Monday, March 30, 2009

The Week in Review - 29/3/09

  • Elegy (Isabelle Coixet, USA, 2008)
  • Knowing (Alex Proyas, Australia, 2009)
  • The Combination (David Field, Australia, 2009)

I saw this at a MIFF member's preview screening. This is a good opportunity to plug MIFF membership, which I find excellent value. There's at least 8 preview screenings in a year, and as these entitle one to bring a guest, this pretty much covers the cost of membership alone. The missus is also a member, so when there's screenings of two films and one has to decide between one or the other, I get a double pass to one and she gets a double pass to the other. So that's over a dozen films a year for two. Just this week I won an online competition and received a DVD copy of The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, just released by Shock. On top of all this, and perhaps most importantly, MIFF members also get priority queuing at the festival. MIFF is just around the corner, so if you're thinking about it, now is a good time to sign up.

With Knowing, Proyas has aimed low in terms of conventional disaster constructs. You know, everything is stereotyped and you know not to be too critical, it's just a 'movie'. Still, there's some outstanding moments and sequences, such as the actual disasters. The visuals and sound are quite thrilling and, if you're going to see it, it's really worth seeing on a big screen like the one I did (Melbourne Central's cinema 11).

The run-time is a bit long and drawn out towards the end. I'm sick of Cage always playing a sad puppy, as he does in this one, though strangely it wasn't too distracting on this occasion. I really do think, though, that he needs to play a different role once in a while. He's also aging to a surprising degree. I don't know how much longer he can play a role like this one.

The premise of the film is interesting and tackles some topical themes. The problem is that it just doesn't do enough with them; intellectually, it doesn't aim very high. In that respect it's a little like Boyle's Sunshine, a film that plays out very differently, and shares some themes.

In recent times, I've become quite cynical about ulterior motives that fuel the whole born-again global warming movement. I believe that human intervention, as destructive as it is, is nothing compared to the effects of the sun. This film alludes to that, an aspect that I find current and thought-provoking.

As a Melbournian, it was interesting doing some location spotting. A kid at the start of the film is a friend of my son's and is was fun having my son recognise him and see his name in the credits. It was a blast seeing Southbank and Parliament House, the most recognisable scenes. There were also some scenes that were shot in my local area.

I found myself thinking about how certain effects were achieved, like all the cars being left-hand drive. I think they used reversed number plates, then reversed the print for the screen - a pretty cheap and simple trick to make it look like it was filmed in the US. However, I did recognise one Victorian number plate with the blue triangle shape.

Dark City remains Proyas' best film easily; everything else he has made since has been competent enough, but safe. Knowing is enjoyable enough, just make sure you go in with low expectations.

The Combination
The Combination is the directorial debut for David Field, a familiar local face on both the small and big screen. Field commonly plays a petty crim (Everynight, Everynight...) or low-life loser (Tom White, Silent Partner), so it's no surprise that he's picked up a few lessons from directors like Alkinos Tsilimidos (who directed each of the three afore-mentioned films). He's also taken advantage of highly experienced craftsmen like Ken Sallows (editor) and Toby Oliver (my favourite Australian cinematographer). The screenplay was written by George Basha, who also plays the lead role. John is a 'Lebo' in Sydney, just released from prison to find his younger brother Charlie following in his footsteps. John is determined not just to make a life for himself, but to ensure Charlie doesn't fall in with the wrong crowd.

The film looks very good and is certainly aided by the experienced crew. The themes are recognisable and while there's a sense that we've seen this sort of thing before, it mostly takes us with it. What the film does best is document the lives of very real people of an ethnic community from within. The clash of cultures is a theme that has a lot of resonance for me and parts of the film reminded me of this element in Ana Kokkinos' Head On, not that Field's film is quite as accomplished as that.

The film tackles some challenging themes: racism, Islam in contemporary society, inter-racial relationships, crime and family. Basha's screenplay is generally good but not uniformly successful. He mostly steers away from clichés, though it sometimes gets close. Things don't always pan out as expected, but the end seems a little too staged.

Exhibiting on only a small number of screens, I understand the film has done quite well for its scale. It's a film that deserves to be seen, but it's certainly not for the masses. Particularly with its references to the race riots in Sydney a few years ago, it's a film that can only grow in significance as an historical document over time.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Rumour

At the media preview of the Festival of German Films this week, I heard from a Turkish friend that there will this year be a Turkish Film Festival screening eight films at ACMI over a few days (a week, perhaps?). Now, Turkish cinema can be hit and miss, and some of it is less than ordinary. But then, Turkey has also produced a true auteur, like Nuri Bilge Ceylan, director of sublime films like Climates and Three Monkeys. I believe that the latter film (one of my favourites of MIFF 2008) will be screening and rumour has it that Ceylan may himself attend the festival. From memory, I believe the festival will be in April or May.

