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Review

Review: Boy (Dir. Taika Waititi, 2015)

The year is 1984, and 11-year-old Boy (James Rolleston) welcomes us into his “interesting world” as he stands before his classmates and recounts who he is, what he likes (Michael Jackson), and who he shares his life with. There’s Nan (Mavis Paenga), cousins Miria, Kiko, Che, Hucks and Kelly, Aunty Gracey (Rachel House) who’s a tennis coach, the “mailman”, school bus driver and manager of the local shop; a pet goat named Leaf and a six-year-old brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu). Rocky thinks he has superpowers. Bless him, he doesn’t.

Boy’s interests include art (cue desk graffiti), social studies (getting picked on by older boys) and Michael Jackson. His other idol is his father, Alamein (Taika Waititi), a master carver, deep sea treasure diver, captain of the rugby team and holder of the record for punching people out with a single fist. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth but in Boy’s world, reality isn’t really the mainstay, he is a kid after all.

After Nan leaves to attend a funeral, he’s the man of the house and so he ensures all the younger children wash, eat and generally thrive, until Alamein Sr returns to Waihau Bay, fresh out of prison, seeking a “treasure” he buried in the field opposite the house. It gives him the perfect opportunity to reconnect with his estranged sons as long as they stop calling him Dad… it’s “weird”. Boy, initially thrilled by his father’s return, soon comes to the painful realisation that his father isn’t the hero he imagined. In complete contrast, Rocky’s reluctance to accept the man he has never known comes full circle and his doubt and suspicion turns to respect. The moment all three boys reach the point of transformation is a deeply moving and beautiful thing, and harks back to that opening quote perfectly – “You could be happy here… we could grow up together” (E.T., 1982). 

Boy is a thematically rich film and one which comments upon rurality, poverty, childhood, adulthood and grief while using magical realism, animation, mythology and a free-spirited style which also incorporates intertextuality and 80s popular culture to bring Waititi’s approach to identity and masculinity to the screen. That very specific form and unique Aotearoa voice has been so prevalent since those couple of Taika-written and directed episodes of Flight of the Conchords.

While including visuals of the sublime landscape, hostile terrain and open roads that have long been associated with New Zealand cinema, Waititi also gives us a Māori film rich in culture and beautiful hues of colour via a nostalgic trip to the eighties. The absentee father within a Māori family is just one of the thematic links Boy has to Once Were Warriors (1994) and Whale Rider (2002), however, here the comedy and pathos, drama and fantasy is – as one has come to expect following Eagle vs. Shark (2007), What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) – charmingly measured.

Rolleston is wonderful in the titular role, however, one can’t help but fall in love with the largely mute and thoughtful, cape-wearing Rocky as both boys shine in this endearing and magical coming-of-age drama. Waititi is equally adorable as the misunderstood big boy of the trio, Alamein, a man who has yet to truly face his responsibilities or fully embrace adulthood but whose little men will help him pull his socks up. Boy is a big-hearted film – possibly even Waititi’s finest – poignant, funny, an effortless joy. Oh, and that Haka hybrid is genius.

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Review

Review: A Man Called Ove (Dir. Hannes Holm, 2015)

Time is a curious thing. Ove Lindahl (played respectively by Viktor Baagøe, Filip Berg and, of course, Rolf Lassgård) is a particularly cantankerous curmudgeon. Everybody is an idiot whose existences only serve to inconvenience him and his. He has worked the same job for 43 years, until two babyfaced executives take away his livelihood and present him with a gardening shovel as a token of service. Ove makes his rounds following his enforced retirement – he’s the worst (best) kind of neighbourhood watch in which he keeps his small Swedish community safe with his often impolite reinforcement of the block association rules. After his short walk, he puts on his best blue suit, empties the fridge, cancels his phone contract and attempts to hang himself in his living room, only to be interrupted by a crash outside his window. New neighbours: heavily-pregnant Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), Patrick (Tobias Almborg) and their girls, Sepideh (Nelly Jamarani) and Nasanin (Zozan Akgün) have moved in and they’re far from quiet. And so, Ove is coaxed back to giving life another go (until his next attempt) by the delightfully feisty Parvaneh, her family and his neighbours who – despite the grump’s failure to notice – actually like having him around.

