Weekend (2011) #SherylPuthur

Directed By: Andrew Haigh

Written By: Andrew Haigh

Cast:

Tom Cullen – Russell

Chris New – Glen

Jonathan Race – Jamie

Language: English                                                             Genre: Drama; Slice of Life

 

Weekend is the story of a one-night stand between two men Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), that leads to something more. The story opens with Russell at his flat, smoking up. He seems to be dressing up to go somewhere but he ends up giving an impression that he wants to delay it, till it’s inevitable.  He ends up at his best friend Jamie’s (Jonathan Race) place for dinner. They are very close but he feels out of place either because he’s alone and they are all couples or that they are heterosexual and he has never truly accepted his place in the scheme of things.

He leaves early after making excuses and heads out to a gay bar where he checks out Glen but ends up chatting up someone else. Next day when they awake and Glen foists this art project that he has wherein he asks gay people who hook up for one-night stands to talk about the experience. To him, being homosexual is an identity gay people don’t acknowledge. This becomes rather apparent with the way Russell interacts with people. Interestingly, he too records his sexual encounters with people but does so privately, unlike Glen.

Their conversation, which crosses to the next day, becomes deeply political with its questions on identity, debates on relationships and open acknowledgment. It’s soon apparent that Russell lives non-confrontationally whereas Glen likes to sarcastically and belligerently, bring up his identity as a homosexual forward.

The relationship between Russell and Glen is for the weekend, like an extended one-night stand and this weekend could very well change things for them. The weekend takes them through an intensely emotional experience that gives some insight into how much harder a relationship could be for someone homosexual when society does not recognise or sanction it.

The relationship helps bring out Russell’s ambivalence about discussing his homosexuality with his friend Jamie. It helps bring them closer, because Russell has always closed off that side of his life from his closest friend, who knows that he is homosexual, but it is Russell’s discomfort that stops them from making a normal conversation about it. This becomes quite an interesting tangent to the narrative, for it points out that the general lack of acceptance as well as fascination/disgust from people around them, colours their friendships with heterosexual people.

It also overturns age-old stereotypes about homosexual relationships of who is ‘male’ and who is ‘female’ in it. The fact is that the power dynamics of being male and female (with its associated qualities) are constantly shifting in a homosexual relationship. The shifts occur in heterosexual relationships as well; just that no one acknowledges it.

Since the film with its brief canvas conveys the intensity of a relationship (because at the heart of it, it boils down to the human dynamics of a non-platonic relationship; sex and gender notwithstanding) as well as breaks stereotypes, it is a beautiful film to watch to normalise a relationship that has been needlessly politicised, romanticised and even more frequently, demonised.

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Kes (1969) #SherylPuthur

kes-film-images-fd152e6d-6609-4e4e-bd96-7df64a76159Directed By: Ken Loach

Written By: Barry Hines; Ken Loach; Tony Garnett

Cast:

David Bradley– Billy Casper

Freddie Fletcher – Jud

Lynne Perrie– Mrs. Casper

Colin Welland– Mr. Farthing

Brian Glover– Mr. Sudgen

Bob Bowes– Mr. Gryce

Language: English                                                                   Genre: Drama

Kes is a 1969 film by Ken Loach based on the novel A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. Set in a mining town in Yorkshire, it tells the story of Billy (David Bradley), a working class boy. A fifteen year old who has nothing to look forward to in life. The only possible career option for him is to join his brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher) in the mining pits or some other similar blue collar job.

His daily struggles have to do with either combating or knuckling under abuse. It’s both his abusive older brother who uses him as his help, or his teachers and classmates who pick on him.

The teachers are jaded because none of the students show any involvement. It is after all understood that they will, in terms of profession, follow in their parents’ footsteps and end up in menial jobs. So the principal, Mr. Gryce (Bob Bowes), who was once passionate about his job is now an automaton who doles out advice and punishment in a mechanical fashion. Even his ‘lectures’ on discipline has an element of rote learning.

The school tries to instil values of mercy and compassion through religious passages but they are mere words that mean nothing. For instance, the morning assembly reading of the Parable of the Lost Sheep is immediately followed by the principal calling the students who were day-dreaming or yawning or coughing during the reading (including Billy) to his office for punishment. The narrative then abounds in such ironies.

