Disclaimer: The following expresses personal views informed by taste and professional experience. The text is intellectual property of the author. The imagery is credited to the relevant artists and production companies.

- Originally published in Now Then, Issue#49, April 2012;

There’s an established way of looking at films – and Art in general – as a reflection or product of their times.  One could even argue that, whatever the context or angle of critical approach, this notion is always there. It’s perhaps an attempt to pin the item in question onto a recognisable board of other previously identified varieties of the same species; or even to ground the viewer’s perception within clearer cultural parameters...
I propose taking this a step further and present here my personal view of what I consider to be the three most important films of the last three decades.
The choices I made go beyond my personal taste. Only one of them is amongst my favourite films of all time. But, just like the other two, it’s a film that not just reflects its decade, but expresses something which was then (and may very well have remained) unacknowledged.

1980’s: Nine ½ Weeks
Kim Basinger in 9 ½ Weeks (1986) 
by Adrian Lyne
This Adrian Lyne film was released in the second half of the decade which is considered by many a grey area of the 20th Century. The 80’s were, in fact and with the benefit of hindsight, the time when a lot of what it was to become very wrong with western society was cemented.
So why not pick Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987)? After all, its subject matter of ambition and greed within those who ‘play the market’ was more than accurate then and disturbingly resonant now.
Or perhaps that futuristic parable that is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) – a film that, amongst other things, expresses corporate power as a paternal entity that betrays and sacrifices its own children...
There were also, within other popular releases of the time, superior films and strong contenders to the point I’m making: David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989) or James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984).
But, what Nine ½ Weeks brings together is something much more subtle and incisive in what it has to say (despite its overtly erotic context and marketing).
For those who, having seen it or not, associate its title with sleaze from a director with a tendency for moisture-seeking material here’s a bit of background: the film encompasses the intense periods of initial seduction, moral submission and emotional deterioration between John (Mickey Rourke) and Elizabeth (Kim Basinger). It is not by chance that he is a hard, wealthy player in the patriarchal-led financial field. And it’s even less by chance that she is portrayed as a recently divorced sensitive woman with unfulfilled artistic aspirations. Their incompatible opposing worlds clash as they throw themselves into a succession of mind and sex games that have everything to do with asserting (or giving up) control.
This is all set against an impersonal backdrop of steely greys and diagonal shafts of light – quintessential 1980’s aesthetics that Lyne was very much instrumental in defining and from which we never manage to escape.
Kim Basinger in 9 ½ Weeks (1986) by Adrian Lyne
Crucial scenes that combine this with issues of identity are: Elizabeth’s backlit masturbation whilst watching a projection of slides featuring a series of tantalisingly surreal and enigmatic paintings; and her visit to the bucolic retreat of the aging artist Farnsworth, the work of whom her gallery is set to exhibit.
 Her connection with this mentally-drained artist is depicted in a brief yet poignant way. He’s portrayed as a man ill-at-ease with those superficial times – when the façade of success was as vacuous as the souls of those who branded it – and the look they exchange towards the end, at the crowded private view of his work, is more touching and powerful than anything else in the film. There is a man from another era, showing a silent understanding of what she’s going through. And she’s a victim of her own thirst for romantic entanglement – the wrong outcome of the emancipation that defined the two preceding decades.
Kim Basinger in 9 ½ Weeks (1986) 
by Adrian Lyne
In one of the last scenes in the film, when Elizabeth and John’s relationship is reaching the point of rupture, he follows her into an underground venue, where strangers voyeuristically encircle a couple having sex. In what is in part one final moment of defiance, Elizabeth begins to give herself to a man standing next to her. What her tragic tears perhaps reflect in such demeaning act is the knowledge that she will progress into the rest of her life damaged; with lower moral standards (in future relationships) and a potential pursuit of instant gratification – the main legacy of the 1980’s...

