Roma – Cine Latino Film Festival

The most personal project to date from director Alfonso Cuarón, Roma chronicles a turbulent year in the lives of a middle-class family in 1970’s Mexico City.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

After spiralling through space in Gravity and charting the collapse of society in Children of Men, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón returns with something profoundly more intimate. Roma, which is presented in black and white and with English subtitles, is a ‘year in the life’ of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid in the Mexico City household of Sofia (Marina de Tavira), Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and their four young children.

The film follows Cleo and her fellow maid Adela (Nancy García García) as they care for the family, clean the house, cook meals and spend time with their boyfriends during their time off. However, this isn’t the idyllic slice of domestic bliss that it appears at first glance. As time wears on, we learn that Sofia and Antonio’s marriage is strained and that Cleo’s own relationship with her boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) faces issues of its own.

If it wasn’t already apparent, Roma takes a fairly sedate and fluid approach to narrative. Cuarón takes his time to orient the viewer in the lives of the increasingly dysfunctional family, both in a physical sense, as he winds his way through their intricately detailed city abode, and also in an emotional sense, as he explores the fractures that exist in a familial setting.

The film doesn’t so much plot a story so much as it unfurls a journey before you, with time blurring as milestones like first dates and Christmases wash past. The overall effect is one of intense immersion with the family and its trials and tribulations. Come the end of the film, you feel as though you’ve been with them every step of the way for a year of their lives, and it’s an incredibly moving experience. The soaring highs and the crushing lows all flood back as you exit the theatre.

Visually Roma is a knockout, with so much detail and richness packed into every frame. Cuarón drops the viewer into the midst of 1970’s Mexico City, and all the smells, sights and sounds ooze from the screen and surround you. The black and white doesn’t rob the film of flavour at all; it serves to further place the viewer in the setting.

A poetic and personal project that explores life’s big moments as well as the little ones that link them together, Roma is unquestionably one of the best films of 2018. With so much to take in, Roma is like peering through a window into the past and someone else’s life – no detail or moment too small or insignificant.

Roma is screening in Perth for a limited time in the Cine Latino Film Festival (Dec 6-16)

Image courtesy of Netflix Australia


Italian Film Festival – Put Nonna in the Freezer

There’s desperation… and then there’s hiding a body in the freezer.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahil

Claudia’s art restoring business is on the verge of bankruptcy until her Nonna generously lets her cash her pension checks to help her keep afloat. When Nonna passes away, Claudia makes the risky decision to hide her body in the freezer in order to keep the much-needed checks coming in. With a recent crack-down on people illegally collecting the pension, Claudia must keep the tax police in the dark before she’s left with nothing.

Put Nonna in the Freezer is as crazy as it sounds, but also a complete delight to watch. Miriam Leone gives Claudia an eccentric edge mixed with a strong sense of justice and a false sense of confidence. It’s these qualities that allow her to delve deeper and deeper into her rabbit hole of lies.

While trying to keep up the charade that Nonna is still alive, she falls for the hard-working, law-abiding Tax police officer Simone (Fabio De Luigi). De Luigi plays the part to perfection, maintaining a steely exterior as he’s continually surprised by Claudia’s spirit. A believable chemistry develops between them, and you’ll find yourself rooting for them, even when the whole frozen Nonna thing comes to a head…

In saying all this, it is a film that requires you to really suspend your disbelief as the events that unfold just become more and more preposterous. While it’s all coated in easy to swallow comedy, there are plenty of moments where you’re left thinking ‘oh come on!’ Luckily, the characters more than make up for the over-the-top story line, and the bright Mediterranean colour palette makes it feel like a film that’s arrived just in time to welcome in the summer. If you’re feeling like a lighter film filled with summer vibes, then you can’t go past Put Nonna in the Freezer… despite its chilly title.

Put Nonna In The Freezer screens in Perth in the Lavazza Italian Film Festival from 27 Sept – 17 Oct. 

