Friday 31 March 2023


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Do you love Australian cinema? We do too, so much so that we’ve been publishing our beautiful print magazine, Metro – packed with in-depth features by some of the country’s finest writers, and dedicated to celebrating our stories on screens big and small – ever since 1964.

That’s right: the year The Beatles’ world tour reached Australian shores.

Sadly, however, as we write this message, Metro is at real and imminent risk of disappearing forever.

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Thursday 30 March 2023

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison recommends EMPIRE OF LIGHT (Sam Mendes, UK, 2022)

Olivia Colman

I rate Sam Mendes’ new 
Empire of Light  as his most substantial work. He has gone on record as not wanting to have a recognisable style but this one is a perfect match for American Beauty, his most individual film and, if you look at his body of work, despite the variety of subjects and settings, you can see that the ones that show the most personality do have a unity. They are all about people who are unable to find sustained happiness in their so thoroughly established environments.  

Hey, that’s British films of the post war period - the school masters of the Mr. Perrin and Mr. Trail, The Guinea Pig and The Browning Version  trilogy, the sports fans of Maurice Elvey’s The Great Game or It’s a Dog’s Life, his worst films, the fun fair visitors in the free Cinema Films, or the wannabe lovers of Brief Encounter, which has a movie going sub-plot. These are the sub-strata of the British miserabilist tradition and they were the entertainment which was still circulating when Mendes grew up in sixties Reading.

Maybe that’s why Empire of Light’s notion of the movies has more in common with The Purple Rose of Cairo than it does with the current cycle of films that are celebrating cinema.

The setting, again a dominant element, is The Dreamland Multiplex in dimly established British South Coast Margate, repurposed as The Empire - Cinema, ballroom, restaurant and snacks. Manager Colin Firth dreams of restoring its former machine-made glory, retaining the red velvet curtains though two of its four auditoria are closed and pigeons roost in their empty shells. His hopes center on hosting the South Coast Premier of Chariots of Fire in the presence of the Mayor and Laurence Olivier.

That’s two Mr. Darcys in our picture already, though Firth authoritatively spades under his Jane Austin background, having dowdy deputy manager Olivia Colman  pleasure him in the office between sessions. She’s still a bit fragile after a spell in an institution and the rest of the artificial staff family aren’t coping all that well. Projectionist Toby Jones (below) has replaced his failed marriage with the magic of shutters and the phi-phenomenon, in his projection box papered with clippings of his favorite stars - the nearest the film comes to the current BabylonMeet the Fabelmans enthusiast cycle. The ushers compete in describing the grossest item they’ve found clearing out the seats. One of the most deft touches is the way ticket box girl Hannah Onslow looks like being a major character but is moved from center by Colman going full blast. 


Curiously, the isolated scene where Olivia calms the mean customer, who wants to take his chips and coffee into the show, is one of the film’s most resonant.

Into this environment they introduce ticket tearer Micheal Ward, who is black in the period where the streets are full of agro skin heads on about taking their jobs - “that stuff in Brixton.” Uneasily Ward and Colman become an item, restoring an injured pigeon with an improvised sock bandage, watching seaside fireworks from the roof and taking a red bus ride to the beach.

Dramatic incidents disrupt this unstable equilibrium - Colman’s losing it, the Gala Night and the street filling with thundering mods and rocker vandals in riot, to be hustled off by previously inactive bobbies. Enter Ward’s intimidating career-nurse mother Tanya Moodie.

Mendes has provided a heavy load to shift here and he deserves credit for coming close to resolving all the plot elements effectively, more than criticism for a too cheery outcome. Olivia has Toby show her first film - the carefully chosen Being There.

Performance and technical work are remarkable. Adding this one to his other films, with Mendes and the Cohens, makes cameraman Roger Deakins one of the notables in his field. Design and music complement the idea content. Empire of Light is one of the not so frequent films that makes its point by atmosphere more than narrative. The participants have chosen to push their skills to the limits and that’s something extraordinary in itself. It’s the kind of daring that endangered film making needs. Are this, Babylon and the rest, ominously going to be like the final burst of creativity in silent films - Metropolis, Asphalt,  Sunrise, Wings, Lonesome?