Ceylan has a remarkable eye for visuals, though his contemplative, slow-burn dramas aren't everyone's cup of tea. It's no surprise that he has a long background in stills photography, which reminds me of the photographic work of Abbas Kiarostami, that featured in last year's ACMI exhibition of Kiarostami and Erice. Check out Ceylan's photographic work on his website. Here's a sample, Rough Sea (2007).

[Update 29/3/09]
Thanks to Simon de Bruyn, who has brought to my attention an Inside Film article that confirms some of the above:

Melbourne will play host to the first Melbourne Turkish Film Festival presented by The Republic of Turkey Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Antalya Culture and Arts Foundation together with ACMI, Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

Running between 19–24 April, this debut event will screen a selection from the latest international award winning films to the cult classics from Turkey’s cinema vaults. Through film, universal issues and human emotions will be explored in intriguing Turkish contexts.

Check out the full article. There's no mention of Ceylan appearing, though my source mentioned it's up in the air - he's a man in demand.

The Melbourne Turkish Film Festival website is down at this moment, but I've ascertained the following program info, which includes Ceylan's excellent Three Monkeys. Note the very reasonable ticket prices:

Sunday 19, April 2009
Opening Night
7.30pm Autumn/Sonbahar (private screening)

Monday 20, April 2009
7.15pm Alone/Issız Adam

Tuesday 21, April 2009
7.15pm Milk/Süt

Wednesday 22, April 2009
5.30pm The Girl With The Red Scarf /Selvi Boylum Al Yazmalım
8.00pm Three Monkeys/Űç Maymun

Thursday 23, April 2009
5.30pm Dry Summer/Susuz Yaz
8.00pm Dilber’s Eight Days/Dilberi’in Sekiz Günü

Friday 24, April 2009
Closing Night
7.00pm Pandora’s Box/Pandora’nın Kutusu (private screening)

General admission $10
Concession $8
3 Films Pass $20
Gold Pass $55 (excludes opening and closing night films)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Elegy (Isabelle Coixet, USA, 2008)
Isabelle Coixet's Elegy looks like it wants to be profound, it looks like it could have been a good piece but ultimately, it's a clunky, clumsy film that insists on drawing attention to all its many faults. David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) is an author and literary academic who prides himself on his sexual conquests of his young female students, until along comes the beautiful and classy Consuela (Penélope Cruz).

The film is concerned with beauty, fidelity, sexuality, aging, and death, i.e., pretty much all the big issues. The issues are tackled in a fairly heavy-handed manner, underscored by a less than subtle narration by Kingsley. It all feels contrived, melodramatic and theatrical, betraying its literary source material (Philip Roth's novel, Dying Animal). I haven't read the book and have no idea how faithfully it follows it, but it just seems to speak a different language. It's feels like a book translation rather than a cinematic event.

Cruz is actually a major distraction, whose casting seems to be pure exploitation of her celebrity, much as Catherine Deneuve was in After Him (Après lui). The film keeps telling us how beautiful she is when, quite honestly, I can't see it (and nor do I need to be told). It reminds me of the marketing of Julia Roberts. That Cruz gets top billing when Kingsley's character is the most prominent (the whole story is from his perspective) and he is the senior performer makes no sense. Coixet makes sure we get ample sighting of Cruz's breasts, which really are nothing special. It all seems a tad gratuitous.

The support cast looks good on paper, but none of the significant names seemed to be used to good effect: Patricia Clarkson's and Peter Sarsgaard's roles both seemed to be included to be true to the novel (not that I've read it; I'm just making an educated assumption here) but both their roles distracted from the main story. Deborah Harry also has a small role of little consequence.

The most convincing and interesting role, albeit short, is Dennis Hopper's George O'Hearn. O'Hearn is a Pulitzer prize-winning author, confidante, squash partner and sexual partner-in-crime of David. Hopper plays the role with more restraint than we're accustomed to, an intelligent, well-spoken man with a taste for young women.

Coixet was the principal camera operator which gives her no-one to blame but herself for the film's terribly distracting hand-held camera work. I often had to look away from the screen and watch with my peripheral vision, mostly at times when there was absolutely no need for it. Call it designer shake, but it takes me right out of the story.

