Frantz

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Review © Jane Freebury

Is peace between former enemies possible while the horror of war still haunts them? The process certainly gets complicated in the latest film from the urbane director, Francois Ozon.

Frantz is a loose adaptation of Broken Lullaby, an Ernst Lubitsch film of 1932 that was itself based on a play written in the 1920s, soon after the Great War. It is not the kind of film usually made by for Ozon, who is more inclined to the intimate, sexy, sometimes over the top, contemporary drama like (Under the Sand, Young and Beautiful) or the not so subtle comedy (Potiche). What is he up to here?

Lubitsch, one of the great directors of cinema’s golden age, had quit Germany after WWI and joined the coterie of the expatriate European creatives who flourished in Hollywood. He made his name with sophisticated, witty comedy. Broken Lullaby was atypical for him too, but more easily explained by his background.

Most of the action in Frantz takes place in Germany, embittered and defeated in 1919. A young Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney) has made a pilgrimage to the grave of a young German he once knew, a casualty of the Great War that had engulfed Europe. At Frantz’s graveside, Adrien encounters his former fiancée, Anna (Paula Beer), and against all the odds, he begins to make a connection with her and the dead man’s grieving parents with whom she lives.

The relationship that develops between Adrien and Frantz’s relatives is at once intimate and impossible, not unlike the complicated personal bondings that characterise other films by Ozon, like the excellent Swimming Pool and In the House. Adrien is not what he seems. He is compromised and even if motivated by the highest of intentions, his actions imperil a fragile stability because of the terrible secret that he harbours.

There is a lot at stake for all in what seems like an impulsive intrusion, and the two young actors, Niney and Beer, convey the vulnerability of youth, especially after the trauma of war. Niney doesn’t quite convince this viewer in his role, but Beer is especially effective, her naturalistic performance offering what contemporary audiences are most comfortable with.

And Anna is bold. She follows Adrien when he returns to Paris and eventually tracks him down at his family home, with more surprises to follow. Adrien is never quite what he seems. Anyone familiar with Ozon’s body of work might be looking for a homoerotic sub-text there too. Could be, but it never seems explicitly articulated.

The film is lovely to look at. A few flashbacks in colour signal the exuberance of pre-war Europe and the promise of new hope in the present, otherwise the aesthetic is monochrome.  Perhaps with black-and-white Ozon wanted to honour the great age of silent cinema when expressionism was in its prime in Germany.

Whatever he intended here, his historical drama in classic early 20th century studio style, is thoughtful, subtle and rather exquisite. It could seem dated with its precise plot twists and turns and self-conscious resolution, but the traditional narrative suits Ozon surprisingly well, and it is endowed with a wonderful central performance from newcomer Beer. Her character gives it heart and soul.

4 Stars

Also published at Canberra Critics Circle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Land of Mine

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Review by © Jane Freebury

A rag-tag bunch of German soldiers, some barely men. A beautiful beach on the Danish coast, and it’s spring. Now that the war is over, is it time for them to head home to their families, and live the dreams that kept them going? Not quite yet. First, they have to clean up the mess their army left behind. Underneath the pure white sands, the beach is riddled with land mines.

During World War II, the German army planted mines all along the European coastline and with landfall in Denmark so close to Berlin, it anticipated the Allies would land there. In the end, of course, the Allies opted for a landing in France, leaving the evil ordnance under Danish beaches undisturbed for the time being.

Up to 2,000 German soldiers were conscripted to do the clean up. It is not entirely clear how old they were, what kind of action they had seen beforehand, or whether they were in any sense ‘volunteers’ for this fearful work. It is hard to imagine any were, though who knows what sleight-of-hand was involved.

The writer-director of this powerful drama, Martin Zandvliet, has chosen to focus on the resolution of this dreadful situation, an evil dilemma, in very human terms rather than investigate it forensically. With his young, innocent looking actors, Zandvliet proposes that the mine clearers were too young to be guilty of Nazi atrocities, and were conscripted into the task of mine clearance illegally. Their youth and vulnerability make watching the scenes of them prone on the sand detecting and defusing the mines gingerly, one-by-one, often excruciatingly difficult, even in the safety and comfort of a darkened cinema. Who will the grim reaper select as his next victim in this dreadful game of chance?

