Second nomination in APSA, for Kamila Andini of Indonesia

CCE10132017 Kamila Andini gains a nomination at Asia Pacific Screen Awards
Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

It has been five years since an Indonesian film has made it through the process of elimination, to be nominated for an APSA. Kamila Andini’s film “Sekala, Niskala” has at last ‘broken the drought’ and gained a nomination at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in the category of Best Youth Feature Film. Her previous success at APSA was in 2012, when her lovely film, “Laut Bercermin”/”The Mirror Never Lies” won that same category.
Talking to her over lunch in Jakarta back in early 2012 Dini told me about her idea for a film set in Bali, and now we have it – “Sekala, Niskala” – (“The Seen and the Unseen”).
It has been shown in a side-bar section of the Toronto Film Festival called Platform, in September 2017 (one of the world’s most respected film festivals). This section is in its third year, designed to catch the gems that were noticed to be slipping through without getting the attention they deserved. “Sekala, Niskala” has received quite a lot of glowing reviews, written by critics who have been bewitched by its portrayal of the little known, and mysterious world of Balinese culture as shown through the story of twin siblings, a boy and a girl. One writer called it “a small revelation, poignant and hallucinatory”… a sign that it is very, very interesting. Some critics have compared it to the work of Thailand’s internationally successful Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, with “Uncle Boonme, Who Can Recall his Past Lives”.
Kamila Andini’s (she’s known as Dini) father, Garin Nugroho, and her film-maker husband, Ifa Isfansyah are the producers of her latest film, and a grant came from APSA to help develop and make it. APSA has a fund from which $US25,000 is given each year to two projects that are still in development stage. The Motion Picture Association of America contributes to this fund too.
Since Dini won the APSA for “The Mirror Never Lies” in 2012 , she had been married, (the following year) and now has two little daughters. She has also made forty minute film “Following Diana” which was screened in film festivals and received good reviews. The subject was about a Muslim Javanese wife, whose husband wanted her to agree to him taking a second wife. Diana already had a child, but was not willing to agree and embarked on life as a single mother, and also on life as a woman who charts her own course.
This year the eleventh APSA Ceremony will be on 23rd November, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
During the last five years, at least 5 or 6 Indonesian films have been submitted each year, but none made it through the elimination process of viewing by the Nominations Council. Usually, around 350 films come from all over the Asia Pacific, and must be reduced to about 40 nominations. The competition is fierce, as some of the great names of Asian cinema submit their films. The Nominations Council, and later the Jury for APSA always consists of international film people of the highest calibre from the nations of the Asia Pacific. A nomination at APSA is already a major recognition, and a win, opens doors which may lead to bigger things on a world-wide stage. So, congratulations to Kamila Andini for this achievement.
Previous Indonesian films that have been nominated since APSA began in 2007 are:
2007: “Opera Jawa” by Garin Nugroho. This is the only nomination so far in Best Feature Film category for Indonesia, and “Denias, Singing on a Cloud” directed by Ari Sihasale, (winner of Best Youth Feature Film)
2008: “Kantata Takwa” by Gotot Prakosa (In Best Documentary category)
2009: “3 Doa, 3 Cinta” by Nurman Hakim
,2012 “Laut Bercermin”/”The Mirror Never Lies” by Kamila Andini ( winner of Best Youth Feature Film) and 2012: “Negeri di Bawah Kabut”/(“The Land Beneath the Fog”) directed by Shalahuddin Siregar, again in the Best Documentary category.
Kamila Andini studied sociology and media arts at Deakin University in Melbourne. During our conversation two years ago, she talked about how difficult it was then (and probably still is), for young and serious film-makers to find funding. She described how most producers want to make crowd-pleaser type films that will pack in the young audiences in the megaplex cinemas in Malls. She wanted to make quality cinema that has worth, but not yet a very big potential audience in Indonesia. She has seen her own father succeed in doing just that, so she knows it’s possible. Although digital cinema has made this easier, it still requires talented film-makers who have good ideas, vision, and tenacity.
Dini’s tenacity is demonstrated by these words from that time:
‘I’ve been in the film industry since I was in high-school, doing workshops and making short films. I am one of the youngest Indonesians to make a feature film. It was not easy. I am lucky and also a bit crazy, trying to do this in a country which has a “film climate” like Indonesia. Usually a film-maker starts doing the clapper board job and works their way up. Many young people my age are still in the learning process. I have my father’s name behind me, so I had the chance to make this film early and I want to make more films to prove myself as a director,’ said Dini. ‘Every country in Asia has its problems for film-makers. We have to find a way.’ Here Dini was referring to her film, “The Mirror Never Lies”.

Dini is only thirty-one now and is credited as Writer/Director for all of her films. She has a bright future ahead of her, so be proud of her, Indonesia.

