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Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 31/5/2012)
Forbidding environments link fours of the films on general release this week. One takes place in a timeless anywhere that could easily be the past, while another is resolutely set in the present and the remaining pair have a bleakly futuristic feel. At the core of each is a female protagonist struggling to be taken seriously in the face of rules she cannot control. But what is most striking about this quartet is the use of natural locations and the utter eschewal of computer-generated imagery to create a tangible sense of place.
The Hungarian maestro Béla Tarr has announced that The Turin Horse will be his final feature. It's a shame that an artist of such vision and integrity has chosen to retire while evidently still at the peak of his powers. However, if this exercise in `remodernist cinema' does prove to be his swan song, he departs with an intimate epic of grim formal beauty and disconcerting metaphorical foreboding.
The action opens on a black screen, as narrator Mihály Ráday describes how, on 3 January 1889, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche stepped out of 6 Via Carlo Albert in Turin to see a hansom cab driver whipping his horse. Nietzsche was so distressed by the brutality that he burst through the watching throng and put his arms around the creature's neck to spare it further punishment. He was still sobbing when his landlord led him home and he spent the next two days motionless and silent on the divan until he uttered the words `Mutter, ich bin dumm'. As Ráday concludes, the demented Nietzsche spent the next decade in the care of his mother and sisters. However, `we do not know what happened to the horse'.
An abrupt cut reveals what one must presume to be the said beast straining to pull a coarse wooden buggy through a gathering gale somewhere in the desolate countryside. Its owner, János Derzsi, urges it on with seemingly little regard for its welfare and he stables it with undue fuss after returning to the humble cottage he shares with his daughter, Erika Bók. Together they push the cart into an adjoining shed and repair indoors, where Bók helps her father change his clothes, as he has lost the use of his right arm.
They sit down to a simple meal of a single boiled potato each, which Derzsi peels with practiced fingers before greedily devouring with pinches of salt. Bók eats more delicately and begins clearing away after just a few mouthfuls. Having washed up and tended the stove, she sits by the window, while her father takes to his bed. Trapped in a Beckettian dependence, they remain silent, although the wind can be heard whistling outside under Mihály Vig's quietly insistent chamber score, which complements the steady rhythms of Fred Kelemen's long monochrome takes.
On the second day, Bók rises early to fetch water from the well situated across the courtyard. She helps Derzsi dress and he gulps down two glasses of pálinka before heading to the stable to hitch his cart. However, the horse refuses to budge and Bók has to step in as her father begins to lose his temper. They return the beast to its stall and the vehicle to its shed. But, while Bók attends to the laundry, Derzsi's mood scarcely improves after he chops firewood, wolfs down his potato and sits sullenly on a stool to glower out of the window.
Suddenly, there is a knock on the door and neighbour Mihály Kormos enters to purchase some pálinka. As Bók fills his bottles, he launches into a Nietzschean rant about how the endless round of acquisition and degradation will prompt the world order to implode. But neither father nor daughter pays much attention to his warning and they lapse back into silence after he slams down his coins and departs.
The next morning, Bók wakes at the crack of dawn and puts on several layers of clothing before completing her usual chores with the stove and the well. Once she has dressed Derzsi, the camera follows him to the stable, where he discovers that the horse has eaten nothing. Deciding against forcing it to toil, he cleans the stall and returns to the cottage for his potato repast. However, the routine is interrupted by the sound of hooves and cartwheels breaking through the squall. Realising that the interlopers are Gypsies after the water in his well, Derzsi orders Bók to drive them away. But they delight in teasing her and suggest she accompanies them to America. She refuses to leave her father, but accepts a book they thrust into her hands and returns to read what Tarr has described as an `anti-Bible' for its description of priests closing churches because too much sin has been committed inside them.
When Bók goes to the well next morning, she immediately rushes back inside for her father. The water supply has dried up and their misery is further compounded by the discovery that the horse has again refused to eat. Even Derzsi has now lost his appetite and he pushes his potato away after a couple of bites and sits by the window in mounting despair. As night falls, Bók attempts to light the lanterns. But the wicks refuse to spark, even though there is plenty of oil and the pair lie in the gloom with a crushing sense of impending misfortune.
