Belle (2014 dir. Amma Asante)

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Anyone who classes themselves as a true friend will know of my interest in the stories and experiences of the African-Caribbean diaspora and my penchant for period dramas, thus it will be of no surprise that I went out of my way to see this film.

Inspired by a painting of  Lady Elizabeth Dido Lindsay, Britain’s first black aristocrat, Belle explores the social conventions and hypocrisies of 18th century England. 

The film was written by black British writer Misan Sagay and directed by Amma Asante and boasts a sterling cast of accomplished actors such as Tom Wilkinson and Miranda Richardson as well as relative newcomers Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sam Reid; all of whom contribute to making this film a real gem.

The film, I hope, symbolises a move amongst those in the British media to portray the lives of black Britons before 1948, although the British film industry need to pull their socks up and tell us the stories of The Empire Windrush generation too.

Belle is an excellent British film and one that I would expect to become a classic. As well as an alluring love story it addresses race, gender and class inequality in the 1700s.

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The painting, by an anonymous artist, that inspired the screenplay, now hung at Scone Palace in Perth, Scotland, the family seat.

 

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The Wolf of Wall Street (2012 dir. Martin Scorsese)

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Sandra’s Verdict

There are a lot of films based on true events out at the moment and The Wolf of Wall Street in that sense is no different. However unlike some of those films, which tend to trace the steps of the virtuous and high-minded as they battle through prejudice and other adversities, The Wolf of Wall Street gives audiences a kind of respite, allowing us to revel in the vulgarities of 1980s and 90s banking. The film is a comical retelling of the antics of amoral Jordan Belfort while he was head of brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, his debauched nights with prostitutes and friends and his drug addiction right up until his conviction for fraud and money laundering followed by his reincarnation as a motivational speaker. After all the ‘banker-bashing’ that has been going on since the 2008 banking crisis it is refreshing to be able to laugh at these characters and to a certain extent Scorsese has done here with bankers what he achieved  with gangsters in his earlier films. In some ways this film can also be compared to Goodfellas, in that it is amusingly narrated by the main protagonist on whom the film is primarily focused, features a Pesci-like sidekick and  women are either sexual vessels or nagging wives. Scorsese himself has confirmed that there are likenesses between the two films.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who is not known for playing comedy roles, is extremely funny in this film as is the more accustomed Jonah Hill, who plays Donnie Azoff, Belfort’s business partner. There are also some unlikely appearances from the likes of Joanna Lumley, who shares an onscreen pash with DiCaprio, and French actor Jean Dujardin.

The Wolf of Wall Street is an excellent film, filled with energy and wit and should not be missed.

 

Something Wild (1961 dir. Jack Garfen)

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Sandra’s Verdict

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I attended a small screening of Something Wild with the director, Jack Garfen, at the Renoir in Bloomsbury last week and was fortunate enough to listen to him introduce the film and be able to question him about the film’s themes and depictions after the feature.

Carroll Baker, Garfen’s wife at the time of filming, plays the 17-year-old protagonist Mary Anne in this formerly banned film with delicacy and agression. Although her character is raped early on in the film she remains immaculate and sophisticated (not a hair out-of-place) as she then goes through poverty, self-destruction and captivity. Having kept ‘what has happened’ a secret she leaves her parental home and prematurely moves into the adult world of Manhattan’s rougher quarter. During the course of the film she seems to tumble-down a rabbit hole, marching, floating and stumbling, she passes through various locations without finding peace and leads herself to the edge of Manhattan Bridge where she is pulled, ‘saved’ and captured by Mike (Ralph Meeker).

We are then taken through a series of scenes where Mike having failed to win her over with milk, bread and steak keeps her locked in his one-roomed basement flat. After a series of fracases, during which Mary Ann kicks out at her strangle holds and Mike attempts to show his admiration, though flawed and dependent, she is finally to reach an equilibrium again via Broadway and Central Park. It is unfortunate then that she returns to Mike’s needy embrace.

