Tuesday, 29 September 2009


A quixotic accountant named Macário opens up to the woman next to him on a train, seeking some form of approval for his love of an unpredictable young woman named Luisa. He confides that Francisco, his uncle and employer, had dismissed him for his silly fantasy, and proudly recounts how he clawed his way up from impending bankruptcy all in the name of love. As he indulges himself further in his own story, we begin to see more of what really happened, as well as the titular eccentricities of the object of his affections.

The most obvious fact to be mentioned about this film is that it was made by 100-year-old filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira, a vivacious character who for several decades has been the only superpower in Portuguese cinema. Though it’s hardly a life’s work at just 64 minutes, de Oliveira demonstrates a light pertness through his many layers of storytelling. The story itself is an updated version of an 1874 novel by legendary writer Eça de Queiroz, but the relationships and values within appear scarcely modernised. Nonetheless, the film is openly idealistic, and while it doesn’t particularly grate, the romantic moments can occasionally feel insincere, a setback which also plagued de Oliveira’s recent Belle Toujours. Macário’s starry-eyed memories of Luisa in particular play out a little like a perfume advert: beautiful but emotionally underdeveloped. The final scene is perfectly enigmatic, eluding any logical conclusion, and it is little wonder that the gorgeous last shot features on the poster.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


Funded by a minuscule budget of £2,000 and using a small, inexperienced crew, Night Train tracks the journey of the Travelling Post Office, a train service running from London to Glasgow. Although it was originally commissioned as a run-of-the-mill promotional film for the Post Office, some inspired collaboration with poet W.H. Auden and young composer Benjamin Britten meant that the project became more of an ode to the process rather than a pamphlet for it. The film opens with a group of workers organising sacks of letters while exchanging unconvincing pleasantries. Once the sacks are safely on board the train, the film’s real adventure begins. As the steam train tears its way across the country, a trail of white smoke spilling behind it, Auden’s poem comes roaring in, narrated to the beat of the music. A staccato montage flaunts the rich beauty of the countryside, but is abruptly stopped with a title card signalling the end of both the journey and the film.

At just 23 minutes in length, it’s over very quickly, but for the minute or so in which we are hit with the heady mix of music, image and poetry, it becomes obvious why the film is so celebrated. It’s a brief moment of magic, but a memorable one nonetheless. The film does however suffer from some discordantly hammy acting by the workers during the dramatisations, which confuses the role of the film, something which co-director Harry Watt later acknowledged as an amateur mistake on his part.

Sunday, 20 September 2009


Stuck somewhere between a serious documentary and a mischievous video presentation, Johan Grimonprez’s unconventional Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y investigates the nature of skyjacking and the questionable necessity for large-scale disasters. An infrequent narration tells us an unrelated, Don DeLillo-inspired story. Written statistics and historical events appear on screen, occasionally unrelated to the images they lie on top of. We see and hear personal accounts of passengers from hijacked flights all over the world – Japan, Cuba, the States. Grimonprez punctuates the film with self-filmed, comical interstices to contrast with the solemnity of the news reports. The same situation happens with the soundtrack – disco hit The Hustle is heard playing over a still of hundreds of dead bodies at an airport.

Grimonprez puts forward an interesting counter-argument, suggesting a return to the visible revolutionary terrorist, rather than the anonymous suicide bombers and unpredictable attacks on the public we have grown accustomed to today. It’s less focused than most other films on the subject, and terribly inflammatory, but it does feature some great footage. A psychoanalyst characterises skyjackers as childlike personae, people who still hold on to the dream of being able to fly at whatever cost. Skyjack victim Herbert Brill buoys the film with a quote that sums his experience up as: “running the gamut of many emotions, from surprise to shock to fear, to joy, to laughter, and then again, fear”. However, for all the transparent attempts to crystallise an argument, Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y is horribly inconclusive, making the film a somewhat pointless exercise.


Covering the history of Europe’s biggest music festival but focusing mainly on the 2006 edition, Roskilde takes snippets from performances but for the most part lavishes attention on the festival-goers and organisers (or, more glibly, the people who “make it all happen”). Attendees from all backgrounds set up camp and throw themselves into the thumping heart of the experience. A group of adolescent girls amuses themselves with inflated flavoured condoms while berating the male of the species, Danes evaluate busty Swedes, latex-clad superheroes gyrate on people’s laps (here’s looking at you, Bubbleman). Some of the subjects are very aware of their presence on screen, while others are perfect interviewees, going about their business with complete abandon. The film also touches briefly on key events from previous years, including the 2000 accident wherein nine people were essentially crushed to death.

For a profile of such an exciting, popular event, it’s a little disappointing. While it may just be pandering to popular demand, the film gives too much screen time to the likes of Placebo and The Streets, particularly in light of other bands who get mere seconds of attention. The structure is pretty loose too – the documentary is neither an account of one specific year, nor is it a complete history of the festival. It does however create a positive ambience, the comparisons to Woodstock being completely fulfilled, and the decision to place focus on the audience makes it an appealing advertisement. All in all, a magnetising watch, but ultimately disposable.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

a slight lapse...

Ahoy hoy loyal readers,

Just a quick message to apologise for the gap in reviews. I'm not exactly the busiest person, but a lot has happened in the last four weeks - fishing trip, traversing London in the rain, attending the première for an unsubtitled Norwegian film...

Anyway, the next reviews will be on their way pretty soon, so sit tight!

Much love to all,