Movie Review – Tulip Fever

Tulip Fever burns slower than it takes for a tulip to grow and bloom.


Elle Cahill

It’s 17th Century Amsterdam and a wealthy Dutchman, Cornelis Sandvoort and his wife, Sophia, are having trouble conceiving. Despite the young wife’s fears that her much older husband will soon divorce her, he pays for up-and-coming artist Jan van Loos to paint their portrait. As he paints the couple, van Loos quickly falls in love with the young Sophia and they start a passionate affair.

There is a lot going on in Tulip Fever, and for the most part it’s hard to keep up with all the different storylines. For almost every character that is introduced in the film, we are given a sliver of their story without any real development, both from a story and character perspective. I counted a total of seven storylines, which is too big a number to fit into a 105-minute film, particularly when the film is also trying to set up the historical backdrop of the tulip mania that took over Amsterdam in the 17th Century, and plays a large part in the overall story.

Tulip Fever has a phenomenal cast including Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz, Alicia Vikander, Tom Hollander, Jack O’Connell, and many more, but director Justin Chadwick fails to utilise their full potential. Dench effortlessly steals every scene she’s in as the head nun of a local parish in charge of growing the tulips for auction, as does Waltz in his portrayal of husband Cornelis Sandvoort, who genuinely loves Sophia (Vikander) and wants to do right by her but is desperate for her to deliver an heir. Hollander also get’s an honourable mention as the sleazy doctor who brings moments of comic relief to an otherwise contrived plot. But this is far from being their best work and feels like a huge waste of talent.

The most interesting part of the film is its attempt at exploring the tulip mania. While it fails to truly show the significance of the mania, it helps establish the film’s setting, and also give a basic insight to the craze that overtook Amsterdam. Unfortunately, like the rest of the film, it gets muddled up with all the concurrent character arcs and fails to bring anything other than tulips to the story.

There is some beautiful cinematography by Eigil Bryld, particularly when Sophia’s on the beach at various points in the film, but most of the time these scenes feel overly indulgent.

Tulip Fever is a real slow-burner that has a lot going on across the various storylines without any proper development taking place. Its failure to pick a central character leaves you feeling confused at the end, as you’re not invested in any of them. I also can’t tell you who or what the antagonist is in this film because it’s never properly identified. This film should serve as a warning as to what happens when indulgence trumps quality.

Tulip Fever is available in Australian cinemas from November 23.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017.

 

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Movie Review – Justice League

DC takes two steps forward and one step back on its bumper team-up tentpole, Justice League.

⭐ ⭐  ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

After fours years, just as many films and a hype train large enough to tow a small planet, DC and Warner Brothers hastily arrive at their Avengers moment in Justice League, a crossover event that sees established superheroes like Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman team up with fresh faces such as The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

Their mission is to stop Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), an ancient interdimensional demon from uniting three ‘mother boxes’, shiny Rubix Cubes with the power to destroy all life on Earth when joined as one.

Having undergone a troubled production, the expectation going in is that Justice League would be a mess, visually, tonally and narratively. Unfortunately, those fears appear to have been well-founded for the most part; Snyder’s third swing of the bat isn’t a miss on the scale of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it’s hardly the home run many fans were hoping for either.

Narratively, cowriters Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon (the latter of whom also directed a few reshoots after Snyder departed following a family tragedy) cobble together a passable plot that is markedly more straightforward than its bloated predecessor.

This streamlining is a good thing; rather than getting bogged down by mythology, Justice League (with Whedon offering some of his trademark quips) affords its central five heroes time to interact. Batman and Wonder Woman don’t see eye to eye; Cyborg isn’t a fan of Flash’s silliness. It endears us to their cause, making the abysmal CGI throwdown in the third act at least tolerable.

Visually, Justice League isn’t great. The VFX lacks polish and an overreliance on green screen is abundantly clear once the heroes jet off to face their ultimate foe in the final act. The reshoots and last minute tinkering hasn’t done much to help in this department.

