Cunard British Film Festival 2017

Jawbone

Unpretentious and unforgiving, Jawbone will make your head spin.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½

Rhys Graeme-Drury

A former youth boxing champion, Jimmy (This is England’s Johnny Harris) has reached middle age and found himself without a purpose, a job and a home. Looking to pick himself up off the canvas, Jimmy recruits the help of gym owner Bill (Ray Winstone), corner man Eddie (Michael Smiley) and financier Joe (Ian McShane) so that he can step back into the ring for his long overdue comeback fight.

Dripping with blood, sweat and tears, Jawbone isn’t a glorified take on boxing; a washed-up alcoholic alone in the world, Jimmy’s plight is more closely aligned with the titular character in Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, as he fights for welfare and his home on top of victory in the ring. Where Rocky is rousing, Jawbone is about fighting tooth and nail for survival.

Perfectly capturing this is Harris in the lead role; also serving as screenwriter, Harris puts his heart and soul into both the script and his performance, bringing geezers like Winstone and Smiley along for the ride as well. Harris’ writing affords all three a substantial amount of emotional heft and they carry it off with aplomb.

All this culminates in a raw and punishing fight that doesn’t pull its punches. Director Thomas Napper gets up and close and personal, placing you in the midst of every swing, sidestep and slap. What Jawbone lacks in polish it makes up for it character, emotion and genuine catharsis.


That Good Night

John Hurt effortlessly carries his last film, even as its theatre origins let it down.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½

Michael Philp

Ralph is an elderly, cantankerous writer (John Hurt) facing death. Hoping to make amends, he invites his estranged son, Michael (Max Brown), to his villa for a weekend of confessions. Things go awry when Michael brings his partner Cassie (Erin Richards), and Ralph brings out his bitter side.

 

There’s a (mostly justifiable) sense of self-indulgence to That Good Night. Partly, it’s that Ralph is a famous writer who rattles off beautiful poetry whenever he wants, but it’s also that this is John Hurt’s last film, so his musings on life and death carry particular weight. You can’t blame him for indulging either. Few actors have the talent to warrant an entire film dedicated to their own mortality, so it seems fitting to give Hurt one last opportunity to show off his abilities.

 

He carries it all, too. Surrounded by adequate co-stars – and Charles Dance with the gravitas of a small planet – Hurt stands head and shoulders above every other aspect of the film. His performance is beautifully naturalistic, rising above its theatre roots to deliver a compelling snapshot of a man coming to terms with his end.

 

Sadly, the film itself can’t quite match him. Director Eric Styles does his best to move things away from the script’s theatre origins, using sweeping vistas and excellent colour to highlight Portugal’s countryside, but it’s not quite enough. He just can’t escape that theatre vibe – slightly heightened and stiff. The worst offender is the dialogue, which is needlessly expository and workmanlike at times. However, even as the rest of the film struggles to keep up, Hurt keeps it all together. A fitting end, then, for an actor who certainly did not go gentle into that good night.

 Cunard British Film Festival runs in Perth from October 26th – November 15th 

Images courtesy of Palace Films & Cunard British Film Festival.

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Lavazza Italian Film Festival 2017

Cinema Italiano returns to Perth for another year! You can catch the festival at Cinema Paradiso and Luna on SX from September 21 to October 11.

Messy Christmas

A nun, a politician and an Arab walk into a bar, and hilarity ensues as Luca Miniero’s Messy Christmas proves.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

September 2017 - Italian FF Messy Christmas_00000

Set on the remote Mediterranean island of Porto Buio, Messy Christmas sees newly elected mayor Cecco (Claudio Bisio) wrangle with the townsfolk over the particulars of the upcoming Christmas nativity scene. With the child who usually plays Jesus having outgrown the role and no new babies born on the island for years, Mayor Cecco must instead ask the local Islamic Tunisian community if they can ‘borrow’ one of their children to play Jesus – not an easy request when so many locals are entrenched in fundamental traditions on both sides of the equation.

A broad and irreverent comedy that never feels mean-spirited, Messy Christmas has a lot of fun wrestling with culture clash and religious differences. Most of the humour in Miniero’s riotous romp is rooted in poking fun at the peculiarities of modern Italy, with its growing multiculturalism and deeply rooted Christian ideals. The film flaunts a large ensemble of kooky characters, from Bilal (Alessandro Gassman), a local Islam convert, his Arabic wife Aida (Nabiha Akkari), who wants to put a distinctly un-Christian spin on her depiction of the Virgin Mary, and Marta (Angela Finocchiaro), a nun who is firmly fixed on upholding Catholic tradition.

