Category Archives: Film

Cine Excess Festival: Para Elisa @ mac

As most women know it’s hard enough being your own person without constantly looking over your shoulder at that ever present imprinted shadow of your mother, fixated in your mind since you were born. Naturally the older you get the more you consciously try to press that shadow down and create a new identity. This is why ‘Para Elisa Aka for Elisa’ is so consuming because it does the exact opposite with the mother daughter relationship dynamic. It’s an energising and sinister portrayal of a familial relationship that thrives on obedience, role play and bloodlust violence.

We have Ana who is a university student and needs money to fund a graduation holiday. After fighting with her boyfriend she manages to land an interview for a babysitting job. She meets the child’s mother Diamantina who is a pianist with an impressively Versaillesque furnished apartment and an open bookshelf devoted to dolls. All is well until Ana sees the child, Elisa for the first time who is probably as old as she is, dressed up like a school girl. Leading to her being forcibly kidnapped and suited up in a weird doll dress for the ‘child’ Elisa to play with, an ultimate act of passing down the maternal baton from mother to daughter to the newly assigned doll.

It’s a brilliant premise to work with. Often macabre and infantilising, the first half of the movie is more paced out and surreal, you don’t understand what you’re watching. Yet it’s more of a psychological study than just a typical ‘horror’ movie. There are problems of identity, overt / hidden eroticism and harmony; it’s something of an emotional smothering of all these different dynamics.  Very energetic and exciting but so surreal up till the ending which leaves you with a wry laugh it’s not the happiest resolution. As was most of the second half of the movie.

Created by Juanra Fernandez, his first full length feature film which he wrote too. Much has been said about the recent trend in Spanish cinema whereby psychological horror movies are being made frequently. And ‘Para Elisa’ may not be the most conventional type of horror movie you’ll see on the big screen but it is an interesting take on this genre, and with a great premise, although it does laughably fizzle out a little towards the end.

By Shantok Jetha

 

 

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The Fifth Estate @ The Electric Cinema

the fifth estate

Condon’s fast-paced thriller examines the real events of the still topical Wikileaks scandal. The story follows the relationship between founder of the controversial anti-secrecy website, the enigmatic Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the website’s idealistic spokesman Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl) as Wikileaks gradually becomes less a platform for free speech and more a threat to lives and security. Featuring Laura Linney as American government official Sarah Shaw, and Peter Capaldi as Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, The Fifth Estate addresses issues ranging from the BNP to 9/11 to ‘Cablegate’ and explores the wide-ranging impact complete transparency has on the world’s press, its governments and its people.

The film endeavours to present two sides of a very complex and morally grey coin rather than take a side in the freedom of the press debate.  Like Brülh’s character, the audience is at first swept up in the belief that Assange’s mission to expose corruption and defend free speech is brave and revolutionary. However, as the story develops and the website’s content and publicity gathers momentum the whole matter becomes less black and white. It felt as if Condon intended to spark debate with this film, rather than condone or condemn Assange and his actions and ethos.

The film is as much an examination Wikileaks as it is a deeply personal look at Julian Assange. In the rare moments of calm between furious typing and international diplomacy crises, the audience is drip-fed details of Assange’s personal life in the form of small monologues. The regularity of these often very sad or disturbing revelations, though seemingly rather formulaic, gives a welcome respite from the high adrenaline of the rest of the film and allows us an insight into a fascinating and complicated man.

It seems Cumberbatch is becoming used to playing enigmatic and troubled geniuses, the enormity of whose intellect is matched only by their lack of social awareness. For those who will go to see this film just for its lead actor the parallels between Assange and Sherlock will be hard get over. Not that Cumberbatch was the wrong choice for this role, his capturing of Assange’s idiosyncrasies and flawless accent is almost a Michael Sheen-worthy embodiment of a public figure. What underpins this film is the relationship between Assange and Berg; the mysterious genius and the keen idealist who start out with a shared vision but whose very differing ideas about friendship and morality ultimately lead to hostility. It felt at times like a slightly more serious version of the Zuckerberg- Eduardi Saverin relationship in The Social Network.

As well as an intriguing central relationship the film looked very good. The titles and graphics were slick and impressive. Condon’s symbolic visual representation of what seemed to be the ‘inside of the internet’ comprised of rows of computers existing in a strange non-space which seemed like an office but with the sky as the ceiling. An interesting approach which was ultimately effective despite at times being less distinguishable as omnipotent cyberspace and more  reminiscent of a high-tech version of The Great Hall at Hogwarts.

Part of the fascination this film will have for audiences is that the subject matter is still fiercely topical; Julian Assange currently still taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.  No less intriguing is the altercation between Cumberbatch and Assange before the film was made. Cumberbatch revealed the Wikileaks founder politely responded to request to meet in person with an appeal that film not be made and that the actor abandon the role. Condon embraces the central notion of freedom of speech by concluding with an interview in which Cumberbatch as Assange both ridicules the idea of a ‘Wikileaks film’ and dismisses as lies the books from which the film was adapted.  This strange sort of meta-film moment cleverly brings a new focus to the debates surrounding free speech and censorship at its centre.  The fast pace, detailed plot-line and multiple locations, though perhaps not leaving room for supporting characters to develop, meant this film was ultimately an exciting and engaging watch.

