Category Archives: ★★★★

Disco Pigs (2001, Kirsten Sheridan)

Disco Pigs might not be the best title for Disco Pigs, but it’s hard to imagine any other title for it so an imperfect one is better than a wrong one. Maybe disco had some appropriate cultural Irish relevancy. Or maybe playwright Enda Walsh, who adapted the screenplay himself, couldn’t think of anything else either.

The film opens with an unborn baby–who will grow up to be lead Elaine Cassidy–with Cassidy narrating her thoughts about being born. Writer Walsh gets in some foreshadowing during this narration, kind of some sore thumb foreshadowing, only it takes a long, long time for it to come out in the narrative.

The film quickly fastforwards to Cassidy at sixteen years, 348 days. In her crib at the hospital, she meets another baby in the adjoining crib. That baby grows up to be Cillian Murphy. He too is sixteen years, 348 days, when the present action begins. They live next door to one another and have been their entire lives. Their rooms are mirrors of one another, each with a secret window between so they can hold hands as they sleep each night.

Disco Pigs is the story of their seventeen days until their seventeenth birthday.

For the first third of the film, about ninety percent is Cassidy and Murphy together. They’re so wrapped up in one another–and have been for so long–they don’t seem to form outside relationships as individuals, just as a unit. They have their own shorthand language, somewhat fantastical, with the rest of the world utterly detached.

Director Sheridan keeps a bit of distance, occasionally developing Cassidy separate from Murphy–though Murphy’s the one who gets the eventual big scene in the first act. Even though they’re teenagers, surrounded by teenagers doing teenage things, there’s a chasteness to their relationship. Physical romance is still something for a giggle, not a fantasy. Until it becomes clear Murphy’s moving away from the giggling to the fantasy faster than Cassidy and even though they have their own language, it’s a child’s language, without the words they need to communicate now.

Their respective home lives reveal some more differences. Murphy’s mother, Eleanor Methven, finds him more of a laugh than a concern. She’s got another kid, a younger sister (presumably from a different dad, but it’s never mentioned). Meanwhile, Cassidy’s parents–Geraldine O’Rawe and Brían F. O’Byrne–are far more concerned Cassidy’s future. So they let the school talk them into sending her away.

The middle portion of the film is Murphy’s quest to find her juxtaposed against Cassidy socially developing away from him. It’s also when it becomes clear Murphy’s not just missing his best friend, he’s severely mentally disturbed. While Cassidy’s section quickly becomes affable (thanks to the influence of roommate Tara Lynne O’Neill), Murphy’s half is harrowing.

The third part of the film is the birthday, which director Sheridan and editor Ben Yeates methodically pace. It retains some of that harrowing momentum, only cut loose of any expectations, both from the viewer’s perspective and Cassidy’s.

Both Cassidy and Murphy are exceptional. It’s a toss-up who’s better; even though they start from similar positions, Walsh’s narrative gives them entirely different character arcs. There’s a relative staticness to the roles in the beginning, something Murphy retains, only it becomes clear entropy is affecting him as well. And he’s aware of it; it’s never part of the script, but it’s always present in Murphy’s performance.

Sheridan’s direction stays calm, even after she closes the narrative distance. There’s seemingly a greater sympathy with Cassidy, yet in hindsight–and after some foreshadowed backstory gets covered–it’s there with Murphy as well. The third act really is about integrating the various styles Sheridan’s been working with–that joint first act, which develops stress fractures, and the separate, wildly different second act. It’s all got to come together.

Great photography from Igor Jadue-Lillo. Great music from Gavin Friday and
Maurice Seezer.

Disco Pigs is difficult, terrifying, and lovely. Cassidy and Murphy give breathtaking performances.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kirsten Sheridan; screenplay by Enda Walsh, based on his play; director of photography, Igor Jadue-Lillo; edited by Ben Yeates; music by Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer; produced by Ed Guiney; released by Renaissance Films.

Starring Elaine Cassidy (Runt), Cillian Murphy (Pig), Tara Lynne O’Neill (Mags), Brían F. O’Byrne (Runt’s Dad), Geraldine O’Rawe (Runt’s Mam), Eleanor Methven (Pig’s Mam), Darren Healy (Marky), and Michael Rawley (Foxy).


