Sunday, 24 March 2013

¡Viva! 2013: Medianeras Review

Argentine director Gustavo Taretto’s offbeat romantic comedy is a charming treat.

This quirky genre-bending rom-com set in Buenos Aries has clear influences from early Woody Allen. It’s two protagonists, Martin (Javier Drolas) and Mariana (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), are perfect for one another but have never met. They share the same worries and thoughts, and their lives are shown in parallel. One will be singing a song on the radio, and Taretto will juxtapose it with the other doing the same. As crucial for any Woody-Allen-esque heroes, they are both riddled with neuroses and existential dilemmas. Both are damaged and depressed, struggling with singledom and isolation.

Mariana is a gorgeous qualified architect recently out of a four year relationship. She has a fear of lifts and a penchant for Where’s Wally books. Her job as a window shopper means she has a collection of mannequins, one of which she talks to and in one odd scene even starts simulating sex with, later to say to it “don’t get any false hopes, it was only sex”. She suffers from urban alienation and muses heavily on the nature of her job: “Sometimes if someone stops to look at the display, I feel like they are stopping to look at me”.

Martin is introduced at the film’s opening, talking in a voice over that accompanies photography of Buenos Aries. This is a homage to the start of Manhattan, (later on, Martin and Mariana are shown watching that film separately, crying) but far from a romantic commentary about a place he loves, he is bemoaning the mismatched architecture and incongruous planning, blaming it for his problems. The director sees it in a more favorable light as he mingles graphic art and charming illustrations of the city with the cinematography, rather like the style in Marc Webb’s  (500) Days of Summer. 

Martin is a hypochondriac and former agrophobe who spends most of his time indoors working as a web designer and being utterly cyber dependent. He has a small dog (the token pet in romantic comedies is one frequent trope that tends to irritate me, but it isn’t a source of too much comedy so it’s bearable), and has never left the country due to his fear of travel. He winds up having a fling with the dog walker that he hires, and attempts internet dating with disappointing results. He compares the contrast between dating profile and reality to the pictures and taste of a Mcdonalds meal.

This sort of film tinkers on the edge of it’s associated genre, it isn’t cliched -rom-com-conveyor-belt-summer release-stuff.  It’s less idealistic, there’s no slapstick or restaurant orgasms in sight,  the comedy is subtle and the plot’s outcome uncertain. (500) Days of Summer played with the rom-com in an overtly obvious fashion that was a bit annoying and pretentious, (although it still remains a guilty pleasure). There is a fine line between a film of this sort being a bit clever, and taking itself too seriously. Fortunately, Medianeras (Sidewalls) relishes in a gooey ending, opting for the light-hearted path. Despite this being the right one, it was still a large leap from the moroseness that preceded it. Suddenly everything is breezy and the characters are no longer lonely or sad, as if love is the only secret to happiness. Still, films are rarely perfect and this one is a whimsical treat that will give a warm glow to many a viewer.


 This review was written for Front Row Reviews by Sarah Holland in connection with the Cornerhouse/ The original review can be found here

Friday, 22 March 2013

¡Viva! 2013: Después de Lucía Review

Mexican writer-director Michel Franco’s second feature is a dour drama about the disastrous effects of bullying, and it is a powerfully affecting and agonizing ordeal. 

Después de Lucía (After Lucía) is a confident work that was the Mexican submission to the Oscars, it won the Un Certain Regard at Cannes, and the Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival. Franco’s debut feature, Daniel & Ana, premiered in the Directors Fortnight at Cannes in 2009 and was shown at the ¡Viva! festival in 2010.

Coping with the loss of Lucía in a recent car accident, her beautiful teenage daughter Alejandra (Tessa ia) and her husband Roberto (Hernan Mendoza) decide to move to Mexico City from Puerto Vallarta to make a fresh start. Roberto becomes the head chef at a new restaurant and Lucía finds a new group of friends at school. Although struggling through their grief, they are affectionate and supportive towards one another, and are simply getting on with things with a stiff upper lip. In one moving scene,  Roberto is unpacking pans in the new kitchen, he pauses suddenly and begins sobbing, before resuming the task. The same happens to Alejandra when on a weekend break with her new classmates, she keeps from them that her mother has died, and takes a break from the party to cry in the toilet.

