Tuesday 29 January 2019

On Blu-ray - David Hare locates a new German language only edition of Fassbinder's IN A YEAR OF THIRTEEN MOONS

The credits (screen above) say it all.
Fassbinder's masterful In a Year with 13 Moons, first released in 1978 is finally out in a new Blu-ray edition taken from a 4K restoration by Studio Canal which I had the great honor  to introduce last year at Geoff Gardner's first Cinema Reborn program in Sydney.
Sadly the current release is German language only, from German Canal licensee, Arthaus. I hope Canal sees enough sales potential to multi-sub the film and give it a broader release soon.
As I commented at the time, this is one of several Fassbinder’s that has not been easy to see, and I speculated then that last year's 4K DCP screening in Sydney was the first in Oz since it was shown once only at Sydney and Melbourne FFs ca. 1978 or 79.
It was notably and oft quoted as made in response to the suicide/coke and booze OD of Fassbinder's longtime on-and-off lover Armin Meier. Fassbinder's legendary grimness notwithstanding, the picture in fact revels in some of the director's blackest and rawest humor, and the ironies are laid on with a trowel, especially the music track which seems to be playing with high Queenery arthouse as Extremely High Camp, for example, Mahler's 5th Adagietto, pinched from Visconti's turgid and navel-gazing bumfluff, Death in Venice, which Rainer scores for Elvira's opening Hamburg beat trawl in which she's beaten up by some Polish leather queens who discover she doesn't have a cock.

The same music is then quoted during the second big tableau, a stroll through an active slaughterhouse with BFF Zora played by ex-Mrs Fassbinder, the great cabaret artiste Ingrid Caven (above). Their journey through Elvira's last day takes them to a high Pasolini moment in Fassbinder cinema, paralleling the crucifixion scene in PPP's Gospel movie where they meet the director's mother, Lilo Pempeit, at a convent playing "Sister Gudrun", who greets the couple and narrates a chapter of "secrets" from Erwin/Elvira's unhappy childhood. (Below)

The movie is breathtaking in its audacity, and the unyieldingly high-pitched performance from Volker Spengler  is outstanding even in the context of Fassbinder's concentrated and stylized performance modes. Perhaps the greatest moment of black noise, and complete abandonment of "good taste" is the sequence in which Elvira revisits the love of her life, the man for whom she had her sex change operation, Fassbinder's favourite skinny bad guy, Gottfried John playing the Jewish survivor.
He's now a crooked property developer (aren't they all?) whose office is secured by a password which, as read by Elvira with perfect recall, is a number from one of the vaults at Auschwitz. When Elvira enters this sanctum the entire office staff are all dancing in synch to a scene from a rarely seen Jerry Lewis/Dean Martin movie, You're Never too Young, (1955) in which Lewis plays one Wilbur Hoolick. Perhaps, I wondered, if Fassbinder was having a presentiment of Lewis's Holocaust movie?
So an advance notice I guess of one of my own favourite Fassbinder films, with an English-friendly release hopefully not too far away.

Monday 28 January 2019

Streaming and on SBS - Rod Bishop sits down for THE KIMBERLEY CRUISE: Australia’s Last Great Wilderness, 2019, SBS slow summer, 14 hours.

Streaming until 12 February

Coral Discoverer
Wikipedia claims the Norwegians kicked off Slow Television with a 7-hour train journey in 2009. Since then Belgium, Hong Kong, the UK, Spain and now Australia have all contributed to this new television genre. (Wiki also mentions www.watching-grass-grow.com - a stationary camera looking at a front lawn and running continuously since 2006).

It was SBS’s 14-hour The Kimberley Cruise that had me anchored (ahem) in front of the TV. There is also a wimpy three-hour version. It also gave me plenty of time to wonder how many of my friends would be snorting “For heaven’s sake, get a life ’’.

I’ve been to the Kimberley on four occasions; have driven the Gibb River and Kalumburu Roads to the Mitchell Plateau; walked the Bungle Bungles; hung around in Broome for weeks on end; stayed at Cape Leveque and One Arm Point; taken tinnies from Faraway Bay to find remote Gwion Gwion paintings; been to Kununurra and Wyndham; eaten the best spaghetti carbonara of my life in Derby;  done a dive and snorkel cruise out to the Rowley Shoals, but none of these appear in The Kimberley Cruise.

However, ten years ago I did a similar cruise around the Kimberley coastline and was interested in reliving the experience, even if it meant 13 hours and one hour of commercials.

