At the end of last year, after a dismal viewing record, I set myself the target of watching at least twenty-five films – and I made it (just)! All but the last seven were watched before Easter, so I still haven’t managed to get into a routine of watching films regularly. This is partly because I spend more time outside when the weather and light allows, but also because reading is still my dominant method of relaxation. I don’t see any need to “rectify” the latter, but I would like to try to sustain my engagement with films throughout the year.
As planned, I took Bertrand Tavernier’s documentary film and TV series on French cinema as an inspiration for kickstarting my viewing habits, and started by re-watching the two in order to refresh both my memory and my enthusiasm. Apart from La Ronde (Max Ophüls, 1950), they were all first time views. I had said that I would aim to watch at least half a dozen of the films he featured, but you’ll see from the image above that I trebled that tally and they make up the bulk of the films I’ve watched in the past twelve months. And I’ve only scratched the surface…I have at least as many again on my shelves waiting to be watched – I’m intending to continue with my own journey through French cinema in 2023.
Apart from French cinema, it has mainly been documentaries with a couple of diversions into recent features, namely Everything Everywhere All At Once (the Daniels, 2022) and Glass Onion (Rian Johnson, 2022), both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. But I think my top three for the year were: Le corbeau (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1943), Quai de Orfévres (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1947), and Antoine et Antoinette (Jacques Becker, 1947).
Some cinematic moments that lingered in 2022:
The brio of the camera movement in Justin de Marseille (Maurice Tourneur, 1935). [earlier in the year there was a trailer online for Pathé’s restoration, but I can’t currently find it].
Suzy Delair’s Mila Malou twitching her nose at fiancé Inspector Wenceslas Wens (Pierre Fresnay) when she gatecrashes his undercover operation in L’assassin habite au 21 (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1943).
Jean Gabin being doomed in pretty much everything.
Starting to recognise the names of actors I hadn’t encountered before this year and then them popping up everywhere (e.g. Pierre Larquey and Noël Roquevert).
Anything Louis Jouvet was involved in.
The panic of the misplaced lottery ticket in Antoine et Antoinette.
Christo Grozev (of Bellingcat) and Alexei Navlany unexpectedly managing to get the latter’s attempted assassins talking on the phone in Navalny (Daniel Roher, 2022).
The “fanny pack” fight scene in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Michelle Yeoh throughout Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc (again).
2023: I’m going to continue my exploration of French cinema, fill in a few gaps from Sight and Sound‘s once-a-decade poll (namely Japanese cinema, of which I have seen very little), and aim for forty films – with something watched every month! I may post about what I’ve watched at intervals during the year, but I’m not making that a concrete aim.
As usual, I only include books that I’ve finished and read properly (skim reads don’t count). I read fewer than in 2021 but still had a consistent pattern of reading throughout the year, which is what I’m trying to maintain. Although I finally got to le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy (which is excellent), I read less fiction than normal this year and unusually the balance is tilted towards non-fiction (around 57% according to my quick count just now, although it feels more than that). There were several non-fiction titles I should have stopped reading (but there were also others – not shown above – that I decided weren’t worth my time after a few chapters). I also read fewer translated works, so I’d like to put more effort into that this year. I’ve got quite a few novels lying around that I was looking forward to reading but then haven’t felt in quite the right head space for.
My top five:
- The Anatomy of a Moment – Javier Cercas. An extrapolation (combining factual research and imagination, in an iterative process) from a singular moment in Spain’s history. During the attempted coup d’etat in February 1981, only three members of Congress did not dive for cover when the golpistas opened fire: outgoing Prime Minister, Adolfo Suárez; his deputy, General Gutiérrez Mellado; and Santiago Carrillo, leader of the newly-legalised Communist party. Cercas considers what brought them to their behaviour in that moment and what that moment subsequently signified for them (and the country) in the aftermath. Una obra maestra.
- The Honourable Schoolboy – John le Carré. The heft of this book had put me off reading it for quite some time despite it being comparable in size to Tinker, Tailor.. but it is an enthralling read of derring-do, subterfuge, and betrayal. I understand why it hasn’t been adapted as a film, but in this day and age surely someone could make a TV series out of it. I’ll be picking up the next of the Smiley books, Smiley’s People, at some point in 2023.
- The High House – Jessie Greengrass. Speculative fiction set in the very near future (no dates are mentioned but the world is recognisably ours a few steps further down the line) as climate change causes cataclysmic events in parts of the world where perceived safety (that doesn’t happen here, to people like us) has allowed complacency to take root. It continued to reverberate around my head for most of the year.
- Shifty’s Boys – Chris Offutt. A sequel to The Killing Hills (which was in my top 10 last year). Offutt manages to convey a landscape (the rural setting is as much a player in what goes on as any of the characters) and an array of characters who seem lived-in and true.
- Lanny – Max Porter. A singular voice, an often disturbing read, and a piece of writing that has stayed with me. I’m not sure I’d classify it as ‘enjoyable’ (I had to steel myself to continue) but it’s certainly original. I think of it frequently when certain types of news story appear or when I notice that a landscape has changed when I’ve not been paying attention.
Honourable mentions (A-Z): All the Men I Never Married – Kim Moore, Beginners: The joy and transformative power of lifelong learning – Tom Vanderbilt, Death and the Penguin – Andrey Kurkov, The City – Stav Oleg [cinematic poetry], The Curious Gardener – Anna Pavord, The Stasi Poetry Circle – Phillip Oltermann, The Tiger in the Smoke – Margery Allingham.
2023: Keep reading, put more effort into seeking out translated voices, read more fiction, and stop buying so many books before reading the ones I’ve already got!
As ever, wishing you health and happiness in 2023!