Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Week in Review - 26/4/09

This week was exceptional for its quality more than its quantity. Le feu follet and Pandora's Box are both outstanding films that lifted my spirits immensely, in spite of their potentially bleak subject matter (suicide and Alzheimer's respectively). To see two films of such high standard in the same week is fantastic and highly recommend them both. I really liked Palermo Shooting as well.

  • Selvi boylum, al yazmalim (The Lady with the Red Scarf, Atif Yilmaz, Turkey, 1977)
  • Les amants (The Lovers, Louis Malle, France, 1958)
  • Le feu follet (Louis Malle, France, 1963)
  • Pandora’nın Kutusu (Pandora's Box, Yeşim Ustaoğlu, Turkey/France/Belgium/Germany, 2008)
  • Lulu und Jimi (Oskar Roehler, Germany/France, 2008)
  • Palermo Shooting (Wim Wenders, Germany/France/Italy, 2008)

The Lady with the Red Scarf
Other than opening and closing night films, this is the only other Turkish Film Festival film I could squeeze in at ACMI. It's a classic film, based on a novel and very popular in Turkey and elsewhere. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but I didn't like it at all.

This kind of melodrama would play out well in India and other countries where films tend to be, shall we say, simple. I found it beyond melodramatic, moving into soap opera and downright corny. I could have walked out at any point and left a few minutes early for Melbourne Cinémathèque.

Les amants
Louis Malle's second film, and a little disappointing after his thrilling Lift to the Scaffold. The film looks good and starts of with promise. The story of a philandering provincial couple has all the right tension. However, after Jeanne Moreau's character has done so much to convince us what a completely selfish bitch she is, I couldn't buy into her falling in true love with a stranger and elope with him. I wonder what Malle's intent was. Was he just messing with our expectations? Messing with our heads? Was there supposed to be some intuitive chemistry between these unlikely lovers that I missed? I love Moreau as an actress. In terms of both looks and demeanour, she's like a French Bette Davis.

Le feu follet
This is one of the most remarkable films I've seen from this era (early 60s). Stylistically, Le feu follet looks French New Wave, but thematically, it's decades ahead of its time. At times, it reminded me of early Cassavetes. Full of wise insights into relationships and the human condition, the film is basically an under-stated portrait of a suicidal alcoholic.

Alain Leroy (Maurice Ronet) wanders the streets of Paris, in all it's glorious urban decay and beautifully filmed in black and white. We've already seen his service revolver, perhaps a remnant from a distant war, with which he intends to kill himself. The film follows Alain as he visits his old haunts, saying good-bye to those he considers friends and associates. We know he is doomed, because no matter how sincere are the attempts to help him, he is beyond help. All he wants is to leave.

Alain's occasional outbursts about his personal failures reveal much about the mind of a depressive man, and much about the nature of relationships. It also demonstrates the destructive nature of alcohol. This is a film I could watch over and over. Some may find it depressing, but I find it life-affirming. There's still another week to go of the Malle season at Melbourne Cinémathèque, but this is my favourite so far.

Oh, and by the way, does anyone know the significance in the film of 23 July (scrawled on the mirror)?

Pandora's Box
This was the closing night film for the Melbourne Turkish Film Festival, and what a film! This is a pan-European production, and it shows. While family friction is a common dramatic theme (hinted at in the film's title), old age and Alzheimer's disease aren't.

The latter subjects were, of course, tackled in Sarah Polley's Away From Her. I have much respect for Polley and don't doubt her sincerity and integrity. However, her romanticised story, also featuring an elderly woman with Alzheimer's and starring an impossibly gorgeous Julie Christie, just isn't in the same league as this amazing film by Yesim Ustaoğlu.

Pandora's Box tackles multiple themes, masterfully handles them all, is poetic, naturalistic, funny (without trace of comedy), dramatic and moving. The festival blurb forewarns us of the adult sibling conflict, which is not as prominent as I expected. It is merely an element, woven into a greater tapestry, the tapestry of life.

The film is to different degrees about various types of relationships, generational change (thematically similar to Summer Hours) and the effects of Alzheimer's as well as documenting the rural and urban divide. The latter element seems to be a recurring theme in European cinema, as a way of life that has remained largely unchanged for many decades (if not centuries) slowly dies.

The main character of the film is the elderly Nusret played by Tsilla Chelton, a 91-year old French actress who learnt Turkish for the role! Her performance is so convincing, so realistic, that it's hard to believe that she is acting. Her blend of smouldering attitude and frail vulnerability is terribly moving. The whole ensemble cast performs wonderfully, a credit both to their skills and the direction.

An element of the film that I strongly related to was the way in which virtually all the characters in the film rejected, in one way or another, the controlling nature of one of the siblings. It alienated her husband, her son, her siblings, and even her mother in a very amusing and poignant way.

The film is filmed in a very naturalistic and beautiful way without the slightest trace of pretentiousness. The music, which seemed to be absent until the 80-minute mark, is subtle, full of melancholy and added beautifully, especially in its restraint. The film was a lovely way to finish the festival and I left on a high. Now I want the DVD, and intend seeking out the director's earlier works. Check out the official website.

The closing night film was preceded by various presentations. This is the inaugural year of the Turkish Film Festival and the indicators are that it will continue and grow on the success of this year. Expect a longer, larger festival next year, and without the clash it had this year (with the Festival of German Films.

Lulu und Jimi
Fortunately I was forewarned about this film, screening at the Festival of German Films. It was compared to early Ozon, ie, bizarre/unconventional melodrama, and that's largely whey I made a point of seeing it. Bizarre it certainly is, entertaining too. It has shades of Lynch - Jennifer more than David - with its over-the-top plot, bright colours and its surreal aburdity and fantasy. I respect its audacity but it doesn't pull it off quite as competently as it wants. The lead actors aren't completely convincing and the dubbing for the English dialog for Lulu is a bit rough. Still, it's a lot of fun and way left-of-centre.

