Films I loved in February 2014

3 March 2014
Blue Is the Warmest Colour_Adèle Exarchopoulos_Léa Seydoux_2

Adèle Exarchopoulos as Adèle and Léa Seydoux as Emma in Blue Is the Warmest Colour.

The cinematic highlight for me this month was the mesmerising, intense and emotionally charged Blue Is the Warmest Colour. Mostly shot in close-up and medium close-up, director Abdellatif Kechiche places the audience firmly into the sensory world of a young woman whose entire life becomes consumed by the rush of love and lust of first love. While I am aware not everybody has found the sex scenes in the film to be realistic, the film still succeeds in portraying an emotional reality that for me transcends any perceived errors in factual detail. Blue Is the  Warmest Colour earns its long running time and left me elated, exhausted and devastated in the best possible way.

Zhao Tao as Xiao Yu in A Touch of Sin

Zhao Tao as Xiao Yu in A Touch of Sin

I originally saw A Touch of Sin last year while extremely tired, so I was extremely pleased to see it again during its small run in Melbourne to fully appreciate what a rich and nuanced film it is. Through the telling of four stories inspired by real events that culminated in  acts of violence, director Jia Zhangke presents a damning portrait of contemporary China where  the radical degree in which corporatism flourishes with communism has created brutal social divisions. This is a film rich in allegory with its references to animals and classic wuxia films, but even without fully understanding all the culturally-specific symbolism there is no denying the angry power of this film.

Young Jirô Horikoshi and Giovanni Battista Caproni in The Wind Rises

After such an extraordinary career of mostly writing and directing animated fantasy films, The Wind Rises may seem at first glance to be an odd film for Hayao Miyazaki to announce as his final work. And yet the fictionalised tale of Japanese aeronautical engineer Jirô Horikoshi, whose groundbreaking work in the 1920s onwards would lead to the creation of the long-range fighter aircraft that the Japanese empire would use against the Allies in World War II, contains several characteristics of Miyazaki’s films. This is a film that juxtaposes creativity and imagination with destruction, it expresses the joy of flight and it contains a subtle yet effective anti-war and anti-fascist messages. And without speculating too much on Miyazaki’s personal life, a film about a man who becomes all consumed by his passion to create something of beauty regardless of the consequences, does feel like the work of a reflective soul.

Lindsay Duncan as Meg Burrows and Jim Broadbent as Nick Burrows in Le Week-End

Lindsay Duncan as Meg Burrows and Jim Broadbent as Nick Burrows in Le Week-End

Le Week-End is the fourth film director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi have collaborated on and it’s the third time the pair have used cinema to examine older characters, in particular the love lives and sex lives of older characters. While more  light-hearted than The Mother (2003) and Venus (2006), this film about an English couple on a second honeymoon in Paris is still a bittersweet affair. Within the space of one scene, the affection and warmth between the couple can turn to confronting resentment and anger, making the tone of the film predominantly one of anxiety. There are enough whimsical nods to classic French New Wave films to prevent Le Week-End from being too emotionally gruelling, but this is nevertheless a prickly film that is as much about  regret and missed opportunities as it is about enduring love.


I also enjoyed Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, about a man divorcing his wife and the challenges facing his wife’s new lover. A typically strong family drama  by Farhadi, I was initially a little unsettled by the way the film begins with a focus on one character, who by the end of the film feels like an afterthought as the focus switches to another character. Of course this is a deliberate strategy to present the two characters from the perspective of the central female character who is experiencing one man come into her life as another drifts out. I’m just not completely sure of how effective this technique is, although there is no denying the power of the film’s beautiful and ambiguous final shot.

My enthusiasm for Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée) has waned since I saw it as I increasingly find myself discussing the problems I had with it rather than its many strengths. Nevertheless, I do still think it is an excellent film and while I found some of the characters too broadly defined as specific types, I agree with the consensus that Matthew McConaughey does some of his finest work, I love how the film challenges the motivations of the Food and Drug Administration for why they decided what AIDS treatments they would and wouldn’t approve, and I felt that for the most part the film avoids obvious sentiment.

