“Beatriz’s War” (East Timor’s first feature film) 2014, 101 mins), directed by Bety Reis and Luigi Acquisto

IMG_8290IMG_8291 It seems necessary to mention that the plot-line in the second half of the film “Beatriz’s War” is inspired by the 1982 French film, starring Gerard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye – “The Return of Martin Guerre”. Audiences watching who’ve seen that film, or the American re-make starring Richard Gear and Jodie Foster, will realize this, once Beatriz’s husband comes home from the mountains, half way through the film. However, this doesn’t much matter, because this is the point at which the film starts to gain a good deal of interest, and drama. Also,“The Return of Martin Guerre” is mentioned in the notes on the DVD cover, and the trial of Martin Guerre actually happened in sixteenth century France.

Up until that point, the horrific times that the people of East Timor actually suffered under the occupation of the Indonesian army, (TNI) 1975–1999, are portrayed in a rather weak style, with little or no tension. The scenes involving rape and violence are handled “off-screen” and we are told what happened in an oblique kind of way, by seeing the results but not the actual events. Perhaps this is the Timorese way of approaching such confronting memories still vivid for them, or perhaps it is inexperience in film-making. The first half of the film is somewhat ‘plodding’ and lacks drama, although the events happening should feel very powerful.

The real drama begins when Beatriz’s husband Tomas returns. Now the situations become truly complex and fascinating, and the drama is in our minds, while we identify with the protagonists in their complex emotional as well as practical situation. A very long time has passed, and they have all endured much and changed from very young adults, to be adults who have faced every tough reality war can bring.

During that past time, the women, led by Beatriz, realized collaboration was their only remaining course of action, because their primary responsibility, in their own eyes, was to survive. When the “Martin Guerre” figure comes into their lives, they suspect him, and yet also want to believe in him. As time passes new facts are revealed and they call him a traitor it’s interesting because they too have crossed boundaries and nothing is simple anymore.. perhaps they too have been traitors?

Now the story is a web of twists and turns, of ethics and empathy, forgiveness and still about survival too. All this has to be balanced with traditional “old ways”, which the returned soldier claims to no longer believe in. He says that he found God in the mountains, wherehe was with the Falantil (Freedom fighter).

There are some interesting traditional rituals shown or mentioned, and the cast is made up of Timorese people, often wearing their superb traditional hand-woven ikat textiles. The locations in Timor-Leste are beautiful, and give a lush look to the film, which makes it appear to have a much bigger budget than it actually had. (I read in a Sydney Morning Herald review that it was made for only about $200,000. Thanks to their reviewer.)

Congratulations to the film-makers, and all involved for bringing to the screen, a personal story of one family and their village, that gives audiences an indication of what those twenty-four long years of suffering were like.

Apart from the Portuguese, (whose colony this little country was, for 450 years,) and Australians (close neighbours), and Indonesians, most people in the world probably don’t even know where Timor-Leste is).

The East-Timorese were at last offered a Referendum. They could choose either, Autonomy within Indonesia, (a big concession for the Indonesian government, in view of their terror of their relatively young nation (independence declared in 1945) going the way of the ex Yugoslavia), OR option two was total freedom to form their own nation. Although it would be the weakest and poorest nation on earth, the East Timorese overwhelmingly voted for freedom, of course. This opportunity only came about because President Suharto’s military dictatorship was at last over-thrown in 1998 and the new President Habibie had so many problems, it appeared that this was one problem he decided to just get rid of by permitting the Referendum.

The Catholic people of East-Timor couldn’t imagine being part of majority Islamic Indonesia, not after their 24 year experience with the TNI. During the occupation, the Indonesian people mostly had no idea what was happening in the distant far east of their island nation, where the army was a law unto itself.There was no freedom of the press back then.

(Although this historical information isn’t a “film review” it’s helpful to understand something about the situation, when watching the film.)

“Beatriz’s War” is the first full length feature film made in Timor-Leste. There was an interesting documentary film a few years ago, by Victor de Sousa Pereira…. called “Uma Lulik – a Casa Sagrada”. As with everything in East-Timor, (a nation of brave people that began from the ashes after the aforementioned referendum,) the film-makers have had a lot of help and support. Before the Indonesian army departed their country, they destroyed everything they could, buildings, infrastructure – in one last spiteful and unnecessary act.

I might mention that the name of General Prabowo Subianto was mentioned not once but three times in the film’s dialogue, and in July 2014 that same man was one of the two candidates who ran for President of Indonesia. (He did not win.) Many Indonesians and others too, were of the opinion that he was an un-tried war criminal, and a relic of the “bad old days under the Suharto regime, whose son-in-law he once was, as well as being Head of Kopassus, (TNI elite forces.) It would seem that the people of Timor-Leste haven’t forgotten him and never will.

The film is not any kind of masterpiece, but please watch it if you get the chance because it is well worth your time – especially in the second half. It is always interesting, and we owe it to the people of Timor-Leste to learn about their experience in such recent times, when the world abandoned them, in favour of political expediency, giving secret approval to the 1975 invasion by the Indonesian army, and then pretending not to know what was going on there for the following 24 years.

