FILM REVIEW: Okja (2017, Joon-Ho)

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In Bong Joon-Ho’s newest film, Okja, it is a tale that delights with an undying friendship between a child and a giant-pig that reminisces off the imagination of Spielberg’s most beloved films, but never without fails to interweave it with dark undertones that commentates on our burgeoning capitalist society that profits horrifyingly off a meat-industry, fuelled by human consumerism.

Opening up in the mountains of South Korea, we meet young Mija and her giant-pig, Okja – as they run freely through the forests – (one moment is especially an endearing homage to My Neighbour Totoro) – and it is a whimsical, sweet depiction of their relationship which exhibits the strength of their connection. Away from the city and others who begin to interfere with their relationship, this is when the film is at its most aesthetically gorgeous; the display of peacefulness within the natural world depicts how animal and human can live in tranquil unison on a platform of understanding.

The jolted reality of the outside world is soon realised, and it is here that Joon-Ho finds a perfect balance between his English and Korean multi-language platforms – highlighting the miscommunication between languages and people, as well as the bizarre foreignness of the cities of both Seoul and New York City. The signature tonal shifts are at its craziest in this wild ride, that sees it constantly shifting between the comedic with hilarious chase scenes (a girl running away in horror but never forgetting to bring out her selfie stick comes to mind), to shockingly bleak scenes (and occasionally graphic) that condemn the brutal, apathetic nature of humanbeings that substitutes wealth for empathy.

Watching this in a cinema brought to the forefront the dapper camerawork by cinematographer Darius Khondji – who captures the crisp swiftness of the absurd Mirando presentations, but also finds a place for the grimier realities of the slaughterhouses that draws in the darkest elements of the film that make it impossible to dismiss Okja as a purely optimistic film. Although it stars a wide-eyed child at its centre, Okja doesn’t shy away from a satirisation of its ridiculous self-obsessed figures (both Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal impress with a top-notch act of swivelling between playfully immature and disturbing characters), or depicting the messy ideals of activist groups (led by Jay, played by Paul Dano). Both Mija and Okja become caught up in the web of diverse interests, where the solution is unclear but the problem is most overt.

While the film mildly falls into a trap of a too-neat ending and slightly didactic messages, it always retains a hint of tongue-in-cheek glee or an underlying pessimism – suggestive of the continuing callousness of our society. But in almost the entirety of Joon-Ho’s burstingly clever directional vision, he always holds tight onto Mija and Okja’s special bond as the heart of his film, and the pay-off is a cinematic treat for the ages.

Okja will be showing on Netflix Worldwide from 28 June 2017.

RATING out of 5

FILM REVIEW: The Zookeeper’s Wife (Caro, 2017)

This review was originally published at ImpulseGamer.com.au

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Blockbuster movies set during the Holocaust are not a rare specimen; but The Zookeeper’s Wife offers a unique unfolding of an untold story in wartime Poland, where zookeeper of the still-standing Warsaw Zoo, Jan and his wife, Antonia – transform their zoo into a hiding refuge for over 300 Jews during World War II. At the risk of their own lives, the Zabinski’s real-life heroism pins an arresting starting point for Niki Carlo’s feature to soar, and while it stumbles in suffusing its characters with proper development, it achieves a humanist undertone unmatched in films realised in this context.

 The picturesque depiction of pre-war peace swells in its beauty as the camera tracks Antonia Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) waking up the zoo, light streaming through the blue skies as she speaks to the animals as though they were humans. But this too-perfect setting is brutally shattered as Carlo unrelentingly shows the chaotic effects of the first Nazi bombs on the zoo, killing animals and sending them fleeing onto the streets – familiar territory turned into a disorderly mess, only a taste of what is to come. This is the Nazi’s image of an ideal “picture”, where the death of animals (a parallel to the Jewish extermination?) is simply part of the ‘war effort’; where the regal eagle is stuffed into an ornament, and majestic animals, previously frolicking and untroubled, destroyed into war resources.

The change in perspectives results in protagonists that are no longer the victims but the middle-(wo)man. Stakes are still high as Carlo effectively crafts a tense but quiet drama that sees the transformation of the zoo into a pig-farm, and the Zabinski’s occupation in the smuggling of Jews from the Ghetto into their home. Through the stained window of Jan Zabinski’s (Johan Heldenbergh) truck, we see the appalling state of the Ghettos, but we only see what Jan does, and it is so brief; the truck must move on.