Light and breezy, Messy Christmas doesn’t take itself or its subject matter too seriously; sure, there are bound to be a few gags here that might ruffle a few feathers, but the overall impression is one of cartoonish goofiness. While the slapdash effort to stage the nativity scene is fun (at one point an Aladdin-inspired set-up dials up the silliness), the emotional heft delivered by the final act is disappointingly slight. Miniero’s script (serving as both writer and director) lacks the same polish and spirited conclusion one would usually expect from a comedy of this ilk, and instead chooses to end proceedings with a shrug. A shame, but what comes before it is still good for a laugh.

Indivisible

The opening title of this year’s Italian Film Festival is essentially Stuck on You for the arthouse crowd.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

09 September - Italian FF Indivisible

Seventeen-year-old twin sisters Daisy (Angela Fontana) and Violet (Marianna Fontana) both have an extraordinary singing talent, which they put to good use supporting their family by singing at weddings, baptisms and communions. This is, however, a small part of their popularity; the real draw is their other, more unusual charm – they’re Siamese twins, joined at the hip. They’re inseparable, literally and figuratively, until a prominent doctor notices them at an event and offers to surgically separate them.

Edwardo De Angelis faces a dilemma that seems to appear semi-regularly in independent film – an ambitious premise squandered by an unremarkable script and execution. His otherwise enjoyable flick Indivisible suffers from this, sticking far too close to the family drama formula despite focusing on a topic rarely explored seriously and more often than not reduced to comedy or horror tropes.

Luckily it’s rescued by its two stars; real-life sisters Angela and Marianna Fontana, whose twindom easily lends to their remarkable chemistry and effortless back and forth. What’s truly special is how real they’ve made the Siamese trait feel, having clearly put in a lot of practice walking side by side, with prosthetics joining them to make it seem as though they have been stuck together their entire lives.

But they’re let down by the all-too-obvious directions the story takes. Of course a doctor conveniently appears and takes such an interest that he offers to separate the girls free of charge. Of course one sister wants to be divided so she can live a normal life while the other couldn’t bear to be apart from her sibling. And of course their conniving father has kept the fact that this surgery could have taken place long ago from them so he can continue to make a profit off their singing. Despite an interesting idea, it feels like we’ve seen it all before; luckily, its stars make us care just enough to stick with it.

I Was A Dreamer 

First time director Michele Vannucci delivers a dreamy recount of a man returning to life in Rome after prison.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

September 2017 Italian FF I Was A Dreamer_00000
Based on the true story of Mirko Frezza (played by the real life Mirko Frezza), I Was A Dreamer chronicles Frezza’s release from jail and return to his hometown where he finds his community torn apart by rampant drug addiction. Mirko agrees to take on the role of president for the homeowner’s committee, and attempts to set up community based projects to try and rehabilitate the drug victims, however, as his own father falls deeper into addiction, Mirko wonders if the issues faced by his townspeople are too far gone to repair.

There’s strong performances all round from the entire cast of I Was A Dreamer, with Frezza in particular portraying his own internal and external struggles with a beautiful subtlety. Ginevra De Carolis, who plays Mirko’s daughter Michelle, also puts in a powerful performance as Michelle attempts to repair her broken relationship with a father who has been absent from most of her life. Her resistance to her father and her journey towards rebuilding her trust in him is captured in all its fragility.

The film has a dream-like quality to it, almost hallucinogenic, making you feel as though you’re floating through the film, as if in a trance. This dreamy style causes a bit of disorientation, but director Michele Vannucci in his feature film debut, cleverly harnesses this technique to help you see the world through Mirko’s eyes in his feature film debut.

 

There is an an annoying overuse of voice over that is largely unnecessary; it doesn’t support the narrative and is mostly used to reveal Mirko’s inner thoughts at the expense of the film.

Overall, I Was a Dreamer is a sensitive look into a community plagued by addiction. It’s a touching tale and you really feel for Mirko and his feeling of having the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival is screening in Perth from September 21 – October 11

Images courtesy of Lavazza Italian Film Festival & Palace Films

Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival 2017

Why does the Norway navy have bar codes on the side of their ships?

So when they come back to port they can… Scandinavian.

Terrible jokes aside, the Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival is back in Perth from July 20 to August 2. Here’s a snapshot of some of the films on offer!
A Conspiracy of Faith

A Conspiracy of Faith is a dark crime thriller that isn’t afraid to tackle difficult issues of child abduction, religion and tensions that exist in rural communities.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

07 July 2017 - Scandinavian FF Conspiracy of Faith

When a message in a bottle washes up on the shore of rural Denmark, detectives Carl Mørck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Assad (Fares Fares) start investigating the case. The note appears to be written by a child and they soon discover that there is a history of child abductions amongst religious cults in the area. When two children go missing in similar circumstances, the pair must race to find out who the abductor is before the two children become his next victim.

