Saturday, March 18, 2017

Film Notes: The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos' film The Lobster is a most unusual offering. In fact it is weird; gloriously weird. The Lobster is a curious tale of the individual battling against social conformity on every side; set in a surreal, absurd and dystopian version of our own society. Despite that unifying theme, the rest of the film is a patchwork of different moods and settings; the two halves of the film are hugely different, and there are moments of horror, desperate bleakness, hopeless pity, and brilliant black comedy. If that sounds a bit Black Mirror, then that's probably not far from the mark.

Colin Farrell plays the lead character, David. In the opening scene of the film he is dumped by his wife, and promptly arrested, as the tightly controlled society in which he lives does not permit singleness. The exclusion so often felt by single people in our world, is extrapolated to being a matter of law in this film. Such a social satire is only the beginning of the weirdness however. Singles are taken to a 'hotel' in which they have 45 days to find a mate (with whom they must share a 'defining characteristic'), failure to achieve which results in them being turned into an animal of their choice. The Lobster of the title, refers to David's choice of transformation in the event of his failure at the hotel. The hotel, with its overbearing social rules (overseen by a brilliantly hilarious Olivia Coleman) is a surreal house of nightmares; complete with dating rituals, appalling punishments, and weird sexual codes. To add to the escalating madness, hotel residents can 'buy' extra days before their time is up, by killing single people in hunting expeditions into the surrounding woods. All the characters in the film seem to speak in a detached monotone too - as their genuine self-expression has long since expired beneath the all pervasive conformity. It is as bleak and soulless as their required sexual expression.

The first half of the film is set in this hotel, and is gripping, appalling, deeply weird - and brilliantly executed. Another twist is that David is the only character with a name - everyone else is only known by their defining characteristic, another symbol of their de-individualisation by the system.

The film then abruptly changes mood, as David escapes from the hotel and joins a renegade group in the woods. While the viewer might think that he will find some kind of freedom - here he discovers that singleness is enforced with the same degree of brutality as coupledom is in the hotel. Just as in the hotel, we never learn a character's name - here too they are just known as "shortsighted woman", even Lea Seydoux's chilling character is only known as the "Leader". In the woods, amongst the Loner's. David begins to fall for "Shortsighted Woman", played by Rachel Weisz - who also turns out to be the whole film's narrator. When the Leader discovers their affair, she blinds 'Shortsighted Woman', to prevent them running away to the city to live as a couple; unless of course David blinds himself too in order to share the all-important defining characteristic......

The second half of the film is less convincing than the first, probably because it doesn't maintain the surreal, bleak, absurdist humour to the same level. While this film is alarmingly wonderful, most of the brilliance (and the offence, actually), comes in the first half. There is little in the latter half to take the film above a (12) certificate, most of the language, violence and sexual references occur in the hotel; earning it a (15).

The Lobster is a warped, highly imaginative comic-horror-absurdist farce about social conformity. It is like no other film in its nonsensical premise, its relentless following of its own internal logic, and comic darkness and social commentary. It is greatly helped by brilliant performances from a superb cast, with Farrell, Weisz, Coleman and Seydoux at the fore. The soundtrack, with its flourishes of classical music, bursting in and out - add a further note of eccentric and outlandish creativity to proceedings. 

Highly entertaining, haunting, offensive, thought-provoking, profoundly idiosyncratic, and inconsistent; what's not to like about The Lobster. Definitely not one for under-15s though...

Monday, March 13, 2017

Film Notes: Blogging Through Krzysztof Kieślowski's "The Dekalog"

The Dekalog is Krzysztof Kieślowski's critically aclaimed and powerfully engaing series of short films, each of which is inspired by one of the biblical "Ten Commandments". Over the last six months or so I have watched them all, having picked them up in a 2nd hand DVD shop; but having previously enjoyed Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colours trilogy.

The series consists of ten little relational dramas, but they are all linked courtesy of the fact that the backdrop for each of them is the same massive Soviet-era Warsaw flats. Although the films are not of even quality, and three of them stand out as being exceptionally good; there are only one or two that fail to be truly memorable. Here is a list of links to my reiews through the whole series.

Dekalog One:
http://thathideousman.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/film-notes-dekalog-i-this-review.html










Dekalog Two:
http://thathideousman.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/film-notes-dekalog-2.html










Dekalog Three:
http://thathideousman.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/film-notes-dekalog-3.html








 

Dekalog Four:
http://thathideousman.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/film-notes-dekalog-4.html










Dekalog Five:

http://thathideousman.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/film-notes-dekalog-five.html







Dekalog Six
http://thathideousman.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/film-notes-dekalog-6.html









Dekalog Seven:
http://thathideousman.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/film-notes-dekalog-seven.html










Dekalog Eight:
http://thathideousman.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/film-notes-dekalog-eight.html







Dekalog Nine:
http://thathideousman.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/film-notes-dekalog-9.html








 

Dekalog Ten:
http://thathideousman.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/film-notes-dekalog-10.html







Film Notes: Dekalog 10

Dekalog 10, is Krzysztof Kieślowski's final short film in this series made for Polish TV in the 1980s. The series as a whole has gained 'cult status', because of Kieślowski's imaginative storytelling, some hauntingly beautiful music, and some clever and intriguing responses to each of the Ten Commandments. However, the series as a whole is best remembered as an insight into what late communist Poland looked and sounded like - as well as being a window into the ethical world of the decaying Marxist-Leninist state, which was overlaid on residual Polish Catholicism.

While Dekalog One begins the series with a stunning, and emotional wrenching drama which all but burns itself into the memory; Dekalog 10 is probably the weakest of the set. Dekalog 10, doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the series either. While parts 1-9 were all emotionally tense, gripping dramas, 10 was a farcical black comedy, which didn't hold my attention in the same way the othes did. So, while I was hoping that the series would end with more of a bang than a whimper, it would be a shame to let this detract from the greatness of the series taken as a whole.

Dekalog Ten concerns two very different brothers, (one is older and sensible, one younger and the front-man in a punk band). Much to their surprise, they inherit an invaluable stamp collection from their late, semi-estranger father. The 'do not covet' element of the film (which is the commandment in question here), is about the lust for wealth and riches, and how it divides the brothers, while they have it. However, while the brothers fall into mutual distrust - they are both conned and robbed of everything they inherited by a series of collaborating con-men. Finally, when others coveting their fortune has succeeded, they are reconciled, the poison of coveting having been neutralised.

