Faro Documents

What makes us go and see the films we see?

For me, the answer to this deceptively simple question is we choose the films we see via the film culture of our times and location. I get a thrill when I think of what a film culture is and the potential it has to help passionate moviegoers on their journey of cinematic discovery.  What is a film culture? In a sense, it’s the circus surrounding the freak-show that is cinema, it’s the dust in the beam of light from the projector – not as essential as the movies themselves but a conduit for a richer movie-going experience. It’s the magazines we read, the blogs we skim over, the stars tweets we reply to in the hope they might recognise us mere mortals. It’s also film clubs and societies, pop-ups or otherwise, cinemas, television and now, whether we like it or not, streaming.

I went to a screening of two rare Ingmar Bergman documentaries at the Lexi Cinema on Sunday night in Kensal Rise, a beautiful boutique one-screener which looks like a converted village hall. The night was hosted by the new collective A Nos Amours. And although I could be wrong, I don’t think the two film-makers behind the new collective, Joanna Hogg (Unrelated, Archipelago) and Adam Roberts, like to stream movies much.

Theirs is a dedication to programming:

“…over-looked, under-exposed or especially potent cinema. A Nos Amours is a moveable feast that goes wherever and whenever opportunities arise. A Nos Amours invites film-makers to advocate and present films that they admire or would like to see on a big screen. A Nos Amours believes in the value of watching film as a shared experience.”

It was a great evening.

When I spoke with Adam and Joanna after the screening they relayed their ambition to keep their events moving, not to have them at the same venue all the time.  Even in London, they said, it was difficult to see great films in cinemas so having a variety of films in different locations is very important.

The films Faro Document 1969 and 1979 were a sort of 7 Up affair detailing the lives of the people on the island of Faro where Bergman lived; one made in 1969 and the other in 1979. The films were chosen and introduced by Richard Ayoade, whose debut feature last year Submarine was an excellent first-step on what should become a promising career as a director. One almost forgot his days in the comedy The IT Crowd until he broke the ice with a gag about wedding speeches. Well done Richard, one should never be afraid to take Bergman with a few laughs. The films were, as one may expect from Bergman, full of celebration for the human spirit and a deep respect of old age. He interviewed each subject as an equal and elicited the frankness one has when a life has been hard but fruitful.

There were some astonishing sequences of animal butchery; the island people have to live off their land whether they have crops or cows, sheep and pigs, and the two scenes of a pig and sheep slaughter were brutal. The camera stayed in close up while the skilled knife cut and gouged and the sound of the guts of these animals being taken out caused a few groans from the audience. A shared experience indeed.

Another tremendous woman told how she was hit by a tractor and injured her leg. She nursed her leg at home in its mangled condition for days and weeks and eventually had to have it amputated when a medical team saw it in all its horror. The viewer may think she was stupid for not getting it looked at straight away but this was obviously just a minor setback in what had already been a hard life where a multiple leg-break means only that the work must be done at a slower pace.

Perhaps the most poignant story came with no words at all and reminded us what a master Bergman is. His camera went to one of the fishermen of the island who looked about 80 years old. Bergman showed him reeling in what looked like three lovely mackerel or sardines. Again, the skill in his simple line technique was thrilling in a way and when he got home, he began to cook. Now we were watching a cookery programme but instead of the celebrity chef, here were rough, wrinkled hands dipping the fish in flour and frying with butter. A spatula tuned them over and a sauce was made. He laid the table and put some pre-made mash onto his plate, spooned some of the sauce over it and selected two fish for the plate. Then the camera cut back to see him begin to eat. And the man was alone.

The people of Faro seem like a forgotten people but the juxtaposition between the farmers and some swinging sixties pop in the school bus remind us that although the interviews are being filmed by Bergman’s regular cinematographer Sven Nykvist, we really are in modern times with all the advancements that city life was to yield. These were political films for Bergman, especially the earlier one, because he tells the tales of these financially poor people while offering solutions to their problems at the end.

What next for A Nos Amours? This was their third nomadic appearance and they have a few more lined up at the Lexi (Black God, White Devil, Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach & Une Visite au Louvre) and Stalker introduced by Geoff Dyer in the Curzons Renoir and Richmond. A wonderful addition to London’s film culture in 2012.

Ally Clow