Against a setting of stark natural beauty, Zandvliet has created a drama from bare essentials, so the performances really count. The actors are often shot in close up and are very convincing, including Roland Moller as the Danish sergeant in charge of the young men, the most difficult role. I did, however, wonder if the characters did full justice to the complex and conflicting emotions that must swamp former combatants at the end of hostilities.

In 1945, it was against the Geneva Convention to expose prisoners of war to dangerous or unhealthy work. It may be that Denmark contravened this, along with the British command, despite a record of heroic resistance to Nazi activities in relation to its Jewish people. Perhaps we can never know the full story now.

Light on facts, it is nonetheless a powerful drama of rapprochement, opting for empathy rather than analysis in a familiar terrain of having to carry out orders that contravene humanity. In some ways, it seems like a cop out. In others, it seems like the only way forward.

Land of Mine – what a good title – joins impressive drama we’ve seen from Denmark in recent years. Films like The Hunt and Brothers and television like The Bridge that have the courage to get themselves involved in daunting moral complexity. Denmark has some form in this space.

Where does responsibility lie? It’s a fair question. What would an EU have done about the problem in 1945?

A Danish-German production from 2015, Land of Mine has finally reached Australia.

4 Stars

 

Also published at the Canberra Critics Circle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Salesman

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Review by © Jane Freebury

 

The films of writer-director Asghar Farhadi are taut, tense, obliquely scripted and immaculately performed. His latest film in similar vein won best foreign film Oscar this year, just five years since the director won the same award for A Separation.

I wouldn’t say that his meticulous work is the most cinematic. There is sparing though powerful use of all the expressive elements of his chosen medium, yet he is still one of the best around. Social constraint and strict censorship in Iran have served him well, too.

The Salesman was screening in Tehran when I was a tourist there last year. Our guide said it was doing well, though she seemed a little puzzled by its success. It may not be the sort of entertainment that the young and unattached would go out of their way to see.

Marriage is a central motif for Farhadi, and in the world that he has created in A Separation, The Past and now The Salesman, it is a difficult and pretty joyless business. This is a filmmaker with a gift like Ingmar Berman’s for creating immersive experience, pitching his audiences deep into the bracken of complicated, compromised interpersonal relationships. It is up to audiences to make what they will of this microcosm and its wider social significance.

The Salesman opens at the theatre where Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are the lead actors in an amateur production of Death of a Salesman. Garish neon signs and an unmade double bed turn out to be theatre props. If there is some resonance between the disillusionment and betrayal of dreams in Arthur Miller’s iconic study of the mid-20th century US and the present-day in Iran, it is obliquely stated, but damn intriguing all the same.

All of a sudden, a life change for the couple. Deep cracks appear in the walls and windows of their apartment and they are forced to move out and into another apartment. It doesn’t have a bulldozer digging next door, but turns out to be a lot less secure. The previous tenant has not fully vacated, and has left a bedroom locked, filled with her belongings. A visitor who calls is expecting that she will still be there.

Meanwhile, in the scenes of Emad and the teenage boys in his literature class we are on reassuring solid ground. This interlude is a welcome window on his character outside the home. At school, he is genial and kind, an effective and popular teacher who can be a buddy to his students but knows where to draw the line. It is a significant insight into his character that we don’t get for Rana.

The former tenant in Emad and Rana’s new home ‘lived a wild life’ – code for prostitute. Emad realises that the couple has been betrayed through information withheld, but it is already too late. Without any knowledge of previous comings and goings, Rana has no need for caution, and she lets in an unidentified person who she believes to be her husband, then proceeds to the bathroom for a shower.

Rana is assaulted by this stranger, an attack that is neither seen, heard nor explicitly defined. How could it be otherwise? We only see she is severely traumatised.

Unwilling to allow the details of the assault to become public, she refuses Emad’s request they go to the police. The rift that opens between them only widens with Rana in retreat and Emad tracking down the assailant, impatient for justice. Rana even accuses him of seeking revenge. Complication and compromise follow when the attacker turns out to be someone with vulnerabilities of his own.