It is this frustrating impediment that Carlo’s film struggles with despite its well intentions. Although a winning and torn performance by Chastain oozes compassion that delves the film with emotive feeling, both Antonia and Jan’s inability to exercise action beyond hiding their occupants signifies their limitations in a crisis that effected millions of people. In one scene, Jan lifts children to their unknowing fates on what audiences would recognise as the carriages that would transport them to Auschwitz – a feeling of doom puts into perspective the limitations of their bravery.

Victims of the German regime are also brushed over in Angela Workman’s script, which render them only familiar faces; seen as a collective than individuals. The potential depth of stories is sacrificed, even so for Zabinski’s own child, whose upbringing in the zoo household leads him to shout anti-Nazi rhetoric that turns the head of German zoologist Lutz Heck (played creepily by Daniel Bruhl in yet another Nazi role).

But where the film is lukewarm towards development of its supporting characters, it makes up in its tender treatment of the subject material. Carlo’s fearless use of silence is when The Zookeeper’s Wife becomes most disarming, and it’s when the courageous hearts of the Zabinskis’ are on full display.

THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE
Directed by Niki Caro
Produced by Jeff Abberley, Jamie Patricof, Diane Miller Levin, Kim Zubick, Julia Blackman
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Michael McElhatton, Daniel Brühl

RATING ½ out of 5

FILM REVIEW: Hidden Figures (Melfi, 2017)

This review was originally published at ImpulseGamer.com.au

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Important women of influence are often excluded or forgotten from the history books. This is why Hidden Figures, a biographical film that seeks to reveal the story of three influential, African American women, is so integral. With its garnering of awards attention and financial success, it is a joy that audiences are able to finally learn of these remarkable achievements that these women struggled through gender and racial barriers to attain.

On the verge of the Space Race and the threat of a nuclear war with Russia, Hidden Figures opens on a flashback of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) as a child—a clear depiction of her early mathematical genius. A “knack for equations” and algorithms that has her exceling at school, this flashback shifts to the present, where close friends and colleagues—aspiring engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and unofficial supervisor Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer)—join Katherine as they are stopped by a white policeman as they are running late. In an amusing exchange, all the women not only shatter a stereotype of women in the workforce, but somehow also manage to convince him to escort them to the NASA station. As the title card of Hidden Figures flashes upon the screen and Pharrell William’s choral, snappy and upbeat score plays over, no longer will these women be hidden figures in the context of American history, instead their stories will be told with a sincere reflection of their charm and intelligence.

The divide between the “coloured” and “white” groups is almost immediately established from the commencement of the film, but Katherine’s new assignment to assist the Space Task Group—a department which is blatantly filled with white men—poses racial and prejudiced challenges in a job which she is more than capable of exercising. Upon setting her foot in the room, Katherine is the first African American woman to hold such a role at NASA and she sticks out and is quickly antagonised by the men in the room, who deliberately censor calculations from her to make her execution of her job more difficult. An equally tragic and frantic sequence has Katherine running to the “coloured” bathroom in record time, a stirring occurrence when she is forced to run to the building next door to use a bathroom due to the segregation between races. Theodore Melfi’s direction portrays these quieter struggles with ones that punch in the gut, particularly in a laudable performance by Henson where she vocally explodes—her pent up anger and frustration forces all in the room to sit in silence and reflect on their prejudiced behaviour and its effect upon others.

While the film occasionally loses focus due to the three stories it attempts to balance, Melfi never steers away from the core of the film which he seeks to make: the significance of female friendship. There are romantic interests introduced that show these women’s lives outside of their work and education, and white people (namely Al Harrison played by Kevin Costner) who assist in their endeavours, but it never clouds their monumental talents or shared struggles. If anything, the film emphasises the need to give chances and opportunity to minorities, and to no longer make such figures hidden from view, but to instead, recognise and foster people’s gifts.

Hidden Figures works as not only an optimistic and enjoyable experience at the cinema, but its note of remarkable achievements in our current context, signifies the power of cinema and art to give voice to women and people of colour, and to make others feel empowered to believe in possibilities and dreams. Most importantly, it highlights the incredible capacity that a unified community can accomplish, and the potential that recognising individual talents can have—and if sending men up into space is only one of them, what else is there in store?

