Thursday, 23 September 2010

Review: Pressure

British cinema’s forgotten gem sheds light on London’s murky past... and present


One of the biggest travesties in British cinema is the lack of attention given to Horace Ové’s film Pressure, the first Black British film in history. Exploring the plight of Caribbean people in British society and their conflict with the police, the film is as pertinent now as ever before.

Set in Ladbroke Grove, West London, our unlucky protagonist Tony (Herbert Norville) attempts to find his way in life, struggling between different cultures that are at odds with each other.

You really feel his sense of disillusion at London, as white employers reject him again and again because of the colour of his skin, and his passive acceptance when he is thrown out of his friend’s house by her landlady is heartbreaking to watch.

For those familiar with the experience of London by black and ethnic minorities in the past, Tony’s experience comes as no surprise, but for many, the rampant racism and xenophobic atmosphere of 1970s London is a surprise. Written by Horace Ove and Sam Selvon, author of the The Lonely Londoners, the film really evokes the experiences of Selvon’s characters through fresh faced Tony and his band of thieving friends.

}For many, the rampant racism and xenophobic atmosphere of 1970s London is a surprise~

The film succeeds in being educative without being too subjective. When Tony witnesses a peaceful Black Power meeting being violently raided by the police, his political awakening begins. However, the motives and intentions of many in the movement, who resort to anti-white rhetoric, are critiqued, as well as the actions of the police.

After watching the film, I was surprised to discover that it was very controversial when it was first released. There’s not much swearing, not much violence and only a little peek of a penis. However, at the time it was banned for the way it depicted the police. Yet now, 30 years on, when institutions have less authority to commit such flagrant acts of censorship, Pressure still seems to be contentious. The fact that it still hasn’t been shown on television shows that the issues of institutional racism and police brutality back then are still thorny issues today, especially in the light of events like the Stephen Lawrence enquiry or the death of Ian Tomlinson.

Shot using many non-professional actors found on the streets of London, the film has a documentary feel to it, using natural sounds in many scenes to truly capture the 1970s metropolis. However, these realistic elements are interspersed with moments of surrealism, like Tony’s violent and erotic dream, which provide an artistic element to the urban landscape, making it alternate between being a place of possibility as well as hostility. This mix of contrasting elements shows the influence of Italian films on Ové, who is a renowned photographer as well as film director.

The fact that Pressure is still being denied the attention it deserves suggests that despite its multicultural, inclusive veneer, aspects of London are still the same as they were 30 years ago.

Who is Horace Ové?

* Born in 1939 in Trinidad

* Holds the Guinesss World Record for the first Black British film-maker to direct a feature-length film

* Broke into film as a slave extra in Joseph L.Mankiewicz’s 1963 epic Cleopatra

* Playing Away (1987) is probably his best known piece. Set in a fictitious location called d Sneddington, the comedy depicts a West Indian heritage cricket team from Brixtion arriving for a charity game

- * Ové’s influences include Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, African-American political leaders of the 1960s and 1970s, but he is critical of contemporary black British politics

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Review: The Comedy of Errors

Double trouble at the Globe


Having chosen to do the Shakespeare module at university rather than opt for what others saw as more exciting choices, i.e contemporary Literature, I can conclude that unlike some of my friends, years of being smothered by Shakespeare at school and university have still left me with love for the Bard. However, I had only seen Shakespeare theatre productions after studying them scrupulously at school or university, analysing certain words, plucking out underlying themes and commenting on rhyme schemes. The Comedy of Errors at the Globe Theatre was the first production I saw where I had no prior knowledge of its plot. And this scared me.

I feared I wouldn’t understand the language and then I would lose track of the plot, proving that I was too stupid for Shakespeare. Thankfully, this didn’t happen. Not knowing the plot meant I was genuinely intrigued about how the comic tangles would be resolved.

}The strength of this production lies in its magnification of the confusion found in the play~

It’s a complicated yet comic play, with mistaken identity, slapstick chaos and confusion driving the plot. In a nutshell, there are two sets of twins, Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse (Shakespeare really does not make it easy for the audience) along with their slaves, Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse. Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus get separated from their twins at birth. Years later, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracus go to Ephesus in search of their brothers. With the two sets of twins now both in the same town, a series of mistaken identity episodes ensue with both Antipholus’ getting confused with their slaves and mistresses getting raunchy with the wrong lovers. To make things even more complicated, this production uses one actor to play each set of twins, with both Antipholus’ played by Tom Mothersdale and both Dromios played by Fergal McElherron.

