‘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%

‘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%

‘Churchill’

Churchill-Film-PosterIt’s June 1944 and just days before D-Day when the Allies plan to land on the beaches of Normandy. Only British PM Winston Churchill has become more and more marginalised from the military planning – and the splendidly bombastic Brian Cox (X-Men, The Bourne Identity) is not happy.

Director Jonathan Teplitzky (The Railway Man, Burning Man) focuses on the irascible Churchill, at odds with wife Clemmie (a long-suffering Miranda Richardson – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Hours) as well as President Eisenhower (John Slattery – Mad Men) and General Montgomery, head of the British forces. The result is a moderate, one-paced drama with little sign of Churchill’s famed charm or wit.

Rating: 43%

‘Neruda’

neruda_ver3Tedium sets in early in director Pablo Larrain’s latest bio. As with his Jackie, Larrain is never rushed in his storytelling and even a manhunt across Chile in the aftermath of World War II verges on inert.

“The most famous Communist on Earth”, Pablo Neruda, is a persona non grata in his own country and is hunted by Inspector Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal – The Motorcycle Diaries, Amores Perros) from hiding place to hiding place. Neruda is a man unwilling to play by the rules – but the problem is that as played by Luis Gnecco (No, Perez) the poet is not particularly likeable.

Rating: 44%

‘Viceroy House’

Viceroy's_House_(film)Lord Mountbatten arrives in Delhi as the last British Viceroy to India. He’s to oversee the transition to independence.

Director Gurinda Chandar (Bhaji on the Beach, Bend It Like Beckham) somehow manages to reduce partition and its associated violence into an episode of Downton Abbey – even casting Hugh Bonneville as Mountbatten. Lots of hooded stares and pushing among the Hindu and Muslim servants in Government House: lots of love struck stares between Jeet Kumar (Hindu) and Aalia Noor (Muslim) in the servants quarters.

In all, the film aims to be epic in its telling, but lacks emotion or authenticity. It is only Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Last King of Scotland) as Lady Edwina Mountbatten who stands out in what is essentially a boring and tedious film.

Rating: 40%

‘Don’t Tell’

Don't Tell Movie Poster 1Don’t Tell is based on the true story of the court case of Lyndal who, as an 11 year-old, was sexually abused by a teacher at a prestigious Queensland school. The outcome resulted in the change in laws in the way civil cases are tried.

Now a surly, rebellious 22 year old, Lyndal (an empathic Sara West – The Daughter, One-Eyed Girl) sues the Anglican church in 2001 for damages. Lawyer Stephen Roche (Aden Young – Killer Elite, Mao’s Last Dancer) and barrister Jack Thompson (Breaker Morant, Australia) support her through her court hearing.

Director Tori Garrett makes his feature film debut in this well told, authentic courtroom drama, focusing on the story rather than any cinematic gymnastics.

Rating: 62%

‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’

zookeepers_wifeOverly sanitised telling of the true story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, owners of the Warsaw Zoo who saved the lives of more than 300 Polish Jews in World War II.

A leaden script and pan-European casting (along with Jessica Chastain – The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) doesn’t help a turgid, uninspiring narrative. Director Niki Caro (North Country, Whale Rider) noticeably misses the storytelling boat – somewhat unforgivable considering the source material.

Rating: 42%

‘The Innocents’

innocents_eflyerA spate of pregnancies in a post-war Polish convent, the result of Russian liberation from the German army, leads to the questioning of faith by many of the nuns. The arrival of the French Red Cross in the form of Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laage – Breathe, Jappeloup) brings matters to a head.

Based on a true story, this authentic, quietly dignified telling, shot in the limited palette of a Polish winter, focuses primarily on the evolving friendship between Mathilde and Sister Maria (Agate Buzek – Redemption, The Reverse).

But the film, directed by Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel, Gemma Bovary), would have been the stronger without the ‘three months later’ ending.

Rating: 68%