Sunday 31 October 2021

Janice Tong's đŸŽ„ First Filmic Postcard from the 2021 Italian Film Festival in Sydney - LACCI/THE TIES (Daniele Luchetti, 2020)

Director Daniele Luchetti on the set of The Ties
note the word-mural behind him

Family. That single word with a power to bring comfort and joy and also immense cruelty and destruction. Labyrinthine and pharmakonic (in the sense of
 Derrida - as both “poison” and “cure”), rarely can you escape your genealogical Eden. The invisible thread that stitches and patterns its roots in a history not of your own choosing. This topiary garden is by design and by the time you’re 5 or 6 years old, it’s formal structure is ingrained to inform your growth and shape your future form.  

Luigi Lo Cascio and Alba Rohrwacher as Aldo and Vanda,
parents of Anna and Sandro – Giulia De Luca and
Joshua Cerciello respectively

In Luchetti’s Lacci, timelines and half remembered episodes are woven like remnants of cloth stitched by the thread of time. Sewn together, this tapestry narrates a fragmented story, dense and sprawling, where the viewers are treated with glimpses of an ordinary family’s domestic life and its unravelling. 


Vanda and Aldo with their two children Anna and Sandro appear to be the kind of close-knit family one desires. The film starts out in Naples where they were attending a family party, before returning home for bathtime, TV and supper, followed by a story before bedtime. But any familial bliss ends there, because before the end of the night, Aldo (Luigi Lo Cascio) confesses to his wife, Vanda, of having been unfaithful to her, that he is in fact having an affair with another woman and may be in love. Vanda is played by the talented Alba Rohrwacher, (last reviewed here in the 2018 film Lucia’s Grace) whose performance is both vulnerable and cruel. The camera clearly loves her face as it often captures her in close-up. When framed by her curly locks in profile, her classical features make her look as though she has just stepped out of a Botticelli painting. But that aside, Vanda clearly loses it and asks Aldo to leave. Ever so obediently he does, but defiantly, he also does not return home that night, or for many years after that. From here, time is no longer linear, cohesive or rational, and needs to fold back on itself to make sense of what’s happened. 


Vanda continues to struggle to keep her emotions in check. Over time she no longer behaves in the manner of a dignified and bereft mother; she has not borne her betrayal well at all. Being jilted has made her bitter and vindictive. She tries to confront him, then she tries to kill herself. But in her every action, her children bear the brunt of the outcomes, silently molding and shaping them. The needle pierces as it stitches all of these episodes together. In a later scene, it is suggested that maybe what Vanda fought so hard to successfully gain, is exactly the opposite of what she wanted; the ties that she made have bound her to a life that was false and unhappy.


The tying of the shoelace


Some of the scenes with the children were incredibly touching. The young Anna and Sandro were played very well by Giulia De Luca and Joshua Francesco Louis Cerciello respectively. The eyes tell their story, flitting from delight at seeing their father, to incomprehensible hurt at the actions of their mother. The bookstore where as teenagers they finally reconnect with their father, was a mnemonic token. Apparently an idiosyncratic way of tying shoelaces was shared between father and son (the daughter missed out), and that metaphor of the shoe lace acts as the tie between the children and father, pulling Aldo back into the noose of the family again. But wounds never really heal, especially with Anna, who as an adult (played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno, last reviewed here in the film Naples in Veils (2017)) has been estranged from her parents for many years. At forty, she bears no resemblance in both physique or sensitivity to her younger self, instead, she bears a closer resemblance to her mother, in both bitterness and entitlement, than she realises. 


As for Aldo the word-smith, he has locked his other life inside the chequered box that “can’t be opened”. This, of course, is a metaphor for his heart-box of which the key is also locked within its depths, swallowed up by a web of words. Just like Glenn Gould’s brilliant interpretation of the Goldberg Variations that is played throughout the film, folded within its exterior beauty lies a complex web of form and structure; one can appreciate its charm and delight in its neat unison of notes without having to understand what is hidden within. When I listened earlier this year to Gould’s treatment of the variations during his famous 1955 recording session, with five hours worth of outtakes, it becomes clear that what we have come to know and love is already a distilled version of the truth. The truth, in fact, lies elsewhere.