Grief is a strange thing. Putting one foot in front of the other until your time is up and you can see your loved ones again (if you believe in that kind of thing). For Ove, living for those six months following his wife’s Sonja’s (Ida Engvøll) death is intolerable. It’s the one aspect which immediately warms the viewer to the largely unsympathetic moaning git. We can relate and as we get to know Ove through a series of flashbacks over the 120 plus minutes, there’s a very human reason for the doom, gloom, and defensive booming voice, and that’s testament to Rolf Lassgård’s performance. The one-time Wallander and veteran of Swedish film and TV brings a gentility and resolute grace to the character albeit in a slightly bad-tempered way. Despite being the same age as Ove at the time of filming, he underwent a bit of a physical transformation via prosthetics which age him greatly. This adds an additional layer of melancholy; this is a man who has had a hard life. Yet, he has such an old fashioned clarity of belief and a sense of morals, duty and unnerving conviction about how the world should be that one can’t help but admire him.

Love is a strange thing. It often takes you by surprise, and family comes in many forms and guises. A Man Called Ove is a heart-warming meditation on love, loss, family and life, and learning to follow and then disregard the rules. It reminds us the importance of community and the inclusion of the aged, experiencing joy alongside tragedy amid the blue, grey and beige phases of life. Oh, and that friendships can be forged and broken upon the type of car you drive. Hannes Holm’s adaptation of Fredrik’s Backman’s bestselling novel is warm, touching and moving. It treads a measured line between humour and sorrow and does so extremely well given how maudlin a film containing failed suicide attempts could’ve been. Instead, its regal music including triumphant strings does a really lovely job at elevating its purpose, and making a colourful, sweet and life-affirming film.

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Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Hiroshima, mon amour (Dir. Alain Resnais, 1959)

To my knowledge; I have never seen an Alain Resnais film – a filmmaker who has a weighty reputation within the French New Wave. I suppose I have to start somewhere, so beginning with his first feature, Hiroshima mon amour (1959), seems conducive.

The film opens with a close-up of entwined limbs, disembodied voices accompany the body parts which glisten with perspiration then are covered with atomic ash and glitter. It’s an evocative image which serves as a haunting reminder of the bomb. The score (composed by Georges Delerue and Giovanni Fusco) is affecting, particularly the inclusion of a flute but then the addition of a piano accompaniment adds a jauntiness which is at odds with the next slew of images: petrified rocks, specimens of skin, hair, footage recollecting the devastation; people writhing in pain and bloodied. It seems almost inexplicable to set a love story against this desolate and damaging backdrop, and yet when dealt with the passage of time and evocation of memory, it makes perfect sense. Like a Phoenix rising from flames, life and hope must continue and the ‘new’ Hiroshima is slowly being rebuilt and appears thriving as the Architect (Eiji Okada) and the Actress (Emmanuelle Riva) fall in love.

The passage of time and power of memory are strong themes throughout Marguerite Duras’ oblique script and the juxtaposition of her poetic dialogue alongside the images of horror is highly emotive. The non-linear narrative with its use of flashbacks, ellipses, and jump cuts must have been particularly original in ’59 and clearly influential as they continue to be used today. The repetition of history and the atrocity of genocide with the emphatic nuances of love in Riva’s performance are quite stunning; personal pain, public humiliation and the beautiful mesmeric shots of Sacha Vierny’s cinematography make for a quietly devastating film about the human condition and lost love. Having viewed it at a time when it would be appreciated, the melancholic beauty of Hiroshima mon amour leaves a lasting impression.

Note to self: must make the rest of the Resnais oeuvre a priority.

