I loved each of these films and strongly recommend them if you get the chance.
An A tear-jerker! The emotion creeps up on you as three lonely characters converge in a red bean pancake outlet. The little old woman who inveigles her way into the life of the pancake seller – teaching him how to make real red bean paste (the ‘an’ of the title) has a secret and her story when it slowly unfolds breaks your heart. Beautiful.
In The Crosswind Another painfully sad tale of forced removal and imprisonment in Siberian labour camps of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians during the Second World War. What could have been too grim to watch is hauntingly told in black and white tableau images. The narrative based on real letters from an Estonian woman to her husband – each unaware of the other’s fate. The writing is poetic, concluding with the single letter from the husband calling on her to remember him where East meets West in the cross winds. Beautiful to look at – despite the horror depicted and beautiful to listen to. A unique cinematic experience.
The End of the Tour There’s been some controversy about this film – the story of a Rolling Stone journalist’s interview with the author David Foster Wallace. Those who know Wallace say it doesn’t reflect the real person but I thought Jason Segal was great. As was Jesse Eisenberg who I really like as an actor. Basically a two handler and all talk. But surprisingly moving by the end. It made me want to read An Infinite Jest which we have in the house, but which, as Wallace says in the film, was mostly read by adolescent males. Any film that takes you back to the book is a good one.
Louder Than Bombs Another Jesse Eisenberg movie, and Isabelle Huppert and the beautiful Gabriel Byrne. I went because of these actors who play son, mother and father respectively. But it was the performance of the younger son that brought it all together. A family drama, about relationships, balancing arrears and family responsibilities – Isabelle’s a war photographer and keeps at it while her children are home being looked after by Dad who’s swapped an acting career for teaching so he can do just that. Throw in post traumatic stress and infidelity along with new fatherhood stress and you’ve got the lot! But it’s the teenage angst that captures your heart.
Melbourne I chose this film because of the actor – Peyman Moaadi (from A Separation) and he was great as usual though he had an awful moustache – and a difficult role. A young couple are leaving Tehran to come to Melbourne to study. A great advertisement for our international education efforts. They’re packing up their flat and dealing with last minute things. Then something awful happens and the tension is almost unbearable as we watch them trying to work out how to deal with it. All the while their flight deadline looms closer and closer. Excruciating but wonderful acting. Makes you wonder – what would I do?
The High Sun Another film about the impact of war on ordinary people. This time the Bosnian / Serb conflict. A tryptich- if you can describe a film as such. Three vignettes, each ten years apart. The main male and female characters in each played by the same actors which gave it added depth somehow. The first story shows the start – young lovers from the different sides experience growing hostility and seek to escape to Zagreb. The first shots are fired. Next we come back to the same village – they are the same mother and daughter from the first story. The effects of the war are all around. Houses in disrepair. No women, they’ve all gone. Why have you come back? It’s better here than where we were. Nothing more. A young man from the other side helps repair the house. The young woman’s grief, anger despair are conveyed almost without words. But so powerfully. Another ten year passes. We’re in modern times now. Three young men, university students on their way to their village for a rave party. We pass rebuilt towns with only scattered reminders of the war that’s been. But in the village our young man, the same actor from the other two stories visits his mother (who doesn’t leave the house much anymore) and his father. She gives him food. He doesn’t eat. Why don’t you visit us more? You know why! He visits a house nearby. The same young woman. A baby asleep. Her brother helps her out with money. Let me come back, he says. She won’t, You ran like a coward. Old enmities remain. A people divided. He goes back to the rave party to lose himself in the music, drugs, dance. In the morning he’s back on her doorstep.Through the trees you see a bombed out house. The war lives on. Will she let him in? Compelling, human drama.
