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Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

Review © Jane Freebury

Rated M, 1 hr 54 mins

Screening at Dendy and Palace Electric

 

The cartoon that lends its caption to this Gus Van Sant film shows a sheriff’s posse staring at an empty wheelchair among cactus in the desert. The rough line drawing instantly conveys a lot about the artist and the bleak, irreverent humour that made him famous. The American cartoonist, the late John Callahan, also chose it for the title of his autobiography in 1990.

Callahan was paralysed from the waist down in a car accident while on a bender with a friend when they were young and reckless. Miraculously, his mate, Dexter (Jack Black), who was at the wheel, walked away from the overturned VW Beetle with a few scratches, but the misadventure turned John into a quadriplegic. Eventually he recovered limited use of his arms.

If he wasn’t already prone to a bit of self-destruction, this convinced young John that there wasn’t a lot of point to it all. The hapless 21-year-old wasn’t in the best of shape to begin with. Struggling with feelings of abandonment – he’d been adopted, never knew his birth mother – John (Joaquin Phoenix in the role) was going nowhere, a flask of tequila for company.

The late Robin Williams was once keen for this role, but I can’t see that he could have worked as well as Phoenix. In unkempt, ginger wig, flip-flops and the flares of the day, his performance as Callahan is pitch-perfect.

And Phoenix has form in this kind of character – remember the execrable I’m Still Here – but he is talented and versatile with substantial range. Compelling as Johnny Cash (Walk the Line) or as reclusive writer (Her), and both as Jesus (Mary Magdalene) and evil Roman emperor (Gladiator).

The same can be said of filmmaker, Van Sant, who has been giving us food for thought over the years with his distinctive explorations of the private worlds of creative types, often musicians, often marginalised, and other characters at the crossroads.

John (Joaquin Phoenix) and Donny (Jonah Hill) in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

In Don’t Worry, Donny (Jonah Hill), the silky voiced leader of the alcoholics recovery group that Callahan has signed up to, becomes just about as interesting as Callahan. Maybe more so.

Actor Jonah Hill, in heavy disguise in long blonde wig and beard, and 70s smart casual, demonstrates, with perhaps a hint of menace, the subtle art of influence and persuasion, and how folks can be shown how they themselves contribute to their predicament.

It is less easy to believe in Rooney Mara’s character, Annu, a Swedish physiotherapist who has a big hand in Callahan’s rehabilitation, but her romance with him is at least a welcome diversion after some gruelling early scenes of Callahan in disarray. Curiously, Van Sant was able to make scenes of flying along the pavement in a  wheelchair uplifting too, and that’s before we even get to the humour.

How did Callahan find his mojo and become a famous cartoonist in America and overseas? His path to fame and some version of happiness is revealed in this touching, free-wheeling character study, that feels authentic and has no truck with feel-good homily. It shows, once again, Van Sant’s flair for drawing his audience into a private world and convincing them, for the duration, that they are experiencing it too.

3.5 Stars

Jane’s reviews are also published at the Canberra Critics Circle and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7 Canberra and 90.3 Tuggeranong

 

Jirga director

Jirga, a new fiction feature from Benjamin Gilmour, is about a former Australian soldier who returns to Afghanistan to ask forgiveness of the family of a civilian he accidentally killed three years earlier. Writer-director Gilmour (Son of a Lion) filmed clandestinely on location.

A Q&A with director Benjamin Gilmour will be held at Dendy Cinema, Canberra Centre after Jirga screens at 7 pm on Friday 21 September.