Aldo wove a protective wall around the apartment with his many bookshelves. These are not necessary books of wisdom, they are instead a kind of word-mural that binds him to this interiority, where truth exists. These are not words that can release him out into the world. Take note of what he has named his cat; it is a word in Latin, so that every time they call to it, they are in fact calling out loud the words “shame”, “the fallen”, “landslide”, “ruined” to the world. As well, the name is the phonetically equivalent of “the beast”, echoing to that which lived inside of him once upon a time, the side that has been tamed, and the name is perhaps a reminder (as the title The Ties does as well) of the collar which chains him to his chosen path.

The box that does not open, Lidia (Linda Caridi) and Aldo


We will find that what is filled with love and light are but memories, most notably the loving and touching scenes where Aldo was taking nude photographs of his lover, Lidia (Linda Caridi). Their bodies bathed in a golden radiance - the sunlight in Rome is like no other that shines - as though bestowing its citizens with a kind of sacredness. The body is sanctified through this golden lens. And later his precious memory of Lidia is rediscovered in the polaroids taken that golden afternoon. Her image is laid out in the form of a cross on the coffee table, fragmented, a Polaroid-jigsaw, symbolic of the crucifixion of a nude Madonna - when of course she is the other Mary, the whore who has torn apart the family - this other woman is now laid bare, and the magic of that afternoon cannot be restored, (nor her good name), and, just like the destroyed apartment, all is broken, torn, shattered, and left in ruins.

Anna and Sandro as adults, in search of a past

Having said all that, this film is a lot lighter than what this review has made it out to be. The acting, cinematography, pace, and the intertwining of timelines of these four main characters - they multiply, 4 into 6, into 8 and finally into 10 “different” people - bind the viewers to their lace-like story. Premiered as the opening night at last year’s Venice Film Festival, it is an absolute delight to be able to see it on the big screen in Sydney; especially as my first film at the cinema post-lockdown.


The #ItalianFilmFestival is showing nationally, from the 20th October to the 12th December. (Note that some states finish earlier).


Friday 29 October 2021

"I really do care about all of them" - Part Two of a 2003 conversation between Tom Ryan and Lawrence Kasdan

The Big Chill  ensemble

Do you think it was the Star Wars films that you wrote or films like The Big Chill and Grand Canyon that have given you the freedom to more or less do what you want?


Body HeatBig ChillAccidental TouristGrand Canyon, these were movies that were unusual for Hollywood. They did well enough and they were well-received by the critics. Those are the things that have given me my freedom, you know. 

The big blockbusters that I wrote, including one that was an original of mine but that I didn’t direct, The Bodyguard: those things are on your resume, everybody remembers them, but they have nothing to do with my directing career really. 


Except for the fact that after I had written Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, when I said to the studio head, ‘I am not gonna write any more. I’m gonna direct,’ because I had written these two big hits, he was much more receptive. I wrote Body Heat to be my first directing job and I haven’t really gone back since then. And if I had not had a success as a director, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. 

Everybody’s career is a question of ‘Was the last thing successful enough for you to control your destiny?’ Not ‘Was it good? Was it bad?’ Who knows? I think only time can tell that. It’s like, were there enough positive things around it so that you can go in and say, ‘I have another thing I wanna do’?

Loren Dean, Hope Davis, Mumford

Why didn’t Mumford work in the US?


I think it was crazy. They should never have made it. It was made by Disney. Joe Roth was running the company at the time. I’d made Grand Canyon with him and we had been very successful with that. It was sort of an offbeat movie for a studio to make. And I think that out of friendship or whatever, he agreed to make this movie for a very low price. I gave up all my salary. Everybody worked cheap and we made the movie very economically. 


