Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Addition to Huppert Season

Breaking news from ACMI, and not yet on their website, is that another title has been added to the Focus on Isabelle Huppert season (Fri 29 June – Tue 10 July). Raúl Ruiz’s Comedie de l'innocence (Comedy of Innocence, 2000) will have its first ever theatrical screening in Australia at the season. That's a total now of 20 films screening for the retrospective. Ruiz's Klimt (2006) screened recently at ACMI and was my introduction to this acclaimed director's work.

“Adapted from the novel The Boy With Two Mothers by the Italian surrealist Massimo Bontempelli, Comédie de l'innocence is a subtly crafted psychological thriller.. were it in English, would appeal to the popular audience that enjoyed M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense and Alejandro Amenábar's The Others, both of which it resembles.” The Guardian, 2002

Monday, May 28, 2007

Cannes 2007 is Over

Cannes 2007 has finished with Romanian director Cristian Mungiu taking out the coveted Palme d'Or with his 4 luni, 3 saptamini si 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). A good sum up of festival winners can be found at indieWIRE. For me, this list is worth noting as Cannes winners give a good indication of which films to look out for at MIFF (those that make it here).

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Video: Errol Morris

[Update: further links added]

I was cleaning up my internet bookmarks and found a link to a great clip at around the same time that I discovered I could insert a YouTube video clip in my blog. So, as an experiment and without further ado, here is a documentary about my favourite documentary maker, Errol Morris (and his Fog of War, which recently screened on SBS, is my favourite documentary film).

The clip is nearly 47 minutes long and in it, Morris describes how he came to be a film-maker. I've only just watched it for the first time, and darn it, I'm ordering every Morris film on DVD that I can get my hand on. This guy is seriously good.

A Brief History of Errol Morris

Senses of Cinema articles:

The Week in Review

[Update: reviews added of films listed; it's been a busy week!]

With a much larger amount of French homework this week, I allowed my attendance at the Spanish Film Festival to suffer. I'm taking learning a new language seriously otherwise it's a waste of time. I've also added French radio RSS feeds to my Google home page so I can hear more French speaking (even though at this early stage I can only understand the occasional word or two).

I only saw two films from the SFF in total, and wasn't impressed by either. It's a pity really, because Spain produces interesting cinema and the
not insubstantial Elias Querejeta retrospective looked particularly enticing. I'll have to be satisfied with what I saw earlier in the year at La Mirada, and hopefully catch up with some others at MIFF (which I've started planning for, based on the preliminary information that has been released).

I don't have time now; I'll add short reviews later.


  • Paris nous appartient (Paris Belongs to Us, Jacques Rivette, 1960)
  • Duelle (Jacques Rivette, 1976)
  • Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
  • Almodóvar on Almodóvar (Revised edition, 2006, Frédéric Strauss)
Paris Belongs to Us
I've seen three Rivette films now, and feel inadequate in commenting on them, but will do my best. From what I have seen so far, they are all a little obscure to say the least. There's always seems to be a sense of mystery, something elusive out of frame that we never quite see and so never have the full picture. It pulls us in deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole and we can't stop ourselves.

Being new to Rivette, and to nouvelle vague in general, I feel his films demand repeat viewings to further appreciate their meaning.

Paris Belongs to Us is an amazing first film. There's a lovely aesthetic both to the black and white print, the views of Paris and the interestingly bleak characters. I also felt the paranoia about fascism had relevance to today's political environment.

Duelle is a film I find harder to write about than Paris Belongs to Us, yet I found it more engaging. I must confess to having been quite tired at the time, and nearly five hours of Rivette (that's 2 films, plus a talk on Rivette preceding the screenings) is a lot to digest.

This is a very elusive film that plays on perceptions. We gradually gain a sense of what the film is about, and visually it sort of makes sense, but we never really know for sure. Yet there's some kind of intuitive metaphysical logic where me make sense of what we see without fully understanding it. It's like Rivette makes us a witness to this amazing world that perhaps we are not entitled to be part of but somehow find ourselves here. Cinematic heaven? Well, I wouldn't go that far, but it's something approximating it. You'd have to have seen a Rivette film to get a sense of my rambling words.

Mention David Fincher and my first thought is Fight Club, one of my (many) favourite films. I saw it twice and my partner saw it seven times (that's on the big screen, and not counting DVD). Mention Fincher and serial killer - that's easy; you'd think Se7en. But neither of these Fincher films really prepares you for Zodiac. It's a completely different film.

The earlier films are in your face and highly stylised. There's no shortage of style in Zodiac, but it's much more muted and understated. There's violence - very well done, mind you, that is highly effective in much the same way the shower scene was in Hitchcock's Psycho. Or like Pulp Fiction - we get a sense of terrible violence, but there's never anything a sensitive person like myself needs to cover up their eyes for.

The violence sets the scene for the type of person who is being sought, and being sought obsessively. Mark Ruffalo is the detective on the case, but it is Jake Gyllenhaal who steals the show. Both these competent actors are used to maximum effect by Fincher but in a non-sensationalist manner. The film is ultimately about these people whose lives were touched by a serial killer - how it affected them and their families.

I generally like Robert Downey Jr. and while I don't have any complaints of his performance, I thought it was a bit too easy for him (playing an alcoholic crime writer going down the drain). The wonderful Chloe Sevigny had a small nuanced role that was played effectively and it would have been nice to have seen more of her.

