I’ve previously never really embraced the non-science-fiction films by Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, but his latest film – Elle – is one of his best. A lot of the credit for why it is such a triumph needs to go to Isabelle Huppert who is essential in making lead character Michèle LeBlanc such a complex and intriguing character. The film begins shockingly with Michèle being raped and from there it continually goes in unexpected directions as she reacts in ways that often seem at odds with how the audience may expect her to behave. It’s dangerous and provocative material, made all the more so by how enjoyable and frequently humorous the film is. But there is nothing flippant or exploitive about Elle and within all its unexpected moments there is a biting satire about class, gender and moral hypocrisy, all held together Huppert’s commanding performance.
I haven’t been engaged with the current wave of frequently absurdist films coming out of Greece, but after The Lobster last year and now Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier I am becoming a convert. This deadpan comedy about six men on a fishing trip, who begin to compete with each other to find out who among them is The Best in General, is a perceptive and funny satire about middle-class masculinity. What I liked the most is that while the film ridicules competitiveness and pack behaviour among men, there is something very gentle and kind about it as well. Tsangari provides plenty of examples of bad behaviour by the various men and a few moments of superb cringe comedy, but with a sense of affection that I found both endearing and clever.
I was unfamiliar with the story of the death of Joe Cinque, which resulted in Anu Singh, his girlfriend at the time, being convicted of manslaughter. This didn’t prevent me from finding Sotiris Dounoukos’s Joe Cinque’s Consolation to be horrifying and riveting viewing. What sets the film apart from other true life crime films is the almost mundane build-up to Cinque’s death. Singh was open about her plans to kill Cinque with many of their mutual friends, most of whom were educated university students living in Canberra, Australia, and from middle-class backgrounds. The film conveys the collective rationalisations and complicity of the characters by successfully portraying them as being slightly removed from reality as they play-act at being adults in the bubble of university life. It’s confronting and revealing in a way that for me felt closer to the films of European filmmakers such as Michael Haneke rather than other Australian films.
Set in a Tehran apartment during the 1980s Iraq-Iran war Under the Shadow is an effective horror film where the supernatural threat articulates anxieties over the devaluing and oppression of women in Iran post the Iranian Revolution and the ever present threat of being killed during a missile strike. The scares are effective and unsettling, and the film uses its premise and allegory to full potential.
The Handmaiden is one of Park Chan-wook more light-hearted films, but it is enormously fun and decadent to watch. An adaptation of Welsh writer Sarah Waters’s Victorian novel Fingersmith with the setting changed to colonial Korea during the beginning of the last century, it is a tale of con-artists, double-crossings and forbidden love. Many of the techniques Park has used previously for bodily horror – especially the heightened use of sound – is used here to full effect for accentuating the sensuality of the film.
Ever since his debut feature film T is for Teacher, Australian filmmaker Rohan Spong has excelled in making deeply humanist and entertaining documentaries. In Winter at Westbeth Spong profiles three aged residents from a New York housing project for arts practitioners. Dancer turned filmmaker Edith Stephen, dancer Dudley Williams, and writer and poet Ilsa Gilbert light up the screen as they discuss their lives, reflect of their pasts and interrogate the work they are doing today. Charming, warm, sincere and ultimately deeply moving.