Monday, 30 April 2012

Here is the list...

I did it...I finally did it.  I made the list:

List of films to watch

Last year I watched all 15 glorious hours of Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: An Odyssey and it made me realise that even though I've been a film lover for about a million years there are still a load of films, important films, that I haven't seen. Far from being frustrated by this, I find it thrilling that there continues to be a VERY long list of films I've yet to see, an entire ocean of cinema to dip my toe in, wade into and swim in forever. Or what feels like forever, as the list is long and I (sadly) don't have film watching as part of my current job description.

So, partly due to time constraints and partly due to the fact that I'm a librarian by trade, I made a list of those films that I either hadn't seen or had seen snippets of so long ago that I had in effect not seen them at all.  I've split the list into decades and different countries/regions.  The idea is that I'll try to watch all films from the same era at the same time. The reason I want to do this is to get as much of the 'real' context as possible, naff as that may sound. So, I don't want to watch all gangster films at the same time for example as there are far more influences to films than just the others in the same genre.

We'll see. I may change my mind.

By the way, the list is a work in progress, which is why some columns have no titles yet. I would love to know of any films that you would include in your own list.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Melancholia (2011)

I've had a few recent good film viewings...A Dangerous Method...Contagion...Contagion particularly good by the way. I'll maybe post about that soon.

Yesterday I was supposed to travel to Bristol with a friend to see the new Dardennes brothers film The Kid With the Bike.  Our plans were thwarted for various reasons, so instead I found myself in Blockbusters, choosing between Melancholia and We Need To Talk About Kevin.  Cheery stuff, I hear you cry!  These were films that I had missed at the cinema last year, so I had to choose between them to start the catch up.

I had read about Lars Von Trier's new film last year in Sight and Sound, the broadsheets and blogs.  I purposefully hadn't watched his previous film, Antichrist, as scenes of female genital self-mutilation don't really float my boat and I'm just not ready to get over that yet.  I saw Breaking the Waves years ago, and difficult as it is to watch, I thought it a very well made, fascinating treatment of the life of Christ. I also saw The Idiots a couple of years ago and, despite all my preconceptions, I loved it. 

So, after reading about Melancholia, I was ready to dip my toe back in the choppy waters of Von Trier.  I was not disappointed.  Before going on to discuss plot and photography, I have to mention that last year I went to the cinema to see Terence Malick's The Tree of Life, an amazing, sublime, properly awesome film.  The natural history photography and Space Odyssey-ish images of planets being born and dying are why cinema exists. Okay, so it is a bit overblown in parts and Brad Pitt is woefully miscast, but on the whole, it's A Good Thing that Malick is making films. 

Melancholia begins with an overture, a sequence of nearly still slow motion shots, some of which took me straight back to Tree of Life's birth and death of the universe.  The accompanying music, Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, elevates the scenes to sit alongside Malick and, yes I'll dare say it, Kubrick.  These scenes are painterly in composition, colour and perspective and are just wonderful to look at. At the end of this sequence we get a slo-mo clash of planets, telling all that is to come.

Once we're in the narrative we meet Justine (Kirsten Dunst) on her wedding day. It soon becomes apparent that she has a history of severe depression and she acts out in all sorts of ways on this most crucial of days (two hours late for the reception, disappearing for baths and extra-marital golf course sex being just a few). After meeting her mother and father, we begin to get an insight as to the difficulty of her childhood.  As Justine moves through the evening we are introduced to a parallel story, of a rogue planet, Melancholia, which is due to pass by Earth in a few days time. 

Over the course of the film we are witness to all sorts of imagery that takes the viewer back to other films.  The double shadows on the fir trees on the lawn (from the moon and Melancholia) hark back to the no shadows of the trees in Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad (and of course the sundial), the golf course had reminders, for me, of Antonioni's La Notte. Is it a coincidence that both of those films look unflinchingly at male/female relationships, as does Melancholia?  A bit tenuous perhaps, but the resonance is there.  Surely, Von Trier is saying something about marriage when he has Justine's wedding day precede the end of the world?  Something about this connection floored me. 

About a month after getting married myself I can remember crying myself awake. I had dreamt that my parents no longer loved me and this absolutely terrified me.  After telling a couple of close friends (and my mother), they all confessed to having had similar night terrors soon after their weddings.  Melancholia, to me, speaks of the same terror. Okay, it's actually dressed up as Justine's depression returning and a massive planet crashing into Earth, but, you know, she feels a huge weight dragging her down, an enormous sense of impending doom and a total disconnection from her parents. Could the metaphor be that it is the world as she knows it is ending as a new and totally unknowable existence will take over? I think I may be reading too closely but I don't believe it didn't cross Von Trier's mind. 

The second half of the film focuses on Justine's sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). We are now post-wedding, Justine has returned to Claire's home to be badly depressed and Melancholia is but a day away. This part of the film has a very strange, lonely, dreadful quality. It is scary when the two sisters realise they are facing the apocalypse. Justine has come to terms with this but Claire panics as the thought of losing her young son overwhelms her.   They end their time by building a "magic cave" made of sticks and sit together with Claire's son (Claire's husband John has long since dispatched himself with a bottle of pills after realising the situation) to see in Melancholia's confrontation with Earth.  Then it just ends.  A very different take on the end of the world disaster films that we are all used to seeing. We don't usually end with the actual end, someone always saves the day, fights off the deadly comet/aliens/cold weather and some semblence of reality is restored. But this is Von Trier and he doesn't work like that. 

I love it that he does things differently because, as I said with Malick, we need cinema, we need to see these images, strange and disturbing as they are. We certainly (I hope) won't ever see them for real.