Finding Vivian Maier

Finding-Vivian-Maier-17276806-7

John Maloof’s story of discovering a previously undiscovered photographer of extraordinary quality and insight is tinged throughout with an inevitable sadness. Scouring auctions of unclaimed items in search of old photos for a personal project, he stumbled upon boxes of negatives. Little did he know the find would trigger a compulsive need to uncover the true story of the photographer and her compelling snaps. As the layers are peeled back from the life of the enigmatic Vivian Maier, and fractured clues are pieced together, a composite slowly forms. This tall, arresting woman, glimpsed so often in her own shots – in awkward self-portraits and reflective surfaces – seemed to be shielding a troubled past from even the few people she became reasonably close to. Many of these were, in fact, children as Maier made her meagre living from working as a nanny, all the while devotedly recording for posterity freeze-frames of the world evolving around her through a look-down Rolieflex camera.

Thousands of striking, often terrifying and haunting images are testament to Maier’s artist’s instincts for extracting wordless, poetic meaning from the mundaneness of life. But do they offer just as pointed an insight into her own bleak perspective, one that many of the interviewees in Finding Vivian Maier (2014) suspect was tainted by a troubled upbringing and even a suggestion of abuse? Many questions still remain: her origins, with French on one side of her family; her lack of romantic attachments; her fear of being touched and of men in general; the authenticity of her slight French accent which seemed an affectation to many; the reasons for her seemingly inexplicable desire to distribute her work to a broader audience – all these and more are exhumed and speculated upon.

Any artist’s tale needs a healthy dose of mystery attached to it and Maier’s story honours the tradition; it’s one of eccentricity and suggestiveness, with new pathways – bereft of clues – to explore. But the mysterious core of Maier is mostly untouched, except at its very edges, leaving us curious and fascinated to know more. Maloof and his co-director Charlie Siskel have assembled their journey skilfully and economically, whittling it down to a concise 80 minutes.

Though the innocuous, fortuitous discovery of Maier’s work and Maloof’s attempts to preserve and champion her artistry make for compelling enough viewing, the stunning array of black and white photos are what elevate the film to another level of perception and will have you racing on line to relive in greater detail. Maier’s ability to step into a moment and hold it still for all of eternity is quite something; you can neither look away nor look and remain unaffected. Her portraits of Chicago street life, often documenting startlingly ordinary moments in the lives of the down-and-out are like the conjuring of an army of ghosts from the truck load of negatives that, without Maloof’s random buy, may still be neglected or even extinguished from existence altogether.

……..

……..

Finding Vivian Maier is now out on DVD through Vendetta Films.

Living is Easy (with Eyes Closed)

liv31684-972170

David Trueba’s feel-good drama casts a warm nostalgic glow in its observance of altruism, decency and a tender, all-encompassing musical passion. Set in Spain, 1966, we first encounter Antonio (Javier Cámara), an impassioned, much-loved, middle-aged teacher whose devotion to The Beatles even involves a meticulous breakdown of their lyrics for his students. When he hears that John Lennon is cross-country acting in a film, he decides, optimistically, to use an entire weekend to drive to the set in Almeria and hopefully make contact with his hero.

Interspersing these early scenes, two further important characters are shown at moments of crisis, with a sense of disconnectedness forming the basis of their growing pains. Belen (Natalia de Molina), a pregnant young woman, is desperate to flee a nunnery and return home to her mother. Meanwhile, teenager Juanjo (Francesc Colomer) is finding life tough as just another sibling attempting to forge his own identity under the strict family life imposed by a policeman father (Jorge Sanz). For him, refusing to get his Beatles-like mop-top cut is an act of defiance, and enough to inspire him to hit the road.

Soon the lives of these three strangers converge as Antonio encounters both and for a while Living is Easy (with Eyes Closed) (2014) becomes a road movie. Then the trio arrive in the seaside town closest to where Lennon is filming. All are nursing various hurts, and Antonio expects Belen and Juanjo to simply go their own way. But Belen, having warmed to Antonio, sticks close by and Juanjo gets a job at the local, sparsely-populated tavern of owner Ramon (Ramon Fontsere).

It’s impossible to dislike this film; at the heart of the light drama is the ridiculously likable Antonio. He’s a kind of lovable loser, having never found true love. In a moment of honesty he admits, without the slightest tinge of bitterness, that he’s “all heart” but with nothing to show for it. Yet he’s devoted to his causes and passions in a way that every like-minded person can relate to.

Living is Easy (with Eyes Closed) is not trying to re-invent the wheel; to be critical you might say it lacks real substance but its underlying messages and congeniality are what make it a memorable treat. It often made me laugh out loud or smile whilst simultaneously provoking a reflection on the harshness of fate, as in the burden placed on Ramon with his handicapped son Bruno (Rogelio Fernandez) – a sub-plot that never once allows sentimental manipulation to colour a series of brief, but genuinely affecting scenes.

So much hangs on Cámara, and he breathes magnificent life into Antonio; we believe every word and gesture from this gentle, generous man who is able to put his young passengers at ease and draw them out of their shells by infecting them with his love of life, experience and, of course, music. Living is Easy (with Eyes Closed) never shies away from darker contexts in the way it approaches the coming-of-age aspects of the narrative, yet at its soulful core – in the journey of Antonio – Treuba’s screenplay is built upon a rare and precious kind of positivity. Perhaps it gazes at life through mildly rose-tinted glasses, but every once in a while, what’s the harm in that?

………

………

………

Living is Easy (with Eyes Closed) is now out on DVD through Madman Entertainment.