What begins as a promising social life for this intelligent and amiable young woman takes a bad turn when she has a drunken sex encounter with José, the object of desire of another female in the group, and he films it on his phone. The following day it is all over the internet. He denies any role in this, and we never find out if he is telling the truth. The other girls are envious, and treat her disgracefully. This physical and verbal abuse spreads like a virus, and suddenly Alejandra is a victim with a whole pack against her.

After Lucía reminds you how cruel teenagers can be, and how reliant the high school dynamic is on pressure to conform. Inhumane treatment of another person for no good reason can be infectious. In this film, the domino effect of bullying is completely unforgiving and taken to extremes. The torture goes beyond any harsh words, and extends to violent and sexual abuse.  In one unbearable scene, it is Alejandra’s birthday, and her classmates stand around her with a cake they have made. The cake is filled with some unidentifiable bodily substances and they force it into her face until she vomits. The strident realism of Franco’s style mean there is no relief, no non-diagetic sound or diversion from the unflinching brutality of the situation.

It’s incredibly difficult to endure, far more so than most horror and thriller films, but it’s so well done it’s also completely absorbing. Tessa ia and Hernan Mendoza give wonderfully nuanced, naturalistic performances.  Tessa ia is is controlled and understated as Alejandra, as she accepts what is bombarded at her without much resistance or reaction, internalizing her pain and humiliation behind a hard exterior. The film’s climax offers no solace from the devastating turn of events. After Lucía will leave a long lasting impression; the leads and the director are ones to watch out for in the future.


 This review was written for Front Row Reviews by Sarah Holland in connection with the Cornerhouse/ The original review can be found here

¡Viva! 2013: Pescador Review

This Equador-Columbia film is a fun comedy about a poor fisherman who discovers a wad of cocaine washed up on his village beach. 

Pescador (Fisherman) is a slick, entertaining Latin American road movie from award-winning filmmaker Sebastian Corder, with a drugs deal at its centre. The setting is a tiny, poor fishing village in Equador. Blanquito (“Whitey”) is a down on his luck fisherman who lives in a small shack with his mother, seems to have lost the respect of those around him, and is undesirable to the opposite sex. We are introduced to him lagging behind his co-workers one morning, being threatened the sack by his boss if he is late once more.

His luck is seemingly about to change when his group come across boxes of cocaine that have been washed up on the beach. After turning a blind eye to the demands of the police, the fishermen sell the drugs back to the cartel for $5000 dollars a brick and a village celebration is soon underway. Blanquito has loftier ideas however. He dreams of self improvement, tracking down his long lost father and of building a new life with his drug money. After delivering groceries one morning to a lavish holiday home he takes a shine to the beautiful inhabitant Lorna, a Colombian single mother and the girlfriend of affluent city businessman Elias (Marcelo Aguirre). Initially he is ignored of course, but once she hears of his plan she claims she can find a buyer in nearby city Guayaquil, and the two team up.

Crespo’s comic performance is pleasingly downplayed and his Blanquito gullible, naive and increasingly likeable. He is consistently generous and trustworthy and as a viewer we are rooting for him. Sympathy is evoked when events turn disastrously wrong. Easily convinced when his mother tells him his father is a local governor, he touchingly buys a suit and new shoes especially for the occasion and turns up with a chauffeured driven car to appear impressive.  Another time, he approaches a prostitute and her pimp, offering to take them out and pay for everything. He wakes up in a scummy motel with no wallet.

Although it admittedly achieves nothing new, Pescador is stylish and enjoyable. The soundtrack is lively and contemporary, and certain elements of the film are vaguely reminiscent of Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien,which can only be a good thing.


 This review was written for Front Row Reviews by Sarah Holland in connection with the Cornerhouse/ The original review can be found here

¡Viva! 2013: Violeta se fue a los cielos Review

This ambitious, expressionistic feature about Chile's favourite folk musician is a welcome change from standard biopic fare.

Andrés Wood’s intense biography is based on the life of Violeta Parra, the Chiliean singer-songwriter and artist who came from humble beginnings but whose talent and aspirations brought her to international fame. Violeta se fue a los cielos (Violeta Went To Heaven) was Chile’s Oscar submission and won the Sundance World Cinema Dramatic Jury Prize at last year’s festival.

The film is certainly no Walk the Line, James Mangold’s movie based on the life of Johnny Cash and starring Joaquin Phoenix, and by that I mean it is far from a conventional biopic. Steering clear away from linearity, Parra’s turbulent and vibrant life is echoed in the film’s format as her life  events are chaotically presented out of sequence.