While some critics have complained about the length of the film, I thought the time was well used to tell the story effectively. It doesn't give easy answers and while the real killer has never been brought to justice, we're given enough information to make up our own minds (and debate). I liked this film a lot.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A letter to ACMI

For many years I had a bin hire business (I sold it in 2000) and always appreciated frank feedback from my customers. I also make it a point to offer feedback - both positive and negative - to others when I feel the occasion warrants it. ACMI's Focus on Isabelle Huppert is, in my opinion, such an occasion, and I decided to send an email. As it encapsulates several things I wanted to post here, I shall reproduce the bulk of the email here:
As an avid film-goer and amateur critic I wanted to offer some feedback. It is my observation that since the Lumiere cinema closed in 2005, there's been a bit of a vacuum of gritty cinema in Melbourne. Some people say that ACMI has filled it somewhat, though my perception is no-one has had the guts to screen what the Lumiere did, particularly with films like Irreversible, Audition and L'enfer.

Now, I don’t know how commercially successful the Huppert season will be (and I hope it will be the sell-out it deserves to be), but I think that this is an excellent lineup of films that deserves to screen regardless of popularity. With art, I don't think popularity should be the prime criteria. Most French films that get a commercial release in this country are not much better than the mindless Hollywood counterparts that are distributed. Isabelle Huppert is drawn to the serious French films that serious film lovers can't get enough of, and that I usually have to seek out at the French Film Festival (like this year's Private Property and A Comedy of Power) or MIFF.

It's going to cause me some anxiety trying to get to as many of the 16 films in the season that I haven't seen, in a very short period. It's a pity it wasn't screening over a longer period with so many (19) films.

It also got me thinking that there's other actors who are drawn to gritty roles. Seeing Tim Roth in Made in Britain at the Focus on Punk reminded me of how he could make a good Focus season (especially as he has also directed a seriously good film, The War Zone) and last night I saw Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man, also part of the Punk season. A focus on Stanton would also be great.
Danielle Poulos, Communications Coordinator at ACMI very kindly responded to the email and sent me three double passes, two of them for the Huppert season. While I appreciate the generosity, I must confess that my sharing my opinions was completely self-serving. I wanted to give the programmers the type of ammunition that might be required in future to get other serious events off the ground.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Isabelle Huppert - ACMI Screening Times

The following will likely only be of interest if you're in Melbourne. I've put together the film screening times in a form that's more convenient for me than the ACMI website.

Isabelle Huppert: Woman of Many Faces
An exhibition of photographic portraits of the iconic French actress by leading international photographers.
Thu 14 Jun - Tue 10 Jul 2007, Open daily

Ma mère (My Mother, Christophe Honore, 2004) (R)
Fri 29 Jun 2007, 7pm

La dentellière (The Lacemaker, Claude Goretta, 1977) (MA)
Fri 29 Jun 2007, 9.15pm

Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Slow Motion, Jean-Luc Godard, 1980) (Unclassified)
Sat 30 Jun 2007, 4.30pm

Loulou (Maurice Pialat, 1980) (Unclassified)
Sat 30 Jun 2007, 6.30pm

Coup de foudre (Entre Nous, Diane Kurys, 1983) (Unclassified)
Sat 30 Jun 2007, 9pm

Cactus (Paul Cox, Australia, 1986) (M)
Sun 1 Jul 2007, 4.45pm

La séparation (The Separation, Christian Vincent, 1994) (M)
Sun 1 Jul 2007, 7pm

Merci pour le chocolat (Nightcap, Claude Chabrol, 2000) (Unclassified)
Mon 2 Jul 2007, 6.45pm (also Sat 7 Jul 2007, 9pm)

Une affaire des femmes (Story of Women, Claude Chabrol, 1988) (M)
Mon 2 Jul 2007, 9pm

Madame Bovary (Claude Chabrol, 1991) (PG)
Tue 3 Jul 2007, 7pm

Le temps du loup (Time of the Wolf, Michael Haneke, 2003) (MA)
Thu 5 Jul 2007, 6.45pm

Amateur (Hal Hartley, USA, 1994) (M)
Thu 5 Jul 2007, 9pm

La pianiste (The Piano Teacher, Michael Haneke, Germany, 2001) (R)
Fri 6 Jul 2007, 6.45pm

I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell, USA, 2004) (M)
Fri 6 Jul 2007, 9.15pm

Heaven's Gate (Michael Cimino, USA, 1980) (M)
Sat 7 Jul 2007, 4.45pm

Merci pour le chocolat (Nightcap, Claude Chabrol, 200) (Unclassified)
Sat 7 Jul 2007, 9pm (also Mon 2 Jul 2007, 6.45pm)

Saint-Cyr (Patricia Mazuy, 2000) (Unclassified)
Sun 8 Jul 2007, 5pm

8 femmes (8 Women, François Ozon, 2002) (M)
Sun 8 Jul 2007, 7.15pm

La vie promise (The Promised Life, Olivier Dahan, 2002) (Unclassified)
Mon 9 Jul 2007, 7pm

La cérémonie (The Ceremony, Claude Chabrol, 1995) (M)
Tue 10 Jul 2007, 7pm

The Week in Review

  • Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977)
  • Mariposa negra (Black Butterfly, Francisco Lombardi, 2006)
  • Repo Man (Alex Cox, 1984)
  • Almodóvar on Almodóvar (Revised edition, 2006, Frédéric Strauss)

Opening Night
The words 'opening night' conjure up thoughts of glamour but Cassavetes' Opening Night depicts anything but. This is my first exposure to Cassavetes, about - at least superficially - the destructive power one person's alcoholism and personal crises can have on others.

Gena Rowlands plays Myrtle Gordon a middle-aged stage actress performing the title role in a play called 'The Second Woman'. Myrtle is having both a crisis of confidence and a crisis of identity as she realises she is past her prime in terms of beauty. Afraid that her honest portrayal in the play will sentence her to future roles as an 'older woman' she increasingly turns to the bottle. Her trauma is compounded dramatically when a young fan is run over in a scene 'borrowed' by Almodóvar in All About My Mother (though he uses the word 'stolen').

