Reviews of film screening during the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival.
Director Jacques Rivette is often regarded as one of the more vibrant directors from the French New Wave, making the anticipation for his latest film, an adaptation of the Honoré de Balzac novel La duchesse de Langeais, understandable. It is a tale of unfulfilled love, dangerous flirtations and spurned vengeance between a Parisian socialite and a general who has just returned from the Napoleonic War. Despite this promising mix of themes the film is incredibly flat. It is meticulously staged in stunning settings but is more of a formal exercise in conveying the complexities of human emotion rather than a cinematic film that evokes them. There is no denying the craftsmanship behind this film but it is overly distant and lacks passion.
Inside is the latest horror film to combine the gritty brutality of genre classics The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Last House on the Left with inventive scenes of violence. It is closer in tone to Wolf Creek and High Tension (Haute tension) than the Saw and Hostel films, although it arguably pushes the envelope even further than all those films in its depiction of truly horrific scenarios. The story is simple – pregnant Sarah, who is due to give birth the following day, is terrorised by a second woman who is determined to cut the baby out of her. As various other characters turn up to Sarah’s house, this deranged mystery woman graphically kills them off. There is something admirable about the gory nastiness of Inside and having a pregnant woman in the middle of it all certainly evokes all sorts of anxieties. However the script is weak and there is not adequate character development to really care about anybody in this film. But the biggest flaw is that first time directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury have underlit the entire film. Obviously they were trying to increase the moodiness of the film and create suspense by having every shot filled with shadows, but they have over done it. There are way too many frustrating scenes where you simply cannot tell what is actually going on.
For his second feature film after directing The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy, Garth Jennings has written and directed this enjoyable tribute to the joys of discovering cinema as a child. Set in England in the 1980s, two young teenage boys form an unlikely friendship; one is the school troublemaker and the other belongs to a strict religious sect. While the depiction of the troubled backgrounds of both boys wallow a little in extremities they are overall nicely drawn characters and Jennings does not attempt to smooth over or resolve their less likeable aspects. The pair set about remaking First Blood and the scenes depicting their guerrilla style of filmmaking are mostly a lot of fun. There is a great subplot involving a group of French exchange students and a scene where the boys are invited into the 6th form common room is a hilarious parody of Hollywood parties, complete with scratch-and-sniff stickers being handed around like cocaine.
After doing such a wonderful job with The Station Agent, actor Thomas McCarthy has once again helmed the writing and director chair to create The Visitor. Richard Jenkins, who finally gets a feature film starring role after 30 years of character acting, plays Walter, a middle-aged widower professor who is drifting through an academic career that he long stopped caring about. When he reluctantly goes to New York to give a paper he discovers that a couple, Tarek and Zainab, have been illegally scammed into renting his usually vacated apartment. Walter strikes up a friendship with Tarek, who coaxes Walter’s hidden love for music, and later in the film Walter meets Tarek’s mother, which results in a beautiful mutual affection. Like he also demonstrated in The Station Agent, McCarthy is able to depict the process of lonely people rediscovering life via new friendships with sincerity and restraint. While The Visitors also articulates an incredible anger towards contemporary US immigration policy, it is ultimately a joyful celebration of humanity.