There is much to tell here, this is a woman who is likened to a Chilean Bob Dylan, and succeeded across multiple creative mediums. Her key life events are juxtaposed with entertaining footage of a reenacted interview she did in 1962. Wood focuses on her upbringing with her alcoholic, guitarist father (Christian Quevedo); her performances in a travelling band with her siblings;  her search for authentic folk music in remote villages; going solo in Poland, where she discovered in a letter that her baby daughter had died; her time in Paris, where she took her art to the Louvre and had it exhibited; and her tumultuous relationship with Gilbert Favre (Thomas Durand).

The most striking features of this biopic are the beautiful, guitar based Chilean folk songs that enjoy a large presence throughout, and Francisca Galivan’s striking central performance. Gavilan presents an outrageously confident, driven and passionate figure who speaks and sings her mind. Her performance turns the dial up as far as it will go, and has no time for subtlety, but this is her intention and she does it well.

The leaps back and forward in time could have been disorientating, but the result is mesmerizing and absorbing. Frequently we are taken back to Violeta’s childhood, watching her examine her face in a small mirror and make a mess eating fruit. It is a very sensory film that pays much attention to the richness of place and landscape, boasting impressive production values. Many scenes unfold with a series of expressionistic imagesthat tinker on the edges of magic realism. It could be argued that this style is a little self conscious. Yet the ambitious, dream-like style  is a welcome change from standard biopic fare and altogether suits the artistic portrait it captures. Violeta se fue a los cielos is slightly overlong, but a recommended insight into the life of a unique talent which can perhaps be captured by the statement of a Louvre curator: “Leonardo Da Vinci ended up here, but Violeta Parra began here”.


This review was written for Front Row Reviews in connection with the Cornerhouse. The original review can be found here

¡Viva! 2013: La chispa de la via Review

Álex de la Iglesia’s La Chispa de la via (As Luck would have It) is an abomination that gets progressively worse until it becomes unbearable. For a start, it’s a ‘black comedy’ which is always a tricky genre to get right. I can’t think of any great black comedies off the top of my head. Of course they exist, but they usually miss the mark a little. (Ah, In Bruges that was one, and that was well done. Oh, and Fargo.) This one, starring José Motael as Roberto and Selma Hayek as his wife Luisa, misses the mark entirely. Its intent is to be a satire on the relentlessness and immoral core of the media, or something along those lines, but it is nowhere near intelligent or insightful enough (Harold and Maud is another by the way).

Roberto is an unemployed advertising executive who once showed talent, he came up with the slogun ‘Life’s little spark’ for a Coca Cola campaign, but for the past two years has struggled to find work. He leaves home one morning for an interview he doesn’t get, is ignored by his old acquaintances and has a mildly funny interlude involving a sprinkler, a coffee machine and a soaked suit. On a quest to find a hotel he once stayed in with his wife, he somehow ends up hovering above a half renovated museum floor hanging on to a statue held by a crane. He awkwardly lands with an iron rod stuck in his head and is left immobilized.

Meanwhile, the museum director is giving a grand opening tour of the place and her and her colleague are displeased by the situation, thinking it will ruin their reputation and the precious artifacts of the museum. Soon enough, masses of people are crowding around Roberto to see what the fuss is about. Journalists and photographers arrive in abundance and he is on every TV channel. He is still conscious and immediately sees the potential profit in his situation, ringing around his marketing contacts to arrange exclusive interviews. Product placement is one source of the ‘humour’, as his agent perches by his paralyzed body holding up bottles of a mojito drink and grinning.

When his wife arrives, she instantly goes in to hug him, putting on too much pressure and he cries out in pain. It’s supposed to be funny, but this happens repeatedly. His wife later stamps her feet in annoyance, near his head. When his goth son arrives wearing large black boots, he does the same and Roberto yelps in the same way. Crowds are chaotically always buzzing around him, making the ground wobble profusely and no one stops it. This was really grating, as the doctor says only once that is the rod moves even slightly and touches another part of his brain he could die instantly. It just wouldn’t happen. True, that’s probably part of the joke, but I wasn’t in on it.

