BluRay/DVD Reviews

SAILCLOTH / THE PALACE

By • Dec 30th, 2011 •

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A couple of short films on DVD showed up in my mailbox this past week, both of them very well made and beautifully acted.

In SAILCLOTH (Academy Award nominee for best short feature, 2011), an old man (John Hurt) escapes from his nursing home, and, using his purloined sheets as a sail, goes out to sea to take care of some final business. The film has no dialogue, but the lonely beauty of the coastal village in Cornwall where it was shot and Richard Cottle’s haunting but not overwhelming score, coupled with John Hurt’s superbly nuanced performance make this a very fulfilling 18 minutes.

The plot of this little film encompasses some nice surprises, which I would be loath to give away. Suffice it to say that it is about triumphing over loss in a very personal way, which makes it sad, uplifting, and, also, funny. There’s Hurt, going through the lonely ritual of readying himself for the day in a sparse, single room. And, there’s Hurt, trotting briskly down the flooded hall of his nursing home, while holding aloft an umbrella. It is a logical development of the plot, and yet it’s an amusing, almost absurdist image.

Hurt plays the only major character in this production; and how much story, how much character we gather from the emotions that cross his aging face! In a December 2011 review of Hurt’s performance in the Beckett play Krapp’s Last Tape, Times reviewer Charles Isherwood wrote that the actor’s expressions reveal a “scarifying picture of the man’s shuffling, tormenting thoughts.” Hurt’s masterful ability to convey fleeting and conflicting emotions imbues this project as well. The corners of his eyes crinkle, and his face lights up when he makes eye contact with a young boy playing on the shore and then, suddenly, a mask of grief overtakes his visage. In a very unforced way, the inner life of the character is revealed.

Watching Hurt, one feels that one is observing a person with a real history, not an actor taking on a character. We see an old man, determined to accomplish one final, meaningful act, but we also observe the vigorous and efficient way he carries it out: the almost jaunty precision with which he executes his escape from the nursing home, the calm determination with which he defies the whipping wind while raising the bed sheet sail. Although this bereft pensioner has been put out to pasture, inside he’s still a quick, feisty, and independent man.

Director Elfar Adalsteins dedicated this short to his own grandfather. Adalsteins has said that he never intended to make another short (after his first, SUBCULTURE), but following the death of his grandfather, he had a flash of an idea–his grandfather’s bed sheet transformed into a sail. This image quickly evolved into a script. The story may be fictional, but the film is a lovely tribute to a man’s spirit.

THE PALACE

I am not one to watch action films. Scenes of violence, chase scenes, even scenes of psychological tension, send me flying to the corner of the room (if we’re lucky enough to be watching at home–into the Ladies Lounge if we are in a multiplex) where I stand with my back to the screen, crying out, “Mark, what’s happening? Is it over?” If this occurs in the multiplex, then, obviously, Mark is still in the theater watching the movie, while I am beseeching my image in the restroom mirror. I know, it’s ridiculous, but it’s because, to me, such movies are like giant nightmares that I cannot get out of.

So, imagine how I felt while watching THE PALACE, which is a fictional account of a real nightmare–the 1974 invasion of Cyprus. According to press materials, the story is based on the confession (later recanted) of one of Turkey’s most respected actors, who said that as a young conscript in the Turkish army, he had been forced to murder ten Greek Cypriots.

THE PALACE presents, in real time, fifteen horrifying moments in the life of a little family in Cyprus. The four are trapped inside their bombed out home as soldiers strafe the city, until father Taki (Christopher Greco) urges them out into the street, where they dodge more bullets, until they enter an ancient, solid palace, which seems a haven. Unfortunately, others have already sequestered themselves there and are terrified that the cries of the infant in mother Stella’s (Daphne Alexander) arms will alert the soldiers to their whereabouts.

The soldiers arrive moments later, and everyone scrambles to hide in closets, trunks, and armoires. Stella holds her hand over her infant’s mouth, as she watches through the slats of the closet as the troops swagger around, destroying and looting. When there is a noise from an armoire, Sergeant Akilan (Kevork Malikyan) orders his soldiers to shoot through the doors. They open the portals, and bodies tumble out. The sergeant is completely desensitized and does not see the poor unarmed victims as human beings; they are merely inanimate things, with rings and cash for the taking.

Throughout the scene, the camera shifts between the point of view of the soldiers and the partially obstructed view of the Stella, watching through the closet slats. This split POV is a terribly effective way to create tension. In spite of the shifting POV, emotionally, this film is not the soldiers’ story; the viewer’s guts are churning for the mother and her family. We experience her grief and fear.

I would not call THE PALACE an actor’s movie, as there are no sharply focused close-ups of actors running the gamut of emotion. The tension is sustained by the editing, and by cinematography that, in its graininess and muted focus, evokes the harshness and the depersonalizing effects of war. And yet the performances are both raw and deep. Although we almost always see Daphne Alexander through slats and dust, half obscured by shadows, her embodiment of the mother’s anguish and terror is palpable. The actors playing the antagonists, the Turkish soldiers, economically embody a hierarchy of men of war–from the hapless conscript Omer (Erol Afsin), to the inured sergeant–with very few lines and very little time on screen.

According to the film’s official site, THE PALACE was shot on location in Cyprus, “along the United Nations Green Line in Nicosia, in buildings and streets still ravaged by the 1974 Cyprus conflict.” An international crew and cast collaboration between Australians, Cypriots, Turks, Germans, Moroccans, Brits, Greeks, and South Africans, THE PALACE is a succinct and harrowing antiwar statement

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One Response »

  1. “Sailcloth” was just released on iTunes. You can watch it here: http://bit.ly/itunes-sailcloth

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