Review: Son of Saul (dir. László Nemes)

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Writing a review of Son of Saul is no easy task. First and foremost it must be said that this is, for me , one of the must see films of 2016. However it must also be stated that is in no way an enjoyable or easy watch.

The film depicts two days in the life of Saul Auslander, a Hungarian prisoner working as a member of the Sonderkommando. These men not only have to endure living in one of the Nazi camps but have the task of staffing the camps, helping in the process of  genocide by carrying out the menial tasks for their overlords. The herding of prisoners, the searching and destruction of their clothes and the burning of their bodies all fall to them.

Saul is in a living hell, a place where the screams and fruitless thuds on gas chamber doors haunt the camp and souls of all the Sonderkommando. After witnessing the death of a young Jewish boy, Saul sets about attempting to bury the corpse and find a rabbi in order to give the boy a ‘proper’ funeral and attempt to restore some dignity.

Throughout the film we are on Saul’s shoulder, the camera following him through all the horror and devastation that surrounds him. We as the audience are the muted conscience. Witnessing everything as Saul does but unable to tell him to stop or fight. Saul himself is an emotionless vessel. Worn down by staffing the camps, for what we assume to be,  a period of time he has no emotion left. This is understandable, this is his coping mechanism. In fact it is until the film’s climax where the emotionless expression cracks.

While we spend our time on Saul’s shoulder the audience is protected to some extent. Most of what is surrounding Saul is blurred out, no events are hidden rather inference takes the lead. I have to say inference is the viewer’s friend as if we were to watch this film directly through the eyes of Saul  it would not be unable to escape and 18 classification here in the UK.

In regard to the certification I feel a 15 certification is appropriate and important. This classification will allow a slightly younger audience see this film. It allows them to see the horror of that period. To see the worst of humanity and to see how humanity survives in the worst of circumstances.

This is not just a historical piece. This film also has an inescapable relevance.

When we consider events in Syria and the displacement of so many people it is clear that humanity is still capable of despicable acts. Given the reaction to the migrant crisis in certain quarters it is clear that we still have a long way to go.

I have no issue in recommending Son of Saul. It is a harrowing experience. It is not easy to watch at points. This however is a film that needs to be watched.

It needs to be watched in order to remind us of the past and to make us intentional about our future.

Son of Saul is in cinemas from 29th April 

 

 

 

Spotlight, Outsiders & Church

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Not enough has been written about the role of Liev Schreiber and his role in spotlight. Yes Ruffalo is great, Keaton outstanding and Tucci wonderfully manic in their roles but Liev Schreiber for me was the key role.

Schreiber plays Marty Baron the new boss of the Boston Globe. He is an outsider. His non interest in sports is the first red flag thrown in the film never mind his Jewish faith background in a city dominated by the Catholic church.  This however is the key to Baron he is not like the others and by being an outsider he does not hold the same ideals in relation to the church. While others on the Spotlight team profess to be ‘lapsed’ or ‘non-practicing’ it is the difference that drives him on. He does not hold the church in the same regard and therefore encourages the team to investigate the allegations when the team has reservations.

The outsider holds the key.

So what of the church today? How comfortable are we with the outsider?

How comfortable are we when someone not like us enters ‘our world’ and points out our flaws?

I saw a quote this week that got me thinking

“…we know when we are really preaching and living the way of Jesus because it’s the Christians that are often most offended….”

– David Capener

All too often, when challenged,  offence becomes the go to reaction. Outsiders are not afraid to let us within the church know when we aren’t getting it right. Yet we often take it badly. Offence is so often the go to feeling. Often that is because the truth is uncomfortable. The truth will push us outside our comfort zones.

Personally I’d rather be outside my comfort zone that have my faith stagnate. Without the challenges from outsiders my faith becomes a pointless character accessory that can be reduced to a social media bio point or degraded to a meaningless hashtag.

The outsiders are vital.

We are called to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner.

Yet when we are called on it we become uncomfortable.

We need the outsiders.

They might understand Jesus better than we claim to.

 

 

 

Review: Spotlight

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Spotlight won’t win the awards it deserves this weekend. Oscar will overlook this film as it looks to The Revenant to wow Hollywood and the world beyond. I’ve written several times about The Revenant already this year and how I have been blown away by it’s achievements but Spotlight may be the better film.

Spotlight does what any film should. It tells a story really well. While Leonardo DiCaprio was eating raw bison liver and using a horse for a sleeping bag this group of fine acting talent were playing the roles of journalists investigating a story that shook the world. Did Leonardo do a great job absolutely, but this group excelled.

