Summer with Monika (1953), dir. Ingmar Bergman

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Adapted from the 1951 novel by Per Anders Fogelström, who collaborated with Bergman on the adaptation, Summer with Monika acts as a portrait of working class life in Stockholm, as young Harry (Lars Ekborg) works days away in Forsbergs stacking glasses; Monika (Harriet Andersson) works as a shop girl in a grocers. Harry is constantly denigrated, considered a “sack of potatoes”. Harry seeks a small act of revenge in defiance, hesitant to push a glass until it finally falls to the ground. In the pub, we see the men around him are twice his age, without anyone to relate to. Cinematographer Gunnar Fischer, a frequent collaborator of Bergman’s, perfectly encapsulates Stockholm during this period, presenting the intersection of the city with modernity as trams pass by; Fischer pays close attention to frames and silhouettes.

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Cinematographer Gunnar Fischer focuses closely upon frames and silhouettes

Harry and Monika never want to slave away in the world of work, seeking to escape norms set upon them by society. Oversleeping one morning upon his father’s boat, Monika convinces Harry to quit work and find time to themselves. But roles quickly become domestic: Harry must put bread on the table as they search the archipelago for something to eat. The concepts of the teenager and separation between childhood and the working world of adulthood are constructs: as the documentary Teenage (2013) explores, the notion of the teenager was formed through the changes within society and status of the post-war period; each generation has their own unique relationship with youth.

Their dream of travelling the world has a source: in the Garbio cinema, they watch a Hepburn film, Song of Love (1947). Monika is led to tears; Harry is disinterested. Song of Love fosters values of love and escapism and a good life that Monika attempts to emulate, dooming it to fail. Films directing our gaze back at the screen itself offers a unique approach to our own relationship with cinema: the cinematic screens within Donnie Darko (2001), Maniac (2012) and La La Land (2016) offer self-reflexivity, allowing us to see who are characters are and their values. Cinema extends beyond its escapist tendency into a confrontation to who we are and what we hold onto. Monika stares into high street windows, wanting to wear the clothes glamourised by women, to buy a dress and be fashionable. She performs her sexuality based on films themselves, describing Harry as “just like someone in a film”. Bergman embraces a female perspective, subverting the male perspective of the original novel. As Laura Hubner writes, Harriet Andersson represents “the arrival of a new kind of female star” with a “natural beauty that shuns Hollywood glamour”, whilst harkening back to “Bergman’s early male heroes who rebel against society”.

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Monika’s dream emerges from the cinema itself

The pair’s intense sexual desire follows the rush of the early stages of a young relationship. Monika is in charge of her sexuality, having slept with other men before. As she smokes cigarettes, she connotes sheer sexuality. Perhaps the best-known example of teenage melodrama and rebellion from the same period is Rebel Without a Cause (1955), depicting a fragmented parental relationship and concerns around gang violence. Harry and Monika never feel content with home lives; family life seems to just be reading magazines. Around their parents, they have to monitor how they express physical intimacy, putting their clothes back on. Even on the boat, moored to the coastline, they cannot escape family entirely; it’s Harry’s father’s boat. The boat is never the dream imagined: space is cramped, somewhat subduing the freedom of sexuality where they have space to get undressed together. Without responsibility, there’s infinite freedom as an endless summer against a seemingly endless landscape. But all summers end one day; time seeming stretchless and endless must pass.

Summer with Monika was shot on a small budget, filming over three weeks in July on Ornö Island, reshooting and dubbing scenes afterwards; Bergman promised producers it would be “the world’s cheapest film”; production lasted until October. As a couple left to themselves, Harry and Monika have a space to have sex in peace and go skinny-dipping on the island. As Bergman commented in a self-interview, “I haven’t heard that nude swimming has become obligatory in Swedish filmmaking. But I think it should be.” But they cannot escape creature comforts, or even other people: Monika brews coffee; Harry shaves with his razor. Unsatisfied by cooking mushrooms, Monika searches out a garden of fruit but steals meat, getting in trouble. A fellow tourist sets their boat on fire; Harry must prove his masculinity and defend against him, getting in a fight framed in close-up by Fischer. Nature has power beyond them, with Fischer emphasising the landscape and the island’s constant storms. Harry and Monika become reduced to ants as Fischer emphasises the landscape around them.

