Film Notes #10: Man on Fire (2004)

Tony Scott’s 2004 revenge drama starring Denzel Washington is Number 10 in my 30 day Film Notes series.

For newcomers, this month-long series of posts involves me watching a film every day for 30 days.

The following rules apply:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Man on Fire (2004) which I watched on BBC1 HD via PVR on Saturday 24th March.

  • There is a weird Harry Potter connection to this film: JK Rowling’s agent Christopher Little also represents the A.J. Quinnell – author of the book on which it is based.
  • It has been filmed once before in 1987, with Scott Glenn in the Creasy role.
  • In that film the action was in Italy but here it has been relocated to Mexico.
  • Chanting music over opening titles, interchanging film stocks and the AVIDs are working overtime!
  • Walken and Washington have an instinctive rapport – we immediately get the vibe that these guys know each other
  • Dialogue establishes that they have been involved in some heavy stuff (ex-special ops)
  • Harry Gregson’s score has been used in a lot of news documentaries
  • Note the sound on the lighting of Mickey Rourke’s match – Scott loves a visceral audio mix.
  • The fleet of cars driving across the landscape recalls REVENGE (1990) another revenge themed film Scott shot in Mexico.
  • Some stylistic similarities between the two films, even though Scott has utilised the advances in digital editing and post-production
  • Neat trick making Dakota Fanning a precocious child – she’s essentially playing a version of herself.
  • Radha Mitchell was coming of the success of PITCH BLACK (2000) – she looks beautiful but her role is rather underwritten
  • First time I’ve seen this in HD and the clarity of image and golden hues are stunning (like his brother Ridley, Tony Scott is a master of light).
  • Nice tension created about a possible kidnapping in the traffic through cutting and camera.
  • Mitchell and Washington’s conversation is unusually constructed – use of zooms into the mirror used as well as conventional edits.
  • The ‘Creasy getting drunk’ scene is a little overcooked.
  • Like the fact that Walken has several phones – well researched detail.
  • Pita at the pool sequence is a good example of Scott’s attention to sound.
  • Pita: “Creasy, what’s a concubine?”
  • Nice chemistry between Fanning and Washington
  • Build up to the kidnapping is nice – interesting blend of camera moves, edits and sounds
  • Note the calm of the classical piano
  • Scott is using digital editing systems almost as a paintbox
  • Old school editors must be turning in their grave at a film like this
  • Like the fact that Spanish is spoken and the way the subtitles are done – slinking along the screen in sync with the words
  • Bursts of Lisa Gerrard’s vocals are used in this film to indicate emotion – her extraordinary voice was first used in THE INSIDER (1999) and then GLADIATOR (2000)
  • The visuals used to denote the kidnappers are insane
  • Ransom demand scene is not quickly edited (although it feels like it) but the flashing and speeded up effects give that vibe.
  • Like the way “La Hermandad” pops up in sync with dialogue.
  • Reverse chopper shot of Mexico skyline used from earlier?
  • Walken’s performance has a nice easy vibe that provides some welcome relief from the heavy drama.
  • Rachel Ticotin previously filmed TOTAL RECALL (1990) in Mexico.
  • Creasy quickly becomes a vengeful badass but that’s logical given his line of work.
  • Finger cutting scene is intense but it’s the kind of sequence that would infuriate the late Pauline Kael and her many acolytes.
  • Car falling off cliff recalls similar scene in THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991).
  • Creasy looks a bit out of place at the rave with that head scarf.
  • I think Tony Scott should do a whole film set at a rave – really go to town.
  • Split screen, bleach bypass, hand cranked cameras – this is visual overload!
  • One way Scott and his DP Paul Calderon relieve the furious style is to cut to a relatively pristine image.
  • The dancers cheering Creasy’s shotgun blasts is an effective touch – shows the atmosphere of mayhem.
  • Great night time photography in the conversation between Washington and Ticotin
  • Walken line about Creasy’s art is priceless – still not sure if it’s delivered with a metaphorical wink to the audience
  • Would it really be practical to fire a rocket launcher into a busy Mexican high street?!
  • Impressive explosion and flames however, plus this scene gave us the poster image.
  • Great location for the ass bomb scene. Really notice the lighting in HD.
  • It would have been really cool if the on screen stopwatch had synced in real time.
  • Washington’s delivery of his lines in this scene is excellent.
  • I bet someone somewhere has actually used the line “I wish. You had. More time!” just to be a badass.
  • Tony Scott was clearly born to shoot in Mexico.
  • Interior lighting of characters is tremendous.
  • Radha Mitchell doesn’t seem that distressed her husband has just blown his head off in their home.
  • It would be fair to say that this film is not a study of the social conditions that produce violence and kidnapping.
  • Creasy refusing money and blowing the hand off the Voice’s brother shows he really doesn’t care about what drives the ransom business (i.e. money)
  • Nice reverse offer from The Voice (“I will give you her life for your life”).
  • Interesting choice of time and location for the climax (often films end
  • Great shooting and use of music for the end.
  • Film has a slightly different resonance after the Fritzl case and all the subsequent kidnap films which almost became a Euro subgenre.
  • Like the way a mainstream film doesn’t wimp out at the end.
  • Nice symbolic touch of him dropping the St Jude medallion at the end and the credit that gives the date of the final day (Dec 16th 2003)
  • Alternate ending has Creasy going to the house of the Voice and blowing it all up.