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Review

Review: Enemy (Dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2013)

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Enemy sees French-Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve and the ubiquitous Jake Gyllenhaal re-team for their second filmic outing after Prisoners. Based upon Jose Saramago’s Nobel Prize-winning novel O Homem Duplicado (literal translation: The Duplicated Man), the film opens with a group of seemingly voyeuristic men in a Gentlemen’s Club. It looks exclusive as naked women parade around; cries of distress follow with a close up of a scuttling spider. Cut to University lecturer Adam Bell delivering a lecture amid words like ‘censorship’ ‘dictatorship’ ‘oppression’ and scrawled in chalk on the board behind him the phrase ‘chaos is order un-deciphered’.

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That is the pleasurable thing about Enemy, trying to decipher the film long after viewing. It is an elliptical puzzle that fascinates from beginning to end. Bell is stuck, it seems, in his own Groundhog Day, destined to repeat the same daily mundanity of lecturing, marking coursework, engaging in passionless sex with his girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent), who promptly dresses and departs when they have finished. Then a colleague recommends a film, something he is loath to try but does anyway; something to break the cycle. He then notices that the Bell Boy, onscreen, looks oddly familiar, identical even… and that is when he seeks out Anthony St. Claire.

Enemy is weird, mysterious, and highly entertaining. Scenes are cast in a yellow hue which makes the world seem jaundiced, Adam’s visions – if that is what they are – are unwieldy and steeped in symbolism, is it reality or is he losing his mind? Anthony is the steady hand to Adam’s nervous wreck, leather wearing to tweed, straight-standing to stooped, lover of blueberries while Adam deplores them. However, they are not entirely different. Villeneuve likes the concept of duality – see his previous two films, the afore-mentioned Prisoners and Incendies – mirroring, mother-figures and the uncanny; the familiar and unfamiliar often meet and collide. Here it takes the form of the doppelgänger; two Jakes (or is there only one?), the seemingly alternative worlds they inhabit and the pretty blondes they each love, Laurent and Sarah Gradon who plays Anthony’s wife Helen are also visually strikingly similar. There are recurring motifs dotted throughout and the religious aspect of the characters’ names is intriguing.

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Personally, I applied Freud to my reading to Enemy and this added coherence; as the male subconscious is exposed, questions of mothers, fear of fatherhood and existential crisis surround the contempt of the inner self but hey, that’s me. The film is complex (and entertaining) enough to withstand any reading and still be profound, and that ending will leave you astounded long after the credits roll. The only minor criticism is the vapid representation of the female characters especially the two main women, neither is explored fully and both tend to blend into the waxy yellow surroundings. Isabella Rossellini makes an impressionable cameo and then is gone all too fleetingly but then, perhaps they are meant to, and really one is not supposed to understand any of it…chaos un-deciphered.

At one point Adam turns to Anthony and asks “What’s happening?” To which Anthony replies, “I think you know…” Nope, haven’t got the foggiest but that is all part of the fun.

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Blu-ray Review TV

Blu-ray Review: Top of the Lake

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A determining factor, some may argue, at the heart of Campion’s oeuvre is the inclusion of a strong, emotive (and convincing) female protagonist seen in the likes of Sweetie (1981), An Angel At My Table (1990), The Piano (1993) and In the Cut (2003) to name but a few; these women are usually in search of themselves and while their strength and femininity are rarely questioned they tend to be deeply flawed characters. In Campion’s crime mini-series Top of the Lake – which sees her reunited with collaborator and long-time friend Gerard Lee – leading protagonist Robin Griffith (Elisabeth Moss) picks up the baton left by these memorable characters.

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When 12-year-old Tui Mitchum (Jacqueline Joe) is rescued from Lake Top’s freezing stretch of water, her pregnancy is discovered and Detective Robin Griffith – having returned ‘home’ from Sydney – insists on taking the case. Over the course of the six-part drama, she contends with a lot more than just a statutory rape case; namely a dying mother, a long-term engagement she may or may not want, the boy she left behind, and her own demons that she has never fully faced. Throw into the mix, the all-female commune (attempting to take refuge from the debilitating aspects of their respective lives) that has set up home in a field they call Paradise, led by the enigmatic GJ (Holly Hunter). Feeling such a strong personal affiliation with young rape victim Tui, Robin is determined to assist the child; a prospect made all the more difficult when Tui disappears from a dysfunctional community full of secrets, lies, and deception, seemingly led by her father, Matt (Peter Mullan).

