Thursday, July 29, 2010

MIFF 2010: The Day Will Come

The Day Will Come (Es kommt der Tag) is a mystery of sorts. Director/screen writer Susanne Schneider has crafted a suspenseful and tense drama but the plot is rather transparent.

Katharina Schüttler gives a powerful performance as Alice, a young woman in search of her identity. Her self-destructive, sometimes violent nature seems wrapped in her genes. Iris Berben as Judith has to keep her passionate beliefs bottled up for self preservation. Anyway, enough spoilers.

Judith's family are very effectively portrayed by Jacques Frantz (husband) Sebastian Urzendowsky (son) and Sophie-Charlotte Kaissling-Dopff (daughter). They are all very convincing in the crisis that overwhelms them.

This is dual language (German and French) film. It's bilingualism is central to its heart of darkness. This exploration of evil, personal betrayal, and healing is well worth the effort.

MIFF 2010: Apart Together

Apart Together (Tuan yuan) has an unusual twist on the love triangle. Newly weds separated by the Chinese Nationalist Army's retreat to Taiwan are reunited in late 1980s Shanghai after forty years apart.

It's a fairly light romantic drama as former soldier KMT soldier Liu Yangsheng (Ling Feng) gets reacquainted with Yu-e (Lisu Lu) and meets his son and her second family. It's a difficult emotional journey for the couple. this is not just because of opposition to her returning with him to Taiwan but also through the magnaminous acceptance of her second husband ex Communist soldier Lu Shanming (Xu Caigen).

As well as the exploration of these tangled relationships, there is also some forboding comment on the emerging modern China, with its threat to the extended family and neighbourhood communities.

The pace of this story was annoying at times. The lead character lacks both energy and depth. In contrast to his rival's overacting, it is a rather flat and uninspiring performance. In contrast Lisu Lu gives a subtle and moving portrayal as the second-time-around lover.

MIFF 2010 - Cane Toads: The Conquest

After more than 20 years, Mark Lewis has returned to his classic topic in Cane Toads: The Conquest. We catch up with the relentless march of this unpopular guest in Australia.

The ingenuity of the local defenders and their futile attempts to stop its spread across Northern Australia are documented in detail. It is an salutary lesson in the dangers of eco experimentation. Yet there seems no sense of irony from those who hope for a biological or genetic solution.

There are some of the old favourites. Golf clubs! A taxi swerves across the road with more deadly accuracy than the original combi van. Monica Krause, the young girl who owned "Dairy Queen", reminisces about her gigantic pet toad.

Surprisingly it's the dogs who steal the show. Their closeups almost make the 3D worthwhile. Lewis manages to find a range of people who are more than willing to share their cane toad stories. There is a character gallery that is well worth visiting.

Mark keeps himself out of the conversation, a style that many other documentary makers could well copy. The politician talking heads became a little monotonous but that is their specialty.

Can't say that no toads were harmed in the making of this film. The gas extermination of thousands may disturb some viewers.

Nevertheless, Cane Toads: The Conquest is very engaging experience.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Hedgehog: French Fate

Director/screenwriter Mona Achache has created an unusual ensemble of characters in the highly introspective film The Hedgehog (Le hérisson). It is tight, well acted work. The unifying element is the setting: a plush apartment building where they all reside.

We view this claustrophobic world through two lenses. Firstly, 11 year-old Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) produces a film-with-in-a-film as she videos her life in preparation for her 12th birthday suicide. The rest of the Josse family is just as dysfunctional, with mother Solange (Anne Brochet) leading the way.

Our second point of view is through the eyes of Renée Michel (Josiane Balasko), the 54 year-old concierge. Renée lives in a tiny space compared with the residents though it’s luxury compared to the local vagrant Jean-Pierre (Jean-Luc Porraz). The cluttered books and memorabilia in her flat expose the richness of her inner life to her are visitors.

This invisible widow becomes the central person, not just in Paloma’s life. New resident and widower Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa) brings unexpected romance to her dreary existence.

The somewhat bizarre climax has its own inevitability. Only the French would call it a happy ending. Nevertheless the dramatic conclusion is a strong affirmation of life as much as it is a comment on fate and death.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Am Love: Classy Tearjerker


Director Luca Guadagnino has created an elegant, moving film. I Am Love (Io sono l'amore) is an Italian language movie with an English-speaking star. Ever the professional, Tilda Swinton learnt Italian and Russian for the part of Emma Recchi.

Somewhat surprisingly her character does not speak the modern lingua franca English. Tilda is an excellent clotheshorse for Italian fashion which she does with captivating style.

The direction and photography caress our senses. The slow pace is perfectly suited to this tender love affair. It is a story of ideas and emotions. However, the climax comes with sudden speed. The frenetic conclusion is stunning.

The scenes where lover and and housekeeper undress Madam mirror Emma's life. She has been the trophy wife brought back from Russia where her husband Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) "collected things". We follow the journey from dutiful wife and mother of adult children to her personal liberation.

The context is present day upper-class Milan. The wealthy Recchi family live a seemingly ideal existence in their 1930s rationalist-fascist mansion. Grandfather had a "past" with Mussolini's regime. The father seems oblivious to his children's desires and his wife's restlessness.

Eldest son Edo is horrified by the direction their business is taking when they are approached to go global. The hyper-villain Mr. Kubelkian (Waris Ahluwalia) is the consumate neo-con seducer, speaking of capital as democracy and war's potential to bring development to the third world. The attacks on the Upper Class and globalisation are none too subtle.

Edo is more interested in joining his friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini) in his restaurant business. Emma is also drawn to Antonio, making for an unusual triangle.

It's an excellent cast. Maria Paiato is particularly strong as the housekeeper Ida. Alba Rohrwacher also shines as Betta.

I Am Love is a visual feast and a classy tearjerker.