By Lily Beazley
@LilyBeazley

Robert Atkinson, Architect of Cinemas @ UoB Arts and Science Festival

Kicking off the University of Birmingham’s Arts and Science festival, the lecture from Dr Kate Ince introduced the work of the acclaimed architect Robert Atkinson; examining his professional progression as ‘architect of cinema’ and the principal architect of our very own Barber Institute. Atkinson’s ideological progression from designing ‘super-cinemas’ for the masses, to viewing the cinema as an institution which should be interchangeable with buildings and their varied uses, is succinctly demonstrated by the plans to equip the Barber’s auditorium to screen view – turning it into a cinema for all intents and purposes.

barber (1)

The talk itself was illuminating. A snapshot of the history of cinema development, and Atkinson’s creations, Dr Ince focused on The Regent Cinema, Queen’s Road, Brighton as the epitome of Atkinson’s career. He had a particular style, easily seen through the range of black and white photographs we were shown, although they could do no justice to the bright and vivid colours Atkinson was known to use. It is a tragedy of history that most of his work has been demolished or destroyed by fire through the 1950’s-70’s, when cinema attendance was at its lowest.

Comparing the ‘Picture Houses’ of our past and today’s multiplex giants is fascinating. They had ballrooms, The Regent had an Italian restaurant on its second floor, and crucially they were so much more beautiful than, for example, the Cineworld on Broad Street. Atkinson’s style made cinemas beautifully decorated, two storey galleries, with motifs and frescos often having an art deco feel; the classic features creating an air of elegance. The Regent Cinema exemplified this beauty and, more like a theatre to our modern eyes, it seated up to 3000 people. An example of a remaining cinema today that is similar to this, although not designed by him, is the Majestic cinema in Leeds, a listed building since 1993.

Regent_proscenium_1921

In my eyes the era of Atkinson’s architecture is a romanticised view of what cinema has come to be known as. Super-cinemas of the 1930s are perhaps a snapshot into what we have come to know as the modern cinema. However, we should look more to the past and recreate the masterpieces that cinemas were. We should appreciate film as an art form, and give them the setting they deserve. Eros News Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue Piccadilly Circus was a piece of his work, and in 2002 its interior was gutted and re-opened as a Gap clothing store. It is clear this is such a shame to the heritage of Cinema.

I turn to his work designing the Barber Institute, only twenty years before his death. The Institute we have today, although having stood the test of time, does not exactly resemble his work. For example, by the 1960s the flat roof needed to be replaced and a truncated glass pyramid was constructed in 1986-9. Atkinson presented three plans to be considered. Interestingly, one of which shows how we could have had a Barber Institute which could have looked much more like the traditional cinemas he designed, with an oval shaped entrance and two sets of steps leading up either side.

There is no doubt though that the Barber Institute is a beautiful addition to the University. Borne from the mind of an acclaimed successful architect of cinema, the fact the auditorium may soon be equipped with a screen should be celebrated. Atkinson would no doubt approve of such a use for his masterpiece.

The lecture provided an opportunity to appreciate more of Birmingham’s culture and heritage. The rest of the Art and Science festival will no doubt do the same.

Holly Abel

@HollyAbel3

Flatpack Festival presents: Salon des Refusés

Salon des Refusés is a culmination of those short films that were forgotten and those anomalies which simply didn’t suit any other slot. Curators Chloë Roddick and Kristy Dootson collated eight short films hand-picked amongst five hundred which didn’t make the cut to be screened at some of the major international film festivals. Rather than simply discarding these rejects, for the reason that they don’t seem to ‘fit in’ with the rest,  the event showcased the best of them  to the public in the comfort of a cosy darkened room adorned with an array of furniture ranging from deck chairs to sofas.

The first film, Uncle Fran by Mike Forshaw brought the audience to the character of Fran, a fifty-something alcoholic.  The film follows Fran on the day of his mother’s funeral, and watches his failed attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter and grandchildren, of whom he doesn’t even know the names. Fran makes an effort to fix his wrong doings as he engages with his grandchildren for the first time. The scene progresses and the speed increases as we watch him interact, giggling and playing spinning the children around. However, it all ends very abruptly as he swirls and knocks a glass of red wine off a nearby table, resulting in a smash and splash alarming the rest of the crowd in the pub. The granddaughter of no older than six or seven bursts into tears and Fran’s moment of joy turns suddenly sour.  The film explores the themes of isolation and emasculation and alienation, and the crippling effect it has on this one man.