1990’s: Crash
James Spader in Crash (1996) by David Cronenberg
In a decade of increasing individualism and the growing intimacy between human beings and the modern technologies at their service, no other film can be more relevant or important than David Cronenberg’s astonishing Crash (1996).
This highly controversial film evolved from English Author JG Ballard’s prophetic book, originally published in 1973.
Intellectual views aside, the concept at its core is deceptively simple. It presents the car as the ultimate symbol of modernity: a place that allows you to be out in the world, but where you can be completely closed onto yourself. Add emotional alienation, desensitisation towards the pain of others and our continuous inability to connect with each other and you have the full metaphor which directly connects sexual urges with the car crash.
Deborah Kara Unger in Crash (1996) by David Cronenberg

The fetishism that goes with it is entirely essential for the narrative and could be equated with our avid appetite for technological gadgets.
Then, we have the novices - husband and wife James and Catherine Ballard - as the two who can ‘feel it, but not yet express it’ (and who also act as surrogates for every member of the audience who’s not a hypocrite) and the active participants, who are headlined by the Messianic figure of Vaughn.       
Elias Koteas in Crash (1996) by David Cronenberg
Contrasting the morose tone of the promiscuous couple’s interactions, we have Vaughn’s elaborations on his adopted cyber-philosophy – which is summed up in the lines: ' You're beginning to see that for the first time, there's a benevolent psychopathology that beckons towards us. For example, the car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event.' 
Less pornographic than the book, the film distils its essence to perfection. The reshaping of human anatomy through its association with the functional angles of the car – in their promise of aesthetical death and destruction – is superbly captured in cinematic terms; with the necessary lucidity of a great filmmaker.
Deborah Kara Unger in Crash (1996) by David Cronenberg
The same way that Ballard’s earlier work fit the parameters of science-fiction, Cronenberg’s had evolved from conceptual horror. This way of expanding beyond genre was itself a key aspect of the most challenging Cinema being made towards the end of the 90’s, with films like David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), Leos Carax’s Pola X (1999), Bruno Dumont’s L’Humanité (1999) and Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Things couldn’t be more different the following decade, when not just genre came back with a vengeance, but the constant rehashing of the Past took revisionist contours.
If the two previous decades expressed a spiritual void, the first ten years of the 21st Century have been defined by the affirmation of religious beliefs...

- Originally published in Now Then, Issue#53, August 2012;

The stretch limo appears to glide as it roams through crowded avenues. Something which is emphasised by the best stylised rear and side projections since Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. It’s undoubtedly like a funeral procession – mirrored in a tragedy happening elsewhere – but who’s inside this high-tech coffin?
The answer is Robert Pattinson from the Twilight Saga.
I pitched the concept of this piece to our esteemed Editor as something along the lines of ‘when actors known for a particular type of role or franchise turn up unexpectedly somewhere else’.
The list of examples, to be comprehensive, would be endless.
So I’m narrowing the scope down to one actor and the perplexing context in which this particular film has been made...

The Film:
Cosmopolis (2012) by David Cronenberg
Cosmopolis concerns the smooth descent into self-destruction of Eric Packer, a young multi-millionaire asset manager. In the course of a day, which began with the cryptic persistent need for a haircut, an almost passive Packer witnesses his highly-successful business gradually collapse from the comfort of his fully-equipped limousine.

It’s a cool, detached and theatrical affair throughout, punctuated with a succession of terrifically acted two-handers - as a series of functional characters are collected en route and later dismissed.
The unspecified threat to Packer’s life hovers from the beginning and, as the events that bring his company (and reputation) to its knees continue to unravel, it becomes apparent that his secret wish to confront it equates to one last attempt to feel alive.
I came out of the screening – to which I was accompanied by my friend, the sculptor Simon Kent - with a splitting headache. We were both hit with the proverbial sledgehammer and, to some extent, didn’t know whether we ‘liked’ it or not.
Soon I realised Cosmopolis is not a film to be liked. It’s to be absorbed and taken for what it is: probably the most pertinent film for our times; and hence appreciated for its sharpness of tone and aesthetics – which, in turn and paradoxically, makes it a remarkably enjoyable ride in my book.    

Its Source:

Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon in Cosmopolis (2012) by David Cronenberg
As it happens with adaptations to the screen, the novel from which the film is extracted expresses the central character’s internal void in a much superior manner. Don DeLillo’s prose trickles down the pages in a blend of minimalist description and immersive conscience:

There was no answer to the question. He tried sedatives and hypnotics but they made him dependent, sending him inward in tight spirals. Every act he performed was self-haunted and synthetic. The palest thought carried an anxious shadow. (…) He was reading the Special Theory tonight, in English and German, but put the book aside, finally, and lay completely still, trying to summon the will to speak the single word that would turn off the lights. Nothing existed around him. There was only the noise in his head, the mind in time.
When he died he would not end. The world would end.’ 
In the film, we look at Packer with the same detachment he employs to approach his own feelings and the ever-changing market rates that sustain his life-style. In the book, we’re inside his head.

