I interviewed the Pajama Men. Full interview now up on WOW 24/7.
First published on WOW 24/7
Director and writer Andrew Haigh talks to Katrina Conaglen about his new film 45 Years, which received its UK premiere at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival
45 Years spends a week in the life of Norfolk couple Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) in the lead up to their 45th wedding anniversary. When news comes of the discovery of the long-dead, frozen body of Geoff’s lost love Katya on a mountainside in Switzerland, the seemingly contented couple find fissures in their relationship they never realised were there.
To examine the world of a septuagenarian couple living in quiet idyll in the countryside may at first seem like something of a departure for Haigh, whose critically lauded 2011 film Weekend storied the genesis of a 20-something gay couple’s relationship, set against the vibrant clubbing scene of Nottingham.
But despite the superficial differences, 45 Years “felt like a companion piece”, says Haigh, another examination of “how we define ourselves through our relationships, and how important those relationships can be, and how we can create meaning through our relationships.”
Katrina’s interview with Andrew Haigh:
Of the film’s many pleasures, one that is particularly striking is the vitality and warmth of the couple’s relationship – these are no old fogies with one foot in the grave.
“Its not about their death,” says Haigh. “It’s still about choices, rather than death, and I think that most films about people that age are about death. One of them would die, in most films. Death is in the film, but it’s the death of a young person a long time ago, not their own coming death.”
What the film is preoccupied with, then, is the state of their relationship, and Haigh believes it is up to the audience to decide how healthy that is.
“I have my own personal opinions, and they do actually change (depending on what kind of mood I’m in!) but for the audience, their decision on what would happen in that relationship (to me) will totally reflect them as people. If you’re the kind of person who thinks you can make these things work, then maybe you’ll think they’ll get together. If you’re the kind of person to keep attacking the world, then you’ll probably think that Kate’s going to leave him.”
As proof that Haigh’s prodigious talent is attracting equally impressive collaborators, 45 Years boasts towering performances from cinematic royalty Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courteney. However, their formidable performance didn’t alter his method of directing:
“It was intimidating to start with, just the notion of it [working with Courteney and Rampling] I thought, ‘oh god! Can I work in the same way with them that I can with the guys from Weekend or the guys from the show’ (Haigh produces and writes Looking, the HBO show about a group of gay friends in San Francisco), because that’s a method that I can do.
“And then you meet them and realise, well of course you can. They may have got a wealth of experience, and worked with some really fascinating directors, and that’s quite intimidating, but then I just had to do it the same way I’ve always done it. And they are just the people behind the actors, so in the end it was a really pleasurable experience.”
Review initially published on WOW 24/7
An intimate, warm-hearted portrayal an elderly couple’s relationship, Andrew Haigh’s new film 45 Years is one of the best British films of the year. Review by Katrina Conaglen.
We have a tendency to look at established couples as inviolate, unshakable. To see an elderly couple married for four decades leads you to safely conclude they’re a permanent fixture, content in the well-worn rhythms of their lives. Continue reading
First published on WOW 24/7
Seventies-set, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a witty, honest exploration of a teenaged girl’s nascent sexuality. Director Marielle Heller manages to depict this sexual odyssey without seeming exploitative, offering a refreshing corrective to the way feminine adolescent desires are typically treated by filmmakers: either with prurience, or overlooked entirely.
Review by Katrina Conaglen at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Continue reading
(Beloved Sisters, “Die geliebten Schwestern“, Dominik Graf, 2014)
In settling in to watch a three-hour period drama about German philosopher and writer Frederich Schiller’s 20-year menage a trois relationship with two sisters Charlotte von Lengefeld (whom he married) and Caroline von Beulwitz (who eventually become his biographer), you could reasonably expect one of two scenarios. Either a staid, starchy costume drama, humourless and ossified, or a glorified bodice ripper, replete with heaving bosoms and clandestine tumbles. What a delight, then, that Beloved Sisters is neither, instead a handsomely mounted, literate and literary, deeply human tale of love’s many transmutations set against a backdrop of societal change and technological progress. (Not that there is anything wrong with a good Masterpiece Theatre or a saucy bodice ripper, mind. Stiff upper lips are entertaining, as are titillating tits).
