Monday, May 12, 2008

Michelangelo Antonioni Retrospective

I have just received a bulletin with details of the world premiere of the complete restoration of all the films by Michelangelo Antonioni, screening at the Cinema Nova from 23 - 29 March. The films are screening as part of the Melbourne Italian Festival (22 March - 8 June). Readers may recall that Antonioni passed away last year, on the same day as that other cinema great, Ingmar Bergman.

I've only seen Antonioni's The Passenger, which screened on The Astor's mighty screen a couple of years ago. I liked aspects of it, but not completely, but am keen to catch up with some of his other films. All 18 features and 17 shorts are screening (that's impressive, and it's a helluva lot of films to squeeze into 7 days!). Any recommendations as to which films I should try to see are appreciated.

The full schedule is as follows:

Fri 23 May
7.00 Official Opening: Blow Up (110m) – Invite Only
9.30 Chronicle of Love (110m)

Sat 24 May
11.00 The Girlfriends (90m)
1.30 The Eclipse (125m)
4.00 Identification of a Woman (128m)
7.00 The Adventure (145m)
9.30 Blow Up (110m)

Sun 25 May
12.00 The Cry (102m)
2.30 The Red Desert (120m)
5.00 Shorts and documentaries (1943 – 1953) - Prog 1 (80m) - see below
7.00 The Passenger (124m) & The Last Sequence of the Passenger (12m)
9.30 The Night (121m)

Mon 26 May
5.15 The Lady Without Camelias (105m)
7.30 Chung Kuo China (240m total)

Tues 27 May
7.00 Love in the City (Suicide Attempt) 20m & The Vanquished (110m)
9.30 Beyond the Clouds (113m)

Wed 28 May
5.15 Shorts and documentaries (1978 – 1997) Prog 2 (88m) - see below
7.00 The Oberwald Mystery (123m)
9.30 Making a film for me is to live (60m) & The gaze that changed Cinema (60m)

Thurs 29 May
5.00 (By Popular Demand Session) & With Michelangelo (15m)
7.30 Official Closing: Zabriskie Point (110m) and The Gaze of Michelangelo (15m)

PROGRAM 1 (Shorts) 80m
(Suicide Attempt) Love In The City
The Funicular of Mt Faloria (Vertigo)
The Villa Of Monsters
Seven Reeds, One Suit
People Of The Po Valley
Waste Collection
The Loving Lie

PROGRAM 2 (Shorts) 88m
Returning to Lisca Island
Kumbha Mela
Roma ‘90
Noto, Mandorli, Vulcano, Stromboli, Carnevale
Antonioni Seen By Antonioni (TBC)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Upcoming events

This weeks sees another conflict in film events: Palace is hosting the 2008 Spanish Film Festival at the Como and Westgarth cinemas. I like Spanish cinema. Like cinema from any other country, one often has to be selective, but there's two things that appeal to me about Spanish cinema: they're generally comfortable with transgression and they're not afraid to tackle political issues.

Unfortunately, I'm going to struggle to see more than a couple of films at this year's festival as it conflicts with ACMI's Focus on John Cassavetes. I've only ever seen Opening Night, which impressed me sufficiently to want to see more. It's always great to get to a retrospective of a significant director. There's so much more you pick up on in terms of common themes and styles, as well as observing the evolution of an artist's work. So I'm giving Cassavetes priority over SFF, even though at a glance, the latter's program looks good.

The Spanish Film Festival screens from 14-25 May at Palace Como and Palace Westgarth. The Focus on John Cassavetes screens 15-25 May at ACMI.

The Kino Cinema is independent again

As originally commented by Jim on my post about Transylvania, I can confirm that the Kino cinema in Collins Place, Melbourne, is no longer affiliated with Dendy Cinemas. Dendy has recently sold both its distribution and screening interests to Icon Films and I imagine Kino was not included in this deal as it is half-owned by Frank Cox. My understanding is that Frank was not involved in the day-to-day running of the Kino, which was managed by Dendy.

Apparently Frank now has a complete interest in the Kino and may be on the lookout for a new managing partner. Gee, I'd love to if I had the money. I've made no secret that the Kino is my favourite cinema in Melbourne for the following reasons:
  • I love the auditorium-style layout of the two main cinemas
  • The staff are the friendliest and most sociable I've experienced
  • It is the least congested 'art house' cinema during peak times like Saturday evenings (I have an aversion to the big crowds at the Nova and Como)
  • They've kept prices considerably lower than the competition
  • Their member services are more generous than the competition, especially the 5-for-4 offer (attend 4 films within 3 months and the 5th one is free)
  • Free on-site parking for two hours, and only $2/hr after that, which for the CBD is excellent
  • Ambience
I used to add 'best programming' to the above list but, like all art house cinemas in Melbourne, programming has headed south in recent years. Transylvania is perhaps one of the best films screening at the Kino for years and I highly recommend everyone go see while you can. It's the kind of film one usually has to wait for MIFF to see, so if you would like some diversity in cinema, it behooves you to support the rare occasions we get to see a film like this.

