is forced to choose between her old, subordinated life or continue the bloody fight for emancipation.

A compelling and propulsive no-holds-barred interpretation, Suffragette does not shy away from accentuating the extreme subversive tactics employed by the bastions of the women’s movement in the face of frenzied, brutal opposition. Delving into the psyche and spirit of the era through a bold cinematic vision, Gavron pumps a thumping rush of furious energy into the inflammable, character-driven narrative, which steamrolls along at a ferocious pace, creating a palpable, nervous edginess, which perfectly executes the pervading social unrest of the era. Captured through a highly subjective, restless feminist lens, with many of the action sequences shot in media res, the camera belligerently probes and taunts to heighten the claustrophobic milieu of a disordered society on the brink of immense social change.

Determined to redress the balance of stereotype and negative connotations aligned with suffragette identity, Gavron welcomes a heady mix of heterogeneous characters that broadly traverse the social spectrum, ranging from impoverished skivvies to grand privileged dames, with specific emphasis on working-class women. Granting her leading ladies their own weighty biography, which stands in opposition to the commonly assumed portrait of masculine, subversive harridans or well-to-do socialites, Gavron succeeds in making visible and humanizing the unknown combatants who have been long forgotten or erased by history. Carey Mullingan, at the helm of the action, plays the reluctant activist with an understated but deeply intense emotional power, her face, persistently framed in confined close-ups, etched with invisible scars from years of oppression, abuse and interminable struggle.

Although Maud’s dissatisfaction with her lot propels her to action rather than any informed political leanings, aligning her more with the affluent socialites of the time who turned to the cause to out of boredom rather than socio-political motivation, it is her transformation, from a politically ignorant subordinate to an enlightened, mettlesome mutineer that reinforces the film’s core message. Maud’s political education and her awareness to the failings of the law, align the movement’s insurgent tactics to its political ambitions, rooting a more tangible comprehension of its history for contemporary audiences. By merging the political with the personal through an accessible narrative, Gavron reaches the nucleus of its ideology, redressing the manipulation of suffrage identity and situating Maud and her cohorts as more representative of the collective rather than the unfeminine disputants in over-sized hats, so often assumed.

While Maud’s characterisation succeeds in making visible diverse identities across the class divide, Gavron fails to delineate a balanced perspective on the movement in its entirety. Ethnic minorities, such as Indian women were particularly active in British suffrage and in light of the film’s overly feminist perspective, it loses some narrative weight by advocating an exclusively white agenda, which somewhat reinforces the stereotype she is fervently trying to avoid. Also noteworthy is the lack of attention to women that subscribed to an anti-suffrage ideology, largely on the basis of sexual difference but it is the director’s incendiary polemic on her male characters that is most questionable, which she appears to view with feminist revisionism rather than suffragist revisionism, two distinctly disparate political ideologies. The women in the film may be angry but Gavron is furious. While the inhumane treatment and sexual humiliation experienced by the suffragettes is represented with immense emotional power, Gavron explicitly indulges in masculine stereotypes, pejoratively promoting an anti-male perspective, her all too few sympathetic male characters withdrawing support once it impinges on domestic life. Male supporters who championed the movement are also disregarded, particularly those equally subjected to discriminatory laws by failing to meet specific property requirements. To Gavron, suffrage in Britain was an elite white, female club only.

The strength of Suffragette lies in its compelling portrait of British working-class women, which roots the political to the personal through an engaging narrative, impressive production values and superb performances, allowing contemporary audiences to easily identify with a more coherent suffragette ideology, not previously seen in cinema. The promotion of an overly subjective, feminist narrative detracts, at times, from the perspicuous portrait of working-class women and it is a shame that Gavron’s over-magnification of Maud’s narrative does not locate it within a wider social context nor take into account the active participation of other social groups and political supporters.

Despite such narrative oversights, Suffragette’s supreme message is unequivocal, quashing the notion that suffrage is irrelevant (a detailed list of the countries who have attained and still seeking suffrage accompanies the closing titles) and the fight for emancipation is far from over.

