Suite Française

suite1 Bridport Arts Centre 12 April 2015
BR Rating ***

By Alison Lang

Are you ever able to say you liked the film better than the book? Especially when the first half of the book is virtually missing? I hope so.

The exodus of refined Parisians with precious possessions piled high, on the move from the Germans in the Second World War, is dramatically realised. So, too, is the occupation of Paris by the Germans. And how to live with the enemy is certainly an interesting subject.

The book from which the film is taken is a wonderful fictional document of French life at the time by a writer who was there, Irène Némirovsky. She never saw the book published because, as a Jew, she was transported and murdered at Auschwitz. Her manuscript was put in a suitcase and entrusted to her daughter, who read it and gave it to the world some 40 years later.

We learned from Harriet Walter, the guest speaker, who played the Viscountess de Montmort in the film, that the story of the book and its author, which had been filmed as an introduction and conclusion, was unfortunately cut thanks to a confused focus group (and, presumably, a director and producer who lacked courage.)

Walter, who has also starred in roles as varied as Law & Order and Cleopatra with the Royal Shakespeare Company, talked about the first half of the book, which was largely passed over in the film. She missed the character vignettes that lampooned the bad behaviour of the French in extremis. She referred to them as “one-dimensional goodies and baddies”, but there may be a minority, myself included, who were quite happy to concentrate instead on the love story and the interference of a mother-in-law, beautifully played by Kristin Scott Thomas.

Walter, who lives in West Dorset, felt the dialogue could have been more interesting. That may be true, but she contrasted it with the film she chose for the festival, The French Lieutenant’s Woman with screenplay by Harold Pinter. That is hardly a paragon of the cinema, but apt for the area and Walters, who had a sadly shrunken part of a lunatic in it, has fond memories of the experience. When the part was suggested, she went to a house in Hampstead. Meryl Streep answered the door; Jeremy Irons made coffee; Harriet took the part.

Walter’s favourite film experience was playing in Louis Malle’s Milou en Mai, about French revolutionary fervour in the 1960s. In a switch of presumed national types, Walter’s English character, Lily, was an embodiment of English freedom and love in contrast with the French stiff upper lip.

When Walter played in Sense and Sensibility, the writer and star, Emma Thompson, had an interesting observation about book-to-film adaptations. She advocated dramatizing everything in the book and then seeing what works. Walter explained that it’s very difficult to show on film the interior mind without “clunky voice-over” and therefore some parts work, others don’t.

Speaking of the interior mind, Irène Némirovsky wanted to show us that people are people whether painted with enemy or home colours. Either can be good or bad. I wonder if she would be so generous to the Germans of the time had she known they would send her to her death.

By |April 13th, 2015|Alison Lang, Film, From Page to Screen Festival|0 Comments

Jules et Jim

julesatjimBridport Arts Centre 12 April 2015
BR Rating ***

By Caitlin Appleton-Scott

In his semi-autobiographical story, about a ménage à trois, Henri-Pierre Roché flirts with the concept of moral deviance. Described by onlookers as “the mad trio,” their relationship seems as seductive as Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) herself at the beginning of the compelling film, and yet the nickname foreshadows her unravelling mental health. Catherine’s spell over Jules, Jim and the audience alike weakens as the film progresses; her desire to live life as she pleases becoming less endearing as it becomes more and more destructive.

Having read the plot before watching the film, I anticipated that the ending would leave me disappointed, believing that all three characters in the car would be a perfect culmination (although that must raise some worrying questions about my outlook on life.) Yet it was fulfilling. Throughout the film, whenever the three were travelling from place to place, François Truffaut maintained the same telling order: Catherine in front, Jim just behind, and Jules at the back. The final shot shows Jules walking alone; he is no longer following anyone.

The film tantalises us with solutions to our unanswered questions about love, fidelity and friendship, yet its ambiguity allows us to explore our own interpretations. For this reason, it isn’t surprising to see Roché’s revolutionary style and so many of his themes mirrored in other films.

What is intriguing is that the driving force of the film is absent from the title; perhaps it was decided that enough people had given her their full attention.

By |April 13th, 2015|Film, From Page to Screen Festival|0 Comments

Short Films

shortfilmsBridport Arts Centre 11 April 2015
BR Rating N/A

By Sam Barker

There’s something ignoble about coruscating criticism of films made by students. Fledgling filmmakers need nurturing, not annihilation. Gloves off, not gloves on. Gentle encouragement, not ungentlemanly smackdowns.

In this spirit, the short films made by local students and showcased at the Bridport Film Festival on Saturday were more than outstanding. In a selection of five two-minute shorts, the audience was treated to an odyssey of social commentary with localism as the unifying theme. The cinematography may not have been brilliant, the camerawork was often shaky, the editing erratic, the dialogue indistinct, but this was Dorset seen through the lens of a generation brought up with smartphones. And it was refreshingly different.

