0376 | News From Home

vlcsnap-5985Having read a couple of articles about Chantal Akerman earlier this year I’d made a mental note to actually watch some of her films. Months passed, as they do, and then earlier this week the Belgian director sadly passed away, at the young age of 65. Perhaps now is as good a time as any to start, and I’ve chosen News From Home first, a 1977 documentary that combines Akerman’s 16mm footage of New York City with readings of letters she received from her mother between 1971 and 1972, when she first moved to the city.

Released a year after her most widely-celebrated film Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles it could be described as a personal essay, less a love letter to New York and more an exploration of the sense of alienation and loneliness people experience when they first move to a city, though of course one should be wary of projecting. For this film Akerman trained her camera on Manhattan’s pre-gentrified streets and stitched together a series of long shots with the help of Francine Sandberg, later recording herself reading the content of her mother’s letters out loud and adding the voiceover to the assembled, edited footage (there are also diegetic sounds of the streets on the soundtrack, though sometimes these do not actually match up with the footage on screen, which suggests they may be field recordings made separately or that she deliberately jumbled the sound recordings made with the images). The camera is always fixed, never looking left, right, up or down, just straight ahead towards the horizon. At the beginning the footage tends to be of quieter streets, which look like they could be in the old Garment District or slightly further west towards the Hudson (New Yorkers, feel free to chime in if you’ve seen the film and correct me if I’m wrong). Later she films on the subway, sometimes on the platform and sometimes within the subway car, a brave move considering the inherent dangers of the transit system at the time. Then she moves on to busier streets, and shoots out of (car? train?) windows as they move along. Those filmed tend not to notice her camera, or pay it much attention, and eventually she begins to train it on larger crowds. That said, most of the images she captures are desolate, as if to highlight the corners of the city that are usually passed by without fanfare, while the melancholic tone is summed up well by the closing shot of Manhattan’s misty skyline, made from a ferry as it pulls away from the island. All the while we hear these sporadic reports from Akerman’s mother, who fills her daughter in on news from home, details her own concerns and illness and asks questions about the documentarian’s career and life in America. There are certain illuminating comments in the letters, such as the early one in which Akerman’s mother explains that she does not hold the experimental filmmaker’s decision to leave without speaking to her parents against her. We don’t hear or see Akerman’s responses, though it is perhaps possible to read between the lines, or in this case between the letters.

While viewing News From Home today it’s possible to feel a certain sense of nostalgia for both grainy 16mm footage and ‘old’ New York, even if you’re only familiar with the latter from the steady diet of 1970s cop shows, movies and the like that lionised the city. Yet this is less about the place than what it feels like to be in it, and there’s a certain cool detatchment throughout that could only ever be made by the independent observer or the out-of-towner. These are the exact same Manhattan streets and spaces we can see in the 1970s photographs of New Yorkers like Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand, and yet it’s so obviously the work of a non-native who is getting to grips with this vast, imposing place that it’s as fascinating a testament as their bodies of work for very different reasons, made by someone with literal and figurative distance from most of the subjects or points of interest that we see. It’s this mix of the distant and the intimate (i.e. the content of the letters) that beguiles, and accurately recreates the sensation of leaving one place behind to make a new life in another, of having one foot in one country A and the other in country B, of not knowing anybody except for those you have left behind. A peculiar but arresting film, mostly shot by Akerman’s long-term collaborator Babette Mangolte (who made a similar move from Paris to New York around the same time), and I’m intrigued to see more of the work of both as a result.

Directed by: Chantal Akerman.
Written by: Chantal Akerman.
Cinematography: Babette Mangolte, Jim Asbell.
Editing: Francine Sandberg.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 85 minutes.
Year: 1977.

0375 | A Syrian Love Story

A SYRIAN LOVE STORY 08_0When filmmaker Sean McAllister travelled to Syria in 2009, before the Arab Spring, Bashar al-Assad’s government wanted him to make a documentary that would attract foreign tourists by highlighting the country’s natural beauty, culture and history. McAllister, who has made several documentaries examining the effects of revolution, war and displacement on ordinary people in the Middle East, obviously had other ideas: the first couple of minutes of his new film A Syrian Love Story detail his displeasure at being herded around with a pack of fellow filmmakers before he breaks off to look for his own story. And he finds one fairly quickly, by the looks of things, when he meets Amer in the Yarmouk Camp in Damascus, who is caring for three children while his wife Raghda is locked up as a political prisoner. It is revealed that the couple first met in prison 15 years ago, and fell in love after they communicated for months through a secret hole they made between their cells. Now Raghda has been locked up for speaking out against al-Assad’s regime, and in some early scenes that tug at the heart strings we see the effect this has had on her two youngest children, four-year-old Bob and fourteen-year-old Kaka, both of whom appear wise beyond their years.

