Wednesday, 26 December 2018

What to See This Holiday: “I Am Not a Witch”

I Am Not a Witch is the debut feature film of the filmmaker Rungano Nyoni. Nyoni was born in Zambia and moved to the UK with her family when she was nine years old. Her short films made after she graduated from the University of London earned her a formidable reputation, and this new feature has launched a promising international career in feature filmmaking, having played at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival (in the Directors’ Fortnight), winning Nyoni a BAFTA, and garnering a number of prizes at the British Independent Film Awards. I give this background merely because I’m so pleased to report the successes of an African emigrant in the art-house filmmaking world, and because I derive great pleasure from anticipating the work to come from young artists whose early works are already so strong.

I Am Not a Witch, which is mostly in Nyanja, with English subtitles, follows an eight-year-old girl (Maggie Mulubwa) who first goes without a name and is later named Shula (“uprooted” in Nyanja), and who is accused by some of the angry villagers around her of witchcraft. Shula is totally alone, afraid, and wholly uncertain of herself, and does not deny the villagers’ accusations, opening her to exploitation by local leaders who claim to protect witches. Shula is taken by the government official Mr Banda (Henry Phiri) to a camp for witches, where other accused women are kept practically as slave labourers and tourist attractions. A witch-doctor judges whether or not they really are witches (note that when a man can show capabilities of witchcraft, he enjoys a position of power) and, if they are, they’re fitted with harnesses to which ribbons are tied, keeping them within a tight radius around the camp’s truck that transports them from their beds to wherever the government requires them to be. Shula is singled out for witch-related work by the government: She divines guilty culprits from a line-up of criminal suspects and brings rain to the fields of farmers who pay her handlers, and is rewarded with favours such as biscuits and gin. With the help of Mr Banda’s wife, she grows in self-assurance, but also gains awareness of the grim situation she’s in and the abusive systems of power that brought her there.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

What to See This Holiday: “Paris is Burning”

Available on Netflix and on DVD.

Fans of the reality competition series RuPaul’s Drag Race would do well to learn about the roots of the drag culture represented by the series, and perhaps the preeminent audiovisual guide to that culture’s development is the documentary Paris is Burning, by Jennie Livingstone. In fact, it comes not from the roots of the culture, but was filmed and released at what many saw as the end of the Golden Age of New York City drag balls, in the late 1980s. Livingstone films some of these drag balls, and interviews members of the black, Latino, gay, and transgender communities of New York City who participate in them.

Livingstone met a group of young gay men in Manhattan while she was a film student at New York University, who introduced her to the drag ball culture. She met the dancer Willi Ninja, who gave her an education in drag competitions and the peculiar phenomenon of “voguing,” of which he offers an extended explanation onscreen in Paris is Burning. Ninja subsequently became an important figure in popular music and dance, and was crucial to introducing voguing to the mainstream culture.

Livingstone also interviews a number of prominent drag queens onscreen, who explain various aspects of drag culture, as well as a few young gay and transgender people, who relay their experiences as queer and vulnerable people in a tough, brutal city. Of particular interest to Livingstone is the young trans woman Venus Xtravaganza, who was a teenager when she was first interviewed by Livingstone.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

A Highlight of 2018: “Support the Girls”

If I post only one more review this year, I want it to be one that draws readers’ attention to one of the highlights of my movie-going year. Andrew Bujalski’s new feature film, Support the Girls, may, at first glance, seem an unlikely highlight, because the style is so understated and muted, but the movie in fact packs powerful emotion and such brilliant, original insights to its story that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days after each of the couple of times that I saw it.

Support the Girls all takes place in one day, following the activities of Lisa (Regina Hall), the manager of a Hooters-like sports bar called Double Whammies, serving, in her words, “boobs, brews, and big screens”. Her primary concern is the wellbeing of her staff, the tightly-clothed waitresses of Double Whammies, and she doesn’t hesitate to put a leering or loud-mouthed customer in his place when one of her girls is disrespected.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The JPO’s Splendid Evening with Yasuo Shinozaki

This review was originally posted on the Artslink website.

The trouble with our local symphonic music scene is not that we lack talented musicians or enthusiastic listeners, but that the resources of time and money are so tight that a performance under any particular conductor can only be as good as the conductor is skilled in getting a lot of heavy work done in short bursts of rehearsal time. It was a great pleasure at the JPO’s concert this past Thursday to find that the Japanese conductor Yasuo Shinozaki has exactly the right kinds of skills to get the job done.

From the first moments of the overture by Mendelssohn, Shinozaki established a strong presence and authority. He gave a very clear, very precise beat, and the orchestra played with a wonderfully unified rhythmic precision. There were moments throughout the evening when the string section sounded like one single mammoth instrument, not only nearly perfectly synchronised in their attack and rhythms but also unified in their articulation, phrasing, and tone.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Fury and ecstasy at the JPO & KZNPO joint concert

This article was originally posted on the Artslink website.

An orchestra’s gala concert is a culturally important event, but its artistic significance is always a gamble. Daring originality often yields to respectability, and listeners hear a competent performance rather than an inspiring one. But no such problem beset Thursday night’s Johannesburg Philharmonic concert, which commemorated the centenary of Albertina Sisulu. The American conductor William Eddins and the additional forces of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra exalted concertgoers’ experiences far beyond expectations. The audience’s mood rose very quickly in the evening from delighted anticipation to genuine, ecstatic joy.

The tone was set well by the welcoming dignitaries. The Chair of the KZNPO Board, Saki Makozoma, welcomed concertgoers and visitors from the Sisulu family and foundations, including Max and Elinor Sisulu. The Chair of the JPO Board, retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, spoke tenderly about Albertina Sisulu, her place in the history of South Africa, and his own connection to that history. Minister Lindiwe Sisulu spoke after the intermission about her mother’s joy in music and introduced the commemorative work commissioned for her centenary, MaSisulu Sinfonia, by the South African composer Bongani Ndoda-Breen.

Power and splendour at the UP Music Festival

This article was originally posted on the Artslink website.

At a time when diplomatic relations around the world seem at risk, the visit of a foreign artistic group to our country for a goodwill tour of concerts is particularly welcome; even more so when that group is a rapidly rising part of its country’s – and the world’s – artistic pantheon.

