“Match Point” by Woody Allen – another visit to Woody’s 2005 drama,, prompted by “Blue Jasmine”.

If you want something to think about revisit

 ‘MATCH POINT’ directed by Woody Allen

 

                                                              Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, Australia

Match Point 

Woody Allen returned to his best form, with “Match point” (2005).
I loved “Blue Jasmine” – especially the remarkable performance of Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, the woman unravelling, but clinging to what’s left. Woody Allen’s dramas enthrall me.
There are reminders of his earlier film “Crimes and Misdemeanours”, where he also explored the darker side of human nature.  Woody Allen is one of the world’s best-known film-makers. For more than thirty years, he has frequently been nominated for major awards, and has won several of the coveted gold statuettes. He has always been thought of as a genius of comedy, but has sometimes ventured into the most vexing of humanity’s existential shadow-areas.  In fact the human condition has always been his theme, both in comedy and drama, as he explored our anxieties, insecurities, ambitions, dreams, disappointments, weaknesses and strengths.  In some of his past films Woody fooled around a lot at times, but there was always an underlying theme about which he was deadly serious. Match Point”, made in the UK in 2005, asks the big question – do our lives depend upon random chance? It’s posed in the opening sequence, with an evocative image of a tennis ball, which hits the top of the net and is hovering in slow motion above it.  On which side will it fall?  What decides this?  Near the end a similar image is repeated to remind us of the mysteries of choice and fate.

 

      As soon as the final scene of the film was over, a burst of conversation broke out within the cinema where I saw the film, and Woody had obviously hit the ball fair and square with this one!  Everyone alive wants to know the answer to the question – how much control do we really have over our lives?’ Or do we just think we can control things?  We have all seen or heard of instances of sudden strokes of fate annihilating someone’s plans or even their lives.  Perhaps in Western cultures the question is even more acute, as there is something of a crisis of faith and there is a lot of re-thinking about religion and spirituality in progress.  However in traditionally religious societies such as Indonesia, many people may tend to attribute all these difficult things to being “God’s will”, thereby avoiding having to wrestle with the matter of  why things happen the way they do.

 

      The film unfolds in British street locations, as well as art galleries, opera houses, country homes and gardens of the upper classes. Impeccable manners, lifestyles, accents, and more than a hint of British class snobbery, mask underlying ruthlessness. As the seasons change we watch the social climbing progress of Chris, (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) a handsome, smooth operator from a poor Irish background who has big ambitions and a shrewd eye for the main chance. He has come to this point in his life using charm, intelligence to re-make himself, and a talent for tennis.

 

Chris knows how to make the best use of the talents he received in the genetic game of chance. Pretty soon he has risen from a professional tennis-coaching job at a posh London club, to the life of a well-off young man about town. This comes via a strategic friendship made on the tennis court and an even more convenient marriage to his new friend’s sister Chloe, (Emily Mortimer). The family is rich and the new in-laws like Chris enough to overlook his humble social background. He seems to have a charmed life.

 

But just one thing is threatening to create a disturbance in this perfect arrangement.  During his ‘upwardly mobile’ journey Chris “falls in lust” with a sensual young American woman, Nola (Scarlett Johanssen), an aspiring actress, and fiancee of his friend Tom, (Matthew Goode). This passion threatens to derail his perfectly arranged lifestyle. He knows the risk but the power of physical obsession is irresistible, and he pursues Nola. This choice leads him down very dark roads.

 

        The performances are all first-rate, in particular Jonathyn Rhys-Meyers and Scarlett Johanssen, who are utterly convincing in their characterisations.  Woody Allen’s script is eloquent, witty, ironic This pair would actually be very well suited to one another, if they had met under different circumstances, another time and place, but by now Chris’s ambition for more and more of the good life is too strong. He wants to have everything.

 

      Woody Allen has used lingering close-ups on their faces, taking us as voyeurs, deep inside this ill-fated love affair. We experience the passion, the dishonesty, the confusion and pain and finally ruthlessness. We observe the subtle changes of expression in their eyes, the smallest flicker of facial expression. Allen expertly manipulates his audience, his long directorial experience on show at its very best. He  is famous as being a wonderful director of actors – allowing them almost total freedom to carry out their craft.

 

   Chris’s actions and a twist of fate have forced him into a situation where he must do something drastic… but what?  How far will a person go to get what they want?    After we know the answer to the question, we still don’t have the final result of this ‘game’ for a while. Woody Allen plays us along in suspense a little longer, before he concludes the film with the original burning question that was posed when we saw that tennis ball two hours earlier, suspended in slow motion above the net for a split second before falling, to decide the winner and the loser of the game.

 The film leaves us with pondering life’s most impenetrable issues.

 

 

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“PURE” directed by Lisa Langseth (“Till det som ar Vackert”)

Image“PURE”    (“Till det som ar Vackert”)   directed by Lisa Langseth (her debut film)

 – released in Sweden, October  2010

 

On16 Feb. 2014 TV  SBS 2 (Australia) showed “PURE”, starring Alicia Vikander, as Katarina and Samuel Froler as Adam.

