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SIGNIS REVIEWS, APRIL 2009
AGE OF STUPID, The
BOAT THAT ROCKED, The
DAMNED UNITED, The
FLASH OF GENIUS
GREAT DEBATERS, The
HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, The
I CAN'T THINK STRAIGHT
LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS
LIFE BEFORE HER EYES
MONSTERS VS ALIENS
PAUL BLART, MALL COP
THE AGE OF STUPID
(UK, 2009, d. Franny Armstrong)
This is a documentary about the environment and the seeming indifference of individuals, societies and governments in the face of global warming and disasters like Hurricane Katrina. We are living in the age of stupid. We are the stupid.
Whether that will entice non-believers in climate change to see the film or whether they will be still in their seats when the lights come up... possibly, no, probably, not. This is a film that preaches to the converted, reinforces the beliefs and standpoints of the converted.
The film-makers have tried a device to make it more audience palatable. After a quick image gallop through time from the Big Bang to 2055 when the world and its population have been almost destroyed including a visual overview of evolution, we are introduced to a survivor who has built an enormous electronic archive safeguarding all human achievement. It is a huge tower in the now unfrozen Arctic. He becomes our host as he goes to his screen and shows us footage from our own times that ought to persuade anyone who observes realities that times and climates are changing. He makes pessimistic comments, he makes pointed accusations. At the end, he offers some hope while suggesting that, if we don't make significant moves, 2015 will be the crisis point, the point of no return. Pete Postlethwaite as the archivist is solemn and, not without reason, sepulchral in his utterances and warnings.
With the present footage, he shows an elderly mountain guide in Chamonix who remembers when there was a lot of snow. He takes an English family hiking on the disappearing glacier. This family has become a pioneer of conscientious response to climate change. They, fortunately, have the means and leisure to control their lifestyle. The husband is an advocate of wind turbines and fights a losing battle with the inhabitants of Bedford who don't want their view spoiled but are still in favour of environmentalism (for others, it seems).
Hurricane Katrina features prominently as well as an oil rig engineer who stayed in his home during the crisis, lost everything but ferried a hundred people to safety. He speaks on behalf of the social outreach by the companies. In the meantime, we move in and out of the developing world, meeting a rich Indian who establishes his own cheap flight airline in India in 2005 and is aware of the enormous carbon footprint. On the other hand, and much more disturbing, we move in and out of Nigeria, where a young woman aims to study as a doctor but is trapped in a continually impoverished area where Shell drills – which leads to government financial corruption, neglect of infrastructure for health and education (often allegedly for fear of kidnapping of personnel).
Which means that the lecture on climate change is too didactic to change attitudes despite the facts and the alarming prognostications. It is always, in films, the stories and the emotional response which sets audiences on the path to reflection and change.
THE BOAT THAT ROCKED
(UK, 2009, d. Richard Curtis)
There are a number of features here that will interest potential audiences. The film is directed by Richard Curtis, writer for so many Mr Bean comedies, Blackadder, French and Saunders, Four Weddings, Notting Hill, Love Actually – and The Vicar of Dibley. It has a starry British cast led by Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Rhys Ifans, Emma Thompson plus Philip Seymour Hoffman. It is about Rock and Roll and the pirate radios in the North Sea in the 1960s which played music 24 hours a day and had an enormous following until they were banned and put out of business in mid-1967. Those young at the time may well want to re-live it.
It's very long. And, just when it seemed to be ending and we would receive information about what the British Government did and the consequences, it goes on for another half hour, defying the government, springing a huge leak and moving from Titanic mode to a neo-Dunkirk rescue. Which, in terms of the historic realities seems a bit too much of a claim. In this era of verbal sensitivities, it is surprising to hear Philip Seymour Hoffman say to Rhys Ifans, that the 'holocaust' taking place in Vietnam will be as nothing to the egotistical duel they will fight with each other to prove that one is chicken. And their silly clash takes up a (un)fair amount of time.
In fact, the screenplay does not seem as funny as it hopes to be – and there are some crass bits which may be how people talked back then (or not). This may be because the characters deep down are not all that interesting. Radio Rock is a ship out in the North Sea, with Bill Nighy as the proprietor and a staff of men only (except for the lesbian cook) with eager women arriving on Saturdays for rest(lessness) and recreation. And the men are a motley lot of eccentrics (except for naïve young Carl (Tom Sturridge) who has been sent by his mother to experience, well, being a 1966 English man, whatever that is meant to be). They are absolutely devoted to their music and their programs – and, we are shown frequently a huge range of fans from every walk of life from school kids to an Asian Londoner in his shop.
Curtis tends to make them icons of pop culture, heroes of counterculture, which probably sentimentalises them far more than they deserve. Looking at them, listening to them, their adolescent behaviour, cracks, their bickering, they are actually a bunch of ratbags that you probably would want to meet only on the screen rather than in real life.
During the film, with the sex talk and shenanigans, a phrase that was often used in reviews of the past floated into mind, 'low moral tone'. And it is. While trying to avoid being too puritanical or commenting on the music itself, we might see the film as a celebration of a low moral tone.
Though it is a serious caricature, Kenneth Branagh's exaggerated cabinet minister on the warpath to exterminate Radio Rock at all costs (including their lives), became one of the more entertaining, even funny, aspects of the film. But even his assistants were given crass names to fit in with the proceedings.
So, a disappointment, considering the potential.
(UK, 2008, d. Nicholas Winding Refn)
No, not that Bronson. Although this Bronson, allegedly Britain's most famous and notorious prisoner, changed his name from Michael Peterson, to Charles Bronson. The reasons why are at the core of this film. The director says that he was interested in the concept of Peterson's use of the name, Charles Bronson, rather than in Michael Peterson.
This film is tough going. It is also an example of excellent filmic communication and cinema art. It is just who will want to submit themselves to this exploration of the criminal mind and behaviour that is the question.
As played by Tom Hardy in what is certainly a dramatic tour-de-force, both in acting and in performance art, Bronson is both a character and a symbol. While we initially see him naked in his cell shadow boxing (and he did become an expert on physical fitness – as well as being a pugnacious brute) and finish with him in solitary, bloodied and defiant, this is a stylised portrait of the man. Throughout the film, there is theatricality where Bronson is on stage in a theatre, framed by the proscenium and then looking out to a darkened auditorium of well-to-do, well-dressed patrons who eventually applaud him. But he is not only playing to them, he is playing them. He can smile and instantly turn grim. He can pretend to weep and reveal that he is laughing. He is made up as a clown at times. At other times, he uses the means of one profile being himself and turning for the other profile as a different character. These devices mean that Bronson both intrigues and repels (but rarely, if at all, elicits sympathy).
