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 

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Interview: Michael Caton-Jones – British Film Festival

Rhys Graeme-Drury

They say variety is the spice of life – an oft-repeated adage that Scottish filmmaker Michael Caton-Jones has found to be self-evident over a directorial career stretching nearly three decades.

Having worked with the likes of Bruce Willis, Michael J Fox, Robert De Niro and even a young Leonardo DiCaprio, Caton-Jones knows how to handle larger than life personalities on set, but his more recent work sees him finding pleasure in the finer details of indie filmmaking.

His latest project is Urban Hymn, an uplifting story about a young offender who finds a way out of her less than privileged upbringing through song. With the help of a dedicated and inspirational social worker, it’s a stirring film that is contrasted against the bleak backdrop of the 2011 London riots.

Ahead of its Australian premiere at the BBC First British Film Festival this month, I got the chance to sit down and chat with Caton-Jones about the differences between the Hollywood high life and roughing it on the streets of London for his latest micro budget project.

RGD: How did you first become involved with Urban Hymn? What was it about Nick Moorcroft’s original screenplay that perked your interest?

MCJ: Over the years I’ve come to realise that it’s not subject matter, but specific elements of filmmaking that jump out at you when reading through a script. I’d been looking to shoot something low budget in Britain for a while, as well as something that had strong female characters at the forefront. I grew up in Scotland surrounded by strong female characters and I’ve always viewed women that way.

I was also interested in something that used a lot of music, which I felt presented this great technical challenge that ultimately was an opportunity to show the transcendental power of music. If you have a favourite song or a song that reminds you of a time and a place, it’s has a kind of power. I was interested in making a film that explored that.

And, of course, the social side of it was important. We used to make social realist films in Britain all the time. It’s a style of film that I used to like watching and I see no reason why you can’t be entertained and take in a serious subject at the same time. It was a whole bunch of reasons that came together when I read the script, making it a fairly easy choice for me.

RGD: How does the filmmaking process on a smaller film like Urban Hymn compare with something on the other end of the spectrum, like The Jackal for example?

MCJ: They’re just different beasts. It’s essentially the same job; you have a story and a camera and some actors. The difference is the amount of money you have to achieve something. The more money you have, the more concern there is about the film being commercially acceptable. The film might be easy to sell but it might not be very good, if you know what I mean.

When you’ve got no money, the pressures are different. They’re things like not getting the actor you want or the set how you’d like. It just means you have to think you’re way out of trouble rather than buy you’re way out of trouble.

RGD: Do you have a preference? It sounds like one affords you a greater sense of freedom…

MCJ: Absolutely. As a director, I prefer having the freedom to discover what the film is, rather than being concerned about how it’ll make the money back. You don’t get paid as much and you can’t do as much – but it’s more satisfying in many ways. You can either sprint it or go for the marathon – they’re just different.

RGD: Urban Hymn uses the 2011 London riots as both a catalyst and a backdrop for its uplifting story – why do you think this is an event that is only now being tackled in TV and film?

MCJ: I suspect it takes time to process. To come to terms with what happened and what it means. Britain is still very classist. It’s a class-based society. The simple fact is that it’s much easier to find money to make something like Downton Abbey than it is to make something set on the street where everyone wears hoodies. Only one of those is an acceptable commercial reality to the rest of the world. Sorry for being so cynical! But there isn’t any money in riots.

RGD: Integral to the success of the film is Letitia Wright’s performance as Jaime – was the process of casting Jaime a challenge on Urban Hymn?

MCJ: Casting is 80% of the film. You have to work very hard if you get it wrong; you’re always papering over the cracks.

In the case of Letitia, she originally read for the role of Leanne. I thought to myself at the time “Wow, you’re pretty good” and put her in my back pocket for later. We kept auditioning for Jaime until we met Isabella Laughland and felt she worked well as Leanne. So we flipped the two and it worked out. They got on extremely well. Letitia actually started staying with Isabella during the shoot so they were like best mates by the end, much like the film.

Their dynamic really comes across in the movie. Casting the right people does half the work for you. There are a hundred different ways of standing opposite someone that you’re very friendly with that we, as human beings, can see but not necessarily articulate. It wouldn’t communicate as well had we gotten the casting wrong.

RGD: What does the future hold for you as a filmmaker – what can we expect coming over the horizon?

MCJ: I’m in New York at the moment. I’m just about to start on this low-budget thing that hasn’t been announced yet – so I can’t tell you very much about it! We’re still in the casting process.

Looking ahead, I’m just going to continue to look for projects that interest me. Something with character and emotion. If I can keep making things that are interesting, I’ll be happy.

