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Hi guys. I’m filing these reviews at a late hour. I should be asleep. So I hope you will pardon the lack of preamble. If it’s any consolation, I have five reviews for you today instead of three or four, documenting the films I saw on Friday, September 14th. Some are a little more conventional than others, but all are written from the heart, as they always are. Can you believe I only have two more reports left before you don’t have to hear about TIFF for another year?

I know. I can’t believe it, either.

Asako I & II (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)

Asako I & II – courtesy of TIFF

One of the less talked about titles that played Cannes this year, Asako I & II is a modest film that seems a little outré due to the fact that it utilizes a doubling motif to explore a young woman’s relationship with her past self. It’s not played ironically, though one can see how it could’ve been. We’re primed to detect a whiff of irony whenever a film introduces doubles into the story. Here, though, the doubling is more heartbreaking than comic, because it forces Asako (Erika Karata) to remember a man she thought had left her for good. Masahiro Higashide plays the self-assured bad boy Baku first, who is quickly introduced when he marches up to Asako at first sight and plants a kiss on her lips. Love is in the air only briefly, though; one day, on the quest for new shoes, he disappears and never returns.

Higashide remains in the narrative, however, as a different character named Ryôhei. He meets Asako quite by chance, with the latter initially mistaking him for Baku. She eventually gets the mix-up sorted, and the two develop romantic feelings for one another. Ryôhei is not as churlish and confident as Baku, but he is well-intentioned and certainly more likeable. The two seem to be happy, until (unsurprisingly) Baku resurfaces, forcing Asako to make a snap decision that she could soon come to regret. How do you choose between two different men who look the same? Or, in Asako’s case, do you forsake the present for a quick return trip to an incomplete past?

I think it’s easy to underestimate the twist’s power, as it presents no hidden sleights of narrative hand, nor does it turn the film into some overwrought fantasy. But even though it only amounts to an either-or decision for Asako, the symbolic significance is hard to ignore. The way in which we navigate our complex past can yield a bountiful harvest, or it can starve us to the quick. This film shows us that no decision is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and if we cannot leave the past behind, we are liable to make the future even worse. It’s a lesson Asako learns the hard way, leading to an ending of such heartrending melancholy that you leave the theatre rather stunned by the turn of events. How quickly can a seemingly light rom-com descend into something so existentially powerful!

Yes, my friends, this is the kind of film that sneaks up from behind and wedges into your mind. One of its only glaring deficits is its milquetoast characterization of Asako, who is sort of an empty vessel until her fateful encounter with her two lovers. Considering she is the main character, it’s a little unfortunate that her male co-star has the livelier role(s). Karata does make it count when she needs to, however, so it doesn’t become too big of a deal.

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan (Xavier Dolan)

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan – courtesy of TIFF

I’m able to defend Xavier Dolan up to a point. I think his hyperactive style, unabashed love of mainstream music, and go-for-broke direction of his actors is an integral part of the queer artistic identity he conveys. His exuberant “muchness” strikes one heck of a chord when he lays everything on the line, tearing into the fabric of his own emotions so that we can understand the kind of person he is. Films like Laurence Anyways and Mommy demonstrate the unique pull of his queer artistic power; in those films, everything is heightened and stripped of nuance, and the effect borders on the unpleasant if you’re not used to those rhythms. Yet there is a naked honesty to all the fireworks and bravado. He knows how to expose vulnerabilities and show real affection for his characters, who are often revealed to be confused, afraid, and in need of the very love that he shows them.

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan has the characteristics of a Dolan, to be sure: intentionally overbearing performances, an aggressively mainstream soundtrack that runs the gamut from Adele to The Verve, and a sense of unbridled gratuity behind every sharp close-up or use of slo-mo. What it’s missing is warmth. I don’t know where it went—maybe it got lost in the editing room. Maybe it was tied up with Jessica Chastain’s cut storyline. I don’t know. But there is a sullenness here that throws Dolan off his game, best exemplified in a scene in which a grouchy journalist (Thandie Newton) is dressed down by Ben Schnetzer for not taking his narrative (i.e. corresponding with a closeted gay actor in his adolescence) seriously. The scene comes off as condescending, because really, why should a reporter care more about some navel-gazing young upstart than civil wars, poverty, famine, etcetera? Dolan lectures us that she (and, by extension, we) should, and then never adequately proves his point.

The dual nature of the story, which flits between Schnetzer’s youth (where he is played by a shrill Jacob Tremblay) and the short life of his celebrity idol (an unconvincing Kit Harington) also keeps you at a remove from both protagonists, as neither has the kind of depth we’re used to seeing in Dolan’s characters. The Schnetzer/Tremblay character, Rupert, is yet another thinly-veiled cipher for Dolan himself, embroiled in yet another hostile love-hate relationship with his mother (Natalie Portman, who looks desperate to be anywhere else than in the film).

Harington’s Donovan also has a matching maternal harridan (Susan Sarandon, garish) and so! much! angst! that doesn’t ring true. Also not ringing true is the letter-based correspondence between Rupert and Donovan, which is referenced repeatedly, and yet never amounts to anything substantial. Why would a busy Hollywood actor keep writing to a young child in England—a child he’s never met—when he can’t get his own life in order? Who knows. Somehow, Dolan thinks we’re supposed to unquestioningly believe in its plausibility, and that’s that.

There’s still enough earnestness here to appease Dolan diehards. The way he doubles down on the importance of a queer kinship between two sympathetic souls shows that he cares about the people he’s depicting, even if they’re less rounded than usual. What this needs is cohesion and a greater insight into the actions and outcomes he traces. And, most importantly, it needs far more heart than what is ultimately there. A Dolan film without the heart is about as disappointing as you can get.

Destroyer (Karyn Kusama)

Destroyer – courtesy of TIFF

Let’s put aside Nicole Kidman’s “wig gate” for a moment. It’s true, she wears another wig in this film (and a rattier one than usual, at that), but it’s not the reason Destroyer falters. Kidman could’ve shaved her head bald, and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the film’s overt listlessness and insistence that we take its po-faced worldview seriously. Set in the torrid Californian desert, Kidman plays a haggard cop named Erin Bell, who is thrust into a murder investigation as if by chance when a John Doe is found shot to death during her beat. The victim has markings on his neck which she recognizes as ones used by a criminal gang she once infiltrated. It appears the gang’s leader (Toby Kebbell) is back in town and looking for payback. That is, unless Bell can get to him first.

I’m not averse to police procedurals. I grew up reading detective fiction, and did a double major in criminology during my undergraduate studies. This is a genre that I can dig, and I usually do. Destroyer is something of an exception, and I think it really amounts to how dour the whole affair is. Kidman’s character is a boozy, distant loner whom no one particularly likes being around, especially her teenage daughter. She spends most of the film grimacing and glowering into space, recounting her failures in standard flashbacks that foist more narrative on us than we care to unpack. When she stops being passive, it’s usually to kick in someone’s teeth or fire bullets into the air. There’s either a flatlining of action or sudden lurches into graphic violence, with the middle occupied by the hazy tedium of the past. Karyn Kusama tries to package it up in an artistic compendium of noir-like grunginess, yet forgets to make it engaging.

I suppose I can concede Kidman has a decent go of it, seeing as she rarely gets to play against type nowadays. It’s nice to see that she’s willing to test her limits and dirty up her image, even if the end result is so uninteresting. It’s possible the gaunt makeup she wears limits her, as it’s not the most flattering of prosthetics. I’m more inclined to think, however, that she just doesn’t have a good enough script to warrant such a drastic transformation. If the story were actually good, then I think the performance would’ve excelled. Kidman would’ve had the grist for her mill and been able to take things to the next level. But, as it stands, the material she has is not really worthy of her talents, and so all she can do is trudge from scene to scene, looking pained and…old.

And don’t get me started about that farce of an ending. If there’s any film that doesn’t deserve to get all Malickian on you at the last minute, it’s this one. I’m just surprised more of my P&I audience didn’t burst out laughing at its ridiculousness.

Tell It to the Bees (Annabel Jankel)

Tell It to the Bees – courtesy of TIFF

Every bee has its day. Especially when that day involves rescuing a woman from her abusive husband after their child begs you to emerge from your hive. Then you get to swarm around the evil git so that mom can escape his clutches, and voila, you’ve become a pintsized little hero! I mean, why wouldn’t you choose to help a kid who has whispered his secrets to you day in and day out? Usually kids swat at you until you’re forced to sting them (and die). Rarely do you meet one that understands how to communicate with you. You naturally want to return the favor.

… No, I’m not going to review a film from the perspective of a bee, as tempting as it sounds. Nor am I going to make a stupid pun like “What a buzzzzzzkill!” I am a mature twenty-something, and do not partake in such tomfoolery. I am here to review Annabel Jankel’s Tell It to the Bees, and review it I shall. As you can see, though, it’s a bit hard to take it seriously when the climax literally involves semi-sentient bees acting as an angry deus ex machina, stopping the villain from doing harm because they apparently know exactly where to fly.

It’s very strange and very silly, and a move at odds with what is otherwise a respectable lesbian romance. There’s hardly a need for magic realism when you’ve got a strong foundation already. Did Todd Haynes’ Carol need bees to make its LGBTQ love story work? Did we need to see Harge battered down by a horde of raging insects while Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara puffed away at their cigarettes, smiling conspiratorially? This is a rhetorical question, by the way… as fun as it may sound…

Alright, alright. I’m losing my track. Look, this is a nice little film that takes a semi-probing view of same-sex relationships in a highly conservative era. That should be admired. The work from Holliday Grainger and Anna Paquin (her dodgy accent aside) is quite strong, neither of them trying to outdo the other. Even the child actor here, Gregor Selkirk, is a bearable presence. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel that this is all a bit too tidy, following the well-trod road of matching each conflict with its most obvious resolution (even when that resolution must involve an illegal abortion). Every arc is sketched out well in advance, and even when the ending tries to counter any sort of fan service, it’s still met with more of a shrug than a teary sigh.

Jankel, who is probably best known for helming that bonkers Super Mario Bros. film from the ‘90s, directs this agreeably; at times, even a little lyrically. She clearly admires the material, and there’s no reason why she shouldn’t. Unfortunately, her attempts at lyricism cannot hide the lack of nuance within the script, where the villains are alarmingly two-dimensional, the sexual politics polite at best (apart from maybe one semi-steamy love scene), and the metaphors gratingly uncomplicated. Then there are those bees, which seem to be flown in from a children’s picture book and play the most infantile role imaginable.

But hey, it could’ve been worse. They could’ve been wasps.

Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry)

Her Smell – courtesy of TIFF

Bless you, Elisabeth Moss, for being up for whatever insanity Alex Ross Perry concocts on your behalf. First it was the Persona-like downward spiral in Queen of Earth; now it’s no longer a spiral, but a full-on freefall into demonic possession in Her Smell. And you do it so well. You babble semi-coherently and sneer and torment every living soul around you, masticating the scenery with the most gleeful abandon I’ve seen from you yet. I’m in awe that you didn’t collapse from the exertion (or maybe you did, and we just don’t know about it).

Your take on Becky Something, riot grrrl extraordinaire, is brazen (and often repulsive), and for the first two-thirds of the film I questioned whether Perry was seeking to mock your character through the way he lets her sink into a mire of drug binges and unchecked mental illness, making us watch every painful moment. Maybe he sees all punk rock chicks as degenerate offshoots of Courtney Love. But then he lifts Becky up in the final two acts, and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Release at last. Female solidarity wins the day.

I’m sure you feel this is a tricky film in your CV—one that you will be proud to show some people, but not others. I, too, feel it’s a devilishly demanding text, as raucous and immature and obnoxious as it can be at times. It takes a while to justify having to sit through all the self-destructive behavior Becky inflicts on herself, because no healthy person can enjoy watching someone deteriorate in real time. Even when that self-destruction is accompanied by some Twin Peaks-y background distortion whirring somewhere in the Great Beyond, beckoning toward an otherworldliness that you may not otherwise consider.

In the same way Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux tests your patience, Her Smell goes one step forward and outright dares you to keep that patience intact. But, you know, the trial by fire is worth it, because soon we hear you sing Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” in a scene that feels like a ritual cleansing. It is at this moment you know the storm is over, and that Perry has a plan in place. Becky is not going to die an undignified death, alone and unloved by the people she estranged. No, she’s going to soar. She’s going to take flight and rise above the darkness that once engulfed her.

Her Smell, as you very well know, Miss Moss, is a tale of sweet, sweet redemption. The line you draw from lost cause to rescued soul becomes one riveting journey, and taking it with you, one bumpy act at a time, is worth it all. Worth the pain, worth the ugliness, worth the weird voodoo magic—worth it all. Calling this film “good” or “bad” is almost immaterial, because you’re the one who takes it to the most exciting of places. Even if this never sees the light of day (it’s still seeking distribution as of this writing), at least you know you’ve accomplished a great feat in making us come to love a person we never thought we could love.

Toronto International Film Festival: Next Time

As the festival neared its conclusion on Saturday the 15th, I took in two more Cannes titles (including the current Palme d’Or winner), as well as two debut features from lesser-known directors. How did they fare? You’ll have to stick around for just a little while longer to find out.

Do you think you have the stamina to watch five complete films in a day? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Toronto International Film Festival ran from September 6th to the 16th.

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

The post Toronto International Film Festival 2018 Report Part 8: Smells Like TIFF Spirit appeared first on Film Inquiry.

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I was able to talk with the wonderful Denise Gough, who plays Missy in the new film Colette. The film follows the life of young Parisian Colette, played by Keira Knightley, who writes novels that her husband Willy (Dominic West) takes credit for. More than that, though, it’s about female empowerment and sexuality, in a time when women especially were not able to freely do what they wanted without criticism.

Denise, who has been a stage actress for many years, has one of her most memorable film roles yet. As Missy, (Mathilde de Morny) she plays one of Colette’s love interests and confidantes, as well as a brave individual willing to be themselves at all costs. We discussed her gender defying character, the history of the real-life people the film is based on, and how she hopes it begins some positive change!

Kristy Strouse for Film Inquiry: I loved the film, you were terrific as Missy!

Denise Gough: Thanks!

My only regret with the film was that there wasn’t more of you!

Denise Gough: It is the ultimate regret. That there wasn’t more me. [laughs]

I was surprised that you didn’t come into sooner, but that’s the progression of Colette’s story.

Denise Gough: Yeah, and you saw a lot of the early life to set up where she comes from. But yeah, I could have always done with more Missy. She should have a film of her own. Even if it’s not me who plays her. She a interesting character, right?

Definitely, I think that’s a great idea, and you should play her!

Denise Gough: It’s an amazing story, do you know much about her?

I didn’t prior to the film, no. That was actually one of my questions for you, how much did you know prior to getting involved?

Denise Gough: Not much, but I knew nothing about Colette either. Like I was saying yesterday in interviews, growing up in Ireland, these women aren’t part of our history books. And they should be, but like so much other stuff, the history books are written mostly by men. So, we don’t hear about these incredible people, women. So, I didn’t know anything until I was sent the script, and then I started researching. I was actually surprised by how little information there is on her. So, Wash [Westmoreland], the director, got me really involved in who she was and she is incredible.

source: Bleecker Street, 30West, Lionsgate

So, is that primarily how you learned about them, or did you do some research yourself? I know you said there wasn’t much available.

Denise Gough: Yes, but then once you sign on to the film they give you everything, with huge amounts of research and information available. Like any job they make sure you are really well informed, so they make everything they can available to you. So, then I learned about it. They kind of do that with jobs, they are sort of my education. I feel really lucky in what I do, I get educated on all my jobs. Now I know as much as there is to know about her I guess.

That’s terrific, I’m sure it makes it a lot easier. How did you first get involved, sent the script?

Denise Gough: Well Wash came to see me in a play and then, I got sent the script and was asked to put myself on tape. I did and then, there was some issues because I was doing the play Angels in America. There was some issues with dates, but then it all worked out. I was really surprised because I’m not really well-known in film. I thought it was amazing that he casted someone theatrical opposite Keira, ya know? I’m sure he could have had many other people with far more of a profile than I did. So, I was really thrilled that they went with me.

Me too! As I said I thought you were perfect in this particular role. You are very confident as Missy, who was really a pioneer at the time, as was Colette.

Denise Gough: Yeah! She was amazing. If you think about it, we live in a world now where it’s easier to decide what we want to identify as and who we want to identify as. But back then it wasn’t. And she even said, in the film, there’s a line where she says “I know that it is easier for me than a woman of no means,” because she really checked her privilege. Because she was a noblewoman, so it was easier for her to decide, despite being illegal she would wear suits and identify and present herself as a man. She would have been referred to what was known as an invert back then. Because there wasn’t a word for a lesbian or trans or anything like that then. She was really courageously living how she identified which is amazing.

Yeah, and I was even surprised that women couldn’t wear suits.

Denise Gough: Yeah! You couldn’t even wear trousers, like we weren’t allowed to wear them. So, they were renegades, these women. It’s kind of easy to look at it as a costume, but it’s a hugely political act they were making. In the scene where Keira arrives in the suit as well – back then it was massive to do that. It wasn’t as simple. We don’t realize, really, how far we’ve come, I think, in terms of all of that stuff. But back then, and Missy lived a very thwarted life as well, she tried to commit suicide by committing hara-kiri on herself and then was arrested for that. Then wound up killing herself by putting her head in the oven. So, it wasn’t without difficulty, that they lived that way. Ya know?

Yes, I actually read that. I was sad to find that out. I can only imagine how much harder it was then.

Denise Gough: Yeah, I think we take it for granted. What they were doing back then was really quite incredible.

Were there any additional challenges because you were playing a real-life person?

Denise Gough: Well, I don’t find acting really difficult. I wanted to make sure that I went as far as I could possibly go with it. Like I do with anything. No, I feel a lot of joy when I get to play any character. I trust my ability to do my job. I feel like it is important that I trust my ability to do it, because I’ve been given the part. You want to do everything you can to pay homage to the person who lived, but at the same time, I’m not her. I can only give my offering as her, and I’m happy with the offering I made.

The movie is really relevant. Do you think the timing of this release, with #metoo and #timesup, is especially so?

Denise Gough: Yeah, because we were just finishing up filming when all of the Weinstein stuff happened. Though when we were making it, it wasn’t such a profound connection. By the end it was like “oh my god” there is a huge shift happening in society. And now the timing of it being released it’s like it couldn’t come at a better time. That’s why I think it’ll have such relevance. Because it is very important to be watching stories of female empowerment now, and also watching women and people empowering each other in film.

Absolutely! You’ve had a lot of experience in theater. You’ve been on Broadway. Missy was also on stage with Colette.

Denise Gough: Only once! She never went back on stage after the kiss.

Right, after the riot that happened.

Denise Gough: Yeah, I think she was desperately uncomfortable on stage. She wasn’t a performer. But then she spent seven years traveling around with Colette as Colette performed. So, she was like a shadow artist I guess. She inspired, and pushed Colette to do stuff like this, but she herself didn’t. Missy wasn’t someone who enjoyed being on stage. Totally opposite to me.

Understandable especially, given how the one time went. Well you’ve done theater, TV, film, you have even done the voice for video games like Witcher 3. I’m a fan of the game, so it’s pretty cool that you are Yennifer!

Denise Gough: Oh wow, that’s amazing that you know that! There are like sound guys on TV shows that I’ve done that suddenly get really weird with me, because they recognize my voice. [Whispers] “Oh my god, you’re from Witcher!”

It makes sense, given Yennifer’s character.

Denise Gough: I didn’t realize anybody knew, or played that game, but it is actually huge.

Yeah it is, it’s actually becoming a TV show. Is there a medium that you enjoy most? I’m guessing theater.

Denise Gough: Theater. That’s everything, everything, everything. But I’m loving film, and I’m doing a film at the moment that I’m really enjoying. I’m starting to now get good parts in good films, with good directors.

I recently saw you in Juliet, Naked as well.

Denise Gough: I haven’t seen it, is it good?


Denise Gough: Okay, [laughs] cool. I haven’t seen it yet.

You should check it out! Did you always want to act?

Denise Gough: Yeah, but I didn’t quite know. I look at my little nephew now and I think that’s what I was like, I was always pretending. I didn’t necessarily know, because I didn’t want movies and want to be in movies. I knew as soon as I got on stage that that was where I felt most calm and at home. But I remember that I was always pretending to be Richard for two years, my name was Richard and I pretended to be Richard because I wanted to be MacGyver. I wanted to be the actor playing MacGyver. I didn’t just want to be MacGyver.

So, I was pretty specific in my pretending. I would pretend to be French a lot, which is funny, that I was pretending to be French since I played Missy. So, I’d do this a lot, and it was never really possible because I’m from the west of Ireland, so acting is not really a thing, as a job. Then I left home when I was very young, and I went to drama school when I was twenty and I knew for sure, that it was what I wanted to do with my life. But it was always theater. When I met my first agent I had a shaved head and I only wanted to be taken serious as a theater actress. So, obviously that’s changed because I’ll never buy a house if I only do theater. [Laughs] No, it’s not just for the money.