The film depicts the various roles of a production's participants such as producer, writer and backstage crew and not just the actors. Ben Gazzara (who rejoined with Rowlands in a witty segment of the recent Paris, je t'aime) and Cassavetes both looked great and the cast in general all contributed consistently good performances. There was a sense of realism that I'm not accustomed to seeing in films from this period.

There was a sense of inevitable tragedy as Myrtle spirals out of control, climaxing with the New York opening night of the play. Myrtle turns up drunk, leading to an anxious edge-of-your-seat scenario. She is, after all, the star of the show. Cassavetes somehow crafts an ending that is upbeat yet ambiguous and plausible.

Repo Man
This is the second and last film that I'm seeing from ACMI's Focus on Punk (the other was the brilliant Made in Britain). This punk cult classic, like the Australian television series, Pizza, is low-budget absurdist film-making that is crass yet intelligent. I loved it and found it almost non-stop laughs.

A young Emilio Estevez plays punk rocker Otto who is recruited by Harry Dean Stanton's Bud as a repo man. Though Stanton has top-billing (I'll see anything with him in it), Estevez has the most screen time and I would have liked to have seen more of Stanton who always has a terrific screen presence.

The story follows the exploits of these guys as they repossess cars whose purchasers are in arrears. Intertwined are various plots such as a government coverup of aliens and punk rockers pulling of petty crime. The film is a kind of anti-Hollywood film and eschews cross marketing. There is constant product placement, but all the brands are 'generic', with generic-branded cereal, groceries, even beer and whisky. That cracked me up every time!

The film was set in Los Angeles, but the location scouts obviously trawled the city for the ugliest vistas possible. It depicted the kind of urban decay and industrial wastelands I love. As an aside, a couple of years ago I planned and hosted a scooter ride around similar areas in Melbourne.

I'm not a big fan of comedy - not because I don't like comedy, but because I find most comedies peurile. Well, many people would find Repo Man peurile, but I found it smart and very funny. Every scene was funny and there were many background cross-references for the observant (a bit like Mad magazine, I suppose).

LINKS: Repo Man trivia / Interview with the director / IMDB / Wikipedia

Spanish Film Festival 2

Mariposa Negra (Black Butterfly, Francisco Lombardi, 2006)
Despite all the effort that goes into planning what to see at a film festival, it seems unavoidable to sometimes finding oneself in a darkened cinema thinking "what the hell am I doing here?". This mediocre film by Peruvian director Lombardi has the dubious distinction of being my worst film of the year so far (followed closely by the Italian film Il Mio Miglior Nemico or My Best Enemy by Carlo Verdone). From five minutes into the film, I could have walked out at any time.

From what I could tell, the film was shot digitally, and as many of the scenes were set at night or in the dark, it looked scratchy at best. On top of that, the film appeared to be screened from a DVD. So the visuals were poor, making it hard to engage with the film. That, however, really was the least of the film's problems.

The film was promoted as a drama/thriller. It was of telemovie-quality at best. The real problem was the writing. It started off with some promise. Some of the characters looked interesting, though the main protagonist was impossibly young and beautiful. A woman is planning her marriage only to find her magistrate husband has been murdered, apparently a political killing in Peru.

The film initially cuts between time frames trying artificially to be sophisticated, but in actuality it ended up being confusing without competence. Once we've ascertained who the main players are, the relationships between them and what the general plot is about, the film's writing takes a real dive towards Neighbours-like quality. This young chicky babe is able to insinuate herself into the depths of political and criminal intrigue and achieve exploits worthy of Agent 007, except for the end, as if this is somehow meant to indicate it's a serious piece of art.

The acting was mediocre, the visuals as described and the writing was embarrassing. I really wish films like this would not make it to a film festival like this, because they discourage attendances. Better to have a smaller number of good films that showcase what a country can produce.

Spanish Film Festival \ IMDB

Thursday, May 17, 2007

ACMI Focus on Isabelle Huppert

I first noticed Isabelle Huppert in her icy role as an emotionally disturbed piano teacher in Michael Haneke’s La pianiste (The Piano Teacher, 2001). This bold film made me sit up and notice both these names.

Haneke followed up with Le temps du loup (The Time of the Wolf, 2003, also starring Huppert) and the much acclaimed Caché (Hidden, 2003).

The very prolific Huppert has appeared in 75 films since 1972, when she was 19; that’s about three films each year. She has also appeared in several recent films, including Gabrielle (Patrice Chéreau, 2005), one of my favourite films at MIFF last year, and two films at this year’s French Film Festival. My favourite at the festival was Nue propriété (Private Property, Joachim Lafosse, 2006) in which Hupert portrays a single mother struggling with her adult sons. In L’ivresse du pouvoir (A Comedy of Power, Claude Chabrol, 2006), she portrays an obsessive investigating magistrate. While not one of my favourites, Huppert’s role was absorbing and exemplifies what draws me to her performances. She is a very nuanced actor with whom we can easily switch from feelings of contempt to sympathy in a second. She is equally capable of depicting fragility and power within one character.

“I don't try to sympathize with my characters, I just try to empathize with them”, she has been quoted as saying. She appears in the type of French films that I seek: social realist, gritty dramas that explore the dark side of human nature that may be either ultimately uplifting or superficially depressing, but usually reveal a side of human nature that few actresses can depict with authenticity. She also has a very natural and timeless Gallic beauty.