Bók is roused on the final morning to find her father packing their meagre belongings, as he has realised their only chance of survival is to move out. She carefully places her clothes and treasured nick nacks in a wooden trunk, which she proceeds to load on to a handcart, to which Derzsi ropes the horse. They trudge off across the blasted landscape and disappear out of shot after passing a tree on the brow of an overlooking hill.
However, they soon reappear, as though they have seen something infinitely more dispiriting beyond the horizon, and return to unload the cart and stash it back in its shed before stabling the horse and settling into their humble home to await whatever fate has in store for them after the storm inexplicably ceases and they are left to subsist upon raw potatoes.
Longtime screenwriting collaborator László Krasznahorkai first told Tarr the story of how the whipping of a horse caused Nietzsche to have a mental breakdown in the mid-1980s. But, while the pair prepared a short synopsis in 1990, it was forgotten as they worked on the magisterial Sátántangó (1994) and they only returned to it after the troubled shoot for The Man From London (2007). However, having had the sets built in a Hungarian valley, Tarr and assistant Agnes Hranitzky had to postpone shooting several times from the winter of 2008, as they required such gusty weather conditions. The picture was finally completed in 2010 and it premiered at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury's Silver Bear.
There is no question that this is a masterpiece. Comprising a mere 30 takes that demonstrate the still largely untapped elegance and intimacy of Steadicam shooting, it combines a painterly quality with the rough authenticity of everyday existence. As in the films of Robert Bresson, Derzsi and Bók (who debuted as an 11 year- old in Sátántangó) behave rather than perform and it's tempting to compare the symbolic significance of the horse (billed as Ricsi) with that of the donkey in Au hasard Balthazar (1966) and wonder whether it sympathises with human suffering or reflects the universe's complete indifference to it.
Yet Tarr insists that his work has no hidden meaning and that his concern lies primarily with capturing the arduous monotony of life. Certainly the daily grind has rarely been depicted so elementally or with such remorselessly precise attention to detail. But, while these menial tasks exert a mesmerising (and occasionally amusing) fascination, the viewer can never escape the gravity of the portents casting ever more ominous shadows over Derzsi and Bók and this gnawing sense of godless dread makes The Turin Horse as discomfiting as it is compelling.
Another daughter having parental problems dominates Olivier Ringer's On the Sly, which features an exceptional performance by his six year-old daughter, Wynona. Having sulked all the way from Paris to the family's country retreat, she finds herself quite alone after turning against her self-engrossed mother and father and has to survive in the nearby woods after running away to avoid going back to the city.
Each Friday, Wynona and her middle-class mother (Macha Ringer) and father (Olivier Ringer) drive through the neon lights and busy streets of the French capital to enjoy a little peace and quiet. This particular weekend, Wynona doesn't want to go and is strapped into the back of the car in a deep funk. Starting an interior monologue that continues for the rest of this distinctive picture, she complains to herself about never being allowed to do what she wants to do.
She finds it annoying that her mother always falls asleep around the Louvre and amusing that her father's ears always go red when he speeds. But neither pays any attention to her and she gets bored when the battery wears down on her gameboy. At a service station, she bets herself that her parents wouldn't even notice if she got out of the car and she is proved right and has to run after the vehicle before it leaves the forecourt.
On arriving at the house, Wynona rushes into her bedroom and is actually quite pleased to see it again. However, she is back in a strop the next morning, as her parents have left her to sleep while Macha goes shopping and Olivier goes fishing. She toys with her cereal until Macha asks her if she wants to come to a farm to buy some produce. The farmer gives Wynona a bag and tells her it contains magic seeds and she plants them on the edge of the woods. Frustrated that they don't grow immediately, she looks them up in a book and transfers them to some cotton wool-filled jam jars and counts to 12004 before deciding they are useless and she goes back indoors.
Wynona is disappointed that nobody asks her where she has been or what she has been doing. She wishes Olivier would tickle her in bed and comes to the conclusion that she would quite like to die laughing. Once again, her parents let her lie in and she comes downstairs to discover that Olivier has knocked over her jars with his lawnmower. Recovering the seeds from a pile of clippings, she buries them in the woods and marks the spot with wooden crosses.