The craftsmanship of Something Wild is excellent from the script to set design to lighting. Nevertheless I could not understand why after being freed Mary Ann would return to wed her captor and I posed this question to Garfen at the end of the screening. Garfen of course defended his ending and talked of the praise that the film had got from some feminists because of the strong female protagonist. His interviewer pointed out that feminists, who argued that she was not truly liberated because she returned to her captor and thus suffered Stockholm syndrome, were missing the point.

The film according to Garfen dealt with a lot of issues that were in his subconscious at the time of making it, such as his having survived a Dachau concentration camp in Nazi Germany whilst his Jewish family were killed, his relationships and his emigration to New York. Garfen identied with Mary Ann having also been in captivity and consequentially unable to accept love from the women he had been involved with. This is an interesting comparison but I think it is important to accept that although Garfen attempts to give the film a romantic ending with Mary Ann being married and reunited with her mother, this seems hurried and unconvincing as she seems to have resolved everything over the course of a few months.

I enjoyed this film and accept that in its context it was a challenging film for audiences to watch; however I cannot help but feel disappointed by the backtracking at the end. I would have preferred it if May Ann had liberated herself and moved forward toward an alternative future rather than meet the expectations of marriage, children, and bondage.

The Samurai That Night (2012 dir. Masaaki Akahori)

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Sandra’s Verdict

The Samurai That Night is an excellent film. I must say however, for the benefit of those expecting swords and kimonos, that it is not a film about an actual samurai, so do not expect to be entertained with fast motion takes, rapid editing or jaw dropping CGI. The film, which has already won a Golden Zenith at the Montreal World Film Festival, does deal with a common belief  present in samurai films, the idea that the murder of innocent women or children should be avenged and our main protagonist, awkward Kenichi Nakamura- portrayed by Masato Sakai, must deal with this grave dilemma.

We join Kenichi, or Ken as is preferred by his wife, two days before the five-year anniversary of her death. She (Maki Sakai) was killed in a hit and run by Kijima (Takayuki Yamada) who has recently been freed from prison after being convicted for her death. Both men are still coming to terms with the event. Ken is mild-mannered, whilst keeping up with the running of his small ironworks business, he remains reclusive, not speaking much until the film’s climatic scenes at the end. By contrast Kijima is aggro and in initial conflict with all he interacts with.

I enjoyed the film’s mundane realism which firmly places the plot into a modern urban context and allows the audience to relate to the Japanese characters. The film also depicts the formalities and reserved nuances of Japanese culture, most of the characters, apart from roguish Kijima, are apologetic and overly polite by British standards.

I was only disappointed by a couple of lines worth of dialogue between Ken and Kijima, where Ken suggests that they talk about television, I felt this to be cheesy and belittling of the journey the characters had made toward their final confrontation. Other than this I found The Samurai That Night to be a very good choice and definitely worth watching particularly on a rainy autumn afternoon. I am very pleased at its selection for the BFI’s London Film Festival.

LUV (2012 dir Sheldon Candis)

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Sandra’s Verdict

I saw LUV when The Sundance Film Festival came to London in April, partly because the film I really wanted to see was sold out and because it was starring Common; having been disappointed with his wooden performance along side Queen Latifah in 2010’s Just Wright I thought it was about time that I gave him a second chance!

According to the director, Sheldon Candis, LUV is a fable about a young boy’s admiration of his uncle, it partly deals with what Woody (Michael Rainy Jnr), the young boy, wants to see in the world rather than what is really there. As we follow Woody and his uncle Vincent (Common), who has recently come out of prison, around Baltimore for twenty-four hours it becomes clear that behind Vincent’s sharp suit and swanky car lies a desperate and tainted man.

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There are some excellent African American actors in this film, Danny Glover and Dennis Haysbert make appearances as Vincent’s former gangland associates and Common is impressive too, but the real stand out performance comes from Rainy, who is utterly absorbing as 11 year old Woody.

