Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2019

MQFF is in its twenty-ninth year, expanding upon the world’s oldest and largest exhibition of queer films. The festival’s growth is includes the diversification of exhibition spaces, including new partnerships with Village Cinema’s Jam Factory as well as ongoing collaborations with Cinema Nova and ACMI. Through this expansion, the festival coordinators aim to bring these films into mainstream spaces, with the representations of diverse identities and experiences presented with greater accessibility.

Running between March 14-25, the programme is positively mouth-watering in its selection of stories which frame queer experiences. Here are some of the more magnetic selections – but make sure you take a gander at the programme. Most of the selected films are by queer-identifying filmmakers and all tell stories sprung from the LGBTQIA+ community – bringing with it an indispensable treat of watching authentic experiences, not watered down for mainstream audiences. With over 120 feature films as well as 15 shorts sessions, MQFF is sure to be twelve celebratory days of unadulterated queer cinema.


Rafiki (Wanuri Kah, Kenya, 2018)
Friday, 15 March at 7.00pm – Village Jam Factory
Thursday, 21 March at 8.30pm – Cinema Nova

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Rafiki is a dynamic portrayal of first love. Set on the streets of Nairobi, the Kenyan director Wanuri Kah. Kah was initially unable to release her film in her home country due to the nation’s extremely conservative political actions which criminalise LGBTQI+ peoples. The film was also featured at last year’s Melbourne International Film Festival and was a clear highlight amongst its queer film selection. Bathed in vibrant colours, the film organically blends an indelibly loveable, cute tone with the seriousness of Kenya’s political climate without feeling burdened. The performances by leads Samantha Magatsia and Sheila Munyvia are effervescent and irresistible – giving audiences the chance to seriously crush on them in a dreamy visual landscape.

Trailer:


Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (Matt Tyrnauer, USA, 2018)
Saturday, 16 March at 5.00pm – ACMI
Saturday, 23 March at 3.00pm – Cinema Nova

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This documentary feature is said to deepen the intrigue of definitively iconic queer doco The Celluloid Closet. The film aligns itself with ex-Hollywood socialite Scotty Bowers as his stories illuminate sexual exploits, seemingly uninhibited by hetero standards in Hollywood’s golden age. Scotty recounts stories about his ‘friends’ which included Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy – relationships formed during Hollywood’s most censored and repressed years. Comprised of interviews of Scotty and his family as well as archival footage, this doco looks like a queer Hollywood nerd’s fantasy – which is not as niche a demographic as one would think.

Trailer:


Knife+Heart (Yann Gonzales, France, 2018)
Saturday, 16 March at 9.30pm – ACMI
Friday, 22 March at 10.30pm – ACMI

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Set in 1979 Paris, Knife+Heart centres itself on Anne, a producer of gay porn. The film was nominated last year for the Queer Palm at Cannes International Film Festeval and has been lauded for its visual language, soundscape (with soundtrack by M83) and performances. Described as unabashedly queer (a description which most films should have), the film is said to be as a comedy with brutalist undertones, exploring intersections of violence and passion, all captured through its female protagonist’s (quite literal) lens. It should be mentioned that the film features Vanessa Paradis who not only has the best teeth of any actor alive, but is an incredibly commanding and sensual screen presence.

Trailer:


Sorry Angel (Christophe Honouré, France, 2018)
Saturday, 23 March 5.00pm – Cinema Nova

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Sorry Angel can be pitched as a sort of companion piece to 2017’s BPM which was featured at last year’s MQFF. Set in 1990s France, the film is a love story which resides in the shadow of the HIV/AIDs crisis. Despite this, Sorry Angel shines with its portrayals of relationships within the queer community, be they romantic or non-romantic. The film allows for many varied perspectives surrounding the formation of its central relationship between 20-something Arthur and 30-something Jacques who is evasive of the reality of his status. Additionally, this film is incredibly directive in terms of its visual communication, with each shot entirely bathed in blue – an absolute pleasure to look at. Sorry Angel is undoubtedly important within the historical makeup of the queer experience and will certainly have audience members grasping each other’s hands at its conclusion.

Trailer:


Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy (Justin Kelly, Canada, USA, UK, 2018)
Sunday, 24 March at 7.30pm – ACMI

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Was this film manifested via Queer Twitter and Film Twitter collectively? Because it includes a litany of widely obsessed-over tropes including androgyny, Kristen Stewart, wigs, Laura Dern, literary fraud, Hollywood, Diane Kreuger, provocateurs…. need I go on?

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy will feature at MQFF’s closing night, following the true account of a queer woman who for six years masqueraded as celebrated male author JT LeRoy. The film is said to be an intriguing exploration of gender, sexuality and celebrity, and is also said to feature Laura Dern in a variety of wigs. Our collective internet prayers have finally been answered.


Shorts sessions

Transformation
Tuesday, 19 March at 8.00pm – ACMI

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This selection of shorts aims to demonstrate the strength of transgender trailblazers. With a mix of local and international short films (both narrative and documentary), the selection reveals a breadth of themes, from identity to relationships to desire. Each are linked with the representation of unearthing the trans legacies which make way for even more stories. Highlights include Candy’s Crush, a New Zealand doco about a woman’s journey to becoming one of the world’s first trans pro-wrestlers; We Forgot to Break Up, a depiction of a reunion prior to a man’s transition; and Australian documentary Sistergirl, exploring Tiwi Island and its indigenous community which houses the world’s largest population of transgender women.

