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.

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: An Introduction

This year I’ve decided that I’d like to write about films more, so I’m going to use this site to try and do that. Each month, I plan on spending a month with different directors that interest me, where I watch/read about/dissect their films and then talk about them here.

I’ve made sure I’ve begun my year on a good start by choosing Orson Welles as the first director of the month, where I’ll watch Citizen KaneMacbethOthello and Touch of Evil (and maybe The Third Man, even though he didn’t direct it).

If anyone actually reads this/what I write, please contribute to the discussion as what I write is just a starting point from my mind. Any suggestions for directors/films would be appreciated too.

Oh, and, happy new year.

Cocteau X Siouxsie Sioux

A while ago I edited together clips from Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête (1946) with the song Siouxsie Sioux and Brian Reitzell created for Hannibal, and I realised I haven’t shared it here so here it is:

‘It is a privilege to be timeless’: On Time in Orphée (Jean Cocteau, 1950)

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film Orphée is the retelling of the classic Greek myth on the legend Orpheus, in which Orpheus has to travel to Hades in order to save his love, Eurydice. However, Orphée presents things differently, as Orpheus (played by Cocteau’s lover and the wonderfully handsome, Jean Marais) finds himself falling in love with a princess, who is Death, that came to visit him in a local café. Unlike La Belle et La Bête (1947), in which the protagonists are (arguably) awarded a happy ending, Orphée finishes in a much more somber tone, reminding audiences what has been communicated throughout the film thanks to the constant shots of mirrors and reflections; that love, no matter what time or place you are in, can never be defined or translated. However, the films are similar in that they both present an idiosyncratic and poetic interpretation of time travel – Belle travels to and from the Beast using a lavish glove as a transportation device, while Orpheus and co. glide through mirrors into Hades; whilst one travels within the confines of the same world and the other from life and death, the scope and breadth of the distance they travel to and from remains just as impactful due to the reasons for doing so.

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Just like Belle transporting back to her home is futile due to her love for the Beast, Orpheus knows that traveling to Hades in order to save Eurydice is in vain since he evidently is not going for “both” of them, as he explains to Death’s driver, Heurtebise, but for Death herself. Yet, the Death he is striving after is his own death; this is unrequited love at its greatest peak, as for Orpheus to be with Death would be fruitless, since the only way this could happen is if he were to die. It is here we can draw parallels to the filmmaker’s life as Cocteau and Marais’s relationship was affected by the fascist air left in the remnants of the war – perhaps, at one point, to the infamous lovers, they felt their love was only possible if it were to transcend the very essence of time itself, and the only way that is possible, according to this film, is through death.

The voiceover at the opening of the film declares, “it is a privilege of legends to be timeless.” This, along with the dramatic, non-diegetic composition by Georges Auric (whom also worked on La Belle), and the well-known tale of Orpheus all draw the spectator in to the dramatic, grandiose setting; the inevitable decline from this state begins as soon as Death appears. Ginette Vincendeau describes the legendary Greek’s humanisation yet transcendence perfectly in her essay for the BFI, stating the film “navigates between myth and realism, boulevard theatre and surrealist poetry, the fantastique and post-war politics.” The point here, in terms of the film’s time travel theory, is that there is none: instead it’s an abstract, poetic concept that would play on the radio channel Marais’s character becomes obsessed with.

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The dolly shots presented in the Hades sequences (which have inspired other directors, for example Spike Lee) by director of photography Nicolas Hayer emphasise the point of time travel in the film: it is supposed to be poetic and outlandish because the form of time travel the film manifests is something we see everyday; the decaying of our faces and exacerbation of our personality. Heurtebise was not wrong when he declared that it “takes long to die,” yet, this film reminds viewers that through art, in all its forms, audiences can time travel to different worlds.