The Shepherd (Film Review)

5 STARS

In our world dominated by comfort and convenience, a captivating Western, set in the modern day, seems hard to imagine. But last year’s Hell or High Water, set in the wastelands of Texas, showed there is still a place for such machismo-driven narratives.

Now, up-and-coming filmmaker, Jonathan Cenzual Burley, takes us to the patchy dead grasses of rural Spain for a similarly well-measured and atmospheric, part neo-Western. A tale of underhanded greed versus principled resilience.

Burley’s story sees our cowboy, in this case a grizzly and ageing shepherd named Anselmo (played by Miguel Martin), fight against the encroaching forces of corporatism – and the tensions it produces.

Anselmo, a simple man, is content living a stripped back existence in the company of his loyal dog Pillo. This includes a secluded one room home, no car and no electric heating. As the local barman points out, the shepherd still lives in the Stone Age. Certainly, the low hum of the air conditioning underpins the notion that Anselmo, who still warms himself by wood burner on freezing nights, can live without these luxuries.

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Early on in the film, Burley pieces together a stirring sequence which grounds Anselmo’s profession, one of the oldest known to man, in a sense of mythology. Burley, director and cinematographer, gets creative with his camera placing it among – and then above – the huddled multitude of sheep before resting in a ditch as a parade of hoofs hurry through.

We eventually pull back to wide shots of the silhouetted shepherd striding across the horizon, evoking images of classic American Westerns.  The imagination of Burley’s camera demonstrates that, despite the simplicity of Anselmo’s lifestyle, there is still great beauty and honour in his work. A sentiment Tim Laulik-Walters’ rousing score reinforces quite magnificently.

Yet the stones Anselmo skips across the water at one point in this sequence will later be thrown through his window. This is part of a simmering tension which begins when two men in business suits turn up looking to acquire his property for the development of a residential complex.

Understandably, Anselmo, who was born and raised on this land, is not amused by the thought of his home being turned into a squash court – even for a substantial price. He rejects their offer without a second thought.

But this stance soon comes under pressure from a few locals whose own hefty financial rewards rest on Anselmo’s decision to sell. At the forefront of this opposition are Julian (Alfonso Mendiguchia), a slaughter house owner, and Paco (Juan Luis Sara), a father and husband – both in desperate need of the money.

Burley’s provoking film is littered with subtle touches which quietly – and intelligently – probe the ways money, materialism and avarice can corrupt the human spirit. Luckily, in times like these, Burley gives us a anti-hero, played convincingly by Martin, to fight back against such forces.

The result is a rewarding slow burn narrative which builds to a sizzling climax. Burley, currently working on an English speaking feature, is undoubtedly one to watch. But for the time being, we should all flock down to our locals cinemas to experience The Shepherd.

The Shepherd is out in cinemas on Friday 2nd June 

Thanks for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also Read: Falling in Love with La La Land 

THE LEVELLING – FAMILY TURMOIL AMID THE FLOODS (FILM REVIEW)

Kaufman’s Puppet Show: Alienation in Anomalisa

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

The Shepherd – 4/5

Dire, Writ & DOP: Jonathan Cenzual Burley

Starring: Miguel Martin, Alfonso Mediguchia, Juan Luis Sara, Maribel Igelsias, Pablo Malaga

Sound: Jorge Rojas

Music: Tim Laulik-Walters

Falling in Love with La La Land

SPOILER WARNING: Prestridge²’s In-Focus series goes to La La Land

I fell in love with La La Land at 11.12am on January 8, 2017.

Sitting in seat A8 at the wonderful Curzon Victoria, Damien Chazelle’s musical masterpiece swept me away with its vibrant vision. One so finely tuned, entrancing and delightful that I kept coming back for more.

Now available on DVD, we can begin to appreciate the finer details of Chazelle’s work. If you are anything like me, you’ll fall even deeper in love with La La Land after an In-Focus look.

Just Waiting to be Found

Set to the backdrop of urban Los Angeles, La La Land tells the love story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).

Seb is a jaded jazz pianist. As part of his throwback personality, he dresses in formal clothes and drives a classic brown 1982 Buick Riviera. Seb clings onto the past with boxes of jazz memorabilia which are stacked up in his grey and bare apartment.

In keeping with his sister’s assessment that he is a ‘hermit’, Seb spends his time sitting across the street from his tarnished jazz mecca, the Van Beek, which, to his disgust, is now branded ‘Tapas and Tunes’. As he puts it: ‘pick one, do one right’ – a line which forebodes the breakdown of his future relationship with Mia.

Despite living life on the ropes, he still dreams of one day restoring the Van Beek – and jazz – to its past glories.

