My week in film: Iberodocs, Green Room and a Captain America movie

After a hiatus shaped like Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival (which I produced), my viewing journal returns with a typical mix of artistic expression and popcorn nonsense. On Wednesday night the third edition of Iberodocs – Scotland’s only dedicated documentary festival and a celebration of Ibero-American cinema – opened at Filmhouse in Edinburgh to a packed audience. Begun as a way to showcase the work of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin-American filmmakers, Iberodocs has quickly developed a dedicated audience, supportive sponsors and a robust and carefully selected programme of films. A lively and welcoming reception at Traverse bar preceded the opening film, Gabo: The Creation of Gabriel Garcia Márquez, a sincere and affectionate biography of the Nobel prize-winning author of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Directed by Justin Webster, the film brings together interviews with Márquez’s friends (Gerald Martin, his biographer; Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, writer and Bill Clinton no less), peers, family and inspired writers (Juan Gabriel Vásquez), to reflect on the extraordinary life and politics of one the world’s most celebrated literary talents.

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A young Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Relying mostly on talking heads interviews, archive and television footage, Gabo chronicles the writer’s early life, student days, journalistic career, romances, his great friendship with Fidel Castro, which seemed to run counter to his anti-communist politics, and is most engaging in the use of interviews with the man himself, which demonstrate his sharp wit and idiosyncratic perspective on life. On receiving the Nobel prize for literature, a journalist asks him, “is this the greatest moment of your life?” to which Márquez replies, “No, that was the day I was born.” Such moments go some way to answer the film’s central question; how did a boy who was born into poverty grow up to be a writer ‘who won the hearts of millions?’ Márquez’s charisma, dedication, and importantly, self-belief emerge as the defining characteristics that allowed the author to have such an impact.

Iberodocs runs until Sunday 8 May and includes the remarkable and very moving, All of Me (Friday 6 May), by Arturo González Villaseñor about the Patronas, women in Mexico who prepare and distribute food to the migrants who pass by on the freight train to the US. The short film programme Looking From Afar (Sunday 8 May) also looks to be an exciting collection of highly personal works from such sharp artistic talents as Salomé Lamas and Ana Vaz.

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Anton Yelchin and Alia Shawcat in Green Room

Elsewhere in my viewing, Jeremy Saulnier’s third feature as writer/director, Green Room surpassed my expectations, which were based on some buzz around Patrick Stewart portraying a skin head Nazi in backwoods America. Stewart certainly is suitably chilling in the role of Darcy, but what’s most interesting about Saulnier’s work, as with Blue Ruin, is how, unlike many a director of dark and violent films, he appears not to celebrate violence, but rather, violence occurs due to ingrained social expectations and justifications of power, and is horrific and visceral in a very authentic, non-stylised way. Green Room cinematographer Sean Porter creates a dank, dark atmosphere using very little light, whilst editor Julia Bloch uses neat and clever cuts to keep the pace fraught and the horror efficient.

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l-r: Anthony Mackie as Falcon, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Chris Evans as Captain America, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch and Sebastian Stan as Winter Soldier in Captain America: Civil War

Finally, this week I saw Captain America: Civil War, which gleefully allows members of the Avengers A and B team (and some other ‘enhanced’) to shine, within excellently choreographed and edited action set-pieces. The film somehow doesn’t convey the ethical complexity of the Civil War comic books, despite the presence of a menacing Daniel Bruhl. It’s also still deeply frustrating to see only three female characters with speaking roles in these films (where’s Cobie Smulder’s Agent Hill?!) and only two women a line-up of super dudes. I’d love to see a Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) origin story, but the possibility of that seems nil.

Also watched:
What Happened Miss Simone?
Liz Garbus, excellent documentary
Season 7 of Parks and Recreation (again)

 

 

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My week in film: Blue Ruin, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spiderman 2 and more…

THORInspired by the effervescent Avengers Assemble, I sought out Thor (2011) for another watch to compare the tone of Branagh’s earlier effort with Whedon’s spot-on get-the-gang-together adventure. As with Avenger’s Assemble, one of the main pleasures of Thor is Tom Hiddleston’s demi-God Loki, brother to our titular hero. Hiddleston is deft at combining the pathos of Loki’s identity crisis, with the camp of a truly despicable villain, and in Thor his origin story is well worth revisiting, even if the more spectacular action set pieces are confined to realms other than earth, leaving Thor and his comrades battle with Loki’s metal man henchman seem a little underwhelming.

