Sofia Coppola and Girlhood

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For Interview Magazine, Coppola describes how “when you’re a kid, you’re not really thinking,” yet in an interview with Tavi Gevinson for Rookie she talks about how being a teenager is a “time when you’re just focused on thinking about things.” Whilst opposing statements, this dichotomy of thinking versus not thinking has something to say for the joy presented in her films. In The Virgin Suicides, the sisters’ joy is more restrained and pooled in memory than say, for example, Marie Antoinette. This is because the former film’s joy is a type that is thought about and constructed, be it through a bedroom that externalizes everything the sisters hold important, or the act of building a narrative through journaling. For the sisters, they exchange experiencing joy in the present tense for the immortalization of their experiences together in the past. Meanwhile, Marie Antoinette’s joy is freethinking, unapologetic, and as artificial as the pouf that adorns her head.

For Film School Rejects I wrote a piece about Sofia Coppola, Céline Sciamma, Carol Morley and Deniz Gamze Ergüven, and how they choose to represent the messy, embarrassing, romantic, joyful etc. aspects of girlhood in all its forms. It was also chosen as an editor’s pick by the Medium Staff (thanks). Read it here.

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Avril et le Monde Truqué

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Almost every film made is a film about a character who has a problem that needs to be solved, and the audience are taken on a the journey with them as they try to solve that problem. These films can come in the form of Star Wars, where the greater good serves as the moral compass of the film, battling the evil that tries to take over; a Coen Brothers movie, where morals usually don’t exist and characters are simply trying to get what they want; or a film like Avril et le Monde Truqué (April and the Extraordinary World), a story that shows us an alternate version of a steampunk world, with April at the centre, learning and growing as each revelation about the society she lives in is revealed to her.

Studio Ghibli’s recent retirement from animation is still looming over every animation I watch. I thought no more Ghibli films meant no more hand-drawn, intricate portraits of unique worlds, no more subtle nuances of a character that most producers would find unnecessary, and no more quiet films. Avril et le Monde Truqué is a gentle reminder to the world of animation that this is not true.

Inspired by the style of cartoonist Jarcques Tardi, the alternate steampunk universe – that co-director Christian Desmares describes as ‘a retro-futurist adventure’ – it is easy to feel as though you are immediately part of this universe, and that’s because we see the majority of the film through Avril’s (April’s) eyes. The introduction of the film places audiences in 1870, just a day before the Franco-Prussian war. Avril’s great-grandfather, under the order of Emperor Napoleon III, is trying to create a serum that makes their soldiers invincible. However, the result – at the fault of Napoleon and his soldiers – is an explosion, causing them all to die. The colour palette here is dark and almost dystopian, with the blues and greens standing out as if they are illuminated, and the dystopian atmosphere foreshadowing what is to come. This time-frame ends with an iris transition to the next time-zone, where audiences are informed Einstein and Fermi have gone missing, resulting in no creation of electricity or other technological developments. So, society survives off of burning charcoal/wood, resulting in a war that lasts all the way to a now grown-up Avril in 1941. She is on her own, thinks her parents are dead, and only has a talking cat for company.

This sounds bleak, but thanks to the humour and lovingly drawn animation, this film feels just as comforting as a Studio Ghibli film. While France definitely doesn’t have two Eiffel Towers and trains certainly don’t transport through the air, Avril et le Monde Truqué feels at times as if it is a love letter to Paris. There is a focus on the good of humanity through the morally-confused Julius, a perpetual, unbreakable bond through Avril and her Murakami-style talking cat Darwin, and a parent-child bond that saves their lives and the world. Moreover, with what seems to be a reference to Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle in a scene where Avril’s grandfather’s home gets legs and arms, it is apparent directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci have good reference points, resulting in an animation that makes adults feel like they are genuinely on an adventure with Avril, seeing Paris and the world beneath as she sees it.

While Avril herself is concerned with the serum and helping humanity, – with meta and great missions and adventures – it is clear the film itself uses these great adventures to focus on the smaller, yet just as important, aspects of life, with the final scene of the film encapsulating its magic.

This Is Water

Since the result of what I refer to as That Man becoming president-elect, I’ve done a lot of thinking — mostly in a state of hopelessness despair, and anger.