It has been reported that the Minnesota Orchestra is the very first full American symphony orchestra to perform in South Africa. As unlikely as that sounds, their performance at the University of Pretoria on Thursday, 16 August, as part of the music department’s annual music festival, evaporated any considerations of first-time feats and brought our attention solely to artistic accomplishments.

After a spirited playing of both the South African and United States national anthems, the Minnesota Orchestra music director and Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä launched into the tone poem En saga by Sibelius, a composer whose work he’s become lauded in America for performing with this orchestra – and it turns out that that laud is entirely justified.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Opening Up in “Let the Sunshine In”

The 2018 European Film Festival at Cinema Nouveau is about to end, but those who can run may still catch the last screening of one of the great pleasures on offer, Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In, from France, which is showing tonight at 20:00 at Rosebank Nouveau. It stars Juliette Binoche as a bourgeois painter in Paris named Isabelle, a moderately successful artist who has entered and now traverses along the French modern art scene, but seems to exist outside of its cliques, ideologies, and prejudices, and perhaps not entirely by choice. The story moves along the plane of her romantic life, and intersections with her personal and professional lives (though it would seem that, in Paris, very little effort is made by artists to ever separate them). The movie opens with Isabelle naked in bed while her married lover, a banker named Vincent (Xavier Beauvois), pneumatically heaves on top of her. The scene’s severe physicality is both heightened and punctured by the short snaps of dialogue: “Not cumming?” “You finish, I feel good.” (I quote subtitles from memory.)

And so it is with the rest of the movie. As Isabelle shifts from one lover to another, as her emotional state improves and declines, the talk throughout the movie seems to both expand and undercut the developing moods and emotions. It doesn’t bounce between melodrama and comedy, but ascends to a plane that covers both, that allows for the depiction of a life streaked with tears as well as bouncing on laughter. Isabelle herself wobbles between anguish, tenderness, doubtfulness, apprehension, and a warm glow of bliss (one that’s depicted quite literally in the final scene and especially the final shot, and that points back to the movie’s title). And she varies just as much with one lover as between any two or more of them. Following her abrupt break-up with the disdainful Vincent, she hooks up with an actor in emotional and professional turmoil (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a man of the working class, whose profession is not revealed, but with whom she undergoes acute social tension (Paul Blain), an artistic associate who is reluctant to start up an affair (Alex Descas), and with her ex-husband and the father of her ten-year-old daughter, whom she keeps inviting back into her bed (Laurent Grévill).

Monday, 21 May 2018

“Jeanne Dielman” and Why We Need More Women Filmmakers

Available for free on MUBI (until 14 June 2018).

Over the weekend, I posted about the MUBI Film Schools Program, which allows any user in South Africa to stream selected films for free, and to which any South African can sign up for free. My first experience of it was, as I wrote, a major event; the second, which this post is about, was a great wonder. Its full title is Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles; it was written and directed by the queer Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman and released in 1975; and it’s rightly heralded as a revelatory breakthrough of feminism in cinema, in that not only is it a great and momentous film made by a woman, but it takes a woman’s view of a woman — of women and the lives of women — as its subject, and puts forward vast and pointed ideas about that woman, about that woman’s view, about those women’s lives, and about the political circumstances and imperatives of those lives that could not have been done so strongly and so exquisitely not only by any man, but by any other filmmaker in history. Akerman — who tragically committed suicide in 2015, at the age of 65 — shot the film with an entirely female crew, which would have worked out alright, except that she didn’t get to choose any of them. Working off a government grant (of about US$120,000), she was assigned a crew, and, though she didn’t appreciate the directive, she managed to deliver one of the crucial works of movie history at the age of twenty-four years.

Jeanne Dielman follows its petite bourgeois title character through three days of her life, as she performs her routine domestic tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and tidying up. (The rest of the title is the address of her Brussels apartment, where she lives with her son.) It also depicts her work that she takes on to support herself and her son, namely prostitution. While he’s away at school, she discreetly accepts gentleman callers who arrive soon after she’s placed her food on the stove and leave a little while later, as she prepares to set out dinner. Her daily activities (excluding her sex with callers, but including a nude shot of her cleaning herself in the bath) are shown in real time and very long takes, all in pretty much the same framing, with the camera entirely stationary throughout each scene and at table-top height, at an equal distance from the subject at all times (and the subject is just about always Jeanne Dielman). An interruption to her routine is introduced on the second day, and the startlingly spiralling and abstracted psychological after-effects of it throw that very routine and its vast web of implications into harrowing relief.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

What to See This Weekend: “Othello”

Available for free on MUBI (until 9 June 2018) and on DVD.

The American streaming service MUBI (otherwise unavailable in South Africa) has launched a special platform it calls its Film Schools Program, to which anyone in South Africa can sign up for free, and to which they upload one new movie each day that stays on the platform for thirty days. To watch any of the movies is free as well, so effectively the only cost to you is the cost of your internet service to stream these movies. The selection comprises movies from many different countries, from a number of filmmakers I’ve never heard of, and includes old forgotten titles, new festival favourites in need of a larger audience, classic masterpieces, popular favourites, and probably will cover a few other sectors of the moviegoing market in the future. Due to a number of personal priorities, I haven’t had the time yet to watch any of the titles (or to update this blog much) until last night, when I saw the first of the films I’ve chosen to see, one that’s available for 21 more days, and it was a major artistic event in my viewing life, one that would have been worth even a considerable cost had I had to pay for it — Orson Welles’s mighty 1951 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello.

When I first mentioned Welles on this blog — writing of my experience of first seeing his earlier adaptation of Macbeth as one of my favourite movies of all time — I tried to express the wonder I underwent at experiencing the “excessively beautiful and hypnotically fascinating work” of something that appeared to have so many technical shortcomings. Welles was shooting under the circumstances of an early kind of independent filmmaking — what one had to try to get by with, absent the efficiency, power, and financial security of a studio project, back when studios ruled the cinematic world — and his production of Othello was beset with what sounds like even greater difficulties: it was shot piece by piece, way out of the dramatic order of the scenes, over four years, and in a wide array of different locations. Shots were cut together into scenes with seams as conspicuous and cumbersome as giant zippers — two actors talking to each other in a scene may not have even been filmed in the same year or in the same country — and most of the dialogue was dubbed (and hardly synchronised) onto the soundtrack long after the filming ended. The scenes move haphazardly from one location to another so that I could hardly keep track of where anyone was as each scene started, and, in all, Welles’s production of Othello does basically nothing to make the plot or the dialogue of Shakespeare’s play any clearer to any viewer who watches in hope of understanding it more easily.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Steven Soderbergh’s Leap Forward in “Unsane”

