Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Week in Review

With the school holidays I've been home - what a great opportunity to catch a few films, including the Focus on François Ozon at ACMI. Ozon's one of my favourite French directors and I'm expecting to catch everything I haven't already seen that ACMI is screening from this retrospective, though I did unfortunately miss Sitcom. It's been a phenomenal week with some really historic compelling films such as Loach's Family Life, Klimov's Come and See and Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days which just gets better on repeat viewings (I've seen it twice now).

FILMS:

  • Une vieille maîtresse (An Old Mistress, France/Italy, Catherine Breillat, 2007)
  • Family Life (Ken Loach, UK, 1971)
  • Ivanovo detstvo (Ivan's Childhood, Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1961)
  • Idi i smotri (Come and See, Elem Klimov, USSR, 1985)
  • 4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2007) - 2nd viewing
  • Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, USA, 2007)
  • Angst essen Seele auf (Fear Eats the Soul, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Germany, 1973)
  • Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brûlantes (Water Drops on Burning Rocks, François Ozon, France/Germany, 1999)
  • Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, USA, 1959)

SHORT FILMS:

  • Vicious Cycles (Len Janson & Chuck Menville, 7 min, USA, 1967)
  • Tales of the Riverbank: Autumn (Paul Sutherland, 14 min, Canada, 1960)

DVD:

  • Dekalog: 2 ("Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain", Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 1989)

An Old Mistress
Catherine Breillat's latest film, very different from anything she's done previously. A very nice period drama with edge and a separate review is on its way.

Family Life
What can I say about Ken Loach? The man is a fucking genius. This gutsy family drama depicts generational family conflict with such realism and insight. The performances are amazing, and while psychology and psychiatry has evolved in thirty years, much remains the same (and I know this from first-hand experience). The film has an almost documentary-type realism to it.

This was Loach's 3rd feature film after Poor Cow (1967) and Kes (1969). The latter screened at ACMI last year and brought my young son to tears (he loved it, as did I). It's great to see this great director's early work, even if it was on Splodge's small makeshift screen at the Empress of India pub in North Fitzroy. I attended for the first time, and by chance it was Splodge's tenth anniversary. The screenings take place on the first Monday of each month and I can highly recommend it based on this month's experience. The seating is not the best, but it's a terrific opportunity to see some rare cinema. Check the Splodge! site for more details.

Vicious Cycles
This short film uses stop-motion and is dated, but that's much of its appeal. The film in its entirety can be found below.
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Tales of the Riverbank: Autumn
A bit of frivolous fun. This is pretty bent as adult entertainment. It was made for children's television. The actual episode (which screened at Splodge) can be viewed below.
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Ivan's Childhood
This is an excellent film, and a good companion piece to Come and See. Both depict willing teenage protagonists who join the partisans in the fight against the Nazis. Other than that, they are completely different pieces of work. Ivan's Childhood is in most respects a less ambitious film, but less disturbing and more enjoyable.

Come and See
I don't like war, and I generally don't like war films. Generally. I've got to say, this is one of the most powerful films I have ever seen and possibly the best war film I have seen. I have been debating with others about the horrors of war, and why we should not be in Iraq. This film documents why we should not be sending young men into the theatre of war, except as an absolute necessity. Sure, WWII was different to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and every other war. They all have their individual differences, but the brutal side of human nature that is unmasked under the cloak of war, and the criminality that is allowed to take place with little consequence, is a given.

The politics of war aside, the film is a very physical experience. It affected me for hours after. Through the eyes of a teenage Belarusian partisan (Flor, played impressively by Aleksei Kravchenko), we get to vicariously experience the horrors of war. When he narrowly misses being bombed, the sound reflects his experience of shell shock, which permeates much of the length of the film. The sound design and music throughout the film is excellent. The cinematography, including much Steadycam camera-work was thoroughly absorbing. The film was visually spectacular, taking in the most amazing landscapes as well as extreme closeups of people's faces that capture the emotions of the moment.