RELATED

Even the Rain (2010, Icíar Bollaín)

Even the Rain has a particular narrative distance as it starts, then changes to another one a little later on. Director Bollaín doesn’t transition gradually between these two vantage points; she keeps the pacing of scenes and how they flow into each other, just from the new distance. The film has an ambitious narrative juxtapositioning to convey, one based somewhat on surface comparisons, but the film succeeds through how Bollaín, writer Paul Laverty, and the cast navigate through that comparison.

The film starts with an introduction to filmmakers Luis Tosar and Gael García Bernal. Tosar is the efficient, callous, cheap producer, García Bernal is the moody, but dedicated director. During the first half of the film, there’s also quite a bit with Cassandra Ciangherotti, who’s along to film a documentary about the movie they’re making. It’s a Christopher Columbus picture, only focusing on the people who realized maybe it was wrong to enslave the native population.

Initially, there’s enough through Ciangherotti’s camera to help Bollaín with that initial narrative distance. It’s a movie about making a movie. There’s the drunken star (Karra Elejalde), who has some trouble learning his lines, but he’s still an astoundingly good actor. Bollaín’s first of many jawdroppingly masterful scenes involves Elejalde immediately going into character during a table read and mesmerizing everyone around him. Including his younger, full of it, costars, played by Raúl Arévalo and Carlos Santos.

The character relationships drive the film through the first act. Tosar and García Bernal, with Ciangherotti a frequent third, have a definite bond, even though the two have completely different ideas about how they should be making the film. Especially given they’re going to be using local native populations as extras.

García Bernal’s casting of one of those natives, Juan Carlos Aduviri, in an important supporting role changes the film in the film’s production, as well as everything else. It turns out Aduviri isn’t just any local, he’s leading the protests against the government’s water privatization.

And instead of his involvement materially affecting García Bernal’s experience, it’s Tosar’s. The first act plays pretty loose with defining one character as a protagonist. It’s like Rain keeps pushing off having to decide and when it finally reveals Tosar in that position, the film ramps up its ambition. Bollaín, Laverty, and Tosar keep aiming higher, making their targets, keep aiming higher. Throughout the second act, the film just impresses more and more….

Then the third act takes it even further. The characters become accutely aware of the juxtaposition of exploited peoples in the sixteenth century and the twenty-first they find themselves in, with most of the cast essaying glamorless shifts in Laverty’s script. Meanwhile, Tosar and Aduviri find themselves reluctantly bound together.

Rain is a phenomenal collaboration between Bollaín, Laverty, and the actors. Bollaín directs the actors through rough introspective, then immediately switches over to gorgeous, epical filmmaking. Alex Catalán’s photography is wondrous, Ángel Hernández Zoido’s editing keeps perfect timing with Bollaín’s pace. Bollaín perfectly combines the overtly cinematic, movie in the movie, movie about making a movie, with the intense character drama.

Tosar’s performance is subtle and overwhelming. Once he gets his first scene to himself, away from Ciangherotti’s video camera, it becomes clear he’s going to be the protagonist sooner or later. With the depth of his performance, he just has to be the lead.

García Bernal’s good, in a very different kind of part from anyone else in the film. He’s sort of a cipher, but for different reasons than Tosar. Tosar reveals himself through his character development, García Bernal reveals himself through the plot progression and his reactions to events. The two are fantastic together, though nothing compared to Tosar and Aduviri.

The only reason Aduviri doesn’t walk off with the film is because it’s not this expansive look at these (real life) water riots. He too remains something of a mystery, but only to Tosar and García Bernal. Aduviri does have the hardest part in the film, just because in his first scene, everyone discusses what he’s going to do in the movie in the movie but due to his nature demeanor, not acting. It sets up the character–and Aduviri’s responsibilities–quite differently from anyone else.

Elejalde is awesome as the drunken, old actor, bringing much needed comic relief. He’s able to defuse tension, both through the part in the script and just how well Elejalde acts it. Because Bollaín knows just how to direct him.

Even the Rain is a spellbinding film. Bollaín and Tosar (and everyone else) do something spectacular.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Icíar Bollaín; written by Paul Laverty; director of photography, Alex Catalán; edited by Ángel Hernández Zoido; music by Alberto Iglesias; produced by Juan Gordon; released by Haut et Court.