TOP OF THE LAKE

Boasting a cast which includes David Wenham (Oranges and Sunshine), Genevieve Lemon (The Piano) and Thomas M. Wright (soon to be seen in the US version of The Bridge) as well as the stellar prowess of Hunter and Mullan, all of whom are superb, this is really Moss’s show. Proving that she can do so much more than Mad Men‘s Peggy Olson, she is, quite simply, brilliant as the psychologically paradoxical Robin. Filmed largely on New Zealand’s South Island (a character in itself), Top of the Lake, is a TV story which unfolds like a novel much like HBO’s Deadwood. Yet amid its style there is a stark hyper-realism and mimetic quality which emerges at its own pace – some may say a snail’s – but this deliberate pacing, silence and haunting cinematography has a purpose and builds upon the thrilling tension.

It is, oddly, reminiscent of Smillas’s Feeling for Snow (1997), yet ups the emotionally raw ante (and provides a much more relatable leading lady). Campion and Lee wrote a script in 2010, a lot of which is improvised around here, and manages to keep audience interest through many-a subject matter including murder, incest, police corruption and gender politics. Misandry and misogyny go hand-in-hand; the invisibility of the older woman is offset by the impotency of the ageing male, here in Lake Top everybody is damaged, vulnerable and/or breaking the law in some capacity. By the last episode, the conclusion of which is grimly satisfying, one realises that there is no actual resolution; there are still unanswered questions which is frustratingly refreshing and not usually expected in crime television of today’s standard, at least not of the English speaking variety anyway. Campion nails it yet again.

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Film Festival Review

Review: The Hunt (Dir. Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)

LFF 2012

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength” (Psalm 8:2). Never has a re-contextualised proverb so inadvertently and succinctly condensed a film’s subject matter than this one. The Hunt opens with a male bonding session, big, burly men drinking, removing their clothes and throwing themselves into a freezing cold stream in the middle of Danish winter for the purposes of a bet. Doing what “men” purportedly do. The one who has to rescue his pal when he develops cramp is somewhat different to the rest of the hunting party; slight and bespectacled, he jumps in, sensibly, fully clothed – his physicality reminiscent of Hoffman’s David in Straw Dogs (1971, dir. Sam Peckinpah).

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is an amiable divorced father of one, trying to gain custody of his teenage son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm); working in the local kindergarten after the closure of the secondary school in which he was previously employed. There are hints from some that believe in the unsuitability of a man working in a nursery, especially given his minority as the only male employee, but his naturalness with the children soon dismisses these archaic views. Lucas has friends, this is evident from the film’s commencement, close friendships made in childhood but most of these men have wives and children present and Lucas tends to cut a lonely figure in comparison. His best friend Theo (Vinterberg alum, Thomas Bo Larsen) has two children, one of whom is Klara (lucidly played by Annika Wedderkopp) an eccentric child with a vivid imagination who often wanders the streets alone because her parents fail to notice her missing or she is so deeply focussed on avoiding the cracks in the pavement. After her father’s friend shows her a little attention, she develops a crush and when Lucas understandably and gently rejects her, after she kisses him on the mouth, he pays a hefty price. Klara’s blatant accusation, after all “Children do not lie. At least not about things like this”, causes a devastating fall out and the once close-knit community splinters into shards of hysteria, amid recriminations and reproach, with the teacher becoming the victim of a persecutory witch-hunt.

Mikkelsen (A Royal Affair; Valhalla Rising) is outstanding – whether playing maniacal villains, silent assassins, derisive lovers or sensitive every-men – he is consistently exceptional. Here, he delivers a Cannes-award winning performance as mild-mannered educator Lucas acted with real sensitivity, precision and humanity. There is a dignity and hushed calculation to the way in which, as the character, he handles the damaging aspersions. However, when the events do threaten to break the exterior, specifically in the supermarket sequence and later during Midnight Mass his actions devastate further. The deftly worked script co-written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm is weighted in realism, for the most part, until taking a symbolic swerve at the dénouement and all without a hint of emotional manipulation or overt sentimentality often associated with this type of story. That said, this is not a comfortable watch and whilst gripping, powerful and thought-provoking The Hunt is unsettling and gut-wrenching; a cinematic sledgehammer of a realisation as to just how injurious and distressing an untruth, however small, can truly be.