Were there any actors or actresses, any productions that were inspirations for you?

Denise Gough: I don’t know. There are people who I think are brilliant now, but not really back then. I didn’t look at anyone and think “I want to be like that.” Because it was the stage, and I never really went to the theater. So, I didn’t know anyone, and I’m not really good at heroes either. Apart from now, I think, Linda Jackson, is a person that I want to be like.

source: Bleecker Street, 30West, Lionsgate

Do you look for something in particular when accepting roles? Or anything in particular that you’d love to do?

Denise Gough: I’d like to do the play that I did last year, People, Places and Things, on Broadway. So hopefully we can make that happen. I’m not finished with that, and I’d like to make that into a film. We’ll see how that goes. I want to play, and it feels so stupid calling us “real women” but for so long we have been one-dimensional on screen. Like I watched a clip of something with Marlon Brando the other day, and the only woman in it, her job was to run up and bang on the door, as he was acting his socks off. And I thought, fuck, this is what we’ve been doing for years. Women knocking on doors or looking worried. So, I want to do big women. And by that I just mean women who feel everything. Do you know what I mean?

I do, yes.

Denise Gough: I’m probably not explaining it well, but I want to play someone who isn’t just someone’s wife or someone’s girlfriend, best friend or the kooky girl. I want to play women.

Yeah, real.

Denise Gough: Yes, real, ugly, fucked up, brilliant. Everything.

In all our different shades.

Denise Gough: Yeah! We are way more interesting than we’ve been portrayed for a long time. Ya know? Of course, you know, you are in film. You read and watch, so you’ve seen it as well. So, hopefully the parts are getting better.

Hopefully. I think there’s definitely change in the air.

Denise Gough: Yeah, we’re talking about it at least, but it can’t just be conversation it has to be action. And also, for me, it’s not about smashing a patriarch as much as it is about raising a matriarch to meet it. I think there is room for both. I don’t want to be in a world with only women. I want it to be balanced, and I’m doing a film in Greece at the moment and there is such a brilliant balance of power in Greece. It feels like they’ve got something really special over there where they understand how incredible women are, how fierce they are. And that goes way back in their history, to like Greek tragedy and stuff.

Yeah and I think you put that wonderfully, with the matriarch and patriarch.

Denise Gough: Yeah, I just don’t understand, I don’t want to be standing and screaming, pointing my finger at men. I love men. I just feel like it’s time that we all help each other. I feel like it has a lot to do with women taking responsibility with how maybe we haven’t supported each other either, to be our best selves all the time. Because it’s been difficult, but now we can change that. I don’t want to be part of the superficial history, I don’t want to be part of a humanhood. If that’s a word, I’m sorry I’m so jetlagged that I’m making things up.

No! You sound great! Maybe jetlag is the key.

Denise Gough: To all interviews! [laughs] Be jetlagged and drink fuck loads of coffee and then talk to everyone.

But no, you are quite eloquent I assure you. Earlier you mentioned filming a new movie, can you tell us about that at all?

Denise Gough: I’m doing a film called Monday with Sebastian Stan, who is brilliant. And we’re doing a film about an American couple in Greece who are like… the director calls it “a romantic comedy gone wrong” and it’s completely wild and all improvised. And we’re working with a Greek director who did an incredible film called Sun Tan. Have you seen it?

No, I haven’t.

Denise Gough: Oh, it is fucking great! Really, really, really great. So, this is his first English language film and we are having a really great time doing it.

That’s great, you are still filming?

Denise Gough: Yeah. I go back tomorrow for another two and a half months. I’m trying to learn Greek and everything.

Sounds like a fun film to work on, and the beautiful locale helps!

Denise Gough: Yeah, especially after like two years of Angels in America. I needed to do something that was about being like purely creative and joyful, and having fun. We are doing all of that while also doing some pretty intense material.

source: Bleecker Street, 30West, Lionsgate

How do you think Missy and Colette’s story will resonate with people?

Denise Gough: I think the thing that I was talking about, with the kind of empowering of women, like watching. There’s a scene with Missy where she says to Colette “you should take credit for it” when she’s worked out that Colette has written all the Claudine novels. She’s created Claudine. She actually wrote letters to Willy. There are all these letters between Colette and Missy and Willy. Missy was a force of good in Colette’s creativity and I feel like we can do that more for each other as women. I spoke with a brilliant female director last night. She said she wanted to make a film, and she was at something, and she said, “somebody should make a film of this, and oh I know a lot of filmmakers.” And she said it was so long before she realized that “Oh I should do it.” “I’m the person who should make this film.”

I just thought it was just incredible that it still takes a little while for us to realize we’re the ones, as women, who can do that. Sometimes it takes another person, another woman-man whatever, to help encourage us to step into our power. And I think it’s not just Missy that did that with Colette. Like if you look there’s a character called Wague, who my best friend Dickie Beau plays and they all encourage this woman to step into her light. We need to do that for each other.

Yeah and hopefully seeing this film can help inspire that, especially since it happened so long ago.

Denise Gough: Yeah and at a time when it was much harder! We just must be careful of the expectations we put on each other as women too. Sometimes we have to take responsibility, we haven’t always been each other’s best friends. Which is why the toxic masculinity thing and the power dynamics have been so fucked up. We have to take responsibility for our part, that way we can make changes, but if we only blame men for what’s happened we’re in trouble. We have to understand that maybe, by not recognizing how powerful we are, we drop the ball somewhere.

Definitely. Great answer! Again, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me – I know you are busy!

Denise Gough: Hey, I’m here, getting to do what I’ve always wanted to do. A job that I love. Everybody is running around putting makeup on me and putting me in fancy dresses. [Laughs]

We want to thank Denise Gough for taking the time to speak with us.

Colette will be released September 21st in the US and January 25th in the UK.

COLETTE | Official Trailer - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

The post “I Just Feel Like It’s Time That We All Help Each Other.” Interview With COLETTE Star Denise Gough appeared first on Film Inquiry.

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There’s a joke that tells the story of a priest and a rabbi who find themselves sharing seats on a journey. It might be a train ride, or a bus ride, or a plane ride. That doesn’t really matter. They strike up a conversation and find they enjoy each other’s company and indeed, have a great deal in common. As their discussion progresses, they begin sharing more personal details about their lives. Finally, the priest says to the rabbi, “Let me ask you a question–you’re supposed to only eat kosher meat, right?–but be honest with me, have you ever had pork?”

The rabbi considers this for a moment before responding, “Yes. Yes, I have eaten pork. But if we are being this honest with each other, then let me ask you in return–you are supposed to remain celibate, to refrain from sexual intercourse–but have you had sex?”

The priest’s cheeks begin to turn red, and looking down he replies, “I am ashamed to admit it, but in a moment of weakness I have had sex.”

The rabbi chuckles and lays his hand on the priest’s shoulder, “It’s a lot better than pork, isn’t it?”

Wrestling With the Devil

Sacred Heart, the feature film debut from Australian writer-director Kosta Nikas is not as lighthearted as our rabbi friend, but it has moments of dark humor sprinkled throughout its harrowing look at one man’s dark night of the soul after losing his wife and unborn child to a hit-and-run driver. It also thematically climaxes on a joke told by a dying priest that might be funny or hopelessly despairing depending on your point of view.

The film begins with a gorgeous sweeping shot of a cemetery on the waterfront, finally focusing on Robert (Kipan Rothbury), who is there burying his wife. The officiating priest, played by David Field (Chopper, The Rover), attempts to console him, telling Robert his wife and unborn child are with God now. But Robert is distraught, angry, distressed and tells him to fuck off. It’s the kind of response anyone who has lost someone they care deeply about can relate to, even if they wouldn’t be so blunt in their reply.

source: Screenlight Pictures

Robert visits a psychic, wishing to speak to his wife, but the psychic informs him that’s not what she does. He visits another priest for confession, but his anger is too great. “You first,” he requires from the clergyman. He visits a crime boss, and in a tensely constructed, mostly wordless exchange, acquires a gun and the name of the man who killed his wife. This last interaction we recognize as “Chekov’s gun,” the dramatic principle which states that a loaded gun introduced in the first act of a story must be fired by the third act. To the film’s credit, the second act of Sacred Heart is so engrossing, I had forgotten about the gun by the third act.

The second act begins with Robert spiraling into a manic depressive state. He engages in a one-night stand, disconnects from the outside world, and goes on a drug and alcohol fueled bender. He grew up in the church and is now questioning his faith. Is this tragedy God’s fault? Is it the devil’s? He rails against the silence of both the God he grew up believing in and the devil who–if he exists–appears to be tormenting him. And why him, an insignificant man? And then David Field’s priest appears.

source: Screenlight Pictures

What follows is an increasingly fraught discussion between the two men. This section recalls some of the great conversational films that consist primarily of dialogue between two characters like My Dinner with Andre, or more recently and of a closer nature, The Sunset Limited which starred Tommy Lee Jones (who also directed) and Samuel L. Jackson and is based off a play by Cormac McCarthy.

Here, Robert and the priest trade philosophical jabs and literal blows as they wrestle with the nature of religious faith, suffering, sin, and justice. To filmmaker Nikas’ credit, the exchange moves beyond philosophy 101 arguments and thoughtfully engages–partially through flashback sequences and the films’ more action oriented beginning and closing acts–how its characters act and behave, which is often at odds with their stated ideologies.

Sacred Heart: Conclusion

Like the rabbi who has eaten pork, or the priest who has had sex, often we find ourselves acting in ways that do not adhere to our own values and beliefs. But unlike the rabbi and priest, often we are blind to our hypocrisy, even as we observe and rail against it in others. Here, Robert claims to know and love his wife with uncompromising devotion, but the priest presses him, “What was her favorite color? Her favorite dress?” How well did Robert know her? And through flashbacks we see actions Robert took that call into question the story he has told himself about his love for her. But can Robert face those parts of himself? Or will he succumb to ending his or others’ lives over his despair?

Sacred Heart is a mature, thoughtful, and dramatic piece of filmmaking for a first-time feature director. David Field provides the restrained gravitas needed to balance Rothbury’s emotionally and mentally unstable Robert. And the story ends with a form of dramatic closure, but leaves the questions it raises in the minds of viewers to continue to wrestle with as they piece together the twists in the third act.

What are the best films built around a conversation?

Sacred Heart is currently available for purchase on Blu-Ray, DVD, and video-on-demand.

Sacred Heart (trailer) - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

The post SACRED HEART: Wrestles With Our Inner Demons appeared first on Film Inquiry.