The cast is a mixed bag as well; Affleck swings between suave and narcoleptic; Gadot is equal parts a radiant beam of sunlight and a thrilling whirlwind of ferocity; Miller is a jittery and sarcastic millennial who can’t sit still; Fisher is stoic and only afforded a hint of depth; and Momoa’s Aquaman is an insufferable X Games bro with milky white contacts and a penchant for surf lingo – it comes as a surprise that he doesn’t throw a single shaka.

Even the score is a hodgepodge of intersecting leitmotifs, as Danny Elfman throws everything but the kitchen sink into the mix; Hans Zimmer’s uplifting Man of Steel theme and Junkie XL’s thunderous Wonder Woman cues overlap with John Williams’ original Superman theme and Elfman’s own 1989 Batman score. The result is clunky and disjointed – a summation that extends to most of Justice League, to be brutally honest.

And so, we arrive at the end. Things are more hopeful, the status quo has shifted once again and better things to come are teased. But it does beg the question, how long can audiences go before the crippling mediocrity (save for Wonder Woman) lastingly cripples DC’s efforts to ape Marvel? Justice League sees the former lean into the latter’s formula heavily, and it signals a shift in the right direction, albeit a slow one. Once again I find myself whispering under the breath – “maybe the next one will be better…”

Justice League is available in Australian cinemas from November 16.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017.

Movie Review – Goodbye Christopher Robin

Simon Curtis’ Goodbye Christopher Robin does its job but definitely arrived with the ambition to do more.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Goodbye Christopher Robin assembles all the elements of a great historical drama, but somehow fails to fit them together. It’s never quite as cohesive as it’s meant to be. It’s touching and sad, supremely shot, beautiful to look at, but forgets the piece that completes the picture. And quite surprisingly, Margot Robbie turns in a high school performance that should’ve been eaten by her dog.

But the film raises interesting questions. We follow A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson), who we know will create Winnie The Pooh, as he returns to London after fighting in the Great War, still haunted by nasty flashbacks that are triggered by innocuous balloon pops. He needs a sanctuary in which to continue his playwriting, so impulsively shifts his family to the countryside, where his young son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), who prefers his nickname Billy Moon, frolics amongst the trees with his stuffed toys and his watchful nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald) is ordered to stay away from his busy father.

Naturally, circumstances arise that leave Billy alone with Milne. So the two begin to bond and before long Milne has created a children’s character based around his own son and his somewhat-imaginary friends. Seems harmless enough. But the fearsome genteel nature of the Milne’s makes them incapable of comprehending the impact of super stardom on a child who is not prepared for it. Billy is dressed to resemble the Christopher Robin of the Pooh books and is shoved into radio interviews and publicity photo shoots as the real thing. “He needs to grow up!”, asserts Olive. “He can’t do this!” “He seems to be doing it quite well actually”, replies his mother.

The film is written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan, and the duo pay less attention to their dialogue than the relationship between father and son. Did Milne intend to hurt his son? Of course not. But then, looking at Milne, does he know what hurt is anymore? Yes, you could say the war shook him up real bad, but surely it’s the stoic Englishness of the time that ruined an otherwise beautiful relationship. In a household that doesn’t permit crying, how do you find out when someone’s in pain?

The irony of course is that tragedy had to happen for the world to be introduced to one of the happiest characters of all time. Winnie The Pooh charmed countless children across the world but had to break apart a family to do it. It’s this fractured logic that forms the centre of Goodbye Christopher Robin, and not the war, the countryside or Winnie The Pooh.

Later we get to see an older Billy Moon (played by Alex Lawther), after having been abused by schoolmates for his fame. He’s broken and resents his father for using him to create an empire, trotting off to fight in a war his father fought to prevent. It’s poetic how history is doomed to repeat itself.

