Flanders (2005)

Dir: Bruno Dumont, France, 87mins

Cast: Samuel Boidin, Adelaide Leroux, Henri Cretel, Jean-Marie Bruveart

 After US art house horror Twentynine Palms (2003) Bruno Dumont returns to the rural north French town of his upbringing and the setting for his previous two ventures, debut Le Vie de Jesus (1997) and the Cannes Grand Prix decorated L’Humanite (1999).  Flanders focuses upon stoic farmer Demester (Boidin) and the promiscuous Barbe (Leroux).  After his public denial of their physical yet emotionally ambivalent relationship she gets involved with another local, Blondell (Cretel) who, like the central protagonist, has been conscripted for national service.

The narrative may sound like one dealing in Hollywoodgeneric concepts, potentially The Deer Hunter (1978) crossed with Jules et Jim (1961), but as such this isn’t really a traditional war film.  The war, shot inTunisia, remains unspecified, lacking any political, social or geographical context although looks to have currentMiddle East origins.  Opening with a lengthy fight between Briche (Bruveart) and an African colleague, the section shows the brutality of modern warfare acting as a catalyst to release dormant but instinctive, primal urges.

The director’s breadth leads him to aspire towards an Italian Neo Realist ideology, emulating Rossellini and Pasolini’s meditations on human nature and that of simply “being”.  Like the aforementioned, accusations of little occurring in terms of story could be applied validly to Flanders.  Refuting linear dynamics to drive the plot on, matters unravel at their own pace. Stylistically this pared-down tone is complimented via sumptuously composed long shots where the landscape seemingly holds more gravitas than its inhabitants.  Psychological foundations for character motivation are never alluded to, dialogue scenes occasionally shedding rare chinks of light but the overwhelming tone is of pained detachment.

However, it would be grossly unfair to derideDumont’s film solely on these grounds and condemn it as a richly shot yet empty canvas.  His is a film where an anguished brief glance reverberates due to the air of alienation.  The use of non-professional actors enables such moments to deliver a cutting potency, their raw instincts capture an unforced purity, best represented in a close-up on the face of a young boy, bullet in the head, the camera cutting to Blondell and Demester’s reaction. Dumont’s visual arts background is apparent in the stark bruised-beauty he invests in close-ups, the most commanding being the clenched fist of a raped female soldier.

Briche says to Demester “There are innocents in every war”, a comment that functions not only in its general guise but as an analogy of Flanders world view perspective.  In the final scene Demester lies maternally next to Barbe, a moment of physical contact that goes beyond the mechanical perfunctory sex of before, one that appears to offer some form of solace, but this is a hollow hope.  The war will never end. Dumont’s film is impenetrable at times in its austerity, powerfully emotive in others.  A clinically provocative treatise on our ambiguous existence that raises as many questions as it attempts to answer.


Beyond Hatred (2005)

Dir: Olivier Meyrou, France, 85mins

Cast: Jean-Paul Chenu, Marie-Cecile Chenu, Aurelie Chenu

13th September 2002, Leo Lagrange Park, Reim:  Skinheads Michael Regnier, Fabian Lavenus and Franck Billette brutally assault openly gay Francois Chenu, dumping him into a nearby river where he drowns.  Meyrou’s raw yet empathetic documentary begins 730 days after Francois’s murder and follows the Chenu family and their search for an ever elusive answer to what should be a painfully simple question: Why?

Preparation for the project began through contact with the respective attorneys of both sides.  The Chenu’s became involved a year later.  Without their direct interaction it would be hard to envisage Meyrou’s film as conforming to nothing more than a traditional, signposted talking heads format, bulked out with factual, political and social assumptions, but crucially lacking the requisite central figures.  The full co-operation of the latter enables a dignified and frank portrait of the grieving process to be gradually unveiled.

Beyond Hatred’s most affecting moments centre around the three family principles, father Jean-Paul, mother Marie-Cecile and sister Aurelie.  Meyrou’s relaxed, unobtrusive style grants his candid subjects room to breathe and explore a complex mixture of emotions, a self-cathartic journey from confusion and anger through to remarkable forgiveness.  Amidst these heavy dialogue scenes, there are sequences of nuanced, haunting lyricism.  Time-lapse photography of the park where the incident occurred are recurrent, people obliviously going about their everyday business, Aurelie’s narration recounting how she learnt of Francois death and broke the news to her parents.