As ever, the film is well acted, is atmospheric, and Kieślowski's usual eye for quirky detail shines through. It's not that it is a bad film, it is simply that after nine riveting and tantalising dramas, Dekalog 10 just didn't seem to be of the same calibre.

Spidean Mialach

It was wonderful to be back down the long dead-end road from Loch Garry through Tomdoun, Loch Quoich to distant Kinloch Hourn. It is almost a year since I have been in these parts, and my last drive down this long narrow, single track road, will forever be remembered as the day a car tyre blew out! On that wintry day I managed to climb Gleouraich, a lovely hill on the North side of Loch Quoich; but didn't attempt the steep descent across a heavily corniced ridge to its sister Munro, Spidean Mialach. This weekend I travelled north primarily to meet up with all my friends as Fort William Baptist Church on Sunday; who also kindly put me up for the night so that I could enjoy the hills on my way up to them. My initial thought had been to cross the Quoich Dam, and climb Gairich, a shapely peak on the south side of the loch. A neighbour strongly advised against that plan however, pointing out that she had done it in fairly dry conditions and even then, it involved wading through knee-deep bogs. Heavy rains in the Highlands over the preceding days would have reduced the path to a quagmire, a route better left for a drought, or a big freeze. My plan duly abandoned I struck North, between the dam, and the bridge which carries the Kinlochhourn road over the northern extension of the loch; created when its size was massively increased with the addition of the dam in the mid-1950s.

The path, which is clearly marked on the OS map, is very clear once on the hill, but its first 50metres or so are overgrown with rhododendrons. If it were not for a little cairn and a fallen post, at the side of the road, it would be almost impossible to locate the start of the path.
Once through the jumble of leaves, the path opens out and gives easy, rapid access to the hills. It bears right, under the power lines, and below a rocky bluff called Meall nan Carn. The path continues to bear eastwards, with the gradient easing across wide, wet peat, finally abruptly terminating at the bifurcation of the river, exactly as depicted on the OS 1:50 000 map.

From here, the obvious route is to continue to bear eastwards, climbing gently until Loch Fearna becomes visible behind the unnamed hillock at 614m. From there, it s direct line of assault up the unrelentingly steep and slippery slopes of Spidean Mialach. The summit, is graced with a small cairn and a spectacular drop off it's North side, an edge that was enhanced by some lovely cornicing. 

Sadly the top was shrouded in thick cloud the whole time I was there. The sun faintly appeared through it, along with the occasional path of blue sky - hinting that it might burn off the light the day up; open up the views, or even provide a spectacular inversion. Optimistically, I trudged over to the smaller top on the summit, put all my warm gear on, and snuggled down under the wind for a pleasant doze. I waited half an hour or so; but it there was no sign of any clearing of the cloud at all; so I reluctantly retraced my steps.

While I hadn't needed my (borrowed!), ice-axe; crampons were essential for the top of the hill, as the icy-slush on the steep sides was impossibly slippery without them. I kept the spikes on for as long as I could; following bands of snow and ice down the hill. As soon as I dipped back under the clouds, wonderful views appeared the length of Loch Quoich, over to Gairich, and down towards Knoydart and the Glen Dessary hills. My neighbour's warning about bogs on Gairich was almost certainly well-founded. The burns were in full spate on Spidean Mialach; one of which was very hard to cross. Rising water levels, fuelled by melting snow, made my concerned that my descent would be blocked, so I reluctantly used a bulldozed hydro track back down to the road; the car, Fort William and food. Once in Fort William, my friends up there were able to help me with the correct Gaelic pronunciations of all the places I had been!

This was a small Munro walk with which to kick off 2016. I am now itching to get my boots on again.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Film Notes: Dekalog 9

In the late 1980s, the celebrated Polish filmmaker, Krzysztof Kieślowski, set out to make ten short interlinked films. The films all shared a common location, a giant monoform set of flats in Warsaw, which create a drab and deadening canvass for each piece. The films all share a common form, in that they are all dramas built around the human relationships in the flats. The films sometimes even overlap, with characters and scenes from one film appearing as extras or backdrops in others. Most significantly though, the films are each loosely connected to one of the biblical Ten Commandments: "the dekalog". Having previously admired Kieślowski's Tricolore series, I was intrigued to learn that he had previously attempted something with its roots in the bible.

The ninth film in the series, shares all the features which marked the first eight; faded filming, moody, atmospheric music, sparse dialogue, the plot mostly driven emotional developments, not action scenes; where the ability of actors to reveal the inner lives of their characters while the camera lingers long on their faces; is more important than any stuntman, let alone special effects (of which there are none!) In Dekalog 9, the prohibition against adultery (and coveting a neighbour's wife) is in view. However, rather than using the commandment to ask complex questions (Do Not Steal; Dekalog Seven) or to deliver a political polemic (Do not Kill: Dekalog Five); Dekalog Nine is more of a straightforward story of tragedy, and relationship breakdown.

The film begins with a man being told by a Doctor that his sexual impotence is medical, permanent and untreatable. (An issue Kieslowski would return to with comic effect in Tricolore Blanc). Anxious, frustrated and angry, he tells his wife about the diagnosis, and also tells her that he would understand if she took a lover. She assures him that, she would remain faithful to him, declaring that, "Love is in one's heart - not between one's legs." As the story unfolds however, the husband discovers that his wife is unwilling to live up to these sentiments; and has a lover - a physics student who is many years her junior. He seems to be infatuated with her, and loves her both with his heart and er..... with what's between his legs; while she merely uses him for her sexual needs. The remainder of the film (along with some little sub-plots) charts the man's disintegration as he discovers the affair; and his attempted suicide.

Rather than leading the viewer to think and wrestle with complex moral issues, this is like a little morality play; in which selfish actions produce great pain and suffering amongst those closest to them. Dekalog Nine, is far from being the best of the series, it lacks the complexity and intrigue of the best of the works. It is still memorable in its own way though, because of the rawness of the human tragedy which underlies it. Another wonderful thing in this episode is the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack music by Zbigniew Preisner, which seems to perfectly amplify the emotional darkness of the characters.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Book Notes: Out There by Chris Townsend

I first became aware of Chris Townsend as the equipment reviewer for TGO (The Great Outdoors) magazine, telling me which boots were badly made, which stoves are useless in a moderate breeze, or which tents are easiest to pack-away in a storm! There was usually a little thumbnail picture of his face alongside the review, and I think I may have actually seen him on a hill near Ullapool once, over a decade ago. Without any doubt I once saw Cameron McNeish (who contributes a forward to this volume) filling his car up at the Auchenkilns service station north of Glasgow, many, many years ago before the road was upgraded. I was going to say hello, but he was in a hurry, with his head down - and didn't look especially approachable! So, when I was given a copy of Townsend's Out There for Christmas, I was aware of him, but had no idea what the book would be like. It turned out to be an unusual and rather lovely book, quite unlike any other outdoor book I have read.

