Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Appropriately for a film entitled mother!, the first word uttered onscreen is ‘baby’. It’s Grace (Jennifer Lawrence), calling not to her child, but her big egotistical baby of a husband (Xavier Bardem), self-centred ‘Great Writer’ Eli, who has lost his inspiration and left the marital bed for a miserable wander outside their remarkable house. Renovated by her after a devastating and traumatic fire, from outside it looks amazing, though most of the time we experience it only from the inside. Glimpses of the outside world are from windows or open doors, and in the same restricted way our gaze is directed almost entirely through that of Grace, either from her viewpoint or focussing on her face and feeling her reactions. There’s the constant feeling that you’re not able to witness or judge anything for yourself. Many-sided, the house is reminiscent of the central hub of an old panopticon-style Victorian prison, designed so that every wing of the gaol was visible to central controllers. And here the house itself, lovely though it is, is the prison, ours and theirs, with its mellowly coloured and softly-lit rooms around a central staircase frustratingly only ever part-revealing themselves.

Knocks on the door of such a place always mean trouble, and here it comes in the form of Ed Harris’s ‘orthopaedic surgeon’, looking for a bed for the night. He seems a regular guy, though that’s a nasty cough he’s got, and he soon reveals himself to be a devoted fan of Eli, who jovially welcomes him in, somewhat against the instincts of his wife. The grip of a creeping unease is cracked open by the arrival of his wife the next morning. It’s Michelle Pfeiffer in enjoyably cynical Anne Bancroft form, who doesn’t take long getting tipsy and over-personal with the lady of the house. Now mayhem begins to take over as any power and control Grace might hold slips out of her fingers as her husband’s creative self starts to become renewed. The usual tropes of the bad house vibes that ensue – mysterious doors, odd sounds in the night, body parts in the toilet bowl, are suddenly cranked up by anarchic human behaviour, when the two Gleeson boys, Domhnall and Brian, as sons of the interloping couple, preposterously turn up to have a fight. WTF?? At this point you may feel the need to emit loud, unbelieving, nervous laughter. Save the muffled screams for later, because soon no nerve will be left unshredded, as Grace the interior decorator discovers the folly of over-thorough investigation of a blood stain, not to mention not properly bracing a sink (you just wait for that one).

What follows is very hard to sit through, partly because we feel so much that we’re inside the film, and the house, ourselves, identifying with Grace even as we egg her on to be more forceful. Some of the commonest anxieties get triggered – the invasion of our house (and personal space); the dark; bullying; and even the awkwardnesses of social etiquette – how do you tell the people your husband has invited that they’re not welcome if it’s in your nature to be polite? There’s a truly horrible claustrophobia as we long to get outside – the house, the cinema – as the breathless fury of the filming grabs hold of you, whirls you around in those spaces. The enclosed oppressiveness of Repulsion or Cul-De-Sac, with its black humour too, Rosemary’s Baby, even The Shining, with its blocked writer and a building itself a mute conniving witness to the horrors within, all are echoed here.

Like being consciously trapped in a dream you can’t shake yourself out of, you know it’s all preposterous. And how much more preposterous can it get?? Well lots. But when it comes to gut reaction, the preposterousness doesn’t matter, in fact it adds to the general unease – how far will this mad, inspired director go? Even when he seems to be ignoring  all rules of plot and bringing a same scenario back again, so you might for a moment think he’s blown it and doesn’t know where to go next, he pulls it off. His audacity is boundless, even while your sensible brain knows it’s all too much.

Bardem, an actor I often find too melodramatic, is for once perfect for the crazy, infuriating contrariness his role demands, and Lawrence, with her expressive, madonna face straight off a medieval fresco, yet still a face which we are used to seeing onscreen as feisty, bold and self-possessed, is ever watchable, conveying self-doubt, passive suffering and shyness, roused all too late, and turns us into her.

