Trying to comprehend Trump, Jacksonville, fake news, the World Cup and Crimea: Gaamer/Gamer (Oleg Sentsov, Ukraine, 2011)

Blogpost, Film education, Film reviews, Ukrainian Cinema, Uncategorized

It is perhaps strange to write a post about a film that is now seven years old.

However, I wanted to discuss Gamer, which I saw this week while staying in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, for a number of reasons – a couple of which are complicated by the deaths of three people, including shooter David Katz, at a gaming convention in Jacksonville, Florida, USA, this week.

Gamer tells the story of Alex, or Lyosha, whose gaming nickname is Koss (Vladislav Zhuk). He lives in a small town in Ukraine where he ditches school and shuns the company of others in order to spend his time playing Quake.

He is sufficiently good at the game that he progresses from his small town, Simferopol, to Kyiv and all the way to Los Angeles in the USA, where he comes second in a world championship.

However, this success seems to mean little to Koss, who remains affectless throughout more or less the whole film. As a younger gamer, Kopchick, comes to replace him as the leading gamer in his home town, Koss instead begins to find dignity in helping his mother (Zhanna Biryuk) work in a shop – with one reviewer commenting that this leads him to smile for the very first time in the film.

A movie about a kid who plays truant naturally recalls François Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cent Coups/The 400 Blows (France, 1959), with director Oleg Sentsov being wise to this point of comparison by having his movie end with a freeze frame on Koss – much as Truffaut’s ends with a freeze frame on Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud).

But more than this, the film is also striking for the way in which it, like many a film from the French New Wave, takes to the streets, mixing documentary and fiction as the film involves real gamers and footage taken from real-world gaming tournaments.

Shot on an estimated budget of US$20,000, the film also involves direct sound, long takes in real locations and various other tropes that suggest the economic realism of cinema. By ‘economic realism,’ I mean that the less money one has as a filmmaker, the more one is likely to be pushed into the direction of long takes in order to save on time and money for set-ups.

But this is not a deficiency. On the contrary, it is a strength of the film that it does this, since the resulting intrusion of the real world (hence realism) into an otherwise fictional story is precisely what makes Gamer and numerous other films like it all the more powerful.

Indeed, it is the presence of the real world alongside the fantastic and violent world of Quake, from which we see a few play-throughs, that makes of the film an interesting investigation into the nature of gaming and virtual worlds in the present era – especially in a context like that of the contemporary Ukraine.

It is interesting how in games, the presence of cut-scenes would suggest that the medium aspires in some senses to become cinema. That is, games aspire to have the cultural clout of cinema, even if gaming is a larger industry than cinema worldwide.

Indeed, the cut scene, as well as the exemplary play-through, or the automatic action replay that takes place in some games when one performs a virtuoso bit of skill (or scores a goal) would suggest that the ‘best’ bits of games, and that towards which we should all aspire, become games not for us to play, but videos for us to watch.

In other words, gaming involves a logic of becoming image, or becoming cinema – since to become cinema bespeaks power, elevating the person out of the human realm and into the divine and supposedly eternal realm of the image, or light.

Given the presence of such ‘cut scenes’ in Sentsov’s film, one might suggest that Koss also aspires to become cinema, and to transcend his earthly identity, as marked by his change of names, precisely from Lyosha to Koss.

What is more, since such virtual images are placed alongside ‘mundane’ shots of everyday life, the effect is to suggest that the power of Gamer resides precisely in its not aspiring to be cinematic, but to express something like the outside of cinema, or what in my more academic writings I have termed non-cinema, and which may be something like reality itself.

That is, Gamer as a film charts Koss’ transition from aspiring to being cinematic (even if via gaming), a process that he finds ultimately hollow, and which is set against the smile that he achieves by becoming not cinematic, to his reconnecting with the real world (getting a job in a shop and working with his mum, who herself is also a translator/academic whose job does not pay enough for her to survive, suggesting that critical thinking is undervalued and discouraged in the contemporary world).

