A Theory of Film – Slavoj Zizek and The Ideological Basin

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Hollywood cinema is well known for marking ideological content. After all, it is only an extension of the American dream. However, in this essay, we can dig a little deeper and use some of the contemporary theories of radical thinkers like Slavoj Zizek to help us get there. We are concerned by Hollywood and cinema, so this is very much a critical analyses, but we do it because we are part of the machine: we love ideology ourselves!

To what extent can ideological content manifest itself? Is ideology not limited and defined by the very term ideology? Ideology can therefore not be defined, in other words, ideology is constituted everywhere, for any thing has a contingent value that will inevitably manifest itself in ideological terms. We are on the path to denouncing ideology, but our key concern here is how can this space be analysed, or manifest itself? If all content gives way to a naturalism i.e. it forms a system that becomes the natural way of doing something (such as economy being tied to social responsibility etc.), then the space can not exist a priori to the event; the space where ideology is denounced must remain empty. The problem is arguably an irresolvable one, any material content becomes ideology, but an empty space can’t have any meaning, ideology is therefore a trap of the highest degree.

For the Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek, it is this empty space underneath ideology that forms a potential cyberspace. In society, this notion by Zizek is clearly a critique of Left liberal politics, what Zizek calls the ‘passive-interactive’ dynamic. Zizek is not a fascist, but he does wish to take over the radical ground occupied by the extreme Right by way of revitalizing Marxist political action. The liberals ignorance hides in plain sight, their passive-interactivity is not externalised, not enacted upon and, thereby, does not actually deal with any real world consequences. A subject must be enacted to make a difference. A literal example of this would be the liberals in support of multiculturalism, but remaining at a distance and therefore evidently not willing to live in multicultural communities. In such an instance, ideology is useless; it does not function as an act, it is denounced in cyberspace. Essential antagonisms are not resolved, for example, multiculturalism, sexual differences, global economy, and so on. What does this mean for Hollywood cinema? It means exactly what it means for ideology and the Left, which is that Hollywood doesn’t have to deal with it, it can denounce ideology as cyberspace and the consequences will not be sought after, i.e. it will hide in plain sight.

We live in a society where the avoidance of suffering is addictive and this is the impotence of our culture. One always wants more, could consumer society and capitalism function were this not the case? It is the difficulty of Zizek’s thought that a post-modern sensibility cannot tolerate, rather than an adequacy on part of the thinker himself. There is desperation in the climate of contemporary thought, and cinema is a direct way to channel this desperation into a format that hides from reality, yet is essentially made up of it. As cinema is so fully materialised, ideology has to function, even if it is not easily denounced, as we have just established. This is the function par excellence then of ideology as a political tool, a function of power. However, Zizek is not arguing that modes of ideology are essentially this simple and already giving, rather that the latter can manifest itself in a variety of instances all complex and indefinable.

Tom-Hanks-Forrest-Gump

The cinema can formally embody certain beliefs and provide examples of certain falsified implications for society, for example, running from coast-to-coast will not make you famous and happy, but it will for Forrest Gump. Is this film not the ultimate simplification of life and its various obsessions? A man with a disastrously low IQ can cascade through a destructive, yet wonderful life for the sole reason of good intention. Despite the lack of reality, and investment in any form of Lacan’s Big Other (or, the Real), in other words, a false rejection of fantasy (“it’s just a film”), Forrest Gump is able to pass as a grand romantic drama with a powerful message of common sense (ideologies hidden form): “…life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Or, life is unpredictable, but that is life and you will always come out on top as long as you go with it (and get lucky). In Hollywood, there is enough space for everyone in the world to get lucky. We can see how Hollywood is telling a universal lie in order to sustain public morale, a ‘Noble lie’ because it is knowingly told as untruthful.

This concept of the Noble lie originated in Plato (The Republic) as the telling of a fictional tale. We can then take cinema itself, according to Plato, as the grandest of all noble lies. Cinema could be “a contrivance for one of those falsehoods that came into being in case of need” (414b-c). This is Hollywood cinema, it is essentially intended for good effect, but the authorities know otherwise. Ideology is often referred to in the guise of knows, “he knows that we know that he knows that we know.” The last know is a Zizekism, the fact that we know that he knows that we know renders us stupid and powerless. They act anyway and we let them knowingly do so, yet we invest in our false belief (that we don’t know) so much that we end up believing in what we are subscribing too. Do we believe that Bruce Willis will come and save us when we are taken hostage by German terrorists in a tower? Yes we do. This is Zizek’s message of the “unbearable” universality. “The secret to be unveiled through analysis is not the content hidden by the form… but, on the contrary, the ‘secret of this form itself” (1989: 11). The form presents this uncanny belief, that “the failed mediation [or message] is the message”.