Starring Luis Tosar (Costa), Juan Carlos Aduviri (Daniel), Gael García Bernal (Sebastián), Karra Elejalde (Antón), Cassandra Ciangherotti (María), Milena Soliz (Belén), Raúl Arévalo (Juan), Carlos Santos (Alberto), and Leónidas Chiri (Teresa).


RELATED

Kes (1969, Ken Loach)

Kes has a forecasted structure (so long as you can understand the Yorkshire accents). Teenager David Bradley is about to leave school and head into the workforce. His older brother, played by Freddie Fletcher, works in the coal mines and Bradley knows he doesn’t want that career. They share a bed in their mom’s house. Fletcher bullies both Bradley and their mother (Lynne Perrie). Bradley’s situation at school isn’t any better; he’s on the teachers’ list for bullying and his absentmindedness–and occasional smart mouth–gets him in trouble with classmates.

Bradley doesn’t care much about Fletcher, or his school, or his future–they live on a recently built housing estate and no one has much future anyway. For a while, it’s unclear if Bradley is ever going to care about anything. But then he sees a falcon. And all of a sudden Bradley cares about something.

He wants to fly a falcon.

The film follows Bradley so close it’s procedural at times. How is he going to train the falcon, where can he get that information; Bradley has problems to solve and it turns out–while his life seems haphazard–he actually has the skills, he’s just been lacking the determination.

During the first act and some of the second, director Loach tags along with the wandering Bradley; Kes is a series of beautifully photographed (by Chris Menges) vingettes. They’re chronological, but with the direction, photography, John Cameron’s music, and Roy Watts’s editing, chronology doesn’t much matter. They’re these intense moments as Bradley struggles and achieves, amid what everyone else sees as his failures.

There are quite a few set pieces set at the school–Brian Glover as the terrifying yet comically absurd football coach is a standout–and Loach, Watts, and Cameron do those sequences more thorough than anything else involving Bradley alone. Even though Kes follows Bradley close, there’s still a great deal of narrative distance. The audience gets to observe him but never really gets inside. The set pieces have a momentum and urgency Bradley’s scenes alone, or when he’s flying the falcon, do not. Bradley doesn’t experience urgency.

At least, not until the end, when Loach is able to pull off an immediate transition from character study to something more akin to melodrama. It’s not exactly melodrama (it’d be hard to be melodrama with the estate location, the actors’ raw performances, not to mention the photography and music).

Bradley’s great. Fletcher’s great. Perrie’s great. Glover’s awesome.

THere’s no sentimentality to Kes. It doesn’t exist for the film’s characters and Loach doesn’t add any for the viewer’s comfort.

It’s a technical marvel–Cameron’s music, Menges’s photography, Watt’s editing, Loach’s direction both in terms of composition and directing the actors. The script–from Loach, producer Tony Garrett, and source novel author Barry Hines–has some occasional drag, but it eventually turns out the drag is functional. The third act isn’t easy for anyone. Loach has to break from the vinegette device through expansion while also integrating outstanding forecasted events.

Kes is brilliant. Loach amplifies the intensity as the film progresses, regardless of whether it’s a relaxed scene or a rending one. It’s always a lot, never too much.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ken Loach; screenplay by Barry Hines, Loach, and Tony Garnett, based on a novel by Hines; director of photography, Chris Menges; edited by Roy Watts; music by John Cameron; produced by Garnett; released by United Artists.

Starring David Bradley (Billy), Freddie Fletcher (Jud), Lynne Perrie (Mrs. Casper), Colin Welland (Mr. Farthing), Bob Bowes (Mr. Gryce), Robert Naylor (MacDowell), and Brian Glover (Mr. Sugden).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE 4TH ANNUAL BRITISH INVADERS BLOGATHON HOSTED BY TERENCE TOWLES CANOTE OF A SHROUD OF THOUGHTS


RELATED

Wild Strawberries (1957, Ingmar Bergman)

Wild Strawberries is about a septuagenarian doctor (Victor Sjöström) being awarded an honorary degree. Sjöström’s narration sets it up in the first scene, before the opening titles. Director Bergman’s script, through the narration, lays out the entire ground situation before the titles, in fact. Sjöström is a widower, he has an adult son, he has ninety-five year-old mother, he has a housekeeper (Jullan Kindahl) who takes good care of him.

