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While watching Kelly Reichardt’s 1994 road movie – her debut – you can sense the influence of other independent filmmakers who were firmly ‘established’ by the mid-1990s. There are echoes in this film, which tells the story of two untypical criminals on the run, of landmark pictures such as Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy and Terrence Malick’s Badlands in terms of the tone, cinematography, locations, production design and plot, although there is also enough evidence of Reichardt’s own voice and early self-confidence to ensure that River Of Grass is more than mere pastiche and to indicate that she wasn’t timidly in thrall of those earlier works.

In fact, there is much to distinguish this film from the road movies and crime dramas written and/or directed by men (it’s rare that a woman tackles either genre today, and it was doubly so in 1994). As per much of the director’s subsequent output, the pace of River Of Grass is decidedly unhurried, and therefore completely at odds with the breakneck speed regularly employed in most crime movies of the mid-1990s. Additionally, any scenes of sudden, sporadic violence – and there are a few here – are underplayed, and that also distances Reichardt from any contemporaries she had at the time – with regard to bloody acts of cruelty, other (male) indie filmmakers of the era were going big at every available opportunity.

Where the likes of Quentin Tarantino celebrated the murderers and criminals on the lam who appeared in his screenplays (turning at least four of them into notable early-1990s antiheroes), the two main protagonists of River Of Grass hit the road after shooting a man while they are trespassing on his property, and spend a lot of the subsequent running time in motels, stores and cars, unsure as to whether they’ve actually killed him. There is no revelling in their combined baseness here: you couldn’t describe the duo as ‘cool’, and their shared self-doubt courses through the film, as does their vague lack of direction and inability to escape the area of Florida that they live in; the highway should offer a way out, but here it just seems to send the couple round and round in circles. By way of contrast, the outlaw couples of, say, Badlands, True Romance and Natural Born Killers all seem to be going somewhere at pace, and seem more sure of their respective relationships and shared short-term and long-term goals.

A gun features prominently in Reichardt’s film, but it is handled in such a way as to suggest that both characters are either fairly unfamiliar with firearms or completely inexperienced. Again, unusual for the period. (Clarence Worley, in Tony Scott’s Tarantino-scripted True Romance, by way of comparison, seems a natural shooter despite being a comic store clerk with, presumably, very little experience of guns – the implication being that comics and movies can teach you everything you need to know about weapons and how to handle them, or that some kind of innate masculine know-how is unlocked when fingers first wrap around cold steel.) Only near the end is the gun of River Of Grass used with real intent and purpose, and when it is fired it’s a surprising act – the two characters have been making their way across unremarkable Floridian landscape for most of the movie, never really getting anywhere, and then suddenly the plot veers off in a pleasingly unexpected way. There’s a very Reichardtian sense of new hope by the end, though typically it’s just left hanging for the viewer to contemplate, rather than explicitly followed up on.

Elsewhere in this film there’s innovative deployment of montages, a formal decision that also helped to distance Reichardt from the pack in the mid-1990s and marked her out as a talent whose career would be worth following. (Something that’s easy to say in hindsight, admittedly.) That said, there is also plenty here to date the film, from some of the events that unfold and the dreamily-delivered narration to Jim Denault’s cinematography, which has a certain sun-bleached indie aesthetic that I associate with the era. The lead performances by Lisa Donaldson and Larry Fessenden also seem very typical of the early 90’s to me: less cartoonish and overt a Kit n’ Holly homage than Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater in True Romance, but still kind of harking back to the American New Wave and actors like Spacek, Sheen, Nicholson or Dunaway when they were young. None of this is intended as a criticism: it’s an indie film made in the mid-90s and that’s exactly what it looks and feels like. However, it was also a very promising, intriguing debut that successfully undercut some of the tropes of the increasingly predictable and successful crime films directed by men at the time. (3.5/5)

