Holy Motors

Holy Motors

Format: Cinema

Dates: 28 September 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Leos Carax

Writer: Leos Carax

Cast: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes

France/Germany 2012

115 mins

A man leaves home in the morning to go to work; a well-dressed man of obvious success, with an American haircut, waving to his family. He boards his white stretch limo, driven by Celine, a striking elderly lady (Edith Scob) and departs. Inside the limo there is a changing room and the man transforms himself into a destitute bag lady who shuffles the streets muttering to herself perhaps incoherently, perhaps mystically, ignored by those around her whatever the case. The man (played with a tour de force performance by long-time Leos Carax collaborator Denis Lavant) is an actor and he will spend the day transforming himself into a variety of characters – weird morphing aliens, a scatological leprechaun, M. Merde, a gangster, a tired working father. Each character plays a small scene divided by conversations with his driver, a glass of something, a smoke a moment to tiredly take stock of his existential dilemma. Who is he really? What is this that we are watching? Is it genius? Is it indulgent tosh? Is it a bizarre mixture of the two?

The film came out of Leos Carax’s frustration. After a number of feature film projects fell through his last feature-length movie dates back to 1999’s Pola X – Carax devised this project by which he could make a series of short genre-spanning films that would, if the project were to fall through again, be able to survive as stand-alone pieces. This economy of necessity is one of cinema’s happier accidents. Driven by a desperate need to make films, the film Carax has accomplished is an aching love letter to the art form that seems to have treated its disciple so cruelly. The meaning of the metaphor might not bear much heavy discussion – the actor’s name is Monsieur Oscar and this is probably a joke as to the only way Carax can get close to the statuette that marks Hollywood approval – but what cannot be denied is a sense of exhilaration at the possibilities of film as something other than a way of transferring books, plays, games (computer and board), graphic novels, old TV series and comic books to screen. Instead of a dumping ground of the culture’s nostalgia for itself, Holy Motors is about continuing the hard slog of original creation. Among the episodes, there are the gobsmacking flights of fancy, the musical interlude and Kylie Minogue’s musical number are particular highlights, but then there is the quiet social realism of a drained father dealing with the nuanced quiet pain of his daughter not quite fitting in with her friends. Carax’s cinema has violence and exuberance, hilarity and giddiness, but it also has moments of true human feeling.

Of course, some will be put off, and when I saw the film at the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this year, there were many dissenting voices. In fact, the film was one of the most divisive entries. However, as a sheer exercise in pushing the boundaries of what you can get away with, even if some think he went too far, I would rather go too far with Carax than stick to the comfort zone of our present cinematic environment.

John Bleasdale

Santa Sangre

Santa Sangre

Format: Cinema

Release date: 21 September 2012

Distributor: Mr Bongo

Director: Alejandro Jodorowsky

Writers: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Roberto Leoni, Claudio Argento

Based on the novel by: S.E. Hinton

Cast: Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra, Guy Stockwell

Mexico/Italy 1989

123 mins

Largely vanished from the cinema scene after his late-night classics El Topo and The Holy Mountain, Alejandro Jodorowsky made a surprise return in 1989 that attempted to marry the director’s visionary, Felliniesque excess to the dying giallo genre (Claudio Argento, brother of Dario, was producer and co-writer).

The director’s son, Axel (it’s a family affair), plays Fenix, son of circus artistes who, in childhood (where he’s played by Adan, another Jodorowsky offspring) witnesses a horrific incident in which his knife-thrower father, cheating on mum with the tattooed lady, is castrated with a bottle of acid and takes bloody revenge, hacking off her arms before cutting his own throat.

Confined to an insane asylum until he reaches adulthood (he thinks he’s a bird so they kindly provide him with a perch), Fenix is released to the care of his armless mother, and forms a symbiotic relationship with her, becoming her arms not only in the mime act they perform (based on an old routine originally developed for Marcel Marceau), but also in private life. When this extends to murdering any woman who threatens the maternal bond, the stage is set for either tragedy or redemption, since Fenix is motivated not just by twisted mother-love and misogyny but by finer feelings too, notably his childhood love for a mute girl, Alma.

Promoted with the apt slogan ‘Forget everything you have ever seen’, Jodorowsky’s film takes no prisoners, except maybe for purposes of torture. The circus scenes eat up much of the narrative, so that when the psycho-thriller action begins it feels like a new movie erupting from the ashes of the old, but this allows the Chilean maniac to serve up set-pieces like the elephant’s funeral (with black-clad clowns squirting tears) and wallow in his own perversity to considerable impact.