It tested very well but was not easy to sell and was certainly outside the experience of Disney, which has only succeeded with high-concept material. At that time, Joe Roth left the studio and the movie became a kind of orphan. And it was not an easy film to begin with because it’s not what’s happening in American movies. I had a non-star vehicle, a gentle ensemble comedy about people’s identities. You could take that description to any studio today and they’d all kick you out the door. There was no effort to sell it and they didn’t really distribute it overseas. 


Alfre Woodard, Jason Lee, Mumford

If Tom Cruise had played Mumford, it might’ve worked. It was a very tough movie to sell and sometimes that kind of movie is very hard to get a movie star for. But if you could, it’s the only thing that could carry it. It’s a very low concept, very gentle, very European, I think.


Yes. It’s a film I’ve got an affection for.


Thank you. I’m glad. You know, it’s a funny thing, Tom. I go all over the world and, when you have a long career, you carry a bunch of injuries and regrets and also some pride in what you’ve created. As I go around – it doesn’t matter where I am – people come up to me and they’ll have some movie that they like. The movie could have flopped terribly in the United States, but because of video, or because of foreign distribution, they may have this affection for I Love You to Death [1990] or there are a lot of Silverado fans, or people will come up to me about Grand Canyon. And you realise that these movies have a life long after your immediate thrill or disappointment and people do relate to them in a personal way. 


When I was in Europe, I had a lot of people tell me that about Mumford, but as far as I was concerned Mumford never got a release in Europe. So the fact that they were seeing it anyway was delightful and the fact that they liked it was great. I do still have a bruise from it not being released, sold and supported. But I do think that the reality of Hollywood is that that kind of movie can’t really be made. Maybe independently, but then you pretty much know that it’s not going to be seen by many.

Return of the Jedi  ensemble

To look at another of my favourite films of yours, The Big Chill: have you considered a 20 years-on sequel?


(Chuckles) I’ve been asked many times, but, you know, I’m not actually a fan of sequels. I wrote Return of the Jedi for George Lucas because he had been very supportive of me and had helped me to get to direct Body Heat. So he’d been good to me and he asked me as a favour. He was in a hole doing Return of the Jedi and so he asked me, just as he’s asked me to do all of these other movies since then. But I don’t really like sequels. I think there are so many movies to be made, I don’t really understand the attraction of sequels. It’s obviously purely a business proposition. I’m not sure anyone wants to know where these people are now. 


Um. I do.




I had a real affection for the characters and they’re still alive in my consciousness. And surely there’s a story to be told about where these baby boomers have ended up at the beginning of the 21st century?


Yes. I’m interested in that. But I don’t know if I’m the person to tell it.


Cast reunion, The Big Chill

I sensed your empathy for those characters through the film. Why would you let them go?


I do have an empathy for them. I think they’re foolish and they’re funny and they’re very much like people I know, real people. They’re not always smart and they’re not always good and they’re very human.


One of the criticisms that was always directed at the film, wrongly I believe, was that these characters were never real ’60s radicals…




…. whereas my view was that that was part of the point of the film.


It is. But the closer you get to ’60s radicals, you realise there were no real "’60s radicals". There were people who did things passionately, as these people did, at the time. There aren’t too many surviving, you know. You only hear that objection from people, I think, who have a misguided sense of their own selves. These people in the movie have drifted, but it’s impossible to tell how sincere they were at the time. Obviously there was a variety of commitment the way there is in any group, and it seems presumptuous to me for people to say that they weren’t real radicals but we were.


Aside from Dreamcatcher, which are the babies you care most about?


You know, I really do care about all of them. The ones that have been difficult releases, where you’ve done a lot of hard work and they haven’t been well-received, you hold them dearest sometimes. Each one represents at minimum a year, sometimes two years of my life. That’s why the current system where the judgement is over on Friday afternoon of the first Friday of a film’s release, where it’s decided whether it does or it doesn’t work commercially, is a very rough system. It batters people. It really does. Nobody’s trying to make a bad movie. Everybody thinks they’ve done pretty well at the time they give it to the world. And when the world rejects it, it’s traumatic. 


