Films I loved in October 2017

1 November 2017
Blade Runner 2049

Ryan Gosling as K in Blade Runner 2049

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is one of my desert island films. I will never tire of its visual aesthetic and poetic blend of dystopian science-fiction, hardboiled film noir, and philosophical musings on what it means to human. Denis Villeneuve’s sequel Blade Runner 2049 may not capture the same magic that makes the original so electrifying, but it comes closer than I ever dared hope for. Remaining true to the spirit of the original film without overly indulging in nostalgia, this is a mediative, measured and haunting film of overwhelming visual pleasures and thematic richness where humanity has been further diluted, but still prevails.

Good Time

Robert Pattinson as Constantine ‘Connie’ Nikas in Good Time

I first began to really take notice of filmmaking brothers Joshua Safdie and Ben Safdie after seeing their 2014 film Heaven Knows What, but their new film, Good Time, confirms that they are two of the most exciting contemporary independent American filmmakers. Channelling the rawness and high energy of early Martin Scorsese films and the spirit of John Cassavetes, Good Time is a visceral and anxious crime drama that had my heart racing throughout so much of its running time that I felt shattered by the end credits in the best possible way.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Adam Sandler as Danny Meyerowitz and Ben Stiller as Matthew Meyerowitz in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

With the very notable exception of France Ha, I’ve never really been able to fully embrace Noah Baumbach’s films so I was not expecting to be so impressed by The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), which is now easily my favourite film of his. While it treads the very familiar ground of exploring intergenerational tensions and resentments among the members of a dysfunctional family living in New York, it is elevated by its impressive performances, pathos and sincerity. It was especially great to see Adam Sandler return to dramatic acting, and he delivers his strongest and most endearing performance since Punch Drunk Love.

Brigsby Bear

Kyle Mooney as James Pope in Brigsby Bear

The biggest surprise I had this month was how much I adored Brigsby Bear, especially considering how much I assumed I would not. After hearing it was about a man obsessed with a kid’s television series that he wants to recreate for himself, I imagined something unbearably whimsical and twee. I was surprised and delighted to discover that the tone and themes of the film were in fact far closer to something like The Truman Show, resulting in a sweet and melancholic story about family and identity. These days it is easier said than done, but this is one film where I recommend seeing it knowing as little as possible beforehand.

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM

Bill Nighy as Inspector John Kildare in The Limehouse Golem

I wasn’t going to see The Limehouse Golem, but after hearing my Plato’s Cave co-hosts speak about it, I was persuaded to do so. I’m extremely glad I did. On the surface it is a serial killer/detective story set in Victorian London, but as the film unravels it becomes increasingly apparent that its extremely masterful hidden-in-plain-sight twists and turns are used to explore issues of class, gender and sexuality in ways that are integral to how the story develops. It is a shame and a bit of a mystery to me as to why a film this well-crafted and atmospheric has had such little attention.

FAH2017And finally, on a personal note, the second edition of my secondary school textbook Film Analysis Handbook is now available. Originally written in 2005 as a resource for school students and teachers studying and writing about film, this 2017 edition is fully updated with new film examples, new writing samples, new terminology and a new design.

Available now from Insight Publications.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017
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Films I loved in September 2017

4 October 2017
I am Not Your Negro

James Baldwin in I Am Not Your Negro

Raoul Peck’s documentary I Am Not Your Negro not only give voice to James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript about his memories of US civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr, but it draws attention to the urgency of what Baldwin wrote and spoke about during his lifetime. Peck presents Baldwin as a writer, social critic and activist of extraordinary depth and complexity, and demonstrates how essential Baldwin’s analysis of racial divisions in American is to understanding – and acting on – what is happening in America today.

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Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes

Having really enjoyed the 2013 documentary The Battle of the Sexes, about the 1973 exhibition tennis match between retired men’s champion Bobby Riggs and the current women’s champion Billie Jean King, I was tentatively looking forward to Battle of the Sexes, a fictionalised account of the same story. To my delight it exceeded expectations to deliver a nuanced account of the entrenched chauvinism surrounding the event and a thoughtful examination of the motivations behind the actions of the various characters.