Because of the colour of my skin, I’m aware this presidency would not affect me as much as it will people of colour. And because of this awareness, this disgusting bias in the world, my heart aches more for the people of colour, the Jewish community, Muslim community, people with disabilities, transgender and non-binary people, women, and many more That Man has and will bully. For these minorities in America, it’s clear there is a very real and very visceral fear in their lives now — fear that they may be deported; fear they may not be able to legally get birth control or an abortion; fear of simply walking down a street. Yet, these fears – particularly those concerned with misogyny and race – have always existed; what the orange man’s presidency shows is that this is something we cannot ignore any longer.

I’ve tried to think over the last couple of days how I could help, in any way, the minorities living in America right now. I can’t donate as I have no money to, but I have used Twitter, the New York Times, the Paris Review, novels and films to try and educate myself on parts of life I may never and/or will never experience. I’m aware it’s a privilege to have access to these things – to have access to the literature and writing and art of the world, and so from now on I’m not going to take this privilege for granted. I’m going to try and read, watch, consume as much as I can, because this election has shown me the privileges some people do not have – or refuse to acknowledge.

A lot of people in America will be dealing with extremely un-artistic, “real-world” aspects right now, such as protesting, trying to get a Visa before 20th January, getting a passport with the gender they would like to be identified with for now, and so on. Because of this, I feel kind of stupid for writing that, right now, it feels like the one thing I can do to help is to continue making art. The supporters of That Man and That Man himself want this world to be a business haven, with no creativity or artistic endeavour. Protests and so on are important right now, but it’s clear minority voices – the voices of people who have been silenced for too long – are more important than ever. I hope people out there now that we all want to hear stories from transgender people, poems from women of colours, want to see paintings from men of colour, and films from latinxs.

To try and help push back the hate, I’m going to start writing more, consuming more art, and taking it more seriously. No sarcastic comments that really just hide my fear that I’m not clever enough, no ironic statements that hide my imposter’s syndrome. None of that matters — what matters is, as my lecturer said, the power of words and what we do with them, since they have the power to shape and change the world.

So, let’s keep reminding ourselves that this is our planet. This is our world. This is water.

Walter Presents: Deutschland ’83

Since the beginning of this year, Channel 4 have started airing programmes selected by a film buff called Walter (click the link to find out more about him). These programmes are all foreign dramas, ranging from a supposedly innocent woman being Locked Up in a private prison in Spain; a group of Outlaws; and a group of people forming a Resistance in Nazi Germany.

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So far, I have watched three of the many dramas Walter has selected for Channel 4, and since they have all proved better than much of what is on British and American television, I have decided I’m going to try and watch every series he presents. Therefore, over the course of the next few months/year/however long it takes me to get over my procrastination, I’ll be writing short posts on each show I’m watching — most likely after I have finished the series.

A bit of background: I have always loved foreign cinema, be it Spanish fairytales like Pan’s Labyrinth or Italian Neo-Realists like Bicycle Thieves, but I’ve never really watched or had an interest for foreign dramas. My first introduction to the world was probably through the Nordic-Noir adaptation of The Missing by the BBC, until one night I saw a trailer for Walter Presents and was introduced to a new world of television. The first introduction to this world was through Deutschland ’83, which has one of my favourite opening titles sequence ever, and I would say this is the best way to ‘get into’ the free foreign dramas Walter has picked on All 4, mainly due to the quality of the show. 

The German thriller set in 1983 presents a divided Germany through the political and social iconography of the Berlin Wall. Audiences see this divided Germany through the eyes of Jonas Nay’s character Martin, a young officer who wants to serve his country.  As the show progresses, we see that it is not simply Germany that is divided between the East and the West, but the characters too. Nay is divided between doing what he believes is right versus what others believe is right; his girlfriend back at the East is divided between two sets of important secrets; his mother by her health and honesty; along with Nay’s roommate, Alex Edel (played by Ludwig Trepte) divided between what his father wants him to be against who he really is.