Even the sadistic coach, Mr. Sudgen (Brian Glover), who uses Billy as a scapegoat for his failings and tortures him in the name of discipline in the shower room, by making him stand under a cold shower.

The truly uplifting moments in the film are when Billy takes up falconry and trains a kestrel that he names ‘Kes’. His concern for animals and his understanding of their behaviour patterns, belies the usual opinion that he is useless. An opinion his mother (Lynne Perrie) also holds.

Billy doesn’t see his kestrel as a pet but as someone with autonomy. The kestrel in fact, is a symbol of Billy and as an extension, the working class. They are free, untamed, proud yet fragile, they need to be protected, fed when hungry, taken outdoors away from controls and trusted to return.

The film gives no easy, quick fix solution. There is an English teacher who does attempt to draw out Billy but this isn’t a narrative of a teacher triumphing a student’s odds because they both come from a similar setting.

Kes is an unvarnished, darkly comic take on the English working class life.

What drew me to watch this movie was David Morrissey’s comment that this film made him hopeful to know that working class life could be the focus of a film. What kept me involved was the poignancy of Billy’s relationship with Kes.

Crimson Peak (2015) #SherylPuthur

Directed By: Guillermo del Toro

Written By: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins

Cast:

Mia Wasikowska – Edith Cushing

Jessica Chastain – Lady Lucille Sharpe

 Tom Hiddleston – Sir Thomas Sharpe

Charlie Hunnam – Dr. Alan McMichael

Jim Beaver – Carter Cushing

Burn Gorman – Mr. Holly

Language: English                                        Genre: Gothic Romance; Horror

 

Crimson Peak is a gothic horror romance by Guillermo del Toro. The film is not the usual horror as most would assume, instead also possesses all the stock elements of a gothic romance such as Jane Eyre.

The film begins with Edith (Mia Wasikowska) bloodied and shaken and then slowly slips back in time. She explains that since her mother’s death, she has seen ghosts and while frightened of them, she believes they have a purpose. In fact, her mother’s ghost comes to warn her about ‘Crimson Peak’ – a place, that when time comes, she should avoid.

Fast forward a few years, and we see Edith as an aspiring novelist and an eccentric heiress. Her father Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver) is worried she won’t settle down to a sensible marriage and tries to foist her old friend Alan (Charlie Hunnam) as a possible suitor.

Things change when two strangers from England come into her town – Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), his sister. Sir Thomas approaches Mr. Cushing, with a business proposition. His lands on which his mansion Allerdale Hall stands is known for the finest red clay. He comes with a model for a clay mining machine that he believes will revolutionise clay mining.

He fails to make an impression on Mr. Cushing but he does, however, make Edith aware of him as a man. She finds herself attracted to him and her father tries to dissuade her from her fonder inclinations for him. They however, eventually marry but not before the mysteries that surround his home in England begin to envelope her and supernatural instances become more common. The house in fact, is known as Crimson Peak.

When they move to England, the claustrophobic fear of the old mansion, Allerdale Hall makes Edith uneasy. She slowly tries to uncover the secrets of the house and finds herself battling life and death.

While the narrative has, the usual trapping of a gothic story – a threatening mystery, looming curse over a doddering mansion, supernatural elements, hidden passages, it like Jane Eyre subverts binaries of male and female. Edith is not the typical damsel in distress rather she is strong-willed and knows her own mind. As a budding novelist, her figure of aspiration, as she mentions it, is Mary Shelley rather than Jane Austen; so a controversial figure as opposed to a respectable one.

The similarities between Crimson Peak and Jane Eyre don’t end there. Both Thornfield Hall and Allerdale Hall hide terrible secrets. And even when the two women suspect that there may be an unpleasant secret that the male protagonists are hiding, they continue to love them. It is rather like the old legend, Bluebeard’s Castle – a macabre story of warning.

There is an interesting scene when Lucille and Edith are in a park and looking at butterflies and Lucille’s conclusion is that beautiful things are fragile when Edith observes that they are dying. The scene isn’t openly menacing but conveys a lot of beliefs of the times that are subverted by the female leads themselves.