McAllister’s documentary follows the family for the next five years, into 2015. Amer seizes the opportunity during the Arab Spring to campaign for Raghda’s release, and she is subsequently freed by the authorities. Things briefly look promising when the family is reunited, but then the filmmaker himself is arrested by the authorities it made the national news in the UK at the time and the family are forced to flee to Lebanon, where cracks in Amer and Raghda’s marriage begin to appear (they may of course have been there for many years, but it’s the first sign of problems within this documentary). While in Lebanon Amer-and-Bob-in-A-Syrian--009Raghda uses Facebook to communicate with other revolutionaries, but despite holding similar opinions about the regime in Syria Amer’s taste for the fight appears to be dwindling, and the intimate access given to McAllister, who has become by this point a family friend, means that we witness an increasing number of arguments between man and wife while also gaining an understanding of a few unresolved issues that are gnawing away at the pair. A year later and they are living in France, having successfully sought asylum as political refugees, and the film catches up with them repeatedly between 2012 and 2015, examining their new lives in a safer country as well as significant developments occurring within the family. ‘I’m French…’ says Bob, now eight, ‘not English, not Syrian!’, just before we see young adult Kaka sipping from a glass of rosé, the suggestion being that the men of the family have found it easier (though not easy) to settle in Europe.

The title can be read in two ways. On the one hand the film is about Amer’s relationship with Raghda (and to an extent their relationships with their children). On the other hand it is about Raghda’s love for her homeland, the way she constantly feels its pull, and the way that being away from Syria adds to her unhappiness. The film shows the emotional 1220642_A-Syrian-Love-Storystress and trauma that is caused by the family’s migration, and is of course an extremely timely and relevant film given the current refugee crisis and the situation in Syria. The kids use social media to stay in touch with events in their homeland too, as well as to check on the welfare of their friends. At one point they show the filmmaker photos of the various people they knew that have subsequently died, while eldest son Shadi shares a video of a (pro-Bashar) girl he used to date who has since been killed; he traces his finger across her face on the screen in a powerful and touching scene.

Throughout McAllister films his subjects with a hand-held camera, adding to the sense of intimacy as he sits in the various living rooms and bedrooms with family members. Over time he gets to know them very well, and is able to speak candidly and ask tough questions without necessarily causing the adults or the kids to raise their defences. He can do this because they trust him, and they are right to do so: this is a film that is as honest about them and their situation as it is moving, and due to its length it offers a far more rounded portrait of a refugee family and the issues they face than anything I have seen on the news or in newspapers during the past few months. Made with the help of the BFI for the BBC’s current Storyville season, A Syrian Love Story is currently in selected cinemas in the UK but is also available to watch for free on the BBC’s iPlayer, if you can access it. You should try and see it as soon as possible.

Directed by: Sean McAllister.
Written by: Sean McAllister.
Cinematography: Sean McAllister.
Editing: Matt Scholes.
Music: Terence Dunn.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 76 minutes.
Year: 2015.

0374 | Predestination

fullwidth.45207dfaThere are echoes of the plots of several other science fiction movies in this mind-bending time travel tale by the Spierig Brothers, but the source material Robert A. Heinlein’s short story ‘—All You Zombies—’ predates most, including Rian Johnson’s Looper, which in terms of recent years is arguably Predestination‘s closest cousin. Another comparison could be made with Minority Report; Heinlein’s tale was published in 1959 by Fantasy And Science Fiction magazine after it was rejected by Playboy, just three years after Philip K. Dick published the short that inspired Steven Spielberg’s movie, and both are concerned in one way or another with unaccountable state powers that can stop crimes before they happen. Yet stylistically Predestination is a very differeny beast to both Looper and Minority Report: the Spierigs have worked with a relatively small budget of $5 million here and their B-movie isn’t driven by big names, action sequences or special effects (not that Looper was overly-reliant on the latter either). Thus the big name here is Ethan Hawke rather than a Cruise or a Willis, and the device his time traveller uses to jump back and forth from one year to another is a simple violin case; additionally Predestination‘s biggest set piece involves a bomb so weak it only gives the person standing right next it some facial burns upon detination.

