Criterion Sunday 647: On the Waterfront (1954)

Undoubtedly a classic film, one that had a lasting impact on the film industry and on screen acting. That of course may be its greatest legacy, but it’s a film suffused with the craft of generations of American filmmakers, feeling of a piece in its carefully-toned monochrome with the films noirs of the decade before, and has all the hallmarks of a prestige drama, bolstered by a fine line-up of character actors all doing some of their best work. It’s a pity then that it feels like an attack on the idea of unions — which is a problematic message to take from Elia Kazan — as these dockworkers are shown in impotent thrall to the power plays of the criminal gangs who could have been union-busting thugs but instead feel like the unions themselves. In a sense I suppose the physical world of work on the docks is just a backdrop to an internal struggle, but it boils down to: whether to go to the cops when you’ve witnessed a crime; whether thereby to save your eternal soul (a rather heavy-handed part nevertheless laid down with conviction by Karl Malden). Still, it has some classic speeches, some great scenes and some arresting cinematography.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Elia Kazan; Writers Budd Schulberg; Cinematographer Boris Kaufman Бори́с Ка́уфман; Starring Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint; Length 108 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), Melbourne, Monday 22 May 2023 (and earlier on VHS at home, Wellington, September 2000).

Criterion Sunday 637: Plein soleil (Purple Noon, 1960)

Alain Delon in the early-1960s was a gorgeous man, and this film certainly shows that off. Being adapted from the same source material as the English language The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) means that watching it now inevitably is to compare it with the more recent film. It’s therefore difficult for me to get the more recent casting out of my mind (Hoffman in particular is perfect as the louche Freddy) but Jude Law shares a lot of similarities with Maurice Ronet here in the entitled Dicky/Philippe Greenleaf character around whom Tom Ripley’s machinations revolve. Plein soleil skips straight to the heart of Tom and Philippe’s relationship without the backstory that the more recent film indulges in; by the end they’ve got to much the same place, albeit with the addition here of an (entirely detachable) moralistic ending, which may have drawn the ire of Highsmith but which could be excised from the film without creating any internal inconsistencies, so can be viewed as a sop to the more sensitive viewers of the era. The use of the Mediterranean Italian settings is beautiful and apropos to the work, and there’s a great atmosphere which is surely down to the Highsmith source, although Delon excels in conveying Ripley’s enigmatic core.

(Written on 7 December 2015.)


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director René Clément; Writers Clément and Paul Gégauff (based on the novel The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith); Cinematographer Henri Decaë; Starring Alain Delon, Marie Laforêt, Maurice Ronet; Length 115 minutes.

Seen at ICA, London, Sunday 29 November 2015.

Criterion Sunday 636: Heaven’s Gate (1980)

Given the extent to which this film was used as a byword for what defined Hollywood overreaching in the 1980s, it’s difficult not to lead with the naïve question of why it should have been that way. I can see that its bloated budget and runtime can’t have been great news for film executives, but the rest of us are just people watching a film, and from my point of view this is a lot better than the nasty mess that is The Deer Hunter. It does still feel messy, of course — it’s a sprawling story with a large number of characters — and the sound design feels particularly loud and bombastic (I couldn’t much make out what a lot of people were saying, but it feels weirdly close to Days of Heaven a few years earlier in that respect) but it’s a beautiful film with a real sense of place and a heartbreaking central narrative involving one of her (and our) generation’s finest actors, Isabelle Huppert. Perhaps I might assume some of the bad feeling was towards the film’s loose, dismissive relationship towards the historical events it’s based on — it has almost no overlap with what really happened amongst the characters who share these names in the part of the world and the time when it was made — but in that case perhaps it best be seen as a sort of recreation of what might have happened, an alternative history that still honours the land and the aspirations of the people. Sure, it’s long, and I wouldn’t wish to try and rehabilitate the reputation of Michael Cimino himself, but this particular movie is a fine, epic story.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Michael Cimino; Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond; Starring Kris Kristofferson, Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, John Hurt; Length 216 minutes.

