Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Week in Review - 30/11/08

This weekend has been full on. My work Christmas party was on Saturday, and the weekend pretty much revolved around that and a child's birthday party. I've completely missed the Japanese Film Festival at ACMI as well as the 15 hour screenings of Berlin Alexanderplatz. As I have mentioned, November has been chock-a-block full of films to see, most of which I've missed. When I get my Christmas break, I could watch a film a day, but then there's nothing decent to see in the cinemas. I suppose that's when I'll catch up on a few of the 50 or so DVDs I have that I haven't yet seen.

With the end of the Pedro Costa season at Melbourne Cinémathèque this week, I feel a little sad. I just want the season to continue, even if it means repeating the same films. The man's work is incredible, though not for everyone (many cinephiles may struggle with some of the themes and the scenes). Next week is the start of the Howard Hawks season, which lasts for three weeks before we take recess for the holiday season. I'll miss the last week as I'll be participating in my university graduation ceremony.

I started my Bachelor of Business (Business Information Systems) at RMIT University in 2001 and did the first three years (of four) full-time and the remainder part-time. I had only one subject to complete the degree but needed to put in an exemption. It's taken me three years to get the exemption in and I've not done a subject in that time. I can't wait to have this formality behind me, to have closure. As a fellow student once said: "to finish that which one has started".

Those three years have not been without tumultuous times. My oldest child suffered psychosis and my middle child took his own life (nearly two years ago now). There's been stresses at home and I've taken up learning French at Alliance Française. I've often felt like bowing out of classes, but have kept up my determination for over 18 months now. I figure that if I just stick to it, I'll get to where I want to be. I figure once one bows out, it's all pretty much over. If I put the same time into it as I put into my uni studies, I'd be speaking fluent French by now.

FWIW, I'm quietly happy with my French progress. I still struggle listening to say the French news, but I can get a reasonable understanding of a newspaper article. I can make myself understood to a French person; they just have to speak very slowly back, often more than once. I hope to live in France one day, for at least a year and preferably more. There's something about the country's culture that draws me, and I feel that moving to a foreign culture is an experience and personal challenge I want to have in this life-time.

Slumdog Millionaire
(Danny Boyle, UK/USA, 2008)
No quarto da Vanda (In Vanda's Room, Pedro Costa, Portugal/Germany/Switzerland/Italy, 2000)
Ossos (Bones, Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Denmark, 1997)
Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (I Have Loved You For So Long, Philippe Claudel, France/Germany, 2008)

  • Bande à part (Band of Outsiders, Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1964)

Slumdog Millionaire
I'll post a review of this film in the first week of December, closer to its release (which is 18 December, and 'sneak previews' on 12-14 December). In short, it's OK and I think most people will like it more than me.

In Vanda's Room
Wow! How did Pedro Costa get a film like this made? Could he have done it today? This is so raw and so bleak, that these questions kept coming into my head while watching this remarkable film. Audiences often think of the films of Alkinos Tsilimidos as bleak, but his are quite upbeat in comparison to Costa's (and that's not a sleight on either director's work, just observation).

The non-professional actors, residents of the Fountainhas slum being filmed, are all extraordinary, especially the two drug-addicted sisters, Vanda and Zita. They spend their lives in Vanda's room, smoking crack and occasionally venturing outside to sell vegetables to the neighbours. Their physical state is deplorable and I found my heart bleeding for them. Words fail me with both this film and Ossos (Bones). These films have been my favourite double of the three week Costa season, which has now concluded. Melbourne Cinémathèque screened all of Costa's feature films and three of his shorts. I feel like I need to re-watch these films to truly appreciate them. Costa is an awesome film-maker.

I'd have preferred to have seen Costa's films in chronological order, especially the trilogy of films featuring the Fountainhas slum. Of the trilogy, no. 3 screened on week 1, and no. 2 screened before no. 1 on week 3. C'est la vie ! In Vanda's Room is nearly three hours long, so it was good that Bones is not too long (94 minutes). It makes for a long night, especially when one has work the next morning.

Bones is nowhere near as bleak as In Vanda's Room. There is more colour and the people's lives have a little more hope. I can't say it's a better film, just less downbeat. Mind you, the story is no Hollywood theme: suffice to say that the Dardenne brothers' L'enfant (The Child) covers similar territory. These Costa films simply have to be seen, to be experienced.

I Have Loved You For So Long
You'll enjoy this film much more if, like me, you know nothing about it prior to seeing it. There is a central mystery, and the unravelling of it could have resulted in a much stronger film if it hadn't played out conventionally at the end. Suffice to say, I'm not giving any plot details here.

Kristin Scott Thomas is impressive in the central role of this film. As an English-speaking actress, her French-speaking seemed impeccable, though her character in the film is written as having an English accent, so obviously the French would pick it up. This is perhaps the best role I've seen her in, though I generally haven't been impressed with her. This role required a fairly repressed individual, and as Thomas' acting is generally quite wooden, she is perhaps perfect for the role. This probably sounds less kind than I mean it to be, because she does play the part well.

Thomas appears with little makeup for most of the film, and seeing her bravely bared before the camera like this gives the film a visual rawness that enhances the verisimilitude of the story. For most of the film, there are unexpected turns that feel natural rather than being contrived twists. After about the three-quarter mark, the initial setup is, well, I'll call it cheapened, though what it's doing is catering to populism. I could start to predict what some of the outcomes would be and the story really tugs at the heart strings.

The French are excellent at producing gutsy arthouse films, of which this is not one. But nor is it a middle-of-the-road family melodrama (which I usually hate). This is a solid drama, with some great arthouse aesthetics that should be very popular with most arthouse audiences (think Nova or Como). The film's compromises are what make it accessible and enjoyable, but left me feeling just ever so slightly disappointed.


poignantPoint said...

"The film's compromises are what make it accessible and enjoyable, but left me feeling just ever so slightly disappointed."

Yeah, isn't that just such a let-down when that happens.. i felt a similar feeling about 'The Kite Runner' - obviously the story had great bones, but the final few stanza's just seemed to slip into the cliche Hollywood prototype.

I have a pass to a screening of this movie on Sunday, though not sure if it's worth being in a cinema at 11am...?

poignantPoint said...

Btw, i'm really enjoying reading your blog, the way you mix a little bit of your private life makes it pretty endearing.. you've got a frequent guest in me :)

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for the comments and encouragement, PP. One of the things I like about cinema is the opportunity to discuss an artform and its relationship to life. I've been feeling that my writing has been a little too harnessed, so I'm just doing a bit of experimentation.

People bag Baz Luhrmann and his latest film. I really liked the motto "A life lived in fear is a life half-lived", which appeared at the start of Australia. It's a theme that I really connected with in Strictly Ballroom and I presume it's something of some importance to Baz. I mention this, because in a small way, I'm practising this here.

I didn't see The Kite Runner; it looked very contrived. I Have Loved You For So Long is not overtly sentimental and has some excellent qualities. I'd recommend using your free tix.