Highly respected for his outstanding work by the British and international arts community, director Ken Loach returns this year with his latest film Jimmy’s Hall.
The world of Luton, the debut feature of Michalis Konstantatos, is common people in their everyday lives. The three lead characters seem to have nothing in common: Jimmy (Nicholas Vlachakis) is a wealthy high-school student dominated by his controlling mother, Mary (Eleftheria Komi) is a trainee lawyer in her 30s and Makis (Christos Sapountzis) is a 50 year-old family man and the owner of a mini market. What at first looks like episodes of their ordinary lives, it turns into a gothic tale of a city drifting into bleak, doubtful and gloomy prospect.
Atmospherically Luton follows in the footsteps of other realist dramas, such as Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. There is a shot of clear reference to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant when Jimmy walks down the school’s corridor but these references are only “a synthesis of films that I like and grew up with: it is the cinema I understand and admire but each one of these works is different”, Konstantatos explains.
In 2010, I screened Michalis Konstantatos’ intense short film, Two Times Now (2007), in London as part of the film programme Happy End at Yinka Shonibare’s Guest Projects space. The reactions to the story were mixed but there was the feeling that the precise detail and tension in Two Times Now was vital signage this newcomer writer-director has something to say.
It’s no surprise that three years later his debut feature film created a lot of curiosity since its premier at the San Sebastián Film Festival last month. Shortly before its premier at the 57th BFI London Film Festival, I rush to read Luton through the crisis in Greece and the rest of the world but “the idea of Luton started before the crisis” he tells me and he adds “it’s about what leads to a crisis.”
Luton took shape four years ago as work in progress at the Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Co-Production Market. The project was acknowledged by representatives of the Cannes Film Festival and in spring 2011 it got invited as part of the fifteen international projects selected that year for The Atelier. But how Luton kicked off? “The spark of this film” Konstantatos continues, “started from random incidents of violence I was reading about happening around the world and concluded that those who were causing this violence were everyday people and not some thugs or criminals.” Luton is not an easy watch. It’s an insightful film that grows layer by layer. “I started to search for this world, how could we arrive at such violence, coming from what facts, who is doing it and what pushes them to do it. In my previous films violence is employed as a phenomenon [Two Times Now] but just four years ago we gave this idea a shape, a scenario” he reveals.
The script was co-written with Stelios Likouresis and the whole rhythm of the film is built on discovering what’s hidden behind each character. For the first hour we’re taken through the details of three people’s daily routine, near isolated and almost manic depressing. Konstantatos focuses on the details of everyday life, which we pass unnoticed. His long takes with his all time collaborator, DoP Yannis Fotou, give the viewer the space to focus on the invisible signs of madness on the body language of those surrounding us, who otherwise seem normal.
The pale contrasts and flat photography in the film reflect the characters’ equally flat psychology and what Luton says at first hand is that people need to help themselves before anything else. According to Konstantatos, “Luton is very close to realism: simply I want to place the characters in their own environment, relate them as objectively as possible.” He later explains, “I want to demonstrate how the environment influences people, how it forms their psychology, if they react towards it and if not, where exactly reaction and resistance exist?”
In almost every scene in the film there’s a repetitive moment of frustration, people’s desires, which some try to get in vain or simply don’t bother to try: like Makis failing to pick up the phone and place an order complaint at his work. “It’s easy to express your feelings but at the same time very difficult and this is an element that guided me to make this film. I believe most problems are created out of incapability to recognise and express ourselves to the outside world” he adds.
The title of the film, we learn from Konstantatos, is a metaphor. For Jimmy, the fact that his mother sends him to Luton University is not a new phenomenon. His mother asks him to have Sunday lunch every week with his granny but neither his granny nor him want to be there. Like with many teenagers from a wealthy background, Jimmy’s future is prescribed by his consumerist bent parents. Essentially Jimmy’s escape to an unknown city like Luton (for most people it is only known as an Easyjet destination) is insignificant.
For Konstantatos, the film works like when you look yourself in the mirror: “By recalling the scenes [from the film] you recall elements of yourself and it’s quite challenging because it’s not the way we’re taught to think in our life. It’s not the rhythm we’re used to. Usually nobody tells you, wait, think and make your choices. Usually you’re asked to harry up and make profits otherwise you loose your job. Therefore I believe many responses to the film will be influenced by this element because we’re not used to take the time to reflect”, he observes.
Despite the current craggy financial landscape in its native country, Luton has secured distribution in Greece by Feelgood: a partner who supported the film from its script stage together with co-producer Christos Konstantakopoulos of Faliro House Production. Last June Greek broadcaster ERT went off air and the closure’s influence on cultural production has been, as predicted, catastrophic. For Luton too the closure of ERT left agreements in the air, even though their support towards the project has been compelling.
