Sunday, May 25, 2008

Moved to a new blog

Since the course ended we have decided to set up a new blog focusing on Global Cinema. The material from this blog has been ported there and new material will gradually emerge.

Check it out at 'The Case for Global Cinema'.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Heavenly Delights

With 'Nina's Heavenly Delights' coming up, I saw 'Brick Lane' last week. I think they make interesting companion pieces, since they draw on some similar themes but treat them very differently I think. Both have been shot with typically small budgets for British films - 'Brick Lane' cost only £3.2 million, but the producers comment (in Q&A) is that every single penny is up on the screen. The cinematography in both is breathtaking given the budget; Robbie Ryan, who did Andrea Arnold's fantastic 'Red Road', shot 'Brick Lane' as well.

At the heart of both films is an intense (and for some controversial) drama. Brick Lane relies (rightly) on the strength of Tannishtha Chatterjee's ability to convey emotions with very little dialogue - translating the inner world existence of this immigrant woman, powerfully, from the book to the screen.

I found it reminded me of others of our films - The Namesake, for its powerful realisation of dramatising a woman's journey to a new identity in a new country (although these are interesting to compare for their different treatments of the issue of racism) and something of the intensity Ahoo's resistance in 'The Day I became a Woman'.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Top Tens

After Roy mentioned the excellent Senses of Cinema site, I thought I would just throw in this out of interest. It's quite old now, but shows an attempt to compile a top ten of women's films and women directors. It uses contributions from a number of random contributors.

The problem of women being excluded from various 'canons' of work has been a thorny issue for a long time. I'm not convinced by the idea of trying to create an alternative version, though.

I think it is quite worthy in trying to raise the profile of women's work, but does highlight (as it says) the problem that the work is so disparate, there's not a lot of merit in trying to relate it all together or compare it. I suppose it's what Hollywood top tens have been doing to male directors for decades -- so some equality there?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Day I Became A Woman

I hope everyone enjoyed last night's screening. I had forgotten that the 35mm print didn't have the same quality of subtitling as the DVD. For instance, it didn't translate the titles of the three stories -- which corresponded to the three central characters. In the first story, the little girl is called 'Hava', which is a version of 'Eve', the 'first woman'. In the second story, the young woman is called 'Ahoo' and this is also the Farsi word for 'deer' -- which are shown twice darting across the landscape as the husband shouts out. In the third story, the old woman is called 'Houra', which (presumably as a deliberate irony) means 'nymph'. The English language script is on the Makhmalbaf website on the film's own page.

The excellent web essay by Adrian Danks on the Makhmalbaf Film House that I quoted in my introduction is on the Senses of Cinema website. There is also an earlier posting on this blog about the Makhmalbafs.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The colonial narrative

I sense some tension in the group around whether or not we can take melodrama seriously. This is a pity since it is an important issue when considering films made by western filmmakers about stories set in African countries. Chocolat creates a familiar colonial narrative about the relationship between a white woman (the coloniser) and a black man (the colonised). This is the basis for the colonial melodrama which focuses on the emotionally explosive mix of sex and race. Interestingly, it more often features a white woman and black man than a black woman and white man -- perhaps because the former is more threatening to the colonial/settler family. I'm not suggesting that Claire Denis sets out to make a colonial melodrama, but she consciously chooses its narrative and works to oppose it stylistically from what I saw in the extracts. In the films I have seen by African filmmakers, the colonial relationship is not dealt with as an emotional relationship -- the colonists are simply there as representatives of oppression. There are several African films (mostly made by men, I've only seen one film by an African woman) which focus on the women as central characters and these are often careful to explore the status of women within distinct local communities.

Kim Longinotto attempts not to impose her sense of narrative on the events she records, even if she has to select and edit from her material. The melodrama that I found inherent in the court proceedings seemed to me to come from the performances of both the lawyers and their clients. Longinotto's feel for the universal human stories she witnessed is certainly impressive, but I wonder how much her film was still an outsider's view. I thought that the Denis and Longinotto extracts were very useful in posing questions about how women are presented in 'African stories'.

If anyone is interested in the kinds of films which circulate in West Africa as part of Nollywood, there is an interesting UK centre for 'Nollywood Studies' which offers a number of fascinating links.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Women and Documentary: Kim Longinotto

Divorce Iranian Style can be found at the Channel 4 On Demand site. Go here to play the film.

You may not have heard of Longinotto. She has been making documentaries for a number of years, building up a body of work that addresses controversial, even harrowing, topics: female circumcision in The Day I will Never Forget (2002), the difficulties of divorce within the Iranian system in Divorce Iranian Style (1998) or tackling domestic abuse in Cameroon in Sisters-in-Law (2005). Her latest documentary, Hold me Tight, Let me Go (2007), returns home, examining the relationship between staff and pupils in a school for traumatised children in Oxford.

A signature style is the intensity of the "performances" she obtains from her subjects. In Divorce Iranian Style, we follow a number of women through the cruel bureaucracy of a Tehran divorce court. Women seeking separation from unhappy or abusive relationships, demonstrate several, separate acts of resistance and "individual" solidarity, since they, somehow, separately stand together in the same battle. They have few rights under the law, but their emotion and determination is used to powerful effect. What emerges, I think, is the humanness (but constrained humanity) of those there, both men and women. The women's spirit is undaunted.

Longinotto's style in this is neither obtrusive or absent. In Divorce, the filmmakers are often applied to for opinions, both by the women and by the judge. However, she tends to use a self-effacing style of camerawork, avoiding a variety of shots, she tends to use the middle distance to show all the interactions whilst keeping us at a spectator's distance. Commentators have spoken of her "restrained gaze" that can still "radiate such warmth" ( Longinotto also states that her aim is not to lead with argument; instead, to allow viewers to find their own way through the material.

In interviews, Longinotto cames across as being incredibly humanistic and focussed on the subject matter. She makes an interesting comparison with fiction narratives: "I like it when documentary has the same constraints as fiction, when it doesn't have to give you a lesson or teach you what to think it's just an emotional experience." (

Longinotto won Screen International magazine's British documentary competition at Britdoc (UK documentary festival), with Hold me Tight, Let me Go. Sisters-in-Law, from which we will watch extracts, won the 'Prix de Art et Essai' at Cannes Film Festival. Stunning that no significant attention was paid by our prize-obsessed media.

Sisters-in-Law and Divorce Iranian Style are very similar in structure, following three/four stranded narratives. My final quote could apply to both: "Longinotto's deeply humane, but quietly unsensational portait of African women struggling for self-determination defies received notions about ... women."

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The name game

I blogged my reactions to The Namesake when I first saw it in May this year. You can check out the blog here. On a second viewing it worked just as well, but I got even more from it. I've softened a little on Kal Penn's performance, but I'm now an even bigger fan of Tabu and Irrfan Khan (the star of Michael Winterbottom's A Mighty Heart, despite Angelina Jolie's top billing).

This time I was more conscious of how clever the script is with the references to names and naming and also the extent to which Mira Nair pays hommage to Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak (and makes Bengali jokes). The central question is, I think, how the film creates a delicious tension between its focus on Ashima as against the father-son relationship. I'm still not sure who is at the centre of the story. What does anyone else think?