A Toute Epreuve: More Than A Book

Really interesting short documentary on A Toute Epreuve, a book of poetry that was created by surrealist painter and sculptor Joan Miro, conceiving of the book as a form of sculpture and each illustration as a work of art.

The book was created in collaboration with Paul Eluard, the French surrealist poet. He composed the poetry in 1930, inspired by Miro’s hometown of Barcelona. Miro then took a decade working on creating his book. With a cover of wooden board, the book is composed of folded paper, with illustrations made from India ink prints from woodcuts. The whole thing took years to make, sculpting each of the cherrywood blocks just so. Miro was meticulous in what he wanted on each page, how it should interact with the text, and how it should fold together as a three-dimensional object.

It was also fascinating to see the book’s conservation. Everything has been kept, the woodcuts, the tracing paper used to create them, the different versions of the pages, as Miro worked out what would go where. All is taken pristine care of, and preserved for the future.

Really interesting look into such a unique object.

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Architectures In Silence

Architectures In Silence is a short film combining shots of an abandoned dog track with historical silent footage of architects Le Corbusier and Antoni Bonet with their thoughts on architecture on black title cards.

I didn’t like it. I had a think about what I didn’t like. Was it the architecture of the building, the Canodrom of Meridiana? Was it the pure insufferable chat about art between the two famous guys? Was it the style it was filmed in? It’s hard to nail down. It just left one word ringing in my head and that word was:

Wank.

And it’s not like I can’t sit and watch narrativeless films, I have and for much longer, and I do enjoy them, their stillness and space for contemplation. And it’s not that I don’t enjoy stuff about architecture or art or folk wanging on about it, coz I also definitely do. And I’ve seen other stuff by this director I’ve liked, so it’s not like that’s the problem.

This film just doesn’t work for me. It’s just not for me. Despite it only being 10 minutes long, I found it wearing, and didn’t get much from it. I don’t know if there’s much more to it than that – I didn’t like it.

Los Tarantos

Los Tarantos is a flamenco version of Romeo and Juliet set in Franco’s Spain. It is great fun. Everybody is dancing all the time. The Romeo character goes to his mum and is like, Mum, I love Juana!, and the maw’s like, No, she is from a rival clan and I will dance the dance of my hatred for them! And Juana’s like, I love your son, let me show you the depth of my love through dance! And the mum’s like, I forgive you, let us dance the dance of reconciliation. It’s brill.

It stars Carmen Amaya, the greatest flamenco dancer of her time, as the mother of Rafael (Romeo). Rafael was played by Daniel Martin, who also went on to be a great flamenco dancer, so the dancing in it is top notch.

The Montagues and Capulets of the tale are the Los Zorongas and Los Tarantos, feuding gypsy clans encamped in the Somorrostro district of Barcelona. Long ago, old Zoronga and old Taranto were rivals in love for Angustias (Carmen Amaya), but she married Taranto and had, by the looks of it when you first see their house, a million children. Jealousy ate at Zoronga until he dobbed Taranto into the fascist police, ridding himself of a rival and getting rewarded with cash in the process. Now he is a rich man, owning his own stables, and keeping company with the Pacoas, who helped him hand over Taranto to be killed, and who are all round bad eggs. While Angustias is left to raise her and Taranto’s kids with very little, poor as they are, they are nonetheless rich with love, music and dance. But a hatred for Los Zorongas burns in her heart.

The film begins when Curro Pacoas, a shitestirrer and brute, incites a fight by taking Zoronga’s son Jero to harass Los Tarantos selling paper flowers and overturning a wagon with a mother holding a baby inside. Jero is wounded in the fight and asks his father to take revenge on all Los Tarantos. His father sees that Curro and Jero were the ones clearly at fault and tells them to just mind their own business.

Meanwhile Rafael is dragged to a party by his friend, Mojigondo, who has hooked them up with a couple of tourists. To get into their pants, Moji takes them dancing in the Somorrostro, a gypsy encampment which became a shanty town district of Barcelona. Rafael half-heartedly follows, but once there, is struck by the beauty of one of the dancers.

Juana (Juliet) is the daughter of old Zoronga, and is there celebrating the wedding of her cousin. This involves showering the naked bride in her bed with flowers. Her cousin then gifts one of the flowers to Juana, telling her she will meet the man of her dreams one day. Juana goes outside to dance with her clan. There she sees Rafael and instantly falls in love.

