Friday 25 February 2022

Japanese Film Festival Online - Barrie Pattison rounds up some highlights - Transmission ends 27 February

 Editor’s Note: Sydney’s supercinephile Barrie Pattison has been filing short reviews of films in the current Japanese Film Festival Online. The event is intended as a response to the crisis of film attendance created by Covid. For various reasons I have been slow to post them but the festival is finishing at midnight on Sunday 27 February so here are all of Barrie’s thoughts in one package. Sorry about the length.


The JFF website intro says this: Hello! and warmly welcome to the Japanese Film Festival Online, where you can enjoy watching movies from the most comfortable space, your home! Let’s dive deep into various aspects of Japanese culture through the different genres of movies ranging from documentary, fiction, animation, to novel-inspired films. The steps to relish the films are very easy. After creating an account, just click on the preferred film from the list below, you will find yourself on a trip to new experiences for free.


During the time when out-of-house activities wouldn’t be your first choice, we have brought fun and refreshment into your living room (or bedroom) We hope that this festival will offer you a new and jolly journey. Thank you so much for your interest in our festival.


*Films streaming are available for 48 hours from the moment you click ‘Play’. On the last day, the streaming will be terminated at 23:59 JPT regardless of the time remaining.


That doesn’t say that you can watch each film once for FREE





And so to Barrie… 


The Japanese Film Festival online is running. It's free and on a user-friendly site, even if they do watermark the transmission with your email,  presumably to discourage piracy. Without knowing the mechanism that generated the event, we can't help feeling it's been made up of material whose owners had given up on placing it commercially. 




They've pole positioned Yukiko Sode'shandsome Anoko wa kizoku/ Aristocrats. It offers a female perspective on class division in contemporary Japan - not as dreadful as that sounds. In numbered segments, the film contrasts Tokyo privileged Mugi Kadowaki with provincial working class Kiko Mizuhara, who has had to study and move away from her distant home. They meet when a mutual friend reveals the girl is involved with Kadowaki’s husband.


At the formal family meeting, where the kid playing his Game Boy at table was the only discordant element, the appealing Kadowaki was a source of concern, being in her twenties and still single. Arranged marriage is comically unsuitable and being set up with her manicurist’s friend in the working class bar had her fleeing the scene after a glimpse of the toilet. Then she met handsome, polite, well presented Kengo Kôra and she couldn’t believe her luck.


Turns out he’s part of the ruling class Aoki clan and patriarch Masane Tsukayama has had detectives check her out before giving his approval. The marriage goes ahead but all is not well. An elegant woman who left her family husband has been shunned and forced to leave her child.


Meanwhile Mizuhara had studied and made her way as a Tokyo event organiser. In the nearest thing to a sex scene, we glimpse her ten-year association with once fellow student Kôra, who never did return the lecture notes he borrowed.


Rather winningly, little blame attaches to Kôra, one of those weak Japanese males found in their films. He has a scene of self-revelation, musing “I just want the family to continue. It’s not my dream. It’s the way I was brought up.” Particularly telling is Kadowaki being invited to the girl worker’s flat and asking permission to examine the unfamiliar articles she finds there. The brief flash of anger when her sister-in-law slaps her gets no emphasis, though it is the nearest thing to passion in this film.


Ritual underlays lives - the contrasted family get-togethers, the tatami mat funeral, group photos, putting out dolls for Xmas.


Minimal film form prefigures the static dialogue scenes with handsome scenics - cherry blossom in bloom, a vista of snow covered roofs, groomed gardens. Insets are rare - the dripping umbrella. Beautiful people in nice clothes behave winningly - with only the occasional hint that it is a performance. Nobody guts fish or washes the car in this picture. Eat your heart out Douglas Sirk. 


Aristocrats holds attention well and suggests the work of emerging talent.

Masked Ward

MASKED WARD (Hisashi Kimura)

Hospital thrillers used to be a minor genre, especially in Canada. Think Jean-Claude Lord’s super-scary 1982 Visiting Hours  or David Cronenberg’s grim 1998 Dead Ringers. Hisashi Kimura’s  new Kamen byôtô / Masked Ward wants to join the club 


Everyone seems to like the opening half-hour. It would be good to show to film students, with each new shot advancing setting, plot, character, or the lot, but enthusiasm wilts rapidly after that, with the film wobbling on for another eighty-five minutes. Most of the titles in this event push past the two-hour mark.


Kentarô Sakaguchi is the substitute night doctor at the private hospital which still has its iron bars from time as an asylum. Even before the convenience store robber shows up, suspicions mount - the locked emergency operating room, the forbidden fifth floor records. 