Ultimately, the major failing of the film is a very week screenplay. It's inconsistent and doesn't maintain drama that the anguished characters should have been able to raise. The story gives a sense of self-importance but ends feeling hollow. I imagine it will be well-received by middle-class middle-aged arthouse audiences who will just love the play on sentimentality. After Coixet's not-too-bad My Life Without Me, it left me completely disappointed.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wendy and Lucy

Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, USA, 2008)
Wendy and Lucy is a beautiful, moving film. We are lucky to have the opportunity to see a film of this calibre outside of a festival. On the strength of Kelly Reichardt’s sublime Old Joy, I’d been anticipating its release since MIFF nearly a year ago and it doesn’t disappoint.

In a sense, Kelly Reichardt subverts the film-making process. She not only demonstrates that money need not be an obstacle to telling a compelling story, but that there is a story to be told in the most everyday of situations. Wendy and Lucy is the story of a young woman and her dog. En route to Alaska in search of a job, Wendy’s car breaks down and is subsequently separated from her dog, Lucy.

The film captures with great emotional impact, the struggles of Wendy to deal with the situations she finds herself in. Small, seemingly innocuous actions have major ramifications. People can be harsh, indifferent or unexpectedly kind and the film captures the nuances of these different aspects with warmth and compassion for the characters.

Wendy is living on the margins of society. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot separating her from a lucrative job up north, homelessness, jail or mental illness. For you and I, we may not think twice about say, buying a coffee. For Wendy, however, every penny counts.

Michelle Williams is in virtually every shot and really shines, though there’s nothing grandstanding about her role at all. Rather, it’s a nuanced performance with minimal dialogue, where her increasingly dire situation is deduced by her budgeting notes and unexpected expenses. Walter Dalton performance as a shopping mall security guard is also excellent. As an aside I noticed with some interest that Gabe Nevins, who plays the lead character in Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, has a small incidental role.

The film’s visuals are gorgeous, not dissimilar to Old Joy. As an amateur photographer, I appreciate Kelly’s observational style and framing. She uses static shots frequently, interspersed with tracking shots, a mix that is aesthetically very pleasing and subtly adds to the story-telling.

On a superficial level there’s not a whole lot happening in Wendy and Lucy. Deeper though, there’s much to experience and relish, and words don’t do it justice. It just has to be seen. Highly recommended.

Wendy and Lucy opens this Thursday and is screening exclusively at the Nova.

The Week in Review - 22/3/09

It's been a while, but The Week in Review is back, albeit brief. Not a lot of film-viewing this week: I was sick for a couple of days, during which time I bought a large flat-screen TV. I don't expect to watch much more than the piddling amount of DVDs that I do now (yes, I'm a big screen purist, as much as possible), but at least when I do, I'll have a decent widescreen TV to watch it on.

  • La vie moderne (Modern Life, Raymond Depardon, France, 2008)
  • Sommarnattens leende (Smiles of a Summer Night, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1955)
  • Nattvardsgästerna (Winter Light, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1963)
  • Finding Forrester (Gus Van Sant, USA, 2000)
Modern Life
This quiet little documentary screened at the French Film Festival. I've seen a number of films at the festival and regret not having posted about them yet. I hope to rectify that soon and will include more on this film, I thoroughly enjoyed.

Smiles of a Summer Night
I have enough respect now for Bergman that I want to see everything he's done. While this film is enjoyable enough, it's not exactly a major work.

Winter Light
But this one is. It seems to encapsulate everything that Bergman is about, covering many of his big themes like love (or the lack of it), death, god (and the questioning of his existence), death and the meaning of life. Bleak, existentialist, nihilistic even, it doesn't offer much hope to humanity. In its own way, it mirrors the despair that human beings often find themselves in. Depending on one's viewpoint, the film could be seen to be misogynistic or misandristic, though I think Bergman is neither. He just calls it as he sees it, and I think he sees it as it is.

Finding Forrester
I didn't think much of the look of this film when it was first released, but have since become a bit of a Van Sant fan. It was inevitable that I'd watch this sooner or later, and a bout of sickness afforded that opportunity. My original perceptions were right, but it's still worth watching in the context of Van Sant. I don't think much of the story, which is very conventional. But then Van Sant made this as a director for hire, as far as I can tell. It's not really his film per se. It's interesting to see what he has done with it. But I don't think I'll be watching it again in a hurry.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Change of Plans - pt.3

In Part 1, I describe how on Monday 12 January 2009, 100 metres from my destination, a delivery van's changing lanes without looking and without indicating, side-swiped my motorcycle. I lost control, hitting a street sign and was thrown to the ground while the bike continued up the footpath and hit a pedestrian.

In Part 2, I describe my experiences from the time the ambulance arrived until I arrived at St. Vincent's Hospital.