When I wrote about Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky last year, the work with which he emerged from a dubious early retirement, I noted its copious pleasures, but also that it’s just what one would expect and what a fan would hope for as a follow-up to Soderbergh’s earlier Ocean’s trilogy successes. I didn’t, and don’t, mean this as a slur — it’s a work of formidable technical control, enlivening imagination and invention, bright perspicacity, fond and sparkling humour, and a brazenly circuitous and intelligent narrative sense, that I would happily watch again in its entirety at any time — but it’s a deepening and sharpening, an intensification, of an artistry already well established and assuredly proven, not the great step forward into the next phase of Soderbergh’s immensely promising career. It’s clear that films such as Ocean’s Twelve, Contagion, Side Effects, Behind the Candelabra, Magic Mike, and, now, Logan Lucky are a major achievement above that of, say, Soderbergh’s earliest, and still admirable, work, Sex, Lies and Videotape. But, to join the higher echelons of filmmakers throughout cinema’s history, a radical and elevating development of his artistry is required, which, in contemporary times, often means a radical shift in production methods and circumstances.

Of course, I don’t think this was the conscious purpose of the making of Soderbergh’s newest work, Unsane, but I’m very pleased to report that that exact change — in how and where and with what he makes the movie — has effected the desired development, or, at least, provided a very strong thrust in that direction. Unsane, which was filmed from a script by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, was shot entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus, in 4K, using the app FiLMiC Pro; the film crew and production had been so effectively pared down that the budget is reported at only $1.5 million; and, as with Logan Lucky, Soderbergh released it through his own distribution company, the Fingerprint Releasing Banner. The film’s plot, which takes the form of a horror story or the pastiche of one, should probably be announced with a host of trigger warnings (for rape, stalking, mental illness, kidnapping, captivity, and murder), and, as I see it, is merely a vehicle for the creation of images, moods, and perceptions of the depicted world (and, hopefully, the real world as well). It stars Claire Foy, as a businesswoman dealing with the past trauma of being stalked, who, through an ostensible insurance scam and the screeching deviousness of a dishonest medical practice, finds herself forcibly contained in a psychiatric ward, first for 24 hours, then for a week, then who knows how long. This experience is horrifying enough, but she’s soon confronted once again by the presence of her stalker, and her ordeal descends into the tortuous endlessness of an infernal nightmare.

Friday, 4 May 2018

The Exemplary Melodrama “Wonderlus”

Great melodramas focus on the particular emotional state of an ordinary life, amplifying it onto the big screen and strengthening its force of feeling. A great recent example is Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck, which, for all its raucous and riotous comedy, is a deeply perceptive distillation of intensely felt feelings. Mediocre melodramas, of which Johan Cronje has made an exemplary work, the new Afrikaans release Wonderlus, stretch emotions thin across the screen rather than expanding them; they reduce feelings not to their essence but to their semblance; they distill bathos instead of distilling experience. As I’ve remarked before when writing about South African films, the approximation of feelings they grasp at is one prompted and affirmed by the heavy professional emphases on bland superficial production quality, and the default industry gearing towards television.

Read others’ responses to Wonderlus here.

The set-up of the drama involves starting off in the wake of the rougher, tenser moments, and jumping back and forth between the two time periods (the night of, and the morning after) to weave together the various plot strands involving the handful of featured characters. In true South African romantic melodrama/comedy fashion, it centres on a picture-perfect destination wedding, on some luxury farm location a few hours out of the city; there’re chalets and a dam amidst golden highveld grasslands; there’s an irritable guest and her obtuse boyfriend, who bicker constantly and fruitlessly; there’re immature groomsmen and their tittering bridesmaid counterparts; there’s the groom himself, gracious and forthcoming, and even prettier than his young bride; and there’s a nervous air of unanswered doubts and unsettled bodily drives.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Critic’s-Eye View: “Wonderlus”

The new Afrikaans film Wonderlus, by Johan Cronje, opened this past weekend. I’ve collected the reviews that I could find, so that readers can get an idea of the various responses to it in the South African press.

Read The Back Row’s review of Wonderlus here.

On his RSG film-reviewing slot, Leon van Nierop awarded the film nine stars out of ten, and declared that

Like Johnny is nie dood nie, it takes Afrikaans film to places it’s never been. It experiments with style, dialogue, juxtaposition of time periods, and brutal frankness like few other Afrikaans films. … It is one of the best Afrikaans movies ever, because it moves radically away from the pattern of other Afrikaans movies, especially comedies. People talk like real people, the camera moves around freely, and there are jumps in time to give context and perspective to the relationships and decisions of the characters. As far as direction, performance, the script, and camerawork are concerned, it is excellent.

Graye Morkel reviewed Wonderlus for Channel24, awarding it four stars out of five, and writing that it

takes a brave look at the conversations and doubts young South Africans have about love and relationships. … [The dialogue] felt real and authentic. But be warned, it might not sit well with your average Afrikaans tannie. Swear words and phrases like “tiete is ons troosprys” slip into almost every conversation. … The love and party scenes are uninhibited and not for a conservative audience. … The camerawork is exceptional.

Monday, 30 April 2018

The Unsolved Conundrums of “Così fan tutte”

The Metropolitan Opera’s 2017-18 season is close to its end, and there are only three productions left to be seen broadcast in South African cinemas. The first, Così fan tutte, by Mozart, in a new production by the British director Phelim McDermott, had its first screening on Saturday evening; the other two, Verdi’s Luisa Miller and Massenet’s Cendrillon, will both begin in May. (The Met has already announced its productions to be broadcast in the 2018-19 season; you can read about them here.) Così fan tutte, Mozart’s final collaboration with the eminent librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, poses a number of heady puzzles to the director of any production of it and, now that I know the opera (that is, the score and libretto) myself, I’ve found it fantastically interesting to check clips of different productions on YouTube to see how the directors have managed their way around and through them. How to understand Mozart and Da Ponte’s attitudes to the piece? Is it a thoroughly cynical, bitterly pragmatic view of romance? Is it a benevolent yet worldly approach to sexual politics? Is Mozart ascending to the loftiest of ironies, or descending to the most rooted and human sympathies, when he sets the sextet of characters’ sordid frolics to some of the most beautiful music written for the stage? And is a harsh moral judgement being passed on any or all of the young lovers, or is the opera a show of deep and tender fellow-feeling with each of them? A director faces the epitomic conundrums of opera stagings, which only become larger and more difficult as times change and audiences develop.

