The Ox (1991)

The Ox ( Oxen) 1991.mp4_000135933

When life is too hard it can make you do desperate things. Through kitchen window you see this ox.

You are starving. Your wife is starving. Your baby might die. There is no social security. This is Sweden in 1867.  The winter is as terrible as a terrible winter can be

So, in a moment of madness, you do this.

The Ox ( Oxen) 1991.mp4_000180556

Take up a sledgehammer and slam it into the ox’s head. That ox was not yours (the solo-motion killing of the ox is horribly but brilliantly filmed)

Its a sin – against God. It’s breaking the law. Its a betrayal of fellow feeling and neighbourly trust. You have wronged the very people you’re joined together to.

Things are only going to go one way from here. You will be found out and you will be punished. You will be sentenced to a life sentence of hard labour and given 40 lashes. Your wife will be left behind to fend for herself and the baby, alone. To survive she will give a strange man her body because he brings food and you (and baby) are starving (almost to death)

But eventually, all with be alright in the end. You will have been pardoned and released. You will give your wife the forgiveness that your neighbour forgave you. You will go on to have 8 kids and become a big happy family after all.

And so endeth the Parable of the Ox. We have all been chastened, but well instructed. We will never smack, steal, slaughter, or eat ox again. Not even if it was given to us. On a plate. Or boiled in bowl. From now on Ox is a no no (not even with Oxo, bu-bum)

I liked this film. I like it when people are starving and having a hard time. I like it when its winter and all you’ve got to look forward to is a little bit of brown broth. It makes me feel all warm and safe inside knowing that other worlds and other times and other people have suffered so much so that i don’t have to (suffer so much) My suffering is a doddle really.

All the usual top Swedes are in this film: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, Lennart Hjulström, Stellan Skarsgård – and Sven Nykvist directing. They all do impeccable jobs.

Dir: Sven Nykvist, Sweden

7.5/10

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

Sunday-Bloody-Sunday-007

They’re about to kiss one another. Peter Finch is going to kiss Murray Head. That was shocking. Then (back in 1971) It stills feels shocking now (2014) Maybe because its Peter Finch. And its a proper kiss. No tongues, but plenty of mouth. I wanted to stop watching then (I must be homophobic) Mind you, I didn’t much care for Murray Heads canoodling with Glenda Jackson either.

This film was considered quite racy back in 1971.  Considered ahead of its time. Apparently cinema audiences screamed when they saw The Kiss.

Glenda Jackson is the other corner of this love-triangle. Murray Head is shagging the pair of them.

Glenda Jackson is as good as she always is. And Peter Finch is as good as he always is. They both got nominated for Oscars. Murray Head didn’t. I’m not surprised. He’s hopeless. Can’t act. Schlesinger – the director – later regretted casting him, even blaming him for the film’s box-office failure, saying Head “is a personality more than an actor” and that “I think some people who didn’t like it couldn’t understand the predicament. If they had found the boy interesting and entertaining, perhaps they would have understood it more”.

I didn’t find him either interesting or entertaining. Selfish yes. Shallow yes. Unsympathetic yes. But his on-screen presence is one-dimensional, flat (when compared to his other 2 stellar leads) It’s hard to say whether Murray Head is acting like a stuck-up spoilt twat, or if he actually was one (my guess is – with a name like Murray Head – he probably was one)

So the film has got a fatal flaw at the centre, the heart of it; this Murray Head nit. He should have stuck with wailing his “Say it ain’t so” Joes (which I remember singing at the time)

Peter and Glenda put in a shift; but lazy lover boy Head wastes all their good effort. I can’t give this film the thumbs up.

Dir : John Schlesinger, UK

5/10

The Angry Silence (1960)

Richard-Attenborough-Pier-Angeli-Angry-Silence

Dear old Dickie Attenborough died this week (at the grand old age of nearly 91) so I’ve been torrenting some of the early films he did with Bryan Forbes. They formed their own production company Beaver Films, of which this – The Angry Silence – was the first film.

