|Where Is the Friend's House?
|Whistle down the Wind
|Never Rarely Sometimes Always
|Our Little Sister
|Five Easy Pieces
|Nuri Bilge Ceylan
|The Headless Woman
Where Is the Friend's House?
Eight-year-old Ahmed mistakenly takes his classmate’s jotter home from school and knowing his classmate will be expelled if he doesn't complete his homework he tries to return it to him that night. Ahmed knows his classmate lives in the next village but not exactly where and out of this simple premise Kiarostami creates an edge-of-your seat drama (I want to say thriller) as the boy sets out on his own to find his friend's house. A great deal about the obstacles these children face every day is revealed in the directions Ahmed asks for and receives from adults along the way. Kiarostami creates mystery and menace from everyday objects like a pair of trousers hanging on a washing line or a radio that produces only static before arriving at a moment of grace through a forgotten flower pressed inside a notebook.
Ordinary familial behaviour is rendered extra-ordinary because of the restraint shown by Ozu and his cast. All of the performances in Tokyo Story alongside the observations of everyday life by the director align us with shared human experience. Ozu’s style employed what has been described as distancing devices but if anything his compositions, placement of the camera in the eyeline of his actors and refusal to shoot on anything other than a 50mm lens because it most closely resembles the human eye, all combine to bring us closer to soul of the characters and to the film itself. With some difficulty I chose Tokyo Story over Late Spring because of the scene where Noriko’s father-in-law (Chishū Ryū) acknowledges the kindness Noriko (Setsuko Hara) showed to him and his wife on their final trip to see their children in Tokyo and then tries to free her from the burden of grieving for his dead son. Never have I seen empathy so movingly reciprocated on film.
Whistle down the Wind
Some farm kids find an escaped killer hiding in their barn and mistake him for Jesus Christ. The film opens with three siblings illegally saving some kittens from being drowned by a local farmer which tells us these children have to choose their own path if they want to preserve what innocence there is left in their world and it tells us even more about why they believe the wounded man hiding in their barn is the son of God. Shot on location in Lancashire the photography is marked by skeletal trees and barbed wire while the wind and rain outside the barn where the children bring the fugitive scraps of their supper suggest the warmth inside will be disturbed at any moment. Word spreads and more children come to see the man they call 'gentle Jesus' yet for such an extreme set of circumstances the film feels very realistic. There are no miracles unless you count the effect the children’s faith has on the fugitive as he allows himself to be taken without violence, spreading his arms wide as if crucified against the leaden Lancashire sky while preserving the innocence on the young faces watching it happen.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Realising she is pregnant a small-town high-school student has no alternative but to travel by bus to New York for an abortion. Her cousin goes with her. Autumn and Skylar's friendship and the need for it is indelibly established through the casual lechery the two young women endure in their job at the grocery store. We breathe a small sigh of relief when they get out of town but their destination holds more potential hazards and we begin to fear every male encounter they have on their way to the abortion clinic. Their friendship is tested by how best to survive an overnight stay when they're running out of money but the tension that hovers and sometimes separates them is allowed to ebb and flow through the restraint shown by the director, who knows when to stay back and observe the two friends such as when they’re dragging their heavy suitcase in and out of subway stations - which also serves as one of many visual metaphors for the burden placed on these young women - and when to move closer such as in the devastating scene that gives the film its title.
Our Little Sister
After the death of their estranged father three sisters invite their younger half-sister (Suzu) to live with them. I remember fearing some tragedy would befall one of the sisters the first time I saw this. I suppose I’m conditioned to expect suffering when I see happiness unfolding on screen. Instead what unfolds is a radically gentle and spirituality rewarding film in which we move with the sisters and particularly with Suzu away from loss and the prospect of being alone into a deep familial love they find as a family of sisters. Suzu’s effect on her older sisters is a small miracle as is the way she thrives in her new home, new school and new town where the ghost of her father could hang heavy and dark but instead provides a kind of spiritual light with whatever and whomever she comes into contact. Even the cherry blossoms she rides beneath with a boy from school feel meant for her, as if the universe is making up for the first part of her life and telling her it’s alright now; she’s home, she’s safe, she’s loved.
