Directed by Derek Jarman and released in its home country of England in 1986.
Possibly one of the most ambitious films ever devised; just the idea of recreating such fine paintings and telling the story of one of the most elegant painters in the history of the art would make most buckle at the beginning but Derek Jarman, however, does not buckle. With this film he has produced such a beautifully dark film that, to the untrained eye, seems so incredibly pretentious but I can only disagree wholeheartedly with that statement.
The choice to move the action from Italy to England is an odd one, of course, but I think that that fact becomes irrelevant when you consider how beautiful the film is: the cinematography and the sets are just so exquisite and if the actors weren’t speaking in their typical British accents you’d be stunned to find out it was filmed in England.
Film as art, and art as film; Jarman transcends so many boundaries with this one, it truly is one of the defining achivements in cinematic history for me.
Directed by Joonas Neuvonen and released in its home country of Finland in 2010.
Uncompromising and raw, this video diary of the life of a drug addict ends up less of a documentary and more of a simple precursor to forthcoming events when the teenager at the center of this film who would go on to kill himself not long after the film was made available. The fact that this kind of thing goes on in the youth of a country in this day and age is not surprising at all really. It’s happening in the US with prescription drugs and anti-depressants (that just like in the film are prescribed in France) and in the UK to a lesser extent to things they’re calling “legal highs”.
In my own opinion, hard drug addicts like this deserve no pity whatsoever especially considering the way in which this one and the other users depicted here gleefully take the drugs and live their lives around it. It advocates drug use much more than it shows any effort to combat it – and just presenting the reality really is not enough in this day and age when there are kids who are susceptible and impressionable enough to merely watch a clip from this and go out and do it.
Here’s a tip for anyone wanting to watch this: if you’re easily upset, don’t watch it; if you’re easily put off by needles, don’t watch it; if you are however interested in watching some little teenager get his rocks off and be depressed about it for the rest of the time until his next fix, then by all means watch it.
This just wasn’t for me.
Directed by Ingmar Bergman and released in its home country of Sweden in 1968.
Shame is yet another absolutely magnificent character-driven drama by the master that is Ingmar Bergman. The performances from Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow are among the best of both of their careers even surpassing some of those in other Bergman productions (for example Ullmann’s spellbinding performances in Autumn Sonata and Persona aswell as von Sydow’s challenging performances in The Magician and The Seventh Seal). The lack of music adds a lot of depth that would otherwise have been glossed over had there been a traditional score. It is also very well paralleled with the fact that our two main characters are musicians themselves yet we hear none of their abilities nor anything on the score.
While the screenplay has some minor details that I felt were rushed and could’ve been fleshed out or erased completely before filming began – for example the young soldier who supposedly was living inside their greenhouse for weeks – I still feel that this is one of Bergman’s strongest films, if only for the stunning character development and awe-inspiring cinematography that is so prevalent in any of Bergman’s films that were filmed on this island.
Bergman’s journeys deep into the human soul and heart have always had profound effects on me and my own understanding of human nature, but I’m sure I’ll never be able to display it so vividly and illustriously as Bergman did throughout his career. I can only hope that I never run out of his films to watch… but sadly I know that one day I will.
Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani and released theatrically in its home country of France in 2010.
The following review does contain spoilers.
Rarely will a film come along in this modern age – the 21st century is an age far removed from the 1800s when this medium itself was invented – that truly embraces all aspects of what is possible in the process of making a film. The only true examples of this, in my mind, would be David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Gaspar Noé’s Enter The Void, Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio and this – Amer. A French/Belgian co-production which is about 98% close-up and about 2% dialogue.
Just like Berberian Sound Studio, Amer pays homage to the Giallo films of the ’60s and ’70s by masters such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento and while I’ve only seen a small handful of films from the genre I’ve no question in my mind that anyone who is a fan of that genre will adore this. The film plays out in three acts: childhood; adolescence; adulthood. Almost the entire film is shot in close-up which makes for compelling viewing and makes you really focus on intricate details especially whenever there’s a medium or a long shot. The way that the directors focus on sounds and senses is astonishing to me as I’ve never seen anything like it. Every aspect of the films production is just sublime – the sound design, the vibrant colour created by the lighting effects and the exquisite cinematography which is a true marvel of modern cinema.
Some of the story may jolt around quite a bit but it’s my humble opinion that the majority of what one would assert is the story of this film is merely just a figment of our main character’s imagination. It’s not hard to tell this, surely, one example being in the first act when the young girl is awoken by a doctor from a nightmare which we presume to be real – in terms of those classic films that influenced this.
All in all, Amer is a beautifully shot horror film that plays with your mind more than any other horror film from the last five or ten years – except of course Berberian Sound Studio which I know I’ve mentioned quite a few times in this review, but it really does stand out for me as a great companion piece to go with this.
Directed by Shozin Fukui and released in its home country of Japan in 1996.
Where Shozin Fukui’s previous feature, 964 Pinocchio, failed was in it’s complete lack of structure and flow. The film floated around going from one extreme to the next never really figuring itself out. His second feature, Rubber’s Lover, however is an incredibly vast improvement. Despite going from one extreme to another just like its predecessor the film actually manages to stay consistent and keep its flow going. The perfect cinematography reinforces this. The film is basically everything 964 isn’t and so much more.
Rubber’s Lover is basically a film about two doctors – one psychic, one dedicated to his work. Both believe their new mind-altering drug – ether – can give a subject psychic abilities. What they soon realize however is that the experiment they’ve set up has far greater consequences. It mixes elements of science fiction with horror but ultimately there is no genre that this film can fit into. It is so surreal that it demands to be set apart from everything.
