Tag Archives: Terence Davies

The Berlin Diaries III: Davies’ ‘A Quiet Passion’

Tobias Burms

Terence Davies' 'A Quiet Passion'

Terence Davies’ ‘A Quiet Passion’

The apparent ideological gap in Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion between Emily Dickinson and her strict protestant upbringing might have modern audiences lauding the misunderstood poet as an early equal rights activist, a well-needed echo of contemporary values in a period piece reflecting truly backward times:while her family of New England elitists took a conciliatory stance in the years leading to the Civil War hoping to maintain the Union (and the status-quo), Emily was an overt abolitionist who refused to undergo the humble pilgrimage imposed by the religious revival of The Great Awakening. Not only could her beliefs be inconsistent – sometimes denouncing her puritan heritage, and at others, embracing it (her brother Edward’s adultery is the threshold) – ideology as a whole is put into perspective in A Quiet Passion: Emily and her siblings upset their aunt Elizabeth – a grotesque gap-toothed matron – with ‘appallingly modern’ remarks about The French Revolution, a situation that soon escalates into genuine conflict, but then quickly turns into a homely ritual of taking loving jabs at one another and responding with rehearsed indignation, suggesting that these so-called deep rooted convictions are merely extensions of social roles.

Everyone seems to respect their place in the universe of A Quiet Passion, a microcosm consisting solely of the Dickinson family homestead in Amherst where Boston’s beau monde gathers for countless garden parties. Even the radiant chatterbox Vryling Buffam– Emily’s partner in crime –who waltzes around with the poise of a 50’s melodrama starlet and openly questions the social mores through witty banter and innuendos, is a too obvious figure of dissent to be convincingly provocative. Her acts of rebellion range from suggestively waving her fan to offending straight-faced Cavalry sergeants with her knowledge of Wuthering Heights and in spite of her many rants on gender inequality, she eventually settles down and succumbs to marriage herself. Emily, on the other hand, is a barrel of contractions and harder to categorize: a mousy woman, a bashful mimic whose sudden outbursts are unpredictable, making her the only out-of-synch element in a well-orchestrated social ballet. Vryling describes her: “You don’t demonstrate anything, you reveal.”

But what are the consequences of being inherently radical? For Emily, it is emotional quicksand, as she finds herself torn between the love for her family and her artistic aspirations, her deeply spiritual nature and her distrust for organized religion. A series of recurring close-ups of her family members placed against a dark, absent background – extracted as if from an ever-thickening family photo album – depict the process of their ageing: hairlines recede, faces wrinkle – but these illustrate not only Emily’s isolation from the world outside, but also her utter, single-minded devotion to those she calls her own. And while the film ends sadly – with Emily’s reclusiveness and misanthropy becoming increasingly pathological – a feeling of splendour prevails, to be found in small, meaningful gestures, such as Emily combing her bedridden mother’s hair, making A Quiet Passion an unapologetic salute to family cohesion.

PH Ticker: Christopher Lee, Jean Gruault, FTII

The Ticker, MastAfter a long silence, we turn our belated attention to events from the rest of the world.


Christopher Lee (27 May 1922 – 7 June 2015)

Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee is an “axiom of the cinema”, to use Michel Mourlet’s famous coinage. His first film appearance was in 1948 (one of his first appearances being an extra in Olivier’s Hamlet) and his last in 2015. His body of work, as a supporting player, character actor, often as a villain, constitutes an entire history of cinema in and of itself. He’s appeared in all kinds of films, from the very large scale and expensive (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings) to the very small scale and cheap (Pere Portabella’s Cuadecuc-Vampir and Umbracle). He often played villains and for many people, he defined Dracula for all time as a vampire who in Martin Scorsese’s views, was friendly, approachable and even someone who could court audience support.

Tributes at The Telegraph; also, tributes by Peter Jackson, Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese and finally, by Mark Kermode. There is also an excellent interview with Lee over at The Telegraph and Firstpost has drawn up a list of six essential films featuring him.


