Wednesday 20 December 2017

Defending Cinephilia (8) - Critic and Founding Co-editor of Senses of Cinema Fiona Villella recalls the highlights of 2017

There are many films from 2017 that I haven’t seen yet, so in a way this list is incomplete but list-making is always a fun and worthy exercise so when Geoff asked I relented. Taking that time to reflect on a year’s worth of viewing also lays bare those hidden trends in what we choose to view that in turn reflects our own personal interests and worldview.

Places like Mubi  continue to feed the ongoing cinephile in me (especially loved its Marker and Pialat spotlights this year) as do local film festivals and special screenings. On the other hand, the local multiplex is where I go for standard fare, but even then there are aberrations (I caught Scorsese’s austere religious biopic at Hoyts).

Chauka, Please Tell Us The Time. Despite the Australian government denying media access to its offshore detention centres, this remarkable documentary used clandestine footage to show us the crushing monotony and dehumanising emptiness that characterises life for those imprisoned on Manus. Without a trace of melodrama, the film paints a devastating picture of interminable suffering. Long, still takes of sluggish men, their lives put on hold, caught in an endless loop of waiting. Rolls of barbed wire fence block off a distant horizon of open freedom. The film also includes other voices, such as Australian activist Janet Gailbraith, who interviews locals about the detention centre, the history of the island and the lack of employment. A collaboration between journalist Behrouz Boochani and Iranian-Dutch filmmaker Arash Kamali Sarvestani, this remarkable film shows us the sorry mess created at the hands of the powers that be. The film’s closing moments in which Malcolm Turnbull justifies his offshore detention policies to the ABC crowd of Q&A exposes his galling lack of humanity.   

Sally Potter
MIFF Sally Potter retrospective. Thank you MIFF! This was a prized opportunity to re-watch as well as see for the first time Potter’s early works. Her ability to honour the emotions of her characters, to show the messiness of relationships without cliché or sentimentality, and to do so in contexts of historical and cultural veracity, with intellectual rigour makes viewing her films a truly soulful experience. The slight presence of humour in Potter’s early films takes centre stage in her latest The Party, absolutely the most wildly, raucous feature film I have seen in forever.

I am not your Negro and Detroit. Two very different attempts to explore racism in America. I much preferred Raoul Peck’s – a marvellous tribute to James Baldwin using archival footage, film excerpts, voice recording of his literature. Its deconstruction of racism was definitive and radical in that it cleared the way for imagining a society without relations of power and servitude. Bigelow’s Detroit on the other hand used the devices of the action genre to show abuse of power but somehow the narrative of injustice and struggle got lost amidst Bigelow’s particular emphasis on genre, tone and performance.

Other cinema highlights: Larrain’s Jackie, Scorsese’s The Silence (except for the final image, which undermined the ambiguity of the whole narrative), Moonlight (where depth of feeling meets narrative playfulness), Get Out (clever blend of genre and social satire), Wonder Woman and a range of well-made, pleasing middle of the road releases The Midwife (Catherine Deneuve absolutely marvellous), Land of Mine, Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House.

TV highlights: Twin Peaks (Lynch, you are a genius), Atlanta, The Young Pope (Jude Law is ravishing). This list is very incomplete – still to see Campion’s Top of the Lake (season 2).
David Lynch (as Agent Gordon Cole) Twin Peaks:The Return

Patricia Edgar
Film culture highlights: the ongoing high quality of Senses of Cinema, the inaugural Melbourne Women in Film Festival (which I reviewed and you can find if you click here), its focus on Patricia Edgar, including a screening of her early shorts followed by a candid Q&A about her life and career was priceless, the screenings run by Artist Film Workshop in inner-city Melbourne, MIFF’s spotlight on Australian women filmmakers and of course Geoff Gardner’s invaluable Film Blog.

We Don't Need a Map
Highlights still to come, I’m sure: We Don’t Need a Map, That’s not me, Ali’s wedding, The Unknown Girl, Personal Shopper, Colossal, A Quiet Passion, Slack Bay….

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