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'A balsam for our eyes': two reports from Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017

Posted Thursday 6 July 2017 by Ellen Reay in Festival Reports, General

Cannes isn't the only festival on the block! Each summer Bologna in Italy gives itself over to the love of cinema with its celebrated archive film festival, Il Cinema Ritrovato. Never wanting our readers to be uninformed, we've brought you not one but two reports from the thirty-first edition of this cinephile's dream event. First, Borderlines Film Festival's Jo Comino shares the details of her incredibly varied five days in the city; next we hear from our own Marketing & Communications Manager Duncan Carson, who attended to share some knowledge at the Europa Cinemas Audience Development Lab and take in little-seen gems and classics. 

il cinema programme
Two of the 400 odd pages that make up Il Cinema Ritrovato's programme

Jo's report

Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna is more than a festival, it’s an adventure. You set out armed with a programme and a 400-page catalogue for cross-reference and explore... cinema. Every one of the 26 films that I saw over five days clashed with two or three others that clamoured to be seen. Strategy? Try to go for the ones that would simply be impossible to see anywhere else and throw in a handful of unmissable ‘rediscoveries’.  

Recovered and Restored: Scarface

Arriving in 37°C heat, it was a relief to plunge into the velvety black of one of those films that I think I’ve seen, but never have: Howard Hawks’s 1932 version of Scarface, newly restored by Universal. Full of night shots in shiny, wet streets, rattling car chases and punctuated by submachine gunfire, it sets the template for gangster films and Paul Muni's performance in the role of Tony Camonte has a physicality, a ruthless impudence, that sweeps away everything before it. 

Tehran Noir

This strand of Iranian popular cinema, directed by Armenian-Iranian Samuel Khachikian prior to the 1979 revolution, would never have happened without the festival. L’Immagine Ritrovata lab in Bologna offered to scan a couple of the movies. That gesture, as recounted by curator Ehsan Khoshbakht, prompted the National Film Archive of Iran to reciprocate and release the films. Khachikian was a prolific cross-genre director who portrays a cosmopolitan, unequal society, with feckless playboys and affluent doctors on one side, print-workers and the dispossessed on the other.

Storm Over the City (Toofan Dar Shahr-e Ma, 1958) throws everything at the camera; it’s more spoof Gothic horror mixed with melodrama than film noir. In the opening scene, a rabid escaped madman (tameable only by a penniless, beautiful widow) goes on a killing rampage and everything comes to a head in a spectacular fire in a crumbling mansion. Khachikian’s The Crossroad of Events (Chahar Rah-e Havades, 1955) contains the first onscreen kiss in Iranian cinema; though unfortunately, those 60 frames have been cut from the existing print.

Ninón Sevilla as Elena in Alberto Gout's 1950 Aventurera

Revolution and Adventure: Mexican Cinema in the Golden Age

A season of Mexican films from the country’s post-revolutionary period (1930s to the early ’60s) provided a singular glimpse into an unfamiliar cinema tradition. El Compadre Mendoza (Fernado de Fuentes, 1933) recounts the story of an opportunistic landowner who switches sides in the Revolution to save his own skin while Two Monks (Dos Monjes, Juan Bustillo Oro, 1934), a strikingly Expressionist film set in the early 19th century, tells the tale of two friends who become deadly rivals over their love for the same woman. Aventurera (Alberto Gout, 1950) belongs to a highly specialised genre, the rumbera film, and features Cuban dance star Ninón Sevilla as the lead Elena in an outrageous plot that finds room for some equally extravagant Carmen Miranda-esque numbers. By contrast, Soledad’s Shawl (El Rebozo de Soledad, Roberto Galvadón, 1952) is an absorbing, social realist, rural drama, narrated by a hard-working and honest doctor.   

Forgotten directors: William K. Howard/Helmut Käutner

Il Cinema Ritrovato unearths work by directors who have been unjustly neglected. I saw two films by US director William K. Howard: the pithy 55-minute feature The Trial of Vivienne Ware (1932) with cracklingly witty dialogue and Transatlantic (1931), a complicated shipboard melodrama. What stood out in both films was the exposition of space, and the dazzlingly choreographed movement of crowds of people flowing in different directions.

Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934) was shown in a restored version on the big public screen in Bologna’s main square. The very next day I caught a thematically similar, lesser-known German film, Unter den Brücken (1946), directed by Helmut Käutner. Willi and Hendrik are bargees who sail their boat between Berlin and Rotterdam until a chance meeting with a troubled young woman disrupts the equilibrium of their life. Shot just before Berlin was bombed, it contains no reference to politics or war, and has a haunting, lyrical quality in both its urban and rural landscapes.

Destination Unknown   young desire
Destination Unknown and Young Desire formed part of an ongoing celebration of Universal films from the 1930s.

Universal Pictures: The Laemmle Junior Years (part two)

The focus on Universal films from the early ’30s produced by Carl Laemmle Junior was carried over from last year. Though watching some of these movies was like wading through treacle, they deliver riveting insights into US social history of the period.

The curious Destination Unknown (Tay Garnett, 1933) comes across as a parable for the Great Depression. A ship is becalmed with a cargo of bootleg booze while the only barrel of fresh water is kept under lock and key by chief smuggler Pat O’Brien. Hate, inequality, desperation, mistrust and betrayal weigh over the scenario without a glimmer of hope. Until, that is, poor old Ralph Bellamy, so often confined to the role of stooge fiancé (The Awful Truth, His Girl Friday) pops out of nowhere as a beatific, doe-eyed stowaway. The giveaway line is when he mentions his previous experience as a carpenter. The barrels of wine in the hold turn out to be miraculously full of water and the plot is killed stone dead as the characters reconcile and are saved against a ‘fingers of God’ backdrop.

The bruised, cynical persona of actress Mary Nolan struck me in two of the Universal films from 1930: Outside the Law (Tod Browning) in which she plays the hard-bitten moll of ‘Fingers’ O’Dell whom we first glimpse as a legless automaton as part of the advertising display in a bank window and Young Desire (Lewis B. Collins) where, as a carnival dancer on the run from her pimp, she’s taken under the wing of a wealthy young boy. A sinuous and beautiful blonde, it turns out that Nolan’s career was tragically cut short by repeated physical abuse and drug addiction. Uncannily, it shows. 

Women do their thing: La Verité/Aventurera

Film after film, from different times and different places, pinpointed the vulnerability of women, pounced on without warning by men in a daze of sexual bestiality, or appraised as domestic commodity (washing clothes, doing the dishes, looking after the children). Two films turned this stereotype around for me. In Clouzot’s La Verité (1960) Brigitte Bardot is Dominique, a young woman on trial for the murder of her lover Gilbert. Key prosecution evidence as to her delinquency rests on the fact that she goes to the cinema three times a week. Bardot’s sexuality is not explained or repressed, she simply IS, and takes the consequences. Similarly, Elena in the Mexican film Aventurera suffers unspeakable iniquities only to find that her future, ultra-respectable mother-in-law is none other than the brothel-keeper who drugged her into prostitution. She carries out a fitting revenge.

home on the hill
Robert Mitchum in Home on the Hill

Two Faces of Robert Mitchum

With a spotlight on Robert Mitchum there was plenty of opportunity to explore masculinity as well. I enjoyed the shimmering film noir Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947) and the western River of No Return (Otto Preminger, 1954) but Vincente Minelli’s Home on the Hill (1960) – how did I ever miss this? – was my revelation. Father-son relationships come to a conflicted and violent head and the nature of Wade Hunnicutt’s (the Mitchum character) machismo is wonderfully underscored by the number of animals, living and dead, in his den.


An immaculate restoration of David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) brought back the full paranoia of being shut up in a small room with the raw, febrile baby creature (surely an influence on Alien?). Written on the Wind, one of three Douglas Sirk Technicolor 35mm prints shown at this year’s festival, looked simply stunning. Farinelli describes the sensation of watching these colour prints as ‘a balsam for our eyes… the dye transfer copies don’t just have transparent, bright and amazing colours, they also have brilliant whites and deep blacks that give the images a richness and an engraved precision that makes us think of three-dimensionality’. 

Monterey pop
Ninety-two year old D.A. Pennebaker introducing his restored and remixed documentary Monterey Pop

My festival highlight was seeing D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop (1969), unavailable for years, restored and remixed and introduced by the man himself, now a sprightly 92, on the city’s huge Piazza Maggiore outdoor screen to an audience of thousands. Pennebaker provided profound insights into his documentary; how shooting from behind was as important as capturing the face of the performer and how his camera team adapted their equipment so that it could take them right into the action on and off stage. 

