‘Things to Come’

thingstocome.poster.ws_A gentle and sensitive film from writer/director Mia Hansen-Love (The Father of My Children, Goodbye First Love) sees a deft, quietly powerful performance by Isabelle Huppert (Elle, The Piano Teacher) come to terms with loss.

An academic, Huppert loses her (demanding) mother, her publisher, a cheating husband and sees a close friend (and former student) move out of Paris. Yet Things to Come avoids easy sentiment or emotional grandstanding – her marriage dissolves, her mother is simply no longer there. It’s an elegant telling of, on the surface, a minor story that explores security and complacency, the dichotomy between self sufficiency and loneliness.

Rating: 65%

‘Frantz’

Frantz_2016The latest from the prolific Francois Ozon (8 Women, Swimming Pool) is an elegiac narrative set in a small German town post World War I. A mysterious stranger places flowers on the grave of Frantz Hoffmeister, a young German soldier killed in battle.

Filmed in a mix of colour and black and white, Ozon’s film is a story of truths and non-truths, of similarities and opposites, of nationalism and love as Frantz’s fiancee, Anna (a quietly expressive Paula Beer – The Dark Valley, Ludwig II), comes to understand the stranger – a  shy, nervous French soldier, Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent, Just Like Brothers).

Based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 feature Broken Lullaby starring Lionel Barrymore and Phillips Holmes and itself based the stage play The Man I Killed by Maurice Rostand.

Rating: 58%

‘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%

‘Personal Shopper’

personal-shopper-posterAs a spiritual medium, Maureen (Kristen Stewart – Twilight, Clouds of Sils Maria) refuses to leave Paris until her recently deceased twin brother gives her a sign. To help pay the rent, she takes on the role of personal shopper for high-profile super model, Kyra. Maureen finds herself embroiled in a little more than trips to Chanel and Cartier.

The latest from Olvier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria, Something in the Air) is measured yet something of a mess, unsure of where to position itself. Ghost story? Kitchen-sink drama (albeit in the fashion houses of Paris)? Rites of passage? Thriller? All take precedence at certain stages of the proceedings – ensuring Personal Shopper never gets boring but is far from satisfying.

Rating: 54%  

‘Rosalie Blum’

rosalie-blum-posterSlight but engaging on many levels, Rosalie Blum is the directorial debut of screenwriter Julien Rappeneau.

Adapted from the French graphic novels, it is ostensibly the story of loneliness as hairdresser Vincent Machot (a hound-dog Kyan Khojandi – All Three of Us, Chinese Puzzle) becomes so obsessed with Rosalie Blum (the charismatic Noemie Lvovsky – Camille Rewinds, Farewell My Queen) he starts to follow her. But Rosalie is on to him – and arranges for her niece, Aude, to follow him.

Told from three different points of view, Rosalie Blum is a combination of mystery, drama, tragedy and romantic comedy. Each perspective reveals a little more of the storyline, sometimes obvious, sometimes unexpected.

Rating: 64%

Best of Year (2016) -Film

i-daniel-blakeAs mentioned in an earlier post, 2016 was not awash, in my opinion, with great films. Lots of good ones, a few that didn’t quite live up to expectations or some abject failures. Hence my top 10 for the year is noticeable by its lack of US ‘studio’ films and dominated by European ‘sensibility’. There’s little room for last year’s big critical darlings – only Spotlight making the cut from the Oscar nominated best films. No The Revenant or The Big Short (the latter sitting just outside the top 10).

To be honest, I was a little surprised by the way my list panned out – but it’s all based on my own percentage rating and rings true. ‘Story’ dominated – whilst I’m not averse to action and adventure, it’s the narrative that is all-important. So the indie productions are well-represented.

My top 10 films for the 2016:

10=: Captain Fantastic (Canada) w/Viggo Mortensen
Mr Gaga (Israeli documentary) dir/Tomer Heymann
7=:    The Hateful 8 (US) w/Samuel L. Jackson
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (New Zealand) w/Sam Neill
The Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
5=:    Spotlight (US) w/Michael Keaton
Hell or High Water (US) w/Chris Pine
4:      Indignation (US) w/Logan Lerman
3:      Nocturnal Animals (US) w/Amy Adams
2:      Mustang (Turkey/France)
1:      I, Daniel Blake (UK) dir/Ken Loach

Quiet, social commentary films are there in numbers – the devasting Ken Loach Cannes Palme d’Or winner, I Daniel Blake sitting atop the list as my favourite film of the year. That was a little unexpected knowing La La Land was my last film of 2016. Going by critical response, I anticipated the Damien Chazelle homage to Hollywood musicals of the 50s to be the film of the year. It was good – but not that good, as indicated by its failure to feature in my top 10.

Both Mustang and The Embrace of the Serpent were nominated for last year’s best foreign language film – but they lost out to the Hungarian Holocaust drama, Son of Saul. You can see my opinion (Son of Saul came in around 15th for the year on my selection). The other foreign language film on the list, Mr Gaga, is the superb documentary focussing on Israeli contemporary dance choreographer, Ohad Naharin.