Top Films 2016: 20 of the Best

… in no particular order:

 

  • Love and Friendship (dir. Whit Stillman)
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople (dir. Taika Waititi)
  • Nocturnal Animals (dir. Tom Ford)
  • The BFG (dir. Steven Spielberg)
  • Goldstone (dir. Ivan Sen)
  • The Nice Guys (dir. Shane Black)
  • Joe Cinque’s Consolation (dir Sotiris Dounoukos)
  • Elle (dir Paul Verhoeven)
  • Mustang (dir. Deniz Gamze Erguven)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (dir David Yates)
  • Hail, Caesar! (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)
  • Truman (dir. Cesc Gay)
  • The Revenant (dir. Alejandro Gonzalaz Inarritu)
  • Youth (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
  • The Measure of a Man (dir. Stephane Brize)
  • The Fencer (dir. Klaus Haro)
  • La La Land (dir. Damian Chazelle)
  • A Month of Sundays (dir. Matthew Saville)
  • Son of Saul (dir. Laszlo Nemes)
  • Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan: friendly people Iran’s main attraction

By Jane Freebury

As I look around on the flight to Tehran, none of the other female passengers is wearing a headscarf. Not yet, anyhow, and not until we land. And Argo, the movie about US Embassy hostages escaping post-revolutionary Iran, seems a rather surprising in-flight entertainment option as we make a low-key entry into the Islamic Republic.

So day one and here goes. I drape a scarf over my hair. There will be two weeks of this imposition, but with the prospect of ancient palaces, a caravanserai on the fabled Silk Road, the heady experiences of Persian bazaars, and romantic Shiraz and Isfahan all ahead of me, it will surely be well worth it. …

 

The full article is in The Weekend Australian 17-18 December 2016

Stronger Than Fiction Documentary Film Festival

First published in the Canberra Times on 23 July 2016

© by Jane Freebury

Two years ago, a bitter-sweet documentary about the backing singers behind stars like Jagger, Sting, Springsteen and Bowie won the Oscar for best documentary. Not only did the Morgan Neville doco, 20 Feet from Stardom, beat The Square, about upheavals in Egypt’s ‘Arab spring’, it also beat The Act of Killing, about the murderous political realities in Indonesia in the 1960s. It was the story of vocalists in the shadow of fame that won the day instead.

Music of Strangers 2  A new doco from Neville, The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, will open this year’s Stronger Than Fiction film festival, Canberra’s own and now in its fourth year. On the program are 13 films, all sourced from overseas—and they screen just once.

Simon Weaving, co-director of the festival with Deborah Kingsland, told me how they made it happen.  ‘Deb and I watched a lot of films from Sundance in January onwards. It’s a new batch of films. … We pick between 12 and 15 really smart, cinematic films with great stories that we know will work for Canberra audiences. The other really good thing about the festival is that we get some wonderful Q&As going.’ There are five over the four-day festival.

The Music of Strangers will open the festival on 28 July. It explores the musical collective that celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma brought together in 2000. The original idea was to incorporate the best musicians in their field from the cultures located along the historical Silk Road, from countries like China, India, Syria, Armenia, Iran and Spain. Now, the ensemble brings musicians, composers and artists together around the world in a quest for a universal language of music.

Is everybody ready for the first documentary feature on Janis Joplin? Janis 1-Sheet final.inddIn Janis: Little Girl Blue, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Amy Berg brings the Joplin story to the screen, told in the singer’s own words through letters to family and friends. How surprising that it has taken so long for a doco that is just about her, the Texan with the raw and uninhibited style who was one of the top blues singers of the 1960s.

Music has a part to play in some other documentaries screening at Stronger Than Fiction, like The Queen of Silence and the Matthew Passion Stories. And also Sonita, about a feisty 16-year-old Afghan refugee living in Tehran whose brother has arranged her marriage. She resists, gaining strength through her music.

A European coproduction, Free to Run explores a rather different source of endorphins, running. The running movement that was once a marginal activity reserved for men has now become, in the words of the festival program, ‘a worldwide passion’. This unusual study suggests there was, however, more to the right to run than we were ever aware of.

A film from New Zealand will demonstrate that endurance can mean different things to different people. Tickled, delivered with that particular Kiwi humour, is a study of the ‘sport’ of ‘competitive endurance tickling’. Funny or sinister? It is a bit hard to say.

Fire at SeaThe film that won the Golden Bear for best film at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Fire at Sea, looks at the migrant crisis through their eyes of the people of Lampedusa, the southern-most island of Italy, a little more than 100 kilometres from Tunisia, and the first staging post for migrants entering Europe. ‘This is cinema, the most exquisite piece of cinema,’ says Weaving.