Palermo Shooting
What do you do when you're a famous international film-maker, you've been around for a long time and made a lot of films, two of your favourite directors die (on the same day) and you're feeling your vulnerability. Well, if you're Wim Wenders, you'd make Palermo Shooting and, despite it being canned at Cannes 2008, I really dug it. Mind you, Wenders' previous feature, Don't Come Knockin' wasn't exactly warmly received, but I liked that a lot, too.

Palermo Shooting is, however, a very different type of film. It's a small budget project, a film that could be compared with Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth. Compared, because they are both made by established and aging directors that deal with the passage of time and death (albeit treated in very different ways). In a sense, they might both be considered indulgent, about subjects that are very personal to the respective directors, but I think that perception is unfair.

Death and aging (also a theme in the above Pandora's Box) is every bit a part of life and a universal experience, a topic ripe for exploration in cinema. Finn is an in-demand photographer, well-heeled and well-travelled. He's experienced much and is known in all the right circles. But he can't sleep well. He has recurring dreams, and he is suffering an existential crisis. If that sounds a lot like a Bergman film, it should. Filmed at the time of the dual Bergman-Antonioni deaths, Wenders salutes the great masters and incorporates aspects of their work into the film. Berman is most apt, as existential crises and a preoccupation with time, aging, death and the meaning of life are themes he dealt with throughout his life's work.

The film most obviously references Wild Strawberries with the surrealist dreams of Finn and The Seventh Seal, with Dennis Hopper taking the role of Death, and thematically with Winter Light's existential crisis. I think critics take issue with the audacity of a director taking on such iconic films but then, Bergman himself was ridiculed for the being too arty farty towards the end of his career. I had no problems with the self-conscious references, and I thought Wenders take and variations on these was quite moving (and funny at times, too). There were aspects of the writing that seemed a little unpolished, but always managed to stay on track, even if it seemed they wouldn't.

Death, consciousness and the meaning of life are topics I've contemplated since my childhood. Less than a week ago, I was discussing with a friend how my entire outlook has changed since my motorcycle accident in which I too looked Death in the eye (figuratively, of course). It's had a quietly profound effect on me, and I really related to Finn's existential crisis. I even articulated to my friend that I felt death was simply like walking through a door, a door we don't walk back through. I was thunderstruck when virtually the same dialogue appears in the film. Of course, when one walks through a door and doesn't return, we are gone to those who remain, but we continue in another room. This cosmic-view is a strong argument against suicide, another subject I would like to write on in this context, but not now. It was also relevant to another film I saw this week - the brilliant Le feu follet (see above).

Palermo Shooting is a return by Wenders to his native Dusseldorf. It's a personal film, it's an indulgent film. It tackles some of the most relevant, important and universal themes of life. It's explorative, it's derivative, it's moving. I don't think it's for everyone, but I loved it. Riding away from the cinema on my motorbike, I was surprised how much it moved me and affected me in a physical way.

My exposure at the Festival of German Films 2009 hasn't really been representative of German cinema: One, Two, Three is American (though set in Berlin), Lulu und Jimi has an American protagonist and much of the dialogue is in English, and now Palermo Shooting, a significant part of the dialogue is in English and features a couple of American actors (Dennis Hopper and Milla Jovovic as herself). I really wanted to see Jerichow, but life got in the way (the missus says cinema gets in the way of my life, but what does she know?).

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cannes 2009 - some impressive names

Seeing as Lynden Barber at Eyes Wired Open beat me to it, I couldn't be bothered posting the line-up at Cannes 2009. However, perusing the official Cannes website, this information caught my eyes: the lineup for the Feature Film Jury.

My favourite French actress (maybe my favourite actress, period), Isabelle Huppert is the jury president. Nuri Bilge Ceylan - one of my favourite directors - Lee Change-Dong, James Gray, Hanif Kureishi, Shu Qi and Robin Wright Penn make up the rest of the jury. Hmmm... it'll be interesting to see their verdict.

Jane Campion's Bright Star is in official competition and Warwick Thornton's Samson & Delilah is competing for Un certain regard (due to be released locally on 7 May).

These are the standouts I'm keen to see (in the order listed by the festival). Hopefully we'll see many of these in the MIFF 2009 line-up:
  • Un prophète, Jacques Audiard
  • Vincere, Marco Bellochio
  • Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon), Michael Haneke
  • Taking Woodstock, Ang Lee
  • Looking For Eric, Ken Loach
  • Enter the Void, Gaspar Nöe
  • Vengeance, Johnnie To
  • Antichrist, Lars von Trier
  • Amintiri din epoca de aur (Tales From The Golden Age), Hanno Höfer, Razvan
    Marculescu, Cristian Mungiu, Constantin Popescu, Ioana Uricaru
  • Kuki ningyo (Air Doll), Hirokazu Kore-eda
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Terry Gilliam
  • Lármée du crime, Robert Guédiguian
  • L'epine dans le coeur, Michel Gondry
  • Ne change rien, Pedro Costa
And doesn't the poster have a nice retro look?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Week in Review - 19/4/09

  • A Film With Me In It (Ian Fitzgibbon, Ireland, 2008)
  • Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Lift to the Scaffold, Louis Malle, France, 1957)
  • Lacombe, Lucien (Louis Malle, France/West Germany/Italy, 1974)
  • One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder, USA, 1961)
  • Sonbahar (Autumn, Özcan Alper, Turkey/Germany, 2008)
  • Cinema 16 - World Short Films

A Film With Me In It

It's good to see a film from Ireland, but this black comedy doesn't quite do it for me. It starts off OK, becomes quite outrageous but then runs out of ideas. Actually, it goes so far so quickly, that it ends up with nowhere to go. It's good for a laugh, but nothing special.