Film Notes #9: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

* SPOILER WARNING: Details about the film will be revealed *

Lewis Gilbert’s 1977 Bond film is Number 9 in my 30 day Film Notes series.

For newcomers, this month-long series of posts involves me watching a film every day for 30 days.

The following rules apply:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) which I watched on ITV4 on Friday 23rd March.

  • Roger Moore’s third and best outing as Bond, even though LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) is more purely enjoyable.
  • The opening scene with the sub sinking is very similar to THE ABYSS (1989), only minus the aliens.
  • The theme on Triple XXX’s music box is Lara’s Theme from DR. ZHIVAGO (1964).
  • The other Lean film theme referenced in the desert sequences is LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1964)
  • Subsequent stunt where Bond skis off a cliff is stunning – one of the best live action jumps ever.
  • Bond films provide an interesting gauge of the Cold War – the Russian characters are usually consistent with Moscow relations
  • The shark death at the beginning was surely a cash in on the success of JAWS (1975)? They even named one of the henchman after it!
  • Stunts are mostly impressive for the time, blending live action, rear projection and miniature work.
  • Marvin Hamlisch’s score is unusually funky for a Bond film.
  • All the stuff with the Pyramids creeped me out as a 6 year old watching this on TV.
  • The sexism of the era is apparent in the cheesy gags but the Bond girl is more integral to the story.
  • Lotus coming out of the sea features the obligatory scene where a drunk man does a double take at his bottle.
  • Some occasionally sloppy shots, such as Bond and Anya being lowered down to the US submarine.
  • Guessing this was shot on anamorphic, but why do ITV persist in cropping widescreen films to 1:85? Will the audience complain?
  • The miniature of the speed boat as Anya and Stromberg leave is woeful even by standards of the day.
  • Stanley Kubrick advised his old colleague Ken Adam – who designed the iconic War Room for DR STRANGELOVE (1964) – on the lighting for the enormous submarine set – at that time one of the largest ever built.
  • They must have needed a lot of orange boiler suits to film the climactic gun battle.
  • The climax of TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997) references the climax of this film with the big fight on the sub.

UK Cinema Releases: Friday 30th March 2012

NATIONAL RELEASES

The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists (Sony Pictures): The latest film from Aardman is about a group of swashbuckling pirates who team up with different historical and fictional characters. Directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt, it features the voices of Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek. [Nationwide / U]

Wrath Of The Titans (Warner Bros.): A decade after his heroic defeat of the monstrous Kraken, Perseus (Sam Worthington) – the demigod son of Zeus – is attempting to live a quieter life as a village fisherman and the sole parent to his 10-year old son, Helius. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, it co-stars Rosamund Pike, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Toby Kebbell, Bill Nighy and Edgar Ramirez. [Nationwide / 12A]

Streetdance 2 (Vertigo Films) (PG): After suffering humiliation by the crew Invincible, street dancer Ash (Falk Hentschel) looks to gather the best dancers from around the world for a rematch. Directed by Max & Ania, it stars Sofia Boutella, Falk Hentschel, George Sampson and Tom Conti. [Nationwide / PG]

ALSO OUT

Into The Abyss: A Tale Of Death, A Tale Of Life (Revolver): Werner Herzog’s latest documentary explores capital punishment in Texas. [Selected cinemas / 12A] [Read our full review]

