Monday, March 03, 2008

The Week in Review

With the French Film Festival starting this week, I could see only one window of opportunity to see the much-acclaimed The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark, a Melbourne production that is aptly (if not unusually) screening at the Malthouse Theatre. I planned to leave work at 4pm on Friday, leaving me plenty of time for the 5pm screening. Unfortunately I got held up by my boss and arrived at the Malthouse at 5.02pm to find that I'd been locked out. This is something I'd never experienced before, certainly not at any cinema. My calendar is really full at the moment and this was the only screening I could fit in. Disappointed? You bet. Ironically, I expect that a 5pm Friday session would have been near empty.

  • Macbeth (Roman Polanski, UK/USA, 1971)
  • Nóz w wodzie (Knife in the Water, Roman Polanski, Poland, 1962)
  • The Black Balloon (Elissa Down, Australia, 2008)

I had some anticipation in seeing this magnificent portrayal of treachery, a film I first saw in my teens when we covered the text in English. It left a strong impression on me, and I remembered it as a cold and bloody film. Some thirty-odd years later and it has certainly withstood the test of time. I haven't read Shakespeare since my school days, but the guy was brilliant, and Polanski certainly brings the text to life.

I loved the graphic and repugnant depictions of the witches, bookended with the spell at the start and the coven at the end. The murder scenes were fantastically gory, and one wonders what effect the then recent murders of Polanski's pregnant wife and three of his friends by the Manson gang had on the making of the film. The story effectively portrays the changes that occur when one commits a crime out of greed. Things don't go to plan and for Lady Macbeth, the result was insanity. My favourite scene is Macbeth's vision of Banquo's ghost at his dinner table.

Knife in the Water
Polanski's first film, and the only one made in his native Poland, I found it a fascinating look into the director's early work. While the tone and narrative are clearly different, I saw similarities with Michael Haneke's Funny Games. The obvious connection is the yacht, but both films also had a playful competitiveness about them. I particularly liked the ambiguity of the ending in which several questions were left unanswered.

The Black Balloon
Despite Lynden Barber's glowing recommendations for this new Australian film, the shorts gave me reservations that I found justified. I don't think it's enough for a film to be authentic and based on a true story (which it is). It has mostly good performances, though I found the smile of the lead, Rhys Wakefield, slightly grating. I also think Toni Collette is in serious danger of being permanently typecast as a frumpy suburban mum. When I think of Rowan Woods' The Boys, I know she can do so much better.

What can I say? Maybe I'm just suffering Australian coming-of-age fatigue. Luke Ford did a better job of portraying an autistic child than I expected, and Gemma Ward was better than I expected. Erik Thomson also performed fine as the father, and his small role was well written, I thought. During and after the film, I just felt like I hadn't been offered much that could be differentiated from the raft of other coming-of-age films that have been released here in the last year, even if it is a touch better than the rest of them.


goran said...

Yeah, I totally agree re: Black Balloon. There were a few strong and honest scenes and good performances. I thought Wakefield did really well apart from the moments where he was made to shake his head and smile approvingly (on the other hand I found Gemma Ward a wooden blank, partly since the character she was playing was overly idealised). But too much of it was generic. And too much of it was Clubland (and, to an extent, Little Miss Sunshine). And maybe too much of it was script-workshopped.

And I don't buy this whole 'it happened to me therefore it is authentic and worthy' argument (e.g. Nia Vardalos will never convince me her family is 'just like' the one in My Big Fat Greek Stereotype). While I did find the portrait of the autistic brother genuine and convincing, I don't feel that it legitimised the obviously contrived and commercially-oriented plot developments. And the ending was maudlin and overdone.

Paul Martin said...

Well, you know Goran, I laughed my head off at My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It was a pretty ordinary film, but there was so much authenticity in it. In fact, it was so real that, though it presented as comedy, it's actually tragedy.

My in-laws are Greek and my partner and I related to nearly everything in the film. Like the father talking about Socrates, or words in English derived from Greek. And get this, like the guy in the film, I'm vegetarian. We cacked ourselves laughing.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I've wanted to see the Australian Hamlet since I heard about it (too late, natch) at MIFF. I wish it had gotten more of a release than one screen! Oh well, DVD awaits, I guess.