Out There, is not a route book, it's not a technical how-to book, it's not a macho 'conquer the wild' survival guide, or even an endurance and survival memoir - it doesn't fit into any of those well-rehearsed genres of outdoor writing. Rather uniquely Out There, is a series of essays about different aspects of the wild environment, the value of it, being in it, the sensations it produces, great past writing about it, pioneers of it's exploration and preservation, of walks, camps and backpacks up small hills and across vast continents. Although what I am about to write sounds as if the book is dreadfully cliched and cheesy, Out There reads less like an outdoor manual, and more like a series of love-letters and eulogies to wild country. Townsend just loves wild land, in fact he seems to like it the more wild and unaffected by humanity he can get it. The book isn't romantic in the sense of a romantic poet gushing over the countryside in mystical whimsy; rather every paragraph of this delightful book is simply pulsing with Townsends love of the outdoors. His writing I found especially moving was were his descriptions of places I have seen, especially those in the Scottish Highlands which he has explored extensively; and where I have had many, many wonderful days.

Although this is about North America, this is how he remembers a night under the stars:
"On the first few days, I was captivated by the way the rocks changed colour with the passing of the hours - black, dark grey, deep red, gold, pale yellow, cream then darkening back to black - and the way shafts of sunlight lit up the shaggy red bark of an incense cedar, the way the creeks sparkled as they slid over speckled ganite" (p125)
This passion comes through whether Townsend is writing about long-distance paths like the Cape Wrath Trail, of encounters with wolves or bears, of battling the elements in the Arctic, or camping in a gentle woodland. I have to confess that some of Townsend's exploits are beyond those that most of us could ever contemplate; either in terms fitness, time or cost. Not many people get to walk the length of America - even if they were so inclined. It is tempting to think about such schemes, and to look at maps of the Pacific Crest Trail  - only to be brought back to the sober reality, that my last attempt to climb a modest Corbett were stymied by the need to pick kids up from school!

This is just a wonderful read for anyone who loves the outdoors. My most regular walk is a circuit of little Kinnoull Hill in Perth - at the other end of the spectrum to Townsend's huge achievements. But for a modest hill plodder like myself, there is so much in this book which is inspiring. Happily, the book avoids being diverted into other discussions - particularly politics, which add an unwelcome tension to some hill writers works. This is about Townsend's love of the wild, and little else. The best chapters are those in which he writes about the benefits of the wild, how to appreciate them most, and of his appreciation of it. The less interesting are those at the end which tend to be more straightforward memoirs of places, and trips; although those these too are good reads.

The book describes Townsend as amongst other things a photographer - and so I was a little disappointed that there were no photos in the book. I found that reading the book with a Google image search to hand was enjoyable, as the vast majority of places he describes, have been photographed by others. I subsequently discovered that he has his own website, http://www.christownsendoutdoors.com/ which does contain some images.

Townsend quotes John Muir - something of a hero in the book; who wrote:
"Everyboody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike." (p149)
It is early March, and the rain is currently lashing the roof slates on my house, which makes my study tucked in the very top of the building, rattle and vibrate. In fact, it sounds not unlike some of Townsend's descriptions of wild nights under canvass! I have been on 'parent duty' all day - which isn't something I begrudge by the way; but with Out There, open on my desk; I am itching to get my boots back on, feel a pack on my back, and see the hills again. I need beauty as well as bread.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Film Notes: Force Majeure

A perfect, rich beautiful Swedish couple, Ebba and Tomas, take their two children to a beautiful mountain resort for a week of skiing and family time. They plan to spend their days in the mountains, and their evenings with like-minded friends in the luxury hotel they have booked. What could possibly go wrong? Force Majeure is the story of a family for whom everything on the surface looks idyllic; but whose idyll is shattered by dark forces within them. These undercurrents, which have been suppressed beneath their their opulent consumerism, and outward beauty, are exposed by a crisis which physically only disturbs them; but promises to emotionally destroy them.

. The 'perfect family' on vacation look to be doing fine, until lunch on the first day of their trip. Until this point the only indication that all is not what it seems are the sporadic and sudden interjections of bursts of dramatic classical music; that and when Tomas lies about his mobile phone us. These are things which seem to be at odds with the proceedings; but in fact are in tune with the realities of the situation. Then a controlled-avalanche goes wrong and threatens to engulf the family. They survive completely unharmed, but as the thick, smoky, powder from the near-miss settles; it becomes clear that Ebba sought to protect the children; while Tomas grabbed his gloves and mobile phone - and ran away.

The darkly tragic-comedic situation that unfolds is the ever more desperate attempts of the family to continue to present their veneer of perfection; when the proverbial 'elephant in the room' must constantly be stepped around. Of course, as the saying goes, emotions are never buried - they are always buried alive! But when Ebba drinks a lot of wine, in company; all the pain and the anger of that fateful lunch come pouring out, compounded by Tomas' sorry attempts to talk himself out of the situation. The fake 'united -front' is seen through by the children who become emotional and difficult, fearful that their plastic-paradise is disintegrating. All the while, in the background, Ebba has a friend who seems perfectly happy in a promiscuous open marriage something she disapproves of; while her attempts to construct a perfect reality for herself are in turn hugely flawed.

The comedy of embarrassment, over cringe-worthy dinner parties; and by the frequent interruptions at critical emotional moments by the monosyllabic and stony-faced hotel porter; only alleviate the mounting tension slightly. Through it all, the family maintain their stringent teeth-brushing routines seeming to indicate that presenting perfect teeth to the world still matters - even if relationally there is deep-rooted decay setting in. This tension eventually erupts into Tomas' bitter weeping, and confession that he hates so many aspects of his cowardice and deceit.

The film ends with a group of scenes which neither bring the narrative to a definite conclusion, nor reduce the plot to one simple 'message'. In one scene, Tomas rescues Ebba when she seems lost on the foggy ski slopes, and Ebba announces that everyone is now happy. It seems clear though that she has staged the event, in order to reassure the children; but the viewer knows that her attempt to rebuild her husbands' character in the kids eyes is a reversion to the pretence of perfection. Finally, as the family leave the resort and an inept bus-driver scares them all to death on a perilous descent; Ebba loses her cool; and this time, it is her who runs from danger leaving the kids with Tomas. 

