Mouthpiece (2018)

Of course I suppose if you look at the date (a 2018 film based on a 2015 stage play), this wouldn’t count as ‘new’ exactly, but these days sometimes you have to wait years to see things, ironic perhaps in an age of streaming media. I’m still waiting for 2019 films by some of my favourite filmmakers, so two years is hardly unusual. In the end, I watched this for free as part of a digital release by the Seventh Row website, who have all kinds of supplementary materials, and it’s a film that’s worth thinking about.

There’s something underlying this drama that definitely feels theatrical, and given its roots in a play that makes sense. Still, for all that, it feels cinematic in the way it’s told, with expressive use of light and colours and of staged sequences (somewhere between hallucinations and dreams, or perhaps fantasies, being the inner life of the central character). The theme is familiar, dealing with the relationship between a grown woman and her mother, who at the start of the film has just died unexpectedly, leaving a certain amount of mourning and then a reentanglement with her legacy by the central character Cassandra. The twist is that Cassandra is played by two different actors, standing side by side in each scene, wearing the same (or similar) clothes and making the same gestures. After that initial period of discombobulation (where one wonders if they’re in a relationship, which of course they are, after a fashion), it settles down to being a very effective way to hint at the internal conflicts she’s going through without resorting to a voiceover or some other stilted technique. And the performances by both actors (also the writers of the original play, and collaborators on this screenplay) are excellent, which is crucial in making it work of course.

Mouthpiece film posterCREDITS
Director Patricia Rozema; Writers Rozema, Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava (based on the play by Nostbakken and Sadava); Cinematographer Catherine Lutes; Starring Amy Nostbakken, Norah Sadava; Length 91 minutes.
Seen at home (Vimeo streaming), London, Sunday 4 October 2020.

Global Cinema 6: Antigua and Barbuda – Dadli (2018)

A lack of film output, along with rather patchy online availability, means my film choice for the tiny island nation of Antigua and Barbuda is a short film, albeit one with a great facility for the image. It’s hardly a wealthy nation, though, especially after recent hurricanes, but it has natural beauty, and that much has attracted a healthy tourist industry.

Antiguan flagAntigua and Barbuda
population 96,000 | capital St John’s (23k) | largest cities St John’s, All Saints (3.4k), Liberta (2.2k), Potter’s Village (2.1k), Bolans (1.8k) | area 440 km2 | religion Christianity (77%) | official language English | major ethnicity Black African (91%) | currency East Caribbean dollar ($) [XCD] | internet .ag

An island nation in the middle of the Leeward Islands, made up of the two major islands in the country’s name along with a number of smaller ones, though the vast majority of the population is on Antigua (especially since a 2017 hurricane which destroyed much of Barbuda’s buildings). The island was settled around 3000 BCE by the Ciboney Amerindians, succeeded by the Saladoid people from the Orinoco, then the Caribs. The English came in the mid-17th century, and slaves were imported to work the tobacco and sugar plantations. It gained partial independence from the UK in 1967, followed by full independence on 1 November 1981. It retains the British monarch as head of state, with its own Prime Minister as head of government.

The first feature film made by the island nation was in 2001, so it’s fair to say it hasn’t had a huge history of film production.

Dadli (2018)

I think sometimes short films can be perfect — in the sense of taking an idea and completing it, doing everything that can be done — but others are like fragments of a longer experience, and this feels like the latter. It’s gorgeously evocative (directed and photographed by the cinematographer who did Skate Kitchen amongst others), starting and ending with ravishing sunsets over his native island nation, and features a number of voices, whether the young kid seen wrangling a donkey, or an older man reflecting on his life. However, these feel like miniatures from what should be a full-length piece. Still, even as it is, it’s a fleeting elegy for a lost way of life (and I gather from the director’s notes that this area, almost a shanty town, was bulldozed), with a brief glimpse of a cruise ship looming ominously, portentously.

Directors Shabier Kirchner and Elise Tyler; Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner; Length 14 minutes.
Seen at home (Vimeo streaming), London, Saturday 9 May 2020.

Three Short Films by Sarah Maldoror

I think if we’ve all learned anything from the last few decades of study and research about women in cinema is that there has been a paucity of women creating cinema since the silent era, i.e. from when cinema started to be seen as a viable industry and not just a hobby or a sideshow. This means a lot of women’s work in cinema has been in non-commercial spheres like the experimental avant garde, or else in oppositional contexts, and that is where we find the French/West Indian filmmaker Sarah Maldoror, who chose her surname and began to make films with her Angolan nationalist husband after having been an assistant on The Battle of Algiers. That first short I review below was also made in Algeria, but is specifically about the Angolan situation, before its independence. She made a feature film a few years later, Sambizanga (again filmed in absentia in the Republic of Congo/Brazzaville, but about Angola), which I will be covering shortly in my Global Cinema series when we get to Angola. Sadly, Maldoror died earlier this year, in April 2020, as a result of complications from COVID-19, at the age of 90. The three short films below were made available for a short time by Another Gaze journal, in support of a panel featuring her daughters, poetry recital, and a discussion amongst film critics, which was insightful and also, for me, rather unusual in centering the experiences of African and Caribbean women.

Continue reading “Three Short Films by Sarah Maldoror”