Urban Hymn is screening throughout Luna’s cinemas at the BBC First British Film Festival in Perth 

Image courtesy of Vendetta 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 

09-september-italianff-space-between
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

09-september-italianff-confessions
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

09-september-italianff-perfect-strangers

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

09-september-italianff-kiss

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

Scandinavian Film Festival 2016

It’s that time of year again! The Scandinavian Film Festival has returned to Perth to quench any cultural cravings you may be experiencing during the gap between seasons of  Travis Fimmel‘s Vikings. Here’s a sample of what’s on offer!

The Wave

Roland Emmerich eat your heart out; Roar Uthaug’s The Wave takes the cake for heart-pounding disaster spectacle.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

07 July - Scandi FF The Wave
The Wave is a Norwegian disaster movie that sees an idyllic tourist village devastated by a vicious tidal wave. It follows geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner), his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and their two children as they battle through the fallout of the catastrophe.

Roar Uthaug’s film follows a fairly conventional narrative that you’ve likely witnessed before, but unlike the overblown disaster porn that we see from the likes of Roland Emmerich, The Wave narrows its focus to a single town nestled at the end of a single picturesque fjord. It’s not the San Andreas fault that threatens to sink the entire California coast, but rather a towering mountain that looms menacingly above the livelihoods of just a few thousand people – and the film feels suitably personal and gripping as a result.

What immediately grabs you about The Wave is the sheer ambition of the production and the enormity of what the filmmakers have achieved. The visual effects are staggeringly polished considering the comparatively small budget; we’re talking blockbuster VFX on just a fraction of the cost.

After that, nothing quite excites to the same degree; we follow the family through the aftermath, but the film doesn’t come close to matching the brilliance of that heart-pounding fifteen-minute sequence that sees the roaring flood draw nearer to the tranquil Nordic inlet – it’s practically worth the price of admission in itself.

The Wave screens at Cinema Paradiso July 26


The Yard

Måns Månsson drags us down to the depths of despair and threatens to leave us there.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

07 July - Scandi FF The Yard
Måns Månsson’s The Yard is a mirthless (and merciless) deconstruction of what it means to be poor. It pounds away so persistently at hope and happiness that I wonder if the cast and crew stopped during filming to console one another. Yes, times can be tough. We all know this. But what Månsson tries to do here is capture a lifetime of depravity in the span of eighty minutes. Someone, somewhere, is bound to crack.

11811 (Anders Mossling) is a mediocre poet. After criticising his own book, he is fired by his publisher and sent to work at the local shipyard as what I can only surmise is a car inspection agent (he is known as 11811, his identification number). This shipyard is a jolly place. Racism thrives. Discrimination is as rampant as fraternity hazing. The bosses are implausibly self-serving. No one listens to each other and everyone is suspect.

At home, the situation is no better. 11811’s son mopes about the house like a ghastly wraith, gobbling up resources and demanding money for parties. Would helping with the rent be too much to ask? Yes, apparently. 11811 is so meek he absorbs his son’s accusations like a wet sponge.

The Yard piles obnoxious character upon obnoxious character, and just about every stroke of misfortune awaits 11811. After a while it all gets to be a bit too much, like having to devour chocolate mousse after a mud cake. What’s left by the end is a palate too numb to taste and a dinner that has been all but ruined.

The Yard screens at Cinema Paradiso July 28


Land Of Mine

Land of Mine proves to be a refreshingly new perspective on WWII, even if it falls flat compared to other classics of the genre.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

07 July - Scandi FF Land of Mine
Land of Mine appropriately tackles a subject that not only hits close to home for its country of origin, but one that is also rarely discussed in cinema. It’s an eye-opening affair that offers a point of view as unique as the Scandinavians themselves.

Set in the days following the surrender of Germany in May 1945, young German Prisoners of War are sent over to the western coastline of Denmark in order to remove more than two million mines placed along the beaches from during their occupation. We begin to see life as it was immediately after the conclusion of the great war from the perspective of those held responsible for the atrocities.

Despite bringing something new to the table, Land of Mine doesn’t reach the heights of other World War II dramas such as Schindler’s List or the more recent Son of Saul, as it never strays from its predictable storyline. Production wise, however, Land of Mine is sure to be a festival highlight, with beautiful cinematography and excellent sound design.

Land Of Mine screens at Cinema Paradiso July 24, 25 & 30


Absolution 

Guilt and revenge seep through the cracks of tragedy as one family is torn apart and another begins in Petri Kotwica’s superbly crafted thriller.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

07 July - Scandi FF Absolution
Kiia (Laura Birn), a heavily pregnant woman, enters labour prematurely whilst driving home from a party with her drunken husband (Eero Aho), causing her to swerve and hit something. Her husband investigates and insists to his wife that it must have been a deer. Following the birth, Kiia meets and befriends Hanna (Mari Rantasila), a woman in the emergency room whose husband has slipped into a coma after being run over and left to die on the side of the road. Realising the connection, Kiia develops increasing distrust of her husband…

Heavy themes of culpability, revenge and the desperation of amnesty swirl like a thick black cloud throughout Petri Kotwica’s (Black Ice) thriller Absolution; a slick tale of tragedy that manages to subvert expectations at every turn and remain an original and engaging think-piece. Though straightforward on the surface, it’s anything but beneath.

