Thursday, 27 April 2017

April 27 2017:  
The Innocents
Things to Come
Spanish Film Festival - more

One of my rare five-star films releases this week - The Innocents. It is beautiful and horrifying at the same time. Isabel Huppert proves again in Things to Come why she's one of today's best actors. I catch a couple more from the Spanish Film Festival, one of them being unmissable for fans of flamenco.  

The Innocents
Director: Anne Fontaine
Length: 115 min

© Rialto - heartbreaking, beautiful, horrifying - 
a wonderful 5-star film
Yet another film based upon a true World War 2 story, this one is more shocking, and in ways beautiful, than most. Based upon the memoir of a young Red Cross nurse, it tells of Mathilde, who is helping repatriate French soldiers from Warsaw, when a nun, Maria, asks her to visit a local convent to give medical assistance. Upon arrival, Mathilde finds one nun about to give birth and several others in advanced stages of pregnancy, a result of multiple rapes by Russian soldiers. The Mother Superior is terrified that the convent will be shamed, and, sworn to secrecy, Mathilde becomes their only solace and help. This film left me sitting gob-smacked in my seat, desperately trying to process my conflicting thoughts and reactions: disgust at rape as a weapon of war (ongoing world-wide), the admiration for a brave doctor, the quiet and desperate faith of the nuns, the universality of motherhood and its associated emotions, and the absolute integrity and beauty in the way the film is written and directed, with not a hint of sensationalism, but much compassion. The cinematography is sublime, and, coupled with the holy chants and music, a deep spirituality suffuses the film, offset by the harsh realities of shame and fear. 
5 - unmissable!

Things to Come
Dir: Mia Hansen-Love
Length: 102 min
© Palace - Huppert gives get another 
sublime performance as a woman of a certain age 
grappling with life's changes
Nathalie (Isabel Huppert), a middle-aged professor of philosophy, finds her life going pear-shaped. Her husband has fallen for another woman, and her much-respected books are being withdrawn from further publication. How will she manage to find meaning in the rest of her life? Huppert, as she recently demonstrated in Elle, is one of today's finest actors. Here she again shows how truthfully she can inhabit a character - she balances Nathalie's intellectual world with the practicalities of adult children, a demanding mother, and her friendships with past students. This is a stunning, poignant and relevant portrayal of a woman at a turning point, able to have the self-respect and confidence to push on, and to discover her freedom, something she has never felt before.   
4 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Spanish Film Festival
Running until May 7 in Melbourne. Astor, Como, Westgarth, Kino
For session times visit the website:

A flamenco treat!
Last week I reviewed Summer 1993 (Director Carla Simon Pipo) featuring two of the best child performances in a long time. Since then I've caught a couple more. Now here's a grand statement: if you are a lover of flamenco dance you should NOT MISS Sara Baras, All Her Voices. (A special screening is on this Sunday 30 April at Cinema Como). It is one of the most energising and beautiful flamenco films I've seen, and believe me I've seen a lot! For a tense and wonderfully directed but understated revenge film, check out Fury of a Patient Man. It feels a bit like a western, and features great cinematography, plot and performances. For lovers of the culinary travelling shenanigans of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, they star in the closing night film The Trip to Spain, directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Friday, 21 April 2017

April 22 part B 2017:  
Their Finest
Berlin Syndrome
Certain Women
Spanish Film Festival

Here we go with the (large) second part of this week's blog - the mainstream releases for this week.  And once again, they are all really fine films! Remember, the Young at Heart Festival reviewed earlier this week is showing in Melbourne until 26 April. 

Their Finest
Director: Lone Scherfig
Length: 117 min
© Transmission - a totally entertaining 
British wartime story with a big heart
Take a setting of wartime London, some of Britain's finest acting talent, and a script that interweaves humour, tragedy and romance into a story about film itself, and you have a winner! Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton), falls into a job with a film production company needing a "woman's touch" for their propaganda films. There she meets fellow writer Buckley, and arrogant actor Ambrose Hilliard, played brilliantly by the scintillating Bill Nighy. The film balances perfectly the on-screen drama of the patriotic film they are making, with the real-life dramas they are all experiencing during the London Blitz, which the Brits manage to portray so well on film. All the characters are terrifically appealing, the era is beautifully portrayed, and the musings that crop up as to what film itself means to its creators and audiences is inspiring. Jack Huston and Tom Claflin are strong as the love interests, and there are small star turns from the likes of Jeremy Irons, Richard E Grant  and Eddie Marsan. With wonderfully strong female characters to boot, this film has lots going for it.   
4 - wholeheartedly recommended!
For a longer review from Bernard Hemingway visit:

Berlin Syndrome
Director: Cate Shortland
Length: 116 min

© Entertainment One - just remember:
don't pick up strange men!