A Conspiracy of Faith is a film that’s visually beautiful and soft, almost as if you’re in a dream. The content, however, is nightmarish, and literally gives you shivers thanks to its spectacular performances.

Standouts include Olivia Terpet Gammelgaard, who plays one of the kidnapped children, and Pål Sverre Hagen who plays the abductor Johannes. Terpet Gammelgaard’s quiet tenacity makes you even more fearful for her fate, while Sverre Hagen’s turn as Johannes is powerful and frightening as he comfortably shifts between personas to get what he requires. There’s a quiet evil that lurks behind his friendly façade and it only grows more menacing as the film progresses.

The film has many more admirable qualities, such as its brilliant soundtrack that provides a real stillness at some points, then a thick blanket of tension and suspense at others. A Conspiracy of Faith tackles a lot of tough topics such as religion and faith, child abduction, indoctrination, and nature versus nurture, which are all handled with an amazing sensitivity; this is a film that will stay with me, and I encourage all to go see it.


Magnus

Magnus is an intriguing documentary charting the rise of Magnus Carlsen; a charismatic Norwegian chess prodigy who eventually became the world champion in 2013.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Kit Morris

07 July 2017 - Scandinavian FF Magnus
Magnus chronicles the story of an underdog who overcame great odds to become top of his game; Magnus Carlsen became a Grandmaster at just 13 after playing ten chess games blindfolded. Once labelled the “Mozart of Chess” he is known as a prime athlete in the chess-playing world.

Whilst rightly attempting to tap into the intuitive mindset and lateral thinking behind this ancient game, Magnus stumbles by showcasing an excess of game footage, which may alienate casual viewers that are not familiar with the rules. Players within the documentary speak in technical jargon about chess, which may not make for enthralling viewing, but it does add a degree of quirkiness. Director Benjamin Ree portrays his subject as a child genius who grew up with modesty, and deliberately avoids focusing too much on Carlsen’s personal life.

Chess is a wonderful game, but it’s not for everyone, much like this documentary.


Little Wing

Linnea Skog strives to deliver a strong performance as a restless 12-year-old, but the material fails to make full use of her potential.

⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Frustrated by her mother’s inability to function as an adult, 12-year-old Varpu (Linnea Skog) learns to drive a car and takes off in the middle of the night to search for her estranged father. The journey doesn’t exactly go as planned and Varpu has to decide whether to persist in the search for her father or to go home defeated.

Linnea Skog is without a doubt an incredible actress; she plays Varpu with a maturity and steely determination that makes you sympathise with her situation. Unfortunately, the adults around her are too over the top, and this is where the movie starts to give way. From her mother who climbs into her bed every night like a child needing to be comforted, to an abused pregnant woman that Varpu comes in contact with along the way, and finally her father, you’re left to wonder how a young girl can have the misfortune of being constantly surrounded by such socially damaged people.

There are some details in the film that just don’t make sense, and some of the actions contradict the personalities of the main characters. In the end, the film wraps everything up a little too nicely, making you question whether the characters grew from this experience at all.

It’s an interesting snapshot of one girl’s adventures, and would make for a great story in the pub, but on screen it fails to develop into anything of note.

Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival 2017 runs in Perth from 20 July – 2 August 

Images courtesy of Palace Films & Volvo Scandinavian Film Festival

Movie Review – Raw

Possibly the strangest film that you will see this year.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

Raw is an eviscerating debut for director Julia Ducournau that is bound to polarise audiences with its profound subject matter and unrelenting presentation, but if you don’t mind, I think I’ll only stomach it once!

At first glance, the premise for French film Raw could be mistaken for a comedy: “when a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her”. What an opportunity for a hilarious exploration of a vegetarian going commando on her carnivorous compadres! But perhaps it’s only me thinking this could turn into a gory comedy about vegetarians taking back society one piece of meat at a time… it would be the ultimate message to never judge those who lead different lifestyles to you!

While not exactly the comedy I was hoping for, Raw is still one hell of an experience. It’s hard to know exactly where to begin when describing such a movie. Without giving too much away, Raw works quickly to establish a dramatically uncomfortable tone. Even if you’ve seen the trailer, the film weaves in more surprises than anticipated, and by surprises, I don’t mean excessively gory scenes. In fact, there isn’t that much gore to begin with, so if you’re worried that you’ve entered into a foreign remake of Saw III, fear no more. What I shall say is that the plot takes a seemingly superficial concept and turns into something far deeper by the end…

From the opening shot, the cinematography truly shines, and every scene after that follows in the same vein. On a technical level, the film is brilliant, but what lets it down is its overall impact. If it’s intention is to make the audience uncomfortable, then yes, it has accomplished what it set out to do, but other than that, I can’t really take much else away from it, as it doesn’t really have a key message or theme.

