Category Archives: Film

Random Review: All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar 1999)

One of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s most well-known films, All About My Mother is an offbeat melodrama with a huge heart. It tells the story of Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a nurse and single mother of sweet-natured Esteban (Eloy Azorin). Mother and son live contended lives of mutual devotion, watching old films together and discussing Esteban’s dreams of being a writer, until his seventeenth birthday. On a trip to the theatre to see A Streetcar Named Desire, Esteban runs to approach the lead actress Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes) for her autograph and is run over and killed.
In their final, poignant conversation before he died, Manuela promised to finally tell Esteban “all about your father.” But the film soon makes it clear that women will take centre page, and the film will, as its title suggests, be a tribute to mothers everywhere. Indeed, when a grief-stricken Manuela goes to Barcelona to try to break the news to Esteban’s father, it soon emerges that she’s a trans sex worker, Lola. She proves hard to track down, but Manuela soon meets a host of different characters in Barcelona, including her old friend and Lola’s colleague Agrado (Antonia San Juan), Huma, whose production of A Streetcar Named Desire has moved to Barcelona and who is in a destructive relationship with her heroin-addicted co-star Nina (Candela Peña), and Rosa (Penelope Cruz), a sweet-natured nun with problems of her own. Each of these women represents the different roles and identities women can assume in society – including the identity of gender itself – and how a whole life can go into that role. But each of them is also a complex, unique personality, and together, they begin to help each other with their problems, and to help Manuela heal.
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Random Review: Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby 1971)

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An eighteen-year-old boy falls in love with a nearly eighty-year-old woman. It sounds like a particularly shock-courting premise for a dire gross-out comedy, but the triumph of classic independent film Harold and Maude is that, while embracing the oddness of such an unlikely relationship, it manages to make it convincing and tender.

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Random Review: The Vanishing (George Sluizer 1988)

The Vanishing

Rex (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna ter Steege), a Dutch couple, are travelling in France when they stop at a service station and Saskia disappears. Dutch director George Sluizer’s adaptation of Tim Krabbé’s novel The Golden Egg is concerned with the aftermath of the disappearance, and focuses on Rex’ obsessive quest to find out what happened to Saskia, but also on uncovering the mind of her abductor.

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Review: Fill the Void (Rama Burshtein 2012)

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In my last post (which, as usual, was too long ago!), I wrote about how the best fiction and discussions about marginalised groups are created by people in that group. Then I saw Fill the Void, which I think is a really good example of the kind of art from viewpoints we don’t often hear from, that should get out there more. Unlike 12 Years a Slave, it isn’t even distanced from its characters’ lives by history. Rama Burshtein’s debut feature Fill the Void is set in a contemporary world I knew nothing about – the Orthodox Hassidic community, where there’s a huge social focus on arranged marriages.

The film begins with its eighteen-year-old heroine Shira and her aunt spying on a potential match in the supermarket, and the theme of marriage – meeting prospective husbands, attending weddings, arrangements falling through – dominates almost every conversation, as the characters follow it with an intense interested designed to, perhaps, fill the existential void referred to in the title. This film fails the Bechdel Test, but on purpose – the female characters talk to each other about men and matrimony because it’s such an important part of the story and their lives. As an outsider, I can’t judge how accurately this film represents the community, but it feels authentic and I found it an eye-opening insight.

Shira seeks advice on her first meeting with her prospective husband from her pregnant sister, Esther. But Esther soon collapses at a family gathering, and is taken to hospital where she dies in childbirth. Her family and her husband Yochay mourn her loss and care for her newborn son, but soon the question arises of whether Yochay should remarry. Desperate to stay in contact with her grandchild, Shira’s mother suggests that she should become her brother-in-law’s second wife.

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Call in the experts: When solidarity becomes speaking for

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One of my seminar groups is made up of around ten female and three male students. This week we were discussing Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which evolved into a discussion about how far gender equality has been achieved in general. One of the male students pointed out that, in an English Literature undergraduate course at any rate, there are more women than men, and another man replied that he’d noticed that the few men in every seminar still speak for at least half of the class discussion. At that point I wanted to contribute ‘That’s because women are socialised to not express opinions’ but before I could speak, the third man in the room said “Perhaps women find it harder to express their opinions?” These three men began to form a tight and confident circle, their arguments flying back and forth with no breaks where anyone else could speak, as they discussed feminism in front of twelve (counting the professor and teaching assistant) women who weren’t included at all. We still have a long way to go before men and women are equal, they concluded. Women don’t speak up so much in seminars because they’re socialised not to trust their own ideas, not to speak up, not to argue with others, they lamented. It’s terribly sexist that women’s voices aren’t heard enough, at university or elsewhere, and something really should be done, these three men, speaking in front of twelve silent women, decided.

There was possibly some irony in that situation which went undetected.

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Overcoming Huh: Running on Empty (Sidney Lumet 1988)

This will be the first in a series of semi-regular posts inspired by having had several versions of this conversation:

Me: Oh,  film/ book/ singer is great!

Friend: Huh? Never heard of it/ them.

Me: Uh, well, it’s… trust me, it’s great. You have to watch/ read/ listen to it/ them.

Friend (unconvinced): Sure.

These posts are going tobe the long and eloquent explanation I can’t think up on the spur of the moment of why X is so great, in the hope that if I  encourage more people to watch/ read/ listen to it, I’ll run into that disappointing ‘huh’ less often, because I won’t be alone in my love.

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My most anticipated films of autumn 2013

As the weather turns autumnal, cinemas start offering their quality films again, hoping people will come in the from the cold to watch the first offerings of the run-up to the Oscars. Here are the five films coming out in the UK this autumn that I’m most excited about:

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