(Text by Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, Australia
Photos – courtesty of the film producers of Beatriz’s War)

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“THEEB” written and directed by Naji Abu Nowar

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“THEEB” (Wolf) directed and written by Naji Abu Nowar
(Jordan, Qatar, UAE, UK)

A Bedouin boy’s coming of age

This first feature film by the director, tells the story of a young boy’s awakening to the dangers and treachery in the adult world. Theeb lives in a time of change, during the last days of the Ottoman Empire, and the coming of a railway has already changed the lives of the tribesmen of the area. There are bigger things happening on the world stage around them, than these tribesmen, living out their traditional lives, actually realize. One day Theeb’s older brother Hussein, is approached by another Arab who doesn’t know the area, and who is guiding an Englishman in a desert crossing to a particular well. Hussein, continues the family tradition and doesn’t ask too many questions about who the Englishman is, or why he wants to go to the well. Hussein and Theeb come from a family of pilgrim guides, and Hussein agrees to escort them to the well.

Theeb disobeys his brother and  tags along,   He’s anxious to observe and learn from his older brother, and this is looks like a perfect opportunity.  By the time Theeb reveals himself, it’s too late to send him back.  From events that take place on this journey, comes his rapid advancement into manhood.

The desert settings shot in wide-screen ratio are superb and it’s the dawn of a new age, unbeknown to Theeb and his brothers, sons of a departed but highly respected leader.

The direction by Abu Nowar is very assured with the adventure story holding our attention at every minute of the film. The performances are excellent, particularly the intelligent wariness (tinged with fear), that young Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat shows, playing Theeb (Wolf). You can read in his eyes, and face that his sharp mind is calculating the risks of alternative courses of action during the several scenes when events reach crisis points. From watching this young man, we understand that the life of desert tribesmen involved strong traditions, a strong sense of hospitality to other travelers (once identified and shown not to be a threat),  acute observational powers and the sharp sense of self protection that must always be at 100% efficiency.

It’s always wonderful to see a well-made film like this, but it’s a special treat when the events are happening in a place and time, that is unfamiliar to us on screens of today. “Theeb” reminds us of Lawrence of Arabia, because of its setting, but the film is on a much more modest scale than that epic masterpiece. However, it is very well worth our attention. It is the Winner of Best Director award in the Horizons section of the Venice Film Festival, 2014. Shot in Jordan, using mostly non-professional actors. The feeling is very authentic, and actually the plot resembles a 1950s Hollywood Western movie. It just goes to show that the same sort of dramas play themselves out in every time and place…. always have and always will. This is the story of the human condition – families, traditions, homelands, strangers who may or may not be enemies, war, life, death.

Highly recommended, this is a very good film for young adults as well as for their parents.
Text by Cynthia Webb. Photos, courtesy of the film producers.  THEEB image 2

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Asia Pacific Screen Awards and Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival, 2014

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(PHOTO: The Nominees on stage at APSA 2013 Ceremony, City Hall, Brisbane. Photo by Cynthia Webb)

The former Brisbane International Film Festival, has a new identity.  It’s been linked to the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA), so that the two can complement one another, and so that nominated films can be screened for the public, as part of The new Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival.  The Festival will start on Saturday 29th November, until Sunday 14th December.

On the 11th December, the Asia Pacific Screen Awards will be announced at a star-studded ceremony at Brisbane’s City Hall, in King George Square. These two events in combination, re-balance the global world of film, where up until recently all the highest level film Awards and Festivals were held either in Europe or the USA. It was difficult and sometimes impossible for films from the Asia Pacific region to “get a look-in” at such events as The Academy Awards, the Cannes Film Festiva, or at Venice, or Berlin. Yes, a few legends, such as Jafar Panahi, Asghar Farhadi, Zhang Yimou, Abbas Kirarostami,  Nuri Bilge Ceylan, broke through. Now that I’ve watched many of the APSA nominated films since 2007, I can assure my readers that the standard of films coming from the region is often astounding. The  makers of films that win prizes at APSA,  know that they are receiving recognition from the world’s foremost film makers. Members of the Jury are chosen from around the entire region, and the Head of Jury this year will be Asghar Farhadi, of Iran. Previous heads of Jury include, Lord David Puttnam, (UK),  Bruce Beresford (Australia) Shyam Benegal (India), Jan Chapman (Australia), Nansun Shi (China) Huang Jianxin, Shabana Azmi (India).

The Asia Pacific Screen Awards began in 2007, and until 2011 were held at the Gold Coast.

From 2012, APSA moved to Queensland’s capital city, Brisbane.  That year was the final year, of APSA being supported by the State Government, after a political change of state leadership, and with it a change of attitude, came an outbreak of severe expenditure-cutting, which included APSA.

The City Council of Brisbane stepped in to support APSA. The far-sighted city leaders realised that APSA is the perfect companion for the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, which has been held at the Queensland Art Gallery since 1993.  Also, the Griffith Film School, which had long been associated with APSA, is in the heart of the city of Brisbane.Now the long running film-festival has also been re-modelled to make the concept complete.

