Monday, March 31, 2008

The Week in Review

Time flies! I didn't get my Week in Review up for last week, so here's two weeks below. I don't have time to offer much in the way of comment, but feel free to add your own comments or questions. The highlight was seeing Paranoid Park again, the first time I've seen a film three times during its theatrical run.

FILMS:
17 - 23 March
  • Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, USA, 2008)
  • Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Sidney Lumet, USA, 2007)
  • Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez, USA, 2007)
  • Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, USA, 2007)
  • Death Defying Acts (Gillian Armstrong, UK/Australia, 2007)
  • Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, France/USA, 2007)

24 - 30 March
  • Histoire(s) du cinéma (pt. 1a & 1b, Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1998)
  • Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters, Stefan Ruzowitzky, Austria, 2007)
  • Duell in der Nacht (Duel in the Night, Matti Geschonneck, Germany, 2007)

Be Kind Rewind
While Michel Gondry's The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, co-written by the supremely talented and bizarre Charlie Kaufman, seemed a match made in cinematic heaven, Gondry's going it alone as both writer and director on The Science of Sleep seemed a bit flat. The latter film was still very much in bizarro-world, but the chemistry between film and audience wasn't quite there.

Perhaps Gondry has learnt from experience. He's still using similar devices to The Science of Sleep, but somehow it all comes together in his new film. I went into the film with low expectations, but willing to give it a go. After all, Sleep wasn't a bad film, it just wasn't a particularly good film. Two out of three ain't bad (Gondry's first feature film was Human Nature). Eternal Sunshine had an impressive twelve month run at Cinema Nova.

I found it took a little while to warm to the film at first, partly because the basic premise of the film was so well known, so there was a lack of surprise as the story unfolded. At this stage, every laugh of the enthusiastic audience was distracting, because I just didn't find every little quirk that funny. Once the original setup is established, the film's momentum quickly builds and hardly misses a beat. I found it totally grabbed me when I least expected it, and as the story travelled in unexpected directions, it took me completely with it.

Jack Black who, while still uses his trademark manic excess, shows welcome restraint and is perfect for the role, while Mos Def complemented him. They make an excellent Laurel and Hardy-like duet. Even Danny Glover, who sometimes looks like he should be put out to pasture, was used to great effect by Gondry. The support actors - many of them non-professionals - all contributed effectively to the film. A special mention goes to Melonie Diaz (Raising Victor Vargas, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) who I always find has a really good naturalistic on-screen presence. She is normally portrayed as the ugly girl, but I find her energy really attractive.

My advice is don't go looking for another Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. They both clearly have Gondry's hand in them, but Be Kind Rewind is a much lighter, comedic film. It has very little drama and not the bleakness of Sunshine. As for comparisons with The Science of Sleep, this film is so much better written. He skillfully holds the audience's attention and brings the film to a very satisfying ending, full of heart and humour.

The film appears aimed at a fairly wide audience, and I think it will appeal to all ages equally well. I don't think it's designed to be a children's film, but I think it's one of the best in that genre that I've seen for a long time (cinema releases, that is). There's an almost Laurel and Hardy aspect to it that will have kids of all ages (maybe even under-5s, even if they don't understand it) connecting with the humour.


Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Yeah, it's OK, but nothing special.

Planet Terror
Fantastic, exhilirating, full-of-laughs. Loved it.

Death Proof
Liked it even more the second time, though not as good a homage to grindhouse movies as Planet Terror. They did, however, complement each other excellently, and for pure fun, the double is about as good as it gets.

Death Defying Acts
Boring, boring, boring.

Histoire(s) du cinéma
I think one needs to get into the zone for this eclectic homage to cinema, and I couldn't get into it. Or maybe this just isn't what I go to the cinema for. I could dig what Godard was trying to communicate, but it just didn't grab me. I only saw the first 90 minutes (it's 4.5 hours!).

The Counterfeiters & Duel in the Night
I'll be writing on these for the upcoming Festival of German Films.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

ACMI Focus on John Cassavetes

The latest addition to my Calendar of Film Events is ACMI's Focus on John Cassavetes. Of Cassavetes' work, I've only seen Opening Night, which opened the 2007 season at Melbourne Cinémathèque. Based on my favourable experience and also passionate word-of-mouth by others (including Matt Clayfield), I'm keen to see as many of these films as possible.

The Focus on John Cassavetes screens 15-25 May. Check out my calendar for dates, or ACMI for full details. A summary from ACMI's website is below:

Opening Night

M, John Cassavetes, 144 mins, USA, 1977, 35mm.

Pedro Almodóvar lovingly paid tribute to Cassavetes' ninth feature in All About My Mother (1999).

Featuring one of Cassavetes' signature fractured women - an actress grappling with aging and the vagaries of life in the theatre - Opening Night was largely ignored in the U.S. on its initial release but is now considered one of his major works.

The emotional rawness Cassavetes elicits from his actors comes to the fore in Gena Rowland's performance as Myrtle Gordon, an actress for whom the boundaries between her on-stage persona and her personal life are painfully blurred.

Imported print. "A meditation on the enigma and loneliness of being beautiful" Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Dates
Thu 15 May 2008, 7pm
Sun 25 May 2008, 6pm


Shadows

PG, John Cassavetes, 82 mins, USA, 1959, 35mm, B&W.

Cassavetes' seminal, directorial debut centres on three African-American siblings grappling with love and angst in the jazz-soaked, beat-infused streets of 1950s New York.

The use of largely non-professional actors and seemingly improvised dialogue (the film was, in fact, almost entirely scripted), set the blueprint for future Cassavetes masterworks.

In its analysis of love - and the lack of it - Shadows explores a theme that Cassavetes returns to throughout his film career.

Imported print. "Arguably the founding work of the American independent cinema" J. Hoberman, Village Voice

Dates
Fri 16 May 2008, 7pm


Too Late Blues

Unclassified 18+, John Cassavetes, 103 mins, USA, 1961, 35mm.

After the independently produced Shadows, Cassavetes' foray into studio filmmaking surprisingly stars crooner Bobby Darin as a struggling jazz pianist fighting to maintain his integrity in the cut-throat world of the music business.

As an actor, Cassavetes was more than familiar with the studio style, but as a director he initially deemed this project to be a failure.

With hindsight, Too Late Blues is now considered one of the more impressive films made about the jazz scene and is a worthy inclusion in the director's filmography.

Imported print (with German subtitles).

