Waru

Waru is a film which I tried to get to see at TIFF in 2017, but it was sold out. It doesn’t seem to have been released outside of festivals. It’s been on my watchlist but ‘unavailable’ on Amazon Prime for almost a year. I wondered if I would ever get to see it.

And so god bless HOME, my local independent cinema and spiritual home, for their year-long programme of Women in Global Cinema in 2019. Waru was screening once, and once only, on a bitterly cold January evening, and I was not going to miss it.

It is such a powerful film. 8 different female directors have each created a 10 minute short film featuring female characters, each of which has a connection to the funeral of a young boy. The shorts weave together to allow us to view the death and its impact through the eyes of the immediate family, the community and the media.

The women at the centre of the 8 scenes are all incredible characters. All are struggling in some way with their position in society, some maintaining a steely exterior to cover up their internal emotions, others succumbing to desperate measures to cope. But all are real characters in recognisable situations, which really ensures that the message is brought home.

In fact, it’s worth mentioning that each short is filmed in one long take, with the camera swirling around the central female, following her in and out of her car, around the corridors of her work, or through the rooms of her home so that the audience is completely immersed in her experiences and emotions. It’s incredibly well done and I would be hard pushed to pick out a weak link, unusual for a portmanteau film.

It’s an excoriating view of New Zealand’s failure to address issues of child abuse, and also highlights racism and inequality; its themes are weighty, but the film doesn’t wring its hands over the issues. Instead it is (and indeed it ends with) a call to action to actually do something to reduce the levels of abuse.

If you ever do get a chance to see this, please invest 86 minutes of your time. It’s worth it.

Roma

I find it very difficult to comment too much in-depth on films like this, films which are so essentially personal to the film maker. And although many films to a certain extent will be personal, Roma – like Martin Scorsese’s Silenceis so deliberately and deeply rooted in the experiences of the writer/director/cinematographer Alfonso Cuarón that my opinion regarding the storytelling is largely irrelevant.

And so while I would have been interested to know more about the political background at the time, we don’t get that because the children wouldn’t have paid attention to it. And there is a whole other film to be made about the relationships between the people of Mixtec heritage and the white affluent families whom they serve.

Where I do have huge appreciation though is with the technical achievements. Roma looks absolutely beautiful, with the choice to film in black & white creating some gorgeous images, and also having the effect of reinforcing the feeling of memories being revisited. And there are some glorious long scenes which show a true master at work – the scene in the hospital emergency room for example, or the extended take on the beach are genuinely breath-taking.

For those familiar with Cuarón’s previous work, Roma contains visual references to many of his earlier films – Children of Men, Gravity, Y Tu Mama También – almost as if he had been trying out things in the past, in preparation for this, a film which he has been waiting to make for most of his life.

I liked it very much and I admired it a lot on a technical level – I just wasn’t quite as overwhelmed as I was expecting to be.

Aquaman

Oh my lord this is all kinds of crazy! Way too long crazy, who are all these people crazy and … an octopus playing drums crazy? Yes, all of the above.

But also, it’s fun, thank goodness. It’s not brilliant by any means, and there is one villain too many – presumably to set up a sequel – but it was highly enjoyable.

One thing that struck me was how little like a DC superhero film this actually is. It reminded me more of Greek myth – specifically the labours of Hercules. Arthur gets a task, completes it, and just as he’s sitting down to catch his breath – blam, something blasts its way through the wall and he has to go off on another mission. Great, you defeated this bunch of weirdos, now you have to fight the next lot and get hold of the golden fork … it’s relentless. But at least there’s no time to reflect on how daft it all is.

The villains in stuff like this can sometimes be over-wrought but Patrick Wilson gets this just right and I loved him yelling “Attaaaaaaaack”.

And as for Jason Momoa well, he’s clearly having the time of his life playing the giant-sea-horse-surfing dude and we all benefit in many ways.

My 4K TV is now impatiently awaiting the UHD Blu-Ray release.

L’amant double

Exactly one year ago, I was in Paris (to watch tennis) and tempted to go see L’amant double which had just opened in cinemas there, barely a couple of weeks after being screened at Cannes. In the end I didn’t get time to go, but the fact that we’ve just had Cannes, and that tennis is here again, is a stark reminder of the question I frequently ask: why do we have to wait so damn long for foreign language films to appear in the UK?