Roberto is irritatingly obsessed with money. He may be dying but all he can talk about is how much is being offered, and how he’s a celebrity now. This is obviously the point, and it’s a lecture in how money and fame can’t bring happiness. Family is what is important, as his wife and kids keep telling him. Isn’t this an obvious point to begin with? Roberto is just a broken record, as is much of the film itself. Dialogue, jokes, the statement it’s trying to make, are all hammered to death, hence why it’s hard to care about him or any of the other characters. Near the end of the film there is a rush of sentimentality, but it’s too generic and clichéd to be moving.  Roberto’s kind words about how much he loves his family are also unconvincing as he has uttered so few words about them, except about how he can now pay their tuition fees. As Luck would have It is an all too obvious attempt at critiquing tabloid and television culture, but it can’t decide quite where it wants to be, and ends up in a very compromising position with no spark in sight.


This review was written for Front Row Reviews in connection with the Cornerhouse. The original review can be found here

¡Viva! 2013: La voz dormida Review

Benito Zambrano’s feature is a powerful and engrossing drama based on the award winning novel by the late Dulce Chacón, which was based on real-life testimonies and set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. La Voz Dormida (The Sleeping Voice) tells the tales of women tormented by the war in an enlightening way, displaying scenes of cruelty and oppression that manage to never sink into melodrama. A film of such charged emotional intensity, with a romantic backdrop, could easily have evoked elements of clichéd sentimentality. Thankfully this is avoided as the lead performances are weighty and moving, and the film captures with empathy and unflinching honesty a vile epoch in Spain’s political history.

The focus in on the fate of two sisters during the frightening period of Franco’s dictatorship when those opposed to the regime or connected to them are imprisoned or executed. Proud and spirited Hortensia (Inma Cuesta), a politically active Repulican, is seven months pregnant and experiencing barbarous conditions in a Ventas prison where she awaits the death penalty. Her dissenter husband, Felipe, is hiding in the mountains and her innocent and apolitical sister Pipita (Maria Leon, who won Best Actress kudos at the San Sebastian festival) has moved from Cordova to Madrid in a naive attempt to help her sister’s impossible situation.

Barely literate, Pipita manages to hold down a job in an affluent household as a maid, working for a cold mistress who is introduced painting images of boys in their uniform giving the fascist salute. One one occasion Pipita desperately and brazenly pleads with a merciless general, the grandfather of the home, to help her sister. He later spits at her “only God and Franco can help her now”.

Amongst the suffering, Pipita meets and falls for charming fighter Paulino “Black Jacket” (Marc Clotet) when she reluctantly agrees to deliver some forged identity documents to her brother in law. The scenes between them are touching and with a dose of humour as Pipita’s charisma and wit shines through. (Another, unexpected comical touch is the doctor leading the birth of Hortensia’s baby with a cigarette casually hanging out of his mouth). The difficult circumstances that their love withstands is actually a true story.

The style is understated and the cinematography is  without any particularly original features, yet this is irrelevant when there is so much here to hold attention. The opening scene for example goes straight for the jugular when a terrified woman has been called forward by the callous wardens and nuns to be killed by firing squad, between her sobs, she says “I can’t move, I’ve wet myself”. Equally harrowing is the way religion and the state blur as one, militant atheists in the prison are badly beaten when they refuse to kiss the foot of a Jesus doll and Hortensia is subject to much abuse when she refuses to have her child baptized. The Sleeping Voice has much to be admired, Zambrano has created an engaging exposé of experiences that were forced to keep quiet for many years.


This review was written for Front Row Reviews in connection with the Cornerhouse. The original review can be found here 

¡Viva! 2013: 30 años de oscuridad Review

This intriguing documentary from Manuel.H.Martin is engaging from start to finish. Nominated for the Best Documentary Award at the 2012 Goyas, 30 Years of Darkness uses pleasing animation to illustrate the stories of 'moles' that were forced to hide away due to the Franco regime after the Spanish Civil War.

The focus is on the astonishing life of Manuel Cortes, a socialist former barber turned Mayor of Mijas, and the remarkable ordeal he underwent during thirty years in confinement. With the help of his wife Juliana, he hid in the walls of their Spanish home, always with the possibility of being discovered.

Only she and his father knew of his whereabouts, his presence was even kept secret from his young daughter for several years. He had to peer at her through a small hole, unable to embrace or play with her.  Jesus Torbado co-wrote the book that tells Cortes’ story, and along with different historians enlightens the viewer on the historical background (essential information ashamedly, in my case) in an accessible fashion.