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Even in the tumult of the movie industry, eyebrows are raised when a filmmaker moves away from their usual trademarks. This has definitely been brought up a lot with writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s The Land of Steady Habits, a sticking point which sort of misses the forest for the trees. Sure, the details are different: it’s her first adapted screenplay, it’s her first film revolving primarily around men, and in perhaps the greatest tragedy, it’s her first film without Catherine Keener. But it’s still very much in line with her style, leaning on a mix of comedy and drama to capture everyday conflicts.

The film follows a man going through a late midlife crisis, having divorced his wife, retired, and downsized to get away from the money-grasping lifestyle of east coast financiers. If that strikes you as fitting into the recent trend (particularly on American television) of examining male middle-aged anxiety, then you’ve got the basic gist of the film. Our main guy is even a jerk, as these protagonists tend to be, but Holofcener doesn’t blow any of this up for the usual melodrama. There’s drug use but no kingpins and the threat of death but no hitmen. Everything remains contained within the confines of these characters’ posh world, which allows Holofcener to capture an almost breezy tragedy, but it also means The Land of Steady Habits never really breaks out into anything memorable.

A Dramedy With Real Bite

There’s a genre that The Land of Steady Habits fits comfortably within that I refer to as the Sundance dramedy. These films tend to take place in affluent suburbs and revolve around lovably dark characters, often families, with bonus points for quirk. They don’t necessarily have to premiere at Sundance (Steady Habits did not), but the festival fills its slots with so many of these movies that the association is set in my mind.

source: Netflix

I don’t mean this designation as a slight but as an acknowledgement that The Land of Steady Habits falls into a recognizable type, and the usual strengths and weaknesses of that type become apparent fast. These films tend to skate along predictable tracks, leaving things like the broken family dynamics firmly established but never fully delved into. Then there’s bits like the shot of a turtle scuttling under a table, which lets you know that the incongruous creature will be important later, because if it wasn’t important then the film wouldn’t even bother. Every ounce of these movies are lean and meaningful, which makes them refreshingly time-conscious (a film under 100 minutes is always welcome in my book), but this also makes the events a bit too tidy to feel real.

At this point I’m committing a personal pet peeve when it comes to reviewing films, criticizing and weighing the genre itself instead of how well the individual film works within the genre. You might be inferring that I don’t much care for this type of film (I tend to be rather ambivalent towards them), but I’m not immune to the charm of the ones that do it well. The Land of Steady Habits is certainly in the upper tier of the genre, particularly since it minimizes quirkiness and maximizes real world consequences. The few times Holofcener leads the film away from predictable beats are interesting, and it shows that she has a solid grasp on the conventions and breakable rules of the genre.

Capturing Character

If there’s one thing that always shines in these dramedies, it’s the characters. These movies tend to be rather talky, and the cast is often filled with respected actors who can make the endless chatter engaging. The Land of Steady Habits is no exception to this rule, relying on some great performances to make its familiar trappings feel less stifling.

source: Netflix

Ben Mendelsohn headlines as the bemused retiree who shed his previous priorities without establishing new ones. He’s in the vast majority of the film, and every ounce of his roguish charm is needed to prevent this guy from seeming like a self-made pity party.

He’s helped out by the one detail this film gets absolutely right, and that’s the way weary adults interact with upstart twentysomethings. Mendelsohn and his ex-wife (played by an underused Edie Falco) have an adult son (Thomas Mann) who’s struggling to get his own life started. Mendelsohn and Mann wonderfully tap dance around their fraught relationship, but the alluring and dismaying aspects of dealing with naive young adults is broached more openly when Mendelsohn befriends another couple’s troubled son, played by Charlie Tahan.

Tahan gets stuck with some of the film’s more rote lines and muddles his way through, but the way Mendelsohn reacts to this almost adult is a refreshing perspective change for a genre that’s often more concerned with those troubled twentysomethings.

In Need Of Extended Moments

Given that you’ll probably know where The Land of Steady Habits is headed from the get-go, it’s unsurprising that the film doesn’t reach out with any immediacy. Watching it is sort of like letting the mind relax, falling into its familiarity in a way that’s oddly calming given its decidedly dark tone.

source: Netflix

It’s only in minute moments that the film does anything very remarkable, and even then it’s only the kind of pleasures that flit by. A caustically direct critique from girlfriend Connie Britton, a sardonic popsicle wave from a drunken Mendelsohn, it’s these tiny things that perk up viewers just enough to make them feel like they’re seeing something worthwhile. But these meaty bits slide away too easily, and you’re just as quickly back to feeling like you’re only getting a thoroughly adequate meal. It’s not unsatisfying per se, but it also has no staying power.

The Land of Steady Habits: A Decent Way To Pass The Time

I can’t say that The Land of Steady Habits is a film you need to run out and see, but luckily it’s not the kind of film you even need to leave the house to see. It released worldwide on Netflix, meaning you can stream it any time you have an hour and half to kill. If a Netflix original is your go-to for a lazy Sunday afternoon, then it rises to that standard, but if you’re looking for something more, then I’d head somewhere else.

Do you think The Land of Steady Habits is a significant departure for Holofcener or right in line with her previous work? Which of her films is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

The Land of Steady Habits is available worldwide on Netflix.

The Land of Steady Habits | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

The post THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS: An Adequate But Unremarkable Offering appeared first on Film Inquiry.

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Tea With The Dames is a lovely documentary for a specialized audience. Anyone who knows anything about movies or live theatre, provided that encompasses especially English drama prior to the revolutionary year of 1968, will enjoy it, laughing with the four famous thespians who reminisce about their careers on screen and stage. In alphabetical order, Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith, hang out, as they apparently do in fact, while the cameras roll. With ample footage and stills from their glory days which have not ended, they share both memories and complaints about memory loss.

Even those who know only Dench as M, the boss to Daniel Craig’s James Bond, or Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter franchise might be entertained by a behind-the-scenes peek at these stars. They gather at the house Plowright owned with Sir Laurence Olivier in the English countryside, on what must have been more than one summer day. They are just so doubtlessly friends even if they might have been once rivals. They have succeeded in an art most don’t even survive.

Each of them has continued working over an impressive duration. Atkins can be seen on the Doc Martin television series. Plowright was associated with the National Theatre in England, and she was on Broadway in 1958 in a double bill of Eugene Ionesco absurdist plays. Her movie credits include 101 Dalmatians, Dennis the Menace, and the Last Action Hero. She had to curtail her activities because of macular degeneration.

Judi Dench Wasn’t Always the Queen?

Yet those who know the names may not recall as vividly as these performers that in their day they were what would be called “lookers:” Dench was famously bare bottomed in a movie of Midsummer Night’s Dream. She is asked about her “tits” as they squint at vintage pictures of early roles scarcely believing they are perceiving themselves a half century earlier. Atkins explains how she was described as not conventionally pretty, but nonetheless sexy. That comment, she confides, kept her going. She also has an anecdote about her early education and the unintentionally risque reference of the school founders’ initials on the uniforms.

source: IFC

Throughout Tea With The Dames, there is no mention of contemporary controversies about gender in the industry. Men being absent from this movie, except a cameo by Olivier, enhances the easy mood of this affair — it is somehow different for females among themselves to have this casual conversation about their anatomies; it isn’t about appealing to men leering. Olivier’s turn as Othello (his skin made up in unhealthy viridescence), however, does raise the issue of race and representation. Smith recalls her debut playing a Chinese boy.

The discussion is by turns serious and comic. The quartet talk about, for example, naturalism and whether it is true to the term, or if every generation simply has its own version of what appears authentic. Aging is a recurring theme. Their investitures as dames are shown to confirm their contributions to society.

What Can We Learn from the Best Actors?

What is remarkable is the longevity of these four. They themselves comment on it, and their irritation about the need for hearing aids is not edited out. Hollywood has been unkind to their American peers, even those a generation younger. Whether it is their training, classical and emphasizing a career treading the boards, or the more modest stature of fame on the other side of “the pond,” these four continued over the years without pause.

Their more contemporary credits include: Atkins in Paddington 2; Dench in the forthcoming Artemis Fowl; Plowright in Curious George; Smith on Downton Abbey in addition to the Harry Potter franchise. Her pals poke fun at Dench for her success portraying queens and monopolizing the market they wish to compete in — outtakes have the other three mocking her title and name, as if warming up.

source: IFC

So for fans of BBC period drama, this will be a great hour and a half of relaxing as if you had been invited over for tea at the Plowright-Olivier manor, as a polite observer. There are no concessions to the uninitiated. A perfect allusion to Kim Philby is not given detailed background. (He was the British double agent who defected to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, after denying he was a member of the “Cambridge Five” spies. The dames admire his acting skill concealing his espionage.)

They conclude with advice for their younger selves: mindfulness, yoga, better tempers, listening, when in doubt don’t, and try to be less susceptible to falling in love — the last bit of counsel provokes discussion. Although they touch upon their fear of loneliness, Tea With The Dames is bright because of the greatness of their camaraderie.

How have some actors shown such durability, especially in the face of ageism and sexism of the industry? What are your favorite performances of these four dames?

Tea with the Dames was released as Nothing Like a Dame in the United Kingdom on May 2, 2018, and it is released under its new title in the United States on September 21, 2018.

TEA WITH THE DAMES Trailer (2018) Maggie Smith, Judi Dench - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

The post TEA WITH THE DAMES: Who Would Turn Down Tea With Atkins, Dench, Smith & Plowright? appeared first on Film Inquiry.

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“Do you find streets in Germany named after Hitler’s guys?”

Franco-ism is not only not disregarded in Spain but, in some cases, it’s flaunted straight up with examples such as streets named after some of the most reprehensible men of the time. José Maria Galante, once a young leftist student activist, was one of the victims of torture by the dictatorship. He lives on Calle General Yagüe, the street named after the Spanish army officer known as the Butcher of Badajoz. “Every day I wake up on a street dedicated to this war criminal”, laments Mr Galante.

In 2017, Mr Galante and his wounded generation were granted a victory with the governing board of Madrid approving the name change of such streets out of respect for those who suffered persecution or violence during Franco’s reign. Crimes against humanity have no statue for limitations, and the hauntingly beautiful The Silence of Others tracks the colossal struggle for justice.

Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar’s documentary is centred on the elder generation of survivors who come together to form a lawsuit in Argentina against officials who committed crimes under the Franco regime. Stylistically situated somewhere between Nostalgia for the Light and The Act of Killing, The Silence of Others doesn’t feature recreations but listening to the plaintiffs describe how they or their close ones were treated at the time is often gut punching.

