Francofonia

While there are undoubtedly lots of ideas and interesting visuals here, I found it harder to engage with than Sokurov’s brilliant Russian Ark, which is much more straightforward (in as much as a one take, single shot film about Russian history and art set within The Hermitage can be straightforward). Francofonia has a similar aim: the Louvre is the main setting while the director examines the relationship between museums, culture and European history, particularly the Nazi occupation of Paris. Sadly there were bits that I didn’t/couldn’t follow; instead I kept thinking about Frederick Wiseman’s documentary National Gallery, and how that film said so much more to me about the role of a large museum and how it affects and reflects society. (**½)

Great Expectations

The opening sequence is held up by BFI as a masterpiece of editing (David Lean was an editor before he was a director), and repeat viewing of the first two or three minutes really does highlight the subtlety of the transitions (in fact I’m more impressed by the cuts as Pip kneels by his parents’ grave and then gets back up than by the sudden, jolting appearance of Magwitch that so surprised audiences in the past). It’s a shame then, that this otherwise magnificent Dickens adaptation is tarnished a little by the rushed pacing near the end as Pip and Miss Estella reconvene. A necessary result of adapting such a big novel, perhaps. Oh, and can I add my name to the list of people who refuse to buy John Mills as a 20-year-old?! (****½)

Nosferatu

Watching for a second time in as many weeks as it’s covered in a film course I’m taking, which is currently looking at lighting in German Expressionism, early editing techniques and sound. The course materials have shed plenty of light on why Murnau is as revered as he is, particularly from a technical point of view, and this is undoubtedly the template for later vampire movies; it’s sad, then, that its impact has been lessened somewhat by the sheer number of vampire films that have followed. (****)

Where You’re Meant To Be

By chance – or as much as this could ever be by chance – I find myself watching a second Chemikal Underground-related documentary in two days. This one follows Aidan Moffat, former Arab Strap singer, as he seeks to reinterpret a number of traditional Scottish folk songs, bringing them up to date with lyrics about bloodied, fighting neds, text messages, cheap sex and so on, and mainly performing them in the unfamiliar environs of small rural clubs where many of the patrons prefer the originals. He runs into opposition and hostility from some crowds, and also from the late Sheila Stewart, a traditional folk singer, who fiercely defends the original songs, which she has been singing all her life and predate her by hundreds of years. It’s a thoroughly interesting documentary that pits the old against the new, tradition against modernity, and even the countryside against the city, but ultimately finds common ground between it all and plenty of life left in the old ditties. Moffat’s self-deprecating style – which seems to stay the same whether he’s on stage or off – is a treat; he’s a very smart and very funny guy. A lovely watch. (****)

Lost In France

Presumably the target audience for this documentary is quite small, given that it’s about Glasgow’s Chemikal Underground records, an indie label that had some success in the 1990s and early 2000s (it was home at one point or other to Bis, Mogwai, The Delgados, Franz Ferdinand, Arab Strap, etc). I really like the label – Mogwai and The Delgados being among my favourite bands of the past 20 years – so I guess it’s no surprise that I enjoyed the film. It’s fairly straightforward: in the late 1990s several CU bands played a festival in a small French town together, and they return to the scene for this doc, older and possibly slightly wiser; it’s a charming and nostalgic trip down memory lane with the key figures offering plenty of anecdotes and reminiscences. (***½)

The Edge Of Seventeen

This is another of those widely-revered movies that didn’t quite measure up for me, though please don’t take that the wrong way. I do think that Kelly Fremon Craig’s screenplay for this coming of age film is sharper and wittier than most within the genre – certainly this millennium – and that Hailee Steinfeld is impressive in the lead role, but The Edge Of Seventeen ultimately seems constricted by its own genre and it’s the dialogue that you’ll remember, not the plot, which is by-the-by (and hits most (if not all) of the beats you usually find in such a film at the exact points you expect to find them). So, for me, it’s not a classic-in-waiting, but it is very enjoyable, and I recommend it. Woody Harrelson’s good value, too, as a laid-back teacher who masks his concern about Steinfeld’s Nadine Franklin with indifference. (***½)

Mustang

A rewatch of one of my favourite films of 2016, in which five Turkish sisters are imprisoned by their ultra-conservative guardians following a rather innocent incident involving some local boys. It’s a brilliant film about defiance, sisterhood and freedom, and Lale (played superbly by Güneş Şensoy) is still one of the best movie characters of the past few years. 👊👊👊