Announcing a mini film season: LOCAL/LOCALE

Starting next month on Sunday 8 November, the Edinburgh Film Guild will be host to a mini season of film’s I’ve programmed around themes of location, community and industry. The season will showcase examples of cinema that dissolves the divide between documentary and fiction and offer in turn, intelligent, beautiful and humorous comments on the human condition.

Each film is one that’s provoked thoughts in me about the diversity of human experiences that I might only ever encounter through cinema. In the ways that each film uses narrative and documentary to reveal their subjects, they allow us to question the authenticity of the experience that we’re witnessing. How much is ‘real’ and how much is an embellishment?

In the coming weeks I’ll post more details about the films in the programme, but this is just a small teaser of what’s to come. More info here at the Edinburgh Film Guild’s site.

Sunday 8 November: MAN OF THE STORY (KATHAPURUSHAN). Adoor Gopalakrishnan/India, Japan/1995/102/Malayalam with English subtitles.

Sunday 15 November: WHITE COAL. Georg Tiller/Austria, Poland, Taiwan/2015/70 min/English and Chinese with English subtitles.

Sunday 22 November: ALLUVION/EVERGREEN. Alluvion/Sasha Litvintseva/UK/2013/31min. Evergreen/Sasha Litvintseva/UK/2014/50 min.

Sunday 29 November: OUR BELOVED MONTH OF AUGUST (AQUELE QUERIDO MES DE AGOSTO) Miguel Gomes/Portugal, France/2008/147 min/Portuguese with English subtitles.

Sunday 6 December: TIRED MOONLIGHT. Britni West/USA/2015/76 min.

Also: Film journal update. Viewed two brilliant detective/serial killer films: David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo and Michael Mann’s Manhunter

DVD Review: Independencia

A film harking back to the days of early cinema. The black and white flicker of 35mm grain softening expertly lit scenes, in which actors perform in period costume on a sound stage. Independencia (2009) creates both an obvious artificiality, and an authentic nostalgia. Developed through the Résidence du Festival de Cannes in 2008 Raya Martin’s exquisite film positions a history of Philippine autonomy – or lack thereof – alongside a history of cinema, presenting a fable of familial survival as an image as questionable as that of propagandist ethnographic ‘news’.

independencia-foto2-560x372Set at the outset of the invasion by US forces in the Philippines in the early 20th century, a mother (Tetchie Agbayani) and adult son (Sid Lucero) escape to the jungle to begin a new life. Eventually the son discovers a lone, pregnant woman in the jungle too (Alessandra de Rossi), and as time passes, the trio changes from a mother, son and ‘daughter’ of sorts, to a mother and father and young son. Learning to hunt for survival is the first struggle to overcome, and the son’s transformation from a naïve but enthusiastic adventurer to a skilled hunter and father is signalled both by Lucero’s performance, which gradually becomes more assured in his environment, and by a closer physical assimilation with the forest. indendencia_3

Martin’s overall aesthetic is one of a highly sensitive attention to detail, as, though it is obvious from the start that the environments are fabricated, the painted backdrops are but one element of the cinematic world Independencia consists of. Ronald de Asis’ and Arnel Labayo’s sound design evokes the claustrophobic heat of a dense, rural habitat, whilst Digo Ricio’s production brings the natural world to life through authentic sets that include the presence of birds and smaller animals. Lutgardo Labad’s pastoral score provides an underlying romantic melancholy, which, combined with Jeanne Lapoirie’s charcoal toned cinematography, results in a film that seems to encase its characters in the image that it presents; they move from one lush forest scene to another, as though within an unending, unambiguously cinematic loop. Though they have come to the jungle to for freedom, their boundaries are just as limited as those who remained in the town, and are defined by the film’s own construction. independencia_1

Martin therefore addresses an undoubtedly emotive imagining of history, entrenched with a pessimism represented by the futile ambition of his characters whose ostensible escape from white oppression is inevitably threatened. This is pre-colonialism presented from the perspective of the post-colonial individual, who, in his own words ‘portrays an alternative resistance of the times, one that moves away from a history of armed struggle and delves deeper into the opposition of forces, a survival of human existence and a liberation of the true Filipino identity.’

Alongside the new, beautiful digital transfer of the film that Second Run have released is a new short film, Track Projections by Raya Martin, which flips the image of a digitally shot, rolling landscape from a train window on its side, thereby making the image akin to the cinematic reel, abstracting the reflection in what might be considered a reference to Stan Brakhage, who the director has previously cited as an influence. This new short again demonstrates the director’s concern with the meaning of cinema – made most explicitly in his recent collaboration with Mark Peranson, La última pelicula (2013) – and the particularity of the filmic image in the digital age.

My week in film: An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, Don Jon and more…

At the cinema this week I saw Silver Bear winning An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker – the fifth feature by Danis Tanovic, whose earlier effort No Man’s Land (2001) was one of the most awarded first feature films in history. That Tanovic spent two years filming for the army during the Bosnian war, was apparent in the energetic vérite style of No Man’s Land which takes two soldiers from opposing sides trapped together as its subject. The same focused vitality is also present in this latest tale, exposing the discrimination towards Roma communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a cast of non-professional actors reconstruct a traumatic event in their lives. 11_Kopie_large_copyNazif and Senada live in a small village and rely on the money Nazif makes selling scrap metal to support themselves and their two daughters, with a third baby on the way. When Nazif comes home to find Senada with crippling stomach pain, a trip to the hospital reveals that she has had a miscarriage and needs an operation, but the hospital refuses to perform it unless they pay a small fortune as Senada doesn’t have an insurance card. What ensues is Nazif’s desperate attempts to save his wife’s life, in the face of indifference from the authorities. Tanovic developed the film with Nazif and Senada after reading their story in a local newspaper, and based the scenes on their recollections, with purely improvised dialogue and many of the other villagers and family also playing themselves in the film. The result is an efficiency of performance and storytelling that focuses tightly the testimony of an unwavering, seemingly futile effort to illicit even a normal amount of compassion from the hospital staff they encounter. Shot in HD, there’s a crisp beauty to the image that further conveys they humanity in Tanovic’s extraordinary film. don-jon-netflix

Home viewing included Don Jon, written, directed by and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a deluded lothario more enamoured by pornography than sex with an actual woman. Gordon-Levitt demonstrates considerable skill in establishing the small, controlled world view of his perpetually self-stimulating charmer, but fails to develop his female characters, abandoning the potential for both Jon and Scarlett Johansson’s Barbara to learn from their one-sided approach to relationships, in favour of Jon’s singular emotional growth at the hands of Julianne Moore’s as bereaved mother Esther. Still, there’s a pleasing wit and leanings towards self-awareness in Don Jon which means I will look forward to Gordan-Levitt’s next feature.

ACOD-3Also viewed: Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010) once again reduced me to tears at its treatment of the parental experience of the child leaving home, and along similar lines but with a completely different approach, A.C.O.D, Adult Children of Divorce (Stu Zicherman, 2013) looked at the ‘least parented generation in America’s history’ whereby Adam Scott negotiates the wildly ridiculous terrain of his parents reconciliation in anticipation of his brother’s wedding, shot dully and with inconsistent comedic effect. Yet another viewing of Avengers Assemble (2012, Joss Whedon) proved deeply enjoyable, and has greatly increased the likelihood of my seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony & Joe Russo).