She is so engrossed in this task that she loses track of time and is deeply resentful when she hears her parents calling her to go home. Wynona wants to see what happens to her seeds and hits upon the idea of slamming the car door so that Olivier and Macha think she's safely in the back seat and then hides in a blue dog kennel when they turn back to look for her. Although she doesn't want to be found, she is peeved that no one notices her or seems unduly concerned by her absence.
Next morning, Wynona gets back into the house through the coal chute, only to discover there is no food and the utilities have been switched off. She sets off on foot to find a bakery, but soon gets tired and pauses only to remove a hedgehog from the road as she trudges back to the house. She lays low in the woods when a couple of cops come to call and wonders whether her parents want her to go to jail. Slipping back into the house, she tries to remove all evidence of having broken in, but takes her father's fishing rod in the hope of catching some lunch. However, she doesn't have the heart to cook the tiddler she lands and pops it into a bucket, which she keeps beside her as she sleeps in the kennel (because the house is too spooky to stay in overnight).
Early next day, Wynona spots elderly neighbour Ursula Noyer prying around and curses herself for leaving the bucket out. She grabs it just before Olivier arrives to renew the search and she dashes into the depth of the forest to evade detection. Later in the day, a police search party comes looking for her and she wishes everyone would leave her alone. Realising she can't go back to the house, Wynona builds herself a shelter out of branches and leaves and convinces herself that the strange noises she hears during the night are part of a dream.
Feeling hungry, she wakes to go in search of food. She tries to catch some flies for her fish and ends up dining on worms (which, surprisingly, don't taste too bad). However, it takes a while for her to find her way back to her shelter. So, she unravels a thread from her cardigan so that she can follow it wherever she goes. While out wandering, she sees a deer and is awed by its beauty. As she walks home, the heavens open and she gets drenched in a storm. But, such is her new appreciation for nature, that she realises this is excellent weather for fish and seeds and begins dancing in the downpour.
While her clothes are drying, Wynona goes in search of some wood for her roof and has to clamber up a tree when a sniffing dog appears. She drops the bucket as she climbs and scuttles down to put her fish in a puddle while she tries to build a dam in the stream with twigs. Returning next morning, she is distressed to find the fish has swum away and follows the stream until she reaches a lake. She sees Jean-Claude Lenaert fishing on the bank and is convinced he is trying to catch her fish and pushes him off his stool and into the water. Running away along the riverbed, she gets back to her bivouac to find the dog waiting for her and they snuggle up together for the night.
While his daughter has been having her adventure, Olivier has been far from idle or uncaring. Realising she needs to make her statement and work things out for herself, he waters her seeds and follows her wool thread to her hideaway. However, when she sees him mooching around, Wynona is furious and smashes the fragile structure and has to spend a night in a cave. When she wakes next day, she sees a trail of red string and follows it to the spot where Olivier is tending to her seeds and sitting patiently on a tree stump.
Wynona disappears back into the woods. But she knows the time has come to go home. Thus, when Olivier drives off at dusk, she runs after him along the narrow country lane and gets into the back seat of the car. With the camera keeping a discreet distance, so no questions have to be asked or answered, the vehicle drives away with its red lights glinting in the gathering gloom.
It's clear from this comprehensive synopsis that this is a pint-sized adventure that assumes epic proportions thanks to the shrewd decision to depict everything from the perspective of a six year-old who understands her own little world, but not much else. Splendidly photographed by Olivier Ringer to make everything seem strange, but never intimidating, the locale takes on a fairytale wonderment that is reinforced by Vincent Mauduit's expert sound design. The action occasionally feels a touch too whimsical, but Ringer (who scripted with his brother Yves) captures both the girl's psychology and her world-view with an insight that is as wittily winning as it is shrewd about parent-child relationships and the impact that modern living has upon them.
In the future depicted by Bertrand Tavernier in Death Watch (1980), life has become so all-consuming that incurable illness has been eradicated. Yet the notion of fatal malady retains a grim fascination and a cynical network executive tricks a woman into thinking she is dying in order to boost the ratings of his sinister show in a chillingly prescient treatise on reality television, the trivialisation of human existence and the dumbing down of the audience that was adapted from David G. Compton's novel The Unsleeping Eye, which was also known as The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe.