The Griffith University Film School  and APSA have recently announced valuable new opportunities for aspiring film-makers to receive mentorship in their own country, under the Asia Pacific Screen Lab (see the university website), from members of the APSA Academy, which has well over 500 members from the various nations. These are people who have been nominated or won APSA awards in the past. The Academy  includes such luminaries of the film world, as Asghar Farhadi, of Iran, whose film “A Separation” won almost every leading award in the world. He has had a long association with APSA, since bringing his film “About Elly” to APSA some years ago.  The mentorship will help an emerging film-maker, to bring their screenplay to the ‘ready to begin shooting’ stage.

As for the films –  APSA’s nominations include the film which won the Golden Palme at Cannes this year, “Winter Sleep”,  by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and this film will be screened during the Film Festival.

I’m excited about many of them, but especially, New Zealand’s first ever screen epic in the Maori language, with English sub-titles, “The Dead Lands”, directed by Toa Fraser. It’s about the tribal times, long before the coming of the British.

There are some amazing opportunities to see these uniquely different cultures on screen, and quite a few of the films will never get released in Australia, so it may be your only chance.  Do your research, if you live in Brisbane.

Go to website:  http://www.bapff.com.au and study the program carefully.
also, please visit http://www.asiapacificscreenawards.com to see the nominations and further history of this film event.

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(Asghar Farhadi, Head of APSA Jury 2014
photo taken at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast, by Cynthia Webb)

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BRANDO – his legend will never die

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Image: Marlon Brando, in “One Eyed Jacks”, directed by him in 1961.

Marlon Brando – an extraordinary life
Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia
Some famous people become such legendary figures that we forget that they are only ordinary people, just like ourselves.
One of the brightest stars in the Hollywood Constellation was Marlon Brando. Why?
A newly released documentary film, “Marlon Brando – An actor named Desire” (2014) directed by Philippe Kohly explains how Brando’s drew upon his inner suffering to become the man who many call the greatest actor who ever lived. It’s been ten years since his death at the age of eighty, and Mr Kohly’s film explores Brando’s life, and explores how his very tough childhood and adolescence made him into the raw and sometimes explosive actor that he was.
Marlon Brando blazed onto the screen in 1951. He introduced an entirely new style of acting for screen. Of course it was the right style, because the camera and the big screen register every tiny nuance, and record every torment. Brando knew how to wring emotion from pure silence, and subtle facial expression. When he smiled, the screen lit up.
He acted so much like a “real” person, that his first screen performance in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) stopped everyone in their tracks. He had performed the same role, in at the Schuber Theatre, on Broadway two years earlier, at the age of 23, where he amazed audiences and critics alike, and became the talk of the town. In both performances, he was directed by Elia Kazan, who had the vision to see that Marlon had something utterly authentic. He didn’t act the part, he lived it.
This was for two reasons. He had been thoroughly trained by Stella Adler, who learned her acting craft from Konstantin Stanislavky, a Russian drama teacher. It became known as “The Method” – which showed actors how to draw on their emotional memory. Brando was a natural for the “Method” because he had plenty of emotional memories bottled up ready explode, when he arrived in New York and worked as an elevator boy, with no real plan for his career. However it just happened that he worked close to Stella Adler’s acting school, and wandered in there, not really knowing he wanted to be an actor, but following a lot of pretty girls who went there.
Marlon was always powerfully attracted to beautiful and exotic women, and they to him. This factor defined his life in another way.

He had fled a difficult childhood and adolescence, growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, youngest of three children. Their father was usually absent, a travelling salesman, and their mother was a disillusioned and desperate drunk. She had once been an actress in Omaha theatre and had quite a reputation for her talent, but gave it all up to marry Marlon Brando senior. The disappointments of married life destroyed her, and while the young Marlon was growing up, he became his mother’s keeper, often seeking her out in bars after school, finding her drunk and bringing her home to some kind of safety. By the time he was twelve, was threatening to kill his violent father, during the marital arguments.
The young Marlon Brando adored his mother, Dodie, and spent his entire life trying to get her attention, however his lifetime friend George Englund says that Marlon always hated his father.
According to the new documentary film, everything he did was for his mother, who once said, “You haven’t done anything if you haven’t done Shakespeare”. For her, he even accepted the most terrifying challenge of his career – to play Mark Antony in “Julius Caesar”, (1953) in Shakespearian English. Marlon had dyslexia, a brain condition which causes reading to be extremely difficult, because the letters in words appear to be muddled, so learning Shakespeare’s text and assuming an English accent was a huge achievement.
To play a role with England’s most famous Shakespearian stage actors, was a huge risk, but Marlon triumphed, by using his “Method”, whereas they still acted in the traditional way.
Several of Marlon Brando’s closest friends also say that he was a genius, that his mind was “glorious” and “brilliant”, and that he had a wonderful sense of humor.
In 1953 came “The Wild One” again directed by Elia Kazan, when Marlon defined the new American male, rebellious and free, in black leather. Nothing could stop him now.
Next was Kazan’s “On the Waterfront”, (1954) where Marlon played dockside worker Terry Malloy. Marlon won a Best Actor Oscar for “On the Waterfront” and he used it as a doorstop, such was his scorn for the Hollywood Establishment. He had never respected the profession of acting, but it was the only thing he knew how to do. In his later years he is seen in an interview stating that he found it “odious, unpleasant, a waste of life.” When he won a second Best Actor Academy Award, for “The Godfather” he wasn’t present, but sent a Native American woman to make a speech.
Only once, in 1961 Marlon tried his hand at directing with “One Eyed Jacks”, which oddly, isn’t mentioned in the new documentary. This was a very good film, shot in expensive VistaVision, and which the perfectionist Marlon spent forever, shooting and editing, costing the studio vast sums. It’s largely forgotten, but well worth seeking out.
In 1972 Bernardo Bertolucci brought him back to his beloved Paris, a place he had visited all his life, to make “Last Tango in Paris”. The 30 year old Bertolucci set Marlon free to express himself, and Marlon revealed himself so nakedly that he swore never to show such vulnerability again. He created a monolog where he talked about his own childhood. Bertolucci now says, “I thought he was the most extraordinary actor and person I would ever come across in my life, and I was right.”
Brando had an early retirement from Hollywood, because of being difficult to work with, but had a spectacular comeback in 1979 , thanks to Francis Ford Coppola, casting him in “Apocalpyse Now”, which won four Oscars, and the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival, plus many other major world awards.
In 1989 he made his final film, “The Dry White Season” and was again nominated for an Academy Award.
In Marlon’s old age, he became grossly over-weight, and experienced family tragedies, when his son Christian, long addicted to alcohol and cocaine, shot his own half-sister’s lover. Not long after, Marlon’s half-Tahitian daughter committed suicide. She had stated that she was “always the sacrificial lamb for Marlon Brando.”
He died ten years later, at age eighty ten years ago, in 2004, ‘having paid the highest price,’ says the documentary film.
This excellent film ends by asking, “Can a man be the greatest actor who ever lived, despite himself?” However it remains true that Brando re-wrote the history of film acting and his influence and legend will never die.