Dates
Fri 16 May 2008, 9pm


Faces

M, John Cassavetes, 131 mins, USA, 1968, 35mm, B&W.

Adapted from a stage play, Faces depicts the unmasking of American society in the mid-1960s, filtered through the breakdown of a typical middle class marriage.

Dissatisfied with his output as an actor-for-hire, Cassavetes returned to personal filmmaking with this gem and continued his assault on the conventions of the Hollywood aesthetic.

Taking six months to shoot and a phenomenal three years of post-production, Faces is considered by many as his masterpiece.

Imported print. "The sort of film that makes you want to grab people by the neck, drag them into the theatre and shout: 'Here!'" Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Dates
Sat 17 May 2008, 4pm


The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

M, John Cassavetes, 109 mins, USA, 1976, 35mm.

Cassavetes' brilliant noir excursion is the perfect fusion between his ramshackle world of lovable losers and the more traditional conventions of Hollywood genre filmmaking.

At its centre, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie offers a compelling character study of an affable nightclub owner at the end of his luck (played with grizzled charm by Cassavetes regular, Ben Gazzara), who is forced to pay a mounting gambling debt by 'taking out' the Chinese bookie of the film's title.

"A post-noir masterpiece" Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

Dates
Sat 17 May 2008, 6.30pm
Thu 22 May 2008, 9.15pm


Husbands

Unclassified 18+, John Cassavetes, 138 mins, USA, 1970, 35mm.

Three friends (played by Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Cassavetes) are sent into a midlife tailspin after the untimely death of a close friend.

Many of the scenes in Husbands were developed around the off-set friendship between the three male leads and expose deep emotional truths that infuse the film with a stark and unsentimental vitality.

Dates
Sat 17 May 2008, 9pm
Tue 20 May 2008, 7pm


A Constant Forge - The Life and Art of John Cassavetes

M, Charles Kiselyak, 200 mins, USA, 2000, digital betacam, colour and B&W.

This fascinating, in-depth analysis of Cassavetes' films assembles new interviews with many key players and footage of the filmmaker candidly discussing his work methods and philosophies on art, creativity and life.

Most of Cassavetes' major works are covered, including The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, Shadows, Faces and A Woman Under the Influence.

Ensemble regulars Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara and longtime collaborators such as producer and cinematographer Al Ruban, also contribute revealing anecdotes about American cinema's pre-eminent maverick.

Dates
Sun 18 May 2008, 4pm
Fri 23 May 2008, 7pm


Love Streams

M, John Cassavetes, 141 mins, USA, 1984, 35mm.

Many of the themes which preoccupied Cassavetes throughout his career come together in Love Streams.

Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands play siblings - he a cynical Hollywood writer and Rowlands his emotionally unstable sister - trying to navigate their way through messy and complicated love lives.

As emotionally raw and heartfelt as any Cassavetes film, Love Streams offers an exhilarating portrait of two people whose worlds are falling apart as they desperately try to hold fast to the possibility of love.

Dates
Mon 19 May 2008, 7pm
Sat 24 May 2008, 9.15pm


Gloria

M, John Cassavetes, 123 mins, USA, 1980, 35mm.

A winning variation on the classic odd couple theme, Gloria sees Gena Rowlands playing the titular character, an ex-girlfriend of a gangster who unwittingly becomes the protector of a Puerto Rican boy after the murder of his family.

Largely created to showcase Rowlands' acting talents, Cassavetes' uncharacteristic genre excursion makes inventive use of ramshackle New York locales. The tough talking banter between Rowlands (who received an Oscar nomination for her performance) and her streetwise young charge helps steer the film away from over-sentimentality.

Dates
Thu 22 May 2008, 7pm


Minnie and Moskowitz

M, John Cassavetes, 114 mins, USA, 1971, 35mm.

In this defiantly romantic film, Gena Rowlands is Minnie Moore, a recently dumped museum curator who crosses paths with Seymour Moskowitz, a free-spirited but pushy car park attendant played by Seymour Cassel.

By skewing the romantic comedy template, Minnie and Moskowitz offers two emotionally larger-than-life characters who are by turns, infuriating, manic and endearing.

This is Cassavetes at his most playful and demonstrates the depth of the director as an artist.

Imported print. "Cassavetes' career of risk-taking comes to a climax in this rich, original, magnificent film" Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Dates
Sat 24 May 2008, 4pm


A Woman Under the Influence

M, John Cassavetes, 147 mins, USA, 1974, 35mm.

The crowning centrepiece of Cassavetes' remarkable career, A Woman Under the Influence encapsulates his drive to explore the messy and painful nature of love and familial life.

At the film's core is the brilliant, and at times unbearably raw, Oscar-nominated performance by Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes' frequent ensemble player and real-life wife. Rowlands plays Mabel Longhetti, a woman pushed to the brink of madness as she struggles to integrate herself into the chaotic ebb and flow of family life.

Imported print. "Its dramatic power rivals that of Faces, or any other work of drama or fiction" Dan Schneider, culturevulture

Dates
Sat 24 May 2008, 6.30pm


Big Trouble

M, John Cassavetes, 93 mins, USA, 1986, 35mm.

In his last film, Cassavetes ironically returned to studio filmmaking with this all-out comedy based on a screenplay by veteran scribe Andrew Bergman (under the pseudonym Warren Bogle).

With a plot premised on a murder scheme that indirectly references Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, this film nonetheless reworks familiar Cassavetes motifs, most particularly his exploration of flawed characters and loaded relationships.

Though an atypical work by Cassavetes, Big Trouble breezes along, buoyed by the energetic performances of Alan Arkin, Peter Falk and Beverly D'Angelo.

Dates
Sun 25 May 2008, 4pm

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Paranoid Park

Any mention of a Gus Van Sant film is nearly always accompanied by comments of being about disaffected or alienated male youth. While this is invariably both true and unavoidable, such superficial descriptions don’t really do Paranoid Park justice. Van Sant’s latest film is a profoundly intimate, moving and insightful meditation on the inner world of a youth in crisis.

Alex (Gave Nevins) is sixteen and, aside from navigating the usual hurdles of adolescence, school, girls and life in general, his parents have recently undergone a messy separation. His escape is to hang out with his buddy Jared (Jake Miller), and together they discover Portland’s tough Eastside Skate Park. Known to the locals as Paranoid Park, it was built by the skaters themselves, and is a magnet for all kinds of dropouts.

Alex is a fairly normal kid but everything changes one evening when he goes to Paranoid Park alone and is involved in the death of a security guard. He keeps this toxic secret to himself, but gradually reveals all in his diary.