Jim: The James Foley Story bears witness to the life of freelance war photojournalist Foley captured and so publicly executed by ISIS, and considers the state of international conflict reporting in today’s media market. Jim Foley poster 2

‘This is about Jim but it goes beyond, and touches on the meaning of life,’ says Weaving. ‘It’s really powerful.’ No wonder it won the audience award at Sundance this year. At a time when values can be ‘a bit soft, and bendy and anything goes, here was a man who was very clear about what he stood for…it was clear that it gave him such incredible strength and he was able to share that strength (with fellow captives).’

It’s been said at some point by one of the greats of documentary filmmaking, Errol Morris (who made the classic doco The Thin Blue Line released in 1988), that you have to at least try to find the truth, even if you cannot guarantee it. He’s also said that the beauty of documentary filmmaking is that you just don’t know where your story is heading. From the outset, how your voyage is going to end is unknown.

Stronger Than Fiction features one of those classic investigation films that Morris would have had in mind. Zero Days is a search for truth in the clandestine world of cyber warfare by renowned documentarian, Alex Gibney, following the development and spread of a computer virus that closed down industrial control systems across the world in 2012. It will be fast a paced and unsettling experience, we can be sure. Gibney is responsible for some of the best documentaries in recent times, like Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God and the Oscar winner, Taxi to the Dark Side.

Another of the world’s best and also most prolific, documentarians, Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man and many more) features at Stronger Than Fiction. He has made a meditation in his inimitable style on the internet, projecting the impact of the digital environment on our lives into the future in Lo and Behold. Reveries of the Connected World. A kind of companion piece to Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, that projected into our pre-historic past?

Besides all this, Stronger Than Fiction offers a bit of live theatre too. Aspiring filmmakers with an idea for a new doco can pitch it to an industry panel at the Doco Pitch Slam, and get instant feedback. The slam, standing-room only, features at the festival every year.

 

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-life/superior-batch-of-films-for-canberra-audiences-in-this-years-stronger-than-fiction-documentary-film-festival-20160719-gq944v.html

 

Tentmakers of Cairo

Published in the Canberra Times on 26 March 2016 at:

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-life/canberra-filmmakers-the-tentmakers-of-cairo-shows-artisans-during-arab-spring-20160322-gnoebd.html

TheTentmakersOfCairo-CharehElKhiamiah03

© Jane Freebury

Something tells me that the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead would have enjoyed hearing that a documentary award in her name had gone to a film about men who sew. Mead became famous in the 1920s-30s for her books based on research in Oceania supporting the view that gender behaviour, including the work that men and women do, is culturally determined.

Needlework is a craft that we might tend to associate with women. However, a group of male artisans in Cairo known as the tentmakers have been stitching fabulously detailed cloth in traditional arabesque and geometrical patterns and lotus and papyrus designs for generations, handing down their skills from father to son. Evidence suggests that these traditional cloths have been made in Egypt since pharaonic times.

Historically, the decorative khayamiya textiles formed part of capacious pavilions or ‘travelling palaces’ seen across the Arab world. Today they are still conspicuous in daily life as celebratory backdrops at events like weddings, graduations, feasts, receptions and funerals.

In 2015, the American Museum of Natural History announced that Canberra filmmaker Kim Beamish had won the Margaret Mead Film festival  for The Tentmakers of Cairo. He shared the prize with Iiris Harma, director of Leaving Africa: A story of friendship and empowerment. Last year The Tentmakers also won the Prix Buyens-Chagoll prize at Visions du Réel, Switzerland, and the El Ray Award for Excellence in Documentary Narrative Filmmaking at the Barcelona Film Festival. And it screened at the Canberra International Film Festival as well.

Beamish and his young family arrived in Cairo in January 2011 when his wife took up a position there. He was introduced to the tentmakers and found himself so taken with them and their work that he began to film. He soon realised that politics and current affairs was just about all they talked about, with huge demonstrations erupting in Tahrir Square, and continued to film them over the next three years.

