Month: February 2015


Ever since I saw Benny’s Video back in 1993 I’ve been a big fan of Michael Haneke. No matter what subject he deals with, he always manages to portray it with a quite amazing degree of realism. This is partly due to his style of filmmaking – long shots with little camera movement, few close-ups and very little music – and partly due to the realistic scripts and the excellent performances he manages to get from his actors, which always emphasise everyday realism at the expense of dramatic effect. His style is often referred to as ‘clinical’, but the result is something approaching a picture of life as it really is. With his films, more than with those of any other director, it’s easy to forget you’re just watching actors performing a script, and you can’t help getting the very uncomfortable feeling that whatever is happening to the people on the screen (generally nothing very pleasant) could just as easily happen to you. This was as true of Amour as it was of Benny’s Video, Le temps du Loup or Funny Games, and in this case the realism benefited further from the truly amazing performances of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who are totally convincing as a couple who’ve been together for most of their lives. Every other aspect of the story was handled with equal realism, and Isabelle Huppert was also brilliant as their daughter. (more…)


On Insult

Last week I read reports (e.g. here) of a big demonstration in London (on Saturday or Sunday, the 7th or 8th of February, that wasn’t clear from the reports) by thousands of Muslims protesting against Charlie Hebdo and its ‘insults’ to Islam and the Prophet. I was quite pleased to see photos of people holding up placards saying “Insult my Mum and I will punch you (Pope Francis)” as I’d expected that his words would be used in this way. I would be very interested indeed to know whether that was his intention, or whether he now regrets having spoken too rashly. When he said those words in an interview a few weeks ago it did seem totally spontaneous, but I wasn’t 100% convinced that that was genuine.

All this confirmed for me that my objection to the way most people seem to think about the concept “insult” is more than just a personal annoyance or a theoretical philosophical discussion, but an extremely important issue at the moment – frequently a matter of life and death, in fact – and that it was perhaps time for a general rant on the subject on this blog… (more…)


The only thing I knew about this film before seeing it was that it involved a woman who returns to Germany from a concentration camp at the end of the war, and that it was directed by Christian Petzold and starred Nina Hoss, the same people who were responsible for that excellent film Barbara which we’d seen a couple of years ago. I’d read nothing at all about it beforehand, and neither had I seen any trailers. Not that I often watch trailers anyway, as in my experience they tend to be totally unrepresentative of the films they’re supposed to be promoting, making them look much better or (more often) much worse than they actually are. It doesn’t often happen that I see a film with so little foreknowledge or expectations, but in this case I certainly wasn’t disappointed. (more…)

Is/was Charlie Hebdo racist?

Never having read it myself, I’m not going to offer an opinion on that one. But having talked in an earlier post about the possibility that Charlie Hebdo was “la propagande néoconservatrice déguisée en gauche progressiste”, I was interested to come across two articles from 2013 arguing both sides of the discussion:

  • According to Olivier Cyran, who worked for Charlie Hebdo from 1992 to 2001, the magazine became increasingly Islamophobic from 11 September 2001 onwards and is undeniably racist: en français, in English.
  • On the other hand Zineb El Rhazoui, a French-Moroccan journalist who worked for Charlie Hebdo in 2013 and still does, will have nothing of it: en français, in English.

I nostri ragazzi (The Dinner)

Before seeing Ivano De Matteo’s I nostri ragazzi I’d read that it was based on the best-selling novel Het diner by Herman Koch (2009), which was inspired by actual events which had occurred in Barcelona in 2005 and had already been turned into a film by Menno Meyjes in 2013. I’d forgotten all about that, however, and as I watched I kept being reminded of Michael Haneke’s film Benny’s Video (1992). There was the obvious thematic similarity, for a start. Well-off kids from ‘good’ homes who have everything going for them but commit a horrible crime, and parents who find themselves confronted with a difficult decision: arrange a cover-up and partake of the crime themselves, or risk seeing their children’s lives ruined by one mistake. And it surely can’t be a coincidence that one of the children, Benedetta, was known mostly by her nickname Benny. Well, maybe it was Benni or Bennie, but they all sound the same. (more…)