Tuesday, 15 May 2007

The Night of The Sunflowers (dir Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo)

There's a study to be made in the art of the fractured narrative. Who's to blame? Inarittu? Robbe-Grillet? Laurence Sterne? Virginia Woolf?

No doubt it's been made many a time and perhaps Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo would like his film to be included in the next update. Working within a unity of place, time and action, the film breaks down 48 hours of misadventure into seven chapters, each time looking at the story from a different character's perspective.

Initially, this has an engaging feel. A brutal rape doesn't quite come off. The tension of the opening chapter spills over into the next one, as the woman's husband comes to her rescue after exploring a pot-hole. The action shifts backwards and forwards in time and the audience is looking for clues, waiting for the full picture to be revealed. The trouble is that the more that's revealed, the less interesting the narrative becomes. Other characters - a crooked policeman and his elderly father-in-law - emerge, their dramas taking over the film, eclipsing the taut tensions of the visiting couple, who are impoverished and then marginalised.

In the midst of this it's hard not to feel the deconstructive tendencies are getting in way of the narrative rather than enhancing it. A film which initially feels like a psychological drama turns into a neo-Deliverance then a study of the decay of rural Spain and then a family drama. If the film could carry off this mish-mash of ingredients, it might have been remarkable. As it is they seem to weigh it down, and the film seems to lose its way. The final shot of the serial rapist, ensconced in his armchair, suddenly back in the movie he left over an hour ago, none the wiser, seems almost an acknowledgement of the lack of headway.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

The Lives of Others (dir Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

Having seen the film on Friday, I then read an article in the paper explaining that the premise the film describes is historically inconceivable. All of which goes to show that there's no need for historical accuracy in the telling of a good story, and perhaps, furthermore, that if you want to get a film made at all, you're going to have to mess around with the truth, because audiences rarely head to the cinema to discover 'the truth'.

Having said which, whilst The Lives of Others grants some insight into what it's like to live and operate within a police state, and offers a pleasingly drab portrait of the DDR (a world without apparent advertising which has its charm), there appear to be other issues at play within the narrative.

Not least the notion of performance. This is a film with three lead characters: a Stasi agent; a writer; and an actress. All three of these characters perform, to varying degrees of expectation. (One of the nicest conceits in the film is that the Stasi agent, seeking to cover up for the writer, actually writes his purely theoretical play for him.) When the Stasi agent interrogates the actress, they are both performing to an audience. Their respective performances will determine their fates, so they believe, and these layers add a potency to the drama. At this point it appears that the director is suggesting that in order to survive within the old DDR, everyone was forced to become an actor of some kind or another, though this is an existential truth applicable, one suspects, to all societies.

The telegraphed conclusion of the film, with its four temporal leaps, denotes a narrative that has points to make and isn't afraid to interrupt the narrative impetus to make them. The natural climax is long gone before the credits roll. History, it seems to be saying, isn't all about the moment, its ramifications drag on, annoyingly, into the unknown future. The fact that the above article suggests the filmmakers have chosen to romanticise the historical facts adds another layer; the ignorant audience believes this might really have been so, but in fact this is history as performance: a what might have been, rather than what really was.