“They Call Me Babu” (Netherlands, 2019) writer/director, Sandra Beerends

POSTER They call me Babu 2019 Nederlands
REVIEW by Cynthia Webb

Infused with respect and an under-current of regret to the people of Indonesia from a Dutch woman film-maker, this documentary by Sandra Beerends is a very valuable work, a gift. Ms Beerends’ own mother had a ‘babu’ (the word is a combination of two Javanese words… Mbak (miss or sister) and Ibu (mother)and told her stories about her own childhood nanny. To prepare the film Ms Beerends talked with many people from Dutch families who had a babu to care for the children. Ms Beerends and her collaborators spent a huge amount of time viewing archival footage and creating this artful concept for a beautiful documentary, which plays almost like a feature film.I would imagine that choosing footage, and marrying it with the story would have been a task which was a two-way interaction, with each aspect taking priority at different stages.

Ms Beerends has written the story of Alima, a fictitious young Javanese girl who was embedded in a Dutch family, living and working with them as a babu for several years until 1942. That’s when the Japanese invaded Indonesia, causing upheaval for the Dutch, and promising the Indonesians “liberation”/merdeka, a promise they did not fulfill. Things got worse, not better. Alima suddenly found herself alone again when all of her Dutch family were suddenly taken to prison camps and their house seized by the Japanese.
Babu Alima had even returned to Holland with them during her time working for the family…On the journey she learned a lot about the world beyond Java, and marveled at how the Dutch family ‘behaved the same everywhere, as if the world belonged to them.’ She also learned that servants in Holland were entitled to one day off a week, something which was denied to her by the same family, when in Java – “Different rules apply here,” she was told curtly upon their return.

They had arrived in the Netherlands in winter, and she wore a winter coat over her batik kain (sarong) and a beret as she walked Jantje in his pram around the snowy streets, and stared in wonder at ice skaters on the canals. It was so bleak and cold and stern, an extreme contrast to her sunny, warm and gentle homeland. As the family are leaving Holland after three months, they travel to Genoa by train, passing through Germany, where we see the ominous sight of a Nazi swastika flag flying from a building beside the River Rhine.

When they all returned to Java, Alima saw her home with new eyes. She was changed forever, and no longer fitted so seamlessly in her own culture.

After the Japanese took control, Alima worked for a while with a wealthy Chinese family whom she found cheerful and kind, but difficult to get used to, as they had such different ways than the Dutch family. She loved little Jantje and always missed him. She left and went to Jakarta.
There she met and fell in love with a young man, Ribut ( meaning noisy) who has freedom on his mind and is a follower of Sukarno. Just to see the footage of the young Sukarno speaking to his people, rousing their desire for independence, and other historic moments, including his arrival in Bogor at the Palace to take his place as first president of Indonesia, is inspiring and worth the price of the ticket to view this wonderful documentary film at home, as part of the “online” Sydney Film Festival of 2020.

The young couple return to his (and her) hometown Yogyakarta in Central Java, when the War of Independence begins after the Japanese surrender and departure, which was followed soon after by the return of the Dutch. Just imagine the immense dismay in the hearts of the Indonesians. It’s heartbreaking. Although the Dutch homeland had been occupied by the Nazis, they still hadn’t understood that they were doing the same thing in Java….for 300 years. But this time the Indonesians were determined to have freedom, and led by Sukarno they fought for and gained their independence in 1949, after having actually declared Indonesia a free nation on 17th August 1945.

This story told with compilation footage has a touching conclusion and contains some magical moments of joy for Alima and Ribut, although they lived through so much turmoil.

Alima’s life is a blend of the lives of many young Javanese women who worked as a ‘babu’ but is true to the historical facts and rings very ‘true’. Alima’s young life straddles the birth of a nation. It tells one woman’s story, a part of the colonialism that was no doubt also happening in many other countries in the era of colonialism by European countries of lands in the south.

The archival film is beautifully edited to complement the story and the pace is gentle and quiet in spite of the sometimes turbulent historical events.

The film-maker has been fortunate to find a Dutch family where it seems that the father was a home movie enthusiast and made a lot of documentation of his family life and the children growing up. As Alima is with the youngest child twenty-four hours a day, she is seen a lot in the first half of the film.

It has the same ‘energy’ of calm and softness that is typical of the Javanese culture, so refined and delicate, and the story is told through Alima’s eyes. The voice of the narrator and the words that Ms Beerends has written for her are perfect and feel ‘right’ to me, as someone who for twenty-five years has been close to the Javanese in modern times.

There are included a small number of out of context scenes that are actually shot in Bali not Java, however they won’t be noticed by many viewers unless they are Indonesians, and they still complement the narrative well. Some other footage is placed there for it’s metaphorical significance, such as the scene of the crocodiles being captured. It’s a vicious battle which we see before the final battle of the War of Independence. Another metaphor is the image of a somewhat greedy Dutch man on board the ship, taking three large spoonfuls of rice for his own plate, under the unsmiling, and disapproving gaze of an Indonesian waiter.

I very much hope that Indonesians will be offered the opportunity to see this beautiful film. I think they will appreciate the recognition of their story and the empathetic and respectful way in which it has been told.

by Cynthia Webb
Copyright June 2020

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“The Beach” (2020) by Warwick Thornton

Alexandra Wyman “THE BEACH”(2020) produced and directed by Warwick Thornton (Australia)

“The Beach” (the TV SERIES) produced and directed by Warwick Thornton, has just concluded its premiere screening on SBS and NITV tonight…29 May 2020. This was the chance to see the six episodes in one long, glorious viewing. Thornton, is one of Australia’s leading film directors, famous for “Sweet Country”(2018), “Samson and Delilah”(2009).

For a break from the pressures of modern life, Thornton goes to the Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia for a few months living in a corrugated iron hut on a spectacular spot beside the Indian Ocean, under the awe-inspiring skies, with the Milky Way hanging overhead. He’s eating from the sea and mangroves and gifts of eggs from his three chickens. He’s well-equipped with tools, and cooking equipment,carefully chosen to create a certain harmonious “look” of the time of exploration and do-it-yourself rustic independence and, he has his chickens for company. It turns out that Warwick Thornton is a creative cook, and the culinary influences are decidedly South East Asian.

He shares his deepest personal memories while chatting with the chickens. Past regrets and an animal ghost from the past that still haunt him are revealed.

The D.O.P was Warwick’s son Dylan(River)Thornton, and the images are superb, and this is an occasion when use of drone photography was necessary to capture the vastness. Although of course, Warwick Thornton was there with a film crew, we see only him, alone with the glories of remote North Western Australia, plus the local birds, insects and fish! Months of footage have been beautifully edited to guide us through Warwick’s self exploration and the daily routine of his ‘retreat’.

I hope they plan to enter this film in festivals around the world, because it is compulsive viewing and gorgeous to behold. It is also highly entertaining with a few laugh out loud moments, and the almost three hour duration passed quickly and left me wanting more! The glorious visuals and the deft editing saw to that.

It seems to me that this ‘film’ has the potential to be a major international success, and will show international audiences the awesome Australian coastal wildnerness. It could possibly re-start tourism in remote Australia too, after we’ve all finished ‘self-isolating’ because of COVID-19, as Warwick Thornton was before us, for different reasons.

Note: If you didn’t watch the premiere tonight, you can find it in six episodes on SBS on Demand. If you love good cinema, please watch.
by Cynthia Webb

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At the heart of things – APSA 2019

Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2019. Brisbane, QLD, Australia By Cynthia Webb, Brisbane, QLD, Australia


Photos by Cynthia Webb: The group – Kazahkstan and Yakutia (Federation of Russian Republics)film-makers. The other picture is Jang Young-Hwan, the Producer of “Parasite”.
The Asia Pacific Screen Awards 2019
By Cynthia Webb, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

The Asia Pacific Screen Awards for 2019 (APSA) were announced last week, chosen by an international Jury, from an array of remarkable talent from the region. It is the thirteenth year of this event, the “Oscars” of the Asia Pacific Region, which has been building up a reputation in the region for being a platform that gives an opportunity to first time film-makers. It is the region’s most prestigious competition. However, it’s not only for those starting out. Many internationally famous film directors from the region have submitted their films to APSA over the years since 2007. Some of their names: Asghar Farhadi, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Elia Suleiman, Makoto Shinkai, Hany Abu-Assad, Lee Chang Dong, Kore-eda Hirokazu, Nadine Labaki, Zia Zhangke, Feng Xiaogang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Apichatpong Weerasethkul, Hayao Miyazaki.

The results of APSA 2019 are to be found in a previous posting on this website/blog, so please refer to that article for the complete list.

The Awards Ceremony was on 21st November in Brisbane, QLD, Australia, and saw a South Korean film that is a standout in the world of cinema this year, win the coveted Best Feature Film category. It was “Parasite”, directed by Bong Joon-Ho which won the prestigious Golden Palme at Cannes Film Festival back in May 2019, and has been a hit with both critics and audiences wherever it has been screened ever since. It’s currently screening in the USA and here in Australia. The secret of this fabulous film’s success is that the director has his finger on the pulse of the socio-economic situation in the developed world. For decades now, wealth has been moving into fewer hands, and the previously ‘middle class’ are finding themselves struggling along with the poor. It’s a case of “the rich get rich and the poor get poorer”, as the old song lyrics of last century said. However, technological change and economic behavior has rapidly brought about a crisis of unemployment and lack of political-economic confidence. At APSA the Producer of “Parasite” Jang Young-Hwan said that in every country he visits with his film people say to him, “You are telling our story.”

Besides its topical subject matter, it is brilliantly written and directed by Bong Joon-Ho and is best seen knowing nothing about the plot, because the screenplay takes you to places you cannot foresee. Acting is superb, as is every other aspect of the movie. It has a strong chance for a big win at the “Oscars” too. Bong Joon-Ho already has quite a big reputation in the whole world, for his films, “The Host”, “Snowpiercer” and “Okja”.

Another obvious development that must be commented upon is that APSA finds itself very well-positioned and well established at the centre of the massive surge of world-wide interest, in Asian cinema and TV. Some years ago, only Bollywood (Indian musicals) was recognized out in the English-speaking and European regions. However, with the advent of Netflix and many other streaming platforms now available all around the world, people have discovered and are going crazy for Asian series, such as drama series from Turkey, South Korean films, series, and K-Pop. It was a K-Pop video on You-Tube that showed the world that it is possible to have a billion ‘watches’ on that platform! Turkey is now second only to the USA for global distribution of TV series.

Writer Fatima Bhutto has recently published a book, “New Kings of the World”, on this subject and says that “Hollywood is late to this conversation.” She also remarked that ‘tokenising’ an Asian character into an occasional film, or making such a film as “Crazy, Rich Asians” doesn’t cut it.” She doubts that Hollywood can even catch up, as people are turning to other sources, and Hollywood is becoming irrelevant.

However, it must be noted in their favour, that the Motion Picture Association (MPA, of Hollywood) have been involved with APSA for ten years, and their Asian regional representatives are always present. In partnership with APSA , the MPA provides funds for four $US25,000 grants to film-makers of the Asia Pacific region. Writer/directors submit their screenplays for evaluation and a special panel selects the fortunate four.

This very fund was awarded to Asghar Farhadi, when he was at APSA with his film “About Elly”. He submitted the screenplay for “A Separation”, won a grant of funding of $US25,000 and went back to Iran to make the film. He reappeared in November 2011 with the finished film, and won the Best Feature Film Award. The film travelled to many of the world’s major Awards events and won an impressive number of them, completing its spectacular success by winning Best Foreign Language Film at the Hollywood Academy Awards in 2012. Asghar Farhadi went from being known only to some people in his own country, to being a household name around the world, often referred to as a Maestro of Cinema, within about a year!

Such is the value of APSA, and the assistance it provides to get a film out into the wider world, and a film-maker from unknown to famous status, – providing that film-maker has the talent required. The competition is fierce at APSA. The films submitted to APSA from places that many people can hardly find on a map, let alone know they have a film industry, are sometimes quite breathtaking.
The world is an ever-shrinking global community, as the digital age connects us all, in more and more ways. Streaming platforms are even more powerful than traditional cinema screenings for that.

China is a massive maker and market of its own films – a world unto itself, because it is so huge.
India is similar.
Japan has long had a world respected film industry, although not so many of their films have ‘hit the big-time’ out in the mainstream cinema market, except for the superb anime from Studio Ghibli, (director, Hayao Miyazaki), and some of the films of Akira Kurosawa, although Hirokazu Kore-Eda has recently been becoming widely well known.

South Korea has a spectacularly successful cinema of its own and that industry has a history of 100 years, on which APSA focused attention this year. South Korea produced 454 films in 2018, and audiences favour home-grown content, the domestic box office share being usually above 50%. Koreans still go to the cinema more often in a year than the citizens of most countries. South Korean content ‘travels’ and that country exported a total of $US600 million worth of screen content in 2018. 41% were films, and 69% was television viewing. Around the world viewers are finding it interesting, something unusual, and refreshing. South Korea has some world renowned auteurs, such as the afore-mentioned Bong Joon-Ho, Park Chan-Wook, Lee Chang-Dong, and Kim Ki-Duk. Argentina and Chile, are two of the biggest markets for the South Korean screen fare.

The great thing about these new times of digital film-making is that now opportunity for wider distribution is available to films from such lands as Kazahkstan, Yakutia (in Federation of Russia), Bhutan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey, Georgia… to mention but a few.
At APSA the international members of the various panels and Juries who have the task of going through well over 300 films, to narrow down the number to about 37-40 nominees, are frequently heard to remark on how they are stunned by the wonderful films, and the opportunity to learn about the way of life and culture in all these varied countries.

Indeed, APSA’s most treasured aim is to find well made films that show the culture and way of life of the land from which they come. These films can promote understanding and friendship around this rapidly changing world. There is an important APSA award for this, entitled The Cultural Diversity Award, which is sponsored by UNESCO, and this one is near and dear to the heart and soul of everyone involved in APSA.

This year, APSA had four days before the evening of the awards announcement ceremony, during which they ran the Asia Pacific Screen Forum. This consisted of events, workshops, panel sessions with leading film-makers of the region, which the many international film industry visitors and others could attend, to learn more about the regional activity and have a valuable opportunity for net-working. Out of acquaintances and friendships made at such events, co-productions, and co-operations of varying kinds may develop. One particularly interesting event was called “Meet the Programmers” where a panel of people who run or program international film festivals, talked about how they do their job… finding fresh new voices, selecting from the vast number of submissions that pile up, to be viewed and evaluated, and about how different film festivals have different aims and public images. This was all extremely interesting and valuable information for the film-makers listening.

