Archive for April, 2014

Strange Colour (1)

Original title: L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps

Director: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani

Screenplay: Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet 

102 minutes

 

I so much wanted to like this film, having read in advance about how it harks back to the Italian giallo cinema of the 1970s. Sadly, I ended up resenting the fact that I had actually spent money to watch it. The opening scenes are promising, delivering both visual style and intrigue. We see a white man, Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) waking from his sleep as his plane comes in to land. In his hand he holds a book of matches showing a woman’s legs and the words “Table Dancing”. Later, in his taxi he looks out of the window at what appears (out of focus) to be a woman in a red window display. These images are intercut with some black and white sequences showing a black woman, dressed in black leather, engaged in some kind of bondage activity involving a knife. Whether these images are flashback, dream, or real-time activity happening somewhere else is never made clear.

The woman in these sequences is apparently Kristensen’s wife, Edwige. When he arrives home she is not there, but the chain on the inside has been put in the locked position. We learn that Kristensen has been phoning his wife during his absence on a business trip, but she has not been responding. Kristensen has a smoke and a drink (or a few), then goes searching for his wife. From this point onwards, the film gradually takes on the appearance of some hallucinatory trip. Kristensen follows some mysterious man out of the building, and then starts ringing the bells of all the occupants.  He takes tea with the woman upstairs, all dressed in black, but whose face we cannot see, who tells a strange story of her husband’s disappearance in the same building. He meets a detective who also recounts a story, which appears to involve keeping one of the inhabitants under surveillance. These stories are told in flashback.

I very much enjoyed the opening scenes of the film, simply because of the promise they seemed to offer. The mid-section, where Kristensen talks with the woman upstairs and with the detective also held some interest but with diminishing returns. Increasingly, there is a nagging suspicion that the directors are too much in love with the visual style of their movie and that the story is never going to make any sense. Unfortunately, this turns out to be exactly the case. By the time we get to the final third of the film Kristensen is ripping away the walls of his apartment (there is some bit of nonsense about a possible intruder using hidden passages), chasing his own doppelgangers around, and there is a gratuitous and equally baffling slasher sequence.

If only the directors could have attached their visuals to a narrative that even remotely made sense, then this could have been a very enjoyable film. They clearly do have a sense of style; in fact, the musical soundtrack is brilliant and works well with the visuals. But in the end it is all style and no substance, resulting in the kind of dismal self-indulgence that gives “art house” a bad name. I watched this on my computer via Curzon Home Cinema. On the first viewing, I fell asleep several times and, by the end, had no idea what I had just seen. Feeling a bit guilty that perhaps I had been too tired to watch, I viewed it again a day later, this time buoyed by some strong tea. On this occasion the film made just as little sense as on first viewing. We never really know if there is a real “story” at the heart of the movie or whether the whole thing is just some dream, psychotic delusion, or hallucinatory trip. It would not surprise me if the film has a future as cult viewing among students who have just discovered mind-altering substances, but I can’t imagine who else could possibly enjoy this.

Rating: 2/10

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Nothing_Bad_Can_Happen_poster

Germany 2013 (billed as Tore Tanzt)

Director: Katrin Gebbe

Screenplay: Katrin Gebbe

110 minutes

This extraordinary feature film debut by director Katrin Gebbe is one of the most uncompromising examinations of evil that I have ever seen. In fact, “evil”  may not even be the right word to use here, because it is a word that tends to be used as an explanation in its own right, a word that pathologises individuals and prevents us from considering the social contexts within which disturbing behaviour can arise. By contrast, Nothing Bad Can Happen – whilst not providing the audience with any pat answers – places a particular set of events under a spotlight and forces us to consider some difficult questions.

