SIGNIS REVIEWS OCTOBER 2016
ALL THAT REMAINS
BELLE SAISON, La
BRIDGET JONES’ BABY
JOE CINQUE’S CONSOLATION
LOUIS THEROUX: MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE
NEON DEMON, The
QUEEN OF IRELAND
UNDER THE SHADOW
WEDNESDAY, MAY 9
ALL THAT REMAINS
UK, 2016, 119 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Ian Higgins, Dominic Higgins.
The evocative title of this film could will refer to the August 8th, 1945, bombing of Nagasaki, the second atomic bomb, after Hiroshima on August 6th, dropped on a Japanese city. After the bombing and the almost annihilation of the city and so many of its inhabitants, what remains?
This film is the work of two British brothers, Ian and Dominic Higgins. They have made several short films and the feature about the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, The 13th Day.
One of the characteristics of the film is that they do so much of the work themselves, from writing, directing and producing, photography, editing and the special effects. The special effects are quite elaborate, blends of photography and animation, often giving a surreal impressionistic perspective on characters and events. The first part of the film is quite realistic. There are suggestions in the storytelling with this impressionistic mode, but it comes into full force in the second part of the film, the extended and quite harrowing portrayal of the destruction by the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
Many (most) audiences will not be familiar with the central character of this film, a Japanese scientist, Takashi Nagai. By the end of the film, the filmmakers have drawn a portrait of a significant Japanese character and someone who could one day be called a saint. The film introduces him in 1932, a young man, studying, interested in medicine and atomic research. We see him and his family, his friends, but we also see him have a religious experience at Christmas, going to a Catholic Church, the celebration, Silent Night, and his own declaration of the effect that it had on him – which leads him to meet a priest and to be received into the Church.
(Nagasaki was the venue for the crucifixion of 26 martyrs in 1597, the subject of the Higgins Brothers’ animation short, The Martyrs of Nagasaki.)
During the 1930s, he was employed at a university, conducting research. He also married and had children.
Nagai continued his work at the University into and throughout the Japanese war in China and the experience of World War II, sending his family sometimes to the country for safety. While the film focuses on him, there are glimpses of the war, the Japanese imperialism, the beginnings of the Japanese defeat, the clash with the United States – and the dropping of the bomb.
Nagai’s wife is killed in the dropping of the bomb and he himself is injured. The latter part of the film is about his reaction to the experience – and asking what remains? In his slow recovery, he draws on his own personal integrity, his faith, ruminating on what the devastating experience means, the sadness for those who died, the impact of those who survived.
He is encouraged to tell his story, to write. His work is published, including The Bells of Nagasaki.he becomes well-known, takes a hope-filled view – including a perspective on the survivors in Japan. While the Americans always said that the dropping of the bomb was to save lives, American lives, Nagai suggests that it also saved many more lives of Japanese in the final months of the war. He advocates for the nuclear research for progress.
In the "Atomic-bomb rescue and relieve report" of October 1945 he has stated: "Everything was finished. Our mother land was defeated. Our university had collapsed and classrooms were reduced to ashes. We, one by one, were wounded and fell. The houses we lived in were burned down, the clothes we wore were blown up, and our families were either dead or injured. What are we going to say? We only wish to repeat this tragedy with the human race. We should use the principle of the atomic atom (sic). Go forward in the research of atomic energy contributing to the progress of civilization. A misfortune will be then transformed to a good fortune. The world civilization will change with the utilization of atomic energy. If a new and fortunate world can be made, the souls of so many victims will rest in peace."
His work was recognised by authorities and he became a significant figurehead for hope after the war. The film also indicates that he is being considered by the Catholic Church as a possible saint.
LA BELLE SAISON/SUMMERTIME
France, 2015, 104 minutes, Colour.
Cecile de France, izia Higelin, Naomie Lvovsky.
Directed by Catherine Corsini.
As can be seen from the title, this is a French film – a very French film. There is something characteristic about the way that French filmmakers show us a town and countryside, loving glimpses of the countryside, herds and crops, characters in these situations – and usually a meal or two.
This particular beautiful season is summer and the audience is immersed in the warmth of summer time, especially on a farm in the Limoges area, getting in the harvest, herding the cattle, assisting in the birth of a calf, on the tractor and ploughing the ground. but, we remember that after summer comes autumn, some chill in the air, matters not so warm as had been thought.
Which means that the title serves as an image and symbol for the experience of the two central characters. It is the 1970s.
First we are introduced to Delphine, izia Higelin, who lives with her parents on the farm, loves farming and helping her family. But, she decides to leave the farm and go to Paris where she is caught up with a group of young women activists whom she encounters on the street, exuberantly ticking off passing men. Curious and attracted, she goes to their meetings, listens to their causes, their songs and exuberance, especially that of Carole, Cecile de France, a vivacious older woman who lives with her boyfriend, Marius.
This is a film about same-sex attraction. Delphine, who has lived quietly at home, disappointed when a young woman she likes goes off to be married, is drawn to Carole who first resists but who then responds quite passionately.
A great deal of the film is taken up with the developing relationship but it all takes place on the farm where Carole goes to visit, joins in all the work on the farm, charms Delphine’s mother, is supportive of the father who has had a stroke and who sits upstairs unable to communicate. All seems to be going well – except that the two women are very secretive about the relationship.
Inevitably, they are seen together, there are some gossip in the town, the mother is shocked at such a perverse relationship and demands that Carole leave. This facilitates an emotional crisis for each of the women, Carole wanting to go back to Paris, Delphine loving the farm and having to make a decision.
The film ends in 1976 with a glimpse of what has happened to each of the women.
US, 2016, 89 minutes, Colour.
James Allen McCune?, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brendan Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry.
Directed by Adam Lingard.
It was 17 years ago, in 1999, that a small budget horror film made more of a mark than it ever anticipated, not only with its eerie tale of an ill-fated search in some dark Maryland woods but with its technique of handheld camera, (jerkiness personified) and the device of found footage. It led to a sequel but the influence of the film extended to many imitations in homages, sometimes an epidemic of found footage!
