A Day In The Life – Four Portraits of Post-War Britain, John Krish, 92 mins (U)
My Afternoons With Marguerite, Jean Becker, 82 mins (15)
These superb documentaries manage to invoke nostalgia, even for misery
Sunday 14 November 2010
This week's best film is, in fact, four films.
Compiled for the BFI's Boom Britain season, A Day In The Life – Four Portraits of Post-War Britain is a quartet of fascinating black-and-white documentaries, all written and directed by John Krish, and all of them immeasurably moving, funny, or both. Their resonance is all the more amazing when you learn that they were shot as promotional films. The Elephant Will Never Forget (1953) was commissioned by British Transport to commemorate the trams which were being banished from London's roads (and it's such a powerful requiem that it earnt Krish the sack). They Took Us to the Sea (1961) was an NSPCC fund-raising tool, showing a gaggle of Birmingham children on a day-trip to Weston-super-Mare. Our School (1962) was a National Union of Teachers plug for the brave new world of secondary moderns. And, last but not least, I Think They Call Him John (1964) was a Samaritans tear-jerker, depicting a widowed pensioner's empty Sunday.
In short, each film was calculated to have a specific effect on a contemporary audience, and yet it's easy to feel that Krish was making them to be watched now, 50 years on, because he wanted us to see exactly what British life was like in the Fifties and Sixties. The voice-overs may lecture us on grand social themes – charity, education, community – but Krish lets his camera linger on all sorts of small domestic details, as if he knew that the sight of an old man cooking sausages or a child drinking a glass of milk in a café would be just as arresting to denizens of the far-flung future.
Today, for all the poverty and loneliness they include, the Four Portraits are likely to make us nostalgic for the polite, pre-ironic era when there weren't empty Red Bull cans on pavements. But that nostalgic tinge isn't just overlaid by the viewer: it's hard-wired into the films themselves. Krish is keenly aware that the times are a-changing, and while he celebrates the space-age cleanliness of Our School, he keeps an eye on what's being swept away by the march of progress. No wonder A Day In The Life is so poignant. We're not just getting nostalgia, we're getting nostalgia squared.
In My Afternoons With Marguerite, Gérard Depardieu's oafish odd-job man is renowned around town for his stupidity, but when an old woman starts reading him excerpts from her favourite novels at lunchtimes, he regains his self-respect. What's notable about the film is the assurance and precision of Gisèle Casadesus, a 96-year-old actress who's been in the business since the 1930s. But, Casadesus aside, it's all too mild and cosy to get very excited about, set as it is in a leafy historic ville where the sun always shines. Depardieu may be a lumbering simpleton, but that doesn't stop him having a shapely blonde girlfriend half his age.
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Also Showing: 14/11/2010
Skyline (92 mins, 15)
This sub-Cloverfield alien-invasion schlock has some impressively disgusting monsters, but the dreadful script and charmless acting make it truly walk-outable, Brittany Daniel not withstanding.
You Again (105 mins, U)
Kristen Bell revisits her home town to find that her brother is marrying the former prom queen who made her life hell at school. The film gets off to a jaunty start, before defaulting to song and dance routines, and shots of people falling over.
Brilliantlove (101 mins, 18)
A bohemian couple called, er, Manchester and Noon live a carefree life of sex and shoplifting until Manchester sells their intimate photos to an art dealer. The numerous bedroom scenes may be convincing, but nothing else is.
Aftershock (135 mins, 15)
One of China's most successful ever films, this soapy saga charts the repercussions of 1976's Tangshan earthquake on a family for decades afterwards.
Fezeka's Voice (78 mins, PG)
Heart-warming documentary about a school choir from a South African township preparing for a trip to Britain.
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