copyright – Cynthia Webb – October 2017
Photo Cynthia Webb

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“LOVING VINCENT” (2017) Co-Production, Poland/UK
directed by Dorota kobiela and Hugh Welchman
review and comments by Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, Australia
loving-vincent-poster-v2(1)This beautiful work has made history in the field of Animation cinema. For people with a particular interest in the tragic tale and work of Vincent Van Gogh, for art-lovers in general, for cinephiles it is a precious gift from devoted film-makers who have worked for seven years on this project.
Vincent painted the portrait of Joseph Roulin, Postmaster of Arles. The film tells us the story of Vincent’s life and last months before his death on 29 July, 1890 (aged 37)from a self-inflicted gun-shot wound, via the device of the postmaster’s son being sent on a mission to deliver a letter from Vincent to his brother,that has been returned.
Vincent and his brother Theo were very close, (two men, one heart, the film tells us) and Theo supported Vincent with regular gifts of money, and painting canvas and tubes of paint. The postmaster Roulin knew and loved Vincent, because these two loving brothers kept up a very frequent correspondence. These letters have been published elsewhere and make very moving reading indeed as well as being enlightening as to Vincent’s artistic thoughts.
Armand, the son of Roulin goes to Paris, and to Auvers-sur-Oise where Vincent had been in care after he had an emotional breakdown, and talks to people who knew Vincent. He is like a detective, trying to get to the truth of what really happened. He is at first unwilling, but becomes interested, then passionate to find out the truth of the man Vincent, whom he is now starting to fully appreciate.Armand Roulin Armand Roulin’s portrait, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

The wonderful aspect of this film is that the entire story, 95 minutes of it, is told in hand-painted oil paintings, done in the style of Vincent’s own work. Scenes begin with an image that Vincent himself painted and if viewers are familiar with all his works, they will recognize the people and the places. But now they are moving, they are speaking, they are telling their stories, and their impressions of Vincent, the man. Some were fond of him, some ridiculed him. There are various points of view.
Technically the film “Loving Vincent” is a wonder of animation. One hundred artists in two countries, (Poland and Greece) working in Vincent’s own style contributed full colour paintings for “the present” and black and white paintings for “the past” as the story is being told by the people who knew Vincent.
The film is made up of 853 ‘shots’, and each one began with a first frame of a full painting on canvas board. As the animation photography was done in 12 frames per second, the first painting, would then be photographed, then painted over, with each gradual change to certain details or all of it, until the last frame of the shot. (This is in place of the use of animation cels, which could not be applied in this style of work.) At the end of the ‘shot’ the film-makers were left with an oil-painting on canvas board, of the last frame. So at the end of filming 853 paintings remained, and 200 are being auctioned off, and many have already sold, (as can be seen from the films own website) although at the time of writing the film has not yet premiered in the USA. The size of the works was usually 67cm by 49cm.
Bear in mind that for one hour of film, 43,200 paintings were required, and you will begin to see the extraordinary ambition of this project. Additionally 90 design paintings were created in the planning stages during the year before shooting started. The purpose of these was to define the style in which the artists would all re-create Vincent’s style of painting and make it move, live and breathe. 65,000 painted frames in oils were made for the whole film.

The story moves along briskly and is full of wonderful characters (the people in Vincent’s life). The artworks are breathtaking and for an artist it will most interesting to observe the ways the film’s artists made a train move and a horse-drawn carriage seem to be speeding across the frames, through their changes in art techniques to suggest the speed.

The dialogue of the characters is very interesting, full of expression, as are the faces, and the characters have been created to really “live” for us. This was done by casting well known and excellent actors in the main roles, and filming them in live-action, then using those ‘normal’ cinematic images for a basis of the paintings for each ‘shot’. As the film went along, I recognized (from other films) certain of the painted faces of the real actors, who are also giving voice to the painted characters in the final work.

This type of animation has never been done before, and as it took seven years, it might never be done again either. The thinking out of how to actually do it is brilliant and has been a great success.
So in this remarkable way the previously award winning co-producers have given us an unforgettable cinematic experience. BreakThru Films (Poland) previously won an Oscar in 2008 for their “Peter and the Wolf”, and “Trademark Films (UK) also won Oscars in 1998 for “Shakespeare in Love”.

It is a rare and precious work of cinema animation, and a poignant and beautiful story. Vincent, who suffered, from what we now call bi-polar disease, was an intelligent, deeply sensitive man, who had a sad childhood in a strict bourgeouis family, and was something of a misfit. His first attempt at supporting himself was his job he took as a Protestant evangelist, in the Brabant – trying to imitate his father. This was not a success. In that poor area of hard-working and poverty stricken people he used his spare time for drawing.
He had some art lessons at Antwerp Academy and in Paris at Cormon’s Atelier for 3 months. He showed immense natural talent. This can be seen clearly and unmistakably by looking at his early drawings. When he was oil painting, after going to Paris and meeting up with some of the Impressionists in the Paris cafes, he used brush techniques that imitated the ‘signature’ in his pen and ink works.
He left Paris and went to warm and colourful Provence, and lived in his famous Yellow House in Arles. He begged his friend Gaugin to come and join him, and eventually Gaugin arrived. Vincent was over-joyed but after a few months, things went wrong between them, and Vincent seemed to become very distressed. When Gaugin departed, he was inconsolable. After the famous incident of cutting of his own ear in his distress, he went into care of Dr Gachet in Auver, where he found a kindred spirit in Gachet (Gachet loved art) and recovered. There he did quite a few more wonderful drawings and paintings. In the film the people of Auvers are mainly the ones telling us of Vincent’s final days.

Vincent saw the world in a kind of almost violent motion and almost all of his works, drawings and paintings show this. It’s as if the wind was visible to him in the air itself, not only in the resulting movements of trees, and fields of grain, or the moving sea. He never sold a painting in his own lifetime, and yet now his works hold the record as being the most expensive ever sold – which happened in modern times. He gave away some works, but sent most to his brother Theo who attempted to sell them in his Paris Art Gallery.

Please do NOT miss a chance to see this amazing film “Loving Vincent”. (The title comes from the way he signed his letters to Theo – ‘your loving Vincent’.)