I am very excited that ACMI has announced a season of 19 (yes, nineteen!) films in which Huppert has starred, screening from Fri June 29 to Tue July 10. Aside from the above-mentioned auteurs, these films are by directors such as Maurice Pialat, Jean-Luc Godard, Hal Hartley, Australia’s Paul Cox, François Ozon, Christophe Honore, Olivier Dahan and others. The Focus on Isabelle Huppert also includes a photographic exhibition of portraits of Huppert by various photographers, to appear in ACMI Lounge from Thu June 14 to Tue July 10.

I’ve seen three of the films programmed, so that leaves 16 to try to see in 13 days! Ah, bliss and anxiety!

The following is mostly derived from the blurb on ACMI’s website:

Cool, intense and hypnotic, France’s most daring contemporary actress is celebrated in a retrospective charting an iconic screen career.

Curated by Roberta Ciabarra. Read the program notes. Presented in association with the Sofitel French Rendez-vous 2007, with the generous support of the Alliance Française and the Embassy of France.

La dentellière (The Lacemaker, Claude Goretta, 1977)
Huppert garnered a Best Newcomer BAFTA for this breakout role, early (and prescient) intimation of a great talent in the making.

Loulou (Maurice Pialat, 1980)
Nelly (Huppert) is married to a hapless advertising exec whose heavy-handed attempts to rein in his restless paramour only serve to deepen her resolve to skulk away with swaggering gadabout, Loulou (Gerard Depardieu).

Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Slow Motion, Jean-Luc Godard, 1980)
Godard referred to Sauve qui peut (la vie) as his “second first film” coming, as it did, after more than a decade’s experimentation with video. “Isabelle is clearly the film’s focal point.” The New York Times

Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, USA, 1980)
The reputation of Cimino’s monumentally staged western has justly been rehabilitated in recent years, and screens in the restored 225 minute director’s cut in glorious Panavision.

Coup de foudre (Entre Nous, Diane Kurys, 1983)
Based on an autobiographical novel by director Diane Kurys (Peppermint Soda, Six Days Six Nights) the film re-teams Huppert with the under-rated Marchand (most recently seen in Christophe Honore’s sublime Dans Paris), her co-star in Loulou.

Cactus (Paul Cox, Australia, 1986)
Huppert travelled to Australia to take up the role of Colo, a Frenchwoman in exile from a stifling marriage who embarks on a tentative romance with a lecturer at a school for the sight-impaired.

Une affaire des femmes (Story Of Women, Claude Chabrol, 1988)
Chabrol based his film on the true-life case of Marie-Louise Giraud, a working-class Frenchwoman (played by Huppert) who kept home and hearth together during the Occupation by working as a backyard abortionist.

Madame Bovary (Claude Chabrol, 1991)
Huppert likened Emma Bovary to “an idealist.a feminist without knowing it”. Her Emma is at once coquettish, exasperating, pitiless (towards her self as much as others) and ultimately deeply affecting.

Amateur (Hal Hartley, USA, 1994)
Huppert approached self-confessed Godard aficionado, Hal Hartley, who jumped at the chance to cast her in one of his deadpan, absurdist films.

La séparation (The Separation, Christian Vincent, 1994)
As Anne, Huppert gives nuanced expression to the uncertainties and compulsions of a woman who suffers (and inflicts suffering) by her own hand, but cannot retreat from her position.

La cérémonie (The Ceremony, Claude Chabrol, 1995)
The Venice Film Festival awarded Huppert the Volpi Cup for Best Actress in the film that marked her fifth screen collaboration with frequent director, Claude Chabrol.

Saint-Cyr (Patricia Mazuy, 2000)
Mazuy’s lavishly staged drama takes its title from a boarding school founded in the seventeenth century by Louis the XIV’s mistress to educate daughters of the nobility made destitute by wars.

Merci pour le chocolat (Nightcap, Claude Chabrol, 2000)
In his seventh on-screen collaboration with Huppert, Chabrol explores the nature of perversity, good and evil within the domain of family.

La pianiste (The Piano Teacher, Michael Haneke, Germany, 2001)
The Cannes Film Festival Jury unanimously awarded Huppert the Best Actress prize for her audacious performance as a respected piano teacher whose cool-headed intellectual rigour masks a predilection for destructive sexual compulsions.

8 femmes (8 Women, François Ozon, 2002)
Huppert is cast as prim horn-rimmed spinster Augustine, but holds her own in the glamour stakes - in a cast that includes the magisterial Catherine Deneuve in full Lana Turner mode - before the film’s denouement.

La vie promise (The Promised Life, Olivier Dahan, 2002)
J. Hoberman said this about Huppert in his Village Voice review: “this superb actress can register more fugitive shifts in expression in a single take than most actresses manage in an entire movie.”

Le temps du loup (The Time of the Wolf, Michael Haneke, 2003)
A sudden act of violence ruptures every moral certitude Anne (Huppert) and her two children have taken for granted in their middle class lives.

Ma mère (My Mother, Christophe Honore, 2004)
Honore’s provocative film is based on the novel by Georges Bataille, whose reputation as an exponent of the ‘literature of transgression’ belies the deeper exploration of human motivations his works attempted to illuminate.

I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell, USA, 2004)
Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) is an acutely angst-ridden environmental activist railing against corporate greed.

LINKS: ACMI / IMDB / msn movies / Wikipedia

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Secret of Roan Inish

As a self-confessed cinephile, I take my cinema seriously, and try to instil an appreciation of the medium in my children. I regularly take my six year old son, Alexander, to the cinema and get special satisfaction when we come out of a foreign language film that he really enjoys. He is nonplussed by subtitles. Not only is he a good reader, but cinema uses universal language – many visual cues – that children intuitively understand. A good film is a good film in any language. It never fails to impress me how he can discern a good film from a mediocre one.