Image courtesy of Lavazza Italian Film Festival & Palace Films

Movie Review – The Insult

Ziad Doueiri embeds his new film with the deep wounds of the Middle East, creating a story rich in emotion.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

It takes a certain amount of circumstantial knowledge about the history of the Eastern Mediterranean to fully grasp all the complexities of Ziad Doueiri’s new film, The Insult. It’s a region that hasn’t enjoyed a period of comfortable peace since, heck, since the days of the Bible. There is mutual dislike between the Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese. This film takes place in Beirut and shows how national arrogance can bring a city to its knees.

It’s a wonderful film, filled with intricate performances and little acts that service a wider narrative. It all starts when a Palestinian construction foreman, conducting renovations in a neighbourhood, approaches a Lebanese mechanic to fix his illegal drainpipe. The mechanic refuses. The foreman fixes it anyway. The mechanic smashes the new pipe with a hammer. The foreman insults him, so the mechanic insults back. But the mechanic’s words are insidious and hurtful. The foreman punches him, and suddenly a silly little drainpipe has turned two men into ugly monsters.

The mechanic is Tony (Adel Karam), whose workshop sits at the foot of his apartment block. Every day he watches anti-Palestinian propaganda on TV. The foreman is Yasser (Kamel El Basha), an older man with a pleasant face, content to do his job quietly and do it well. The movie’s early scenes are the best, where Tony and Yasser engage in a kind of cold war. El Basha emerges as the better performer of the two, not because he is a better actor, but because Yasser is awarded much more variety to his personality. Tony is more or less a one-trick pony: disgruntled and hateful.

Both men have wives, and a dangerous incident involving Tony’s unborn child leads to a high-profile court case that ignites the citizens of Beirut to civil violence. Here, The Insult adopts a more formulaic courtroom approach in which professional lawyers argue and debate and give little attention to the emotional state of their clients. A lot of the dialogue is gripping, especially in relation to the socio-political events that guide the Mid-East, but I wondered if maybe The Insult would’ve been stronger if the drama had remained between Tony and Yasser, who get sidelined in favour of the boisterous prosecutor Wajdi Wehbe (Camille Salameh).

But it only goes to show, in such a tumultuous region of the world, how a trivial misunderstanding, based on prejudice, can lead to defamation and bloodshed. It can reopen old wounds, cause conflict, shake up an uneasy peace. Both Tony and Yasser are to blame for their actions, because they have held on to past grudges, so it becomes impossible for The Insult to pick a side. Some would say it doesn’t need to pick a side, only to look on in hope for a better tomorrow.

The Insult is available in Australian cinemas from August 30 

Image courtesy of Palace Films

Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival 2018

The Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival closes in Perth tonight! Go get yourself some excellent foreign cinema while you still can. Here’s a couple of films that we checked out from the festival.

The Swan (Svanurinn) – Iceland
Elle Cahill

An elegant story of a young girl’s sexual awakening set against a beautiful Icelandic backdrop.

The Swan is a delicate story about Sól, a nine-year-old girl who is sent to the countryside to work as part of an Icelandic tradition to encourage independence and maturity in pre-teen children. While at the farm, Sól not only learns about the harsh realities of life but begins her first foray into lust as she crushes on the much older farm hand Jón.

The Swan is a sensitive and unexpected portrayal of a young girl as she begins to mature and navigate the challenges of life. The Swan doesn’t shy away from discussing tough subjects like the brutal side of farm life, abortion and unrequited love. We only see these subjects from Sól’s point of view, but that doesn’t make it any less confronting. The truthful and honest portrayal of a young girl’s sexual awakening was also impressive, especially as young actress Gríma Valsdóttir handled the heaviness of the subject matter with a maturity well beyond her years.

Despite all the brutality, Martin Neumeyer’s cinematography brings a softness and beauty to the film, that gives it a whimsical, romantic feel of a Jane Austen novel. Neumeyer captures the beauty and harshness of the Icelandic backdrop, keeping close to Sól and exploring her point of view from a visual side.

A truly exquisite and captivating film from first time feature film director Ása Helga Hjörleifsdótirr.

A Horrible Woman (En Frygtelig Kvinde) – Denmark
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Christian Tafdrup’s A Horrible Woman is what it is – a portrait of a fairly horrible woman.