A young Brisbane woman's dream of travel, adventure and romance turns into a nightmare when she goes to Berlin alone. Clare (Teresa Palmer) meets handsome school teacher Andi (Max Riemelt) and the chemistry between them is immediate. Somewhat naively she goes back to his apartment, in a deserted part of town, for a night of hot sex, and next morning finds that Andi has left for work, accidentally locking her in. Well, maybe NOT accidentally! People seem to be criticising this film for its length; I found myself captive to the tension, and the escalating fear for Clare's fate. This film is indeed a salutary lesson about not talking to strange men, and about the power some men like to wield over women. Possibly Andi's motivations are not explored sufficiently, but as a straight thriller, with some kinky/erotic bits overlaid, two wonderful lead performances, and some good scenes of Berlin this works pretty well. 
4 - wholeheartedly recommended!
For a longer review from Chris Thompson visit:

Director: Julia Ducourneau
Length: 99 min
© Monster - a coming of age film with a difference!
Here's a French film to get your teeth stuck into! Normally I don't go for this genre of psychological horror, but Raw is so smartly made and deliciously sickening, it has a certain appeal. Justine comes from a vegan family, but during her initiation week at veterinary college she is forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney. This experience sets off a craving for meat - but not just any meat! Cannibalism is probably one of the last human taboos, and this film certainly pushes the boundaries, while tackling other intriguing issues such as brutal hazing rituals (a form of bullying at universities), and the strength of family and sisterly bonds. The film won big-time with the critics at Cannes, and while I acknowledge this ain't everyone's plate of meat, it is stylishly done, always feels authentic, and has a wonderful final twist!  
3.5 - highly recommended - if you can stomach it! 

Certain Women
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Length: 107 min

Certain Women features in a season of Reichardt films, Kelly Reichardt's America, at ACMI until May 9th. 
© ACMI - quiet studied film-making highlights the lives of 
these Montana women
The four women in the collage feature in this slow moving, absorbing snapshot of lives under the big sky of rural Montana. Laura Dern is a small town lawyer, involved in an affair, and representing an angry man who has a work injury; Michelle Williams is a malcontented wife and mother dreaming of a house she hopes to build; Kristen Stewart is a lawyer who travels hours to teach nights for more cash, while Lily Gladstone tends horses on a ranch and stumbles into the night classes, only to fall in love with the teacher. Virtually nothing happens in the three separate tales which are loosely linked. Yet such is the skill of Reichardt's direction that she manages to capture something so sad and poignant about these women's lives - their loneliness, their frustration and perhaps their hope.  This quiet gem of a film is for those who enjoy paying careful attention to the minute details, rather like the way people who are emotionally savvy can read others without spoken words.
4 - highly recommended ! 

Spanish Film Festival
Running until May 7 in Melbourne. 
For other states see the website: 
I can't tell you much yet, due to not getting screeners in time. 
I'll let you know about any films I manage to catch from here in, but I have seen the nominated centrepiece film. 
Summer 1993 (Director Carla Simon Pipo) won the Best first Feature at the Berlin Film Festival. It's the story of a six year old who, after her parents' death, is sent from the city of Barcelona to live with her aunt, uncle and little cousin in the countryside. Though the film is intense, and takes its time, it is beautiful, and the story is told with simplicity and realism. I doubt you'll ever see such stunning child performances in any film. 
PS. For lover of flamenco, there are four films featuring the iconic Spanish art form. 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

April 20 2017 - Part A:  
Young at Heart - Seniors Film Festival

You'll get two blogs from me this week - Part A and Part B. Yet another film festival opens in Melbourne tomorrow. It is short and sweet and features a number of very worthy films. Further releases for this week to come in a later blog!