Their recollection of the events are vivid, even decades later, and they take the filmmakers to the sites of horror. The camera offers them to speak of cruel circumstances they faced – otherwise, they can’t be widely heard due to the state-enforced silence.

source: Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar

Carracedo narrates her documentary by giving us the hard-hitting history about Franco’s tyranny, including the stolen children (those who were abducted from parents with opposite political leanings) and the troubling Pact of Forgetting, a decision that granted amnesty not only to the political prisoners but to those who imprisoned them too. The pact has meant that the atrocities have not been something that the subsequent generations have known.

A quick-cut montage of relatively younger individuals share their lack of knowledge of the amnesty. This genial edit both manages to establish a consensus on what the contemporary generation is taught about history and helps achieve the filmmakers’ ambitions to capture the wide scope of Spain for their epic exploration. Furthermore, what’s impressive is the insight into the Franco Foundation, who share their point of view that Franco was never wrong. They say he saved Western Christian civilization from Communism, and archive footage of meetings with Eisenhower and Nixon implicates a sympathetic USA.

The six-year long story is extremely moving, the perseverance of the plaintiffs is deeply inspiring. There’s a movement formed in the film, and the film itself is a part of that movement, and the two work together to enhance the chances of real change. The narrative’s effect is strengthened through the co-directors’ command of capturing stunning images, shot by Carracedo herself (Bahar took on a major micro-element role too, as the sound recordist), that simply demand wide theatrical attention for their film.

A mournful but elegant string-based score, terrifically composed by Leonardo Heiblum and Jacobo Lieberman, artfully accompanies these powerful images. The Silence of Others must be seen on the big screen where we can appreciate its beautiful imagery and sound, and give our complete concentration to its momentous story about a country that should not forget its history.

Interview with Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar

I was able to speak to co-directors Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar for an extensive interview. We discussed the long filmmaking process, the reception of the film so far, influences, the Almodovar brothers’ involvement and their best advice for aspiring filmmakers.

Musanna Ahmed for Film Inquiry: It took six years to make this film.

Robert Bahar: Yes. Seven, even. We filmed for six years then after that there were 14 months of editing.

source: Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar

Making a film for so long, were there many revelations or narrative developments that caused a huge restructure?

Almudena Carracedo: For the first half of those seven years, yes. We were permanently restructuring because we were trying to understand how to tell the story because it’s very complex with many twists and turns, characters and complex issues. We had this document called ‘”Re-conceptualisation.”

Robert Bahar: Every few months we’d be like “Time for reconceptualization!” and we’d go back. One of the most challenging things about the construction of this film was figuring out how to incorporate context. It’s a story where, if you just have the protagonist’s story, it’s very hard to understand how something like this could have happened in Spain. We figured out that the film needed context for people to emotionally engage with the characters.

But then of course as the editing process always is, you add more context than is necessary which then separates the audience from the characters. We went through a long process figuring out, “What’s the minimum necessary context?” There are little sections with Almudena’s voice where she explains a little about the transitions – the Pact of Forgetting, the Amnesty Law – to set up these elements.

Right. With a documentary like this, you never know when you’re going to end filming but did you have an idea that it would go on for so long?

Almudena Carracedo: We had no idea. In fact, we were living in Brooklyn at the time and we moved to Spain. We put all of our stuff in storage in New Jersey thinking we were only going to move for one year. We moved to Madrid temporarily and ended up there for six years.

Robert Bahar: Everything is still in storage in New Jersey.

Almudena Carracedo: [laughs] Right. I tend to be more impatient with the process because the subject was very difficult and it was painful to experience all of this through the characters. Robert would always say, “Don’t worry, just trust the process.” Because, as a filmmaker, if you do your due diligence and you keep working hard then you’re going to find what you need because it’s your story. You’re gonna find the ending, as we did, and you’re gonna find the right structure if you commit to making a great film. We edited for a year and a half and in the middle of that we had a film already but it was not good enough. We decided to just go back to the drawing board and bring down the entire editing board and start over again.

You just mentioned that it was a painful process. You became parents yourselves making this film so how did that affect you, considering the theme of this film?

Almudena Carracedo: When we moved to Spain we initially wanted to just make the film about the stolen children because that story was breaking out in 2010, which is the year our daughter was born. We were, as you can imagine, just horrified and appalled.

Robert Bahar: There was the emotional power in our engagement with this subject from the start and the horrors of it all – how can this have happened? The deeper we got in, the great emotion we had was actually that the people we were representing had suffered so much that we felt the fear of being able to make a film that would do justice to their struggle and the pain they were experiencing. So, at the beginning, we were experiencing shock, sadness and outrage about what we were learning and that transformed into a sense of responsibility, how we bring this to the world, and how we can convey, through the cinema, the vastness of the lack of justice that still exists.

source: Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar

Almudena Carracedo: The reason why it took so long to make the film is because it didn’t want to make it just for the victims or just for the people are already engaged or empathetic. We wanted to make a film that could reach everyone else, not just in Spain either. That requires a lot of re-conceptualisation and a lot of thought.

Robert Bahar: And just a lot of editing.

Almudena Carracedo: A LOT of editing. Now that the film is done, it has become much bigger than us. It works really well with the audience and now we have a bigger responsibility. We’re embarking on a two-year impact campaign with the film now.

You state that your intention was to make a film for the world. I know that you’ve screened it in other countries, how has the reception been?

Almudena Carracedo: We premiered in Berlin and had a five-minute standing ovation which was very moving. We were 24 people on the stage between cast and crew because, you know, they had been waiting seven years to be on a stage for their story. It was really moving for them and still is. Actually, at the Sheffield screening one of the characters was crying as she walked on to the stage because she really felt the recognition. In Berlin, we won the Audience Award.

Then we were in Toronto and we were wondering how well it would work in North America but it was voted in the top ten for the Audience Award. A lot of people knew it was going to work well in post-conflict societies and that’s fantastic because we want The Silence of Others to serve as a case study on what not to do in the future. We go to all these other countries where they think they don’t have a conflicted past but they do. Every country has something to deal with in a way.

I think a big part in how you achieved that result was by showing all the sides of the conflict. What were the challenges in getting each side to have their say? How did you pitch the film to, say the Franco Foundation, and how easy was it for them to come on board?

Robert Bahar: In terms of the Franco Foundation, as an example, they’re actually very open to giving interviews and they know that a lot of the filmmakers contacting them are probably starting with a different viewpoint than their own. So it wasn’t a challenge for them in terms of access…

Almudena Carracedo: They always want to give their point of view so they allow interviews.

Robert Bahar: Yeah. I think the places where the film reveals the spectrum of feelings is – I consider this scene a beautiful scene if I say so myself – a scene where Maria Martini’s family, her children, are debating about whether the names of streets in Spain named after Franco’s generals should be changed or not. You see within one family, a family which has clearly has been suffering for decades, there is valid debate about what is the right way to reckon with the past. Even more than the Franco Foundation, which is an extreme, that’s what represents the true challenge which exists in Spain right now, the very diverse opinions on what should be dealt with and what should be left aside.

Almudena Carracedo: We wanted our film to be a part of that conversation, actually. We have theatrical distribution for Spain (in the fall) and what we precisely want to do is bring this film to every town and start a conversation. It’s been 80 years since the end of the war, 40 years since the start of democracy, and it’s about time to start discussing these things more openly.

I assume you’re having conversations about making sure this film is seen at a federal level too.

Robert Bahar: Yes.

source: Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar

Almudena Carracedo: Our impact campaign will be going from the top down. Spain hasn’t officially recognised the conflict nor the victims as victims. Those victims are ‘officially’ criminals because their sentences haven’t been overturned so it’s exactly the opposite and we will taking this film all the way from parliament to small towns.

There’s a whole way of reparations you can work with, like memorialising, plaques, etc and if the mayor of a small town can say “We’re sorry about what happened here and we recognise that so-and-so were not criminals, we know where they’re buried and we will exhume them and give them a proper burial in the cemetery” then that would change people’s lives. So many people will be able to die in peace and tell their grandchildren who their grandparents really were. All these reparations than go from legal to human are what we really want to encourage with our film.

Naturally, the big question now is that now Mariano Rajoy, who’s shown in your film to be sympathetic to the notion that Spain should forget its past, has been ousted, will there be more open conversations about this subject now?

Robert Bahar: Everyone is cautiously optimistic. Two things – yes, Mariano Rajoy and his party have definitely not wanted to investigate these issues. In fact he would proudly say that the budget for these “historic memory issues” is zero. Secondly, now that the socialist party is in power and there’s a coalition, the fact is that even from the centre there’s only been cautious progress before.

What gives me the most hope much more than local change is the younger generation. If you look at the 15M movement, sort of like the Occupy Wall Street movement but in Spain, when you talk to young people there who don’t know about this history, when you show them this film, they very clearly see the connection to contemporary issues of corruption and the origins of them in the Franco dictatorship. That gives me hope much more than one party or another.

Almudena Carracedo: The younger generation are really upset when they watch the film. We’ve had Spanish people in screenings in other countries – we haven’t premiered in Spain first because we wanted to start outside first – and they are so angry and upset about not knowing the history, and seeing that the country was trying to erase awareness of it. We want to tap in to that energy because it’s their right to know what really happened.

I agree with you, that’s an incredible response from them. Going back to the making of the movie, you have 450 hours of footage. Were there any major aspects that you had to cut?

Almudena Carracedo: We had to cut some of the characters who had other threads in the same story. They’re all present somehow but we developed three extrajudicial executions – the late years of Franco, the tortures and the stolen children. But there are many other threads, like exile, slave labour and re-education camps. It was painful for us and for the characters too, because they had to understand that the bigger picture was more important than their individual stories, but a lot of them are working with the film anyway.

source: Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar

Robert Bahar: You have to make decisions to simplify. It becomes all about “Okay, we have a version of the film that’s about 125 minutes”, there’s all of these details in there so there’s extra things you understand but the emotional experience isn’t there. You get to a point where you’re trying to create a balance between body and soul. As the film got shorter and sharper, it got more soulful as it reached your heart. All those decisions are for the greater good but some people say things like, “You should have made a six-part series” and I hear that, I would watch that. [laughs]

Almudena Carracedo: Maybe next. [laughs] What was good was that we were three – our editor who was in L.A., Kim Robinson, as well as Robert and I, so having three people instead of two helped us make decisions. If two out of three agree on something then maybe they’re right, so it was a good way to make decisions.

Over the six years, was technology something that presented itself as challenge? Do you look back at early footage and see an evolution in your aesthetic?