The self-referential nature of cinema and the performance of the spectator is also an important position for Zizek. It follows what we previously mentioned of false belief, the spectator will “kneel down and you will thereby MAKE SOMEONE ELSE BELIEVE!” (2006: 353) This is the parallax view that belief is de-sublimated onto an Other which is belonging to the Symbolic order and can therefore become universal, and so on. The problem of this universality is that there are now “impossible positions of enunciation we all recognise only when they are pointed out to us” (2010: 95). How can we see beneath these subtle effects when “a thing is its own best mask” (2006: 28)? The simple answer is by thinking about it, “As a matter of face, I’ve always known it; only I’ve never thought of it” (1995: 192). Here, Thompson captures the essence of Zizek’s thought when he talks about the mediascape. A landscape that tells us what it is doing but doesn’t give us a chance to think about it, quite literally shown by programs that give speakers two minutes to comment on a topic that would realistically need over an hour’s analysis or debate to come to any rational conclusion and explanations.

america_sniper

Let’s not forget that cinema is moving-images and moving images require a significant level of audience attention to process in there entirety; “if there’s an aesthetics of cinema it’s movement” (Rene Clair). Hollywood’s technical brilliance, beautifully rendered worlds and action-packed sequences, serve to cover up their conservatism. A recent Oscar smash-hit American Sniper had invigorating scenes of Army SEALS in battle over in the Middle East. These scenes are exciting for teenage boys who carry one perspective under their vision – that of the American hero/dream – yet in reality War is, of course, a damning activity. We do not suffer as the victims, we do not witness any pain from their perspective, however we can certainly witness the pain of an American death, which are to be glamorised with marvelous funeral proceedings. The Hurt Locker is a similar film that deals with recent turbulences and continues to ignore the debate about US intervention. “In its very invisibility, ideology is here, more than ever; we are there, with our boys, identifying with their fears and anguish instead of questioning what they are doing there” (2012). Zizek also uses the term “white man’s fantasy” to conjure up these glorified images that Hollywood produces. For example, the aborigines in Avatar, the agents in The Matrix, or more explicitly, every superhero movie or film starring Harrison Ford.

However, cinema is not all so explicitly ideological like Hollywood that it is able to hide in plain sight, or rather, run over and into the minds of the viewer without an apparent awareness. There is also cinema that enables the viewer to see between the lines and which almost acts as a critique of ideology itself by open-ended interpretations to psychoanalytic theories and the subject’s experience. Such cinema beyond Hollywood allows us to greater see the dichotomy of various ideologies. European cinema, for example, can offer refreshing interpretations in a less distilled form of ideological content, a form in which the content is not so telling or exclusive. The films of Michael Haneke, an Austrian writer/director, are layered with an underlying trauma, elements of the Real. His cinema reveals less to the audience, yet in doing so provides a far richer experience – the aphorism “less is more” has never been more effective. Funny Games is an exploration of the terror and games involved in home invasion. The pace is slow, threatening and intimidating just as we imagine the act to be if it took place. Amour has a similar theme of death in which Haneke never looks away from the truth surrounding an old couple’s last moments alive together, the piercing fact that not even love can escape our mortality, and so on.

funny-games

In the above examples, technique is used to emphasise meaning, the use of realist tricks (the long and wide takes, the subtle nature of the camera etc.). Technique does not drown out meaning like it often does in Hollywood. However, as Kraceur noted on cinema, “the transmitting apparatus overwhelms the contents transmitted” (1960: 293). Here, Kraceur is foreshadowing McLuhan’s aphorism the “medium is the message.” This is evident of Tarantino’s films in which he purposefully showcases his flair, or the recent Birdman, for example, in which the whole film is made to look as if it was shot in one take i.e. without any cuts. Such cinematic bravado serves to get in the way of, rather than compliment the story and its meaning. We can escape the ‘apparatus’ if the latter becomes invisible by effective modes of storytelling. Yet, still this cannot distill ideology, as the camera gives birth to ideology.

