Gilbey on Film: Coming your way in 2012

This year's cinematic highlights.

The next two months will bring the customary glut of awards contenders. It's a brave distributor that releases its films into this throng, but the UK outfit The Works will do just that with House of Tolerance, an acclaimed drama set in a brothel in fin de siècle Paris. Bertrand Bonello's picture was named by the New York Times as one of last year's "Don't Miss Movies You Probably Missed" (under its US title, House of Pleasures); the UK finally gets to see it on 27 January.

Elsewhere the schedules are dominated by awards magnets including Steven Spielberg's War Horse (13 Jan), Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus, which was recently celebrated in the NS by Slavoj Zizek, and Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's 9/11 tale Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (10 Feb). Also falling under the hoping-for-silverware umbrella are two films which between them comprise the UK's own mini Michael Fassbender-fest -- Steve McQueen's Shame (13 Jan) and David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method (10 Feb).

Once the tearful winners have been mocked and the voting injustices mourned, it's anyone's guess which films will prevail. Personally I'm hoping for a release for The Eye of the Storm, directed by the excellent Fred Schepisi (The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Six Degrees of Separation) and starring Geoffrey Rush alongside the reigning mistresses of hauteur, Charlotte Rampling and Judy Davis.

Regrettably, 3D makeovers are already clogging up the schedule, with an extra dimension added visually (though not creatively) to defunct, corroded epics including Titanic (6 April) and Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (9 Feb). Re-releases of Casablanca (10 Feb) and La Grande Illusion (6 April) appear to have been spared this technological molestation, for which we should be grateful.

Some of us are still recovering from the shock of 2011, one of the few years since 1995 in which Michael Winterbottom did not release a new film (unless you count the non-UK cinema edit of his six-part BBC series The Trip). The drought ends with Trishna (9 March), an adaptation of Tess of the D'Urbervilles transposed to modern-day India. Connected in name only is the Austrian chiller Michael (2 March). This controlled study of a man who keeps prisoner a 10-year-old boy will be the very definition of a tough sell; to others, Cameron Crowe's whimsical comedy-drama We Bought a Zoo (16 March) will be more deserving of that label. At least Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, from the great Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, is released on the same day.

As Asghar Farhadi's A Separation proved last year, the best films often arrive unheralded by net-casting previews such as these. But we do know that there will be new work from Wong Kar-Wai (The Grandmasters), Michael Haneke (Amour), Bernardo Bertolucci (Me and You), Laurent Cantet (Foxfire, adapted from Joyce Carol Oates's novel about 1950s girl gangs) and Takashi Miike (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney). Meanwhile, François Ozon will adhere to a new government directive aiming to see Kristin Scott Thomas cast in at least 87 per cent of all French films (his contribution is Dans la maison). Currently awaiting UK release dates are Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity, Andrew Dominik's Cogan's Trade, Park Chan Wook's Stoker and Baz Lurhmann's The Great Gatsby.

Tim Burton fans get a double-dose this year. First up is the gothic extravaganza Dark Shadows (11 May), with Johnny Depp as a vampiric patroarch. Then it's animation -- and, to be more precise, reanimation -- in Frankenweenie (5 October), a feature-length version of Burton's 1984 short about a boy who refuses to let sleeping dogs lie. Pixar releases Brave (17 August), widely trumpeted as the studio's first movie with a female lead; I know, I know, Studio Ghibli never made such a fuss about putting a girl in the driving seat.

A triple-shot of big-budget superheroism hoopla this year, starting on 27 April with the Marvel extravaganza The Avengers -- sadly nothing to do with Steed, Mrs Peel or kinky boots, but rather a superheroes' get-together which includes Mark Ruffalo's first outing as the Hulk. He's the third actor in ten years (after Eric Bana and Edward Norton) to try to get a handle on the big green lug. Then Andrew Garfield will make his wall-climbing debut in The Amazing Spider-Man (6 July) before Christopher Nolan's third and final Batman gloom-o-rama, The Dark Knight Rises (20 July). Does James Bond count as a superhero? Or is that just a spurious attempt to shoehorn Daniel Craig's third Bond movie, Skyfall (26 Oct), into this paragraph? Next thing you know, I'll be wangling the same privileges for the hairy-footed ramblers of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (14 Dec), the first instalment of Peter Jackson's two-part return to Tolkien.

Of course, by then we'll all be terribly excited about Judd Apatow's This Is 40 (21 Dec), Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (26 Dec) and other lesser-known films on which "Action!" is only now being called.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Orhan Pamuk's The Red-Haired Woman is playful and unsettling

At times, the novel seems to owe as much to Dostoevsky as to the epics of the long-distant past.

