Hurrah for The Sorority! Actually, now I come to think of it, I have seen lots of films this year by women directors, but Sunday’s were an exceptional treat. Two British films and one French-Lebanon-Egypt-Italian cooperation, which is where I will start.
Nadine Labaki has set her new film Where do we go now? in a remote Middle Eastern village, accessible only by a damaged bridge and surrounded by minefields. Largely cut off from the outside world, the Muslim and Christian communities have lived in reasonable harmony for many centuries. But access to television and radio brings the more combative and violent world into their homes, and small incidents are leading to greater and more violent outbursts of temper. The women devise a strategy to defuse the situation.
This is a tragi-comic film of great power and beauty. The opening sequence has a mildly Bollywood flavour, but embued with a depth of grief that makes it hard to watch – about 50 women clad in black make a ceremonial dance through the dust of an unmade-up road towards a cemetery, there they separate and each goes to a grave, the photographs of young men show sons and husbands that have been cut down in their prime.
There are several other song and dance routines, some romantic and some just immensely funny, what this lacks in colour it makes up for in spades of emotion. The palette is muted but the message is written in blood.
The other two films I went to are new British films: the first one, a full-length film directorial debut triumph for Dictynna Hood, is called Wreckers; the second one is a documentary, which I hope will reach our cinemas soon as it is uncomfortable but necessary viewing for a society with so many people living on their own, and it is called Dreams of a Life.
Wreckers, which has a female lead played by Claire Foy, is another story set in a rural village, this might be anywhere in Britain, though actually I think it is Oxfordshire. A flat, agricultural landscape almost devoid of people, though there is a motorway that hums in the distance and military planes pass overhead (silently! in my experience they are often followed by the most shattering noise, these were eerily quiet) and in it a family relationship that seems to fall to pieces and then coalesce into mute acceptance of frailty.
Dawn (Claire Foy) marries David (Benedict Cumberbatch) Johnson and moves into the locality of his childhood, though not the family farm which is derelict. They are renovating their house and living in it at the same time while both of them are also teaching. Returning home one evening, Dawn finds David’s younger brother Nick (Shaun Evans) home on leave (from an unspecified war zone). The Johnson brothers are clearly pathological liars and Dawn is beginning to realise that she hardly knows her husband, and at the same time, his brother is showing emotional instability: possibly from the effect of his childhood or his wartime trauma, either way the situation becomes explosive.
The state of the family farm and the state of the house they live in, which is the background to this story, is deeply woven into the current state of mind of the people who live there now and who have lived there as told to Dawn (and us) by Nick while they walk through the village. Nature (even human nature) is red in tooth and claw.
This is the most incredibly brave debut, the photography is immaculate and beautiful, and there is a dreamlike quality to even the daytime sequences, the actors seem to be exploring the relationships in a very realistic manner and in the Q&A afterwards it quickly became clear that this was wholly part of their experience of the script and the direction. So that the combustible elements of the story seem to blow up as much to the surprise of the players as to the audience. This will surely come to a TV screen near you since it is partly funded by Film 4, but if you can see it in the cinema – so much the better.
The last film of the day was Dreams of a Life. A documentary, dramatised and investigated by Carol Morley.
In 2006, the skeletal remains of a young woman were found in a Housing Association flat in Wood Green, she had been dead for three years. She was only found when repossession officers broke into her house. Her name was Joyce Carol Vincent, but who was she and why had she dropped so significantly out of life? Since the cadaver was so decomposed, cause of death was un-ascertainable and after the coroner’s verdict and an article in The Sun Newspaper the story fell out of circulation.
But Carol Morley was haunted by the questions that this death gave rise to. How did someone die unclaimed, unmissed even? Where were the people that she knew, where were her relatives, work colleagues, friends even? With very little to go on, she advertised in papers, on taxis and placed an ad in Friends Re-United for anyone who might have known Joyce when she was alive, and through them to piece together her life-story.
In this amazing film, with a dramatic reconstruction from the often conflicting recollections of people who knew her even her family, the part of Joyce is played by the exquisitely beautiful and talented Zawe Ashton. Zawe was not parti-pris to the interviews that we see on the film, or to any of the other pieces of evidence that were not included (several people took part in the investigation but declined to appear on the film, in this country it is important to remember that choosing to be silent does not automatically imply guilt). So the dramatic reconstruction although based on circumstantial evidence, simply places Joyce in a context, a context embedded in likelihood not in fact.
In the Q&A Carol and Zawe explained in detail how they had arrived at this final result, both expressed gratitude to the members of Joyce’s circle who had come forward to appear on the film, and truly the interviews are remarkable for their bravery and honesty, but it still left many questions unanswered. But this important film should make us all question our own lives in relation to our community. You should definitely try to see it.