‘Corpus Christi’

Powerful and compelling with a tour-de-force central performance, Corpus Christi is a disquietingly emotive journey of one man’s spiritual transformation and its impact on his immediate surrounds.

Finding God in juvenile detention, the heavy smoking, tattoed Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia – Prime Time, 25 Years of Innocence) leaves Warsaw for deadend work in a sawmill: his prison record prevents entry to train for the priesthood. But in a quiet regional village, the opportunity arises for the young ‘Father Tomasz’ to heal destructive divisions within the community. Unaware of his background, the townsfolk eventually succumb to the straight-talking youth as he overcomes self doubt and personal regret.

Directed by Jan Komasa (Suicide Room, Warsaw ’44), Corpus Christi is confronting in its exploration of faith yet its assured storytelling results in an accessible and deeply relatable narrative of redemption and atonement for both Daniel and the congregation.

Nominated for the 2020 best foreign language film Oscar.

Rating: 84%


Set in 1962, a novice nun, in questioning her vocation and the taking of vows, leaves the convent to test her faith. Discovery of a family secret that dates back to wartime and the German occupation shocks Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) to the very core.

Travelling to Warsaw to stay with her only living relative, Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza – Cold War,  Róza), Anna is informed her birth name is Ida. A former state prosecutor, an aimless and sexually promiscuous Wanda has fallen from grace. The two undertake a road trip to explore their pasts, both known and unknown.

Stunningly shot in a wintery, monotone palette (cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski – My Summer of Love, Last Resort and Lukasz Zal – Cold War, I’m Thinking of Ending It All), a bleak tale of loss and uncertainty gently unfolds as the two women come to terms with a past known and unknown. Written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War, My Summer of Love), Ida is intimate in its austerity yet utterly compelling.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2015 including best cinematography – won 1 for best foreign language film.

Rating: 82%

‘A Short Film About Love’

A tale of sexual curiosity and obsession, A Short Film About Love developed from an episode of director Krzysztof Kieślowski’s (Three Colours: Blue, Three Colours: Red) epic, ten-part television series, Dekalog.

With it’s reference to Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, the Polish film is a dark, twisted tale as 19-year-old postal worker Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko – Je treba zabít Sekala, Schindler’s List) spies on Magda, a sexually liberated thirtysomething artist living opposite his apartment. Lonely and inexperienced, he finds ways to meet the woman (Grazyna Szapolowska – Pan Tadeusz, 365 Days) of his obsessions where, unexpectedly, emotions shift.

Shot predominantly at night, Kieślowski’s feature is unconventional yet compelling in its claustrophobic exploration of desire and loneliness – deep, psychological and slightly unnerving.

Rating: 82%

‘Three Colours: Red’

Third and final chapter in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy following the tricoleur of the French flag and the concept of liberté (blue), egalité (white), fraternité (red). 

Having accidentally injured his dog, Valentine (Irène Jacob The Double Life of Veronique, Au revoir les enfants), living alone in Geneva, meets a retired judge. A successful model, she is shocked when she discovers the old man – Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amor, Un homme et une femme) – listens to his neighbours telephone calls. With Valentine herself restricted to a relationship by telephone (a man, possibly married, living in England), she understands the vulnerability and invasion of privacy by such an act. Yet a friendship and camaraderie evolves between the two.

Weaving numerous seemingly minor narratives and characters in the ‘ordinary’ and ‘everyday’ is a Kieslowski trademark as Red begins quietly and builds as the themes of liberté, egalité and fraternité are explored in the final film not only of the trilogy, but of the director himself who died a couple of years later at the tragically young age of fifty four.

Nominated for 3 Oscars in 1995 (best director, cinematography, screenplay).

Rating: 85%

‘Three Colours: White’

Following an acrimonious divorce, Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski – Three Colours: Blue, Zmruz oczy) eventually leaves Paris having failed to win back his wife, a woman he still loves. But, having been framed for arson and left humiliated, he finds a way to return to Warsaw, determined to get even.

A black comedy, Three Colours: White is director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s second of the colour trilogy, a trilogy that loosely follows the tricoleur of the French flag and the concept of liberté (blue), egalité (white), fraternité (red). Determination and some dodgy business deals help Karol and his business partner Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos – Kler, Cialo) become wealthy men, enabling a convoluted plot to entice Dominique (Julie Delpy – Before Sunset, Before Midnight) to leave Paris for Poland.

