Oz movie #28 The Furnace and #29 Dirt Music

The Furnace
Director Roderick MacKay
2020

I want to be critical of this, but compared with most films which get financed and make it to the screen, it’s definitely worthy. As my reasons are to do with the genre and the way in which its stories are typically told, maybe they have no relevance except to me. The cinematography will make all those who think that’s sufficient for a movie happy. As the first effort by MacKay, one expects he has some good stuff for us in the offing. And it’s got a grumpy dying gold prospector – I mean David Wenham, what can’t he do? Like Babyteeth a year earlier, it premiered in Venice. I hope that bodes well for it.

For a detailed discussion setting the film in its local genre and for more on Ahmed Malek, the lead, go here and here.

Dirt Music
Gregor Jordan
2020

This is not a Tim Winton book I’ve read, but I dashed out to buy it after the movie, just to see what went wrong. Are the flaws in the novel too? It’s on my to-read list but that gets longer, not shorter. It seems these days like we have two types of movies: the franchise ones based on special effects and the ones based on cinematography. Why those who invest enormous sums into them don’t understand that script, dialogue and story are all important – far more so than good sunset captures or CGI – is a mystery to me. But apparently the viewer in general is prepared to put up with this, so why pay on top of 50M that extra 200K for a decent writer? Let’s economise where we can. Sigh.

I can’t say I was as angry with it as one elderly gentleman at our screening who vented his rage loudly as he exited the cinema. Judging by the sentiment and the fact that he stayed to the end, I’m guessing he was a critic. Somebody panned it in the local press the next day.

I’m disappointed partly because David Wenham, as usual, is sensational. He gives everything, but I wish the movie stepped up to that. And partly because Gregor Jordan can surely do better. Even if the book was flawed, here at the movie stage, is just the chance to fix that. I was left full of regret that the Weinsteining of Jordan is something from which he may never recover.

There are a lot of Oz movies premiering just now. High Ground and Dry Run are next.

 

 

2020, 2019, 2018 Movies seen

2020 – this can’t be a complete list even given how things are. But it’s a start.

In the Name of the Land – five star, harrowing, compulsory to watch and then pay properly for your food dudes.

Dreamland – probably perfect, but to what end?

Misbehaviour – much better than I expected.

Memories of Murder – worse than I expected, but I didn’t realise until subsequently that it was a first movie. Also, that the story being told was every bit as messy as the movie and more.

The Secret Garden – apparently didn’t stick to the story the way fans need. What on earth did Colin Firth think he was doing applying for that part? He must have slept with somebody.

2019

Babyteeth (Australia) Splendid job, saw it at the Zurich Film Festival and the mainly Swiss German audience was highly appreciative, which given that the most common word in the film was likely ‘fuck’ was very tolerant on their part.

Chambre 212 (French)

La Belle Epoque (French) fascinating that it has such a similar premise to Chambre 212 and yet it is a really good movie, whereas Chambre 212 is dire.

Parasite (Korean) Terrific

Alice and the Mayor (French) Very French

Burning (Korean) Too stylish

Never Look Away (German)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (US) good, but we saw it the night before….

Little Forest (Korean) ….and this basically said the same stuff as Once Upon, but on a budget of almost nothing.

Karate Kid (US) – the attitudes to being bullied – basically ‘man up’ are absolutely shocking and would not be allowed now.

When Harry Met Sally (US) – hadn’t seen it before, I see why it’s been such a stayer.

Muriel’s Wedding – awful if it was supposed to be funny.

Avengers: Endgame (dire)

Claire Darling (French) – I was not taken by it.

Robaix Une Lumiere (French) Highly recommend

Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach) – the world would be a vastly poorer place without Loach telling us how it is.

The Humorist (Russian at GIFF) Liked this a lot.

The Lighthouse – a dud, but I can see that it’ll appeal to some.

Joker – fantastic, should have won best movie at the AA.

Fast Talking (1984 Australia)

Partisan Film Festival Austria

2018

Redoubtable (Le Redoutable) (French)

See You Up There (Au revoir là-haut) (French)

Madame Hyde (French)

Leto (The Summer) Russian

Ladybird

I, Tonya – inspired

The Shape of Water

Killing of a Sacred Deer – hard act to follow his first movie, but succeeds.

The Post – not as bad as I expected it to be.

Sweet Country – Do see if you can

The Death of Stalin

Isle of Dogs – this movie was a mystery to me. I was ready to leave after the first 15 minutes. All the dogs are rounded up and trapped on an island. Happy ending. Let’s leave. But it turned out this was only the prelude to its being an escape movie. I went grumbling all the way and I haven’t stopped yet.

The Rider – wonderful movie, which I tried to get everybody in Australia to see but I’m not even sure it was released here.

European partisan film festival Vienna

Kozara is the first of several films on the same theme by  director Veljko Bulajić who was part of the partisan fighting force in Yugoslavia in WWII. 

Ouranos is Tákīs Kanellópoulos’s first major film. 