We glimpse the robbery by the hold-up man in his leering clown mask (the film’s best invention, above)  who takes the girl he shot to the hospital for treatment and holes up there to avoid the police search. Geriatric patients and cases identified only by the districts in which they were found are used as hostages to complicate matters before the predictable revelation and protracted climax - a feeble attempt at romance and significance.


Personnel, with a background in Japanese TV unknown to us, handle the material smoothly, mainly in yellow night time colour.

The Floating Castle

THE FLOATING CASTLE (Shinji Higuchi and Isshin Inudô)

Shinji Higuchi and Isshin Inudô's unfamiliar Nobô no shiro / The Floating Castle, a handsome 2012 Samurai piece leaves you wondering how many more of these, that we never hear about, are still tucked away on the shelves in Japan. It’s impeccably made and nicely played with good action staging but when it was over, I had the feeling that they hadn’t pulled off their obvious intention of doing one of these where the buffoonish lead is more involving than the macho guys getting about in armor and waving spears.


It’s 1582 and ambitious Daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi/Masachika Ichimura at the head of his red outfits army is well on his way to uniting Japan. He wins a decisive battle by flooding the enemy position in the sight of his impressed vassals. (“Power comes from gold”) It only takes a few more years before he gets around to Oshi known as “The Floating Castle” for its location in the marshes. Its lord gets a message from the Daimyo that he and the neighboring fortresses should surrender and the Oshi commander goes off to meet the clan head, secretly leaving instruction that his people should surrender to the imperial force at first sight rather than face forty to one odds. His bellicose marshals are outraged as they go about canceling preparations for battle


When the old Lord is incapacitated, Takehiro Hira / Bone (for “bonehead”) his son, who is more interested in nursing peasant children than battles, finds himself running the show and astonishes his generals and the warrior Princess, who is into spearing rapists, by determining to fight though outnumbered. 

The Floating Castle

This gets us about halfway and the rest of the two and a quarter hour movie is the battle where the terrain and the Oshi Castle strategies outfox the enemy. Hira goes the full Shadow Warrior route waiting in the inner castle surrounded by the women, as exhausted messengers stagger back with accounts of the fighting - a rousing one-man defense in a battle on the gate road though the swamp, mounted fusiliers and coal oil fires all inflicting embarrassing defeats on the enemy. The peasants flock to the castle’s forces. The invaders’ leader decides on a repeat of the flood strategy damming the rivers that feed the swamp but our hero has a plan for that too. His surprise performance is the film’s high point.


Turns out it’s all for nothing - but there’s still the negotiations.


The structure is7 Samuraibut Kurosawa’s warriors were better defined. Mind you that’s a pretty high standard to hold any movie to.  There’s the usual anti-war sentiment mixed in with cheering for our brave lot. “Prepare to feel the spears of warriors from the East.” Can’t help thinking the Princess gets the rough end of the pineapple but that appears to be historical. Technique is assured and performances are good when you consider that the costumes are most of the character.

Time of Eve

TIME OF EVE (Yasuhiro Yoshiura)

Yasuhiro Yoshiura's Eve no jikan / Time of Eve animé dates from 2010 and cartoon film making has added some razzle dazzle since then but the content marks it out for attention. Without obvious citations (well maybe Tex and THX) it evokes Blade Runner,RUR, Isaac Asimov, Alien Nation  and a squad of familiar Science Fiction models.


Schoolboy Rikuo (voice Jun Fukuyama) is disturbed that his peers treat their humanoid robot servants abusively. Even his friend Masakazu Masaki  (voice Kenji Nojima), who comes from one of the few families who don’t have an android, seems to have issues. Also his own robot maid (voice RieTanaka ) has taken to modifying her behavior, something forbidden in the Laws of Robotics which govern them.


At the other extreme, the powerful Ethics Committee is investigating ways to limit Human-Android interaction with the threat of melting down divergent machines. They find musical androids menacing - “After art, then love!” 


Many streets have “No Robots” signs but following the clue of the “Are you enjoying the time of Eve?” merchandise, associated with the improved Everlends beverage, takes the boys to the unsegregated side street cafe where androids can turn off the laser halos that Identify them and interact with humans. All there are forbidden to discriminate. The regulars prove to be androids on errands to support their owners in their difficulties and the boys find themselves becoming involved with them - the tiny who insists she’s a cat or the troubled couple, with the lead taken with the girl’s cleavage in a rather curious aside.