More character study than thriller, Three Colours: White is a delightful slow burn, an odd ode to a love story that is in turns wry, ironic, ingenious, captivating with an excellent, understated central performance from Zamachowski.

Rating: 71%

‘Three Colours: Blue’

Elegant, engaging both emotionally and temporally, Three Colours: Blue is Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s (A Short Film About Killing, The Double Life of Veronique) first of his French-language trilogy exploring liberty (Three Colours: Blue), equality (…White) and fraternity (…Red).

The first is a simple enough tale of a woman (Juliette Binoche – The English Patient, Clouds of Sils Maria) rebuilding her life following the death of her husband, an internationally renowned composer, and young daughter in a car crash. She alone survived. Attempting to quash memories, she cuts all ties with her past, destroying his incomplete work, putting their country home on the market, moving into an apartment in Paris in the hope of becoming anonymous in the city. But nothing is that simple.

An aural as well as visual experience (we hear snippets of her husband’s unfinished concerto, a commission to celebrate the anniversary of the unification of Europe), a stylish Binoche slowly rebuilds her life as she discovers she cannot survive in isolation.

Rating: 87%

‘The Pianist’

Based on a true story, The Pianist is a haunting Holocaust tale of survival and redemption through music, a paean by director Roman Polanski (Tess, Chinatown) to his own background and the Jews of Poland murdered by the Nazis.

Counting out their zloty to last the week, the realities of the Nazi invasion of Poland slowly dawn on the middle-class comforts of the Szpilman family. Saved from deportation at the last minute as the Warsaw Ghetto is emptied (unlike his family), concert pianist Wladek Szpilman (Adrien Brody – The Grand Budapest Hotel, King Kong) must find a way to survive, alone or with help.

Very much a film of two halves, The Pianist juxtaposes family life early in the Occupation as the family are forced to move from their home to two rooms in the Ghetto with Wladek’s lonely three years of survival. It’s a profound tale unsentimentally, almost clinically, told. And, in all honesty, it suffers for it. Polanski chooses no interpretation. The result is strangely distancing. The horror, the inhumanity of the situation is unquestionable. There can be no moral explanation. This is an internalised Szpilman experience – and not wholly shared.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 2003 including best film & cinematography, won 3 – best director, actor, adapted screenplay (Ronald Harwood).

Rating: 54%

‘A Short Film About Killing’

The crucial role that fate plays in our lives is of particular interest to Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski (Three Colours Red, Three Colours Blue, Three Colours White). Had the unpleasant Warsaw taxi driver (Jan Tesarz) not left the waiting couple behind, the likelihood is that he would not have become the victim of a seemingly senseless murder.

Cold and calculating, Jacek (Miroslaw Baka – Spring 1941, Amok) strangles his victim. There appears to be no motive. Certainly not one his young lawyer, Krzysztof Globisz, can ascertain. The murder itself – on a quiet country lane on the edge of the city – is long, drawn out and harrowing. Unlike Jacek’s execution, found guilty as he is by the courts. That’s over quickly and without fuss – but it’s equally harrowing.

A Short Film About Killing spends little time on the process of justice. This is no elongated thriller or police investigation. Kieslowski is instead interested in the meaninglessness of both deaths – the murder, the retribution. There is no remorse, no melodrama – even the potential for courtroom dramatics is circumvented. It’s more psychological, metaphysical. Shot in autumnal and wintery hues, unsettling camera work and occasional abrasive editing add to a deep sensation of uncertainty and unease.

Rating: 83%

Best of Year (2019 – Female Performance)

Not a particularly good year for film in general and 2019 certainly saw a paucity of standout female performances on film (although a few excellent streaming TV series offset some of that). And as mentioned in a previous article, having missed the Melbourne Film Festival, my ‘film count’ for the year was considerably lower than in previous years.

But, top five female performances (with Jessie Buckley in Wild Rose just missing out) for 2019 were:

5: Jennifer Lopez: Hustlers
4: Scarlett Johansson: Marriage Story
3: Joanna Kulig: Cold War
2: Renee Zellweger: Judy
1: Nicole Kidman: Destroyer

A renaissance for Jennifer Lopez and her supporting role in Hustlers as a group of upmarket strippers decide to turn the tables on their Wall St clients. As the queen bee of the group, Lopez is deeply impressive.

