Film in Oxford: 21st June – 27th June

In last week’s column I discussed American showbiz pianist Liberace’s relationship with his lover Scott Thorson in Behind the Candelabra, which spectacularly devolves from passion and decadence into unhealthy dependence and addiction. As a case study of a relationship’s nuances, the film has countless precedents, but few have been as celebrated as director Richard Linklater’s ‘Before Sunrise’ series. Before Sunrise [1995] charts the chance meeting of an American man and a Frenchwoman on an Austrian train, and follows them as they spend the night talking and wandering around Vienna. By limiting the boundaries of the film (in terms of time covered, narrative action and cast size), Linklater was able to create a remarkably intricate and dialogical character study while providing a realistic and subtle portrayal of romance. Before Sunrise was initially intended as a standalone film, but nine years later the characters of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) were revisited for Before Sunset [2004]. At this point, Jesse and Celine have long fallen out of contact; Jesse has married, had a son, and become a successful author. After hearing that Jesse will be in Paris for a book tour, Celine decides to meet him and the two are temporarily reunited.

Before Midnight (Phoenix Picturehouse, from 21st June), the third instalment in the series, fast-forwards a further nine years. Jesse is now on holiday with Celine in Greece, having left his wife and son for a new life in Paris with her. They have infant twin girls, and have settled down. In a recent interview, Ethan Hawke concisely summarised the change of situation from film to film: Before Sunrise is “about what could be”, Before Sunset is “about what should have been”, and Before Midnight is “about what is.” No longer is Jesse and Celine’s relationship a beautiful possibility, or an alternative present to be yearned for, but a reality. In Before Midnight, love is not illustrated through implicit desire or palpable chemistry, but through a mutual understanding, through reassurance and compromise. Like Sunrise and Sunset, Midnight takes place in a limited time period, but – unlike its prequels – the relationship is now part of a larger context, and much of the film’s content concerns those characters not present. Jesse spends much of the film worrying about being apart from his teenage son, and this causes tension between him and Celine, between the past and the present. The series has proven to be astoundingly popular, perhaps for its ability to allow people to experience a day in the life of another couple. Those who watched the first film in 1995 have grown up with Jesse and Celine, and the ‘Before Sunrise’ films offer a chance for comparison, idealisation and reflection on life and love.

To a greater extent than its preceding films, Before Midnight is concerned with familial – as well as romantic – relationships, and the increased emphasis on fatherhood is a narrative thread in common with another of this week’s films, Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines (Ultimate Picture Palace, from 21st June). The film is a kind of triptych, covering the interaction between two generations and two families in Schenectady, NY (Schenectady means ‘the place beyond the pines’ in Mohawk). The first part centers on Luke (Ryan Gosling), a stunt motorcyclist for a travelling fair who, passing through Schenectady, discovers that he has a newborn son, Jason, with ex-lover Romina (Eva Mendes). The responsibility of caring for Jason necessitates a dramatic change in lifestyle, and Luke leaves the fair to start working in a car repair shop, before turning to crime. The second part of the triptych shifts focus to a middle-class policeman, Avery (Bradley Cooper), who is undeservedly being celebrated as a police hero. Overcome by guilt and pulled into corruption, Avery’s family becomes torn apart, and his wife leaves him, along with their son AJ. The final section jumps forwards by fifteen years or so; Jason and AJ are now teenagers, and have become high-school classmates drawn into drug dealing. The sudden change of tempo and time period here follows Cianfrance’s experimentation with non-linear narratives in 2010’s Blue Valentine, and serves to draw Luke and Avery’s parts of the film together. The Place Beyond the Pines studies themes of paternity, responsibility and consequence, and shares with the ‘Before Sunrise’ series an emphasis on sporadic insight rather than constant narrative development.

Refugee Week (17th-23rd June) prompted two one-off showings of films (I am Nasrine and Piercing Brightness) that considered issues of immigration and intercultural dynamics. Such themes are a staple of post-9/11 cinema, as filmmakers attempt to illustrate the unprecedented shift in global politics that it provoked. It is these changes that lie at the core of The Reluctant Fundamentalist (The Ultimate Picture Palace, from 21st June), adapted from the 2007 novel of the same name by Mohsin Hamid. The film follows upper class Pakistani Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed) as he becomes disillusioned with the capitalist, pro-Western values that he once celebrated. Before 9/11, Changez was a successful Wall Street economist in love with an American artist (Erica, played by Kate Hudson), but as the world changes around him he becomes a victim of suspicion and stereotyping.

Like The Reluctant Fundamentalist, French director Olivier Assayas’s Something in the Air (The Ultimate Picture Palace, from 21st June) is concerned with exploring the aftermath of an important political change. The film takes place several years after the student rebellions that occurred in France in May 1968 (alluded to in the original French title Après Mai), and has been seen by many as a semi-autobiographical account of Assayas’s youth. Something in the Air chronicles the journey of a seventeen-year-old student (Gilles, played by Clément Métayer) around Italy as he – along with his friend Alain – attempts to spread the revolutionary spirit. The protagonists of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Something in the Air share many similarities; they both inhabit worlds in which the repercussions of major political events have come to not only shape others’ perceptions, but also lead them to question their own self-identification. Both Changez and Gilles come to doubt their previous ideological beliefs; Changez turns his back on capitalism, and Gilles reconsiders Marxism’s utopian ideals. The films are less about 9/11 or the May protests, and more about individuals redefining themselves in the wake of these events.

This week the Malmaison hotel rooftop cinema will be screening classic romance Dirty Dancing [1987] (Fri. 21st); goofy comedy Anchorman [2004] (Sat. 22nd); and British caper film The Italian Job [1969] (Thurs. 27th). Also showing in Oxford between the 21st-27th June are: live stream of Pompeii… (Phoenix, Sat. 22nd); English romance drama Summer in February (Phoenix); Bengalese drama Pather Panchali [1955] (Phoenix, Sun. 23rd); comedy The Pink Panther [1964] (Phoenix, Mon. 24th); a Wallace and Gromit double bill, The Wrong Trousers / A Close Shave [1993/1995] (Phoenix, Sat. 22nd); Shane Meadows’ documentary The Stone Roses: Made of Stone (Phoenix); crime drama Bonnie & Clyde [1967] (UPP); zombie thriller World War Z (Odeon George St) and animation sequel Despicable Me 2 (Odeon George St). Several films discussed in last week’s column are also still showing: Behind the Candelabra (Phoenix); The Great Gatsby (Phoenix); and Mud (UPP).

J. Wadsworth

The day of showing is given for a film when there is only one screening between the 21st-27th June; all other films mentioned will be screened at least twice during this time. Any cinema listings given were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change or cancellation. All films were released in 2013 unless stated otherwise.

For up-to-date listings and to book tickets please follow these links: Phoenix PicturehouseUltimate Picture PalaceOdeon George StOdeon Magdalen StMalmaison Rooftop Cinema. If you know of any film events or showings that you think should be included here in the future then please e-mail J. Wadsworth at theoxfordculturereview@gmail.com

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