Micheal Ward, Olivia Colman

Tuesday 28 March 2023

CINEMA REBORN 2023 MARCH NEWSLETTER #3 - Cinema Reborn website goes live, Hot Tickets, SERIOUS UNDERTAKINGS, BLIND SPOT, Charitable Donations

Still from Sunrise (FW Murnau, USA, 1927) 



News on Cinema Reborn 2023 follows



Our dedicated website is now live and you can find it  IF YOU CLICK HERE  Organising Committee member Angelica Waite put in some long hours to get this done after the previous domain name we had used since 2018 was abruptly cancelled and the site taken down. But we are again up and running and over the next few weeks we’ll be publishing a huge amount of material devoted to our 2023 program. We are always delighted that scholars, cinephiles and enthusiasts from all over the world contribute to our extensive notes and this year will be no different. Cinema Reborn's dedicated website has gone live today. 

The first batch of essays about each of our programs includes Dan Harper and Peter von Bagh on SHOESHINE

Darcy Paquet on IEOH ISLAND


Lukas Foerster on I BY DAY YOU BY NIGHT

We’ve received specially written contributions from, in alphabetical order, John Baxter (in Paris), Eddie Cockrell, Adrian Danks, Hamish Ford, Helen Goritsas, Adrian Martin (in Barcelona), Scott Murray , Anne Rutherford, Janice Tong and others whose work is being reprinted from such sources as Senses of Cinema and the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. Bookmark our site and keep checking in to find the newly published material. Once you’ve read the notes there are links to bookings and session times on the Ritz website.

Jeanne Moreau, Anthony Perkins, The Trial

Selling Fastest

The (ahem) hottest tickets for this year’s program are  Jean Eustache's THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE Jacques Deray's LA PISCINE/THE SWIMMING POOL Bernardo Bertolucci's THE LAST EMPEROR and Orson Welles' THE TRIAL  Click on the titles to go through to make bookings, or check session times. The Eustache film screens once only, the others have two screenings.


Our only Australian Film this year

Back in 2018 in our first season Cinema Reborn screened films by Ian Dunlop, Michael Thornhill, Jane Campion, Corinne Cantrill, Dave Jones and Peter Tammer. It’s a bit disappointing that this year there will only be one Australian film in our programme. It will however  be the world premiere of the digitally restored copy of Helen Grace's SERIOUS UNDERTAKINGS. Long unseen on a cinema screen the film has been restored by Helen Grace, DoP Erika Addis and film-maker Ray Argall. It will screen as part of a double bill with Claudia von Alemann's iconic film from 1980 BLIND SPOT/DIE REISE NACH LYON last seen at the 1981 Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals.


SERIOUS UNDERTAKINGS swept all before it back in 1983. It won the Rouben Mamoulian Prize for Best Short Film, Sydney Film Festival, the Greater Union Award for Best Film in the General Category, Sydney Film Festival. Australian Film Institute Award for Best Experimental Film, Non-feature Section, Australian Film Institute. It was selected for screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival, London International Film Festival, Festival d’Automne, Paris, and festivals in Figueira da Foz, Melbourne, Rotterdam, San Francisco, Sceaux, Ann Arbor, Hong Kong and many others.


BLIND SPOT is the story of a woman who abruptly leaves her partner and young daughter in West Germany to travel to Lyon. There, she wanders near-empty streets in pursuit of Flora Tristan, the socialist feminist activist and writer who spent time in the French city in 1844, just months before her death. Although it is ostensibly a fictional narrative, Die Reise nach Lyon is also a metahistorical gambit, a cinematic search for a feminist approach to the feminist past. 


The program will be introduced by Helen Grace and Associate Professor Jane Mills at its first screening on Sunday 30 April at 2.30. There will be an additional afternoon screening on Tuesday 2 May at 12.00pm Photos below feature Rebecca Pauly in BLIND SPOT. 




The back streets of Lyon, Rebecca Pauly, 
Blind Spot

Tax Deductible Charitable Donations

Cinema Reborn is an organisation devoted exclusively to exploring the Cinema's heritage. It is managed and organised by a group of dedicated film professionals here working solely on a voluntary basis to assemble an annual selection of cinema classics from around the world.

Cinema Reborn has relied, since its inception, on the generosity of donors who support our aims and are committed to the annual project of bringing cinema classics back to a big screen in perfect new digital copies. Without such support the event could not be presented.