The vision of APSA, was first conceived by Mr Des Power, of Brisbane, back in the mid 2000s when it was so very far ahead of its time. For this writer, he is a hero and a visionary.

APSA’s reputation grows and spreads and that will speed up by the world-wide viewing preference for streaming films, rather than going to the cinema. Yes, some people still love the experience of the big screen, and the collective viewing, but a majority find it a lot easier to stay at home and select from a streaming platform such as Netflix and many others, where the choice is so much wider and more international.

A sign of the times is the fact that Martin Scorsese’s newest epic film, “The Irishman” was funded by NETFLIX, when Hollywood studios all declined to put up the admittedly huge budget needed for his very long film, needing a lot of expensive Special Effects work. So, the film had only a brief outing of a couple of weeks in a small number of cinemas, before the Netflix worldwide community can have access to it. This follows on from Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma”, also produced by Netflix. Both of these very famous and acclaimed Hollywood directors had previously been the darlings of the Studios.

As Bob Dylan once said “The times, they are a’changing.”
POSTER Parasite

Copyright – Cynthia Webb November 2019
Photos – Cynthia Webb

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Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2019 have been announced tonight – 21st November

Korean Filmmaker, Bong Joon-Ho wins Best Feature Film at 13th Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
POSTER Parasite

IMG_6583
Photo: Jang Young Hwan – producer of “Parasite”

Bong Joon-ho’s international hit Parasite has claimed Best Feature Film at the 13th Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA).

The region’s highest accolade in film, APSA celebrates the cinematic excellence of the 70 countries at a glittering red-carpet ceremony in Brisbane in November.

13 countries and areas collected awards, with many of the winners also being their country’s Official Submission for the Academy Awards.

37 films from 22 countries and areas of Asia Pacific were nominated.

The win for Parasite was accepted on the night by producer Jang Young-hwan and marks the first win for Korea in the Best Feature Film category since Secret Sunshine took out the inaugural prize in 2007.

The powerful story Beanpole (Dylda, Russian Federation) is the only film to take home two awards. Ksenia Sereda is the first woman to win Achievement in Cinematography, and Kantemir Balagov and Alexander Terekhov won Best Screenplay.

Achievement in Directing has gone to Adilkhan Yerzhanov for his Kazakh noir feature A Dark, Dark Man. Yerzhanov, who earlier in the week was the focus of the Director’s Chair at the inaugural AP Screen Forum, accepted the award on the night. It is his second award following the APSA NETPAC Development Prize win in 2013 (now the Young Cinema Award) for Constructors.

Winning for the second time, widely celebrated Indian actor Manoj Baypayee takes home the APSA for Best Performance by an Actor for his role in Bhonsle. Bajpayee’s win marks a staggering four years in a row that an Indian performer has won in this category.

From the Philippines, Max Eigenmann has won Best Performance by an Actress for her role as a woman fighting to free her life of domestic violence in Verdict.

The International Jury awarded a special Jury Grand Prize to Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, who wrote, directed, produced and starred in APSA-nominated film It Must Be Heaven.

The six feature film categories and Jury Grand Prize were determined by the APSA International Jury composed of Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo, Australian film and television producer Greer Simpkin (APSA Best Feature Film winner Sweet Country, 2017), Cannes and Venice Film Festival selector Paolo Bertolin, Korean screenwriter, theatre actor and Russian literature specialist Oh Jung-mi (APSA Jury Grand Prize winner Burning) and Deputy Chair of the European Film Academy, UK film producer, journalist and activist Mike Downey (APSA Cultural Diversity Award winner Dede).

Determining winners in 3 categories, the APSA Youth, Animation and Documentary International Jury was made up of Indonesian auteur Garin Nugroho (chair), award-winning Syrian film director and producer Diana El Jeiroudi and CEO of Animal Logic Zareh Nalbandian.

Australia’s Rodd Rathjen has won the Best Youth Feature Film for Buoyancy, produced by Samantha Jennings, Kristina Ceyton and Rita Walsh. Set in Thailand and Cambodia, Buoyancy is the debut feature film from Rathjen who accepted the award on the night.

Weathering With You (Tenki no Ko, Japan) has been named Best Animated Feature Film. The film is directed by Makoto Shinkai, who also took home the inaugural APSA in this category for in 2007 for 5 Centimetres Per Second.

Best Documentary Feature Film has been won by the Israeli production Advocate, from directors Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche. The compelling work is the story of Jewish Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel who has defended Palestinians in the Israeli courts for 50 years.

The prestigious Cultural Diversity Award under the patronage of UNESCO was awarded to director Jamshid Mahmoudi for the film Rona, Azim’s Mother (Islamic Republic of Iran, Afghanistan).

This award, determined by the dedicated APSA Cultural Diversity International Jury, represents APSA’s founding partnership with UNESCO, and the shared goals of the two organisations in the protection and preservation of cultural identity.

Jury Chair is Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad (APSA Cultural Diversity Award winner The Idol); Lebanese documentary-maker and actress Zeina Daccache; and Dương Bích Hạnh, head of the Culture Unit at the UNESCO Bangkok Office.

The winner of the International Federation of Film Producers Association (FIAPF) Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film goes to Katriel Schory, one of the most respected figures of Israeli cinema.

An industry figure since the 1970s, Schory produced more than 150 titles through is production company BELFILMS LTD. However, it was for his more than 20 year role as Executive Director of Israel’s main film funding body, where he produced and promoted 300 films, that he is credited with rescuing the Israeli film industry. He helped to revitalise Israel’s reputation through an emphasis on diversity and international co-production treaties that opened the country’s cinema up to the world.

The APSA Young Cinema Award has been won by emerging Indian filmmaker Ridham Janve whose feature The Gold-Laden Sheep and The Sacred Mountain was also nominated for Best Feature Film and Achievement in Cinematography. Directed by and produced by Janve and produced by Akshay Singh, the film tells the story of a remote mountainous culture under threat from modernity.

APSA-winning films Parasite (Republic of Korea), Buoyancy (Australia), Verdict (Philippines), Beanpole (Russian Federation), Weathering with You (Japan) and It Must be Heaven (Palestine) are all their respective countries’ Official Submission for the 92nd Academy Awards® in the Best International Feature Film category, with Rona, Azim’s Mother Afghanistan’s 2018 submission.

Also announced during the APSA Ceremony were the four recipients of the 10th MPA APSA Academy Film Fund, which for the first time, went to four women filmmakers.

The Fund, celebrating its 10th anniversary, was created to support the development of new feature film projects by APSA Academy members and their colleagues from the culturally diverse Asia Pacific region. The fund awards four development grants of US$25,000 annually, and is wholly supported by the MPA. In 2019, the four recipients are:
– Delphine Garde-Mroueh & Nadia Eliewat (UAE/France) for THE STATION
– Rachel Leah Jones (Israel/United States of America) for REALITY BITES
– Catherine Fitzgerald (New Zealand) for SWEET LIPS
– Dechen Roder (Bhutan) for I, THE SONG

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“Birds of Passage” (Columbia, 2018) directed by Cristina Gallego/Ciro Guerra Reviewed by Cynthia Webb

POSTER Birds of Passage
“Birds of Passage” (“Pajaros de Verano”) reviewed by Cynthia Webb

In 1968 the modern world caught up with an Indian tribal group called the Wayuu living in a remote part of northern Columbia. The powerful film “Birds of Passage” by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra tells us the tale of the rise and fall of Rapayet ( Rafa) and the family he married into. They are members of the Wayuu tribal group living in the desert and still observing strong traditional customs that have served them well for all of their history.

The handsome young man Rapayet wishes to marry the pretty young daughter of the wise and dignified Matriarch of the tribe, Ursula. The film opens with a ceremony being held where he is asking permission to marry her, and performing certain customary duties. They look down on him as a poorer man from a lesser family, and ask for very large dowry to be paid for her, before she will be allowed to marry him. No doubt they think he cannot produce it and they will then find someone better, but his desire for this maiden is powerful.

He and his lifelong friend Moises are dealing in bags of coffee and some liquor, and have a sum of money, from a sale just completed. They are drinking together at a small roadside stall when the owner tells them something that changes their destinies forever. He points out some passing “Gringos” who want to buy a bulk amount of marijuana and asks them if they know how to get it. Not long after, a young American couple who are down in Columbia with the Peace Corps, sit down at the café. Rafa approaches them and makes an arrangement. He has a cousin who grows marijuana, who lives up in the green mountain region. There is quite a large group of Gringos, young hippies, smoking ganja and giving out pamphlets that read “Say No to Communism.” This appears to be their only work.
After the two men have made an arrangement with the Americans, Rafa tells his friend “Say yes to Capitalism.”

Rafa and Moises journey to the mountains to approach his cousin Anibal. Anibal is also very traditional, like Ursula, and is reluctant to deal with them at first, because of tribal and social differences, but when he sees the bundle of money, he agrees and provides the appropriate amount of sacks of marijuana. Rafa and friend deliver them to the Americans, and sit later watching them from a distance – commenting “Look at them. Weed is the world’s happiness”. Rafa corrects his friend , “No , it’s THEIR happiness.”

Now Rafa has the money to provide the excessive dowry demanded by Ursula, and marry the lovely Zaida, and we next see them, with their first baby in her arms.
So begins Rafa and Moises’ rise to undreamt of wealth and also the beginning of the notorious Columbian drug trade.

The film is divided into five Chapters, and we watch as Rafa’s children grow up, and we observe as the inevitable escalation of wealth and greed causes certain people to become reckless in what they are willing to do to keep their monopoly of the drug trade.

I should not tell you more – suffice to say that the fall of the two families, is inevitable too, and by 1980 we are introduced to the future – that the drug bosses will be hard headed businessmen in the city of Medellin from now on, rapidly leading to Pablo Escobar and the worldwide drug trade that we are familiar with today.

Meticulous anthropological attention is paid to showing us the traditions of the desert people, and their way of life. This plague of greed introduced by foreign influences has taken hold in the family, and it leads to the loss of their spiritual identity and trust in their connection to the land and old ways. It’s like when the Spanish conquerors came and introduced unknown evil diseases to South America.

The wide screen (2.35:1) expanses of flat golden land and wide skies are beautiful to behold, and then we see the bizarre white modern mansion, built with blood money standing there in the middle of the otherwise empty expanse. It has come to this – the family is imprisoned by their own fear in a luxury prison of their own making, haunted by menacing dreams and thoughts.
The performances are all faultless, by Carmina Martinez as Ursula, Jose Acosta as Rapayet, Natalia Reyes as Zaida, and Jhon Narvaez as Moises. Carmina Martinez is outstanding and she is the figure around whom everything revolves. She stoically insists upon the old ways and customs, and sums up the danger and what must be done, with clarity and dignity. She wears a necklace which shows her Matriarchal position in the tribe, and also carries a pouch containing a powerful talisman belonging to the entire population of Wayuu people.
My second viewing confirmed this film to be a rare work of cinema. The sound-scape created for the desert world and the music of the indigenous people, complements the rich and riveting experience. If you have the chance please see it on the big screen, for a powerful experience.

It is such a treat to see a film unlike any that we’ve ever seen before, which plays out like a Greek Tragedy that has emerged from the earth in another time and place.
Copyright – Cynthia Webb, Nov 2019
POSTER image – courtesy of the Producers
IMG_1322
Photo: Ciro Guerra, co-director of “Birds of Passage” along with Cristina Gallego

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“Pain and Glory” (Dolor y Gloria) 2019 by Pedro Almodovar

POSTER Pain and Glory

“Pain and Glory” (“Ddolor y Gloria”) 2019. Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar
– Comments by Cynthia Webb
There has always been a magical ingredient in the films of Pedro Almodovar and as time went on from his first film, “Pepi, Lucy, Bom and the Others” (1980), to his twenty-first film, “Pain and Glory” it was always there, although sometimes the rather wild subject matter took one’s attention away from it. My theory is that it is his sincere affection and empathy for all humanity.

His technique became more and more refined, until in “Pain and Glory”, it is sheer perfection. Such a light touch is shown here, compared with the opposite signature, back in the 1980s.

Almodovar collected many major awards along the way, especially when “All About My Mother” signaled a new stage in his skills.

“Pain and Glory” is different, because we experience it as ‘auto-biographical’. It’s difficult not to! The protagonist is a film director, Salvador Mallo with health problems and professional problems stemming from all that is going on in his mind, emotions and painful body. His life story in the film is more than a little similar to Almodovar himself, and his look. Almodovar’s career has been well documented and we know a lot about him throughout his life as Spain’s foremost film director, and the resemblance is impossible to get out of one’s mind while watching this gorgeous film.

Antonio Banderas’ performance as Salvador Mallo is one which is sure to bring nominations as Best Actor, in both Europe, and Britain, and probably the USA as well. It seemed to me that the two men merged into one in my mind, while I watched the film.

Penelope Cruz, who like Banderas, has often worked with Almodovar throughout all his film-making years, was excellent too – playing the mother of the boy we see growing up in rural Spain. We have read so much about Almodovar’s childhood, his love of his mother and the other women around him when he was growing up in a poor La Mancha village and it’s impossible not to think this is auto-biographical. There are presumably some fictitious episodes in “Pain and Glory”, and also things that really happened to Almodovar himself.
However, it doesn’t matter which is which, because this is a very accomplished piece of film-making and a sheer joy to experience. It is quiet, it is sweet, it is touching, it is filled with love and nostalgia, humour, forgiveness, endurance and hope too.

The construction of the film – its way of taking us through the story of a film director in the later stages of his career feels so natural and flows in a most beautiful way, until it arrives at the place Almodovar was always going to take us – into a new film by a maestro of the art of film-making.

It is suffused with the aforementioned magic ingredient, and it’s the soul of Pedro Almodovar himself, expressed as only he can do. No-one compares to him in being able to manifest such empathy. I feel fortunate to have lived in the same era as this artist of the cinema, watched all the films in chronological order and grown older with him.

I love this quote from Almodovar:
“Cinema has become my life. I don’t mean a parallel world, I mean my life itself. I sometimes have the impression that daily reality is simply there to provide material for my next film.”
This quote has become a reality in his latest film and as it ended, I was filled with a sense of sheer wonder. How does he do it? How does he balance all the things that go into making a film, and yet have this delicacy, beauty and personal sincerity in every frame.

