Category Archives: Film

Human Rights Arts & Film Festival – Melbourne

HRAFF

Privilege is not in and of itself bad; what matters is what we do with privilege … Privilege does not have to be negative, but we have to share our resources and take direction about how to use our privilege in ways that empower those who lack it

bell hooks, Homegrown: Engaged Cultural Criticism

I recently attend the excellent Australian Human Rights Arts & Film Festial (HRAFF) in Melbourne where a collection of short films were presented at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).  The HRAFF has been running for nine few years, and seeks to “hold a mirror to the uneasy truths of our times and reflect our stories” through creative means – and that it does.

acmiThe International Shorts screening that I attended comprised a collection of five award winning films from around the globe that presented a broad range of international and social issues in bold, despairing, humorous and challenging ways.  All of the five films (perhaps with exclusion of Ave Maria) where tied together by common themes of: power, privilege and capacity.

The film-suite seemed to emphasise how privileged we are in Australia, while also inspiring and subtly challenging the audience to consider how we can more fully use our vast capacity to facilitate change and empowerment of vulnerable people both locally and internationally.

 

I have briefly reviewed each of the respective short films:

Shipwreck (2014: Netherlands and Italy – 15min) shipwreck

Using clever camerawork to provide a feeling of disorientation as well as buoyancy at sea, this Shipwreck is light on dialogue and heavy on impact.  26 year old Morgan Knibbe‘s moving film is shot through the perspective of one of the 155 survivors of the well publicised ship-wreck that was carrying 500 Eritrean refugees that sank off the cost of the Italian island Lampedusa, 3 October 2013.  The viewer is presented a world of disperse, chaos and loss as the remaining survivors and the local police are forced to deal with the aftermath of the tragic voyage.

 

Listen (2014: Denmark, Finland and Colombia – 13min)

listenListen is a painfully realistic lesson in understanding the difficulties of migrants who cannot communicate in the primary language of their new resident nation.  Somewhat reminiscent of Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga‘s tragic film Bable, Listen tells the story of a Musilm woman seeking Police protection from her abusive husband against the wishes of her intentionally  misleading Muslim translator and her teenage son.  Change for this woman is shown as nearly impossible against such cultural inertia and language barriers.

 

A few seconds (2014: France – 16min)

A_Few_SecondsNora el Hourch‘s film tells the story of a small rough-edged band of young women in France that are coming of age amidst passively and actively abusive men.  With plenty of humour, and plenty of shock A few seconds shows the importance of community and friendship when coping with life away from the support of family.

 

Everything will be OK (2015: Germany and Austria – 30min)

everything will be okPatrick Vollrath’s ‘short’ film tells the story of a desperate father seeking to kidnap his child out of his loneliness, despair and anger at his current custody arrangement.  Tastefully shot, Everything will be OK, allows the audience to simultaneously sympathise with the father while understanding the suffering of a poor child caught in the middle of parents’ fighting and broken relationships.  In the final moving scenes the daughter seems to behave more like an adult than her Dad while literally being pried from his arms.

 

Ave Maria (2015: Palestine, France and Germany – 15min)ave maria

A start contrast to the other four shorts – it is clear that the program directors had learned from last year, the importance of allowing the audience to leave the cinema smiling as well as being shockingly moved.  Ave Maria is a quirky tale of a handful of Nuns and Jews that are forced to help each other in the West Bank under the most unlikely of circumstances.  Making light of some Jewish and Catholic cultural traditions and stereotypes, Ave Maria seems to ironically elucidate the similarities between different religious and cultural groups by forcing the audience to somewhat laugh at the small and large things that makes some communities appear different.

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Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman

Anomalisa - Running.jpg

This is not how I am;  I have become comfortably numb

Roger Waters, 1979

Charlie Kaufman‘s latest film, Anomalisa, is an understated piece from the award winning screen writer.  In his second role as director, Kaufman is joined by Duke Johnson to produce this heavy stop-motion feature based on a 2005 play of the same name.

The film is set almost entirely over the course of one evening spent in a hotel room Cincinnati hotel where the protagonist, Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a famous self-help author seeks to find human connection in a world where everybody else looks the same.  This is until he meets a sweet and unconfident young woman, Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), who unlike all the other characters has a unique face, voice and a sky childish honesty.  Stone is immediately drawn to her as an escape from the familiarity of everyone that he meets that seems to be causing his feelings of isolation.  In Lisa, Stone sees an escape from his tired routine, and a reason for hope and joy.

Michael Stone: I think you’re extraordinary.
Lisa: Why?
Michael Stone: I don’t know yet, it’s just obvious to me that you are.