The director Lisa Langseth, also wrote this screenplay, based on her own play, “The Loved One”.

If you are able to – please watch this film on SBS ON DEMAND, via your Smart TV or Computer.

Half way through the film, I reminded myself, ‘this is an actress, playing a part’. It hadn’t crossed my mind since the beginning, so wonderful is the performance, and I immediately forgot that fact again, after it flashed into my mind.

Alicia Vikander is on screen in every scene and her expressive, intelligent face is our window into the soul of a bright young twenty-one year old, Katarina, who has grown up in under-privileged conditions, despising her struggling, suicidal mother, and knowing in her heart of hearts that she has the intelligence and sensibility to be more. She blurts out to her mother, “I will never be like you,” however, that is the way her life is going.

She lives with Mattias, a kind-hearted, loving, but uninspiring young man who loves her, but with whom she is as different as night and day.

One day while searching YouTube for some trivial music clip, she stumbles upon Mozart’s Requiem.  The power and beauty of the music transports her, and she attends a concert at Gothenburg’s Concert Hall.

 A few days later she sneaks into the building and listens to a rehearsal. She is discovered by another staff member, and mistaken for an applicant for an advertised job – receptionist, that she doesn’t even know about.  

However, the unemployed Katarina is a bright girl and when asked if she’s there for an interview, she says “Yes”.  She lies colourfully, about her deceased mother being a concert pianist in Australia, but gives a good impression to the female interviewer and gets hired for a trial period. Katarina starts work, keeps her mouth mostly shut, and listens and observes. Pretty soon, she is doing her job well and loving it – and everyone is happy with her. She is inspired by this sudden step up in her circumstances, and the more cultured surroundings. Previously she has had problems keeping boring or menial jobs, and is well known to the social-services workers.

The orchestra conductor chats with her, offers her a lift home, and lends her books on philosophy.

He tells her “Courage is life’s only measure,” – a quote from Kirkegaard.  She certainly knows this, (she has lived it) and sees it in a whole new light too, as her new job is offering her so many thrilling experiences, and she is learning a lot.

Here is an important theme:  How many talented and brilliant young people are being wasted, by unequal opportunity, by an under-privileged upbringing? 

The sound of Mozart has awakened Katarina’s consciousness to the fact that she has more to offer, more to achieve, and when she hears the Kirkegaard quote, it resonates with her.

As she spends more time with Adam, the orchestra conductor, they begin an affair. He is married and has a child, and doesn’t hide this fact. He has seen that he has dazzled the naïve (in some ways) Katarina, and takes advantage of her. She is caught up in the magic of his knowledge, culture and his ability to draw magical music from the orchestra. But mostly for her, he is her access into a world she has not been able to enter before, a world that she was made for. She is sensitive, intelligent, and adores classical music, and yet her under-privileged life has so far denied her entry to this world.

So when he tells her that it’s over, she is desperate. She begs and pleads but to no avail.  Adam has toyed with this lovely young girl, and now wants her out of his sight, prioritising his career, so arranges for her to be “let go” from her job. As the conductor, everything revolves around him, so he has this power.  When she hears this, she humiliates herself, begging him, and even reverts to her past life, engaging in oral sex with Adam as a desperate form of begging.

 It still doesn’t work. She is fired, and since she has split up with her boyfriend, and her mother is now in hospital after a suicide attempt, Katarina is living on the streets. But still she has a survival instinct, and pulls herself together for one last attempt to beg him (waiting in his office after a concert) to make it possible for her to take another position which had been offered to her, involving  the concert hall’s marketing activities to the younger generation. She promises to have no further dealings with him.

But Adam is now utterly cruel, and humiliates her even further. He plays with her like a cat, with a half-dead mouse.  She has a past full of sexual humiliation, so co-operates with him, but finds he has lied to her again.  She is outraged beyond control. Here is where Kirkegaard’s philosophy leaps into action within Katarina.

This sudden fall from great heights back to street-level cold hard reality, at least unites Katarina with her hospitalized mother. The younger woman has now experienced the crushing blows of fate that have brought her mother to desperation.

Katarina is just one of millions of under-privileged young people in this world, within whom vast potential is lying undeveloped.  Katarina has a fighting spirit. She is stronger than a lot of people. She is prettier than a lot of people.  She has at least these two advantages, and most of all she is now powered by the vast inspiration of classical music. It has raised her consciousness and her will to survive, to great heights. Her ambition has been awakened, because she has found a way out of the trap of mediocrity, where poverty was keeping her.  She didn’t belong in that world.  Classical music is what showed her, her true potential.

This is a wonderful film, which hasn’t left my mind since seeing it a day ago.

Lisa Langseth is a wonderful new director to watch out for and Alicia Vikander has already been seen in “A Royal Affair”,so it seems that her career as an actress is assured.

Review by Cynthia Webb

 

 

 

 

 

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Christine Hakim – follows the signposts on the road of Life

IMG_5003

Christine Hakim – Follows the signposts on the road of life

                                         

 The matter of “identity” has been on Christine Hakim’s mind for most of her life.