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Landscapes of the archipelago stretch on beyond Harry and Monika

As much as they try to sing songs and read books, they cannot escape responsibility, talking to each other about their issues in life and feelings of loneliness as they drink away. Harry and Monika vow to be monogamous as they move into their next stage of life: remain together, raise kids, study to be an engineer. They speak from youth, whilst attempting to factor in and deal with mature responsibility. Summer with Monika bears comparison to Summer Interlude (1951), a ballet dancer’s recollection upon youth from adulthood, recalling a sense of innocence and dreams of adulthood upon a romance on the archipelago that ends in tragedy. As Hubner writes, Monika follows the “seasonal cycle” of Bergman’s 1950s films with “renewed dynamism”, through their meeting, romance, disillusionment and maturity.

Bergman was in part working from his own experience: Bergman and Andersson had had a brief relationship. But in its initial US release, Monika’s vision of teenage youth and romance was distorted and devalued, released as an exploitation film re-edited by Kroger Babb, Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl, emphasising the film’s lewd sexuality and inserting footage from a nudist resort on Long Island. In Los Angeles, the film was confiscated as pornography, its distributor fined and sentenced to three months in prison.

But Monika is continually affected by male ownership over her sexuality. At work, colleague Lelle constantly torments her as a sexual target; she’s sexually assaulted, placing his hand up her skirt, groping her breasts and pushing her around. Harry’s boss considers her a slut, not someone to get involved with. On the island, Harry and Monika find a mirror to their relationship, as older couples dance away the evening at a resort. Summer with Monika is a cyclical narrative, as Harry and Monika begin to look more and more like their parents: chaotic, loveless, abusive, even as fighting authority seemed their deepest desire. As Hubner writes, Monika “has no alternative other than to become financially dependent on a man […] or to repeat the poverty cycle like her mother”.

As Monika becomes pregnant, Harry and Monika appeal to the courts for a licence to marry despite being underage, dressing smart. Looking after a baby is immensely difficult, contending with work, the economy and the constant need for new clothes. Harry and Monika find it difficult to keep up their old sense of life, forced back into industrial jobs, accepting reality as it is. Their relationship quickly becomes abusive: Monika attempts to oscillate their relationship between arguments and intimacy, but Harry punches her. Monika abandons her child, but the strain on her isn’t difficult to see. As Monika smokes her cigarette into the camera in direct gaze with the audience, we feel her pain. In the final scene, Bergman flashes back to the beach, recalling the past with a sense of its passage and acceptance as Marie did in Summer Interlude.

Summer with Monika may not be the first film one thinks of when approaching Bergman’s career. Bergman had been working in film for over a decade, honing his craft working in theatre, careers he kept simultaneous. Summer with Monika never had a chance to be taken seriously outside of Sweden, but the success of later works allowed for reappraisal as Bergman’s name became more prominent. Monika is an essential work, acting as a powerful portrait of the inevitability of change and the impermanence of young relationships.

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Your Name (2016), dir. Makoto Shinkai

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This review contains spoilers

I try to keep track of every new film coming out. But one day, browsing the showtimes for a local Birmingham cinema, The Electric, I suddenly find the showtimes for an anime film I’ve never heard of. Its reviews are almost universally positive; in its native Japan, it has dominated the box office for 13 weeks in a row. No home media nor VOD release is on the horizon, though Funimation is planning a nationwide US release next year. 5 ODEONs, plus a handful of Vues and Cineworlds, even considered showing the film.

On the last day of screening, with all deadlines passed, I made a pilgrimage to Birmingham. For the briefest moments, I wondered whether a crowded train to New Street, a tram, a bus and a nighttime return was worth it. I sat in a vegan coffee shop, enjoying my latte more than any film could.

In the current cinema climate, the very notion of a subtitled foreign language film playing in an ODEON seems kind of incredible. Even the most interesting new films get overlooked. The ODEON at Broadway Plaza seems kind of tacky: a facade of a 1930s cinema emblazoned with a badly painted Nicholson Joker and Episode I Obi-Wan, as if a decade and a half of cinema had never happened.

But let it be said: Your Name is one of the most incredible cinema experiences of the year.

Makoto Shinkai has directed films for over a decade, but Your Name is probably his most ambitious project. Its genre seems impossible to quantify: a sci-fi film about a falling meteor; a fantasy about shifting between body; a high school comedy about modern Tokyo; a coming of age drama set in a rural town.