I was initially pleased that my expensive protective gear was removed without the need for cutting. It turns out that it didn't really matter because, other than the boots, it all needs to be replaced. The pants came off in the ambulance, but the jacket had to wait due to concerns about possible spinal damage and the pain in my right arm. It took quite a bit of manipulation to eventually get it off.

Anyone buying a motorcycle or scooter should consider full gear an intrinsic part of the initial cost*. Too many unnecessary injuries are sustained when unprotected riders are involved in accidents. Without my gear, I would have shattered my knee, fractured my shin and probably fractured my elbow and shoulder. The armour in each of these parts protected me. Heavily bruised, yes, but at the end of the day, I miraculously walked out of hospital in one piece.

The “change of plans” was at 8am; I was admitted to the emergency ward of St. Vincent's around 8.30am. About 9am, I called the missus, something I'd been dreading. A nurse could have phoned at my request, but I knew she'd freak to get that call. I devised a plan - not that I gave it much thought.

If I told Zoe straight off what had happened, she'd panic and maybe go hysterical. I just spoke casually, as if I was OK, and in a sense I was. At least I was in one piece and alert. “Hi”, I said, “what are you doing?”, small chit-chat like that. She later told me that at the time she thought it was really sweet: my first day back at work and I was missing her already... or so she thought.

After a few minutes, I said “I'm lying down right now”. “Why?” she asked, thinking it odd, but that maybe I was taking it easy at work. “Don't panic, but I've had a bit of an accident and I'm in hospital”. It worked. She could tell that everything seemed OK. She didn't freak and calmly ascertained where I was and said she was coming in with the kid, Alexander. Phew, that was a relief, though there was still Alexander to allay.

Zoe told him only that Dad wasn't feeling well and we'll go see him in hospital. In the car, he started conjecturing, “Maybe he’s had a heart attack”, but then “nuh, he wouldn't have had a heart attack”. He mentioned various scenarios like this, and it wasn't until he saw me that he found out. In fact, he became angry with his mum for “lying”, though I later explained it wasn't lying, but rather “Mum didn't want you to worry, thinking things were worse than they are”.

I knew it would be disturbing for Alexander to see his Dad like this. I made a point of reassuring him and playing down the situation, saying everything was fine, nothing was broken, just lots of bruises. I joked to assuage his fears and for now, the approach appeared successful.

Pain was everywhere, though my adrenaline insulated me from the worst of it. Asked by a nurse to place the pain on a scale from 1 to 10, I said 4 to 7, depending. Pain-killers were offered but declined. In fact, I was asked every hour or more, and I kept declining. For now, it was manageable. I'd take them if it got too bad.

Obs (observations) were regularly monitored. Every hour, it was the same thing (or a permutation of it). What's your name? What's today's date? The year? Where are you? What happened? They'd check my eyes, blood pressure, once they took a urine test and a blood test. Do you want pain-killers? No. Are you sure? Yes. Did I want a tetanus shot? No.

Needles freak me out, however in my state, the anxiety of being a burden to others was more than I could bear. Incapacitated, my life was entirely in their hands. I just wanted to be a good patient and make their lives as easy as possible. I soon succumbed to the tetanus shot and later, when a nurse explained that I shouldn't wait until the pain became unbearable, I also took the pain-killers. I felt much better after that.

The priority was to check for fractures. My knees were X-rayed, and X-rayed again. My neck was X-rayed then CT scanned, then a CT scan of my brain. The thoroughness was reassuring as each result came back positive. This sounds so efficient, but every activity has multiple steps, each requiring considerable waiting. I would wait in the emergency ward on my trolley until a machine was soon to become available. Then an orderly takes me to that area where I wait again. When my turn comes I'm wheeled in, scanned and come back to the waiting area where I wait for the orderly to return me to the ward. Repeat over and over again for each scan: waiting, waiting and more waiting as cases are prioritised. Not that I'm complaining, because as a road trauma victim, I was high priority and fortunately, it wasn’t a busy morning on the ward. Walk-in patients get frustrated at the delays, but it's reassuring as an emergency patient that you're seen promptly.

Zoe went to buy lunch and Alexander accompanied me for the knee X-rays, but had to wait by himself when I went into the X-ray room. I had intended to have breakfast at work, so by 1pm when she returned I hadn't eaten for 19 hours. I felt hungry, which was a good sign. Zoe brought me a salad sandwich, cut it up into small pieces and hand-fed me while I lay on my back in the neck brace. I drank in the same manner; it's a damn weird experience and I never thought it possible.

