A few words on a few things that have inspired me in July…
Came out in… 2017
Watched on… Netflix
The first of two Agnes Varda films on this list, and truly a beautiful movie. I will talk of my affection for Agnes later in this piece, for now, let’s focus on the film. It is a categorically French documentary, blending soft reality techniques with staged narrative-driven set pieces, guiding us through small-town France meeting the people that actually live in this world. Agnes and co-creator JR paste large photos on walls, building an adorable relationship, touching on aging, fame, art and the oh so sweet simple life that I am eternally jealous of. The film is on Netflix, a French stroke of genius, that is incredibly watchable and universal right there waiting for everyone.
The Elephant Man
Came out in… 1980
Watched on… Mubi
I have had a level of trepidation about watching The Elephant Man for a while, mostly out of fear, and films don’t scare me easily, but David Lynch does. He is one of my favourite filmmakers, because of his attitude to the process and the allure of his personality rather than his actual output, so why was The Elephant Man so intimidating to me? Perhaps due to the image of the disfigured man, that everyone has seen, or the inevitable dull melodrama that a story like this brings. I was wrong on the second point, and in the end this film might be Lynch’s greatest achievement as an artist, pragmatically at least. He took the predictable tale of an abused misfit taken in, cared for, and transformed, and made it into a magical experience that is as strange as it is uplifting. Legendary film critic Pauline Kael praised the film because Lynch created something marvellous from a zilch script, and of course I agree, however I would not recommend watching this at 10am on a Tuesday, it was a teary morning.
New release in cinemas
I wrote a full review of this here, so I’ll keep it brief. The film is a fishless aquarium, with a breathing ecosystem waiting for it. Sign me up. Take your well-rounded characters and structured plot and throw it away, give me the green plant wrapping around the throat of the unsuspecting audience.
Rented on… Amazon, also available on YouTube, iTunes and Google Play
It’s very hard to write this without being incredibly biased. This documentary is about the 2009-2013 England cricket team, a side that was the best in the world for a short time, a side that gave a lot of their life away to get there. If you are a cricket fan, you will enjoy the film, because it highlights what makes the game special. I love cricket, and I love that particular era of English cricket even more, so obviously I was gripped throughout. However, there is space for the non-cricket fan, with the film focusing on the mental toll that the sport takes on a player, showing what it takes to achieve greatness. Director Barney Douglas does a good job of presenting the mind games and struggles that many of that team went through by going away from archive footage to shoot staged scenes with the actual players. The film leaves a lot out, and it’s tight in its execution, working for the uninitiated as well as the fanatic.
Varda by Agnes
New release in cinemas
Also available to rent on the BFI Player
Started with Agnes, and now finishing with her, as she ends her career by creating a retrospective of her own work. The film is basically the legendary director talking to crowds about her output over the years, and the process, whilst she plays around a little. What is instantly striking is her genius as a filmmaker, someone who was always messing with the form, trying a new thing with each film. She is an artist who makes me happy and now that she is gone, this film will stay as a reminder for how wonderful she and her work was. The sweetest parts of the film are when she talks of her late husband, another French filmmaking hero, Jacques Demy, a man who after decades is still the most important thing to her. Her friendships and collaborations are also striking, showing that human interaction and love will never be beaten by a camera lens or the relentless passing of time.