It’s been a good year for Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit, Avengers Endgame (as well as an uncredited cameo in Captain Marvel) which has seen a whole slew of award nominations. Stand-out performance is Marriage Story, the intense Noah Baumbach drama about the breakdown of a marriage.

Seen very early in the year, Cold War and Joanna Kulig picked up a number of awards in the previous year – including Kulig’s European Film Award for best actress. The black and white shot film is an impossible tragic love story – a sad ballad of time and place where a magnificent Joanna Kulig sings her way to fame in 1950s Poland. 

Renee Zellweger collected the Golden Globe for her performance in Judy and the Oscar is hers to lose. The film itself isn’t great but Zellweger’s heartbreaking star turn injects life into an engaging yet by-the-book biopic.

A somewhat unsung performance from Nicole Kidman in Destroyer, however, tops my list for the year. Kidman’s intractability and so out-of-character unpleasantness as a police detective, a train-wreck of an alcoholic prone to violence and off-the-rails behaviour struggles with colleagues and her estranged daughter.  It makes for a mesmerising two hours with a star turn from Kidman.

Best of Year (2019 – Film)

As I’m heading off for the holiday period until early January and heading for a place where the nearest cinema is a 90 minute drive (and likely to be showing multiple screenings of the latest Star Wars), I can safely list my top 10 films of the year.

2019 was not a vintage year from my perspective – and, with missing the Melbourne International Film Festival, my screenings count was down on previous years. But there were a few crackers in the list – it was simply a lot easier than previous years to whittle the list down to 10.

My top films for 2019 seen as the cinema:

10: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
9: Marriage Story
8: The Favourite
7: Cold War
6: The King
5: Capernaum
4: The Guilty
3: Joker
2: Parasite
1: The Irishman

It’s loud, bombastic, funny, gruesome and enormously entertaining. In other words, a true Quentin Tarantino  – that’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and number 10 on my list. It’s overlong and gets lost in its narrative but Brad Pitt is magnificent in a supporting role to Leonardo DiCaprio.

At number nine is one of three Netflix originals that, thankfully, were screened exclusively by independent cinema house Lido Cinemas. Marriage Story is not an easy watch – the breakdown of a marriage but its a film that celebrates the art of film making, with both Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver superb in delivering Noah Baumbach’s incisive dialogue.

One of last year’s Oscar winners came next with The Favourite and Olivia Colman unexpectedly winning the best actress award. It’s a deliciously ribald entertainment of power struggles at the 18th century English court of Queen Anne.

One of my first films of the year – and one of the best. Shot in bleak black and white, Cold War  is an impossible tragic love story from Polish writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski.

Sixth on the list (and another Netflix film) is The King, a UK/Australian co-production which inexplicably lost out to the far inferior The Nightingale at the recent Australian Film Awards. Stirring and commanding with a powering central performance by Timothee Chalamet, The King is a magisterial telling of Henry V,  loosely based on Shakespeare’s history plays.

And so to the top five for the year. A compassionate tour-de-force set in post-Civil War Lebanon, Capernaum is a narrative of lost hope, poverty and sorrow.

A tense, riveting claustrophobia of a narrative restricted entirely to one night in a Danish emergency call centre and built around the headset of one operative, Jakob Cedergren. That’s The Guilty – reminiscent of Locke and Tom Hardy from a few years back.

Number three is one of the few big studio productions – Joaquin Phoenix, whose extraordinary bravura performance plumbing emotional depth and physicality, made Joker a tour-de-force, with a limited palette tonality and brooding score from Hildur Guðnadóttir adding to the impact.

Oscar favourite for best foreign language film (and a few other possible nods) is the Korean Palme d’Or winning Parasite , a splendidly anarchic dark comedy about social divides and love of money. It was my number one film for many a month – until one of the film events of the year….

Another exclusive release screening within Melbourne by Lido Cinemas, Scorsese’s magnificent The Irishman saw sell out screenings (highlighting the importance of seeing such a film on the big screen). And it became my number one film of the year.