McDermott has chosen a grand concept to envelop his production and scoop these problems right out of the way. He’s set it on Coney Island, in New York, in a carnival setting, during the 1950s or early 60s, at the threshold of America’s sexual revolution. The colourful sets and costumes and splendidly enchanting lighting of the whole show are pleasures to see, and the outflux onto the stage of one clever idea after another is delightful, even if the total cumulative effect is less of a joy than a pleasing diversion. He has cleverly enlisted actual Coney Island sideshow performers as his background (non-singing) cast, and they appear in most scenes, embellishing the settings around the lovers’ arias, or listening with a detached satisfaction to Don Alfonso’s asides, like Oberon’s fairies. I’d heartily recommend that fans of Mozart operas go see one of the remaining shows of the production (check the Ster Kinekor website for details), warning that joyless reactionaries are likely not to have as good a time as the rest of us.

Monday, 9 April 2018

South Africa’s Prestigious “Five Fingers for Marseilles”

Michael Matthews’s first feature film, the Sesotho-language Five Fingers for Marseilles, written by Sean Drummond, has been marketed everywhere with maximum ostentation as South Africa’s very first western, and, reflecting on the experience of watching it, that fact bodes well for the future of South African cinema: Other attempts at the genre have nowhere to go from here but up. The film is a hefty haul of all-too-familiar features that have come to characterise what I think of as our country’s prestige cinema: the movies meant to show off and advance our slowly developing film industry, but that, to me, throw its limits and shortcomings into sharp relief. These features include an ostensibly detailed attention to quality photography, a plot thrown together from local television and international blockbuster clichés, an elision of personal and idiosyncratic style for the sake of specious substance, dialogue of the most hackneyed and unimaginative variety (in whatever language is chosen), a conspicuous absence of directorial presence or artistic personae, a dismayingly narrowed and uniformly professional attitude to performance, a totally conventional notion of drama, a view of character and method of drawing characters that is both blunt and shallow, and the lack of detailed attention to milieu or specific setting.

Read others’ reviews of Five Fingers for Marseilles here.

The weak drama unfolds the plot doggedly, without accumulating details or views of anything on show, whether the setting, the characters, the broad contexts of the story, or the ideas meant to be introduced to it. Does it matter which small town was chosen as the location of the fictitious Marseilles? Would it have been any different if it had been filmed at any one of the many dozens of other small towns surrounded by dry landscapes across the country? Is there anything at all that this specific location offered to the filmmakers’ vision? If so, it isn’t to be seen in their film. If not, should it not then be used to springboard more general ideas about the country at large? I didn’t come across these, either. The script introduces elements without developing them any further than the first subordinating conjunction of a basic character sketch or plot synopsis, without tightening the emotional tensions of the film, and without mapping out a perspective or context for it. Avoiding spoilers, the resolution of the drama renders pretty much all of what came before inconsequential and insignificant. It wastes the resources of a hard-working cast of dedicated actors, who fixed their grim facial expressions in place for the entirety of the shoot, as well as the location scouts who went to great lengths to find the appropriately harsh and windswept natural settings.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Critic’s-Eye View: “Five Fingers for Marseilles”

A new Sesotho-language South Africa film, Five Fingers for Marseilles, opens today in local theatres. Much has been made on social media about the fact that it’s a western, updated and translated to a contemporary South African context, and it’s been sufficiently hyped by pundits and publicists to draw the attention of South African moviegoers. Here’s hoping for significant commercial successes.

Read The Back Row’s review of Five Fingers for Marseilles here.

Nikita Coetzee reviewed Five Fingers for Marseilles for the entertainment site Channel24, awarding it four stars out of five, and writing that she

struggled to imagine what a South African western would look like — in my mind picturing clichés like tumbleweeds, cowboy boots, and a sheriff who makes it known that he is in charger around these parts. Thankfully, I found none of that. The creators of this film did a fantastic job taking what many expect a western to be, and flipping it on its head. While there were still many elements of the classic western film, Five Fingers for Marseilles is so uniquely South African that midway through I stopped looking for the things that made it a western, and started looking out for the things that made it a good film.
That being said, if breathtaking cinematography is what you’re after, then this movie is definitely for you. Filmed in the Eastern Cape, it boasts beautiful visuals that are enough to keep the eyes of someone with a short attention span like myself entertained. In fact, had it not been for the amazing imagery, I may have found myself staring at my watch a few times as the slow pace of the film caused my mind to wander every now and again.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The Excessive Beauty of “Phantom Thread”

Among Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous films, I have only seen There Will Be Blood, which I found turgid and tendentious. It’s the kind of arthouse epic that the word “grandiloquent” is reserved for. Phantom Thread comprises such a vast leap in artistic creation that I struggle to recall the earlier work; it’s totally eclipsed.

Those interested in arthouse releases or the Oscars will already know the context of the story, and the cultural reverberations of Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance at its centre. He plays a fictitious renowned couturier, named Reynolds Woodcock, in London in the 1950s. His milieu is the highest society of Europe: his fashion is wrought for the aristocracy and royalty who admire the beauty of his work, or, rather, the great light in which it casts them. He is obsessive and controlling by nature, which brings about the exquisite creations of his art, a demanding work environment for those employed by House of Woodcock, and fraught tensions in any personal relationships. The work environment is efficiently run (and his personal relationships coldly smoothed over) by his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), who is unmarried and who systematically manages Reynolds’s fashion house and his life.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Angling for Ideas in “Catching Feelings”

Comparisons to older Woody Allen classics are rife in the reviews of Catching Feelings. The parallels only struck me afterwards, in reflection, and not while I was watching it. The first of the two ways in which it resembles a Woody Allen film is in that Kagiso Lediga stars in it as well as having written and directed it, setting it within a cultural context in which we can safely believe Lediga himself lives in real life; and the other is that one of the most prevalent and repetitive motifs is men and women who cheat on their spouses. The ways in which the two filmmakers are different is far more numerous, and, as always, more interesting to consider.