Theeb The title means Wolf and is the name of the boy we follow from start to finish. A young Bedouin boy (in life as well as in the film – they were non- professional actors). He is wonderful. As is the location. We see him first with his brother being shown how to use a gun. They are the sons of the tribal leader. An English army officer comes with another Bedouin seeking help to find a well. Desert hospitality demands that guidance be given. The older brother to provide it. Our wolf follows and is eventually allowed to join the travelling party. These are treacherous times. They travel over dunes and through sand chasms. Black robed Isis like bandits close in. Wolf is forced to rely on one of them for his survival. It’s a gripping tale from start to finish.
My Love Don’t Cross That River and Putuparri and the Rainmakers
I have described elsewhereand both were marvelous. Putuparri has been winning prizes all over the place.
The Volcano Set in Guatemala under the shadow of the Ixcanul volcano which is a real presence in the film it tells the story of a young woman on the cusp of marriage. Non- professional actors again. The young woman is luminous. Her mother is a wonderful character. It describes the hardship suffered by the indigenous people but also much of their culture and resilience.
Coffin in the Mountain A quite wonderful Chinese comedy of manners revolving around the discovery of a body outside the village and assumptions about whose body it might be that ends up in the coffin. I’m told there is a Hitchcock film along the same lines Something About Harry. It was a great romp with an emotional heart running beneath on a number of strands – fathers and sons, lovers, loneliness, familial loyalty. It was nice to see Mayoral wisdom seeking to serve the community’s best interests – although somewhat exhausting for the Mayor.
Corn Island Hardly a word is said in this film but they would have been superfluous. It is a beautifully observed perfectly contained world. A grandfather creates a cornfield and a one room shack on an island formed by mud carried by the fast flowing spring snow melt in the river. It will be a temporary thing, lasting only until the Cornish harvested – weather permitting. He takes his grand daughter to help him. She brings a rag doll on her first trip. The film follows her growing up. Beautifully done. There’s a border war going on. We hear gun shots. Soldiers leer at her from the shore or from rubber dinghies going past. Just occasionally. A wounded soldier is sheltered. Nothing much happens. But the nothing is everything.
Another Country A documentary narrated by David Gulipil about his home town. Takes you deep inside his culture.
Here are my four star films. A close run thing. They might have had five. They’re just not quite as good as the films above.
One Floor Below Not as Hitchcockian as I’d been led to believe but a compelling look at life in Romania where people keep to themselves. I liked the domesticity portrayed – walking the dog, the dieting. I was sympathetic to the man who saw something at a crime scene but chooses not to tell.
Mustang Showed the life paths open to young women in Turkey. Constrictions imposed at every turn – imposed by men, enforced by older women – makes you weep. Some optimism midst the gloom – some find happiness gaming the system, and a hopeful ending. I don’t know the meaning of the title.
La Sapienza This was gorgeous visually – both the landscape and the people. All very mannered and elaborately constructed – both in the look of the film and how the characters interact and converse. I loved it but many didn’t.
Life Kills Me A film about death, strangely compelling once you get into it and a perfect ending. It was about the making of a film which was shot in colour while the main film was in black and white. About family relationships, how we portray ourselves to each other. What’s real and unreal. What’s death?
Tales Snapshots of life in Tehran. Pretty grim for lots of people – mostly about women but touching on the men they interact with. Ordinary people dealing with ordinary problems – about health insurance, the closure of a factory. And about those who fall through the cracks – a prostitute, women escaping drug addiction and domestic violence. My favourite Iranian actor, Peyman Moaadi was in the final tale, a volunteer bus driver at the women’s refuge conducting a wonderfully complex, subterranean conversation with one of the women volunteers (who was extraordinarily beautiful).
Me Romantic Romani A wonderful, sympathetic depiction of Romani culture, with terrific characters in the grandmother, mother and father of the central character who is a young girl chaffing at Romani expectations. Set in Italy, showing how Romani culture endures despite now being confined to high rise apartments.
Partners In Crime There were lots of twists and turns in this story of three young Japanese boys drawn into investigating the death of a young girl from the same school. We know she jumped but was it really suicide? Who is manipulating who? It investigates the impact of bullying, family relationships. Spiritual emptiness despite material wealth. Lots of teenage angst. It keeps you guessing until the end.
