Tag Archives: 5 Stars

Roma

MA 15+, 2 hrs 15 mins

Netflix

Review by ©Jane Freebury

5 Stars

In all the best possible ways, Roma reminded me of being a film student again. Of seminar weekends sitting watching something from the archive that proved a revelation. A meditation on the personal and collective human experience, wonderful to watch, like this film here.

Roma is not a film from an unknown, of course, or a first-timer with something new to say. Far from it. The most recent film by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron was Gravity, an immersive, spellbinding journey in space that was huge at the box office, worldwide.

This film is something very close to the director’s heart, a story from his childhood in the Colonia Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City. The family home, the street on which he lived and other locations in the city are meticulously recreated to look the way they did in the early 1970s.

Attention to detail contributes to Roma’s distinctive look and style. Filmed in widescreen, in digital black and white, it is an intimate story yet mostly told in long shot. Instead of using the close up much to establish connection, there are long sweeping, panning shots that keep everyone and everything in view, as though they are all of a piece. And editing is so minimal, and pacing so unhurried, you could be lulled into thinking it is in real time. The rhythms of everyday life get the dignity they deserve.

Besides directing and co-producing, Cuaron was writer, cinematographer and co-editor here.

Cuaron’s young self is not the main character, either. It is the former maid and nanny who looked after him and his brothers and sister, while their parents were often absent without leave. The narrative begins with the marriage between Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), a doctor, on the point of breaking up.

After a long day at the hospital, Antonio enters the driveway in his Ford Galaxie, too large for the space. Not without comedy, he inches in tortuously, avoiding a scratch on the duco, but squishing the wheels over the piles of dog doo-doo scattered around. It is a constant source of irritation to Sofia, unreasonably so, and besides, Borras has nowhere else to do his business.

The family home is a generous space where children have large bedrooms, while the maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio, an untrained actor like most of the cast here), and her domestic companion the cook, Adela (Nancy Garcia Garcia), share a tiny room at the top of steep stairs above the roof and the washing lines. We note this and a hundred other inequities.

Netflix

Cuaron collaborated with his former nanny and family maid during screenwriting. He dedicates this film to Libo and to her class, domestic workers who have looked after and been surrogate mothers to generations of the wealthy middle-class. A dramatic scene on a beach with surging surf demonstrates the risks she would go to for the children.

Cleo’s affair with an intense young man makes connection between events outside the home and political upheaval at the time, like a notorious massacre in the city of student demonstrators by paramilitaries. Their brief affair results in a pregnancy that only embeds her deeper within the family.

After his films on the epic scale, Gravity and Children of Men, and since the very memorable Y Tu Mama Tambien, an intimate, sensitive portrait of coming-of-age, Roma is a powerful reminder of the scope of Cuaron’s talent.

With its roots in both poetic realism and neo-realism, Roma is also a reminder of what cinema can be when not driven by commercial imperatives.

 

Jane’s reviews are also published by the Canberra Critics Circle, the Film Critics Circle of Australia, and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7

Leviathan

Review by © Jane Freebury

It takes a brave and confident filmmaker to begin with so little information in frame. Leviathan begins with breathless long shot of a seaside village at dawn, a single boat speeding along the breakwater. In the midground a figure emerges from a house with lights on, but heads back in to turn them off before leaving. It’s a minor detail but intriguing as we strain for clues with the growing sense that something momentous is about to happen.

The concept ‘leviathan’, or monster of the deep, a reference to giant serpents and whales, has been a bit of favourite with heavy metal bands. Some powerful scenes here capture the presence of the great whales that swim offshore, but in this new film from Andrey Zvyagintsev, who brought us stunning contemporary visions of his native Russia in Elena and The Return, it also alludes to the book by 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Is it not, he asks, the role of government to protect the interests of the common man?

The man in long shot is Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), a car mechanic whom everyone is after for his services. For the moment, though, he has other fish to fry. This morning he is picking up an old army buddy of his, a Moscow-based lawyer, from the station. Their drive back into town passes the hulks of abandoned fishing boats and derelict buildings and other signs that the world has moved on. A small fishing industry seems to be the only thing that is keeping the village going.

No wonder Kolya and his friends like to go out on boozy shooting picnics, emptying the bottles they stand in a row as quickly as they shatter them. No problem when they run out of targets. There’s a bunch of framed portraits of former Russian leaders in the car boot that will serve as substitutes. That portrait of a young Vlad Putin glimpsed on the wall of the mayor’s chambers can wait. It needs time to ripen.

Kolya’s lawyer friend Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), so polished and professional, seems everything that he isn’t. He has come to try to help Kolya keep the family home, a property with commanding views of the sound. The town mayor (Roman Madyanov), a corrupt official if ever there was one, has grand designs for the property and he will stop at nothing to ensure he gets it. Unfortunately for Kolya, others have design on his lovely wife too.