Don’t miss it, if you are an Almodovar aficionado, nor if you are a lover of fine film-making.

Copyright, Cynthia Webb
October 2019

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“War and Peace” (Russia) 1965 Sergei Bondarchuk

POSTER War and Peace widescreen
“WAR AND PEACE” (Russia) 1965 by Sergei Bondarchuk)
by Cynthia Webb

Monday 8th Oct. 2019: I went to the “marathon” screening at the Cinematheque at the Gallery of Modern Art, (GoMA), screening as part of the Brisbane International Film Festival. It was the gloriously restored version of “War and Peace” ( from the book by Leo Tolstoy)- the Russian film by Sergei Bondarchuk. It started at 10.30 a.m. and ended at 6.20 p.m. There were three ten-minute breaks. The cinema was almost full – a lot of people ready for the treat and the challenge of such a long film. I loved every minute of this totally stupendous film and it didn’t feel “long” for me. It won the 1966 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and rightly so! It features glittering ballroom scenes in palaces, the most amazing battle sequences ever filmed. It is such an enormous artistic-creative project, and rather than try to talk about it all, I will just say that everything is excellent, and the cinematography is awesome, literally.
What a story – Tolstoy’s finest, and the story is of the greatest importance to Russian people.

“War and Peace” was made with the participation of The Red Army, and with unlimited budget from the Soviet State. Russian dignity depended on it. After the weak and most ‘un-Russian’ version from Hollywood with Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer a few years earlier, the Soviets were moved to show us the REAL Russian soul.

Many readers already know the story. Bondarchuk stars as Pierre Besukov, who adores Natasha Rostov, but she loves Andrei Bolkonsky, a difficult man. The story opens in 1805, involves years of wartime, and continues until the momentous year, 1812, when Napoleon’s army marched into Moscow following the Battle of Borodino. Oh, what a dark day that was! This sequence made me cry. It’s as bad as watching the war-time footage of Hitler’s troops marching into Paris. Chilling. The Muscovites had left the city, taken or destroyed most of the food, and set alight to their mostly wooden homes. Almost the whole city burned. Only the Aristocrats had stone mansions. These were ransacked and robbed by the invading army. However the crafty Russian General Kutuzov had purposely drawn them into the city, so that they would be trapped there, without provisions and with winter looming in the very near future. “I will make them eat horse-meat” he said. This failure to understand Russia, its people and its climate, was the beginning of the end of Napoleon’s reputation and career.

Lesson: Don’t mess with the Russians! Even so a second megalomaniac, Adolf Hitler made the same mistake.

An interesting true piece of information is that it was difficult to find any Russians who would set alight to their beloved city, Moscow, so criminals were released from the prisons on condition that they would do the terrible deed.

Thank you to Brisbane International Film Festival and the guest programmer,Australian film director Baz Luhrmann, for bringing us this legendary piece of world cinema.

I’d seen it before, but it was back in 1966! I have the DVDs at home, but they are not the widescreen restored version! This was an unforgettable cinematic immersion which any cinephile MUST take advantage of if the opportunity arises.

copyright Cynthia Webb
October 2019
Photo Courtesy of the Producers

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“Time Regained”/”Le Temps Retrouve” 1999 directed by Raul Ruiz (review by Cynthia Webb)

Poster TIME REGAINED

“Time Regained”/”Le Temps Retrouve” 1999, directed by Raul Ruiz
Review by Cynthia Webb
I am still drifting and dreaming inside the corridors of the mind, the chambers of memory of Marcel Proust, after seeing the exquisite film of his “Le Temps Retrouve”/”Time Regained”. This piece of pure cinematic bliss was made in 1999 and directed by one of the great ones, Raul Ruiz.
Today I took the train from Gold Coast to Brisbane (1 hour 20 minutes) to see it at the Cinematheque at the Gallery of Modern Art. I did so because the opportunity to see this film has never come up for me before and because I knew from viewing other work of Raul Ruiz, that the journey would be worth the trouble. There is one more screening on Saturday 24th August (2019).
Ruiz demonstrates that he is a true maestro of cinema’s possibilities, through the genius and beauty with which he has brought Proust’s great work to the screen. So many films are just like “visual books” and do not use the full potential and possibilities of film making. Here is truly cinematic expression of a novel. It is not like the usual films we see, not even like the great films we have on our jealously guarded list of special favorites. This film will certainly be added to mine, and near the top of the list too! It’s almost unique, and the only other filmmakers whose work comes to mind after experiencing it, are Andrei Tarkovsky and Theo Angelopoulos.
How is it different?
Marcel Proust is confined to bed, knowing he’s in his last days, and he is lost in his past, as he looks through his papers and photos, and memories come bursting into his mind of those certain moments from his lifetime, that we all carry like vignettes…. scenes from the movie of our life, that have never faded, but which we still can feel, smell, hear, and locate in the place where they happened. Sometimes they come to us when we are dreaming, sometimes when we are awake. Those indelible memories stored in the part of our memory where they are destined never to fade.
One is called upon to identify with this dying man, and the call is more difficult to ignore, the older one is.
So as Marcel recalls his life, his family, friends, loves, acquaintances, the people in his social circle, the tragic time of the First World War, we, the blessed audience are taken back there with him….. into the streets of Paris, into the Salons of the upper classes, the rich, the famous, the aristocratic, even into a dark and murky S & M ‘house’ for the very best people only. Our “time travel” is not chronological, and we see Marcel, and various other people as they were in their youth and middle age, and even their last days, but not necessarily in that order. We experience the memories as certain stimuli cause them to suddenly come alive in Marcel’s mind, sometimes from a sound, sometimes because they are linked to another memory – just in the random way that we are all familiar with. It is all brilliantly constructed and not difficult to follow if one is paying the attention that this work of art deserves.
One scene in the home of one of Marcel’s relatives where a musical concert is being presented (a violinist and a pianist), is beyond complete description, such is the atmosphere created. Ruiz and his brilliant cameraman, Ricardo Aronovich, have devised a way to move the camera and also move certain groups of the people sitting, listening entranced, in a crowded room, so that we are floating with them in a sort of divine sorcery.
From Proust’s writing we know that he was an acute observer of his times and we see him as such, in this scene of the film too. He is well connected, and respected in the highest circles of Parisian society. He weaves his way around the gathering, during the interval in the musical programme, when everyone gathers around an enormous table adorned with delicious sweet patisseries to complement the sweetness of the music. Marcel has total mastery over smiling, observing and listening – being the one to whom people will tell what’s on their mind. He is a master of discretion, and doesn’t say much at all, just looks empathetic and keeps on moving about once the person has shared their gossip, leaving each one feeling understood.
There’s a lovely scene of Marcel and his wife, Albertine, played by Chiara Mastroianni. To see Chiara is to see her real life father, Marcello Mastroianni, alive again, in her lovely face.
The nice thing is that Chiara’s real life mother Catherine Deneuve also has the plum role of Odette, a legendary beauty of the Belle Epoque era, in this film. (We have recently also seen Chiara in the 2018 film “Claire Darling”.)
Starring as the adult Marcel, Marcello Mazzorlla perfectly allows us inside his head, to spy on his memories.
Also starring here are John Malkovich, as Baron Charlus, Marie-France Pisier, Emmanuelle Beart as the daughter of Odette, Vincent Perez, plays Morel the musician.
The Belle Epoque (which ended with World War One) is recreated in a sublime manner through the set decoration and costumes, and a screenplay adapted from Marcel Proust’s novel, as well as the performances of the many actors (all just perfect).
“Time Regained” runs for 163 minutes and comes to us in three parts, those being before the war, during the war, and after the war. It’s an era, a lifetime, that expressed a long established condition in French history, class structure and way of life, that was violently swept away by the war. We are witnessing the momentous end of an era that had been refined to a high degree of sophistication, manners, class consciousness and sheer beauty. It’s difficult to understand just how different everything was afterwards.
Raul Ruiz was born in Chile, and began his career there, but left the country to live in Paris in 1973 after the government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by a USA supported coup, and replaced by General Pinochet.
In Paris, Ruiz was prolific and completed a total of 100 films during his forty years of filmmaking. He died in 2011, and sadly isn’t so well known in his native country, Chile. However, his talents were much appreciated by the Europeans.
“Le Temps Retrouve”/”Time Regained” is for me an unforgettable experience and a sublime work from a maestro of cinema.
Copyright, Cynthia Webb, August 1999
Poster image, courtesy of the producers.

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“The White Crow” (2019, director, Ralph Fiennes……….. review by Cynthia Webb

 

 


“The White Crow” (2019, director Ralph Fiennes)
By Cynthia Webb

The White Crow (belaya vorona) is a Russian expression for a misfit, a non-conformist, one who stands out from the crowd.

This was certainly Rudolph Nureyev. His character was like that, his background was one of struggle, born on the Trans Siberian Express near Irkutsk, growing up hungry in wartime, with loving mother, and absent father. His Muslim parents were of Tatar heritage – (inheritors of the blood of Mongol conquerors of the 12th and 13th century). His childhood was spent in Ufa, with three older sisters, an outcast amongst the other children, wearing ragged clothes and often on the sidelines.

At age seventeen, Rudolph (Rudik, his mama calls him) came to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) to try to catch up on years of dance education, and was in the care of ballet master, Alexander Pushkin, played by Ralph Fiennes, who is also the director of this film. He had had some dance instruction since a young age, and there are some precious scenes near the end of this film, of the little Rudolph performing traditional dance, based on a Russian story. He learned to have great belief in story, advised by Alexander Pushkin that it should be expressed in one’s performance and Rudolph believed also in one’s own destiny.
Rudolph is profoundly determined, self confident, and ambitious, and works hard. In Leningrad, his innate talent is noticed immediately, but time must be spent on refining his wildness. Rudolph worked extremely hard to catch up on all that he had missed. It could be said, that in dancing, the refining process more or less worked, but not in his personal life. He later danced with considerable technique, but fortunately for Ballet-o-manes of the world, they didn’t crush his wildness, which seemed to be the thing that audiences felt, appreciated and adored.

He was offered a place in the Kirov Ballet, narrowly avoiding being sent by the Soviet government, back to the small town of Ufa from which he came, presumably to teach dance, and ‘give back’ to the people of the Soviet Union who paid for his education up until that time. Intervention from high places saved him, (the director of the Kirov) and the prima ballerina Natalia Dudinskaya who wished to have him as her partner, for their mutual benefit.

In 1961 the Kirov Ballet toured to Paris and London. It was the first time Kirov Company had ever performed in the West. The ballet company was in Paris for five weeks, escorted and watched by KGB men. It was risky, sending a large group to the West in 1961, the height of the Cold War. Presumably the Soviet government gave approval, in a conflicted way, knowing it was dangerous, but wanting to show their enemies The West, just how cultured they were. This was definitely true. Ballet was invented in France, but it was Russia that perfected the great art, and no-one argues with that, then or now.
Rudolp Nureyev was a strong individualist, and longed for freedom in a most powerful way. He knew he was the best, and he wanted to show the world. His rebellious personality was so much ‘the individual’ that he was made for Capitalism/Freedom, and living in the Soviet Union’s culture did NOT suit him at all. There, he was certainly the misfit, the White Crow.

In Paris, the 23 year old dancer won the love of the audiences, and made friends. He went out with his new French friends every night and every day to see the great culture of France, in Museums, and in cabarets and including gay clubs. The French awarded him with their coveted Nijinsky Medal of Honour. They saw him as the new Nijinsky, a dancer who had set Paris alight back in the Twenties, when the Ballet Russe performed there. He met a young woman, Clara Saint, who was close to the family of high level politician and novelist, Andre Malraux, and seemed to know everyone who was anyone. They became close friends. Nureyev was gay, and he was arrogant, proud, and sometimes rude. He’d learned English back in Russia, but sometimes he didn’t use it well. However, she forgave him everything and played a leading role in the success of his tense and terrifying defection at Le Bourget Airport, as the company was leaving for London.

The film shows the tense drama at the Airport as being set off by his KGB minder telling him that he wouldn’t be going to London with the Kirov Company, but must return to Moscow to perform. When he refused another excuse for why he should do as they told him, was explained to him, in an attempt to defuse his resistance. But suspicious Rudolph resisted, and panicked. One of his French friends, at the airport to see him off, intervened, made a phone call to Clara Saint, she came as soon as she could, and talked to the airport police, who soon intervened. Rudi was saved at the eleventh hour, by the laws of France relating to people who request political asylum.

This story is well known by almost everyone across the world, as it was in every newspaper, on every television screen, and talked about ever since. It was a disaster for the Soviet Union, and a triumph for the West in the propaganda war.

The film implies that he wouldn’t have defected in Paris, if the KGB hadn’t tried at the last minute to get him separated from the company and returned to Moscow. Their reason was that they knew he’d been out and about so much in Paris and was loving every minute of it far too much. They suspected he might be planning to defect. However in the film the defection in Paris is shown as something, unplanned, but forced upon him by crisis at the airport as the other dancers left to go to London. After the event he was declared a traitor to his country, and he thought he would never be able to return. In fact he was allowed to return 26 years later for a visit.

One of the beautiful parts of this film is in the flash-backs to his life in the Soviet Union, and to his childhood. These scenes are extremely real and genuine looking, and show just how much he has to give up, to renounce, leave forever, by defecting….the good as well as the bad. He is a man caught between his love of his family, friends, and Mother Russia, and on the other alternative, his powerful individualist’s nature and dream of showing the world what he can do on their ballet stages. Russia’s great and fine heritage and history is a force to be reckoned with, and Rudi must make a choice In with nothing but a glass of cognac to help him, during 45 minutes alone in the police room at the French airport.
We all know the result.

As cinema, this is a fine piece of work by Ralph Fiennes, who is more recognized as an actor, but has directed several fine films. His education and love of art and culture is evident in all of them. In his own scenes in the film he speaks Russian.

There are no extravagant scenes of ballet performances, and this aspect of the story is handled in a more subtle and lonely kind of way. We see Rudolph Nureyev on the stage still standing isolated ( as in childhood) … or watching from back stage. He is portrayed as deeply thoughtful, with great artistic sensitivity, immense intelligence and self confidence that cannot be ignored, by himself or anyone else. He is shown observing everything that happens around him – what does it mean, is it useful to his ambitions? However, sometimes his pride over-rules everything and he says and does things that could bring him undone. He is saved by his immense talent, clearly evident to all who see him dance.