Both of these are black and white, made in 1962, but there the comparison ends. In fact Ouranos isn’t even a partisan film as such, being about soldiers of the Greek armed forces. But one understands why it is here. It feels like the same sort of film, under-nourished, -clothed and -armed men in hostile natural conditions with an impossible job. Kozara feels like an American movie and indeed, Bulajić is an exceptional director in this retrospective in that he made films that hit the radar outside Europe. Richard Burton plays Tito in a subsequent film by him. They are typical action films. In Ouranos, in contrast, almost nothing happens. Perhaps that in itself is a reason why it feels modern, whilst Kozara feels old-fashioned. In Ouranos the soldier who takes mail from point a to point b loses a parcel. How this is done, how the postman cannot admit what has happened: it’s marvellous to behold. It’s a truly fine movie both from a cinematography viewpoint – the landscape shots are stunning – and the viewpoint of documenting what happened. Peasants fighting without hope.

Corbari is by Italian director Valentino Orsini, released in 1970. It’s in colour and I hope I’m not wrong in saying it makes great use of 1970s clothing. All this makes it feel quite different from the black and white movies discussed above. Add to this the feeling that it’s a spaghetti western….I’m not far off the mark there. The star, Giuliano Gemma, was a spaghetti western star, reminiscent of Terence Hill, eyes and teeth included. And they had to add a love interest, didn’t they? A gorgeous (of course) girl who immediately had Corbari in her power and was completely accepted by the otherwise completely male gang. I was sighing at this point.

But it turns out, when you look up the actual history of Corbari, that this is all as it happens. Not in the absolute detail, but in the style. Iris Versari was a beautiful girl from an agrarian socialist family, she did join the group, she was important and brave and completely equal to the others. Corbari was betrayed eventually, she was not able to run for it and shot herself dead so that Corbari could leave without being held up by her. He was nonetheless caught and in the incredibly sad ending they are all – even if already dead – hung in exhibitions in more than one town as a warning to others. Knowing Italians I doubt that helped in the least. They don’t take well to being told what to do.

Every preposterous thing that Corbari did in the movie was done in real life, or things like it. Indeed, maybe they toned it down for the cinematic retelling. This is from Radio Emilia Romagna: it has only gone through google translate, the original can be found on the link.

An expert on military history, Andrea Santangelo from Rimini has gathered international affairs of men and women capable of maintaining, in the tragedy of the Second World War, the taste for being eccentric. Like Iris Versari and Silvio Corbari, the couple of Romagna partisans who fought and died together. This episode is dedicated to them on the anniversary of the Liberation. 

Iris Versari was born in the territory of San Benedetto in Alpe on 12 December 1922 by Angelo, a farmer of socialist ideas and war mutilated, and by Alduina Calcin. She was the third child of five brothers (Maria, Luigi, lei, then Lilia and Berto) who grew up in a typical peasant family in the Tuscan-Romagna Apennines, forced to make a virtue out of what was offered by an area that today is a tourist destination. but which for centuries has given man nothing more than mushrooms, chestnuts, wood and headaches.

Iris was a child and breathed politics and social demands: Angelo Versari was in fact a point of reference in Tredozio for all socialists and free thinkers. It was obviously also for the royal police: the farmhouse of the Tramonto estate, where the Versari lived, was “attentive” because it sometimes hosted clandestine anti-fascist meetings. To increase the family income, as soon as possible Iris was sent to service with some wealthy families of Forlì, Rocca San Casciano and Dovadola.

After the fall of fascism, the Tramonto estate first became a meeting place for anti-fascists and then, after 8 September 1943, a veritable support base for the nascent Resistance. Iris was immediately drafted as a relay. She was an attractive brunette girl, with green eyes and a small body, and was appreciated for her beautiful smile, beautiful voice and gentle manner. But the courage and strength of a lioness was hidden in her.

After an initial period spent hiding the stragglers, the draft dodgers of Salò and former allied prisoners, Iris met Silvio Corbari’s partisan band and asked to enter it. They looked like tough and determined types, about thirty boys eager to get their hands on the fascists and the Germans. She didn’t ask for anything better, she wanted to make an important contribution to the liberation struggle. It didn’t take long for him to fall in love with his new commander (born Sirio Corbari, Silvio was the name of battle), a twenty-year-old who had taken up arms and went underground on 9 September 1943, militating first in the band of Samoggia and then in that of the Phantom Truck. Now all of his own had been created and he had even started contacts with the Allies to obtain weapons and supplies.

Corbari was a handsome boy, alert, determined and authoritative. Never mind that he was already married, for Iris he represented everything he had always dreamed of in life: a romantic love in the midst of a political struggle aimed at building together a better and more just future.

A young woman who broke social patterns could only go with an extraordinary boy. In fact Silvio could be considered a decidedly eccentric partisan commander: more than political and military results, he was interested in the coup de théâtre, the mockery of the enemy. His exploits showed cold blood and a lucid madness, perhaps also due to recklessness and youthful unconsciousness. An example above all: he used to put fake bombs in places of fascism and then call the authorities to sound the alarm; in reality they were all loaded with pasta and beans.

His bold and arrogant deeds seemed to come from a novel rather than from local news. To deny the men of the black brigade in Faenza who claimed to have killed him in the areas of Brisighella, on 5 December 1943 he went to the streets of Faenza and entered the bar meeting place of the fascists to get a coffee dressed as captain of the Republican National Guard (the GNR ). He drank it slowly watching all the patrons, many of them recognized him, but nobody said anything. Then coming out of the bar he threw the photos of Mussolini and Ettore Muti to the ground and spat on it. He went out calmly and climbed aboard the car of an accomplice, uselessly pursued by some soldiers who had arrived.