The story begins with a group of Jesus Freaks, young people who blend Christianity and punk rock. Among them is Tore (Julius Feldmeier), whose blond locks and blue eyes imbue him with a truly angelic appearance. Whilst driving home from Tore’s baptism, the Jesus Freaks encounter Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak), whose pickup truck won’t start. They gather round and pray over the bonnet of his vehicle, after which the engine kicks into life. Benno asks about their group and later turns up at one of their punk gatherings, where he witnesses Tore having an epileptic seizure. He takes Tore to his family’s summer dwelling, a small shack on an allotment. Tore is invited to stay with the family – consisting of Benno’s partner Astrid (Annika Kuhl) and her two children from a previous relationship, Dennis (Til-Niklas Theinert) and Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof). As there is not enough room in the wooden hut, Tore sleeps in a tent.

Although he is gently questioning of Tore’s Christianity, suggesting that religion is for those who cannot handle responsibility for their own lives, Benno is initially charming. But little by little a darker side is revealed. At a barbecue, Benno jokingly jabs a pair of tongs towards Tore’s face. During a gathering for Sanny’s fifteenth birthday, Benno punches Tore,  but then apologises for what he says is uncharacteristic behaviour. However, Benno’s abuse then becomes even more serious.

Throughout it all, Tore shows no inclination to leave of his own accord nor to fight back (earlier in the film one of the other Jesus Freaks makes a speech about turning the other cheek). He interprets his situation as a test set by God, although later – after a spell in hospital – he feels that God has abandoned him. Should we admire Tore’s religiosity or is he hopelessly naive? Are Benno, Astrid, and the children the closest thing that Tore has to a real family, or is he simply unable to take responsibility for his own life, as Benno originally suggested? But whatever we think about Tore, the treatment he receives is truly awful.

Water appears recurrently at significant moments in the film. Tore is baptised in the sea; there is a near-sexual encounter in a swimming pool; an episode of animal abuse involves water; and at one point Tom – filthy and stinking – is hosed down by Benno, only Sanny takes the hose and makes a game of it. At various points the music (by Johannes Lehniger and Peter Folk) rumbles and gurgles, like a large object sinking into deep water.

**SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ONWARDS**

Disturbingly, Astrid goes from being a mere observer of Tore’s suffering to being actively complicit in its cause. She and Benno occasionally appear surprised, appalled even, by their own behaviour, but then go on to perpetrate worse. Likewise, Dieter and Cora (Uwe Dag Berlin and Nadine Boske) are occasional visitors who begin by expressing concern for Tore, but end up also participating in his suffering.  I’m sure I could not have been the only audience member thinking of real-life cases such as Fred and Rosemary West (and, in fact, Nothing Bad Can Happen is based on true events in Germany). But moreover, watching ordinary people  become involved in horrific events brings to mind the rise of the Nazis, not to mention more recent events such as Abu-Ghraib.

At the end of the film Tore is badly beaten and mutilated, and Benno, Astrid, Dieter and Cora wrap him in a blanket and drive him out to the country. Here, Benno drops the blood-soaked young man in a copse. Benno asks him where his God is now, to which Tore raises a hand to his chest and whispers “Here”. Apparently unable to cope with this demonstration of faith, Benno kicks Tore, whose body rolls down a slope and – the opposing bookend to the baptism at the beginning – comes to a rest in water with plant matter wreathed Christ-like around his head.

Back at the allotment, Sanny and Dennis manage to escape and the final shot is of them walking hand-in-hand down the road. When the final credits appear, instead of scrolling upwards in the conventional manner, they scroll downwards leaving us with the feeling of a descent into hell.

Director Katrin Gebbe has stated that, following a showing at Cannes, the film “had boos and cheers, escapees and long standing ovations”. I cannot for the life of me think why anyone would boo this movie. Certainly, the events it depicts are shocking in the extreme and Gebbe refuses to make moral judgments on behalf of the audience. Nor is there much that can be considered uplifting, unless you feel that Tore’s refusal to fight back is inspirational rather than naive. But surely these aspects are characteristic of a mature work of art that refuses to patronise its audience? In any event, although this is not an easy watch (I occasionally found myself curling my fists as I squirmed in discomfort) I consider that this is one of the stand-out movies of the year so far, underpinned by a strong script, strong direction, fine music and cinematography, and with a memorable performance by Julius Feldmeier as Tore.

