Unrelated

Unrelated

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I saw Unrelated on dvd recently after seeing Archipelago at the cinema (Joanna Hogg’s second  film) and much preferred Unrelated. I think because the  lead character of Anna (brilliantly played by Kathryn Worth) is so sympathetic and intriguing. Also it was  90 minutes to Archipelagos 120.  There are massive thematic and stylistic similarities however between the films. Both being about middle class holidays with strange unspoken tensions. Both with absent characters – the cause of those tensions and both shot in a formal style in static masters on video, with naturalistic sound and dialogue.

Anna arrives in Tuscany to stay with some friends and their children at their gorgeous villa. She was supposed to be with her husband but he is missing and it is apparent from her sad detached demeanour and one sided phone calls to him that something is up between them. She is attracted to the teenage son of her host Oakley (Tom Hiddleston) and ignores the “olds” in favour of hanging out with him and his friends the “youngs” a group of  privelleged teenagers. She seems very much the outsider, an observer not sure where she belongs and without her husband regressing to her adolescence.

I thought it was a really acomplished film and the setting and people are evoked vividly. In the dvd interview Joanna Hogg talks about the lack of these kind of middle class ensemble pieces in British Cinema and how it has always been more of the preserve of the French. I am glad that she has taken it upon herself to redress the balance, because there is an emotional  awkwardness and manner of speech specific about the English Middle class that both films show to great effect.

The Eagle

The Eagle

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Roman Britain. A Centurion and his men are killed North of Haydrians wall. Indigenous tribes captured their Eagle standard, the sacred symbol of Rome.

20 years later. Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) the Centurion’s son, must restore his father’s good name. He takes command of an outpost fort but during his first engagement many of his men die. He is wounded in battle and given honourable discharge.

Whilst recovering in the South at his Uncle’s house ( Donald Sutherland) he saves the life of a slave Eska (Jamie Bell). Despite his loathing of the Romans, who killed his family, Eska vows a debt of honour to Marcus and together they set out on a mission North of Haydrian’s wall to recover the Eagle.

Across the border they are captured by the Seal tribe (lead by Tahar Rahim) and to survive Marcus must pretend to be Eska’s slave, but will Eska betray him now he has the upper hand?

An archetypal hero’s journey story.  I thought it might go Heart of Darkness (like Apocalypse Now) or more eco warrior (like Avatar) but it sticks to a buddy movie structure. The theme being loyalty to ones friends over ones people. The dialogue sometimes feels a bit cliched to support this.

The film is small scale, focusing on the two leads and the action is gritty and realistic rather than mythic or epic. Kevin Macdonald seems most interested in the anthropology and feel of Ancient Britain  – he really shows the world of Roman occupying forces and the world of the Indigenous tribesmen.

The Romans are played by Americans and speak English – this suggest parallels with modern colonialism. Whilst the tribes people speak in an Ancient dialect. Eska must translate them for Marcus and this creates tension as it’s a chance for Eska to betray him. These conversations had subtitles and I think maybe if we were kept in the dark like Marcus it would have created more doubt for us about Eska’s motives too.

Channing Tatum is brooding and a bit one note in his performance, apart from one soapy scene where he shouts at Donald Sutherland and a good rousing speech he gives near the end. Jamie Bell was excellent as Eska, which is probably the more interesting of the two parts. He is more of a shape shifter and has to make a choice to betray his friend or his people. I enjoyed it, though it hasn’t really stayed with me.

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood

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The film is about Toru Watanabe a young man in his first years of university in Tokyo. Two years earlier his best friend committed suicide. Watanabe bumps into his friends girlfriend -Naoko in a Tokyo park and they start a tentative and chaste relationship. Still messed up by the death of her boyfriend Naoko has a breakdown and enters hospital.  Watanabe visits her religiously. Then he meets  Midori a fun and viavacious girl, there is a spark between them but  Watanabe feels he owes his love to Naoko.

The film has kind of a dream quality. The cinematography, production design and costumes are particularly excellent lots of pastel checks and patterns, beautiful knitwear and shirt and matching wallpaper and designs.  It seems to be going for a modern view of the late sixties rather than going for ‘authentic’ We saw it at Screen on the Green – digital projection and the detail is so clear and strong it felt like you could touch it.

The story has the strong flavour of memory to it. We see the characters in their apartments together or alone but not in the context of their families or jobs. So it is a dreamy kind of world that Watanabe inhabits and drifts through. For example – we are told that Naoko is at a hospital. Most hospitals I’ve been to you drive up to the car park and go in. Here visiting involves arriving on foot walking across a beautiful hilly field and through a wood – that reflect the changing seasons through the film. Naoko and her carer – another patient stand waiting for Watanabe at the edge of the wood, like fairy tale characters, take him to their apartment. The idea of the hospital itself is inferred only in dialogue.

It is a film about sex, love and romantic ideals. I enjoyed it though it was a bit on the long side – around two hours.

Archipelago

Archipelago

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We saw the film Archipelago by Joanna Hogg last week. It is a low/ micro budget British Indie about a middle class family on holiday in the Isles of Scilly.

Edward arrives for a week at  the house his mother and sister have rented. It’s his last holiday before he goes away as VSO to Africa. The family have stayed there every Summer, it’s like a second home to them. They await the arrival of their father, who is working in London. A missing picture on the wall hints at an unmentioned emotional story lurking under the surface.

The family have a live in cook to cater for them and the mother is learning water colour painting from an artist down the road. These extra characters create a class dynamic, and the family behave a bit like Aristo’s in a costume drama. Edward hand wrings and frets about the cook and whether his trip to Africa is the right thing. His sister is abrasive and passive aggressive to everyone. The mother is sad, detached and aloof.

The film is beautifully shot and very stylised, with everything staged in long takes in locked off master shots. The dialogue is naturalistic with lots of awkward long pauses and ‘you know’s’ chat about the weather and nothing in particular. This seemed rather strange and mannered compared to the usual kind of film or theatre dialogue. If not for this I felt the film could have worked well as a play.

Nothing much happens for the first hour and I was waiting for some big drama to occur. In the second half there were a few small dramas and then it ended. At nearly 120 minutes, it was a long  film and halfway through, when I realized that nothing was going to happen, I did consider walking out. Also I wanted to punch all the characters in the face for large tracts of the film, they were so annoying, banal and self obsessed. The only character who I thought was sympathetic was the cook. Over all I wasn’t really enamoured of it and found it rather boring but Mike really enjoyed it.