Genre: Psychological Thriller
Those of us left craving more after Mad Max: Fury Road may find some solace in Nimród Antal’s 2003 debut feature. Although it is darker and stranger and pre-apocalyptic, the same tension and energy remains.
Budapest subways run on an honours system, with random ticket inspections. In Control we meet an underdog group of ticket inspectors through the life-and-death world of ticket control. As the action begins, suicides have become rampant in the subway, and there seems to be more to them than first thought.
This is a frantically paced movie and liberties have been taken with the lives of transport inspectors. So much so that a mandated cold opening informs us this story of surreal mystery and danger is not representative of the real Budapest underground. This fictional version is the world for this movie, a constant electric buzzing and lack of natural light emphasise the oppressiveness and unnerving feel of this piece. This atmosphere works well with the literal and figurative underworld it plays host to. Gyula Pados’s cinematography deserves praise here for longer take and panning shots that help build the tension and tell a fast-paced story. The mood is slightly broken by certain songs on the soundtrack, but mostly holds up well. This dark, dank world has become home to Bulcsu (Sandor Csanyi) after losing his job in the world above. This story evokes struggles with vicious cycles- literally a dead-end and dangerous job, figuratively a depressive mind or imprisonment in hell.
Genre: Political Drama
Richard Eyre’s film adaptation of David Hare’s The Absence of War (1995) presents an insightful exploration of what goes on behind the scenes of a British General election. Based on David Hare’s 1993 play of the same name, and adapted by the author, it is based on observations taken from Labour’s defeat in the 1992 election. It feels realistic, and tells a compelling story about politics.
George Jones (John Thaw) plays the leader of a hopeful Labour party in a fictionalised general election. We see him struggle with fellow party members, the media and the state of British politics in an effort to seize the day and win this election for his party.
The Absence of War feels like a hyper-real docu-drama. Using BBC broadcasts, it instantly evokes a very British feel. It retains its relevance- politics today are becoming increasingly reified. George is a front of a party leader- he has been weakened by years of spin, and laments being able to tell the truth. When he does try to be genuine again, and speak his mind, he falters. This much is clear- even in 1995, this movie shows harshly that there is no place for authenticity in British politics. This message seems to become more relevant every year.
Genre: Visual Drama
Chen Kaige’s 1984 debut caused a stir in China at the time, toeing the line of criticism of the Chinese Communist party, making points still relevant today.
Set in the rural central China of 1939, Yellow Earth follows Gu Qing (Wang Xueqi), a travelling member of the Eighth Route Army. He stays with a poor family and forms a bond with a girl, Cuiqiao (Xue Bai). Cuiqiao is due to enter an arranged marriage, and is inspired by Qing’s stories about southern culture, and wishes to escape her rural life to become a soldier in the Red Army. Qing, representing the growing Maoist movement in China at the time connects with this traditional community like sandpaper. The distance between the family and Qing is beautifully shown in the awkward conversation and Zhang Yimou’s careful scene composition. Qing toes the line on becoming a criticism of the Communist Party in china at that time and their failure to help the peasants. He is either late to meet Cuiqiao so she can escape her marriage, or providing no help when he returns to find the village battling a drought. The simple, visual approach to storytelling is a refreshing aspect of this piece but the music is a close second. In these songs, the harsh realities of poor life are laid bare and character struggles that are never spoken of can be sung about. Cuiqiao sings of her fear of the marriage, and her father (Tan Tuo) rarely shows emotion, except for when he breaks into a heart-breaking song about his fears for his daughter and how she will be treated in this marriage.
Yellow Earth provides an evocative look at an old China, a place that we can still compare to inequalities in China today.