The Island President (Dogwoof): Documentary about the efforts of then-Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed to tackle climate change. Directed by Jon Shenk. [Key cities / PG]

This Is Not A Film (Palisades Tartan): Iranian documentary by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb which was smuggled out of Iran in a flash-drive hidden inside a birthday cake and then specially screened at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. [London West End / U]

Tiny Furniture (Independent Distribution): Feature debut from writer-director Lena Dunham which gets a UK theatrical release two years after its US premiere at SXSW. [Key Cities /15]

> Get local cinema showtimes at Google Movies or FindAnyFilm
Recent UK DVD & Blu-ray releases

Film Notes #8: Working Girl (1988)

* SPOILER WARNING: Details about the film will be revealed *

Mike Nichols’ romantic comedy about a plucky secretary from Staten Island is Number 8 in my 30 day Film Notes series.

For newcomers, this month-long series of posts involves me watching a film every day for 30 days.

The following rules apply:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Working Girl (1988) which I watched on Film4 via PVR on Wednesday 29th March.

  • Mike Nichols directed two films released in 1988, the other was Biloxi Blues.
  • Love the snap of how we go straight from the Fox logo right into the opening chord of Carly Simon’s song.
  • Brilliant opening helicopter shot, as the camera swings around the Statue of Liberty to reveal the Twin Towers.
  • Nice fade on to the Staten Island ferry that maintains the smoothness of shot from the chopper – maybe a Steadicam on a built set?
  • When watching films of this period I find it very hard to accept that the World Trade Centre is not there any more.
  • Opening titles reveal the serious talent that worked on this movie: Mike Nichols, Michael Ballhaus (DP), Sam O’Steen (editor), Ann Roth (costumes) and Carly Simon (song).
  • Interestingly Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver get top billing over Melanie Griffith – maybe that proves the theme of the film?
  • It is almost a companion film to WALL STREET (1987) – although a comedy-drama, it is about yuppies and the struggle to get promoted in late 1980s New York, and two hungry outsiders (Tess McGill/Bud Fox) who ultimately betray a mentor figure (Katharine Parker/Gordon Gecko).
  • Good screenwriting in the opening scene  – dialogue reveals early on that Tess is thinking of evening classes on her birthday (shows her determination and desire early on)
  • It is a kaleidoscope of 80s fashions on the office floor.
  • Very good contemporary costume work by Ann Roth – sometimes it is easy to forget how hard it is to create a non-period film.
  • Oscars for Best Costume are so often awarded to the obvious period movies.
  • A pre-X Files David Duchovny can be seen behind Alec Baldwin in the surprise birthday scene
  • Alec Baldwin as the Staten Island boyfriend and Kevin Spacey as the coke snorting, champagne swilling arbitrageur shows the depth of talent in the cast.
  • Nichols and his casting director Juliet Taylor have a great eye for talent
  • Drug taking, porn watching and sexism on Wall Street – this is all too relevant to today’s banks. Only now the taxpayer is paying for it!
  • Tess’ revenge on the office floor is brilliant because it really hits Oliver Platt where it hurts (insulting his manhood)
  • Olympia Dukakis in a small but notable cameo as the personnel director (the year her cousin Michael lost out on the Presidency to Bush Snr.)
  • Tess is 30 years old  and it was clever touch to have Sigourney Weaver’s character a few days younger than Melanie Griffith – it gives their relationship an extra tension and Tess more motivation
  • Weaver’s dialogue is great: I wonder how many people were tempted to use that trick of saying “I’m in a meeting rather on another line”
  • Katharine: “Dress shabbily, they notice the dress. Dress impeccably, they notice the woman – Coco Chanel!”
  • Clothes actually important to the story – not only are they are sign of status but an indicator of Tess’ social mobility.