Notably, Gamer is also punctuated by other ‘cinematic’ moments during which a brightly lit Koss can be seen turning to the camera as dreamy music plays. A sort of set of fantasy sequences, these moments made me think that Lyosha was dreaming of an absent father – whom we never see and who is not even mentioned during the course of the film.

That is, Lyosha’s aspirations to be cinematic are also about him finding his father: to achieve success, to be famous, to become an image – these are all things that we are encouraged to achieve in our patriarchal and capitalist society (to ‘be someone’/to be ‘a man’ is our father, the thing that we pray for… and not to achieve it is to be a loser, perhaps not even to be human – as many a victim of cyber bullying might testify).

And so, as Lyosha ditches his cybernetic ambitions as Koss, and as he reconnects with the real world by taking a humble and dignified job in a shop as Lyosha, so does he also reconnect with his mother and a more feminine world.

Arguably this means that the film essentialises femininity as earthly and wise or some such. Nonetheless, it still means that the film’s story – together with its ‘realistic’ aesthetic – suggests a rejection of patriarchy and the myth of becoming cinema that lies at the heart of the contemporary capitalist world. Non-cinema is the way forward in a society dominated by the aesthetics and politics of cinema, or the aesthetics and politics of spectacle.

At one point we see Koss look through a window at his school and, using a speck of dirt on the window as a would-be rifle sight, he imagines shooting his fellow pupils.

Notably this moment takes place through the medium of a window. That is, Koss sees the real world through the medium of a separating screen rather than being directly in touch with it. And it is this separating screen that allows him to indulge his violent dreams, with violence itself being part of the logic of the cinematic world, in which we also repeatedly see violent images on screen, especially when playing a game like Quake.

Without wishing to pathologise the deeds of David Katz in Jacksonville this week, it is perhaps precisely because of the warping screen that media create, distorting our vision, that we humans go crazy and carry out violent deeds both in a simultaneous and paradoxical bid to become image (I become famous even if only as a murderer) and to destroy rivals who are seeking also to become image (Katz killing rival gamers, a crime that reveals the way in which the competition to become famous/cinematic perhaps necessarily involves violence, meaning that the murders are oddly and upsettingly a logical extension of the world in which gaming conventions take place – even if of course the absolute vast majority of gamers are wonderful, generous and loving people).

But more than the events of this week, Gamer benefits from a brief comparison with Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg, USA, 2018), another film that is about gaming and gaming culture, and which is one of the biggest box office successes of the year so far.

Indeed, where Gamer reportedly made only US$2,696 at the box office, Ready Player One has made US$582,018,455 worldwide. It is perhaps no coincidence that the film with the major special effects, the fast cutting rate and the conventional hero logic (replete with manic pixie dream girl who is there to help the hero to become a man) should make so much money. For, Ready Player One is patriarchy writ large.

Not only is it patriarchy writ large, but it also is an indulgence in nostalgia for the values of cinema, with a kind of weird fantasy posited at the end that maybe not all humans should spend all of their time playing games (or living in what the film calls the Oasis).

Aside from how closing the Oasis for a day a week would be commercial suicide (as other companies replace it by leaving their virtual worlds open 24:7, which is to say nothing of how to regulate different time zones into this fantasy logic), Ready Player One suggests that the Matrix is not something of which we should be fearful, but that being in the Matrix is great.

More than this, it also indulges a fantasy scenario in which the world of gaming really involves a sort of political activism (even though there are no hackers here), as ‘rebel’ gamers take on the corporate gamers in order to take/retain control of the Oasis.

(Forgive me; I am assuming some familiarity with Ready Player One, rather than explaining everything about it in too much detail. I sort of hope that readers can fill in the gaps if they have not seen the film; it really is all quite predictable.)

The point to make here, though, is that gaming is not rebellious, even if one believes that it is. Indeed, Katz is doing nothing more than committing an act of murder in taking the logic of the game (to ‘win’ by all means possible) outside of the game and into the real world. Indeed, gaming is always to, ahem, play into the hands of power (at least in the way that I am describing it here; I am sure that this view of gaming-as-patriarchy does not and should not always hold – except insomuch as it applies to patriarchal games, which not all games necessarily are, just as not all films are patriarchal; indeed some can be non-cinema, as per my argument above and elsewhere).