We start in Broome, arguably the most interesting town in Australia. Unfortunately, the Broome Wharf is probably the least interesting place in Broome. We listen to the crew chatting, watch the lines drawn in and get a few superimposed titles about Broome’s population (16,222), the size of the Kimberley (bigger than Britain and Ireland combined) and learn that we are following “the route taken by Muslim traders, European explorers, pirates, refugees” and that “Malaysians, Timorese, Filipinos, Japanese and Indigenous Australians worked in the pearling industry.” For visual interest, we get a fleeting CGI glimpse of an old pearling lugger. As we chug north along the Dampier Peninsula coast, there’s another title about the famous Lombadina Mission (1906), the Indigenous communities and the spread of Christianity.

About now, there’s a sinking feeling we won’t actually be seeing any of this interesting stuff. The closest we get to the Dampier is a thin ribbon of a distant shoreline with kilometres of sea between us and it. And then we crash-cut to the first 5-minute commercial break and, like all the 13 commercial breaks to come, it’s very jarring indeed.

A word about the vessels. We are on board the Coral Discoverer, a 72-passenger cruise ship. There are dozens of vessels that ply up and down the Kimberley coast in the dry season and they range from 12 passengers to mammoths that carry hundreds. Some offer half the coastline, some do Broome to Darwin, some do Wyndham to Broome, some have helicopters perched on top, some just charter helicopters when needed and all have some type of boat-to-shore vessel – a tender, zodiacs or tinnies.

The size of the vessel goes a long way in determining your experience.

Essentially, the bigger the boat, the further off shore you are and the greater the boat-to-shore logistics. Getting off the vessel and onto a tender, zodiac or tinnie to reach the land, the inlets and the rivers makes an incalculable difference.

The Coral Discoverer is not the biggest craft doing the route, but it’s certainly way bigger than the boats that cater for 12 guests. The SBS film crew obviously needed a biggish boat for their gear, their accommodation and their access to smaller craft to shoot from, but the bigger you get, the more it hampers your flexibility.

The Coral Discoverer has a tender on the back, apparently capable of taking all 72 passengers, but it looks very much like one of those craft that take tourists out onto the Kakadu wetlands, with all the same drawbacks of maneuverability.

The scale of the Coral Discoverer and the gear used by the crew does have some distinct advantages for the production. By the time we get to the Horizontal Waterfalls, and the even better Montgomery Reef, the aerial drone and surface photography is nothing short of superb and worthy of Attenborough.

But either due to the size of the ship or a lack of accessibility to the shore, we bypass some very significant Kimberley assets. There’s no Cape Leveque and One-Arm Point, but there is a side-trip into a defunct mining operation and its stuffed-up sea-wall on Koolan Island (a superimposed title tells us the island was occupied by Indigenous inhabitants for 30,000 years).

We arrive at Raft Point but instead of going ashore to see the magnificent Wandjina paintings, all we get is another superimposed title and graphics of a few paintings overlaid as the Discoverer chugs on. The astounding Gwion Gwion (Bradshaw) rock paintings are given the same treatment (a superimposed title and overlaid images of a couple of figures). The cave complex on Bigge Island with its historical layers of art work isn’t even mentioned. Nor is the unique Mitchell Plateau, with its stunning waterfalls, Livistona Eastonii palms and its Wandjina and Gwion rock art, an option offered by some cruise vessels who charter helicopters.

On board, there’s some stultifying footage on the Bridge; snippets of passengers drinking bubbly and talking quietly and long takes of people sitting at tables and eating.

The sea, however, at any time of the day, is always magnificent - azure, turquoise and jade beneath cobalt blue cloudless skies. An occasional whale or dolphin pops up in longshot.
Before turning for Darwin, The Kimberley Cruise has one last highlight (and there haven’t been many). It’s the long trip up the King George River between the vast, soaring escarpments. The drone photography makes the most of this spectacular place. Unfortunately, when the tender reaches its final destination - the twin waterfalls – they are bone dry.

A bit like the entire 14 hours - an opportunity missed.

Sunday 27 January 2019

The Current Cinema - John Snadden recommends Clint Eastwood's THE MULE

With a word perfect screenplay from Nick Schenk (GRAN TORINO) and Sam Dolnick and its deceptively simple and uncluttered visual style, THE MULE is director Clint Eastwood's best film since MILLION DOLLAR BABY in 2004.