His attitude to musicians like Joplin and Hendrix was that they were extraordinary; ‘saints’ was how he described them. And the extended 17-minute Ravi Shankar improvisation at the end of the film doesn’t show the players till halfway through, capturing instead the transfixed attention of the audience. Hard at times to tell whether the applause was on screen or live, the intimacy of the 16mm footage in the context of a mass, shared experience was sheer, joyful magic.   

Duncan's report

piazza maggiore
The Piazza Maggiore setting up for another evening of film

"PS Four final warnings:

  • Over half the films we are showing will be projected on 35mm format.
  • All the silent movies will have live musical accompaniment performed by extraordinary musicians putting their talent to work on for films of the past.
  • The festival would not exist without film archives (public and private) and without the passionate and skilful work of the people who work there.
  • Il Cinema Ritrovato is a true festival (from the Latin word festivus, enjoyable, festive). In other words it is a place where people can meet without a red carpet or VIP areas: just women and men who love film and culture.”

These are the last words of Il Cinema Ritrovato’s Festival Director Gian Luca Farinelli’s introduction to this year’s edition. Now in its thirty first year, Il Cinema Ritrovato is the world’s largest festival dedicated to archive and restored film. But it is also much more than that, as the introduction offers a flavour of, acting as kindling for cinematic passions and a place where otherwise niche film interests can be shared at Cinemascope proportions. There’s a distinct relief in visiting a festival without the hurly burly of dreams in progress, where no one is scanning your name badge to see if you are worthy of ten minutes at a drinks reception. We are here to discover and to champion, and we have the whole of film history to choose from.

Having the whole of cinema to roam across makes for some adventurous and ambitious programming. Rather than relying on what’s available and fresh from the last twelve (or less) months of production, the Cineteca calls upon historians, curators, directors and writers to draw new cross-cultural and thematic links. That means thematic, geographic and historical. A quick glance at the programme promises riches from the noir films of Iran (never before seen in the west), 'Revolution and Adventure: Mexican Cinema in the Golden Age' and Alexander Payne and Neil McGlone’s 'A Sunday in Bologna', featuring films from across history with Sunday in the title, programmed across a whole Sunday at the festival.  

One of the real pleasures of the event is the level of context offered by the archivists and curators on site. Year round, they are beavering away on burnishing the lost treasures of film, and it’s great to be able to gather and share what they find interesting for a modern audience. The corollary of this means that you’re forearmed before every screening. As in the best museums, what could be leaden and remote shifts into clear focus. The past feels both closer and much more alien with this added context. It’s a chance to understand not just what’s on screen, but also the world as it was when the film was made.

pola negri
Iconic silent film star Pola Negri's early work was celebrated in this year's programme

A prime example is when I sit down to watch the earliest surviving film by Pola Negri. To confess my ignorance, I am only dimly aware of her place in silent film history. But I quickly learn from the team at Filmoteka Narodowa that Bestia is only with us because of a later American copy, cashing in on her international success six years after its initial release, and that The Polish Dancer (as it was known in the US) was originally produced as a sideshow attraction at a lavish ice rink in Warsaw. It’s these kind of rich details that fire the imagination and remind us what a vagabond, exciting, dodgy time the start of film was. The film itself is a morality tale, with Negri punished in the most brutal way for her youthful excess, running riot (as an intertitle tells us, in an epidemic of delinquency) at ‘rough picnic parties into the early hours.’ Parents, lock up your hampers.

There’s an earnest sweetness to some of the presentations: I sit down to a presentation by Gaumont of their latest work on early animator Émile Cohl’s short films. The ten films we watch are simply the titles they have worked on this year at the archive, a lively show-and-tell of work in progress. Having watched Cohl’s work only on low quality YouTube clips, it’s a delight to see flowers dance, looking as crisp and fresh as though they had just been plucked, rather than having withered in 1909. Similarly, we're treated to the first twenty five minutes of Abel Gance’s epic The Road. It’s as if the delight in having reclaimed this work from the ashes is too much to withhold until it’s complete: I simply MUST show you now!  

cinema under maggiore
The Cinema Modernissimo beneath the Piazza Maggiore is undergoing renovation

Between the films, I'm fortunate to contribute to the Europa Cinemas' Audience Development lab (see their Storify to catch up on what was discussed) and get the opportunity to speak to participants from across Europe. Cinema history is taken very seriously here. We are treated to a private tour of the Cinema Modernissimo as it is being renovated. Opened in 1915, this four hundred seat cinema is directly underneath Piazza Maggiore.

