Six films, six countries. One director I’m a fan of, five directors new to me. So it goes.
Every Picture Tells a Story, James Scott (1967 – 1984, UK). So I decided to split my rental list and include documentaries, and this was the first one I was sent. Last year, I’d rented a collection of Humphrey Jennings’s documentaries, and loved them so much I bought all three DVDs of his films. James Scott was a documentary film-maker new to me, a Brit, whose career stretched through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. His father was famous Ulster painter William Scott, and it is a dramatisation of the William Scott’s life which gives this collection its title. It’s not a documentary but a docudrama, starring Phyllis Logan (remember Lovejoy?) as Scott’s mother and Alex Norton (remember Taggart… um, after Taggart himself was no longer in it?) as his father. The remaining films on the two discs are documentaries about artists – David Hockney making etchings, Claes Oldenburg visiting the UK for a retrospective of his work at the Tate Gallery, on RB Kitaj, on Richard Hamilton, and a documentary for the Arts Council. It’s fascinating stuff, and more than justifies my decision to include documentaries in my rental viewing. (Interestingly, Scott’s one feature film for Hollywood was butchered before release by Weinstein and flopped badly.)
Assassin’s Creed, Justin Kurzel (2016, USA). A colleague at work wondered if I’d be able to follow the plot of this film given I’ve never played the games from which it was adapted. Nope, no trouble at all, seemed very straightforward. I was, however, surprised to find a science fiction tentpole blockbuster with half of its dialogue not in English (in Spanish, in this case). Michael Fassbender plays a convict on Death Row, who wakes up after his execution in a scientific institute in Madrid (although it looks more like some sort of Brutalist fortress). He is told he’ll be a subject in an experiment that will use his “genetic memory” so he can witness the life of a fifteenth-century ancestor. This is because the institute is owned by the Knights Templar, who are a powerful and power-hungry international organisation, and they’re after the Apple of Eden, which will eliminate human free will and so put them in total control, and which was last seen in the fifteenth century by… Fassbender’s ancestor. Who was actually a member of a secret order dedicated to combating the Knights Templar, the Assassins. Um, yes. It’s all risible nonsense, and makes even less sense when you watch a pair of knackered Assassins kill several hundred Knights Templar in an extended fight/parkour chase scene through mediaeval Madrid. I mean, if the Assassins were that effective, how could they lose? But it turns out they were just biding their time, because they don’t know where the Apple is either. But they mean to make sure the Templars don’t get it. The Templars are Nazis in all but name, given a thin veneer of multinational corporatism, which would make for telling political commentary… if only the film wasn’t so dumb. The Assassins are your typical Hollywood genre good guys – ie, just as violent and brutal as the bad guys, but righteous. Which could also make for telling political commentary… if only the world-building wasn’t so stupid. One for fans of the game.
Oedipus Rex, Pier Paolo Pasolino (1967, Italy). I’ve written before there are two types of Pasolini film – let’s call them the character film and the landscape film – and this definitely falls squarely into the latter category. It was filmed in North Africa, like Pasolini’s Arabian Nights and Medea (sort of), although its story takes place in Ancient Greece. It pretty much follows the Ancient Greek story. An oracle tells a king he will be killed by his son, so his wife arranges for the baby to be taken away and killed. But a passerby rescues the baby boy and raises it as his own son. Once grown, the man, Oedipus, goes wandering. He encounters a merchant – he thinks – on the road, gets into a fight with him and his soldiers, and kills them. Later, he stumbles across a man (played by Pasolini’s partner, Ninetto Davoli) who is from a town terrorised by a monster. Oedipus kills the monster and is offered the throne of the town, as the king had vanished some years before while on pilgrimage. He accepts and marries the queen. He then learns that the merchant he’d killed earlier had been the king of the town. And further learns that he was adopted and that his father was… the king he had murdered… which makes his wife his mother. Just like the prophecy. Imagine that. Like Pasolini’s other “landscape” films – I’m not convinced the categorisation works, but let’s go with it – makes ample use of its Moroccan locations, features many non-actors in supporting roles, and lokos absolutely fabulous. There’s none of the earthy, or scatological, humour of this “character” films, but everything looks so good, and so idiosyncratic, that the seriousness – which, to be fair, often teeters on the edge of humour – seems fitting. Excellent stuff.
Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Masaaki Tanigushi (2010, Japan). Annoyingly, this is the sequel to a live action adaptation of a 1965/1966 serialised novel, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which was released in 1983, and later remade in 1997, and then remade as anime in 2006… And I’d seen none of those versions of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, so I was coming to this belated sequel cold. Japanese films, especially ones based on well-known domestic properties, obviously don’t make concessions to international audiences. So it took me a while to figure out what was going on in Time Traveller. But the back-story didn’t really matter all that much. Young woman tries to track down the first love of her mother, comatose after an accident, and so travels back in time to the year of their relationship, 1972. but she gets it wrong and ends up in 1974. Where she ends up falling in with a geek amateur film director, while she triesd to track down her mother’s lover, even though she’s two years too late. It all felt like an affectionate spoof of the period, in much the same way Back to the Future did for 1950s small-town USA. But unlike that film, it ends up in a completely different place and concludes with a bitter-sweet ending. I liked it. I liked it enough to want to see the first film… which was when I discovered it had been released twenty-seven years earlier… so I ended up sticking the anime version on my rental list. But I’d still like to see the 1983 movie. And the 1997 movie as well. Happily, Time Traveller: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time does stand pretty well on its own, and is worth watching.
Take Care of My Cat, Jeong Jae-eun (2001, South Korea). I had thought I’d stumbled across this one on my own, but no, apparently David Tallerman added it to my rental list during one of our afternoons in Shalesmoor. I thought I might have added it myself because the title reminded me of No One Knows About Persian Cats, an excellent Iranian film. But no. Take Care of My Cat follows five young women after they graduate from high school. One joins a brokerage firm as a junior clerk, another works for free at her parents’ sauna, two twins sell handmade jewellery on the street, and one holds a succession of low-paying jobs because she wants to be an artist. And, er, that’s about it. There’s no plot, no three-act structure, no actual story… just character growth. Things happen – two of the women fall out, and a third tries to keep the group together; the artist’s grandparents, with whom she lives, are killed when the roof of their house collapses; the brokerage clerk’s ego takes a battering at work when she’s told she won’t go far without a degree… It’s an ensemble piece and it rises or falls according to the characterisation of its central cast, and their presentation by the actors. Happily, both are done well. The central dufference of opinion feels entirely in keeping with the characters of the two young women involved as they are written and played. It’s not the most thrilling film ever made and, despite its ending, it could perhaps have benefited from a little more plot. But it’s good stuff and worth seeing.
Japayuki, Joey Romero (1993, Philippines). The cover art, or what passes for it on Amazon Prime, managed to disguise what proved to be a 24-year-old bog-standard true-crime thriller made in the Philippines about overseas Filipino workers. The term “japayuki” is used by Filipinos to describe the young women who work overseas in Japan, in a variety of jobs but mostly entertainment (ie, dancers in bars, and so on). The film opens with Maricris Soison’s body being returned to the Philippines. She apparently died of hepatits B. But an autopsy reveals she had actually been tortured and beaten to death. A campaigner is determined to discover the truth of her murder. Maricris worked as a dancer in a Tokyo nightclub and, the campaigner is told, had a drug problem. She digs deeper and discovers this a lie – the dancers were kept locked up in their accommodation, were not allowed to keep their passports, and were expected to give sexual favuors to nightclub patrons. Maricris rebelled and tried to escape. The campaign fails to get the Philippines government to declare Maricris’s death a murder, nor bring her employer to justice. The overseas workers bring too much money into the Philippines’ economy to risk jeopardising the country’s relations with Japan. Japayuki played like the sort of “based on a true story” drama that went straight to video back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, although the ones we saw were pretty much entirely American. Very little Filipino cinema makes it into the Anglophone world – it’s only now, for example, that one or two of Lino Brocka’s movies have become available on DVD in the US and UK, and he made over 60 feature films. He was also nominated twice for the Palme d’or. Joey Romero, however, is no Brocka.
1001 Movies You Must See Beforeyou Die count: 885