The story does have quite a few clichés, but at the same time it has a very interesting plot twist. The characterisation is very interesting as well, with well sketched out individuals. A lot has been said about the sex scene in the film. It is as egalitarian as spoken about (to read further check http://www.bustle.com/articles/117413-tom-hiddlestons-crimson-peak-sex-scene-is-ruled-by-mia-wasikowska-thats-a-big-deal).

The film cinematically retains an old world feel by using irises as a fade out almost episodically, quite like chapter ending in a book. This adds to the charm of the film.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) #SherylPuthur

OnlyLoversLeftAlive 1

Directed By: Jim Jarmusch

Written By: Jim Jarmusch

Cast:

Tilda Swinton – Eve

Tom Hiddleston – Adam

Mia Wasikowska – Ava

John Hurt – Christopher Marlowe

Anton Yelchin – Ian

Jeffrey Wright – Dr. Watson

Slimane Dazi – Bilal

Yasmine Hamdan – Yasmine

Language: English                                                                 Genre: Drama

 

Only Lovers Left Alive opens with an image of the night sky which slowly revolves into a gramophone record. The camera slowly spins, taking in Eve’s room (Tilda Swinton) in a circular fashion, and then Adam’s (Tom Hiddleston). The camera moves closer and as the song ends, they open their eyes because their day (our night) has begun.

The slow measured and lyrical pace of the opening sequence sets the stage for the film’s ambience. It reiterates the theme that they are vampires who have seen worlds come and go.

Jarmusch’s poetic tale of love tells the story of two vampires Adam and Eve, who have been married for centuries and hence believe in giving each other their space. Eve lives in Tangier and Adam in Detroit. They stay in touch in their own quaint way, which is telling of how they see the world. Eve is open to technology and hence uses an I-Phone whereas Adam has built his own communication system through outdated equipment.

Eve is adventurous and open to experiences. Her close friend is Kit (John Hurt), otherwise known as Christopher Marlowe who centuries ago staged his death and chose to continue writing. Some of his plays were attributed to his then contemporary Shakespeare. Kit considers Adam to be the prototype of Hamlet and tells Eve that if he had known him when he was writing it, it would have been perfect.

Adam, in contrast to Eve, is a recluse. He is an underground musician who influenced the careers of many artistes such as Schubert, whom he gave an adagio for a string quartet. He is a pack rat who collects instruments, creates music and conducts various experiments à la Tesla. He doesn’t like his music released and has a horror of crowds and too many people. So he procures his instruments through Ian (Anton Yelchin), a human who idolises him. He rarely steps out unless he needs to collect ‘good’ blood from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright), who he meets dressed as a doctor with a face mask styling himself as Dr. Faust or Dr. Caligari (two interesting references).

Adam and Eve’s relationship is marked by old world charm, silent companionship and a fluidity of movements and thought that is beautiful. Their idea of small talk is philosophical conversations.

Adam’s despair at the ‘zombies’ or humans, is matched by Eve’s optimism. She has seen too much and for too long to be very depressed. But Adam’s tirade is a telling commentary on present society which he contrasts with his friends and the people he admires – Kafka, Tesla, Einstein, Schubert, Billie Holiday etc., who showed passion and involvement.

The dissonance in their relationship comes with the entry of Ava (Mia Wasikowska). Ava doesn’t understand their old world concerns and she is a threat to their carefully ordered world. Adam despises her for things she has done in the past and these are hinted upon.

The film is littered with literary puns and inter-textual references of music, film, philosophy, science and literature. It contemplates on the human race, art aesthetics, morality and the paradox of not wanting to live and living.

Beauty fades, but we want to possess it. Does living mean, loving too much and too fast because it cannot be held? Should we live in the moment and consider the consequences? Or should we be cautious about life? And most importantly, is morality and principles really important in the face of survival?

The film is a rich text that the viewer can luxuriate in. However, it will appeal most to someone who understands all the references. It is a postmodern film. After all, it makes Einstein’s Theory of Entanglement seem romantic –

“When you separate an entwined particle and you move both parts away from the other, even at opposite ends of the universe, if you alter or affect one, the other will be identically altered or affected.”

