We’re a long way from Phuket, Toto

19 11 2010
Apichatpong Weerasethakul

'Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives'

If a passing stranger with too much time on his hands were to ask me to make a list of the ten most important film-makers at work in the world today, then the name of the Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul would be somewhere near the top.

Unfortunately, as I’ve discovered from bitter experience, the opinions of a semi-employable film ‘blogger count for little in this cold, hard world of ours. So it’s gratifying to see that Apichatpong (or Joe to his friends) is finally starting to receive the international recognition that he deserves for his work, with a Palme d’Or win at this year’s Cannes Festival and his latest film set to represent Thailand at next year’s Oscars.

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Notable Films of the Noughties

18 12 2009

Walking the walk. 'Elephant'

And so here, with all of the usual caveats, and in no particular order, is a list of films that have moved, excited and inspired me over the last ten years.

The Great

Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)

A long, lazy stroll around the scene of a gathering storm, Elephant uncovers both the very particular, private world of the American teenager and the kind of wider social malaise that finds an outlet in the occasional high school massacre. It’s an angry film in some ways, but also by turns calm, dreamlike, and level-headed, and filled with unforgettable moments (that scene with the bulimic girls: need I say more?).

Syndromes and a Century / Sang sattawat (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)

I’ve said it elsewhere on this ‘blog recently, but to my mind Apichatpong Weerasethakul (or ‘Joe’ to his friends) is one of the few contemporary film-makers who’s genuinely interested in finding new and exciting possibilities in cinema. This 2006 film tells mirrored stories of love in a rural and an urban Thai hospital, and is my favourite of his. Like all of Apichatpong’s work, the film is split into two halves, with scenes that unfold with a gentle, unforced naturalism, and much to think about once you’ve left the cinema. If you let it (and you should) Syndromes… will hypnotise you. In a good way, of course…

Hidden / Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)

A thriller of sorts from everyone’s favourite Bad Santa Michael Haneke. Here the subject matter is class and colonial guilt, and the director’s gaze has never been harsher. Juliette Binoche is intense and French, Daniel Auteuil is conflicted, and the film itself is a veritable puzzle box for the unpicking. Also contains possibly the most shocking cut (so to speak) in Noughties cinema. Ouch!

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HBO versus Apichatpong Weerasethakul

19 11 2009

'Syndromes and a Century'

It’s ten years now since Tony Soprano first waddled onto small screens around the world. In the decade since we’ve seen something of a revolution in the way that television shows are made and watched, with programmes like The Wire, Mad Men and Six Feet Under representing a new, smarter kind of television drama. Here in the UK, DVD box sets of HBO shows are phenomenally popular, in a way that could barely have been imagined fifteen years ago.

The HBO revolution is generally seen as having been a good thing for television, encouraging good writing, experimentation and ‘dumbing-up’ in what can be a pretty dumbed-down medium.

What’s less often explored is the impact that HBO has had on cinema. On the face of it, things don’t look good. There’s a widespread feeling among people of my generation that the cable channel has beaten cinema at its own game. Having stolen cinema’s clothes by incorporating cinematic techniques into small-screen storytelling, it has proceeded to create narratives of a length and complexity that cinema simply can’t rival. Most films have two or, at a push, three hours to tell a story. HBO dramas have at least ten, spread out across a season. You only have to dip into Mad Men to see how much pleasure its writers take in delaying, deferring and waylaying the kind of narrative developments that in a two hour film would have to come thick and fast every ten minutes. 

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