AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL (DA XIANG XI DI ER ZUO) [2019]


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With a debut film that clocks in at 3 hours and 40 minutes, it is safe to say that Hu Bo was confident in his vision: a focused and calculated piece that creates an instantly noticeable visual statement. Bo doesn’t have much hope for his country, his perception and visual creation of modern China is far from flattering. Using the concept of four characters whose paths cross.

This splintered group of four don’t exactly possess deep personalities, but they do all have obvious, basic moral qualities, or lack thereof, which shine brighter than any backstory in a film of this nature. Three of the four characters are young, two high school students and a young man who looks in his late 20’s or early 30’s. The fourth is a much older man, a grandfather of one of the students. All four combine to act as the moving parts of a film that is far more than the political commentary it initially feels like, as each of these four are hurting deeply in varying ways, living within a small town in China, if it could be called a town, far away from any city.

A strangely moving film – it becomes clear that the four main characters aren’t as shallow as it first seems: most of their actions aren’t explained, while nearly every scene involves only one of the four as they wander while trying to figure out where their life is going.

It isn’t long until we realise that these characters’ positive traits contrast sharply with the area that they call home: a crumbling part of China looking more like a demolition zone, as if it has recently been bombed with only the ugly remnants of war remaining. The consistent drab colour palette and general dilapidated state of the unnamed town is a constant due to the way the film is shot. 

Taking place almost in real-time, covering a 12-hour period, nearly all of these separate scenes for each character are captured with stunning grace using only a handicam with little to no cuts – that is, until the next scene begins and the next character takes the screen. There is a definite similarity to László Nemes’  Son of Saul as a large chunk of these long takes are shot over a character’s right shoulder as we see the ruins they are seeing, the garbage that is piling up, or we see their face reacting to each situation. The use of focus, or the lack of it, is also used well for opposite reasons, as if to hide exact details, while putting the main character in question in sharp focus, highlighting their selfishness or their tendency to daydream.

What is truly unforgettable about this tour de force of camerawork are the close-ups mentioned: very long, staring into the character, they truly test each actors’ skill given the length of these unbroken, lengthy shots, allowing the actors’ faces to tell a story. Each of the four display their deep talent without fail.


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There are no fantastical or bombastic sequences to be found, rather each character goes through a psychological test: that is, to overcome their situations that are represented by the crumbling area they inhabit. The young male, Wei Bu, earns the ire of the young adult Yu Cheng after trying to defend a friend from bullying, leading to drastically unplanned results. Yu Cheng is now searching for Wei, as in the absence of work, he has become the head of a small-time crime syndicate that is one of many parts that make up the ruinous world depicted. Meanwhile, the older gentleman, Wang Jin, is forced out of his offspring’s two bedroom house due to a lack of room and food, despite sleeping on their balcony.

Notably, apart from a few brief scenes involving parents (or the adult offspring of Wang Jin), there is an obvious lack of middle-aged characters, only four confused souls who are trying to make the best of the situations handed to them. A very deliberate choice by the first-time writer/director/editor, as the mostly young characters are lost and unsure which turn to take. They all exhibit an obvious sense of aimlessness and uncertainty, the latter applying to China in many ways from the eyes of ‘millenials’. That issue however is a long, long essay for another day.

The older man’s situation also finds itself serving as another metaphor, as now that his children need him to move out, the only option is to enter an aged-care facility years earlier than appropriate. He feels as if he is losing his dignity, much like he has lost the China he once knew and identified with. He now faces the prospect of feeling stuck in this facility, much like he is stuck in an industrialised, semi-capitalist society that that is foreign to him and far from the China he knew.

Word begins to spread about an ‘Elephant who never moves’, at a zoo in a town to the north. In meticulous fashion, interest in this slowly spreads among all four characters, despite only young  student Wei truly believing it. As all four are stuck in an almost dead city, their lives becoming harder while simultaneously losing meaning, the possibility of a elephant standing still calls to them. If something that large can stay inanimate, perhaps it could put their problems in perspective, to keep these issues from metastasising and haunting them. Unfortunately , no one knows anything certain. And so, only the possibility of an odd, symbolic type of closure remains, in a town that the train does not travel to.

So why go to look for something that may not exist, in a difficult place to reach? There is no answer, but surely at least a hundred symbolic/metaphorical reasons. Perhaps the inanimate giant is China itself, the biggest country in the world that in many regards isn’t moving forward, while rapidly doing so elsewhere, principally in big cities. 

Whether there is a meaning, or it is simply a giant, lazy animal that is an anomaly among other elephants, no one has a cent of certainty as to whether the zoo exists, not to mention a frozen elephant. And ultimately, it seems this is what lies at the film’s core. Complete and utter uncertainty, one of humanity’s most horrid feelings. Worse though is feeling this way while the home around you is devoid of hope.

The final scenes are very much open to interpretation, and unexpectedly, the first credit after the final scene is that the film is dedicated to the director himself, as not long after the film was finished, he took his own life. 