To make a large or small tax deductible donation to support our work CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE AUSTRALIAN CULTURAL FUND

Our Trailers

Dont forget to check out the very evocative CINEMA REBORN TRAILER or the trailers for THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE  LA PISCINE/THE SWIMMING POOL and THE TRIAL

Monday 27 March 2023

Alliance Française 34th French Film Festival 2023 đŸŽ„ Janice Tong's 2nd Filmic Postcard - SAINT OMER (Alice Diop, France, 2022)

Guslagie Malanda is noble and stoic as Laurence Coly

Saint Omer: the locus of the unspeakable

There is something profoundly sacred in a face…it is, after all, the eye from which we get a glimpse of the ‘other’ – our approach to someone who is not ‘I’ and who we can only approach, but never truly know. But every face also carries with it a notoriety when gazed upon – because like mirrors, faces are also masks, and they have that ability to project back to you darkness and fears that you have unconsciously summoned up in that very gaze. Your innermost torment or ineffable trials are thus laid bare on another’s face, rather than on your own. After 300,000 years of evolution, the human psyche can do little to resist our primitive consciousness that connects us to all other human beings.


Primitive consciousness emerges first as you awaken from anaesthesia – that moment of delirium before you ‘come around’ to your full faculties and awareness – science has found that human consciousness is “associated with the activations of deep, primitive brain structures rather than the evolutionary younger neocortex”. We are our history; and we are individuals through the way we choose to interpret memories and histories.


In our deep subconscious, chimera is at work.


Alice Diop’s Saint Omer is a multi-layering of fact/fiction, ancient/modern – it is a story about a trial that is also a retelling of Medea (and Pasolini’s great film of this myth is referenced in it). But in saying this, I am only describing the narrative arc of the film when it is, in fact, so much more. This is Diop’s first feature; she worked on the script with the film’s editor, Amrita David, who has been her close collaborator since La mort de Danton (2011) days; as well as Marie NDiaye, a well-known playwright and novelist (who was also screenwriter for Claire Denis’ White Material (2009), one that offers French colonisation through a different lens). Diop had particularly wanted to work with NDiaye due to certain novelistic qualities in the responses of the accused. 


The public trial of Fabienne Kabou (a mother and philosophy student) was held in 2013 in the town of Saint Omer; and Kabou drew the attention of Diop from the outset: both are Franco-Senegalese women; both were highly educated, and in interracial relationships. Kabou is Laurence Coly. She is played by Guslagie Malanda with a stoic intelligence that belies the deed she has been accused of committing – her presence alone is worth the entry ticket to this film. Kabou has been accused of infanticide; having travelled to Berck-sur-Mer with her child AdĂ©laĂŻde, nicknamed ‘Ada’ (in the film, it is Elise nicknamed ‘Lili’) just to let the tidal waves carry her out to sea. The film is largely the trial itself and remains in the courtroom for almost all of its 2 hours and 2 minutes. Told from the point of view of Rama, a subtle performance from Kayije Kagame – incredibly, this is her first feature film, an author and professor of literature who attended the trial just like Diop did.  But here, Rama is a witness rather than Diop’s stand-in. Rama is pregnant through an interracial relationship (as was Diop at the time) and has had a difficult childhood; especially in her relationship with her mother. This figure of the witness is pivotal, as it allowed Diop the distance between documentary and fiction. 


Diop has been making documentaries for the past 17 years but didn’t want to consider this trial for a documentary. We are lucky, because the film was able to fully explore the political elements that had been present in her other films in a more abstract but charged way: of colonisation, the Black body, gender politics, lineage, histories, memories and motherhood. 

Kayije Kagame as Rama - caught in the inbetween -
a mother-to-be and daughter to an absent mother


The film opens with Rama in a lecture theatre.  She was showing news footage of women who had their heads shaved in the post-war period; before they were paraded in the streets to be humiliated for their collaboration with the Germans. A passage from Marguerite Duras’ Hiroshima mon amour (1959) text was read to accompany it.  Through Duras’s words, we immediately recognise language’s ability to transcend the horrors of what is right in front of you into something more akin to a state of grace. This reading also offers a window as to how, as the audience, we should approach the film. Rama and Coly (and Diop through them) use language to transform experiences of shame and cruelty into a different state – to explore the ethical implications of mourning and memory; the witnessing of traumatic events and our ability to see a different side to this horror.


Rama’s own memories of her childhood; her difficult relationship with her mother – is threaded throughout the film – as though a dream. These sequences are closer to the mythic than memory: the mythic is often unclear but universal, and unlike a fable, its aim is not to teach us a lesson, but something more undefinable than that.  Yet it has the ability to draw out our subconscious thoughts in our interpreting of it.


In Duras’ text, all is related back to the mother – the absence; of her body – this body of the mother from which we have all emerged, naked, to the world; is already charged with a chimeric quality. What is carried through her body into the next: genetic imprints and emotional memories? Or, even more than that?