Read others’ reviews of Catching Feelings here.

Lediga demonstratively and immediately establishes the location of his film — the City of Johannesburg — as an important feature in the story; unlike Allen’s encomium of New York City in the prologue to Manhattan, Lediga’s attitude towards Johannesburg and its people is far sourer, and his emotional responses far more tempered. The scene is set after an animated prologue, in which a soldier grows horns out of jealousy and possessiveness over his wife, whom he catches engaging in the rut with a “Moor”. It’s styled as a faux-medieval comic book fantasy, and indicates that the central problem to be faced in the unfolding film is cuckoldry, in all its archaic and patriarchal tensions.

Friday, 16 March 2018

“Loving Vincent” and Admiring Art

I’m no art aficionado — my conversation on the impressionists extends only so far as I can compare them to my beloved musical impressionists, like Satie, Debussy, and Ravel — but I have immense admiration for the work of Vincent van Gogh. His paintings may be impressionist in style, but feel as though they approach the painfully intimate in scope and the cosmic in spirit. It’s a cliché to say that the style appears senseless or jejune when viewed in close detail, but accumulates to an engaging rendering of a scene when viewed as a whole, yet it’s that exact fact and quality of reality — both the reality of the soul and of the cosmos — that van Gogh’s art reflects. An emotion or an observed corner of the universe are not likely to make sense when considered in isolation, but can form the part of a revelation of a greater truth when an artist interknits and interworks them into a comprehensive and beautiful creation. And that sense of both exquisite elevation and baffled despair are all too present and immediately apparent in the story of van Gogh’s life.

Loving Vincent presents only pieces of the story of that life, and only in flashbacks. The main action takes place a year after his death, when Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), the postman who befriended Vincent van Gogh, comes by a letter that the painter posted to his brother, Theo, and tasks his son, Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), with delivering it to its intended recipient. Mingled with Armand’s task, and presented to him by Joseph together with the letter, is the mystery of how Vincent could swerve from what he himself had described as a “calm and normal” mood to suicide in a matter of a few weeks. Vincent’s apparent suicide has cast a gloomy pall over the people to whom and places to which he was once familiar, just as he had lit them up during his life. Armand’s journey to deliver the letter shifts its focus into finding the answer to Vincent’s death, which transforms his route into one of discovery of Vincent’s life, who he was and what he contributed to the world. It brings him into contact with a host of characters, all taken from actual accounts in van Gogh’s letters and diaries, or depictions in his paintings, and played by a roster of prestigious arthouse favourites: Saoirse Ronan, John Sessions, Helen McCrory, Jerome Flynn, and Eleanor Tomlinson round out the cast.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

“Wonderboy for President” and Inoffensive Satire

Available on Showmax.

In conjunction with the release of Kagiso Lediga’s new romantic comedy Catching Feelings, which was released last Friday, I watched the 2016 comedy Wonderboy for President, directed by John Barker and also starring Lediga, which is now streaming on Showmax.

Wonderboy for President is set up as a mockumentary in a political context. Shakes (Ntosh Madlingozi, who also appears in Catching Feelings) and Brutus (Tony Miyambo), two ostensible high-ups in the ANC back office, are remonstrated by leadership for the weakening public image of the party and its growing disconnect with its base, particularly among the youth and particularly in Johannesburg. They are tasked with travelling to the Eastern Cape to meet with a rumoured charismatic young leader named Wonderboy (Lediga), whom leadership believes will bring sufficient credibility and appeal as the face of the party to lure back voters.

Wonderboy is quickly brought up to Johannesburg, introduced to the big city and its ways, rapidly flung into the party leadership, and just as rapidly brought into the party’s disfavour when he falls for an attractive young leader (Thishiwe Ziqubu) in the DA, the main opposition party, which brings along a selection of predictable conflicts.

“Nosferatu” at the Brooklyn Theatre

Something that we don’t have anything close to enough of in South Africa is revivals of older movies. (Admittedly, that’s not very high up on the nation’s list of priorities, but we cannot continue to neglect our cultural development on that basis of precedence-by-necessity.) For that reason, the screenings of classic and popular older films at places like the Bioscope in Johannesburg are especially welcome, and are to be taken note of whenever they arise. This post is to draw your attention to just such an occasion, taking place in Menlo Park in Pretoria, at the Brooklyn Theatre. On Sunday, 18 March, at 3 p.m., the Brooklyn Theatre will screen F.W. Murnau’s silent horror classic, Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. The screening will be accompanied live by three young musicians — Danre Strydom, Cezarre Strydom, and Jana Mathee, each playing a number of different instruments, from woodwind and brass to string and keyboard instruments — who will perform a live musical score to the silent film. (Dialogue is shown in intertitles, translated into English.) The music to be played was reportedly chosen from a number of different sources and style eras, all specifically orchestrated for this performance and to fit with the intended mood of the film.

The reason to hurry along to this screening (and to book your tickets, which can be done here) is not merely for the novelty of attending a live musical performance as the score for a silent film (though it’s certainly reason enough for those who are interested in that sort of thing), but for the sheer artistic power of Murnau’s film, no matter the sounds selected or devised to be played along with it. I attended a similar event last year at the Bioscope, where another Murnau silent classic — Tartuffe,  from 1926, chosen to coincide with the performance at the Joburg Theatre of Molière’s play — was played silently and accompanied live, that time by a jazz pianist who was improvising his score throughout. I don’t remember anything about the music he played (which should say enough as a criticism of his improvisations), but Tartuffe was wondrous enough a cinematic experience for it to have been worthwhile no matter what he played, or even if nothing was played and we had watched the film in total silence.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Greta Gerwig’s Beautiful “Lady Bird”

Simply put, Greta Gerwig’s second feature as a director (and her first as sole director), as well as the sixth feature she’s written, Lady Bird, displays a sharp perception and emanates a warm tenderness to an uncommon degree in contemporary movies. This may not be surprising, and yet is something remarkable, because Gerwig has conceived of and executed a story rooted in her own experiences and linked to her own biography. Filmmakers often find new sides to their artistry when filming something from their own experiences, but many of them — perhaps to protect the parts of themselves they see as most vulnerable — end up coating their vision in hazy nostalgia, easy and stereotypical preconceptions, or rigid and unyielding methods of representation. Gerwig avoids these pitfalls, and arrives at a work of authentic and probing thought as well as exquisite emotional insight. If we’re to count it as a directorial début, it’s certainly one of the great ones of recent years, along with Jordan Peele’s in Get Out, and Yance Ford’s in Strong Island. Her work is more than remarkable: it’s beautiful, and accomplished with the whimsical charm and presence, and practically Mozartian grace that we have come to expect from her as an artist.