Kotwica keeps the pace even and expertly extracts tension out of the smallest situations, however, there are some pitfalls. The score is overly repetitive and a number of the plot points can’t help but feel all too conveniently placed. But thankfully most of this is clouded by the air of sheer intrigue all the way through.

Absolution screens at Cinema Paradiso July 22, 26 & 30


Images courtesy of Scandinavian Film Festival 2016 & Palace Films
http://www.scandinavianfilmfestival.com/

Revelation Perth International Film Festival – Part 2

If we could bend time and space by driving around in a DeLorean, then we would go back and see everything that Revelation has to offer! But sadly, as we can’t be in multiple places at once, we can only bring you a couple more of the freaky and fantastical films screening around Perth. It all wraps up this weekend, so get in before it’s all over, red rover!

Der Bunker

Nikias Chryssos invites us into his madhouse, which is little more than a bunker in the German woods, filled with his nightmares.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

07 July - Revelation FF Der Bunker

I am fairly certain – no, I am certain that this is the first movie I’ve seen in which two grown men breastfeed from a woman who claims to have an evil alien living inside her leg. You can’t make this stuff up. The alien speaks to the woman (Oona von Maydell) like The Exorcist‘s Regan MacNeil through a vocoder and instructs that her son, Klaus (Daniel Fripan), be taught the ways of manhood. Meanwhile, her husband (David Scheller) sports a lively moustache, and their guest, a visiting student (Pit Bukowski), has to watch as his three maniacal hosts turn their home into the devil’s playground.

Der Bunker, directed by first-timer Nikias Chryssos, is an absurd extrapolation of a very serious topic. Parents want the best for their kids. But what happens when they want their German son to become president of the United States? Is that something Klaus can achieve in his lifetime, or in any German’s lifetime? Do they not see that he’s an eight-year-old boy who looks thirty-five, and that the alien leg of his mother will probably follow him to America and become its own reality TV show? These questions whizzed through my mind as I sat through Der Bunker, but I realise they shouldn’t be asked, because this is a movie that is completely unhinged from notions of reality. It exists purely within the inexplicable confines of the titular bunker, and in such a place, rules are boundless.

But movies need rules, don’t they? We need rules, or else we lose track of vision. Even The Lobster (2015), which ran away with its crazy ideas about love and the future, established for itself rules to live by, and it worked. Der Bunker is too wild for its own good. It lacks control, and has an ending that’s too tame for the abstract madness it introduces in the first two acts. I won’t spoil anything, but I wanted more madness. I wanted to be taken apart and put back together wrongly, so that nothing truly made sense anymore.

Der Bunker screens at Cinema Paradiso Sunday 17 July


Patrick’s Day

Perhaps Patrick’s Day has something challenging to say about mental illness – shame it’s an unpleasant experience you’ll want to put out of your mind immediately afterwards.

⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

07 July - Revelation FF Patricks Day

On his twenty-sixth birthday, which happens to fall on St. Patrick’s Day, a schizophrenic young man named Patrick (Moe Dunford) escapes the clutches of his overbearing and obsessive mother Maura (Kerry Fox) during a festival in Dublin. Patrick crosses paths with Karen (Catherine Walker), a suicidal air-hostess, who – on her last planned night of being alive – invites Patrick up to her hotel room to take his virginity. Patrick falls in love, and Karen begins to reconsider her decision, until Maura conspires with an eccentric local cop (Philip Jackson) to convince Patrick that Karen was simply a figment of his deluded mind.

It’s easy to see what writer/director Terry McMahon (Charlie Casanova) thinks he has created; a fresh, unflinching honest portrayal of mental illness that evades the usual trappings associated with the genre. There are hints of these at times, but in reality Patrick’s Day is a mostly hackneyed and unremarkable disability drama. A potentially ripe and well-intentioned idea drowned in its unconvincing execution, McMahon’s film has an unshakable sense poignancy that is often tempting to believe, but there are just too many rough edges and disharmonic parts to create a valuable whole.

The film’s most alienating aspect is its colossal and frequent shifts in mood and tone, which come across (perhaps intentionally, but ineffectively) as schizophrenic in themselves. Matching this is an equally inconsistent soundtrack, skipping from raucously loud Irish shanties to an obnoxiously pounding score.