NOTE: (added March 2017) “One Eyed Jacks” has now been lovingly and appreciatively restored from the original negative, by Martin Scorsese’s Foundation for the preservation of films. Released once again on DVD and BLU ray, after a very long period languishing in “the public domain” and found only in very poor quality DVDs in discount stores. The Blu Ray experience is superb and the gorgeous Monterey, California locations are stunning. The acting of Brando, Karl Malden, the exquisite Pina Pellicer, Katy Jurado, and other famous names of the times, is faultless and the drama of the story with it’s many profound human issues never grows tired. I have watched this film many times, but this Blu Ray experience recently was the best for about 55 years, since the VistaVision print on the big screen. I bought it from the USA on Amazon.

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OPERA JAWA by Garin Nugroho (2006)

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“OPERA JAWA”

Garin Nugroho, the director of the feature film “Opera Jawa” says that for him it is “not only a film, but a library”, meaning that it is a valuable historical record of Javanese culture, both ancient and modern. It is Garin’s fourteenth film, and he is probably the best-known film director of Indonesia.

It is a re-telling of a section of the Ramayana Story, (The Abduction of Sinta) – the same story that you can see performed at Prambanan, Yogyakarta. In the film it is told through traditional Javanese dance, song and Gamelan music, composed by musician Rahayu Supanggah, of Surakarta, Java. It’s an opera, and has no spoken dialog. It also features a singing storyteller, Slamet Gundono, who helps to move the story along. And there is a quartet of men in a roadside food stall talking (in song) about political and social matters, who also serve that purpose.

The dances include the sacred Bedoyo, performed by nine female dancers which depicts the encounter of Senopati, with Kanjeng Ratu Kidul, the Queen of the South Sea. Tradition says that if you watch very carefully you can sometimes see a tenth dancer, when the Queen herself joins the dancers.

“Opera Jawa” uses spectacular sets of art installations, designed by some of Indonesia’s leading contemporary artists, Agus Suwage, Nindityo Adipurnomo, S.Teddy D, Hendro Suseno, Titarubi, Sunaryo, and Entang Wiharso.

The story has been translated to a setting around 1997/98 as the nation of Indonesia arose in popular demonstration against the Suharto dictatorship after the financial crisis.

Sinta is now Siti, and Rama is now Setyo, a couple who earn their living as potters. However in the past they have both been performers in the Ramayana Ballet. It is customary that when a Javanese female dancer marries, she retires from performing, out of respect to her husband.

The fiery Ludiro represents Rahwana, the abductor. He too once danced with them in the role of Rahwana, and has always desired the lovely Siti. Now he pulls out all stops to seduce her. Meantime her husband’s fortunes are sinking and so are his spirits, as he loses his money, his business fails, and he realizes that he’s losing his wife’s heart as well.

No wonder Siti is tempted by the exciting, dangerous Ludiro, since he’s wealthy and powerful and her husband is moping and seems to be at the end of his tether. The confident Ludiro insults her, caressing her face with his foot and flicking his endless lengths of red cloth in her face, yet still she is fascinated. Eko Supriyanto (Ludiro) is one hell of a dancer, and steals the show with his dance scene in the abattoir, several sequences featuring the stunning art installations, and dancing on the table in the food stall).

Eventually Setyo has nothing left to lose, and joins the angry demonstrators leading troops of his own, mounted on a symbolic stallion emblazoned “Viva la Muerte”. The troops are angrily chanting about being tired of being taken for granted, treated like oxen under the dictatorship which had prevailed for so long.