I don’t have a favourite. I’ve directed ten movies and each one represents a period in my life and a group of people that I worked with who’re still important. And I have two sons and I love ’em both. And they’re very different.


Jonathan Kasdan

Jake Kasdan

Although one of them at least is in the movies.


That’s right. And the other one is writing television and will soon be in movies I think.


Apart from being an inspiring parent and role model, have you worked with your sons in any way?


No. I can’t get ’em to work with me. Jake has, wisely I think, created a career independent of me and directed Zero Effect when he was 22 years old: way ahead of the schedule I was on. And with no help from me whatsoever, he went out, he wrote a script and he got someone to let him direct it which was sort of mind-boggling. 


Ben Stiller, Bill Pullman, Zero Effect,
(Jake Kasdan, 1998)

And he directed another movie after that which was very successful here (Orange County) and a lot of the kind of television where you create the show, although I don’t think he’s gonna do that anymore. He’s very much in demand for that because he was associated with Freaks and Geeks, a show that was very well-received here.

I didn’t do anything to help him, and the younger one, Jon, is doing the same thing. I haven’t helped him. All I’ve done is be encouraging and supportive, but neither of them has worked with me really and I would love to have them work with me. But I think it’s important to them to establish themselves without any association with me. Maybe they’re just ashamed of me.


From a distance, given the reference points shared by Jake’s Zero Effect and your Body Heat, it’s pretty clear that the son was going to follow in the father’s footsteps?


It’s very interesting that he came upon such an idea. When he was so young, he wrote this script that was a perfect metaphor for the difficulty of moving from being an observer to a participant, you know. And that’s what Zero’s problem is: he’s a brilliant observer who has a lot of trouble talking to people, becoming emotionally involved with them. I thought that was an amazing metaphor for a 21 year-old to come up with, and in a very entertaining way. And then he went out and directed the movie very well. So I was very impressed with that. I didn’t see it relating to Body Heat which was about very different issues for me.


I was thinking more in terms of the reference points: the private-eye story, the hard-boiled connections…


I’m still fascinated by that. I’d still like to do a regular detective movie. I love those movies. I’ve been reading a lot of that fiction. It got to me when I was very young and I’ve never been able to shake it. The genre is a wonderful springboard that lets you tell a lot of different stories.




Editor's Note: This is a second part of an interview with the American film-maker Lawrence Kasdan. It was recorded by Melbourne film critic Tom Ryan in 2003 as the basis of a feature article for The Age. The first part can be found IF YOU CLICK HERE. Previous posts in this series have been devoted to Costa-Gavras Jonathan Demme (Part One)  Jonathan Demme (Part Two) Click on the names to read the earlier pieces


Tuesday 26 October 2021

Movie Bookshelf - John Baxter responds to Brian Trenchard-Smith's ADVENTURES IN THE B-MOVIE TRADE, Published by the author.


            We’ve all seen those war movies where a platoon made up of racial and social stereotypes awaits the order to go Over the Top.

            There’s Lucas, the quiet little guy, always doodling. And that weird Scorsese, mumbling about religion and biting his nails. De Palma, who never stops talking about women.  And Spielberg, the all-round mensch, everyone’s friend.

            Who’s missing?

            Well, the grizzled old sergeant, of course; tough and taciturn, with stories and scars that bespeak a lifetime of suffering and survival. 

            But who’s to play him? With Lee Marvin and Lee Ermey dead, thank God for Brian Trenchard-Smith. 

            When Sam Fuller compared cinema to “a, hate, action, violence, death.” he might have had Trenchard-Smith in mind. Setting himself on fire or letting himself be hit by a car; grappling with animals and the elements in every corner of the earth; he’s done it all.  The “dangling testicles each the size of grapefruit” boasted by Sudan, a lion in an ill-fated attempt to revive Tarzan, might just as well have been his own.   

            Beginning as a publicist in Australian television, Trenchard-Smith became an accomplished constructor of trailers and promo films, his passport to a spot at the foot of the ladder. with Hollywood, one would have thought, an easy climb.  On those low rungs, however, he was destined to remain.

