Mind Your Language

24 09 2009
Christoph Waltz in 'Inglourious Basterds'

Christoph Waltz in 'Inglourious Basterds'

There’s a nice moment early in the 1983 Mel Brooks film To Be or Not To Be when the dialogue suddenly switches from one language to another. Brooks and his co-stars play a troupe of Polish actors, caught in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. In the first scene, as the curtain of their theatre goes down after a performance, the actors hold a panicky behind-the-scenes conference in gabbled, subtitled Polish. “Can’t we just switch to English?” someone suggests. The actors sigh with relief and, for the rest of the film, everyone speaks in American-accented English.

It’s a good joke, and one that highlights a problem that English-speaking directors face when making films for English-speaking audiences about non-English-speaking people. Do you employ local actors and subtitle everything? Or do you throw realism to the wind and cast, say, Ray Winstone as a gondolier or Tom Cruise as a Nazi? 

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Almodóvar and Me

17 09 2009
Penelope Cruz in 'Broken Embraces'

Penélope Cruz in 'Broken Embraces'

Everybody loves Pedro Almodóvar. His latest film Broken Embraces opened in the U.K. a few weeks ago to, if not exactly rapturous praise, then at least a respectful critical response. ‘Luxuriously beautiful,’ wrote Derek Malcolm in The Evening Standard. ‘A richly enjoyable piece of work,’ concluded Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. There was a feeling among critics that even if they were not dealing with a masterpiece here, this was at least a minor work from a great master of modern cinema.

Audiences love Almodóvar too. Over the last ten years, films like Volver, Talk To Her and Live Flesh have proved to be popular arthouse successes. Almodóvar has brought into the cinema people who may not have seen a foreign language film for years, which can surely only be a good thing. Almodóvar is the ‘world cinema’ director who your gran might have heard of. In a way, Almodóvar is ‘world cinema’ for a lot of people. 

Yep, everybody seems to love Pedro Almodóvar. Except, I’m sorry to say, me.

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Leave It to the Non-Professionals

10 09 2009

 

Katie Jarvis in 'Fish Tank'

Katie Jarvis in 'Fish Tank'

There’s a story that when Luchino Visconti was filming La Terra Trema, his 1948 neo-realist study of the lives of Sicilian fishermen, he tied fishing wire to the toes of his actors. This wasn’t, as you might imagine, anything to do with keeping them inside a boat or preventing them from wandering off. No, the wires were there so that the director and his crew could pull on them to give a prompt whenever it was time for an actor to speak.

You see, the actors in La Terra Trema were all non-professionals, real-life fishermen who Visconti had selected for their hard-worn looks and thick Sicilian dialect. The fishermen certainly looked the part, but often had difficulty remembering lines or knowing when it was their turn to speak. Visconti was finding out the hard way that working with non-professionals is not always as straightforward as it might seem.  

Since then, hiring non-professional actors has become the trademark of directors searching for a certain kind of authenticity in their work, almost to the point of cliché. Everyone from Gus Van Sant to Shane Meadows is at it, the former casting his 2007 film Paranoid Park through an advert on My Space.  

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Cine-torture

3 09 2009
Christ, it's 'Antichrist'!

Christ, it's 'Antichrist'!

When did you last walk out of the cinema? That’s a question often asked of film directors, critics and other cineastes. Well, personally, I can say that I’ve never walked out before the end of a film. I’ve sat through cranium-numbing Godard cine-essays, I’ve braved the worst of Jim Carrey, Steve Martin and Adam Sandler, I’ve stood manfully on the deck of the sinking Gucci-designed steamer that was Sex and the City: The Movie, all the while saluting and determined to stay until the bitter end.

You see, if you leave early you might miss something important. You might miss the best bit of the film! You might miss the one beautiful and profound moment of truth that the film-maker has to communicate to the world. And so, even if I have my doubts, I always stay put until the final credits roll.

Except… well, maybe once I did walk out. It was at The Showroom Cinema in Sheffield, in 2002, I think. The film was Audition by Takeshi Miike. In mitigation, I have to say that my sudden exit had nothing to do with the quality of the film. No, it had more to do with the rush of blood to my head and the queasy feeling in my stomach.

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