These are all the parts of the movie that work, and I enjoyed the way young Tilston embodies all that is cheerful. Without him I suspect the movie would’ve been flat. As it is, it’s only moderately bumpy, not putting a foot wrong but not exactly sprinting down a tightrope.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is available in Australian cinemas from November 23.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox 2017.

Movie Review – Detroit

With Detroit, Kathryn Bigelow once again commands us to examine ourselves and the atrocities we claim to have overcome.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan 

Detroit is an examination of prejudice. It is set in the 1960s during a period of riotous relations between blacks and whites, but refuses to address the roots of the problem. Instead it shifts the focus of racism to the system, to a biased judicial court that ultimately trickled droplets of hatred down to its law enforcement. It is well known how aggressive the Detroit police department was. Fuelled by misguided moral righteousness, groups of cops became dangerous. This is a confronting film, as all films that require us to look inward are.

At the centre of Detroit are two young men; one black, one white. One an aspiring Motown singer, the other an enthusiastic beat cop. Both men are brought together by a silly prank that goes wrong, in what turns out to be an evening of endless police brutality and torture driven by racism, superiority and retribution.

These scenes, that take place at the Algiers Motel, dominate the middle hour or so of the film, and are specifically designed to test our comfort levels as the cop, Philip Krauss (Will Poulter), leads his partners on a repulsive interrogation crusade to determine the prankster who opened fire on the National Guard patrolling the streets a few minutes before. I can call it “repulsive” because I know what the cops did that night was wrong. The dangerous thing is that Philip knows it’s wrong too, but enjoys his position of power too much to let it become an issue. Like the Nazis, if he believed what he was doing was right, why try to cover it up?

Eventually the night goes south, which leads to a court trial. Here is where director Kathryn Bigelow broadens the story by putting the entire judicial system on the stand. The jury is all white. The judge is white. The lawyers are white. White men are being convicted and the only witnesses are black men and white women, neither of whom has any civil power. The key to Detroit is the framing that not every white person in 1960s America was racist, but the many who were crippled everything the US constitution stood for.

Bigelow films her movie like a hybrid between drama and documentary. Snippets of actual footage is occasionally spliced into interludes, and much of Barry Ackroyd’s camerawork is handheld and reasonably shaky. The result is not unlike Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, in which the viewer is pulled right into the world of the filmmaker and is forced to confront horrific events without the option to look away.

Among the other players is John Boyega’s security guard Melvin, who delivers peace offerings while his fellow man is beaten into submission, and finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time, torn between loyalty and self-preservation. Hannah Murray and Kaitlyn Dever play the two white female witnesses who don’t see colour, believe in fair treatment but are still harassed for fraternising with the enemy.

I have not said much about Larry (Algee Smith), the young Motown singer. He was present at the Algiers Motel, is a central figure, but doesn’t contribute heavily to the fabric of the plot. He is instead a controversial and lamentable reminder that not every black man in the ‘60s wanted revolution. Some just wanted to turn a blind eye, sing in the church choir and survive. Seriously, though, who could blame them?

 

Detroit is available in Australian cinemas from November 9.

Image courtesy of Entertainment One Films 2017.

 

 

Movie Review – Three Summers

Three Summers is determined to bring a sunny disposition to the thorniest of political topics.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

Let’s get this out of the way quick-smart: for some people, Three Summers will not be an easy film. It should be – it’s a comedy, after all – but it’s also an unreservedly left-wing perspective on Australia that will rub certain people up the wrong way. It wears its politics on its sleeve in almost every scene, and you’ll either laugh along with it or get frustrated when it (regularly) dismisses conservative opinions. In other words, it’s a Ben Elton film.

Written and directed by Elton, Three Summers is a film about Australia and its stories. Accordingly, it follows a variety of groups at the fictional Westival music festival. There’s the feisty Warrikins (Rebecca Breeds, John Waters); Roland the Theremin player (Robert Sheehan); the Morris dancers led by Michael Caton; Queenie the relentlessly sunny radio announcer (Magda Szubanski); and about half a dozen other plotlines, all converging on the same campgrounds over three years.