When ACMI sent out a request some weeks ago for suggestions for favourite children’s films for their Kids’ Flicks by Request program, on behalf of Alexander, I nominated The Secret of Roan Inish. This is my all-time favourite family film, set in Ireland, about a family who may be descended from selkies (seals). With its gritty cinematography and intelligent story, it could just as well be a film for adults. In actuality it is a fantasy/fairy tale with uncompromising dramatic depth that doesn’t underestimate children like 99% or more of children’s cinema does.

Today I was very pleased to receive an email from ACMI notifying us that Alexander’s choice was one of two films currently selected for screening, and he has received acknowledgement on the Kids’ Flicks by Request page (the other selection is Interstella 5555). The film is being screened twice only at ACMI, at 10.30am and 1.00pm on Sunday July 15, and tickets for all ages are only $5. Obviously I highly recommend the film – put it in your diaries and go see it, with or without kids. It’s a beautiful story that will linger for days.

Check out the trailer, IMDB or read the Senses of Cinema article on John Sayles. ACMI’s blurb is as follows:

The Secret of Roan Inish (G)

John Sayles, 102 mins, USA, 1994, 35mm. Courtesy: First Look Pictures/Dendy Films

Independent-minded young Fiona (Jeni Courtney), sent to live with her grandparents on the wild west coast of Ireland, firmly believes that she and her family are partly descended from the selkies (seals) who populate the mysterious island of Roan Inish.

John Sayles' realist style of filmmaking handles the fable-like qualities in Rosalie K. Fry's novella with a sure and delicate hand. Master cinematographer Haskell Wexler invests the film with glorious light and atmosphere.

“Exquisite! A crackling good tale of wonder, mystery and magic. Manages to be both contemporary and timeless” Los Angeles Times

MIFF First Preview

Press release straight from the horse's mouth:

MELBOURNE, Wednesday 16, May 2007 - The Melbourne Internaitonal Film Festival – Australia’s oldest and biggest film festival – today released snippets of its 56th annual program, (July 25th – August 12th, 2007).

New Executive Director, Richard Moore, announced highlights of this year‘s programming strands. “This is only the tip of our programming iceberg“ he said. “ I know Melbourne’s audiences are curious, passionate, intelligent, great lovers of film culture and that they will come out again this year to warm their winter souls. Nineteen days only, over 200 new features,100 short films competing for $35,000 prize money.“

New program strands this year include:

AFRICA! AFRICA! - MIFF continues its tradition of exploring unchartered waters by presenting an array of features and documentaries from the continent of Africa. The programme contains films that rarely get shown – films from Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, South Africa and Chad. Highlights include the multi-award winning Dry Season; the comedy Bunny Chow; the musical road movie Return To Goree and Dreams Of Dust.

STARS OF DAVID - Israeli cinema has undergone a renaissance in the last few years, both with domestic audiences and on the international festival circuit. A selection of Israeli features and documentaries will screen at MIFF including Eytan Fox’s The Bubble; Dror Sabo’s No Exit; David Ofek & Ron Rotem’s documentary A Hebrew Lesson; and Ido Haar’s 9 Star Hotel.

WORLD STORIES - Indigneous peoples from around the world tell their own stories in their own way. As well as presenting the best of Australia’s own indigenous filmmakers the program presents such international highlights as Indigènes (aka Days of Glory); Journals of Knud Rasmussen; the Mongolian film Khadak; and Paraguayan Hammock.

NEXT GEN - MIFF is recruiting for a new generation of festival goers in the Next Gen spotlight. Films from many different cultures and languages make up the program for ages 6-10 and for the 14+, including the 3D animated The Ugly Duckling and Me based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairytale; Serge Elissalde & Grégoire Solotareff’s U; a new adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairytale Hansel and Gretel; and the multi award-winning drama Kidz in da Hood.

As part of an expanded retrospective program this year, MIFF is proud, as one of only five film festivals in the world to present the programme, MAGNUM IN MOTION. Started by the duo of Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Capa and named after the receptacle for holding champagne, the MAGNUM photgraphic agency became known for its journaistic integrity, its social conscience and its insistence on allowing the photographer to retain their own copyright. This program of 19 films, all made by Magnum photographers, includes Anne Makepeace’s evocative work, Robert Capa: In Love and War; a documentary on Magnum’s doyenne, Eve Arnold, called Eve and Marilyn; and also, Martin Parr’s film, Think of England.

As well as the new strands, MIFF promises the reurn of old programming favourites – including INTERNATIONAL PANORAMA, HOMEGROWN (formerly Australian showcase ), NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH (formally Regional Focus), BACKBEAT, DOCOS and the most highly regarded short film competition in the Asia Pacific, best MIFF shorts.

Full details of the program will be released on Wednesday June 20th.

Almost 400 films will screen over 19 days and across 5 venues, including the Regent, Forum and Capitol Theatres, ACMI and Greater Union on Bourke Street. The Box Office is now open for the highly sought-after Festival Passports, Mini Passes and tickets to Opening and Closing Nights. Visit for further details.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Week in Review

While I saw seven films this week, it seemed much less. I've had a week off between jobs and could easily have seen several others. The reality is that I couldn't be bothered seeing films that look mediocre. Nothing really stood out this week, except for the astonishing Made in Britain, but all the others were interesting in their own way.

