review

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The Independent Culture
When Jeremy Howe told his children that their mother was dead (she had been murdered on an Open University summer school at which she was teaching), his daughter Lucy wailed, "But Daddy, you can't cook". Nothing else in Howe's unusual film for Picture This (BBC2) quite matched that untutored shock of grief - a child's solipsism permitting the expression of fears that adults learn to suppress.

What surrounded it was an altogether more knowing account of loss, private sorrow carefully worked into a public artefact. Howe brought a trained self-consciousness to this endeavour. As a director and drama producer he was presumably well used to exploring emotions in the abstract, and his ambition for this film was initially less personally focused - to make a film "about grief in general". An early discovery must have been that "grief in general" is a contradiction in terms. The sadness an audience feels watching this film can be nothing like the emotions he felt; the specifics are all, whether they are memories of the last joke you shared or dark imaginings about the death of the one you loved.

It wasn't entirely surprising, either, given Howe's background, that his version of grief should be such a literary one - presented in metaphors of a poetic cleanliness - frozen ground, empty fields, fallen trees, the howl of wind. As the title ("A Moving Image") suggested, ideas about how pictures can convey emotion were at the heart of the film, from the mysterious presence of people in snapshots to the images conjured by the mind to express its pain, which Howe recreated on screen.

Some of these scenes were more successful than others - the recurrent close-up of rain on a windscreen, the glass swept clean by wipers then spattering into obscurity again, wasn't simply a trite metaphor for tears, but also a reference to the way grief alternately blurs and clears your vision. On the other hand, the car-wreck which accompanied Howe's remarks about the destructive power of bereavement, was less effective. These images - children's toys in the snow, personal effects scattered from bags - have been used too often by directors with a less legitimate claim to their effects. What were absent, too (maybe because Howe never experienced them), were the less decorous aspects of grief: the uncertainty about the protocol of bereavement (when is it permissable to laugh again?) or even guilt at the persistence of appetites.

Howe finished with his most powerful device, adding another twist to the ambiguity of the title. What you took to be a snapshot of his dead wife, looking away from the camera, suddenly revealed itself as video, when she turned to smile at the camera. It would be facile to describe this as a sort of resurrection, even if the conventional way of describing the effect would be to say that the picture "came to life". But if you had been holding back your tears before, this was probably the moment that jolted them free, a poignant reminder of that vanished vitality for which Howe had been hopelessly searching.

I caught up late with Modern Times's film (BBC2) about age-gap couples, and was glad I had. Sheree Folkson is an adept, inventive film-maker and if some of her conceits struck you as a bit self-indulgent (lots of 360- degree pans, swirling round couples clamped at the lips; those chic sans serif titles), she also proved she has a sharp eye - a close-up of a man's Beano Annual collection made a tart comment on his mental age without uttering a word.

I did find myself wondering, though, what moral difference there was between this enjoyably prurient film and one of those American fiestas of emotional exhibitionism, in which people come into the studio to display their wounds ("Guys who married women as old as their mom" perhaps). If you think it is the whooping audience, yelling scornful comments at the participants, then you watch TV in a far more restrained fashion than I do.

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