   Dee O’Donoghue

12A (see IFCO for details)

106 minutes

Suffragette is released 16th October 2015

Suffragette –  Official Website

 

 

 

 


 

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Review: Fidelio: Alice’s Journey

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DIR: Lucie Borleteau • WRI: Lucie Borleteau, Clara Bourreau • PRO: Pascal Caucheteux, Marine Arrighi de Casanova, • DOP: Simon Beaufils • ED: Guy Lecorne • MUS: Thomas De Pourquery • DES: Sidney Dubois • CAST: Ariane Labed, Melvil Poupaud, Anders Danielsen Lie

 

French actress and writer, Lucie Borleteau directs her first full-length feature film in a puckish, yet affecting portrait of a sexually permissive female freight engineer in Fidelio: Alice’s Journey. Ariane Labed plays the kittenish, thirty-year old titular character, who approaches her sexual affairs with missionary zeal and carnal abandon. Challenging conventional perceptions of gender roles through an anomalous approach to sexual conduct, Berleteau’s heroine steers a stormy voyage aboard an all-male freight ship, whipping up a priapic frenzy that tests her attitudes to love and commitment, which she confronts with fear and uncertainty.

When a member of the crew suddenly dies under dubious circumstances, Alice is drafted in as his replacement leaving behind her besotted Norwegian lover, Felix (Anders Danielsen Lie) and yearning for the passionate intimacy they both enjoy. Once aboard, she discovers the captain of the voyage is her first true love, Gaël (Melvil Poupaud) and in spite of her valiant efforts to remain faithful, she cannot resist her overwhelming desire for him. Ever the idealist, Alice sees no reason not to indulge two lovers and she rekindles an affair with the charismatic captain. Accidently discovering the journal of the deceased engineer, whose life was consumed with loneliness through uninspiring liaisons, prompts Alice to embark on an odyssey of self-discovery to find out what exactly she wants from life.

An accessible yet profoundly philosophical tale of love, fidelity and desire, the strength of Fidelio: Alice’s Journey lies in its candid celebration of female sexual pleasure amidst the sexually deprived, testosterone-fuelled environment of a laboriously gruelling and isolating blue-collared profession. By no means promoting a feminist perspective, Borleteau, rather, normalises and endorses female sexual autonomy and while an uninhibited sexual agenda is at the helm of the sex-drenched narrative, the emotional sensitivity that arises from Alice’s physical encounters, communicates more to Alice about her desires and needs than any articulated dialogue between her lovers. Alice’s negotiation of her sexual encounters through her own sedulous, self-governance becomes the catalyst to propel her onto a spiritual journey of self-enlightenment and finally find the self-fulfillment she craves.

Ariane Labed is a revelation as Alice, whose nuanced yet emotionally charged performance, not only anchors the core narrative but navigates the philosophical subtexts with both a skittish mischievousness and an intense urgency to encapsulate the challenges and contradictions of a sexually liberated, yet keenly introspective woman, who is clouded by wanton lust in her pursuit of self-realisation. Labed steers the spicy saga with such compulsion and conviction, that without such emotional intelligence driving Alice’s personal narrative however, Borleteau could be in danger of simply delineating another prosaic, albeit erotic, tale about a beautiful thirty-something seeking sexual and emotional stability.

Alice’s personal trajectory takes centre stage to such an extent that the multicultural supporting characters, who are so crucial on her voyage of discovery and transformation, become mere bit players, only slightly colouring the narrative through their own amusing rituals amidst the drab and soulless space, that at times, it becomes slightly puzzling as to why Borleteau did not take more advantage of such a playful mix of characters to formulate a more coherent narrative structure. However, it is a testament to Labed’s breathtaking performance, that such a tried and tested narrative is kept above water by her emotional capacity to make visible and plausible the contradictory nature of balancing life and love, in an refreshingly audacious and esoteric manner.

