Andrzej Wajda: director whose films charted the travails of his nation

Andrzej Wajda: director whose films charted the travails of his nation

My first encounter with Andrzej Wajda was in the sixth form in 1966 when the school film society showed Ashes and Diamonds. I knew next to nothing about Polish politics immediately after the Soviet liberation, but the film left an indelible impression – not least due to the compelling  black and white cinematography (the first time I can remember that aspect of film-making having an impact on me) – though the central performance by Zbigniew Cybulski – lean, gun-toting, feelings impenetrable behind dark glasses James Dean style – was a major factor, too. More than a decade would pass before I would be re-acquainted with the work of Andrzej Wajda whose death, aged 90, was announced this week. Continue reading “Andrzej Wajda: director whose films charted the travails of his nation”

A roomful of apricots, the heart of a dog and moths that drink the tears of sleeping birds

A roomful of apricots, the heart of a dog and moths that drink the tears of sleeping birds

As the daylight hours shorten and the leaves start to fall I think back to the beginning of this summer when our dog very nearly died. It’s a memory brought into sharp focus by a recently-watched film and the book I am reading at the moment. Laurie Anderson’s essay-film Heart of a Dog has a lot in common with Rebecca Solnit’s most recent book, The Faraway Nearby: both are digressive, looping, meandering disquisitions on storytelling and memory, and the connection between love and death. Continue reading “A roomful of apricots, the heart of a dog and moths that drink the tears of sleeping birds”

Abbas Kiarostami: his love of simple reality captured the spirit of his times

Abbas Kiarostami: his love of simple reality captured the spirit of his times

Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us opens with a panoramic shot of a car making its way along a dusty track winding through a bare landscape dotted with occasional trees. In the car a group of film-makers argue about directions to the village where they have arranged to make a film. They are looking for a turning that should be near a single tree. One of the film-makers quotes a line from a Sufi poem: ‘Near the tree is a wooded lane/Greener than the dreams of God… .’

In those few seconds of film are encapsulated several of the defining characteristics and concerns of the films of the Iranian director, whose death was announced earlier this month. Years after seeing his films, images from them still haunt my imagination. Continue reading “Abbas Kiarostami: his love of simple reality captured the spirit of his times”

Fire at Sea: life goes on while a human catastrophe unfolds at sea

<em>Fire at Sea</em>: life goes on while a human catastrophe unfolds at sea

Last week was Refugee Week, though you wouldn’t have known it in a country now obsessed with borders and controls and frighteningly comfortable with demonising outsiders. I only learnt about it from the estimable Passing Time blog. The day after the appalling referendum result we sat down to watch Fire at Sea, Gianfranco Rosi’s strange but compelling documentary which observes the impact of the refugee crisis on the island of Lampedusa with a calm and unembroidered stare. Continue reading Fire at Sea: life goes on while a human catastrophe unfolds at sea”

Mustang: five free spirits corralled

<em>Mustang</em>: five free spirits corralled

School is out for the summer and five free-spirited teenage sisters head for the beach. Full of girlish exuberance, they splash in the sea with schoolboy friends. They swim, fight playfully, and clamber on the boys’ shoulders. We could be almost anywhere in the world, but this is a far-flung village on Turkey’s northern Black Sea coast, ‘a thousand kilometres from Istanbul’, and the teenage idyll is about to ‘turn to shit’, in the words of the youngest sister, Lale. Continue reading Mustang: five free spirits corralled”

Stories Only Exist When Remembered: a film of exquisite beauty

<em>Stories Only Exist When Remembered</em>: a film of exquisite beauty

One of the pleasures of blogging comes with the responses you sometimes get from a person you have never met, who may live on the other side of the world, yet who has read and appreciated something you have written. One instance was last week, when Victor wrote from Brazil in appreciation of a post I had written some time ago about the Korean film Poetry.

As a token of his appreciation Victor recommended a Brazilian film of which I’d never heard, viewable on YouTube. Stories Only Exist When Remembered, a first feature directed by Julia Murat in 2011, proved to be an exquisite film, a meditation on memory, time and ageing in which few words are spoken but much is implied. Continue reading Stories Only Exist When Remembered: a film of exquisite beauty”

Son of Saul: Auschwitz in unrelenting close-up

<em>Son of Saul</em>: Auschwitz in unrelenting close-up

In recent days I’ve made two journeys back into the dark heart of Auschwitz courtesy of a book and a film. But You Did Not Come Back is Marceline Loridan-Ivens’ moving memoir addressed to her father. Aged fifteen, she survived the death camp, but her father did not return. The acclaimed film Son of Saul was my second encounter with the horrors of Auschwitz. Despite the praise heaped upon László Nemes’s film, I have my reservations. Continue reading Son of Saul: Auschwitz in unrelenting close-up”