If the difficulties this couple face cannot be fully appreciated outside Iran, The Salesman explores territory that can, while rape is one of the least reported of crimes. With handheld camera, a modest set, excellent actors and a sensitive and intelligent screenplay, Farhadi has covered some very difficult territory and got us all thinking.

4 Stars

Also published at the Canberra Critics Circle

 

 

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    Their Finest

A spirited romantic comedy set during the London blitz when scriptwriters at the Ministry for Information (read propaganda) had to deliver movies the British public could feel good about despite being down to the wire. Sweet characters with sharp dialogue plus some British farce at its silly best, and one for the forgotten women who helped win that war.    3.5 Stars

 

    Colossal

Everything is connected. The premise that underpins this tale of small-mindedness in small town America, gets a bold workout here, weaving the lives of a bunch of slackers with the supernatural threat in a foreign city. Improbable at the very least, but it works. Cutting across genre boundaries, it’s witty, clever and really different.    3.5 Stars

 

    Beauty and the Beast

Everything has been thrown at this, but for all the talent, the  SFX and CGI, and motion capture to nail the Beast’s facial expressions, it isn’t as thrillingly entertaining as it should be. Over-produced, and not as good as its original, the animated version from 1991.    2.5 Stars

     

     Loving

If US civil rights history makes us think only of freedom marches and passionate speeches, then this understated story of an interracial couple in 1950s Virginia makes us think again. Inarticulate or reticent characters aren’t always compelling on screen, but the loving couple whose story this is based on never wavered, finally won the day, and it’s moving and impressive.   3.5 Stars

 

    The Eagle Huntress

A tale of equal opportunity for Kazakhi girls set against the beautiful Mongolian steppe stretching to infinity. It’s a grand vision, but let down by clumsy handling. Occasional voiceover directs us towards the big finish, with ‘you can do anything’ lyrics over final credits, but the doco seems put together as a crowd-pleaser rather than for the authentic deal.     2.5 Stars

 

       Toni Erdmann

Goofball, unhinged antics abound from a dad desperate to re-connect with his daughter, a corporate professional who has lost touch with him, and herself. Although some improv work needed a stern edit, it is funny, sad, touching, and one of the most unusual films you’ll see all year.    4.5 Stars

 

             Moonlight

It finds something lyrical, beauty and poetry, in coming-of-age for a young man who is gay, black, poor and without prospects. It’s no American dream and it finds a role model where you’d least expect to, a bit of a stretch. Naturalistic dialogue sometimes hard to understand, but feelings unmistakable.   4 Stars

 

     Hidden Figures

Plenty to feel good about in this traditional Hollywood quest with radical and such surprising outcomes. Based on historical facts, loosely assembled, the uplifting story of the first ‘computers’ at NASA, the African-American women who knew their math and helped get the US into space. A hearty 3.5 Stars.

 

 

Manchester by the Sea

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Review by © Jane Freebury

It is no small irony that the main character in Manchester by the Sea is a dependable handyman who can fix anything and everything. The problems that daily life present him with, like blocked drains and snowbound porches, are relatively simple and straightforward, requiring a bit of brawn and stoicism.

It’s when it comes to dealing face-to-face with clients that Lee (Casey Affleck) has difficulties. A blocked cistern or a leaky tap may be nothing compared with a testy female client looking for offence, or another one trying to flirt with him. Clients can be rude and demanding, or charming and welcoming but whatever they do, they get the same stony response. Over a series of interactions, we see that Lee has a bit of a problem. It comes into sharp focus when he throws a punch at strangers at a bar, for little apparent reason, a chilling reminder of the one-punch phenomenon that has emerged in recent years.

Life suddenly becomes complicated for Lee when his older brother dies prematurely. Joe (Kyle Chandler) succumbs to heart failure, leaving behind his teenage son, his only child, in Lee’s care. Sixteen-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges) is a bolshy pain in the neck, if ever there was one, who believes he has all rights and no responsibilities. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for Patrick. Is he obnoxious because he can’t grieve properly for his dad? Maybe. Either way, it turns out that both he and Lee have trouble managing their emotions in dealing with pain and loss.