But what are we to make of this? Is it the case that Ebba is trying again to reconstruct her fake, perfect marriage and family life - this time by reducing herself; after having tried to just build Tomas up? Or it it simply that her previous judgementalism over Tomas' errors was hypocritical; because in fact everyone is as flawed as everyone else. Lurking alongside all of this of course, is the simple morality tale of a man who preferred his phone to his family - and may have lost them as a result. The final scene of the film involves the whole bus load of people walking down the mountain, having let the maniacal bus driver go ahead. They trudge back down towards their 'normal lives', with a mountain of unresolved questions to face; and the ripples of Tomas' character flaws still dispersing.

This film is, despite the relatively small amount of action, totally gripping - if at times unbearable to watch. Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli as Tomas and Ebba put in very good performances in which the chasm between their exterior and interior lives is writ large. They are ably supported by a strong supporting cast, including the children - who seem genuinely caught up in the sorry tale. Force Majeure ("Irresistible Force") is a cracking good movie, full of hypocrisy, vanity, conceit, lies and their exposure, love, pain, betrayal and glimpses of hope. Weirdly, its also at times rather funny. It certainly has enough unusual elements to set it apart from being yet-another action film or family drama.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Book Notes: A Better Story: God, Sex and Human Flourishing by Glynn Harrison

Glynn Harrison who was until recently Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Bristol, is also a Christian with orthodox/conservative Christian views about sexual ethics, family life and so forth. This unusual combination of expertise and convictions come together in his new, and rather unusual book: A Better Story. 

I think it is important to grasp who this book is aimed at, in order to appreciate the contribution it makes to these discussions; and understand what this book is not, as well as what it is. Beginning with the 'what it is not' then, A Better Story is not a detailed biblical or theological argument as to why Christians should continue to maintain their traditional ethics. Neither is it a defence of the procedure of deferring to the Bible, as the final authority for a Christian or a church's faith and practise. So, if you are looking for a book which engages with liberal theology (which seeks to move the ethical debate beyond the Bible), or with the 'evangelical left', and its radically revisionist readings of scripture; this is not the book for you. Rather, in these pages, Harrison writes for people who have reached broadly similar conclusions to himself about these foundational matters; but who are bewildered about how to relate to the contemporary world. 

Harrison manages to achieve these aims with great skill, combining serious academic rigour, with remarkably accessible language; while coupling orthodoxy with pastoral sensitivity. This makes the book worth reading in itself; however there is more. A Better Story isn't a church rule book, or a blue-print as to handle awkward ethical dilemmas in the life of the church. In fact, in his discussion of matters such as the case of a polygamous family who became Christians and sought to join a church; he demonstrates just how difficult these matters are. But this book is not a short-cut, which will offer a church a series of answers with which to avoid thinking; rather it is an invitation to think long and hard about what it means to be a biblical church in the particular circumstances in which we now find ourselves.

The book is divided into three sections, and within these, each chapter comes with a helpful summary at the end. These are especially useful for reminding the reader of the main points of earlier chapters, when the book moves so rapidly from one area to the next. 

Section One explains the so-called 'sexual revolution' not just in terms of social history, but also in philosophical and theological categories - including the re-emergence of Gnosticism, and the triumph of hyper-individualism, how moral systems are constructed and propagated, and the effects these changes have had on society and individuals.  A particularly fascinating chapter explains to the church how to adjust to being a 'cognitive minority'; who need to spend more effort in maintaining group ethos, than a previous generation of Christians who generally swam in cultural waters moving in the same direction as themselves.

Section Two begins with a critique of the church's dealing with sexual matters in the light of the sexual revolution he mapped out in section one. Interestingly, Harrison is not entirely negative in his assessment of all the changes brought about by the sexual revolution, noting that prior to it, the linking of sex with shame and secrecy was as unbiblical as what replaced it - and that the church was frequently complicit in this error. Then Harrison turns his attention to the effects of the sexual revolution revealing some interesting research which suggests that "the sexual revolution promised more and better sex, but failed to deliver". While sex might be more visible in the media, and all over social media, and society has become increasingly porn saturated; surveys suggest that the amount actual sex taking place, and people reporting sexual satisfaction is dropping. The value of, and decline in the institution of marriage is examined next, with an array of studies cited demonstrating the correlation of marriage with a whole host of benefits (without assuming crass cause and effects where they can't be demonstrated btw). One finding is of particular significance. Harrison notes that while the middle and upper-classes have led the liberal assault on the primacy of the marriage relationship and its historic definition; they continue to have higher rates of marital stability. On the other hand, the more vulnerable socio-economic groups have embraced this cultural shift, and failed to capitalise on all the demonstrable social goods that flow from the institution. Finally, in this section, Harrison turns his attention to the nature of identity - as it is today located in radically individualistic terms; and where the search for 'authenticity' is seen as a turning inwards to one's individual perception of their true-self; as opposed to an outward view in which external verification is sought, from biology, society, or God.

Section Three is where Harrison turns his attention to the distinctive Christian response to these issues; where the three subjects of the book's subtitle (God, Sex, Human Flourishing) come together. He develops several lines of argument, all of which are rich with ideas, insights and wisdom. His first task is to start with the basic Christian message, and to demonstrate the way in which the gospel provides a context and meaning for the whole of life; a big story of which the issues at hand are but a part. The concept of human flourishing which emerges here is that of redemption by Christ, and growth into his image, secure in his identity. Harrison then addresses how human sexuality is an important part of that flourishing, both as expressed in the covenant of marriage, and equally in the single life. Both, he demonstrates equally reflect different aspects of the gospel narrative, and the nature of God. As such, sexual desire should be shorn of any shame, and singleness of any social awkwardness, because both are important parts of what God planned for us, and things with which we glorify him. He moves on to look at the importance of marriage, family and church community as medium-level institutions, in which human flourishing is promoted. These are the opposite of the echo-chambers of social media where people mix in circles of people just like them; but where long-term relationships are forged with people we might not always choose! Then, he takes the church to task for failing to address this radically positive view of sexuality in the Christian life, (in other words only being known for what we are against), and states that every church should have a programme supporting marriage and parenting!

