Hitchcock is my Homeboy Top 2015

The end of the year is already there and 2015 surely was a fantastic one for the international film industry. We witnessed the release of many blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, the long awaited 50 Shades of Grey, Fast & Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Martian, Spectre and many many more. Only recently Star Wars Episode VII was released and by now already shattered all box office records with over 106 million dollars in only 12 days. I expect nothing different from The Revenant or Tarantino’s  The H8teful Eight, that premiered last week.

Tradition implies us filmcritics to come up with our own top 10 of every year’s films, but I will provide you with my very own Hitchcock is my Homeboy-awards.

Best film

Youth by Paolo Sorrentino

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Sorrentino’s Youth is a well-balanced feel good film about an ageing composer who retreats in a hotel in the sunny Swiss Alps. Here he finds out what it is to actually grow older and get confronted with the concept of modern-day ‘youth’. With splendid performances by Sir Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Rachel Weisz as Caine’s daughter. Youth was my personal favourite at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Best foreign language film

Las Elegidas (The Chosen Ones) by David Pablos

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Pablos’ film tells the very dramatic story of Sofia and Ulysses, a young couple living in Tijuana near the Mexican-American border. Although he loves her, he tricks her into child prostitution. Pablos uses asynchronic sound and images as a means of suggestiveness and to confront the audience with reality of Mexican sex trafficing.  All close-ups are focused on the eyes, as they are the mirror of the soul. Las Elegidas is a confronting love story, which apparently is not so far from reality as one might think.

Best Belgian film

D’Ardennen by Robin Pront

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D’Ardennen is a dramatic thriller set in the 90’s Belgian ‘Johny & Marina’ scene -think bomber jackets, loads of hair gel and house-/hardstyle music. The soundtrack of D’Ardennen therefore is one full of 90’s beats that almost make you jump up from your chair, like the end credits theme. The title of the film refers to the Walloon part of Belgium, but is a dialectal use of the original word ‘Les Ardennes’

Pront could count on the participation of a good cast and crew, full of professionals. Veerle Baetens, who plays the female lead, is internationally renowned since her part in Felix van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012). But she is not the one who steals the show in this gem, but the male leads Jeroen Perceval and Kevin Janssens, who go into deep to become the violent -almost marginal-, but humane brothers Kenneth and Dave.

Keep an eye on Robin Pront, because his productions may seem somewhat on the ‘dark side’, but are set out very carefully to assure perfection.

Best cinematography

Life by Anton Corbijn

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In the last few years, the Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn focussed more on filmmaking, but nonetheless, you can still find traces of his main profession in his productions. Life is his 4th feature film and a biopic about the famous 50’s actor James Dean (Dane DeHaan) and his friendship with Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson), a photographer for magazines. All of Corbijn’s shots are beautifully stylised, so the film more or less becomes one consecutive series of photographs. But his mise-en-scène does not necesarilly overshadow the narrative or the character’s development. The latter are complex human beings, who one might identify with.

Best  Animation

The Little Prince by Mark Osborne

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Based on the books by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, director Mark Osborne tells the story of a Little Girl who is getting prepared for the adult world, but loses herself in a fantasy world when she meets her elderly neighbour, the Pilot. The main plot gets intertwined with pieces of the little girl’s fantasy world, in which Little Prince and his planet are creatively constructed out of papier-maché.  Provided with a beautiful soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and the focus on respect, friendship and childhood fantasy The Little Prince definitely becomes the perfect film for quality time with the entire family.

Best Performance International Male

Tim Roth

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He already played a lot of remarkable parts, like Mr Orange in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992). But in 2015, I loved him the most in Chronic as well as in Tarantino’s The H8teful Eight. Roth easily switches from modest roles in the character-driven Chronic to up-tempo and cynical ones in The H8teful Eight. At the age of 54 he already has an impressive record of achievements due to his talent.

Best Performance International Female

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn.

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Brooklyn is a romantic drama by John Crowley, that stars Saoirse Ronans in its leading part, who is only 21 years old, but already played in big Hollywood productions like Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Brooklyn gives her the opportunity to act in her mother tongue, namely Irish, which adds up to the credibility of the story. Moreover, her natural way of acting makes the love story between an Irish immigrant (Ronan) and Italian boy (Emory Cohen) in Brooklyn to be one of the most heartwarming since Cassavetes’ The Notebook (2004).

Best Belgian Performance Male

Jeroen Perceval/ Matteo Simoni

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Jeroen Perceval proved himself a talented actor in the abovementioned D’Ardennen by Robin Pront as the criminal, but sensitive Dave. Who knows Perceval, would know that this is not his first stand-out performance.

Matteo Simoni is famous for his parts in commercial productions, but he should be admired for being a multitalent. Whatever role he is given, he plays it with dedication and never gets typecasted . In 2015, he played the clumsy and caricatural poser and party animal ‘Smos’ in Safety First, the filmversion of the similar television series about a securityteam at events. I can’t imagine anyone not laughing or symphatising with his well-meant stupidities.

Next television season, he will be playing a strappy callboy in a television series.

Best Belgian Performance Female

Martha Canga D’Antonio

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Before the summer of 2014 Martha Canga D’Antonio would never have imagined herself becoming an actress, let alone becoming an award-winning actress. Her part as Mavela in the Shakespearean love story Black by Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi (see below) got rewarded with plenty of selections at international film festivals and already won her one award for Best Actress at this year’s  Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. The actress was only 19 years old when she played a gang member in Brussels, who falls in love with a Moroccan boy from a rival gang. She received standing ovations for her highly credible and modest performance, which are well-deserved.

Special mention also goes out to the rest of the young cast, who all proved themselves to be born actors, some of them surely are equally talented as Canga D’Antonio.