Mia, on the other hand, has dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress. She is one of many hopefuls auditioning for roles as teachers, policewomen and doctors. Unfortunately, she has to deliver corny lines to disinterested casting agents before leaving, dejected, in a cramped elevator.

To supplement her acting, Mia works as a barista in a studio-lot coffee shop. She deals with complaints about gluten-free pastries and watches open-mouthed as a movie star walks to collect their coffee.

Mia does appear more optimistic than Seb. Where his plain apartment walls suggest he is worn down, Mia, still a dreamer, has a giant Ingrid Bergmann poster on her colourful bedroom wall.

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Certainly, the stunning dresses Mia wears to lavish Hollywood pool parties – reminiscent of Judy Garland and Bergman – make her stand out from the crowd like a Hollywood star. As one of the songs suggests, Mia is ‘just waiting to be found.’

A Star is Born

Indeed, Chazelle expertly utilises costume, camera movement and lighting, not only to give the film a dazzling and energetic aesthetic, but as a fascinating undercurrent to the storytelling.

Bright primary colours take focus, like the ones found in Jacques Remy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1963), radiating sheer joy off the screen. Mia’s outfits often reflect – and intensify – the moods of scenes. This includes playful yellows, passionate reds and starry blues. In the magical planetarium scene, she wears a classy green that evokes Garland in A Star is Born (1954).

Similarly, the blues and reds feature prominently in the lighting. Mia is cast in a red glow before she enters the restaurant to first cross paths with Seb. The same red appears in the final scene to anticipate Mia unknowingly entering the jazz club to lock eyes with Seb – perhaps for the final time.

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The camera matches this colourful enthusiasm with a dancing fluidity. At the first party, it has a mind of its own – plunging into the pool and spinning around. On other occasions, it glidingly pans up to the sky and back down.

Drained

However, the colour and movement begin fade as the romance between Mia and Seb falters. When she attends The Messengers concert and is visibly disappointing to see her boyfriend has ‘sold-out’, Chazelle casts Mia in a cold blue – as if her romantic dreams of Seb have been drained.

We next see Mia at the tense break-up dinner. She wears a reserved dark jumper, as though she is prepared ready to mourn the loss of their relationship. When their argument is over , the jolting sounds of the fire alarm ring out as Chazelle’s camera follows Mia out of the apartment in a shaky documentary style. Reality has finally hit their Hollywood love.

The colour has completely drained when Mia performs her play to an almost empty audience.  Seb, missing Mia’s play for his band’s photoshoot, is also in black and white, although he looks comical compared to his normal formal wear. Perhaps this is because he realises he is no longer the serious artist he wanted to be – a notion that is drilled home by the leering and over-the-top British photographer.

These bleak colours had appeared earlier in the film. Mia’s original boyfriend (played by a Yuppie looking Finn Wittrock) wears a grey business suit to dinner along with his brother. In this mundane setting, Mia can’t help but hear the faint jazz music calling her to Seb and the bright red seats of the Rialto cinema.

Likewise, Seb performs in the dimly lit restaurant in the stages of the film. The dull Christmas lights are the only hint of colour – a far cry from the intense blues which light up his jazz club in the final scene.

Whiplash

Speaking of the restaurant, Chazelle recalls his last film – the gripping and visceral Whiplash (2014) – with casting and camera movement. JK Simmons, who played Andrew’s (Miles Teller) ruthless jazz instructor in Whiplash, is Seb’s stern restaurant boss in La La Land.

In a funny turn from Whiplash, this JK Simmons character has no time for free jazz. Instead, he tells Seb to stick to the set list of Christmas carols. After Seb inevitably strays, Chazelle’s camera mimics the quick zooms found in Whiplash to show a disapproving Simmons.

On top of this, the scenes with classic jazz feature on-beat cuts, like in Whiplash, to emphasis what Seb calls the music’s ‘conflict and comprise’.

Past and Present

La La Land is a force of cinema, borrowing from the past to create a timeless spectacle.

The film is littered with well-documented odes to classic cinema, particularly in the musical sequences, imitating everything from Singin’ in the Rain (1952) to West Side Story (1961) to Rebel Without A Cause (1955). Even the four seasons structure, mirroring the stages of Mia and Seb’s relationship, is taken from Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

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These allusions also make their way onto the LA backdrop as Mia walks past a mural featuring Hollywood greats Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, James Dean and many others.  Circularly, Seb later walks by a mural, which he can’t bare to look up at, painted in the image of Hollywood’s next great star – Mia.

Casablanca

For all the praise La La Land received, there have in turn been very vocal critics. David Cox of The Guardian described the film as the ‘tale of two narcissists who sacrifice love for self-interest’

I didn’t quite see it that way.

One particularly revealing scene occurs when Seb surprises Mia at the coffee shop and they walk around the studio-lot. In these moments Chazelle anticipates the rest of the film – and its sentiments.

