Wednesday, April 28, 2010

London to Brighton

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London to Brighton at first seems like a movie you would have always wanted to make after being inspired by watching Amorres Perros and Mike Leigh’s Naked, back-to-back, in good proportion and shortly after, having won a filming camera in a short-film contest. You don’t need sets or props to make a film like Naked or Amores Perros, you don’t really need a camera crew to aid you in making such a film. You just need a good story, and maybe some skill in scriptwriting (if one is sensible enough to know the difference). Apart from a bit of hard work, it’s fairly easy. That’s what the film makers want you to think. Or so YOU think. The non-linear, parallel story-line narrative has by now been used and over used so many times in movies these days; you might think the scriptwriters either have no sense of originality, or wanton disregard for content and more than desirable focus on hammering in their style until their films stop feeling like one and ends up looking like a mangled, uncouth, badly drafted film-school thesis. But too much of mainstream film-watching can flatten your mind, requiring you to look down upon those other films that are made with tighter budgets, with more worries than prospects. This was the kind of attitude with which I settled down to watch London to Brighton. The first ten minutes later, I was still stubborn to my opinion. I yawned.
Half-an hour later, I was watching the movie once again from the start, this time with a notepad file open on my toolbar.
The familiar, hazy uncertainness lingers for the first five minutes or so. Two prostitutes: One middle aged, the other no older than fifteen are thrown at your feet through the doors of a London cubicle toilet. The time is an unearthly 0230 hrs. The older lady is bleeding profusely. Her eye is swollen into a lemon-sized thing with a slit for the eye. The little girl looks so scared out of her senses; she’d dive headfirst into the toilet bowl if you told her it could help save her life. A while later, the two are on a train fleeing London and heading to Brighton. Fleeing, because the girl asks if Derek was following them.
Introducing Derek, a ruthless pimp in London, who gets contacted by an underworld criminal who looks like he’s fractured every single bone in his face, and is currently undergoing smile-therapy from a Japanese samurai. Two villains: one a pimp, the second by profession, two women fleeing and one bloody eye. Something fits. Flashbacks. Suddenly, you spot a pedophile in between. You already know that both women are on the run, which was evident from the prologue. A British indie film definitely has to have people chasing and tracking you, when you’re on the run. Title says London to Brighton, and you think well, there’s your plot. Well, not exactly. Not until you’re through all the way, with that wonderful culmination in the final reel.
Being adapted from a short-film titled ‘Royalty’ by Williams, the screenplay is as lean as a prize featherweight boxer, no saggy tag ons, no sub plots to bog the story down, just a hard as nails story, that drags you in very swiftly. The scenes intercut, between what’s happening and what happened in rapid, intriguing ways, but the most interesting aspect of the narration is something so trivial, you’d never notice it at first, and god forbid you never noticed even after you watched the film. It’s the linear handle in the form of the older lady’s lemon-sized swollen eye. If it weren’t for this little beacon, we would sure find a hard time figuring out when the events are unfolding, and you’d most certainly have to press that rewind button one too many times.
‘London to Brighton’ has been likened to Mike Leigh’s Naked, and perhaps this is an apt comparison, perhaps not. Both have very similar portrayals of Britain’s gutter-standard of living, yet both end up seeming quite philosophical towards the end. But what triggers the philosophical twists keep these two films apart as far as possible. What remains clear, however, is that Williams has served up a deliciously gritty and unflinching drama in the midst of chaos, which he occasionally pauses with wonderful slow-motion captures and dreamy shots of the windy barren boardwalk of Brighton.
The narrative somehow stays clear of Kelly’s brief ordeals to get ’some quick money’. We really don’t know if she’s disgusted by her own vocation, or has a very impersonal attitude, a behavioral format that keeps her mind sane. At least that’s what I could conceive, or why else would an emotionally hardened woman, who seems pretty experienced in her line of work suddenly look at this young girl in a sympathetic way?? And all this, after she practically broils the huge pot of sh*t herself: she actually goes scouting for juvenile girls and spots Joanne. She lures the little girl herself into the horrifying trap, with professional calmness. She buys the girl food and offers her ‘work’. In other words, she’s loaded the gun and cocked the hammer herself. And then, there comes the inevitable change of mind at the pimp’s client’s place. The pedophilic man was freaking sixty, and he was rich. Doesn’t that make things fairly clear that his motive is plain kink? Maybe Kelly was having second thoughts all the while, and she’s just too confused to think under the lamp. Or maybe she has a past, one that involves a child that she so badly wants to forget, that her way of going into denial is to bruise her own body by prostituting herself. Maybe the director wants us to know that psychologically, London isn’t all that happy and gay as we think it is, people there are living in quiet despair and ruined lifestyles, this being just the whipped cream atop a stale, fungus infested meat-pie. Atleast, I’d like to think the director was trying to make a point here. Other than this twinkle of a plot-hole, London to Brighton wastes no time in filing away your nail-points with its racy, harried camera work.
Bruised, realistic, harrowing and compelling, with very good performances put in by both the female lead actors: Georgia Groome, Lorraine Stanely and Johnny Harris; professional, by industry standards  – a very good watch. Makes you want to watch something excessively cheerful as soon as possible, once the credits roll. Considering the fact that I’ve been watching too many movies that brood and howl, I ran straight into Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s chocolate-candy coloured paris to watch Micmacs à tire-larigot

