‘A Man of Integrity’

dregs_poster_goldposter_com_1.jpg@0o_0l_800w_80qAn honest yet downtrodden fish farmer (a quiet, nuanced performance by Reza Akhlaghirad in his film debut) fights corruption and injustice in rural Iran.

A Man of Integrity is a scathing critique of contemporary Iran (“you’re either oppressed or the oppressor”) as Reza looks for his family’s survival in the face of corporate expansion and control. Director Mohammad Rasoulof (Manuscripts Don’t Burn, Goodbye) teases out stoically naturalistic performances and a surprising tension from an age-old David and Goliath storyline.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 76%

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‘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%

‘The Salesman’

SalesmanThe best film in a foreign language Oscar winner, The Salesman is a confident, assured piece of cinema.

Surprisingly low key and minimal, to label it a revenge thriller would be doing Asghar Fahardi (A Separation, The Past) a disservice. Yet Shahab Hosseini (A Separation, About Elly) is determined to discover the identity of the man who assaulted his wife (a superbly resigned Taraneh Alidoosti – Modest Reception, About Elly) in their own home.

As with the magnificent A Separation, Fahardi builds the tension (without overly altering the pace) primarily through words, leaving you somewhat breathless as the narrative builds towards its compelling finale.

Rating: 81%

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.

‘Mr Gaga’

a1e0a2_48b07cbe9db5431bb73e2015d9921b86A fascinating biopic of the genius that is Ohad Naharin, one of the world’s most important choreographers and artistic director of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Co.

With the occasional input from other collaborators, early footage of childhood on the kibbutz and 80s archival footage dancing in New York, director Tomer Heymann (Paper Dolls, It Kinda Scares Me) wisely recognises the charm of Naharin himself speaks volumes. Intimate and insightful, its the celebration of the dance itself that makes Mr Gaga a truly glorious documentary.

Rating: 78%

‘A Girl Walks Home at Night’

A-girl-walks-home-posterSo few surprises at the Oscars that hardly worth pausing to mention (although delighted for Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne and J.K.Simmons).

So on with the everyday – not that A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is what I would describe as an everyday feature. It’s probably (almost certainly) the first b/w Iranian vampire feature directed by a woman: throw into the mix the fact that whilst filmed in Farsi, locations were California…. That alone would make it seeing.

And it’s certainly interesting. Not sure I would go as overboard as some critics have (“a new vampire classic” – The Playlist) – beguiling is more appropriate. The feature-length debut by award-winning director Ana Lily Amirpour (shorts True Love, A Little Suicide) of taking itself a little too artily seriously at times – longeurs of nothingness in semi-lit streets. But you certainly get drawn in.

Rating: 58%

‘The Green Prince’

Green-PrinceWe oft hear that truth is stranger than fiction – and this powerful Israeli documentary certainly highlights the point.

A young Palestinian, Mosab Hassan Yousef was the star informer between 1999 and 2007 for Shin Bet, the Israeli secret service. During that time he provided intelligence that thwarted dozens of suicide bombings and assassination attempts. The reason for his ‘regal’ position was that Yousef was the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of the founders of Hamas, sworn enemies of the State of Israel.

It’s an extraordinary tale that makes for an engrossing film (directed by Nadav Schirman), presented as it is as a tense psychological thriller that recounts the story of the prized informant and the Shin Bet agent who risked his career to protect him.

Rating: 71%