Mia and Seb are dressed in white tops, as though they are blank canvases ready to be inspired. The two lay out their ambitions and, after telling Mia to pursue her playwriting aspirations, Seb jokes that his ‘work here is done’. Of course, it is only just beginning.

The couple are destined, with love and intense passion, to fuel each other’s dreams. Mia and Seb even peer into a movie-set that they will later dance through in the majestic epilogue – a cheeky Chazelle nod to the fate of their romance.

Yet it is the two mentions of Casablanca (1943) which speak the loudest in this scene – a classic film that showed sacrifice can also be a powerful form of romance.

The final shot of La La Land shows Mia, drenched in a dreamy jazz blue, glancing at Seb across the crowded club.  The gentle smile they share says it all. Gratitude, sadness and pride.

They wouldn’t have realised their dreams without each other, but it is time to move on.

There is no shame in that, just love.

Thank you reading. Please like, share and comment!

IN-FOCUS: Subversive casting: Introducing Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers

Kaufman’s Puppet Show: Alienation in Anomalisa

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

THE LEVELLING – FAMILY TURMOIL AMID THE FLOODS (FILM REVIEW)

5 STARS

THE floods that wreaked devastation on the Somerset Levels in late 2013 and early 2014 are the backdrop to The Levelling, a debut film from Hope Dickson Leach.

It is a quite brilliant debut as well, although no one should come expecting to laugh. Far from it. The Levelling is as depressing a story as will be told on celluloid this year. But the acting – and some of the cinematography featuring hares and cows either swimming or treading through flood water – is sublime.

The story starts with fuzzy out-of-focus – dream-like – pictures of a night-time party that seems to have got out of control with punches traded amidst the dancing and lit torches.

What we soon learn is that in amongst the partying a young farmer, Harry Catto, took his own life by blowing his brains out with a shot-gun – the blood-stained walls and floor of the farm house toilet are testament to the gruesome and tragic event that has occurred.

His sister, Clover, a veterinary student and a vegetarian, returns to the ramshackle farm where the party took place (evidence of the celebrations are everywhere). She then goes in search of explanations as to why Harry cut his life short.

It is a harrowing tale. The dairy farm is dilapidated as a result of the floods and the insurer’s refusal to pay up. Clover’s father Aubrey, ex-Army, is living in squalor in a mobile home adjacent to the farm and has turned to drink to drown his sorrows. The family dog, Milo, has been locked away and left to starve, much to Clover’s disgust who discovers it in a room surrounded by piles of its own faeces.

The relationship between Clover and Aubrey is fraught, a result of Clover’s earlier decision to leave the farm and carve out a career for herself, much against her father’s wishes. The more she searches for answers, the more fraught it becomes.

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Why did Harry take his life when in fact the party was organised to celebrate his taking over of the farm from his father?

Why is Aubrey selling half of the dairy herd? Why does the buyer not then turn up as expected?

Why are there full petrol cans in the kitchen? What really happened that fateful night? Is James, Harry’s best friend, hiding something? A question that provokes Clover into using a lit torch in order to get an honest answer from James. Light and water are constant themes.

The discovery of buried (shot) badgers on the farm provide a clue as to why Harry took his own life.

It really is bleak viewing – and highlights the tough lives farmers live most of the time. When one of the herd gives birth to a healthy calf, Aubrey tells Clover to shoot it because it is a boy, not a girl. With the same gun that Harry killed himself with. Clover then proceeds to cremate it in a wheelbarrow with fuel from one of the cans in the farm kitchen.

All rather harrowing, especially for a vegetarian like Clover, but part and parcel of every day farming life. As is the mud, the cold, the mundanity of much farm work and the susceptibility of farming to the force of mother nature.

But the film ensnares you from start to finish. When Aubrey disappears just prior to Harry’s funeral and Clover discovers he has taken a shot-gun from the cupboard, we wait for the sound of the inevitable gun shot. It comes. Has he also committed suicide? At times, The Levelling resembles a horror movie and sets your pulse racing.

The acting is quite brilliant with Ellie Kendrick (Meera Reed, Game of Thrones) outstanding as Clover. A family member who has become an outsider, an outcast. Intelligent and not frightened to challenge anyone – her father especially and  James (Jack Holden).

An individual who is stronger than her brother was (she survived boarding school, he didn’t). Hewn out of the same stone as her deceased mother who was the family matriarch and whose death seems to have triggered the start of the farm’s decline. Indeed, Clover is the person best equipped to run the farm, a fact Aubrey acknowledges.

David Troughton as Aubrey is also excellent although for fans of the Archers, it will be difficult to listen to – and watch – him without drawing comparisons with Tony, the character he plays in the Radio 4 series.

