It’s over a week since the local elections and since Channel 4’s broadcast of The Bradford Riots. I’m surprised that there has been relatively little mention in the national press of the local results in Bradford, where Labour actually did well, taking seats from the Tories and reducing the BNP’s seats. In Keighley, Labour won all three seats, including one for an Asian woman – a significant success, I think.
The Bradford Riots is a ‘realist drama’ based on the events in July 2001 when a National Front march was proposed for Bradford and Asian youths took to the streets to defend their territory. The independent production company stated that they could not get permission to restage the events in Bradford so the film looks a little bizarre to the locals with key scenes shot in parts of Liverpool.
Some of the national critics have complained that the central character is not ‘typical’ because he is a university student. But from what people tell me the story sticks pretty closely to ‘real’ events. It was researched, written and directed by Neil Biswas. He is, I think, from the Bangladeshi community in Whitechapel, the location for his first feature, Second Generation in 2003. He does a good job and the film is well worth watching. At the end, I was moved and angry on behalf of the family at the centre of the drama. But that was mostly because I knew the story was ‘true’ – by which I mean that what happened to the characters actually did happen to real people.
It’s very difficult for realist television drama to do more than that, but the day before I went to see Jean-Pierre Melville’s L’armée des ombres (Army in the Shadows) What a movie! I love Melville and this a digital restoration by a French archive of a 1969 film. The colours are muted and the film is relatively slowly paced over 145 mins. But Melville is in complete control. I wish I could think of easy ways to introduce this kind of filmmaking to younger audiences. There are no car chases and little direct conflict in this story about the French resistance, mostly based on Joseph Kessel’s novel, but also on Melville’s own wartime experience. The action as such comprises an escape from custody, a reluctant execution, another escape from a firing squad and a ‘mercy’ assassination. Between these dramatic highs are long periods of tension building,with marvellous performances by the likes of Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret.
Melville is an expressionist rather than a ‘realist’, but I was convinced of the ‘reality’ of the situations that faced the resistance fighters. I particularly enjoyed Lino Ventura’s flight back to France from London. Prepared to jump from an RAF plane with his parachute harness over his overcoat and suit, our hero has his glasses firmly taped to his forehead with elastoplast. It’s those touches of humanity that make this a great film.