Truly though, the best part of Il Cinema Ritrovato is the chance to fill in big gaps in your film knowledge (or meet up with old favourites) under the best possible conditions. At the festival's heart are its screenings in Piazza Maggiore, where up to five thousand festival guests and locals (those who haven’t escaped to the coast in the summer heat) gather to watch classics. Not far from the medieval tower, you’re treated to a gigantic screen and surprisingly good sound (given it’s a reverberating square).

Here are two titles I would recommend for any repertory programme:

West Indies

west indies
Med Hondo's anti-colonial musical West Indies

Films slip away for all kinds of reasons, and it’s not always the passage of decades. Med Hondo’s West Indies was released in 1979, and it’s a delight to have the director to introduce the screening. Hondo, charmingly overcome with emotion, is delighted that his film is being watched again, exclaiming that he made it for people to see. And it couldn’t be a more pertinent moment for the filmmaker to be the focus of Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, part of a wider initiative to restore fifty African titles. His Soleil O played Cannes Classics, but it’s a stunning Harvard Film Archive print we watch here.

West Indies is an anti-colonial musical, telling the story of the Caribbean islands both when they were first colonised by European nations, and the later abuses of luring diaspora to Paris to live in an unfit and racist society. The whole of the film takes place on a gigantic slave ship, with scenery changing to depict different historical moments. In other hands it could feel like a play staged for the screen, but Hondo’s choreography and vivid colour make it a genuinely cinematic experience.

This film deserves to be better known: it’s a genuinely engaging watch, but also never shies away from caustic anti-colonial thought. As a result, it’s all the more stirring and enduring in the memory. It doesn’t hurt if the revolution looks like it might be… fun? Here’s hoping this new print can tour the UK in due course.

La Verité

Brigitte Bardot in Clouzot's courtoom procedural, La Verité

On more familiar ground was La Verité from ‘France’s Hitchcock’ Henri-Georges Clouzot. Brigitte Bardot stars in this courtroom procedural, with a tale of young love gone sour told in flashback. Clouzot’s typically crisp direction pairs well with the cynicism of the courtroom, played off against the idealism of the bohemian world that Bardot finds herself in. It’s a slightly stiff portrayal of the Left Bank, very much the generation above looking at the one below with mild bemusement and distance. But the film is held up well by Bardot’s performance, given as she entered a new phase of her career with Godard’s Le Mepris only a few years away. It’s similar to Diana Dors’s performance in the (incredible) Yield to the Night: someone using their beauty and star status to tell a social realist story of the lives of women, and stepping away from the trite characterisations offered by the industry at large. The brutal ending is typical of French films of the period, but hopefully this won’t keep La Verité standing besides Clouzot’s more famous works like Le Corbeau and Les Diaboliques.  

Cannes 2017: Catharine's blog

Posted Friday 16 June 2017 by Catharine Des Forges in Festival Reports, General

Geu Hu

Hong Sang-soo's latest Geu-Hu

Sadly, we're nearing the end of our Cannes reports and will soon have to start day dreaming about future film festivals. After accounts from Jo, Kenny, Jonny and Duncan, here's a whistle stop tour of what a trip to Cannes means for the Director of the ICO, Catharine Des Forges.

I arrived in Cannes at around 9.30 on Sunday morning having got a flight at 6am so it’s always a triumph of hope over experience if you make it to midnight without falling asleep. I’ve got 3 days though, so I always want to make the most of the time! There’s something special always about coming into Cannes, seeing the sea sparkle and watching people in heels and evening dress saunter down the croisette in the mid-day sun. My first date of the festival is a meeting with the Creative Europe desk from Italy about some possible training and it’s in the EU pavilion which has its own hand-crafted macaroons so I decide that this is probably a very nice place to conduct your professional business. cinema ritrovato

Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna

I catch up with Briony from the British Council on another pavilion beach and manage to dip my toes in the water…! The British Council are great partners in our DYFF course which is taking place in June in Edinburgh and this year we are hosting a session with them on inclusion and access focussing on deaf filmmakers and audiences. My next appointment is at the Hotel Carlton for the Europa Cinemas Network meeting. This is a great opportunity to see programmers and colleagues from the UK but also to catch up with alumni and speakers from our courses and European colleagues from a number of different projects. The Carlton Grand Salon has opulent chandeliers and looks like a film set so I feel straight away that I’m experiencing the magic of Cannes. We receive reminders of some of the great opportunities offered by Europa –  the 28 Times Cinema Project which will see aspiring young journalists from around Europe attend the Venice Film Festival and the upcoming lab at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bolgona – certainly a course which could lay claim to the best food on any training course ever.