So, why revisiting of the theme 17 years later? It is too easy to say that the production company wanted to make money, not that they don’t, but this film seems to be one of those labours of love by young filmmakers who admire such films as The Blair Witch Project and who want to do their own version, enjoy creating a variation on the story, are proud of their cinematic techniques, and the desire to give their audiences some good scares.
In many ways these filmmakers succeed here – and their contemporaries, or whom the original film might be a touch of ancient history, will share the enthusiasm of the director and writer and the zest of the cast (not always a likeable lot, not always too easy to identify with) and enjoy Blair Witch on its own modern terms.A guess is that older audiences (and older reviewers) will have a feeling, especially in the first two thirds of the film that they have been there, done that!
The device for this film is that some footage has been found (of course) of the original expedition, and has come into the hands of James, the younger brother of Heather from the original. He feels he ought to conduct a search though police and other agencies have found no trace of the mysterious house in the woods. His girlfriend, Lisa, is interested in making a documentary and is persuaded to go into the woods on the search, along with James’s old friends, Peter and Ashley.They go to visit the young people who found the footage who insist that they come along on the search.
They have a range of cameras, cards, GPS, drone cameras…
A lot of the time is spent in the woods, preternaturally dark for so much of the time, trees and mysterious paths, travelling in circles, mysterious symbols appearing in the trees, loud and cracking noises, wounds to the foot, and plenty of scares in the woods. Of course, it has to be said, that any audience susceptible to these dramatic devices will be scared, agitated, affected by the situations.
Some of the older, more tried critics, then had to admit that once James and Lisa had found the house in the woods (in the dark) and gone inside this rambling and ruined mystery building, it really did become very eerie and at one stage, Lisa catapulted into a vault, trying to squeeze through claustrophobic tunnels, something the critics would dread having to do, it did become really scary.
No real explanations at the end – and probably filmmakers at the ready if they and audiences have the urge to take the narrative further.
Canada, 2015, 101 minutes, Colour.
Clive Owen, Jaeden Lieberher, Maria Bello, Patton Oswalt, Spencer Drever, Stephen Tobolowsky, Robert Forster, Tim Blake Nelson, Matthew Modine.
Directed by Bob Nelson.
The Confirmation sounds like a religious title and, in some ways, it is – but more in the background than in the foreground.
This is an audience-friendly Canadian film with mainly an American cast, filmed in British Columbia standing in for Washington State, a small town, the background of the mountains. The audience is taken into the town, living there for a weekend, getting to know so many of the characters and the rather ordinary, sometimes low-key, way of life.
It is also a father-son bonding film with Clive Owen as Walt, the father, and Jaden Lieberher as Anthony, the young son. (Audiences may remember well another fine father-sons film, Scott Hicks’ The Boys are Back with Clive Owen.)
Walt finds it hard on a Saturday morning to get his truck going but arrives at the church to meet his ex-wife, Bonnie (Maria Bello) who is waiting for Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) to finish his confession before she entrusts him to Walt and she and her new husband, Kyle (Matthew Modine) go to a marriage encounter retreat weekend. She has become fervent in her Catholicism – even urging Anthony in church to kneel and pray properly!
Anthony is to make his first communion and be confirmed the following weekend so he is in the church to make his confession, eight weeks since the last one. Stephen Tobolowski is Father Lyons, not the most patient of men, especially in the confessional when the penitent, taking a while to think things through, comes up with the statement that he has no sins – with Father Lyons going through a list, a bit pompously, trying to get an acknowledgement of some sinfulness but Anthony asking why would he lie, why he tried to hurt anyone… and he doesn’t know what sex thoughts means. He gets a rather large penance, begins it in the church but he hurries out to meet his parents.
The bulk of the film is something of an episodic shaggy-dog story, Walt finding that his special tools have been stolen and he needs them for a new job and sets out to search for them with Anthony as company. A number of commentators have remarked on the similarity of this plot with that of the Italian classic by Vittorio de Sica, Bicycle Thieves. The have noted some plot similarities of father and son, with Will Smith and his son, Jaden, in The Pursuit of Happyness.
As the day goes on, father and son become closer, Walt acknowledging his alcoholism and his attempts to withdraw, Anthony as a very plainspoken and direct young boy. They meet with his father’s friend, the genial Otto, Robert Forster, who gives them leads around the bars of the town for people who might know thieves and their exploits, following through on some of the leads, especially with the eccentric Drake, Patton Oswalt, who has a list but is really ineffectual. and there is Vaughan, Tim Blake Nelson, and his son Allen who becomes friends with Anthony – and does provide a lead for who stole the tools, especially an unemployed man with wife and two children who is desperate. There is also a nasty pawnbroker.
In the meantime, there are some home scenes, Walt and Anthony sharing television, computer games, meals, and Anthony having to cope with some withdrawal DTs and calling on Otto for help. Then there is the problem as to whether Anthony is going to go to mass on Sunday morning…
When Bonnie and Kyle returned from the weekend, Kyle seems to be a friendly man but a bit oblivious but Bonnie notices that the house has been lived in, that they have borrowed her car and fixed the brakes, with Anthony asking for some payment to cover the retrieval of the tools.
And, there is a final confession scene, with Anthony going through all the sins and misdemeanours of the previous 24 hours much to the astonishment and bemusement of Father Lyons. and Anthony makes a decision about his Confirmation.
A modest film but with plenty to like.
US, 2016, 107 minutes, Colour.
Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gena Rodriguez, Kate Hudson, Dylan O’Brien?.
Directed by Peter Berg.
2016 has seen Their Finest Hour, Sully and Deepwater Horizon. These are stories of American disasters and stories of American heroism – the heroism of ordinary men and women who rely on their courage and on their abilities to save situations, to rescue men and women in danger. One might ask: are they becoming alternative to comic book stories and superheroes!
Many audiences will remember the actual events on which this film is based, the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, South-east of Louisiana, the BP rig which exploded, 11 men losing their lives, and millions of gallons of oil poured into the sea for almost 3 months. This is a dramatic reconstruction, relying on the dramatic story, the dangers, the heroism rather than any detailed portrait of the characters involved. These are quite sketchy with only the central character, Michael Williams, getting something of a family story, an electronics expert who was to go on the rig for three weeks, leaving his wife and daughter, enabling the screenplay to have some characters on land, anxious about what was going on at sea.