Lady Bird follows a student named Christine (Saoirse Ronan) — who has given herself the nickname “Lady Bird” — through her final year of high school at a Catholic girls school in Sacramento, California, from the start of her senior year in the autumn of 2002 through to the start of the next year when she arrives at college in the autumn of 2003. It’s not strictly or literally autobiographical, according to Gerwig — none of the events in the film are taken directly from her life — but the connection to actual experiences is both conspicuous and touching. Like Lady Bird, Gerwig grew up in Sacramento, went to a Catholic girls school, exhibited “a performative streak” as she grew up, and went to college in New York City. (Christine is also Gerwig’s mother’s name.) What’s touching is the deep personal care with which she has crafted each of her characters as well as the atmosphere surrounding them and the events they go through. Lady Bird’s relationship and interactions with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) — a nurse, as Gerwig’s mother was — are central to the plot, though scenes with her classmates, her friends, her romantic interests, her father, her brother, and her teachers are not merely subplots, but integral to the main thrust of the story.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Critic’s-Eye View: “Catching Feelings”

A new South African romantic comedy is opening this weekend, comedian Kagiso Lediga’s Catching Feelings, which he wrote, directed, and stars in. I have not yet seen it, but here are other views on the film that I found in various publications. Let me know of any I may have missed and should add here.

Read The Back Row’s review of Catching Feelings here.

In her Channel24 review, Gabi Zietsman awards the film three stars out of five and says that Lediga “goes for a more refined style” than the slapstick gags and vulgar jokes used by other comedians entering movies, “that deals intimately with race relations in South Africa and how fragile masculinity can kill love.”

Lediga … has a smooth approach to such touchy subjects and manages to create a safe space where he can explore these issues without really offending the audience. Both sides are shown to have flaws and strengths, and the story actually follows a tasteful debate around the issues without trying to hide away from the harsh truths …
Although these issues [of white privilege and fragile masculinity] are not unique to South Africa (especially in the US context), Lediga places it heavily in a local context that rings true for our audiences without being offensive. It does come packaged in an academic setting … but Lediga still managed to touch on the educational divide … The jokes sometimes fell a bit flat or came too many at once, which may be a result of Lediga’s comedic background.
I also feel like he could have cast a stronger actress than Pearl Thusi, whose main purpose seems to be to look pretty in underwear … It almost feels like Lediga derides his female characters and makes them far less substantial than the supporting male characters (Andrew Buckland and Akin Omotoso were brilliant), despite being very aware of what toxic and fragile masculinity is.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

“Call Me By Your Name”’s Gratifications and Fantasies

As E.L. James arrived at the premise of an extravagant women’s fantasy of romance, sex, luxury, and the accompanying pain, meant to heighten the effects of its pleasures, so Luca Gaudagnino has set up a sumptuous gay fantasy, in the northern Italian countryside, with summer’s sun and ripe fruits replacing handcuffs and riding crops. (In fact, Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson was at one point considered to direct this adaptation of André Aciman’s novel.) But the money is still there, and a lot of it, and even more so the characters’ supposed cultural sophistication. In the place of the self-assured and knowingly desirous Christian Grey, we have Oliver (Armie Hammer), a history scholar who has come to Italy from America to work as the assistant of a distinguished archaeologist named Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg); the ingénue on whom he sets his sights is Perlman’s son, the precocious twink Elio (Timothée Chalamet). They skirt past each other, and initial romantic prospects are obscured by Oliver’s inscrutable furtiveness and Elio’s self-absorbed self-loathing, but, eventually, a romance buds and blooms, and, for the somewhat isolated and unenlightened 17-year-old Elio, of age becomes just as inevitable a place to come as anywhere else.

Gaudagnino, James Ivory (who wrote the script), and Aciman fill out the fantasy with a huge inherited estate in the northern Italian countryside, a loving family, truly liberal parents, lithe and bare-skinned youths, promiscuous teenagers, constant sunshine, food and drink, old-world architecture, impressionist music, modernist music, Euro pop music, and a freeing period setting of the early 1980s, skirting the arrival in Italy of the AIDS crisis and Thatcher/Reaganite shame. Gaudagnino has meticulously constructed a tone and a mood to serve this fantasy: His carefully selected film stock (just grainy enough to remind you of a sunnier, simpler time), matted colours, attentive and shrewd framing of shots, clever and purposeful cuts, appropriately brooding looks from his actors, and a well-practiced naturalism and simulated playfulness among his young actors are all precisely calibrated to stoke an emotional effect in the audience. The images serve nostalgia and easy desire, and seem almost deliberately devised not to convey ideas. Gaudagnino and Ivory may have had their artistic differences (which is why Ivory ended up not directing, as he had intended to), yet, in Gaudagnino’s canny fabrication of a faux-haute delicacy, Call Me By Your Name seems to have a lot in common with Ivory’s films — Gaudagnino merely deploys a more contemporary (and typically European) art-house consciousness to mitigate any overt romantic indulgences.

Friday, 2 March 2018

My Oscar Ballot – 2018

The Oscars remain the least important thing to happen each year, and not only in the movie calendar. Oscar night is like a depression in significance, except for the cultural and aesthetic value of the fashion exhibited and meme fodder generated on the evening. The results are worthless except in practical ways to the winners: If you win an Oscar, the advancement of your career becomes easier in Hollywood. Okay, maybe there’s another important effect: If a movie wins an Oscar, the industry and its aspirants are likely to try make more just like it. But Academy Awards and actual artistic importance only ever align coincidentally.