Eastwood takes the part of Earl Stone, a philandering husband whose moral and emotional redemption comes at a very high price.
Alison Eastwood, Clint Eastwood, The Mule
Earl who was once a wealthy businessman and is now down on his luck, finds his twilight years comprising of a series of journeys along some very dark roads.

My only criticism of this film is that Eastwood does skimp on the details of Earl's ultimate collision with the law. One of the final lines of dialogue captures the film's finely balanced mix of humour and tragedy in an almost perfect way.

I'll be seeing THE MULE again, soon. 
The Mule

Wednesday 23 January 2019

A special screening of Lawrence Johnston's award-winning documentary FALLOUT

FALLOUT (2013) is a celebration of the life and work of British novelist Nevil Shute, the writing of his famous ‘end of the world’ novel ON THE BEACH and the famous film shot in Melbourne, Australia by Stanley Kramer.

FALLOUT was made from Award Winning Director Lawrence Johnston (ETERNITY, LIFE, NEON). Lawrence will present a special session of FALLOUT as part of the 60th Anniversary Screenings of ON THE BEACH.

Lawrence has gained access to some recently found and never before seen footage including deleted scenes and Costume Tests of Ava Gardner shot in Italy in 1958. A small selection of the photos are in the gallery below. Click on an image for a slide show.
Saturday February 2 at 3.30pm - Australian Centre for the Moving Image at Federation Square in Melbourne.

Sunday 20 January 2019

On Blu-ray - David Hare rejoices in the new Criterion edition of Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS

A production still  (above) from one of many bonus features on the new Criterion Blu-ray of Notorious. 

Taken from a new 4K scan of MoMA's nitrate O-neg, a high quality nitrate dupe pos 35mm, and a fine grain safety pos 35mm which was used to recapture and scan several dupe sections from the O-Neg which have been a persistent weakness for decades. 

The movie now looks better than it ever has. And the new disc adds kudos by carrying several new supplements, plus most of the bonus features from Criterion's old DVD and MGM's quite good but now superseded Blu-ray from six or seven years ago. 

I have long agreed with Truffaut (with whom I don't agree that often) that this is Hitchcock's greatest B&W film, despite very stiff competition from the rest of his oeuvre. The final break from Selznick enabled him to escape to RKO where he was able to effectively produce the movie himself, although he's not credited as such. Everything once again feels like one of his late British pictures, but with big Hollywood production values in the way it seems to spin on a perfect set of playful vibrations, starting with the casting and the incomparably mysterious figure of Cary Grant's Devlin (above), seemingly a man without a back story whose emotional life may well be as stunted as Cary's superb, quietly burning performance suggests. 

Bergman (above) is in peak range, and has never been more physically moving. Her performance is urgently emotional. And Hitch's most sympathetic villain, the oppressively oedipal Claude Rains as Alex Sebastian. 

Every bit part is also perfectly crystallized, from Louis Calhern's smug, misogynist FBI manager, to Reinhold Schunzel as the compassionate, "kindly" Doctor Anderson amongst the Nazi cabal in Rio. 

Indeed, writer Ben Hecht gives Hitch a flawlessly detailed screenplay populated with quickly sketched but highly effective character ciphers for the secondary cast, a strategy which enhances the leads. RKO also gave Hitch their great, unsung music director, Roy Webb whose library sourced score is matched impeccably to mood - the "waltz" piece playing through Alicia's first big party scene.  Climaxing with the key switch is an RKO musical staple which turns up again if not so strikingly in Out of the Past, among several other 40s RKO pictures. Ted Tetzlaff who had shot over 100 features before making this as his last job as DP, before becoming a director with the childhood nightmare noir,The Window, shows he can top even as technically speedy a DP as Sol Polito or Stanley Cortez with fast tracking, multiple lighting setups in depth, and apparently virtuoso mega takes, like the famous Ballroom key shot which seems to be a massive travelling crane from the chandelier above the reception room to Alicia's clenched fist concealing the key to the wine cellar. 

That shot is partly tracking, but also substantially telephoto process lab work, like a number of other throwaway but brilliant shots which combine physically impossible components. Another example is the second shot from the movie's opening which views the closing words of Alicia’s father's trial shouted through a door, from the POV of the media scrum outside the courtroom. In this new 4K, perhaps for the first time the lines between doorway, POV positioning and the distant courtroom still in focus visibly reveal the shot as a set of almost imperceptible optical mattes, with a glimmer of shudder from the labwork. 