In_Bloom

Georgia / France / Germany 2013

Directors: Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross

Screenplay: Nana Ekvtimishvili

102 minutes

 

In Bloom is, in one sense, a conventional coming-of-age drama, but the fact that it transcends its genre is evidenced by the numerous awards that have been showered upon it at film festivals around the world. I caught up with the film at its UK premiere, as part of the Birds Eye View Film Festival promoting women filmmakers. It is in its depiction of women’s lives in a troubled part of the world that In Bloom really has an impact.

The story takes place in Tblisi, Georgia, in 1992 against the backdrop of the conflict with the neighbouring Black Sea state of Abkhazia. However, we are only aware of this indirectly, as the film concentrates on the undercurrents of violence in everyday life. The story follows the lives of two schoolgirls, Eka (Lika Babluani) and Natia (Mariam Bokeria), who are friends. Natia’s home life is blighted by a drunken father who has shouting matches with her mother, whereas Eka’s father is absent for reasons that are not immediately apparent. Early in the film we see the two girls in a long queue for bread, where the people jostle each other and complain about people who they think are cutting in. As Eka is walking home with two loaves of bread she is bullied by two boys, an occurrence that turns out not to be a one-off.

Natia, on the other hand, is receiving attention from boys, not all of it welcome. She gives short shrift to Kote (Zurab Gogaladze), a local bad boy who shows up in a car filled with his mates and tries to chat up Natia, and who later gives her flowers. By contrast, Natia has a better prospect in the handsome figure of Lado (Data Zakareishvili), who – like the good guys in Westerns – is neatly dressed in white. However, Lado has to go away for a little while. Before he does, he takes Natia aside and gives her a pistol. He tells her that this is so she can protect herself. A while later, when Natia discovers that Eka is being pushed around she gives her the gun.

The appearance of the gun creates a tension that runs through the rest of the film, even when the weapon is hidden out of sight. Will it be used? Who will use it? What will be the circumstances that lead it to be used? In one scene we see that merely brandishing the gun solves a problem on the streets, and in a subsequent scene where the gun is not available a terrible event occurs. But we also see that, rather than solving problems, guns can also be the problem. Back in the bread queue a couple of big men in fatigues, carrying machine guns, simply walk up to the front of the queue and grab armfuls of bread. They do not even feel the need to respond to the protests of the crowd. The benefits and the costs of gun possession, as demonstrated in this local context, could well be taken as a microcosm of the role of armaments in solving disputes  between nations.

But whether or not this reading of the film is intended, the aspect that really comes through is the toughness of the women’s lives. Eka and Natia observe the difficulties faced by their mothers, and then have to fight to assert their own freedom and identity within a culture where masculinity dominates. In one of the classroom scenes the female teacher can only watch helpless as a big lad leads a walkout (the kids all disappear to the local fair).

In Bloom has almost a documentary feel in the way it is shot. There are long gaps between cuts and in many scenes the camera follows characters as they go about their business. In the first bread queue scene the camera follows one of the girls as she approaches the queue, then goes up the steps after her, and then follows into the crowd as people start to shout and jostle each other.

I don’t know anything about the political situation within Georgia, or how much life has changed since 1992, but it was interesting to see in the final credits various acknowledgments of assistance from branches of the Georgian government. Perhaps that is a positive sign.

tom-at-the-farm (1)

Canada / France 2013

Director: Xavier Dolan

Screenplay: Xavier Dolan / Michel Marc Bouchard. Based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard.

 

Written and directed by Xavier Dolan, who also plays the lead role, this is a psychological thriller of a superior kind. Tom, who lives in Montreal, is distraught over the death of his boyfriend, Guillaume. He drives out to the countryside to stay with Guillaume’s mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), prior to attending the funeral. Agathe doesn’t realise that Tom was more than just a friend of Guillaume’s and is expecting a girlfriend to turn up. Whilst at the house, and later at the funeral, Tom is bullied by Guillaume’s brother Francis (Pierre Yves-Cardinal), who tells him to make up a story in front of Agathe about a girl called Sarah, who was a co-worker of Guillaume. Tom is to pretend that Sarah was Guillaume’s girlfriend, and is to pass on a message from Sarah to Agathe.

