If You’re Happy and You Know it

Happy End (Michael Haneke, 2017)

On a scale of 1 to to Von Trier, this is about a seven.

The Laurent family run a formerly construction firm near Calais and in the second sequence, a long shot from a security camera, we see a collapse of earth next to a huge set of foundations, complete with a Portaloo falling into the abyss. We are already on the edge, having seen smart phone footage of Eve Laurent’s mother in a bathroom and apparently taking sedatives, and of Eve (Fantine Harduin) doping and possibly killing her pet hamster.

Eve goes to stay with her father Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) and his new wife Anaïs (Laura Verlinden), elderly grandfather Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and aunt Anne (Isabelle Huppert). The Laurent family is in crisis — Georges wants to die, Thomas is having an affair, Anne is considering marriage to Lawrence Bradshaw (the as-always splendid Toby Jones) and Laurent family firm manager Pierre (Franz Rogowski) is out of his deoth and drinking too heavily.

Haneke expects us to fill in a lot of the gaps — he likes filming from a distance, softening the suicide attempts and violence, sometimes letting us imagine it. There are skips in time where we have to infer events. And Thomas’s sexting is almost illegible, given the tiny surtitles, although that might be as well.

There are other lacunae — the class positioning of the Laurent’s servants, Rachid (Hassam Ghancy) and Jamila (Nabiha Akkari) is fairly obvious, but the role of the illegal migrants in the Jungle camp at Calais seems underdeveloped. There’s something here about white, upper middle class privilege, but it ends up more to Anne’s favour and Thomas’s detriment than might be helpful. Are these the same people that Georges has talked to in a long shot, a moment tinged with potential violence as that’s the filmic language of Happy End.

The title is of course ironic, or at least ambiguous, as those of us who have seen Happiness (Todd Solondz, 1998) or even La Bonheur (Happiness, 1965) can attest. But perhaps that’s all too obvious.

A Short Film About French Feminism

La Belle Saison (Summertime, Catherine Corsini, 2015)

I spent a day grumbling about the sense that this was two films which didn’t quite dovetail together — but then I read an abstract about Nancy Astor and thought about her niece Joyce Grenfell and things slid into place.

Continue reading →

A Short Film About First Love

Un amour de jeunesse (Goodbye First Love, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2011)

(Spoilers in final paragraph)

So here the first love is between Camille (Lola Créton), 15, and Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), 19, and this doesn’t seem to bother anyone. He’s an artist, apparently, or a builder, possibly, but he’s going to drop out of university and go to South America for nine months. She’s going to sulk, because she doesn’t want him to go, and doesn’t seem to want to go either. Or he won’t let her.So, whilst he’s off channelling his inner Angel Clare, she goes through a series of objectifying jobs and trains to be an architect, taking up with a Norwegian architect. Lorenz (Magne Håvard-Brekke). Then Sullivan comes back.

Continue reading →

A Short Love About Film

Krótki film o miłości (A Short Film About Love, Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1988)

Young language scholar and postal worker Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) hides from Miss Poland in a room of his godmother’s (Stefania Iwinska) flat, obsessively using the telescope on his desk to spy on the older Magda (Grażyna Szapolowska) who lives in the opposite block. He steals her mail, sends her fake notifications about money orders arriving, silent calls her and even becomes her milkman.

Continue reading →

Skrive

Some point last year, high on the giddy delights of being in another postcode and in a secondhand bookshop, I bought a catalogue for the 1992-93 Edvard Munch exhibition at the London National Gallery. I had no idea that there had been one — and you simply can’t have enough catalogues about him, even if sometimes they come with bonus Tracey Emin. This one had a clipping from the Daily Torygraph review by Richard Dorment tucked inside (spoiler: he “loathed it”):

“[W]e long for some explanation as to the simply appalling physical condition of many of the pictures on view. A larger number look as though they have spent several winters exposed to the elements on some Norwegian fjord.”

There’s reason for this. Munch used to leave his pictures outside. In the elements.