Saint Omer is a film suffused with this same kind of emotional and intellectual intensity; further heightened through Diop’s use of pauses; the slowness of the camera and the very long single takes on Coly; as well as the deliberate silences, open up to a salient space of reflection. It gives the audience, as well as the prosecutor, the judge, the accused, and Rama, time to look inwards. There is great dignity shown by Coly on the stand – she is the figure of the mother, noble in her otherness; but also a sorceress who is able to conjure up for the viewer feelings and thoughts, repressed or hidden, about mothers and daughters. 


These latent echos are manifested in Coly, through her use of language (as explained by Malanda; that because of “the colonisation by the French in Africa, the French they speak is not everyday French, it’s closer to literature, in a way”); she had the ability to put herself at a distance from her crime. And the co-extensive parallels – of Rama and her own mother; Rama and her unborn child; Rama and Coly; Coly and Lili; of Diop and Kabou; Kabou and Ada; mothers; motherhood; daughters; all come to bring about something profound in our watching of this film. Clearly, this film affected Diop enormously; she fainted on set after the filming concluded, “It was as if after three weeks I had given birth to a monster. And the baby monster became a film called ‘Saint Omer.’”


Saint Omer: the locus of the unspeakable.


What is perhaps the most interesting thing about Malanda’s performance – is that she was asked to say her lines as though she was reading a Duras novel; there is something hypnotic and spell-like in her demeanour, in the way words are expressed. The fact is that none of this was made up, except the reference to chimera, (a mythic creature composed of parts of other beasts). This was added in by Diop in the closing statement from the defence lawyer. When the real lawyer for Kabou was shown the film by Diop – after watching it, she immediately said to her – why hadn’t she thought of chimera at the time?! This comment was a true gift to Diop.


The brilliant Valerie Dréville as the judge

Diop wanted to create in the film the same kind of texture and quality of intensity that was felt in the courtroom; and I might add, she was extremely successful in her pursuit. I also especially loved the performance of ValĂ©rie DrĂ©ville as the judge or La PrĂ©sidente du tribunalDrĂ©ville is a well-known theatre actor and associated artist for the Avignon Festival and the National Theater of Strasbourg; and her theatre-craft shines through; her command of the screen is electric; present and authentic. As is the use of voice, breath, and music that is the glorious soundscape of Saint Omer; ending the film with Nina Simone’s sultry reprise of Little Girl Blue (2013 remastered version).


There is a brilliant, and insightful interview with Diop at the NYFF60 held at the Lincoln Center where she talks about how this film came to be, as well as the political reading of Blackness and the Black woman in this film and her take on Durasian language. Nicholas Elliott, the New York correspondent for Cahiers du cinĂ©ma is her translator – and one of the best live translations I’ve come across at these festivals (his searing intellect really helped get her points across to the audience). Diop’s film richly deserves the many awards it has won: Prix Jean Vigo, the Grand Prix winner at the Venice film festivalCĂ©sar for Meilleur premier film amongst others.


To end, we need to return to the beginning, as it’s impossible to ignore the significance found in the film’s title, Saint Omer, in French, Omer sounds like O mere — mother — the mother saint, mother as saint, or saintly mother; and also O merde in an imperfect rhyme; and as unfathomable as the sea ‘mer’ when taken literally…


Perhaps it is only fitting to cite the closing remarks of the defence lawyer: “We are all chimeras…We carry the genetic and emotional traces of our mothers and our daughters — as will our daughters after us.”


The Alliance Française French Film Festival is currently on in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth from now until 5th April; and in other states until the 23rd April.

Friday 24 March 2023

Streaming on Prime Video - Rod Bishop grapples with SWARM (Donald Glover, Janine Nabers, USA, 2023)

Donald Glover

The dramatic centre to this new series from Donald Glover and Janine Nabers (Atlanta) is a toxic pop-music fan known as Dre. 

Dre is willing to do anything – and she really means anything - to protect her Goddess-like heroine, the singer Ni’Jah (a fictional version of BeyoncĂ©). 

Her particular targets are Ni’Jah’s social media haters and she becomes a serial killer, travelling the country, stalking and murdering people who have dissed her favourite singer.

It’s satirical, but based in real life in the USA where the mental health instability of toxic media fans has no equivalent in this country or any other that I know of (except maybe India). 

I’ve only seen this behaviour once, twenty-eight years ago, at the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards (of all places). I was there as the guest of the Dean of UCLA’s film school, himself a film critic on public radio.