Many chins have been knowledgeably stroked in attempts to give serious meaning to this story. It’s overloaded almost to meltdown with metaphor and allegory – archetypal parent figures, the destructive quality of the creative process, the evils of celebrity, male ego, the unfulfillable demands of others, the spoiling of perfection by crass humanity, a feminist parable, an archetypal myth of birth and destruction… it goes on, but all adds to the circus, and the true delight is in recognising some of these but still loving the scariest switchback ride you’ll have for a long time. So fasten your seatbelts; it’s going be a bumpy night. You’ll need to sit for a few minutes as the credits pass, to catch your breath and hook your lower jaw back onto the upper one. And remember – it’s only a movie, and this is what movies can do.

Seen at Empire Cinema,  Sunderland, 15 September 2017


London Symphony

Directed by Alex Barrett

In the 1920s a form of cinematic documentary arose which came to be called ‘city symphonies’. While literally ‘documenting’ the actuality of urban life in specific cities – Berlin, Amsterdam, New York, Paris among others – they did far more, finding abstraction and emotion in the images themselves and utilising the montage technique of their juxtaposition, creating a new kind of poetic cinema. After the coming of sound the form all but disappeared with the new flowering of documentary using commentary or sound recorded in situ. Alex Barrett has taken us back to this early form with a black and white silent film in 4 movements accompanied by a score by James McWilliam, showing a London familiar but strangely distanced, at times exotic, and beautiful.

The film has no agenda other than providing a portrait of this city. Like Wordsworth’s Thames under Westminster Bridge, it flows at its own sweet will, segueing from old to new buildings, from the abstract patterns of brutalist architecture to printing blocks to phone boxes, from cycling to rowing to water, from tidy garden produce shows to food markets to a slick of vomit outside a door. From memorials for combatants to those for refugees.

The first movement is all urgency and movement, a changing city of ancient and modern buildings bedecked with cranes on its skyline, the trudging crowds in the tubes, transport and movement of those with something to do, somewhere to go, work or leisure. The second movement takes a more pastoral turn, with dreamy music and images of what you might think is the countryside. Wild life, parkland, thence to a produce show, figures, for the most part relaxed, in landscapes. There a solitude, rather than a loneliness, about the single figures Barrett‘s camera settle in on, a man on a park bench laughing at his phone, exercisers and walkers. In what is one of the few overtly political moments we go from luxury dining at Bibendum to a food bank where basics are ticked off on a list, packed up into bags and handed over, a sequence which shows only hands and moving bodies at work as briskly as the kitchen staff we’ve just seen preparing top end dishes.

Hands. The human hand is so busy, preparing food, gesticulating, blessing, paying, working keyboards, boxing, as busy as the feet tramping the tube escalators or park paths or pounding the pavements shopping. But just when the franticness becomes almost oppressive, along comes a serene view of water, a graceful building, or the permanence of a sculptured figure of public art, a row of shop models, or a religious image, which seem to look gravely out over the dashing mortals with a knowingness of mortality. London, the city, is there, made by us but destined to survive us. It’s seen it all before, and it knows how futile the getting and spending, the urge towards constant movement, is. If the spirit of Wordsworth lies within the film, so does that of Eliot, with the crowds flowing over the bridges, so many, and the ‘Teach us to sit still’ of the sections moving between the varied religious centres in the third movement, each with their quiet contemplation. This extends to temples of culture, where museums both engage their visitors in thought and do their own version of the marketing the shopping-bag-carrying hordes have fallen victim to. Meanwhile in the libraries, the books representing wisdom stand dizzyingly row on row like architecture themselves.

In the fourth movement we’re back again in the urgent crowds, crossing the river on bridges, under it through tunnels, on boats and trains. And then more water, the rain, the city at the mercy of nature, up go the umbrellas and on go the macs as we plod along the puddled pavements. Finally comes the night, beautiful and exciting, shiny with promise in the dark, sordid with its clubs, thrilling with its theatreland, in a nice classic old Hollywood-style montage of theatre signs, promising the inexhaustable nature of the city as glamorous entertainer. A time when people come together. Shame there’s nothing of those in the box you step over when you leave the theatre, but maybe that would be too easy a point to make. Then back home down the urban street, and the film ends on the image of something from beyond the city, an urban fox, glaring then stealing away, unafraid. Within and all around the city there is still the natural world, untouchable.