This debut feature by Helen Walsh is set in the ‘wastelands of Cheshire’ – it was filmed in and around Birkenhead on the Wirral, where Walsh currently lives – and it’s a dour grim-up-north tale that details the struggles of a working class teenager named Shelly (newcomer Lauren McQueen) and her younger brother Jerome (Callum King Chadwick), who have both spent a period in care following the incarceration of their abusive father. They live with Shelly’s aggressive, racist brother Andy (Derek Barr), and he’s just one of a number of unsavoury characters the pair have to deal with during the story, some of whom are manipulative or out to cause harm in one way or another. Stephen Lord’s sleazy and violent loan shark is probably the worst of the lot, and its his attraction to Shelly that sets the narrative wheels in motion, while there’s also Rachel (Brogan Ellis), a girl from an affluent background whose motives for instigating a friendship with Shelly are initially unclear, and whose kindness masks a troubled, vindictive side. There are committed performances here, and there’s certainly a degree of promise shown with regard to some of the actors who are at the beginning of their careers, but the film is ultimately let down by a poorly-judged and badly-executed final act, which drops kitchen sink realism for gun-related melodrama; the story becomes less clear and the action is rushed, particularly during the film’s most crucial scene. The Violators isn’t bad, and I don’t want to unduly knock a debut filmmaker or a relatively young, inexperienced cast, but there are a number of British films each year that blend together working class-focused kitchen sink drama with a story involving some criminal element or other, and for one to stand out from the pack the standard needs to be higher than that reached here (see for example last year’s Glassland or Catch Me Daddy).

Directed by: Helen Walsh.
Written by: Helen Walsh.
Starring: Lauren McQueen, Brogan Ellis, Callum King Chadwick, Stephen Lord, Derek Barr, Liam Ainsworth.
Cinematography: Tobin Jones.
Editing: Kyle Ogden.
Music:
David A. Hughes.
Certificate:
15.
Running Time:
100 minutes.
Year:
2016.

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On paper Stefan Sollima’s Suburra doesn’t really offer anything new: it’s a sprawling epic about gangsters and organised crime in Italy, and it details the way in which the influence of different crime families and gangs spreads all the way up to the highest echelons of society, noting that there is a point where the movers and shakers of the underworld interact with the movers and shakers of the business world (or, as is the case here, high-ranking politicians and those holding the purse strings in the Vatican). Yet this is a film that is executed with such grace and style it’s difficult to withhold admiration for its pizzazz, or to resist its pulpy, neon-heavy charms. The two-hour running time fizzes by thanks to a strong, multi-threaded story incorporating a range of well-drawn characters, there’s a relentlessness in the way that it moves toward a seemingly-unavoidable crescendo, and it’s all helped along by sporadic action scenes that are as tense as anything I’ve seen this year.

Though it’s set in Rome, Suburra is similar, in a way, to Matteo Garrone’s terrific 2008 crime drama Gomorrah, which fused together five stories featuring a range of different characters who are all connected in one way or another to the Casalesi crime family in Naples (itself part of the organised crime syndicate The Camorra). Indeed Sollima’s name may be familiar to viewers of the TV spin-off of Gomorrah – now in its second season – as he has directed a number of episodes, and it appears he’s about to do the same with Suburra, with Netflix currently developing an initial season for release in 2017. With the TV series of Gomorrah, Sollima developed a number of related, interweaving narratives, and it’s a device that he employs successfully here, juggling and crossing storylines while managing to do justice to most (if not all) of the main characters. Some arcs do feel a little rushed at times – which is understandable considering the comparative length of time of a feature film, as well as the fact that events in Suburra take place during a period of several days – and there’s a little bit of contrivance in terms of moving all the pieces around, but this does imbue the film with a pace that steadily quickens as the stakes get higher for all involved.

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Pierfrancesco Favino in Suburra

The story is largely concerned with collapsing patriarchies, some of which are criminal and some of which are supposedly more respectable and fundamentally important to Italian society. An old, well-connected gangster nicknamed ‘Samurai’ (Claudio Amendola) is trying to broker a deal to build a Las Vegas-style stretch of casinos in a suburb of Rome. As the representative of several criminal gangs he must negotiate with the Vatican, which will help to finance the potential re-development and stands to make huge profits if a law is passed in Parliament allowing the project to proceed. Pushing this through against a backdrop of post-crash austerity and political sleaze – the film is set in 2011, just before Silvio Berlusconi was forced to stand down, though he is never mentioned by name – is Pierfrancesco Favino’s MP Filippo Malgradi, a corrupt and complicit official who throws a disastrous ‘bunga bunga’ party of his own which ends with the death of an underage call girl. Meanwhile we follow another high-class prostitute (Giulia Elettra Gorietti) and her pimp (Elio Germano), both of whom become embroiled in the subsequent mess, as well as a young, violent gangster-on-the-up named ‘Numero 8’ (Alessandro Borghi) and his junkie girlfriend Viola (Greta Scarano), whose escalating tit-for-tat war with ruthless gypsy crime boss Manfredi (Adamo Dionisi) threatens to undermine the re-development project.

