The Truffle Hunters

Exquisitely made doco exploring the eccentricity, humour and doggedness in a breed of man as rare as hens’ teeth

M, 84 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

In the opening birds-eye shot above a damp, tangled forest in Piedmont, the camera is too high to show what is happening beneath. Until we home in on a man and his dogs hunting for truffles down below. It is an exquisite start to this documentary about the age-old tradition of hunting for the prized white Alba truffle, found only in this mountainous region of northern Italy.

The Alba truffle has defied science, bless it. It appears this rare fungus has not yet disclosed its secrets, and cannot be cultivated. Although it is surely only a matter of time before these are revealed, the scientists had better get their skates on. The Truffle Hunters suggests that the elderly men who know how to harvest them are a dying breed.

The focus of the doco, written and directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw, is on four truffle hunters. One of whom is retired, a dissenter resisting efforts to get him back in the game.

Each of the men uses dogs. Dogs need to be trained but at least they don’t eat the truffles when they find them, as pigs apparently do.

Aurelio and Birba in The Truffle Hunters

One of the touching things revealed here is the symbiosis between the men and their dogs. Other ‘man’s best friend’ movies have nothing on this, in which a truffle hunter shares a bath with his dog, even giving him a back rub. Another shares his dinner table with his dog, even allowing it to lick the plate.

Yet another, Carlo, would prefer, it seems, to spend his evening hunting for truffles rather than share it with his wife. The 87 year old, a youthful, quiet soul, seems to prefer rambling through the oaks and hazelnuts to the dulcet sound of the night owls.

A fourth man, Angelo, has retired from the game altogether. A former acrobat with a juicy romantic past he likes to tease us with, has to fend off agents who want him to share his prized specialist knowledge before taking it to the grave. He became fed up with how consumer greed impacted his livelihood. His dogs were poisonned.

To alleviate the tensions and stresses that he endures, Sergio, a younger man, takes his anger and frustration out while playing drums. His second dog is poisoned during the course of the film, and he looks into buying his remaining dog a muzzle. Perhaps the only way to prevent it being poisoned by strychnine-impregnated

Specialist knowledge is something the men refuse to share, despite being harassed for it. Aurelio has never married and has no children, but at 84 won’t share the prized knowledge that he is likely to take with him. He wants to find someone to look after his dog, Birba, when he goes but it’s hard to imagine he will.

examines the role of the truffle hunter, fast disappearing, but not so much the consumers, like ‘the president’, on the other side of the equation

The contrast drawn between the old truffle hunters and the agents they supply is sharply drawn.

There is a scene where a key intermediary enjoys fried eggs topped with shaved truffle with a glass of red. As the still camera watches head on as he eats, the gastronomic experience could hardly look less appealing.

Another scene in which prospective buyers file past a big, regal truffle to sniff its aroma is a gently humorous take on the hallowed ritual of truffle culture.

The film has elected to examine the role of the truffle hunter, fast disappearing. But not so much the other side of the equation, the consumers, like ‘the president’ referred to in one early scene.

The people who drive the insane prices for these epicurean curios are largely unseen. At least acquiring truffles doesn’t involve killing an entire animal or sea creature to obtain it.

The four men’s lives and livelihoods are marked by the tolling of the village church bell. The writer-directors, who are also the cinematographers, have recorded most everything with a stationary camera in a series of beautifully framed shots where the movement occurs only in the frame.

There is a funny exception. Midway, there are a number of scenes filmed from the perspective of the dogs, scampering through the forest, sniffing the ground for the tell-tale pungent scent as they go.

This exquisitely made doco is as light as air and, like its subject, an eccentric, humorous rarity.

First published in the Canberra Times on 21 February 2021

*Featured image: Truffle hunters at large

Another Round

Is life better when we’re a little bit drunk?

M, 116 minutes

4 stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

 

Provocation is something some filmmakers like Thomas Vinterberg take to with ease and skill. The Danish writer-director has made gentle adaptations of classic Thomas Hardy novels, but he also has a knack for treating contemporary social issues in his modern dramas. Asking questions that can be confronting and make us really think.

When his film Festen appeared in 1998, it was arresting to see a story about sexual predation in a family gathered to celebrate the patriarch’s birthday. The Hunt of 2012 had the title of a vigilante western, but was about a kindergarten worker wrongly accused of child sexual molestation.

director Vinterberg likes asking confronting questions, and making us really think

It is hardly surprising when a film about a tough subject arrives with the Vinterberg tag, because he was one of the co-founders of Dogme 95.

The Danish film movement was all about filmmaking eschewing special effects and returning to the basics, concentrating on narrative and performance. It hasn’t been so hugely influential, but it’s an excellent touchstone to contrast with effects-driven cinema. And some of its most talented practitioners do make great movies.

Vinterberg is in the same company as Dogme 95 co-founder Lars von Trier who has consistently made films that unsettle, disturb and question. Some of von Trier’s confronting – some would say shocking – body of work includes films like Dogville, Breaking the Waves and Nymphomaniac.

The more sensational work by von Trier work may have overshadowed Vinterberg’s nuanced and intellectually testing films, but Vinterberg is hardly less challenging.

In Another Round, Vinterberg takes a look at drinking culture in his country. Does everyone there drink ‘like maniacs’ as someone says? Druk, ‘binge drinking’, is the title of the film in Danish.

Another Round kicks off with deliriously joyful, drunken opening scenes of young people partying by a lake to Scarlet Pleasure’s ‘What a Life’ on the soundtrack.

The partying teens are drinking as much as they possibly can, and more. On the train back into town they trick one of the ticket collectors who intervenes to turn the rowdiness down a notch, handcuffing him to a passenger rail.

The exhilarating mood comes to an abrupt halt as their teachers are introduced, in particular the four middle-aged male colleagues who are also friends outside school. Without any competition, the charismatic Mads Mikkelsen (A Royal Affair, The Hunt, and Casino Royal) comes to the fore as lead character, Martin. He teaches history.

Martin is at this point a rather indifferent teacher, one has to say. In the scenes with his wife and young sons, it is clear that he is not in a good way outside the classroom either. Stuck in mid-life doldrums, he asks his wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie), if he has become boring. Silly question.

Out with his teaching friends for a 40th birthday dinner, the lads, feeling flat about turning 40, hit on an idea. Why not test the hypothesis of (an actual) Norwegian philosopher and psychiatrist Finn Skarderud that human beings would benefit from always being a little bit drunk?

It’s Skarderud’s theory that the blood alcohol count we are born with is too low and that we should drink to maintain 0.05% to bring out the best in ourselves. A very seductive proposition to a group of chaps who fear their best years may be behind them.

Why not test it out? Why not take the benefits that Skarderud claims and become more relaxed, poised, musical, open and creative? Social and professional performance could only improve.

it hasn’t been just the creative geniuses in history who drank a bit

As Martin explores his more relaxed and creative self in the classroom, he shares interesting facts about significant historical figures and their alcohol use. It hasn’t been just the creative geniuses who drank a bit.

Another Round is structured as a dairy of events, with the men taking a swig on the job. Hard to believe it could go unnoticed for so long, but then there’s a point or two for the story to make as it develops.

Despite the serious topic, some gloomy interiors and the film’s dedication to Vinterberg’s elder daughter who was to have a key role as Martin’s concerned teenage daughter, Another Round ends on a high. It concludes with an exuberant dance performance, an expression of freedom, by Mikkelsen. The very talented actor started out as a gymnast and jazz ballet dancer. Surprise, surprise.

First published in the Canberra Times on 13 February 2021

The White Tiger

Bristling, fast-paced, witty satire of contemporary India delivers the pleasures of cinema at its best

 

MA 15+, 131 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

It all began for Balram during an evening out with the boss and his wife, celebrating her birthday. The couple were intoxicated but birthday girl was nevertheless behind the wheel. The streets of Delhi were virtually empty, after all, so driver Balram was relegated to the back seat, a maharajah for the night.

A flash of consternation crosses his face as they fly past a bronze Gandhi and his followers, and then another as the 4WD swerves to miss a cow. Balram Halwai’s turban is slipping by now. Then a figure steps onto the road out of nowhere, with a sickening thump.

Balram, the eponymous ‘white tiger’, soon discovers that in modern India there are many ways to serve his masters, the unfortunate Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra). By telling them what they want to hear, but also by taking the rap.

What, after all, is a servant without a master? For Aravind Adiga, author of The White Tiger, the novel that won the Booker Prize in 2008, and co-writer of this adaptation to screen, it is the servant-master relationship that still underpins Indian society, holding it back.

In Balram, a son of the rural poor, The White Tiger has a most unlikely protagonist. He is by turns sly and sincere, someone who plays it both ways to survive. In his skilful performance, Adarsh Gourav makes Balram an engaging screen presence and a significantly more empathetic character than the book ever quite manages.

A sweetmaker destined to stay in the family village, Balram realised one day that his prospects within the Indian system were no better than that of a rooster in the coop. Why wait placidly to have one’s head removed and one’s body cut up into useful culinary portions? That’s no way to live.

So, he inveigles his way into a job as driver for a rich family. It’s his first step en route to joining the burgeoning ranks of Indian entrepreneurs.