With its slight delineation of characters except in these crisis situations, the film is of much more interest to audiences with some knowledge of engineering, the oil industry, the building and working of rigs, the extraordinary technology in their building, then maintaining, their mission of discovering oil.
The screenplay uses a little device at the opening of the film when Michael Williams’ young daughter is explaining her school project on her father’s job and using a Coca-Cola? can and a straw inserted to illustrate pressure and gusher. The only woman seen on the staff, Andrea (Gina Rodriguez) is having a difficulty with starting her car and riding on her boyfriend’s bike to work. We are shown the security for those going out onto the rigs, the helicopter flight, the vastness of the rig (which, publicity tells us, has been one of the largest film sets ever constructed – and destroyed).
One of the principal workers on the rig, Mr Jimmy (Kurt Russell appropriately strong and tough) has been honoured by BP and Deepwater Horizon has been named as one of the safest sites for years.
Trouble is indicated when workers are leaving the rig without having completed cement testing and is compounded by the presence of an official, played with his often sinister style by John Malkovich, with the critique that the company is cutting costs (recklessly).
The main part of the film shows the build-up to the explosion, the work of each individual and their competence, the gradual difficulties, rumblings below the surface of the water, difficulties with pipes and communications.
When Oscar time comes round, it is usually the superhero films which receive nominations for special effects and stunt work, with this kind of film being taken for granted that it was just dramatising what was actually seen on news footage. But, it has to be said, the director Peter Berg emerges his audience totally in the experience, has editors who are able to create a swift and anxious pace, and special effects experts who could persuade an audience to believe that they were seeing the real thing.
Mark Wahlberg is Michael Williams, given the opportunity to be a serious expert, a loving husband and father, a loyal member of the crew, strong in his commitment and heroism. Kate Hudson plays his wife (and for a momentary embrace with Mr Jimmy, the first time that she has acted with her father, Kurt Russell).
There is a visual tribute at the end to the 11 who lost their lives, some glimpses of court proceedings and hearings.
US, 2016, 99 minutes, Colour.
Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner, Craig Bierko, Margaret Colin, Nate Corddry.
Directed by Meera Menon.
One of the most remembered and requoted lines from a film is that of Gordon Gecko from Wall Street (1987). He said that “greed is good”.Commentators of the time thought that this was something of an epitaph for the 1980s.
Almost 30 years on, the sentiment is something the same only much more politely raised, “I like money”. This is a statement from the central character in this film, Naomi, a Wall Street wheeler and dealer, working on fledgling companies, ensuring them that she will raise capital, a process that is profitable for all concerned. And, at the end of the film, one of the other central characters states the same thing, leaving us pondering its value and what has happened to Naomi, and what does it profit to gain the whole world and lose…
With the title Equity, it is clear that this is a film about money. What makes the film different is that the principal protagonists who like money are all women. Equity is a term used about finance but there is inequity in terms of the place of women in the financial professions, and inequity is close to inequality, something that this film is concerned with.
Naomi (Anna Gunn) is a self-assured woman, very capable, important in her office, yet, at the opening, one of her companies does not reach expectations and her boss criticises her, indicating that she is not going to be promoted. She is a determined woman and has an assistant who initially seems to be acquiescent and carrying out orders but who, we soon learn, is fiercely ambitious in her own right. The third character, a friend of Naomi from school days, who has been working in investigative jobs, especially in the area of drugs but has been transferred to fraud issues – which leads her to get in contact once again with Naomi.
The bulk of the film is a picture of a new company, Naomi in charge of promotion and fund-raising, getting her assistant to do most of the legwork, the young boss of the company rather assured and self-confident in his manner.
But now Naomi’s boss is a man and is not in a rush that women should break the glass ceiling in financial companies. The head of the new company is also a man, flamboyant in his manner but demanding on Naomi. Naomi herself is in a relationship the financial hedge fund advisor (James Purefoy), a man who is not above double dealing with her, connecting with rather due head of the fund, complacent in a men’s world and prepared to sell Naomi out.
This kind of financial intrigue film has a great deal of plot and plot complications which keep the interest, some sympathy with Naomi at her doing what is best for the company as well as for herself, and even more sympathy as we see the duplicitous side of her assistant, a married woman with a husband at home who does the domestic roles, pregnant but more interested in taking a business phone call during her ultrasound than in the new baby. She becomes less likeable as the film goes on eliciting more sympathy for Naomi and we might have thought we would ever have.
And then there is the woman investigating fraud, with seeming integrity but already being headhunted by a large corporation company – who promise her more substantial salary: “I like money”.
This is very much a film made by women, the director, the writers (the women who play the assistant as well as the fraud investigator) and the performances by three central actresses. It is still a man’s world but these women are going to find their place in it, either with authentic talent and integrity or with the chauvinist male competitiveness that they have experienced themselves.
Russia, 2016, 88 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Alexander Sukurov.
In the 19th century, Russians were great Francophiles, speaking French, admiring French culture and art. While this film is in Russian, with some French spoken, the touch of the Francophone, the Russian director is in great admiration of the French, their heritage, their art, and the suffering that this caused them in the 20th century, in the Nazi invasion of France and the occupation of Paris.
Alexander Sukurov has made notable films over the decades, often offering incisive allegories for the oppressive political regimes of the 20th century and of the past. He is also a great admirer of art and made the noteworthy film about St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, Russian Ark (famous for the elaborate rehearsals so that the 90 minute film could be shot in one continuous take as the camera roamed through the Hermitage, looking at the works of art, and actors recreating various sequences in Russian history).
This film might well be described as a poetic cinematic essay. There is some narrative. There is a great deal of poetic representation and commentary about the art, but the overall effect of the experience of being immersed in the Louvre and in World War II history, is a reflection on the perennial importance of art and its preservation for a culture, the threats to its destruction, some heroism in preserving it.
The film begins rather idiosyncratically with the director himself speaking behind a black screen with the elaborate credits going through at the beginning, making arrangements about the filmmaking, noting difficulties, and trying to contact the captain of a ship at sea transporting art, difficult to connect with, mounting seas, and the captain rather regretting that he is transporting the art – which may seem symbolic of what was to follow.