This might explain the birdshit or white paint splashed on one of the versions of The Scream.

Continue reading →

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

Kasia Redzisz and Lauren Barnes (eds.), Maria Lassnig (London: Tate, 2016)
Beatrice von Bormann, Klaus Albrecht Schröder and Antonia Hoerschelmann (eds.), Maria Lassnig: Ways of Being (Amsterdam?: Hirmer, 2019)

I first came across the work of Maria Lassnig (1919-2014) at Tate Liverpool, doubled with an exhibition of Francis Bacon. In that case, I think Bacon won, perhaps because I have a sense of how to read his work. And I was bunking off from a conference, so perhaps I didn’t give her a sufficient chance. Certainly, I didn’t write her off. Three years later, I was in Amsterdam to do the Rembrandt blockbuster, repeating the Van Gogh, and then going to the Stedelijk Museum where, in my ignorance, I didn’t know there a huge retrospective of her work, which was to go onto the Albertina (and I don’t think I saw any of her work in Vienna).

Continue reading →

So I Start a Revolution From My Bed

Look Back in Anger (Tony Richardson, 1959)

At some point I ploughed through a load of British New Wave and Hammer Horror Films, noting the way in which the behind-the-camera team overlapped — DP here, director there, director here, screenwriter there. I suspect if you tried to do a Venn diagram of kitchen sink, horror and comedy between 1950 and 1975, there’d be huge overlaps. I know I saw A Taste of Honey (1961) and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), but I don’t think I caught this adaptation of John Osbourne’s play that recast Kenneth Haigh (Jimmy), Alan Bates (Cliff), Mary Ure (Alison) and Helena Hughes (Helena Charles) with Richard Burton, Gary Raymond, Mary Ure and Claire Bloom.

And there in the credits you see Nigel Kneale’s name.

Of course, he didn’t just do science fiction, but it was presumably just after or overlapping Quatermass and t’Pit (1958-59), although the fillm version was decade away. He was go on to adapt Osbourne’s The Entertainer (1960). I’m not sure, haven’t not seen the play (unless I caught a BBC version twenty years ago) what Kneale has done, beyond presumably adding scenes in the market, the station and the pub, and the bit with the crashlanded alien, but I wonder if the threatened market stallholder S. P. Kapoor is his addition (at least one of the Quatermass scripts wanted to draw comparisons with contemporary race relations).

So Jimmy Porter runs a sweet stall with flat mate Cliff and dominates his girlfriend Alison, who invites her friend, aspiring actress Helena to stay. Jimmy is angry and young and a man, presumably underachieving — depending how you read his allusions to Wordsworth, but market stallholders can read poetry, of course — and still mourning his father who died when he was ten. One escape is in playing jazz at local clubs. It’s not clear whether he fought in the war or has done national service.

But he is not a happy bunny and is heavily controlling of Alison, who is pregnant, but she doesn’t want to be controlled, or so it seems. The relationships are going to shuffle.

It’s hard, seventy years on, to reconstruct the impact this play had at the Royal Court, and the way it swept aside the well-made plays of Terence Rattigan and Nöel Coward, whose plays have gone through at least one renaissance now. I’m not able to recognise George Devine and Glen Byam Shaw of the Royal Court, Old Vic and Young Vic circles. I didn’t even recognise Donald Pleasence in a fairly early role. But you can’t help feel that Porter needs a good kick in the face and he really wants to get over himself. Thanks to the early death of his father, who had fought in the Spanish civil war, we know he had a problematic childhood, but these rebels without causes have not aged well. It’s not as if he is especially punished for his actions — but I wonder if we read the abuser/abusee relationship rather differently than we might have done at the end of the 1950s.

Meanwhile, there is a pull of Free Cinema and a documentary feel to the exterior shots, even as Brief Encounter might tug back for the waiting room.

Stone Me, Would You Beleaf It?