They try to marry, but don’t have the papers. Rafael tells his mother of his love and Juana comes to beg for his mother’s blessing of their union. Although initially appalled, she knows all too well what strife in love feels like, and relents, admitting Juana is a good girl, blameless for her father’s faults.

However old Zoronga is having none of it, and locks Juana away in his mansion. Two weans have to sneak her a homing pigeon so she can send a message of her love to Rafael. Kids in the future will simply not believe that this was the equivalent of texting while grounded.

When this doesn’t work to split them up, Zoronga puts it about that he has betrothed her to Curro. It is Zoronga’s hope that one or both of them will grow despondent and give up their quest to be together, but Curro uses it as ammo to fuel further violence. When he can’t get a rise out of Rafael, he kills his friend Moji. Curro fully intends to take Juana as his wife, and when she steadfastly declares her love for Rafael, he beats her and attempts to rape her.

As the film reaches its climax, will the mad dog Curro be contained? Will Zoronga put Juana’s safety above his own pride? Will true love win out?

Great wee film, with cracking dancing.

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Belle (The Dragon and the Freckled Princess)

When the credits rolled on Belle, it was a standing ovation. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Spectacular.

Belle is the story of a shy young girl whose avatar becomes the biggest singing sensation in the online world of U. When her concert is interrupted by the renegade user labelled The Beast, she is the only voice of understanding and patience in a firestorm of backlash. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast for the internet age, its message of not letting appearance blind you to someone’s character, emotions and value, is perfect for the era of trolls, doxxing, and global shaming.

Everything about this is just 100%. The rich and imaginative world, the gorgeous character design, the music which is going straight on my Spotify, everything is just brilliant. The emotional rawness of the characters, even when having comedy moments, is just done perfectly. Despite how small the challenges might seem from the outside, like singing in front of people or telling someone how you feel, the film manages to transport you into the character’s shoes, where that small step seems like a chasm leap. And however it might seem to others, it takes all one’s bravery to take it.

Just a brilliant film. I am so glad I got to see it in the cinema, because this really is one to see on the big screen. The huge vistas, the scale, the intricacy, it just blows you away.

Rust

Rust is a short documentary profiling the work of sculptor Mariola Wawrzusiak-Borcz. She uses scrap metal to create sculptures of animals, insects and the natural world.

Mariola is driven by a love of nature. She loves to go out camping, exploring the wilderness with her dogs. In recycling metal waste into art, there is an environmental purpose as well as an artistic one. Mariola wants to highlight that our constant cycle of consumption and waste is impacting our natural life systems. That we throw this rusted metal away, but there is no ‘away’.

The animals in her sculptures are typically alert, or frightened, perhaps going into a defensive stance. Again it reflects the intrusion of human impact, the reaction of the natural to the unnatural, these living beings made now from processed material.

It’s also a message about mortality. This metal is already rusted out, thrown away as worthless. We have taken all these resources out of the earth, all to produce an item which we are discarding in a few short years. It is a blink in the timescale of the ancient earth. And we, as people and a species, are also but a blink. What legacy do we want to leave? As we rust, rot and fade, do we want the mark we leave to be a world filled with junk, a permanently damaged biosphere?

Mariola considers there to be both a beauty and an ugliness in her sculptures, as there is in mankind. The least we can do with all the waste we are littering the world with is turn it into art. Leave it like the cave paintings when we are gone. I imagine her birds and wolves surrounded by green in our absence, like totems of old gods.

Really interesting film, short but substantive.

Manuscript to the City

The filmmaker moves from Barcelona to Buenos Aires and begins filming her new city. However, after 8 months of doing so, the city remains a stranger through her lens.

The film ends with the filmmaker expressing dissatisfaction with what she captured, and I think that’s palpable throughout. It’s like the camera is not big enough for what she wants to capture, like she is seeing the city through a keyhole. There’s something about the frame that is almost claustrophobic.

Of course, the filmmaker is projecting her own experience, feeling as though the city is a stranger when it is her who is a stranger in the city. She finds all the people she shoots distant, but it is her shooting from a distance that has created that space. She is frustrated that she cannot capture a sense of engagement with the city, yet she is entirely absent from all but the final shot. Some shots feel so detached, you almost feel like the camera was just set up on a stand and left. It makes you realise that a filmmaker can make just as much of an impact by their absence as by their presence.