A thread running through all this material is that of the importance "story", of narratives which define the argument, which have more power than mere facts in moving and persuading people. By this, he doesn't just mean individual stories (important though they are), but also the narratives which are used to define debates, and interpret cultures. A dominant narrative today might be that we have finally thrown off the shackles of Christian guilt and can enjoy and explore sex more fully than previous generations. This is the sort of narrative that Harrison is challenging in this book; but he is anxious to tell us that we cannot do so just by quoting reports, and statistics alone - but that we need to construct and tell "a better story". On pages 180-182, he maps out what this better story might look like. It begins like this:


And continues, mapping out what a Christian and biblical view of human sexuality and flourishing looks like today, concluding with a repudiation of 'Christendom' style models of imposing our morality on others, in favour of a more gracious invitation to all to join us on this path.

For people and churches who share Harrison's core convictions, "A Better Story", is essential reading, as it is insightful, wise, scholarly, accessible, stirring to read and challenging the church both to faithfulness to its message and to repentance for its errors. It gives unusually clear access to complex areas of discussion and social analysis, without dumbing these issues down. It also gives orthodox Christians a great guide for beginning to think more engagingly and creatively about these difficult subjects. Christian morality will no doubt continue to be accused of being limiting, oppressive and immoral; but Harrison believes that it is enriching, and good for us all. For those who do not share Harrison's starting point, he provides a suggested reading list under various headings which explore these ideas in greater detail. This book deserves to be widely read - not least by revisionists who wish to move Christian ethics away from its biblical roots, and towards contemporary norms. Engaging with Harrison would be a helpful way for such folks to at least understand their opponents! The book also deserves to be widely read by those in broad agreement with Harrison; not least because doing so will help to prevent them either avoiding these issues and handing the ground by default to the wider culture, with all the problems that involves; but also because Harrison is a wise-guide in helping to ensure that such engagement will not be crass, controlling, or involve resurrecting the shame-culture of a bygone age.

---
Glynn Harrison was Professor and Head of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Bristol, where he was also a Consultant Psychiatrist. He now researches and writes about the relationship between Christian  faith and psychology, neuroscience and psychiatry.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Film Notes: Dekalog Eight

Dekalog Eight is a short film about lying, or rather the refusal to lie; even when the lie will save lives and hinder the progress of evil. The film is a powerful drama in which Krzysztof Kieślowski seems to question the absoluteness off the biblical commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour", through the setting up a moral situation in which lying would have been the better option.


The action in this film takes place in Poland, in the mid-1980s, but just as in Dekalog Seven; the story pivots around a backstory which is unearthed as the film progresses. An ethics professor at a Polish university engages in fascinating debates with her students, and is visited by a younger academic from America who has translated her works into English. The visitor contributes an ethical dilemma to the class discussion, proposing a dilemma about whether a Polish Catholic family during WWII, should lie and forge a fake baptismal certificate for a Jewish child, to prevent her being taken by the Nazis. In other words, is lying still unethical, if it saves lives and frustrates evil?


(Spoiler alert). As the film develops, we realise that the younger woman was the girl who was taken by the Nazis, but survived the holocaust; and the ethics professor is the Catholic who refused to break this Commandment - prefering to stay ethically pure according to her own code; but failing to impede the evil of others. The professor, haunted by these questions all her life, she is forced to face them again by the younger woman. Of course, the plot is more complicated than that single dilemma, the older woman explains that there were rumours that the family who were to have hidden the child were collaborators with the Gestapo. This means that the pressure to not lie, and allow evil was all the greater; coupled with the fact that cowardice and fear makes assessing true motives precariously difficult, even with ourselves. The film ends with the characters in dangling irresolution, the matter left to us to judge.

The original commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour" originates in the story of the biblical Exodus. Having led the people out into the desert, escaping from Pharoah's tyranny Moses is pictured in chapter 20, receiving the law of God on stone tablets. This was the original Dekalog. I have been reading this ancient story in recent days, and was struck by something in the story, which relates directly to the dilemma faced by the characters in this film. While Moses delivered the 'do not lie' commandment from God, Moses himself was saved from something of a Holocaust, because of a heroic liar. Pharoah had ordered the slaughter of new-born baby Jews, but Egyptian midwives lied to enable them to live. Fascinatingly, the book of Exodus, describes God as blessing those who lied to save life! My younger son (rather astutely) asked if it was different them, because they lived prior to the issuing of the 'do not lie' commandment, than for anyone subsequently. This is a great question, and I think that the answer that Exodus gives is that it is no different then as now. I suspect that if Exodus was wanting to propose a 'before and after' ethical watershed, it might have said that God allowed them to lie because they were ignorant of His ways. Rather than that, however, it seems that God actually rewarded them, for doing something He regarded as good.

Strong performances, and intimate facial close-ups capturing every flicker of emotion make this an emotionally stirring, and deeply involving drama. Each of these 'dekalog' films last an hour, some of them seem to rush by in minutes.



Film Notes: Dekalog Seven

The seventh film in the Dekalog series by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, is his response to the biblical commandment "You Shall Not Kill", found amongst the 10 Commandments of the Old Testament. While Dekalog Five and Six, contained powerful messages, Dekalog seven reverts to the pattern found earlier in the series of asking questions around the fringes of what the commandment means in practice. While this film doesn't challenge the commandment directly, it does question what ownership means, where moral and legal 'ownership' clash. The critical line in the entire piece is delivered by the central character, Majka when she says, "Can you steal something that belongs to you?"

The plot of the film is revealed more slowly than the action; in as much as the meaning of the unfolding drama is only drip-fed to the viewer, as the complex back-story of the characters is slowly unveiled. Bit by bit, the action begins to make sense, as the characters turbulent past is brought to bear on the present. In short (spoiler alert!) however, the drama focuses on a fragile young woman Majka, who appears to be kidnapping her little sister Ana, from her parents, who eventually successfully reclaim her. The plot-twist is that the child is not her sister, but her daughter, fathered by a school teacher with whom she had a scandalous affair - all part of the back story. To complicate matters, Majka's mother, Ewa (who was unable to have any further children after Majka), is obsessed with mothering Ana, and excluding Majka. Majka's father is a kind, but weak man, who fails to intervene in the unfolding crisis, cowering before his wife's power.