My Oscar ballot is the selection of films that I think are most likely to win, not necessarily my favourites — in fact, hardly ever my favourites. I haven’t seen most of the nominated films yet, anyway; the only ones I have seen are Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Post, The Shape of Water, and Strong Island. Read my own selection of what I found to be the greatest films of 2017.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Ryan Coogler’s Strikingly Personal “Black Panther”

This post won’t focus very much on the significant cultural, sociological, or political aspects of the release and reception of the new Marvel film, Black Panther, which have been set out by a number of writers for other publications in South Africa (and, indeed, across the world). My position of privilege in this regard notwithstanding, I had my own reasons to be excited for the movie when I heard about it: Having seen Ryan Coogler’s previous film, Creed, I judge him to be one of the finest directors of his generation, and I was tremendously eager to see what he would do with the hundreds of millions of dollars that Disney was willing to give him — since other fine filmmakers, such as Peyton Reed and David Lowery, had done wonderful things with similar amounts, and I’m excited for Ava DuVernay’s upcoming A Wrinkle in Time for the same reason.

It’s no news to anyone who’s seen it — nor to anyone who’s heard from anyone who’s seen it — that just what Coogler did in fact do with it is something fantastic. I surmise that it’s particularly difficult for a director to make a strikingly personal work of art within the ultra-budget blockbuster strictures of a studio (and I have no idea whether having made two smaller works previously would make it any easier or more difficult), but Coogler has managed it, and offered up a terrific entertainment together with it.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Critic’s-Eye View: “Inxeba”

Though South African moviegoers are now regrettably unable to see John Trengrove’s isiXhosa-language film Inxeba (perhaps even more so because of it), I’ve thought it worthwhile to collect local reviews of the film so that readers can get a broader view of the responses to it (I haven’t done the same with international reviews, since there’re already very good sites that do that).

Read The Back Row’s review of Inxeba here.

In her review on the Afrikaans culture site LitNet, Reney Warrington calls Inxeba “transformative,” and affirms her seriousness in that description:

With great care and respect, John Trengrove and his team disconnect you from your world, and walk alongside you into a world foreign to most. You are made to wince, to care deeply, even for loathsome characters, and, ultimately, you are left winded by the weight of the patriarchy and the tragic, yet perfect, end. The wide angles and close-ups, the lush landscape and cicadas buzzing, Xolani’s gentle soul versus Vija’s rage, the men singing and telling tales, the silences and cacophony all blend together in a perfectly balanced piece of art. The one element does not overshadow the other – the sign of a great film.
What adds gravitas to the film is Trengrove’s mode of storytelling, what he chose to show or not show. He could thrust patriarchy in your face. He could shock you with blood and guts and shattered bodies. That would be the easy way. Instead, he draws you in, shows you something beautiful and fragile and worth caring for, and then crushes it. It is a sucker punch of note.

John Trengrove’s Highly Tactile “Inxeba”

If the primary worth of direction is to deliver, through images, a work and an experience beyond the dimensions of the script, then John Trengrove’s direction of the isiXhosa-language film Inxeba has significant merit, and is distinguished among South African films for that very reason. The writers — Malusi Bengu, Trengrove, and Thando Mgqolozana, from whose novel A Man Who is Not a Man the film was adapted — indeed supplied a deft and earnestly emotional script, but the final product is far from a mere illustration or fawning enactment; in my view, it’s a brazen, intimate, and personal film, marked with an invigorated visual imagination.

Read other review of Inxeba here.

Trengrove directs in tension with the script somewhat: Where the Xhosa writers (and actors, who surely contributed, if with nothing more than their resourcefulness and spontaneity on set) have something to say about their experiences of the Xhosa initiation camps and upbringing in Xhosa society in general, Trengrove’s priority is on the specific and universal dimensions of the central characters’ story. Though I’m not sure whether it can be called a love story, since true romantic love seems more or less absent from it to me, it has many of the same vectors of experience: illicit desire, sexual attraction, emotional dependence, repression, tenderness, contempt, rage, and the pained tensions of frustrated lives. Trengrove brings an open, forthright, and appreciative outsider’s view to the Xhosa customs he depicts, and films the central characters’ story through a prism of fully realised and keenly felt emotion. The result is a small and tightly wound world of inner and outer experience that threatens to unravel, as the story threatens the characters with the encroachment of outside forces and agents on their individual lives.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Repugnant Capitulation in the Film and Publication Board’s Rating of “Inxeba”

I hadn’t expected to begin my response to a new local film with more consternation against our state bodies and their interference in South African cinema, but the recent opprobrium of the Film and Publication Board’s ferociously unjust censorship of Inxeba has angered me in excess of my expectations. I wasn’t very much bothered by those protesting the film’s screenings in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, though I was disappointed to find that theatre managers were caving in to intimidation — but the actions of the national classification and censorship authority were so cowardly, so unjust, and bore such harsh implications for the artists involved in the making of Inxeba as well as other South African artists that I cannot go without declaiming their repugnance here.

The Man and Boy Foundation (MBF) and the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (CONTRALESA) made an appeal to the Film and Publication Board (FPB) to change its rating of Inxeba with an age restriction of 16 to one of X18 — effectively a classification of the film as pornography. The FPB acquiesced and Inxeba, which was playing at multiplex and independent screening venues across the country, as well as reportedly having been bought by Multichoice to show on BoxOffice, Showmax, and M-Net, is now only allowed to be distributed by licenced pornography merchants and screened at designated “adult” venues. The only explanation that has been offered by the FPB so far comes along with its sudden announcement on its Twitter account, and it’s as repulsively evasive as the method of communication was brusque:

Friday, 26 January 2018

Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” Suits Meryl Streep Too Well

Steven Spielberg’s new film The Post slots neatly into the establishment it purports to monitor, in a routine that belies the processes of journalistic inquiry it supposedly commends. It’s loved by critics, who are, after all, journalists themselves, and who appreciate too readily an assured and accomplished approval of the system. The System in the story is the American presidency, in particular the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon; the System within which the story is presented is that of the very hub of Hollywood industry. Spielberg’s style is cultivated from the mechanised forms and procedures of the studio era of movie-making; his methods are faithful to the conventions of the industry; he himself, together with the stars of the film, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, represents the core of its establishment; the story itself points to the ostensibly great deed of the head individual of a commercial and political system of its own, who is part of nothing if not of the élite of privilege and power in American society.

