Berlinale 2019 Review: ‘I Was at Home, But’ struggles to find meaning in its existential themes

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.

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Berlinale 2019 Review: Posh people suffer in ‘The Souvenir’

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.

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Tilda Swinton, Tom Burke and Honor Swinton Byrne in ‘The Souvenir’ (2019) © Nicola Honor

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. 

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Berlinale 2019 Review: ‘Varda by Agnes’ is the perfect end to an unparalleled career

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. 

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© Cine Tamaris 2018

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. 

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The Trials and Tribulations of the Working Class Film Critic: How a Difficult Industry Becomes Near-Impossible

Achieving financial stability in the film journalism industry is a difficult feat for anybody. With regular gigs few and far between, ridiculous amounts of competition and low rates of pay, it’s pretty much an accepted fact that even the best of freelancers will struggle to make ends meet. As a community we joke about this frequently: we should have specialised in STEM subjects, we’re the disappointing creatives of the family, we’ll never pay off our student loans, and so on and so forth.

As a working class freelancer, financial insecurity is something that has plagued my attempts to crack the industry from the very beginning. Whilst I am incredibly privileged in some areas – my family are emotionally supportive, my workplace is flexible (something which is rare in working class environments) and I have a university education – the feeling that I am ridiculously out of my depth remains. The fact that I, as a relatively privileged (and white) working class person, still struggle, opens up a plethora of questions on the exclusive nature of our work. How can a person on a zero hours contract, living without the luxuries of university connections or familial support possibly engage in film criticism in the same way that a comfortable middle class person can?

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‘Widows’ is a Departure From McQueen’s Intimate Style – For Better or Worse

Artist-turned-director Steve McQueen has a certain flair for the insightful. His previous works, Hunger (2008), Shame (2011) and 12 Years a Slave (2013) have focused upon singular characters, fixating on the intimate details of an individual’s life and creating a display which feels almost private. With Widows (2018), however, McQueen branches out from this intimate filmmaking, to establish a world which feels colossal in its realism, and painfully current in its observations of today’s racial, sexual and class politics.

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Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki in Widows (2018) © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The widows in question – Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) – represent women from across various different social circles and spectrums. Veronica is a teacher’s union delegate and lives a lavish lifestyle, but remains acutely aware of the racism entrenched within her surroundings, especially as a black woman married to a white man. Considerably worse off financially is Linda, who juggles a business and two young children. With lived knowledge of the prison system, Linda is naturally more cautious than her contemporaries, illuminating a class difference that is essential to McQueen’s depiction of an intersectional environment. Alice, on the other hand, works as a high-end escort and experiences the daily struggles of male egocentrism. After suffering abuse at the hands of her husband, her journey is one of rediscovering her own independence – and it just so happens that a $5 million heist is the perfect way to pull this off. 

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BFI London Film Festival ’18: ‘Assassination Nation’ Is A Liberal Feminist’s Wet Dream

The lives of teenage girls are increasingly entangled with various forms of violence. Whether it be through the sinister undercurrents of body shaming amplified by the internet, the very literal brutality at the hands of boys and men, or the obsessive hatred of their typical interests by the media, young women have a lot to struggle with as they grow up. Directed by Sam Levinson in only his second directorial output, Assassination Nation takes this theoretical violence and manifests it in a gory, stylised take on the revenge of a generation bombarded with gendered hate. 

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Lily (Odessa Young) is a high schooler obsessed with so-called ‘selfie culture’. Her life revolves around the attention she gains both from her teenage boyfriend Mark, and from the grown man she calls ‘Daddy’ behind Mark’s back. Her best friend, Bex (Hari Nef) has her own relationship issues; the boy she likes is insisting they keep their sexual relationship private due to the fact that Bex is transgender. Together with Em (Abra) and Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), the girls form a refreshingly diverse and positive friendship group in a world where teenage girls are expected to view each other as competition for male attention.

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BFI London Film Festival ’18: ‘The Favourite’ Makes Scathing Commentary on the Frivolity of Royalty (Also, There’s Lesbian Activity)

It starts with a whisper, then a murmur, then a joyous shout. Spreading across the screening like waves disturbing still water, the chanting begins. Sapphics hold hands as they begin to activate their power, absorbing gay energy from the very presence of Rachel Weisz in a hunting outfit. They will now live forever, to spread a message of plaid and emotional detachment across the world.

“Let’s go lesbians,” yells the theatre, and all heterosexuality evaporates into dust.

I’m joking, of course, but that’s kinda what watching The Favourite felt like.

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