A final note: The film’s flagship “Loving Vincent” Exhibition will open in Noordbrabants Museum, on 13th October. It will showcase 119 oil paintings from the film, just 10% of the paintings remaining after the filming process. The exhibition will also show how the film-makers re-imagined the paintings of Vincent himself, into the medium of film, using the very same tools (brush and canvas) that Vincent used.

copyright Cynthia Webb (September 2017)
Poster image courtesy of the film producers

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“24 Frames” (2017) by Abbas Kiarostami


“24 FRAMES” by Abbas Kiarostami (2017) Comments by Cynthia Webb
Screening in Brisbane International Film Festival, QLD, Australia,29th August, 6.00pm at Palace Barracks Cinema, and finally, on 3rd September, 12.30pm at Palace Barracks Cinema
Cinephiles have long loved and respected the late Iranian director, Kiarostami, for his beautiful works. They include “The Wind Will Carry Us”, “Taste of Cherry”, “Ten”, “Close-up”, “Certified Copy”, “Shirin” and now we say goodbye to him with “24 Frames”.
24 frames per second, we know as the speed that celluloid raced through the camera and projector in the “film” era, and still does. However, we almost always see our films via a digital technology, not a projector. So much has changed so quickly.
But Kiarostami’s poetic and artistic vision never changed, and this film condenses down to a series of 24 experiences of four minutes, that we are blessed to see through his eyes. He took the ideas mostly from his own collection of still photographs. He thought about the many times when his attentive eye has been caught by and photographed an interesting moment in nature, or a perfect composition. He began this project with the idea of animating famous paintings, and this is what Frame 1 is – a look at a famous Belgian painting ( a Breugel, I think) that we all know if we’ve studied art history, coming alive.
He has used blue screen and some other modern techniques to recreate his photos and make them move. He was fascinated with the idea of showing us the moments before and after he took his original photo, to make those ‘stills’ live again for us all, for just four minutes each.
I must admit some of them seemed to feel longer, and some felt shorter, depending on their content.

For people with artistic training, you will notice important aspects of art theory, the rule of thirds, the always beautiful tonality through from white to black, and one “Frame” gives us complementary colors. From a discussion after the screening last night, Iranians present told us about some cultural metaphors they had seen. My instinct is that the frequent images of birds soaring in the sky symbolise freedom (in all cultures), and freedom is a matter of great importance to Iranians at present.Most of them long for more freedom in their everyday lives. There were several references to life and death, and there was finally in Frame 24 a very moving and romantic farewell, from which it is tempting to wonder if the director had a premonition of his death, not far away.
Or did he just want to end on a beautiful and sweet note, to tell us this is how life is. Everything in life and every moment contains beauty, or sweetness, or meaning, or power. He is telling us, open your eyes and look around you. Go more slowly, take the time to stop and notice everything. We are part of the patterns of life, and we forget that fact. We are so busy in these times that we hardly ever stop to notice things anymore.
In his film “Shirin” Kiarostami focused his tender camera on the minute facial expressions of several women, watching a theatrical performance of a 12th Century Persian poem. Here he hinted at his deep interest in the depth of detail in the world around him, in nature and in humanity. All his films reveal above all, his humanity. “Shirin” and “24 Frames” are a pair of films that come from the same place in his experimental inspiration.

A place that I personally have had a lot of delight noticing things, (and drawing them) is looking closely at the detail of very small things, as did American painter,Georgia O’Keefe. Kiarostami’s film “24 Frames” contains images of bigger things, life moving on and through our ever faster and busier world. Nature herself, never stops, but we should. We should sit down and slow our breathing, and surrender to this film – the last gift from Abbas Kiarostami. Thank you to a beloved Maestro. We will never forget you.

Copyright 24th August 2017
Poster and photo of Abbas Kiarostami courtesy of the Producers of “24 Frames”.

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“Graduation” (“Bacalaureat”) by Cristian Mungiu (Romania) 2016

GRADUATION Poster
GRADUATION (or “Bacalaureat”) Cristian Mungiu (Romania, 2017)
comments by Cynthia Webb
(Screening at Brisbane International Film Festival,(BIFF) QLD, Australia,
27th August, 8.00pm Palace Barracks Cinema)

Another fine work by this leading Romanian director, who won Best Director Award at Cannes Film Festival in 2016 for this film “Graduation”.

We are bathed in melancholy, as all of the characters seem to be struggling to find inner comfort and contentment in this nation which is still trying to recover from the tragic era of Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist regime, which ended in 1989. The hated Ceausescu and his wife were shot by a peoples’ firing squad immediately upon the fall of his regime, without trial. The effects reverberate down the generations in spite of the adults who experienced it, trying to do their best and live good lives. However, the way things function in bureaucracy still reveals the old ways just under the surface. This is a common problem in countries that have lived a long time in an authoritarian regime. The regime is gone but the echoes are still heard. It is so very difficult to shake it off, and eventually the well meaning and previously proudly honest Doctor Romeo Aldea gets sucked into the murky under-currents. He so badly wants to assist his scholastically gifted and much beloved daughter to a good future, that he is tempted to compromise his formerly excellent reputation as someone who cannot be bought, bribed or corrupted in any way. Her conditional scholarship to a British University is the matter that causes a crisis.
The daughter wouldn’t even need any assistance from her father, if she hadn’t been sexually assaulted outside her school at the beginning of the film. The following day, after having her sprained wrist put in plaster, and a distressing questioning session at the police station, she must sit final examinations, on which the scholarship depends. She is still shaky and cannot write so quickly with the arm in plaster. For a moment it looks as if the examiners won’t even let her into the examination room, because previously a student has cheated by having notes and answers concealed within a fake cast. The doctor’s good reputation and polite ways assist him here and elsewhere too, but his life begins to spiral into confusion and fear as he can feel the dark forces pulling him under. Only his love and hopes for his daughter are stronger than his previous commitment to being an honest and high principled man always.
I don’t want to write any more about the plot of the film, but just want to mention that it is extremely good cinema, and it is here to show us that we are all walking a fine line at all times. Not only people in countries that suffer from the after effects of dictatorship. For those people, the dangers are clear and well known. But everyone everywhere, must be on the lookout always for compromises, for self-deception, for just a hint of self-justification….some of the signs that can show you that you or someone else has crossed the line, even if just a little. Actually with this particular “line” there is no “little or a lot”, it is a matter of principle always, which side are you on? There are no grey areas or neutral zones.