Perhaps this film is far from fiction, rather a suicide note detailing why he took his life at only 29. Regardless, a debut feature of such scope, at such a young age, is a remarkable achievement, and it is a tragedy that this talent’s suicide is essentially the end of the film. Astonishing and unforgettable, it is easily one of the best movies of 2019. 

Rest in Peace, Mr. Hu Bo. 


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PAIN AND GLORYU (Dolor y gloria) [2019]


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Pain and Glory is more than the title of Pedro Almodóvar’s 2019 film, and more than a simple dichotomy; it is a consistent motif that in the film and is probably the most succinct way to describe human existence, not to mention the highs and lows of creating art. This concept runs through the film’s veins, and unsurprisingly, Spanish stalwart Antonio Banderas creates a complex and detailed depiction of his director, his haunted character is the beating heart of this passionate film.

A successful director in the past, Salvador Mallo has stopped writing films for a number of reasons, most due to his health. But he has also lost the will to create, the glory of completing a project, seeing it succeed, has vanished. Pain is now all he feels. 

In an oddly effective animated sequence, he narrates the numerous ailments that have stolen his creative spirit and his ability to complete a film. The list of his problems is extensive, which certainly put my own problems into perspective. Most crippling for him is back-pain and extreme headaches that force him to sit in darkness, wearing sunglasses.

It is a cruel twist in his life after such success as a filmmaker, he now experiences little more than constant pain. “I am miserable not rolling” he muses at one stage, but his body refuses to allow it, which in turn has affected his spirit. 

A slither of glory manifests itself via a phone call from ‘The Film Library’, who consider a film of his to be a classic. They want Salvador to co-present the screenings with the lead actor, Alberto Crespo. It seems they don’t know that Salvador hasn’t spoken to Alberto in over 30 years since the film was released. He has held a grudge against Alberto for this long simply because when shooting the film, Alberto was taking heroin, essentially the opposite of what Salvador wanted for the character, who was written as a cocaine addict. This infuriated Salvador so much that he admits he wanted to kill him, and three decades have flown by without any contact.

Having held a grudge for so long over a relatively trivial matter quietly tells us the type of man Salvador is: stubborn, and a perfectionist regarding the films he made. This grudge he holds shows us his obsession with making films, an obsession that has been taken away from him.

The offer means that he must go see Alberto to ask if he will present the film with him, after 30 years. Understandably, Alberto isn’t exactly happy to see him, but eventually invites him in as the two reminisce about the the past. Alberto brings out some heroin, or ‘horse’, telling Salvador that he can do it in a different room if he wants. Unexpectedly, Salvador asks if he can try it for the first time. After smoking some, he closes his eyes and lies back. These are often moments where we see scenes of Salvador as a young, intelligent child capable of teaching people how to read and write, painting a picture of the type of child he was.

Heroin is an opiate, like most painkillers. He finds that it calms his crippling headaches, but of course this is why it is so easy to become an addict, as they numb the pain that makes life a miserable existence, both physically and mentally. It soon becomes a very real worry that Salvador will find himself in this position.

This strand of the film is just one part of a final act that is memorable and extremely emotional. Revelations of his young adulthood hook the viewer, as this is a period of his life that hasn’t been explored. It is incredibly powerful; Pain and Glory must be the most moving drama of 2019. Pedro has crafted one of his best films, if not the best, in his long career. We can only pray that it isn’t his final creation given the direction of the film. 


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LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (DI QIU ZUI HOU DE YE WAN) [2018]


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Ghosts and fractured memories roam freely in this sprawling, two-part saga that tugs on the strings of time itself. We follow Hongwu Luo, a quiet, unassuming man who is looking for a lost lover and a lost friend. Puzzles pile upon puzzles in this cryptic narrative, one that occasionally approaches the line of the surreal but never crosses it thanks to the consistently assured direction by Bi Gan. The complexity/ambiguity of the narrative is compounded by an intentional sense of confusion surrounding Luo’s situation: unreliable memories haunt him and soon the line between dream, nightmare or memory begin to vanish. These scenes are convincingly presented as conventional flashbacks: one of many methods in which writer/director Bi Gan intentionally affects his story via its visual presentation.

While Luo is looking for his lost lover, early he sees a woman who he swears he knows, but she isn’t the woman he is looking for. Not long after we see intimate memories of Luo with this same woman who seems to be a reflection of his lost lover; the subtle yet effective use of mirrors makes this clear. The woman of his dreams, both literally and figuratively, is connected with the criminal underworld, yet this doesn’t stop him. He still wants her in his dreams, which have now taken on the quality of fantasy.

At times it is easy to feel that a few extra details regarding Luo’s journey may be of benefit. However, Bi Gan is obviously more concerned with presentation that narrative, as the way the film is presented visually suggests the ambiguity and lack of concrete detail is a calculated, intentional choice. His obvious fascination with camera placement and technique occasionally flows seamlessly into the story itself.