The role is played by an accomplished Ukrainian ballet dancer, Oleg Ivenko and he has done a fine job, with both the dancing and the acting. The personality of Rudolph Nureyev as shown to us by Oleg Ivenko and the director Fiennes, dominate the entire film, as indeed it should.

The writing by the maestro David Hare is sublime.
Locations and art direction and cinematography are very fine. The film has been made in Serbia, France, Croatia and Russia, and it is nice to see that the Executive Producer was Liam Neeson.

Clara Saint a solemn young woman in mourning for her boyfriend, son of Malraux the writer and politician, is played by Adele Exarchopoulos, (remember her from “Blue is the Warmest Colour”).

Russian actress Nadezhda Markina plays a small role, as the Government official who tells Nureyev, in no uncertain terms, that he is just a small cog in the big Soviet wheel, and must leave Leningrad and return to his remote hometown and pay back his debts in contribution to Soviet culture. She has been seen in the films of renowned director , Andrey Zvygintsev and has visited Gold Coast, Australia for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, when nominated as Best Actress in “Elena”.

“The White Crow” is the perfect title for the film, which tells an enthralling story of the 20th century, and shows us the type of man Nureyev was, to make him brave enough and able to do such a drastic and terrifying thing, at that Paris airport in 1961.

Copyright – July 2019 Cynthia Webb
Photos  from the film provided by the Producer

Portrait by Sanden Senior, (Assoc Press) of the real Rudolph Nureyev in 1961 the year of his defection.

RUDOLF NUREYEV; NUREJEW
POSTER 2 The White Crow

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“Everybody Knows” (2018) Asghar Farhadi

EVERYBODY KNOWS (Spain, 2018) directed by Asghar Farhadi
review by Cynthia Webb
POSTER Everybody Knows

In November, 2014 I was speaking with Asghar Farhadi while he was in Brisbane, acting as Jury President for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. He told me that he had just spent most of the year in Malaga, Spain, resting and writing screenplays, after some very busy years following the success of his film “A Separation”. That break-out work of cinema won many awards around the world and topped its achievements off with the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. He had also made “The Past” in France, before his Spanish getaway. Mr Farhadi told me how much he loved Spain, and added, “Oh, the music! The dancing!”
Since then one of those screenplays, “The Salesman”, a story set in Iran, won him a second Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Then at last it was time for him to return to his beloved Spain, in August 2017 to shoot the second of the screenplays he wrote there – “Everybody Knows”.
I wholeheartedly agreed with his love of Spanish culture, and was reminded of his remarks again today while watching his latest film, “Everybody Knows”, set in Torrelaguna, a small Spanish village to the north of Madrid and starring Penelope Cruz, her real life husband, Javier Bardem, and the much respected Argentinian actor, Ricardo Darin.
Penelope Cruz plays Laura, a woman who grew up in the village, who returns with her two children, from Argentina for a family wedding. Her husband Alejandro, played by Ricardo Darin is not with her, and doesn’t appear until about half way through the film, after a crisis occurs and she asks him to come. Returning home to her parents, and siblings and the extended family, she also meets up with her first love, the local man Paco, played by Javier Bardem. They haven’t seen one another for sixteen years, and he is happily married, as is Laura. However, if you come from a small village, you are never really free of the past and the village knows all, hence the film’s title.

There is a joyous family reunion, preparations for the wedding, the wedding itself, and the party, and then suddenly the mood changes, and film becomes a ‘domestic mystery’. While the first part of the film is showing us the delights of Spanish family life, music, dance and celebration, we are actually being ‘fed’ pieces of information that may seem unimportant at the time, but later will tie up many linkages and explain everything – so pay attention. So as not to write any ‘spoilers’, I will not talk about the story. It is best if you go along, completely ‘in the dark’.
Suffice to say that Asghar Farhadi has written another of his unique screenplays, which explore the minutiae of family and close-friend relationships, especially when the situation involves a small town where everybody knows. His screen-writing is unmistakable, and his ‘fingerprints’ and ‘thought-prints’ are all over it.
There were certain small similarities relating to personal relationships, that have also been in most of his former films, going back to “About Elly” (2009).
Because of the Spanish setting, and an obviously bigger budget than usual, and because the film is not made for the Iranian market, it is far less claustrophobic than his films set in Iran, where the women are wearing head scarves, (even in their homes) and somber covered-up Islamic clothing required by Iranian censors. For the wedding party scenes Farhadi has been able to ‘let his hair down’ and the women are wearing colourful and by Iranian standards, revealing clothing. The wedding singer has a backless dress, many of the guests have bare shoulders and plunging cleavage. This is not normally something I would even mention, but it is unusual in a film by Asghar Farhadi and the reason why the film feels more expansive and ‘international’. The wedding party features wonderful music and dancing – flamenco touches abound and that is where I was reminded of him telling me how much he loved that, back in 2014.
The first part of the film moves along at a brisk pace. There is a lot to tell us, and he has to do it without making us feel as if we are being primed. The editor has done a fine job and the actors too. After the wedding celebration, the whole pace changes, and so does the mood.
We are in the same situation as the protagonists, trying to solve a mystery, and although we don’t feel as anxious as they do, which I think may be the only short-coming with this film, we are busy trying to concentrate on what we’ve been told, what we are learning now, and figure it out.
I think that this film for the world market, but set in Spain, has proved what some people have been wondering, including myself. Could Farhadi leave behind his culture, his country, and the intimate knowledge of the way things work there, and make a totally non-Iranian film? ( Six out of his total of eight feature films have been made and set in Iran.) Well, he can! He did so with “The Past”, set in Paris, featuring only a minor link with Iran, through one character. He has definitely demonstrated his skills here, particularly the screen-writing, and to tell his story he has used the aspects of his characters’ lives that are not ‘Iranian’, but ‘human’. Anywhere, and everywhere, some things are always the same. Small towns, multi-generational families and their dynamics, past love affairs, young love, the way events of long ago are not forgotten, and memories do not stay buried. When a stressful situation arises, old resentments bubble up to the surface and muddy the waters. To sort things out, even the most deeply buried secrets must be revealed.
We have here a world class director, working with three world class actors, who are backed up by an excellent Spanish supporting cast.
I particularly liked the closing scene, where more secrets are being buried, to perhaps bubble up to the surface at some time in the future. This is a masterful screenplay, and one worthy of Asghar Farhadi’s reputation as a Maestro of the cinema.

IMG_8181

Copyright: Cynthia Webb, March, 2019
Poster: thanks to the Producers
Photo: thanks to Sunita Jariwala for taking the photo of Asghar Farhadi and me during our conversation in November 2014 in Brisbane, Australia.

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Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2018 – In the right place at the right time

APSA 2018 posterAPSA award vessels by Joanna Bone

Overview of industry change, and APSA’s potential as the cinematic focus shifts to Asia
By Cynthia Webb, Brisbane, Australia

This awards event is similar in form to the Academy Awards, of Hollywood. The first “APSA” year was 2007, and this year was the twelfth year of celebrating the cinema of the Asia-Pacific region. Asia’s population is 4.5 billion, Asia comprises one third of planet earth and encompasses 70 countries.
Asia Pacific Screen Awards, was the brainchild of Mr Des Power, then working for Events Management of the Queensland State Government. He is an ardent cinema lover and his idea came to him in the right place at the right time. That place is Brisbane, in the State of Queensland, Australia. He told me last week, about the vast amount of planning, travelling, persuasion and talking it took to bring this ‘baby’ into the world. In some countries film-makers welcomed the idea, others couldn’t quite ‘get it’, and wondered, “but why in Australia?”

To this writer, APSA’s situation in Brisbane, Australia is ideal. This is because although Australia is geographically placed close to South East Asia, it has a somewhat ambiguous position, also being part of the Pacific region, so it could be seen as a somewhat neutral territory, a little on the edge of Asia. Australia has a Pacific Ocean coastline but is not quite actually in the Pacific either. Our continent is so big that it is a transition territory between the Pacific and Asia. Therefore it can be seen as not inclined to any kind of unfairness, parochial attitude or bias towards a particular country, culture or religion. It also helps that as English has become the second language for the world, Australia is an English speaking nation. Most of APSA’s international visitors can communicate in English, however for those who cannot, translators are provided.

Brisbane is also home to the Asia Pacific Tri-Ennial of Contemporary Art at the Gallery of Modern Art. This huge exhibition has recently opened and is on show at the same time as the twelfth APSA event. In late November, Brisbane was the artistic ‘hub’ of the Asia-Pacific, with so many artists, and film-makers in the city.

APSA has two special concepts at its heart – first, to recognize and reward excellent film-making, and second, to recognize the films that most reveal cultural diversity and therefore promote international understanding and friendship. Six films that began ‘life’ at APSA, by being awarded the APSA-MPA film fund, towards their creation, have premiered in Cannes, Venice, and Locarno film festivals, and several of them were nominated in APSA list this year.

For APSA 2018, 46 films were in the list of nominations and they came from 22 Asia-Pacific countries and areas. A surprising fact is that over half of this year’s nominations were from first time film-makers, such is the talent in the region. There was a new category this year, Best Musical Score, an important addition.

In the twelve years since the beginning of APSA the statistics of film production and distribution have changed considerably. Half of the films made in the world are now made in Asia.
Lord David Puttnam, the legendary British film producer was a special guest at APSA, and its partner Griffith University Film School, again this year and he remarked that APSA has a “phenomenal opportunity because it is sitting at the heart” of a world cinema revolution, as focus moves to Asia, from Hollywood, Britain and Europe.

The day before the APSA Awards were presented he gave a most interesting Master-class, and I will sometimes share his comments in this article, because he expressed so well, the potential for APSA in the region.
He told us: “In China alone we can compare the fact that only three years ago the top six box office films included five American films and one Chinese film. Now it is the other way around – six Chinese films and one American film. There was a 46.7% increase in Chinese domestically made films just in 2018.”

APSA has already been at the heart of quite a few success stories. It was at APSA that some of the big names of contemporary Asian cinema have found an international platform for their earlier films – I’m thinking of Asghar Farhadi (Iran), Lee-Chang Dong (South Korea), Hirokazu Kore-Eda(Japan), Nadine Labaki (Lebanon), Anurag Kashyap (India) Nuri Bilge-Ceylan,(Turkey) Andrei Zvyagintsev,(Russia) Jia Zhangke,(China) and others who have been submitting their films to APSA over the twelve years of its history.

I read in the British Film Institute’s “Sight and Sound” magazine, July 2018 issue, a remark from the editor, Nick James: “Take the Hollywood element away from any festival and you find that the art of cinema is alive and artistically thriving, mostly in Asia.” He was commenting on the fact that American films were scarce in Cannes this year. “Instead, what we got was a carnival of cinema art, the best of it from Japan, South Korea and China – a programme of the highest quality with good choices.”

This draws attention to the fact that the Hollywood product has become increasingly predictable, consisting mostly of franchise films, super heroes and remakes. In my opinion, they have entirely lost their imagination, and financial courage, and think mainly about ‘sure-thing’ formula films, blockbusters and box office returns, when considering green-lighting projects.
Many of the same Asian films Nick James praised at Cannes Film Festival, were submitted to and then nominated in this year’s Asia Pacific Screen Awards too, such is the high regard that has developed amongst the top Asian film-makers, for APSA. For example at APSA 2018, the Japanese film “Shoplifters” won Best Feature Film. (It also won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.) The star of Jia Zhangke’s “Ash is the Purest White” Zhao Tao, won the Best Actress award. A Jury Grand Prize, went to Lee Chang-Dong’s “Burning”. Nadine Labaki, of Lebanon won Best Director for her new film “Capernaum”. All of these were highly regarded or awarded in Cannes last May.
“Cinema is the art form of the twenty-first century”, Lord David Puttnam declared in his Master-class, the day before the APSA Ceremony.

Once the only screen in our lives was the cinema screen, and we would buy tickets and go there for a shared evening of entertainment on the big screen. It was the big night out for people until the advent of television. I will always treasure the memory of when cinema was truly spectacular, shot in the 70mm film format, and there were huge screens and 70mm projectors in the cinemas to screen these epic films, such as my personal favorite, “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962). The Sixties were the technology pinnacle of the film era. Then along came the video tape movies for rental and VCR player in the home. People didn’t have to go out to see movies of their choice anymore. Technological change speeded up when the digital era dawned, with DVDs, then Blu Ray discs. Home viewing was never easier or cheaper.

However, Lord Puttnam explained that for some time now, people increasingly prefer the Movie Streaming Services, which are catching on rapidly around the world, and are especially popular in Australia and China. Netflix is the choice of 31% of Australians, but in other Asian countries Netflix subscriptions are still in single digits. A corresponding change he mentioned is that sales of the physical versions of films in his home country the United Kingdom, are falling rapidly and this is an international trend.
“NETFLIX have gone into film production, as have AMAZON. Netflix has already won 43 Emmys and Amazon, has won 10 Emmys. The patterns of release and distribution of the films have changed, and the old Hollywood business model is being left behind and will collapse. The middle-man is being eased out of the picture. “This is the real world, and it’s not going to go away,” said Lord Puttnam.

Today’s young people are OK with streaming movies and watching them on their tiny Smart Phone screens – from one extreme to the other, in sixty years.
Whatever their size, screens are all around us, the most predominate way of communicating in the modern era, used not only for film and television, but for many other aspects of our lives.
Lord Puttnam said, “More and more money than ever before is chasing film-making talent. It’s a growth business – Culture and Technology is the ultimate power couple.”

All of this immense change, much of it during the lifetime of APSA, certainly does place APSA in the heart of things. It is open for first time film-makers, or for famous directors who already have two Best Foreign Film “Oscars” from the Hollywood Academy, such as Asghar Farhadi of Iran, whose international success story closely involves APSA and their partner, MPA (Motion Picture Association of America). Farhadi first came to APSA in 2009 with “About Elly”, and also with an idea for his next film. That project won the APSA-MPA funding and he went away to make “A Separation”, his international “break-out” film, which won the Oscar. He followed that with “The Salesman”, another Oscar winner. In 2014 he visited APSA again to act as President of the International Jury.

This story demonstrates that APSA can achieve its aim to help the region’s film-makers become known outside their own countries, and even achieve world fame.
Another project is the APSA-Griffith University Screen Lab, where emerging film-makers can submit a project hoping to be chosen for the program. This year there are three mentoring scholarships and three lucky film-makers will be mentored for a year while they are developing their screenplay in readiness for shooting. Their mentor is an appropriate member of the APSA Academy which now has a membership of 1200 international film-makers – winners and nominees in the past twelve Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
Asia is the creative centre of world cinema now, and APSA is the region’s very own international competition. The future is shining with potential.