Copyright – 24 August 2016 Cynthia Webb
Poster: Courtesy of the Producers of “Graduation” (“Bacalaureat”)

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THE SQUARE Poster
“The Square” directed by Ruben Ostlund (Sweden)
(Winner of the Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival, 2017)
Review by Cynthia Webb

“The Square” was the opening night film for the newly revived Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF).
It’s an utterly contemporary experience – directed by the man who brought us “Force Majeure” (2014.
Both films are scrutinizing the minute details and more obvious trends of human behavior in these trying times we live in.
Everything is so complicated in this politically correct world (at least in wealthy Western countries).
Many different issues that are part of the minefield people must negotiate these days are packed into this 142 minute film experience, which will sometimes have you squirming in your seat.
It brought to mind, “Toni Erdmann” (Germany), which was a big success in 2016. That film also brought up the subject of contemporary life and its traps. In “The Square” there was even a visual reference to “Toni Erdmann” himself – it’s the fictitious name that the heroine’s father gave himself. He also dressed up in an animal suit for several scenes in that film, to aid his quest to wake his corporate executive daughter out of her trance.

In “The Square” the chimpanzee living in Elizabeth Moss’s apartment will mystify many people in the audience, as it did the hero Christian, who has a one-night stand that is almost more than he can handle. Christian is played by Claes Bang.
There is no point attempting to explain the plot, which doesn’t really have much momentum. The film is more a series of incidents that demonstrate just how labyrinthine life can get, in work, in private life, in public places, even with relationships to children. We were often confronted with the issue of the societal and financial gap between the privileged class and the poor. Also the world-wide experience of migrant people among us was to the fore-front. Another scene filled the screen with full plastic garbage bags, and reminded us about that massive problem facing the world.

“The Square” itself was a space in the cobbled courtyard in front of the gallery, which was marked out in an obvious way, and had a sign to the effect that within that square was a place of equality and trust available to all. It was a new “installation” to introduce an up-coming exhibition.
Yes, it seems that the film is saying that in today’s world equality and trust have shrunk and this ‘square’ is the symbol. The message of the film is put into the mouth of a sports coach, as he speaks to his team of teen girls after a demonstration of their athletic skills. He tells one girl, “It’s no use wasting your energy feeling sorry for yourself. Give your energy to the team.”
So in this world, we should stop being so selfish, afraid and worried about offending someone or standing out from the crowd – we should reach out and work together. YES, yes, yes. The message is good, even if the film is laboring the point somewhat, and also for a bit too long.

There are many shots with strange camera angles, and a lot of action is taking place, off screen, while the camera is on the face of someone we know. These tactics to put us off-balance certainly worked, and there was a dizzying shot on a square shaped staircase, that Hitchcock would have been proud of. In our seats, many of the audience probably had motion sickness.

Christian, the main protagonist, is the well-meaning and respected head Curator of a major Stockholm Contemporary Art Museum, so this gives an opportunity for some delicious stabs at the more ridiculous aspects of some contemporary artworks. And just how far can art-speak go into meaningless garble made up of long words, trying to explain some depth into something that doesn’t have any? I’m sure we’ve all seen this sort of thing and wondered when someone was going to speak out. A few years ago, it happened when a leading British Art Critic wrote a piece scorning the gullible curators who indulge certain artists, who had become trendy and were laughing all the way to the bank. Damien Hirst was mentioned, and following that article’s publication his prices dropped substantially. As the film tells us, this world of contemporary art is about investing money and collecting, not always about love of the art.

It seems to me that the reason the film won the Golden Palme would be to do with its tackling of the sometimes very difficult matters of political correctness, and the new and unusual challenges that life has nowadays, as different cultures and religions mix and mingle more and more. In the 21st Century everyone experiences a certain amount of stress as things are changing ever faster. I think that Ruben Ostlund feels that it needs to be discussed before we go right off the rails. Is there too much ‘walking on egg shells’ with no-one brave enough to bring things into the light and say a few politically incorrect things for a change?

The film also deserved recognition for the most unusual cinematic techniques used throughout to put us on edge, into embarrassment, and mild stress. The scene illustrated in the poster for the film, where a group of people just like us the audience, are tried beyond the limits of some is a case in point.
It will not be a film for everyone however it has many merits and if you are an adventurous film-goer go and see this clever film.
(Copyright, CYNTHIA WEBB, 18 August 2017)

(Photos courtesy of the film producers)

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“The Promise” (2016) directed by Terry George. (review/comments by Cynthia Webb

THE PROMISE poster
THE PROMISE (2016) directed by Terry George (Dialogue in English)
– review and comments by Cynthia Webb

Here is a film well worth seeing, which I viewed today, 15 June 2017.