The new 4K scan quality is revelatory not only for such felicities of camera trickery, but for sheer physical detail and expression, especially in the unbelievably beautiful close-ups of Grant and Bergman. The single take 360% clinch and kiss on the balcony with Rio in process in the background is more rhapsodic in sheer physical presence than ever before. 

Once again I only wish Criterion had already made the leap to 4K UHD disc format for these new treasures that are literally rebirthing so much great cinema. The work on this gorgeous new 4K was performed in concert with Walt Disney (which has been a copyright holder of some of MGM's library over the years including the Selznick titles), Warner's titanic MPI facility in Burbank, and Lee Kline from Criterion who supervised the scan and transfer to 4K.

Monday 14 January 2019

On Cable and Brit TV - Park Chan-wook attacks John le Carre's THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL

Let me make clear from the start, I always had a bit of a problem with John le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl. In brief I thought it had a level of implausibility quite foreign to the master’s work, certainly to that time, and coming after the dour magnificent totally heart-rending story of The Karla Trilogy it seemed to me to lack authenticity. That’s the greatest sin of all in a spy novel (and the reason why I’ve never managed to admire anything that Charles McCarry writes but causes me to swoon over almost everything that Alan Furst writes…. But I digress. )

Le Carré wanted to explore the highly imaginative methods that Mossad employed to terrorise the Palestinians. Unencumbered by rules or morality, Mossad was the most lethal of spy agencies and years later Israeli writers and film-makers themselves have delved into its dark arts with homegrown TV series Prisoners of War  and later Fauda. I’m sure that all the meticulous Israeli spycraft on show in le Carré’s book, which is set in the late 70s, is based on meticulous observation of the techniques of the day. The current spook tropes of instant access to CCTV and drones weren’t on hand but nevertheless you can see its origins in the detailed spycraft on show in Park Chan-wook’s recently aired BBC mini-series produced by le Carré’s two sons Stephen and Simon Cornwell. 

Florence Pugh as Charlie, The Little Drummer Girl
That element doubtless is completely factual – the silent torture room, the tracking and deception, the use of the mislead (Best example being the smuggled bottles of liquor in the boot as Charlie acts nervous) - all of these ring true. But the central character of Charlie doesn’t. She’s a le Carré construct of a set of attitudes and tropes and thus ridiculously pliable to both the author and the Israeli spymasters who manipulate her. Le Carré seems to find Charlie alternately an object of sympathy and someone whose po-faced leftism is something to poke fun at. She doesn’t ring true on the page, she doesn’t when she’s transformed into the 30+ y-o American naif played by Diane Keaton in George Roy Hill’s movie, and she doesn’t when played by the quirky Florence Pugh, an actress from the Glenda Jackson school of heavy dramatic mannerism and a pout almost worthy of Bardot.

Michael Shannon as Kurtz the spymaster, The Little Drummer Girl
Caught up in the twists and turns of the drama you can of course sail obliviously through the seduction and turning of Charlie, the smart and sassy left-winger actress (i.e she is chosen because she can play roles) whom the Israelis inveigle into their plan to trap a Palestinian ‘terrorist’. You might find this a likely tactic given what we know of Mossad’s imagination (think of those fake Australian passports) and I guess you can be on the edge of the seat wondering which way Charlie will turn. 

Park Chan-wook, a director well known for bloating his subjects and being somewhat careless with any sense of authenticity, may well be a perfect choice for this material. Some might have questioned it but not Park who himself sails into the narrative with the gusto and enthusiasm of an outsider with not a care as to whether it rings true, whether the bundle of contradictions that constitute Charlie add up and possibly, on the evidence, with an entire lack of any comprehension of the greater politics of what lies beneath le Carré’s narrative and what he was really wanting to discuss. 

I don’t imagine Park got the gig because he made Stoker (one of the most embarrassingly inept films ever selected for and screened at the Sydney Film Festival where I saw it in a State Theatre which gradually filled with mounting disbelief). I do imagine Park got the gig in part at last because he made Old Boy, now apparently a ‘cult classic’ in which a man eats a live octopus, among many other indignities on show. The Cornwells' desire to liven up the le Carré back catalogue for an almost BBC/Dickens like series of adaptations does have this interesting trope whereby they have approved directors from out of the mainstream most notably recently the Swede Tomas Alfredson for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the Dane Susanne Bier for The Night Manager.

