A Short Film About Love (1988)
Tomek is nineteen, lonely and living with his possessive godmother in a Polish apartment block. Every evening he learns languages in his room until Magda, the woman he is spying on through his telescope, comes home from work. She is an artist and seems to be living a colourful life. Tomek thinks he is in love with her, but his attention becomes harassment. One day he realises he has gone too far and tells her what he has been doing. The ensuing confrontations teach them both a lesson about love.
Magda’s well-lit flat is full of paintings, materials and interesting objects. When she brings lovers home, Tomek watches until he can’t bear it anymore. His room is small, a child-sized room for a grown man, and his godmother’s flat is old-fashioned and dark. When he eventually declares his love for Magda, and she discovers how far Tomek has gone in his obsession with her, she tries to teach him that there is no such thing as love, it is simply the sexual impulse. The lesson humiliates him. He seems to want nothing from her and is content just to be near her. His love is both inappropriate and pure, unlike his godmother’s love for him, which is built on a disturbing, smothering selfishness, that keeps him stuck with her.
I remember buying Kieślowski’s Three Colours: Blue on VHS in the mid-nineties and carrying it from flat to flat as I worked my way through every rental property in Swansea. I travelled around Europe with a railcard while at university, and the Three Colours trilogy were released around the same time. They were the first foreign language films that I loved, and amongst the first handful of films that seemed outside my family’s experience, by which I suppose I mean my father’s, and so were mine alone. I was graduating from films like Die Hard and Alien, to Miller’s Crossing and Lone Star. Instead of action, I began to value dialogue, characters, imagery and subtext. I don’t know what I would have made of A Short Film About Love when I was in my early twenties, but I’m glad I discovered it now.
Shorter posts without images
I’ve added a different type of post to the website. Sometimes I might want to say something, but I don’t want to make it into a longer piece, or have to find an image to go with it. I’m really happy with the overall design of the site, but it’s in my nature to keep tweaking it and moving things forward. Mixing types of post that look different is tricky. Anyway, these sorts of posts are longer than a tweet, but shorter than posts I’ve published up until now.
The films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa were a revelation to me in October. I started with Pulse (2001), then went back to Cure (1997), and both were masterpieces. Twenty years after Cure, Creepy (2017) is in a similar mould, playing with the framing of scenes to heighten uncanny feelings and making everyday events seem disturbing. Like in Cure, Kurosawa uses the charisma of psychopaths to drive the story, and Masahiro Higashide’s Nogami is a fascinatingly unpleasant creation.
Detective Takakura is a criminal psychologist. After he is wounded by an escaped psychopath, he retires to be a university lecturer, but when an ex-colleague comes to ask him for help on an old case, he is drawn back into police work. Meanwhile, his wife Yasuko is trying to make friends with neighbours after moving into their new home, but the man next door, Nogami, seems to have no social skills and odd ideas about personal boundaries.
The characters are mostly alone and focussed on their individual lives. The source of Nogami’s weird power over people is never explained, which means it’s hard to believe the characters would make some decisions they make, but that’s not to take away from the skill of the filmmaking. I don’t know Japan well enough to know if Kurosawa is making a point about Japanese society, but when there is a predator camouflaged nearby, without a village to shout a warning, people can be picked off, and that applies everywhere.
It’s good to play around with your projects and try new things. I still suffer from a degree of imposter syndrome, and I probably always will. That’s partly a working class thing, but it’s also because I didn’t study literature or writing until I was well into my thirties. At this point in my life, nobody is going to give me a reading list. I have to create my own structures. I want to be more conscious of how the books I read, and the films I watch, play into my writing. That’s why I’m trying new things with this blog.
After watching so many films in October, I was desperate to read a book again. I chose The Glass Kingdom, by Lawrence Osborne. It follows the residents and workers in an expensive Bangkok apartment complex, after the arrival of Sarah, a serial con artist with a suitcase full of cash. The women Sarah falls in with are all escaping something and in different ways unengaged with the world round them. As the story unfolds, the city and its citizens impinge more and more into the lives of the privileged women. It made me think about how I approach point-of-view. Osborne breaks all the rules of holding one viewpoint at a time, and doing that makes it feel less personal and more like Bangkok is telling the story. His descriptions are brilliant. It’s bleak and impressive, but a little cold for my taste.
I decided to go all-in on Mubi in 2021 and bought a subscription. I started with Two Days, One Night, in which we meet Sarah, who works at a solar panel factory somewhere in France, and is suffering from depression. Her co-workers are forced to vote between keeping her on or having a substantial bonus. After finding out on a Saturday morning they voted for a bonus, the rest of the film follows her attempts over the weekend to convince each of her fifteen co-workers to change their minds. Everyone is on the poverty line except the factory boss, who doesn’t care about the fallout. The vote pits employees against each other. The interactions are sometimes brutal, sometimes empathic, but always understated. The film rewarded my patience.
In contrast, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a joyous experience from beginning to end. It’s fun, has emotional depth, and is easily one of my favourite films this year. Other films I watched in November, in descending order of enjoyment: Finding Vivian Maier (2013), Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You (2020), Color Out Of Space (2019), Opera (1987), Eames: The Architect and the Painter (2011), Transamericana (2020).