Despite the serious themes, the film is consistently funny, with plenty of dry-wit and dark humor.  It is through the tired eyes of the educated traveler that the all-so-familiar rituals of a bland work trip interstate are poked fun at through Stone’s frustration.  However, his desire to be left alone in peace and quiet from the hospitality staff is ironically contrasted with his need for simple human connection that he spends the whole evening and day-thereafter seeking.

Charlie Kaufman

Charlie Kaufman

In scale, Anomalisa is juxtaposed to Kaufman’s previous work – Synechdoche New York (2008) – which follows the drawn-out life and death of the protagonist: Caden Cotard.  Cotard’s desire for his life to be made significant through his work is echoed by his never ceasing attempts at grandeur and honesty in an all encompassing theater piece.  He is never content with the simple small human connections in and of themselves, instead, Cotard seeks something big and bold often at the expense of true human interaction with his family and closest friends. Anomalisa’s Michael Stone by contrast seems to have given up on the grand, and is desperate for connection, a hug – and some..

Anomalisa - Scene

That stop-motion sex scene

In a 2015 interview, Kaufman and Johnston explain how the most difficult part of the production was filming the sex scene that took over six-months.   The challenge was made even harder by trying to avoid connections to that oh-so famous Team America: World Police (2004) montage.  Too often intimate scenes in films are forced to be either funny or passionately erotic; however, here, a simple tone is carefully presented where a basic human connection is shown by balancing their genuine affection for each other with the sadness of the situation, including Stone’s adultery.  The use of stop-motion figurines paradoxically enables the directors to present somewhat ‘universal’ characters that the viewer is able to connect to without the distraction of a human actor.

The theme of not being able to being able to distinguish between faces is based on a real condition – Prosopagnosia – famously suffered from by portrait artist Chuck Close.  However, the viewer is asked to question whether in-fact everybody is actually the same, or whether Stone cannot determine the differences in their faces – perhaps due to his

Chuck Close

Chuck Close – Self portrait

disengagement from others’ lives.  Or perhaps even more so, that Stone is the only person in this fictional world that is truly alive in seeing that everyone else is the same.  Or finally, is it that Stone asks too much of the world and others?

The film ends with his wife reminding a disengaged Stone, “Don’t you realize we all love you“.  To which we are forced to question whether asking for something new, exciting and different is genuinely as important as simply loving others and being loved in return.

Perhaps the final irony of this film is that despite Stone seeing everybody as the same, this movie is distinctive in its quiet ability to capture both a person’s disconnection with the world and their desire for human’s connection.


 

Kaufman’s Filmography:

Being John MBeing John Malkovich (1999) – Disturbingly entertaining and more than entertainingly disturbing.

 

Human NatureHuman Nature (2001) – Far better than it looked; but unfortunately it watched no better than it looked.

 

 

NicCageAdaptationAdaptation (2002) – If you can tell me what it all means – you are a liar; if you can tell me you didn’t enjoy being taken on a trip down the garden path – you too are a liar.

 

CDMConfession of a Dangerous Mind (2002) – Such a perfectly unbelievable true-story, even with Clooney‘s directorial debut as a Coen brothers disciple he couldn’t do any true harm to Kaufman’s modified script.

 

 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindEternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (2004) – Not your average rom-com – as the greater the plot twists, the tighter the knots of love and loss.

 

synecdoche new yorkSynecdoche, New York (2008) – Directorial debut and epic navel-gazing true horror film about dying without living in the quest for greatness and meaning.

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2 Autumns, 3 Winters – Film Review

2 Autumns, 3 Winters

When you’re in your early 20s your love life seems to explode every 20 minutes or so.  By the time you’ve reached your thirties, it is every five or ten years.

Patrick Marber

If you were not previously afraid of turning 30 then perhaps French director and screen writer Sebastein Betbeder’s recently released second film will have you fighting to ensure that your youth is not wasted while you are still young.

2 Autumns, 3 Winters follows three thirty-something year olds falling in and out of love.  Trying to embrace this new phase of life, each character is both shocked and regretful at how their youth has passed them by.

2 Autumns, 3 WintersThirty-three year old protagonist Arman (Vincent Macgaine) decides to make a change to his uninspired life by starting to regularly run in a local park. Looking like Bill Bailey on bad hair day, Arman meets the beautiful Amelie exercising and falls for her immediately.  Over the course of two autumns and three winters we witness a series of dates; double dates; stokes; serendipitous meetings with former lovers and former colleges; and mundane trips to the supermarket as the film paints a picture of life past the big three-zero.

