Monday, 22 November 2010

country for sale 2

anderman (labri)

For the discussion of this short, chaired by Jaap, we were kept to the principle that if one must talk of film at all, one should restrict oneself to less than its run time – a profitable maxim. So briefly, we were given a snapshot into his life and relationship with Per Anderman who is a rich seam of idiosyncrasy and fascination by himself, this film's character study is rich also by its playfully affected form which reflects something of his condition, and also there is richness in the collaboration obvious in its production.

Story-telling. Rather as I found Tetro's therapy of story-telling good, true and beautiful, albeit in a fictional setting, this film plays this out with a real individual: in taking Anderman's broadcast snippets of life to a wider audience it enriches and humanises (and heals?) both the one giving his testimony and his audience.

Architecture. It is interesting to compare Jos' apartment in Ooit, Ivan's office and environs in Win/Win, and then the estate where Anderman lives. In using architectural photography to compliment or illustrate their mental state we are gently prompted to ask what qualities of an 'abnormal' mind find their parallels in 20th century architecture and then to question what environments are conducive to mental health.

Extending from architecture in an moment of hyperactive syllogising, I would venture of Win/Win, that modernity detaches fact from meaning, autism detaches fact from meaning, modernity is autistic. Or equally of Ooit, modernity profits from an obsessive, compulsive, forgetful people. Downs Syndrome here makes such of Jos, so modernity. Or of Anderman, modernity reduces conversation to soundbites, time to snapshots, other people to a background blur. This presentation of Alzheimer's shows a stutter of sounds, photos and blurs, ergo modernity is Alzheimic. I am being crude to abbreviate a question on these films' observances on mental health and their relevance, appeal and application to wider cultural memes. As we endeavour to enter the real, to see rightly and to live well, what can we learn from that which we see of ourselves and our culture in these characters - what cause, what cure to their condition?

We also see in this piece beautifully, the power of art, even a saving power in these three works, tactile, colourful, emersive, handmade, personal. Coming to its climax at Corb's chapel, we slip subtly into motion picture, as the Hand of Rob (ref) in Flatland (ref). Are we moderns proverbially trapped in 3d, without time?

doubt (labri)

“What do you do when you don't know?” What do you do? At the centre of this bleak film the lived-out theological answers of Aloysius/Flynn are set against one another, in a portrayal that some found more balanced than I would give it credit for. Father Flynn venturing a salvation by sympathy, Sister Aloysius salvation by structures.

The film is made gripping in its tension and tragedy by the present very public reality of Catholic child-abuse scandals which are in the invisible foreground of this film throughout. Lending another dimension to the question, “What do you do when you don't know [if Flynn did it]”, we see this answered in Sister James' uncritical optimism, and in Mrs Miller's mercenary stoicism. What do you do when you don't know?

So, of the two theologies of Flynn and Aloysius, is humanism's self-help more stable, or indeed more humanising, than the power games of the vertical hierarchies of an aloof and off-kilter Catholicism which it bids to replace? Flynn's opening sermon hopes in a horizontal Christianity, a reductive coping mechanism that bids us cling to one another in the dark of a locked closed universe. And in preaching “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty..” he opposes a very particular definition of 'certainty' via a very particular understanding of powerful. The straw-man of certainty as an unswerving allegiance to an arbitrary, subjective and judgemental absolute? And powerful: there is an irony in holding up something so potentially manipulative as a virtue.

'Certainty', the straw-man which Sister Aloysius embodies, even parodies, is made clear to be of an insubstantial nature by the exaggerated use of force she employs to defend it, making all the more frustratingly redundant her final closing concession. This force used is the fear of, as well as the imitation of, an all-powerful but unloving God, the panopticon God, punitive and unapproachable - due a comparison to The Return's God? It is a loveless God who gives no sleep “Maybe we weren't meant to sleep so well” (vs) Her's is a view of the world which again and again closes the window to the wind, in a picture which lingered with me, a potent metaphor for a zeal for order excluding chaos and chance and the reality of a real beyond the self. (vs)

I did enjoy this film's performance, the tension of the questions did hold me, and Sister James' and Mrs Miller's laissez-faire complicity did convict me. The film asks whys and hows of schooling, disadvantage and institution, as Cracks. And the film asks, at what cost child protection, it manages to ask it without appearing to have asked it. In all a demanding film.

win/win (labri)

There are no spoiler warnings, as my hope is not selling teasers to the casually interested but rather appealing for help with questions from those already familiar with these. But, I am going to betray this film's surprise, go and see it first.

This is a film made by L'Abri for L'Abri, I would enjoy to hear an other perspective, a broker's perspective, an accidental viewer's, a perspective from one for whom the issues here are not games and metaphors. Seldom one to spill sentimental and exaggerated adjective-of-the-year superlatives, and this has been a year richer than ever in my filmic education, but Win/Win is certainly in my unmissables for 2010.