Seniors Film Festival
Young at Heart 

Showing Melbourne April 20 - 26, Palace Brighton Bay and Palace Balwyn
For other states, and program schedules, visit

I'd better say up front I don't totally understand the concept of targeting a film festival at a specific age group - but given that anyone over the age of 60 will only have to pay $7 it is a rather stunning opportunity to binge on some very fine films. Note: younger film fans will also really enjoy these movies! Four that I've been fortunate enough to preview are:

Sophie and the Rising Sun
Director: Maggie Greenwald
Length: 116 min

This gentle and moving film, set in 1941, is the story of Mr Ohta, a second generation Japanese American, who mysteriously turns up, injured, in a small Nth Carolina town. Local matriarch Mrs Morrison, a keen gardener, gives him board in exchange for gardening work, but it is Sophie Willis, young unmarried artist, who befriends him. When Pearl Harbour is bombed, small-town bigotry surfaces, threatening life and love. This is a film with more relevance than ever in today's fraught times, where prejudice reigns! 

This Beautiful Fantastic
Director: Simon Aboud
Length: 100 min

Bella is an aspiring children's writer who suffers OCD, and a brutal boss at the local library where she works. When she is threatened with eviction from her rented home because she has let the garden go to wrack and ruin, her grumpy old neighbour Alfie  (Tom Wilkinson, don't you love him!), steps in to lend a helping hand. In archetypal British style this film manages to combine humour, eccentricity, romance, and simply gorgeous English cottage gardens in a way that couldn't help but play on my heartstrings! It's a real gem! 

Viceroy's House
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Length: 106 min

The last Viceroy of India was Lord Mountbatten, charged with the challenging task of overseeing the handover of the country from the Brits back to the Indians. His personal household, made up of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs find themselves caught up in a cultural conflict when Partition turns one nation into two. Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson are wonderful as Lord and Lady Mountbatten. The production values and sets are lavish and authentic. What starts as an interesting slice of history, turns into a moving, personal drama which is at once intimate, and all-encompassing. 

Looking for Infinity: El Camino
Director: Aaron C Leaman
Length: 60 min
This documentary is in the immersion style - as an audience we are taken on a journey along the Camino, hearing reflections from pilgrims who make the walk, and learning about the spiritual, emotional, and physical challenges involved. 

Other films featuring in the festival are:
Their Finest - starring the fabulous Bill Nighy (releasing generally tomorrow and to be reviewed separately)
Whiteley - Aussie doco on the iconic artist
Neruda - story of the Chilean poet
The Secret Scripture - a romantic drama about mental health and the Irish troubles
Tommy's Honour - Set in the early period of professional golf and featuring Sam Neill
There is also a small retrospective featuring such fine films as The Lion in Winter, The Tales of Hoffman and The Third Man

Overall this festival is wholeheartedly recommended!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

April 13 2017:  
Personal Shopper

Three excellent new films come out today for your long weekend viewing delectation! All three are strong, and unusual, in their own disctinct way. 

Dir: Francois Ozon
Length: 113 min
© Sharmill - the mostly black and white cinematography
gives this film makes for an exquisite look.
Inspired by a 1931 Ernst Lubitsch film, this is one of Ozon's best. The film has so many layers and themes that it's hard to sum up in a five-minute nutshell!  In Germany in 1919, Anna (Paula Beer) is mourning her fiancee Frantz who has been killed in the war. One day she observes a young Frenchman Adrien (Pierre Niney) laying flowers at Frantz's grave. When Adrien visits the home where Anna lives with Frantz's grieving parents, a sequence of lies is set in train, but when the truth is finally revealed, life has changed for all concerned. I remain deliberately obscure, not wishing to spoil a moment of this intriguingly plotted and superbly acted film, with its themes of war, redemption, forgiveness, prejudice, national pride, and love. The icing on the cake is the exquisite cinematography, (including stunning close-ups of faces) mainly in evocative black and white, but with moments of soft colour, along with a haunting musical score. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Personal Shopper
Director: Olivier Assayas
Length: 105 min