At the behest of producer Harry Dean Stanton, journalist Harvey Keitel has had his left eye replaced by a camera that can transmit live pictures back to a studio maintained by technicians Freddie Boardley and Peter Kelly. They edit the footage for a programme called Death Watch and doctors William Russell and Eva Maria Meineke have been hired to convince an unsuspecting subject that she is one of the very few people still capable of dying (when, in fact, the only thing that could kill her are the pills they have supplied to generate the symptoms required to reinforce the illusion).
Bored with writing romantic novels using a computer named Harriet, Romy Schneider is almost relieved to discover she has been presented with an escape from her mundane existence. She is married to the doting, if dull Vadim Glowna, but hasn't really got over her divorce from musicologist Max von Sydow. Moreover, she doesn't fancy sharing the fate of her father, Bernhard Wicki, whose mental faculties are slowly declining in a clinic run by idealistic doctor Julian Hough.
Thus, when the news of her death sentence leaks to the press, Schneider resists an offer from grubby door-stepping reporter Derek Royle to sign up with Stanton. But she drives a hard bargain and even stages a mock relapse in Stanton's office to regain a modicum of control. She also asks him for a last chance to sample privacy and he loans her chauffeur Robbie Coltrane for a trip to the outdoor market on the waterfront of their post-industrial city. However, she gives Glowna and Coltrane the slip at a clothing stall and disappears into the crowd.
Keitel, meanwhile, has been trying to patch things up with ex-wife Thérèse Liotard, who heartily disapproves of his decision to undergo the pioneering surgery, which means that he finds it difficult to sleep and has to carry a small torch to shine into his eye whenever it has been exposed to too much darkness. Awake throughout the night, Keitel tends to wander the streets and drift into bars, where he meets fellow lonely souls like Caroline Langrishe, who encourages him to look her up whenever he's at a loose end.
Schneider's vanishing act curtails Keitel's ennui, however, as Stanton dispatches him to find her. He eventually tracks her down to a homeless shelter, where she has disguised herself in a wig and outfit purchased at the market. Rushing to her bedside when she cries out in pain in the middle of the night, Keitel earns her trust and she welcomes his company as she wanders around the city.
Unfortunately, they get caught up in a street brawl and Keitel is arrested and roughed up before being tossed into a cell by copper Boyd Nelson. His distress at being left in the dark persuades officer Jake D'Arcy to switch on the light, but Keitel endures a long night convinced he has blown his assignment. However, Schneider is waiting for him outside the police station next morning and he agrees to guide her to Land's End, where she had enjoyed so many blissful summers with Von Sydow.
Glad to be getting such engrossing action, Stanton gives Keitel his head and he keeps Schneider away from places where she could be recognised or see a TV set and realise that he is betraying her. However, having ventured into the village closest to the loch-side shack where they are holed up, Keitel catches a snippet of the show in the local pub and feels deeply ashamed at exposing Schneider to such ghoulish scrutiny.
Stumbling back to the hut, he tosses his torch into the sea and confesses his identity when Schneider comes to help him. Initially, she is stung by his deception, but her self-pity is deflected when Keitel discovers he has gone blind and she leads him to Von Sydow's retreat, where he greets them with cautious discretion. Once the situation has been explained, he tries to persuade Schneider to stay with him. But Stanton has discovered their whereabouts and urges Von Sydow over the phone to stop Schneider taking any more of her medication. However, she has already reached a decision that will affect them all.
Opening with a stark view of city from the monuments and headstones dotted around the Necropolis cemetery, this intriguing, but inconsistent picture makes magnificent use of Glasgow's architectural majesty and tenement clearances. Following Jean-Luc Godard's example in Alphaville (1965), Tavernier ably exploits the everyday for a science-fiction speculation that uncannily predicts the modern media tendency to intrusive sensationalism and the public's obsession with reality television. However, in order for a study of voyeurism to work, more emphasis must surely be placed upon the audience and its response to the drama unfolding in its living rooms. The absence, therefore, of any extended sense of how Death Watch is going down with viewers seriously enervates the cautionary satire.