I’ve got a soft spot for old Brit films. My memories of the 1960’s aren’t memorable; but these films trigger off fuzzy warm feelings I didn’t realise I had. An odd nostalgia for those monochromal black and white days. Where you didn’t have much or get much of anything. But you made do with what you had.

Days of daily monotony. The factory production line grind. The limited amount of pleasure, luxury, ease. Life not really to be enjoyed, but to be got through as best you can, survived, with no fancy airs or graces. Mind you, if you’re lucky, and a bit of a Jack-the-lad with the ladies you might get your leg over with the blonde tart from the pay office

Thats Michael Craig trying it on with pretty Penelope Horner. Only it turns out she’s not a tart. So he’s not having any. Got to treat her right. She’s a respectable girl.

But if you’re a jammy Dickie you could have a lovely Italian bird. Such is Richard Attenboroughs lucky lot. Having the lovely Pier Angeli making home and babies and pasta for him. I’d never heard of, or seen, her before. What a revelation. She lovelies up this film every time she’s in it. I was so smitten with Pier Angeli I’ve made an 11 minute edit of her loveliest moments

I love her English. It feels far more naturalistic sounding than the rather stilted diction of the English actors with their pastiche ‘workin class’ mimickry (I love her “You’re not gonna write anything baaad?“) The hot anger she throws at “Joe bloody Wallace” (Michael Craig) for his cowardly behaviour had me right behind her. Go for it girl. Her warm  – sometimes hot – Italian temper flows sympathetic blood into the cold cuts of hurt stabbing her Dickie.

Not that Richard Attenborough is lacking in the old anger department either. He’s getting right peed of with how he’s being treated by his so-called ‘fellow’ workers. Let it rip Dick.

“It happens you’re not the law Mr God Almighty Connelly mate!!” (I know I shouldn’t have but I laughed)

“You keep your big idle trap shut, don’t you Joe! One of these days you’re gonna sit so hard on that fence you’re gonna split yourself right up the middle!’

You see, Tom (Attenborough) has been sent to Coventry. For being a scab. Just because he’s not conforming, got a mind of his own, daring to be different, he’s being pushed out and punished for it.

His anger eventually turns to rage “You don’t need worry about not talking to me. I don’t want you to talk to me – do you hear!!”. Wow. What a powerful scene that is. Richard, you could act old boy. You got my blood boiling there too. I’m walking out of that canteen with you together, side by side (me and you against the whole fucking lot of them)

This film didn’t do much at the box-office. And it hasn’t been seen much since. To me its the less charismatic cousin of Saturday Night Sunday Morning (which came out a couple of years later, in 1962) But I’ll certainly watch it again. Even if only to hear Pier Angeli say “You’re not gonna write anything baaaad” again (she killed herself 11 years after this film was made, aged 39 only. Terrible)

Dir : Guy Green, UK

7.5/10

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

Kstanley1

This was surprisingly good; no, more than good – very good.

Considering its 50 years old, a 60’s b/w Brit flick it looks remarkably fresh, and feels psychologically astute. Not a drab wet afternoon sort of film at all. Quite artfully and smartly put together. I’m impressed.

What turns this from good into very good is Kim Stanley. The Best Actress Oscar she should have won for this went instead to Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) She’s got diddy Dickie (Attenborough) wrapped around her little finger. I think their relationship would now be described as typically co-dependent. And the beauty of this film is you can see why, and kind of sympathize with why they so badly need one another.

The subtle domination of Stanley’s “Because you’re weak and because you need me” is the chilly chilling stark sort of insight that sounds hurtful because its – probably, in this case – so truthful.