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Aubrey is a more broken man than Tony although it is a close run thing (Tony was seriously injured in a farming incident, has had major family issues to deal with and problems with his livestock). Troughton makes the transition from radio to film seem effortless. A vulnerable man crumbling from within.

One of the only rays of sunshine (and I am clutching at straws) is provided by family friend Helen (Angela Curran). She provides the Catto’s with home-made shepherd’s pie (Clover can only pick out the potato) and with the only colour in the entire film – the beautiful flowers she has assembled for Harry’s funeral.

Another uplifting moment is the ending which is more healing – despite all the killing – than fractious. Come hell, fire, water and death, love’s sinews are resilient.

The Levelling is sparse cinema but gripping nonetheless. Cinematographer Nanu Segal deserves a special mention for drawing the links between nature and the Catto’s. The magnificent hare running across the field and the drawing of one that hangs on Harry’s bedroom wall. The constant threat left by the floods, a danger which nearly costs both Clover and Milo dearly. The music is also haunting.

Gritty and grimy but gripping nonetheless. A must see film from a British director with a great future ahead of her.

http://hopedicksonleach.com

Clover Catto Ellie Kendrick
James Jack Holden
Harry Catto Joe Blakemore
Reverend Trusler Clare Burt
Helen Angela Curran
Aubrey Catto David Troughton
Ian Jones Stephen Chapman
Officer Hembry Joe Attewell

Please like, share and comment!

Also Read: Kaufman’s Puppet Show: Alienation in Anomalisa

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

James recommends: The Shallows (Film Review)

Weekend watching – Whiplash (Film Review)

Kristen Stewart: Back from the Twilight

‘ALL OUR CHILDREN’ – CHILDREN. OUR WONDERFUL CHILDREN (THEATRE REVIEW)

Kaufman’s Puppet Show: Alienation in Anomalisa

Spoiler warning: Our In Focus series continues with Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa (2015)

IT can be a daunting prospect to sit down and watch a Charlie Kaufman film.

They are difficult to grasp – even after repeat viewing – unapologetically demanding and disobedient to mainstream expectation. At times, this means his films are more accessible to academic dissection than mainstream consumption.

Understandably, being plunged into a labyrinth of philosophical thought is not everyone’s idea of entertainment. That certainly showed in the financial reception of Synecdoche, New York (2008). Although critics raved about the film, Kaufman’s complexities had clearly reached too far for the casual viewer.

To make matters worse, the economy and movie industry continued to shift further out of his reach. Suddenly, Kaufman was unfashionable, unprofitable and unable to get a project off the ground.

In 2012, the writer-director turned to his fans. With the help of crowd-funding website Kickstarter and animator Duke Johnson, Kaufman used puppets to bring his project, Anomalisa, to life.

Originally a stage play performed in 2005, Anomalisa tells the story of Michael Stone, an author from England who travels to Cincinnati, Ohio to give a talk on his field of expertise – customer service.

Michael spends a night in a hotel, The Fregoli, where relationships – past, present and impending – begin to haunt his lonely and self-destructive mind. Despite having a family at home, Michael becomes engrossed by a shy female admirer called Lisa, who he nicknames Anomalisa.

Small Talk

At the film’s core is the notion of alienation. We live in a growingly detached world where people are more invested in computers than humans and genuine conversation is a dying art.

Michael, middle-aged and likely suffering from a mental health issue, is a victim of his own inability to connect with others for more than one fleeting evening. Shortly after arriving in Cincinnati, he is visibly irritated when the friendly cab driver tries to engage him with talk about the weather, chilli and the local zoo.

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Michael then grits his teeth through a similarly bland interaction with the hotel’s bell boy before finally reaching his room where the magazine Cincinnati sitting on his table reads: ‘Try The Chilli’.

For Michael, every interaction appears to be mundane, repetitive and frustrating. The film’s setting, a hotel, only reinforces these feelings of sameness and distance.

Later on it is the small talk mention of the Cincinnati zoo which awakens Michael to Lisa’s perceived normalcy.

The Fregoli Delusion

The use of stop-motion animation gives an effective – but contained – range to Kaufman’s creativity. If Synecdoche, New York was his grand, and at times overwhelming, masterpiece, then Anomalisa is his tidy and accessible puppet show.

It allows Kaufman to play with voices and faces, both of which he keeps the same for every character apart from Michael and Lisa. This uniformity has an unnerving and disorientating affect, particularly in the image-obsessed culture we now live in.

As referenced by the name of the hotel, Kaufman was inspired by Fregoli delusion – ‘in which person holds a delusional belief that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise’.

Although Michael does not suffer from this condition, he certainly feels trapped by something similar. As he desperately tells his scorned lover Bella:  ‘I think I might have psychological problems’.