The cast at least do their best with the wholly unlikable characters they’re given, especially Dunford, who remains believable even as McMahon is increasingly cruel and borderline distasteful to his lead. The cynicism and contempt really sets in when Patrick’s Day crescendos in a harrowing electro-shock sequence copied and pasted directly from Requiem for a Dream, then does a complete 180 degree turn in favour of an outlandishly optimistic outcome. If you don’t feel cheated, you’ll at least be disoriented enough to wonder if you’ve contracted schizophrenia yourself.

Patrick’s Day screens at Luna On SX on Saturday July 16


Images courtesy of Revelation Perth International Film Festival 

Revelation Perth International Film Festival – Part 1

It’s that time of year again! Get ready for the weird and the wonderful at this year’s Revelation Perth International Film Festival. Here’s a snippet of what’s on offer!

High-Rise

Come for a naked Tom Hiddleston, stay for the heavy-handed commentary on capitalism.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

07 July - Revelation FF High-Rise

High-Rise stars Tom Hiddleston as Robert Laing, a dapper middle-class doctor who moves onto the 25th floor of a cutting-edge apartment block located on the outskirts of London. Laing soon finds himself trapped between a rock and a hard place; you see, the building is a rather blunt allegory for society, with the wealthy upper class sitting on top and the poorer have-nots struggling to escape the rigid social hierarchy. Like chickens trapped inside a coop, the shit travels downward and resentment soon begins to bloom amongst those unfortunate enough to be caught in its path.

Sitting somewhere between Snowpiercer and that episode of Community where the whole campus devolves into a parody of a futuristic dystopia, Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is a complex mixture of both shocking violence and menacing satire.

The cinematography from Laurie Ross is gorgeous; he perfectly captures the unsettling contrast of filth and glamour through some fantastically dark and macabre compositions. Along with Wheatley’s direction and Amy Jump’s devilish screenplay, the sick, twisted tone of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel is surprisingly well replicated on the big screen. The lavish production design from Mark Tildesley ensures that High-Rise is one of those rare films where the physical setting is its story; each floor and room has a distinctive texture that informs the audience of its wicked occupants.

The film does fall into some unfavourable trappings at times, such as the use of ‘sexposition’ to hold our attention during prolonged periods of set-up. Except, it isn’t really warranted – with a central concept as compelling as this, the only purpose it serves is to luridly flash Hiddleston’s perfectly sculpted bum at the camera.

Hiddleston tackles the mayhem with the same sincerity one would usually reserve for Shakespeare, whether he’s making small talk over cocktails or spit roasting a dog on his balcony. Sienna Miller and Elisabeth Moss are great as two of Laing’s neighbours, whilst Luke Evans’ violent upriser Wilder is suitably unhinged and unpredictable.

It’s hard to define the appeal of High-Rise; the metaphor is a little blunt and the acting often strays into goofiness, but much like the aforementioned Snowpiercer, its technical prowess is too rich and gorgeous to ignore. Not everyone will derive enjoyment from Wheatley’s potent mixture of skin-crawling violence and writhing sex orgies, but the confident lead performance from Hiddleston and the sheer volume of colour and atmosphere that the production exudes will enchant art-house audiences if nothing else.

High-Rise screens at Luna On SX Wednesday 13 July & Luna Leederville 16 July 


Demolition

OK, seriously, has anyone else noticed how hard Jake Gyllenhaal has been trying for an Oscar nomination lately?

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic 

07 July - Revelation FF Demolition

Demolition is yet another great example of the subtleties Gyllenhaal can bring to any performance. While his latest film might not be on the same level as Nightcrawler or Prisoners, it still provides a very worthy character study.

Following the life of Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhall), the story takes an introspective look into how an extraordinarily successful business man deals with grief. Director Jean-Marc Vallee, who brought us the great Dallas Buyers Club, sets Davis up with a romantic counterpart in a mysterious young woman (Naomi Watts) and together things begin to unfold. One of the strangest films I’ve seen of late, Demolition is an interesting blend of drama, comedy and romance, but I’m not sure it works as well as it potentially could.

If it weren’t for the powerhouse performances of Gyllenhaal and Watts, with the welcome addition of Chris Cooper in a supporting role, then I doubt I would have been able to stomach the abrupt shifts in tone throughout. These shifts are so frequent that it feels like watching the longest ever game of ping pong personified as a movie. One moment there’s a hilarious and uplifting scene, then the next spirals into a downfall of dramas. I was left unsure of what to think, and more importantly how to feel.

Vallee does a good job of highlighting the instability of Davis, synonymous with the title, as he becomes fixated on destroying objects around in him in attempt to learn how they were made. It’s a clear metaphor of how wherever he goes, he is tearing relationships apart due to his inability to connect with his emotions but it feels like that message isn’t reinforced enough.

It’s quite the puzzle but at least it’s a puzzle that’s still enjoyable to watch. There are some great moments of humour in this film even if they feel inappropriately placed. My best summary of trying to encompass what this movie represents is that of a famous stadium being purposefully demolished to make way for something else. It’s meant to be melancholic but at the same time you can’t help but smile in its destruction and in the end that’s what the film’s title is trying to allure towards. If you like Gyllenhall or a quirky character study, go see Demolition.

