Chicken – the brilliance of this British debut

Chicken_stillDirector: Joe Stephenson
Title: Chicken
Production: B Good Picture Company Ltd.

This film was screened in the official selection at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2015.

Fiona is the chicken. She belongs to Richard (Scott Chambers) who lives in a caravan with his distressed elder brother Polly (Morgan Watkins). There is also a privileged girl who lives ‘next door’ called Annabell (Yasmin Paige), but she comes later. It is correct, Polly is a dude and the chicken has a name, but these are positively not the only measurements of individuality in the film. Richard has learning difficulties. I do not want to diagnose Richard, and the film is wise not to ask this of us. Richard is able to live out his life with the idiosyncrasy defined by his own actions, rather than any pre-described definition being attached to his being. This is perhaps the most beautiful thing about the film: its evenhanded approach and ability to make the audience live alongside Richard’s curious sensibility. We are able to laugh through the eyes of Richard and equally handle his heartfelt and enriching emotions.

Joe Stephenson, the debut director with a vision to behold, is effortlessly tailored towards the uncensored and picturesque world of Richard. Richard really has a stronghold over this picture. He is utterly compelling. The majority of this traction comes from his love-hate relationship with Polly. They are both victims of each other, victims of genetics (“born wrong” as Polly cries in a pivotal scene), and victims of their own poverty. Polly knows this and it frequently causes him to lose his cool and release the fire of a most austere temperament. He blames Richard for their world of monotony and is desperate for a new chapter in his life. Polly no longer wants to look after Richard, but the irony is that Richard does a very good job of looking after himself. He is seemingly content with very little: he has chickens, fields to play in, and baby tigers to catch!

Richard_chickenThe most touching scene in the film takes place between Richard and his unlikely new friend Annabell, a lively young lady with plenty of charm and pretty looks. They warm to each other as Richard shows her the forest where his adventurous imaginings of nature take place, hence the baby tigers and other similar conceptions. The relationship dynamics are reminiscent in spirit of Before Sunrise or The Spectacular Now, but unfortunately without the promise of love blooming. There is no denying Richard’s charm, but can he really fit into Annabell’s world? There is a harsh truth running under the surface, it fills the picture with incessant sadness.

The film does a powerful job of crosscutting between the innocent daily activities of Richard and the more corrupt habits of Polly, which include a sidesplitting attempt at stealing a motorbike from the local scrapyard. Unfortunately for Polly, he is not well versed in the art of manipulation and will land himself in frequent scenes of difficulty. While moments of laughter are allowed, the film is adamant not to shy away from the realities of such situations. It is a hard life and heartbreaking conclusions will be reached. Richard is merciful and Polly utterly merciless. A scene of impermeable strain shows the two brothers come head to head in a ferocious battle that is instantly a memorable piece of drama. At times, the dramatics can come close to overcooking, the theatrical context rather explicit, but the ingredients are just so fine and authentic that the latter can easily be forgiven.

Polly_chickenAdapted from a play of the same name by Freddie Machin and written for the screen by Chris New (known for his lead performance in Andrew Haigh’s breakout LGBT drama Weekend), the script is sealed impeccably with every beat pushing the audience deeper into the conflicts of its characters. The story is simple and almost too efficient in structure for its own good, but the many layers of intention and the inevitable complexity of such characters is munificent and suffice to say, enough to keep our thoughts alive and stirring. Regardless of formatting and any other rubric, Scott Chambers is so unreservedly unique in his performance as Richard that one feels he could hold the floor by himself without any direction whatsoever. A film made up of these observations could reap great reward, and the viewpoint of Stephenson’s filmmaking fits perfectly into this mold.

It is a formidable challenge for a play to be adapted onto the screen, retain its core in a plausible manner and still be original. Chicken goes beyond these expectations, everything from impulsive performances to bottomless shades of green are presented with the utmost distinction. It is an astonishing piece of work that stands all alone. The film has no companion piece and doesn’t aim to make comparisons. It treats cinema like gold dust and shares a rich profit. 5/5

Watch a clip from CHICKEN below:

An assortment of atypical Cannes Reviews

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Find out more about each of these films by clicking through the title link to IMDB.