Here we come to perhaps the crux of my argument.

For as Gamer presents to us a vision of gaming as separating us from a real world with which we might do well to reconnect, so does Ready Player One suggest to us that gaming and virtual worlds are politically progressive.

To ditch digital culture and to ‘get back to reality’ naturally sounds like a conservative position. It involves a rejection of the novel possibilities that new technologies allow. To embrace those new technologies, meanwhile, sounds progressive, rebellious, young and hip.

And yet I am going to suggest that Gamer is a far more progressive film than Ready Player One. And this is not only because Gamer is not always-already creating spectacles for the purposes of making money/capital. That is, it is not simply because Gamer is not cinema but non-cinema.

However, in order to explain this point properly – and thus to explain the topsy-turvy-seeming logic of a kind of technological conservatism as progressive over a technological utopianism as progressive – we need to think about what has subsequently happened to the director of Gamer, Oleg Sentsov.

If you wander around Kyiv today, you will see numerous posters demanding that Oleg Sentsov be freed.

For, the #SaveOlegSentsov movement started when Sentsov was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service in 2014 on charges of terrorism against the Russian state and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Widely purported to be fake charges, Sentsov nonetheless was supposedly, according to Verity Healey, coordinating ‘relief efforts to help Ukrainian soldiers barricaded into their barracks by the Russian military.’

Sentsov’s reasons for doing this are that in 2014, Sentsov’s native Crimea, which includes Simferopol and which at that point in time was part of Ukraine, was ‘annexed’ by Russia – and which move remains to this day the cause of combat between the Ukrainian and the Russian militaries.

In late 2013 and into 2014, thousands of Ukrainians poured into and occupied the Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv in protest against, among other things, the decision by then-President Viktor Yanukovych to withdraw Ukraine from signing agreements with the European Union – preferring instead to cement ties with Russia.

After police violence against the protestors, which involved c130 deaths (with Ukrainians referring to the victims as the Heavenly Hundred), Yanukovych was toppled and an interim government set up.

During the instability that followed (not least because some Ukrainians would prefer to side with Russia than to join Europe), Russia annexed Crimea – and during this period Sentsov suspended shooting his second feature film, Rhino, in order to take part in the EuroMaidan and then to protest the annexation.

Sentsov has since his arrest allegedly been tortured and ‘left to die‘ by Vladimir Putin after the filmmaker began a hunger strike while the rest of the world decided to forget about reality and to celebrate Russia as a result of its wonderful hosting of the 2018 Football World Cup.

In other words, for Sentsov active participation in the world is more important than filmmaking. Reality is more important than media. And while we watch spectacles like cinema, games and soccer, people are fighting and dying in an unofficial war over Ukrainian territory.

Let’s ratchet this blog up a bit.

As the UK’s England side, with its rather unremarkable Won 3 Drew 1 Lost 3 record, progressed to the semi-finals of the World Cup, numerous memes began to circulate, often accompanied by the song ‘Three Lions’ by Skinner & Baddiel and the Lightning Seeds, and which encouraged England fans finally to ‘believe.’

What they ‘believed’ was that football might – after 52 years – ‘come home,’ in the sense that it has been 52 years since England last won a major international tournament (the 1966 Football World Cup), and in the sense that the English believe that they invented football since they were the first to formalise an enjoyable sport into a violent, money-making spectacle that today leads many human beings to be trafficked (as per Soka Africa, Suridh Hassan, UK, 2011), which is not mention alleged sexual abuse conspiracies within the sport and other human rights abuses that take place as a result of the sport.

It is interesting that the response of England fans to their team’s perceived success and possible chances of winning the tournament were framed by the word ‘belief.’ Football is not about being the better team, but about believing that one can win. But not on the part of the players, but perhaps especially the fans (which is not to rule out some irony in a good number of the memes, suggesting that people did not really believe that a mediocre England team could at all be the best in the world).