While this is one of the weaker films in the series, it is certainly a gripping and absorbing hour's viewing; which raises profound questions. While the cast may not have had as much to work with as their colleagues in some of the other films in the series; they turn in some riveting performances. Ana Polony as the Ewa is a strong and domineering force. Maja Barelkowska plays Majka with an amazing delicacy and vulnerability which is rather beautiful in its fragility. The performance of Katarzyna Piwowarczyk as the little child Ania is though quite remarkable. It perhaps suggests that Kieślowski, along with his love of signs, symbolism, and mystery - is also rather adept at directing children, and enabling this one to give an amazingly natural performance.

You shall not steal, might be the starting point. The end point though, seems to be that ownership is up for question - and can sometimes what is established as 'ownership' is more a matter of might than right.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Random Thoughts About Essays and Reviews

This blog has for some time featured more reviews of other people's work; books, films, and music than it has of any original creativity (aside from photography - and these are all responses to beauty rather than initiators of it anyway). I have written a few little essays about various things in these unillustrious pages, but these were of little real consequence. I was recently made to think about the value of reviews however, and to explain my constant reviewing, so this piece is a little justification of the humble review - which will include some laboured cricketing analogies, for which I apologise.

The first reason I review is that I have a bad memory. I read, watch and listen - and gain a few valuable things from each experience, and need somewhere to record them. I am honestly not that worried if anyone reads them or not, I find the discipline of the review makes my mental intake less passive and more critical and analyitical. Writing the key things down also helps me remember the most significant points and helps me recall important links to other material which occuer as I read. I am by nature a prodigious note-taker, and sometimes even the shortest reviews exist on the back of reems of notes on paper or on my PC.

The second reason I review is that I am not a great original thinker. I'm not even, to be honest, even a good second order discoverer of original thinking, or of its distillation and circulation. What I think I can do reasonably well is to sift and recycle things of merit, through the prism of my own view of the world; which as anyone who reads this will know is that of an over-educated, under-employed, husband, Christian, father and sometime writer, based in Scotland.

There is an even more important reason than this though. Writing essays is like golf, but writing reviews is like batting in a test match! (I did warn you about the cricket anaology). In golf, it is a requirement that the ball remains still until struck. Anyone hitting their second shot before their first has come to a complete lie, is in violaton of the rules. Furthermore, if it is so windy that the golf ball will not stay still, but has to be followed across the course, then you should pack your kit away and head straight for the 19th hole (mine's a Bruichladdich, no water, no ice; thanks for asking). Golf is about accurate, and precise hitting of a stationary ball. This is much like the essayist who sits with a piece of original thought, or research, in front of blank screen and delivers their thoughts to the page. It is prepared, meticulous and heavily planned. No-one else need get between the individual and the challenge before them.

The test batsmen, on the other hand, is there not in front of a stationary ball, but up against the moving one. All his skills and preparation are marshalled in the instant, to respond to what he is bowled; be it a short pitched hostile bouncer, a fiendish leg-cutter or an inswinging yorker. So too, the humble reviewer. He has his views and his pen; and his job is to make the best of what he is presented with. I was recently asked to review some secular books for a Christian magazine called Solas. This was a rather joyous prospect, and felt like going in to bat. I have been presented with some easy deliveries to face, some of which were straight down the mythical 'corridor of uncertainty', and one or two which were as hostile as Colin Croft in a bad mood. Marvellous.

Over-extended cricketing anologies aside (and I promise there are no more), it is simply sometimes more interesting to face incoming deliveries, and see what I can make of them; rather than simply write my own thoughts. There is sometimes something more 'three-dimsensional' about my thoughts and world view in interaction with external stimuli, than there is in the contents of my rather average mind alone. The resulting review is the product what has been sent my way; and how I have managed to handle it. It is perhaps why sports such as football and cricket gain greater viewing figures than bowls. It is certainly why I love writing reviews, and will continue to do so.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Film Notes: Hannah Arendt

In 2012, Margarethe von Trotta embarked on a project to make a film about the political theorist Hannah Arendt, specifically focusing on her reporting of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel. The results are a film which, although perhaps not a great work of art - is a superbly entertaining way of opening up some very important issues. Indeed, if the issues which are exposed in the film were important in 2012, they are even more so in the more dangerous and turbulent world of 2017. 

The film opens with the kidnap of a man, who is bundled into a truck and taken away. We soon learn that the operation had been carried out by Mossad, and that the man taken was Adolf Eichmann, a key figure in the planning and execution of the Nazi Holocaust from his Berlin office. Eichmann had escaped from Germany at the end of the war, avoided Nuremburg, and spent several decades in hiding in South America. The Eichmann trial in 1961 was the subject of enormous interest around the world; and a great deal of the popular reporting involved dealing with Eichmann as a demonic hate-twisted figure, a kind of human embodiment of evil.

Hannah Arendt was a political philosopher who, because of Jewish identity, had fled from Hitler in the 30s, only to be imprisoned in France after the Nazi invasion. She had escaped and fled to the USA where in the postwar years she had forged a career as an academic, writing extensively about totalitarianism. Arendt was intrigued by the Eichmann trial, and even more intrigued by the way in which it was being represented in Israel and in the West. Determined to assess the matter for herself, she sought (and got), a commission from The New Yorker magazine to write a series of essays about the trial. The film focuses on Arendt's coverage of the Eichmann trial, her writing about it - and the controversy it caused.

In Arendt's estimation, Eichmann wasn't an individual who was motivated by hatred of The Jewish people, some kind of contorted, satanic figure, quite unlike normal people. Rather, he was a dull man who had surrendered his individual personhood in the face of totalitarianism, and lost the capacity for rational thought or protest. The phrase that Arendt gave to the language was "the banality of evil".

This of course is deeply disturbing, as the instinct of all decent people to the evil of Nazism is to recoil and to reassure our selves that we do not have the capacity for such evil. Eichmann though, while organising train timetables for the deportation of victims, did his dull work without any critical thought, patiently working his index files and filing to ghastly effect. It wasn't that he was stupid though, we see in the film that Eichmann was so systematised that he didn't merely 'follow-orders' under threat, but that he equated the Fuhrer's will with the law itself, and that stood in place of any objective morality. He did not plan, invent or ideologise the Final Solution, he was but a banal cog in monstrous system. 

If evil looks utterly different to us, it is comfortable to live with. If we can portray those who have collaborated with great evil as being totally unlike us, characters with nothing but warped, satanic delusions controlling their poisoned minds - then the problem of evil is externalised and we feel unsullied. The film shows that this view dominated the public narrative about Eichmann. Arendt then caused a storm, because her version of Eichmann looked a lot like us, an unremarkable person who had lost his individuality in the face of totalitarianism, who simply lacked the imagination and will to do anything but comply. The line between good and evil then is not drawn between us and others, (the kind of evil which can be kept out by building walls), but runs through each of us. The kind of evil of which Eichmann indulged, is the kind that affects us when we are too banal to discern what is wrong with the world in which we live - and to make a stand against it.

