I, Daniel Blake

I, Daniel Blake: a must see film from socialist director Ken Loach. An attempt to shove the real issue into the eyes of the public, and confront the government on its poor attention to the benefits system and its policies. I, Daniel Blake removes the stereotypes surrounding those who claim benefits, whilst reducing the stigma surrounding the word ‘benefits’ itself.

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Loach focuses on character Daniel Blake, a man who, after suffering a heart attack, is strongly advised by his doctor not to work. After a painful yet humorous health check interview from the job centre, they conclude that he is fit enough to work – ignoring a professional doctors orders. Here begins Blake’s journey for job seekers allowance – spending 35 hours a week looking for jobs he will not be able to take. He travels this journey with single mother of two kids Katie, whom he met when he courageously and movingly sticks up for her at a ridiculous dispute between Katie and staff at the job centre. It is moments like these where the anger and frustration of the people seeking help are plainly revealed. As an audience we too share this anger, and become immediately overwhelmed, even mortified, by the way the staff so poorly, unfairly and unsympathetically handle a situation. Throughout all the struggles and heartaches revealed, we often forget that throughout all of this, two young children are present. Most raw and difficult to watch for me, was the food bank scene; Katie, so unbelievably hungry, suddenly and unexpectedly pulls open a tin of baked beans and ravenously scoops out the contents with her hands, before breaking down in tears to stop and realise what her life has come to. Inhumane, unimaginable, and vulgar, yet so real.

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Our society, namely the media, has created this negative image of people on benefits – as people who are aggressive, “common”, lazy, fraudulent. News and tv shows focus on particular characters, that may be more entertaining for the typical viewer. Yes, there are people out there who claim benefits fraudulently, however, this is not the majority. And it is not unordinary to see people getting slightly aggressive, but what brought them to feel so angry? When being treated a certain way, for example by an unmotivated employment centre, any one of us would react in the same way. It is this image presented in the media, and this stereotype, that has been embedded into our minds. Ken Loach stylistically presents us with these ordinary people – those people who we are not, but should be, more aware of.

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**SPOILER ALERT**

Despite slight predictability, the ending was necessary and powerful. Certainly still shocking, it was a somewhat essential result for us to feel so saddened. Loach could not risk leaving the audience with a  happy ending, of success and accomplishment, for us to leave our seats feeling relieved, end of. It was not Loach’s aim to just complete the story, because his story is not complete – it is currently never ending, until governments drastically alter their policies. He did not want his ending message to be a typical “just keep persisting, never give up, and you’ll get there in the end!” Daniel Blake never gave up, and inspirationally so, but the message left by the end of the movie was the fact that the way the system is being run is wrong. Ken Loach digs behind the scenes, where audiences have not been, to reveal the truth behind the benefits system. It unfortunately takes a lot for our brainwashed minds to feel such care or any physical effect for an issue such as this.

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Raindance Film Festival

I was treated to a taste of the Raindance Film Festival by my sister last month at Vue Piccadilly. Whilst browsing the selection of films to go see, two stood out: Nascent and The Shepherd. We had to pick one, so picked The Shepherd, to discover that Nascent was the short film showing just before The Shepherd as part of the ticket – perfect!

Nascent 

A civil war in Central African Republic has dispensed of the once peaceful nation, and replaced it with a land of fear and destruction, along with segregation between Christians and Muslims. This movie, directed by Lindsay Branham and Jon Kasbe, follows two young children – a Muslim girl and a Christian boy – whom confide in each on this issue that is shaping their lives.  The soft voice of a child throughout (with assisting subtitles) is poignant against the setting and sounds. As they bounce off each other asking questions and seeking answers, we are confronted with a final question, with the child asking the other when they think the war will be over. The question is simple, blatant, and unrestrained, as we delve into the mind of a child. The two characters  represent the many children involved in the horrors of war. We are forced to pause on the effect that war has on children, and the way war engulfs their childhoods. People try to protect the young first in war; we seem most saddened by the youngest casualties, yet no matter how much we try, they see what we see no matter what. With the gift of naivety, the children in Nascent vocalise questions we dare not to ask, for fear of not knowing the answers. Irrespective of age, the film reminds us that no-one really knows the answers to war. Written text then informs us that it was only by 2012, that the Central African Republic held their first democratic election. In just 7 minutes of movie making, we are reminded that war is brutal, unconstrained, unlimited, and seemingly never ending…

