Ageing police office? Check. Alcohol problem? Check. Serial killer? Check. Religious imagery? Check. Rookie cop out of his depth? CHECK! Oh yes, I will be watching the hell out of this.
|'Whilst it could never be considered a bad film, this is certainly a flawed and abstruse piece of cinema'.|
Made available earlier this month as both a standalone release in Arrow Films' Walerian Borowczyk Collection and part of their five-disc Borowczyk box set Camera Obscura, one need only look at Goto, Isle Of Love's relatively minuscule amount of user ratings on IMDb (just 313 at the time of writing) to realise how obscure an interest the director's first live-action feature film is. That Goto, Isle Of Love has a higher amount of IMDb ratings than two other films in this collection shows how specialist the appeal of Borowczyk's body of work must be considered to be.
Borowczyk enthusiasts often hail the director as a cinematic genius, seeing his films as works of fine art deserving of both reverence and protection. Indeed, the restoration of Goto, Isle Of Love from several surviving elements (the original negative having been destroyed during the 1970s in a fire) forms something of a centrepiece around which the other four films in the collection gravitate. Arrow Films raised significantly more through Kickstarter than the £20,000 necessary for the high definition restoration, demonstrating the love many have for this particular film.
Coming to Goto, Isle Of Love as a complete Borowczyk novice, to be frank it's hard to see what the all fuss is about. Whilst it could never be considered a bad film, this is certainly a flawed and abstruse piece of cinema. As far as the artistic craft evident, it's clear that the director has put a great deal of effort into making his film look exactly how he wants, which is regularly really quite good. With both photographic and theatrical qualities simultaneously present, Borowczyk effectively creates a subtly surreal tone somewhat reminiscent of later filmmakers such as David Lynch and Terry Gilliam.
There are aesthetic decisions here which feel less successful however. Shooting the majority of Goto, Isle Of Love in black-and-white, Borowczyk chooses at sporadic points throughout his film to include fleeting colour shots. It will more than likely catch you entirely by surprise the first time it happens - undoubtedly the director's intention. But other than a cinematic quirk to briefly confound you, these moments add very little else; only one early shot truly benefits from being presented in full colour as opposed to the monochrome of the rest of the film.
It's as a narrative piece that Goto, Isle Of Love falls shortest of the mark. The film is interminably slow; despite a running time of just over ninety minutes, this regularly drags. When focused upon the central story of Grozo (Guy Saint-Jean), a pardoned thief ruthlessly working his way up the strange island's hierarchical society, this is on the whole reasonably satisfying. It's when Borowczyk switches his focus to more trivial matters - as he does quite regularly - that his film becomes much less enjoyable. A conversation between Grozo and another character about the mechanics of a fly-catching device is positively soporific.
In dreaming up the isolated island nation of Goto and the absurd dictatorship by which its inhabitants are governed, Borowczyk gifts himself an instantly intriguing set-up. But, despite being banned in both Communist Poland and Fascist Spain when released in 1969 due to its apparent critique of a totalitarian state, in truth Goto, Isle Of Love now feels like something of a toothless beast. Borowczyk's satirical elements are far gentler than it surely could be; meanwhile the bizarre elements of his setting are never explored to a satisfying extent, ending up seeming too much like empty window dressing around the director's dawdling tale.
Taken purely on his film's visual aesthetic, Borowczyk undoubtedly has the potential to seriously impress as a director. With four films left to explore in Arrow Films' quintet of features, cautious optimism currently prevails despite the fact that Goto, Isle Of Love too often failed to strike a satisfying chord.
Goto, Isle Of Love is available on UK Blu-ray and DVD now.
|'If you feel so inclined to watch something chilly of both spirit and weather on an Autumnal evening then Arnold's Wuthering Heights could well be the perfect film.'|
Ambitious and certainly unique, Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights adaptation should be applauded for the amount of ideas it tries, even if many of them fall short, or end up actively damaging Emily Brontë's original narrative. This does not look like a film which was made by committee, nor is it your common or garden costume drama. For those looking for the screen version of Downton Abbey, this film is not it.
Arnold's primary decision is one which benefits the look of her film but damages the narrative. This is a Wuthering Heights obsessed with its locale; with the fearsome countryside which Heathcliff (James Howson and Solomon Glave) appears out of. More than half of the film is dedicated to a world-building narrative that sees younger Cathy (Shannon Beer) and Heathcliff (Glave) wandering the moors around the two houses at the centre of the narrative. It often looks spectacular; spectacular enough that Arnold appears to have been distracted from her story, which is turgidly paced and ill-balanced towards the very young characters, as opposed to the older ones who show up later on (Cathy at that point played by Kaya Scodelario, Heathcliff by Howson). As I remember one viewer remarking at the Leeds International Film Festival, where this premièred, it is a film in which the wind is a character. As a piece of visual art, above a narrative one, I can appreciate Wuthering Heights, although many of Arnold's apparently handheld landscape shots could have benefited from meeting a tripod.