Park’s The Little Drummer Girl isn’t dull though I wouldn’t give it any gongs for scintillating mise-en-scène either. He's a devotee of wide-angles and big close-ups. I also found it interesting that it credits two writers separately. Michael Lesslie gets sole credit (as well as an all-over Executive Producer credit) for eps 1, 2, 4 and 6 and Claire Wilson for eps 3 and 5. How that worked, I wouldn’t know but given all the discussion about these TV things resting on the writer/showrunner as opposed to the director its intriguing. A subject for further research but possibly it all remained well and truly under the control of the Cornwell brothers. 

Le Carre’s story comes through. It’s just I've never gotten over the high improbability level involved in the whole enterprise, something which started way back with one of the master’s lesser titles.
London Film Festival premiere of The Little Drummer Girl
Florence Pugh, Michael Shannon, Park Chan-wook, John le Carre
Alexander Skarsgard

Saturday 12 January 2019

Cine Latino Film Festival (4) - Barrie Pattison concludes his round-up and nominates his film of the year THE HEAVY HAND OF THE LAW (Fernán Mires’, Argentina, 2017)

Before anyone got too settled in their anticipations, we were shown Javier Izquierdo’s Equadorian Un Secreto en la Caja an account of neglected Marcelo Chiriboga (1933-1990), the country’s member of the South American literary “boom” (Garcia Márquez, Vargas Lllosa, Carlos Fuentes etc.) and author of the controversial 1968 “The Imaginary Line” evoking the unresolved frontier between Ecuador and Peru after their war. 

For someone like myself, who is bone ignorant of South American history, it took a while to figure that it was a mockumentary. 

The film is playfully Brechtian (is this the first time these words were butted together?) describing boom writers concocting an imaginary author hoax or putting up a distorting black and white VHS of Chiriboga’s one surviving interview which they offer as contradiction to those who suggest he may never have existed. Purported former associates José Ignacio Donoso and Antonio Ordóñez conduct an earnest discussion in el Café Amazonas, taking about Marques and Fuentes getting into a drunken punch up at a wedding and the now dead subject’s purported daughter does an interview in English from her home in America. To round it out they show an awful clip from a Spaghetti western director’s adaptation of “The Imaginary Line.”

Some of the genuine Hispanics present were fooled, not unlike the way Peter Jackson’s 1995 Forgotten Silver had people calling me when it finished on air, to ask whether that was a fake. Actor credits on the end here were a really good clue.

Maybe it’s not as funny as it needs to be but Un Secreto en la Caja does have an intriguing value in making an outside spectator ponder its authenticity with no clues beyond film form. It confirms that this is actually an important and undervalued skill. 

Of course we can’t win them all and the event put up a murky full screen version of Augusto Tamayo San Román’s Una sombra al frente/Crossing a Shadow/A Shadow to the Front from Peru.

A promising opening with Diego Bertie narrating “My father was an engineer, a builder of roads - like me” over Arturo Muñoz Prato as his character young, being handed a pistol by mother Milena Alvato to stop the native help deserting when his father dies on their expedition. “You are now the man of the family.” Her forbidding character runs through the story without actually doing anything.

Comes 1907 and Bertie grown is in the lush jungle. “We need to clear the same ten mile of road again and again.” Comfort comes in the form of Indian foreman’s daughter Nidia Bermejo, the first of a number of appealing young women who get naked in our hero’s bed. His river bridge fails in a flood and he’s ordered back to Lima by the new government.

Bertie encounters his family, mother (“Even if you are far away, you are the support of living siblings”), sisters and dissident brother Gonzalo Molina. His squeeze here is dignified Vanessa Saba, the only performer to suggest talent. However, Bertie sails off to Spain, with another tootsie comforting him on the ship. 

On his return, he finds his radio masts project is under the control of Carlos Carlín the new Secretary of Communication, an old adversary become Saba’s husband. Official refusals cut to a couple of workmen carrying girders have to stand in for progress. Despite opposition our hero builds the two transmitters that he claims are all that are needed to provide Morse communication with vast Amazonia and its resources. 

A personal production five years in preparation and dealing with director Tamayo San Román’s own grandfather, it offers South American Telenovella production values. They run to elaborate costumes, a thin supply of extras and dreadful effects work for the bridge collapse or the train in the jungle.