By Fazil (at
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Burma VJ: Reporter i et lukket land (Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country)

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Face the facts: Your duty lies in looking as nonplussing as possible. Blend in with your surroundings. Be inconspicuous. No, you don’t really have a criminal record to be nervous, but neither did the dead woman and the child in front of you. Nevertheless, you are being watched with the utmost suspicion. You’re surveyed through a gun-sight during twenty of every thirty seconds of every minute. If you look at a soldier directly, you’re asking for attention. If you look down at your basket in your hands, it’s apparent you’re concealing something. If you appear wary of your surroundings or point or even walk unsteadily, there are people who’d immediately know. If the authorities spot you, they’d be on you in ten seconds. If they search you, they’d question you and confiscate your possessions, including the little basket in your hand. If they do that, they’ll find the red gunny bag. If they get the bag, they’ll find the camera concealed inside. And then, before you could think of what went wrong before you were busted, your fate has already been decided between state sponsored- torture and a point-blank gunshot to your forehead. This isn’t a land of your rights or mine. It’s junta-ruled Burma. There is no government nor police. At-least, none that fits the definition of catering to the needs of a population, which in itself defies it’s meaning for existence, since the sole purpose of the two is to suppress you, in case you raise your voice upon the junta.
In simple terms, you’re the hostage. The government is your enemy, and you’re the government’s enemy. The police is it’s weapon of force: An army ready to crush even the solitary ant that shows signs of defiance. You show resilience, they kill you. You appear suspicious, they kill you. You try and convince them with your subservience, they still kill you. Journalists are criminals, you’re a mind-freak if you walk the streets with a camera visible in your hands.

This is what you gather during the first twelve minutes of Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country, though all that you see is the insides of that gunny bag covering your line of vision and an unedited sound sequence that speak volumes of the tension (watch trailer below). Yet, for our guerrilla styled journalist aliased “Joshua”, being caught and facing sure-fire death is only half of his worries. His other half is more anxious about the deteriorating condition of the camera, and the valuable hours of battery power going to waste. His entire self-appointed purpose in life now depends on a cheap, rechargeable lump of lithium!
The camera does come out briefly and beholds burma, a sight that jumps right out of a 1970s communist-era chinese film-set. Everybody around appears the same. Whether you’re alone or in company, walking or riding people simply stare. There is no conversation in the public unless it’s utterly important. People speak in hushed voices. Even the rickety public buses are devoid of human sound. The lone sound breaks the silence of voiceless drone. It’s a megaphone that’s high enough to echo the voice of the announcer all the way upto the center of the town. It’s a blunt announcement from the Junta HQ that the price of fuel has been doubled with immediate effect. People listen quietly and carry on with their lives, fully knowing what this really means. Everything is going to be double the price from tomorrow. And for no clear reason too. It’s an order, live with it. No one asks why, no one raises a voice in public, even the strongest at heart would be discouraged by such a public attitude. And that’s the way things are run in Burma. But wait, you’re not supposed to know all this if you’re not inside Burma. What you’re seeing is banned footage, that’s shot first-hand by our protagonist-hero Joshua, who runs an outlawed television network wing, The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB).

Burma VJ from good with money on Vimeo.

Joshua’s identity should naturally be kept a secret, due to the clandestine journalism he must continue in order to keep the outside world abreast of what’s really happening inside this iron wall-ed country. DVB gathers footage by deploying some twenty odd volunteers with cameras and microphones. These men and women spread into crowds and gathering of public demonstrations. Their job is to take as much footage of the happenings as possible. These footage are then smuggled through couriers via neighboring countries like Thailand, or through the internet to Oslo, from where they are shared worldwide to news channels like CNN and BBC, who relay them back to Burma. Mind the fact that apart from the sole love for their people in their hearts, these volunteers are neither trained camera-men, nor are they trained in emergency situation handling, in case they encounter violence, or in worst of worst cases get caught and lose their lives. You might think it’s madness in both ways. The footage acquired might never be evidential enough without proper spying devices, and these volunteers might give away valuable information about the DVB’s secret operations. But at the end of the first 30 minutes of the film, you lose all need of doubt when you look at Joshua (and hear other DVB members) crying at the extremely rare, blurred image of Aung-San-Suu-Kyi they managed to film when protesters were surprisingly allowed to venture close to the democratic leader’s house, where she’s being held under house arrest for the past decade. That scene is so heartbreaking that given the circumstances, even reason itself wouldn’t be able to fathom why such a misfortune should befall such a nation in these times that we live in: Times when self-proclaimed, self-appointed world-ambassadors of goodwill and peace conquer much more violent, terrorism-infested nations with ease, by brute force under false pretexts of impending danger to the world while all the time the objectives seem to be nothing but carrying their tall banners of wealth, so tall that the blood-red dust of destruction would fail to soil the silky white above, all the while when countries such as Burma languish inside an information abyss.