The evening sees the arrival of my colleagues and we go out to dinner – our flat is in the middle of a lively restaurant quarter which is a good and bad thing….obviously not so great at 3am…and then onto a screening of The Square - on show at Summer Screening Days - which unbeknownst to me (and which I didn’t predict) will go on to win the Palme d’Or.

happy end

Michael Haneke's Happy End

Monday and Tuesday are for screenings – I see the new Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Michael Haneke’s Happy End, Geu-Hu by Hong Sang-soo, Naomi Kawase’s Hikari and 24 Frames by Abbas Kiarostami. There’s a lot of competition favourites in there and all have merit although for some - Hong Sang-soo, Haneke -  we’re definitely treading familiar ground. Of these, the strongest is probably The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Colin Farrell once again stars, this time with Nicole Kidman, and fans of The Lobster will not be disappointed although this seems to be forming part of an oeuvre rather than, as Dogtooth, heralding an arresting new voice. It has a very eerie quality to it, with unsettling performances and a shocking climax and it’s interesting to see such an original, left-field voice working with mainstream stars in this way but I personally would like to have seen a more economic use of narrative. There’s still time for the Nordic party, a festival institution with its festival DJ dance-off, inspired moves and wonderful waterside location, always slightly crazy and completely unmissable. It’s a short but productive stay and testament to the fact that you don’t need to have a long stay to get some business done.

Cannes 2017: Duncan's blog

Posted Wednesday 14 June 2017 by Duncan Carson in Festival Reports, General

It may seem like many moons ago, but we still have lots of thoughts about Cannes 2017. Following on from Jo, Jonny and Kenny's takes on this year's festival, our Marketing & Communications Manager, Duncan Carson, shares his experience of the festival and his top 3 films.

This was my first time attending Cannes in its second week, leaving the hefting of promotional bags to my esteemed colleagues. The first week – all anticipation, glamour and jostling to be the one to anoint the first masterpiece of the festival – lapses into something altogether different in the latter half of the fortnight. You collide with friends who have been there since the outset, bewildered that you have just arrived, that any time or place exists outside the routine of five screenings a day and a harried baguette between them. Anything that happened prior to the previous screening is now a remote memory, wiped clean each day like the Croisette pavement.

This year especially there is a definite fatigue in the air: those titles that reignite one’s passion and attenuate the relentless succession of screenings have yet to arrive. It has not been A Good Year, and as much as watching films and talking about them for a living is a professional dream and privilege, it has begun to curdle by day nine. I arrive on the saddest of winds from the UK, with any bridling against Cannes’ ever tightening security silenced by the horrific bombing in Manchester the night before. While nothing can remove the feeling of triviality of being in these surroundings given the circumstances, the Cannes team capture the spirit of why we continue in the face of this tragedy: ‘Yet another attack on culture, youth and joyfulness, on our freedom, generosity and tolerance, all things that the Festival and those who make it possible – the artists, professionals and spectators – hold dear.’

Having been thinking a good deal about what makes a festival succeed while working on our Developing Your Film Festival course, this year only highlighted the unique aspects of Cannes among other festivals. Both succeeding beyond other festivals' wildest dreams, and also dropping clangers that would tarnish any other festival’s reputation, Cannes sits alone on its own shelf. However many obdurate and infuriating interviews Thierry Fremaux gives, this is still the beginning of the film year, where careers are made and destroyed. Does that mean it is beyond question? Absolutely, positively not and there’s been some great writing and talking this year that highlights Cannes' many blind spots. All that said, it’s still a great place to see new films. Here’s my rundown of my three favourites.