Following the sudden death of their father, the two von Lengefeld sisters find their bourgeois existence threatened by (comparative) penury. Caroline agrees to a marriage of convenience in order to improve her family situation, determined not to let it ruin her happiness. Charlotte, meanwhile, meets the young Schiller and is immediately smitten. When Schiller and the sisters summer together (Caroline’s husband away on business), they form an intense, private bond, fuelled by declarative correspondence and languid pastoral picnicking. The two girls vow solemnly to share Schiller equally. While Caroline and Schiller’s connection seems more direct and passionate, a true meeting of the minds, there is a chaste, courtly devotion between Charlotte and Schiller. With the inconvenience of Caroline’s husband, it is decided Charlotte and Schiller shall be wed, a decision Caroline and Schiller mark by feverishly making love. Over the next two decades, the sisters’ comfort with their pact ebbs and flows, each vacillating between self-sacrifice and selfishness.
Caroline, portrayed with lusty yen by Hannah Herzsprung, is more passionate, promiscuous, and seemingly brighter than her gentle sister, and thus more immediately fascinating. Charlotte, by contrast, maintains the quiet intrigue of one who never quite says how they feel or pursues what they want, and Henriette Confurius’ performance is passive while never simpering. She seems heartbreakingly aware she’s not as vibrant as her sister or as brilliant as Schiller (If she ever had the inclination, Confurius would make an excellent May Welland in a production of The Age of Innocence – she does a good line in romantic resignation).
As their joint paramour, Schiller (Florian Stetter, marvellous) is a similarly nuanced character. He seems romantic, earnest, and decent – yet there are flickers of a more mercenary man there – a poet who is aware his fortune will increase by marrying, a swordsman who has enjoyed a fair bit of time romping with local ladies of ill-repute and now seems to want to have his sororial cake and eat it too.
All this romantic to-ing and fro-ing plays out a background of a society in flux, as the German bourgeois watch France erupt into bloody revolution with studied concern of its implications for Germany. This sharply observed sociopolitical context prevents the film from ever feeling like a chamber drama. A goodly amount of social philosophy and poetry also lends proceedings a luxuriantly intelligent air.
This is a resolutely speculative account: there’s no mention of these goings on in von Beulitz’ biography, although the knowledge that she burnt almost all of her correspondence with Schiller shortly before her death has fuelled the imagination of literary historians’ sexual conspiracy theories. If its not how things actually happened though, than it should have been: this is a full-throated cry of a movie, brilliantly entertaining and narratively complex.
(We’ll Never Have Paris, Simon Helberg and Jocelyn Town, 2014)
We’ll Never Have Paris thinks it is a corrective to the overly-sentimental, chocolate box story-telling of most romantic comedies. It thinks by depicting a “perfect couple” break up, sleep around, then fumble back to find another its doing something revolutionary. Unfortunately in trying to revitalise the genre it foregoes its most crucial ingredients: charm, likeable characters, wit, and romance. And a fucking point.
(Something, Anything, Paul Harrill, 2014)
Peggy (Ashley Shelton) is a gorgeous young woman with all the trappings of a lovely bourgeois existence: handsome husband, beautiful home, career in realty, and a baby on the way. But when Peggy miscarrys, the seeming idyll of her world is shattered and she finds herself utterly bewildered at things not turning right. To the vocal consternation of all around her, she sets about systematically dismantling her world, searching for a means of reorganising and structuring her life so it seems to have meaning again.
Mortality is a bitch, cinema is wont to remind us, so it is a good idea to try and achieve something before you get shuffled off this mortal coil. So it is in Ed Perkin’s documentary Garnet’s Gold, the tale of one man’s flails to make something of his life, worried he’s let much of it slip by in a cosy somnambulant fugue. Garnet Frost is an affectless, intelligent eccentric determined to discover the buried gold of Bonnie Prince Charlie, which, apocryphally, was lost in the Scottish Highlands in the 18th Century. There’s little sense he could possibly be successful, certainly as his friends see it, and you get the faintest hint Garnet himself doesn’t really think he stands a chance, either. But he wants to do something, anything, important. Continue reading
Sorrow and Joy (“Sorg og glæde” Nils Malmros, 2013)
It is an unfathomable tragedy: film-maker Johannes (Jakob Cedergren) returns home one night to discover his wife Signe (Helle Fagralid) has killed their infant daughter during a psychotic episode. This event (drawn from the real-life experiences of director Nils Malmros) forms the basis of the story of Sorrow and Joy, in which Johannes sets about protecting his wife from the Danish legal system while simultaneously exploring his own culpability in the tragedy. As he struggles to come to terms with the event, he describes their relationship from first meeting, courtship, marriage, and finally the anguished days following their daughter’s murder.