I believe there are people like this. People who enter into a relationship and turn the very air sour. People who are so toxic they’re not even good for themselves. There is such a person in A Horrible Woman, the new film by Christian Tafdrup, and she is a bitter force indeed.

It opens with a bunch of drunk guys in an apartment. One of their wives comes home with a couple of friends, and one of them, the tall, attractive Marie (Amanda Collin), takes a strong liking to the apartment’s owner, Rasmus (Anders Juul). They flirt, they sleep together, they go steady, she moves in. Next minute, she’s moving him out, piece by piece. First, it’s his CD collection, then it’s the poster of Jeff Bridges from The Big Lebowski. He feels like he’s drowning, and his friend Troels (Rasmus Hammerich) isn’t much help. We have all, in some form, encountered a person like Marie. Or have we?

Collin delivers a tight, menacing, ultimately brilliant performance, with her narrow face and Natalie Portman smile, and the movie is thoroughly gripping in most places. But A Horrible Woman plays more like an instruction on what not to do in a relationship than an examination of an actual couple. And is it too much to suspect that something supernatural might be going on? Why does Marie keep breaking the fourth wall? Why are all of her friends cackling women? What’s the deal with Troels’ wife? Some food for thought, perhaps.

Images courtesy of Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival and Palace Cinemas. 

Movie Review – Two is a Family

Charming in spots, but otherwise totally confused, Hugo Gélin’s Two is a Family misses the mark.

 ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

There is not a single convincing moment in Two is a Family, aside from the performances by Omar Sy and little Gloria Colston, who team up to form one of the more charming parent-child relationships in recent memory.

Sy plays Samuel, a yacht chauffeur in a fancy French beach town who enjoys playing around with lots of attractive women until one day an infant is dumped into his arms by a woman he may or may not have bedded. He tracks the woman to London, where the movie kicks into gear and very quickly develops a crisis of identity.

The baby, of course, grows up to become Gloria (Colston), the frizzy-haired little darling who at once captures our affection. But the plot, which is a remake of the 2013 Mexican film Instructions Not Included, is built upon a network of contrivances and impossible scenarios that conflicts with everything the movie is trying to accomplish.

Take Samuel’s fraught arrival in London, for example. He runs around like a headless chicken, lost in translation, till he bumps into Bernie (Antoine Bertrand), a movie producer who happens to speak French and instantly hires Samuel as a stuntman after Samuel dodges tube traffic like an acrobat to rescue Gloria. Job, new friend, and a place to stay, all within minutes of arriving in a foreign land? Check!

Then there is the movie set Samuel works on, which is commanded by an English director (Raphael von Blumenthal) so out-of-place he seems to belong in a different kind of movie. Every time he speaks you can almost see the screenplay crumbling to pieces out of his mouth.

The apartment Samuel and Gloria build for themselves is equally unbelievable. It looks like an expensive loft that’s been retrofitted by Josh Baskin from Big (1988), with a gigantic stuffed elephant in the corner and a slide that connects the second-floor bedroom to a ball pit on the first. All it’s missing is a trampoline, and maybe Tom Hanks to jump about on it.

But it’s meant to be a comedy! – I hear you scream. Yes, that’s right. I should take everything with a lightness of heart. That would have worked if Two is a Family hadn’t also tried to be a very serious, heart-wrenching drama about broken families and past mistakes.

The core of the plot involves Gloria’s mother Kristin, played by Clémence Poésy, who suddenly reappears after abandoning Gloria to Samuel all those years ago. This could’ve been truly touching if the writers had made Kristin a woman sympathetic to Samuel’s situation, but no, she is instead morphed into a villain who for no real reason seems bent on tearing Samuel and Gloria apart.

In the right hands Two is a Family could have been gentle and tender, but also hysterically funny. Instead it is like a bowl of mayonnaise that never emulsifies. The only reason I give it a passing grade is because Omar Sy and Gloria Colston are brilliant together. I could honestly watch them for days.