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Subsequently, Long Day is shot in an incredibly deliberate manner, each movement of the camera eye-catching, while each time it is static, it seems to be perfectly placed, evoking memories of Tarkovsky and those who followed as it presents images that one could frame. Gan has meticulously constructed a visually entrancing and intoxicating film. As well as the camerawork, many scenes are also constructed to relate to the story at hand, albeit in a rather cryptic fashion. The most pertinent examples of this is the aforementioned use of mirrors, as well as the camera’s occasional but deliberate obstruction of characters or action. The latter aligns well with the editing style: many scenes end before an expected climax, such as a gunshot, or a kiss. It also echoes much of Luo’s search that is filled with roadblocks and obstructions that may or may not be of his own doing. The sumptuous visuals cannot be stressed enough considering its intent to directly connect to the story being told.

It is unsurprising then that the film opens with a colourful, hypnotic scene as Luo talks about lucid dreams: a dream where one is aware that they are in fact in a dream and can therefore control their actions within it. This short scene is followed by a few more credits, after which we are transported into the confusing world of Luo and his possibly aimless journey. Some of the recurring motifs tell a small story, though these only ever reveal small connections, unless you are a very astute viewer with a notebook. The motifs then offer little help to deconstruct the narrative.

Considering Luo’s words in the opening scene however, he could easily be in a dream that he is in control of, hence his determination to find a woman who is probably dead and his utter confusion as to what exactly his end goal is. Or is he simply a lost man who doesn’t know the destination of his own journey, nor the important reasons for it, which would certainly explain the lack of detail offered to the viewer. 

Given the small scale of his first film, Gan’s second feature is massive: the list of credits show just how many people were working on set. Moreover, the scale and ambition of only his second film is not only gutsy, it is successful, despite the few fragments of logic that are to be found. Long Day’s Journey Into Night also succeeds in hiding the fact that not only is this is a sophomore effort, the director is only 30 years of age!

Oh, did I mention there is a near hour-long single take that makes up the entire second part of the film? No? The unbroken shot, much like 1917, is never over-stylised or distracting (I am looking directly at you, Birdman), and consequently its presentation draws the viewer into Luo’s journey as if we are an invisible, ever-silent character watching his confused journey in real-time. 

The second part of the film is simultaneously different and the same as the first. The near-hour long single take looks nothing like the first part, but both are amazing to look at. Luo is still looking for someone, and in this unbroken shot he meets two women who appeared in the first part of the film, except they are now different people entirely: an almost Lynchian construct. Not only that, this ambitious production manages to land on two feet: with both a satisfying conclusion and a desire to watch the 120-plus minute film again, immediately. Exuding a unique mood thanks to both the screenplay and the camerawork, Long Day’s Journey is a near-miracle as the young director successfully pulls together a film that could easily have been an utter mess. A promising future certainly awaits Gan and it is hard to deny that he deserves it.


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THE TWO POPES [2019]

As always, many thanks to Courtney of Cinemaaxis.com.

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This story may revolve around Catholicism and its traditions and beliefs, but the film transcends this framework and, incredibly, manages to avoid any political bias. The airtight script creates a consistent, relaxed tone: the chemistry between Pryce and Hopkins – Pope Benedict and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio respectively – is instantly at the fore despite their conversations bouncing from one issue to another, mostly revolving around the issues Benedict has with many of the statements and stances Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio has made. Pope Benedict is a deeply conservative man; the direct opposite of Bergoglio, whose ideas are far more progressive, and his desire to remain a cardinal is waning. Slowly over the course of the film though, these disagreements are put aside and a friendship slowly begins to form. Then the crux of the narrative arrives – Pope Benedict is resigning from the Papacy due to scandals that are unspecified in the film: it again deftly avoids taking a side. Artistic license is used whimsically as the script again generates interesting and witty conversation that never ceases to be engaging, or interesting, or funny! 

The Pope invites Borgoglio to the Vatican for a second time, and again their chemistry is obvious as they slowly become relaxed in each others company. There is a surprising amount of understated humour that, while it won’t have you clutching your stomach in laughter, it will bring a smile to your face many times; it is a consistently pleasant movie. While not religious personally, religion has always fascinated me. The traditions we do see here unfortunately have one wondering how accurate it all is. The process of voting for a new Pope is somehow quite tense, a testament to how the entire film has been put together. We will never know how close the film is to the truth, but the reality is that an immensely entertaining film has, somehow, been created surrounding two popes. 

Hopkins and Pryce are flawless, their performances indicative of their experience, both displaying a range of emotions, especially Hopkins. The many close-ups emphasise this. Both performances are the most convincing acting I have seen all year, and without both actors, I doubt this film would exist. Regardless of faith or lack thereof, this is a film to see! The core story of a friendship blooming from an unlikely place is fun to watch. Don’t forget the scenes that begin at the start of the credits either; they are priceless and represent the theme of the film perfectly. Fernando Meirelles and Anthony McCarten have created a brilliant film, another stellar release on Netflix. Regardless of one’s faith, or lack thereof, The Two Popes‘ story of a friendship blooming from an unlikely place can be enjoyed by anyone.