Overheated performances, with almost everyone speaking heavily-accented English, combine with some ridiculous moments to make this a film that doesn’t walk any consistent line tonally. Entranced by a sexy strongwoman (in reality a he-man with plastic bosoms), Fenix finds himself wrestling a python. The python is his penis, get it? Operatic emotion bashes against Cocteau-esque fantasy and blood-drenched violence, with bursts of tinted lighting evoking Bava or Argento. If you simply surrender to the ride, this needn’t be a problem.

What might trouble you more is the director’s love for decorating the action with physical oddities: the fat lady and the one-eared man are particularly gratuitous, but merely the tip of a malformed iceberg. Fellini is certainly an influence, but no doubt Jodorowsky comes by his obsessions honestly. The only question is, is he exploiting his subjects like a carnival showman, or collaborating with them as artists? Probably both.

The film is about misogyny, on one level. Jodorowsky cheerfully confesses to this disease, and says the film cured him of it. Again, one can doubt whether the movie is at all times an examination of the vice or an indulgence of it. One spectacular showpiece murder, scored with upbeat Latin rhythms, certainly veers into very murky, blood-slicked terrain, and the victim is portrayed variously as a malevolent harridan, temptress and collection of obscene poses and body parts, so the film has some furious back-pedalling to do to avoid simply coming across as hate-porn.

But for all that, it does something practically no giallo delivers: an interrogation of the psychology behind the films of woman murder. Often giallos reveal a female killer at the end, as if to derail examination of the filmmaker’s motives: ‘This isn’t about my misogyny, it’s about women’s.’ Despite knifing fictional women for decades in his films, Dario Argento still seems disinclined to consider why he is so drawn to such imagery. Not that I necessarily want to condemn it, but I’d like to understand it.

Well, Santa Sangre at first blames a castrating, woman-hating woman for the murders it so gleefully depicts. But the ending, which I won’t spoil, deepens and complicates the discourse. Jodorowsky, though he’s a sucker for a big splashy image or cheap shock effect, has nevertheless genuinely considered who is really moving those murderous arms, and why. The hand that rocked the cradle does not wield the blade.

David Cairns

Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly

Format: Cinema

Dates: 21 September 2012

Venues: UK wide

Distributor: Entertainment Film

Director: Andrew Dominik

Writer: Andrew Dominik

Based on the novel by: George V. Higgins

Cast: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Sam Shepard

USA 2012

97 mins

Andrew Dominik’s follow-up to his sublime meditative Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) is a return to the small-time criminal fraternity that he made his name with in his fantastic debut Chopper (2000). Brad Pitt plays professional mob enforcer Jackie Cogan, who gets called in when a mob-run poker game gets robbed. Suspicion immediately falls on the unlucky Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), who has form in knocking off his own games, but Cogan knows someone else is responsible and sets about finding them.

With his elderly colleague (Sam Shephard) wasting away, Cogan is living in a world that he is increasingly at odds with. The mob he works for are a bunch of timorous second-guessers, not even appearing in the movie but working through the intermediary of an unnamed driver, played by the ever reliable Richard Jenkins. Likewise, an old acquaintance whom Cogan calls in to assist, Mickey from New York (James Gandolfini), is an ageing drunk and no longer seems up to the job.

Based on an old George V. Higgins novel, the film refuses to run along regular generic lines. The plot is by the by. We know whodunit right from the get-go, as does Cogan. There’s a slippery sense of inevitability as the various men trundle through the film towards their fate. Dominik seems far more interested in creating a real, believable small-scale criminal underworld. Cogan is a professional surrounded by incompetence and naivety, but he also has a code by which he abides and a philosophy as convincing as it is chilling. In fact, it is the expounding of this philosophy against Richard Jenkins’s objections that provides much of the entertainment. Working well with a director he obviously likes, Pitt gives another mature and nuanced performance, allowing much of the first half of the film to go by, listening to others, just an audience to a series of great performances from the ensemble cast, before staking his claim and taking it over. ‘Very few guys know me,’ he tells a guy in a bar, and Pitt manages to exude a cool (and cold) threat without posturing, a murderer with a heart of gold and an opinion about everything, who doesn’t like killing people but will do whatever it takes to get his money.

