‘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%

‘Belle Dormant’ (‘Sleeping Beauty’)

MV5BNjNjMDUyYjUtY2IxYy00N2RjLTgyMjQtYTg4NjNiYmJjMDJlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjkxODIyNzE@._V1_UY268_CR9,0,182,268_AL_A whimsical updating of the Grimm fairytale as the 100 year-old curse is about to expire in June 2000.

Travelling between the two time zones, director Adolfo Arrieta (Merlin, Flammes) appeals to the inner-child of his audience as Prince Egon (a cool Niels Schneider – Heartbeats, Dark Inclusion) travels in a helicopter with mobile phone to plant the kiss on the sleeping princess.

Problem is Belle Dormant is more whimsy than its attempted mischief and poetry. In spite of the presence of Schneider and (a wasted) Mathieu Almaric (Quantum of Silence, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), the film flits through the storyline with little magic or sense of adventure.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 35%

‘Lady MacBeth’

lady_macbeth-431569675-largeSold into a stifling marriage by her parents, Katherine (a superbly scheming Florence Pugh – The Falling) is confronted with oppression and prejudice by husband and father-in-law alike. But a passionate encounter with the new hounds man sees a steely change in the newly wed.

A Victorian melodrama with a very definite contemporary twist as the female empowerment early in the narrative turns into something much darker. Renowned theatre and opera director William Oldroyd makes his film debut with this spare, expertly told narrative – and in less than 90 minutes!

Rating: 72%

‘Dunkirk’

dunkirk-posterOh, oh, oh. It’s visceral magnificence on screen. Grand gestures aplenty but the minutiae of wartime claustrophobia, fear and defeat balance this superb, emotional sweep of a film.

Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight) tells the true story of the rescue of 300,000 British, Belgian and French soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, surrounded by an advancing German army. It’s the flotilla of weekend sailors and fishermen (and women) who save the day as the navy destroyers are picked off by the German air force.

A true ensemble piece – Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy along with newcomers Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard are just a few – that is a jigsaw of narratives of few words and which makes up the whole,  building to a rousing crescendo. Exhausting!

Rating: 89%

‘A Quiet Passion’

a-quiet-passion-2016-posterA series of related tableau (some short and extremely witty) unfold the life of American poet Emily Dickinson.

The dialogue is quick fire passionate, the scenes stifling, claustrophobic and painterly with soft autumnal lighting, the performances arch with Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City‘s Miranda Hobbs) masterly as the poet, ably supported by Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty, TV’s Pride & Prejudice) as her sister.

But by its nature and subject (Dickinson rarely left the family home or, in later years, her rooms) A Quiet Passion is somewhat static. The glorious humour in the early part of the narrative peters out as an embittered Dickinson ages and her recognition as a poet fails to materialise. Writer/director Terence Davies (Sunset Song, The Deep Blue Sea) focuses on her inner demons, resulting in an austere, repressed telling of the poet and her family life.

Rating: 68%

‘Monsieur Chocolat’

MonChoc_A4posterWith an immense physicality and a most extraordinary smile, Omar Sy (The Intouchables, Jurassic World)  is one of the most expressive of actors. So he’s the perfect fit for Rafaela Padilla, the first black circus performer to conquer Belle Epoque Paris.

The rise and fall of Padilla as Monsieur Chocolat is told in a somewhat episodic, traditional biopic manner by director Roschdy Zem (Bad Faith, Omar Killed Me). Racism of the day along with gambling and drug abuse saw to his downfall but, along with Sy’s performance, the story itself is engaging.

 

Rating: 59%

‘Sing Street’

sing_streetDelightful, feel-good and totally endearing, the latest from John Carney (Once, Begin Again) yet again presents the good in both character and narrative (and provides a ripper of a soundtrack).

A nostalgic revisit to the 80s with a story that, whilst hardly innovative (new boy at school overcomes bullying, wins the girl and gains popularity), uses music to flesh out its tale. Newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is a convincing innocent discovering his inner Duran Duran or The Cure – and the relationship with his music mentor brother Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction, Free Fire) adds an extra layer of oddball warmth.

Rating: 69%