The highly melodramatic romantic entanglements which permeate the narrative, is deftly encapsulated by cinematographer Simon Beaufils, whose atmospheric lens rhythmically pulsates with intense potency through the sexually-charged scenes of carnal desire. Tightly framed close-ups bring an emotional catharsis and deep sensitivity to the physical act of love, which sit in opposition to the expansive and endless seascapes that become threatening spaces of unnerving claustrophobia, which heighten rather than soothe, the heroine’s disquietude as she embarks on her emotional and spiritual quest. To Alice, her personal landscape of sexual pleasure is where she attains liberation and sense of self, the seascape and its vast silences, challenging, taunting and threatening.

By chartering sexually erotic waters in an uninhibited manner, which celebrates female sexuality from a sophisticated and enlightened perspective that is not often explored in cinema, Borleteau invites reflections upon the nature of relationships and the role sexual pleasure plays in the pursuit of love and commitment. Whether a balance between the body, mind and soul may be achieved through a commitment to one relationship or whether self-enlightenment is dependent upon a deep exploration of all sexual, emotional and professional components of interpersonal relationships is not neatly resolved by Borleteau, but she does however, ambitiously and audaciously subscribe to the philosophy that self-gratification is one such pleasurable route to take when trying to figure it all out.

 Dee O’Donoghue

97 minutes

Fidelio: Alice’s Journey is released 2nd October 2015

 

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Review: By Our Selves

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DIR: Andrew Kötting • PRO: Edward Fletcher, Andrew Kötting • DOP: Nick Gordon Smith  • ED: Andrew Kötting, Cliff West • MUS: Jem Finer • CAST: Toby Jones, Freddie Jones, Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair

 

British filmmaker and artist Andrew Kötting’s twenty-five year idiosyncratic career has seen him become one of the most creative visionaries in contemporary cinema, exemplified by such films as Gallivant and This Filthy Earth. Through aesthetically challenging, absurdist innovation and pensively surreal, hybrid composition, which places the landscape at the pulse of his visual and structural ingenuity, the filmmaker synchronically delves into the soul of English national identity with creative structural flair across an amalgam of digital platforms, to explore concepts of origins, community, home and individuality.

Based on psychogeographer Ian Sinclair’s book, ‘Edge of the Orison’, Kötting’s latest piece from his distinctive canon takes little-known, paranoid schizophrenic nature poet, John Clare as his subject, whose powerful celebration of the rural English landscape has seen a recent resurgence of interest in his work, situating him as one of the most significant English poets of the nineteenth century. Taking Clare’s punishing four-day, eighty-mile journey on foot from Epping Forest to Northborough as its loose narrative framework and delving into the psyche of the tortured poet through a sonic mélange of musical vocalizations, By Our Selves is a vividly hypnotic odyssey of multisensory, audio-visual and semantic virtuosity.

Opening the narrative and steering the psychic reflections of the eccentric poet, the recurrent refrain, ‘John Clare was a minor nature poet who went mad’ becomes the only recognisable soundscape throughout the narrative in which to root the audience into some semblance of orientation and structure, before Kötting embarks on a heightened audio-visual maelstrom of sound, image, verse and language. Having escaped from a mental asylum in 1841 to undertake the journey in search of his true love, Mary Joyce, an unvoiced Toby Jones as the wandering elegist, undertakes the same pilgrimage, to which Kötting’s surreal soundscape becomes the narrative’s principal component to interpret the delusion and confusion driving Clare’s mental and physical odyssey.

Plucked from the depths of Clare’s febrile mind and which Kötting presents as an alternative sensory means of seeing and hearing his frenzied poetic effusions; musings, hysterics, hallucinations and lyrical narrations emanate from the rambling extracts of journals, poems, letters and medical prognoses amidst the deafening din of traffic jams, whirling wind farms, whooshing straw bears and wistful wails of Mary Joyce, to create a series of unsettling jolts, which produce their own internal narrative and sonorous logic, through a visually staggering and visionary structured enquiry.