Five Minutes of Heaven (2009) #SherylPuthur

Five_Minutes_Of_Heaven_(2009)Directed By: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Written By: Guy Hibbert

Cast:

Mark Davison – Young Alistair

Kevin O’Neill – Young Joe

James Nesbitt – Adult Joe

Liam Neeson –Adult Alistair

Richard Dormer –Michael

Anamaria Marinca – Vika

Barry McEvoy – Joe’s Chauffeur

Richard Orr – Alistair’s Chauffeur

Language: English                                                          Genre: Drama; Thriller

Five Minutes of Heaven is a fictional account of what would happen if two people, whose only connection was an act of violence, were thrown together.

Alistair Little (Mark Davison) is a seventeen year old lad who has been influenced by the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) to do something drastic that will right the wrongs done to the Protestants of Ireland, by the Catholics.

The UVF is loyal to the British Crown and believes in the idea of the United Kingdom. The IRA (Irish Republican Army), which is manned by Irish Catholics, believes in an independent status for Ireland. Both groups have been responsible for much violence in Northern Ireland, which is referred to as ‘The Troubles’.

Under Little’s leadership, his friends plan to kill a young Catholic man James Griffen, who the UVF intends as a warning to the IRA. Little shoots him down while he’s at home and this is viewed by his 8 year old brother Joe Griffen (Kevin O’Neill). Joe is shell-shocked by the violence and Little is sentenced to twelve years in prison.

Fast forward many years, a reconciliation project attempts to facilitate a conversation between the two. Little (Liam Neeson) has been working at rehabilitating children who have been pushed into violence and seems self-possessed. Joe (James Nesbitt) on the other hand, is fidgety and nervous.

The car journey the two make separately are very telling. Joe’s Chauffeur (Barry McEvoy) is unsure of his passenger’s mental state. Joe makes him stop so that he can smoke a cigarette and he keeps making disjointed conversation, attempting to be jovial. He frequently steps back into unwanted memories related to the aftermath of his brother’s murder. Alistair’s Chauffeur (Richard Orr) makes polite and general conversation with Alistair who seems strangely emptied out. There is blankness to his features. It is like he has been deadened by all the violence he has seen.

Alistair consented to the meeting because he understands that he has no right to ask for forgiveness but that Joe has every right to want to personally confront him. However, Joe does not want reconciliation with someone who destroyed his life and family. He wants to kill Alistair and experience his “five minutes of heaven”. Both want closure. It’s just that they want it differently. Alistair probably wants retribution or some kind of understanding that the past has changed his present and he is now a different person. Joe, on the other hand, hasn’t left the past because the memory of his mother cursing him for not having done anything haunts him.

Is reconciliation really a possibility post such traumatic experiences? Does a perpetrator really have the right to ask for forgiveness? And what is the price of vengeance? The film throws up very importantly, how far we are willing to be swept away by ideals and beliefs and, how one can be seemingly sane at the face of such an event.

The deliberate movements of the camera, the editing and the pared down, raw acting throws up in relief all these emotions.

It is a brief film with quiet yet tense action broken by intense moments. A tightly wound script, it is an important take on the turbulence in Northern Ireland.

De-Lovely (2004) #SherylPuthur

de-lovely

Directed By: Irwin Winkler

Written By: Jay Cocks

Cast:

Kevin Kline – Cole Porter

Ashley Judd – Linda Lee Thomas/Porter

Jonathan Pryce – Angel Gabriel

Kevin McNally – Gerald Murphy

Sandra Nelson – Sara Murphy

Allan Corduner – Monty Woolley

Peter Jessop – Diaghilev

Peter Polycarpou – Louis B. Mayer

Keith Allen – Irving Berlin

Language: English                                                            Genre: Musical Biopic

 

The scene opens and it looks suspiciously like a stage production, the lights slowly coming on, one after the other, to reveal an old man seated near a piano. Another person, dressed in a suit calls him out and he wheels himself out. The man now seated near the piano ready to play the music is Cole Porter and we realise that the old man in the wheelchair was Cole Porter as well.

De-Lovely is a musical biography on Cole Porter that portrays his life, marriage, other relationships both professional and personal, and his career alongside his music. We see Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) meeting Linda Lee (Ashley Judd) and deciding to marry. There’s was an advantageous marriage because Linda, much like a manager does everything to promote his career. She believes implicitly in his music and his music’s ability to move people. She also uses the trajectory of his career to take him away from relationships she does not approve.