The difference in the two films to me is that The Revenant tells a fairly simple revenge tale through the blurred lens of multiplex action and arthouse wonder. Spotlight however tells a multi layered and difficult story in the most simplistic of ways.

Each member of this ensemble (the buzz word of moment among critics)  cast plays their part to perfection from Michael Keaton leading the team in the role of Robby Robinson to Mark Ruffalo’s intrepid Mike Rezendes it is really hard to define who is the lead in the piece. Nobody involved attempts to take centre stage. The real life story of Spotlight was a team effort and the film very much reflects that through its cast.

The Spotlight tale is well documented by now and it is hard to write anything close to a review without getting into ‘spoilers’ on some level. Spotlight is the true story of how the Boston Globe investigative journalist team  uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core is well known to many by now. The uncovering of these horrendous acts spread right across the globe and had an impact far beyond Boston.

While the church is the clearly the culprit the film does not demonise the institution completely. Instead time is taken to acknowledge that all players involved knew the dark truth deep down but looked the other way.

A special mention must be given to Liev Schreiber for his portrayal Marty Baron the outsider who interrupts the Globe’s world with no interest in the Redsox baseball team and due to his Jewish roots no link to the Catholic church. He is the key to the abuse being uncovered as he subtly refuses to let the story go and gently encourages the team to take it on.

This film is also a wonderful nod to a time we have lost memory of in our high spped broadband world. A time piece showing the way journalism used to be just before the internet era exploded and widened all our horizons (for better or worse). These journalists had to work for their story. There were clippings to be read, physical files to lifted from storage units and trollied to recipients, doorsteps to be walked on. True investigative journalism is the hero in this tale. Pre Google and long before the term click bait headline was even conceived this film salutes those who worked harder for their craft than those that walk the same beat today. I as a blogger am proof that anyone can attempt to write but Spotlight shows the value of true journalism.

With the Oscars this weekend to would be lovely to think Spotlight stands a chance.

The Revenant will more than likely prevail but there would be no complaints from me if Spotlight managed to take the limelight for itself.

 

 

Room: Innocence lost to wider horizons

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Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is a stunning piece of work. Revolving around the story of Jack (Jacob Tremblay) & Ma (Brie Larson) this tale is simultaneously harrowing and uplifting and will surely be in most end of year polls for film of the year.

Continuing 2016’s cinematic theme of overcoming the odds (which I have previously blogged about) Room is the story of mother and son escaping imprisonment and returning to ‘normality’ and the embrace of their family.

The key to the film is  Trembelay in the role of Jack. He is the hero of the piece and the reason for Ma’s desire to escape. It is Jack who, having known nothing else but Room his entire life, adapts best to the outside world. Ma struggles with the new reality, her family struggle with their guilt over what happened and yet Jack endures.

Jack is the one who arguably has the most to overcome. Everything he knew is blown away once he escapes Room. Sky, trees, dogs, other people all are new and all are to be explored. He has the most to overcome and yet he shows the courage and heart to change.

There is something within us as humans that can adapt, change, evolve to whatever circumstances we encounter. It is important to acknowledge that this occurs at differing speeds for all of us but we all have the capacity if we are so minded.

Recently I have been challenged in my faith by many different things. Podcasts, books, conversations with friends. As I wrestle with what my faith is about and what my understanding of who or what God is these new elements have been very useful.

It’s far to dramatic to describe what I’m experiencing as a deconstruction of my faith. I haven’t lost anything. I may have changed my thinking on certain issues but to my mind this is not loss but gain.

I’m grateful for the new voices I have encountered. I’m thankful for their influence and their input into who I am becoming.

For too long my faith has been held within a small compact Room-like space. It’s time to go bigger than that and step out into the unknown.

 

Some podcasts I have been listening to recently that I’ve given reference to above:

The RobCast

HomeBrewed Christianity

Freestyle Christianity

Revolution Church

 

 

The Revenant, church, exit & entry point

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Ok so a disclaimer to begin.

This will be my last post on The Revenant for a while I promise. I can’t help it, this film has got under my skin in a way that not many have in the last few years. The density, the spectacle, the cinematic wonder it really is a special piece of work. Even in January it will take something really special for it not to be my favourite film of 2016.

Through it all though one scene has stayed with me. Above all the moments of brilliance (and there are many) one scene leapt out more than any other and it is when Glass enters the crumbled edifice of the church.

This dilapidated structure has suffered even in these early days of civilisation but its foundation and structures remain. In fact within the fading church there is life as trees have put down roots bringing new life and growth.

It could be argued by some that the church today is in a similar position.

Dilapidated, fading, crumbling.