Of Van Sant’s films, Paranoid Park (winner of the 2007 Cannes 60th Anniversary Prize and based on a short novel by Blake Nelson) is aesthetically most similar to Elephant. It defies a linear narrative, circling around the central facts which reflects Alex’s state of shock and inability to come to terms with what has happened.

Other stylistic devices convey Alex’s fractured state of mind, such as the use of a varied range of eclectic music. Similarly effective is the use of slow motion, creating a dreamy ambience that complements the music at times, or contrasts at others, the music.

The film opens to the sounds of an ambient French track that matches the imagery of skaters floating through space, defying gravity. In fact, Paranoid Park is a French production and while the story and participants are clearly American, the film really has qualities reminiscent of French cinema. It reminded me of L’année suivante (The Year After), which recently screened at the French Film Festival. Van Sant seems to be revered by the French, perhaps more than by his own country. His work has stark similarities to my favourite type of French cinema.

The depiction of grownups from a teenage perspective is fascinating. When in frame, they either have their backs to us, or cinematographer Chris Doyle’s use of long lenses to strictly control focus means we mostly see them as a blur. They are not absent, but don’t figure prominently in Alex’s world. This is also subtly accentuated in conversations. “It’s not like she cares”, moans Alex about his mother when questioned about his movements.

We do, however, clearly see Detective Richard Liu (real-life detective, Daniel Liu). His strong presence shakes Alex’s out of his dreamy inner world and gives us a more grounded reference point within the story. His quiet intensity as he faces off with Alex at a crucial moment is as emotionally powerful as anything I have ever experienced on screen. This is when the true impact of Alex’s ordeal, as well as Van Sant’s genuine empathy for his characters is fully revealed.

In Paranoid Park, youth are disconnected from adults, but also parents are unable to engage with their children. Alex is in his own world that seems impenetrable to his parents, and they seem to struggle with words he can relate to. When Alex’s father (Jay 'Smay' Williamson, reportedly one of the actual founders of Paranoid Park) talks about inevitable divorce, his words have little interest to Alex.

Cast with mostly non-professionals, much has been made of Van Sant’s casting call via MySpace, though apparently none of the main actors were found in this way. Van Sant has used improvisation with the actors, resulting in dialogue full of authenticity, light-years from the slick depictions of youth in contemporary cinema. His characters, both adults and youths, sometimes struggle with their words. The performances were terrific.

In fact, I find it hard to fault the film in any way. The cinematography is stunningly natural, the music is entrancing and the story is compelling. Technically, the most impressive aspect is careful construction of the story through editing (by Van Sant himself).

Starting with Gerry, this film caps off four consecutive films Van Sant has made in a minimalist style he is making his own. All four of them are concerned with youth and death. In Gerry, one Gerry kills the other; in Elephant, two youths kill a number of fellow students; and in Last Days, Blake, a pseudo Kurt Cobain, takes his own life. In Paranoid Park we have a death, though not of a youth. Life, death and what occurs between, these are all compacted within the framework of a Van Sant film. The films are not about death, but death is an event that provokes other dramatic elements. For me, Paranoid Park is the most touching of all his films, at least as good as Elephant and as good as anything I’ve seen in the last year.

I include below some useful links, including Jake Wilson’s review in The Age. Not only does Jake share my enthusiasm for Paranoid Park, but he has eloquently and clearly articulated what I intuitively perceived of the film.

Links:
Official website / Q&A with Gus Van Sant / Jake Wilson’s review / Gus Van Sant interview / The Evening Class question for GVS / TimeOut interview / EyeWeekly interview / Taylor Momsen interview / Making of Paranoid Park video / Various trailers and interviews

Sunday, March 23, 2008

ACMI Focus on a Century of Russian Cinema

A look at ACMI's website reveals the next focus, on A Century of Russian Cinema. Dates are 17-27 April, unfortunately exactly corresponding with the Festival of German Films. While German films are often hit-and-miss, there are gems to be found (as with last year's Offset) so it's going to be a juggling act to try and get the best of the German Film Festival and not miss the rare opportunity to see some Soviet-era classics like Tarkovsky's Stalker on the big screen.

I love the Eastern European aesthetics in cinema, so I'll try to squeeze in as many of the Russian films as possible. Any tips as to what to seek out are appreciated. The dates have been entered into my Google Calendar of Film Events. Below is the info gleaned from ACMI:

Walking the Streets of Moscow (Ya shagayu po Moskve)
Unclassified 18+, Georgi Daneliya, 78 mins, USSR, 1963, 35mm

Scripted by 1960s icon Gennadi Shpalikov, this light-hearted film follows a day in the life of Kolya (Nikita Mikhalkov), a construction worker not yet out of his teens, and his friends Volodya (Aleksei Loktev), an aspiring writer visiting from Siberia, and Sasha (Yevgeni Steblov), an army inductee.

Added to the mix is Alena (Golina Polskikh), a pretty shopgirl to whom Kolya takes an obvious shine, even though Alena seems to only have eyes for his visiting friend.

Dates
Thu 17 Apr 2008, 7pm
Fri 25 Apr 2008, 6pm


Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin)

Unclassified 18+, Sergei M. Eisenstein, 80 mins, USSR, 1925, 35mm

Based on the famous revolt by the crew of a Russian warship, Eisenstein's indictment on the raw brutality of the Tsarist regime has become one of the most influential films of all time.

At the film's centre is the extraordinary Odessa Steps sequence, a scene that inspired other filmmakers to pay homage to Eisenstein's vision, most notably Francis Ford Coppola in The Godfather and Brian de Palma in The Untouchables.

An immortal classic, The Battleship Potemkin gave the young Eisenstein the perfect vehicle to experiment with his theories about montage and with new ideas and filmic realities through the creative juxtaposition of images.

Dates
Thu 17 Apr 2008, 9pm
Sun 27 Apr 2008, 6pm


Jolly Fellows (Vesyolye rebyata)

Unclassified 18+, Grigori Aleksandrov, 96 mins, USSR, 1934, 35mm

Yelena (Mariya Strelkova) is an ambitious but untalented singer who mistakes a simple shepherd, Kostya (Leonid Utyosov), for a famous jazz band leader.

When she invites him to accompany her at an upcoming get-together, Kostya readily agrees, but instead of a saxophone he brings along his pan-pipes - as well as most of the animals from his nearby farm.

All is not lost, however, as Yelena's long-suffering servant, Anyuta (Lyubov Orlova) reveals her singing talents.

