Saturday, 16 February 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 35. Letter Never sent

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Letter Never Sent
Director - Mikhail Kalatazov
Country - Soviet Union
Year - 1960
Runtime - 96 Minutes

The Soviet Union had a burgeoning cinema scene at the start of the 1960's with auteurs such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Mikhail Kalatazov and Grigory Chukhray pushing the boundaries of its art by experimenting with innovative filming techniques to tell powerful and unforgettable stories. One masterpiece of this era that doesn't get the attention afforded to most of its contemporaries is Kalatazov's Letter Never Sent; a bittersweet paean to a small band of explorers seeking diamonds in the uncharted Siberian wilderness. It roots its exposition in a description of the group as pioneers, a description that those familiar with Christopher Nolan’s recent foray into space with Interstellar are likely to draw comparisons to. This is not an intergalactic journey but its story is just as epic in scope, as it focuses on the drive that pushes these pioneers to explore the extent of our natural environment for the greater good of mankind, no matter how harsh or uninhabitable parts of it may be.

In charge of the expedition is Sabinin (Innokenti Smoktunovsky), a geology professor who pens a letter to his wife that he shares with the audience by reading part of it aloud as a narrative device near the start of the story. He is accompanied by the strong and reliable guide, Sergei (Yevgenj Urbansky), who is a veteran from the professor’s previous failed searches for diamonds, and a young and enthusiastic pair of geology students, Andrei (Vasili Livanov) and Tanya (Tatyana Samojlova), who are in love and both eager to prove their worth on this trip. From the moment the helicopter they arrive on departs they are totally isolated in the Siberian wild, and can only establish communication with the outside world via a radio link. This is an expedition that will test the very limits of human survival as a journey full of hope and ambition becomes fraught with life-threatening danger.

As soon as Letter Never Sent begins it is clear that you are about to watch something very special indeed. The superb camerawork seen in the opening shot as the helicopter departs from the landing area is a precursor to a visually stunning story, shot almost entirely on location in a vast array of naturally beautiful environments. There are few static shots in Letter Never Sent, and the fluid movement of the handheld camera demonstrates an impressive command of the medium. By positioning the camera amongst the explorers as they traverse difficult terrain, Kalatazov's cinematographer of choice - Sergey Urusevksy - makes us feel like a fifth member of the party; travelling with them to the edge of the world in search of endless riches and a place in the Soviet Union’s history books. Overlapping dissolves are used to heighten the intensity of the peril faced by the group when danger strikes, and many of the extended tracking shots display a bravura approach to film-making that is utterly astounding and needs to be seen to be believed. 

Certain scenes in which the explorers use a pick-axe to dig for diamonds clearly envisage the nation’s ideal of proletarian labourers; particularly when the muscular Sergei is pictured toiling hard, the camera kept low as it tracks his imposing torso pivoting back and forth with each blow. Striking imagery such as this creates a memorable impression whilst embodying the Soviet ideals of the time; a combination of artistic and political inspiration that was often at the forefront of the politically charged films of Sergei Eisenstein in the early days of Soviet cinema. Whilst Letter Never Sent can be enjoyed as a simple story, separate to the societal and political views of its era, there are underlying glimpses into a political agenda that add extra layers to the film for those willing to delve beneath the surface.

On a technical level, Letter Never Sent is an undeniable masterpiece. The enthralling storyline brings an emotional hook that elevates its majestic cinematography to that of high art, deepening the impact of the stunning imagery as the audience feels unconditionally invested in the outcome of the precarious expedition. When the inevitable disaster strikes, it is heartbreaking to watch as the group struggle against the odds to make it out alive. The breathtaking scenes that unfold pitch the volatile nature of the elements against the intrepid pioneers who will stop at nothing to bring home glory for their nation.

Kalatozov’s most well-known films Soy Cuba and The Cranes are flying are just as remarkable as Letter Never Sent, although both are far more revered than his unforgettable but overlooked adventure, which is why my focus landed on it for this feature. I cannot recommend this spectacular achievement of Soviet Cinema enough, and I hope that the experience of watching such a magnificent film inspires you to explore more of Kalatozov's stunning filmography. If you find yourself as enamoured with the greatness of Letter Never Sent as I am, then make sure you spread the word of its brilliance to others who share a passion for masterful cinema.