As is customary in both Clare’s and Kötting’s oeuvres, it is a dissection of the English landscape and its relationship to the text, image and space that is at the heart of By Our Selves rather than a categorical reenactment of Clare’s most infamous peregrination. Anchoring the sonic-visual hotchpotch, as Toby Jones traipses, his father, Freddie Jones, as the elder Clare, vocalizes the poet’s own locutions and tortured inner monologue, which has a serenity and rationality to its chaotic, meditative, stream of consciousness amidst the rural landscapes and which dissipates into a more frenzied panic as they lumber through contemporary cityscapes, underpinning the symbiotic relationship between poetry, nature and insanity.

Kötting’s gnomic mish mash of audio-visual experimentation is a deeply evocative sensory exploration that fuses the past and the present, the dramatized and the experimental and the simulated and the real, through a physical investigation into the mindscape and headtalk of a brilliant, yet tortured poet. While Kötting’s piece invites his audience to view and explore the anomalous poet through a uniquely different way of seeing and hearing and despite its overwhelming audio-visual aberrations and esoteric, yet erudite musings, there is a lucidity and coherency in both Kötting and Clare’s work that seems to gel into some sort of peculiar rationality, marking both eccentrics out as two of the greatest visionaries of their generation. As there has been a recent piqued interest in the work of Clare, to those unfamiliar with the bewitchingly detailed dialect that emanates from his idiosyncratic opus or his acute observations as a fervent social and environmental commentator, Andrew Kötting’s rivetingly, outlandish portrait of John Clare is the perfect place to start.

Dee O’Donoghue

 

80 minutes
By Our Selves is released 2nd October 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets

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DIR: Marc Silver • WRI: Marc Silver • PRO: Carolyn Hepburn, Minette Nelson • DOP: Marc Silver • ED: Emiliano Battista, Gideon Gold • MUS: Todd Boekelheide • CAST: Leland Brunson, Angela B. Corey, Ron Davis, Lucia McBath, Russell Healey, John Guy

 

On 23 November 2012, forty-five-year old Michael Dunn gunned down seventeen-year old, black high school student Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida, after taking issue with the loud hip-hop music Davis and his three friends were playing in their car. Following his arrest, Dunn proclaimed he acted in self-defence, citing Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law, whereby persons in fear are permitted to use deadly force when confronted with serious threat. Despite an overwhelming lack of evidence to suggest Davis was armed, the jury at Dunn’s trial was unable to reach a verdict on first-degree murder, resulting in a hung jury. At his subsequent retrial, Dunn was eventually found guilty of Davis’ murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Filmmaker, writer and social impact strategist, Marc Silver’s emotive documentary, 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets attempts to delve into the equivocal events on that fateful Black Friday and investigate the circumstances that led to another unarmed, black teenage murder, the mistrial and eventual conviction of a white, middle-aged software engineer, whose unsubstantiated self-defence claim ignited a highly-charged national debate about racial gun crime, the US judicial system and Florida’s contentious self-defence laws. Drawing comparisons with the murder of seventeen-year old black student, Trayvon Martin by an acquitted George Zimmerman nine months previously, Silver’s film seeks to incriminate Dunn on the basis of racial motivation, a factor deemed inadmissible by the judge, and by doing so, expose the deep prejudicial flaws that tip the overall racial imbalances within the US legal system.

To present his case, Silver’s narrative structure is framed around three narrative strands to implicate Dunn and the judicial system, both which appear to subscribe to an unfounded national fear of unarmed black men by armed white men. Using footage of Dunn’s first trial, Silver centres on prosecution witness accounts, which testify to the inoffensive nature of Jordan Davis. To bolster such accounts, Silver’s cinematography, reproduced through a stylistically, arresting lens, enriches the trial’s original aesthetic, assuming a more sophisticated and cinematic platform, which romanticizes the victim like a Hollywood hero in a fictional courtroom drama. To ground the case on a more sobering level, Silver focuses on the extensive media coverage, which struck a national chord and proliferated a national discourse about racially motivated gun crime and the laws that pit and prejudice black victims against its white perpetrators. To humanize the brutal act of random, motiveless racial murder, Silver finally delineates the deep emotional impact on the family and community amidst the complicated political and legal wrangling, which serves to evoke a deeper senselessness in view of Florida’s laws, whereby an unmotivated racial killing through a perceived threat, is racial aggression against a wider racial community.