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IN FABRIC [2018]


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There are several strands that make up  In Fabric, some making perfect sense, others incredibly disturbing –  the film uses nightmare logic, where the opposite of what makes sense is exactly what happens. To begin however, the world we see looks quite normal. A single mother in her 50’s is looking at ‘Lonely Hearts’ ads to find someone, since she is now separated from her husband. This is what leads her to a particular clothing store; the TV advertises a sale at a clothing shop in a thoroughly hypnotic way: 80’s looking colours and synths drench the ad, drawing her in. She decides that this is the shop she can find something for a possible date. Arriving at the shop, the saleswoman appears, looking inhuman, wearing a strange looking dress and an intense stare. Eerie makeup and a huge head of hair complete her villainous persona. She could very well come from a David Lynch film. The store has only has the one dress that Sheila likes, but it isn’t her size. This woman encourages her to try it, speaking in riddles and proverbs. Sheila somehow fits perfectly into it the dress to the woman’s delight. She asks for her full details, as well as what the dress is for. Sheila hesitantly tells her of the date she is going on. Telling her that her dates’ name is ‘‘Adonis”, the woman replies by telling her without doubt that Adonis will compliment her dress, that is after she spins more poetic sounding lines that have a hint of passive-aggressiveness to them. Confusion seems to be her goal as she sells the dress to Sheila. Despite some teasing from her son, Sheila goes to her first date a little more confident wearing the dress. However, unlike what she was told in the store, the date is the epitome of awful, as a completely disinterested man sits across from her, staring at a menu, not noticing her dress at all. All he says is an ambiguous comment that she doesn’t look like she did in her picture. Still staring at the menu, Sheila tries to make conversation with him, and Adonis consistently gives her one word answers, the type of answers that can drive any person insane if they are trying to meet someone new like this. He ends up frustrated, asking her if her questions are some kind of exam. She backs off and orders her food. The rest of the date isn’t shown, the awkwardness of it is left to us to ruminate on. When Sheila gets home she finds that a nasty rash has formed on her upper chest. She then throws the dress into the washing machine, which shakes and vibrates around the laundry, somewhat reminiscent of the refrigerator scene in Requiem for a Dream, though this is somehow more disturbing as the washer continues to jump around despite being unplugged, and Sheila is badly hurt trying to stop it. She knows that something isn’t right with the dress, that it has a past of some sort which she eagerly tries to find clues about. Still though, she keeps the dress and the nightmare logic begins to take over. At her job, she is called in to see her managers, who condescendingly compliment her hard work, but they have a problem with her handshake. They also take issue with her bathroom habits, leaving Sheila again confused and upset. Life at home also takes odd twists, her life now seems to be spiralling out of control. The dress is a constant motif, appearing throughout – sometimes floating of its own accord, sometimes simply being worn, though it becomes malicious as it moves easily by itself. It is also of a very strange nature, not just because it is flying around, it even moves in rhythm with the sounds of Sheila’s son and his girlfriend having sex. The dress then is obviously haunted, which is what Sheila yearns to find out.


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In Fabric isn’t subtle in its social commentary, essentially making it clear through conversation, however conversation may be the wrong word, as the saleswoman talks at Sheila with more profound sounding nonsense about the quality and pride in being a consumer. Meanwhile, the very first scene is telling, which sees Sheila is in tears out of view, but when called to assist a customer, she is quickly ushered right back to her seat without thought. And what is her job? A bank teller. Sheila does once try to return the dress, to the disgust of the woman there, while on her way out – still with the dress – an older man who the woman constantly consults with talks to Sheila as she tries to leave, he also talking in riddles, mentioning consumerism and the importance of it. This importance plays out: Sheila doesn’t really try to get rid of the cursed thing, her new purchase, hew new possession to keep her happy.  But the story is not a pleasant one, emphasised by the effectively nightmarish organic editing and effective but limited use of slow motion and sudden fast moments. This all makes for a film that is easily the most ‘Lynchian’ movie created in some time, if ever, which is no small compliment. It isn’t difficult to figure out what Strickland is saying, but this is far from the point. These comments on consumerism, and capitalism in general, are ideas that are second to how Strickland uses the real word concepts to create his very, very warped idea of potential consequences for such actions: greed being the most pertinent as we see customers excited and unable to wait for the doors of the shop to open, rushing into the store to find a bargain, acting irrationally, which is unfortunately a realistic phenomenon. Contrasting the happiness of the shoppers, the most memorable moments are extremely disturbing body horror scenes that are legitimately, sexually repulsive. The old man and woman have a very strange obsession with mannequins, which of course plays into the film’s overall message. The nightmare doesn’t cease, as it’s nightmare logic continues to dictate what happens. The film itself could be a real-life nightmare of the entire western world, as we buy and consume when what don’t need, but the rush of a new purchase cannot be denied. The fact this is a nightmare is somewhat confirmed, as every time a dream is brought up, it is referred to in an unnatural way: a ‘sleeping dream’, as opposed to a living nightmare, which In Fabric certainly is. These ‘sleeping dreams’ are clearly nightmares considering how they are presented. This constant hallucinatory presentation is a definite priority over the film’s comments on consumerism, though of course both elements combined is why the film works as well as it does; the engrossing, and intensely gross, consequences make it near-impossible to not think, a little at least, about what we buy and whether we needed it.