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Laure Valentinelli as Sarah in Nocturama

Recently added to Netflix, Nocturama begins feeling like a modern spin on The Battle of Algiers as the film follows a group of young people methodically planning a series of terrorists attacks in Paris. But then the second half of the film depicts what happens to the characters as they hide out overnight in a department store. As they indulge in the very luxuries they were seemingly fighting against, they unravel as boredom, paranoia and recklessness take over. Free from their idealogical drive, they revert back to being restless adolescents.

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Marion Cotillard as Catherine in It’s Only the End of the World

Having finally seen It’s Only the End of the World now it’s on Stan, I think it is one of Xavier Dolan’s best films. Dolan fully embraces the fact that the film is based on a play and allows the actors to run with theatrically heightened emotional states in order for them to convey the resentment, anger, jealously and bitterness that their characters have for one another. It’s a devastating portrayal of a family consumed with pain and betrayal, and Dolan’s decision to shoot so much of the film in tight close-ups so that the characters appear isolated from each other, is a masterful command of film style.

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Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee in Twin Peaks

I can’t imagine ever writing about television again in these monthly summaries, but I also can’t imagine seeing anything on television that comes close to having the impact on me that Twin Peaks has had. The third series, or The Return, continued to go in unexpected directions throughout all eighteen bewildering and captivating episodes, but the final two episodes delivered the emotional pinnacles and thematic gravitas that I had been really holding out for. It will be some time until I truly make sense of it all, but I did attempt to express a few of my ideas on Part 17 and Part 18 of Twin Peaks The Return: A Season Three Podcast.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017

Films I loved in August 2017

3 September 2017
God's Own Country

Alec Secareanu as Gheorghe Ionescu and Josh O’Connor as Johnny Saxby in God’s Own Country

God’s Own Country is one of those films where I didn’t realise how much I loved it until the end credits began and I became aware of just how moved I was and how well-crafted a film it is. The film begins bleakly on a windswept farm in Yorkshire in northern England, and the protagonist is Josh, a morose and bitter young man whose only outlets from the drudgery of farm life is binge drinking and anonymous sex. Farm life and his personal life are characterised viscerally with dirt, flesh and bodily fluids. When Romanian migrant worker Gheorghe first enters the picture to work with Josh it’s difficult to see what he or the audience will find appealing about his new surroundings and companion. By the end of the film, Yorkshire had become a place of sublime beauty, Josh had convincingly matured and evolved into a character of depth and compassion, and God’s Own Country had become one of the most touching, heartfelt and sincere films that I have seen all year. For a film that seemed impenetrable when it began, I ended up not wanting it to end.

The Big Sick

Zoe Kazan as Emily Gardner and Kumail Nanjiani as Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick

While the title of the America romantic comedy The Big Sick identifies illness as the main source of drama in this based-on-a-true-story film, the real source of the film’s pathos and laughs is how well it navigates cultural clashes in contemporary America. Much of the film’s charm comes from how well it depicts the traditional Pakistani Muslim family that actor/writer Kumail Nanjiani (who plays a version of himself in the film) comes from. The difficulties Kumail faces in rejecting his family’s attempts to arrange a marriage for him with another Pakistani woman, to instead pursue his love for American woman Emily Gardner (played by Zoe Kazan and based on writer Emily V Gordon), is treated with humour, but never derision or condemnation. This is a film about navigating family as much as it is about finding love, and it’s refreshing, nuanced and very funny.

The Lost City of Z

Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z

Since seeing James Gray’s The Lost City of Z I’ve since discovered that there is a lot of debate about the significance of 20th century British explorer Percy Fawcett and the value of his various expeditions into the Amazon rainforest. The extent to which the film may be printing the legend over the facts didn’t really concern me as my interest was how the film worked as a sort of revisionist explorer film that downplayed the heroics and hardships of being in the jungle, and instead presented a critique of the colonialist spirit of conquering and taming supposedly uncivilised parts of the world. The film challenges attitudes towards gender, race and class while still celebrating the spirit of exploration and honouring the ultimate mystery and tragedy of what happened to Fawcett.