David Cronenberg is a director I’ve shied away from mainly due to my irritation with eXistenZ (1999), which seemed to belabor its point somewhat, however having finally seen The Fly (1986) and caught up with come more recent work, A History of Violence (2005), and Eastern Promises (2007), my irritation has lifted and I’m certainly trying to see more. With that in mind I watched A Dangerous Method (2011), which looks at the relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), aA-Dangerous-Method-9nd the battle for morality and ethics in the birth of psychoanalysis, as represented by Jung’s torment at this relationship with a patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightly).

The key Cronenberg concerns are all present – sex, the death drive, the mind/body divide, an emphasis on the corporeal – making this perhaps the perfect subject for the director, and none more perfectly expressed than in Knightley’s committed performance, her body contorting in a pure expression of mental anguish.blue ruin

In Blue Ruin, a man seeks vengeance for the murder of his parents on the day their killer is released from prison, leading to a bloody series of retaliations, a form of justice kept ‘in house’ and away from the police. The immediate aftermath of Dwight’s (Macon Blair) somewhat calamitous yet shocking first kill sees him come face to face with the innocent quotient of his enemy’s clan, in a moment of pathos-filled humour, in which Dwight is required to release a passenger from his unplanned escape vehicle, and is given the first hint that his side of this story is not the only great tragedy at stake. Director/writer/cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier establishes a suitably sticky atmosphere, as the heat of the Virginia forests seems to emanate from the image of each blood-soaked character. Blue Ruin won the FIPRESCI International Critics prize in Cannes 2013 and it’s easy to see why – Saulnier here achieves a pure clarity of character, plot and form that draws strength from being both terrifyingly simple and artfully realized.

With Jane Campion’s Golden Globe winning Top of the Lake (2013), murder or the threat thereof is also the driving force of a plot that has Elizabeth Moss’s Detective Robin Griffin return to her home town, ostensibly to visit her dying mother, yet pulled into a rape investigation when a pregnant 12 year old attempts suicide in the titular Lake Top. Issues of gendered power plays are at the heart of this stellar mini series, as Robin’s status as a lone female sees her subject to forms of male protection both welcome and unwelcome, an inappropriate marriage proposal, threatening displays of violence, psychological manipulation and name calling, whilst other women seem to have varied experiences of the same enforced passivity at the hands of local land-owning alpha male, Matt (Peter Mullan).img_topofthelake1

Whilst Robin searches for Matt’s runaway daughter Tui (Jacqueline Joe), a camp sets up at Paradise, the lakeside land sold from under him by business partner Bob Platt, and a group of women move into storage containers, under the guidance of GJ (Holly Hunter). Although GJ professes not to teach or impart wisdom – only the ‘the body knows what to do’ all the characters of Top of the Lake are drawn to her at some point, whether seeking help, shelter or a chance to offload anger and fear – represented by one male onlooker that directly questions the specificity of her gender.

Showcasing the New Zealand landscape as a site of astonishing beauty and acute danger, Campion creates an atmosphere that never allows the viewer to assume the worst is over, as Robin’s investigation reveals inextricable links between her own past and present self.

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-teaser-trailer-black-widow1Finally, my viewing this week ended on lighter notes, with a double bill of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony & Joe Russo, 2014) and The Amazing Spiderman 2 (Mark Webb, 2014). I thought Captain America: The First Avenger (Joe Johnston, 2011) a terrible bore of a film – due mainly to the unimaginative direction (but then what was I expecting from the director of Jurassic Park 3?) so helpfully my expectations were low, and this new, post Avengers, Phase 2‘ iteration of the Steve Rogers story proved engaging, delightfully silly and earnest only when it mattered most. Action scenes involving Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow maintained the excellent standard of choreography for this character that began with Iron Man 2 (John Favreau, 2010) with the kind of fighting style that believably demonstrates how a woman of Romanoff’s strength and size can immobilize swathes of henchmen.

amazoing spiderman 2Emma Stone was also given ample space to show strength and characteristic intelligence as Gwen Stacy – saving Spidey’s (and the rest of New York’s) life in The Amazing Spiderman 2, which puts the romance between Peter and Gwen at the centre of the film. Though Andrew Garfield as Peter was once again the perfect, sinewy, athletic Spidey, I was left with a sense that his world is less tangible than that of the Avenger’s and its respective solo ventures in the series – despite also being a Marvel title. Perhaps it’s due to every villain so far having originated in that comic book cliché of accidental merge with toxic animal/goo/experiment gone wrong in the Osborn lab, or maybe Amazing Spiderman 2 failed to exploit the potential of any one of its villains, instead settling for broadly painted caricatures doing little justice to the caliber of the actors playing them. Nevertheless, Stone and Garfield are a sheer joy to watch, being that rare example of sizzling on-screen chemistry.

Coming next on My week in film… In cinemas I’ll review Frank, and at home – an as yet unknown plethora of film from around the world.

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).