Best Soundtrack

Eden by Mia Hansen Løve

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Eden is a coming-of-age film about the Paris underground music scene in the 90’s and early 00’s. It tells the story of  Paul (Félix De Givry)’s youth as a DJ and the uncertainties he comes across. Eden has a rather  slow narrative, but is yet very vibrant because of the references to the rise of Daft Punk, the world famous French house pioneers (One More Time,…) Their pulsating beats pull us back to those early days of underground clubbing and fill us with melancholy.

Most Promising/ Upcoming Talent

Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi

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Photo-credits: Adil El Arbi

Black is their 2nd feature and might be a bit a-typical for Belgian cinema with its epic Hollywoodian style of narrative and shooting. But the least you could say, is that this director duo Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi comes up with a  ground-breaking production for the Belgian media by making a film with non-professional actors from different cultural backgrounds. A lot of fresh faces on the screen and a signed Hollywood contract as a remarkable result.

Most expected

The H8teful Eight by Quentin Tarantino

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The H8teful Eight is Tarantino’s 8th feature film, and one of the most awaited films in years since the overwhelming succes of Django Unchained in 2012. The film could count on a bunch of big names such as Tarantino’s sweethearts Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth, but also an impressive performance by Kurt Russell. What to expect: witty and cynical dialogues, violent and up-tempo action scenes and a musical score by the one and only Ennio Morricone (Bugsy, Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds,…) This is a Tarantino as we like it!

“Tsunami” – Sofie Kampmark

How is life in China after a life-wrecking tsunami? This is the question posed by Tsunami, a fantastic animated short by the Danish director Sofie Kampmark about an elderly man named Haru who lives in denial after a tsunami. He discovers a sea spirit, who makes him face reality and deal with his loss, but that is not how I experienced it and interpreted the story. Although I do agree that this 7-minute short that got selected for this year’s La Séléction Cinéfondation at the Cannes Film Festival is more about the message it conveys than about the Visuals.

tsThis is how the story goes: life goes on after a big wave trashed Haru’s little Chinese cottage, and he tries to leave the dramatic event behind him by picking back up the banalities of life, although the traces are still visible from the crabs and fishes lingering around. But all of a sudden he finds a gigantic fish in his bathtub risking death by dehydration. Kampmark wonderfully uses colour in order to show whether the fish is still alive; he almost seems to lighten up every time he touches the water. This contrasts with the rest of the animation, where colours remain rather dark and less vivid. After a dream sequence, that in my opinion was not really relevant for any narrative progress, Haru personally takes care of bringing the poor fish back to the ocean.

The moral of the story lies in the fact that he chooses to save the life of the fish above getting his own life back on track, and then how this heroic deed affects his future. I question, though, whether Kampmark aimed for such kind of responses and interpretations from her audience. Also, I really wonder where she got the idea from to make an animation film about a tsunami in China, although she herself lives in Denmark. One might want to know whether there is any personal motivation involved.

Tsunami is a visually beautiful film, but the way its content makes you think more deeply about current global phenomena might distract you from its technical side.

 

“The Young Victoria” – Jean-Marc Vallée

naamloos (11)The Young Victoria is a British-American period drama film by the Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée, and written by Julian Fellowes, which can be categorized along with other historical biopics such as Saul Dibb’s The Duchess (2008) or Shekhar Khapur’s Elizabeth (1998), but in this one the focus is not primarily on Queen Victoria’s reign, but on her private life and her romantic encounters with Prince Albert.

This 2009 film by Jean-Marc Vallée, who is also known for his award winning feature films Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and Wild (2014) tells the romantic story of Victoria (Emily Blunt), the Princess of Kent, who is heiress to the throne after her uncle King William (Jim Broadbent) dies in 1837.

As we watch, we witness Victoria grow up, leading the life of a rebellious princess who tries to push herself off from her mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and her adviser Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong). He secretly hopes King William will die when Victoria is still a minor, which would make her mother Regent and therefore would cause him to exert more power behind the throne. In the meantime, her uncle King Leopold I of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann) seeks to secure an alliance between Britain and Belgium. Therefore, he sends his nephew Prince Albert of Saxen-Coburg Gotha (Rupert Friend) to seduce Victoria.

naamloos (12)When Victoria becomes Queen at the age of 18 –no regency took place – she increasingly distances herself from her mother and Sir Conroy after which the Whig Prime Minister Lord Melbourne becomes her adviser (after years of faithful duty to the deceased King). This part is performed by the ever-charming Paul Bettany. As the love between Victoria and Albert seems to grow, the initially powerless Albert gets the chance to exert more influence on Victoria’s decisions, which obviously clash with those of Lord Melbourne.

After a fierce argument between Victoria and Albert over parliamentary politics, Victoria is fired upon by an assassin while the couple is riding in a carriage together. Albert catches the bullet for her. This happens near the end of the film, and raises the logical question: will he survive the attack? Well, yes, of course, because that is what history teaches us, and The Young Victoria sticks to the facts and leaves no place for fictionalized story plots. Whoever had proper history classes in secondary grade should already realise by then that the film merely portrays the first turbulent years of Queen Victoria’s reign and her enduring romance with Albert. The film is yet another romantic story, like a dime a dozen unfortunately, despite the fact that it is based on true historical events. Consequently, the narrative misses some dramatic depth and tension.

Vallée uses a more or less static camera and one should watch really closely to witness any special effects – of course they do not make sense given the time period, but they do add to The Young Victoria’s cinematic value when he wants to bring attention to important relevant turning points in the narrative, such as when Prince Albert gets shot in slow motion. This is probably to stress them as key moments and heighten the tension, but it ultimately seems corny.

