My week in film: Suffragette and two rom-coms

Since returning from London Film Festival, I made it a priority to see Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette. It should be a priority for everyone to see this film, especially given that it’s the first ever theatrical feature film to tell the story of the suffragettes. Gavron and writer Abi Morgan chose to focus on the lives of working women in 1912 in East London, as a title shot at the opening of Suffragette makes clear – an indication of their awareness of the omissions in the film, such as any representation of women of colour who also had a large part to play in women’s suffrage. This conscious decision to base a film on a specific faction of the movement serves the film well as it allows a human drama to be the relatable centre of what was very tough and complex time. Still, perhaps Suffragette should be only a starting point for more films on the subject as there is undoubtedly so much more to learn.

The film itself is a solid drama, and Carey Mulligan as Maud Watts, who sacrifices all she has for the cause of equality, gives a sympathetic and passionate performance believably showing her character’s journey from passivity to action. Despite this, and committed performances from the rest of the cast, it’s hard not to feel that the filmmakers have played it safe. On one hand, a solid, well structured, classic narrative is exactly what the subject needs to make it accessible to as wide an audience as possible. On the other hand, it’s hard not to come away from the film feeling that the last sequences – documentary footage of suffragettes in action – are the most interesting part of Suffragette. Perhaps Make More Noise! Suffragettes in Silent Film from the BFI’s National Archive (released in venues across the UK from October – December) will provide further inspiration.

Elsewhere, I decided to catch up on some British rom-coms I’ve missed in recent years. Man Up, written by Tess Morris and directed by Ben Palmer (responsible for The Inbetweeners Movie) stars the hilarious Lake Bell (who you’d recognise from Wet Hot American Summer and too many other film and TV roles to mention), and Simon Pegg. Bell plays Nancy, a thirty-four year old journalist who is on her way to her parent’s fortieth wedding anniversary when she accidentally takes the place of forty year old Jack’s (Pegg) blind date at Waterloo station. Due to a resolution to put herself ‘out there’ she decides not to correct Jack’s mistake and the two have the date he was meant to have with a twenty-four year old banker.

Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in Man Up
Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in Man Up

Of course, they actually get along really well, despite their different outlooks on love (he’s post-divorce, but optimistic, she’s cynical) and some shared cultural references including a love for The Silence of the Lambs, sparks chemistry that inevitably leads to their third act union, despite the one big deceit that their meeting is based on. It’s very predictable, but then rom coms never set out to be anything but, and provides a diverting ninety minutes that’s mainly enjoyable due to Bell’s brilliantly physical performance.

About Time (2013), on the other hand is deeply problematic. Richard Curtis’ third feature as writer/director is just as shamelessly romantic as Love, Actually but reveals the blatant male privilege at the heart of his films. Domhall Gleeson plays Tim, who is told by his father (Bill Nighy) soon after his twenty-first birthday, that he and all the other men in his family have the ability to travel back in time. Just what white men really need then, an advantage over everyone else.

Rachel McAdams and Domhall Gleeson in About Time
Rachel McAdams and Domhall Gleeson in About Time

Tim uses his power to find a girlfriend and becomes happily coupled with Mary (Rachel McAdams). He makes mistakes along the way, but generally, he lives a charmed life. His sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), on the other hand, is troubled, drinks a lot, can’t keep a job and needs her big brother to save her.

Though Curtis’s screenplay seems to cover its main flaw by having Mary and Tim’s first meeting take place free from any advantage (they meet at a blind restaurant – is that a thing?), so that their chemistry is demonstrably authentic, Mary remains a character who is manipulated into perceiving a false version of Tim. His mistakes are corrected with ease and the course of their courtship runs ever smoothly.

Women are excluded from this ability to make the best of their lives. There’s even a scene in which Tim does transfer his power to Kit Kat, but the result of this puts his life a risk, so he reverts back to keeping his power a secret. Imagine if both Tim AND Kit Kat had this power instead? How fascinating it might be to see brother and sister with an equality of opportunity in life, a social experiment that sees how each gender chooses to improve upon their decisions – THAT I’d like to see.

Also viewed: Silence of the Lambs, X-Men: Days of Future Past, This Must Be The Place.

My week in film: SQIFF and more…

Having presented a scattering of screenings since announcing their existence in summer 2014, the Scottish Queer International Film Festival had its inaugural full festival edition last week, running from 24-27 September and opening with the entirely enjoyable, Dyke Hard. Ushered by fabulous pink poodles into CCA theatre, audiences then saw the SQIFF team share the spotlight before the screening, introducing their inclusive ethos by explaining their use of subtitles, British Sign Language interpretation, wheelchair accessible venues and gender-neutral facilities wherever possible. Such a positive attitude to their visitors is a very welcome aspect of SQIFF, and shows their commitment to encouraging engagement from the entire queer spectrum.
2_Teem_Dyke_HardAt Dyke Hard, director Bitte Anderson was present alongside key cast members (appearing in character) to prepare the audience for a low budget B-movie, but her almost apologetic assurances were unnecessary because the film was a thrill from start to finish. The plot sees the titular band formed in high school but fall on hard times when nasty lead singer, Riff (Lina Kurttila) abandons them. When their manager also dumps them and their mobile home is blown up, Dyke Hard members Peggy (Peggy Sands), Scotty (Maria Wågensjo) and Bandito (Alle Eriksson) hit the road aiming for TV’s battle of the bands. Along the way, a Thai boxer called Dawn (Iki Gonzalez Magnusson) joins them helping them to fend off the attempts of an evil millionaire called Moira (Josephine Krieg) to bring them down. Horny ghosts, a sadistic prison warden, bikers, ninjas, and a roller derby gang are all part of the danger Dyke Hard face on the road to musical success.
4_Teem_Dyke_HardThis genre mish-mash was hewn from Anderson’s vision of putting all the ideas thought missing from genre film and queer cinema together in one film, and Dyke Hard certainly utilises the absurdity of the gang’s adventure to witty reflexive effect. Another key success of the film is the way it wraps up its ‘message’ at the end. To love oneself first of all, is delivered with both sincerity and sauciness.