Demolition screens at Luna Leederville Wednesday 13 July 


Images courtesy of Revelation Perth International Film Festival 

Spanish Film Festival 2016

The Spanish Film Festival returns to Perth on April 21! Here’s just a few of the films on offer. Find out what to see and what to avoid!

Sidetracked
Las Ovejas No Pierden El Tren

04 Apr - Spanish FF Sidetracked

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Sidetracked follows a trio of middle-aged couples as they navigate relationship struggles and strife. Luisa (Inma Cuesta) and Alberto (Raúl Arévalo) have moved to the country to have their second child in an idyllic spot, but their rambunctious sex life is paying the price. Alberto’s brother Juan (Alberto San Juan) is struggling to keep pace with his new girlfriend Natalia (Irene Escolar), a woman 20 years his junior; meanwhile, Luisa’s sister Sara (Candela Peña) is clinging to the hope that her new beau Paco (Jorge Bosch) walks her down the aisle, even though he’s not so sold on the idea.

Álvaro Fernández Armero’s latest film doesn’t exactly break new ground for its genre, but the talented and charismatic ensemble go some way to expanding the otherwise thin plot. Arevalo’s struggling writer Alberto enjoys the most compelling character arc as his directionless career and dwindling love life cause him to seek new challenges amongst the film’s gorgeous rural backdrop. The oddball chemistry he shares with Luisa affords the film some of its more compelling dramatic scenes.

On the other hand, Sara and Paco’s one-note subplot is missing some key emotional beats; the former simply comes across as a slightly unhinged bridezilla who doesn’t know when to quit. ArImero (who also serves as screenwriter) stages the comedy around familiar social situations and awkward conflicts, but an undercurrent of humour surrounding Spain’s recent economic slump as well as modern dating traps keeps the film feeling fresh and relevant.

Much like love itself, Sidetracked is sometimes awkward, ugly and uncomfortable, but you get out what you put in, and if you arrive wanting something open, honest and often entertaining, this film is for you.


Innocent Killers
Asesinos Inocentes

04 Apr - Spanish FF Innocent Killers

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Gonzalo Bendala’s Innocent Killers is in the tradition of crime films with tunnel vision. It is so focused on getting its story right that it doesn’t do much of anything else, which, if we’re talking about film as an art form, should include the bare necessities like character development, engaging dialogue and general coherence. This is a well-crafted movie for someone with ADHD needing a quick fix.

Maxi Iglesias plays Francisco Garralda, a college student who’s in too deep. His apartment (that he shares with his seemingly senile father) is about to be foreclosed on, and he owes a lot of money to Julián (Vicente Romero), an auto-mechanic gangster who’s more auto-mechanic than gangster.

Francisco has flunked his final psychology exam again. He can’t have that. He tries to bribe his worrisome professor Espinosa (Miguel Ángel Solá) to doctor his grade. Espinosa agrees on one condition – oh, but I wouldn’t dream of telling you what he has planned. If you’ve seen Billy Wilder’s splendid Double Indemnity (1944), you might be in on Espinosa’s secret, after shifting the focus from murder to redemption, though you might not care enough to do so.

I know I didn’t care at all. Who would’ve thought that something as simple as Innocent Killers’ plot could take as long as 95 minutes to unfold? And it unfolds all right, in a manner most unpleasant. It convolutes in such a way as to incite puzzlement, to the point where I had no idea what was happening to poor old Espinosa, and why Julian was in the picture at all. This is a strange film indeed, and the cloying, almost insulting ending doesn’t do it any favours.


Nothing In Return
A Cambio De Nada

04 Apr - Spanish FF Nothing In Return

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

Director Daniel Guzmán’s Nothing In Return is a snapshot of the life of Dario (Miguel Herrán), an almost 16-year-old boy whose life is unravelling at the hands of his parents’ very messy divorce. Heavily neglected and facing trouble with the law and expulsion from school, Dario runs away to be taken in and put to work by shady mechanic Caralimpia (Felipe García Vélez). Now fending for himself, Dario and his best friend Luismi (Antonio Bachiller) refuse to let their difficult situation ruin their summer; though their increasing temptation to solve all their problems by stealing could lead to some serious consequences and life lessons…

Films like The Squid and the Whale and A Separation show us a hard-hitting deconstruction of a divorce in process; Nothing In Return uses it only as the kick-off, instead seguing into the impact of the divorce on the sole child of the marriage and turning it into a twisted coming-of-age tale. It manages to be very entertaining in the process, effectively blending comedic banter and brash endeavours with high-stakes drama and. Herrán and Bachiller share an impressive chemistry as the pair tackle regular teenage matters – sex, girls and drinking; and the irregular – carrying out heists and high speed police chases. There are themes of uniting different generations through loneliness, though it comes up a little short; if only Dario’s parents were fleshed out a little more, this would be a rich and completely fulfilling experience.