An enormous success in the Soviet Union, Jolly Fellows made its leading actors the first Soviet movie stars.

Dates
Fri 18 Apr 2008, 7pm
Sat 26 Apr 2008, 6.30pm


Alexander Nevsky
Unclassified 18+, Sergei M. Eisenstein & Dmitri Vasilyev, 107 mins, USSR, 1938, 35mm

Superbly photographed by Eduard Tisse with a score by Sergei Prokofiev, Alexander Nevsky is an intense and almost surreal historical epic depicting the battle between good and evil.

Produced as a warning to pre-World War II Germany about the folly of an Eastern invasion, Eisenstein's classic portrayed the inner strength of the Russian people and is regarded as one of Soviet Cinema's great masterpieces.

Dates
Fri 18 Apr 2008, 9.15pm
Thu 24 Apr 2008, 7pm


Sadko
Unclassified 18+, Aleksandr Ptushko, 90 mins, USSR, 1952, 35mm

After filming Russia's first animated feature The New Gulliver, Aleksandr Ptushko was already internationally famous when he made this colourful fantasy that transforms the Arab seafarer Sinbad into Sadko, a medieval Russian adventurer.

Sadko (Sergei Stolyarov) embarks on a voyage in search of true happiness, something he's sure must exist in a far-off land. His travels take him to every exotic corner of the globe, as well as to a sprawling undersea kingdom that's a tour-de-force Ptushko creation.

Dates
Sat 19 Apr 2008, 3.30pm
Mon 21 Apr 2008, 7pm


The Cranes are Flying (Letyat zhuravli)
Unclassified 18+, Mikhail Kalatozov, 98 mins, USSR, 1957, 35mm

Veronika (Tatyana Samojlova) and Boris (Aleksky Batalov) are lovers looking forward to a life together. At the outbreak of World War II, however, Boris is drafted to the army and sent to the front without being given the chance to say goodbye.

In his absence, Veronika succumbs to Boris' cousin Mark and the pair marry, but Boris is never out of Veronika's mind.

Buoyed by cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky's extraordinarily vibrant camerawork, The Cranes Are Flying achieves an almost mythic dimension, as the story of these star-crossed lovers becomes the story of a nation.

Dates
Sat 19 Apr 2008, 5.30pm
Fri 25 Apr 2008, 1.30pm
Sat 26 Apr 2008, 8.30pm


Stalker
Unclassified 18+, Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 163 mins, 1979, 35mm

Arguably the most accessible of Tarkovsky's films, this philosophical fable employs the roughest outlines of a novel called The Roadside Picnic by Soviet sci-fi writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

A mysterious Zone is said to contain a room that grants wishes; the Stalker will take you there for a fee, past military checkpoints and more obscure dangers.

A clear imprint of this terse, laconic film is still felt in such apocalyptic hits as Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later.

Dates
Sat 19 Apr 2008, 7.45pm
Sun 27 Apr 2008, 5.15pm


Uncle Vanya (Dyadya Vanya)

Unclassified 18+, Andrei Konchalovsky, 104 mins, USSR, 1970, 35mm

Anton Chekhov's masterpiece about the breakdown of a family held together by a tissue of lies and self-deceptions is brought to stunning life in this adaptation.

Imbued with powerful symbolism, Konchalovsky's film features an all-star cast including Innokenti Smoktunovsky as Uncle Vanya, Irina Miroshnichenko as Yelena and Sergei Bondarchuk as Dr Astrov.

"The best Uncle Vanya I've ever seen" Woody Allen

Dates
Sun 20 Apr 2008, 3pm
Fri 25 Apr 2008, 8pm


The Ascent (Voskhozhdeniye)
Unclassified 18+, Larisa Shepitko, 110 mins, USSR, 1976, 35mm

During the Second World War, two soldiers are separated from their platoon, captured by the Germans and sent to a prison camp. Thus begins two parallel yet connected journeys, as each man struggles with the meaning and value of his own individual life against ideas of patriotism and a commitment to others.

Awarded the Golden Bear at the 1977 Berlin Film Festival, The Ascent promoted Larisa Shepitko to the front ranks of international cinema.

Dates
Sun 20 Apr 2008, 5.30pm
Sat 26 Apr 2008, 4pm


The Letter Never Sent (Neotpravlennoye pismo)
Unclassified 18+, Mikhail Kalatozov, 97 mins, USSR, 1959, 35mm

Kalatozov's rarely-seen follow-up to The Cranes Are Flying follows a guide and three geologists as they search for diamonds through the virgin forests of Central Siberia.

After a long and tiresome journey the team finally discovers a diamond mine. Success comes at a price, however, as they become trapped by a vast forest fire before they can return home.

Again working with cinematographer Sergei Urushevsky, Kalatozov's film is a visual wonder, with the scenes of the forest fire simply unforgettable.

Dates
Sun 20 Apr 2008, 7.45pm
Fri 25 Apr 2008, 3.45pm

Notes to Chacun son cinéma

I find it illuminating to see or read interviews with directors and other key players of films that I enjoy. Film is both a solitary and a communal experience. Some meanings we share, some are individual, based on our unique experiences.

Chacun son cinéma was a moving experience for me. Many of the segments visually encapsulated why the cinema medium is so profoundly important for me. The following are the director notes that accompany each three-minute film produced for Chacun son cinéma.

Theo Angelopoulos
“My relationship in the cinema began a little like a nightmare. It was in 1946 or 1947. The first of the post-war years. Motion-picture theatres drew in crowds and we kids took advantage of all the jostling to slip in and lose ourselves in the magic of the darkened theatre. I saw lots of movies at this time, but the very first was Michael Curtiz's Angels With Dirty Faces.

In this film, there's a scene where the hero is led to the electric chair by two prison guards. Their shadows grow larger and larger on the wall. Suddenly, a cry rings out: "I don't want to die!"

I don't want to die. This cry has long haunted my nights. I woke up covered in sweat. The cinema entered my life like a shadow cast on a wall, like a scream. Nearly 40 years have passed since my first film. To paraphrase T. S Eliot, I might say:
“Midway upon the life's journey
My years mostly wasted in the wrath of history
Striving to learn to the usage of words and images.
And every attempt is a fresh start,
A raid into the inarticulate
To find once more what was lost
To find once more…
In my end is my beginning”

Olivier Assayas
Recrudescence (Upsurge)

“I’ve never had a fetish for cinemas: they’re a place where films are shown in front of an audience into whose diversity I love to blend. We see lots of advertising in them, we pay according to an ever increasing number of esoteric formulae, we buy childish candy, at least in the multiplex which I go to. And that is precisely the one I chose to film.”

