film{from top l-r}
phoenix (dir. petzold) | leviafan/leviathan (dir. zvyagintsev) | the signal (dir. eubank) | calvary (dir. mcdonagh) | mardan (dir. ghobadi) | the duke of burgundy (dir. strickland) | love is strange (dir. sachs) | lilting (dir. khaou) | a most wanted man (dir. corbijn) | the imitation game (dir. tyldum) | itar el-layl/the narrow frame of midnight (dir. hadid) | kış uykusu/winter sleep (dir. ceylan)

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telly{from top l-r}
endeavour | sherlock | true detective | happy valley | house of cards | line of duty | the honourable woman | the trip to italy | penny dreadful | rectify

LOVE-IS-STRANGE

Love is Strange is a lazy Sunday morning. It is reading a book on the windowsill in the early pale sunlight before the world has awoken. It is quiet contentment, gazing out at a season of spring in Manhattan, watching the city stretch and yawn before resuming its usual motions.

Love is Strange is a Chopin prelude: simple, moving, and as Molina’s character states, in no need of embellishment. Although he speaks this quite late in the film, it is an entirely apt analogy for the tone of the film itself; this romance requires neither dramatics nor ostentation. As with any relationship lasting nearly forty years, the casual and comfortable intimacy is one that has no need of clumsy proclamations or insecure assurances – being and existing is simply enough. The very real vulnerabilities of old age and navigating the awkward logistics of separated living are not lost, but rather act to reinforce the realism of the couple’s bond, and how, despite it all, physical separation is no match for the underlying strength of a relationship as Ben and George’s. In the vein of the best of Altman, Allen, or Rohmer, Sachs has created a beautifully authentic and understated portrait of love in its later years, with all its complications and rewards intact.

turner

“All art is quite useless.”

– Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

“What is art?” asks John Ruskin, preeminent Victorian art critic and long-time champion of JMW Turner, with all the gravity of one begging the question “what is Religion? or Morality?” In a similar vein, we might ask, From what instinct in man does it spring? To what faculties does it appeal? By what rules is it to be judged? What purpose does it serve? (R.P. Downes) These are the questions that engaged Victorian admirers of art, and which continue to circulate within contemporary criticisms of art and its purpose in modern consciousness and context, but largely within academic institutions and (often) elitist circles. How, then, does art criticism maintain validity in the 21st century machine of temporary flavours? Few art films have broached the subject of art criticism specifically, likely due to the impudence of criticising one art form through the medium of another. However, with his customary cheek and candour intact, Mike Leigh presents an art film in Mr Turner that does not coddle its subject, nor go out of its way to make an emotional case for the eponymous artist’s tortured soul. Moreover, it is neither mired in cliché nor obedience to bourgeois taste, but rejects those very standards of what constitutes ‘good’ art. The criticism is twofold, first presented as Turner’s rejection of the intransigent Victorian art zeitgeist, and then as a sly commentary on perhaps Leigh’s own conceptions of critics of his filmography and more fully, the place of art criticism in the 21st century. In the technological era in which everyone seems to have an opinion on everything (the irony is not lost on me, fear not), Turner balks at public and critical opinion, but instead of bowing to them, forges ahead in solitary pursuit of aesthetic majesty. Mr Turner is not only a subtle satire of the art world however, but a figurative and literal portrait of a deeply complex and human artist, anchored by Timothy Spall’s immense performance as Turner himself, caught between shifting artistic landscapes and personal foibles.

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lilting-002.jpg_cmyk

He, who navigated with success
the dangerous river of his own birth
once more set forth

on a voyage of discovery
into the land I floated on
but could not touch to claim.

Margaret Atwood, “Death of a Young Son by Drowning” (1969)

As the days grow shorter, the air colder, the wind sharper, I long for the quiet films. As the artist Andrew Wyeth says, “I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.” Hong Khaou’s debut film Lilting has much of the same quality, sharing lifeblood with Arvo Pärt‘s Für Alina, at once sparse and poignant. Though modest, it is a profoundly delicate and graceful meditation on loss and human connection, coupled with the mechanical insufficiencies of language within the landscape of the immigrant experience.

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p

O ye who believe! Take not into your intimacy those outside your ranks: They will not fail to corrupt you. They only desire your ruin: Rank hatred has already appeared from their mouths: What their hearts conceal is far worse. We have made plain to you the Signs, if ye have wisdom.

– The Qur’an, 3:118

Imagine an overcast day in Hamburg, with shades of navy and greys, and the pending threat of rain. The stench of rotting fish, wood, and steel waft in waves from the harbourfront among the shrieks of mottle-feathered gulls, and the anachronistic clash of neo-Renaissance and modern industrial architecture stare silently on as secrets are whispered, concealed, and divulged around the rain-soaked pavements. It is the ideal setting for a spy story, simultaneously unassuming and fraught with tension. Like pieces on a chessboard, the many players each assume a particular role, cool and composed and set at a deliberate pace as the action unfolds carefully and gradually. In this taut drama, Anton Corbijn’s expert direction guides the viewer’s gaze over the action as it happens, not allowing one to get to close, but to coolly observe from a distance, as lives crumble and the world turns on.

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ImitationGame-Still4-RadioTimes

We may hope that machines will eventually compete with men in all purely intellectual fields. But which are the best ones to start with?

– Alan Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (1950)

In the very first line of Alan Turing’s seminal paper, he asks the question, “Can machines think?” To solve such a problem, he proposes the following thought experiment: suppose an interrogator and a human subject are placed in two separate rooms, but able to communicate. The role of the interrogator is to surmise the identity of the subject (an intermediary may or may not be included to aid in this process) by posing questions to the subject – a relatively straightforward enterprise. Now suppose that a machine takes the part of the subject: will the interrogator now be able to correctly discern that the subject is no longer a human, or is the machine capable of assuming the place of a human subject without disrupting the interrogator’s identification process? The imitation game, as Turing called it, has since been considered a benchmark proposition and holy grail of attainment in the domains of artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and a plethora of related fields. As much as it is a scientific question, it is also a philosophical one, and one that is at the heart of Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game. The eponymous game is not only a scientific endeavour, but one that questions the very nature of humanity. You may be able to discern from my blog that questions of science, humanity, and their intersection – especially in film – are of deepest significance to me, and The Imitation Game balances all three with equal weight in a way that few films have done so previously. While the themes of embracing differences to achieve triumph is made somewhat heavy-handedly, the more powerful themes of Turing’s original conception of the imitation game as both a scientific and philosophical question are interleaved more subtly, elevating the film above mere awards bait to a genuinely moving account of scientific genius and humanity.

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