Recently I read an article about the majority of people in the UK claiming to have no religion . The truth is churches are closing, numbers are decreasing and desire for any notion of God is fading rapidly. People are searching though. People are searching for understanding. Searching for spirituality and searching in spaces other than churches to find it.

I believe there it still life in the church though. I believe that changes are coming. Changes that will remove old structures, old ways of thinking and an adaption to what church can/should in 2015. Dare I suggest church evolution??

That’s where the gap comes in.

While Glass stands in the church ‘grounds’ he stares at the picture of Christ on the wall at his crucifixion momentarily.

Glass has already experienced death and resurrection. The parallels are clear.

However my eye was drawn not to Christ on the cross but the gap in the wall.

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This gap is significant because this gap allows both entry and exit simultaneously. I would guess that its location is not accidental either.

It is not just the gap in the wall but the cross itself that is both entry and exit point.

In terms of the film and the church today the same points can be made.

Those who enter find shelter here.

Those who enter find signs of life they may not expect.

Those who enter can rest from the constant battering of their surroundings.

 

However the same can be said for those on the way out.

 

Those who exit are ready to take on the next stage of the journey.

Those who exit have sheltered, recovered and found life in its fulness.

Those who exit see a bigger picture and possibly a new frontier.

 

Articles can speak of decline.

The Revenant showed me the foundations and the gap that helps those coming in and those ready to go.

 

 

Cinema in 2016: The Overcomers

 

So far in 2016 I have been able to see 3 of the ‘big films’ of the year and I’ve enjoyed all 3 to varying degrees. All three are very different and yet all three have something in common. From arthouse leanings of The Revenant to the popcorn munching multiplex feel good of Creed one thing unites these three.

Overcoming the odds.

From the fringes of death, family circumstances, social classes, insecurities over legacy these protagonists all endure, all survive and in varying degrees thrive.

We root for these characters. We will them on to success. I am not ashamed to say that on seeing Joy I became unexpectedly emotional about mop sales!

These people though are not just the work of cinematic stories alone.  We meet these overcomers daily.

Those who struggle. Those who are weary. Those who refuse to be held back by their circumstance.  Those who wrestle to make it through the week. Those who seem to have a strength we can only hope for. Those who refuse to wilt. Those who overcome things we can only imagine in our darkest moments.

So while enjoying the success of those who overcome on screen.

Perhaps in 2016 it may be more worthwhile to get alongside and root for those who overcome daily around us.

 

Review: The Revenant

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I saw Alejandro Iñårritu’s latest film The Revenant six days ago. I tell you this not to show off but because after nearly a week has passed I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about this film.

I am certain I have seen something profound and yet I would struggle to tell you that this was a film that I wholeheartedly enjoyed.

Inspired by true events, The Revenant captures one man’s epic adventure of survival and the extraordinary power of the human spirit. In an expedition of the uncharted American wilderness, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is brutally attacked by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team. In a bid to survive, Glass endures unimaginable grief as well as the betrayal of his confidant John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Guided by sheer will and the love of his family, Glass must navigate a vicious winter in a relentless pursuit to live and find redemption.

This is a film about the power of the human spirit but it is also a film about suffering and the endurance of pain. Not just the physical pain of the aforementioned bear attack (which is surely one of the most brutal moments in recent cinema) but the suffering caused mental anguish and the consuming desire for revenge.

So the question remains, is it enjoyable to watch a man suffer for slightly under two and  a half hours and watch him strive for vengeance?

My initial reaction was no. However having reflected over the last few days The Revenant has grown on me.

There are some incredible highlights to mention. The wonderful cinematography which elicits memories of Terrence Mallick and his love of nature. The opening sequence of the film where the hunting team is attacked by a native tribe is jaw dropping in it’s simultaneous beauty and brutality.

My favourite thing about this film though is  the performance of Tom Hardy as the wild eyed, manic Fitzgerald. If DiCaprio is to win Best Actor at this year’s Oscars then surely Hardy HAS to be this year’s best supporting actor.

The Revenant is littered with spirituality, the continual resurrection of Glass  regenerating throughout the film to become stronger on his journey home. One memorable scene in a crumbling church is particularly beautiful as Glass gazes on the image of Christ in a way recognising the near death and rebirth parallels of their lives.

The Revenant is a multi layered film that requires a viewer’s maximum concentration. If you invest enough in unpacking the complexities The Revenant is a cinematic wonder. If you are not fully engaged there is the chance that the film could appear pretentious and for art house lovers only.

The Revenant  is not a film to be enjoyed. Much like the vast frontier it plays out in The Revenant is a film to be explored.

The Revenant is on general release from 15th Jan 2016.

Thanks to MovieHouse for advance screening access