Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 6, 2020

The Virtues

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:15 pm

As long as New York’s movie theaters are closed, I will be pivoting toward VOD films that my socially-distancing readers should appreciate. With very little to keep you going except Netflix, et al, I hope to keep you abreast of films off the beaten track. With that in mind, I highly recommend “The Virtues” that is now available through Topic, a streaming service backed by First Look Media. First Look Media is part of Pierre Omidyar’s left-of-center media empire that also includes Intercept. Considered controversial by some, I find Omidyar generally on the side of the angels.

“The Virtues” appeared originally as a four-part series on Channel 4 in England in 2019. It is the story of Joseph, a working-class guy with a troubled past. In the first few minutes of the episode, we see him walking over to his ex-wife’s house in Liverpool to have dinner with her, her new partner and his 9-year old son from his former marriage. Joseph learns over dinner that they are leaving for Australia where they plan to start new lives. This means that Joseph will be left alone with no social ties, a grim proposition for an alcoholic.

After dinner, Joseph heads to a nearby pub and has one drink after another until he can’t think straight. Desperate for companionship, he begins buying drinks for everyone until the bartender cuts him off. A sloppy drunk, Joseph tries hard to create a festive mood but you cannot help to see him as someone who laughs to keep from crying. The scene inside the pub starts off on an up note but within a few minutes, you find yourself cringing at the sight of a man trying to buy the affection of strangers to replace the son who will be leaving for Australia.

The next morning we find him sleeping on his living-room floor, his shirt covered with vomit. Even when his boss comes by the apartment to pound on the door to wake him up, Joseph remains dead to the world. When he finally wakes up, he goes to the bathroom where he continues to be sick. In all the years I have been watching films that feature an alcoholic in a lead role, from “The Lost Weekend” to “Flight”, I have never seen a more realistic and more frightening depiction of what’s involved in a drunken binge.

In the next episode, Joseph makes an attempt to create a new social life for himself by traveling back to the small town in Ireland where his sister lives. When she and her husband come outside with their three young children in the morning, they spot Joseph sprawled out on the side of the road. He has not had another drunken spree. Instead, he is so broke that he could not afford a night in a hotel. As he approaches her and the family, they draw back not knowing what this stranger has in mind. We finally learn that he has not seen Anna in 30 years, when they were both at a local orphanage. For all she knew, he might have been dead.

Making up for lost time, the family accepts him with an open heart even as Joseph soon resorts to old habits. It turns out that he is walking around with a heavy cross to bear from a trauma that occurred at the orphanage. Coming home to Ireland might have brought him closer to a family’s warmth but only at the cost of reliving the suffering he endured at the orphanage.

As Joseph, Stephen Graham turns in a bravura performance. With his character’s self-effacing and warm personality, Graham realizes it completely. From a working-class family, he has struggled with depression and even tried suicide, as Wikipedia reports. He said, “In my early twenties, I suffered from really bad depression and tried to take my own life once. Thankfully, the rope snapped and I’m here today. But I know the loneliness, isolation and feeling you can’t cope in the world.”

“The Virtues” was directed by Shane Meadows who co-wrote the teleplay with Jack Thorne. Meadows, like Graham, had the kind of life experience that would help make such drama so palpably real. Born in 1972, he was the son of a truck driver who discovered the body of child murder victim Susan Maxwell. Initially a suspect in the murder case, his son suffered bullying at school that likely shaped the flashbacks of Joseph’s experiences in the orphanage.

Meadows’s work will remind you of the films of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. His characters are down-to-earth working-class people whose dialog is liberally scattered with four-letter words, including the women. Like them, their troubles are ultimately related to their economic frailty. However, it is not just economic conditions that throw up obstacles. In addition, they are victims of unresolvable family contradictions that remind you of the opening sentence in Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Subscriptions to Topic cost $5.99 per month and are well worth it, based on this selection. Like most VOD sites, you can have a seven-day trial subscription. Take advantage of it at least to see this powerful family drama.

And while we are on the topic of VOD, let me refer you to some items that have come my way:

Sea Fever: This is a horror movie set on the waters off the coast of Ireland with similarities to “Alien” or “The Thing” but much more reflective about humanity’s troubled relationship to the natural world, a theme obviously related to our current predicament. It will be available on Vudu on April 10th.

Kino Marquee: Kino-Lorber, a film distribution company, has been affected by the closing of arthouse theaters. To make cutting-edge films available as VOD, including Ken Loach’s great “Sorry We Missed You”, they are offering a service described here. Basically, for the price of a ticket you get to see films at home.

The Cinema Tropical Collection: This is the leading distributor of Latin American films in the USA that has now made its films available as VOD. Check the excellent library here.

Film Movement VOD: Like Kino-Lorber, this is a distribution company for arthouse films, including the first-rate “Corpus Christi” that I reviewed in February. As is the case with Kino Marquee, you get to see a film for the price of a ticket in the theater. (https://www.filmmovement.com/in-theaters)

Environmental Online Film Festival

ArtMattan Films Virtual Cinema: ArtMattan is the company behind the Africa Diaspora film festivals I have covered over the years. Rentals are roughly equal to a senior citizen’s ticket in a theater.

Mailchimp/Oscilloscope Laboratories offer free shorts from the latest SXSW film festival.

Film Festival Alliance: Theatrical-At-Home to present inaugural Film Festival Day on April 11.


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