The bulk of the film considers this environment, now threatened by the Ethics Committee. One striking sequence has an early-model tin man clanking into the cafe and attempting to blend with the humanoids despite breakdowns and clouds of steam. The climax reveals the personality damage Masaki is suffering when the emotional support of his round head android nanny is withdrawn. The shift from a menacing first appearance to welling sympathy, with no apparent change in the drawing, is the film’s showpiece. 


The Time of Eveuses limited animation with considerable skill, throwing in child art, cuts to black, and striking AI displays. It has the feeling of a work in progress with scenes not followed up, like the lead’s personal girl android experimenting at the mirror to improve her appearance. These may relate to Yohiyura’s 2008 TV Series version.


While the handling is adequate, it is the thought content that gives this one resonance and makes it notable.


HAPPY FLIGHT (Shinobu Yaguchi)

Happî furaito / Happy Flight, the 2008 ensemble piece from Shinobu Yaguchi, director of Swing Girls andShall We Dance,looks like it will be a fluffy piece about ditzy flight attendants pairing off with cool pilots (think back to Henry Levin’s Come Fly With Me) but while it never aspires to the seriousness of the Airportseries orUnited 93Happy Flight adds a layer of documentation which gives it conviction. These could be a requirement for the collaboration of All Nippon Airways whose product placement is a dominant element. The film even starts with a Safety Video.


As an example, trainee first officer Seiichi Tanabe complains about the peaked pilot caps that they have to use though they don’t wear them while flying and a short time later oil drips on his impeccable uniform with his experienced supervisor Saburo Tokito, who wasn’t around when he made the comment, remarking wearing a cap would have avoided that. 


The film takes in a simulator exercise (which ends badly), drilling flight attendants where mature Shinobu Terajima will calm an angry passenger that flustered Haruka Ayase had antagonised with her apology, the terminal desk operators wanting to get flights out on time because running late will screw up their social lives, striking multiple angles on operating the landing gear, bird control with a shot gun, the maintenance crew whose lost spanner may be causing a crisis in the air or the Operation Control Center where a computer failure has the staff stealing a foyer airport display to plot troubled ANA Flight 1980’s landing, with pen cap planes and a dessert plate storm. Toho sound stage filming is integrated with location shooting.


Happy Flight

All this is all actually quite instructive and holds attention. Along with some nice shots of bad weather conditions - crows landing on a “Stop” sign in the same rain which lashes an open hangar door, lightning strikes and panic are cut to the wide air to air shot of the distant plane serene in flight. 


The personal stories are superficial but engaging. The front desk worker enterprisingly rescues the passenger’s bag and arranges a date that the chaos will stop her having. The toupe-wearing passenger spots his resemblance to the fallen man in the safety pamphlet illustration. A winning young computer-smart operator and veteran supervisor Ittoku Kishbe  combine skills - and about a dozen more. Even then the panic stricken honeymooners and the doting parents vanish.


This one is not a perfect match for the other Shinobu Yaguchi films that have come our way but together they suggest he’s a talent we should know more about.

Her Love Boils Bathwater


2016'sU wo wakasuhodo no atsui ai / Her Love Boils Bathwater  has been around and comes with good word of mouth.


We kick off with single mum Rie Miyazawa packing young Hana Sugisaki of to school, where the mean girls daub her with paint from her art kit and steal her uniform. Mum, still in her  bread shop job uniform has to retrieve her. Next day Miyazawa faints in the store and has to be rushed to hospital where they diagnose not the un-named non-disfiguring ailment that movie mothers usually contract but Terminal Cancer stage IV. 


There is a brief cut of her weeping in the disused bathhouse tank with her ‘phone beeping, which director Ryôta Nakano ran the camera on for a couple of minutes to get the feeling right. 


Rather than fold, Miyazawa has a P.I. track down Sugisaki’s dead beat dad Joe Odagiri, whose housekeeping she finds inadequate (“you have to brown the onions before you add water”) and retrieves him with the new little sister Sugisaki didn’t know she now has. They do a celebratory Shabu Shabu meal round the shared cooking pot.


Rather than buy Sugisaki  a new uniform or let her mope in her room, mum Miyazawa  sends her off in her gym gear and best undies for one of the film’s first strong scenes where she shames her class mates into restoring the outfit and comes home to mum triumphantly convinced that she does have some of her tough it out genes.


Miyazawa convinces Odagiri he has an obligation to restore the family bath house - only a couple of shots of business resuming with smoke issuing from the chimney again. It’s not that sort of movie. The little girl takes off (“she went to look for her mum”) and is found waiting anguished at the old flat.


Miyazawa’s iron resolve asserts “I don’t want to lose the reason for my existence just so I can live a little longer.” She packs the girls into their red car, which attracts a hitchhiker who just likes the colour. Nice comic scene of rolling the car windows up and down to talk. They pull up for a brief view of Mt. Fuji.


