Thursday, December 12

Akerman 2 by Keifer Taylor

Akerman 2

As we tread deeper into the Promethean vault of Chantal Akerman’s vast filmic corpus the director’s personal vision seems to be taking shape. Already six films into the retrospective we are miles away from the brisk energy of Saute Ma Ville as Akerman tenaciously grips to a more emotionally restrained, pared down approach with numerous stylistic ventures.

In the article before this I referred to Hotel Monterey as an experimental film. At this point, however, it is clear that Akerman’s stylistic choices weren’t tentative exercises in cinematic expression. La Chambre, Le 15/8 and Je, Tu, Il, Elle all retain the themes and aesthetic principles of the previously screened films: lonely, anxious figures who yearn for excitement beyond the tedium of their confined spaces, loneliness and, of course, broken barriers where documentary and fiction conflate in a series of precisely framed shots governed by a uniquely hypnotic rhythm.

Thursday, December 5

Spot Light on North Korea, Part One by Eve Marguerite Allen and Ella Harris

Spot Light on North Korea, Part One: Film and Propaganda in North Korea

Since the death of Kim Jong-il in 2011, North Korean cinema has received a surge of interest. The facts and fictions surrounding the North Korean cultural propaganda industries are as dark as they are bizarre. This three part article interrogates the construction and the function of  North Korea’s global image by examining the film produced there. 

Prisoners of Film

In 1978 Kim Jong-il orchestrated the unusual and high profile kidnapping of two South Koreans who he brought to his personal compound in North Korea. A North Korean kidnapping alone is sadly unremarkable. Political kidnappings are an expected, if undesirable aspect of many coercive regimes. What is unusual, however, is that these particular South Koreans, Choi Eun-hee and her ex-husband Shin Sang-ok, were not threatening political figures, but film makers. They were taken by Kim Jong-il not, as might be expected, because their films challenged the North Korean regime from across the border and he wanted them silenced, but rather because Kim had admired their film making so much that he was determined to have them make films for him. Kidnapping the pair was just the most efficient way to go about this.

Friday, October 25

Hotel Monterey: New Forms by Keifer Taylor

Hotel Monterey: New Forms

The initial screening of A Nos Amours’ Chantal Akerman retrospective marked my first venture into the prolific Belgian film director’s work. Having only seen La Chambre (1972) and caught glimpses of the venerated 1975 feature Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles I have remained a novice with only vague ideas of her aesthetic and thematic concerns.
My preconceptions were affirmed by the freewheeling shorts on the female psyche, Saute Ma Ville (1968) and - the less compelling - L’enfant aimé ou je joue á être une femme mariée (1971). The third was the austere Hotel Monterey (1972).

Tuesday, October 22

The Ister by Jessica Fletcher

The Ister

The Ister (2004) is a film of tangents, both intellectual and literal: the filmmakers, David Barison and Daniel Ross, use a trip down the Danube to loosely structure a series of reflections on Martin Heidegger’s lectures on Hölderlin’s poem ‘The Ister’. As befits a film whose central philosophical notion is that experience is about becoming, not being, there is a constant expansion of the parameters of debate. And so, alongside charting the vagaries of Heidegger’s thought through interviews with contemporary French philosophers, The Ister encompasses a history of Western philosophy, European politics, the geographical formation of land and Greek myth.

Tuesday, September 10

White Epilepsy - Everything/Everything by John Bradburn


There has been much written about slow cinema. Possibly too much. It’s a taste thing certainly. There is apparent within small factions of the cineaste community a type of extreme sport mentality or you could even compare them to a group of drunk alpha males in a curry house. Bring me the slowest thing you’ve got! They then force down something that is just slow with out any concerns for the millions of flavours and textures than duration can allow for.