To western viewers without a Crunchyroll account, anime is known by a couple of shining examples, dominating over all others. But anime has never been one genre: Studio Ghibli produces both youthful fantasies and emotional war dramas; Akira (1988) and Ghost in the Shell (1995) helped define the cyberpunk genre; whilst something like Mind Game (2004) is a yakuza fighting, Moby Dick-infused acid trip.

From a western perspective, some of Your Name‘s scenes seem though no other culture could produce it. In its opening sequence, its razor sharp editing as Mitsuha and Taki’s lives are mirrored seems sheer insanity. The title credits are a music video (sung by Japanese band Radwimps), tracing Mitsuha as she grows up. The film falsely places us within sequences, only to exit them through a thought balloon held above a character’s head.

Your Name could only ever exist within Japanese culture. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki affected the Japanese consciousness, informing its cultural objects: the destructive power of Gojira (1954); the nuclear hellscapes of Akira; Japan’s most iconic directors, from Kurosawa’s Rhapsody in August (1991) and his uncompleted work on Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), to Shinodo’s Children of Hiroshima (1952). Toho’s Gojira shifted to a full colour children’s fantasy; Tokyo rose up, rebuilt after the war to become a neon metropolis.

70 years later, the shadow of Hiroshima still hangs over, living on in the elder generation. But there is another influence: the 2011 Fukushima disaster, catastrophic to the urbanised landscape, leading to cancer growth and ongoing plans to decontaminate the landscape, as life goes on as normal.

In the world of Your Name, three years have passed since the rural landscape of Lake Itomori was ravaged by a meteor, killing 600, enshrined in memory through photobooks and lists of the dead. To the American consciousness, the meteor is not a symbol of the bomb, but as a fun action movie in Armageddon (1998), or, as Adam Curtis argues in HyperNormalisation (2016), a reflection of American anxieties which manifested as reality through 9/11.

Your Name’s elements can be found throughout American cinema: switching between the dreaming and waking lives of Taki and Mitsuha, it almost becomes Groundhog Day (1993), as every new day becomes paradoxical, trying to find an escape. But Groundhog Day was still largely a comedy. Your Name begins as a comedy, before shifting towards something much more serious.

The unreal presentation of dreams is nothing new: through Waking Life (2001)’s meandering, philosophical quest, we begin to wonder what separates the dream and the real. In Inception (2010), we ask similar questions, framed within an action movie aesthetic.  Your Name refuses to give us a reason as to why Taki and Mitsuha’s lives are connected; any science fiction or fantastical explanation would ruin the mystery. Like Waking Life and Groundhog Day, it becomes an unraveling puzzle box: each day informs the next day, not existing in isolation. Taki and Mitsuha exert more control on an uncontrollable world, coordinating their lives through diary entries and text messages on their phones.

Though Taki and Mitsuha’s lives draw an interesting parallel, gendered life is not the film’s primary focus, playing a role more often for comedy. Within the continuum of gender, we become aware that feminine and masculine qualities must interact to create a cohesive whole. Taki embraces feminine qualities, speaking in the feminine tense, and stitching a flower pattern on his crush Miki’s ripped dress, securing a date with her over the hundred other waiters with a raging boner for her; one of Taki’s straight male classmates ends up being all “I’m gay 4 u”.

As though she were an anime cliche, Mitsuha wakes up every new morning to fulfil the male gaze, squeezing her breasts and looking at herself naked in the mirror – becoming a repeated joke, undercutting the film’s more serious elements.

Taki’s life in Tokyo represents modern Japan: yet as he notes in his job interview, even Japan is vulnerable to devastation. Unlike Mitsuha’s concrete high school, his is built on massive glass frames; living in a cramped apartment with his dad, he travels to school on the city’s subway, spends his lunch breaks in nearby cafes with his friends, and micromanages his life on his cellphone, as he works his evenings away in a posh restaurant.

Mitsuha’s Japan represents centuries of tradition – tradition which is disappearing, new ones embedded within. Her grandmother speaks of traditions of two centuries ago, as we see the rituals of fermenting sake, ingested in the mouth before being spat out. Where Tokyo has entire districts of cafés and restaurants, Itomori has iced coffee in a solitary vending machine. Teenagers wear American style baseball shirts; power cables embed themselves within the landscape. The film ends up feeling like a coming of age film set in suburban America, as Mitsuha seeks out a better life in the distance, unable to be perceived or experienced.

