The Collected Works: Film column comprises short introductions to films created between 1965 and 2016. This roundup is a summary of all the Collected Works: Film articles published in 2017.
Back to school
Twelve years before gathering plaudits (and box office takings) for directing Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson created Brick, a murky, enigmatic detective story that centres on a Californian high school. The low budget, the bullet-speed slang, and the film noir allusions of his debut may seem lightyears away from the slick space opera that he helmed in 2017, but Johnson’s filmmaking chops were there to see from the start.
While Brick’s teenagers skulk and sleuth their way through a winding plot, the students in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless are far more skittish in spirit. Heroine Cher is ‘an updating of Jane Austen’s Emma for the chick-flick generation’, a well-meaning but often naïve young woman who affably negotiates a world obsessed with status and gossip. Witty one-liners abound; Cher’s style is impeccable, but Heckerling’s script is sharper still.
The two women at the heart of Margarethe von Trotta’s Marianne and Juliane both rail against the politics of their native Germany, but their means of rebellion differ greatly. One is a journalist and pro-choice campaigner, while the other believes that terrorism is the only way to revolutionise humanity. A fictionalised account of the real-life Ensslin sisters, Marianne and Juliane approaches its flawed characters with curiosity and empathy.
The protagonists in Věra Chytilová’s Fruit of Paradise and Chantal Akerman’s Je Tu Il Elle lack such a sense of purpose. In Fruit of Paradise, an experimental retelling of the tale of Garden of Eden, Eva is drawn not to a forbidden apple, but to more corporeal temptations. In Je Tu Il Elle, Akerman meanders through three extended scenes: lounging in her room, hitchhiking with a lorry driver, and lying alongside a lover.
Confines and curfews
Though divergent in style, Fish Tank and The Virgin Suicides share the central theme of entrapment. For Mia, teenage protagonist of Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, life on a London council estate has become suffocating and confined. For the Lisbon sisters living under a strict curfew in Sofia Coppola’s pastel-hued The Virgin Suicides, the warmth and comfort of American suburbia prove to be no guarantee for happiness.
Jia Zhangke’s The World blurs the line between reality and make-believe. The movie takes place in a theme park in Beijing that features global landmarks in reduced scale; the Eiffel Tower, the Sphinx, and the Empire State Building ‘form a single skyline’. As entertainers wander about, discussing love and work, they alert us not only to the park’s own peculiarities, but also to those of the world outside its walls.
The picture-perfect family in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games also find themselves held hostage in their own house. They are imprisoned not by overbearing relatives, however, but by malevolent intruders. Haneke challenges the audience to watch as he grimly subverts the well-worn tropes of the home invasion thriller genre, appearing to take as much pleasure in cruel tricks and mind games as his sadistic antagonists do.
The Amazonian backdrop of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God may be more expansive than Funny Games, but it is no less claustrophobic. As a band of conquistadors attempt to find El Dorado, the mythical city of gold, close camerawork and frequent confrontations stifle the viewer. In Michael Cimino’s Vietnam War film The Deer Hunter, similarly, the tension of its famed Russian roulette sequence is hard to bear.
We escaped into fantasy with three animated films: Sylvain Chomet’s eccentric and darkly comic Belleville Rendez-vous, about an elderly woman who avenges the mafia after they kidnap her grandson; and Hayao Miyazaki’s classic anime My Neighbour Totoro, in which a pair of young girls befriend a forest spirit; and Waking Life, Richard Linklater’s woozy ode to lucid dreaming, created through the technique of rotoscoping.
Courts and mansions
The two documentaries included in 2017’s Collected Works: Film articles were disparate in tone, but both are essential viewing. Kim Longinotto and Ziba Mir-Hosseini’s Divorce Iranian Style scrutinises the legal processes of a the country’s divorce courts, while Grey Gardens (directed by the Maysles Brothers, Ellen Hovde, and Muffie Meyer) introduces us to ‘Big’ and ‘Little’ Edie Beale, who share their mansion with feral cats and raccoons.