If you take the time to watch Letter Never Sent then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Saturday, 9 February 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 34. Woyzeck

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Woyzeck
Director Werner Herzog
Country - Germany
Year - 1979
Runtime - 82 Minutes

Werner Herzog has had a wild and varied career as a film director but is perhaps best known for his extraordinary depictions of men driven to the brink of madness. Both Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, the Wrath of God were shot in the Amazon rainforest in Peru and starred Klaus Kinski in the leading roles under notoriously difficult and demanding conditions. In both instances Herzog overcame these challenges to create remarkable films thanks to his unwavering ambition and the unique perspective on storytelling he brings to all of his pictures.

Another stunning collaboration between Herzog and Kinski that explores the breakdown of a man's sanity is one of his overlooked gems, Woyzeck. Whereas Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, the Wrath of God are original works by Herzog, Woyzeck is an adaptation of an unfinished German stageplay, and its unconventional storyline is perfectly suited to Herzog's style of film-making. This project was set in Herzog's home country of Germany where he faced less logistical challenges. Filming commenced only five days after he finished shooting Nosferatu and was impressively completed in just eighteen days. Kinski is as captivating as ever in his arresting portrayal of Woyzeck. His wild expressions and deep, soul-searching gaze perfectly evoke the descent into madness required for the role.

Woyzeck is set in a stunning German town overlooking a lake and the opening shot provides a picturesque view of this beautiful location. A gentle and delicate tune plays in the background conjuring up visions of fairy-tales as the camera pans across the town's tall and imposing buildings that gaze across the calm and still lake. This serene setting is interrupted with the unpleasant sound of a discordant accordion that heralds the arrival of the titular character, Woyzeck, a soldier who maniacally runs into shot and proceeds to frantically carry out the orders bellowed out by an abusive officer. Herzog delivers a memorable opening that sets the scene and introduces his crazy protagonist who we are instantly fascinated by.

It is clear from the outset that something is not quite right with Woyzeck, although it is difficult to pin down the source of his outbursts of lunacy. Those around Woyzeck berate his madness; his captain telling him that he always has a hunted look in his eyes - 'a good man doesn't have that', and his wife proclaims that he is so absent and 'might go crazy with those thoughts.' He talks in unsettling and confusing riddles and pays little attention to his young son. Kinski's chaotic performance is perfectly suited to this role; he embodies Woyzeck's scattershot and unpredictable existence with a commitment that showcases all of the agony and suffering his tormented character experiences.

As Woyzeck's agitation increases his actions become more unpredictable and alarming. A primary cause of this agitation is his wife, who is besotted with a proud dum major that she proclaims is as strong as an ox with hands like the paws of a lion. This major is depicted as the epitomy of man in comparison to Woyzeck who is downtrodden from constantly being used, abused and tormented by those around him. This situation has an ugly effect on Woyzeck's already failing mental state and drives him close to insanity, an insanity which leads to devastating consequences.

The accompanying soundtrack chimes with the film's theme of hysteria, exaggerating the deranged actions of Woyzeck and infusing Herzog's vision with a baroque sensibility that transports the audience back in time. Both the imposing architecture seen in the historic locations of the film's settings and the outstanding costumes bring life to the era depicted in Woyzeck. This is a breathtaking historical drama, albeit one with an enthralling storyline that visits dark places and does not shy away from depicting the inherent evil that can be seen in humanity.

Herzog uses a combination of static shots and shots that roam the setting horizontally; long takes that capture the unfolding action and allow the actors to flex their prowess by giving them time to develop fascinating characters. These lengthy scenes taking place in a single location emphasise the film's stage play origins but Herzog's set design and framing is so inviting that this doesn't detract from its impact as a motion picture. At times it feels like you are stepping back into history by visiting a strange museum that captures the essence of the era and tells a beguiling and haunting story.