Images courtesy of Spanish Film Festival 2016 and Palace Films 

Quick Picks – AICE Israeli Film Festival 2015

Yona

The eerie and rather bleak mind of a poet is entered in this beautifully sombre biopic of sorts. Due to appear in the Israeli Film Festival, one master of his craft tributes another in this grim but rewarding artist exposé.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan


Director Nir Bergman (Broken Wings, HBO’s In Treatment), an ace of capturing the healing process of “broken” people, delivers us another vivid portrait of a fragmented soul. Yona tells the life story of famous Israeli poet Yona Wallach (Naomi Levov) who was transformed by her father’s tragic death as a young girl into a sexually charged lyrical genius. Beginning with her early struggles to explode onto the poetry scene, the film leaves no dirty detail or harrowing happening unexplored; we ricochet from her mother’s shame in her work and deteriorating health, to frequent and graphic sex scenes with either gender (or cross-gender, or a group…), to quirky encounters with fellow eccentric poet Tom Hagi (playing himself in a rather inspired touch). It all serves as the muse for Yona’s poems, but eventually leads her into a dark world of psychotherapy and mental breakdown…

Bergman’s visual flair stands out here; Yona’s luscious red lips, and outfits of her lovers illuminated against the washed out grey and brown tones make the film well deserving of its Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design awards from the Israeli Film Academy. Naomi Levov commits fully to a traumatic role, truly highlighting Yona’s despair as her poetry is plagiarised, and breast cancer tightens its grip on her mortality. Perhaps a little too grief-heavy at times, Yona is difficult viewing, but worth braving for an unrelenting performance, delicious scenery and, of course, alluring and haunting poetry.

Screening: 8:30pm, Saturday 22nd August. Cinema Paradiso.


Marzipan Flowers

Cheap design tricks fail to breathe life into a concept ripe with potential in Adam Kalderon’s feature film directorial debut.


Rhys Graeme-Drury


Marzipan Flowers
tells the story of Hadas (Nuli Omer), a 48-year-old woman who begins an unlikely friendship with Petel (Tal Kallai), a transgender woman, after she leaves her kibbutz life behind, and decides to start life anew in the big city.

Whilst it isn’t totally bereft of interesting narrative ideas, Marzipan Flowers is sorely lacking in terms of production value, and sheer filmmaking technique. The entire set design is comprised of vast black and white backgrounds painted to look like a room or exterior setting; from a flat Tel Aviv storefront, to a wall of motionless washing machines in a Laundromat, everything is just wallpapered across a sound stage they’re using to shoot on.

After pondering whether this was a stylistic decision, or a financial one, I came to the conclusion I’d been duped into watching a really crude high school drama production. The colour contrast – bright orange and lurid yellow costuming against the dull backdrop – might be striking to look at, but when you can only move the camera along one horizontal set, and never set foot on location, your film is going to feel stilted, drab and uninteresting.

It doesn’t help that the acting is of the same standard, with Omer and Kallai striding across the ‘stage’ like overzealous undergraduates. Plus, most of the jokes are crude sight gags that revolve around Petel’s transgender figure, and abrasive personality. Even at a meagre 70 minutes, this brief insight into the Israeli transgender experience felt like a drag.

Screening: 8:30pm, Tuesday 25th August. Cinema Paradiso


Princess

Whilst a fine piece of cinema on a technical level, the subject matter of Princess is certainly not for everyone.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Cherie Wheeler

Tali Shalom-Ezer’s feature film directorial debut explores the awakening of sexual desires through 12 year old girl Adar (Shira Haas), and her dark and twisted relationships with her mother (Keren Mor), her mother’s boyfriend (Ori Pfeffer), and a homeless boy who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to herself (Adar Zohar-Hanetz).

Princess is not the type of film I would generally choose to watch; in fact, it represents all that I loathe in regards to independent filmmaking. I found the film to be highly irritating, and entirely self-indulgent, and this coupled with its slow pace, as well as the lack of driving force in its narrative, made for a most unpleasant viewing experience.

That’s not to say the film is not well made; warm hues and naturalistic lighting fill the beautiful shots that have been carefully framed and angled to express the film’s unsettling tone. Alongside the performances of the core four actors, the cinematography predominantly serves to build the mood of each scene, rather than relying on music or sound design, which is mostly minimal throughout.

Although the main quartet of characters are presented in a most authentic and credible way, all of them are incredibly unlikable, and seek to exploit one another for sexual gain. Adar is nothing more than a sullen and apathetic girl on the cusp of adolescence who enjoys rebelling for the sake of it. Her intimate relationship with her mother’s boyfriend, which dances between fantasy and reality, is both disturbing and sickening to witness, and yet somehow through all of this, Haas still manages to bring forth an intriguing, multifaceted performance.

