The Hand
The Hand (Jiri Trnka)

Good Rep – April

Five eye-catching repertory screenings happening in April
Blog post by Jamie Dunn.
Published 03 April 2012

My favourite way to consume cinema is to gorge. When I get the taste for a certain filmmaker, to not devour his/her entire oeuvre is like not finishing a tube of Pringles.

I’m currently tucking into the back catalogue of Aki Kaurismäki. I had a mind to get to grips with the deadpan Finn about a year ago when I realised I’d only seen two of his films, The Man Without a Past, the second part of his 'loser trilogy', and Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana, which I saw in a wonderfully incongruent double bill with The Girl Can’t Help It on the much missed BBC2 series Moviedrome. Two very reasonably priced Kaurismäki box-sets were purchased but have lain dormant on my DVD shelves in their cellophane wrappers, mint fresh, waiting for the hunger to strike. My appetite was whetted after viewing his latest bitter-sweet comedy, Le Havre, which is released on 6 Apr.

Kaurismäki’s world is best viewed on the big screen, of course; his actors’ blasted faces set within his meticulously composed frames become more potent when projected to the size of a double-decker bus. Although there doesn’t look to be any Kaurismäki seasons happening anytime soon, there are some mini-retrospectives taking place in April that should satisfy those who, like me, enjoy to movie binge.

Think of European art-house cinema and the names Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni must be among the first to spring to mind. These giants are the subject of a series at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse called Antonioni and Bergman in the 21st Century (17 Apr–9 May), which looks at how both filmmakers have shaped the cinema landscape of today. A quick glance at your DVD shelves and you're sure to see their influence. Gus van Sant’s ‘Death Trilogy’ or the work of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, for example, share DNA with L'avventura and The Passenger (8 May), while Bergman’s shadow stretches from La Nouvelle Vague to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The programme blends famous works (Blow Up (24 Apr) and The Seventh Seal (2 May)) with lesser known titles such as early Bergman Port of Call (9 May) and Identification of a Woman (1 May), a late Antonioni. A symposium by leading cinema scholars punctuates the season on 27 Apr for those wishing to go deeper into the work of these masters of cinema.

Before this Italian and Swede ruled the art-house there was a visionary Dane – Carl Theodor Dreyer. Two of Dreyer's most celebrated films, Ordet and Vampyr, have already shown in the Filmhouse's retrospective, which began on 29 Mar, but there are four works still to savour. Like today’s leading Danish filmmaker, Lars von Trier, Dreyer tends to centre his films around the suffering of indefatigable female characters at the hands of patriarchal societies. The Bride of Glomdal (4-5 Apr), where the daughter of a wealthy farmer defies her father’s wishes and runs off with a poor farm hand, fits this bill; so too Day of Wrath (10-11 Apr), which sees a young woman accused of witchcraft when her older husband dies, leaving her free to be with her true love, her husband's son.

Unlikely to have been influenced by the austere aesthetic and controlled camera work of Dreyer is Pedro Almodóvar. Sirkian melodrama, Hitchcockian suspense and trashy daytime soaps are more his bag. The Glasgow Film Theatre are screening three of the Spanish firecracker's films and each represent a particular stage in his career. The wild, early years are covered by Labyrinth of Passion (3 Apr), his 1982 screwball sex comedy that laid the foundations for the manic ebullience and kitsch chic that would become his trademark. Almodóvar has refined his filmmaking over the years and All About My Mother (17 Apr), his 1999 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner, epitomises the director's more mature, but still outrageously camp, style. Last year’s stunning The Skin I Live In (1 May) rounds off the season in giddy, heart stopping fashion.

Most likely you’ve seen some of the films by the above filmmakers already, or at least heard of them. I’m willing to bet, however, that you are less au fait with the films of Jiri Trnka. I first became aware of this stop-motion animator's work recently when his final film, The Hand (13 May, GFT; 9 Apr, Filmhouse), a highly allegorical tale of a potter who’s tormented by a giant malevolent hand, turned up on Mark Cousins' The Story of Film. Hopefully the retrospectives at GFT (15 Apr–13 May) and Filmhouse (9–19 Apr), as well as the full retrospective currently taking place at the BFI in London, will help make his name as familiar as the four auteurs mentioned above. (A little tip for when you’re ordering your tickets from the box-office: it’s pronounced 'Yershy Trinka'.)

The real joy of these retrospectives is that lesser known works are often included. The Monorail Film Club can always be relied upon to select some of these rarer cuts for its monthly screenings and April’s pick by Jim Lambie is no exception. Although the American cinema in the 70s is remembered as the decade of the New Hollywood whippersnappers, John Huston, a grizzled veteran, made three films in this period that match anything by Scorsese, Coppola or Lucas. 1972‘s Fat City is gritty and poetic; 1975’s The Man Who Would Be King is an elegiac last hurrah for old school Hollywood epics; and Lambie’s choice Wise Blood, from 1979, is the strangest, least well known, and best of the three. Nutty as squirrel poop and caustically funny, Wise Blood centres on a Vietnam vet (a crazy eyed Brad Dourif) who takes to the streets of a small Southern town to preach his new religion where 'the deaf don’t hear, the blind don’t see, the lame don’t walk and the dead stay that way.' It’s hard to imagine, but only a few years after this blistering slice of American gothic Huston would be churning out tosh like Escape to Victory and Annie.

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