Rich, poetic language is used throughout, varying from the philosophical to the obtuse and nonsensical. This dialogue is always enthralling and the delivery of the lines, particularly from Kinski, is utterly captivating, especially when he rambles away in one of his seemingly directionless monologues. These monologues are often regaled whilst others are present but he rarely meets the eyes of the people he speaks with. Conversely, when Woyzeck is not speaking, he is usually aloof and gazing aimlessly into space.

In one of the film's defining sequences, Herzog uses slow motion to great effect, emphasising the sheer horror of the scenario by lingering over the contorted faces of those involved. Grand, operatic music adds a powerful emotional edge to Woyzeck's despair during this earth-shattering breakdown. Shortly after this unforgettable scene the film ends in a similar fashion to how it begins; with a static shot of the town by the lake and a thought-provoking quote appearing on screen once more. The delicate notes of a music box flutter in to life once more although this time we are clear that Woyzeck is a far cry from a film with a fairy tale ending.

If you take the time to watch Woyzeck then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Saturday, 2 February 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 33. On The Silver Globe

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

On The Silver Globe
Director Andrzej Zulawski
Country - Poland
Year - 1988
Runtime - 166 Minutes

Andrzej Zulawski is an acclaimed Polish film Director best known for his exceptional body horror, Posession, that explores a difficult and disturbing divorce. His oeuvre is full of imaginative films that tackle a variety of genres from sci-fi to musical, most of which have drifted into obscurity, and any one of these would be perfect for a spot on my list of 100 essential films that deserve more attention. To choose just one of Zulawski’s films was an incredibly difficult task but I eventually settled on a film of his that has continually lingered in my mind since its dazzling imagery and breathtaking camerawork left me floored.

On the Silver Globe is a monumental science-fiction epic that was sadly never completed, with the version available today missing approximately a fifth of the scenes planned by Zulawski. These gaps in the film have been populated with shots of a camera flowing through busy streets and beautiful scenes in nature as a voice over narrates the missing sequences that were never filmed. This provides us with a complete story but leaves a bitter taste in the mouth regarding the furore over the film’s production shut down and the frustration of what might have been a revered genre classic had it been finished.

Coming off the success of his stunning film, That most important thing love, Zulawski was given free-reign to commence work on a project of his choice by the Polish cultural affairs. He saw this as the perfect opportunity to commence work on On the Silver Globe, which was based upon a series of novels by his great uncle. Funded by the Polish authorities who now viewed him as a beacon of brilliance in the Polish film industry, Zulawski created an incredible world with lavish sets and costume designs. This extravagance was the film’s ultimate downfall as the budget ran over and costs spilled out of control, leading to those funding the film to withdraw all support. In an upsetting turn of events, most of the film’s sets and costumes were subsequently destroyed, rendering it impossible for Zulawski to ever return to his incomplete project.

That which remains provides a tantalising glimpse into a fantastical future where astronauts embark on a mission to locate a new planet they can call home. These pioneers crash land on a strange planet that is capable of supporting life and the storyline follows their children and subsequent generations as this new breed of humanity struggle to survive alongside the hostile alien race they encounter. There are warring factions, staggering battle scenes and political power struggles bookended by a tragic romance that hints at the epic scale of Zulawski’s ambitious project.

Admittedly, parts of the storyline are difficult to follow but the breathtaking visuals and astounding camerawork carry the film through its more obtuse moments. Steadicam is used liberally throughout to place the audience in the heart of the action and this creates a thrilling viewing sensation, particularly in scenes where hundreds of extras are frantically moving around in the background. The scale and magnitude of the production is utterly mesmerising, with the audacious camerawork conjuring up comparisons to the great Tarkovsky and Kalatozov. Zulawski favours a free-flowing attitude to capturing the drama, rather than the precise work of his influences, and this makes the action feel visceral and dangerous; in a place where it appears that anything could be possible.

Religious and political symbolism is rife in both the narrative and subtext, and this is another reason behind the Polish authorities eventual decision to withdraw funding on the production. That which is alluded to could be interpreted as a sleight on the ruling totalitarian government of post-war Poland but, like all great works, there are a multitude of meanings which attentive viewers could make a convincing argument for. 

