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Happy End (France-Austria-Germany 2017)

Posted by keith1942 on October 8, 2021

I first saw this title at the Leeds International Film Festival and then on its British release in December 2017. I waited to post on the film as I tried to resolve a puzzle. The title failed to achieve an entry in the Sight & Sound ‘Top 40 Films of 2017’. This despite the ludicrous Mother achieving equal 19: several productions that were not actually theatrical releases: and the beautifully undramatic Call Me By Your Name included. I did wonder if the oddity of the S&S list coming out at the beginning of December was the reason? Solving the conundrum proved difficult. The complete lists of voters and votes is actually on the S&S web pages but it was beyond my limited computer skills to crack it. After some delays I managed to get the information from the S&S editorial office. It appears that Michael Haneke’s new film received only one vote, by Geoff Andrews. I shall include him in my top five film critics of the year. I did check the later 2018 list; no sign of Happy End.

Now the title is available on the BBC. Allowing for the limitations of terrestrial digital the film looks and sounds nearly as good as in a theatre. So I wonder, as I did with the theatrical release, what was the problem with the film for so many critics. Adam Nayman’s review in S&S noted,

“In what has to be considered a minor upset by Cannes standards, Happy End was the first Michael Haneke joint to leave the festival without a major prize since 2003 …” [this use of ‘joint’ is new to me].

It is a typical Haneke film. Perhaps critics felt a sense of déjà vu as they watch the familiar characters, situations and events. I did think it is not in the same class as Amour (2012) or Caché / Hidden (2005). But it is very witty, more so than the recent Haneke productions; certainly as effectively as the 1997 Funny Games. This is a sardonic and satirical examination of the French bourgeoisie whilst at the same time drawing attention to the exploitation and oppression that their wealth and success entails.
The setting for most of the film is the area around Calais where the central family live and have their business. The plot presents aspects of that but most of the running time is concerned with the interaction within the family. However, at key points in the narrative there are important scenes involving members of the working class, members of the servant class and the unemployed migrants in the area. The latter are presumable waiting to try and cross the channel to join the British audiences of the film.
The central characters are the family and their circle are as follows;

To these can be added Nathalie (Aurélia Petit ), Thomas’ ex-wife and mother of Eve: a young woman cellist, also a mistress: a site workers and his family: and four or five migrants/refugees, apparently based in the well publicised ‘jungle’. None of the main characters are presented sympathetically; even the family dog bites a small child. We have the well-heeled self-centred bourgeoisie and the hard-pressed people who depend on them, at least financially. The only sympathetic relationship is that between the young Eve and the elderly Georges. The latter’s situation appears to have confused at least one reviewer. Adam Nayman writes:

“It’s strongly implied, as Happy End goes on, that Trintignant is playing the same Georges Laurent he did in Amour; a bit of continuity that is (intentionally) undermined by the fact that the daughter figure played by Hubert in that film was named Eva, not Anne.”

Actually Amour does not provide the surname of Georges, so what occasioned this error?. Though the death of the wives are similar the point is that in Amour the character is a retired piano teacher, miles away from the bourgeois owner of a substantial construction company in Happy End.
The film opens with a series of shots taken on a mobile phone, first of a woman washing and toileting, then of the family pet. These are accompanied by text messages which seem inconsequential but require close attention. These shots set up one strand in the film dealing with modern electronic gadgets. Later we see a series of what I take to be texts messages on a laptop. Some of these are extremely funny. Then at the end of the film we return to the mobile phone; this sequence is noted for provoking audible responses in the audiences; I found it exhilarating.

The opening is followed by a long shot/long take, in typical Haneke fashion, of a Laurent construction site. The event here will create repercussion right throughout the film.
Between these very personal and these very public sequences we see the family politely destroying each other. These interactions fall between expensive rituals like parties and meals. And both types are disrupted by the people from ‘across the tracks’ . Thus whilst Haneke’s representation of the family is sardonic the film also presents the critical alternative worlds as was the case in Caché.
The film is scripted and directed by Michael Haneke. As usual it has a beautifully realised style with fine production design and cinematography by Oliver Radot and Christian Berger respectively. And the editing by Monika Willi is unshowy but very effective; and equally so is the sound.
Adam Nayman does recognize the quality of the film,
“Cut to several months later (from the Cannes Festival in May to the December S&S), and it looks as if Happy End is Haneke’s most interesting film since Hidden (2005) . . . “

Now the title is available on on Blu-ray, streamed and British terrestrial television. The original title was produced on 4K digital though most cinema screening were only at 2K. Some of this quality will be lost on video, streams and television. Still, the narrative, characters and treatment make this genuinely interesting and entertaining viewing.