Spooks: The Greater Good (UK)
Kit Harington in SpooksTerrible and terrible where it matters most: the script and casting. I won’t write anymore other than this: the film deserves a star for credible action sequences and technical ability. I apologise for this inconvenience. 1/5

Amnesia (Switzerland/France)

amnesiaYou might just experience elements of amnesia watching this film. I’ve forgotten most of it and it was dealt like a blank deck of cards. Two interesting characters of different ages and backgrounds gently form a bond that will never become the reality that is perhaps so desired. An interesting starting point for a tale, but extremely underplayed here. The capital crime of drama scores the highest marks: passivity. One could potentially see the complete opposite: the films greatest feature is that real life can often be this boring! 1.5 /5

The Sea of Trees (US)

the_sea_of_treesThere is the jungle and the home. The events in the jungle feel contrived and painfully engineered, while the motionless flashbacks to the old procedures of a failing marriage actually carry some weight. Naomi Watts and Matthew McConaughey react together with a dynamic that is strikingly consistent with a floundering relationship. They are both great actors who can always go the distance in expressing a tortured soul, so while there is nothing we haven’t seen before, there is at least something special between them.

The film does not create a lasting impression. Given the plotline it should be a devastating film and under such circumstances it should linger. Why not? There is no secret ingredient that can answer this; it must surely be a whole culmination of factors. Though, in particular, the crosscutting to home and back didn’t have any effect for me, and the suicidal colleague of McConaughey was a tricky plea along with McConaughey himself relinquishing his prerequisite with death in order to take up an action adventure of sorts. Furthermore, the music melted over the top of the images like some ghastly peroxide drawing attention to it. It was not poetic even in its desperation to appear so and finally we can just say it’s all a bit messy. 2/5

A Perfect Day (Spain/Mexico)

the_perfect_dayA perfect day spent searching for rope in an armed conflict zone with the hopes of returning a humongous dead body from a deep well leads to no avail. This remains true throughout the course of the film, and whilst all rather a bit tedious, there are more than a few laugh out louds to be had, namely from the caricatures of Tim Robbins and Benicio del Toro. Robbins is wonderfully strong as a pitiful misfit, but stunning Olga Kurylenko is used simply as a means to be stunning and as cause for a little extra controversy between the groups. Though in most cases, the range of performance is significantly left unstirred.

A few poignant moments highlight the treachery and heartache of warfare, of which involve the caught-up adventures of a local boy showcasing his innocence. Although, still there is little to really focus us on these events and no real purpose is served other than the few laughs previously mentioned. The actors are enough to keep one engaged and the panoramas that encompass them duly create a nice spot of photography. 2/5

Diary of a Chambermaid (France)

diary-of-a-chambermaidLéa Seydoux is always remarkable and she is no less wonderful here, but it arrives amidst the unfortunately shambolic retelling of the enchanting Buñuel/Renoir classics. Célestine, the conniving servant, is irrational and lets her emotions spark the narrative in different directions, yet thankfully we are given the sufficient insight to understand the intentions behind such desperate actions; a tribute to Seydoux’s performance that does offer an enjoyable viewing experience. However, the situation of this retelling ultimately had it doomed from the beginning, it is near impossible to be unbiased considering what has come before. The design and locations are rich and fanciful and the film certainly has an allure, a voyeurism, and elements of intrigue, but nothing groundbreaking for French cinema. 2/5

Raging Rose (France/Poland)

raging-rose-crache-coeurThe opening sequence had me sold: thought-provoking work and a very dependable lead performance. However, the film quickly banishes a clear direction and tries to achieve too much with its interaction, yet this is not necessarily a fault and is made up for by an interesting take on naturalism and complimentary achievements in cinematic gallantry. A few instances of nonsensical character developments and other such flaws, but perhaps they are element to the bubbling rage and irregularity of being a teenager. Fundamentally interesting if anything else. 2.5/5

Sicario (US)

EmilyBluntSicarioThe film has its powerful moments from the extreme veracity and horrors of the drug trade to the subtler and more poignant performance from Emily Blunt, but it is steadily lacking in any resolute plot development or regular reason of events. To the films merit, it places us on the side of Blunt where we are forced to make sense of the bravado and corruption that make up the characters of Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro. We are constantly made to feel fear and anything deeper than this is somehow left behind. Blunt’s fear can feel artificial at times and perhaps it is due to living amidst and acting out too much fear!

The visuals lensed by Roger Deakins also carry the film and the layers of sequencing and viewpoints that make up the action are at times staggering. However, these scenes of car squads pursuing through Mexican towns for half an hour or so with their almighty presence lend to an action, or tension, that is overtly too consistent to have the preferred punch. A captivating fondue of warfare indeed, but missing something, a guess could be a touch of the human spirit: a richer connection between the lines of this interesting conflict. 2.5/5

The Assassin (China)

the-assassin-cannes-film-festivalApart from nodding off for five or ten minutes mid-way through (a merit to the films magic I might argue), The Assassin is a stunning spell of filmmaking that looks back beyond the ancient roots of storytelling and the moving image. Olympia screen one also has some cushy new leather seats, which are considerably appealing after an urgent and clammy stride down the Croisette seconds away from midday sunstroke.