The real. If we can speak of it, this is a concept, realm or substance that is laboured and layered into this film with every sense, in every sense. The real is emphasised justaposed with its antithesis in hollow tertiary financial abstractions, the machined interiors of corporate hospitality and mediated therapeutic community. By contrast we are shown the real expressed in touch, in relationship, in the fickle and organic realities of a bodily real; the real is spoken in the wordless groans of a phenomenological world that bodies over us by-passing abstractions. The real flickers in a human colour, where the film is of a cool to cold pallor, it warms pointedly for moments of connection, with his call to his grandmother, with the nest of mice, the intercity fellowship, Deniz' shoes, the cake. And the real emerges in the music, I enjoyed particularly the womb of warm noise as he runs his toes into the depth of carpet. And the playful jazz click a clack of his kitchen to train composition of found sounds; that is the real, when the world is our playpen.

Masculinity. This is a man's film about men doing silly things with money, young men, too young to remember the last recession, young men still competitively high on hormones and adrenaline. In the context and apprenticeship Ivan enters here much is worthy of comparison to The Social Network's portrayal of autistic machismo let loose on money, sex and power, a portrayal akin but totally different, why? And what can we say of these fatherless strivers, how might they be other, how indeed might they be and be employed in a world more real?

Nudity. Twice in the film: first as sold in strip clubs, manageable, reductive, shallow sex symbols, signs signifying nothing; the second, the overwhelming glory of I-Thou, a glory which resists image-making, the glory in and of otherness. The second is framed as being a 'favour', that is χαρις, a grace or a gift, an un-market-able transaction, this is the truer nudity, and totally unravelling to behold. We could attribute Ivan's collapse to the bends of decompressed repression, as nudity is a relative thing, a cultural thing, a learnt tolerance positioned between our taboos and our sexual liberation? Or is there something more, as we enter the real, is our sensitivity to the spiritual power of the naked form heightened?

Genius. “Walk the wire on high..” As in Man on Wire, we see a man fully alive, dazzling in their gifted giftedness. These brokers are the gods of our age, with the power to create out of nothing, with the vision to read the signs of the times, to predict, profit, prosper. In his research interviews Jaap extracted from brokers their sense of what secret they had of success, some trusted technical, some social, some psychic-intuitive means of taking the pulse of a share's future rise and fall; ultimately it is their genius, and this is what makes their game so fascinating, so ripe for a film such as this. We are a cinema audience of committee members and anonymous cogs in mundane conglomerates, we want a protagonist operating within a world consistent with the one we experience, so believable, but powerful and free, and yet loveable. Jaap spoke of van Rompay as an actor who “moved like there was a crazy jazz record playing inside him”, and he is and brilliantly able, by the idiosyncrasies he conjures, to create a character whom we can believe might make a million by accident, we are instantly sympathetic to this savant frog-boned weirdo, this child-like holy fool, why?

Sympathy. Ivan is a melancholy character, detached, dis-integrated and yet without cause or motive for his condition. It was my feeling that those quite explicit references to Blue, in the here resurrected mice and in his solitary sleepless swimming pool meditations, we have a borrowing of another's grief, by suggestion to give us cause to empathise, to provoke by association an imagined previous Ivan before he started on the road into his current abstraction. Anyone?

Survival and solitude. Such was the even-handedness of Jaap's handling of this material that bankers have expressed at screenings that Ivan did not have to become sad, and that Stef is in fact the winner in this story, as the one who survives. There is something in this, the strength to carry on in the face of complexity, the single-minded application to a given task, these are virtues. What gives us the right, what gives us the liberty to judge characters like Stef? We side with the underdog, we question power, we affirm bowing out, we advocate the small, the slow and the local, we presume to know, we christians, we presume essentially that sin that is slower and locally grown, is in some way inherently less grievous. A provocation on: sin, scale and technology in a global age, anyone?

Luck. What is luck? What is at the root of the belief in auspicious numbers, ties, orientations, animals, manners and such? Set beside this film's Korean character, can we discuss what Western culture deems lucky by another name?

Feet. Taking off one's shoes is an act of spiritual significance that I feel I can only be crudely reductive in putting words to. Moses takes off his sandals on Holy ground, eastern culture removes its shoes on entering a home in respect, Big Fish shows the flinging-off of shoes up over onto wires as the adventure of the fairytale begins. Taking off shoes brings one's skin into touch with the earth, grounding your being, submitting one to contours of the real, and declaring it more, other and sacred. Taking one's shoes off as one enters the world, the street and the city is to name each and every particular place as particularly sacred, an act anathema to the abstracting, globalising, homogenising, reletivising whims of that banking which begat our present recession?


(Q&A) In brief, some approximated snippets for those absent. British hooligans? Yes, please stage stags elsewhere. What is your message? I am a projector, this may be a postmodernistic idea but a story only becomes a story in its reception, it would be strange to alter the reception or to convince you to see things you didn't see. Why does the poster shot not appear in the film? ABN bank from the poster is one that collapsed which we weren't allowed to film inside. Race of servant characters, a commentary? Yes. Sex on film and christianity, what is your framework? Tricky, the ethics of this, and the double standard of advertising Ooit to church teenagers, but not this. Swearing? Yes, the language of stockbrokers is amazing, rhythmed entirely differently for example: 'the fucking door of the fucking bank..' this is part of their culture.