Yes, it’s a political hot-potato between Turkey and the rest of the world.

In the first years of the First World War, Turkey entered the war on the side of the Germans and made enemies of the people who had formerly been long term friends of the Ottomans, and who had lived among them doing business, (the French and the British). The Ottoman Empire had a friendship and co-operation also, with the German (Prussian) empire of Kaiser Wilhelm at the time, including collaborating to build a railway from Istanbul to Baghdad and receiving military advice, after they failed dismally in the Balkan Wars 1912/13 and lost more territory. The choice led the failing Ottoman Empire into a tragic war which included an attack on their own Western shores, by the Allies. This attack included the ANZACS (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) fighting with the British. So it led to a tragedy for two nations on the other side of the world as well as for Turkey who lost vast numbers of its young men. What madness is war!?!?
The Turks prevailed at Gallipoli, led by none other than Colonel Mustapha Kemal (Ataturk), a man of great vision and strength. He went on to become the first President of Modern Turkey. The old era was ending, not only in Turkey, but in all of Europe.

Please watch this film “The Promise” with an open mind…. Remembering that everything was in upheaval, and that the Christian Armenian people, who had lived amongst the Turks for the entire history of the Ottoman Empire (600 years) as friends and good citizens, found themselves called “a tumor in our society” in the early days of World War One, (to quote a line of the film’s dialogue).
To find out more about why, please do some research, because it’s too long a story to tell fully here.
What the film did not tell: From 1894 to 1920 the Armenians had been fighting against the Turks, as separatists. They wanted a land of their own, and during the early years of Turkey’s entry into World War One , they had identified them as severely weakened, so took the opportunity to ramp up their attacks on Islamic Turkish civilians in the East,attack and take the city of Van, bomb official buildings and to fight against the Ottomans along with the Russians (allied with Britain and France, against Kaiser Wilhelm’s Prussian Empire and allies).
As someone born and brought up in New Zealand, and who has lived 45 years in Australia, (in other words an “ANZAC”)I am also someone who has visited Turkey three times and I have great interest and admiration for this wonderful country and my friends there. I also have great admiration for Ataturk, so I tried to watch this film objectively.

And as for the complicated situation prevailing in Turkey in those years…. It is incredibly ‘byzantine’ (to use an appropriate modern expression), not only between the Ottomans and the Armenians, but with the presence of the Kurds in the East amongst the Armenians, and interference from many Western powers, Christian missionaries. Everyone had their own agenda, and there were millions of tragic deaths, on the sides of both the Turks and the Armenians.

At last an Armenian free nation was finally declared in 1991, over one hundred years after the beginning of their Revolt in an attempt to gain a nation of their own. The declaration came after the fall of the Soviet Union, because any surviving Armenians still in the region had gone over the Eastern Border of Turkey in the final days of World War One, and just as Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution occurred (1917) so, they soon found themselves in the Soviet Union, with no options at all.

Back to “The Promise” – it’s a good film. The director, also co-screen-writer, has attempted to tell the truth, but the truth is far more complex than what is shown in his film. Another of Terry George’s films “Hotel Rwanda” is also about a genocide. This phenomenon obviously fascinates and appalls him. There is dialogue in the film, reminding us, of a later genocide. Talaat Pasha, Ottoman Minister of the Interior, is speaking to the American Ambassador, and reminds him that he (the American) is a Jew, and asks him why he is so interested in the fate of the Christian Armenians. The scenes between the American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau and Talaat Pasha actually happened, and are reported in Morgenthau’s book. The dialogue is the same as the Ambassador wrote it in his notes at the time.

“The Promise” is woven around a love story between an Armenian couple who meet in Istanbul, during the days just before the Ottoman Empire enters the First World War on what turned out to be the losing side, (strongly influenced by the Prussian Empire’s Kaiser Wilhelm). The lovers’ story is the centre around which the film’s portrayal of this tragic time revolves. Without this love story, and the friendship between the two men who love the same woman, the film would have been more or less, a documentary, albeit an almost one-sided one.
However, the film does try to tell us through one character only, that there were also Turks who cared about the Armenians, and who paid the ultimate price for their friendship. Of course, the Armenians had been living in the Ottoman Empire for its entire history since 1453 and were part of the fabric of Ottoman society, mainly loved and respected, by the Muslim Turks. They were the successful business-men,industrialists, and farmers, and some were even high ranking men in the Ottoman administration.
In attempting not to sensationalize the telling of the story, the director has made a film that is somewhat lacking in power and passion. We are kept at arm’s length emotionally, while the terrible tale unfolds. We watch, but from a distance. We never feel overcome with grief in the way that Steven Spielberg made us feel, when watching “Schindler’s List, for example.

Shot mainly in Sintra, and Lisbon, Portugal… and seemingly using photographic or CGI backdrops to show Istanbul, and views across the Bosphorus, it comes to us in a filtered golden light to give the feeling of Ottoman Turkey just over 100 years ago. It often looks very beautiful on-screen and the costumes of the era are fine.

The cast is excellent, and everyone is convincing. Oscar Isaac deserves special mention because he has the look to play many ethnicities and is a fine actor.
Christian Bale, plays an American journalist from Associated Press and witness to the events, who told the story in American newspapers. There actually was an American journalist there, named Damon Theron, so Bale is playing a sort of “composite character”.
Charlotte Le Bon plays the Armenian nanny who is initially in a relationship with the American journalist, and working in Istanbul with a family to whom she is related.