The action is effortless and given a weightless quality that is retained by a strict and somehow expansive form of choreography. The characters feel re-born from 9th century China where the simple natured ways of living by the sword had reached their most potent. This is until our assassin becomes torn between the two worlds postured by family and foe, a conflict of dynasties and moralities. It is an efficient exchange of the cinematic language and one that lets it slowly seep into our growing hearts. The imagery of distant hills in the closing of daylight is also most pleasing (to wake to)! 3/5

The Lobster (UK/Ireland/Greece)

The_LobsterIt is easy to be split into two minds over this film. The better side of you says that this whole game is repulsive, gratuitous and demeaning to the human race as an entirety. Or, the satirist in you will delight at the extraordinary world that Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos is somehow able to so credibly postulate. I stand between each for different moments in the film, making for still yet an extraordinary experience. Whatever one says, you will find yourself in fits of rapturous laughter and then in instants of utter silence and contemplation. The foundation of our sense of place, existence and the societies that we have formulated as living human beings is certainly raised from beneath the surface and this might not be such a bad thing.

If we consider the human being as a matter of decadent specie, or in reverse, an extra-terrestrial life form that has just been sponged onto this earth, then we have no reason to take the character’s actions at face value. We can therefore laugh at their incompetence and thank ourselves that we, back in our own nurtured reality, are better off. This is one way to justify the means and the other is to accept a film as a film, and still more precisely a film in which the world (the reality) belongs to Yorgos.

The film kicks off with fiercely witty dialogue and immediately creates a dangerous territory of deadpan humour beyond our wildest imaginations. This continues and eventually falls off to be replaced with more piloting adventure and demonstrative responses from Colin Farrell who excels in such a role. All the performances definitely crack the whip. However, there is little more to the film than these escapades and the crusade of lampooning. The course becomes more and more unsteady, but that said, the taunting and deliciously manipulative last few sequences are to be bestowed upon. 3.5/5

Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Netherlands/Mexico/Finland)

eisenstein-in-guanajuatoThe film most definitely achieves one thing: it is “boxing for the freedom of cinematic expression”. This line uttered by Elmer Bäck, whose prodigious performance has more voltage than a bolt of lightning, is thrown back and forth between uncovering sexuality and the irate eccentricities that trump the traits of a genius. The film pays historical service to highlighting the constraints of a film industry concerned with an American audience and, of course, keeping the costs down! In one illustration, an important meeting with the head of a Hollywood studio is turned into a cat and mouse chase around Sergei’s prized chamber with items of clothing taking on a life of their own.

However, this film does not run away film industry tics and shortcomings. Peter Greenaway makes no exception to focus on exploring a man’s desperate search for identity in a world where the existence of film (in its hundreds of feet) is likely to contain the only meaning to anything. Some moment’s even form a satirical vantage point on the human sentiment, it is reached through the depth of Sergei’s character and is certainly open to many comical and very speaking interpretations. 4/5

Mia madre (Italy)

mia_madreNanni Moretti helms another sincerely honest portrait of late middle-aged overthrow and this time it is a female film director in an ever-brooding tumult over the approaching death of her terminally ill mother who does all the suffering. Despite the exploration of death and the pessimistic outlook on existence, the film is equally bursting with currents of joy and artistic freedom. The expression of John Turturro’s character seeks out nonconformity in the rules that apply to a film set and its rigorous motions. He is an annoyance to the director with all these foibles, but is also a distraction and counterpoint to what the director is really searching for – namely a truth and redemption. Turturro brings moments of real hilarity thanks to the sharp and clever dialogue that he navigates fully charged and by way of particular command.

Reality itself is inevitably put under great scrutiny. The film gestures towards a preferred reality in the medium of filmmaking and is definitely satirical to anyone familiar with the ordeal and magic of the process. Margherita, the director, is able to escape the fears awaiting her at home and launch her imagination elsewhere. However, this other reality constituted by the filmmaker is severely tested by the personal life and develops a very interesting mediation for telling a story with lots of laughs, perception and ideas. A director can smile on a film set and they can also look close to complete bereavement. The ending of this film suggests that it is the place to smile and that there would be little hope otherwise. For Margherita, and dare I say it in more general terms, being a film director gives connotation to an otherwise empty existence. 4.5/5

There are so many great films at Cannes and one can’t possibly schedule them all in or get admission. It is a dream factory of cinema exhibition, but it can seek to irritate, for example in the scheduling of four fantastic films within the same hour. Such is the explosion of filmmaking from around the globe and the riot of 12 days in Cannes to see 1200 movies.