Robert Bahar: The way we shoot, we’re a very small team. Almudena is the cinematographer and I do the sound. Certainly in my case I can say I hadn’t done sound that much before and so I was changing my kit a lot in the first couple of years, deciding exactly what the workflow would be, and to be honest as the six years go on I can see that the quality of my work gets much, much better. I actually think in the later part of the filmmaking, the scenes we were capturing were more whole. Some of our earlier filming included scenes of meetings and stuff like that.

Almudena Carracedo: Because we didn’t know the story. Near the end of the film you understand perfectly what you need and what you’re looking for. You film for 150 hours and you think at the moment that everything is potentially useful. One of the biggest technological challenges was that when we started editing at the beginning we were using Final Cut 7. We decided not to switch and we paid dearly. [laughs] I still love Final Cut 7 but having such a huge project on it was very challenging.

Robert Bahar: Next film we’ll be using Avid. [laughs]

The cinematography and the sound were sensational, I really loved the film from a technical point of view as well. When I first received the press notes, I saw the description comparing it to films like Patricio Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence. Could you tell me about the cinematic influences on the style of the film?

Almudena Carracedo: Absolutely. For us, Nostalgia for the Light is the film that has influenced us the most. The Look of Silence was an influence too, obviously. In the first years of eternal re-conceptualisation, we would ask ourselves, what’s the Atacama Desert (the desert in Chile where people searched for the remains of their loved ones following Pinochet’s atrocities, at the centre of Nostalgia for the Light as a metaphor) of this film? It was clear to us that it was the lawsuit but, again, it wasn’t clear on how to tell the story. What we love about Patricio Guzman is that he’s able to have a very deep analysis of his subjects but not lose the cinematic qualities.

Some human rights are very in-the-moment and they’re needed but we knew we didn’t want to just it to be a very important message, we wanted it to be a good film. We needed it to be a good film to do what we wanted it to do. We took special care in filming some scenes very slowly for example and going back and forth when shooting the statues. We went there like 10 times, just to get the right flowers behind for instance, depending on what time of year it was. We’re very attentive to detail, for better or worse, and in that sense I can say the film was hand crafted. It was very slowly made with a lot of attention to detail. In the last three months we were just looking at frame by frame.

Robert Bahar: Those two films are absolutely some of our major influences. We also always look back at Barbara Kopple, always going back to Harlan Country, USA. This film has part of that heavy composure and metaphor of the Patricio Guzman films but it also has some of the organisation and following of the social struggle like with Harlan County and American Dream, two films that are very foundational for me, that you also really see. You could also look back at Shoah, another film that looks back at tremendous trauma and the past and how we relate to victims and perpetrators.

I think it’s a good philosophy to have that you need to make a good film in terms of cinematic quality because it reminds me of Michael Moore two years ago, who showed Where to Invade Next over here, who said that you’re damaging the message if you’re not thinking of your film as a movie first hence he always likes to insert comedy where he can. Of course, comedy isn’t ideal for a film like this but the sound and the images really stand out in the cinematic experience.

Almudena Carracedo: Right. But there are also moments of humour in our film too. We really made sure there were moments where people could find relief and breathe until the next scene.

Robert Bahar: I definitely agree with what Michael Moore said. He has a different solution on you make a film more cinematic that works on an audience engagement level but that’s something that we were absolutely committed to. We knew the information in the film was important but at the same time there’s so much information that’s important and we felt that this film had to be cinema. Something with a soul as well as a brain.

The Almodovar brothers, can you tell us about their involvement with the film?

Almudena Carracedo: It’s a beautiful relationship. We knew they had been wanting to do something about this subject matter for a long time but they hadn’t found the right project. Initially we showed them a few scenes and they were very moved by the approach of the film. They kept saying they were moved the humanity of it. It’s very easy to get caught in the numbers and the rhetoric of what we’ve learned and what they loved is that we dealt with the issues through the characters.

That’s where the humanity is and the idea that you can sit with someone and see things differently after listening to them. They came on as executive producers to support the film, to secure the launch..

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I was able to talk with writer/director Wash Westmoreland, whose previous films include the heartbreaking, but stunning, Still, Alice. With his newest, Colette, we are able to delve into the real-life story of the French novelist. It covers many years of her life (played by Keira Knightley), primarily her marriage to Willy (Dominic West), who had a large presence as a known author. During their marriage she pens the Claudine novels, though they are published under Willy’s name.

Colette is about the struggle for her voice to be heard, and the battle she faces to claim her rightful work. It also touches on her relationship with gender-defying Missy, Mathilde de Morny (Denise Gough, read our interview with her here). It’s a beautifully shot period piece that echoes sentiments for modern women everywhere.

I was able to talk to Westmoreland, and we discussed the journey it was from script to screen, how inspiring these real-life people were, the casting process, and much more!

Kristy Strouse for Film Inquiry: Congratulations on the film, I really enjoyed it. I know you co-wrote the script with your partner Richard Glatzer and I wanted to say I’m sorry for your loss.

Wash Westmoreland: I really appreciate you saying that, thanks so much. Making this film has had a lot to do with processing our whole time together really, this was our dream project.

I imagine it was especially difficult since this was something you worked on together. What drew you to Colette’s story originally?

Wash Westmoreland: The original draw was Colette herself. She’s an incredibly interesting character, a brilliant writer, who made such extraordinary decisions in her own life. She did incredibly courageous things, she was a pioneer, writing about women’s sexual experiences and writing about exploring issues with her own sexuality. All of that really appealed. It was Richard really who first discovered her in our household and who was avidly reading Colette novels and biographies and saying look there’s a film here. And then I started reading also and we focused on the first marriage between her and Willy as this natural compelling narrative where you see the formation of an artist with a very slippery antagonist.

What was it like co-writing the screenplay? Because you also co-wrote it with Rebecca Lenkiewicz, as well as Richard.

Wash Westmoreland: With me and Richard it was very much about our whole day to day existence. We lived together, worked together, slept together and we very much enjoyed writing together. And were very gloves off; we were very honest with each other. We would work out all of our differences during the writing process so when we got to set to direct we would very much have a creative unity. And after Richard passed away I worked on my own for a while, and I was feeling the lack of him, very acutely.

Then our producers Elizabeth Karlsen and Pamela Koffler suggested “well, why don’t you try working with a new co-writer?” And that seemed almost like, out of the question [laughs] no! And then they said would you look at a list, and I said, oh okay then. Then they sent over a list, and at the top of the list was Rebecca. And I had just seen Ida the year before and I was so impressed by it. And so, I skyped with Rebecca and we just really hit it off. She’s a really fantastic, wonderful, amazing, warm, brilliant woman. We just clicked.

And she had read Colette when she was younger, and she had a lot of insights into Colette. And into her sort of, worldview and her sensuality. And she brought so much to Willy, had a lot of fun with him as well. Willy was the master of puns, so we both had a lot of fun finding witty, pompous things for him to say. She became a really great collaborator and we had a wonderful time working together. So, she really brought it into its final phase, ready for production with fully formed characters.

I did notice Willy had some funny lines. It’s interesting because he’s charismatic, but he’s also a villain. You couldn’t help but laugh at him.

Wash Westmoreland: Yeah and I think that’s really important to understand. He was a villain and the things he did were often despicable. He certainly exploited Colette and he was very much self-serving, and about his own ego, and in many ways, he was unbearable, but he got away with that because he had charm, he had wit and intellectual dexterity. He could take over the room with an anecdote, and if Willy arrived the party started. He was that kind of person which Dominic completely got in the way he interpreted Willy and so it made you understand with powerful men who behaved badly; often you could be in a room with them and they seemed very wonderful and charming, and on a surface level generous. Those are all qualities that kind of obfuscate the real underneath machinations of power.

source: Bleecker Street, 30West, Lionsgate

Yeah, and I was surprised at how little he did. It’s shown in the film, not even just with Collette but in general. It was like he was more of the face for things, but didn’t often do the work.

Wash Westmoreland: Yeah well he was someone who thrived on the adrenaline of ideas. So, he was like a pitchman, and he would get his buzz from the breaking ideas. So, he was always coming up for ideas for books. He was a music critic, he would review various operas and new classical works that were being debuted in Paris at the time. And, he had a very sort-of flowery literary stance, almost impenetrable to a modern reader [laughs].

But as far as the novel went he just didn’t kind of have the discipline. There was this fear of the blank page. This, kind of like, an inability to have the creative depth to bring what is needed to do a novel and that’s what Collette had in spades. He suggested she started writing so she always credits him as the reason she became a writer. It was under his discipline. Then he mentored her in a certain way although the direction he pushed some of the books was towards his own world view which was very much more the male gaze. You’ll see some of the passages in the Claudine’s, and you’ll go, “oh that was Willy’s input right there,” but he sort of does tell about his own personal impotency as he moved into middle age. It was something Collette wrote about was that he struggled with impotency in the bedroom and also as a writer, so all that gets wrapped up in the story and its really a tragic character.

He’s definitely an interesting character and the dynamic between him and Collette is very interesting, and Dominic and Keira have a great chemistry on screen.

Wash Westmoreland: As soon as I started reading the dialogue I was so happy that day. It was about four or five weeks before shooting and we were in a little room in Twickenham studios in London, and it just sprang to life because they were both so brilliant and quick and witty. And they played sort of intellectual tennis with the lines, flicking it back and forth, and I thought this works so well because my plan was to do a lot of long takes in which rather than cutting a lot between them you really got to live in real time moments with them as they have conversations because they both had exceptional minds and kept each other entertained. This was obviously before internet, TV, film anything, they used personalities to switch each other on and the value of wit was very high in society and they waxed their wits with each other.

Did you have Keira in mind?

Wash Westmoreland: Well when the script was written in 2001 Keira would have been 14 [Laughs]. So, she wasn’t immediately on the radar. When the project got its final push it was after Still Alice, and around that time Keira jumped forward as being the perfect person because she has such a personal electricity, a strong sense of self, and a kind of effortless charisma. There were so many things about her that worked so well because she’s such an incredible actress. The part also offered new challenges that we hadn’t seen Keira do before, I’d never seen Keira be such a sexual explorer before on screen and she was very much up for it when she took on this role.

She was wonderful, and she appeared very confident and Collette as a real-life person seemed like she was. She had a real presence.

Wash Westmoreland: Oh yes, absolutely.

source: Bleecker Street, 30West, Lionsgate

It is interesting because it’s a period film, but it also has a modern feel. Especially with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement and women finally finding their voice, it is something women has always faced but now things are changing. You said you wrote the screenplay in 2001, was the timing, as far as getting the film made, did that have anything to do with it, was it easier in anyway?