“The instability, so much madness and standstill of the market that exists in Greece today naturally create an enormous damage in the psychology of people. Luckily there are people who believe in projects and they are willing to contribute without obvious income. But this has an expiry date when you need to earn your living. If there weren’t young people and producers such as Yorgos Tsourgiannis [from Horsefly production label] who has the momentum and enthusiasm to come in and put his head down to make films and Chris Konstantakopoulos who takes the risk to support non-mainstream cinema, there would be no movies in Greece. Also without the support of the film’s co-producers, the involvement of the Greek Film Centre, Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, Arctos Broadcast Facilities, Two Thirty Five post production company, Endorphine Production, Costas Varybopiotis and Yiannis Fotou, Luton would not be able to be completed.”
But what can we expect for the future of Greek cinema? “I see that movies do get made” he replies. “Though the thing is that they should be made rightly with people getting paid. When it happens with coordination and clean agreements then it is very nice to be happening. I see there is a number of people who are very talented, directors, producers, directors of photography and I think if we don’t go out of our minds riding the so called Greek Wave, things can progress with the local film production industry. In recent years every movie made by a Greek filmmaker has to ride this Greek Wave label and I believe there is a risk to become like the idea of the stock market in Greece in the 90s, when everybody joined in and finally the bubble bursted. So it needs some attention and everyone should look to work more precisely and responsibly in order to make movies.”
While waiting to get the green light for his new film, Konstantatos has been working on TV series, music videos and theatre productions and he is the co-founder and director of the Blind Spot theatre group based in Athens. His new film has a working title Carbon and is currently developed through the nine-month long residency at the Torino FilmLab Script & Pitch programme.
Georgia Korossi is editor of 11polaroids, writer and producer of film based in London and Athens.
“All great fiction films tend towards documentary, just as all great documentaries tend toward fiction.”
Historians don’t search, they find.
To shield all these images from language
means to actually make use of them
because they are in the desert
and that’s where one has to look for them.
A screening of Harun Farocki’s Arbeiter Verlassen die Fabrik (Workers Leaving The Factory, 1995) followed by Dziga Vertov Group’s British Sounds (1969) at Goldsmiths by the Research Group in Continental Philosophy (INC), highlighted the question of topological desire flagrantly enjoying a visual rhythm between real and fake images.
Whereas Farocki’s sarcastic editorial ability questions the reality of the Lumiere Brothers’ factory, Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s (Dziga Vertov Group) single pan shot of workers assembling the car in Ford Degenham’s plant echoes a company-employee fixation. Both Arbeiter Verlassen die Fabrik and British Sounds focus on the energy of social space and 20th century architecture, for the factory is its landmark building alongside the fountains and streets of Paris celebrated in Eloge de l’amour (2001).
The voice-over narration in British Sounds is a compilation of excerpts from Richard Nixon, Georges Pompidou and The Communist Manifesto that encourages feedback from the spectator who desires to learn. Half way in, the image of female body is stranded in the desert of the domestic. Later on, its frontal close-up has no clear intentions as to how we can respond to its isolation. The male voice starts and the child’s voice repeats: “In 1911 Liverpool Town Hall is stormed by strikers and their wives”. Strangely the child’s voice prompts the historical reference and its revolutionary instance. In a similar act of an adult’s phrase repeated by a child, Depardieu’s elusive quest of his two beings (god-like and man) in Helas pour moi (1993) seals the conversation with publisher Abraham Klimt’s (Bernard Verley) remark: “The truth comes from the mouths of babes”.
The female body in Helas pour moi is however exploited in the dark while the voice over reads Jean Ortt’s 1932 study on the calculation of the galaxy mass and the force of gravity. One may straggle from one image to another in Godard’s work, though the common presence of the revolutionary silence of lovers and ideology suggests that Simone de Beauvoir and contemporary feminism hold a key place in the director’s take.
The second chapter with the name “kingdom” (Purgatory) in Godard’s Notre musique (2004) tells the story of two young women visiting a European arts conference in Sarajevo: Tel Aviv journalist Judith Lerner (Sarah Adler) and French speaking Jew of Russian descent Olga Brodsky (Nade Dieu). Olga (also the name of one of de Beauvoir’s students in Rouen, whose complex relationship with her sister Wanda made the fictional character in the metaphysical novel She Came to Stay, de Beauvoir’s chronicle of Sartre’s sexual relationship with her students) experiences a duality of truth in history, film and perhaps ethics reflecting on her own origin and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The emphasis on gender is climaxed during her attendance to Godard’s lecture on film (Godard plays himself), where she hears about a director’s incapability of seeing the difference between man and woman via the reverse shots of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in Howard Hawks’ 1940 movie His Girl Friday. On another note of feminist existentialism and moral revolution, during her conversation with her uncle Ramos Garcia (Rony Kramer), Olga tells him that suicide is the only truly serious philosophical problem with one minor and one major concern: pain and the next world.