Jean Gruault (3rd August 1924 – 8th June 2015)

Jean Gruault
For a movement that consolidated the idea of the auteur in cinematic consciousness, the director-as-artist in effect, the French New Wave shared a common pool of talent, including cinematographers (Henri Decae, Raoul Coutard), composers (Georges Delerue, Michel Legrand), set designers (Bernard Evein), script-girl (Suzanne Schiffmann who worked for both Truffaut and Rivette), producers (Georges Beauregard) and likewise screenwriters such as Paul Gégauff and Jean Gruault.

Jean Gruault has the distinction of working with François Truffaut (Jules et Jim, L’Enfant sauvage, Deux Anglaises et le Continent, L’Histoire de Adele H., La chambre verte), Jacques Rivette (Paris nous appartient, La religieuse) Jean-Luc Godard (Les carabiniers), Alain Resnais (Mon oncle d’Amerique, L’Amour a Mort). He was also one of the screenwriters for Chantal Akerman’s Golden Eighties and Andre Téchine’s The Brönte Sisters.

Less well-known though in Gruault’s opinion, more fruitful, was his collaboration with Roberto Rossellini. He worked on several films with the Italian master in the 60s and 70s, most notably the seminal La prise du pouvoir par Louis XIV, Rossellini’s last great commercial and critical success and a landmark of French cinema. He also worked on Rossellini’s final film, Il messia, on Jesus Christ.

They have compiled a wonderful overview of the significance of Gruault over at Keyframe.


Cannes 2015

The winner of the Palme d’Or is Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan. Audiard, director of the film A prophet (2009) turns to the contemporary story of displaced Tamil Tigers in Paris.

Other important links, below:

1. MUBI has published an interesting interview with Apichatpong Weerasethakul on his film Cemetery of Splendour. 

2. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Journey to the Shore, his first film to play at Cannes since his 2008 masterpiece, Tokyo Sonata. An interview with the director on his latest film.

3. The film that caught everyone’s attention at Cannes appears to have been Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin. Hou Hsiao-Hsien won Best Director at the festival for this unlikely martial arts film, ten years in the making.

Image Courtesy: The New York Times

Image Courtesy: The New York Times

4. Hou is already plotting his next movie, which will be set in Taipei’s rivers and feature a mythical River Goddess.  Despite the content of martial arts, Hou’s The Assassin is apparently elliptical, leisurely and multi-layered as we have come to expect from the director of City of Sadness, Good Men Good Women, Dust in the Wind, Café Lumiere. 

5. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky calls it the most beautiful film at Cannes:

Here, Hou takes wuxia, the most over-played genre in Chinese fiction and film, and makes it seem completely unfamiliar, without subverting any of its outsize gestures or values. In certain respects the most conventional movie Hou has made in decades, The Assassin is also enigmatic in ways some will find absolutely mesmerizing, and others might think is infuriating.

As Hou explains: “If you can understand it, just enjoy it; if you can’t, why not just appreciate it [as a work of art]… There are infinite types of films. Just watch them in your own way. It’s OK to fall asleep in front of the big screen if you’re there just out of curiosity about the movie.”

6. David Bordwell was on the set of The Assassin during its production in 2013. A video lecture of a conversation he was to have delivered at a conference at Antwerp, on Hou-Hsiao Hsien is available on his website.

7. Among the films playing at Cannes is Manoel de Oliveira’s Visit or Memoirs and Confessions. This film made in 1981 was shelved by Oliveira for being too personal and intended to be screened after his death. Daniel Kasman writes,

Amidst our tour of a space, a home, we enter into storytelling, memories and history through the power of Oliveira’s words and through the conjuration of moving and still images—the latter laid on top of Oliveira speaking or his wife gardening. My thoughts again turn to that master of the memory of architecture and the possibilities of recollection, Alain Resnais. As the phantom couple visiting the Oliveira home take their leave from the house and from the film, finally stepping into the frame in the dusk-darkened garden as if exiting a cinema, Bessa-Luís’s text for them concludes that “we are not the house; the house is the world—our world.” Here, at the end, we sense the home’s greatest importance to Oliveira, that the house is a confluence of its material and the life that lives through it, a mise en abyme that speaks of the outside world that contains it and that we inhabit.