Two is a Family is available in Australian cinemas from June 28

Image courtesy of Palace Films

Movie Review – In The Fade

Given its contemporary relevance, outstanding lead performance and gripping story, it’s damn near criminal that In the Fade was snubbed for a nomination for Best Foreign Feature at this year’s Oscars.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Katja Sekerci’s (Diane Kruger) happy and comfortable family life is torn to shreds when her husband Nuri (Numan Acar) and five-year-old son are killed in a bomb attack on his workplace. Police investigate the possibility of the attack being linked to Nuri’s past drug dealing, but Katja is convinced this is the work of neo-Nazis.

With a title drawn from a song by heavy rock band Queens of the Stone Age (and a score composed by the band’s lead singer, Josh Homme), you can probably already guess the anarchist tone In the Fade sets into. It’s brutal stuff, happening to the kind of people who live on the fringes of society and find comfort in family that exists parallel to drugs, violence and murder. Or at least the family we focus on was once like that, as we see from a prologue in which Katja and Nuri have a joyous wedding ceremony inside a prison while he is incarcerated. There’s no doubting Katja’s unconditional love for her drug-pushing husband.

Picking up six years down the track, they’ve mostly left this life behind for a normal, straight-laced and wholesome family life to give their rosy-cheeked son the best life imaginable. But this hardened criminal exterior and interior still lingers, and comes back in full force in Katja when her son and husband are blown to smithereens. Diane Kruger’s performance after this catastrophic event becomes the bleeding heart and soul of the story; it’s a powerful tour-de-force that shows the realistic evolution of world-shattering grief slowly building to uncontrollable rage and eventually burning vengeance and retaliation.

The second, and most gripping act, is the court case in which Katja fights determinedly with her lawyer Danilo (Denis Moschitto, also excellent) to bring the neo-Nazi couple accused of orchestrating the killing to justice. Courtroom drama aficionados will be euphoric here – it’s an amazingly captivating case with edge-of-your-seat uncertainty of its outcome. Without spoiling too much, the third act is Katja’s own form of justice, and it’s startlingly intense.

In an age where Nazism has seeped back into the cultural eye and violent attacks are still terrifyingly commonplace, In the Fade can’t help but bleed relevance. Intriguingly, it’s Germany holding a mirror to its own product for once, and while the sum of its parts doesn’t quite match Diane Kruger’s sheer commitment, this is a wildly provocative ride.

 In The Fade is available in Australian cinemas from March 8

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2018

C’est La Vie! The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival has returned for another year, so why not head out to Perth’s independent cinemas, indulge in some wine and cheese, and experience the latest and greatest of French films? We checked out a few of the films on offer so you can decide what might tickle your fancy:

See You Up There  (Au Revoir Là-haut)
Michael Philp & Elle Cahill

See You Up There chronicles the lives of two men, Edouard Péricourt (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) and Albert Maillard (Albert Dupontel), who meet on a WWI battlefield and become inextricably tied to one another. After Péricourt becomes horribly disfigured, the pair return to Paris and survive by selling fake war monuments. As the pair become rich, it soon becomes apparent that great wealth brings great attention, and that they can’t keep hiding from their past.

Shifting from the hollowness of war and post-war poverty, to the extravagance of the Roaring 20’s, the filmmakers have done everything in their power to accurately portray the two extremes; beautiful cinematography illustrates the chaos and desperation of war, while the production design captures the dandiness of the 1920’s.

The comedy throughout is appropriately dark, with writer/director and lead actor Dupontel not shying away from the realities of post-war exploitation. Despite this, he makes sure to let in a little slapstick and farce, emphasising the film’s 20’s aesthetic.

Yet despite its comedic veneer, See You Up There carries an often unspoken darkness, and is never shy about addressing the roots of its characters’ poverty. That uncanny balance is what makes the film stand out.

March 2018 - AF French Film Festival See You There

Ladies (De Plus Belle)
Josip Knezevic 

Too often we forget about those who survive a battle with cancer and the challenges they face in picking up the pieces of their lives afterwards. This is where De plus belle comes in, a story about a breast cancer survivor learning how to rebuild. Florence Foresti plays Lucie Larcher, a single mother who has just had a double mastectomy and is struggling to regain the confidence she once had. When she meets Clovis (Mathieu Kassovitz), a smooth-talking bachelor, her self-image and beauty is put to the test as she struggles to feel beautiful in the way that he sees her.

