2015: A WRAP-UP

Whew. It’s perhaps interesting to note that this was the least amount of films I saw in a cinema within a single year, since the beginning of these film journals. In other words, for the last 5 years, really. I suppose life gets in the way? Or is it the other way around?
Why do I feel the need to constantly question my life decisions? Regardless, 37 films is still a lot, but I did miss out on some stuff that I really wanted to catch up on for one reason or another (The Martian, Bridge of Spies, The Duke of Burgundy, Mommy, Eden, Beasts of No Nation, to name a few), but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually.
You’ll see a lot of B’s and A’s in this list: I guess that’s what happens when you have to already be very selective with what you pay money to see. If I had to fill a quota of something like 100 films, I’m sure there’d be a much more even spread. But oh well, life is short!
Perhaps not surprisingly, more of my time went into watching some of the incredible TV shows that are out there – sometimes I think it’s a shame that I don’t have a separate journal to talk about those, but then again, I’d probably never get to leave the house.
Some of those TV shows include Bojack Horseman, Fargo, Transparent, Master of None, Rick & Morty, Show Me A Hero, Silicon Valley, Girls, Louie, Mad Men – there was a lot of amazing TV. Storytelling is only getting richer, fuller and more exciting with each year that goes by.
But anyway, without further ado, my personal top 10 favourite films of the year.

TOP 10 FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2015 (in alphabetical order):
 
AMY
THE CLUB
CREED
THE END OF THE TOUR
FOXCATCHER
JAMES WHITE
THE LOBSTER
THE LOOK OF SILENCE
SICARIO
TEHRAN TAXI
 
Are there any themes linking these films? Guilt, ego, delusion and jealousy seem to pop up here or there – I don’t think they ever cease to be fascinating to me. Interestingly, as a contrast to last year, all of these films are quite dark – the closest thing we have to a romantic film is probably The Lobster, which says a lot.
But perhaps what connects these films to each other the strongest, is how they all give us a view into ourselves, and the state of the world we live in. What drives us, torments us, what prevents us to change and become better people. What these films might have in common is to say that all of us are simultaneously the victims and the perpetrators – we feel pain, and yet inflict it upon others – in our own stories, in our own lives. When it really comes down to it, do we have what it takes to accept it and move forward?
Thanks for reading – Happy New Year!

– Alex
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BLURRED LINES: THE STYLE OF ABBAS KIAROSTAMI

The films of Abbas Kiarostami deal often with contemporary thematics of death and art. A master of form, Kiarostami’s aesthetic approach to his films lies in his use of subtle visual imagery, time and naturalism that emphasises minimalism and challenges perceptions of reality, in an effort to discover truth and poetic transcendence.

A recurring stylistic device Kiarostami employs is to have his characters in points of transit. Like an Edward Hopper painting, his characters are never quite in homes of their own, or spaces of their own comfort. Instead, they are found quite often to be in between spaces, traveling within unfamiliar territories, or even assuming identities completely different from their own. In Taste of Cherry, the protagonist is driving around in a car for most of the film. In Certified Copy, our two characters are walking idly around the streets of Tuscany. In both films there is never a predetermined destination in mind, but it is rather the act of travelling itself that becomes significant. This state of constant motion suggests a transitory state that Gilles Deleuze refers to as derive (drift):

In a derive one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. (2005, p. 50)

The characters of Kiarostami rely on exploring new locations and situations in an effort to find meaning within themselves. Without a predetermined destination in mind, the “traveller” in question can ultimately go in any direction he or she chooses, a choice that Deleuze states is “identical to the power of the spirit, to the perpetually renewed spiritual decision” (2005, p. 120). When the character is in motion, they are in search for a new way of life – a new way of perceiving the world they live in. Kiarostami will often film these situations in long, unbroken shots: ascribing to the concept of what Gilles Deleuze refers to as the “time-image”.

Time-images are those in which we see and experience the passing of time itself, without measurement or the mediating influence of the protagonist or plot. (Stone 2013, p. 95)

Each filmmaker will use the time-image for different thematic or stylistic purposes. Kiarostami often shows the time-image from a particular point of view that doesn’t necessarily provide a heightened sense of subjectivity, but rather a detached objectivity akin to documentary filmmaking. This is found in Taste of Cherry in the form of long takes looking outside the car window from the passenger’s seat, viewing at the natural scenery of the landscape, or in the form of long shots peering at the car travelling from afar. This intentional distancing creates a cinematic contrast from the intimate narrative, which invites the audience to reflect in unorthodox ways. In Certified Copy, we often have long takes following our two main characters as they engage in unbroken, flowing dialogue. This gives the audience a sense of continuous time and space, throwing us into a sense of reality not typically afforded to us in traditional Hollywood cinema.