Arriving at the venue, I was very surprised by the huge crowd of fans being kept behind barriers by the LAPD. This was a Critics Awards Night? Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder were among the guests and when it was over, the four of us found ourselves together as we waited for the valets to bring around the cars. The crowd of fans had grown decidedly larger, more vocal and emotionally volatile and were threatening to break through the protective barrier. 

Billy Wilder took one look at them and decided it would be quicker and safer to fetch his own car. He left Jack Lemmon waiting with the two of us.

Lemmon, much smaller in stature than I’d ever imagined, was clearly very frightened and asked if he could hide between us to avoid the crowd spotting him. Wilder, perhaps even smaller than Lemmon, finally arrived in his enormous Rolls Royce and they left. 

The crowd, yelling and screaming, moved on in search of more celebrities to harass. 

It had no similarity with the award night of the Film Critics Circle of Australia at the Paddington Town Hall. 

Watching Swarm, I realized I knew so little about BeyoncĂ©, I didn’t even know she had amassed 32 Grammys from 88 nominations.

I didn’t know the name Swarm was a direct reference to BeyoncĂ©’s fan base known as Beyhive; or that “stan” is short for “standom”, (itself short for superfan); or that BeyoncĂ©’s sister Solange Knowles physically attacked BeyoncĂ©’s husband, the rapper Jay-Z, in an elevator in 2014 while BeyoncĂ© passively watched on.

I am not sure my life is enriched by knowing any of this, but I am indebted to Time Magazine’s “Comprehensive Guide to all the BeyoncĂ© references in Swarm”. Apparently, there are 32 of them spread across 6 of the 7 episodes.

The only time I remember taking any interest in BeyoncĂ© was hearing she’d made a surprising reference to the Black Panthers during her half-time show at the 2016 Super Bowl. So, I consider myself entirely unqualified to comment on much of Swarm, in particular the pop culture references.

But I do know Swarm is a very different kettle of fish to Donald Glover’s previous outing Atlanta. That was three seasons of seriously witty, droll and incisive commentary on race relations in America, with a host of sympathetic characters brought to life by Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz and others.

"...chilling performance..." Dominique Fishback as Dre 

Swarm does have one chilling performance - from Dominique Fishback as the superfan or “stan” Dre - but there are no other recurring roles. The rest are caricatures rather than fully-formed characters, and all light-weight as a result.

Pop performer Billie Eilish does her best in episode 6, but is stuck with one of those let’s-laugh-at-the-silly-New-Age-hippie roles.

Billie Eilish

In Atlanta, Glover provided a hugely entertaining twist to systemic racism and there was no escaping the seriousness of the underlying messages.

For Swarm, his own rap career as “Childish Gambino” has clearly given him experience with the toxic “stans”. In his 2018 rap song, This Is America, there are references to violent social media along with massacres in schools and churches, black-face Minstrels and Jim Crows. It won four Grammys including Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

What’s missing from Swarm is the counterpoint he found in Atlanta – there’s almost no comedy or no empathetic characters behind his message. It makes for very strident viewing.

Wednesday 22 March 2023

Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023 - đŸŽ„ Janice Tong's Filmic Postcard #1 - WINTER BOY (Christophe HonorĂ©, 2022) + THE INNOCENT (Louis Garrel, 2022)

A wonderful performance by Paul Kircher  (above) as Lucas
Winter Boy

Le lycéen
 | Winter Boy

L’innocent | The Innocent 


The Alliance Française French Film Festival returns this year with a good number of my favourite directors and actors: Arnaud DesplechinMia Hansen-LĂžveLouis GarrelChristophe HonorĂ©Juliette BinocheBenoĂźt MagimelJean Dujardin (in 2 films!), Marion CotillardLĂ©a SeydouxPascal Greggory and not to mention Alice Diop’s Saint Omer. What a huge list to name drop! 


The first two films I saw were Louis Garrel’s The Innocent and Christophe HonorĂ©’s Winter Boy: there’s a kind of complex symmetry as well as dissonance between the two films. 


Garrel had been a steady presence in HonorĂ©’s earlier films and the story of this young teenager Lucas Ronis, embodied heart and soul by relative newcomer, Paul Kircher, (he also won the Best Leading Actor Award in the 70th San SebastiĂĄn International Film Festival) could have been played by Garrel once upon a time. Their continued collaboration also saw HonorĂ© co-write Garrel’s first feature film Les deux amis Two Friends (2015).  