Despite the propensity for the audience to be completely baffled by the constant cases of mistaken identity on stage, it doesn’t matter. The strength of this production lies in its magnification of the confusion found in the play. At one point, it becomes metatheatrical, with the actor playing Antipholus of Syracuse, Tom Mothersdale, seeming to forget to don his Antipholus of Ephesus prop when changing roles, much to the audience’s amusement.

Although the production concentrates more on the slapstick comedy elements than Shakespeare’s witty wordplay, this doesn’t diminish its comic effect on a modern day audience, producing rapturous roars of laughter, from the young and old. For me, The Comedy of Errors was a reminder that although we have been programmed to associate Shakespeare with English exams and coursework, he wrote his plays primarily to entertain.

* The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s shortest play and it is one of his earlier works

* It is set in Ephesus, present-day Turkey, which was a leading trade centre in ancient times

* Shakespeare drew on a mixture of sources for The Comedy of Errors- Plautus, Menaechmi and Apollonius of Tyre

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Review: The Secret in Their Eyes

Juan Jose Campanella's Oscar winning film flounders in its final scenes


As highlighted by Sight and Sound in their September issue, South American cinema has been riding high in the last decade, with the surprise Oscar success of Argentinian film The Secret in Their Eyes for Best Foreign Language film proving its recognition by Hollywood as a formidable force in foreign cinema.

Directed by Juan Jose Campanella, the film flits back and forth, from the present (1999) to flashbacks of the past (1974) as Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), a retired federal justice officer, attempts to resolve emotional and work baggage that has been haunting him for decades. The beginning of the film shows him grappling with his novel, its opening scene recounting a young man’s last morning with his beloved wife before she is brutally raped and murdered. It is later that we find out that this murder isn’t fictional, it’s real. Yet 20 years later, its lack of closure is troubling Esposito.

Our protagonist then embarks on a journey, reopening cases and re-encountering his former superior, Irene, (Soledad Villamil) in an attempt to find out what happened to the young woman’s killer. Yet in doing so he opens up his own past and his love for Irene which has never faltered over the years, despite her marriage to another man.

Back to the crime thriller part of the plot. We revisit 1974, where Irene, Esposito and his comic colleague, the aging incompetent alcoholic Pablo Sandoval worked on the case of Liliana Colotto who had just married Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago), and was found raped and murdered in her home. Suspicion fell on Gomez (Javier Godino) a puny nobody who harboured an infatuation with Colotto. The unlikely Starsky and Hutchesque duo eventually managed to catch Gomez, culminating in a tense chase during a football match, with Gomez darting in and out of the camera shot as he attempted to make a getaway.

However, the real ‘thriller’ part of the film occurs twenty years later as Esposito attempts to work out what happened to Gomez after he was released from prison. Just as we are led to expect a certain conclusion to this tale, a marvellous twist shatters our expectations, producing a far more disturbing result.

}Despite its ingenious plot and superb acting, I can sympathise with those who wanted The White Ribbon or The Prophet to win the Foreign Language Oscar ~

The success of this film lies in the unlikely parallels drawn between Colotto’s murderer and our hero Esposito. His ability to seek out Gomez as Colotto’s killer is by recognising Gomez’s look of infatuation in a photo- the same look that he has when he sees Irene. Ricardo Darin as Esposito is a perfect anti-hero, not as handsome as Irene (Soledad Villamil), yet captivating enough to make the audience vouch for him as he trudges along in life, making mistakes on the way and harbouring an unwavering love for his boss.

However, despite its ingenious plot and superb acting, I can sympathise with those who wanted The White Ribbon or The Prophet to win the Foreign Language Oscar as both film endings were leagues above the final shoddy sequence in The Secret in their Eyes. Sadly, the brilliance of the film is sabotaged by its dreadful ending- an unrealistic and hopelessly optimistic conclusion that attempts to reward its protagonist for his troubled love life. Loose ends can easily be tied up in the crime plot of this film, but it’s not so believable when they are readily resolved in the love sub-plot.

Winners of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the past five years include:

2010- The Secret in Their Eyes

2009- Departures

2008- The Counterfeiters

2007- The Lives of Others

2006- Tsotsi