  • Nora Dunn – another fine casting choice. Look out for her as the Christiane Amanpour type in THREE KINGS (1999).
  • Tess reads a lot because “you never know where the big ideas might come from”. Good advice for anyone.
  • The lighting suggests Weaver’s corner office may be a set (if I was watching it in HD I could probably tell)
  • Sam O’Steen’s editing is impeccably smooth – no wonder he Nichols kept returning to him after his legendary work on THE GRADUATE (1967).
  • Weaver’s red dress in the dumplings scene is absolutely striking.
  • Katherine: “Never burn bridges. Today’s junior prick, tomorrow’s junior partner”
  • Tess has a radio idea! Does this tie in with the numerous mergers in the late 80s? Mel Karmazin, Infinity and all that? Or was that later?
  • The uncomfortable reactions from Baldwin towards the idea that Tess has a female boss are well played.
  • It is so perfect that Weaver’s character has a skiing accident – the yuppie boss brought low by the ultimate yuppie sport.
  • Great production design for Weaver’s apartment – the Warhol painting, exercise bike and personal dictaphone all nice touches.
  • Nice use of sound design to reveal key plot point e.g. Katharine has lied and stolen Tess’ idea
  • Early use of email in a film on a IBM PS/2 70 computer  (this was two years before the world wide web was invented!)
  • When Tess catches her boyfriend having sex notice the clever repeated line of dialogue. Baldwin: “No class?” Griffith: “No class”. The question and statement reveal a lot about their characters.
  • For Tess the Staten Island Ferry seems to be her equivalent of the beach at the end of THE 400 BLOWS (1959) – a place where she finds solace in solitude
  • We get Katherine’s full CV in one shot – a typically status obsessed Who’s Who entry.
  • The whole film is basically a morality play about the power a secretary has over her boss – kind of like WALL STREET (1987) meets MY FAIR LADY (1964), but in reverse.
  • The fact that Tess is wearing Katherine’s dress is nice – functions as revenge for stealing her idea and also highlights their respective gulf in salary (Tess has to drop a Valium on learning the price “$6,000!”)
  • Joan Cusack is terrific in a supporting role as Tess friend
  • Tess on justifying cutting her locks off: “You want to be taken seriously, you need serious hair”
  • Harrison Ford – who had top billing remember – only appears about 30 mins into the movie.
  • It is a convenient movie coincidence that Tess and Jack hook up so quickly, but maybe he was subconsciously attracted to Katherine’s dress (which Tess is wearing).
  • Ford was great in the 1980s – in the Indy series and here he showed comic timing, screen presence and old school charm.
  • Note the contrast between Ford’s old school gentleman and Weaver’s hypocritical boss
  • Nice shot composition as Ford offers Tess a nightcap
  • Mercifully Nichols spares us a jazz-flavoured sex scene (all the rage in the 1980s) by tastefully cutting straight to the morning after
  • Nice zoom shot to indicate Tess twigging that she has just spent the night with one of the guys around the table.
  • Is the stock repurchase Tess suggests the same as the leveraged buyouts Gordon Gecko (and actual Wall Street guys were doing).
  • Joan Cusack plays the “coffee, tea, me?” bit perfectly. I imagine Nichols knew it would get an audience reaction.
  • Tess: “Why didn’t you say you were you last night?” Key line which applies to Tess as much as Jack.
  • Jack’s gift to Tess actually means something (although he doesn’t know it yet).
  • Tess’ costume change (“you look different”) marks the distance between her new career and old life
  • Thankfully Nichols resisted the temptation of not having Tess actually wear a red dress to Chris Deburgh’s Lady in Red.
  • Baldwin proposal scene is splendidly awkward.
  • Ford getting changed in his office (and getting applause from his co-workers) is a great visual gag (again the motif of clothes – so key in the workplace).