Adarsh Gourav and Priyanka Chopra in The White Tiger (2021). Courtesy Netflix

Balram asks that we do not prejudge him for his crime, the nature of which is not made entirely clear, until we have heard his ‘glorious’ tale in its entirety.

Adhering to the structure of the book, his story is presented as a letter to the Chinese Premier of the time. With an invitation to compare the outcomes of development in democratic India with those of its neighbour, communist China.

Now that America has become so ‘yesterday’, with the rest of the West in decline, the dawning 21st century would surely prove to be the time for China and India to come into their own.

But look at the infrastructure shambles and widespread poverty in India, compared to the relative elimination of these problems in its autocratic neighbour?

The White Tiger shows how the Indian system works, when it really shouldn’t. Who needs democracy when there is no transport system, no drinking water, no electricity, no sewerage system ­ and ‘no manners’?

One of the film’s many enduring images captures Balram and another driver squatting opposite each other in broad daylight. The camera pulls back to reveal they are defecating behind tall grass in a vacant lot, barely hidden from their wealthy clients who enjoy the luxury of life in the gleaming tower blocks in the background.

Back in 2009, Adiga nominated Ramin Bahrani as his director of choice were his novel to be adapted for the screen. This has come to pass. The screenplay is a collaboration between Adiga and his Iranian-born friend. The writer-director has built a highly-regarded, socially and politically conscious filmography including features like 99 Homes and Fahrenheit 451.

Furthermore, in Bahrani’s hands the characters lose the cartoonish tendencies of the novel and acquire the heft and dimension they lacked on the page. The cinematography by Paolo Carnera and the editing by the director and Tim Streeto also greatly enhance the narrative.

Satire can be tricky, but The White Tiger maintains its wicked and darkly humourous tone throughout. From the brisk opening scenes, Bahrani has ensured that his film makes its political point while also delivering on the pleasures of cinema.

The White Tiger, a tough and savage tale about advancement by hook or by crook in modern India, has been turned into a terrific film. Angry, nuanced, entertaining.

First published in the Canberra Times on 16 January 2021

The Dry

MA 15+, 117 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

The details of Jane Harper’s bestselling novel are known to many readers the world over, yet the film adaptation with Eric Bana is no less likely to be a success. Even though we know in advance what happens.

Purists may resist the imposing presence of Bana as Aaron Falk. He is a different physical type from his character on the page. In Harper’s words, her protagonist is pale, blond and freckled, burdened with a complexion that presents a distinct disadvantage under the harsh outback sun.

Bana, on the other hand, is a good fit for man of the land. He hasn’t been cast as a Hollywood superhero for nothing, and he fits equally well as a federal police officer here, the financial crimes analyst from the city.

Aaron goes back to Kiewarra, the town where he grew up, to attend the funeral of an old friend, Luke.

On return, Aaron is made to feel he no longer belongs. As an outsider from the metropolis, as a representative of overarching authority but also as a person with a smear against his name.

There is the suspicion that he didn’t say all he knew when a local girl, Ellie Deacon (BeBe Bettencourt), was found drowned 20 years before.

In The Dry, the people of Kiewarra have had a brush with the apocalypse, and they are toughened. From relentless drought, the existential glow of bushfires on the horizon and the plume of dust that rises behind everything that moves. It has not rained in 324 days, and there are no prospects it will any time soon.

In his (fictional) hometown in regional Victoria, Aaron is a five-hour drive from Melbourne but light years away from the world he knows. Suddenly pitched back into the bush, he comes alive to it for the first time in 20 years, and it is sensory overload.

Memories triggered by a return to place, can be so powerful. Nothing else has been laid down there since they were formed, and they are as fresh as yesterday.

Aaron discovers he remains implicated in what happened to Ellie, so he has an investment in the truth, even if ‘isn’t something you can expect to find in this town’, as someone says. But Aaron is not a member of the town ecosystem and he has clarity of recall.

After attending the funeral of former friend Luke Hadley, shot dead along with his wife and young son, Aaron decides to stay on, despite the glacial welcome he has received. He will take more leave and remain in town because the more he hears about the shootings, the less convinced he is that Luke was to blame.

A visit to Luke’s grieving parents is met with suspicion by grieving father, Gerry (Bruce Spence). The teenage girl found drowned at a popular swimming spot was a friend of his and Luke’s, so what more does he know?

At the hotel where Aaron is grudgingly given a room, the hotelier in wild bushman’s beard and several hostile others, had me wondering whether The Dry was going to veer into ‘outback gothic’. The atmosphere has more than a touch of Wake in Fright, the brawling, brutal classic Australian outback thriller of 1971.

No night-time kangaroo hunts or drunken games of two up, just a mood of menace

The town schoolteacher here, John Polson’s conflicted Scott Whitlam, is an after-hours pokies addict. It’s a difficult role to play.

The Dry screenplay, a collaboration between Connolly and Harry Cripps, stays true to the book, however. There are no night-time kangaroo hunts or drunken games of two up, just a pervasive mood of menace.

Not everyone spurns Aaron. Gretchen (a lively Genevieve O’Reilly) doesn’t. She signals her interest, and there is a short-lived flirtation. O’Reilly’s performance is very engaging, but also well-judged where I found some minor characters overdrawn.

About what it means to return to place, where you grew up

The director, Robert Connolly (Balibo, Paper Planes) has observed that his film is a story about what it means to returns to the place where you grew up. As such The Dry is a story about ‘staying or leaving’, something many can respond to.

Connolly has kept the lid on things, ensuring his story remains character-driven when it could have become melodramatic, even over-wrought. Ensuring the narrative works as a crime thriller and not an outback gothic drama. The Dry is a compelling film that has really enhanced its source.

First published in the Canberra Times on 1 January 2021

How to Be a Good Wife

M, 108 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

How to Be a Good Wife opens at the crack of dawn, as everyone gets ready for a busy day. The new school year is about to begin with a fresh intake of girls who will learn the ‘pillars of wisdom’ for successful household management and a happy marriage.

In 1967, the universities in France may have been festering with revolution but there were other options for parents who wanted to prepare their daughters for life. There were more than 1,000 institutes across the country like the Van Der Beck Institute that offered courses for educating teenage girls on how to become the perfect homemaker and wife.

a surprising footnote to the 1960s turned into marvellous farce

Writer-director Martin Provost has turned this surprising footnote to the end of the 1960s in France into a marvellous farce, just what the 2020 silly season needs. A comedy set in a school of good housekeeping and good manners in a walled town known best for its vineyards and strudel. Far from the ructions in Paris in the lead-up to May 1968, but not quite far enough.

As the cock crows, head instructor Paulette Van Der Beck (Juliette Binoche) is already dressed, looking snappy in a pastel pink fitted number, high heels and string of pearls. One last spray of lacquer to her rigid hair and she’ll be ready.

it has been easy to forget Binoche is a really good comedienne

From the outset, Juliette Binoche is wonderful in this central role. With so many serious and occasionally devastating roles she has played over the years, it has been easy to forget that she is a really good comedienne. Matched with Provost’s snappy lines and direction, her work here is a triumph.

An extended opening montage that introduces the institute and its assorted characters is one of the film’s delights. Paulette’s introduction to the new students is set off against an amusing series of vignettes that show how things work in practice.

Paulette’s ‘pillars’ of wifely wisdom are reminiscent of 1950s manuals for good housekeeping, full of advice on how to keep hubby happy, that do the rounds online. They contain advice about making hubby comfortable after a long day at work, plumping up pillows, offering to remove shoes, while speaking in a soothing voice. One I’m thinking of ends with the maxim ‘a good wife always knows her place’.

There are other signs that there is fun ahead. Sister Marie-Therese (Noemie Lvovsky, of Camille Rewinds) is sprung with her ciggie. A former member of the French Resistance, she now seems to have a debilitating superstition of redheads. A new redhead has enrolled, and they have never had one before.

Yolande Moreau and Noemie Lvovsky in How to Be a Good Wife. Courtesy Unifrance

The third whacky female is Gilberte Van Der Beck, the headmaster’s unmarried sister, played by Yolande Moreau. Her performance was commanding in Provost’s most highly awarded film, Seraphine.

After a few comic scenes of Paulette’s husband, school principal, Robert Van Der Beck (Francois Berleand) ogling then new student body, he is swept from the frame by a cardiac arrest.

Then Gilberte and Paulette discover that Robert has left the school’s finances in ruins. They seek advice from banker Andre (Edouard Baer), who turns out to be Paulette’s long lost old flame.

Their renewed attraction takes HTBAGW n a whole new direction. The pacing changes awkwardly as scenes of romantic drama ensue. However, a light farcical tone is restored as Andre proposes while hanging from a downpipe and reciting a recipe to prove his credentials.

Paulette, Gilberte and Marie-Therese have their work cut out with the class of ’67, who are in many ways a more feisty, worldly bunch than their cloistered teachers. They don’t need liberating like their seniors do and it’s their generation that will carry feminism forward, after all.

The bumbling adults are the main event, with the girls relegated to subplots. However, a young Brigitte Bardot lookalike (Marie Zabukovec), and two in a tentative romance (Anamaria Vartolomei and ‘the redhead’ Pauline Briand), bring a heap of verve and brio along that the film benefits from enormously. Zai Zai Zai Zai!

Schools of etiquette and deportment haven’t disappeared, of course, and today no doubt teach with gender equality in mind.