In her most famous role as Tjoet Nja Dhien, she played a woman who knew exactly who she was.   Most recently, in Eat Pray Love, she played Wayan, a Balinese healer who helps Elizabeth Gilbert (played by Julia Roberts) find her own strength and identity again.

  ‘Before I played Tjoet Nja Dhien I was always confused as to where my blood came from, because I could not directly answer the question “Where do you come from?”

I have mixed blood. I grew up in Yogyakarta, Central Java, but my parents, grandparents and great grandparents, are from Padang, Aceh, Banten, Pekalongan, Madiun,(all in Indonesia) and the Middle East.   I wanted to know more. When you know your roots you know exactly who you are and where you belong,’ Christine explained.

 The search for personal identity, not just for herself, but relating to all people, is the subject of her new projects. It is a trilogy of documentaries, filmed on five continents.  She is working with Dr Ricky Avenzora MSc, who is based at Institute Pertanian Bogor, Java, as Director.

 Another current project is a half hour documentary on Indonesia’s UNESCO Heritage-listed cultural treasures, such as batik, wayang kulit, kris, angklung, and Borobudur. It is destined for television and to be shown in schools.

“I think it is very important that children should know about the inheritance of the country in which they were born,” said Christine, who is always passionate on the subject of children.

 In 2010 Christine was invited to the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, (APSA) Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, to accept her FIAPF Award (International Federation of Film Producers Associations) for outstanding achievement in film in the Asia Pacific area.

 She said that the award was ‘like Viagra, to make me stronger to satisfy you (audiences). Now I know that I have to keep on going with my work for the people.’

 ‘APSA tried to recruit me several times in the past, to be a member of the Jury, but timing was always a problem. I have been so busy with my work for UNICEF and now UNESCO as Goodwill Ambassador for Teacher Education in South East Asia.’

 ‘We must give attention to children. They are our future. Who will run the country and the economy in future?  In schools there has been a concentration on IQ, but EQ (Emotional Quotient) is also very important.  IQ is not enough to solve complex problems. I don’t have any children myself, but I must think of all the children.’

 Christine Hakim has not yet directed a film, but she has produced several, and starred in over thirty.

 Her first role was at the age of 16, in Teguh Karya’s  “Cinta Pertama”.

 ‘At the time I had no wish to be any kind of artist. I didn’t like art at school. I wanted to be an architect or a psychologist.  The Indonesian director, Teguh Karya saw my photo in a magazine where I was modeling clothes designed by friends. I did not normally work as a model.  When I first met him he was such nice warm and friendly person that I wanted to be polite, so I didn’t say ‘No’.  The next time I met him, he took me to his studio. He reeled me in, slowly, slowly, like a fisherman,’ laughed Christine.

 ‘During the shooting, I said to myself, ‘this will be the last time I make a film’, but I won a Best Actress award for the performance, and that’s how I ended up as an actress.’

 So fourteen years later — ‘It was a huge honor for me as an actress, as an Indonesian and as a woman, to play Tjoet Nja Dhien when I was 30 years old. The role was very challenging for me, as it had many dramatic moments. Also, I had to appear to grow older, during the film and play a woman losing her sight. I learned how a beautiful and rich princess could forsake everything for a life of struggle and poverty, living as guerilla fighter in the jungle. From this I learned to be dedicated to my mission, and struggle to the goal. Some of her is still in me. Of course,  I also had to explore emotionally, how she might have been thinking and feeling.’ 

 Christine’s emotion was evident on her face as she said this, and tears came to her eyes as she re-lived the powerful experiences of playing the role of the heroine, Tjoet Nja Dhien, who is so legendary in Indonesia that her picture is on their banknotes.

‘We Indonesians must respect Tjoet Nja Dhien and other heroes too, who fought to make us free.  Corruptors have forgotten our history, and forgotten that they cannot take their riches with them to the grave.  Tjoet Nja Dhien reminds the entire world, to fight for freedom and a better life for all people. The real war that people should be fighting is the war against wrong desires.’

 Of her first time as a film producer with “Leaf on a Pillow” Christine said it was ‘an expensive university for me’. What she was referring to was the first-timer’s error of trying to cut expenses by sending one hundred cans of exposed film to the Lab all together.  However, she received a call from the Lab to say that it was all un-usable because of a technical fault with the camera. Everything had to be re-shot.  If she had sent in the first footage shot, the fault would have been discovered earlier. 

 ‘I became a producer for two reasons: to keep filmmaking in my country alive, and to support young filmmakers.  I chose Garin Nugroho to direct that film because he was a very talented young director. Now he’s not so young, but still talented,’ she added. ‘I am happy, that I chose so well.’

 In 2002 Christine Hakim was appointed to the Jury of the Cannes Film Festival, along with another Asian woman, the Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, joining other famous international filmmakers. The Head of Jury was David Lynch and the Palme d’Or winner that year was Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist”. 

 A film that Christine mentioned that she loved a lot in that year of competition at Cannes, was (Chihwaseon” or “Painted Fire” (2002) by Kwon-taek Im. It is one of the best films ever made, conveying the passion of an artist.