HIDDEN FIGURES
Directed by Theodore Melfi
Produced by Peter Chernin, Donna Gigliotti, Theodore Melfi, Jenno Topping and Pharrell Williams
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons

RATING ★★ out of 5

FILM REVIEW: A United Kingdom (Asante, 2016)

This review was originally published at ImpulseGamer.com.au

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Occasionally British films are not afraid to offer a glimpse of optimism, which may be dismissed as clichéd. A United Kingdom is a prime example of this. Like 2015’s Brooklyn, the film locates a hopefulness in the very context hampering it, centring its story within the midst of interracial and political tensions.

Directed by Amma Asante (Belle), A United Kingdom tells the real-life story of African Prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and English office clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), who fell in love despite barriers barring interracial relationships in the years following the Second World War. The opening sequence sees Seretse introduced as a competent fighter in a boxing match; he is a law student, charming and intelligent, and surrounded by a group of friends. Ruth and her sister arrive at a Missionary Society dance, and when Ruth and Sertese dance together, sparks fly.

The believability of their love is integral in urging the future conflicts between the couple, and Asante’s attentive and sincere direction is an easy credit to this. She never rushes the romance between the lovers, but instead allocates a solid quarter of the film to indulge in the couple’s infatuation with each other, which ultimately leads to Seretse’s marriage proposal.

Not only does Seretse and Ruth’s matrimony face objection from Ruth’s family, but with the reveal of Seretse’s identity as the successor to the Botswana throne in Africa, the angry disapproval of his family and the Bamangwato chiefs raises questions about the acceptance of their marriage and Seretse’s own prospects as a leader. On a larger scale, Botswana’s position as the British protectorate of Bechuanaland is further opposed by the British government, which views their marriage as a threat to their link with the South African government—thus Seretse is exiled in London and the couple separated in the hope of Seretse relinquishing the throne.

Both personal and political restlessness increase the stakes of Seretse and Ruth’s love against a backdrop working against it. While Guy Hippert’s script opts for a predictable trajectory (shown through the British antagonists, Alistair Canning and Rufus Lancaster, which strike more as caricatures than characters), Asante’s ability to lift the screenplay and give it an affecting touch is a testament to her unfeigned desire to showcase the authenticity of the love between Seretse and Ruth, which becomes simply infectious.

Asante’s deep understanding of the intercultural differences and the uncertainty that permeated the context is apparent in the clear juxtaposition between the distinctly arresting shots of the African landscape against a grittier England. The segregation of race is still ironically present in Botswana; whites are privileged and the Bamangwato people are limited in their freedoms in their own country. The strain in nation ties is reflected in the voices of the people in their antagonism to Sertese’s marriage to Ruth, but an impassioned speech by Sertese, who declares his equal love for both country and wife, is an igniting point for the film. Oyelowo is magnificent here, especially in his vocal performance, which reminds us of his speeches as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, but now with a romantic spark that drives his vigour. His chemistry with Pike is magnetic, and Pike’s beguiling performance as Ruth is especially stirring when she struggles for acceptance in Botswana following Sertese’s exile.

At the heart of it all, A United Kingdom is a breath of fresh air from the cynicism that permeates through higher-brow romantic dramas. It is an open and ingenuous look at the strength of love and how it can connect people of different racial and cultural backgrounds.

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A UNITED KINGDOM
Directed by Amma Asante
Produced by Brunson Green, Charlie Mason, Rick McCallum, Cameron McCracken, Justin Moore-Lewy & David Oyelowo
Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Terry Pheto, Jack Davenport and Tom Felton

RATING ★★ out of 5

FILM REVIEW: Captain Fantastic (2016)

This review was originally posted on ImpulseGamer.com

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Honesty is a rare feat in cinema, but Matt Ross finds it in Captain Fantastic, reflecting the progressiveness of its male protagonist – Ben, played by Viggo Mortensen, who has raised his children away from the civilisation of the city and within the primal, survivalist forest. It is the news of the death of their mother, which brings them towards the city, traveling by a bus nicknamed ‘Steve’ on a journey of self-discovery, growth and inner reflection.

