‘Final Portrait’

fporAn uncanny likeness of the two leads to the characters they are playing and a beautifully modulated insight into the painting process itself within the artist’s studio are the highlights of actor Stanley Tucci’s debut foray into directing.

Tucci has chosen to restrict that process to the two weeks in 1964 it takes Alberto Giacometti (a nervous, full-of-energy but profoundly annoying Geoffrey Rush – Shine,  Pirates of the Caribbean) to paint the portrait of American writer, James Lord (a suitably waspish Armie Hammer – The Social Network, Nocturnal Animals).

The result is well-made but less-than-satisfying as the material (unlike Giacometti’s paint) is spread a little too thinly.

Rating: 54%

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‘The Dancer’

The-Dancer-posterLittle remembered Loie Fuller, toast of fin de siecle Folies Bergere, finds herself dealing with a very ambitious young American dancer – Isadora Duncan.

Some of the choreography (lots of diaphanous fabric, mirrors, clever lighting and Vivaldi played loud) is showily spectacular, innovative for its time. But overall the episodic biopic is strangely unengaging with a lack of clarity of events creating a somewhat incoherent storyline.

Soko (Augustine, In the Beginning) toughs it out as Loie whilst Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp (Planetarium, Tusk) is suitably ethereal (with a streak of malicious ambition) as Isadora.

Rating: 43%

‘God’s Own Country’

Gods-Own-Country_OIC-Poster_webDescribed by many as a British Brokeback Mountain – and it’s hard to disagree.

Lonely farmer Josh O’Connor (Florence Foster Jenkins, The Program) relies on binge drinking in the local pub and casual sexual encounters as he labours on the family farm. His world changes when Romanian Alec Secareanu (Chosen, Love Bus) arrives as casual labour.

As remote as the stunning Yorkshire landscape, debut feature film director Francis Lee’s naturalistic treatment of farm life (including the ewe birthing season) and gay sexuality has resulted in a poignant, finely crafted, nuanced narrative with captivating performances from the two leads.

Rating: 80%

‘The King’s Choice’

987069A riveting historical drama as the King of Norway must decide whether to sign the accord with Hitler and the invading German army – or risk war and civilian deaths.

The burden of responsibility is carried by King Haakon VII (superbly played by Jesper Christensen – Casino Royale, Melancholia) over three eventful days as the Germans search for the King in the snowy countryside north of Oslo. The fate of his country and family hang in the balance as Haakon confronts his moral dilemma.

Measured yet immersive, director Erik Poppe (1,000 Times Goodnight, Troubled Water) avoids overtly emotional scenes or cliches, looking instead to reasoned arguments and discussions to determine the final choice for the king.

Rating: 82%

‘Atomic Blonde’

atomicEntertaining if OTT, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, violent action-packed spy thriller. MI5 agent Charlize Theron (Monster, Mad Max: Fury Road) finds herself partnering James McAvoy (X-Men, Split) in the hunt for a missing Stasi agent and his list of double agents. It’s Berlin in 1989 – the Wall is about to crumble and the rules of the Cold War are about to change.

Theron is a real kick-ass in a mix of John Le Carre spy-chiller and Bond action – exactly what you would expect from stuntman turned director David Leitch. And as in all good spy stories, there’s plenty of twists.

Rating: 62%

‘Faces Places’

MV5BNmE1MTJlM2QtM2JmZC00ODVlLTgzMzctYTkxZDVkOGYzODI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDY2NDMxNDY@._V1_A charming documentary with multi-award winning Belgian director Agnes Varda (The Beaches of Agnes, The Gleaners and I) teaming up with photographer/muralist JR. A picaresque road trip ensues as filmmaker and stills maker create large scale works they plaster in public places in rural France.

A ruminative piece as the two form an unlikely friendship – she, the 88 year-old grande dame of the French New Wave; he, a cool and hip Parisian. And whilst ultimately lacking any depth, the art for art’s sake odyssey is witty, compassionate, warm and life-affirming.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 67%

‘Closeness’

Closeness_(film)A raw, uncompromising narrative set in the bleak underbelly of an impoverished neighbourhood of Nalchik, a Russian industrial city in the northern Caucasus.

Living in a predominantly Muslim area, a young Jewish couple are abducted. The ransom is too high for either parents to reach. Family and community relations reach boiling point, particularly as independent-minded Ila (a powerful debut by Darya Zhovnar) continues with her relationship with Zalim, a man ‘not from the tribe.’ But the question remains – how far is the family willing to go to save their son, David?

The directorial debut from Kantemir Balagov is seedy, confronting and simply unpleasant, populated with a series of characters that are simultaneously overbearing and deeply unlikeable.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 25%

 

‘Insyriated’

2017_Panorama_INSYRIATED_02_286Intense, claustrophobic, gripping – a middle-class Syrian family are barricaded in their second-floor Damascus apartment as the civil war rages around them.

Every sound and movement outside the apartment is enough to cause panic. With her husband unreachable somewhere in the city,  a deeply impressive Hiam Abbass (Lemon Tree, The Visitor) controls the household, consisting of her three children, father-in-law, the boyfriend of one of the daughters, the maid and a young couple with their baby, displaced from a top floor apartment in the building.

Director Philippe Van Leeuw (The Day God Walked Away) poses pertinent questions in light of extreme situations and limitations of reason and emotion as the family look to survive.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 83%

‘Powidoki’ (‘Afterimage’)

afterThe final film of one of the great European directors – Andrzej Wajda (Man of Iron, Danton) – focusing on one of the great and influential post-war European artists – Wladyslaw Strzeminski.

An individualist who rejected social realism, internationally renowned Strzeminski was undermined and ultimately destroyed by the Polish state system. Wajda quietly and economically tells his story, choosing to focus on the last few years of Strzeminski’s life in Lodz and his fall from professorship at the Art Academy to his work being destroyed by the authorities.

In its quietness there is power, in its nuanced understatement there is anger. And while Afterimage may suffer slightly from its staginess, the strong performance from lead Boguslaw Linda (Summer Love, Pan Tadeusz) helps the film tell its story cleanly and respectfully.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 64%

‘Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog’

PLAKAT_150It’s a pity the best title in the Melbourne International Film Festival program is hardly in the running for best film.

The offbeat, quirky, sociopolitical feature starts off well as the welfare-supported film director (played by the film’s director, Julian Radlmaier) covers his enforced employment at an apple farm as research for his next feature. He even persuades potential lead actress (and wannabe love interest) to accompany him.

But in addressing issues of illegal immigration, anti-globalisation and the negative changes bought to eastern Europe by the collapse of communism, Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog, like the main charactersloses its way. It’s quirky charm is subsumed by its attempt to be too clever.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 40%