Posts tagged ‘Love’

[Note: this is the third film in my 2016 Blind Spot series. For a list of the other well-known or well-respected films I’ve already watched or I’m going to be watching for the first time this year, see this post.]

So, somehow I’ve reached the ripe old age of 40 without ever seeing Gone With The Wind, but don’t be alarmed; it’s but one of a numer of classics that are ‘blind spots’ for me, and I’ve rectified this particular situation by watching it over the Bank Holiday weekend while recovering from a bout of flu. First and foremost there’s no denying the film’s grandeur, which is manifest by a number of different factors: the running time (close to four hours including overture and intermission), the epic scale of the story, the quality of the production (including the set design and all those flamboyant costumes) and the way the use of Technicolor – still in its early days in 1939 – accentuates the drama of love and war, creating all those fiery red skies. In terms of plot, Gone With The Wind covers so much ground that comparitively films today seem far more conservative in their approach (oh, the irony). It’s a one-sided American Civil War film, a drama about the plantations of two families during that period, an intricate – and fairly satisfying – love story, a paean to land and the idea of home, and a wholly one-eyed and romanticised account of the lives of slaves and the southern way of life more generally.

What’s interesting is the film’s ability to be all these things and more, especially given its troubled production; you get the impression that it was a minor miracle that it all fit together successfully. Producer David O. Selznick spent a fortune, forced re-writes on Sidney Howard’s script before reverting to the original, fired the director and replaced him with Victor Fleming, while reports suggest Vivien Leigh was hard to work with at times and didn’t get on with co-star Leslie Howard at all, with whom she shares a few key romantic scenes. Then there’s the small factor of a long search for the female lead, and the near-two year delay while Selznick waited for his preferred leading man, Clark Gable, to become available. That was a good move, as it happens, as Gable is memorable as the wealthy cad and eyebrow juggler Rhett Butler, veering between the two extremes of cheeky hero and marital rapist. But Gone With The Wind is really notable for its women, and the character of Scarlett O’Hara in particular. Leigh’s petulant but strong-willed southern belle is eye catching, and she irritates and later inspires in equal measure; Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Hamilton is the heart of the movie even if the character is a little grey when stood next to the tempestuous, noisy Scarlett; and there’s Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American actor to win an Academy Award, playing the house servant Mammy, one of several black stereotypes found in the film.

It’s been well documented elsewhere but it bears repeating here: time hasn’t been kind to Gone With The Wind. The depiction of happy slaves and the glorification of slavery is the most troubling factor, while the film’s fervent anti-Yankee, anti-Reconstruction sentimentality is surprising for its vehemence, as is its romantic idealisation of the south, here a verdant land of elegant young women, noble, innocent male suitors and little else of note. One wonders what watching black audiences made of Butterfly McQueen’s turn at the time – Malcolm X said later that it made him want to crawl under a rug – and there are elements of McDaniel’s award-winning performance that presumably induced mass cringing at the time, too. There are valid reasons, therefore, to really dislike Gone With The Wind, but for me fully resisting the charm of its central romance and romantic sub-plots – as well as the film’s desire to impress you with scale – feels impossible; perhaps if I was a black American, rather than a white English guy, I’d feel differently. Anyway, for what it’s worth I preferred the first half, which includes most of the iconic silhouette shots and red skies, and the story builds deliciously to a dramatic crescendo before the intermission. Butler and O’Hara escape a burning, war-torn Atlanta. Scarlett returns to her home at Tara, and all the while Max Steiner’s grandiose score hums along. At points such as this it’s one of those films that screams ‘look what cinema can be!’, and…well…I like that kind of thing a lot. For many reasons it still feels genuinely risky today: imagine a major studio making a four-hour-long romance, and then imagine them making one that ends with death, death and more death, as well as the male lead walking out on a still-defiant, never-broken female lead. Who on earth would green light a film like that?

Directed by: Victor Fleming.
Written by: Sidney Howard. Based on Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
Starring: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia De Havilland, Leslie Howard, Hattie McDaniel, Evelyn Keyes, Thomas Mitchell.
Cinematography: Ernest Haller.
Editing: Hal C Kern, James E Newcom.
Max Steiner.
Running Time:
221 minutes (without overture, intermission etc.).


