Cinema does not need to be coherent to be understood. Some art is not made to be chronological, or easily understandable, or accessible to a wide audience. Equally, however, criticism has the right – or even the responsibility – to dismantle the layers of a film and peer at what’s underneath, so that we may debate the meaning which lofty imagery may convey. The problem with I Was at Home, But, is that this meaning never really appears, leaving nothing but frameless minimalism masquerading as a greater film.
This week’s Criterion Channel selection is Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones, a 1963 adventure-comedy set in 1700s England and executed in the style of early 1900s swashbuckler films. Whew! Born out of wedlock, the titular character (Albert Finney) grows into a charming young man and falls in love with the upper-class Sophie Western (Susannah York), whom he cannot marry because he is not of royal descent. Yup, it’s the standard formula for a period piece romance!
Twenty-four year old Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne) wants for nothing in life, bar artistic inspiration. As a film student, she avoids the starving artist stereotype by calling up her parents every time she needs supplies – “Mummy, I need two hundred pounds again!” – in order to continue treading water on multiple fruitless projects. Her airily considered ideas trace working class struggles that she will never experience, exemplifying the voyeurism of rich filmmakers for whom the dying towns beyond the Watford gap represent nothing but artistic potential. Through her character, Joanna Hogg has created the perfect representation of the precocious young woman, for whom opportunities will be created via wealth, rather than talent or work ethic. When the arrogant and manipulative Anthony (Tom Burke) comes swaggering into Julie’s life, however, she is soon forced to learn the heavy weight of adult responsibility, in the most painful way possible.
To watch this relationship develop is unpleasant to say the least. Each grotesque leer that Anthony throws in Julie’s direction is enough to make bile rise in the throat, and the feeling only worsens as the film continues to expand on his true nature. Hogg is careful never to romanticise the abuse that our heroine suffers, casting a largely negative light on his actions through an incredulous gaze: as Julie returns to Anthony again and again despite his behaviour, we despair for her, and collectively long for her to escape his clutches. It’s not an easy watch by any means, but Hogg’s refusal to counteract Anthony’s exploitation with any redeeming qualities thankfully precludes any kind of apologism.
To capture a lifetime of greatness in just two hours seems like an impossible task, but in ‘Varda by Agnes’, the French New Wave legend accomplishes this and more, producing a documentary which feels almost like an embrace from a wise relative. As she casts her eye back across six decades of her work, Varda recounts anecdotes from her past, accompanied by friends and colleagues, whilst delving into her fond outlook towards film as a medium. In this age of cynicism, 90-year-old Varda’s eternally bright acceptance of modernity feels like a breath of fresh air, and makes for a viewing experience which is truly magical for any film fan.
As an auteur, Varda is confident and passionate when discussing her work, outlining her motivations in an accessible and welcoming manner. The film traces her career with a rough chronology, beginning with her best-known Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), moving through films such as La Pointe Courte (1954), Le Bonheur (1965) and Vagabond (1985), before changing tone to consider the artistic installations that she created in her later career. The completeness of this overlook amplifies just how far the filmmaker’s reach has travelled; from narrative film, to documentary, to modern art, there seems to be very little that she cannot perfect. Each piece is woven with Varda’s acute observational skills, driven by an intrinsic appreciation for humanity.
Horror is a powerful tool for discussing social issues and reflecting societal fears. Often discussions about the politics of horror focus on gender and the body, but rarely do those conversations attempt to address race in the genre. Yes, we know the tropes where there is only one token black character that usually dies first or the black character who tries to be the voice of reason to the rest of the (all white) group. But what we don’t discuss in the deep history of blackness in horror that exists even in the apparent lack of black characters on screen. Shudder’s first documentary, Horror Noire, remedies this problem, devoting an entire film to the history of black horror films through the lens of black history within the United States.
I have to admit that my first encounter with Chungking Express years ago was a confusing one. I was just getting into films, my experience with cinema was limited to mainstream Hollywood films and I had never seen anything like Chungking Express. I restarted my computer twice because I was sure the frame rate was my computer’s fault and not part of the film. Coming back to it years later with an appreciation for Wong Kar-wai’s other films and fresh eyes feels wonderful.
‘God’s Own Country’ is traditionally a term used to describe the vast, open, scenic landscapes that mold the county of Yorkshire’s unspoiled countryside. But, Francis Lee’s directorial debut, ‘God’s Own Country’ (2017), focuses less on the poetic beauty of the landscapes. It uncovers and reworks the expression to draw attention to the lands people, who often go unnoticed in mainstream media. What accompanies the land in ‘God’s Own Country’ are the sensations of isolation and solitude that are felt by, and have become an integral part of the film’s protagonist, Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), a young, gay farmer.