To see the full list of winners for this and every year of APSA, please visit http://www.asiapacificscreenawards.com

Copyright – Cynthia Webb, December 2018

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“Israfil” directed by Ida Panahandeh (Iran, 2017)

Esrafil poster
IMG_3585
REVIEW by Cynthia Webb, 19th May 2018
“Israfil “ (2017, Iran) directed by Ida Panahandeh (pictured above)
Review by Cynthia Webb
While in Iran recently, I watched this very moving second feature film of the young female director, Ida Panahandeh. Her first film was entitled, “Nahid”, and also concerned the often difficult lives of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran. “Nahid” won a prize in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes Film Festival.
Ida has studied film making in Tehran, and also in Berlin’s “Talent Campus” in 2009, after being recognised as having great potential. This film, “Israfil” showed very mature film-making and is quite a remarkable achievement for a second feature film. I will be watching the future work of this gifted young film director, very closely.

This new film, “Israfil” is like a master-class in classical film-making. Her DOP, Morteza Gheidi, deserves special mention, because the colour design of the film is very subdued, and each frame is carefully thought out to the artistic conventions of composition. The cinematography is always calm and unobtrusive, to complement the behavior of Mahi, and the resigned nature of her attitude to life. The Editor, Hayedeh Safiyari, has supported the quiet tone of the film’s story, by cutting in a measured manner, and although I imagine every woman in the audience was feeling the sadness, perhaps the males were unable to grasp its full message.
The setting is in North Eastern Iran, a small town, where a female teacher, Mahi Ebrahimi (a role written for and played by Hediyah Tehrani, who won Best Actress Award at the Fajr International Film Festival for this performance) is mourning her teenage son Babak, recently killed in a car accident. Her ex boyfriend Behrouz, (Peyman Bazeghi) from almost 20 years ago, has returned from Canada, to sell some family land, and turns up at the funeral. The relatives of Mahi are furious, and there’s an angry uproar in the kitchen of her family home, while her Uncle Abbas says he wants to kill the interloper, with shouts such as “How dare he come back here?” The others manage to calm him down, but he’s a man who will not ever change his mind and forgive.
Then begins the ‘back-story’ and secrets are very quietly revealed. This man, Behrouz, has been the Mahi’s lover in their youth, and in such a subtle way, we learn of his true connection to her and the boy. He and our heroine, walk together and talk and remember past times when they were young, innocent, happy and in love. But it’s all impossible now. He has a new girlfriend.
As the film is divided into three sections, we next meet Sara, (Hoda Zeindabedin) who is Behrouz’s much younger girlfriend, whom he met online, and she has a story of her own, concerning her mother and her brother, which we explore and come to understand why she wishes to go with Behrooz to Canada. Her story too, reveals family problems and responsibilities that can also cause great difficulties to the younger generation.
Finally the third section brings us back to the protagonist, Mahi’s current day problems, which are caused by several things. She’s in grief for the loss of her son, she has committed indiscretions in her youth, which haunt her to this very day, and now she’s alone, with no husband (they split up) and no son either. At her teaching job, there is also trouble.
Life for a woman in modern-day Iran, is filled with pitfalls, and in a small town, it’s even more difficult, as no-one forgets anything, and everyone gossips.
The director has kept control of every tiny detail of this film, and it is loaded with empathy for the difficult lives of women, especially in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Two or three times I found my eyes filling with tears. It was powerful empathy for the brave women of this world who have a more difficult life situation than me.
Always, the quiet and deliberate pace is sustained, to communicate to us the kind of life that one would live in such a small and distant town, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. It’s like walking on egg-shells.
The story ends with little hope for the proud and brave Mahi.
Ida Panahandeh, the director explained that she had a lot of trouble getting the screenplay past the Islamic Republic of Iran’s censors, to get permission to make the film. There was one element that may have been the cause, but wasn’t because it was transmitted in such a subtle manner, that perhaps they didn’t notice it. The problem they cited, was that the young woman Sara, states that she wanted to leave Iran, to be able to study art and have more opportunity, by going to Canada with Behrooz.
The title, “Israfil” is the name of one of four angels in the Iranian Islamic tradition, who has a trumpet. In Western world, he is the equivalent of Raphael. There is a line in the script that tells us that our protagonist’s grandmother had some plates with a painted image of Israfil on them. She and Behrooz find one in an antique shop while browsing and talking.
The fact that Mahi is socializing with Beyrouz again, albeit in public places only, scandalizes the town, because everyone knows that they were once in love, and that she attempted suicide when he fled from the town, in fear of her angry uncle. So to mention a “spoiler” which is kept so VERY subtle in the film, Behrooz is the father of her dead son, and she has been hurriedly married off to someone else to avoid scandal. This “ruined her life”, she says, and she has divorced from the husband, who has since died.
The film tells us that these strict religious and social traditions have been cruel to the young people in love, and that both their lives were ruined, but it tells us this almost wordlessly. The spirit of the dead child seems to be one of the main characters in this film, although he’s never seen, except in a picture. He is the link between Behrouz and Mahi, and he is the beginning of their sadness and is hovering over it now. The words that come to mind to describe the feeling of this lovely film, are poignant, dignified, and even tragic. It has so much humanity.
The film was recently shown to considerable acclaim at the BFI’s London Film Festival, 2017.
Copyright 19 May 2018, Cynthia Webb
Poster courtesy of the Producers and IMDb
Photo of the director by Cynthia Webb, copyright, 19 May 2018

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Press Conference with Oliver Stone, Tehran, Iran. At the Fajr International Film Festival, 19-27 April, 2018

Press Conference 25th April 2018 at the Fajr International Film Festival, (FIFF),Tehran, Iran.
(Festival Director, respected Iranian film maker Reza Mirkarimi.)
Report by Cynthia Webb (Tehran, Iran)

Media from Iran, from nearby countries, and even from Agence France Presse,and even Hollywood, attended this very interesting Press Conference, with a man who is certainly not a typical American film-maker, however he is a very famous one. His films have won several Oscars, and he has always had an interest in “the other side of the story” which is demonstrated by his documentaries as well as the feature films. His documentaries include interviews with Arafat,Castro, Chavez, Netanyahu, and Putin, and the ten episode series: The Untold History of the United States of America, made with a prominent American historian, which is riveting viewing.
Mr Stone came to Iran a few days early, and visited, Kashan and Esfahan before coming to the FIFF for workshops with Iranian film students and the press conference. Apparently he is the first big name American film-maker to ever attend this festival. As for the Fajr International Film Festival, he mentioned that it was a great opportunity for inter-dialogue between film-makers and other people.

He said it is his first time to come to Iran, and that he has met the warmest of hosts, and smiles. He added that movies speak any language.
Mr Stone explained that he had seen between 12-24 Iranian films, amongst thousands from many other countries. At this Film Festival he has watched about ten films, and was particularly impressed by those from Central Asia, Russia and even Germany too. He said it was a more relaxed festival for him, because he was not presenting a film of his own.

When asked why he accepted the invitation to come to Iran, Oliver Stone replied ,“ The history and culture. Persia has been on the map for two and a half thousand years. I was always interested in Iran but I have been very busy. However, this Festival is at the right time for me, and my son and my South Korean wife have urged me to come here. I am having a wonderful time.”

As for Iranian films, Mr Stone said that when he was on the Jury of a Film Festival in Bhutan, he saw many interesting Asian films, and “Blockage” from Iran was one of the co-winners . He commented that it was a very honest film, about corruption, even in everyday problems. He said, “The main character was a policeman, and there seemed to be no shame about the corruption. The film was absorbing to watch and the Jury all loved that film. It happens everywhere to some extent.”

In recent years, Mr Stone has made a lot of documentaries: “The Untold History of the USA”, The Putin Interviews, and also films about Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Arafat, Benjamin Netanyahu. He said he has been finding it refreshing to get back to reality, and talk to real leaders. When asked if he had any plan to make a film about an Iranian leader, he answered that he did not.
Another question came about if he had considered making a film about the activities of ISIS, which are seriously affecting some countries in the region. He said “That’s a very good idea! Write a treatment and we’ll pitch it!” He was smiling, and then added that actually the world is very political, including the world of cinema and thatthere’d be little chance of him getting the money for such a project.
“You can do it honestly, here in Iran,” he added.

Deborah Young from “The Hollywood Report” asked his opinion of the situation regarding famous Iranian director, Jafar Panahi. Mr Panahi has a film in the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, (“3 Faces”) as does another Iranian, Asghar Farhadi. Mr Panahi cannot attend, as his passport is still revoked by the Iranian government.
Mr Stone did not know the full details and said that if Mr Panahi had made quite a few films, then that is an achievement in itself, and that he is personally against all ‘detention’.

(Note from the writer:) Mr Panahi was arrested, forbidden from making films for 25 years, passport revoked, and he was under house arrest for a long time. This was because of his outspoken comments in the street demonstrations after an election in Iran, in 2009. He also had a history of making films critical of the Iranian regime, particularly with regard to women’s rights, and even his newest film “3 Face” has that same theme. It later won a shared Best Screenplay prize at Cannes Film Festival, 2018.)

Asked what he thought of Iranian films, Mr Stone said that a few were very good, and continued, ,“I often wonder how can some films are so monotonous and don’t have enough tension. He made this comment in general , about films from many lands that he sees in Festivals across the world. He then advised – “Make your film exciting.” He mentioned that the issue of pace is subjective, according to your cultural background and told an anecdote about the legendary Billy Wilder (Hollywood director) who said “Make your point and get off. Cut the film in three weeks and have a preview.”

The subject of international prejudice against Iran was raised, when another reporter mentioned that lately a lot of films had made Iranians the villains. (e.g. Hollywood’s “ARGO”).

Then Mr Stone brought up his film “Alexander” 2004, (Iskandar) which was discussed in some journals as “anti-Iranian”. He clearly had a lot of historical knowledge about Alexander The Great’s exploits in Iran, and the historical battles with the army of Emperor Darius. He told the audience that there have been several versions of this film released on DVD, and that he had a lot of trouble with Warner Bros Studio’s very strong management. He said they had wanted a lot of things censored, such as sex between males, and the violence cut down. “It was very limiting” said Mr Stone. “The only version to watch, the one that I supervised and love is available widely around the world, entitled “Alexander: The Ultimate Cut” which came out in 2014 as a fourth version.. It runs for 3 hours 26 minutes.” This DVD has sold over a million copies and came out ten years after the original studio version.

The next matter raised, was that the Israeli press had published negative stories about Mr Stone coming to Iran and had printed some incorrect facts in the past, saying he had requested to interview Amedinejad. He assured the audience that the latter was totally false information. Israeli press also criticized him for visiting Iran for the Film Festival, criticism that he just ignored.
Someone asked which world crisis he felt would be interesting to make into a film.
“That’s a giant subject,” he answered. Then continued to say that it would be better to work on the subject of ISIS’ effect on the Middle East countries in documentary form, rather than feature film.

On making political films he mentioned that his film “W” ended in 2004 when President George W Bush ( the subject of “W”) invaded Iraq, and therefore the movie suffered at the box office. Stone said that he loved the film for its satire. He explained a particular scene, showing President Bush and Dick Cheney, studying a map of the region. The Cheney dialog – “Our goal”, (pointing to the oil rich Middle East nations and Iran). “The prize is oil money. We’re going to Baghdad!”
When the President asks, what is our exit strategy? Mr Cheney replies, “There IS NO exit!”

Mr Stone admitted that it hurt him when the American Press criticized and slammed the film, but he acknowledged that it was predictable, as American soldiers were at war with Iraq at the time.
“My timing sucked!” said the director.

He went on to say that ever since then (2004) the USA policy was Regime Change. It has been a pattern since 2001 – 2018 for the Neo-Cons, a policy that works for them. He said, “It is referred to as “creative destruction”. It’s a disgusting policy, ruining millions of lives, and continual tragedy is unfolding. It has been the same under both Presidents Bush, Obama and now Trump. America will break any treaty. We are continuing to do this. The USA tore up the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia. For us, treaties are breakable! We lay waste to a region and we call it “peace””.
Stone is openly appalled at the foreign policy of his own country. (note from writer: only a few weeks after this Press Conference, President Trump tore up his agreement with the Iranian Government about their nuclear power stations, so after that the Iranian parliament followed suit, tearing it up too, now that it was one-sided. It was a huge media story in Iran, and greeted with much dismay.)

Speaking about his impression of Iranians, Mr Stone praised the ‘charm, warmth and softness’ of Iranians he has met. He then added that one Iranian man told him – “We can be hard when we want to!”

A reporter from France asked about censorship in Iran, and requested comments, to which Mr Stone said that censorship restricts artistic freedom.’ Then he expanded by saying that there was almost no interest in his film “W” or “Snowden” in the USA, and that this too was a sort of censorship. However in France and Germany where 60% of people approved of what the real Edward Snowden had done (he was a whistleblower about USA government activities in spying on citizens) it did well.
“In some countries censorship can sometimes be excessive, to protect national security. For film-makers dealing with a subject that is about such matters, film-makers must be very subtle – it’s the only way to get around the problem. In the USA when I cannot get the money to make a politically controversial film, they call it “Economic Constraints”, but actually it’s a kind of censorship working in advance. No studios wanted to go near “Snowden”. “They just don’t give you the damn money!” Mr Stone exclaimed.

There was some plain speaking from Oliver Stone. He made a special point of again addressing specifically, the representative from the Agence France, to say that he had been very depressed by seeing on TV the previous evening, the young French President Macron, in cahoots with Trump on certain issues, and thought that it represented a return to the thinking of the French colonial era Imperialist attitudes. He said that Macron didn’t seem to have much sense of history. Mr Stone noted that his own mother was French. It was clear that Mr Stone definitely wanted his comments known in France, by taking this action.

Another questioner enquired as to whether Oliver Stone thought that was any chance of Iranian films penetrating the USA, and being widely seen there.
He answered, “No, because no other international cinemas have managed to do it yet either,” and mentioned China, and France as examples. He went on to say,
“Americans won’t watch sub-titles, and most of them do not travel abroad. However things are changing, through television where we have Netflix. Sometimes some hit TV series and films from France and England have been re-made in the USA”
Note from writer: Examples are “House of Cards” (based on a former, British version of the series, which was even more edgy). Also several French comedies by Francis Weber have been treated to the American re-make treatment in the past. The Swedish film, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was re-made with American setting, by David Fincher. This is about the limit of such international film-sharing. So, it is not very promising for Iranian films to hope to get wide viewing in the USA.