Vallée introduces and closes the film with title cards with historical facts. This helps us understand the historical framework around the story along with the extra-diegetic narrator, who is Victoria herself. Telling the story from her viewpoint – which is nonetheless the objective truth – makes the viewer sympathize with the young Queen-to-be.

Victoria-Albert-the-young-victoria-14637513-1280-800The Young Victoria stars an impressive cast and also gives the opportunity for fresh talent to rise, like the Dutch Michiel Huisman as Ernest of Saxen-Coburg Gotha, who now takes a leading part in The Age of Adaline (2015). The leading part of Queen Victoria is performed by the talented British actress Emily Blunt, who seems to have been born with a natural and modest air that is most appropriate when taking the role of a Queen. Therefore, she was nominated for multiple awards as Best Actress, including at the Golden Globes in 2010 and the British Independent Film Awards in 2009. A remarkable fact is that The Young Victoria won an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award in 2010 among others for its Costume Design by Sandy Powell. One might conclude that Vallée’s film was more praised for its mise en scène and props, than for its narrative.

Historical consultant Alastair Bruce, 5th Baron Aberdare was hired to make the film as historically accurate as possible, so what the audience witnesses on the screen, is supposed to be exactly what the history of the British monarchy implies. Nonetheless, The Young Victoria has been criticised for historical inaccuracies, such as the fact that Prince Albert and Ernest talk German to one another, while the royal family in Belgium used to talk French or Dutch. Despite the incredible cast and the film’s success in the running for many awards, The Young Victoria and its depiction of the romance between the two young lovers might be a bit too corny and rather tiring at moments for those who prefer a film to have a little action.

 

Sequence analysis; Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream”

Next essay is part of my academic portfolio of Uantwerpen.

In this short essay, I will try to provide a technical analysis of an interesting sequence in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000) based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr. (1987). Firstly, I will give a short synopsis of this drama in order to contextualize any specific themes and ideologies, which could refer to specific techniques used for the mise en scène. After this I will analyse the chosen sequence in terms of camera techniques, sounds, light effects and so on. Therefore, I chose a sequence, which contains plenty of specific cinematic techniques.

Synopsis

The movie is set at Coney Island and is divided into 3 parts by subheadings; Summer, Fall and Winter, and tells the story of 4 characters (Harry Goldfarb and his mother Sara, Harry’s Girlfriend Marion Silver and his friend Tyron C. Love) and their relation to drugs. These subheadings symbolise the temporal progress as well as the downward spiral these 4 main characters land in.

Sara, a lonely widow, gets invited to participate in a television program and therefore starts to diet obsessively. She takes weight-loss amphetamine pills and sedatives. Her son Harry , and his friend Marion and Tyron are addicted to heroin and enter the illegal drug trade. The business flourishes and Harry invests the money in a small shop for his girlfriend Marion, who wants to become a successful designer. Summer seems to be positive for all 4 of them, all convinced to realise their dreams. In Fall Sara begins to suffer from amphetamine psychosis, and Harry, Tyrone and Marion get involved into drug-related violence. They’re no longer able to make profit out of their trade and get lost in a state of deprivation. Marion even prostitutes herself to gain some money, which additionally problematises her relationship with Harry. In Winter, where the movie reaches its dramatic climax, Sara gets committed to a psychiatric hospital, Harry’s arm gets infected by an unsanitary injection. Tyrone takes him to a hospital, after which both of them get arrested and imprisoned. Harry suffers from severe, consequently he has to get his arm amputated. In the meantime, his girlfriend Marion receives drugs in exchange for sex.

To conclude, the movie shows how the life of 4 people gets affected by drug abuse and how this leads them each individually into misery and deprivation.

Scene analysis

In order to understand next scene analysis, and to relate it to the story content, I should first shortly sum up some specific editing techniques Aronofsky uses throughout the entire movie in order to rise the dramatic effect. So for example the dream sequences, which are frequently added in the scenes. They illustrate the character’s utopian hope for a happy ending and in this way Aronofsky intercuts reality with a character’s subjective desires and fantasies. Typical for Aronofsky’s style of cinema is the overload of shots (see also the analysed fragment), which is also referred to as hip hop montage[1] or fast cutting. The average movie has around 650 cuts, Requiem for a Dream on the other hand has more than 2,000. Aronofsky uses a lot of split-screens[2] and tight close-ups. Another prominent stylistic device is time-lapse photography. As the movie progresses, the average scene length shortens until the climax, where all seems to come to its tragic end. Abovementioned techniques are all specific camera techniques. Moving on to the music of the movie, the theme song of Requiem for a Dream called Lux Aeterna not only functions as a extradiegetic element with the opening or closing credits, but is repeated throughout the entire movies. This theme is composed by Clint Marshall and performed by the Kronos Quartet and, in my opinion, enhances the dramatic effect the movie has on its audience.

The sequence of shots I analysed takes only 33 seconds of the entire movie, but conveys the spectator with plenty of information in such a short time, because of the used editing techniques. In this paragraph I would like to focus on the 4 components of the mise en scène as referred to in Pramaggiore and Wallis[1]; namely setting, lighting, composition and the human figure, and on all the specific filmic elements related to these 4. The screen shots in the attachment give a selection of the analysed sequence.