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Greta Scarano in Suburra

The drama is well-scripted – there’s enough detail about the financial and political transactions involved to give the story a degree of credibility – but it’s during the moments of sudden, unexpected and violent mob action that Sollima truly excels, directing several passages with considerable flair. An early hit-and-run outside a suburban restaurant is an arresting and impressively executed taste for what lies ahead, while a gunfight in a supermarket and a subsequent escape through a shopping mall had me on the edge of my seat; it’s the kind of bravura cinema that makes you want to stand up and spontaneously applaud. There are at least three other similar, impressive scenes, each of which carries plenty of impact, each of which raises the stakes even higher for those involved. Sollima is a fine director of realistic, brutal action.

The film is scored beautifully by the French electronic band M83, and their pulsating, emotional songs are a smart accompaniment to the melodrama, montages and scenes of escalating violence. Yet the most striking element of Suburra is the photography, with cinematographer Paolo Carnera incorporating colour in a very stylish fashion. He uses bright neon lights to fine effect during the scenes set at night, and relies on the bold interior production design to fill his frames with a range of lustrous hues. It’s crisply-shot and sleek, and not dissimilar to the look of certain films by Gaspar Noé or Nicolas Winding Refn, though a broader colour palette is used here. As with both of those directors you could make an argument that there’s more style than substance to Sollima’s film, but also as with those pair there’s a wholehearted commitment made in order to achieve that style that you really have to admire. I’m not suggesting for a minute that Suburra is empty-headed or poorly thought out, though; there is weight and consequence to the story, and it serves as a succinct critique of Italian high society, but this director is clearly at his best when he’s enticing you into this brash, colourful, glitzy underworld, and he delights in revealing the ruthlessness of those who occupy it.

Directed by: Stefano Sollima.
Written by: Stefano Rulli, Sandro Petraglia, Giancarlo De Cataldo, Carol Bonini.
Starring: Pierfrancesco Favino, Alessandro Borghi, Greta Scarano, Claudio Amendola, Giulia Elettra Gorietti, Elio Germano, Adamo Dionisi, Giacomo Ferrara, Jean-Hughes Anglade.
Cinematography: Paolo Carnera.
Editing: Patrizio Marone.
Music:
M83.
Certificate:
18.
Running Time:
134 minutes.
Year:
2016.

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Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad is a fairly derivative take on Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables: in this 2013 film 1940s Los Angeles takes the place of 1920s Chicago, and there are similarities between the two stories, both based on real life events, both involving honest cops tasked with taking down a well-connected and ruthless mobster with the help of a team of spirited misfits. I suppose one can hardly blame the younger, more inexperienced director for sticking rigidly to the same formula successfully employed by de Palma in the 1980s, but sadly, in almost every area in which the two films can be compared, Fleischer’s effort comes off as second best. To begin with, Sean Penn’s one-note crime boss Mickey Cohen is as boring as villains come, and the actor struggles to make anything like the same kind of impact that Robert de Niro delivered with his over-the-top and hugely enjoyable turn as Al Capone, though Cohen does at least exhibit some of Capone’s flair for inventing elaborate or unusual deaths for his underworld enemies. Josh Brolin, meanwhile, is this film’s noble Eliot Ness-alike, John O’Mara; a family man looking to do good, he narrows his eyes and stares off into the middle distance a lot while considering all the moral implications thrown up by his work, which involves disrupting Cohen’s empire by any means necessary. The team of incorruptibles working under O’Mara (played by Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick and Michael Peña) have been given precisely one skill or personality trait each, and they wander round dutifully in the shadow of their leader, each waiting to step out into the limelight for his own brief heroic moment. Gosling’s the only supporting actor who gets an ample amount of screen time, but he’s unwilling to break out of his quiet, cool enigma thing here, and as a result you know as much about his character at the end of the film as you do when he first appears.