On December 25, 1943 he made the Christmas wishes to the Fascists from Faenza by wandering around the city disguised as a German colonel.

The GNR captain’s uniform reused it to go to a Republican checkpoint, inspect them, give them an inspired speech and finally get all their weapons delivered.

One day he gave an appointment to the head of the fascists of Faenza in a church, with the agreement that he arrived alone and unarmed, to talk about the political situation. At the meeting the fascist presented himself with a team of soldiers armed to the teeth, but he found no one, except for an old bent and shabby who asked for alms. The fascist gave him ten lire and went away, then telling everyone that the infamous Corbari had been afraid of him. A few days later the hierarch received a letter with ten lire and a note: “I am giving you the ten lire you have generously given me, but know that I have given you life. Silvio Corbari ».

Iris lost her mind for such a man, who in turn was fascinated by the beauty and passion of the girl to the point of falling in love with her. The two became a couple known and feared by the fascists. While the other partisan groups acted on the basis of political and military directives, that of Corbari was unpredictable and this made it difficult to intercept.

On 9 January 1944 the band of Silvio and Iris entered Tredozio, disarmed the carabinieri and local fascists and settled there for ten days. Only when a column came heavily armed from Forlì, Corbari and his men retreated to the mountains. The setback immediately forced the Germans and the Republicans to carry out a major anti-riot operation during which the Tramonto estate was destroyed and Iris’s parents imprisoned and then sent to an extermination camp in Germany (only the mother will return home at the end of the war, the brothers will be saved because they are entrusted to relatives). Several elements of the Corbari gang were killed during raids, but Iris and Silvio were saved and immediately returned to reorganize the band.

In February, although they were little more than a dozen, they were already ready to reoccupy Tredozio, and they succeeded twice, always disarming the small local garrison and taking weapons and uniforms with them.

In April Iris, Silvio and ten companions entered Modigliana in broad daylight. They took money from the bank and then left, but said they would come back ten days later and kill all the fascists left in the city. Soldiers of the XXV black brigade Italo Capanni of Forlì were sent to guard the country, but on the day indicated by Corbari they panicked and all fled before Silvio entered the village. For some time there had been rumors that there were hundreds of partisans ready to attack the garrison. The voices had obviously made Silvio turn around in town thanks to some supporters. When Corbari and Iris entered Modigliana they found and took arms and materials abandoned by the fascists,

After Modigliana it was the turn, the fourth to be precise, by Tredozio. Silvio phoned the command of the GNR to warn that the given day would return to the town. The soldiers guarded the town forcefully, but no one was seen on the day indicated. While they waited for him with their weapons leveled, the soldiers gave a hand to an old farmer who with difficulty dragged a pig tied to a rope. The old man asked them to take the time to drink a glass of wine at the tavern and then disappeared. The next day the consul Marabini received a note from Corbari: “That farmer who yesterday drank in the tavern was me, his men are good just to look after my pig …”.

It was to Gustavo Marabini that the umpteenth mockery of the Corbari-Versari duo was destined. They wrote that they wanted to take advantage of a recent amnesty for partisans, they would be handed over to the authorities and Silvio would also have enlisted in the GNR. They gave him an appointment on 23 May 1944 on a farm. Here, after a long discussion, Corbari, Iris and the partisan Otello Sisi got into the car with the consul Marabini and his driver to go to deliver to Forlì. It is not clear what happened next, what is certain is that, at the height of Predappio, Marabini was killed with a pistol shot in the neck, from a weapon perhaps kept by Iris in her underwear. The driver was released.

After this action the capture of Silvio Corbari became the priority of the troops of the Italian Social Republic deployed in Romagna. The collaboration of specialized German units such as the II / 3 Brandenburg and the Aussenkommando Forlì of the Sicherheitsdienst was also requested. The operational part was entrusted to the best unit of CSR that was in the area, the battalion “IX September”, consisting of veteran troops who had already distinguished themselves in the Marche in anti-partisan operations.

The intelligence work of the Germans intercepted the news of an Allied arms launch for Corbari, on the spot there was a firefight and the partisans managed to take only a third of the material sent to them. With one of these weapons, a Sten sub-machine gun, Iris Versari accidentally wounded herself just above her left knee on August 17th. On the same day, the “blow” of an informer gave the men of “9th September” the exact location of the cottage in which Iris was waiting for Silvio and two other partisans who had gone to make a reconnaissance for a new action.

At dawn on August 18, the peasant house in the Ca ‘Cornio di Tredozio area was surrounded by about ten soldiers, supported more downstream by a platoon with two 45 mm mortars. As they became aware of being surrounded, the four partisans engaged in a firefight by shooting from the windows, while Iris kept the door at gunpoint because she could not stand. They defended themselves by throwing hand grenades and unloading magazines onto magazines of their machine guns, but the enemies had much more firepower. A soldier threw himself against the door of the cottage, knocking it down, but Iris glared at him with a burst of her Sten. However, the situation for the occupants of the house was worse; the only possibility of salvation consisted in a sortie to reach a grove adjacent to a cliff, but it was clear that in those conditions Iris could never make it. Corbari, Arturo Spazzoli and Adriano Casadei wavered, Iris thought to solve the impasse. Aware of being a burden and determined to help her beloved Sirius, she decided to sacrifice her young life to help her three companions escape. She took a gun and committed suicide.