Wash Westmoreland: When we wrote the screenplay, we wrote in ten days and we were like “Ok this is great, Let’s go!” [Laughs] and we didn’t realize it would take so long and we made three other films while we were waiting to make Collette and sometimes we thought “Will we ever get to make this movie?” We both thought it was so good, but we had to wait for a point in our careers when we could springboard into something of this level, budget-wise. And that was the first thing, but the second thing was yeah, I think sometimes the zeitgeist propel films forward.

There are so many films coming out this year about strong women, and about women taking on adversity and battling challenges that are part of the structure of male society. And those didn’t all get greenlight after #metoo, they have been in the pipeline for years as well. I feel like there’s something about #timesup and #metoo, and it happened so quickly because the pressure for change was building to such a high level before that. And I think the story of Colette and Willy is happening a thousand times a day in America and all over the world that men are taking credit for them and so many times with friends I’d say “has that happened to you?” and they’d say “fuck yeah.” “I’d be in a meeting and no one will really take note of it, and then five minutes later my male boss will say the same thing, and everyone will go ‘oh that’s it!” [Laughs]

Ya know, it’s sort of like, that’s the way things are set up. That’s something that Colette challenges, and something that #timesup is challenging.

Definitely and Colette was really an innovator as well as Missy.

Wash Westmoreland: Oh absolutely, and I think Colette took inspiration from Missy. Because Missy was going so far out there to express her authentic self and dressing in suits and trousers when that was illegal in Paris, you could actually be arrested for that. Missy actually had this special skirt made that would go over her trousers, so when she was walking on the street she could go incognito and then when she came into a social space where people accepted who she was, she could whip up the skirt and have trousers on underneath. So, that was a really interesting moment in time.

In the movie she says, because it’s a lot easier for her than for women of lower standing, so she understood that her privilege kind of gave her this access to express who she was. She wanted that to be something that all women eventually do, if they wished. So, I see Missy as a pioneer, both of lesbian identity, though the word lesbian wasn’t really used at that time, Missy would have been referred to more commonly as an invert, not a very pleasant term but that was what was around at the time. I also think she is someone who is definitely a forerunner of the transgender community, that she really adopted masculinity, and felt comfortable walking around with a male attitude and persona.

Absolutely, and Denise was wonderful in the role. Was it difficult to cast Missy?

Wash Westmoreland: It was difficult to cast Missy, and it took a long time. And we had a very open and inclusive audition process and auditioned many different actors. Denise was the one who completely, immediately defined who Missy was. Both in terms of her class background, and her non-conformity, and her adoption of masculinity.

And, the sets, costumes and locale are all perfect. You feel fully immersed in French culture. Can you talk a bit about picking locations, and making sure details were right?

Wash Westmoreland: Well, I would have loved to have filmed the whole movie in France. That wasn’t possible from a budgetary standpoint and also, I think in the end we had a shoot that happened in three different countries. We shot the countryside in the UK, where we managed to find some 19th century houses, that we could convert into a more French looking with shutters and various devices that production designers have, so that was the first part.

The second part we went to Budapest and there’s actually a sort of stylistic connection between Budapest and Paris because Budapest remade itself as a city at the end of the nineteenth century and adopted a lot of Parisian style. In doing that they have their own Champs-Élysées which is called Andrassy, which is a big boulevard in the center of the city. And they have also their own Moulin Rouge, which was built to sort of copy the Moulin Rouge in Paris, but now it looks more like the original Moulin Rouge then the one in Paris does. Because the one in Paris has expanded and become a much bigger space.

So, there’s many things about Budapest that really lent themselves. All the interiors really we found had this sort of unrefurbished look to them, like it was the same windows, the same doorknobs, and floorboards, it just felt like time had not changed this place. It was a lot of great locations, which our production designer could then bring up to a Parisian look, and we had a truckload of furniture that came down from Paris. It was a lot of observing the style from a lot of graphic record and the paintings of the time of so many great artists to reference and find the look of Paris for that era. And then the last day of the shoot we did have one day in Paris, to get the really wide shots of Colette walking by the Saint, because where else are you going to get that, ya know? Hopefully it all matches together and creates what we wanted to convey to be with the times.

source: Bleecker Street, 30West, Lionsgate

It does! I wouldn’t have known that you filmed in the UK and Budapest if you hadn’t told me, so great job.

Wash Westmoreland: We were very careful, and even our French friends who saw it were like “Oh you shot in Paris,” and I was like, “No.” [Laughs] We were very influenced by the films of Max Ophüls, who was a German filmmaker who worked in France in the 1930 and 1940s. Who was always recreating this very lovingly look in his films. Particularly Earrings of Madame De and Letter from an Unknown Woman were very influential in the way Colette looks.

Can you tell us about your next project, Earthquake Bird?

Wash Westmoreland: Yeah! Well, I just completed production on Earthquake Bird which shot in Tokyo, which shot between May and July of this year. It’s a very different film from Colette. It’s a female-centric crime story, a Tokyo-noir I call it. Starring Alicia Vikander.

Did you have any film inspirations growing up?

Wash Westmoreland: Yes I did, I was sort of looking at my father, who was best with cinema. And he would show us films and explain “this is a wide-shot, this is a dolly shot, this is a close up.” He would sort of explain films to me and my brother growing up. The exposure to film in Britain in the 70’s was essentially a lot of homegrown British productions. We’d get a lot of Carry On films, and James Bond films, and House of Horror, but I also saw a lot of Michael Powell films, who was an absolute visionary filmmaker. The work he did with Emeric Pressburger like Black Narcissus and those films, and the style completely mesmerized me in my formative years.

We want to thank Wash Westmoreland for taking the time to speak with us.

Colette has a US release September 21st, and a UK release on January 25th, 2019.

COLETTE | Official Trailer - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

The post Interview With Co-Writer & Director Of COLETTE, Wash Westmoreland appeared first on Film Inquiry.

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Freddie Krueger is back. The villain of the much scarier Nightmare on Elm Street series by Wes Craven, the original fall-asleep-and-die horror movies, is referenced in this new movie by an expert who explains sleep paralysis is a real phenomenon. He of the striped shirt and extended fingernails would appreciate being called out in Mara. He might even respect this modest homage, one of those releases that is good but not great, deserving an audience on cable, streaming, or as an option on an airplane.

Mara is a mystery thriller. Forensic psychologist Kate Fuller (Olga Kurylenko) is called upon to investigate an apparent homicide. A wife has been blamed for the death of her husband in the opening scene – the most effective of the moments of violence. Their child woke up, went to the parents’ bedroom, approached the door with trepidation, and opened it a moment too late to witness exactly what had just happened.

The girl is understandably traumatized. A rookie, Dr. Fuller, is summoned to coax testimony out of her. Dr. Fuller has empathy, having taken up her profession because her mother was schizophrenic. She blames hallucinations for this crime, and herself for her mother’s demise.

Her diagnosis is based on the deceased having had a sleep disorder. Dr. Fuller follows that clue, learning about a community of sufferers of sleep disorders, who feel stigmatized. They do not want to be called “nuts”, while they huddle together like addicts in group therapy. They are paranoid wrecks.

The Sleep of Death?

The issue is whether they are experiencing psychosis because of sleep deprivation. Or, as one of their number insists, it may be that a demon has emerged to kill them off as has happened in previous episodes around the world predating Jesus Christ. The fiend is drawn to tragic wrongdoing so the human culprits can expiate their sins whether they wish to or not.

source: Saban Films

The earnest Dr. Fuller interviews the fellow who claims to have discovered the truth. Named “Dougie,” he is assumed to be a druggie. He warns everyone that they are all doomed. As is inevitable in the genre, Dr. Fuller herself is placed into peril. Meanwhile, the child comes to be stalked by the same ailment or avenger.

Kurylenko as Dr. Fuller must carry the suspense. She does fine, her role here involving more grime than glamour. Probably fewer reaction shots would have sufficed to establish the tone. Since her start as a “Bond girl”  in Quantum of Solace, she has established her acting skill in features such as Oblivion.

One might quibble about details such as the second victim not being a “registered US citizen,” which no citizen is, and there being no requirement yet to sign up with the local police. They don’t want to say “foreigner” for some reason. He is Japanese, which might have a vague meaning in the plot, since Dr. Fuller’s deceased mother bequeathed her a Japanese beckoning cat figurine (misidentified as a Chinese icon). The reveal of his transgression is set out in too cursory a manner to warrant the narrative significance it is assigned.

Or the Science of Delusion?

Skepticism about the supernatural, and the corresponding faith in science, never saves anybody in these scenarios. Dr. Fuller is willing to consider supernatural explanations, because otherwise she would be compelled to disbelieve her eyes. She is told by amateur researcher Dougie that “Mara” is merely the name this evil is given in modern America. But, believers assure doubters, she has called herself by other titles throughout history around the world.

The Mara monster is not a CGI effect. Actor Javier Botet is afflicted with Marfan syndrome, an ailment that gives him disproportionately long limbs. Thin and double jointed, he has made a career of creepiness. He is the title character in Slender Man, for example, and was a xenomorph in Alien: Covenant.

source: Saban Films

As versatile a performer as he is, his appearance here, in female form, confirms the aesthetic dictum that “less is more.” The plot is more dramatic with less clarity of his physicality. What we perceive in our mind’s eye is worse than what we see on screen. No amount of FX would be likely to change that in this instance. The reason is what the movie posits. Our own unconscious has power over us; the heart of the drama is sleep. Sleep has been a mystery since consciousness birthed curiosity.

The study of sleep has unlocked only a few of its secrets. Among the conclusions that are clear, even if the reason remains obscure, is that the prolonged lack of REM sleep leads to very unhappy outcomes. Dreams especially have been subject to interpretation, by mystics, novelists, and scientists, among whom there might be less differentiation than supposed. We all known the uncanniness of imagination.

Philosopher Rene Descartes of “I Think, Therefore I Am” fame was trying to solve the problem of the evil deceiver: whether we can truly know that our reality isn’t simply an illusion created by the devil. Mary Shelley was inspired to write of Frankenstein the doctor and his monster namesake by an episode of sleep paralysis. Hmong refugees in fact passed away in their slumber en masse as mentioned in this fiction. Many viewers will recall their own moment of terror suspended between asleep and awake, mind disassociated from body.

All of that renders sleep paralysis is a perfect subject for a horror movie. The producers were smart to green light this project, and the movie looks plausible. Shooting occurred in Savannah, Georgia; the quaint Southern town has positioned itself for the entertainment business with streets that could be set designs and sizable tax incentives.

Mara: Conclusion

A movie such as Mara should be praised. It was made with the minimal budget of under $3 million by first-time director Clive Tonge, a professor in Cumbria, United Kingdom, but neither the cost constraints nor debut status is obvious. The competence of this production suggests the promise of the creative team. This particular outing will satisfy an audience that enjoys jitters, with just enough scares that as you leave the theatre you might dread your next bout of sleep paralysis.

