Thursday, 26 January 2012

A rare theatre post

While the Palace Theatre was (relatively) dark recently, passersby in central London could see the building's exterior unhindered by gaudy advertising (above). Before the current primary-coloured umbrellas had gone up, there was also the chance to see backstage as new show Singin' in the Rain, which opens on 4 February, was installed:

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Stitches in time: the tailor in fiction

It's with creeping inevitably that I pick up from last week's post and the reference to Louis Garrel's short The Little Tailor to search out further tailors in fiction, starting with The Tailor of Panama. John le Carré's 1996 novel, inspired by Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana, was filmed in 2001, providing a star turn - and a break from Bond - for Pierce Brosnan.

Brosnan's character has been discarded by MI6 in Panama, where he leans on Geoffrey Rush's tailor to find a way to secure his return to the fold. This tailor is typical of what we come to expect in screen depictions of the type: grasping, out-of-his-depth, a little bit sleazy.

The archetype is, of course, described by Georges Simenon in Les Fiançailles de Monsieur Hire (1933), filmed by Patrice Leconte in one of my favourite adaptations of the Belgian author's work. Michel Blanc stars as the eponymous M Hire, who spies on his beautiful neighbour, played by Sandrine Bonnaire, and is incriminated in the killing of another young woman nearby. In Anna Moschovakis' translation (for the 2007 NYRB edition), '... one sensed in him neither flesh nor bone, nothing but soft, flaccid matter, so soft and so flaccid that his movements were hard to make out.'

Like Simenon's tailor, Garrel's is Jewish and, as the young director noted, anachronistic. (I like, too, Garrel's admission that he tried to make a longer, feature, film but he cut and cut, and was left with 45 minutes.) For timeless tailors who have given us a byword for cutting down pretension we look to Hans Christian Andersen's swindlers, who pose as weavers in The Emperor's New Clothes (1837).

But my favourite fictional tailors come in Rohinton Mistry's wondrous A Fine Balance (1995), starting with unfortunate young widow Dina Shroff, who is encouraged to set up her own tailoring business to maintain her independence. She hires villagers Ishvar and his nephew Om and makes a quilt from the workers' scraps.

Later on it evokes memories of their time together '... that's the rule to remember, the whole quilt is much more important than any single square.' And there is a gap, yet to be completed: 'Before you can name that corner,' continues Ishvar, 'our future must become past.'

It is also a book of the city, Mumbai, which I don't think is ever named. After another adventure the tailors return to their favoured haunt, the Vishram restaurant:
'You fellows are amazing,' the sweaty cook roared over the stoves. 'Everything happens to you only. Each time you come here, you have a new adventure story to entertain us.'
'It's not us, it's the city,' said Om. 'A story factory, that's what it is, a spinning mill.'

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Free French films online

From tomorrow, French-film fans will be able to watch a host of shorts and full-length features online for free and vote for their favourites. The My French Film Festival offering features a couple of highly acclaimed movies that had big-screen releases in the UK last year, including Love Like Poison and Living On Love Alone, a highly watchable look at the plight of a young woman looking for work - and self-esteem.

The star of the latter, Anaïs Demoustier, features alongside another name that dominates the programme - Léa Seydoux (recently of Midnight in Paris, Mysteries of Lisbon and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) - in Rebecca Zlotowski's Dear Prudence, a sort of 1950s cautionary tale seen through a '70s filter. Seydoux is also the lead in Louis Garrel's self-penned, sophomore directorial outing, The Little Tailor (pictured), that feels happily out of time.

The actor concedes that his 45-minute movie, which received a cinematic release in France, is indebted to the films of his hero, François Truffaut, notably La peau douce (1964) and short Antoine et Colette (1962). Garrel is open about The Little Tailor's shortcomings, including a poorly sketched role for Seydoux, but it's great fun nonetheless, and definitely worth a watch - and your vote.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

New year at Ciné lumière

For a single-screen rep cinema, Ciné lumière can boast much imaginative programming, such as a season of Spirituality in Cinema to accompany the release of Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men (2010) and Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Can Recall His Past Lives. Perhaps inspired by The Iron Lady, which opens there this Friday, the South Ken institute launches a series of films about government.

The Corridors of Power season kicks off on Sunday with lengthy De Gaulle biopic, Le Grand Charles, from 2005. Current fare includes The Conquest, again starring Denis Podalydès - this time about Sarkozy's rise to the French presidency - L'exercice de l'etat, with Michel Blanc, and Alain Cavalier's Pater, starring Cavalier and Vincent Lindon.

Two classics of the last decade also feature: The Last Mitterand (2004) - which won Blanc won a César for his portrayal of François Miterrrand - and 1974: une partie de campagne (2001), Raymond Depardon's Giscard d'Estaing doc. There's no place for powerful Georges Simenon adaptation The President (1961), starring Jean Gabin and Bernard Blier, presumably because a subtitled print isn't available. Simenon fans will, however, be tempted separately by Maigret's Mistake (1994), a feature-length episode of the French TV series starring Bruno Cremer.

The highlight of this month's programme focuses on TV: Totally Serialized, a celebration of French and British small-screen offerings on the big screen, runs 19-22 January. Alongside an all-night Misfits marathon (on Saturday 21 January), there's a free screening of an episode of Elite Squad the next morning, a script-writing workshop attended by Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) and Eric de Barahir (Spiral) among others, plus the first episode of This is England '88 followed by a Q&A with the cast. I'd also pick out a screening of the opening episode of gritty cop series Braquo (22 January) attended by director Olivier Marchal and star Jean Hugues Anglade (Betty Blue, Subway).