There was then a question on whether Mr Stone would like to make a film about the situation in Syria, and he said that he would never be able to get the funding for such a project, as an American. He also mentioned that he “looked to Saudi Arabia as the major destructor in the region.”
Someone said that he had once made statement that George W Bush was like John Wayne. Therefore, who would he compare Donald Trump to?
His answer coming quickly, was one word, “Beelzebub”. There was a bit of explanation for some who didn’t know that this name Beelzebub is associated with the Canaanite God Bal, and was later associated with the Devil.

As is by now very clear, the political nature of Oliver Stone’s previous work and political interests, plus the situation in this region of the world, and the strained relations between the USA and Iran, led to the majority of the questions at this press conference being political ones.

Next, an Iranian journalist wanted to know if he knew about the eight year Iran/Iraq war, and if he’d like to make a film about it. He said, “no, not much at all, but that it was an interesting subject for an Iranian film.” He added, “You have to remember I am limited, and it is not possible at my age, and that it would be impossible to get the money for such a project because the USA was supporting Iraq at that time, when Iraq attacked Iran. (although not necessarily for the actual attack). He said that if there were chemical weapons in Iraq, they got them from the USA. “The USA fights proxy wars” he said, looking very depressed and angry about this fact. As for his future work, he said he’d return to subjects in the USA.

The final question was about whether Oliver Stone thought that at rare times in the West, when Iranian films won prizes, ‘was it a political choice’, rather than based on the merit of the film. (Two Iranian films are in competition at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, from Asghar Farhadi, a 2 time Oscar winner in Best Foreign Language Film category), and Jafar Panahi, a political activist who has been punished by the Iranian regime with strong restrictions on his life and professional activities.
Mr Stone answered, “Probably”.

As the press conference, which had been very long, wrapped up, I looked at my list of questions, and regretted that I had not known about the list to put my name on, to ask a question, and also, perhaps I wasn’t important to be on that list anyway, as I am not from any major newspaper or news service.
……………………………………………………………………………
My final note: For the record, I’d have liked to ask about the fascinating moment during his Putin Interviews, when he enthusiastically showed Mr Putin footage from the Stanley Kubrick film, “Dr Strangelove – or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb!” I had watched Mr Putin’s face carefully, and he did NOT seem to think this image of the end of the world by nuclear war theme was any kind of laughing matter. Perhaps this extremely black satire/comedy just didn’t “travel” or perhaps he needed to watch the entire film or perhaps he did. It wasn’t clear but a scene out of context is certainly not really fair if that’s what happened.
Also, I wondered what Oliver Stone thought about the standard of the films emerging from Hollywood in recent years, where I see a depressing fall in the intelligence and quality. There are very few quality films, or good dramas on serious subjects emerging from the Studios anymore. Another of my questions, he had commented on during the conference, which was about whether he was intending to return to making feature films. He had already said that he would. If he does so, then it will be a big relief to see some good work about serious subjects again, in my humble opinion.

Copyright, Cynthia Webb, Tehran, Iran
Photos by Cynthia Webb
Film Poster: Courtesy of the Producers, via IMDb
26 April, 2018

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“The 15:17 to Paris” (2018) Directed by Clint Eastwood. (review by Cynthia Webb)

POSTER 15 17 To Paris
“The 15/17 to PARIS” (2018) Directed by Clint Eastwood
By Cynthia Webb
Perhaps Clint Eastwood’s days as a great director are over, going by his latest offering. Or perhaps this screenplay just didn’t have enough interest in it to sustain a feature film, albeit a comparatively short one, at 92 minutes.
“ The 15:17 to Paris”. This film is interesting for the fact that it tells the story of an event in August 2015, and the 3 young male stars are the actual young men who participated in dramatic events on the Thalys fast train between Amsterdam and Paris. At Gare du Midi, a Brussels train station, a 25 year old Moroccan man boarded the train. He went into the toilet and was noticed to have been a long time and a couple of men were waiting outside the door. When he opened the door, he was shirtless, but heavily armed and dangerous. One man instinctively tackled him, there was a scuffle, a shot was fired, and one passenger was shot and was on the floor losing a lot of blood. In the carriage, were 3 young men, Americans, life-long friends, two of them with training in the armed forces. They showed the benefit of their training, and did not hesitate to charge at the assailant. With help from a couple more male passengers, (French and British) they took his gun and knocked out the Moroccan, trussed up with ties and whatever else was to hand.. One of the Americans spent 20 minutes with 2 fingers jammed inside the bullet hole in the neck of his fellow passenger, pressing on the artery and thus saved his life. The train was diverted to a station about 20 minutes away and the police, and medical help boarded , removed the injured, the would-be shooter, and it was all over.
This is all public knowledge, and I’m sure most people remember that it was widely reported around the world.
However, I am sad to say that this is really the only interesting part of the film, when it begins to feel like a Hollywood Studio film directed by a legend, rather than home-movies.
For two-thirds of this one and a half hour movie, we are watching the standard growing up of 3 ‘All-American boys’, nice boys, good people with caring families. The opening scenes are truly awful, because they show two of the mothers getting repeatedly called to the office of the Principal of their Christian private school. However the film does not show their sons as even slightly deserving of being in trouble, OR having Attention Deficit Disorder, as one teacher informs the flabbergasted mothers. She thinks they should be on medication, but we the audience have seen nothing unusual.
This film could have been considerably improved and more interesting, if there had been an attempt to balance their All-American stories, with the story of the young Moroccan man…. Who was he, why was he on the train with all these guns. What was he thinking? What led him to this? He later claimed in court that he wanted to rob people, not kill, but he had enough firepower to kill most of the passengers. However, he appeared to be very inept with weapons, and fortunately for almost everyone, the AKM assault rifle jammed. He seemed to be a lone amateur and a bit of a bungler too. I might point out that there is a large community of Moroccans who live in Belgium, most of them good law abiding people. Way back in 1964 the Belgians invited them to come to live there and work in their coal mines, also steel and auto industry – work that Belgians weren’t keen to do themselves.

As for the young American heroes, following the childhood scenes, there’s a stretch of watching their grown up years, finding careers for themselves, and till close friends, keeping in touch via Skype.

When they plan a backpacking tour together in Western Europe, there’s more footage reminiscent of any American tourists’ amateur video recording – yes, far better quality than that would be, I admit, however the content is unremarkable… Eastwood seems to want us to only see the glories of Europe as a backdrop to the young heroes. The friends take a lot of Selfies, see a few of the compulsory “tourist attractions” in Italy, Germany and then go off to Amsterdam, after meeting an elderly musician in a bar, who tells them how great it is there. As they “do” Rome, Venice, Berlin, they seem to hardly bother to look at the history all around them. Like so many tourists I’ve seen in Europe myself, they are more interested in taking Selfies.

This first 45 minutes of backstory, is occasionally punctuated with some brief ‘flash-forwards’, with which Eastwood has attempted create a link to a moment happening in their youth. .. or maybe try to tell us everything was leading to this event on the train. One of the young men is still a dedicated Christian, and so there is, at least twice, a bit of unconvincing dialog, about being drawn to something powerful in his destiny. If those things were really said, and felt, the film has failed to show it as anything more than random chance.

In Amsterdam they are even considering not bothering to go to Paris. Are they in their right minds? Some of the dialog is rather lame on this subject too, where they say that various people they’ve talked to say it’s not worth bothering to go there. Are average Americans really this culturally blind and insensitive or is it just the folly of youth, or dare I say it, growing up in one of world’s most insular nations?

At least I enjoyed a small moment when they were on a bicycle tour of Berlin. The tour guide told them they’d stopped on the location of Hitler’s suicide, at the end of the war. One of the Americans, argues and says he thought Hitler died at his Alpine retreat in the South. The German says that Hitler was right here and it was the Russians that took Berlin, and caused Hitler and Eva Braun to commit suicide, in their underground bunker. He said, “You American’s cannot take credit for everything, in the war.” It is indeed a fact that it was really the Russians who won the war, and they lost eighty men for every one G.I. who died in World War Two. They had been fighting the Germans in the East for four years, when the Americans finally entered the war in only the final year.

The action scenes of the drama in the train are quite a relief after the tedium of the long lead up. It probably would have been better to just make a documentary about the event for television.

Clint Eastwood has made quite a few films recently about Americans at war, going right back to Flags of our Fathers. It was generous of him to put in the above-mentioned scene in Berlin with that dialog, in a small attempt to counteract how he has glorified the USA at war. Of course the individual young men and women, their courage, their sacrifices, should be appreciated and forever remembered. But it would be far better if the USA didn’t go to so many wars these days.

However I hasten to say the world was grateful when they finally appeared in the European theatre of war, in 1944, but much earlier in the Pacific, (because they themselves had been attacked at Pearl Harbour.)

The final scenes of the film are the actual media footage of the young men and another of the passengers, being presented with France’s Legion De Honneur medal, by President Hollande, and then a sort of victory parade when they came home to their hometown Sacramento, California.

I went along, I suppose only because I have lived about 4 months in Antwerp, Belgium since 2013, and will be back there for another couple of months very soon. I often use this train line, boarding at Antwerp Station. The spectacular architecture of Antwerp Station‘s building would have been impressive. This very busy station has a “layer cake” of four levels of lines and platforms, one on top of the other, because it is such a busy point on Europe’s rail transport network.

However, back to the film, my advice is “Don’t bother” to go to it. It’s not as interesting as Paris!

Comments by Cynthia Webb
Copyright Feb 2018
Photo: Courtesy of the Producers

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“Ellipsis” (2018) Directed by David Wenham (Australia)


“ELLIPSIS” directed by David Wenham. (Australia)
Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia
Australian actor David Wenham has been on many a film set starring in some of this country’s finest films, – also television. He began to ponder the matter of how film-making could be minimalized. now that this time of digital film-making is with us to stay with equipment becoming better every year, it was time to give it a try. I was fortunate to see it on 8th February at a screening at HOTA, ( Home of the Arts, the new name for The Gold Coast Arts Centre) presented by APSA ( Asia Pacific Screen Awards) and Gold Coast Film Festival. (The GC Film Festival is coming up in April, and I hope will screen this film again.)

The result is “Ellipsis”, which was conceived, work-shopped and shot (in 18 different locations around Sydney) in only ten days. AND, there was no screenplay for the two protagonists, known as Viv and Jasper, played by Emily Barclay and Benedict Samuel. Only four crew were involved, the DOP, Simon Morris, and a second cameraman, a sound-man, David’s assistant, and himself.
David Wenham said, “It was a film that I didn’t plan to make. I was well into making another film with this couple of actors, when it fell over, because of a funding issue. It was very disappointing because a lot of work had already gone into it. So, as I’d always wanted to make an experimental film, the actors and I decided to give it a try.”
David talked to them briefly about who their characters were, and took them out to lunch, “in character”. The shared luncheon was filmed, and was a success, with very natural performances from the actors.

So the experimental film commenced shooting, on a very simple premise.
Two attractive young people collide on a busy central city pedestrian crossing in Sydney. It was Jasper’s fault because he was looking at his cellphone instead of watching where he was going. Viv, who was also carrying her phone dropped it and smashed the screen. He reverses direction with her, to the side of the street, apologises most profusely and offers to take her to a phone repair shop nearby, run by a quiet and kind Chinese gentleman. Jasper wants to pay for the repairs. At first the repairman says it’s a serious job and will take a while, but when Viv pleads with him, because she’s leaving for London the next morning, he takes it home to work on it overnight.

Hence begins a day and a night of Jasper and Viv, filling in time together, wandering around Sydney, talking, getting to know one another, laughing a lot, obviously becoming more and more in tune with one-another. The only problem is, she is engaged, back in London life. They go by bus out to Bondi, they meet a dog that is out alone but has a phone number on its collar, and call the owner. They take the dog to the owner by taxi, receive complimentary eats and drinks in this grateful man’s café, then go back out onto the streets of King’s Cross, as darkness falls. There they meet various local characters, (these are all real local people) and have further adventures. All of this was as much a surprise to the actors on location, as it was to us, the audience! The young couple are becoming ever easier in one another’s company, getting somewhat tipsy and laughing more and more. The audience is beginning to wish for some sort of ‘happy ending’.
The delight of their night together is that they are living in the moment, free of any other responsibilities, obligations, and seemingly have ‘all the time in the world’ – OR at least until 8.00a.m. next morning when they will collect the repaired phone.

While all this is going on, we have the contrasting images coming from the Chinese phone repairman’s home, where he DOES have obligations, – an annoyed wife, a mother whom he has promised that he’ll assist her with something, plus the tricky job of getting that phone operational again, without the necessary spare part in his possession. Ingenuity is required, and the ending of the film reveals the ingenious way he did it in a quiet way, to the great delight of the audience with whom I saw the film, and linking the opening and closing shot of the film.

This film was delightful, with the charming protagonists, the natural performances, and the wonderful characters of King’s Cross who participated. Spontaneity is the key word, when I think of this lovely experiment in film-making.
David Wenham explained later, that he in fact lives close to King’s Cross and knows the area and all the eccentrics of the area very well. He had made certain arrangements with the ones who appeared, however, it was all a surprise to the young actors. Eighteen locations were visited, in one day and the longest time spent in any one location was two hours. The nightclub scene was where they stayed the longest, – 20 minutes!

One would think that a film like this, leaving so much to chance and the spontaneity of the actors, could end up being a bit of a mess! However, in this case. The cinematography is extremely good, and the editing has brought it all together seamlessly . The fact that Simon Morris (DOP) has experience in documentary filming as well as narrative features was a big advantage. No artificial lights were used – there was no time or money, for that.
Following two days of ‘work-shopping’ the film, they took to the streets, and all the shots in the film were captured in one take only, with no rehearsals
When asked about the stress levels , during the shooting process, David Wenham answered, “It was the least stress I have ever experienced on any film set. We were all feeling liberated, instead of having to always follow detailed instructions.”

Well known and respected film director, Robert Connolly, (“Balibo”) was Executive Producer on this project, and he said he’d be very happy to collaborate any time on another film with David Wenham. He enjoyed it because of the freedom from the normal list of ‘barriers’ that are involved with a normal type of film shoot, that involves a lot of people and equipment. Permissions are required for so many things. Rules apply in many places, such as not being able to shoot at Bondi, or on trains, he explained. When asked about the budget for this cinematic-experiment, Robert Connolly laughed and said, “Put it this way – I’ve made short films that had a bigger budget than this one. We call it a micro-budget. It’s the extreme end of experimentation.
Immediately after the shooting was complete, David had obligations to be in the USA for a role, so editing didn’t commence until about seven months later. This turned out to be a big advantage. He found he had a useful distance from the footage, and could make decisions easily. He was not so attached to the material.