And to make things like a real film festival, we were shown José Miguel González Bolaños’ Costa Rican Espejismo/Mirage, a piece that needs the life support of that environment. The film offers the mix of pretension and gloom recognisable from Maya Deren, early Ingmar Bergman or Memento without suggesting any more substance than they did.

In another murky transfer, disturbed artist Abelardo Vladich is confronted by his childhood self, friend Luis Andrés Solano Rodriguez and his girlfriend Liz Rojas Rodríguez (good) trying to help, a mall carousel in a power failure and a white S Board with a bathtub which ends up on the beach with the rotted fish, where his parents drowned before they were interred at the white tiled cemetery. Deliberately confusing and never suggesting a substantial author’s vision, this one does have some interest as one of the few films from its country that have had a sub-titled screening here.

And keeping the best to last, we come to actor Fernán Mirás’ (notable in Marcelo Piñeyro’s Tango feroz: la leyenda de Tanguito 1993) first film as director, the 2017 Argentinian El peso de la ley/The Heavy Hand of the Law, a genuinely remarkable legal drama.

This one kicks off with Gloria Soriano as young real life law student Paola Barrientos, defending her bar accreditation (“Why do you want to be a lawyer?”) in front of imposing Professor María Onetto. The girl is so delighted being told she’s already passed that she misses the fact that the lift shaft is open and tumbles - lying helpless on her back at its bottom.

A caption tells us that it’s years later (actually the time of the Argentinian Junta) and a couple of scruffy rural bridge workers have to walk back because the police car with them has broken down. After drinking in a local bar we hear that one has been subject to male rape and his brother is taking him to the local cops for retribution, which the brother sees as ending with them owning the house belonging to “Gringo” the accused man.

The cops subject the victim to humiliating “doggy style” photos and a mental competence test rushed through in the school room, all using battered seventies technology.

The case catches up with Soriano now a public defender in the dim court house basement which other workers only visit because they think there’s a lavatory there. She is buried in her back load but this case catches the attention of her grubby clerk Dario Barassi because of the twelve year penalty demanded on flimsy evidence. 

Informally she approaches the prosecutor, her former idol Onetto, outside a hearing and is made to stand despite her disability, by the official who is dismissive of a bottom feeder interfering in one of her cases. The disillusion here immediately clues us in that this movie is something out of the ordinary.

Challenged to get on with her job and stop worrying her betters, Soriano visits her client in the cells. He insults her infirmity and demands a man lawyer. The only reason she persists to the point where she realises his abysmal ignorance is that the turnkey called to let her out is too busy and leaves the pair together long enough for her to sustain questioning.

She sets out for the rural scene of the crime, being dumped by the red bus with the rusty roof in the trackless woods where she has no idea where to go and the only local about to guide her loses her in the trees. The difficulty of her moving about in the hostile environment is a key element - the two cars that pass her walking on the road, the victim with his red wheel barrow.

The bar there is not a place for women and they treat her gruffly. The woman administering the psychiatric tests is incompetent and disinterested and the arresting copper has designs on the prisoner’s wife. The police don’t want Soriano to speak to locals like the victim’s garage owner employer. Throw in a racket on cop car repairs recalling Tropa da elite.

The more she probes, the more Soriano senses the farcical injustice which will land her client in a jail where he has already been beaten - and the more the audience can see the outline ofAnatomy of a Murderprotruding through the heches real(a season like this lands you with some broken Spanish) story. The reason that this is not predictably clichéd is that the viewers, like Sorianio, can take the time to see through the confusion.

Back in Buenos Aires, Onetto is up for judge and she doesn’t want any low pay public defender smudging her record so she calls in a favor from her old friend Judge Dario Grandinetti, from Almodovar’s films, the only familiar name in the credits. 

One of the nicest developments is that it’s not the lawyers who sort this out but the film’s nohopers. The shot of the victim and Soriano’s clerk sitting waiting on the bench outside Grandinetti’s chambers is one of the film’s rousing moments. 

Grandinetti making the problems goes away is a nice pieces of writing - like the description of the prisoner’s marriage because his father had a pair of horses and his wife’s had a plough. Throw in comparisons between the gay couples at either end of the social spectrum or the two law clerks, Soriano’s a child minder and valet while Barassi  is the one picking up on the legal points. He’s the one that comments that mounting this defence puts them even further behind on the backlog of case files piled on his desk.

As well as Anatomy of a Murder, viewers with a long memory may pick up on the community with John Badham’s imposing 1979 The Law with Judd Hirsch.