Like ideology, pre-existing models of subjectivity are always hiding in plain sight. There is no unique benefactor, for example models of love and beauty do not feature in exclusivity, they are part of a process. This is according to Julie Kristeva who accounts for the subject in-process, instead of being subjected to phenomenological accounts that posit the transcendental ego-subject. For example, love is an “open system”, the psychic space of love’s subject is consistently modified and such can expand and enrich the symbolic and capacities of the imaginary (1984). Hollywood cinema abolishes any notion of this ‘open system’, as ideology does not allow for a subject to posit such space; they are always refrained by their material value, the knowledge and interpretation of ideologies own content. However, in reference to earlier examples, cinema as a medium is able to offer alternatives, in which spaces can be consistently modified in the viewer’s speculation of ideological content, because the film is unassumingly open-ended. When a film is open-ended, as is the case with Haneke (for example, when Cache ends, we can only guess who the culprit was by certain clues, not even Haneke himself has the answer) the subject is always enacted in-process and never subjugated to a defined discourse.

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Guy Debord is another thinker whose critique is highly engaged with ideological discourses. His conception of The Society of the Spectacle features a society of representations and surfaces with no depth, no layers other than exchange-value. It is a display that makes the commodity one mediated by a fetishisation of the image – “images which have become detached from their essential position: the true has become the false” (1967: 19). These images are the “unreality” at the heart of a real society; ideology is the heart of this ‘unreality’. And, therefore what hides in plain sight, the ‘unreality’, actually becomes more real in effect than what is left over: “reality rises up in the spectacle, and the spectacle is real” (1967: 19). However, the spectacle is in exact opposition to the opening up of ideas or exposing being (the unconscious, for example). Hollywood is part of the network of egos that construct this spectacular world; a battleground for capitalism. Ideology, or the noble lie, does not allow for an environment of being, in other words it does not gives access to ideas which by-pass the ego, and therefore this system becomes a central aspect to how ideology is allowed to function in Hollywood films.

A movement of thought that arrived largely before and inspired the post-modern thinkers of Zizek, Badiou, Habermas, and so on, is that of structuralism, a French undertaking that initiated deep analyses of the underlying structures widespread amongst the mixed fashions of society. While an ‘objectivist’ illusion often occurred at this level, structuralist thinkers like Foucault, Derrida and Bourdieu can provide a valuable insight into ideological functions. For example, in a critique of television, that can be applied to films, Bourdieu exclaimed that in the pretense of being open to the world was in fact a form of censorship because, intrinsic to its mode of production and format, is a limitation to what could be said and communicated (1996). This critique does not function at an ideological level, but instead introduces an epistemological relationship, which serves not to get caught in a battle between either-or issues of a singular truth, or the reductionist thought that Marxism often provokes. Is cinema not reductionist in its matter of inevitable singularity? For psychoanalysis, such considerations are irrelevant as the spectator is just as aware of what they are not shown as what is shown. In fact, the power of the film director comes often from what he doesn’t show, a clear example of this uncanny notion is seen in horror films where the monster is never actually revealed, The Blair Witch Project is a well-known case.

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Marxist philosopher Alain Badiou is deeply concerned with a truth, and sees it as an epistemological split i.e. “knowledge does not give access to truth” (2011: 234). Truth exists in a void, perhaps the same void that we must find in order to denounce ideology, but this would reduce truth to an empty space, yet for Badiou truth can only be presented and not represented, hence why it is able to exist in a non-ideological form. Badiou uses set theory and the ontology of mathematics to present the void (truth) as a singular multiplicity, the paradoxical being present due to the fact that there is no “set of all sets”, which presents being as a unity that engages with the infinite. This is the realm of truth, as opposed to interpretation (ideology, hermeneutics, and so on) that is always concerned with finitude, or the meaning in the thing. When applied to cinema, Badiou’s framework of truth is a method of showing how this empty space can pre-exist a form of ideology in cinema, unlike Zizek’s framework in which this space is equivalent to ideology and the subject. For Badiou, the subject, or ideology, does not exist until the event has taken place, in other words, it is the experience that brings something into being. By analysing a film’s truth content, we will never be able to exist as a subject equivalent to what is taking place, we will exceed the content as we enter from an above position and thus, become restricted from the truth because we are not able to exist prior to this actual event. We cannot know what came before, but is this not the truth of cinema? As we experience it, we are subjectivised under a new guise of knowledge and so ideology can blossom at its purest.