Winter Boy is one of the most autobiographical narratives by HonorĂ© to date. In fact, the story feels so personal at times that it can be difficult to watch. A rude wake-up call from adolescence lands Lucas into a broken world of grief (at the sudden loss of his father) and this ‘event’ saw him change in that same day – he gives into whatever trade-offs needed, his desires, his way of opening up to the world, his fears, to dull that pain. The void of grief is an unfathomable chasm – it throws him off balance; and there’s simply no safety net below, even if there is a bottom. It is but an endless fall. 

Christophe Honoré and Paul Kircher on set

It’s telling that this film was about HonorĂ©’s own father, for the director makes a guest appearance as Lucas’ father in a small but significant scene. Juliette Binoche’s role is a tour de force as Lucas’ mother; loving, calm, consoling and grieving at the same time. Lucas’ flight to Paris with his brother, Quentin (Vincent Lacoste), forms the first part of his story – and creates the arc to his pain. His brother was careless with him, perhaps not knowing the fragility of Lucas.  He was pushed out of the apartment, Quentin throwing 10 Euros at him in an almost derogatory manner; the boy then spent his time walking the streets (and more) before buying some flowers for his brother: a beautiful gesture. Kircher delivers these moments with an innocence that makes you weep tears of blood; and in other scenes, the few sexual encounters he shares with his new-found lovers also felt deeply personal to HonorĂ©.

A stolen moment of happiness in Paris. Paul Kircher, Vincent Lacoste
as Quentin (middle), and Erwan Kepoa Falé as Lilio (right)

Lilio (Erwan Kepoa FalĂ©, also new to the acting scene) is perhaps my favourite character in the film. He has a handsome voice and face; gentle and strong: and it is his figure which links the broken Lucas to the mended Lucas at the end of the film. Just like another French film, Close, that I saw a month ago; Winter Boy traces that seemingly unbridgeable gap between heartbreak and friendship. But just like that, friendship can give the unspeakable its potential to become a song.


If I was to question one thing: it would be how is it that HonorĂ©’s very fine film only took $484,040 (I’m assuming USD) in the box office.  Garrel’s crime-comedy caper took $5.1M (I’m again assuming USD) at the box office.


I have nothing against comedy, nor a crime romance – there have been plenty in that genre that I adored: To Catch a Thief (1955), How to Steal a Million (1966), Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) and more recently The Duke(2020); however, I found Garrel’s film The Innocent to be entertaining but lightweight. His directorial style makes me feel as though I’m watching an early Xavier Dolan film, (odd camera angles, the use of loud music, and characters who seem larger than life) but lacking in Dolan’s stylishness or his later noir elements. All this aside, at its heart, this is a film about family; and Garrel’s love for his mother shines through – this film was dedicated to her and to his son, Azel. The loud music which I’m unaccustomed to, is after all, a part of his history and works well within this family drama. It’s full of those quirks you suddenly become privy to as part of its inner circle. 

Louis Garrel, Roschdy Zem, The Innocent


In The Innocent, as with Winter Boy, a lot of the ‘personal’ is embedded throughout the film. The first piece of music which opens the film is Pour le Plaisir by Herbert LĂ©onard; and it is a song that Garrel listened to when he was just a boy with his mother. In an interview in L’OBS, he said that he had wanted to make a ‘variety’ film – he had read Frank Capra’s autobiography Hollywood Story and was intrigued at his idea of ‘putting on a show’. But unlike Capra, we would find vignettes drawn from Garrel's own life-experience and memories embedded in the film.


Garrel is Abel (again!) – noting with great interest that this is the fourth time he has named his own character Abel in his self-directed feature films: Two Friends (2015), A Faithful Man (2018) and The Crusade (2021). Abel means to respireto breathe; in Hebrew it is Hevel, which has a connotation that something is passing. I think this such a fitting description for Garrel’s character, Abel, to be able to exist – to breathe – as a ‘person’, even if it means that his lifetime is only within the 90 to 120 minutes of a film; Abel gets to live several lifetimes over the course of these five films.

Louis Garrel,Noémie Merlant, The Innocent

So… as I was saying; Garrel is Abel, whose day job is at an aquarium, and clearly, this is something he takes pride in – he has a well-honed story which he retells to groups of school children and parents about his exhibits –  a steady, nondescript kind of job, for an even-tempered, nondescript kind of guy. His mother, Sylvie, (Anouk Grinberg) however, is his polar opposite; she teaches drama at a prison, is partial to wild passion and grandiose gestures, and of course, she falls for one of the prisoners (played by the always charming Roschdy Zem), and they announce that they are to be married. Welcome to the madhouse; where thieves are innocent victims of their own convictions and the wolf call of adventure lures the unsuspecting son into a game – where he comes to a catastrophic (but funny) realisation of his true feelings. Garrel’s mother, Brigitte Sy, did actually teach theatre in prison and married one of the inmates when he was only 12 or 13 years old; so a personal truth is buried underneath the layers of ‘variety’ that helped build up his narrative.