Both Hell or High Water and Nocturnal Animals share the presence of a Texan sheriff as crucial to the storyline – the underrated Michael Shannon in Tom Ford’s elegant suspense feature and the show-stealing Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water.

Disappointing not to see a local Australian film in the list but the Antipodes is represented by the most successful New Zealand film ever made – the irrepressible Hunt for the Wilderpeople. And its back-to-nature setting is mirrored by the alternative upbringing of the (large) Cash family in the Washington State wilderness of Captain Fantastic.

Best of Year (2016) – Female Performance

la_pazza_gioia_01_cpaolo-cirielli-0-2000-0-1125-cropHere we go – first of my 2016 ‘best of’ film lists, limited to the films I saw during the year.

It’s reported that 2016 was a particularly fine year for high-profile female performances. But sadly, many are in films yet to be released in Australia. So no Natalie Portman (Jackie), Ruth Negga (Loving), Annette Bening (20th Century Women), Taraji P Henson (Hidden Figures), Viola Wills (Fences), Sandra Hueller (Toni Erdmann) and any number of films never seeing the light of day Down Under.

But my top 5:

5: Emma Stone (La La Land)
4: Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals/Arrival)
3: Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
2: Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
1: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (Like Crazy (La pazza gioia))

This list could have been made up from a number of performances featured in last year’s Oscars – yet Brie Larssen, winner of the 2016 Oscar for best actress for her performance in Room, failed to make my top five (I placed her sixth on the list). Of the nominations for last year’s Oscar, my vote would have been cast for the quiet, superbly nuanced performance by veteran actress Charlotte Rampling and 45 Years.

Other’s just outside the top five include Sally Field (Hello, My Name is Doris), Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad – even though I did not like the film) and  veteran Japanese actress Kirin Kiki for An (known as Sweet Bean in the States).

Three of the likely 2017 contenders are featured in my top 5 for the year. Emma Stone and La La Land slips into my list – the last film I saw in 2016 – and she (just) steals the acting accolades from Ryan Gosling. Amy Adams also makes my list – and a little unfairly in a way as there are two superb performances to take into account (and which I saw on the same day!). It’s Arrival that’s winning the attention but my personal preference (just) is for Tom Ford’s sublime Nocturnal Animals.

Isabelle Huppert pulls off the challenge of the rape victim who turns the tables on her attacker in Elle, a so-called taut mystery which I personally found loathsome and offensive as a film. But there was no denying Huppert’s performance and she may well gain her first Oscar nomination.

But its Valeria Bruni Tedeschi who gets my vote for 2017 and her fabulous bipolar performance in the Italian comedy drama Like Crazy (La pazza gioia). She completely owned that role!

‘Elle’

1af37ad8-5b4f-46cf-92894a4f82706508‘It was necessary’ states the rapist to his victim, a wealthy divorced Parisian businesswoman, the stunning Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, Amour). Having discovered his identity, a dangerous sexual cat-and-mouse ensues. With new sexual challenges, Huppert dumps her current lover – the husband of her best friend.

Elle is nasty, violent and vicious. Stylish it may be with its Parisian chic and director Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Robocop) has teased out a superb performance from his lead (tipped to be Huppert’s first Oscar nomination). The director’s intention may well have been for us to mirror Huppert’s cat, who watches her violent assault with indifference. But a ‘rape revenge black comedy’? Loathsome.

Rating: 30% 

‘Francofonia’

francofonia_posterThe visual feast that was Russian Ark, director Aleksandr Sokurov ‘s homage to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, is sadly missing in Francofonia.

Purportedly the history of the Louvre during the Nazi occupation of Paris, it’s something of a schizophrenic  documentary, uncertain as it is of what exactly is its focus. The story of the French director, Jacques Jaujard who worked with Nazi Franz Wolff-Metternich to prevent the Louvre collection being sent to Germany is a story in itself (Sokurov choses an odd re-enactment of pregnant pauses and furtive glances). But mixed in there is a superficial positioning of the Louvre itself and its collection (cue Napoleon) along with a meditation to the meaning of art. Result is Francofonia misses on all fronts.

Painfully dull.

Rating: 48%

‘The Wait’

thewait-posterAUAn evocative (Sicilian) setting with quiet, graceful, almost motionless performances, The Wait and its longeurs of pauses and silences is a film of slow building emotions.

In her grief, Anna (Juliette Binoche – The English Patient, Clouds of Sils Maria) is unable to reveal the truth to Jeanne (Lou de Laage – Breathe, The Innocents) who arrives from Paris to spend the holidays with her boyfriend, Giuseppe.

Beautifully shot, it’s the nuanced performances of the two women and the underlying study of grief that carries an otherwise wafer thin narrative in this adaptation of two Pirandello short stories by first-time feature director, Piero Messina.

Rating: 63%