Seen at home (DVD), Melbourne, Sunday 23 April 2023.

Criterion Sunday 633: I racconti di Canterbury (The Canterbury Tales, 1972)

The second film in Pasolini’s so-called “Trilogy of Life” is another film based on an episodic text of classic literature, in this case Geoffrey Chaucer’s Middle English stories of pilgrims, in which once again Pasolini himself plays a key artistic figure (in this case, Chaucer himself). Like The Decameron, there is no shortage of bawdiness and tawdry sexuality, shitting and farting too. Here of course the setting is England, and while the primary language on the film is Italian, there’s also an English dub that makes more sense given the film itself is populated by English actors speaking in that language, which is why I watched it with that setting. Certainly you get to see a lot more of the fourth Doctor than perhaps you were hoping, but many of the key figures are the same Italian actors who were in Pasolini’s film of the year before, like Franco Citti as The Devil and his partner Ninetto Davoli as a foolish Chaplin-like figure. It’s all put together with a broad comic energy that is a bit wearying after a while, but there’s certainly plenty to enjoy in the film, in a series of tales largely drawn from Chaucer, but also with a bit of extra content to suggest the contemporary era of Pasolini’s production, and to heighten the hypocrisy and repressiveness of the era.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Pier Paolo Pasolini (based on the collection of short stories by Geoffrey Chaucer); Cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli; Starring Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Citti, Ninetto Davoli, Hugh Griffith, Josephine Chaplin; Length 111 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), Melbourne, Sunday 9 April 2023.

Criterion Sunday 632: Il Decameron (The Decameron, 1971)

I can’t really fault Pasolini’s adaptation of the 14th century work of Giovanni Boccaccio (not that I’ve read it). It feels like a lusty, bawdy, carnivalesque vision of the era that matches Pasolini’s view of his contemporary society, with thieves, murderers, religious men and ne’er-do-wells of all sorts matched alongside naifs and simpletons, all out to try and do the best they can in their short lives, often squalid and living in poverty but with a sort of primal pleasure-seeking instinct. Through it all there’s Pasolini himself as the painter Giotto, as a sort of guide to these various characters, who show up in a dream for an unpainted third triptych portion to a scene he’s painting in a church while these variously unsavoury characters scheme and cavort. Still, for all that, it’s perhaps not a mode of filmmaking that I feel most at ease with, though there’s plenty of beauty captured by the camera, there’s also an underlying ugliness in the stories, which revolve around cynical and slightly nasty resolutions to his little vignettes — these presumably are drawn from the text, but they are also commentaries perhaps on modern life, and if so it’s not much of a vision. Still, as a film it’s not without its diversions.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Pier Paolo Pasolini (based on the collection of short stories by Giovanni Boccaccio); Cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli; Starring Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Citti, Ninetto Davoli; Length 111 minutes.

Seen at the Paramount, Wellington, Friday 15 May 1998 (and most recently on Blu-ray at home, Melbourne, Saturday 8 April 2023).

Criterion Sunday 624: Quadrophenia (1979)

This is a classic of British cinema, based on a ‘rock opera’ by The Who — which I’m guessing is just a fancy way of saying it was a concept double album — telling a story of Mods and Rockers in 1960s London (and, memorably, Brighton). This film adaptation though, to be clear, is not an opera, not even a musical, though music looms large in the protagonists’ lives. The source is also perhaps a hint to something of a studied disconnect to it: despite coming over as a gritty urban realist drama, there are constant hints towards the affectedness of it all. These characters could burst into song at any moment (one of the main actors is even Sting), and sometimes they do repeat refrains from their favourite tracks, but mostly it relies on a very clean, precise aesthetic and the heightened emotions conveyed well by all the actors, but especially Phil Daniels in the lead role of Jimmy.