Filmed in an era before Star Wars revolutionised special effects, Zulawski’s crew relied on practical effects to bring the worlds depicted in On the Silver Globe to life. This pre-CGI era was awash with many incredibly inventive methods of storytelling being used, and the creature designs here demonstrate a bizarre originality that are clearly products of their time but still seem strangely impressive - even to those more accustomed to modern effects. 

On the Silver Globe suffers from a similar issue that blights David Lynch’s epic version of Dune; by cramming too much into its runtime there are too many storylines to fully comprehend and digest in a single viewing. This is a saga that may have been less challenging for the viewer if it had been approached as a trilogy or series of films so as not to overwhelm the audience with its ideas. It would be unfair to dwell on this factor given that the version we see today is incomplete but it is safe to say that a finished version would still potentially be less accessible than its mainstream counterparts in sci-fi epics such as Star Wars or Star Trek. The deep and intricate human drama at the heart of the story would resonate more if audiences were familiar with the complex source material that inspired such a phenomenal vision.

If you are new to Zulawski’s work I would suggest first delving into his completed films Possession and then Diabel. If his brand of savage and disturbing film-making appeals, then you will inevitably enjoy the transition of his style into the realm of science-fiction with On the Silver Globe. We are lucky that the film exists in its current guise and it deserves to be more well known as one of cinema’s grandest failures. Taken as it is, it is still a staggering achievement and a cautionary tale of how ambitious passion projects can sometimes be the downfall of the talented artists who overextend their reach.

If you take the time to watch On The Silver Globe then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Sunday, 27 January 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 32. The War Zone

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

The War Zone
Director - Tim Roth
Country - UK
Year - 1999
Runtime - 99 Minutes

Tim Roth's hard-hitting directorial debut is a blistering assault on the senses that examines the pain and suffering experienced by a dysfunctional British family. Ray Winstone and Tilda Swinton star as a married couple whose loving relationship breaks down into a tumultuous and torrid affair shortly after their third child arrives. The family have only recently left London for a new life in an isolated farmhouse on the coast of Devon, and this move has clearly had an effect on their fifteen year old son Tom (Freddie Cunliffe), who is struggling with his transition to manhood. His older sister Jessie (Lara Belmont) is far more confident and assured, which intimidates Tom, and is the cause of friction between their parents.

From the outset, the family dynamic appears to be warm and caring, with everyone rallying around as a tight unit in preparation for the new arrival. This makes the shift towards the infighting and mistrust even more surprising as their hope for a peaceful life in the countryside becomes chaotic as dark secrets are unraveled. The story is told primarily through the voyeuristic view of Tom whose curious gaze uncovers horrible truths that shock him (and us) to the core.

The subject matter of The War Zone is harrowing and utterly depraved but the story Roth tells is a powerful and gripping coming of age drama that doesn't skirt around the issues he presents. Aware that the world we live in can be a cruel and bleak place, Roth delves into the heart of an abhorrent situation to explore the emotional impact of the vile crimes that are carried out, providing the audience with a stomach-churning view of a family in turmoil. The graphic depictions of assault and violence are handled adeptly with no glamourisation; painting a visceral picture of how such heinous acts result in painful physical suffering and an irreparable emotional scarring that impacts all of those affected.

It is telling that each of the film's actors who are not part of the family only make a single appearance on screen. Roth's focus is settled firmly on his main characters and their bleak emotional arcs, with little exposition given to those who exist outside of 'The War Zone'. One of these characters happens to be a young Colin Farrell who plays a young man with designs on Jessie, much to the chagrin of her protective brother, who accompanies them to the beach after dark as an awkward third wheel. This situation demonstrates Tom's caring nature and a strength of character by emphasising the loving bond he has with his sister, despite the aggravated situation they are experiencing at home.