Enshrined within tradition is spirituality – their grandmother walks with Mitsuha and her sister through the natural landscape, telling us that, in death, we must give something in return. Outside the modern city, the rural landscape carries a spiritual power of its own. Even when life is gone, the landscape survives, untouched by death. In the film’s most powerful scene, walking across a seemingly unending landscape, Taki tries to cross between realms to touch Mitsuha’s ethereal hand; separated by space and time, outside of physical dimension, yet together through shared location.

Like with Groundhog Day, small differences alter the nature of reality: passing trains, or two people walking past each other on the street, or the person you see on the other table at the coffee shop. Taki and Mitsuha never truly meet within the film, creating awareness of the fleetingness of romantic destiny. Taki follows after Mitsuha out of instinct, sketchbook page in hand, dragging his friends along on a train ride through rural Japan; a chance conversation with a cafe owner informs his destiny. In Taki’s search for Mitsuha, he uncovers a cave painting, predicting the fall of the meteor, as it fell 1200 years earlier: traditions and civilisations rise and fall. Yet this destiny is overlooked even by modernity: news reports fail to predict its impact; Mitsuha’s father, acting as the town’s mayor, has no system in place to evacuate in the event of an impact, refusing the very possibility of it occurring.

Your Name could have played with the time paradox, creating a deus ex machina: reversing the devastation, moving the meteor’s path and saving a generation. The film plays with this somewhat, but like Hiroshima and Fukushima, as much as we pray, as much as we hope, we cannot undo the past. We cannot escape fate.

Safe to say, this was genuinely incredible and one of the best cinema experiences of the year.

As much as I wanted to, not even A Monster Calls could bring me to cry.

Your Name succeeded.

Keep the Lights On (2012), dir. Ira Sachs

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Before documenting contemporary NYC life in his films Love is Strange (2014) and Little Men (2016), Ira Sachs created a portrait of New York City through the lens of the relationship between Erik and Paul, between the years 1998 to 2006. Where Linklater’s Boyhood (2014) documented the shifting stages of the heterosexual American family through the 2000s in the character of Mason, Sachs presents the shifting nature of gay American life.

By the film’s release in late 2012, the state of New York had legalised same sex marriage. Four years later, the Supreme Court ruled same sex marriage legal in all fifty states. Love is Strange was able to present this reality through an elderly couple. Keep the Lights On retraces a different era, the pre-Grindr world of phone sex, infidelity, clubbing and casual hookups; an era where queer representation in the media began to enter the mainstream, in everything from Will and Grace (1998-2006), Queer as Folk (1999-2000), Cruel Intentions (1999) to episodes of The Simpsons like Three Gays of the Condo (2003); as civil partnerships and same sex marriage began to enter the agenda as public perception shifted.

However, the film does not romanticise its era. There is no sense of the optimism and fears of cyberspace; it does not fetishise the World Trade Center (indeed, the city’s skyline is never shown); nor does it position our protagonist’s lives around the aftermath of 9/11. Bush’s name is never mentioned; American Idol doesn’t appear on any television screens. Sachs positions a timeless narrative; the era is only communicated through the film’s title cards, its cellphones and its iMacs. Shot on 16mm, its visual style removes the late 90s and early 00s from its clean, digital HD aesthetic, in favour of physical film that recalls the imperfect images of the underground gay cinema of the 60s-80s, in parallel to Erik exploring an underground gay artist of the mid-20th century in his documentary.

We shift from the lingering late 90s fears of HIV, only a couple of years after the height of the AIDs epidemic, to the modern face of homosexuality. Perhaps there is a sense of the autobiographical: Sachs explores the uncertainty of establishing a career in filmmaking, beginning in the late 90s (when he begun his career in film), parallel to the uncertainties of a relationship.

The relationship between Erik and Paul is never presented as something for the audience to root for; I spent the duration of the film waiting for them to break up for good. The film often incorporates sex scenes, yet they hold a narrative function. Sexuality becomes a form of procrastinating the issues within their relationship, and as a means of escape. The film’s sex scenes are neither PG-13 nor Helix Studios: the film acknowledges that pensises exist, but it also acknowledges that it is painful, and often not pleasurable. Sexuality highlights isolation: when Paul hooks up with a rent boy, as Erik sits in the other room, he decides to enter the other room and hold Paul’s hand. But Paul still lays on the bed, fucked by and making out with the rent boy. In an earlier scene, Paul decides to sleep in a separate bed, as Erik forces them to share a bed.