Burma VJ gradually becomes more of a work-in progress, not just a mere documentary that shows the power of guerrilla journalism. It’s a call for help by that smaller voice inside every hopeful Burmese’s mind. The film itself focuses on the Saffron Revolution, an uprising by the Buddhist monks in 2007, the first signs of any major protest since 1989 when nearly three thousand people were killed as the junta brought the demonstrations to halt, effectively so after putting the democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, even until today. These protests by the Buddhist monks rapidly gathered momentum and volume, mostly as the unstoppable monks were seen as the last force of power against the junta. Though the monks refused to turn political, they cite their sole purpose in staging the famous marches in around 25 cities across the country simultaneously, being the liberation of the people. The Burmese thought the dictators wouldn’t dare to attack the monks, but within the next few hours, public gatherings of more than five are banned, and people are warned against police firing. The protests are eventually suppressed as the army does the unthinkable and starts beating up the monks and carrying them away in trucks to undisclosed locations. A Japanese reporter is shot dead at close range. A dead body of a monk is found floating on the Yangon river. Young adults cower in a stairway praying for strength in the face of death. And the DVB is there to record it all. The regime quickly understands the power of the camera and the reporters are constantly chased by government intelligence agents who look at the ”media saboteurs” as the biggest prey they can get. However, the important mission is not forfeited, even as the DVB members watch helplessly as their offices are being raided by the police.

Anders Østergaard’s film takes on the terrifying immediacy of home-made horror, as he carefully assembles the scrambled, jittery video recordings with a little bit of post-production in between for that added sense of dramatization. Joshua having to flee his country initially for fear of being captured a second time operates out of Thailand. All of the post-production scenes show a silhouette of this emotional, but brave young man sitting with frustration, as he listens to his crew over phone-calls, patiently waiting for video feed on his computer. “Burma VJ” ends without any real, direct hope. But as long as the country’s people hunger for freedom, and a few citizens are brave enough to document the atrocities around them on video, there’s always hope for a better tomorrow.

Click on the widget to the right and subscribe here to the YouTube channels of the Democratic Voice of Burma (I think they’ve posted the entire movie online in nine parts) and the Burma VJ Movie channel. Visit and for further info, spread the word and show your support on Twitter and Facebook It’s taken an Academy award nomination for a film of such importance to hold ground and reach our for help, let’s not wait for something bad to happen in order to confront the apalling reality.

By Fazil (at
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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (I Served the King of England)

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I Served the King of England is very ambitious. It condenses an epic novel into two hours and squeezes in more styles than a catwalk. There are nods to the wit of Charlie Chaplin. The visual eulogies of Peter Greenaway. Penitentiaries, bars, brothels, woods, invading armies. All are collected in a dizzying montage as Jan Díte reviews the highs and lows of his life and loves in flashback.
Jan Díte has just been released from Prague Correctional Facility, having served almost 15 years. He is also in rather humble circumstances. This seems to contrast with his lifelong and apparently successful ambition to become a millionaire. The first half of the film has a theatrical feel of unreality – much like a musical. Serving lad Díte manages to score with a local beauty at the nearby bordello. He then get various jobs that involve him working with sophisticated women of pleasure, or in top hotels, or sometimes both together. His short stature enables him to play many tricks, like surreptitiously throwing a handful of coins on the ground for the pleasure of watching rich men get down on their hands and knees with their bums in the air. One of his favourite penchants with the ladies, on the other hand, is to ornament their naked and prostrate forms with anything from flowers, to fruit, to funds from his growing pocket book. One particularly striking moment is when he decorates a naked brothel girl (who looks worryingly like Kylie Minogue) in large margarita daisies. The scene is as arresting as the nude-and-rose-petals shot in American Beauty, or the female-served-for-dinner in The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover.
Menzel's taste for a decadent protagonist is in no way sullied by shame. His whores are creatures of beauty: "The scent of raspberry trailed behind her. She stepped out in that silk dress, full of peonies, and bees hovered around her like a Turkish honey store." ('Bees' you will note, not 'flies'.) The description follows an incident where the lady in question pours raspberry grenadine over herself - to stop Díte from getting into trouble.
I Served the King of England soon becomes rife with political and social comment, even before we get to the eponymous and very loaded comment by Díte's boss boasting his resumé. Having treated us to sumptuous society, the film reminds us of the cost: "I discovered that those who said 'work is ennobling' were the same men who drank all night and ate with lovely young ladies seated on their knees." The palatial buildings, over-refined manners and ostentatious egregiousness of old Europe belie the fabled shangrila on which they are modelled. As we witness the Nazi and then Communist take-overs, the film touches on many issues that have affected the creation and difficult continuation of the country now known as the Czech Republic. Amusingly, the Nazi ideal of 'racial purity' enables Díte to continue his lifestyle - his German fiancé secures him a job at a breeding ground for top military studs.
The best parts of the film are full of beauty and sadness. An old man reminisces: "We, in the 20th century, are inclined to see the glory in ourselves and the shame in others – that's how the mess got started." The latter half of the film gradually becomes more serious in tone, even didactic. Here is your history lesson, insight into human nature, poetry and great literary adaptation all in one, it seems to be saying to us.
I Served the King of England is a film on an enormous scale. It makes a valiant attempt to be a masterpiece, but feels as if it didn't have quite enough time to display its flaunted genius. One cannot help but admire it. Even if it doesn't quite reach the dizzying heights to which it aspires.