It is difficult to find any redeeming qualities in the twisted and manipulative nature of Winstone's savage father figure, which is a testament to his incredible ability to completely inhabit the persona of inherently evil characters. Those familiar with Ladybird, Ladybird (also featured in my series here) or Nil By Mouth, may have an idea of what to expect from his performance but are unlikely to be prepared for the devastating acts of violence we are forced to suffer through. Swinton is spectacular as the tough matriarch who does her utmost to keep the family together in a testing time. The conflicting details this troubled mother hears from her loved ones clearly play havoc with her emotional state as she grapples with the disturbing truth, and Swinton's potent performance throughout reflects this with painful accuracy.

Each of the cast members deserve much applause for their dedicated performances. There are many
challenging scenes of violence and distress that feel incredibly raw to watch and Roth has clearly coaxed the best from these talented actors. The abusive and shocking moments we witness would not be as impactful if it were not for the subtle, subdued moments of calm or the stirring of anguish we see unfurling inside these actors from their nuanced changes in facial expressions. These sublime actors sell the story, and convince us that the events depicted within The War Zone are all too real.

As a slice of gritty British cinema, The War Zone stands as a towering achievement that should be considered in the same vein as revered films by Loach and Leigh, who likewise coax ferocious and unforgettable performances from their casts. Its earth-shattering denoument comes as a welcome relief from the savage acts of violence and showcases Roth's affinity for powerful storytelling. That Roth has never since returned to directing is a crying shame considering the boldness of his first and only foray behind the camera. He continues to create captivating performances in front of the camera, so we can only hope that one day Roth will transpose his skills to capturing the talents of others once more.

If you take the time to watch The War Zone then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Thursday, 24 January 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 31. La Antena

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

La Antena
Director Esteban Sapir
Country - Argentina
Year - 2007
Runtime - 99 Minutes

Ever since The Jazz Singer sounded the death knell for silent cinema, the medium’s humble origins have been all but abandoned by the majority of film-makers. Occasionally directors will dabble with silent films to great commercial/critical success such as with multiple Oscar winner The Artist or the Spanish fantasy Blancanieves that is an inspired twist on Snow White. Others, like the astonishing Argentinian silent ‘La Antena’, slip under the radar and are sadly left largely unnoticed.

La Antena (The Ariel) is a beautiful love letter to the fantastical worlds depicted in the golden age of silent cinema. The homages to auteurs such as Chaplin, Lang and Méliès bring flavour to a Gilliamesque dystopia where everyone has lost their ability to speak apart from a mysterious lady known only as 'The Voice'. The city's inhabitants are kept in order by a shady television company and its corrupt director who is searching for ways to extend his controlling regime. When a recently fired worker uncovers a plot to kidnap The Voice and use her ability to hypnotise the city's residents he inadvertently drags his daughter and ex-wife into a dangerous struggle to save the population from a terrible fate.

Thus begins a fantastical adventure through an otherworldly dystopian city and beyond, taking in genres such as science-fiction and film-noir with a stylish flair that brings a sense of magic to the proceedings. The sumptuous set designs also evoke a magical quality that can be likened to a distant dream where everything is not quite as it seems. This mesmerising cinematic experience benefits from being suitable for family viewing and could be the perfect opportunity to introduce a younger audience into the exciting world of silent cinema - a young audience who are guaranteed to be drawn in by the dream-like imagination on show. 

Director Esteban Sapir has cleverly updated his silent film with a modern twist. In La Antena, when people speak, the words appear on screen next to them as they would in a speech bubble in a comic book. By using an array of fonts and sizes, Sapir's concoction conveys more than just what the characters are saying and provides us with further insight into how each utterance is delivered. In their heyday, silent films included intertitles to narrate the story and Sapir's novel idea means that the flow of his scenes isn't interrupted, whilst also adding to the overall charm of the picture.

Silent films relied heavily on their musical accompaniment to add an extra layer of depth to the proceedings and La Antena is no different in this respect. The haunting soundtrack plays a crucial role in setting the mood and ambience of the film. Delicate piano notes and vibrant strings evoke the dreamlike state of the dystopian setting we are presented with. A sombre tone is used throughout to reflect the current state of the unhappy city and different rhythms and melodies are attached to the heroes and villains of the piece. This gives us a clear indication of each character's disposition and brings them to life in an entertaining fashion that makes the film so memorable.