It is a strange portrait of a marriage, the usual ups and downs but also their rather particularly different dynamics, with his interest in men and her tacit acknowledgment of it. She wants him to be discreet but he is too flamboyant in his affections. Yet he cares deeply for her and she is in many ways central to his music.

The film is like a meta-narrative with the older Cole Porter feeling the need to portray things differently or finding the act of watching his life played out before him too disturbing. The director – Angel Gabriel (Jonathan Pryce) however, categorically tells him that he cannot interfere because his story will be reinterpreted based on what others feel. Also, once a story is in the public domain (and sometimes even when it’s not) one can take artistic liberties with a narrative. This is true of the film and every biopic.

However, while making the biography a review by the older self of the real-life persona is a refreshing take, it makes it hard for the viewer to relate to the characters on the screen because of the alienating effect of seeing the older Cole Porter questioning his life. It is nevertheless, more realistic in its portrayal than his contemporaries who romanticised his story. In fact, there is a scene in the film wherein Cole and Linda watch a private screening of Night and Day and wryly comment on how sugary a portrayal it is and yet how it is flattering to have yourself immortalised as Cary Grant.

One must also remember Brecht who spoke about how the alienation effect in theatre was necessary to keep the audience from being sucked into the story. Instead, they should reason and question what they are seeing. So also here, while watching De-Lovely one can’t help but ponder over their relationship and wonder why Cole and Linda chose to be with each other. It is thus a unique portrayal of a person’s life through their own eyes and their music.

De-Lovely has Cole Porter’s music performed by contemporary singers who play the role of club singers and actors in his productions, it shows how contemporary and popular his music still is.

A special mention: the make-up. It is very realistically done and shows the aging of the characters really well.

The Danish Girl (2015) #SherylPuthur

danish girl

Directed By: Tom Hooper

Written By: David Ebershoff; Lucinda Coxon

Cast:

Eddie Redmayne – Lili Elbe/ Einar Wegener

Alicia Vikander – Gerda Wegener

Matthias Schoenaerts – Hans Axgil

Ben Whishaw – Henrik

Amber Heard – Ulla

Sebastian Koch – Dr. Warnekros

Language: English                                                   Genre: Biographical Drama

 

The film opens with the hauntingly empty yet darkly green Danish landscape. A series of lonely yet similar trees mark the spot and later feature in varying moods in the paintings of Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne). His wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) on the other hand, finds it astonishing that he can paint the same landscape over and over again. She prefers painting portraits. Whatever they choose however, is revelatory of how they see; either introspective or else the female gaze.

Painting is the central motif of the film. It is also a metaphor of creation and storytelling. Just like how two colours are mixed on a palette to create a new colour and how a dab of fresh paint can be fused into a painting – the story similarly unfolds, slowly, deftly, leading to that moment of poignant awareness that you have grasped what the narrative is about.

Einar poses for his wife in stockings, holding a dress against his body because her model failed to turn up. For Einar, it is a strange sensation to watch how the clothes feel so beautiful against his skin. What starts as just a momentary experience becomes more and more the centre of their marriage. He secretly wears his wife’s nightdress and while perturbed, she encourages his exploration of sexuality by taking on a dominant and supposedly masculine role in their lovemaking. The female Einar – Lili Elbe, who Gerda introduces as Einar’s cousin begins to step into the public space more often. Then the barriers separating the private space from the public space, begin to come crashing down.

The ebb and flow of the narrative – the growing consciousness and the crashing reality is accompanied by Alexandre Desplat’s music which lends it a stirring quality like breakers on a desolate yet verdant coast.

The film portrays a different idea of marriage and poses a hard question – can you love someone so much that you would be willing to aid them in their journey of self-awareness, even it if erases you?

Alicia Vikander gives a powerfully moving portrayal of a woman who supports her husband’s need to be a woman even though as she puts it she “needs her husband…and I need to hold my husband.” Eddie Redmayne as Einar/Lili is devastatingly vulnerable in his exploration of the psyche of a person who realises that they are not living their true self. The film may seem lengthy to some and probably melodramatic in its portrayal but it is still a powerful exploration of identity and sexuality.

Sexuality is a misunderstood concept even today, though the very real possibility of being forcibly locked up because you’re a threat does not exist anymore.

