Films I loved in November 2015

2 December 2015
The Assassin

Shu Qi as Nie Yinniang in The Assassin

It becomes clear very early in The Assassin that Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien is more interested in mood and impression than traditional narrative storytelling. Following the actions of an elite assassin in 9th century China during a period of political turmoil, Hou’s film is a sensory experience placing greater emphasis on moments of stillness rather than the brief snippets of superbly choreographed action. Audiences willing to embrace Hou’s austere visuals and meticulous style will be overcome by the beauty and harmony of this film.

The Look of Silence

Adi Rukun and his mother in The Look of Silence

In many ways Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence is superior to the surreal and confronting The Act of Killing, his previous documentary about the 1965-66 Indonesian killings. This personal focus on Adi Rukun, as he confronts some of the people directly responsible for the brutal death of his brother, allows many moments of quietness and stillness where what is unspoken carries just as much repressed pain, guilt and grief as what is spoken.

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Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

The excellent Hunger Games film series comes to an end with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, a film that builds on the previous instalments’ critique of violent spectacle, reality television, propaganda and celebrity culture as products of authoritarianism, to also explore how violent resistance is capable of becoming as barbaric as what it seeks to overthrow. The result is a film that is not only immensely exciting and entertaining, but contains complex observations on the nature of violent conflict, far more so than most films made for adult audiences.

Spectre

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Spectre

Speaking of which, I tend not to think much of the Bond films so to my surprise I really enjoyed Spectre. I suspect it is because it addresses many of the issues I have with the franchise by exploring the idea that Bond is little more than a robotic assassin/hedonist who has become obsolete. I enjoyed the surveillance themes, the inclusion of a love interest who is a relatively developed character rather than a conquest, and the presence of so many genuinely exciting action sequences. This is a film that is actually about something and for the first time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969 seems to develop, or even evolve, Bond as a character.


This month I also enjoyed the cinematic impressionism of Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, a film that once again explores Malick’s preoccupation in the ongoing philosophical struggle between the way of nature and the way of Grace, as explored most successfully in his 2011 film The Tree of Life. I was also extremely impressed with the tense drama 99 Homes, where its tale of an opportunistic real estate operator taking advantage of the US housing market collapse allows it to successfully function as Wall Street for the contemporary era. And finally, I was very pleased to see the New Zealand horror comedy Deathgasm released on home entertainment as I had a ball seeing this love letter to heavy metal and schlock horror earlier this year at a late night festival screening.

Thomas Caldwell, 2015
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Film review – Summer Hours (2008)

3 April 2009
Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) and Frédéric (Charles Berling)

Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) and Frédéric (Charles Berling)

Summer Hours (L’Heure d’été) originally began as an initiative by Paris’s Musée d’Orsay. It was to be a short film that would have been part of a project examining the relationship between art and cinema. The full project never happened but French director Olivier Assayas (Clean, Irma Vep) went ahead with the original idea and made Summer Hours as a feature. The resulting film is gentle family drama that uses the dynamic between three siblings to explore the relationship between people and art. Summer Hours begins with the 75th birthday celebrations for Hélène (played by prolific French actor Edith Scob), the niece of a famous painter. Hélène’s country house is filled with her uncle’s extraordinary 19th century art collection, which she wants her three 40-something children to sell once she dies. Later when Hélène does die the siblings need to decide what to do. Frédéric (Charles Berling who also appear in Assayas’s demonlover and Les destinées sentimentales) wants to preserve his mother’s home and art collection but his brother Jérémie (Jérémie Renier from In Bruges and L’Enfant) and sister Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) now live abroad and can’t see any reason not to sell everything.

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Film review – Flight of the Red Balloon (2007)

3 June 2008

Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien is often compared to the legendary Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu who also had a minimalist approach to filmmaking, which focused on small moments of human emotion. Hou’s episodic, slice-of-life Flight of the Red Balloon is not a children’s film but it pays homage to Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 short The Red Balloon about a French boy who is followed by a mysterious red balloon.

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