Monday, April 26, 2010

The Week in Review - 25/4/10

My Week in Review will be short this time around - most of the films I've seen this week are from the Festival of German Films and reviewed separately. I'm also more time poor than usual.

  • Beneath Hill 60 (Jeremy Sims, Australia, 2010)
  • Soul Kitchen (Fatih Akin, Germany, 2009)
  • Das Weiße Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke, Austria, 2009)
  • Les parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Jacques Demy, France/West Germany, 1964)
  • La baie des anges (The Bay of Angels, Jacques Demy, France, 1963)
  • Aimée & Jaguar (Max Färberböck, Germany, 1999)
  • Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (Fatih Akin, Germany/Turkey, 2005)
  • Kurz und schmerzlos (Short Sharp Shock, Fatih Akin, Germany, 1998)
  • The Twilight Zone (Series 1, 1959)
Beneath Hill 60
Director Jeremy Sims must have a thing about confined spaces. First it was Last Train to Freo, which took place almost entirely in a single railway carriage, and now it's Beneath Hill 60, largely confined to the tunnels and trenches of World War I. Based on the diaries of Oliver Woodward, it's about the true story of the Queensland mining engineers that were recruited specifically to dig beneath the enemy in Europe and blow up with explosives their strategic positions - in this case Hill 60 in Belgium.

The cinematography is very nice, and if the sets look real, it's because it was shot largely underground and in trenches. It must have been grueling for the actors who are often covered in mud. While the film has been criticised by some for cutting periodically to Woodward and his future wife in Queensland just prior to the war, I think it offers both a relief to the audience of the claustrophia of the tunnels and also offers a wider palette of drama to appeal to audiences. It may not be as gutsy a war film as some, but it's certainly a view of war from a perspective that we've not seen before and the most remarkable thing is that it's never been made into a film before. It seems that the hype and jingoism of Gallipoli has overshadowed other worthy stories.

The film has been criticised for the intrusive use of music. I agree, but fortunately it's only in two or three places. Unfortunately, they're key moments and I just wished they'd toned it down a little, even though it's not fatal. I also thought the friction between Woodward and his superior officer (Chris Haywood) was a little cliched.

The most pleasant surprise for me was how well Sims utilised Brendan Cowell. I recently applauded David Michôd's clever use of Ben Mendelsohn in Animal Kingdom, and similarly Cowell has been used against type. His laid-back Aussie bloke persona worked very well as social satire in television's Life Support but it seems that every role since has boxed him into the same character. In Beneath Hill 60 he plays it straight, with none of those cliched mannerisms.

I've often mentioned the homogeny of Australian films in recent years, and how 2009 may have been a turning point by injecting diversity into the films being made here. Beneath Hill 60 is also a welcome addition to the variety of films that Australian audiences can embrace, and international audiences, too, for that matter.

The Twilight Zone
I've been watching this first series intermittently over the last week or so. It's kinda kitsch, of course, but fascinating as well. It's got the film noir-type voiceover, it's got the cold-war/space invasion paranoia of the era, along with the trivialisation of new-age concepts we take for granted now. It's also highly moralistic - not all episodes, but many have a paternalistic attitude in upholding society's values, a somewhat last breath for the Hays code, perhaps. Anyway, as a forerunner to shows like The Invaders, Kolchak: The Night Stalker and X-Files, it's great viewing. I've bought the definitive set and plan to watch all six series.

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