In the end, if you imagine Blue Is The Warmest Colour focussing on four people instead of two, with far less sex scenes, and a lot more sexual tension, then you essentially have the same film.

Screening: 8:30pm, Friday 21st August. Cinema Paradiso.


Images courtesy of AICE Israeli Film Festival 20-26 August, Palace Films & Vendetta Films

Quick Picks – Scandinavian Film Festival – Part 2

They Have Escaped

A haunting fairytale set against the grim and isolated Finnish countryside, They Have Escaped sees two troubled teens, 19-year-old army deserter Joni (Teppo Manner) and 17-year-old tearaway Raisa (Roosa Söderholm), flee from a halfway house and embark on a rambling cross-country journey of self-discovery

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Rhys Graeme-Drury

They Have Escaped is a sombre and elegant portrait of troubled youth, in which both directionless teens feel trapped within a system that doesn’t cater for abnormality. Both a critique on society and an intimate character study, director J.P. Valkeapää extracts two brilliant performances from his leads; Manner’s portrayal of the monosyllabic Joni is great, but it’s the ghoulish Söderholm that really steals the show; with thick black eyeliner and piercing red lips, her compelling performance is almost ethereal in look and feel.

Thankfully, They Have Escaped doesn’t adhere too rigidly to the well-worn coming-of-age road trip template. Valkeapää punctuates their journey with nightmarish visions (or are they memories?) in order to steer this film into less familiar territory. Rather than stick to the road, Valkeapää’s film explores increasingly darker and surreal terrain as the duo delve deeper into the woods, and experiment with drugs; it’s in these sequences that Pietari Peltola’s striking cinematography makes for a visually stimulating experience that is daring and artistic in equal measure.

Unfortunately, this film loses steam after the first hour; Vakleapää reintroduces some sinister conflict before long, but there’s an unmistakeable lull during the middle third of this film. Bold, emotionally raw and often confronting, They Have Escaped mixes inventive filmmaking with powerful acting to deliver one of more memorable experiences from this years’ Scandinavian Film Festival.

Screening: Monday 27th July, 8:30pm. Cinema Paradiso, Northbridge.


The Grump

 Karukoski’s latest release succeeds as both a broad social satire, and also a touching story about tolerance and closing the generational gap.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Courtney Loney

Finnish director Dome Karukoski returns to his comedy-of-bad-behaviour mode following the success of his 2013 drama Heart of a Lion and 2010 box office hit Lapland Odyssey with his latest feature film The Grump.

The Grump, adapted from a series of popular novels by Tuomas Kyrö, follows a stubborn and cantankerous 80-year-old farmer from rural Finland who is stuck in his own prehistoric values and attitudes, until his world comes crashing down, quite literally due to a tumble. Forced to move in with his sad-sack, city dwelling son, and overassertive daughter-in-law, he instantly butts heads with his relatives, which often leads to hilarious consequences. But there’s more to “the grump” – whose name is never revealed – than this couple originally thought, and likewise, he has a thing or two to learn from the younger generation.

Director of photography Pini Hellstedt crafts gorgeously lit scenes throughout, including several sepia-tinted, mist-filled flashbacks, and Karukoski ensures the well executed comedic elements also carry emotional weight, however, the film is eclipsed by legendary Finnish actor Antti Litja. Despite portraying a frustrating, somewhat unlikeable character, Litja always brings humour and warmth to his performance. Highly recommended, The Grump is an honest, funny and heartbreaking film that oozes Finish culture.

Screening: Sunday 26th July, 4:30pm. Cinema Paradiso, Northbridge.


Silent Hearts

In a society where we own the right to live, but not the right to die, Silent Hearts offers a heart-tugging angle on this paradox.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Courtney Loney


Silent Heart
, directed by Bille August, is a superbly made, intimate Danish drama about the acceptance of assisted dying. When matriarch Esther (Ghita Nørby) falls terminally ill, she decides to bring three generations of her family to her peaceful farmhouse to enjoy a bittersweet weekend together before she makes her ultimate decision.

Right from the start, Silent Heart packs on the atmosphere; aided by the picture perfect Danish countryside, the tension builds gently throughout the initial greetings, until it’s almost unbearable. Nørby, already a Danish film star, pulls off a compelling performance as she portrays a very ill, yet strong-minded and determined woman. In fact, every character’s performance is convincing and raw; there’s so much drama taking place in such a claustrophobic setting, and August strives to present it with a painful sense of reality.

Of course, Silent Heart is not something to face in a negative frame of mind! It’s sad, sure, but far from being all grim; the script injects an appropriate amount of black humour from time to time. By the end, not only will the audience know the characters better, but the characters will know themselves better. Keep the tissue box near while watching this sombre, yet touching film!

