A is for Amadeus (1984) – Directed by Milos Forman
Mozart, but not as you’d expect.
The film centres on a retelling of Mozart’s time in Vienna by his contemporary Antonio Salieri. An accomplished yet restricted composer, the film investigates (a highly fictionalised version of) his struggle with glaring exposure to Mozart’s genius in all its fantastic and boorish reality.
Highly entertaining, the film does for Mozart what Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet did for Shakespeare, without being so irritatingly wet. Having said that, Tom Hulce’s laugh will be ringing in your ears for days.
A is for The African Queen (1951) – Directed by John Huston
The African Queen has everything. Directed by cinema-behemoth John Huston (Asphalt Jungle, The Misfits) it stars the perfectly matched odd couple, rough and ready Humphrey Bogart and the potently prissy Katharine Hepburn. The plot revolves around Rose Sayer (Hepburn), a christian missionary, having to make a difficult river journey through German occupied east Africa with only small boat captain Charlie Allnut (Bogart) for company. This film has laughs, tears, romance, high adventure, and some of the most brilliant cast chemistry you could hope to see in film.
An interview with Anjelica Huston, talking about the shooting of The African Queen: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/may/11/anjelica-john-huston-african-queen
A is for The Apple (1998) – Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf
This semi-documentary – Samira Makhmalbaf’s first film, made when she was only 17 – tells the true story of a pair of 11 year-old twin sisters who have been kept imprisoned for years by their impoverished father and blind mother.
When concerned neighbours write-up a petition and send it to social services, the family are summoned and the girls examined; whilst the twins are physically healthy, they are severely mentally impaired due, it would seem, to their totally lack of social interaction. The father is ordered to release the girls, to which he protests that he keeps them locked up for their own good: whilst he is away at work, local boys climb over his walls – he is trying to protect the honour of his girls.
As the girls are set free, in turn imprisoning their father in the cell in which they were once kept, they roam the city, encountering strangers and making friends for the first time.
The apple, a symbol of consciousness and social knowledge, is a motif that crops up throughout the film, whether it be as the girls’ most favoured treat, which at one point, having dropped, one of them grasps to reach from between the bars, or as in the last scene when, her husband locked away and her daughters who knows where, the blind mother leaves the home herself, perhaps for the first time in years, and encounters a schoolboy’s prank – an apple that he is dangled out of a window by a string. At first she merely bumps into it, unsure what it is, she grasps for it and eventually catches it, clasping the apple in her hand.
It is hard not to read the film as a clever metaphor for the position of women in Iranian society (clever, because, such public dissent must be formed cautiously), a metaphor in which women are prisoners of the socio-political order that is the Islamic republic. The film indicates (as does Makhmalbaf’s later film, At Five in the Afternoon) that only through the liberation of their consciousness will women be able to stand up against the beatings inflicted to their bodies and minds by the iron arm of tradition.
The Apple, like Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up, weaves a poetic story in which it is unclear which parts are fact and which fiction. In both cases, this bittersweet disorientation is heighten by the use, not only of non-professional actors, but of the actual people involved in the true story playing themselves. Their lives are, quite literally, being played out before our eyes, giving the viewer not only an extraordinary sense of privilege, but also of discomfort in the face of the conflict between the consciousness of our privilege, our guilt in the face of this privilege and of the poignancy of the story which, ultimately, moves us to enjoyment.
Interview with Samira Makhmalbaf on her film At Five in the Afternoon: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2004/apr/03/features.weekend
Interview on her film Blackboards: http://www.indiewire.com/article/interview_samira_makhmalbaf_paints_it_blackboards