The focus is the Louvre and its treasures. The director then takes us to the occupation of Paris by the Nazis, Hitler himself present, and quite some time given to the movement of the French government to Vichy and the leadership of Marshall Petain, World War I hero, aged 84, with his cabinet and the collaboration with the Nazi regime.
At the Louvre, the administrator, Jacques Jaudard, keeps his responsibilities and tries to preserve as much of the art as possible, many pieces being removed from Paris. At the same time, the German officer , Franz Wolff-Metternich? is also responsible for the preservation of the art – and he is able to prevent many of the artworks being plundered by the Nazis.
There is also the device of having an actress portray the French symbolic woman, Marianne, seen at various historical junctures as well as wandering through the Louvre, sometimes in the company of an imagined Napoleon, full of himself and his importance for France, especially in a long sequence of his gazing at the Mona Lisa.
Into this study of the Louvre and occupied France comes a significant Russian sequence, making a strong contrast between the Nazi siege of Leningrad which went on for months, thousands dying of starvation, people collapsing in the streets, mass graves, and the destruction of the Russian art, and the Nazis allowing Paris to live its life under occupation and preserving the art.
The film has quite an amount of actual news footage from the period but, even in the performed sequences, a device is used of presenting old stock as if it came from the period re-enacted.
Of interest is the fate of the two men responsible for the art, the French administrator and his being honoured but suddenly losing his job and his being forgotten in contrast with the German who was exonerated from his Nazi party membership, with the help of the French administrator, and lived a quiet life, fruitful life working for the German government for some decades.
While this is an opportunity to visit the Louvre, there is not a great deal of dwelling on the works of art there because the film serves as an essay on war and art.
JOE CINQUE’S CONSOLATION
Australia, 2016, 102 minutes, Colour.
Maggie Naouri, Jerome Meyer, Sacho Joseph, Josh McConville?, Gia Carides, Tony Nikalakopoulos.
Directed by Sotiris, Dounoukos.
This is a drama, a dramatisation of a relationship that led to murder and a conviction in the courts in Canberra, a story of the 1990s. Author, Helen Garner, attended the proceedings and wrote a book based on them. This version of the events, drawing on Helen Garner’s work, is not focused on the court except to give information at the end. Rather, it shows the characters and the situations which led to death.
The film was made in Canberra with quite a number of vistas of the city, welcome for those who know it, interesting for those who do not. The main locations are the University as well as some homes and units around Canberra.
As regards the death, the film opens with a frantic phone call for an ambulance, an erratic message, attempts at clarification… And then the film goes into flashback with the phone call recurring at the end, seen in the realism of what actually happened.
Joe Cinque (Jerome Meyer) is first seen at a club, a pleasant young man with his friends, going over to talk with a young woman sitting there, Anu (Maggie Naouri) who accompanies him home. They have a sexual encounter. The film then moves on four years to 1998.
Joe and Anu are still together. He is employed, admired by co-workers, with a range of friends, especially those who were students of the University. But there is something amiss with Anu, some mental disturbance. She confides in some of her friends, especially Madhavi (Sacha Joseph). They have Pakistani and Indian backgrounds. Joe comes from an Italian family, devoted to his parents who are glimpsed during a meal, emphasising Italian bonding, and later after his death.
Anu seems to think that she is being weakened by drugs, especially by one she says Joe recommended to her so that she would become thinner. There are drugs around Canberra at this time, especially in the world of the young professionals and former students, heroin fairly easily supplied.
What gets into Anu’s mind is that she should kill herself – and, in going over and over of this, thinking that Joe should die as well.
There are sketches of some of the friends of the couple, typical enough of the young adults anywhere at this time. They are invited to what is to be a final meal, with Anu’s death and Joe put to sleep. When it doesn’t work out, there is another attempt which has disastrous effects, not for Anu to die, but in her trying to keep Joe sedated, eventually injecting him with heroin.
The film is one of those true case stories but it is also a sobering one and a cautionary tale.
Audiences not familiar with the case may be surprised with the information given at the end, the court case, charges, sentences and the consequences, especially for Anu.
Writer-director, Sotiris Dounoukos, was a student in Canberra at the time and knew some of those involved.
THE LAST PRINCESS
Korea, 2016, 127 minutes, Colour.
Ye-jin Son, Hae-il Park,
Directed by Jin-ho Hur
Here is a piece of 20th-century Korean history. Most audiences around the world would not be familiar with the characters and events, especially from 1919 and during the 1920s and 30s, into World War II and its aftermath.
The last princess of the title is the daughter of the last Emperor of Korea. after World War I, Japan’s influence in Korea was very strong and it became the colonial outpost of the Japanese Empire. The Emperor resisted this domination by Japan – and he was murdered. While his son became the ruler, subservient to Japan, his younger sister, very young when her father died, by the mid-20s, was being urged to go to Japan for her education. Reluctantly, parting from her mother and her homeland, she did go to Japan but was not to return for another 38 years.
Much of the attention to the history of this part of the world during the 1920s and 30s has been on the Sino-Japanese? conflict, the subject of many films from China itself, especially the siege of Nanking in 1937.
There were nationalist Korean movements in Japan at this time, especially a plan for the ruler and for his sister to be smuggled out of Japan and back to Korea. This episode provides quite some drama for the film, tension and action, but it was thwarted.
The princess remained in Japan, a marriage for her to a Japanese husband was arranged, but over the years, with the divorce, her mental and emotional condition collapsed.
The framework of the drama in fact is the events of the early 1960s, the work of the journalist trying to find the location of the princess, his memories of the past and his active intervention in the escape plan for the princess. In this sense, he is the hero of the film while the sinister minister with power over Korea becomes Ye-jin Son as the princess, especially her ageing over the decades, makes quite some impact and draws us into her story, her final deterioration.
An excellent opportunity, over two hours, to learn about Korea in the 20th century and its transformation from Empire to its colonial period and the transitions after World War II.
US, 2016, 89 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams.
In this title, the word “animated” has two different meanings, both of them very positive.