Firstly, I would like to point at the setting, which are real settings, namely the houses where the characters Marion and Sara live. Marion is in the bathroom and watches her own image in the mirror. Because of the use of specific camera angles, namely an over-the-shoulder-shot on eye-level, Aronofsky creates the effect as if the viewer is watching her through her point of view (although we in fact see her twice: Sara in real person and her reflection in the mirror). Consequently, Aronofsky pulls the viewer in and one can feel as if he experience the effect of the drugs along with her. Sara on the other hand sits in her sofa in the living room, adjacent to the kitchen. She watches the show on television, she is about to participate in. The host tries to convince his audience of eating more healthy by cutting on eating red meat. Sara, who is on a diet herself, is starving at that moment. The split screen shows Sara on eye-level and her refrigerator, which appears as an embodiment of her failure to lose weight. By analysing the setting of the sequence and its related camera techniques, I already covered the second important component of the mise en scène, namely the human figure, and more specifically the figure placement. Their proximity to the camera reinforces the attachment of the spectator to the characters.

Now let me turn to composition. Although the movie depicts the destruction of the main characters’ life, the chosen sequence shows balanced images, which are in almost perfect symmetry. In the analysed sequence only one diagonal line can be found, and that’s the one of the dollar bill used to sniff the heroin. The framing though, is rather tight (in Sara’s case even a frame within a frame) , which can still point at the characters’ isolated situation. The shot of the eye points at the moment Marion injects herself with heroin and the physical effects following afterwards. In the same sequence (but not in the screen shots) there are also close-ups shown of blood cells running faster and faster through her veins. These shots are frequently repeated and form some sort of motive throughout the movie. In the same way, the movie shots of the heroin or the dollar bill signify the symbolic importance of these props for the narrative progress of the movie. Their dominant role is made visible by the use of close-ups.

Finally, I will end this essay by focussing on the use of lighting and colour in Requiem for a Dream. The movie in its whole is dominated by grey tones (in the beginning of the movie there’s also place for some more bright hues of orange and red) and artificial (or even industrial) lighting , which creates a rather pessimistic mood, which mirrors its theme. In the analysed sequence the lighting is mostly frontally positioned or from the side, creating shadows.

To conclude this sequence analysis, I would like to point at the fact that the used editing techniques such as the tight framing, lighting, and extensive use of close-ups, all refer to the theme of the movie and the constricted lives of the main characters.

[1] Pramaggiore, M. T. and Wallis, T. 2006. Chapter 4: Mise en Scène. In: Film : A Critical Introduction. North Carolina : Pearson, 58-97

Bertolt Brecht’s Episch Theater in de hedendaagse cinema; Von Trier’s “Dogville”

Onderstaand essay is een van de examenpapers voor de opleiding Master Filmstudies en Visuele Cultuur aan de UAntwerpen.

In volgend essay zal ik trachten het theaterprincipe van Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), dat bekend staat als het Episch Theater, toe te passen op de hedendaagse cinema. Zijn theaterprincipe, dat ontstond in de problematische context van de Weimarrepubliek (1918-1932), bestaat erin het publiek te activeren en een kritische houding te doen aannemen door het gebruik van specifieke vervreemdingseffecten.

Deze methode die identificatie met de acteur vermijdt en de gewaarwording van theater als illusoir voorstelt, wordt tot op de dag van vandaag nog steeds toegepast in de cinema. Zo bijvoorbeeld bij David Lynch, Alain Resnais, Rainer Werner Fassbinder en Jean-Luc Godard. Om theater en film in deze context aan elkaar te relateren zal ik in de eerste plaats kort analyseren van waaruit het principe van Brecht’s Episch Theater vertrekt, om nadien te benaderen hoe deze als functie kan dienen voor de film als medium. In dit essay zou ik meer specifiek de focus willen leggen op het werk van Deens filmregisseur Lars von Trier (1956-…). Ik zal trachten te analyseren in hoeverre zijn films beïnvloed zijn door het episch theaterprincipe en daarbij vooral Dogville, een film uit 2003, als exemplarisch voor Brechtiaanse cinema willen benaderen. Deze film werkt niet enkel filmtechnisch vervreemdend op het publiek, maar refereert ook thematisch naar werken van Bertolt Brecht.

Theoretisch kader: Brecht’s Episch Theater in de cinema

brecht1Bertolt Brecht’s bekende principe van het Episch Theater laat zich plaatsen binnen de context van de Duitse Weimarrepubliek (1918-1932) en bijgevolg een periode van politieke bewaking en censuur op alle culturele gebieden. De media werd gebruikt als propagandamateriaal, waardoor men als het ware de heersende ideologie aan het publiek oplegde. Binnen de filmstudies kan men Bertolt Brecht en zijn theaterprincipe relateren aan de Frankfurterschule (met vertegenwoordigers zoals Adorno en Horkheimer). Beïnvloed door het Marxisme was hij ervan overtuigd dat de cultuurindustrie in de Weimarrepubliek louter functioneerde als instrument van het kapitalisme. Mediaconsumptie, en dus ook theater, werkte als verdovend en als legitimatie van dit kapitalisme en de politieke ideologie van de Republiek, die het publiek als realiteit aannam. Het publiek nam een uiterst passieve positie in en daarop bood Brecht een passend weerwoord (hoewel hij veel stukken buiten Duitsland schreef wegens een dreigende juridische vervolging).

Het Episch Theater berust algemeen gezien op het principe dat theater slechts illusie is; het is geënsceneerd en mag niet als waarheid aangenomen worden. Opdat het publiek zich niet zou identificeren met personages en zich bewust zou blijven van het illusoire (en dus geleid zou worden door zijn ratio en niet door emoties) ontwierp hij specifieke vervreemdingstechnieken zoals directe aanspreking van het publiek, onderbreking door liederen en dans, het zichtbare veranderen van decors enzovoort. Brecht wil het passieve publiek activeren door het artificiële van theater te benadrukken en het bijgevolg aanzetten tot het innemen van een kritische positie, inclusief tegenover de maatschappelijke context en de politieke situatie. Brecht zelf heeft ook enkele filmrealisaties op zijn palmares, zoals Kuhle Wampe, waarin de vervreemding gerealiseerd wordt door montagetechnieken[1].

