The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon

Format: Cinema

Date: 13 November 2009

Venues: BFI Southbank, Curzons Mayfair/Richmond (London) and nationwide

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Michael Haneke

Writer: Michael Haneke

Original title: Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte

Cast: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Tukur, Burghart KlauíŸner, Christian Friedel, Rainer Bock

Austria/Germany/France/Italy 2009

144 mins

Cruel games, sadistic impulses, repressed violence and arbitrary acts of torture - Michael Haneke is best known for films that fiercely play on the public’s guilt and unease about an unequal world, often challenging his audience to avert their gaze from the screen while relentlessly stimulating both their fears and voyeuristic pleasures. The effect is profoundly disturbing, despite the fact that Haneke avoids conventional displays of violence, preferring instead to convey brutality through the soundtrack or a look at the victim - the omissions themselves contributing to build an unsettling feeling that is eventually overwhelming.

Violence is yet again the main subject of Haneke’s excellent The White Ribbon, which deservedly won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. Masterfully shot in stark black and white, it is the director’s first German-language film since the original Funny Games (1997), and it focuses on the inhabitants of a small rural village in Germany where some inexplicable events and brutal crimes start to occur in the months leading up to the First World War. The story is told by an unreliable narrator, the local school teacher, who is avowedly unsure of the accuracy of his memories. The opening scene sets the tone: the local doctor is severely wounded after his horse trips over a cable deliberately placed on his path. The entire village is baffled and speechless with incomprehension, only the children react in a strangely unemotional manner to the incident. They seem weirdly alert and mature throughout the film, and the only time we hear the sound of a child laughing is at the precise moment we are told that a farmer has hanged himself in the barn. The effect of the chasm between image and sound is unsettling, and it is used by Haneke to illuminate the foreboding of evil. With their lucid, yet eerily secretive faces, the children appear to be more involved in the violent acts than is explicitly revealed.

The White Ribbon is very much a German film, and it is impossible to ignore that the overly quiet and polite children depicted here are the ‘Nazi generation’. But, as Haneke himself insists whenever the question arises in an interview, ‘it is not just a film about a German problem. This is a film about the roots of evil, whether it’s religious or political terrorism’. The film is a didactic play of sorts, but one in which the names of the culprits are as irrelevant as any direct answers or lessons. More important than identifying the criminals is the focus on the characters’ professions and hence their status in the community, with the authority figures revealed to be deluded, repressive or morally corrupt. Outstanding in a cast of mainly German stage actors is Burghart KlauíŸner in the role of the pastor, who forces his two children to wear white ribbons to remind them to stay pure.

It’s the aural landscape that reveals the spirit of the village more than anything else: the silence about the sinister and gruesome events that are taking place is haunting. But along with a finely crafted screenplay, the film’s truly brilliant touch, and what makes this nightmarish fable all the more effective and original, is its stunning black and white photography. It is almost as if Haneke was revisiting old photographs that are slowly unravelling the hidden layers of truths about a generation that would go on to embrace the creed of national socialism.

Pamela Jahn



Format: Cinema

Date: 13 November 2009

Venues: ICA (London)

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Masayuki Miyano

Writer: Tetsuya Nakashima

Based on the novel by: Hideo Okuda

Cast: Tomoko Murakami, Hiroki Narimiya, Saori Hara

Japan 2008

93 mins

Sex comedies: usually neither, right? In theory. Masayuki Miyano’s Lalapipo, a series of interconnected stories following the sex lives of ‘a lot of people’ in Tokyo, adapted from a novel known for its sleazy grittiness, could be grim viewing. It could be too graphic, or disappear up its own over-earnest well-lubed backside (see Shortbus), but the script by Tetsuya Nakashima, the director of Kamikaze Girls (2004) and Memories of Matsuko (2006) saves it with a sheen of knowing, farcical silliness.