The opening lines of the film illustrate perfectly the humanistic ethos of the Chenu’s and the tone that runs throughout the piece.  Over shots of Jean Paul playing in the snow with his grandchildren, he states “It’s a failure of the society I live in and am part of, because I am part of it”.  Access to the accused was not possible but a delicate balance is struck through interviews with Billette’s father, auntie and the group of defence attorneys.  A deftly sketched portrait emerges of dysfunctional family units and lost souls whose misplaced abhorrence, born out of circumstances derived from their working class environment, is harnessed to and exploited by far right political movements such as Bruno Megret’s National Republican Movement.

Francois remains somewhat enigmatic throughout the film.  A sense of character is never presented and no pictures of him used.  This is a deliberate measure and one of Meyrou’s greatest virtues, a refusal to use sexuality as an overriding issue to launch a moralistic crusade, a venture that in-turn would have placed the departed into a victim category.  On that September evening anyone of a particular ethnic or political persuasion would have found themselves facing a similar fate.  Homophobia was not the basis for this act.  An amalgamation of disillusionment fused with class and politics formed the genesis of this social void.  It is this compassionate tone that reverberates most pertinently in Beyond Hatred through to a truly moving coda of sincere absolution.

The Wild Blue Yonder (2005)

Dir: Werner Herzog, UK/France/Germany, 81 mins

Cast: Brad Dourif, Franklin Chang Diaz, Roger Diehl, Ted Sweetser, Martin Lo, STS-34 crew

Myth, chaos and an ambiguous meld of fact and fiction have habitually come to define eccentric, visionary German director Werner Herzog’s work, and the man himself.  Concerning the latter, Herzog tales have ingrained themselves into film folklore; being shot during a BBC interview, diving into a cactus field and a bet that resulted in short documentary Werner Herzog Eats His Own Shoe (1980).  However, it would be unfair to let any dwarf the oeuvre of this resolutely independent and single-minded film-maker.  From sensitive documentary Land of Silence and Darkness (1971) through to the epic, histrionic journeys of Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) and Fitzcarraldo (1982), Klaus Kinski’s megalomaniacal protagonist in both playing surrogate to the directors own instinctive pandemonium ethos, Herzog has worked tirelessly since the early 1960’s demonstrating an eclectic range.

The Wild Blue Yonder adds further weight to the oft quoted adage that Herzog can make a film out of anything.  Here he combines documentary footage from NASA’s STS-34 mission and diving footage fromRossSea,Antarctica.  A backbone is granted through monologues delivered by an alien (Dourif) who recounts the arrival, on a now desolate, defunct earth, of his species from water planet Andromeda after a severe ice age forced them to leave.  Inside access from a job at the CIA enables him to tell of a subsequent space mission by the ailing human race to find his home planet in the hope that it will prove inhabitable.

Any initial preconceptions and vague narrative similarities to other aquatic sci-fi fare such as The Abyss (1989) are quickly dispatched.  Herzog’s “science-fiction fantasy” is a slight shaggy dog tale that toys with footage and history for its own purposes.  The historical aspect takes in a fantastical journey encompassing the Roswell incident and heavy but plausible science spiel is provided by NASA boffins.  A tongue-in-cheek air resides throughout; the unassuming, straight-laced Franklin Chang-Diaz is introduced as a “rogue mathematician who kept the secret of a breakthrough invention to himself”.  Dourif provides an engaging, neurotic turn, punctuating each revelation in the tale with “I could have told them, I knew all about it” and rightly bemoaning the concept of shopping malls being constructed on Andromeda.

In terms of the director’s back catalogue it can be seen to reiterate the same aesthetic ideals as the Gulf War orientated Lessons in Darkness (1992), which also splits itself into chapter headings.  This had a more traditional documentary edge, but whilst aiming for the political Herzog’s preoccupation with nature, a central theme throughout his work, remains resonant.  The Wild Blue Yonder takes the power of nature full circle from a possibly post-apocalyptic planet, space, the aquatic Andromeda and back to an earth replenished to its original prehistoric genesis.

