Close Up

29 January - 17 December 2023: Never on Sunday


If I Had Four Camels
Chris Marker, 1966, 75 min

Introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht

“Marker's underseen masterpiece, If I Had Four Camels (Si j'avais 4 dromadaires), with its originality and sole reliance on still photographs stands next to his best known work, La Jetée (1962). The photographs incorporated into the film were taken between 1956 and 1966 in many different countries (Greece, Russia, Iran, Cuba, China, France, Japan) as Marker was working for the Petite Planète travel guides or taking snap shots of his favourite people. Here, he offers his own travel guide to a changing word, a "Marker Planet" narrated by a mysterious, world-weary traveller who speaks like a poet and thinks like a philosopher. The narration evolves into three voices with contrasting opinions about the role of photography in constructing collective cultural memory. With an endless sense of irony and the quiet investigating of photographic image, this is one of the great works of the 60s.” – Ehsan Khoshbakht

“There is life and there is its double, and the photograph is part of the world of the double. When you approach [the faces of the photographed], you have the impression that you participate in their life and in the death of live faces, of human faces. But this is not true: if you participate in anything, it is in their life and in the death of images.” – Chris Marker


I Even Met Happy Gypsies
Aleksandar Petrovic, 1967, 82 min
UK premiere of the new restoration

Introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht

I Even Met Happy Gypsies is the progenitor of all the Yugo-gypsy movies that came after it, most notably Emir Kusturica’s The Time of the Gypsies and Goran Paskaljevic’s Guardian Angel, neither of which even recapture the raw authenticity of Petrovic’s acutely observed and felt picture. Alexander Petrovic, one of the grand old men of the Yugoslav cinema who died shortly after completing his epic Migrations, enjoyed the only major international success of his career with I Even Met Happy Gypsies, which was nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1967, as was Petrovic’s Three on the previous year. (…) 

In all of Happy Gypsies, there is not a single happy gypsy – the title is an ironic quote from a traditional tzigane tune. [The film] depicts, with melancholy and muted colour, the odd, anachronistic ways of all-but-forgotten people. On the Pannonian plain near Belgrade, a colony of gypsies dwell in a clot of squalor, surviving on what they earn from buying and selling goose feathers. Outstanding among them is an erotic, intemperate feather merchant named Bora, played by Bekim Fehmiu, a Yugoslav actor strongly reminiscent of Jean-Paul Belmondo. Endlessly indulging in wife-beating and mistress-bedding, Bora downs litres of wine and scatters his seed, his feathers, and his future. As the film’s principal character, he meanders from confined hovels to expansive farm fields, from rural barrooms to the streets of Belgrade. Wherever he travels, he witnesses – and sometimes acts out – the gypsies’ heritage of violence and tragedy, providing the viewer with astonishing glimpses of a rapidly vanishing life.” – Mike Downey


Stanley Milgram, 1965, 75 min
UK premiere of the new restoration

Introduced by Peter Conheim 

“Psychologist Stanley Milgram’s legendary – and controversial – “Obedience to Authority” experiments, conducted at Yale University in the United States, have been analysed, repeated multiple times by others and dramatized (most notably in Michael Almeryeda’s Experimenter, 2015, but nothing captivates and disturbs quite like the film of the actual experiments taking place, Milgram’s Obedience (…).

With the Nuremberg trials, and the 1961 trial of Nazi conspirator Adolf Eichmann, still smouldering in the public consciousness, and Hannah Arendt’s seminal writings on Eichmann introducing the concept of “the banality of evil”, Milgram conducted a series of experiments in which “teachers” (community members who answered a classified ad, believing they were taking part in a memory study) were paired with “learners”. The “teacher” subjects were instructed – by a lab-coated “experimenter” – to quiz learners on a pre-determined series of questions and answers. If the learner answered correctly, they would move on to the next question. If the learner answered incorrectly, he would receive a jolt of pain from a “shock generator” controlled by the teacher, with increasing voltage (and pain) with each incorrect answer. No matter the learner’s protestations and cries of pain, the teacher was always instructed to repeat variations of: “please continue the experiment”… but only the “learner” knew the whole setup was a fiction, intended to test a person’s ability to resist brutal orders. Generally only seen in educational settings, Obedience has been fully restored and screens here publicly for the first time.” – Peter Conheim

Some outtakes from the film will be screened for the first time after the main feature.