The film moves on to show that reaction to Arendt was savage, she was scorned and blacklisted by all manner of academics and survivors of the holocaust. She was accused of being a self-hating Jew, an anti-Semite, a Nazi sympathiser, and seen as defending Eichmann; while of course she was nothing of the sort, and actually supported the death sentence which was finally handed down. This furore was further stoked when in one of the Eichmann articles Arendt drew attention to the fact that some Jewish leaders had collaborated with the Nazis, which struck another blow against the view that evil is something which affects the other and not ourselves. The final scenes involve Arendt seeking to defend her thesis, and losing old friends because of her approach.

Along with the action in the courtroom, debates amongst academics, and in editorial boards, the film also charts Arendt's personal life during this period. Barbara Sukowa puts in a strong lead performance as the chain-smoking Arendt, ably supported by a good cast who move between English and German (with subtitles), as the action crosses between continents.

In 2017, with a refugee crisis erupting around us, with great uncertainty in Russia and Ukraine, and surging nationalism across Europe, extraordinary volatility in Washington; and the final collapse of the millenia-old Christian moral system as a basis for western ethics; this film seems to be apposite. Not one of us would contemplate active persecuting hatred of 'the other'; that kind of evil is unthinkable. No, the kind of evil we are capable of is that of sheer banality in the face of oppression; of filling our days with things of no consequence, while the system of which we are a part allows the deaths of uncountable numbers of precious souls, from the womb to the migrant camp. The temptation is to picture evil clothed in swastikas, and jackboots. Eichmann's evil came carrying a clipboard and a card index, and looked disturbingly familiar. In the French film, Au Revoir Les Enfants, the children carted away from the little rural school to die in Auschwitz were organised and processed by a dull, and rather pedantic, fat bureaucrat, who wanted to be something like a bank clerk. He is one of the most frightening figures in film, because he isn't Hannibal Lecter, or Frankenstein, he's utterly banal and sees the whole thing as an administative burden he would rather do without. This is a kind of evil which  too close to us for comfort. No wonder they didn't like Arendt's articles.

This is a fascinating film, which contains huge amounts to think about.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Film Notes: Dekalog 6

The sixth short film in the Dekalog by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, is his take on the biblical commandment, "You Shall Not Covet". While some of the earlier films in this series took an exploratory and non-judgemental angle; Dekalog 6 feels like a morality play; a sort of warning about the consuming and damaging nature of covetousness. This follows on from the violent Dekalog 5 which takes a strong moral stance against capital punishment which it portrays as the flip-side of murder. While never being in the remotest sense didactic or 'preachy', Kieślowski definitely shifts from asking questions to stating opinions in these middle episodes of the series. It will be interesting to see if this is a pattern for the remainder of the series - or a little diversion in the middle.

The covetousness in question here, is that of a lustful teenage boy, spying on his attractive neighbour and her various boyfriends and lovers. His initial lust, turns to obsession with her, and a consuming covetousness which controls all his life decisions. Some have suggested that the strongly sexualised storyline indicates that the commandment 'do not commit adultery' is in view here; but this is surely incorrect. None of the characters involved here are married, and so adultery is not the issue - rather the destructive power of desiring what one does not, (and should not) have, is. With some nicely comedic farce, the plot involves the teenager falsely reporting gas leaks, in order to interrupt the lady of his desires when her lovers visit. As with all these films, the setting is the 'Dekalog' flats in Soviet era Poland, which provide a rather bleak canvas on which these human dramas are painted.

Without giving away every detail, it is nothing of a surprise when the story doesn't drift towards a happy ending; but that covetousness causes damage to both the covet-er, and the coveted. Interestingly, the danger which Kieślowski sees covetousness as having is two-fold, in that it both creates a desire which is uncontrollable and reduces the freedom of the person so consumed; but also makes the distant coveted object appear to be so unrealistically perfect that 'having' it in any sense can only be disappointing, unfulfilling - and in this case embarrassing. The story then turns two sharp corners, the first as the coveter is exposed and disillusioned; and then when the coveted person seems to miss the flattery that was contained within covet-er's obsession.

As with so many of these Dekalog films, the directing and acting is very strong; the whole effect being to produce a series of the most atmospheric and absorbing dramas.  The teenager Tomek is well played by Olaf Lubaszenko, as is the woman, Magda by Grażyna Szapołowska. Of course, the Soviet-era is long gone; and it is rather interesting to see that while so much has changed, from cars to architecture - the human condition has not. The same relational complexities, human drives and appetites, lusts and needs alike, remain intact. Of course, the sins in view here are those from a list which itself is thousands of years old, given to the nomadic Israelites, between their flight from Egypt and their conquest of Canaan. Such a different cultural context is perhaps hard to imagine; yet the sins there prohibited are depicted here as being the driving forces of a group of Poles in the Soviet-bloc; which causes us to reflect on how they might be worked out in our own time and place; and indeed within ourselves.

Album Review: Static in the Wires by Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro

Static in the Wires, is the new studio album from slide guitar legend Martin Harley and double bass player Daniel Kimbro. It is a collection of finely crafted songs in which Harley's intricate guitar lines fuse his gritty vocals to Kimbro's booming melodic bass lines, creating something of real beauty. These fine performances of eleven new Harley compositions, are a treat for acoustic, blues and roots fans, which deserves to be widely heard.

Harley has always been at home in the Blues genre, and is probably most recognisable with a slide on a Weissenborn guitar, slung horizontally across his lap. This instrument is the ideal vehicle for Harley's remarkably expressive and emotive playing. The Blues tracks on Static in the Wires, such as One Horse Town, Feet Don't Fail Me Now, Trouble, This Little Bird, Mean Old City (2), are not the cliched endless 12-bar shuffles that fill some albums - but demonstrate a fine array of arrangements and styles. The addition of some rolling bluesy piano songs like One Horse Town, are something of a new departure for Harley and Kimbro, which work very nicely indeed. Feet Don't Fail Me Now starts a little like Somebody on Your Bond, but almost immediately veers into a slide guitar groove which has more than a little of the great Leo Kottke about some of its flourishes. Electric and then acoustic slide solos then complete this sure-fire contender for their new live set. My Lover's Arms, is a slow, bluesy country ballad, that is just brimming with that early Ray Charles feel, but with guitars rather than piano to the fore - and that is high praise indeed. Meanwhile on Trouble, (another one which I want to hear live), the wry blues lament of the lyrics is brought to life by some glorious Hawaiian sounding Weissenborn slide from Harley, and some deep, mournful bowed double-bass from Kimbro, culminating in a magnificent solo from the bass-man. The piano joins in again on This Little Bird, in a jaunty groove not unlike Nicky Hopkins' contributions to Gary Moore's Still Got The Blues sessions.

