Do you get on with your family? Think about it before you answer. I don’t mean ‘do you squabble?’ or ‘do you talk to your family?’. I mean do you really get on with them? I ask because this is quite a common question but, upon reflection, I am not really sure how to answer it. There are many ways in which you can ‘get on’ with people and not all of them are good. Ideally, ‘getting on’ with someone would mean accepting them for who they are and being accepted in return. But the truth is a little bit more complex than that because all too often we play roles. Maybe we refuse to bring up old grievances with relatives at Christmas is order to ensure that everyone has a nice time. Maybe we don’t mention that we don’t have a boyfriend because, actually, we prefer girls. Maybe we let our parents and our families believe things about us that are not true. Because it makes our lives easier. Because it makes them happier. So I ask again : Do you get on with your family?
Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel’s third film La Mujer Sin Cabeza is about a woman who gets on with her family. She gets on with her family by accepting the role that she has forced upon her and, in return, she is protected. Protected from the repercussions of her actions. Protected from herself. The Headless Woman is a haunting portrayal of a woman who is suddenly estranged from her own life and who comes to realise the true price she pays for the privileged existence she has lead.
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Due to a lack of money, a lack of time, a lack of people to impress and a lack of a body that someone would want to make clothes for, I have little interest in what is fashionable. I dress in pretty much the same way I did when I was 14 and I think I still have some of the same socks. As a result, you might expect me to have little interest in R. J. Cutler’s documentary about the construction of the September 2007 issue of Vogue magazine. Well, you might very well expect that, but you would be utterly wrong. It is precisely because I have no interest in what is fashionable that I find the world of fashion so profoundly compelling. Films about the fashion industry are explorations of another culture completely different to my own. A culture with a good deal of impact upon the world that we all inhabit. Because of its power and the strangeness of its people and institutions, the fashion industry is a fascinating subject for a film. Regardless of whether it is explored through mockery (as with Robert Altman’s 1994 Pret-a-Porter), hagiography (as with Rodolphe Marconi’s 1997 Lagerfeld Confidential) or thinly veiled contempt (as with David Frankel’s 2006 The Devil Wears Prada).
R.J. Cutler’s The September Issue approaches the subject with a mixture of awe and mockery but, despite some initial setbacks, the film provides some genuine insight into how it is that the world of fashion functions and why it is that it has so much power over our society.
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Over the past week, I have been thinking about two particular works. The first, is Armando Iannucci’s spectacular In The Loop (2009) and the most recent of Adam Curtis’ documentary series The Trap (2007). Both works examine the social and political fall-out from Tony Blair and New Labour’s decade or so in power. Both present us with a post-modern political landscape in which facts and values are not only seen as open to manipulation by people in power, but where facts and values are seen solely as expressions of personal preference. Far from being a hyperbolic and polemical accusation or a satirical construct, this understanding of human cognition is shared by people on the left and the right and has come to dominate the political and conceptual landscape to the extent that it is almost impossible to think of an alternative to it. However, some films, such as those of Paolo Sorrentino present a radically different vision of human cognition. One in which rational self-interest serves as a mask for much deeper and darker passions.
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