More than this, that belief is spurred on not just by the performance of a football team and its fans, but also by the plethora of media artefacts that circulate around it (and I’d like to write a blog at some point about Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat and the role that it played in both creating that sense of belief, but also ultimately in betraying that belief as false).

That is, what we believe – what we consider to be real and true – is shaped by media. Hence it is that the pages and pages of British media covering men in shorts running around a grass field create a sense in which that sport is more important to many human beings than lives in Ukraine, where a covert war is taking place – simply because the British media do not cover it. (Perhaps rather than cover it, they cover it up.)

So while Sentsov was protesting the World Cup, England fans got all excited because they managed to stick six goals past a weak Panamanian side and score a few penalties. Sentsov could, in effect, go hang as far as the England fans were concerned; they were having far too much fun on Russian soil to want to think about serious matters like politics.

Indeed, if anything, the UK with its Brexit vote would seem to side with Yanukovych in wanting to be shot of the European Union.

More than this. The UK, with the involvement of Cambridge Analytica in a bid to shape what American voters consider to be real and true, seems increasingly to be the plaything of Russia, which itself seems increasingly likely also to have been involved in shaping what American voters consider to be real and true, and which thus led to the election of Donald J Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America.

You may think that I am going too far and that this all sounds far too conspiracy theory-like.

But the point that I wish to make is that to embrace technological progress as unthinkingly and uncritically wonderful (Ready Player One) is to lead towards the post-truth world of digital fake news that characterises the contemporary era. Hipster rebellion is not rebellion; giving up games and filmmaking in order to fight for something that one truly believes in… is properly to lead a political life – even if that just means making human connections and working a modest but dignified life in a shop (Gamer).

Note that what I do not mean by evoking fake news is that Russian involvement in American politics is not true. On the contrary, we must critically examine what has happened if we are to work out the truth. But what the world of fake news does politically is that it allows everyone to be precisely uncritical and to dismiss as ‘fake’ that which simply does not please them.

It is to dismiss from view the unpleasant realities of a film director undergoing hunger strike in a Russian prison in order to prefer the spectacle framed by ‘belief’ of a football team doing well at a World Cup.

It is to dismiss from view the unpleasant possibility that we are all being manipulated by media in order to manage our perceptions. It is, à la Ready Player One, to prefer the Matrix to reality – reality not as something that lies beyond our attempts to find out exactly what it is, but reality as precisely our attempts to discover it. Reality as critical thinking and ongoing thought, rather than the matrix of no critical thought, a loss of human connection, a loss of humanity, a world of docile reception in which the only actions possible seem not to be ones of love (making human connections), but ones of violence against other human beings (murder) because one does not believe those humans (or perhaps anything) to be real. We love what we consider to be real, or rather what we love is what we consider to be real, and we love images more than humans. And yet to love should be to love humans (and perhaps images, too – but not only the images that one a priori loves; to love is to love what one does not love; to love is to love unconditionally; to love is only to love and not to love and to hate; to love and to hate is really just an excuse to hate).

In rejecting gaming, Gamer, then, tries unlike Ready Player One to take us back to the human realm (even if the hero of Spielberg’s film gets the one-dimensional girl and takes a day off gaming every week in a pseudo-effort to placate the notion that living in a fantasy world might not be all that it is cracked up to be).

Even if Ukraine cannot officially be at war with Russia, and if in this sense it must always already be complicit with the precedence of images over reality (no country can join NATO or the EU if at war, and so if Ukraine wants to join either of these institutions, it cannot be officially at war), we can nonetheless bear in mind that the fate of a Ukrainian filmmaker in Russia is still connected to Trump, Putin, the World Cup, fake news and the murders that took place in Jacksonville. And that Oleg Sentsov’s Gamer can help us to make sense of how this is so.

Understanding that this is so might be key to helping us not simply to accept by forgetting the corruption and the violence of the contemporary world, but also to believe in and thus to help create a better world. To believe not just that England might once again be ‘great’ (a true conservatism expressed through digital media and in the Brexit vote), but to believe that we can live in a world that ignores the divisive mechanisms of nations and nationality and which is based upon the shared humanity and life of our fellow human (and other) beings. To believe not in the patriarchal matrix of a society of control, but to believe in and to act towards a world of liberty and self-determination.