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Film Festival Review

Review: Everybody Has a Plan (Dir. Ana Piterbarg, 2012)

LFF 2012

While the last post detailed the more memorable roles of Mr Mortensen’s career, this review looks to the most recent, Everybody Has a Plan (2012, dir. Ana Piterbarg) a film he not only produced but also took, along with its director, to the recent 56th BFI London Film Festival. As previously stated he has starred in Spanish-speaking films before, more recently, playing the titular character of Captain Alatriste (2006, dir. Agustín Díaz Yanes) a historical epic which further showcased Mortensen’s skills with a blade, acting prowess in another language and an impressive ability to grow a moustache of heroic proportion. Everybody Has a Plan is, in comparison, a radically different film.

Set in the present, in Argentina, identical twin brothers Agustín and Pedro Souto (Mortensen) are siblings who have taken two very different paths in life. Agustín is a married Paediatric doctor in Buenos Aires while Pedro lives on the Tigre Delta alternating between a life of crime and breeding bees for the purpose of making honey. When one of Pedro’s crime outings takes a sinister turn, he turns up, terminally ill, on his brother’s doorstep. His presence thereby allows unfulfilled Agustín the opportunity to make some changes and seek refuge in the home town he escaped decades earlier. He inhabits his brother’s persona, leaving his wife and existing responsibilities behind.

This surprising noir is the first for screenwriter-director Piterbarg and she approached her first choice actor Mortensen at a San Lorenzo football match. Mortensen’s early childhood in South America meant that he, not only, has an affiliation with the country but also the linguistic foundation to speak the Argentine-Spanish which is prevalent in the movie. At no point does this film read as a directorial debut and Piterbarg should be commended for the taut screenplay and, at times, gently gripping crime drama she has created. It is traditional in its narrative approach and does not rely upon action sequences but turgid twists and tender turns amid its character driven plot and recurring thematic of duality. This motif is linked quite obviously through the inclusion of twins, however, it is made more apparent when considering the locations used, especially the light/dark dichotomy captured so beautifully through Lucio Bonelli’s cinematography. The Tigre Delta is shot as a dangerous, foreboding and enigmatic place (not unlike the twin who inhabits the island) and it is not an image of Argentina that is ordinarily known or as been seen before.

At his recent Screen Talk, Mortensen likened the stark contrast between locations and characters as “two streams of merging water, running together to the open river with the same force and flow” and quoted a 1946 film noir in an attempt to encapsulate the romantic element in the narrative. He referred to The Night Editor (Henry Levin) in which one protagonist says to the other “You’re like me. There is an illness deep inside you that has to hurt or be hurt. We’re made for each other”. This aptly sums up the inevitability of kismet which hangs over Agustín who shares the screen with an excellent supporting cast that fleshes out the slow pacing including Rosa (Sofia Gala), Rubén (Javier Godino) and Adrían (Daniel Fanego). Fanego practically slithers on screen he is so reptilian. This is, nevertheless, Mortensen’s film.

Copyright: H. Harding-Jones

It should seem somewhat moot to describe a man, who has had a film career run nearly three decades, as innovative but his last four films have made audiences aware just how multi-faceted he can be. Here, although they do not share the screen together for very long, he actually manages to suggest a real sense of individualism between Pedro and Agustín and, throughout, a manner of acting that relies upon physicality rather than the spoken word; few actors can emote so strongly and evidently. That said, this movie is not without its flaws; it is, at times a little too slow paced and the latter third does drag amid its solemnity and quiet but it is a thoughtful deliberation about a man who inadequately exists and attempts to find peace while having no absolute design on thriving. He does, however, as it turns out have a plan after all…