The heart and humour of Captain Fantastic strikes familiar tonal grounds with dysfunctional-family comedy Little Miss Sunshine, in which Ross presents a family with unconventional relationships and family dynamics. The opening of the film pans over the tops of the treetops, before landing upon a child killing a deer as an “act of manhood” – a sudden, yet stark realisation of the unorthodox parenting method dictated by Ben deep in this forest. Instead, Ben honours his children’s intelligence, where a campfire sequence sees them reading novels like ‘Middlemarch’ and being asked to offer insightful analysis about the novels, climbing mountains and teaching them resilience and first-aid. But while a presentation of anomalous relationships to its audience, the film’s distinctiveness – such as their notable celebration of Noam Chomsky Day – is nevertheless able to offer an affecting tale through its wit and heart.

It is perhaps this nontraditional premise which provides the film a fresh perspective on the educational parental methods, suggesting there may be alternative pathways that we should not be so quick to judge. But Ben’s questioning of his own uncompromising methods concurrently sees a re-examination of a ‘proper’ family, where this conflict is exacerbated by a cleansing motif which sees Ben undergoing water cleansing by nature (waterfall) and mankind (shower). The disconnection from ‘real-life’ civilisation also creates an inherent tension between socially accepted norms and self-taught values, manifesting into emotional strains within the tight-knit family and beyond.

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Yet, the film ironically suffers from its conventional approach to its off-the-grid concept. It follows an oddly linear trajectory, where the main events of the film appear soundly familiar, such as when the grandparents of the children hold an intervention to claim custody of the children over Ben, or when the eldest son kisses a girl for the first time. There is a lack of surprises in the film, and it is this where the authenticity of the film is  sacrificed, further reinforced by Ross’ need to neatly bow-tie his story so that all characters are left satisfied with the outcomes. The film’s attempt to find a middle-ground for all parties involved feels out-of-character, especially for the notoriously stubborn Ben, whose values seem to change little throughout the film’s running time.

But while feeling slightly contrived, it is the performances and the ability to fuse sharp-wit into the script of the film which sees Captain Fantastic manage to remain poignant and compelling enough to root for Ben and his family.

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CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
Directed by Matt Ross
Produced by Monica Levinson, Jamie Patricof, Shivani Rawaf, Lynette Howell Taylor
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn

RATING out of 5

 

Talking about Slow Cinema: TURIN HORSE (Tarr, 2012)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Ira Jaffe’s Slow Movies (2014): ‘Introduction’ and Ch. 7 ‘Rebellion’s Limits’.

In a symposium in 2007 devoted to Béla Tarr’s cinema, David Bordwell stated that “we want a cinema that puts the brakes on, slows things down. What we have to start doing if we want to study film history and aesthetics of film history is to look at how different filmmakers are taking this path.” It is undeniable that in a world where technology is advancing faster than ever, the attention span of audiences is becoming shorter and shorter – films reflecting this trend. The cuts have become faster, action moving at a rapid pace, all to keep us on our feet constantly. It is thus important to examine dromology itself – the science of speed – where there social acceleration mirrors the capitalist economy’s assembly line, aiming to create rush of sensations, kinetic drive and an accessible aesthetic to the mainstream.

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But both Jaffe and Béla Tarr insist on the need to decelerate the speed of cinema, suggesting that it facilitates the investigation of major artistic and philosophical concerns. Tarr’s film Turin Horse aims to represent the ‘real’, drenching its aesthetic in a dreary black and white to reflect the utter bleakness of the events (or lack of) in the film. Not only visually, but also through minimal storytelling is this achieved – the ‘narrative’ of the film follows a father, daughter and a dying horse in an anti-genesis subversion of events towards an inevitable death. The height of the camera is constantly at eye-level, broodingly silent and inarticulate. It is here that the duration of the film is felt, whereby the use of 30 shots in the 150 minute running time echoes the continuity in real life – ensuring that the film is a real psychological process.

And yet, Tarr’s choice to challenge his audiences is no accident – he destroys his film world in the period of six long days – elongating the shots, with few cuts, almost-to-nothing action – to convey the depths of despair that come with the futility of escape. Here, Tarr emphasises the collapse of everything living, shown metaphorically through the dying tree on the hill, and the horse that “refuses to eat”. The total deterioration of living beings is depicted through the father and daughter’s unchanged routines and the slowness of their actions. The repeated event of the consumption of the steaming-hot potatoes is an occurrence which happens multiple times during the duration of the film – at times, shot from different perspectives, while still remaining stationary. It is here that Jaffe draws upon Tarr’s lack of an “affect-less manner” – where the two lone characters in the film lack expressive range and mobility. Assisted by a completed stripped back mise-en-scene, any type of elaborate or dynamic lighting and colour removes the possibility of personalising their characters – gravitating towards a stillness, a death.