Given that it’s partly about the Holocaust, and followed in the wake of successful award-winners like Schindler’s List, Life Is Beautiful and The Pianist, Stephen Daldry’s confident and elegant adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s popular novel was predictably denigrated with the term ‘Oscar bait’ when it was released in 2009. Granted the subject has been synonymous with awards success, but surely it’s time that we moved on from simple off-hand dismissals and accept that filmmakers and their charges want to do justice to this most difficult of subjects, or their source material, and therefore often produce some of their best work in doing so. (It’s a mere ironic twist-of-fate that Kate Winslet, who won an Academy Award for her performance here, sent-up the serious actor’s yearly quest for glory in the sit-com Extras a year or two earlier.)

Needless to say Winslet is superb in this film. She plays Hanna Schmitz, one of two central characters, and the narrative follows her relationship with Michael Berg (played as a younger man by David Kross and an older man by Ralph Fiennes) as it develops over the course of around 40 years, from the late-1950s to the mid-1990s. They initially meet in post-war Berlin when 35-year-old Hanna finds the ill 15-year-old Michael shivering on her doorstep; she takes him into her apartment and saves his life, an act of kindness that leaves an impression on Michael (though one that will soon be forgotten about by the viewer when revelations about Hanna’s involvement in day-to-day operations at Auschwitz during the Second World War arrive). The pair begin to see more of one other and their relationship quickly becomes intimate, with the age difference being a startling factor; a couple of sex scenes here are surprisingly graphic, though they were shot at the end of the production, after Kross had turned 18. Due to Hanna’s illiteracy Michael reads books aloud to her, and it’s this simple act that seems to sustain them (and indeed that reestablishes their bond years later). During their first and only summer together Hanna remains distant and preoccupied; is the problem her illiteracy, or Michael’s age, or is something else on her mind? To the inexperienced boy Hanna’s behaviour presents an unsurmountable stumbling block, and they begin to argue more and more until Hanna is offered a promotion at work and suddenly disappears.

We see Michael in his early 20s, studying law, his path unexpectedly colliding once more with that of the older, greying, troubled Hanna. Gradually Kross gives way to Fiennes’ sullen Michael as the narrative moves quickly through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, with Winslet’s age making her more suitable for playing Hanna throughout. The make-up department ages her (and one or two of the other characters) very well. A team of 12 special effect artists, make-up artists, stylists and supervisors worked on The Reader, and on some days Winslet underwent 7 or 8 hours’ worth of make-up to appear as an older woman. The work needed to age Michael from 15-year-old boy to young student was obviously not as onerous, but is also impressive, while transitions between the two actors are well-thought out; at one point a train with the younger Michael disappears into a tunnel only to re-emerge with the older Michael sitting in the exact same place.


Ralph Fiennes as the older Michael Berg in The Reader

It’s a moving love story, albeit one that doesn’t exactly develop in a straightforward, uplifting fashion: theirs is a stop-start affair, it dominates the lives of both parties even though they are only together for very brief periods, and it seems doomed from the off. The film is crisply shot by Roger Deakins and Chris Menges – Deakins worked on some scenes early on in the production when Winslet was unavailable; by the time she arrived Menges had taken over as Deakins had other committments – but what’s most interesting about their work is the way the colour gradually seeps out of the film, reflecting the changes to the lives of the two protagonists. The material set in the 1990s is perhaps best summed up by the stark, modernist environs of Fiennes’ apartment and workspace, and as the characters age and become greyer and paler so does the world around them. The Reader has youth, hope and colour in abundance at the start, but there’s very little left by the time it glumly peters out.