On the way back from the funeral Tom tries to make his escape, driving away from the farmhouse whilst cursing Guillaume’s “redneck” brother. But a way down the road he stops and then turns back. We think perhaps he is concerned about Agathe or needs his luggage, but in fact he is drawn to the dark and dangerous figure of Francis. Before long Tom is working on the farm, but increasingly bruised from the attentions of the sociopathic loner Francis, who has secrets of his own (Francis’s outsider status is emphasised at one point by his wearing a jacket with the American flag and “USA” depicted on it – something that no Canadian I have ever known would ever do).

To some degree Tom at the Farm has a thematic similarity to Stranger by the Lake, released in the same year. That film was described by some critics as Hitchcockian, a comparison that I must confess escaped me entirely. It was also notable for its fairly explicit depiction of gay male sexual activity. There are no such displays of sexuality in Tom at the Farm, which is closer to being a thriller that just happens to have a gay man as its lead character (although his sexuality is not irrelevant to the story). Moreover, this is a film that I think can justifiably be called Hitchcockian, what with its farmhouse setting, a chase scene in a cornfield, its dark secrets and motivations, and even a couple of flashes of black humour. From a four-time director who was just 24 when Tom at the Farm was released, this is a major achievement.

Rating: 10/10

Noah2014Poster

US 2014

Director: Darren Aronofsky

138 minutes

**This review is full of spoilers. If you know the bible well, this won’t matter, except to the extent that Noah the film isn’t entirely true to the story**

What to make of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah? Although not a believer myself, I was rather hoping to enjoy this film, just as I enjoy films about haunted houses despite not believing in ghosts. I admire Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins as actors, I enjoyed Darren Aronofsky’s previous two films (Black Swan and The Wrestler), and even the dumbest blockbusters can be fun. In anticipation that I might get more of a kick from wallowing in the film’s epicness rather than the story itself, I even coughed up a few extra Duane Eddy’s to see it at the IMAX. What a mistake. Noah’s problem is that it is just too epic for its own good. All subtlety is lost beneath a slew of CGI battles and a thundering soundtrack that, at times, would give Motörhead a run for their money in the volume stakes. There is absolutely no light and shade. Everything is treated so seriously that, by the time the Ark gets afloat it seems to be in imminent danger of sinking beneath the film’s overwhelming portentousness.

I am in no position to comment on how closely Noah follows the biblical story. Needless to say, some biblical literalists are already complaining that it doesn’t follow the “facts”. But really, who cares? We all know that “true stories” on the silver screen play fast and loose with the actualité, so I was happy just to take the story at face value. To begin with, after a bit of biblical scene-setting Noah starts seeing signs and having dreams that he realises is “the creator” (we never hear the word “God”) telling him about a coming disaster, a flood to punish mankind for their sins. The whole of humanity will be wiped out, but Noah will build an ark and save the world’s animals. Those animals are all birds, mammals, reptiles and insects, the dinosaurs having disappeared a few million years before. Exactly what the dinosaurs did to arouse God’s wrath is an issue left unexplored. The fish, presumably, are not endangered by the flood, and Noah does slip in a quick reference to them when recounting the story of how God made the world.

Noah starts to build the ark with the help  of a group of fearsome stone beings called The Watchers, who look like they were swept up off the cuttings room floor at one of the Lord of the Rings movies. The Watchers have this sob-story about how they were hunted and persecuted by humans, although this doesn’t quite add up because later on they turn out to be highly proficient at kicking human butt. Then Ray Winstone arrives on the scene playing Tubal-Cain, whose family have a bit of history with Noah’s family, and he warns Noah that he’s the daddy and that if Noah doesn’t get off his land there’s going to be trouble. Don’t worry, says Noah, I’m building this big ark to save my family from the terrible flood that’s going to kill you and your people. Then The Watchers start squaring up to Tubal-Cain and his mob, so they head off back home to make some more weapons.