With this approach as the backdrop, the director deserves copious praise for the performances she coaxes from her young cast. Both Beer and Glave give turns that appear to be deliberately sleepy, as distracted by the landscape as Arnold is. Later this sleepy air manifests itself as more of a novocaine shroud, cast over the perpetually silently unhappy Scodelario, as she stalks the moors and the unfamiliar oppressive landscape of her new home. Again, they might not be to everyone's tastes, but the cast do perfectly complement the mood of the film.
The control over what exactly it is that Wuthering Heights stands for slips only occasionally. The battle between Hindley (Lee Shaw) and Heathcliff feels forced and gets so little care given to it that Arnold does not seem to bother to age Shaw or change the actor when clearly Heathcliff changes markedly in the intervening period, as shown by the switch from Glave to Howson. At the film's final moments there's a bizarre musical number from Mumford And Sons: a nice song certainly but suited to this? Absolutely not.
If you feel so inclined to watch something chilly of both spirit and weather on an Autumnal evening then Arnold's Wuthering Heights could well be the perfect film. Just don't expect to be told a full and comprehensive story whilst your spirit is being sapped by constant Yorkshire drizzle and fog-soaked moorland.
|'a soaring success story... because it recognises that this is a fun sports tale, told in and around a collection of nations who never lost their sense of fun and love of a sport, even when others wanted them to'|
As someone who has just played cricket for the first time in something like 12 years, allow me to tell you that it is very difficult. In five overs batted I made a less-than-respectable seven runs (not what you want in a limited overs game). In two overs bowled I managed six wides (though I stand by my story that the ones on target were actually quite good).
Imagine then that you're not someone having a dubious quality knock around at the local club, but one of a handful of cricketers representing your country in a country where cricket is less way of life, more a culturally-ingrained 'must do', like exams, or shouting at politicians in this country.
Imagine too that, whilst you're trying to play the sport and show the world how much fun your collective group of nations are, you're also being criticised for that very thing; criticised for being too nice, for not taking it quite seriously enough. Then imagine that cricket wasn't just introduced into your culture, it was pretty much forced into it, by your white imperial masters. I imagine, if that was me, there might have been a few more wides on that scorecard.
Such is the situation at the start of Stevan Riley's outstanding documentary, Fire In Babylon, which chronicles the West Indian cricket team during the course of the 1970s and 1980s. Beginning at a low point, the team ridiculed for playing 'Calypso Cricket': high on entertainment but low on quality, Riley builds a story where the West Indies lost their 'nice guy' tag and started to mix it with the powerhouses India and Australia and then sock it to their former colonial rulers, England.
Riley's story will hook even non-cricket fans with its vigour and its clear story of social change linked to sporting success. At the point the tide turns there is a very serious decision made by several of the team not to be silent or polite, but to show everyone that they're angry and oppressed and aware of the division that exists between themselves and players from white nations. The team adopt a hostile bodyline-like technique and unsurprisingly become the umpteenth team to be criticised for doing so, drawing the focus even whilst the Australians are doing the same thing. Division, it appears, still exists, even when you have shown the world that you are the best at something.
Riley's film works not only because it chronicles the era with triumphal detail and a soaring success story, not only because it has heroes like Viv Richards and Mike Holding to tell the story, but also because it recognises that, beneath the stories, this is a fun sports tale, told in and around a collection of nations who never lost their sense of fun and love of a sport, even when others wanted them to. An example of the film's recognition of this can be found in the very opening scenes. Just how many other serious cultural documents can say that they feature a former member of Bob Marley's Wailers telling his dog off? Not many, I'll wager.
|'a glum Drama which seems to exist in a world where no-one has seen Fight Club'|
'A true original' provokes the chosen pull-quote on the cover of Richard Ayoade's The Double, a somewhat dubious claim from the off, given that Ayoade's script is based on a Dostoevsky novella.
Departing substantially from his excellent film-of-the-year, Submarine, The Double is a glum Drama which seems to exist in a world where no-one has seen Fight Club, nor sundry other material which deals with dual identities and oddly bureaucratic processes that keep the worker drones suppressed. Struck by the physical similarity of a new co-worker, Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is first lulled into the exciting world James Simon (also Eisenberg) inhabits, before fighting back against his deceitful agenda.
The Double ends up not only as something we have seen before in various guises but also as something Ayoade managed to avoid throughout Submarine. Essentially a hipster Romance, his first film could have been incredibly annoying indeed, laced as it was with sweetness and sincerity masked as insincerity. The Double, which does not have a sweet bone about it, drops the insightful stare between what is happening and what is being said and instead opts for overwrought pretension and obvious imagery. 'Collapse' reads the headline on a paper seen in the early moments, next to Eisenberg's head. All that is missing is an arrow. The next half hour is dedicated to showing us how unlucky Simon is in the most joyless ways possible. A moment shortly after the 'Collapse' seeing him stuck on a train is a slapstick moment featuring no slapstick. Ayoade is on a mission to present lucklessness in the most uninspiring manner available.
