Sion Sono’s gonzo gangster-cannibal-hip-hop fantasia “Tokyo Tribe”had its tongue in its cheek and death on its mind; “The Virgin Psychics” puts mortality to one side and gives Eros its day, but without feeling the need to calm down. Read more
Ira Sachs’s “Love Is Strange” had moments of inspiration from top to bottom; but the most finely honed of all was the last one, when the story of two longtime companions in their 60s ended by drifting dreamily down the generations and following a pair of teenagers on a wordless glide through New York… read more
I first watched Jeanne Dielman in the bath.
Watching films in this way is a favourite, and necessary pastime of mine. Finding the time to indulge my love of long, long baths and films can be a little tricky: both activities take upwards of 90 minutes. There’s only so long in the day.
I’d heard of Chantal Akerman, but that was all. I’d read her name in journals, seen it tweeted by respected film writers. I knew she must be something special, so on this particular evening, I decided watch her most famous work – Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.
I didn’t check the run time before I turned it on. (201 minutes, in case you didn’t already know). Its long run time is because much of the film takes place in real time.
I watched Jeanne – the film’s title character – wash the dishes. I watched her peel potatoes, make the bed and eat soup with her son. She opens doors, closes them, turns lights on and off as her routine takes her from room to room.
She’s alone for most of the day.
The camera is unobtrusive, and she never looks towards it. Conversations are spoken through doorways with obscured visitors. She avoids eye contact with her male callers, she sits at right angles to her son at the dinner table, and kisses him goodnight with her body facing at odds to his.
It sounds claustrophobic, but there’s no cliché or aggression in this portrait of domesticity. I read that Jeanne’s movements were lovingly recreated from Chantal Akerman’s observations of her own mother.
Jeanne seems resigned to her lot. Does she enjoy it? Slight flourishes would suggest so. The way her fingers linger on the door as she closes it, a microscopic embellishment in a well rehearsed routine.
I became soothed by the familiarity of her movements.
My bathwater went cold. I topped it up. It went cold again. My boyfriend knocked on the door to check I was okay. My cat came in, sat on the edge of the bath, got bored and left.
I watched Jeanne peel potatoes. I got to know her routine, and her apartment. I was mesmerised.
Half way through the second day, something happens. Perhaps there was an incident between her and her male caller. Something about her seems different. Her hair’s a little ruffled. She seems a little flustered.
Camera angles change.
She leaves the lid off the soup tureen – that’s not something she would do.
She spoils the potatoes, the dishes are re-washed, there’s nowhere to put a hot pot.
She’s unraveling, she snaps.
My boyfriend heard an exclamation from the bathroom.
The credits rolled. I didn’t move.
Three hours and 20 minutes in the bath leaves your hands pretty wrinkly.
The Cube is hosting a rare screening of Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles at 2pm, followed by a preview of her last work, No Home Movie, on Sunday 31st .
By Liam Macleod
For a long time a common conceit among both filmmakers and film fans is that the Western, once the lynchpin of Hollywood’s output, is a dead genre. Oh, no one wants this to be the case. There’s still more than enough executive producers who remember the days when Westerns were big money makers. This is why every now and then we’ll get a big, bloated disaster like The Lone Ranger trying to sell the genre to a new generation of audiences…with poor results. So it’s a little strange that this week not one but two Western films are in cinemas; Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Alejandro Inarritu’s The Revenant. Two films set in the wilderness of the American Midwest both of which seem intent on stripping the Western of all idealism and romanticism.
The Hateful Eight, whose very title is a nod to The Magnificent Seven, features eight archetypical figures of Western fiction trapped in a confined space. Kurt Russell’s John Ruth is dressed for all the world like a frontier mountain man (e.g. Davy Crocket or Hugh Glass who we’ll come to soon). Samuel L. Jackson’s Marquis Warren is an emancipated slave turned bounty hunter in a nod to Tarantino’s Django. Michael Madsen’s Joe Gage is (seemingly) an early John Wayne caricature, a lone cowboy travelling east on family business, and so on.