Underneath the enchanting presentation is a timely allegory for humanity's idolisation of the
television set and a stark reminder of the evil dictatorship that brainwashed Germany when the Nazis were in power. Symbolism is used to deliver Sapir's message and is tied in neatly with the creative set design so as not to eclipse the aura of fun that permeates the picture. This biting social and political commentary is utilised in a subtle way so as not to overwhelm the fantastical elements of the story, and provides food for thought alongside the enthralling adventure that ensues.

The film's climax is a cacophony of references to the greats of silent cinema, acting as a sublime tribute to the classics but also introducing audacious new ideas that showcase the magic of moving pictures. There are few surprises in this age old tale of good versus evil but it is the way the story is presented that will delight viewers. Sapir is a talented and imaginative film-maker who I would love to see direct more films in this spectacular style, and I sincerely hope that you will be as impressed by this breathtaking fantasy as much as those I have introduced it to so far.

If you take the time to watch La Antena then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Saturday, 19 January 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 30. Bad Boy Bubby

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Bad Boy Bubby
Director Rolf De Heer
Country - Australia
Year - 1993
Runtime - 116 Minutes

Bad Boy Bubby is a dark and delirious story about a child-like man who has grown up in complete isolation with his domineering mother who keeps Bubby in captivation as a prisoner in his own dingy home. He eventually breaks free of these reigns that stunted his capacity to understand the world around him and we bear witness to his subsequent adventures through the heart of a distorted Australian society. Imagine Lenny Abrahamson's Room crossed with Martin Scorsese's After Hours via the twisted imagination of Harmony Korine and you will be close to the perverted madness of Bubby's life-changing journey.

This is not a film for the faint-hearted - the opening segment features incest, suggestive scenes of animal cruelty and brutal murders - but a film that will reward the open-minded. Behind its provocative facade lies the life-affirming message that there is a place in this world for each and every one of us, no matter our differences. It takes Bubby a long time to reach a place where he is understood and cared for - and he has a lot to learn along the way - but this fascinating path that he traverses provides us with a captivating insight into the heart of a damaged soul.

Aside from Director Rolf De Heer's thought-provoking subtext, Bad Boy Bubby is (at its heart) a terrific black comedy. Once Bubby is free from the shackles of his altruistic mother - who kept him in captivation by convincing him that the air outside their delapidated home was poisonous and not safe to breathe - he encounters all manner of strange situations where his limited knowledge of the world leads to hilarious results. He takes great pleasure in regurgitating words and phrases he has learned and mistakenly uses them in completely inappropriate situations, especially those involving his interactions with the opposite sex. The presence of women often prompts him to repeat phrases he picked up during the 35 torturous years he spent being raised by his depraved mother, who used Bubby for her own degenerated sexual gratification.

There are scenes in which this warped humour veers dangerously close to crossing the threshold of being downright offensive but those who revel in the twisted inventiveness of De Heer's daring vision are likely to appreciate the audacity of his comic creation. Nicholas Hope plays Bubby completely straight; his deadpan delivery accurately conjuring up the impression of a child-like man with little understanding of the world. He turns wide-eyed at his first sighting of a dog and appears genuinely bewildered by the harmonious singing of a salvation army choir. These incidental encounters may seem random but they have a profound effect on his radical development as Bubby searches longingly for his place in society.

It is not just the empty threat of the poisonous atmosphere that keeps Bubby in check but the fear of Jesus striking him down. A cross high up on the wall in his uninviting home acts as a stark reminder that Christ is always watching him; a fear that is deeply instilled in his psyche by his mother's teachings, and a fear that comes to the forefront once again when he wanders into a magnificent church as a free man. The priest takes pity on Bubby and his kindness is rewarded in the only way Bubby knows how, by dressing up as a priest and making a mockery of him by performing on stage with a punk rock band and bursting out all manner of foul expletives.