Bille August
The Last Dating Show (La séance du dernier rendez-vous)

“The movie theatre is a universal place for fulfilling your imagination and still the ultimate place for dating. You sit there close together in the darkness, full of hope and expectations, fragile and innocent. Only surrounded by the images screamed and whispered to you from the screen. The two of you sharing something secret, something magic, something you could never have envisioned, you are completely open, completely united…”

Jane Campion
The Lady Bug (Lady insecte)

The Lady Bug loves the beam of the projector but not everybody loves her.

Youssef Chahine
47 ans après (47 Years Later)

“My love for the cinema has always been passionate… but one never says, “I am in love”, without accepting all the tribulations that go along with it. Talent alone is not enough, it must be nourished with knowledge, assiduity, a will of iron and last but not least joie de vivre.”

Chen Kaige
Zhanxiou Village (Au village)
“As a filmmaker, I’ve found that it often becomes difficult to totally separate yourself from the projects you work on. The surprising result is not that you leave a part of yourself in the story — as a director, that is a given — but rather that every story leaves a part of itself inside you.”

David Cronenberg
At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World
(Le suicide du dernier juif du monde dans le dernier cinéma du monde)
“My view of the past and the future of the cinema theatre is encoded in this filmlet.”

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Dans l’obscurité (Darkness)

“As if this could only happen in the darkness, the obscurity of the cinema theatre, the light of the darkness, so favourable to what surprises yet unable to yield altogether.”

Manoel De Oliveira
Rencontre unique (Sole Meeting)

“The stomach is opposed to the head, while the latter strives to satisfy the fundamental needs of the former.” The first time I went to Mexico City, I was astonished at the sight of these words engraved in stone at the entrance to the Maya Museum, so wise and natural: “Sow to harvest, harvest to eat, eat to live”. Neither policy nor politics is capable of changing our nature. Solely ethics stands opposed to all our instincts in order to more or less change and ease our human condition. And ethics are not the fruit of nature or even science but rather religion, for all ethics are opposed to our instincts. The stomach is of the order of instincts and thought, and thought belongs to the order of religions, that is to say, ethics. It is necessary to eat.”

Raymond Depardon
Cinéma d’été (Open-Air Cinema)

“I remember a celebration on these terraces of Alexandria at nightfall in the summer, little matter the title of the film… I think that’s what cinema is really about.”

Atom Egoyan
Artaud Double Bill

“Nothing is more cinematic than a close-up. To behold a human face on an enormous screen is both mysterious and intoxicating. We used to need movie theatres for this experience. The close-up as a physical act can now be easily violated, and this short is a contemplation of that desecration.”

Amos Gitai
Le Dibbouk de Haifa

“Cinema is a sort of a shield, it helps you put your brain and heart away from the turmoil around you, without disconnecting from it, but rather trying to reformulate it into cinematic images. It is also a bridge that for me as an ex-architect can cross borders and sometimes overstep minefields. Doing it is an act of self-liberating and transmission to others.”

Hou Hsiao-Hsien
The Electric Princess House

Memories of cinema… when cinemas were palatial picture houses, when a movie was a fine day out for an officer on leave and his pregnant wife, when a young “princess” had the time of her life on the electric dodgems. But now…

Alejandro González Inarritu
Anna

“Anna, as a cinematographic exercise, challenged me with the same difficulty that a writer faces when writing a poem. In such a short time lapse, almost as a cinematic Haiku, I intended, in one single shot, to capture a scent and caress the idea of the transcendence of film as a powerful emotional experience capable of surpassing both our sensory capacities and physical limitations.”

Abbas Kiarostami
Where is my Romeo? (Où est mon Roméo ?)

“To each his cinema and to each his own viewpoint. It is precisely this diversity of outlooks, putting everything completely into question, which is all the beauty of this initiative. A diversity which renders all our certitudes uncertain. My pleasure in taking part in this great adventure was all the greater as I am infinitely curious about the views of others and have a natural affinity for uncertainty.”

Takeshi Kitano
One Fine Day (Une belle journée)

“I saw very few movies as a kid. My strict and education-minded mother tried as much as she could to keep me from doing fun stuff. Not just movies but comics and novels too. The first film I saw at the cinema was when my older brother took me to see an Italian film, The Railway Man (Il Ferroviere, Pietro Germi, 1956). Being a kid, I didn’t understand the film very well, what with its socio-cultural theme of labourers, strikes and socialism. I could just tell that it was a sad film. With that sad feeling on our minds my brother and I went on home minding our own business. Then, a gang of local kids showed up and beat us up and took all our money. We walked for two hours to get back home. It made the whole “my first cinema” experience even sadder than it probably was.”

Claude Lelouch
Cinéma de boulevard (The Cinema around the Corner)

“My love of cinema grew from a romance… between my father and mother who met in a cinema on the Grands Boulevards to see a film with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. 30 years later, quite precisely, I received on Hollywood Boulevard two Oscars for A Man and a Woman from none other than the hands of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Incredible but true, the loop was looped…”

Ken Loach
Happy Ending

“I grew up in a small industrial town in the Midlands. There were five or six cinemas. My pals and I favoured the one that showed "continental" films. This was not because we were perceptive critics, but because the films were more risqué and consequently a good place to take girls. The only problem was that the fleas usually outnumbered the audience. Sadly all the cinemas have now gone, replaced by one out of town multiplex. The fleas may have gone but they appear to have taken the European films with them.”

Nanni Moretti
Diario di uno spettatore (Diary of a Movie-Goer)

“A few cinemas where I’ve seen a few films. Today, some theatres are uglier, some prettier, while others yet have become something altogether different. My way of seeing films might have changed, but fortunately I still have the same feeling of curiosity about seeing those of others.”

Roman Polanski
Cinéma érotique

“Since Two Men and a Wardrobe, I haven’t touched the short film. I’ve lost my hand!”

RaoulRuiz
Le don (The gift)

“A three-minute film whose running-time is in fact an essential part of the story.”

Walter Salles
À 8944 km de Cannes (5,557 Miles from Cannes)

“A country without cinema is like a house without mirror,” declares Luis Carlos Barreto, producer of Glauber Rocha and Nelson Pereira dos Santos. To Each His Cinema, to each his national identity.

