A Ghost Story: Review

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A Ghost Story is the newest collaborative output from writer and director, David Lowery, and A24, whose releases in recent years have been nothing short of fantastic. With such an ingenious concept and the input of a production company who champion individuality and uninhibited creativity, this particular release had been on my radar for months. Featuring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck as a young married couple whose time together is cut short by the sudden death of the latter, the film explores the weighty themes of love, grief, time and legacy in the most unusual of ways. These themes coalesce beautifully through Lowery’s utilisation of the film’s slow-burning editing techniques and simplistic but carefully-crafted visual style, culminating in a powerful, meditative piece that invites its viewers to contemplate the transience of our individual lives and the traces of our existence left behind within our material surroundings.

Director David Lowery noted in an interview regarding the film that he seeks to explore the relationship between the domestic and the cosmic in his filmmaking, and I believe it is this keen interest in the unrelenting movement of time which underpins the gravity of A Ghost Story and makes it such a hauntingly ethereal and spiritual experience. Following the death of her partner, Rooney Mara’s ‘M’ is depicted wrangling with her grief, whilst a crude purgatorial incarnation of Casey Affleck’s ‘C’ watches over her day by day, finding himself stuck in the time and space he once occupied as a human. Affleck’s ghostly presence acts as a vessel through which we spectate on Mara moving through her grief and progressing with her life, before eventually moving out of their once idyllic suburban Texas home and being replaced with a string of other inhabitants. Where the film goes from here, I will not divulge for fear of spoiling its quiet magnetism.

The feelings I was left with as the credits rolled were split between an odd, poignant sadness and a sense of awakening and rejuvenation; the pained, lonely and unrelenting purgatory existence of the titular ghost meant the overall viewing was tinged by the realisation of the insignificance of our lives and personal experiences in the great sweeping backdrop of time. Equally, it made me want to live and be joyful and experience as much as possible in the tiny glimmer of time I spend on the earth.

The film’s central ideas were presented with the same heady visual flair and cosmic gravitas that can be expected from 21st century Terrence Malick, as seen in The Tree of Life and The New World. Like the aforementioned titles, Lowery utilises the film’s southern American gothic setting to inject an added sense of weight and history to the film’s cyclical structure. Director of Photography, Andrew Droz Palermo, truly takes advantage of this additional layer of poignancy through his carefully considered cinematography, often lingering on slowly-unfolding, meticulously-framed wide shots which position the viewer as a voyeuristic presence within the space the ghost inhabits, much like the spectral figure itself which acts an ever-present symbol of the magnitude of time. Even details that could be perceived as empty aesthetic touches like the 1.33:1 aspect ratio serve their purpose, in this case playing with time even further by grounding the film with an undistinct feeling of nostalgia.

A Ghost Story

With such an introspective tone and inventive take on its premise, Daniel Hart’s mournful, haunting score elevates A Ghost Story to even greater heights, acting as the final jigsaw piece in communicating the yearning, melancholy feeling shrouding viewers as they watch generations pass by. Indeed, music allows the film to utterly transcend time and allow audiences to become immersed in the idea of connecting oneself with spaces, people and places across different realms, particularly as M herself uses music shared between herself and C to reconnect with her lost partner. Moments such as these which are scattered plentifully throughout the film amongst its more reflective moments make it sheer joy to watch, despite how painful it might be.

I noted when reading about the film how many people appeared to question the length of particular scenes, but I feel that these slow, beguiling editing tendencies only further enable the quiet ebb and flow of the film’s various chapters. The lengthier scenes also notably shed light on the weight of grief as an insidious entity that fades but never truly disappears, as well as creating the illusion of a series of moments that culminate in a person’s entire lifetime. Every detail was evidently crafted and laboured over in order to vibrantly paint a picture of this overall idea of the passing of time, what happens when we as individuals disappear from the earth’s timeline, and the impression that people leave on each other, the planet, and indeed on culture. A Ghost Story is a quietly beautiful, intelligent and original piece of filmmaking, and one that I am already desperate to revisit.