Flor's family (along with most of the village) is butchered in his absence and we become emotionally absorbed in his struggle to come to terms with his predicament, indeed for his very survival. Wading through sludge to an island retreat must have been a gruelling experience for the actors, and it was taxing to watch it.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire, Flor finds himself in another village that also comes to grief (we are informed at the end of the film that 628 Belarusian villages were destroyed under the Nazis). The Nazi contempt for Russians at the time is well-known. This film realistically depicted that and how it physically manifested.

While the story is specific and local, the themes are universal. This is a film that every serious film-lover should see. Absolutely.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
I saw this for the second time and liked it even more. I hope it does well and Kojo films import some more prints. This is a serious and important film that deserves to get good distribution. A separate review is on the way. There will be advance screenings at the Como this coming weekend, and it opens the following Thursday. Go see it! One of my strongest recommendations for the year.

Michael Clayton
I went into this film with hopes but not expectations. I have a lot of admiration for George Clooney in particular, but also Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton. In actuality, their performances are not too bad at all, and for lovers of conventional Hollywood thrillers this film should provide some entertainment with a little more edge than most. Tony Gilroy scripted all the Bourne films, and fortunately the editing and cinematography are not so frenetic as those films.

For me, the film's narrative was too incoherent, and deliberately elusive in a contrived manner. I don't think a film's meaning should be spelt out excessively, but Michael Clayton feels a little too manipulative when we are deliberately kept in the dark. I can almost see the levers and pulleys being pulled. I realise that this is often the norm for thrillers these days, but I don't think it needs to be. This aspect seemed to drag on, contrasting with an ending in which everything came together just too neatly and conveniently in just five minutes or so.

Fear Eats the Soul
This is the second Fassbinder film I have seen. The other was Effi Briest, a very different film. Fear Eats the Soul is much more a social realist film, though stylised and at times just a little surreal (particularly at the start). It depicts an elderly German woman who invites a Moroccan immigrant, 20 years her junior, to her apartment and the subsequent scandal. The cinematography has a rough naturalistic look to it, reflecting the bleak story which, in spite of its genuinely touching moments, has a sense of inevitable doom.

The story is universal, and applicable in all places and at all times. It is as relevant now in Australia as it was in Germany in 1973 when the film was made. The ignorance of society and how racial intolerance is manipulated is especially relevant when one considers the recent racial remarks by our Immigration minister, Kevin Andrews, or past remarks by the likes of Prime Minister Howard or Pauline Hanson. It also reminds me of the scandal that Boris Becker caused when he married a black woman.

Water Drops on Burning Rocks
I found this an interesting piece for Ozon as it integrates different genres he likes to work with. It depicts the seduction of a 20-year old man (Franz, played by Malik Zidi), planning to marry his high-school sweetheart (Anna, played by Ludivine Sagnier), by a 50-year old man (Léopold, played by Bernard Giraudeau). From the outset, Bernard is revealled as a manipulative and self-assured control-freak. He beguiles the vulnerable and keeps them spellbound, largely with his expertise in the area of sexual pleasure. The relationship between Franz and Léopold is very convincing, and Ozon demonstrates much expertise in his depictions.

Things get complicated when Anna turns up on the scene, and the film takes a turn towards melodrama and parody. This might turn off some, but I found it unexpected, amusing and original. There are some twists, some expected and some not. Léopold's former long-time lover also appears on the scene adding to the mayhem, comedy and drama.

It was interesting to see a very young Sagnier (who later appeared in Ozon's Swimming Pool) and Zidi (who was impressive in Emmanuel Bourdieu's very chilling Les amitiés maléfiques). The performances were very good, especially the two male leads. Ozon mostly depicts female stories, and the only two films of his that I have seen with male stories have been about gay men (the other being Le temps qui reste).

Water Drops on Burning Rocks is visually aesthetic and Ozon uses the frame effectively. The entire film is set in Léopold's apartment and at various times the characters are framed individually within windows as if imprisoned. I enjoyed this film a lot. It screened as a companion piece to Fassbinder's Fear Eats the Soul (and was selected by Ozon for the retrospective). The common ground I see between the two films (which are stylistically very different) is the sense of loneliness.

