NZIFF 2021: Memoria (2021)

Some films are made for film festivals, and none more so than any given new film by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Some of them have becoming (surprisingly) modest arthouse hits, like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and Memoria is very much in a similar mould, with lush jungle terrains (here in Colombia) and a slow, mysterious narrative that seems to promise both naturalism and also science-fiction and fantasy at times. The central investigation may recall Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, in being based around a mysterious sonic fragment, but there’s little else that recalls mainstream narrative cinema, and Tilda Swinton is looking strangely ordinary here as she searches for… something.


Apichatpong Weerasethakul proves that even making a film largely in English and set in Colombia, he’s still able to make exactly the kinds of films he makes, which is to say slow, somnolent and oblique. As with Cemetery of Splendour I nodded off a little at times (to be fair that one was a film about people with some kind of sleeping sickness), but it felt like part of the artistic process, a durational one, about a woman who seems to be searching for the source of a mysterious sound. That search takes her to various specialists (real or imagined?), and to a small village in the mountains, and those shots of ruins and lush vegetation seem very much of a piece with his most famous works. I think in many ways Memoria extends those themes, with some surprising additions that never exactly serve to make clear what’s been going on, but instead intensify and deepen the mystery. But that’s often the way. This had me fascinated and I loved the slow rhythms of it, but it danced nimbly away from explaining itself. Undoubtedly both this and the pacing will madden many of its potential viewers, but it’s an experience in being open to the possibilities of narrative.

Memoria (2021) posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Apichatpong Weerasethakul อภิชาติพงศ์ วีระเศรษฐกุล; Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom สยมภู มุกดีพร้อม; Starring Tilda Swinton, Jeanne Balibar, Elkin Díaz; Length 136 minutes.
Seen at Embassy, Wellington, Thursday 18 November 2021.

Criterion Sunday 440: Brand Upon the Brain! (2006)

Clearly Guy Maddin had been working up to a full-blown pastiche on silent films for quite a while at this point, and it’s a style that has largely defined a lot of his subsequent work: expressionist pools of darkness; rapid cross-cutting; fragments of frames as if rescued from decay; and bonkers storylines with incredulous, exclamative (!!) intertitles aplenty. To the extent that this has become his stock-in-trade, I didn’t even recall having seen this at the London Film Festival back when it came out, but reading up on it, I see that a number of its original presentations were accompanied by a live narrator in Japanese benshi style (whether this is how I saw it in 2007 is lost to my memory, but I don’t think so). In any case, it has an expressive beauty and it’s fun even if it still feels ultimately like a pastiche-y farce about weird parental manipulation of orphan kids, polymorphous sexuality and death — all of which is by way of saying, it feels very Canadian.

CRITERION EXTRAS:

  • Chief among the bonuses are two 2008 short films that Guy Maddin made to go with this feature film. One is “It’s My Mother’s Birthday Today”, which deals with one of the cast members, but in a typically Maddinesque impressionistic — er, actually expressionist, I guess? — kinda way. It’s a blur of images and feelings that tend towards the dark.
  • The other short film is “Footsteps”, and if you’re going to do DVD bonus featurettes about the making of your film, this is about as good as they can really be. It’s Guy Maddin showing how the sound effects were made, by the working collective of the title, but filmed as a Maddinesque short film — and, like anything by Maddin, I’m not exactly convinced of how truthful it is, either. However, it is fun and funny, and it gives a good sense of the rather absurdist work of a foley artist.
  • There’s also a deleted scene which runs for a few minutes but which was probably excised wisely as I don’t recall very much about it having seen it a mere hour or two ago, but it was intended to up the ‘queer’ factor of a film which already plays enough with gender identities.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Guy Maddin; Writers Maddin and George Toles; Cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke; Starring Gretchen Krich, Maya Lawson, Isabella Rossellini; Length 99 minutes.

Seen at NFT, London, Saturday 20 October 2007 (and most recently on DVD at home, Wellington, Sunday 20 June 2021).