Silver’s overview of the murder of Jordan Davis is neatly contained within a ninety-eight minute narrative, which at times, reads like a fictional crime drama rather than a constructive investigation into the real-life murder of an unarmed black teenager. Indeed, Silver himself stands accused of the very same shortcomings that he has indicted the American justice system with, through a transparent bias and lack of critical balance in his overall reflection on the case. While the posthumous memorializing of Davis is wholly justified and the tragedy is symptomatic of the national picture, insufficient analyses of Dunn’s character and behaviour deny the opportunity to evaluate what sowed doubt in the minds of the first jury and whether Dunn did abide by the law when confronted with a perceived serious threat, leading to a hung jury. Silver equally fails to probe Florida’s self-defence law itself, which by default authorised the killing of Jordan Davis, if Dunn did indeed discern a weapon. Nor does he scrutinize the national outpouring of indignation at the result of the mistrial, which possibly had the weight to influence the second, thereby implicating the media and heated public opinion in the outcome of the eventual retrial.

Ultimately, Silver’s film does not offer fresh insight into the racial murder of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn that has not been previously analysed by other media sources. In attempting to expose the deep flaws in the US judicial system, Silver inadvertently highlights his own flaws through his failure to present an impartial, objective overview of the murder and the ensuing trial. A palpable restraint, fear and tentativeness permeates throughout the narrative and while the director may explicitly denounce the crime, he appears reluctant to offer any opposing perspective to the dominant version of events, unwilling to entertain any possibility Dunn may have acted out of anything other than racial aggravation.

The murder of Jordan Davis became another catalyst to explore the legal flaws and racial prejudices that permeate the US judicial system. 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets continues the national discourse resulting from the case and extensively proliferated by the media. Whether the judge made a grave error in disallowing racial factors to be presented in court, Silver’s attempts to compensate for such omissions as a documentary filmmaker, fail to provide a more equitable insight into the murder, rather presenting a wholly biased and intolerant view of Dunn and his act of murder in relation to Florida’s legal stance on self-defence. While Silver’s film is a respectful and enlightening tribute to Davis’ memory and highlights a deep-rooted stain in Florida’s legal system in relation to its gun crime, racial profiling and self-defence laws, it does not attempt to challenge the system itself and Silver appears resigned to the fact that the next young black death is highly inevitable and merely a matter of time.


Dee O’Donoghue

98 minutes
3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets is released 2nd October 2015

3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Captive

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DIR: Jerry Jameson • WRI: Brian Bird • PRO: Lucas Akoskin, Terry Botwick, Alex Garcia, David Oyelowo, Ken Wales, Katrina Wolfe • DOP: Luis David Sansans • ED: Melissa Kent • MUS: Lorne Balfe • DES: Sandra Cabriada • CAST: Kate Mara, David Oyelowo, Michael Kenneth Williams, Mimi Rogers

The recent spate of faith-based films has garnered mixed critical responses from the cinema-going public. Christian devotees flock to such feel-good films in their droves, attracted to the narrative’s core spiritual message, reaffirming audiences’ commitment to God and their chosen spiritual path. Alternatively, such family-orientated films have launched polemics from critics for substandard plots, economic production values and primarily, alienating heathens with sanctimonious ideologies, which trumpet a transparent proselytizing narrative that fails to inspire on any dramatic or entertainment level. Films such as War Room, 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven is for Real are exemplar of a genre that is both actively sought out by faithful audiences for their explicit Christian overtones and rejected by sceptics for their shameless promotion of evangelistic agendas, which many secular subscribers find hard to swallow.