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There is something akin of Tarr’s film to Beckett’s absurdist plays (see Waiting for Godot and Endgame), where the dread and inevitability of death is waiting to occur. There is a certain unbearableness to the experience of the film which is self-reflexively imposed on its audience through the film’s long duration – leaving time to contemplate and wrangle about the emptiness of life itself. It is also similar to Beckett that Tarr’s departure from the conventional artform is depicted, where his subversion of traditional structure and filmic techniques seeks to represent the real rhythms of life.

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A REFLECTION: Palindromes (2004, Solondz)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Gerald Sim, The Subject of Film and Race (2014): Introduction ‘What Is Critical Race Film Studies?’ and Chapter 3 ‘Post-Structuralism and the Neo-Marxian Subject’.

In Gerald Sim’s book, he begins his introduction with a primal question that is asked of cinema: “is it racist?”. It is a question which still plagues the Hollywood industry today – in a culture which sees white supremacy dictate the decisions of Studios, white-washing and perpetuating a lack of diversity in films. It is here that there lies an urgency for representation as an important discussion point that needs to be addressed. Critical race theory interrogates these matters, seeking to look beyond stereotypes and to study forms of representation. It has arisen through two streams of reactions: moralistic outrage and criticism, and a formal understanding of the underlying patterns of race as a construct.

Sim’s argument in regards to Todd Solondz’s Palindromes stems from a poststructuralist second generation critical race film theory outlook, which views racism as materially determined and utilised for economic interests. He stresses the need to pay attention to economic and class struggles, suggesting that gender, sexuality and race only follow from a capitalist history of materialism. This is shown in Palindromes, where the juxtaposition between the Victor and Sunshine families depict the classist differences in livelihood, positioning it as a forefront in contrast to the neutrality of race and ages of Aviva. As a result, Sims frames race in economic terms, highlighting that material conditions shapes humanity as beings, which leads to the idea of race being a social construct.

As a result, Sims suggests that Solondz’s Palindromes works as a challenge to the social constructs which are inclined to materialise race, gender and other identity markers. Instead, Solondz focuses on human identity, elevating the sameness of an individual in all circumstances, looking beyond the labels of race. It steers away from the white patriarchal viewpoint, portraying its protagonist through 8 different actors of race, gender, size and age. In this way, Solondz ensures that his film diverts itself in stereotypes, aiming to remain unaffected by the differences of race and gender. By diverting from this Hollywood conventional voice, Solondz suggests that the inner character of a person transcends the materialist labels of society. The neutralisation of these identity markers aligns with Adorno’s emphasis on the necessity to comprehend a person’s inner being – whereby the the character stasis in the film stresses Aviva as an unchanged person (despite changing actresses) – all driven by the same motivations and emotions from beginning to end.

While Solondz’s film is tonally confusing through its indecision between comedy and gravitas, it is deliberately alienating – aiming to emphasise the universality of its thematic concerns through its changing actors. Solondz highlights the need to empower female sexual liberation and to not condemn it, interweaving this  message through the film. The use of different actresses steers away from any type of stereotypical representation of teenage pregnancy, suggesting its circumstances could happen to anyone. The stasis of the actors portraying one character is similarly reflected in the cyclical nature of the narrative – where the young girl who appears at the beginning of the film closes the film with the same mindset: “I want to have a baby“. Although Palindromes may seem tonally odd and resultantly, at times ridiculous, Solondz’s dedication to the portrayal of the authentic character of Aviva is admirably followed through to the very end.

Resource and Environmental Degradation: LESSONS OF DARKNESS (Herzog, 1992)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Nadia Bozac’s, The Cinematic Footprint (2012): ‘Introduction’ and Ch. 2 ‘Resource’.

In Lessons of Darkness, Herzog’s genre-bending strategies and unconventional approach to cinema separates his documentary from the conventional; merging – as Bozac writes – nonfiction and fiction, the real world with the imaginary, to capture a sense of truthfulness that is only obtainable when the bounds of representational accuracy are exceeded. By breaking down specific contextual barriers, Herzog encourages his documentary to invoke an extended exploration into war and resource conflict, and the horrific consequences of this on humans and the land.

By refusing to narrow itself down to the context of 1991 politics (but still exploiting the spectacle of Kuwait’s oil spills and burning wells), Herzog’s science fictional landscape situates it as a futuristic environmental war; the after-effects of what surface after humans have left, conflict has ended, and the environment has now been left degraded.

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Through the diegetic music, the operatic music dramatises the scale of furnaces and ironically conveys the “triumph” of human destruction at the consequence of wealth and greed. Herzog is also consciously abstract – through this science-fiction lens, he offers little to no context, alienating objects as an explanation for this post-apocalyptic reality. By blurring fiction with fact, Herzog self-consciously acknowledges the inability for documentary to truly represent objective fact; instead embracing its flaws through a fictionalised interpretation to uncover a larger and deeper truth.

To separate himself from other modern documentaries, Herzog avoids new media technology – which aim to create urgent, spectacular and “present-tense” liveness. Instead, he embraces the analog through shooting on a 16mm film camera, reducing many shots to single-shot shots. Here, he interrogates the scope that a single camera has to examine the wasted terrain and aftermaths of an oil war on its ecosystem – refuting the idea that multi-cameras are needed to properly capture authenticity.

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His desire for simplicity and rigidity afforded by the analog format means he relies on a stationary camera and minimal editing – avoiding any excess cuts, freeze-frames, zooms and studio shoots. Instead, he works with what Bozac calls a “vulturous patience”, shown through the use of slow pans and aerial helicopter shots, which work to let the havoc of the landscape speak for itself. This patience is accompanied by a loss of words – where the sonorous voiceover of Herzog is sparsely used to let the land speak for itself. Lessons of Darkness is void of any sort of political commentary, relinquishing it from skewed manipulation that film is subject to. But whilst the environment no longer depicts humanity living on it, the scars that impact the innocent are emphasised. The silent child in his mother’s arms, whose inability to speak after witnessing the murder of his father, epitomizes the hidden after-effects of warfare upon both its people and the land.

In addition, transforming the casualty of combat from the human being to the natural environment – Herzog reduces other human life forms to what Bozac describes as “nothing less than extraterrestrial beings”. With the final closing sequence in Lessons of Darkness featuring extinguished oil fires being indulgently reignited from the display of waste and wealth, this horrific representation of humanity’s greedy appetite for oil, and the delight in their palpable desperation for it has led to the burnt land and human misery. Herzog thus undermines the war by challenging the audiences to remember the power of such fires in burning, wasting and polluting the atmosphere. He suggests for a new mode of cinema to tackle such theoretical engagement; self-reflexively using the oil-reflection as cinema’s self-reflection – demanding a reevaluation about cinema’s dependency on war, and how war is dependent on the oil it fights for.

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The Avant-Garde Documentary: LEVIATHAN (Castaing-Taylor & Paravel, 2012)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Scott McDonald, Avant-Doc (2015): ‘Introduction’ and section on ‘Sensory Ethnography’.

Castaing-Taylor & Paravel’s Leviathan offers an affectual and physical experience through documentary style, but diverts from the conventional documentary through its experimental camera work and desire to depict raw reality. The Sensory Ethnography Lab formed by Castaing-Taylor, has had such a reputation for combining this avant-garde approach with an ethnographic consciousness – aiming to refute the “truth claim” of conventional documentaries, and instead armed with a purpose to “shake us out of our dogmatic…slumbers” by representing the sensory elements of cultures and complex, multifaceted experiences.

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In order to achieve this, both Castaing-Taylor and Paravel subvert dominant rules and regulations of filmmaking by elevating the importance of style over subject – immersing its audiences within its avant-garde aesthetic. As stated in the interview with McDonald, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel are much more “interested in the world” than the conforming to norms of cinematic or artistic convention. This is shown through the use of smaller DLSRs and tiny GoPro cameras handheld and attached to fishermen’s bodies, which visually and unusually convey the rocky, messy experiences on board – using different angles to submerge the audiences from the sea and onto the happenings of the ship. This, along with the colour palette of the film (yellow and red against the black of day and night), works to evocatively expose the experiences of the sea, summoning an abstract beauty to its nontraditional shot composition.