Simin and Nader are divorcing parents whose dispute over where they will raise their daughter (Nader wants to leave Iran, Simin wants to stay and take care of his ailing father) spreads to the low-income family of a pregnant woman Simin hires to take care of his father and to the Iranian courts where Farhadi begins and ends the film with a long take. It’s the temperament of the husbands that causes the most damage to the two families and through multiple perspectives Farhadi shows us people who, under mounting stress, allow self-righteousness and anger to take over in a way that will define who they are. Farhadi’s skill with framing multiple perspectives - an unobtrusive choreography between the camera, the actors and the space they’re working in - means that we are invited to empathise and be shocked by the actions of everyone involved. There are no villains here, just the terrible cost of refusing to compromise, particularly on Simin and Nader’s teenage daughter Termeh who in the closing shot we watch enter the magistrates office to choose which of her parents she will live with, having had her faith in both of them shattered.
Five Easy Pieces
Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson), an oil-field worker and former piano prodigy, brings his girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black) to visit his ailing father where we glimpse the old-money privilege and artistic sensibility Bobby has rejected, though for what we’re not sure, because there is nowhere his self-loathing isn’t eating at him, no version of himself - the artist or the blue-collar worker - that is more sincere than the other. The sudden shifts in tone are evocative of great music and Rafelson is a master of physicality on screen - the fight and sex scenes feel real even now. But it’s the ending that stays with you. It's so restrained and languid it chills you to the bone as Bobby shivers in the cab of a lorry and tells the driver he’s fine (he’s not fine). Then from a wide angle we watch the logging truck roll away from the gas station, Rayette get out of the car to go in search of Bobby and the credits roll. I think it’s the greatest closing shot of all time.
Three stories about four women set in small towns in the American northwest. The film opens with a slow-moving cargo train rumbling across the plains and this was how the film felt to me, beautifully slow-moving, powerfully building in emotion which passes into a moment of reflection. The stories are broadly about the everyday ambitions and responsibilities of four women: a seasoned lawyer played by Laura Dern, a wife and mother played by Michelle Williams who is focused on building a cabin in the mountains for her family, a rancher played by Lily Gladstone, and a junior lawyer played by Kristen Stewart who teaches a night class to make ends meet. The last of these stories in which the rancher, silent from spending so much time in the company of horses, accidentally sits in on the night class taught by an exhausted junior lawyer is incredibly moving, understated and romantic. Their association formed under the cover of dark becomes painfully courageous when the rancher impulsively drives to the next town in daylight to express how she feels.
Mahmut is a middle-aged photographer originally from a small village in Turkey who has lived for many years in Istanbul. He agrees to take in Yusuf, a young uneducated relative who has come to the city in search of work. Usak (meaning far or distant) is a poetic and funny film about how hard it is to change when change is what's required. It's also quietly unifying in the way it looks at depression and listlessness in men of differing ages, education and ambition. Maybe this is what makes Ceylan and his films so good; he doesn't stop until he finds the human strand that connects each of his characters to each of us and I get the feeling from his films, and from this film in particular, that he cares deeply about his characters and his audience because he strives to show us beauty in the everyday, and if change for one of his characters does come it's always small enough so as not to be sentimental; for what good would that be to us?
The Headless Woman
Vero leaves a family gathering and drives along a road where earlier we witnessed some boys playing with their dog, most likely the children of migrants working for the Argentinian middle-class. Vero is distracted by her phone ringing and is suddenly jolted by her car running over something or someone. She gets out of the car not to look under it but to steady her nerves and stands with her head out of frame as a child's handprints seem to miraculously appear on the rear passenger window. Although these handprints were almost certainly planted by the children of friends playing in and around her car in the previous scene, the seed is planted in our minds and in Vero's that she has hit and possibly killed a child. She flees the scene, and her friends and family gradually help her to cover up the fact she was ever there. Martel uses film language to access Vero's guilt-induced anxiety and wavering consciousness and in particular diegetic sound as a counterpoint to the images, meaning we are never able to fully settle on anything we see or hear on screen. It's an unsettling and brilliant film.