Much as the film is a hymn to London, it’s even more one to city life. And whether you love that or hate it you can’t fail to be moved. There are few of the standard ‘tourist’ come-ons to the city, and one of the joys is to recognise little obscure corners that are familiar, or pick up clues to search out what you see. So much is intensely beautiful – many of the images would make terrific individual photographs in themselves – and it rewards a second viewing, when you spot not just its subtle motifs but also the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quirks. What’s more it has an intense empathy with its figures. A city is made up of its built and living components, and though we may look and act as a crowd, every individual touched on, from the man in the inexplicable hat in the tube concourse to the one who has foraged for sticks on his walk in the park, exists in his own world. And that thrilling nausea that sometimes comes over you as your train approaches the seething centre of the Great Wen, a kind of panic at the enormity and complexity of the city, is here thrill you too.

For screenings of the film (alas, none in the North East) see



Final Portrait

Directed by Stanley Tucci

This fine-looking and delicate chamber piece (literally – it’s mostly shot in the confines of a studio) tells of an encounter between artist and critic, Europe and America, old and young, when in early-60s Paris the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti embarked upon a portrait of his great admirer James Lord, a young American art critic. But it’s the great artist himself that the film soon becomes a portrait of. An affectionate study of a difficult man. Geoffrey Rush makes a fine Giacometti, his huge head and billowing features as compulsively hawk-like as so many of his creations. In contrast Armie Hammer’s open and classically handsome face, so apparently difficult to capture the essence of, is that of the innocent American beloved of so many stories of the hapless New World visitor bamboozled by wily Europe. Lord’s composed manner and neat suit-and-tie look are wildly at odds with the world of the artist he admires. Each time Lord enters the studio by its peeling blue door, which becomes almost a character in its own right, he steps into a different world, half magic, half frustratingly bereft of logic, where with his politeness and deference to the great artist he’s powerless.

The portrait just never gets finished, Giacometti perpetually crying an exasperated ‘FUCK!’ and painting out the work to start again. The imperfectability of art? The impossibility of capturing another person’s essence? Or, more likely, a power play as Giacometti tries to hold on to his sitter and prolong the project, hanging on to the affable relationship and pleasure of an admiring young person’s company? Lord becomes increasingly frustrated at not being able to get away back to his own life, and their relationship begins to take on aspects (though always good-naturedly), of a duel.

Though the dusty studio is the central point round which the drily amusing action pivots, there are other distractions: Alberto’s sensible brother Diego, a quietly brilliant performance by Tucci’s old co-actor from Big Night Tony Shalhoub; the women in Giacometti’s life, his chirpy faithful mistress and model Annette, (Sophie Testud) and ditzy Caroline (Clémence Poésy, whose seductively irregular teeth, by the way, show the utter folly of the current craze for dental perfection), who brings in a whiff of the dangerous Parisian underworld outside the blue door. And then there’s the heady look of the thing. Keeping a blue-grey palette throughout, Tucci has a real eye for the beauty of the worn and the down-at-heel, as well as pulling out some bravado shots of the frustrated Lord liberating himself into the liquid blue of the swimming pool, which at one point morphs into the gorgeous new ceiling of the Opéra. At 90 minutes it’s a perfect length for this snapshot of an episode of when two very different lives came together and nothing much happened, full of warmth and humour and the oddness and complexity of the creative process.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, August 2017


P’tit Quinquin

A look back to Dumont’s earlier, more disturbing, comedy, as seen at the 2014 London Film Festival

If you’re acquainted with Dumont’s previous austere, disturbing work at all, you might be surprised, as I was, to see that this film is scheduled in the ‘Laugh’ strand of the festival. What’s more, it was made as a 4-part TV series, another thing that seems at odds with Dumont’s very cinematic style. Whatever it’s provenance, though, to me the 200 minutes was a box of delights – the best kind, the kind that occasionally snaps at your hand the further you dib in.