El peso de la ley with its superior script expertly handed is one of the best films of this year, a reminder of the excellence that Argentine film can offer. 

If the Cine Latino Film Festival had only delivered this film it would have been noteworthy. But this was the pick of the year’s national events - and it drew mainly single figure attendances. However, there was more to it, not just a selection of interesting movies but, really more significant, a unique glimpse into the Latin American mindset, something hard to get as effectively any other way.

The films suggested a thorough selection process with a clear aim - no Santiago Segura here, as much as we love him. Sorting through Foreign Language Oscar contenders seems to have been productive. Also the digital copies got much better as they approached the present, suggesting a rapid advance in that technology. It would be interesting to know how widely information about this event was circulated and what feedback they got. 

I hope they do it again.

Saturday 5 January 2019

Cine Latino Film Festival (3) - Supercinephinephile Barrie Pattison continues his report with an excursion to a sidebar program at the Instituto Cervantes

third part of a lengthy report by Barrie Pattison devoted to the annual Sydney Cine Latino Film Festival. The previous two parts devoted to Argentina and Colombia and Cuba can be found if you click on the links.

In a curious extension of the event, the Instituto Cervantes in Sussex Street put up for the 14th Latin American Film Festival, fourteen sub-titled movies from thirteen South American countries on their library digital projector - not theatrical presentation but mainly surprisingly good and the program proved particularly rewarding. I was surprised on checking out these film to find how little English language coverage they had had.

Jorge Ramírez Suárez Mexican Guten Tag, Ramón kicks off inside a truck taking illegals across the Mexican desert and abandoned by the unseen drivers. When the US border patrol opens the crowded vehicle an undetermined time later, only young Krystian Ferrer is moving. 

Back in his village (Casa Blanca!) his mother and his ailing granny (we never find out about his dad) welcome him after this fifth attempt to cross the US border and beg him not to join up with (drug runner?) Jorge de los Reyes’ schemes which are the only game in town. He visits de los Reyes (“Nobody kills us”) not to offer his services but to try and get back the price of his piece of land where he has been warned off by the guy in the straw cowboy hat.  Shortly later, Ferrer’s wounded friend is at the door telling him that the now dead jefe has sent money for his land. Cut to the large, white grave marker cemetery where Ferrer is laying flowers on the friend’s grave.

The money buys a ticket to Wiesbaden (“Where’s Germany?”) in winter where another friend has an aunt who has promised to help him find work without the hassle of the US border control. Following preposterously detailed instructions (“turn right at the Rhine River...”) our hero arrives at the aunt’s house only to be told brusquely that she doesn’t live there anymore.

He doesn’t have the money to re-book his flight home and, sleeping at the station, is fast running out of change to buy apples and bread, finally reduced to begging, where mean panhandler Micky Jukovic takes his paper cup full of change.

However lonely pensioner Ingeborg Schöner helps him with food and warm clothing and sets him up in her cellar storage with him making a living doing chores around the building and staging dance classes for the elderly residents whom his presence brings together in a self-help association after a mean resident has died. 

Ferrer now earns enough to buy tequila, peppers, tomato, tortillas and sausage and send a few Euros home. Schöner even hires him a so-nice brothel girl.

A telling scene has her make him a diner with the pair exchanging their most intimate secrets in languages the other can’t understand.

This proves to only be an interlude but the film remains implausibly sunny, involving, effectively shot but ultimately soft centered (even the drug runner is a nice guy). Guten Tag, Ramón is a worthwhile addition to the growing body of refugee cinema.

Néstor Amarilla Ojeda’s  2018 La Redención/Redemption came from Paraguay, hardly a familiar source.

In present day rural countryside, Lali Gonzalez seeks out elderly, dying Juan Carlos Notari, the comrade in arms of her leftist grandfather in a l940 South American war that most of us never knew occurred. 

The film cuts between the military campaign, where the character now played by young José Barrios has to convince the worker soldiers he joins despite his well off family, that he is a worthy companion, and the present day attempts of the girl and the old man to find the record of the military years from survivors not over-sympathetic to their errand.

A stroppy police sergeant has to be convinced with a rusty machete to his throat. We learn the fighters’ activities were shadowed by their suspicion that they may one day have to face their comrades on opposite sides of conflict between Catholic and Marxist causes. 

Though it’s staged on a smallish scale, the action material is involving - another charge with machetes - and the quest which finally centers on the dead grandfather’s journal seems less like a literary invention than it might.