Clip from We Forgot to Break Up:


Queer First Nations Shorts
Monday, 18 March at 6.00pm

With a first for the MQFF programme, this shorts package is a showcase celebrating the queer experiences of Aboriginal brothers and sisters. Comprising of three shorts, both narrative and documentary, each explores the intersection of two very distinct identities – each directed by indigenous filmmakers. The highlight of the evening is Black Divaz, a documentary which dives into the glitz and glamour of drag at the inaugural First Nations Pageant, as well as the reality of queer identity within Aboriginal communities. The short also features the legendary queen Nova Gina, as well as the many indigenous queens who help to make way for queer indigenous people living in rural areas of Australia. This session is a clear highlight of the festival and is sure to be a sell-out – so hurry up and support our local artists and filmmakers.

Trailer for Black Divaz:


View the full MQFF programme and book your tickets here

 

 

Sorry to Bother You: no spoilers – pinky promise!

Sorry to Bother You is the debut feature film of artist/musician/writer/activist Boots Riley
which manages to bridge a great many genres and sub-genres including comedy, satire, sci-fi, horror and (what the hey) political thriller. I should preface this review by assuring you that I will not be discussing this film’s spoilers for two reasons: the film is a wild ride without them, and because I don’t think I would know how to describe, with words, the innate fuckery which unfolds in the third act of this film. Additionally, this film’s plot is a challenge to summarise, but I believe context is needed to understand the broader narrative complexities of Riley’s film, so I will give it a go.

Set in reality-adjacent Oakland, California (a location which has had a big year cinematically in Blindspotting and Black Panther), the film centres around Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) who hopes that his new job as a telemarketer will improve his economic situation which has him living in his uncle Sergio’s (Terry Crews) garage with artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). The job itself is at a company called RegalView which is owned by WorryFree who manufactures products with practices described as “legal slavery”, run by its falsely-woke billionaire CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). The film’s tone is kind of like if Black Mirror and Atlanta had a baby – a major selling point, I would think.

On the surface, the film functions as an extrapolation of institutional racism which
pigeonholes non-white individuals into societal roles deemed acceptable or unacceptable by homogenised white society. Cash is initially unable to excel within his new position as a telemarketer until he puts on his “white voice” (aptly dubbed by David Cross) and his racial identity is erased. And with that, so does his otherness, succeeding him to the position of “power caller”. However, his successes, whilst rewarded with substantial financial gain, ultimately require the omission of Cash’s Black identity in order to conform to the company’s idea of what is socially acceptable (which is, ultimately, a white persona). Cash’s girlfriend Detroit also participates in this sort of omission when performing and selling her activist art, using her performative white voice so that her Caucasian patrons will find her more interesting.

Riley positions of the camera, (and ultimately the audience) in such close proximity to the film’s protagonist. Cash is acutely aware of his own position within society as someone who feels oppressed, even unable to find a social role within his own designated group. He knows what people think when they see him, exemplified as he is visually represented as being dropped into the living rooms of strangers who only hear his ethnicity. We travel around Oakland with Cash as he grapples with his perceived repression, with the camera usually positioned within close proximity of his face, as if we were shoulder-to-shoulder with the character. Riley fully aligns us with Cassius in these formative moments leaving it up to his audience to decide upon whether he is, or isn’t and underling in this society. Cash’s eventual conformity is immediately rewarded through being heard and seen differently – all because he “stuck to the script” using his white voice. And once Cassius enters the literal golden elevator and leaves his fellow oppressed co-workers behind, we begin to see him from the perspective of his former peers who he has ultimately betrayed for money. Cash is still innately aware of how he is being perceived – and what he is sacrificing in order to succeed in a world that rejects his Blackness.

The clear highlights of Sorry to Bother You lie within the screenplay and the performances. The dialogue is so complex and revealing of his characters as they slip in and out of their roles with a true sense of realism. I feel that we are really lucky to have experienced the emergence of African American auteur cinema and television, with reflections upon the prevalence of racism through genre and realism. This could be part of a trilogy of media released within the last couple of years which would also include Get Out and Atlanta season 2, episode 6: ‘Teddy Perkins’ – ever more apt because each features a justifiably terrified Lakeith Stanfield, whose performance in this film is remarkably expressive and essential to the thematic functions of the movie. Tessa Thompson (who I will follow to the ends of the earth) embodies so many diverse types of characters that I feel like I’m watching fresh-faced performer each time I see her in a film. She dissolved into Detroit so completely, bringing so much fire and vulnerability to the performance. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Armie Hammer (whose Adonis face is etched into my mind forever thanks to last year’s Call Me by Your Name) who is downright icky in this film. Kind of like a hot Trump – a stretch, I know.

Lastly, Riley utilises incredible discomfort within Sorry to Bother You. Uses of perspective
position us both as Cassius and as those who justify racism and bigotry, in order to
ultimately confront his audience to question our own morality and attitude. He allows us to laugh at outwardly racist jokes, but he also gives us time to reflect on what our reactions mean. Much of what happens to Cash is entirely absurd and satirical, but Riley’s extrapolation into the roles which are impressed upon people of colour within the
hegemony of a white Western world is entirely rooted in our modern reality. The absurdity and the discomfort is clearly meant to galvanise his viewers. So go and see this and feel really uncomfortable whilst having a riot of a time, because that’s how Boots Riley wants us to feel – for a valuable cause.


This review was also featured on Pop Culture-y

MIFF 2018: Sorry Angel

Sorry Angel is the latest film by French auteur filmmaker Christophe Honoré (Dans Paris, Love Songs). The film headlined at Melbourne’s International Film Festival having premiered at Cannes, inevitably making its way around the globe to various other festivals this year. The film is a love story set in France during 1993, as the visibility of HIV/AIDs sufferers grew. Much of the critical conjecture of this film equate last year’s BPM (also screened at MIFF) to Sorry Angel, and although the films are both set during the same time period in Paris, the tone and perspectives could not be more varied.