This one has definitely been worth waiting for. Although it’s good to remember that this is definitely a François Ozon film. Playing fast and loose with the interpretation of ethics of doctor/patient confidentiality, Ozon serves up a delicious, sexy treat of a film which had me simultaneously gasping and giggling at its audacity.

It’s difficult to say too much without giving the game away, but Jérémie Renier is wickedly engaging as twins, and Marine Vacth intense as the woman caught between the two of them.

Ozon employs mirrors and windows giving us myriad reflections to match the crazy twists of the story, and all I’ll say is it’s not just Renier playing multiple roles. It’s cheeky, dark, funny, and wildly entertaining.

A fun time was had!

 

Sandome no satsujin – The Third Murder

Director Kore-eda Hirokazu’s more recent films have been family focused (After the Storm, Like Father Like Son, Our Little Sister) exploring broken relationships and human frailty. With The Third Murder however, Kore-eda has returned to much larger questions of life’s purpose and what it means to be a human being, in the vein of Air Doll and After Life.

The film opens with a murder, followed by sweeping drone views of a water-side city. We almost get the feeling that we’re about to watch an American crime drama.

But no. Or at least, not quite. We already have our perp. He’s even confessed.

Here’s a thing I didn’t realise – Japan still has the death penalty. The complexity of how this sentence is applied drives the team of legal brains (led by Shigemori – played by Masaharu Fukuyama) to understand why the prisoner Misumi (Kôji Yakusho) has confessed, what exactly he has confessed to, and why he keeps changing his story. It’s deftly handled by Kore-eda so that we understand just as much as we need to, and we don’t spend the entirety of the film inside a courtroom.

As the lies are peeled away and the truth begins to emerge, we start to understand *what* is going on with Misumi, but not necessarily *why*. And as the lawyer Shigemori learns more about his client, Kore-eda and his camera crew shift the view inside the prison visiting room each time so that in the last meeting, some exquisite work sees the faces of the two men almost superimposed on one another.

The audience is left to make up its own mind as to exactly how the ending could be interpreted and while I’m fine with this, there are a couple of loose ends that make me wonder if this wasn’t originally a longer film but had to be cut. The storyline around the lead lawyer’s daughter, for example, feels like it’s going to be quite significant until about half way through but then it just disappears, to the point where she was preying on my mind a little.

But despite these small niggles, Kore-eda delivers yet again. If you’re not familiar with his work, then this would be a great starting point, and I actively encourage it!

A version of this post first appeared on http://www.themovieisle.com

 

Sweet Country

Drawing on themes and images familiar from American Westerns, director Warwick Thornton’s story of a lawman looking for a killer is nevertheless a very Australian story.

Set in the 1920s, when the land was settled by ‘white fellas’ who claimed it by the mere fact of being there, and effectively indentured the indigenous people of the area as their unpaid workforce, this is a story of injustice and oppression on many levels.

Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) is one such Aboriginal worker who, finding himself under attack from new arrival and shell-shocked, bigoted war veteran Harry March (Ewen Leslie), shoots the man in self-defence and has to go on the run with his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber). Sam’s boss Fred Smith (Sam Neill) joins Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown), Mick Kennedy (Thomas M Wright) and tracker Archie (Gibson John) to find the pair somewhere in the outback.

The catalyst for these events is a teenage Aboriginal boy Philomac (played by twins Tremayne and Trevon Doolan) – his actions unwittingly bring about the events at the start of the narrative, and he is a silent witness to what is happening. He is between the worlds of indigenous and settler; he sees a different role for himself than that of his elders who owned the land before the white immigrants came, and is coming of age during this period of change, much as Australia itself was struggling to find its identity in the early part of the 20th century.

As the posse tracks Sam and Lizzie, we see that there is more than just one Aboriginal people. Both the trackers and the chased encounter different tribes of indigenous peoples, indicating that nothing is ever as ‘black and white’ as it might at first appear, and nor is the experience of justice. We’re given a tiny seed of hope that the country is turning a corner, which is crushed with Sam Neill’s character exclaiming “What chance has this country got?” when that seed is dashed underfoot.

There is no score, with the filmmaker choosing instead to allow the wind, fire, insects and wildlife of the outback to be the music, the driver of emotions. It works extremely well, and complements the huge landscapes and red soil of the outback. There are also intercut images or ‘flashes forward’ which give the viewer a hint of what is to come, but without specific context so that we can begin to anticipate the outcome – in other words, it’s a foregone conclusion whether we want to accept it or not.