The chapter on Purgatory ends with Ramos’ telephone conversation with Godard. He announces him the news headlines “Hostages where taken in Jerusalem” revealing Olga’s will to blow herself up in a cinema after telling the audience, if there was one Israeli who’d die with her for peace, not for war she’d be happy. Everyone left the cinema and the marksmen killed her. But the bag she was holding had only books.
The palpable element of female power in Godard’s film grammar is a synthesis of reason (Helas pour moi), force (Notre musique), monument (British Sounds) and influence (Film socialisme). Amid simultaneous moments in history, philosophical thoughts, black screens and chilling harmonies in his post 1968 works, Godard has conducted a symphony of images and sounds that sways appropriation in the vague zone of politics.
Odessa. “The ‘stairs’ in Russian is female” tells the guide her group of generous looking teenagers towards the end of Film socialisme: an intelligent account of thought, material world and popular culture. Godard’s latest feature film follows the multilayered emphasis on collective voices announced on the common note of text, a piano piece or the sound of machine tools in the factory, like in Notre musique, Eloge de l’amour and British Sounds. The indispensable connection between sound and image is the monumental concept in Godard’s work, where at times the voice-over is in French, when simultaneously another speaks in English and the phone is ringing. Or a close-up of a deserted piano is accompanied by the melody of piano music (Eloge de l’amour). In Film socialisme Godard is perhaps clarifying this concept quoting Roman Jakobson’s theory of the impossibility to separate sound from meaning and that this theory can be understood only with the method of the phoneme (phone ringing, pure wind sounds, laughter).
In his For Ever Godard (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007) Jacques Rancière notes: “Connecting one shot to another, a shot to a phrase, fresco, song, political speech, newsreel image or advertisement, etc., still means both staging a clash and framing a continuum. The time-space of the clash and the time-space of the continuum have, in fact, the same name: history. Disconnecting images from stories, Godard assumes, is connecting them so as to make History”. Nevertheless, Film socialisme, like Notre musique and British Sounds, is seen through the ear, through listening to it. The series of mobile-phone videos from the cruise ship and its discotheque is the representation of current history adapted with the effective dimension of smart media in popular culture.
Seven-years of age Lucien’s (Quentin Grosset) performance conducting Beethoven’s music, at the garage of the Martin family, once again clarifies the tactile position of child-minded occupation towards the development of Godard’s analytical thought. This is further achieved with Lucien’s point on children’s electoral participation in place of their parents, since they are part of the people and paid 30% of France’s debt (exactly the sum of profit, which insurance companies make of the debt) because adults have grown old.
As a modus operandi for prevalent observation on Godard’s films, the historical significance and Film socialisme’s connection to the power of media, TV channel FR 3 Regio’s opening sequence is followed with the text: “after the annulation of the first election, now the children are waiting for the decision of the State Council and this time, they got 93% of the votes […] so they are going to win […] Not far from Toulouse there was a small group part of the ‘Combat’ movement, ‘the Martin family’ who had as their motto, liberate and federate our humanities (Nos Humanités)”.
Film socialisme is the utopia of past wins in Godard’s popular culture context, an operation achieved through a cruise travelogue: Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Hellas, Naples and Barcelona. It is the image, in Western ethics, of tourism but it is overlapped with an otherwise violent, turbulent history. Featuring archive footage of the Greek Civil War and extracts from L’espoir, Adieu Bonaparte, Alexander the Great and Roman Karmen’s films, the cinematic medium takes on the glory of the monument like the arcades of Paris in Eloge de l’amour. Yet it is not just a pure evidence of international tourism because at the same time contemporary feminism, children’s rights and history take on offensive capacity and threaten for resistance. But there can be no resistance without memory, the complex process of no obligations. Memory-image is a perception process that becomes complete as it is interpreted (Eloge de l’amour).
Godard has built an image-sound pattern in his more recent cinematic works echoing the nascent perception of the Spanish Civil War in Bataille’s Blue of Noon, a novel driven by madness and corruption. His films propose a point of representation that later fails inside its thought and transgressive capacity to provoke (close-up of the nude female body in British Sounds). Film socialisme is nothing but a pure thought, the core characteristic of the essay film that shows and adapts a principal representation. It is a postcard sent from the cruise ship with the thought that it may never reach the receiver.
This article was originally written in 2010 but it was never published before.
11polaroids desk Continue reading “To our romance: 10 films”
11Polaroids desk Continue reading “2012: The year in review”
Review | Jonas Mekas: Survey of a cinematic lyricist
Serpentine Gallery, London 5 December 2012 – 27 January 2013