By Simon Basketter
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Don’t miss chance to see Barry Lyndon in cinemas

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Issue 2515
Painting-like scenes in Barry Lyndon
Painting-like scenes in Barry Lyndon

Stanley Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon is often described as an underrated classic. 

That isn’t really true. It hasn’t been underrated for years. But the chance to the see it at cinemas is fortunate.

Barry Lyndon examines the 18th century as a distant world. It is a costume drama where the brilliance of its images surrounds you.The film is a leisurely and panoramic exploration, not a romp.

Barry Lyndon is about foolish, gallant overreaching—and has a great deal to say about the privileges of class.

It’s the story of the rise and fall of a poor, Irish opportunist. He has a crush on a cousin, whose English suitor he shoots in a duel.

This sends Barry off to war, first in the English army, then the Prussian.

No situation remains permanent. Barry, in the course of what the narrator describes as “a wandering and disconnected life,” then becomes a Prussian spy, a continental gambler, a philanderer and husband.

The film is beautiful—deliberately set up to look like paintings of the age but also to set the viewer apart from the subject. 

It is filled with meticulously stage-managed rituals—courtship, card game, marriage and duel.

The much vaunted filming by candlelight and authentic costumes are in a sense Kubrick building the world of Barry Lyndon up to show its mechanics.

That’s why scenes linger. The camera is mostly pulling back. It doesn’t zoom in much.

The society the characters inhabit are displayed, not just the centre of the picture. That process is more engaging to watch than describe. 

Barry Lyndon is an austere picture. It shows class struggles, the way money works, how small events shape a life and how nobility isn’t noble.

It is a better film for it.

Barry Lyndon
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Showing in selected UK cinemas

Dugma—The button

Norwegian journalist and filmmaker Paul Refsdal spent six weeks embedded with Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. 

Dugma—the Button approaches the subject of young men waiting for suicide missions with a light touch. It humanises the fighters by showing them talking, eating and singing. 

In the opening scene, Abu Qaswara al Maki, a former Saudi soldier, shows us around his heavily armoured truck explaining the mechanics of a suicide bomb.

Then they go for lunch. 

It is an observational film free of overt editorialising—which is its weakness as well as its strength.

The film gives insight to the ordinariness and the waiting of military life. But it lacks context.

The fighters each tell atrocity stories of the other side. There is anger toward Western bombing strikes. But that’s about it.

As a look inside a section of life on one part of the Syrian war it is refreshing. But for an understanding of what the war is about look elsewhere.

Directed by Pal Refsdal.
In cinemas now


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