He sketches in his ordinary life, especially in the mid-70s, but he is a bully at school, molly-coddled by his mother, flirts, marries, has a child, attempts a robbery and is gaoled for seven years.
Once in gaol, despite his taunting the authorities and using his fists wherever possible, he is at home. The system gives him a framework for life. He wants some acknowledgement. He wants fame. He wants celebrity. He is moved from prison to prison. He is transferred to an institution for the criminally insane, but drugged and helpless, he wants out of there and is declared sane. He has a two months period where he is out of gaol in the 1980s, is taken up by a club owner, re-named Charles Bronson with Death Wish overtones – he had originally wanted Charlton Heston but was told that this was too weak – and fights illegal bare-knuckle bouts. But, robbing a jeweller's shop, he is soon back where he feels he really belongs.
In fact, Peterson-Bronson? has become an artist and has published eleven books. But, most of his time has been in solitary. We see his erratic behaviour in his taking a librarian hostage, doing art classes and then humiliating his teacher by holding him hostage as well and painting him as an art object. The director has made the observation that to understand Bronson, he can be seen as an artist searching for his life's art canvas.
Nicolas Winding Refn has made some tough Danish films about drug criminals, the Pusher series. Here he brings a visual artist's eye to his use of colour, framing scenes, using very long takes so that the audience has time to contemplate Bronson and other characters and try to imagine what they are thinking or feeling. The blend of realism and stylised film-making lead to a striking film.
CHERRY BLOSSOMS (KIRSCHBLUTEN/HANAMI)
(Germany, 2007, d. Doris Dorrie)
I hope that many audiences find this a very moving film.
The subjects are ageing, the generations of families, tensions, differing cultures and, especially, death.
Doris Dorrie has made many popular films in Germany as well as documentaries. This film, with a small budget, a limited crew, and, working in Germany and Japan, experienced rugged conditions in process but has achieved great feeling and beauty.
The Japanese motif is in the title and in Trudi (a marvellous Hannelore Elsner) wanting to visit Japan where he favourite son works and to see the blossoms at Mt Fujiyama. But, her husband Rudi (Elmar Wepper, also very convincing) is a man of strict, even rigid habits, and does not like 'adventures'. However, they do go to visit two children in Berlin and find that the children find them a burden and are too preoccupied and busy to put themselves out for their parents though the son is glad to see them, the daughter not. In fact, it is her partner who is the most considerate. Trudi and Rudi go to the Baltic for a beach break.
An unexpected event changes the drama and the dynamic of the film and a transition to Japan. While the focus is on Rudi (and we miss Trudi very much while she is not on screen, as he does) and his transformation by Japanese culture and a Butoh dancer (Butoh is a 1960s development of dance and mime that expresses deep inner feelings), an art form that is dear to Trudi.
Doris Dorrie gave an interview on the film's release. She had visited Japan with her daughter and was charmed and fascinated. She made parts of two films there. Her husband was her cinematography. He husband died and she was grief-stricken but found comfort in Butoh dance which she first saw in a television program, especially Butoh's emotion in stylised form that indicated a re-enactment of the past, embodying a deep union between people who loved each other long and deeply. Her words enhance the experience of her film which brings all this together and more.
Doris Dorrie also acknowledges her debt to classical Japanese cinema, especially the films of Ozu and his Tokyo Story whose plot this film resembles.
Older audiences will identify with the characters and their situations. Younger audiences will identify with the children, even if they don't wish to.
THE DAMNED UNITED
(UK, 2009,d. Tom Hooper)
No problems for English audiences as long as they have a good knowledge of football and football history (which they tend to). A first problem for a non-English audience is wondering who is the United team, anyway. In recent history, it has been Manchester United which has been at the top. But this damned United is not Manchester. So, for the non-initiated, it is Leeds United who were the champions in the late 1960s, early 1970s.
With the identity problem out of the way, we next face the problem of Brian Clough. Once again the English know who the subject of the film is (the way that Americans know instantly the baseball champions whose lives are transferred to the screen when the rest of the world is none the wiser). Well, after watching The Damned United (and it is certainly a film that many will find worth watching), we know who Brian Clough was – and are fascinated that a man you probably would not particularly want to meet had such an impact on the game.
So, this is what the film is: a portrait of Brian Clough.
Since he is played by Michael Sheen, that in itself is a recommendation these days. In recent years, Sheen has excelled as Tony Blair (The Deal, The Queen), as David Frost (Frost/Nixon), as Kenneth Williams (Fantabulosa) – and as Lucian the head of the Lycans in the Underworld series! Once again, Sheen creates a distinctive personality. And, once again, he is speaking lines written by Peter Morgan (The Deal, The Queen, Longford, The Other Boleyn Girl, Frost/Nixon). This is quite a powerful combination.
Based on a novel by David Peace (The Red Riding books), Morgan illustrates Clough's character by showing him taking over as manager of Leeds United after years of envy of them and their coach Don Revie (Colm Meaney excellent in the role) who has been appointed England manager. The screenplay keeps going back to the late 60s with Clough's amazing achievement of bringing Derby Country from the third division to the first. He works with assistant Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall also excellent) who has a talent for recognising good players. Clough goes over the head of the chairman of the Club (Jim Broadbent in another excellent performance) in recruiting players.
But Clough has a huge ego, has a loud mouth, is consumed by ambition to beat Revie who had ignored him at a match. He antagonises the Derby Board, clashes with Peter Taylor and, on arrival at Leeds, finds no co-operation with the players who are still loyal to Revie.
There is enough drama here to interest non-footballers as well as the fans. The performances are worth seeing and the downfall (all his own fault) of a man with talent and potential makes one reflect.
(US, 2008, d. Terry Kinney)
A light little film. This is not meant to belittle it in any way but to let potential audiences know that it is not a blockbuster nor an art-house serious film but a pleasing, small comedy-drama.
Several of the characters are operating with diminished intellectual capacity. Others have diminished emotional capacity.
Cooper (Matthew Broderick who surprisingly is now nearer 50 than 40) is struggling with his writing job in Chicago after being injured trying to make peace in a bar brawl. He goes to a therapist but his delayed concussion is taking a long time to heal, especially his short-term memory. His mother (Lois Smith) asks him to come back to Missouri because his Uncle Rollie, is showing many signs of dementia. With Alan Alda at his best as Uncle Rollie, we get an admittedly eccentric portrait of growing old, mixing memories and losing memories. Back home, Cooper's childhood sweetheart, Charlotte (Virginia Madsen) has a ten year old but is separated from her husband. Her alcoholic brother, Donnie (Jim True-Frost), has diminshed capacity as well.