From a wider perspective, with its run-down litter-strewn streets and boarded-up shop fronts, the film places us in a world of creeping failure, a country in irredeemable decline, a country where even the criminal fraternity lack energy, imagination and balls.

Killing Them Softly is an explicit ‘No you fucking can’t’ to the bland optimism of Obama’s America. ‘America’s not a country, it’s a business,’ Cogan declares. And according to this film, it’s a failing one at that.

John Bleasdale

The Swimmer

The Swimmer

Format: DVD

Release date: 26 May 2003

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Director: Frank Perry

Writers: Eleanor Perry

Based on the story by: John Cheever

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Janet Landgard, Janice Rule

USA 1968

95 mins

This article contains spoilers.

A Hollywood oddity from 1968, The Swimmer stars Burt Lancaster as an upper-class suburbanite who, standing by the side of his friends’ pool on a summer afternoon, decides to swim home through all of the neighbouring pools. Based on a 1964 short story by John Cheever, it was adapted by Eleanor Perry and directed by her husband Frank Perry, with one scene helmed by an uncredited Sydney Pollack, brought in by the befuddled producers. The latter had trouble grasping the symbolic nature of the tale: through the central conceit, The Swimmer is really about a man in the midst of a mental breakdown slowly forced to face the reality of what his life has become.

At first, Lancaster’s Ned appears happy and at ease among his wealthy friends. But as he progresses from pool to pool, more details about his life gradually emerge until the terrible truth about his situation is finally revealed in a heart-breaking finale. The progression from pool to pool is an allegory for Ned’s life, from youth to old age, and from success to failure. The possibilities of youth are evoked in the first scene through the recollection of blissful, carefree swimming in the mountains with his childhood friend. From there, he moves to a pool belonging to his teen love, which prompts wistful musing over what could have been. At the next house, he convinces a young girl who used to babysit for him to come along with him. At first, it is an exciting adventure, full of laughter and youthful physical exertion, until Ned falls, spraining his ankle, and upsets the girl by becoming inappropriately, intensely, protective. Limping through the rest of the film, a now weary and vulnerable-looking Ned meets antagonistic people who reveal the extent of his decline and fall.

As Ned’s change of social status becomes clearer, the world around him becomes increasingly hostile. Welcomed at the first houses he visits, he is called a gate-crasher when he arrives at the pool party of vulgar nouveaux riches neighbours he probably used to - maybe snobbishly - look down on, and he is eventually thrown out. As he tries to cross a busy road, cars beep and swerve aggressively around him. When he wants to swim in the communal swimming pool, he is initially turned away by the employee because he doesn’t have the 50 cents required, then humiliatingly made to wash his feet twice by the attendant, before attempting to cross an insanely busy pool in which he is assaulted by chaotic bodies, floating objects and loud noises. When he reaches the other side, he is confronted by disgruntled shop-keepers whose bills he hasn’t paid, and who reveal more unsettling truths about his family. It is that scene that makes you realise how bare he is. Lancaster spends the whole film wearing only a bathing trunk. Initially, it is a positive thing: Ned looks handsome, powerful, athletic. But gradually, it becomes a poignant image for the fact that he has lost everything: he has literally been stripped bare, physically, emotionally, financially, socially. Ned starts like the picture of success - an idle upper-class suburbanite whiling away a bright summer afternoon by the pool - and ends a failure shunned by all.

We are never told if Ned lost everything as a result of misfortune, or as a consequence of his own actions, although the scene with his beautiful ex-lover suggests he may have been at least partly responsible, his infidelity possibly one of the causes of his predicament. With scathing bitterness, Shirley recalls how he broke up with her because of ‘his duties as a father and a husband’. But when he puts sun cream on her back, she visibly responds to his touch. And when he shivers with cold she puts a towel around his shoulders. The spark is still there and Ned tries to reignite it, but Shirley angrily resists the pull of past love, the hurt obvious underneath the lies she tells him to push him away. As with the nouveaux riches or the shop-keepers, Ned is lost and confused, unable to comprehend why she rejects him so violently.

Ned is indeed incapable to face the reality of his life, and keeping on swimming through the pools until he gets home is a way of pretending things are still the way they used to be. In a key scene that is the heart of the film, Ned comes across a lonely little boy who sells lemonade on a wall outside his absent parents’ mansion. Ned wants to swim in their pool, but the parents have emptied it because the boy is not good at sports. As they sit by the empty pool, Ned tells the boy that it’s better not to be picked for a sports team because ‘it makes you free’, and it’s clear that he’s thinking about life in a more general - and typically American - way. He then decides that they will swim anyway and teaches the boy how to swim as if there was water in the pool. ‘If you make believe hard enough that something is true, then it is true for you,’ he tells the boy. What happens next shows that the boy is mature enough to understand the limits of make believe. Ned, on the other hand, remains pitifully self-deluded until he is faced with the crushing reality of his situation at the very end.