Meanwhile, Noah’s adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) is in love with Shem (Douglas Booth), but she is unhappy because she can’t bear him children. While she’s out in the forest she bumps into Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), who is obsessively hunting for the berries he loves, even though (or because) he hasn’t seen one in years. Methuselah waves his hand over Ila’s belly and makes her fertile. Quite where he got this magical ability, and why he can’t use it to grow berries, is never explained. Eventually, Methuselah finds a single red berry, which appears to have some symbolic meaning in relation to the red apple that Eve scrumped in the Garden of Eden (and which appears in Noah’s dreams from time to time).

Eventually, the great flood happens, whereupon Tubal-Cain’s vast army of men try to storm the ark. Curiously, there don’t seem to be any women among Tubal-Cain’s people, except for one girl that Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman) tries to bring along for the ride. Sadly, she gets her foot caught in a trap and Noah won’t rescue her, which causes a strain in father-son relations. Anyway, The Watchers kick the crap out of Tubal-Cain’s men, except for Tubal-Cain himself who manages to stow away on the ark, albeit wounded. Tubal-Cain bides his time, building up his strength by scoffing the animals who, incidentally, have all been put to sleep (not in the euphemistic sense) by a magical potion that Noah has mixed. Tubal-Cain also gets some help from Ham, who is still mad at dad over the girl he left behind. Despite the fact the seas are in turmoil, and the ark is rectangular rather than boat-shaped, no-one gets seasick.

Eventually, there is a showdown between Tubal-Cain and Noah. Then Noah finds out that Ila is pregnant, which isn’t good news because God has determined that the extermination of the human race includes Noah and his family, but only once they have ensured the animals’ safety. He is even madder when he learns that Methuselah cured Ila of her barrenness, because his action constituted interference with God’s plans. It wasn’t Ila’s fault, says Noah’s wife Naahmeh (Jennifer Connelly), I asked Methuselah to do it. However, this doesn’t stop Noah from vowing to kill Ila’s child if it is a girl, because a girl could procreate with young Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), who is destined to be the last human left alive. If you can be bothered to think about it, this does of course raise the usual philosophical questions about how – if God is all-powerful – he was unable to stop Methuselah from acting against his will.

So far, so ridiculous. Nonetheless, throughout all this Russell Crowe is always watchable. He gives a very strong performance, albeit one which is not dissimilar from some of his previous roles. Crowe is best in the scenes prior to the Ark disappearing out into the oceans, when he has the opportunity to be quite animated. Once on the ark, he increasingly adopts the countenance of someone introspecting on all manner of troubling thoughts, a role he has been playing ever since 1999’s The Insider. However, when Noah learns of Ila’s pregnancy he starts to become quite megalomaniacal, and I felt that Crowe’s performance threatened to go just a little over the top at this point. Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah was his usual hypnotic screen presence, and Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain was fearsomely excellent.

However, herein lays a problem. These three roles are the most significant for the film and are played to the hilt by the actors in question. They completely dominate the female figures. The various female performers do their best, but just cannot compete. Jennifer Connelly fares best out of the female actors, but being required to play a – mostly – dutiful wife against a husband who is enacting God’s will doesn’t give much opportunity to shine. The person who loses out most in the acting stakes is Emma Watson. She is good in the more intimate scenes, particularly when it is just her and Connelly, but her performance is painfully exposed in the more expansive scenes, especially in the presence of Crowe. Repeatedly, she does that slight movement of the eyebrows, and looking into the distance, familiar from the Harry Potter films, which is meant to indicate concern. In these scenes she is about as wooden as the ark itself. In a broader sense the film also doesn’t do Watson any favours. For someone who is presumably keen to escape the Harry Potter label, it can’t help when, at intervals, a large CGI-ed bird swoops into a landscape shot and begins flapping furiously. I couldn’t help thinking that here was a bird on its way to deliver a message to Hogwarts.