Cortes’ experience is an inspiring statement of how far a man would go to escape death, yet it also pose the question; is a life lived in such a way worth living? Sadly but unsurprisingly, other ‘moles’ mentioned had fought with madness and taken their own lives. Each man had his own methods of making life bearable. One man, hidden in an attic for decades, enforced upon himself a strict regime of reading and learning.

Cortes, much to his wifes dismay, coped by simply peering out of the window at life passing by in the street below. Obviously, this was a huge risk. He would also listen to the radio religiously, using it to speculate about the fate of the world around him, and listen out for any indication of a changed situation in Spain when he would be a free man.

Distress and fear was not restricted to the men themselves. Their wives and children underwent serious psychological stress and pressure in an attempt to keep such an important secret. Villages were divided as trust dissipated. Cortes’ wife burned all photographs of her husband, only for one of her neighbours to hand one in to the authorities in an attempt to appear on the side of the Franco regime. If a woman became pregnant, she had to fabricate numerous lies to fight off raised suspicion.

30 Years of Darkness will certainly give your daily woes some perspective.  These are tales of  loss, humanity and the repercussions of war and dictatorship. It is recommended as an intimate insight into extraordinary lives and as a means to learn about crucial aspects of Spain’s tortured past.


This review was written for Front Row Reviews in connection with the Cornerhouse. The original review can be found here 

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

¡Viva! 2013 - ¡Atraco! Review

This week I'm covering the 19th edition of the Spanish and Latin American festival ¡Viva! at the Cornerhouse Cinema in Manchester. Documentaries, dramas and comedies are being screened until 24th March. It's a good opportunity to access films that I wouldn't see otherwise and to see films that are just a bit different, from the perspective of other cultures. I'm enjoying my local cinema being a second home for the moment.

My outline of the festival on Front Row Reviews can be read here

Friday 8th March was the ¡Viva! 2013  festival’s opening gala at the Cornerhouse in Manchester. lt began with the UK premiere of ¡Atraco! (Hold Up!), a tragi-comic heist caper set in 1950′s Madrid that nods to classical Hollywood cinema. Inspired by real events, this Spanish/Argentinian co-production revolves around a complex feigned robbery of a jewellery shop.

The mission is oraganised to prevent the wife of Spain’s dictator General Franco from obtaining jewels once owned by Argentinia’s first lady Eva Perón (Evie). Guillermo Francella, (Argentina’s Oscar-winner The Secret in Their Eyes) plays passionate Perón loyalist Merello designated as the man for  the job. Nicolás Cabré plays his incompetant younger colleague Miguel, a sweet Charlie Chaplin imitator who can’t stand violence. Amaia Salamanca plays the beautiful, wide eyed nurse who Miguel falls in love with. Óscar Jaenada and Jordi Martínezplay the policemen hunting them down.

The film is a blend of crime, comedy, romance and drama. Its intention is to appear as if from another era, and in this sense it well crafted. The big-band score from the Budapest Jazz Orchestra accompanies the 1950s costuming and slapstick humour. There were regular laughs from around half of the audience, and after the credits rolled there was a steady applause, yet I’m afraid I didn’t feel it. The comedy was tame and familiar. I cannot praise the film wholeheartedly when I didn’t laugh once, as that is the purpose of comedy after all.

True, the film would appeal more to family audiences. There is a serious undertone, and bursts of solemnity, but the break away from comedy feels jarring and tiresome. ¡Atraco! is well meaning enough, it stylistically achieves the result it intended, and has a warm hearted core. Still,  ¡Viva! festival will assuredly have stronger works to display during the upcoming fortnight.


This review was written for Front Row Reviews in connection with the Cornerhouse. The original review can be found here 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Lore - Review

The setting is Germany, 1945. Lore (Saskia Rosendahl is her debut role) is a 14 year old girl who has been raised as an anti-Semite. Her Nazi parents are being hunted by the Allied forces. Her father, a high-ranking SS officer, shoots the family dog and burns all incriminating documents before fleeing. Her mother, seemingly repressing even a flicker of maternal devotion, gives Lore jewellery to sell for food and leaves her in charge as she leaves for an internment camp.

The five siblings – one still a baby – must travel to their grandmother’s house in the north. It becomes a battle of starvation and an eye opening journey through the wilderness, as the young are exposed to images of concentration camps and gradually realise that the situation were never as it appeared to be. Lore experiences a sexual awakening when she meets a young refugee named Thomas (Kay Peter Malina), a Jew. She is as attracted to him as she is repulsed. There is little dialogue between the two, just immense tension and stares of rich intensity and curiosity.