Elia Suleiman
Irtebak (Awkward)

“Awkward is a "making-of". Not the making of a film, but a filmmaker's awkward paranoia in the aftermath of making one.”

Tsai Ming-Liang
It’s a Dream (C’est un rêve)

“The old cinemas of my childhood have long been demolished and nothing remains of them. They only come back occasionally to entice my spirit, as if calling me to return to the warmth of its old days.”

Gus Van Sant
First Kiss (Premier baiser)

“When I heard about this project, the Bagdad Theater in Portland, Oregon immediately came to mind. It's an ornate, grandiose, old-fashioned theatre with an Arabian Nights theme, built in the 1920's — the kind of theatre they don’t build anymore. My Own Private Idaho opened there, too, so it had a lot of personal relevance for me.”

Lars Von Trier
Occupations

“Occupations is most probably the shortest film I’ve made.”

Wim Wenders
In the fall of 2006 I spent several weeks in a remote town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, way down the Congo river, in the province of Katanga. The place was called Kabalo, and Joseph Conrad’s novel "Heart of Darkness" is supposed to take place here. This is in fact where Marlow meets the ominous Mr. Kurtz. I went there to shoot a documentary for “Médecins sans frontiers”, on the subject of violence against women. (The film called Invisibles consists of 5 contributions by 5 directors, and was produced by Javier Bardem.) I had never been to Central Africa before. I had never been to a place that radically cut off from the world: No more roads are leading to Kabalo. The ships on the mighty river had all been destroyed, and here and there you could see their rusty carcasses sticking out of the water. There are only two train engines left for an area as big as central Europe, and they service the largely defunct rail network on an utterly erratic schedule. There is still a dilapidated train station in Kabalo, a remnant from a glorious past when lots of trains were departing here every day to the east and west, the south and the north of the province. Today the town is without electricity. The main street of Kabalo is still lined by a row of elegant street lamps, but for decades already they are no longer shining. There is no more running water either, except for the river water, and people drink it straight from its muddy banks. Most brick buildings are destroyed and have caved in. The hospital is kept alive by MSF, and their generators allowed us to recharge our camera batteries. The most striking impression right from the beginning: Even if there was so much to do here, nobody seemed to be working but the women. And they indeed worked hard from early morning to late evening. They walked miles to get the water. They collected the firewood to cook. They worked the fields to harvest the sparse crops. They walked long distances to reach the market. They took care of the children. Where were the men? I saw them lie in hammocks. I saw them play soccer or basketball in the late afternoon. I saw them hang around on the street corners, driving on bicycles and some highly privileged ones even showing off their motorbikes. None of them seemed preoccupied with any work. One day I found the "Cine Video". It was the ruin of a former colonial building. In the backyard a tiny generator produced an aggressive buzzing sound. Out in front some men played cards or backgammon. Inside in the dark sat all the men I had been looking for. They were watching movies, played on a crummy TV set from a DVD player that were both powered by the generator. (Also, while the men were watching films, that generator charged a line-up of about 30 or 40 mobile phones.) Which films were they watching? Out in front I found the program for the week handwritten onto a blackboard. War movies formed the bulk of the list. Some karate films, some violent action movies, but most of all these men were watching war! Most of them had never known anything else, the kids in the first rows were born into the war, and now that there was peace, finally, they all sat there, mesmerised, taking in the war action with a form of stoical obsession. I had never understood or witnessed so clearly and directly how films are able to accommodate needs. Or better: how they can feed an addiction and supply some strange substitute life. In this case it was not life, though, that cinema promoted but a disturbing propensity for death and destruction that had a firm grasp on these men and rendered them unable to see the actual needs of their own world. We shot a screening of Black Hawk Down in the total darkness of the Ciné Vidéo using infrared light. Nobody noticed us with our cameras. The grown-up men as well as the kids were in the firm grip of an everlasting war.

Wong Kar Wai
I travelled 9,000 km to give it to you (J’ai fait 9 000 km…)

“Cinema can be the citric scent of a peeled orange, the touch of warm skin through a silk stocking; or simply a darkened space bathed in anticipation.”

Zhang Yimou
En regardant le film (Movie Night)

“Whenever thinking about watching movies as a child, I could never remember what it was that I watched, only recalling the expectation and joy!”

Thursday, March 20, 2008

AFC Cinema Data 2007 Summary

From the AFC's latest newsletter:

RECENT HIGHLIGHTS

RELEASE OF AUSTRALIAN TITLES

Box office: In 2007 Australian-produced features accounted for a 4 per cent share ($36 million) of the Australian box office, a decrease from 4.6 per cent ($40 million) in 2006.

Top five titles in 2007: Happy Feet was again the top grossing Australian film in 2007, adding a further $20.7m to its $11.1m earned in 2006. Romulus, My Father followed ($2.6m) with Rogue ($1.8m), Bra Boys ($1.7m) and Razzle Dazzle: A Journey into Dance ($1.6m) rounding out the top five.

CINEMA INDUSTRY

Screens and theatres:The number of cinema screens in Australia has risen by 134 per cent between 1980 and 2007, from 829 to 1,941. Following several years of gradual growth, 2007 recorded the first fall in screen numbers since 1987, down 1 per cent on 2006.

Films screened: The vast majority (63 per cent) of films screened in Australian cinemas over the past 24 years have come from the US. However, in 2007 the US proportion was under 56 per cent for the third year in a row (172 out of a total of 317 films). Local titles comprised 8 per cent of films screened in 2007, just under the 24-year average of 9 per cent.

Box office: The gross box office rose to $895.4 million in 2007, a 3 per cent increase from $866.6 million in 2006. Admission numbers also rose in 2007 to 84.7 million. Films released through Roadshow/Warner Bros earned the largest share of the Australian box office in 2007 – 24 per cent, up from 20 per cent the previous year – with gross takings of $212 million.

Top films: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the highest grossing film at the Australian box office in 2007 with earnings of $35,527,464, followed by Shrek The Third, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, The Simpsons Movie and Transformers. Happy Feet ranked eighth.

For a full list of updates to the screens and theatres, films screened, top titles and box office sections, visit What’s New.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Week in Review

It's been all French this week.

