Shane Meadows is known to make movies about his own experiences. This is England is no exception. The idea for the movie came from the director s childhood, and it is the most personal film Shane Meadows has made so far, as he said himself.
In an interview at the British Film Institute’s Southbank theatre in April, Meadows talked about his upbringing. “Yeah, every moment of joy in my life usually stunk of sadness. Every time I was just about to get somewhere someone stuck a dart up my arse. That’s how I remember growing up in Uttoxeter. When things were at their shittest, people seemed to be at their best and when things were at their best, people seemed to be at their worst …”
The film starts with a sequence of clips, introducing the viewer to England in 1983. When watching the intro, I got the feeling I am about to see some kind of documentary, due to the footage being shown.
The mise en scene is outstanding in this piece C to be perfectly honest, I was silly enough to believe it was actually shot in 1983 in the beginning, which makes me extremely embarrassed.
The careful casting, costumes, sets and props makes it hard to believe the film was actually shot in 2006, which makes the story much more believable and easier to get into.
The piece is put together extremely well and the soundtrack comprises of the hits from the eighties, which sets the mood perfectly.
The main character is alone in the beginning C he doesn’t really have friends, he is being bullied at school, he gets in a fight with a boy, who makes fun of his dead father. Although the movie talks about some really serious issues like gang culture and racism, lack of jobs and immigration, it still manages to make you smile, like the bit when Shaun comes back home to his mother and complains about his trousers. This way not only are you amused and it takes off the depressing mood in the movie, but it also feels more real, less movie-like.
The movie is a typical coming-of-age sort of piece, where the main protagonist changes and matures as the story unfolds. His story basically starts when he crosses paths with skinheads and discovers belonging to a group makes things easier. They go out hunting together, and this comes from a real story of the director s childhood. The group he joins is relatively harmless C compared to what lies ahead. The good days don t last long C soon enough, Combo comes back from prison and steps up as the leader of the group. There is a feeling of tension building and although we see Shaun developing attachment to Combo, who is now like the father figure the boy never had, there is a strong feeling something will go seriously wrong. Soon everything goes from a group of youngsters, fooling around, to Shaun attending a National Front meeting. For me, a person, who isn t too political, this movie is also educating C seeing what life and politics were like in 1983.
In the movie we see Shaun becoming a man in a very short period of time. A very important scene in This is England is when Shaun gets his cross tattoo. The director, Shane Meadows, has the exact same tattoo on the same finger. This marks Shaun, as a worthy member of the Skinheads, who agrees to stay in the group for the rest of his life.
Although Shaun is now Combo’s protegee and receives his undivided attention, we see that his relationship is starting to become dangerous and Combo is a bad influence on the young boy. Silly hunting games that Shaun used to play with the previous skinhead group turn into real acts of violence in Combo s.
It must be noted that the performance by Stephen Graham, who plays Combo, is simply astonishing C when the group robs the shop, the intimidation and hatred he created were so real and believable, for one moment there I got into the action so much, I was scared for the shop owner s life, only to realize it s just an actor.
In my opinion, Combo is just as important as Shaun, because the complexity of Combo s character is what drives the story. One second he is talking to Milky with respect and treating him like a brother, the other, he bursts out and beats him to death, which shows Shaun the real face of his beloved idol, when the latter unleashes his fury even upon his close friends.
The piece ends with a reference to 400 blows , which is another coming-of-age film. The main character Shaun runs to the sea, which is considered to be a symbol of freedom and throws the England flag into the water, freeing himself and making clear that he is not coming back to the group. The last shot, exactly like in 400 blows , is him, looking up at the camera, making a connection with a viewer. After all, this is exactly what Shane Meadows intended to do in the first place.
Pierrot Le Fou
by Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard always said that he doesn t really plan his movies too carefully, and he does not intentionally leave any secret messages in them. It is all up to the viewer, to make what he or she wants of it.
After watching it I think Pierrot Le Fou is one of those films that you either hate or love and it is definitely not for everyone C the plot here can be confusing sometimes and the main characters hard to understand. Also, there are references to Vietnam War, which I didn t even notice and thought it was another random element of the main characters fooling around.
The movie is about Ferdinand and Marianne, a complicated couple who decide to run away together. They find each other, two misfits, and realize they want to isolate themselves from the fake reality they live in. This is really well portrayed in the beginning of the movie. We see Ferdinand in a party, which looks a lot like a parody for TV commercials. The guests are talking about different products in such manner you would expect to find in a commercial. The effect of it all being fake and distant to Ferdinand is also strengthened with experimental lighting.