I couldn’t take my eyes off Kim Stanley in this. I was sort of mesmerized by her, sucked in, seduced. Kind of like poor Dickie was. He just couldn’t help himself but love her. He’d kidnap kids, commit crime, make himself small and subservient, contradict his own conscience, do just about anything to make her need his love. He’d even stick on a prosthetic nose (slightly perturbed me his nose)

This film deserves more consideration than what I’ve dashed off here. So I’ll definitely be watching it again. As soon as we get another wet afternoon.

Dir: Bryan Forbes, UK

8/10

Stevie (1978)

tumblr_m4pk75eEIL1r5nxyeo1_1280

Stevie Smith, thats her on the right as Glenda Jackson, with Mona Washbourne her “Lion Aunt”.

Actually, I should have said “Glenda Jackson as Stevie Smith'; but Glenda Jackson is very good at playing Glenda Jackson. You are never in doubt that this is Glenda Jackson ‘acting’ her part to perfection. She seems almost too ‘strong’ for the role, too determinedly theatrical. The few vids of the real Stevie Smith show a personality a bit cracked and brittle, not as dramatically appealing as Glenda Jackson. You get the impression Stevie Smith wasn’t particularly likeable; whereas Glenda imbues her with a winningly strident eccentricity.

Anyway, what do I know, I’m just guessing that this acting masterclass of a performance by Glenda Jackson isn’t as definitive an impersonation as it seems.

The film itself isn’t especially cinematic or dramatic. Its more of a stage play, quite wordy. Quite wordy works quite well for Stevie Smith as she was a wordy woman, in a mazey fuzzy place between poetess and dogrellist (ala Pam Ayres) Her most famous poem is Not Waving but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

I first knew of this poem from a catchy Clifford T Ward pop song back in 1973. He did some clever wordplay himself (“It’s obvious you don’t see clearly/ Cause if you did you’d see how all at sea I am”)

Stevie Smith doted on her ‘lion aunt’ Madge, and Madge was devoted to her. They lived together like a pair of fussy fuddy-duddies in the unfashionable suburbs of North London (Palmers Green) You see Aunt disappearing off through to the kitchen to make endless pots of tea and poke legs of lamb. A dreary life made to seem a bit dotty or daft.

Did this biopic make me want to rush off and read Smiths poems? No, not really. She’s not a juicily seductive woman (for me as a man), or an especially meaty poet; her poems seem sing-song silly half the time. A deliberate ridiculousness about them, as if to defy anybody to make meaningful meaning out of them.

A persistent death-desire seems to dog the poems, dog her life. A willed melancholy, a cussed sadness. A baleful wish to be extinguished. To have had the tired tiresomeness of life over with. To be no longer hopelessly waving, but finally drowned, definitively dead. This vid I’ve edited shows as such

Dir: Robert Enders, UK

6.5/10

Jeanne Dielman, Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Jeanne_Dielman

I saw this about a year ago on YouTube. All 3 hours and 20 minutes of it. I’m still remembering it even now.

It was a taxing and trying watch. I couldn’t watch it all in one go. Needed a couple of comfort breaks. Because watching it got to feel  like an arduous discomfiting ordeal.

Its extremely slow, extremely repetitive, extremely boring.

The whole point is to show how trapped and bored and banal this lonely widows life is.

We’re following Jeannes (Delphine Seyrig) life over 3 days. She has all her little everyday jobs to do, all her ordinary tasks. And she does them in order, as if on auto-pilot. This is a life so mechanical and monotonous it starts to become heart-breaking to witness how suffocatingly joyless her existence actually is.

And we get to believe we’re seeing the actuality of her life. There’s no telescoping of time in cutaway edits and bite-sized palatable chunks. If she’s peeling the potatoes we get to see her peeling the potatoes, each and every one. If she’s washing up we get to see her washing up, each and every dish and plate. We’ve sat behind her back, and the washing up has dragged on and on in the way that only washing up can. I wanted her to stop washing up. Because I don’t like washing up. And watching washing up feels even worse, like its going on forever (washing up rant over)

And that camera hasn’t moved. She hasn’t moved. We haven’t moved. We aren’t moved. We’ve become as bored and as emotionally inert as she is. We’re sharing in her actuality, passively – which feeds even more apathy into the overall feeling of monotony.