Raw is worthwhile seeing purely for its immersive and lurid atmosphere that’s so far removed from any other movie available in cinemas right now. It’s sure to get your stomach turning and mouth talking about what you’ve witnessed!

Raw is available in Australian cinemas from April 20

Image courtesy of Monster Pictures Distribution

20th Spanish Film Festival

The 20th Spanish Film Festival has come to Perth once more! Here’s a selection of the films on offer:

May God Save Us

Se7en meets Spain in Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s thoughtful, thrilling and disturbing serial killer chiller. Don’t bring your grandmother.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

04 April - SFF May God Save

As the people of Madrid eagerly await the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI in the summer of 2011, two detectives – Luis Velarde (Antonio de la Torre), a stuttering, awkward bundle of nerves, and Javier Alfaro (Roberto Álamo), a hothead with a short temper and a violent streak – are on the case of a serial killer with a sick penchant for brutally raping and murdering elderly women. Instructed to keep it quiet and under control, things begin to unravel wildly for the pair as each finds they have more in common with their killer than they’d like to admit, and the game of cat-and-mouse turns deadly.

May God Save Us, the second feature from Rodrigo Sorogoyen (Stockholm) is an ambitious sophomore effort that wants to be many things. From police procedural to intense character study, it succeeds at most of its aspirations. Most successful is its True Detective-like focus on the partners tailing the killer and how the investigation sends their lives into an obsessive downward spiral. Both of these cops are profoundly flawed and capable of dark outbursts. Both de la Torre and Álamo are greatly engaging and share a terrific chemistry.

The twisty, unnerving narrative and shocking depravity on display make this comparable to the thrillers of David Fincher (Se7en springs to mind more than once). The conclusion relies a little too heavily on coincidence to tie everything up neatly, but everything before it is a riveting, entertaining crime epic to rival some of Hollywood’s supreme.


The Distinguished Citizen

A self-righteous Spaniard wanders aimlessly around the Argentinian countryside for 117 minutes… but that’s not the only thing left to wander. You’ll find yourself wondering what on Earth its all about.

⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

04 April - SFF Citizen

Daniel Mantovani (Oscar Martínez) is a world-renowned writer and esteemed scholarly figure. After being awarded a Nobel Prize for literature, he retreats into self-imposed isolation, abject at his own inability to challenge readers now that his work is so celebrated. Like Alexander the Great weeping for no more worlds to conquer, Daniel decides to journey back to the Argentinian backwater village where he grew up, presumably in an attempt to gain perspective and stay humble.

From here, Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat‘s dramedy follows a rather familiar fish-out-of-water template. Revered by the simple townsfolk, Daniel finds himself surrounded by eager friends and distant relations who are certain his work is based on their kooky personalities and threadbare lives. The screenplay toys with the idea of the artist and the notion of being a stranger amongst friends, but only scratches the surface. After two hours of following Daniel through numerous speeches and photo ops, I felt like we never truly got to explore his motivations in detail.

Instead the film concerns itself the small-town squabbles and petty jealousies of old flame Irene (Andrea Frigerio) and childhood friend Antonio (Dady Brieva). It certainly doesn’t help that the production design and technical elements struggle to elevate the weak material; drab framing, surroundings and an overall boring visual aesthetic means The Distinguished Citizen is next to indistinguishable from a no-frills TV project, with little cinematic flair or energy brought to the screen.


Summer 1993

Life must always go on… and I couldn’t wait for my life to go on once the credits finally rolled on Summer 1993. It’s not my cup of tea, but the centrepiece film of the festival certainly does have a lot of merit.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 
Cherie Wheeler

04 April - SFF Summer 1993

Carla Simón‘s autobiographical drama provides an understated, yet intimate look into the grieving process through the unique perspective of recently orphaned 6-year-old girl Frida (Laia Artigas). Shipped off to live in the countryside with her Aunt, Uncle and their younger daughter Anna (Paula Robles), Frida gradually comes to terms with her new reality and strives to fit in with her substitute family

In her feature film debut, Simón succeeds in channeling her life experiences to construct an authentic and sincere portrayal of family dynamics in the wake of tragedy.  While there is the occasional burst of charisma in some amusing interactions between Frida and Anna, overall the film falls flat with a distinct lack of conflict. Yes, Frida is struggling to sift through her wild tangle of emotions, but this is not enough to sustain a 97-minute run-time. I found myself growing increasingly restless as seemingly disconnected events in the family’s day to day life simply unfolded at a glacial pace.