“Philosophy can always go astray, which is the sole reason why it can go forward” (1990: 14). Ideology can always wane, but this is the sole reason why it is able to exist in such a powerful form. The minute we believe ideology has vanished is the exact moment when it is functioning at its purest. In this sense, ideology functions like philosophy; it is a system of mediating life that will never, and can never, strike a cord with its absolute function. The cinema suffers the same result, and is therefore a medium with an infinite resource of functioning for ideology, ideas and philosophies. Quite literally, the cinema has endless resources, however, Hollywood seeks to diminish its own resources to the extent that ideology can repeat itself and this is Hollywood’s ultimate function in enabling ideology to work at the level of near invisibility.

Writer: Charlie Bury

 

Bibliography:

Badiou, A (2011). Being and Event. 2nd ed. London: Continuum. 234.

Bourdieu, P (1996). The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field. Chicago: Stanford University Press.

Debord, G (2000 [1967]). Society of the Spectacle. London: Black and Red. 19.

Kracauer, S (1997 [1960]). Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 293.

Kristeva, J (1984). Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press.

Plato (2000). The Republic. London: Dover Publications.

Taylor, P (2010). Zizek and the Media. Cambridge: Polity Press. 95.

Thompson, J (1995). The Media and Modernity. Redwood City: Stanford University Press. 192.

Sider, J. (2012). Slavoj Žižek on War and Cinema: The Hurt Locker Between Theory and Post-Theory. Film Matters. 3 (2).

Zizek, S (2006). The Parallax View. London: The MIT Press. 353.

Zizek, S (1989). The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso. 11.

Films:

Eastwood, C (2014). American Sniper. USA: Warner Brothers.

Hanake, M (2012). Amour. France: Wega Film.

Avatar

Hanake, M (2005). Caché. France: Wega Film.

Zemeckis, R (1994). Forrest Gump. USA: Paramount Pictures.

Hanake, M (1997). Funny Games. Austria: Wega Film. The Matrix

Bigelow, K (2008). The Hurt Locker. USA: Voltage Pictures.

On a final note, and if you have made it this far, you will definitely be interested in watching Sophie Fiennes documentaries on Zizek, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.

 

Did The Cincinnati Kid spawn the Casino film?

Guest post by Charles Cole.

It takes a host of iconic figures to help create a new genre. The poker and casino genres definitely had their high points in cinema if you look back at the history of the niches, but the popularity of both has waned somewhat of late.

Some of the more contemporary releases have flopped on a global level, which has caused many film hacks to question whether there is longevity in niches that spawned classics like Casino, Rounders and Oceans 11 over the last two decades. But determining when the casino niche gained its stripes isn’t exactly straightforward. Who was it that brought the first film to the industry that would change the way in which casino-related films were produced?

Arguably one of the first was The Cincinnati Kid in 1965 starring Steve McQueen in the lead role as Eric ‘The Kid’ Stoner. Directed by Norman Jewison, it wasn’t long until they were both catapulted into the limelight in the 60s and 70s.

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McQueen had already starred in great films such as The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven, but his role as Stoner in The Cincinnati Kid seemed to resonate more with people of the same era. Stoner was a young upstart caught in the deep Depression of the 30s and playing poker from bar to bar in order to build up a reputation as the best in town. This was probably the first film to glamorise gambling in casinos to its fullest. Yes, there had been the old John Wayne films that centered round spit-and-sawdust saloons and backstreet gambling dens, but there was an aura of sophistication with the film’s gambling houses and quality of production.

Although many casino games were very popular at the time of release, such as roulette, poker, blackjack and rummy, it was a million miles away from the state of the art technology that is present today. Games are even played on smartphone-friendly websites known as mobile casino, gaming has never been more accessible to anyone of a legal age. Popular games like poker were beginning to be played more often in the United States during the 60s, the era of the The Cincinnati Kid, and alternative forms of the game were being created such as the now universally recognised Texas Hold’em.

Maybe it was the stunning good looks of McQueen that helped elevate the niche above the slew of Western movies that offered their routine takes on casino gaming. One thing is for sure, the film definitely influenced the likes of James Bond and Casino in the way of pacing, composition and strong hero figures. McQueen was the epitome of cool, well dressed, suave and devilishly good looking – there’s no wonder he became such a Hollywood star, and a movie icon revered still to this day.