However, at the motorway diner where they eat rare spider crab, Miyazawa slaps the winning, mute waitress. We have to do a rapid catch-up to another irresistible scene where Sugisaki proves to be able to use sign language because Miyazawa thought it could be useful one day.


Our heroine vomits blood in the loo just to remind us of the core plot. With the aid of the P.I. who becomes part of the blended family, they locate Miyazawa’s own mother, glimpsed through a window with her later family. She won’t have anything to do with her separated daughter.


Our heroine is rushed into hospital which Odagiri won’t face but he organises a human pyramid (cf. the wooden one he carved - this is a bit obsure) on the lawn below her balcony.


OK we’ve got another one of those weepies where the doomed mother sorts out the future life of her intimates - Margaret Sullivan inNo Sad Songs for Me or the awful new Isabelle Huppert Frankie. Well yes but this version has surprises for us.  On the mother score card we get two rotten, one heroic and one excusable. There’s even a bit of the plot of Gyokou no Nikuko-chan /  Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko mixed in there - coincidence or a regular feature of Japanese weepies?


The piece is nicely made and beautifully played. Half the battle is the casting. Dutch-Japanese lead Miyazawa has had rough life and its traces on her features give conviction. The young people are irresistible and Odagiri, first seen wearing a hair net just to clue us in, manages to make the difficult character endearing as well as spineless.


I’m not a damp hanky person but I must admit the occasional dewy-eyed moment. I sat there thinking that this was another one in the line of female director movies, which are about what people eat and what they wear, that goes back to Lois Weber, but it turns out that Ryôta Nakano is a bloke and the film repeats issues from his first film, the 2012 Chichi wo torini / Capturing Dad.


All the viewed copies in the Japanese Film Festival have been excellent. 

Wednesday 23 February 2022

Zali Steggall gets some answers to her Questions in Writing regarding the Governance and Funding of the National Film and Sound Archive..and who knew the NFSA had a new Chair and Board Member

Here the answers folks. It only took three months. ..and that's the first I'd heard of these appointments. I now discover that Paul Fletcher announced them on Christmas Eve when we were all paying attention. 

"Ms Elliott has distinguished leadership experience developed through senior financial and private sector roles. She is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Propel Group Pty Ltd, a Non-Executive Director of St Johns Ambulance Australia (VIC), and also holds Directorships at dorsaVi Limited and Wiltrust Nominees Pty Ltd. as Trustee for the Edward Wilson Estate.

"Mrs Brogden brings more than 25 years' commercial experience with companies including Macquarie Group and Ernst & Young and more than ten years in organisational psychology. She is currently the Chair and Commissioner of the National Mental Health Commission, and Chair of Mentally Healthy Workplace, Governor and Interim Chair for Queenwood School for Girls, Chair of Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance and Director for Be Kind Sydney."

Full press release here

Question No. 678

Zali Steggall asked the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, in writing, on 18 October 2021:


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.>


Mr Fletcher – The answer to the honourable Member’s question is as follows:


1.    The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia Act 2008(the Act) does not specify criteria which must be satisfied by persons appointed by the Minister to the Board. The Government has no intention to amend the Act to establish such criteria.Prior to appointing a person, the Minister gives regard to the skills and experience that person can contribute to the NFSA and its Board.


The Act provides that the Board is responsible for ensuring the proper and efficient performance of the NFSA’s functions. The Board has power to do all things necessary or convenient to be done for or in connection with the performance of its duties.


For the purposes of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013(PGPA Act), the Board is the accountable authority for the NFSA. It has responsibility for leading, governing and setting the strategic direction for the NFSA, including:

  • promoting the proper (efficient, effective, economical and ethical) use and management of public resources;
  • promoting the achievement of the purposes of the NFSA;
  • promoting the financial sustainability of the NFSA; and
  • establishing appropriate systems of risk management and internal control, including measures directed at ensuring officials comply with the finance law.


All National Collecting Institution Boards and Councils benefit from having members drawn from various sectors. 


In relation to NFSA Board vacancies, I have recently appointed Ms Caroline Elliott as Chair of the Board and Mrs Lucinda Brogden AM as a Member, each for a term of three years.


Many of the staff engaged by the NFSA would satisfy one or more of the criteria suggested. 


2.    In 2021-22, the National Collecting Institutions within the Arts portfolio are collectively receiving over $300 million in funding from the Australian Government.  This is a strong reflection of the importance this Government gives to the National Collecting Institutions in preserving and making accessible Australia’s culture and history.


