Wednesday, 28 February 2018

March 1
The Square
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
Red Sparrow
Alliance Francaise French Film Festival

Another week of outstanding film releases, including a major festival (the French, always a winner) and another Oscar-nominated Foreign Language film. Plus two high profile actresses, Jennifer Lawrence and Annette Bening, in their latest releases. 

The Square
Director: Ruben Ostlund
Length: 142 min
© Sharmill - nominated for Best Foreign Language Film 
this year, The Square is unlike anything I've seen for 
a long time. 
Hot on the heels of Michael Haneke's Happy End, comes another vision of the upper classes,  this time set against poverty in the streets of Sweden. Christian (Claes Bang) is a respected curator of a modern art museum. He is about to launch an ambitious abstract installation project around the theme of altruism, when he is robbed on the street. His response to the theft, along with an ad campaign for the installation, creates a major crisis in his life. This is a remarkable film, with an occasional feel of documentary making, so realistic do the characters and the dialogue seem. At other times the concepts are so outlandishly weird that the film seems surreal. Humans owning apes and behaving as apes lend a near-comic element, yet every aspect that induces laughter also has a darker side. Christian seems the perfect guy, yet progressively shows his class prejudice, his careless attitude to women (Elizabeth Moss) and his lack of responsibility. Ostlund cleverly asks questions about modern art, in a way that is both funny, satirical and probing. Themes of how much we can trust others and whether we are prepared to help are alluded to, along with a biting commentary on impoverished people in a city of wealth. Overall, this film leaves me quite gob-smacked, although it's possible that there are so many intricately interwoven themes that my feeble brain can't get a handle on them all, especially in very long run-time. Also to enjoy is the exquisite soundtrack. 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
Director: Paul McGuigan
Length: 105 min
© Transmission - tender love story featuring the
fabulous Annette Bening 
Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) started acting in his teens, and wrote a memoir of an incredible affair he had with Hollywood screen siren Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening), many years his senior. Their true story is told here in this delicate film which focuses upon Grahame's later years when she has left Hollywood glitz and now acts in theatre. With ailing health she reaches out to her former lover and heads over to Liverpool for some recuperation with Peter's family. The emotional feel and quality of acting in this is a revelation. The leads are perfect together, and Bening shows again why she is one of today's top actors. Julie Walters is adorable as Peter's compassionate mum. As a glimpse into the terrible tyranny of aging, especially for someone once so beautiful, this is heartbreaking stuff, as is the tender romance which speaks of a love beyond mere sexual attraction. I loved this film!
4 - highly recommended!

Red Sparrow
Director: Francis Lawrence
Length: 139 min
© 20th Century Fox - sex, violence and subterfuge - 
a heady mixture!
When Bolshoi dancer Domenika (Jennifer Lawrence) is injured, her high-ranking Uncle forces her into "Sparrow School", a Russian training school for operatives whose art is to seduce in order to get information. Her first assignment, connecting with CIA agent Nash (Joel Edgerton), leads both their countries into a spy-vs spy war of monumentally mind-bending proportions. This is a mixed bag of a film: beautifully shot, overly long, excessively and sadistically violent. The twists, turns and double crosses come thick and fast, but Lawrence anchors it all with with a stand-out steely, sexy performance. Add Jeremy Irons and Ciaran Hinds for extra cast clout.
3 - recommended! 

Alliance Francaise French Film Festival
Melbourne 28 Feb - 27 March
Cinemas: Palace Como, Balwyn, Brighton Bay, Westgarth
For other states, synopses and timetabling visit: or

Mai oui!! It's on again with a splendid line-up of more than fifty films, including an inaugural  LGBT strand. The usual stellar line-up of guests, from actors, directors and screenwriters will also grace the Festival. Once more I'm lucky enough to have previewed several excellent offerings. 

Bloody Milk
90 mins
Compelling drama of young dairy farmer deeply attached to his herd. When they come down with a hemorrhagic illness he does anything to avoid reporting it to authorities. This is an authentic and fascinating glimpse into life in rural France, and the problems of small farms coming up against agribusiness mega-bureaucracy.  
See You Up There
117 mins
Written, directed and starred in by Albert Dupontel, this is a handsome period film about two men who survive WW1 and become friends. One has a ghastly jaw disfigurement, requiring him to create elaborate masks. Together they hatch a plan to sell phony monuments to French towns. A small girl who has an intuition for translating what the damaged man wants to say befriends them. This is moving story-telling, with an edge of surrealism, and a welcome guest appearance by Niels Arenstrup as an estranged father.   
77 mins
The French film maker travels to America to record his half-brother's gender transition from female to male. As part of the inaugural LGBTI thread, this is strong documentary making, with a fearless honesty from Coby. Intriguing, revealing and inspiring. 

© FFF - in a Burgundy vineyard kids learn the subtleties 
of wine tasting young.
Back to Burgundy
113 mins
Renowned director Cedric Klapisch has made a gorgeous movie about three siblings who inherit their father's vineyard in Burgundy. Lovingly capturing the change of seasons and the grape cycle, as well as the bonds and conflicts between the siblings, this is the sort of French film-making I adore. Narrator Jean has returned from Australia to his family home, which gives the film an added frisson of familiarity. 
Numero Une
110 mins
In a brilliant performance Emmanuelle Davos plays Emmanuelle Blachey, a woman aiming to become CEO of a major energy company. With the help of a women's action group she takes on the male-dominated corporate world. Scripting is top-notch, all performances pitch-perfect, and the cut-throat gender war, so timely in today's world, gripping.
Catch the Wind
103 mins
The migrant experience is flipped on its head in this poignant story of a French woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) who volunteers to resettle in Morocco to work, rather than lose her job in the textile factory. Life in Tangiers is fascinating to observe, as are Edith's attempts to make friends and fit in with a dramatically different culture.

The Alliance Francaise French Film Festival is wholeheartedly recommended!

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