No, there are not too many surprises there.
The focus of the drama is a valuable baseball card, treasured by Uncle Rollie and a secret (except that all the town knows and Donnie keeps trying to steal it).
Off they all troop to Chicago to sell the card at a baseball fair. There they meet the rogue dealer (Bobby Cannavale) and a symphathetic dealer who is in despair over the poor form of the Chicago cubs (Dylan Baker). Will Uncle Rollie lose the card? Will he be tricked? (Of, course, he will.) Will everything turn out all right? No prophetic powers required for the answer.
It's the pleasure of being in Missouri and then in Chicago. It's the pleasure of watching a genial cast. It's the pleasure of quietly watching how it all turns out. The sad message of the film about all of us growing old is that Cooper can recover but Uncle Rollie and the whole family will have to come to terms with his diminishing capacity.
(US, 2009, d. Tony Gilroy)
Despite the poor grammar, one of the advertising taglines for Duplicity is 'Who's playing who?'. That needs to be kept in mind right up to the final credits. This is one of those films which requires constant attention. If you let your mind wander, you miss a step in the game-playing between the central characters and their companies. With the screenplay out to be duplicitous for the audience, it plays the audience and shows them a variety of scenes that need to be reinterpreted in the light of subsequent events – or, because there are a number of flashbacks, some of them deceptive as well, in the light of previous events.
Pre opening credits, an MI6 agent and a covert spy have a brief encounter and a night's liaison in Dubai in 2003. They meet again in New York in 2008 and clash because she says she can't remember him. They are both now involved in industrial espionage for two rival global cosmetic companies. We realise this more strongly as we watch the credits and a tarmac slow motion battle between the two presidents of the corporations. They then go head to head behind the scenes for the rest of the film as the two industrial spies work covertly and try to steal a formula for a miracle cure.
Maybe you have seen this story before but that does not really matter. What matters is that the two spies are Julia Roberts and Clive Owen (who had appeared some years before in Mike Nichols' Closer). They obviously relish playing off each other both in love and war, keeping each other wondering whether they can trust each other – and we sharing this wondering and asking ourselves who is in control and what will be the outcome. It also matters that the two industrialists are played by Tom Wilkinson (who had received an Oscar nomination for his role in director Tony Gilroy's previous film, Michael Clayton) and that very versatile actor, Paul Giamatti, who has an opportunity to chew the scenery in a kind of Oscar-bid performance.
The settings for the encounters between the two spies are touristic and colourful, including Rome, London, the Bahamas, Zurich and by way of glamour contrast, Cleveland.
Tony Gilroy has written a number of screenplays, including the Bourne trilogy. He knows how to construct deceptive puzzles and some smart dialogue.
While the intrigue, the romance, the uncertainty and the conspiracy theories are always attention-grabbing, ultimately one brings a moral perspective to these highly immoral and amoral characters and their behaviour: so much energy, ingenuity and planning for greed and power. What if all that effort and all that wealth were put to good use for the benefit of people in need? The world could be so much better without the intrigue and lust for money.
FLASH OF GENIUS
(US, 2008, d. Marc Abrahams)
The term 'flash of genius' comes from United States Patent Law. The US requires that an inventor be able to show authorities not just that they have created something new and want to protect it but that they can demonstrate what was the moment of the flash of genius when they thought of their invention and followed through.
The particular flash for this film is that for developing intermittent windscreen wipers that kept the windscreen clear even in the worst of rain. Like many inventions we take for granted, someone had to realise the need and develop the technology to achieve it. (My nominee for a Nobel Prize for science or for engineering would be for the inventors of wheels on suitcases.) The man concerned was Robert Kerns, an engineer and lecturer in Detroit who wanted to make his mark with something creative and who (on his way home from Mass where he was an usher and a collection bearer) experienced beating rain in the car with his wife and six children and thought that there could be better windscreen wiper protection.
Some audiences may not feel that they want to spend a lot of time watching experiments to perfect the rate of intermittent wiping. Some may also feel that they are not up to the technical language in the invention and testing phase as well as in the courtroom sequences. However, the screenplay aims at being lay-friendly.
Kerns, who could be rather prickly in his interactions with people, even though he is played by one of the most genial American actors, Greg Kinnear, closely guarded his research and his early attempts to perfect the wipers and their timing. Persuaded by his friend and partner, spare parts entrepreneur, Gil Privick (Dermot Mulroney), he goes into discussions with Ford. All seems to be going well. His wife is supportive. His older sons help with the testing. He is given the green light to produce his invention. Then suddenly Ford opts out.
The film actually opens with Kerns in a state of mental collapse, and the first half of the film shows the invention and Ford years leading to the collapse. The second half of the film is about Kerns and his many years' obsession against the Ford company, not so much interested in money but in getting the acknowledgement for his intellectual property. And obsessive he becomes. The tension with his wife (Lauren Graham) becomes palpable. His oldest son loathes him. He exasperates Privick and his wife, his lawyers (a cameo by Alan Alda) and everyone around him. Rather than settle outside court, he spends years preparing to take Ford to legal justice and conducts his own defence, with the assistance of his now sympathetic children.
The climax, as in so many American films (one might call them Capraesque after those films of Frank Capra which finished with some assertion of the human spirit but which, nevertheless, acknowledged much sadness and bitterness), is in court hearings and important speeches. It is also, to use the cliché, David versus Goliath.
There must be many American inventors who appreciate the fight Kerns conducted against Ford allowing them to rightly claim what they created. However, the film leaves the question as to the enormous emotional cost, loss of family and submerging oneself in an uncertain legal world for so many years. This film is an interesting tribute and a celebration of a blessing, but a mixed blessing.
(UK, 2009, d. Michael Winterbottom)
There are so many films that don't leap off the advertisement as 'must see' but, if you happen into them or, later, see them on television or rent them, you are glad that you did. Not everyone will like them. It depends on interests and moods. Genova is one of those films. I am glad I saw it.
The Genova of the title is indeed the city anglicised as Genoa. It is not the most beautiful of Italian cities but it has a great deal of history (Columbus, trade...) and atmosphere. By the end of the film, we do feel that we have visited and lived in the city for a while and have a feel for it and the surrounding sea and beaches and mountains.
