Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Bridge of Spies | Steven Spielberg, 2015

American mirrors. The first, seen in the film's opening shot, is utilised for a self-portrait. There are two faces on screen, neither of them real, as well as the back of a man's head out of focus in the foreground. The painting is an impression of a mirror image, a copy of a copy. The man on the canvas wears different clothes to his counterparts. He's a faceless man, a construction of cold light, of dark paint. Every gesture studied and recreated. A Soviet spy.

The second mirror, from the film's closing moments, is in a bedroom. A woman checks on her husband, just returned from negotiating the release of two American men in East Berlin. He has collapsed from exhaustion. She faces him as he lays on the bed, unconscious, and her back is reflected in the mirror, invisible to her. No constructions, no copies. One face, a real one. A return to simplicity.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

This time last year I wrote a similar end of year roundup to this one, which is something I like to do even if nobody really needs to read it. I haven’t seen all the things I wanted to see from this year, and maybe I never will, so this type of writing is far from a definitive statement of the year. It's a process that provides closure. I’m never going to live in 2017 again, so I’m never going to experience the works that I’ve missed, from Bruno Dumont’s Jeanette to Paul Schrader’s First Reformed to Hong Sang-soo’s Claire’s Camera, in the context in which they were made and first shown. And that’s fine. I'm not writing this for any other reason than to represent what the year 2017 was to me as I lived it. I can’t really do more than that.

Inevitably, then, I have to start with David Lynch, a filmmaker whose work, or specifically one facet of it, has taken up the vast majority of my year. Before June, I’d never seen any of Twin Peaks. I knew that at least one scene in The Simpsons was supposedly a riff on it, and I knew enough about Lynch to accurately assume that this wouldn’t be a simple whodunit. I threw myself in at the deep end for the summer and watched every episode of the first two seasons. I’m so glad I did, however belatedly, and then I started to catch up with The Return, which, for the sake of simplicity, is what I’m calling it. As has been noted elsewhere, this isn’t an easy show to gain a steady footing with, and soon I found myself enthralled but totally lost. I kept thinking I was pulling the pieces together, only to lose them just as quickly. Characters came and went, stories were glimpsed and never returned to. The world spun. And then it all ended. Dark Space Low played and the curtains came crashing down. Before long, the sense of a tremendous loss began to form in the pit of my stomach. This wasn’t supposed to end in failure. How can someone so well-intentioned become so wholly and irretrievably lost? As I inevitably revisit this show time and time again, I'm sure the layers will peel back to reveal clues hidden in plain sight. Or maybe they won’t. But, at least for now, all I can say with any certainty is that Twin Peaks: The Return is the most moving "thing" I've seen in a very long time, and I'm still trying to articulate why that is. All I have are questions without answers, feelings without words, and the impression of something monumental.

This kind of evocation is something I look for in cinema but very rarely find. In a year sorely lacking in stand-out movies, there were, however, a few stand-out images that gave me a similar sense of majority, even if only for a moment: the awkward non-committal dance at the end of Valeska Grisebach’s Western; the sacrificial gift of humanity as the world ends through a hotel-room window in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Before We Vanish; the earth-shattering beauty of Abbas Kiarostami’s very last contribution to cinema in 24 Frames; the pointedly exhausting non-spectacle of a bloodbath that concludes Takashi Miike's Blade of the Immortal; a righteously violent rescue mission viewed through and refracted by a succession of CCTV cameras, Resident Evil-style, in Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here; a tarot card reader speaking in increasingly vague circles to a knowingly hopeless romantic in Claire Denis’s Let The Sunshine In; and the brutal dismantling by several workmen of a huge statue of Marilyn Monroe in Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White. All of these images have, in some way, shape or form, stayed with me, even if their corresponding films have faded from my mind.

Perhaps I’ve not found much of note this year because I’ve been markedly less invested in keeping up with cinema than in recent years. I’ve barely seen a new movie outside of a film festival, and what I have seen has, with a few exceptions, barely left an impression. This lacklustre year, the first I can remember being this empty since I started taking cinema seriously in 2013, has removed from me the obligation of keeping up with contemporary cinema. I’m not a journalist. I have no professional incentive to catch up with certain films before the end of the year. I’m just someone who likes cinema, and someone who likes writing about cinema. The films that I’ve missed aren’t going away just because the year is over. I can watch Call Me By Your Name or Song To Song or Phantom Thread in a year’s time or a decade from now and they’ll still exist in the same way. The only difference is time.

Twelve works from the year, then, all, in some way, about changing perceptions of time. The past is the past. Make a future if you can.

In alphabetical order:

120 Beats Per Minute | Robin Campillo
24 Frames | Abbas Kiarostami
A Season in France | Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Before We Vanish | Kiyoshi Kurosawa
The Day After | Hong Sang-soo
Good Time | Josh & Benny Safdie
Let The Sunshine In | Claire Denis
Marjorie Prime | Michael Almereyda
Twin Peaks: The Return | David Lynch
Western | Valeska Grisebach
You Were Never Really Here | Lynne Ramsay
Zama | Lucrecia Martel

look at the sky tonight, all of the stars have a reason // 
a reason to shine, a reason like mine and i'm falling to pieces
Star Shopping | Lil Peep

I could reel off several much-too-personal anecdotes that illustrate the extent to which Lil Peep’s music has been a light in the storm for me this year. The idea that he’s gone is devastating.

As of writing, his discography is available for free here. Maybe it’ll help you as much as it helped me.

Mr Klein | Joseph Losey, 1976
The Boston Strangler | Richard Fleischer, 1968
Emperor of the North | Robert Aldrich, 1973
The River | Jean Renoir, 1950
Spontaneous Combustion | Tobe Hooper, 1990
Loft | Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2005
Light Sleeper | Paul Schrader, 1992
Solaris | Steven Soderbergh, 2002
The Beguiled | Don Siegel, 1971
Brigadoon | Vincente Minnelli, 1954

The movies I saw for the first time this year that spoke to me most clearly.

Memories: Feeling the cold of HNDRXX in Copenhagen; feeling the warmth of Flower Boy in Rome. But far and away my favourite thing to happen this year was seeing several people whose work I've known and loved for years finally getting the platforms they deserve. Good work rises to the top.

I can try harder.
I can do better.
I will.

Expect more from me in 2018.