Then the titles roll and Bergman starts the film proper, though he immediately goes into a foreboding dream sequence. Mortality has come knocking for Sjöström and he can’t shake it. Sjöström’s performance and his narration are two different things. Whereas his performance has some moments of levity–along with the despondency–his narration is from somewhere else entirely. Bergman doesn’t draw attention to it, just lets Sjöström’s voice inhabit the frame.

Following the dream sequence, Sjöström–who’s already been narrating–annouces to Kindahl he wants to drive to the award ceremony, not fly. Before Bergman even gets to the flashbacks–set forty and fifty years earlier–Wild Strawberries already feels detached from present reality. The roads Sjöström drives are usually empty, the trip itself a further detachment from modernity. Only Sjöström isn’t on the trip alone, he’s got daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin) along for the ride.

Thulin comes into the film after Sjöström’s done his domestic banter Kindahl and without any warning. Bergman continuously wakes the audience throughout the film, beating two rhythms, one for Sjöström, one for the film itself. Because even though he’s on trip journey through his memories, everyone else is moving forward. Thulin’s got this entirely different, almost joyous story arc–though nothing’s too joyous in Wild Strawberries, as too much warmth would shatter Sjöström. The film’s about Sjöström’s confrontation with that past, spurred in some ways by Thulin’s presence and disinterested hostility, sure, but… once Thulin sets Sjöström spinning, the road trip bringing things up is inevitable.

Most of the straight flashbacks–the ones untinged with dream–are about events Sjöström didn’t witness firsthand. He’s being haunted by the reality of the past, which he’s spent his life avoiding. Bergman doesn’t even try to be subtle about it–if Wild Strawberries has a eureka moment, it’s when memory forces Sjöström to acknowledge his emotional detachment. Bergman’s been showing it throughout the film, particularly with the first flashback. The star of the first flashback is also Bibi Andersson, playing Sjöström’s childhood sweetheart.

Then Andersson reappears in the present, like she’s stepping out of the dream, but she’s really just in need of a ride. She brings along Folke Sundquist and Björn Bjelfvenstam; they’re “kids” (the guys are in their thirties, Andersson is twenty-two, but lets say late teens). Sjöström and Thulin have some great bonding over the kids’ frivolity, since neither get any of their own. Sjöström’s too much of a curmudgeon to want any, Thulin is actively avoiding it.

Andersson acts as the film’s anchor, but Thulin is what perturbs it. She’s present for Sjöström’s journey. She’s also got one of her own, but it only gets room when it figures into Sjöström’s character development. So much of Wild Strawberries is Thulin taking in all, helping the viewer find the punctuation marks Sjöström is skipping across. At the same time, Thulin’s building her own character alongside–but (mostly) detached from–that main action. It’s a great performance, probably the film’s best.

Though it’s hard to really assign that particular accolade. Sjöström’s performance, and Bergman’s direction of it, is Wild Strawberries. The opening narration says it’s going to all be about Sjöström and then it’s all about Sjöström. It’s Sjöström listening, remembering, watching, dreaming, waking, walking, talking. It’s Sjöström.

So while Thulin’s performance is more impressive in what she gets done without the focus Sjöström’s performance gets, Sjöström does excel with the difference.

All of the performances are good. Andersson’s successfully enigmatic–dream, memory, and nymph, all ostensibly alternating. Kindahl’s a fine foil for Sjöström. Bergman directs the actors quite well.

Excellent music from Erik Nordgren and photography from Gunnar Fischer. Oscar Rosander’s editing is magnificent. Technically, it’s all great, but that Rosander editing is otherworldly. Bergman and Rosander control the narrative distance with the editing. It’s awesome.

Wild Strawberries is phenomenal.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman; director of photography, Gunnar Fischer; edited by Oscar Rosander; music by Erik Nordgren; production designer, Gittan Gustafsson; produced by Allan Ekelund; released by Svensk Filmindustri.

Starring Victor Sjöström (Isak), Bibi Andersson (Sara), Ingrid Thulin (Marianne), Gunnar Björnstrand (Evald), Jullan Kindahl (Agda), Folke Sundquist (Anders), Björn Bjelfvenstam (Viktor), and Naima Wifstrand (Mrs. Borg).


RELATED