The costumes and locations are stunning, and the re-telling of this tale uses many metaphors taken from ancient Javanese tradition. Siti represents the earth itself, as she is fought over, and torn by the conflicts of men. She sings, ” I am the earth, tilled by the plow, I am replete with blessings. I, Siti, am praised. In me grow flowers and crops….”

In Java the Kraton’s traditions endure and provide emotional/spiritual security in a rapidly changing world. While all the political turmoil outside unfolds, in the ancient Sultan’s Palace stillness is maintained, the singers chant, in rhythm with a beating heart – “When comes the time of fallow earth, of death and dust and barren land, Just as it was for Rama and Sinta, who no longer recognized their world, what remains is fidelity. Praises and prayers, woven with life. And yet one may as well wait for stones to float on water. Only God is almighty.”

At the real Ramayana performance at Prambanan, Yogyakarta, there is a happy ending, with Rahwana killed and the lovers reunited, Sinta’s purity proved. However, here Siti’s final ‘test of fidelity’ is a fatal revenge and Setyo sings, as he is led away, “In my heart lies justice. You are the setting of a dispute, an object without boundaries, Oh heart, heart, scream, speak”. Rice sprouts in the sand on the beach where Siti’s blood was spilled, confirming her status as Dewi (Goddess) Sri, a symbol of the fecundity of the earth. There is a shrine for Dewi Sri in most rice fields of Bali.

The final scene shows a Labuhan procession on the beach south of Yogyakarta, as is still seen twice a yearto this day, when the Sultan and the people give thanks and elaborate offerings to Ratu Kidul, the Queen of the South Sea, guardian of the city. The traditions portrayed in this film, are not past, but alive and current, in Java today.

Funding to make this gorgeous film came as part of The Vienna Mozart Year 2006, the 250th anniversary of Mozart, who was Austrian. Part of this massive celebration was The New Crowned Hope Festival, and the artistic director Peter Sellars decided to commission entirely new works from contemporary international artists, in the fields of music, theater, dance, architecture, visual arts and film. All that was required was to use Mozart’s themes as both inspiration and a springboard.

“Opera Jawa” is like nothing you’ve ever seen on screen before – a tremendous visual feast. Garin Nugroho has indeed created a valuable document of Javanese traditional story, music and dance and blended it with modern Indonesia’s period of social reform, and with her contemporary arts, in a wonderful way. It’s a must-see movie for art and music, and film lovers and if you know and love Yogyakarta, you will lose yourself in it and never want to come out.

It certainly helps to come to it with prior knowledge of Javanese culture.

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Music and the Cinema – Marriage of the Century


Music and the Cinema, Marriage of the Century?

