Thursday, 21 June 2012

polisse (w&d maïwenn)

It's all about the narrative structure. It was interesting to read reviews of this film by Anglo Saxon critics after having watched it. There was no shortage of criticism of the narrative and character development. The suggestion was that these stories lacked closure. The audience was parachuted into a hotchpotch of stories containing insufficient degrees of beginnings, middles and ends. Then I read an interview with the director stating that this is exactly how the CPU police officers whose lives we follow for a year experience their work. They don't know if the endings are happy or sad. They are cogs in a machine just as much as anyone else. If the filmmaker compromises this truth, they invalidate the broader truth of the film's mission.

This is a self-consciously assembled text, a bricolage. The story is conveyed through fragments. Both the cases the police work on and the lives of the CPU team it, the film, follows. Towards the end of the film the director allows herself an indulgence as, from her balcony window, she spots a succession of characters we have come across in the course of her film. It's both a holistic moment and a nod to the limits of her docu-drama formula. No matter how much you try to get under the skin, there will always be artifice.

The film strikes the occasional unconvincing note as it traces the lives of its protagonists. Sometimes the (presumably improvised) responses of the actors seem forced. The integration of the director's character herself, a photographer assigned to document the police group, has a touch of whimsy to it. But at other moments this is a film which displays a gripping cinematic flair. Not least because the less obviously structured narrative means the audience never quite knows what is coming next.  Why do stories, in particular for cinema, need to be conceived and told in a neat, dots-joined-up format? Much of the beauty of being a spectator of cinema (or any narrative drama) is the pleasure to be had from flexing our intelligences as we make the connections for ourselves. Maïwenn's loose tapestry boldly resists the impulse to 'use' a particular story to convey the traumatic lives of the men and women who engage in the state's battle against child abuse. In contrast, it immerses us in the far messier story of their chaotic daily lives, and the toll that their job takes on these lives. Lives which ultimately seem almost as fragile as the lives of those they seek to protect.

Monday, 4 June 2012

the turin horse (w&d bela tarr)

Amidst the raft of new films about to appear under discussion in the small corner of the BBC where I once again find myself working, The Turin Horse has not featured. Not once has its name been mentioned. Bela Tarr belongs to that parallel cinematic world, the one that makes no money but is adored by the festivals. Someone whose work never has been and never will be 'commercial'; but who has made film after film nevertheless. He reflects the peculiar taxonomy of the film world.  It would be interesting to see a proper Jeremey Deller style Venn Diagram, mapping the vagaries of cinema, from Transformers to Tarr. 

Tarr himself comes across in his interviews as lugubrious, armed with a self-effacing sense of humour and a didactic if understated belief in the value of what he's doing. Something which is reflected in his films. These have an economy all their own. Turin Horse is two hours twenty long. It takes place on a single location which looks a bit like the set of a Martin Mcdonagh play. The dialogue is sparse. There are essentially two characters and a horse. It ends as it begins, in darkness. My sister, with whom I went to see it, came out declaring it was bleak, and there are what can only be called Beckettian echoes, but in spite of its austerity, it seemed to me a film steeped in a shrewd, unpretentious humour. To my eyes this was neither a long film nor a heavy one; it was eminently enjoyable. In another parallel universe, one where Bresson is the norm, it might even be considered overly 'commercial'. 

Not that this is going to be acknowledged. The director will be tarred with the usual clichés and banished to the 'difficult' salon. People will continue to prefer their US TV box-sets as a way of filling up rainy afternoons. It's the way of the world and there would appear to be no escaping it, but if you're thinking of going to see The Turin Horse, go with an open mind and  your sense of humour switched on. Just because it's long and in black and white doesn't mean it's not full of enjoyable detail nor that it doesn't contain several comical moments. And if you're a fan of the potato there's even more to get your teeth into.