The immediate impact of the word is that this is a film about life, liveliness, life that is full of spirit. And this is true. However, the word has more meaning in connection with movie animation, with some designed especially for illustrating the central character in this film and his experiences, but with a greater emphasis on Disney films, the classic Disney films.
This is a documentary about Owen Suskind, whom we see at the beginning of the film as a 23-year-old preparing for his graduation. We soon realise that this is not an ordinary graduation. The program is for young adults with psychological and behavioural difficulties. Owen is autistic. As the audience accompanies Owen and his family on his life journey so far, there is a moving opportunity to understand and to appreciate something of autism and means of coping.
There are home movies of Owen as a little boy, enjoying life until, at the age of three, something happens inside him, an inability to talk properly, uttering jumbles of sounds, and unable to walk with a normal gait. Fortunately, he has a very loving and devoted parents, his father a journalist with the Wall Street Journal and his mother, working at home, continually loving and supportive. He has an older brother Walter, who is lovingly concerned about his brother.There are visits to doctors, therapists, prescriptions for medication…
Some transformation happens in the parents’ ability to help their son when Owen is able to articulate a phrase which they recognise from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Owen watches the Disney movies, is able to identify with the characters, especially emotionally, has a capacity for memorising and quoting the dialogue, the films and the characters thus becoming norms for his understanding of human nature and behaviour.
One of the features of the film is the highlighting of particular scenes from the animated films, with Owen identifying as Peter Pan, identifying when packing to leave home with Dumbo, Bambi and the death of his mother, many sequences and characters of the Little Mermaid and a climax with The Lion King.
Back to his graduation, his fondness for one of his fellow students Emily and the shock of her not wanting to continue the relationship, his wise mother explaining carefully the ups and downs of life and the need to cope. He settles into his own apartment, sometimes very able in what he can do, at other times needing assistance and guidance from helpers in this supervised accommodation. And, interestingly, he gets an invitation to go to a conference in France to speak about his own situation, especially the bond with the animated films. He gives his speech, brief, but quite an achievement.
There have been a number of films, and we remember Rain Man from almost 30 years ago, about people with autism – another inspiring film is the real-life story of a young woman, Temple Grandin.
LOUIS THEROUX: MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE
UK, 2015, 99 minutes, Colour.
Louis Theroux, Marty Rathbun, Tom de Vocht, Marc Headley, Andrew Perez
Directed by John Dower.
Scientology is a church of contradictions. Established in the 1950s by L. Ron Hubbard, with his navy background, science-fiction writings, writing on Dianetics, his creation of an organisation of self-awareness, knowledge, world and cosmic view, his speculations about existences, Thetans and his elaborate structure of the church and its steps and stages, seem to be the matter for science-fiction material but with his leadership, despite a lot of legal cases, especially about finances and the status of the organisation, the church, under the leadership of David Miscavige for almost 30 years, has flourished and drawn many thousands of people, especially in the United States and especially wealthy members and high profile film stars, with Tom Cruise as the best-known.
Alex Gibney made a very insightful film about Scientology: Getting Clear. It would be very helpful to have seen this film before looking at My Scientology Movie.
Louis Theroux has a great reputation for television programs, travelling to different parts of the world, often exotic parts, discovering unusual situations, unusual characters, and offering interpretations of these different worlds and interviewing the characters.
With BBC backing, he goes with a cameraman and director, John Dower, to Los Angeles to make his own Scientology movie. Because he has little encouragement, or none, from the church itself, he decides to go it alone, finding that he receives several letters from the legal advisors of Scientology, is followed by car on several occasions and while he himself is filming for his documentary, Scientology has hired a cameraman to film him and some sent some of the high profile members to move him on, especially a very dominating Katherine Fraser. Scientology also blocks some of the roads, claiming that they own the roads and the property and that the camera crew is trespassing.
This film does show several public domain scenes of Scientology rallies, especially with its leader David Miscavige and with the star member, Tom Cruise. Theroux decides that he will recreate some scenes, using the public footage dialogue for the actors to interpret, the cinema audience hearing the same words repeated in a variety of ways during auditions, Miscavige and his domination, Cruise and his loyalty as well his self-assertion.
Theroux contacts Marty Rathbun, who was with Scientology for several decades, acting as their enforcer. Rathbun assists with the film, though is put out with some of Theroux’s comments at the end, but supervises a lot of the re-creation of sequences, especially the one-on-one self-assertion training as well as the domination and brutality in The Hole. There are several interviews with other disillusioned ex-members, including Katherine Fraser’s husband.
At the end, in a studio, the actors chosen for interpretation do their stuff, leaving the audience in little doubt about the style, philosophy, secrecy of the Church of Scientology. Despite the enthusiastic membership at various rallies and dinners, Scientology mainly defies belief.
China, 2015, 107 minutes, Colour.
Yueting Lang, Ziyi Wang, Taishen Cheng, Ailei Yu.
Directed by Larry Yang.
Mountain Cry is a Chinese drama set in remote mountain locations in the middle of the 1980s.
The film introduces us to two characters, a young woman who is seen to be brutally raped by her husband, then cradling a baby, as they come up the mountains to a remote village. the other character is a young man from the village, rather earnest, somewhat carefree, who sets detonators to trap badgers. The location photography of the vast mountains is often breathtaking.
These two stories collide when the husband of the young woman, who is mute, is asked by his daughter to go out into the forest to collect some berries. He finds them but steps into the badger trap, his foot separated from his leg, the people from the village taking him back to his house where he dies.
There is an irony because we know of the tensions between husband and wife but the people in the village, accusing the young man of being responsible for the death, have some compassion so that the widow and children will be cared for. With a meeting of the elders, a document is drawn up to which the woman agrees that the young man will provide for the family until he is able to pay compensation.
What the audience anticipates comes to pass, that the young man is earnest in his support of the woman, that she is grateful, that they become attracted to each other, that meals are shared, work in the fields, a visit to a travelling opera company.
This performance provides the occasion for flashbacks where we see the actual story of the mute woman, of her being abducted from the opera as a child, the cruelty of the Master and his cutting her tongue, and the fact that he had murdered his wife. This gives a stronger context to what was happening in the village.