It’s no surprise to realise that woman say very little, and white women the least (there are two of them and one says nothing at all, such is her place). The Aboriginal women know when to speak and when to remain silent.

Many of the Aboriginal cast are local, first-time actors, and Warwick Thornton has extracted some deeply sensitive and emotionally contained performances from them. It also makes some of the scenes difficult to watch as the characters choose subservience rather than standing up for themselves and having to bear the inevitable consequences.

As opposed to a traditional Western, where the white lawmen on horses are the good guys and are fighting against the savagery of the indigenous people, Sweet Country presents a different scenario. Black is not always bad, and white is not always good. Warwick Thornton chooses to remind us of this by reflecting a story of his own nation’s history, asking questions along the way about theft, ownership and justice. Worth your time.

A version of this post first appeared at www.themovieisle.com

You Were Never Really Here

There’s an awful lot packed into these 85 minutes, and they’re all pretty intense.

Joaquin Phoenix is not averse to taking on an enigmatic role, and this fits the bill. Enigmatic in that he says little and with no exposition, the audience is left to work out what’s happening by simply following the action and with a few glimpses of flashback.

And although a lot of the violence isn’t directly on screen, that doesn’t mean that the idea of what we think we see isn’t there. It’s brutal. I also felt quite uncomfortable with the relationship between Phoenix’s character and the young girl he was assisting – I’m not sure I was meant to.

Phoenix’s Joe goes about his business clearly carrying his PTSD in his carrier bag with him, and Jonny Greenwood’s score is visceral in describing this.

I am glad I have seen this, but it was not easy at all.

 

Gholam

Photographer turned writer/director Mitra Tabrizian brings an enigmatic character to the screen and provides a window to a life probably unseen and unconsidered by most cinema audiences.

Acclaimed Iranian actor Shahab Hosseini (The Salesman, A Separation) plays the titular role of Gholam, an Iranian taxi driver living in London, working two jobs and living in one damp room. He belongs in neither world properly, occupying space somewhere between the two. It’s existing rather than living.

We’re told very little about Gholam – we see that he’s a quiet man, a bit of a loner, and gradually we begin to accept that he seems like a decent man who helps elderly people, always pays for his meals and doesn’t want to create any fuss.

And then one day, minding his own business, he is recognised as a possible war hero from the past by a shady character, and finds himself with a decision to make.

Gholam moves at a gentle pace, with Hosseini doing a lot of walking in the London rain as he mulls over his options and tries to decide how much of himself he is prepared to compromise. And Hosseini is so good at that. We can see his internal conflict without him having to explain himself to anyone. His face and demeanour conveys so much.

It’s also a film which shows an unpleasant corner of London, and it’s no accident that the small kindnesses we see are for the most part between immigrants, whereas the local Londoners range from highly irritating business types to bigoted violent thugs, and it’s not pleasant.

I don’t imagine this will get a very wide theatrical release, but if you come across it anywhere, it’s definitely worth 90 minutes of your time.

 

Les endroits imaginaires

A slightly less successful location scout than previous times, but one that I had been waiting to do for a while.

If you’ve mooched around the menu of this blog, or if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’m a fan of Québecois director Xavier Dolan, and as I was heading for Montréal last year, I just had to have a look around.

From his 2010 film Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats) what I really wanted to find was something from the sequences where Marie and Francis walk down the street in the Mile End area of Montréal to the brilliant song sung by Dalida. Here’s the sequence:

I was all set to put my hair up and do a slo-mo walk past the blue wall (which you can see at 2:02 in the video above).

I found where I thought it was, I could see something blue in the distance, but when I got there …

Not exactly glamourous.

But it is definitely the right place – Google Maps has it looking like this in August 2016:

Anyway, by chance I also recognised this flower shop along the same street, which appears in this sequence (starting at 0:34):

Here’s the flower shop , which I did do a walk-by of!

 

Una Mujer Fantástica – A Fantastic Woman

The word is dignity.

Daniela Vega imbues Marina with such dignity, and it makes beautiful viewing. It’s a stunning, delicate performance which deserves all the plaudits it is receiving.

The film is rooted in the truth of Marina’s situation, the resilience she finds to deal with her travails and the choices she makes as to when to comply and when to stand up for herself. The ordinariness of her life exists side by side with the extraordinariness of her situation, and director Sebastián Lelio has woven a beautiful, fantastic tale about a very fantastic woman. It was an honour to meet her.