Will Beall’s script, meanwhile, is full of clichéd, self-important cop phrases about ‘the honour of men who carry the badge’ and the like, and it contains a dispiriting emphasis on male barking and growling; at one point Brolin sets out the stakes by gruffly telling his men ‘you lose everything and you win the war – you’re a hero. You lose everything and you lose the war – you’re just a fool’ and, rather weirdly, no-one either laughs in his face or calls him a preposterous, overblown c*** afterwards. In fact there is a huge amount of macho, guttural man rumbling in this film. Both Brolin and Penn sound as if they’ve been getting through three packs of Marlboros before their daily morning muesli and yoga sessions, though they are like high-pitched choirboys next to the mighty Nick Nolte, who appears here in a supporting role as a man who has apparently lived a thousand lives with just the one set of vocal chords. Still, despite a lack of originality and all of the assembled masculine posturing Gangster Squad isn’t dreadful, and there’s some impressive noirish production design and costume design to enjoy. Unfortunately there are several dull patches, and Fleischer seemingly can’t break free of them; the action here – which ought to lift the film and make it more entertaining – lacks the flair and imagination that made the set pieces in De Palma’s earlier film so watchable and so enjoyable. Poor old Emma Stone tries to make the best of one of the film’s two token and completely under-written female roles (she’s Cohen’s squeeze, later shacking up with Gosling’s charmer Jerry Wooters), but the director seems to give up on her after a while to concentrate on the throaty man growls. These continue all the way through the film and into its risible epilogue, in which there’s even more self-important talk of honour and cops and cop honour and honourable cops and the honour of cops and how cops are honourable. Meh.

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer.
Written by: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña, Mireille Enos, Sullivan Stapleton.
Cinematography: Dion Beebe.
Editing: Alan Baumgarten, James Herbert.
Music:
Steve Jablonsky.
Certificate:
15.
Running Time:
113 minutes.
Year:
2013.

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This Brazilian family drama is the debut feature by Anna Muylaert, and it has been made with skill and confidence. It explores class and age divides by way of one Sao Paolo household, contrasting the lives and attitudes of the wealthy bohemian family who own it with those of principal staff member Val (Regina Casé), a long-term, live-in housemaid and nanny, and later on Val’s daughter Jéssica (Camila Márdila), who comes to stay with them. Val has worked for the family for years, forming a strong bond with only child Fabhino (Michel Joelsas) in particular, but this job security has come at a price: a prologue reveals that Val had to move far away from her home in order to find work, and had to leave Jéssica behind; in this opening scene Val wears a formal white outfit, but when the action moves on to the present day we see that she has become more relaxed and informal in terms of her clothing, and familiarity has set in. However, as we soon discover, the longevity of employment has partly come about because the hard-working Val has always respected certain unseen boundaries and still follows unwritten rules within the house; the presence of Jéssica – who does not share her mother’s deference – sends the household into turmoil, exacerbating problems or ill feelings that already exist while also creating entirely new ones, and the behaviour of several characters changes while she is a guest.

To her credit Muylaert devotes plenty of time to all of the relationships that exist between her principal characters. Val and Jéssica aren’t close, and Jéssica understandably harbours some resentment towards her mother. There is some distance between Fabhino and his own mother Barbara (Karine Teles), a successful and busy businesswoman, and Barbara craves the physical contact and warmth that Fabhino and Val share. Meanwhile Barbara’s marriage to artist husband Carlos (Lourenço Mutarelli) looks to be faltering, especially when Carlos – who feels personally and creatively stifled by his current lifestyle – takes a shine to the teenage house guest. There is, additionally, some fairly innocent fliration between Jéssica and Fabhino, who are the same age and will be sitting the same exam. Barbara, feeling that she is losing both control of the household and the stability of her family, becomes increasingly upset by the situation. Meanwhile Val’s relationship with her employers is changing: at first it seems like her presence in the house for a decade means that she is considered to be ‘one of the family’, but Muylaert skilfully deconstructs this idea by way of a series of low-key incidents and interactions; additionally, as Fabhino approaches adulthood he no longer needs nannying, while Val’s daily routine – particularly with regard to mealtimes – illustrates that she is still considered a servant first and foremost by Barbara and Carlos.

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Karine Teles and Lourenço Mutarelli in The Second Mother.

The writer/director cleverly gives the viewer an understanding of the communal and private spaces that exist within the house, and uses certain objects to highlight both the unwritten rules that exist and the differences in the social standing of the characters. Val has never used the family’s swimming pool, for example, but Jéssica does not hesitate to do so; when we see Val in the water later on it feels, quite bizarrely, like an act of rebellion. Jéssica also rejects the offer of a cheaper tub of ice cream, preferring a luxury brand which is supposed to be reserved for the spoilt Fabhino. A coffee service set – and a painting by Carlos – are also used to subtly enhance the divide between working class Val, on one side, and the upper middle-class family on the other, highlighting their different tastes. Muylaert also films less of the house than we might imagine, which helps us to understand that Val is only welcome in certain communal areas: the kitchen, for example, or the dining room, where she clears plates and serves dishes while the three family members ignore one another in favour of their smartphones. Anywhere that is off limits to the housemaid is also also off limits to the viewer. A connecting corridor is presented as a kind of no-man’s land.