In fact, there is not one moment in the show where the Berlin wall is shown on camera as a major plot point or a character in itself (considering the effects the wall had, it certainly would have been very easily to make the Berlin wall a character within the film, much like Gothic directors use houses as characters), apart from some brief library-archived shots on television screens. Instead, Deutschland‘s directors have to create the split through dress codes, iconography and mise-en-scene, and they certainly execute it well:

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L to R, Jonas Nay and Carina Wiese – in the SundanceTV original series “Deutschland 83” – Photo Credit: Laura Deschner

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Note how Annett Schneider (Sonja Gerhardt) and Martin’s mother (Carina N. Wiese) are often shown outside in nature, and usually wearing free flowing, comfortable clothes. To immediately juxtapose this we have both Martin’s rigid uniform as well as his aunt’s neat, blocky dress code, which later on corresponds to her surroundings in the West. From looking at the smaller aspects of Deutschland ’83 – by looking beyond its impressive narrative and characters – you will be able to find micro-elements like the characters’ dress codes corresponding to certain surroundings, and realise how much detail the creators of this programme have put in.

Notes from a Masterclass with Alex Garland

At the pre-residential weekend of the BFI and NFTS Residential course, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina was screened for us, and after the screening he gave a masterclass on directing/writing/being an artist, and here are my (really messy) notes from one of the best days of my life:

Alex Garland talked a lot about how he prefers sticking to a schedule by shooting in 10 hour days – he said that he doesn’t do breaks/lunch breaks etc. as he does not want to go over time since 1. it will annoy producers/cost more money, and 2. he knows his cast and crew have other commitments such as a family to go home to etc.

Since he was an author/screenwriter before becoming a director, Alex (I don’t feel like I’m on a first name basis with him but let’s go with it) talked about collaboration vs. isolation. He said how he preferred directing as it allowed you to collaborate with people and work with a time to create a vision, whereas when he was writing he found he was in his own head, which can be jarring for both the writer and the work itself.

Ex Machina fact: it was shot in six weeks, 4 weeks were shot in Pinewood studios and 2 weeks in Norway, it is set in Alaska (this is not stated in the film).

Alex Garland words of wisdom number 1: make the right movie for the right cast.

The director brought up new points of view for me about Ex Machina and how to watch it. For example, he asked ‘who’s the protagonist of Ex Machina?’, and it’s like…crap, man…IDK? To me, it feels like the protagonist changes…it goes from Domhnall Gleeson to introduce us to this new world, then Oscar Isaac to show how isolated it is and contrast the two sides between Gleeson and Isaac, and then Alicia Vikander, the New Human? I feel like we definitely go into her point of view when her and the other AI kill Isaac’s character, as the blood that pours from him feels more alien and inhumane than Ava putting skin onto her magnetic/robotic ‘body’.

Alex also talked about the noises of Ava and how they were purposefully made to sound like a heartbeat…direct quote: ‘the noises of Ava make you feel she is alive’. He talked about how these effects were added in post by the sound designer, but I annoyingly can’t remember how they made the noises.

The rest of his talk consisted of more words of wisdom, so I will title this section ‘Alex Garland’s Words of Wisdom number 2 to infinity:

A director must understand the direct of photography’s fingerprint/style, and react in an immediate way to this.

The writer and the author are always the 2 people who are closest to a character – writer hands the character over to the actor.

It is important to understand actors and what they do, since what they do is quite isolating (I found this really interesting as all the other directors from the masterclasses said something along the same lines too – something I had never really considered before. But, after being on set the actors really are the odd ones out).

Film wants to exploit – always think about why violence/why nudity/why this gender? Always give a reason for something.

Concept/theme and character – work as hard as can (I don’t really know what this note means but I’m putting it down in case I figure it out later).

Just write scripts and don’t use script editors – the producers can act in the same way.

Know the argument of a film.

Themes, character and place should all support each other.

Adjustment to include everyone else.

Grammar of camera.

Industry does not take sex seriously – it exploits it. Always have valid reason for including sex in film.

All production companies are hungry for scripts.

Writer and producer = very close relationship.

Make sure first film is good, since this is what the rest of your career will be largely based off.

It is the screenplay’s job to tell people what the room is going to be like – don’t overwrite in a screenplay, be restrained.

