Okay people, I've got a scented cat that's itching to get out of its bag. For the last two years, I have been writing an anonymous perfume blog (www.Persolaise.com), the success of which led to my being commissioned to write a perfume guide. It's called Le Snob: Perfume and it's due to be published in October... so if you'd like to find out more about it and - hint hint - if you'd care to pre-order a copy, please click here.
I confess I never thought that my first book would consist of mini-reviews of No 5, Shalimar and Poison, but then life delights in springing such surprises on us. It may not be an Ishiguro-esque work of fiction (wishful thinking!), but it's still a book and it'll have my name on the cover. Exciting times!
Some of you already know why, in 2011, this blog was devoted almost exclusively to film reviews: various other writing projects have caused me to be extremely busy since about mid-2010 and I needed to think of something that would allow me to keep DariushAlavi.com ticking over and wouldn't entail my spending hours agonising over what each subsequent post should be about. Film reviews seemed like a neat, logical solution. The task I set myself was to write one paragraph on every movie I watched in 2011 (either at the cinema or at home) and I'm pleased to report that I've accomplished it.
However, as the end of the calendar year has brought the little project to a natural conclusion, I think this is the right time to close the entire blog for the foreseeable future. The aforementioned writing engagements are becoming increasingly time-consuming and as there are only so many hours in the day, something's got to give. So, before I present you with my customary list of my favourite films of the previous twelve months, I'd like to thank those of you who've taken the time to read my musings and to leave comments and send me emails about them. Your support has been greatly appreciated.
Here we go then:
My Favourite Films Of 2011 (in the order in which they were seen)
When you know a film as well as I know Red, re-watching it becomes an experience that's as much about yourself as it is about the movie. You find yourself reacting less strongly to aspects which had a tremendous impact on you years ago, whilst scenes which seemed relatively unimportant when you were younger resonate with new force. Like all great works of art, Kieslowski's final film transcends its specific context and speaks to all people of all times, using its simple story of a young student's developing relationship with a mysterious retired judge to explore ideas about the hidden forces that bind us all together. Its technical accomplishments are rivetting to watch: Piotr Sobocinki's photography provides as much evidence as one could ever wish for that a landscape is a character in itself; Zbigniew Preisner's music speaks of bruised tenderness with every haunting note; and Kieslowki's use of tracking shots is intelligent and beguiling, connecting disparate elements with subtle grace. But the real stars are, appropriately enough, the people, especially Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant in the lead roles, who effortlessly lend their characters the quirky unknowability that makes each of us unique. An unforgettable tour de force, Red remains my favourite film of all time.
Watching How To Train Your Dragon reminded me of how much there is to enjoy about Hugo. Yes, this story of a skinny (which is Hollywood-ese for 'unmanly', 'geeky', 'socially outcast') young Viking who realises there's more to be gained from trying to befriend rather than kill the dragons with which his fellow villagers insist on going into battle has its fair share of enjoyable moments. But after a while, the oh-so-knowing, ironically contemporary tone of the dialogue (particularly that spoken by the child characters) begins to grate and makes you realise this is precisely the sort of stuff which will date very quickly. The CG animation is wonderful and there are a few genuinely absorbing sequences (notably those depicting the training alluded to in the title) but ultimately, this gets filed under 'Fun But Forgettable'.
As far as multiplex-friendly, 90-minute long, 80s-inspired alien invasion movies go, Attack The Block does a decent job of ticking all the right boxes: it pushes its plot along at breakneck speed, it sports an excellent electronic score and it features endearingly minimal special effects. It also goes above and beyond the call of genre duty in its decision to set the action on a south London housing estate (an inspired choice) and to feature a gang of hoodie-wearing, mobile-phone-stealing yoofs as its main characters. But the very aspect that makes Cornish's directorial debut so original and endearing (ie the verbal spats between the youngsters and the adults they encounter as they try to rid the country of monsters) constantly has to make way for the demands of the story, which is a shame, because a bit more talking and a touch less action might have made the film much more memorable.
Blue Valentine is an excellent example of a film that is let down by its own structure. Clearly, Cianfrance's intention was to portray only the opening and closing stages of a relationship and expect the viewer to fill in the gaps in the middle. This strategy works up to a point and, indeed, there are several evocative scenes which convey the birth and death of love with commendable power. But in order to become truly memorable, the story needed to provide a few more specific details about the reasons for the marital breakdown; passing comments about problems with alcohol abuse and thwarted professional ambitions serve only to make the material seem generic and rather nebulous. Nevertheless, the movie is well worth watching for the almost documentary-like style with which the camera depicts domestic life, the deft use of flashbacks (the entire story is told by cutting back and forth between past and present) and, most notably, for the heartbreaking, intelligent performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
When it was released in the mid-90s, White was dimissed as the weakest chapter of Kieslowski's trilogy. Although I've always been very fond of it, I concede that much of its impact is lost in translation, not least because of its tone-deaf English subtitles. However, recent socio-economic events have been kind to this sardonic essay on the pros and cons of equality. In the 90s, Poland was desperate to emulate its western neighbours with a fervour that many Europeans found difficult to comprehend. Now, the imminent collapse of the EU and the rising importance of India, China et al make it somewhat easier to appreciate how much greener the grass can be on the other side of the political fence. With characteristic finesse, Kieslowski weaves these ideas into a tale about a hapless Polish hairdresser who is so stung by the way his French ex-wife treats him, he'll stop at nothing to get his revenge. A masterpiece of black comedy, with a superb score from Zbigniew Preisner.
About fifteen minutes into its running time, Blue's protagonist (played with unforgettable precision by Juliette Binoche) is woken from a nap by a burst of orchestral music. She looks straight into the camera, following its movement as it pans from one side of her face to the other. The screen is filled with a deep shade of azure; then it fades to black. We're not sure if the music has really been played somewhere within her earshot or whether it was a product of a fevered dream. Or perhaps it has some ghost-like life of its own. This brief scene pretty much sums up everything you need to know about the first instalment of Kieslowski's much-lauded trilogy: it displays his ability to draw intense performances from his actors; it showcases his extraordinary skill at merging plot with theme, so that the seams between the two are almost invisible; and it highlights his masterful use of filmic language. In short, this enigmatic story of a woman coming to terms with loss and liberty is quite simply one of the most intelligently constructed films of the last 25 years. Watch it on Blu-ray and marvel at the thought that has gone into the composition of every single frame. Beautiful stuff.
Although I was brought up in a Beatle-loving household, George Harrison was spoken about only as one of "the other two" members of the band. Scorsese's documentary of this complex, intriguing cultural figure filled in some of the gaps in my knowledge with considerable finesse. Using new interviews with key figures in Harrison's life (including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and his widow, Olivia) as well as expertly chosen film and music clips, the movie charts his rise to stardom, his post-Beatle perfoming career, his work as a film producer and, needless to say, the development of his profound spirituality. Despite his tight focus on his subject, Scorsese allows the material to resonate with wider contextual issues, producing what is, in effect, a chronicle of an entire musical age as much as it is a story of one individual. And although it's almost 4 hours long, it zips by and leaves you wanting much, much more.