Thursday, 16 February 2012


It's just a bit too grim for Chloe Sevigny apparently, but if you happen to be up Manchester way on 23rd February then GRIMM UP NORTH have a great arthouse horror double bill coming your way ..

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE. Adam Wingard’s unrelenting and violently modern psycho thriller that is just as disturbing as it is powerful. As an Award winning festival favourite, Grimm are proud to announce that we will be screening the film before its official UK DVD release (in March).

 AMER ‘This is art-house horror, a pure cinema for connoisseurs, a return to late-19th-century decadence.’ An homage to the great works of Argento and Bava, Amer is psychosexual thriller that captures the zeitgeist of 70′s Italian horror effortlessly.
Find out more and order tickets here!

Friday, 3 February 2012


The surname ‘Melville’ was a pseudonym adopted originally in tribute to the American author Herman Melville by Jean-Pierre Grumbach during the Second World War, soon after he joined the Gaullist Resistance movement as a response to the occupation of France by Nazi forces in May, 1940. A fiercely independent but committed student of cinema, Jean Pierre Melville’s subsequent experiences during the war influenced the subject matter and attitude informing many of his own movies, which became synonymous with a terse, often austerely existential display of gritty American gangster chic and 1960s French pop culture in classic works such as Le Samouraï (1967) and Le Cercle rouge (1969), both starring Alain Delon.
Credited as a forerunner of the nouvelle vague, mainly because of his refusal to remain hidebound by the limiting syndicalist practises employed by a heavily unionised French studio system in the years immediately after the war, the inexperienced Melville forged his own path from the very beginning of his film career.

Not only was his debut feature,  Le Silence de la mer (The Silence of the Sea) --  an idiosyncratic literary adaptation of Jean Marcel Bruller’s novella (lionised during the postwar period as a piece of wartime Resistance literature, originally distributed secretly in France during the Vichy years by the author’s own publishing company in 1943, under the none de plume Vercors) -- shot despite Melville having previously been denied the necessary membership card for entry into the French film industry, his decision to go ahead anyway, working independently with a small skeleton crew, contravened strict union policy.

Even worse, the director had been refused permission by the suspicious author even to adapt his novella at all (which Melville had first encountered in London via an English translation by Cyril Connolly) since Bruller was possessive about the work’s prestige as a piece of national heritage. Melville only managed to change his mind by agreeing to abide by the decision of a special review board, made up of Resistance movement luminaries, who would be allowed a majority vote on the director's finished work to decide if it remained true to the spirit of the author's original text or not. Only if Melville's adaptation passed this test would the film merit being seen by the general public; if not, it would be destroyed!

On first impressions the novella seemed something of an unlikely candidate for movie adaptation seeing as it is entirely narrated in the first person by one of the story’s three main characters; but part of Melville’s aim was to demonstrate the veracity of his cinematic vision (and its affiliation with the message of the book) with regard to the literary roots of the Vercors source material, and in the process to challenge existing cinematic conventions regarding the division between realism and poetic realisation. Perhaps the most significant development the film contributes in view of this aim, comes about through Melville managing to persuade the author to allow him to use the actual house Bruller composed the tale in as the location of the old man and his niece’s cottage –so  the very study in which the novella was conceived now becomes the place of main action in Melville’s adaptation of it, lit with expressionistic light and shade by photographer turned cameraman for the project, Henri Decaë.

The film opens with a short scene intended to symbolise the unity of intent that lay behind both works, while inviting the audience to leave behind the printed page and enter Melville’s evocative visual substantiation of the novella’s central idea: that of silence posited as a form of resistance in the face of the all powerful enemy, where, like the ‘sea’ of the story’s title which on the surface appears calm and uneventful yet contains its own unreachable systems of life submerged below the surface, whole realms of intellectual and emotional French life are shown to continue unsullied by the occupation. Ironically then, the film is a tribute to the written word, which need not be spoken out loud in order to resist.

The night-time opening sequence plays like a premonition of Melville’s gangster noir aesthetic, as well as foreshadowing future projects that were also later to deal with the subject of France’s wartime occupation. We see a shadowy figure pass a suitcase to another seen loitering in shadows on a cobbled Parisian street corner. The case is opened to reveal, hidden underneath some neatly pressed clothes, many copies of illicit Resistance newspapers that would have been distributed by the underground at the time of the film’s setting. Beneath them is a copy of Vercors’ book, the pages spilling open, and in the process becoming the backdrop for the movie’s opening credits. Thus the film’s close identification with the idea of the importance of literature as a Resistance weapon is ritually formalised, and we enter the narrative proper through a voice over which belongs to an old man (Jean-Marie Robain), who is listed in the film’s credits The Uncle  

The scene of action opens on a small village on the outskirts of Paris, the location of a simple cottage dwelling belonging to the bookish, grey-haired Uncle and his young niece (Nicole Stéphane). We join them, one snow-enshrined winter, as two Nazi soldiers appear at their doorstep and ‘request’ an inspection of the couple’s rooms -- where after they set about making certain preparations which the Uncle and his niece pertinently ignore, despite the obvious inconvenience to their traditional everyday routine. It transpires that these foot-soldiers had been charged with finding a suitable billet for a Nazi officer, who turns up a few days later, on a traditionally dark and stormy night, like a phantom from a German expressionist nightmare.