Henry Kaiser’s diving footage works sublimely within the film’s narrative boundaries truly evoking an awe which CGI could never replicate.  An otherworldliness is rendered with a synthesis of greens and blues, bright pockets of light splitting through murky clouds.  The sequence of the astronauts dissolving into particles and passing through the tunnel of time is particularly affecting, the scene filmed in close up, bubble’s rushing towards the camera as a blinding white light bleaches out the individual.

Herzog thanks NASA “for their poetry” but the on-board space mission footage feels over stretched.  The isolation and mundanity of space travel is evoked and this links in with the narrative thread of insanity setting in.  Regrettably this still feels like footage used to fill a void in the middle section.  Ernst Reijseger contributes a haunting, ethereal score throughout with collaborations from African artist Mola Syall and a Sardinian shepherd choir.  An ecological warning, a chronicle of mankind’s need to explore, poem to the power of nature or an elaborate practical joke?  The Wild Blue Yonder is an experimental, ramshackle patchwork of arguably all the above, Herzog’s scattershot, improvisational approach ensuring that limited means need not affect the realms of imagination.

United 93 (2006)

Director/Writer: Paul Greengrass

United 93 is one of those all too rare humbling experiences.  You know the type.  The credits roll. Lights fade up. People leave.  However there is no discussion by fellow audience members, simply silence and awe struck contemplation on what they have just witnessed.  The last time this reviewer can remember being part of such a moment was after a screening of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003), his take on the Columbine high school shootings.

Like Van Sant’s intense, superbly crafted picture, United 93 had already acquired hot potato status prior to its release due to the controversial content inherent.  In retrospect it is easy to see why.  A minefield of questions arise surrounding ethics and sensitivity towards subject matter.  Was it necessary to recreate the final hours of the 44 people on Flight 93?  If so how accurate could a recreation be?  Would this be a gung ho, flag waving endeavor, demonizing and stereotyping the terrorists?  Thankfully such presumptions proved false and director Greengrass has successfully navigated the high wire act he set for himself, making a film that acts as an epitaph to those involved and their spirit in the face of unforeseen, uncontrollable circumstance.

Knowledge of what is to come plays on your mind as a seemingly average day is played out.  Aside from the opening scene taking in the terrorist’s preparation, time is split between the air traffic control rooms and the airport lounge before boarding.  The semi real time structure makes the first half of the film an unnerving experience; the calm before the storm.  As tension increases and events spiral out of control it is the small details that resonate the most, a blip on the radar screen suddenly disappearing or a final, uncomfortable phone call home.  Greengrass’s use of a loose, documentary-esque aesthetic, derived from his earlier TV outings The Murder of Stephen Lawrence (1999) and Bloody Sunday (2002), enable him to at first gently play out the normality of the situation and then cut loose in a frenzied and erratic style as the situation erupts.

The use of an excellent, non A-list cast aids proceedings greatly.  We have no preconceived baggage of them from other roles, their very ordinariness enabling an instant connection to be made.  If an Affleck style square-jawed type were to be included this would merely undercut the whole point of the film, and Greengrass’s biggest virtue, which is simply to play out a reconstruction of the incident focusing solely on the human element with no aspirations to politicise, condemn, judge or throw conspiracy theories into the mix.  For the participants of Flight 93 that day this was a fight for survival.  Any thoughts regarding country, as US propaganda merchants have played on, were rightly second to that of themselves and family.  It is this element that concerns Greengrass, one which he invests with astounding integrity throughout until the hysterical, gritty final reel.

Requiem For A Dream (2000)

Director: Darren Aronofsky, US, 97 mins

Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald

Previously there has been only one attempt to transfer Hubert Selby Jr.’s raw, unflinching prose to film, Uli Edel’s Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989).  The author’s 1964 debut novel (banned in Italy and prosecuted for obscenity in Great Britain in 1967) made a decent transition, the gritty, blue collar streets inspired by Selby’s 1950’s youth realised at the slight sacrifice of some narrative tropes.  Poor distribution condemned it to a limited theatrical run.  11 years later and Requiem For A Dream met a similar fate, courtesy of a unnecessary NC-17 rating from the MPAA.  Artisan chose to release it unrated.