The people in the village want to cover up the situation from the police, to preserve their reputation, but it emerges that the dead man was on the run from the police and the villagers want the young woman to be expelled from their village. The initial compassion turns into crowd-mentality for ousting her.
The young man defends her. His father, from whom he was estranged, intervenes in the situation. The police do come to arrest the young man and he is willing to undergo this to save the woman.
At which stage, there is a dramatic twist in the plot, looking again at the situation of the dead man and a change of anticipated ending, an ending of pathos with issues of guilt, responsibility – although there is a final image of hope with a woman on the mountaintop banging a basin with exhilaration.
THE NEON DEMON
US, 2016, 180 minutes, Colour.
Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abby Lee, Desmond Harrington, Alessandro Nivola, Karl Glusman, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
It is a good idea to take a deep breath before going to see a film by Nicolas Winding Refn. He likes to take on rather tough and demanding subjects, even in his early films when he was very young, Pusher, about drug dealers in Copenhagen in the mid-90s. in more recent years he has made the film about prison, Bronson, a somewhat lurid film about Los Angeles, Drive, and an excursion to Bangkok and violence, Only God Forgives. This time we are back in Los Angeles – and lurid again.
The film opens strikingly with a young girl posing in a glamorous gown on a divan but her throat cut and blood clotted – but then she goes off to remove her make up. The world of The Neon Demon is that of fashion and fashion photography. In fact, throughout the film, many of the sets are made to look as if the performers are in a photo-shoot and close-ups and couples talking are filmed in the style that would be striking in publications.
The young girl is Jessie, Elle Fanning, who turns out to be very under age although she is advised to tell everyone she is 19, arriving in Los Angeles like so many other hopefuls, dreaming of a career in the movies on television or modelling… She is very pretty and knows it, not afraid to say it. And she is ambitious, self-assured with a touch of the narcissistic. And, she is in luck with her looks.
The initial photograph was taken by a friend she met online, Dean (Karl Glusman) who is attracted to her but she is intent on her career. Despite the glamour, she has to live in a seedy motel with a rough manager, played by Keanu Reeves, who is upset when her room is trashed, only to find that a wildcat has been trapped there.
But, she gets an interview with an agent, Christina Hendricks, who gets her a photo shoot with a very grim and “artistic” photographer, Desmond Harrington, which leads to an interview with a fashion designer, Alessandro Nivola, and her career seems to be on the way.
In the meantime, she meets make-up artist, Ruby (Jena Malone) who befriends her but it is obvious to the audience, if not to Jessie, that this is a lesbian attraction. Also in the retinue are two very artificial models, one who has experienced a great deal of reconstruction, the other tall and failing to get employment (both played by Australian actresses Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee).
The storytelling is both real and surreal, much of it played in the dark, at other times in bright sunlight and vistas of Los Angeles. Much of it is a dreamlike, especially from the point of view of Ruby and her fantasies about Jessie, especially a disturbing scene in the mortuary where Ruby works in make up for the corpses.
In fact, the film moves to some motifs from horror films at the end, with an offscreen explanation that the audience might interpret as metaphorical until we realise it is real, and think to ourselves, no, the Refn is not really going to show that… – and he does, leaving some of the characters bewildered and the audience somewhat stunned and bewildered as well.
With the focus on modelling and the young women models, the issue can be raised about the impact of “the male gaze” and the objectifying of women – but the film also raises the question of “the female gaze” and both gay and straight perspectives.
The films of Nicolas Winding Refn are quite unique in their way, expertly crafted, disturbing content, and certainly not for everyone’s taste.
THE QUEEN OF IRELAND.
Ireland, 2015, 82 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Conor Horgan.
Not a reference to Elizabeth II and her role in Northern Ireland. Rather, this is a story from the Irish Republic, and the Queen of Ireland is Panti Bliss, a drag queen who story is told and how he was influential in the Irish referendum of 2015 for marriage equality.
In fact, this film has two aims. Firstly, it tells the story of Rory O’Neill?, from County Mayo, a gay boy growing up in the 1970s who felt out of place, acted out some of his confusion, and became a celebrated drag queen. Secondly, it tells something the story of the Irish referendum and the significance of Panti Bliss in the buildup to the vote.
In order to appreciate this rather cheerful film, a realisation of the background of legislation about homosexuality and Ireland is necessary, the last of the European Union countries to decriminalise homosexual activity. This gives the context to Rory O’Neill? and his growing up, his time at boarding school and his being considered something of a sissy, his decision to go to art school and his interest in design, especially his drawings of women and clothes, his becoming involved in the underground gay culture of Dublin (literally, as he explains, gay clubs in basements with hetero clubs upstairs), his becoming involved in drag performances, spending time in Japan where he found a partner and name, Panti Bliss, and found that he enjoyed performing, jokes, ribald humour, songs, provocative performance.
Much of the film is straight to camera interview with Rory O’Neill?, looking something like a cousin of Graham Norton whereas Panti Bliss looks like a very tall Amy Poehler. Significantly, Rory O’Neill? explains that Panti Bliss is a clown, a tall female cartoon, basically an entertainer, and provocative because she is a court jester and the role of the jester in the past was to be humorous an ironic challenge. This certainly makes sense of her presence and performances.
A number of her friends, writers and producers also comment on the gay culture, relationships, clubs and entertainment.
With the referendum of 2015, Panti Bliss obviously took a stance for the Yes vote for marriage equality. Going on television and interviewed about the issues, national Irish television was sued because of what Panti Bliss said and they offered an apology. Panti Bliss followed this with a performance at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, making a significant speech, a Noble Appeal, about the issues, understanding, compassion – which was filmed, appeared on YouTube?, received endorsements from people like Stephen Fry, Martina Navratilova, Graham Norton and was the subject of many hits, comments in the media, comments in the parliament.
Both Rory O’Neill? and Panti Bliss participated in the campaign, Panti Bliss doing performances, encouraging street demonstrations, while Rory O’Neill? much more quietly did a great deal of doorknocking and handing out of pamphlets.
