Thursday, 16 August 2007

Daratt, Fanny and Alexander and Cinema at the Barbican

Daratt

I saw the excellent Daratt at the NFT (now officially BFI Southbank). A rare film from Chad, about a boy who goes in search of a man who’d killed his father during the bitter civil war, but forms an unlikely bond (he’s after revenge, when possible war criminals were given a general amnesty by the post conflict Truth and Reconciliation Commission). The film is extraordinary, in that it totally griped me and had me very moved by the end, but it is so spare with words (almost taciturn), that each one spoken seemed to be imbued with great significance. The society depicted is African and Muslim, chaotic but recognisable, it is essentially the story of two human beings finding out about one another, about hatreds, friendships and love. But don’t get me wrong, this is not a film that forces issues, it lets you sit back and watch a very natural story unfold (even though the African setting, and the dearth of speech should alienate us talkative rich Westerners). Do go and see it if you are interested in great world cinema, such a shame that it’s only on at the NFT though, I certainly think it deserves a wider audience amongst art cinemas at least.

P.S: The new wing of the NFT/BFI Southbank, is a striking glass box type structure running along the National Theatre side under Waterloo Bridge (where the much missed Museum of the Moving Image once was, I remember reading the new and flying as Superman there on a school trip!). The NFT now has a shop again, plus a very decent new restaurant and bar (which seems empty compared to the packed bars and restaurants directly on the Southbank, but it slightly pricier), complimenting the rather dingy bar out front (which is now actually the back I suppose). They also have a small gallery, the second and current exhibition at which is Hold: Vessel 2, 2007, by Lynette Wallworth, an interactive instillation. The room is in total darkness apart from 3 beams of light coming from the ceiling, you are given a white plastic bowl which you hold under the beams to reveal various and changing images of microscopic cells moving about, multiplying and the like. I only stayed for a few minutes, but the exhibition is a pleasing sensory experience (though for me not particularly revelatory).

Fanny and Alexander

Shortly after I saw the magnificent and beautiful The Seventh Seal at the Curzon Soho last month, the director Ingmar Bergman died at the ripe old age of 89 having lived a remarkable life. The Renoir (part of the same group as Curzon), decided in remembrance of the master filmmaker that it would show one of his greatest films, Fanny and Alexander, originally released in 1982. And how delighted I am that they have done so, for to be able to see two such stunning films, for the first time, within the space of a month is extremely good fortune (though sad circumstances surround the seeing second). What can I say about Fanny and Alexander, except that everyone should rush to see it whilst it is still on the big screen, or otherwise try and see it on DVD, it is truly outstanding. I sat in the main auditorium at the Renoir with a nearly full house for three and a half hours, and I think only 3 people went to the toilet. That’s not something the film critics will mention, but is indicative of the quality of the film (sitting for that length of time without an interval is usually my idea of hell. Some friends did say that they thought there would be an interval, but the staff seemed nonplussed as the very suggestion). Apparently loosely based on the directors own childhood, the film (set from in the first decade of the twentieth century in Sweden, well before Bergman’s birth in 1918) follows the siblings of the title from opulent surrounding in their Grandmother’s splendid and loving house, to awful conditions in their horrible Bishop Stepfather’s severe home, and back again to the loving embrace of their extended family. The level of captivating detail is astonishing, the cast of characters so real and mostly quite appealing, the acting outstanding and the direction faultless. Indeed the world created by Bergman is so vivid you feel like getting up and experiencing the exceptionally lavish Christmas feast and joyful games with the theatrical family of Fanny and Alexander. Bergman’s script, the atmosphere he creates could only be conjured by a man who loved observing people and has an eye for detail, the ability to spot the ring of truth not only in an actor but in a line or scene. The films is dark and light, it encompasses comedy and tragedy, it even explores mysticism and features one of Bergman’s other loves (his faithful wife as opposed to film, an exacting mistress, as he noted), the theatre (including a few references to Hamlet), it is a true saga. The film won four Oscars, but awards can’t speak for a film like this, it must be seen.

I also chanced upon the Arena program about Bergman, on Tuesday night on BBC2. Encountering Bergman was an illuminating 40 minutes featuring people who had spent time talking to the man himself. Sarabad, his last film, was also shown on BBC4 directly after the documentary, unfortunately I didn’t have access to BBC4 that night, otherwise it would have been a very Bergman filled day. But seeing Arena did make me delighted to have a broadcaster like the BBC available at the touch of a button, despite the fact that I can’t remember actually seeing any other Arena programme for many years (that title music and the floating bottle always remind me of my childhood, when I would watch Arena with fascination and/or obliviousness!)

Cinema at the Barbican

Turning to the Barbican and showing at their three cinema screens for the last week have been the Hollywood movies Hairspray, Evan Almighty and The Walker. Next week sees The Bourn Ultimatum taking up residence in screen one. Now, all of these films are available in multiplexes around the country (The Walker less so, but still has a wide distribution), so the question has to be, why is the Barbican showing such mainstream films? Is the theatre or music it showcases in its other auditoria available in every High Street across the county? No, it is the best in its respective field specifically programmed for one of London’s pre-eminent arts venues. Previously I have always looked to the Barbican for great films that aren’t available at Shepherds Bush Vue or similar picture palaces, but recently I’ve had to turn to the Renoir, the Curzon or the redoubtable NFT/BFI (two of which I probably wouldn’t have visited over the last month if the film was available at the Barbican). Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean the Barbican can stop providing a different and artistically worthy programme. It’s not that I’m against the films that they are showing, just the Barbican should not be showing them to the detriment (actually exclusion) of less widely distributed works (I’ve seen Hairspray and intend to see The Bourne Ultimatum, but at ordinary commercial cinemas). Please live up to your reputation and provide us with the best films from around the world, perhaps a retrospective or special season should be planned for the slower summer moths in the future? But with Fanny and Alexander and Daratt only being shown on one screen each at the moment, any duplication of such excellent movies would be welcome too (and clearly bring them to a wider audience simply by making it easier for people to see them).

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