Summer 1993 is not a film that seeks to entertain; it’s purely a work of art to be observed and admired if you have the patience to do so. Depending on your taste and your mood, you’ll either appreciate its brilliance, or loathe its very existence.  


The Tip of the Iceberg

Corporate greed and violation is at the core of David Cánovas’ latest film, a thriller that distinctly lacks the thrill.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

04 April - SFF Tip Iceberg

David Cánovas The Tip of the Iceberg is a lightweight thriller about the kind of corporate conspiracy that can only exist in the movies. I believe there is a lot of corruption in a lot of big companies out there, but to go to the extremes these characters go to, just to make some extra cash, requires some form of superhuman avarice or sadism.

Maribel Verdú plays Sofia Cuevas, an executive of a multinational conglomerate tasked with investigating the mysterious suicides of three of her company’s high-ranking employees. In an eventless and tiresome string of interviews, she encounters workers who have been pressured and blackmailed into functioning at peak performance – like little hamsters trained not to stop running – and uncovers a dastardly plot by the higher-ups to consistently meet deadlines at the expense of their fatigued colleagues.

It’s all very straight-edged, narrow and bland. Verdú is perhaps the only one who appears to be invested in the corporate crime, but after hours and hours of sitting behind a desk staring holes into her laptop screen, even she runs out of gas before the finish line. Convenient plot threads, chance encounters and neatly tied-up loose ends all make The Tip of the Iceberg more trouble than it’s worth.


The Spanish Film Festival runs in Perth from April 27 to May 17

Images courtesy of Palace Films and The Spanish Film Festival 

Movie Review – Frantz

François Ozon returns to the screen with an intimate examination of national pride, exclusivity, racial tolerance and love.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

There are basically two groups of war movies: the ones that have lots of buildings and people blowing up, and the ones that are about the stories in between things blowing up. Rarely do you come across a film that’s both (Schindler’s List and Downfall are masterful exceptions). François Ozon’s languid Frantz sits comfortably in the corner of the latter group, taking place after the Great War and during a period of tumultuous regrouping for the losing side, which were, of course, the Germans. It’s basically a war movie with very little war.

Ozon narrows his focus to the Hoffmeisters – a good-spirited but fractured elderly couple whose son, Frantz (Anton von Lucke), has been killed in France – and Anna (Paula Beer), Frantz’s would-be future wife. Together they mourn their loss, blaming all of France for Germany’s dead. One day, a Frenchman called Adrien (Pierre Niney) wanders to their doorstep, claiming to be Frantz’s best pal, offering peace and good will. At first, the Hoffmeisters are doubtful, but they soon suspect that Adrien speaks the truth, and for a brief moment they wine and dine as if their son has returned.

Much of Frantz hinges on Adrien’s honesty. It’s clear he’s concealing hidden truths about his seemingly random appearance, but Niney is clever in turning Adrien’s questionable conscience into a performance of immense pathos. The first half of the film is about him. The second is about Anna. Both characters have to rise above the anger of their compatriots to see each other as they really are. Sounds heavy and impenetrable? Well, you don’t go to a French/German film for exploding robots.

Frantz is definitely a slow-burn, patiently allowing its characters the room to explore their emotions and calculate their actions. Anna is a strong, forgiving woman; Beer’s performance is one of delicate timing and restraint. Adrien, conversely, is more unhinged, freewheeling, impulsive. But this isn’t an Along Came Polly kind of match up. There are no jokes about spicy food and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Anna and Adrien are introduced to each other by a tragedy and there is an air of the macabre that settles upon them. Indeed, Pascal Marti’s breathtaking black-and-white photography sometimes feels like a visual eulogy, and there are many scenes set in cemeteries. Frantz may be about two young people moving on with their lives, but its DNA is made up of death.

Even when Frantz falters, it does so with grace, keeping the drama firmly centred on the people who matter. This isn’t a groundbreaking film about war, or even about human dynamics, but it’s thoughtful and charismatic, and many times, that’s enough.

Frantz is available in Australian cinemas from April 13

Image courtesy of Sharmill Films 

2017 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival

Bonjour Perth! The 28th annual French Film Festival is in town for the next few weeks screening at Cinema Paradiso, Luna on SX and The Windsor. We sampled a few of the films on offer.

Tomorrow

Riding on a crest of environmental documentaries comes Tomorrow: a passionate, yet humble look at the positivity global contamination can bring.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

03 March - AFF Tomorrow
You know how the Western genre has become so saturated that, to stand out, it has to come with unique selling points? Like, look – it’s cowboys and aliens! The Environmental Documentary has more or less reached a similar crisis, with each new film threatening to re-tread what the other has said. It’s no longer enough to complain about fossil fuel emissions and global warming – a new angle is required.