While the film has a great deal of footage of the day of the referendum vote and the winning by the Yes campaign, and Panti Bliss going out to meet so many people, congratulations, dancing in the streets, plenty of photos, the film actually ends with Rory O’Neill? going home to County Mayo, with the strong support of his mother and father and sister, and realising that 40 years earlier he had fled the town, now he was returning to do a Panti Bliss performance for relatives and friends – rather rapturously received.
Rory O’Neill? says that tolerance is only a basis and that understanding is more important, that those who voted No, may come to understand the LBGTI community better and that the bad consequences they anticipated did not come about.
(It is very interesting to note that in this film from the once-Catholic country Ireland there is no mention of the Catholic Church at all, nothing about their heritage, nothing about the life of the church, nothing about the abuse cases, nothing about advice for the referendum, just the impression that Ireland is now a Catholic Church-free zone – although one old man does mention genially a picture of the Sacred Heart in prayer.)
US, 2016, 134 minutes, Colour.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt?, Shailene Woodley, Rhys Ifans, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Tom Wilkinson, Nicolas Cage, Timothy Olyphant, Julie Richardson, Ben Schnetzer, Scott Eastwood, Ben Chaplin.
Directed by Oliver Stone.
Within a comparatively short time, Snowden has become a household name, something of a sign of contradiction – and now the subject of a film, not just a film, but one co-written and directed by Oliver Stone. With his films about Vietnam and his experience there, especially Platoon, but more with his portraits of American presidents: the conspiracies in JFK, Anthony Hopkins as Nixon, and the Bushes, father and son in W, he is one of the foremost filmmakers focusing on American politics, at the top.
Perhaps it should be said first that Snowden is one of Stone’s most straightforward films. While there is plenty of scope for conspiracy theories, Edward Snowden has emerged as a fairly straightforward person. He does not carry the personal baggage of Julian Assange, personally or politically – and there have been documentaries about Assange, especially WikiLeaks? by Alex Gibney, as well as with Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange in The Fifth Estate. Snowden has had his documentary, Citizenfour, by Laura Poitras, who is played by Melissa Leo in this film, filming her interviews with Snowden in Hong Kong.
Joseph Gordon Levitt gives a persuasive performance as Snowden, more quietly played or underplayed, nothing bombastic about him.
The film moves around in time, initially showing us Snowden’s taking his material to Hong Kong, the arrangements for the New York Times and the Guardian to interview him with a view to publication, which occurred.
As he explains himself, the film goes back to his life as a rather ordinary man, American conservative in his political views, very loyal, affected by 9/11, doing military training which made too many physical demands on him, working for the CIA, an expert on IT. The film also shows his relationship with Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), a young woman with liberal views, a photographer – and Snowden shows himself very shy about being photographed.
As he becomes more and more involved in his work, showing how sharp and quick he was in his wits and his working with IT, under the mentoring of the serious and intense Corbin (Rhys Ifans), appointed to Switzerland, discovering more and more about the surveillance of American citizens, he gradually begins to be alarmed at the amount of surveillance to which is contributing. He works for other firms but decides to accept an appointment to Hawaii. Again he finds even more extensive surveillance and makes a personal decision, a moral decision, that he should make this material known.
There are some dramatic tension in the sequence where he has to get the information beyond security gates in Hawaii and shrewdly uses a Rubik Cube to distract the guards.
So, unable to return home, he travelled to Russia and, to date, is still in Moscow where he has been joined by Lindsay.
Certainly an interesting drama but also very cautionary tale about privacy, secrecy, surveillance, government information about citizens…
To be continued.
Australia, 2016, 91 minutes, Colour.
Xavier Samuel, Morgan Griffin, Travis Jeffery, Melissa Bergland.
Directed by Mark Gracie, Tim Ferguson.
Vroom, spin, vroom vroom, more spin – if that sounds attractive, then perhaps this is your film. If it doesn’t, probably better to give it a miss.
This is an Australian film, with financing from Screen Australia as well as from Film Victoria, it is set at Emerald Bank and around Shepparton – although, surprisingly, especially with the funding from Film Victoria, characters declaring that they want to leave the country, intending to go to Sydney rather than Melbourne!
This is very much film with blokes and sheilas, showing a great deal of (alleged) Australian blokeyness amongst mates and a picture of sheilas who tend to follow the blokes around although, in this day and age, they are certainly prepared to defy the blokes.
The occasion is a car and ute rally at Emerald Bank, an annual event, with everybody from around the place turning up, yelling their support of their favourite drivers, having a dance and party in the evening, plenty of booze (actually only beer and rum), raucous (to put it mildly), lots of talk about rooting, a cracker tossed into a dunny and splashily exploding, a competition to break the record of how many cans of beer can be drunk, and a mud fight leading to an all in mud brawl.
A bloke called Sparrow does the initial voice-over as he stands on the back of the ute, driven by his friend, Bill, who is one of the stars of the Ute rally, in competition with Lucy, no mean driver herself, who had saved Bill from drowning when they were young and they have been bickering ever since, rivals in the arena, with Bill showing off, fixing the wheel to the door handle and putting a brick under the brake and even getting out of the vehicle and performing. However, it is Mary, who could (compliment) pass for a relation of Magda Szubanski, who is the key driver, wins the rally – but is oblivious, low self-image and seemingly humourless, to Sparrow who is smitten with her, awkwardly courting her.
There are a brother and sister, dressed up to look more sophisticated, from the city, who have their eye out for a sexual liaison and, of course, land on Bill and Lucy. While the beer is being guzzled and tots of rum downed at a great rate, Bill and Lucy go through their own rivalries, insinuations against each other, finally leading to that mud fight, Lucy wanting to leave and go to Sydney, Bill not wanting to. In the morning, with couples littered unconscious around the grounds, including two mates who dress up in frocks but are in denial, Bill eventually comes to his senses…
Bill keeps telling Lucy “it doesn’t get any better than this”. While he means life around Shepparton, we realise that this could describe the plot of the film and that it has set its bar pretty low.
Xavier Samuel and Morgan Griffin bring their talent to somewhat thankless roles, but do show that there could be a little soul-searching and an admission of true love if they put their minds and hearts to it.