Hers is a repressed, alienated, marginalised existence. The womans lot. Of that time, of that generation. Its tempting to think that 21st century women wouldn’t put up with it. They know more. There’s a self-aware feminist agenda that knows better how to get out of these man-made traps. But I doubt it. I’m sure there’s just as many lonely Jeannes dying of quiet desperation now as there ever was.

To make ends meet she services a stream of nameless fucks men. They come to her flat, by appointment, at the same time, and she does them the same way. Just another of life’s menial little jobs. She’s not loving them. She’s using them, by performing a function, that leaves no residue – except for the money they’ve paid.

About half way through I’m beginning to wonder if she’s mentally ill. There’s definite signs of OCD going on. Maybe even a touch of Aspergers. She seems so emotionally detached, disengaged, frozen. She’s probably chronically depressed. But coping with it the only way she knows how. By closing herself down, by keeping the structure of life going, tightly contained and controlled. Got to keep this fucking life ticking along, like clock-work, for the sake of appearances, her son, her sanity.

But of course there has to be some kind of unraveling of the stichwork, the tightly maintained embroidery. And yet I never expected it to happen in the way that it did. What she did at the end there was so unexpected, I almost fell off the sofa. I had to do a double-take, rewind, and watch again, to re-see what I’d just been unbelieving. Was that her? Did she really do that? Where did that come from? I didn’t know what to make of it. I still don’t.

It just goes to show that orgasms are not always necessarily a good thing. To have done to you what you don’t desire. Can be cruel. Can be too terrible. That wasn’t part of the deal matey boy.

This is, despite showing a life so crunchingly boringly ordinary, quite an extraordinary film. The thought of ever having to watch it again though fills me with extraordinary despair.

Dir: Chantal Akerman, Belgium

7.5/10

The Portuguese Nun (2009)

01

It’s an odd film this. And it was meant to be odd. Or at least stylistically unusual.

You’ll immedietely notice how the talking is done in this film. It’s “performed” towards the camera, head on, as if directly talked to you – the watcher/listener. But not the you who you normally are. But a you as you probably never are. A you that is disembodied – and thus without body language – a you without your typical you feeling – and thus detached. For you are to be spoken to as if you as a person have become impersonal, as if you as a personality have become immaterial. This is communication that is aimed at communion, intent on delivering you before a reckoning with some kind of ineffable Higher Truth.

As you can see I’ve got right into The Spirit. Which is where this film appears to want you to be. Being in Spirit. Not souling about being psychological or personal. You’ve got to get yourself up to a certain height, feel yourself elevated up into a much more rarefied kind of discourse.

Watching this film can either make you feel self-conscious, or laugh – or both.

And I feel that kind of ambivalence about it. Wanting to laugh at its elevated pretensiousness.

And yet also feeling at moments, in some scenes, moved to tears.

This is one scene that moved me, Camane singing Fado

The yearning melancholy brings tears to both Julies and my eyes.

And then there is this scene, Portuguese nun speaking to her Other Self. (I posted this clip to one of my other blogs back in March so I won’t repeat here what I wrote there)

I can easily cry watching this too – not every time, but often.

Something about that nuns face that not only speaks of, but shows, love.

And yes of course she’s just an actress (Ana Moreira) “acting”, I know that. And yet.

I don’t know. This film has me baffled and bemused. And feeling in ways I don’t know the why of.

Dir: Eugene Green, Portugal

7.5/10

Eastern Plays (2009)

easternplays 2

First Bulgarian film I’ve seen. There aren’t many Bulgarian films as Bulgaria has never had much of a cinema movement or industry.

