The First Casualty of News

A Private War (Matthew Heineman, 2018)

Marie Colvin was a female war correspondent, following in the footsteps of Martha Gellhorn (and Kate Adie), reporting under fire from many of the hell holes of the world. We know what war correspondents are like from films — hardbitten, tough, driven, sociopathic and unable to maintain normal relationships, slave to the bottle and traumatised if they’d but admit it. It’s still unusually to see a women in this role on film, although since at least the 1930s journalism has been an acceptable job for a woman on screen.

In 2012 Colvin and Rémi Ochlik were both killed by an improvised explosive device in the city of Homs, Syria. We should know this going into the film, but after the first caption locating us in Homs subsequent ones let us know how many years are left to her death. It’s as if we’re not trusted. We’re also not trusted to know what journalism is — or should be — as Colvin is repeatedly given speeches that would seem to be taken from journalism textbooks.

The script, frankly, clunks.

Pike does her best, although the decision to begin with a voiceover from Covin herself (and to close with footage of that speech) makes a truth claim and fact check comparison more prominent than the film can support. Her on-screen husband David Irens (Greg Wise) and later boyfriend Tony Shaw (Stanley Tucci) are clearly not Patrick Bishop or Richard Flaye, the real world equivalents. Some of the rival journalists were rather different than depicted. Her meeting with photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan) was rather different than shown.

Does this matter? In adapting, say, a novel, then not. With The Favourite, Stan and Ollie, and Mary Queen of Scots, just to mention the last three biopics I’ve seen, liberties have clearly been taken from the actualite. You wouldn’t want to confuse them with history. But this is a film about the telling of truth, for people unable to tell their one story.

I’d be hard pressed to recall, however, a name of one of those victim of war who wasn’t a reporter. It is she whose background and arc we get. Pike is physically impressive, utterly convincing and believable, although again I think we could have been trusted to see the trauma in her eye(s) rather than a flashback montage and quasi dream sequence. At the same time, the film trusts us to know the context of the four or five warzones she passes through.

At the end, I just felt curiously flat rather than sad or angry, and don’t think that is the fault of any of the performers.

Two Steps Forward

Foxtrot ((פוֹקְסטְרוֹט) Samuel Maoz, 2017)

This film pissed off the Israeli Minister of Culture because it depicted the Israeli armed forces being less than perfect. There have been any number of incidents over the years which are claimed to be misreported or someone else’s fault. But by the law of averages, all armies screw up. Or act inappropriately.

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Beale Street Blues

If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, 2018)

Barry Jenkins is a straight man who seems to be making gay-themed films — his last one, which I recall a bit of a sense of agnosticism about, Moonlight, rightly won the Oscar over La La Land. Here Jenkins adapts the late novel by the great gay African American writer, James Baldwin, in a project that has been long in development. I confess I haven’t yet read the novel, but I gather the ending has been softened, but it remains a powerful piece.
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Scandifantastique

Border (Gräns, Ali Abbasi, 2018)

A couple of times I’ve taught Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John Avjide Lundqvist’s Let the Right One In, an intriguing vampire film with a nod to The Tin Drum. There’s been a remake and a TV series and now a short story has been adapted, billed as horror but maybe is better seen as a fantasy or a dark romance.
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Sea Shantih Shantih Shantih

Stuart MacRae and Louise Welsh, Anthropocene (Scottish Opera, Hackney Empire)

I’ve never really done opera – I went to a couple of modern renderings by something like the London Mozart Players and I dutifully download the semi-staged Proms as part of working my way through the season, but… I don’t get the conventions. And whilst I’m writing this with Górecki on my headphones, I don’t necessarily do modern music.

Anthropecene

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Wrong is for Other People

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller, 2018)

There’s a PhilDickian moment towards the end of the film where a character is asking about the authenticity of a signed letter and is told it comes with a letter stating it is real. How do you know if that letter is real?

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