Cate Shorland's Lore adopts an interesting, alternate perspective of post war Germany. It poses the questions; Are the Nazi offspring victims of racism despite holding the same ideology? Are such core nurtured and hostile prejudices against others capable of changing? There are symbolic parallels in tandem here. The Fuhürer is dead, and a fragmented Germany is left to pick up the pieces. The children are in a sense, an embodiment of the country itself, abandoned by their parents and having to fend for themselves. Adam Arkapaw's rich and beautiful cinematography has contributed largely to the film's wide critical acclaim. The general consensus seems to be that Lore is outstanding. It certainly is a bold and provocative piece of work, with impressive elements. However, I felt obliged to adore it rather than actually doing so. Admittedly many films are not designed to be 'likeable' but regardless, they can be greatly admired. This wasn't the case personally, and I feel almost blasphemous for writing this, the film felt a little forced at times. 

The camera remains in intimate proximity to the natural setting, abruptly changing from a close up of a dandelion to a flock of birds flying over boughs of a tree. When the children come across a corpse covered in blood, the camera zooms in on ants marching over the stained red skin. Saskia Rosendahl gives a strong debut performance as Lore, but there is more emphasis on her beauty and desirability than her character and her moral dilemmas. This is cinema relishing in it's role as an art form in a self conscious fashion. 


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Shame and Martha Macy May Marlene - Gems of 2012

I wrote the following article for the digital magazine Chameleon, which is available on Amazon to download
here  It's rather long, too long, and for that I do apologise.