  • Tess: “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up.” Let’s get this engraved somewhere. Seriously.
  • Katherine is deliciously saucy in the hospital bed scene. We just know she has done something filthy off-screen with that doctor.
  • Street scenes in New York are where the ADs really earn their dough – you can easily spot extras staring into the camera
  • It’s nice that Jack has some insecurities about deal making that mirror Tess’.
  • Ann Roth’s costumes in the wedding scene are brilliant – note that Tess is wearing a white dress at the wedding but it blends in anyway.
  • Ricki Lake has a cameo at the wedding.
  • This is a wonderful riff on the conventional movie wedding – it plays like a heist scene crossed with a business deal and the acting from Ford and Griffith is delightful
  • Notice how the short scene when they celebrate the deal is free of dialogue – just a passionate kiss
  • Sex scene reflects the occasional awkwardness of love making (e.g. Men have trouble getting their shirts off as the cuffs stick)
  • Simple but effective compositions in the bedroom scene
  • Katharine returns almost like a spoilt child – is the gorilla toy a King Kong reference?
  • Ford and Weaver’s chemistry is fantastic – you really do get the feeling that they’ve been a couple.
  • Solid visual comedy with Griffith eavesdropping on the unsuspecting couple in the bedroom.
  • Katherine: “Can Little Jack come out to play?” LOL.
  • Filofax provides key plot turning point – Katherine is betrayed by Tess (parallels to the way Gecko finds out about Bud’s betrayal)
  • Ford and Griffith convincingly say “I love you” to each other – not an easy thing for any actor ever to do.
  • Note the Arthurian round table, which might reflect Bosco’s good heart.
  • The analogy Philip Bosco’s character makes about the deal with the vehicle stuck in the tunnel is great and reflects the whole story of the film (i.e. Tess is the 10 year old girl who has the good idea)
  • Weaver is splendidly villainous in the climactic boardroom scene
  • Beautiful shot of Tess and the Statue of Liberty at magic hour as she contemplates what might have been.
  • Tess turquoise dress and Baldwin’s tuxedo are more examples of Ann Roth’s costume work. Shades of EDUCATING RITA (1984) in that scene – possibly an influence on the whole script?
  • Katharine: “Oh my god. She’ll stop at nothing!”
  • When Tess does the elevator pitch to Philip Bosco and refers to the Forbes and Page Six articles the talk show host she mentions (“Bobby Stein”) is clearly referring to Howard Stern.
  • The climactic comeuppance for Katharine is beautifully written and played by all concerned (“get your bony ass out of my sight”).
  • Tess on why she didn’t explain the truth earlier: “No one was going to listen. Not to me. I mean, you can bend the rules plenty once you get upstairs but not when you’re trying to get there. And if you’re someone like me, you can’t get there without bending the rules.”
  • Lunchbox briefcase that Jack gives Tess echoes his earlier briefcase present.
  • Really great closing scene. Plays with our expectations and the characters at the same time – that’s proper filmmaking.
  • Tess is also told to hit SHIFT-ESC for her schedule on her IBM DOS PC. Early days for office computers.
  • A great closing scene to a movie can cover all manner of sins. To a really good one it just gives the audience an extra lift e.g. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
  • Tess: “I expect you to call me Tess. I don’t expect you fetch me coffee unless you’re getting some for yourself. The rest, we’ll just make up as we go along. OK?”
  • Film ends on a nice note of female solidarity to balance out all the feuding with Katharine – it also echoes an earlier scene but you get the feeling that Tess is really going to be the boss Katherine should have been.
  • Old school optical effect for the closing shot of Tess in window?
  • Nice symmetry to the beginning and end of the film – camera move pulls back to reveal Tess as part of the Manhattan skyline. This contrasts with the opening where it swooped in on here going to work.