The central romance between dual-protagonists Jacques and Arthur begins during a screening of Jane Campion’s The Piano. The camera is positioned between the two men, shooting them from behind as their experiences unite them, a shot which is repeated throughout the film. Arthur is a twenty-two-year-old from the country, still exploring his sexuality as he falls for women and sleeps with men. Jacques, on the other hand, is into his forties, a well-known but struggling writer and father to an eleven-year-old boy named Lou Lou. There are certain details which Jacques keeps private from Arthur as the couple’s relationship unfolds, playing into one of the film’s wider themes of private and public lives, and the roles that men occupy.

The use of the colour blue in this film is almost obsessive, with characters surrounding themselves with blue objects whilst being clad in blue clothing. This use of blue, whilst being incredibly striking, intentionally places the men and their surrounds within the colour spectrum of the pride flag as men who love men. The colour also effectively expresses through warmth and cool the incredible isolation which accompanies fleeting intimacy, as Jacques fears being alone between moments spent with Arthur, Lou Lou and the friends who surround him. Further, blue becomes the colour which amplifies the clinical, medicalised nature of Jacques’ illness which he comes to push against whilst wearing a pink shirt, the only warm tone we see in the entire film as he reclaims his life.

The film is set up as a fleeting love story. Arthur and Jacques are in very different places in their lives but are immediately enamoured with one another from their first meeting. Although Jacques does not present as unwell, it he attempts to keep Arthur at bay, only furthering the intrigue and infatuation that the young man has for Jacques. Their moments of intimacy are played out with such levity that we as the audience want them to fulfil their love story.

After the release of Call Me By Your Name last year (which is admittedly one of my very favourite films ever), many critics called for more films which frame queer romance as normal experiences – for which I agree. However, such critics also stated with this new framing should in lieu of stories interrupted by the presence of the AIDs epidemic. Much of the furore surrounding Sorry Angel is that it is yet another French AIDs film – but that shouldn’t make this story any less important. Viewers wanting lovely, shielded queer romances will probably receive them, but the telling of these very nuanced (often true) stories must be prioritised as essential details in our wider Pride narrative. I think that it’s easy to imbue ourselves and young, queer viewers in seeking out stories which make us feel good or validate our attractions or identity, but it’s also crucial that we know our history.

For me, this commentary was echoed within Sorry Angel. We watch Jacques and Arthur fall in love and we identify with their hopes of having a future together, but we realised (even before Arthur does) that it is simply impossible. The romance plays out to a truly heightened state and is dissolved through Jacques’ imminent and continued suffering. Additionally, although we are aware of so many deaths throughout the film, we see very little of it, mostly focusing on the holes which are left by these members of their community in a way that feels entirely non-exploitative.

Honoré’s incredibly tender film is as honest as it is fleeting, imbuing queer audiences with the need to hold their loved ones closer, knowing lucky we are to love who we love for a lifetime.


This article was also featured on Pop Culture-y

MIFF 2018: Damsel

A part of the Melbourne International Film Festival’s official 2018 selection, Damsel is a tender ode to frontier films which places their traditional archetypes and tropes central to its particular satire. The film is the latest from the Zellner brothers whose 2014 film Kumiko was also shown at MIFF, further emphasising the festival’s eye for independent, generically unconventional films. Damsel is no exception as it expertly plays with the audience’s expectations, from its mythic genre to its casting and tone. As a slight footnote, I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with frontier films, mostly due to their depictions of women and people of colour, but I’m always ready to be surprised.

The film itself is told from the perspective of a ‘black hat’ preacher (played by co-director David Zellner) as he accompanies Samuel (Robert Pattinson) to locate and marry his ‘damselled’ sweetheart Penelope (Mia Wasikowska).

From the film’s opening, we are presented with the many tropes of the Western genre, with dazzling landscapes and lingering close-ups on newly introduced characters. Arriving in a new town, Samuel Alabaster is positioned within the Western archetype as the ‘white hat’ of the narrative, from his name to his actual white hat. Much of the film’s comedy stems from our expectations of said characters who diverge from the manner in which they should be acting. Instead of being stoic and mysterious, Samuel is quite the imbecile – a fact which is exacerbated as his seemingly illusive past is unveiled. The film’s tone shifts sophisticatedly between revelling in the fearful beauty of the mythic frontier (akin to its foundational genre) and abject slapstick humour, amplifying both the myth and subverting it.

The film’s ability to toe this very delicate tonal line is due to its excellent casting and performances, especially by Wasikowska and Pattinson. In his first purely comedic role, Pattinson’s is perfect casting due to the actor’s previous roles and reputation for being quite the heartthrob. The casting furthers our expectations for Samuel to proceed on a classic ‘white hat’ journey of redemption, aligning us with him. In fact, so many of the successes within this film rests in Pattinson’s performance as he sets the status quo of the entire film by being a dashing cowboy trailing around a miniature horse named Butterscotch (who is the unadulterated star of this film).

Damsel’s co-lead is played by Australian actress Mia Wasikowska who had previously starred with Pattinson in 2014’s Maps to the Stars. The narrative is divided into three parts with the film’s climax sitting within the middle of the film when we finally meet Penelope. Before this scene, however, we come to know her through Samuel’s descriptions of her, likening her to an intelligent, flower-like creature – further aligning us with Samuel’s plan to ‘save’ the damsel, setting us up with expectations of her innocence and beauty. In reality, Penelope is hardened and more capable than Samuel had described and our allegiance as an audience switches magnetically to Penelope as our new protagonist. Additionally, this switch is accompanied by the audience realising that we had been rooting for Samuel, a laughable man willing to ruin Penelope’s life to get what he wants.