This is a sort of messy preamble into my discussion of Phillippe Grandrieux’s new work – White Eplilepsy – and the fact that it takes the notions of slow to a new extreme as well as being the kind of wonderfully and willfully experimental cinema we see all too little off (and outside of the Edinburgh Film Festival and the DVD I was sent by the production company the chance of seeing it is very slim indeed). This is a film of a single evolving event. Two naked figures, one male and one female, are involved in an interaction in some deep woodland. I say event because this moment is never clearly described. It seems violent so it may be a fight but it seems so stylized it may be a dance. The act seems to have some importance so it may be ritual. Both figures are intimately close so is this some strange foreplay? What can be said for certain is it is slow in every sense of the word. This event is all the content of the film and it is presented in a very slowed down image – every gesture has literally been stretched to breaking point. Even the sounds of breath, shouts and contact have been so elongated as to become almost inhuman. This film may have little narrative but what this film gives me is a wonderful space to explore elements of collective and personal unconscious.  This may be the slowest most minimal work I have ever seen but it is also one of the most beautifully crafted and considered films I have seen in a very long time.  To continue the probably misguided analogy in the first paragraph – this is a film full of the flavours, textures scents possible through durational cinema. It is not just slow.

Persona: Time & Proximity by Keifer Taylor

Persona: Time & Proximity

To this day the close-up remains a unique aspect of the cinematic experience. On the big screen its nuanced details and poetic properties widen our anthropological understanding and breathe life into inanimate objects. In abstract terms the close-up holds a strong affinity to time. In her intriguing (though maddening) article ‘The Close-up: Scale & Detail’, Mary Ann Doane believes the close-up is “always at some level an autonomous entity” operating “synchronically rather than diachronically.” As a synchronic element, which hinders narrative progression, this intimate component creates a “temporality of contemplation,” allowing the audience to examine the subject in frame. Ingmar Bergman’s volatile 1966 feature Persona contains a plethora of close-ups of its voiceless protagonist Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann). Two scenes in particular relate to, and contradict, Doane’s argument of the close-up as a separate, synchronic entity.
From the eerie vacuity of Ullmann’s face in the psychiatric ward to the climactic sequence of dual-sided revelations Persona denies clear explanations. Having watched the film innumerable times I have managed to untangle threads of its complex web of enigmas whilst revelling in its opacity. If the typical dose of hyperbole demonstrated by many actors was present then the meaning behind  Ullman’s spiritless visage could be easily deciphered. Doane highlights the inherent opposition between “exteriority and interiority” suggesting that there is always something beyond our visual understanding. When confronted with an indefinable stare in close-up, the spectator is encouraged to contemplate its presence on screen and “dismantle it as a pathway to the soul.” Thus the face itself becomes a sight of subjectivity, granting viewers a bottomless supply of interpretations.
Analogous to Doane’s statement, Bergman himself exalts film as the only art form that “goes beyond ordinary consciousness” into “the twilight room of the soul.” With the taciturn Elisabet, including the unhinged nurse Sister Alma (Bibi Andersson), Bergman employs the camera as a tool that transcends the exterior limits in order to reveal the characters’ hidden imperfections.

Friday, August 2

Four Views of Cinema - Part Four: Searching for Ways of Experiencing Films by Charles Rees


In this article Charles Rees offers his personal insights about how image and sound can be re-‘read’ in such a way as to transcend current narrative constraints. He offers examples of films which have influenced and impressed him, and extrapolates on ways in which cinema might develop in the future.

My four views stretch over a long period.
Each individual sees differently.
The Camera Image sees differently from humans.

Fourth View: The Director's Voice

The last view is in my mind’s eye. One day, I imagine, the image in time will be just that. I mean the image itself will be in motion. It shall no longer be achieved by an illusion of movement, the projection of a series of static images in rapid succession. We shall have captured time. However, until then we still have to deal with the flickering frame’s adverse effect on our visual apprehension. The flickering puts us into a mild hypnotic trance.

Compare the way you look at anything in your room with the way you look at the flickering image. Flickering screens make us see differently. Mesmerized, our sensibility shifts. We become more susceptible emotionally and less sensitive rationally and spiritually. Our viewing is made systematically unbalanced.