I think one of the most brilliant scenes in the movie is at the same party, when Ferdinand meets a movie director and talks about cinema with him. This is obviously self-referential, but it was also brilliant to observe the misconnection between the two of them, because of the language barrier. The funny thing is, when Ferdinand asks the American director what is cinema, although the woman translates the sentence completely wrong, asking about his movie, not cinema in general, his answer, in my opinion, is exactly right. It is a battleground. It is love. Hate. Action. Violence and death. One word C emotions. This conversation, that might not leave a big impression on the others, left me in awe of the script-writing for Pierrot Le Fou . Another thing that I realized is the lighting changing, when he moves on from the TV-ad conversation to the American director. It goes from red, which is usually considered a colour of danger, alarm, awareness to green, which is soothing, nature-like. It is another way of the director showing that Ferdinand is very interested and comfortable talking about the arts.
The colour scheme in Pierrot le Fou is very important; I would say that at some points the colours even tell the story better than the action. I noticed two leading colours, which represent the main characters C red and blue. Blue is Ferdinand s colour C he is often shot next to the blue sky, or the sea, he drives a blue car and even paints his face blue, before committing suicide. I think the blue also represents his character, quite calm, relaxed, and even cold sometimes.
Red, on the other hand, is the complete opposite and it is the colour of Marianne C she drives a red car, wears red clothes, and is simply a vivid, energetic character.
Another important colour in the film is yellow, which is represents jealousy and betrayal.
Toward the end of the movie, we see the exchange of the colours C Ferdinand s head, wrapped in a red scarf, when being tortured; symbolizing the fact that it s all happening because of his relationship with Marianne. Also, the couple exchanging cars and Ferdinand starting to wear a bright red shirt.
When Ferdinand and Marianne separate, after Marianne taking the briefcase with her, we notice yellow flowers in the background.
When Ferdinand approaches the dock, where Marianne is leaving on a boat, with her new lover, on his way there, red and yellow are dominating in the background. Ferdinand reaches the dock, where a single yellow barrel is standing, as he watches the woman he loves running away with another man.
The next shot of him is approaching a man sitting the ground, singing. We now see yellow taking over, as it is seen, as Ferdinand walks with his head down.
When he is on the boat, in the front there is a big yellow box, as if it was telling us that jealousy is driving him to the island.
Ferdinand is walking through a field and singing Do you love me at the same time as he passes yellow flowers.
The yellow starts to dominate again, as he approaches and shoots Marianne. The climax of this is Ferdinand s suicide, when he is wearing the red shirt, painting his face blue, and wrapping himself with red and yellow dynamite, which represents Marianne s betrayal.
Pierrot Le Fou is definitely now one of my favourite films of all time, and has so many different sides to it, that to decode the whole piece would take me an eternity, but I guess that is one of the reasons why I fell in love with it.
Meshes of the Afternoon
by Maya Deren
Although I am not a big fan of surrealism, Maya Deren s film had much more meaning to me, than Dali s and Bunuel s work. Meshes of the Afternoon , in my opinion, was less random, more carefully set and the symbols carefully picked to convey a message.
It s a movie about a woman s state of mind, her dream world and her reality mixing together in the end.
This film, just like many surrealism films, is an experience C you cannot watch it like you would watch a drama or a comedy. You could call it brain exercise, if you wish. Throughout the film there are a lot of symbols and the randomness at first might seem pointless, but the production is made really carefully.
The film starts with a flower, put in the middle of the road by a long female hand. We instantly realize this is not going to be an ordinary movie C both time and space are distorted C the hand comes from nowhere, and suddenly disappears.
The flower, of course, symbolizes beauty, love and femininity. Soon after this we see a woman picking up the flower, which indicates it is a piece about her and her place, as a woman.
The fact we do not see the main character s face, creates tension and curiosity about her intentions.
As she tries to open the door, she loses the key and it falls all the way down the stairs. To me the key probably symbolizes answers, freedom and solutions.
She enters the house and sees things scattered all over the place C newspapers, a knife and a telephone. Once again, I can only interpret it in my own way C a knife is an obvious danger, also a possible symbol of a phallus. A telephone is probably a representation of the main character s connection, in this case C with herself.
When she goes upstairs, she sees a window open, which also can be interpreted as a symbol of freedom and escape. She notices a record player working, but not making any noise. I cannot really explain why, but to me the record player symbolizes her own life C it is playing, but there is no music, no purpose, so she turns it off.
Maya Deren keeps jumping from one place to another C just like it would be in a dream. As we see the world through her eyes, she turns her head and finds herself in a whole different room. This is all done to disrupt any feeling of order and continuity.
