Cloud Atlas

Although Cloud Atlas polarised the critics, I’m going to say simply that I thought it an astonishing, moving and utterly unforgettable film. I watched it twice, in somewhat quick succession, and the second viewing was even better than the first. Don’t get me wrong, the six interweaving tales of how reincarnated souls move through the centuries and find redemption is not necessarily an easy watch – you have to pay pretty close attention to what’s going on, the tonal shifts between the episodes can be jarring, and the racial, tribal and gender-hopping is somewhat off-putting. But it somehow rises above the limitations of its assorted chaotic parts to become one of the most memorable film experiences that I can remember.


The soundtrack in particular is literally gobsmacking – I’ll be buying that – and I thought Ben Whishaw’s turn as the amoral 30’s composer was stand-out. Locations wise, the island scenes were shot on Majorca in the Balearics – in the World Heritage site of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, at Sa Calobra and near Formentor. Another quirk: the San Francisco scenes shot in Glasgow. Oh indeed, everything IS connected.

The White Ribbon

I came across another black-and-white European movie this weekend, this one shot in Germany, and an altogether less charming affair. Called The White Ribbon, it was the German Best Foreign Language nominee in 2009 and the winner of the Palm d’Or in Cannes. I’d never heard of it before, and it’s a slow, strange watching experience, compelling, troubling and redolent – if also somewhat frustrating in its lack of obvious resolution.

Set in the year before World War I, in a small village in northern Germany, the film tracks a series of unusual events that threaten to shatter the established status quo. Like a cross between the Midwich Cuckoos and M Night Shylaman’s The Village, there’s a slow, uncomfortable realization that the children have become the custodians of the violence, sexual abuse, moral repression and apathy meted out to them by their parents, and – early on – a link is made between this unspoken malice and the rise of Nazism. Interesting.

The White Ribbon filmed on location in Leipzig and Lubeck, amongst other places, in hugely evocative period buildings, where each creak of the floorboards, each buzz of bluebottles around the mouth of a corpse, magnifies the claustrophobic, disturbing and repressed world. The black and white imagery is so mesmerising and immersive that in parts it’s like watching an old, old movie from a bygone era. Again, really interesting, and well worth sticking with.

Black Death

When the Bubonic Plague swept Europe in the late 1340’s, it resulted in the deaths of around 100 million people – anywhere between 30 and 60% of the entire population. Amongst other things, this terrifying and misunderstood phenomenon produced a complete upheaval of the existing social order, bringing about the end of feudal relationships, the slow rise of the middle class and a wage-based economy, and the decline in power of the Catholic Church. It’s a fascinating period of ignorance and superstition and collapsing social order.

However, aside from the odd startling moment, the Black Death the Movie, starring Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean, doesn’t really capture any of this particularly consistently or well. Instead, it’s a simple action-adventure flick where a band of blood-hungry Christian Soldiers of questionable morality hunt down the leaders of a remote English town that’s remained plague-free due to a happy coincidence of isolation, good hygiene and the world’s first health service. Importantly, the village is also God-free, and the villagers are pretty hell-bent (natch) on retaining their independence in the face of the soldiers’ dissembling and all-out aggression. Cue lots of graphic physical violence.
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The Ghost Writer

Last night at the Sarajevo Film Festival, the Fairies and I took ourselves off to Novi Grad to see The Ghost Writer, a middling-to-good film based on a captivating premise: what the hell was Tony Blair thinking when he took the UK to war?

Based on Thomas Harris’s novel, here it’s a fictional former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), who’s holed up in a borrowed house on a wintry barrier island. He hires a ghost writer (Ewan MacGregor) to re-write his non-threatening, non-controversial but eagerly awaited memoirs. But there’s foul play involved, a pending War Crimes trial, the CIA, extraordinary Rendition, Iraq, murder, the whiff of an affair, an evidently more shrewd, capable and ruthless wife. Olivia Williams once again just acts every one else off the screen, she’s transcendent as the brainy, brittle, forthright former First Lady.

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So Valkyrie has a fews things going against it; firstly, you know what’s going to happen in the end (and it ain’t pretty.) Secondly, the hero is a Nazi, which is always going to be difficult to pull off. And thirdly, it stars Tom Cruise, who’s an official loon and too barmy to be taken seriously in anything other than a straight-jacket. Quite remarkable then, that the movie turns out to be a tense, brooding Hollywood thriller about a piece of European history that’s been all but forgotten.

It’s premise is simple enough; in 1944, a group of conspirators lead by one-eyed, one-handed Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, placed a bomb in a briefcase in Hitler’s war cabinet room with the aim of eradicating Der Fuhrer and overthrowing the SS. We all know the bomb failed to do its work, and the movie recounts this moment in history well enough. But what’s more memorable – and in fact something of a revelation – is the nail-gnawingly taut aftermath of the blast, when the Good Germans so nearly, nearly pulled it off.

I enjoyed the film quite a lot – though these days I get distracted trying to work out how many local seamstresses would have been employed and how much business the local button manufacturer made, and how many construction crew got to work on the recreation of the Wolf’s Lair. I’m pleased too that the German authorities relented and allowed the filmmakers to use many of the original locations, including the Bendlerblock where von Stauffenberg and his cohorts were ultimately executed. It’s now a memorial to the German Resistance.