What has cleverly been preserved is DeLillo’s curt, precise and brutal dialogue – excised in large chunks by one of the most cerebrally profound filmmakers of our time.

The Director:

David Cronenberg - Photograph source unknown
If his 1996 Crash was a head-on collision between our intimacy with technology and suppressed desires of self-destruction, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis slows down the proceedings and invites us to take the back seat. Under his masterful orchestration, the film unfolds at the pace of the aforementioned funeral procession and with his typically remarkable cinematic precision.
Back in April, I made the case for Crash being the most important film of the 1990’s - Now Then Magazine, Issue#49.
A few paragraphs up, I address the likelihood of Cosmopolis being the most pertinent film for the times we live in. This is far from an exageration.
Whilst Crash addressed an undercurrent through metaphor, Cronenberg’s new film taps into what’s going on right now: capitalism being turned inside out.

‘A rat became the unit of currency.’ – Zbigniew Herbert

The Producer:
Seeing Paulo Branco’s name in the credits of Cosmopolis brings a kind of ironic reassurance. Even those who need an introduction would’ve seen at least one of the nearly 250 films he produced. He’s undeniably the most prolific solo producer in the world, controlling sales through his tight grip on exhibition and retail. He’s based in Paris. Has a close business relationship with actors Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich. But he’s Portuguese.

Emily Hampshire in Cosmopolis (2012) by David Cronenberg
When I faced him across his large desk - in the office he once had on the top floor of a wonderfully fascist building entirely dedicated to one of his production companies – there was an underlying tension, almost verging on animosity. This was not an easy man to deal with, as I was warned. I was told that, if he decides to take your project on, you will be imposed a series of names in various departments.

We didn’t get that far. But his austerity is perhaps mirrored in the current political/social/economic situation of our country (Portugal).

The last time I stopped by his Lisbon headquarters, the entire building was completely shut down. Its architectural heritage, which harks back to days of the dictatorship, now peers shyly from behind boarded up windows. Not a beautiful sight, considering such company had kept Portuguese Cinema afloat, on an international level...

So, irony resides in the fact that not long after our right-wing government exercised its German-imposed austerity measures by reducing the subsidies for film to zero, here’s Paulo Branco – making Cosmopolis possible with the partial funding of a Portuguese State-owned TV channel, RTP.

A film that expresses and exposes what is so wrong with the economic system has been co-financed by a bailed-out country.

As for reassurance, well, there’s Mr Branco’s typically unrelenting pursuit of a pet project and the commercial foresight in the casting of its lead actor.

Robert Pattinson:

Some may only go as far as to say that, at least, it wasn’t Colin Farrell (the original choice to play Eric Packer but whose commitments to the remake of Total Recall prevented from doing so). This narrowing opinion only comes from those who simply don’t get that Robert Pattinson delivers a perfect central performance in Cosmopolis. He carries the entire film on his back, with a tone and demeanour that is 100% in synch with the language and message of the film. Even in the already mentioned two-handers, he does what’s most unusual for a lead actor to do: he holds back, detached – engaging, but only to an extent. After all, this is a character that chooses to connect to the world (and his professional life) through the appreciation and analysis of third parties.
Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis (2012) by David Cronenberg
This is truly an unexpected turn. An actor whose current stardom is completely defined by his role in the highly profitable (but ultimately tedious) Twilight Saga, but who now graduates to a seriously brave artist – unafraid of taking chances not dissimilar to the business ones his character indulges on.
Because, like Packer, he can see the patterns behind and beyond the logic of what’s safe and expected.