Since 2017-18, the Australian Government has announced additional funding to the NFSA of almost $60 million, for digitisation, capital works, financial sustainability and COVID-19 support. This includes $41.9 million over four years from 2021-22 to preserve and store 240,000 at-risk audio-visual items, which was announced by the Government on 3 December 2021.


3.    The NFSA’s average staffing level will increase over the period 2021-22 to 2024-25 by 21.5 to support the digitisation and storage of at-risk audio-visual collection material.


4.    As noted in response to question 2, the Government announced on 3 December 2021 that it would provide the NFSA with an additional $41.9 million over four years from 2021-22 to digitally preserve and store 240,000 at-risk audio-visual items held by the NFSA and seven other National Collecting Institutions. Around 220,000 of the items to be preserved are held by the NFSA. The NFSA will also receive $6.5 million per annum from 2025-26 to meet the ongoing storage costs for the preserved material. 


This funding will protect important elements of Australia’s audio-visual history from being permanently lost due to material deterioration as well as the risks posed by obsolete playback equipment and the loss of skills needed to maintain it. 


Tuesday 22 February 2022

Streaming on Netflix - Rod Bishop uncovers INVENTING ANNA (Shonda Rhimes, USA, 2022) and THE TINDER SWINDLER (Felicity Morris, United Kingdom, 2022)

Somewhere in the more than ten hours that make up the nine episodes of Inventing Anna,a millennial talks about scamming banks, art galleries, investors and close friends as “the new normal”. Bit like that other millennial new normal - sexually explicit selfies posted to others as “it’s what we do, so get over it”.

Tinder Swindler Simon Leviev enjoyed a luxury lifestyle
paid for by his victims – and they want it back.

In The Tinder Swindler, the professional Israeli millennial scammer Simon Leviev (aka Shimon Hayut) would certainly agree as he jets from country to country in a private plane, running multiple parallel love affairs with gullible millennial women he meets on Tinder, while pretending the dangers of his diamond-trading business have such ‘security’ issues he cannot temporarily access his own money, so could you lend me some? $10 million all up.

Both the Russian Anna Delvey/aka the Russian-German Anna Sorokin and Simon Leviev hide their scamming in plain sight. Leviev’s whole shtick depends on Tinder and after sleeping with his women and having occasional meals in restaurants, the rest are all texts, emails, voice mails, mobile phone videos, Facetime, Instagram and, of course, money transfers.

Delvey is just as adept at face-to-face exchanges with her New York targets - investment lawyers and real estate entrepreneurs - as she is with social media. Her face-to-face exchanges with her friends are less convincing the longer they go on, particularly when she embezzles $62,000 on one friend’s AMEX card. Delvey pleads she is too busy to deal with such trivia. Her friends think she is a liar, but they are slow to act. The intervention they eventually plan collapses in shouted recriminations and Delvey runs from the restaurant into a waiting NYC taxi.

Julia Garner, Inventing Anna

Although Inventing Anna is open to the usual criticism a dramatic version of Delvey’s life can attract,The Tinder Swindler is a documentary strengthened by Leviev’s indulgence at being photographed, filmed and voice recorded along with his copious texts and emails. At times, it’s hard to believe the footage we see, mostly recorded on mobile phones, is real. Or perhaps just another scam.

The big difference between Delvey and Leviev is the use of romantic love as the basis of the scam. Leviev uses it entirely for bait, while Delvey - who seems completely uninterested in romance - plays hard with the gender card to her corporate targets and soft on the “trust” and “support” she expects of her friends. Both are equally effective.

But perhaps the biggest difference is charisma. Anna Delvey has it in spades. Although Simon Leviev’s female victims may think otherwise, the Israeli scammer comes out of The Tinder Swindler not only lacking any charisma, but any scamming creativity. His text messages, for instance, are cut-and-pasted from one victim for use on the next. Cut-and-paste seems to be his entire modus operandi actually. And who needs charisma anyway when there’s a private jet, continuous flights all over Europe, chauffeured limousines, luxury hotels, expensive meals and compliant women ready to fork up $10 million for it all? 

Monday 21 February 2022

Streaming on MUBI - Janice Tong highly recommends BARRAGE (Laura Schroeder, France 2017) starring the Hupperts mère et fille

This handsome three-hander charts the oft unseen bond of family across three generations of women. Real-life mother and daughter, Isabelle Huppert and Lolita Chammah exert a certain charm to this pairing - you can see that they’re just as strict on themselves as they are natural in their approach to the craft, each woman exuding a sense of something vulnerable, and palpably real. 