In de moderne cinema vindt men hier nog steeds sporen van terug, weliswaar vaak enkel formeel. Zo zal niet elke film die Brechtiaanse stijlkenmerken vertoont eenzelfde ideologische bijklank hebben die kenmerkend was voor het originele Episch Theater. Deens filmregisseur Lars von Trier kan gerelateerd worden aan Brecht, maar wegens de lengte van dit essay zal ik me beperken tot het aantonen in hoeverre zijn meesterwerk Dogville (2003) zowel formeel als intertekstueel op Brecht’s theaterprincipe berust.

Toepassing: Lars von Trier’s Dogville

Dogville is de eerste film in van Trier’s trilogie USA-A Land of Opportunities (Manderlay vormt het 2e deel (2005) gevolgd door Washington, dat nog niet uitgebracht is). De gehele trilogie vormt een kritiek op Amerikaanse hypocrisie, alsook op de Hollywoodfilmindustrie, die films maakt over andere landen over de hele wereld en zo pretendeert de dominerende cultuur te kennen en begrijpen, maar deze in van Trier’s ogen slechts onderwerpt aan de Amerikaanse dominante politieke en culturele ideologie[2]. Deze visie kan geïllustreerd worden door volgend citaat uit Linda Badley’s boek Lars von Trier, dat tevens een mooi aanknopingspunt vormt voor de verdere analyse van Dogville als Brechtiaanse film:

…and the film becomes a lesson in the economy of desire and the sadomasochistic relations of power (106).

 Ook filmtechnisch vertoont Dogville karakteristieken van de Brechtiaanse cinema. De film is als het ware opgenomen als zijnde theaterstuk, letterlijk op scene gefilmd. Het dorp is met krijt uitgetekend en decorstukken die dienen om de verschillende huizen af te bakenen zijn praktisch afwezig of te doorbreken. Dogville kan op deze manier als soort geteleviseerd of filmisch theater beschouwd worden. Ook structureel is de film zoals een theaterstuk in scènes of hoofstukken onderverdeeld. Het bestaat namelijk uit  9 hoofdstukken en een proloog, die telkens van elkaar afgescheiden worden door een inleidende tekst die aangeeft wat in het volgende hoofdstuk zal gebeuren.

Inhoudelijk behandelt Dogville het verhaal van Grace (Nicole Kidman), een jonge vrouw die uitgebuit wordt, en zelfs fysiek misbruikt, door de corrupte bevolking van een geïsoleerd Amerikaans mijnersdorpje in Colorado in de jaren ’30. Grace biedt haar hulp aan bij allerlei klusjes in ruil om te mogen onderduiken. Intertekstueel en thematisch refereert Dogville naar Brecht’s bekende stuk Die Dreigroschenoper (1931) en meer bepaald naar de ballade Seeräuber Jenny, over een zeeroversbruid. Dit lied behandelt de thematiek van wraak en de onderdrukte vrouw die de macht grijpt, zoals deze in de slotscène van Dogville ook aan bod komt[3]. Aan het einde van de film blijkt Grace gezocht te worden door haar eigen vader, die ze ontvluchtte wegens zijn wreedheid. Als hij ten tonele verschijnt biedt hij haar de keuze met hem terug huiswaarts te keren en Grace neemt wraak op de bewoners van Dogville door het dorp in brand te steken. Zo benadrukt Dogville de onmogelijkheid tot verandering van de maatschappij; het kwaad zit in de mens ingebakken en dit is onomkeerbaar De aanvankelijk ‘goede’ Grace keert haar eigen normen en waarden de rug toe en neemt dezelfde positie in als de ‘slechte’ dorpsbewoners, waardoor Dogville zich aan het einde opwerpt als moreel vraagstuk (deze thematiek kan ook gerelateerd worden aan Brecht’s stuk Der Gute Mensch von Szechuan)[4].

brechtAls laatste zal ik nog enkele specifieke vervreemdingseffecten die Lars von Trier in Dogville gebruikt willen vermelden. Zo bijvoorbeeld de voice-over van John Hurt, die de rol van verteller aanneemt, maar verder niet in beeld komt. Het gebruik van een podium als setting creëert zoals reeds vermeld het effect bij de kijker niet in de film en situatie betrokken te worden, maar deze neemt het geheel eerder waar als soort ‘kijkkast’. Ook het muziekgebruik werkt vervreemdend in die zin dat de hele film gedomineerd wordt door de klassieke muziek van Vivaldi en Pergolesi, maar bij de aftiteling hoort men plots het fel contrasterende Young Americans van David Bowie ( tevens een maatschappijkritisch lied)[5].

Conclusie

Het Episch Theater van Bertolt Brecht oefent tot op de dag van vandaag niet enkel grote invloed uit op het theater, maar tevens ook in andere culturele velden zoals de cinema. In dit essay heb ik Brecht’s theaterprincipe toegepast op de moderne cinema van Deens filmregisseur Lars von Trier en dit door specifiek te focussen op de film Dogville als representatief voorbeeld van Brechtiaanse cinema. Zowel thematisch als filmtechnisch vertoont deze film gelijkenissen met Brecht en het concept van Verfremdung, zoals deze door Brecht geïntroduceerd werd als middel om een maatschappijkritische positie te kunnen innemen.

[1] Jovanovic, Nena (2011). “Montage and Theatricality as Sources of Estrangement; A Tendency in Contemporary Brechtian Cinema”. Theatre Symposium, 19, 114.
[2] Wikipedia. (2013). Lars von Trier. Geraadpleegd op 17 december 2013 via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lars_von_Trier
[3] Badley, Linda. Lars von Trier. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 2011, 101.
[4] Koutsourakis, Angelos (2008). “The Crisis of Identity: The Negative Dialectics of History in Lars von Trier’s Europa Trilogy”. Communications from the International Brecht Society, 37, 139-140
[5] Badley, Lars von Trier, 103.