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The Holy Mountain (1973): Classic Review

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If you’re familiar with the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s you’ll be no stranger to the strange and hallucinatory imagery which characterises his filmmaking style. Amongst his best known classics, namely his 1970 acid western El Topo and 1989 avant-garde circus horror Santa Sangre, lies The Holy Mountain. The film, which was Jodorowsky’s third feature length picture, in some ways defies description, breaking down taboos and making cinematic history, going on to stand the test of time as a major influence for a host of modern day filmmakers and visual artists. Having enjoyed such a profoundly memorable and transfixing experience in viewing the film, I’m sure I’ll be joining a long line of people who are keen to discuss the film’s beautiful, disturbing, and lingering presence, and why it remains such a cornerstone of surrealist cinema.

As can be said for much of Jodorowsky’s work, The Holy Mountain utilises its absurdity to catapult its central themes of growth, evolution and metamorphosis to the forefront of the audience’s attention. It follows an enigmatic Christ figure on his journey to the titular mountain amongst a ramshackle crowd of eight other ‘wise men’, led by Jodorowsky himself as their Mexican spiritual leader. Rife with juxtaposed horror and beauty, the film is an exercise in total visual unpredictability, arresting and masterfully-framed shots, and vibrant, acidic colours which elevate its magical and otherworldly quality.

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The film often entirely transcends its medium, not only in terms of its breathtaking cinematography, but quite literally at times, breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to viewers in such a way that is jarring to even the most surrealism-literature of cinema enthusiasts. The strange and incongruously startling images which characterise Jodorowsky’s style simultaneously keep the audience at arm’s length due to the sheer horror of some of the stories behind each disciple, whilst also drawing them deeper into the transfixing journey embarked on by the wise men: cerebral, visceral, primal cinema, decorated with vivid colour, utterly original storytelling and layer after layer of ambiguous meaning. The Holy Mountain presents a world that is difficult to enter and even harder to withdraw from, with every intoxicating frame resembling one of Dalí’s later paintings.

Whilst The Holy Mountain certainly falls into the realms of Jodorowsky’s more accessible works, it nonetheless demands viewers to take on a fair share of the work in terms of interpreting the journey of each disciple, and centrally the spiritual Christ figure through whose eyes the events of the story are unveiled. Whether the viewer is left awestruck by the often grotesque but frequently gorgeous imagery Jodorowsky etches into each frame, or dismisses the experience altogether, is dependent on the individual and their willingness to filter through the many allegorical ideas the film puts forward concerning faith, spirituality and emotional endurance. It’s as if Jodorowsky isn’t pointing the viewer toward one central, comprehensive idea about faith, but rather sets up a warped and unsettling backdrop through which his audience, much like his characters, can veer off at tangents according to their own primitive reactions.

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Jodorowsky makes frequent use of a Kubrick-esque one-point focus in his shots, drawing the eye hypnotically to whatever symbolic mise-en-scene he wants the viewer to consider. This makes for a film that is often difficult to look away from, no matter how much your senses might be pulling you to at times. With one of the most amusing, infuriating, intelligent and unexpected endings I can recall watching in 1970s cinema, Jodorowsky proves himself once again as a truly masterful surrealist filmmaker, utilising his sense of irony, great spiritual ponderings and unmatched visual style to toy with his audience and their perception of film as an art form, as well as their own existence. Much like his other works, The Holy Mountain seems to emerge from a place of necessity: Jodorowsky’s need to fuse his own internal narrative with the possibilities yielded by camera, and ask his audience to see their own surroundings with the same vibrancy.

Discussing the works of Sofia Coppola

In anticipation of one of 2017’s most anticipated films, The Beguiled, which is hot on the lips of both ardent filmgoers and Cannes critics alike, I was keen to write a few words about its director, Sofia Coppola, and her suitably beguiling body of work, her impact on myself as a viewer, and her ongoing influence as one of the most prominent female voices in 21st century cinema. Any suggestions that Coppola’s early success stemmed merely from the nepotism associated with being the daughter of one of the most esteemed and prolific filmmakers of the 1970s were fiercely and repeatedly dismissed as Coppola began to mould her own voice as a director and screenwriter, and craft one of Hollywood’s most unmistakable aesthetic styles. This surely epitomised the lack of proper, deserved recognition and accreditation for female filmmakers in the wake of the New Hollywood era that her father played such an instrumental role in creating. In spite of this, Coppola’s career glows with a multitide of gorgeous, richly-textured and thematically-driven character pieces, underpinned by the iconic celluloid fuzz and introspective soundtracks we have come to expect from her. Her style may be consistent but it never becomes dull; her writing evokes the most indescribable of images, articulating feelings in a way you never thought possible.