Tomorrow provides that angle. Helmed by Mélanie Laurent and her filmmaking comrades, this immensely informative documentary shifts our attention from a dying Earth to a world that can be rightfully repaired and re-energised through solidarity, networking, and positive thinking. It’s great that more households are converting to solar power, but is that enough? Tomorrow posits broader change, change that is already happening in towns and cities throughout the globe. Urban families are micro-farming. Counties have introduced self-contained currencies to benefit small businesses. Schools in Finland place education ahead of status, and their children are better for it.

All this is meant to be encouraging instead of disheartening, and it is. Tomorrow makes me want to convert my backyard into a vegetable garden. It makes the microcosm I live in seem unclean and harmful, and that I should do something to purify it. Leo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood told us what the billionaires are doing. Tomorrow is a bit different – it’s about you and me, and the good we can do from the ground up.


Planetarium

Rebecca Zlotowski’s supernatural period drama offers a wonderful respite for insomniacs.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

03 March - AFF Planetarium
Planetarium follows two American sisters who are believed to possess the supernatural ability to communicate with ghosts. Laura (Natalie Portman) and Kate (Lily-Rose Depp) Barlow, cross paths with André Korben (Emmanuel Salinger), an eccentric French filmmaker, while performing their travelling séance roadshow in pre-WWII Paris. Captivated by their ethereal connections, Korben invites the girls to live with him while they produce a movie centred on their show, but his interest soon transforms into something a little stranger and disconcerting.

Much like the séances it depicts, Planetarium is a vague and obscure dreamlike ritual that disentangles itself from the anchor of time, stretching two hours into what feels like a bottomless eternity. Maybe this elongated, formless structure is intentional; it could mirror Laura and Kate’s ambling and directionless lives or – at a stretch – the lingering limbo of European geopolitics on the eve of war.

Whatever director Rebecca Zlotowski was aiming for with Planetarium, I don’t feel like much of it congealed into a cohesive whole. There is a collection of interesting ideas here; the middle act transforms into a strange pseudo-sexual experience with Korben supposedly navigating beyond the veil to meet with his deceased wife while using Kate as a vessel.

But a lot of these ideas hang in isolation, disconnected from other ideas that waft gently in and out of the film. It certainly doesn’t help that both Portman and Depp are so reserved in their performances; distanced from genuine warmth or deep emotion. We could have had something special on our hands, if only the rest of the film was as captivating as the production and costume design.


In Bed with Victoria

A quirky concept tackled in a completely mundane way.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Cody Fullbrook

03 March - AFF Victoria
Struggling to raise two daughters while being embroiled in two court cases, one of which involves exposing her own personal life, Victoria Spick (Virginie Efira) is attempting to juggle her personal and professional life.

What could have been a humorous and completely original film about an attempted murder case with the only witnesses being a dog and monkey – which actually does happen – In Bed With Victoria wastes too much time on romantic storylines, tarot readings and other things I’ve now instantly forgotten.

Like all films focusing on lawyers, the most interesting and intense moments are the court scenes, and although rarer than I would have liked, they show the same clinical function and form that I’ve come to appreciate.  Even when it’s just a friend of Victoria’s defending her in court against allegations of colluding with a witness, the delivery is passionate yet sensible. An appropriately slow scene with Victoria enduring the end of her case after overdosing on drugs shows exactly what In Bed With Victoria should have simply been about. A stressed woman handling a peculiar court case.  Nothing more.

Though tolerable with a few funny lines, In Bed With Victoria’s characters and storylines are far too basic and plodding for me to think about recommending it to anyone.


Images courtesy of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 

In Perth from March 15 to April 5: https://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org 

Movie Review – Up For Love

Nothing short of just another romantic comedy.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

The man should always be taller than the woman. That’s what we’re willing to accept when it comes to heterosexual relationships. The other way around tends to only invite judgment and ridicule. It may be unjust and it may be small-minded, but that’s the reality of society’s expectations.

This is exactly what French romantic comedy Up For Love explores – the ups and downs of a woman dating a man below her stature. The Artist’s Jean Dujardin stars as Alexandre, a charming and handsome architect who is determined to use his wits to win over the heart of Diane (Virginie Efira). The only obstacle to their happily ever after? Alexandre is four feet tall.