Farce doesn’t appeal to everyone, but the French do it brilliantly when they do it well. Despite a few diversions into other territory, this film is very entertaining, and turns its title on its head.

First published in the Canberra Times on 26 December 2020

Featured image: Noemie Lvovsky and Juliette Binoche in How to Be a Good Wife. Courtesy Unifrance

The Furnace

MA 15+, 116 minutes

4 stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

 

 

Among the memorable moments in the classic film, Gallipoli , there’s a standout that is set in the desert, the Australian heartland. Two young men on their way to enlist in Perth are having a chat with a cameleer they have just run into.

It’s worth revisiting this conversation for its observations on our place in the world, and for the ambivalence it expresses about our Red Centre. It can of course be found on YouTube.

The cameleer doesn’t know that World War I is underway and hasn’t the foggiest idea why countries are fighting. When the pair tell him they are going to join up and travel to Turkey so the enemy won’t end up here, he pauses for a think. Squinting as he surveys the desert plain, the camel driver observes ‘And they’re welcome to it’!

The Furnace, a remarkable first feature from writer-director Roderick MacKay, is set in 1897, a short two decades earlier. A time when whole teams of cameleers plied the vast deserts of Western Australia, carrying supplies to remote mining settlements when the state was in the grip of gold fever.

From incidental character to the centre of the frame, the cameleer emerges as protagonist in The Furnace. The young Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek in the role of Hanif, a camel driver from Afghanistan, brings impressive nuance and depth to this home-grown, gold rush Western.

David Wenham and Ahmad Malek in The Furnace

At the tender age of 15, Hanif had been sent abroad by his family to work. He is clearly still a boy, just as the others say, and has yet to learn to learn how to negotiate the adult world. His expressive features betray his confusion and dismay too well.

His close friend, Woorak (Baykali Ganambarr, from The Nightingale), is a Badimaya man of similar age who helps him find food. Hanif fumbles while handling his rifle. It’s the first thing we find out about him.

Hanif had been safe under the wing of Jundah (Kaushik Das), his avuncular Sikh foreman, until the day a white settler shot him dead. The settler objected to Hanif using water from a well to wash his feet for the Muslim prayer ritual, and Jundah was shot in the process of trying to divert attention away from the boy.

Suddenly alone, Hanif comes across a man badly wounded in a skirmish that left a number of Chinese dead in mysterious circumstances. Hanif’s world truly starts to unravel when he takes up with Mal (David Wenham), purportedly a prospector but, as he carries no tools, most likely a common thief. Wenham’s character doesn’t, unfortunately, extend much beyond caricature.

It transpires that the ‘crazy white man’ is a marked man. Mal has stolen gold in his possession. Two bars’ worth that inconveniently carry a Crown stamp, a dead giveaway.

Incapacitated by his gunshot wound, Mal needs help for the next stage of his plan and inveigles Hanif to be his partner to achieve it. The boy will help Mal reach his destination, a clandestine furnace, in return for one of the bars.

So Hanif becomes an unfortunate partner in crime, indentured to a criminal on a journey through the outback to an undisclosed location. All for the price of the trip home to Afghanistan.

The Furnace is set in Kalbarri, WA, and on location in the Mount Magnet area of the state’s Mid West, home to one of the state’s longest continuously operating goldmines. Mount Magnet began operating in the 1890s.

Another aspect of the film’s authenticity, is the use of languages. Pashto, Punjabi, English, Indigenous Badimaya (an endangered language) and Cantonese would have been heard in WA at the time.

In the 19th century, before rail and road infrastructure in the outback, the camel trains provided a lifeline for remote communities. The cameleers, collectively still known as the ‘Ghans’, came from many countries – Pakistan, Persia, Turkey, India, and Afghanistan – providing indispensable transport and supplies.

Despite the scale of the film’s narrative, with twists and turns and an abundance of characters moving around the landscape, the dramatic tensions hold tight.

The Furnace is impressive, an engrossing and compelling tale. An ambitious undertaking, yes, with many players and conflicting angles. It could have come asunder but a compelling central character, who is engaging, unaffiliated and ready to learn, was a discerning place to start.

First published in the Canberra Times on 12 December 2020

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

M, 107 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

The song in the title of this doco about one of the biggest pop music groups ever, may not be the one that comes to mind first when thinking about the Bee Gees, but it is certainly apt. For all the amazing successes they had, the Gibb brothers had more than their fair share of heartache.

Another way of looking at it was that How Can You Mend a Broken Heart was a comeback single. It was one of the first tracks from the Bee Gees, brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin, when they got back together again in 1971 after their break up two years earlier. And it was the first to reach No 1 for them in the US.

The Bee Gees were particularly good songwriters. A very talented, versatile and enduring success in pop music but it seems despite all the awards and the accolades they still get a hard time of it in the court of received opinion.

The anti-disco movement that began in the late 1970s was tough on the Bee Gees, and other, mainly Black American performers. Perhaps this doco will help bring a re-assessment of the Bee Gees and the many fabulous songs they wrote, for themselves and many other performers.

An interview with the last remaining Bee Gee at home in Miami bookends the story. Even Barry Gibb, the tall, good-looking one with even teeth and a mane of brown hair, has come to look his age. He is of course the only one of the four brothers still with us.

But what a journey it was. Right at the start, footage from a concert in Oakland, California in 1979 is a reminder of how big they were. ‘Classic sixties pop’, someone observes. They may have started surfing the same wave as the Beatles et al, but they outlasted the fab four, with hits in every decade since to the 1960s when they began.

In Oakland they were riding high on the massive success of their soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever which earned them, for better and worse, the enduring moniker Kings of Disco. Prep for a ‘disco demolition’ night that would go some way towards trashing the Bee Gees’ reputation was well underway in Chicago, spearheaded by a local radio DJ.

Barry, Robin and Maurice had certainly come a long way since calling Australia home. After the Gibb family migrated here from Britain in 1958, they were only here a short while.

Were they part of a Pommie diaspora of pop celebs who stayed and made their name here? No, in less than a decade, the Gibbs were back in the UK, though not before they had had laid down a local hit single, Spicks and Specks.

Doco director Frank Marshall, who does a decent job, is known mostly as a producer has directed a few high-impact titles like Arachnophobia and Congo but he did have a great team of key creatives assisting. Documentary writer Mark Monroe (Chasing Ice, and The Cove among the many titles in his filmography) and editors Derek Boonstra, in particular.

The film is the usual meld of archival images and interview material, a little rigidly matching image to narration until the clips lengthen, the rhythm relaxes and the film hits its stride.

We hear assessments of the Bee Gees’ contribution to music from the likes of Eric Clapton, Justin Timberlake and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin.

the revelations are mostly about the bond between the men themselves

We also hear a bit from the brothers’ partners. But the doco’s personal revelations are mostly about the bond between the men themselves, including the bond with much younger Andy who developed his own career. Brotherhood brought the usual fraternal rivalries but it also brought the gift of compatible voices and a natural synchronicity.

It is said by interviewees on more than one occasion that had the Bee Gees not been brothers they would never have stuck together.

The pop idols’ struggle with fame, the substance abuse, the internecine squabbles, and the strain of wanting independent recognition, all have a familiar ring. As does the usual excess, like one of them, Maurice perhaps, owning six Rolls Royces before the age of 21.

The Bee Gees’ flamboyance is superficial and easy to shoot down. The catalogue of great songs is another matter entirely.

First published in the Canberra Times on 6 December 2020

Featured image: Robin, Barry and Maurice Gibb in their heyday

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life

M, 151 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

The subject of this fine documentary was one of society’s eccentrics. A medical doctor and a writer of books with whimsical titles like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars. He was the kind of person whose life story is, I’d say, best told in the documentary film genre.

His lust for life, restless curiosity and pioneering spirit built many dimensions into the man. Dr Oliver Wolf Sacks was bundle of contradictions. Too many, it seemed, for a single individual. Who would believe this life story in any other form but documentary?

If truth is indeed stranger than fiction idea, it has made this film from distinguished New York- based documentarian Ric Burns so much more successful than the fiction feature Awakenings of 1990. That film was loosely based on Sacks’ first book and starred the late Robin Williams as the mercurial medical doctor and writer of renown and Robert De Niro.

Shortly after Sacks announced in 2015 that he had terminal cancer and six months to live, he agreed to become the subject of this new doco. A portrait while dying was another bold move from an unorthodox individual.

a doco in which a gay man gets the straight treatment

Sacks grew up in London during WWII, the youngest child in an Orthodox Jewish family who eventually became a doctor like his parents. After receiving his medical degree from Queens College, Oxford, he left home and Britain for good, and sought freedom in America after his parents cruelly rejected him when he revealed he was gay.

Arriving in California as a 27 year old, he interned at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco. Outside of work hours, he threw himself into what 1960s California had to offer. He became a biker who loved to drive his BMW into the desert at night, he got into amphetamines in a big way and naturally he fell in with the gay scene.

Then it suddenly all stopped. Sacks became celibate, and remained that way until he met Bill Hayes, a writer, who was his partner during the last six years of his life.

Crucially, Sacks had moved to New York in the mid-1960s and started work at the Beth Abraham Hospital for chronic disease. Some of his patients there had been in a catatonic state since they contracted lethargic encephalitis in an epidemic during the 1920s-30s. It was a turning point in his medical career.