ANOMALISA

Michael is unable to escape his outlook on the world and, worryingly, himself. Yet, the existential moments where his face glitches and later drops off entirely suggest he is a victim. Michael might be at the mercy of the mechanics of his own body, a chemical imbalance that leads him into this damaging cycle.

Or, like the literal puppet that he is, Michael is at the mercy of the society which has created him. He can do little to repair his own condition because it is already decided. Either way, the bleak aesthetic of Kaufman’s film mirrors Michael’s feeling of unresolvable hopelessness.

Love and Sex Toys

Michael’s momentary glimmer of hope – and of love – comes when he meets Lisa. After appearing infatuated by her, perhaps drawn to her vulnerabilities and insecurities, Michael wakes up in the morning to realise it was nothing more than a regrettable fling.

A clue to Michael’s relationship with Lisa lies in the Japanese sex doll which he buys from Dino’s Toys – a wink to producer Dino Stamatopoulps.

On an aesthetic level, Lisa and the doll have similarities. They have scars on the right-hand side of their faces, they both sing to Michael and are voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

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But their most meaningful similarity is that they are relatively disposable vehicles to satisfy a male’s sexual desire. Sadly for Lisa, the final shot of the film indicates she is oblivious to this cruel reality.

The events of Anomalisa suggest Michael is incapable of prolonged romantic love. He returns to his home and immediately starts bickering with his wife – back to the reality of a loveless marriage.

Contrast this to earlier in the film when the classic 1936 movie My Man Godfrey (originally Casablanca in the script) plays in the hotel room. Kaufman is harkening back to a time of idealised romance – of courtship and restraint. This seems all too distant in Michael’s one-night-stand reality.

Complex Kaufman

Distinctive, stimulating and inventive.

Anomalisa is a reminder that Kaufman is an American filmmaking anomaly. One that we should all cherish, even if we don’t always understand.

Join us next week as we take an In Focus look at La La Land

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

In Focus series: Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

Subversive Casting: Introducing Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers

Also Read: The Shallows (Film Review)

Arrival (Film Review)

Kristen Stewart: Back From The Twilight

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

Spoiler Warning: As part of our In Focus series, we delve deep into Paterson (2016)

AS a litany of superhero movies, Disney remakes and furious cars reign supreme, it is easy to get swept away by the triviality of modern American cinema.

Then a film like Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson comes along.

Far from the loud bustling of Hollywood, this small-scale masterpiece won audience’s hearts with its gentle, endearing and quietly brilliant approach to storytelling.

Inspired by the work of William Carlos Williams, whose epic poem Paterson (1946-58) lingers in the film’s background, Jarmusch captures the poet’s appreciation for the intricacies of American life.

The film follows a young bus driver and poet, named Paterson (played by the superb Adam Driver). He lives in the New Jersey city of (you guessed it) Paterson, spending his days observing those around him and working on his poetry – inspired by hometown hero Williams.

Paterson lives an ordinary life with girlfriend Laura (played by the delightful Golshifteh Farahani), a charmingly enthusiastic jack of all trades. Completing the household is dumpy dog Marvin.

Like Williams’ poetry, Jarmusch’s film can be enjoyed far beyond its surface of tender humour and charming characters. Each carefully constructed scene has hidden meaning ready to be discovered and appreciated.

 

 “A man is indeed a city, and for the poet there are no ideas but in things.”  

– William Carlos Williams, Paterson

 

In some ways, Jarmusch’s Paterson is a celluloid continuation of Williams’ Paterson. From the outset, the director conjures the poem’s metaphor, of the man as the city, by naming Driver’s character Paterson.

Indeed, Paterson is connected in a way many of us who live in urban areas are not. From the elevated position in his bus driver’s seat, Paterson spends his days noticing the unnoticed. Just like Williams, he finds beauty where others do not have time to look.

Jarmusch reinforces this closeness with the city by fading images together. At one point, the Passaic Falls, Paterson and the Ohio Blue Tip matches all populate the frame. It gives the impression they are all connected, at least floating around in Paterson’s mind, fuelling his poetic vision of the city – and life.

 

 “The past above, the future below

and the present pouring down: the roar,

the roar of the present, a speech–

is, of necessity, my sole concern.”

– William Carlos Williams, Paterson

 

To mirror the passages of prose in Williams’ Paterson, Jarmusch playfully builds a history of the city with overheard bus conversations.

This begins with two young boys discussing infamous boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, who, in 1966, was wrongfully arrested and convicted for a triple-homicide in a Paterson bar. Later, two students talk about late 19th Century Italian anarchist Gaetano Bresci, who ran a newspaper in Paterson before assassinating King Umberto I in July of 1900.