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Desert Island Film Scores

Posted by keith1942 on January 5, 2020

‘Robinson Crusoe’ in 1954

Roy Plomley, in the original programme which started in 1942, offered a ‘castaway’ a choice of  eight recordings (usually, but not always, music), three  books and a luxury item that they would take if they were to be cast away on a desert island. Whilst we heard extracts from their choice of music they talked about their lives and gave  the reasons for their choices.  They also received a gramophone and endless supply of needles.

For castaway cineastes the following format might be more appropriate.

Eight film scores.

A film score is original music written specifically to accompany a film.

Castaways can opt for a music track of sourced  music for one of these..

My initial list is as follows:

Edmund Meisel’s music for Battleship Potemkin  / Bronenosets Potemkin, USSR 1925.

The music that accompanied the première of  Un Chin Andalu, France 1929 ; Argentinean tangos and  extracts from Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’ played on a wind-up gramophone by Luis Buñuel.

Bernard Herrmann’s music for Citizen Kane , USA 1941.

Bernard Herrman with Orson Welles

Vaughan Williams music for Scott of the Antarctic , Britain 1948

Ennio Morricone’s music for The Battle of Algiers / La battaglia di Algeri / Maʿrakat al-Jazāʾir , Italy / Algeria 1966

Idalberto Gálvez’s music for 79 primaveras, Cuba 1969

I. R. Rahman’s music for Bombay, India 1995

A. R. Rahman with Mani Ratnam

The castaway is allowed three books, not the mandatory Bible and Shakespeare but three choices.

A book on cinema:

‘How Films Were Made’, Some aspects of the technical side of motion picture film 1895 – 2015. By David Cleveland & Brian Pritchard.

Published by David Cleveland, 2015.

A source book or property for films:

‘In Search of Lost Time’/ ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ by Marcel Proust, 1909 to 1922.

Filmed in 1999 as Time Regained.

A published screenplay:

‘Citizen Kane’  Herman J. Mankiewicz & Orson Welles.

And the luxury is an item of cinema memorabilia;

A poster for Winter Sleep / Kis Uykusu, Turkey – France – Germany 2014.

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Sight & Sound ‘Top Films of 2018’

Posted by keith1942 on December 31, 2018

As last year this list, compiled from 164 responses, appeared early in December, so that it does not cover the whole year. This is partly the odd practice of the BFI to issue the magazine a month ahead of its calendar date. A new facet this year is that it is a double issue, January and February 2019. At 144 pages this is not actually equal to two separate issues.

Apart from these oddities the whole concept of listing the ‘best’ or ‘top’ films for any period is slightly problematic. I assume that even the most indefatigable critic or punter will only have seen a proportion of the new films in any period. In fact this year’s list includes five titles that also appeared in 2017. That make me wonder to what degree there is a common pool of films from which the respondents choose; unlikely which undermines the idea of ‘top’.

Of the 164 respondents only 40 lists of choices appeared in the magazine. Apparently the rest are on the Web pages. I searched twice with no success and an email enquiry to S&S went without response. The top title received 38 votes, the rest 30 or less. That means that no film on the listing garnered even a quarter of the ‘votes’. The more one examines this the more dubious the underlying concept becomes.

Below are my comments on the ones that I have seen plus one.

1. Roma, USA/Netflix.. 38 votes, presumably like me, many respondents have not seen this title.

2. Phantom Thread, USA / Britain. This was well made and well acted but suffered from the usual pre-occupations of the director. He seems to be keen on cults and manages to make 1950s British fashion industry cult-like.

3. Burning / Beoning, South Korea. This I thought seriously good film. I was really interested in the characters. The narrative was somewhat unconventional but I was always involved in the story. And the film made great use of style.

4. Cold War / Zimna wojna, Poland / Britain / France. I have think the best film yet from a talented director. The film owes much to the beautiful black and white cinematography. The two leads are terrific.

5. First Reformed, USA / Britain / Australia. This was a very good film, though I thought the over-the-top ending rather blew it. The cast are good. The director’s minimalist approach in narrative and style is very effective.

6, Leave No Trace, USA / Canada. A fine film with fine performances and a distinctive situation.

7. The Favourite, Eire / Britain / USA. This film irritated me. Too many self-conscious techniques and too heavy-handed satire. It reminded me of The Draughtman’s Contract (1982), which was equally self-conscious.

You Were Never Really Here, Britain, France, USA.. This film, bizarrely, was included among ‘five British films to see’, even though it is set in New York, with a predominately US cast and locations. Apparently the leads first name is pronounced ‘wack hin’; this would seem to aptly sum up the title.

9. Happy as Lazzarro / Lazzaro felice, Italy/ Switzerland / France / Germany. This is one of many titles where I wondered how it came behind others, especially those at 7. This is an example of Italian ‘magic realism’; more common than often allowed. The combination of social realism and a sort of fantasy is a great combination. The narrative, cast and style of the film are all excellent.