Spielberg’s film centres on Katharine Graham’s (Streep) decision to publish reporting on the classified Pentagon Papers in the newspaper her family owned, The Washington Post. Hanks is the headstrong and hardy editor who organises the investigation and reporting, and pushes strongly to publish. Richard Nixon steps in as the villain; his actual recordings from the Oval Office are used on the soundtrack (an actor named Curzon Dobell provides Nixon’s silhouette), and manipulated to cast Nixon in his own archetypal role. The exaggerations and fictions of the film’s plot are obviously formulated to directly connect the story to a comment on the Trump administration and commonplaces about the press’s role in relation to it.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

“The Shape of Water” is a Hollywood Classic With Contemporary Politics

The experience of watching Guillermo del Toro’s new film The Shape of Water is like that of buying and eating an elaborately manufactured and fussily packaged epicurean dessert, the kind that upmarket department stores promote in their northern-suburbs branches over Christmas. The lavish presentation may resemble that of haute cuisine, but the formula conforms to industry staples and packs heady dosages of sugar and fat, for immediate gratification and easy consumption.

That comparison is somewhat unfair: Del Toro’s film involved many conscientious craftsmen and many hours of labour, and even the most pedestrian of Hollywood studio productions deal in narrative and concepts, human emotions and ideas — the stuff of which Woolworths doesn’t generally construct its weekly food catalogues. And del Toro knows how to mix in ideas with his sweetener; the only other of his films that I’ve seen is Pan’s Labyrinth (and about half an hour of Hellboy II: The Golden Army), which ran its narrative course through a prismatic view of fascism as well as the full gamut of psychoanalytical insights on childhood fantasies.

Though Pan’s Labyrinth is the film that took a stark view of particular brutalities during the Spanish Civil War and The Shape of Water is the one that centres on a fairytale romance between a dewy-eyed innocent and a colourful water creature, it’s the former which played as an ingenuous Freudian expedition through the preoccupations of childhood, while The Shape of Water has the feel of a more tempered and more adult look at things.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

“A Quiet Passion” is the Great Biopic Emily Dickinson Deserves

Emily Dickinson is my favourite poet apart from Shakespeare, and, in my estimation, also happens to be the greatest poet beside Shakespeare. The differences between the Bard and the Belle of Amherst are multitudinous and immense, but they are connected in how I see each of them by two common traits: a Herculean, colossal cognitive struggle with (and, in some ways, triumph over) the cosmos, which marks the distinct originality and greatness of their poetry; and the shockingly (yet, somehow, aptly) minute amount we know of each of their outer lives, as well as the regrettable absence of a chronicle of their monumental inner lives. The character of Shakespeare has already been featured in a small handful of films, sometimes not totally in earnest, but Terence Davies’s assuredly masterful and astoundingly emotional biopic A Quiet Passion features the first appearance of Dickinson on the screen. And, as befits the greatest poet of her continent and one of the greatest in the language, the film is an exquisite and unforgettable masterpiece that — I note bitterly as awards season is underway — has not received the recognition it certainly merits. If it had been released in theatres in South Africa last year, I may well have placed it right at the top of my list of favourite films of the year.

I have only seen one other film by Davies, his first, Distant Voices, Still Lives, from 1988. If that film and this one, his latest, are anything to go by, he is undoubtedly one of the great artists of the time, and has also been unduly neglected and forgotten in the popular media. I had at least hoped we would hear of some or other Best Actress nomination for Cynthia Nixon, who plays Emily Dickinson in the film, and in doing so gives one of the most intense and insightful biopic performances in recent years; alas, the film has been unjustly sidelined. Yet, as frustrating as this may be for those who worked on it, this suits the story of the determined artist who craved acknowledgement and vindication and never got it while she was alive.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus” at 90

This article originally appeared on the Big Screen Hooligans website and is reposted here with permission.

Over two issues in 1963 and 1964, the French film monthly Cahiers du cinéma printed a dictionary of American filmmakers. Jean-Luc Godard, one of its contributors and now one of the legendary directors of the French New Wave, submitted the entry on Charlie Chaplin, writing,

He is beyond praise because he is the greatest of all. What else can one say? … Charles Spencer Chaplin, while remaining marginal to the rest of cinema, ended up by filling this margin with more things (what other word can one use: ideas, gags, intelligence, honour, beauty, movement?) than all the other directors together have put into the whole book.

Over a career spanning more than 75 years, Chaplin directed at least 82 films, starring in nearly all of them, including eleven feature-length films which stand among the greatest in the art form. It’s out of nothing other than deep affection and warm admiration that we note today is the 90th anniversary of the release of one of those features, The Circus, which premiered on 6 January, 1928, at the Strand Theatre in Times Square, New York City. It’s famous as a particularly difficult production to complete in early Hollywood history, and one of the most fraught times in Chaplin’s career. Film equipment troubles, personal legal troubles, personal financial troubles, and family grief ended up stalling production for ten months.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The Year in Movies – 2017

This is a movie blog, but a calendar year in movies (an arbitrary divisor used for ease of comparison) can always be contrasted with, and, more often, related to the calendar year in general. In 2014, we noted a new rise in protest and resistance action around the world, spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter movement that began in America in that year. At the end of 2014, Ava DuVernay’s magnificent biopic Selma was released, which not only depicted a subject similar to the issues concerning the movement, but reflected a similar temper of outraged defiance and dignified opposition. The film was duly lauded, in both apt aesthetic and trite journalistic terms, and had a moderate showing at the Oscars. But, other than distilling and sharply appreciating the substance of the matter at hand, it did nothing to aid any of the protest movements surrounding it. Movies can’t change the world — art in the general shouldn’t try — but artists aim for its greater truths and meanings.

At the end of 2015, in my movie round-up, I noted the mounting energies of resistance and opposition both locally and globally: the student funding crisis, the South African education crisis, the international refugee crisis, the climate change crisis, fanaticist terror attacks, rising movements of fascism and overt racism, a growing distrust in an increasingly consumerist global media industry, and widening gaps of inequality. 2016 — whose political concerns were not enumerated on my blog post to end off that year — seemed to many like a tipping point in many of these issues, and the fierce observation and commentary on movie releases since then by social media users around the world has directly taken them into account. More explicitly than ever (and helpfully emphasised by the Oscar envelope mix-up), the widespread recognition of Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight over narrower, more backward-facing works was political at least as much as it was aesthetic. This year, Hollywood was the epicentre of an eye-widening and heartening blowback against the systematic abuse of working women. Some of the allegations of sexual misconduct arising from Hollywood were shocking (though many were sickeningly unsurprising), but nothing about the predators’ actions was special or exceptional. These difficulties exist and thrive in every industry, and it’s almost necessary that an industry that exists to reflect and perceive the society at large is the one that exposed so ubiquitous a problem.