Red Desert (1964)


Sickly and weird, like its protagonist. A mother unable to “mesh” with the poisoned world around her, in the words of her impassive husband. He has distanced himself from a traumatic episode which torments her still, bleeding out from her feverish dreams into her waking perspective on people and existence.

People in places, people in places: Antonioni’s bread and butter. The return to the factory at the end reinforces disappointment at its absence for most of the film. The steam jets and winding pipes form a jungle around the foremen, who are usually framed off-centre and in the middle distance, robbed of any agency. Antonioni’s eye for evocative geometry is otherwise most apparent in Giuliana’s home, whose tank windows and industrial railings taunt and block her. She tends to her son who seems affected by an atmospheric poison, often unresponsive, surrounded by mechanical toys. Giuliana quietens a chattering robot before lovingly putting him to sleep.

People in places. Antonioni’s dialogue is sometimes a little too on the nose in its foggy glumness, and I’d put Red Desertalongside La Notte as far as this goes. “There’s something wrong with reality, and nobody will tell me what it is,” protests Giuliana to her would-be saviour Corrado, the itinerant businessman who has internalised the social deracination of his Patagonian project. Richard Harris plays him with a quiet and cruel coldness, while most other characters are literally squeezed into the initially engrossing set of a peeling riverside cabin, where an abortive and disoriented party substitutes for the African dancing scene in L’Eclisse (distanced and neutered bourgeois fascination with perceived passion and physicality of foreign cultures). Discomforting settings are important in Antonioni’s films – thinking of the continual, almost overtly redundant returning to the stock market in L’Eclisse – but we really soak up too much time in this little room with its pale company.

The palette is beautiful, as could perhaps have been expected from such a visual director’s first foray into colour film. There’s a boldness to abandoning the lonely concrete worlds of the city which made L’Eclisse and parts of La Notte so hypnotic. Boredom is the name of the whispering marshes, the sucking mud underfoot in Antonioni’s films and Red Desert sucks a little too hard. He made Blow-Up two years later though so it’s all good.



Red Road (2006)


The film that slotted Arnold between Wheatley and Barnard in my trinity of today’s daring British filmmakers.

Interesting to go backwards to this after American Honey. The latter has pressure points of peril where Star inches through scenes of nauseating tension under the eyes or hands of quietly terrifying men. Red Road starts out as a drama of voyeurism, with the CCTV control room appearing both space-age and prefigurative of Black Mirror and NSA/GCHQ news.

Jackie’s journey out into the world at her fingertips is a sinking-in as if into quicksand; reminded me both of Scarlett Johansson’s excursions in Under the Skin and Jeanne Moreau’s slow spiral through Rome in La Notte, with the danger of the former crossing the psychogeographical dimensionality of the latter, the Red Road high rises looming Bradburyesque above bruised and battered Glasgow.

Interesting to watch after In The House: the filmmaker’s compulsion to ‘recreate’, re-stage influential traumas? (Jackie sees the human stories behind her screens) A desire to reach back into the past and correct course. That peril in American Honey is the quicksand that pulls Jackie in. The film becomes a lot braver, more physical, the kitchen sink a lot dirtier (Katie Dickie’s performance gains great depth here, too). There’s a sickening sense of parenthood in Jackie’s relationship to her situation, like she’s trying to undo some perverse birth. The denouement shows us the wan and cold world of the present day, the truths that have always been there.

Fund the arts.


Happy End (2017)


I always thought it was Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror who said “dialogue is just two monologues clashing” but I find that it was actually Charlie Brooker quoting Russell T Davies. Anyway, Michael Haneke’s film is another study of a modern world in which no-one is able to successfully articulate their sicknesses to each other, a condition largely accounted for (or symbolised by) the screens that have intruded between us.

As with The White Ribbon (perhaps more so) the script is elegantly decentralised across the experiences of the ensemble cast’s characters without feeling fragmented (interconnectivity without communication). Perhaps the tradeoff for this is absence of the black intensity of Amour, besides the most physical karaoke session ever witnessed. And while the pacing of individual scenes like Eve and Thomas in the car is perfectly judged, there’s maybe an over-reliance on those trademark set pieces which threatens to undercut moments of surprise.

Nevertheless, Haneke at his funnest and funniest here, but still the best on the bleak and abstract absurdity that connects life’s particular tragedies.


Personal Shopper (2017)


In a weird way, it has a restlessness, a mysteriousness, and a narcotised glamour that it took me until the set of the London designers to realise was reminding me of watching Blow-Up.

In parallel with Maureen’s frustration at the greater difficulty she experiences connecting with the unknown than did her talented “medium” brother, there’s an underdeveloped theme of artists with comparably superior capacities (Hilma af Klint, Victor Hugo). Occasionally tarnished by its coating of mediation and ephemerality (skype, bags, taxis, coupons, streaming, travel, fashion, iphone [so much iphone]), Personal Shopper is minor key for better and for worse.

Still, it’s an idea first, and an interesting one – see also Three Billboards, though this is gratifyingly more committed. Great performance from Kristen Stewart. Better than A Ghost Story!


The Age of Innocence (1993)


Loved the editing (Bressonian yet sensual tactility, lavish sets discarded after a single shot, conversations tracked revealingly at the pace of thought). The voiceover was indulgently eloquent and conspiratorial. The story is super depressing. Probably a better film than L’Innocente but I think I’d take the latter instead. Feel like a tourist in these  films though.


Carol (2015)


Watch this instead of My Twentieth CenturyYes it’s chocolate-boxy, but I like the way it reaches back into that rosy past and remoulds it in the shape of a story which is fresh but believable. The opening shots of Manhattan streets could belong to any 50s crime drama throwback but we’re obviously given something very different, though something which feels like it’s happening in parallel with all that stuff (the incidental flickers of Montgomery and Eisenhower on radios and TVs keep this dominant, violently masculine context or historical narrative in mind. The motel ambush is a treat thus recontextualised).

Lots of Hopper – lovingly so. My dvd copy came with a few postcard screenshots that could have been grabbed from any scene. People talk about Hopper’s spirituality and I don’t know enough about him to relate to that, but the movement and framing here goes beyond nostalgia towards a kind of knowing self-indulgence, as if the secondary characters are consciously acting out the world that they know we will look back upon and imagine. It’s not NY Confidential though; there is a kind of all-American honesty to the stuffy superstore clerks, the dozy motel receptionists, the chattering NYT photo-editors. This harmonic glow rescues the festive yankee cheer, Leica photography, and heartwarmingly binary social dynamics from registering simply as hipster catnip in 2015/2017.

At the centre of this world is a concisely bittersweet affair. The title is an interesting one (given that it’s not The Price of Salt, the title of Patricia Highsmith’s novel): Blanchett’s Carol is largely foregrounded in the weightier second half of the film, which leans on her fractious family situation. I could have handled a little more emphasis on the progress of Therèse – perhaps that’s partly why Call Me By Your Name feels a shade ahead as far as pieces like this in my recent viewing history go. S and J talked CB up (and she swings so easily from liquid grace to trembling force) but I think Mara steals the show, especially at her most distressed. I needed that ending, though (glad it didn’t turn into Heartbeats).

Would consider taking my dvd home for Christmas.