Lift to the Scaffold
Very French New Wave, very Hitchcockian. A great looking film that structurally is very like A Film With Me In It, except that it is neither a comedy and nor does it run out of steam. This is screening as part of the Melbourne Cinémathèque season on Louis Malle (which I highly recommend). This is Malle's first feature film and quite a debut.

Lacombe, Lucien
This Malle film is quite brilliant. It is like Jean-Pierre Melville's Leon Morin, prêtre, in that it depicts French village life under German occupation. While Melville's film is more a character and philosophical study, Malle's film is a seemingly dispassionate depiction of the effects of occupation on ordinary people.

The film starts with the titular teenage character, mopping a hospital floor, but taking time out to shoot a small, golden bird. This tells us much about the character, who has a soft spot for violence and soon approaches a resistance fighter to join the cause. By chance, Lucien is taken under the wing of the French Gestapo, and he becomes an enthusiastic collaborator, resulting in the capture of the resistance fighter he wanted to join.

Lucien is a despicable character, because circumstances have allowed him to become one. Such is the nature of war, and why war is itself despicable. Lucien is just a normal village boy, not unlike any teen of today. War creates a cloak under which activities that normally constitute crime are allowed to flourish: extortion, theft, assault, rape, torture and murder.

The French collaborators were living like it was the height of the decadent roaring 20's, like there's no tomorrow. Embolded with a gun and the backing of the Gestapo, they were pilferers and as their crimes escalated, one sensed there was no way out for them.

Malle shows much restraint in his story-telling, relying very much on facial nuance rather than dialogue. There is much moral complexity and the Jewish tailor, the father of a girl that Lucien fancies adds greatly to the drama. This is mature film-making, a really thought-provoking film which can be read in multiple ways because of lack of overt didacticism. Great stuff!

Cinema 16 - World Short Films
I stumbled upon this DVD at the ACMI shop and for about $20, snapped it right up. It was much better than I expected, with some five hours of short films (16 of them, with an average length around 20 minutes). It has films from all around the world, including both recent and older short films by directors such as Park Chan-Wook, Guillermo del Toro, Sylvain Chomet, Alexander Sokurov, Guy Maddin, Adam Elliot (Australian director of Mary and Max), Jane Campion and Alfonso Cuarón. It's a 2-DVD set and imporessed me so much that I also bought two others in the series, British Short Films and American Short Films. I believe there's also European Short Films, which I'll have to look out for. I'm not normally big on short films, but these are definitely worth a look and excellent value.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Rules (accoring to Jarmusch)

I can't remember who (HH?) alerted me to this article by Jim Jarmusch on MovieMaker. I just re-read it and just had to share it. You've got to admire the guy's attitude. Here it is in full:
Jim Jarmusch

by Jim Jarmusch | Published January 22, 2004

Rule #1: There are no rules. There are as many ways to make a film as there are potential filmmakers. It’s an open form. Anyway, I would personally never presume to tell anyone else what to do or how to do anything. To me that’s like telling someone else what their religious beliefs should be. Fuck that. That’s against my personal philosophy—more of a code than a set of “rules.” Therefore, disregard the “rules” you are presently reading, and instead consider them to be merely notes to myself. One should make one’s own “notes” because there is no one way to do anything. If anyone tells you there is only one way, their way, get as far away from them as possible, both physically and philosophically.

Rule #2: Don’t let the fuckers get ya. They can either help you, or not help you, but they can’t stop you. People who finance films, distribute films, promote films and exhibit films are not filmmakers. They are not interested in letting filmmakers define and dictate the way they do their business, so filmmakers should have no interest in allowing them to dictate the way a film is made. Carry a gun if necessary.

Also, avoid sycophants at all costs. There are always people around who only want to be involved in filmmaking to get rich, get famous, or get laid. Generally, they know as much about filmmaking as George W. Bush knows about hand-to-hand combat.

Rule #3: The production is there to serve the film. The film is not there to serve the production. Unfortunately, in the world of filmmaking this is almost universally backwards. The film is not being made to serve the budget, the schedule, or the resumes of those involved. Filmmakers who don’t understand this should be hung from their ankles and asked why the sky appears to be upside down.

Rule #4: Filmmaking is a collaborative process. You get the chance to work with others whose minds and ideas may be stronger than your own. Make sure they remain focused on their own function and not someone else’s job, or you’ll have a big mess. But treat all collaborators as equals and with respect. A production assistant who is holding back traffic so the crew can get a shot is no less important than the actors in the scene, the director of photography, the production designer or the director. Hierarchy is for those whose egos are inflated or out of control, or for people in the military. Those with whom you choose to collaborate, if you make good choices, can elevate the quality and content of your film to a much higher plane than any one mind could imagine on its own. If you don’t want to work with other people, go paint a painting or write a book. (And if you want to be a fucking dictator, I guess these days you just have to go into politics...).

Rule #5: Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Turkish Film Festival - Autumn

The Melbourne Turkish Film Festival debuted this evening, opening with Özcan Alper's Sonbahar (Autumn, 2008). There were a number of formalities, including introductions by the festival director, the Turkish Consul-General (a very happy man!) , the Turkish minister for Trade and Culture (apologies for lack of details like names, or errors in titles) and Richard Sowada, ACMI's head programming dude (also, not his exact title, but you get the drift).

From the introductions, we learnt that since 2004, the Turkish film industry has gone from producing around 12-15 films a year to 40 or more, and that audiences at Turkish films in Turkey have gone from around 15% to 65%. I'm not sure how this inspirational cultural turn-around has been achieved, but it's something our own industry should be looking at.

I was introduced to the festival director after the screening of Autumn, but the lovely Turkish music was playing so loud that I couldn't catch her name. Furthermore, the official website is down, so I can't grab it from there either. Oh well, such is life.

is an impressive little film, in style not unlike the films of master director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose Üç maymun (Three Monkeys) screens on Wednesday (and I implore you all to see Ceylan's film - it won best director gong at Cannes last year, and you won't see too many films better than this all year).

