Just when you thought it was safe to scrape the popcorn off your crotch and go home to watch Celebrity Chlamydia Swap on the Jade Goody++ Gold channel, here’s your third festival of art and education! I was sorely tempted to include a double bill of Eisenstein films (Battleship Potemkin and October: Ten Days That Shook the World) on one of the nights, but I thought that might be too much communism (and montage) for some people. Watch and Learn!
Land and Freedom (1995)
British director Ken Loach makes socialist films, as you’ll know. Many are interesting, but the “realism” can be dispiriting and the politics not to everyone’s taste. Land and Freedom, however, concerns the Spanish Civil War, which people generally seem to find quite romantically idealistic. Ken’s onto a winner then. It tells the story of the POUM, a Spanish communist organisation that tried (in vain) to fight Franco’s Falangists. It’s all very moving – and I know Spaniards whom it’s reduced to tears - and seems more real than any other war film I’ve seen. But perhaps the best scene in my opinion is the longest and the slowest, where the International Brigaders discuss with Spanish peasants how to partition their land “come the glorious day” – it’s nothing more than that, a long and difficult but life-changing discussion.
Of the Ingmar Bergman films I’ve seen this is my favourite. It concerns an actress (Liv Ullmann) who's had some trauma and does not speak any more. In most cultures she'd simply be given a slap and kept in a backroom where she couldn’t be an embarrassment to her family; but in Sweden she gets an indefinite all-expenses-paid seaside holiday and her own personal nurse. The nurse (Bibi Andersson) is a chirpy, “normal” young woman, whereas the actress is menacing simply by her silence. The two are alone, and their personas begin to meld together as the nurse tries to maintain the barriers of her own sanity. It’s brilliantly handled, with “arty” cinematic techniques to point up the psychological conflicts. (There could’ve been a companion film to this one where Liv Ullmann is simply given a slap, but I don’t think it was ever made.)
I need a “music movie”, and my choice is East European gypsy. You wouldn’t necessarily want to employ one, but when they play it can be exhilarating. Tony Gatlif’s films - e.g. Latcho Drom and of course Gadjo Dilo - showcase this music, but Underground’s director Emir Kusturica is the other big name in the genre. He made the riotous Black Cat, White Cat which has a better plot, albeit a challenging one for non-gypsies. Apparently, Underground symbolically depicts and satirises the history of Yugoslavia since the 2nd World War, but, frankly, it just looks like chaos. A lot of the action takes place in a cellar - complete with brass band and an army tank – in which the inhabitants are unaware of the changes in the outside world. The soundtrack brought arranger (he claims he’s a “composer”, but he’s not, he’s a lyin’ thievin’ gadjo) Goran Bregović to the world's attention. What matters to me is that the film has terrific energy and the music is great, pumping, gypsy brass.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
I choose this film for a variety of reasons. It features perhaps my favourite straight Hollywood actor, Rod Steiger, and also the beautiful Sir Sidney Poitier, who’s probably the reason why it’s one of Mrs Dilo’s favourite films. You must know the story: Deep South USA, era of the civil rights movement; it's all very steamy, racist, and vengeful, but luckily we know that Our Sid is going to win through in the end. They call me Mister Tibbs!!! It’s also a bit like Bergman's Persona, in that the two blokes get to share a few “special moments” together. There are some great touches in the film, like using a quirky pop song for a whole scene long before Tarantino milked the idea; and the soundtrack also features my favourite musical instrument, the ţambal (a.k.a. "tsymbaly", "cimbalom", etc)
And so, my turn to choose 4 people to carry on the tradition of presenting their 12 favourite films. I nominate Kevin Musgrove (whom I'm suspecting has a lot to tell us on this subject), my two new friends The Dotterel and Daphne Wayne-Bough, and my homey Andy from Csíkszereda Musings.