My mother loved to do jigsaws. She would stay up late, after every one else had gone to bed, and do them on the dining table, which is also where she would do the bookkeeping for whichever company she was working for at the time. When she died, I found all the lists and accounts she kept for the household budget, and I remembered how she showed me how to keep track of my spending when I went off to university. She was renowned for balancing complicated accounts to the penny with only a calculator, pen and pencil, even after computers could do it all much faster. That was the jigsaw energy. She always needed things to be right when it came to her work.
I see that tendency in myself. When I do a jigsaw, I can feel my mother with me, and that’s comforting. I can let life flow over and around me, and I’ll never know now whether she was able to do that, but when something feels important, and I set my mind to it, I need it to be done to the best of my ability.
For Christmas last year I bought my daughter a jigsaw of a book shop. Facing a long November and December in another lockdown, I dug it out again, and bought a puzzle board to put it on, so I could push it under the sofa between sessions. (That didn’t work out, it turns out our sofas are all too low to the ground for the board to fit. It’s still useful.) As I’ve worked on it, painfully aware of the guilt I’m feeling about not working on my next novel, it’s become clear I fight my natural instincts. I make creativity more painful than it needs to be.
There are parallels with writing in the way I do jigsaws. I start by turning over all the pieces and looking for the edges. My mother taught me that. The edges provide a boundary. Then I look for the vivid, smaller sections, which are easier to find in the mass of pieces, and put them in roughly the right spots. At some point these sections connect to each other, or most thrillingly to the edges, and things speed up. By this point, my mind has spent enough time on the problem to begin to see connections before I consciously notice them. My fingers move to a piece without knowing why, and it fits somewhere unexpectedly. The whole assembles itself because I’m fully engaged, and the power of my pattern-matching mind, which I undoubtedly got from my mother, shines though.
Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t how I wrote my first book, and I’m not sharing my jigsaw-as-creative-writing metaphor because I know it’s right, but it might help me unlock my current work-in-progress, which also seems to be waiting for when I can sit at a cafe table again, where I’ve always written most of my words. The jigsaw energy and writing energy is surely also linked to the way I write software. It’s human to want to assemble patterns out of what seems like chaos. My problem-solving mind craves patterns. Anyway, that’s what I wanted to say about jigsaws.
14 Nov 2020, 12:46
I’m in a fallow period, pottering around, looking for the next thing. I started a jigsaw, read a novel, watched the first half of Homecoming (Season 1, with Julia Roberts), listened to podcasts on my walks, and wrote in my ...
4 Nov 2020, 09:01
Halloween has been and gone, Bonfire Night is cancelled, and I’m writing a pep talk to myself as in England we go into another lockdown. It’s shit we have to do it, but we do, and better late than never. ...
31 Oct 2020, 08:00
Danny Torrance is an alcoholic, but finds a place of peace and sobriety in New Hampshire, where he uses his psychic power, which he calls the shine, to ease the deaths of the elderly people in a local hospice. Death ...
30 Oct 2020, 08:00
The Bride of Frankenstein contains some of the most iconic images in cinema, but it opens with a scene I really didn’t expect — Lord Byron and Percy Shelley praising Mary Shelley for her book, Frankenstein. In a bold move ...
29 Oct 2020, 08:00
The Exorcist is a cultural behemoth. It’s my twenty-ninth film in this year’s #31DaysOfHorror, and I’m feeling horror fatigue. The film has a weighty reputation — I’d seen clips on television, of Regan vomiting on Father Karras, and turning her ...
28 Oct 2020, 08:00
Tenebre is set in Rome, but we could be anywhere, because the story stays in hotel rooms, suburban streets and modernist buildings made of concrete and glass. There are artfully sculpted gardens of stone, water and trees. These locations lend ...
27 Oct 2020, 08:00
People in the background of shots look directly at the camera. Matthew’s windscreen is a web of cracks that we struggle to see through. The score is spidery and jarring, and the camera is often off-kilter. You are not paranoid ...
26 Oct 2020, 08:00
I’d been so careful choosing films until last night, and I thought I’d take a chance on this because it’s directed by George Romero. It felt like a safe bet, but I was wrong. This film made me angry. I ...
25 Oct 2020, 08:00
Stephen King is brilliant at weaving vivid teenage experiences into his novels. Christine was one of the formative books of my childhood. The film doesn’t have time to go as deep as the book into the love triangle of Arnie, ...
24 Oct 2020, 08:00
Like Scream’s Ghostface, the killer in Prom Night can be dodged and knocked over. This is not Michael Myers. There is a lot of disco. Jamie Lee Curtis is a fantastic dancer — this role for her comes straight after ...
23 Oct 2020, 08:00
An ambitious young executive, Lockhart, is sent to a Swiss sanitorium to bring back his company’s rogue CEO, Morris Pembroke. The head of the spa, Dr. Heinreich Volmer, drips bad guy charm, but is also the voice of scientific reason. ...