“Solaris”

We could not have a list of interesting films without including at least one film by Andrei Tarkovsky, the Russian film director.

The film, from 1972, was based on a book by Stanislaw Lem, the Polish author. Lem apparently did not like the film.

The film was described as a Russian “2001: A Space Odyssey” and that’s why we saw it, at the Curzon cinema in London. It is certainly true that there are some similarities, but where “2001” is meticulous in its detail and accuracy, “Solaris” is more concerned about the human story.

So, the story. Strange things have been happening at the planet Solaris and scientist Kris Kelvin is sent to investigate, but also to decide if the run-down space station orbiting the planet Solaris should continue. He leaves his family on Earth and gets to the space station, where strange things happen.

Like most Tarkovsky films, there are long scenes of water, just being water. There’s the usual Tarkovsky family stuff, this time about his relationship with his father.

The space station looks tatty and neglected.

His friend has killed himself and the only remaining inhabitants are very secretive. Kris has demons from his own past to fight, and there is some kind of resolution.

It’s a film about what it means to be. How do we know we are human, and what does being human actually mean?

The music is haunting and the ending enigmatic, as you would expect.

Natalya Bondarchuk is fantastic as Kris’ dead wife Hari, and the whole film has a claustrophobic feel to it.

It’s a good long film that demands your concentration. Yes, it’s slow to start. well, OK, it’s slow.

Just, avoid the George Clooney re-make.

Kurt Vonnegut

We’ve always loved Kurt Vonnegut as an author. He has written some wonderful books. A few have been made into films:

There’s “Mother Night” with Nick Nolte and Sheryl Lee.

“Breakfast Of Champions” with Bruce Willis.

“Happy Birthday Wanda June” with Rod Steiger.

And perhaps Vonnegut’s best known work, “Slaughterhouse Five” with Valerie Perrine.

They are all rather flawed but worth a watch, though very hard to find on home media and never shown on tv.

“Oh What A Lovely War”

In the late 1960s, when I did my O Levels, I studied History. I hated it, still do. It has no point to me, just a blinkered and edited view of the world. My History teacher was some-one I did not get on with, my fault I am sure.

One day he took us to the cinema to see this 1969 much neglected film, “Oh! What A Lovely War”. Teacher hated it because it was “too anti-war”, something I still clearly remember after all this time.

The piece started as a musical at the Theatre Royal, Stratford in the early 1960s. When it was made into a film it had a stellar British cast (John Mills, John Gielgud, Dirk Bogard, Maggie Smith, Laurence Olivier, Vanessa Redgrave…) and a first time director named, er, Richard Attenborough. The script was by Len Deighton, who asked for his name to be kept off the credits but then regretted it.

It tells a potted history of the events of World War I, with songs from the time. The film follows the fate of the many members of the Smith family. Much was filmed on the old Brighton pier, the one that is now destroyed.

I have never seen it as a theatre piece, but I know it’s still popular. The film doesn’t quite work, but is definitely worth viewing. It shows much of the futility of war, and the conditions in the trenches.

And it has a famous end…