  • El camino de los ingleses (Summer Rain, Antonio Banderas, 2006)
  • Death of a President (Gabriel Range, 2006)
  • Noise (Matthew Saville, 2007)
  • Seishun zankoku monogatari (Naked Youth, Nagisa Oshima, 1960)
  • Die Große Stille (Into Great Silence, Philip Gröning, 2005)
  • Romulus, My Father (Richard Roxburgh, 2007)
  • Made in Britain (Alan Clarke, 1982)
  • Almodóvar on Almodóvar (Revised edition, 2006, Frédéric Strauss)

Death of a President
While not a remarkable film, Death of a President is perhaps a not insignificant film. It is a good companion piece to another piece of post-9/11 fiction, United 93. United 93 has had much better distribution in Australia, and may partly be due to its superior success in the US, where it pulls at American patriotism.

Death of a President is an exploration of ideas. Of course, superficially it is about the demise of George W. Bush, something that controversially has perverse appeal to many. But beyond that, if such an event were to occur, what would happen? What happens when there is any major political catastrophe? What happened after 9/11? By exploring a fictional scenario, director Gabriel Range is really showing up how many lies we have been fed and swallowed since 9/11 in particular. How the public's thirst for simple answers and the media's willingness to provide them leads to a subversion of the truth.

Naked Youth
Oshima is a prolific director, and this was my first experience of his work which was his third feature film. From my limited perspective, it is quite a confrontational and contentious film for its time. Made in the year of my birth, it reminded me of my childhood and how in the '60s and '70s we still lived in the shadow of WWII which was clearly etched in the public psyche. How much more so this must have (and perhaps still is) true for Japan post-Hiroshima.

The film depicts the radicalisation of Japan's youth, following in the footsteps of the West, with rock-and-roll music, sex, intoxication and abandon. As a parent of teenage children, I felt there was an authentic gritty reality to the story, still relevant, which Oshima clearly intended to challenge audience sensibilities. It was not an enjoyable film per se, but it was well done and I look forward to seeing more of Oshima's work. As a point of interest, an alternative title of the film is
A Story of the Cruelties of Youth.

Into Great Silence
What a strange film to get arthouse distribution. It's the type of film that would normally only be seen at a film festival or with a limited season at ACMI. It's a little like a cross between Old Joy (which I loved) and Pine Flat (which I hated). At 164 minutes in length, and with scant dialogue, this is not for the average film-goer.

The cinematography is stunning, set in a remote mountain monastery of the Carthusian Order in France. The beauty of the surroundings is intertwined with the architectural beauty of these massive buildings. We see the monks quietly going about their daily activities, usually in silence, but with occasional conversation or chants. It's not the kind of film I usually go to the cinema to see, but is worthwhile for those with patience, with an interest in contemplative cinema, experimental cinema or with three hours to kill.

Romulus, My Father
This film, Richard Roxburgh's first as director, was surprisingly good. Surprising, because the shorts gave the impression it was going to be another stereotypical, over-acted, mediocre Australian film. In actuality, it is understated and skillfully directed by Roxburgh, and uses its cast to excellent effect. Eric Bana (Chopper) as Romulus Gaita and Franka Potente (Run Lola Run) as his estranged wife Christina were very authentic, as were the Romanian brothers, played by Marton Csokas and Russell Dykstra. The real star was the young actor Kodi Smit-McPhee who portrayed the ten year old Raimond Gaita. The real life Gaita's memoirs (of the same title) are the basis of the film, and adapted for the screen by Nick Drake.

The cinematography was both beautiful but understated, the music was non-invasive and appropriate. The details and period reproduction were excellent and the film showed the kind of nuance and restraint that Noise would have greatly benefited from. The film quietly meanders and takes its time, not being overly profound but perhaps a little slow at the end when it could have wound up a bit sooner. Richard Roxburgh is a talent to watch out for. An intelligent, well-measured, subtle and very enjoyable film with a distinct Australian flavour.

Made in Britain
This has only one screening as part of ACMI's Focus on Punk running to Sunday May 20. This is Alan Clarke's high voltage edge-of-your-seat stark film that catapulted the very talented Tim Roth into the limelight. It inspired a number of similar films such as Romper Stomper (which similarly catapulted Russell Crowe's career) and American History X. It even recalls Robert De Niro's portrayal of Travis Bickle in Scorsese's Taxi Driver.

Made for television, this caused controversy when released and according to the curator of the Focus on Punk, was debated in British parliament. Clarke is clearly holding a mirror up to society, and it ain't pretty. Trevor is a skinhead filled with hatred and from start to finish, his path is clear. He's going nowhere, fast.

The black humour is blacker than black, and the menace of Trevor reminds me of the recent depiction of Hannibal Lektor by Brian Cox in Manhunter. The guy is irredeemable. The camera shots were stunning, following Trevor around in first-person view. The long takes were very impressive. This is easily the best telemovie I have ever seen, and a fantastic end to the week's viewing. This is must-see stuff for fans of social realism.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Noise (Matthew Saville, 2007)
I had heard mixed messages about this film and went in with an open mind. While there was much to like about it, and while it will undoubtedly have much mainstream appeal, it had many faults that a critical eye can't overlook.

I've always liked Brendan Cowell as an actor. He has a warm down-to-earth knock-about feel about his character. He looks very believable in his role as Police Constable Graham McGahan, and plays it fairly straight - most of the time. There are some occasions when he is too laid back. At those times he becomes too caricatured as a dinky-di Aussie. Cowell doesn't have to do that; he exudes that nature without trying. It drains his character of much of the subtlety that could have really lifted the film, and shows that the director doesn't trust the audience to understand him.


