Film Memories: May 1999

One of the side effects of being a big fan of making lists is that I know what films I went to, on what date, where, and who with, going back almost half my life. I recently unearthed a diary listing what films I went to when I was 20 years old, so I thought I would present this with comments on what I can remember about the films in question. I should mention, my memory is terrible: just trying to write up films I went to see a month ago is proving difficult enough, which is part of the reason I wanted to get a blog to record my impressions, so that I wouldn’t lose them in a few years’ time.

Here’s the list of films I went to see last month, 14 years ago, with my memories of them.

My favourite film of May 1999 is Wes Anderson's Rushmore.
My favourite film of May 1999 is Wes Anderson’s Rushmore.

* Hilary and Jackie (Wellington: Penthouse, 1 May). A biographical film about the cellist Jacqueline du Pré as seen by her sister Hilary, who is played by Rachel Griffiths. I remember thinking it a bit pedestrian, but the wonderful Griffiths should have been in more movies.

* I Know Where I’m Going! (Wellington: National Library, 5 May). A nice enough Powell/Pressburger film set in a Scotland where nobody seems to speak in a Scottish accent, but I suppose that’s because they’re all quite posh.

* Ett Paradis Utan Biljard (A Paradise Without Billiards) (Wellington: Rialto, 8 May). A 1991 Swedish/Italian co-production about how great Sweden is, as far as I can tell from its skimpy listing on IMDb. Do I remember anything about this? No I do not. I do remember that the Rialto cinema was holding a festival of fairly random European films that month, hence the other obscure Eurofilms below that I have similarly vague memories about.

* Men in Black (Wellington: Rialto, 8 May). A big blockbuster about which I’m sure everyone knows; breakout starring turn from Will Smith alongside Tommy Lee Jones being his usual crotchety self. I liked it, it was likeable: I think that about sums it up.

* Gods and Monsters (Wellington: Rialto, 9 May). A drama about the director James Whale (who is filming Bride of Frankenstein) and particularly his homosexual feelings towards his gardener. Ian McKellen was, as ever, very good. I suppose in my mind I conflate it with Love and Death on Long Island (with John Hurt) as well as many of Todd Haynes’s films, but I remember liking it quite a bit.

* Belma (Wellington: Rialto, 11 May). A 1995 Danish film about young love between a Dane and a refugee from Bosnia, which — once again — I remember precisely nothing about, except that it starred Rade Serbedzija, who was doing quite a few of those scary-looking-Balkan-father parts around that era (Before the Rain, a NZ film called Broken English, and Eyes Wide Shut, in particular).

* Marius et Jeannette (Wellington: Rialto, 13 May). The director Robert Guédiguian has several films set in Marseilles which I seem to recall are a bit like this one: finding romance and a bit of sweetness amongst the working-class poverty. I don’t remember much about it except that it’s likeable and unshowy in the same way his other films are.

* Un’anima divisa in due (A Soul Divided) (Wellington: Rialto, 17 May). An Italian/French/Swiss film from 1993 that doesn’t even have a précis on IMDb, so I have absolutely no clue. Yes, this is the kind of insight for which you come to this blog.

* Black Narcissus (Wellington: National Library, 20 May). A classic Powell/Pressburger movie about a nun in the Himalayas. Not my favourite of their collaborations, but it undoubtedly has some very fine images.

* La battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers) (Wellington: National Library, 20 May). Gillo Pontecorvo’s classic about guerrilla warfare on the streets of contested Algeria, which in broad terms is to France as Vietnam was to the USA. Very much holds up as a way of trying to understand the methods and reasons for local resistance against foreign occupation, which is still sadly necessary to understand today.

* Punitive Damage (Wellington: Paramount, 21 May). A New Zealand documentary about a woman’s fight for justice for her son killed in East Timor. I recall that part of the world being quite an issue at the time, and Annie Goldson is a dependable documentarian. However, I don’t remember much about the film.

* Rushmore (Wellington: Rialto, 22 May). The first Wes Anderson film I ever saw, and I still have immense fondness for this story of precocious overambitious underachiever Max Fischer (played by Jason Schwartzmann). It’s a nice reversal of the usual young prodigy stereotypes, while being resolutely removed from recognisable reality in that hyperstylised way of Anderson’s. But it’s lovely, filled with many small turns that have emotional weight even behind all the staginess (particularly Brian Cox as the school’s headmaster, Bill Murray as Max’s mentor-of-sorts, and Sara Tanaka as the cruelly-ignored Margaret). I’ve seen it many times since.

* Suna no Onna (Woman of the Dunes) (Wellington: National Library, 26 May). A critically-regarded 1964 film by Hiroshi Teshigahara. I remember it as a strange, slow-moving film with a jarring musical score. Probably should revisit it sometime.

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