It tells of a series of increasingly bizarre crimes in the rural landscape of the northern French coast – a landscape we first see in all its unexceptional prettiness stretching beyond a large farmyard dungheap – as ominous as you like to make it.

Quinquin, played by the marvellous Alane Delhaye in as good a performance as I’ve seen all year, is a young rascal who lives on a farm near the crime scenes, a watchful, hard-faced scallywag in the mould of young Antoine Doinel of the 400 Blows, and just like Jean-Pierre Léaud, you can’t take your eyes off him every time he’s onscreen. But like many of the characters here, there are two sides to his nature, and his scenes with his great friend/love Eve he shows an almost unbearable tenderness. In fact their chaste embraces are some of the most intense and affecting I’ve seen for a long time onscreen. Together as they so often are with Eve riding on the back of his bike, they have the look of one powerful creature out of myth. Equally ambiguous is the local police chief Van de Weyden (Bernard Pruvost), a bumbling whimsical fellow with a vast and impressive range of facial tics, who nevertheless sometimes speaks wisdom, and seems to connect wih Quinquin.

Physical, or mental, quirks – though that really is putting it mildly – afflict so many of the characters: Quinquin’s Uncle Dany, newly returned from the mental hospital, staggers and whirls around the farmyard, perpetually on the point of falling. Quinquin’s grandfather sets the table by hurling china and cutlery onto it. The priest and his fussy sidekick giggle uncontrollably while conducting a funeral service (no one seems to mind) where the floppy-haired organist plays with as great a panache as if he were at an opera house. An English tourist throws an autistic tantrum inn a seaside café. A cousin of Eve’s, a kind of uber-scallywag, appears out of nowhere dressed as a kind of spiderman and hurls himself opimistically at walls, hoping to scale them. Wonderfully, one time it works. Even Carpentier, de Weyden’s sensible lieutenant, has fantasies about driving his police car on two wheels. And just when you’ve forgotten about it, he does. Most characters totter and stagger and go crooked, even the self-confident lads trip about over the shingle of the beach, as if there’s no stability, no real security on this earth.

Others are too still, troubled and impenetrable behind their odd faces. There’s a perpetual background of anomie (as demonstrated in a savage dodgem ride), and this takes over the film, a madness some what one would call clinical, some totally mundane, (never have majorettes or crap pop songs seemed so unnerving) and little sense of any distinction between. Animals have strange powers – are the cows really ‘mad’? And watch out for those pigs! La commédie humaine and la bête humaine inextricably entwined. This unsteady world is so fascinating that it distracts from the puzzle of the actual killings, which you almost forget about, it seems there can never be a solution.

Funny and frightening coexist in a sometimes savage way, but there are moments of great beauty too, such as the white horses, whose appearance is as numinous and affecting as were Quinquin and Eve’s embraces, and Van de Weyden’s half childlike half erotic delight in them is more touching than disturbing. Trapped in their modes of behaviour, so many are dealing with the great fissure between what is expected of them and what they are – Van Weyden ‘acts’ the policeman, the young moslem acts the fanatic when his attempts at being part of the community fail, the churchmen act their part but can’t sustain it. Seeing through these cracks is troubling and liberating. Only Eve seems untroubled, sound in her self belief. Though made as a 4-part series the whole thing seems to me to work perfectly as one single, intense, cinema experience.

The company of mostly first-time actors do wonders, but supreme is the young Delhaye as Quinquin, a face and a presence we have to see again.

Written October 2014

Slack Bay (Ma Loute)


Directed by Bruno Dumont

Dumont, that most unexpected of comedy film makers, is back in his beloved Pas de Calais for what you might call another take on the same scenario as his masterpiece of 2014, P’tit Quinquin. To expect such brilliance twice would be too much, maybe, but Slack Bay is great entertainment, even if it does not challenge and amaze in quite the same way. Quinquin-lite, you might say. We have again two bumbling detectives, again mysterious deaths among the dunes and cliffs and water-colour skies, again a set of oddball, quirky-looking characters, again young love. But this time the crimes are less grotesque, the detectives less darkly funny, the people less physically odd, the young love less intense and shorter-lived. And this time, we have the posh folk .

