Category Archives: Reviews

MIFF09 review: ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLOND-HAIR GIRL (dir. Manoel de Oliveira)

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Review by Conall Cash (catabloguing.wordpress.com)

This short (64-minute), rather slight film, directed by the 100-year old Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira, is one of the best things I’ve seen at MIFF this year. One particularly lovely scene actually brought some tears to my eyes – an increasingly rare kind of emotional response to be had in the environment of this festival where quick, authoritative judgements are the name of the game. My tears were inexplicable – brought on not by any tragic occurrence in the narrative but by the simple juxtaposition of a slowly tracking camera through the rooms of a house with a man’s voice reading from an old Portuguese text – and indeed so is the overall impact of the film. Continue reading

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MIFF09 review: A LAKE (dir. Philippe Grandrieux)

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Review by Conall Cash (catabloguing.wordpress.com)

The third feature directed by Philippe Grandrieux, A Lake is an astonishing, almost unbearably passionate film; it is unlike anything I have ever seen. The film alienated most of the audience that ventured into the small cinema at ACMI last night – roughly a quarter walked out during the screening, and afterwards I heard at least three groups of viewers express anger, confusion, resentment and dismissal. Such responses are understandable, particularly from the uninitiated, for Grandrieux’s film offers nothing at the level of what commonly goes for ‘cinematic appreciation’: utterly unapproachable in terms of characterization, narrative development or ‘good directing’ (well-constructed scenes made up of a sequence of artfully designed shots, with the elements of the scene and their relation to the positioning of the camera reflecting or emphasizing the nature of the narrative situation or the psychology of the characters), A Lake strives for an elementality not heard of in the cinema since F.W. Murnau’s 1927 masterpiece, Sunrise. Continue reading

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MIFF09 review: STILL WALKING (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)

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Review by Conall Cash (catabloguing.wordpress.com)

Lately it seems like every year a new film shows up that either proclaims itself or is proclaimed by the most audible voices in criticism as an hommage to the films of Yasujiro Ozu. The latest is Still Walking, by Hirokazu Kore-eda, but already in that act of naming its director we notice something that immediately distinguishes this film from the crowd. Ozu adoration takes on many forms, produces very different effects – sublimity in Hou Hsaio-hsien; devastating pathos in Aki Kaurismaki; mysticist mediocrity in Wim Wenders; inert banality in Vincent Gallo – but it is almost never, interestingly, to be seen in the work of a Japanese filmmaker. Ozu’s body of work is so fundamental to the history of Japanese cinema that inevitably it has been ‘internalized’; just as no Hollywood director can entirely evade the influence of John Ford or Howard Hawks, no Japanese filmmaker can make a film that is not ‘after Ozu,’ inflected by his influence upon how cinema is made in Japan. What this typically means is that, unlike foreign directors who respond to particular, individual attributes of Ozu’s cinema – his unmoving, low-to-the-floor camera setups; his expression of the passing of time and of the generations through the visual motif of the changing seasons; or his achievement of meaning through indirection, with complex and painful emotions and ideas conveyed through mundane everyday conversation – a Japanese filmmaker is unlikely to consider these as isolatable, individually definable elements, but rather as constitutive of the very cinematic air he or she naturally breathes. Great Japanese cinema has been made by positively vomiting up this influence, performing a kind of self-asphyxiation rather than permitting this air to enter the lungs, eviscerating its every molecule in the pursuit of new forms – see the films of Shohei Imamura. Kore-eda’s achievement with Still Walking, on the other hand, is effectively to have found a way to breathe the air of Ozu afresh, to reconcile the foundational, inalienably Japanese Ozu with the versions of him found in his foreign disciples; to make a film that is simultaneously a conscious hommage and that takes itself seriously as living, breathing cinema, with responsibilities towards its own identity and those of its characters. Continue reading

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MIFF09 review: KATALIN VARGA (dir. Peter Strickland)

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Review by Conall Cash (catabloguing.wordpress.com)

Katalin Varga marks the feature film debut of British director Peter Strickland. At 35, Strickland is not particularly young for a newcomer, and so perhaps it is no surprise to learn, as one does from just watching the first few minutes of the film, that he has already learnt his craft extremely well. What is surprising, and which only becomes apparent gradually through watching the film, is that Strickland is not just extremely competent for a new filmmaker, but that he possesses an astonishingly assured, distinctive visual style and a sophisticated, occasionally devastating capacity with sound. Continue reading

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Ritual spectatorship and capitalism in Jarmusch’s THE LIMITS OF CONTROL.

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Review by Brad Nguyen

I’m always up in arms about empty film references but what distinguishes Jim Jarmusch from, say, a Quentin Tarantino, is how he uses his film references as a jumping off point to make something new and meaningful. The point of the exercise is not in ‘getting’ the reference but in where he takes it. In The Limits of Control, as in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Jarmusch is riffing off Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai but reconfigures it to create his most overtly political film yet. Continue reading

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MIFF09 review: ABOUT ELLY (dir. Asghar Farhadi)

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Review by Conall Cash (catabloguing.wordpress.com)

A group of friends go on a holiday by the sea, and after a while one member of the group, a young woman, disappears; the rest of the film chronicles the friends’ attempts to deal with this disappearance. If this description of the plot of Asghar Faradi’s About Elly might give the impression that Faradi is gunning for the position of ‘the Iranian Antonioni’ (as Abbas Kiarostami might be called the Iranian Rossellini, Jafar Panahi the Iranian De Sica, etc.), that turns out to not really be the case. Despite lifting its storyline straight from the art cinema classic L’Avventura, About Elly is very much a mainstream film with mainstream concerns; it has nothing in particular to do with the great Iranian cinema of Kiarostami, Mohsen Makmalbaf and others. Seen in this light, though, the film eventually reveals itself to be very good for what it is. Though I can’t say I exactly understand why both of its sessions at MIFF have been sold out days in advance – nor why, given this immense popularity of an Iranian film, the festival organizers couldn’t even bring themselves to program Kiarostami’s fascinating new work, Shirin (which screened at the Sydney Film Festival) – About Elly is certainly a sensitively acted, thought-provoking film. Continue reading

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MIFF09 review: TONY MANERO (dir. Pablo Larrain)

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Review by Conall Cash (catabloguing.wordpress.com)

When I first heard about this movie, a couple of months ago, I quickly skimmed the review and got the impression that it was a kind of uplifting documentary about a resilient guy living in Augusto Pinochet’s Chile who uses his love of disco to overcome oppression and fully express his individuality. Fortunately, a day or two before it was due to screen at MIFF, I decided to read about it more closely to see if it’d be worth getting to, and discovered that it was to be quite a different animal than I’d initially gathered. Both unrelentingly ‘realist’ in that gritty way of much ‘world cinema’ that gets currency on the festival circuit and at the same time offering itself and its central character, Raul, as a kind of social allegory of the Chile of Pinochet’s military dictatorship, Pablo Larrain’s Tony Manero is definitely not a documentary, and definitely not uplifting. Continue reading

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