Autumn is a slowburn, minimalist drama, about Yusuf, a young man who is released from prison after ten years. He was involved in radical student politics and socialism at university and has lost the best years of his life. He returns to his home in a mountainous village in the Black Sea region, an area that is spectacularly beautiful. Some things have changed, some haven't, but Yusuf certainly has.

There's not a whole lot of narrative to the story; rather the film focuses on the everyday existence of Yusuf, his friend Mikail and a Russian prostitute he meets in town. A particularly poignant moment occurs when the prostitute learns that Yusuf spent time in jail for fighting for socialism, something that the Russians were glad to get rid of.

Unlike Australian cinema, politics is an element that European cinema doesn't have an aversion to. It's certainly prominent in many of the Spanish films I saw recently at La Mirada, and it seems to be also true of Turkish cinema. Politics is about as prominent in Autumn as it was in say, Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy. For those of you that haven't seen Old Joy, you'd hardly know that there was a political element to the film - it's very subtle. Autumn acknowledges recent Turkish political history but is, on the surface, concerned with the personal. Yusuf is simply trying to get his life back in order and in the course of his activities, we get an amazing cultural glimpse into a way of life that surely is slowly dying.

Autumn is Özcan Alper's first feature film. He's a talent to watch. The film screens again tomorrow (Monday 20 April) at ACMI and is highly recommended. My friend Nilgün, who kindly invited me to the opening, highly recommends Dry Summer (Susuz yaz), which screens on Thursday, so I'm making a point of trying to see that. If I could, I would see all seven films, but I'll have to settle for four or so. This festival is screening films that appear on face value to be of a very high quality, much more so than most regional festivals. This is a great opportunity for cinephiles to see quality cinema from a part of the world that we sadly don't see enough of.

The Melbourne Turkish Film Festival screens until Friday at ACMI.

[Image: Onur Saylak as Yusuf in Autumn]

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Senses of Cinema #50

From Senses of Cinema:
2009 – A huge year for Senses of Cinema!
Senses of Cinema launched the 50th issue of its online film journal on 13 April. Issue 50 is the ‘interview issue’. Highlights include Bob Rafelson in conversation with Rainer Knepperges and Franz Müller and Darren Hughes’ interview with Claire Denis.

The journal will celebrate a fully upgraded website with the mid-year release of Issue 51. The site will feature a stunning, contemporary design, increased visual content and greatly improved navigation, rendering Senses' archive of nearly 2500 articles more accessible to readers.

Senses of Cinema will also celebrate its 10th anniversary of continuous publication late in 2009. Having identified an important gap in Australian screen culture, Senses has grown from its humble origins as the passion-project of a couple of local cinephiles, to an internationally renowned publication lauded by The Times (London), Time Out and referenced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. A decade on Senses of Cinema remains true to its original editorial vision - publishing passionate, serious, intelligent and insightful writing on cinema.

Reflecting on these significant milestones, Co-Editors, Rolando Caputo and Scott Murray said that the continued vibrancy of Senses of Cinema was a tribute to the inspired contributions of the many authors that have written for Senses over the years.

Newly appointed General Manager, Blythe Chandler, acknowledged the dedication of Senses’ Editorial Team and Committee Members, past and present. She said, “it is a privilege to be able to work with such a passionate, knowledgeable and tireless group.”

About Senses of Cinema:
Senses of Cinema is a Melbourne-based online journal, dedicated to the serious and eclectic discussion of cinema. Senses of Cinema facilitates high-quality, critical debate about, and analysis of, Australian cinema, world cinema, screen theory and film history.

Senses of Cinema is grateful for the generous support of Screen Australia, Film Victoria and the AFI Research Collection, RMIT.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Good & the Bad - FoGF2009

I got to my first film of the Festival of German Films 2009 this evening, for a screening of Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three (1961). As previously mentioned, it started filming prior to the Berlin wall's construction. The Brandenburg Gates had to be recreated in a studio because the wall went up during filming. I had a blast with the film. It's very intelligent, full of double entendres, James Cagney in his last film before retiring (though he played a small part 20 years later) is just relentless as the Coca Cola executive. It's also full of biting criticisms of the Russians and communism which are quite hilarious. Unfortunately, the film loses a little momentum towards the end and could have benefited by a bit of tighter editing, but is thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.

Getting home, I was finalising my intended screening attendances for the rest of the festival, only to discover that the other retrospective screenings are all from DVDs. I can't tell you how disappointed I was - these films were my #1 interest in the festival. DVD projection on a big screen is just terrible and at $16.50/$14.00 concession, we're not talking small bikkies here. For two people, you could purchase your own DVD and have a better and cheaper night at home.

On the flipside, it takes some of the pressure off me to get to a number of screenings that was always going to be difficult. Now, I'm just going to try to make it to Wim Wenders' Palermo Shooting, and as many of the following as I can without busting my balls:
  • Jerichow
  • Lulu & Jimi
  • A Year Ago in Winter
  • Lippel's Dream

Monday, April 13, 2009

Germany vs. Turkey

No, Europe is not at war, though Melbourne is being bombarded by European cinema. We've recently had the French Film Festival, La Mirada: Jewels of Spanish Cinema concludes today and this week sees the start of two festivals running concurrently.

The Festival of German Films opens on Thursday (16th) with the much-lauded The Baader-Meinhof Complex. Screenings of 30 films will be held until Sunday the 26th at the Como and the Kino cinemas, an advantage of the relatively new Kino/Palace partnership. The Melbourne Turkish Film Festival is a new event, opening on Sunday (19th), screening only seven films at ACMI until Thursday 24th April.