When she falls asleep, in her dreams, we see the cloaked figure for the first time. After seeing the whole movie I can only interpret it as the symbol of death, the Grim Reaper. This creature has a mirror for a face and it makes me wonder whether the main character is following it, because she is desperate to look at the mirror and see her true self. The cloaked figure is moving really slowly and the main character is running, but she cannot get even close to catching up with it. This represents her conflicted persona and the difficult state her mind is in.
When she comes back to the house once again, the knife is now on the stairway, in her way, indicating that it is unavoidable that she uses it.
After this we have a sequence of shots, which adds to the feeling of a dream C slow motion of her footsteps, tilted camera angles as she climbs up the stairs. Once again, the feeling of continuity is disrupted, as she enters the room through the window. The main character discovers the telephone and the knife on the bed, which creates a feeling of unavoidable danger. She goes back to the window and it seems like there is no gravity, a quite common dream that probably most of us have.
The main character now looks down and sees herself sleeping in the armchair, with the record player by her side and turns it off again.
The circle begins again, as she approaches the window and sees herself running. This creates a feeling of her being trapped in a vicious circle, with no chance to change it.
She then opens her mouth and takes out the key, which to me symbolizes coming up with a solution to her suffering.
The cloaked figure is now in the house and we get the feeling that death is coming for the main character.
When the cloaked figure disappears, the main character finds the knife again, but this time she doesn t look scared at all C she looks like is now at peace with the fact she is about to die.
The key appears in her mouth again and transforms into a knife, which clearly symbolizes that death in the answer.
The three representations of the main character now gather around a table and play a bizarre surrealistic game, where they find out who will have to be the killer.
The chosen one is now wearing strange glasses, which to me feels like a symbol of her, not seeing clearly.
I found it quite fascinating, when the killer walks towards the sleeping woman and the surroundings change with each step C it starts out with a beach, then she steps on grass, then sidewalk and then finally C onto the carpet in the house. This, I think, represents the journey you have to make, when deciding to kill yourself. It is probably the hardest thing you could ever do and the steps represent exactly that.
As the main character wakes up, the killer in the dream turns into her lover in reality, but we see the symbols from the dream around the room and the two start to mix together.
The main character s lover is acting exactly like the cloaked figure and we realize the main character is blaming all her problems on him.
As she breaks the mirror that appears to be her lover s face, we see the sea behind it, which is widely interpreted as a symbol of freedom.
When her lover enters the house, we see the main character covered in mirror shards, dead. The mirror represents finally breaking free.
All about my mother
by Pedro Almodovar
To Bette Davis, Gena Rowlands, Romy Schneider to all
actresses who have played actresses, to all women who act, to
all men who act and become women, to all the people who want
to be mothers. To my mother.
Dedication, All About My Mother, 1999
Pedro Almodovar is one of the most successful and well known Spanish directors of all time. He is famous for his movies, where he tries to explore the nature of being a woman. His movies, although quite complicated, almost always have a big international success and are being shown in cinemas all over the world. You could say this one is a chick-flick for the more intellectual woman.
All about my mother is another film about women suffering, with many characters and different stories, intertwining and showing different sides of womanhood. It is also worth mentioning that almost all the cast is female in this piece. This particular film declares that to be a woman you do not have to be born one, so we get characters like Lola and Agrado, who are transvestites.
Almodovar always liked complicated stories and although he tries to make it as real as possible, the lives of the characters sometimes seem so dark, it made me question whether there is actually too much drama involved.
The film begins with mother and a son, Esteban and Manuela. I got the impression in the beginning that the story will revolve around Esteban, his wish to become a writer and the story he began to write about his mother. This illusion was soon shattered, when Esteban died after being hit by a car.
The shot of him, lying on the ground for me was probably the most impressive shot in the film C the camera takes Esteban s POV and spins around, before falling to the ground. We see his mother approaching Esteban is slow motion, her coat red, the colour of blood and taking the camera, Esteban s head, into her palms. As she screams and lets go, the camera slowly moves back to the ground. This way of showing the tragedy that happened adds to the drama so much more than a normal two-shot ever would.
Manuela, who works as a transplant coordinator, is the one who has to give the consent to donor her boy s heart this time. Searching for some kind of closure, she secretly follows the recipient after the operation. This crushes her completely and she decides to go to Barcelona, where she used to live with the boy s father, who is a mystery to the viewer so far.
The focus from then on turns to the main character s relationships with other women she meets, her road to self-discovery and opening up once again.
The different characters is what makes this movie interesting to watch. Although for the most part, it focuses on Manuela, we get a good glimpse at the lives of other women that surround her.
This film, although so complicated and melodramatic, resembles real life as well C it makes us cry and laugh with the women who are in it.
Manuela, who loses her son, discovers she can deal with her grief helping others C she becomes a personal assistant to actress Huma, who is going through an emotional crisis, rescues Agrado from an enraged client and helps pregnant nun Rosa through her pregnancy.
