Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Another Great Trailer

A few weeks ago I posted a blog on five great trailers, and in particular the trailer for Béla Tarr's The Man from London. Since then, I've become aware of this amazing trailer for the film In The City of Sylvia. Like the trailer for The Man From London, it consists solely of a single shot of people walking. I wonder if it's going to become something of a trend. Although I'm worried that an influx of 'walking' trailers might become a little too repetitive, I have to say that I find these trailers totally spellbinding and rather breathtaking, and will certainly be seeing In The City of Sylvia when it hits London screens in March.

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 25 January 2009

A Tale of Two Joans

I have stated in several previous posts how enthralled I am by the films of Carl Th. Dreyer, and in particular his film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Rewatching the film recently for the first time in over a year and half, nothing has changed: within the first few minutes I was once more completely overcome.

A little over a year ago (in October 2007), the BFI ran a season on
Robert Bresson, and, having shamefully never seen a film by Bresson at the time, I took the opportunity to watch nine of his fourteen films within a relatively short space of time. These films included Bresson's own take on the last days of Saint Joan's life, The Trial of Joan of Arc.

During those few weeks toward the end of 2007, I grew from being completely ignorant of Bresson to having a reasonable understanding and a great admiration for his work (indeed, in my own way, I would even go on to pay tribute to him in my film
Paintbrush). Despite the accusations of austerity and coldness, there is something gripping and fascinating about his work, and I have a resolute belief that Bresson was, like Dreyer, nothing short of a cinematic genius. However, although Bresson and Dreyer were both geniuses, and both belong to the so-called transcendental tradition of cinema, their two approaches to a retelling of Joan's trial and death could scarcely be more different.

While I don't necessarily believe in comparing and contrasting different films based on the same text, I somehow find that with these two films it's simply inescapable. Perhaps it's my extreme love for Dreyer's film, or perhaps it's to do with their fidelity to the records of Joan's real trial, but for whatever reason I find it very hard to cast Dreyer's film out of my mind when watching Bresson's film (interestingly, I don't have the problem of not being able to forget Bresson's film when watching Dreyer's).

I suspect by now it's become clear that, for me at least, Dreyer's film is the superior of the two (and regular readers of this blog will know that I consider Dreyer's film as the greatest film of all time, something which I by no means say lightly). In saying this, I mean no disrespect to Bresson or to his Joan, which is also a great film. Having rewatched The Passion, I felt a strange compulsion to also rewatch The Trial and see what it is that makes The Passion, at least for me, the superior work.

In this consideration of the two films, I decided, perhaps wrongly, to cast aside the technical aspects of the film, and concentrate instead upon the way in which the narrative unfolds. Both films tell the same story; that of Joan's trial and the events which unfolded over the last few months leading up to her burning at the stake. They both claim to be based on the actual records of the trial, and both follow a very similar narrative trajectory. So what is it that makes the films so different? And what is it, from this point of view, that makes Dreyer's film have the edge (or is it really all in the execution)?

Well, at least part of the answer to the first question is easy: one thing that makes the two films so different is in their depictions of Joan herself. To answer the second question, we step into personal opinion. And, for those that are interested, my opinion is as follows...

Dreyer depicts Joan as much more of a victim than Bresson does. Although they undergo the same questioning, the same ordeals, Bresson's Joan is a wall of resolution, while Dreyer's breaks down in tears (Bresson's Joan cries only once, alone in her cell, while Dreyer's rarely has a dry eye – she is the model of a suffering heroine). In Trial, Joan is seen being tortured, still firm and seemingly unaffected, while in Passion, Joan faints at the sight of the torture instruments. Now, while some might argue that this makes Dreyer's Joan the weaker of the two, I would argue that in fact she is all the stronger for her suffering. In spite of it all, she too has the strength of her convictions, and because she speaks them through tears rather than stone, her answers are all the more powerful; though she suffers, she has a great inner strength. In Trial, Joan's famous answers ('Do you not believe that God would have clothes for him?') at times come across like little more than clever rhetoric, while in Passion it seems like they come from the very core of Joan's being. And it is for this reason that both Bresson's Joan and his Joan come across as less pious and holy than Dreyer's, and why Dreyer's film is both more transcendent, and more moving, than Bresson's.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Quote for the Week

'I'd like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor, insignificant preamble to somethin' else' – Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi), in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 8 January 2009