© Rialto - Kristen Stewart's performance gives the film 
its strength
Don't be fooled by the title - it's not some girly "let's go shopping" type movie. This is one that could divide audiences, as it is an audacious blend of themes, ranging from the legitimacy of ghosts and mediums, through to job dissatisfaction, grief and murder. Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, an American who lives in Paris, and is a personal shopper for a rich celebrity. Maureen's twin brother has recently died from a congenital heart defect, and Maureen waits for the promised sign from him from beyond the grave. When she starts getting anonymous text messages, life becomes intriguing and a little threatening. While the plot has a lot of unanswered questions, it nevertheless creates a credibly frightening vibe. There is a strange interplay between Maureen's almost detached pragmatism, her grief, her mounting fear, along with a sensual attraction to her employer's clothing. I'm a big fan of Stewart, and she absolutely nails the paradoxes in her character. Her mesmerising performance underpins the film. The conundrum of what is real (or supernatural) and what is conjured by her grieving mind, along with the unfathomable (well, to me!) ending gives rise to interesting psychological and paranormal food for thought in this oddly compelling and terrific looking film. 
3.5 - recommended!

Director: Mick Jackson
Length: 110 min
© Entertainment One- a weighty courtroom drama 
about denial of the Holocaust
Not so much a film to enjoy, but to admire, Denial is a courtroom drama based upon a true trial, in which professor Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) goes head to head with Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall), supported by legal eagle Richard Rampton (the always impressive Tom Wilkinson). Lipstadt has called Irving a liar because he claims the Holocaust never happened, and so Irving sues her for libel. Because the film centres around fine points of law, it has an emotional remove, which made it for me less engaging than I would have liked, given the importance of the subject matter. Of course in these times of nay-sayers and historical revisionists it is always important that films of this nature come out, encouraging the world to be ever vigilant in acknowledging the truth of crimes against mankind. Weisz is powerful as Lipstadt, while Spall embodies the heinousness of his character in a powerful performance.    
3.5 - recommended!

Thursday, 6 April 2017

April 6 2017:  
The Country Doctor
A Silent Voice

From five reviews last week, to only two this week - but they are two beauties! A French doctor gives the sort of ministration we can only dream of, while a Japanese animation addresses serious issues of bullying, disability and redemption. 

The Country Doctor
Director: Thoman Lilti
Length: 102 min

© Madman - Doctors rise to the challenges in this 
sweet, old-fashioned story. 
Jean Pierre Werner (Francois Cluzet) is the sort of doctor we would all wish to have. He is caring, travels miles to his sick patients, and knows their problems inside out. When, after 30 years of running his solo practice, Jean Pierre finds out he has a brain tumour, he is urged to get himself an assistant. Natalie (Marianne Denicourt), newly graduated,  comes to help out, but the doc perceives himself as irreplaceable. This is a gentle and heart-warming film, which meanders along with no real dramatic highs or lows, but simply portrays a world that seems to be vanishing - one in which people are intimately connected, truly care for others, and doctors put their patients' welfare above monetary gain. (A subplot about Werner fighting for an old man to be kept in his home is truly touching.) Written and directed by a doctor, it feels authentic throughout. With winning performances by both leads, and lots of lovely French countryside, this is a small, old-fashioned pleasure to be savoured.      
4 - wholeheartedly recommended!

A Silent Voice
Director: Naoko Yamada
Length: 129 min

© Madman - a delicate and poignant story of 
bullying, disability and coming of age 
Japanese animation for me evokes either action stories or the beautifully painted films from Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli (think Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro.) Now we have something different again - a compelling tale from Kyoto Animation Studios, and based on a popular Japanese manga (that's a graphic novel, aimed at adults or youngsters). It's the story of Shoya Ishida, who, along with his classmates in elementary school, bullies a hearing-impaired girl  Shoko Ishimiya. Later, in his teen years, he wants to make amends for what he did, and gradually a tentative reconciliation and redemption take shape. At times the characters become a little confusing, and the film is very long, but it is exquisitely drawn, and the teen characters, with all their typical angst and personality traits, are incisively portrayed. With themes of disability, bullying and even teen suicide, this is a powerful piece of animated movie making.      
4 - wholeheartedly recommended!