David explained more about the pleasure of this way of filming. “I loved doing it and it exercised more creative muscles than being an actor. It’s the little moments of human connection, that count. Get rid of those devices (cellphones) and you have the opportunity to really connect. “
When asked what he wanted the audience to take away from seeing “Ellipsis” he said.
“I don’t want to be prescriptive. They can take away whatever they want.”
For this writer personally, I realized afterwards, that almost the only time I find I can live in that un-tethered, free and unobligated way, following the flow of events and going with it, is when travelling, (preferably overseas.) One’s normal life isn’t pulling on one in the new place, and there’s no particular routine to keep to. If something happens, you can just enjoy it, participate, follow its lead.
It also points out in a subtle way, how much we are missing by being preoccupied with ‘devices’ as David said, and missing certain experience which present themselves, hurrying on by, following an often self-imposed routine. For a day and a night, Jasper and Viv just set themselves free.

If you have an opportunity to see this film, please go along – you’ll enjoy it, and also it’s very good to support this experiment in film-making that turned out so well. You will then resolve to be ever watchful for these fleeting moments when life offers you an opportunity to connect with a stranger, and to be careful never to let them pass you by.

Cynthia Webb
Copyright, February, 2018
Photos of Mr David Wenham: Cynthia Webb
Images from the film, courtesy of the Producers

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‘DARKEST HOUR”, Directed by Joe Wright (UK, 2018)

Darkest Hour poster
“Darkest Hour” – by Joe Wright (UK, 2018) comments by Cynthia Webb

Pretty soon, this film will be collecting major awards on both sides of the Atlantic! “Darkest Hour” is the best film of a recent burst of Winston Churchill stories. He is a towering figure in the history of the 20th Century. Early on, he got the blame for the Allies’ ignominious failure at Gallipoli in the First World War. At the age of 65, he was made Prime Minister of Britain ( 1940) when Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign, he made up for it. That early failure haunted him apparently, and so it must have been weighing on him so much when in May 1940, the British Isles were under serious threat, Europe was already Hitler’s and Britain was hopelessly ill-prepared for the war they had to begin to fight immediately. No help was forthcoming from the USA, who declared themselves “neutral” at the time. Between the 26th May and 4th of June the Dunkirk evacuation occurred, using mostly civilian pleasure craft, and fishing boats – a citizen navy. This was Churchill’s only possible way to get 300,000 British soldiers back home from now surrendered, and occupied France. I hope everyone has seen “DUNKIRK” last year, so I don’t need to elaborate about that.
The film, “Darkest Hour” is directed by Joe Wright, who has touched on the Dunkirk evacuation before, in his film “Atonement”. This for me is his best film yet though. The performance of Gary Oldman is stunning, and he’s in every scene – commanding the screen, as well as the nation. He has already won the Golden Globe Best Actor Award.
His secretary is played very competently by Lily James. Kristen Scott-Thomas plays Churchill’s beloved wife Clemmie, who was his own tower of strength. All versions of the Churchill story, have implied that the nation owes a lot to Clemmie, the smart and brave woman in the background, (confirming the famous cliche).
The screenplay by Anthon McCarten is full of wry humour, brilliant dialogue, and consists of quite a lot of quotes from actual speeches by Churchill. Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn is superb as King George, with only a slight hint of the previously filmed “stutter problem” he had… (“The King’s Speech”), the man who was not meant to be king, but had to take on the role when his brother abdicated. He ended up doing his duty for his country with great courage and dignity, and was the father of our Queen Elizabeth II. Ben Mendelsohn even looks quite similar to the King, and his body-language is just right too. The film shows that he visited Churchill in his messy art studio, unannounced…. and told him he supported him. This moment was a turning point in this film anyway, for Churchill. I’m not sure if it actually happened. Nor do I know if the very moving scene where he rides the Underground to Westminster really happened, but it is a brainwave on the part of the screen-writer anyway. This is an important and powerful film, with all performances striking the right note, and the sentimental moments, not ending up being too mushy and weakening the enormous strength of this film.
It reminds us yet again, of the immense courage and strength of Britain in those darkest hours… when things looked so very bleak and hopeless, the leaders and the ordinary people found their pride, quiet dignity, and humility and gathered in their sense of humour too, and they withstood five more years of war. This included the Blitz, (nightly bombing of London) as the war this time, was air-borne, as well as on the ground. They were able to do it because their Prime Minister, Winston Churchill was able to communicate the sheer force of his will and courage into the nation, and without the aid of television!
I must admit, that this film roused my pride in my British heritage… On both sides of my family, going back many, many generations, all my forebears were mostly English and one-quarter Irish.
For those interested in history and politics, this film is a MUST see experience.
For those who appreciate superb film-making, this film is a MUST see too.
For young people who know next to nothing about those times, this film should also be compulsory viewing. It is necessary to know what your grandparents went through, and to therefore remind today’s generation of young people that vigilance is always necessary in Democracy, and that we need strong, intelligent, courageous leaders, whose first duty is to their country. Watch how you vote! What would happen if today’s leaders were suddenly catapulted into the sort of situation in which Churchill suddenly himself as the new Prime Minister. How many of them could match his leadership and instinct for the task in hand? These are the times when decency, breeding, education, courage and guts are what is called for.
Go and see this remarkable film.

Text copyright January 2018
Photo – courtesy of the Producers

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‘Sekala, Niskala” (The Seen and Unseen) directed by Kamila Andini, 2017, Indonesia Review by Cynthia Webb

Dini with her award at APSA 2017

The island of Bali in Indonesia has become a tourist magnet of powerful attraction, but probably the majority of tourists just enjoy their holiday, and don’t know very much at all about the unique culture and religious lives of the Balinese people.

The Javanese film maker, Kamila Andini comes from a mainly Muslim culture in Java, however she has been raised by a father who is also a film director, and one who appreciates and makes films about all of the varied ethnic groups on the many islands of this archipelago that the Dutch called ‘the emerald necklace’, when they were the colonial power there.

So Dini, as she is known to her family and friends, (aged only 31, and who is now a young mother of two daughters) has a rich inner life and wide understanding of her country. She has now won two major awards at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, the first Indonesian to do so. In 2012, her film about the Bajo people, or “Sea Gypsies” of the Wakatobi region of South Suluwesi won the Best Youth Feature Film Award. Now she has done it again, by winning the same award category, with her film about Balinese twins, entitled “Sekala, Niskala”. “The Seen and Unseen”, is the best English translation, referring to the hidden ‘world’ the tourists don’t know about, that the Balinese also live in. For the Balinese, the Unseen is just as real and relevant as is the material world. (For those who would like to know more about it, refer to the book “Bali – Sekala and Niskala” by Fred B. Eiseman, Jr which was first published in 1990, by Periplus.)

At Tokyo Filmex, two days after the APSA Award was announced, the Jury couldn’t choose between Kamila’s film and the film of Mouly Sourya, ( also from Indonesia), entitled “Marlina the Murder, in Four Acts”, so they awarded both films the Jury Grand Prize. “Sekala, Niskala” has been screened in the Platform section, of the Toronto Film Festival, and at Busan too, and received a lot of comment and good reviews.

Rare films from Indonesia showing the richness of the culture, and the variations from island to island, are often totally fresh and new to the eyes of Westerners. “Marlina” is shot in the remote island culture of Sumba and is quite unique. “Sekala, Niskala” is shot in Bali, (a vastly different culture from Sumba’s). Mysticism and spiritual power that runs strong beneath the visible world of Bali. It comes from a mixture of Hindu/Buddhism and Mysticism. Seen through the eyes of the young, who are still pure and undamaged by the tourism aspect of life in Bali and the realities of adulthood, that world is revealed to us in Kamila’s delicate film.

We meet village-dwelling twins, a boy, Putra and a girl, Putri, aged about 10. The names are the male and female version of the same name. Their village is in close proximity to the holy mountain, Gunung Agung, which is often seen in the background of night-shots, and is thought of as “the navel of the world” by the Balinese. Babies and young children in Bali are seen as still connected to the Niskala, the unseen world, and these two are no exception. They run freely in the rice paddies, and play imaginative games, and can read each other’s heart and soul.

But, catastrophe strikes. The boy becomes ill with a brain tumour and must go to hospital. His sister is quite terrified at this turn of events, and is afraid to even enter the strange white and sterile room, where he has been settled on a high bed and attached to a drip. They have been so at home in Nature, and now have to go to the city and are now in an unfamiliar world.
Putri finds a way of coping by removing herself into the world of Niskala, where she puts on costumes and dances with him, she plays games with him and is often accompanied on her night time walks by the ghost-children. Her dreams of happier times together when he was well, wake her. The ghost children are also surrounding Putra in this strange between-worlds place, the hospital. He is in the slow process of leaving the real world, he is not yet in the Unseen world, but he has access, through his sister’s imagination, love and connection to it.

The passing of the months is communicated to us via the phases of the moon in the night sky.

There is very little dialogue between them, and we do not miss it, we do not need it, and neither do they. The film is all about feeling and visions of mystic life that the sad little sister enters, and allows us to experience with her. She does everything she can to hold him to her, as he is her other half. She tells him, after one of their duo dances, in wonderful bird costumes that she has created from grass and paint, that she would trade places with him, if she could. She collapses to the floor, and he collapses to the bed – it has been his final effort in this life. He soon descends into a coma.

Balinese spiritual life is linked to the Saka Luna calendar that came to Bali from Java, with the migration to the island of Hindu people from Java’s Majapahit culture, in the fourteenth century. The calendar is organized around the moon’s cycles, still also observed in Javanese culture. The new moon is the beginning of a new cycle.

Duality (represented by the male and female twins) is potent in Balinese culture. Balinese religious activities, offerings, ceremonies are directed at attempting to keep the balance of good and evil. Their traditional black and white checked “poleng” cloth represents the two opposites.
The eggs, that appear several times, during the film, tell us that these two are really ‘one’– an egg that divided in the womb. How will Putri carry on in the Sekala world, without her brother? Putri will only eat the white of the egg, and Putra eats the yolk. In the opening scene, as the boy is being wheeled into the hospital room, she symbolically crushes the last ‘whole’ egg in her trembling hand. Later she is eating lunch with her mother. In her hard-boiled egg, there is no yolk.

A lot of “Sekala, Niskala” is filmed at night by Anggi Frisca, who captures the shadows against a sky often lit up by a full moon, and the silhouettes of mysterious children in the long grass. Night magic is abroad on the island some know as the Island of the Gods. The sounds of nature are also evocative in experiencing this unique film. The scene of Putri dancing for the moon silhouetted against the night sky, and in full Balinese traditional dance costume is particularly beautiful.

Kamila Andini’s primary achievement is in the concept, and it’s in her realization that words are not necessary, and that this sad story can be fully told visually. Only the scenes with the adults have dialogue… her mother talks to her a reassuringly, and she witnesses one scene where the village men discuss the crucial to life matters of planting the rice paddies, and sharing the water. We also see Putri make an offering at a simple rice-field shrine to Dewi Sri, the Rice Goddess. On Dewi Sri, and on water, all of Balinese life depends.

In a film about a death, these scenes about life, are also about the ‘duality’ and give meaning and balance, so important to the Balinese ways.

Kamila does everything to keep the subtlety, the delicacy and the sweetness, and she succeeds. There is no story, except that a fateful time is passing quietly in the timeless pace of Balinese life, so closely linked to the sacred world and to nature. We are privileged to be watching through the eyes of the brave little Putri.

Kamila has a quite miraculous ability to see and share with her audience, the innocence and beauty of childhood, in both of her APSA Award winning films. Her gift to Western audiences is to show us how to see and feel beyond the material world.
Copyright, Cynthia Webb – November 2017

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Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2017 by Cynthia Webb

APSA entered its second decade this year, with a line-up of breathtaking films in the nominations for the awards presented on 23rd November 2017. Even before the awards night and after watching quite a large number of the nominated films I was thinking that this year the standard is the highest ‘across the board’. In previous years there has been a bit more of a variation between the winners and some of the others. But this time, all of the nominees are of a close to similar standard. I was glad I wasn’t part of the Jury, although I did choose correctly in some categories, such as Best Actress, Best Director, Best Cinematography.

Having not seen Warwick Thornton’s “Sweet Country” (Australia) which was the winner of Best Feature Film, I didn’t try to guess that category. I had already noted its excellent reviews from overseas. Warwick Thornton has won this award once before at APSA for his “Samson and Delilah”, and he made a powerful acceptance speech, talking to the other nominees and everyone in the room, telling us that we all have stories within us, and we don’t really need the cameras, we can share them in the old ways too. As an indigenous Australian (the world’s most ancient surviving culture) he knows that the spoken word can echo down through millenniums.

The Jury had so many superb films and actors to choose from, that they awarded:
Jury Grand Prize to Alexander Yatsenko, (Russia) for his work as an actor in “Arrythmia”. This is one of the most wonderful acting performances I’ve seen in a very long time and is one of the films that left me ‘gasping’.
Best Actor Award, went to Rajkummar Rao (India) for “Newton”.
A Special Mention in Best Actor category, for Navid Mohammedzadeh (Iran) for “No date, no signature”.
A Second Jury Grand Prize, to Ana Urushadze (Georgia). Ana directed the stunning film, “Scary Mother” Mentioned above.
In Best Cinematography, I was happy to be correct in giving my personal award to Pyotr Dukhovskoy and Timofey Lobov for “The Bottomless Bag”. This was a most unusual film, in sublime black and white, telling old tales from the Russian culture… and in which the whites were radiating light. It reminded me sometimes of “Rashomon” – just the look of it, or other even earlier black and white films from Russia. It was full of exquisite images.

Structured like the Hollywood Academy, the nominees and winners become life-long members of the APSA Academy, and APSA’s Academy now has a membership of over 1015 of the greatest film makers of its region. The APSA Awards are chosen each year, first by a preliminary process of finding the best of the films, which is done by an international group forming the Nominations Council. There were 42 nominations. The winners of the various awards are announced at the Ceremony in Brisbane each year.

This year around 300 films from 47 countries were submitted from the vast region.