In his best-selling novels and essays, Dr Sacks devoted himself to documenting the strange ways and byways of the human mind. His work was based on his clinical experiences treating patients with chronic conditions like Tourette’s, dementia and Asperger’s.

He became a pioneer in helping patients long deemed brain dead to respond to music by singing or dancing, thereby shedding their frozen states and demonstrating that their minds were still responsive.

It is hard to square the interview scenes in this doco of the frail and elderly Sacks chatting with close associates with the famous images of him as a leather clad biker. Or even the muscled man emerging more recently from the river in the Bronx after a long distance swim. He was a lifelong distance swimmer who took to the water every day.

That familiar shot astride his BMW motorbike, looking quite the stud, was published on the cover of his book On the Move: A Life. The doctor also wrote of his own issues.

There seem to be many reasons why this British-educated, US-based neurologist became famous. There’s his clinical, ground-breaking work with his patients with chronic conditions, then there is the man himself. All good reasons for seeing this documentary on one of life’s true eccentrics who believed that it was the fate of every human being to be singular and unique.

The man was many things, all bundled together in the one burly body. Doctor and patient, all in one. And yet, despite his many sides, he says he feels he is ‘a single person’.

Oliver Sacks, neurologist and prolific author, is a gay man who gets the straight treatment here in this doco directed by Ric Burns. Hopefully Sacks’ life story won’t be made into a fiction feature, though it seems inevitable it one day will. Hard to imagine it could be more revelatory than this excellent documentary about one of life’s true individuals.

First published in the Canberra Times on 5 December 2020

Misbehaviour

M, 106 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

When organisers were getting ready for the Miss World contest in 1970, there were plans afoot to gatecrash the televised event and spoil their party. A group of radical young feminists in another part of London were hatching a plot to disrupt it as the winner was announced with the world media watching.

Misbehaviour, based on true events, is about the main players in the story. The group of radical young women and some of the key contestants, and others too. American comedian Bob Hope who officiated and the British entrepreneur behind it, Eric Morley.

It is delicious to watch the two opposing forces, the organisers and the disrupters, on a collision course during the set-up in the early scenes.

I thought the very versatile Rhys Ifans might have done more with his role as Morley, but thought again. As a recent owner of the sister contest in the US, Miss Universe, Donald Trump has probably already done enough to besmirch the name of men in the beauty business.

Girls misbehaving stop the world

The male characters are fascinating, especially the pageant host Bob Hope. Greg Kinnear is outstanding as the very dubious king of comedy, an embodiment of 1970s male chauvinism. A flagrant womaniser who thrived on the opportunities afforded him, but the Misbehaviour story belongs to the women.

To the protesters who got themselves arrested and to the contestants. In particular the bolshie favourite Miss Sweden (Clara Rosager), the winner Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and the blow-in, Miss (Black) South Africa (Loreece Harrison).

As Sally Alexander, a single mother and mature age student at University College London, Keira Knightley has the lead role.

A few early scenes explain her personal journey and convey the tenor of the times. The way the interview for a university place is conducted by a panel of male academics, and her experience in tutorials once she gets in.  Sexist foibles were not confined to men in show biz.

Serendipity connects Sally with a collective of radical young women who deface and subvert advertising posters. They turn them into feminist messages of protest, when they’re not producing their own campaign posters demanding equal rights for women. One of the women is Jo Robinson, played by the terrific Irish actor, Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose, I’m Thinking of Ending Things).

It’s Knightley’s character, a single mother with a male partner, who supplies the narrative focus and the glue between the world of academia and radical collective that believes that television is an arm of state oppression.

Women’s liberation was, of course, one of many activist movements afoot in 1970. The movement against the Vietnam War was huge, and the anti-apartheid movement was big too.

The year, 1970, was pivotal for people of colour in the beauty pageant too. Not only did the Miss World organisers have angry feminists to deal with, they had activist Peter Hain (played here by Luke Thompson) to answer to as well.

There is a small scene in which the white South African anti-apartheid protestor who had spearheaded the anti-apartheid movement collars Morley. He wants to know why there is no black South African contestant at Miss World, to reflect the reality that 80 percent of the country’s population was black. Morley quickly sends South Africa a request for a black contestant to stand alongside the white woman already in attendance.

makes its points with sharp writing, spirited performances and a light touch

The year that the Miss World contest was besieged by feminist protests was the year that the first black woman won the contest. It makes for an interesting exchange in the ladies powder room between Knightley’s Sally Alexander and Mbatha-Raw’s Miss Grenada, a dignified Jennifer Hosten.

At the film’s conclusion, the filmmakers include present-day cameos of Hosten and other key characters. It’s good to see that the experiences in 1970 did no one any professional or personal harm.

Many of the key creatives on Misbehaviour were women, from the producers to the co-writers, Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe. Director Philippa Lowthorpe has a background in directing documentaries and in television film (The Other Boleyn Girl) and episodes of popular series (The Crown and Call the Midwife).

It’s an all-girl show, in front of the camera and behind it. And it’s a really good story that makes its points with sharp writing, spirited performances and a light touch.

First published in the Canberra Times on 27 November 2020

Hillbilly Elegy

Gutsy female lead performances lift all boats in this tale of backwoods America that is both vilified and embraced by a polarised public

M, 116 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

Hillbilly Elegy, the book about growing up among white working-class communities in the Appalachians, was published in 2016. It was the year that Donald Trump became US President, a disruptive event if ever there was one.

Read avidly by a public searching for answers that helped explain the success of Trumpism, it became a New York Times bestseller. And it gave its author, J. D. Vance, profile as a social commentator, explaining Americans to themselves.

How could someone like Trump occupy the highest office in the land? Perhaps the autobiography of a man like Vance who came to have a foot in both camps, establishment and anti-establishment, could make some sense of it.

He eventually left the hill country of Kentucky for the hallowed halls of Yale and then joined the financial services industry in LA, but he was an unusual case.

His family home was in Middletown, Kentucky. J. D. was the son of a single mother who took heroin, stole meds from the hospital where she worked as a nurse, and unsurprisingly couldn’t hold a job. Eventually his grandmother took over primary care, and against the odds he finished high school and took a law degree.

The narrative is simply structured, moving backwards and forwards between J. D’s teenage and young adult selves, played by Owen Asztalos and Gabriel Basso, respectively.

Scenes of young J. D. growing up with his sister Lindsay (Haley Bennett) in their utterly chaotic household, is intercut with his older self, moving away from Middleton and building a new life with his supportive girlfriend and wife-to-be, former law school classmate, Usha, played by Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire).

Bent and bewigged, Glenn Close is almost unrecognizable as family matriarch Mamaw, J. D.’s maternal grandmother. As tough as old boots, with a ciggie permanently planted between her lips, Mamaw understands that she has to act to save her grandson.

One day, she just marches in, announcing she is taking J. D. away. His mother, her daughter Beverley (Amy Adams), was doing such a terrible job.

Basso, as the older version of J. D., has a more conventional and less challenging part to play than the actor who plays his younger self.

As the young J. D. Vance, Owen Asztalos articulates the complexity of his love-hate relationship with his mother. Bev was a woman who dragged him from one live-in relationship to the next, substituted his urine specimen sample for her own when she had been on drugs, and thought nothing of making a spectacle of herself in the street while she was having a meltdown. Family violence remained an ongoing tradition.

Volatile and quick-tempered, Beverley is also acutely aware of the opportunities that she has missed out on. Adams gives a remarkable performance here.

Curiously, Hillbilly Elegy is as much the story of J. D. as the story of his mother Beverley, who couldn’t realise her own promise as dux of her school year. J. D. is dangerously close to convincing himself, until Mamaw steps in, that his mother’s grades got her nowhere, so why should he make any effort?

Director Ron Howard, a versatile filmmaker across a range of genre, has a long list of acting credits among his body of work. His unobtrusive directorial style allows scope for actors to do what they do, as they have here in Hillbilly Elegy.

Howard has form in bringing out the best in his actors in films such as A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13 and Cinderella Man, too. I think one of his underrated triumphs is the film Rush about the rivalry between Formula One drivers played by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl.

Hillbilly Elegy has the familiar clean style and high production values that I associate with Howard.

The score composed by Hans Zimmer, in collaboration with David Fleming, is more subtle than the usual from Zimmer. And French director of cinematography, Maryse Alberti, has struck a balance between the need for intimacy and wider statement.

Upward mobility in the US, is not like it used to be and if the American dream still works well for some, it certainly doesn’t for others.

This is ultimately a family drama, and the remarkable, inspiring tale of a young man, seriously disadvantaged as a complete establishment outsider, who manages to do good.

First published in the Canberra Times on  14 November 2020

Featured image: Superb performances from Glenn Close and Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy. Courtesy Netflix

Idiot Prayer – Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace

Singer-songwriter Nick Cave gives his all in a one-man concert, a soaring performance in a cavern of silence

 

M, 118 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

One man, one voice, a solo piano in the middle of a vast, empty space is the last word in simplicity. It might herald a new era for the performance of music in these times of Covid too.

Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace was originally sold as a one-off digital event, screened live in July this year to a ticketed virtual audience. Now called Idiot Prayer, the concert recording has become a movie, shifting from virtual gig to cinema. It certainly passes muster as an immersive and compelling audio-visual experience.

shifts between intimate gesture and soaring performance

In essence it is Cave’s performance, unaccompanied, of a selection of some of the best ballads from his repertoire. The one-man concert over nearly two hours shifts between intimate gesture and soaring performance.

Without introduction he walks into frame. A distinctive lanky figure in a Gucci suit, making his way through London’s Alexandra Palace. Along silent hallways and down empty stairs, to a waiting grand piano.

Not one footfall can be heard on this short journey but on the soundtrack we listen to the spoken lyrics of Spinning Song. It was released with The Bad Seeds last year on the album Ghosteen, their 17th studio album.

The remaining 21 songs for this two-hour set are performed in Cave’s familiar baritone voice, accompanied by his lush piano. They catalogue a lifetime of emotions. Love and pain, despair and regret, anger and jubilation, and everything in between.

For me, someone with only a casual acquaintance with Cave’s work, the concert is an overview of his creative range. Fans who know his work inside out may encounter something fresh or at least rarely heard. Euthanasia and the titular Idiot Prayer, get a live debut.

Naturally enough, I have got to know the ‘prince of darkness’ through the movies.

He wrote the screenplay for John Hillcoat’s The Proposition, a dark Australian western set in the outback that I admired a lot. Cave and his frequent collaborator Warren Ellis, composed the haunting soundtrack, as they did subsequently for Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Cave had a cameo performance in The Assassination of Jesse James as a balladeer performing in a saloon. And he was also in the cast and one of the co-writers of Hillcoat’s first notable feature, a tough prison drama, Ghosts…of the Civil Dead, released back in the bicentennial year, 1988.

But it was in 20,000 Days of Earth that I enjoyed Cave the most. He was  playing himself in a scripted documentary about someone called Nick Cave who had reached the 55 year/20,000 day milestone.

to show is not necessarily to reveal, and the most interesting artistic personalities are full of contradiction

Made some time before the tragic death of his 14-year-old son, it reveals an intensely private artist with a deep need to connect nonetheless with fans. To show is not necessarily to reveal.  The most interesting artistic personalities are full of contradictions.

Cave cuts a solitary figure in the frame throughout Idiot Prayer. The fourth wall is broken briefly with a high-angle shot that captures a cameraman nearby, but he is gone in the next frame from the same angle, slipped out of sight.

It’s a deliberate insert, of course. Probably a playful reminder that Nick did have company during the shoot. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan, recently nominated for an Oscar for his work on The Favourite, was there of course, moving his cameras around from front and side to back and crane above, and back again.

Cave doesn’t speak a word throughout, preferring to let his music speak for him. There is a little laugh after ‘… (Are you) The one that I’ve been waiting for?’ A private joke?

Into My Arms, after all these years still a favourite track of mine, is performed around midway. Cave has nominated it as one of the songs he is most proud of having written, but it is given no special treatment here. Far From Me, Black Hair and a number of other songs from the album some regard as his best, The Boatman’s Call, from 2011, also feature.

Idiot Prayer is a solemn affair, but rewarding and moving. A performer without the goods as a singer-songwriter could not possibly stay the course, holding the audience over two hours with so little else going on. Pared-down, Cave shows he has talent in spades.

First published in the Canberra Times on 6 November 2020

The  Mystery of Henri Pick

 

M, 101 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

 

 

smart and entertaining drama that takes an influential book critic to the provinces to dissect a snooty literary establishment

 

It’s no spoiler to reveal that before he was a best-selling author, Henri Pick was a pizza chef at a restaurant in a small town in Brittany. There was nothing mysterious about him at all. Until he died, leaving behind a wife, a daughter and grandson, some disappointed customers perhaps, and an unpublished novel that became a literary sensation.

Two years after his death he was a celebrity author with a brilliant, best-selling romantic novel to his name, but who knew he was a writer? Pick was obviously in no position to explain.

The manuscript was discovered by a young editor from Paris, Daphne Despero (Alice Isaaz), while she was rummaging around a bookstore in Crozon. Curiously, the store also housed a collection of unpublished manuscripts, a salon des refuses for manuscripts that had over the years been rejected by publishers.

a doyen so influential in publishing circles his reviews strike terror in the heart of new authors

Henri Pick’s novel, The Last Hours of a Love Story, goes ballistic with the reading public and the literary establishment. It confirms Daphne’s promise as an up-and-coming editor.

The author’s widow and daughter are invited to take part in a TV chat show about books. The host is literary critic Jean-Michel Rouche (Fabrice Luchini), a doyen so influential in publishing circles his reviews strike terror in the heart of new authors, like Daphne’s boyfriend Fred Koskas (Bastien Bouillon).

Rouche can barely contain his scepticism about the book’s authorship, and he reveals a lofty disdain for his two guests who he perceives as country bumpkins. He is rude to them and they walk out during the live broadcast. It sets in train Rouche’s quest to prove himself right about his hunch that Henri Pick was no author.

How could Pick have written a masterpiece, a one of a kind, a love story that ranges from scenes of sensual lovemaking to allusions to the great Romantic writer Alexander Pushkin? How could such a novel be the work of a pizza chef, an outsider to the cultural establishment who lived at Finistere, for heaven’s sake, at the end of the world? Rouche wants the literal truth when others seem prepared to let it go.

After the fiasco on air, things fall apart for him in rapid succession. His wife informs him that night that they are separating, and the next day he is fired, by text, from his job as book show host.

Let’s face it, Luchini’s Rouch is not the most engaging character. But he is an interesting one and there’s fun to be had as he gets his just desserts. As French character actors go, Fabrice Luchini is not a particular favourite of mine but he is absolutely right for this role. Just as his character Rouche is ripe for a kick in the pants.

Suddenly finding himself at a loose end, he heads off to the Finistere region of Brittany to snoop around and follow up on his hunch that there is something fishy is going on. The plot has certainly thickened. He has learned that Pick must have been fluent in Russian.

He drops in on Pick’s widow, Madeleine (Josiane Stoleru), trying to ingratiate himself with her, but she soon shows him the door, tossing the gift bouquet out after him.

Rouche has a bit more luck with Madeleine’s daughter. Josephine (Camille Cottin). She goes toe to toe with him, contesting his preconceptions about people who live at ‘the end of the world’. Her vast collection of books would probably rival his.

On Rouche’s crusade to uncover the true Henri Pick, the good people of Brittany lead him a merry dance with many false leads and narrative twists. The intricate plot runs like clockwork until the big reveal. It’s a shame the ending is a bit clunky, however the full, earnest explanation often is.

Henri Pick (Fabrice Luchini) following his hunch in Finistere

Based on a novel of the same name by award-winning author David Foenkinos, this arch French comedy was developed for the screen by Remi Bezancon, who has directed, and Vanessa Portal.

This is whip-smart comedy that celebrates the old-fashioned virtues of the murder mystery, without the murder. The Mystery of Henry Pick is a pacey whodunnit with great writing, brisk edits and an engaging original score by Laurent  Perez del Mar that sets the tone. A sparkling, wordy film, having a sly dig at the literary establishment.

First published in the Canberra Times on 1 November 2020

Main image: Fabrice Luchini in The Mystery of Henri Pick. Both images courtesy UniFrance

Rams

A different take on the eccentric Icelandic drama that makes more of community, the challenging environment and laconic Aussie humour

PG, 119 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

Before the camera even begins to roll, feuding sheep farmers as woolly and muddle-headed as their flocks is funny in itself. The original version of this film is about a pair of curmudgeonly brothers who continue to behave like a pair of twits who haven’t spoken for 40 years, until events conspire to bring them together.

That was in 2015. Rams, written and directed by Grimur Hakonarson, benefitted greatly from a crush that audiences have been having with things Nordic, and Iceland’s reputation as a land of fire and ice, the home of Bjork and Sigur Ros, an exotic subarctic outpost of distinct Nordic culture.

This is the English-language version, directed by Jeremy Sims, whose last film was Last Cab to Darwin. It was a frequent runner up to the original Icelandic version of Rams when they were competing on the international film awards circuit together.

a different take is the only decent excuse for a remake of a movie that was pretty good in the first place

Hakonarson’s Rams made off with Un Certain Regard, the award at the Cannes festival that prizes innovative and daring, unusual styles and non-traditional storytelling. It did well at the box office too.

Sims was offered the option of the English-language remake. Working with the screenplay by Jules Duncan, he has taken the story and turned it into an Australian bush saga. A different take is the only decent excuse for a remake of a movie that was pretty good in the first place. It is self-described as ‘based’ on the Hakonarson original.

The Aussie screenwriter, Duncan, has followed a similar trajectory to Hakonarson’s work but has taken events in a significantly different direction and changed the grim ending. There is a much lighter tone, a gentler humour and a narrative that includes wider community.

And there are several significant women, including Asher Keddie as a local woman widowed in a recent bushfire.

The role of the vet is given a boost. Kat, a newly arrival from Dorset, England, is played here by a feisty Miranda Richardson in a plum red bob.

This introduces a love interest. Kat has a thing for the less unreasonable brother, Colin Grimurson, played by Sam Neill. Though it’s too bad for her that he is totally focussed on his small flock. An exotic heritage breed. No garden variety merinos here and no time for girls. Farming is a full-time job.

