Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Week in Review - 31/5/09

  • Sono otoko, kyôbô ni tsuki (Violent Cop, Takeshi Kitano, Japan, 1989)
  • Kawaita hana (Pale Flower, Masahiro Shinoda, Japan, 1964)
  • My Year Without Sex (Sarah Watt, Australia, 2009)

Violent Cop
What a blast this film is, and what a blast the original Japanese audiences must have had. Here is this guy - Kitano - known throughout the land as a comedian, and he comes out with brutally violent stuff that we all now know him for. Quite honestly, I see his films as comedies, of the darkest, blackest variety. Sure, they're violent, but there's an understated irony barely below the surface. I'm not big on violence in cinema, specifically gratuitous violence, but I can't get upset with the violence of Kitano. I find myself aghast and laughing in equal measure and I see it as very artful.

Pale Flower
The current Melbourne Cinémathèque season is described as Japanese Noir, and noir this film surely is. I'm certainly no expert on the subject of either Japanese or Noir, but I enjoyed this. That's all.

My Year Without Sex
I know that Sarah Watts' previous film, Looking Both Ways, was well-received, but it left me unimpressed. I liked some elements, such as the animation, but overall it all seemed a bit flat. I probably wouldn't have bothered with My Year Without Sex but for Jake Wilson's glowing review, in which he describes the film as "the most accomplished Australian film so far this year". While some have been unimpressed by the film, I find Jake often has insights that others miss.

I agree that the latest film is an improvement and that Looking Both Ways tended to be twee. In My Year Without Sex, the story and acting are more believable, the film is less gimmicky and it conveys some keen social observations. Somehow, though, it still feels a little flat. It depicts modern urban life as many experience it, but doesn't seem to rise above the mundanity of it all.

Maybe that undersells the qualities of the film - it's certainly an enjoyable film. It's just that I sense that Watts has a keen intellect and has insights she wants to share, but doesn't get the punch in her film that she aims for. While I think the JW review makes valid points, the film clearly didn't impress me like it did him.


Lynden Barber said...

I pretty much agree on My Year Without Sex, I liked a lot about the film. I think Sacha Horler is terrific in it and I love the domestic femininity of the script and its bittersweet observations, the way it captures a gentle absurdity in everyday life. In this it follows in the steps of Watt's short animations (in a way that Look Both Ways for some reason didnt). I definitely think it's worth seeing.

However Warwick Thornton's Samson and Delilah has raised the stakes and shown what local dramas should be doing. As i've been saying for a while about many local films - Watt's film flirts with difficulty and drama and then shies away. There's a dramatic flatness to the storytelling, as you rightly point out. In traditional screenwritig terms, the story's emotional "arc" is under-developed, if you like.

Yeah she had a year with a few probs and got over them. No big deal. There's never any real sense of crisis - and I think we're meant to think there is.

The other negative is that visually it looks, let's be honest, pretty shithouse. There's hardly an interesting or well thought-out shot in the entire film - something you could never say about Watts's shorts.

I watched this the same day I saw the upcoming Cheri (admittedly made on a far more lavish budget) - and the way Stephen Frears composed his shots and moved the camera in that made Watts's efforts a little painful to think about.

Paul Martin said...

You're right, Lynden, about flirting with difficulty and then shying away. While watching it, I was thinking what could Watts do to lift it. I don't know, it all seemed real enough, but being real isn't enough. Being authentic isn't enough. It's gotta grab you by the jugular, and it doesn't.

I didn't mind the visuals so much. It might have been drab but maybe the drabness doesn't suit the general feel of the film. Watts obviously tried to lighten it a bit with those photographic titles for each month.

If this film had come out a year or two ago, I probably would have hated it for being so much like the spate of mediocre stories we had, but I don't hate it. But I can't embrace it either.