The Danish Girl portrays how people are quick to classify something as abnormal and then attempt to suppress it, even harshly if required. It brings out also, the fragility of our identities. How a certain kind of realisation can change how we perceive things and how we are perceived. For instance, Einar in the beginning, dressed as a man walking out, is not noticed, but a slightly feminised version of his attire and mannerisms leads him to be assaulted on the streets. But what has been acknowledged in the narrative is the role of people like Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts), Ulla (Amber Heard) and Henrik (Ben Whishaw) who are sympathetic of another’s exploration probably out of an understanding of their frailty.

The unsettling question is how far have we chosen our own identity and how far would we take that exploration?

Related text: Kathleen Winter – Annabel

Centurion (2010) #SherylPuthur

Centurion

Directed By: Neil Marshall

Written By: Neil Marshall

Cast:

Michael Fassbender – Quintas Dias

Olga Kurylenko – Etain

Dominic West – Titus Flavius Virilus

Liam Cunningham – Ubriculius

David Morrissey – Bothos

J J Feild – Thax

Ulrich Thomsen – Gorlacon

Noel Clarke – Macros

Riz Ahmed – Tarak

Dimitri Leonidas – Leonidas

Imogen Poots – Arianne

Paul Freeman – Gnaeus Julius Agricola

Language: English and Gaelic   Genre: Historical, Action-war; Thriller

Centurion is a 2010 British action thriller war movie set in Scotland during the time of the Roman occupation of the British Isles. Rome had already conquered England and Wales and was trying hard to bring Scotland under them. The film focuses on the Ninth Legion whose fate is still unknown or unclear, giving an alternative reading to the story.

Stories have circulated about the fate of the missing Ninth Legion. Some scholars believe it happened on the main continent of Europe while fighting off a warring tribe, others that it was the Jews who routed them. But most scholars feel it may have happened on the British Isles while fighting off the Picts. The Picts were the ancient inhabitants of Scotland and were called Picti (painted people) by the Romans because they painted their faces, especially before war.

The film is from the perspective of a Roman centurion Quintas Dias (Michael Fassbender) whose garrison was ambushed and destroyed by the Pictish warriors, leaving him the sole survivor. Dias is tortured for information by Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen) a Pictish leader because he spoke the Pictish language.  He refuses to help them and escapes captivity seeking refuge with the Ninth Legion under General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West).

Governor Agricola (Paul Freeman) wants the Ninth Legion to take some decisive action against the Picts and asks Virilus to make use of the skills of Etain (Olga Kurylenko), a Celtic Brigantian who can lead them into Pictish territory. They, however, are ambushed by the Picts. The end result – Virilus is taken captive.

The seven survivors of the ambush – Dias, Ubriculius (Liam Cunningham), Bothos (David Morrissey), Thax (J J Feild), Macros (Noel Clarke), Tarak (Riz Ahmed) and Leonidas (Dimitri Leonidas) decide to sneak into the Pictish village and rescue Virilus. What adds a trying measure of responsibility and guilt on Dias is the promise that Virilus demands of him. It is this journey, of fulfilling the promise and reaching to safety, fraught with danger and sure death that dominates the rest of film.

The film shows how the ruling faction – the Romans, is reduced to being the chased and the hunted. They are shown slowly descending into unethical behaviour just to survive, breaking whatever codes of honour they were expected to follow. Yet Dias does emerge as a throwback figure to the old order of chivalry, the ‘I give you my word’ kind of honour.

Etain on the other hand, comes across as a formidable opponent – a tracker and a hunter, she inspires fear yet plays an ambiguous role in the narrative making her a character you also sympathise with.

The Picts too have their flaws. It is in the character of Arianne (Imogen Poots) that it becomes most apparent. She is branded as a witch by Gorlacon, scarred and then made an outcast.

The film does not present one side as villains and another as the heroes but tries to present both sides as violent and sometimes, justified.

The engaging aspect of the movie is that the Picts are not projected as this barbaric tribe but given a voice to express their struggle against the foreign invaders – which is an alternative view to Roman Britain.  The general opinion projected about the Roman Empire in Britain has always been about pride in its still existing symbols like the holiday spot Bath for instance. This then highlights the resentment that probably still exists in Britain about the subjugation by the Romans.