Brother Les, played by Michael Caton, is the hopeless alcoholic, a miserable bastard if ever there was one. But he does have some luck with his prize rams, pipping his brother at the post in the local show when a ‘hindquarter muscle’ the deciding factor between two magnificent specimens.

As brothers on the land, Neill and Caton, look remarkably similar types to the characters played by Sigurour Sigurjonsson and Theodor Juliusson, who are both well-known Icelandic actors. A cleanly shaven Sigurjonsson, was the lead in another recent Icelandic film, A White, White Day.

Neill and Caton each bring with them similar reserves of goodwill from decades on screen in popular film and television. Caton, of course, had a key role in one of the most popular Australian comedies ever, The Castle of 1997. He is great at both the killer glare, and at being delivered legless to the hospital in a tractor scoop.

After a slow, sometimes uneven first half, the film sets up a strong and engaging, sometimes moving, second.

it should go down well in the bush, and urban types may just have to live with their characterisations

As things get going, the film makes a very positive virtue of community and the laconic local humour, but Australians everywhere will relate to the existential challenges that the environment presents. The cycle of extremes has a very active role here. Bushfires, dangerous levels of smoke, devastating drought and communicable disease that have to be brought under control.

It all seems so much more relevant than when production wrapped late in 2018.

The city-bush divide is played for all its worth with some heavy-handed pub humour and a fair bit of bureaucracy and ‘useless bloody Pommie’ bashing. The Fed professionals are exemplified by Leon Ford in a thankless role as an insensitive bureaucrat who has to have things done by-the-book. Departments of agriculture may never look the same.

Rams should go down very well in the bush. Urban types may just have to live with their characterisations but all local audiences will warm to this timeless story of two brothers at loggerheads.

First published in the Canberra Times on 31 October 2020

I Am Greta

Greta Thunberg and the school strike for climate. Courtesy Hulu

M, 97 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

It was a tip-off that got him started. When filmmaker Nathan Grossman heard that a schoolgirl was campaigning for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament, he went along to take a look.

Fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg had set up camp on the footpath with her handmade sign ‘School Strike for Climate’. In her regulation shirt and jeans and with her long plaits, she did not necessarily look the tough campaigner but she would eventually demonstrate an amazing ability to cut through.

She had an armoury of facts and figures to support her protest and was fully prepared to engage anyone who wanted to hear more. Or wanted to take her on.

both character study and document on the rise of teenage climate activism

An elderly woman asked why she wasn’t in school. Greta retorted that there was no point in going to school if there was no future for her generation. The world’s leaders were ignoring the climate crisis.

Grossman could see how things might get interesting. Greta’s father Svante, an actor, was nearby and he allowed the filmmaker to begin recording. The start was impromptu, but the filmmaker eventually acquired funding so he could work on the project full-time.

In the year that followed, Greta became, of course, a celebrity who made speeches and met world leaders. A controversial figure who famously chose to sail the Atlantic rather than fly across it, so she could take up an invitation to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in NYC in September 2019.

Grossman’s doco is by turns intimate and inspiring. While it documents the rise of teenage climate activism that Greta Thunberg spearheaded across the globe, it is at the same time a character study.

We observe Greta take the stage and speak unscripted in front of thousands of supporters, but not before she has quarrelled with her father. He simply wants her to eat something healthy, like a banana, or to forget about perfecting her speech.

I Am Greta is a blend of private and public moments, some of it guided by voiceover. Greta confides quite freely that she has little interest in socialising, has no time for small talk, and has been beset with anxiety and depression since she was very young. When she had heard that the world was facing a new mass extinction, and that there was little or no time left to bend the emission curve.

She stopped flying, and stopped eating meat years ago. She was doing her bit, and had convinced her family, including her mother, an opera singer with an international career, to do theirs too.

There are several scenes, briefly sketched, that hint at the impact of Greta’s personality and activism on the Thunberg family.

Svante appears to have a significant presence in his elder daughter’s life, as chaperone on her travels and a full-time companion-carer. As is now well known, Greta has Asperger’s, but he confides that she also has OCD and selective mutism that has caused her in the past to stop communicating for many months on end.

the responses to Greta from world leaders are either memorable or shocking

There is a hint of these traits, those aspects of her personality that some political opponents have cruelly and immorally used against her in ad hominem attacks.

Greta Thunberg, a schoolgirl on strike. Courtesy Hulu

The responses to Greta from world leaders compiled here in montage are either memorable, or they are shocking.

Arnie Schwarzenegger declares himself early as a fan of someone who acts rather than complains. Pope Francis and the UN Secretary General are also encouraging.

A meeting is arranged for her with a slightly bemused President Macron who can’t disguise his surprise that he is the first leader she has met. No, she hadn’t even met the Prime Minister of her own country.

This delightful episode is followed by clips of other responses. Vladimir Putin imparts his views, as does Donald Trump, and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. On this occasion, the Russian president’s observations seem more temperate than some.

Various media personalities, including Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt, also have their say on Greta Thunberg, and it reflects so badly on them. They are taking aim at a girl who is barely 17 y o.

I Am Greta is a fascinating portrait of an angry young climate justice activist who calls out the global inertia in climate policy for what it is.

First published by the Canberra Times on 17 October 2020

On the Rocks

An elegant, subtle and playful take on marital affairs with Bill Murray providing dubious advice as the aging playboy dad

M, 96 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

It takes all of twenty minutes for Bill Murray to bound onto screen in Sofia Coppola’s new film.  Before he does, the scene is set on the roundabout of routine so familiar to young parents who juggle their children’s needs with work or career and can’t find enough time for relationship intimacy.

It is big Bill, so good in Lost in Translation, Coppola’s best known film, that we have been waiting for. Big Bill all set to play up and goof around.

Felix (Murray) has a daughter who lives with her husband and two children in a trendy neighbourhood in Manhattan. Laura (Rashida Jones), is always on the go, shuttling between school gate and toddler group. Yet when she sits in the quiet stillness at home to write, she finds herself tidying her desk and sorting files.

Her career is doing great, and so is her husband’s with half a million followers online, but success breeds problems all its own.

Felix drops by in his chauffeur-driven Mercedes, and is all ears when Laura lets on that she is has the sense that her husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans), may be having an affair. There was a female toiletry bag in Dean’s luggage, and he acted strangely towards her after arriving home late from a business trip to London.

We don’t know much of Dean’s side of the story because Coppola is a filmmaker who consistently prioritises the female point-of-view her focus. In films like The Beguiled and The Virgin Suicides, she has taken us into a world made up almost entirely of women. It was the latter film that announced her arrival in early, heady ways back in 1999.

Jenny Slate and Rashida Jones in On the Rocks

The writer-director is a deal more playful here, and has a bit of fun with the doubts and fears of her female protagonist. Laura wonders whether she is in a rut, not putting her best self forward, and boy, does she let herself get an earbashing from that awful character (Jenny Slate) every time they meet at toddler group.

Then there’s the ‘innocent’, sly question from elsewhere at lunch ‘Is Dean still travelling a lot with that new assistant?’

Sofia Coppola has a keen eye for the small details that give people away

The new assistant, Fiona (the dazzling Jessica Henwick), is Dean’s new account manager. It happened to be her toiletry bag with pink hearts that was in Dean’s luggage.

A world away from the operatic, grand cinematic statements made by her famous father­­­­­­­­ – think The Godfather films and Apocalypse Now – Sofia Coppola always has a keen eye for the small details that give people away. And she has developed a deft hand at irony and subtle humour.

Indeed, she has two comedians in key roles to offset Laura’s frame of mind. The engaging, affable Wayans is a comedian in his own right and one of the stars of the Scary Movie franchise. And of course, we all know Bill.

Actor-comedian Murray, a star of the Ghostbusters franchise, has had a renaissance in recent decades, particularly since he became unforgettable as the bored weatherman in Groundhog Day, and the world-weary businessman in Lost in Translation.

Actor and director capitalise on the dead-panning persona in On the Rocks. If Murray does sound a touch uncertain at times, and doesn’t deliver his lines with quite the same assurance as before, he is perfectly cast as Felix. Moreover, he helps keep things light.

On the Rocks, despite the subject, has an airy lightness of being. Over the years, some critics have discounted her work for its interest in fashion’s froth and fizz, but it is one of the things that endears her to her female audiences.

Coppola can’t be accused of a focus on fashion here. Laura is seldom seen out of her working mother uniform, alternating subdued grey tees with her stripey ones.

Coppola is one of the most successful female indie directors ever with seven really distinctive fiction feature films to her name. On the Rocks is an elegant, wry and subtle play on relationships that has all the earmarks of Sofia Coppola.

The British Film Institute nominated it as one of top ten new films to watch in 2020. Only three of these, Tenet, Da 5 Bloods and On the Rocks, have reached us so far in 2020. As a film with a female perspective, the contrast with the other two releases, could not be more marked.

First published in the Canberra Times on 4 October 2020. Also broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7

Les Misérables

MA15+

104 minutes

4 stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

In the summer of 2018, when France beat Croatia in the FIFA World Cup, the people of Paris went out on the streets, ecstatic with brotherly feeling. As throngs of fans crowded the Champs-Elysees, the Marseillaise erupted in a shared golden moment, but it was followed by serious rioting in the city.