Although destroyed by the death of his beloved, Corbari led his men out, weapons in hand. Brushes was immediately wounded, while Corbari and Casadei managed to get into the woods, but Silvio was hurt by falling off a cliff. Instead of going to safety, Casadei remained next to his commander for a last desperate defense. The “9th September” soldiers soon joined them and attacked them: Corbari was killed and Casadei wounded.

All four partisans, two dead and two wounded, were taken to Castrocaro, where Corbari and Casadei were hanged among the jubilation of the fascist soldiers. Brushes were finished on the truck during the journey because he complained of his injuries, while Iris Versari’s body was tied on the roof of a Fiat 500.

That afternoon in Forlì the four partisans were all hanged from street lamps in Piazza Saffi, in front of the local headquarters of the Fascist Party, where they were left for a couple of days. Iris was one of the most humiliated among them. She was even buried without the indication of the name, but with the only word “woman” on the coffin.

Iris Versari, a young fighter who had accompanied herself to a dangerous fugitive by becoming her lover, practically repudiated that role of brood mare and offspring of children in which fascism had pigeonholed the condition of women. There was hardly anything more eccentric about the moral in orbit of the time, which in fact could only deliver it to the ranks of the so-called “little good with easy customs”. Fortunately, time has done justice to the valiant partisan, who now rests at the monumental cemetery of Forlì; Iris Versari was awarded the Gold Medal for military valor (as was also granted to her beloved Silvio Corbari), several streets and a couple of schools were dedicated to her. The lampposts of Piazza Saffi to which it was hung were left in place: they are still those of that time….

Babyteeth Oz movie #27

Babyteeth
director Shannon Murphy
2019

Over dinner two evenings before going to see Babyteeth, we discussed films with our Swiss friends, as we always do. They’d seen The Castle and didn’t understand how it was funny. It is, of course, highly culturally specific, as Australian films often are.

It is great to be able to report, therefore, on the success of Babyteeth in the Zurich Film Festival, following hot on the heels of Venice, where the film received its world premiere. A packed house was enthusiastic and engrossed . It laughed and wept on cue and I saw no sign of that barrier which stopped my friends understanding The Castle. There was a lot of clapping at the end, both for the film and then for director Murphy, taking time out from work she is doing in London to do a Q&A.

Toby Wallace won the Venice Prize for best young actor, no doubt richly deserved. But all the actors  are splendid. Essie Davis, star of The Babadook, playing pharmaceutically messed up Anna, is a nice juxtaposition to Wallace’s petty drugged up chancer Moses. Everybody is nuanced, nobody is defined by their failings. Ben Mendelsohn’s Henry – how sad that this is his first Australian appearance in nine years – looks stronger than his wife, but it’s only because he’s quieter. There is a particularly poignant moment where he discovers his wife has stopped taking her drugs. He goes a little crazy: ‘you cannot cannot cannot crack up now’ he yells at her (and I am paraphrasing). Ah yes, it’s one of those moments where you impose on others your own weakness. He says that because he is about to crack up as is shortly revealed. As for Eliza Scanlen as Milla, I thought comments by director Murphy after the screening reflected how great an actor she will become. Murphy said that she was ‘scared’ by how hard it was to tell what Scanlen is. The small support cast to these four shines.

I will make the point that this feels like a true ensemble, as befits a group turning a play into film, directed by a theatre director stepping into the film director’s shoes for the first time. Interestingly, she has added at least one theatrical effect – the use of the titles to divide the film into small acts/scenes – without falling into the trap of it becoming stagey in that way plays used to be on film. I imagine a small budget helps create this cohesiveness. When I asked Murphy what that was, she wasn’t sure she was allowed to say, but the figure 3M is in the ballpark.

I don’t want to write anything here that makes the movie sound corny – robust Australian humour will always stop that. However, I want to make the point that critical to the movie is not Milla, but Moses. And, thinking about that name, it seems to me that he is like the biblical character. He parts the waters for this dysfunctional, suffering family and it is through him that they are able to cross from one hard place to another, which will give them the peace they are unable to find on their own.

There is a shameful history in Australian cinema of films being lauded overseas and shunned at home. I do pray this isn’t the case with Babyteeth, it deserves to be a hit.

Three Blind Mice – Oz movie #26

Three Blind Mice
director Matthew Newton
2008

To begin with full disclosure: I adore John Cassavetes with the passion of one who spent some time over summer refreshing the reasons why, at a retrospective of his work. It follows that I’m a sucker for any film which is rooted in his philosophy towards film-making.

Enter Three Blind Mice. The work of a young man on a shoe-string with his friends in tow. He wrote, directed and acted in it. Sound familiar, Cassavetes fans? Newton ‘is proud to be classified as an independent filmmaker, and critical of a lot of films now that call themselves independent but aren’t.’ Cassavetes used to fund his genuinely independent movies with the money he made from mainstream film acting. [Interview in The Guardian] And Newton is quite right. ‘Indie’ is nothing more than a brand these days. A call to a certain type of customer. And the genuinely independent are few and far between. Nonetheless, we see a lot of them in Australia – lack of money and independence go together. Maybe Janis was talking about film makers when she sang that song.