I’ve read that the idea for this film was taken to Kenneth Lonergan, the screenwriter and director, by some high-profile friends of his in the business, including Matt Damon, with the request that he work on it and make it his own. Giving an emotionally traumatized young man the guardianship of a nephew who needs him is a great idea. When Patrick comes to understand that he can’t be close again with the mother (Gretchen Mol) who left the family years before, he sees that his Uncle Lee is all he has. Lee is it.

As the circumstances behind Lee’s withdrawal from the world are revealed, it is heart rending. He is broken and he can’t fix himself. Every now and then you hear about a trauma like this, and you wonder how the survivors could ever get over it. When Lee meets his former wife Randi (Michelle Williams) again, she has begun to rebuild. His own predicament is etched in stone.

Around ten years have passed since the family tragedy, and Lee still cannot move on. Will he heal eventually, the film asks? Lonergan, who has said he wanted to explore the limits to healing, hasn’t put a creative foot wrong.

Manchester by the Sea is a fine film that has been garlanded with awards and critical acclaim. As it didn’t speak to me as strongly as I expected it to, I’ve come to think that I needed to hear more from Lee, some of the inarticulate speech of his troubled heart. Even though the obvious point is that he cannot express or reach out, more of his inner life would have served the film well, with less of the reactive violence and more of Lee the person from screenwriter Lonergan. The filmmaker has the language—he is the son of psychiatrists—and co-wrote Analyze This, incidentally, the hilarious comedy with Robert de Niro and Billy Crystal as the mafioso and his psychiatrist. Lonergan had wonderful actors in Affleck and Williams. It would have worked.

The Massachusetts fishing village that serves as the landscape of a young man’s inner life, seems to be in a state of permafrost. I wonder how the community of Manchester by the Sea feels about this bleak tale of grief and loss that has brought it to everyone’s attention. It’s too bad that we never get to see the place in summer, but that would not have been true to the emotional arc of Lee’s journey.

4 Stars

Also published at Canberra Critics Circle

I, Daniel Blake

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Review © Jane Freebury

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It is clear that Ken Loach, who turned 80 this year, will never retire. Making films about people who are disadvantaged and dispossessed has been for him a life mission since his television work in the 1960s, and long before he started collaborating with his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty. Loach is a social justice warrior whose work is often gritty and confronting, but there have been lighter and tender moments that have shone through in love across the cultural divide (Ae Fond Kiss), with a sense of fun (Riff-Raff) and mischief (The Angel’s Share).

The task of standing up for people who have to struggle with injustice and lack of opportunity has not been getting any easier, or less relevant.  A tumultuous 2016 shows that fair outcomes for all, amongst other things, can’t be taken for granted in a democracy. No, it looks like the mission is only more pressing.

Someone suggested—was it Loach?—that Jimmy’s Hall in 2014 would be his last, but he has bounced back with one of his best. I, Daniel Blake won the director his second Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year. And the first was only recent, 10 years ago.

When Blake (Dave Johns) experiences a heart attack, his doctor says he should give up work, but the welfare department decides otherwise, on the basis of boxes checked or unchecked, that he is not a suitable candidate for sickness benefit. It’s okay for him to go on jobseeker’s allowance benefit, however, though for Blake this means a never-ending round of failed job applications and workshops to improve his CV.

Everything has to be done online, and Blake doesn’t know the first thing about the digital world. What are the prospects of a joiner just shy of 60 years of age who is good at his job but doesn’t know how to use a computer? A lack of skills in IT today is close to illiteracy.

Age has little to do with his sense of helplessness, as Loach ably shows. Indeed, Blake looks to be in rude health. Johns, otherwise known as a stand-up comedian, makes his character alert and engaging and that bad heart doesn’t seem to be the result of poor habits or health management.

Blake encounters a young woman with two young children in tow at the department. She is protesting that she was late her appointment for genuine reasons and her desperation and the inflexibility of staff cause Blake to step in. Londoner Katie (Hayley Squires) has just arrived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, sent north because of the lack of social housing. They soon become firm friends.

