Alan Pavelin


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk







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Every year since 2005, plus in 2003 (not sure what happened to 2004), I’ve reported from the London Film Festival, not the big movies that get all the media attention (this year it’s the likes of Frankenweenie and Great Expectations) but half-a-dozen of the smaller pictures, many of which will never get a proper theatrical release. The new festival director, Clare Stewart, has divided the films into the categories Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, and Sonic, which I find unhelpful because I can like, or dislike, films in any of those categories. My first three choices for this year were sold out even before I got to grips with the online booking (Haneke’s Amour and Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills, both of which have been snapped up by the admirable distributor Artificial Eye, plus the digitally restored version of Rossellini’s legendary Viaggio in Italia) but I had no problem with picking my next six choices, listed below. Due to the vagaries of alphabetical order, I am not recommending the first two of them.
Dead Europe
(Tony Krawitz, Australia) An Australian man, Isaac, travels to Athens with the ashes of his Greek-born father, who has killed himself by crashing his car. With rumours of a curse and of Holocaust connections, and a mysterious boy who could be a ghost, Isaac moves on to Paris and then Budapest. Not just because of the downbeat ending, I found this film (based on a novel) extremely depressing and at times unpleasant, and cannot recommend it.
(Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky, USA) An uninvolving film, with occasional very noisy episodes, about a woman who cares more for animals than for people. Sorry, but it wasn’t for me.
(Andrzej Jakimowski, Poland) With dialogue mainly in English, this second feature by the director of the Polish film Tricks tells of Ian, an unorthodox teacher of the blind, who takes a job at a clinic for blind children in Lisbon. Blind himself (though doubt is occasionally cast on this), Ian encourages the children to do without their canes, sometimes with results which get him into trouble with the boss of the clinic. The film is obviously well-researched and is very instructive, showing the audience some of the ways the blind “see” by use of smell, sound, the subtleties of changing footsteps, and even of “tongue-clicking“. A delightfully poetic film which deserves a proper theatrical release, as happened with Tricks.
Post Tenebras Lux
(Carlos Reygadas, Mexico) As an admirer of Reygadas’ 2007 feature Silent Light, I was anxious to see this Best Director win at Cannes, where it received a mixed, even hostile, reception. After seeing it I can understand why; Post Tenebras Lux (meaning, roughly, Light after Shadows) is one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen. It consists of a series of random and disconnected events in the life of a family of husband, wife, and two young children; further, it is shot in the old Academy ratio, which is quite startling for a modern film (except for a special case like The Artist), and uses a lens which blurs the non-central areas of the frame. One very explicit scene is set in a French brothel, two others are of English boys playing rugby, another is of the husband killing a dog. On the face of it, a kind of “modern-art joke” being played on us by a highly-regarded director. But I think we should at least try to make sense of it, and to my mind much of it is in the realm of dream or memory. The long opening sequence, of a child apparently lost in a field of animals, is the child’s nightmare; the brothel scene is, given the context, the wife’s dream; the rugby scenes make some kind of sense when one discovers that Reygadas was actually at a rugby-playing school in Britain, so he is perhaps incorporating his own memories. The dog-killing scene echoes a similar one in Andrei Rublev by Tarkovsky, whom Reygadas greatly admires. A second viewing may elicit more sense, but I can’t see it reaching a wide audience.
Room 237
(Rodney Ascher, USA) I’m not into the horror genre, but must confess to a liking for Kubrick’s The Shining. This documentary brings together five commentators, none of whom I had heard of, to give their theories as to the hidden meanings which Kubrick is supposed to have strewn about his film. Does Jack Nicholson’s German-made typewriter mean it is really a Holocaust movie? Do the prominently-displayed cans of baking powder, with a picture of an American Indian, mean it is really about the Native Americans? Why does a minor character apparently change his clothes in the middle of a scene, and what is the significance of the fact that the same actor played Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar? Why does Danny wear a T-shirt with Apollo 10 prominently displayed, and what has this to do with Kubrick’s alleged faking of the moon landing footage? Why does the number 42 appear several times, while also being the product of the integers in the eponymous room number? Why does Kubrick’s face appear in a cloud formation? Is this delightfully batty film simply an elaborate joke? Rather like The Shining itself?
What is Love
(Ruth Mader, Austria). This meditative and non-narrative film consists of five separate episodes, each with different characters, purportedly presenting different aspects of the film’s title (which, as the programme note points out, does not end with a question mark). Yes, the episodes show various forms of non-sexual love (an attractive young optician who seems happy living alone, a husband too much in love with his work, a priest serving his parishioners), but for me the film is not so much about love as about alone-ness (very different from loneliness). The optician lives alone, the work-obsessed husband and his wife cannot get one another to recognise their needs, the priest necessarily is on his own). The static camera and long takes (the husband-wife argument is really quite gripping and superbly acted, possibly improvised) were not to the taste of all the audience, some of whom walked out. I found the two other episodes less interesting: a woman working in what appeared to be an automated car factory, and a man being chivvied by his wife to dress better (this provided some laughs). One technical quibble: the subtitles were rather too small. But worth seeing if you get the chance, which you probably won’t.
The one standout in the above is Imagine, and in the post-screening discussion several in the audience clearly wanted a proper theatrical release, with which I heartily concur.

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