By the way, my partner wanted to see it last night, but it only had two screenings: 10.15am and 2.30pm. I don't know how a film can succeed with screening times like that, especially on a Saturday. I believe that control of the Kino's screening times will be independent as of this week, so hopefully this situation will improve before the film's season ends. In fact, I'm hoping that the Kino's becoming fully independent once again means an improvement in programming. By improvement, I mean I'd like to see more independent art house films, edgier programming with a bit of risk. There is no-one taking risk any more and I believe there's a real hunger for it. Strangely though, audiences seem to stay in the bunker and not support true diversity when they get the chance (like Paranoid Park and Transylvania). I don't know what's going on. Maybe I'm in denial, but I can't accept Lynden Barber's predictions of the death of cinema (at least, as we know it).

There once was a time when I could go to the Kino and blind see a film, knowing nothing about it. Maybe one in five was a fairly middle-of-the-road French comedy that one could give or take, while the others would be at least time well spent. It was at the Kino that I saw both Lost Highway and Three Colours: Blue, my nos. 1 & 2 favourite films of all time. Films that I went to 'blind' and was pleasantly surprised include Like Blood and Wine (Bob Rafelson, 1996 - this film wasn't even advertised), The Crossing Guard (Sean Penn, 1995) and Savior (Predrag Antonijevic, 1998).

I keep a record of the films I see and when I started recording this info, I began by pulling out my movie stubs. Unfortunately through the 90's, the Kino's tickets were generic and didn't detail the film screened. So there's many films I saw during this period that I haven't recorded. I think Kino tickets printed the relevant film only from 2001. Looking at the last few years, the number of films I've seen there (as a total of all films seen in a year) are as follows:

2007: 23/272
2006: 29/201
2005: 27/87
2004: 18/102
2003: 21/98
2002: 7/62
2001: 5/37

The number of films I've seen at the Kino in the last five years has been relatively stable, even as the number of films I've seen overall has increased significantly. This can be at least partially attributed to the limited number of films the Kino can exhibit on only four screens. Pretty much if the Kino is screening something, I'd rather see it there than anywhere else. As an AFCA member, I can get free entry there, but I actually pay my own way without showing my AFCA card unless I'm going to review a film. That's how much I support the place. I want it to succeed.

2008, however, hasn't been a good year for me at the Kino. I've seen only 4 so far this year, and two of those were in the last two weeks. The programming has been quite dull. Here's hoping it will pick up, even though I've heard rumours that it's going to experiment with some mainstream stuff like Sex and the City . My opinion is, if they want to screen mainstream films, go with quality fare like Eastern Promises or No Country For Old Men. I don't necessarily think these films are 'mainstream', but they had widespread appeal and recognition.

I'm interested to hear of other's perceptions or experiences at the Kino. Anyone want to join a consortium to propose an interest in the Kino? Maybe I'm just dreaming, but I'd love to revive true art house cinema in Melbourne. Think Lumiere Cinema, but with amenity and service.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Counterfeiters

The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher, Stefan Ruzowitzky, Austria/Germany, 2007)

If winning the Best Foreign Film Oscar is anything to go by, this should be a popular film. It recently closed the German Film Festival and has a theatrical release this week. It’s yet another film that depicts Germany’s willingness to confront its Nazi past, and does it in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. I found it OK, but nothing special.

The film is about Jews incarcerated in WWII concentration camps with criminal and commercial talents being exploited by the Nazis. The operation (and a historically factually one) was to counterfeit UK and US currency to both fund the German war effort and to undermine the economies of the enemy. This placed the participants in a dilemma. Does one collaborate in order to survive (in relative comfort) knowing you’re assisting your oppressors, do you refuse (meaning certain death) or do you secretly sabotage the project? These options and the moral implications are explored in the film.

Saloman (Sally) is a Jewish career criminal, and prior to WWII is incarcerated for various offences. With the rise of Nazism and deportment to concentration camps, Sally does whatever it takes to stay alive. At first, he is in demand as a portrait artist, but later is seconded to the ambitious Nazi operation to destroy its enemies by economic means.

The film is based on a true story and is an interesting enough premise. It just didn’t work for me, mainly because the director doesn’t trust his audience. There is little subtlety, and the film relies on too many contrasts. For example, the film opens with Sally a free man, using exaggeratedly warm colours and as soon as he is incarcerated, the colours move to the opposite end of the spectrum.

The cinematographer uses hand-held camera with jerky movements, clumsy zoom, etc, yet the visuals are highly stylised (and look great, mind you), yet don’t match the cinema verite camera effect.

While there is a certain dramatic tension during most of the film that many will enjoy, I found the ending lacked adequate dramatic build-up. It was pretty much an anti-climax. I’m sure many audiences will come out raving about The Counterfeiters, and its Oscar win can only help it, but it left me cold.