Many Australian films don’t get guaranteed overseas release but, perhaps strangely, this one is being distributed by Sony. Not exactly the top of the list for desired exports to make an impression on international audiences.
US, 2016, 91 minutes, Colour.
Voices of: Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammar, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Anton Starkman, Keegan-Michael? Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland.
After seeing the trailer for this animated film, the question arose as to how prevalent and popular the story about storks bringing babies to eager parents really is. Are there children today who have been told the story and believe it? Or is it one of those transitional stories, like Santa Claus, which children move on from?
Be that as it may, the story capitalises on the story of storks and shows them operating traditionally at the opening of the film. However, it then makes a nod to contemporary commerce and a new role for the storks – being employed by a CEO stork in his warehouse where people can order all kinds of goods and the storks will deliver them, an avian kind of alternate delivery.
The hero of the film is a wisecracking stork, something of a loner amongst his peers, someone to the office of the boss thinking he will be fired but is promised that he will become the new CEO. all well and good except the has the task of firing a young girl, now turning 18, who stork missed out on her address and so she was not delivered but has continued to stay in the warehouse – but is certainly accident-prone.
When Tulip, the young girl, put in charge of the letters room (who would write letters these days when email, texting… Is available?), and the young boy, wanting to have a brother, actually sends a letter and she puts it into process and the baby is produced for delivery – which our hero and Tulip go through all kinds of adventures to deliver.
The children in the audience seemed to be delighted in the action and all the mishaps and pratfalls. The father of the children pulled often enough and some funny situations and humorous dialogue.
The animation is more or less what we have become accustomed to and expect, the voice cast is very good, including Andy Samberg as the hero.
Entertaining enough while it is there but not so memorable.
UNDER THE SHADOW
Iran, UK, Jordan, 2015, 84 minutes, Colour.
Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi.
Directed by Babak Anvari.
As this film opens, it seems as if it is going to be a human story of life in Tehran during the prolonged war of the 1980s, the Iran-Iraq? war, especially with Saddam Hussein and Iraqi forces bombarding Iran, even the city of Tehran.
This reviewer has participated in the number of film festivals in Tehran over the years and one of the main impressions was that Iranians cinema felt the need to tell story after story, film after film, about the experiences of that war, implanted firmly in the Iranians psyche. As this film reminds us, the war began not very long after the Iranian revolution of 1979, the fall and exile of the Shah, the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Initially, the film is very straightforward, matter of fact, with the central character, Shideh, visiting the Dean at the University, applying to return to studies, but told bluntly that she cannot because of her political involvement, on the left, in her time at the University. Her husband, who devoted himself to study in university days, is a successful doctor but has had to respond to the draft sending him for medical work into a dangerous war zone. Shideh is left at home with their five-year-old daughter, Dorsa, though they are urged by the husband to go to stay with his family for safety.
We are treated to various details of life in the apartment block in Tehran, a caretaker and his family, with a young boy who is now mute having been present at the death of his parents; a woman who decides to go to stay with her son in Paris for safety; a kind lady who minds the little girl; a woman with an old father who suffers a heart attack…
And all the time, we hear the noise of the air raids, people hurrying down to the shelter, and a startling episode where a huge bomb comes crashing through the roof, unexploded.
Actually, this is not really the main point of the film.
Dorsa has been listening to the allegedly mute young boy who tell story of the spirits who travel on the winds, the Djins, mysterious and malevolent spirits from the Persian traditions. Gradually, this theme takes over the narrative, mysterious noises and sense of presence which are not from the air raids, objects disappearing, especially the doll that the little girl cherishes, books with leaves flapping in the winds, building up to a powerful atmosphere of haunting, of dread and fear, of mysterious presence and menace…
With the context of the war and the hostile attacks from Iraq, the hostility of the Djins serves as symbolic. But, while the film does give the strong impression of the experience of war and the city under missile siege, it also builds up into quite an atmospheric terror thriller.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 9/ CHAHARSHANBEH, 19 ORDIBEHESHT
Iran, 2015, 102 minutes, Colour.
Niki Karimi, Vahid Jalilvand.
Directed by Vahid Jlilvand.
This is a fine Iranian film. It can be said that for the last four decades, or even more, if one were to search national industries to find dramas that explored human values, often profoundly, Iran would have to be at the top or very near the top of the list. While the Iranians have made many movies for television, slight melodramas and popular comedies, their output in serious dramas has been extensive. SIGNIS (The World Association for Communication) has made numerous awards to their films.
The film opens, as the title suggests, on Wednesday, May 9, where an ad has been placed in the paper inviting people in difficult financial circumstances to come to an address and lay claim to an extensive grant. A mother and daughter appear, rather overwhelmed by the crowd, seeing the man in charge being taken away by the police, puzzled over what is happening with no one seeming to know and the police moving the crowd on. She then goes to work in a factory which processes chickens, phones her husband who has been in a serious accident and tells him she will be home late and that her daughter is with her.
Suddenly, the story comes to what seems an end and a new date appears on screen, from the preceding month, a new address. The thought comes that this is a film of different stories.Later, we find that it is not.
The second story packs more of an emotional punch than the first. It takes up the dominance of men in Iranian society and focuses on family themes of honour with consequent victimisation of a woman and a justification of violence against her. This episode is about a young woman who lives with relations and who is challenged by her male cousin about riding on the back of a motorbike with a young man – the cousin condemns her, then assaults her, which leads to a violent confrontation in the street with the young man and, what may seem strange to an audience, the young man being prosecuted for blood money and being taken to jail. What is to happen to the young woman?
But then we are back to May 9, the initial story starting over again but this time from inside the building where the man who placed the ad and works from his friend’s office has to deal with the crowds outside, the role of the police, the question of his motives for offering a grant to someone in need. We have already seen this man in his dealings with the mother and daughter, so it is not a surprise. But, as the day goes on, and the motivation of the man is revealed, we appreciate the tensions in his relationship with his wife, his being overwhelmed by the applications, and the interview with the young woman from the second story.
Once again, an Iranian director (who co-wrote the film and edited it as well as appearing as the older man offering the donation), we are given human dramas, an exploration of basic values, stories of humane concern.