Here’s a clip from the movie:

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:

Spy – Figeish

spyDirector: Paul Feig
Title: Spy
Production: Chernin Entertainment, Feigco Entertainment (US)

Paul Feig certainly deserves respect for his inflated and witty methods of giving the audience plenty of punch, but so much is attempted that I felt I was hardly watching a movie and something more like an explosive stand up routine. It is undeniably funny and it will be received with great pleasure from a wild flock of summer entertainment enthusiasts. The laughs collect in different measures, occasionally the self-aware slapstick will get in the way of the more developed commentaries in pursuit of social puns, and the popular culture in particular is rewarded with heavy dosage. Fits of laughter spewed out across the auditorium make oneself hard of hearing for the actual rebound, but the wicked gasps in response to such images as kitchen knifes cleanly splicing there way through flesh were sufficient enough to boost my audience predilections.

Susan Cooper is everything that a CIA agent shouldn’t be: I don’t need to spell out the long list of adjectives. Therefore, you quickly sense that the film’s objective will be to turn this around and make her kick some serious butt out in the field, instead of being cooped up behind her staunched desk with Miranda Hart. I say Miranda Hart because she sticks out like a snapping branch in the wind, though unfortunately the only miscast in what is a very attributable supporting cast. Jason Statham is uproarious as the trouper agent Rick who is an unconditional fool to believe in his dexterities, but has the warm heart underneath it all to compensate; the soul of a child even. I must note that Carlos Ponce’s character treats Italians so unfavourably and with such misunderstanding that I found it painful to watch: yes, men can lust woman, but seriously?

Thankfully, there are a few surprises along the way, but this is largely due in part to the revelations not making a whole lot of sense. When you whittle it down, the infiltrated domain of this arms dealer has no reason to exist other than to serve the surface proceedings. There is no explanation or commentary here on the severity of such dealings, but no harm done as the film is well to not be interested in such matters. Just try and imagine a logical way to reach a storyline where you become the guardian to your very own rogue. No spoilers here.

There is obvious reason why espionage outings are often given the thriller bonus rather than comedy: I doubt a member of the international intelligence goes about their jobs making a fool of themselves. Of course, this is thoroughly naïve of me, a comedy can come and go as it pleases, particularly one constructed in a spoof factory. Jonny English was novel and every attempt since has been misguided, for starters, why are these films made? An individual being totally inept at their jobs does not enrich comedy; rather it is in the working of normality where we can find the most enriching moments of hilarity. I cannot help in taking a critical standpoint to these films. Comedy is by nature a particular activity that is found in unique sensibilities (it is the delivery of a comedian that lures us), but films like Spy seek to codify conventions and displace the charm that should be associated with comedy.

spy_weaponsTo fully suspend any disbelief with this breed of film requires your inner gremlin to go through some form of cathartic release. It means embracing the consistent malfunction of life on the screen and converting it into hollow hedonisms. In other words, aim to let the thought “this is just ridiculous” rest in the back of your mind and bury it there for the duration of a spectacle that successfully completes a full-scale turnaround of glees. The film does have intelligence and it could easily be ten times worse, but can’t anything be so?

Now that the honest niggles are out of the way, I can say that Spy was a good film. 3/5

François Ozon continues to pump life into his work – ‘The New Girlfriend’ is full of that special ingredient

The_New_GirlfriendDirector: François Ozon
Original Title: Une nouvelle amie
Country of Production: France

There is no definition of sexuality than can be exposed as essentially true. There is always the taste of new beginnings alongside the creation of something novel in François Ozon’s take on life. The New Girlfriend can appear as courageously outlandish at first sight, but with any thoughtfulness, it is really a stadium of delicacies, complications and desires flung about in a representative fashion that gives one a resounding connection. Your thoughts bounce along a treacherous path spread out by Ozon’s ability to mix fully puffed amusement with gasps of the wonderfully curious. Temptation must be Ozon’s mantra.

