May 2007

A Plaster, a Paper and a Cheese Pickle Sandwich

A Plaster, a Paper and a Cheese & Pickle Sandwich I like silent films, and I like films about silent films. So it is probably less than surprising that I really enjoyed A Plaster, a Paper and a Cheese Pickle Sandwich, which is a silent film about silent films.

Murphy (Steve Joiner), a quiet, film-obsessed young man inherits a flat in a quiet seaside town and promptly moves in. His new neighbour, Frank (Phillip Collins) is a cranky and slightly odd character but he takes a liking to Murphy.

Murphy no longer needs to work and Frank is retired and a friendship develops between the pair as they sit together in front of the TV, day after day, watching rented videos. Frank also takes an interest in Murphy’s other hobby, with suitably dramatic consequences.

A Plaster, a Paper and a Cheese Pickle Sandwich is a very funny, very dark, film-noir inspired comedy. It is also an homage to silent films of the past, and a very effective silent film in its own right.

There is, of course, no dialogue in this film and the story is told entirely visually with the aid of several intertitles. These intertitles deserve a mention for being beautifully minimalist in design and for being so effectively used. Although they do help to drive the narrative forward on occasion, the real value of these is to reinforce the darkly comic atmosphere of the film.

As with any silent film, the score is vital and in this film it does a great job of capturing the mood throughout.

The acting is also excellent. This film is very much a two-hander between Steve Joiner and Phillip Collins and both actors pit in superbly understated performances that draws you in to Frank and Murphy’s world and keeps you there for the duration of the film.

Also doing a great deal for the atmosphere is the cinematography. Frank and Murphy’s day to day existence is pretty repetitive – they watch films and eat takeaways day after day, and the dankness of this life is very effectively expressed. However, where the camerawork really excels is with its beautiful and slightly surreal black and white detours into Murphy’s film-fixated imagination.

All in all, A Plaster, a Paper and a Cheese Pickle Sandwich is an inspired piece of filmmaking that manages to pull together an eclectic set of film traditions into something that is both unique and very entertaining indeed.

The film is currently screening at film festivals (details of which can be found on the Coffee Films website). If you have a chance to see this film, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Fay Grim

Fay Grim poster Taking place seven years after the events of Henry Fool, Fay Grim sees the film’s eponymous heroine (Parker Posey), now a single mother, struggling to bring up her 14 year old son, Ned (Liam Aiken) so that he doesn’t turn out like his father.

Meanwhile, Fays brother, Simon (James Urbaniak) is serving a ten year prison sentence for his part in Henrys escape from the law. While here, he has come into possession of one of the volume of Henry’s Confessions – his handwritten, but appalling, literary epic. Simon has now come to suspect that there is much more to Henry’s Confessions – and to Henry himself - than was initially apparent.

And then the CIA turns up in the form of Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum). According to Fulbright, Henry is dead and two volumes of Henry’s Confessions – which may have international implications - have fallen into the hands of the French government and the CIA would like Fay to travel to Paris to retrieve them.

After this, things start to become really convoluted and Fay’s mission turns into a sprawling series of deceits and double-crosses, pitching her deep into the murky world of international espionage.

Fay Grim As a genuinely funny farce of a spy thriller, Fay Grim is a unique film. The sprawling plot is driven forward by the sharp and witty – if occasionally exposition heavy – dialogue and the film is held together by Parker Posey’s superb performance.

Posey really does do a great job here of bringing her character to life. At the start of the film, Fay Grim is really not coping – she’s disorganised, struggling and still unsure of how to put her life back together. But as the film progresses, and she finds herself enmeshed in an increasingly complex – and dangerous – situation, a calm and assured character has emerged and taken control of her life.

Although Posey carries the film, Jeff Goldblum’s portrayal of the manipulative Agent Fulbright also deserves a mention. Fulbright clearly believes that he can remain in control of events and it is this confidence – and his inability to see the developing resolve in Fay – that allows her to turn the tables on him.

