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Masters at Work

October 26, 2011
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Werner Herzog’s INTO THE ABYSS, Ann Hui’s A SIMPLE LIFE, Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb’s THIS IS NOT A FILM, Steve McQueen’s SHAME — all examples of masters at work who are fully in control of their craft, even in dire circumstances.

Here are my brief thoughts on the four films in Part II of my article for UK’s The Spectator Arts Blog. Two are exerpted below.


Dir. Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb

The sentence of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi on December 20, 2010 to six years in prison and twenty-year ban on filmmaking and interviews shocked the world cinema community, and triggered the making of This is not a Film – an honest document of a day in the life of a filmmaker deprived of his right to make a film, and an urgent cry from an artist who refuse to be silenced.

Under house arrest, the day begins at Panahi’s kitchen table where he speaks into the camera directly. Unsatisfied with his efforts, he recruits Mirtahmasb who joins him for the day. Throughout their time together, Panahi constantly checks on the status of his case while firmly holding onto his craft. He watches his old films, talks about the new one he wants to make, and demonstrates using scotch tape on his living room carpet the set he intends to build.  The result is both heartbreaking and mesmerizing. Panahi’s anxiety of his deprivation is clearly evident, and they overwhelm him at times. To see a grown man break down is hard. To see a grown filmmaker who breaks down because he cannot make a film is a sentence that I never want to say aloud.

Panahi works with resources available to him: an iPhone, a camera, his pet lizard, and even the young man who comes to collect the garbage. His paces may be restricted, but his instincts wander. As we follow Panahi and his hand-held camera to the last frame, we see what he sees: a metal gate that he cannot physically step beyond. Thankfully, with the support of the international film community, his film can go where he cannot, and proves once again that an artist cannot, should not, and will not be silenced.


Dir. Steve McQueen

From its first frame to its last, SHAME is a precise and lyrical account of one man’s muffled cry in the city that dreams are made of. Set in New York in the life of Brandon (Michael Fassbender), Steve McQueen delves into all of the man’s wounds – emotional, physical, sexual – and does so with fierce determination and unflinching focus.

Brandon is addicted to sex, we are held to observe. Brandon is deteriorating to pieces, we are guided along his descent. No look is gratuitous. Every shot is crafted with weight and precision, set to a tremendous score of matching emotional amplification. Same goes for Sissy (Carey Mulligan), Brandon’s sister, who is opposite in demeanour but no less of a mess than her co-sufferer. Like two caged animals Brandon and Sissy are drawn and repulsed by each other, simultaneously tied by their past and tormented by their present, each struggling to survive in a city built on glass and steel, where money buys you dry martinis at high places, but never shelter from the darkness twisting within.

In the critically acclaimed HUNGER, McQueen and Fassbender announced to the world the astonishing potential of their creative collaboration. Here, the addition of Mulligan forms a sort of powerful trifecta: as the boy and girl despair, search,  hurt and be hurt, the camera stays close and watches in tender yearning, and so do we.

… Continue reading INTO THE ABYSS and A SIMPLE LIFE on The Spectator Arts Blog

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