Twin Peaks

Kyle MacLachlan as Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks

With only two episodes to go, the new series of Twin Peaks has continued to be continuously inventive, delightful, dark, hilarious, strange and brilliant. For the most part it has avoided indulging in nostalgia or fan service, often by referencing the original series only in ways that are completely unexpected. But that moment in episode 16 was executed brilliantly and completely worth the wait.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017

Films I loved in July 2017

2 August 2017
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The Monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) and Lewis MacDougall as Conor O’Malley in A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls once more confirms my suspicion that films aimed at children and young adults often deal with difficult subject matter with far more sophistication and sensitivity than films designed for adult audiences. What makes A Monster Calls so compelling and moving isn’t the mystery of what will happen to 12-year-old Conor and his seriously ill mother, but the unknown nature of the monster that has started to appear before Conor. Is it there to help, guide, cure, punish, torment or nurture? This ambiguity allows the film to explore not just grief and associated emotions such as anger and fear, but even more complex ideas about what it means to a human with all the contradictions that come with it.

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Fionn Whitehead as Tommy in Dunkirk

Dunkirk is a expertly orchestrated spectacle that showcases Christopher Nolan’s greatest strengths as a filmmaker, particularly his use of sound. Cutting between three stories that unfold across different periods of time, Nolan delivers an almost impressionist snapshot of the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation of Allied soldiers during World War II. By only delivering snapshots of a small handful of characters caught up in events, and portraying a series of tension moments rather than a more conventional narrative, Dunkirk is an explicitly sensory film. It conveys feelings of bewilderment, disorientation, dread, fear, panic and despair, but it is ultimately a triumphant and exhilarating experience that celebrates what human beings are capable of even in the most desperate situations.

Ansel Elgort

Ansel Elgort as Baby in Baby Driver

Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver is cinematic pastiche at its best. It’s a fun and funny homage to heist and action films – specifically films from the 1970s, and even more specifically films featuring car chases – and yet it’s edited to and choreographed to an eclectic selection of songs that getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) listens to, as if the film were a musical. I cannot recall seeing another film that conveys the act of walking down the street with headphones on with the excitement of a full dance number. The combination of a pulpy crime plot with a sweet romance sub-plot along with beautifully orchestrated action and a killer soundtrack, won me over completely.

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Zucchini, voiced by Gaspard Schlatter (French version) and Erick Abbate (English version), in My Life as a Zucchini

My Life as a Zucchini is a warm and moving tale that deceptively resembles a kids’ film in production design and style, but explores difficult themes with nuance through well-developed and complex characters. I’ve now seen both the original French-language version and the English-language dub and while I probably prefer the original version, casting Nick Offerman as the voice of the kind police man who looks out of the film’s troubled 9-year-old protagonist, is inspired.

Photographer select; Tom Holland

Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming is my favourite cinematic outing for the likeable teen superhero character, possibly because it’s more of a teen-film/superhero hybrid. Combining Peter Parker’s awkward attempts to navigate high school and first love, with his over-eagerness to develop his superhero abilities as Spider-Man, allows for lots of fun teen angst and coming-of-age moments, punctuated with some of the better action sequences from the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. Tom Holland is great as Parker/Spider-Man and Michael Keaton makes a terrific villain, playing a working-class man who is sick of being screwed over.

The Beguiled

Colin Farrell as Corporal John McBurney and Kirsten Dunst as Edwina Morrow in The Beguiled

The dreamlike spell of Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled owes a lot to its mist-filled, over-grown-garden, swampy Virginian setting during the American Civil War, where the sunlight is constantly fighting to penetrate the overgrowth and darkness. The strange and disturbing tale of repressed sexuality and violence is more muted, less sensationalised and less seedy than Don Siegel’s 1971 adaptation of the same source material, and for that reason many will prefer Siegel’s version, but I like Coppola’s more. Siegel’s film contains plenty of aspect I like and in same cases prefer, but I feel there’s more mystery and richer characterisation in Coppola’s film.

It Comes At Night

Joel Edgerton as Paul in It Comes at Night

It Come at Night is a film with all the tropes of a zombie apocalypse horror film, but plays out as a psychological thriller crossed with an indie family drama. It’s utterly gripping and suspenseful throughout, and the acting is superb, and yet it wilfully defies easy categorisation and easy explanation. Is it an exercise in using as much ambiguity as possible to deliver as much tension as possible, or it is a clever subversion of audience expectations, which allows it to provide a grim commentary on the nature of paranoia? Either way, it’s a film I keep thinking about it.