            Why? Adventures in the B-Movie Trade discusses this in some detail. It didn’t help that his magnum opus,  the blood-boltered and dystopic Turkey Shoot,was condemned by proponents of clean and decent Australian cinema, worthy and ethnic. That it was admired by such fanciers  of cinematic Diomedeidae as Quentin Tarantino didn’t make it any less an albatross around his neck. 

Brian Trenchard-Smith

            Nothing if not practical, Trenchard-Smith became a hired gun, a fabricator of the cheapest of cheap thrills, expert in revivals, sequels and successors.  There was a sister ship to the Titanic? Cue Britannic, with Edward Atterton and Amanda Ryan replacing (well, not exactly replacing....) Leonardo and Kate. The Yucatan has jungles? Refilm Tarzan there remedying a lack of African fauna by importing a chimp, a python and that lion. Reanimate Flipper, with styrofoam heads, tails and fins eking out the real dolphins, and for good measure plumb even lower depths of innuendo in a pants-down prequel to adolescent sex romp Porky’s.

            Occasionally fate accorded him a hit. Vets praised The Siege of Firebase Gloria as an honest and accurate depiction of a war mythologised in Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now. Applause was muted, however, for two films about a diabolical leprechaun, and for Atomic Dog, the Cujo-inspired tale of an irradiated pooch exterminating the humans who killed his pups. 

             If Trenchard-Smith has done it all, almost everything has been done to him. Betrayed, cheated, stranded and misled; monstered by larcenous executives and egomaniac actors, he bounced  back each time, needing only a phone call to take wing for Ulan Bator or Reykjavik, seldom with either script or contract, at the behest of financiers usually one step ahead of Chapter Eleven, the IRS or a criminal conviction, if not all three. 

Early days

            Trenchard-Smith enjoyed a reputation for skill with animals, working with a menagerie that included, he says modestly,  “cats, dogs, elephants, snakes, chimps, spiders, scorpions, cockroaches, mud crabs, a pigeon and a frog” . Coaxing performances from vermin, however, was nothing compared to doing so with humans.

            B-movies notoriously rely on performers not yet well known and those whom most have forgotten. Particularly troublesome are the children of stars who expect to make careers on the coat-tails of famous fathers.  Delta Force 3: The Killing Game boasted the significantly less gifted sons of John Cassavetes, Kirk Douglas and Chuck Norris. Trenchard-Smith barely had time to become nostalgic for Sudan the well-hung lion before his cast contrived to have him fired.

            Through the book, he periodically seeks solace in the immutable logic of physics: you never hear the Second Law of Thermodynamics complaining about the size of its trailer. He rejoices in the climax of the 1985 Dead End Drive In, for which a pick-up, hitting a ramp at 75 mph,  soared through a drive-in cinema’s neon sign to land, driver intact,  162 feet away. One senses he would have replaced the stunt man rather than spend another evening sucking up to a superannuated Glenn Ford or the self-important John Cusack.

            Adventures in the B-Movie Trade has its longueurs but on almost every page one hears the authentic voice of a man dedicated to his trade, and that can’t fail to be absorbing.  The patience, endurance and good humour of Trenchard-Smith are exemplary. In Wag the Dog, David Mamet compares film producing to the life of a samurai ronin. “They pay you, day in, day out, for years so that one day when called upon, you can respond, your training at its peak, and save the day!” And what if that day isn’t worth saving? Not the point, mate. Not the bloody point.

To buy a copy on Kindle or Paperback from Amazon JUST CLICK HERE

Monday 25 October 2021

The NFSA finds a champion in Federal Parliament - Zali Steggall asks some pertinent questions - Minister Paul Fletcher has yet to answer

On 18 October, the independent Member for Warringah, Zali Stegall, whom you may remember saw off Tony Abbott into the political twilight, put some massively relevant questions on the House of Representatives Notice Paper.