     This was not the case in the seventeenth century when Dutch painters, such as Johannes Vermeer, gazed at the image in time at their camera obscuras. The painters saw nature’s image in its essential state on large ground-glass screens. They were not encumbered by the effect of mechanical and chemical means of capturing it: the whirring cameras and photographic or digital reproduction. The painters fixed the image by paint. The image in their camera obscura was extraordinarily calm – calmer than looking at the subject with their own eyes. It encouraged contemplation. We, on the other hand, have had to make do with an image that makes us enervated and more emotional.

Monday, July 29

Architecture and Place in Documentary Film by Eve Marguerite Allen

Eve Marguerite Allen discusses the way architecture and place undergo construction and destruction at the hands of inhabitants in two documentaries: Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (2010) dir. Sophie Fiennes and Village at the End of the World (2012) dir. Sarah Gavron.

Architecture and Place in Documentary Film

All places are in a continuous, gradual flux of being built or unbuilt, both physically and ideologically.  All buildings are temporary; some are just more temporary than others, as was asserted by the British architect Cedric Price. At times, structures are designed to be impermanent, even moveable and nomadic like the Canadian Newfoundland fishing communities that float their lightweight houses behind them when moving across water to new grounds. Others are built to last indefinitely like the Greek amphitheatres or the Pantheon but will in all likelihood crumble at some point. And occasionally places are forced into disuse.

Two contrasting documentaries examining places at key points in their own process of being constructed or unconstructed are Sophie Fiennes’ Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow and Sarah Gavron’s Village at the End of the World. In the first, an artist has taken on an abandoned space occupied by disused manufacturing works, he then builds multiple structures of his own, making physical his own idea of an imaginary space. It is the vast creation of one individual. When visualised on film it is often physical structure, inhabited and uninhabited, that offers visual clues to permanency. But this space is not intended for permanency or occupancy and instead is used to demonstrate the industrious process of art making. In the second documentary a tiny fishing village in Greenland may become abandoned as the population falls below 60. It has been lived in for countless generations and the handful of existing structures evolve to meet the necessities of the seasonal or quotidian activities of the inhabitants.

Friday, July 5

Four Views of Cinema - Part Three: Searching for Ways of Experiencing Films by Charles Rees


In this article Charles Rees offers his personal insights about how image and sound can be re-‘read’ in such a way as to transcend current narrative constraints. He offers examples of films which have influenced and impressed him, and extrapolates on ways in which cinema might develop in the future.

My four views stretch over a long period.
Each individual sees differently.
The Camera Image sees differently from humans.

Third View: Sound Should Lead 

I ran into a student friend who told me he was using a pinhole camera. He had punctured a film-can and covered the hole with camera-tape, which he would remove to expose frames of 35 mm film stock inside the can. This lens-less technique gave his photographs a special atmosphere, as if they had ‘grown’ in the dark.
     He offered to demonstrate this particular camera obscura to me by taping large plastic bags to the windows of one of my rooms. I cut a small hole in this blackout and suddenly the image of what was outside filled the whole room: dim and upside-down. It moved: the room was full of swaying leaves.
     I brought a blank sheet of A4 paper near to the hole. There was a perfect image, bright and focused. The image was authoritative but it did not have a human-expressive quality. Yet it was beautiful and strange. Particularly strange were the clouds and the leaves of the trees. They seemed to count for more than when we saw them with our eyes. Conversely, the objects of human construction: the parked cars, the motley street-furniture and the buildings appeared drab and seemed to count for less. This strangeness was not due to the accentuating of what was already bright. The camera had a different way of seeing altogether. The image was qualitatively different to the same scene seen with one’s eyes. It was disposed more towards nature than human-made things.

Tuesday, July 2

Signification: The Naming of Characters in Solaris by Guy Dugdale

Where do the characters in Solaris get their names? This brief study suggests that Stanislaw Lem, a cultured Middle European intellectual, is using them, playfully, to point back to specific historical individuals, and, in this way, to the nature and origins of the characteristic concerns of all his work.