Film Notes #7: Etre et Avoir (2002)

* SPOILER WARNING: Details about the film will be revealed *

Nicolas Philibert‘s documentary about a small rural school in France is Number 7 in my 30 day Film Notes series.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. It must be a film I have already seen.
  2. I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Etre et Avoir (2002) (English translation: “To Be and to Have”) I watched on watched on a DVD on Wednesday 28th March.

  • Acclaimed French documentary about a primary school in the Auvergne region.
  • Very sparse and simple opening titles reflect the style of what is to come.
  • Shot of the turtles waddling about the classroom unexpectedly funny because it is real.
  • Opens in winter – was this shot over a six month period?
  • I’d forgotten that French van headlights are yellow
  • The school is in Saint-Étienne-sur-Usson in the Auvergne region of France
  • Camera movements very still and editing very considered, presumably not to freak out the kids
  • Mr Lopez looks remarkably like Steve Jobs
  • Opening lesson of drawing and discussion is quite soothing to watch
  • Bit where kid says he’s seen a ghost and scares the girl opposite him is charming
  • One can’t watch this without thinking of Antoine in THE 400 BLOWS (1959) even though the teacher in Truffaut’s film is a dictator
  • Philibert captures a lot of the human drama of a primary school classroom
  • Natural lighting had to be used to keep the pupils reactions real, but one wonders how the film differed from the unfilmed lessons
  • The way Lopez talks to Jojo about the fish and the purpose of school is remarkable – patient, considered and wise
  • English schools can learn a lot from the cooking scenes – notice how Lopez doesn’t mind mistakes and injects genuine fun into them.
  • Lopez mediating the fight between Julien and Olivier is visually interesting – notice how the camera stays on the two boys and we only hear the teacher.
  • The shot is held for an unusually long time – was this out of necessity (e.g. conditions of filming in a school) or a stylistic choice?
  • Hard to watch the kid on the verge of tears – shows what a tough time childhood can be
  • Do five year olds drive tractors in France?!
  • Kid at kitchen table learning pointless maths exercises brings back flashbacks!
  • Maybe every generation of parent has to cope with hopeless arithmetic set for their children?
  • Mr Lopez seems genuinely interested in the fact that one of his pupils wants to be a vet – why can’t all careers advice be like this?!
  • Getting pupils to draw and think about numbers is a very good idea
  • This was presumably shot in the winter of 2001-02 as it premiered at Cannes in May 2002
  • The problems the parent discusses of her child being distant are handled by Lopez with a tactful wisdom (also highlight the long term dilemma of teaching maths!)
  • Lopez says he’s been teaching dictations for 35 years and at this particular school for 20.
  • The discussion of Tahiti and Brittany is classic
  • “Middle school” seems such a long way off – funny how life divides up into different periods
  • Child washing paint off his hands and a wasp provided the poster
  • Lopez handles the Jojo pushing incident like King Solomon
  • Kid of five preparing pasta! No wonder the French have the best chefs in the world
  • Lopez talking to camera about 60 mins in is almost a monologue scene, breaking with the verite style
  • He clearly is a natural born teacher – loves the job and finds it genuinely rewarding.
  • Lopez’s father was a Spanish immigrant from Andalucia – maybe he left because of the Civil War?
  • This part of the film should actually be used in teacher recruitment.
  • Kids using photocopier unexpectedly hilarious – even adults still get things upside down.
  • Despite Lopez’s explanation I still don’t understand the whole masculine/feminine thing in the French language.
  • I realise language evolved this way but does it really make sense to apply gender differences to objects like windows or pens?
  • Nice cut to the photocopier repair man, hinting that the two pupils broke it earlier.
  • College sequence brings memories of making the leap from primary to secondary school.
  • Film accurately reflects how massive that seems at the time.
  • Discussion of counting billions between Lopez and Jojo is actually philosophically interesting.
  • Love the way Lopez handles Julien in the garden – his father presumably has throat cancer? – but he handles the situation with his customary wisdom and sensitivity
  • Natalie’s birthday is a nice small snapshot (one of many)
  • The shot of rainbow suggests the filmmakers were either a) unbearably patient b) lucky or c) it was a stolen shot
  • Jojo on the train: “What does derail mean?”
  • Idyllic picnic in the French countryside.
  • New pupils arriving (so small!) show the cycle
  • Two Valentins reflects the fact that classrooms often contain more than one name
  • The way Lopez handles the infant boy crying for his mum is very cool indeed
  • Scene where Lopez deals with Natalie’s shyness contains more drama than many features.
  • The leaving scene makes French kissing on the cheeks seem normal (even to an Englishman).
  • Shot on film rather than digital
  • Used natural light because spot lights would have freaked out the kids
  • There are brief moments when you can catch the kids glancing into the camera
  • Philibert wanted to make a film out of the drama of “life’s little nothings”
  • Childhood is a very big deal whilst you are actually living through it – the film reflects this
  • He never does films “about” but rather “with” – desires to tell a story without heavy handed narration or didactic voiceover
  • This makes it very different from the instructional form of documentary that we often see on TV
  • The film is a experiential reconstruction of events rather than
  • Filmmaking choices were often made on the hoof
  • Sensitive film stock used along with wide angle lenses (and presumably quiet Arriflex cameras)
  • It was never intended to be an inspiration to teachers, but it may have that effect on viewers
  • Patience, ability to listen and sense of calm are key to Lopez’s success as a teacher
  • His words
  • Note how pupils are encouraged to help one another – helps build confidence and solidarity
  • Philibert thinks the documentary form can have a poetic and metaphoric quality rather than just showing facts
  • The film is a wonderful counterblast to the notion of teachers as lazy or useless (the standard right wing line about the profession)
  • Ultimately it is about how the transmission of knowledge and experience can be a wonderful thing.
  • The real life postscript to the film is incredibly sad.
  • I prefer to remember his words as he trims his hedge: “Everything that you put in, the children always return it.”