In a generally unlikeable group of bored and angry kids, Jimmy is the most unlikeable — and yet compulsively watchable — of the lot, and the by the denouement the story has moved away from its gritty roots into something surreal, almost folkloric (like a lot of great 1970s British cinema), with a sequence of songs on the soundtrack finally eclipsing the spoken word, and a grandly staged finale that feels like an end and at the same time, leaves things open for Jimmy. However grim it seems to become for him as a character, the film has the careful poise of a musical (or maybe a Dennis Potter TV drama) in just slightly standing back. Perhaps I’d have fully embraced it if they had broken into song, but it’s still a fine evocation of an era and an introduction to a lot of 80s acting talent.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Franc Roddam; Writers Dave Humphries, Roddam, Martin Stellman and Pete Townshend (based on the album by The Who); Cinematographer Brian Tufano; Starring Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Philip Davis, Sting, Ray Winstone; Length 120 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Friday 16 December 2022.

Criterion Sunday 623: Lonesome (1928)

This is technically not a silent film, but it’s also not not a silent film. In fact for much of its running time, it’s an exemplary advertisement for the freedom and artistic possibilities that the medium had reached in the year after the similar Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans was released, because when the brief segments with synchronised sound come they literally stop the film in its tracks. What is a city symphony for New York City, with loose impressionistic photography, heady use of lap dissolves and location shooting, suddenly becomes for about a minute each time a static and ugly dialogue scene with an unmoving camera and no real sense of place. Luckily, those scenes pass quickly, largely self-contained, leaving Lonesome to be a sweepingly romantic film about two people who find each other by chance, visit Coney Island, then are separated just as (un)fortuitously (by the cops no less, going above and beyond their duty of care), and that’s pretty much the plot of the thing. However, it’s a fairly swooning film that for all its slender plot still manages to carry you along.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Pál Fejős [as “Paul Fejos”]; Writers Edward T. Lowe Jr., Tom Reed and Mann Page; Cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton; Starring Barbara Kent, Glenn Tryon; Length 69 minutes.

Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Friday 10 March 2023.

Kāinga (2022)

The closing night for the Melbourne Women in Film Festival was actually a film from New Zealand, but focusing strongly on diasporan peoples making their home in that country and the challenges that await. It’s as much about creating a future that doesn’t exist, I suppose, as in reflecting some kind of existing multicultural society (as I think NZ is a fair way away from that), but it’s great to see the work on show. I hope some of these filmmakers go on to make their own feature films; I’d love to see them.


I’m not sure this quite hits as hard as the same producers’ earlier portmanteau collections, Waru and Vai, but that’s not to say it’s not great. Indeed, it’s a wonderful tribute to the diversity of filmmaking culture in Aotearoa — or at least, potential filmmaking culture, as I don’t think the small number of films that the country makes each year really fully embraces that yet, but I certainly wish it would. Whereas the previous film Vai went to locations around the Pacific Islands to find stories that were united through the focus on the water, on the connective threads between them, Kāinga is grounded (literally) in the soil of a single home in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, specifically the southern suburb of Māngere.

The film is split into eight segments moving through the years, taking in each decade from the 1970s onwards, before moving forward in shorter increments, as families from different ethnicities move in, the changes in the families and the changes in the home tracking the changes in society, in aspirations and expectations, and the way that things come full circle. It’s about an idea of New Zealand that I still don’t think is fully part of society there, but is something I think it is working towards a bit better than some other countries (albeit haltingly, as we perceive a little in a later segment of the film, where the home is owned by a racist pākehā couple), of embracing cultural difference as a generative source, and a positive one, but it’s comforting to see it in film.

Not all the individual segments fully work on their own (as is natural for any film of this nature), but the vision is consistent, the work of the set designers and actors and all the filmmakers is impressive in just getting it done (all these 10-minute unbroken takes is a flex, carried over from Waru), and most of all it’s a model and an inspiration, I hope, for future indigenous and pan-Asian filmmaking.