There was in fact a Seige of Musa Dagh, the coastal village from which the French ship saved about 4,000 Armenians, as shown in the film “The Promise”.

Orthodox Christianity of the Armenians and the Russian Orthodox Church and Greek Orthodox) owe their origins to the Eastern Roman Empire’s Christianity, when Emperor Constantine converted, and his subjects followed, around 313 AD. However, the Armenians became Christians before the Emperor, in AD301.

You’ll see some well-cast famous faces:
Oscar Isaac as Mikhael Boghosian, student doctor from a a village in Turkish-Armenia.
Christian Bale co-stars as Christopher Mayer, the American journalist from Associated Press.
Jean Reno as the French Admiral.
James Cromwell, as the American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, in Istanbul.
Rade Sherbedgia (Serbian actor) as the Mayor of the little coastal town from which the survivors of Musa Dagh were evacuated by the French battleship.
Shohreh Aghdashloo (An imposing and gravelly voiced Iranian actress, who lives in California) as the mother of the hero. Mikhael Boghosian.

There is another excellent film about the Armenian Genocide, which the Turks still deny, called “The Lark Farm”, by the Taviani Brothers of Italy.
Atom Egoyan, respected Canadian-Armenian film-maker, has also made a film about this subject, entitled “Ararat”.
There are many photos in existence that attest to the reality of this tragic tale and many eye witness reports,and biographical novels and film-documentaries.
World War Two brought about tragedy in many lands, of unimaginable proportions.

Some interesting anecdotes: If you look on IMDb.com you will see some interesting facts.
This film had its world premiere at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. The director and lead actors (except Christian Bale) were in attendance. They told the audience that there were 1400 seats at that first screening, and yet already there were 4,000 negative reviews on IMDb.
One month later a viewer wrote that 4 or 5 months later there were 84,000 negative reviews for this film that hadn’t yet had a general distribution opening. The implication mentioned on IMDB is that these negative reviews from people who hadn’t even seen the film, came from Turkish people. Now I don’t know what the Turkish government teaches the people about this matter, but presumably they are teaching the facts NOT mentioned in this film, about the Armenian Revolution movement for a separate state, from 1894 until 1920. Also that the Armenians fought with the Ottoman’s enemies, the Russians, and they too committed massacres and slaughtered Muslim village people in vast numbers during those years quoted. Turkey says that they have proof, and can still supply a list of names of every person killed, 100 years after the event.
These things happen, and history always gets written by the victors… it’s an often-quoted and well-known fact. Thanks to Donald Trump’s spokeswoman for the useful expression, ‘Alternative facts’, which unfortunately have always existed, and always will. Each side will stress the facts that best portray themselves, and leave out or water down the ones that emphasise any guilt on their own part.
Probably in this Turkish-Armenian story, both sides have been doing so for a long time.
It’s time for all the facts to be revealed, and accepted, and everyone to admit their crimes, and express sorrow for them too, on both sides. One hundred years have passed.

Unfortunately this film doesn’t tell us anything about the Ottoman reasons, (perhaps there is just no time in a film already over 2 hours long), however these reasons were told to Ambassador Morgenthau, by Enver Pasha ( a very high authority) and this is what the Ambassador recorded:
1. They have enriched themselves at the expense of the Turks.
2. They are determined to domineer over us and to establish a separate state.
3. They have openly encouraged our enemies, assisted the Russians in the Caucasus, and our failure there is largely explained by their actions.
4. Three-quarters of them are already disposed of, and now there’s such hatred that we must finish the job or they’ll plan their revenge.
5. We are involved in a war for our survival in the Western part of Turkey, and we have no time to deal with the Armenians at the same time.
Please see this film if you have the opportunity, and try to watch with an open mind. It is a massive tragedy on both sides, and thinking about this century old but still painful time, warns us about today’s situation in the Middle East. Once again a huge population has had to leave it’s homeland, (Syria). Have we learned ANYTHING yet?
“The Promise” of the film is NOT the promise to marry the sweet village girl,– but is a promise that the Armenians, and their culture and their memories must and will survive.
Copyright – Cynthia Webb, 15 June 2017
Film Poster – courtesy of the film producers and IMDb

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“Frantz” directed by Francois Ozon (France, 2016) review by Cynthia Webb