Native Son
Pierre Chenal, 1951, 104 min  

Introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht  

“Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son was a sensation, providing African Americans with a startlingly symbolic narrative and powerful new literary voice. A film version, however, was impossible, as the story delved into deep-seated fears – on the part of both blacks and whites – that American movies were not prepared to face. South America, however, had no such reservations, and in 1951 expatriate Frenchman Pierre Chenal and Uruguayan producer Jamie Prades set about adapting the harrowing tale, with Buenos Aires standing in for Chicago and American actor Canada Lee cast as the doomed protagonist, Bigger Thomas. When Lee was forced to drop out, Chenal turned to the author himself to portray his most famous fictional creation. Chenal’s version is equal parts noir thriller and social commentary, depicting the existential and societal pressures faced by a black man trying to survive in a culture dominated by whites.” – MoMA


March, March, Tra-ta-ta!
Raimundas Vabalas, 1964, 80 min

Introduction by Lina Kaminskaitė & Ehsan Khoshbakht

“A political satire created behind the Iron Curtain, in the Soviet Lithuania, at the same time as Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Fail-Safe (1964), March, March, Tra-ta-ta! is a unique  commentary on the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis of the early 1960s. Ironically, the film was never allowed to be shown outside the USSR due to Russia's ongoing policy of suppressing non-Russian films for international distribution.

The film takes place at the frontier of Centia and Groshia, two imaginary countries that are in constant fight, and tells the story of two lovers from the opposite sides of the border. Some of the most prominent Lithuanian actors appear in the film, including, perhaps more familiar to the non-Lithuanian audience, Donatas Banionis who went on to play the leading role in Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972). The original colour pallet of this first colour film in the history of Lithuanian cinema – the outstanding work of cinematographer Donatas Pečiūra – can be enjoyed fully thanks to the digital restoration of the film. Also remarkable are the work of costume designers Juzefa Čeičytė and set designer Jeronimas Čiuplys, adding enchanting visual qualities to this Lithuanian Monty Python.” – Lina Kaminskaitė

Supported by Lithuanian Film Centre and Lithuanian Culture Institute


25 Fireman's Street
István Szabó, 1973, 98 min
UK premiere of the new restoration

Introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht

István Szabó's agile camera is an uninvited guest peeking into the private and collective memories of the residents of an apartment building in Budapest that is due to be demolished the next day. In a Cocteauesque quest into the inner life of a house (which also bears trace of early surrealists in its splendid and puzzling juxtapositions) some 50 years is remembered overnight. The breath-taking long takes that have the fluidity of a dream reconstruct the recent history of nation through bricks, windows, walls and wooden panels. Like Jacques Tati's Playtime, architecture is both the starting point and what frames every movement – it's a living organ. But here the building reflects people's desires and traumas more than similar voyeuristic investigations of architecture and film as it even bears the subtitle of a "Dream About a House".

A milestone in film history for its intricate narrative and free-form imagery, 25 Fireman's Street was partly inspired by Szabó's discovery of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood. Each image can be seen as a metaphor of something larger, but perhaps, more rewardingly, as a photographic representation of a poetic probe which, at first, seems impossible to decipher but gradually allows for a pattern of thoughts to emerge in which history and personal memory of Hungarians fully complement each other.” – Ehsan Khoshbakht


Al-Mumia: The Night of Counting the Years 
Shadi Abdel Salam, 1969, 103 min

Introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht

Al-Mumia, which is commonly and rightfully acknowledged as one of the greatest Egyptian films ever made, is based on a true story: in 1881, precious objects from the Tanite dynasty started turning up for sale, and it was discovered that the Horabat tribe had been secretly raiding the tombs of the Pharaohs in Thebes. A rich theme, and an astonishing piece of cinema, the picture was extremely difficult to see from the 70s onward. I managed to screen a 16mm print which, like all the prints I’ve seen since, had gone magenta. Yet I still found it an entrancing and oddly moving experience, as did many others. I remember that Michael Powell was a great admirer. Al-Mumia has an extremely unusual tone – stately, poetic, with a powerful grasp of time and the sadness it carries. The carefully measured pace, the almost ceremonial movement of the camera, the desolate settings, the classical Arabic spoken on the soundtrack, the unsettling score by the great Italian composer Mario Nascimbene – they all work in perfect harmony and contribute to the feeling of fateful inevitability. Past and present, desecration and veneration, the urge to conquer death and the acceptance that we, and all we know, will turn to dust. Are we obliged to plunder our heritage and everything our ancestors have held sacred in order to sustain ourselves for the present and the future? What exactly is our debt to the past? The picture has a sense of history like no other. And in the end, the film is strangely, even hauntingly consoling – the eternal burial, the final understanding of who and what we are… I am very excited that Shadi Abdel Salam’s masterpiece has been restored to its original splendor.” – Martin Scorsese