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MONOS [2019]


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Writer/director Alejandro Landes dives head first into the disturbingly real world issue of child soldiers, a subject that hasn’t been seen too often in cinema and it’s easy to see why given how confronting Monos is. Rather than creating any sort of clear narrative for the young soldiers, Landes focuses firmly on atmosphere and mood to convey the experiences such children/young teenagers are forced to endure, and is forever ambiguous on details. This creates an sense of confusion that mirrors the psyche of the child soldiers. This deliberate decision to focus on the presentation of Monos paints a haunting picture of what such kids experience when raised to be soldiers. A protagonist is never focused on, nor are they even given real names, rather they are known by nicknames such as Boom Boom, Dog, Rambo and the like. Both choices are incredibly dehumanising. We aren’t watching humans, nor do we have a main character to follow and learn about. This all seems fitting for a film where teenagers wielding assault rifles are given military orders, but the childish nature still a part of each can clash with the very adult missions they are tasked with, the most important of which is to guard a prisoner of war who is being held for ransom. Landes intently generates dangerous and difficult situations for Monos, including the aforementioned responsibility of keeping a prisoner, a concept that that some don’t seem to truly understand. Subsequently, they struggle to make rational and logical decisions when one must be made; they are simply too young to understand the nuances of the orders they are taking. This is reflected in how the young soldiers of Monos (Spanish for monkeys) behave: often impulsively without prior thought, most confused and disorientated.


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Despite the tough front these unfortunate young souls try to establish, at times their true self is revealed when a tough exterior shatters. Adding further to the sense of confusion are basic facts that are never revealed. How old are they? Where are they? Probably somewhere in South America somewhere given its appearance and the director’s heritage, but we are never explicitly told. Nor do we ever learn how they ended up a part of this group, this last fact dehumanising them further. It is subtly implied in one scene that the character named Boom Boom was raised to be the ideal soldier, but this is the most we ever learn on a factual level. The emotive acting by these non-professional young actors allow us to see what they are feeling, what is swimming in their minds. The rather aimless nature of the group is an ideal analogy for what surely is, at least in part, a sense felt by kids in these situations. Too young to grasp the gravity of what they are doing, they are lost and indeed aimless as they try to comprehend what it is that they need to be doing. To compensate, they try to delude themselves into thinking what they are doing is right, especially the squad leader, which unsurprisingly has the opposite effect. When an offensive attack by their enemies, unnamed of course, they are forced into a forest to hide and to continue their imprisonment of Doctora (who interestingly is the only character whose real name is used). The situation proceeds in an increasingly scattered fashion during the second half of the film, steadily becoming reminiscent of Lord of the Flies; the young group decide to establish their own idea of order. The threadbare framework of order that originally existed falls from existence as the film becomes almost surreal as events begin to defy belief. But the emotive screenplay and disturbing, exhausting and realistic emotional ride keep this from spiralling into any type of a mess. The steady yet varied, picturesque camerawork and use of colour indicate changes in where the film is going as Mica Levi’s score breathes up and down with the film and disorientates, using the juxtaposition of dark synth waves and strangely effective type of innocent sounding whistling. This level of contrast is also eminent in the many shots of the teenagers as silhouettes. Landes’ focus on this and nearly everything but a concrete story not only depicts what it might be like for teenagers finding themselves in this position, but it is the core reason that Monos is one of the most striking, haunting films of 2019. 


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THE LIGHTHOUSE [2019]


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To say that The Lighthouse is unique and unlike any film in recent memory is a hard notion to dismiss, whether you enjoyed it or hated it. This nightmare-inducing piece of art is a rarity, a gift from the goddess of film, and as such, its delicious platter of audio-visual immersion is to be experienced rather than something to simply watch. It is slow,. the plot thin, but given every other aspect of the movie is perfect, the simple narrative becomes a non-factor.

The thin plot is this: two men travel to a remote island to watch over and maintain the lighthouse that stands there. There isn’t much more to add.  But the film has other ideas and adds so much it is almost overwhelming.

Willem Dafoe plays Thomas, an older man who enjoys his drink and consequently has a manner of speech that almost makes him unrecognisable, his words sometime impossible to make out. 

Robert Pattinson, who is proving to be one of the best American actors working prolifically, plays the younger Winslow. He has a slightly shy demeanour and at first is weary of Thomas. But as he learns more about about him, he stands up to the casual insults thrown his way. Most importantly though, neither of their personalities are static.