This is not an idealised gay romance of monogamy, with a sprinkling of formulaic melodrama; it is a realistic one. It takes Erik and Paul nine years to realise that romantic, physical intimacy can transcend sexual intimacy; yet soon after, he encounters Igor in the streets of New York, and they decide on a dinner date. Erik and Paul’s relationship exists as a fluctuating thing, before eventually deciding they need real time apart.

As Erik struggles to find stability within the eternally early stages of his relationship, his friend Claire faces the instabilities of the heterosexual world. On the surface, she faces stability: a house and a partner, as Erik becomes more and more detached from his own flat, instead often being defined by the flats of other men. But she also faces anxiety around the ticking body clock of maternity, pressuring Erik to take on a role as a surrogate father.

Keep the Lights On is not the height of queer cinema. Looking forward, another film around the issues gay men face feel rote, in the face of bi-erasure, trans narrative relegated to cis narratives, and the near non-existence of asexual or non-binary representation. Yet it takes a strong place within the canon of Ira Sachs’ films as a promising work.

Far from Heaven (2002), dir. Todd Haynes

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More so than Carol (2015), Far from Heaven constructs itself as a technicolor Douglas Sirk film, with a sense of artifice. Haynes doesn’t create a real world, or at least initially he doesn’t; he projects the 1950s of cinema. When Cathy drives, the camera points straight towards her, showing the car window and an obvious rear projection of the street behind her. In editing, jump cuts are often ignored; shots are drawn out, leaving instead extended crossfades. The house feels like a soundstage. The exterior of the bar feels like a studio backlot.

The front and back of the house, where Cathy and her gardener Raymond initially talk, forms a luscious garden of flowers that pop, but it feels plastic and unreal. The deliberate arrangement of colour pops throughout the film, and throughout Haynes’ filmography – during the party, we see a row of women in bright dresses – orange, blue, red. The living room is lit in blue light, drawn in from the window. The bar, where Frank hooks up with another man, is bathed in green, whilst leaving Frank cast in shadows, as if he were the troubled protagonist of a noir film.

Equally artificial is the concept of the nuclear family. We are introduced to an idealised, perfect family – the mother, the father, the son, the daughter and, still within the world of Gone with the Wind (1939): the black servant, silent until spoken to. Gradually, as the film progresses, this is revealed to be an illusion. Frank’s homosexuality comes to light; Cathy begins to speak to Raymond more, and the black community is given a voice. But it tries to re-manifest itself: Cathy and Frank try to continue the image of the perfect family, even when they know it has shattered.

Frank agrees to conversion therapy, even when the doctor warns of a low success rate. Cathy and Raymond attempt to make love, but this doesn’t lead to a heartwarming scene of them kissing in each others’ arms, as the camera pans away to reveal the next morning. Raymond cracks, hitting her and rejecting Cathy’s claims that he is still a “real man”. Going on a New Year’s holiday to Miami, he again tries to suppress his sexuality, before meeting eyes with a waiter, and they later make love in his hotel room. He severs his ties with Cathy; we close with a telephone call where he says goodbye to her, as his male lover waits in the other bed. As with Carol,  love conquers all adversity towards it, even in secret, and still leaving a dangling thread of heartbreak. Here, the heartbreak is with Cathy’s suppressed feelings towards Raymond, as he moves away from town, and in her lost husband and shattered family.

When Cathy helps Raymond collect some things for the garden, Cathy asks him how it must feel like to be the only black man in the room. Frank feels like he is the only gay man in the room. As he undergoes therapy, he silences himself, rarely speaking at the dinner table.

Silence carries the film. Sybil, their servant, rarely speaks except when spoken to. The frame itself minimises her presence: she exists as the back of her head, or just out of shot, as she responds to what is asked of her. Only as the film progresses does she gain more of a voice. She signs a NAACP form, surprised that Cathy is allowing her to. She raises the courage to tell Cathy that Raymond’s daughter was the black girl who was a victim of violence, even though she knows it isn’t her place to. Cathy becomes furious at her for not telling her, and by extension, furious at the system that prevents her from speaking.