While the French Film Festival is my favourite outside of MIFF, I find its focus on commercial cinema a bit disappointing. I still usually manage to find close to a dozen serious films to see, but there seemed to be little edgy material this year. I'm of the opinion that film festivals should be a showcase of cultural and artistic excellence, not just those likely to attract the largest number of bums on seats. Both the Turkish and German festivals appear on face value to be aiming in this direction. There's not a whole lot in the way of comedy, with the focus on drama.

Reunification is a theme of this year's German festival, with a retrospective of films from the former GDR (East Germany). In addition, contemporary films such as November Child, 12 Means I Love You and Peaceful Times also address the topic.

My focus at the Festival of German Films is largely on the six-film retrospective, as well as Billy Wilder's 1961 comedy, One, Two, Three, which commenced filming in Berlin just prior to the Berlin wall's construction, which consequently disrupted the film's completion. In spite of being canned at Cannes, I'm also interested to see Wim Wender's Palermo Shooting. Others that I'm giving priority to include Cloud 9 (which has won various awards including the Un certain regard award at Cannes), Trade (a film about human trafficking like Australia's The Jammed), Lulu and Jimi and Eye to Eye - All about German Film, a documentary about a cinema of German cinema. The Baader Meinhof Complex also looks like it's worth seeing, bearing in mind that it has a theatrical release date (7 May 2009).

Australians don't get much exposure to Turkish cinema. Greater Union and Hoyts screen the occasional melodrama or B-grade action flick, but something tells me the Turkish films won't be anything like this. In fact, Three Monkeys was not only one of my favourite films at MIFF last year, but also one of my favourite films of the year, period. All the Turkish films look like serious films. There's only eight screenings, so I'll list them all here (check out ACMI's website for details). Note that the opening and closing night films are invitation only.

I don't know how to wrangle it, what with life and the German festival happening, but I'm going to try to see all of these, with the exception of Three Monkeys, as it conflicts with the Louis Malle screenings at Melbourne Cinémathèque.
  • Sun 19 Apr 7:30 PM - Sonbahar (Autumn, Özcan Alper, Turkey, 2008) - opening night
  • Mon 20 Apr 7:15 PM - Sonbahar (Autumn, Özcan Alper, Turkey, 2008)
  • Tue 21 Apr 7:15 PM - Yumurta (Egg, Semih Kaplanoglu, Turkey/Greece, 2007)
  • Wed 22 Apr 5:30 PM - Selvi boylum, al yazmalim (The Girl with the Red Scarf, Atif Yilmaz, Turkey, 1977)
  • Wed 22 Apr 8:00 PM - Üç maymun (Three Monkeys, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/France/Italy, 2008)
  • Thu 23 Apr 5:30 PM - Susuz yaz (Dry Summer, Metin Erksan, Turkey, 1964)
  • Thu 23 Apr 8:00 PM - Dilberi'in sekiz günü (Dilber's Eight Days, Cemal San, Turkey, 2008)
  • Fri 24 Apr 7:00 PM - Pandora'nin kutusu (Pandora's Box, Yesim Ustaoglu, Turkey/France/Belgium/Germany, 2008) - closing night

OFLC Film Classification
A point of interest that has pretty much flown under the radar is that changes have been made to OFLC classifications. Until recently, to receive a classification, a film's distributor (in this context, a festival) had to apply to the OFLC, pay a hefty sum, receive a classification and thus make a film accessible to under 18 year olds (unless it received an R-rating). I've read nothing anywhere about the changes, but first noticed during the French Film Festival that virtually every film had a classification. In most instances, it was an MA15+, even when it was clear that a film was intended at a younger audience. From what I understand, most of those films (those without post-festival cinema releases) were not given OFLC classification; the festival organisers
assigned the classifications themselves. It was then up to parents to determine what was suitable for their children.

This is a fantastic step forward, something I've been whinging about for years. Until now, it's been illegal for high school media students, for example, to attend important film festivals, which was just ridiculous. Festivals and parents should be free to decide what's suitable for their children, rather than the arbitrary blanket black-ban for under-18s we've had for many years. Now, I've gleaned much of this, so if anyone has more authoritative information they'd like to share or provide links, I'd love to hear about it.

I've noticed that all the German films are listed with classifications. Aside from the five with G or PG and clearly suitable for children, there's a number of others with M that may also be suited. From my perspective, it means I can get to more films as it becomes a family event rather than me slinking away on my own to see a film (you can only do that so much without flak from the missus).

The Turkish films at ACMI are all unclassified and I noticed that the same was true of the La Mirada screenings at ACMI. Maybe ACMI hasn't woken to the changes, or there's some other reason.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

La Mirada 2009 in Review

I've mentioned more than once that La Mirada is one of my favourite film festivals. Partly it's the enthusiasm and organisation of the festival director, Rocio Garcia. Partly it's the festive atmosphere, with generous door prizes of DVDs, books, T-shirts, cosmetics, Spanish classes, free tickets, etc. (not that I've ever won anything). Sometimes there's five or more prizes per session. And partly it's the programming of films by Pedro Almodóvar, the director whose work I feel most ambivalent about. Yes, I have a love-hate relationship with his films, and I find they stimulate ample discussion over what I consider both their strengths and weaknesses.

Each year, I focus on the older films selected by Almodóvar, films that have inspired him. In 2007, his selections focused more on the canon, the classic Spanish films like Spirit of the Beehive and The Executioner. I was a little disappointed by 2008's selections, many of which I found melodramatic. But this had much relevance to Almodóvar's work, which is afterall, very melodramatic. In my opinion, it's the weak point in his films.

This year, the Almodóvar's selections were more serious and gutsy, and overall I enjoyed them immensely. I caught all five in this section, as well as Woody Allen's selection for the festival. Unfortunately I couldn't make it to the screening of Penélope Cruz's selection, but I did see 9 films in all. Here's my 2c worth.