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story is a small film with grand themes that feels both highly ambitious and very humble. And to be honest, I was not on board for a while, but once it clicked into place for me, I feel under its spell. The image of a man’s ghost being visualised as an actor wearing a bed sheet with cutout eyes, is on screen for so long that it moves past looking twee or ridiculous, to become oddly moving as the droopy eye holes increasingly suggest a profound melancholia. Moving forward and back in time, meditating on the meaning of life (including a superb scene featuring Will Oldham as an insufferable party guest on a nihilist rant), and at its core being a story about love and loss; it somehow all works, making this a thoughtful and graceful piece of cinema.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017

Films I loved in June 2017

5 July 2017
Graduation

Adrian Titieni as Romeo Aldea in Graduation

Graduation is about the hypocrisy of well-meaning people doing the wrong thing. In the case of Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni), a Romanian doctor living in a small town, he resorts to corruption to help his daughter pursue a better quality of life. Like many critics, I was astonished by filmmaker Cristian Mungiu’s tense and confronting 2007 film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, but I think Graduation is even better. Despite the film’s grim beginning, it is not an ordeal and it even offers a glimmer of hope that the younger generation may break the cycle of cynicism, opportunism and self-interest that the older generation have taught them. Not unlike the films of The Salesman filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, there are no overly bad people in Graduation, just a range of characters with different breaking points and limitations.

The Villainess

Kim Ok-bin as Sook-hee in The Villainess

‘Kinetic’ and ‘visceral’ are two words I sometimes worry I over use, but I can’t think of anything better to describe the delirious and thrilling action sequences in The Villainess. The gleefully convoluted tale of revenge, a secret assassins’ agency and double-crossings contain many familiar themes and plot points from films such as La Femme Nikita and Kill Bill, but it is the superb ultra-violent action choreography and cinematography that makes The Villainess stand out. While the film’s gritty yet slick aesthetic has seen it compared to things like The Raid and some of the more intense moments in Park Chan-wook’s films, I also thought of Gaspar Noé and the way he manages to float the camera through scenes in a dreamlike and often seemingly impossible way.

Annette Bening as Dorothea Fields and Lucas Jade Zumann as Jamie Fields in 20th Century Women

I’m not sure when exactly, but at some point while watching 20th Century Women I became aware of just how much I was loving being in the company of the five main characters. Inspired by writer/director Mike Mills’s own childhood, 15-year-old Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is at the centre of the narrative, but the film really belongs to his mother Dorothea (Annette Bening), best friend Julie (Elle Fanning), and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), who lives in the same boarding house, as well as William (Billy Crudup). They are a fascinating, likeable and vulnerable ensemble of characters trying to make sense of the complexities of family, love, mortality and aging against the backdrop of the sexual revolution, the emergence of punk and the impending presidency of Ronald Reagan. While tinged with melancholy, this is ultimately a warm and embracing film about how experiences and relationships shape us.

Okja

An Seo Hyun as Mija in Okja

Bong Joon-ho has always excelled in his ability to mash-up genres and perform radical tonal shifts within a single film, and Okja is no different. It starts like a kids film (but with more swearing) focusing on Mija, a young girl wanting to be reunited with her beloved super pig. Okja then shifts gear into camp and comedic action when Mija falls in with a group of animal rights activists, and then finally ends up as a confronting and moving critique of industrialised meat production. Emerging child actor An Seo Hyun gives a grounded performance as Mija, while the manic performances from the supporting cast – which includes Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano – successfully conveys the madness of the world she encounters when she gets caught up in the machinery of capitalism and media hype.

Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman fulfils the potential shown by Man of Steel in 2013 when the DC Extended Universe kicked-off with Superman’s origin story. Both films concern godlike superhero characters with childlike emotional intelligence who have to learn to make sense of the world, especially when it comes to difficult moral choices. Wonder Woman is a far less angst-ridden affair, and it charts Diana Prince’s journey from the secret island of Themyscira where she grew up, to the Western Front in Belgium during World War I, where she is convinced she will meet and defeat Ares the god of war. As well as delivering several exhilarating and beautifully choreography action sequences, what gives Wonder Woman its edge is the way is grapples with issues of morality concerning what it means to act for the greater good, and the complicated nature of war where defeating the big super villain won’t sudden bring war to an end overnight.