Coppola’s 1999 debut feature effort came in the form of her beautiful, dream-like adaptation of The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides’ 1993 novel. Its plot was led by Kirsten Dunst, who would later become a frequent collaborator of Coppola’s, and her pensive, mysterious portrayal of Lux Lisbon, one of five sisters living a stifled and sheltered existence as a result of their deeply conservative and religious parents in 1970s Grosse Pointe, Michigan. The film also marks her first artistic union with French electronic dream pop duo, Air, whose serenely indulgent score cements the film’s slow-burning, other-worldly mood. The band’s music would later go on to evoke this very same quality in her later work, and undoubtedly set a precedent for the rich, enveloping texture Coppola has proven herself to be an expert at creating.

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The film follows the increasingly depressive behaviour of the Lisbon girls as their coming-of-age desires are quashed by their overprotective parents, recounted from the perspective of the group of teenage boys who spent their youth fixated on their infatuation with the sisters. Comprised of hazy vignettes and muted pastel hues, The Virgin Suicides contains many of the features which are considered hallmarks of Coppola’s career, which often chronicles characters wishing to become something more than they appear to themselves.

The aforementioned statement is perhaps the most defining idea behind Coppola’s 2003 sophomore film, Lost In Translation, for which she received her award for Best Original Screenplay at the 76th Academy Awards in 2004. This film remains my personal favourite film of all time, and has been ever since I first saw it. It brings me to tears with every single viewing, and is perhaps one of the most arresting explorations of loneliness and disconnection ever put to screen, at least in my eyes. Starring a fresh-faced Scarlett Johansson as a directionless graduate accompanying her photographer husband on a work trip to Tokyo, and Bill Murray as tired actor filming a commercial, it explores the unlikely connection between the pair as they struggle to identify with Tokyo as well as their home country. The beauty of Lost In Translation lies with Coppola’s ability to delve into the absolute depths of a character’s soul through her camera work: indeed, every turn of the camera can be read in terms of the internal language of Bob and Charlotte, as they find solace in each other’s company.

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I cherish this film more than any film ever made, and I love immersing myself in all its rapturous, melancholic, fuzzy, insomnia-drenched beauty. I do struggle when it comes to articulating how deeply ingrained into my very being Lost In Translation is, because of course I’m heavily biased and I know this film is a very personal one. That, however, is where Sofia Coppola succeeds as a master of creating such personal works of art, in the sense that she utilises her camera and her screenwriting gift to build scenes which can be deciphered and interpreted in a hundred different ways, characters which will be embraced so differently by so many, and experiences onto which viewers can project their own sadnesses. Her attention to detail highlights the many facets and manifestations of loneliness, creating a reflective pool in which I found such emotional clarity. I feel that the words I have shared about Lost In Translation act as a sort of intermission within the rest of this article, but I find it impossible to discuss this film without divulging at least a small fraction of my overall take on it. I hope one day to be able to write something fuller and more cohesive which fully justifies why this film is so important to me, but for now at least, just know that Lost In Translation is Sofia Coppola’s stirring, shoegaze-filled masterpiece, and remains as magnetic as ever.

Following Lost In Translation in 2006 was a slightly more divisive output, Coppola’s flighty post-modern biopic of Marie Antoinette, the doomed 18th century French queen who was largely heralded as one of the central figures in the build-up to the French revolution. The film is a far cry from the archetypal biopic format, with Coppola’s distinctive meandering, drifting narrative structure appearing once again, detailing the indulgent and ostentatious ways of the queen as she lives and parties, all the while struggling to spark any kind of connection with her new husband.

Marie Antoinette

Kirsten Dunst stars as the titular Marie Antoinette, taking on the role with a certain flightiness and innocence which both captures her character’s reputation for reckless spending and debauchery, as well as bringing a fresh, post-modern feel to the character. The camera mirrors this youthful, modernised glow by lingering on the smallest of details, harmonising effortlessly with its heavily 21st century-infused soundtrack which creates an unexpected but welcome sense of nostalgia. Every frame is dripping with sheer opulence, a clear step up in production for Coppola compared to her previous more modest efforts. Marie Antoinette is notorious for being booed upon its initial Cannes premiere, but there is so much to appreciate and delve into inside this underrated gem within Coppola’s career.