 

 

“Chronic” – Michel Franco

Chronic is a drama written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco. The film was selected to compete for the Palme D’Or at Cannes this year, but instead won the award for Best Screenplay. It was the 3rd nomination for Franco, after his Spanish Después de Lucía in 2012 and Daniel y Ana in 2009. Chronic premiered at Cannes on May 22nd.

ch2In the film, Tim Roth plays David, who is the protagonist and the antagonist at the same time. David makes life hard for himself; we follow him as a hospice nurse for patients with – guess what – chronic diseases who are terminally ill. We first witness him taking care of the HIV patient Sarah (Rachel Pickup).

Pickup, who performs the role of Sarah in the most realistic way possible, deserves applause. Her body is so alarmingly thin that one may wonder how she manages to stay alive and kicking. It takes a lot of courage to go the full monty in front of a camera when your body is in such a bad condition.After Sarah’s funeral, David goes to a bar, where he tells a young couple that Sarah was his wife. This is a straight-up lie and that exact moment should already ring a bell. Something is not right with David.

We also follow him helping out the stroke victim John (Michael Cristofer). His children decide to sue David for sexual harassment, though, after David lets him watch porn. He loses his job and has to start over somewhere else. Robin Bartlett plays the role of David’s last patient, who suffers from a severe cancer and begs David to end her life by euthanasia.

chTherefore, another key note of Chronic might be the inner struggle that people experience when it comes to making the right decisions in life. David opts for the moral cause several times instead of following legal prescriptions.

The main plot of Chronic is nonetheless to find out about David’s identity. We witness him scrolling through Facebook pictures of the young Nadia Wilson (Sarah Sutherland – daughter of Kiefer), and we watch him following her several times with his car. No, he is not a sexual pervert; it is only in the 2nd half of the film we find she is his biological daughter (there is, however, no real mystery surrounding this so it’s not much of a secret).

Eventually they meet again at his ex-wife’s house, but their relationship has no opportunity to grow, since this is not Franco’s main focus. When watching the film you are automatically more concerned to find out about what happened in the past that made them part; David keeps having that intriguingly mysterious air.

The title does not only refer to the medical conditions of David’s patients, but also to his own disease, namely that of being a pathological liar. The audience may try to see things through, but gets confused by what he says an does every time over and over again. Along with the lack of a decent soundtrack, long and tiring scenes and the use of static camera – the film is mainly built on continuous shots – make you wonder where Chronic is leading to and make you doubt whether there actually is a narrative plot.

Chronic is really only meant for those who love the genre, because it is a shining example of slow drama. But when you believe in karma, you should know that what goes around comes around. No, before you decide to walk out, please make sure you watch the film to the end. It –almost literally – sweeps you off your feet.

 

 

“Krisha” – Trey Edward Shults

krisKrisha is written and directed by the 26-year old American Trey Edward Shults as an expansion of his award-winning short film of the same title. Fans of the Requiem for a Dream by Darren Aronofsky will undeniably be keen on Krisha and will, by all means, consider this one a benchmark for Shults’s breakthrough.

The film got selected for this year’s Semaine de la Critique is a setting example of a personal and deep motion picture, as it is entirely shot in the filmmakers’ mother’s house. Furthermore, cast and crew seem to have worked their way in properly, since they managed to do it together in only 9 day’s time. As Shults appropriately explained before the screening: “This is our work and this is my family!”.  The main part is performed by Krisha Fairchild, Shults’ own aunt in real life, who more than definitely owes a standing ovation for her highly dramatic and confronting -but not overacted- performance. She plays the role of a rehabilitating alcoholic, who abandoned her son and left him under the good care of his aunt and uncle. Once she arrives at an annual holiday, the entire event is seen through her viewpoint, and the busy atmosphere makes her feel claustrophobic. In addition to it, the entire film is limited to this setting and never goes beyond it. Because the setting was his own house, filled with childhood memories and as Shults performs himself, one might wonder in how far the story is autobiographical or fictional. There is definitely a thin line between what is real or not, and how reality and fiction is perceived. It seems most logical though that it holds certain aspects of the actor’s own life. The teamwork between the actors has a natural feel and the ironic performance of the manic uncle Doyle (Bill Wise) serves as an extra reason for the viewer to keep watching. Everybody is curious about what went wrong in the past and what will, or won’t, go wrong in the future. The dizzying tilting and panning of the camera makes the audience see the world through Krisha’s eyes. And as the narrative progresses, the rhythm goes up and almost gets you seasick. Also the soundtrack is worth the mentioning, because of its highly dramatic pace, which supports the film perfectly. Although the cast and crew from Krisha deserves a high five for this magnificent result, just like Krisha says in the film “high four and a half!” might be more appropriate, because of the fact that she misses half a finger in one hand. This missing half a point could serve as a proper motivation for Shults to make it to the European market, like he revealed to be is interest in a short conversation after the screening.

Kristof Hoornaert about “Empire” and the banality of human existence

!SPOILER-ALERT!

Empire by Kristof Hoornaert left me wondering about its content and the specific visual techniques. The first time you watch Empire, this short film seems very simple and empty, almost sterile. But there is so much more behind it, so that is why I talked with the director himself and his producer Wim Vanacker (Sireal Films) to get the answers to my burning questions.

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I found the loft where the family lives in to be very cool. But then there are little colour-elements like the pink dinosaur. It fascinated me, although it seemed so banal and out of place. Why exactly the dinosaur or other elements?