Jeune femme
Image: Jeune Femme

Jeune Femme

After a run of bad screenings, I slouch into Un Certain Regard contender Jeune Femme (its ungainly English-language title Montparnasse – Bienvenue will hopefully be shed by Curzon Artificial Eye when they bring it to UK audiences). A debut film with a title that promises exactly the kind of May-September romance that is excruciatingly overfamiliar on the Croisette, I have to say I’m not expecting much. Yet what follows is a hilarious, humane and scabrous picture of just the kind of ‘difficult’ woman that cinema is begging for (the type of character men have been given licence to for decades). Laetitia Dosch’s Paula is first seen shouting through her estranged lover’s door before knocking herself unconscious trying to headbutt her way through it. This proves to be an apt metaphor for the ensuing narrative, as we watch Paula variously flit between the obsessive stalking of her partner and absolute diffidence. Our first real introduction to the character is watching Paula's unnerving, direct to camera monologue denouncing her lover in a highly digressive manner, before destroying a generic portrait meant to generate tranquillity in patients. The story rolls along in freeform fashion, but never feels shapeless or self-indulgent. Instead, we’re at the mercy of Paula’s whims as she rehomes her cat, becomes an au pair, takes a job selling lingerie and mangles opportunities thrown her way. Without Dosch’s unflinchingly honest performance this would be an excruciating watch, but instead it’s a delight to cringe along to  it's a genuinely unflattering portrait, though also painfully relatable.

Fans of Lena Dunham’s Girls, Todd Solondz’s early work, Drew Godard’s See You Next Tuesday among other tales of girls gone wilfully wild will find this a real treat. It also has one of the great cat performances in cinema if that tips the scales...

Good Time
Image: Good Time

Good Time

Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time attaches the authenticity of their last outing (acclaimed heroin drama Heaven Knows What) to an aching, propulsive crime story. Seeking a pastoral idyll, brothers Nick (Benny Safdie) and Connie (Robert Pattinson) rob a bank wearing black-face masks. The robbery goes awry, with the majority of the film dedicated to Pattinson retrieving his brother and pursuing nefarious and bungling means to return to the financial starting line.

Pattinson is impressive, skilfully scaling his performance to match the rest of the mainly street-cast actors. His film star looks add needed believability to the character’s improbable journey, enabling him to sociopathically charm any person who proves an obstacle. The happenstance madness of New York is a great fit for Pattinson, whether he’s defrauding his girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh, sadly underused), charming an underage girl, facing off against another petty hood or impersonating a security guard.

The film is not without tonal issues: at times it urges us to view the brothers' criminal downfall with caper-esque delight, at other times as the epitome of white privilege. Yet there is something propulsive, honest and unsettling about the film that is irresistible. Its drive is partly generated by the fantastic score by electronic artist Oneohtrix Point Never and the sickly, neon and washed out 35mm visuals by US indie wunderkind cinematographer Sean Price Williams.

It isn’t a straightforward entertainment, but should win considerable attention. Like his Twilight co-star Kirsten Stewart, Pattinson has sought out projects that his star cachet can bring attention to (The Lost City of Z, Cosmopolis). This is the first time that fronting an auteur-driven project has proved a winning formula for the actor, and the combination of a crime thriller with this kind of grit and pace - along with his star performance - should ensure success on its UK release.

you were never really here
Image: You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

Lynne Ramsay’s film arrives on the final day of competition like a balm, winning exhausted critics over with its rigorous 85 minute run time. Although produced for the festival absolutely down to the wire (the version that debuts at the festival does so without credits), the time has clearly been spent honing it to its absolute leanest.

The core of the story is almost laughably familiar to genre fans: Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a contract killer damaged by his past, carrying out a series of cold-blooded killings in order to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of a politician. But Ramsay’s execution justifies retreading ground covered by Scorsese (Taxi Driver), Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Samourai), Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional) and many more.

You Were Never Really Here is a major achievement for the Scottish-born director, but one that audiences will need to steel themselves to commit to. Having a critically-acclaimed star like Phoenix in an awards-contender performance, as well as moving into more established narrative modes, will serve the film when it comes to release. That said, it is a painful watch, for exactly the reasons that also make it worthwhile: it reinvigorates familiar tropes with a morality and reality that standard treatments gloss over or aestheticise; it’s also unflinchingly about its lead character’s desire for suicide, and about the child sex trade. As a killer, Joe’s specialism is in murdering the abusers of children (watching this film following the debut of Roman Polanski’s Based on a True Story proved a queasy counterpoint), and it’s a credit that this sensational subject matter never feels contrived (perhaps fuelled by Joaquin Phoenix’s research into a real life equivalent of his character).