There’s an inherent risk in inviting audiences to care for a character who, within the story, has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds (thousands?) of innocent people. I’m not familiar with Schlink’s novel, but Daldry’s film spends a fair amount of time on Hanna’s trial, and the subsequent punishment she endures for her crimes, even though the story sweetens the bitter pill by implying she wasn’t quite as responsible for some of the atrocities at Auschwitz as the court thinks. This was one of the reasons why the film was met by angry criticism at the time of release, with some critics suggesting it skirted around the subject of the Holocaust, and that by not directly showing Hanna’s involvement at the concentration camp it was pandering to audiences who would have found the material unpalatable. Indeed you could describe The Reader as ‘tasteful’ for a couple of reasons: on a more positive note it includes a melancholic orchestral score and looks the part with its detailed period production design, while the presence of a couple of Britain’s leading thesps will always attract a certain type of crowd to the cinema. Yet there’s also a degree of negativity associated with the word these days, certainly in cinematic terms: it suggests a film has masked its lack of emphasis on a supposedly ‘tricky’ subject with pleasant but unnourishing aesthetic pleasures. At the time of release a frustrated Daldry pointed out that the film was primarily supposed to be a love story, as opposed to an in-depth study of the Holocaust or of Germany’s post-war soul-searching, but I have to admit I was left with a nagging feeling that this otherwise well-made film is too tentative in its exploration of recent history.

Directed by: Stephen Daldry.
Written by: David Hare. Based on The Reader by Berhnard Schlink.
Starring: Kate Winslet, David Kross, Ralph Fiennes, Lena Olin, Bruno Ganz.
Cinematography: Chris Menges, Roger Deakins.
Editing: Claire Simpson.
Nico Muhly.
Running Time:
118 minutes.


There’s a reason why Yorgos Lanthimos has a reputation for being a director who is drawn first and foremost to stories with unusual premises, but his English language debut The Lobster makes previous efforts like Dogtooth and Alps look like the works of a committed realist. One of the stranger films I’ve seen in 2015, it’s a satire about love, dating, coupledom and singledom, set in Ireland, and taking place either in an alternative present to our own or in the very near future. In this world being single has effectively been outlawed by the state and defiant loners live as fugitives in the wild; single people are forced to attend a kind of strictly-run dating camp in a rural hotel and may only return to the city if they have successfully coupled-up within 45 days. Those who fail to do so are turned into an animal of their own choosing, and there’s no explanation as to how or why this has come to be  it just is. Our guide comes in the (unusually portly) shape of Colin Farrell, whose character David is first seen being unceremoniously booted out by his wife of eleven years, who no longer loves him. Without much ado the newly-single David dutifully checks in to a giant spa hotel on the coast, where he is tasked with finding a suitable mate. Pressed on the matter he states that his animal of choice, should it be necessary, is a lobster, and he gives a number of peculiar reasons as to why that is the case. Most other people, according to Olivia Coleman’s stern hotel manager, choose dogs; and that’s why there are so many dogs in the world.

lobster-620x400So far so odd. In fact Yorgos Lanthimos’ English language debut is overflowing with oddness, particularly during its hotel-set first half. Guests are referred to by their defining characterstics and include Ben Whishaw’s Limping Man, Ashley Jensen’s Biscuit Woman (she is a fan of butter biscuits), John C. Reilly’s Lisping Man, and so forth; it is these single characteristics that must be relied upon in order to find a match among the other guests. As a group they are given rather stilted demonstrations by hotel staff that show the benefits of being in a couple and must attend excruciatingly awkward dances in which all the men wear the same combination of blazer, shirt and trousers and all the women wear the same kind of dress. Meanwhile each day an alarm sounds and the hotel’s single guests are bundled into a minibus and driven to the nearby woods, where they must hunt loners; bagging a loner with a tranquiliser dart gives the captor an extra night’s accommodation in the hotel, thereby extending their stay of grace. And if you think that’s all very strange then wait until you see the delights of room service or the punishment meted out to anyone caught masturbating in flagrante.

Performances are deliberately stilted and the minimal dialogue is spoken by the actors in an awkward fashion. A female voiceover occasionally tells us how David is feeling but it too is suitably deadpan, applying a matter-of-factness to the whole coupling thing and the whole animal thing. I found the first half of The Lobster very funny indeed, but the appeal of its humour is far from broad, and I expect a lot of people will either dislike it outright or be left scratching their heads as to why pockets of audience members are chuckling away. However it helps that Farrell, Jensen, Whishaw, Coleman and Reilly have a very good grasp of the tone Lanthimos and his regular co-writer Efthimis Filippou are going for, and the utter indifference displayed by their characters with regard to the situation they are in helps to sell the outlandish premise.