Well, when we arrived at the loft,the pink dinosaur was already there, and we considered this dinosaur an actual proof of human life inside the house, the fact that there is a family living there with a child that plays, watches television etcetera.

Props are very important in Empire, like the clock next to the window, which symbolises that our society is based on timing things. All we do is scheduled. ‘Time’ is something we seem to lack, but it is what our life is based on.

Why did you opt for Kris Cuppens and Ina Geerts to perform the main characters?

The answer is very simple. I wanted actors who are good enough to perform these parts, who are able to carry this film and help me convey my message.

I consider Empire to have a close-end, no matter what the husband decides to do when he comes home. Or he shoots himself, or he turns himself in by calling the police. His life is over, no matter what.

In the first version of the script, he killed himself, but then I canged the end, because I wanted him to live and carry the burden of what he did. I wanted him to carry it along for the rest of his life. That is even harder than killing yourself, I think.

The camera is very static and the audience almost automatically pays more attention to the audio than to the visuals. The only moment I felt that the camera was moving, was when the husband came in. From then onwards the camera zooms in on him, and the wife and son are left out. You only hear them. Why is that?

You only noticed the zooming in from then onwards? Actually, I started zooming in from the moment the mother started ironing, so right at the beginning. But for the audience it looks like going fast forward from the moment the father comes in. I zoom in, because in the end you can watch the city of Brussels and the square full of playing children through the window. That is to show the contrast with what happened inside and to show that life goes on outside of the loft . The loft is so serene and sterile, and outside there is movement, visualised by the playing children.

The child is barely visible, you only hear him. And the mother is filmedfrom behind. Why is that?

Because I did not want them to be ‘the’ child and ‘the’ mother, I wanted them to represent any child or mother. Consequently, I wanted the audience to be able to identify with the situation and the general image of a family, and not with individual characters.

I’ve read about your plans to make a feature film, called Resurrection? Will the feature be about the same issue as your short films (Kaïn, The Fall and Empire), namely existential crises? And will it be equally heavy-loaded?

Yes, that is what concerns me the most personally,  and what I feel I should tell the audience. Resurrection will also be about the human society and our relationships.

Thank you very much for the conversation!

Resurrection is now in pre-production and will be produced by Fobic Films. Hoornaert did not want to give any details yet about the cast, but that is yet another reason for us all to go watch the film after its relaese expected in 2017.

Some more information about Resurrection and Fobic Films can be found on the website.

“Umpire” – Leonardo Van Dijl: Interview

Umpire is the 2nd short film by Leonardo Van Dijl (24 years old). His 1st short called Get Ripped was his graduation film for Sint Lukas Arts School in Brussels and was also selected for the Short Film Festival in Leuven in 2013. Leonardo Van Dijl is a familiar face for fans of the festival. Umpire is up for competition in the Vlaamse Fictie 4-series.

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Umpire tells the story of Axelle (Lilith Kempynck), a young promising tennis player who has a special relationship with her trainer Jeremy (Benjamin Ramon). He films the trainings with the girls, but also in their spare time he uses his handheld camera to capture their moments together. One day, Jeremy gets arrested and Axelle, unknowing of what happened, gets heared by the federal police. Afterwards, the trainer gets suspended and the rumours start.

The focus of this short film definitely lies on the young girls.  Therefore, there is the constant switch between what happened on and off the tennis field, and the hearings by the police. Mainly, it seems to be all about Axelle, but what you wonder about, is whether she was exclusive to him, or whether he also abused her 2 other friends (performed by Alexandra Lymarev and Mirthe Tavernier).

The film has an open end for both Axelle and the audience. For Axelle, because she is passionately waiting for Jeremy to come back, and for us, because we will never really know what happened and have to make our own conclusions.

I met Leonardo Van Dijl at the festival and had a talk with him about his work in general and Umpire in specific. From what I can tell, he is very ambitious, yet down to earth. The film and the conversation made me realise that this short film is not only about the young Axelle, but it tells the story of so many girls and women around the world, that it was even hard for me at times to imagine that Umpire is actually made by a man. The interview tells you why.

What does the title Umpire exactly mean?

An umpire is a judge in tennis games and therefore symbolically refers to Axelle. In the entire proces, she is the real judge, the one who has to decide for herself whether her trainer Jeremy crossed the line or not.

Aren’t you scared that people would mix it up with Kristof Hoornaert’s Empire, which is also selected in this year’s competition?

No, I’m not, although I first thought about maybe changing the title of Umpire, when I heard about Hoornaert’s film. But eventually, I stuck to what felt right. Also , what we do is so different, that I cannot really feel threatened by it, although we are in the same competition. It would have definitely been the other way around, when it was a film by another student.

Where did you find the actors? Did you do proper castings?

I did castings and first I casted Mirthe (Tavernier) for a role, when she told me she had a friend (Lilith Kempynck) who played tennis with her. Lilith thought she would be an extra, but she ended up in the main part and did great. Alexandra (Lymarev) I already knew from other projects.

You are from West-Flanders, but the actors are clearly from Antwerp. Where did you shoot the film and was this a conscious decision?

I made the film in the area around Brasschaat and Schoten, because of very practical reasons. Most of the actors are from Antwerp, except for Lilith, who is from Brussels. In that way it was very easy for everyone to reach the set and to reduce the costs for things like taxis. Another advantage is that these villages have plenty of sports clubs and tennis fields.

Also, I am in favour of a realistic approach. I don’t believe that different dialects in one short film add up to the film’s credibility. Once I knew that the actors mainly spoke AN or The Antwerp dialect, like Alexandra, I casted the others in this part of the country as well.

