The Wayward Cloud

Tsai Ming-Liang, 2005

Over the past decade Chinese language film has seen a renaissance, with an increasing number of films seeing worldwide distribution and critical success. The most famous director to have emerged is Taiwanese Oscar winner Ang Lee, who has touched upon increasingly controversial and taboo subjects in his films culminating in the most recent film to hail from his native land, Lust, Caution, a film which gained notoriety through it’s explicit sex scenes. One director who has enjoyed massive success in Taiwan but has seen significantly less attention abroad is Tsai Ming-Liang, a director who like Ang Lee has continued to approach taboo subjects in an increasingly graphic manner, with arguably his best work so far being The Wayward Cloud.
The Wayward Cloud continues the story of the characters of Hsiao-Kang (Lee Kang-Sheng) and Shiang-Chyi (Chen Shiang-Chyi) from Ming-Liang’s previous film What Time is it There. Set in the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, the story chronicles the couples relationship during a massive heat wave that has in turn caused a water shortage, leading the government to issue news bulletins suggest that citizens hydrate themselves by drinking the juice contained within the watermelons that appear to be available in abundance.

These melons become the recurring visual motif in the film, repeatedly being employed for a variety of scenes. There is a large musical sequence in which the streets of the city are filled with umbrellas featuring a watermelon print, in another scene the river flowing through the city becomes mysteriously filled with watermelons and there is of course the ever present glasses of watermelon juice being drank by their characters. As the film is primarily free of dialogue, filmed using long takes and largely static shots, the brightly coloured fruit helps to create a visually arresting 
Mise-en-scène and their often unexplained presence adding to the surreal fantasy of the film. The watermelons also give way to many of the films more comic scenes, such as when a woman who has been washed in watermelon juice realises she is covered in ants and is forced to strip nude in a crowded elevator. 
There most unusual deployment comes however during many of the films graphic sex scenes, including the opening ten minutes in which two characters have sex whilst the woman holds one half of a sliced watermelon between her legs. Once the contents from inside the melon are all but gone, the empty shell is then placed on the mans head for the continuation of the scene. This fetishization of food is most prominent in when it is directly linked with sex in this manner but can bee seen throughout all the film, with the inclusion of numerous shots of things such as lingering close ups of noodles crackling as sauce is poured onto them.

Perhaps most interesting is the lack of dialogue in the film. Despite the focus of the film being on the relationship between Hsiao-Kang and Shiang-Chyi, barely a word is spoken between the central characters, with Hsiao-Kang failing to utter a single line of dialogue throughout the whole film, with the only time we hear his voice being during the musical sequences. One particular musical number occurs when he sneaks onto the roof of his apartment block to bath in it’s water tank, here he sings of his desire to fall in love. Whilst he is only capable of expressing himself physically through his sex scenes with Shiang-Chyi these interludes give the viewer an insight into the feelings of the characters, and gives the film the emotional core that the static, silent approach taken throughout the rest of the film cannot deliver.
These sequences are unique in that by exposing the characters inner desires they serve a purpose outside of simply offering the entertainment of the fantastical dance sequences in the musicals Hollywood has to offer. As China continues to grow in it’s stature so too will it’s film industry, and with it’s newly granted freedoms it’s filmmakers will hopefully continue to push the envelope of what is acceptable in cinema, creating ever more experimental and controversial films.

words by pete bond.

Made in Britain

Alan Clarke, 1982

The conversion of stage plays to television and film has been a long standing transition, ranging from Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men to Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth. This alteration of mediums has had many successes, most notably with independent dramas, creating an intimacy and intensity that exists both on stage and screen. From 1956-mid 80's, British television was host to a new form of social-realist style drama labelled the 'television play', whose roots where embedded in the theatre, and were adapted into kitchen sink realism, mostly depicting social and political issues forming around working class families. Play for Today was an anthology series that transmitted some of the most important British programmes ever created, and introduced audiences to some of today's most established directors, such as Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Alan Clarke. 

In 1982, Clarke directed Made in Britain, his next feature following the highly controversial Scum. The film follows a 16 year old, white power skinhead, Trevor, played by Tim Roth in his acting début, on a self-destructive, downward spiral through the judical system, with his constant confrontation of authoritative figures, set against the backdrop of Thatcher's Britain. After a series of court trials, Trevor is sent by his social worker, Harry, to an Assessment Centre under the belief that he can reform. His time spent in the centre is spent assaulting staff, sniffing glue, and hijacking cars amongst other such acts. Totally undermining stereotyping of the skinhead culture as mindless hooligans, Trevor presents himself as a coherent and intelligent character, brainwashed into a xenophobic mindset, bitter at a world that rejects his views, and obnoxious to the guidance of his social workers. 