Criterion Sunday 375: Green for Danger (1946)

A pleasant wartime thriller, released just after World War II although set during, it’s a murder mystery thriller with the usual roster of plummy-voiced actors who all seem a bit dubious. They’re doctors and nurses, and a patient has mysteriously died on the operating table despite being in relatively good health, and it’s up to our inspector — Alistair Sim, in a real stand-out role, cheerfully able to sit back while others bicker and fight — to figure out whodunit. It’s all a bit hectic at the outset, and I found it difficult keeping these people apart in my mind (they’re all well-spoken professionals, half the time hidden under masks), but the tension cranks up under the directorial guidance of Sidney Gilliat. I have a soft-spot for black-and-white movies with colours in their titles, and indeed things all revolve around the colour a certain item is painted, and this film is a keen British genre thriller.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Sidney Gilliat; Writers Gilliat and Claud Gurney (based on the novel by Christianna Brand); Cinematographer Wilkie Cooper; Starring Sally Gray, Trevor Howard, Rosamund John, Alastair Sim, Leo Genn; Length 91 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Monday 17 August 2020.

Criterion Sunday 357: The Fallen Idol (1948)

I mean, yes, the child in this film is annoying, but he’s a child, and it’s his point-of-view, however flawed and naive, that the film is built around. He is Philippe (Bobby Henrey), the son of an ambassador in London’s posh but boring Belgravia (there’s even a scene in the Star Tavern, making me already miss the place) whose parents are off away, so he’s in the care of the butler Baines (Ralph Richardson) and Mrs Baines (Sonia Dresdel), the latter of whom is best understood as a woman wronged, though she is a little bit one note. Which is to say that in his childish enthusiasm for the people around him, he happens onto some secrets and lies, and the rest of the film is about the way in which he tries to keep everything together, or at least the way that he thinks he does, while focusing on creating untruths that help precisely nobody in particular. It’s a film, then, about the corrupting influence of the adult world, with its tawdry affairs and its banal gossip alongside its grandiloquent storytelling (cue a bit of racist imperialism as Baines recounts his imagined stories of Africa). It all looks great, a bit noirish with the black-and-white and the shadows, with Richardson playing a fundamentally good man but whose face suggests a hint of threat at times, and if it feels in service of a moral lesson, it’s at least not hammered home too much.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Carol Reed; Writers William Templeton, Lesley Storm and Graham Greene (based on Greene’s short story “The Basement Room”); Cinematographer George Périnal; Starring Ralph Richardson, Bobby Henrey, Michèle Morgan, Sonia Dresdel, Jack Hawkins; Length 96 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Sunday 27 September 2020.

Criterion Sunday 341: A Canterbury Tale (1944)

I can see from reading others’ reviews that there are a lot of big fans of this Powell and Pressburger film, made in black-and-white and telling a wartime story of three people (pilgrims if you will) in Kent, a Women’s Land Army volunteer (Sheila Sim), and two sergeants (the British one played by Dennis Sim, the American by a real Sgt John Sweet). And to be fair by the end there were plenty of positive things to be said about it, but perhaps my own impressions were negatively affected by my first impressions, which are of the kind of British officers you get in contemporary films (and certainly in P&P productions) of clipped RP accents delivered peremptorily and with a fair dollop of condescension, competing for annoyance only with the (non-actor) American sergeant’s incomprehension at all the very British people around him treating him like dirt, until of course they finally relent and show some compassion. The plot, such as it is, revolves around a mysterious local putting glue in women’s hair, though this doesn’t remain a mystery for too long and is all resolved in a jolly and very English sort of understanding way (despite the unexamined underlying weird sexism of the whole thing). But this is a wartime film about people of different backgrounds coming together to learn something about what they are really united for, and if you’re willing to go along with that broadly patriotic premise (albeit executed without too much grandstanding insistence), then it’s a good film. It’s also — and this is perhaps key to my ultimate feeling of positivity towards the film in the end — absolutely gorgeously lit and photographed, with a deep focus and deep shadows, alongside shards of beautiful light punctuating each frame.