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Kedi

I’m not sure if you have to be a cat-lover to enjoy the Turkish documentary Kedi, as I feel it does explore broader ideas about the relationship between humans and domesticated animals. On the other hand, as somebody who grew up and continues to live with cats, I’m not the slightest bit objective. I adored this charming, beautiful and surprising soulful film about the thousands of street cats living in Istanbul and the city’s human residents that some of the cats deem worthy of their affection. Kedi showcases a beautiful city from a cat’s perspective, examines the symbiotic bond between people and cats, and muses on deeper questions regarding life, god and love, and how cats fit into all that. Brilliant.

David Lynch

David Lynch in David Lynch: The Art Life

I’ve had the good fortune to attend two exhibitions of David Lynch’s artwork – The Air is on Fire in Paris, France in 2007 and more recently David Lynch: Between Two Worlds in Brisbane, Australia in 2015 – and both demonstrated how Lynch’s art runs parallel to his work as a filmmaker, exploring and expanding on many of the themes in his films. The documentary David Lynch: The Art Life is an excellent portrait of Lynch the artist, exploring how his childhood experiences and early influences helped shape his artistic obsessions. I’ve never heard the notoriously secretive director talk so candidly about himself and his work, and the film contains a lot of footage that I (a massive Lynch fan) had never seen before.

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

And speaking of Lynch, the new series of Twin Peaks continues to soar above and beyond my expectations.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017

Films I loved in May 2017

30 May 2017
Get Out

Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington in Get Out

Get Out is a remarkable film that manages to do several things at once. It’s a horror/comedy that is actually both frightening and funny. It is also an effective piece of easily consumed entertainment that still works as a smart commentary on race. It’s not didactic, yet its examination of how middle white America regards African Americans is hardly subtext – it’s the main focus of the film. It engages sympathy and identification from the audience for its black protagonist, while also portraying several uncomfortable observations about how the dominant white culture both condescends towards and fetishises black culture. It’s a significant accomplishment when a film this fun is also so smart, thought-provoking and challenging.

Kyle MacLachlan as Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks

I’m cheating by including a television series, especially considering that as a rule I don’t engage with television like I do with cinema, but Twin Peaks is a massive exception. The original 1990-1991 series is possibly my favourite piece of visual entertainment/art and as much as there are a number of TV shows I adore, it remains the only series that for me has ever transcended the limitations of television (maybe I could also say the same about some of Dennis Potter’s work, but I’ve never regularly rewatched those show like I have with Twin Peaks). I could not be happier with the four episodes of this new series that have been released so far. There’s enough that is recognisable about this new series to connect it to the original series, but like the brilliant 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, it is very much its own thing, and showcases co-creator David Lynch‘s ongoing creative evolution. It’s got a slow burn intensity that perfectly delivers Lynch’s humour, sense of mystery and darkness. A lot of it is familiar and a lot of it makes me feel way out-of-my depth, and that’s how I like it.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017

 


Films I loved in April 2017

30 April 2017
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Lily Gladstone as Jamie in Certain Women

While re-watching Certain Women (having first seen it last year when its fate in Australia outside of the festival circuit was unknown) I was struck by how much I have come to adore filmmaker Kelly Reichardt. Her understated vision of small town American life, often featuring characters living on the fringes of society, shares a lot with the Belgium Dardenne brothers in that their films appear minimalist and naturalistic, but they are finely crafted and filled with pathos and human drama. Featuring three of America’s most interesting and unpredictable women actors – Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart – plus the very promising emerging actor Lily Gladstone, Certain Women consists of three overlapping stories about characters obsessing after unobtainable and romanticised notions of justice, authenticity and love.

Personal Shopper

Kristen Stewart as Maureen in Personal Shopper

One of the reasons I like Olivier Assayas’s films so much (and possibly the reason I didn’t initially) is because his films are so difficult to pin down; they defy easy categorisation or explanation. In Personal Shopper Kristen Stewart (who was also in Assayas previous film, Clouds of Sils Maria) plays Maureen, a woman who works as a personal shopper for a wealthy celebrity. The importance and significance of objects in people’s lives has played an increasingly prominent role in Assayas’s films and here the focus is on the clothes that Maureen selects and how wearing them herself is forbidden and therefore desirable. Maureen is also a spiritual medium trying to make contact with her recently deceased twin brother in the parts of the film that resemble a haunted house movie. The end result is a film about the material and immaterial worlds in relation to Maureen and her attempts to preserve her own identity in the wake of her grief.