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By casting Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the students, Jarmusch gives a subtle nod to fellow America auteur Wes Anderson. Perhaps this is because both filmmakers are stylistic anarchists in an all-too formulaic US film industry.

Doc, the owner of the bar Paterson frequents most nights, shows his value for the City’s history by keeping a ‘Paterson Wall of Fame’. With permission from Paterson, Doc adds a newspaper clipping about Iggy Pop being voted the sexiest man in the world by a Girls Club in Paterson.

The Iggy reference, which is a real piece of history, is a fun nod to Jarmusch’s project Gimme Danger (2016), which focused on the turbulent years of punk band The Stooges.

 

 “I would say poetry is language charged with emotion. It’s words, rhythmically organized . . . A poem is a complete little universe. It exists separately. Any poem that has any worth expresses the whole life of the poet. It gives a view of what the poet is.”

– William Carlos Williams, Paterson

 

As part of the poetic mythology that runs through Jarmusch’s film, Paterson keeps noticing identical twins – as if the internal rhyme of his poetry has filtered into his life.

One twin he meets is a friendly young girl who, just like Paterson, writes poetry in her secret notebook. When she reads her poem ‘Water Falls’ (written by Jarmusch) – the split compound noun reminiscent of Williams’ work – Paterson seems moved.

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Soon after, while sharing the encounter with Laura over a cheddar cheese and Brussel sprouts pie, they agree that the young girl’s poem is similar to something Paterson would write. There is also a suggestion the girl is one of the twins Laura dreamt about at the start of the film.

This feeds into the film’s theme of linage – a connection between contemporary artists, past artists and future artists.

 

“We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our checks and shades our eyes”

– Paul Lawrence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask

 

There are mentions of Frank O’Hara (who was inspired by Williams’ work), Allen Ginsberg (who lived in Paterson), Dante (a postcard sits alongside O’Hara’s poems in Paterson’s lunchbox) and Emily Dickinson (who, like Paterson, mainly kept her poetry to herself).

We also get a glimpse of how poetry, language and art can evolve.

While walking Marvin, Paterson stumbles upon a rapper (Method Man) working on his lyrics in the laundry mat. The rapper, whose lyrics meld the racial anguish of Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s ‘We Wear the Mask’ with quotes from Williams’ Paterson, displays the broad horizons of poetry, hip-hop included.

 

 “The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.”

– Private Joker, Full Metal Jacket

 

Beyond the presence of twins, duality takes many other forms in Paterson.

The young girl’s smiley surprise that Paterson is a bus driver who likes Dickinson reflects many people’s tendency to pigeonhole others. Jarmusch’s film points out that people can be more than just one thing.  Paterson is a bus driver and a poet, just as Williams was a doctor and a poet.

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In the bar, the helplessly love-struck Everett is a figure of amusement but still comes up with the deftly romantic line: ‘Without love, what reason is there for anything?’

Tellingly, Doc compares Everett and Marie’s relationship to the romantic figures of Romeo and Juliet, as well as the comedic duo Abbott and Costello.

As humans we are full of surprises and contradictions. They are to be embraced.

 

 “My little pumpkin,

I like to think about other girls sometimes,

but the truth is

if you ever left me

I’d tear my heart out

and never put it back”

– Paterson, Pumpkin

 

Laura is an anomaly in Paterson’s life. Her spontaneity contrasts with his working-class routine.

Paterson seems content with life. He drives his bus, has a beer at the bar in the evening and keeps his poetry to himself. Laura, on the other hand, has a new pursuit each day – getting rich from selling cupcakes or trying to become a famous country music star like Tammy Wynette.

She tries to impart these big dreams onto Paterson by encouraging him to photocopy his secret notebook and share it with the world.

He does not oblige and – in Ernest Hemmingway fashion – loses his work in cruel fashion.

One popular theory, shared by reddit user justdrinkmorewater, posits that Paterson is ‘crushed’ by their relationship. While this is interesting, Jarmusch leaves a subtle clue suggesting Laura’s purpose in the film is a more jovial one.

As part of her country singer dreams, Laura purchases a black and white guitar with DVD lessons from the internet. After performing her rendition of ‘I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad’ for Paterson, he sits down with the guitar – which Laura has named ‘Harlequin’ – and grins.

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This image is a reference to Juan Gris’ painting Harlequin with Guitar (1918). Gris, who was Williams’ favourite cubist artist and the inspiration behind his poem The Rose (1923), frequently used the Harlequin figure in his work.

As explained on the Art Story, the Harlequin is ‘a stock character in the commedia dell’arte and a trickster figure with a tendency to act on whim and passion’ – a fitting description of the loveable Laura.

There is also her obsession with black and white which jokingly hints at the aforementioned differences between Laura and Paterson. Embracing their differences, the two are completely accepting of each other – and clearly deep in love.