Of the Cannes jury experience she says: ‘I learned a lot and it was good for Indonesia and for Asia, and for each member of the panel it was also good, because Asians have different values than Westerners, and we had to find a meeting point, although coming from different angles.’

 As for the very different filmmaking experience of working on a big Hollywood production, in “Eat Pray Love” Christine feels fortunate that she had the opportunity of seeing how they work and observing the acting technique of Academy Award  winner, Julia Roberts  and of Javier Bardem  

 ‘I was on the shoot in Bali for one month, and had ten shooting days. But I only arrived three days before my first day of shooting, and I had no time to read with the director or with Julia. The first day was taken up with wardrobe, and the second day, I had to get rid of my green hair!  The third day I had to read the entire very thick script for the first time.  It was very important to read it all, to know the story, especially Julia’s character, because in my role as Wayan, I was giving her back her confidence and strength as a woman, to fall in love again.  Yes – I met the real Wayan,’ Christine added. Wayan is her character in the film, a Balinese healer and jamu (herbal medicines) seller.

 ‘I had to quickly adapt to the working ambience with the crew and understand what the director wanted. I had no time to worry. I had to draw on my past experience, be professional and start shooting on the fourth day. Julia Roberts was very focused on her part. I understand that because the whole film was on her shoulders.  It was a challenging role for her because a lot of her character’s experiences were emotional. But sometimes she helped me, such as for finding the right intonation.’

 When asked about her future plans, Christine said, “I cannot say. In the past, when I decided that I wanted to do something, it never happened, but instead the opposite thing came.  So now I just follow my life.’
Article and photo by Cynthia Webb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anthony Chen and the film that took over his life

When I interviewed Anthony Chen, (29 years old) from Singapore, he came across as a young man inspired, despite struggling with jetlag, induced by months of world-wide travel.Since his film “Ilo Ilo” had it’s premiere at Cannes and went on to win the Camera d’Or, in May 2013, his life changed. Camera d’Or is awarded for the best film from a first time director.
Anthony has been to a staggering list of countries and still has a promotion schedule until at least April 2014. He recently signed a contract with a Hollywood agent, and has received several scripts for consideration.

He wrote, produced and directed “Ilo Ilo” and says that once he was the driver of his film but now it’s driving him.

“Ilo Ilo” is the story of a typical Singapore family and their Filipina maid, Teresa. The pre-pubescant son seems to be rather a naughty boy, but he just needs more love and attention. His parents love him, and each other, and his mother is pregnant again. However it is 1997, and the Asian financial crisis has hit them hard. The father has lost his job. Teresa has a young child of her own back in the Philippines, being cared for by her sister, but after some initial resistance she and the boy form a close bond.

It is superbly written, acted, directed,edited, and always sustains your empathy with these people.

Some readers will be aware that many Singapore have maids from Indonesia or the Philippines. Filipinas are more popular and more expensive, because they speak good English.

Anthony told me, “Many people have commented that this is the first time in any film, not only Asian, where a made has been humanized and is an important character in the film. Usually, they just open the door, say good morning and come in with a cup of tea.”

When the film premiered in Singapore, it out-grossed all previous Singapore-made films ten-fold, and even inspired a social group called “Project Ilo Ilo”. The members collected financial donations and on Sundays (the day-off for domestic workers) they bought tickets to the film and gave them to the maids of the city.

I asked Anthony when he first knew he wanted to be a film-maker.
He said, “When I was in school I was performing in children’s theatre, but I was struggling to understand William Shakespeare. I just didn’t get this guy!
So I knew that if I couldn’t connect with the greatest playwright who ever lived, then I couldn’t go into theatre.”
“When I was about fifteen, I had the chance to see Italian and French films and it was a revelation for me that films could be like that. I’d only seen Hollywood films until then, such as “Jaws”, or Singapore films. I had a new email address, so I began to write to every film-school I could find online, asking how to get in, and how much the fees were. I found out that it was more expensive than going to medical school or law school. We Singaporeans are very pragmatic, and I realized that my parents couldn’t afford this.”
He had not told his parents about his new ambitions, not wanting to cause them to worry during this time of financial crisis.
Anthony at last found out that there was a place in Singapore where he could learn film-making skills although it was more like vocational training than a course at an international film school.
When he broke the news, his father and extended family said it was quite ridiculous and that he should continue with tertiary studies and get ‘proper work’. However, his mother was quite supportive and said, “Well, whatever you do, you’d better be sure to do it well.”
He did, and has now graduated with a Master of Arts in Directing from the National Film and Television School in the United Kingdom.

Anthony describes himself as rather obsessive-compulsive when he’s filming and when he cooking.That’s his other hobby. He said that he often drove all over the city, trying to find a certain prop or costume.