The action takes place in 1910, where we meet two disparate social sets of people. There’s little sense of any intent towards social criticism, both are extreme caricatures, the caricatures they would make of each other. The poor live by mussel gathering and ferrying folk across an inlet in their little boat, or when the tide is down by, to their surprise, carrying them bodily across. Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville), a long-faced youth and his family of dour parents and perpetually scrapping little brothers, are a grim-faced, graceless, unreadable lot, whose unsavoury meat larder soon makes it evident that the ferry service has too often proved a one-way trip.

Meanwhile the upper class representatives, arriving at their holiday villa, an Egyptian art deco style pile called the Typhonium, to spend the summer, are equally grotesque in the opposite direction, loud, physically excessive, exuding false charm. First to arrive is André (Fabrice Lucchini) flapping along grimacing on twisty legs with knees that seem permanently locked together, and his wife Isabelle (Valeria Bruno Tedeschi). She might seem somewhat over the top, but pales into insignificance at the arrival of Audrey, André’s sister, Juliet Binoche enjoying herself tremendously, splendidly operatic in her expansive enthusiasms and hysteria.

It’s a very odd family indeed, laced with casual incest. It turns out the most sensible and normal, oddly, is Audrey’s mysterious child Billie (Raph), enigmatic and of fluid gender, appearing randomly as a beautiful boy in the Tadzio mould or handsome girl, a fact that seems to go unnoticed by the family. Meanwhile there’s a watchful, disdainful maid at their not-at- all-homely holiday home, and and a pair of Laurel and Hardy detectives, Machin and Malfoy, the fat one of whom swells with each unsolved case, to the point where he defies gravity, while the dapper ‘Laurel’ maintains an uncannily unflappable sangfroid throughout.

Romance soon blossoms between Billie and Ma Loute, a core of something beautiful in the midst of so much craziness, providing the sole intense moment, a straight echo from P’tit Quinquin, where Ma Loute and Billie declare their love for each other in a moment of rare stillness where time seems to stand still. This is ‘slack’ bay, though, and nothing still or intense stays that way.

P’tit Quinquin posed questions, bothered your civilised little mind, engraved its images into your heart. In the end Slack Bay is mostly a ball, there’s nothing gnawing at you, nothing to feel guilty about, and though it has its longueurs, it’s hugely entertaining.

Seen June 2017


Jonathan Teplitsky

One very good reason for going to this film is to see how the magnificent Brian Cox tackles playing Churchill. To be honest, there aren’t many other reasons for going. He’s certainly got the chops for the part, in every way, and does a powerful job against the odds with rather dull and ponderous material that never really progresses or elaborates on its basic situation.

Covering a brief period just before and after D-Day, it concerns itself with the great man’s doubts about letting the invasion go ahead, as he agonises about it becoming a repeat of the disaster of Gallipoli 30 years earlier, for which he, as a young minister, was to a great extent responsible. (In fact that engagement was studied as a model of what not to do in a seaborn land assault, so it did play its part.) ‘A bloodbath’ is what he continually calls the Normandy plans, and we see him first on a beach, stomping along in Churchillian profile, jutting jaw and paunch, having a fit of the horrors as the waves seem to bring a tide of blood up over the sands.

After his over-ruling by a determined trio of military experts – General Eisenhower supported by Field Marshalls Montgomery and Brooke – the invasion goes ahead, ignoring his vague mutterings about opening up a second front instead, and all he can do is lie impotently on his bed, or stomp around getting scant sympathy from Clementine. Blame it on the script, but has Miranda Richardson ever been so dull onscreen? Apart from one Blackadder moment of an ironic twist to her lips, she’s the glum dutiful wartime wife, exasperated with but supportive of her big baby of a husband. It’s certainly a great performance by Cox, his craggy face at first as fascinatingly watchable as a dramatic weathered landscape, its clints and grykes frozen with apprehension or looking about to crack along its fissures with agony. But sadly the lines he has to deliver and the repetition of the same round of fears, flash backs and agonising settles into a rut.