Dujardin and Efira light up the screen with a brand of youthful energy and joy that can only be seen in two people falling in love. Both characters have had their share of past relationship experiences and have reached a point in their lives where career progression is a major priority. This allows for a much more mature romance to play out, rather than one purely focused on their height differences. By having slightly older characters than what we’re used to seeing in these types of films, Up For Love avoids the nonsense of teen angst (Paper Towns) and manages to be more than a series of superficial gimmicks (How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days).

Having said that, there is ample opportunity for short jokes, and director Laurent Tirard takes full advantage of this. While some of these moments are genuinely funny, others come across as contrived – obvious beats are set aside to allow the audience to laugh, almost like a sit-com with the canned laughter on mute. It’s the type of stuff that your grandparents will adore, but everyone else will be lucky to crack a polite smile.

While it’s certainly a unique premise, at the end of the day, Up For Love is nothing short of just another rom-com.

Up For Love is available in Australian cinemas from December 1st 

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution

Movie Review – The Fencer

The ‘whimsical teacher inspires disadvantaged kids’ movie is back – now with swordplay!

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Less than a decade after WWII, Estonia is still re-establishing itself under a Soviet Union takeover, and punishing the Nazi soldiers responsible for its downfall. Endel Nelis (Märt Avandi), a young man with a penchant for the art of fencing, returns to his hometown after being forced to flee Leningrad. He finds solace at a local school, and begins teaching the children his knowledge and passion of fencing, which becomes a form of expression and hope for them. Soon beloved as a role model, his bubble bursts when his past catches up to him.

We’ve all seen the inspirational teacher movie a million times, and much in the same way that Endel’s former life threatens to undo all his good work throughout The Fencer, director Klaus Härö can never shake the trappings of a worn-out subgenre. All your favourite clichés make an appearance here. The underprivileged kids in desperate need of a father figure. The killjoy principal antagonising the class’s obvious progression, purely because the new teacher’s unorthodox methods seem radical. The build up to a big competition at the climax. There’s even a love interest in a fellow teacher. Ho hum.

But Härö’s delicacy lies in the details. The seldom explored Stalin era of oppression in Northern Europe is an interesting backdrop to a formulaic story, even if it isn’t quite explored to its full potential. The rural, still somewhat war-torn Estonian village is wonderfully shot, with a dull grey melancholia hanging in the outside air – everywhere, except of course the fencing gym, where light and colour comes to life along with the children’s hopes and dreams. The fencing itself is particularly joyous to watch; orchestrated with great precision and passion, it genuinely feels like we’re learning something along with the kids.

It’s these scenes, along with the little moments of suspense effectively peppered throughout that let The Fencer shine at times. Härö wrings a great deal of tension out of small, sudden revelations that indicate that Endel’s hideout may finally be compromised. Overall, The Fencer pokes just enough holes in the formula to make it one worth seeing.

The Fencer is available in Australian cinemas from November 24

Image courtesy of Palace Films

Italian Film Festival 2016

Ciao, bella! The Italian Film Festival is upon us once again. Here’s a brief selection of just some of the films that are on offer.

The Space Between
Director:
Ruth Borgobello
Starring: Flavio Parenti, Maeve Dermody & Marco Leonardi

Bellissimo! What a beautiful way to headline the Lavazza Italian Film Festival with the very first Italian-Australian co-production feature film.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic 

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The Space Between highlights a strong debut for Australian director Ruth Borgobello and sets the scene for falling in love in luscious Italian landscapes.

Returning to his hometown in Northern Italy, Marco (Flavio Parenti) takes care of his aging father and tries to overcome the loss of his mother. In spite of being a talented chef, he now works in a dispirited job as a factory worker and is comfortable being uncomfortable. Marco soon encounters a young Australian in Olivia (Maeve Dermody), who’s youthful exuberance wistfully begins to stir life in him once more. Slowly but surely, a deeper friendship grows and both begin to realise what it takes to bridge the gap between loss and love.

Whilst being a somewhat simple story, The Space Between still managed to shock and surprise me. It’s a film best experienced without as little prior knowledge as possible. The process of learning how to deal with loss and to move on to achieving our dreams is an issue at the heart of many, films but one that is dealt a fresh setting in The Space Between. Borgobello cleverly uses the Italian location to relay a subtle cultural commentary, drawing parallels between how the Italian people are suffering similarly to Marco and this is what elevates the film above a cliché.

As a love story, it’s not as witty or captivating as Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy, for example, however it still remains charming enough to watch. Flavio and Maeve bounce off each other nicely, with particular praises going to Borgobello once more for her hand in the dialogue. It’s one of the more authentic love stories I’ve seen recently and one I wanted to know more about by the time the credits began to roll.

A simple but beautiful story that echoes in the fine cinematography of the Italian landscapes by Katie Milwright, The Space Between is a perfect start to your Italian film festival watch list.