Mother and daughter pair  – Isabelle Huppert as Elisabeth (left)
and Lolita Chammah as Catherine (right) on set and in life

Huppert is Elisabeth, the grandmaman, or rather, the ‘grand dame’ in this matriarchal family, with her well-played politics and her barely detectable but highly manipulative tendencies. And Chammah plays her wayward daughter, Catherine; who returns after a period of absence: ten years is a long temporal voyage worthy of Homer’s epic poem Ulysses. But ten years experienced in the 21st century is a hasty yawn of missed adventures and is over in a temporal gust that succeeds each decade like the blink of an eye. Upon Catherine’s return to Luxembourg from Switzerland (little is known of her experiences there, except telltale signs suggest perhaps she was at a health resort or at least, somewhere hidden from view), she seeks out her daughter, Alba, wonderfully portrayed by Themis Pauwels, who caps off this fragile triangle. 

The wonderful Themis Pauwels as Alba


In the beginning, our gaze is that of Catherine’s: the camera reveals to us a kind of silent watching - the taking in of the world where her daughter is situated. The everyday activities at school, the squeaky running shoes during tennis practice, punctuated by the loud ‘thwack’ when her racquet strikes the ball. We sense that Alba is in a pressurised environment - at ten years old, she’s the perfect age for being moulded; and grandmaman plays at being the master sculptor, hands at the wheel, ever-so-subtly squeezing and shaping her ingenue. To outsiders, the theatre of unhappiness isn’t evident, save for Huppert’s reputation for playing demanding roles; her initial encounter with her estranged daughter was more than courteous and as motherly as Huppert (in any role) can muster. 


Although Huppert’s Elisabeth isn’t our main focus in the story, the two daughters on the other hand have clearly been marked by her hand; so her traces are carried throughout the film even in her absence. There are no fireworks, or dramatics (even during a pivotal scene about a third of the way into the film, all is quietly resolved), and any discontent or damage is but a matter of living, of being human.


The closed door of the family home has been pried open and we become the unwitting witness of mother and daughter’s unfolding days where Catherine takes off with Alba to the ‘family chalet’, the place of Catherine’s childhood but a place that has been shut off from Alba. Once there, the protracted days see the two get to know each other as well as get on each other’s nerves. Catherine hunkers down memory lane, digging out clothing that belonged to her own teenage years with behaviour to match, she is clearly unused to raising a child. Their dance of distant affection holds our attention nonetheless, and although not much happens - lying on banana lounges, eating cereal for dinner, watching the light glimmer off the lake and the deceptive idleness of passing waterways, the making of an indoor tent; slowly and languidly, the days expand out into unexpected feelings for each other and a kind of Summer friendship draws in the bonds for this mother and daughter pair. The young Pauwels is magnificent here, a wonderful mix of curiosity and fiery defiance, swathed in a quiet bundle of self-willed indifference; her performance is worthy of Huppert and Chammah’s. 

‘Dance’ on the court


Schroeder’s direction is graceful and restrained, her ability to tell a story with little dialogue or action whilst keeping the narrative engaging, shows a degree of mastery - not a single moment felt too drawn out nor forced; her eye is perfectly matched with the clever and unobtrusive cinematography of Hélène Louvart. There’s something very cloistering in the film’s 1.375:1 aspect ratio, this framing draws us further into the intimate presence of this small family unit and allows us to really experience what Catherine and Alba are feeling. 


The film’s denouement captures the quiet acceptance of one’s fate. Alba’s row boat journey recalled another for me, that of Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen’s memorable film Valley of Shadows(2017) out in the same year and Adam Ekeli’s Aslak, an embodiment of a young boy’s metaphoric subterranean journey across the River Styx. This connection demonstrates just how brilliantly films can speak to one another across cinematic time and within that vast repository of collective memory.


Whilst Barrage premiered at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival Forum and received generally positive reviews from critics, I don’t think it had any theatrical screenings here in Australia. And like many foreign independent films, even when they are gems, sadly often missed by the general public. This same comment applies to another film with Chammah in the lead released that same year; Strange Birds by Élise Girard also belongs to that kind of rare not-to-be-missed low-budget film(I reviewed it in my 2020 roundup here) that I hope more people will seek out to watch.


Saturday 19 February 2022

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison finds the latest animé by Mamoru Hosoda BELLE (Japan, 2021)

Mamoru Hosoda is a heavy hitter in the world of Japanese animé. He’d been on the edge of my radar after I’d had a mixed reaction to his Okami kodomo no ame to yuki/ The Wolf Children. It’s easy to treat him as a Miyazaki  imitator. 