McGahan is suffering a debilitating condition, tinnitus (ringing in the head), that has taken him off regular duties and put him on the boring role of manning a police information caravan that is seeking public information about a killer at large. McGahan is so laid back that he takes no notes when public appear with information. We, the audience, are spoon-fed clues that are available to McGahan and that he should be passing to his superiors, but they've flown right over his head. I don't accept that tinnitus is the cause, because of the other ways in which he is able to function.

In fact, McGahan's character would have been better served not to have any affliction. Saville tries to juggle too many themes into the film that give it a busy feel, but some of the themes aren't sufficiently handled. Other than tinnitus, his wife doesn't need to also be a police officer. They don't need to have conflict. Saville bites off more than he can chew, and it clutters the story somewhat.

Without going into too many spoiling details (and there are many), basically the film lacks subtlety mostly in its handling of the characters. Things are spelt out too clearly, characters are too caricatured. The Senior Constable doesn't need to be a prick. The surviving female victim does not need to be so hysterical, nor diabetic. The lack of subtlety gives the film the feel of a telemovie, which is unsurprising because this is Saville's first feature after a ten year background in TV. I'm not saying it's a bad film, and it's quite good as a first feature. But it is frustrating, because there are many good elements in place that are let down by the flaws.

The characterisations and acting are mostly good, but inconsistent (I put that down to both the direction and writing by Saville). The lighting had many appealing features. McGahan was on evening night shift, so there were lots of dark scenes that looked nice. But, again lacking subtlety, Saville didn't know when enough of a good thing is enough. The film resorted to the pseudo-arthouse shadows and lighting that contemporary American television has become obsessed with and done to death. I say this with complete frustration: police lineups are not done in semi-dark. They are done in bright neon-lit rooms. Police stations and police caravans are not dark places. People sitting in their home in the day don't need to be in the semi-dark.

Arthouse has done arthouse lighting for years, and it's done with realism. The current hackneyed obsession with neo-arthouse lighting on television and cinema is an artificial device that drains a medium of visual verisimilitude. Crash did it, for example, as have countless other Hollywood films. West Wing does it, and it makes it unwatchable for me, regardless of the merit of its content.

There was, however, a fantastic camera sequence that I had never seen done before. It was subtle and effective as the camera moved keeping two characters in frame. But again, enough is enough. We don't need to see it over and again. I had a similar complaint with Copying Beethoven.

Smoking has long been used as a 'cool' device onscreen. This film used it too much. Way too much. A police caravan is a workplace. It's also a public office. I couldn't believe that smoking would be allowed in the caravan. Another small detail that will mean nothing to non-Melbournians but I found distracting: the murders took place on the Lilydale train line, but the police caravan was set up in Sunshine.

Until now I've overlooked a pretty major plot hole. Could a killer shoot everyone on a train carriage except for one person, and this one person be oblivious to it because she's listening to music on an iPod? As this happens at the start of the film, I let this one pass, because I wanted to enjoy the film and believe its premise. But in hindsight, after all the other faults, it doesn't really wash.

Lastly, the finale of the film was mostly well-done, though the helicopter spotlight at the end was gratuitous and fake. Noise was not a bad film, and considerably better and more subtle than most American films in its genre. It had many good ideas that were unfortunately not fully realised. Saville
tooks risks with this film, but didn't fully commit to them. I hope he learns to take more with his next endeavour.

Dir, Scr: Matthew Saville Rating: MA Duration: 108 min Genre: drama/thriller Language: English Country: Australia Release: 3/5/07 Dist: Madman Entertainment Prod Co: Retro Active Films Prod: Trevor Blainey Sound Des: Emma Bortignon Phot: László Baranyai Ed: Geoff Hitchins Prod Des: Miriam Johnson Mus: Bryony Marks Cast: Brendan Cowell, Maia Thomas, Henry Nixon, Nicholas Bell, Katie Wall, Fiona Macleod, Maude Davey, Luke Elliot, Simon Laherty

No official website / IMDB

Monday, May 07, 2007

Spanish Film Festival 1

El camino de los ingleses (Summer Rain, Antonio Banderas, 2006)
Long before Antonio Banderas became acquainted to English-speaking audiences in films like The Mambo Kings, Philadelphia, Interview With a Vampire, Desperado and Zorro, he was a well-known actor in his native Spain. Pedro Almodóvar's second feature, Labyrinth of Passion (1982) was also his second film, and he subsequently appeared in other Almodóvar films such as Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

There are numerous nods to Almodóvar in the film: at one point we see an overhead shot of Victoria Abril in a bath. Abril and Banderas both starred in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, in which Abril was depicted in a bath pleasuring herself with a toy diver. Other Almodóvar references include depictions of blood, the prominence of shades of red, and especially the colours of red and green appearing together.

Summer Rain is Banderas' second feature; the first was Crazy in Alabama, 1999, starring his wife, Melanie Griffith. The Spanish title actually translates as The English Road, and refers to the coming-of-age theme of leaving one's hometown for the wide world in order to find oneself and one's place in the world. It's a theme similar to Dito Montiel's A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.

Montiel's film is a gritty realist urban drama set in Astoria, NYC while Summer Rain is a semi-surreal story bathed in lush hues in Málaga, Banderas' home town in regional Spain. Interestingly, both these films depict selective recollection of childhood memories, but in vastly different ways. AGTRYS is dark and uses a hand-held camera to depict the shaky nature of memory. Banderas uses boldly colourful symbolism and dream-like sequences for his depictions.

Summer Rain is based on El camino de los ingleses by Antonio Soler, who also adapted the novel for the film. While the story is fictitious, it appears that Banderas related it to his own life story; the film is set in the late '70s when Banderas left Málaga to pursue a career in Madrid. While the film looks beautiful, I had problems with the narrative.