The film has absolutely incredible cinematography and is edited with perfection – the absolute opposite of it’s predecessor, as aforementioned. This is possibly one of the main reasons that I loved this so much more than I did with 964 Pinocchio. The performances from the actors are so amped up that they give off no impression of falsity like almost every film you will see with terrible acting. Yes they are over the top but that is what brings beauty to the characters and the film as a whole. Their performances give you a true idea of what this mind-altering drug will do to you and after finishing the film your own mind is altered just as much if not moreso than those in the film.
I truly have a deep admiration for all Asian cinema, Japanese cinema especially. Since the days of Ozu and Mizoguchi, Japanese cinema has truly come a very long way. The ’60s and ’70s pinku eiga films spawned a strange kind of Japanese film. After the Guinea Pig series the cyberpunk genre began to floruish, taking obvious influences from ’80s horror cinema from the likes of David Cronenberg et al. Directors like Shinya Tsukamoto and Hisayasu Sato appeared out of nowhere and brought us films like Tetsuo The Iron Man and Splatter: Naked Blood…. but ten years ago when I had just began to delve into cinema, even though I knew absolutely nothing about foreign cinema and what was going on overseas I was always searching for something like this… When I was recommended Tetsuo I thought I’d found it but I was disappointed with that. With Rubber’s Lover however, a film I have been aching to see for years… I have finally found it. The film goes over the top and acknowledges it… and then goes even fucking further.
As I mentioned before, the film mixes elements of science fiction and horror but also incredibly enough has more humour than horror. For any film to put comedy into the mix and still retain its powerful aesthetic is a fantastic feat. Ultimately the finished product is so batshit insane that it will leave your brain on the brink of exploding. Luckily, I’ve a penchant for the batshit insane… that may be the main reason why I fell in love with this.
Directed by Sang-Soo Hong and released in its home country of South Korea in 2013.
Considering Sang-Soo Hong’s last five or so films have all been slow-paced films essentially focusing on relationships its no surprise that his latest film is a continuation of such themes. The characters swerve in and out; the camera lingers for longer than it should but somehow remains intrusive; the characters are based in the film industry or trying to break into it; there is excessive alcoholism; a wandering voiceover from the protagonist…. these are all things that are essential to a Hong film and they all appear here.
After In Another Country I was sure that he would try to shy away from this and do something challenging – for the most part this isn’t true but in only one way it is: the protagonist (if you can even call her that) in this film is a female – something that, before In Another Country, Hong hadn’t tried…. but alas everything else is here.
With a film by Hong if you don’t connect to the characters then you aren’t going to like the film itself, as it is obvious that the majority of his recent films are connected in many ways and are more about the characters than any straightforward narrative story, and that’s exactly what happened with me here. Our protagonist Haewon wanders effortlessly from place to place without any purpose whatsoever. The film ends on a somewhat ambiguous note leaving one to wander if Haewon’s relationship with her director was a fantasy or a reality but personally I couldn’t care less. By that point I was so frustrated by her aimlessness that I was ecstatic it had ended
Like The Day He Arrives, Hahaha and Oki’s Movie the film focuses on relationships, alcoholism and adultery but this time from the perspective of a female. Sadly that doesn’t change much and it plays out just as anyone acquainted with Hong’s work would expect. After seeing the same techniques utilized in the aforementioned trio of films, I was getting really tired of this guy… and this film really hasn’t helped. Hong’s perfected but inherently flawed techniques alone do not hinder the film it is the lack of a coherent story that really does this into the ground.
Sang-Soo Hong has talent shining out of his ass but for some strange reason he’s decided to make a bunch of films one after the other that are almost identical in every way. Despite the amount of respect I have for him, Hong really needs to come up with something new because this routine is getting very stale. But regardless of the flaws, the film draws you in just like all of Hong’s films do and that’s not to mention the fact he finally tackled a troubled female protagonist as opposed to a troubled male protagonist – something which can be seen in all of his films to date. Its not hard to tell that Hong’s technical abilities are getting better and better – the easy thing to note is the fact that he has cut down on the use of his trademark zoom. Just comparing this to any of his recent works will give you a very clear picture of his progression.
Directed by Mike Leigh and released theatrically in its home country of the UK in 2005.
Ken Loach and Alan Clarke have always been my favourite British directors but people are always nagging on at me about Mike Leigh. To be fair, I have seen a fair share of Leigh’s works (Career Girls, Happy-Go-Lucky, most notably Secrets and Lies and the splendid masterpieces Meantime and Naked) but I never really had the gall to delve into Leigh’s filmography any deeper. His films mix drama and comedy quite like no other in the way that his films are laced with dry humour despite being drenched in gritty realism and heartbreaking emotion. The film I finally got around to seeing today, Vera Drake, is the absolute perfect example of this.
Incomparable to any of Leigh’s other films, the first half of Vera Drake plays out like a ’50s soap opera with the volume turned way down and the fast forward button stuck… but by the halfway mark as Vera’s life is turned upside down Mike Leigh allows us to regrettably take the tumble with her. Imelda Staunton is a fantastic actress and this is without a doubt her magnum opus. Despite any prejudice any viewer may have with regards to the subject matter, Staunton plays such a warm-hearted character with such dignity.
Like many of Ken Loach’s films, here Leigh clearly takes a stand against the judicial system highlighting the fact that Drake is a woman helping her fellow citizens but still being shunned by a law almost 100 years old. That fact alone still resonates with many people in this country regardless of the subject. An earth-shattering film that undoubtedly needs to be seen.