Can you imagine “Star Wars” without John Williams’ rousing theme music?
Can you imagine “Lawrence of Arabia” without the inspiring theme music by Maurice Jarre?
Film soundtracks are incredibly eloquent, and can burn the experience of a film into our memories for ever. Some themes are “sound logos” – just a bar or two and we immediately recall the film.
Composer of the “Lawrence of Arabia” score, Maurice Jarre said, ‘I have been lucky to work with the greatest, and David Lean gave me a taste for perfection.’ And many other musicians speak in the same way, about the directors that they’ve formed a working relationship with – and vice versa, of course.
What is this alchemy that is created when the movie and its musical score become forever joined in our memories?
We only need to hear a few notes of the James Bond theme, or a few notes of the theme from “Jaws”, and our imagination jumps in recognition. There are many other signature themes: “Mission Impossible”, “The Pink Panther”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. The list could be so much longer.
Last year in Paris a thrilling six-month duration exhibition, “Musique & Cinema: Marriage of the Century?” was on show at Cite de la Musique, a music museum adjoining the Paris Conservatoire at 221 avenue Jean Jaures. For film lovers this was a wonderful education about the role of music in the cinema, and a delightful trip down Memory Lane.
Spending many hours there, I was enthralled by watching a ‘loop’ of key scenes from some of the greatest films ever made, where the music was particularly evocative and eloquent in achieving the impact of the scene we saw. The loop ran for maybe ninety minutes, and I watched it all, making mental notes of films to watch again, and one or two films that I had somehow missed.
In another part of the exhibition, there was a video presentation of the opening credits of films, which featured very famous themes that we all know, from many international films. As I approached that section of the show, one of my all-time favorite opening credits sequences was on screen – “Walk on the Wild Side”, with that mesmerising footage of the black alley cat, shot from ground level, slinking warily along, to the sounds of Elmer Bernstein’s jazz theme.
The first film that ever had its own original score was “L’Assination du Duc de Guise”, in 1908. It was of course, a silent film, and synchronized sound was still a long time into the future. The music just played in the background. But it added enormously, to the filmic experience.
The French are justly proud that they invented cinema in 1895 (the Lumiere Brothers) and that a French film had the first especially composed musical score. It’s widely believed that the French are still the most dedicated cinema-lovers of the world, and they have certainly given us many masterpieces, and made cinema history with the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave).
Warner Bros of Hollywood made “The Jazz Singer”, in 1927, starring Al Jolson, and heralded the arrival of synchronised sound, the first revolutionary change to hit the cinema, which put fear into the hearts of many famous actors and actresses of the time, who were from Europe and did not speak perfect English, by any means, or had heavy accents. It ended more than a few promising careers. In “The Jazz Singer” Jolson sang and the soundtrack began to claim it’s place as an inherent part of cinema.
It’s true that a few films are made without using music, and include only sounds that belong to the scenes we are watching, no music to prompt the drama or emotion. However, to me they often feel cold and uncompromising. Sometimes that is exactly what the director intended. They are usually low budget indie films, and perhaps budget restrictions are another reason.
The power of a good music score is immense, as it works on our unconscious and our sub-conscious, and it can be used to accentuate, and manipulate our reactions and emotions.
You only have to try an experiment. Watch a section of a good film with which you are familiar,on DVD, but turn off the sound. The experience is vastly diminished. An enormous amount of expression and emotion disappears.
Generally, a composer joins the project once the image editing is done. They have to sense what is required of them from their viewing of the edit. Often they are given a list of musical cues along with the exact length that their piece should be, to fit the image. But sometimes the music comes first. This was the case with “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” – about which there is more later in this article.
There are many legendary partnerships, of film directors, and musicians, who work together during their long careers.
Steven Spielberg and John Williams have been a team since Spielberg’s first film, “Sugarland Express” (1974).They are great friends, and can almost read each others’ mind, such is the trust between them. “Lincoln” was the twenty-sixth film on which they have collaborated, over forty years. John Williams came out of retirement to do this film, at Steven’s request. Spielberg tells the story of how he asked Williams to come up with a theme for “Jaws”, and how he was less than impressed when they met at the piano and John Williams played him the repetitive chords (like a fast beating heart) which herald the terrifying appearance of the giant shark. Williams, said, “Trust me! That is Jaws,” and Steven knew by that time, to go along with him. The legendary director has said that such is his respect for Williams that he sometimes re-cuts a piece of footage, to fit the music of John Williams.
Brooklyn resident Angelo Badalamenti was first hired by David Lynch, as a dialogue coach for Isabella Rossellini, on the film “Blue Velvet” but when David Lynch learned that he was a musician, he sought his advice, and they soon became a working partnership. When working on the TV series “Twin Peaks, Angelo describes how, before the shooting the two of them sat down at the piano, and he asked Lynch – ‘What is it about?’ David Lynch described the opening images and story in a very evocative manner, and Angelo picked up on it and began to pick out a few notes on the keyboard, which built to a crescendo as Lynch’s description became more and more vivid. Within that one session, they had the Laura Palmer Theme. Lynch says, ‘I love Angelo Badalamenti like a brother. His music will tear your heart out. I sit next to him and we talk and I describe the ideas.’
The theme music of “Twin Peaks” is incredibly erie, and unforgettable. A week or so ago, my musically educated daughter and I were sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. The music playing was so soft, I hadn’t even noticed it, but she said: “the theme from Twin Peaks!” I listened hard, and sure enough, she was right. She was about sixteen when we watched avidly, the series on TV. OK, she’s very musical, but that music once heard, is never forgotten.
In Vienna there is a whole museum devoted to just one film, and its traditional Viennese zither theme music by Anton Karas. Of course, the film is Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” (1949), starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, and Alida Valli, which is set in Vienna. The “The Harry Lime Theme”, topped the USA charts in April and July 1950. It was the triumph of the soloist!
The music of Nino Rota is so unique, and a work by director Federico Fellini without Rota’s complementary themes is almost unimaginable. The two have fused into one. Fellini stated: “I do not suggest the music to him, since I am not a musician. However since I have a fairly clear idea of the film I am making, in all its details, the work with Rota proceeds as exactly as the work on the scenario. Nino sits down at the piano; I stand by his side and tell him exactly what I want. Naturally, I do not dictate the themes to him. Among all the composers for the cinema, in my opinion, he has the most humility, for the music he creates is, according to me, extremely functional. He is not presumptuous in the sense that he wants his own music in the forefront. He realises that the music for a film is a marginal, secondary element that can hold first place only at rare moments, and that in general, it must simply sustain the rest.” (quote from the book ‘Federico Fellini’, by Gilbert Salachas, Pub. 1963)