There is much violence and gore in the film – torture scenes, decapitated heads but the spurts of blood seem more video game-like and hence not very realistic. Nevertheless, the violence is a little startling.

Centurion may have taken liberties with actual history, presenting characters that may have not actually been there during the time period of the story (Agricola). Also it may have not given much of a curve to the characters but it does seem realistic as opposed to The Last Legion which fused the Arthurian legend into the fate of the Ninth Legion making it supernatural and a tad bit unbelievable.

 

Shirley Valentine (1989) #SherylPuthur

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Directed By: Lewis Gilbert

Written By: Willy Russell

Cast:

Pauline Collins – Shirley Valentine-Bradshaw

Tom Conti – Costas Dimitriades

Julia McKenzie – Gillian

Alison Steadman – Jane

Joanna Lumley – Marjorie Majors

Sylvia Syms – Headmistress

Bernard Hill – Joe Bradshaw

Tracie Bennett – Millandra Bradshaw

Gareth Jefferson – Brian Bradshaw

Gillian Kearney – young Shirley

Catherine Duncan – young Marjorie

Language: English                                   Genre: Romantic-Comedy; Drama

 

The interesting thing about Shirley Valentine is that it overturns the stock terms used to describe the genre and theme of the film – romantic comedy about a bored housewife who goes on a holiday to Greece and rediscovers herself; love and life. This description would be too simplistic.

The romance in this film isn’t about Shirley (Pauline Collins) being enamoured by the Greek bar owner Costas (Tom Conti) who helps her rediscover pleasure but it goes back to a far older and poetic meaning of romance or otherwise known as romanticism.

The Illustrated Dictionary of Essential Knowledge defines romanticism by saying it “stressed the value of personal emotion and imagination and freedom from the strict rules of form…” (72). It also laid emphasis on man’s, “innate powers of creativity, his spontaneity and his relationship with the natural world” (145).

When looked at from this lens, the film isn’t about a bored housewife (two words that carry its fair share of connotations) but about a woman who has given up on herself. Shirley is someone who has judged herself to be irrelevant or just a fixture in the house because she is in her eyes, a failure.

Her days are spent talking to the kitchen wall or ‘The Wall’ because there is no one else she can confide in. Making her husband Joe’s (Bernard Hill) routine dishes for tea is the other exciting diversion of her life.

The older Shirley also carries baggage from her high school days of not measuring up to the exacting standards of the headmistress (Sylvia Syms) who believed that the young Shirley (Gillian Kearney) was incapable of amounting to anything.  She felt unfairly compared to the school’s ‘perfect girl’ Marjorie Majors (Catherine Duncan).

However, a chance meeting with an older Marjorie Majors (Joanna Lumley) makes her realise that she does not the live the glamorous life Shirley assumed she would. And when Marjorie confesses that she envied her at school, it comes as a surprise to Shirley that a nonentity like her could be envied.  One realises that people love making assumptions about themselves, situations and others so the first step to rediscovery comes from breaking them.

The film shows that while visiting an exotic location for a holiday may be romantic, living there day-in and day-out takes some of the romance away. But the point of Shirley staying at Greece was not about an exotic experience alone but as a new take on life.  So doing even mundane activities like talking to ‘the wall’ or making chip and eggs for ‘unwilling to experiment’ British tourists are still charming.

A scene that was both hilarious and warm was when Joe begins talking to the wall. You notice a man who was once willing to experiment but responsibilities made him choose stability instead. Now when external circumstances force him to reconsider, it is with a sudden awareness that he is actually lonely and has been so for so long. So he converses with the wall to retain a connection with Shirley.

The reactions of her children add to the drama of the narrative but what takes it forward is her self-righteous neighbour Gillian’s (Julia McKenzie) open-hearted support of Shirley’s decision to take her life in her hands. It is moving to see the honest appreciation and the vicarious longing behind her action of gifting a silk robe.

By turns droll and stirring, the film is an honest and ordinary woman’s decision to fall in love with life. Not as a mother, or a wife or a lover but as Shirley Valentine. It falls within that special bracket of films about women who strike out on their own, either by choice or circumstance such as English Vinglish, Queen, Under the Tuscan Sun – to accept the changes in themselves; without guilt.