It’s impressive just how well Elton manages to juggle it all. Considering the number of ideas he’s throwing around, it would’ve been easy for the film to descend into a preachy soup. Instead, thanks to the extended timespan, there’s always a fresh joke around the corner. Revisiting these characters over multiple years affords us the chance to watch them grow and adjust naturally. A punk band dwindles, an AA meeting grows, and certain events challenge the community dynamic in surprising ways. Through it all, a warmly empathetic optimism brings the disparate groups together.

That optimism is what ultimately ties the film together. Elton himself has made it clear that he wanted to make a nice film – something lovely and warm – and that ethos shines through. Even when the film is confronting Australia’s thorniest conversations – the refugee crisis, Aboriginal marginalisation – it remains upbeat and acknowledges them as decipherable problems. They aren’t just rocks and hard places, they are people, and people deserve love and respect.

With so many stories it’s also inevitable that some of them won’t get the time they deserve. Aboriginal marginalisation, for instance, is a complex topic that is ill-suited to a comedy that can’t focus on it. One of the children wears an ankle-monitor which is played for a single laugh but never properly addressed. That’s practically the definition of lip-service, and it’s not the only instance of it. Elton is sincere in his desire to confront difficult issues, and his attempts are at least commendable, but the problems are also much bigger than he can manage in an already busy film.

Conservatives will bristle, but lefties will laugh at the shenanigans in Three Summers. It’s not a perfect film – Elton would do well to narrow his scope next time – but it’s genuine where it counts. It’s a kind-hearted comedy with some wonderful performances (Szubanski is just lovely) and a gorgeously Australian setting. It’s the perfect film for an outdoor screening on a warm summer’s eve so expect it to remain a mainstay of those events for years to come.

 

Three Summers is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Transmission Films 2017

 

Movie Review – Jigsaw

Despite dying all the way back in Saw III, Jigsaw is back for an eighth twisted and gruesome game after a lengthy absence.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

More than a decade has passed since John Kramer, a.k.a. the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) – the man notorious for kidnapping people and putting them in traps that force them to mutilate themselves to escape death as a means of creating a newfound appreciation for life – and his circle of successors all met grisly ends. The violence has ceased, until now; as police shoot down a petty thug, a triggering mechanism is activated and sets in motion a new game played by five people trapped in a remote barn filled with diabolically lethal things at every turn. Mangled bodies start turning up, and as the investigative team, including Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and forensic doctors Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) dig deeper, all the evidence points to the late Jigsaw as the perpetrator.

It wasn’t too much of a stretch to predict that 2010’s Saw 3D was never going to be The Final Chapter as it claimed; nothing in Hollywood, especially in the horror genre (and especially one of the horror genre’s highest-grossing franchises) ever stays dead anymore, so by that logic Jigsaw was always inevitable. The good news is that its source is one of the genre’s most inventive, if not for the faint of heart series, and despite it having narratively driven itself into a dead end, this belated eighth entry manages to breathe a bit of new life into its corpse, doing its many fans justice and pulling off a few neat tricks of its own.

Taking the reins from its Australian creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell (who remain as producers) is, appropriately, another Aussie horror filmmaking duo, The Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Predestination). Their biggest adjustment to proceedings is the visual style – gone is the grainy, low-grade camerawork, grungy bathrooms and rust as far as the eye can see, updated with slick cinematography and, for the first time, shiny and new-looking killing instruments. The Spierigs are aware that audience expectations have changed since Saw last soaked our screens in blood, and so the story deviates from the usual formula too; we follow the police investigation equally as much as the victims of the latest game, veering slightly away from the torture-porn trappings that later entries became and closer to the psychological thrills of the first film.