It takes a while to build. The film’s first story, centring on freelance writer Hiroshi Sugiyama, makes for uncomfortable viewing. He’s a podgy, sad-sack chronic masturbator in his early 30s, with a talking puppet for a penis. The puppet looks like it’s made of a mildewed towel. It’s mushroom green, looks like a cactus with mange. Besides the puppet, there’s a soundtrack of the kind of smooth disco/treacly r’n’b that’s been filtered through a few muzak factories and third-tier pop producers. They both appear when something horrible is about to happen: rape, manipulation, someone getting beaten up. It’s like a big sign: Hey, this is funny! No, really!

All of the stories are pretty sordid otherwise, so the silliness is necessary. Most of the sex is implied in cutaway shots, like punch lines to jokes, or in OTT fantasy sequences — one guy imagines himself as a robot superhero in a dream sequence drenched in a bright, sparkly, candy-coloured lip gloss overload of neon, daylight, showroom furniture and cute clothes. Even the most squalid porn-filled bedrooms of the film’s loneliest men are kind of cosy. Everyone has shiny hair except for an ageing female porn star, and when she is cast in a mother-daughter-themed lesbian film (with her own actual daughter as co-star — Lalapipo is full of such not-so-surprising surprises) her hair bounces away and she looks a decade younger — and she also gains the confidence to torch her rubbish-filled house. When her daughter is recruited into porn, she wears a sad little pair of scuffed shoes — later, she looks like a pop video babe. Porn saves!

Lalapipo‘s treatment of porn, not just as wacky fun, but as some kind of transformative thing to celebrate, even tongue in cheek, feels like some throwback to a decade ago — actually you could probably take a screengrab from each of the vignettes in this film, make up some internet quiz called ‘film still or late 90s editorial from The Face‘ and confuse just about everybody.

But beneath all this porny, garish in-your-faceness is something a bit more subtle - weird character cards that crop up at the beginning of each vignette subtly undercut whatever macho assumptions the first half of the film brings. All of the women, however mocked or degraded they may be, are making more money than the men who pimp them out or wank to their films. Everyone, male and female, comes off as a little sad, a little vulnerable, and ultimately a bit more humanised — except for the poor karaoke bar manager who sees gangs turn his bar into a brothel, where he ends up anally raped by an errant john. (It’s another 90s twist to see this as humour, recalling the ‘bring out the gimp’ scene in Pulp Fiction.)

There’s no need. And there’s no need for the scene where our freelance writer masturbator friend, early on, is trying to wank while listening through the wall to a neighbour who is about to be raped, or for the scene later on when, after he finally gets some action with Sayuri, a lovely fat girl in Lolita-dolly-style dress, he beats her up and almost leaves her for dead. Why? Because she’s unattractive and thinks she’s worthy of him? It’s pretty gross, and you don’t blame the penis puppet from wanting to escape this charmer. Sayuri’s story, later in the film, makes the first segment less shocking — turns out she’s making specialist porn herself and has seen it all before, and she comes off as wise and compassionate. Most of the time, the humour works, and Lalapipo is ridiculous, offensive, and compelling.

Emily Bick

Bunny and the Bull

Bunny and the Bull

Format: Cinema

Date: 27 November 2009

Venues: Chelsea Cinema, Curzon Soho (London) and nationwide

Distributor: Optimum Releasing

Director: Paul King

Writer: Paul King

Cast: Edward Hogg, Simon Farnaby, Verí³nica Echegui, Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt

UK 2008

101 mins

The Mighty Boosh has been perhaps the most innovative television show in recent years, and although much of the credit has rightly gone to its writers and stars Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, director Paul King deserves much praise for the show’s unique look. After all, this is the man who helped make ‘stationary village’ and ‘the crack fox’ a reality. Bunny and the Bull is King’s debut feature and he certainly keeps up the visually inventive surreal stylings of his television work - in fact more time and a cinema budget seem to have allowed him to take this even further.

Bunny and the Bull stars Edward Hogg (White Lightnin’, 2009) as obsessive compulsive recluse Stephen Turnbull whose super-organised world includes a daily routine timed to the second and an all-inclusive filing system for ‘random old shit’ that is taking over his flat (one box is labelled ‘drinking straws 94-96’). However, one mouse-sized glitch sends his world falling apart and sets in motion the long flashback that tells us how he got himself into this state: the cause being a road trip with his gregarious friend Bunny (Simon Farnaby, Harold Boon from the Boosh‘s ‘The Power of the Crimp’ episode) that takes in Europe’s strangest and most idiosyncratic museums (all real-life institutions) and other even stranger adventures until they eventually end up in Spain where Bunny intends to fight a bull and learn the secrets of the matador.