Leaning Into the Wind (Thomas Riedelsheimer, 2018)

Andy Goldsworthy is a sculptor who works with — and in — nature. More to the point, he worked as a farm labourer in his teens.

He was in one of the Folkestone Triennials, on the Old High Street, smearing mud on the interior of a shop window and allowing it to crack and dry out. There was also a film of one of his rain shadows — lying on a street as it starts to rain, leaving a ghostly impression of his body. And he has works at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park — a sheepfold with dead tree — and Jupiter Artland — including lumps of coal in trees, Stone Coppice.

We see him almost absorbed into landscapes — South American forests, Cumbrian and French hills, Scottish woodland, climbing across blackthorn coppices, through bushes, between roots. We see him maneuvre trees into mud-lined buildings, draw lines with leaves on steps in Edinburgh, decorating a tree with narrow branches pinned in by pine needles. Sometimes he is working alone, especially with a fallen elm tree, sometimes with his apparently more-talented daughter Holly, sometimes with a team of labourers, cutting rock into open sarcophagi. It is site-specific artwork, even if he has half a dozen schticks.

He is most clearly moved when talking about the fallen elm — someone has removed some of the branches in his absence — and when he is about to cut into bedrock.

(Spoiler: he doesn’t. Quarrying is one thing, but disturbing the geology is another.)

And somewhere in here is his former wife, who died after their divorce.

It’s hard to grasp how startling his work is on a large screen, let alone a tablet, but the camerawork and the drone shots do their best. You get a sense of his empathy and shared knowledge with a Spanish-speaking old woman, who shows him a clay, dung and straw floor, and that he is clearly learning from her — not quite appropriating. Whilst you hear from her, his daughter, some of his assistants (one of whom he compares scars with, in a presumable unintended homage to Jaws), there are no vox pops, nor curators, nor art histories. We don’t know who commissions the works. We do hear Fred Frith’s quasi-indigenous soundtrack, which is frankly irritating pastiche rather than enriching.

And the wind and the lean? We see that as his penultimate work — you might not spot the one in the closing credits — where it is him and the wind. Whilst Antony Gormley’s works are sculptures based on his body, they are monumental and solid, whether iron figures in the sea or giant above the road to Gateshead; here Goldsworthy’s body is more fragile, more self-effacing..

You’ll Know It When You See It

Les amants ([The Lovers] Louis Malle, 1958)

In the opening credits of Malle’s second feature film there is an engraving of the Map of Tendre, an imaginary land on which can be reaced the route to true love. So, here we have Jeanne Tournier (Jeanne Moreau), in a difficult and encouragedly open marriage with newspaper proprieter Henri (Alain Cuny) in Dijon, who regularly visits her friend Maggy (Judith Magre) in Paris so she can hang out with polo-playing hunt Raoul Flores (José Luis de Vilallonga). When Maggy and Raoul are invited for a meal in Dijon — against Jeanne’s better judgment — she breaks down in the sticks and is picked up by archaeologist Bernard (Jean-Marc Bory). Whilst you’d expect her to slip into Raoul’s room, it is Bernard who snags her attention.

This was released just before the French New Wave and appears in a crisp black and white, especially the magical night scenes in the third quarter of the film. At times I felt a twinger of the river sequence in Charles Laughton’s directorial masterpiece, Night of the Hunter (1955). The camera, meanwhile loves Moreau, although she is repeated reflected in mirrors. The film doesn’t seem to judge her character, although at times you might judge her — oscillating between impatient and not getting the hell on with it. It anticipates the adulteries of Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur ([Happiness], 1965), where I also expected Judgment to wreak havoc. But this is how the other half live — and it’s not entirely clear whether Bernard will fund her lifestyle.

Apparently this caused no end of kerfuffle when released in the States, leading to a pornography trial — although I’d be sceptical that anyone could get their rocks off to this. Indeed, Justice Potter Stewart ruled it wasn’t pornographic at the Supreme Court, saying that he knew hardcore porn when he saw it.

I wonder what he had seen?