His new film Belle, The Dragon and the Freckled Princess  centres in one of those familiar Japanese toon teen school girls, with Susu (Voice Kaho Nakamura), our isolated heroine, exploring the digital universe U but her adventures are less fantastic, more connected to the real world in a way that is sometimes disturbing. (“Why was a stranger’s life more important than mine?”) It’s off-putting to find child abuse and internet trolling mixed in with fairies and a  princess designed by Disney veteran, Jim Kim.

The opening holds out hope of something substantial where she and her glasses-wearing school chum create a digital character who rides flying whales and enchants all with her singing, gathering an unexpected hoard of followers and the enmity of the previous net diva. This one is entering the select company of  Avatar, In and Out  and Ready Player One. 

The first glimpse of U, floating in its pink cloud rallying swarms of anthropomorphic visitors, is a dazzler and sets a standard which the film is not altogether equal to, though it does come up with striking visuals like the background waterfalls the characters pass, another animated metro train or the devastated castle.

Plot develops with Susu unable to interest her old school mate now a star jock and turning away from reality to what becomes a re-cap of  “Beauty and the Beast.” Her character is called Belle and the monster lives in a castle where she finds a rose, in case you’re slow on the uptake. The sinister human monster with the scarred back is pursued by white superhero suit troopers, in a surprise inversion, and our heroine has to deal with an assault by foreign language dialogue balloons and attempted unmaskings aimed at discrediting her computerised singing voice.

This is occasionally interrupted by real-world activity like the crush of her chum on the gawky school skulling champ. The Japanese girls in the row behind me kept on getting the giggles in the romantic bits. Whether this was embarrassment or derision I’m not sure.

After this one, Mamoru Hosoda has moved into my sphere of interest and I must make an effort to see his other work. The short theatrical run has ended, which is a pity because the film’s elaborate detail benefits from big screen but it’s in the hands of a local distributor so it's going to be accessible one way or another.

"I’d worry if I had control…" - Tom Ryan in conversation with Robert Altman (Part 2) - Working in television, multiple story telling, shooting styles

Michael Murphy being directed by Robert Altman
Tanner 88

You’ve spent a lot of time working in television and it’s clearly an area that continues to attract you. Why?

Well, it’s just a way of presenting what you’ve done. There’s nothing wrong with television other than its content. I don’t care whether it’s on television, or underwater, or on a screen. How you transmit it to people doesn’t really matter.


Are you able to work with the same kind of freedom when you’re making something like Tanner as you clearly do with your films?


Oh, absolutely. I had a great collaborator in Garry Trudeau. He was doing the writing and we worked as partners on that. And he was great to work with. We had a wonderful time doing that. But when I’m making a film I don’t have a partner.


But you actually like that kind of collaboration with a writer?


Oh, sure. Absolutely. Somebody has to be the one who turns the switch on and turns it off.


To go back to how you actually came to be a film director: who were your inspirations when you were going to the movies as a young man?


Fellini, the Europeans, Bergman. You know, the usual group were the films that I saw and that attracted me. I wasn’t high on American films.


Looking back, at what point did you first feel like there was some correlation between you and the role that put you in the director’s chair? When did you actually feel that this was your life’s profession?


The first time I did it. I liked it.


Can you recall what led you to the parts of the style that makes your films so distinctive: the ensemble casts, the crisscrossing narratives, the overlapping dialogue, the restless, zooming camera?


Tom Waits, Short Cuts

Well, it grew. One thing came out of another. That’s just what I was doing. I was always attracted to the multiple story thing. M*A*S*H* was a series of events, and certainly Short Cuts was. With Nashville we were really just showing off the arena rather than any individual story in it. And I just had fun doing that. I liked that kind of storytelling.


What of the overlapping dialogue, the decision to have characters talking over each other?


But I didn’t invent that. If you look at the films that Howard Hawks made in the ’30s, they were all just that way. The reason they didn’t have that generally is that most of that stuff comes from the theatre and in theatre you don’t have people talking at the same time because the audience couldn’t hear ’em.


How do the writers feel about whatever dialogue is there not being buried so much as being difficult to get at?


I don’t know. I don’t have any idea.I guess they’d need to speak for themselves.


What is it about the zoom that you like so much?


Well, it just lets me change my focus. It’s just a device to help the audience into the scene.


As I watch the films one of the things that strikes me is that it simultaneously gets you close, yet forces you to remain at a distance?


Well, OK. That’s valid.


I’m wondering here about your relationship to the characters in the arena that you’re presenting, the degree to which you empathise with them.


Well that depends on which character it is.


Warren Beatty, Julie Christie,
McCabe and Mrs Miller

Well, let’s go back to the ’70s and look at McCabe.


I certainly empathise with McCabe. I cry for McCabe.


