At the Cinema


Michael Haneke’s film won the best director prize at Cannes in 2005. The plot is simple. Georges, a successful public intellectual with his own television program, and his wife Anne receive an hours-long video tape which shows only the front of their home from across the street. The sole purpose of the tape seems to be to make them aware that they are being watched. Disturbing drawings follow. There then follows a video shot from a car. A visible street name allows them to trace the location as a run-down apartment block.

This leads Georges to the flat of Majid, an Algerian man who turns out to be someone from his past. That this visit is also being secretly recorded becomes apparent when it becomes the content of a later tape. In what appear to be flashbacks, we learn that when he was six years old, Georges’ parents were on the point of adopting Majid, the same age as Georges and the son of their Algerian farmhands. Majid’s parents had disappeared after what was called the Seine river massacre. This was an incident in 1961 during the Algerian War for Independence when demonstrators in favour of independence were shot or drowned in the Seine by the French police. The Seine river massacre was not officially acknowledged until 1998.

Georges’ parents prepare to adopt him, but disturbed by the six year old’s story that Majid killed a cockerel in order to scare him, the boy is sent to an orphanage. The disturbing drawings are connected to this incident.


La Bataille d’Algers was released in 1966, four years after Algerian independence from France. It was an Italian Algerian co-production, directed by Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, and won the Lion d’Or at the Venice Film Festival. It was initially banned in France and wasn’t shown generally until 1971 and not until 2004 uncensored.

Algeria had been invaded in 1830 and had become a part of France in 1848. The war for independence was started by the FLN in November 1954. By late 1957 the army had succeeded in dismantling the FLN organisation in Algiers but demonstrations broke out again in 1960. Tanks were deployed and civilians were shot in the street but, dismayed by the brutality of the methods used and the breadth of support, France conceded independence in 1962.

The film covers events in the city of Algiers between late 1954 and late 1957. It is shot in black and white and some of the scenes might easily be newsreel or documentary. It was filmed mostly on location in the Casbah. Ali la Pointe is shown grafting on the street and then in prison watches the execution of an FLN fighter. Radicalised by the experience he is recruited to the FLN by El-hadi Jaffar and rises in the organisation. After a sequence of bombings and shootings and reprisals, French paratroopers under the command of Colonel Phillipe Mathieu are deployed to restore order. Mathieu’s strategy succeeds. Jaffar is captured. Ali la Pointe’s hiding place is betrayed and, refusing to surrender, he is blown up. But at the end of the film this is shown to be only a temporary victory.


Winter Sleep is called Kiş Uykusu in Turkish which means something like hibernation. It is set in Kappadokya in the winter time. The landscape looked very familiar. We were there last year in the summer and stayed at a hotel built into the hillside with a similar feel to the one in the film (*). It is based on a couple of stories by Anton Chekov.

The protagonist is a former actor who has now retired to live in the centre of Anatolia. He has inherited the hotel from his father along with several properties in the village. He writes columns for the local paper which it is likely few read and plans to write a book about the history of theatre in Turkey. His name is Aydın, which means intellectual or enlightened person. He lives with his sister Necla, who has recently parted from her husband, and his much younger wife Nihal.

There are only a few guests remaining at the hotel this late in the season. When one guest notes that there are no horses at the hotel, although horses are featured on the website, Aydın is prompted to go to the horse catcher. A wild horse is lassoed by a stream, subdued and pulled from the water exhausted. Soon afterward the guest, who is travelling without a fixed itinerary by cross-country motorbike, departs unexpectedly and Aydın, perhaps in a moment of clarity, sets the horse free. It gallops away through the valley in the moonlight.



We only caught up with the films of Béla Tarr a short while ago, when we saw A torinói ló, The Turin Horse, his latest and last film. Tarr has been making films for 30 years. The Turin Horse starts with the captioned story of an incident in 1889, when Nietzsche saw a horse being whipped by a cab man in a street in Turin. He intervened, falling weeping on the animal’s neck. It was the start of his disintegration into madness and death. The story ends “We do not know what happened to the horse”.

This story may have no direct relevance to the film. The film opens with a long take of a horse driven along a road. But there is nothing to indicate that this is the same horse and we seem to be somewhere on a nameless central European plain rather than in Italy. The remainder of the film is set in the farmhouse where the cabman lives with his daughter. Each day is a repetition of the last. The daughter fetches water from the well, cooks a meal, which is always baked potato, helps her father, whose arm is injured, dress and undress. When the tasks are done, she stares out of the window at the wind battered plain. There are only two interruptions. A neighbour calls by and harangues the cabman about the influence of a mysterious they and a party of gypsies draw up noisily to drink from the well. They leave behind a book which the women read’s haltingly.

But this world is disintegrating. This is maybe the connection with the story about Nietzsche. Each morning the cabman tries to hitch the horse to the wagon but the horse refuses to move. It refuses to eat. The well dries up. They decide to leave, load everything into the cart, and the woman pushes because the horse won’t pull. They disappear over the horizon and then, with no explanation, return and unload. There is no escape. Finally the lamps will no longer light and even the sound of the wind drops away.