The Shepherd

This film follows the life of shepherd Anselmo, living and working on his plot of land in Spain. He leads a non materialistic, simple life – whether looking after his flock of sheep, going to the local pub, or looking after his closest companion, his dog. He is soon confronted and threatened by a construction company who attempt to get Anselmo to sell his land to them – to which Anselmo both stubbornly and valiantly resists, despite heavy grief from once close friends. Brave, resilient, and determined, Anselmo takes the viewer to his side, forcing us to feel his anger. Director Jonathan Cenzual Burley delves deeply into the character, with vigorous detailing and explorations. As explained by Burley in the Q&A afterwards, this was not, however, about character analysis. Certainly for me, a blatant attack on current day capitalism. A great sense of him wanting to share and make aware to people that this behaviour is wrong – but sadly universal. A political outcry. Burley has to detail his character in order for us to feel involved, to care, to feel empathy and to rival against the conniving corporation.

Tranquil settings are shot beautifully and constantly throughout, becoming a consistent stylistic feature, so that every shot is utterly awe inspiring. A sense of calm and tranquility, juxtaposed by the brutal reality of the story that is the complete opposite of calm. Is it meant to stand to reflect what should be instead? This constant emphasis of the beauty of the land reminds us how precious it is; to then realise that if the corporation takes over, the land is destroyed through exposure to industrialisation, pollution and the egotistic wealthy.

I ask the final question of the Q&A to the director: “Do you think we will ever live in a society where profits do not come first?” To which he boldly replies “Never.” – adding that he is sorry his response is pessimistic, but he very much hopes that day may one day come, but certainly not realistic in his lifetime. It makes me sad that a man clearly so passionate about this issue – that he made a movie about it – doesn’t think it is a realistic possibility. We need more to be said and heard; we need system change. This movie boldly shames greed, exploitation and the deluded materialistic world that we live in.

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These two movies share similar experiences: wars, corruption, discrimination and inequality. Inequality fuels war; to eradicate war, we need to eradicate inequality.

Quick thoughts on shorts versus feature lengths: which has the biggest impact?
Shorts – not a moment to lose concentration, nor a moment to forget whats happening. In a shorter space of time we are confronted with the huge issue, leading us to ask more and want to know more.
Feature lengths – a chance to build up the story and the characters. We become engrossed, with a more gradual understanding. We can become wholly attached to a character, getting to know them more fully, resulting in having more care for the issue?

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Save Kiribati – Save Our Planet!

Through watching film, an aspect of interest for me is very often the meaning and truth behind a story, and its relevance on society today. My previous post on La Haine was a good example of this, where the corruption, discrimination, police brutality and stereotypes were a reflection of present day societies. Or my post before that, talking about Her, which made me think about the rapid development in technology; and The Talented Mr Ripley, on the issue of repressed homosexuality. My new main focus on this blog I have decided will be on relevance: how the movie manages to relate to societies today. 

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The Hungry Tide
is a 2011 documentary by Tom Zubrycki, exploring the state of Kiribati (pronounced ‘Kiri-bas’)- a Pacific island nation made up of 33 atolls (islands formed of coral), 21 of which are currently inhabited. In the continent of Oceania, Kiribati has a population of 102,351 (World Bank, 2013), and a GDP per capita of USD 1650.71. Vulnerable and under attack, this beautiful nation has become a victim of rising sea levels. The land of Kiribati has been laid bare to the seas. Across the oceans, humans are going about their daily lives of high mass consumption, while Kiribati – amongst other developing countries all over the world – takes the hit for climate change.

