‘Mamma Mia,’ Motherhood and Female Relationships: A Personal Perspective

This piece is by our guest writer, Julia Blackwell.

I am sure that many of you will be well aware of the phenomenon that is Mamma Mia (2008), and its recent sequel Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (2018), the latter of which I have now watched at least five times. The first film has also had multiple viewings over the years and contains one of my most beloved scenes from cinema. Predictably, I was in tears when Donna (Meryl Streep) sings “Slipping Through My Fingers” to her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). The song expresses a mother’s realisation that her daughter is now growing up and that she has been unable to spend as much time with her as she had planned. In the film, Donna sings it to Sophie as she helps her dress for her wedding, preparing to give her away. Despite her potential fathers telling Sophie they will give her away during a previous scene, Sophie chooses to reach out to her mum. After all, her mum is the person who has supported her throughout her life so far. “Slipping Through My Fingers” plays over Donna and Sophie not just getting dressed, but laughing together and enjoying their time away from the chaos of the rest of the wedding planning.

My mum passed away when I was ten, four years before the release of Mamma Mia and, as I’m sure others who have lost someone close to them will agree, the full impact of that person’s absence rarely hits you right away. For some it can take years to sink in as you gradually adapt to going through your life stages without them and encounter moments when you wish that, at the very least, you could talk to them. This is how I listened to and watched the “Slipping Through My Fingers” scene. For me it awakened moments I will never have with my mum. I don’t have any burning ambition for a wedding day, but I did find myself wanting to curl up next to her and have her paint my nails.

In the years that followed my first viewing of Mamma Mia, important events began happening for me and even though my mum was not around, I was by no means alone as I went through them. I was fortunate enough to have an incredible group of supportive women around me, especially in the wake of other losses. My dad is a wonderful person, but there are certain topics I would never discuss with him. He’s not very good at painting nails either! In Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, it is revealed very early on that Donna has passed away and that Sophie now lives with one of her dads, Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Yet Sam is not the character we see Sophie confide in regarding subjects such as her relationship with her husband, Sky (Dominic Cooper). Instead she turns to her mum’s old friends, Tanya and Rosie (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters), who have travelled to Greece to visit her. While there may be men in her life that Sophie can turn to for advice and support, I for one have no interest in listening to Pierce Brosnan wail “Angel Eyes.”

47106548_262618534423182_6458241086321065984_n.jpg

Continue reading “‘Mamma Mia,’ Motherhood and Female Relationships: A Personal Perspective”

NYFF ‘18 Review: ‘Her Smell’ is a Riot in Full, Glorious Swing with Elisabeth Moss at the Helm

It reeks, it lingers. Her Smell invades, it threatens, it’s aggressive and it’s dirty, draining. It’s a riot in full swing. Yet amidst the assumed chaos, it becomes tender and honest, an exploration into addiction and the punk rock scene of the 90s, but even more so into identity. What can be repaired after not only hurting the ones we love, but ourselves in the process?

Alex Ross Perry’s five-act tale of rockstar rampage and recovery is unapologetic and unpredictable, proving to be one of my favorite and one of the most exciting films I’ve seen this year. It was borne out of Perry’s incessant need to not only explore multiple act structure (after being inspired by the three act structure of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs and by Shakespeare), but push the envelope on his creative relationship with Elisabeth Moss. The pair had previously worked together on 2015’s Queen of Earth, similarly dark and ruptured. Her Smell raises the bar and sails clean over it.

The role of Becky Something, our enigmatic, perpetually inebriated, crass, and readily dislikable star was written completely for Moss. When she smiles, it’s more with wickedness and less with joy. We know little about her rise to the top. It is only shown in bits and pieces through the home videos played before each act, and all about her ruin.

Continue reading “NYFF ‘18 Review: ‘Her Smell’ is a Riot in Full, Glorious Swing with Elisabeth Moss at the Helm”

Interview: ‘Searching’ Writer Sev Ohanian Talks Social Media and the Writing Process

Searching stars John Cho, who makes history as the first Asian-American actor leading a Hollywood thriller. The film is innovatively told purely through screens, as a desperate father attempts to find his missing daughter.