Raw

Garance Marillier as Justine in Raw

I feel that a lot of the advance hype for Raw – making all sorts of hyperbolic claims about how extreme and shocking it is –  has been a little bit misrepresentative of what kind of film it is. Fortunately, it is a strong enough film that the pre-hype – accurate or not – doesn’t damage it in the slightest. Raw combines the body horror of cannibal films with a sexual coming-of-age story about a young woman attending veterinarian school, where a hazing ritual awakens all manner of new appetites. There is such an immediate and visceral feel to the whole film that the taboo desires depicts are often both sensual and repellant, beautiful and gruesome, life-affirming and destructive. I think what I really loved about this film is how so many ideas and themes are intertwined to define easy analysis. It’s not even always clear what is imagined and what is real, what is symbolic and what is literal. This is exciting stuff.

Anne Hathaway as Gloria in Colossal

I love it when a film with an outlandish premise focuses on the implications of that premise, rather than get bogged down with providing lengthy explanations and backstory. It’s an approach that privileges things like characterisation and themes over the duller mechanics of story development. Colossal is one such film, as rather than delving too deeply into why Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is connected to a giant monster terrorising Seoul in South Korea, it uses the scenario to explore issues of addictive behaviour and abusive relationships. Most impressive is how its use of satire – both playful and serious – toys with monster movie conventions and subverts the expectations of America indie rom-coms.

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Teresa Palmer as Clare in Berlin Syndrome

I was a huge fan of Australian director Cate Shortland’s previous film Lore so I was very keen to see Berlin Syndrome and went in knowing next to nothing about it. So I wasn’t expecting its story of a young Australian women visiting Berlin to develop into the very particular type of thriller that it did. What impressed me the most is how effectively it worked as a white-knuckled genre film while at the same time undermining expectations and subverting conventions. Not only is the salacious and sensationalist male gaze, which is often present in films of this nature, completely absent, but Shortland avoids going through the motions of delivering the obvious plot points to instead focus on the subjective experiences of the character.

Their Finest Hour and A HalfDirected by Lone Sherfig

Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole in Their Finest

I’ve long admired the way Lone Scherfig makes feel-good romance films that have a strong subtext exploring darker and more serious themes. In Their Finest Scherfig not only tells a story about the difficulties women faced working in the English film industry in the 1940s, but she is also examining how cinema is emotionally manipulative for idealogical impact. Their Finest is a reminder of the devastating effect that World War II had on the lives of everybody who lived through it, while also working as a behind-the-scenes comedy, with a lot of very satisfying laughs about how films are made and the egos involved. And while some of the plot turns feel overly melodramatic, they also work as self aware moments that remind us how easily films can evoke emotions from us.

Casting JonBenet

Casting JonBenet

Making its Australian debut on Netflix is Australian filmmaker Kitty Green’s Casting JonBenet. Similar in approach to Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine (which has so far only screened locally at festivals) Green blurs the line between documentary and fiction, to make a film about the making of a film. In this case, the subject matter is the unsolved 1996 murder of six-year-old child beauty pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey. Casting JonBenet consists of interviews and auditions with various hopeful actors, all of whom live in Boulder, Colorado, USA where the murder occurred. Green’s film isn’t interested in finding out who did it, it is interested in revealing all the various theories about the case, and more importantly, understanding why those theories have manifested. As the film progresses the interviewees increasingly relate aspects of the case to their own lives, which is when this film truly becomes a work of great beauty, insight and sadness.

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Sidney Warbrick as Thomas and Dan Skinner as John M Hull in Notes on Blindness

Finally, Notes on Blindness was released on home entertainment this month. It’s technically a documentary that consists of reenactments, but describing it as such doesn’t really do justice to its scope and ambition. It’s a portrait of the Australian-born theologian John M Hull who in 1983 began keep an audio diary to describe his experiences going blind. The film maintains the original audio recordings with actors playing Hull and various other people in his life, occasionally lip-synching to the pre-existing audio. Filmmakers Peter Middleton and James Spinney use sound and visuals to create an impressionist work that conveys Hull’s inner-world in this gentle, poetic and immersive film.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017