Tuesday 9 February 2021

Screen life: the films I've loved

Today I'm sitting at my computer in three jumpers, looking through the window at snowflakes swirling around the garden. As ever, I'm peering through a screen at the real world beyond. The pandemic has turned us into a nation of voyeurs, gleaning our entertainment from Zoom, television, mobile phones... and now windows.

A snow globe in front of a window
Living in a bubble
Not that I'm complaining. I've had my fresh air this morning and it's chilly enough in the house, let alone outside. I'm also quite a fan of Zoom and its ilk. Without video conferencing, I wouldn't be able to read Jacqueline Wilson to my nieces, catch up with family/friends, watch live theatre, enjoy Arts Society talks or take part in an upcoming Chinese New Year quiz this weekend. This is life in 2021.

At Christmas, we bought a new television and though I resisted it at the time, I'm so glad we did. This weekend alone, we watched two stellar films in high definition - The Dig (available on Netflix) and Green Book (on Amazon Prime). Our living room has become both a home cinema and a part-time gym (where we do our Pilates and Zumba via... yes, Zoom). 

Film night

The Dig creates a drama around the Sutton Hoo excavation in Suffolk just before the second world war. It stars Carey Mulligan as a young widow who employs an excavator (Ralph Fiennes) to uncover the strange mounds in her back garden. The film is tender and beautifully shot, dwelling on the fleeting nature of human existence (if you're of a certain age and disposition, it's tears all round).

The excavation uncovers the burial of an Anglo-Saxon king in the skeleton of a 90-foot ship, apparently hauled inland by hundreds of men 1,400 years ago. Against the backdrop of this grand-scale memorial, the film focuses on the transient moments of its main protagonists: a fleeting love affair, the bond between a mother and child, a common man's struggle to define himself in a class-ridden society - Sutton Hoo will eventually become his moment in time.

Green Book, starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, is a different kettle of fish. It uses humour and an unlikely friendship between two men to explore racial prejudice in 1960s America. There is something touching about the bond they form; the highly educated African-American musician taking it upon himself to better his hired driver, who comes from an Italian neighbourhood in the Bronx. Meanwhile, the increasingly loyal and streetwise driver extracts the musician from various scrapes during a tour of the deep south. For added poignancy, it too is based upon a true story.

Stuck at home in a pandemic, conducting our lives through the prism of Zoom, such themes of friendship, mortality and transience inevitably strike a chord. And, while I remain housebound, these remote and vicarious pleasures will have to fill the void. Outside my window, the snow is still fluttering down, but like so many other things in life, it refuses to settle.

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