Each scene is literally numbered, like a chapters in a book, as the detailed exposition of a series of eclectic, somewhat intertwined moments, show that life is unexpected in both joy and sadness.  In an underwhelming Woody Allen stylised way, the characters frequently self-narrate their conversations by speaking directly to the camera and describing their feelings—often as polar opposites to the other party in the conversation.

In a repeated motif, each of the male characters meets their love-interests during unfortunate incidents.  It is a bitter-sweet irony that only through suffering does something good seem to come these hapless hommes – all in spite of Arman and Benjamin (Bastien Bouillon) trying to control their own destinies.

2 Autumns, 3 WintersDespite intermittently offering brief moments of humour and glimpses of hope, it is unfortunate that Betheder’s directorial creativity is at the expense of strong storytelling.  Experimenting with the medium, the film alternates between grainy 16mm footage and High Definition (HD) producing a semi-autobiographical tone.  However, one cannot help but feel that too much effort has been placed in making the film seem cutesy and indie rather than allowing viewers to emotionally engage with the characters on a deeper level.

“I had trouble appreciating the vast landscape before me” exhaustedly says Amelie—perhaps best encapsulates 2 Autumns, 3 Winters’ contention about growing-up and life post 29.

This review has been published online through Farrago Magazine

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An American In Paris

Breakfast

Europe was created by history.  America was created by philosophy.

– Margaret Thatcher

I hate seeing Americans in Europe.  They are out of place.  They don’t belong there, and yet they keep on popping up.

But I’m not talking about actual American tourists / travellers.  As I personally found them to be great fun, and far less obnoxious as their arguably un-fair cartoon cut-out stereotype that so called real travellers like to talk about.

DSC01585I’m talking about American actors, musicians and style-icons being shamelessly prostituted as advertising on European souvenirs.  Appearing next to the Eiffel Tower; The Coliseum, even in the Gondola filled Venice.  Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn were the worst offenders, or offended – depending how you think about it.

Take for example, this kitsch Marilyn Monroe and Eifle Tower t-shirt.  Or an Audrey Hepburn souvenir that we saw in Paris shop window.  What is she doing there?!

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an American produced film; set in New York, America; written by an American, Truman Capote, starring an American actress, Audrey Hepburn as a fictional American prostitute.  Now, I am willing to conceded that Audrey Hepburn did star in the B&W film Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck where classic scenes of the couple cruising around on a Vespa in front of the Coliseum and other Roman icons; or Paris when it sizzles (1964).  But that hardly means that she is suddenly Italian, or even French!

Mick Jagger - Ned KellyThe equivalent would be to have pictures of Mick Jagger – who starred in a 1970 film about Ned Kelly, the iconic and notorious Australian bushranger and out-law – and have him and his big lips printed all over T-shirts, calendars, and mug-holders alongside Uluru, Sydney Opera House, or posing with penguins from Phillip Island, Victoria.

When looking through the souvenir shops and flea markets while travelling in Granada, Spain, I came across this original Granada boomerang.  I didn’t know that the Australian First People had traveled all the way to Spain; or that they discovered how to use blue and green paints; or that the Spanish people had for some reason embraced traditional Australian Aboriginal tools and weapons.

In the 1996 music documentary Hype, director Doug Pray shows that during the early 90s, when the grunge movement was taking off in Seattle, many record labels elsewhere were trying to leverage off this success.  Albums, clothing, boots, instruments and amps were stamped with Seattle as a symbol of their street-cred – even if these items had little to nothing to do with this Washington city.

Granada Boomerang

Genuine Granada boomerangs

And there are other countless examples of this sort of marketing.  Where something that is originally unique is used, shamelessly and out of context, to try to give something else some pizzazz.  And in doing so, dilutes the meaning of what was unique first item.

It is a sad thing that marketing tries to leach off word-association value from genuinely unique ideas or images, and pass them onto garden variety products.   I find it intensely frustrating how the word Jazz is slapped onto bars and restaurants to make it look cool – when in fact it has nothing to do with jazz at all.  Jazz is reduced from being an alternative and potentially raucous art-form, to tame background music at a cocktail bar.  It tries to borrow the edgy, mysterious, out-sider jazz ethic and pass that on; rather than generating some panache of its own.

Perhaps this sort of ‘word theft’ is partially what Bob Dylan was so angry about in his 1981 song, singing “You want to water-down love” – disappointed at seeing the radical term ‘love’ of his new Christian faith, being diminished and reduced by televangelists nationwide.

Paris Hilton in Paris, France

Or maybe we should be thankful that we have Audrey Hepburn next to the Eiffel Tower, and not had to endure Paris Hilton flaunting her name, and herself…

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February 22, 2014 · 5:24 PM