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.


trent said...

ah brilliant, what did i tell you about clarke? he was the greatest.

Paul Martin said...

Yes, Trent, many thanks for putting me onto Alan Clarke. It's because you recommended him so highly that I noticed his film in the ACMI season. There's not a lot in this season that interests me, but Made in Britain stood out, and I'm also planning to see Repo Man next weekend.

Made in Britain is only 70 minutes long, and while it's made for television, it is so absorbing that it might just as well be made for the big screen (it's better than 99% of what I see). Pity he died so young (like Kieslowski).