The past couple of years - particularly for British cinema, which has arguably been going through a renaissance - has produced some seriously substantial film making from established and debut auteurs alike. Personal highlights of recent times have been Richard Ayodade's quirky, beautifully photographed and irresistibly likable debut film 'Submarine'  in 2011. Lynne Ramsay's 'We Need To Talk about Kevin' was another. The Scottish director deservedly returned to the spotlight after eight years, with her exceptionally dark adaptation of Lionel Shilvers novel. As with her previous works, 2002's Morvern Callar and her debut 1999's 'Ratcatcher', 'We need to Talk about Kevin was an eerily disturbing and beautifully formed triumph.' What a travesty for the cinema world it was when Ramsays role in adapting Alice Sebold's novel 'The Lovely Bones' was dropped by Film4 in favour of Hollywood director Peter Jackson in 2009. The result was frankly embarrassing; a saccharine and sentimental atrocity.
It could be said that the most striking of contemporary British film talent has been Turner Prize winning artist Steve McQueen. His directional debut Hunger was an explicit and brutal account of the hunger strikes in Ulster's Maze prison that ended in the death of Bobby Sands, played by Michael Fassbender. The two were reunited in 'Shame.' With the beautiful photography of Sean Bobbitt, Abi Morgan as co-writer ('The Iron Lady', 'The Hour') and a sleek soundtrack by Harry Escott, Shame is a sublime work of art and my highlight of 2012. McQueens artistic background is evident in his eye for composition and fierce visual images. Another memorable feature film was Sean Durkin's impressive debut 'Martha Macy May Marlene' ,an unsettling American psychological drama released in the same year.
My itching curiosity to see Shame led me onto a train from Manchester to Leeds after work in November 2011. I was intrigued as to how a film would depict something as controversial as sex addiction  I had a pass for the International film festival, it was a Friday night and Shame was the closing gala screening, prior to UK release. The coffee shops had shut, but I was early for the screening and had to spend an awkward hour sat in the Slug and Lettuce in a corner with my novel, surrounded by rowdy drinkers and eagerly awaiting 8pm when the film would begin. The train home was delayed and covered in the vomit and drool of a very drunk man. I arrived home at 1am.
It was all worth it. I dawdled out of the screening in a daze, with intense admiration for everyone involved in the film and everything about it. One year on from its release, the suburb  fierce performances have remained under my skin. It has even rivaled Withnail and I as a contender for my favourite film of all time, a significant moment, (still undecided on this one.Those unemployed, quotable heroes have a place in my heart forever).
Shame focuses on Brandon, a handsome and affluent executive living in New York. His particular field is never specified, and is irrelevant. What is important is the fact his office is shiny and immaculate, complete with city views. It is much like his expensive, minimalist apartment, to complete the image of ultimate success. It is just an image, though. The reality is a melancholic, isolated existence driven by his relentless sex drive. He masturbates in toilet cubicles at work several times a day, watches porn whilst causally eating noodles at dinner, and has regular encounters with prostitutes. When Brandon's younger sister Sissy arrives unwanted, out of the blue, her presence threatens to destroy his private space and expose his addiction. Despite her efforts to connect with him, he remains cold and guarded.
Martha Macy May Marlene is a disquieting indie film about a young woman named Martha, and her experiences in a commune she has fled from. The film opens with her running through a forest and hiding behind some growth whilst figures walk past, hunting for her. Shortly after this she is on a payphone, hysterical and only with a vague idea of her whereabouts. Her older sister (Sarah Paulson) comes to collect her, and brings her back to the luxury lake house she shares with her wealthy British husband (Hugh Dancy).
As Martha takes refuge, she suffers from paranoia and disturbing flashbacks of what we later discover has been a two year stay at the farm. She is haunted by her memories, and  struggles to distinguish between what is dream and what is reality. The sinister tone builds gradually. Early flashbacks show a smiling and content Martha, arriving at what ostensibly is a friendly, bohemian commune. As the flashbacks continue, it becomes clear there is something not right. This is a cult run by a creepy man named Patrick (John Hawkes), who renames his followers himself - Martha becomes 'Marcy May'- and dominates them completely. One eery scene shows him perched on a step, simply over looking group sex between his devotees, distanced yet revelling in his power.
Shame and Martha Macy May Marlene have a great deal in common. They are both rich with ambiguity, feature damaged sibling relationships, and characters with dysfunctional approaches to sexuality. In both films, details of the characters' past is hinted at but never explained. In Shame, Sissy tells Brandon over voice mail "we are not bad people, we just come from a bad place". We never find out more, other than the "place" is Ireland. In the latter film, Lucy apologies to Martha for not "being there" enough when growing up, as it becomes apparent their parents were dead or absent. Martha refuses to converse. This means neither film is reduced to melodrama or sentimentality. Both films use dialogue sparingly  but what is said is cleverly revealing. Camera shots can reveal just as much. Close up shots of Sissy and Brandon as she sings her slow rendition of New York, New York in a high class piano bar reveals the sadness behind her bouncy exterior, and the emotion behind Brandon's icy demeanor. As the camera lingers on him, he is clearly moved by her talent as an aspiring singer, and a tear falls down his cheek.
The audience is somewhat distanced during both films. In Shame, many scenes feel utterly voyeuristic. Brandon shares an passionate encounter with his Marianne (Nicole Beharie) , a co worker he has enjoyed a date with and the only character he shares any connection with.The acting is so convincing it feels almost wrong to bear witness to it, but the clear emotion they share is moving.The scene becomes a sad insight into the contrast between sex to fulfill an addiction and sex with real feeling. One explicit group sex encounter he has is deliberately just that bit too long, and it is a relief when we are set free of his expression of emotional pain rather than physical pleasure, and onto the next location. The scenes are relentlessly honest and completely unforgiving. It is a refreshing representation of sex in film.   
Martha Macy May Marlene also conceals as much as it reveals. As it juxtaposes time and space, the present in a spacious lake house in Connecticut, and the past in a cramped farmhouse, We never stay too long in either. We hear and see just enough to  understand the brutality of the cult and the severe effect it has on Martha's mind. The most startling and disclosing scene is when Martha, unable to sleep one night, wanders into Lucy and Ted's bedroom when they are making love, and curls up on the corner of the bed. Lucy has to tell her that 'it's private!' as she is worryingly unaware what the issue is. The film is also equally mysterious. Drama blends with thriller when Martha calls the farmhouse, before hanging up. The phone rings back. Martha experiences paranoid delusions, but does she have a reason to? Are her 'family' able to track her down? The ambiguous ending only continues the mystery.
The relationships between the siblings in both films are complex and equally ambiguous. Martha has disappeared for two years, and intentionally becomes impossible  to contact. She simply tells Lucy that she had a 'boyfriend' who she had split from. They are awkward in each others company. Upon hearing that Ted and Lucy are trying for a baby, Martha erupts into hysterical laughter. Later, during an argument Martha tells Lucy that she going to be a 'terrible mother', a comment we can only guess at the reason for. The relationship between Sissy and Brandon remains intriguing. There are incestuous undertones that only remain a whisper of a possibility, that as a viewer it is impossible to determine.
There are frequent moments when the space they share becomes too close for comfort. When Sissy arrives unwarranted, Brandon barges in on her in the shower with a baseball bat, mistaking her for a burglar. Sissy stands naked, giggling at the situation comfortably, whilst Brandon remains cold. Similarly, later in the film Sissy walks in on Brandon masturbating. Her reaction is to shut the door and laugh, whilst Brandon is simply furious. Sissy yearns for hugs that Brandon will not yield too. In one scene she climbs into his bed and says 'it's cold'. Infuriated, he swears at her to get out. Sissy speaks for the audience when she later says: "I make you angry all the time, and I don't know why".
Sissy and Martha are disconnected outsiders that show their skepticism of the lifestyles that they disturb. Ted and Lucy are proud of their accomplished happiness and wealth. Martha's questions bursts their bubble. 'Why is the place so big?', she asks. Another time she bluntly demands: "Is it true that married people don't fuck?". Likewise, an argument between Sissy and Brandon has him defending himself with the fact he has his own apartment. Sissy's sarcastic response: "You have your own apartment, whoopie fucking shit. And a job, that's amazing, I'm in awe of you" is similar to Martha telling priggish Ted that there are "other ways" to live than to have a career and take pride in possessions.
Neither film resorts to the most obvious turn of events. Brandon's connection with Marianne does not miraculously change him and solve his issues. He may bin his porn stash after their date, but McQueen acknowledges the deep rooted psychological causes of addiction; it cannot be instantly fixed. Ted and Lucy are flawed characters rather than cut out ideals of a bourgeoisie couple. Martha's troubled mind only seems to worsen. 
Durkin and McQueen leave the fates of their characters to be a wonder long after the credits have rolled.

