I Am Not Your Negro is not a film about James Baldwin: more like a séance presided over by director Raoul Peck in which he summons up from beyond the grave Baldwin’s voice ventriloquised by Samuel L. Jackson in a narration drawn entirely from Baldwin’s work. It is not one of those conventional documentaries cluttered with the thoughts of friends, relatives or experts, but a work of literary archaeology that pieces together a book which Baldwin planned but never wrote, using his notes, plus words – and only his words – from letters, essays and books written in the mid-1970s. It is, perhaps, the best documentary I have ever seen. Continue reading “I Am Not Your Negro: James Baldwin’s words remain as urgent and relevant as they were when written”
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul has been re-released nationally as part of a retrospective at London’s BFI Southbank. Thanks to the MUBI streaming service I got a chance to watch again one of the great works of the New German Cinema that I last saw when first released in 1974. The film remains as extraordinary and – sadly – as urgent and relevant in 2017 as it was in 1974. Fear Eats the Soul is, without doubt, a masterpiece: a blistering social and psychological examination of racism that has a tenderness rarely found in Fassbinder’s work. In addition, the idea of a film which treats the sexuality of a sixty year old woman in so matter of fact and sensitive a manner unfortunately remains as startling now as it was four decades ago. Continue reading “Fear Eats the Soul: Fassbinder’s film is still relevant after 40 years”
Two films with the same title were released in 2016. Martin Scorcese’s Silence (which I have not seen) received all the attention, but there was another Silence, directed by the Irish documentary film-maker, Pat Collins. An undemonstrative film, it will not be to everyone’s taste, being slow, meditative and melancholy, and having little in the way of a story. But I loved it and, thanks to MUBI streaming, I have watched it twice. Continue reading “Pat Collins’ Silence: the sounds of wind, water, bird song, and the past conjure the spirit of place”
Having already spent 54 hours in front of our TV screen watching Edgar Reitz’s monumental trilogy Heimat (more, in fact, since we watched the first two series twice), last week his four-hour prequel, The Other Homeland: Chronicle of a Yearning), arrived on virtually unheralded on BBC4, four years after its German release. Exquisitely photographed in crystalline monochrome with natural performances by its actors, many of whom had no prior acting experience, this masterwork from Reitz is absorbing, lyrical, both epic and intimate. Continue reading “Die Andere Heimat: a yearning to travel far from home”
As is usual these days, before settling down to watch Certain Women at our local cinema, we were blasted by adverts and film trailers cut fast and laced with the thundering percussion that these days is de rigueur, as if we all suffer from ADHD. Increasingly, mainstream cinema feels like a sonic and mental assault, all sound and fury, inhabiting some black hole out where the reality of daily life and ordinary people no longer exists. The welcome thing about Kelly Reichardt’s low-key, intimate and deliberately anti-dramatic film is its quiet contemplation of ordinary days in the lives of ordinary characters. Continue reading “Certain Women: open skies and distant horizons, ordinary days in the lives of ordinary characters”
I was fortunate in being able to attend, in a 24-hour period, screenings of two of the films in contention for Oscars this weekend. Though their stories are set in very specific and different communities and cultures, both Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea are films which reveal their characters’ inner lives with a sensitivity that prompts not just empathy but the realisation – as outstanding drama will – that their travails reflect universal themes and humanity in all its complexity. Common to both films is their examination of masculinity and the trouble that men have expressing their feelings. Both are blessed with exceptional performances, convincing dialogue that leaves spaces for silence, and an imaginative use of music. Continue reading “Two fine Oscar nominated films on masculinity and the trouble men have expressing their feelings”
Last week, BBC 4 screened The Past, a film by Asghar Farhadi. He’s the Iranian director, Oscar-nominated for his most recent film The Salesman, who has pledged not to attend the ceremonies even if he gets exemption from Trump’s travel ban. Previously I had seen Farhadi’s celebrated A Separation which, like The Past, takes the story of a seemingly straightforward divorce before developing, by way of a succession of unintended consequences involving a group of equally flawed yet decent characters, into a complex and challenging exploration of what forms moral behaviour.
Continue reading “The films of Asghar Farhadi: stories of unintended consequences that pose moral questions”