This film is inspired by those events, a first fiction feature from documentary director Ladj Ly, who co-wrote the screenplay with Giordano Gederlini and Alexis Manenti, one of the lead actors.

the liberating possibilities of filmmaking for the socially marginalised

It is well made, compelling and, as it turns out this year, highly relevant. An invitation to outsiders to familiarise themselves with a district of extreme disadvantage, a city within a city with a rhythm and feel all its own.

The son of immigrants from Mali, Ly grew up in Montfermeil. After the Paris riots of 2005, he decided to turn the camera on his own neighbourhood, notably in the documentary 365 Days in Clichy-Montfermeil.

Not long ago, Montfermeil was a no-go zone, awash with drugs, and run by competing ethnic groups. A district home to immigrants of Sub-Saharan Africa and Maghrebi origin that have lived there since it was the location of Victor Hugo’s classic 19th century novel, Les Misérables. Other immigrant groups have made their way there since.

Ly has called his fiction feature Les Misérables in a deliberate nod to Victor Hugo. The director enjoys an advantage that the author didn’t have. The cinematography by Julien Poupard, the bird’s eye drone shots and travelling shots along the streets, makes a strong contribution to atmos of the Montfermeil location.

Ly knows the area intimately, with its eclectic mix of socio-economically disadvantaged, ethnically diverse people. And he clearly understands the liberating possibilities of filmmaking for the socially marginalised.

Ly’s Les Miserables foregrounds three policemen who work in the district’s anti-crime brigade.

Policeman Stephane Ruiz (Damien Bonnard) has just arrived. Experienced and credentialled, he had transferred there to be nearer to the young son who lives with his estranged wife.

It doesn’t take Ruiz long to size up the other two he has been assigned to work with. Unit leader, Chris (Manenti), is proud of his reputation ‘100% swine’, and Gwada (Djebril Zonga), much quieter, is a man of Muslim background.

They take Ruiz on a tour of the hood. There is a lot to absorb, along with an introduction to the team’s methods. Chris dubs him ‘Greaser’, a derogatory nickname that appears to be part of the deal.

Chris (Alexis Manenti), unit leader in the Anti-Crime Brigade. Courtesy UniFrance

Actor Manenti, in a challenging role, is particularly convincing, as are many of the ensemble of actors who portray the various community leaders. Ly has drawn excellent performances from the youngsters too.

On tour Chris and Gwada introduce Stephane to a man who behaves likes a long lost friend, although they helped put him in prison for four years. An encounter with a trio of teenage girls is more disturbing. Chris moves in on them threateningly but partner Ruiz manages to coax him away before things escalate further. It’s a genuinely chilling close call.

In recent times, the forces of law and order and the people of Montfermeil had reached an accommodation presided over by the so-called ‘mayor’ (Steve Tientcheu).

a minor theft drives the film to its tipping point

But when a juvenile of African descent, Issa (Issa Perica), widely known as a troublemaker, steals a lion cub from a gypsy circus troupe, the precarious peace in Montfermeil careens out of control.

The theft is a relatively minor incident that could be amusing, but it drives the film to its tipping point when the police tracking down the culprit make a serious tactical blunder. This is captured by a drone controlled by a local kid and he understands its serious potential.

All the complexity is masterfully handled by Ly, whose documentarian skills come into play as the various threads of the action are brought to a cliff-hanger conclusion.

Leaving the narrative ‘unfinished,’ can be a risky way to close a film, but it can work and certainly does here. It is the ‘how’ and ‘why’ that precipitate the events that are the point here.

As even-handedly as he can, Ladj Ly has skilfully shown in this important, award winning film, how community tensions can quickly escalate to a point of no return. How everyone makes a contribution, good and bad, to this outcome is rivetting.

First published in the Canberra Times on 30 August 2020

*Featured image: flics on the beat in Montfermeil, Gwada (Djebril Zonga), Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Stephane (Damien Bonnard). Courtesy UniFrance

The Swallows of Kabul

M, 81 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

The Swallows of Kabul is set in the summer of 1998, a couple of years into Taliban rule in Afghanistan. This is strong stuff of course, yet not live action.

It is delicately packaged instead as an attractively rendered 2D animation in subdued pastels that look like a watercolour painting. A profoundly sad tale is told with a simple, light touch.

The film is based on the book of the same name, written by Mohammed Moulessehoul, under the name of Yasmina Khadra. The award-winning author Moulessehoul adopted this nom de plume for his writing while serving in the army in Algeria. He has talked since about how he has drawn on his experiences in the field.

Essentially, The Swallows of Kabul is a narrative involving two couples whose lives intersect, but is at the same time alive with many characters who are well-defined, interesting, sometimes even amusing.

At the time, the Afghanis are of course living in fear. Public executions frequently take place in the city squares and sport stadiums, and people cower in their houses during curfew as the Taliban hoon around in pick-ups, firing at random.

The main character, Zunaira (voiced by Zita Hanrot), is the artist wife of Mohsen (voiced by Swann Arlaud). She is free inside her home, happy working at her charcoal sketches while listening to banned musicians on her boombox turned down low.

Although the book sets events in 2001, the film has located them earlier during the Taliban regime. This works better.

Featureless and undifferentiated in their billowing gowns, the women bear the brunt of the regime

It is easier to believe that Zunaira, still full of vitality and hope, could be as she is. She is depicted as sumptuously beautiful, has to borrow a chador to go out, and would surely have been pulled up by the Taliban before 2001.

Every now and again a flock of swallows appears in the frame but they are not the birds the film title refers to.

It is the local women draped in their blue chadors who are the swallows, and it is their lot to be utterly unfree. Featureless and undifferentiated in their billowing gowns, they bear the brunt of the regime.

Mohsen and Zunaira met at university and can recall the time when women wore skirts, and when they could go out to the cinema. She believes in a future that could return to those freedoms. Mohsen is unfortunately no longer sure.

In one of the film’s early scenes, we see understand why this has come about for him.

Early one day, vendors were slicing fruit and grilling brochettes in the city square. The traffic was wending its way through the general chaos, and the market was alive with the seductive sights and sounds typical of a Middle Eastern souk. Then it became apparent there were men standing around with Kalashnikovs. Sounds of digging could be heard, and a pile of stones was delivered.

In the stoning that follows, Mohsen casts a stone too. It is the action of a sensitive man in a loving relationship who unaccountably succumbs to mob control. It seems even worse than the street urchins who get in on the act as well.

This very impressive animated feature about a recent dark chapter in Afghani history has clarity and compassion

From this point, a string of consequences cascade. Ultimately, Zunaira is taken to the women’s prison, formerly a wing of the university, where she comes under the watchful eye of Atiq (voiced by Simon Abkarian).

The former army veteran has reached a low-point in his life. He and his wife Mussarat (Hiam Abbass) have been childless and now she now is suffering from a terminal illness. He feels helpless. The older couple’s plight is a poignant counterpoint to the loving, young partners, Mohsen and Zunaira.

It is only the swallows, swooping and banking above the city, that are living free. When a soldier takes a pot shot and one falls from the sky it is a shocking act of casual cruelty but of a piece with everything else the regime is remembered for.

Moulessehoul’s highly regarded book has been brought to the screen by two female directors, Zabou Breitman, who contributed to the screenplay, and animator Elea Gobbe-Mevellec. It was screened at Un Certain Regard at the Cannes in 2019.

This very impressive story about a dark chapter in recent history has a clarity and compassion that lives on after the credits roll.

First published in the Canberra Times on 22 August 2020

La Belle Epoque

M, 110 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

This delicious tale of lovers a half century apart is a postmodern romance. Part your own romantic adventure in an era of choice, part relationship drama.

Stalwarts of French cinema, actors Fanny Ardant and Daniel Auteuil, feature as a jaded older married couple, in a story intertwined with an affair in crisis between a young couple. As an entrepreneur and one of the actors he casts, Guillaume Canet and Doria Tillier play the latter.

The two veterans, Ardant and Auteuil as Marianne and Victor, are great foils for each other. She is utterly believable as the vibrant, frustrated psychoanalyst wife, while the chameleon Auteuil is spot on, unrecognisable in beard and moustache. A political cartoonist still valiantly wielding pencil and paper in the online world.

The new digital reality is something Victor doesn’t get, or want a part in. As a technophobe who doesn’t even own a cell phone, he is the butt of endless jokes, from the earliest (somewhat off-putting) scenes.

The crisis in their marriage has reached a nadir but it is made-in-heaven for the scenarist of La Belle Epoque, young director Nicolas Bedos. One of the funniest scenes takes place as they drive home in their Tesla. The self-drive vehicle lets them argue face-to-face, while GPS is telling Victor to extinguish his cigarette.

Marianne and Victor are the best of sparring partners. They have many difficulties including her open affair with, of all people, the editor, Francois (Denis Podalydes), who fired Victor from his job as a cartoonist.

At home in bed, Marianne is immersed somewhere inside her 3D goggles when Victor attempts to read his book. Things escalate cruelly for him and he is sent packing.

a meltdown with humour, generosity and wistfulness for what is past

It’s a sharp, witty screenplay from Bedos that plays both sides of the fence. It also steps back for perspective on how times have changed for each of them since they met.