Bad Boy Bubby has been highly praised due to De Heer's innovative approach to filming the action. He collaborated with a total of thirty-one Directors of Photography, each of whom were given a different scene to capture and this adds to the pure mayhem of Bubby's first encounters with the outside world. Just like Bubby imitates those around him, there are instances where the camerawork mirrors the emotional state of Bubby. In certain scenes when we see the world through Bubby's eyes the camera movement is agitated and distorted by a fish eye lens. This represents his confusion and the overwhelming experience of being loose in an environment that is altogether alien to him, allowing the audience to have a fuller sense of his disorientation and the challenges it poses for Bubby.

As a bizarre adventure in Australian cinema, Bad Boy Bubby is an eye-opening experience that is genuinely like no other. Parts of the film may be incredibly crude but these scenes are handled adeptly by De Heer and Hope who have crafted a memorable character that undergoes an enthralling catharsis as he explores the city streets. You may be horrified, and will certainly feel repulsed, but stick with Bubby for the duration and you might just begin to warm to this troubled soul as his child-like innocence is unleashed on an unsuspecting world. This is a strange slice of cinema you are unlikely to forget in a hurry and one that is fully deserving of your attention if you are willing to approach it with an open mind.

If you take the time to watch Bad Boy Bubby then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Monday, 14 January 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 29. The Swimmer

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

The Swimmer
Director Frank Perry
Country - USA
Year - 1968
Runtime - 95 Minutes

The cinematic landscape is populated with emotionally stirring journeys; four boys travelling across train tracks in the search for a dead body, a dying man travelling hundreds of miles on a rusty old tractor to reconnect with his estranged brother, and a daring mission through space for astronauts seeking a new home for earth's dying population. I imagine that the descriptions of these films will be recognisable by most film fans but I often wonder how many are familiar with the captivating journey one man takes across his neighbour's swimming pools to reach home?

This novel idea about a man who decides to swim through all the pools in his neighbourhood on a glorious summer day is transformed into a magnificent parable on loneliness and depression in Frank Perry's The Swimmer. Burt Lancaster stars as Ned Merrill, an incredibly jovial and charismatic individual, who brightens up the days of all he encounters on his fascinating and enthralling journey through an affluent area of Connecticut. Along the way we begin to see the cracks in Ned's facade as we learn more about his troubled past and the ongoing battle with his personal demons. The swim back home is not only a test of his physical strength and endurance but also a huge challenge for Ned's emotional state of mind. With the heat bearing down and the alcohol offered out by his neighbours flowing fast, the day soon descends into an overwhelming cacophony of emotion for Ned Merrill, giving us a chilling insight into the stark existence of a man drowning under the weight of regret.

Lancaster's Oscar-worthy performance is a powerful tour de force that anchors the story with an endearing central character who is engaging from the very first moment he appears on screen. His provocative yet beguiling monologues expose the audience and those he meets to some of his deepest admissions, acting as a way in for us to understand his motivations and outlook on life. However, it is clear that Ned is still holding something back, and as the days end draws nearer, his outlook begins to shift.

For the whole journey, apart from a candid moment where Ned removes his swimwear, he is seen only in his swimming trunks. An aging yet athletic man, well chiselled with a muscular physique, cutting a dashing figure that captures the curious gaze of many ladies he meets on the way and the admiration or possibly even jealousy of the men he encounters. This embodiment of the male form is seen emerging from the undergrowth at the start of the film and is captured by the camera in a way that evokes companions to a Greek adonis, a comparison that is firmly established when we see him racing alongside a horse through a field or swimming with the grace of a dolphin. On the outside it would appear that everything is fine but underneath the surface Ned is struggling with a host of insurmountable feelings that cannot be tamed or shut away from the world.

As Ned's outlook shifts we see this reflected in the alluring camerawork; stunning shots of the sun's rays glistening through the foliage and enchanting scenes that linger over subtle movements in the reflective surfaces of pool water eventually give way to abrupt fast paced cuts that echo the turmoil and distress of our protagonist. There are moments of serene beauty that are utterly mesmerising and showcase an impressive command of the medium, particularly when Ned is alone with a carefree young girl as they take in their natural surroundings like Adam and Eve exploring the garden of Eden. These cleverly crafted scenes bring a welcome depth of meaning as the editing and camerawork is clearly indicative of Ned's emotional state. A graceful and harmonious score is employed by Perry that follows suit in this manner, becoming louder and more agitated as the journey progresses. Its subdued melodies grow into a full blown symphony of sorrow; stirring up an array of emotions as we become more and more invested in the heart-rending story of The Swimmer.