FRANTZ posterHere is an anti-war film with a difference. “Frantz” (directed by Francois Ozon) is a French/German co-production, and made in both languages. The setting is a year after the end of World War One, 1919. We are in a small German town, where Anna is living with the parents of Frantz, Herr and Frau Hofmeister. (the meaning of their name – master of Hope). The Hofmeisters and Anna are grieving, and they are not the only ones. Anna’s fiancée Frantz, died, and was buried in France somewhere. There is also a sign-post in the film’s title –  Frantz/France….. the lost victims of both nations, are equal and innocent, and the  tragedy  is shared by both these young men…. Adrien and Frantz, the living and the dead. They are both the same.
In both countries, there are vast numbers of people who have the same grief for a son, brother, fiancée, friend….. No-one is spared after such a catastrophic war, between countries which had been neighbours who spoke one-another’s languages and could never imagine such a chasm could open up between them. That era was profoundly different from modern times, when royalties still ruled over empires. It was the War that changed Europe forever. The royal dynasties were swept away… but this war was an “old fashioned” war when people were still innocent and trusted and admired their royal rulers… and were encouraged to support their Empire building wars. Fathers encouraged their sons to defend their Fatherland/Motherlands, and innocent young men in their millions died.
When the Second World War came along, there was a clearly visibly evil, fanatical Nazi passion led by a driven man, who wanted to create a new kind of Empire.
Anyway, back to the film “Frantz” while bearing in mind, the above.
It’s worthwhile seeing, for its profound examination of the aftermath, the trauma left in the lives of those still lucky enough to be alive. Those who have lost loved-ones, and who are still bewildered by what it was all really about. All they know is their personal tragedy. They have the temptation to hate the other side, when actually that “other side”/enemy were just as much victims as they were.
There are different ways of coping, and it’s interesting that Francois Ozon’s screenplay demonstrates that lies are OK too, that is, if they are germinated in a pure impulse, in a heart wishing to spare already devastated people from further pain — or from having to bear more than is possible for them.
It’s not really an option to describe the story of this film without committing the film-writing sin of including “a spoiler” — so I won’t do that.
We all know by now that Francois Ozon is a highly skilled film director, so it must be a well above average film. He handles this deeply sensitive material , with a subtle touch. It is almost entirely in black and white, with just a few scenes in muted colour, which depict some rare moments of true happiness. Things are more than a bit ambiguous most of the time between the protagonists, although we the audience are let in on some secrets that not all of them know. This is coming from the strong theme of when it might be OK to lie. It is not always a sin. It is not always wrong.
Performances are all faultless, and the depiction of 1919, the era, and the mood between the two neighboring nations, still adjusting to the trauma of recent war, is communicated without being too obvious. Ozon trusts his audience to get the message – and we do.
It is not just a story about the past. It’s a warning for today. There are no winners in war. War is to be avoided at all costs. The innocent always suffer and die. Those left behind spend the rest of their lives struggling with the consequences. The other warning is about believing the propaganda, and innocently going off to war “for the glory of your country”. It is not always like that.
In these modern times, young men are fighting in wars, in places they formerly might not have been able to find on a map – in countries that do not threaten their own homeland in any way. But politicians at home still speak about “fighting in defence of their nation” at their funerals!
The message here, is beware of the lies. In the First World War too, millions of young men who enlisted voluntarily, and died in hell never knowing why. Many wars are not about defending your country, or your way of life. They are about power and profit… control of resources, or grabbing of territory.
Francois Ozon is telling us a message to bear in mind today, through a story of times one hundred years ago.

Copyright , Cynthia Webb, May 2017
Poster photo: courtesy of the film producers

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‘ETERNITE’ (France, 2016) directed by Tran Anh Hung Review by Cynthia Webb

ETERNITE poster
ETERNITE (2016) directed by Tran Anh Hung
From a novel by Alice Ferney, this story of a woman and her descendants in France during the early 1900s, this cannot be called “a movie”. It has great stillness, and the feeling is like looking through an old photo album, slowly turning the pages, and finding beautifully composed scenes of a wealthy and well-dressed family, in their lovely home or garden. Yes, it’s photographed in colour, with a sometimes slightly peculiar brassy golden light, by one of the great pones, Mark Lee Ping Bing. I’ve seen other films recently on which he worked as cinematographer (The Assassin, and Crosscurrent). On both his work was more beautiful than this.
The film has great credibility, directed by French-Vietnamese man, Tran Anh Hung who previously gave us some gorgeous cinematic experiences… “Scent of the Green Papaya” ((1993), “Cyclo” (1995), and “Norwegian Wood” (2010), all of which were better films than this one.
“Eternity” stars Audrey Tatou, Berenice Bejo, Melanie Laurent, Jeremie Renier, Pierre Deladonchamps, and Irene Jacob.
However they have almost no dialogue, and the viewing experience is mainly slow moving, meditative, and as mentioned, like looking back through old photos of lost times, lost people and their lives and loves. It is all centered around the women, and their children. They manage to have a lot of babies, and still look as gorgeous as they did on their wedding days. There is a brief hint of the first world war, as we see the matriarch’s twin sons in uniform, and later, she reads notes informing her of their deaths ( presumably) and cries beside filmy curtains at the window.
Even when dramatic things occur, it is handled with utter calm and the mood never varies much. We are kept on an even keel throughout, as uninvolved observers. We are never encouraged by the film-maker to identify with any of the characters, and obviously it is intention to make it a distant experience, but I wonder if it was wise.
Here we have a film about the journey of LIFE, (and death) and yet it is “life-less”.
Consequently it is rather hard-going. The music has been sourced from the classics, (a cheap alternative) and it is lovely music, but makes the experience rather flat and dull too. It’s mainly solo piano, or solo guitar, and there is one burst of dramatic orchestral music.
So for me the film was a disappointment, however some might enjoy it if you like to see pastoral scenes in the French countryside, lovely costumes and homes, beautiful people and perfect children.

copyright Cynthia Webb, April 2017

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GOLD (2016) director, Stephen Gaghan

gold-poster This film “GOLD” (2016, directed by Steven Gaghan) is currently doing the rounds of multi-plexes in Australia and might turn up in Indonesia too, (a note for my friends there.) This is because it’s loosely ( very loosely) based on the true story of the Bre-X Mining scam during the nineteen-nineties, in which a small Canadian mining company claimed to have found possibly the richest or second richest goldmine in the world, in the jungle of Kalimantan…at Busang, 360 km from the nearest airport in Samarinda and 1400 km from Jakarta. It’s a story worthy of Joseph Conrad, and contains echoes of his book “Almayer’s Folly”, set in Malaysia.