Michael Winterbottom makes all kinds of genre films (political like The Road to Guantanomo, In This World), dramas (Wonderland), classic comedy (A Cock and Bull Story). This time it is a family drama.
When the mother (Hope Davis) is killed in a car accident, the father (Colin Firth) decides to take his two daughters from Chicago to Genova where he will lecture at the university, with the help of an old friend (Catherine Keener) and the two girls will go to school there.
There is a lot of edginess because the younger daughter blames herself for her mother's death and suffers from nightmares and sees her mother sometimes in the streets. The older daughter blames her sister and is at that precocious teen age where she wants to be with boys, lies to her father and pressurises her sister to conceal her behaviour. Father and daughters are still grieving and, despite counselling, have not come to terms at all with their mother's death and absence. Genova is both a welcoming city for them to make a new start but the camera keeps reminding us that it can also be sinister, with its narrow alleys and darkness where people can get lost.
Colin Firth has one of his better roles. Catherine Keener is always good. The two girls, however, are very real. Willa Raymond is the pretty, pouting and wilful teenager and Perla Haney- Jardine is a strong screen presence and communicates her fears, her guilty feelings, he nightmares and her sobs most convincingly.
Most audiences will be able to identify with the situations and find a character that they empathise with and understand.
THE GREAT DEBATERS
(US, 2007, d. Denzel Washington)
Like the first film directed by Denzel Washington, Antwone Fisher, another film well worth seeing for its social consciousness, The Great Debaters had very limited release outside the United States. Admittedly, the subjects and treatment are particularly American, African American, but both films offer themes and treatment that make their characters and stories more universal as well.
Americans may know this story of Wiley College, Texas, in 1935, and its successful debating team, undefeated for several years, as well as the stories of their trainer and the debaters who all went on to significant roles in the Civil Rights campaigns. If one does not know this, it comes as pleasing information at the end of the film.
Some criticism of the film came from those who thought it should be harder hitting, a tough, challenging film on oppression and rights. However, the writer, Robert Eisele, and director and star, Denzel Washington, have opted for storytelling that reaches a wider audience, a more popular audience, which will absorb the message but will not experience too much of the rage (though that is certainly there in the film). Oprah Winfrey is one of the producers and the film is geared to her enormous television audience.
That said, there are some very strong themes of the oppression, the humiliation and the violence by white Americans towards the black Americans. The film might not generate rage but it does provoke indignation and a feeling that this is not right and rights and human dignity are all important.
The Great Debaters presents a cross-section of African Americans in Texas of the 1930s, the poor sharecroppers, the emerging student body that was going to college, the educated and better-off professionals who teach at college, who are lawyers and people of influence.
Denzel Washington plays Melvin Tolson, teacher at Wiley who trains the debaters. It is a genial role for Wahsington who is able to be charming, articulate, intelligent and, unbeknownst to others in the town, an activist for unions for the sharecroppers. The principal members of this team, which went on to victory, are Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), a loner who has a wild side but is a voracious reader with a memory for quotations, Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett) whose ambition it is to be a lawyer, and 14 year old James Farmer Jr (Denzel Whitaker), a genially tubby young man, excellent as a researcher and then speaker whose father (Forest Whitaker) teaches theology at Wiley.
We see their training, their debating, their progress and the extending of their debates from Texas, to Oklahoma and, eventually, to Harvard. This is not without personal cost, friendships and clashes. And, in the background, the hostile whites, the sheriff and the Texas Rangers and the threat of protest and riots. There are also grim images of a lynching.
The film is well acted, beautifully shot, with stimulating dialogue (especially in the lessons, the discussions and the statements and rebuttals in the debates about key issues, including civil disobedience).
A pity that it has not been seen more widely.
THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT
(US, 2009, d. Peter Cornwell)
It begins with those ominous words, 'Based on a true story'. Unless you are prone to believe everyone and everything, you will take this with a grain of salt. However, there is enough to savour here, that you won't take this fictional film with that grain.
One of the troubles with horror films in recent years is that so many of them are really horrible, in tone, in language and in gory details. Many ordinary audiences would walk out (allowing that some of them have actually walked in).
But, film-makers have always known that many audiences, even respectable audiences, like a scary story and enjoy jumping at some shocks. These films rely on atmosphere and characters rather than indulge in the gruesome. Recently, The Uninvited worked quite well with an unanticipated (at least to most of us) twist.
The Haunting in Connecticut does not offer twists but opens with suggestions of mysterious happenings in a building back in the 1920s – and all becomes clear by the end. Actually, every reviewer and commentator has mentioned that they were reminded of The Amityville Horror. And, that is right. It is a variation on that treatment of a haunted house.
Where this film has an advantage is that it is telling a story about a teenager with terminal cancer (Kyle Gallner) who has been accepted into experimental treatment and needs to stay near the hospital as the radiation therapy makes him nauseous and sick. The empty house seems inexpensive and handily close, so mother (Virginia Madsen), children and a cousin move in with the father staying at work but visiting.
Well, things go bump in the night and soon the sick boy is subject to morose moods and strange behaviour. He meets a pastor (Elias Koteas) who also has cancer and he becomes involved in trying to 'exorcise' the evil from the house.
At first the film suggests its horror as if focuses on the domestic story and draws audience sympathy for the boy and the family. After an hour, things become rather more creepy with a couple of jumps, threats to the family and a revelation of what was going on in the haunted house.
In the United States, the classification is PG 13 which indicates that it is not alarming or disgusting as too many other horror films are.
(UK, 2009, d. Mark Tonderai)
An overnighter. And an overnight that starts quite ordinarily (even in the UK rain on the M1) but turns into a nightmare.
Actually, the first twenty minutes are not all that promising as writer-director, Mark Tonderai, wants to establish his characters. He, Zakes (Will Ash), is quite irritating to his girlfriend, Beth (Christine Bottomley), as well as to the audience. A would-be writer, he doesn't write but travels the countryside to put posters in display cases in shopping centres. He is not too good on commitment and not too sensitive to Beth's feelings. Not that she is not irritating too. She is something of a whiner. So far, so not so good.
When Zakes catches a glimpse of a woman in a cage in the back of a lorry that passes them, it all seems to get out of hand. They follow, ring the police, try to get the numberplate and Zakes veers between heroic pursuit and thinking he has done his duty by calling the police. Disgruntled Beth thinks he should do more.
When they stop at one of those shopping centres built over the motorway, the film improves, although Zakes' behaviour becomes a mixture of the impulsive, the dumb (and dumberer) and the heroic. Beth disappears.