Fay Grim is smart, sexy, stylish and funny. And so is the film. Go see it.

Provoked

In 1989, after ten years of abuse at the hands of her violent and drunken husband, Kiranjit Ahluwalia (Aishwarya Rai) threw a can of petrol over him as he slept and set fire to him. Not denying the charge of killing her husband, and speaking little English, the devastated Kiranjit is duly charged.

The violent history of Kiranjit’s husband, Deepak (Naveen Andrews) starts to emerge, in flashback, quite soon into the film and quickly becomes apparent to her defence team. However, because of the nature of her crime, she is unable to claim either self-defence or provocation and is convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

And this is really where the story starts.

In prison, the shy and frightened Kiranjit meets Veronica Scott (Miranda Richardson), her cellmate and the first person in a decade to extend a genuine hand of friendship towards her. With the support of Veronica – whose name is abbreviated to Ronnie – Kiranjit slowly starts to build her self-confidence begins to improve her language skills.

And it’s here, in prison, that Kiranjit starts to feel free for the first time in her life.

Meanwhile, the pressure group Southall Black Sisters have heard of her case and, led by the feisty Radha Dalal (Nandita Das), they start to both campaign for her release and to put together an appeal.

Provoked is based on the true story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia and the film is a serious attempt to address the issue of domestic violence. While it does feel a little worthy at times, the film avoids descending into sentimentality largely due to the stellar performances of the three main characters.

Miranda Richardson, Nandita Das and especially Aishwarya Rai all bring a real humanity to their roles and it’s this humanity that gives the film its powerful emotional punch.

This film is a real departure for Rai who takes on what is probably the most unglamorous role of her career. And, in a remarkable performance, she really does manage to make you forget about her looks and empathise – right from the outset – with her portrayal of a victim slowly starting to live again.

However, for much of the film, Kiranjit is largely reactive character and it’s playing against Richardson and Das that both brings out the best of Rai’s performance. It is also down to Richardson and Das to broaden the scope of the film so that it is able to go beyond being one woman’s story and address domestic violence as a whole.

The real-case of Kiranjit Ahluwalia was a legal landmark that helped create a new defence in court for women suffering from domestic violence. Provoked successfully shows how one woman’s courage helps fuel a national campaign that led to a change in the law.

A Very Sunny Morning

A Very Sunny Morning I’m sure I’ve said it before, but one of the most gratifying aspects of running a website such as this is that I am able to see some real gems that I would otherwise be unaware of. One of the hardest parts of running a site like this, however, is that I sometimes find myself sitting down to write a review with absolutely no idea where to start.

Eric Carter’s A Very Sunny Morning falls into both categories.

The opening sequence shows us some unseen person cooking breakfast for two in a kitchen which – from what little is shown in the various close-up shots – looks like it could have been lifted straight from the 1970s. And the 70s feel doesn’t stop there. We have split screens, wipes, and a soundtrack – right down to the image quality – that all come together perfectly to date this film.

This sensibility is maintained as we’re introduced to the main characters – a young couple (played by Andrue Anderson and Natalie Vann) who are enjoying breakfast together.

And then Dong (Neeko Keneklis) makes an appearance and things become very strange indeed.

From here on in the film becomes increasingly dreamlike as Carter confidently leaps from genre to genre, throwing timelines and assumptions out of the window to create a wholly unique, but completely consistent, reality.

Both Andrue Anderson and Natalie Vann put in excellent performances – especially in the early scenes of the film in which they really do manage to portray the depth of the relationship between their characters in a very short space of time. The score also deserves a mention for superbly capturing – and carrying - the mood of the film throughout.

However, the greatest strength of A Very Sunny Morning is the comical strangeness of Eric Carter’s vision.

This is a truly unique film and one that is both genuinely surreal and funny. If you have any appreciation at all for absurdist humour, surrealism, or both, then you’ll find that this film really is right up your street.