CREDITS
Directors Michelle Ang, Ghazaleh Golbakhsh غزاله گلبخش, Nahyeon Lee, Angeline Loo, Hash Perambalan [as “HASH”], Asuka Sylvie, Yamin Tun and Julie Zhu 朱常榛; Writers Shreya Gejji, Golbakhsh, Mei-Lin Te Puea Hansen, HASH, Lee, Loo, Mia Maramara and Sylvie; Cinematographer Drew Sturge; Starring Mya Williamson, Izumi Sugihara, Patricia Senocbit, Eliana Hwang, Sneha Shetty, Masoumeh Hesam Mahmoudinezhad, Dharshi Ponnampalam, Katlyn Wong; Length 87 minutes.
Seen at ACMI, Melbourne, Monday 27 February 2022.

Sweet As (2022)

Another film festival I attended in February, my first month in Melbourne, was one with a thematic focus a little closer to home than the Europa! Europa Film Festival, namely the Melbourne Women in Film Festival. It was, I gather, the seventh edition, and it’s not a big festival — there were only a handful of films, along with the screening of an old Clara Law film (itself hived off from a larger celebration of Law’s work that’s been screening over the last few weeks), and a couple of programmes of shorts as well as workshops and discussions. I only attended the opening and closing night films, but both came with unexpected (to me, because I hadn’t read the website closely) free drinks, and a generally celebratory atmosphere which is always welcome! Long may the festival continue.


Focusing on a young First Nations woman, Murra (Shantae Barnes-Cowan), who has been let down by her family — most immediately her drug-using and wildly erratic mother — Sweet As blossoms into a really wholesome film that I certainly hope connects with the right audiences. Murra finds herself pushed into going on a group trip with other troubled kids, where they are encouraged to discover their voices via old-fashioned film cameras that one of the guides, an enthusiastic Nicaraguan guy (Carlos Sanson Jr), is particularly keen on. Naturally this idea of photography as a way into taking control of one’s own story means the pressure is on the film’s cinematographer to capture something beautiful, and there’s definitely a sense of some tourist board-approved visuals here, though I suppose you don’t have to work hard in this bit of Western Australia to find something stunning to photograph. The core of the story, though, remains focused on Murra and the way she first resists and ultimately bonds with the others on the trip, as a sort of coming of age road trip. Perhaps it does all feel a little bit soft pedalled (and it fits rather neatly into a familiar generic framework), but this is ultimately a very hopeful film about restoring connections with other people and with the natural world.

CREDITSSweet As (2022) poster
Director Jub Clerc; Writers Clerc and Steve Rodgers; Cinematographer Katie Milwright; Starring Shantae Barnes-Cowan, Pedrea Jackson, Mikayla Levy, Carlos Sanson Jr, Ngaire Pigram; Length 87 minutes.
Seen at ACMI, Melbourne, Thursday 23 February 2022.

Plus que jamais (More Than Ever, 2022)

The fourth film I saw at the Europa! Europa Film Festival was the one I had heard a little about (and is from the German-French-Iranian director of 3 Days in Quiberon), but it turned out to be the one I liked the least. However! It is very much a film for Vicky Krieps to further blossom into the grand actress of European cinema that she has threatened to become the last few years. She really is one of the best.


For a film that could easily be a disease-of-the-week mawkish tearfest made for TV, this drama about a woman dying of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis steers clear of a lot of the particular pitfalls of that genre, though it can never entirely escape it. However, it’s about the way that Hélène (Vicky Krieps) come to terms with her future, such as it is, and the way she has to hurt the ones she loves in order to protect both herself and them. Of course, it comes inbuilt with its own terrible additional layer of heartwrenching irony, in that it’s the film’s co-star Gaspard Ulliel (playing Hélène’s husband Matthieu) who died in real life shortly after this film was made. If Krieps reminds me a bit of Julianne Moore, it’s only because she’s every bit as fine an actor as Moore (who hasn’t shied away from similar roles), and indeed has become one of the more dependable European actors in recent years (whether in films like Bergman IslandCorsage or of course the fine-toned comedy Phantom Thread).

CREDITSPlus que jamais (2022) poster
Director Emily Atef; Writers Atef and Lars Hubrich;  Cinematographer Yves Cape; Starring Vicky Krieps, Gaspard Ulliel, Bjørn Floberg; Length 123 minutes.
Seen at the Classic, Melbourne, Sunday 26 February 2022.