What about one that I can’t find any sympathy for and that’s the Glenn Close character in Cookie’s Fortune?


Oh, I had a lot of… Well, you’re right. She was quite a ditz, wasn’t she? But that was just that character.


Yes, but you created that character.


No, Anne Rapp created that character. She wrote that character and then Glenn Close created that character. I just… It was brought to me. It walked in on to the set and that was it. We just played the thing out. She did that. That’s her soul in there.


Glenn Close, Cookie's Fortune

To go back for a moment to the question of your visual style: one of the things that struck me watching Prairie the other day is that you never have a still shot. Why?


Well, I don’t think that’s quite true, but if I don’t it’s because I have no reason to. Maybe I have a reason… Something happens in a certain space and the camera records that. How it records it, in close-ups or long shots or moving shots: that’s brush strokes. And there’s no right way or wrong way. There’s just  a way. It’s one’s way and I do what I do because it amuses me. I like it. I like presenting the material my way.


To what extent are the visual compositions of your films blocked out before you start shooting?


About one per cent. It’s usually the space and the action that determine what the shot is.


And you decide that as you shoot it?


Yes, almost always. Sometimes we’re going one way and then we decide it’s more interesting to go another way.


It doesn’t matter who your cinematographers are, and you’ve worked with many, your films all look like Robert Altman films. What kinds of qualities do the cinematographers need to exhibit for you to want to work with them? Is there anything in particular about their previous work that makes you want to work with them?


Oh certainly, in all cases.


Say with Ed Lachman, who shot A Prairie Home Companion?


Richard Gere, Dr T and the Women

Well, Ed also shot the last part of Dr. T and The Women. He shot all the stuff up in the desert. I was just so impressed. My son, who’s a camera operator, had worked with him and recommended him. Ed was just terrific.


What kinds of discussions do you have with cinematographers beforehand?


Ah, not much. We kind of ramble a little bit about how it should look and it shouldn’t look. It just sort of… happens. There’s not a lot of discussion.


Do they ever argue with you about how to go about shooting a particular sequence?


Yes. It’s happened.


And this is part of the collaboration aspect that you like so much?


Yeah. But I always win those arguments.


You have a wicked sense of humour, Mr. Altman.


[Chuckles] It’s easy to be wicked, I think.


What are your rules for collaboration with writers? Or is it different every time?


It’s like all things: it’s different every time, but it’s always the same. 


The freedom you give your actors to improvise, to make their own contributions has become legendary. Years ago someone described a Robert Altman set (I think he was talking about Brewster McLoud) as an “improvisational encounter group”. Is that fair?


[Laughs] All’s fair. It’s an exaggeration, of course. But if that’s the way it impresses somebody then that’s fine with me because that’s what I’m trying to transmit.


In such a working environment, though, do you ever worry about losing control?


Well, I’d worry if I had control. You know, I have to follow what’s happening, that animal that’s in front of me. I have to… He grows on his own, grows his own teeth, and he’s prowling around there and I have to film him, not make him fit my lens.


So you’re happy with that.


Sure. That’s what I do. I don’t say that’s what everybody should do.


In the light of that, it’s interesting that your filmsare often about characters who think they’re in control but who are, sometimes without ever knowing it, up against forces they never fully comprehend.


Welcome to life.


Sterling Hayden, Elliott Gould, 
The Long Goodbye

This side of it… there’s a sense in which your characters always experience a problem of seeing. I’m thinking of someone like McCabe, or Dr. T, or Elliot Gould’s Philip Marlowe, who have this vision of themselves but who understand very little. This seems to me to be the central theme in your career. Do you see it that way?


Well, I think that more people are alike than not. To some degree, we all are much more than we think we are. And, you know… we try to posture ourselves and fit ourselves into something grander. But we’re not that at all. And that’s what most of these characters, who lead us through whatever the madness is, are showing us.


Have you ever given or did you ever want to give credit to Alan Smithee?




Is this because of the control you’re able to exercise, having final cut and so on?


Well, yeah. I think. I don’t know what other people do really. I do what I do and just assume that everybody does basically the same kind of thing.


Editor's Note: This is the second of a three part  interview recorded by Tom Ryan with Robert Altman The first part can be found if you click here Previous posts in this series can be found if you click on the names Hanif Kureishi & Roger Michell Ken Loach Pt 1 Ken Loach Pt2  Colin Firth (Part One) Colin Firth (Part Two) Lawrence Kasdan (Part One)Lawrence Kasdan (Part Two) Costa-Gavras Jonathan Demme (Part One)  Jonathan Demme (Part Two) Click on the names to read the earlier pieces.