Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

In the style of classic love stories, a woman stands on the Liberty Bridge in Budapest waiting for the lover to show at the pre-arranged time and place to show that their love is true. And he does not show. And when she tracks him down, he does not recognise her and says he has never met her before.

So starts Preparation to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time. The question becomes is he a gaslighting bastard or is she delusional? My immediate reaction was, statistically, it’s much more likely he’s a gaslighting bastard than you’re having your first psychotic break at 40. But the movie manages to handle the ambiguity with nuance, never straying into the frustrating or boring. The main character is aware that both are options, and signs up for therapy.

But as her therapist tells her, “I think you want me to diagnose you with a personality disorder so you have a piece of paper that tells you your love didn’t cheat you.” She pours through photos of the conference where they first met for some corroboration of their first meeting, and you as the viewer question, is this simply the logical thing to do, or is this the first steps in stalking based around a delusional obsession? Everything in this film is about micorexpressions, tilts of the head to keep the other in view. And the constant question is, am I reading something into this that isn’t there? Which is why the film is so resonant, because it speaks to a universal experience of love, as something which we feel inside ourselves and yet feels like it is shared, reverberating between two poles. It is an internal experience of something we perceive to have an external element.

As time goes on, this need for her to fact-check her memory recedes as she begins, to some extent, to fear a decisive verdict on its reality, as even the fantasy of love is better than its total absence. A sensual film of wordless attraction and the disorientation of love.

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BIG vs SMALL

BIG vs SMALL follows Joana Andrade, a professional surfer, and the first Portuguese woman at to surf the waves at Nazare, where the waves can reach up to 80ft tall. Andrade at 5ft 1″ cuts a small silhouette by comparison against these monstrous waves.

Andrade is frank about the fear she feels regarding tackling these giants. Many people have been injured surfing at Nazare and Andrade fears that she could break her back and end up paralysed, or even drown. But Andrade is not the kind of person to be ruled by her fear, so she sets off to train with Johanna Nordblad, a record breaking free diver.

Nordblad is a Finnish world champion, who once set the record by swimming under the ice in nothing but a bathing suit, no breathing apparatus, for over 160ft. She can hold her breath for over 6 minutes. She trains Andrade in her breathing techniques and takes her out to swim in a frozen lake, literally cutting open a square with a saw in the surface.

You do watch them climb into this makeshift swimming pool, and think, “Are you insane?!” It looks absolutely baltic. It looks like it would hurt. It looks like the kind of thing that would send you into shock. Why are you doing this for fun?!

But Andrade draws strength from the challenge. From the warm climes of Portugal, she is even less used to the cold, but she perseveres with the training, finding in Nordblad a kindred spirit, whose determination and positivity nourishes her. By the end of their session, Andrade is able to free dive under the ice, and feels like she has the confidence to return to the big waves of Naraze.

For facing her fear and moving forward towards it, Andrade makes an inspirational figure, and with Nordblad helping her, you see how the support of strong-willed women can make you do the impossible. But there is another aspect to Andrade’s story. Part of her difficulty tackling the big waves was that the panic response she would get from being knocked under a wave would trigger her, set off a physical and emotional chain-reaction reaching back to her trauma, when as a child she was groomed, plied with drugs, and sexually abused. It left her with psychological scars and addiction issues. And while she has worked hard to overcome them in her daily life, the panic of being submerged beneath a powerful wave would trigger those feelings of powerlessness and fear once more. Andrade’s story is not simply one of becoming a better surfer, it is about showing you are greater than your trauma, able to feel it and make room for it in your life without letting it control or limit you. Andrade can look at the giant waves of Nazare, that so dwarf her tiny size, and which seem so impossible to conquer, and feel the fear, and charge, confident in the knowledge that she has the tools to deal with them.

Apples

There is a plague which causes people to have spontaneous amnesia, forgetting all of their previous life and identity. Those whose identity is lost, and who have no relatives to claim them, are entered into a rehabilitation programme, giving them daily tasks to undertake to give them an idea of what they might like and help share in culturally universal experiences, like riding a bike or going to a fancy dress party.

Apples has the tone of something like Lobster, where there is a flatness and frankness to the characters as they try to interact with no frame of reference or emotional baggage. It’s fun to watch adults react to stuff like little kids, getting a fright at their first car alarm and running away. Simple touches like not knowing how to dance to music or dress so you don’t look like your cats are deid. The busker playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, because he’s clearly having to relearn how to play the guitar.