Aronofsky’s sophomore effort, co-written with Selby and adapted from his 1978 novel of the same name, could so easily be categorized as “another drug movie”, but to see it in solely this context demeans what is a mature piece on modern day addiction at large, and its destruction of aspirations.  Set in Coney Island, the film charts the trajectory of Harry Goldfarb (Leto), his girlfriend Marion (Connelly) and best friend Tyrone (Wayans) on the downward spiral of drug abuse.  An acute comparison is drawn through Harry’s widowed mother Sara (Burstyn, remarkable) and her misplaced faith in prescription drugs to lose weight for Tappy Tippon’s (McDonald) trashy self help chat show which she longs to appear on.

The latter narrative thread lends significant weight to the overall argument, best illustrated in the scene where Harry recognizes Sara’s use of uppers and downers which she dismisses as a problem.  Their legal nature and social acceptability shield her from the truth, give her hope and keep the unobtainable alive, in this case the preoccupation and obsession concerning body size and the pursuit of celebrity, themselves addictions of the modern condition.  Harry and Tyrone’s deluded ambition to become dealers and Marion’s desire to move into fashion are equally flawed, Aronofsky making no differentiation between legal and illegal, addiction being simply one and the same, a plug to forget deeper psychological scars with no Trainspotting (1996)“Choose Life” denouement possible for these lost souls.

Charges of style over substance were somewhat unfairly levelled by some on the films release.  Over 2000 cuts are used throughout, double that of a normal film, but the overall tone stylistically compliments the frenzied see-saw lifestyle of the protagonists.  Long shots and time lapse photography capture a mundane, grey normality followed by short, sharp montages as a substance is ingested (in an absorbing commentary Aronofsky highlights MTV Hip Hop videos as an influence for this) and rigid close ups as effects fade and paranoia and disillusionment set in.

The climax of the film, the primary reason the MPAA granted the aforementioned rating, pushes these stylistic boundaries further to a relentlessly punishing extent.  Claustrophobia and disorientation are evoked as the camera cuts in tight to an individual’s face, shaking violently, a technique used in the director’s low budget sci-fi, thriller Pi (1998).  A staccato of cross cutting, split screen and piercing sound accompanied by Clint Mansell’s pounding score and the Kronos Quartet (using music from Requiems by Mozart and Verdi) drives on as each of the protagonist’s fates are unveiled.  Requiem For A Dream may be an agonizing, unnerving experience, but the combination of technical virtuosity combined with emotional undercurrent marks it out as a unique, visceral and empathetic study of addiction and the human condition.                                       

Withnail and I (1986)

Director/Writer: Bruce Robinson

Cast: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths, Ralph Brown, Michael Elphick

In October 2006 someone, somewhere came up with the most ridiculous, not to mention blasphemous, concept ever – a stage version of Withnail and I.  “It’s a crap idea, what possible function would it serve except to make someone some money” said Richard Griffiths who played the now infamous Uncle Monty in the 1987 original.  Speculation has thankfully receded since.  Withnail treading the boards?  They, whoever they might be, say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  However, why imitate when the original is note perfect and surely one of the finest films to have come out of this small island we inhabit.

Grand words maybe.  I can hear the howls of derision from critical puritans.  How could Withnail take a seat at the same table as the creative offspring of directors such as Lean, Reed, Powell and Pressburger, Leigh, Roeg, Anderson etc?  Director/writer Bruce Robinson may not have built up a classic auteur reputation like the aforementioned, but his début is that rarest of beasts.  It stands the test of time and multiple viewings, every scene being as hilarious as the last, the whole 108 minutes an absolute and constant pleasure.    Robinson described Withnail in retrospect as “a badly shot film with great dialogue”.  The former is true, but when the screenplay filmed is the most quotable ever, issues surrounding camerawork pale into insignificance.

Withnail and I charts the drink and drug addled course of two out of work actors at the tail end of the 60’s in Camden Town, London.  For a change of scenery they go for a weekend in the country residing at Withnail’s gay Uncle’s cottage with farcical results.  The seeds for the screenplay were spun from Robinson’s own personal experience, the ‘I’ character, who acts as partial narrator and foil for Withnail, a surrogate persona for himself.  Inspiration for Withnail derived from Robinson’s flat mate Vivian MacKerrell, who upon leaving drama school never worked and died young of throat cancer.  Robinson himself later found work, his most notable appearance as Benvolio in Franco Zefferelli’s anodyne adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (1968).  Zefferelli’s on-set advances towards him subsequently formed the basis for the latter half of the picture, with Uncle Monty’s none too subtle attempts to seduce ‘I’ after Withnail lies about his sexuality to get access to Monty’s countryside abode (“I mean to have you boy, even if it must be burglary”).