Solaris follows the convention, found in other Soviet science fiction, of a world apparently, though not explicitly, unified on the model of the Soviet Union (and, in the film, speaking Russian). Black and Asian faces are seen, and names are often not Russian, as here. Apart from anything else, this ‘internationalism’ doubtless flattered Soviet authority on whom these artists depended.

There is more to these names. With one exception, each of Stanislav Lem’s characters appears to allude to a specific historical individual. Learning something of these namesakes supplies the means of guessing at the author’s thoughts about his own creations, or his novel more generally. ‘Guessing’, because the intention is often clearly playful or ironic. The final effect of these shared names is that the characters in Solaris are themselves something almost like ‘Visitors’ - fantastical re-imaginings from the recorded fragments of long-dead actual personalities.

Saturday, June 29

Tokyo Night Ride: A Shadow Story Arc In ‘Solaris’ by Guy Dugdale

How to understand that strange floating freeway ride in Solaris? A dark parody of Kubrick's 'Stargate' sequence in 2001. A glimpse of a kind of hell, the 'fallen' cosmonaut Berton's alienated view of life on Earth, and so a warning or 'shadow narrative' for Kelvin: return home is impossible.

Just over half an hour into Tarkovsky’s Solaris we are suddenly tracking, with that familiar smooth disembodied unfolding perspective of the passenger, down the urban ring-roads of Tokyo, though the city is not identified. In plot terms, Henri Berton has quarreled with soon-to-depart Kris Kelvin and his father, and is travelling away from the dacha.  Though less than five minutes long, the sequence seems overextended at first, referring to nothing else in the film. In fact, it is oddly pivotal, serving several clear purposes.

As those who enjoyed the 2012 BFI season will be aware, there had been a history of occasional Soviet science fiction cinema since 1924. Famously, Tarkovsky, though he proposed the project, had no interest in the genre. Details of “the material structure of the future” and its “technological processes”, he complained, express only an empty “exoticism” which substitutes for and prevents the fiction being grounded in that human reality which is the only subject for art. For Tarkovsky, surfaces, objects and places are what the ‘exterior’ art of cinema has to work with, to refer to deeper, more oblique, uncertain, interior things. He could hardly agree to subsume this visual language to a techno-fetishised spectacle.

Friday, June 28

Solaris: A Pilgrimage of Self-Examination by Kiefer Taylor

Kiefer Taylor sees Solaris as an invitation to confront and examine the fragility and complexity of the human spirit. He argues that Tarkovsky’s declared lack of interest in science fiction allowed him to make a film cracking open the fantastical edifice of the genre, leading audiences to nothing less than a spiritual reawakening.

Upon its release in 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky’s meditative science fiction feature Solaris was greeted well amongst critics and general audiences. Not only did it receive the Special Jury Prize at Cannes (back then considered the second most prestigious award of the festival) but it also ran for more than fifteen years without breaks in the Soviet Union. Due to Tarkovsky’s vehement rejection of genre, however, the director himself was left underwhelmed.

In his insightful (at times baffling) book Sculpting In Time Tarkovsky states, “Unfortunately the science fiction element of Solaris was nonetheless too prominent and became a distraction.” When viewing Solaris one may be puzzled by the director’s severe self-assessment. Even with the visual tropes of science fiction – from high-tech spaceships to rockets - the film retains the mystical charms of Tarkovsky’s world with the core themes of longing and the sullied souls of man being ever-present. In doing so, the film asks us to look beyond futuristic sensations of outer space and technological advancements and into the interior feelings of its distraught protagonist.

Tuesday, June 25

Four Views of Cinema - Part Two: Searching for Ways of Experiencing Film by Charles Rees


In this article Charles Rees offers his personal insights about how image and sound can be re-‘read’ in such a way as to transcend current narrative constraints. He offers examples of films which have influenced and impressed him, and extrapolates on ways in which cinema might develop in the future.

