The Assistant

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* * * * 1/2

Kitty Green’s debut fiction feature, The Assistant, is remarkably assured, bold and precise. With a preternaturally firm grasp of tone and style, backed up by immaculate – if low-key – craftsmanship, Green takes on one of the massive stories of our recent history – the systemic abuse of women by patriarchal systems as exemplified specifically by the actions of Harvey Weinstein – and turns them into ninety minutes of crystal drama, informing, enlightening and horrifying us.

Julia Garner plays a young woman who has been one of Weinstein’s personal assistants for about two months. (The Weinstein character is never named, nor is his face shown, but there is no doubt whatsoever who the character is meant to be). She’s in the inner sanctum, at a desk immediately outside his office, in a reception room with two other – male – assistants. In another part of the building, executives and other employees labour away at distribution, finance and artistic elements of his business (clearly The Weinstein Company) while more employees – including Human Resources – occupy a building next door. Los Angeles and London offices of the company are ingeniously represented by thick folders handed to a new employee.

The action takes place over a single – long – Monday, rarely leaving the offices, and part of the thematic genius of the script is that it’s, in many ways, ‘just another day’, with all the minor and major abuses – of trust and power, emotions and sex – that a single day in the life of Weinstein could involve. It’s gut-wrenching and evocative and atmospherically rich; at times the vibe is of a horror movie, the monster lurking just metres from the protagonist, separated by one door and a lifetime of acquired privilege.

All the excellent actors are on the same completely naturalistic page; the spare (and often incidental) dialogue is perfect in its concise precision; and the production design oozes authenticity, to the point that I suspect it reflects the actual Weinstein Company offices as leaked by an ex-employee. It all adds up to a stunning package, which also, more than any film I’ve seen in at least eighteen months, has something truly serious to say, and says it with breathtaking audacity. Brilliant.

Now available to rent via Foxtel On Demand. Available to Rent On Demand from 10 June on platforms including Google Play, iTunes, Fetch TV, Telstra Bigpond, Sony (Playstation Network), Microsoft & Quickflix.

Bombshell Review

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* * * *

Jay Roach’s portrait of the year Fox News’ Roger Ailes’ history of sexual harassment came back to bite him on his fat ass is exhilarating, furious, compelling and thoroughly entertaining. It is also essentially and thrillingly visceral: I spent the second half of the movie having to stop myself from standing up in the crowded cinema and screaming “Take that you evil fuck!” at John Lithgow’s portrayal of this awful, awful, awful human being.

Ailes and Fox News (the movie almost entirely takes place within its network of offices, elevators, hallways and cubicles) were / are so inherently toxic, so blatantly disgusting, that it could be argued that merely to present them onscreen is to guarantee a cracker show: with villains this villainous, it’s easy to rile your audience against them and cheer at their fall. But Roach and Lithgow don’t allow Ailes to be a total grotesque; the movie, as flashy as it is, is subtler than that. And it’s not Ailes’ movie, anyway.

Weirdly, but successfully, it’s Megyn Kelly’s movie. If you’re not from the US and haven’t been obsessively reading US news since Trump, you may not have heard of her; the film sketches in the version of her required to tell this story (if not her whole story, which is very complicated) and she is brilliantly played by Charlize Theron. I’m told the simulacrum of Kelly is astonishing; I’ve never seen Kelly on air, or if I have, so little that I can’t vouch for the impersonation side of the portrayal, but it’s an honest and sincere and intelligent performance. And Margot Robbie, as a young employee at Fox News who becomes a fish in Ailes’ barrel, is, as usual, astonishing. Both women are nominated for Oscars.

The only reason not to see Bombshell – and it’s a fair one – is to avoid swimming in these disgusting, rank, poisonous, filthy waters. This is not only Fox, it’s the US under Trump, and it’s grim. But as a film, this is energising, invigorating and rather essential.

PS Special points must be awarded for the ingenious casting of the Lawson brothers as the Murdoch brothers.

Working Woman

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* * * 1/2

A young mother of three in Tel Aviv, happily married to a chef whose restaurant is struggling, gets an exciting, demanding and potentially highly rewarding job as the assistant to a very successful and powerfully connected real estate developer. But there’s trouble, and it’s him.

This is a forensic examination of just how workplace sexual harassment can not only play out but ensnare its victims in deeply complicated, confusing, dehumanising emotional and psychological webs. Without ever resorting to lurid plot developments or any hint of sensationalism, nor directorial tricks (there isn’t even a score), the film anchors you deeply within the brutal turmoil of the protagonist’s dilemma.

No film, nor book nor play, has come close to demonstrating to me – an Australian man – the subtleties of how such behaviour can continue, escalate, evolve and keep the victim on the hook as well as this. The antagonist is Weinstein-esque without being on-the-nose; the effect is to enhance the empathy one already feels for everyone who ever worked for him, or men like him. Vital viewing for our sad age, and to help us move forward to the next.

The Divine Order

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* * * 1/2

With impeccable timing, along comes a film about Switzerland’s women’s rights movement to remind us that speaking up, coming forward and raising your voice has always been difficult, but that solidarity, organisation and a commitment to unity are the keys to enacting change. And, that the first wave of protestors faced a far more entrenched system of repression.’

In the case of Switzerland in 1971, women were not only not allowed to vote, they couldn’t – if married to a working man – take a job without his permission. The patriarchal system was self-perpetuating, with the occasional poll for women’s suffrage (the one prior to 1971 was in 1959) allowing only men to vote. Catch 22, indeed.

Writer and director Petra Volpe’s film, looking at her country’s belated historical moment through the prism of a married mother organising the women in her town to lobby – and strike (their household ‘duties’) – for change, may be a fictional story, but it is deeply researched, and the production design is astonishing. I suppose Switzerland, for a number of reasons, has more than its share of extant architecture from the period, and Volpe’s chosen location of the town of Trogen,  in Appenzell Ausserrhoden, seems to be quite a time capsule, but the film’s attention to period detail goes well beyond its buildings, streets, props, costumes and hairstyles; even the cinematography seems to come from the period: The Divine Order is lit like the early 70s.

The cast – who are all unknown to me – are all terrific, acting in a completely realist manner. This is a dramatic film, and while there is gentle humour, and triumph, nothing is overplayed. One can imagine a British version of this film, in the vein of Pride, Kinky Boots et al, strenuously urging your goosebumps to rise up and cheer. The Divine Order is simply more, well, Swiss. Its dignity and reserve are inseparable.