Special mention: the script – unemotional, funny yet warm it conveys a woman’s journey without the usual clichés of travel romances.

Me Without You (2001) #SherylPuthur

me-without-you michelle anna

Directed By: Sandra Goldbacher

Written By: Sandra Goldbacher; Laurence Coriat

Cast:

Anna Friel – Marina

Michelle Williams – Holly

Oliver Milburn – Nat

Kyle MacLachlan – Daniel

Trudie Styler – Linda

Allan Corduner – Max

Marianne Denicourt – Isabel

Deborah Findlay – Judith

Nicky Henson – Ray

Adrian Lukis – Leo Muller

Language: English                                                          Genre: Romance-Drama

Me Without You is a poignant film about the toxicity of long friendships. It follows the friendship of Holly (Michelle Williams) and Marina (Anna Friel) from 1973 when they are 12 years old to 1978; 1982; 1989; 2001 – each time period marking an important curve to their relationship.

Marina and Holly each have something the other desires. They are not happy with their lives and want the other’s life. This discontent grows as they grow. Marina feels unloved because her parents are separated and seem particularly self-involved. Holly’s family is Jewish. Her mother is both overprotective and seems to highlight Holly’s insecurity about her appearance. Marina wants stability and Holly wants to be as beautiful and carefree as Marina.

When they are kids, their ‘admiration’ for each other’s life does not get out of hand. But with the passing of years they realise the truth of the circumstances around them and find they cannot hold on to childish fantasies anymore. It is then that their jealousy becomes obvious.

For Marina, her looks and outgoing personality becomes the superior ‘skill’ she can lord over Holly. But when ‘mousy’ Holly manages to attract the attention of Nat (Oliver Milburn), Marina’s brother, at a drugs and music party his girlfriend organises, Marina is unable to deal with it. She instinctively realises that they will probably be great for each other even though at that point Nat wouldn’t date her since he was with someone else but just maybe later. This is the point when the poison seeps in and there is no more childlike excitement at being ‘Harina’ – Holly+Marina.

However, there is an awareness that they need the other, so no one overtly rocks the boat but covertly they try to undermine the other. For instance, when they are studying at university Holly finds herself attracted to her professor Daniel (Kyle MacLachlan). Marina finds him silly but later makes it a point to seduce him and it is as though she wants to hit out at Holly. When this incident nearly escalates into a full-fledged fight, Marina instead of letting it damage their friendship deflects it by damaging the fledgling relationship Holly and Nat develop after he returns from his French sojourn.

Holly and Marina are frequently referred to as being each others’ mothers, Siamese twins, a married couple – hinting at their cloying proximity. A proximity, that is rather desperately maintained but has no real engagement.

A pivotal scene in the film, which marks Holly’s growing frustration at Marina’s controlling behaviour, and yet fear against openly voicing it out is when she mentions being puzzled at Marina’s decision to become Jewish after marriage since her fiancée is Jewish. Marina’s retort – “Why shouldn’t I be Jewish? Huh? It gives me a sense of identity” and Holly’s response in an undertone, “Really? Whose identity?” underscores what has happened to them.

In an unequal relationship, one will play the role of the manipulator and the other the victim. The victim will eventually either lash out or accept the victimisation and grow to use it as a cloak to garner sympathy resulting in possibly an even more warped personality. What would be healthier would be to claim individuality and strike out alone. However, it is hard when that said relationship is with your closest friend.

Me Without You isn’t saying that female friendships are warped or that the idea of childhood friends sticking together in a healthy manner is a fairytale but that true growth can only happen with some distance from those who know you too well. The truth is, they know only one aspect of you and would find it strange if you became something else. But moving away, isn’t to destroy an older relationship but to discover yourself in newer relationships.

Maybe why female friendships are more prone to manipulation has probably to do with female socialisation. Boys are socialised to ‘let out’ their frustrations especially with each other so they get into physical brawls when there is a tense moment. But girls are told to ‘rein in’ their emotions and hence let it fester.

I found this an incredibly moving and beautifully shot film because of the rounded characterisation, the chemistry between the lead characters and how the narrative keeps you hooked without being soppy. Also, the ending I find is interestingly open-ended.