2010 saw Sofia Coppola step into more indie territory, with Somewhere, a very quiet, nihilistic and understated depiction of growth, finding purpose, and a lost sense of self. Stephen Dorff steps into the shoes of hard-living Hollywood actor, Johnny Marco, for whom the apparent banality of fame appears to have dampened any trace of identity. To some, this exploration of a life of such privilege may be somewhat alienating, which I believe may go some way towards explaining critics’ lukewarm response. If there’s anything Sofia Coppola specialises in, however, it’s providing an insight into the often uninspiring and hollow existence of fame. Something I often find troubling is the possibility that the goals and destinations I aspire to reach in life will prove far less blissful and fulfilling than I expect them to be, and as a result I will merely fill the resulting emptiness with petty distractions and waste my time, as is the case for protagonist Johnny. Coppola channels this idea effortlessly in Somewhere, hinting that life’s real beauty lies in its nuance and simplicity.

Somewhere

Clearly, Johnny’s main outlet for joy is the simple pleasures which accompany spending time with his daughter, Cleo, played impressively by Elle Fanning, who turns up unexpectedly after her mother has to leave for a while. The film’s slow pacing and seemingly vacuous plot are utilised to hint at Johnny’s growing sense of purpose and contentment since becoming a greater presence in his daughter’s life. The subtle use of lingering facial expressions, naturalistic dialogue and the unspoken bond which grows between Johnny and Cleo is what underpins this film’s ability to get under your skin, in the kind of unexpected way which leads the viewer from fairly passive viewing to a huge sense of melancholic sadness as the credits roll. Somewhere certainly won’t be for everyone, but for me was another beautiful example of why Sofia Coppola is one of cinema’s most accomplished handlers of inner turmoil and the complex emotions which come with being human.

Coppola’s most recent feature film, prior to the yet-to-be-released The Beguiled, comes in the form of 2013’s The Bling Ring, a semi-biopic centred around the real life story of a group of teenagers who task themselves with acquiring the addresses of Los Angeles-based celebrities, such as the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, and rob their homes. This film marks Coppola’s second and final collaboration with cinematographer Harris Savides, before his untimely death, with Savides’ style adopting the same visual feel as Somewhere to highlight the glamour of Hollywood in an occasionally grandiose, yet often intentionally unpretentious way. Whilst the film is undoubtedly a visual delight, The Bling Ring is rightly considered to be the weakest of Coppola’s filmography. Whilst it carries consistent entertainment value and effective pacing, I can’t help but feel the weakness stems from a disconnect between the film’s subject matter and Coppola’s style.

The Bling Ring

This isn’t to say Coppola is bound or restricted by her trademarks, as she proved with 2006’s Marie Antoinette, which stepped outside of her usual subject matter despite incorporating the same hazy, dream-like aesthetic. The Bling Ring, however, does not carry the same uniqueness or poignancy as her other films, with little in the way of character study or overt thematic dialogue. Irrespective of the film’s weakness, the subject matter is undeniably interesting, and would have benefited from a different directorial approach, be that under the helm of Coppola or a different director entirely. Her penchant for exploring the vapidity and superficiality of fame is clearly at the forefront of her interests as a writer and director, as exhibited in almost all of her films to some extent.

The harmony which exists between Coppola’s distinctive writing style, and her visual directorial presence solidifies her as potentially my favourite modern director, with her films stirring up deep and potent feelings within my psyche which can only be attributed to the exceptional emotional affinity which exists between her and her characters. Her upcoming release, The Beguiled, is a remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 classic, and features her second collaboration with Elle Fanning, third with Kirsten Dunst, and first with both Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell. Such an illustrious cast has generated a great deal of speculation audiences, as well as the fact that writing and directing a remake is new territory for Coppola. The film is already proving to be one of the most exciting releases for 2017, having secured the Best Director award for Sofia Coppola at Cannes earlier in the summer. With such early praise for the director and the recent onslaught of glowing reviews, The Beguiled promises to be yet another jewel in the crown of one of cinema’s most pensive filmmakers. Of course, we can only wait until its release to know whether the acclaim is warranted, the date for which is June 23rd here in the UK. Either way, Coppola’s filmography is consistently breathtaking and hugely important to me on a personal level, having inspired my love for cinema enormously, and providing a number of films which resonate with me more vividly than any other artistic work. The Beguiled is as intriguing as its name, and certainly not a film to be missed this summer.

