"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Unrelated: the movie

How important is point of view in a movie? This was the question I found myself asking after escaping the nightmarish labyrinth of the Barbican cinema in London last night (we emerged through exit doors into a network of underground carparks, desperately trying to find our way out this notorious complex like the stars of some second rate noir thriller). I had been to see Joanna Hogg's 'acclaimed' new film Unrelated about an extended family on holiday in a lush Tuscan villa near Siena - not long after seeing Olivier Assayas's film Summer Hours starring Juliette Binoche. [The less said about the latter's dance collaboration at the National Theatre just now the better.] Both films put on display middle-to-upper middle class families most of whose members one would gladly strangle with one's bare hands. In both cases the slowly unspooling narcissism of these people - lovingly attentive camera shots bringing out every detail of their lives and, more to the point, possessions - has one crying out for a Truffaut, for example, who would have ensured some of them came to a nasty end. As the film proceeded, one realised that this longed for resolution (I would have settled for an If-style massacre) was not going to happen and that the film-makers were actually in love with these people. I had a similar moment of revelation half-way through Ian McEwan's novel Saturday when I realised that the smug and self-regarding surgeon, Perowne, was probably not intended by the author to revolt us but on the contrary was to be seen as a hero. The critics have labelled this film "subtle" and it is beautifully filmed and delectably pictorial (hard to get the Tuscan landscape wrong) but only Kathryn Worth as Anna, the fortysomething with an obscure marital problem that sends her holidaying on her own with these characters, is explored in any degree of depth. It's a sort of posh Mike Leigh film without the humour and, from one point of view it has a sociological interest, fixing perfectly the face of The New British Crudity, the middle-class yobs boasting of having pissed against the baptistery door in Siena, the hideous party games, the obsessive alcohol consumption, the whining, the general oafishness in luxurious surroundings of moneyed people who would once have boasted of their grace or elegance and sneered at the chavs instead of trying to emulate them.

Back to my question. I could just be missing the subtlety here. Perhaps the film was making a satirical point, just not choosing to do it with a heavy hand. Possibly, but the evidence is slight. The tenor of a lot of criticism, in the wake of the decades of Theory, has been to deprecate strong opinions, stances, commitment, "grand narratives", political engagements, in favour of a non-judgemental showing. With hierarchies of value no longer attractive in the intellectual sphere there is a kind of loose, post-modernish tolerance or letting-it-all-hang-out with everything "equally valid", no course of action privileged over another. So this is the kind of cinema we increasingly get. For those of us more inclined to be engagé, perhaps the answer is to supply our own imaginative retributions. Here was one cinema-goer directing in his head a scene of carnage from the rear of the Barbican cinema!


Andrew K said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew K said...

The vast vast majority of film could be described as mediocre literature with a camera added. Of course, the vast, vast majority of modern acclaimed literature- see Ian McEwan- could be described as mediocre literature without a camera added.