The freedom this permits a director is inspiring to watch. This film could scarcely be more different from Bitter and Twisted, in which Newton played a role, both independently funded, both able to be themselves. And two incredibly worthwhile films result.

This, from Newton, might have come straight from Cassavetes’ mouth:

“I tried to write it so the dialogue is very natural, and every scene has multiple points of view,” he says.

“I didn’t want to make a hero-driven film, I wanted to make it multi-narrative in the sense that every character has their point of view and I wanted every character to treat the film like they’re the lead. I really wanted everyone to bring their own opinion and personality.” The Guardian

It’s a signal success. The dialogue is a fascinating combination of polished and impromptu, again in that Cassavetes mode, as is this: ‘…it was something of a guerilla production, filming at locations without proper permits. These locations show Sydney neighbourhoods that are not often seen on screen’, reminiscent of Gloria in particular.

Having said that, Newton has a classical education in films and one sees a passing homage to On The Town. But whereas that is a straightforward laugh a minute light comedy romance, Three Blind Mice is filmed in the shadows and nothing is predictable. More Cassavetes. Newton wants to lay bare how people are. The result is painful, exhilarating and sometimes gut-wrenching. The comedy is dark, sometimes sharply clever – like Jackie Weaver’s cameo lines, but it is strangely and brutally slapstick at times. The poker game and the scene at 2.30am – not to spoil it for those who seek it out are hilarious, but so black.

One viewer opined on IMBD that the film needed subtitles. Indeed, it was difficult enough for hardened Australians to pick up all the dialogue, let alone foreigners. Subtitles in the way Scottish shows in English sometimes have them may have been a good idea. And yet, although this was shown in film festivals around the world to acclaim, again Australia must hang its head in shame. It didn’t get a release here, even at so-called ‘independent’ cinemas. Eventually it got a few Friday nights at a cinema in Sydney.

I really want to burst into a foul-mouthed rant at that. It’s disgusting that such a wonderful movie as this, with a star-studded cast, could get treated this way. Matt Ravier on the now defunct indifilms.com.au wrote – and I reproduce in full what can be found via The Wayback Machine:

Matt Ravier reports from the 2008 Sydney Film Festival. Three Blind Mice is a confident and extremely promising debut for writer-director Matthew Newton and a treasure trove of local talent, both fresh and firmly established.

Apart from seeing him on stage in Tom Stoppard’s excellent Rock ‘n Roll, I’m not overly familiar with actor Matthew Newton’s work, nor that of his friends and colleagues. Perhaps if I were from around here I’d understand better why so many seemed to want them to fail (perhaps someone can enlighten me in the comments?). Many Australians seem to have a love-hate relationship with success. Is it that local audiences find it hard to recompense the work of clever, over-privileged white boys from the Eastern Suburbs? Rumour has it that amongst the five jury members, it was the three foreigners who pushed for the film to be awarded a special mention…

I found this tightly scripted semi-improvisational drama to be engrossing and ultimately quite moving. Clearly inspired by John Cassavettes (by way perhaps of Andrew Bujalski?), the film takes an old fashioned premise – three marines hitting the town for one last night before being shipped off to war – and makes it feel fresh and authentic thanks to vibrant, off-the-cuff dialogue and excitingly raw performances.

Unfolding over the course of one emotional night, the film follows three Royal Australian Navy soldiers as they attempt to get laid, bid goodbye to their city and make some sense of their life before it is put at risk in the Gulf.

Matthew Newton, Ewen Leslie and Toby Schmitz are excellent as the three buddies, allowing their characters – the party animal, the sensitive guy and the dark horse – to come of age over only a few hours without asking the audience to suspend disbelief. They are served by superbly written set pieces which come alive with the unadulterated spontaneity of authentic-sounding dialogue.

These exchanges, which occasionally overlap, randomly explode in blisteringly funny moments of dark comedy. Newton tackles some difficult personal issues with the lightest of touches. In this respect, he adopts a resolutely Australian tone, never too careful in his insistence not to take things too seriously.

Australian journalist and festival programmer Shane Danielsen had this to say about local competition entries Three Blind Mice and The Square:

“Though markedly dissimilar in style, what these two films shared was a fascination, bordering almost upon the forensic, with what it meant to be a man, and to live and act in a male-dominated world (…). For some of us, though, they offered hope that, after more than a decade in which Australian cinema – at least in its international manifestations – became synonymous with camp, caricature and superficiality, there was a willingness on the part of filmmakers to once again engage with something resembling real life, and to address actual human emotions. With nary a sequin or red velvet curtain in sight.”

Beyond this statement’s dubious undertones, I disagree with the implication that the unmentioned films alluded to here, in all their camp, sequined superficiality, weren’t also addressing notions of Australian masculinity, and engaging, under cover of spectacle, with the “actual human emotions” of this so-called “real life”.

Three Blind Mice wouldn’t know what to do with a velvet curtain, concerned as it is with the unadorned immediacy of the here and now. It’s a film about men coming to terms with their masculinity, sure, but first and foremost it’s a film about boys trying to find out what kind of decisions they want to be making as adults.