The film centres on an ‘odd couple’ premise, with Stephen and Bunny as Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison taken to the extreme. This contrast is exemplified by their luggage - Stephen’s meticulous preparation for every imagined eventuality against Bunny’s carrier bag full of lager. Along the way they pick up foul-mouthed love interest Eloisa (Verí³nica Echegui). The plot is slight but it is played with a Bedknobs and Broomsticks mixture of live action and animation and with lively cameos from the Boosh‘s Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding and a great one from The IT Crowd‘s Richard Ayoade as tour guide at a German shoe museum - it is a film where the details overwhelm the main story.

Hogg and Farnaby’s deadpan underplaying stands in stark contrast to what amounts to a creative diarrhoea around them. The film is described as ‘a road movie set entirely in a flat’ as the European tour is recreated from Stephen’s various hoardings. We are treated to a variety of animation styles from claymation to Paddington Bear-type black and white paper cut-outs and a clockwork fairground in the style of Michel Gondry or Alexander Calder’s zoo. The surreal clash of the fantastic and the mundane is reminiscent of the great Czech animator Jan Å vankmajer without ever quite approaching his dark sense of humour. Instead, the whole film is coated with heavy doses of Amelie-style whimsy (which some stomachs might find a bit cloying), but the sheer inventiveness just about pulls it through. Best of all is the bull - when he finally makes his appearance he is a marvel of stop-motion animation and well worthy of his place in the title.

However, the film’s major flaw is perhaps King’s script, which is not up to the standard of the writing in The Mighty Boosh and certainly not as consistently funny. Many jokes seem too obvious while others just fall flat and the film is far more successful at being funny-peculiar than funny-ha-ha. But it is a visual delight and fascinating to watch, and is a strong debut for King, which augurs well for the Mighty Boosh movie that is rumoured to be in development.

Paul Huckerby

The Sorrow and the Pity

The Sorrow and the Pity

Format: DVD

Date: 24 August 2009

Distributor: Arrow Films

Director: Marcel Ophí¼ls

Original title: Le Chagrin et la pitié

Featuring: Marcel Ophí¼ls, Pierre Mendí¨s-France, Christian de la Mazií¨re, Helmuth Tausend, Georges Bidault, Emile Coulaudon

France 1969

249 mins

This famous French documentary, which looks at the town of Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne region during the German occupation in the Second World War, was made in 1969 but was withdrawn from distribution and not generally seen till 1981.

Why was the film so controversial in France? It has the reputation of having exposed the extent of wartime collaboration. But I don’t believe that it revealed much that wasn’t known already. A simple answer to the question is that it showed participants in the events of 1940 to 1944 discussing things that most of the people who had experienced them preferred not to discuss. And there was a new generation ready to hear what their parents might not have told them.

Particularly inflammatory, I would guess, were two allegations that the film makes impossible to ignore. The first of those, insinuated with bitter humour by ex-members of the Resistance, but made more mildly and explicitly by British agents, is that in France the workers were inclined to resist while the bourgeoisie preferred to keep out of trouble. As for the aristocracy, representatives are on hand to testify to their predilection for active participation in the fascist project, even to the extent of fighting in a German uniform on the Eastern front.

The other allegation that haunts this film is that there was a higher level of collaboration in France than in other conquered countries. This accusation is hard to substantiate, but it leaves a taint.

We should not be too quick to indulge in the satisfaction of sitting in judgement, particularly when it comes to sins of omission or accommodation in war. It is easier for many of us to sympathise with the Frenchwomen who consorted with Germans than with those who humiliated them afterwards. As this film makes clear, the urge to respond to some of the German occupiers as fellow human beings could be strong. Not the Gestapo: the interviewees consistently distinguish between them and the ordinary soldiers of the Wehrmacht. An old boy called up late on to fill the depleted ranks of the latter is remembered kindly by a Resistance member to whom he slipped an apple on a forced march.