Is the story plot- or character-driven? Or would you rather leave this open to the audience’s own interpretation?

Umpire is character-driven. That is also why it has an open end. I want the audience to look at Axelle and to understand what she is going through in this situation. I wanted to highlight her point of view.

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Photo credit: Lara Gasparotto

A remarkable scene is the hearing at the police station, where the officers are shot from the back and serve as some kind of frame for Axelle, who is sitting in the middle. The officers are also out of focus. Any reason for this kind of technique?

Before I started the production, I did a lot of reading, especially on Laura Mulvey and her theory of the ‘male gaze’ in cinema. That is also why only the female officer asks questions, if you noticed that. Umpire is a film carried by women, not by men, but stll it has something voyeuristic, also because of Jeremy’s shots with the handheld camera. I use a lot of symbolism in the way of shooting the girls, like with a net between them and the camera, to keep a distance, but at the same time you still feel with them and become subordinate to this ‘male gaze’. It is a very fascinating thing.

Is there any moral message you’d like to convey with Umpire?

Not in that sense of the word, but I would like to point out that there is much more to sexual abuse than people think. They always talk about a culprit and a victim.  Sometimes it is a doubtful thing to talk about a victim, because they are unaware of that position. Just like Axelle. That is also why I chose a tennis club as social context, because these are the kinds of places where young people idolise their trainers, especially when they are handsome like Jeremy. They don’t always see whether their relatonship with their trainer is acceptable or not. I would like to point out how strongly these girls are manipulated and how they can struggle with the perception that they are complicit. That is why you see Axelle becoming mad during the hearing. She defends Jeremy in her very own way. The feelings of shame and guilt  often keeps girls like Axelle silent.

Next to short films, you also direct videoclips for Belgian bands like Clouseau, Oscar & The Wolf and School is Cool. Ar you going to stick to videclips and short films? Or do you have any ambitions to make a feature film?

Well, I would like to try everything. I love the videclips, but I also love making the short films, because those I can call my own. I’ll have to see what the future brings.

Thank you for the lovely interview, Leonardo!

Check the Facebook-page for more information.

Or check his Vimeo for more work and videoclips.

NB: In the night of December 4t, the VAF (Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds) Wildcards were distributed. Umpire won a Fiction Wildcard, which is a fee of €60.000.

 

“Junk of the Heart”-Mieke Briers + Interview

BE15-2-9DF8Junk of the Heart is a short erotic psychological drama directed by the 24-year old Mieke Briers as her BA-graduation film for Sint Lukas School of Arts in Brussels and is now selected at the Festival in Vlaamse Fictie 1, the same series as Kristof Hoornaert’s Empire. Also, Brier’s film is in the running for the VAF Wildcard, which is a money fee rewarded to upcoming talent in the Belgian film industry. So this award could be the right push forward for young directors as Mieke.

Junk of the Heart is about  the only 17-year old Elise (Martha Vandermeulen), and the sexual experiments and experiences she has with a much older friend of 28, called Felix (Sid Van Oerle). Junk of the Heart opens very action-driven -a bit in the style of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996)-, you immediatly get overwhelmed by a sex-scene accompanied by a heavy soundtrack.

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Mieke Briers attented her screening at the Short Film Festival and was very pleased to answer some of my questions about Junk of the Heart.

First of all Mieke, how did you come up with the idea to make an erotic film?

I first called my film a psychological drama, but I know that people expect melodramatic things to happen when you use such terms, and yes, Junk of the Heart is most definitely an erotic film. I was always fascinated with ‘boundaries, physical as well as emotional. And that is what the film is about, what are their boundaries?

How did you cast the actors? Where they friends of yours? Where they willing to do these kind of scenes from the very beginning?

No, at school people knew about my project, and one of my coaches introduced me to Martha (Vandermeulen), because she got casted once already and apparently she had this kind of hyperactivity and enthousiasm I needed for the part of Elise. Sid (Van Oerle) already performed in other projects and when I saw a video of him doing absurd things like imitating deers, I just knew he was the right guy for this part. They also didn’t mind doing the scenes, because the sex scenes are not explicite. I don’t think explicity is neccesary. Suggestivity can be so much more inticing, because you have to use your own imagination.

The use of a high-8 camera as an intermediate adds up to the multimediality of your film. Is that  a plain technical choice or is there another explanation?

I do believe that the images you get by using a high-8 camera are more authentic, and make things appear more ‘close’ to you. They look more familiar. In that way, all the sexual adventures Felix and Elise put on tape are a way to make the audience aware of their voyeurism.

Your characters, Felix and Elise, do they actually really love each other, despite the fact that they have a deal? Or do you like to keep this open for the audience’s interpretation?

That is partly for the audience to decide, but referring back to the boundaries-issues, it is Elise who pushes it too far and tricks Felix into jealousy. Also the end is very open in that sense, that you can see on one of their tapes that their game goes on ‘until the end’, but when is the end exactly?

The soundtrack of the film, was it Belgian?

Yes, the band are friends of mine and called Piquet. The song is also Flemish. I chose to use their music, because it is rebellious and up-tempo, so very suitable for the film.

What is a good film to you? One with a strong narrative, or a film that is more aesthetic?

A film with a strong narrative that attracts the audience surely has more to offer, because it can be suggestive and non-suggetive at the same time. Of course, good camerawork is important, but making poetic films rather than a narrative one does not lie in my abition.

Talking about ambitions…Are you going to shoot more shorts, or do you have the ambition and dreams to shoot a feature film in the near future?

 I would love to do a feature one day, but now I have to focus on my next short film, which will be my MA graduation film.

Thank you, Mieke, for the talk and fingers crossed!

Check the Facebook-page for more information.