1. La Haine (1995) Mathieu Kassovitz

There are many reasons why I loved La Haine but I feel I’ve spent enough time writing about my favorite films so I will just let this Micro Analysis Essay that I wrote as a college project explain some of the key elements that I felt made the film as interesting as it is. (disclaimer*spoilers all through)lama La Haine is a 1995 Art-house Drama film written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. It is has been referred to by NME as a “beautiful and blistering piece of 90s cinema”. La Haine is an expression of Kassovitz’s attitudes towards social class, economic and political ideologies and the rift between figures of authority and individuals in the deprived banlieues of Paris. The cinematography in La Haine is poetic; the black and white makes the film an artistic interpretation of what could be called a “Hood” film. The cinematography also fully displays raw emotion as well as the kinetic energy of the characters and their surroundings. The film immerses the audience into the world of its unlikely protagonists through its innovative photographic elements especially the use of black and white, which stylized and heightened social realism. The first character we meet is Said; he is framed in mid-shot and the focus is shallow. The camera slowly tracks towards Said changing the framing from mid-shot to a big close up shot of him looking nervously into the camera.

saidsaid2The slow movement of the shot draws the audience into the character. The slow pace and change of framing in this shot also represents simmering tensions between police and the young people of that Parisian ghetto as the film progresses. The shot then reverses to the back Said’s head and cranes over him whilst shifting focus to his foreground. This shift function then reveals to the audience that he is standing in front of the police station with a line of officers guarding the station. This shot immerses the audience into Said’s perspective; the police create a barrier between the station and Said, and I feel that to Said this appears as if the police value the station building and protect it as if it were the home of the French president.

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The police and the government in this context are figures that represent corruption, oppression and cause brutality. To Said this means war between the police and the people of the ghetto. The police are framed in mid-shot and there is a crab track movement during that shot close enough for the audience to see their stern expressions. These shots are symbolic of the confrontations that later happen in the film; they emphasize that the young people in the film are afraid of the authorities, and when it cuts to Said tagging a police van its a further implication that the only way these young people will try and be heard is through rebelling. The way we are introduced to Said is important in establishing his character. During the film Said is the one who has the most direct confrontations with the police. We return to this motif at the end of the film, and again Said has to confront a police officer and an unpredictable situation. The style of the camera movement on Said during these confrontations is a key signifier of his characterization. Repeating it at the end gives the film a bookend structure and it gives the audience a sense of who Said is. Behind all his humorous and fun qualities Said is afraid, he wants a way out and he is also burning with feelings of anger and hate.

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The next shot shows Said going to look for his friend Vinz.There is a low-angle mid shot of Said interacting with other characters, which is followed by a telegraph shot of the character on the high window. These shots are metonymic of the arguments that recur between younger and older characters. During the film we see a lot of instances of this motif where the older occupants of that community express their anger towards the younger characters because they blame them for starting the riots. The composition and framing of this shot communicates these feelings of disappointment and hostility towards the youths. The trees also form a barrier between Said and the older character we see in the apartment building. The composition not only establishes the physical distance between them, but also connotes that the two characters have distant ideas. While Said believes the police and the system are the root of the problems in the ghetto, the older character believes the youths are the gangsters and they cause all the problems. The camera position however privileges Said because it aligns us the audience with him; which makes the audience to more likely empathize with Said’s ideas.

vinz The next scene introduces the central character Vinz. He is framed in full shot; the camera is static, which contrasts with his actions in the sequence. We see him perform an energetic street style dance beneath a massive directional light. The top directional light resembles a spotlight this I think communicates the idea that as the main character most of the confrontations will occur because of him. He is surrounded by darkness and only one fluorescent light shines on him one while he seems happy in the darkness, this image carries with it a lot of ideas about Vinz as a character. He is troubled, he may be dangerous and the empty and dark condition of the location chosen may also be suggesting to the audience that he has been jailed, and he enjoys being in that dark place. In Vinz’s case we later learn that he dreams of being jailed in order to have a better street reputation. This is revealed as a dream sequence when the scene cuts to a shot of Vinz sleeping on his bed. This dance is an important element of the film, and the characterization of Vinz. His dance at this particular spot is important because we later find out that it is where he hid the gun that he found that was lost by a police officer the night before. Vinz felt that finding the gun would help him avenge the potential death of his friend. That shot allows the audience to look into Vinz’s subconscious and understand that this is where he feels happy, the idea of having the gun made him feel powerful, and hopeful that he will conquer by retaliating with this gun. In Vinz’s dreams the audience is given the opportunity to assess who he wants to be and what he wants to do. Kassovitz returns to this motif of Vinz character towards the end of the film when we see him dream about shooting an officer at the train station after finding out that his friend has died.