It also is reminiscent of things like The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as it kinda looks at how integral memory is to identity, and if the loss of that narrative can provide new avenues for forging a new personality. Is it worth trying to remember, or building anew?

Quietly cute and weird little movie.

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Iorram

A beautiful documentary combining archival interviews with members of Outer Hebrides fishing communities, set to footage of their modern day descendants, and woven through it just the most haunting score. People tell stories of their memories of childhood, of characters they knew, of the coming and going of change in their world.

They talk about the old style of fishing, with sail and oar, no navigational devices, just a knowledge of their fishing grounds that was thorough and expert. They tell these tales over footage of modern boats heading out to sea with their engines and mechanical winches, filled with wifi and CCTV and every other kind of technology for scouting the presence of fish. But still, here are the people of the same communities making the same kind of living as generations before. They still make their own creel by hand. The more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same.

People tell of fishermen’s superstitions, sightings of mermaids, kelpies and fairies. The intricate weaving of the mystical with the mundane, the witchcraft with the weather.

As the score echoes the crash and hush of the ebbing and flowing ocean, and the sound of long memories recalled. Just a beautiful film.

Shorta

Speaking of toxic masculinity. Shorta (the Arabic word for polis) is about two policemen getting trapped in the ghetto during a riot of their own making. It’s hard to know who you are supposed to be rooting for in this, both cops are such absolute cunts. And then they pick up some poor bastard and use him like a bloodhound to try and figure out a way out the estate.

There seems to be a bit just as the riot’s kicking off where the police help a shopkeeper defend his store from looters, and I think you’re supposed to go, “Thank God the police are around” or something. But it’s like, man, it’s just stuff – you two are out here murdering and sexually assaulting folk.

So no, I didn’t root for the cops. From the get-go I was hoping they’d be killed and their heads mounted on spikes at the entrance to the scheme as a warning to the others. And nothing that happened over the course of the film made me change my mind or feel more sympathetic towards them. In fact one of the last events in the film, which kinda draws it full circle, goes to show how both of them have learned absolutely nothing, and would do the exact same thing again.

Also, remember what I said about The Mauritanian? About the black and brown characters being assaulted and killed just to provide the white characters with an opportunity to reflect and grow? Yeah, tons of that.

In a way, this is a zombie film, just the swarm is the denizens of an urban housing scheme, with their foreign dress and dark skin. Some of the shots are like 28 Days Later, rather than anything that acknowledges the humanity in the people pursuing them.

Fuck this movie. 16 Blocks does something similar much better, and Clash does it even better than that. Go watch one of those.

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Victim(s)

Brutal. That was so much darker than I thought it was gonna be.

It starts with the murder of a teenager and the stabbing of two of his friends by a fellow classmate. In Malaysia teenagers stabbing each other actually makes headline news, and the intro follows the story blow up, as people call for the death penalty to be implemented despite the offender’s age. His mother is vilified for raising a monster, and they are slated as a middle class family trying to buy their way out from under the law.

It also follows the mother of the victim as she tries to come to terms with her loss, trying to hold onto his memory. It is when she goes through his laptop that the movie begins afresh and you see the reasons and events that led up to the tragedy.

It’s not until I was watching Victim(s) that I realised how low I had set my expectations. I had been expecting a straightforward, “stabbing people is bad, but people usually have their reasons for stabbing people, and it’s a shame our youth get wasted in this way”. The movie itself was far more visceral, drawing heavily on toxic masculinity, misogyny, homophobia, class, and every kind of abuse. It is not simply a bullying movie. And it pulls back from the school setting to the present-day scenes to show the same bile and bloodthirst in the way adults interact over the story.

The three main characters are the murderer, his female friend, and the boy that was killed. Each in their own way is shown to be a victim without ever excusing or condoning the terrible decisions they make, or minimising the impact they have on others. Both the mothers of the killer and the killed are shown coping in the wake of this devastation and at a total loss to understand why it happened. But can any revelation of the truth now stop the juggernaut of hatred and outrage bearing down on those involved?

Ooft.

Redemption of a Rogue

A fella’s dad insists that he not be buried on a rainy day, so the prodigal son, who returned only to see him off, is stuck in this shithole town waiting for the weather to clear before he can do this one last act before he commits suicide.

Went from a strong start with really excellent humour, to spending too long on music played directly to the camera, drawing focus and momentum from the story, until the whole thing just unwound.

Jumbo

Jumbo is a love story between shy wallflower Jeanne and fairground attraction Jumbo. Chuck Tingle would be proud.