The film took up three years of his life. Two years writing the screenplay and a year spent filming. The commitment for Anthony has become at least another year for promotion. This is because “Ilo Ilo” has been so successful that it has been picked up for distribution in a large number of countries. Neither he nor any of the cast or crew thought their “humble and delicate film” would ever win such a prestigious award as the Camera d’Or, let alone the fifteen awards that followed, at about twenty film festivals. After the Cannes Film Festival, it showed in the Paris Film Festival, and then later opened in 110 cinemas in France. The film was Singapore’s official submission to the Academy Awards, and made it to the “short-list”. At December’s Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA), in Brisbane, he won Best Director, in competition with world class film-makers.
(Three award winning films from APSA 2013 are in the Academy Awards Nominations for 2014.)
Anthony said that he was amazed that his film won, in a category where his idol, Hirokazu Kore-Eda (Japan) was also nominated, for “Like Father, Like Son”. Anthony also said that he has a few worried moments, wondering how he can follow on from the success of “Ilo Ilo”, and realises that something like this doesn’t happen very often.

At home in Singapore, mystified journalists keep asking him why the film is winning awards everywhere.
“They think it is just a little movie about ordinary people. They cannot see why it is special,” he said.

However, many films that have won the world’s foremost awards are exactly that,such as “A Separation”, by Iran’s Asghar Farhadi, which Anthony loves. However he says “Farhadi’s film is much more hard-hitting. “Ilo Ilo” has a more Asian sensibility – it’s more subtle.”IMG_6578

The authenticity of “Ilo Ilo” no doubt comes from the fact that so much of it is based on Anthony’s own experiences.

If you’re wondering about the title, Anthony’s family also had a Filipina maid who took care of him when he was a child, and she came from Ilo Ilo in the Philippines.
“It’s such a cute name,” said Anthony.

Article and photo by Cynthia Webb

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OMAR

OMAROMAR (Directed by Hany Abu-Assad, 2013)

Omar is a young Palestinian man.. who works as a baker, (played by Adam Bakrie – a brilliant performance). He and his two childhood friends, Tarek and Amjad, are involved in what the Israelis call terrorism, and what they call fighting for their land.  One of his friends, Tarek has a beautiful young sister, Nadia, and she and Omar are in love. Nadia is in senior high school and Omar must risk his life to visit their home or saunter past her school and talk to her over the fence. He scales up a rope, over the 10 metre wall that divides their town, getting shot at by the Israeli soldiers, and he runs on winged-feet through the narrow lanes to bang on their door.  The two exchange complicit smiles, and Omar is waiting for the time when he can approach Tarek (as head of the family) about marrying the sweet Nadia.

But, the three young men are also planning an ‘action’.  Amjad is being initiated into the freedom fight, so he has been practising his marksmanship.  One night, with his friends beside him, he randomly picks out and kills an Israeli guard, his first participation in the freedom-fighting.

As the Israelis already know Omar from intercepting him as he came over the wall, he is arrested and tortured.  He refuses to speak under torture. He thinks his interrogator is also a Palestinian, so good is the man’s second language.  But no – he’s Israeli, as Omar finds out when the man takes a phone call from his wife. 

The interrogator is now trying a new tactic, devious, devilish. A web of lies, betrayals, and tragedy ensues when the interrogator lets Omar go home, on the condition that he will help them to capture Tarek, whom they think is the one who killed their soldier.  Omar thinks he can play a double game, and certainly has no intention of betraying anyone, but with the Israeli intelligence organisation, this is not so easy. They  know everyone and everything, and are deadly efficient. His plan fails, and soon he’s back in prison for more of the same.

The second time he’s let out, for similar reasons,  the murky web of lies and circumstances woven by the Israelis, has changed beyond Omar’s knowing. His people no longer trust him, but he still struggles to achieve his desires – to clear his name, and marry Nadia. Omar doesn’t know who he can trust either. Omar is desperately isolated as he tries to understand what has happened while he has been imprisoned and suffering torture.
From here on, the story is filled with more and more cruel twists, evil revelations and each one surprises you more than the last. It becomes apparent that the influence of the Israeli army and intelligence unit is malignant, and has reached into the hearts, minds and homes, of everybody.

The denouement of Omar’s story has shocking impact. As you think about it while sitting stunned on your chair,  the credits roll, and you realize  there is no alternative for Omar, and everything is polluted and lost. 

You also realize, not only is it the story of one young man and his friends, and it is also the story of the Palestinian nation. You feel angry, and yet helpless – a bitter sense of reality falls upon you.

But please do not let this deter you from seeing this very important and brilliant piece of cinema.

It’s a stunning film, and a strong contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, for which it is nominated.

Review by Cynthia Webb

 

 

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The Great Beauty (review by Cynthia Webb)

The Great Beauty

Paolo Sorrentino certainly understood that film-goers and writers and would link this film to “La Dolce Vita” (Fellini) and “La Notte” (Antonioni). There is also a touch of Visconti. He has given us the 21st Century version.

We meet the elegant Jep Gambardella on the eve of his 65th birthday party, and journey with him through his flaneur lifestyle in high society Rome. He lives in an apartment looking out over the Coliseum, and above a nunnery and school. So the film is sprinkled with nuns, who are a charming contrast to the party people and posers, the counts, countesses, artists, actors, faded famous people, a cardinal with his eye on possible election to Pope, and even a visiting 104 year old saint (who seems to be modelled on Mother Teresa), who inhabit Jep’s social life.