For some private citizens there may be extenuation and condonement, but for the French establishment, the governing classes, there is no escaping condemnation. Pétain, the hero of Verdun, was still admired by many interviewed in the film; but he was justly convicted of treason in 1945. As head of state, he did an enormous service of legitimisation to Nazi Germany by urging French citizens to collaborate. For Hitler he was surely a useful idiot, to borrow Lenin’s cynical phrase. Laval, head of government from 1942 to 1944, fares worse: the interviewer breaks into the disingenuous protestations of Laval’s son-in-law to give the statistics that reveal the consequences of the deals struck by his father-in-law with the Germans. But this is a rare case where we are given the quantitative information necessary to make substantial historical judgement. For the most part, what the film offers instead is insight into diverse personal experiences of the Occupation.

The British participants provide many of the most illuminating moments. Anthony Eden recognises with some emotion the human cost of the destruction - essential to the Allied cause - of the French navy at Mers-el-Kébir. A pilot who crashed in the Auvergne recalls the perilous generosity of the farmer who took him in. A homosexual entertainer turned spy speaks tenderly of his German officer lover. The courage of this spy is praised by his bowler-hatted controller, striding through Westminster; but the spy himself merely notes that he was willing to take on this dangerous role because he had nothing to lose - and he suggests that this is the key to understanding the differing responses of the French social classes to occupation.

Aesthetically, the film has little merit. Perhaps that is a frivolous thought. But when we switch from the ill-framed headshots, loose structure, and explanatory gaps of the documentary to the confident images and vigorous conviction of the wartime propaganda films, we are reminded that aesthetics matters. The film does, however, exert a cumulative power, as apparently banal reminiscences gradually give place to admissions of shocking candour, and to denunciations whose rancour was still undimmed 25 years after the war.

Peter Momtchiloff



Format: DVD

Date: 12 October 2009

Distributor: Momentum Pictures

Directors: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury

Writer: Alexandre Bustillo

Original title: A l’intérieur

Cast: Alysson Paradis, Béatrice Dalle

France 2007

79 mins

In January 2006, in the wake of the ‘Pyres of Autumn’ that lit up the Parisian suburbs, Jean Baudrillard spoke of ‘a kind of eternal flame, like that under the Arc de Triomphe, burning in honour of the Unknown Immigrant’. Baudrillard saw the dispossessed arsonists of les banlieues as ‘savage analysts’ of the disintegration of Western society. ‘Today it is precisely “the best” it has to offer - cars, schools, shopping centres - that are torched and ransacked. Even nursery schools: the very tools through which the car-burners were to be integrated and mothered. “Screw your mother” might be their organising slogan. And the more there are attempts to “mother” them, the more they will.’

The debut feature of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, Inside (2007), a story that involves a tremendous amount of apparently meaningless and at times extremely gruesome violence towards a heavily pregnant mother-to-be, might seem at first glance to be little more than another regrettable symptom of just that disintegration. All this mindless sadism, we might say to ourselves, shaking our heads ruefully, a sad indictment of the decline of traditional Western values. But what this initial conservative reading misses is the degree to which this film offers just such a savage analysis of the malaise of which it is a symptom, both exploiting and dissecting the bourgeois fear of a threat no longer external. ‘This year,’ the movie tagline goes, ‘the terror is Inside‘.

The film opens with an almost pathetically ridiculous CGI foetus, resembling somewhat those brief glimpses of humans in Pixar animations. A voice-over soothingly says, ‘My baby, finally inside me. No one will take him from me’ before a violent crash jolts us out into live action. A car accident filmed with such high gloss as to resemble a car advert, albeit a car advert imagined by Paul Virilio. Almost the very first ‘filmed’ (as opposed to animated) shot in the film then, is of a burning car. A title card then sends us ‘four months later’; Sarah (Alysson Paradis), still scarred from the accident that killed her husband, is due to give birth the following day. While spending her last childless night at home, she is harassed, at first by nightmares of a violent birth, and then by a mysterious, nameless Woman (Béatrice Dalle) intent on murdering her.