Similarly, Raymond is introduced as a silent character. He is a black man walking around in the garden to the horror of the old lady visiting, someone to be afraid of. His colours are muted in contrast to the bright coats of the women, the green of his coat blending into the trees of the garden. As with Sybil, he gains more of a voice, though more quickly. He feels consideration and care for Cathy when she is in distress, more than is socially acceptable. In contrast to Sybil, he is the one who initiates conversations, not Cathy.

Silence manifests not only in situation, but in dialogue. Dinner party conversation talk negatively of integration between between “negroes” and whites, but Cathy shuts this discussion down. When Cathy and Eleanor speak about a magazine article on homosexuality, she feels unable to even use the word. Taboo subjects are still talked about – but in hushed tones. When she is honest to Eleanor about her feelings for Raymond, she is disowned.

Cathy begins to feel like what it is like to be a maligned minority. As a woman, she already feels a degree of social pressure. Yet her interactions with Raymond bring the attention of the entire town – affecting not only her, but also the reputation of both Raymond (forcing himself to move), and Frank’s work life. At the ballet class, mothers cling to their daughters lives to stay away from her. She positions herself as an ally, considering signing up to volunteer for the NAACP’s cause.

Yet Haynes highlights the complexities of the forces of racism. Cathy doesn’t only receive sneering looks from white people, she also feels it from the African American patrons of the black majority pub, confounded by what Raymond is doing. I’m reminded of the themes explored in the second season of Agent Carter (2015-16) between Peggy and Jason, dancing in a bar to sneering looks. Raymond ends up with stones thrown through his window on a daily basis – not by white boys, but black people. These attitudes are reinforced both inside and outside the community.

In another scene, at a hotel in Miami, a young black boy wanders into a whites only pool, before being taken away by his father, as everyone else flees in the direction of the sunbeds. As history tells us of lynchings, police violence, mass shootings, slavery and the march on Washington, we forget about smaller, and younger, attacks. The experience that Sarah undergoes is a subtle manifestation of racism – young boys “teaching her a lesson”, not meaning to throw a stone to her forehead. She is the odd one out to them, cast tiny and in shadows by the frame in comparison to the boys.

The Way He Looks (2014), dir. Daniel Ribeiro

Back in 2011, I watched an amazing short entitled I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was a ‘proof of concept’ for a feature film. (Many films use this method – including the acclaimed Whiplash recently.) I wasn’t sure about the short being expanded into a feature. The short tells things so succinctly, in a limited space (the school, outside Leonardo’s house and inside his bedroom), with three characters and very little need for much else.

However, the film offers an opportunity to show a wider canvas of the environment Leonardo lives in, including his family, and to go into greater depth with its characters. What only existed as hints in the short or as throwaway lines of dialogue become full-fledged scenes. Many scenes are restaged from a school environment to swimming pools, drunken parties, school camping trips etc. Leonardo sneezing becomes scenes of Leonardo with a cold; Gabriel taking his shirt off becomes a nude shower scene. What was relayed in the short film through exposition (such as the scene of Leonardo introducing himself to the class, conveniently in the last minute) or montages is relayed differently.

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Another element that is expanded is Leonardo’s experience as a blind teenager. He gets bullied and mocked by other kids who push him over; his parents worry for his safety. There’s a great sense of what Leonardo doesn’t see, being unaware of the events going on around him, and asking Gabriel to provide verbal audio description during a film. We get to see more of him using his walking stick, but also of him being aware of things going on through his aural senses and touch; he is not entirely blind.

Through this transformation, what was once a quaint and adorable short film about challenging representations (using a blind and queer protagonist) with ~15 year old schoolkids becomes a broader story about the end of adolescence: wanting to move away from parents and travel the world, drinking vodka for the first time, desire to be kissed. The same three actors from the short film return for their roles, but feel somewhat too old when every other teenage actor seems to be a good couple of years younger than them – Fabio Audi was around 26 when the film was in production – far more noticeable than when he was around 21/22 in 2009/10, whilst Ghilherme Lobo and Tess Amorim were around 18. But perhaps this perception comes about from being acquainted to the short film first rather than the other way around.

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Thankfully, it’s not an LGBTQIA+ film per se. In the short film, Giovana used the word “gay boyfriend”; here she just says “boyfriend”. Even the bullies who mock Leonardo for whatever reason don’t inherently do it because of his sexuality, but for his blindness. In the special features, Daniel Ribeiro discusses how he decided against including a ‘coming out’ scene between Leonardo and his mother, and instead uses vague, gender neutral terms when addressing the subject of relationships. In doing so, it normalises non-heterosexual identities and goes against the idea of the ‘other’.