Hawke’s character is travelling back and forth in time as an employee of the Temporal Bureau, an organisation that sends its agents to the past so that they can make preemptive strikes at the scenes of crimes before they are committed, thereby stopping them from ever occuring. His target, in the early-1970s, is a terrorist dubbed ‘the P_00809.000-640x360Fizzle Bomber’, who is seemingly intent on wreaking havoc throughout New York City. And it’s there that the agent works undercover, as a bartender, eventually meeting writer John (Sarah Snook). John’s life story is told in a lengthy first act flashback, involving an orphanage, a fleeting romance and a gender reassignment, but to say more would be unfair to anyone reading who is yet to see the film. Suffice it to say John talks and the agent listens, their respective fates becoming slowly entwined over beer and peanuts.

Predestination is an entertaining puzzle thriller, one that delights in zipping back-and-forth between the years and challenging its audience to keep up or figure out where it is going (unlike my recent viewing of Primer I had no trouble following this plot or second-guessing the ending). Some effort is made by the Spierigs to answer the questions and issues raised by time travel, and by and large they have fun with the premise, even if the device of characters disappearing from one room and appearing suddenly in another time and place feels far too familiar in the modern age. The Fizzle Bomber is entirely their invention, and as MacGuffins go it’s not too bad, though the character’s brief appearances are lacking in any real menace. Occasionally some poorly-written dialogue pops up, but the Spierigs version of Heinlein’s story is well constructed and they get to grips with the central theme of identity, displaying more than just token interest in the experiences of their intersex character.

Directed by: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig.
Written by: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig. Based on ‘—All You Zombies—’ by Robert A. Heinlein.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor.
Cinematography: Ben Nott.
Editing: Matt Villa.
Music: Peter Spierig.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Year: 2014.

0373 | The Martian

martian-sitsOnce you have accepted the premise that NASA has successfully landed astronauts on Mars in the not-too-distant future, perhaps the most surprising thing about Ridley Scott’s The Martian is the upbeat tone of this castaway tale: Matt Damon’s stranded astro-botanist Mark Watney spends much of the movie cracking wise as he records video diaries and explains exactly what he’s doing in order to survive on the red planet, and there’s very little exploration of the post-traumatic stress, misery and doubt that Watney and the crew members who abandoned him would surely experience in such a situation. Perhaps retaining a sense of humour in the face of extreme adversity is the only way to survive on Mars, completely alone, without going insane. The frothy, light touch here certainly makes for an interesting comparison with Gravity or last year’s autumn sci-fi epic Interstellar, a bombastic outer space movie that took itself way too seriously (though there were occasional light-hearted moments involving that particular film’s robot). And what’s this? A disco soundtrack? Gloria Gaynor was one of the last acts I was expecting to hear.

At the start of the film we find Watney and his crew conducting experiments on the planet’s surface. There are early signs that Scott has opted for a bloated cast packed with familiar faces as Watney jokes with Jessica Chastain’s commander Lewis and Michael Peña’s astronaut Martinez; the crew is completed by characters played by Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan and Aksel Hennie, all three up-and-coming stars. Soon enough an extreme dust storm threatens their collective safety and forces the intrepid astronauts to leave for Earth, but an the-martian-jessica-chastainaccident occurs, leading them to believe that Watney is dead, and they depart without him. But no! Our Mark manages to keep oxygen in his ripped space suit thanks to some implausible nonsense about shrapnel blocking the hole, and soon enough we’re following Watney’s attempts to grow potatoes out of his own faeces and establish communication links with NASA, which is apparently headed up by just four people (Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kristen Wiig). This small band of executives and spin doctors back on Earth plot rescue missions with Californian scientists (Benedict Wong and Donald Glover both make the most of their minor roles) and contact Watney’s old crew members. He’s alive! There’s hope! Let’s go get our boy! And so on and so forth.

You’re not supposed to over-think The Martian, which is fine, but the film simply fails to get to grips with the mental state of Damon’s character, and instead unquestionably embraces the triumph of the human spirit and the notion of good humour willing out in the face of adversity. Watney remains relentlessly chipper throughout, aside from one or two instances where he punches things after setbacks occur, and he only displays outward signs of emotional fragility at the end of the film. This is a man who has been left for dead (on Mars, no less), has little to eat except for potatoes for hundreds of days on end, can only entertain himself with a poor collection of disco hits or a Happy Days box set (although we never get to see what he does with his surplus spuds) and is the subject of a rescue plan that requires him to head into space in a tin can covered with tarpaulin. Surely we should see him weep about his lot once or twice, rather than simply joke about it?