20th Century Women: Review

20th Century Women 3.jpg20th Century Women has a certain melancholic euphoria about it that I can’t quite articulate with words. A soul-cleansing, masterful tapestry of multi-faceted characters and their experiences, the film’s beauty is characterised predominantly by Mike Mills’ exceptional screenplay. Based in part on his own mother, Mills pens an enriching and captivating amalgamation of scenes, woven together by the sublime performances of the wonderful ensemble cast. Annette Bening, an actress who is quite frankly under-utilised in leading roles, is mesmerising as Dorothea, a single mother in her mid-fifties who enlists the help of her twenty-something lodger, punk photographer, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), and free-spirited neighbour, Julie (Elle Fanning), in the bringing up of her teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). The film explores the impact of these three complex women on the life and coming-of-age of Jamie, as well as a multitude of imposing themes and questions which underpin the lives of each of the characters respectively.

Set in Santa Barbara in 1979, 20th Century Women draws upon concepts of motherhood, femininity, and coming of age (at any age). What was so startling about a film which is underpinned by fairly simplistic ideas is the extent to which aspects of each character’s journey, perspective and personality resonated with me, despite the polarity of their ages, circumstances, upbringings and aspirations. Even the way in which I am able to talk about these characters as though they are real people I could sit and drink wine with is a testament to the nuance, care and understanding with which they have been written. Mike Mills was evidently very concerned with paying the absolute right amount of attention to each character, moulding them each into hugely central components of the film, yet successfully maintaining the balance between realism and charm. Every character is a total contradiction: they never feel contrived, yet they each fully embody both the nostalgic charm of the era and what it means to be a human being.

20th Century Women 4Whether capturing the heady sense of freedom which comes from hurtling along the highway in a car, lingering on the rippling turquoise of the ocean’s surface, or channelling human connection through the careful composition of a room full of people, the camera acts as a vessel for joy in 20th Century Women, without ever interfering with the audience’s perception of events. In simpler terms, the film will ultimately yield a different experience depending on what you bring to it. It’s both hypnotic and therapeutic, akin to reconnecting with an old after a long period of separation, or stumbling upon a moment of realisation in the midst of unrelenting uncertainty, or clambering into bed after the longest of days. Mills creates characters who know exactly what to say, yet also find themselves in the same unanswerable predicaments as we, the viewers. Every second is warm, comforting and I couldn’t quite shake off the the inexplicable feeling of wanting to cry.

Structurally, the film steers away from any pivotal, overtly climactic moments, yet allows the most monumental periods of one’s life to play out in a completely enrapturing fashion. In this vein, it resembles a motion picture version of a kitchen noticeboard, adorned with ramshackle photographs, memos, to-do lists and phone numbers: a collection of the most transformative and memorable snippets of life, blended seamlessly together in the most uneventful, yet glorious way. Elements of the late 1970s were also wonderfully captured, to the point where audience members of any age could tangibly feel the uncertainty of America as it braced itself to step into a new political and technological era. Accompanied by the use of archive-style footage and a plethora of befitting punk and new wave songs, such as the likes of The Raincoats, Talking Heads and Siouxsie and the Banshees, the free-thinking, anachronistically unorthodox approach to life embodied by these characters was encompassed perfectly by the stylistic and musical choices accompanying every scene. Quite simply, I could’ve basked in the warmth of this film forever.

The Salesman: Review

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Following his critically-acclaimed 2011 marriage drama, A Separation, Asghar Farhadi is a director whose name has been at the forefront of world cinema for some years now. Fuelling his noteworthy presence even further was his decision to boycott this year’s 89th Academy Awards ceremony on account of Donald Trump’s ban on travellers entering the US from seven Muslim-majority countries, with Farhadi’s Iranian heritage even at one point raising the question of whether he would be able to attend in the first place. When it was later revealed he would be permitted to attend, he made the widely-supported move to send an associate on his behalf to collect the Oscar he won for his latest film, The Salesman, in protest of the travel ban.