Jerry Jameson’s faith-based, crime drama and psychological thriller, Captive, starring Kate Mara and David Oyelowo, is based on the real-life account of the 2005 Atlanta Hostage Hero, Ashley Smith’s book Unlikely Angel. The film recounts Smith’s ordeal at the hands of murderer and rapist Brian Nichols, who escaped from custody whilst awaiting trial, murdering four people, including the trial’s presiding judge. Forcing his way into the home of the recovering drug addict and single mother and holding her captive for seven hours, the film’s explores the religious strategy employed by Smith in an attempt to survive her ordeal at the hands of Nichols, including reading aloud extracts from Christian pastor Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, which emphasizes the meaning of existence is only found through God.

Despite its gripping subject matter and highly stylized cinematic aesthetic, intensified by an urgent handheld camera and a purity to its sharply cut sequences, Captive’s overall lack of tension emanating from a substandard screenplay, recalls an uninspiring, made-for-television movie rather than an unnerving and absorbing cinematic drama, which fails to articulate the significance of the real-life religious encounter between two deeply tortured souls. Screenwriter Brian Bird approaches the spiritual relationship between the lead characters with trepidation, underplaying the theological bond that becomes the catalyst to redemption and informs the film’s core philosophy and as a result, the moment of spiritual enlightenment and self-realisation becomes remarkably overshadowed and simply unconvincing.

In an attempt to possibly avoid the faith-based film curse, its dubious ideologies and a fear of alienating cynical audiences, Captive bolsters the emotional relationship between a psychotic murderer and drug addict, the crucial religious connotations within the narrative, subdued and prosaic. However, unlike most of the recent outpourings of pious Hollywood films, Captive is based on a real-life event and is dependent upon its religious signifiers in order to comprehend its characters’ abrupt enlightened transformations. Rather than blind its audience with pietistic, sermonizing overtones, the film devalues these crucial narrative elements and in its subduing, the film’s narrative simply does not gel. By diverting attention from the religious entente to the emotional affinity between the protagonists, tenuously held together by strained relationships with their children, Captive places a befuddled and detached leading cast in an awkward position, unable to discern the characters’ psychology and grasp the gravity of their spiritual transformation.

The physical transformations undertaken by Mara and Oyelowo attempt to convince and compensate for the script’s shortcomings and Mara’s emaciated frame and bloodshot hollow eyes suggest a deeply scarred woman in the throes of addiction and spiritual cynicism, desperate to find deeper meaning, inner peace and ultimate salvation. However, owing to an ill-conceived and disconnected script, Mara is unable to satisfactorily engage with the mental or spiritual paralyses experienced by Ashley Smith and there remains a constant reminder that Mara is performing rather than inhabiting the psychology of drug-addled captive. Oyelowo’s considerable physique equally convinces as the unpredictable psychopath and navigates his character’s psychological instability with considerable investment and plausible menace. He does, however, appear out of depth when confronted with the emotionally vulnerable aspects of his character, which, as the crux of Nichols’ swift spiritual transformation, is crucial in comprehending the trajectory of his ultimate enlightenment and which Oyelowo’s performance fails to execute.

Despite its attempts to construct itself as a crime drama and psychological thriller, rather than exploit a pontificating agenda to appeal a more balanced audience, Captive remains an unsatisfactory account of a notorious real-life event that made headlines around the world, owing to the phenomenal spiritual awakening of a cold-blooded murderer and rapist. The film’s reluctance to overinvest in its religious significance will certainly not satisfy the spiritual nor will it come as a welcome relief to the skeptical, placing the overall audience in a state of limbo. The unnecessary inclusion of a post-captivity interview in 2005 between Ashley Smith and pastor Rick Warren with Oprah Winfrey as the credits close, appears to concede that the film’s interpretation of events and characters are inadequately portrayed and is utilized to make sense to the audience of Smith and Nichols’ trauma and transformation, which Captive evidently fails to delineate. Perhaps if the film had embraced a more explicit religious trajectory, which is so critical an element within the faith-based genre, Captive itself could have ascended to a higher place of being.

Dee O’Donoghue

12A (See IFCO for details)

96 minutes
Captive is released 25th September 2015

Captive – Official Website

 

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