Below are links to my two five star reviews/favourite and most memorable screenings this year.

 LOVE

CHRONIC

Thanks for sticking with the madness and joy!

Chronic is a way of life and death

ChronicDirector: Michel Franco
Original Title: Chronic
Country of Production: Mexico, France

Endurance and persistence are the principal characteristics of Tim Roth’s chronically depressed character. He is stuck in a motion of caring for those close to death supposedly in order to feel closer to life himself. He breathes their air and consumes it for his own good. It is the paradox of life and death and good lord do we stroke them both.

If there are two more things deeply haunting about this film, it’s the first and last image. An opening sequence precedes the films title card ‘Chronic’, after which appears the skeletal structure of an anorexic lady being washed under the shower by Roth. The shot lingers, frozen to its framing, as is the method of Franco’s use of the camera, and we soon feel the strength of every droplet of water as it carries a piece of life away with it. This will not be the first time that we witness the waking of death; instead every image throughout the film will be stained with its remnants. Ironically, the last image appears as a flash, the paradoxical metaphor is complete and the unexpected becomes a reflection of the expected. In other words, a twist occurs in the way that it should: as a surprise routed in thematic significance.

Chronic_death

 

Trying to articulate an order in which to explain one’s experience viewing this film is difficult to come by. The spectator may experience boredom, anxiety, hunger, anger, weakness, sickness, sadness, and even hopefulness, the latter not being an adjective of focus for Franco yet nevertheless still given its moments. It is a case of going so far in one direction that it becomes impossible not to taste a little of the opposite. As humans we feel great sadness, but the cliché here is that we know we must feel alive to experience such feelings, and because of this sadness we are psychologically able to experience great happiness. It is the sprinkles of salt and pepper mixed into the overwhelming curry.

Roth’s character moves from patient to patient and becomes more and more dependent on those who he cares for, while they equally and more necessarily return the favour. From mental health 101 to old age and cancer, there is no escaping the demise that carries this film and fuels its unbearable nature. This is all attributed to the performances that uncover certain mysteries surrounding death and seek to hide nothing by way of concealment. The true evidence is that which Franco’s camera penetrates: the observation of human emotion, fragility and expiry. The method of filmmaking is restricted, no close-ups, no music that doesn’t appear within the world of the picture (diegetic), no cutting ahead of time, no wild camera tracks, the picture appears quite simply as is. It is a remarkable way to tell stories and makes me wonder why we ever felt the need to tell them differently.

5/5

International sales by Wild Bunch. UK Premiere TBA.

Koza – A Slovakian Treasure at EIFF 2015

kozaDirector: Ivan Ostrochovský
Original Title: Koza
Country of Production: Slovakia, Czech Republic

Boxing films are often about victory, motivation and grandeur, but Koza rather takes us on a prosaic journey of life’s miseries, challenges and defeats. This far more realistic approach allows for something very special to be captured by Ivan Ostrochovský’s first narrative feature film. Koza must face the reality of his situation: his wife is pregnant with their second child, he is a retired boxer deformed of vitality and stripped of cash, and he must go on a journey and battle for money the only way he knows how: in the ring. He will not raise his arms like Rocky or let his energy run mad like Jake LaMotta, rather he will remain reserved and focused on accepting the truth of his laden circumstances.

There are bizarre moments, including swallowing roar eggs (an undeniably efficient source of protein), anxious moments, excelled by the static camera and long takes, and downright sad ones in which all hope seems rather hopeless. These feelings are topped off with shrewdly arresting imagery of dark, cold and isolated landscapes shot during an unforgiving Slovakian winter. Concussions, vomiting and silenced thought are the main forms of action for Koza who pertains a matter-of-fact reflection on his uncomfortable circumstances. A non-professional actor, Peter Baláž, who accordingly plays to his own life and supposedly his very own attributes, enhances such minimalistic and pragmatic storytelling. It all occurs at the level of life.

Ostrochovský allows his audience time to think and reflect on the reality of our experience. Long takes are chief to this technique, but the context of their use is entirely novel in this picture. Koza is detached from his previous achievements, he looks and feels lost and shows little emotion upon defeat. What is magical about this film is the defeat; they get worse and worse and there will never be a pay off. It is clear from the opening shot of the film that this will be a struggle. Long takes on the road, shaped by tunnels of light and pending rain clouds signify a journey with no ending. Even such details as the dew on the windscreen drip like the blood of Koza’s final defeat. The next and final shot of the film reflecting the first hint of sunlight crossing between the clouds and significantly a last bite of hope.

