‘Wind River’

wind_river_ver2_xlgSet in the isolated beauty of a Wyoming winter and the Wind River Reserve, game tracker Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Hurt Locker) discovers the body of Natalie, a teenage Native American and best friend of his deceased daughter. An ill-prepared FBI agent, Elizabeth Olsen (The Avengers, Godzilla) arrives from Las Vegas and appeals to him for help.

The directorial debut of scriptwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell Or High Water) is a thrilling ride in the search for her killers. Masculinity in its rawest form comes under the microscope as strutting machismo is only too evident in a world where resident in Native American Reserves offers limited choice and corporate America rules the roost.

Rating: 74%

 

‘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%

 

‘Ellipsis’

ellipsisA Sydney-shot dramatic rom-com, with Emily Barclay (The Light Between Oceans, In My Father’s Den) finding herself without a phone after colliding with Benedict Samuel (The Walk, The Stanford Prison Experiment). A night of adventure unfolds before she must return to her fiance in London.

Like the unfolding night, Ellipsis is something of a meandering narrative as the two find themselves in various locations around Sydney. It’s pleasant enough – and debut director David Wenham pays homage to the city itself. But the real drama and human interest lies with the phone repairman (Ferdinand Hoang – Mao’s Last Dancer, The Quiet American) and his family.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 42%

‘The Road to Mandalay’

MV5BZGFiZjI5ZjAtNWZhMy00ZTQzLWIyNDUtMjM3MmU1MTM2MjE5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzY3MTQ1NTY@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_A quiet, understated reflection on Burmese immigrants illegally working in Thailand as Lianqing (Ke-Xi Wu – Poor Folk, Ice Poison) escapes her impoverished rural home life. Sending money home and obtaining a work permit in any way possible is her focus, even at the cost of her relationship with Guo (Kai Ko – You Are the Apple of My Eye, When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep).

Both are in search of a better life, but their contradictory personalities inevitably lead to conflict. Director Midi Z (Poor Folk, Ice Poison), a rising star of Asian cinema, focuses on the everyday events and hardships faced by the pair – making its denouement in the final seconds even more unexpected and shocking.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 69%

‘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%

‘A Ghost Story’

a-ghost-storyA potentially pretentious existential narrative somehow works, in spite of its repetition and slow scene building. The result is a mesmerising exploration of life, love and loss that is lyrical, poetic and hypnotic.

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) is killed in a car accident, leaving Rooney Mara (Carol, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) to grieve for her loss. Affleck returns as a sheet-shrouded ghost.

Haunting rather than scary, writer/director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) plays with the stereotypical haunted house story, producing an accessible, graceful film that, in 92 minutes, never outstays its welcome.

 Rating: 71%

‘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%