‘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%

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‘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%

‘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%

‘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%

‘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.