CRITERION EXTRAS:

  • When it was a box office failure in the UK, Powell re-edited the film heavily for the American market, dropping a lot of it, but also adding a prologue and epilogue with its American protagonist (Sgt Sweet) and his wife in NYC as he talks about Canterbury, then at the end, with her there, impressing upon her the closure he achieved in visiting. It’s a little heavy-handed, of course, rather eagerly over-explaining using stats why there was an American GI in England in the first place, which is probably why the distributor wanted it added.
  • It’s a packed double-disc edition, with a number of featurettes about the film, but one of the key extras that contextualises the feature film within its era is Humphrey Jennings and Stewart McAllister’s short film Listen to Britain (1942), a poetic propaganda film, bold in its use of sound to evoke a sense of a country united in wartime. Of course, it’s a very particular sense of nationality (and watching this on Mubi, I get the sense in their programming that putting this the day after a more recent British short film in which British Pakistani identities are examined is a pointed move), but that doesn’t detract from the artistry. The sound comes from fragments of speech in social settings, from news broadcasts, songs, the sounds of nature and of course the background drone of the warplanes and of industry. It’s all very compelling and beautiful, in its way.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Directors/Writers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; Cinematographer Erwin Hillier; Starring Sheila Sim, Dennis Price, John Sweet, Eric Portman; Length 124 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), London, Tuesday 28 July 2020.

Ostende (2011)

I’ve been doing my ‘Global Cinema’ series for just over a month now, and this coming Saturday I’ll be up to Argentina, which is the largest filmmaking nation I’ve covered so far, and probably deserves more than a single film, not least because I’ve seen plenty of Argentinian films over the past few years. Some of them I covered in my South American cinema week, including foundational oppositional film The Hour of the Furnaces (1968), and other more recent ones like Mariano Llinas’s La flor, and the works of Lucrecia Martel. Through her production company, the director of today’s film was involved with La flor and Llinas’ other work, and is an important figure in the newer efflorescence of indie filmmaking in the country, cleaving to a slow cinema style which may or may not pay dividends depending on your mood. I’ll be featuring a number of other Argentine films of this millennium over the next few days, a lot of which confront not just the country’s past but also topics of sexuality and sexual identity in particular.


A slow burning movie in which, I suppose at one level, nothing really happens — it’s about a young woman (Laura Paredes) at an off-season hotel resort where barely anyone is staying. She’s won the vacation in a competition, and her boyfriend is joining her for the weekend, but in the meantime, there’s some tedious admin at the front desk that clearly bores her and her room and the pool, and then she spots some other women and an older guy who seems to be a bit creepy, and who at length talks to her about something insipid, and suddenly the young woman gets curious about what’s going on. Because there’s so little to do, it becomes a bit of a compulsion for her, like Rear Window: imagining the worst and spinning out stories in her head. In fact, the film is at a certain level about storytelling itself, because another character, a young waiter a local cafe, has his own film treatment he’s had in his head, so there are a few wild stories going around, and when her boyfriend finally arrives, she elaborates what she’s been thinking to him. But yet, still very little happens, it’s all in glances and movements and voyeuristic long shots (shades of Kiarostami too) in which we can’t hear anything, but can imagine some of what’s going on. Others may find it boring, but I thought this to be a compelling story about boredom and imagination.

Ostende film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Laura Citarella; Cinematographer Agustín Mendilaharzu; Starring Laura Paredes, Julián Tello, Santiago Gobernori; Length 82 minutes.
Seen at home (Mubi streaming), London, Thursday 4 June 2020.

Criterion Sunday 322: “The Complete Mr. Arkadin”: Mr. Arkadin (aka Confidential Report, 1955)

This Criterion release features three versions of the title film: the European release as Confidential Report which is the one I’ve reviewed below, the “Corinth” cut with some different footage, and a reconstructed cut especially for the Criterion release, which purports to be the fullest and truest to Welles’s original intentions. As I do not (yet) have the Criterion edition of the film, I have not been able to review this cut, but I shall revisit it at such time as I am able to, and add to the review below.