Imitation of Life
This is the first time I've seen a Douglas Sirk film and I can't say I'm a big fan of the melodrama genre. There's no doubt the film was well made, and it appeals to my sense of colour, but the narrative and lack of emotional realism leaves me cold. I'm not writing off the genre or Sirk, as I'm still exploring, and clearly there's something about the director's work that has inspired the likes of Ozon and Fassbinder, so he can't be all bad (can he?).

I was pretty pissed off that this film screened at ACMI from a DVD - the picture quality (ie pixellation) was terrible.

Dekalog: 2
Kieslowski's Dekalog was filmed around the one set of apartment blocks, which was depicted in the Cinémathèque screening of A Short Story About Love earlier in the year. A Short Story is actually a longer version of one of the episodes of Dekalog. Kieslowski is a master of moral conundrums and complexity where there is no black and white, but many shades of grey. Decisions must be made and, while there is no right or wrong, each decision will produce a vastly different outcome. What to do? This is Kieslowski's world, and I love it.

Dekalog: 2 is not as strong as some of Kieslowski's stories, but is still compelling viewing. The characters are all well-developed, ambiguous and mysterious. The film requires some patience to understand what is happening and what is to happen.

While watching this film (well, actually it was made for TV), I felt I could see some parallels with Alkinos Tsilimidos' work. I recently asked Tsilimidos if Kieslowski was an influence. While their styles and apparent world views are quite difference, they both started with documentary which appears to inform their fiction work, and they use bleak social realism in combination with high levels of stylistic devices. Contrary to my theory, Tsilimidos cited the Maysle brothers as an early inspiration to his work.

5 comments:

Phillip Kelly said...

I love Andrei Tarkovsky, and "Ivan's Childhood" is one of his first. A simple and moving film to be sure. You should check out "Forbidden Games", a stunner of a French anti-war film.

I should be going to see Michael Clayton tonight. At first I wasn't interested in seeing it. Oh, another lawyer who goes against the system kind of film. Then I heard Clooney originally wanted to direct it. Once I found that out, I decided that it should be seen as he wouldn't direct if it was a story worth telling.

Filmnut said...

I have to say that Tarkovsky's "Ivan's Childhood" is a great film and one of his best. I also love "Nostalgia" with its long camera pans which is a Tarkovsky trademark. I think Bela Tarr is obviously influenced by Tarkovsky in the few films I have seen of his, especially "Satantango".

Paul, I actually purchased "Come and See" from Amazon a few months ago but I have yet to see it as what normally happens until something piques my interest to see it like your review so I will try and see it this weekend.

Paul Martin said...

Phil, I haven't seen enough Tarkovsky to say I love his work, though I like what I've seen. The Mirror confused me, and I would have liked to have known more about it before I saw it. Solaris was intriguing, especially having seen the Soderbergh remake first (which I thought highly of). The original was perhaps a little long, but nice.

Ivan's Childhood is an engaging film that is beautifully shot. I particularly liked the strength of character of Ivan who reminded me of the grandmotherly character in Sokurov's Alexandra. Both were unintimidated by the commanding nature of soldiers and were on their own (very different) missions.

I like Clooney a lot, and have a lot of respect for his intellect and choices, but I don't think Michael Clayton represents anywhere near the best of the films he's been in.

Filmnut (or do you prefer M....?), I want to get Come and See on DVD. It's a must-have/must-see film, and I wonder how it will look on a TV. It was magnificent at ACMI. I have about 30 or so DVDs that I have yet to see. I leave them for the quiet times, when there's nothing worth seeing on the big screen.

Filmnut said...

Paul, neither Filmnut or Marty are my birth names although I like them both. I have also just found out there is another Filmnut blog out there in the US. They just started their blog in September but I have used the name Filmnut in At The Movies and SBS Movie Show forum for ages. I am thinking about changing it as I hate the idea of someone else using my alias. Any advice?

Paul Martin said...

Personally, I have an aversion to online aliases, and have had it ever since I was introduced to the Internet ten years ago.

There's a heap of Paul Martins out there - my previous two jobs both had other Paul Martins, and it's also the name of the previous Prime Minister of Canada. So, the fact that there's another person with the same alias wouldn't bother me.

Continuity is a good thing, so stick with it. That's just my 2c worth, but we often have different perspectives.