Understand why shots go together and why they don’t. He also said don’t hold shots too long, but I think this is a stylistic choice if he’s meaning in the way I thought he meant in terms of Citizen Kane style length shots, but he could’ve meant to be sparing in how these shots are used too.

‘Auteur theory is bullshit’ – Alex Garland, 2016. He did say he believes Wes Anderson, Hitchcock etc. are auteurs in terms of styles, but he was more focused on how the auteur theory suggests it is the director putting in all of the work to the film, when really it’s a collaborative process.

Alex Garland, if you are somehow reading this – thank you so much for the masterclass. It meant a lot that you came, I don’t know why Ex Machina wasn’t nominated for more awards (not that they are an indicator of a film’s value), and this aspiring director will take all of your advice seriously and work on it.

 

P.S. please give me a job on Annihilation. I will do anything.

I went to the NFTS

…and of course it was the best experience of my life ever and YES I am in a perpetual state of mourning and YES I have eaten chocolate for my breakfast since I’ve left in a fatal way of trying to cope with my heartbroken-ness at being back in MUNDANE FILM MAKING-LESS AND CREATIVITY SURROUNDED-LESS LIFE.

Pictures speak a thousand words and if the words from these following pictures could be spoken they would spell out some form of “HAPPINESS/FULFILMENT/CREATIVITY/BEST-TIME-OF-SINEAD’S-LIFE/WHY DO I HAVE TO GO BACK HOME” etc. (all courtesy of NFTS/my friends’ iPhone cameras/my shaking camera holding):

 

Before Alex Garland’s masterclass we watched Ex Machina, which I honestly think changed my life a little bit? It was so interesting and well made. Alex’s masterclass was equally as good — I have a notebook full of illegible scribbles of what he said: one day I will decipher my messy frantic handwriting and type up what he wrote.

 

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This was us after we had finished shooting the short (but still yet to edit) with Destiny Ekaragha, who directed Gone Too Far! and some really cool short films. She was so lovely and gave really good advice, for example to always find work and basically take no shit. She also had really wise words about people of colour in the industry and the whole Oscar thing. I think I love her.

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My mum was so jealous of me for meeting Dexter Fletcher. Before this we had watched Eddie the Eagle (on its opening night!!!!!) and then DexFletch (I feel like I can call him this now) gave us a masterclass. Again, he had the same sentiment as Destiny and Alex in basically just not taking any crap from anyone, but always remembering your place too. He also had some fun things to say about what happened on set and his life as a child actor.

Some art at the Tate Modern that totally made sense to me I totally understand all of it completely 100% (I understood nothing) (also me and my friends thought we saw Johnny Depp???? If true Johnny Depp pls confirm)

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Picture of Paddington at BFI because I am 5 years old.

Our film poster with the other amazing film posters!!!!! Made by our producers Abbie and Maddie (<3)

 

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Our group, Team Eastwood 4 life. These were the best people to work with and I miss them all so much.

At the end of our screening/ceremony at the BFI on Southbank. It was honestly the most amazing/fun/creative/every positive adjective 2 weeks of my life and I would give anything to do it all over again. I miss everyone of the 66 people who did the course and everyone at the NFTS, it was like being in a really exclusive fun family who had dominos and giant breakfasts everyday.

I’m gunna go now before I start crying/turn into a cocoon of sadness.

Here is a link to an article that explains this whole beautiful time in a more coherent way (if you are thinking of applying and just happen to stumble upon this mess of a post then PLEASE DO you will have the best time ever, the only downside is the rest of your life will be lived in a great depression comparing everything to *looks back fondly* those two weeks but then you’ll remember you LIVED those two weeks and be full of joy).

A Month With… Orson Welles: Macbeth

Based on Shakespeare’s play, Orson Welles’ Macbeth (1948) focuses on juxtapositions. The director shows audiences the contrast between nature and the perverse, the body and the mind, and – perhaps most importantly – the inside versus the outside.

Macbeth opens with a series of fades and fade-transitions accompanied by dramatic non-diegetic music, displacing audiences as the fades and transitions connote a lack of concept of time: immediately Welles has created a world for the witches that is unlike the world of Macbeth. This is connoted through the fog that encompasses these opening scenes, as it makes clear the witches are characters who want to be seen but not identified, as witnessed through the fog covering their identities but contrasting nature’s whiteness with their black dress codes.