One of the strongest elements of the short film was, in its brevity, it focuses all of its attention on the events leading up to Gabriel’s kiss. It becomes an in media res ending in which the viewer is left with no idea of how their relationship progresses from there. Thankfully, this element isn’t scrapped in the feature length version. It spends an hour in the events leading up to the kiss, but the bedroom kiss that closed the short film isn’t touched upon until the final scenes of the film.

Unfortunately, it loses the dramatic irony that so brilliantly closed the short film, with Leonardo unsure of who kissed him because of his blindness. There’s still a sense of that here, but it doesn’t have the same effect as the short film.

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If we’re going to go into cliche phrases, in some ways it’s a literal representation of “love is blind”. Other characters ship Gabriel and Leonardo, albeit jokingly; Leonardo worries about Gabriel being interested in another girl. They are blind to what is obvious to their souls and others around them. But it isn’t done in a really obvious way or make a point of it – it’s just there.

It’s not a film about relationships. So much attention is paid in films to the characters getting together in the first half hour, almost as a plot device rather than a deeper exploration, before we go through conflict in the relationship, perhaps a break-up, and they get back together in the final act. Here, there’s no sex scenes, or any intimacy besides intimacy through sight alone; maybe that’s innocent, but it’s also realistic. Because those cliches play over an extended period of time; here, it’s a much shorter period, perhaps a handful of weeks. There is so much anxiety and uncertainties associated that everyone finds with making the (actually pretty big) decision to be in a relationship with someone.

Within two weeks of this film, Gabriel and Leonardo could have broken up. That’s just the territory. But that is not the focus. The focus should not be on overwhelming jealousy and conflict, but on emotion. The pre-relationship period is a story in itself.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999), dir. Stanely Kubrick

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A month or two ago I watched what could be considered Kubrick’s last film, A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), unless the proposed Napoleon TV miniseries ever gets off the ground – so in time for Christmas seemed the perfect time to watch his actual last film. As his only work to represent the 90s, it feels like an outsider within his canon. A.I. only got off the ground with Spielberg, whilst Aryan Papers was shelved because of a perceived similarity to Schindler’s List (1993). Kubrick will always feel most iconic with his works of the 60s-80s – not his 50s or 90s film(s).

I felt an aversion to this film: big name actors have never been a major appeal to me, so Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise‘s names worked against it for me. Why get two big Hollywood actors as the romantic leads? But of course it is more than just a simple romantic or kinky sexual drama.

(Full disclosure: I came into this film having already seen the Nostalgia Critic and Renegade Cut reviews of it)

A.I. was no masterpiece. I loved the first and final acts, bringing together universal themes about family, human identity and mortality, but the middle dragged and the Pinocchio metaphor seemed too heavy handed. Does Eyes Wide Shut represent later Kubrick better than Spielberg’s attempt to?

Unfortunately, I cannot say Eyes Wide Shut is on the same level as Kubrick’s masterpieces. It is not a flawless film, and whilst it explores some interesting ideas, it is not inherently perfect.

There is some great exploration of human sexuality here, with a degree of female empowerment, though the lead of the film remains Cruise as Bill, despite the poster suggesting a dual lead or dominant character for Kidman’s character, Alice. Some scenes, like one of the early bedroom scenes between Bill and Alice, ends up coming across more as a thesis than as cinematic.

Rather than ‘show don’t tell’, Kubrick focuses a lot of time on scenes that don’t need to be here. The iconic sequence of the film, the masquerade sex party, doesn’t enter the narrative until around 1h 20m in (it’s a 2h 40m film). There is a lot of set-up, and we end up following Bill everywhere. We see him going to a cafe. Then he goes to the costume store. Then he goes to the hotel. It works to establish aspects of the narrative, but we follow him walking around the same block for what seems like forever. I’m so used to cinema as a form of temporal manipulation, that it feels very odd for the film to progress over a very constrained amount of time (only 1-2 days), despite its such a long running time. A character will talk about the events of last night, which, as viewers, we only saw an hour ago.