What follows is the nightmare part as Zakes pursues the truck presuming that Beth has been abducted. This leads him along the motorway, off the motorway, rescuing an escapee from the truck, enlisting the help of an elderly couple on a remote farm and finally a confrontation with the driver which builds up some tension and ends with one of the most literally crushing blows on screen. A pity that some people rushed out before the post-script during the credits which ties up a loose end from the shopping centre.
So, by the middle and, definitely by the end, a much better terror tale than we first thought.
I CAN'T THINK STRAIGHT
(UK, 2008, d. Shamim Sarif)
The play on words in the title (which some will not pick up at once) indicates themes of sexual identity. More and more films have tackled these issues, especially as young people struggle with finding their identity, experience confusion, experience hostility and find themselves in psychological and moral binds. Cinema has different ways of dramatising the theme, documentary, serious drama, or lighter dramas that offer characters to be identified with as well as the dramatising of fear, suspicion and rejection.
Writer-director, Shamim Sarif, has opted for the romantic drama. One of the dangers of this choice is that the plot and its entanglements may seem more than a little like soap opera with its melodramatic flourishes and its sometimes arch and 'staged' dialogue. Something of this happens with I Can't Think Straight. (In her second film, The World Unseen, with the same actresses, she is more successful by using the telenovella format rather than the soap serial.)
The director has a task on her hands because she is presenting a same-sex love story where one partner is a Palestinian living in Jordan with some Christian background and where the other is a Muslim Indian living in London. Issues of religion and culture are important, especially for women, many of whom experience oppression at the best of times.
By opting for the romantic drama, Sharim Sarif has also chosen affluent worlds and materially comfortable lives which puts the action at one remove from most audiences: lavish parties in Jordanian mansions, visits to Oxford, polo tournaments, book signings, and no end to fashionable clothes. This is the world of Santa Barbara or other serials which have an enormous following but are not likely to be labelled as reality.
This means that we get a glossy tale and treatment where the protagonists experience great difficulties – especially from caricature mothers, the narrow Indian who thinks only of making successful marriage matches and a Cruella de Ville of a Jordanian, anti-Israel, imperious wife and mother. Actually, it is the men who are instantly kind and understanding, both fathers and sympathetic former boyfriends.
(Australia/US, 2009, d. Alex Proyas)
Knowing is something of a sign of contradiction with some fans and critics really enthusing and others giving up on it completely. The more philosophical aspects of the plot seem to cause the most hostility with some Americans likening its 'message' to fundamentalist Christianity or to Scientology. It would seem that bits of dialogue and some of the images with biblical background have spooked many commentators into denunciations.
The production company is called 'Ezekiel Productions' so the makers obviously have an eye on biblical references. Ezekiel was the prophet who was asked to eat the scroll of the word of God after seeing images of what he called 'something like the glory of God' (chariot wheels and symbolic animals) which is there in the art work that the elderly Lucinda, the girl with mysterious powers, contemplated. And, the latter chapters of Ezekiel, with battles at Megiddo, are a source for Armageddon images.
With the father of John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) being a minister, there are themes of religion, prayer, questioning of God's will because of deaths and disasters. Much as this reviewer likes to unearth religious references in films, I would be hesitant to attribute too much Christianity to the writers and director. The images of the Judaeo-Christian? tradition have entered the public domain and are available as metaphors for every artist, religious or non-religious.
Actually, it would seem to me that movie traditions and references have more impact and meaning than the religious in Knowing. It is definitely a movie for science fiction and fantasy fans and they will be lining up all the references, connections, homages and borrowings. This line of interpretation seems much more relevant than too much 'Left Behind Apocalyptic' theology – yes, there is apocalypse, there are overtones of revelation, there is an afterlife perspective (though limited to the galaxies rather than heaven). Looking at some comments on the IMDb (as one does!), we find questions of why the strangers are either gay or Aryan Nazi in appearance! (Why not just say that they are reminiscent of The Matrix?) Many writers seem to be creating a Knowing Cabbalah.
So, the film itself. In 1959, a class group buries a time capsule to be opened in the dim distant future (2009!!). Ageism!! An envelope with a page of numbers is among the contents and it is handed to schoolboy, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury – who appeared as a young Benjamin Button). His father John is a scientist at MIT and, as with anyone who has watched Numbers, there is a code to be found. The 9/11/2001 does the trick. Disasters. And the worst is due in a few days.
The plot moves reasonably quickly and audiences are caught up in John's desperate attempts to stop the disasters – but he finishes up witnessing them. And we witness them, an extraordinary special effects plane crash and its aftermath and an even more frightening runaway train ploughing into a station in the New York subway. These are most impressively and alarmingly filmed as are other sequences like deer fleeing from a burning forest.
The other aspect of the plot is the finding of the daughter of the girl who wrote the numbers. John and Caleb track her down only to be introduced into a world of whisperers from another planet who communicate information to the two children. What will happen? Will the world end? And, in biblical language, who will be saved?
The fans, especially if they liked director Alex Proyas' other films, Dark City, The Crow and I Robot, will be ticking off Deep Impact (which the plot does more than resemble), Armageddon, The Matrix, Close Encounters and The Day the Earth Stood Still (which the plot also does more than resemble).
Which means that Knowing is firmly in the dark science fiction tradition of the world under threat from nature (this time a less than veiled image of climate change) plus some transcendent elements which, especially in the final images of hope and of disaster, have some biblical evocation (rather than propaganda).
Most of the film, after second unit work in New York and Massachussets, was made in Melbourne and includes Australian actors like Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelssohn and Alan Hopgood in central roles.
LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS
(UK, 2009, d. Patrick Claydon)
Subtle, it ain't.
Well, we knew that from the title. However, we might have hoped for an amusing, even clever, parody of vampire films in the vein of Polanski's Fearless Vampire Killers or in the spirit of Ghostbusters. Not to be.
In interviews, the writers of this film mentioned what they wanted to see when they were 15 year olds, getting excited at the prospect of some titillation and some gore. Well, at last they have caught up with their 15 year old desires. Their two 20 something characters, however, could set 15 as a goal. Maturity and responsibility are not yet part of their vocabulary or experience.
Which means we watch these two rather witless types (one of whom has been destined to rid the village in Norfolk, even the UK or the world, of the lesbian vampires including Le Fanu's Camilla and her cohorts) performing as if it were a scratch concert somebody impulsively decided to put on. The actors have reputations for stage work and TV comedy but this will do little to enhance their CVs. Matthew Horne's character is described as 'hapless' but their other things he has 'less' of, including personality. He performs deadpan, or rather as semi-inert. James Corden has the advantage of not being skinny and so can do self-deprecating jokes in the verbal and off-hand manner of Dawn French. But they're not that funny.