Never has there been a more appropriate time to describe a movie as ‘just fine’. Des Plus Belle isn’t terrible, but neither is it great. The story is original enough, and explores the definition of beauty, as well as society’s perception towards breast cancer survivors. The acting is solid, with nice performances from both of its leads, but does it get to me emotionally? No. Does it fell like a captivating drama? No. All in all, it’s just fine.


Could this have been a great movie? Sure. But I think to do so, it would have required taking a lot more risks, but then again, I don’t believe this was the type of film it was striving to be. No, it just wanted to be a simple, heart-warming affair, and that it does achieve. It’s enjoyable enough, but it doesn’t push the envelope.

March 2018 - AF French Film Festival Ladies

Golden Years (Nos Années Folles)
Zachary Cruz-Tan 

André Téchiné comes from the same rich stock that flavoured French cinema in the ‘60s and ‘70s, telling stories about the human condition and filming them as if they were songs. His latest, Golden Years, addresses the human condition like so many of his others, but it plays less like a song and more like a demo track with missing verses. It’s quite a confounding experience.

From what I could tell, Golden Years unfolds out of order, which wouldn’t have been so much of a problem if it wasn’t trying to examine the mental and sexual ramifications of appearing as the opposite gender to save your life.

In the film, Paul Grappe (Pierre Deladonchamps) escapes from a shelter while recovering from war wounds and gradually loses his identity after dressing up in his mother-in-law’s old frocks. He sells his body to soldiers back from the front, alienates his wife, Louise (Céline Sallette), and eventually feels more comfortable in stockings than boots.

What happened here? Where did Paul go? Did he always have crossover tendencies, or was it just the war? Nothing’s ever quite clear. Téchiné instead snips off large portions of important events so that what we’re left with are all the uninteresting middle bits and none of the punchlines. No man stays dressed as a woman for no reason. I’m sure Paul had a good one. We just never find out what it was.

March 2018 - AF French Film Festival Golden Years

The School of Life (L’école Buissonière)
Michael Philp

It’s not hard to pull School of Life apart. It’s full of well-worn tropes, twists that you can see from a mile off, and at times it feels like several different stories crudely sewn together. It begins promisingly enough – there’s a hint of a discussion on vegetarianism that you just hope will go somewhere – but by the third act it’s clear that none of that potential is going to be handled well. Information is revealed seemingly at random, rivalries disappear, and a romance appears with all the passion of a box being ticked.

And yet it insists on being too sweet and charming to dismiss entirely. Totoche (François Cluzet) is the biggest culprit of this. An endearing take on the forbidden father figure, Totoche is a poacher with a knack for inventions and the perfect foil for Borel (Eric Elmosnino), an uptight gamekeeper obsessed with catching him. You could make an entire film out of those two playing cat and mouse and it would be wonderful. For a little while, School of Life is that film. What a pity it feels the need to grow up.

March 2018 - AF French Film Festival School of Life

Images courtesy of Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, StudioCanal, Arp Sélection and Umbrella Entertainment. 

Movie Review – A Fantastic Woman

A powerfully authentic depiction of trans issues, foreign film A Fantastic Woman is not easy to watch, but it is definitely worth it.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Michael Philp  

Watching A Fantastic Woman, one gets the sense that the people involved have been waiting to get this ball rolling for a while now. It shows in the ease with which Daniela Vega – herself a trans woman – embodies the character of Marina, and the care that all parties bring to depicting her struggles. The challenges Marina faces feel personal and resonate deeply, creating a sense of cathartic empowerment, with a confident spirit finally being given the spotlight it deserves.

Marina is a singer and waitress in Santiago, Chile. She lives happily with her older lover, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), who we see first, scrambling to find travel tickets he had planned to surprise Marina with. He will never find them. That night, Orlando suffers an aneurysm and dies in hospital, the swiftness of his death underscoring the degree to which Marina’s life is about to be ripped apart. Within hours, Orlando’s family emerges to reclaim him from Marina’s “grasp” and sweep her under the rug using whatever means necessary.

