beDevil (1993)

Following contemporary women-authored stories set amongst communities within white Australia, like Celia (1989) and The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992), it took artist and photographer Tracey Moffatt to become the first woman of Aboriginal background to make a feature film, one distinctive and idiosyncratic enough that she never did make another. I saw it at Bristol’s Cinema Rediscovered festival, a fantastic long weekend of cinema which is modelled after Il Cinema Ritrovato, and takes place at the end of July each year.


An extraordinarily stylish one-of-a-kind film (not least because director Tracey Moffatt never made another feature), it has a heightened unreality that recalls not just studio-bound 50s Hollywood hothouse melodramas but arthouse experiments like Rohmer’s Perceval le Gallois (1978) or Fassbinder’s Querelle (1982). The three ghost stories share not just this visual stylisation but the way they leap between past and present with ease, for these are not just stories, but collective memories or perhaps cultural touchstones, channelling a sort of Australian mythology that (for a change) isn’t rooted just in white men ‘going bush’, but a wide variety of ethnic identities, not least Moffatt’s Aboriginal roots. It’s quite possible the range of reference points is too specific for me (a non-Australian) to pick up on much of it, but it’s a heady watch all the same, a knowing wink at the audience without the suffocating irony and cynicism that too many directors of the 90s considered cool. Maybe that’s why it never made much of a splash at the time, but it’s ripe (in every sense) for rediscovery.

Film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Tracey Moffatt; Cinematographer Geoff Burton; Starring Tracey Moffatt, Lex Marinos; Length 90 minutes.
Seen at Watershed, Bristol, Saturday 28 July 2018.

Criterion Sunday 196: Hiroshima mon amour (1959)

When people think about pretentious French movies, I think this is somehow the Platonic ideal they’re thinking about, an ur-text of reflective voiceover, alienated detachment and pain, the possibility (and impossibility perhaps) of cultural rapprochement following imperialist aggression, opening as it does with the conjoining of bodies under the ash of nuclear fallout. It is, as has been far more eloquently expressed by commentators far more engaged than I am, about the complex interplay of memory and desire, but it is also aggressively modernist in its construction and the way it engages with the viewer, so unlikely to be for all tastes. I first watched it 20 years ago, and I’ll watch it in another 20, and I can only hope to catch up with what it’s doing by then.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Alain Resnais; Writer Marguerite Duras; Cinematographers Michio Takahashi 高橋通夫 and Sacha Vierny; Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada 岡田英次; Length 90 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 11 February 2018 (and earlier on VHS at home, Wellington, December 1997).

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.

* 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.

Film Memories: March 1998

Here’s the introduction from my post last month where I looked back at February 1997: 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, 15 years ago, with my memories of them.

Continue reading “Film Memories: March 1998”

Film Memories: February 1997

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. So here’s what I saw last month 16 years ago.

* Fargo (Wellington: Mid City). This was the second time I’d seen this film (the first was in June 1996). I’ve seen it again since, which is a rare enough thing, so I’ve still got a fair few images in my head. The opening is in a classic epic film style, with a big crane shot revealing an expanse of snowy road, with a car travelling ominously along it. Also that fictive opening title, “based on a true story”. The humour, I remember, was dead pan, and it did well that year at the Academy Awards. Certainly, I liked it.

* Shine (Wellington: Manners Mall). I saw this twice in a row at the same cinema, the second time with my mother and some of her friends. It was getting a lot of buzz at the time, and a lot of really positive word of mouth. It was, I recall, Geoffrey Rush’s big breakout performance. However, despite seeing it twice, I have very little recollection of the film itself, save that the protagonist was beset with a variety of tics (he was autistic, I believe). I guess my main feeling that I’ve kept with me is that it was effective yet manipulatively emotive hackwork.

* Breaking the Waves (Wellington: Paramount). I still remember that I came into this film just as it started; the cinema was completely black (no partially-dimmed lights as too many cinemas these days seem to offer throughout film screenings), so I stumbled to my seat as the opening landscape images came at me. Of the film itself, I remember liking it, though the camerawork was decided queasy. The film was split into chapters and Emily Watson’s protagonist was rather too ready to abase herself in pursuit of some kind of misguided religious self-flagellation. The transcendent denouement seemed to owe rather too much to Dreyer’s far superior Ordet.

* Richard III (Wellington: Paramount). This 1995 film by Richard Loncraine has Ian McKellen as the eponymous anti-hero, and I really enjoyed it. I am not really certain if it was as good an adaptation as has been done for the cinema, but McKellen certainly sticks in my mind as an actor greatly relishing the role.

* The Portrait of a Lady (Wellington: Penthouse). I saw this with my mother in a small suburban cinema in Wellington, with a heavily raked seating layout. I think they’d newly created this smaller screen down the back of what had originally been a one-screen cinema, if I recall correctly, though quite why I should recall this I don’t know. My cinematic dislike for John Malkovich has been an abiding one, and I didn’t like him in this, but then his character was hardly a likable one. Yet the strength and assuredness of Campion’s imagery remains with me, though the chatty opening featuring a bunch of contemporary Australian women talking was an odd misdirect. I keep thinking I’d like to watch this film again to reassess it, as I have very mixed feelings about whether it was ultimately successful.

* Extreme Measures (Wellington: Mid City). A multiplex medical thriller starring Hugh Grant and directed by Michael Apted. Competent, but hardly memorable. Gene Hackman was the antagonist, I think.

* William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (Wellington: Manners Mall). Another Shakespeare adaptation, this one the saturated stylised camp of Baz Luhrmann. I found this energetic and likeable, and I believe I’ve watched it since. Some of it is likely to have become hugely dated, but it captured the self-involved teenage characters well.

* Moll Flanders (Wellington: Rialto). Robin Wright played the eponymous heroine, and it was all very period drama with a bit of grimness and gore thrown in. I recall very little about it aside that I found it passably entertaining.

* The People vs. Larry Flynt (Wellington: Embassy). This biopic of the Hustler impresario got a bunch of positive reviews at the time. I went to see it, as I did so many films, with my mother, which always leads to a little awkwardness, but for a film about a p0rn magnate, this was rather goofy and charming (even if Woody Harrelson did really capture something of the sleaziness of the man).

* Les Misérables (Wellington: Rialto). Obviously this was not the recent musical adaptation, but rather a French film based on the novel. I don’t think it had any singing in it at all, but then I don’t remember anything about it. It had a big French film star in the lead, but only subsequent searching just now has revealed to me that it was Jean-Paul Belmondo.