Were things left at that level alone, we may feel we have squirmed in front of films like La Belle Epoque many times before. In the domestic battles that featured long ago in films like Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Ingmar Bergman’s haunting Scenes from a Marriage.

La Belle Epoque does not do that kind of total meltdown. It has humour, generosity and a wistfulness for what is past. This suits Auteuil’s dreamer who, although his satiric instincts are well honed, is not quite tethered to the new realities.

Time travel adds a delicious new dimension to this domestic drama.

Victor is offered a trip to an era of his choosing. It comes as a present from Antoine (Canet), who has been a friend of their son since childhood. He runs a business, Time Travelling Inc, that offers ‘tailor-made historical events’, professionally scripted and staged, for customers to take part in, travelling to a ‘belle epoque’ of their choice.

it flips back and forth between reality, artifice and the grey areas in between in a directorial tour de force

The tailor-made events could involve attending a party with William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway or playing the doomed French queen Marie Antoinette. Or might simply offer someone an evening of conversation with a parent who has passed away.

Antoine, a scenarist and director, has a sharp eye for actors that haven’t got themselves into character. He also has a sharp eye for anachronisms, which ensures that the immersive, attractively lit mise en scene constructed for these staged events enhances the total film experience for the cinema audience too.

Victor’s choice, as expected, is not wildly imaginative. He chooses the moment when he met Marianne at a bar in Lyon in 1974.

In another cross-current, Margot (Tillier), who Antoine is infatuated with, plays the part of the young Marianne. Antoine plays out his own feelings and manipulates her on screen.

Then Victor himself begins to develop feelings for Margot and tracks her down to the home she shares with a husband and baby. Or does she?

Time travel to the 1970s has some more entertaining possibilities than we see here, more than the boiled egg bar snacks. But the scenes in that decade are a fun and affectionate take on a decade swamped with change.

Keeping this ambitious and clever story together, flipping back and forth between the reality and the artifice and the grey areas in between is a directorial tour de force. Bedos’ next film will be eagerly anticipated.

First published in the Canberra Times on 15 August 2020

*Featured image: With Margot (Doria Tillier) aboard, Victor (Daniel Auteuil) travels back in time

We’ll End Up Together

(aka Little White Lies 2)

M, 134 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

In 2010, Little White Lies was an ensemble piece about a group of friends who decided to go ahead with their reunion even though one of their number had been critically injured in a motorbike accident. The bittersweet comedy about friendship hit the spot, and became a big hit in France and abroad.

We’ll End Up Together is the follow up to that film, picking up the story, not where it left off, but some years later. It is the next instalment of Little White Lies. Partners have changed or left, children have arrived on the scene, aspirations have adjusted and fortunes fluctuated.

a surprise birthday party that is neither nice nor convenient

Max (the very dependable Francois Cluzet), who has a holiday home on Cap Ferret, a spit of land on the French Atlantic coast, is once again the host, only he doesn’t know it this time. His friends arrive to spring a surprise 60th birthday party on him.

Marie (Marion Cotillard) and Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) join in ‘Who Am I?’

But Max is in the doldrums. His restaurant business has floundered, his marriage is over and he must now sell his holiday home at the trendy resort area. The surprise is neither nice nor inconvenient, because Max is on the point of selling up.

Well that’s too bad, I hear you thinking. And well you might, during the string of social and environmental upheavals that have marked 2020.

Max isn’t the most sympatico of people. More on the dour side. A wet blanket who puts the fire out while his friends are dancing because it’s time for him to go to bed. One wonders how he has actually kept the friends who have showed up. Then again, it has been seven years since they saw him last.

However, it’s not just about Max. It’s about friendship, the kind that lasts.

All of the characters, with the exception of several newcomers, are played by the same actors. Eric (Gilles Lellouche), who has become an established and successful actor, arrives with his baby daughter and a hilariously belligerent nanny, but, crucially, without his wife. She might be dropping MDMA in Ibiza, for all he knows.

And life has caught up with a toughened and disillusioned Marie (Marion Cotillard) who was in a partnership with Ludo (Jean Dujardin) at the time he died. Her son, who she has a tendency to forget about, is seven.

Vincent (Benoit Magimel), who had a big crush on the resolutely hetero Max in the last film, arrives with his new gay partner. His former wife, Isabelle (Pascale Arbillot), has blossomed as a single and is into online dating. She is there too, with their son.

Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) is the only one who apparently hasn’t much changed, and he remains the butt of most of the jokes, involving koalas, caterpillars, and other ephemera. It really is a wonder how different Lafitte is from the sinister and controversial character he once played in Elle opposite Isabelle Huppert.

Cluzet had the lead role in Canet’s murder mystery of 2006, Tell No One. It was the actor-turned-filmmaker’s second feature film and brought his work as director to international attention. His relationship with Marion Cotillard, with whom he has two children, has earned him some attention too.

a big-hearted film about friends, getting on 

It is amusing to read that Canet had to convince his fine ensemble cast to make this second film together. They didn’t sign on at first, but sent him back to do a redraft.

The first Little White Lies was compared with The Big Chill, Lawrence Kasdan’s classic American film about friends who also reunite over the death of one of their group. Canet readily admits that he admires it and has referenced it in both of his White Lies films.

He has certainly used some great American pop and rock music on the soundtrack, which I felt intruded on the francophone world. But the warm and affirming We’ll End Up Together engenders a completely different mood to the Kasdan film.

Developing the original Little White Lies was a tough experience for Canet. He wrote it quickly in six weeks, angry that friends had let him down when he landed in hospital with a life-threatening condition.

It’s interesting that We’ll End Up Together, a big-hearted film about friendship, can have begun in such a way.

First published in the Canberra Times on 8 August 2020

House of Cardin

a fascinating tribute to Pierre Cardin, fashion visionary, whose work is ‘never done’

G, 97 minutes

Palace Electric

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

How famous people start out in life is fascinating, all the more for the fact that it can offer few clues about what they become later in life.

Pierre Cardin, a legend of French fashion and an international celebrity who has really earned his fame, is still working at 98 years of age. He is one such person, and the subject of this documentary.

There are some 800 products and businesses that carry the Cardin brand, from men’s and women’s fashions and accessories to pens, cars and furniture, to hotels and restaurants. You need only glance at eBay to confirm that the Cardin name is still everywhere.

an extrovert in his career, reclusive in his private life

He was the youngest of nine children born to a wealthy Italian wine merchant. As a child he apparently liked to create costumes for dolls. I get that, but where did the vision come from?

We will never quite know. This internationally celebrated fashion and lifestyle designer presents the riddle of an extrovert in his working career and a recluse in private life.

Naturally, the first question the film poses is ‘who is Cardin’? A subversive, a socialist, a futurist…always ahead of his time. There are a few, scintillating details like his long affair with French cinema actor Jeanne Moreau and his friendships with other creatives like Jean Cocteau, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Marlene Dietrich.

The place to look for answers is, however, his work. He explains his appetite for his chosen vocation like this, ‘whatever I start, I have to finish’.

Some of the relatives and associates interviewed here call him an enigma, others refer to a very secretive side, and a penchant for referring to himself in the third person.

He has not and never will write an autobiography, but Cardin has authorised this documentary feature of his enthralling life and career. It is directed by gay partners in life and work, P David Ebersole and Todd Hughes.

The first two years of Cardin’s life were spent on a rural property near Venice, before the family moved to France to escape the rise of fascism. His father hoped that his youngest son would work in the family business, or train to become an architect.

Cardin became apprenticed to a tailor instead, then found employment in the houses of Schiaparelli and Dior in Paris before he launched his own fashion house in 1950. It’s like he never looked back.

His career presents a string of bold experiments from his ‘bubble dress’ in 1954, to dashing little numbers with bold geometric shapes and mouldings that freed women up during the 1960s, to the fashion parade on the Great Wall of China in 2018, and more.

He always thought big, really big. His achievements are hard to credit to a single person, long lived as Cardin is.

Early on he was denounced as a fashion socialist, but it is his democratisation of fashion, making his designs accessible to everyone everywhere, that speaks to the world we live in today.

He introduced his work to India, Russia, and China and the Philippines, and was the first couturier to employ a Japanese model.

his fashions, freed of bespoke tailoring constrictions, offered women freedom of movement 

The burgeoning Cardin archive could have sunk any filmmaker. Ebersole and Hughes have handled it adeptly, though at a rather fast clip.

A few more dissenting voices from the cut-throat world of haute couture, however, would have counteracted a tendency to hagiography, when the fashion icon hardly needs it, with such an outstanding record.

Before watching House of Cardin, I would have offered the view that his women’s fashion ideas, with their geometric shapes and mouldings, made few concessions to the female figure. But I discover that it is exactly the point. His fashions, freed of bespoke tailoring constrictions, offered women freedom of movement.

Cardin was the first couturier to offer pret-a-porter fashion for men, who he put on the catwalk for the first time. He was himself once a male model.

An early adopter of just about everything, Cardin’s drive has had a visionary bent, perhaps explained by snippets like this, ‘I am very happy with my present, but I am never done’.

An internationalist, an innovator and a futurist, there is much more to the man than clothes. House of Cardin is an unexpectedly fascinating record, well worth a look.

First published in the Canberra Times on 25 July 2020