At this stage (and for a few days to come), it was very painful to lie down or get up. Each time I did either, I required assistance and had massive dizzy spells, as if I was Alice in Wonderland falling down an endless rabbit hole. It was very freaky.

My right knee was comfortable in no position and I kept moving my leg into different positions, something I'd been doing since landing on the pavement. It wasn't until I received the results of an MRI scan another three weeks later that I learnt that I'd torn my posterior cruciate ligament.

Finally around 2pm, the neck X-ray came back OK and, to my enormous relief, the brace was removed. I can't tell you how incapacitated I felt with it on. Until then, I presumed that I would be spending days in hospital recovering but, to my surprise, the staff soon started talking about releasing me. The idea of going home hadn't occurred to me and I felt anxious at the thought. I don't know why; maybe it was the thought of fending for myself in this beaten-up state.

Around this time, I dropped a bombshell. I hadn't told anyone that my vision was impaired. I initially presumed it was just a case of “seeing stars”, but now that release was being discussed, I really needed to tell someone that something wasn’t right.

It wasn't exactly stars I was seeing. When looking at the fluoro light above me, the long straight line of the fitting wasn't straight at all; it was totally jagged. When looking at the bay numbers opposite me, there were two identical lights with "6". With my head in a fixed position, each number was distorted in a different way.

The best description of what I was experiencing was that with one eye closed, and looking at a fixed object, an area just to the side of my central vision looked like "beam me up, Scottie" in Star Trek (a fluttering silvery effect). That was my repeated description with different medical people over many days to come. In my left eye, the effect was left of centre, and in the right eye, the area was right of centre. Thank god we have two eyes, because each eye compensated for the other, but the overall effect was disconcerting. My left eye had the greater impairment. With my right eye closed, I could read nothing, nothing at all.

This complication delayed my hospital release by another four hours. I was repeatedly tested, inspected and questioned. Nothing appeared to be physically wrong with my eyes, and more than once it was suggested that it was simply my eyes' blind spots. This was no blind spot, this was blind bloody areas!

No brain damage was detected in the CT scan but was the prime suspect to my vision impairment. I'd need an MRI scan of my brain this time, but couldn't get a booking until Wednesday evening (this was Monday 12 January). So the booking was made as an outpatient and I left hospital around 6pm. Outside it was the end of a beautiful warm summer's day, but everything was different. It was a helluva day. But it wasn't over yet.

To be continued.

* My advice on protective gear: don't do it on the cheap. Budget $2,500 and get yourself good gear. I reckon Dainese is best, the armour is the sturdiest and it saved me when I needed it most. Here's an approximate breakdown of costs:
  • $400+ for a decent helmet (mine was around $1,000, with lots of venting and removable padding that can be washed, but you don't need to spend that much);
  • $600 will buy you a good Dainese textile jacket, waterproof with a removable liner, making it suitable for all weather and seasons. I had a Dainese Baker jacket worth $800, but they are no longer available. Get one good jacket, and you won't need separate ones for summer and winter. This high-tech equipment worth its weight in gold. Maybe more.
  • $80 for a back-protector; it slips into a pocket in the jacket.
  • Dainese Galvestone motorcycle pants are fantastic (cost, about $450). You can zip them to your jacket so they're like a one-piece, which helps keep the cold air out in winter. The armour is amazing. My right knee copped a big whack, but the armour shows no signs of damage. They are light and comfortable. Like the jacket, it has a removable liner.
  • My current gloves are also Dainese, but the best I've had were Sidi, which I can't find anymore. Good gloves with carbon fibre knuckle protection are about $200. Ideally, you need a spare pair, for when it gets wet and at least one of them should be water-proof. And at least one pair needs thick insulation for winter. In winter, your hands are the most vulnerable body part to the cold.
  • I bought my Sidi boots in the US for $140 before I bought my first motorbike. They're incredibly light and waterproof. Though they feel like leather, they're synthetic. After five years, three re-soles and a serious collision, they're still holding up strong. Equivalent boots here are about $400 (everything is much cheaper in the US).
You could get all of the above for less than $2,000 if you shop around or, if you feel like lashing out, it could go as high as $3000. You just can't put a dollar amount on the pain, suffering and lost time you could prevent, but if you could, it'd be a helluva lot more than these figures.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wake in Fright to be resurrected

From the SMH:

Classic film raised from its slumber

Garry Maddox
March 11, 2009

THE lost classic Australian film Wake In Fright is set to reach the screen again after a painstaking restoration of material found in more than 260 cans marked "for destruction" in a Pittsburgh vault.

