Monday, 4 March 2013

Films This Week

(Click here to read my general introduction to the 'Films This Week' series of posts.)
Jeanne Dielman 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
Went to see Jeanne Dielman at the BFI. At first it seemed a little too much, a little too self-conscious, almost like a parody of a certain strain of post-Bressonian slow cinema, but gradually it drew me into its ballet of contrasts: stasis/motion, light/dark, repetition/variation, sharp focus/soft focus. Never before has a film with such an unflinching, unmoving camera been so balletic (the camera is rigid, solid, drawing attention to what is happening both within and beyond the frame). I became lost in the ebb and flow of its mesmeric rhythm, all sense of personal time and space disintegrating, meshing with that of Jeanne's (the editing – perhaps the film's strongest suit – is masterfully handled, the ellipses in the action at once beguiling, unexpected and perfectly placed). As the screws begin to turn and Jeanne's world begins to crumble, it becomes almost excruciating to watch: what a sigh of relief when a missed button is finally done up! Even the corridors seem to shrink. The dropping of the boot-polish brush, its thud on the floor, is heart breaking (much like the moment when the mother trips and spills the water in The Naked Island). Yet ten minutes later, when Jeanne drops the spoon, it begins to feel like overkill. The film emerges as a pointed precursor to The Turin Horse, a comparison with which at once highlights Jeanne Dielman's strengths, while simultaneously revealing its weaknesses (it contains little of its offspring's visceral power). The final act of violence, meanwhile, may very well (when viewed in the context of the film as a whole) be a comment upon traditional narrative conventions, but it also feels like something of a concession to these same conventions (no such concessions in Tarr). Whatever the case, it feels like a slight undermining of what's gone on before, an added touch of drama, a dramatic conclusion to the most undramatic of films. Perhaps it's a necessary culmination of Jeanne's mental disintegration, but it lost my interest (much like the film's unconvincing and uninteresting dialogue scenes, it may well be designed to add to the film's thematic and structural enquiries, but the film would play better, to me at least, without it). But still, Jeanne Dielman undoubtedly remains a great work. (Its use of time, its repetitions, and its focus on the mundane also struck a chord with me, chiming as they do with some of the intentions behind the making of Life Just Is.)
Back to the BFI to see Side Effects, which I really liked. In managing to explore interesting social and philosophical issues in the guise of an effective thriller, the film serves as a good reminder that it's possible to explore deeper issues within a compelling and commercial narrative form, thereby making them palatable to a wider audience. (A film dealing with issues such as depression, pill-popping, and whether conscious intent is necessary to determine the morality of our actions could very easily have gone down a much less commercial route.) It's very much of a piece stylistically with Soderbergh's recent, post-Che work – perhaps a sign that he is tiring – but no less beautiful for it (I still think Soderbergh may be one of cinema's must underappreciated cinematographers). I was struck by the film's formal simplicity, and how effectively Soderbergh manages to build so much from so little (for instance, the haunting moment when Rooney Mara looks into a mirror and sees her distorted reflection builds so much from… well, from a mirror!). The matching shots at the start and end seem to imply that all life is a prison. The BFI programme notes suggest that Side Effects is a film about storytelling, and point back to Soderbergh's comments about the tyranny of the narrative. Perhaps it's not life which is a prison, but filmmaking – something that I can definitely relate to! But it's a shame that Soderbergh has managed to break out. Still, if Side Effects really is his final film, it feels like a fitting conclusion to one of the most interesting and diverse body of works in modern cinema.
Watched Sir Arne's Treasure. Despite some extremely powerful visuals and some very startling (for the time) camera moves, it's actually a very title heavy film (perhaps a result of its literary heritage?). Still, there was lots to enjoy. It's a rather haunting film in a lot of ways: the use of double exposures is expertly done. It's incredible to think it was made in 1919. I have a feeling it's a film which will stay with me for a long time to come.
The extraordinary moment when Sir Arne's wife has the vision of the
sharpening of the knives in Sir Arne's Treasure.

No comments: