With the worst of Covid-19 now hopefully behind us, Alex looks back at the heights of the pandemic to pick out key themes surrounding the virus and how it has affected our lives. Over the next few months, Alex will be curating film recommendations around these key concepts. He begins with a theme inspired by the political scandals of Dominic Cummings and Matt Hancock flouting their own rules in favour of personal desires – “hypocrisy”.
The Dreamers (2003) Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
Master director Bernardo Bertolucci’s tribute to French New Wave cinema, shot in the early 2000s, explores bourgeoise and cinephile youth culture in Paris during the ’68 student riots.
Nineteen-year-old American student Matthew (Michael Pitt) lives with Parisian twins Isabelle (Eva Green) and Theo (Louis Garrell) in their father’s apartment after befriending them outside the Cinémathèque Française during a protest. With no necessity to work, their days are spent lounging, discussing cinema, smoking, and drinking wine. Sex becomes the powerbroker in their relationship as the film builds to the twins joining in with the student riots.
Bertolucci’s schema isn’t radical like the best films of the French New Wave
At first Matthew seems the most naïve of the three and is naturally drawn to Isabelle and Theo who seem intelligent, cultured and most of all sexually liberated. But as the film continues and Matthew assimilates to the life of the twins, their powerful façade is removed, and we begin to see the extent of their immaturity and insecurities.
Bertolucci’s schema isn’t radical like the best films of the French New Wave. The camera and editing are all relatively non-descript and invisible to the audience as the flowing movement of frequent steady cam shots immerses the audience into the reality of the film emotionally. The film is in no way reductive like Hollywood’s closed romantic realism, as there is always a level of restraint and intelligence to the compositions – characteristic of European cinema. In fact, to an extent, the unradical schema is completely appropriate because overall The Dreamers seems to be sceptical of drastic transgressive action.
Full Metal Jacket (1987) Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam war film is incredibly sparse. It essentially follows protagonist private J.T. “Joker” Davis (Matthew Modine) through two sections; the first and most iconic is the dehumanising army boot camp, where young men are trained to kill under the guise of a psychotic drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey). The second is the urban warfare on the streets of Hue.
In some ways Full Metal Jacket is very different to other Vietnam war films in that the specificity of Vietnam is almost irrelevant, it’s more about the broader concept of the transformation of young men into soldiers. The film is conceptually focused on the contradiction between a soldier being a killer and their ultimate aim of peace. This dichotomy is flagged on the poster with Joker’s helmet, which has “born to kill” painted on it along with a peace sign badge.
Full Metal Jacket isn’t trying to be an immersive illusionistic experience
One of the more curious elements of the film’s production was Kubrick’s choice to shoot in England, where he lived at the time. The film never quite persuades that its locations are actually in Vietnam, especially when comparing it to a Vietnam war film like Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, which was shot in the Philippines. In that film you can feel the sweat dripping off the screen; naturally, shooting in England does not provide the same effect.
Yet its stagey aesthetic doesn’t affect the overall quality of the film as Full Metal Jacket isn’t trying to be an immersive illusionistic experience; like all of Kubrick’s mature work the film’s use of wide-angle lenses, rigid steady cam shots and slow telephoto zooms posits the film as a deliberate construct.
A Special Day (1977) Directed by Ettore Scola
Italian Canadian coproduction from Italian director Ettore Scola set in Rome on 4th May 1938, the day Hitler met Mussolini. The film takes place within an apartment complex where almost everyone has left to join the fascist parades. Remaining is housewife and mother of six Antonietta (Sophia Loren), the caretaker (Françoise Berd) and bachelor Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni), who lives across the courtyard from Antonietta.
A Special Day’s greatest strength is its economy of means
Over the course of the day, fascist Antonietta and homosexual/ alleged antifascist Gabrielle form an unexpected romantic bond. As this happens Antonietta’s strident fascist stance seems to effortlessly slip away and no longer have the same persuasive nationalistic resonance it once did. This is not through a political ideology replacing it, but simply through her own life now holding some new value outside of her mundane family duties.
A Special Day’s greatest strength is its economy of means. It manages to accomplish so much with so little real estate both in terms of location and time, all while remaining completely believable and sincere. This principal continues to the film’s schema which is reserved and unpretentious. Despite being a drama largely driven by dialogue it manages to retain a sense of visual storytelling and restraint. Shots are given time to breathe, and confidence is placed in silence.
Featured Image courtesy of Jon S via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
In-article trailer 1 for The Dreamers courtesy of Recorded Picture Company via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video.
In-article trailer 2 for Full Metal Jacket courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video.
In-article trailer 3 for A Special Day courtesy of Cult Films via youtube.com. No changes were made to this video.
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