Hitman stories mostly offer character background as a justification for the violence that provides their true raison d’etre. The formula is reversed here, with Phoenix’s past showing that his present brutality is a mere echo of past trauma and the film seeking to negate the present, just as Phoenix himself is engaged in a regime of self-harm. The editing, which conceals moments of anticipated violence, hints at Joe’s process of hiding from himself and also creates a lingering feeling of hiatus, of irresolution that makes it distinctly memorable. Jonny Greenwood’s score does much of the heavy lifting here, continuing his run of superlative scores.

Elsewhere in the festival there is a procession of unearned images of violence, injected either to sustain narrative interest or to assure the viewer of the sobriety of the subject matter. Ramsay’s skill is in braiding her remarkable images (a jellybean crushed between fingers, teeth vacuumed against a suffocating plastic bag, dinner eaten with bloodstained hands) into a scheme that entirely justifies them, rather than retroactively seeking for an excuse to thread provocative imagery into a narrative arc.

It’s a shame that Ramsay’s film only manages a (very deserved) acting prize for Joaquin Phoenix rather than any of larger gongs, but there’s every chance that this film will be drawing major attention from audiences and awards when STUDIOCANAL release it in the UK. 

Cannes 2017: Hatice's blog

Posted Friday 9 June 2017 by Hatice Özdemirciler in Festival Reports, General

This year I had the pleasure of a late ticket to Cannes, which I have been secretly coveting for years. I had heard rumours about all the Palme d’Or competition films being played back-to-back on the final weekend, no queues, less frivolity, and other such dreams of accessibility and I wasn’t disappointed. I managed to have all my key meetings to finalise plans for our Developing Your Film Festival training course in the first few days then I managed to watch 10 films, which is my all-time record in my 7th year of attending the festival. These are the four films that have stayed with me:

The Florida Project

Image: The Florida Project is Sean Baker's follow up after Tangerine

The Florida Project

This was absolutely the standout film of the festival for me. My expectations were incredibly high after several colleagues had queued to see it for hours and hours and never managed to get in, but I was not disappointed. Set in a run-down, out-of-fashion, pastel tinted old holiday complex, the film tells the story of a pivotal summer for a struggling single Mum and her adorable, precocious, six-year-old daughter. The film is visually stunning and utterly boisterous – and child star Brooklynn Prince has a particularly contagious giggle. By the end the film is also emotionally devastating, but what’s really spectacular in this hotly anticipated follow up film after award-winning Tangerine, Sean Baker manages to tell a fresh, beautiful, energetic, compassionate story that creates sympathies for characters who are never usually treated with this much care, and leaves the audience unsure what moral conclusions to draw. It’s like if Ken Loach got drunk and made a musical (but it’s not a musical), and then sobers up for the final 20 mins. I can’t wait for someone else in the office to see it!

I Am Not a Witch 2

Image: Striking debut from Rungano Nyoni I Am Not A Witch

I Am Not A Witch

Another film with a stellar performance from a young child actress, I loved the look and feel and passion of this story.  What an achievement for a new filmmaker. Again I was left bereft by the ending (there’s a bit of a theme emerging here isn’t there?), but it’s a new story that’s not been told before, with a very distinct look and unique style. I can’t wait to see the next film from Rungano Nyoni.

In The Fade

Image: Diane Kruger in her first German-language role in Fatih Akin's In the Fade

In the Fade

I love Fatih Akin’s early films so I am incredibly biased (one of the few masters in telling real stories about diaspora experience) so for me, this was a solid return to form, and a film he needed to make, from the perspective of a German woman whose husband and child are murdered. Devastating and brutal, I would have liked a different ending…. (another absolute weepy, staying on theme!)

Jupiters Moon

Image: An interesting take on a refugee story in Jupiter's Moon

Jupiter's Moon

I’d also like to give a special mention to Jupiter’s Moon, which was certainly not a perfect film, but I loved the ambition and vision of it. Finally a film about the refugee crisis that tries something unique, it tells of a young Syrian refugee who makes his way to Hungary, only to discover he has the ability to fly. My favourite scene involves him being taken to a posh restaurant by his Hungarian accomplice, who patronisingly talks him through the different cutlery and napkin options, only to be asked: “Do you know what I miss most about my bedroom at home in Syria? My PlayStation”. Just a stark reminder of what Syrian was like pre-war.


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