Sometimes a musical score comes first, and the film plays second fiddle, so to speak. Such was the case with “The Parapluies du Cherbourg”, (1964) by Jacques Demy. The music for this charming film, much beloved by the French and around the world, composed by Michel Legrand, preceded the film, which starred the young Catherine Deneuve. The film won the Palme D’Or at Cannes Film Festival. Actually this was the first musical film in which ALL the dialogue was sung.
The most recent film version of “Les Miserables”(2012) by Tom Hooper introduced new technology that allowed the songs to be sung and recorded on set by the actors during the shooting – a great leap forward in musical film-making, giving a much more realistic impression. Before this, the method known as ‘playback’ was used. The actors sung ‘half-throat’ during the filming, but during playback they had to sing full-throat in perfect synchronisation with the image for the recording of the songs. Apparently Judy Garland was brilliant at this task.
Sometimes a film’s music is inherently part of the story, such as in “Amadeus” or “The Cotton Club” – that is, the actors within the story are hearing or playing it, or perhaps it’s just a radio in the room they are in. Of course, in the case of musicals, such as the wonderful “West Side Story”, the music IS the movie.
In “India Song”, (1975) writer/director, Marguerite Duras tried a different approach. There was no dialogue at all, but wall to wall music throughout the film, and the entire story was narrated by an off-screen voice. I’d love to see this film, because I can imagine that it would be a beautiful story-telling experience, with distance making it all the more exquisite. The music makes the experience so visceral, but Duras’ approach was unusual, brave, and surely beautiful.
Terence Davies, (born in 1945), made a very moving trilogy of films, which started with “Distant Voices, Still Lives”, based on his own youth. He used in a very evocative way, the popular songs of the times, which were part of family life as he grew up in the post war years, listening to the radio in the family home. While telling an agonizing story of a violent, alcoholic father, and his terrifying outbursts, and treatment of his mother, songs of the times create powerful contrast. They are songs of romance and nostalgia. Terence Davies has not made very many films, but each one is a brilliant and fragile gem of made of memories and pain.
I have a big collection of film soundtracks and I love them all. I used to think probably John Williams’ music for “Schindler’s List” was the most exquisite. But then I heard Alberto Iglesias’ score for “Hable con Ella” (Talk to Her) by Pedro Almodovar, Spain. Since becoming intimate with this soundtrack CD, this is my most beloved film score. It is so exquisite, that sometimes, if one is feeling too fragile, it is almost dangerous to listen to. It gets to the deepest core of your being. The music embodies such longing, pain, and the meaning of Duende – a Spanish word which has no true English equivalent… but reaches into the very earth as well as the origins of emotion.
The magical encounter between these two art forms, music and the movies, is a beautiful gift for all of us who love the cinema. Just consider these “marriages” between film-makers and musicians: Fellini and Nino Rota, Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Hermann, Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini, James Cameron and James Horner, Claude Lelouch and Francis Lai, Pedro Almodovar and Alberto Iglesias, Peter Greenaway and Michael Nyman, and you will be convinced.

To see the Opening Credits of “Walk on the Wild Side” go to YouTube. Type in — Walk on the Wild Side – Best title/credits sequence ever!

Article by: Cynthia Webb

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                 DOUGLAS KIRKLAND:  A LIFE IN PICTURES

 

                                                Cynthia Webb, Brisbane, QLD., Australia

Douglas Kirkland 

 

Several years ago, I attended a discussion with Douglas Kirkland, at the Gallery of Modern Art, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, where there was an exhibition of his photos of  Hollywood’s famous ones.

 

Douglas Kirkland was a warm and sincere man — whose life has been defined by the beautiful photographs he took of legendary people of the 20th century. His personality is so sincere, and his empathy for his subjects is genuine. That is how he became one of the main pictorial documentarians of our time. He photographed many Hollywood stars, and also the European cultural elite. People responded to him – trusted him – and he did not let them down.

 

‘All right Douglas.  Come tomorrow night at 8.30pm’. These words, spoken by Elizabeth Taylor, were the beginning of the fifty year career of Douglas Kirkland, celebrity photographer extraordinaire.

 

It was 1961 and a young man from Canada was just starting out on his professional career with LOOK Magazine.  Elizabeth was the biggest star in the world, and it was shortly after the plane death in a plan crash, of her husband Mike Todd, and her own emergency tracheotomy.

 

He had been sent by his employers, LOOK magazine, at the peak of its fame, to do an interview. Elizabeth Taylor made the condition of  “no pictures”  still being concerned about the scar on her throat. He was shaking her hand and looking into her famous violet eyes, when he decided to take a risk, and said, ‘Elizabeth, I’m new at this job. Can you imagine what it would mean to me if you would let me photograph you?’

 

 Her kindness towards a young man, in a new job, resulted in a portfolio of pictures that launched his career. And she surely wasn’t sorry, because he took such exquisite pictures of her — that showed her true personality and her astounding beauty, throat scar and all. Elizabeth did not to be flawless, to be beautiful. Perhaps this admission of humanity made her even more beautiful.

 

In the last fifty years Douglas Kirkland has photographed an incredible list of world stars, and been the official photographer on about one hundred movie sets.  Before his meeting with Elizabeth Taylor, he’d been doing fashion photography.

 

Observing the 76 year old Douglas Kirkland, it seemed clear to me that his own personality has played a large part in his success – making it possible for him to achieve the intimate images we have all seen, even if we didn’t all know his name at the time we looked at his photographs. 

 

He is an exuberant and friendly man, with a love of life, and a sure instinct for relating to people and setting them at their ease.  To use the parlance of his times, this man has “good vibes”. Surely it was this aspect of him that caused Elizabeth Taylor to relent on her “no pictures” condition.

 

On the occasion when briefly I met him, Douglas Kirkland stressed that his photography sessions were collaborations between him and his subjects.

 

  He told a story of Sophia Loren saying to him, ‘Yes, I remember exactly when and where we took this picture,’ on an occasion when he presented her with one of his portraits of her from thirty years earlier.

 

 The operative word is “we”.  Douglas Kirkland has the kind of personality that touches people and makes them comfortable, and after an hour or two in his presence, I felt sure of it.

 

He said: ‘You don’t say, “Act natural” to your subjects, because most people want clear directions.’  He explained that although he always arrived at a photo shoot with a plan, it could well be abandoned if the subject’s personality and ideas required it, and something spontaneous could often provide the best images. Douglas had the kind of empathy that could quickly assess this.