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Both men slowly lose important personality traits, moral beliefs and values that are sucked away by… what? The lighthouse itself? The ghosts of sailors who now reside inside many seagulls, according to Thomas that is. Maybe the mermaid that Winslow saw but never confessed to Thomas stole their personalities.

Whatever it is that causes their drastic change in personality, neither seem to realise it. Appropriately then, the two men gradually develop new beliefs and values. But these alterations are far from positive: as some of the changes mirror the events developing on the island and in and around the lighthouse itself, as if possessed. Whatever the case may be, the character development is uniquely strong and importantly, it is believable, regardless of the dark atmosphere that is slowly building, aided by many choices by the filmmaker. 

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The theme of utter isolation, among others, can be enough to drive any person crazy. This isolation is not simply an emotional or societal feeling, though these are certainly present. More importantly though is the geographical isolation of the small island. These different types of isolation play a part in where the film will move forward.

When the two finally realise just how isolated they are, unable to see anything but the ocean stretching past the horizon in every direction, the tone as well as the soundtrack changes appropriately. The lighthouse that they have been maintaining, perched on this small island, suddenly looks fragile despite the consistent sound of its horn: a deep and unsettling sound that literally sounds like the death of a giant whale.

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This physical isolation is brilliantly captured by Eggers and his DP Jarin Blasch both when the two men see the light of the lighthouse in the distance, eventually followed by the building and island coming into view. Even more effective is when the boat that brought them to the island sails away into the distance and eventually disappears over the horizon.

It isn’t long until the feeling of loneliness and isolation wash over the immaculately shot black and white film while using the rare 1.19:1 ‘Movietone’ ratio used only in the late ‘20’s and early 30’s when film transitioned from silence to sound – this maybe is another nod to the events of the film: It begins in a peaceful manner, but events march downhill as the two men become far from silent. They are stranded, and a heavy thunderstorm that is again not silent prevents the boat due to pick them up.

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This cramped ratio also creates an eerie feeling of claustrophobia and impending doom, as if the wide black bars down either side of the screen are going to move inwards, crushing everything until the movie ceases to exist. While the film takes place in the 1800’s, it is a 2019 release that looks 80 years old, further separating it from anything else.

All the relatively different techniques used add layer upon layer of atmosphere that surround the island and the two men; an atmosphere thicker than tar. The two men try to decide what they will do given their ride back home isn’t coming anytime soon. As the storm somehow becomes worse, the interactions between the two men become magnetic and impossible not to watch. The chemistry they share couldn’t be more palpable.

This film is very reminiscent of old Ingmar Bergman films in some regards, specifically The Hour of the Wolf, and to a lesser extent, Persona: as all three are dripping with an overwhelming feeling of dread, with characters becoming unsure of reality itself as well as their own personalities.

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The Lighthouse though separates itself from these Bergman films, and almost anything else it could be compared to, thanks to the final act, which uses the soundtrack perfectly to amplify the final scenes, these final tracks a perfect companion to the incredibly tense and unsettling last act.

Classical type instruments are turned on their head and are used to create an audible nightmare. This, combined with sudden, loud crescendos using high, dissonant chords are perfect for the job.

The composer of this soundtrack, Mark Korven, must be praised for this work, each track ideal for the scene(s) that it accompany , such as those above, as well as early tracks which incorporate that deep, dark sound of the lighthouse horn, almost a warning of what is to come.

Listen to it without the film, and you will hear what is essentially classical music written to sound like a gift for Satan himself.

A shout out must go to the awesome Thomas J of digitalshortbread.com, who made me aware of this film and assured me that I would love it. Well, I owe you a thank you mate, as yet again you were spot on. In your review you seemed certain that this will sit atop your favourite films of the year, and I must concur. It is a perfect film. Your mention of his next project has already got me excited too. Only two films, and the man has achieved perfection. Whatever comes next, I shall be first in line.


Fun fact: The lighthouse and living quarters next to it were built from scratch specifically for this film.


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MARRIAGE STORY [2019]


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Noah Baumbach returns to the subject of divorce after first exploring the premise in The Squid and the Whale (2005), albeit from a different perspective both within the film and himself as a writer. His new offering centres around a couple who are on the road to divorce, Charlie and Nicole, featuring two virtuoso performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson who combine to drive home the realism of nearly every scene. 

This unfortunate yet all-too-common process is closely examined in all its gritty detail, but preventing the film from being an exercise in depression is a healthy dose of Baumbach’s unique style of humour, not to mention a slightly eccentric family that again feels very Baumbach-like. He has always been very adept at creating memorable characters and this is no different. His characters usually have flaws or oddities that aid in his work feeling human; oddly though, the principle exception is couples’ son, Henry. 

Despite being caught in the middle of his parents separation, Henry isn’t a major part of the film either. It feels intentional, a realistic look at how children often take a backseat when their parents’ issues consume all else.