Orlando’s family are something else. If Marina’s character arc seems stunted it’s because they hold her back, sometimes literally. Son Bruno (Nicolás Saavedra) lets himself into Orlando’s apartment, an act that dismisses Marina without needing to say a word. Worse yet is ex-wife Sonia (Aline Küppenheim), who seems “nice enough” until she calls Marina a chimaera and starts using her birth name. If you don’t understand how misgendering someone can be abusive, you haven’t met Sonia; she makes it an art form. Inevitably these slights escalate, reaching their peak with an atrocious act of physical abuse that’s hard to watch.

This escalation is the heart of A Fantastic Woman. You can see it in Marina’s eyes when she speaks to cops at the hospital – she knows that these things are never simple or benign. The cops are just the beginning. Vega brings these experiences to life with authenticity and subtlety. She’s met people like this before, she knows how degrading they can be, and her performance benefits immensely from that first-hand knowledge. It’s empowering just watching her work.

Director Sebastián Lelio is important here as well. He shows himself in select sequences that blur the line between fantasy and reality. A windstorm pushes Marina down until she’s almost parallel to the sidewalk, leaf litter smacking her in the face. Later, a nightclub melts away to give her one last dance alone with Orlando. These breaks from reality express Marina’s grief and frustration in a way that she never could. There are admittedly one too many of them, but their purpose is always clear and admirable, and they are never less than beautiful.

As a powerful portrait of a unique soul, A Fantastic Woman is worth your time. It has an uphill battle for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, but there’s enough meat here for the Academy to give it serious consideration. It’s a gracefully told story, and Vega is magnificent in bringing her own experiences to the table. With luck, this will be the beginning of a new era in representation. With stars like Vega and directors like Lelio, that can only be a good thing.

A Fantastic Woman is available in Australian cinemas from February 22 

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – Just To Be Sure

In a classic comedy of errors, this little French film proves that a great cast and a well-written story is all you really need to make an enjoyable movie.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

A trip to the obstetrician with his pregnant daughter leads Erwan (François Damiens) to discover he is not related to the man he believed to be his father, and so he sets out to find his real biological parent. His need to prove a point to his pregnant daughter Juliette (Alice de Lencquesaing) – who refuses to find the father of her unborn child – drives him to establish a connection with Joseph (André Wilms), a man who knew his now-deceased mother, and who Erwan believes must be his real father. Drama ensues when Joseph realises the woman he is falling for is Joseph’s daughter, and thereby potentially his half-sister. Erwan is left to try and navigate the various lies and half-truths he’s told as he tries to determine whether this man is in fact his father or not…

Despite its seemingly complicated plot, Just To Be Sure (Ôtez-moi D’un Doute) is a genuinely funny, tongue-in-cheek comedy of errors that has an uncanny ability to be hilarious, yet deeply moving at the same time. There are no frills in this film, other than a carefully constructed story that is carried beautifully by its cast.

Damiens plays Erwan with an intensity that rapidly turns to softness when he’s in the presence of love interest Anna (Cécile de France), and his need to connect with his biological father is so earnest that you can’t help but root for him.

Both de France and de Lencquesaing steal the show as Anna and Juliette respectively, especially the former, who is an absolute powerhouse. She gives Anna a quiet strength that plays wonderfully off Erwan’s faltering façade of strength, and her quick-wit provides a lot of relief that keeps Erwan on his toes. Despite Erwan struggling to see Juliette as more than the little girl he raised, she is the true hero in this story as she cuts through the bullshit and lays everything on the table so that the family can heal and move forward.

Just To Be Sure is purely an exploration of ordinary characters operating in extraordinary circumstances. All members of the cast put in strong performances, and while the filmmaking is simple and straightforward, anything more would serve as a distraction to the story being told. It is frank and unapologetic, and its careful balance of humour makes it a really smart little film that left me in fits of laughter.

Just To Be Sure is available in Australian cinemas from December 26 

Image courtesy of Palace Films