A vacuous occasional voiceover by Liotard (which was actually dubbed by Julie Christie, who has turned down the role) and some florid dialogue prove equally deleterious. Moreover, neither Keitel nor Stanton seems entirely at home with the conceit or its very European exploration. Yet Antoine Duhamel score is propulsively menacing and cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn achieves telling contrasts between the Glasgow's grandeur and dereliction and the coarse beauty of the Scottish countryside, while Schneider is typically superb as the writer who has become as much of an automaton as the machine that composes her romantic pulp. Indeed, one wonders how far the mix of determination and vulnerability she displays in struggling to come to terms with a condition she both fears and desires was inspired by the fact that her German doctor husband had recently committed suicide. Tragically, her teenage son would die in an accident the following year and the 43 year-old Schneider herself would succumb to a heart attack in 1982 after becoming increasingly dependent upon alcohol.
As for Tavernier, he occasionally struggles to couch the more deeply philosophical pensées in convincing vernacular English and never quite accommodates Keitel's more distractingly exorbitant Method mannerisms as the all-seeing cameraman suffering from moral blindness. But his insights into future technology and viewing appetites are impressive and, if the ending is slightly convoluted, this still poses some troubling questions about our responsibilities as voyeuristic consumers.
The ever-versatile Tavernier's willingness to take thematic chances is shared by his Japanese counterpart Sion Sono, who also riffs on the themes of outrage and revenge in Himizu, an adaptation of a manga by Minoru Furuya that underwent significant changes following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the area around the Fukushima nuclear plant on 11 March 2011. Considering the speed with which Sono reacted to the tragedy, this represents a significant creative and logistical feat. Moreover, for the most part, Sono makes sensitive use of the footage captured in the disaster zone and finds enough optimism in an unexpected ending to suggest that, as it had been forced to do before in even more calamitous circumstances, Japan will emerge stronger from the crisis. However, this is a gruelling watch, with Sono's tendency to pitch action at extremes occasionally straining both the boundaries of taste and the audience's ability to endure so much suffering, violence and despair.
Fourteen year-old Shota Sometani had a tough time before his world was turned upside down by Nature. Father Ken Mitsuishi is rarely home and only usually returns to dish out a lash-out brand of drunken discipline and demand cash, while mother Yukiko Watanabe takes solace in any man she can lure into her bed. Sometani wants to run the family boat hire business in peace. But circumstances have dictated otherwise and the area down by the jetty has become a makeshift camp for refugees like pickpocket Yosuke Kubozuka and former company president Tetsu Watanabe, who seems more concerned about Sometani's future than is own parents.
However, Sometani can also be cruel and treats adoring classmate Fumi Nikaido abominably. Yet, with her love of haiku and the ballad poetry of François Villon, she can often outsmart him and he gradually comes to recognise the value of her friendship, especially after yakuza loan shark Denden arrives on the scene insisting that he is now responsible for Mitsuishi's debt of six million yen. But she is powerless to stop Sometani from snapping after his father pushes him too far and he paints his face, grabs a kitchen knife and heads out on to the lawless streets for some vigilante retribution.
As is often the case with Sono movies, the plot moves at such a frantic pace that the cast sometimes seems to be overacting. Moreover, the action frequently veers off without warning or evident purpose, while the overuse of Mozart's `Requiem' and Barber's `Adagio for Strings' eventually becomes irksome. But Sono is such a bold, not to say reckless storyteller than it's impossible not to be carried away by the momentum of the madness. Indeed, many will find themselves gripped while being fully aware that this whole enterprise reeks of opportunism. Yet Sometani and Nikaido are superb and fully deserve the Marcello Mastroianni award they won for best young actors at the Venice Film Festival, while Takashi Matsuzuka's production design, Sohei Tanikawa's digital photography and Akira Fukada's sound design are first rate.
Equally laudable is the vein of dark humour that runs through some of the most sombre moments, with Mitsuishi repeatedly telling Sometani that he wishes he had drowned so he could have claimed the life insurance and Nikaido's parents even building a gallows in their home on the off chance she might use it to kill herself. But, even though doubts linger about the lurches from graphic realism to stylised fantasy in this traumatised setting, what prevents this from crumbling into bad taste are inspired set-pieces such as the opening sequence depicting the landscape decimated by the tsunami, the shootout between Sometani and Denden and a crane shot during a pivotal murder that is nothing short of masterly.
In this section
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 16/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 16/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 9/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 9/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 2/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 2/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 25/4/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 25/4/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 18/4/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 18/4/2013)