My week in film: Carol, Sunset Song and more…

As the red curtains are soon to close on 2015, the impetus to catch up on films I’ve missed has set in. It’s also the time for ‘Best of’ lists and for my part I’ve already contributed to one – in early November I was asked to select my ‘preferred five films’ of 2015 for Sight & Sound magazine’s annual poll. Since then I’ve seen more that I would have included, but luckily the CineVue top ten will be revealed later this month, so those missed in S&S will get their chance. Of those in Sight & Sound’s top ten, I’ve seen eight (though only if you count joint eleventh position) but not their number one film, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin and only one is in my top five, David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows. You can read my full list and rationale behind my selection here.

Rooney Mara as Therese and Cate Blanchett as Carol

At the cinema meanwhile, there’s also been plenty to see. Todd Hayne’s Carol, starring Cate Blanchett in the eponymous role and Rooney Mara as shop clerk Therese, who fall in love in 1950’s New York, is perhaps one of the most accomplished and affecting works of cinema I’ve ever seen. Adapted by Phyllis Nagy from the 1953 novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith and shot on Super 16mm, Haynes has created a film so utterly glorious it’s hard to know where to begin praising it. Instead I’ll attempt to recall those moments that moved me so acutely. Both performances by Mara and Blanchett are fantastic. Blanchett demonstrates that Carol is first of all a mother, dedicated to her daughter Rindy (Sadie and Kk Heim) and possessed of a will strong enough to know that abandoning her identity would be more damaging than partial custody of Rindy. At the same time, her chemistry with Mara is palpable, showing their instant attraction and developing tenderness for one another.

Rooney Mara

Mara as Therese reveals the agony – frequently internalised – of having no name for what she’s feeling, but becoming aware that her lack of investment in her heteronormative life might have an explanation that she can share with someone else. Carol shifts its narrative focus between Therese and Carol, demonstrating how they both experience a questioning of their identity, struggling with, by turns, the reconciliation of being a mother, but not a wife, or where one’s allies and friends might really lie. As with Far From Heaven (2002) Haynes recreates the 1950s’ period with a cinematic nostalgia that nods to the work of Douglas Sirk and the paintings of Edward Hopper and has even been open about stealing the opening scene’s set up from David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945), where a hand on a shoulder is the only expression of affection permissible in public. The film’s identity theme is also expressed in the use of reflections, as the characters gaze into mirrors, or are seen through rain-soaked glass, or a camera’s lens. Here, love is about how one identifies not only with one’s lover, but with the image of oneself.

Agyness Deyn as Chris in Sunset Song

Also at the cinema, I rushed to see Terence Davies long-gestating adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel, Sunset Song. Set in the years just before WWI, the film tells the story of Chris (Agyness Deyn), a young woman who lives with her family on their farm in rural Aberdeenshire. Throughout Sunset Song, Chris’s coming to terms with her own autonomy, her own desires and the responsibilities of motherhood allow Deyn the opportunity for a spirited and sensitive performance. Chris’s changes as a woman are compared to the mutability of the seasons, and cinematographer Michael McDonough’s choice of 65mm for the exterior scenes celebrate the drama and beauty of the landscape. Much like Davies’ Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), an overbearing father is again a central element, yet the revelatory use of nature, opens up Sunset Song to a make it more than a set of explored themes for the director.

Elizabeth Moss as Ashley in Listen Up Philip

Other films viewed in an effort to ‘catch up’ include Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, in which a luminous Juliette Binoche plays an actor facing up to aging, role reversal and the ‘truths’ of performance alongside a fantastic Kristen Stewart. A Pigeon Sat on a Bench Reflecting on Existence was the latest from Roy Andersson this year, which again follows Songs From the Second Floor (2000) and You, the Living (2007), in depicting the inherent tragi-comedy of modern life. I also checked out Listen Up Philip by Alex Ross Perry, a comedy about a total bastard novelist ‘struggling’ with success. The film says very little of any originality about the torment of creativity, but it does take an interesting route by spending almost as much time with Philip’s (Jason Schwartzman) ex, Ashley (Elizabeth Moss), and her development into a single person again contains some very thoughtful moments, not to mention a stunning performance by Moss

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