‘Family Life’

large_MV5BZjllOWE1YzYtZDlhZi00ZDdiLTk3MTctMjhlZDRkNGU0ZTZlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQ1NDQyNjQ_._V1_SY1000_CR0_0_678_1000_AL_Overtly commercial family comedy drama as a feckless Martin (Jorge Becker – Thursday ‘Til Sunday) house sits for a distant (successful) cousin in a cool part of Santiago. With three months accommodation on offer, a directionless Martin soon starts to take on the lifestyle of his cousin’s family.

Based on a short story by Alejandro Zambra and shot largely in director Alicia Scherson’s (Play, Il Futuro) own apartment, Family Life is something of a whimsical kitchen-sink dramedy which fails to significantly ignite.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 30%

 

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‘Neruda’

neruda_ver3Tedium sets in early in director Pablo Larrain’s latest bio. As with his Jackie, Larrain is never rushed in his storytelling and even a manhunt across Chile in the aftermath of World War II verges on inert.

“The most famous Communist on Earth”, Pablo Neruda, is a persona non grata in his own country and is hunted by Inspector Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal – The Motorcycle Diaries, Amores Perros) from hiding place to hiding place. Neruda is a man unwilling to play by the rules – but the problem is that as played by Luis Gnecco (No, Perez) the poet is not particularly likeable.

Rating: 44%

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.

‘The Clan’

The-ClanThe Puccios are a seemingly respectable Buenos Aires family living comfortably in an Argentina of the 1980s under the dictatorship of the military junta.

But, like the country itself, respectability is only skin deep – patriarch Arquimedes (a menacing performance from Guillermo Francella – The Secret in Their Eyes, Rudo & Cursi) heads a criminal gang of kidnappers and extortionists made up predominantly of his family.

It’s all based on a true story and the source material is rich in detail and potential – but sadly any lack of suspense is lost as director Pablo Trapero (Carancho, Lion’s Den) choses a matter-of-fact, somewhat dull approach. Disappointing.

Rating: 51%

‘Embrace of the Serpent’

large_fduupquMZnxdzshu4j2hkaL2CNSIntense, challenging, absorbing and shot in black and white: Embrace of the Serpent is no easy ride.

Two European scientists, forty years apart, are helped by the Amazonian shaman Karamakate to find a sacred healing plant. The two journeys are interwoven as we experience the changes along the river banks of the Amazon: the destruction of the indigenous way of life through the colonialist incursions of the rubber barons and catholic church.

It may be a touch too long at just over two hours, but it’s a heartfelt, stately journey from Colombian writer/director Ciro Guerra (The Wind Journeys, Wandering Shadows) based on the diaries of the two scientists.

Rating: 79%

‘The Second Mother’

TheSecondMotherMost of my (limited) experience of Brazilian film has been restricted to street gangs and violence (Pixote, City of God). So The Second Mother‘s story of Val and her years as a nanny to Fabinho in Sao Paolo whilst her own daughter in brought up by relatives in northern Brazil is something completely different.

It comes with a swag of awards for female writer/director Anna Muylaert (Don’t Call Me Son, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes) and boasts a great central performance from Regina Case (Me, You, Them, Rio I Love You). But, whilst entertaining, The Second Mother is a little too predictable as a feisty Jessica arrives in the city and upsets the unspoken class barriers between employer and employee.

Rating: 59%