The film is semi-biographical in that Candis’s own uncle was a notorious Baltimore drug dealer who used to drive around with a young Candis in the passenger seat to avoid being stopped by the police during drug errands. Originally called Learning Uncle Vincent, Candis decided to shorten the title to an acronym, I asked him about this after the screening and you can watch his response below.

I would definitely recommend this film, not only does it feature some excellent acting and superb cinematography but it also deals with a complicated subject which is often magnified in cinema and on television in a manner that is both original and delicate without compromising on its impact.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011 dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

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Quite possibly the best film I’ve seen this year so far and strangely enough I’m not going to recommend it because of its length. I don’t know how many people can concentrate and enjoy a film of this length and more than a few people left the cinema within the first 20 minutes. Not a great start for the film or this review to mention this but I think if you’re the type of person who’s willing to read on and likely to brave three hours of cinema time then you’ll be well rewarded with what is one of the simplest yet divinely well made films I’ve seen in years. The director Nuri Bilge Ceylan writes and directs so well that the only other description I want to use is beautifully. I have never come across a film that used sound so well and to such an extent that entire scenes can be remembered by the noise that emanated from the screen. I am quite specific in my use of the word noise because I think the very texture of the film would be lost without this idea. There was a crispness of background noises that attuned the watcher to the very atmosphere of the film and in a way that wasn’t indulgent so that the each sound was the scene brought to life. All of this and the visual aspects in terms of lighting and colour, and to an extent the pace of the film combined in such a way that they created the essence of real smell, movement and memory of lives and stories that made the entire experience seem real.
 
The main story is told in 15 minute intervals where we are fed more information about the characters but not about the murder: the reason why the characters are brought together in the Anatolian countryside to find the body of the victim. Within the 15 minute intervals we get an illuminating conversation that reveals a little more about each of the characters, sometimes in funny Tarantino style dialogue and other times a more emphatic and deeper dialogue about the characters’ lives. The brilliance of this film is the real life aspect of having so many unanswered questions and our consistent search for the answers.
 
We’re never told the why of the murder, how the presumed murderer is captured and his interrogation and confession. We are left in an assumed state and still as the film draws to an end many of the answers to our questions remain light and almost fleeting as we don’t quite grasp the full meaning of what we see unfold. Despite this we’re not disappointed but rather like the character in the film we are instead left reflective. The men are full of personal questions and soul-searching as they move from one site to another in search of the buried victim and we bear witness to their thoughts as they’re voiced. We see the prosecutor coming to terms with the death or his wife and the doctor’s stoic yet pining for a lost love. We also witness what would seem to be the trivial parts of the police chief’s arguments with his wife and what is in fact a deeper problem of circumstance that puts him and, in their own ways all these men, in situations beyond their control and understanding. Perhaps this is what the story is showing us: how we cope and deal with loss as the circumstances of life either take from us or take us from one moment to another.

Trishna (2012 dir. Michael Winterbottom)

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Sandra’s Verdict
Pinto is mesmerising as the naive and delicate Trishna, in this loose adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and even though I hadn’t read the book I was still throughly impressed with the universal issues within this film.

A key line from the film, which also features in the trailer, has Jay, the wealthy son of a businessman, saying to Trishna that The Karma Sutra
says there are three types of heroines that you’re allowed to make love to, the maid, the single lady and the courtesan. So which one are you?’ Themes of unfairness, social expectation and male dominance are explored when Jay embarks on a passionate affair with Trishna. As they travel from Jaipur to modern Mumbai their relationship seems to transcend that of master and servant, and at times it looks as though Jay wants to elevate Trishna to his equal. However as the film develops we see both characters struggle with their feelings and social position.

The film has received mixed reviews with some critics claiming that the film fails to make a big enough impact on the audience. I disagree, I found this to be both an intricate and compelling film. The film also boasts an excellent musical score by Shigeru Umebayashi and Bollywood composer Amit Trivedi that creates a perfect bed on which to navigate through the narrative’s complex themes.