Bill’s role as a doctor feels like a plot device; he goes around waving his license as if it were psychic paper. It doesn’t strengthen the character; it only makes him seem like a creep snooping around places he shouldn’t be. In a scene where Bill rents a costume late at night, the guy who runs the store ends up discovering his underage teenage daughter with two older men, yet lets her off with it. Whilst this works great in exploring the facets of sexuality, it comes completely out of nowhere and somewhat ruins the scene. It’s concluded later on, but it feels too short a mention for what should be more important.

The masquerade ball is meant to be a shocking image, filling the frame with no escape from sexual orgies everywhere. But in a world of instantly accessible online pornography, such images aren’t so shocking or abstract. (Rule 34.) The masks place it within a different form – but even that’s a fetish somewhere. Though a hyperbolic reflection of reality, but the idea of some secret password sex club based around formality, etiquette and stately homes seems slightly plausible.

But there’s a lot to love here. The classical soundtrack is fantastic; the cinematography at the masquerade ball is impeccable, and the film’s dual conclusions are great. First there is the subversive ‘anti-conspiracy’, which reveals the events of the film to be just that, events, without any inherent connection based on a minor link. Which perhaps lies within the same line of thinking that Kubrick faked the moon landing because he directed 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – an idea that still lives, thanks to Dark Side of the Moon (2002) and Room 237 (2012).

The film transports us to a New York City of festivities and Christmas lights everywhere (one of my favourite places and cinematic locations), which is enough to make me happy.

But it still remains essential viewing for the Kubrick, Kidman or Cruise fan.

Fatal Attraction (1987), dir. Adrian Lyne

fatal

Of all places, I first heard about this film in late 1980s issues of The Amazing Spider-Man (the Michelinie/McFarlane run.) In light of their other roles, it’s odd to see Hank Pym and Cruella de Vil having sex.

The film raised considerable press and discussion around release, partly because of the men who could relate to Dan’s position. I couldn’t imagine myself doing what Dan does early on in this film. A caring, pretty wife and an androgynous daughter (it took me a long time to stop misgendering her) seems the far more desirable option. But then I’ve not been married for 9 years, so what do I know?

Defining Alex and Dan’s relationship becomes difficult. Dan precipitates it by leading Alex on, out of the rain. But Alex becomes almost a ‘femme fatale’, an object of desire that she embraces, yet despises being treated as a “whore”. They find romantic instincts, drink fine wine and have a love of Madame Butterfly, in a scene which I swear to inspired the screenwriters of the Doctor Who TV movie 9 years later, used as an object of romantic bonding.

Who is the victim of the film? Dan seems to be a hardworking, caring guy who doesn’t want infidelity, but is pressured into it by Alex. She becomes a ‘psycho ex’, stalking and ruining Dan’s life. Alex could easily fill the role of the female horror villain. Think of Jason’s mom in Friday the 13th (1980) – she’s an everyday mother driven to do the unthinkable; she stabs people because of loss, and because of mental illness. But Dan subjects her to a fair amount of physical abuse, leading questions to whether the abuse is justified. Ultimately, in the end, she becomes a victim of both the empowered Dan and the empowered Beth, in a final scene of violent confrontation that reminds me in part of the conclusion to Taxi Driver (1976) – a bloody, and perhaps somewhat justified, end to a reign of terror.

But Alex is still a strong character – she’s an independent, career woman, where all she wants is a family like Dan’s. She makes her own maternal decisions on carrying forward the pregnancy. She could easily be a compelling representation of a person suffering from depression. Unfortunately, the film reaches a point of melodrama past where it rings completely false to real life.

I appreciate the film’s circularity. We hear an anecdote from Dan about how he pushed away his own mother because he doesn’t practice family law, but over the course of the film, he reaches a point where family law can’t save him now. It’s apt that Dan is cast as a lawyer, tempted towards sin and eventually into crime.

In the original ending, the film is more cyclical – it draws a firmer conclusion: Beth listens to the cassette tape that Alex recorded; Dan finds consequences for his actions, as the police he was speaking to before reappear; and it draws a beautiful conclusion, mirroring Madame Butterfly with Alex’s suicide – something almost inevitable following the scene where she slashed her wrists, and presented a false version of herself as better, but clearly wasn’t.

I like both endings, but the original fits the film a little better. So thanks, test screenings.

On a final note, there is something I love about seeing New York in the 1980s. Though the film tells a relatively timeless story, part of the reason I love older films is because it can become a sort of time capsule to decades beforehand: to escape into a world that isn’t the everyday, whilst still pulling from everyday experiences I can relate to.