You can watch Gamer on the website for the International Film Festival Rotterdam for US$4. Money goes towards supporting Sentsov’s case.

The Escape (Dominic Savage, UK, 2017)

Blogpost, British cinema, Film reviews, Uncategorized

A woman is unhappy with her marriage and her children and so becomes depressed and dreams of escape.

Sound familiar?

If you are familiar with the plot of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856), then maybe you will indeed know this story.

And of course Gemma Arterton, who is the star of The Escape, played a modern-day version (of sorts) of Emma Bovary in Anne Fontaine’s Gemma Bovery (France/UK, 2014), in which Martin (Fabrice Luchini) tries to project on to Gemma the story of Emma after she and her husband (Jason Flemyng) have moved from England to live in the French countryside, where Martin works as a baker (having quit the city life some time before).

So perhaps it comes as no surprise that here Tara (Arterton) lives in an unhappy marriage with Mark (Dominic Cooper) and their two annoying kids somewhere in Kent.

Mark clearly has a decent job, even if we never find out what he does, since the house that they inhabit on their close is pretty big and they have two cars. In other words, Tara is not unhappy because of a lack of material wealth.

Mark, meanwhile, is not without his flaws. He veers between being an ignorant oik who has no interest in art and boring things like that, and actually being quite a sensitive man who wants to make an effort to understand and to improve the lot of his clearly unhappy wife…

However, for whatever reason, he does not quite have the emotional or intellectual intelligence properly to help Tara, as can be signalled by his lack of care for her pleasure when having sex and in the way that he does not let her rest at a barbecue and/or passively-aggressively complains about her not having his dinner ready.

Since Mark is, to put it bluntly, inarticulate (or what we might call ‘a bit thick’), he gets angry when he cannot help Tara, and so he lashes out. Not that he hits her, but he swears at her and puts her down, calling her stupid and deriding her artistic ambitions.

For, Tara is depressed by her repetitive life of getting the kids breakfast, taking them to school, picking them up, being treated like a shag object by Mark and so on. And she clearly dreams of doing something more creative with her time – as signalled by her aspiration to sign up for an art course after taking a day trip up to London, and as signalled by the first part of her ‘escape,’ which involves going to Paris to see tapestries that she also has read about in a book she buys on London’s South Bank.

As a study of depression, The Escape involves some very strong performances – especially from Arterton (although I shall return later to issues of accent – both in relation to her and in relation to Dominic Cooper).

However, The Escape is also not quite a study of depression, be it post-natal or otherwise. For depression does not necessarily go away if one happens to escape one’s milieu; being a psychological disorder, it is something that can follow one around and affect even the most privileged person.


In The Escape, though, the film ends with Tara having moved from Kent to London, where she lives in a massive apartment right next to a square that does not look dissimilar to somewhere like Eaton Square Gardens by Sloane Square.

She walks into the square’s gardens and turns to look at some children playing – whom we hear but do not see. It is hard to tell what Tara is thinking and feeling, but Arterton comes close to tears (there is a lot of crying in this film), suggesting that in part she misses her kids (whom, we infer, she has left with Mark).

But at the same time, the film would seem to end on a positive note: Tara has left behind her shitty working class life in Kent and now is more fulfilled, and more in her skin, living in posh ends in London. She may still get sad, but it would seem that she is no longer depressed. Meaning that The Escape is basically a fantasy of becoming (upper) middle class: when you get to live in a ridiculously large apartment in somewhere like Sloane Square, having got rid of your chavvy husband and your screaming brat chav kids, then depression melts away and you are fine.

Note that I explicitly do not want to say anything along the lines of Tara being a terrible mother for abandoning her children. I do not want to make this a critique of her character based upon some predetermined biological role that she as a female is supposed to play.

No – I am happy to take it on face value that Tara is happier without her children, and that this might indeed be the case for many people, even if The Escape would look odd when placed alongside Tully (Jason Reitman, USA, 2018), where post-natal depression gets paradoxically a much more realistic treatment, since the kids there are not depicted as such an unremitting nightmare, but are characters that can do more than just scream (but perhaps this is because they are not ill-educated chavs).