In any case there’s no disputing that the male protagonists of Three Blind Mice are recognizably Australian, and not very different from the blokes you and I may know and hang out with down the pub. Newton has given his characters depth without giving up their boy-next-door authenticity, and he’s given them complexity without compromising on their blokey nature.

We should be thankful for the energy and talent of Matthew Newton and his friends. A trip on the international festival circuit, where this kind of cinema is often taken a little more seriously than by Sydney’s cultural commentators, might wipe that smug smile off their face, but in the meantime they should be celebrating. This is the kind of Australian cinema we should get excited about.

Review by Matt Ravier

Not one nomination for the AFI Awards of the year? So says Glenn Dunks in November 2008.

Three Blind Mice Wins Awards in Britain, AFI Members Continue to Embarrass Themselves, World Turns for Another Day, etc

And as an AFI member myself – alas, I am only allowed to vote for Best Film, Best Documentary and the short film categories – it really hurts me to quite blatantly mock the institution that I pay good hard-earned money for, but it still continues to boggle the mind that Matthew Newton’s astoundingly good Three Blind Mice didn’t get a single nomination for this year’s AFI Awards. Won’t it be embarassing when (and I really do hope it’s a matter of “when” not “if”) Three Blind Mice becomes an international festival hit and it didn’t get a single nomination here? Oh wait… what’s that…?

Silly me, turns out that’s already happening! I was so excited today to see that the film has won (via) the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize at the London Film Festival. Shocking. A good movie (nay, a great movie) actually winning prizes. It’s times like that that remembering Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger and The Tender Hook scored nine AFI nominations between them really hurts. Newton’s film is sure to be remembered longer and more fondly than either of those films, yet because – one has to assume – Newton isn’t the most popular guy on the block these days he gets snubbed for movies that are nothing more than turgid dull-as-dishwater Mean Girls ripoffs.

The only solution I can think of is that Matthew Newton ditch Australia and head overseas to make any future products. It’s quite obvious that the “people who matter” don’t care for him and, at least, he would be appreciated overseas. Isn’t that the Australian thing to do anyway? And this time the media wouldn’t be able to persecute him for “ditching” Australia because, clearly, they ditched him a long time ago. And then, five or ten years in the future when people are scratching their heads as to where all the talent went from the Aussie film industry (or, hell, next year!) they can put the blame squarely at their own feet because they decided to dig for trash instead of taking the treasure that was staring them right in the face.

Also, in a much less mean-spirited but similarly-themed add-on, I must mention that Steve Jacobs’ upcoming Aussie film Disgrace won the same prize at the Toronto International Film Festival so things are perhaps actually looking on the up!

 

In August 2009 Glenn Dunks continued:

Shame
You won’t be getting much out of me today since I am still very sick – it’s going around, unfortunately – but I wanted to bring this article to your attention. It will only affect Australians, but it’s still a shameful indictment on the state of film distribution.

The matter at hand is the new Matthew Newton film Three Blind Mice will not even be receiving a release in Sydney, the film’s home.

IT HAS screened at 14 film festivals around the world, winning warm reviews and a critics’ award in London.

Yet when Matthew Newton’s feature film Three Blind Mice opens around Australia this month, it is unlikely to be shown in its home city of Sydney.

The distributor, John L. Simpson, said yesterday that the city’s arthouse cinemas had rejected Three Blind Mice as not commercial enough. ‘‘We’re not fooling ourselves – it’s not Titanic – but it’s an excellent film with a unique Australian voice,’’ he said.

“Excellent” is putting it mildly. It’s the best Aussie film of the year, yes even better than Samson & Delilah, so the raw deal this film keeps getting is both baffling, maddening and depressing. It screened as a part of the AFI screenings last year and was promptly snubbed in every category (for what? Unfinished Sky? No thank you!) and now it’s taken this long to even receive a release at all and now even that is in trouble. Such a shame. I really hope that eventually people do discover this movie and the immense talent within it. It’s a great and bold achievement, one that will sadly go unnoticed. I can only encourage everybody to see if it they notice it playing at a cinema near you. Hell, even if you have to travel a bit just go and see it!

Way down the track and Newton is in the news right now for stepping down as director of the movie Eva, written by him. His graceful statement accounting for this was made in August 2018:

“Yesterday I notified Jessica Chastain and the other producers on the film EVE that I will be stepping down as director. Since the announcement of this film, the responses, which are powerful and important, have not fallen on deaf ears. I am profoundly aware that I have a responsibility to lead where I have failed in the past. I can never undo the harm that I’ve caused the people I’ve cared about and I carry that shame and responsibility with me every day. Over the past eight years I have been working extensively with healthcare professionals to help me overcome my addiction and mental health illness. For the past six years I have lived a quiet and sober life. All I can do now is try to be a living amends and hopefully contribute to the positive change occurring in our industry.”

Not for the first time one wonders if the good motivations of this ‘movement’ have been lost to the social media bully syndrome. If this statement is true, it’s disgraceful that he is being forced to step down. It’s disgraceful that he gets no forgiveness, tolerance, opportunity to continue to make amends by doing what he does so well. If his statement is true, he deserves some credit, if not admiration, for being able to turn it around, and he could be a good example working in the industry, instead of being banished.