I loved NoĂ©mie Merlant in this film – she has great comic timing (very different from the last role I saw her in Tar) – she is hilarious as ClĂ©mence, Abel’s friend at the aquarium. Their sleuthing and criminal high jinx reminded me a little of Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant’s charade, in, you guessed it – Charade (1963), a film which I’ve always loved…I have fond memories of watching this film, as a child, with my own mother. Nostalgia is such a powerful magnet. 


Perhaps this is what the market can bear right now – amidst uncertainty and change; a light-hearted comedy that takes you on a caper – through a personal journey of the familiar and comforting half-recalled memories of childhood; as opposed to HonorĂ©’s deeper and more traumatic remembrance of his own adolescence; the latter is an experience, if you can bear it, that transcends.


The Alliance Française French Film Festival is currently on in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth from now until 5th April; and in other states until the 23rd April.

Monday 20 March 2023

The Current Cinema - Some thoughts on LIVING (Oliver Hermanus, UK, 2022) and a backward glance at IKIRU (Kurosawa Akira, Japan, 1952)

Bill Nighy, Living

I think I’ve only been provoked to write this by the Sight & Sound review I mention below.

As I said on Facebook odd movie if ever there were…  and I went on to say  it made me dig out a copy of Kurosawa's film Ikiru  from 1952 which as I recall from my youth was in a MUFS season in the 60s. Then, I found its near two and half hours hard going... but that was back then... and that was the only time I’ve ever seen it until last night.


In between the two viewings of the old and the new, the Sight & Sound review of the new version came to hand and in big type there is “This is a dangerously audacious undertaking, but Oliver Hermanus and Kazuo Ishiguro have brought it off” according to Philip Kemp. He goes on “Ishiguro’s script closely follows the shape and tone” and concludes “Living offers a rare example of the remake of a masterpiece that can stand with the original.” So much there but I’m not sure I’d ever class a remake of anything as “dangerously audacious”. Maybe a remake of Satantango...


I’m still not all in the group who think the original is a masterpiece. Still not sure that a dull, risk averse, as they say today but whatever, very ordered and dull life that suddenly explodes into commitment and action is totally convincing but that’s the story. All 2 hours and 23 minutes of it.

Shimura Takashi, Ikiru

Kurosawa’s film is set in the then present, and thus in the medical environment of the day. A cancer diagnosis likely meant an inevitable if slow death. “A long illness” the obits used to say. The new version thus decides to take us back to 50s London with all its social repression and paper-filled offices echoing Kurosawa’s original. The new one also decides to be upbeat by introducing a side story romance. The new one is all about getting the colours right, the drabness in the art design of office and home. You can feel superior because things are so much better today.  So we compare and contrast a film about the day and a film which dips, maybe even wallows, in nostalgia.


And as I also said I'm not at all sure that Bill Nighy's one note raspy whisper is that effective beyond the mannerism. It’s a good trope when he plays people who can convey a mountain of information with an ironic gesture, a raised eyebrow. Like he did in the Johnny Worricker trilogy of spy stories written by David Hare. (That’s the other David Hare from the northern hemisphere). As I also also  said I  found Adrian Rawlins (there's a name to conjure with, a Melbourne reference unless you’ve seen Philip Noyce’s Castor and Pollux) to be a much more authentic grump and someone who  got deep into his misanthropic part. 

That's all...

The Current Cinema - đŸŽ„ Janice Tong's filmic postcard offers some fresh insights into TÁR (Todd Field, USA/Germany, 2022)

The incomparable Cate Blanchett

The Vice of Control

Let’s forget about all the divisive reviews for a moment and enter into the world of the simulacrum that is cinema.  


Perhaps it’s not the done thing to say that I’ve looked elsewhere for my leading-lady-of-choice for the past 10 or so years, ever since I saw Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s dull and incredibly ho-hum Blue Jasmine (2013) (in fact, it was sheer hell sitting through this sloppily directed melodrama with my teenage children in tow).