lobster-film-review-oct15I’m not the first reviewer to make the following point but sadly the film does lose its way when the action moves on from the hotel. The Lobster‘s second half, which introduces several more characters (played competently enough by the likes of Léa Seydoux, Rachel Weisz and Michael Smiley), simply isn’t as weird, as interesting or as funny as the first, and although there are amusing moments the species of animals wandering around in the background in the woods grows ever more incongruous by the minute it begins to drag long before the offbeat, dangling finale. Once Lanthimos has established the idea that there is great pressure on members of society to become part of a couple he labours the point that similar levels of pressure and dogmatism also apply to those who are resolutely celibate, and all-but forgets about the metamorphosis aspect of the screenplay; as the film moved past the 90 minute mark a few members of the audience in the screening I attended walked out, though in most cases that can be taken as a sign of an interesting film, for one reason or another. Still, it feels like there was a chance for something extra special here, a kind of Being John Malkovich for the modern day, but greatness just slips out of The Lobster‘s claws. That said there’s more than enough here to warrant a viewing and there’s plenty of arch commentary on the dating merry-go-round.

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos.
Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou.
Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Angeliki Papoulia, Ariane Labed, Ben Whishaw, Michael Smiley, Olivia Coleman, Ashley Jensen.
Cinematography: Thimios Bakatakis.
Editing: Yorgos Mavropsaridis.
Running Time:
118 minutes.



Thomas Cailley’s quirky and engaging romance Les Combattants (released in some areas with the dismal pun title Love At First Fight) crosses the Channel with quite a reputation: in addition to a haul of awards during last year’s Cannes Film Festival, as well as some high profile nominations, the film achieved considerable success at this year’s Césars. There Adèle Haenel was crowned Best Actress for her performance, beating the likes of Juliette Binoche, Marion Cotillard and Catherine Deneuve, while her co-star Kévin Azaïs was named Most Promising Actor. In total there were nine different nominations for Les Combattants and its cast and crew, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It’s rare to see a film like this, a well-written but ultimately slight love story, receive such a degree of acclaim. But Les Combattants is deftly-constructed, subtly addresses certain problems faced by young, modern French people (‘France is dead. There’s no future here,’ says one) and yes: the lead performances in this tale of blossoming affection are excellent.

Azaïs’s character, the gentle Arnaud, runs the family carpentry business with his older brother Manu (Antoine Laurent). They live with recently widowed mother Hélène (Brigitte Roüan) in a small Bordeaux coastal town which seems to be fairly popular with tourists; there’s a vibrant nightlife scene at the beach, for example, but tellingly the French Army has targeted the area for recruitment, presumably in the hope of attracting bored, unemployed local kids. It’s at the beach that Arnaud first meets Madeleine (Haenel), a serious, complex college drop-out back living with her parents. The two end up wrestling during a self-defence class organised by the Army but Arnaud, bested and suffering the taunts of his male friends, surreptitiously bites Madeleine in order to save face. These sparring partners are reunited when Arnaud is tasked with building a shed at Madeleine’s house; he can barely conceal his attraction to her while working, but she is cooler, at first meeting nearly everything he says with a spiky put-down or rebuttal.

This behaviour is completely in keeping with Madeleine’s character: she is guarded, tough and independent, so it comes as no surprise to learn that she is keen on joining the military, partly because she believes the apocalypse is round the corner. Her reasons for joining up are entirely for self-preservation: she wants to be able to survive and the protection of French national interests at home or abroad is not part of the equation. However the ‘super-hard’ training camp she joins in preparation turns out to be more like an Outward Bound course with added camouflage, led by inept officers who are gently mocked by the screenplay. An infatuated Arnaud signs up with her and actually shows more of an aptitude for life as a soldier, earning a promotion while Madeleine struggles with certain physical tasks and authority, but in doing so he leaves his brother swamped with work and struggling to keep the family business afloat.

The story takes an unpredictable turn in the final act, but the slow, believable development of the relationship between Arnaud and Madeleine keeps Les Combattants on an even keel and the suggestion that something terrible is coming to modern France is skillfully built up throughout the film (with some early shots echoed later on a much grander, more terrifying scale, and much foreshadowing of certain events). Cailley structures his film in three parts, first showing ‘Arnaud’s world’, then showing ‘Madeleine’s world’ and finally showing a world that they build together. It’s a risky move – I must admit to preferring the more conventional first half of the film, set in the town, to the second – but by the end the characters seem so familiar, and so well-drawn, that the slightness of their story does not seem to matter all that much. Credit due to Cailley and his co-writer Claude Le Pape, obviously, but also to the actors: Azaïs is excellent and Haenel turns in one of the better performances I’ve seen this year. Her next job is with the Dardenne brothers.