Here's what's been asked:

*678    MS STEGGALL : To ask the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts—

(1)        In respect of the two vacancies, including the chair, currently on the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) board, will the Minister: (a) ensure that the new appointees satisfy one or more of the following criteria: (i) background in the management of memory institutions, especially audiovisual archives, and their relevant professional disciplines; (ii) academic standing in the history disciplines, especially the history of the screen and sound media; and (iii) active professional connection with the screen and sound industries; and (b) seek an amendment to the National Film and Sound Archive Act 2008 to specify that future appointments to the board should satisfy the above criteria.

(2)        Given that, in real terms, the budget allocation for the NFSA from the Government has declined about 20 per cent over the past decade, and that to restore it to the actual level of a decade ago will require a permanent increase of $6 million per annum in base funding; will the Government commit to such a restoration.

(3)        As the NFSA is required by its Act to work to the ‘highest curatorial standards’, and given that in 2010-11 the NFSA’s approved staffing level (ASL) was 220, while its current ASL is 164, will the Government commit to restoring its ASL back to 2010-11 levels.

(4)        Given that the Government has provided an emergency allocation of $5.5 million over 4 years to enable basic-standard digitisation of at-risk magnetic tape audio and video recordings to be completed before 2025, will the Government apply an additional, ongoing increment of this size to the NFSA’s budget allocation beyond 2025.


Tuesday 19 October 2021

Australian writer, critic and film-maker John Baxter proposes you join him (for a fee) for 5 virtual seminars about literature and writing in Paris


            * 5 virtual seminars (2 hours each week) about literature and writing in the City of Light        

 * A new way to experience literary Paris from the comfort of your own home

            * Each week, a two-hour virtual discussion about art, literature, and the most famous authors to set foot in Paris

* Each week includes a deep dive into an assigned short reading of some of the most important books to ever be written about Paris (A Moveable FeastGiovanni’s Room, and others)

            * Chaired by Paris-based writers SamuĂ©l Lopez-Barrantes and John Baxter (pictured above in Baxter's Paris apartment).            

            The Paris Writers’ Salon takes place high above the sixth arrondissement, in the building where Sylvia Beach lived when she ran the original Shakespeare and Company bookstore. 18 rue de l’OdĂ©on has welcomed the greatest names in modern literature: James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Anais Nin and Henry Miller, all of whom left their mark on the street, as it left its mark on them.                                             

                                                WHAT’S A SALON?

In a French home, the salon is the living room: a place to relax, to socialize, to talk and to listen.

In the 19thcentury, certain homes became famous for their conversation, as hostesses competed for the most amusing talkers and story tellers. 

During the twenties and thirties, the Saturday evening salon of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas became a focus of the city’s intellectual and social life. 

The Paris Writers’ Salon aims to recapture some of the excitement that characterized the great salons of the past while also opening a window onto one of the world’s most creative capitals. 

            Each week, SamuĂ©l and John will discuss a short but influential work of literature written by American ex-pats in Paris: Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Stein’s Paris France, and John Baxter’s own The Most Beautiful Walk in the World.

            As avid readers, writers, and conversationalists, the goal of the Paris Writers’ Salon is to learn through discussion. A substantial part of each session, as well as the entirety of the fifth session, will be devoted to an open discussion with John, SamuĂ©l and Salon subscribers about life, literature, and the writer’s life in Paris.  

                                                            PROGRAM ONE

1.   Ernest Hemingway. 

            Hemingway romanticized his reminiscences of Paris in the ‘twenties, but how well do they square with real events and individuals? This first course is a considered look at a modern classic, with a focus on modernism, Hemingway’s distinct literary style, and the particularly “Parisian” structure of A Moveable Feastin relation to the French concept of the flĂąneur.   

2.  James Baldwin. GIOVANNI’S ROOM

            James Baldwin felt a “dreadful abyss” between his native culture in the USA and that of Europe. His reflections on how to bridge that gap are both poignant and inspirational, but far too often his literary work is overshadowed by his political activism. In this course, we will look at and discuss James Baldwin, The Author. Set during a summertime romance in the Latin Quarter, Giovanni’s Room is a masterpiece and a case study in concise, effective narrative, but it is also a meditation on that uniquely American form of loneliness that comes from alienation and prejudice.  