Inside was released a year after Baudrillard’s article, and the conflagrations of 2005 form the backdrop to the film’s slender narrative. Mentioned a number of times near the beginning of the film, they are dismissed by Sarah, who makes money as a photographer taking pictures of such events, as ‘just kids having a blast, ’cause they’re bored’. The figure of the immigrant, as it were, returns at the very end of the film, in the form of Abdel (Aymen Saí¯di), a prisoner held by the police who turn up in the film’s third act. The choice of Sarah’s profession questions the ethical position of the artist who profits from the appropriation and exploitation of the image of the other. The close proximity of photographer to filmmaker likewise suggests a certain auto-critique of the film as exploitation cinema. Though the suburban outsider is never presented directly as a threat in the film, it is as though he is repressed, and forced to reappear in another form both more violent and dehumanised.

The thread that joins the banlieue fires to the Woman is lack. What does the Woman say? ‘I want your baby.’ She wants Sarah’s baby, because she herself has none, because, as she sees it, Sarah ‘stole’ it from her, just as she also ‘stole’ the symbolic identity of the suburban immigrants in her photographs (in fact, the very first thing Sarah tries to do to the Woman is photograph her, only to find that she cannot - as though, like a vampire, the Woman lacked the solidity necessary for her image to materialise on film). It is as lack that the grievances of both the socially and politically excluded residents of the banlieues and the Woman are expressed - a lack that is represented not by less but rather more, marked by a terrifying excess, most frequently expressed in the film as an overload of gore í  la Herschell Gordon Lewis. In her impassive insistence, her nameless anonymity and her seemingly unstoppably destructive drive and apparent (near-)invincibility, the Woman resembles a god. She stands metaphorically for the divine violence of the people, the brutal return of the politically repressed like a swarm come from heaven.

The terrifying encounter with the suburban other lies behind the violent imagery of the film, and in that respect it is comparable to the French films of Michael Haneke, particularly Code Unknown (2000) and Hidden (2005). But where Haneke proposes an almost dry, patient cinematic analysis, Inside uses the generic codes of the horror genre, forgoing the analytic position to become both symptom and diagnosis. Body horror becomes the horror of the social body, spilling speechlessly over the boundaries of sense, like a scream without a tongue. When terror comes from inside, no fortification is possible. Such is the axiom of a cinematic mode that consists, as Baudrillard says of the Parisian arson attacks, in ‘successive phases of a revolt whose end is not in sight’.

Robert Barry

All Tomorrow’s Parties

Nick Cave by Shannon McClean

Pic credit: Nick Cave photographed by Shannon McClean

Format: DVD

Date: 9 November 2009

Distributor: Warp Films

Director: Jonathan Caouette and All Tomorrow’s People

Featuring: Belle and Sebastian, Sonic Youth, Grinderman, Animal Collective

UK 2009

82 mins

Close your eyes if you will and imagine the perfect music festival. There would be great bands of course, with the event curated by one of your favourite artists. There will be some bands you love, but have never had the chance to see, and some you’ve never heard of, but you just know are going to be amazing. There would be no camping or grappling with tents in the rain, you’d even get your own little flat with a bathroom. The gigs would be indoors with a decent sound system. There would be no elitist VIP section, bands and punters would intermix with no sense of us and them. There would be a beach when it’s sunny and shelter when it rains. And no portaloos!

Such a festival does exist and its name is All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP). It is the brainchild of Barry Hogan, who got the idea after he promoted Belle and Sebastian’s Bowlie Weekender in 1999. And now a film has been made about it. Brought together by Jonathan Caouette (Tarnation) and music video director Vincent Moon, it captures the essence of the UK ATPs, which are held several times a year at the quintessentially British institution of ‘the holiday camp’ by the seaside, made more ironic by the fact that most of the bands playing are from the States. They probably find the whole thing even more bizarre than the Brits whose only experience of a holiday camp is from watching Hi-de-Hi!