Reached for comment through his publicist, Newton said: “As I said in 2011, it is absolutely intolerable to harm women, it is intolerable to harm men, it is intolerable to harm anyone. I had done these things, and I utterly regret it, and I have to live with this responsibility every day. I had a severe problem with substance and alcohol abuse then and for almost six years now I have actively worked every single day, one day at a time, to remain sober and live a clean, upstanding life.” From early 2018

I sincerely hope this very talented person is not lost to the art of cinema. We will be the lesser for his absence.

The problem with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Just back from Vienna and pleased to report a thriving interest in movies. Lots of independent cinemas, a couple of film museums, young people at the cinema. Netflix hasn’t ruined the scene yet.

At a cinema near our hotel, we went to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. We came out thinking nice film, it’s quiet for a Tarantino movie, a lot of speculating about the meaning of life with the compulsory violence sequestered to a few short scenes. The next night we went back and saw Little Forest, a Korean movie, released in 2017. We came out thinking nice film, quiet, a lot of speculating about the meaning of life with a little violence towards the end in the form of a storm.

The point being that Once Upon a Time cost 90M+ to make, whilst Little Forest was 1.4M. Although Once Upon a Time made more millions, Little Forest made a much greater return for investment at far less risk. 346M vs 11.1M. Admittedly Once Upon a Time has only been released a few weeks ago, but as far as I understand it, that means it’s already available free (if illegally) online and probably nobody is paying for it anymore.

The other problem for Once Upon a Time is that you can make 64.2857142857 Little Forests for the same price. And frankly Once Upon a Time isn’t worth nearly 64.2857142857 x Little Forest. Indeed, I’d say they are equals.

Not that it isn’t a plea I’ve made a million times before, but we would be so much better off with 64.2857142857 Little Forests than one One Upon a Time. Just imagine a film scene where over the course of a year 64.2857142857 movies came out, let’s say mostly acceptable fare or better, the odd stinker. What happy little cinema campers we’d be. The industry would be thriving world-wide. The whole gamut from writers to techies would have any amount of work. We end up with a better economy, cinema’s impact reaching far, a better society, and less Hollywood spongers cruising the world in private jets telling other people what they have to do to stop global warming. That means you Leonardo di Caprio.

 

Netflix: a platform built on addiction

Get ’em addicted and make ’em pay. I have a lot of friends who are addicted to the ease of Netflix. It doesn’t seem to bother them that they are not in control of what they watch, that they are seeing it in inferior circumstances and most importantly how much it is costing them.

To a man they seem to think it is cheap. Think again, my friends. Add to the cost of the payment you directly make to Netflix, the fact that it is stealing enormous amounts of money which should be tax paid to Australia. Michael West and Jeffrey Knapp provide a detailed expose of this – A Netflix Original: Dreams of Theft Downunder – in the most recent edition of MW. You are supporting the bad guys if you support Netflix. It has turned you into its stooges. Talk about bread and circusses.

And think of Mark Thompson’s dire warning that the UK faces ‘total loss of cultural sovereignty’ if Netflix and its ilk aren’t stopped right now.

“A society which fails to provide its different communities and groups with the means to listen and come to understand each other’s pasts and presents shouldn’t be surprised if mutual incomprehension and division are the consequence. If you doubt that any of this connects to real-world politics and national well-being, you need to pay more attention.”

The former BBC boss said that during discussions in 2007 to launch the iPlayer streaming service, he met Netflix’s founder, Reed Hastings, who offered some stark advice: “I don’t know why you’re bothering Mark, you’ll never beat my algorithm. Why not just give us all your content instead?”

For a full report of this speech, see The Guardian. Of course it’s the same here in Australia.

My friends, do you not have enough self-respect to want to be something more than a bit in an algorithm? Netflix is an algorithm devised to make a huge amount of money from those who get trapped in it. Untrap yourselves please. Support local. Support paying tax in Australia. Support diversity. Tell Netflix to FUCK OFF back to America and stay there.

 

Muriel’s Wedding Oz movie #24 and The Castle Oz movie #25

Muriel’s Wedding
director: PJ Hogan
1994

The Castle
director: Rob Sitch
1997

What an odd juxtaposition these two are, available on the big screen as a Cult Screening at The Capri yesterday. That start, referring back to late June. I have agonised since then over writing this because I can see I’m the odd man out.

Every character in Muriel’s Wedding is gross. As I watched these awful people living their dreary lives I couldn’t understand why I’d expected it to be a comedy. IMBD and Wiki both call it a ‘comedy drama’, whatever that is and google goes for ‘drama romance’. I dunno. Was the romance the woman who took two men home, strangers, and had extremely loud sex with them? Or marrying a person for money because you aren’t going to get married any other way?

How depressing that running away to Sydney, with that ghastly flat mate as mentor is coming good. The only decent men are the two gang-bangers, who are so anxious to make sure the little nerdy guy isn’t doing something untoward to Muriel. That makes sense, girls.

It’s impossible to like anybody in Muriel’s Wedding and impossible not to like everybody in The Castle. The movies are a great contrast for how you can make the same material, the same human characters endearing or repulsive. And yet, noting that voting for the Adelaide Film Festival last year saw these movies rated one and two, I suspect that’s because the usual viewer sees them as the same. This really hurts me. I went with a friend who hated Muriel’s Wedding when it first came out and wondered if things will have changed for her. Well they didn’t.