Considering the subject explored, this appropriately is a film of contrasts: the realisation of how different Charlie and Nicole are, heated arguments that can suddenly morph into laughter (or tears). The manner in which their divorce proceeds being the opposite of what they initially agreed on. Among others, there is the obvious difference between the couples’ aspirations: Charlie wants to continue directing plays in New York, while Nicole wants to pursue an acting career in California, a career she had already started until she put it on hold to be with and perform in Charlie’s productions. 

It feels apt then that the very first moments are at odds with all that is to follow: in tones of voice that have subtle touches of affection, we hear both Charlie and Nicole read a list of everything they like about each other. It is a touching introduction as both have many positive things to say. 

The way this introduction is constructed adds to the instant connection we feel to the couple: the emotion conveyed as both lists are read is heightened by homely scenes that rhythmically mirror what is being said. The small details of each letter highlight probably highlight the reasons that originally brought the two together, flaws included.

However, the first scene directly after Nicole’s list about Charlie is heartbreaking, as what they read was simply an exercise that a marriage counsellor of sorts asked them to complete. The fact they were asked to write the list rather than their words being shared of their own volition shatters the illusion of attachment that had been created, and in its place becomes the very opposite. 

The intimate understanding of family dynamics and strained relationships is obvious, the searing realism of their relationship unravelling is almost disturbing, especially if, like myself, you are a child of divorce. If we are honest though, this understanding of family-driven roller-coasters has been Baumbach’s forte for years, a talent that has only improved.

Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Julia Greer as Nicole’s mother (who Charlie amusingly seems to be best friends with) all excel in bringing their characters to life and every member of the cast share perfect chemistry. Johansson is at her best since 2013’s Under The Skin after a few lack-lustre years within Marvel’s Universe.

Adam Driver however has been the definition of consistent for years now, starring in other vastly different roles for directors such as Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Terry Gilliam and Jim Jarmusch over the last three years, as well as Baumbach’s previous film. And I hear he is also the best part of the Star Wars reboot too! The future is very bright for this young actor.

Despite the varied and clever dry humour, best realised during numerous situations and conversations that border on the absurd, the film as if it could have the subtitle: “Please, never get married”. And who knows, perhaps that is precisely how Baumbach feels at this moment after recently experiencing a divorce himself.

He has said that this is not autobiographical, but has acknowledged how personal this film is to him; a distinct difference, and this personal connection has certainly worked in his favour, as Marriage Story is one of the best dramas of the year, and yet another winner for Netflix who have ended the year on a very strong note. 


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JOKER [2019] – FINAL THOUGHTS


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PART I

PART II

PART III


Stupidly, I forgot to post this before I went on a holiday. Well, I say holiday, in reality I didn’t leave the state. But any 10-day vacation away from the ghetto I live in is a holiday in my book. A month ago a guy got stabbed in the neck with a screwdriver over a drug deal gone sour. And it didn’t surprise anyone.

But enough about my sad existence, and more on Mr Fleck’s sad existence!

**

When writing my other posts, I wasn’t aware of how successful this movie was. I had no idea: A billion dollars, a soaring, record-setting box-office result for an R-rated movie! 

And this is a film that wasn’t released in China mind you, a market responsible for a significant percentage of MCU earnings. Why it didn’t play in China would be an interesting point to explore, but by someone far more educated on such things than myself.

I’m unsure of when that decision was made, but if it was a late one, surely the absurd negative media bias played a part. What I find quite funny though is all these people protesting the film, making a fuss about a film that most hadn’t actually seen yet… Well, it gave the film free publicity! 

This reaction is the exact reason why no other filmmakers have gone near the issue of mass-shooters, despite it wreaking havoc so often that many reports show that there have been more shootings than days in 2019. This is more than last year, and the year before. It is getting worse, and one does not need to live in the US to know how bad it is.

But a possible depiction of how someone could come to behave this way elicits a biased media shitstorm, despite the fact that in reality, Joker is not only relevant, it is essentially social commentary on this scourge, or at least the sort of people who are gradually becoming a larger part of the population. 

The latter statement there is, I think, why this made so much money away from the US. This movie has nothing to do with school shootings, and there is nothing concrete in the film to say this. Rather, it is demonstrating a disturbingly realistic view of the world where even in a laid-back country like Australia, people are being stabbed in the neck with screwdrivers. Not to mention that a novel could be written about what is happening in Europe politically.

Anyway, enough of that, lets quickly get back to how I see the end of the film in detail.

**

 

The crux of my take on the ending is, as I said, an extension on Keith’s suggestion that the climax of the film was a delusion. My somewhat bizarre take on it is, first, no one was ever wearing a joker mask. That was what Arthur wanted to see, he needed confirmation that what he did was a good thing. 

The joker mask motif is obviously prevalent in the last moments of the movie, and again represents what Arthur wants to see at the end. It represents his need for recognition. He killed Arthur so he could become the Joker, not to mention shooting his idol-turned-enemy on live television. So what does he see?