The FTII Protests

Image Courtesy: Moifightclub

Image Courtesy: Moifightclub

Students at the hallowed Film and Television Institute of India (or as is sufficient for those who work in Indian film, ‘the institute’) have organised a strike to protest against the deployment of Gajendra Chauhan – previously obscure but now viral sensation – as the new Chairperson of the council that governs the film school. In principle, it’s a no-brainer: the leading political party has rewarded the devotion of a foot-soldier by anointing him with a prestigious position (though it isn’t certain if their estimation of the position’s relevance was accurate at all, considering their underpreparedness for the backlash). It’s the sort of thing one must protest in an active, civil society that identifies itself as a democracy, etc. To that extent, and to the fact that Chauhan’s selection isn’t based on merit at all, there is no dispute, and so, one must support the strike – but not unconditionally.

One hopes that the upheaval isn’t merely transient and fashionable, and that it extends to a larger discussion of the relevance of the Institute in a society that has altered majorly in the sixty years since its inception. Chauhan or not, the Institute has been in an administrative mess for a long time: a three-year course takes double the time to complete; students leave without their diploma films; there have been two zero-years without new student intake in view of the existing backlog in the past six years; the faculty is widely thought of as being inexperienced, the Chairman’s post itself has been empty for an year prior to this, etc. The present protests have refocused significant public (and hopefully, political) attention onto the Institute and the occasion of such illumination – however brief – can be used to reevaluate the larger circumstances that prevail within the school.

The protests have themselves been revealing. There isn’t much consolidation, as one may expect, with different students declaring inherently contradictory objectives: this post here talks of the absence of personal enmity against Chauhan and a railing against the process to select them; this interview here makes him, his speech and his career the chief point of contention (and much mirth). As in every protest, there is also irony; the protests have been self-identified as an attempt to resist the saffronisation of the Institute, but is replete with religious gestures: there are chants (‘Eisenstein, Pudovkin, We will Win!’), deification (‘Ghatak was here!’, with his pictures on banners, or on walls), mystification (‘Cinema is sacred!’) and  invocation of text (‘do you know what the history of this place is?’). It may be more useful of course to instead base the protests in reason: a discussion, as the aforementioned post claims, of processes and a larger mechanism that actively devalues not merely the institution but also expresses an active preference against culture in every sphere. It is important to remember that the events at FTII are a mere symptom, not the cause. But this is how protests go; especially those led and motivated by beautiful, passionate youth where those involved arrange themselves in formations, shuffle their bodies to make space for each other, create a ruckus – events like these are confusing, but they are meant to be.

Out of all of this, perhaps, an important discussion (that may actually not continue, one fears) has emerged: that of the definition of ‘merit’ – after all, the chief reason Chauhan is deemed unfit is because of an absence of cinematic merit in his filmography. It’s an eternal question and one that students at the institute as much as cinephiles around the country have to think of individually and arrive at private answers. In the aforementioned IBN interview, the head of the FTII students’ body arrives at a quick, spur-of-the-moment answer. Three criteria for him include: a) inclusion in an international gathering of cinema, b) the Dadasaheb Phalke Award and, c) the Gyaanpeeth Award. Needless to say, this can’t be scrutinised much, it is clearly not the product of much reflection and the student was compelled by the medium he was on to exult a quick answer. Two out of these three are of course, handed out by the same state whose functioning is in serious doubt at the moment and are by no means, devoid of political maneuvering.


Other Links:

1. One of the films that played at Cannes is Kent Jones’ Hitchcock/Truffaut, a documentary on the legendary book of interviews between Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut. This documentary by Kent Jones features interviews with David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Schrader, Arnaud Desplechin, James Gray and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. David Bordwell’s review of the film is also a remarkable article on the seminal and unique role Truffaut’s book played in shaping the discourse of cinema as art.

2. Terence Davis having wrapped up production on Sunset Song, is all set out to direct a biopic on Emily Dickinson, who he has repeatedly described as his favorite poet. The underrated Cynthia Nixon is set to play Dickinson.