Monday, September 08, 2008

Lindsay Anderson: This Sporting Life

This Sporting Life was the first film directed by Lindsay Anderson and by any criteria it is certainly an extremely impressive debut. It belongs to the cycle or genre of British films in the early 60s which had angry young man and working class protagonists and which dealt with gritty and realistic subject matter. They are also, rather condescendingly I think, known as "kitchen-sink" films. There are lots of scenes shot inside the house (indeed around kitchen and sink) and it is all very depressing and gloomy as expected but that is only one part of the film.

Richard Harris (who played Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films) plays Frank, an aspiring and ambitious rugby player, who gets a lucky break because of his aggressive and confrontational style of playing. Although financially secure his attempts at transcending his class identity prove unsuccessful. Even more bitterly he is rebuffed by his widowed landlady who refuses to return his attentions mainly because she is still mourning for her dead husband and also because she can perhaps see through his macho-posturing and his violent personality and realise how hopeless their relationship will be in a conservative society like theirs.

The film is quite long and the story (and specially the ending) is utterly and relentlessly bleak but it is also very gripping mainly because the two lead actors are so good. Richard Harris looks and acts like young Marlon Brando - the inarticulate angry young man who can express himself only through aggression and violence. Rachel Roberts who plays the landlady also gives a painfully moving performance. They were both nominated for quite a few awards that year. The film also becomes more interesting because Anderson uses a non-linear style of storytelling with unexpected and random flashbacks. It is confusing initially but once you get into the rhythm the effect becomes very powerful. It is also shot very beautifully in a stark and realistic manner using the landscape to capture the feelings of despair and hopelessness very well. This goes very highly recommended! I am already looking for other kitchen-sink films now.

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