Directed by: Thomas Cailley.
Written by: Thomas Cailley, Claude Le Pape.
Starring: Adèle Haenel, Kévin Azaïs, Antoine Laurent, Brigitte Roüan.
Cinematography: David Cailley.
Editing: Lilian Corbeille.
Music: Lionel Flairs, Benoît Rault, Philippe Deshaies.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Year: 2014.


DOB_corridor02-817x460It’s likely that the obscure films that have influenced Peter Strickland’s hallucinatory and deliciously-offbeat S&M tale The Duke Of Burgundy will be unfamiliar to many of its viewers: the English director may have drawn from some better-known sources for his third film, such as Buñuel’s Belle De Jour or Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant, but the audience is less likely to spot the links to other European works like Morgiana, Mothlight, A Virgin Among The Living Dead or Mano Destra. As with his previous film, 2012’s Berberian Sound Studio, Strickland has drawn from a youth spent watching such offbeat delights in London’s arthouse cinemas, and the ambience and look of European sex/horror exploitation films of the 1970s is fastidiously re-created here, although before you start salivating onto your keyboard it must be pointed out that there is barely any sex or any horror to be found in this tale.

As with Berberian Sound Studio, knowledge of the esoteric, low budget output of prolific directors like Jess Franco isn’t actually a pre-requisite; I managed to enjoy The Duke Of Burgundy, despite being aware that a host of cine-literate nods to continental works of yore were flying over my head and away into the ether. It’s an interesting curio, for example, that Monica Swinn – a regular in the 1970s films of Franco and Jean Rollin – has a cameo here as a frowning old lady, but knowing this is hardly likely to enhance your viewing experience in any meaningful way. Strickland brings his audience into this retro and fussily stylish world with great skill, once again exuding confidence with a brisk and expertly-crafted period title sequence, the atmosphere immediately established and later repeatedly enhanced by the breathy, psychedelic folk of Cat’s Eyes (Faris Badwan and Rachel Zeffira delivering a standout Françoise Hardy-style soundtrack that is itself well worth purchasing).

The film’s milieu is unusual, the air rarified. Though it’s initially unclear, Strickland is dropping us as spectators into the seemingly long-term relationship of entomologist Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen, best known for her work on the TV show Borgen) and partner Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna, previously seen in Berberian Sound Studio). They live in a grand house that is decorated with period furniture and filled with carefully-arranged displays of moths and butterflies. It seems as if there are no men in their town; there aren’t any in the film, anyway, and the ‘Duke’ of the title is a reference to a type of butterfly found in western Europe. They cycle to serious, local lectures about their favourite subject, during which markings and behaviour patterns and noises are discussed in great detail by similarly-dressed lepidopterists (Strickland even cheekily inserts a couple of mannequins into one crowd scene in order to highlight the uniformity while simultaneously paying homage to his favourite budget-conscious directors). In terms of their relationship they have clearly-defined dominant / submissive roles: Cynthia dresses in restrictive corsets and expensive-looking lingerie, and orders Evelyn to clean the study, wash her underwear, polish her boots and more.

Although these roles have been established for sexual pleasure the film cleverly plays with the balance of power in their relationship, and all is not as it first seems. Strickland’s film, in a nutshell, is concerned with the way in which the dynamic between Cynthia and Evelyn is gradually changing, slowly drifting towards an end with melancholic inevitability; Cynthia, emotionally weary and suffering from a bad back, wants nothing more than to be able to relax in comfy pyjamas for a day or two. It isn’t made explicitly clear, but it looks as if she doesn’t actually get any sexual gratification at all from their games, which are time-consuming and meticulously observed. Eveyln, meanwhile, apparently wishes to break encroaching boredom by introducing new S&M-related equipment and activities. Both characters are tiring of their routine, elements of which are cleverly repeated with the two leads incorporating slight differences in their performances, which has the effect of stripping certain activities of their initial sexiness and kinkiness. Even a vaguely shocking act like Cynthia urinating on Evelyn (off-camera) is turned into something resembling ordinary workaday drudgery as we see Cynthia regularly downing glasses of water in preparation for the act.