However there is more to Static in the Wires than Blues. There are also wistful ballads like Postcard from Hamburg, on which intricate guitar picking and neat harmonies relate the longing for home that is the life of the travelling musician. Sweet and Low, is a gentle acoustic ballad which harks back to Harley's Grow Your Own era. Dancing on the Rocks, is a different matter altogether, a gorgeous complexity of engaging lyrics, primed with longing and wistfulness, layered with great harmonies and guitar work which in places has echoes of John Martyn. I Need a Friend follows on in this vein, with intricately picked folky guitar work, over Kimbro's bass lines on a song that wouldn't have been out of place on Harley's Money Don't Matter album. The song Gold, however takes Harley into completely new sonic territory. This massively spaced out song, is luscious in it's dreamy world-weariness. The muffled drums add a dazed, smoky feel to the proceedings, while the electric guitar solo is sparse and beautiful. Wasn't it Miles Davis who commented that it's often as much about what you don't play as what you do? That precisely what this solo does - in a kind of Paul Kossof way, soaring above Gold's hazy backdrop.

Finally the album comes to a close with Mean Old City (Part 2). I'm not sure if part one exists anywhere, but part two is great ending to a splendid album. The hypnotic beat, driven by Kimbro's bass, provides a structure for Harley to let rip on the vocals, "I gotta go where I can be free!", and then improvises gloriously on the Weissenborn in a long, intense, brooding crescendo of a solo, which is captivating. If they don't play this live in their forthcoming tour together, I will be very disappointed!

Harley and Kimbro have gigged together many times, but this is their first album of new songs, recorded in studio conditions. Their only other joint-album, was really a live-in-the-studio set in which they re-worked a list of Harley favourites. It is for me, so far, the release of 2017 - and I'm looking forward to seeing them live on their forthcoming UK tour.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Film Notes: Hiroshima Mon Amour

Hiroshima Mon Amour is, by any stretch of the imagination, a quite remarkable and unforgettable piece of cinema. It is not simply that Alain Resnais made a few departures from cinematographic norms and made a slightly unusual film; but rather that he threw the rule book away and took a huge gamble with making something unique and groundbreaking; which has had its admirers and its imitators, but I suspect not its like.

Resnais apparently went to Hiroshima to make documentary about the nuclear holocaust, and the efforts to rebuild the city, during the 1950s. He felt his documentary failed to capture the essence of the place, and came back instead with a this highly idiosyncratic drama, which he believed would communicate more powerfully, and influence his viewers more profoundly than a documentation of the brute facts.

Hiroshima Mon Amour is a film over which vast quantities of ink have been spilt over the near half-century since it was made. Woven into the narrative of this film are war, peace, suffering, loss, death, love, sex, shame, and home - all of which revolve around a central motif of the nature of memory. Without summarising the whole plot; two lovers lie entwined in a Hiroshima hotel room, in the midst of a passionate affair that last only a few days. He is Japanese, she French, and soon she will return to her normal life in Paris. Their bodies appear at one moment to glow with radioactive dust, which seems to symbolise the fact that within the two, within the moment, a past also lives. Although they both seem happy, confident and deeply sensual; the pasts they bring with them into their
encounter loom larger and larger as the film unwinds. At first the film cuts back and forth between the past and the present, until the woman herself, caught up in the pain of memory seem to mentally slip into the past herself. When is it right to forget the pain of the past? The man has lost his family and his city to nuclear war; for her part, the woman has suffered during the occupation of France, where her German lover was exposed, killed and she was ritually humiliated for her liaison with the enemy. In parallel scenes, the woman is seen having her head shaved - as a punishment in France, with the hair falling from the radiated heads of the women of Hiroshima. There seems to be a loyalty to the losses of the past, which deserves to be clung on to; but yet a pain in doing so which deserves to moved on from. As time sluices back and forth in this film, it seems to say that the past is always present no matter what. Intriguingly we learn that the dreadful story of the French woman's first love and loss with the German outsider and her humiliation and breakdown, has only been revealed to this Japanese illicit lover - another forbidden outsider, with whom she seems to recapture the sense of  'before loss'. This is powerful and surprising viewing.


This is of course an enormously sexy film too. This is all the more the case, because it was made in the 1950s before the pornografication of cinema, when the censorial standards of the day meant that directors had to convey the emotion and passion of lovemaking, rather than the lurid shots of body-parts which pass as 'love scenes' today. I only recently binned a (highly recommended) DVD, because the portrayals of sex in it were all unnecessarily, functional and explicit and rather horrible as a result. Hiroshima Mon Amour gets given merely a (12) certificate, yet is a highly erotically charged movie. I am not even sure if the censors gave the 12 for the sexual content or in respect of the distressing scenes from the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima. Certainly the juxtaposition of the irradiating of human life, and the rather subtle and beautiful portrayal of the act of love which creates it, is a cinematographic device of dizzying intensity.

The whole mesmerising effect of this film is empowered by a poetic script, delivered almost hypnotically by the two main cast members; as they unearth the secrets of each others' pasts. This is overlayed with a mysterious and engrossing sound-track of wonderfully constructed music, which adds a detached, almost surreal atmosphere, to the already rather unusual proceedings. The two shattered people at the centre of this story, stand in the middle of the still shattered city of Hiroshima. The film then can be seen a polemic against war, both conventional and nuclear. But the man and the woman, also stand in the middle of a city which is in the process of being rebuilt, which in a way they are too. The past lives within them, memory is every bit as real as the physical environment and the here and now; but they are rebuilding, they are works in progress.

There are many, any essays about this film online. Click here to read one I especially appreciated.

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On a personal note, regular readers might have wondered why this blog has turned into a film review column! This is for a number of reasons: I am writing other materials including book reviews for a print magazine, which are no longer appearing on here so much. Also, my family are away on holiday this week; and I have been unwell. Catching up with some films, has been a good option this week!