He does work occasionally, as a writer of feature articles, and some of the best dialog is in the conversations with his female editor, who also happens to be a dwarf.

When Jep was 18, he was in love with a goddess-like young woman, and he is sustained by memories of that lovely young woman on an island by the sea. Throughout the film we see the wide expanse of the ocean around the island where he last saw her – he can even see it on his ceiling. (Is this a reference to Antonioni’s “L’Avventura”? – just a thought! Because in L’Avventura a young woman inexplicably vanished forever at the very beginning of the film – on an island), just as this girl vanished from Jep’s life.

Jep knew in his early teens that he was “destined for sensibility”. He certainly has an artistic sensibility, but by 65, has also become cynical.He has long ago succumbed to the sweet trap of hedonism. In one scene, his patience wears thin, and he tires of listening to a friend’s claims to a happy and fulfilling life. He verbally demolishes her utterly by telling her what he knows and sees as her reality, describing it so accurately that she has to leave the gathering.
A magician friend of his is preparing a show, where he makes a giraffe disappear. Jep asks him, “Then make me vanish too,” – such is his disenchantment with forty years of feeling disconnected. However at other times he is affectionate, indulgent, and genuinely enjoying himself. He gains considerable comfort from wandering home from parties in the early hours, seeing the glories of Rome, watching the city awake. He has some temporary affairs but nothing seems to fill the abyss within him. He has learned, since turning 65, that he has no time now, for doing things he doesn’t want to do.

Although in his youth he wrote a highly admired novel, which gained him fame and admission to the high-society, he hasn’t done much since. People are always asking him why he never wrote another book, but Jep has strolled through life, not quite a full participant, but largely as “Observer”. He says that he was looking for The Great Beauty,(perhaps last seen on that island), which he says that he never found. At least, not until he went to visit Arturo, a widower, who introduces him to his new girlfriend. Actually they are a middle aged couple. He asks them, “What are you going to do tonight.” His friend explains that the woman has some ironing to do, they’ll have dinner, a glass of wine, watch some TV and go to bed.” Jep is truly envious of their obvious state of mutual love, and their normality – something he has long since lost touch with. He says to them sincerely, “what lovely people you are.”
His encounter with the Saint, and with these ordinary people gives him, at the eleventh hour, the strength to drag himself out of the trap of la dolce vita, and go on a pilgrimage to that island where he last felt he could touch ‘the great beauty’, when he was 18. These scenes are inter-cut with the Saint’s pilgrimage on her knees to a holy Roman shrine.

This director is a stylist, and the opulent look of Rome, its ancient monuments, and its modernity, is ravishing. The sun floods down over the city, and night lights twinkle like stars in the cosmos. Echoes of Fellini and Antonioni are always there – doing honor to both the departed Masters and Sorrentino, the modern Italian master. The music soundtrack plays an evocative part in the creation of the beauty of this movie – winner of the Best Foreign Language Category at the 2014 Academy Awards.
The film is suffused with nostalgia and regret. There is melancholy, and the characters seem to be on an exhausting roundabout ride to try to forget their pain and disappointments. They are on the brink of despair, having a wild time, dancing, drinking, using drugs – and Jep sees it all. Rome makes you waste a lot of time, he says.

The message is there at the very beginning, when a Japanese tourist, who is on one of the seven hills of Rome, taking photos, suddenly collapses in a fainting fit, (caused by Stendahl Syndrome, – defined as being overcome by Beauty).
Thereby, the real message of the film is announced in the opening scene.

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The brilliance of Asghar Farhadi, (Iran)

Asghar Farhadi - film director, of Iran

Asghar Farhadi – film director, of Iran

On February 6th, Asghar Farhadi’s latest film, “The Past” will be screening in selected cinemas around Australia. It has taken a long time to reach our shores, but we must be thankful that it’s getting distribution at all, considering the usual conditions prevailing here.It’s a strong film and well worth a trip to the cinema.
He is the Iranian director who made history, winning an Academy Award in 2012) for “A Separation”, which was a huge success around the world. The distribution of “The Past” in Australian cinemas, can be accredited to his “Master of cinema” reputation gained when “A Separation” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. He has gone from being more or less unknown outside his own country, to world fame in two years. International writers now refer to him as a “Master” film makerof the world.
In 2009 Asghar Farhadi was in Queensland, for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) at Gold Coast. His film “About Elly” was a major winner at APSA and on that occasion he had a script (which was “A Separation”) which he submitted to APSA/MPAA’s film development fund for consideration. The script of “A Separation” was recognized by the judges as a piece of brilliant work, and with $US25,000 n his pocket he returned to Iran to start on the film. He returned to Gold Coast again at the end of 2011 and once took away the Best Feature Film Award for “A Separation”…. the first of an astounding list of top awards, including Best Foreign Language film at both the Golden Globes, and the BAFTA Awards in UK, then finally The Oscar! I know that APSA is so proud of its part in this film’s gestation, and of contributing to cinema history,when Farhadi became the first Iranian ever to win an Academy Award.
So — now we have “The Past”, which he made in Paris. The setting of the story is there, and once again, it’s an excellent film, with another of his masterful screenplays.
The full plot sneaks up on you in a stealthy manner, as it slowly reveals deeper and more complex facts. Just when you thought you knew all the circumstances, you find you have to re-think the whole thing.
It’s very absorbing. The acting is wonderful. Berenice Bejo, stars as the French woman, whose life decisions have created this net of effects in the lives of others. She won a Best Actress award at Cannes Film Festival, 2013 for “The Past”. She also starred in a previous multi-award winner, “The Artist”.IMG_3527

review and photos by Cynthia Webb

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“Mystery Road” directed by Ivan Sen