In the first of the films, a fisherman reeled in relentless Morrisons’ ready meals in the wake of the storm which spewed mountains of rubbish onto the beaches last year. In the second, the inhabitants of a seaside town were subject to a curfew which saw them confined to their homes between May and September. In the third, a mysterious vat of rubbish rose strangely from the ground alongside the A35 at Broomhills farm. For the fourth, one of Bridport’s last surviving rope-makers reminisced about the town in the 1940s while averring his current support for UKIP. And finally, we were treated to an ethereal ghost story set on a desolate Eggardon Hill after the September kite festival.

Interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking.
Except… none of this actually happened. There weren’t any short films at this year’s festival. No one submitted one. This was a shame: anything is better than nothing. And we would have been gentle and encouraging. Honestly.
Maybe next year.

By |April 13th, 2015|Film, From Page to Screen Festival, Sam Barker|1 Comment

Pride and Prejudice

prideandprejBridport Arts Centre 10 April 2015
BR Rating (film and workshop) ****

By John Pownall

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the best adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel was the 1995 Andrew Davies television version, with Colin Firth as drip-dry Darcy. So this 2005 film version was always up against it in terms of popular and critical reception in this country. There are also, of course, those literary purists who inevitably make comparisons between book and film, pointing out the irritating deviations between text and script.

But that is to miss the point. This is a beautifully-shot film that casts off earlier adaptations, as well as the novel itself, and manages to become a piece of art in its own right; something beyond adaptation. It exudes quality. From the wonderful opening single-shot scene at the Bennets’ house, through the sumptuous scenes at Chatsworth House and the Peak District, to the deftly choreographed ballroom scene during which Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Bennet) and Matthew Macfadyen (Mr Darcy) exchange barbed quips as they cross each other.

Performances are strong. The notable highlights are Tom Hollander as the bourgeois, social-climbing clergyman, Mr Collins, Donald Sutherland as the sardonic, tolerant husband and father, and Brenda Blethyn as a wonderfully- conflicted Mrs Bennet, desperate to save her girls from penury and permanent parental dependency. For once, Dame Judi Dench is upstaged.

The big question remains: do Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen pull it off as the main attraction? In large part, yes; Knightley’s performance is a sensitive and finely nuanced one (if not universally admired). Macfadyen manages to convey, in an understated way, a little of Darcy’s sulky allure, although there was not enough there to suggest much of a personal journey on his part, which is there in the novel and might have embellished the film.

After the (not terribly well-attended) screening, there was a sizeable turnout for the workshop with the screenplay writer, Deborah Moggach. This was a real treat. Deborah spoke at length about the film, talking about a number of re-screened sections of it, and explaining the process of film-making and the role of the writer within it. The session provided real insight. Deborah’s intention had been to create a new adaptation of the novel for a new generation, to provide what she called a “muddy-hem” version of the story, complete with pigs running amok in the Bennet homestead, and a sense of the less than affluent lifestyle of the Bennet girls, cut off as they are from long- term security by established, patriarchal inheritance laws. She succeeded in this.

Deborah also revealed the limited control that a screen- play writer has on the final product, with whole sections of the film re-written (often by uncredited writers such as, in this case, Emma Thompson), and the importance of allowing space for actors to create their own meaning between the words on the page. She spoke of a “sea-change” that takes place between the first draft and the completed film. In a sense, she sketched out for us what that phrase ‘from page to screen’ really means. Some things get lost in the mix, but others develop, and in the end one has to judge the movie in its own right, rather than seeing it as an attempt to recreate the private experience of a novel through the media of sound and vision.

By |April 11th, 2015|Film, From Page to Screen Festival, John Pownall|2 Comments

Wise Blood

wisebloodBridport Arts Centre 9 April 2015
BR Rating ***

By Alfie Golding

In John Huston’s Wise Blood we follow Hazel Motes, a war veteran recently returned to America, a man with nothing to call his own, on his journey from the barren wasteland of Central America to ‘The City’.

On the surface, Motes’ goal is to explore his country and “do some things he ’aint never done before,” but it soon becomes clear that he is not striding to his future but running from his past. He finds his calling as a new kind of preacher, preaching against religion, trying to convince his ever-growing congregation that Christ is not their saviour but an unnecessary burden.

Wise Blood was made almost 40 years ago but its social and religious message is relevant today. The widening gap between the churches of old and modern society is one of the central themes, symbolised by modern consumer icons such as Coca-Cola, by neon signs and Hazel’s obsession with his big car.

The film cuts between gothic scenes and surreal comedy, from shrunken bodies to a man in a gorilla suit, yet every aspect of the character of Hazel Motes shows his almost subconscious yearning for religion, from his style of dress and way of life to subtle features of his idiolect. In one scene, a rival preacher questions why this man of God won’t even try to save his soul.

Wild Blood certainly isn’t the kind of film to be found on a Saturday night in the Odeon. It’s no billion-dollar super-hero movie, but it’s original and thought-provoking, and all the better for that.

By |April 10th, 2015|Film, From Page to Screen Festival|0 Comments