Buy from Amazon
Chris Docker from Scotland, United Kingdom

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

'Festen' and the genius of Dogme 95

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Free Image Hosting at"Summertime – and the living is easy"…Rich family patriarch Helge Klingelfeldt is particularly anxious that his three grown children Christian, Michael and Helene, support his party 's festive mood by making a display of happy unity of the clan. Even downstairs staff is expected to somehow join in the general ambiance.
Night falls, and the master of ceremonies introduces himself and announces that dinner is served. Helge is met by spontaneous outbursts of applause and song. While everyone 's being seated, the kitchen staff add their finishing touches to the evening's festive meal. Fish steam, venison broil. The banquet begins. When Christian eventually clears his throat and calls for silence only he knows what is to come. A speech to shock, a speech to shatter. The most heart-breaking night in living memory is about to descend on the unsuspecting Klingenfeldts. However, irrespective of skeletons being mercilessly ripped out of the family closet, stiff upper lips prevail and in a highly macabre way the party keeps going on.
Festen is not only the first but arguably the best from the Dogme-films. It's a bit difficult to say much about the acting - not understanding Danish is a bit of a barrier- let alone Danish mores. Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) is played as the still centre - we find out about him from what others say- yet he holds our attention throughout. Thomas Bo Larsen as Michael the obnoxious younger brother puts in a full-blooded manic performance and Paprika Steen as their sister Helena gave her role plenty of depth. The father (Henning Moritzen) was a bit two-dimensional - not enough charm to offset his basic nastiness. Among the minor players, I particularly liked Lars Brygman as Lars, the reception clerk, who never loses his (somewhat stunned) composure even as he is lying fully clothed in a bathtub at the behest of Helena looking for ghosts in the ceiling. I also liked Helmuth (Klaus Bondam), the Danish idea of the comic German toastmaster, who after some particularly shocking revelations at the dinner table manages to suggest dessert, coffee and dancing in the lounge - and the stunned guests meekly comply.
The film's shaky, grainy, hand-held camera work and natural lighting (intrinsic to the Dogma movement) lends the film the intimate feeling of a "home movie" though the camera work is anything but amateurish. The camera intrusively views the action from a variety of angles both distant (high angle shots from the ceiling) and intimate (among those at the dinner table). The overall effect of this vérité style is an immediacy and rawness that magnifies the film's amalgam of emotions. As a result, the characters and their dilemmas become uncomfortably real and affecting. However, it is not solely the film's aesthetic that engenders a strong emotional reaction, it is also the intelligent script populated with well drawn characters and turbulent themes.
Festen was the first film which was made adhering to the rules of the Dogme 95 manifesto or rather the Dogme movement founded by the director Thomas Vintenberg, along with Lars Von Trier. Dogme is danish for dogma. It was basically meant as a fillip to spark off an interest in unknown filmmakers by suggesting that one can make a recognized film without being dependent on commissions or huge Hollywood budgets, depending on European government subsidies and television stations instead. The movement has been criticized for being a disguised attempt to gain media attention. Dogme was initiated to cause a stir and to make filmmakers and audiences re-think the art, effect and essence of film-making.
The audience may also be more engaged as they do not have overproduction to alienate them from the narrative, themes, and mood. To this end, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg produced ten rules to which any Dogme film must conform. These rules, referred to as the "Vow of Chastity," are as follows:
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot).
3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing; shooting must take place where the film takes place).
4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)
8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
10. The director must not be credited.
Vintenberg and Von Trier have shown what it takes to attain a monk-like asceticism when it comes to film-making. The result is for all to see. Festen, a.k.a Celebration can be watched for free at

By Fazil