The Confessions
Director: 
Roberto Andò
Starring: Toni 
Servillo, Daniel Auteuil, Pierfrancesco Favino

Murder, silence and paranoia are at play in Roberto Andò’s lacklustre thriller.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

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The Confessions has a whiff of complex allegory. As I sat watching, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was missing the point of it all; that the characters, both important and redundant, were concealing truths and ideas that the almost poetic dialogue only hinted at. I was afraid I was letting the film pass me by.

But now that I’ve had some time to digest it, I am certain it is merely a movie designed to bore and confuse. What starts as a murder mystery slowly unravels as a suspense thriller without the suspense or the thrill, and by the end, I had either forgotten half of what everyone had said or I just didn’t care. There is an entire scene involving Lambert Wilson that could’ve ended up on the cutting room floor without anyone noticing.

Toni Servillo plays Father Salus, a priest invited to an idyllic hotel that shall act as the setting for an important economic summit. Also in attendance is Claire (Connie Nielsen), a famed children’s author whose presence at the summit is dubious at best, for she does little except swim and snoop. One of the economists is found dead, and now the others are afraid his dying confession to Padre Salus will lead their devious plot to ruin. What their devious plot is I’m sure I don’t know, but every character treats it with the utmost respect.

The Confessions spends a lot of time with Salus, whose vow of silence is the code the economists can’t crack. I couldn’t crack the movie, which is populated with more characters than it knows what to do with and fails to punch through with a mystery worth our time.


Perfect Strangers
Director:
Paolo Genovese 
Starring:
Giuseppe Battiston, Anna Foglietta, Marco Giallini

Paolo Genovese’s Perfect Strangers is the film equivalent of a rich Italian lasagne with multiple layers of character-driven drama.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

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This hilarious comedy sees three married couples and a bachelor, all long-time friends, get together for a sumptuous dinner party. As the night winds on, one of them suggests that they play a game to test their trust in one another. Each person is required to place their smartphone in front of them on the dinner table. For the entire night, any phone calls and text messages that arrive must be shared publicly with the group. Of course, not everyone sitting at the table is squeaky clean and it soon becomes clear that the seven friends didn’t know each other quite as well as they originally thought.

Perfect Strangers’ strongest element is undoubtedly its award-winning screenplay; perfectly paced and overflowing with razor-sharp dialogue, we’re gently introduced to each character before being teased with secrets that they may or may not be harbouring.

After this slow-burn first half, the surprises land hard and fast, like a chain of dominoes that speed around the dinner table. It’s an impressive build towards a series of twists that subvert expectations without feeling implausible. Most impressive is Genovese’s ability to traverse both earnest sentiment and crushing pathos in this tricky second half; he certainly doesn’t skimp on the gut-wrenching emotion, but underneath it all is a unifying message of friendship, acceptance and understanding in a thought-provoking final scene that ties everything together.


One Kiss
Director: 
Ivan Cotroneo
Starring: Rimau Ritzberger Grillo, Valentina Romani, Leonardo Pazzagli

A realistic depiction of teenage life doesn’t stop One Kiss from being an unfocused amalgamation of similar movies.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Cody Fullbrook

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Lorenzo (Rimau Ritzberger Grillo), a foster child, moves to a new town and forms a friendly trio of outcasts, consisting of himself, Blu (Valentina Romani) and Antonio (Leonardo Pazzagli), but as they get closer, tensions rise that begin tearing them apart.

Lorenzo and Blu become the first members of the group and the first 30 minutes of One Kiss is solely dedicated to them mucking around together.  Their rebellious antics almost become the film’s entire plot until Antonio is dragged in just because Lorenzo thinks he’s cute.  The connection between the two boys quickly overshadows Blu as a character, and after an unwarranted sexual action, a conflict finally forms with Lorenzo and Antonio.  This occurs well over an hour in, leaving Blu to mope in the sidelines with her own unrelated issues.

It’s clear that One Kiss should have been about a stern sportsman attempting to resist the advances of another boy in school.  The ensuing awkwardness between them feels sincere and could have easily carried the film, and since the title is based on a later encounter with them, that appears to have been the movie’s intention.  It’s a shame the viewer has to wade through so much of Blu and Lorenzo’s shenanigans to get to the meat of the story, and even after enduring that, its melodramatic climax is completely uncalled for.

One Kiss displays great chemistry between the three friends, especially with their concerned parents, but its fuzzy story and egocentric main characters remind me too much of high school.


The Italian Film Festival screens at Cinema Paradiso in Perth from September 22 to October 12

Images courtesy of Palace Films