While it could be argued that having a film set through screens is extremely limiting and can create an emotional block, Aneesh Chaganty (co-writer, director) and Sev Ohanian (co-writer, producer) execute certain techniques successfully, that other movies filmed in a traditional format, couldn’t. David Kim (John Cho) often types messages and then deletes them, which successfully bridges the gap between appearance vs reality; what David truly wants to say vs what he actually says.

One thing that continued to surprise me throughout Searching was the extent to which Chaganty and Ohanian understand the relationship teenagers have with social media. I’m not referring to the general “social media is bad” sentiment other filmmakers instill in the audience, but a more nuanced message: social media allows people to be themselves (to an extent) but is also extremely isolating. Margot and David’s relationship from the onset is grounded in tension and unfamiliarity as they try and navigate life without Margot’s mother, Pam. Death brings people closer together, but the sad reality is that sometimes it does the exact opposite.

Continue reading “Interview: ‘Searching’ Writer Sev Ohanian Talks Social Media and the Writing Process”

Searching the Ashes: Post-War Scepticism in Christian Petzold’s ‘Phoenix’

This essay is by our guest writer, Harrison Hughes.

When it comes to capturing the complexities of human relationships, there are few directors as bold and profound as Christian Petzold. Born in Hilden, Germany in 1960, Petzold graduated from the German Film and Television Academy Berlin in the mid ‘90s with his debut feature Politinnen (1995). Released on German television to critical acclaim, Politinnen depicts the close relationship between two working women as they drive across Germany selling cosmetics. Although distant in age, the two women bond over their mutual exploitation and grow closer as they navigate the German landscape. With Politinnen, Petzold establishes his cinematic approach to human relationships and interactions as they develop and unfold on screen. Jump forward 19 years and nine films later, Petzold directs Phoenix (2014), his most ambitious and successful work to date.

Set in the rubble of post-war Berlin, Phoenix explores similar themes to Petzold’s early films such as the confusion of identity and the uncertainty of love, but with a much more ominous tone. The second film in his self-proclaimed “Love in Times of Oppressive Systems” trilogy, Phoenix, is not so much about love, but the distrust that surrounds it. In the wake of WW2 and its horrors, post-war society was afflicted with a great scepticism that haunted the bombed-out city streets like a spectral reminder. From religion and politics to modern civilisation and the nature of mankind, everything was questioned, and nothing remained the same. Phoenix explores this scepticism on an individual level by questioning the extent to which we can truly know ourselves, the world, and the ones we love.

Continue reading “Searching the Ashes: Post-War Scepticism in Christian Petzold’s ‘Phoenix’”

Criterion Month: Breathless and the Anti-Manic Pixie Dream Girl

This essay is by our guest writer, Shea Vassar. 

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the cute and quirky love interest that skips around in films that feature moody men who long to escape their current mundane lives. This archetype has existed since the beginning of cinematic history, but did not receive a proper title until Nathan Rabin’s 2004 review of Elizabethtown (Rabin, 2007). Rabin says that “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Though he later apologized for coining the term, Rabin was critiquing the one-dimensional female characters that are constantly displayed in the movies (Rabin, 2014). Many viewers enjoy the whimsical, fairy-like girls that seem to skip around due to their unexplainable amount of confidence. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl lacks motivation, significant or human-like flaws, and the ability to grow past their state of being simply adorable.

Many female characters that seem a bit out of the ordinary by dressing with a unique sense of style or reading a certain poet wrongly receive the Manic Pixie Dream Girl label. Sadly, viewers have grown used to seeing underdeveloped female characters who are only there to propel forward the male protagonist. This is where Breathless differs. Patricia Franchini, played by Jean Seberg, displays the Manic Pixie Dream Girl aesthetic: her blonde hair is cut in a short pixie style and she studies journalism at the Sorbonne. She also enjoys talking of romanticism and philosophy and her American status just adds to her appeal. But Patricia is not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

IMG_2737

Continue reading “Criterion Month: Breathless and the Anti-Manic Pixie Dream Girl”