man-with-a-movie-camera

Amour (2012) – The elderly couple at the centre of this film (Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant) are civilised, private people, and though Michael Haneke does not spare us the unpleasant details of Riva’s decline, he respects that privacy – he doesn’t touch us for sympathy. The people stay remote: Haneke de-emphasises them at the outset by making us locate them in a crowded theatre. After Riva suffers a series of strokes, it’s left to Trintignant to demonstrate his devotion to her by performing the duties of a nurse. We experience, with him, the crushing routine of wheelchairs and spoon-feeding and wet beds – all without any chance of reprieve, while his wife steadily becomes less herself. Haneke sends you out of the theatre in silence, with a numbing sense of loss: it’s an unsparing depiction of becoming old and infirm. ***

The Croods (2013) – Dreamworks’ first really first-class animation, this story of cavemen forced to adapt explores evolution from every angle – an early sequence in which the competition for scarce resources becomes an inter-species football match, the feral fascination with which the heroine responds to her first experience of fire, the way the family’s physical environment is continually collapsing around them. Its nuclear family set down in prehistory suggests The Flintstones, but the movie is interested in exploding routines, not suggesting a comfy continuity. The pratfalls have you laughing in delight even as they advance the theme – they make humans’ precarious grip on our environment funny. ****

Frances Ha (2013) – In many ways – in its New York hipster milieu especially – this movie resembles Girls (Adam Driver shows up), but it has important differences in tone. One is its sense of its place in the world; where Hannah and her creator Lena Dunham set out, only half-jokingly, to be “the voice of their generation,” Frances’ talent and ambition are more modest. The film maps mid-twenties experiences like career confusion and the dissolution of share houses and friendships that take on the intensity of romantic relationships. It’s curious that Greta Gerwig made Frances a dancer: she has loads of physical enthusiasm but very little grace. Frances blunders through life. Her awkward emotionality becomes very touching though: she can’t help being honest, and it sets her apart from her peers with more securely constructed personas. ***

Man with a Movie Camera (1929) – Dziga Vertov’s movie proudly boasts that it’s without actors or a scenario. Yet it has a hero: the intrepid man of the title, in his cap and breeches, who clambers onto railway tracks, chimney stacks – whatever it takes to capture his images of modern life. That life is machine-like, even in its moments of leisure – the Russians exercise in formation, and the footage of athletes is infused with a Muybridge-like fascination with how bodies work. Camera trickery – the woman in the editing room has the power of animation and suspension over the people caught on film – is alternated with disarmingly frank footage of everyday life (like a front-on view of a baby slipping out of its mother). It’s a terrific exploration – and celebration – of the medium. ****

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) – J. J. Abrams has become the man we trust to reanimate our boyish enthusiasms, and this sequel is a typically knowledgeable engagement with/inversion of The Wrath of Khan. If anything it’s a little too sensational: it could use a few moments of repose. The relationships border on bromance: the new recruit is stripped down to her panties just to remind us that Kirk has heterosexual drives, but from the way McCoy can’t seem to keep his hands off Kirk to Kirk’s touching hands with Spock at a crucial moment, all the important emotional attachments are between our boy heroes. Their adolescent limitations are also the limitations of the action franchise form: there’s no real place for women. ***