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!

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