A flipside to this coin (and article) comes in the shape of the already controversial appearance of Kristen Stewart (Bella Cullen from, once more, the Twilight Saga) in an upcoming film, based on yet another cult novel.
Kristen Stewart in On The Road (2012) by Walter Salles
Her role in Walter Salles’s adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s seminal slice of literature, On the Road, has already invited a huge amount of criticism. Particularly on the part of mothers of teenage daughters who saw her portrayal of Bella in that bafflingly popular franchise as a role model.
In what’s available to preview of On the Road online, Stewart seems to deliver a performance of sheer freedom and sweaty abandonment. The thing that’s been most objected to is, therefore and unsurprisingly, the sexual content. Once you become a teenage icon you’re not allowed to pursue more grown-up roles, apparently (let alone to engage in diverse and graphic depictions of so-called immoral sex). That said, it is not quite the ‘career angle’ that makes Stewart’s appearance in this quintessential road movie an unexpected turn. It’s her screen persona - which never, at any point, evoked sexuality of any kind...
What she and Pattinson (her off-screen better half) may choose to claim is (in the words of Eric Packer): ‘everything in our lives has brought us to this point’.

- Originally published in Now Then, Issue#50, May 2012;

This month we close our venture into the identification of the three films that most defined the last three decades by expressing the unacknowledged.
Form, content and approach can be seen as direct products of their time, but we’ve seen, in the first two examples, that there’s no coincidence in those films having been made by those particular directors.
Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke in 9 ½ Weeks (1986) by Adrian Lyne
Nine ½ Weeks could only have been made by the most vilified and underrated Adrian Lyne. Those prone to judgement will readily agree, but despite having made himself an easy target with his other forays into sexuality – such as the embarrassing Indecent Proposal (1993) and ‘the way too literal’ adaptation of Lolita (1997) – I would maintain that Lyne’s talent as a filmmaker is unquestionable. At his best, through films like Jacob’s Ladder (1990) or Unfaithful (2002), he’s a bold visualist who understands mood and character.
His Nine ½ Weeks is a more accurate portrayal of the 80’s than most would want or care to admit. Its expression of ‘art made into a brand’, of the vacuous association of materialism with happiness and of the failures of female emancipation are everything that the decade ignited and cemented for years to come.
James Spader and Rosanna Arquette in Crash (1996) by David Cronenberg
Then there was a certain Crash ahead: the violent, extreme metaphor of the 90’s and its individualistic death of affection. Again, no one else, other than David Cronenberg, could’ve made it with such clarity and power of distillation. A director who, like the author of the source material (the late, great JG Ballard) had transcended genre in a decade marked with innovation of that very same kind...

2000’s: The White Ribbon
The most important film to be made and released in the last decade is not about the dawn of the 21st century or the socio-philosophical questions that come with it. Shot in black & white, in a language that is far from mainstream, it’s not even set in a recognisably contemporary world.
Isabelle Huppert in La Pianiste (2001) by Michael Haneke
At a time when the requirement of immediacy implies, for example, delivering your film in English, Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon /Das weiBe Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (2009) remains defiant and, like all of his work – that includes the brutal Funny Games (1997) and the mesmerising The Piano Teacher (2001) - persistently specific.
Even the fact that its aesthetics and pace are more reminiscent of the earlier films of Ingmar Bergman than of anything else that is currently made shows singularity and understanding of its own message and material. These days, European films tend to comply, by default and Anglo-Saxon influence, with a general cynicism and need to come across as clever (whilst still shying away from anything that could be perceived as pretentious).
The naivety of tone and visual simplicity of The White Ribbon are paradoxically the boldest statements a filmmaker can make.
The White Ribbon (2009) by Michael Haneke
The film concerns the unreliable recounting of event in the fictitious Protestant village of Eichwald, Germany before World War I. We're introduced to a series of mysterious incidents which refine in cruelty as the narrative unfolds and seem to point towards the local children as culprits from the outset.
Its title refers to the white ribbon the children are forced to wear around their arm, as a reminder of the innocence they've strayed from. The fact that their punishment stems from trivial things that go against the strict abidance to Protestant views (and not for the disturbing ritualistic crimes they perpetrate) is as crucial as the unresolved ending - in which the only certainty is historical: the declaration of war on Serbia by Austria-Hungary...
Leonard Proxauf in The White Ribbon (2009) by Michael Haneke
So how can this be the defining cinematic work of the last decade?
Amongst the many readings the film elicits are those of ‘the birth of fundamentalism’ and ‘the roots of fascism’. Accurate as they might be – and pertinent to the idea of the film as a reflection of the times in which it was made – I propose something else.
The White Ribbon (2009) by Michael Haneke
The highly intelligent Haneke doesn’t leave a single detail to chance and it’s in his structuring of this feudal society that rests the answer to the above question.
The triumvirate composed of a puritanical pastor, a sexually cruel doctor and a morally weak baron is used to bring specific issues to the foreground. Whilst the latter highlights the tradition of landowners employing an underclass of foreign workers but failing to understand or fully support them; the former’s function exposes religion as the backbone of discipline, control and ultimate success by means of suppression of earthly pleasures that defines those who continue to lead the modern world to this date.
What The White Ribbon dares to expose is the underlying cruelty or inhumanity that has been trickled down successive generations in societies that conduct their affairs under the Protestant flag.
Ursina Lardi in The White Ribbon (2009) by Michael Haneke
For every righteous deed, performed in accordance with the Word of the Lord, there’s a reprimand. A punishment geared towards eradicating personality and making everyone more like everyone else.
And the more people think and act the same, the more they’re prepared to work towards the success of a nation. Sounds uncomfortably familiar, doesn’t it?