Which is not to say that Jigsaw isn’t gory; there are new traps here that rank up there with the series’ stomach-churning best, from the body-shredding spiral blade contraption to the flesh-cutting laser collars – fans can rest easy with the amount of blood and guts spilled. Pleasingly, after being sidelined for so long, the iconic Jigsaw himself takes centre stage once again, with the mystery of how exactly he has returned forming the core of the plot. Bell still dominates in his signature role, and the story that once again explores his backstory alongside his legacy makes a franchise that felt all out of places to go feel like it actually has plenty of fresh directions to take us in.

Updates aside, this is still quintessentially Saw, which does mean it shares the series problems too; most of which usually boil down to its writing. Though tricksy, it’s always relied on quite a large suspension of disbelief given the huge coincidences that cause everything to fall into place just right and push each plot point into place, and Jigsaw is no different. Again, the twist ending is awfully contrived and frankly ridiculous if you put even a smidgen of thought into it.

But though it doesn’t quite reach the franchise high point, Jigsaw surpasses a good portion of the sequels and exceeds expectations; though it won’t win Saw many new fans, and its potential as a series reboot remains to be seen, this is an interesting and satisfying enough long-awaited follow-up.

Jigsaw is available in Australian cinemas from November 02

 Image courtesy of Studio Canal Australia 2017

Movie Review – The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven delivers good feelings and professional entertainment value, but does little to distinguish itself from its formidable forebears.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The worst scene in The Magnificent Seven comes right at the end; undoing what the rest of the movie worked so hard to achieve. The point of this story – first envisioned in Kurosawa’s sprawling masterpiece, Seven Samurai (1954), later reimagined in countless other tributes and remakes (including Pixar’s A Bug’s Life) – is selflessness in the line of honour. The samurai were honourable warriors, bound by bushido. Cowboys were bound by their egos. What they shared in common was the rejection of self-gain. The 1960 Magnificent Seven understood this. This new Hollywood remake, directed by Antoine Fuqua, tacks on a closing scene that converts its guns-for-hire into immortalised heroes, effectively gut-punching itself.

And what a pity that is, because the rest of it feels like a solid Western. It’s not limp or dated. Its production values are convincing. It comes meaty, ready for a fight. In an age where filmmakers favour CGI shortcuts, Fuqua has made the right decision to root his film in solid ground. The town of Rose Creek is actually there, built with wood and nails. Explosions are rigged and timed. Stuntmen tumble off rooftops and plough through windows. Physical action gives the movie weight and visual depth, a leisure that’s no longer easy to come by.

Denzel Washington plays Sam Chisolm, the Yul Brynner character from the original remake, and doesn’t so much chew up the scenery as stand back and admire it. Washington is always reliable, but here he seems too passive to be the leader of a troupe of gun-slinging, macho monkeys. I can’t remember a single impressive thing he does in the entire film.

Elsewhere, the cast tries to be as diverse as politically and financially possible. It introduces a Korean knife-thrower (Lee Byung-Hun); a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) in full cabrón mode; and throws in a Comanche archer (Martin Sensmeier) for good measure. The problem is, by the time the big old gunfight thunders its way around the corner, none of these “interesting” characters do anything worth noting. And the gunfight, as impressive as it is, resembles a chaos party hosted by anarchy. It’s hard to tell what’s happening, and to whom. There are so many bad guys for our heroes to gun down that you might begin to suspect they’re growing out of the soil like potatoes.

But for what it’s worth, this Magnificent Seven is a good, harmless time. The interplay between the characters is often electric and the way the screenplay whittles down the ensemble cast shows restraint and diplomacy. It is, however, still a movie that need not have been made. But it has, and we’re neither better or worse off for it. I just wish the final scene had been omitted. It reeks of studio interference. I don’t want to have to wait for a home release to catch an alternate ending.