The world Ayoade depicts also feels like a miss-step which prevents his film from being a struggle with something to say. Whether confined for budgetary reasons or by choice, what we see here often resembles the inside of a very loud broomcupboard. The hand-dryer in the company toilets appears needlessly to sound like a aircraft turbine. The lighting effects on the train at the start are cheap and artificial, the only time the action ever makes it to an exterior is to see the dividing area between the block of flats Simon James inhabits and the similar abode of James Simon. Is this meant to be our World, a comment on how we live? If so, could it be less obvious that that is what Ayoade is going for? Apparently The Double is set in some unspecified version of London, but I saw nothing in the film that made this immediately obvious. If this is not meant as comment on our society, then what exactly is the director trying to do here? His core story - man tries to win girl whilst hampered by another man and, possibly, his own shortcomings - is not compelling enough to hold this film up alone.
In the end, frustration is the feeling most closely linked to Ayoade's sophomore effort. Clearly he can direct and write, but this feels like a folly: a story he was drawn to in a sub-genre he can add little to except po-faced seriousness.
|'a fairly successful and delicate look at middle and upper-class guilt, considering what the indulged fascism of the thirties grew in to'|
With just over 5,000 votes on IMDb, some thirty-seven years after release, Julia feels like something of a forgotten film. When you consider that it stars people such as Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, with meaty support from Jason Robards and a cameo from Meryl Streep, this seems like rather an odd turn of events. When you further factor in that it received eleven nominations at the 1978 Academy Awards, things get even stranger. How different things could have been for Fred Zinnemann's film that year, and perhaps since, had it not been up against two small productions that gouged most of the attention; little known movies Star Wars and Annie Hall.
Zinneman's quiet film did leave The Academy that night clutching three Oscars, which initially makes its anonymity even more surprising. If you pick up this new UK DVD release though, spotting where its audience problem lies is relatively easy. Though well made and with a smattering of good performances, this is as subdued and detached as film-making gets, an odd elegiac film, at least partly about passion and yet curiously lacking in that very element itself.
It is the 1930s. Stewing at an unspecified coastal retreat, wannabe writer Lillian (Fonda) struggles to escape the shadow of her established partner Hammett (Robards). To kindle her creative nous, Hammett suggests Lillian take a break to Europe visiting old friend Julia (Redgrave), whom she finds in the throws of a violent campaign against spreading fascism.
Based on the memoir of playwright Lillian Hellman, Julia can on one level be seen as a fairly successful and delicate look at middle and upper-class guilt, considering what the indulged fascism of the thirties grew in to. Travelling in Europe later into the film, Lillian is accompanied by Alan (Hal Holbrook) and Dottie (Rosemary Murphy), two upper-class companions who don't listen and whose concerns are society soirées. Streep's cameo involves a scene where Lillian, her concerns bubbling, is again ignored in favour of swished furs and gross chit-chat. For the most part, this is Julia's biggest success, Zinneman successfully depicting several classes of society caught in their bubble, whilst violence and espionage seep towards those around them.
The problem is that into that the director manages to inject very, very little. A latter section on a train has all of the hallmarks of a classic piece of spy tension, but is instead largely fumbled, directed in a too-fussy style which kills the interest. A similar thing happens during Julia and Lillian's reunion in a German cafe. Away from the potential 'Action', the relationships too seem underdeveloped, captured with an uninterested eye. Sundry time is spent setting up Julia and Lillian's friendship, but later little is made of it: there's hardly any feeling of love there between the two. There's less still in the Lillian/Hammett axis. Initially, I wasn't even certain they were partners. Even Julia herself, clearly at least the focus of Hellman's narrative, is curiously under-characterised: we see none of her apparent activism, none of the heroics Hellman's memoir apparently wanted to remember and celebrate.
It makes for a very chilly film about a very chilly period, directed with, yes, something of a chilly eye. Though Zinneman can offer some insight Julia lacks truly memorable elements: passion, love, even character; things to remember a film by.
Julia is released on new UK DVD on Monday 15th September.
On paper, Big Game sounds great. The second feature written and directed by Jalmari Helander after Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale and starring Samuel L. Jackson as POTUS marooned in the Finnish wilderness, this has the potential to deliver the right balance of humour and grit as well as the wild imaginative streak Helander delivered in his first film. And yet, this first trailer-cum-edited-clip leaves me decidedly unsure. The buzz around Big Game following its TIFF premiere this week suggests an eighties John Carpenter vibe, but this feels a bit too Snakes On A Plane to have me anywhere near sold at the moment. Big Game still seems different enough to be worth a look when/if it gets a UK release though, so it's one for which I'll be keeping an eye out.