Faced with a wide angle shot of the three witches on a rock on the right side of the frame and a withered tree with no leafs on a hill on the left, Welles could be making a connection between the witches – the supernatural/Other – and nature. This opening shot presents a likeness between them, and, along with the ubiquitous fog that silently tortures Macbeth and his mind throughout the film, there seems to be a bleak ideology here. Since the witches seem to be one with the fog, nature and even the world’s elements (the water, fire, bubbles and steam from their cauldron), the film begins feeling as if the witches are controlling all of the events that take place, while the audience are merely watching Macbeth and Lady Macbeth lose control.

In Welles’ adaptation, the fog becomes a conceit that is a constant reminder of Macbeth’s lack of control and the witches’ presence in his mind, differing the 1948 film from both Justin Kurzel’s (Macbeth, 2015) and Akira Kurosawa’s (Throne of Blood, 1957) adaptions with their uses of fog symbolising mystery, confusion and the inner turmoil of Macbeth’s mind.

Welles still allows Macbeth to be heroic, however, as the minute the film cuts from the witches to the title screen reading “Macbeth,” loud and dramatic non-diegetic music steals the presence. The score by Jacques Ibert in the titles takes audiences through Macbeth’s inevitable dark journey, as it takes us from the pride and glory of loud, crashing symbols and trumpets, to quieter, softer and more delicately played music. Macbeth’s introduction on screen to audiences connotes the aforementioned pride, as the wide angle tracking shot ensures it is Macbeth who takes up the most space, but in landscape and in the frame.

Yet, despite the director manipulating the camera shots to ensure Welles is seen as higher than everyone else (for example the levelled shots for other characters but low angle shots for Macbeth’s), through both the literal and figurative darkness of the film Welles uses nature to go against Macbeth.

While I was watching Macbeth, I had to pause the screen about fifty times to make sure my television brightness was correct, as a lot of the scenes are so dark you can barely see anything. I soon realised this was supposed to be like this and so wrote a note in my book about it so I could form a pretentious thought on it later and write about it here…and here is that pretentious thought: almost all of the lighting in Macbeth seems to come from nature/natural sources, for example the candles (fire), the campfire, or just the fact that outside is when there is the most light. Macbeth’s own castle, which is itself built out of foundations of nature such as rock, fails to illuminate the king who lives in it. The grand, gigantic staircase reflects this too, as in the scene where Lady Macbeth becomes most manipulating with Macbeth it is the staircase and the camera’s movements that dictates each characters’ positions of power — it is never there’s to control or keep.

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The relationship Orson Welles creates between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is notable, as the director often provides new ideas of looking at them through the language of film. First of all, they are the only two characters with whom audiences are allowed inside their heads, with Lady Macbeth’s first soliloquy emphasising how Welles’ use of voice overs for their lone speeches are representations for the fact they believing and calling from within themselves rather than relying on external forces.

There is one scene near the beginning of the film where Lady Macbeth and Macbeth kiss while a hanged person is in frame to the left behind them. Due to the hanging bringing forth imagery of death by suicide against death by murder (although it could be said they are the same), the man’s hanging becomes a representation for their relationship. If it is a suicide, it is not clear who kills who: the rope or the mind. If it is a murder, they are both doomed.

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The juxtapositions of inside and outside become more and more important as the film goes on. Night and day become ambiguous, interfusing with one another, and the inside and outside become reversed – both in terms of the external world as well as in terms of Macbeth’s mind. Near the opening of the film, Macbeth stops in front of a puddle and audiences can see himself reflected in it. With this idea of mirroring and multiple selves being introduced, the later themes Welles creates come to represent Macbeth’s dissociation of his inner self with his external self, with the beginning of this disintegration being witnessed first in the kaleidoscopic, blurry shots that change points of view of Macbeth.

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The denouement of Macbeth reenforces just how dark Orson Welles adaptation is. When with the witches – the darkest characters of all – audiences are presented with the most light. The final shot of the witches staring at the foreboding castle with pieces of nature in their hands, while thorns and leafless tree branches intrude the frame reestablishes their – and nature’s – control over Macbeth’s life in Orson Welles’ interpretation.