What is it exactly that makes horror movies work? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Mara was released in the United States on September 7, 2018. For all international release dates, see here.

MARA Official Trailer (2018) Olga Kurylenko, Thriller Movie HD - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

The post MARA: Scary Enough To Keep Us Awake appeared first on Film Inquiry.

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The Hatton Garden safe depository heist happened just over three years ago but it has already inspired the production of three British films based on the event, all of which explore the burglary which is considered to be the largest in English legal history, with an estimated £200 million stolen from the upper-class area of London in 2015. King of Thieves is the latest such release, and arguably the most prolific to date: directed by James Marsh and starring Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Charlie Cox, Paul Whitehouse, Michael Gambon and Ray Winstone amongst others, The King of Thieves is a straightforward crime-caper whose promising cast and intriguing story are wasted by a lackluster execution and poor script.

source: Studiocanal

A famous thief in his younger years, 77-year-old widower Brian Reader unites a band of misfit criminals to plot an unprecedented burglary at the Hatton Garden Safe Depository. Using their old-school skills and contacts, the thieves – almost all in their 60s and 70s – plan the heist over the Easter holiday weekend and end up roughly £200 million richer for their troubles. But as the investigation intensifies and tensions begin to flare, the group become distrustful of each other and clash over how to share the loot.

Cashes in on previous genre glory

Wearing its influences on its sleeve, The King of Thieves decides to cash in on the genre’s previous glories while forgetting to bring any sense of style or grit to proceedings itself, leading to a disappointingly rote and conventional crime-caper. With heist film footage interspersed throughout this 108-minute piece (often of the actors themselves starring in superior genre entries during their heyday), Thieves frequently finds itself reminding its audience of the film they could be seeing, inadvertently installing a sense of frustration with the viewers, with which it brings upon itself. Absent creativity or innovation, The King of Thieves provides only the most rudimentary level of enjoyment.

source: Studiocanal

If you were to pinpoint the film’s biggest flaw, it would come down to the uneven and inconsistent screenplay. Joe Penhall’s script seems content in playing it conventionally, straying too close to the heist narrative formula than one would like. While you may argue that it comes down to the makeup of the real-life story, it struggles to produce anything new and ultimately fails to align with the general intrigue of the story at hand. Furthermore, it strains to balance the lighthearted ‘hip replacement’ humour with the dramatic heft and intensity of the fallout, something which holds The King of Thieves back: just as it shows progression of its themes and story, it is undercut by the often forced and stale gags which hinder as frequently as they hit.

Thieves’ real crown jewels are its stellar cast

Although responsible for a number of critically-acclaimed projects – a Best Picture nominee (2014’s The Theory of Everything), a Best Documentary winner (Man on Wire) and an Emmy-nomination (for his work on HBO’s The Night Of) – during his career, director James Marsh fails to bring the same expertise to play here, facing clear difficulty with Thieves‘ script that impacts his execution of the tale. Unable to subvert such an uncomplicated, clear-cut retelling, his attempt to nail a consistent style is unsuccessful here and, in this case, Marsh lacks the grit or resolve to take Thieves to the next level.

Blandly filmed and cheaply assembled, Marsh does little to make this anything other than passable, lackluster entertainment you will have likely forgotten as soon as the credits have rolled. Let’s consider this one a blip on his record, until he proves us otherwise.

source: Studiocanal

King of Thieves‘ real crown jewel, though, is the stellar ensemble. Filled with heavyweight hitters from the British film profession, the cast entertains even when the script gives them little to work with, indicative of their natural charm and industry legacy. Michael Caine leads, bringing a fair amount of sympathy to Brian, while Jim Broadbent plays it against-type with a performance oozing with nastiness and bile. Charlie Cox provides some gravitas, and you feel empathy towards the character (known only as Basil) because of his well-balanced turn; while the youngest of the group by a considerable distance, one would argue that he delivers the most wellrounded performance of the bunch.

With more squabbling and backstabbing than a high school playground and more testosterone than a barber’s shop, Thieves operates well in exploring the group dynamic as their downfall begins – despite some repetitive content that becomes a little tiresome.

In Conclusion: The King of Thieves

Not bad but rather bland, The King of Thieves is too simply constructed to fully capitalise on its solid cast and compelling true-life crime story. Its difficulty in balancing the film’s tone results in an uneven piece too inconsistent to fully enjoy, but it is entertaining enough in the most basic way; this is more of a film you’d catch on television late one night, as opposed to one that demands the full theatrical experience. Despite a gold-plated cast, The King of Thieves scraps to deliver the goods due to a blandly-executed retelling of a more intriguing, rich story.

What is your favourite heist film?

The King of  Thieves it out now in the UK. Additional release dates can be found here.

King of Thieves International Trailer #1 (2018) | Movieclips Trailers - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

The post THE KING OF THIEVES: Bland British Crime Caper appeared first on Film Inquiry.

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The feature debut of the Zambia-born, Wales-raised filmmaker Rungano Nyoni, I Am Not a Witch is a visually striking, emotionally resonant satire of a surprising form of sexism that still exists in certain parts of the world: witch camps. Most commonly found in Ghana, witch camps are exactly what their name would imply: settlements comprised of women who have been accused of witchcraft. Ostracized from their home villages, these women have nowhere else to go and so are taken in by the camps, who immediately put them to work as both field hands and tourist attractions.

It is no coincidence that witch camps are primarily populated with women; it’s further evidence of a deep-seated misogyny that stretches back to the Salem witch trials and beyond. As Nyoni said in an interview with The Independent last year, “I am just trying to point out the absurdity of something that is misogynistic…In my research, I found that the ways that these people who held witches talked about women were extraordinary, so the film came from a place of anger.”

Indeed, I Am Not a Witch, while suffused with a thread of dark humor, is also a furious indictment of the way society continues to treat women and girls who do not fit neatly into the molds prescribed for them.

The Outsiders

I Am Not a Witch begins when an unusual young girl (Maggie Mulubwa) with no family or friends to speak of is accused of witchcraft by her village. A tired-looking police officer listens to a packed room of paranoid villagers pour forth proof that is largely frivolous; indeed, one man’s evidence of her evildoing is entirely based on a dream he had. But, to keep the peace, the officer calls in a government official named Mr. Banda (a superbly smug Henry B.J. Phiri), who runs a witch camp.

source: Film Movement

After an absurd, awkward performance by a witch doctor that serves as the girl’s trial, she is found guilty of witchcraft and taken into custody by Mr. Banda. Upon arrival in the witch camp, the young girl, dubbed Shula by the other witches, is attached to a large spool of ribbon designed to keep her from flying away and killing people. If she decides to stop being part of the witch camp and cuts the ribbon, she’ll be transformed into a goat.

Forced to choose between life in the camp or life as a goat, Shula chooses the former. The other witches spend their days working in the fields, white ribbons waving behind them in the breeze as their spools sit propped on top of poles jammed into the dirt, However, that’s not the life they want for young Shula – they want her to go to school. But instead of getting an education, Shula is dressed up in an elaborate costume and paraded through an assortment of villages by Mr. Banda to declare justice for miscellaneous crimes.

Heart of Darkness

In one incredibly absurd moment in I Am Not a Witch, Shula has been brought before a village to issue her first-ever judgment. But, she’s so unsure of who to declare guilty out of a lineup of alleged robbers that she asks Mr. Banda to call one of the elder witches on his cell phone, and stands there taking advice before finally pronouncing her judgment. Even more absurd is the fact that despite her utter lack of concrete evidence, Shula’s judgment is the correct one.

Is this proof that Shula is actually a witch or just a lucky guess? The film allows you to come to your own conclusions, condemning the treatment of the so-called witches as opposed to witchcraft itself.

source: Film Movement

The hypocrisy of villagers so backward in their beliefs that they need a witch to tell them who is guilty of a crime while standing and watching as the witch then consults modern technology for the answer, is one of many sharply funny moments in I Am Not a Witch. Delicately balancing on a thin line between comedy and tragedy, Nyoni’s satirical script highlights the irony inherent in a society that treats witches as both magical creatures and mundane tourist attractions, subject to flashbulbs in their faces as they sit obediently at the ends of their ribbons.

In another cutting moment, one of the witch’s daughters arrives at the camp – driven there by her lover, who happens to be the one who accused her mother of witchcraft in the first place – and delivers a series of wigs with silly celebrity knockoff names to the other witches in the camp. To see these women, treated like monsters by their communities, try on candy-colored wigs and crack into wry smiles is somehow both hilarious and heartbreaking. That they pay for the wigs with the bottles of gin that Shula has been given as payment for her judgments adds additional layers of emotion to an already complicated situation.

Tied Down

Nyoni’s cast is primarily composed of non-actors who give amazingly natural performances, including her truly magical lead. Mulubwa does not have much dialogue in the film, but Shula does not need to speak in order for her pain to be heard. When she experiences fleeting moments of contentment, such as finally getting to attend a class with other children, her face lights up like the sun; when she is swallowed up by sadness, such as when she watches one of the witches get attacked at the grocery store after the other customers spot her tell-tale spool of ribbon hidden in her shopping cart, her face crumbles. Shula is the heart of the film, and Mulubwa’s performance ensures that you’ll stay with her until the bitter end.

source: Film Movement

I Am Not a Witch is full of striking visuals, many of which are tied to the omnipresent spools of ribbons that follow the witches throughout the film. Indeed, early on in the film, Mr. Banda is thrilled to announce to the witches that thanks to the kindness of the government, they’ll now have longer ribbons than ever before! Just think of how much more freedom you’ll have, he says with an unabashedly bureaucratic wink.

Yet the ribbons serve as a reminder throughout the film that these women will never be free in this society. The white ribbons waving in the breeze tie them to the camp and their fates; to cut them would mean freedom, but it would also mean transformation into a goat. Which fate would you choose? I Am Not a Witch forces you to contemplate these and other uncomfortable questions that will stick with you long after the credits roll.

I Am Not A Witch: Conclusion

Carried by a flair for dramatic visual and a remarkable lead performance from Mulubwa, I Am Not a Witch is a fierce and undeniably feminist film unlike anything else in cinemas this year.

What do you think? Can you believe that witch camps still exist in parts of the world even in the twenty-first century? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

I Am Not a Witch was released in the U.S. on September 7, 2018. You can find more international release dates here.

I Am Not A Witch Trailer | Film4 - YouTube

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

The post I AM NOT A WITCH: A Haunting & Humorous Feature Debut appeared first on Film Inquiry.

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