My four views stretch over a long period.
Each individual sees differently.
The Camera Image sees differently from humans.

Second View: Story-Orientated Blindness

This second view of Cinema was analytical. I was a film-editor in British Cinema – a phrase which the young director Francois Truffaut considered to be a contradiction in terms. It was exciting to cut film. I developed an abstracted way of looking at film that insured me against taking a story-orientated attitude. I would concentrate on the surface rhythms of a film, however tenuous they might be, banishing understanding of its content to the back of my mind. I treasured the way of seeing I had experienced at L'eclisse and needed to exercise and strengthen it. I might need it one day
for a visual film.
     The film eventually came as a television documentary,  Between Dreaming and Waking, about the Ruralist painter David Inshaw, directed by Geoffrey Haydon1. It brought the viewer towards nature through the sensibility of the painter, in a series of slow-tempo shots, mainly of the Wiltshire landscape, accompanied by natural atmospheres and a ‘soundscape’ composed by Mike Ratledge and Karl Jenkins. Occasional snatches of speech were ‘brushed across the frame’, in Haydon’s phrase. Here was contemplative material. Everything in the frame was deliberate, every colour, shape and texture. The natural sounds were clear and sometimes seemed definitive: we got from the BBC library ‘the best blackbird song’ that ended unusually emphatically to evoke the lure of women on the painter. My abstracted approach worked for the first time. I describe it in detail because it led to a discovery.

Tuesday, June 11

An Undefined Space: Reflections on Frost by Keifer Taylor

Fred Keleman’s obscure 1997 feature Frost is a gruelling yet thoroughly engrossing experience. A nihilistic world of domestic violence, sexual degradation and ruptured innocence channelled through muted colours and meditative long-takes. Whilst watching the film I felt that this simple, though intricately layered tale of a mother and son’s listless journey across a wintry German landscape cleverly plays with ones notion of the real and the unreal. In doing so, Keleman delves into the undefined space where reality and fiction collide.
When referring to cinema Hitchcock famously said, “drama is life with the dull bits cut out”. 

Like his Hungarian acolyte, Bela Tarr (The Man From London and The Turin Horse), Keleman displays a radical rejection of this dictum. The reality of Frost resides in Keleman’s observation of quotidian lives wrapped in the fictitious foil of the plot. This emphasis on the mundane everyday seems to regard plot as having secondary importance. For example, after arriving at the hotel, greeted by a sombre, bearded receptionist, Micha and his mother, Marianne, move out of the frame. Without warning, our focus is shifted to the taciturn receptionist as we observe him lying down to smoke a cigarette. In a way, this inexplicable scene may mirror the main characters’ search for relief, being compared to that of the respite granted by the musky taste of tobacco. On the flipside, it may merely be read as a moment removed from the narrative, leaving the spectator to ponder the deep-seated problems of anonymous characters.

Friday, June 7

See My Face: Two Singular Visions of Horror by Phoenix Alexander

Two singular visions of horror

          Criticised for decades of increasing mindlessness, paper-thin characters, cheap-loud-noise-scares, lazy writing, and gratuitous use of violence, horror movies had to get smart.  Specifically, they had to get meta.  AgainCue last year's The Cabin in the Woods: a gloriously extravagant send-up to the creatures that haunt our dreams - most of which were granted an exhilarating frame or two in the bombastic finale.  That the closing spectacle is so effective is, I argue, due to its embodying the apotheosis of the realisation of horror: by showing, literally, everything (demons, giant reptiles, pale-faced young girls and myriad other horror clichés), Cabin neutralises the aspect of fear and elides the comedic – even farcical – despite its inclusion of frequent, very bloody scenes.  Simply put: horror dissipates when dragged, un-obscured, into the field of vision. 