The ways in which these generic Western film archetypes are subverted denotes Damsel as a specifically contemporary film, aware of itself as well as the audience that it is being shown to. Anecdotally, the film features a Native American man frustrated with the preacher character culturally appropriating his way of life, begging to be taught his Indigenous culture. The previously mentioned climax of the film includes our ‘damsel’ rejecting the hero’s advances, only for him to exclaim “you gave me mixed signals”. Penelope’s ‘rescue’ which is meant to serve as the pathos of the narrative sets the story on a new path, centralising her experience (and knack for dynamite) and leaving the status quo of the frontier behind.

Co-director David Zellner attended the screening of this film and stayed to answer a few questions after. When asked about the prominent feminist theme which played a clear role within Damsel, Zellner responded that whilst he didn’t intend a specific timely message, that he believed that a flaw within frontier films was the framing of misogynistic objectification as a protagonist goal. Damsel’s positioning of Penelope at the centre of the narrative shapes the optics of the male characters who surround her, each wanting her for their own. And even if it was not intentional, this demonstration of male fragility when faced with a strong, pipe smoking woman reads as pretty damn feminist, widening the boundaries set so firmly by generic convention and plotting new, untold stories led by females.

Damsel was an absolute joy to watch. Having had my own hindrances with the Western as a genre, this film is entirely refreshing not only in its humour and subversion, but also within its gorgeous representations of American landscapes from vistas and mountains to aspen forests. See it if you get the chance – even if you’re just in it for Butterscotch the miniature horse.


This article was also featured on Pop Culture-y

A Quiet Place: Hero Shot

In his new horror movie, director John Krasinski (very intelligently) enlists his wife Emily Blunt to co-parent their fictional brood of fairly quiet kids, played by Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe. The entirety of the film revolves around the survival of the Abbott family on their closely monitored corn farm, seemingly untouched by the post-apocalyptic monsters which roam and destroy anything that emits sound.

Their silent communication is modified entirely in their cautious survival, using Sign Language for the majority of the film’s dialogue. Their eldest child Regan is Deaf, putting her at a manifest disadvantage – especially in her parents’ eyes. Their interactions are methodical – we see them through a day or two of (mostly) uninterrupted labour, where we discover where their resentments lie, and how very fragile their world is.

Although this film’s premise is ostensibly high concept, it’s execution is extremely elegant. As the audience, we are positioned with a great deal of information throughout. We are given exposition early on in Lee’s basement as we read papers and whiteboards of information about the monsters. We are even shown the position of a nasty nail before a character accidentally steps on it in one excruciating scene. This knowledge builds an insurmountable degree of tension, combined with the agonising necessity for quiet from all characters. The film’s lighting is excellent, utilising a great deal of natural light and amplifying the combination of beauty and horror in this world. The world seems incredibly lush, past the grey-tonal state of many post-apocalyptic films into regrowth or evolution. The music is in complete tandem with the tonal requirements of the film, mostly piano and muffled bass. All of the technical elements of this film contribute to an unadulterated sense of trepidation, amplifying the incredible tension.

A portion of the film is seen through Regan’s perspective, with the film’s ambient sound cutting out to match her point-of-view. Much of the danger which surrounds Regan and her family is undetectable to her senses, and Regan works overtime to keep up and stay out of peril. Although Regan is older, she isn’t allowed into her father’s basement, let alone any sort of responsibility in protecting her family.

Regan is played exceptionally by Simmonds, who is also Deaf. The performances, especially by Blunt are wonderfully interpersonal, each working impressively as a believable family unit going through absolute hell.

It was the last scene which really brought it home on a broader level. Regan, finally able to enter the basement in protection of her family, is able to use her father’s research and material to save her family. It seems that after her father’s perhaps years of agonising, all he needed was a differing perspective, specifically a girl whose Deafness plays to significantly into her identity. A character like Regan is fresh to mainstream Hollywood, demonstrating a new, specific, often othered perspective. Additionally, the last shot of the film positions the two most (traditionally) vulnerable characters – Regan and mother Evelyn – in an unmitigated hero shot.

Isle of Dogs: Orientalism

Isle of Dogs is the latest instalment into the pastel-coloured, meticulously framed cinematic world of Wes Anderson. Telling the fable-like tale of a boy in search of his canine companion, the film is filled in abundance with whimsical nostalgia, almost drawing away from his vexing decision to use Japan as the foundation for this seemingly universal story. In his writings, Edward Said describes condescending representations of The East by Western media as “orientalism” (Said 1978), representation which is shaped inherently by the eye of the artist, or in this case, the filmmaker.

The film itself lives up to Anderson’s long-standing reputation as a distinctive visual artist. Like in Fantastic Mr. Fox, the film employs stop-motion animation to incredible effect, more kinetic and lifelike than previous uses of the medium. In addition, there is such detail placed within the emotive expressions of the dogs in particular, who are instantly positioned at the operative drivers of the film’s narrative, as well as much of the movie’s humour. Alexandre Desplat, fresh off his Oscar win for The Shape of Water, marks his forth collaboration with Anderson, bringing a succinct magic to the film’s incessant rhythm. This wonderful collaboration of score and visuals masterfully underpin the film which reads almost as a storybook with Kirasawa-like tableaus.

The ensemble cast, like in any Wes Anderson film, work really nicely. At times, however, I struggled to differentiate between the voices of the dogs – other than Edward Norton who I believe is designed for Wes Anderson’s aesthetic. The quiet dialogue is played tenderly by the major characters, with delightful cameo appearances by Yoko Ono and Tilda Swinton who plays Oracle, a pug who can read television. With similarity to many of Wes Anderson’s films, there is a lacking in female canine characters who had anything to do with the plot. For example, Scarlett Johansson voices an ex-show dog who the protagonist-hound Chief is interested in. In fact, almost all of the female characters were attached to a male character romantically, canine or no.