Paul Mc Gann looks terribly serious as the vampire hunting vicar but the rest of the cast just ham it up.
With an eye on the horror films of the past, especially the Hammer tradition, the film is reminiscent of those films to look at. But many of them were seriously tongue-in-cheek with the touch of parody and camp style already. You have to work hard to parody parody. This one takes too much for granted and seems lame.
THE LIFE BEFORE HER EYES
(US, 2009, d. Vadim Perelman)
We have to pay attention to the art lecture that Uma Thurman gives on Paul Gauguin during this film. She asks her students what questions it is asking: about life and its meaning. She explains that his visual style seems to blend reality and the imagination. That is a helpful indicator of what is going on in The Life Before Her Eyes. When we listen to the lecture by the philosopher professor, we might realise exactly what is going on.
During the credits there are bright close-ups of flowers and this close-up (often extreme close-up) technique continues during the whole film. The images are very detailed and vivid.
Diana is a high school flirt with a seriously bad reputation, clever but avoiding studies for boys and the 'good life'. She is played with verve by Evan Rachel Wood. We also see Diana in her early 30s, married with a daughter, an art teacher who never left the town she grew up in, despite all her declarations of wanting to get out. However, she is haunted by a Columbine-like tragedy when a berserk young student shot dead many of the students and teachers.
The scenes of the massacre, both the close-up confrontation between the shooter and Diana and her friend, Maureen, in the school ladies' and in the panic outside, bring home the horrors and uncertainties of such a violent event.
Uma Thurman brings poise to the role of the older Diana even when she is fearful and paranoid about her husband and the safety of her young daughter. Eva Amurri (Susan Sarandon's daughter who looks and acts quite like her mother) gives strong support as the religious and principled Maureen.
When the audience realises what is happening and the nature of Diana's story, all the parts fit together quite satisfyingly.
A brief film, intended principally for a women's audience, but interesting because of the connection between the younger Diana and her rather different older counterpart.
(UK, 2008, d. Paul Morrison.)
Here is a film about the early adult years of poet and playwright, Federico Garcia Lorca, and the eccentric artist, Salvador Dali. Film director Luis Bunuel also appears in many of the sequences, their friend, falling out with them, and a reconciliation with Lorca before Lorca’s death.
The film was directed by Paul Morrison, a psychiatrist, who went into documentary film-making and made some feature films including Solomon and Gaynor, in Welsh, a nominee for best foreign language film for the Oscars. It was a Romeo and Juliet-style love story set in a Welsh village. He then directed a warm-hearted film about anti-Semitism in London in the 1960s as well as the plight of migrants from Jamaica. It was also about cricket, Wondrous Oblivion, with Delroy Lindo.
This film is very different. It was lushly photographed in Spanish settings. The dialogue is in English although some of Lorca’s poems are spoken in Spanish with an English voice-over.
The film recreates the atmosphere in Madrid in the early 1920s, the young intellectuals, their sense of revolution against church, government, military dominance. This was to bring Lorca into great difficulty with the government during the 1930s, his socialist sympathies, his being arrested and executed during the Spanish civil war.
The film recreates the artistic atmosphere as well as going out into the beautiful Spanish countryside of the north as well as Andalusia where Garcia Lorca came from.
Javier Beltran, who had appeared only in a Spanish television series, is quite persuasive as Garcia Lorca. He is pensive, creative. However, gradually he becomes aware of his sexual orientation and his love for Salvador Dali which was rejected. (Dali in his later years admitted to some kind of relationship with Garcia Lorca, an ambiguous confession, which forms the basis for the screenplay of this film.) Luis Bunuel was well known as condemning homosexuality and his critique of Garcia Lorca.
Robert Pattinson (from the Harry Potter films) portrays Dali in a most interesting way, his complete self-absorption, his eccentricities, his vanity as well as his creativity. While the film focuses on his ambiguous relationship with Garcia Lorca, it shows the influence of Bunuel in taking him to Paris (where they collaborated on Bunuel’s famous short film, Un Chien Andalou), his marriage to the Russian Gala and the intimations of his subsequent career.
Bunuel, however, while in the film is more on the periphery than the playwright and the artist.
The film moves into the 1930s with the rumblings for civil war, the consequences for Garcia Lorca, his taking his plays to the people and their public performances and the popular support for his work. It is a tragedy that he was abducted so quickly and at the beginning of the civil war and his immediate influence ended. However, his reputation lives on. Dali and Bunuel, because they lived longer and created a greater body of work, are much better known than Garcia Lorca.
MONSTERS VS ALIENS
(US, 2009, d. Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon)
It sounds like one of those old (very old) B- Budget science fiction movies from the 1950s – and basic plot-wise it is more or less the same. But, budget-wise, it is very, very different. This is a brightly animated entertainment for the family, sharply drawn with a colourful production design and filmed in 3D. Not that the 3D is essential. Apart from a worker in Antarctica batting a ball into our faces, the main effect of the 3D is the beauty and eerieness of outer space.
The monsters are near-relatives of Monsters Inc, so to speak. There is a huge but benign insect monster who turns into a butterfly. There is The Missing Link, a genial kind of cross between a fish and a comedian. There is Dr Cockroach who was a top scientist, experimented on himself and exited from his machine as a mad-scientist-cockroach. Then there is a genial globule blob of what looks like blue jelly with one eye, B.O.B.. And their voices are very good indeed: Will Arnett as Link, Hugh Laurie, very British as Dr Cockroach and Seth Rogen being, well, Seth Rogen as B.O.B. (who has most of the funny lines).
But the intrepid heroine is Susan, voiced by Reese Witherspoon, who is engaged to self-centred local TV News Anchor, Derek (voiced by Paul Rudd), but who, just before her wedding, witnesses a meteor crash and absorbs a powerful chemical that turns her into the 50 ft woman. US Security demands that she be impounded in the Monster Centre with Link and co. The installation is run by macho, red-neck General Monger (and Kiefer Sutherland sounds as if he had a really good time voicing him). When an alien spaceship arrives and rebuffs the US President (Stephen Colbert) who tries to play the tune from Close Encounters as a wewlcome, General Monger urges the government to use the Monsters to combat Galaxhar (Rainn Wilson), the egocentric alien commander.