To say that Cate has redeemed herself is an understatement. Cate is incredible in TĂĄr, her interpretation of this character, a fierce and fearless conductor to a world-class German orchestra is nothing short of distinguished – she gets my vote for first, second and third prize. You may be excused to think that Cate is TĂĄr – she has embodied her so well. And TĂĄr is cocky, sure of herself, masculine in demeanour and attitude, she looks damn hot in a tailored evening suit and knows it. Yes, she has all the hallmarks of someone flaunting their uncompromisable rockstar status.


We first see her on stage with Adam Gopnik, (a celebrity himself, playing himself), of The New Yorker. They have met their match with each other – calculated banter dressed up as candour, a top-mark fencing bout. Lydia TĂĄr – the icon, the gracious and passionate maestro, quick witted and revered. The world has just crowned her as its king – she’s about to go into rehearsals for Mahler’s Fifth in Berlin and will be travelling to New York for the launch of her much lauded autobiography, TĂĄr on TĂĄr. Her partner, Sharon, played understatedly by the always brilliant and wonderful Nina Hoss (her earlier role in The Audition (2019) is a mirror on TĂĄr) is the orchestra’s concertmaster and first violinist. The home they share is steeped in oak browns and umber, a tasteful sophisticated mix of European sensibilities and American money. It seems that every description of TĂĄr, (visually and verbally) of her life and her personality is in hyperbole. 


Soon though, we get a glimpse through her gleaming veneer – it’s as though her mask is slightly crazed, and these hairline fractures give way ever so moderately; so that whatever is behind it seeps out and the world-at-large sinks in.


A quiet moment. The understated Nina Hoss

As viewers we are trained to cue in on all the potential ‘wrong moves’ TĂĄr was making throughout a masterclass session at Juilliard. That her word-choices, attitude and her gestures (like touching a student) are meant to be confronting and comforting: because she’s of the belief that in railing at her students, she hoped to provoke a more inspired outcome. This kind of behaviour may have been tolerated (or, at least left unchecked) three years ago, but is absolutely taboo now. If we, as an audience, are world-weary for her lack of discretion – we can’t help but wonder at the same time whether our concerns for her are, in fact, misplaced. And the film’s answer is a resounding ‘yes’. 


Don’t get me wrong, I believe that she is everything she seems to be. There is, detectably, a seething undercurrent riding in the sewer beneath the bitumen, like an old hungry dog, ready to fight to its death for a mere scrap. This is her vice – that of control, at all cost. 


The name TĂĄr, is an unusual surname: its etymology is from an old Norse word tĂĄR meaning enduring, tough and resistant. And in the proto-Germanic lineage, it means to tear – to survive by consumption, to rip apart, lacerate, efface and to misuse. Whichever way you look at it (note that this name is self-given – her original birth name was Linda Tarr), TĂĄr is true to her essence.

The mask slips


She is unapologetically toxic in the treatment of her protĂ©gĂ©s; look no further than her current ‘assistant’ Francesca Lentini (sensitively played by NoĂ©mie Merlant), an aspiring young conductor; but who had to carry out the ruthless task (under TĂĄr’s order) of voiding her earlier incarnation – and this act plays on her mind, that her own fate lies in the hands and emails of another. TĂĄr is dismissive and possessive at the same time; so that Francesca can only be at the mercy of her at her most narcissistic – both in whim and will. The same treatment goes for her peers and colleagues – there’s little sentiment offered when tossing out an ‘old friend’ about to retire with the rest that is outdated. 


For TĂĄr, every relationship is reduced to its exchange value; once the value depreciates, she happily looks for a newer replacement model, and there are plenty of benchwarmers. Despite her behaviour she continues to be celebrated, and all this glorification seems a little sick. But that is precisely why Todd Field’s treatment of TĂĄr, the film, is so powerful. You see, I don’t believe he’s deliberately drawing out this character to bait us – he is building her up, in order to unmask her – what if she herself loses value? 


And sure enough, TĂĄr refuses to be toppled, even when she is disgraced. Her seclusion into her studio (a gorgeous pied-Ă -terre) and athleticism (she runs everywhere, and shows the same energy in her conducting) only drove her further inwards. When her ability to control all that surrounds her begins to lose ground, an alternative universe opens up (conveniently, inside her head) – to offer up a place where she is always in total control. She is both the surveyor of this other world, as well as the one under surveillance. She is both the mystery sender of gifts that she is unable to interpret and the receiver of clues to her own existence. The awareness of what she is doing to herself collapses. The labyrinth awaits. Dear audience, remember that the Minotaur is nothing without Theseus: it is his act of slaying the Minotaur that has immortalised the creature. And for TĂĄr, her only way out of her conundrum is to remain within this other mythic world – where she is the new-crowned king again.