Casé – a well-known TV star in Brazil – is very good in the main role, giving one of those performances that’s so full of perfectly-judged gestures and expressions you feel like you know exactly what her character is thinking at all times. There’s some excellent support from the cast, too, particularly Teles and Mutarelli as the couple who own the house; we see the husband and wife in the same room regularly but they only share a handful of lines together on screen, a device that perfectly highlights their disintegrating marriage and is typical of the film’s subtlety. The Second Mother is an intelligent, heartfelt and heartwarming piece that makes its points about class, age and society with elegance, and I look forward to seeing more from Muylaert in the future.

Directed by: Anna Muylaert.
Written by: Anna Muylaert.
Starring: Regina Casé, Camila Márdila, Michel Joelsas, Karine Teles, Lourenço Mutarelli.
Cinematography: Bárbara Alvarez.
Editing: Karen Harley.
Music: Vitor Araújo, Fábio Trummer.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 109 minutes.
Year: 2015.

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The debut film by Turkish-born, French-raised filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven is a strong, convincing drama that explores the bond between – and treatment of – five sisters living within an ultra-conservative Turkish village. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture earlier this year and won four prizes at the Césars, including one for the screenplay by the director and her writing partner Alice Winocour (herself the director of the recent thriller Disorder), and one for the original soundtrack by the Australian musician Warren Ellis. Few of the award ceremonies and festivals – major or minor – appear to have picked up on the excellent ensemble performance by the cast, though, particularly those playing the five sisters, who between them had very little acting experience beforehand. Their naturalistic performances are uniformly excellent, and together they completely convince as siblings, whether they’re sharing in-jokes together or goofing around in tangled heaps on the floor.

At the beginning of the film we see all of the girls – Sonay, Selma, Ece, Nur and Lale, in order of age – on the last day of term, innocently playing with several male schoolmates in the sea. A minor amount of physical contact between the (still clothed) girls and boys causes a scandal to erupt within the community, and the sisters are all harshly punished for their behaviour by their legal guardians: a grandmother (Nihal Koldaş) and her son Erol (Ayberk Pekcan), who is also the girls’ uncle. (The boys, presumably, are not punished, and the screenplay implies as much by ignoring the other party completely, instantly highlighting how girls are treated differently.) In the wake of the incident – supposedly based on something that happened to the director when she was young – the three older girls are subjected to tests at the hospital to check that they are still virgins, while Lale (Güneş Şensoy) – the youngest and sparkiest – verbally attacks the woman who was originally outraged by their behaviour. The subsequent drama is an example of what happens when oppression escalates; the house the girls live in is turned into a ‘wife factory’, with toys and items used for communication locked away and cookery lessons taking place on a daily basis. Marriages are arranged for the older sisters, and the five are kept under house arrest. They rebel, sneaking out of the window to meet boys and, during one life-affirming scene, they attend a high profile football match where only female spectators are allowed (a couple of these have taken place in Turkey during the past five years). This causes Erol to add metal grilles to the doors and windows of the house, imprisoning the girls who are not yet old enough to marry.

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A haircut becomes a simple act of rebellion in Mustang.

The situation the girls are placed in is uncomfortable to consider, but conversely Mustang is – for the most part – an uplifting experience, given that the emphasis is on the dissent expressed by the sisters, as well as their unshakeable bond, which is as strong at the end of the film as it is at the beginning. One thinks of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, of course, and the two films share a hazy, soft-focus visual style, as well as certain plot points, though of course from a cultural perspective there’s some distance between them. The film caused some controversy within Turkey on its release, and the subject of women’s rights is a political hot potato within the country, given that it has repeatedly been raised as a problematic issue within the European Union, an organisation Turkey has sought accession to for a number of years. In the film the city of Istanbul is presented as a place where liberal attitudes prevail – at least in the eyes of Lale, who intends to go there if she can escape the house – and I’d be interested to know just how accurate Ergüven’s presentation of a divide between progressive city and conservative countryside actually is. It’s beautifully shot by David Chizallet and Ersin Gok, with the stiflingly-hot, early summer shoot and setting ensuring that blinding sunlight creeps into the frame repeatedly; you can feel the stickiness of the heat. With Lale in particular the film has a focus, a fearless girl whose acts of rebellion grow in tandem with her own determination to be independent and free. I hope the character and the film more generally inspire young women who are subjected to similar treatment, if of course they’re lucky enough to be able to see Mustang or are able to contribute to change within their own society. Ergüven’s film is a damning indictment of a culture in which young women are bartered and exchanged like cattle, but it’s also a force for good, and confidently-made.