In 2015 and 2016 there was also a film festival running simultaneously with the APSA lead up period and the public were able to see the nominated films. Q & A sessions could be held as the directors were often already in Brisbane. This seemed like an excellent idea, as each year from commencement of APSA in 2007 people would ask, “But how can we see the films?” However the two year experiment has been abandoned in favour of going back to the previous Brisbane International Film Festival, now a separate event again. Perhaps the film-fare of APSA nominations was just too esoteric for the general audience, who like to be seeing something a bit more familiar, work by directors whose names they know, such as famous Europeans.

APSA certainly takes the film-lover out into the new territories of world film-making, and believe me it is a thrilling journey. This year the nominated APSA films enabled us to experience the lives and cultures of Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Ukraine, Bhutan, Iran, Israel, India, China, Japan, The Philippines, Indonesia, Turkey, Syria, Russia, Korea, Australia, New Zealand. Many of the films left me gasping at their power, their originality, their depth of exploration of the human experience. These films have such courage and they show great confidence in their audience, that they will offer their open heart and mind to go on these journeys that can sometimes be challenging. One such film, was “Loveless”, from Russia, directed by Andrey Zvayagintsev, who won Best Director for this master-work of heartbreaking bleakness. Another one, “Scary Mother” contained great maturity of emotional content, and was directed by the surprisingly young Ana Urushadze. The remarkable actress, Nata Murvanidze in “Scary Mother” won the Best Actress Award, and rightfully so. She was breathtaking.
If Nata’s performance hadn’t been there, another wonderful young Turkish woman, would have won I think, Ecem Uzun, for her heart-rending performance in “Clair-Obscure”. Young Ecem Uzun was in another of the nominated films too, “A Big Big World” (Koca Dunya).

This was in Best Youth Feature Film, which are not films for young audiences, but films seen through the eyes of young people, or about young people.
In that category which always contains wonderful films, the winner was the exquisite “Sekala Niskala” (The Seen and the Unseen) by Indonesia’s Kamila Andini. This was Kamila’s second time to win the award in this hotly contested category. Back in 2012 her film, “The Mirror Never Lies” was the winner. No other Indonesian has ever won a second award at APSA. So far. Her film’s title refers to the cultural/religious tradition of Bali, where the two worlds, seen and unseen, are as real as each other for the people. So when the closeness of twin children is being torn apart by the fatal illness of the little boy, his sister is devastated, and finds her courage to interact with him through the unseen world, because reality has become too terrible for her. The film takes us into her world of Niskala ( unseen) and lets us have a usually forbidden glimpse of that secret place, through her eyes. Those scenes are truly moving and unforgettable. Ghost children wait for him, as the sad-sister dances under Balinese culture’s all-important full moon, under which many the temples ceremonies take place in that culture. The Balinese calendar and life, is linked to the moon, via an ancient calendar from India, via Java. The film has very little dialogue, and it is not needed and not missed, because this film is a spiritual experience. Kamila told me five years ago, about this film being in her mind. Since then she has married, had two daughters, and made a film about an hour in length, “Following Diana”. Now she has worked with her Producer /Director husband, Ifa Isfansyah, on “The Seen and the Unseen”, which has also had very good reviews internationally after being shown in the PLATFORM segment of the Toronto Film Festival a couple of months ago.

This year APSA had a heartening number of films about women, and directed by women. That’s why, as mentioned above, the Best Actress Award was so very strong this year. Indonesia’s Cut Mini was also nominated in “Athirah” (Mother) in which she gave a very different style of performance than the two previously mentioned women. This role expressed the quiet, dignified and internalized way in which the protagonist, Athirah, was coping with her life. A Muslim woman is suffering the agony of trying to accept her fate when her husband leaves his family to go and live with a second and younger wife. This film, directed by Riri Riza, is based on the life story of the mother of Indonesia’s Vice-President, Yusuf Kalla, who is in his early teens in the film, observing his brave mother’s journey.

Another leading role for a woman was in “Marlina, the Murderer, in Four Acts” directed by a woman, Mouly Sourya of Indonesia. This is a most unusual film to come out of Indonesia, a kind of ‘Western’ in form but set in the very rural, dry and spacious island of Sumba, (it is situated four islands to the East of Bali) where there is a very different culture, and where they have a death ritual called Paraing Marapu, and where the deceased is wrapped in a traditional textile and sits in the house with the family for a long time before burial. In this film, one can observe this, but it is not explained. However, murder of the title, is caused by a local custom which seems to allow the local men to feel free to do what they will with the widow Marlina (played by Marsha Timothy). However, Marlina is not a woman to be trifled with. The film has the feeling of a spaghetti western, from the sixties, and there is more than a pinch of black comedy mixed into the dinner that she prepares for her male visitors, and for us the audience.

2017 has been the best year yet for Indonesia at APSA, with three nominations . It is a country still developing its Post-Reformasi ( post 1998) film industry, with no assistance so far from the government or any other organization. Indonesia’s government have yet to understand the immense benefits that a strong film industry can bring to a nation, respect in international eyes, and in tourism, by promoting awareness of the cultural richness, of which Indonesia is particularly endowed.

The Cultural Diversity Award (UNESCO) went to “Dede” (Mother) from Georgia, directed by another young woman, Mariam Khatchvani. She was so surprised and thrilled to win, that she was unable to speak for quite a length of time, when she went to the microphone to accept her award. The story is shot in the highest village in all of Europe, during winter, when deep, deep snow is on the ground. The young protagonist’s destiny is to be unlucky in love, and lose her beloved husband. This puts her into conflict with the remote location’s old traditions, which mean that her child must now go to live with his family, the grandfather and others. Also it means that her husband’s brother will now marry her. He happens to love her too, but she doesn’t love him and refuses. Like any mother, she only wants to be with her little son.

Also in this Category – (the UNESCO Award for Cultural Diversity), a Special Mention went to “Lady of the Lake” (India).

For “Die Beautiful” directed by Jun Robles Lana, from the Philippines, there was no award, but it deserves a mention as a film of heart and love, about a different kind of women. It was about three transvestites and the little girl one of them has adopted – battling their brave way through life. The performance of Paulo Ballesteros was nominated in Best Performance by an Actor, and was full of courage and strength of character.

Before you go to http://www.asiapacificscreenawards.com to read the full results list, I will list the titles of some of my other special favorites not yet mentioned in my article above:
“A Man of Integrity” (Iran) director, Mohammad Rasoulof. His passport has been confiscated by the Iranian Islamic regime, for making yet another film that clearly criticises the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Wajib” by Palestinian Anne Marie Jacir (this film was developed with a grant from APSA Academy-MPPA Film Fund)
“Foxtrot” (Israel) Samuel Moaz
“Centaur” (Kyrgyzstan) directed by Aktan Arym Kubat
“Your Name” (Japan) Amimation Category, by Makoto Shinkai, for the gorgeous hand-drawn animation that he is famous for.
“Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web” by Annie Goldson, A documentary film from New Zealand, telling a most complex and interesting topical story, that’s not quite over yet.

copyright Cynthia Webb November 2017

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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” (Poland/UK) 2017)

“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

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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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“LA LA LAND” (directed by Damien Chazelle, 2016)

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“La La Land” (2016) by Damien Chazelle (Proudly credited as “Made in Hollywood”.)
Post-viewing comments by Cynthia Webb

“La La Land” is a love-letter to Los Angeles, and to the studio era of Hollywood, when musical films were nothing unusual, as they are today. It is full of nostalgia – in particular, nostalgia for the jazz era.
It also contains reminders of certain other delightful things from the history of film: The early scenes are full of wild colors that brought to mind the early films of Pedro Almodovar.
The hero offers to take the heroine, to see a re-run “Rebel Without a Cause” – a legendary James Dean film by Nicholas Ray. It is being screened from a film reel (not a DCP – Digital Cinema Package) and it stops in the projector, the projection lamp heat burns the film, visible on screen. It’s a moment that a lot of people experienced in days gone by, and pulls the events back into the past.
The scenes featuring views over the city, bringing to mind “Mulholland Drive”. (David Lynch).
The strong accent on love of jazz, which recalls an earlier era, and various films which have featured jazz musicians.
I looked at the scenes shot in fake studio streets that look just like “Warner Bros Movie World” on the Gold Coast, Australia, where I worked for nine years… and I recalled reading that most studio back-lots that were once in Hollywood, have been sold off for their real estate value. Now is the era of shooting on location, or using CGI (computer generated graphics).
I thought of Francis Ford Coppola’s early film, ‘One From the Heart’ while watching “La La Land”, which was all shot on a Hollywood sound-stage in 1981.
Then I thought of Jacques Demy’s gorgeous, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”, (France) a film unique in that it had no dialog at all. Every word was sung, but was also about 2 lovers and filmed in streets.
Then I thought of my all-time favorite musical, “West Side Story”, which had far better music and dancing, than “La La Land”.
But then – I just lost myself in this charming film. The stars are so real, not too glossy, and don’t sing or do anything TOO well. …. but just well enough to fit into today’s film world, while telling us an eternal story of young people in Los Angeles, with high hopes, trying to make their dream come true, almost giving up, and in the end trading true love for their ambitious dream. Have they settled for second-best? The big question is whether or not fulfilling one’s youthful ambitions is more important than following the heart, by way of the offers that Destiny puts in our way. .. these offers, might be Love, or sometimes something else. Most of us can look back and identify a moment when this choice was before us, and wonder – “did we really have a choice” or is it all ‘written’ in Destiny?
This lovely film is a welcome relief from Hollywood’s typical output of recent years. Thank you to the director for breaking the pattern, for daring to go back to some good old-fashioned entertainment. The mega-plex audience with whom I saw the film were certainly enjoying themselves and there was even a spontaneous burst of applause at the end. I think they are all relieved to get away from super-hero films, violence, and endless sequels that are not living up to the original thrill of the originals.
“La La Land” has won seven Golden Globe Awards, and deserves most of them, but perhaps not the Best Screenplay award. Yes, it’s nice, but it isn’t powerful and there are other films such as “Manchester by the Sea” that I think have a better screenplay. Emma Stone is a wonderful actress, and in her scene during an audition, she shows us with her immensely expressive and enormous eyes just what she can do. I think that is for me, the most memorable moment in the whole film, although I’m sure it isn’t meant to be.
I think the Academy will love this film – because they always respond strongly to any film that shows their own world, Los Angeles, Hollywood, the film business, and as this is an affectionate homage, they are going to vote for it, just as the critics did at The Golden Globes.
It seems to me that this film will take over 2017’s Academy Awards, even though it is light stuff, but very well done in every way… a lovely movie. However perhaps there are films with more substance and power,that might get pushed into the shade, by this bright starry and delightful film. (I’m writing on 11th January, and the Oscar nominations are yet to be revealed, however it is 2 days after the Golden Globe Awards.
Copyright January 2017 by Cynthia Webb
Poster photo credit – The producers and IMDb

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APSA/BAPFF – fabulous film-makers of 2016 “In the Last Days of the City” directed by Tamer el Said (Egypt)

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“IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE CITY” directed by Tamer el Said (Egypt)
(Nominated in APSA’s Cultural Diversity Award, under patronage of UNESCO)

There is an experience of immersion while watching this melancholy and poetic film.
A young film-maker , 35 year old Khalid, living in Cairo, is struggling with all that is happening in his world, and with finding a way to convey the situation in his beloved city. He collaborates sometimes with several film-maker friends, who have already left the city, in an attempt to find the right way to tell his story. One friend has gone to Berlin, one to Beirut and another to Baghdad. To me that seems to refer to other suffering cities in the region, and to the end result, fleeing the region as a refugee.
He has an ex-girlfriend, Laila, who is about to leave too. And he is looking for a new apartment, but his real-estate agent is frustrated, because no place is ever suitable. This works as a metaphor for the fact that not only is he not comfortable in his apartment any more, – he is not comfortable in Cairo any more, even though it’s his beloved home. He wanders in the yellow-tinged world of the decaying and suffering city. The yellow color in the air, is from the desert dust that often blows over the city.
Tamer el Said says, ‘I don’t know where the film starts and my life ends. I see the yellow colour in Cairo all the time. This colour goes with a sense of loneliness.’
Old Ottoman era houses are being demolished, there is unrest in the streets, and everything feels wrong, wrong, wrong. The film is clearly autobiographical, and Tamer reveals his soul via his alter-ego, Khalid.

Tamer el Said explained, “The process of making the film is also the process of trying to understand himself, reflecting on many things. My main project is myself, although the film’s main “character” is the City. I call Cairo the city that made me who I am. I live in the flat seen in the film, and that is my local neighbourhood. The people in the streets and cafes are my actual neighbours. The filming took place over two years and ended in 2010, only six weeks before the Revolution. I wanted to be part of this change. The editing process was a kind of battle with a beast – 250 hours of footage. Then I worked for a year doing the sound and post production, with collaborators, my amazing crew. Sometimes I spent the whole day editing one scene, then walked in the streets and saw the same people who had been in the footage I’d been editing that day, although four years may have passed. Then I asked myself, ‘did something really change? How can we change anything without changing everything?’
He continued: ‘We grew up, used to experiencing loss and war around us. It shaped our lives and made us different from other people who grew up in Europe, for example. When travelling I realized that I get nervous when I see a police-man, because of my life-experience in Cairo. We cannot carry on like this – things have to change. The situation is no better under our new government, in terms of freedom of expression.’

Tamer is disillusioned with the results of the “change he wanted to be part of.” He was hoping for freedom and social justice.

Tamer el Said graduated in 1998, and has been making short films and documentaries. “In The Last Days of the City” is his first feature film. It has been a slow process and low budget too, because there is no funding for film-making from the government, and there is strict control over freedom of expression in Egypt. However the end result of his labour is one of the most profoundly moving and poetic films I have seen in many years.
Better than all the news bulletins and articles we read about what’s happening to people in Egypt and other countries in the area around the Middle East, this film expresses the wounds, the disappointment, the eternal hope for a better life for everyone in the surrounding region. It is so tragic to see such ancient lands and cultures, that have had rich cultures and days of glory, now feeling this endless pain. A study of history will show that a lot of this turmoil today, was actually caused by events at the end of the First World War… when the victorious Allies sat over maps deciding on how to carve up among themselves, the former lands of the recently collapsed Ottoman Empire, and beyond. Also, by more recent political actions from modern powers too, but that’s another story.
Note: This film did not win the award, which went to another exceptional film “The Dark Wind” by Hussein Hassan. (see my separate review)

By Cynthia Webb
Copyright, December 2016
photo of Tamer el Said, by Cynthia Webb
copyright December 2016

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