This excellent 2013 film was shown on ABC TV tonight (Australia wide), a perfect choice to commemorate Australia Day  (26th January) because it’s directed by Ivan Sen ( indigenous Australian) and stars Aaron Pedersen ( also an indigenous Australian).  Both have done superb work here.  They are ably supported by Tony Barry, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten, Jack Thompson and other excellent actors. The film was shot in the vast horizontal landscape of outback Australia, Winton, QLD, and also in Ipswich and Moree.  The director, Ivan Sen did the cinematography, editing, and other major tasks usually assigned to others. No doubt there were budget limitations, but the look and quality of them film certainly do not look “low budget”. The visual concepts are superb. Vast flat landscapes and limitless skies…. silhouettes against the setting sun, contrasted with powerful close-ups of the faces of the excellent cast.  Aaron Pedersen, in his first starring role is superb playing an Aboriginal police detective, returned to his home town and investigating the death of a young girl.  Appearing in every scene, carrying the film on his able shoulders, his expressive face and eyes, do all the work while he maintains a very contained physical presence, fearful of  what he might find out, during his investigation.

As facts slowly emerge his situation becomes more and more tense, as he doesn’t know who he can trust, even amongst his own colleagues.

It’s a very intelligent and subtle film, which doesn’t spell out anything in an obvious manner.  It tackles an attitude that still (shamefully) exists today in this country — a lack of care and respect towards the Aboriginal community. There are but a few words of dialog revealing this theme, however the entire story tells us the situation.

The script, the way these Australian outback characters talk and act are authentic – circling each other warily, saying as little as possible in oblique conversations – watching each other like hawks.

This is a gripping piece of cinema, which on my second viewing tonight, revealed even more of itself.
Perhaps this was helped too, by having discussed it with  42 year old Aaron Pedersen, in December at The Asia Pacific Screen Awards. He told me that grew up in Alice Springs, and began his working life, as a journalist with the ABC, in Melbourne. He moved into acting in TV series,  and then had a role in the recent “Jack Irish”. He was Associate Producer on  “Mystery Road”, and his performance is very strong – we’ll be seeing more of him.

He recently made a short film called “My Brother Vinnie”. Vinnie is his disabled adult brother of whom he is carer.

It was my great privilege to meet and have quite a few long talks with Aaron

Aaron Pedersen, Indigenous Australian actor  - star of "Mystery Road", directed by Ivan Sen. (2013)  Aaron was nominated in the Best Actor category, at the Asia Pacific Awards, 2012.

Aaron Pedersen, Indigenous Australian actor – star of “Mystery Road”, directed by Ivan Sen. (2013) Aaron was nominated in the Best Actor category, at the Asia Pacific Awards, 2013.

IMG_6647during APSA – a modest, compassionate man, who speaks humbly, and exudes intelligence, and has a very balanced outlook about what’s important in life.  I can’t wait to see him in his next film.
(review and photos by Cynthia Webb, and Caroline Russo)

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Christine Hakim – heroine of Indonesia

I was privileged to meet and interview Christine Hakim. She is one of the most beloved Indonesian cultural figures - an acclaimed  actress, film producer, and someone who works for children's rights, women's rights, human rights. She has lived the history of Indonesian cinema and she is a woman of great beauty, intelligence, and generosity. She is especially famous for her role in "Djoet Nga Djien" where she played another heroine of Indonesia.

I was privileged to meet and interview Christine Hakim. She is one of the most beloved Indonesian cultural figures – an acclaimed actress, film producer, and someone who works for children’s rights, women’s rights, human rights. She has been part of  the history of Indonesian cinema and she is a woman of great beauty, intelligence, and generosity. She is especially famous for her role in “Tjoet Nja Dhien”(made in 1989, directed by Eros Djarot), where she played another heroine of Indonesia’s history.Tjoet Nja Dhien was a leader of  freedom fighters in Aceh (1896) – trying to defend their land against the Dutch colonial army.
I treasure the time spent interviewing Christine, at the the time this photograph of us both was taken by a friend of her’s She visited Gold Coast, QLD for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards when she was recognised for her great contribution, (as both actress and film producer) to Indonesian cinema.

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Lord David Puttnam

In this photo, I am with Lord David Puttnam, of UK... one of the great figures of modern cinema... a great honor for me. He is a producer extraodinare and his films have won ten Academy Awards.  Most of all he is a very wise human being and his humanitarian work, as well as the wonderful movies, has resulted in him being made "Lord" Puttnam by Queen Elizabeth the second.