Furtivos (The Poachers, José Luis Borau, Spain, 1975)
An intriguing story, very dramatic, with strong political overtones. It was, afterall, made in the dying days of the Franco dictatorship. I'm sure the story was very allegorical, but I couldn't translate what events were referring to in the political context of the day. In this respect, it was a little like the politics depicted in early Kieslowski films like Blind Chance. Australian films rarely depict politics, and it's something I like to see, even if I don't entirely 'get' it.

Bilbao (Bigas Luna, Spain, 1978)
A very gutsy film, and only the second by Luna. As Rocio Garcia mentioned in introducing the film, it can be seen as being pornographic, but it never feels gratuitous or exploitative. It does, however, challenge an audience with its graphic depictions of nudity, sexuality and sexual violence. This film clearly inspired Almodóvar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, but is of a completely different mood and style.

La lengua de las mariposas (Butterfly's Tongue, José Luis Cuerda, Spain, 1999)
This was Woody Allen's contribution as guest programmer. Apparently it's his favourite Spanish film. I wonder how the hell he would ever have become acquainted with the film, as it doesn't seem like a film that would have had a release outside of Spain. It's a fairly mainstream story with some character stereotypes, but competently made. Not really my cup of tea.

La buena vida (The Good Life, Andrés Wood, Chile/Spain/Argentina/France, 2008)
This is a sort of social-realist ensemble film, combining different human stories of people struggling in various endeavours. It has a fairly bleak, naturalistic look but feels compromised to appeal to a middle-class audience. It's a worthy film, but forgettable.

Arrebato (Rapture, Iván Zulueta, Spain, 1980)
A difficult film, drenched in drugs and delusion, historically significant. Almodóvar was involved - his voice is used to dub over an actresses lines at one stage. It also depicts a lifestyle of decadence that Almodóvar was very much a part of, that engulfed Spain in the wake of the downfall of fascism. I really liked that La Mirada has the guts to show films like this and Bilbao.

Surcos (Furrows, José Antonio Nieves Conde, Spain, 1951)
Visually fantastic film, a kind of cross of the aesthetics and characterisations of the best of New Wave and classic Hollywood cinema. While the film's political context was explained with an introduction, I was still a little confused as to why it was both such a propaganda piece for the government in some respects and yet provoked the ire of the censor with other respects. The capturing of a way of life all but gone in modern Spain is just beautiful. One of the most enjoyable films of the festival.

La casa de mi padre (Blacklisted, Gorka Merchán, Spain, 2008)
A contemporary film, set in the Basque region. It's gutsy for it's attempt to show both sides of the conflict between the ETA Basque separatists and the government stand. Mostly, it feels like a middle of the road family drama, but the political element puts it a level or two above what it might otherwise have been.

La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman, Lucrecia Martel, Argentina, 2008)
A really interesting contemporary film, about a woman who may or may not have run over a boy and driven off. For 87 minutes, we suffer the claustrophic perspective of this woman as she suffers her guilt in silence. I have been in a similar situation and could really relate to the story.

Mi querida senorita (My Dearest Senorita, Jaime de Armiñán, Spain, 1971)
That sneaky Almodóvar, he had to sneak a melodrama in there somehow. This was it. It must have been a challenging film for its time, but is certainly tame by modern standards. I found it of most interest as an influence on Almodóvar though it tends to lack focus.

My pick of La Mirada:
Bilbao and Rapture for their gutsy depictions
Furrows for an engaging story and beautiful black and white visuals
The Headless Woman for an original and engaging story

Two Weeks in Review - 12/4/09

It was three months ago today that I had my accident. My physio told me that when a footballer presents with a torn posterior cruciate ligament (the knee injury I received), her response is to expect to be off the field for three months. I'm pretty keen to get back on my bicycle, and hope to ride to work tomorrow.

I didn't post a Week in Review last week, even though I didn't see much. This week has focused on La Mirada, and I'm posting these separately. Here's what I've seen over the last two weeks.

  • The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, USA, 1940)
  • Erotikon (Mauritz Stiller, Sweden, 1920)
  • Furtivos (The Poachers, José Luis Borau, Spain, 1975)
  • Uncle/Cousin/Brother/Harvey Krumpet (Adam Elliot, Australia, 1996/1998/1999/2003)
  • Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, Australia, 2009)
  • Tulpan (Sergei Dvortsevoy, Kazakhstan/Germany/Poland/Russia/Switzerland, 2008)
  • Bilbao (Bigas Luna, Spain, 1978)
  • La lengua de las mariposas (Butterfly's Tongue, José Luis Cuerda, Spain, 1999)
  • La buena vida (The Good Life, Andrés Wood, Chile/Spain/Argentina/France, 2008)
  • Arrebato (Rapture, Iván Zulueta, Spain, 1980)
  • Surcos (Furrows, José Antonio Nieves Conde, Spain, 1951)
  • La casa de mi padre (Blacklisted, Gorka Merchán, Spain, 2008)
  • La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman, Lucrecia Martel, Argentina, 2008)
  • Mi querida senorita (My Dearest Senorita, Jaime de Armiñán, Spain, 1971)
The Shop Around the Corner
Terrific little gem, a Hollywood classic. The structure of the narrative seems well-suited for the era, but nothing done in recent decades seems to come close. Romantic comedies today seem forced, derivative an manipulative. This one is smart and works so well because of the excellent characters and snappy dialogue. The support cast really embellishes the story.

Quite a number of people walked out during this film, the late film at Melbourne Cinémathèque. I put that down to the time, the medium (silent film) and that it's not one of the really classic examples of the medium. Still, as someone interested in the history of cinema and where we've come from, it was worth staying for. I found some of the takes and dissolves quite well developed for its time. The story was OK, but nothing special.

Uncle/Cousin/Brother/Harvey Krumpet
See my earlier post.

