Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pawing at the door frame.

Tim Roth's controversial directorial debut, The War Zone, captures the desolation and gloom of the English countryside with an uncanny eye. The vast, overcast skies seem to speak of impending doom or hidden terrors, except 'terror' is too exciting a word to describe the kind of inevitable, mundane horror, like the South London wifebeater Winstone plays in the de facto companion piece, Nil By Mouth, which shares having both a gritty and uncompromising English setting and being the solitary directing effort from an established actor (to date). Even the scenes set back in London share the same quiet desperation in the locations of a scraggy dive and a tower-block council flat, where an awkward, aborted seduction takes place.

The War Zone has numerous beautiful landscape shots, especially on opening and closing, but their beauty doesn't stop them being depressing as hell.

A London family relocates to a ramshackle farmhouse and experience turbulence as a new baby girl is born amidst a car accident and dad and his first daughter seem a little too close for comfort. Told through the eyes of the son Tom, the classicly glum and sullen, gangly teen, who already feels isolated at being taken from his old life and dumped in the middle of nowhere, he becomes understandably upset as his relations with his family deteriorate after discovering the secret.

Ray Winstone who usually seems incapable of playing anything but the cockney wide-boy (three-dimensional or not), yet displays here a range in the difficulties of fatherhood (outside of incest) and in his dealings with business people on the phone, catering for what he thinks they expect to hear and proves that he's capable of more than that fackin' accent.
Colin Farrell makes a brief appearance as the local catch who woos Jess to the beach and the war-time pill box, later the scene for the abuse between Jess and her father, but does little besides looking pretty and not sounding Irish.
In keeping with it's 'challenging' indie roots, the main cast all spend some time in states of undress in a decidedly non-tittilating fashion.
Choice quote: "Does he do it up your arse all the time?"
The War Zone can justifiably be called bleak and uncompromising, but despite the controversy surrounding its release, the child abuse/incest is only betrayed as a terrible act, though it's a shame that more isn't made of the father's motivations - leaving him little more than a self-denying monster.

Throughout the film you get the sense that there's something missing in the family home, with the strained, awkward silences as they slouch in the living room, and it took an hour before it struck me - they don't have a telly. Whether it was a part of the back-to-nature impulse of the characters or not, it sends a clear message that if you don't get a TV for the family to sit around, you will Rape Your Kids.


  1. None of these films ever show the fun side of incest.

    Stefan at work has a gang, and the entry criteria is that your parents have to be cousins. It does mean all the members have partially working lungs and terribly big ears, but I bet they have a rollicking good time despite that.

    He calls them the 'Deformo's' I believe. True story.

  2. This reads like Ross-blog. It doesn't sound like Ross-man. It depresses me. Not what you wrote about. How you write it. Sadly a lot of your blogs put an unhappy itch in my head.

    And not just because of the captions.

    I think it's because you are so objective about what you write about. One of your first posts was about Identity Cards. At the end of it I actually shouted at the computer "Yes. But how does this make you FEEL?"

  3. I have nothing to say about this film. Saw it - in the cinema! - back when it came out, was suitably depressed. Not a patch on Nil By Mouth, which is a masterpiece. So Oldman is the better director, based on all the available evidence. But who is the better actor, eh, thats the question?

    Oldman is the obvious answer, for his ridiculous scenery-chewing. But Roth - Roth is fanatastic in Rob Roy. As a cardboard villain who Oldman would play with one dimension. And great in Reservoir Dogs. And in Vincent & Theo. Little Odessa. Made In Britain, the Hit, Captives. Perhaps most especially in Planet of the Apes.

    But then again, Oldman. Sid & Nancy, Prick Up Your Ears, the Firm, State of Grace, JFK, True Romance, and Leon, the first in a long-line of identikit bad mad men.

    Based on Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, you'd have to call it a score draw.

    "Dammit Jim, I'm a blogger, not a machine!" Not all blogs have to be all personal or cathartic, do they, Bones? Sometimes "This is what I Think" is enough.

  4. Happiness may not exactly show the light side of child abuse, but it certainly is a lighter film. Though pitch-dark with its themes of drugged child abuse, isolated mastubatory fantasies and failed relationships, the film has a soppy core, evident in the scene between the paedophile and his son. His son asks why he hasn't been the focus for his father's attentions - there are tears and heart-string tuggings all round as we see a father full of love for his son on one hand, but saddled with a difficult and seemingly inexplicable longing for boys on the other.

    The War Zone has none of this sentiment - the father rails against his son at the suggestion, threatening to kill him as he denies the abuse to his kids who have both been witness to it first hand.
    Where Happiness is self-consciously dark, revelling in gallows humour and what it knows will be a controversial subject, one that the squares and norms can't handle, War Zone is just bleak like the overcast skies above the Devon coast. Open space and broad daylight are habitually used as a metaphor for the much-cherised American ideal of freedom in American features, but in England you can't escape from your demons.

    Roth and Oldman seem to have happily snuggled in the rut of snarling baddies and quirky supporting roles. I agree that Oldman is the better director, but I wouldn't say this means Roth is a bad one. I wonder why they haven't directed since - did they burn their bridges with their harsh subject matter or did they get the bug out of their systems?

    It's initially odd that none of the films that feature paedophilia or incest attempt to address the reasons for the abuse, but I guess it's still something that we as a society still don't understand. It is also hard to portray such a person, or a rapist for instance, with any sympathy without seemingly condoning their actions. Perhaps in this way Happiness is the bolder of the two films.

    Then there's the incest which isn'ty strictly abuse, like in Spanking the Monkey.

    ID cards make me angry.

  5. Your writing is getting tighter and tighter, I think. Because I'm an anal shite, I'll just point out that the "solitary...(to date)" in the first paragraph seems to suggest that no other established actor has ever directed anything.

    Otherwise, nice. I don't plan on watching the film, but I can do that with a better sense of what I'm missing.

    Seen This is England yet?

  6. I see what you mean - not about the tightness, but about the solitary director. It's a confusing sentence more than anything, but in my defence I was writing while watching the film at something like 2 in the morning.
    In retrospect I could edit it, but I tend to leave the posts alone apart from a few bits of spelling tinkering and that.

    I haven't seen This is Eggland yet, I'm looking forward to it, I loved Room for Romeo Brass and Dead Man's Shoes is one of the best British films ever made.
    On the other hand I can't see it being more than the boy being accepted into the skinhead fold and finding kinship there before some of the skinheads get nasty and racialist, the boy doesn't like it anymore and moves on after some sort of harrowing and probably violent incident.
    But we shall see.