In this photo, I am with Lord David Puttnam, of UK… one of the great figures of modern cinema. He is a producer extraodinare and his films have won ten Academy Awards. Most of all he is a very wise human being and his humanitarian work, especially in education, as well as the wonderful movies, has resulted in him being made Lord Puttnam by Queen Elizabeth the second.
Photo caption by Cynthia Webb, photo by Armin Miladi

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Simon Yam and Cyn

Simon Yam and CYNIt was my privilege to meet Simon Yam, a legendary actor of Hong Kong, and a very modest and nice person. Of his huge number of films – many were directed by Johnny To, to whom he credited a lot of his success when we were talking at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards several years ago! However, Simon Yam is a great actor and it’s not ALL thanks to the great Johnny To.  It was the year of their film,”Sparrow”, which is a very charming and humourous film about a gang of bungling pick-pockets in Hong Kong.  I loved that film.
(caption by Cynthia Webb. Photo taken by some kind person at The Asia Pacific Screen Awards, several years ago)

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The first day of my cinema blog — commenced on Australia Day, 2014.

The story of a cinephile, named Cynthia Webb Add Media

Portrait of Rita Hayworth from The Kobal Collection.

Portrait of Rita Hayworth from The Kobal Collection.

My addiction to Cinema began when my mother took me to see “Salome” starring Rita Hayworth.  She wanted to see it, so she just HAD to take me along – only a little girl at the time. I didn’t really understand it, but NEVER forgot it. Rita Hayworth became my goddess, and for years later I was still begging for covers and articles from magazines that were purchased by the mothers of my friends – collecting images of this fabulous woman, who had so captured my imagination. I think I had seen “Snow White” from the Disney studios before that, but it didn’t have the same impact!

This all happened in Hamilton, New Zealand, where I lived until I was twenty-one. Back then, New Zealand  was so isolated from the rest of the world, and I count myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity, during my teenage years, to see the films of the French New Wave, and the Italian Neo-Realist Era.  In my town, a cinema named “The Embassy” must have been owned by some serious film buffs, because one night a week, they screened such precious cinema history, whereas the rest of the week, they were the B-Grade cinema of the town.  At the time I really didn’t realise how out of the ordinary this was.

During those years, I saw the history-changing masterpieces of Europe – France, Italy, Sweden ….. Louis Malle,  Jean Luc-Godard, Francois Truffaut, Vittorio de  Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Ingmar Bergman .   I was too young to fully understand what I was seeing, but I just KNEW that it was undoubtedly brilliant, it was precious and that it was bringing me the world outside, – something that someone with a mind like mine desperately needed, when isolated in Hamilton, New Zealand, where at the time there was almost no influence from the outside world.

I still can hardly believe that I was lucky enough to  experience the historic development period of cinema’s history at that most impressionable stage of my life… and see those films on the big screen.

I was a cinephile (or Cynephile?)  from that time on.  In the local library, I found the magazines from Britain, “Sight and Sound”, and “Films and Filming”, which became my window on the world of cinema and my educational textbooks.  Even today, I still read “Sight and Sound” each month, but “Films and Filming” went out of publication many years ago.

What is cinema to me?  How do I begin to express this?  It has been the motif of my entire life – and why? Because this is an art form that takes in almost every other art form, bringing together the visual arts, music, poetry, literature, philosophy, and more.  It can educate, it can inspire and a high  quality film, being such a collaborative creation, is a miracle. An artform where so many different fields of expertise must come together, and “gel” into a piece of brilliance must be miraculous.

I can gratefully say that I have always had an instinct for quality in cinema. I proved this to myself during the last five years or so, by re-watching films seen during my teens, that really impressed me and were never forgotten. They still amazed me, and of course I know from my voracious reading and study of cinema that they are the classics.To do this, I sometimes had to go to Amazon, and order them from the USA or Europe, because they weren’t readily available.  I found that I knew the good ones when I saw them, even in my teens… even if I didn’t fully understand the reason why these were valuable and groundbreaking films.   Some of those films, are L’Avventura, La Notte,  (Antonioni), Rocco and his Brothers (Luchino Visconti),  La Dolce Vita (Fellini), Le Bout de Souffle (Jean Luc Godard),  The Lover (Louis Malle), The Seventh Seal, Smiles of a Summer Night  (Ingmar Bergman),  Goodbye Again (Anatole Litvak), Billy Budd (Peter Ustinov), Phaedra (Jules Dassin), Electra (Michael Cacoyannis)  and there were more.   Seeing these films during my high school years, taught me a lot more than I was learning at school! I didn’t know exactly why, but I just KNEW for sure, that these were masterpieces that I would grow to understand.

So…. with such a cinematic education, I was enthralled for a lifetime!

Now I know why those films were masterpieces, and I know a lot more too…. and so I want to share my delight, my inspiration, my knowledge gained over a life-time of study, and in this blog I will  do so. Who knows what cinematic subjects might come up.

Thanks for reading and please stay with me.

by Cynthia Webb, QLD, Australia.

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