Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Mr. Jones (2019)

Agnieszka Holland: Mr. Jones (2019) with Peter Sarsgaard (Walter Duranty), James Norton (Gareth Jones) and Vanessa Kirby (Ada Brooks).

Obywatel Jones / Ціна правди / Mr. Jones [Finnish and Swedish title] / Den sorte jord [Danish and Norwegian title]
    PL/GB/US © 2019 Film Producja / Parkhurst / Kinorob / Jones by Film / Krakow Festival Office / Studio Produkeyjne Orka / Kino Swiat / Silesia Film Institute in Katowice. P: Andrea Chalupa, Stanisław Dziedzic, Klaudia Śmieja-Rostworowska.
    D: Agnieszka Holland. SC: Andrea Chalupa. Cin: Tomasz Naumiuk – colour – 2,35:1 – release: D-Cinema. PD: Grzegorz Piątkowski. AD: Fiona Gavin. Set dec: Kinga Babczynska. Cost: Galina Otenko, Ola Staszko. Make up and hair: Janusz Kaleja. M: Antoni Komasa-Łazarkiewicz. S: Wojciec Mielimaka. ED: Michał Czarnecki. Casting: Colin Jones.
    Songs include: "Forces of Baba Yaga". "Piosenka głodnych dzieci" [The Song of the Hungry Children] (Antoni Komasa-Łazarkiewicz, lyr. DP), sung by the Choir of Ukrainian Orphans.
    Gareth Jones's theme poem: "Cad Goddeu" / "The Battle of the Trees" from the Book of Taliesin (14th century).
    C: James Norton (Gareth Jones), Vanessa Kirby (Ada Brooks), Peter Sarsgaard (Walter Duranty), Joseph Mawle (Eric Blair = George Orwell), Kenneth Cranham (Lloyd George), Celyn Jones (Matthew), Krzysztof Pieczyński (Maxim Litvinov), Beata Pozniak (Rhea Clyman), Martin Bishop (Sir Ernest Bennet), John Edmondson (J. E. B. Seely), Julian Lewis Jones (Major Jones), Patrycja Volny (Bonnie), Michalina Olszanska (Yulia), Marcin Czarnik (Paul Kleb), Michael O'Donnell (Malcolm Muggeridge), Matthew Marsh (William Randolph Hearst).
    Filmed in Ukraine, Poland and Scotland, 16 Feb – 30 July 2018.
    Languages: English, Russian, Ukrainian, Welsh.
    141 min (festival), 119 (theatrical).
    Festival premiere: 10 Feb 2019 Berlin International Film Festival
    Polish premiere: 25 Oct 2019.
    Ukrainian premiere: 28 Nov 2019.
    British premiere: 7 Feb 2020.
    Finnish premiere: 13 March 2020 [distribution interrupted by corona lockdown 17 March 2020], released by Future Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles.
    Corona lockdown viewings.
    Draken Film, 119 min version with Swedish subtitles by Oneliner.
    Viewed on a tv screen at a forest retreat in Punkaharju, 17 June 2020.

BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL SYNOPSIS: "In March 1933, Welsh journalist Gareth Jones takes a train from Moscow to Kharkov in the Ukraine. He disembarks at a small station and sets off on foot on a journey through the country where he experiences at first hand the horrors of a famine. Everywhere there are dead people, and everywhere he goes he meets henchmen of the Soviet secret service who are determined to prevent news about the catastrophe from getting out to the general public. Stalin’s forced collectivisation of agriculture has resulted in misery and ruin; the policy is tantamount to mass murder. Supported by Ada Brooks, a New York Times reporter, Jones succeeds in spreading the shocking news in the West, thereby putting his powerful rival, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, pro-Stalin journalist Walter Duranty, firmly in his place."

"Shot in Poland, Scotland and in original locations in the Ukraine, Agnieszka Holland’s film recalls the legendary journalist Gareth Jones (1905
–1935) who, despite fierce resistance, could not be dissuaded from telling the truth. Jones’s encounter with the young George Orwell is said to have inspired the latter’s dystopian parable ‘Animal Farm’ (1945)." Berlin Film Festival 2019

AA: Having just watched Charlatan in Midnight Sun Film Festival's online edition I was inspired to see Mr. Jones, Agnieszka Holland's previous historical drama. It had its Finnish premiere on 13 March only to have its run interrupted during the premiere week by the corona lockdown.

Both films are well directed, produced, written and acted historical tragedies about Eastern European ordeals under the aegis of the Soviet Union. Charlatan takes place in Czechoslovakia in 1957, and Mr. Jones is an exposé of the Holodomor in Ukraine in 1933. Jan Mikolášek, the faith healer of Charlatan, treated four million patients. In Ukraine, at least an equal number of famine victims perished during the Holodomor.