Tranquility in the Presence of Others
Nasser Taghvai, 1969, 84 min

Introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht

Often seen as one of the indispensable films of the Iranian New Wave, Tranquility in the Presence of Others is a poignant and brisk cinematic adaptation of a story by Marxist writer Gholam-Hossein Saedi, attacking the indecisiveness and empty rhetoric of Iranian intellectuals, as well as dissecting the patriarchal core of Iranian society. Banned after a single screening at the Shiraz Arts Festival of 1969 – a ban which was not removed until 1973 – it tells the story of a retired army general who travels to Tehran with his newlywed wife to visit his daughters, only to observe their unhappiness and casual affairs. As his mental condition deteriorates, the film’s tone shifts from sardonic to tragic. Tranquility… delves into the anxieties of a country that is seemingly marching forward but retains a troubled, melancholic relationship with the past. The gender and social conflicts of Saedi's story are brilliantly translated into a bleak vision of Iranian society and the confusion of the middle classes.  

The copy of this rare film that will be screened for the first time in the UK is sourced from the best available elements, as the film was indefinitely banned a second time after the 1979 revolution, with access to the prints of the film blocked by Iranian authorities.


István Szabó, 1970, 134 min

Introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht

A boy travels to France to meet the great love of his youth, Kata, who left Hungary after the 1956 Revolution. A highly poetic early masterpiece by István Szabó, describing the undefined and unspoken nature of love and politics. 


Sven Klang's Quintet
Stellan Olsson, 1976, 114 min
UK premiere of the new restoration by the Swedish Film Institute

Introduced by Jon Wengström & Ehsan Khoshbakht

Voted by Swedish film critics as one of the "25 greatest Swedish films ever", Stellan Olsson's tender drama is based on Henric Holmberg and Ninne Olsson’s play, about a small dance band in the late 50s which hires a new saxophonist whose music widens their horizons but whose presence eventually causes a cathartic split. Shot in stunning black-and-white, Olsson’s tableau-like compositions influenced many Swedish filmmakers.


The Last Days of Humanity
Enrico Ghezzi & Alessandro Gagliardo, 2022, 196 min 

Introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht

The panorama of human affairs encounters the “man with a movie camera”. His playground has no boundaries, his curiosity no limits. Characters, situations and places pitch camp in the life of a humanity that is at once the viewer and the thing viewed. But what are the last days of this humanity? Have they already passed? Are they now or still to come? As they wait the astronauts of the Atalante, in their promethean dreams, meet their own image in a bubble of water. Along the passages of steamers in the open sea, a caress, a sign of affection. In the mirror, camera in hand, he checks himself, always uncertainly certain, his own capture inside that short, too short, unit of time. But what we have learnt is that nothing lasts. Everything that they touch turns into time, into action, expectation and hope, Demeter reminds bustling humanity. Fragment of fragments. To make a gesture that eludes melancholy and games in a downright impossible movement. Kraus’s theatre on Mars has not yet opened, we were busy anarchiving. And this drama can have no other viewer but humanity.


The Olive Trees of Justice
James Blue, 1962, 81 min
UK premiere

Introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht

James Blue’s first feature and only fiction film was banned in France for years. Adapted from the largely autobiographical novel by Jean Pélégri, who also stars as one of the film’s protagonists (and who also played the policeman in Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket), Blue’s dramatic film was clandestinely shot on location in Algiers and the surrounding countryside at the height of the Algerian War. Inspired by Italian Neorealism, it is a unique and evocatively photographed document of a violent historical crisis unfolding moment by moment in the most seemingly bucolic of circumstances.” – MoMA


La Notte Brava
Mauro Bolognini, 1959, 95 min

Introduced by Ehsan Khoshbakht

Before embarking on a career as a director, Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote the script for La Notte Brava. The resulting film, about three hoodlums during a day out in Rome involving burglary and hooking up with sex workers, is considered one of the classics of Italian post-war cinema and like other works by Pasolini, a film not devoid of controversy when it was originally released. Directed by talented and visionary, if unjustly underrated Mauro Bolognini who has often been described as "the most Proustian of Italian film directors", the attention to details and the direction of an international cast have remarkably translated Pasolini's world of outcasts, prostitutes, petty criminals, and downtrodden youngsters into a vivid and tough portrait of Italy at the end of the 1950s, especially a sketch of Rome and the raw characters driven by their primary instincts.