Monday, 15 November 2010

secret of kells

This film bubbles over with its zany freedom to paint people as their spirits are, here extravagantly layered with a million gems, humorous human observations, little gargoyle character one-liners carved in corners of this a cathedral of animation – all playful as the sheep tender's beard and other joys. And all in this seemingly effortless sketchy flourish, one has the feel of dancing through pages of manuscript, swirling through a world of geometries where nature reveals her strange but legible, fractal symmetries and centres and ordered, alternated, empatterned glory. I will go on, this film is exceedingly beautiful, scenes set sumptuously in watercolour splashes, the form of nature brought to wonder-full excellence in an act of splendid dominion, all as if seen sketched through the eyes of the heart of the dreaming mind of this emerging young illuminator who receives with such a simple but compelling curiosity all those gifts which nature gifts.

Is this a film about God, or even about faith? A 'God'-less exploration of God? Panentheistically maybe, with such appeals to that longing to know and be known unto our environment, it is paganism at its most attractive, or, thanking J, “Avatar with a heart”. Yet there is such a wealth of goodness to affirm, goodness hanging on the fine line of the tweaking of a definition, where does nature end and God begin?

Is this film about religion? To parallel it with Jesus of Montreal in our accidentally apt double bill, both feature centrally the creation of religious art, both feature a tired establishment using the abstracted and supposed vulnerable masses as an excuse to fortify the status quo at the eventually regretted expense of the liveliness of art, here expelling illuminated manuscripts, there quashing a passion play. What say we of these bricks versus books, power versus play, security or delight, of chaos, order, fight, flight, and faithful folly, this is a film by its medium and message, urgently able to speak to a generation who has forgotten the why and how of ornament. Where are our suffering illuminators today, where our walls, who our vikings?
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Charmingly British British comedy enjoying itself, relishing its knowing surrealism, it felt excited to have been allowed onto a big screen, in a happy way a happy film.

Magic works well drawn as being of a non-specific time, and there is a skill in conjuring such time-less-ness, relying on the vagueries of nostalgia, the handmade, the worn, the ruined and the rural. Magic's portrayal also profits from facial hair (theologise that) and allusions to an unseen geography.

This film is a challenge to those inclined to a supernatural worldview, questioning how far one suspends disbelief to enter the main premise of this film. It also portrays an attractively redemptive use of the occult. Stripped of it's candles and steam punk paraphernalia, this is treasure hunting - to use St Mary's particular idiom, here we see holy fools sent out in pairs to speak seemingly pointless prophetic words from the beyond for the reconciliation of the present.


Films featuring a certain learnt homelessness find a special place in my estimation, so this, like Persepolis, casts stones in my little lake of melancholy. This film appeals at other levels less obtusely TCK, it is a film which spreads itself into a chiaroscuric wealth of excessive or pleasantly indulgent photography. And there is this thorough father/brother parallel, what if our Father were our brother, what then, how then, and why does this appeal? We could try a strained extension, that this film displays us reading our Father's story and writing our final chapter. But such theological extrapolations are better left ununpacked.

The genius. Assumed in this film and so crucially unanswered: what is genius and what is its value? Do we believe people are geniuses, do we believe people have geniuses, is either a helpful concept in bringing gifting's fruit to fruition? Does society sacrifice the concept of genius in fear on the altar of egalitarianism's necessary 'normal'? Is genius sacrificed to spite the giver? Wherefore a celebration of the anti-hero in our age, why a fascination with the failures of the walking wounded and the wasted potential of the promising procrastinator? Can we navigate the tensions of genius with a joy imperative such as would mitigate the moralisms of propriety? Little of this is in Tetro.

Redemption and its difficulties are given some space, particularly I enjoyed the sequence where Angelo is brought back from a brink by being given space to tell his story, and the whole dignifying love that that gives, story-telling rather as Jaap talks of the Andermann film being. The resistance to salvation, “Am I not ok the way I am..” speaks a little of the anti-hero's allure, maybe?

Black and white and colour and time. To compare this with another recent viewing, City of Life and Death, where after a colourful death, heaven is shown in black and white, what is the motive, what the effect of choosing to remove colour? Does it serve to make a portrait more authoritative, more epic, more of a time when-cathedrals-were-white (?). On leaving the primary school of primary colours we graduate to the sophistication and sophistry of desaturated maturity, why is this? Colour is so particular, a pigment so absolutely chosen, naively and exclusively that which it is, it is none of the hedged bets of white minimalism. Colour, thanking Sarah, is irreducible. Colour is the crude, the kitsch, the creative of the delightfully fully present. And also, as opened up in Bothersome Man's 'azure vs cool coral' discussion, colour can yet be but branding and power play, subjective and fleeting, shallow. Where, by contrast, black and white generates eternal forms, unfading, unerring, like dinosaur bones and the Acropolis. Not sure. But colour reminiscences here are well crafted to emphasise the absurdity of memory, and the exaggerated histories which define us.