FILMS:
Azur et Azmar (Azur and Azmar, Michel Ocelot, France, 2006)
Après lui (After Him, Gaël Morel, France, 2007)
J'attends quelqu'un (Waiting For Someone, Jérôme Bonnell, France, 2007)
Naissance des pieuvres (Water Lilies, Céline Sciamma, France, 2007)
Pom, le poulain (Pom, Olivier Ringer, France, 2007)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

French Film Festival 4

So the second weekend of the French Film Festival draws to a close, and with it the opportunities for me to see much more. Mind you, there's another four days of screenings, but I've seen all but one film I intended. I still want to see Anna M. tomorrow evening, but with 36 degrees forecast, I might not make it.

I've seen 11 films this year (counting the Lamorisse shorts as one), one less than last year (so maybe I really should get to Anna M.). The overall standard of what I've seen is about the same as last year, though nothing this year matched the amazing Nue propriété (Private Property). The pick for me this year was L'année suivante (The Year After), at least as far as adult films are concerned. An unexpected surprise was Azur et Asmar, a remarkable animated film suitable for children of all ages as much as adults. I rate it my no.2 favourite children's film, just after The Secret of Roan Inish.

Here's my latest reviews:
  • Chacun son cinéma (To Each His Own Cinema, Various, France, 2007)
  • Après lui (After Him, Gaël Morel, France, 2007)
  • Les chansons d'amour (Love Songs, Christophe Honoré, France, 2007)
  • Pom, le poulain (Pom, Olivier Ringer, France, 2007)

Chacun son cinéma
I ordered the DVD of this omnibus film last year via Amazon France, not long after it screened at Cannes. It was especially commissioned to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, and consists of 33 short films by directors of various repute (most of them are well-known and highly regarded). I really loved this the first time I saw it; it brought a tear or two to my eye to see how different stalwarts of the film industry were able to convey in three minutes what the significance of cinema was for him or her. I include 'her', but strangely there is only one female director (Jane Campion) out of the whole collection, and I don't think I'd be alone in saying it was one of the weaker pieces.

It was great to have the opportunity to see this film on the big screen. Madman will be distributing it sometime, but the word is that it will go straight to DVD. That's understandable as I don't think it will have as broad appeal as say, Paris je t'aime did. Paris is a more attractive sell to mainstream audiences than what amounts to essays by auteurs on cinema. For cinephiles, though, who recognise many of the names, the film has tremendous appeal. The format of 33 x 3 minute shorts is conducive for DVD, so hopefully it'll do well.

There were many moments in the film that brought tears to my eyes. Often this was when all we could see was the teary-eyed and illuminated faces of those watching the big screen themselves, absorbed in what they're seeing. There's three segments that didn't make it to the French DVD, those by David Lynch, Zhang Yimou and the Coen brothers. The other contributors are: Raymond Depardon, Takeshi Kitano, Theodoros Angelopoulos, Andrei Konchalovsky, Nanni Moretti, Hsiao-hsien Hou, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Amos Gitai, Jane Campion, Atom Egoyan, Aki Kaurismäki, Olivier Assayas, Youssef Chahine, Ming-liang Tsai, Lars von Trier, Raoul Ruiz, Claude Lelouch, Gus Van Sant, Roman Polanski, Michael Cimino, David Cronenberg, Kar Wai Wong, Abbas Kiarostami, Bille August, Elia Suleiman, Manoel de Oliveira, Walter Salles, Wim Wenders, Kaige Chen and Ken Loach.

My favourites are:
  • Cinéma de Boulevard (Claude Lelouch)
    The director traces his love for cinema by recreating various milestones: from the courtship of his parents, to hiding in the cinema during Nazi occupied Paris, to studying film. I loved the credits at the end: Merci maman, merci papa.
  • Where is My Romeo? (Abbas Kiarostami)
    This is typically simple Kiarostami: a collage of faces, all women and all with tears running down their faces, are viewed as they stare at the screen and we hear the final moments of Romeo and Juliet. The final frame depicts an elderly woman, probably the 'Mrs. Kheradmand' who is shown thanks at the bottom of the screen.
  • 47 ans après (47 Years Later, Youssef Chahine)
    Chahine recreates his first appearance at Cannes in 1950, when he was a nobody and could scarcely attract a dozen words in all the French papers combined. Jump to 1997, and actual footage was shown of Chahine receiving the Cannes 50th anniversary special prize to great acclaim. His words of acceptance: "to the young directors of the world, perservere. It's worth it." As an aside, Gus Van Sant last year won the 60th anniversary special prize.
  • At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World (David Cronenberg)
    Cronenberg is the only character in this satirical look at reality TV. He doesn't speak a word, that's left to voiceover by two characters who treat the event of the suicide of the last Jew in the world in the last cinema in the world as just another live reality event.
  • Anna (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
    Closeup of a woman's face, tears running from her eyes (a common theme, evidently). Her boyfriend is explaining something on screen and she goes outside to light a cigarette. The boyfriend comes out and consoles her; she's obviously blind. Iñárritu continues his theme of communication. And even a blind person can be moved to tears by cinema.
  • Dans l'obscurité (In the Dark, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
    A handbag thief finds he must give something in return.


After Him
Having Christophe Honoré as a co-writer might suggest a gritty and challenging story. The premise is tantalising enough: a woman (Catherine Deneuve) loses her twenty-year old son in a car accident and finds herself obsessed with his best friend, Franck (Thomas Dumerchez), who was driving the car. While the film has good elements, I was disappointed with the whole.

There was no one major flaw for me, but a string of them that prevented me from accepting the premise. I just couldn't suspend disbelief and I ended up seeing actors on the screen rather than being drawn into their world.

First up, the film seems like a vehicle for Deneuve's star-power (she is a major celebrity in France. Her performance is very convincing at times (though not always) and I say that as someone who has lost a son. The first distraction comes when it is mentioned that Deneuve's character, Camille, was 20-years old when she had her first child, Laure (Élodie Bouchez), yet Deneuve is clearly 30 years older (and a quick look on IMDb confirms it). This might sound like a small detail, but it made me start to doubt the integrity of the film.

I then started to notice overt contrivances like the way in Franck was despised on the day of the funeral, and the way in which Camille defended him. Camille's response to Franck was contrasted with the attitude of her ex-husband, François (Guy Marchand), again without subtlety. I could have forgiven each of the above, but then the director's camera devices kept intruding, which pretty much lost me. There were too many crane shots and other clever techniques that kept screaming out "look how clever I am". I want a film to be more transparent with its manipulation. I can imagine the target Como cinema demographic congratulating themselves on having seen a gritty French film, but it left me cold.

Love Songs
After Christophe Honoré's really ambitious Ma mère (My Mother) - psychologically and emotionally the most shocking film I have seen - I've been keen to see anything by him. I'd also like to revisit his Dans Paris (Inside Paris) which screened at last year's French Film Festival. I found it well-made, but it didn't engage me at the time.