I must preface my next critique with the disclosure that Wes Anderson’s films have played an integral part in my own appreciation of film as a medium. That being said, I think that it is possible to both love a piece of art whilst simultaneously expressing disappointment. In Anderson’s specific case, his portrayals of people of colour as well as female and queer characters have appeared consistently problematic due to his own specific gaze as a straight white male. Although film’s story credits include a Japanese writer and actor Kunichi Nomura, this stands as an American film about Japanese culture. And whilst it is clear that he has interest and probable respect for differing cultures to his own (as also demonstrated troublingly in The Darjeeling Limited), his choices in positioning non-white and non-English speaking characters is again, unmistakably problematic.

The major issue within Anderson’s film is his astonishing choice to leave the Japanese characters’ dialogue largely untranslated. The film’s central protagonist, Atari Kobayashi (an eye-rolling-ly contemptuous name to begin with), lives in the care of the film’s villainous antagonist Mayor Kobayashi. Whilst most of their conflicts occur off screen, their relationship or dichotomy is essential to the stakes of this film, with many of Wes Anderson’s previous films kindling a breadth of sympathy for externally villainous characters. However, with little direct translation of many of the Japanese characters, they are essentially “Othered” (Said 1985) through Anderson’s deficit in character development or empathy in portraying them. Furthermore, the ways in which the Mayor is depicted in the last scene, with little to no understandable dialogue, elicited a resemblance of American depictions of Japanese caricatures post-World War Two.

Through his discussion of Orientalism, Edward Said evokes a Western propensity to retell or restructure narratives of “The Orient” (1978, p.11) which extends to not only Asia, but also the Middle East. More specifically, Said brings attention to Western representations of The Orient within their media, expressing that harmful cultural stereotypes are intensified through perpetuating the “demonology of ‘the Mysterious Orient” (1978, p.33).

Anderson’s misuse and misappropriation of cultural iconography as adornment in Isle of Dogs, whilst at times lovely to behold, does not belong to him to enlist as aesthetic embellishment. There is no purpose or resonance in using samurai stories or traditional artwork as platforms to tell a universal story about dogs, however charming the overhead tableaux of bento boxes can be. There is even the use of a mushroom cloud in an action sequence – perhaps an aesthetic reference Anderson finds melancholically charming about Japanese culture. The film contains a litany of iconography which a white onlooker might associate with the exterior of Japan, which may not be fundamental to Japanese identity specifically.

I have little doubt that Wes Anderson’s intentions in making this film were any less than honourable, although many of his choices may cast the wrong impression. I also believe that the sheer volume of the film’s incredibly nuanced critical discourse is unlikely to fall upon deaf ears, especially in ongoing discussions regarding representation in media. However, his film stands as an irrefutable example of Orientalism in cinema, with Japanese culture gazed upon with little sense of meaning.

References:
Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books.
Said, E. (1985). Orientalism Reconsidered. Race & Class, 27(2), 89-107.


 

Tallulah: Babies Raising Babies

After losing by her boyfriend, Tallulah’s (Ellen Page) impulsivity carries her into difficult circumstances with a kidnapped baby and would-be mother-in-law (Allison Janney).

Written and directed by Sian Heder, Tallulah premiered at Sundance Film Festival – a fact which is evident upon viewing, as it has that distinctive indie darling vibe that is prominent in Sundance’s movies, some of the all-time highlights including Little Miss Sunshine, Juno and Like Crazy.

Tallulah feels very female, which is certainly refreshing. As it is from the perspective of Lu, as well as being directed and written by a woman, it feels familiar in terms of its depiction of a distinctly female experience. Still all too scarce in the sea of male perspectives in film.

Tallulah is a total demonstration of the recesses of human emotion, and where the darkness can take us when we are alone. It is incredibly insightful and introduces us to Lu immediately with her flaws and insecurities. Every action, however detrimental, is understandable for us as the audience, because it is informed by our knowledge of the characters. And at times, Lu is infuriating – a trait held by almost every other character in the film – but we are forced to look, and to understand how and why characters have found themselves in these terrible situations.

The highlights of this film are the tremendous performances. Ellen Page as Lu is only amplified by Allison Janney as Margo. Also demonstrated in the few scenes they shared together in Juno, they have tremendous chemistry, that is based on obvious mutual trust and respect. I truly hope they make more content together. Tammy Blanchard and Uzo Aduba are also remarkable, especially in their scenes together.

Tallulahisreallyastoryaboutmotherhood, anexperiencethatLufirstdismissesandcomes to understand. But as she begins to know what it is to both be a mother and to have one, Lu adapts and can’t let go of what she has found.

At the heart of this movie is a true manifestation of what love does to a person, and what happens when that love is taken away. Tallulah is certainly not a feel-good, easy watch. But it’s messages about love and love lost hits hard and true, showing us the nature of what it is to love, especially as only a mother can.


This review was featured in SWINE Magazine’s November 2016 issue.

Oscars Shorts 2018

Each year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka THE Academy) showcases ten short films through nomination. Each ranging from five to thirty minutes in duration, the films are designated into live action and animation categories. The films themselves are incredibly diverse, selected from all over the globe, exhibiting a vast variety of stories and perspectives.

This year, Melbourne’s Cinema Nova will be presenting these nominated shorts on the big screen, a medium which demonstrates the breadth of these filmmakers’ talents.


Animated Shorts

Whilst the majority of these shorts utilise computer animation (to spectacular success), only two out of the five films are constructed with either hand-drawn animation or stop-motion. Although there still remains a clear dichotomy between these two techniques, each entry into this category feels so dynamic and aesthetically unique. Here are the highlights:

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Dear Basketball (USA, 5 minutes)

Following his retirement from professional basketball, Kobe Bryant debuts his autobiographical collaboration with animator and ‘Disney Legend’ Glen Keane. Employing the use of hand-drawn animation, Bryant narrates a letter to the sport that he has dedicated his life to, accompanied by incredibly fluid imagery of moments throughout his experiences playing the game. Keane uses mostly muted coloured pencils on a grainy pad of paper. The animation is exquisitely dynamic, clearly demonstrating Keane’s incredible capability as a honed animator. To top it off, John Williams lends original score to the five minute short, rounding the film out with palpable emotion. The three of them: Williams, Keane and Bryant are the best at what they do.

 

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Lou (USA, 7 minutes)

Disney’s annual entry into the animated shorts category is customarily heart-warming. The short centres around a primary-aged school bully as he takes items from his classmates on the playground. A playful creature who lives in the lost and found box teaches the bully a lesson in kindness as he returns all of the belongings, both lost and stolen. The film does not employ any communicative dialogue, only non-verbal cues and physical comedy to portray this redemption story. The animation is consistent with Disney’s character design, with the animation group clearly at the top of their visual storytelling game. Lou is genuinely entertaining, but might not take the top prize this year.

 

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Garden Party (France, 7 minutes)

This short is a slice-of-life film as audiences watch the very happy lives of frogs living in a mysteriously abandoned mansion. The CGI animation in this film is quite astonishing. The frogs are so incredibly life-like and tangible that I couldn’t quite believe that they were animated. The story is quite entertaining, with the film slowly unfolding that something unsavoury had previously occurred within the mansion. Tension builds with clues and music but all feelings of unease and stakes are banished by the fact that the frogs don’t give a shit about murder.


Live Action Shorts

Like many of the feature-length films nominated this year, these live action short films speak to the larger narratives which have driven art, politics and culture this year. Many in this category are socially or culturally motivated, some inspired by true events or experiences.

 

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Deklab Elementary (USA, 20 minutes)

This film was so intensely powerful, telling a story which seems tragically ever-present within America’s narrative. The film is inspired by a real-life 911 call taking place during a school shooting in Atlanta, Georgia. The short takes place in one room, the office of the school. A man who is immediately positioned with his back to the camera asks to use the phone before pulling an assault rifle out of his bag. There is no non-diagetic music, no dramatic framing, only a harrowing sense of familiarity as we follow the school’s secretary through her interactions with the shooter and the police. Whilst the film doesn’t end as the audience expects, we know how it could end as we’ve seen countless times so very recently.

 

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The Silent Child (UK, 20 minutes)

This short depicts the specific alienation of a four-year-old Deaf girl whose family fail to see the value in Sign Language. The family employ a social worker, framed with the likeness of Mary Poppins, who gives her the gift of communication through Sign. The child’s family is really quite awful, with almost all of them refusing to learn her language, talking behind her back when she’s in the room and enhancing her feeling of otherness. The film is an appeal for Sign to be upheld as a vital tool in schools, with the entire film accessible for Deaf communities through closed captions. The film’s visuals are incredibly dynamic, communicating the enhanced visual nature of the little girl’s world. Thematically, the short is really effective in communicating this specific (perhaps common) experience of communicative isolation.

 

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Waku Wote/All of Us (Germany/Kenya, 23 minutes)

The film is prefaced establishing the setting of the border of Somalia and Kenya, a place of religious tension and anxiety. We follow a young Christian woman as she boards a bus to cross the border safely into Kenya. The only non-Muslim on the coach, the woman is outwardly suspicious of her fellow travellers, with some of the men selling bottles of water from backpacks much to her disdain. When they stop to refuel, she meets their conversation with the revelation that her husband and child were killed by Islamic extremists. Without spoiling what unfolds next, this film demonstrates the importance of humanism in times when we are vulnerable. The film is based on a true story and is a really remarkable piece of cinema.


 

The Post: Backwards and in Heels

The phrase ‘backwards and in heels’ is derived from a cartoon by Bob Thaves drawn in 1982. Specifically, the cartoon stated that Ginger Rogers performed everything that Fred Astaire did in their films, except backwards and in heels. This phrase has come to emulate the recurrent struggles of women working in a patriarchal world, as well as within Hollywood itself. Steven Spielberg’s newest film The Post places his female protagonist in the highest of stilettos and has her run a marathon backwards.

Spielberg’s latest biopic unpacks the events leading up to and following The Washington Post‘s publication of the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s. Significantly, Spielberg centres in on the relationship between the paper’s publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and her editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), contrasting their experiences within their worlds of work and home.

The film itself is quite remarkable in its ability to showcase the work and talent of its filmmakers and actors through exquisite execution. From the get-go, the film moves with a surging sense of urgency, communicating the functioning of the documentation-reliant press in 1971. They are literally chasing stories, in a race to publish the next one before a competing paper does just that, with The New York Times leading the competition.

We come to know characters through their interactions with other characters, with no frivolous exposition telling the audience the background of said characters. As Kay walks into a dining room to meet Ben, the single two-shot moves to subtly demonstrate that she is the only woman in the room, whilst their conversation establishes their conflicted background. Kay, portrayed by Streep, is undeniably charming. She embellishes Kay with small nuances such as removing her large earring when answering the phone or constantly clutching her reading glasses in one hand. Each nuance deepens Kay’s character and by extension, the audience’s impulse to root for her success.

A clear polarity is exhibited between the worlds of workplace and home in which Kay and Ben reside. The newsroom is presented as cold and stark, with a constant hubbub of voices and typewriters. Whilst Kay’s grey suit and glasses help her blend in, the behaviour of the men who surround her prevent her confidence. Whilst this is her newspaper and has ideas to help it thrive, they don’t hear her ideas in board meetings until a man voices them for her. Kay is reduced to a kind of timidity which I’m sure many women have felt in a room full of fervent men. Kay sees what her female friends call her ‘day job’ as quite arduous, the antithesis of her home life.

Kay’s home, by contrast, is deliberately inviting and warm. She lives with her daughter, played tenderly by Alison Brie, and her granddaughters. Her home goes beyond feminine into maternal, with soft, warm light bathing the delicate, classic furnishings. Most significantly, Kay is entirely one with her domain, moving with ease through the spaces that she inhabits and invites guests into. She is constantly hosting dinners and parties, in complete opposition to the reduced persona which she donnes in the newsroom. This is the world that she has built and it’s entirely hers, a fact that she demonstrates each time Ben comes to interrupt her at home with communication about the paper.

Ben Bradlee’s environmental experience is entirely the opposite of Kay’s. Spielberg shows his audience the non-verbal image of Ben coming home from a busy day at work, his wife (Sarah Paulson) asleep on the couch. Whilst his home is equally as inviting as Kay’s, he doesn’t know what to do with himself in his home space. Within only a short period, Ben is lost with no work to be done when the phone rings and he is called back to the newsroom. There, Ben stands with his foot on his desk, with Spielberg placing the camera from below. He is dominant, commanding: because he can be.

The pivotal scene brings Ben Bradlee and a band of detracting co-workers to Kay’s home – with the choice of whether to publish the papers. Kay is hosting a gala of sorts and is wearing a swishy gold caftan. As she and the men are closed into her home office, Kay maintains an unusual air of confidence, even when faced with a decision which could destroy her career as well as her family’s legacy. Conventionally, there is an expectation for some sort of plateau in Streep’s performance, but her deliverance of her decision is entirely understated, evocative of her previously lacked confidence.

Kay’s demeanour at work is renewed. It’s clear that through her decision, she has regained ownership of The Washington Post. There is a notable shot which follows Streep walking through a sea of women through the doors of her court hearing into a room of men. There is still a clear divide between these two groups, but Kay can thrive in both worlds whether she wears grey or paisley.

As I mentioned earlier, the execution of this film, notably in cinematography, production design, editing and music (by composer John Williams) is quite excellent. The performances, especially by Streep and Hanks but also by the (filled to the brim) ensemble are really wonderful. The film defies expectations of plot and performances. However, like many of Spielberg’s films, the third act following the narrative crux of the film persists at length in order to link a subsequent historical event. This is perhaps unnecessary as the film’s most absorbing elements reside amongst this group of characters, not what lies beyond the narrative.

If anything, this film is timely. Production followed 2016’s presidential election, with a decided focus on a woman’s endeavour through a man’s world which cannot be trivialised. Whilst audience members will take many diverse messages away from The Post, this film truly spoke to my yearning to see women’s stories told in cinema with as much detail and development as demonstrated in this film.


This article was also featured on LipMag

For Your Consideration: Awards Season 2018

It’s that time of year again! Over the next couple of months, our ‘to see’ list will extend with the addition of films which are in awards conversations. The Golden Globe nominations were announced last week, commencing the inevitable discussion of snubs. Of course, it’s important to remember that voting bodies tend to vary and that the Globes’ Hollywood Foreign Press Association (whilst quite flashy) are considered to be marginally less important/knowledgeable/relevant than other awards bodies – they did categorise Get Out as a comedy, after all.

It should be noted that The Academy persisted in their efforts to diversify its members this year, with voters more accurately reflecting Hollywood’s current industry makeup.
Additionally, I would be remissed if I didn’t mention the ongoing significance of this year’s #MeToo campaign and the prevailing narrative regarding sexual misconduct, harassment and abuse within Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein (whose misconduct arguably began the onslaught of women and men coming forward) has maintained a dominant presence throughout Awards Seasons since 1999, feasibly responsible for hundreds of Academy nominations and wins. And whilst he leaves a (large) seat empty at awards ceremonies and within the Academy itself, I think it’s safe to say that such a seat can be filled by the brave Silence Breakers who have emerged and will inevitably continue to do so.

Lastly, each year prevailing cultural narratives emerge as reflected within films and performances which are considered, selected and discussed during Awards Season. This year, the narrative is clearly that which reflects the #MeToo campaign as well as the 2016 U.S. election results. There is a large influx of female-led, female-made films which have been wildly popular amongst wide audiences which are not limited to women. And whilst the Golden Globes’ Hollywood Foreign Press Association perhaps failed to ascertain the significance and relevance of this narrative, I think that it is safe to say that these stories and voices won’t be ignored this year.


Highlights

These are the films which are receiving virtually widespread critical praise within awards conjecture. Less than a month ago it seemed that an indie/genre film could be a sure win come the Oscars, but Steven Spielberg’s The Post is said to be the filmmaker’s masterpiece. Regardless, I am excited about each of these films independently.

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The Shape of Water – in cinemas January 18

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy)
Written by: Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer & (of course) Doug Jones.

Del Toro’s generic follow-up is said to be the director’s tribute to classic monster films. Set in 1950s cold war America, the film is a sci-fi love story involving a mute woman (Hawkins) and a being (Jones) resembling that of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The film supposedly engages with queerness and otherness on an interpretive level, and is resonating with audiences on an emotional one. Having been awarded the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival, The Shape of Water is likely to be high on the list of awards voters, gaining critical commendations for its performances, direction, photography, artistic direction, visual and sound effects. It’s likely to be the most-nominated film at the Oscars, with widespread success in cinematic execution, not unlike 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road.


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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – in cinemas January 1

Written and directed by: Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths)
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson & Sam Rockwell.

Said to be the blackest of black comedies, Three Billboards follows a mother (McDormand) who is unrelenting towards local police after they fail to find the suspect of her daughter’s murder. Those who are familiar with McDonagh’s previous films will be immediately drawn to the tonality and narrative of his latest film, which has garnered praise for its writing and performances. Notably, Frances McDormand is extremely likely to sweep in Best Actress categories for her performance, although it’s unlikely that she will campaign as hard as her fellow nominees. According to Academy member Marcia Nasatir, McDormand disappears into the “unlikeable” character, reflecting the unrelenting spirit of a subjugated woman who won’t be dismissed whilst corruption reigns. Obviously this film is indeed reflective of the female-driven cultural narrative currently prevailing within Hollywood, pushing it forward through Awards conjecture.


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Call Me by Your Name – in cinemas December 26

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino (I am Love, A Bigger Splash)
Written by: James Ivory, based on André Aciman’s acclaimed novel.
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Schulbarg.

Having premiered at Sundance, Call Me by Your Name has travelled the world visiting a dozen film festivals including Toronto, Berlin and Melbourne. I had the personal pleasure of viewing it at one of Melbourne’s two screenings, after which I expressed my gratitude to director Luca Guadagnino. I should also mention that he returned my gratitude with a kiss on each cheek in true Italian fashion. This personal warmth which I experienced from him was undeniably present in his marvellous film. The film has genuinely taken the world by storm, with a huge underground fandom and endless retweets about Armie Hammer’s gorgeous face.

The film itself tells the story of a teenage boy spending the summer with his parents in Northern Italy in the 1980s. A whirlwind romance ensues in the form of a young man who stays with the family for the season. Guadagnino captures the experience of the first love with such incredible accuracy and eroticism that watching the film feels entirely empathetic. If anything, CMBYN has proven its staying power with continued adoration from critics and fans (heavy overlap from these demographics). Chalamet has already received awards recognition for his remarkable breakout performance as Elio and is likely to take home many more nominations and awards. Additionally, the film will presumably receive nominations for its cinematography, writing and possibly directing. I’m personally hoping that Sufjan Stevens’ original songs also gain recognition from the Academy. I think the film will make it into the Best Picture Category (knock on wood). This film is my favourite of 2017, as no other film has lived up to the experience of viewing it.


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Lady Bird – in cinemas February 15

Directed and written by: Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, Mistress America)
Starring: Saoisre Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Laurie Metcalf, & Lucas Hedges.

Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story following the experiences of a young woman growing up in Northern California during 2002, loosely based on Gerwig’s own adolescence.

When I first saw the trailer for this film, I said to myself ‘my god, it’s my life. Greta Gerwig has plagiarised by life ’. It seems that I wasn’t the only one exclaiming this, as this film is truly resonating with audiences and critics alike, whether or not they did attend catholic school or had challenging conversations with careers counsellors. Premiering at Toronto, the film has received a resounding positive reception in the U.S., maintaining a perfect Rotten Tomatoes score (at least during its early release). Unlike many films which are famed as some of the best of the year, Lady Bird hasn’t been in any way divisive amongst critics as other selections. Greta Gerwig’s film has been compared to last year’s Best Picture winner Moonlight not only through its production company A24, but also through its ability to sustain an emotive space within audiences and voters’ minds. The film will certainly be nominated for its screenplay and well as in acting categories for Ronan and Metcalf. Ronan has a great chance to win, with two previous nominations and a propensity to campaign. Most importantly, Greta Gerwig, whilst being snubbed at by the Globes, will certainly be nominated for Best Director with hopes to make her the second female director to win the award. This film could certainly make it all the way to Best Picture – that is, if a certain Spielberg film doesn’t swoop every damn award.


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The Post – in cinemas January 11

Directed by: Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Saving Private RyanLincoln, a large portion of the most acclaimed films from the past forty-odd years)
Written by: Liz Hannah & Josh Singer
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson & Bob Odenkirk.

This film could completely sweep. Considered a late release within the Awards eligibility period, it truly seemed that an indie such as Lady Bird could hold strong against The Shape of Water. However, The Post seems a sure fire bet in sweeping this year’s awards. Spielberg’s biopic follows America’s first female newspaper publisher as she helps make way for President Nixon’s Watergate scandal in the 1970s. Whilst the film seems the most conventionally Oscar-y within this group of contenders, it also strongly reflects the female-centric cultural narrative which underpins 2017’s Awards Season. Not to mention that it’s a Spielberg-Streep-Hanks vehicle.

The Post, since it was shown to critic audiences in the U.S. earlier this month, has received early rave acclaim. Specifically, critics have praised the film’s direction (obviously) and performances by Streep (obviously) and Hanks (obviously). All three will certainly receive nominations for their efforts, with Hanks potentially obtaining his first nomination since Castaway in 2001. Streep, on the other hand, is nominated every year because that’s just what the Academy does (and this time, she’ll probably deserve it!). Steven Spielberg is possibly the most highly regarded director in history (over-reaching?) and could possibly win his fourth/fifth Academy Award next year. That is, if an ‘indie darling’ such as Greta Gerwig or Jordan Peele doesn’t (deservedly) nab the award.


You may have already seen a few of these films throughout this year. Although some of them have flown under the radar in terms of their buzz, many have made their way into Awards Season conversation. Here are the films which might make their way back into your ‘to see’ list:

  • Get Out
  • Dunkirk
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • mother!
  • First They Killed My Father
  • The Big Sick
  • Mudbound
  • Okja
  • 120 BPM
  • The Beguiled

Of course, I couldn’t write at length about every film on this list – we are entirely spoiled with fantastic films this year. Here are some other films to look out for:

  • The Disaster Artist – out now
  • The Florida Project – December 21
  • Darkest Hour – January 18
  • Molly’s Game – January 25
  • Phantom Thread – February 1
  • I, Tonya – February 8

Look out for my awards predictions later on!