It has been an exciting week here in London, as The xx is hosting a Night + Day festival in Brixton, celebrating their sold out gigs and therefore raising money for charity. The idea behind it, is to combine music and film and show appreciation for pop culture through both music and film. Simultaneously with the concerts every night for a week, there is a bunch of daytime cultural events, such as screenings of films chosen by the band, held at the Whirled Cinema. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a double bill screening of The Tribe (2014) and American Honey (2016) followed by Q&A with Andrea Arnold. What a wonderfully inspiring woman she is!
THE TRIBE (2014)
The Tribe is a Ukrainian crime film that follows a story of Sergei (Grigoriy Fesenko): a young, deaf boy, who joins a boarding school for the deaf and, with the strong influence of his rebellious colleagues', he ultimately becomes a criminal. What I find particularity amazing about the film is how the story about the deaf is told for the hearing people, allowing them to adapt to the silent world. At first you might be scared away with the warning that pops out at the beginning of the film, saying that the film is entirely in sign language with no translations or subtitles included. People tend to comment on the film, that sign language is a language just like any other and it is supposed to be translated. I personally believe, that the lack of translation is the beauty of the film and how stories can be told, understood and yet, work well, with no dialogue but purely through images and sound.
"The Tribe is a harrowing, corrosive film, but there’s great, urgent beauty in it."
Bilge Ebiri for Vulture
"The Tribe deploys an elaborate, rigorously executed conceit
in support of a weary, dreary hypothesis: People are awful."
A. O. Scott for The NYTimes
Another important aspect of the film, especially to me, is Cinematography. The images of The Tribe engage us in the story from the first seconds, as the camera follow the character to the school building and enters it staying still in a perfect framing for a relentlessly long time of a very slow action. Valentyn Vasyanovych's camera, with its smooth movement and long takes, can be compared to the great achievement of Emmanuel Lubezki in Birdman or The Revenant. Every scene of the film stands on its own as a single shot in and it is structured in a parallelistic way, starting with a perfectly framed image, usually with the action on the thirds of the screen. The handheld camera stays still for an almost disturbingly long and slow action, like an observer from the outside. It then starts its beautiful, floating movement as the characters move out of the frame, following them to the last position of the camera, that similarly to the beginning, holds the audience for a long time until the next cut. As far as I'm concerned, The Tribe is one of the best films I have ever seen Cinematography-wise. I was stunned by the smoothness of the camera and how the image creates its own story within the film itself.
Last but not least, what Andrea Arnold also pointed out as her main reason for which she was stunned by the film, is its brutality and lack of boundaries. Rarely do we see in cinema things that are shown in The Tribe. There's always a limit to what can be shown on screen without crossing a certain line and what makes the audience feel uncomfortable. There are at least three scenes like that in the film, that made me feel very uncomfortable, disgusted even, whilst watching it. However, that exact feeling made me appreciate the film even more cause that, to me, is what cinema should be. It should be real and nothing should be hidden from the audience.
AMERICAN HONEY (2016)
I have been meaning to watch American Honey for a long time now, as only in the past few month of studying film theory and working on my dissertation film, I have discovered my huge interest in social realism and the beauty of 'real' cinema. I was recommended the film by many people but to be fair I did not expect to enjoy it even half as much as I did. Turns out, I was very wrong! American Honey is everything I love about cinema. It is one of those films that I want to return to immediately after seeing it for the first time. It is one of those very few films that give me goosebumps and bring tears to my eyes. But most importantly, it is one of those films that make me realise why I want to be a filmmaker.
The beauty of American Honey is mainly in the positive energy that comes with it, the message that it's sending to the audience, and above all, in its magical realism. To me, it is the first film made in America that shows its real side. It is shown from the perspective of a British person, an outsider, someone we can relate to. The film presents the America I myself have seen and experienced, rather than what Hollywood is trying to sell us. During the Q&A, Andrea Arnold pointed out herself how complicated it is to make a film representing the country the way it is, as everything is copyrighted and requires permissions. That opened my eyes a little bit, to the falseness of Hollywood cinema and made me appreciate the real, low budget films, such as American Honey.
The positivity of the film comes along with the soundtrack. The importance of music in Andrea Arnold's films cannot be unnoticed. The director confirmed how much music and dance means to her and she proved it previously in her film Fish Tank, as well as now, in American Honey. There is a huge variety of music genres but each song fits the moment perfectly. I adds a wonderful, summer-like atmosphere to the film!
Finally, and to me most importantly, the film is visually stunning in its simplicity. Robbie Ryan amazes me more with every next film that he works on. Cinematography of American Honey may seem rather simple, but the use of natural light, both moonlight and sunlight is one of the main aspects of social realism that make you appreciate the beauty of what surrounds you. The way he uses shallow depth of field in the first scenes is extremely unique.
The film is very real in its story, the amateurism of the cast and the improvisation that appeared in both the story and the image. "Many people asked me about the bear. The Revenant people asked me: how did you do the bear." said Andrea Arnold jokingly, "The bear just happened to be there, so we filmed it." She also mentioned how the last scene of the film was improvised and different to originally planed ending of the film. The firefly appears in the last frame of the film accidentally and it turns out to create a perfect ending. The director mentioned how she considers fireflies to be beautiful creatures and how they represent the meaning of the film in its own. When I first went to America, there were a few very simple moments that made me feel happy and appreciate the beauty of the world. One of those moments is the very first time I ever saw fireflies flying in the dark woods and I can honestly say it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I can entirely relate to the way Andrea Arnold described them. I also remember those beautiful late night by the fireside, as well as swimming and paddle boarding in the moonlight of the open sky. Finally, the moment I opened the door of my cabin and saw a bear standing 5 meters away from me and rather than getting absolutely terrified, I was fascinated to see it come so close to me. If you haven't seen American Honey, this all may sound like an exaggeration and trust me when I say, I am not as cheesy as I just made myself sound. But having watched the film all you want to do is go on a road trip across America and enjoy those summer nights surrounded by nature.
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