They raised vast sums by convincing no less than the J P Morgan, merchant bankers, and floating their mining company on the Canadian stock exchange. Greedy gold-crazed investors bought into it and the value of the shares sky-rocketed. Bre-X duped executives of a major gold mining company already working in Indonesia, and they even got the family of military dictator, President Suharto (starting with the eldest son, Sigit Harjoyudanto, then the daughter Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana) to buy into it. This gave the project “clout” seeming to be bankrolled by the Indonesian government. Later the Suharto shares were transferred to Bob Hasan, the multi-millionaire forestry magnate and best pal/golfing buddy of President Suharto! He lost all of it (nothing) when the whole scam finally collapsed. It was eventually proved there was no gold, just faked core-samples which had been “salted”, in mining jargon. Bob Hasan said, “It’s good propaganda – Now everyone in the world knows where Indonesia is.”

The geologist from whom it all started, a Filipino named Michael de Guzman, fell (thought by pilot and co-pilot to have jumped) from a helicopter into the jungle below, while on a flight to meet executives from the other major mining company. A suicide note was found and he left four wives and some children with the wife in Manila. The other wives were Indonesian women, after he converted to Islam. However, in the film they show his fall from the helicopter was forced, by members of military.

The film-makers have changed most of the actual facts and details. When the Indonesian military are shown in the film, they are wearing the red berets of Kopassus, an exclusive section of serious tough guys who were then led by Prabowo Subianto, who was a Presidential Candidate several years ago, losing to Joko Widodo.

An Indonesian friend has just told me about an investigation by an Indonesian reporter in which he claimed that de Guzman is alive and living in South America. This could be possible, as the Indonesian government autopsy was reported by TIME Magazine as being very difficult because the body had been savaged by wild boars. The Suharto regime would have been in a hurry to close the embarrassing issue. The real circumstances of the death or not, of de Guzman are open to question.

To add to the disappointment, the film was shot in Thailand, and the only authentic Indonesian things were two authentic Javanese Batik textiles, and one woman in the background of a cafe, wearing a headscarf/jilbab, in not quite in the correct way for Indonesian style. The Indonesian actors were played by Thais and no Indonesian names seemed to appear in the final credits. The background of the scenes claiming to be in a Jakarta luxury hotel, were beside a wide river with obviously Thai buildings and boats in the background. No such thing exists in Jakarta. Very poor attempts at authenticity in this film, working on the assumption that no-one will notice, I guess. But that isn’t good enough in film-making these days, when many production companies and directors make a great effort towards authenticity. There wouldn’t have been anything to prevent them shooting in Indonesia, and several Hollywood films have already done so. Maybe they were afraid of revenge from still living Suharto family members depicted?

Stephen Gaghan also directed “Syriana” which was a better film. Matthew McConnaughy has gained lots of weight for the part of the miner, who plays a gullible victim of the real bad-guy, de Guzman ( played by Edgar Ramirez). Even this character is white-washed, especially by a sort of final ‘twist’.

This version of a story which proves again that truth is stranger than fiction, is weak and dull and should and could have been a whole lot more engrossing. The protagonist, Kenny Wells ( McConnaughy) is such an average and sloppy sort of guy, and only Edgar Ramirez, as the geologist/scammer saves the picture, but even he is struggling.

Note: my information about the actual events that inspired the film, have come from a TIME magazine feature article, from edition of May 19th 1997, and from my other reading at the time of these events. There’s a novel based on the same events, by Kerry B. Collison,Pub. January 2002, “Indonesian Gold”, which has recently been translated into Bahasa Indonesia, by my friend Rossie Indira. I’m not sure if it’s in publication yet…
(Copyright, Cynthia Webb) February, 2017

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“Landscape in the Mist” (1988) directed by Theo Angelopoulos

landscape-in-the-mist-poster

LANDSCAPE IN THE MIST (1988) Directed by Theo Angelopoulos
Today (January 2017) I watched this 1988 masterpiece from the late Theo Angelopoulos. It won the Silver Lion at Venice Film Festival, and many other awards too. It’s an exquisite allegorical tale and perhaps knowledge or lack of it, about modern Greek history could determine what you think it might be about. I have my own ideas as do reviewers before me, here on IMDb. I love the way this maestro director has used a sort of Odyssey (what could be more appropriate?) by two young siblings, (Voula, aged 14 and her brother Alexander, aged 5) travelling Greece in search of someone (or something) they want to believe exists, just to “understand and know but not to stay,” the older girl says. This is a film that is not about what it appears to be about, but is an allegory and a poem, a work of visual art, and profound emotional truth. The visual power and beauty, the gorgeous music (by Eleni Karaindrou), every frame on screen, are all spell-binding. To me, each scene and episode in their young lives on this journey through Greece to find the landscape in the mist, can be linked to the story of the Greek nation and its people. The landscape in the mist is tellingly, first seen on a few frames of 35mm movie film found in the muddy street by their young motor-cyclist mentor… a kind of guiding angel travelling with them for a time. Perhaps he can only see it on the celluloid because he is searching for this mythic landscape (or condition) too. This piece of “found film” serves to link the director himself into the collective experience of all the Greeks. Perhaps it’s the modern day “Golden Fleece”? What a gorgeous and poetic film. Almost as beautiful as the director’s “The Weeping Meadow” – one of my all time most admired works of art in cinema. (so long after the film was made, I (who live in Australia) had to order the DVD via Amazon, and it came to me from Greece, in a beautiful transfer supervised by the director himself, and with good English subtitles.)
Copyright Cynthia Webb, January 2017
photo: courtesy of the Producers and IMDb

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