The unequal map of the current unified Europe speaks volumes. The White Ribbon tells us where it all comes from.

- Originally published in Now Then, Issue#34, January 2011;

The problem with Jesus, as a subject matter, will always be the immediate lack of objectivity as any proposed dialogue takes shape. Those who choose to explore an alternative view of the myth can be as guilty of abiding too much to a concept as those who cling firmly to the established credo that substantiates their lives and expects to keep everyone under control.
Sobriety is, therefore and in that sense, what most silver screen interpretations of ‘our Lord’ fail to attain. A good example of this can be found in a film that I confess (here and now and hoping to be forgiven for such sin) to have as a guilty pleasure: ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, Norman Jewison’s 1973 film version of the musical stage play, which is an exercise of pure mass hysteria.
Carl Anderson as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) by Norman Jewison
My appreciation of that wild, anachronistic interpretation of the remaining weeks of Jesus on earth is centred on its unhinged, experimental visuals and the fact that I doubt that it would get made quite the same way today. The still pervading (yet illogical) presentation of an Anglo-Saxon-looking Jesus would tick (somehow) the right box, but a big Hollywood Studio would probably refrain from casting a black actor as Judas – just to cover their backs.
Barbara Hershey in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) by Martin Scorcese
Convenient adjustments aside, controversy can either be intentionally courted or come as an inevitability as it is the case of such films as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s ‘Il vangelo secondo Matteo’ (1964) or Martin Scorcese’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ (1988) - which, with different degrees of the aforementioned sobriety, present Jesus as a human being.
Il vangelo secondo Matteo (1964) by Pier Paolo Pasolini
In my view, to bring that side to the foreground is to do even more justice to a man who, regardless of your belief system, seems to have definitely walked amongst us with, at least, great powers of persuasion. After all, if the ultimate message in the whole thing is to empower us to be better human beings, wouldn’t the best example be set by a human Jesus (with all the doubts, fears, self-interest and temptations that come with it)?
Well, not for those who choose to follow or preach from a church or another form of organised religion. And simply because by equating Jesus with every one of us, they would be acknowledging an ambiguity that they’re already, from the outset (and in his name), denying they possess. It’s easier to keep others under control, if you claim to be speaking through the unmistakable words of a divine source.