That said, I must admit I enjoyed being surprised by The Martian, and part of that surprise derives from the uplifting and comic tone, which is completely contrary to the human perservation story norm. I haven’t read Andy Weir’s source novel (adapted for the screen here by Drew Goddard) but I gather both book and screenplay are united in ditching the typically melodramatic links with home one would normally find in such tales, however far away the stranded protagonist may be; as such there’s no worried wife or cute little moppet waiting for dad to return, just a brief mention of a message Mark would like to be passed on to his parents, who we never actually see. This, coupled with the breezy, jokey nature, confounded my expectations. But I also feel like I can’t give The Martian an easy ride: too often the narrative is clumsily driven by people reading emails aloud, and the film’s inherent cheesiness may eventually test your patience, as it did mine. The final five minutes are particularly mawkish, and I also found myself cringing through many of the NASA-centric scenes; a subplot involving the China National Space The-Martian-Donald-GloverAdministration is unintentionally amusing (even though the Chinese authorities help with the rescue, Scott’s film descends into an unapologetic exercise in ‘Murican flag-waving by the end), while there’s far too much whooping and hollering and high-fiving at Mission Control throughout. I’m also ambivalent about seeing actors who have been excellent in bigger parts recently (such as Wiig, Chastain and Ejiofor) in smaller roles here. They’re all fine, though Wiig’s comic talents are curiously underplayed in what is essentially a fairly comic film, but in the past two or three years you could argue that each actor has developed beyond the point of playing second fiddle to Matt Damon. And I say that as a fan of Damon; he is a proper, old school movie star and he carries this film commendably, especially considering he’s all alone for most of it (Watney has no HAL 9000 or GERTY for company, sadly). All said it’s an enjoyable crowdpleaser, and one of Scott’s better films of recent years, but let’s not get carried away by all the hype. It isn’t a patch on earlier sci-fi masterpieces like this or this.

Directed by: Ridley Scott.
Written by: Drew Goddard. Based on The Martian by Andy Weir.
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Peña, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Benedict Wong, Aksel Hennie, Donald Glover.
Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski.
Editing: Pietro Scalia.
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams, Various.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 141 minutes.
Year: 2015.

0372 | Macbeth

MacBethFassbender-xlarge(Warning: If you haven’t read Macbeth or watched an adaptation before and are intending to see this new film, please aware that I’ve discussed the plot openly below.)

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth has been adapted for the big screen many times before, most notably by Orson Welles, Roman Polanski and Akira Kurosowa, yet this new version a suitably meaty and visually arresting piece by director Justin Kurzel certainly feels worthwhile enough. It has only been on general release for a few days but has already been attacked by fans of The Bard, with some expressing disappointment at the decision by writers Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff and Michael Lesslie to include scenes that purport to answer long-standing academic speculation with regard to the childlessness of Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), though claims that there is a lack of reverence for the original text at play seem over-the-top to me (and given the director’s nationality also seem to come replete with sneery anti-Australian undertones). In actual fact Kurzel and co have decided to stress the play’s connections with children throughout this adaptation, and Macbeth opens and closes with a pair of scenes that show how crucial they are to the play’s twin themes of fate and cyclical violence. The famous ‘Out, damned spot’ line is coupled with a disturbing image that suggests infanticide, while there are other less obvious touches, such as an increase in the number of the murdered offspring of Macduff (Sean Harris), that further emphasise the play’s focus on children.