My favourite films of 2008

Now that we're firmly into the New Year, with the holidays behind us and the prospects and promises of 2009 looming firmly ahead of us, it seems like a good time to reflect back on the year which has passed. And so, for what it's worth, I thought I'd post up a list of my favourite films of 2008. Despite some people saying things to the contrary, I felt that 2008 was a strong year for cinema, and I say this as someone who missed many of the big films the critics were talking about (Hunger, The Flight of the Red Balloon, Waltz With Bashir, The Silence of Lorna, Ashes of Time Redux, to name but a few of the many I missed. It's a sorry state of affairs, and I'm aware that I now have a ton of catching up to do). Also missing from my list is perhaps the best film to open in UK cinemas this year – Béla Tarr's awe-inspiring The Man from London, which I've left off the list for the simple reason that I first saw it at EIFF in 2007 (and which was also, in part, the subject of my last post).

The two best films which I saw last year were
Steven Soderbergh's Che and Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours. As I have noted my thoughts on Che in depth in a previous post I won't go into them again here; suffice it to say that it's a masterpiece that everyone should see. And so too is Summer Hours. I saw the film as a prelude to a talk with Juliette Binoche at the BFI (it was a joint ticket), and went in not really knowing what to expect. What I was confronted with was an extraordinary film which manages to be genuinely meaningful and reflective about a number of different topics (such as the values of family, legacy, history and art) in a way which is both entertaining and extremely touching. It's a film which is powerful enough to make one feel moved not only by the fate which awaits its human characters, but also its inanimate objects. It's a truly brilliant and nuanced piece of work to which my brief words here are in no ways doing justice.

Two other films which I thought were really quite extraordinary were
Juan Antonio Bayona's The Orphanage and, perhaps controversially given its general critical slating, Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights. I thought that the former was terrifying and moving in equal measure. In all, it's a beautiful and haunting film. The latter, meanwhile, essentially tells several smaller stories within its larger whole, and managed to make me care about each and every one of its characters in the short time they were on screen in a way which most films don’t manage throughout the whole of their runtime. It also has some great performances and boasts some incredible cinematography. Don't believe the cynics and the critics – it's another beautiful film, and I really hope that, in time, it undergoes a critical reappraisal and gets recognised for the great achievement it so clearly is.

Much fuss was made in 2008 about the superhero films, and perhaps rightly so. I enjoyed
Iron Man a lot, but wasn't blown away by it in the way that some people were. I thought The Dark Knight got off to a rocky start but I was slowly absorbed into its brooding mood of sheer anarchy and chaos. As someone who thought very poorly of Batman Begins, it was a relief to see the caped crusader back on our screen in a film worthy of the legacy. It wasn’t perfect, but it was one hell of a ride and one hell of a lot better than I expected. And, speaking of Hell, Guillermo del Toro showed us once again what a great filmmaker he was with Hellboy II: The Golden Army, undoubtedly (for me, anyway), the best of the comic book films of this year. Giving us characters to care about and visuals to marvel at, del Toro pulled out all the stops and came up trumps.

Over in America, the low-budget independent sector
also came up trumps with two more great films: Joe Swanberg's Night and Weekends and Barry Jenkins' Medicine for Melancholy, both of which I blogged about here. On the same link I speak about Birdsong, which, although in some ways a rather frustrating film, I feel also deserves a mention here.

Thinking right back to the beginning of the year, three other films I feel I should mention are
Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood and the Coens' No Country for Old Men. None of these films blew me away, but they are all undoubtedly fine pieces of work. Sweeney Todd was beautiful to watch (the production design and cinematography are top-notch), but, for me at least, unpleasant to listen to thanks to all the singing (and boy was there a lot of it!). The other two films, meanwhile, were very good films but films which, for one reason or another, failed to sweep me up into the hysteria which surrounds them. Very very good, yes, great...well, not for me. Perhaps, however, further viewings will sway me and prove me wrong.

To go out on a high, I feel one final film worth mentioning is
Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas' Linha de Passe which is, for me, along with Che, Summer Hours, The Orphanage and My Blueberry Nights, the fifth film of the year which perhaps deserves the title of 'masterpiece'.

There are no doubt things which I've left off talking about here, and almost certainly there are things which would be here if I hadn't missed them altogether.

A list of my favourite DVDs of the year can be found over on

Bookmark and Share