The Magnificent Seven is available in Australian cinemas from September 29

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Movie Review – The Confirmation

Amidst the modern multiplex madness, it’s refreshing to find a humble little film about quaint father and son bonding.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

As his mother and her new husband prepare for a weekend away at a Catholic retreat, eight-year-old Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) reluctantly readies himself for spending time with his father Walt (Clive Owen), a deadbeat, down-on-his-luck alcoholic carpenter. Walt lands a potential job, but his prospects are complicated when his prized tool kit is stolen and he’s locked out of his house by his landlord. Anthony and Walt set about finding the culprit who nabbed the tools, and begin to form an unexpected bond along the way.

There’s quite a modest and old-timey feeling that courses through The Confirmation, the directorial debut of 60-year-old Bob Nelson (writer of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska). It’s a small film that’s intimate in scope and humbly unambitious, but it certainly has its heart in the right place. Like last year’s Grandma, it’s an unanticipated curveball situation thrusted upon two estranged generations, forcing them together through spontaneous hijinks and incubating a relationship in the process.

A true rarity for entertainment in this day and age, Nelson’s characters are (at least partially) defined by their religious beliefs, be it Anthony’s purity and lack of sin as a result of frequent churchgoing, or Walt’s abandonment of his former moral ways left behind with his ex-wife. Religion serves as a backdrop for the film, but there’s a sense that a lot more could have been made of this now seldom-seen motif; it’s simply there to point out Anthony’s morality. This is huge potential left tragically untapped.

Overall, it’s all a bit too straight-faced, to the point that it occasionally feels like the actors are reading directly from a script page. Then there are the odd, out of place moments of threat and violence that completely rattle the realism at play. This might have worked for a more satirical film, but it’s simply distracting in this unambiguous and clear-cut coming-of-age story.

What Nelson does nail is the father-and-son relationship between Walt and Anthony; it organically forms as the film progresses and we genuinely feel the pair pulling closer together. Clive Owen’s big screen appearances are few and far between these days, and Walt is a far cry from his typical action hero. It’s a restrained performance that shows the subtle gravitas of a man under such pressure that the cracks begin to show on the surface. It’s surprising how much chemistry he shares with young Lieberher (St. Vincent, Midnight Special) who displays a terrific innocence and wisdom beyond his years.

Ultimately it’s a simple series of misadventures between a boy and his pop, but their rewarding magnetism makes this low-key journey worth embarking upon.

The Confirmation is available in Australian cinemas from September 22

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution 

Interview: Ruth Borgobello – Italian Film Festival

Josip Knezevic 

Although born in Australia, an Italian heart beats within filmmaker Ruth Borgobello. Her groundbreaking debut feature The Space Between is the first Italian-Australian collaboration since a treaty was established between the countries 20 years ago.

The film follows the journey of former chef Marco (Flavio Parenti), who has long stopped searching for his place in the world. Looking to numb the pain from a sudden loss in his life, he returns to his hometown in Northern Italy. He soon meets young Australian woman Olivia (Maeve Dermody) who slowly begins to spark life back into Marco. They find themselves drifting through the voids between death and rebirth to allow themselves to bridge reality and realise their dreams.

As the headline feature for the Italian Film Festival this September, I got the chance to chat with Borgobello to talk all things Italian-Australian and hopes for the future of women working in the film and television industry.

JK: You’ve invested a lot of time into producing Italian/Australian stories. Can you tell me what made you so interested in establishing these connections and why you wanted your debut feature to be the first Italian-Australia co-production?

RB: Sure, I’m half Italian, half Australian. I was born and raised in Australia, but I guess growing up and discovering Italian films – largely through the Italian Film Festival – I felt a strong connection to that sort of style of filmmaking. Travelling to Italy a lot, I was very inspired by the locations and this kind of energy and emotion that exists in Italy, which was harder to tune into in Australia – it’s a bit more hidden. I think also life in Italy – which doesn’t seem like it from Australia – is much harder. There’s more of a struggle inherent in stories that I’ve been attracted to.

JK: The co-production treaty between Italy and Australia has been signed for quite some time, why do you think it took so long for a feature film to be made between the two countries?