With the film still hot on the lips of audiences and critics alike, following Farhadi’s Oscar win, it was disappointing to find that it didn’t quite live up to my high expectations. Whilst its core ideas were interesting and ambitious, issues with pacing and structure prevented it from reaching its full potential. The plot follows the marital turmoil which ensues between couple, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), after Rana is assaulted whilst alone in the pair’s new apartment. A gulf emerges between them as a result of the emotional scars left on Rana by the incident, alongside Emad’s obsessive pursuit of the perpetrator. Simultaneously, the couple are starring alongside one another in an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, which is not only affected by the troubles they face following the assault, but also begins to parallel aspects of their faltering relationship.

Whilst this dual narrative structure added depth and texture to the events which unfold in wake of Rana’s trauma, the right balance was never quite achieved. The stage play parallel could have been developed further to create a more dynamic pace and create deeper characterisation, but the lack thereof eventually became the film’s main shortfall in terms of maintaining an engaging, stimulating feel. Whilst there were climactic scenes scattered throughout the two hour run time which were truly overflowing with tension, there were an equal number of moments which felt slow and would have benefited from a more succinct approach. It’s undeniable that Asghar Farhadi is an immensely talented filmmaker, however, with his directorial proficiency lying most notably in his ability to elicit powerful and stirring performances from his actors.

The film’s second half contained much of its dramatic power, with Hosseini and Alidoosti’s nuanced performances delivering the kind of focused character development that the first half was lacking. The Salesman is most definitely creative in its ideas about the effect of psychological trauma on a relationship, with the growing rift between Rana and Emad emblematic of the difficulties couples face in not fully understanding the other person’s needs, and not being able to rise above one’s own primal emotions. Its pacing issues, however, created a lack of drive and cohesion which would have propelled the film to greatness.

 

 

Toni Erdmann: Review

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Oh Toni Erdmann, where oh where do I start? Maren Ade’s German language dark comedy, Toni Erdmann, is an exercise in sheer brilliance; outlandish, nihilistic and hilarious in its approach to the events surrounding the strange relationship between career-driven business consultant, Ines (Sandra Hüller) and her estranged father, Winifried (Peter Simonischek). This film was a complete breath of fresh air, somehow achieving the perfect balance between its endearingly bizarre, distinctly European sense of humour, and strikingly poignant undertones which consolidate its remarkable charm.

We are introduced to the character of Winifried at the film’s outset and there is an immediate sense of intrigue as to the eccentric nature of the character. The majority of the film’s events centre around Winifried making a spontaneous visit to Bucharest, where Ines lives and works. Clearly, he feels his daughter has lost her sense of humour, so adopts the titular Toni Erdmann alter ego in order to follow and embarrass her during events she attends for her work. The majority of the film’s comedy stems from these scenarios, with its sense of humour carrying the sort of absurd, outrageous quality which will perhaps divide opinion to some extent, but is undeniably creative and strikingly different from the swathes of middling comedy which are so commonplace in Hollywood cinema.

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What I adored about Toni Erdmann was the way its painful and emotional moments were conveyed in such a way that simply didn’t require dialogue or explanation. This is partly a credit to the accomplished performances of Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek, with the pair bouncing off each other to create dark and cutting humour, as well as raw and palpable emotion which momentarily transcends the film’s comedic genre and depicts feelings and experiences most of us can probably identify with in some small way. Whether this is communicated through silent tears or seething faces, the film possesses a constant awkwardness, never falling into any kind of predictable pattern in which we as viewers are aware of what might happen next, or how the relationship between Ines and her father will unfold. This beautiful and, at times, heartbreaking exploration of family bonds and changing dynamics, combined with wonderfully cringe-inducing humour created a number of scenes that will stay with me for a long time. There is an inexplicable and overwhelming sense, when watching Toni Erdmann, of wanting to cry whilst also violently laughing (much like life, I suppose?).

On another level, the film becomes even more interesting through its study of the depersonalisation of work and the world of business, something the titular character appears to know all too well in his attempts to bring levity to his daughter’s life. Ade must also be commended for crafting multi-faceted characters as opposed to the tropes she could have fallen back on. Ines, for instance, fluctuates between states of embarrassment over her father’s behaviour, yet is also initially inclusive when he first joins her in Bucharest, determined not to deride him in anyway when socialising within her business sphere. In less considerate hands her character could have been overridden with the ruthless, emotionless ‘front’ stereotype which is typically associated with business people. Of course, such a character would never have worked for Toni Erdmann, which does not shy away from the difficulty of dealing with strained family relationships.