Like Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978), Jean-Pierre Melville’s The Samurai (1967) - which inspired The Driver - and Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), The Swimmer reduces his main character to one single action/function. Confronted with the intolerable reality of living, the Swimmer, like the Samurai and the Driver(s), has a minimalist and mechanistic approach to life: the only way of coping is to keep repeating the same unique action over and over again. An action that is a physical projection onward, a constant need for movement: keep on driving, keep on swimming, keep moving forward to escape from the past, from one’s self, from life.

This article was first published on Darren Hayman’s Lido Music blog.

Virginie Sélavy



Format: Cinema

Dates: 14 September 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Guy Maddin

Writer: George Toles, Guy Maddin

Cast: Jason Patric, Isabella Rossellini, Udo Kier, Kevin McDonald

Canada 2011

94 mins

Full disclosure: I produced Guy Maddin’s first three feature films, lived with him as a roommate (I was Oscar Madison to his Felix Unger - Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple sprang miraculously to life on the top two floors of a ramshackle old house on Winnipeg’s McMillan Avenue), continue to love him as one of my dearest friends and consider his brilliant screenwriting partner George Toles to be nothing less than my surrogate big brother.

Most importantly, I am one of Maddin’s biggest fans and refuse to believe I am not able to objectively review his work. Objectively, then, allow me to declare that I loved Keyhole.

What’s not to love?

Blending Warner Brothers gangster styling of the 30s, film noir of the 40s and 50s, Greek tragedy, Sirk-like melodrama and odd dapplings of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, it is, like all Maddin’s work, best designed to experience as a dream on film. Like Terence Davies, Maddin is one of the few living filmmakers who understands the poetic properties of cinema, and this, frankly, is to be cherished as much as any perfectly wrought narrative.

This is not to say narrative does NOT exist in Maddin’s work. If you really must, dig deep and you will find it. That, however, wouldn’t be very much fun. One has a better time with Maddin’s pictures just letting them HAPPEN to you.

The elements concocted in Keyhole to allow for full experiential mind-fucking involve the insanely named gangster Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric as you’ve never seen him before - playing straight, yet feeling like he belongs to another cinematic era), who drags his kids (one dead, but miraculously sprung to life, the other seemingly alive, but not remembered by his dad) into a haunted house surrounded by guns-a-blazing.

Populated with a variety of tough guys and babe-o-licious molls, Ulysses is faced with ghosts of both the living and the dead, including his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini - gorgeous as always and imbued with all the necessary qualities to render melodrama with joy and humanity), her frequently nude father (the brilliant Louis Negin - perhaps one of the world’s greatest living character actors, who frankly should be cast in every movie ever made), chained to his bed, uttering the richly ripe George Toles dialogue, and Udo Kier (the greatest fucking actor in the world), whose appearance in this movie is so inspired I’ll let you discover for yourself the greatness of both the role and Udo himself.

Keyhole is, without a doubt, one of the most perversely funny movies I’ve seen in ages and includes Maddin’s trademark visual tapestry of the most alternately gorgeous and insanely inspired kind. For movie geeks, literary freaks and Greek tragedy-o-philes, the movie is blessed with added treats to gobble down voraciously.

Like all of Maddin’s work, it’s not all fun and games. Beneath the surface of its mad inspiration lurks a melancholy and thematic richness. For me, what’s so important and moving about the film is its literal and thematic exploration of a space. Strongly evoking that sense of how our lives are inextricably linked to so many places (or a place) and how they in turn are populated with things - inanimate objects that become more animate once we project our memories upon them - or how said places inspire reminiscence of said objects which, in turn, inspire further memories, Keyhole is as profound and sad as it’s a crazed laugh riot.

Of all the reviews about the movie that I bothered to read, I was shocked that NOBODY - NOT ONE FUCKING CRITIC - picked up on the overwhelming theme of PLACE and the SPIRIT of all those THINGS that live and breathe in our minds. It was the first thing to weigh heavily upon me when I first saw the movie. It has seldom been approached in the movies - and, for my money - NO MORE POIGNANTLY AND BRILLIANTLY than rendered by Maddin, Toles and their visionary young producer Jody Shapiro.