Sadly, this new Dyke Hard fan missed the rest of the weekend’s plethora of shorts, participatory events, retro screenings and parties (due to attending Berwick Film Festival) but the opening night served as a promise of more fun, action and stimulation to come. Roll on SQIFF 2016!

Also viewed: Fruitvale Station (2013) directed by Ryan Coogler, an authentically sensitive impression, based on real events, leading up to the shooting of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan) in 2008.

Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival (23-27 September) – installations, a very strong film programme, spooky storytelling and musical performances. Report coming soon for Sight & Sound.

My week in film: Irrational Man, Take One Action Film Festival, Dear White People and more…

An enforced film journal hiatus due to broadband limitation meant that the previous two weeks viewing has been mainly the re-watching of DVDs (the excellent Spaced) and one cinema trip, to see the intimate and frustrating The Closer We Get, left undocumented here. Since Internet connectivity has now been restored, a fuller reflection on the week’s screenings is possible, and happily, there’s a lot of viewing to reflect on.

The Price We Pay
The Price We Pay

Take One Action Film Festival, which challenges its audiences to, ‘’See the change you wish to be in the world’’ opened on Wednesday 16 September with The Price We Pay, a documentary from Harold Crooks, the writer/director of Surviving Progress and a writer on The Corporation. Crooks’ new film focuses on the global financial system, with particular critique of The City of London’s financiers and off shore tax havens. Bringing together a wide spectrum of experts in tax law, sociology, politics and finance, The Price We Pay takes the form of a mostly talking heads structure, that was notable for the predominance of white, middle-aged men providing expert opinions. Though a fascinating insight to the loop holes of corporate finance and tax avoidance, and certainly demonstrating an appropriate outrage as the opener of T.O.A, there was nevertheless something dry and un-cinematic about Crooks’ approach, which lessened its power somewhat. At T.O.A it’s the issues that matter however, and a post-screening discussion moderated by Artistic Director Simon Bateson, with Alvin Mosioma, the Director of Tax Justice Network – Africa, Chris Hegarty of Christian Aid and the head of Oxfam Scotland, Jamie Livingstone, ignited and informed a passionate audience seeking just the kind of answers and insight that the festival encourages.

Dear White People
Dear White People

Justin Simien’s Dear White People, about the experience of four black students at an Ivy League college in the US, was pertinent and witty, tackling issues of blatant, hidden and institutionalised racism. Tessa Thompson leads the cast as Sam White, the daughter of a mixed-race couple who hosts the titular radio show, exposing the hypocrisy of the school’s inclusive policies and segregated housing, whilst also coming to terms with her own repressed intolerance. Writer/Director Simien has created a dense, necessary but very funny examination of the US college system, and the epilogue documenting actual instances of blatant racism within it, is the shock that demonstrates how necessary Dear White People is.

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Irrational Man

Elsewhere, the latest Woody Allen film, Irrational Man, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone as professor and student of philosophy respectively, striking up ‘friendship’ and more whilst grappling with the morality of murder (a nod to Hitchcock’s Rope) was laboured yet somehow engaging. Both performances were excellent, as was Parker Posey as Phoenix’s colleague and lover, and watching such enthusiasm on screen provided a lot of the film’s enjoyment, but too many of the scenes were repetitive and the score just as much. Despite this, I got caught up in the drama of how Phoenix’s morally compromised professor would resolve his plight.

Finally, perhaps the most rewarding film viewed this week was Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the second feature from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, whose previous work has included directing second unit for Nora Ephron and Martin Scorsese and episodes of Glee. Here Gomez-Rejon works from a screenplay written by Jesse Andrews adapting from his own best-selling novel of the same name. The film also won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance 2015, but perhaps to its benefit, none of this was known to this writer prior to viewing the film. The Me of the title is Gregg (Thomas Mann), child of liberal, social anthropologist, film enthusiasts played by Nick Offerman and Connie Britton whose unconventional and loving parental guidance has nonetheless left Gregg with a crippling sense of his own awkwardness, as he attempts not to associate with any one high school clique. His best friend Earl (RJ Cyler), whom he refers to as a co-worker due to their prolific output as directors of pastiche tributes to classic cinema (Aguirre, Wrath of God, Midnight Cowboy and A Clockwork Orange among others), tolerates his awkwardness due to their mutual desire not to partake in the high school cafeteria’s jungle-like hierarchies. When Gregg is persuaded by his mother to visit Rachel (Olivia Cooke) because she’s been diagnosed with leukaemia, he’s forced to become an actual friend to someone, an act that ‘ruins his life.’

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

So far, so high school, but I couldn’t help but be caught up in the turmoil and fun of this trio’s antics, probably because everything in the film is so damn charming and sympathetic. Gregg’s arc is to go from self-involved wannabe loner to authentic friend and though this at times is signposted too heavily by music cues and adorable stop-motion animation, there’s enough real poignancy from cast across the board to create genuine feeling. Offerman and Britton might be a bit slight in their characterisation, but Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mother brings an engaging desperation to her performance that is pitched just between funny and tragic. I can imagine my teenage self being deeply moved by Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, but that’s not to say my adult self didn’t shed a tear at the film’s inevitably heartrending end.

Also watched:

The Angels’ Share, Dir Ken Loach.
Girlhood. Dir. Céline Sciamma, Horse Money by Pedro Costa – watch this space for reviews/future on articles on both.

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