Rather, I am more concerned with how The Escape paints estuary England with such total bleakness that it is hard not to see the film ultimately as a work of complete snobbery, even if it has claims to realism.

Don’t get me wrong. I sometimes wonder how the eloquent and erudite Owen Jones (the author of Chavs) would survive if he had to spend all of his days with Mail-reading Kent and Essex boys rather than with The Guardian and Celebrity Pointless lot that are his contemporary crowd.

That is, there is an element of British society in which a kind of unconscious anti-establishment attitude emerges through wilful ignorance – even if this plays directly into the hands of the ruling classes (problematically to generalise: schools are designed deliberately to discipline working class society members, who then are betrayed by schools that do not help them and/or who betray their class by doing well at school, and who must then choose not to do well at school and/or to ditch school in an act of rebellious ignorance that then consigns them to the working class for the rest of their days, which imprisonment they will fiercely defend, hence a tendency for conservative thinking to flourish in working class areas).

By which I mean that I can sympathise with Tara wanting to do something else with her life other than knock out more kids and begin to drink gin and smoke fags in her close until she withers away.

But The Escape as a film also specifically wants us to share Tara’s desire for escape, and in this it must present to us a relatively specific vision of working class Kent life. Or rather: lower middle class Kent life, which may involve certain material trappings (nice house, two cars, coffee from a cafetières at breakfast, orange juice decanted into a jug – ‘lower’ middle class/’working class’ is not really defined here by money), but which nonetheless lacks any sensitivity or sensibility towards thought and/or art (class defined here by cultural capital, and in particular how one spends not so much one’s money, but one’s time). A life that lacks, if you will, the humanities, and thus, as the film might at times want to have us believe, (a certain type of ‘refined’) humanity.

And in performing this trick, the film becomes (for this viewer) problematic. Since surely there is so much humanity in estuary England that it need not be a world that one can only escape by moving to Paris and/or Sloane Square – as if becoming posh were the only true solution to the class problem in the UK.

Where Flaubert – in his typically misanthropic and misogynistic fashion – makes Emma suffer (and die) for her imprisonment and her aspirations (even if she is married to a dullard doctor rather than a besuited barrow boy), Tara escapes. Not that she should be deprived of any class mobility (for to suggest that we all must know and remain in our place would betray a different kind of conservatism). But her escape involves leaving chav life behind.

The Arterton star persona here becomes important. For, it is as if her physical beauty (as well as her bosom, which Savage allows to play a prominent part in many scenes, even if always covered) is being used here as a tool to help convey that Tara is better than and does not deserve this life. That is, beauty cannot survive in and does not belong to the Garden of England, but a cinematic central London Garden of Eden.

Arterton is loosely associated with Cinderella-type roles. Tamara Drewe (Stephen Frears, UK, 2010), for example, is about the transformation of Arterton from ugly duckling to beautiful swan, while Gemma Bovery also sees Martin project on to her the narrative of social climbing that Flaubert so mercilessly mocks.

That said, Arterton broke through playing a kind of troublesome private school girl in St Trinian’s (Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson, UK, 2007), meaning that her star persona sits somewhere uneasily between different class strata – something that also holds for Dominic Cooper, whose breakthrough role was as Dakin in The History Boys (Nicholas Hytner, UK, 2006) – in which his character wins a scholarship to Oxbridge as a result of his academic excellence.

In other words, both actors sort of connote upward mobility – which means that their very chavviness here rings somewhat false. That is, their Estuary English accents seem just a bit forced at times (to this viewer), suggesting that the film involves actors performing downwards in a film that is about a fantasy of moving upwards. While Arterton grew up in Kent and is from a relatively working class family, thereby meaning that she surely has claims to giving an authentic performance, the same performance could have been given without the forced accents. With the forced accents, the film again comes across as slightly disingenuous, condescending even – regardless of whether the emotional range of the performance(s) on offer is superb (which it is).

But more than this. What is equally interesting about The Escape is its formal features.