Story-wise, Noah calls to mind one of those atheistic Facebook memes that takes a bible story (sometimes the whole bible story), strips it of all archaic and flowery language, and summarises it in a few succinct sentences that would fit on a postcard. Seen this way, all God’s cruelties and inconsistencies – at least as recorded by the authors of the Old Testament – are thrown into sharp relief for comic effect. At the end of Noah, the ark and its inhabitants are all washed up in the middle of nowhere. Rather like the film itself.

Rating: 3/10

Hunter_ver3

 

Australia 2011

Director: Daniel Nettheim

102 minutes

 

The landscape of the Australian outback has contributed to many cinematic gems, such as Walkabout, Wake in Fright, and the Mad Max series. Based on a novel by Julia Leigh, Daniel Nettheim’s The Hunter adds to this trove of fine Australian landscape movies, only this time we are not in the outback but the forests and mountains of Tasmania. The action starts, however, in a lounge at Paris Orly airport, where Willem Dafoe’s Martin, some kind of mercenary hunter, is being briefed by the representative of a shadowy biotech company. His task is to find and kill the last Tasmanian tiger, bring back vital samples of blood, tissue, and organs, but to dispose of the carcass so that it will never be found.

Arriving in Tasmania, Martin takes accommodation at the home of the Armstrong family. However, Jarrah Armstrong, a scientist and an environmental activist, has long been missing in the wilds. His wife, Lucy (Frances O’Connor), spends most of her time in bed, dosed up on all manner of medication that is brought in by the rather ambiguous figure of Jack (Sam Neill), who lives nearby. Martin’s initial interactions are with Lucy’s children, nicknamed “Sass” and “Bike” (Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock). Martin tells Jack and the children that he is a university researcher investigating the Tasmanian Devil.

At the local bar, Martin meets a group of loggers who make it clear that newcomers are not welcome. After his first day in the hills Martin discovers that his vehicle has been vandalised. Later, after Martin has managed to cure Lucy of her drug dependency, the loggers return to threaten the Armstrongs and their friends, who have been celebrating a ban on logging. Although Martin continues to pose as a university researcher, the young boy Bike seems to intuit that he is searching for the tiger. Bike gives him clues as to where the tiger might be which, after a while, Martin starts to take seriously. But why does Bike know where the tiger can be found?

The Hunter is possibly not a film for those who like their action fast: there are various scenes of Martin tracking carefully through the wilds, setting traps, waiting, and looking thoughtful. However, throughout the entire film there is always a palpable sense of underlying menace, and eventually this menace takes physical form. Dafoe is utterly convincing as Martin, the hunter. He looks suitably tough, a man who can handle himself when alone in the wild, but who can also stand up to human adversaries. Despite this, Martin also seems to be quite cultured. Early on we seem him luxuriating in a nice bath whilst listening to opera. When he arrives at the Armstrongs’ home, he is clearly perturbed at the filthy bathtub he is presented with, as well as the lack of hot water. He fixes the broken generator in order that he can get hot water and also power up his computer. The difficult task of mending the generator gives him the opportunity to bond a little with Bike, who rarely speaks. As he spends time with the Armstrongs, Martin’s character softens and becomes more likeable. We are left to wonder if he will find the tiger and, if so, whether he will really kill it. How will we feel about him if he does?

This is a very effective slow-burn thriller that also delivers an ecological message, but without ramming it down the audience’s throats. If you didn’t see it on release it is well worth searching out.

Rating: 8/10

 

The_Past_poster

France / Italy 2014

Director: Asghar Farhadi

130 minutes

 

Hot on the heels of his Oscar-winning film A Separation, Asghar Farhadi’s The Past is an engrossing relationship drama with a mystery at its heart. Iranian-born Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) is returning to France to finalize the divorce from his wife Anne-Marie (Bérénice Bejo). To his surprise she wants him to come and stay at her house rather than at a hotel, despite the fact that she is now in a relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahim). There, Ahmad finds three unhappy children, including Samir’s son Fouad (Elyes Aguis) and Anne-Marie’s eldest daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), who was fathered by a former husband. Lucie is clearly troubled and holding onto some sort of pain, which she won’t discuss with Anne-Marie, who asks Ahmad to speak to her.