Macbeth begins like a cross between Mel Gibson’s Braveheart and a hyper-stylized episode of Game Of Thrones, a TV show whose own writers have clearly been influenced by the Scottish play (see the most recent plot revolving around the character of Stannis Baratheon for several examples). Loyalists to King Duncan (David Thewlis) are led into battle by Macbeth and Banquo (Paddy Considine) and the subsequent clash with the traitorous Macdonwald and his army is loud, bloody and gory, the director occasionally opting for slow motion hacking and slashing. In the aftermath of the melee we see bodies strewn across 40bc840a534642dd5228b2ffe7dbe70fac69445c.jpg__1920x1080_q85_crop_upscalethe battlefield, some being picked at by wild dogs, and it’s clear that the play’s brutal acts will not be taking place off screen here, as per some other adaptations. And the violence keep on coming: Duncan’s murder is carried out, unusually, by a sole perpetrator and shown in detail, while Macduff’s family are gruesomely burnt at the stake. (It’s curious, then, that the climactic fight between Macduff and Macbeth is less bloody than you would expect. Set against a blood orange backdrop there are precise slashes, headbutts and bone-crunching punches, so you certainly feel the power of the two clashing figures, but it’s odd that Kurzel allows the head of this Macbeth to remain firmly attached to his shoulders.)

The mass fighting serves as parenthesis; for the rest of the film we’re watching duplicitous, smaller acts of violence. Naturally the story follows Macbeth’s interactions with the three witches, his subsequent traitorous seizing of the throne and his changing relationship with the complicit Lady Macbeth as Macbeth-paddythe titular character slowly goes mad. Fassbender is suitably intense, confident and muscular as power is snatched from Malcolm (Jack Reynor, recently excellent in Glassland) before the actor is forced to reveal Macbeth’s inner torment in a disappointingly obvious fashion (nightshirt hanging low, pacing up and down a room, talking to himself, etc). Cotillard is superb: she isn’t playing an evil schemer here and she is more understated than her fellow lead, though she shares almost as much screen time; this fine actress doesn’t demand the viewer’s attention and is often seen in the background or at Macbeth’s side, but her physical responses to the dialogue and facial gestures reveal just as much as anything that is spoken. Harris also impresses, though his decision to turn the intensity dial up to 11 at times will not be appreciated by everyone; in the final scenes it is his Macduff, and not Fassbender’s Macbeth, who interests the most, which shouldn’t really be the case.

For all the entertaining battle sequences, strong acting, period production design and magnificent scenery (with Northumberland’s striking Bamburgh Castle standing in for Dunsinane), the usual caveat applicable to (relatively) straightforward Shakespeare adaptations is worth mentioning: if you have an ear for the dialogue you’ll probably enjoy it, whereas if you don’t you may well struggle through long passages of this film. As a fairly short tragedy, though, Kurzel has wisely decided to rely on a strong visual element vistas of boggy moorland, witches in the mist, and so on)  and the cinematography by Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom and Snowtown, Kurzel’s previous film) is up to the challenge. This Macbeth looks good, even if there’s a teeny, tiny hint of Zack Snyder in there, and the quality of the acting will be discussed many years from now, while the score by Jed Kurzel (the director’s brother) even surpasses his earlier work on The Babadook.

Directed by: Justin Kurzel.
Written by: Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie. Based on Macbeth by William Shakespeare.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, David Thewlis, Elizabeth Debicki, Jack Reynor, Lochlann Harris.
Cinematography: Adam Arkapaw.
Editing: Chris Dickens.
Music: Jed Kurzel.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 113 minutes.
Year: 2015.

0371 | Results

Though this romantic comedy has been described as mumblecore pioneer Andrew Bujalski’s move from lo-lo-lo-lo-fi indie filmmaking to something approaching mainstream cinema it’s his first film to feature well-known professional actors, for example, and clearly cost more to make than anything else he has produced it’s still refreshingly different to most of the other movies clogging up the market in this tired old genre. What we have is a love triangle, of sorts, involving personal trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders), her health freak boss Trevor (Guy Pearce, reverting to his real accent despite the Austin, Texas setting) and their mutual client Danny (Kevin Corrigan), a newly-divorced and unfit guy who has recently and unexpectedly inherited millions of dollars following the death of his estranged mother. The film explores Kat’s relationships with the two men, and the strange health and money-related relationship that forms between Danny and Trevor.