The effect Jesus has had on those who surrounded him or that simply continue to feed into the myth (in what has to be seen as the longest and strongest marketing campaign ever put together for an individual) can perhaps become the most interesting starting point for a cinematic depiction.
Juliette Binoche in Mary (2005) by Abel Ferrara
Abel Ferrara’s 2005 film ‘Mary’ is not just a remarkable achievement in that sense, but it also feels achingly personal as a piece. The American director has let his inner struggle with Catholic beliefs inform the majority of his output, which in turn has gravitated towards such a raw authenticity that Hollywood felt obliged to black-list him (and Europe to embrace him). ‘Mary’ can be seen as a culmination of both these aspects.
The film stars Juliette Binoche as an actress who, after playing Mary Magdalene (in a film-within-the-film), is so profoundly affected by the experience that she commits herself to a self-imposed exile in Jerusalem. This simple premise is dramatically encased by the various means through which the Word of God proliferates in modern society and highlights a revisionist reading of Mary Magdalene as a key disciple of Jesus (closer to the man than any of the other Apostles).
By making use of real-life experts on early Christianity, Ferrara brings in the character of Ted Younger, a broadcaster doing a series of talk-shows on the social and historical circumstances surrounding Jesus.
As the disarray of Younger’s personal life unfolds towards a potentially tragic outcome, he seeks Binoche’s character as a long-distance spiritual anchor and the most moral aspect of the film is firmly cemented. It’s interesting to see how a lot of this ‘guilt’ has been mirrored in previous films – particularly in ‘Dangerous Game’ (1993), in which Harvey Keitel’s film director character confesses his multiple infidelities to his wife (played by Ferrara’s actual wife). It also turns Younger into a more definite alter ego of Ferrara than the expected director of the film-within-the-film, played by Matthew Modine.
Barbara Hershey in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) by Martin Scorcese
The latter is evidently paralleling (if not parodying) the posture of Mel Gibson, whose unabashed Catholic faith informed the making of his 2004 film ‘The Passion of the Christ’.
I see it as worrying, to say the least, that a film like Gibson’s - the indulgence in detailed violence and agonising suffering of which verges on the pornographic – is hailed and embraced by so many Christian groups. As if such extreme depiction serves to legitimise a Faith against those who by will, conviction or spiritual freedom choose to live outside it... It also strikes me as very ironic the way such groups regularly employ their influence to curtail the release of any other film that comes remotely close to such levels of violence.    
Madonna and Harvey Keitel in Dangerous Game (1993) by Abel Ferrara
Far from passing judgement on Gibson’s conduct in his personal life, further irony can be found in what can only be described as a pervading hypocrisy on the part of those who impose and wave Jesus as a badge of moral superiority.

“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Ghandi.

- Originally published in Now Then, Issue#61, April 2013;

There’s a scene at the core of Andrzej Zulawski’s 1981 film Possession that will stay with you forever - if you ever dare to enter one of Cinema’s most powerful descents into madness.
In what turns out to be an extended flashback where Isabelle Adjani’s character has a (very unnatural) miscarriage, we see her walking through a tunnel, beginning to laugh uncontrollably, throwing herself from side to side, swinging her shopping bag until it smashes against the walls and screeching as she rolls around incessantly amidst the spilled contents (with blood and green secretions pouring out of each orifice)... Certainly not for the faint hearted.
Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill in Possession (1981) by Andrzej Zulawski
My acquaintance with this gem of a film was at an unnecessarily young age, I must admit. It was only a decade or so later that I managed to overcome the trauma of such early exposure and discern its unquestionable cinematic value.
Isabelle Adjani in Possession (1981)
Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill in Possession (1981)
What starts as a perceptive insight into marital life (with all its unspoken mental erosions), gradually becomes a hyperbolic study of physical estrangement - and of the fundamental scission between men and women. The emotional tragedy that pervades the film doesn’t lie solely in the husband’s continual, visceral need to pursue ‘his female’ (or in her disregard of such dependence). It also comes from her awareness of the source of it all: the physiological paradox that makes her a simultaneously destructive and reproductive creature. And yes, there is a creature...  
Sam Neill in Possession (1981)
Possession (1981) by Andrzej Zulawski

The horror aspects intensify as we go along and serve to underline the unravelling incompatibility between husband and wife. But they are also a step up from what is quintessential in Zulawski’s work: narratives punctuated by character-driven eruptions.
Often in his films, emotional states reach such a level of intensity that the only release is to have something drastic happening (be it to the characters or their immediate surroundings) and emphasise it further with the filmmaking. Possession is almost a text-book of this technique and is evidence of a filmmaker understanding the full potential of the art form.
Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill in Possession (1981) by Andrzej Zulawski
Acting (and casting) may be crucial in the success of this cult film – with Sam Neill’s ability to convey menace and vulnerability in equal measures and Adjani’s porcelain-perfect appearance terrifyingly suggesting rotten depths – but it’s up to the filmmaking’s embrace of its subject matter to raise it above the genre constraints and present us with a challenging view of the frailty of the human mind. 