Despite the feistiness, Katie cannot afford to feed herself and her two children at the same time, or put money aside for their school uniforms. Daniel can help her turn her new flat into a home. He has a few tips on how to save on heating, like covering windows with bubble wrap, and he looks after the kids and builds her a bookcase while she is out.

In different ways, however, the bureaucratic trap in which they are each caught eventually pushes them to the end of their tether. Both characters carry on courageously, though the underlying desperation shows through. Johns and Squires both keep it real, with wonderfully engaging performances.

The story of Daniel and Katie is told in Loach’s typical workmanlike style. It can be irritating to see how the director is pulls openly at his audiences’ heart strings and Loach has little time for the aesthetic possibilities of his medium. Yet this film demonstrates exactly why Loach keeps on working. His didacticism gets the better of him at times, making it easy for us to see what he’s up to, and we always know where he is coming from, but he is a master at eliciting empathy for his characters and their world, beyond the beltway.

Loach is as good as he ever was at drawing us into the frame, and at getting us involved and engaged on a deeply empathetic, humanist level.

4 Stars

 

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Joe Cinque’s Consolation

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© Jane Freebury

 

 

As stories go, the story of Joe Cinque is at the very least alarming. A young Canberra man who was guilty of nothing more than an excess of loving tolerance towards his live-in girlfriend, and it cost him his life.

The end of their affair is a cautionary tale, a revelation of the dangers that are inherent in taking too much responsibility for others, as Cinque did for his loved one’s health and wellbeing. It reveals at the same time the dangers of community taking too little.

Were Joe Cinque’s Consolation not based on a true story, we might dismiss it as another dark chapter of suburban malaise, a toxic mix of the bizarre and the banal. If only it were not true.

This first feature from Sotiris Dounoukos, a graduate in law turned filmmaker who was studying in Canberra at the time of Cinque’s death in 1997, is a principled exploration of events leading up to the night he was killed. Dounoukos and his team, including co-writer Matt Rubinstein, have been brave to tackle this daunting project from the recent past with many stakeholders, including the families of principal characters who are still very much alive.

There is much to praise here. The screenplay by Dounoukos and Matt Rubinstein, that sounds pitch perfect. The performances are uniformly really good, especially Maggie Naouri’s take on Anu Singh, by far the most complex role in the film. The direction is restrained yet skilful, negotiating the many shoals on which melodrama so often founders. Overall, the film is a credit to all involved, including the young actors, who besides Naouri, are relative unknowns.

In addition to the challenge of providing a portrayal of Singh, the law student who injected Cinque with lethal doses of heroin after she had rendered him comatose with a potent sedative, the film explores the vexed question of responsibility. There were people who were aware, like Madhavi Rao, Singh’s close friend, of plans afoot, or even just vaguely aware. There were dinner party guests, there were dealers, there were enablers. Were they somehow in thrall to Singh? Did they ever imagine that events could transpire as they did? Community duty of care is one of the key questions the film puts to its audience.

The circumstances of Cinque’s death have denied his family closure, and responsibility for it has remained in law at least a somewhat open question. Just as Garner’s book Joe Cinque’s Consolation raised questions about the way his death was dealt with in court in 2004, the film Joe Cinque’s Consolation asks the audience to review and reconsider.

While it is difficult to see the film as an adaptation of Garner’s work, to which Dounoukos was granted the rights, film and book are certainly complementary and can be experienced back-to-back. The film version of events leading up to the death can then be followed by Garner’s personal account of the court proceedings that dealt with it.

There are sensitivities and pitfalls aplenty to manage, but Joe Cinque’s Consolation emerges as a very fine film indeed. It is nuanced, respectful, subtle and it makes the inexorable progress towards a death foretold really powerful.

It shows how it was possible for Cinque to die in the way that he did, answering my first question. My second question relates to the way it was dealt with in court, but that remains unanswered.

I became a resident of Canberra in the same year that this 26-year-old engineer died. It was the same year that the implosion of the Canberra Hospital took place, another bizarre event that is incidentally referenced in the film as well. The city of Canberra and its environs are revealed in the many location stills interspersed through the tightly observed drama. These shots open it out, asking how a city could carry on regardless as a young man lay dying. It is something we can all ask ourselves.