Considered one of the greatest films to be made in this country, the 1971 psychological drama has been notoriously difficult to see for decades. Without a surviving print in good condition, it has not been screened in cinemas, released on video or DVD, and the TV rights have long lapsed.

But the film's editor, the veteran producer Tony Buckley, confirms that the National Film and Sound Archive and the laboratory Atlab have completed a frame-by-frame restoration over 18 months and are waiting for final legal issues to be resolved before the film can reach the screen again.

"It's been digitally restored - it's not a chemical process - that's why it's taken so long. It looks stunning on the screen," he says.

The film centres on a city schoolteacher, played by the little-known English actor Gary Bond, who is confronted with the harshness of Australian life when stranded in a country town. A decidedly unflattering portrait of rural life includes a raucous "six o'clock swill" at a pub and a violent kangaroo hunt.

Also starring in a film that upset Australian audiences but won high praise from critics were Chips Rafferty, Donald Pleasence, John Meillon and a young Jack Thompson.

Buckley started to search for the film's missing negative in the mid-1990s, originally on a promise to one of the film's producers, the late TV star Bobby Limb.

A damaged print with "four nasty joins" was found in Dublin in 2001 but was not in good enough condition for restoration. The real breakthrough came in 2004, when 263 cans of film were rescued from a Pittsburgh archive shortly before they were due to be destroyed.

"We found not only the negative and the soundtrack but also the tri-separations and mixing tracks," Buckley says.

At the time, the senior manager of the archive's collections branch, Meg Labrum, described it as one of the great finds - equal to the discovery that led to the restoration of the silent classic The Sentimental Bloke. Archive representatives will not comment until legal issues are finalised, with the film's ownership passing to a new trust, but two new 35mm prints have been struck.

"It will have a limited theatrical release in the winter, with a DVD release following at the end of the year," Buckley says. He considers Wake In Fright to be "the best film that has been made in Australia" - a sharp portrait of Australian life from an outsider's perspective.

Based on a novel by Kenneth Cook, the film was written by a Jamaican living in London, Evan Jones, and directed by a Canadian, Ted Kotcheff.

When the film was released it was a commercial disappointment. "A lot of people were disgusted with it, but the critiques were sensational," Buckley says. "A lot of people back in 1970 didn't want to recognise the fact that parts of us are really like that. Its portrait of Australia in 1970 was spot on."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Bergman at Cinémathèque

Tomorrow is the start of a three-week season of Bergman, screening at ACMI, starting at 7pm. From Melbourne Cinémathèque:
Ingmar Bergman (1918–2007) is, simply put, one of the cinema’s greatest directors. Incredibly prolific, directing 63 films & TV dramas & over 170 plays & many operas, his influence on modern cinema is inestimable, let alone his impact on the image of Sweden internationally. He turned many great Swedish actors into household names, including Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow & Bibi Andersson, & his bleak & despairing view of the human condition – of death, illness, betrayal & insanity – are widely appreciated. Yet it is his skill as a consummate artist, his eye for the profound image & ear for pithy dialogue, as well as his masterful handling of his performers that makes the experience of watching one of his films an unforgettable one. This brief but incisive season will include several of his greatest films including his first international success (Smiles of a Summer Night), his personal favourite (Winter Light), a couple of his most influential works (The Seventh Seal & The Silence), & a new restoration of what many consider his crowning achievement (Fanny & Alexander).

Ingmar Bergman (1957) 96 mins PG
Apocalyptic morality tale of a knight (Max von Sydow) engaged in a chess game with death. Set in plague ravaged medieval Sweden, Bergman’s most iconic & quoted film is marked by its extraordinarily powerful imagery, its pictorially evocative feeling for the grim reality of the Middle Ages, & an engaging lyricism that has rarely been matched. This film largely introduced Bergman’s work to wider international audiences & remains one of the endearing landmarks of world cinema. Co-Starring Bergman regulars Bibi Andersson & Gunnar Björnstrand. 35mm print courtesy of the Swedish Film Institute.