Like any Welles film, or at least like all too many of them, this exists in multiple versions. I watched the European edit which was released under the title Confidential Report and it is, as you might expect, splendidly bonkers, careening around its mystery thriller plot with wild abandon. Welles, of course, plays the larger-than-life title character (well, the title character in the original title of the film), a large bearded fellow with a past that he claims not to know, or is trying actively to cover up, in murderous ways… except that chisel-jawed Robert Arden (as small-time crook Guy van Stratten) is onto him. There’s no shortage of stylish shooting, with all kinds of Dutch angles and scattershot dialogue propelling the drama forward. Perhaps this isn’t the finest version of the film that exists, and I hope at least to watch some of the others eventually, but even a badly recut Welles film is still a fine experience; there’s only so much that an editor can do to his idiosyncratic use of space.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Orson Welles (based on radio scripts for The Lives of Harry Lime by Ernest Bornemann and Welles); Cinematographer Jean Bourgoin; Starring Robert Arden, Orson Welles, Paola Mori, Patricia Medina, Akim Tamiroff; Length 98 minutes [as Confidential Report].

Seen at home (Amazon streaming), London, Wednesday 3 June 2020 (and originally on VHS at home, Wellington, October 1999).

Global Cinema 4: Andorra – Nick (2016)

There aren’t a great deal of films from the small Pyrenees-set country of Andorra, as you might not be surprised to hear, and indeed there was only one I could find on streaming services, hence why I’m covering a rather low-budget thriller called Nick today. It’s all in English and it’s not very good, but perhaps along the way you might see a little of the natural beauty of the country.


Andorran flagPrincipality of Andorra
population 78,000 | capital Andorra la Vella (22k) | largest cities Andorra la Vella, Escaldes-Engordany (14.4k), Encamp (13.5k), Sant Julià de Lòria (7.5k), La Massana (5k) | area 468 km2 | religion Roman Catholicism | official language Catalan (català) | major ethnicities Andorrans (49%), Spanish (25%) | currency Euro (€) [EUR] | internet .ad

A tiny landlocked state in the eastern part of the Pyrenees mountain range, between France and Spain. Its name’s origin is unknown, but may relate to a pre-Roman tribe (the Andosins, mentioned in Polybius), or to the old word Anorra containing Basque word ur (“water”), or the Arabic al-darra (for “thickly-wooded place”), amongst others. The earliest settlement dates to 9500 BCE, and the Iberian tribe of the Andosins dates to the 2nd century BCE, though Charlemagne is traditionally credited as having granted the Andorrans a charter, after which it was ruled by the Count and later Diocese of Urgell. The political history is complicated but eventually it came to be under the French Empire, until independence in 1814. It accepted refugees from both sides in the Spanish Civil War and was neutral during World War II, though resistance causes organised there. Modernisation, including entry into the Council of Europe and the UN, took place in 1993, with currency union in 2006. It is governed by co-princes (one of whom is the President of France, the other the Bishop of Urgell), with a Prime Minister as head of government.

While it appears as if filming in Andorra is encouraged, there is very little indigenous cinematic production, perhaps unsurprising given the country’s size.


Nick (aka Outlier, 2016)

As I watched this because it’s a film made by and filmed in the tiny European country of Andorra, I suppose I was hoping for something that would give me an idea of the place. The filming locations appear to be around a small northern town called Ordino, and from what we see of it, it does look rather pretty, with winding little streets in the centre, and lots of people living in large houses with great views. The problem with the film, then, is the rest of it, and looming largest perhaps is the decision to make it in English, which, from my meagre research, does not appear to be a major language in the country (where, as you’ll see above, Catalan is the official language, while Spanish, French and Portuguese are the more usual second languages). In fact, just about everyone (aside from the moody Catalan-speaking work colleague of our lead character Margret, a police officer whose stepson has just arrived in town) seems to be transplanted from England, which gives it the feeling of a rather unloved drama pilot buried somewhere deep down in the programming of ITV. This perhaps would be fine were it not for the fact that most nuance seems to be lost in the script, perhaps gone astray somewhere in translation, as characters introduce each other clunkily (“I can’t believe you’re doing that, given your recent, troubling history of alcoholism” is something that isn’t quite said, but almost is, things along those lines) and bad decisions are met with worse reactions — which makes up the entire character of Margret (Molly Malcolm) for most of the last third of the film (she’s honestly just not very likeable or sympathetic). Even all that might even be passable were it not for the fact that the acting is unable to find any emotional truth in these characters, perhaps because there’s very little there to work with, though of course I shouldn’t expect too much from the younger actor (the titular Nick is just called upon to pout, which he does well, and also shout a lot at his stepsister, which isn’t convincing). Somewhere in here is a murder mystery with supernatural elements, set up quite compellingly, but it’s all rather messy and the impetus quickly gets rather lost. Andorra probably deserves better.