After his screenplay spawned success with the multi Oscar winning The Killing Fields (1984) Robinson set up Withnail at HandMade Pictures, Beatle George Harrison’s company that had already made the two Monty Python films The Holy Grail (1974) and Life of Brian (1979).  He received £1 for the script and £80,000 for helming the project, although just under half of this fee would be put back into the picture whose £1.1 million budget did not allow essential scenes to be shot, Handmade refusing to cover them.  Casting was not an easy process for someone meticulous as to how his words were spoken.  Paul McGann got the ‘I’ part, lost it and regained it again.  Potential candidates for Withnail included a young Daniel Day Lewis and Bill Nighy before Grant won Robinson over despite his lack of experience.

Production was a strenuous process for the debutant director who began nervous and apprehensive as to what would lie ahead and deteriorated from there on in.  Grant and McGann both recall Robinson’s paranoia when crew members would crack up during scenes, assuming that this was due to flaws in his dialogue, dismissing any thought of genuine laughter.  The addition of American executive producer Denis O’Brien on set merely intensified the situation.  His belief was that Grant should play the part camper, more in a Kenneth Williams, Carry On vein.  Robinson threatened to walk if interference continued but long-term won the battle to maintain his own vision of the picture.  Upon finishing the picture HandMade was bought up and a new distributor took over.  When released in 1988 Withnail played out in UK cinemas for a few weeks and got pulled.  It fared slightly better in theUSwith Grant’s performance attracting particular interest and critical praise.  Barely a dent was made in the box office.

Television and the video market effectively saved Withnail.  Like It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) before it and The Shawshank Redemption (1994) after, critics and audiences rediscovered and re-evaluated opinions.  A cult following quickly grew.  The main attraction is Grant’s performance as Withnail, surely the best portrayal of inebriation to grace cinema and particularly impressive considering Grants tee-total, non-smoking status.  Robinson insisted Grant get pissed once before shooting so he would have a “chemical memory” of what it felt like, which ended in a predictably messy fashion.

Grant gets all the best lines – “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake”, “We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now”, “I must have some booze.  I demand to have some booze” and, when frequently hung over, “I feel like a pigs shat in my head”.  Despite the characters cowardice, narcissism, arrogance and constant loathing (not to mention selling his friends arse for a weekend in the country, citing “tactical necessity, calculated risk”) you can’t help but revel in every second of his screen time.  Perhaps this is down to his healthy dose of English pessimism, a trait we can fully appreciate and empathise with.  Some screenplays would have run with a grotesque one dimensional stereotype but Robinson’s skill is to invest this English eccentric with an air of tragedy.  Withnail is someone of great ability (as illustrated by his delivery of the Hamlet monologue in the films final scene) lost in this vast canvas we call existence.  The very thing that we find laughter in is his frequent intoxication and multitude of addictions – a way out, but one that will prove to be much to his own personal detriment.  McGann as ‘I’, or Marwood as he’s known in the screenplay, is solid in the straight man role, an innocent who always gets on the receiving end as Withnail pulls the strings.

The supporting players are also exemplary.  Monty exudes the same sadness as his nephew.  Any possibilities of him being a barmy, camp stereotype dispatching sexual metaphors (“There is you’ll agree a certain je ne sais quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot”) evaporate as we learn of his failed theatrical aspirations and overwhelming desire for a partner.  Like Withnail he’s lost but his solitude is due to the decade, Monty’s tea and crumpets traditionalism usurped by swinging sixties cultural changes.  Ralph Brown’s severely addled hippy dealer Danny has only two scenes but both are classics, the first revealing his entrepreneurial ventures into the toy market  and the second containing the legendary 12 skin whitey-inducing Camberwell Carrot (“I invented it in Camberwell and it’s shaped like a carrot”).

On another level Robinson’s screenplay mourns the end of the sixties, an era of free love, drugs and hope, not necessarily in that order.  As Danny says, in a rare moment of caned clarity, “We have failed to paint it black” and “We are at the end of an age. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is nearly over. They’re selling hippy wigs in Woolworths.”  The depiction ofEnglandis grimy and downbeat, a world of greasy spoons, tabloid newspapers and demolished buildings. Matters would worsen under Heath.  After that was Thatcher.