Directed by: Deniz Gamze Ergüven.
Written by: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour.
Starring: Güneş Şensoy, Doğa Doğuşlu, Elit İşcan, Tuğba Sunguroğlu, İlayda Akdoğan, Nihal Koldaş, Ayberk Pekcan, Erol Afşin.
Cinematography: David Chizallet, Ersin Gok.
Editing: Mathilde Van de Moortel.
Music: Warren Ellis.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Year: 2016.

 

 

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Akira Kurosawa’s Ran opens with four soldiers on horseback atop a hill. They’re all looking in different directions, and presumably represent the four disparate factions that will later develop after powerful warlord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) relinquishes power to Taro (Akira Terao), the eldest of his three sons. The society depicted – built on a series of violent and unforgiving acts in the first place – descends into chaos, with the three brothers and their father at loggerheads, and by the end castles are burned to the ground, bodies are strewn everywhere and pretty much every character of note (save for one or two) lies dead. Famously this is Kurosawa’s take on Shakespeare’s King Lear, though it’s even bleaker than the English playwright’s tragedy, firmly putting forward the idea that its characters are being punished for past actions and laced with a pessimistic, nihilistic streak that many believe to be a by-product of the illness and death of Kurosawa’s wife Yōko Yaguchi during production. It’s also a film that subscribes to Nietzsche’s maxim that God is dead, and humans are responsible, an idea that is hinted at via the dialogue throughout and overtly reinforced through the closing shots of blind Tsurumaru (Takeshi Nomura), who accidentally drops a Buddha scroll from a cliff edge.

Ran is late-period Kurosawa, filmed in 1985, and widely considered to be the director’s last great work. Set during the turbulent Japanese Sengoku period of the 16th century and shot in colour, it was the most expensive Japanese film ever at the time, a factor that meant Kurosawa had to wait just under a decade before he could raise the necessary finance to make it. You can see where the money has gone, with countless glorious costumes evident (designer Emi Wada won an Academy Award) and huge castle sets, built especially for the film before being torched during the epic battle sequences (for which thousands of horses were imported from the USA). Despite their colour-coded costumes and armies the three warring brothers at the heart of the story seem a little grey and interchangeable, though it doesn’t help that the most interesting of all, straight-talking and hot-headed Saburo (Daisuke Ryu) is absent for most of the film. Still, those influencing proceedings around the three brothers are interesting, such as Mieko Harada’s scheming Lady Kaede (the only character who manages to get what they want, despite her grisly end), Shinnosuke ‘Peter’ Ikehata’s foolish Kyoami (whose meta-textual commentaries on characters and the action are as astute as they are honest) and Nakadai’s Hidetora, whose descent into madness is enjoyably overplayed, the colour gradually draining from the character’s costume as his face turns a ghostly, pallid white. There are numerous excellent scenes that contribute to Ran‘s greatness, from the initial hunt and its peaceful-then-fractious aftermath to the battle at the film’s mid-point, for which Kurosawa cut the diegetic sound to foreground Toru Takemitsu’s Mahler-esque score. That turns into a quite spectacular montage of death, filled with arrow-strewn soldiers spurting blood, samurai committing seppuku and their wives and concubines committing jigai before flames engulf them all. Rather brilliantly, the ambient sound comes back in at the point one of the major characters dies, shot accidentally from distance. The acting is uniformly very good, and though there’s plenty of stagey histrionics going on, much of it feels necessary (e.g. to illustrate Hidetora’s insanity, to reveal Kaede’s duplicity, etc.) and it works well within the film while also furthering the link between Ran and Shakespeare’s original work. The cinematography, jointly by Takao Saito, Masaharu Ueda, Asakazu Nakai, is excellent, whether they’re tracking the armies as they fight, setting the scene with their mid- and long shots, or picking out the gathering storm clouds in the sky.

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa.
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Masato Ide. Based on King Lear by William Shakespeare.
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Mieko Harada, Daisuke Ryu, Masayuki Yui, Shinnosuke ‘Peter’ Ikehata, Takeshi Nomura, Hisashi Igawa.
Cinematography: Takao Saito, Masaharu Ueda, Asakazu Nakai.
Editing: Akira Kurosawa.
Music: Toru Takemitsu.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 156 minutes.
Year: 1985.

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