The story of 2 brothers. Older bro Itso is a smackhead boozer and his younger adolescent bro Georgi is mucking about with a neo-nazi skinhead gang.

Itso has a lovely girlfriend he treats like shit. Maybe because he’s something of a shit himself. Itso is Christo Christov. Playing himself. Moreorless as is. The director – Kamen Kalev – and Christo were friends. Where the film is best is in tracking and trailing around with skinny Christo doing his loose-limbed half-arsed walk. You get how lost and hopeless his life is. He’s eaten up with self-loathing. He’s not liking his life. I’m not liking his life either.

And I can’t quite buy why beautiful Turkish girl Isil (Saadet Aksoy) is liking him either. Their unlikely romance feels tacked on to leaven the mood, give a bit of temporary hoped-for uplift.

The film won loads of film festivals awards. The post-production was done on a laptop. It feels abit cheap and cheerful cheerless. More truthful as a cinema veritie documentary, less convincing as a cinematic feature film.

You wonder what’s going to happen to Itso/Christo. It’s feeling improbable that his life will get any better. And in fact it got a whole load worse. Before the film was finished Christo had died of an overdose. It might have been a more fitting end if they’d included his actual death as a fictional death. But they couldn’t. Because he was dead already.

Here is my edit of the film. The images are dark, the mood is mostly miserable. And Christo doesn’t love his girlfriend, love himself, love life. All is suffering. And yet so soon it – and he – would all be over.

Dir: Kamen Kalev, Bulgaria

7/10

The Only Son (1936)

6 the only son

“I want you to study hard and become a great man” says mother to her only son.

She’s had to sacrifice in order to send him to school.

Years later she visits him in Tokyo. His life hasn’t amounted to much; he’s a poor night school teacher with a wife and baby living in a shabby house. Quiet desperation is going on.

Aren’t you too young to simply give up like this?” she says to him “I worked hard because i wanted you to succeed”.

Soon, his mother is crying, he’s crying, his wife is crying, I’m crying; the only one not crying is the baby, fast asleep oblivious.

Then a neighbours son is kicked by a horse. The son shows his true value: how to succeed in being a compassionate human being.

Maybe it’s for the best you didn’t get rich” says mother.

Despite the degraded print of the film this has all been powerful stuff. It’s got to me somewhere quite deep and flawed inside.

The emotional rawness has ripped me open.

That was Japan, 1936. This is England, 2013.

The feeling of affinity between then and now is timeless; the appeal to a shared common humanity universal.

Dir: Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

7.5/10

Tokyo Twilight (1957)

tokyo twilight

Thats a sad looking face. Shes pregnant and the boy who got her doesnt want to know. Her own mother walked out when she was 3. Her father, although well-meaning, cant understand. She feels lonely, wishes she’d never been born.

There don’t appear to be many chairs or sofas in these Ozu films. Everybody squats on the floor; which is where the camera squats too, about 3 feet above the ground (called the “tatami shot”). This has the effect of making scenes seem small or smaller, and compacted by closeness, stifled by intimacy

In this film the intimacy feels intensified  by how dark and shadowy most scenes are.

The camera gazes directly at the actor speaking.; no over-the-shoulder shots move me to the outside of what is said, as if merely spectating. Its like I’m being immediately spoken to, intimately invited to listen.

The editing and cutting between shots is long and leisurely. It’s calming to watch images that aren’t flashing and splitting your consciousness into jumpy fragments.

So once gain I’m admiring Ozu’s style.

Father is oddly sanguine considering his daughter has just killed herself.

It’s been a long 140 minutes. My attention wavered. I’m probably watching too many of these Ozu films (this is the 4th in the last 2 weeks) They get to seem samey; the same actors in each film, interchangeable plots, the same unwavering treatments; this steady style of staidness, of slowness, of stillness, of sadness.

Of slow-burn boringness. And in this film, bleakness.

Dir: Yasujiro Ozu, Japan

5.5/10