Repulsion - Review

Repulsion is a disturbing exploration of one woman's isolation and descent into madness. Carol (Catherine Deneuve) works in a beauty parlour in London and lives in a rented flat with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). She appears disconnected from the world and is unable to respond to those who attempt communication, often drifting into a dream-like state where she simply stares ahead vacantly.

When Helen goes on holiday with her lover and she is left alone, Carol's time and space become distorted as she is haunted by her past and begins halluncinating. Polanski is well known for his fascination with the grotesque. In the confined claustrophobic space of the apartment where most of the film is set, Carol has removed a skinned rabbit from the fridge and left it on a table to rot and attract flies. Potatoes begin sprouting long, crooked shoots. The objects are unsettling, as much as the violence that occurs later in the film, as they reflect Carol's lack of awareness of her body and mind. She doesn't appear to eat for days.

The film brilliantly instils a sense of unease. Initially the style appears as pure realism, documenting days in the life of a disturbed young woman. The pace is slow, tension builds gradually and the camera never leaves her. The film then turns to the surreal and horrific as the walls expand and space becomes flexible and distorted. Giant cracks appear and groping hands burst out from the walls. Reality and her nightmare world infuse together in a disconcerting fashion.

The title refers to Carol's strong abhorrence of all men, due to implied sexual abuse from her father. Helen is having an affair with a married man, early in the film Carol cannot stand his toothbrush being in her glass, and she throws it in the bin. Her beauty is a danger to her, her space is consistently invaded by men, even as she walks down the street she is leered at lustfully. When she fails to react to a young man's relentless pursuit of her, 'forgetting' their dates and ignoring his phone calls, his obsession drives him to kick down her apartment door. When she fails to deliver the rent money to the landlord, he comes to claim it and soon becomes fascinated by her naked thighs in her nightdress.

Repulsion's incentive is to portray the ramifications of the destructive and intrusive male gaze, an undoubtedly daring approach for the 1960's. The most impressive aspect of Roman Polanski's Repulsion is how strikingly contemporary it seems, 47 years on from its release. Steve McQueen's Shame springs to mind as a comparison. Both films share a similar voyeuristic quality and detached protagonists stifled by loneliness. Shame focuses on Brandon pursuing his sex addiction and being increasingly disconnected from those around him; we watch him wandering around his apartment, masturbating in toilet cubicles, and sleeping with prostitutes. Yet despite his relentless pursuit of sex, he is also clearly repulsed by it. One woman repeatedly rings him and leaves flirtatious messages on his answering machine, similar to Carol’s ringing unanswered phone. Repulsion is a timeless psychological thriller that creepily captures the perspective of a deeply haunted mind.