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 2

15 July 2013

Melbourne International Film Festival 2013

Here are some more of my recommendations for the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival based on what I’ve seen so far. Check out part 1 if you haven’t done so already and here are eight more feature films and two more short film packages that I recommend:

The Weight of Elephants

The Weight of Elephants

A heartbreaking and beautiful film about a sensitive 11-year-old going through some pretty intense abandonment issues against the backdrop of news reports about missing children. As good an insight into the anguishes of childhood as I’ve seen and featuring a stunning lead performance from newcomer Demos Murphy as Adrian.

The Crash Reel

A fascinating documentary about the world of extreme sports, and the causalities it produces, through the experiences of snowboarder Kevin Pearce who acquired brain injuries from an accident in 2009. The film also exposes the almost addictive nature of extreme sports and the problem where the demand for thrills from the viewing public is compelling competitors to push themselves further than what is safe to do so.


An understated yet surprisingly affecting story about an unlikely friendship between a young woman and an elderly lady. The film successfully holds back important character information so that all the reveals feel natural and startling at the same time.


An emotional expose on the history off orca attacks on their human trainers in sea parks. This is much more than a Save the Whales documentary as it reveals how the conditions in which orcas are captured and then kept at water-themed amusements parks is not only inhumane towards the animals, but puts the lives of the people who work with them at risk.

Stranger by the Lake

Stranger by the Lake

The single location – a beautiful lake and the surround forest used as a cruising spot in southern France – is used to its full potential to deliver a thriller, a love story and a story of platonic friendship. A mysterious film about ritualised behaviour and human connection.

The Spectacular Now

The generic conventions of the teen film are extremely well manipulated to make this into a sophisticated tragedy about a teenage boy throwing his life away and threatening to take down others with him. A surprising and extremely rewarding film.

Approved for Adoption

A beautifully animated memoir about the filmmaker’s experiences as a Korean boy growing up in Belgium as an adopted child. Avoids cliches and sentimentality to explore issues such as cultural identity, belonging and mental illness.

Capturing Dad

A droll and unstated film about two sisters attending their father’s funeral, despite never knowing him and feeling nothing towards him. Unexpectedly moving at times in the way it looks at family dynamics, while at other times containing wickedly dark humour.

International Shorts 1

Day Trip

The first package of international short films includes two films that screened at the Cannes International Film Festival: More Than Two Hours, a tense Iranian drama where a woman requiring medical attention is denied due to the ultra conservative laws, and Butter Lamp, a Tibetian-language film with a stunning final shot. Day Trip is the latest short film by Park Chan-wook and his brother Park Chan-kyong, and it is an odd yet sweet and compelling tribute to traditional Korean music.

International Shorts 2

Two films from Cannes are also in this package including Safe, which won the Short Film Palme d’Or. It is a claustrophobic thriller that gets increasing tense as the film builds to it alarming conclusion. Also nerve-wracking is that French film Just Before Losing Everything, which uses an everyday setting to construct a thriller out of an upsettingly commonplace situation. This collection of films also includes the experimental narrative film Beat starring Ben Whishaw as a man who dances through the streets of London to music only he can hear. It’s simultaneously amusing, confronting and melancholic.

Final recommendations next week…

Thomas Caldwell
Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator
Melbourne International Film Festival