A project the filmmaker clearly only thinks of as a partial success, it still has something to tell us about the filmmaking experience, and the sense of detachment of being new to a city.

GFF update

Ooh, the GFF is defo gonna continue to have an online component this year. Pretty pleased about that, coz it’ll give a bit of flexibility. Plus, it’ll mean folk not in Glasgow can tune into some of the great films. I think the online thing went far better for them last year than they expected, so it’s good to see its return.

Full info at https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival/latest/news/first-screenings-announced-for-hybrid-edition-of-glasgow-film-festival-2022

I Burn Easily

I Burn Easily is a feminist revenge story, told in 5 episodes that form a short film. It is about 3 friends who take a body positive topless selfie, only to have it be appropriated by a misogynistic website that displays it for online hate and pornography. The friends then decide how to handle to situation.

I Burn Easily is a lot of things. In horror, you get the rape-revenge subgenre, and this is it on a smaller scale in an online setting. It’s also a social commentary about women’s bodies being inherently politicised, and subject to violence. It’s also an experimental art piece, using filters and emojis to create an integrated online/offline sense of experience. It also features confessional-style videos, talking about love, or its lack, or its idea.

I found it interesting and ambitious. I liked the clear narrative still existing within an otherwise quite experimental and freeform film. It focuses on the online environment in which women find connection and solidarity, as well as violence and hatred. So by taking the situation in their own hands in I Burn Easily, the women are taking back their online space.

Really interesting short film.

Broken Head

Broken Head is a documentary which follows Andrzej, a prison inmate, who, coming off the back of a suicide attempt, decides to pursue therapy. We’re gonna put a pin in the ethics of that, and come back to it later.

Andrzej has spent his life in and out of prison, addicted to various drugs, mostly amphetamines. He chews his lips, and his mouth is marked with scabs. He’s trying to get clean for good, but he hasn’t got much experience on how to handle his emotions without getting high. He misses his girlfriend, who he is struggling to make tenuous contact with from inside.

The film begins with him having tried to slit his own throat. He is offered therapy, which he finds helpful, if overwhelming. The therapy is teaching him to identify his emotions, so he can anticipate them, and mitigate behaviour patterns that lead to negative outcomes. The first step is the hardest – to just identify what he is feeling. All he is able to grasp clearly is his anger, all other emotions are vague notions. On a social level, this is because we raise boys to consider expressing any emotion, other than anger, as unmasculine. So they lose the tools for necessary introspection and articulation. On a personal level, Andrzej grew up in an abusive household with an alcoholic father, so no one really gave a fuck what he felt. Meaning he grew to adulthood without ever really being given the tools to assess his emotional state, or believing it was a priority.

Andrzej finds therapy overwhelming, but hopeful. For the first time he feels he’s making progress to an envisionable future where he is not on drugs, and can maybe make a stable home with his girlfriend. He wants to have a child with her, make a family, create that safe and loving homelife he was denied.

But how is he going to react when another inmate points out to him that kids aren’t tools you use to fix your own issues? Or when his girlfriend starts to pull away? Or the therapy sessions schedule is interrupted?

This film is really good at getting you genuinely care about someone who might not pose the most sympathetic subject. Andrzej is in jail for a reason, he’s a violent drug addict, and he is the first to admit that he is there because of his own bad choices, his own bad behaviour. He doesn’t make any excuses, and is even touchy about being labelled an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, being defensive on his father’s behalf. He knows his own behaviour put him where he is, but he honestly doesn’t know how to change. The elation he feels when therapy provides him with that chance is easy to empathise with.

And the film feels very paired back, allowing you to feel what you want about what you are seeing. There’s no massive score trying to tell you how you should feel or saccharin stylistic manipulations. It’s just very intimate and very bald.

However, I am now going to take the pin out of the question of ethics. Because how ethical is it filming up close and personal someone who is literally suicidal? The opening shot is of him removing the bloody bandages from around his neck, showing the recently closed scar. Is this the moment, do you think, to point a camera in someone’s face? The whole rest of the film is made with him recovering in therapy. This is an incredibly vulnerable person at an incredibly critical time. There needs to be serious consideration about whether this film is right to make at all. And since it is made, how the filmmaker’s presence might influence this life-or-death process for someone so on the edge?

While I feel like it could definitely done with more overt self-reflection on the part of the documentary maker, Broken Head is a very well made, intimate, and raw portrait of a man searching for the tools to turn his life around.

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