LOCAL/LOCALE season at EFG: Our Beloved Month of August

This coming Sunday at 7pm the LOCAL/LOCALE season at Edinburgh Film Guild continues with a film by celebrated Portuguese writer/director Miguel Gomes. The director’s second feature film following The Face You Deserve (2004) is a sun-drenched portrait of a rural town in the region of Arganil, whose title, Our Beloved Month of August (Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto, 2008) proclaims the affection with which Gomes treats his subject. The film is at once a narrative about a family dance band and a blossoming romance and a meditation on the nature of filmmaking itself. Gomes dissolves the supposed distance between documentarian and subject, writer and actors, blending all such elements together into one glorious idiosyncratic work of cinema. AQMA_039Like Gomes later film, the multi award-winning Tabu (2012), the concept of playing lightly with notions of narrative and performance is familiar in Our Beloved Month of August, though the influence of the locals themselves is more apparent. Much like Gomes most recent trilogy of films, Arabian Nights: Volume 1 – The Restless One, Volume 2 – The Desolate One and Volume 3 – The Enchanted One non-professional actors play themselves – and other roles – whilst Gomes ‘the director’ appears as himself, struggling to reconcile budget, script and schedule on the shoot. Gomes’ ever present anxiety of creative vision hindered by financial limitations only seem to imbue him with a sense of inventive inclusion, as though what must be cut from a production gives rise to the feeling that everything and anything can and should be the film. AQMA_027Kieran Corless on Our Beloved Month of August: ‘It inhabits its chosen world and landscape so fully and imaginatively, so intimately, it’s almost as if it’s inhaling it. Slowly, stealthily, the fantastical flowers in this everyday scenario, credibly and breathtakingly. We experience that rarity in cinema, a sort of flowing, fluid buoyancy, when everything in a film is singing, all the elements are fusing in harmony.’

This will be the penultimate screening in the LOCAL/LOCALE season, with the UK premiere of Britni West’s award-winning Tired Moonlight following it on Sunday 6 December, a film which combines the docu-fictional elements of Gomes with the loose, intimacy of the low budget American indie.

Here’s the full run down of the season below. You can join the Facebook event here, and get more info on the Edinburgh Film Guild here.

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.

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Thoughts on LFF 2015: Arabian Nights

The BFI London Film Festival ran from 7-18 October, opening with Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette and closing with Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs. Whilst there, I caught neither of these (natch), but did see a host of other new films, most of which had been around the festival circuit for a while but were making their UK debut in the English capital. A highlight was Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights which had its world premiere in Cannes this year and is structured in three parts; Volume 1: The Restless One (125min), Volume 2: The Desolate One (131min), and Volume 3: The Enchanted One (125min). Seeing all three films back to back (with 30min breaks in between) at LFF, might happily make the experience one to include in those deemed ‘endurance cinema.’

Gomes previous films, Our Beloved Month of August (2008) Tabu (2012) and Redemption (2013) all play gleefully with notions of documentary and testimony. Actors are commonly non-professional, playing versions of themselves in re-enactments of events in their own lives, mixing with professional actors too. Arabian Nights takes this even further, using the structure of Scheherazade’s tales to present fictional stories about the economic, social crisis in Portugal from July 2013 – August 2014. At the same time, the director is all too aware of the problematic nature of his approach, presenting himself at the outset as a man in crisis, wondering how he can resolve his social and political responsibility with his desire to present ‘wonderful stories.’ He runs away from his crew, and upon finding him, Gomes’ destiny is to be punished according to ‘the Law of Cinema and Audio Visual Media’.

Still from Volume 1: The Restless One, The Story of the Cockerel and the Fire
Still from Volume 1: The Restless One, The Story of the Cockerel and the Fire

This irreverent and contradictory approach is what makes Gomes’ films so involving, at once he appears deeply concerned about ethics and committed to confounding his audience. So in Volume 1: The Restless One, we see the story of The Men with Hard-ons, where Portugal’s political elite are usurped by their own desire for virility, whilst in The Story of the Cockerel and the Fire, a cock that crows before dawn is tried by a committee for disturbing the peace, and defends itself through a translator. It’s elements like this that bring to mind an absurdist tradition along the lines of The Marx Brothers, Monty Python or more recently Athina Rachel Tsangari (Attenberg, Chevalier).

In Volume Two: The Desolate One, the true story of a couple who took their own lives in a tower block, becomes the basis for a narrative about a dog who encounters their own ghost, in The Owners of Dixie. Here Tabu actor Teresa Madruga plays Luisa, one of Dixie’s owners, giving a moving performance of a woman becoming gradually overwhelmed by her circumstances.

Still from Volume 2: The Desolate One, The Owners of Dixie
Still from Volume 2: The Desolate One, The Owners of Dixie

Gomes worked with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, known for creating the lush look of Syndromes and a Century and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past lives (among others) for Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Throughout Arabian Nights, the use of 16mm and 35mm creates a depth of colour and texture that enhances the film’s atmosphere, seeming to make the experience of the characters somehow more palpable. In Volume 3: The Enchanted One, the sun-drenched Mediterranean, standing in for Bagdad, looks utterly gorgeous, as we see Scheherazade (Crista Alfaiate) encounter the inhabitants of the archipelago, such as Carloto Cotta’s hapless and endearing Paddleman. Later, Volume 3 becomes almost entirely a document of Chaffinch training and singing competition, though structured loosely, it’s impossible not to become invested in the fate of these little birds and their dedicated owners.

Still from Volume 3: The Enchanted One, Scheherazade (on the 515th day of narrating stories to the King)
Still from Volume 3: The Enchanted One, Scheherazade (on the 515th day of narrating stories to the King)

That Arabian Nights became three films is down to the looseness of Gomes’ production plan at the outset, and the resulting volume of footage shot – somewhere there is a nine hour version of the film. In an interview with cinema scope, Gomes talks of the film as being equally one film and three, so that either volume would come to represent the whole experience that he wanted to give the audience. By explicitly using a storytelling structure – a story leads to another (actually something like Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room, which also screened at LFF) Gomes perhaps makes more explicit than in previous films, the critique of narrative that has consistently concerned him. Does a ‘documentary’ perhaps deceive its audience by presenting something ostensibly ‘real’? A document of social distress, told through the narrative of, say chaffinch trainers channelling energy previously dedicated to regular employment, is perhaps most compassionate and honest when communicated as a collaboration of document/performance between director and ‘actor.’

NB – for anyone located in or around Edinburgh, you can see Miguel Gomes’ Our Beloved Month of August as part of the Edinburgh Film Guild programme, LOCAL/LOCALE. More info here. Facebook event here.

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