Much like Archer in Scum and Bexy in The Firm Trevor is a character most typical of Alan Clarke's work; a smart young man, suppressed by authority with a belief that he can fight the system. Behind his belligerence and hostility, there are moments of clarity, and self-awareness, unmasking his hard outer shell to unveil a confused, lonely individual, making it frustrating for those trying to help and rehabilitate him. During his time in the rehabilitation centre, Trevor befriends a black offender, Errol, who accompanies him on his unconscientious activities, stealing cars, defecating on their assessment records, and even on racially motivated attacks. It's the power and ferocity of Roth's character that enables a pliable young black boy to follow the same mind set as a white power skinhead. Trevor's attitude toward Errol is condescending and patronizing, conscious of his own intelligence and eventually uncaring in his attitude towards his unlikely accomplice.

With his discovery of the Stedicam prior to the filming of Made in Britain, and his notoriety for being impatient whilst arranging and producing difficult tracking shots, Clarke uses a mass amount of kinetic energy and fluency with in his camera-work, with each shot following Trevor around each of his endeavours, adding intensity and realism, and forming an almost cinéma vérité style feel to the film. Chris Menges' grim cinematography brilliantly sucks the life from the film, delivering a harsh, gritty portrayal of a Thatcher-esque London, themes that seep into his other work, such as Local Hero, Kes and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. 

Filmed during the same era that This Is England is set, Clarke's Made in Britain runs many parallels to Shane Meadow's 2006 independent drama, with the two movies featuring key actors in their debut roles, nationalist and racist themes, and both films showing the struggle of the Labouring class, in a time of tense social unrest, with mass employment, IRA attacks on mainland Britain, The Fawklands Conflict, and riots taking place nationwide prior to the miner's strikes of 1984/85. Where This Is England deals more with the reintroduction of an offender into society, contrasting dark and light elements of childhood, Made in Britain shows the eventual incarceration of the offender, with only the options of conformity, or internment. With an abrupt end to the movie, the audience is left to assume the latter.
words by danny walker.

Best Film of 2010

Pete’s Choice- Enter the Void

Gaspar Noé, 2010

Gaspar Noé’s first feature in eight years was met with decidedly mixed reviews upon its initial release, with a large portion of these being negative. Critics accused the film of being overly self-indulgent, pretentious, and unnecessarily graphic both in its portrayal of violence and of sex. What they failed to credit it with is just how much it accomplishes with it’s aesthetic, structure and experimental approach.
The film is shot entirely in the first person, from the perspective of Tokyo drug dealer Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), with the only cuts in the otherwise fluid camerawork occuring when he blinks. Shot dead during a drugs raid, his soul proceeds to ascend from his body and begin flying over Tokyo, revisiting elements of his past before facing reincarnation.
Despite referencing the Tibetan Book of the Dead, on which Oscar‘s path to resurrection is based, the trip his soul embarks on is not supposed to be real, simply his final drug induced hallucination as he reflects on the life he is leaving behind. Therefore the Tokyo his soul flies through is every bit as bright, colourful, and sometimes scary, as it is would be experienced under the effect of hallucinogenics. With this Noé brings to the screen a representation of psychedelic drugs more accurate and visually mesmerizing than anyone before him.
Noé cites Stanley Kubrick as one of his main influences, particularly 2001: A Space Odyssey. Here it shares both the grand scope of its narrative, attempting to condense the whole of Oscar's life experience into a two and a half hour running time just as he did the history of mankind, as well as it’s fantastic cinematography and framing. It’s important to note that 2001 was similarly divisive of opinion on it’s initial release, only finding the acclaim it deserved as time passed, hopefully this will prove to be the case for Enter the Void also.

Dan’s Choice- I'm Still Here

Casey Affleck, 2010

One of the most commercially unsuccesful, and serverly overlooked movies of this year has been the Casey Affleck directed mockumentary I'm Still Here, which follows Joaquin Phoenix on his transition from recently-retired actor, to hip-hop artist, and exposing the dark side of the star's personal life. In many ways, Phoenix is the perfect candidate for a film documenting his supposed breakdown, with his upbringing in the religious cult the Children of God, the death of his brother River Phoenix, and his rehabilitation for alcholism in 2005.

The movie can be easily compared to the films of Christopher Guest, such as
Best In Show and This Is Spinal Tap, using similar awkward and embarrasing situations and docu-style filming, with the camera stalking 'Jo-pho' as he embarks on his rap career, issuing demos to an underwhelmed Sean 'Diddy' Combs, binging coke and prostitution and being defecated on by his maltreated assistant.

I'm Still Here
is the performance of Phoenix's career, and a showcase in method acting, with him lending over two years of his life to his character, devotion that hasn't been seen since Vincent D'Onofrio's mesmerizing portrayal of Gomer Pyle in Full Metal Jacket, or De Niro in Raging Bull. With Affleck's announcement of its fraudulence soon after it's release, I'm Still Here was largely disregarded by critics and audiences alike, dismissing the film as self-indulgent and narcissistic, but in truth, it is alot more than that, a journey into the psychosis of a lost and lonely individual. Whilst the film may have flopped in theatres, the place it will gather momentum on is dvd and blu-ray, and the movie is foreseeable to gain a major cult following.