Histoires du Cinéma

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It was such a small, inconspicuous building with a little wrought iron balcony on the first floor but if you pushed open the door gently, you found yourself next to a stand full of sweets where you could also buy tickets. This was probably my first cinema going experience in my local town; a place which showed the Adventures of Baren Munchausen, Charlotte's Web, Watership Down and The Neverending Story among others. The audience was mainly teenagers who threw sweets and got into fights. Sadly, my passion for films wasn't shared by the other locals and the place closed down long ago, transformed into just another cheesy disco where drunks hang around. Yet there was something about sitting in the darkness and being transported to a different world by the images up there on the screen that I couldn't get enough of.

My parents were keen to introduce me to Eurpean cinema (well, they did meet at a film club!) and took me along to see Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources when they first came out and I was so excited by the swashbuckling and poetry of Cyrano de Bergerac that I swallowed my chewing gum. The cinema there was upstairs in a university building. They tore you a ticket off a roll and the walls were decorated with film posters, including Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It and 37.2 le matin or Betty Blue, a film I was forbidden to see at the time but which shocked me and made me think at the time that all French girls were like Béatrice Dalle! The place too has disappeared and was moved into a modern culture complex in the centre of Derby which is impressive but not somewhere I feel I could ever be attached to. Only the Broadway cinema in Nottingham is left where I first went when I was 17 to see It's A Wonderful Life with James Stewert, something I've done every Christmas. I love climbing the stairs up to the big auditorium, sitting in the the most comfortable purple seats, some of which are dedicated to favourite films, stars or diretors and feeling that thrill of excitement when the lights go down. I often used to spend all of Sunday there, with breaks for tea and sandwiches and it felt strange coming out of the darkness back to the bright afternoon sunshine afterwards. Even today, there’s something wonderful about being able to lose yourself in a film for a couple of hours, especially when things aren’t going so well.

Below are some films and directors that I really love:

The depressing ones

The Seventh Seal + Persona + Wild Strawberries + The Shame + Scenes From a Marriage by Ingmar Bergman

At high school we had a Marxist teacher who one day showed us film clips, including The Seventh Seal. I don't know why but something about it really fascinated me; the dramatic music at the beginning when the sky opens, the sound of the waves breaking incessantly on the shore and Max Von Sydow. That began my Bergman obsession which still continues today; I love the sadness and warmth of the road journey in Wild Strawberries, the questions of identity of Persona (and Nykvist putting the faces of Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson together) ,the terrifying reality of The Shame and the painful insights of Scenes From a Marriage.

As a teenager, I was also obsessed with Louis Malle’s Le Feu Follet. It’s a dark but not depressing story about a suicidal alcoholic but I love its existential honesty, beautiful photography and am always touched by the world weariness of Maurice Ronet’s face. Perhaps it's still my favourite film, but then I have so many...

Film noir and gangster films

I’ve always had a serious weakness for films by Jean-Pierre Melville; for me he’s really a filmmaker’s filmmaker. Also, he was clearly a man after my own heart, comparing his film to a millefeuille; some would only focus on the cream, while more discerning viewers would also appreciate the pastry. I love the moodiness and tragedy of Le Doulos, the solitude of Le Samourai and the amazing tension and beauty of Le Cercle Rouge. That’s not forgetting my admiration for the films of John Huston either (Bogie’s one of my favourite actors too), especially The Asphalt Jungle and The Maltese Falcon.

Comedies

Until recently, I didn’t have so many comedies in my film collection. That was until I came down with the flu at the beginning of the year and the idea of a Bergman marathon was too depressing even for me. That’s when I discovered the anarchy of the Marx Brothers, with a special preference for Duck Soup and the joy of screwball comedies with Katherine Hepburn.

As a kid, I watched the Purple Rose of Cairo and Hannah and Her Sisters obsessively so it won’t surprise you I’m a Woody Allen fan (you either like him or hate him). I adore Annie Hall – her driving, her singing, his childhood house under the rollercoaster and when his former classmates say where they are today – along with Manhattan (for Mariel Hemingway and the black and white shots), Bullets Over Broadway, Manhattan Murder Mystery and the two films mentioned above. I still haven’t gotten hold of Shadows and Fog, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy or Broadway Danny Rose yet though. P.S, I was always dragging people along to see le Chagrin et la Pitié so it made me laugh when I saw Woody Allen doing that in Annie Hall.

Wong Kar-Wai

2046 is not as perfect as In the Mood for Love but somehow it fascinates me, the way the memory of someone we’ve lost never leaves us and how we look for them in others. There’s the beautiful black and white scene in the car with Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi played against the theme of Barbara and Julien from Truffaut’s Vivement Dimanche, and the most heartwrenching farewell scene ever with Gong Li.

Chungking Express for Faye Wong, Tony Leung and the homage to Gloria.

After reading all of that, you’re probably hungry right? I feel bad not being able to offer you much but it’s still so damn hot to switch on the oven, plus I have my birthday picnic weekend coming up which will involve some serious baking. To make up for that, I’d like to tell you about my favourite restaurant in Berlin. It was my friend Ju who found it. Ever since I met her last year, Tuesdays have always been special for me because we try a different restaurant each week. It’s also wonderful to be with someone who loves chocolate as much as me and whose favourite part of the meal is the dessert. Friedrichshain is an area in the old East with cobbled streets and miles of bars and cafés. Datscha in on the corner of one of them; luckily the pizza place opposite is (underservedly) popular so getting a table isn’t normally a problem. Inside, there’s a Soviet style living room lined with pictures of Lenin and other communist memorabilia. We sat outside and enjoyed the fading sunshine. Berlin seems so full of energy and colour in the summer.

Every meal I’ve had there has been superb but I have a special weakness for the bortsch, the filled pasta with potatoes and sour cream and the Zupfkuchen (see photo below, and I also promise to give you a recipe for this soon). Last time, they were out of Zupfkuchen so we chose the warm blinis with blackberries and quark, something so delicious words fail me for once. Going against our habits, we return there week after week to savour every mouthful and chat in French. The summer is going by so quickly; soon the evenings will grow shorter and Ju will return to Paris for good. I’m not sure when I’ll return there without her but luckily there are still a few more Tuesdays left.


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