Friday, May 23, 2014

2014 Cannes Marathon: if....

(Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival)

Directed by Lindsay Anderson and screenplay by David Sherwin from a story by Sherwin and John Howlett, if… is the story of a boarding school student and his friends who rebel against the authority after enduring a series of abuse and humiliating moments from the authority. The film is the first of a trilogy of films all revolving around a young man named Mick Travis who is played by Malcolm McDowell. Also starring Richard Warwick, Christine Noonan, David Wood, and Robert Swann. if… is a chilling yet enthralling film from Lindsay Anderson.

Set in a boarding school in Britain, the film is about a student and his two friends who attend the College boarding school in their penultimate year as they become tired of the same old rhetoric they’ve been hammered down at the school as well as their upperclassmen who continuously abuse them. Leading the pack is Mick Travis as he arrives at the school sporting a mustache as he would shave it off as he refuses to take part in any school activities while scoffing off against his upperclassmen. Especially as the staff and the upperclassmen at the school seem to be out of touch with the world outside of them as Mick and his friends Johnny (David Wood) and Wallace (Richard Warwick) know what is going on as they don’t want to play fake wars, play rugby, or do anything. They just wanted to have fun and cause mayhem as if there are no rules as they’ve been dealing with the same stupid rules for much of their young lives.

The film’s screenplay is told in eight chapters in the span of an entire school term where young boys come in as they have to learn the way things are as well as say things in a certain way. A lot of which plays into this idea of conformity and do what is needed to advance into life. It’s something that the upperclassmen in Rowntree (Robert Swann) and Denson (Hugh Thomas) have managed to do as they would abuse their lower classmen with such bizarre demands and such while punishing those with such brutality. The script has a subplot involving a new student in Jute (Sean Bury) who has a hard time dealing with his new environment as his classmate Bobby Philips (Rupert Webster) has homosexual feelings for Wallace. Still, the film plays into Mick’s thirst for rebellion as he would also have some surrealistic fantasies involving a girl (Christine Noonan) as the third act would have him planning his own rebellion against the school.

Lindsay Anderson’s direction is quite stylish in some aspects of the film as he shoots the film both in color and in black-and-white. Much of it play the sense of fantasy but also the oppression that takes place in the College school. While the authority figures led by its headmaster (Peter Jeffrey) isn’t a totally oppressive figure as he does try to understand the boys. The way he is presented through Anderson’s camera is a man who clearly doesn’t understand what is going on as it shows him trying to please those who want to ensure that the school is a vital place of education. Unfortunately, it’s become a place where, despite its prestigious look, it feels old and it looks old as it feels removed from what is going on in Britain.

There are scenes set outside of the school where Mick and Johnny play hooky as they would meet the young girl who was part of Mick’s fantasy as well as showcase the antics they do with Wallace. One of the most intense moments of the film is the beating the three take where Anderson creates a very unique approach to the way he presents the beating. In one entire take, he would have Mick wait outside of the gym where Johnny and Wallace would each take their respective lashing. Then it would cut into the gym once it’s Mick’s turn as the sound of the lashing is heard outside from the perspective of the other students where one of them in Stephans (Guy Ross) is smiling over Mick’s punishment. It would then lead into this chilling climax where Mick and his friends would get their revenge in an act of defiance. Yet, it’s a climax that really has a lot of things to say as well as being a major “fuck you” to the establishment. Overall, Anderson creates a truly visceral and uncompromising film about rebellion in a British boarding school.

Cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from the gorgeous look of the film‘s interior and exterior scenes in color as well as the look of the black-and-white is just as entrancing as it plays to the surreal moments of the film. Editor David Gladwell does excellent work with the editing as it‘s straightforward in some parts while being very stylish with its jump-cuts to play into some of the livelier moments. Production designer Jocelyn Herbert and art director Brian Eatwell do fantastic work with the look of the school and how oppressive it feels while the private room Mick and his friends go showcases their thirst for rebellion.

Sound recorder Christian Wangler does superb work with the sound from the way the choir sounds at the church to the atmosphere that goes on in the school. The film’s music by Marc Wilkinson is brilliant for its mixture of choral music with some orchestral flourishes along with some percussive-based pieces to play into this sense of conformity that the protagonists are rebelling against.

The casting by Miriam Brickman is great as it features some notable small performances from Mona Washbourne as the school matron, Arthur Lowe as the school’s housemaster, Mary MacLeod as the housemaster’s wife, Geoffrey Chater as the school chaplain, Anthony Nicholls as Denson’s general father, and Ben Aris as the under master who had just joined the school. Guy Ross is terrific as the brown-nosing Stephans who wants the respect of his upperclassmen yet is treated with disdain by his classmates. Hugh Thomas and Robert Swann are superb in their respective roles as the upperclassmen Denson and Rowntree as two pricks who think they’re better than everyone while feeling disrespected by Mick’s attitude. Sean Bury is amazing as the very shy new boy Jutes while Rupert Webster is fantastic as the more confident and gay Bobby Philips.

Peter Jeffrey is excellent as the school headmaster who understands the boys’ need for rebellion as well as being an individual but has become so detached from what is going on outside of the school. Christine Noonan is wonderful as the girl that Mick and Johnny meet as she becomes an object of desire for Mick as well as the extra edge he needed to rebel. David Wood is fantastic as the very smarmy yet rambunctious Johnny who is sort of Mick’s right-hand man while Richard Warwick is brilliant as the more reserved yet determined Wallace as the two prove to be good teammates for Mick. Finally, there’s Malcolm McDowell in a magnificent performance as Mick Travis as McDowell displays a lot of wit and charisma to his performance as well as bring in some fiery attitude that allows him to be a top rebellious character that audiences can root for.

if… is an outstanding film from Lindsay Anderson that features a true breakthrough performance from Malcolm McDowell in his film debut. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to provoke as well as be very controversial in the way it explores rebellion against the school system. Notably as it serves as an allegory about the idea of an old world order being taken over by the new world order that wanted change. In the end, if… is an absolutely ass-kicking, fuck-you-I-won’t-do-what-you-tell me film from Lindsay Anderson.

Lindsay Anderson Films: (This Sporting Life) - (The White Bus) - (O Lucky Man!) - (In Celebration) - (Look Back in Anger) - (Britannia Hospital) - (The Whales of August) - (Glory! Glory!)

© thevoid99 2014


TheVern said...

I liked the anarchy nature of this movie but I thought the story was all over the place. Agree that Mcdowel does a good job with the role and I was surprised to see that this was his debut. WIll have to check this one out again soon. Great review

thevoid99 said...

I was blown away by the whole tone of it and its sense of anarchy while I also learned that one of Anderson's key influences in the film is Zero de conduite by Jean Vigo as I noticed a lot of references about that film. I wanna see it again.