Moving away from Uncle Fran and a bleak area near Liverpool, the next film Distant Thunder, by Venetia Taylor, was set in a beautiful Australian suburban area following the life of  well-to-do Pam, a middle aged divorceé  who enjoys cheese and a little too much wine. Her former husband Richard arrives at her luxury apartment and Pam’s wry humour and her clearly forced nonchalance result in a comic effect, especially when she jovially tells Richard ‘you’ll be dead soon’. Their meeting is interrupted by the desperate screams of a man on a faraway mountain, whom Richard jokes maybe meditating.  One can’t help but parallel the desperate screaming man to the jolted awkward relationship of repressed emotions and unsettled histories between the two protagonists.

The next two film short films shall be grouped together for the only reason that they are both truly chilling. Brotherhood explores the relations between two Muslim brothers who have immigrated to the UK. They choose two very different occupations. Through the moral righteousness of one brother, both their lives become extremely dangerous. Nina Please revolves around a young Polish couple, in which Nina epitomises the oppressed woman who has to give up work to care for her baby.

Thankfully, in-between these harrowing yet thought provoking films was a delightful Canadian piece, Two Men, Two Cows, Two Guns (Pardis Parker) which is available to watch on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POcGENMfL_M

My personal favourite was The Trip, a piece set in the Polish countryside exploring the relationship between a girl of thirteen and her elderly grandfather. They go on wonderful camping excursions and the footage of the vast green landscapes are breath-taking. Her grandfather pokes  about  in trees, digging around, slips and falls down a grassy knoll whilst Asia  watches and giggles, in-between playing with her mobile phone. They walk to the top of a hill where they sit and watch the sun set, where her grandfather offers Asia a priceless nugget of wisdom that time is more precious than any gold or silver. The sun is just about to set as Asia fiddles with her phone; the polyphonic tones rudely interrupt the tranquillity. She grabs for her digital camera as the sun drops below the horizon and takes a snap.

Words and photography by Natalya Paul

Flatpack Festival presents: Another Fine Mess

The sixth Flatpack Film Festival kicked off with a great night showcasing several classic silent films. This was the first event of this year’s Birmingham-based film festival, which screens a glut of films for every taste from classics such as The Elephant Man to surreal and niche shorts like The Cat With Hands.

Another Fine Mess was a showcase of black and white comedies from the early part of the twentieth century, accompanied by the expertise of Neil Brand, a pianist who accompanies silent movies across the world (he also featured on Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns TV series).

After we had taken our seats in the (surprisingly warm) cathedral along with 200 others ranging in age from teens to pensioners, Ian Francis, Director of Flatpack, gave a brief introduction to the four day festival taking place at venues across the city. It was then on to the main event as Neil Brand highlighted the recent renaissance of silent film, undoubtedly spurred on by the success of The Artist.

The first film we were show was A Pair of Tights, from 1929, which centred around a pair of tight wads taking two (hungry) ladies on a double date. Resisting their date’s calls for a slap-up turkey dinner, the ‘pair of tights’ agreed to splash out on four ice cream cones. This prompted hilarious scenes involving revolving doors, amorous dogs and fist-shaking policemen, climaxing in what can only be termed reciprocal slapstick violence. It was a great introduction to the genre and you quickly forgot that Neil Brand was playing the piano in the room throughout, his compositions matching the drama and his emphasis perfectly timed with what was happening on screen.

Next up was one of the highlights of the night: a short entitled The Dog Outwits The Kidnapper (1908). What starts out as a very sinister tale of a toddler kidnapping turns rapidly into a heroic story of canine bravery. I won’t ruin it for you, as it’s available on YouTube in all its glory, but I will say though that from a personal perspective any film involving a dog dressed up, or driving a car, is a winner in my book.  See for yourself: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qApoxM41NGQ

Following these were some shorts illustrating the imagination, escapism and fantasy that characterised early black and white films. We were treated to eerie musical accompaniment for a man sneezing until he exploded (as funny as it sounds), a dramatisation of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves (as if it had been filmed on an drug induced high), and a train journey through space to the sun. These were also some of the earliest first colour films, created by artists individually hand-painting every single film cell – an arduous task to say the least, but the results were undoubtedly astonishing to audiences of the time.

Then it was the final event, starring one of, if not the most famous double act in cinema history: Laurel and Hardy in You’re Darn Tootin‘ from 1928. Audience participation was key to the screening of this film, with a drum handed out to replicate the noise of a punch to the stomach, a triangle for a kick to the knee, and pieces of paper for everyone to rip during the fabulous final scene: a mass trouser ripping involving over a dozen characters.

Accompanied by rapturous laughter, Another Fine Mess was a great start to the festival and also a great introduction to the silent film genre, the piano accompaniment and introductions to each short by Neil Brand really enhanced the event. The mixture of ages in the audience shows the variety of appeal these films have, and the overall audio and visual experience were unlike those found in Cineworld, the Showcase or the Odeon, and more like that at the theatre or the concert hall – a refreshing change to say the least.

A final thought for those who may not be too familiar with the stars of the silent comedy era: if you grew up finding the Chuckle Brothers funny, you’ll be in tears watching anything involving Laurel and Hardy.

Words by Andy Newnham