About halfway through the film, Tara has a conversation with her mother (Frances Barber), who explains that her life is not like a television show.

And yet, in its very domesticity, The Escape is not wholly dissimilar to British soap operas, even if it uses various stylistic features that we typically do not associate with the smaller format (slow motion shots, variable focus, extreme close ups, musical accompaniment, relatively abstract shots of the sun setting and so on).

In this way, The Escape would seem in some senses to be about the escape from television and into cinema – as if these very media were themselves representative of different classes.

It is perhaps no coincidence, then, that Tara heads to the South Bank in order to get a sense of what life might be like outside of the close. For it is on the South Bank that Mark (Michael Maloney) will hop – somewhat embarrassingly – alongside Nina (Juliet Stevenson) in Truly Madly Deeply (Anthony Minghella, UK, 1990). And it is on the South Bank that Charles (Hugh Grant) will talk to his brother David (David Bower) about love in Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell, UK, 1994). It also is on the South Bank that Alex (Alex Chevasco) will meet Patricia (Hannah Croft) in En Attendant Godard (William Brown, UK, 2009).

There are more examples, but these three will alone suffice to demonstrate that the South Bank is a middle class space that is in some respects associated with cinema – and certainly not with television. Indeed, the stall where Tara buys her book, on the cover of which is The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry from the Musée national du moyen âge in Paris, is right next door to the British Film Institute.

Gemma Arterton must be saved from television and upheld as truly cinematic. Tara, too, must be cinematic. And Tara, too, must therefore not just practice art, but also become art – which is what happens when Tara ditches Kent for Paris and meets Philippe (Jalil Lespert) at precisely the Musée national du moyen âge – after he spots her on the Boulevard St Michel.

(Is Tara suddenly finding herself inside Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?’ – even if that song is a critique of the emptiness of living in a fancy apartment in Paris and hanging out with Sacha Distel?)

For, Philippe is a photographer who cannot but take photos of Tara in front of The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry – because she is to beautiful. Inevitably they sleep together, then, with Tara calling herself Sam (her real self, rather than the fake woman who leads a fake life in Kent?).

(Jalil Lespert is an actor associated with upward mobility, too, owing to his role in Ressources humaines/Human Resources, Laurent Cantet, France/UK, 1999, where he plays a university graduate who must sack his own father and the rest of his workforce from the factory in which they have for many years worked – all in the name of economic rationalisation.)

And yet, this view of Paris is highly romanticised, as is clear from the homeless people that Tara passes and the beer can that nestles on a Gare du Nord cornice as she exits the station. Tara seems not to notice these ‘trash’ details, but instead falls immediately in love with the City of Lights for what it means: escape from dull and grey England.

Cinema is upheld as better than television – and Tara manages to make her life cinematic by leaving behind all that she knows in Kent. This is a far cry from that other relationship between a man and a woman who has artistic aspirations and who seeks to escape an unhappy marriage – and which is perhaps one of television’s finest achievements, namely the relationship between Tim (Martin Freeman) and Dawn (Lucy Davis) in The Office (Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, UK, 2001-2003).

In sum, then, The Escape involves a wonderful central performance from Arterton, with Cooper also being as strong as in anything else in which he features and which I have seen (the film is sympathetic to him as he cries after feeling out of place in a posh London restaurant; but he is also unredeemable, suggesting a sort of hopelessness about his character).

However, the film also would have us believe that the chav classes of the UK are a hellhole from which one must escape – televisual and bleak as opposed to beautiful and cinematic, associated with relentless interiors and small gardens as opposed to clear skies and open space.

Arguably the film stages the way in which public space is not public, but really middle class – with Tara wanting to gain access to these spaces. But she does so by leaving her Kent home behind. A study in depression that is sympathetic both to Tara and to Mark, the film nonetheless posits that the cure for all of this is to escape. And that Brexit Britain is a small-minded and awful place, with a ‘European’ sensibility being the only one that can save us. (Don’t get me wrong – I am strongly anti-Brexit; but how The Escape is quite one-sided just means that it is not the film to give pro-European views the most fair account.)