Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Babette’s Feast

I have to tell you about a great cinematic experience I’ve had. On Saturday, I saw the ever excellent, Babette’s Feast (Gabriel Axel, 1987), which was put on by the marvellous Rusthall Community Cinema, which is in a village abutting Tunbridge Wells. The Community Cinema was set up a couple of years ago and it has flourished under the stewardship of Eugene Gardner and the rest of its volunteers. The film is the story of Babette, who through some twists ends up being the housekeeper to two sisters living on the unforgiving Danish coast in the late nineteenth century.
Babette, we learn, is French and is recommended to the sisters by an erstwhile singing teacher and suitor to one of the sisters, a M. Papin. In fact Babette is actually more of a companion, who works for nothing, as the sisters cannot afford to pay her. A friend of Babette’s, in Paris continues to enter her into a local lottery and one day, after many years in Denmark her numbers come up and she wins 10,000 Francs.
To coincide with the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the sisters departed, Pastor father’s birth, Babette offers to cook a French feast for the sisters and the villagers, using the proceeds of her win to pay for this. There then follows the famous feast. In the depiction of the preparation we see languorous and lush sequences of the food in the kitchen, that bring to mind painted images of such by old masters.
The, film as well, treads that well-worn path in talking about redemption, forgiveness and eventual acceptance. What it does though is to show that with age, it’s often easier to forgive, especially when you’ve got a full stomach and you’ve had a few.
Now, in Rusthall on Saturday, the community cinema people and a local café, the Daily Bread, did their very best to recreate this meal before we saw the film. They did a stupendous job. We had a magnificent seven course meal which were reminded of throughout the film.
Rusthall Community Cinema certainly strives to earn its stripes as an event cinema destination. At previous films the volunteers have dressed for the occasion, especially for the Grand Budapest Hotel and Bridge of Spies. The Sunnyside Hall is normally adorned with appropriate ephemera. They really make an effort to make the films come alive. They organise discussion groups to chew over what we’ve just seen. This effort, though, was above and beyond the call of duty and made for an extra special evening.

Friday, 27 January 2017

T2 Trainspotting

When Irvine Welsh published Porno, his sequel to Trainspotting, in 2002, Adrian Fry was most perturbed and complained that I wouldn't be able to red it on the bus owing to the cover featuring a blow up doll. Fourteen or so years later comes T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 2017) the film sequel which, according to the credits is based on Porno and Trainspotting. So we have Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, Begbie and Diane dealing with the consequences of the first film.

The film begins in Amsterdam with Renton running on a treadmill, we’re treated to a montage about the city, akin to an earlier about London. This one though features Johan Cruyff and Robin van Persie doing the business for the Dutch national team. Partially due to a collapse on the treadmill; Mark returns to Edinburgh. Here he meets up with friends, families, acquaintances and old haunts.

Of course the past hangs over everyone, as happens in life. There is the habit as well that as people get older then reminiscences grow and you spend more time in the past. Mark, Simon, Spud and Begbie spend a lot of time in the past, using this experience to inform the present. This is explored as well in looking at the relationship between father and son; and how this can ead to the recognition that not all traits need to be passed on. This is the same with Edinburgh which we see as a city of change, it’s discussed in the film how gentrification has not reached all the districts of the city though. Edinburgh is recognised as being more cosmopolitan and how European money has been aiding the regeneration of post industrial areas, for the time being.

One of the best things about this film is that Danny Boyle has not remade Trainspotting. This film features an excellent soundtrack that rivals that of the first film. The film though has a much different tone than the first film. That was about men in their twenties this is about men in their forties. There are exhilarating moments, there is conflict, there is drug misuse. However the characters have moved on, along with the audience.

Monday, 23 January 2017

I, Daniel Blake

When I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach, 2016) was released there were arguments and discussions in the press as to how accurate the film was. Iain Duncan Smith, the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, argued that it was not and Damian Green, his successor, argued in a similar way. Unfortunately it transpired that Green hadn’t seen it and described the film as ‘monstrously unfair’. Which it seems is a fair description of the Tory welfare policies that led to writing and making of the film.

The story and its scenarios was constructed by information divulged by Department for Work and Pensions employees and members of their union; the PCS. This would indicate that there are staff members are far from comfortable with the situations portrayed in this film and what they are called to do. This is evident in the film where a job adviser is told off by her manager for giving too much help to a claimant. Part of the problem would be that the DWP staffing budgets have been cut meaning that the time that they can spend with claimants would be reduced.

The story is that the eponymous hero, Daniel Blake, suffers a heart attack whilst working as a carpenter. Due to his heart condition he is told not to work by his doctor and the nurses who care for him. He should then receive Employment and Support Allowance, but he is assessed as being fit for work because he says that can put a hat on and that he could walk fifty metres. He is then cast into a bureaucratic, cold and uncaring system; which has him having to look for work and proving that he is doing so, while he should be resting and recuperating.

With the film being set in Newcastle and featuring the stories of working class people returns us to familiar territory for a Ken Loach film. He has highlighted injustices in the past and illuminated some people whose plight does not often see the light of day.

In this story Daniel befriends Katie, who has moved to Newcastle with her two young children from London after they were evicted from their accommodation. We see the struggles they go through and the choices that they are faced with. These choices, of course, are the result of circumstance and consequences. The point is made that when you have nothing, or next to nothing, then you can easily end up in situations that are far from perfect; making choices that you should not have to make.

This film shows up the human cost of cutting welfare. These cuts cannot discriminate so that they only affect so called scroungers. As depicted in the film the cuts and the system they lead to leave some people behind. Digital by default is a mantra used here as well. If for whatever reason you are not fully participating in the information age then the government may not help you and you may fall behind, or worse. If your condition, or state of health, has a temporary effect, or you’re able to perform simple tasks there apparently is no excuse for you not working, you’re fit for work and should look for work. Here this includes a major heart condition that slows and doesn’t necessarily stop you.

When I think about the cultural impact of this film and the heap of bureaucratic snares that are depicted I’m reminded of Kafka, Swift and Lewis Carroll. There is a ridiculous element to this, the state does seem to have evolved into that role of the red queen eliminating problems in a cold had heartless manner, whilst the relatively caring king seems to be ineffectual. I read an article that said that filmmakers today should be asking questions and it wasn’t necessarily their place to answer them, rather like here.