Grant would go on to work with Altman, Scorsese and Coppola, (of which he gives a lively account in his diary With Nails) but has never surpassed his début performance.  Withnail would doubtlessly have something to say about recent appearances in catalogue commercials.  McGann got steady film and TV work, starring as Dr Who in a feature length movie episode.  Robinson would direct Grant again in honest failure How To Get Ahead in Advertising (1989) and standard US thriller Jennifer 8 (1992).  Only very recently has he returned behind the camera with an adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s The Rum Diaries (2011), seemingly a perfect marriage of director and content but not quite as successful in execution.  Somehow I doubt he will better his poignant, acerbic, hilarious début.  All that could be placed near it in the laugh for laugh stakes would be This is Spinal Tap(1984) but, to quote Withnail, “You can stuff it up your arse for nothing, and fuck off while your doing it.”.  Chin, chin.

Family Life (1971)

Dir: Ken Loach, GB, 108 mins

Cast: Sandy Ratcliff, Bill Dean, Grace Cave, Malcom Tierney, Michael Riddall, Alan MacNaughton

With a career spanning the best part of fifty years few British directors have chronicled the hardships of working class life as astutely and comprehensively as Ken Loach.  Taking on the baton of social realism from his Kitchen Sink contemporaries, such as Lindsay Anderson (This Sporting Life, 1963) and Karel Reisz (Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, 1960), Loach has stayed true to his roots and beliefs, vehemently highlighting political and social ramifications that impinge on his everyman protagonists.  His oeuvre stands alone as testament to a strata of society fighting for survival against an unjust, unsympathetic establishment.

Family Life was Loach’s first feature after the critical and commercial success of Kes (1969).  Technically it is a remake of In Two Minds (1967), one of a cycle of BBC backed Wednesday Play episodes which also brought about Cathy Come Home (1966), infamous for sparking a public and parliamentary debate on homelessness.  TheLondon based narrative focuses on Janice Baildon (Ratcliff), a confused nineteen year old unable to hold down a job and gradually losing mental stability.  Her parent’s (Dean and Cave) rigid attempts to come to terms with the situation result in them seeking psychological help for their daughter.

Janice’s bewilderment arises out of her family’s expectations of her as a working class woman, at a time when notions of traditional English values are being usurped by a seventies counter-culture that offers another path, one that doesn’t necessarily lead to a husband, children and a mortgage.  She has mental health issues, but understands and desperately fights against the indoctrination process that passes from generation to generation.  As they look out the window at endless rows of terrace houses set against a dull, grey sky, Janice’s boyfriend Tim (Tierney) encapsulates the predicament perfectly as he comments on her parents “So they can go out to one of those factories and do a days work, that’s what its all about, that’s all it is, that’s what families are, bloody training camps, to get you to do the same thing”.  Janice is intelligent enough to recognize the predicament she is in and wants to break this cycle, but the structure of the class system and the ideology that has been ingrained upon it is determined to control, moderate and keep her in place.

Loach’s film is a brutal indictment on the mental healthcare system of the period.  Under new unorthodox counselling sessions with Dr. Donaldson (Riddall), who does not believe in medication to solve the issue, Janice opens up and makes progress, talking through her feelings.  Donaldson interviews each family member separately and a dysfunctional profile of the unit is unveiled, one founded on a marriage of obligation and emotional repression.  However, due to “administrative reasons” the stuffy, conservative board disbands this project.  Janice is then placed into the care of Dr. Carswell (MacNaughton) who favours electro-shock therapy and she rapidly deteriorates.  The final scene of the film where Carswell brings her out as a case study for a group of bored med students evokes a disturbing throwback to the archaic methods of a less enlightened era.

By fusing documentary aesthetics to a fictional form, the realism of the former enhances the latter.  Performances feel naturalistic; a key trait of Loach’s is to employ non-actors, as is the case with Riddall who actually worked for the NHS, or actors with some emotional connection through relevant life experience.  Scenes have a vitality and unpredictability to them with overlapping dialogue which compliments the camerawork to achieve the desired overall effect.  Family Life regrettably failed to find an audience due to its controversial subject matter, but remains a fiercely intelligent, confrontational insight into the mental healthcare system and the psychology of a working class family from Britain’s only truly committed, political filmmaker.