Although it inevitably shares space on the big screen with chick flicks and the domestic noirs with femme fatales now in vogue, Joe Cinque’s Consolation, is never in any danger of being trivialized by the demands of entertainment.  It is too serious and intelligent and nuanced for that.

4 Stars

 

Also published on the Canberra Critics Circle blog:

http://ccc-canberracriticscircle.blogspot.com.au/

 

 

 

Truman

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© by Jane Freebury

Of all the titles to choose for a film about a man facing his premature demise, Truman takes its name from a saggy, baggy old boxer dog in need of a good home. A vague connection with former American presidents or celebrity writers is no guide to what we find within, though breaking the name down into its components gives a sense of what the film is on about.

As a companion for Julian (Ricardo Darin), Truman has been as faithful, steady and reliable as a pet could be during his master’s closing act. In truth, the dog doesn’t seem long for this world either. Julian’s cousin Paula (Dolores Fonzi), Julian’s closest family in Madrid, is fond and caring but seems rather duty-bound to her irascible and difficult relative, a theatre actor who arrived from Argentina long ago, and never returned home.

When Tomas (Javier Camara) flies in from Canada on a surprise four-day visit, Truman has to play second fiddle while the two old friends get out and about. There’s an appointment with Julian’s doctor, a visit to the vet, some research at a bookshop, a visit to the funeral parlour, but there are diverting outings too. All the while, the tone is kept light, as Julian remains stoic, ironic and emotionally honest.

Slowly – slyly? – the film reveals the facts. That Julian is terminally ill with cancer, that he is a working stage actor still (he says he wasn’t any good on screen), that he remains on excellent terms with his former wife, and that he perhaps hasn’t a lot to show for his life except a string of affairs and a middling career. It’s not that writer-director Cesc Gay makes a fetish of withholding important information, it’s just that there is only so much we need to know at any one time. It’s up to us to keep up.

Tomas has flown in from Canada on a mission, but as soon as he sees his old friend he knows that it is futile. Julian has decided he won’t continue chemotherapy. His sole remaining goal in life is to find Truman a suitable home.

What really matters is the two blokes in frame and in close up, and their friendship in hard times. Darin and Camara are both superb. In one particular scene, they ask what they have learned from each other. Apart from the illegal things, courage, says Tomas. Generosity, says Julian. Yes, we’ve noted that Tomas pays all the bills.

Julian has a knack for drawing Tomas out, encouraging him to recognize his feelings. Perhaps this accounts for the jarring moment when Tomas and Paula sleep together. Or is it to show the paradox of the loyal friend who can also be the faithless husband?

In 2013, I found Gay’s comedy of gender relations, A Gun in Each Hand an initially promising but frustrating experience. It also featured Darin and Camara. This time, Gay has absolutely nailed it with Truman, a deeply satisfying mature drama liberally sprinkled with humour, wit, warmth and insight.

4 Stars

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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Review by © Jane Freebury

It used to go without saying that brandishing a fist at the authorities was a staple of Australian film. It probably still is. We know how to give it a good shake, so this jaunt through the New Zealand wilderness with a couple of endearing fugitives on the run from nosey and incompetent authority is handled in ways that will make the rebellious antipodean proud.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a film to embrace for its spirit as much as for its skill.Hunt for Wilderpeople poster

This story about a kid called Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) who just needs a good home is told in ten chapters, a salute to the popular novel from which it is adapted, ‘Wild Pork and Watercress’ by Barry Crump. At the very least, Ricky needs a home that will take him in, because he is a handful who pitches stuff, does graffiti, and packs letter boxes with fireworks. ‘A bad egg’ – just ask Paula (Rachel House), the dragon lady from family services for her view – and no one will have him.

When Ricky arrives at his new home deep in the lush New Zealand wilderness, it is his last chance, the only thing between him and an institution.

Never mind that. The ramshackle house and new foster parents, Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband Hec (Sam Neill), are so uncool for preternaturally street-wise Ricky, hip-hop officiando, that he is ready to leave after a 30-second tour of the property.