Finally, I want to mention a couple of great films that have been released on DVD in Australia without getting a full theatrical release. The first is the terrific Canadian kids film (although rated MA) I Declare War where the audience see how the kids who are playing an elaborate war game imagine themselves – not carrying sticks and water bombs, but carrying machine guns and grenades. Part parody of war film conventions, part dark satire of learned behaviour and part critique of cinematic violence, I Declare War is a lot of fun.

The other film recently released on DVD that I want to mention is the heartbreaking beautiful The Weight of Elephants about a New Zealand boy coping with abandonment issues and bullying, against the backdrop of a missing children investigation. This is an incredibly strong film and really worth making the effort to track down.

Thomas Caldwell, 2014

MIFF 2013 recommendations part 3

24 July 2013

Melbourne International Film Festival 2013

Here is my final batch of MIFF 2013 recommendations before the festival kicks off. Don’t forget to check out part 1 and part 2, and I hope my thoughts on the films below are helpful. In fact, you could do a lot worse than seeing the first three films on this list, which make a sort of unofficial indie trilogy about 20-somethings adrift in three of the greatest cities in the world (after Melbourne of course):

Frances Ha

Frances Ha

This energetic celebration of friendship and the awkwardness of modern life provides one of the most  joyous cinema experiences in years. A feel-good film with substance and integrity.

2 Autumns, 3 Winters

A formally playful French indie about love, friendship and the dramas of life, which uses its self-awareness to draw in the viewer rather than distance them.

Oh Boy

The deadpan humour and mild absurdism of this film set over 24 hours in the life of an aimless young man living in Berlin, becomes a deeply moving film about collective memory.

A Touch of Sin

An expertly made and powerful commentary on social inequality in modern day China, told through four overlapping stories with violent resolutions.

Harmony Lessons

Harmony Lessons

An unsettling school drama set in Kazakhstan about a boy bullied by another student with ties to an organised extortion ring. This slow burn film undermines expectations, plays with audience sympathies and sparingly uses dream sequences to powerful effect.

A Hijacking

The realism in this film about a Danish boat captured by Somali pirates delivers a fascinating insight into hostage negotiations as well as delivering a tense thriller.

I Am Devine

A heartfelt, in-depth and entertaining documentary about Harris Glenn Milstead and his alter-ego Devine; muse to John Waters and counter-culture/queer icon.

These Final Hours

These Final Hours

An  end-of-the-world thriller/drama featuring a man attempting to get to a hedonistic party to spend his remaining time on the planet in a state of ignorant bliss. However, he discovers that there could be better ways to use what little time he has left in this constantly surprising and highly accomplished new Australian film.

Valentine Road

A sobering documentary about a hate crime murder committed in a classroom and the subsequent trial, which raises issues concerning community culpability, marginalisation of LGBTI youth, how intolerance escalates into violence and victim blaming.

Blackbird

Another film to examine school violence and persecution, but with the twist of having the main character – a bullied loner who foolishly publishes online a cathartic revenge story – getting falsely accused of planning a high school massacre.

From the films I’ve seen so far I also recommend people check out Ilo IloA World Not Ours and Twisted Trunk, Big Fat Body.  I also had a lot of fun watching I Declare WarPatrick, Lesson of the Evil and Rewind This! And I really urge people to go to at least one or two of the Short Film Packages.

Finally, there are a number of films I’m really hoping to see during the festival and some of those are Leviathan, 3x3D, Omar, Like Father, Like Son, Ginger and Rosa, The Dance of Reality, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Bastards, The Pervert‘s Guide to Ideology and pretty much everything in the Shining Violence: Italian Giallo section.

Have a great MIFF!

Thomas Caldwell
Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator
Melbourne International Film Festival

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