BRITISH CINEMA SHOUTS AT THE TOP OF ITS VOICE!
When we talk about English cinema, or rather, British cinema in general, we almost instinctively think of a cinema of social realism, imbued with a healthy dose of (black) comedy captained by the ever spry Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. In spite of that, the film industry on the other side of the channel conceals more important treasures: a dense and battle-hardened group of young directors who have every intention of upsetting conformists, with class and savage guile. “Punk is not dead”, but this time, instead of manifesting its revolt through music (and safety pins) it is the cinema that gains the upper hand. No Mohican haircuts or jeans like colanders, the new generation of British film makers intend to make the UK tremble, thanks to celluloid, honed with a jack-knife.
Amongst the queens of this seductive realm is Andrea Arnold, an ex-dancer on pop music programmes for teenagers who – thank god – switched to the cinema. Right from her first full length feature film, Red Road (2006), winner of the Cannes Festival Jury Prize, a claustrophobic thriller of crude beauty, shot amongst suburban tower block flats, one understood that Arnold intended to get serious, hitting where it hurt. Her vision of Britain is far from the clichés that see it wrapped in cotton wool, made up of traditions and small bourgeois certainties. What interests her is the dark side of the question: the people without hope who attempt to survive in brutal suburbs where nothing seems to protect them, or hopeful adolescents who are victims of their own dreams. Her subsequent films are surprising and touching: Fish Tank (2009) and American Honey (2016). Also part of the same trend is Daniel Wolfe, a young British prospect and the director of the surprising Catch Me Daddy, (Quinzaine des réalisateurs at Cannes in 2014), which is a sort of manhunt (or rather, woman) amidst the cold, foggy Yorkshire moors. Wolfe knows how to express human misery without falling into the trap of wretchedness, and this, in itself, is already an important achievement. His heroine (played masterfully by Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) is stoical and wounded, but proud, like a modern-day Pakistani valchyrie. Sublime. Another director fascinated by the dark side of human nature is Thomas Clay who, thanks to his violent, nihilistic uber film, The Great Ecstasy Of Robert Carmichael (2005), demonstrated how far horror could be transformed into pure beauty. Another woman dominates the scene with Arnold; it is Londoner Joanna Hogg, a disciple of the legendary punk director Derek Jarman (whom she met by chance at the Patisserie Valerie in Soho), the spokesperson for a cinema that is visceral and focussed (reminiscent of Rohmer, Ozu and Chantal Akerman) and poles apart from the plastic glamour of made in Hollywood. Her first short film, Caprice, (the leading role played by then unknown Tilda Swinton) was the starting point of a career that is blossoming. Unrelated, the story of a forbidden attraction between an older woman and a young adolescent boy, set in an almost surreal Tuscany, has led to critical favour (FIPRESCI International Critics’ Award at the London Film Festival 2007), with critics keeping a watchful eye on her. In addition to this band of women warriors, we find the artist and director Duane Hopkins, who made his mark on the International scene thanks to the extraordinary Better Things, (International Critics’ Week at Cannes, 2008), considered by Variety magazine to be an innovative reworking of the social realist form, so dear to British film makers. Better Things is a multi-narrative tale of love and desire in a village in rural England: a breath of fresh air between realism and aestheticism. Another influential name is that of Gideon Koppel, discovered by critics and public at the Edinburgh Festival (2008) thanks to his first full-length feature film, Sleep Furiously, considered to be a signal in the resurgence of a British art cinema … and apologies that it is so little. It is also impossible not to mention Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor and their intriguing psychological thriller Helen (2009), or even celebrity Steve McQueen, Camer d’Or (Golden Camera) at Cannes (2008) with Hunger, and Oscar in 2014, for Twelve Years a Slave. Instead, amongst the most surprising and original of the British TV series we find the captivating, noir, My Mad, Fat Diary, the stimulating Skins, and the memorable teenage universe of The Inbetweeners.
What is there left to say? “God Save the Queen”!