Except we are agreed on this. Let’s suppose we are right. Let’s suppose that we don’t have to love Muriel’s world the way we love The Castle’s. Let’s suppose it is meant to be rotten to the core, every last bit of it. That if it had a narrator, he would not have had anybody to whom to say that he was worth the rest of them put together.

I wish Muriel’s Wedding would have a different audience some time. One that sees it for the horrifying side of Australian life it is. Instead of the reception it had in Adelaide last year, where it filmed as a sing-a-lot. I’m shaking my head in disbelief.

As for The Castle. May it last a million years. May aliens see it and understand human life from watching it.

There. I can see that most people reading this will have to defriend me or something. Okay. At least I can more on, now that I’ve unburdened myself, more Oz movies to come.

Independent cinemas in Geneva

Here in Geneva they rue how few independent cinemas there are these days. Australian film lovers would, however, be envious of  how many there are. This list shows only Pathe as commercial chain cinemas. The rest are all independent and they number 12 establishments, some with more than one screen. We’re a bit excited as Nord-Sud is our local and it’s about to open after 18 months of renovation. They are starting out with a week of some of the best movies on during their closure at 5CHF a ticket…at which price we are thinking of rewatching Cold War.

The independents all club together to provide a discount card. It costs 30CHF (about $45AUD) and that reduces the price/ticket from 16CHF to 10CHF. It doesn’t take long, in other words, to get the investment back.

Star amongst them is The Grutli, an arthouse complex of two theatres and two cinemas. It does a lot of retrospectives and indeed, it was one last summer that set me on the road of immersing myself in Australian cinema. The retrospective was of Cassavetes, but it was so easy to see his impact on Australian film makers, that the segue was irresistible.

In news just to hand, I repeat a story google translated from a local newspaper:

Plaza cinema will not be destroyed

The Wilsdorf Foundation has bought the building housing the old dark room. It will be again devoted to the seventh art. This is a dramatic twist: the Plaza Cinema, destined to be destroyed to give way to offices and parking, was saved after many years of fighting. The website tdg.ch reveals Wednesday that the Wilsdorf Foundation, owner of Rolex, has bought the building located in the district of Chantepoulet. The price of the transaction was not disclosed, but according to the Geneva site, a sum of around 100 million francs had been articulated by the defenders of cinema four years ago.
The building will be donated to a daughter foundation in Wilsdorf.This, chaired by Jean-Pierre Greff, director of the High School of Art and Design (HEAD) will revive the seventh art in the room once the building has been renovated.

Good news for us since it is a two minute walk from our apartment. But to show how things are, there are two empty independent cinemas within five minutes’ walk. The Broadway closed down in 2010 and Cinema Central in 2012. One has been empty for at least 10 years, the other for 9. One of the strange things about living in Geneva is how desperately hard it is to find places to live, and yet how many buildings are empty, often for years. One might think a people as sensible as the Swiss would do something about this.

The Plaza cinema apparently seated over 700 people and was abandoned in 2013. That surprises me since I try to keep abreast of cinema here and missed this one on my doorstep?  Anyway, greatly looking forward to its reopening, but things move so slowly in Switzerland, I’m not holding my breath.

 

 

Somersault Oz movie #23

Somersault
director: Cate Shortland
2004

I hope I’m not the only viewer who was plain irritated by Three Billboards and that thing where all these old unattractive men were hitched to young beautiful women. One of them was Abbie Cornish.

Here, in Somersault, her extraordinary beauty, a beauty that manages to be profound despite Heidi’s awareness of it and her intention to exploit it, is essential. It was Shortland’s first feature movie, and she used two unknowns, Cornish and Sam Worthington as the leads. If this was a gamble, she won the jackpot, causing one subsequent reviewer to say:

There is something else that Cate Shortland has achieved that so often eludes Australian film-makers. She appears to be extremely savvy when it comes to marketing her film. People are talking about Somersault. There’s a buzz that is more usually reliant on the involvement of at least one high profile actor. I’ve read more articles and seen more interviews about this film than I cannot remember having seen for similar Australian films made on a similar budget. Ruth Williams

The Me Too movement makes all women victims and all men bad. One of the things I love about this film is that Heidi is more or less in control throughout. There isn’t one encounter she has with men that isn’t of her own doing. We are talking about a sixteen year old. She sees life and herself through sex/men and only through sex/men. Nothing terrible ever happens to her throughout the trouble she invites.

In a powerful turn, Cornish creates a character who’s seductive yet brittle, with a knack for luring young men into situations where they almost have to hurt her. Scott Tobias

For me, the film and this interpretation of the promiscuous young girl, ran utterly true. It was like my childhood. Perhaps we need a different sort of ‘Me Too’ thing for some of us.

For an academic commentary of Somersault go here.

For comments by Shortland, Cornish and Worthington go here.

Shortland on Heidi: “Sometimes the film is quite dark but then I think of Heidi and she is surrounded by light. She is a survivor, resilient and tough skinned. She expects to be hurt so nothing can harm her.” Interview with Emanuel Levy.

Somersault made a killing in the AFI awards of 2004 and you can see that here.