- Originally published in Now Then, Issue#79, October 2014;

“God should thank Bach, because Bach is the proof of God’s existence.”
These words adorned the bare arms of Isabelle Huppert as she walked up the red carpet of a premiere of The Piano Teacher (2001) – the Michael Haneke film in which she delivers the finest, most exact and perfect performance of her career.
For all its sordid overtones and deep psychological fractures, the film embraces the structured clarity of JS Bach’s work in a way which goes beyond juxtaposition.
Like the majority of filmmakers I admire, Haneke is deferential to the great master of music.
For Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky and other God-fearing directors, to incorporate (or make reference to) Bach is to give their films a sense of the divine; a taste of the intangible; and exposes a secret ambition to elevate the work above its formal constraints...
I cannot deny these to be amongst my reasons, as well. In fact, if ‘confession time’ is upon us, I must acknowledge how true these opening words ring to me.
Me: an atheist who’s refused all his life to pick a religion off the shelf and live by its castrating rules.

Yet, Bach – instrumental as he was in defining a standard which was to assist in the propagation of a religious standpoint – is present throughout my filmography.
Elizabeth Ballinger in Overture (2002)
My considerable knowledge of his work and techniques has informed all sorts of stages of my filmmaking.

From the structuring of a narrative in counterpoint, to the oscillations within which characters respond to each other like muted instruments – as seen in my second film Overture (2002).
From a piano movement which must be mastered (but is only done so when a supernatural presence breaks a character’s solitude), to a cello suite filling the ennui-ridden physical gaps in a relationship – as seen in Absences of Mind (2005) and Mercy (2012).

And then, there are all the other times in which ‘the man’ does not feature in a film’s soundtrack (or made direct reference to), but is still there – omnipresent; in the reasoning; in the way the medium is being consciously tested and self-aware...

Nicola Baker in Antlers of Reason (2006)
Original music has played an important part in my work, as well. But, although earlier strong connections with musicians helped me deliver work that was poignantly incisive, in some ways it was not till 2006 that a perfect marriage of music, visuals, atmosphere and intention was to occur.
Whether in the form of an originally composed piece or an adapted pre-existing version of a given song, Matt Howden’s music is perfect for my vision.
The word symbiotic comes to mind and it’s far from an overstatement.
With a source rooted on pagan melancholy – which more than suited our first collaboration, the feature film Antlers of Reason (2006) – Matt’s music simultaneously provides an other-worldly undercurrent which elevates the often harshness of my films onto a higher spiritual level.
It always contributes to the atmospheres I formulate and capture. A scene with Matt Howden’s music is always a more robust scene. His music says what words shouldn’t even try to and supports the aesthetics unconditionally.
If his music somehow taps into a greater truth in Nature, its incorporation in my cinematic vision makes it irrefutably honest.

Marta Lapa in Uma Curta de Amor (2014)
Then along comes a virtual stranger in a hat and yet another way of working with music is opened up to me...
Uma Curta de Amor (A Short of Love) is one of my latest film projects. It’s a highly personal, long-nurtured short about the impact of the ongoing socio-economic crisis on my country: Portugal. And it’s all seen from the human perspective (as opposed to convenient politicised statistics), emphasising the poetic nature of my people (in a unified Europe which disregards poetry altogether).
Last year, Portuguese pianist Nelson de Quinhones put himself forward to compose the original score of the film. In a definite leap of faith, I accepted and regular conversations online ensued.
Sandra Celas in Uma Curta de Amor (2014)
The truth remains that, in regards to the music itself, I only told him a handful of directions to take.
Our connection and friendship was cemented along this long process and that was to inform the work more than anything else. His kindness and sensitivity assured me and, with a degree of hope and mutual trust, we achieved a unique result.
The initial tentative melodic flow - punctuated by ominous silences - progresses into a magnificent cascade of piano notes. It adds a sacred, pious beauty to the self-imposed restrictions of the film; and, in some ways, it mirrors our own above-mentioned collaborative process.
We remained open, receptive and considerate, throughout.
We both let the intangible permeate and fill the gaps of what words cannot express.
We both believed... 

 If there is something along the lines of a God, it exists in this ability to transcend through Art.


Concludes on T a c t i l e T h o u g h t s - Volume III