Whatever the problems are between Anne-Marie, Samir, and the children, Ahmad’s arrival acts as a catalyst to bring them to the fore. And at the centre of all this, unseen, is Samir’s wife, who is lying comatose in a hospital. Why is she in a coma? What is Samir’s relationship to her? Why is Lucie so troubled by Samir’s relationship with her mother? Like the peeling of an onion, little by little elements of the story are revealed. The Past is a compelling depiction of a complicated entanglement of jealousies, misunderstandings, miscommunications, and revenge. Written, as well as directed, by Asghar Farhadi, drama doesn’t come better than this.

Rating: 9/10

The-shout-poster

UK 1978

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

86 minutes

 

Based on a short story by Robert Graves, The Shout is a very atmospheric horror picture full of striking sounds and images. The opening scenes occur at a psychiatric hospital, where various people are organising a game of cricket in the grounds. Quite who are the patients and who are the staff is never entirely clear. Inside the scorekeepers’ hut, Crossley (Alan Bates) begins to tell Robert Graves (Tim Curry) an extraordinary “true” story. But is this story really true or is it the delusion of a mental patient (Crossley himself admits to occasionally modifying his tale, so as to keep it fresh in the telling)?

At any rate, the film shifts to the countryside where Crossley accosts Anthony Fielding (John Hurt) following a church service, claiming to be a traveller who has been walking for two days. That Hurt is about to have his life turned upside down is strongly hinted by the fact that he has been engaging in a little philandering whilst his wife Rachel (Susannah York) waits at home. Crossley invites himself in for lunch, during which he claims to have spent 18 years among the Aborigines in Australia. He says that the Aborigines permit the killing of their newly-born children, and that he himself has killed two of his own. Not exactly ideal dinner table talk at the best of times, this particularly upsets Rachel as, we learn, she and Anthony have not managed to have any children together. Apparently overcome by a migraine, Crossley is given a bed to rest on, at Rachel’s insistence. Thereafter, he becomes difficult to budge and starts to come between Anthony and Rachel. At one point he tells Anthony that he has learned Aboriginal magic, and has spent 18 years developing a shout so powerful that it can kill. Anthony scoffs at this and Crossley gets angry. He tells Anthony that he will demonstrate the shout for him, but that he had better stuff up his ears with cotton wool or wax. The next morning, they set out for the beach together where Crossley does indeed give his demonstration…

The Shout could be seen as a bit of a shaggy dog story were it not for the excellent performances from all involved. In particular, Alan Bates is absolutely outstanding as Crossley. From the moment he makes contact with Anthony he is a dark, brooding, and dangerous presence. Nonetheless, director Jerzy Skolimowski teases the audience throughout by switching between this horrifying tale and the ongoing cricket match at the psychiatric hospital (in one scene a patient is heard muttering Shakespeare’s words “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”). Skolimowski also makes great use of sound and image to build the atmosphere. As the opening credits role we see a grainy shot of a dark figure walking down a hill. The accompanying music is largely subsumed beneath the sound of the harsh wind. Anthony himself is a musician, who we see experimenting with sounds in his recording studio (at one point he places a microphone inside a jam jar, around which a fly is buzzing). Then there is the shout itself where, in addition to the supernatural sound produced, we see Crossley prepare himself by stretching out his arms and leaning backwards at an impossible angle. It is a really striking shot, and once the shout begins the camera focuses in on Crossley’s mouth. I won’t spoil things by describing the aftermath of the shout, but it is a scene well worth seeing.

Rating: 8/10

 

The Shout is currently showing at the British Film Institute as part of the Made In Britain: Jeremy Thomas season. The next showings are 6th April (21:00) and 15th April (18:30).