This is a powerful and compelling tale of a man who is unable to come to terms with his past and an emotionally charged journey that is genuinely affecting. In Burt Lancaster, Frank Perry found his perfect leading man, a man capable of carrying the intense weight of his character's burden and elevating his tribulations in a way that demands your utmost attention, even when your investment in the character falters as his true nature is slowly revealed.

The Swimmer is a sumptuous and rewarding film that will haunt you long after its journey reaches an end. Its unique and timeless treatment of an enthralling subject is an exceptional piece of film-making that remains as powerful and relevant today as it would have been when it was released over fifty years ago - an essential classic that deserves a home in every cinephile's collection. As the film's memorable poster asks: "When you talk about The Swimmer, will you talk about yourself?"

If you take the time to watch The Swimmer then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here

Thursday, 3 January 2019

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 28. The Colour of Paradise

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

The Colour of Paradise
Director - Majid Majidi
Country - Iran
Year - 1999
Runtime - 90 Minutes

The Colour of Paradise is a powerful and poignant parable from acclaimed Iranian Director, Majid Majidi, about a blind boy, Mohammad, and the strained relationship with his father, who is a widower. Mohammad's grandma and sisters adore him but his father cannot hide his feelings that Mohammad is a burden. This is seen early on when Mohammad is the last child to be collected from a school for the blind as it closes its doors for the summer and his father attempts to convince the teachers to take care of him indefinitely.

In stark contrast to his father's cold nature, Mohammad is a caring and inquisitive young boy who is attuned to the world around him. He rescues a young bird from a prowling cat and climbs a tree to return it to the nest whence it came, a tall feat for most children, especially one who is blind. When he is reunited with his grandma and sisters after his father reluctantly agrees to take him home from school, Mohammad brings thoughtful gifts and is overjoyed to be back in their presence.

Religious symbolism is rife throughout The Colour of Paradise; Mohammad may be blind but he sees far more than his father, although they both question God's grace in times of strife. At its core this is a simple tale but much can be interpreted by the ambiguous ending and the tests of faith encountered along the way. The simplistic storytelling is balanced perfectly with a depth of meaning, enabling viewers to appreciate the story as a straightforward narrative or to explore the ideas in theology that lay just beneath the surface.

Director Majidi has perfectly captured the element of childlike curiosity Mohammad has for his surroundings in his choice of shots; shots that worship the tranquility of nature and linger on the beautiful natural world that we are lucky enough to see. Despite being blind, Mohammad's other senses are sharp and the sound editing reflects this by emphasising certain background noises, particularly bird calls which fascinate the boy and are often bought to the forefront of the mix. Touch also plays a huge role in his understanding of the environment around him, as Mohammad drifts his hands through and along all manner of plants, rocks and streams, feeling for braille letters in everything he encounters.

The extraordinary actor who plays Mohammad, Mohsen Ramezani, is blind in real life and he brings an endearing charisma to the role, allowing audiences to easily empathise with the difficult situations he finds himself in. There is an incredible depth of emotion on display and the acting is convincing enough to make it seem like Ramezani is living the role rather than portraying it. Both his father (Hossein Mahjoub) and grandma (Salameh Feyzi) provide excellent support but there is no denying that Ramezani is the inimitable star of Majidi's alluring vision.

Mohammad's endeavours to lead a normal life are at times traumatic and the tears of frustration he pours out lead to some genuinely touching scenes. A defining moment is when Mohammad indicates the true reason for outstretching his hands when walking. It is not to feel his way but to reach out for God in the hope that one day he will find him. As illustrated by this heartfelt confession - and without being overtly sanctimonious - The Colour of Paradise is a beautiful and enchanting depiction of a faith that knows no bounds.

If you take the time to watch The Colour of Paradise then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!



For previous instalments in the series click here