Alas, Love Songs was another disappointment for me. It's been the best part of a week since I saw it, and I find it a struggle to recall much about it. I found the themes of ambiguous love and sexuality a little laboured compared to Honoré's earlier films, and the singing detracted, giving a showy theatrical element. It reminded me of a device that distracted me in Dans Paris, when one of the brothers directly addresses the audience.


Pom, le poulain
Watching Pom, le poulain with my seven-year old son, I was struck at what a classic and almost-lost genre this film is, at least in the English language. It harks back to the golden days of Disney films of my childhood, conjuring images of Black Beauty and Lassie - stories where an animal is the centre of the story. Films like these are rarely made these days.

Pom, le poulain - foal means foal - is classic in its style of innocence. It is contrived at times (mostly with the use of good/evil stereotypes), but in a way that is enjoyable for children (pre-school and primary school-age) and acceptable to parents.

Mirabelle is the strongest and most reliable of a team of draught horses who, during an accident kicks the boss' son in the head, and is consequently sent away to the protest of the workers. Pom is Mirabelle's foal and loses his will to live in separation from his mother. The film recounts the various experiences of Mirabelle and Pom as they struggle to reunite (and of course, the parents all know they will). I found it enjoyable enough, and it was a nice bonding experience to have my son crying and holding on to me. Hehe, and you thought I wasn't sentimental. He loved it.

French Film Festival 3

The latest news from the French Film Festival is that Catherine Deneuve will be in town on Tuesday to introduce her latest film, Après lui (After Him). It screens at 8pm. I've seen the film, but haven't had a chance to post anything about it here yet. In short, it has some good aspects, including Deneuve's performance, but it didn't quite work for me. I do think many others will be more impressed by it than me. More to come. Below are reviews of:
  • L'année suivante (The Year After, Isabelle Czajka, France, 2006)
  • J'attends quelqu'un (Waiting For Someone, Jérôme Bonnell, France, 2007)
  • Naissance des pieuvres (Water Lilies, Céline Sciamma, France, 2007)
  • Faut que ça danse ! (Gotta Dance!, Noémie Lvovsky, France/Switzerland, 2007)
The Year After
This has been my favourite film of the festival so far (other than Azur et Asmar, that is). It embodies what I love most about French cinema - the ability to take a small story about everyday people, and make it compelling. I think what I like about this type of film has a lot to do with what I consider important about cinema in general. We all lead such busy lives that our emotions are often pushed into the background. Seeing on-screen the plight of others helps me to connect with my own feelings. It reminds me of when my marriage ended some years ago, and the ensuing trauma. As I started to heal, I realised that feeling emotions, even the painful ones, is a good thing. To feel is to be alive. To not feel is to be numb, emotionally dead.

This film depicts 16-year old Emmanuelle (or Manu, played by Anaïs Demoustier) whose father dies from an unspecified illness early in the film. Demoustier steals the show in this fascinating and convincing portrait of teenage grief, while the wonderful Ariane Ascarides is used with restraint as Manu's mother. Ascarides is the wife of Robert Guédiguian, and usually plays the lead in his films.

The film is almost devoid of music, which has a sobering effect on the feel of the film. Manu is struggling to come to terms with her loss, while at the same time coming into conflict with her mother. The mother wants to sell the apartment, to start a new life, but Manu is aghast that the reminders of her father's existence will be lost. Concurrently, Manu is confused about her career path and the choices that need to be made at school. The performances are riveting and so oozing with authenticity that I found myself emotionally drawn into the world of Manu.

When I think of Australian cinema and the roles children and young adults get to play, it seems a whole world away from the depth of acting and opportunities that exist for the French market. This film is highly recommended.

Waiting For Someone
This film has a really apt title, something that enhances my appreciation of it. In this sense only, it reminds me of The Beat My Heart Skipped, although both films feature Emmanuelle Devos, an actress that has a quietly intense on-screen presence. She simultaneously looks ordinary yet incredibly beautiful in a non-conventional manner. Needless to say, I enjoy seeing her in a film.

This is an ensemble film, set in a small-to-medium-sized town, with a number of characters whose lives intersect, though not always overtly. The story is about loneliness and the search for love and emotional connection. There is Devos' character, Agnès, a school teacher, her unemployed husband, her brother Louis (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), their mother with dementia, a prostitute, a former student of Agnès who has been away for some time, and a dog.

The film is largely observational, depicting the nuances and ambivalence within human relationships that feels authentic. The film ambles along at its own pace and is always engaging. While there is a bitter-sweet aspect to the depiction of relationships, there is a slight frivolous aspect that involves the dog and a woman with three white terriers that I found enjoyable.

The film is insightful rather than profound, both entertaining and moving. It's the type of film I'd have thought would have a broad appeal in arthouse cinemas in this country, intelligent and well-made without going stupid like many French films that get a release here. I'd go to more French films during the year if they were like this.

Water Lilies
Water Lilies is intelligent film and has what the recent raft of Australian coming-of-age stories lack: an underlying realism. It seems aimed more at an adult audience and I wonder how a teenage audience would respond to it. Or whether it found a teenage audience in France.

The story revolves around a petite 15-year old, Marie (Pauline Acquart). It involves her friend, Anne (Louise Blachère), a member of a synchronised swimming team, and the captain of the team, Floriane (Adele Haenel). The film is basically a depiction of teenage exploration of sexuality and identity, friendship and love. There are some parallels with American Beauty, though that film could never have gotten away with the teenage nudity in this film. But it's not as gritty as say, a Larry Clark film. Of some note, this film is directed by a woman, Céline Sciamma.

The film completely dispenses with parents, a device of convenience, I suspect, to avoid complicating the film with other issues. The focus is clearly on Marie, her friends and their sexuality and friendship. The cinematography is beautiful and the combination of that and the music remind me of someone I can't recall. It's not unlike Van Sant's recent films in some respects but vastly different in others.

The three main characters were all convincing and the story is well-written. It's another example of a small story that the French are often so good at.

Gotta Dance!
Marketed as a comedy, I didn't have high expectations of this film, but it's definitely a cut or more above the typical French comedy that makes it to our shores. I won't call it intelligent, but it isn't stupid like most of them. It looks good, has some good characters, but for me is just a bit of light entertainment that is instantly forgettable. It's more something to see for entertainment without insulting your intelligence.