“He’s a King”, says Koza’s coach to a colleague. Koza may not appear as a King, but he acts as our King and we keep our distance to him as we would any King. The King is detached and we will never know the underlying reasons for his actions and ultimate demise. He will not let us inside his mind, but we are certainly drawn into wanting to find out more. I will finish by contradicting my beginnings: this is not a film about boxing.

4/5

The film’s UK Premiere will be at Edinburgh Film Festival 2015. See the programme here.

Sales representation by Pluto Film. You can also visit the film’s website.

 

We Monsters – A Market Treat at Cannes 2015

wemonstersThe conclusion of this film leaves us with the deadly intention that the family is the MONSTER. By way of lies, love and human nature, a family is forced into a series of events with little way out other than the formation of trust.

The film boils with tension from the get go and releases the toxins of human antagonism to remarkable depths. Actions are fully realised with almighty blows and moral conflicts that turn the filmic landscape into a minefield of operations. Signed off with a touch from the heart, topnotch acting and the all-encompassing imagery, Sebastian Ko’s debut feature film is nothing short of first-class cinema and entertainment.

Upon deeper reflection, it is surprising how wicked the actions of these believable characters become. The spice of this is Ko’s ability to make us empathise on all levels and become wholly caught up in the conflict. The perspective that haunts each moment is constantly shifting and leading us deeper into the journey of these characters. These troubles aren’t without their laughs either. Mind games are full to the brim and hilarious in their own peculiar way. The human idiosyncrasy that is revealed in times of desperation is a key stance exploited by Ko and one that certainly calls for the occasional smirk and releasing of oomph from a tightly wound audience.

Pluto Film represents We Monsters – they do a fantastic job of treating new talent with high regard and providing a sales platform for bold and new crossover dramas – I was fortunate enough to attend their market screening in Cannes. The worldwide premiere for the film will be held at Shanghai International Film Festival taking place between 13th to the 21st June. UK Premiere to be announced shortly after.

5/5   

Cannes 2015 Entry #4 – The Market Screenings

cannes_market

The best thing about market screenings – if you aren’t buying or selling – is some kind of ego formulation: “I could have made that better. How did this film even get representation? Let’s walk out and filter some conceited pleasure in doing so.” I have to admit, no matter how **** the film, I struggle to walk out, not for didactic reasons (though we all wish to support our fellows), but because my imagination insists on discovering more about the image. It’s like cutting the cord short, taking a leap off a tall building to your demise and never finding out the what if (I hadn’t jumped). It is a parallel with life; we all know this lays the foundation for the essence of cinema, or am I projecting too much here? Don’t we have to over-project anyway as a cinema spectator? Do I take cinema too seriously? Shouldn’t we take it seriously? Okay…

Exploring the depths of independent cinema – one minute you are watching a Cantonese language film about an old head schoolmistress having a social/economic crisis, and the next moment you might be watching a German adolescent pierce the skin of her thigh with a musical instrument (true story). There is a great range and while one might have to endure some painstaking hours, you will always find the hidden treasures (if you stay long enough) and make a new discovery on your journey through the galaxy of cinema. It’s like being a child at the fun fair and taking boundless lucky dips at the slots with no extra cost.

Occasionally, the sales agents will be hovering outside the entrance to cut off any slackers – people like myself who just want a bit more cinema and don’t stand as head of acquisitions for Lionsgate in the UK; what a festive job it could be as head of acquisitions… A representative gave me a slight look of madness when I said I wasn’t a festival programmer/director, sales agent or buyer, no consideration on her part for my willingness to explore and share their movie. The screening was practically empty and so ten minutes later the lady distressingly waved me through, yet to my distress, it meant I had missed the first ten minutes of the film – I can’t allow that to happen. Call it what you will, but again (taking cinema a bit seriously) it’s like forgetting to cut the umbilical cord; I’m left behind to miss the first crucial moments of a precious life. Okay, cinema might not be so drastic; it remains intact for what should be an eternity, but not allowing the imagination to play with opening moments causes a longing to return and an unsatisfied mind (promising a satisfied mind can exist). The counter argument to this would be that missing the beginning of a film makes one more focused, as they have to play catch-up, and give more attention over to what is really happening. Whatever… I don’t imagine the filmmaker wrote the first ten pages whilst thinking, “Yes, we can definitely cut this.”