An opening sequence assigning the breadth and charm of friendship spreads like butter across the screen as two girls grow from seven years of age to wedded ladies of the household. There time together does not wither until the moment death comes knocking on Laura’s door. This comes as no surprise, but might just break the record for your quickest teardrop in movie history. Laura’s best friend Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) will never forget this woman and serve the pledging duty of casting a watchful eye over the now late husband of Laura and her unforgettable baby boy. Touching scenes are squeezed in of father and son learning to walk amid the occasional close-up featuring the infant complex – the face of widespread joy and innocence, yet so quickly redirected by desperate cries. I’ve always wondered what the core cause for such fraught tears in babies is – it is surely driven by angst, a cry of why oh why have you bought me into such incomprehensible existence!

The film is not all bread and butter, as unmistakably surprising discoveries must be made. Late husband David (Romain Duris) has a secret of his own that once unclothed he is more than happy to share with dear Claire, and consequently lead a course between unchartered territories. Demoustier is utterly desirable in her ability to balance an act of lust and empathy. Her eyes tell conflict as she moves from a rather repressed individual to something far deeper. The act is unparalleled in the film, but Demoustier consumes enough space to focus most of one’s attention. One becomes wholly dependent on her phenomenal performance. Duris has a sure fire way of achieving what he needs and is ever so close to reaching an equal counterpoint, though he isn’t given the easiest of circumstances, to say the least.

Ozon is in full command here, I imagine him to be a toxic romantic with a passion for the psychologically displaced. He puts the audience in such unexpected situations during instances like stringing close-ups of make up being applied to a face only to reveal the same features attached to a body placed in a tidy coffin. He is not telling the simple stories that one may at first believe, but instead there are always openings where small wounds need attending. To my dismay, a final act burnout seems required to add some punch to the film, but it only seeks to hinder the elegance of that which has come before. Nevertheless, the entire experience should considerably outweigh any particular event or device, though not to be confused with the specific rendering of a powerful image. The mind will always hold onto something novel or unfamiliar. Novel is positively a blend of François Ozon.

4.5/5

Kelly Reichardt meets Richard Linklater in Harry Macqueen’s blessed debut ‘Hinterland’

Hinterland film stillDirector: Harry Macqueen
Original Title: Hinterland
Country of Production: United Kingdom

British ultra-low budget independent film is firmly back on the map with a stroke of the near impossible landing itself on big screens across the country. The stroke of this impossibility is achieving what Harry Macqueen has just shown by producing, writing, directing and starring in his own work: a mature and heart capturing piece of drama. Forgetting the thorny logistics of low-budget film production and inevitable few blemishes that struggle to hide themselves, the film stands alone as an incredibly well thought out and paced exploration of friendship and undiscovered love. It is lyrical and enchanting every step of the way. The few imperfections only serve to bolster the quality of this tender portrait that inherently blurs the cinematic boundaries and makes for a truly singular indie outing.

Harvey (Harry Macqueen) picks up his old friend Lola (Lori Campbell) from a pals burnt out apartment and sets forth on a road trip in the old reg. handed down from the parents. Cornwall is the destination and warm Dartmoor ponies, cliff-top panoramas, and melodies around the fire are just some of the delights that await the couple. However, a couple they are not to be even if such thoughts riddle under the surface. What plays out is a wonderful exposition of a beautiful friendship occurring between two members of the opposite sex.

Harvey and Lola enjoy each others company and are visibly in need of one another, but their agendas, and means of searching for something in life that seems to be missing, emerge as slightly quailed. The truth might be that even if they were so fortunate as to open their arms in love, the complications of being in your twenties and finding one’s grounding in a strange world would quickly offset things. It creates a complex of existential angst that can be felt in the running commentary of what feels like a critique of the new generation, the ennui and complexity that we have been left to face. However, such ideas are never forced in the film and given ample space for reflection.

Nostalgia beams from nearly every interaction in this film. In particular, Harvey looks to spend a great deal of time in a state of intense reflection. Scenes will fall off and be carried in a different direction by dialogue that arguably is too well intended for its own good. It’s as if we are overhearing a real conversation, yet cinema has a spell of rendering such realism superficial. Drama needs some drama, to speak in too simpler terms. I can’t articulate an answer for this explanation, as it would need to involve a dissertation on the art of the actor in some way or another! As evidence from this writing, one can take this film any which way. The beauty of such effortless moments is that there can be no definite answer to what a character believes or is thinking at any given time. We don’t all possess the skillset of a wizard like Darren Brown. In a film like Hinterland, you decide how to imagine.

 4/5