By settling in on Churchill as a character, there’s an opportunity lost to muse on how this was a pivot on which the balance of military power between the UK and US tottered and came down on the other side of the Atlantic. We were no longer to be in charge of our own military decisions. Sadly this idea isn’t taken very far at all, it’s all personalised into Churchill’s own agonised sensibilities. There’s a rather tame little side-plot involving a goggle-eyed secretary and her fiancé who’s a midshipman in the invasion force, which attempts to link with the reality of the invasion and cast a good light on the bloodbath aspect, but it’s lukewarm and soapy. Fiancé is OK, the invasion is a done deal, and all the film seems interested in is Churchill’s personal relief. Even though all the time you scarcely forget it’s not him you’re drawn in by but Brian Cox’s epic portrayal.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema Newcastle, June 2017


Transilvania International Film Festival 2017 Part 4

10/11 June

Saturday is the day of the Awards Ceremony here. Winner of the Romanian Days Best Feature Film was Radu Jude’s INIMI CICATRIZATE (SCARRED HEARTS), which I’d already seen at the London Film Festival last October. Jude’s previous film, Aferim! was one of the best films of 2015, a totally original black and white, expansive take on C19th life in Romania, full of life and melancholy and meditation on society. Here he restricts rather than opening up his world. Scarred Hearts is set almost entirely inside a sanatorium on the Back Sea Coast in the late thirties, where we follow a young Jewish student, Emanuel (Lucian Teodor Rus), for treatment of tuberculosis of the spine.

Based on the semi-autobiographical writings of Max Blecher, it creates a claustrophobic world by using a starkly containing 1.37:1 format, with a mostly static camera, closing in the perspective rather in the way that being in a hospital bed limits one’s vision of life around. Many of the patients are totally encased in plaster, as was the procedure then, and are therefore mostly seen at angles only in lying-down positions, the consequence being an uneasy inability to relate to them as people in the way we usually do in films. An exception is the beautiful, successfully cured Solange (Ivana Mladenovic), who revisits the wards like a fresh breeze from real life, and becomes an object of yearning for Emanuel. With echoes of the enclosed febrile world of The Magic Mountain, conversations are a mixture of erudition, romance and silliness, lively young minds, though Emanuel can be somewhat irritating in the way of a brash sixth former who has just discovered philosophy. But it gradually dawns on us, however breezily the procedures are explained by the ever-optimistic doctor, that recovery is rare, and slow decline is the norm.

The film follows Aferim! in its meticulous recreation of a historic way of life, the medical procedures, the surroundings, the attitudes, but also uses its audience’s knowledge of what was to come, always subtly aware of scarcely mentioned anti-semitic feeling, and its resonance for the future of the country. And the jokey visits of Emanuel’s wealthy parents bear the burden of what we know will soon come to those families in the outside world just as death might come to the young residents. At 140 minutes it’s detrimentally too long, but hangs around in your mind afterwards to a surprising degree.

One of the admirable things about Jude as a director is that he’s always surprising from one film to another, particularly in form, but always very much grounded in analysis of his country. His latest is a documentary, illuminating to see here alongside Scarred Hearts. The Romanian Holocaust, at its worst in the north east of the country, is still very much an unknown, both inside and outside the country, but it was responsible for the deaths of more than half of the Jewish population by the end of World War II, when a xenophobia fed by rising nationalism was encouraged and harnessed by the Fascists in command. TARA MOARTA (THE DEAD NATION) is an essay using a collection of still photographs by Costica Axinte of the people of one small Romanian town in the 30s and 40s. Family groups, young people larking around, children, contented spouses, and increasingly soldiers, mostly at leisure, fooling about with guns or posing on equipment, and funerals. It all looks so innocent and ordinary. But over this lies a soundtrack of readings from the journal of a Jewish doctor over the same period telling of his personal experience of the creeping rise of anti-semitism and its effect on his life and the life of his town, from casual incivilities to looting, starvation, deportation and murder. A hard watch, that deserves to be seen both internally and elsewhere.