When cultures collide or begin to merge, what happens to their myths? In Orhan Pamuk’s psychodramatic and psychogeographic tale of fathers and sons, the protagonist Cem mentally collects versions of the Oedipus story from across Europe – Ingres’s painting of Oedipus and the Sphinx hanging in the Louvre, Gustave Moreau’s work of the same name, painted 50 years later, Pasolini’s film adaptation, Oedipus Rex. But he also fixates on the epic poem “Shahnameh”, written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi; and in particular the story of Rostam and Sohrab, a reversal of the Oedipus story in which father kills son rather than vice versa. As Cem and his wife travel the world’s libraries to inspect copies, what they learn is “how ephemeral all those ancient lives had been”.

Nor is Cem immune to the act of readerly projection. “Like all educated Turks of my father’s generation,” Cem tells us, “what I really hoped to find on these trips wandering the shops, the cinemas, and the museums of the Western world was an idea, an object, a painting – anything at all – that might transform and illuminate my own life.”

Cem has more reason than many to seek clarification: his own father has been absent – whether for reasons of underground political activity or romantic complications is, for a long time, unclear – for most of his childhood; he and his mother become impoverished and, as he tells us at the very beginning of the novel, his dream of becoming a writer yields to a life as a building contractor. But these matter-of-fact bare bones are deceptive, for what unfolds is a far more fabular account of a life gone awry.

Even beyond his father’s departure, Cem’s life is shaped by his teenage apprenticeship to Master Mahmut, a well-digger of great renown. It removes him from his protective mother’s sphere of influence and immerses him in a world at once simple – long hours of physical labour – and highly skilled. As his and Master Mahmut’s quest for water on a patch of land slated for development runs into difficulties, so their relationship – boss and employee, craftsman and disciple, quasi father and son – becomes antagonistic, beset by undercurrents of rivalry and rebellion. Before too long (and avoiding spoilers) matters come to a head.

Throughout, their story gestures toward the fairytale, as underlined by Cem’s irresistible attraction to a travelling theatre troupe performing satirical sketches and classical scenes in the town near their excavation, and to the red-haired woman of the title. But Pamuk, in the style that characterises much of his work, fuses this material with political and social commentary. Over the three or four decades covered by the narrative, which takes place from the mid-1980s to the present day, the landscape of Istanbul and its surrounding areas literally changes shape. Residential and commercial developments spring up everywhere, many of them courtesy of Cem and his wife Aye, who have named their business after Shahnameh’s murdered son, Sohrab. Water shortages belie the sophisticated nature of these new suburbs, which eventually begin to form an amorphous mass.

Cem is preoccupied by the differences between Turkey and Iran, the latter seeming to him more alive to its cultural past. Turks, he decides, “had become so Westernised that we’d forgotten our old poets and myths”. While in Tehran, he sees numerous depictions of Rostam and Sohrab, and finds himself stirred:

I felt frustrated and uneasy, as if a fearful memory I refused to acknowledge consciously might suddenly well up and make me miserable. The image was like some wicked thought that keeps intruding on your mind no matter how much you yearn to be rid of it.

The extent to which individuals and societies suffer by not keeping their mythic past in mind is Pamuk’s subject, but it becomes more ambiguous when different stories are brought into play. What is the significance of a son who kills his father in innocence rather than a father who kills his son? Which is the more transgressive and ultimately damaging act and should both killers be regarded as guiltless because they knew not what they did?

But, as its title is perhaps designed to suggest, these accounts of fathers and sons omit a key element of the family drama: if paternity becomes a focus to the exclusion of all else, maternal energy must find an alternative outlet. As this strange, shifting novel edges to its conclusion – becoming, in its final act, a noir thriller – that energy makes a dramatic return, changing not only the story but the entire narrative paradigm.

The Red-Haired Woman is a puzzling novel; its intentions are often concealed, and oblique. At times, it seems to owe as much to Dostoevsky as to the epics of the long-distant past; it moves forward by indirection, swapping modes and registers at will. Playful and unsettling, it reprises some of Pamuk’s favourite themes – the clash between the past and the erasures of modernity, so charged in a Turkish context, and the effect on the individual’s psyche – without quite reaching the expansive heights of some of his previous novels. It is, nonetheless, an intriguing addition to his body of work. 

The Red-Haired Woman
Orhan Pamuk. Translated by Ekin Oklap
Faber & Faber, 253pp, £16.99

This article first appeared in the 14 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The German problem