Fassbinder – To Love Without Demands This interesting if you like his films, and I do. I was very interested in his unusual childhood. There are lots of direct interviews with Fassbinder which is what makes the film interesting. There is also an interview with one of his former girlfriends who is very articulate (as is Fassbinder) and also amazingly frank.
Peggy Guggenheim – Art Addict Maybe the Art Addict subtitle undersells her contribution. This seems to be what people have been doing to her all her life – including her family. There is one prominent interviewee who seems intent on belittling of her (Peggy didn’t have an eye for art) which was annoying. But the film gives her her due and it’s good to see her recognized. There is audio of her speaking just a short time before she died and she really sounds wonderful. Her life was amazing. She was so brave and ahead of her time. I’m really pleased to have learned about what she did, the art she saved, her contribution to art in America and Britain and finally the world.
Tehran Taxi This is a gentle and whimsical telling of all the restrictions imposed on creativity and free speech in present day Iran. For a while you’re not sure whether people are acting or whether they are real taxi passengers. I surmise the former. The Director/taxi driver is a genial soul and his precocious niece a delight.
Rules of the Game This is a documentary tracing out of work, disadvantaged young people in France. The young people – in all their diversity are all great especially Lolita who we see more of I think. They are all disarmingly open. The people who work with them are also good. The camera appears to be invisible. It’s interesting to see how employment programs are the same all over the world.
The Wolf Pack This tells an amazing story which makes the film compelling to watch. But it is really a story about domestic abuse including the common first step of isolation from family and friends. One of the most emotional moments is when we see the mother make contact with her own parents for the first time in over twenty years. A darker tale of the father’s abuse is hinted at in some of the conversations of the boys, and he seems to be a dark and brooding presence barely in shot. Access to home movies from when the boys were little add to the cinema verite feel. But overall this story left me troubled.
The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson this film benefits from its charismatic lead player. Wilko is a wonderfully articulate, erudite and sympathetic main character talking about his reaction to being told he was going to die – the ecstasy of the title. It also has great visual imagery – both natural scenery in the place Wilko lives and fabulist with a Napolean like figure darting around and a recreation of Death’s game of chess from The Seventh Seal. It’s very wordy and I feel I could watch it again to properly hear all that Wilko says. I loved it.
Listen To Me Marlon It’s great seeing footage of the young Marlon Brando – he was so handsome! I’d forgotten. You see him flirting with the female reporters who are interviewing him – incorrigible. He was also so progressive – supporting the Black Panthers, Martin Luther King – when it was not popular to do so. Articulating the grievances of Native Americans – all terrific. He had a tough upbringing. So this was all very interesting despite some fairly ponderous use of tape recordings Marlon had made in old age (hence the title) as well as repetitive shots of his deserted LA home. His life had a sad ending.
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry This film needed to be crowd funded to be made which says something about the regular film industry. It also took twenty years to make which is a good and bad thing but meant some people who are now dead got to be interviewed. I knew much of the story but it was great to see it all put together. The aim was to show the geographic spread, diversity and grass roots nature of the early feminist movement and it achieved this. Lots of feisty women, such courage, such determination, shall we see it’s like again?
City of Gold This was about the restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, who is a very interesting person in himself. The film is also very interesting about Los Angeles – not just the food but every aspect of the city. The title is very apt. You get to see a lot of LA and hear a lot from Jonathan which is good on both counts. And you see lots of great food. Almost convinced me to give Mexican food another go!
And these are the three star films I’ll describe in a later post
Land and Shade
Our Little Sister
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Go Get Some Rosemary
My Life Nicholas Winding Refn
Seymour An Introduction
Head – historical interest only, I loved The Monkees who star in this, but it was all a lie no time ago!
Feherlofia – amazing animation, but that is all!
Ryuzo And His Seven Henchmen – silly.