The film we saw at last week’s film club is called Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It is a documentary made in 2010 by Werner Herzog about the pre-historic cave paintings in the Chauvet cave in the Ardèche region of southern France. In order to preserve the paintings access is strictly limited to small scientific teams and it is not possible for the public to visit the cave. Herzog was allowed to take portable cameras, cold led lighting and a small crew into the cave.  A narrow metal walkway runs through the caves which the team had to keep to. This is to protect the cave floor which is covered in cave bear skulls and other objects. The film was made in 3D. Herzog doesn’t see the value of 3D for film-making but was persuaded it would work for this project because the cave painters took advantage of the natural contours and bulges in the rock walls. Our copy was in 2D so it is impossible to tell how much was lost of the effect of depth.


Der Himmel über Berlin is called Wings of Desire in English, and on the commentary track included with the DVD, the director Wim Wenders says that the English title is the one he prefers.

At the start we observe many Berliners and overhear their thoughts. We share the perspective of the angels, particularly Damiel and Cassiel, as they watch over the city and its inhabitants. Why are they there: to witness, to gather evidence, to testify to the inhabitant’s spiritual existence.

Peter Falk is in Berlin to make a film about the Second World War. Very little happens. Damiel thinks about becoming human, to feel the weight of things, to experience rather than to observe.

It is wonderful to exist as pure spirit and day after day and for eternity, to bear witness to what is solely spiritual in people – but sometimes my eternal spiritual existence becomes too much for me. I then want no longer to hover above, I want to feel a weight within me, abolishing limitlessness and binding me to the earth…

But sometimes I get fed up with my spiritual existence. Instead of forever hovering above I’d like to feel there’s some weight to me. To end my eternity, and bind me to earth. At each step, at each gust of wind, I’d like to be able to say: ‘Now! Now! and Now!’ And no longer say: ‘Since always’ and ‘Forever’…

Finally to “suspect”, instead of forever knowing all.


Le Quattro Volte is a piece of slow cinema, a poem rather than a play. It is set in a remote village in southern Italy. The four times, or four turns, is a reference to the Pythagorean idea of metempsychosis and the cycle of four phases of life at different levels: human, animal, plant and earth.

The human segment follows an old goat-herd as he tends his flock in the mountains by day and then follows them back to their enclosure at night. He is old and sick. An accident breaks the goat’s enclosure, and as we follow them through the town we find the goat-herd dead in his bed.

The transitions between segments are marked by fades to black. We hear before we see the animal segment beginning with the birth of a goat. This is larger scale goat farming and the goats are led out into the hills rather than followed, so that strays are not noticed. The kid, its legs tied together, cannot jump out of a ditch, and becomes separated and lost. It lies down to die under a tree.


We have seen a number of interesting films at International Film Night this year. Atanarjuat is a Canadian film. It is filmed entirely in Inuktitat, the language of the Eastern Canadian Inuit, was made in 2001, and is directed by Zacharias Kunuk. It was the first indigenous Inuit film to be produced.

It retells an Inuit legend about two brothers, Amaqjuaq, the strong one, and Atanarjuat, the fast one. At the beginning of the film they are infants. In the opening scenes, at a gathering of the clan, in the presence of a baleful shaman, Kumaglak the clan leader dies and Sauri his son is appointed the new leader. The clear implication is that Sauri has plotted his father’s murder and Tulimaq, the infant’s father, is now under threat, as is Qulitalik, the brother of Kumaglik’s wife Panikpak, who flees the clan

The film then picks them up as young men. Atarnajuat is now a rival of Oki, the son of Sauri, in a duel for Atuat, who was betrothed to Oki as a child. Atarnajuat wins the fight, a formalised contest where they alternately punch each other on the head. Though now married to Atuat, on a hunting trip Atarnajuat stops by Sauri’s camp, where he is persuaded to allow Puja, Oki’s sister, to join him on the trip. Atarnajuat is seduced by Puja thereby acquiring a second wife.


We recently watched La Règle du Jeu at the local film club. Francois Truffaut, who like other nouvelle vague directors was  inspired and influenced by Renoir, called La Règle du Jeu ‘le credo des cinéphiles, le film des films’. I interpret this to mean something like the ‘manifesto’ of film making. But if it is, it is a difficult manifesto to interpret and it is difficult to be sure of Renoir’s intentions when he made the film.

Filming on La Règle du Jeu started in mid-February 1939, and was completed by the end of March. The film opened in Paris on July 8th 1939, originally in a 94 minute version. Although some critics recognised its importance, it was not well received by the public and was a commercial failure. Renoir re-edited it down to 81 minutes, but it was banned by the French government and subsequently by the Nazis. The original negatives were destroyed in an allied bombing raid in 1942, and the film had to be re-assembled after the war. The reconstruction, completed with Renoir’s help in 1958 by Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand, was shown in 1959 at the Venice Film Festival. At 106 minutes it is longer than the version which opened in 1939. This is the version we have today.


At the weekend our local cinema ran a short season of French films as part of the annual French Arts and Film Festival. We managed to get to a few of them.

Les Emotifs Anonyme is an amusing comedy directed by Jean-Pierre Améris.  Angélique belongs to a mutual aid group for people who are very awkward in personnel relationships. She is also an anonymous master chocalatier, selling her chocolates through the shop of M. Mercier. After his death she joins, as sales-women, a failing chocolate factory run by Jan René van der Hugde, who is equally awkward, and is being helped in private sessions by a psychologist. The course the film takes is unsurprising. The secret chocolatier returns to save the business and the couple muster the composure to get married.

The lead roles are played by Isabelle Carré and Benoît Poelvoorde. We saw Poelvoorde a couple of years ago in Anne Fontaine’s film Coco avant Chanel, playing Etienne Balsan.


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