The excellence of the staging and performance and the novelty of the setting are a strong combination.

Another glimpse of Colombian film comes up in Phillipe van Hissenhoven’s 2015 Mamá, a sensitively played weepy with Julieth Restrepo planting her seven-year old daughter Alejandra Zuluaga with Consuelo Gacha her granny in the country, after two years without contact, disrupting the isolation and tranquility in which the old woman lives.

The expected heartwarming interludes ensue with the kid facing small animals and rural craftsmen. There’s a tantrum over the flute that her new teacher gives her and predictable drama from a bad reaction to a bee sting for which the aged medico can’t get antidote to the scene fast enough.

The “tengo cancer” revelation reconciles the three generations of women in the welcoming rural setting. The film’s female preoccupations make it out of character for a male director. Modest, adequate production standards.

Luis Octavian Rahamut’s Venezuelan El Dicaprio de Corozopando clashes with our experience of foreign language movies. If you mix a poverty stricken version of Brewster McCloud and the Flying Machine with a bit of magic realism you have a hint.

In Corozopando, a remote community south of the Guárico things are tough. (“not even Christ would stay in this town - hot as hell”). Even the local Don (TV series regular Aroldo Betancourt) with his fleshy mistress, is complaining. He’s taking the cattle of the poor family in a land dispute. Somehow their school age son Luis Francisco Yanez gets to be seen as the one chosen by Saint Miguel to bring the town glory as he becomes conflated with the two famous Leonardos - Da Vinci and Di Caprio. 

Just how this is going to work out is uncertain. They train the boy as goal keeper in the soccer match (prize ten pregnant heifers) but his envious school mates subvert his efforts. However, the aged school teacher’s lesson on the Da Vinci flying machine convinces all that the boy can take to the air and the laborers start constructing a ten metre launch tower while the women are sewing wings for his contraption.

This is not going to end well or will it? Convincingly rural, grungy and played by an endearing cast, with the kids particularly winning, this one has an authenticity which more than compensates for its basic production skills.

La Vida De Los Peces is at the other end of the scale, a Chilean French co-production which was up for the 2011 Foreign language Oscar. 

In close shots in the interior setting of a party in the Santiago flat of friends from his earlier days there, we see travel writer Santiago Cabrera edging his way towards the door past framed photos of his dead friend and his preserved room. Snatches of conversations reveal Cabrera's profession as less than the glamorous round of high living it seems - uncomfortable flights and sterile hotels “like a tourist.” To avoid this, one of his colleagues used to make up his articles but his employers caught him out, ending that career.

There’s conversation with the housekeeper he knew from the old days and recurring brushes with his fetching old flame Blanca Lewin.  Cabrera is upset that Lewin’s old family home has been sold for a hotel, closing out another link with his former life. He has given up his Santiago flat and now lives in Germany.

They had made an arrangement to meet again in their favorite coffee shop six months after he left Chile for overseas and he always wondered if she came to the rendezvous that he ignored. Turns out that she waited hours and was sick for weeks afterwards. She had once visited Berlin and considered contacting him. 

There’s a nice scene where Cabrera runs into the video game playing kids who quiz him as someone who has world experience “Did you ever smoke pot?” “Did you ever have sex without a condom?” This, with his frank answers, frames the character nicely along with a revelation (“You were in the car with Francisco when he died”) about the former friend. 

In a long conversation with Lewin, filmed though a fish tank, we learn that her marriage and children have left her also unsatisfied and they plan a new start leaving together but her friends meet her on the stairs and the pull of her current life with her daughters exerts itself. 

A handsome, prestige production, despite its soapy plot line, this does touch rare intensity.

(To be continued)

Friday 4 January 2019

Vale Ringo Lam - Barrie Pattison's memoir and a poster gallery of Lam's key films

Sad to hear of the death of Ringo Lam. I enjoyed his films, particularly Wild Search/Ban wo chuang tian ya (1989)Xia dao Gao Fei/Full Contact  (1992) (high Cho Yun-fat) and the ferocious Huo shao hong lian si/Burning Paradise 1994 and I liked him and got a nice Fatal Visions interview out of him. 

His career was just taking off at the time I made it to Hong Kong. One thing I remembered was that their movies misrepresented the place, with the action taking place in streets empty of pedestrians - something I never saw day or night. I pointed this out to him and he said "Wait till you see my next one!" and sure enough School on Fire/Hok hau fung wan 1988. was the first film I saw address that.