Despite the setting, the film ends up playing out more like an Agatha Christie novel than a John Ford film. The gunfights are relatively sparse and far more time is spent pushing tensions and revealing the hateful group for what they really are. Ruth is a sadistic thug and blithering idiot, Warren is concerned only with tormenting and degrading advocates of slavery, and Madsen’s Gage is a bandit more accustomed to disposing of his enemies with poison rather than guns. In essence The Hateful Eight is about revealing the reality of the Old West, free of the mythology that western culture has since imbued it with.
Likewise The Revenant aims to tell the true story of legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass with all the pain and brutality it demands. After being mauled by a bear Glass was abandoned by the two men paid to watch him die and give him a proper burial. He was left with festering wounds, broken bones and no weapons or supplies yet somehow was able to crawl the 200 miles to Fort Kiowa. Over the course of over two hours Inarritu drives home the agonies endured by Glass with painstaking detail. Shooting on location in freezing cold weather, using only natural light and putting its leading man though a physical and emotional endurance test. In addition to famously eating raw Bison liver Dicaprio was required to swim in frozen rivers and sleep in animal carcasses for the role to be as authentic as possible.
Now the Western has long since embraced the violence of the era as depicted in The Revenant. However the films predecessors and contemporaries (such as Hateful Eight) have only used violence to simply reinforce the masculine power fantasy that the genre has always embraced. Now while The Revenant is certainly a revenge film you would be hard-pressed to call it a fantasy, it’s a film about suffering, about the horrors Glass-and indeed any frontiersman-had to endure simply to survive in this place and time. The Revenant has no desire to glorify Glass or his pursuit but to take us through his version of the Labours of Hercules.
This newfound commitment to realism in the Western is interesting because it allows us to draw parallels with a genre that went through a similar reinvention. Right through until the 1960s the War film was one of Hollywood’s most consistently popular genres. Its output during World War Two consisted largely of propaganda films made to encourage recruitment and highlight the atrocities of the German military. With few exceptions Americans War films were morally uncomplicated affairs that treat the conflicts they portrayed as binary cases of good versus evil. This would slowly wane as World War Two passed further and further into history and America would engage in far less justifiable military engagements, the tipping point being Vietnam.
One of the reasons behind the outspoken opposition to Vietnam War was that it was the first conflict to appear on broadcast television. Since the 1950s television sets were all but ubiquitous and for the first time American homes were filled with images of real-life firefights, bombed-out buildings and dead or injured civilians. It became harder for Hollywood to present warfare are something noble and just when colour technology allowed you to see the red blood of Vietnamese women and children. Few films about the Vietnam War were made prior to the late seventies and those few were independently made and acknowledged its controversial nature. The most famous of these – Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now and Platoon – were morally complex works that tackled the futility of the war and its dehumanisation of new recruits.
Since then the War genre has only strove for greater and greater realism and moral ambiguity. Saving Private Ryan used handheld cameras and greater detail to give the film the illusion of authenticity. Jarhead, like Full Metal Jacket, looked at the effect a futile conflict had on the young men who enlisted to fight it. Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty have embraced the documentary style of fiction filmmaking to avoid ever glamorising the War on Terror. In short War films never died out, as has been suggested about the Western, they simply became more mature.
The key difference is that war has always been a part of our reality and so as it became more accessible it was easier to give it the authenticity it deserved. The realities behind the Western genre however have always been consigned to the history books. Westerns were always things of myths, or larger than life heroes, daring deeds and a treacherous environment that today is hard to come to terms with. Its maturing has been a slow process, a case of one big, hard-hitting revisionist film like Unforgiven or Brokeback Mountain or There Will be Blood every few years. The duel release of The Hateful Eight and The Revenant alongside each other may simply be the peak of this. Hateful Eight dressing down Western archetypes as the callous, sadistic, pathetic creatures they are and Revenant subjecting viewers to a two hour long endurance test of ‘real’ sufferings.
With any luck the success of both these films will put to rest the argument that the Western is a dead genre. Its future is still uncertain but with any luck the genre is returning to the forefront of Western culture. A little older and wiser perhaps and traditionalists may balk at its new values but it will be back again.
Childhood sweets are happy memories. They’re treats from loving parents, for being good, for being loved. It’s wartime in Grave of the Fireflies, but a tin of sweets cherished by a little girl is an image that transcends culture and time. That the sweets are later replaced by her ashes remains one of cinema’s cruellest, most heartbreaking blows.