In this backwater where tempers flare and vodka and firearms are within easy reach, filmmaker Zvyagintsev can still occasionally offer us the funny side as he presents a tragedy of the Russian everyman. His ambitiously scaled panorama of life in his home country is as enormously impressive as it is deeply human.

In a capsule: A panorama of ordinary life in a remote fishing village in contemporary Russia, from a master filmmaker. Grand, slow cinema, deeply humanist.

4.5 stars

Before Midnight

Review by © Jane Freebury

In Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the first two films of what has become an exquisite trilogy, time was of the essence. Money too. In the first brief encounter between Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in Vienna, it kept them on the streets, and talking, always talking. Second time around in Paris, after the designated nine-year interlude, things ended much less ambiguously, with the romantic couple alone in her apartment and the evening ahead.

Before Midnight, the third of the Before series starts as they near the end of a six week holiday together in a writers’ retreat in the southern Peloponnese under the laser light of the Mediterranean summer sun. There is still the sense of some sort of deadline, but on this occasion the couple have been together since last we met.

There is an imminent departure, but it’s Jesse’s 14-year-old son, who is leaving, flying home to his mum in Chicago. Dad (Hawke) and he are saying their goodbyes at the Kalamata airport, in a sequence that perfectly captures the dynamic of caring parent trying to assuage guilt in last-minute interaction with a child who is preoccupied with other matters anyway. Jesse walks out of the airport and towards the four-wheel drive where his partner awaits him, with a pair of beautiful blonde children asleep on the back seat. The last nine years since Before Sunset are revealed in single shot and it packs a wallop.

The drama proceeds to unfold on the front seat on the drive back to the retreat, with the camera sitting on the bonnet capturing it in the first of many long takes. With an absence of cuts, director Richard Linklater likes to immerse his audiences in his characters and their problems—without prioritising either character’s point-of-view—and the reality of the dramatic moment. Welcome to the talkfest that is the Before trilogy.

All the talk is however quite wonderful and one of those rare films where the acting brings to life the brilliant emotional honesty of the script as the conversation, delivered every which way, with love, humour or snarky payback, cuts through. The latest collaboration between Linklater and his two lead actors, it is a mirror for the unruly bundle of intimate needs and professional ambition, emotional dilemmas, compromises and triumphs of contemporary life.

Delpy’s beauty has had a kind of iconic status on screen since her appearances in Krysztof Kieslowski’s own trilogy Trois Couleurs: Bleu, Rouge and Blanc. The less said of Hawke’s scruffy appearance the better, but he is perfect for his role too. The two of them have given so generously of themselves in this rare treat of a film that just wants to explore, gently but incisively, how we really tick.

In a capsule: An exquisite study of mature romance, exploring the Before Sunset relationship many years on to discover what has changed and what remains the same.

5 stars

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Review by Jane Freebury

It’s dusk on the Turkish steppe. A crime has been committed. The manacled perpetrator is part of the search party looking for the body of his victim. Apparently, he can’t remember exactly where it is buried. Is he an unreliable informant? Does he have his reasons for slowing the pace…?

As the hunt stalls, the conversation between the various policemen, the men with shovels and the officials involved in the case, turns from the professional to the personal. They behave as though suspect Kenan (Firat Tanis) wasn’t there, chatting amongst themselves about their lives at home, and inevitably, their women. When they discuss the quality of Turkish yoghurt, it is one of several occasions in which you begin to wonder where things are going. The comedic scenes when they realise they haven’t bought a body bag with them, and when they struggle to fit the body into the boot of their vehicle is another. And despite this, the film treats everyone, dead or alive, innocent or guilty, with respect.

The gaunt suspect is central to the investigation, but not to the film. It becomes apparent that it is the doctor Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner) who is the main character, and not, as we might have thought at first, the prosecutor Nusret (Taner Birsel) who solicits our attention and fancies he looks like Clark Gable. In effect, Cemal is the observer, the guy who need only serve up the scientific evidence when required, until he is drawn into the unfolding drama and is himself compelled to play a part, despite his disinclinations and his efforts to keep himself beyond the fray.

Women are rarely seen and barely heard in this police procedural, if that’s what it is. The frames are dominated by images of dark men in heavy coats under a lowering night sky, yet women hold the key to the narrative mysteries. Or, as one characters mutters, they are at the bottom of everything.

When the men pause their search to dine with a local mayor, they are suddenly confronted by the beauty of his daughter who appears to help serve their meal. The talk stops and they all gaze in silent wonder. The moment is at once incidental and momentous.

This majestic, complex and beautiful film—it won’t be for everyone—is full of scenes like these, both incidental and momentous. And from time to time it feels as though the director (and co-writer) Nuri Bilge Ceylan could change the direction at any time, from procedural to thriller to comedy to romance and back again. The title announces it has a tale to tell but with the final frames an element of mystery remains. It’s an exquisitely subtle point to end it on, but enormously satisfying all the same.