 

“Shaken by your beauty

Shaken.”

– William Carlos Williams, Paterson

 

The film ends on a circular note of contentment. Paterson wakes up, checks his watch, gives Laura a kiss and sets off for work. He is ready to experience the world and put pen to fresh paper.

As the Japanese gentleman, whose two broken fingers (duality) contrast the healing effect he has on Paterson, wisely says: ‘sometimes empty page presents more opportunities.’

What a film. Small in action and drama but big in heart and meaning. Complex and clever. You will discover something new each time you watch it. What a treat.

 

Join us next week for an In Focus look at Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa (2016)

 

Also read: The Shallows (Film Review)

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What did you discover in Paterson?

 

RIOTOUS FARCE AT THE ORANGE TREE (THEATRE REVIEW)

5 STARS

GREAT plays stand the test of time, even if they need an occasional lick of paint to freshen them up.

Such is the case with Le Jeu De L’Amour Et Du Hassard, a play written by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux and first performed in 1730.

Marivaux, a Frenchman from good Parisian stock, was only a part-time writer but he wrote more than 35 plays during his lifetime. His influence was such that it spurred the term ‘marivaudage’ – a not particularly flattering term used to describe verbose or affected writing.

Le Jeu is probably Marivaux’s most famous play but it was given a wonderful makeover in the early 1980s by the late John Fowles (The French Lieutenant’s Woman). This culminated in The Lottery of Love, a script which has now been used to marvellous effect in the latest offering from the Orange Tree Theatre in London’s wealthy Richmond.

Directed with aplomb by Paul Miller, the play is set in a drawing room (birds twittering away in the background) in the Regency period (early 1800’s). All perfect for the Orange Tree Theatre and its quadrangle stage. Love and class frame the play.

Mr Morgan, portly and refined, is keen to marry off his attractive daughter Sylvia and has a suitor in mind (Richard, son of a friend) who will be visiting them later that same day. But Sylvia is not so eager declaring to her maid (Louisa) that she is perfectly content as she is and has no interest in Richard – however true the claim that he is attractive, intelligent and a trustworthy gentleman.

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Sylvia, somewhat reluctantly, agrees to meet with Richard but only if she and Louisa reverse roles, enabling Sylvia to observe Richard from a detached distance. Mr Morgan, a doting father, agrees – much to Louisa’s delight who cannot wait to assume a position above her normal station.

Just before the women scuttle off to change clothes and roles, Sylvia’s dashing brother Martin arrives, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and full of mischief. Mr Morgan then opens a letter from Richard’s father which  states that Richard has the same idea as Sylvia – namely to dress up for the meeting as his manservant John Brass so that he can learn more about Sylvia’s character. John Brass, of course, is to present himself as Richard.

What follows is 80 minutes of enjoyable – and occasional rip-roaring – farce as aproned and servile Sylvia (now playing Louisa) is wooed by a smitten and ridiculously well-spoken John Brass (Richard).

Richard (John Brass) is dressed like a peacock with green laces in his shoes, a flower in his hair and gauche rings adorning most of his fingers (hats off to costume supervisor Holly Rose Henshaw).

More clown than supposed master, he instantly falls in love with Sylvia (Louisa) who makes the jump from ‘common’ to ‘posh’ quite seamlessly.

On one level love transcends the classes. On another, those of equal social standing are drawn together like twins or magnets.

Some of the language may jar but the acting is wonderful (great casting by Rebecca Murphy). Dorethea Myer-Bennett is quite exceptional  as the real Sylvia (Silvia in the original Marivaux play). Cynical one moment, demure the next. Her facial expressions are as enjoyable to observe as her comic timing is to listen to.

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Ashley Zhangazha portrays Richard (Dorante) as the earnest man he obviously  is while Tam Williams (Martin, Mario) makes a perfect sibling – tall, upright, handsome, beautifully spoken and seldom missing a chance to have a little fun at Sylvia’s expense. Upper class through and through.

Claire Lams (Louisa, Lisette) is more than effective in portraying Louisa’s transition from servant to supposed Lady of the house. One moment, a slightly cheeky and cheery servant. The next, a lady with a voice to match – and quite happy to be dismissive of her ‘maid’. Oh, how she enjoys chiding the real Sylvia. A duplicitous character made for Ms Lams.

As for Keir Charles, he plays Brass like a Regency version of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. Bombastic, conceited, foul mouthed, a man who finds falling in love quite easy and despite Richard’s goading is never quite able to shake off his lack of class. One critic describes him as a Regency version of Russell Brand. One Russell Brand is surely enough for this world.