Though it highlights mundanity, the repetition of the daily role-playing also lends the film a trance-like, hypnotic feel, aided by numerous duplicated shots of bursting soap bubbles and stills of displayed butterflies and moths (the director is eager to repeatedly make the connection between the couple’s relationship and the life cycle of the insects). As well as certain images, distinctive sounds come and go and come back again – and this is a film that sounds fantastic, it must be said, as well as being one that is visually rewarding – and it’s hard to resist The Duke Of Burgundy‘s powerful, trippy otherworldliness. One moth-heavy, vaguely-nightmarish dream sequence in particular had me utterly transfixed, and I only became aware of the fact I had been lost in the film for several minutes when Strickland suddenly snapped back to a ‘reality’ I’d completely forgotten about.

While it may sound pretentious and impenetrable, that certainly isn’t the case; there’s an odd streak of humour running through the film. The director’s opening and end credits, for example, contain a number of eccentricities, such as the inclusion of a ‘supplier of perfumes’, a ‘human toilet consultant’ and a seemingly-endless list of information about insects and field recordings, while there’s a hint of black comedy running through the work that indicates Strickland cannot keep a quirky sense of humour hidden away. That said, although his film is occasionally playful, it is never silly, and the strange, unusual mood is applied consistently.

It must also be said that those looking for cheap thrills had best look elsewhere; it may titillate, depending on your own tastes, but for a film that glances backwards in time to the rawer years of sexploitation there’s actually very little sex, and we mainly witness the couple’s tender moments in the bedroom after the sub-dom rituals for the day have finished. Elegant production design (Pater Sparrow), art direction (Renátó Cseh) and set decoration (Zsuzsa Mihalek) combine perfectly with the costumes by Andrea Flesch and the magnificent cinematography by Nicholas D. Knowland, who was also the DP on Berberian Sound Studio, to create a striking, aesthetically-pleasing work. Strickland gets fine performances out of his two leads, and wastes not a single second of screen time: his intoxicating third film is a sexy, sensory, swirly, psychedelic delight.

Directed by: Peter Strickland.
Written by: Peter Strickland.
Starring: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna, Fatma Mohamed, Monica Swinn.
Cinematography: Nic Knowland.
Editing: Mátyás Fekete.
Music: Cat’s Eyes.
Certificate: 18.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Year: 2015.
Rating: 9.2


This documentary by Kim Longinotto explores depictions of love on film during the 20th Century, mining the British Film Institute’s archives in order to detail the way in which attitudes, legal positions and more have changed across society during that period. Like Penny Woolcock’s entertaining coastal study From The Sea To The Land Beyond, which made similar use of professional and amateur archive footage to illustrate social change in 20th Century Britain, Longinotto’s film was commissioned for Sheffield DocFest and was recently shown on the BBC as part of this year’s Storyville season.

Woolcock’s film featured a stirring soundtrack by the band British Sea Power and, continuing the trend, Longinotto’s documentary is scored by the Sheffield balladeer Richard Hawley, fittingly a songwriter who has kept one eye on the past (be it the influence of 1950s crooners on his early solo work and image or the more recent  tendency towards psychedelia). The film is semi-linear, with thematic segments generally edited around Hawley’s songs, and the loose structure slowly guides us through the century in question: Love Is All begins with a clip from the 1899 silent comedy The Kiss In The Tunnel and finishes with scenes taken from Sarah Gavron’s Brick Lane.

In between there’s a dizzying and diverse array of romantic imagery, stitched together by Longinotto and editor Ollie Huddleston in a way that often generates the necessary level of joie de vivre, while also being intermittently tailored towards the more downbeat issues of pain and longing that are never too far away. There’s plenty of footage of men and women dancing, stealing kisses, enjoying clinches and sharing meaningful glances to begin with, but as the film progresses Longinotto uses the assembled material to explore a number of related issues: class divides, the male gaze, multiculturalism and interracial relationships, lesbian and gay relationships, an increase in both liberalism and tolerance, and much more. There’s a strong emphasis on female empowerment throughout, as well as a triumphant recognition of the British film industry’s role in both shaping and reflecting attitudes toward homosexuality.