Nick film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer José Pozo; Cinematographer Juan González Guerrero; Starring Molly Malcolm, Cooper Crafar, Melina Matthews; Length 107 minutes.
Seen at home (Amazon), London, Tuesday 2 June 2020.

Knives Out (2019)

This is very obviously neither an indie film nor exactly is it much related to “mumblecore” in any way, but rather it’s a knowing genre film that uses these familiar murder-mystery whodunit tropes to tell a somewhat sub rosa story of class and race in modern America. At some level I guess I still think of Rian Johnson as indie, perhaps because of his first film Brick (2005), though he very quickly took to rather bigger productions, which this of course is. Still, my blog my rules, so I’m putting it in this themed week.


A very polished and fun whodunit murder-mystery thriller set amongst a rich family at their stately old New England pile, which revolves ultimately around capitalism, class and immigration, though without ever really overtly digging into these topics. In fact, nothing ever feels more important than when it’s prefiguring another twist or leading to some well-crafted satirical repartee, but that’s all part of the film’s easy charm. The old man who has died mysteriously (Christopher Plummer) is a renowned author, and we discover in flashbacks — because the film starts with his dead body being discovered — that most of his extended family basically live off him, much to his increasing chagrin. Saying more about it would be to trade in spoilers, which I do not care to do, but there’s a wealth of delightful little character details, as well as some big chewy roles for the assembled hams to have a crack at (none moreso than Daniel Craig’s Sherlock-like drawling Lousianian private investigator), and some fine casting does a lot of the work, but Ana de Armas as the old man’s nursemaid turns out to be the stand-out role in the starry ensemble. It’s all intricately plotted as you might expect, and its charms are fairly surface-level, but see it in a big audience and there’s plenty to delight.

Knives Out film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Rian Johnson; Cinematographer Steve Yedlin; Starring Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield; Length 130 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Aldgate, London, Sunday 1 December 2019 (and again at the Genesis, London, Sunday 8 December 2019).

Jasper Jones (2017)

For the next two weeks I’m in Australia, and even though I’ve already done one Australia theme week, here’s another. I probably don’t have enough films left to manage even one more week, to be honest, so I’m not sure what the theme will be next week, but here goes a few more Oz flicks.


Small town Australia in 1969 has the kind of vibe we’ve become accustomed to in American films about the 1950s, of communities made up of like-minded individuals with pent-up issues around women and racism that resolve themselves in violent, self-lacerating ways — the same director has already handled this very time period (albeit in a comedic musical format) with Bran Nue Dae (2009), while Celia (1989) deals with a similar small town vibe (albeit set in the 1950s). Jasper Jones is named after the part-Aborigine boy (played by Aaron L. McGrath) who is distrusted and blamed by most of this small community, but it’s really mostly about a kid called Charlie (Levi Miller) who gets involved with the (possible) suicide of a girl in the town, which he spends much of the movie trying to uncover the truth about. It’s a stylish evocation of a period, and is mostly very successful, with some fine filmmaking and acting (not least from the ever-reliable Toni Collette). After the initial shock of them finding the girl’s dead body, glimpsed only briefly (thankfully), the tone evens out into being a slow-burning drama about the secrets being hidden within this community. It may not perhaps be surprising, but it’s all done very well.

Jasper Jones film posterCREDITS
Director Rachel Perkins; Writers Shaun Grant and Craig Silvey (based on Silvey’s novel); Cinematographer Mark Wareham; Starring Levi Miller, Aaron L. McGrath, Angourie Rice, Toni Collette, Hugo Weaving; Length 105 minutes.
Seen at home (Amazon streaming), London, Sunday 22 December 2019.