The niece opens the door to the officer, who formally introduced himself as Werner von Ebrennac (Howard Vernon). Despite his unnerving gaunt look and regardless of a looming, imposing frame and a pronounced limp, the officer proves a most courteous and affable guest, apparently anxious not to impose on, or inconvenience, his ‘hosts’ in any way. Yet neither the Uncle nor his tight-lipped niece will offer a word of acknowledgement that would indicate their awareness of Ebrennac’s presence. They resolve to carry on with their daily routines and not to alter their lives in the slightest way; indeed they intend to carry on as though the officer did not exist at all. They treat him as though he was indeed a ghost, and neither speak nor glance at him when he comes and goes: the Uncle continues to sit as usual by the fire in the book-lined parlour with his coffee and his pipe; the niece sits upright in a fireside armchair, sewing. The only noise derives from the persistent ticking of an antique Grandfather clock, ensconced in the gathering gloom in the corner of the room

Yet Ebrennac does not take offence at this apparent slight. Indeed, as the days and months go by, he talks to his two unwilling landlords -- or at them – frequently, and sometimes at great length, even though he never gets, nor expects to get, an answer from either one of them. An urbane and cultured man, who before the war worked as a composer, Von Ebrennac considers himself something of a Francophile, and regales his two hosts with his considered and knowledgeable appreciation of the superiority of French literature and culture; he takes to the harmonium, which otherwise sits idle in the corner, and plays beautiful Bach pieces which cannot help but mesmerise the two occupants of the cottage, despite their commitment and resolve to maintaining their silence and lack of interaction with this charming interloper.

For most of its running time then, the film functions essentially as a three-hander, made all the more eccentric in style and tone for having only one of the three players actually speak out loud, although the film’s soundtrack is chock full of speech from at least one member of the silent couple, in the form of the Uncle’s voice over. Throughout, von Ebrennac  behaves impeccably towards his French hosts and indulges in vividly delivered monologues on the superiority of French culture – the actor Howard Vernon here seen playing ‘the good German’ and working against the standard sadistic Nazi stereotype he had previously been associated with in several earlier movies with a French Resistance theme. Nevertheless, the relation of oppressor and oppressed is always made clear in the film’s illustration of the relative social positions of hosts and respective lodger, with the former always seated and usually huddled around the open wood fire in the parlour and the latter seen standing and pacing the room while he delivers his enthused monologues, Melville all the while shooting these scenes often from low angles which serve to accentuate von Ebrennac’s social dominance despite his kindly nature.

With his distinctive, chiseled jawline and slightly bulging eyes, Vernon is every inch the movie villain in appearance, and the low angles and shadowy lighting schemes which initially provide the framework for his introduction into the narrative, also foreshadow the actor’s later career as a diabolical fiend in the work of Jess Franco; particularly of course, with his defining performance as the sepulchral title character from that vintage ‘60s period piece The Awful Dr Orloff (or Screams in the Night). But the purpose of Vernon’s portrayal of such an unlikely sympathetic character, here, is not so much to present a fuller portrait of a more sensitive, thinking type of German officer, caught up in the Nazi machine so to speak, as to highlight the naivety and wrongheadedness inherent in the idea he comes to represent: namely, that France and Germany could’ve flourished to each other’s mutual benefit under a collaborationist regime such as that represented by the Vichy Government under Marshal Petain.

Viewing the film from a post war perspective of course, the viewing French audience at the time did not need to have the folly of such a position spelled out to them; despite or because of his Francophilia and love and respect for the thinkers, writers and artists of the country he finds himself occupying, von Ebrennac sincerely believes that an official union between France and Germany, which might one day result from the latter’s unfortunate but necessary present occupation, would only ultimately strengthen both countries for the good of the other. This rarefied, unrealistic belief is dramatised by von Ebrennac’s romantic overtures -- made only in oblique literary terms -- towards the young niece, whose voice is never heard but who is often shot in proud profile throughout a great deal of the movie, as though she were a figurative, idealised representation of the honour and pure spirit of France itself, in stark contrast to von Ebrennac’s German fiancee, who is shown gleefully pulling the legs off of an insect during a flashback sequence!
These fanciful overtures are at one point couched in terms that reference the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, in which von Ebrennac tells how in that story Beauty gradually learned to see past the ugliness of the Beast, to recognise the noble spirit within. In view of his emotionally wrought, sensitive renditions of Bach’s music at the harmonium, and his gentlemanly almost courtly respect towards the two French inhabitants of the cottage, von Ebrennac is casting himself, as a representative of the misunderstood German nation, in ‘the Beast’ role, and the niece, as representative of occupied France, in the role of ‘Beauty’. Coincidentally, Jean Cocteau, who would later film a version of that classic French fairy tale, was one of the Resistance luminaries tasked with the job of assessing Melville’s work before it could be shown publically; his approval is vouchsafed and confirmed by the fact that soon after the screening he chose Melville to direct the film version of his 1929 novel Les Enfants Terribles.