8:50 THE SILENCE Ingmar Bergman (1963) 95 mins
Ingrid Thulin, a lesbian intellectual, is sexually attracted to her sister, Gunnel Lindblom, a mother with a strong heterosexual appetite. The final film of Bergman’s loose trilogy on faith is one of his most perfectly realised & unadorned films, oppressive in its atmosphere & disquieting in its human implications. Its focus on shifting identity, female sexuality & psychology mark it as an important precursor to his later landmark work Persona.
Preceded by The Dove George Coe & Anthony Lover (1968) 14 mins. A parody of Bergman’s best-known films. Print courtesy of the NFSA.
The following weeks' screenings are:
Ingmar Bergman (1982) 188 mins M

Ingmar Bergman (1955) 108 mins PG
9:00 WINTER LIGHT Ingmar Bergman (1963) 81 mins PG
Preceded by Foto: Sven Nykvist (Bayley Silleck) 28 mins

Sunday, March 01, 2009

French Film Festival 2009 - Preview

The Alliance Française French Film Festival opens in Melbourne this Thursday 5 March with Paris 36 at the Como Cinema. Some 33 or so films will screen until 20 March at four Palace Cinemas locations: Como, Kino, Westgarth and Balwyn. Paris 36 is a musical comedy, not a genre that interests me particularly, but should do well with the Como demographics.

Most years I see about a dozen films at the festival, my favourite festival outside of MIFF. I think the French do cinema better than anyone (and, mind you, as bad as anyone, too). I've spent a bit of time drawing up my list of films to see based on these highly technical prioritisations:
  1. Must-see
  2. Will-see
  3. Might-see
  4. Meh
  5. Avoid
I generally don't give priority to films that I know will have a cinema release. Summer Hours is one of these - it has a 2 April release - but it's also in my list of must-sees. I've already seen and loved it, and I'll probably see it again with the missus, but after the festival. The other films I know that are getting a release are:
Interestingly, all but one film in the festival have an OFLC classification, but seeing as most of them are MA15+ (even films that clearly are not in that category), I'm not sure what that indicates. At least it means that children can get into more films than usual. There's two films specifically targeting children: Astérix at the Olympic Games and U. The former is a fairly stock standard Gérard Depardieu comedy and should entertain the kids OK, but is not particularly engaging for the parents. I might get the missus to take the kid to see it, but I don't know if I could sit through it again. U, on the other hand, looks more interesting and I'll definitely be aiming to take the kid to that.
[Image from U]

1st priority films:A Christmas Tale is by Arnaud Desplechin, whose films featured in an excellent retrospective at Melbourne Cinémathèque last year. Desplechin has a unique cinematic perspective and this film has a lot of buzz surrounding it. Lady Jane is by Robert Guédiguian, one of my favourite French directors. He uses the same retinue in each of his films. La ville est tranquille was sublime, though his latest outing ventures into film noir territory. For Summer Hours, check out my review.
[Images from
A Christmas Tale, Lady Jane]

2nd priority films:
I've seen part 1 of Public Enemy and was pleasantly surprised. It's a crime thriller based on a true story, perhaps a little reminiscent of Channel 9's Underbelly, only much better. First, it's got Vincent Cassell, and he raises the genre considerably. It's got a great lineup of support actors, including Gerard Depardieu, who I generally dislike, but is great in this (yes, he redeems himself after Astérix). The film is reasonably violent but not gratuitously so. It's not afraid to kill off characters that you'd like to see more of. It's genre, but genre done very well. I look forward to seeing part 2.
[Images from Public Enemy - Part 1, Dolls and Angels, Ulzhan]

3rd priority films:
I'm not going to list the others (there's too many of them); for me they're not worth seeing, but that's my taste. I really don't like most French comedies and family dramas/melodramas. But there's always exceptions. If you have a tip, recommendation or comment, please let me know.
[Image from Actresses]

I know I've expressed this many times before, but...

{start of rant}
I think film festivals should highlight the artistic achievements of a country, showcasing edgy, challenging avant garde films as a priority rather than previews of highly commercial films that are going to get a release, or that add little to the body of a country's output. The French film festival focuses too heavily on the latter and not enough of the former.
{end of rant}

In spite of the shite, I love French cinema. Je l'adore ! I love the culture and the approach to story-telling. I love the characterisations and I love the language.

Ghostpatrol and Miso

Up until my accident, I would often spend my lunch-times walking the laneways of Melbourne. Part of it is the need for exercise, partly it's an aversion to the masses that crowd the main thoroughfares at this time of day and largely it's a desire to explore and discover little hidden gems. I always carry a small digital camera and like to document things of interest, in particular street art, but anything that looks curious.

The missus called me to the TV one evening last week to see an ABC documentary on ghostpatrol and miso, two Melbourne street artists whose work transcends anything that description might conjure up. Today I bought a book documenting some of their work from Metro 5 in Armadale and checked out their latest exhibition at Gorker Gallery in Gore St. Fitzroy. Ghostpatrol's artwork is accompanied by soft toy 'sculptures' by Miso - brilliant stuff. There's a few pieces there I'd have liked, but those had sold. I highly recommend any art-lovers out there checking this exhibition out.