Mary and Max
I think that with Mary and Max, Adam Elliot doesn't quite maintain the momentum of his short films, but that's not to say that the results are anything less than excellent. With each successive endeavour, his work seems to get more and more sophisticated. Yet there's a consistency and continuity. You could almost piece together each of his works and make one mega-film. The visuals, the structure (voice-over narrator), the semi-autobiographical nature (or at least the appearance of it), the quirkiness, the pathos and the humour are all constants in his work. As I've said several times lately, I think this is the most engaging and entertaining Australian film made in recent years.

A 'nice' film, the type that I'm kinda over. You know, the National Geographic ethnographic-type piece that we've seen done (better) in The Story of the Weeping Camel or (not as good) in The Cave of the Yellow Dog. It's an enjoyable enough film, but if you've seen the above-mentioned films, there's really no point seeing this one. Basically, it depicts a way of life that is slowly disappearing, using the story of a sailor returning to his remote country to woo a local girl as a pretext to depict the way of life of these nomadic goat and camel herders.

La Mirada - last chances

I hope to write on the seven films I've seen at La Mirada so far. The film festival continues until Easter Monday, so you have two days left to take in Spanish and Argentinian. I'm most interested in the titles selected by Almodóvar himself. Today's Surcos (Furrows, José Antonio Nieves Conde, Spain, 1951) was great viewing as was La mujer sin cabeza (The Headless Woman, Lucrecia Martel, Argentina, 2008).

La Mirada is screening at ACMI.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Before Mary and Max

Before Mary and Max, there was Adam Elliot's Uncle, Cousin, Brother and, of course, the Oscar-winning (in 2003, for best short film), Harvey Krumpet. Last weekend, ACMI screened Elliot's previous shorts and the following day, I saw his latest outing at a Rivoli cinema preview. It was a great experience, seeing all in close proximity. There's a common aesthetic: the visuals (minimal use of colour), the narrative (all depend largely on a narrator), the look of the characters and the pathos of the stories.

Elliot has a wonderful way of telling stories and, seeing him interviewed, I'm always taken at how much he looks like one of his plasticine characters. I love this themes of diversity and acceptance, blending in bleak themes that normally might turn audiences away, yet somehow captivate in this medium.

Last year, when Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis came out, I commented that this is the type of film that Australians should be making. With Mary and Max, Elliot has done it. It's very engaging and entertaining film, something we rarely hear a local film described as. It's also something you can take the kids to: it makes mature themes accessible to children. My eight-year old son loved it as much as I. It should do very well at the box office and I recommend it.

Meanwhile, here's Elliot's earlier work, all of which we had the good fortune to see at ACMI on the big screen in one sitting.





Harvey Krumpet

Monday, April 06, 2009

Support HRAFF

The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival had a very impressive program last year, even if I could only make it to a couple of screenings. The festival screens films with human rights themes and includes an impressive array of speakers for Q&A sessions. This year, the organisers have developed a clever support scheme: become a friend of the festival - donate money and get some benefits.

For what it's worth, I consider HRAFF is a worthy cause and I've subscribed to the high end of support ($300). The levels of support and benefits are as follows:

Buddy of the Festival ($50.00) benefits include:
  • Exclusive invites to HRAFF events
  • Festival updates and special offers
  • Free ticket to a HRAFF Event in 2009
  • Free HRAFF Slapband
Friend of the Festival ($150.00) benefits include:
  • Exclusive invites to HRAFF events
  • Festival updates and special offers
  • Free ticket to a HRAFF Event in 2009
  • Free HRAFF slapband
  • Credited by name on Festival website
  • Best of HRAFF 2007 DVD
  • Free HRAFF T-shirt
  • Gift Bag of Madman DVDs

Partner of the Festival ($300.00) benefits include:
  • Exclusive invites to HRAFF events
  • Festival updates and special offers
  • Two double passes to HRAFF Event in 2009
  • Credited by name on Festival website
  • Two free HRAFF t-shirts
  • Two free bottles of HRAFF wine
  • Two free Best of HRAFF 2007 DVDs
  • Gift Bag of Madman DVDs
  • Exclusive HRAFF Crumpler Bag valued at $150
If you'd like more info or want to get involved, check out details of the HRAFF program, or go get involved.

ACMI Focus on Wendy Hughes

The following is courtesty of ACMI:


Focus on Wendy Hughes
Thursday 16 April - Sunday 26 April

Individual sessions: Full $13, Concession $10 > 6 Session Package: Full $60, Concession $48 / Box Office: 8663 2583

Celebrate the career of a major Australian actor, whose style is defined by her classic poise and cool eroticism.

Thu 16 Apr 7.30pm, Sun 26 Apr 5.30pm
My First Wife PG
Paul Cox, 95 mins, Australia, 1984, 35mm.
Based in parts on the breakdown of his own marriage, director and co-writer Paul Cox charts the emotional lives of a group of middle class Melburnians dealing with the aftermath of a divorce. This was the third collaboration between Wendy Hughes and Paul Cox and gained the actress her fourth (at the time) AFI award nomination for Best Actress. Co-screenwriter Bob Ellis reverses the usual gender roles by having Hughes’ character as the spouse having an affair and wanting out of her marriage while her husband (played by John Hargreaves) quietly falls apart. Wendy Hughes and Paul Cox will be in attendance for the first screening.

Fri 17 Apr 7.30pm, Sat 25 Apr 3pm
Petersen R18+
Tim Burstall, 107 mins, Australia, 1974, 35mm.
Jack Thompson stars as Tony Petersen, a former football hero who goes to university in pursuit of an arts degree and becomes the object of lust for Dr Patricia Kent (Wendy Hughes), an English tutor who also happens to be the wife of one of Petersen’s lecturers. Critics were quick to dismiss Petersen as another ocker sex comedy in the vein of director Tim Burstall’s other features Stork and Alvin Purple, but David Williamson’s script was more interested in examining the chasm between Petersen’s home life and the radicalised university campus life he finds himself traversing in.

