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Thursday, 20 July 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare nominates his best film of 2016, MA VIE DE COURGETTE (Claude Barras, Switzerland/France)

Courgette, Camille and Raymond. Two lost children and a lost father coming together through the grace of this wonderful, exquisitely made, profoundly moving, stop frame animation film from Swiss director Claude Barras. Amongst other things Barras studied graphics at the École Emile Cohl in France during his tenure and the scrupulously achieved, direct and
unsentimental uncluttered work of Cohl, the creator of what we know these days as the animated film is deftly translated down a century plus of movie history to make a stunning artistic debut in this small (66 minutes) masterpiece from 2016.

The screenplay was written by Celine Sciamma who seems to have been completely tuned into Barras' vision. This is a distinguished addition to her own filmography which includes Girlhood (2013), Bande de Filles (2016) and the screenplay for Téchiné's big return to form this year, Quand on a 17 ans.

The Children's Movie, maybe more correctly movies with and about children, is the greatest minefield for miscalculation in tone and self-indulgence of all the movie genres that have been born in the previous 120 years of cinema history. Setting aside the animated feature (live puppet or drawn), and the Disney and other cartoon/live action franchises, if we allow ourselves to examine a dedicated sub-set of Children's Films we find precious few great works, but at the top several both precious in number and great they be.

Sammy Going South (Alexander Mackendrick, UK, 1963) with a boy who becomes a man and loses his innocence when he faces his nemesis and kills the Tiger. Lang's greatest 50s movie, Moonfleet (USA, 1955) with its subterranean universe of caves, passages and treasure troves guarded by the dead in which the orphaned boy comes to learn the truth about his hero/father substitute, himself and mankind. Laughton's only film as director and Agee's best screenplay, Night of the Hunter (USA, 1955) which is simply incomparable in the American talking film era. The Window (Ted Tetzlaff, USA, 1949) and W.C Menzies fine Invaders from Mars (USA, 1953) whose central child figure becomes the focus and last rational human remains of the entropic noir and science fiction realm. Similarly Spielberg's best movie, AI:Artifical Intelligence (USA, 2001), a project declined by Kubrick, in which Spielberg's Jewishness and his central sense of abandonment are brilliantly channeled into a near masterpiece that itself imagines the end of the human race with the robot boy as its only witness.

Zéro de Conduite
And the very greatest Children's Film of all, Zéro de Conduite (Jean Vigo, France, 1933) which challenges the whole world to dispel its unfairness and its hypocrisy and its tendency to evil through the sheer life force of the protagonists, ultimately led by the shy queerboy whose march of liberation VIgo choreographs in an orgasmic slow motion dormitory parade of feathers literally tearing apart social fabric and in a highly sexualized image, bourgeois power.

If children can remind us constantly of our innocence or our potential for goodness, their presence in these movies allows us to enter what might be called a state of grace. Ma Vie de Courgette joins this distinguished list. The screens above are from a new German Blu-ray from Praesens-films. While the German disc carries audio in German and original French, there are no English subtitles. But given dialogue is sparse and the picture literally moves and unfolds its emotional and physical narrative almost totally by visual means, expression, gesture and mise-en-scene, the lack of subs seems a small thing if you have the slightest French language knowledge.

This is my best film of 2016.

Editors Note: This film played the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival, has been screened at ACMI and screened at the 2017 Sydney Film Festival in both French and English versions under the title My Life as a Zucchini.

Ann Hui - Another film surfaces - THE WAY WE ARE (Hong Kong,China, 2008)

The Way We Are (Poster)
In an earlier post on this blog Tina Kaufman remarked that in following Hui’s career she had seen “the very moving A Simple Life (2011) when the SFF screened it, and in the last year or so I saw the absolutely lovely A Golden Era (2014).  But in between those films she's made many more - I'm going to have to try and track some down!”

One such of those is The Way We Are, a 2008 movie made by Ann Hui in Hong Kong and possibly never screened here, and certainly not in the multiplexes in the manner in which the major Chinese films now get released. It was showing on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Australia and the program guide listed it under “Classic Asian” (I think).

In many ways it forms a tandem relationship with A Simple Life mentioned above. Mrs Cheung (Hee Ching Paw) is a widow, in her fifties I guess. She has a son who has completed his high school studies and is slacking round the flat over summer while he waits for his results. His attitude improves when he attends some sort of religious-inspired counselling course. Mrs Kwai (Chan Lai-wun) is also a widow but a decade or more older. They meet when the older woman, a former street vegetable seller, gets a job in the supermarket where Mrs Cheung manages the fruit and veg section and where she demonstrates her ability to carve up a Durian melon. Slowly the two women become friends and by the end of the movie they each have more affection for the other than they do for the various family members whose occasional company has to be endured. Both women slowly reveal that they don’t like their relatives very much.

The two widows come to rely on each other.  The son goes OK in his finals. At the end, the camera tracks past them into a shot of the Hong Kong night from the high rise flat where all three were sharing a meal. A simple and realistically treated story all over in a very quick 94 minutes.

Ann Hui’s direction of the script by Shiu-wa Lou is near flawless. Short but succinct scenes, a subtle narrative of domestic matters which reveals some greater truths about why people like and don’t like each other, it’s a work of fine art played in a minor key and needless to say probably lacking the oomph of plot twists that might have got it out into the multiplexes. The film is another piece of the near Balzacian portrait of Hong Kong and its people, past and present, that mostly comprise the director’s career. As Tina said, not enough attention has been paid to this major artist. She turned seventy this year and is still making brave movies, at least 27 features according to IMDb and more shorts, docos and TV work on top of that. It’s time.

Ann Hui

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Film and Politics 101 - A Manifesto for Cinephiles

Editor’s Note: I am indebted to Sydney’s supercinephile Barrie Pattison for bringing to attention this manifesto which went after the cinephile vote at the recent French election.

Alain Penso
At the recent French election, movie critic M. Alain Penso ran on the following program.

1) Add to the financing of French and foreign film to maintain the production of experimental and personal film and guarantee it's availability in theaters.

2) Promote a cultural policy which respects the contribution of seniors (emphasizing scripts and parts for woman over 50)

3) Aid communication with regular open meetings with performers and film makers. Freedom and passion for everyone.

4) Nourish innovative urban surroundings by involving designers and special effects specialists.

5) Enter the rue Champolion and its cinemas (Le Champo, Le Reflet medicis, La Filmotheque) in World Heritage listing.

6) Give tax concessions to cinemas with annual memberships which encourage new and future generations of theatrical film goers.

7) Value highly festivals which do not give prizes

8)  Reduce payouts to media and TV Chains without aesthetic or ethical values.

9) Modify the current system of advances by the Committee National du cinema with a system based on anonymous scripts.

10) Ensure the stability and re-stocking on the liquor cabinet in the Palais Bourbon.

Interior of Cinema La Pagoda
11) Restore and nationalize the mythic Cinema La Pagode, the only movie house classed as a historic monument and identified as "Art and Experimental."

12) Tickets to be paid for by Social Security, a movie ticket to act against depression.

Well he's got my vote.

Editor’s Further Note: Penso is also a film-maker you can watch one of his films if you click this Youtube link