My Friends and I – 4

Regular visitors to Casta La Vista-land will know about my work at a Derbyshire cinema where I sporadically coordinate film festivals and produce podcasts. I also run a fortnightly film group that meets on Sundays, watches films (duh!) and then sits around afterwards for a bit of a chin wag. It’s a book club but without using paper, so technically it’s environmentally friendlier.

Here are some short(ish) reviews of the last 3 films I have watched as part of that group;

Made In Dagenham

I was a bit nervous about watching Made in Dagenham because it came hot on the heels of Tamara Drewe, a  British film which I found ultimately disappointing and that Chris and I talked about here [about 30 minutes in]. Seeing as both films are unashamedly British I was worried that Made In Dagenham might suffer the same problems as Drewe; an over dependence on sight gags and imagery and a lack of substance and character.

I was pleasantly surprised therefore to watch a film that, whilst flawed in places, is nevertheless an enjoyable watch with well rounded characters, a good sense of narrative, and an engaging premise.

The film is loosely based (in the sense that it takes the truth, tightens it up and throws in some personal character development, drama and a cohesive arc) on the equal pay protests by a group of women at the Ford Plant in Dagenham in the late 60’s.

Sally Hawkins is a rising talent in British cinema and her performance as Rita, the leader of the revolution, cements her growing reputation. It will be a genuine shame if she is lured over to America as we should try our best to keep hold of versatile performers like her.

The film doesn’t outstay its welcome, unlike Tamara Drewe, and despite its UK surroundings does well to apply healthy doses of empathy and dramatic incident to keep more conventional cinema-goers entertained, which is something other British filmmakers often forget to do in their quest to be un-American- forgetting that Hollywood doesn’t own the rights to conventional storytelling.

In some respects the film suffers for having an ending that is a foregone conclusion, although as it is based on real events we can hardly knock it too much for that, and there are one or two supporting characters that seem forgotten about by the end of the film- Where does Bob Hoskins go? Why does Connie suddenly come back all smiles at the end?

All in all this movie was ideal for a Sunday evening as it didn’t take itself too seriously and was full of enough recognisable faces that all turned in commendable performances.

The Arbor

CM came to this one!

The Arbor was a tough, yet ultimately rewarding watch. It might sound cliché to say it but it is genuinely hard to describe what type of film it is.

The film is about the strained lives of Andrea Dunbar (a Yorkshire woman who rose to fame in the 80’s for her plays The Arbor and Rita, Sue and Bob Too before dying of a brain haemorrhage aged 29) and her daughter Lorraine; how their lives mirrored one another and the effect their decisions had on their families and neighbours.

Half documentary and half-adaptation, the film lip syncs performances by actors to the actual voice recordings from the real people of the story. These scenes are separated with archive footage from old TV shows (particularly news footage and a BBC arena documentary on Dunbar) and interpretive performances of Dunbar’s first play, acted out in the middle of The Buttershaw estate, the real estate in Yorkshire where Dunbar lived and set her work.

My initial impression of the film was how effectively all the storytelling techniques worked together; I doubt I have been as impressed by any movie this year as I was with the first half an hour of this. However eventually the emotion and the intensity of the fractured relationships takes over and you forget the stylistic elements of the film and become engrossed in its heart.

I was struck by the fact that nothing actually happens in the movie; everything is accounted after-the-fact by the people involved. And yet you would be forgiven for reacting as if it were happening on screen in front of you, such is the emotional connection the audience has to the story.

Destined for the 9pm slot on Channel 4, The Arbor is one to look out for if you haven’t already seen it; an emotional journey that allows us to make our own judgements instead of ramming an agenda down our throat.

Another Year

Filmmaker Mike Leigh is considered one of England’s national treasures. His films are always prefaced with quotes like “another instant classic” and “probably his best work to date”.

I find praise like that hard to stomach because I think it can affect cinema-goers in one of two ways. It will either encourage people to agree with the sentiments of critics without deciding for themselves what they really think or force them try to pick holes in the films if they don’t like feeling they’re being told what to think.

In my opinion Another Year was brilliant, but less as a film and more as a slice of life, which in essence is what the film is really all about.

It uses the seasons to show glimpses of the lives of several people that interact with Gerri and Tom (Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent) and gravitate around their homes, particularly one overbearing friend named Mary, played by Lesley Manville.

Telling stories through seasons can be problematic because each section should not necessarily be as long as the others- we are inherently bound to get restless the longer each one goes on so in essence the final section should always be shorter than the first. I certainly wasn’t bored by this style in Another Year, although Leigh does let the movie take its time, showing full conversations between people rather than the more typical technique of giving us snippets.

It is this decision that lends to the realism of Another Year, which is at once its greatest asset and heaviest burden. Some people will be captivated by the lives on show in the film because they feel real and not performed. Others will find the lack of incident and narrative drive discomforting and boring. I certainly fall onto the side of the former; I was engrossed and enchanted. I felt part of a community and found drama and tension through the intricacies of the relationships on show.

Two criticisms; Gerri (in particular) and Tom do have an air of smugness about them, although I feel this is justified given the chaos brought by the many characters who visit them in the safety of their own home; and despite all the praise laid at Lesley Manville’s feet for her turn as fragile-friend Mary I found that hers was the most jarring, unrealistic and caricatured performance of the film as it really didn’t make sense why these people would continue to hang out with her. But maybe that’s like life…eh Chris?

Right, there’s another 3 out of the way. If you seen any of those films above let me know in the comments section below, and if you haven’t then I recommend you check them all out (not a bad film on show in this edition). I’ll write up more of these once we’ve seen another 3 films and until then thanks as always to QUAD for the tickets and to you lot for reading.

Peace!

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