Sat 18 Apr 3pm
Wendy Hughes & Friends unclassified 15+
Join Wendy Hughes and a few of her closest acting and directing buddies as they discuss some of her many career highlights and view clips of some of her most memorable moments. Tickets available from the ACMI Box Office on the day. Free!

Sat 18 Apr 5.30pm, Fri 24 Apr 7.30pm
An Indecent Obsession M
Lex Marinos, 100 mins, Australia, 1984, Digital Betacam.
Based on Colleen McCullough’s steamy best-selling novel, An Indecent Obsession stars Wendy Hughes as Sister Honour Langtry, a nurse who runs the psychiatric ward of a military hospital on a pacific island during World War II. The indecent obsession of the title occurs when a seemingly ‘normal’ and handsome patient (played by Gary Sweet) arrives, stirring all sorts of repressed and unhealthy desires in Sister Langtry and her unstable wards.

Sat 18 Apr 8pm, Fri 24 Apr 9.45pm
Shadows of the Peacock M
Phillip Noyce, 92 mins, Australia, 1987, 35mm, English with German subtitles.
Following the death of her father and the realisation of her husband’s infidelity, Maria McEvoy (Wendy Hughes) abandons her middle class life, including her three children (a teenaged Claudia Karvan among them) and takes off to Thailand. When she falls under the spell of Raka (John Lone, M. Butterfly), an exiled traditional Balinese dancer she must choose between him and her former existence. Directed by Phillip Noyce, Shadows of the Peacock was one of Hughes’ last major Australian films before she embarked on a career in the USA.

Sun 19 Apr 3pm, Mon 20 Apr 7.30pm
The View from Greenhaven PG
Kenn MacRae and Simon MacRae, 99 mins, Australia, 2008,
Wendy Hughes is reunited with Chris Hayward after thirty years in this contemporary tale set in the fictional town of Greenhaven. Dorothy (Hughes) and Dashiell (Hayward) have reached their 40th wedding anniversary but there seems little to celebrate; Dashiell has settled into a dull routine which is slowly driving his wife to distraction. When their daughter surprises them with a mystery train trip, the journey brings more surprises than just their destination. Wendy and co-writer/codirector Simon McCrae will be present for the first screening.

Sun 19 Apr 5.30pm, Tue 21 Apr 7.30pm
Newsfront PG
Phillip Noyce, 110 mins, Australia, 1978, 35mm.
Set in a post World War II Australia and seamlessly integrating archival footage with newly filmed material, Newsfront is a spirited look at the rivalry between two newsreel companies. Bob Ellis’ screenplay incorporates characters loosely based on leading figures in the Australian film industry while focusing on significant events such as the referendum to ban the Communist party, the Maitland floods and the 1956 Olympic Games. Wendy Hughes plays the enigmatic girlfriend of a news cameraman who is trapped between the macho world of news reportage and the greater confines of 1950s Australia.

Sun 19 Apr 8pm, Sat 25 Apr 8pm
Lonely Hearts
Paul Cox, 95 mins, Australia, 1982, 35mm.
In this gentle suburban romance, Wendy Hughes stars as a timid bank clerk who meets and falls in love with a piano tuner (Norman Kaye) twenty years her senior who has a tendency to shoplift. Director Paul Cox had a major success with this second collaboration with Hughes who plays down her beauty to portray a dowdy and sexually inhibited woman. Her against-type performance gained her an AFI nomination for Best Actress in a Lead Role.

Thu 23 Apr 7.30pm, Sun 26 Apr 8pm
Careful He Might Hear You PG
Carl Schultz, 110 mins, Australia, 1983, 35mm.
Set during the Great Depression, this adaptation of Sumner Locke Elliott’s classic novel chronicles the emotional custody battle over a six-year-old boy. Wendy Hughes won an AFI Award for her performance as the boy’s wealthy anglophile aunt and it is this role more than any other that personifies Hughes’ screen presence: elegant, removed and coolly erotic. A scene in which her sexually repressed character falls emotionally apart during a thunderstorm taking solace in the arms of her six-year-old charge is one of the film’s – and Hughes’ – most memorable moments.

Sat 25 Apr 5.30pm
Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train M
Bob Ellis, 86 mins, Australia, 1987, 35mm.
Wendy Hughes flexes more than her acting muscles as a teacher by day and a tart-with-a -heart by night in this underrated romantic thriller co-written and directed by Bob Ellis. When an art teacher struggles to support her wheelchair-confined brother on her regular salary, she decides to make ends meet by travelling between Melbourne and Sydney via the overnight train, working her way through some of the greats of the Australian acting fraternity. She falls for the enigmatic, strong and charming Colin Friels who has an agenda of his own.

Sat 25 Apr 10pm
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season 6, Episode 19 M
Robert Wiemer, 59 mins, USA, 1993, DV Cam.
Wendy Hughes enters the cultish world of the Star Trek franchise as Lieutenant Commander Nella Daren, the new head of the Star Fleet’s science department and potential love interest for the unflappable Captain Picard (Patrick Steward). Hughes adds to her gallery of classy, intelligent women with this one-off role, easily negotiating the world of sci-fi and turning this fleeting guest appearance into a memorable episode for Trekkies and Hughes fans alike.

Sun 26 Apr 3pm
Boundaries of the Heart PG
Lex Marinos, 97 mins, Australia, 1998, 35mm.
Stella (Wendy Hughes) and her publican father Billy (Norman Kaye) live in the sparsely populated town of Olwyn’s Boundary (pop. 49). In what has become an annual event, itinerant rodeo rider Andy (John Hargreaves) makes his feelings known for Stella with his latest proposal of marriage, but a moment of infidelity turns Andy’s affections in another direction. Directed by actor Lex Marinos, this celebration of Australiania was inspired by Robert Altman’s Fool for Love.