Screening: Friday 24th July, 8:45pm. Cinema Paradiso, Northbridge.


Images courtesy of Palace Films & The Scandinavian Film Festival

Quick Picks – Scandinavian Film Festival – Part 1

The Absent One

A superb Danish noir-mystery; The Absent One will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Kit Morris

Director Mikkel Norgaard returns from last year’s critically acclaimed The Keeper of Lost Causes with The Absent One or Fasandraeberne; his second adaptation of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s successful novel series Department Q.

This brilliant sequel to the 2014 hit once again features the Copenhagen-based, cold case detectives Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and his Syrian-born counterpart Assad (Fares Fares). Following a frantic plea to Morck to solve the mysterious murder of his teenage children, a former police officer commits suicide. Feeling indebted, Morck attempts to uncover how the death of the ex-cop’s twins really came about back in the mid 1990’s at one of Denmark’s most prestigious boarding schools.

Norgaard’s latest instalment stylishly flits between warm, sunny flashbacks of the past, and colder, more harshly lit scenes of the present day, but what really elevates this thriller is Kaas’ performance as the rugged detective. Whilst Morck acts primarily on instinct, and little exposition is provided in regards to his motives, this actually serves well to support the unpredictable storyline. This fast-paced, gritty thriller culminates in a most unexpected ending that will satisfy any fan of the genre. Highly recommended – 4 stars.

Screening: Sunday 26th July, 2:00pm. Cinema Paradiso, Northbridge


Underdog

Underdog is a powerful film that features a complicated love triangle underpinned by a raw depiction of class and immigration issues in modern-day Oslo.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Review by Kit Morris

Swedish-Finish actor Bianca Kronlof plays Dino, just one of the thousands of young Swedish migrants battling for work in Norway.  An aspiring artist trapped in a cycle of self-destruction, Dino lives out her days in slum-like conditions, working temporary jobs and fighting alcoholism, when she unexpectedly lands a job as a babysitter for wealthy sportsman-turned-restaurateur, Steffen (Henrik Rafaelsen), who engages her in a sultry love affair.

Svenskjavel, which directly translates as “Swedish bastard”, intricately weaves the recent power balance shift between Norway and Sweden into its romantic storyline. Since the 1960’s Norway’s wealth has been riding on the back of a North Sea oil discovery, whereas Sweden has fallen victim to two recessions in so many decades, causing young Swedes to take advantage of EU’s freedom of movement, and abandon their homeland for Norway in search of a better life. The relationship between the two leads juxtaposes the Swede’s plight against that of the middle-class Norwegians. At one point Steffen’s friends sip champagne, and lounge on sofas while one muses, “Who drives the buses? Who cleans the toilets? Who makes hotel beds?” and concludes with
“the Swedes”. Ronnie Sandahl‘s feature film directorial debut is gritty social commentary at its best; 4 stars.

Screening: Friday 24th July, 6:30pm. Cinema Paradiso, Northbridge


Young Sophie Bell

Buzzing with youthful energy and carnal desires, this Swedish coming-of-age tale’s important message of taking risks and being adventurous is somewhat overshadowed by uncultivated characters, and indulgently stylistic direction.

⭐ ⭐
Review by Rhys Graeme-Drury


Sophie Bell (Felice Jankell) and her best friend Alice (Hedda Stiernstedt) are inseparable, and plan to move to Berlin after graduation. It’s only when Sophie decides to stay in Sweden to study that their friendship becomes strained, and it isn’t long before Alice disappears to Berlin by herself. Without hearing a word from her in over a month, Sophie begins her search for answers by retracing Alice’s steps through the unfamiliar city.

As Sophie sheds her inhibitions, and immerses herself into the German nightlife, we’re taken on several detours that draw focus away from the central mystery of Alice’s fate. Whether it’s taking ecstasy, or fooling around with John (Iggy Malmborg), Sophie’s journey of self-discovery soon takes priority over her relationship with Alice. I felt the film failed to explore some of the key subtext in this area, and could have spent more time focusing on the inner workings of their friendship.

Director Amanda Adolfsson utilises numerous stylistic techniques to convey this sense of reckless abandon; from deep, pulsating ambient techno to gratuitous slo-mo, her work behind the camera soon becomes stilted and repetitive. It might have looked gorgeous, but at times it felt like less of a film, and more of a grungy indie music video.

There are fleeting moments of powerful emotional resonance in Young Sophie Bell; both Jankell and Stiernstedt give memorable performances, but the material just feels like a cheap, trashy, overblown Euro version of Skins.

Screening: Sunday 26th July, 6:30pm. Cinema Paradiso, Northbridge


Images courtesy of Palace Films & The Scandinavian Film Festival