The Joker masks of course, but also what is behind the masks, which are different versions of himself. He can see each small weakness of his past behind each mask, and he also sees how they have gradually disappeared, in his warped opinion that is. Therefore, each one of them is yelling and pushing to get closer, to congratulate him on ridding himself of his biggest weakness: his personality. Congratulating him on achieving what he perceives to be his full potential.

Killing Arthur Fleck was his only way forward in life, and his final pose on the cop car is his realisation that, finally, his life has meaning. Not only that, he can see the Joker that he will become, and the fame and greatness that will come with it. 

Okay, it’s incredibly far-fetched… yes, but it is plausible given that delusions often become ‘delusions of grandeur’. It is a common symptom within those who have completely lost touch with reality: their self-confidence shoots up as far as possible as they begin to believe that they are extremely special, a chosen one, and on the planet for some type of divine purpose.

And hey, I can tell from experience! When I was in that world, completely and utterly disconnected from reality, I literally felt like a God, a Messiah destined to spread the word, whatever word that was I do not know. Being a writer, I knew that what I was writing would change the world. Once I returned to reality, what I had written was complete nonsense.

From my experience then, from my perspective, it appears that this is how the Joker feels as he can see a crowd of his former selves cheering him on in admiration that he did the right thing, while they are all still Arthur Flecks, he is the Joker. Recognising this, he uses his own blood from the crash to paint a literal blood-red smile, a sign of what is to come as he will be laughing when blood spills, even if it is his own.

In his mind, he is a messiah of blood, here to kill those who he deems unfit to live. Of course, this notion morphs into an attitude where anyone can and should be killed, and to him, these are jokes; we even hear him laughing as this scene fades to black. It seems that death is the usual punchline.

**

Again, thanks to Keith for opening my eyes a little regarding this absolute gem of a film. Hollywood needs to create more flicks of this quality.


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I LOST MY BODY (J’ai perdu mon corps) [2019]

 


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The second half of this year has seen Netflix firmly establish itself as a home for quality independent films as well as larger picture’s such as Scorsese’s The Irishman or The Coen Bothers last film.

I Lost My Body is an art-house animated picture, and to my knowledge, animated film originating from France isn’t exactly a well established phenomenon – I can’t say I could name a single title falling under this banner. The Red Turtle, an animated film written by Michael Dudok de Wit who is a fellow European – a Dutchman to be precise. The idiosyncratic story-lines of both films that subtly make their points, usually in existentialist and emotional ways suggesting that European animation/stories differ immensely from their Japanese counterparts.

While animated films inevitability are compared to the work of Studio Ghibili, which is inevitable if we are honest, but this film uses animation that explores new and interesting directions that are a credit to the creativity of the animators and everyone involved. Don’t get me wrong – this is no Your Name or Weathering With You. But importantly the style of the animation is unique and it is obvious that many hours went into creating it.

This surreal story is very layered – the main character Naoufel experiences a roller-coaster of emotions, chastised at his work, miserable delivering pizzas. This does lead him to meet Gabrielle – via intercom. Naoufel decides that he in love and does everything he can to be near her, obviously afraid to approach her directly – he even decides to take a job working with wood as Gabrielle lives in the same building.

Meanwhile a severed hand is determined to find its owner, once it gets out of its plastic prison. It soon gets its feet under… er, its fingers steady underneath itself, learning to walk and eventually becomes almost acrobatic in its movements. Quickly exiting the building it was bagged in, it already has the sense to avoid guards at all costs. There is some light humour to be found here, especially one scene involving a pigeon, but the hand’s journey is one fraught with obstacles. The hand refuses to quit.

A sense of longing now looms over the film: the hand is desperate to find its owner, while Naoufel pines over Gabrielle, still unable to approach her to tell her how feels. Perspective plays a subtle role throughout, as we often see the severed hands point of view as it makes its hazardous journey to its owner, which it somehow knows the location of.  This concept of perception plays a much larger part for Naoufel, as it soon becomes obvious that the way he perceives the world isn’t quite right. His final project – a surprise for Gabrielle – challenges our perception as it doesn’t seem to make any sense. But how does Naoufel see it? We never find out, and it is certainly a head-scratcher.

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Everyone has Netflix these days, right? This hidden gem is only a few clicks away! Get on it!!


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Ahem…

Films such as this are rare, so it is fantastic to see it on Netflix. It is an obvious passion project, with clear dedication and heart – this film is a rare gem, offering commentary on a near limitless amount of topics regarding the human condition, as well as existential questions pondering that stem from from the actions of both the hand and Naoufel. 

The hand is the key to the story, and again, how can we unlock its mystery? Given the hand is instantly aware of danger and is willing to take risks in order to find its body. What is this saying? Perhaps it is saying nothing at all. Or perhaps it is showing us what we are capable of. If a hand can accomplish this, then why am I sitting on my backside all day? 

It is however a tale that is very much worth watching.


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