Two trips to the Barbican

Two recent visits to the delightful cinemas at the Barbican deserve a mention here:

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly has already been widely lauded, and thoroughly deserves it. Partially adapted from the Jean-Dominique “Jean-Do” Bauby’s autobiography of the same name, the film follows Jean-Do’s experience of living with the rare locked-in syndrome, the sudden onset of which leaves him only able to move one eyelid. Director Julian Schnabel has done a masterful job, using the camera initially to show us the world from Jean-Do’s restricted perspective but gradually opening up the viewer’s line-of-sight as his experiences unfold. His background as a painter clearly helps inform the visual pallete of the film, but he never quite drifts off into the impressionist self-indulgence that would have been so easy. The result is a story that is moving without being sentimental, and tinged with a deep sadness without being depressing. For me, it was one of those films that can serve as a reminder of the medium’s true capabilities.

A Short Film About Killing was showing as part of the current Kieslowski directorspective. It’s a treat to see any of his films on the big screen, even if the print did seem rather muddy. I’d seen this film several years ago when Film 4 actually lived up to its claim of offering the films that were hard to see elsewhere, but the bigger screen naturally made it more engrossing and emphasised its power. It could be said that the core of that power comes through a particularly grizzly murder scene, and much of the film’s energy seeps out (in both directions) from that pivotal moment. That scene was especially hard viewing on a larger canvas.

What struck me on this viewing were more of the film’s subtleties: the sparseness of the settings and the sound editing; the recognition of the naivete of the lawyer who is the closest thing to a hero; and the very human nuances of the characters that makes them simultaneously repulsive and compelling. The legend is that this film was instrumental in the abolition of the death penalty in Poland, and justly so. It’s a powerful reminder that one can be both anti-death penalty and fully aware of the horrific nature of mankind’s worst crimes. But beyond that, it provides a fascinating exploration of the interplay of personal and institutional actions and responsibilities.

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