There is not one scene I would remove from Toni Erdmann’s near three hour runtime. Thematically refreshing and brimming with genuine, big laughs, the film is an absolute triumph and one I expect to visit time and time again. It’s deeply painful and emotionally-charged whilst simultaneously being farcical and silly enough to make you feel weightless. I’m truly in love with it as a film and can see it remaining a considerably important one in my life. It’s not often that cinema surprises me the way Toni Erdmann did.

Jackie: Review

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Pablo Larraín’s Jackie is both stunning and startling in its painful, yet illuminating take on the life and experiences of perhaps America’s most noteworthy First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, in the wake of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. There is so much to admire about the director’s careful assembly of elements that produce a film which captures both the era in which it is set as well as the fraught and macabre atmosphere which befell the Kennedy family and indeed, the world, following the horrific events of 22nd November 1963.

Most central to the film’s glory is Natalie Portman’s hugely captivating and rather pragmatic portrayal of Jackie. As pointed out by Mark Kermode in his review, Portman’s performance isn’t necessarily accessible or likeable for some viewers on first watch, potentially coming off as contrived or overly considered, particularly due to Jackie’s iconic voice and her demeanour when dealing with press in the wake of her husband’s murder. This, however, was exactly what drew me, and clearly many others, to the performance. Ultimately, as Kermode goes on to explain, Portman’s role consists of a performance of a performance, in the sense that Jackie adopts several different personas when battling against the uncertainty, unfairness and grief she is dealt. This is undoubtedly a standout role in Natalie Portman’s career, offering a challenge which is seemingly wholly different to anything she’s taken on in the past. Naturally, stepping into the shoes of someone who was not only real, and whose tale is steeped in history and speculation, but also such an iconic figure, would be demanding, and in my experience it was Portman who expertly shaped the film into what it was: an arresting and multi-layered exploration of a woman whose pain was felt by every single audience member.

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Structurally, the film created a vivid sense of Jackie’s artifice, from the absurdity of her duties and exchanges immediately following Kennedy’s assassination, to her strained dealings with both the staff of Lyndon B. Johnson after succeeding Kennedy as president, and Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) as discussions take place about the safety of the family and conditions of the funeral. The decision to map between these events, leading up to the funeral and afterwards, creates a beautiful and painful tapestry of heartrending moments of bitterness, frustration and sadness which elevates the film above the mediocrity which often takes a hold of similar biopics of this kind.

One of the most poignant conversations between the pair, and indeed one of my favourite scenes from the film, occurs near its ending, in which Bobby Kennedy laments about what could’ve been, emphasising the tragedy and brutality with which his brother’s life and presidency was cut short. The film has enormous emotional resonance thanks to its exceptional performances, as well as the ethereal score added to proceedings by Mica Levi, whose most notable work is still perhaps her spine-chilling score for Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin. Her touch adds a certain gravity to the film, with the score she created for Jackie differing in tone from the eerie sci-fi qualities of Under The Skin, naturally, but still possessing the same haunting sound we have now come to expect from the composer. The score compliments the cinematography exquisitely, with the 1:1 aspect ratio and sumptuously grainy celluloid style lending itself to not only channelling the early 1960s, but also mimicking the visual style of televisions, through which many members of the public would have viewed Jackie and her family in light of the events surrounding them back in 1963. The camera fluctuates between still, poised, slow push-ins in the first half of the film, and more fluid, handheld movement as the film progresses, allowing us to become immersed in the growing maelstrom of confusion and chaos Jackie finds herself in.

I feel Jackie may end up being somewhat underrated, with some viewers perhaps overlooking the film’s marvels due to the unusual and initially perplexing style Natalie Portman adopts in her depiction of the First Lady. However, I firmly believe that every part of Jackie’s composition is well-thought out and essential in moulding one of the most infamous and endlessly-discussed political and cultural tragedies of the 20th century, into something tangible and poignant, a cinema experience which truly finds its way under your skin and exemplifies the beauty that can be achieved with nuanced filmmaking.