Film references are very important in this piece as well C it begins with the mother and son watching All about Eve , which resembles the film s name and gives Esteban the idea how to call his work.
Another significant film that is constantly brought up is A streetcar named desire . The main character, Manuela once played Stella in a drama group, when she was younger and this piece holds a special meaning to her, since she also met Esteban s father there, who played Kowalski.
After so many years, due to the original actress not being able to perform, Manuela has to play Stella s part once again. This, for me, is a key point in the story, when the main character lets go and releases her pain. I found it interesting, because by acting, and pretending to be somebody else, she could finally be herself and cry out loud.
The colour scheme in the movie is quite controversial and has been criticized numerous times for overshadowing the actual story. Just like in Pierrot Le Fou we see red, blue and yellow dominating, but the two movies are so different, it makes you wonder whether the colour scheme is appropriate in All about my mother .
In my opinion, the colours are completely suitable and well thought out, because in a way they represent the colourful life and characters of the women in the film and by losing the colours the film would lose a bit of it s soul as well.
Overall, I enjoyed watching All about my mother C Pedro Almodovar is one of the directors who really tries to understand women and what it s like to be one. I found the film really emotional and touching, Almodovar knows how to create a bond between a character and a viewer, so you end up really involved with the story and the destinies that these women have as well as getting to know individuals like Agrado and Lola who to some viewers might be a mystery and really hard to understand.
The 400 Blows
by Francois Truffaut
The 400 Blows is a very important film, which started the French New Wave. It introduced another level of cinematic experience through cinematography, acting and much more naturalistic look and feel to the movie, which, for today s viewer, might be really hard to imagine.
The camera in The 400 Blows moves around much more freely and more smoothly, and besides recording, starts to tell the story with it s movement as well. Different angles and camera positions are introduced.
Antoine Doinel seems like an ordinary boy, who seems to get in trouble wherever he goes, his teacher constantly punishes him for the slightest mischief, his mother disregards him as simply being a waste of space and the beginning of his teenage years is proving to be a real hassle for young Antoine. He soon finds out his mother is having an affair, but we can see the boy is not bothered at all C he is much more concerned whether he ll get in trouble for skipping school. Later that day when his father comes back home and announces that the mother won t be joining them for dinner, it seems that Antoine is hoping that she will never come back, when he asks the father if she has left for good. This establishes the fact that the relationship between Antoine and his mother is less than perfect.
For myself, it was hard to watch how the adults treat Antoine; it seems there is nobody at all, when it comes to adults, who understand him. He sleeps on his tiny bed, lonely, disposable, like the trash he has to take out every night.
Although Antoine is disregarded as hopeless and simply ungifted he, as many children of his age, is simply starting to question the system and the fact he does not perform well in class certainly does not mean he is not capable. This film serves parents who find it hard to understand their children, because we get a glimpse of how hard it sometimes is to be a teenager C parents seem to forget it.
It is much like a documentary in a sense that we observe Antoine, an ordinary boy and his transformation to a young man, as well as the work of camera being hand-held.
For a short time in the movie, seems like the family has come back together and Antoine does not feel isolated anymore, but after failing yet another paper in class, he runs away once again and stays with his friend.
I think one of the most important scenes in the film, since it represents French New Wave, is the scene where small children are watching Little Red Riding Hood . Their expressions, reactions to the play are so genuine and lack that over the top acting, that the viewers who sat in the cinema theatre, watching the movie in 1959 should have been fascinated. And they were, since the cinema was never the same again.
The main actor s Jean-Pierre Leaud s performance in the scene where Antoine is being questioned by the psychologist once again brings me back to think of this film as a documentary C the acting is extremely believable and it is hard to tell yourself that it is a character, not a real person in front of you.
The most famous scene of the film, of course, is the scene where Antoine runs away from the Juvenile Detention Centre. There are two extremely long tracking shots, that break the conventions of cinema and stay with the subject for much longer than usual, but this is exactly what fascinates the viewer. His run symbolizes his long and constant search for freedom, and his desperate wish to be acknowledged.
His last look at the camera to me looked like he was thinking And what do I do now..? This last shot has been widely interpreted, but to me it feels like he has reached the sea, but he cannot escape from himself.
When watching this film, I thought about how lucky I was to have a childhood, and that many kids grow up all too soon. My mother used to say that you can tell if a person was loved, when they were little. This all applies to Antoine C he grows up too soon, due to the time he lives in, his parents not caring enough, the educating system failing to acknowledge his efforts to study and him wanting to be noticed, even if it s for misbehaving.
Even to this day, The 400 Blows is a remarkable film, which has and still is influencing many directors.
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