RB: I knew about the treaty, but I didn’t realise it hadn’t been used before. That was something I discovered, and when I first went to Italy to meet with producers to talk to them about doing it, I was quite naïve thinking, “Oh yeah, we’ve got this co-production and it will be fantastic”. They were interested in it, but also because it hadn’t been done, it was a bit of a psychological block. For Australian producers as well, I think there’s a suspiciousness that if it’s never been done before then maybe it doesn’t work or it’s too difficult and filmmaking is hard enough as is. Then we found a producer that was really willing to make it work and there was this growing interest and willingness from Italy and our people that supported the film in Australia. We had philanthropists and private investors that were connected to the Italian community and they really wanted to make it work because it hadn’t worked before, so I think this was the key. So for us it was really about building relationships and forging trust.

JK: You mentioned that life in Italy is harder than it looks. The film looks into the idea that despite being surrounded by immense historical and natural beauty, the characters have become blind to the potential within. Where did these ideas come from and what are you alluding it to in terms of dreams of the past for the Italian people?

RB: I guess like in the 60s, 70s and even 80s, there was so much promise in Italy. My grandparents left in the 50s after the war and it was a very depressed time. Now they actually say it’s worse than it was then. There were all these hopes and dreams created from our parent’s generation. They fought for their rights and created a great standard of living and amazing tourism. But then I think maybe when Europe came to be and the Euro came in, everything began to shift in Italy. I know from my husband who’s Italian and our mutual friends that all studied and are highly professional that they found themselves trapped in jobs where they were getting paid very minimal wages. At some point everything just stopped and when the Euro came in, prices doubled, but the wages stayed the same. I think they’ve just come to learn to live within these limitations and not fight for more, which was what their parents had done. It’s this strange thing in which maybe they’ve had it easy and then had it difficult and just clung to security instead of actually trying to push through and make things better.

JK: Wow, I didn’t even know that.

RB: Yeah, not many people in Australia do because we’re sort of sold this tourism. But the reality of life in Italy is very tough. There’s so many young Italians that have this dream to have the freedom and opportunity and most of them are shocked about how much they get paid here and how much they’re valued here as well.

JK: I love the quote before the film starts “Strange not to go on wishing one’s wishes. Strange to see all that was once in place, floating so loosely in space” How did you come across this and was it a source of inspiration for the film?

RB: Yes, that’s a really good question. The quote is from Rainer Maria Rilke poetry from the Duino Elegies. Every time I go to Italy, I visit this one place called Duino – which actually features in the film – and I always loved this place and felt like it was my favourite place in the whole world, even though it’s this tiny little town that nobody knows about. When I writing the script, I came across the poetry and realised there was a connection there. I’ve never known about the poet, but when I read it I just felt like it really captured what I wanted to say with the film. There was this kind of emotion and sense of loss in the poetry, trying to search for meaning within – that was what I wanted to say with the film.

JK: That’s amazing that you found it while you were writing the script. Seems almost like it was fate.

RB: Yeah I had a very strong reaction to it when I read it. There was something in it that really struck a chord with me. And obviously poetry is something that’s very hard to bring into film so we tried to do it in a subtle way.

JK: The film ends on a bittersweet note and I was curious to see if you thought of writing an epilogue on that happens to our main characters. Would you be interested in revisiting these characters in sequels?

RB: That’s so funny, I was just having this discussion with my editor. I was saying to him that when we finished shooting, I felt like I really wanted to start writing the next part. I really wanted to know what happened to them myself. I talked to the actors just after we shot that ending scene and asked them about what would happen and they both had different interpretations. I wanted to leave it open and I wanted to give it that sense of maybe they stay together, but everyone takes away a different interpretation. Flavio was very strong that they weren’t going to stay together, but Maeve was very strong that they were. My sense is that they would come back. Either way Flavio said he was desperate to do another one.

JK: Was this a personal film to make in terms of the context you’ve had growing up as a filmmaker in Australia and in terms of its subject matter of love and loss?