A lot of people will be put off by the pace of Results, or perhaps by the fact that its writer and director steadfastly avoids some (but not all) of the genre’s conventions, ensuring that some may experience discomfort at no longer being in Kansas. The film plods along, slowly but surely, and Bujalski eschews traditional dynamics between the three main characters: most other rom-coms featuring two men and a women would pit one likable guy against one barely-likeable guy and the lady would eventually choose the partner that the majority of audience members will be rooting for (see Bridget Jones’ Diary, High Fidelity, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Philadelphia Story et al); that’s not the photo_04-695x397case here. Although Trevor’s extreme dedication to healthy lifestyles means he spouts all manner of risible motivational bullshit inside his own gym, he’s essentially a decent and honest guy. And so is Danny, a man who is trying to expand his social circle while also coming to terms with the break-up of his marriage and the unhappiness that comes with his new-found wealth. The intense, irascible Kat is younger than both men, but is seemingly pressured by her age and the idea that she should be out having casual sex that leads nowhere, and is thus unwilling at first to commit to a relationship with either suitor. So where most rom-coms have a principal focus on one party of the potential romance, here there’s equal weight given to all three; as such even as the film enters the final act you’re never quite sure how it’s going to turn out, which is a rarity, and it feels more realistic than the usual fayre we see.

Bujalski shares the same level of interest in his characters and their lives as Richard Linklater, and several ten minute periods drift by where they’re just talking in rooms together, shooting the breeze while nothing much happens. It’s a little self-indulgent, and you may find yourself checking your watch at times, but it does mean that all three feel like well-rounded and believable characters by the end (although the one supporting role, filled by Giovanni Ribisi, feels distinctly underwritten by comparison). It’s not a distinctly funny film, by any means, and it lacks some of the idiosyncratic touches of Bujalski’s earlier work (though there are some), but Results has a certain peculiar charm and it has been a while since I’ve been surprised by the plot of a romantic comedy (though I’m not suggesting there are extreme and unexpected left turns here). As a tentative first step into Hollywood it bodes well, but this director may have to compromise certain aspects of his style if he subsequently decides to jump right in. And it’s nice to see Anthony Michael Hall pop up, albeit briefly.

Directed by: Andrew Bujalski.
Written by: Andrew Bujalski.
Starring: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan, Giovanni Ribisi.
Cinematography: Matthias Grunsky.
Editing: Robin Schwartz.
Music: Justin Rice.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Year: 2015.

0370 | Primer

primer_05__largeI feel somewhat conflicted with regards to Primer, Shane Carruth’s low budget debut, which is probably best described as a film that puts the ‘science’ back into ‘science fiction’. On the one hand I feel I must add my voice to the many that have lauded Carruth for being able to make a film for as little as $7,000, with added props of course for getting it distributed, and I should also state how much I admire his multi-talented DIY approach: as well as being the writer, director and editor Carruth is also one of the two leads in Primer, while he even found time to compose and play the music on the soundtrack. It’s also interesting to see the earliest work of a filmmaker who completely refuses to compromise his material by dumbing-down in order to attract or appease a larger audience; several years later the resolutely anti-Hollywood Carruth followed this perplexing story about time travel with another (less confusing, though still oblique) sci-fi picture called Upstream Colour, which I liked very much even though I had to refer to Wikipedia’s plot summary several times while watching it.

On the other hand that’s the main reason that Primer is such a slog. It may only be 74 minutes long but Carruth’s insistence on making few (if any) concessions for people without a scientific or technical background seems a little too stubborn, even though those watching ten years after the film’s initial release, like me, can refer to handy diagrams like this while viewing. So what we have here is a situation where a filmmaker is doing something I wholeheartedly approve of making an uncompromising movie that is designed to make its watching audience think but has perhaps taken too much of a hardline stance, to the point where personally I haven’t enjoyed it at all. Time travel is a sticky, tricky concept to get your head around, and it’s certainly refreshing to see a filmmaker attempt to get to grips with the ideas surrounding it in such a thorough fashion, when most steer well clear of the numerous questions that are inevitably thrown up. Carruth’s background in mathematics and engineering ensures a degree of authenticity with regard to the dialogue and the plot (in a nutshell: two engineers stumble across a (the?) recipe for time travel while conducting experiments in a garage and a lock-up unit, which makes a change from watching mop-headed middle class teenagers do the same), and there’s no doubt that the story has been meticulously planned, but I couldn’t follow it at all, and even the explanations I’ve subsequently read have left me scratching my head in vain. Carruth’s interest in surface textures is evident here though it is more prominent in his second work and there’s some interesting editing to bring life to what is, essentially, a series of scenes featuring two guys (played by Carruth and David Sullivan) saying very complicated things. I like the story of the film’s production more than I like the film itself.

Directed by: Shane Carruth.
Written by: Shane Carruth.
Starring: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan.
Cinematography: Troy Dick.
Editing: Shane Carruth.
Music: Shane Carruth.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 77 minutes.
Year: 2004.