The rest of the film shows the antics and adventures of the Monsters in confronting Galaxhar and (would you believe it!) winning.
It's not the best of recent animation comedies and 3D shows, but it is lightly entertaining.
PAUL BLART: MALL COP
(US, 2009, d. Steve Carr)
Who is Paul Blart? And how has be persuaded Americans to part with over $100,000,000 in a few weeks to come to see him? What is his appeal?
If one were to answer that Paul Blart is a short, weighty, bumbling mall security guard, hypoglycemic, who failed police academy training but who is terribly conscientious and works by the book, it would be true but would not answer the question. We get nearer an answer when we note that he is played by Kevin James the star of the popular TV show, The King of Queens, who has appeared in some films like Hitch with Will Smith and several Adam Sandler comedies. Here he is launching out on his own (in a film produced by Sandler's company) to test whether he can sustain a star role and entertain people. It looks as though he has succeeded.
One of Kevin James' advantages on screen, with his serious demeanour (though he does a pretty versatile drunk scene when he has imbibed unwittingly) is that he is basically very likeable and, as the film proceeds, is really a gentleman with more than a touch of sensitivity and sweetness. The female audience, like the heroine, Amy (Jayma Mays), will warm to him.
And the male audience? Yes. Anyone who really doesn't look like Brad Pitt or, from another Twilight generation, Robert Pattinson (that really being all of us) can identify with him in his hopes, his loneliness, his tentative courting, his doing a job which is down to earth (even if he overdoes the policing) – and his capacity for filling his emotional voids with food. But, he is a decent man.
Just when we might be wondering where this is going and whether we are going to spend ninety minutes at the mall, securing customer safety and training his dumb apprentice, or at home with Paul's mother and daughter, a Die Hard plot comes to the rescue and the mall is under siege (with a surprise leader). We knew that Bruce Willis could save the day (as he has done in many days and movies later) but, Paul Blart?
The screenplay, which has some good moments of humour (check the security boss and his notebook of hopefully cutting rispostes to the overbearing SWAT leader), is smart enough to know that credibility is strained if the hero overcomes armed and athletic opponents with a series of accidents. This time, Paul keeps telling himself to think and uses his wits, his rules and a range of mall equipment for sale to vanquish. Since we identify with him in his ordinariness, we can pat ourselves on the back to think that, maybe, we could do something like this if we found ourselves in such a situation. It's the dreams of the movies, but pleasant PG-rated, family friendly entertainment this time.
Many people will see it in a mall multiplex and should feel nicely at home. Kevin James has done a good job.
(US, 2008, d. Larry Charles)
As the title indicates, the filmmakers want us to approach this documentary on religion with a sense of the ridiculous.
The interviewer, Bill Maher, is well-known to American television audiences. He is a stand-up comedian become interviewer who has an agenda but who takes the trouble to find people that he does not agree with (especially in politics) and interviews them, sardonically but in a friendly way, usually, but being provocative, and has the advantage over the interviewees, of course, of post-production editing his material – and also of placing captions at the bottom of the screen where he has evidence that the interviewee is not telling the truth or where he wants to make a joke. (He does this most effectively with some evangelists who rake in the money and who quote Jesus as fairly well-off, wearing fine linen and advocating being rich!).
Maher talks about his own background, half Jewish, half Catholic, brought up to age 13 as a Catholic, but whose creed is now questioning and doubt. Early in the film, he has an interview with his mother and sister questioning them about their religious beliefs and practice in the past. He admits up front that he finds many aspects of religions ridiculous and wants to illustrate this. As more than an aside, his director is Larry Charles who directed Borat (and Maher is a straightforward and polite interviewer compared with Borat!).
It is curious and interesting to note that in his film Maher stays with the Judaeo-Christian? tradition and Islam and does not venture into the religions that originated in Asia.
Maher's agenda seems to be 1) the beliefs that seem to be rationally impossible and which are accepted blindly, 2) the relationship between faith and science and 3) the fundamentalist interpretation of scriptures whether the Hebrew Scriptures, the Christian Scriptures or the Koran.
As regards beliefs which seem irrational:
It is easy to ridicule and to quote the scriptures to make a point seem religulous. To lump belief in a footprint of Jesus in Jerusalem, the Virginal conception of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, and beliefs about Mohammad's ascent into heaven and the 'talking snake' in the Garden of Eden is smart TV but not rationally honest. Any researcher will know that there are considerable differences in content and status of belief, between doctrine, religiosity and eccentric devotions. More nuanced questions need to be asked. It is interesting to note that Maher does not interview any professional theologian of any faith to clarify the meaning of the doctrinal or pious labels that he introduces into questions.
As regards religion and science:
Maher interviews many fundamentalist American Christians as well as the manager of the Genesis Centre which is a theme park designed to illustrate creation in 6 days and deny any evolutionary theory. The adherents to an anti-evolutionary belief simply state that the word of God in Genesis has to be taken literally, so it is difficult to dialogue with them because the main discussion is not science but how to read and interpret the scriptures.
As regards Catholicism, it is something of a relief to hear Maher speaking with American Jesuit Fr George Coyne, Emeritus Director of the Vatican Observatory who points out, with the aid of a caption timeline, that the 2000 years or so of the creation of the Judaeo-Christian? scriptures were not the centuries of scientific research or language and so we cannot expect that to be found in the Scriptures. He also points out the long time gap from the Scriptures to the era of science and scientific research and language in more recent centuries. He highlights statements of John Paul II about the compatibility of Scripture and Evolution theory. In terms of the religulous, this puts the Catholic tradition, at least, in a different category from fundamentalists.
As regards the reading and interpretation of Hebrew, Christian and Muslim Scriptures:
Maher finds that the responses from many Christians, some Jews (and Rabbis) and Muslim scholars are grounded in a literal reading of their Scriptures. The Bible says, therefore... The Koran says, therefore...
The main difficulty with Religulous and Bill Maher's approach is that he has not done his homework properly and is asking 'irrational' questions of some believers. The priest in St Peter's Square, Fr Reginald Foster, in his bluff and humorous way (which could scandalise some staunch believers), tries to tell Maher that he is out of date simply relying on basic and unnuanced Catechism answers he learned in Sunday school decades ago and not updating himself (as he would with changes in party politics policy) with recent and current developments and study. It is always surprising to find serious adults who are stuck in what St Paul reminds us: when I was a child, I thought like a child. They do not seem to realise that, as far as religion is concerned: now I am an adult, I should think and speak like an adult. Were Maher to research the material available (Jewish, Christian, Muslim) on interpretation, he would be asking different, better and more interesting questions.
