Wednesday, 4 April 2018

April 5
Walking Out
Pop Aye

Three very worthy films this week - from the USA, Israel, and Thailand. Two have father/son themes, despite being very different. The third is an elephant lover's delight.
Walking Out
Director: Andrew J Smith & Alex Smith
Length: 95 min
© Icon - strong relationship drama
combined with wilderness thrills. 
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2017, this powerful drama set in the Montana wilderness surprised me, as I'd not heard a peep about it beforehand. David (Josh Wiggins) visits his estranged father Cal (Matt Bomer) for a bit of father/son bonding over a hunting expedition. Aiming to bag a moose, the fellas head off into stunningly beautiful but inhospitable terrain. When both are injured in a terrible accident, they must confront their deeper feelings and tap into inner strengths. Aside from the magnificence of the cinematography, this is a surprisingly moving and tense drama, exploring male relationships (including flashbacks of Cal's relationship with his Dad (Bill Pullman), who taught him hunting skills. There are resonant themes about family and tradition under the surface, and Cal's almost conservationist attitudes to hunting are a pleasant revelation! This is top-level indie American film-making.
4 - highly recommended!

Pop Aye
Director: Kirsten Tan
Length: 102 min
Exclusive to Cinema Nova
© Madman - peripatetic pachyderm treks
across Thailand with his new master
Middle-aged architect Thana (Thaneth Warakulnakroh) is jaded with his life, both maritally and work-wise. When he comes across Popeye, an elephant he knew from his childhood, he buys the animal, leaves Bangkok and heads off across Thailand to the village where both he and Popeye enjoyed their carefree younger years. This tale reminds me a little of a favourite road trip film, The Straight Story. Both feature rambling, meandering journeys, meeting folk and having low-key whimsical encounters. In Thana's case, he comes across a hippie living rough, a transgender woman, and a couple of truck drivers who kindly put the elephant in their truck to spare its sore feet. Bong, who plays Popeye, is the star - appealing and pretty charismatic as far as elephants go. While not a lot happens, there is a melancholy sense of the destruction of much of Thailand's tradition in favour of progress. Maybe reconnecting with an animal could solve the modern malaise of alienation and depression? Pop Aye is a delighful diversion, and jumbo lovers should adore this film. 
3.5 - well recommended!

Director: Matan Yair
Length: 90 min
Exclusive to ACMI and Classic Elsternwick
© JIFF Distribution - powerful teacher/student 
father/son story, set in the working class in Israel
Scaffolding is another film with a strong father/son thematic. Winning numerous Israeli Film Academy Awards, this intense drama is the story of  17-year-old Asher (Asher Lax), a trouble maker at school, and part-time worker for his Dad's scaffolding company. Asher's teacher Rami (Ami Smolartchik) is a kind, gentle man, handling the rowdy non-achieving class of boys with patience and understanding and offering a different model of what it is to be a male. Rami, unbeknown to his pupils, deals with his own demons. Asher is torn between his father's expectations of his entering the family business, and his inspiration from Rami that life may offer other possibilities. This is refreshingly different from many other Israeli films I've seen that deal in politics or religion. It is gritty, and authentic (Yair comes from a teaching background), and is a powerful contribution to the "inspiring teacher" genre of film. Performances from Lax and Smolartchik feel absolutely real, and there is a deep compassion to the story.
4 - highly recommended!

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