            The movie ends with the 'destruction' of the world by the Dark God: a cataclysm suggesting the (artistic) death of the genre and the concomitant punishment of an audience reduced to a baying, bloodthirsty horde that would put the Aztecs to shame (fittingly, Cabin's deity bursts forth from the depths of an ancient temple).  Given horror's symbolic 'death', then, we must ask ourselves, again, that most primal of questions: what is it that makes us afraid?  And how can the visual medium of cinema work to relay these anxieties?  It is time to restore the horror genre to its full potency, to reorient it in the territory of the frightening; for that, we turn to the past.  Audiences, as Cabin satirises, have been reduced to spectators of the suffering body - and we must ask why, and for what purpose horror cinema mediates and produces such intoxicating effects.  Put simply, there is something troubling at work in the psyche, and reflected in the psychic affect of cinema.

Wednesday, May 29

Four Views of Cinema - Part One by Charles Rees


In this article Charles Rees offers his personal insights about how image and sound can be re-‘read’ in such a way as to transcend current narrative constraints. He offers examples of films which have influenced and impressed him, and extrapolates on ways in which cinema might develop in the future.

My four views stretch over a long period.
Each individual sees differently.
The Camera Image sees differently from humans.

First View: The Eclipse

The first view was only a glimpse. Following an early enthusiasm for spectacular films - Ben-Hur (Wyler 1959), El Cid (Mann 1961) – on vast screens that envelop you to put you in another world, I saw Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’eclisse/The Eclipse (1962) when I was sixteen. This film put me in another world in a different way. Rather than being swallowed by a film, I swallowed. I think I discovered my own way of seeing films. I was bewitched – at least I seemed to have some kind of affinity with this film. It stunned me into a way of seeing films that I had not imagined before. I never forgot this revelation of a way of seeing films, although I subsequently used other ways. It was always there, a way of having a handle on a film and of keeping one’s autonomy in relation to it.

Monday, April 22

Makhmalbafs's “A Moment of Innocence” by Saeed Zeydabadi-Nejad

Saeed Zeydabadi-Nejad has kindly allowed us to post the text of his introduction to Mohsen Makhmalbaf's 'A Moment of Innocence", which A Nos Amours presented at the ICA in March 2013.

Rumi, a Persian mystic poet says in a poem, 

“Truth is a mirror which fell on Earth from God’s hand and broke.  Everyone picked up a piece and saw their own image in it and thought they had the truth.  But truth was divided among them all"

History, multiple truths, documentary, fiction and poetry mix in “A Moment of Innocence” a deceptively simple film by Mohsen Makhmalbaf who is one of Iran’s best known film-makers. He is not just remarkable for his accomplishment in filmmaking but also for taking a metaphoric personal journey that spans from being a religious guerrilla to becoming a secular world-renowned director.  He had not seen any films until the age of 21 due to a strict religious upbringing. He recalls his grandmother saying that whoever went to the movies would go to hell in the afterlife. After the 1979 revolution, he began his career as a self-taught ideological filmmaker, fully at the service of Islamic Republic.  He refers to this period as his first phase of filmmaking. Understandably his films of the period are unremarkable.

Tuesday, April 16

A Moment of Innocence?: The Political Potentials of Pop-up Film, by Ella Harris

Not so long ago A Nos Amours screened Moshen Maklmalbaf’s A Moment of Innocence (1996) at the ICA. The presentation of this Iranian film by A Nos Amours, a pop-up cinema collective, raised questions about the political potentials of pop-up as a new mode of cinema spectatorship.

Maklmalbaf’s quasi-autobiographical film, set in his home country, is an exploration of what it means to recreate a moment in history, and what such a re-exploration can hope to achieve. The film follows Moshen (playing himself) who is making a movie about an incident which was pivotal for his 17 year old self; the stabbing of a policeman during a political demonstration. Unexpectedly, the policeman himself returns, eager to take part in the film too, albeit with his own emotional agenda. Both men chose a ‘young me’ to act in the reconstruction and set about training the boys to embody their past-selves.