Zama, Argentina / Brazil / Spain / Dominican Republic / France / Netherlands / Mexico / Switzerland / USA / Portugal / Lebanon. The director spent nine years setting up this production; too long but time well spent. Great filmic adaptation with a really interesting narration and fine stylistic contributions.

11. The Image Book / Le livre d’image Switzerland / France. Brilliant, challenging and a stimulating commentary on modern cinema and digital formats.

12. If Beale Street Could Talk, USA. A fine adaptation of a great novel by James Baldwin. An impressive cast, a moving story and a fine sense of period.

13. BlacKkKlansman, USA. Very funny but the social commentary seems slightly laboured.

14 [three titles] Shoplifters / Manbiki kazoku, Japan.. I would have put this right at the top. Were any members of the Jury who voted it the Palme d’Or among the voters? It is a beautifully crafted film with an involving story and a rather subversive treatment of representations of the ‘family’.

17. Sorry to Bother You, USA. This seems to me overrated. There are some splendid sequences but overall it needs a script doctor. The reviews claimed the title was anti-capitalist! No more so than Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story (2009). Filmmakers and reviewers alike need to read ‘The Communist Manifesto’, celebrated in The Young Karl Marx (2017).

18. Faces Places / Visages villages, France. This must be one of the best documentaries of the year.

….  The Rider, USA. A fine feature with an interesting main human character and animal characters including horses, dogs and goats.

….  Western, Germany / Bulgaria / Austria. A fine drama which tackled an unconventional setting.

21. [seven titles including] Isle of Dogs, Germany / USA. Brilliant animation and comedy. I love canine movies and this was one of the best.

28. [eight titles including] Lady Bird, USA. This was well done and an interesting plot but I found it unconvincing. It seemed to be stuck in a time warp from the 1950s; Apparently the film-makers wanted to give that impression.

….  Loveless / Nelyubov, Russia / France / Germany / Belgium / USA. Bleak and exceptionally well achieved. The characters were convincing as was the story which was untypical, even for family trauma.

….  A Star is Born, USA. I was not struck with this, it seemed to me the weakest of the four versions of the story. This despite recycling most of them; such as the ‘Grannies’ instead of the ‘Oscars’. It did have a rather nice dog, but only to follow characters around.

….  Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, Britain / USA. Very good with a great lead performance. The final resolution though seemed a little optimistic.

….  The Wild Pear Tree / Ahlat Agaci, Turkey / Republic of Macedonia / France / Germany / Bosnia and Herzegovina / Bulgaria / Sweden. How is this film this low in the list? I have seen it twice and I was even more impressed the second time round.

36.  Apostasy, Britain. Another film I thought was over-rated. There is clearly a strong critical sense in the film but the plot needs attention. If the daughter is broke how come she drives round in a nearly-new car. And the image looked ‘muddy’ most of the time.

….  The Miseducation of Cameron Post, USA. This had a strong story, looked good and an excellent cast. But no review that I read picked up on the borrowings from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (USA 1975).

….  Widows, Britain / USA. I do not think this should actually be in the list when better films are missing. The cast are good. The plot, though, has continuity errors or omissions. I suspect the original television version was better.

Missing Titles: [none of these was even listed by a respondent, at least those I could check].

Jupitor’s Moon / Jupiter holdja, Hungary / Germany / France. Shades of ‘magical realism’ in this powerful drama about an illegal migrant battling the European ‘walls’.

Peterloo, Britain. This is not even in the ‘five British films to see’! There are flaws which I suspect are due to the film being bought forward to 2018 instead of accompanying the bi-centenary of the event. The ending is rushed. But the context of the event and the participants is excellent. The critical reaction possibly explains [as Paul Rotha once pointed out] why it has taken so long for a film of the Manchester massacre to appear.

The Rape of Recy Taylor, USA. Not even in ‘five documentaries to see’. An important subject and a impressive treatment. Were all the critics watching something else?

The Young Karl Marx / La jeune Karl Marx, France / Belgium / Germany. Apart from issues of aesthetics respondents to the poll should watch this film because, at least in quite a few cases, they do not understand the mode of production in  which film industries operate.

Missing Title: [which at least received one ‘vote’.

Sweet Country, Australia. I saw this early in the year, so maybe respondents had forgotten the title. I remembered it vividly, including the outback town screening.

Among the important matters which are omitted are where respondents saw these films and on what format. One of the ‘five to see’ lists was for silent; but most of the titles were ones where they seem to have screened in a digital format rather than on 35mm, the latter is much closer to the original nitrate formats. And in Britain it is hard to see titles in a 4K standard; I manged only five this year despite going every week to see titles.

And the question regarding formats goes further. Did all the voters watch the titles they recommended in a theatrical setting and on a theatrical format or did they watch them via some video format or via downloading or streaming. It seems likely that Academy members often vote after watching a free-bee video! This is not the same thing at all.

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