In a capsule: A subtle and superbly original film that involves a party of men in a search for the body of a murder victim in the Turkish countryside.  Grand cinema, and a police procedural like no other.

5 stars

The King’s Speech

Review by © Jane Freebury

It is good to see—if this marvellous film gets it right—that the Australian Lionel Logue had a healthy disregard for the English class system when he was a speech therapist in Harley Street. Brought to life, and to our attention, by Geoffrey Rush, he would not be put down by the snobbery that goes with it and insisted on equality within his rooms so he could relieve the Duke of York (Colin Firth) of his crippling stutter. Crikey, anyone heard of this bloke Logue and his place in history before?

Written with warmth and acuity by David Seidler, an American screenwriter who apparently has a stutter himself, it follows the course of the treatment that Logue gave the Duke when he showed up at his clinic as ‘Mr Johnston’. It ends with him addressing his country as king when Britain entered the war in 1939. There were a few stammers there, but as he observed, how would the public know it was him unless there were a few of the usual awkward pauses.

King George VI could joke about it then, but his difficulties became painfully public while as Duke he opened a major exhibition at Wembley in 1925. It prompted him to try something radical with an unorthodox Australian therapist – he and his sympathetic wife (Helena Bonham-Carter has shed the goth weeds for a change) were desperate – who might bring the shy but proud man out of himself. We know he managed the opening of our (Old) Parliament House in 1927, but the problem apparently persisted.

He reluctantly agreed to sessions conducted on first-name basis, even let Lionel address him by his family diminutive ‘Bertie’. To free him up, they sang to the tune of ‘Swanee River’ together, made fools of themselves, and let rip with the expletives. There are funny scenes in abundance on the journey to find the man’s inner boy who began stuttering at 4 or 5, and was a left-hander forced to write with his right, a common practice in those days.

The stakes were high on this personal journey – it was in the national interest that the king found his tongue. After the death of the stern old king his father (Michael Gambon) and the abdication of his reprobate older brother (Guy Pierce), Britain was staring into the maw of war. It needed a leader who wouldn’t freeze in front of a microphone—and sound like a leader. Herr Hitler was doing pretty well on that score at the time.

Radio, the new technology of the time, meant monarchs had to be actors. Before it arrived, all they had to do was stay on their horse.

Like all good things, you won’t want this film to finish. It’s a gift that gives audiences pleasure.

In a capsule: A superbly entertaining film with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter in top form in a drama about a man who wouldn’t be king, but he had to. A small but important piece of history, and it’s only just come to our notice.

5 stars

Samson and Delilah

Review by Jane Freebury

In the lead-up to its screening at Cannes, it might seem to sceptical punters that the critics are falling over themselves in praise of this first feature from Indigenous writer/director Warwick Thornton, who has already made his mark with a clutch of highly-regarded short films. Too much hype can work against a film. Will audiences take Samson & Delilah to their hearts too? I really hope so.

It is a special film. It calls itself a love story, though I wouldn’t say it was quite like that. There is certainly a tentative love and growing tenderness as two teenagers, Samson (Rowan McNamara) and Delilah (Marissa Gibson), leave their remote outback home behind and try to live on the urban fringe. It’s an odyssey that will speak to every single one of us.

Neither teenager lives with their parents. Samson is staying with his older brother, who seems to live off the reggae his ‘verandah band’ plays to distraction, as there’s not a skerrick of food in the fridge. Samson just hangs out, making the occasional nuisance of himself. Overcome by lassitude and hopelessness, and other issues we can only guess at, Samson needs to sniff petrol to get out of bed in the morning. We certainly cover some bleak territory but this is not an issue film. The story comes first.

Delilah with her Nana, an artist who supplies the gallery in nearby Alice Springs with her traditional paintings for a pittance compared with what they’re sold for. Delilah has a purposeful life providing care for her granny, who she takes in a battered wheelchair to the health service followed by a visit to the church, before they settle down to more painting together.

After a cuff over the ear from older brother for trying to join in the band with some noisy guitar, Connor picks up his bedroll and heads over to Delilah’s place. Mischievous grandma teases her about the attentions of this silent and persistent boy but Delilah’s not at all sure. And we’re not sure about her feelings either until she notices Samson dancing alone one night to the sound on his boombox, while she listens to Italian love songs in the dark – and their music mingles.

The look of the film is very seductive, with wonderful images from Thornton’s handheld camera, but I can appreciate that in other ways the film takes some risks with little dialogue and even less action. And yet the results resonate so powerfully. We have every indication of special talent at work here and this could just become a classic.

In a capsule: An immensely moving story, sensitively and skilfully told, about two teenagers in a remote Indigenous community who have stalled, unable to find their way. Every memorable frame announces this is the work of a major new talent in Australian film.

5 stars