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The view of Vinz lying on his bed is shot in deep focus and deep staging. Vinz in the foreground, the chair in the middle ground and Sayid in the background are all in focus. This I believe was a stylistic decision, the shot is low angled and the widescreen lens used exaggerated the space making the room seem bigger than it is. Although the angle is low, it does not make Said look intimidating, the wide screen shot exaggerates the room size but also makes Said look diminutive and Vinz look bigger and more intimidating. The shot is also a reference to the relationship between the two characters. Said is Vinz’s friend, but he is smaller because Said is more a follower while Vinz is the leader of their group. The use of deep staging may have also been an intertextual reference to the use of deep space in this famous scene from Citizen Kane. The composition of the shots are similar and the most influential character in film is placed directly in front of the screen while the others of equal importance are seen clearly approaching from behind.

The scene concludes with two very distinct intertexual references, Vinz the main character is in his bathroom, looking into the mirror and reciting the famous “you talking to me” monologue from Taxi Driver. In Vinz’s background we see a tropical poster this is a reference to the character Tony Montana in Scarface who is as confrontational Vinz is in this scene. The camera tracks toward the mirror and changes the framing from medium shot to a close up shot were it becomes still. Vinz speaks directly to camera, breaking the fourth wall to directly address to the viewer. Referencing the two films and addressing the audience provokes us to ask whether Vinz is acting out a cultural fantasy of power or is genuinely a threatening and confrontational individual. This scene determines the tone of the entire film, the camera movement, the characters as well as Vinz’s dialogue signify characters in the film feeling oppressed and feeling obligated to rebel against the oppressors. Vinz’s monologue makes in apparent to the audience that there are a lot of issues at hand that will take a lot of struggles in order to overcome them.

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My Top 10 (Indulging)

Before diving straight into the reviews I want to list some of my favourite and least favourite films. I am often asked the questions: what is your favourite film? who is your favourite director? who are your favourite performers? and I find myself in a profound state of blankness, so much so that I begin to waffle out the first few answers I can think of which are never the best of answers to those questions. I have categorized a few lists that will answer those questions in subsequent posts. The lists will explain my current favourites however with more reading, more watching and analysing the lists may change and I may have to repost.

Top 10 Films 

10. PI (1998) Darren Aronfsky 

Pi (1998) Darren Aronfosky

My  first viewing of the film was at 2 am on a Thursday night a year ago. I had undergone yet another sleep paralysis episode and was unable to go back to bed when I stumbled upon this audacious surrealist psychological thriller on Film 4. I was in the right mind frame to understand Max Cohen’s paranoia, anxiety and desolation. His social anxieties were caused by his obsession with mathematical patterns, particularly the patterns of the stock market of which he worked hard to unravel. Aronofsky’s snorricam shots were engaging yet very unsettling. The aesthetic of the imagery he created in terms of the cinematography and the tonality of the images were an exceptional ode to David Lynch’s 1977  surrealist horror, Eraserhead. Not only did I enjoy the visual references to Lynch I also appreciated Aronfsky’s bold choice of taking the theme of male paranoia from Eraserhead and expanding it to a paranoia about government conspiracy, an angst  that all audiences could relate to.

9. Sexy Beast (2000) Jonathan Glazer

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This is a recent favourite as I was anticipating the release of Glazer’s newest film  Under the Skin 2014 when I decided I would watch all his films in order to have a clear idea of the type of film-maker Glazer is. Having seen all three of his directorial features Under the Skin followed by Sexy Beast became two of my top favourites. Sexy Beast incorporates two genres that I enjoy the most the surreal and the gangster film. Glazer’s visual flair, and genre innovation together with a rigorous performance from Ben Kingsley as Don Logan  made the film an explosive neo-noir picture which effectively demonstrated the cynicism of the seething underworld of organized crime.