Melville often attempts to subvert the assumed orthodoxies which had grown up around the use of voice over and monologue in literary adaptations: the film appears to go out of its way to avoid the usual ‘opening out  of the action’ normally required and expected in such works and instead deliberately languishes inert in the very literariness of the piece, the characters remaining among the books of the Uncle’s library where the resisters' interior struggle to remain silent in the face of such a charming ‘enemy’ (who seems on the face of things as though he merits some form of acknowledgement and interaction), is mainly played out. Although silence as a form of resistance is the theme, the film itself is never silent at all -- the Uncle’s perspective is always being advanced through constant use of a voice over, delivered from a future, post-war perspective (that which was shared by the-then contemporary audience) and with an almost relentless orchestral underscore by Edgar Bischoff, which works to dramatise that interior struggle rather than exterior events, frequently swelling to a climax even though a character may not have moved from his chair during the scene!

The dramatic crux of the story is arrived at when von Ebrennac travels to Paris to visit the main Kommandantur, and while there is exposed to the reality of the Nazi party’s true intentions for France and the rest of Europe: he hears some of his cultivated officer colleagues jovially discussing the horrors of Treblinka (the extermination camp set up by the Nazis in occupied Poland) and they ridicule his regard for the culture of France, openly discussing how the country must ultimately be crushed. Von Ebrennac returns to his French hosts in the village, disabused of his previous fantasies of French-German collaborative harmony, and with a clear choice to make now, between opposing this criminal regime and sticking with his original nationalistic dreams, despite his newfound enlightenment as to the evil nature of the Nazi cause. This, beyond all the noble refined talk of culture and history, is where the true measure of the man is to be found …

A complex and lyrical film with much historical baggage that needs to be examined and some heady cinematic history behind it that needs to be unpacked before one is able to appreciate the work fully in its proper context, Le Silence de la mer is extremely well-served by the latest double-play release in the Masters of Cinema range, which includes a number of authoritative extras which help considerably in enhancing one’s understanding of the work.
Ginette Vincendeau is professor of French cinema at King’s College London and author of the book “Jean-Pierre Melville: An American in Paris”; she provides an excellent primer here in the form of a 23 minute video essay which appears on both Blu-ray and DVD versions, and which makes clear the background to the making of the film and how the main themes of Vercors’ novella were realised by Melville and his small independent crew. Even more enlightening is the essay Vincendeau contributes to the 56 page booklet which also accompanies the release. Here the professor explores in-depth many other issues raised by Melville’s film, such as its apparent sidelining of the female voice, and the way Melville’s unorthodox film grammar and aesthetics are used to attempt to complement the main themes of the original novella. The booklet also includes an engrossing and insightful interview with the director himself, conducted by Rui Nogueira for his 1971 book “Melville on Melville” and translated into English by Tom Milne, in which the director talks at length about the circumstances surrounding the making of the film and about his wish to make a piece of work that ‘banished movement and action’ yet at the same time was full of ‘images and sounds’ -- what he calls an ‘anti-cinematographic’ film.
The Blu-ray copy in the set also includes a 41 minute French-made documentary called Melville Out Of The Shadows, and also the original theatrical trailer.

TITLE: Le Silence de la mer/MOVIE RELEASE DATE: 1949/DOUBLE-PLAY RELEASE DATE: 23 January 2012/GENRE: World Cinema/LABEL: Eureka Entertainment/REGION: ALL/ASPECT RATIO: 1.37:1/DIRECTOR: Jean-Pierre Melville/CAST: Howard Vernon as Werner von Ebrennac, Nicole Stéphane as the niece, Jean-Marie Robain as the uncle

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


Fancy a spot of Splattery Samurai sword action this winter? Then Manchester is the place to be on the 17th of February as GRIMM UP NORTH unleash a double-bill of cult Samurai Splatter action in the form of  SHOGUN ASSASSIN and its sequel BABY CART TO HADES.

SHOGUN ASSASSIN: Once considered a video nasty now considered a cult classic. In the early 80s, the first two Lonewolf and Cub movies were notoriously combined into one blood splattered combo for the western market and a cult classic was born.

BABY CART TO HADES, the third in the Lone Wolf and Cub series of movies, makes up the double bill....
Go to the GRIMM UP NORTH website HERE for more details and to order tickets for the screening, as well as for more news on upcoming events