Interestingly, these unique perspectives enable the documentary to give equal weighting of animals/natural creatures to humans. This ontological favour subverts the chain of authority of human subjects otherwise seen in films and documentaries, where the fishermen of the ship are instead positioned as ‘The Other’. This is shown through the inaudible, muffling of the fishermen and the rare cut to a human subject. Such is depicted in the long take of a fisherman watching TV, where the stationary camera simply observes the human subject nonverbal like its other creatures – retracting from an interview-style which places humanity at the understanding and forefront of audience attention.

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Concurrently, the perceptual engagement of Leviathan is not only achieved through the shifts between subjective viewpoints (humans, fish, birds) – but concurrently through its intricate and wild sound design. It captures the details of this unsettling netherworld, from the nets, the winches, cutting tables – the acoustics of commercial fishing intentionally function in an imaginative and abstract manner to evoke the metaphysical and affectual sensations of this audiovisual documentary. By paying attention to these two aspects in all their complexities, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel have unearthed a strange but illuminating tone poem for its audiences.

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Disgust and Mise-en-Scène: THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER (1989, Greenaway)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Eugenie Brinkema, The Forms of the Affects (2014): ‘Preface: Ten Points to Begin’, Ch. 2 ‘Film Theory’s Absent Centre’, Ch. 6 ‘Disgust and the Cinema of Haut Goût’ and UNSW lecture conducted by Julian Murphet (8 April 2016).

A traditional definition on affect derives from its resistance of structure  – the conveyance of the visceral, immediate, and sensed. However, Brinkema’s polemic stresses the need to look beyond this interiority of feeling, and to turn to other forms of examination, such as the textures, form and technical aspects which amalgamate to create affect. The argument that the turn to affect corresponds with a turn away from detail, thus excludes the importance of aesthetics, structure and form of a film to generate affect – something that is heavily displayed through Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover elevates the high art of cooking, eating and choosing good food – gastronomy – not only serving as a vehicle to comment on consumerist greed and an allegory for Thatcherism, but concurrently works to emit aesthetic value. The formal language, themes and variations, of high gastronomy evoked through the mise-en-scène, function as a powerful tool to which film theory remains a metaphysical dominant term. This is shown through the red colour scheme of the dining room, expressed through the deep red costuming and set design, where the close-ups of aristocratic paintings, the lavish chandeliers and a harpsichord Baroque-like score by Michael Nyman exacerbate the excess of wealth and opulence of Albert’s restaurant.

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And yet concurrently the artificiality of the film works to distance the film from reality – something that Brinkema notes as a self-conscious display to bridge the representational and gastronomic concerns of the film. This is illustrated in one of the first sequences, where the camera pans across the green kitchen to reveal that the high singing the audiences assumed were be heard non-diegetically, is actually diegetic opera singing from one of the kitchen boys (Pup). Both the shocking and comical value of this operate to self-reflexively break down any preconception of Greenaway’s film as truthful to reality.

This inauthenticity is further conveyed in the overt colours, which separates spatial dimensions. The camera transitions between these locations with an elegance; horizontal linearity is delivered by means of an ever-restless tracking camera. Brinkema notes that the colour schemes (the dining room as red, the washroom as white, the kitchen as green etc.) constitute an independent structure, working autonomously to reveal the structure of the film, rather than operating as symbolism for the film’s meaning. This formal structuralist sphere is extended through the film’s repetition of days, location and activities. The cut to the days of the week, from Thursday to Tuesday, in addition to the order of the filmic shots (menu, arrival, dining, fucking, returning, departure, beating) highlight the strict arrangement of Greenaway’s film, giving him flexibility to seep in the negative affect of disgust through this mise-en-scène.

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Brinkema writes that disgust not only relies on its viscerality for affect, but simultaneously necessitates “active dissecting and analysing”. Greenaway showcases this by exposing the paradox of disgust – the way attraction and revulsion meld into each other. He elevates decay, suggesting it alluringly brings out pleasurable characteristics, represented most explicitly in the horrifyingly slow pan of Michael’s cannibalistic serving – which is garnished with delectable food displays. Gastronomy in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is thus portrayed to communicate the negative of good taste, and the heightened pleasures which derive from the specific forms of rotting and decay. Georgina’s dress, which changes colours according to the contrasting spatial locations, reinforces this – where the bleeding and blending of colours between frames highlights the slow decomposition of form, generates disgust.

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Consequently, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover demonstrates Brinkema’s reasoning of the need to return form (including mise-en-scène) to affect, indicating that aspects of a film’s construction cannot be separated from sensual experiences with film, as they are understood and conveyed through them.