RB: Yeah, it was inspired by when I did meet my husband. We met in very similar circumstances in terms of him losing someone very important. We spent time together even though that had happened. And we had this strong connection that ended up developing into a relationship down the track. So it was sort of inspired by that, but then I made the characters very fictional.

JK: Being so involved with developing Italian-Australian relations, could you talk about some of your favourite Italian and Australian films that may have influenced you down this path?

RB: Federico Fellini is definitely one of my favourite directors. 8 ½ is my favourite all time film because I just feel like its perfection in cinema. In terms of Australian films, I recently watched and loved Looking for Grace that Katie our DOP shot. I think that’s one of the best Australian films I’ve seen in a while even though it’s kind of been under the radar.

JK: There aren’t many women working in the film and television industry in Australia, is there any reason why that number is low and do you sense we will be seeing more of a female presence in the future?

RB: Yes, it definitely will be. When I finished the film, my partner and I kept saying, “Yes you’re in the 16%”, but I never took notice of just how few women there are in the film industry. There’s very few in Italy. I think it’s well under the 16% in Australia, but I really don’t know why it is like that. I know with Palace Films, they’ve been extremely encouraging with this project because I am female. They really want to support women in film and their audience is mostly women, so it’s really important for them to have a strong female voice in more female films. So I think hearing things like that from a big distributor chain is a good sign definitely for the future.

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

Image courtesy of Palace Films

Movie Review – Snowden

Oliver Stone’s portrait of a 21st Century whistle-blower is an overlong affair with brief flashes of brilliance throughout.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Hero, patriot, traitor, terrorist… wherever you fall on the spectrum of opinions regarding Edward Snowden, it’s hard to argue that his actions haven’t irreversibly changed contemporary discourse on politics, counterterrorism, warfare and surveillance.

 Curiously, Oliver Stone’s heavily dramatised film is both a biopic of Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a ‘making-of’ for 2014’s Best Documentary Feature winner, Citizenfour. The film follows Snowden’s entire career from 2003 to present, jumping forward on multiple occasions to a stuffy Hong Kong hotel room in June 2013 where the former NSA contractor is feverishly working with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and a duo of journalists (Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson) to leak key top security documents to the press. Flashbacks fill in the blanks as Stone follows the disillusioned former soldier through a string of events that will lead him to make a world-changing decision that could cost him his life and the love of his long-term partner Lindsay (Shailene Woodley).

Stone frames his subject as a remarkable man, but surrounds him with a rather unremarkable film. It’s not the subject matter that fails to enthrall, but rather its execution. You’ll still drive home with your head swirling at the significance of Snowden’s actions, but on reflection it feels like the director doesn’t deliver that final powerhouse blow that this story so clearly needs (and deserves).

You see, Snowden builds toward a shattering finale that we know is coming. It’s never a question of if he succeeds, but which pivotal moments inspire him to make the decision to blow the whistle on his own government. In that regard, the film doesn’t wholly succeed. By following Snowden’s entire career, Stone loses himself in the detail, meandering through assignment after assignment as his titular character ambles from Geneva to Japan and onto Maryland and Hawaii. The pace is achingly slow as the years wind on and JGL becomes visibly more beleaguered by the crushing secrets he uncovers.

That’s not a slight on Gordon-Levitt though; he totally disappears into the role of Snowden, lowering his voice an octave or two and absolutely nailing the mannerisms of the man he’s embodying. Similarly, Woodley has never been better as the dedicated, perplexed girlfriend Lindsay who finds herself caught in the crossfire. The relationship between Edward and Lindsay is thrust to the forefront for most of the elongated second act, and it’s the convincing chemistry between the two leads that keeps this film above water.

Snowden isn’t a towering tour de force that hits you over the head, but rather an understated character study that examines what it would take for an everyman like Edward Snowden to snap and ‘betray’ his country. It’s an infrequently intense piece padded with meandering sections of mediocrity in between.

Snowden is available in Australian cinemas from September 22

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures