Sunday, 4 August 2013


(Alan Berliner; USA)

Quietly remarkable and devastating. The subject of the documentary, Edwin Honig, is fully within the grip of Alzheimers, and yet what is compelling is his lucidity in the face of a failing memory. A poet and translator, he still playfully engages in conversation while admitting that his memory has disappeared into 'a long endless thing.' Berliner breaks up the film by combining and tightly editing all conversations he had with his cousin, creating a simulation of sorts of memory itself. The recollection of conversations with others are often recalled not in chronological sequence, but in a fragmented re-ordered narrative that is never quite the same each time. Clearly the parallels between memory and film are obvious, but Berliner does a great justice to his film by not heavy-handedly jamming this to the forefront of its themes. The ides of this film, or film in general, as an archive or repository for memory resides in the margins, a quiet reflection that hums gently throughout as we see repeated shots of Honig grappling with the poet he used to be and that he no longer seems to be able to access. His past now a strange story belonging to someone else, Honig is horrifyingly aware of what has been 'killed off' inside of him.

Yet, this is not a maudlin or weep-inducing portrait of an illness. For starters, stories of Honig's failings as a husband and father slowly unfold through the course of the film, inducing an emotional distance from the man. But what really makes the film transcendent is how Berliner's own curiosity and observation bleed through the film and infect the viewer. Rather than aiming for the cheap emotional weight of the debilitating aspects of Alzheimers, Berliner desires to understand how memory loss affects one's humanity, how one remains a human while undergoing a gradual erosion of potentially all that makes up one's life. It is this deep and quiet curiosity that makes the film so rich and engaging.


(Peter Mettler; Canada/ Switzerland)

Starting with Joseph Kittinger's 31km skydive in 1960, this film moves gracefully from meditating upon the Hadron Collider, lava flows in Hawaii and the decaying city of Detroit, in order to muse upon the nature, perception and meaning of time.

In this meandering essay, time is viewed as inextricably intertwined with space, matter, death, and the mind, but Mettler does not simply jam together a gloriously haphazard collections of thoughts and images. In the final section of the film, it seems as if Mettler is folding all previous themes and images in the film into each other, creating a temporal palimpsest, a non-linear and looping exposition on time.

Beautifully shot (Mettler is majestic behind the camera - watch his 1994 film Picture of Light to see what I mean), and replete with geometric patterns, natural flows (wind, lava, sea, clouds) and quiet repose, this film is a delightful warm bath for the eyes.

But, as well as being visually rapturous, Mettler urges your mind to tick over, mulling on your own personal relationship to time, dwelling upon the mystery of your own life, long after you've walked out of the cinema.

Saturday, 3 August 2013


(Matias Pineiro; Argentina)

Pineiro is the new magician of talk-addicted film. Comparisons to the films of John Cassavetes are obvious, and probably occur with frequency, but the comparisons are perhaps apt. The pace, rhythm, and fire of talk and chat in Cassavetes' films urges intense focus, and the same holds true for Pineiro.

There is wit, deftness, clever puzzle-logic, and hidden layers to the barrage of words that abound in Viola, and this web of words creates a wonderful tension, a sense of not having firm footing, a feeling of constantly slipping. Not so much a feeling of losing a hold of the plot, but in not even knowing where the plot begins or ends.

This verbal trickery is wondrously matched by Pineiro's camera-work - by constantly focussing on faces, we lose grasp of surroundings and thus lose a grasp of whether a given moment is reality, dream, performance, or some odd limbo between all three.

In mastering this combination of verbal chicanery and tightly-framed cinematography, Pineiro has achieved more in 63 minutes than most directors can do in 120.

Friday, 2 August 2013


How the hell am I going to do this? Reviewing 10 short films in 15 minutes?

SECOND SUN (Joel Stern/ Pia Borg; Australia/ UK)

Angry screaming mega-pixels. Like a stroppy, industrial Jordan Belson in an arcade parlour. Not bad, actually.

WANTEE (Laure Provost; UK)

Nope. Nope. Nope.

THE STREAM 3 (Hiroyuki Sakurai: Japan)

Simple, short, shot on an iPhone, drizzly, stuck in a pipe, meh.


Oh, yes, now THIS was the whole reason for being here. Soft, diaphanous, scrawling and trawling through text, grasping some but never all, the whole a blissful mystery but so beguiling.

IYEZA (Kudzanai Chiurai; South Africa)

It'd make a great music video. But ultra slo-mo as the be-all-and-end-all of the piece doesn't really cut the mustard for me.

RECONNAISANCE (Johann Lurf; Austria)

Wonderfully simple, yet by the end of this 5 minute piece, there's an odd sense of not being entirely certain of what you've seen. Ostensibly this appears to be various shots of a decommissioned torpoedo-site, but unless I was going nuts it seems that there was more to this than expected. Still haunting my head.

DOUBLE GRAFFITI (Paul Winkler; Australia)

A genuine revelation here. Shot on 16mm, this film is a flicker-fest of constantly-rotating segments of graffiti-laden wall. The familiarity of tags is channeled into a intense new landscape of constant motion. Rather mesmeric.

DAD'S STICK (John Smith;UK)

A paean to his dead father, through the objects his father obsessively re-used. Smith's humour surprisingly rarely grates, and this becomes a moving piece on familial bonds through the quotidian objects.

CRYSTAL WORLD (Pia Borg; Australia/ UK)

Trying to do too many things. If the film focussed purely on the crystallisation process of underwater figures and objects, the film may have been stronger. Including segments from Night Of The Hunter seemed to throw it off balance.

...BECAUSE SUPERGLUE IS FOREVER! (Johan Grimonprez; Belgium)

I'm not sure that this worked. I think I expected something tighter from Grimonprez. The collation of news items, re-used footage, and news stories, etc read/ played by two young girl felt a little like a haphazard collision of ideas - an archival version of throwing everything at the wall and hoping it will stick.


(Nicholas Rey: France)

I saw this last year, but not on the big screen, so to see it blown up big and proud is just one hell of an experience. This is truly Cinema. Shot in 16mm, which is touted by Rey in a trailer for his film as a dying medium, this exquisite film revels in own divine self. The grit, grain, pockmarks are all so alive - crunchy, gritty, it makes the film a truly haptic, synaesthetic experience.

This is kind of fake-ethnographic film, a faux documentary of a world called Molussia. The camera spins on a number of occasions, shaking up the actual world being filmed - the recognisable fields, streets, houses, workers - and inverting it, making it another world. With sporadic commentary, derived from Gunther Anders book The Molussian Catacomb, interspersed over the shots of fields, seas, workers, it becomes believable that the places we see, the workers we see, all belong to the fictional City of Molussia.

The soundtrack often splinters, shreds, disintegrates into crackling shards. It sounds like cinema eating itself. Or as if this film is actually trying to form itself, make itself out of itself.

This is an utterly epiphanous film that keeps singing and resounding long after it is finished. I could watch it again and again and again. I could watch it at least 362,880 times, to be precise.


(Hala Lotfy; Egypt/ UAE)

Fascinating fiction feature debut from this Egyptian filmmaker. A full day is marked out in the life of a mother and daughter tending to their ailing husband/father, but it is the slow torpor of caregiving and the quiet pressures it exerts that breathes wonderful life to the pace, rhythm and texture of this film. In an ever-increasing world of 'slow cinema', Lotfy makes a deep and rich impression by allowing plenty of time for the characters to reveal their life, their world purely when glancing at another, or most crucially when lost in thought. 

Bold compositions, with remarkable interior shots set with angular crisp lines, and rich earthy tones - from sun-up to sepia-tinged sun-down, the film is bled into browns, greys, beige, murky white.

The final third of the film, while perhaps not as striking in visual tone to the earlier interior sequences in the home, is the most ensnaring part, as we see the daughter quietly undergoing a midnight revelation in private, moving from some kind of misguided selfishness to a deeper place of quiet repose, a place we can nearly surmise but not quite. We can read her thoughts, but can we really?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

MIFF 2013

Once upon a time I used to gorge myself silly on film during the Melbourne International Film Festival. For the past couple of years this has reduced to a tiny morsel, as fatherhood has imposed new routines and schedules. However, this year I'm hoping to pop along to at least ten films, maybe more, we'll just see how lucky I get with my time. 

As I'm in a new realm of having to be very very picky about what I choose to see, I'm opting, for the most part, for films that have not, and most likely will not, receive future distribution in Australia. Being extremely selective is proving to be an unusually rewarding experience, learning to sift and sift again through the possible selections to find films most enriching to my little ol' soul.

As part of a promise I've kept, I'm going to write a brief review of each film seen. Well, 'review' is not really the right word - the aim is to write up any thoughts, feelings, lack of feelings, etc, on the film just seen - the review has to be no more than 200 words, must be completed within the day it is seen, and must be completed in ten minutes. If this doesn't happen, I'm doing the dishes every day for a month.

Right, better get cracking...

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Top 10 Films of 2012

(It took forever to get this post finished. I was worried 2013 would finish before I got this 2012 wrap-up done. Hastily written at any spare moment, I’m just happy that this little list actually exists, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. Also, yay to me for breaking a 5-month freeze on this blog by actually posting something. Is the blog officially unfrozen? I’d like to say yes, but I’ve made loads of promises that have not come to fruition in the past, so let’s say for now it’s still thawing.)  

If 2011 saw a distinct drop in the number of films viewed, then in 2012 this pace dropped to a near standstill. What else could be expected with bringing up a new baby, undergoing a complete vocational about-face, and taking on full-time study as well as full-time work? I’m happy I got the occasional dollop of sleep last year, let alone the chance to watch a few films here and there.

I missed too many films last year, but I’m happy I managed to find ways to see a few great films. Below are my favourite ten films of 2012 that I managed to sink my eyes into.

10. FAREWELL, MY QUEEN (Benoit Jacquot; France/ Spain)

The anticipated tropes and style associated with the costume drama genre are briskly sidestepped in this take on the nascent days of the French Revolution as experienced within the enclosed world of the Palace of Versailles. Stateliness and grace is replaced with disorder, confusion, and feverish hunting for information. History is presented subjectively, through gossip, hearsay, and speculation, and is channelled through the perambulations of the Queen’s reader, from servant’s quarters to royal rooms and back again. Proximity is the key to this film, with the camera often bearing in on faces, arms, and legs and closely following rapid trots through the labyrinthine corridors of Versailles. The manifestation of dual worlds is fascinating, with the outside world barely shown and therefore a constant unseen threat, and the inner world of Versailles split between the ‘front’ of stately royal room and chaotic ‘back’ of servant’s quarters. 

9. TABU (Miguel Gomes; Portugal/ Germany/ Brazil/ France)

 There’s an intense complexity woven within this film’s fabric that is belied by the simplicity of an unrequited love story. Dream interpretation, story-telling, and re-living memories are recurring motifs that elide the two-part structure of the film. While initially feeling rigid and clinically precise, the film slips and melts with graceful sensuality. And, at its beating heart, the film aches for cinema’s own history, yearning for its own paradise lost.

8. STUDENT (Darezhan Omirbayev; Kazakhstan)

Omirbayev should be far more well-known than he is. This somewhat faithful rendering of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment sets the story in modern-day Kazakhstan as a means to critique the soul-less modernisation of his country. Although Bresson appears to be an obvious influence, the close-ups, gestures and quiet pace accumulate to form Omirbayev’s own signature which reflects the friction between the old socialist version of Kazakhstan and the new capitalist version. While the film may be bleak and unemotional, it is also extremely elegant and precise. It also has the simplest yet quietly haunting dream sequence I’ve seen in a long time.

7. KEYHOLE (Guy Maddin; Canada)

Embedding his ‘Maddin-esque’ style deep within the noir genre possibly makes for Maddin’s most accessible work yet. However, ‘accessible’ and ‘Maddin’ don’t exactly live on the same street, and this ties genre conventions in knots from the outset. Ostensibly the film focuses on a gangster boss and his mob returning to his family home to hole up for a while, in hiding from the police. However, the home is haunted, not just with yelling ghosts, but with memories, and boss appears to be committed to nothing other than working out how to remember his past through navigating not just the labyrinth of the house but the layers of memory that still live and breathe within its walls. Here, there does not appear to be mere life and death, or the living and the ghost traces of the dead, but instead a multitude of blurred varieties of mortality. Mundane objects take on a powerful resonance, as placement and movement trigger memory. The protagonist’s own being seems to ultimately be infused with the house, and the film projects not just a poetics of memory but also a poetics of space.


Grant Gee’s film is an attempt to mirror W.G. Sebald’s ‘unclassifiable’ book The Rings Of Saturn, ostensibly a travelogue of the writer’s walk through Suffolk but also a meander through his thoughts on European history, literature, and culture. To do this, the film becomes almost book-like, with grainy images of many places along the route taken by Sebald indexed with a page number. The film thus becomes a travelogue of a travelogue, making a map of the book as much as mapping the places described within the book. The layered quality of Sebald’s work is emulated through an accretion of overlapping layers to the images – shots of quiet and lonely landscapes are inlaid with text, fading images of interviewees, pages from the book itself. And, at last, someone has the sense to score an entire film with music by The Caretaker – the ghostly sounds of records from yesteryear seem to perfectly match the spectral grainy tone of the film. 

5. TOMORROW (Andrey Gryazev; Russia)

This is a deceptive documentary that transcends a mere portrait of the Russian art collective Voina. Gryazev apparently infiltrated the group and recorded their exploits in 2010. These exploits and actions at first appear to be utterly childish – organised shop-lifting and turning over cars make the group appear to be less of an art collective and more a bunch of immature pranksters using the ‘art’ tag to justify larking about. Constant bickering between the leaders, Oleg Vorotnikov and his partner Natalia Sokol, doesn’t help this initial impression. However, slowly the film reveals the group’s plans and plots to be far more cohesive than it first appears, and it leads to an organised action that has serious consequences for the group. As the film progresses, and the group are targeted for criminal conduct, a deep complexity arises in relating to these protagonists. On the one hand, having warmed to over the course of the film, it is easy to feel concerned, perhaps even outraged, at their plight. On the other hand, there is an ever-increasing concern that the leaders are putting their politics and art before being a cohesive family. Their 18-month old son is a strong focus of the film, and may possibly even be the motive behind its title, questioning the ‘tomorrow’ of this boy’s future. Although the leaders are depicted as loving parents, the exposure of this child to their antics is questionable (especially at the climax of the film, where the boy is present at a Voina-instigated riot, and potentially exposed to physical harm). The incremental movement of this film from its first impressions to deeply conflicted and unsettled feelings towards Voina make for an unusually powerful film that stays with you long after it is over.

4. BARBARA (Christian Petzold; Germany)

There is not a single superfluous moment in this film. Petzold has sculpted a lean, poised, and simmering work that is capable of exercising powerful contradictions. East Germany in the 1980’s is visually presented as bleak, cold, and clinical, but also replete with visual warmth, colour and softness. The eponymous protagonist vacillates from aloof to abrasive to cordial to vulnerable and then back again. Within an economically spare visual framework and script, Petzold has performed some kind of magic to engineer a constant push-and-pull of emotional attachment, while steadily tightening the tension to near vice-like proportions.

3. THE LONELIEST PLANET (Julia Loktev; USA/ Germany)

The most devastating split second on film in 2012. This blink-and-you-miss-it decision ruptures the supposed harmony between an engaged couple travelling through the Caucasus Mountains, but what makes the film so powerful is through showing this rupture via wordless treks, haunted expressions, and floundering gestures of rapprochement and mitigation. Loktev opts for having the characters thoughts and emotions locked deep inside their heads, withdrawing them to the loneliest place from each other but also allowing the viewer to make a deeper ‘there-but-for-the-grace-of-God’ connection. Because of this very spartan approach, this film is possibly the most tragic portrait of relationship to hit the screen in a long, long time.

2. HOLY MOTORS (Leos Carax; France/ Germany)

From out of nowhere, Carax pulls out his best and wildest film ever. This is a love poem to cinema’s own history, a vehicle for Denis Lavant’s powers of performative commitment and self-transformation, and a spectral journey through the streets of Paris all rolled into one. But there’s more, so much more. The act of performing takes on an incrementally elegiac tone, with Lavant getting wearier with each appointment. Is it the weight of expectation from an unseen audience, the same audience watching a film (or watching us?) at the beginning of this wild ride? You almost wonder if Lavant’s Mr. Oscar is always aware that we are watching him, that we demand these appointments be kept. Carax seems to portray cinema itself as loaded down with this heavy weight of demands and desires, and has attempted to craft a magnificent vehicle to try and shuck off the weight and fly to freedom.

1. DIFFERENTLY, MOLUSSIA (Nicolas Rey; France)

Rey’s full-length experimental masterpiece operates on totally different plane than any other film of 2012. Composed of 9 reels that can be played in any random order, it exists in a perpetual present, its trajectory never a foregone conclusion. This freedom seems to give the film a mesmeric quality. Rey’s work is an interpretation of a book he has never read (Gunther Anders’ 1936 novel The Molussian Catacomb), in a language he does not understand (German). Grainy and colour-drained footage of ploughed fields, sparse hills, highways, and industrial buildings are wedded with fragments from Anders’ book, but the spoken text is drizzled sporadically over the images, allowing for a hypnotic change in the way the landscape is viewed. The footage, derived from ‘our’ world, eerily becomes another world, the fictional city of Molussia. The novel’s dystopian city of the future is woven into our ‘now’, rendering time, history and verisimilitude as arbitrary concerns. This blending of contemporary Europe into fictional Molussia is almost hallucinatory, a vertiginous magic trick born from celluloidal grain and pockmarks. Truly spellbinding.