While Love Is All includes longer selections from relevant works, such as Ewald André Dupont’s Piccadilly (a 1929 vehicle for the first Chinese-American film star Anna May Wong), Lloyd Reckord’s groundbreaking homoerotic mid-60s short Dream A40 and Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Launderette, inevitably it is the older footage – be it old-fashioned courtship rituals or women practicing jujitsu – that intrigues the most, presumably due to its relative distance from the modern day. Yet, despite all the developments in British society shown throughout the film, Longinotto recognises that there’s also an ongoing consistency: as the title suggests, ‘love is all’, and – put simply – as a basic concept love does not change over time.

Some of the recurring imagery used to illustrate this equilibrium is a little obvious (trains and tunnels being a predictable favourite of fnarr-fnarring filmmakers throughout the decades, it would seem), but this is isn’t a criticism of the filmmaker, who is merely reflecting trends and ideas subscribed to by others. Given the focus on taboo-busting the documentary is notably coy about the subject of sex, though who knows whether that’s Longinotto’s choice or not. I’m speculating mischievously here, but perhaps it was a condition of the commission; the film was first screened at the stately home Chatsworth House, after all, and although attitudes may have changed I imagine it isn’t the kind of venue that would wish to be associated with scenes of rampant, sweaty rutting (unless it’s the local stags). (The setting didn’t stop Hawley from dropping a c-bomb in the middle of a Q&A session, mind.)

Love Is All is well worth seeing; the source material is stitched together inventively, and much of it is haunting, beautiful and often very moving (I’m a sucker for elderly couples, m’lud, and the mere sight of them regularly brings me to tears). The broad range of the selected footage, which presumably took a long time to discover and finalise, should also be applauded; it’s no surprise that Longinotto, perhaps better known for her documentaries about female oppression or discrimination, has worked with Huddleston again on the newly-released Dreamcatcher (which, incidentally, was turned down by the BBC as it didn’t want to fund ‘another documentary about prostitutes’). Many of the clips chosen and edited here are given fresh context by Hawley’s songs, and even a new lease of life in some cases, while the musician’s work is also illuminated in return.

The Basics:
Directed by: Kim Longinotto
Certificate: 12A
Running Time: 74 minutes
Year: 2014
Rating: 7.8


The final scene in Michael Haneke’s disturbing 2005 film Caché, which featured a middle class French couple who bizarrely receive videotapes of themselves through the post, is a perplexing conversation between two characters that takes place on the steps of a school. It is frustrating in that we are not party to the dialogue, even though Haneke wrote some for the scene and he maintains that the actors said it. Haneke has since confirmed that the unheard dialogue is important to the story but he has agreed with the actors never to reveal it or to publish a screenplay. The film therefore ends without an audience-satisfying reveal, leaving us guessing as to the true identity of the person that has been both recording and posting the tapes.

I mention this because it looks, at first glance, fairly innocuous. The sudden ending of the film after this scene comes as a surprise (if one considers cinematic conventions as opposed to the work of Michael Haneke), and caused many viewers to rewind, with most presumably wondering what had been missed. Haneke seems to revel in messing with the audience’s mind, showing clearly that there are always different approaches to take when watching a given scene, and each of these will affect the viewer’s interpretation considerably.

There’s a similarly innocuous-looking moment near the beginning of Amour, the film which earned Haneke his second Palme D’Or, and interestingly it feels essential to re-watch it after you have seen the rest of the picture as well: The fixed camera is wittily facing an entire theatre audience from the unseen stage as patrons take their seats for a piano concerto. Two of the attendees are Parisians Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), an elderly pair of retired music teachers, but it is difficult to work out at this stage who we should be looking out for in the sea of faces. (The movie opens with a fire crew breaking into Anne and Georges’ apartment, and they discover Anne’s dead body, with flowers scattered around her head; however we are not familiar enough with the character to spot her easily when the story winds back in time to the concert.)