Holodomor is a major historical catastrophe that has been discussed far from enough in the cinema. Nine years ago we mounted a Ukrainian film retrospective at Cinema Orion, curated by Dalia Stasevska. We screened the first Holodomor movie, Famine-33 (1991), a powerful, uncensored and unflinchingly horrifying account made in the Soviet Union during the last year of its existence. In the same year the Soviet Communist Party acknowledged its guilt in the catastrophe in which seven million people died. A Spring for the Thirsty and The Stone Cross are not Holodomor films but they carry poetic echoes of the primal shock.

Ukraine on the eve of the Holodomor was the home of some of the greatest masterpieces of film art including The Man with the Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov and Earth by Alexander Dovzhenko. What happened around 1933 was a devastating blow to the ideals of both masters.

Vertov had also directed in 1931 Enthusiasm: the Donbass Symphony about the industrial area that has a special meaning in the story of Mr. Jones. Gareth Jones's mother had worked as a teacher in her youth in Donetsk, called Hughesovka / Yuzovka in her youth and Stalino during Gareth's explorations.

The story of Mr. Jones is enormous, and I believe the case is more complicated than discussed in the film. As we know, but the film does not tell, the Western mainstream media was staunchly anti-Soviet, but, as the film tells, it nevertheless failed to convey the enormity of the Holodomor. A parallel case was the Holocaust during WWII. It sounded too incredible to be discussed with full gravity while it happened.

At the core of the film is Gareth Jones's voyage to the heart of darkness, "the bloodlands" (Timothy Snyder). Ostensibly he is on his way to document the miracle of the Five Year Plan in Kharkiv. But during the train ride he escapes from his "beard" to explore the countryside on his own and witness the horror of hunger and devastation. Encounters with starved children are the most memorable in the movie.

The account of the Western journalists' bubble in Stalin era Moscow is lurid and colourful in a movie-movie fashion. Even if it is true, it is told with a slick agenda that weakens the main argument. I would hope that the film-makers would be more Orwellian in trusting in the viewers' ability to think.

Many of the characters are real, starting with Gareth Jones. Malcolm Muggeridge was the first to expose the Holodomor (for Manchester Guardian). Walter Duranty was a mysterious persona: an anti-communist whose account of Stalin's terror had a tinge of racism. He saw Russians as inferior people who longed for a brutal tyrant. I sense that the mystery here would be worth exploring further. Perhaps it might provide clues even to the Stalin mystery itself, and the pseudomorphosis of Russia, to speak with Spengler. Duranty was an invalid: a part of his leg had been amputated after his injury in a train wreck, and he had been prescribed opium to alleviate the pain. He had also belonged to the circle of the Satanist Aleister Crowley. Might Duranty's attitude to Stalin be understood in terms of Satanism?

In this film about the year 1933 we see George Orwell writing Animal Farm, a book written over ten years later and published in 1945. Orwell is presented as the antithesis of Duranty, but isn't there a fundamental affinity in their views of humanity? Duranty's reports from Moscow were published in The New York Times, to the eternal disgrace of the newspaper. The editorials of the paper expressed the opposite view, unmentioned in the film.

The year 1933 was quite a year in world history because of Hitler's rise to power, also covered by Gareth Jones.

A fascinating character in the movie is Maxim Litvinov, USSR's Commissar for Foreign Affairs. His agenda in the 1930s was to build an anti-Fascist front to contain Hitler. When in the Munich Agreement the West chose a policy of appeasement, Litvinov was removed by Stalin and replaced with Molotov who launched the Machiavellian pact with the Devil (Hitler): instead of the USSR Hitler would attack the West first.

Duranty is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and in a nice twist in the finale Jones meets Pulitzer's arch rival, William Randolph Hearst, to publish his Holodomor exposé.

Into historical dramas Agnieszka Holland inserts fascinating mythical dimensions: Taliesin in Mr. Jones ("The Battle of the Trees") and Rusalka in Charlatan ("The Song to the Moon").

To sum up: the core is powerful, and the film would be even stronger without some of the honey trappings.

David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter, 10 Feb 2019): "For [Andrea] Chalupa, this piece of history has personal significance. His grandfather was born on a farm in Eastern Ukraine and survived the Holodomor, only to be arrested and tortured by Soviet secret police during Stalin's purges."


"In 1933, Gareth Jones is an ambitious young journalist who has gained some renown for his interview with Adolf Hitler. Thanks to his connections to Lloyd George, the former Prime Minister, he is able to get official permission to travel to the Soviet Union. Jones intends to try and interview Stalin and find out more about the Soviet Union's economic expansion and its apparently successful five-year development plan."

"Jones is restricted to Moscow, but jumps his train and travels unofficially to Ukraine to discover evidence of the Holodomor, including empty villages, starving people, cannibalism, and the enforced collection of grain. On his return to the UK he struggles to get his story taken seriously. The film ends by recording that Jones died in Mongolia on a return visit to the USSR, not knowing that his guide was employed by the Soviet secret service."

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