In this documentary, we follow Maria Tiimon – a  Kiribati woman living in Sydney, Australia – as she presents viewers with the consequences of climate change in her birth town of Kiribati, and the struggles the country and people are facing. We are introduced to her family and the community, as well as hearing from the then president Anote Tong. Maria – although shy to begin with – is conveyed as a passionate activist and NGO worker, whose confidence has grown by the time of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, where she voices the concern of the Kiribati people. Whilst facing her own family troubles, with the death of her mother, and eventually the illness of her father, Maria shows constant determination. Their efforts are valiant, and as a viewer we too feel frustration for the lack of urgency from those in power. Watching this film only now – 7 years after the Copenhagen Conference – the failed conclusion comes as no surprise (ie. no legally binding treaty made). One of my favourite moments of the movie was when Maria performs the dance of Kiribati at the conference: a taste of this barely voiced nation conjures up thoughts of a vibrant culture, brimming with life; yet, it was only a matter of time until global warming would wipe this away…

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The documentary informs us of some of the local consequences of climate change: displacement of people, as they are forced to move to other areas of the island due to the rising sea levels; drought; and erosion of the land – to name just a few. We watch desperate efforts of rebuilding a sea wall. Is it tall enough? Will it last? Probably not. Highlighted furthermore, is the issue of lack of resources: they are not provided with enough sandbags for a sea wall to be even close to sustainable. 

4941_edwards_hungrytide1It is not certain where the future of Kiribati and its people lie. Whether or not in 40 or so years, this beckoning island is encroached by the raging sea, it will be down to our actions. What is needed is innovative, effective, and sustainable ideas on how to adapt to climate change, so that the people of Kiribati can rightly live and die where they were born. 

“…it’s all due to the white man’s advanced knowledge. Us brown people, our knowledge has also increased but our knowledge has not destroyed anything.”

Post-The Hungry Tide (2011), at the most recent climate change conference held in December 2015 in Paris – the 21st annual conference of the parties (COP21) – 195 countries adopted the first ever (!) universal, legally-binding agreement. The Paris Agreement has governments agreeing on “a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels”, aiming to “limit the increase to 1.5°C”. It is about time that these conferences had slightly more success. This agreement, however, is only in writing; action is needed immediately – there is now no time for later.

Unfortunately, the most efficient and fastest way for change (namely with our use of natural resources), is from the enforcement of those in power. Therefore, we need system change. We need our people in power to be those who care about these issues, who will listen to those who do care, and who will promote more interconnectedness with governments all over the globe. The more awareness being raised about climate change, the more knowledge being shared, the more actions being taken – by anyone of us – are taking steps further to taking control on climate change, and getting voices heard by those in power. 

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Reflection on La Haine (1995)

It has been much too long since my last post! I thought I would restart with a mini reflection on the brilliant film I watched last night…

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La Haine (1995)

This french film follows a day in the lives of 3 friends – Vinz (Jewish), Said (Arab), and Hubert (Afro-French) – living in the impoverished housing estates of Paris outskirts- banlieues. Director Mathieu Kassovitz reveals the state of France at the time, with the riots and brutality that were taking place. Although his 3 main characters are fictitious, it was filmed during the time of the riots, in the suburbs of Chanteloup-les-Vignes, and inspired by various victims of police brutality at the time. It is a revealing and brutal account – unconstrained, truthful and utterly raw.

The cinematography is beautifully done (Pierre Aim) and directed. The use of black and white throughout is potent and apt. I found silence was used particularly stylistically, and allowed for meaningful pause, realisation and reflection. Kassovitz delves into the characters, to give us both a violent side, as well as, somewhat more often than not, a philosophical and emotional side – mainly from Hubert. Particularly the humorous toilet scene, where the boys are arguing the matter of killing a police officer as revenge if their friend dies in hospital; a small elderly man walks out of a cubicle after likely hearing all their talk, and tells a very random story, with no apparent punchline, to which both Vinz and Hubert listen intently and respectfully – as do we, following the main characters lead. There is also the art gallery scene which I love, as they wander aimlessly inside, for nothing else to do or nothing to lose; their response to the conceptual art around them is accurate and humorous: “It’s awful. Awful awful awful awful”… “Is that artist famous?”

Thought provoking and daring, this film made me reflect on stereotypes, discrimination, corruption, police brutality, and even more deeply, of what is hidden and untold.

La haine attire la haine” / “Hatred breeds hatred”

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Delving Deep

Its been a while since I’ve been on my blog… Schoolwork is keeping me busy, and making me forget that I have a line up of movies I am keen to talk about! Normally, my favourite time to write about a movie would be the day after I have watched it: it’s fresh in my mind, yet I still have time to reflect on my thoughts and questions. In this case, however, I have left it so long that my list of films I am eager to write about are piling up, and it is time I wrote about them  – despite them not being so fresh in my mind (I will try my best!).
The movies I wish to discuss here are Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ and Anthony Minghella’s ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’. Despite being of very different genres, these movies are – for me – somewhat similar, in the sense that both directors delve into their characters with great intensity, revealing their deepest emotions.