The tentmakers ply their craft in a covered market, Chareh El Kiamiah, in the Old Islamic area of the city, a destination that has found its way onto the itinerary of the intrepid international visitor. The men hand-stitch colourful appliqué onto backing cloths at lightning speed, wielding large needles and a hefty pair of tailor’s shears. Thimbles are worn and that’s about it for tools of trade. Sewing machines are only used in order to join large panels together.

TheTentmakersOfCairo poster 2

Beamish had found himself in Egypt at a liminal moment, when events that became known as the ‘Arab spring’ were taking place. The microcosm of Egyptian life that he observed within the covered souk near the old city gate of Bab Zuweila was inevitably swept up in it. ‘What is the world coming to?’ someone asks.

The filmmaker has used an observational or verité style, letting his subjects tell their story in their own words as he maintains a minimal presence. It is beautifully constructed and persuasive viewing even though there is no explanatory voiceover, no music except at the final credits. The images are accompanied by the rich ambient sound recorded on location.

The tentmakers are observed going about their daily routine: the coffee and cigarette breaks, the conversation as they work, most often about what is being reported on television, always on as they work, and the delicate art of making a sale. In no time at all, we develop a sense of the distinct personalities of the five artisans the film follows and how they stand on things.

The film narrative itself begins in 2012, after civil unrest had seen the demise or Hosni Mubarak and when it looks like Mohamed Morsi could be installed as president. It closes with the election of Abdel Fatah el-Sisi in 2014, a point which happened to provide a kind of closure and coincided with the moment that Beamish and his family returned home.

On occasion, we step outside to negotiate our way through the winding alleys. Past the cyclist who works a fresh bread delivery service, loaves balanced on a wide rack on his head, past the men sharing a hookah at the street corner and other intriguing views in the barely contained chaos of an Egyptian street. When things are really hotting up, we spend a stint in Tahrir Square.

At one point, the film follows two of the men on a trip overseas. Hosam and Tarek were invited to demonstrate their skills at an American Quilter’s Society exhibition in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, reflecting the close association that has developed between the tentmakers of Cairo and international quilters societies, and the parallels between both practices. In recent years, there have been visits to Australia as well, Canberra included, as guests of quilters societies here.

The Tentmakers of Cairo is a subtle and thoroughly engaging doco account of the tentmakers from their own point-of-view. Without voiceover and with few intertitles only at top and tail, it allows the men to tell their story virtually unmediated, and it’s fascinating. Director and producer Beamish made his film in collaboration with an entity called Non’D’Script. It’s a light touch that says it all.

 

 

 

Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2016

Published in The Canberra Times on 27 February 2016, and in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald online.

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/french-film-festival-2016-vive-la-difference-20160223-gmycel.html

 

© Jane Freebury

The Measure of a ManA snippet of film that ran for under one minute was projected at a trendy cafe in Paris in 1895 and the rest is history. The film of workers leaving the Lumière factory in Lyon at the end of their shift was made with a portable technology that encouraged the razzmatazz of moving pictures to take hold across the world in Tunisia, Russia, Persia, India, Japan, Australia and elsewhere. Hollywood was getting going too, however France, where cinema as such was born, has always had something different to offer. Vive la différence.

In keeping with its ongoing role as something of a champion of things cultural today, France celebrates writers and artists by inviting them into its prestigious Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Writers, artists and other creatives are invited to become members of the Order each year. The recipients of the award are not all French nor are they all from the older, more traditional arts. A large contingent of people in the film industry like Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan, Taiwanese director Ang Lee, and actors Donald Sutherland, Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett have received this honour.

The respected veteran critic David Stratton is a member and so is that rare Australian who has given the international blockbuster an Australian twang, director George Miller (the Mad Max and Happy Feet films). It has been announced that Miller will be president of the jury at Cannes International Film Festival this year.

Stratton and Miller are both patrons of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival this year, which the organisers describe as the biggest French film festival after Cannes. It grows year by year. The percentage increase of seats filled nationally in 2015 on the previous year was more than 20%. In Canberra, it was 27%.