Furthering the blending of fictional narrative and documentary filmmaking, Kiarostami utilizes film as an art form to challenge typical notions of the “real”. Taste of Cherry explores themes of death, and subsequently, life: over time, we follow the protagonist, Mr Baadi, as he drives around the Tehran countryside searching for a stranger willing enough to assist in his suicide. While the personal narrative ends on an ambiguous note, contemplating on whether or not Mr Baadi makes the right decision, the film’s concluding scene breaks the fourth wall so to speak, showing behind the scenes footage from the film, as we see the actor portraying Mr Baadi casually enjoying both himself and the natural scenery on set, alongside the actors on the film. The film ultimately breaks traditional narrative conventions in order to communicate a deeper, philosophical message about celebrating life and the act of creation.

Abbas Kiarostami remains a fervent believer in art’s power to raise more questions than answers, but still tells his stories in inherently esoteric fashion, finding his surrogate through the medium of film.

“From my very first movie, what was my concentration, my inspiration, was that I didn’t want to narrate something, I didn’t want to tell a story. I wanted to show something, I wanted for them to make their own story from what they were seeing.”
– Abbas Kiarostami

References

Deleuze, G. (2005) Cinema 1 & 2. London: Continuum
Stone, R. (2013) Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater. London: Wallflower Press

JAPAN

Last November I had the pleasure of spending two weeks in Japan with some close friends. I brought my little Minolta Super 8 camera and four rolls of Kodak Vision3 50D film. Something about shooting and watching Super 8mm always tugs away at my little heart, and as pricey as it is, I’ll have this small memory piece to hold on to forever.

FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2014

We’ve hit the new year. Suffice to say, 2014 was a big year for film. I thought 2013 would be hard to beat, but nothing makes me happier than to know that incredible films are still being created and seen around the world to this day.

TOP TEN OF 2014 (in alphabetical order):

  • BIRDMAN
  • BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR
  • BOYHOOD
  • HER
  • HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
  • INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
  • LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
  • SNOWPIERCER
  • THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA
  • WHIPLASH

IF TOP 15’s WERE A THING:

  • FORCE MAJEURE
  • THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
  • THE GREAT BEAUTY
  • NEBRASKA
  • NIGHTCRAWLER

What are the links between the films chosen in the Top 15, if there are any? We have a few coming-of-age films (Boyhood, Blue, Kaguya, Whiplash); stories about family (Boyhood, Like Father, Dragon, Force Majeure, Nebraska); ego (Birdman, Llewyn Davis, Force Majeure, Great Beauty, Nightcrawler); and love (all of them).

Here’s a syllogism to represent my findings:

They’ll use this in film schools one day.

Master and Commander: The Far side of the World (and the Box-Office)

Every week we’re sold different ads and promos for new films coming out, at a blinding, furious rate. The market these days is so highly saturated that it’s become almost a hassle to choose what to watch. It’s rough when an entire feature length film has to grab your attention and tell you it’s worth watching, using only a one-sheet poster and a two-minute trailer. Yes, they exist to create hype, but when another hundred films are utilising these exact same tools that same season, so much can go amiss when the marketing team handling the promotion miss the mark.

This was the case for films such as Dazed and Confused (billed as a “stoner comedy” thanks to an awful poster, much to the dismay of the director) and Master and Commander, whose entire promotional foundation was built upon a static image which gives the most generic impression of the film’s plot, being a “Stormy Russell Crowe historical naval drama”. Eleven years after its release, I finally got around to watching the Peter Weir-directed film through recommendation and discovered not just a wet, screaming Russell Crowe on a boat, but a beautifully photographed film with nuanced storytelling and real human pathos. It’s a film that unravels before your eyes, that doesn’t focus necessarily on naval war, but rather the psychology of comradeship and unity, a result of duty to both country and fellow man. It isn’t a film that exists to examine history, but to tell personal stories with just as many quiet moments as there are loud.

While a critical success, Master and Commander didn’t quite achieve as highly at the box-office as it probably deserved (it was out-grossed by Scary Movie 3 that same year). Unfortunately, this is the way the industry continues to operate, which means that many films like Dazed and Confused and Master & Commander may someday not even make it into production in the first place. But at least these films that currently do exist can still be seen and appreciated, thanks to the power of simple word-of-mouth.

The Infinite.

“The artistic image is always a metonym, where one thing is substituted for another, the smaller for the greater. To tell what is living, the artist uses something dead; to speak of the infinite, he shows the finite. The idea of infinity cannot be expressed in words or even described, but it can be apprehended through art, which makes infinity tangible.” – Andrei Tarkovsky

Simplifying Complexity

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle

Incredibly insightful video. How does this relate to filmmaking?

You can think of it this way: a complicated film can have a myriad of film techniques – flashbacks, non-traditional narrative, etc. – that will be made in an attempt to make it inventive and spectacular, but can often end up being messy and incoherent.

complex film however, can be one that just uses the basic understanding of what makes a film “work” and applies that rule to a greater extent in a multi-layered situation.

Inception for example: a clear three-act structure film that follows all the rules, but takes place in the confines of the subconscious.

In other words: keep it simple.