Other winners included Icelander Gudmundur Arnar Gudmunsson’s HEARTSTONE as Best Director; THE LAST KALDERASH for Romanian Days debut Award; GODS’ OWN COUNTRY won Special Jury Award; AFTERLOVE (Stergios Paschos), the Fipresci Prize; and from Georgia’s young female director Nana Ekvtimisvili and Simon Gross’s CHEMI BEDINIERI OJAKHI (MY HAPPY FAMILY), won both the Transilvanian Trophy as well as Best Performance prize for Ia Shugliashvili (reviewed below). Special guest for the Lifetime Achievement Award was Alain Delon, whose presence at the festival was clearly a source of utter bliss for so many Romanians, and who revealed his charm is undiminished. His remarkably ecstatic reception to and from engagements and on the evening itself was explained to me by a young Clujean as being that for his parents’ generation he, along with so many of the western European stars, was a symbol of so much that they were missing in the restricted world of arts and entertainment. And the fondness remains.

The day after the Awards is a quiet day in the city, the omnipresent traffic diminished, folk in their best clothes having a wander after church and families sitting at leisurely lunches at pavement restaurants or tasting the Cabbage a la Cluj or Tripe Soup at the Varzaria, an old Cluj institution from Communist days. The Central Park a pleasant place to stroll and relax, sitting around in the grass, lolling in hammocks or pedalo-ing on the lake.

It’s also a day to try to mop up any film you haven’t seen, so there was time to catch CHEMI BEDINIERI OJAKHI (MY HAPPY FAMILY), Transilvania Prize winner. It’s a slow-burn, deep look at an apparently simple situation. In Tbilisi, Manana (Ia Shugliashvili), a woman in her 50s, announces to her family that she is moving out to live alone. In the cramped flat live her husband, ageing parents and two grown-up children, with the almost perpetual presence of one or other of their current partners, as well as other relatives dropping in, but that’s only a small aspect of her desire to get away. Manana can’t explain her reasons, cannot even, maybe, define them herself, but never budges from her determination, even though it means moving into a dodgy area and a flat that’s a little short on creature comforts. Selfish, petty and just plain baffled, relations bombard her from all sides – it’s her duty to live with them and share their lives and problems; has she found someone else; is she having a breakdown; how can she prefer anything to living with them; can she manage alone? One family member even asks the older neighbours at her new apartment to keep an eye on her welfare. Even friends make assumptions about her marriage falling apart in a more conventional way.

It seems initially like an old-fashioned feminist fable, but has the sense not to bludgeon with a message or overstate its case. The possibility of being alone, operating independently, just for its own sake, is something even now society is still reluctant to give, especially to women, and particularly those who have already given so much of their own lives to others. The ‘room of one’s own’ is needed not just for creativity but for freedom itself. It’s not just the family who need to be set aside – an old school reunion begins to pall with its embroiling memories and gossip. And do Georgians, particularly men, feel the need to break into harmonised singing every time they have a few drinks? (It’s charming to witness though.) Performances all round, and in particular Shugliashvili’s, are simply brilliant, naturalistic and non-demonising, as is the hand-held camera work in such confined settings giving a feeling of Manana’s oppression. These directors, and new Georgian film, seem like ones to watch.


Being at a film festival sometimes seems like being in a happy, privileged, bubble. I returned to the UK on the evening of Tuesday 13th June. It was a lovely mellow late evening as I crossed the canal at Paddington to the friend’s place where I was staying the night. About a mile away in a 24-storey tower block kids were worrying about their exams tomorrow, parents putting their babies to bed and hoping for an undisturbed night, ordinary people finishing their meals, drinking tea, texting, noticing the streaky summer’s night through the window, leaving the washing-up till tomorrow, ironing, working or playing games on their computers, dozing in front of the 10 o’clock news, setting their alarms. Tomorrow will be different.