8. White Heat (1949) Raoul Walsh

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Before Norman Bates trademarked the character of the psychopathic killer boy with a strange attachment to his mother, there was Cody Jarret a maniacal and callous gangster with a weird attachment to his equally cold mother, Jarret preceded the character of  Norman Bates. Jarret was played by one of my favourite classic actors James Cagney whose dance background helped add a charismatic and charming flair to every role he played. It was during my film noir  obsession phase I discovered this exhilarating film, it boasted with creative camera angles, deep set staging,  chiaroscuro lighting to perfection and  sensational performances from Cagney and the rest of the cast which included the beautiful Virginia Mayo (Red Light, 1949) and the highly talented Edmond O’Brien (The Killers 1946, D.O.A 1950, The Hitchhiker 1953).

7. Odishon (Audition) (1999) Takashi Miike

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There are some films in life that you will watch and you would like to unsee but you simply cannot, this film is certainly one you cannot forget once you have been submitted to it. Directed by the man who later brought us Gozu 2003 Takashi Miike (a film that will be included in a special interest section later on this blog) it is a shocking, grotesque and unrelenting, bitter-sweet film about a young woman Asami’s revenge towards exploitative figures of the entertainment industry. The violence unravels after she has met  a man who was deeply in love with her, but  had made the wrong decision of misusing his position as a film director for a massive production company in order to meet women. Sadly we know that  Aoyama the main male character who has fallen so deeply  for Asami is widowed and leads a lonely life with his teenage son. Although his intentions with Asami were good she fails to look past the deceitful way he met her because she is so intent on getting her revenge against the likes of Aoyama. It is genre confused as it mixes elements from surrealismbody horror, psychological thriller, crime drama and revenge films. It is that variation that makes the film a spectacular viewing, It takes the audience from a point of grief to a point of absolute tranquillity  to the point where violence, fear, anxiety and confusion become one big unexplainable broiling emotion.

6. Sedmikrasky (Daisies) (1966) Vera Chytilova 

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This is a strange entry because the first time I watched Daises I absolutely hated it. It was when I was watching Mark Cousins’s documentary  The Story of Film:  An Odyssey that I learned of it. Cousins described the film as innovative technically brilliant and said that it was one of the films that marked the birth of the Czech New Wave (surrealist movement of the 60s). He went on to say it was like watching a Lumiere Brothers film on acid, this was a description true to some of the scenes in the film (particularly the train sequences) but when I finally watched the film it was visually explosive and more. The Maries used their femininity as their power, subverting the idea that their delicate outer beauty made them weak contributers to the world’s social development. They represented adolescent rebellion that was so profound because the two girls were products of a society that created rules that restricted women from expressing themselves and their opinions about the world without being demonized for it. Ironically the two girls were thrown in a river like witches at the end of the film the motive behind this being the fact that they had their own ideas about the standard of women in a world full of wars started by men. I failed to understand the reasons for their wild escapades on the first viewing but after a couple of viewings I understood and appreciated the idea behind why Marie 2 was referred to as “not of this century”.

5. Reservoir Dogs (1992) Quentin Tarantino

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This list would mean nothing if a Quentin Tarantino film  was not included. Usually my first pick for a Tarantino film would be Pulp Fiction (1994) however looking back this was the first of his films that I watched. I may have been an eight year old kid at the time (not in 1992 but at the time I first watched the film in 2002) of viewing but I enjoyed every second of the film. Its not so much the philosophy in Tarantino’s films that I enjoy, it is the fact that he makes films the way he wants to and that often results in Action-crime-adventure-sass-pastiche galore films that are so inventive, entertaining and meticulously executed that its often hard for me to pick out anything negative to say about them, except of course the fact that Tarantino insists on giving himself a role in most of his films in order  for us to enjoy his below mediocre acting talents. Reservoir Dogs however is the first film that I saw that told a whole story in flash back sequences I had never seen this done in such an exciting tone before. It was also the first film I had seen to have characters as charismatic, charming and at the same time as dangerous as Mr Blonde. Its Tarantino’s film-making style creating films with episodic narratives, gripping characters and intertextual referencing that makes up a consistent formula for films that are entertaining as well as engaging.

4. Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) Maya Deren

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This is the first short film that I have re-watched countless times. Yes it is an avant-garde short silent film and it could easily be disregarded as an artsy fartsy  piece of work by modern audiences, but it is the state of mind of the film that makes it a terrifying horror yet still a great picture to return to. In Deren’s depiction of the dream world what is fantastical is created by  fear, isolation and uncertainty. Deren plays the young woman trapped in this dream that repeats the memory of her arriving to her apartment, adding to it a mirror-faced cloaked figure and multiple perplexed versions of herself floating through anomalous space and fragmented time. Although this concept of being trapped in a dream terrified me and reinforced my paranoia about sleeping in general I found it refreshing to watch a film that understood the layers of the dreamscape and portrayed the idea that often times the dream is an unnerving lonely  experience rather than viewing it as purely bizarre.

3. Blue Velvet (1986) David Lynch

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There is something about Dorothy Vallens something that leaves a lasting impression on the audience,  It is in the sensuality of her stage persona together with her tormented, vulnerable demeanour that I find myself spellbound by this film. Sounds crazy but although the ear is the motivation to watch the film at the beginning, it is her character whose fate I end up being most concerned with. Vallens is trapped in a bizarre circle with underworld figure Frank Hopper who has a peculiar obsession with Vallens, the song Blue Velvet and the texture of the fabric. Frank’s obsessions and strange behaviour seems to stem from the desire to have a maternal figure who not only cares for Frank but satisfies all his perverse impulses. Dorothy characterises this figure and she is forced to live out Frank’s unusual sexual fetishes with the hopes that she could eventually see her kidnapped son and get him back from Frank. A classic thriller theme that becomes unique and unusual because of the stylistic touch added to it by the director, he uses  an external figure Jeffrey Beaumont to embody the curiosity of the audience through Jeffery’s experiences in the film the audience is somehow entangled in the story of Frank and Dorothy. Lynch destroys the romanticism of middle class America by  showing us that evil and sexual perversions exist even behind that perfect white picket fenced middle class American homes. Like most his films Blue Velvet is set in an alternative Lynchian world were all the characters are involved in bizarre events and the audience is sometimes unable to tell from what is real and what isn’t. It took a couple of viewings  for me to fully appreciate this film but I understand it and love it.

2.Persona(1966) Ingmar Bergman

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In the last year Ingmar Bergman’s work has become a major part of my life. I’ve felt greatly influenced by his artistry ,his depictions of poetry and literature and his directing approach of simply looking at the depth of the human’s soul rather than elaborating on its surface. This is an element important to all his films because most of them deal with the question of the existence of God,  how much we value our souls, and if we are willing to hand them over to God without questioning his actions. These ideas I feel are fully expressed in one of his most devastating films The Virgin Spring (1960). My second favourite film could easily go to any of Bergman’s other work that I rank so highly such as Through a Glass Darkly(1961), Wild Strawberries(1957), Summer with Monika (1953), The Seventh Seal (1957), Scenes from a Marriage (1973) and The Virgin Spring (1960) however this film holds a special place in my heart, as it is the first of his films that I watched and also the first film of which I felt had a character that I related to. Putting aside all the brilliant experimental and technical elements of the film, it was in Sister Alma’s honesty about her insecurities, her vanity, her embarrassing sexual escapades and her need for validation from Elisabeth Volger that I found myself being enlightened by this film.

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For years she seemed to have been repressing all these emotions and memories of her past but once she found someone with whom she admired, someone she felt was  there  to listen and not judge she opened up and freed herself from the emotional prison she had volunteered to reside in. I felt I could relate to this, I felt I could understand Alma’s new found emotional freedom and also empathize with her fears of being judged for her actions. The film expressed a lot of complex ideas about our emotional IQs, Elisabeth’s silence was significant as it acted as the ultimate test of how much one can really ignore what is real before external forces bring reality back to the table. Bergman created a comfortable,anti-realist setting for his characters and for his audience at the beginning and once everything that we wanted to stay hidden had been put out there he took us away from this setting in sincerity, letting Alma and the audience walk away as wiser and more mature beings.

1. La Haine (1995) Mathieu Kassovitz

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(See 3rd Post)