This year’s AFFFF, the 27th, opens across seven Australian cities from early March with a massive array of 42 films, and includes for the first time some choice samples of French television.

the-three-of-us 3

What have we got to choose from this year? The impact of world affairs offers itself as a theme at this year’s festival in a film like All Three of US, a comedy about a spirited Iranian family that leaves its turbulent homeland in the 1970s to begin life anew in suburban Paris. It is directed by Tehran-born, French stand-up comic Kheiron.

One of this year’s highlights is Dheepan, winner of the 2015 Palme d’Or at Cannes. A new film from the consistently masterful Jacques Audiard (A Prophet; Rust and Bone; Read My Lips) who has hit his stride in recent years directing his own screenplays. Never one to shy away from controversial themes, Audiard here explores the predicament of a former Tamil fighter re-building his life in France.

the-white-knights 3

The White Knights explores how, when an organisation tries rescuing young orphans from Africa, altruism can become tainted by corruption. Actor Vincent Lindon appears in this and also in The Measure of a Man, in the role for which he won the award for best actor at Cannes in 2015. In The Measure Lindon plays a decent family man, head of security at a supermarket, who also becomes enmeshed in moral compromise. This year ‘David’s picks’ of the festival include both these films with Lindon. Other picks are Courted, Microbe & Gasoline, and Taj Mahal.

In Taj Mahal an 18-year-old French expat in Mumbai with her parents is left alone watching DVDs at their hotel one evening when the terrorists attack. It is 2008. The experience is not so much the horror, mostly out of frame, so much as the terror and confusion as a young woman faced the nightmare alone.

Microbe & Gasoline, from Michel Gondry who made the unforgettable Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is also in its way about adolescent search for meaning beyond family and school. A sweet on-road adventure.

Microbe and Gasoline 1

The search for a better moral compass also underpins The Brand New Testament from writer/director Jaco Van Dormael, the creator of that hit comedy of 1991, Toto the Hero. In his new film, God, who is apparently a grumpy, middle-aged man living in a shabby Brussels apartment, has to search for his 10-year-old daughter who has run away in search of six new Apostles.

Reminding us of the French New Wave filmmakers who shook things up some 60 years ago there is a special screening on closing night in Canberra of Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (Le Mepris) when its star the ‘sex kitten’ Brigitte Bardot was at her sultriest. Although there are some sensational shots of Bardot, you can expect Godard to be having a go at Hollywood and its commercial values.

Director Claude Lelouch, a contemporary of Godard though not a New Wave insider, returns with an elegant romance entitled Un plus une. Lelouch is irreversibly connected with one of the greatest screen romances ever, A Man and a Woman, and here his romantic couple, including male lead played by Jean Dujardin (The Artist) meet and fall in love in India.

It is romance gone wrong in Philippe Garrel’s new film, In the Shadow of Women, about a filmmaking couple of filmmakers who fall out of love and into affairs against the backdrop of the city they are shooting, Paris, a mighty monument of living history. It opened the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes International Film Festival last year.

It is never possible to have enough of Isabelle Huppert or Gerard Depardieu which means that Valley of Love is a double treat. In Guillaume Nicloux’s film they are on screen together as a couple reunited in Death Valley on a bizarre mission of discovery directed by their dead son. Like a number of films screening at the AFFFF, it was in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes festival last year. Huppert also appears in Macadam Stories.

Juliette Binoche is in the line-up too, as a mother, awaiting or grieving her absent son when his girlfriend comes to visit. Set in Sicily, The Wait is an Italian-French coproduction. And Julie Delpy makes an appearance too, directing herself and popular comedic actor Danny Boon in her new film Lolo.

There is some intriguing critical opinion on Mon Roi, which I haven’t yet seen, from writer-director Maiwenn (Polisse) in which a woman hospitalised after a skiing accident is forced to reflect on her former husband the jerk. It has received the AFFFF critics’ award for 2016, but not everyone is a fan. This is definitely good enough reason in itself to go along and find out for yourself.

 

Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2016 is screening until 29 March at Palace Cinema, New Acton, ACT.