Bushfire Benefit Film Screening at ACMI

The following info is via Melbourne Cinémathèque:

Melbourne’s screen culture leaders and cinephile community are coming together to support the Victorian Bushfire Appeal with a one-off fundraising screening of Matteo Garrone’s award-winning drama, Gomorrah.

Yet to be released in Australian cinemas, the sensation of Cannes (Grand Prix winner) and the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), Gomorrah will be screened at ACMI on Saturday 7 March with all proceeds going to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal.

The special fundraiser is being presented by the Melbourne Cinematheque, RMIT University and ACMI with the support of Madman Entertainment, Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS), Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts Film and Television (VCA), Film Victoria, MIFF, Australian Film Institute (AFI).

The film will be introduced by Australian actor Nina Landis (City Homicide, The Hollowmen, MDA, Blackjack) with a package of short films from AFTRS to also screen.

Gomorrah (Unclassified 18+)
ACMI Cinemas, Federation Square Melbourne
Saturday 7 March 2009 at 2pm
Adults $25 Concession $20

* Please note that all Cinémathèque members with a yearly membership are eligible for the discount price of $20, but we would appreciate those who aren't unemployed, pensioners or students pay the full $25 if possible.

Tickets available at the ACMI Box Office and online

It is recommended that tickets are bought on line prior to the screening to avoid disappointment.

All proceeds from the screening go to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal

Mon voyage français

Melbourne is a melting pot of ethnicity (my school, Elwood High, had some 83 nationalities represented in its population). For one who takes an interest, there is something ethnic to be learnt in every second person one encounters.

I have always wanted to master foreign languages, and I have a romantic dream of learning half a dozen before I die. Language, ethnicity and cultures have always been a source of wonderment. Over many years, I have learnt a little of many languages but a lot of none. I couldn’t decide which to take up. It’s not a trivial decision, and choosing one is to the detriment of the others. Because I couldn’t decide which was the best decision I made none. This went on for twenty years.

German was one option. I’d had a teenage girlfriend (we were even briefly married, but that’s another story) who was fluent in the language and consequently I took it up in my final year of high school. I liked that it had rules that were rarely broken, but I didn’t pursue it at the time.

I learnt Hebrew through most of my childhood, as a lead up to my barmitzvah, but ended when that milestone was reached. That’s another story, involving a nasty Polish rabbi.

My partner is fluent in Greek, but I didn’t want to learn the language from her. Like many European post-WWII migrants, the languages spoken here are very different to their modern counterparts and I didn’t want to learn the village dialects that are all but dead in their homelands.

My first two years of high school were in Moorabbin, at the time a very WASPy area and the only foreign language taught was the traditional French. My teacher was Mr. Cockerill, and I noted in the recent coverage of the Victorian bushfires that a man with this name and his wife survived. He is of the age that my teacher would be, so I wondered if this was he. As a rebellious teenager, I didn’t take well to his staid demeanour and absorbed nothing.

In 1987, I spent seventeen days in Panama and was surprised how quickly I picked up Spanish. I love the sound and flow of the language, it’s phonetic structure and how recognisable many of the words are.

The idea of learning a language kept fermenting in me, and I started getting angry with myself for not having made a decision. Sometimes it’s not important that one make the best decision but that one makes a decision. Any decision. I could have mastered several languages by now if I’d made a decision twenty years ago.

Ultimately, I made a snap decision based on my cinema experiences. The French film festival had just finished nearly two years ago. I’d extensively researched the program and was very satisfied with the eleven films I’d seen (Nue propriété was the highlight, and exemplifies what I love about French cinema, though this film is actually Belgian). French cinema is my favourite and I started thinking about taking up that language. “Wouldn’t it be nice to sit in a French cinema watching French films without subtitles?” I thought.

Shortly after, Paris, je t’aime screened, and it really moved me, especially the final segment. This clumsily-spoken French, imbued with such love and affection was the final straw and I immediately decided to take up the language.

I often have lunch in Degraves Street outside the CAE building. I enquired about French classes, which were to start in five weeks. I then called Alliance Française (who present the French film festival, and advertise before each screening) and they started classes in two weeks. That was it! Knowing my impetuous nature, and the fact that I really didn’t have time to commit to learning another language, I wanted to start as soon as possible. So, afraid that I might change my mind if delayed, I committed to Alliance Française.

Two years down the track, I’m still a long way from being able to watch a French film without subtitles. But I understand bits and pieces and often detect differences between what is spoken and how it’s translated. I feel I know enough now that I could survive in France, albeit with difficulty to start, and am wondering how and when I will make the next step.

This post is a preface to my preview of the French film festival.