Comprised of footage from the festival contributed by filmmakers, fans and bands using Super8, camcorder, mobile phone and still imagery, the film is a mish-mash of live footage, interviews and people just enjoying the festival. It reflects ATP’s musical aesthetic; wild and edgy, obscure and funny, capturing the rawness and the post-punk attitude of the event. Having been to many of these events myself, I felt a gurgle of joy bubbling up inside me as each frame flashed a memory, an anecdote, good times and ‘I was bloody there!’ outbursts.

The film opens with fan footage of the check-in queues on the first day of the event, interspersed with 60s footage of traditional holiday camps. It is quite surreal to be watching old-fashioned Red Coats and knobbly knees contests backed with music from obtuse noisnicks Battles, who are the first band that we see.

For fans and previous attendees of ATP, there are several fun games you can play while watching the All Tomorrow’s Parties film. The first one is to ‘guess the band’: some of the live footage is accompanied by the band name and the year that they played, but more often than not the artists are unlabeled, so knowing which is which is a real nerd’s pleasure. There’s also the ‘spot the friend’ game. I think I counted at least 10 people I know who were either interviewed or appeared in some background scene.

Or how about the brilliant ‘remember when…’ game? Do you remember the crazy Chinese guy running around in the cape? Or when Lightning Bolt played outside their chalet and people from the neighbouring houses complained? Or when David Cross (pre-Arrested Development) went down like a lead balloon during his stand-up routine? Or when Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastian played five-a-side football with the regular folk?

It’s also great seeing bands like The Gossip playing the small stage at Camber Sands before they burst into the mainstream and onto naked magazine covers. I remember bumping into Beth Ditto in the loos before she went on and she had a huge chunk of toilet paper stuck to her shoe. I gave her a sideways look in the mirror and said ‘you may want to sort that out before you go on stage!’ She laughed and thanked me for pointing it out. I felt like I really contributed to the success of that particular show!

There is also some enjoyable interview footage with some of the curators (Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth and Warren Ellis from The Dirty Three) as well as the organiser of the festival, Barry Hogan. There’s a great scene when he’s watching a news report about ATP on TV in his chalet and is cringing at his own interview.

This film probably won’t be of interest to those who aren’t into the bands or haven’t been to an All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, but for those who have, it is a reminder of how utterly unique and special this event is.

Lucy Hurst

Film writing competition: Rollerball


Electric Sheep Film Club

Venue: Prince Charles Cinema, London

Every first Wednesday of the month

In connection with the Electric Sheep Film Club at the Prince Charles Cinema every first Wednesday of the month, we run a film writing competition: film students and aspiring film writers are invited to write a 200-word review of the film on show that month. The best review is picked by a film professional, and Louis Savy of Sci-Fi London was the judge of our October competition for Norman Jewison’s Rollerball (1975). The prize for the best review is publication on the Electric Sheep website. We are pleased to announce that the winner of the October competition is Sophie Brown. Louis Savy said: ‘It was a tough decision with so many varying approaches to the
review – but Sophie’s stood out. Well done.’ Here is her review:

‘Does he dream?’ enquires celebrated player of the Houston Rollerball team Jonathan E of his unconscious teammate, left brain-damaged from a game. Norman Jewison’s Rollerball imagines a numbed dystopia, where all decisions are made by higher authorities. The ferocity of Rollerball is cocooned in hypnotic reverie, in a future where this game has replaced wars and corporate aggression. The camera floats, a disembodied consciousness that at times anchors itself to Jonathan’s perception, cynically and resiliently played by James Caan. He faces The Corporation’s menacing scrutiny for undermining the message of rollerball – the futility of individual effort – but stoically refuses to surrender his identity to their faceless destructiveness. Obscure forces of control lurk behind the cool darkness of the corporate spectators. Purring with smooth reassurance and assertive calm is corporate head Mr Bartholomew, evoking the dubious forces of power in early 1970s America. The steel ball thunders around the edge of the arena like a game of roulette in Jewison’s powerful vision of expedient brutality; teams engage in cyclical combat, bloodied men drop, registered by a flickering red light on the scoreboard, while the foreboding imagery of skeletally looming, senselessly scorched trees echoes the bleak dangers of a passive existence.

Sophie Brown

Next screening: Repulsion, Wednesday 4 November. For details on how to enter the competition, visit our Film Club page.