The concert scene takes on an added poignancy when watched again after seeing the entire film. Familiarity means it is easy to pick out Anne and Georges second time round, and therefore the eyes ignore all those peripheral extras that confused the scene initially. As the couple applaud the entrance of a former pupil and concert pianist named Alexandre (Alexandre Tharaud) it’s noticeable that Anne’s right hand is jittery as she claps. Georges appears to spot it, glancing down on two occasions, looking slightly concerned. There’s no way you’d see this first time round, and Haneke skillfully reveals once again that context is everything.

After the concert, Georges and Anne arrive home to find their lock has been broken, although no possessions have apparently been stolen from their apartment. (This is interesting; it links well to the firemen breaking and entering at the start of the film, but also makes us wonder who or what has broken in, and why. Is it Death?) The following day Anne suffers a stroke, which leaves her blank at first, but it subsequently paralyses the right-hand side of her body. The rest of Haneke’s film details the care provided by Georges as Anne’s condition gradually deteriorates and she becomes reliant on her husband. Wheelchair-bound at first, eventually Anne becomes incontinent and then suffers a second stroke, more serious than the first, which leaves her bed-bound and incapable of coherent speech.

Amour is a film that really gets to grips with its weighty subject matter: life, love and death. Given that we see the body in the first scene, there’s no surprise as Anne’s condition worsens, and Haneke chronicles this deterioration poetically, yet he also features heavily the struggles that the couple now face with regard to previously mundane tasks such as eating, dressing and bathing. There are several moments of tenderness as the two slowly move around their high-ceilinged flat, and their conversations are both realistic and poignant. It is heartbreaking when Anne flicks through an old photo album and states ‘c’est beau – la vie…’, and equally it is incredibly sad when a frustrated Georges momentarily lets his anger take over and strikes his defenceless wife when she decides that she wants to die and will not take on any more liquids. Otherwise Georges is stoic, uncomplaining in his duties, having sworn a promise to Anne that he would not take her back to the hospital or put her in a home.

Trintingant – an actor who had not appeared on screen for 16 years – is superb as the dutiful, caring husband, growing frustrated with the apparently selfish behavior of his daughter Eva (Isabelle Hupert offering excellent support), who understandably wants her mother to receive professional care. Riva is perfect as Anne, believably revealing frustration at her lack of mobility and, eventually, indicating that she wants to die. I’ve never seen a more accurate representation of progressive dementia in a film, and her collection of multiple awards in 2012 and 2013 is completely deserved.

The most important ‘piece’ of Haneke’s film, after the two central performances, is the location. Nearly all of the film – aside from the theatre scene mentioned above and a brief moment on a bus – is set inside Georges and Anne’s apartment (Georges is seen in the corridor outside, but it is a dream sequence), and it becomes a character in its own right. By the end we are familiar with the layout and the decor, even down to the pictures that hang on the wall (the director focuses on these in one mournful sequence). The choice of angles ensures that certain aspects of the rooms are not revealed at first; there are several scenes set in the couple’s drawing room, for example, before a grand piano is shown to be standing by the window.

As a result of Anne’s lack of mobility, the couple essentially barricade themselves in; it is often said that victims of severe strokes can feel like they are imprisoned within their own bodies, and Haneke is perhaps alluding to this idea in the way he uses the apartment. They receive few visitors, and Georges stubbornly fights battles of will with his daughter and fires a nurse who handles his wife roughly; he is undefeatable in his own environment. As they become more entrenched in the apartment they gradually lose their love for other people and things in their life that they once cherished: their star pupil, their daughter, music…it all becomes immaterial as the illness forces them to focus on their remaining time together. However as Anne’s condition worsens there is even a huge strain placed upon the love that exists between the two of them; their relationship evolves all the way until the very end.

That end, when it comes, is both moving and beautiful. The final shots of the apartment, emptied of the life of its inhabitants and filmed from angles Haneke has avoided up until that point, is as breathtakingly sad as anything the oft-detached Austrian has made to date. It’s a fitting, sad end to a masterful study of life and death and of a couple’s love for each other. Amour is touching, weighty, graceful, unsentimental, intelligent and – thanks largely to the performances of Trintignant and Riva – utterly absorbing.

The Basics:

Directed by: Michael Haneke
Written by: Michael Haneke
Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Isabelle Hupert
Certificate: 12A
Running Time: 125 minutes
Year: 2012
Rating: 9.4