I thought this movie might go into objectophilia and explain how you can become attracted to or even love an object. But this film is the love story between Jeanne and Jumbo, not about Jeanne having to explain herself. Which, once you think about it, makes for a much better film. Also, what is there to explain exactly? You like the look of somebody, you enjoy being around them, they make you feel good, what is there to explain?

So it deals with that in very short time and then goes onto their relationship, their struggle to be together, and their struggle for acceptance. Jeanne’s mother has a very hard time understanding Jeanne’s love and doesn’t react well. She encourages a romantic connection with creepy fairground manager Marc, who I just didn’t like from the start. He’s always invading Jeanne’s space and just sets off my ick alarm.

Jeanne is shown interacting with Jumbo in a way that is mutual, consensual, reciprocal, and expressive. What I liked was it is never conclusively shown if any of this is “really” happening. That’s Jeanne’s mum’s biggest objection to the whole thing – it’s not real.

But we have tons of experiences that are not real, and we don’t act like those have no validity in a person’s emotional life. We dream, we hallucinate. Millions of people all over the world have religious experiences through prayer, meditation, and visions that I would categorise as “not real”, but it doesn’t mean they’re not meaningful to the people who experience them. If you can have an incredibly intimate and life-altering relationship with an invisible entity that doesn’t exist, then you can definitely have one with a machine that does.

Director Zoe Wittock takes a story that could have been very silly, and kinda shows how the silliness is the things we do in love, and the object of our affections being an actual object doesn’t make it that much more in the scheme of things. Genuine feel-good love story.

Poppy Field

Poppy Field is about a Romanian gay cop whose team is called out to deal with a homophobic protest of a lesbian movie at a local cinema. There he is recognised by an old flame, who threatens to out him to his workmates, and gets a punch in the kisser for his troubles.

The film starts with Cristi deflecting his hot French Muslim boyfriend’s attempts to go away for a romantic weekend, but the vast majority of the film takes place at the cinema, almost like a bottle episode where all the action is confined to this one location. From the trailer I had thought the stuff at the protest was very crash! bang! then the consequences played out, but it’s basically just 12 hours in the life. Which makes it incredibly tense. Because the protest starts fairly sedate with the homophobes just standing in front of the screen and singing the national anthem. But they won’t leave, and the audience gets sick of their shit, and the tension in the room just ramps up. And the cops kinda just want an easy shift, and are less concerned about the politics than they are with the arseache of dealing with this all night. And Cristi is just standing there listening to all this homophobic bilge being shouted over him, trying not to react, and supposedly trying to de-escalate the situation while the turmoil inside him gets more and more exacerbated. And then an old boyfriend recognises him and his stress level dials to 100, and when he kinda half-jokes about outing him, Cristi snaps and decks him.

And then, because all cops are bastards, his teammates all band together to cover up his hate crime by sticking him in the now-empty auditorium while they deal with the mess. And the film is just cringworthily tense as he just has to sit there, in this big, empty, silent theatre, and wait to see if he’s actually been outed. If he’s gonna lose his job for attacking a citizen. If the story is gonna turn the protest outside into a riot. Oh, it’s so good.

What I like about the film is, it doesn’t tell you what to think about all of this. I mean, I had limited sympathy for Cristi, but I could definitely see how you would, and there’s no judgement placed on where you fall on that question. One of the saddest bits in the movie for me was, after various cops coming in to check on Cristi and telling him he’s a fucking arsehole for causing even more trouble for them to deal with, his best mate on the squad comes in and is like, I’ve got your back, and you’re reaction is “Aww, yeay” and then he follows it up with, “Fucking faggots”, and you’re just like “Oh”. And you watch Cristi’s expression as he deals with this mix of emotions, and you just think, “Well you got what you wanted. Here’s your support.”

A tense and engaging film.

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Undergods

Undergods is brilliant! Score banging, every shot delicious, sensually ugly sets and locations, everything from the costume design to the lighting just perfect.

It’s 3 short stories with a common theme of families tearing themselves apart, each set in worlds that are on sliding scale from our reality to a dystopian nightmare. Each speak to quintessentially British forms of dystopian horror, utilising familiar architecture in a way both beautiful and scary, from identical suburbs with pastel couches, to industrial office blocks, to ruined underground stations. I kept thinking of the Graham Hills Building at Strathy which after 10 years of walking around, I still get lost in, such is the repetitive, yet unintuitive design.

Also Kate Dickie is in this, and she is just always amazing. Her face can just contort in so many ways, she’s eerily able to sculpt it like clay into whatever the scene calls for. Quietly one of the best character actors of her generation.

Thumbs up.

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