3.   Gertrude Stein. 

            Stein and her companion Alice B. Toklas spent the years of the Nazi Occupation in a French villageHer reactions to Paris upon their return provide a vivid picture of a city where, as she said, “the future happened.” With a nod to Stein’sThe Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, we will also discuss Stein’s world-famous salon, discussing her contributions to modernism and her important if oft-forgotten belief that insistence in prose is not the same as repetition.  



            After thirty years living and writing in the City of Lights, John has become a seasoned flĂąneur. His award-winning account of giving literary walking tours throughout Paris is a unique approach to memoir, storytelling, and history. In this course, we will discuss the art of memoir with one of the most prolific memoirists in Europe, and we will also discover Paris through the lens of its history, retracing the footsteps of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Proust, and others. 

5. The Paris Writers Salon. THE WRITER’S LIFE IN PARIS

            Our final week will be devoted to a general discussion of life, literature, and art in the city of lights. The goal of the Paris Writers Salon is to bring like-minded souls together, people who are not only interested in experiencing art, but who are also interested in cultivating it. This discussion will include a special guest, a working artist who lives and breathes the Bohemian lifestyle that for centuries has come to epitomize this wonderful city.                                                             

                                    WHERE DOES IT TAKE PLACE?

For the time being, the Paris Writers Salon remains virtual. John and SamuĂ©l will be tuning in from the sixth-floor terrace of an 18thcentury building on the Rue de l’Odeon, just above the former home of legendary bookseller Sylvia Beach (publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses). John’s buildinghas welcomed every great name in the history of modern literature—James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Anais Nin, Henry Miller, and scores of others—and for lively literary discussion, it is as fitting a place as any. 00

                                    HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

            The five-week program costs US$500. This price includes access to all lectures (as well as their recordings), plus a digital “packet” of pertinent literary and historical information as well as recommendations to help guests on their 5-week virtual journey to the City of Light. 

For further details, please visit Enrollment is limited to 20 guests. 


Sunday 17 October 2021

Streaming on SBS on Demand - Janice Tong catches up with the Oscar-winner ANOTHER ROUND/DRUK (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark, 2020)

Despite its title and the obvious subject matter, druk is Danish for ‘binge drinking’, this film by Thomas Vinterberg of Festen/Dogme fame (1998), (and let’s not even get me started on the Dogme movement and my hostility against its craft) poses the very diaphanous question of what it means to be alive. 

Four friends and the night where it all began, Druk

The answer is clearly multiple: some people go at it full pelt, whether it’s working yourself to death, or being excessive in consumption - alcohol, drugs, social media, shopping or some other thing; whilst some may live a balanced life (and a ‘balanced life’ would again mean different things to different people - work/life balance, spending time with family and friends etc); and yet still others may live a more sedentary life, having become complacent - many of us are simply existing, cruising through time and space - until you wake up one morning and are hit with the realisation of having to deal with the banality of living with oneself.


This problematic - the banality of life, and how to rise above it - is at the heart of this film. 


The story centers around Martin (a magnificent Mads Mikkelsen), a history high school teacher who is staring down the barrel of a fading youth, and having to face his dispassionate students for yet another year of his job. He looks somewhat like a lost lamb, or a ghost of his former self. His home life is not any better, he hardly sees his wife (she works the night shift), let alone have any intimacy with her, and his two kids are more interested in video games or screentime than his presence. Martin finds solace with three best mates who are also high school teachers, and I would add, are also suffering the same fate in varying degrees. Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) is a divorcee and a soccer/PE coach; Peter (Lars Ranthe) is a music teacher; and finally Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) teaches psychology, and as the film progresses, becomes, appropriately, the documenter of this group’s social experiment. 