 

‘You must adapt to the situation. This is where the pictures come from.’

 

Many of the photographs show his stars in unguarded moments, sleeping, crying, and revealing utter exhaustion.  The photographs demonstrate that his honest and sensitive nature gains the trust of his subjects, who soon come to feel safe with him and relax.

 

 His career has involved traveling with stars while on the road for performances, or on film-sets, often in far-flung locations.  With some of them he has formed life-long friendships, and he spoke of others with great affection and respect, including Paul Newman, Roman Polanski, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Baz Luhrmann, Peter Sellars, Twiggy, and Sophia Loren.

 

Others he has photographed include Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Julie Christie, Peter O’Toole, Ann-Margret, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicolson, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Orson Welles, John Wayne, Antonio Banderas, Jodie Foster, Gene Hakman, Angelina Jolie, Warren Beatty, and on and on. It was blindingly obvious that Judy Garland had surrendered herself to his sensitive and honest camera lens…. as I looked at his photos of her, sometimes taken in her most vulnerable moments.

 

Kirkland said, ‘When you look at my pictures, you are seeing my life.’ 

And I thought…. It was also representing – some of the most honest moments of the lives of your subjects.

 

Growing up in the small town of Port Irie, near Toronto, Canada, he took his first photos at the age of ten, with a “Box-Brownie” camera.

 

Sadly, there are very few magazines left now, which can commission and use major photo features, like LOOK Magazine and LIFE Magazine,’ however Douglas Kirkland has published several books, including a pictorial documentation of the filming of “Thriller”, Michael Jackson’s legendary music video.  And there is his book   “An Evening With Marilyn” (2005) where he describes sensitively, his encounter with MM…. A night when his young, and nervous persona met with a legend, and was confronted with an invitation that most men could only dream of.

 

In November 1961, he was assigned to photograph Marilyn Monroe. She stipulated that she would require a bottle of champagne, some Frank Sinatra records and a bed with white silk sheets.  These were set up in a studio and Marilyn had a couple of assistants present, but she later sent them from the room saying ‘I want to be alone with this boy. It will work better that way.’

 

 At the discussion, where I met him, Douglas continued, ‘I visually and verbally made love to her, because I wanted to capture the sensuality, after all this was Marilyn Monroe!  Then she said, ‘Why don’t you come into the bed with me?’  I just kept on taking pictures acting like I hadn’t heard.  I can’t deny that it was exciting, but I felt my role there was to put it all into the camera. Also, I had a wife and kids back in New Jersey.  In the years since, I’ve sometimes asked myself if I made a mistake, but my first love is photography.’ 

In the book he recalls:  “I kept remembering her last words to me, after seeing the pictures, “I want to do this again with you real soon!”  And then we’d kissed and I’d left. My appetite for more time with her in front of my lens had only been whetted. I knew that she genuine loved the camera and making pictures as much as I did.”

 

Marilyn died not long after this photo-shoot and the resulting photographs have become part of the Marilyn Monroe myth.

 

Douglas still sometimes uses his 10 x 8 inch format camera, a marvelous relic of a bygone photographic era. It is cumbersome, has an upside down image for the photographer to work with, and requires the subjects to stay still for quite a long time, but produces beautiful black and white images with a soft background, which he says cannot be achieved any other way. It is late 1800’s technology, however his own model is from the 1920’s.

 

He still shoots film, although much of his work today is done with a digital camera.

He has what he called “a goldmine”, of one million images which he and his wife Francoise sometimes explore, and find previously overlooked images that now seem to have found new resonance.

 

‘These times have brought us amazing technological change but I haven’t changed and my eye has not changed.  I always like to have a pocket digital camera with me. I do a lot of digital work today, but I use film as well. Photography is not just technology. It is art, so I moved with the times. When Photoshop came out, I jumped right into it, especially since I was going through a quiet time in my career.  So what about the saying that pictures never lie? I think that pictures have always lied. You have always been able to lie with the camera and in the printing process… even if only using a shadow to conceal a fat bulge.  The camera is only as dishonest as you make it.’

 

Kirkland was using his pocket digital camera in the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia, where he was capturing images of “interesting looking” people in the lobby, and visitors looking at one hundred and fifty of his photographs, adorning the walls.  Kirkland’s visit to Brisbane, Australia has gained national news coverage and interviews, and that is testament to his skill in showing us the humanity and vulnerability as well as the larger than life side, of the icons of the second half of the twentieth century.

 

 His previous visits Down Under were when he documented the shooting of Baz Luhrmann’s films “Moulin Rouge” taking place in Sydney, and more recently on location in the Outback during the making of “Australia”.

 
If you look at Kirkland’s website or browse any of his books, most people will instantly recognize the familiar images that captured the zeitgeist of our times, during the second half of the 20th Century – particularly the faces of actors and musicians.
When I looked at the exhibition, what struck me was that in many of the most eloquent images it was Kirkland’s sense of empathy that had enabled him to spot unguarded moments that really revealed his subjects.Some of the pictures brought tears to the eyes.

Story and picture by Cynthia Webb

 

www.douglaskirkland.com

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“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

                                         

 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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