(US, 2008, d. Jeffrey Nachmanoff)
Traitor is both interesting and topical.
Those expecting a slam-bang action film will be very disappointed because this is a psychological thriller that takes us inside the minds of terrorists, their motivations, their plans, their ruthlessness for their ideology and their hatred for their enemies.
A prologue in the Sudan 1978 sets up the dynamics of terror, hostility and vengeance. A young boy, Samir, sees his father killed in an explosion. The scene moves to the present in Yemen where Samir (now Don Cheadle in an intense and earnest performace) is selling Semtek to an internationally organised terror organisation. He is treated with suspicion and caught and imprisoned with Omar (Said Taghmaoui) when they flee from a police raid. An escape is arranged and Said becomes involved in several terrorist attempts, especially on the American consulate in Nice. He is identified by the FBI and becomes a marked man.
Two FBI agents (Guy Pearce and Neal Mc Donough) visit him in prison and continue to investigate him when they return to Washington.
In the meantime, Samir's travels include a visit to London to visit the European commander of the group and then to Canada where he meets the head of the organisation. These men and Omar are not presented as ranting fanatics. Rather, they are cool and calculating in their plans as well as their beliefs – but are no less deadly than the vocal Jihadists. However, as with the training of and orders for suicide bombers, these heads sit back in comparative comfort as they send their bombers to destruction and their own deaths.
There are shifts of perspective on Samir as the film progresses, especially with a secretive agent played by Jeff Daniels.
Ultimately, there is a cleverly conceived plot to blow up a number of targets on Thanksgiving Day with Samir supplying the explosives to suicide bomber sleepers who have been planted in the US with student visas and other documents.
Whether or how the plan succeeds means that you will have to see the film.
It is an interesting exploration of a man deeply committed to his cause, a religious man, a devout man who is prepared to risk his life for his beliefs.
THE WORLD UNSEEN
(UK/South Africa, 2008, d. Shamim Sarif)
In her first film, based on her novel, I Can't Think Straight, writer-director Shamim Sarif used the conventions of soap opera and serials to create a world for her tale of same-sex attraction and love. Her second film is better, even if the central plot is much the same, because it has a South African setting, Cape Town's Indian area in the apartheid of 1952.
The improvement comes with the setting and story but, instead of soap opera influences, she makes her film in the style of the popular telenovellas.
While the apartheid brutality and prejudice is familiar, it is still shocking to see on screen. The descendants of Indian migrants are labelled as coloureds and are not allowed to mix with white people. But, laws of apartheid also apply to them as regards the black population – and some of them are almost as condescending or hostile to them as the whites. Several sub-plot strands show the dangers of a coloured married to a white visiting from Europe and subject to arrest and imprisonment. Imprisonment is also threatened for anyone hiding them or helping them to escape the police. There is a mutual attraction between an elderly coloured restaurateur and the white postmistress that is doomed given the ugly behaviour of some of the police imposing the laws.
The Indian community has its own harsh history, its traditions and expectations for women to marry, stay at home and bring up their children. But, it also has its own difficulties in domestic violence and extra-marital affairs.
However, at the centre of the story is the meeting of a quietly proper coloured woman (Lisa Ray) with an unfaithful and violent husband and three children and a coloured restaurant owner (Sheetal Sheth) who dresses and behaves in a masculine way. It is not quite the same sex relationship as in the previous film. Rather, the wife, though attracted, experiences having her eyes opened to the social confinement in which she lives. The restaurant owner and her love are the catalyst for this.
Much more watchable than the first film and more likely to elicit a more sympathetic audience response.
(India, 2008, d.Joseph Pulinthanath)
Yarwng is a significant films on many counts.
It was made with a mostly non-professional cast on location in tribal areas of North East India. It is the third film only to be made in the Kokborok language of the area – and one of the reasons for making the film was an attempt to preserve this language.
It was written and directed by a Salesian priest, Fr Joseph Pulinthanath, a native of Kerala who has worked in this area of India, Tripura state, for many years. In 2002, he released his first feature film, Mathia (The Bangle) filmed in the same area and under the same conditions. Mathia was received well and was screened at a number of Asian festivals, including the International Film Festival in Goa, 2004, the Kolkota Film Festival (2004) and the Dhaka International Film Festival in Bangladesh, January 2006. Beyond Asia, it won the Best Feature Film Award at the Niepokalanov International Film and Television Festival in Poland, 2003.
However, making a film is not easy when it comes to financing. Both Mathia and Yarwng received grants from a number of Catholic funding agencies. Substantial support came from Fr Joseph's congregation, the Salesians of Don Bosco. Amongst the other organisations which contributed to both films were SIGNIS, the World Catholic Association for Communication, The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, Rome, and Mission, Aachen.
In going back into the tribal area for Yarwng, Fr Joseph wanted to tell a story about the upheaval that modern progress has caused for the life of the villagers. Projects like the building of a dam and the forced removal of the local people (seen in higher profile in films from China about the building of the Three Gorges Dam, Still Life and the Canadian documentary, Up the Yangtze) took place in India over the past thirty years. The locations for Yarwng are the area of such a dam and population displacement.
While so many films are worthy in their intentions, the questions for a film review must be asked 'how does this work as a film? How does it engage with its audience?'.
The answers for Yarwng are that it is an interesting and sadly entertaining film and that, by telling a story of real people, their lives, their relationships and their struggles, audiences are drawn into the issues via the story and the characters.
Yarwng opens with a tense situation in a household. A husband is complaining to his wife that he has heard gossip about her and he is upset. She patiently works and listens. She has been looking for an opportunity to talk to her husband about her past – and the film goes into flashback for her story. The next part of the film is a gentle love story even as it opens up the prospect of the dam nearing completion and the authorities trying to persuade a disbelieving people that they have to take their possessions (which are frugal) and leave for higher ground.
As with any film about a particular people, there is a great deal of local colour as we observe work in the fields, domestic situations, especially of ageing and illness, the celebration of a feast with food, song, dancing, the attempts of the local authority to make his presence felt but failing in the face of the police (and elephants brought in to crush homes) and their coercion in moving people on. Outsiders also try to swindle people out of their compensation money.
The move and the crisis in the intended groom's home concerning the health of the elderly means that the couple cannot say goodbye before they leave.
As the wife finishes her sad story for her husband, he goes to talk with the fiance and hears his story, so the audience sees the continuation of the story of the move and the waters rising.