I sensed this was an important film, perhaps even a cathartic film for Banderas. There were ample opportunities to emotionally manipulate the audience that thankfully he avoided. It may even be important or cathartic for others, but while I admire its sincerity and its artistry, it didn't really engage me emotionally. It couldn't suck me into its dream-like world the way it clearly tried to. I'm not sure that I can pinpoint why that is so.

Bear in mind that Banderas and I were born in the same year, and I also left my home town of Melbourne in 1979 to go to university in Adelaide (I lasted one trimester). This was the beginning of a long and strange journey of my own, but enough about me. The acting in the film was fine and the characterisations were all satisfactory. Somehow the film lacked a certain coherence that could take me on its journey. At 118 minutes running time, I also found it too long.

To Banderas' credit, he didn't take the safe route with the film. He took risks and he has put his own mark on a well-known theme without resorting to genre. The film explores universal themes but with cultural specifics that I find fascinating - I have a soft spot for Spanish cinema - certainly a refreshing break from Hollywood stereotypes. But somehow, the film as a whole didn't grab me.

Summer Rain screens at:
  • Palace Westgarth, Thursday May 17, 6.30pm
  • Palace Como, Friday May 18, 9.00pm
Dir: Antonio Banderas Rating: Unclassified Duration: 118 min Genre: drama Language: Spanish Country: Spain Release: festival only Prod Co: Green Moon Productions, Sogecine, Future Films Prod: Antonio Banderas, Gustavo Ferrada, Carlos Taillefer, Antonio Meliveo Scr: Antonio Soler Sound Des: Carlos Faruolo Phot: Xavi Giménez Ed: Mercedes Alted Prod Des: Javier Fernández Mus: Antonio Meliveo Cast: Alberto Amarilla, María Ruiz, Félix Gómez, Raúl Arévalo, Marta Nieto, Mario Casas, Fran Perea, Antonio Garrido, Antonio Zafra, Victoria Abril

Official Selection Sundance Film Festival 2007,
Official Selection Berlin International Film Festival
Winner Label Europa Cinema (best European film in Panorama Section of Berlin)
Nominated for 2007 Goya for best new actor and best adapted screenplay

Melbourne Spanish Film Festival / Official website / IMDB

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Week in Review

What a quiet week, only two films this week - one at Melbourne Cinémathèque, and one a blockbuster new release. There was a time not that long ago that I'd go out of my way to see every arthouse new release, but I've become more selective nowadays. I wouldn't mind seeing a few such as Death of a President, As It Is In Heaven, Noise and The Number 23 (in spite of mediocre reviews), but nothing about them compels me to rush out and see them, though Death of a President ends on Tuesday at the Kino, so I might make an effort for that.

I would like to see Terry Gilliam's Tideland and am hoping it's doing well enough in Sydney at the Chauvel to get the distributors to release it here in Melbourne. As for Disturbia, Curse of the Golden Flower, Priceless, Tales From Earthsea, The History Boys and The Singer, they all look like little more than time-filler that I simply couldn't be bothered about. I'm happy for someone to convince me otherwise.


  • Thief (Michael Mann, 1981)
  • Spider-Man 3 (Sam Raimi, 2007)
  • Almodóvar on Almodóvar (Revised edition, 2006, Frédéric Strauss)
This screened at Melbourne Cinémathèque along with Collateral as part of the Michael Mann season. I didn't stay for Collateral; I saw it when it was released, and didn't particularly like it, though I'm not going into that right now. The two films do, however, make good companion pieces. I didn't know it at the time, but Thief is Mann's first feature film, while Collateral is of course much more recent. Yet both have common threads running through them that highlight the style of the director.

Both are set in Los Angeles and both show a keen interest in the urban landscape as a significant element in each film. The opening shot in Thief is terrific. Like all of Mann's films, the protagonist is a loner: in Thief it is a thief (surprise, suprise), in Collateral a contract killer.

Thief, like Manhunter, has dated but can still be appreciated in the specific cultural and chronistic context of its day. Unfortunately the print that was screened had discoloured due to the ravaging effects of time, and hopefully it will be digitally remastered sometime soon. I couldn't help but notice Dennis Farina (who starred in Crime Story) and William Petersen (he appeared only briefly, and starred in Manhunter). I found Thief very enjoyable and the screening illuminating in terms of the body of Mann's work.

Spiderman 3
There's not much to say about this film, not because of its merits or otherwise, but because this is a big blockbuster that is being written about everywhere. Pretty much all I want to say is that I disagree with all the criticisms of this film, except one. At 140 minutes, it is too long.

As far as complaints about too many baddies, or too much CGI or too many contrived coincidences or on an on... I don't buy into that. I grew up on comics in the '70s and Spiderman was my favourite. If these films weren't well made, I'd be the first to jump on them and complain that they'd bastardised my teenage hero.

Tobey Maguire is an excellent actor who I'd admired long before taking on this blockbuster franchise, particularly in Pleasantville (Gary Ross, 1998) and Ride With the Devil (Ang Lee, 1999). He perfectly depicts Peter Parker and faithfully portrays his pathos, irony and humour. I don't find Kirstin Dunst as convincing, but I think it has more to do with her character than her acting.

The introduction of Thomas Hayden Church as a convincing Sandman was inspired casting. Church was hilarious in Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2005). Along with James Franco as the New Goblin and Topher Grace as Venom, these multiple characters gave the classic comic book face-off that worked well.

Sam Raimi has captured the essence of the Spiderman comics. His characterisations are spot on, the narratives are all pure comic book translations to the big screen and he deserves all accolades for that. This is not high art, this is pure entertainment, and for this Spiderman fan, Raimi is right on the mark.