No chance, of course he has to stay. Before long Bella’s love and kindness and the comforts of home – a birthday cake with candles, his very own pet dog (Tupac), a water bottle to warm his bed, are all new experiences that win him over—though he tries running away a few times. Sadly, no sooner is he happily ensconced in the bosom of his new family, than Bella is cruelly taken from him, and from Hec. A tragedy swiftly passed over, segueing into funeral scenes that serve as an excuse for more hilarity.

Ricky and Tupac light out for the territory, with Hec in hot pursuit. When Hec injures his ankle it introduces a period of enforced togetherness. That’s the chapter called ‘Broken Foot Camp’ and it’s when Hec and Ricky finally bond.

Family services think their disappearance is an abduction and three hunters who the pair encounter determine, after a cleverly scripted interchange, that Hec is a predatory paedophile. When Ricky and Hec attempt a getaway in the old truck borrowed from their host, hermit and fellow fugitive from society, Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby), things take a turn for the worse as family services, the police, the army, and bounty hunters and every unwelcome outside interference are ranged against them. As the choppers, tanks and military hardware close in, it’s Paula who is orchestrating the manoeuvres through her megaphone. The fun never lets up.

On top of telling a good yarn, the very talented Kiwi director and screenwriter Taika Waititi has made liberal use of chase movie references, popular music, and even managed some asides on the Lord of the Rings in passing. Despite all the diverting distractions in this highly entertaining and big-hearted movie, we are with Ricky and Hec all the way.

4 Stars

A Month of Sundays

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Month of Sundays poster

Review by © Jane Freebury

 

The hint of self-deprecating humour in the title of writer-director Matthew Saville’s new film doesn’t cost him a thing. The expression may not be familiar to everyone, but you still get the general idea that it’s no action-adventure. A movie about a man in mid-life conflicted about the nature of his work, divorced though not quite separated from his wife, alienated from his teenage son, feeling the loss of his mother who has recently died, and he’s a real estate agent. Are we rubbing our hands with glee and anticipation?

The marvel is, that despite the implicit invitation to write it off as a yawn, A Month of Sundays is deft, smart, funny, and surprising, and told in a crisply edited and handsome visual style. We have now come to expect nothing less of filmmaker Saville, whose two first films, Noise and Felony, were impressive and distinctive and who directed episodes of the fine TV series The Slap.

Here he draws you into the world of property sales, a subject about which you would expect many Australians to hold strong views. Salesman Frank (Anthony LaPaglia) is estranged from the world outside, barely connected to self and inner feeling, as sales blurb and sales patter dominate his thoughts. He could be raking it in, but he is out of sorts, ‘in a mood’ as his boss says, and can’t make the most of things. There have been at the movies a myriad men in mid-life crisis like Frank, however few will end up finding themselves again through a relationship with a woman old enough to be his mother.

His boss and sometime golf partner, Phillip (comedian John Clarke) doesn’t seem to mind Frank’s condition terribly, tolerating his depressed employee, making him the butt of his droll humour and trying to lift him out of his depression. Phillip is not so far removed from the persona of the satirist and comedian John Clarke who we know and enjoy, though the performance could have been a bit more nuanced.

As Frank dangles in the void, the practices of the realtor business come in for a sharply observed critique. It’s very funny and will be appreciated by many a young couple who have struggled to make their deposit stretch to a purchase.

A chance encounter with Sarah (Julia Blake), briefly and improbably mistaken for his late mother, suddenly opens a new door. Julia Blake brings a delicacy and warmth to her role as Sarah. She lives alone, enjoys Sunday lunch with her son, and is very connected to others through her extensive collection of books, many of which are ex libris. Each person she knows is intimately associated with one of more of the items in her library.

You wouldn’t think that an uncontroversial film like this could divide the critics, but it has. LaPaglia and Blake are exquisitely paired in this odd couple relationship and it is entertaining on many levels.

Once again, Saville has shown he knows how to approach  familiar genre  with subtlety, depth, and empathy. A Month of Sundays confirms a rising talent.

4 Stars