A celebration of being alive. Mikkelsen (centre) as
Martin, with all the young graduates whose
lives are just beginning watching on, Druk

It all comes to a head for Martin at the celebratory birthday dinner for Nicholaj. The whole crew were enjoying champagne and oysters, wine was being freely poured; all introduced with a flourish by the sommelier, “the champagne has a mineral note” and “this vodka would make a Tsar weep” that kind of thing. At the start of the evening, Martin was simply being Martin, conversative and sensible, refusing to taste any of the alcoholic beverages because he has to drive home. 


But gradually, as the talk turns, and after a few friendly jabs from his friends, his demeanour changes. He downs a shot of vodka and an entire glass of red without waiting for the toast, or luxuriating in the taste. His eyes water. His friends get a few details out of him and as the evening progresses and more alcohol is consumed, Martin becomes a happier version of himself. 


During the dinner, Nikolaj had referenced Finn Skarderud, a Norwegian psychiatrist, who had purportedly written that man was born with a deficit of 0.05 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC). And the idea that in order to live a full and happy life, the bar must be set at maintaining a BAC of 0.05 to be able to live that happier and more satisfactory life. (This quote was taken from Skarderud’s introduction to the book "The Psychological Effects of Wine" by 19th century Italian author Edmondo de Amicis. It was actually the premise that was quoted, and Skarderud refuted this premise in the very next line. But far from being misquoted, Skarderud was in fact asked by Vinterberg to be a consultant during shooting. His initial concerns about being misconstrued, especially since he was a practising doctor, abated because he felt the story’s exploration into the effects of alcohol was balanced and measured throughout.)

How much is too much?


The next day back at school, Martin takes a pocket-sized bottle of Gordon’s gin with him and downs a good shot or two prior to class. The result was amazing, it was like he had switched gears, the world opened up and he was an illuminated man.


Once he confessed his actions and subsequent success to Nikolaj, the four friends met that afternoon and decided that they would test out Skarderud together. One of them even quoted Winston Churchill’s abstinence from drinking after 8pm as a rubber stamping of sorts for the whole shabang.


Mikkelsen’s performance took my breath away. He has always been a fine actor, and I remember him well in the The Royal Affair (2012). Nine years later, he’s still heart-achingly handsome and graced with a high degree of emotional intelligence. As Vinterberg said of his performance, Mikkelsen“is a finely tuned instrument”, highly nuanced; he is the emotional core the propels the film, and his range from a caring but desperately lost man to his soaring celebratory dance that closes the film, captures the very joy of being alive, and this transformation is nothing short of evocative, intoxicating, cathartic. 


His friends who make up this quartet, are a group of fine actors. Bo Larsen’s Tommy is pitch-perfect as the slow unwinding of a man, Millang’s Nikolaj is the voice of reason, and Ranthe’s Peter is also wonderfully portrayed. You can catch Ranthe in a new gripping nordic noir series The Chestnut Man (2021) on Netflix. Note though, the set is an entirely dry one, and even without a drop of alcohol in their systems, these actors are able to pull off the finesse of being lubricated by ‘just the right amount’ of alcohol with some laugh-out-loud moments. 


Although the deliverance afforded to Martin et al. took them by surprise, and in a good way to begin with; we all know that they’re treading on a fine edged sword that is difficult to balance on, one which can both quicken your release, or sink you like a stone.

GrĂžvlen films Mikkelsen's dance moves


Beautifully shot, the cinematography by Sturla Brandth GrĂžvlen recalls his earlier work on   Sebastian Schipper’s hypnotic single-take film Victoria (2015). His ability to stay close to the characters immerses the audience into their world; sharing intimacy without ever being claustrophobic. 


To close, l’d like to take a moment to remember IdaVinterberg’s daughter, who died four days into the shoot. In his own words, Vinterberg wanted to continue to make this film because he wanted to dedicate this film and the making of this film to her; to do so would mean being able to feel her presence throughout the film, the heart of which is to grasp the essence of existence, and to celebrate this gift we have of being alive.


Druk is currently showing on SBS on Demand.

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