I always knew I was a bit different from the other kids at school. I often felt misunderstood and isolated. In many ways I still do. Anyone who knows me will tell you I have an extraordinary obsession and passion for horror films, despite frequent pleas from my mum to watch something a bit more pleasant like the Sound of Music. I also have a deep interest in current affairs, politics and social issues. This is partly drawn from my own experience of mental health issues and the curiosity and interest in the world around me that comes from my autism.

Often I enjoy using my knowledge to bemuse my friends and family by talking about my love for obscure films such Female Prisoner Scorpion and Zombie Flesh Eaters, yet I see my imagination and spontaneity as probably one of my biggest qualities. To me it is just a sign of my creative imagination. I can easily go from watching the Lion King to an obscure Italian horror any day of the week. You just have to have a look at my film collection to get a flavour of my eclectic cinematic taste. Below is a poster of my favourite film of all time, the 1963 gothic chiller from the Italian master of the macabre, the late Mario Bava.

black-sabbath

Perhaps my favourite scene to be found in cinema is that within James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) when a lonely blind old man takes in Frankenstein’s creation and gives him refuge from a misunderstanding world, a world which is blind to his humanity.

 

 

In a way this both describes how I sometimes feel or sometimes, the exact opposite. I have heard many people call autism a hidden disability and I would very much agree with this. Indeed, it is very likely one of the reasons why I have gotten a diagnosis at the age of 25. At the same time, I find it hard to express myself when meeting new people and this can be extremely frustrating, especially in job interviews, when you have to sell yourself to strangers within 30 minutes. I often have so many things to say and opinions but can’t get it out due to my anxiety and so am unable to show the talents I know I have. It is when I settle in somewhere where I am really able to show what I can do. I just wish that more people could see past my initial shyness but will always be grateful to those who have.

When I eventually got my diagnosis this July it was an equal mixture of relief and anxiety for both myself and my parents.

I am not ashamed to admit I may have some bad days, where I doubt myself and wish autism wasn’t part of who I am, that I could be a bit more ‘normal’.

I need to learn to recognise my unique quirks are not weaknesses, they just make me a bit different. Being normal isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Who would want to live in a box packaged by society anyway?

Films are, arguably, one of the most powerful mediums in the history of society. They can also be, through the eyes of a great director, an eye opener into other societies and cultures, both past and present. Indeed, it is this aspect which appeals to me most about the medium. As someone who has lived in Scotland, Ireland and now Wales, I have chosen Cardiff as my home not only because of the diversity of cultures which adds so much to its identity, but how it truly embraces this.

To celebrate this diversity and contribute a lighter tone to the ongoing EU referendum debate, I thought I would share some brief thoughts on some of my favourite films from our European neighbours.

 

The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1973)

Conformist

The Conformist is, fundamentally, a story about a man seeking identity. Conveyed through dreamlike, almost unearthly and rich, striking visuals it can equally be described as a powerful representation of the inherent vulnerability of human nature. As the central character’s journey progresses, revolving around a spy and assassin for Mussolini’s regime, we can see how we can all be so easily persuaded to conform to ideas which, ultimately, oppose its own existence. This is made most clear at the film’s end, as our protagonist is as quick to abandon fascism after Mussolini’s death to survive society’s retribution, as he is to embrace it.

 

The Devil’s Backbone (Guillmero Del Toro, 2001)

Devil's Backbone

While Pan’s Labrinyth may be Del Toro’s most well-known and acclaimed film, this similar exploration of Fascism’s rise during the Spanish civil war is in this cinephiles eyes a superior film. It was on my 3rd viewing I suddenly realised that its opening scene can be interpreted as a visual prelude to Picasso’s Geurnica. As such, this makes it’s core message only clearer; how ghosts of the past will always haunt the future if suppressed and can never be forgotten. This is delivered with the visual craftsmanship fans of Del Toro’s films have come to expect and very strong performances by the entire cast, especially the young orphan who acts as the narrative focus. At the time of the film’s release, Spain was only beginning to confront it’s Franco past, with individual efforts to dig up mass graves at sites such as Payables del Hoyo.

 

Ashes and Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, 1958)

ashesanddiamonds

Wanda’s film focuses on an idealistic young assassin of Poland’s resistance against occupying communist forces between 1946 and the early 1950’s. In doing so he masterfully portrays the complex character of Maciej as a parallel for this turbulent point in Polish history when the Soviet Union ‘liberated’ the country. His excellent performance ensures that despite his fate (a necessary narrative move to please Poland’s real communist rulers) the audience will identify with his motivations.

 

The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari (Robert Weine, 1920)

11264352_caligari_241540b

What many consider to be the first true horror film is also a representation of Germany’s fractured mindset and trauma after their defeat at the end of WW1, with its jagged and expressionist visuals a clear metaphor for the destruction reaped in past battlefields. Both the film’s original writer’s became pacifists after witnessing such horror first-hand as soldiers.

 

The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2012)

1024_livesof-others1

Here an east berlin agent begins to doubt his mission to spy on a famous playwright, suspected of disloyalty to the socialist cause. A brilliant character study and exploration of loyalty, human relationships and morality it succeeds in showing the perversion of these values under an authoritarian system and yet, how even a tiny act of resistance can have powerful consequence for others.

 

Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948)

Bicycle Thieves

Bicycle Thieves is one of many films produced under the Neo-realism movement in post WW2 Italy.  Others include Rome, Open City (1945) and Germany, Year Zero (1948). As such, it shares many key elements of other neorealist films; a raw, documentarian approach which allows character to organically drive the plot and a focus on ordinary people. As the film progresses its focus shifts from the father’s efforts to find his bicycle to the impact of the poverty he cannot escape, on his relationship with his son. By the conclusion what is lost most of all is innocence. This message is equally delivered through performances of both characters who are, again like many other examples in this movement, played by untrained actors.