Her (2013)

Her, by director Spike Jonze, tells the story of a man (played by Joaquin Phoenix) who becomes fascinated by an operating system, designed to meet the buyers every need; when he starts up the program, he is met by Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The story is sweet, yet heartbreaking, bringing to light the reality of loneliness. For me, the loneliness was more apparent as soon as Samantha was made: the fact that he has noone else to turn and talk to, that he resorts to a robot, reminding us of the desire and need we have for another being to share our emotions with. The bond the two characters share appears authentic and real; he appears so happy and content when he is with her. Their harmonious relationship is guided by other subtleties such as the use of the colour orange which I noticed frequently propping up in the colour scheme. This movie made me ponder on society now, and the urge that we have to modernise. The speed in which technology is being developed today makes me question: does the computer system, as portrayed in Her, foreshadow a reality, that soon we will have invented this technology ourselves and everyone will be walking around plugged in to an earpiece, talking to a robot?..

I adored this movie – completely falling in love with Joaquin’s character, feeling saddened by his loneliness, but managing to feel fully satisfied by the end.

The Talented Mr Ripley (1999)

Being a fan of Jude Law, Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow, and always being up for a true psychological  thriller, I was super excited to finally watch this movie! Set in the late 1950s, this chilling thriller delves into the characters of (particularly) underachiever Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) and rich boy Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) whom Ripley is sent on an errand to retrieve in Italy to bring back to Dickie’s father in New York. The cool and smooth sounds of jazz that permeate the movie invites us into the culture of 50s Italy, enticing us also into the movie as a whole.

**SPOILER ALERT**

The cabin scene with lovers Peter and Tom is definitely memorable: the creepy maniac that is Tom Ripley strangling Peter to death, yet the sadness that comes with the tears rolling down Toms cheeks. This scene reveals an outpouring, troubled Tom Ripley – “I suppose I always thought – better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody” – and his savage murder – “Tom is not a nobody…Tom has someone to love him…Tom is crushing me. Tom is crushing me. Tom, you’re crushing me!”. The use of the word ‘crushing’ is utterly brutal, and the end is truly devastating – both the murder, and the fact that Tom was so troubled. As Tom dies, the closet door swings open and shut again, as if to reflect the secret of Tom Ripley’s homosexuality.

All in all, this is a disturbing, intense, and yet heartrending movie.

 

Confined Spaces

**SPOILER ALERT**

Locke

Locke follows the car journey of construction foreman Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), as he makes his way to a hospital in London, where the woman of his one night stand is giving birth to his child, despite having a big pouring job to deal with and wife and kids waiting for him back at home. This is an intense hour and a half of life changing phone calls, all piled up into the constricted space of a car. The movie is purely driven by Tom Hardy’s focused acting and compelling monologues, with help from the varied voices of Olivia Coleman (playing wife) and Andrew Scott (playing workmate). Ivan’s monologues were directed at his dad, whom he imagines sitting at the back of the car, and whom we realise abandoned Ivan as a child. This movie is completely thought-provoking, with the consequences of one action continuously building up and up, revealing the impact and emotion it all has on the one human being in the car.

      

The Breakfast Club

Although not quite as constricted as Tom Hardy in Locke, the majority of this movie is set in the library of a school, where a Saturday detention is being held. Five teenagers, all representing completely different stereotypes -an Athlete, a Basketcase, a Brain, a Criminal, and a Princess- form an unlikely friendship. The confinement in the room (ignoring anomalies such as their brief escape) results in a bond that they are unable to disregard; who they really are, and the personal challenges they appear to be facing, connects the characters in a way that is uniquely special. The confinement conveys a sense of imprisonment: the inability to get away from your opposing character, to the pouring out of deep emotions that cannot be let out elsewhere; yet, John Hughes also manages to create a sense of freedom in such confinement: the barely present teacher, to the running around and smoking weed. All in all, a comedic, eventful, poignant insight into five high school kids’ detention.