It is all way over the top but Mr Charles provides the play with much of its humour. A fool dressed as a clown, often using the audience as a springboard for his oafishness (something Ms Myer-Bennett also does earlier in the play while questioning the intentions of most men).  Note to people booking tickets in the next few days – do not sit in the front row unless you want to be the butt of some good old fashioned humour.

Pip Donaghy completes the cast as a loving father, Mr Morgan (Orgon).

The play, which runs until May 13,  is a triumph for the Orange Tree Theatre. Yes, it is still dated despite Fowles’  best efforts. Yes, it is slap stick romance. But it’s great fun – as well as being a great play (mind you,  great with a small g, not great with a capital g).

Tickets are available for all bar one of the remaining performances. Grab one if you can. Pure escapism – and don’t we all need a little of that at the moment.

For more info: www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk

The Lottery of Love – 4/5

Martin: Tam Williams

Louisa: Claire Lams

Richard: Ashley Zhangazha

Sylvia: Dorothea Myer-Bennett

Brass: Keir Charles

Mr Morgan: Pip Donaghy

Director: Paul Miller

Designer: Simon Daw

Costume Supervisor: Holly Rose Henshaw

Casting: Rebecca Murphy

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Also read: Family Rupture in Healing Belfast (Theatre Review)

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FAMILY RUPTURE IN A HEALING BELFAST (THEATRE REVIEW)

5 STARS

NORTHERN Ireland is the backdrop to Everything Between Us, the award winning play by David Ireland that is now getting an airing at the Finborough Theatre in London’s Chelsea.

Predictably, its theme is the troubles – and the painful journey to a near state of political and religious reconciliation (although more recent events suggest otherwise).

But this is no predictable play. Far from it.

It boils away for 70 minutes like a vat of oil, spitting out globules of venom at every opportunity. The play is not for the faint hearted, nor those who are easily offended by the liberal use of the ‘c’ or ‘f’ words. It never fails to shock.

It starts with Teeni McKinney coming back to Belfast after an eleven year absence – on day one of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission for Northern Ireland at Stormont.

The play is savage from the very first moment Teeni storms on stage pursued by her older sister Sandra until the finale when Sandra walks off it exclaiming her horror at being a human being. Visceral throughout – shocking in parts – but it is not without its moments of rich humour.

Teeni’s return is a whirlwind one and she is all fire and brimstone as she rails against everyone. ‘I came out screaming like a banshee,’ she says, referring to her birth. ‘I declared war on this world as soon as I was out.’

Her targets include the chair of the commission who, shockingly, she abuses racially. Her older sister Sandra Richardson is ridiculed for her weight – ‘you’re fat’, ‘I can’t even bear to breath the same air as you’. Fenians, she hates with a vengeance, even lambasting her sister for wearing a green dress.

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Even Nelson Mandela is given a verbal going over although the bubble Teeni has been living in over the past eleven years means she is not even aware of the great man’s death.

Teeni is, blonde, self-assured, sexually confident and a recovering alcoholic (three years dry, allegedly). ‘I’m beautiful, I’m really intelligent, I’m funny, I’m sexy,’ she proclaims.

She is also a lethal mix of energy, hatred and bile. Kicking out at everything (most of the stage set) and everyone (ex-boyfriends, her mother and her dead father, a member of a protestant paramilitary group and a killer of nine Fenians who was in turn murdered by the IRA).

By way of contrast, Sandra is overweight, becalmed by comparison and an integral part of the peace process (a member of the legislative assembly). But she is not without her demons, separated from husband Stevie and bizarrely a member of Alcoholics Anonymous even though she does not drink.

Her turmoil is fuelled in part by the fact by Teeni walked out on the family and then failed to contact them – even when their father died.

‘Say sorry,’ she pleads. ‘You’ve caused havoc. Our mother has been crying for eleven years.’ The fact that Teeni drew a knife on Sandra’s son Ryan when he was newly born has left a metaphorical weeping wound between the two of them.

This familial fracture is the essence of the play and towards the end we get an explanation as to why Teeni is so unhinged.

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Uncomfortable, yes. Cringingly so on occasion. But it is essential viewing nonetheless. The acting by both Katrina McKeever (Teeni) and Lynsey-Anne Moffat (Sarah) is top drawer. I certainly wouldn’t want a run-in with McKeever’s Teeni while enjoying a night out in Belfast.

As has become the norm with the Finborough Theatre in recent months, Everything Between Us is an excellent production superbly directed by Neil Bull. Hats off to The Working Party Theatre Company for its role in bringing this play to an English audience.

If you have a strong constitution, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It runs until May 16.

Everything Between Us – 4/5

Teeni: Katrina McKeever

Sandra: Lynsey-Anne Moffat

Director: Neil Bull

Designer: Laura Cordery

Casting director: Matthew Dewsbury

Producer: Matthew Schmolle

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