All the ghosts of the living and the dead (to paraphrase Joyce), the animate and inanimate, the real and the imagined, these are the things that haunt us to our graves, and perhaps beyond. And they all populate the strange, magical and haunting world of Keyhole - a world most of us, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, live in.

We are all ghosts and are, in turn, haunted by them.

Greg Klymkiw

Whistle and I’ll Come to You

This year the BFI is making all 12 of the classic BBC films from A Ghost Story for Christmas series finally available on DVD. The first two volumes, each containing a double bill of chilling tales, including Jonathan Miller’s Whistle and I’ll Come To You (1968), were released on 20 August.

Two more volumes - each containing three tales - are released on 17 September. The films are: Lost Hearts (1973), The Treasure of Abbot Thomas (1974) and The Ash Tree (1975) - all directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark and all containing newly filmed introductions by him; The Signalman (Lawrence Gordon Clark, 1976) Stigma (Lawrence Gordon Clark, 1977) and The Ice House (Derek Lister, 1978) - with new introductions to The Signalman and Stigma by Lawrence Gordon Clark.

Comic Strip Review by Tony Hitchman
For more information on Tony Hitchman’s book Using Comic Art to Improve Speaking, Reading and Writing, please go to Amazon.



Format: Cinema

Release date: 7 September 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: New Wave Films

Director: Miguel Gomes

Writers: Miguel Gomes, Mariana Ricardo

Cast: Teresa Madruga, Laura Soveral, Ana Moreira

Portugal/Germany/Brazil/France 2012

118 mins

Breaking classic genre conventions in the most apt and eloquent way, while consistently subverting them with bold narrative choices and a beautifully dreamlike style, Miguel Gomes’s Tabu combines the story of an impossible love affair with a quirkily surreal, poetic view of colonial history. The film is formally divided into two narrative parts - one set in contemporary Lisbon (‘A Lost Paradise’), the other in Mozambique in the 1960s (‘Paradise’) - but revolves around one central heroine: the elderly Aurora (Laura Soveral), a compulsive gambler with a mysterious past.

Before we are introduced to Aurora, however, Tabu starts with an enigmatic prologue, which in itself offers a superb small film within a film that follows an intrepid explorer, still haunted by the death of his beloved wife some time ago, roaming the harsh planes of Southern Africa. As the camera follows his every step, the gentle voice of a narrator informs us about the true meaning of the explorer’s expedition, and the destiny he is hoping to fulfil. In the end, the image of a sad, melancholic crocodile with a woman from the past - who form, as we are told, an inseparable pair united by a mysterious pact - creates the perfect transition into the ingenious, poetic, grotesque and often brilliantly witty world that makes Tabu such a unique and compelling cinematic experience.

As the film enters its first chapter, ‘A Lost Paradise’, Aurora is about to pass from this life. Apart from her next-door-neighbour Pilar (Teresa Madruga), who spends most of her day doing good deeds, and Santa (Isabel Cardoso), a black woman whom Aurora treats like a housemaid when she is not accusing her of witchcraft or tyranny, there is no one else left to visit her or come to the rescue whenever the elderly lady - incited by the hairy monkeys and other creatures that frequently populate her dreams - feels the urge to gamble her belongings in the local casino. Aurora is a woman tormented by mysterious memories of her past, and it is only after she is rushed into hospital that she quietly agrees to disclose the secret of the tragic love story in her life. She asks Pilar to find a man called Mr Ventura, who, at Aurora’s funeral, sheds light on the events that took place 50 years earlier on the ostrich farm that she used to own in Africa, at the foot of a certain Mount Tabu.

To say more would be giving away the magic that suffuses the wonderfully scripted and staged second half of the film, ‘Paradise’. With a lighter, but perhaps more darkly cynical touch, Gomes here creates not only a visually stunning, tragic tale of love and loss, but also an enduringly fascinating tribute to silent cinema.

Taken as the sum of its equally dazzling and perplexing parts, Tabu is a bold, impressive film that attempts to break away from the narrow scope that has characterised much of recent art-house filmmaking. Elegantly weaving together colonial history, past cinema and personal memories, it unashamedly touches the heart – as we learn in the film, the most ‘insolent’ muscle of the human anatomy.

Pamela Jahn