Benjamin Zeccola is CEO of Palace Cinemas, who run an ongoing slate of international film festivals across Australia throughout the year, including the French, Italian, Spanish, German, Scandinavian, British, Irish and Japanese Film Festivals. On this episode of Movieland, Benjamin talks about the humble beginnings and current strengths of his festival slate, the audience demand for such content, the challenges and rewards of sourcing and programming so much global product, and why Australia just may be the best country in the world for seeing European cinema on the big screen. This discussion will also form the basis for a future article in Metro Magazine and is posted with Metro’s permission.
Now playing in Australian cinemas.
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Conceptually, Another Round sounds like a high-concept early 2000s comedy starring Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson: four teachers decide, in order to raise their dynamism at work and in general life, to experiment with staying a little bit drunk pretty much all the time. Specifically, they intend to follow the hypothesis of a Norwegian psychiatrist named Finn Skårderud, who suggested that human beings would operate best with a consistent level of .05% blood alcohol. In the Ferrell / Black / Stiller / Wilson theoretical version, wacky inebriated hi-jinks would ensue, inevitably leading to some regretful actions and, in all likelihood, an ultimate repudiation of the experiment.
But this is not that movie; it is director Thomas Vinterberg’s (written with Tobias Lindholm, together one of the great screenwriting teams on the planet), and it stars Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang and Lars Ranthe. While there are humorous moments, the style is naturalistic realism, and the tone is mournful and often dark. It takes a high-concept, somewhat ludicrous premise, and plays it straight: what would happen?
I think we all know what would happen, and Vinterberg knows we know, so whatever delights the film will offer, it will offer in execution, and they are many. The script, despite generally heading in an inevitable direction, is surprising and complex, with sublime dialogue and fascinating character detail; the cinematography is organic but touched constantly by magic (particularly involving some seriously beautiful twilights and sunsets) and the acting is spectacular, with Mikkelsen (who is very much the lead) giving a monumental performance (in a career full of them). Framed often in very tight close-up, Mikkelsen’s Martin has a face of bruised solitude, his eyes sad, lonely, desperate and needy until they are invigorated, in strange and intriguing ways, by the booze.
This is a wonderful movie, challenging, provocative, a little subversive, and totally engaging. It is Denmark’s entry for Best International Film at this year’s Oscars, and it could win.
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Nominated for the 2019 Oscar for Best International Feature Film, Corpus Christi features a near-perfectly structured screenplay (the ending is perhaps a bit wonky), sublime formal cinematography, and pitch-perfect naturalistic performances, including from lead actor Bartosz Bielenia, whose portrayal of a young man who impersonates a priest in a small town in Poland after leaving juvenile detention is truly superb. Uncannily resembling the young Christopher Walken, he registers multiple levels of contradictory motive and emotion in every scene, adding great complexity to what is already a very rich and complicated story. We, as viewers and interpreters, are consistently put off-guard, as our protagonist challenges our perceptions: how much should we like this guy? How much are we allowed to? Sublime filmmaking; highly recommended.
In Australian Palace Cinemas from October 2; Apple+ from October 23.
Sofia Coppola re-teams with her Lost In Translation star Bill Murray, writing him a role he seems to play effortlessly, and his seeming effortlessness is our reward and the principle joy of On The Rocks, a New York upper-crust soufflé that goes down easy.
Rashida Jones plays Murray’s daughter, Laura, an author and mother of two girls who has vague suspicions her husband (Marlon Wayans) may be having an affair with a colleague. Murray’s Felix, a divorced, semi-retired art dealer of ways and means (he has a full-time driver and knows everyone in a certain circle of Manhattan), upon hearing of her suspicions, stokes them, leading the pair on a loosely-goose chase to uncover the truth. Along the way, they have cocktails, talk lovingly, and hash out a couple of things from the past.
It’s a charming, old-fashioned, innocent film, deliberately untethered from America’s problems (there is no hint at all that the country is in any kind of trouble: this is the Manhattan of Woody Allen, whose influence is clear in the film’s tone, style and plotting). It seems to aspire to no greater thematic reverberation than a delightful take on fathers and daughters – the actual dilemma at the heart of the film, the potential affair, is the dramatic weakest link – and that’s fine and dandy. The film’s timelessness, ease and modesty are most of its charms, but its greatest, irrefutably, is Murray, who is also its raison d’être. Delightfully calm.
**1/2 (out of five)
Nick Bloomfield is not the greatest documentarian, even if he’s one of the most famous. He made his significant name with provocative titles such as Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam, Kurt and Courtney and Biggie and Tupac, putting himself into the picture with his signature boom mike and even-more-signature idiosyncratic British drawl (if you’ve seen the work of Louis Theroux you’ll be hip to Bloomfield’s early style). He stays out of Whitney: Can I Be Me, his feature doc on Whitney Houston, but, as with the majority of his work, he takes a point of view; trouble is, as with much of his work, that point of view is muddy and obtuse.
Whitney’s death is the big feature here, and the film is framed as something of a detective story, not a “whodunnit?” but a “howdidit?” Unfortunately, the answer is pretty clear: long term drug use killed the deceased, Your Honour, case closed. So Bloomfield, seeking to spice things up, dwells on the love triangle at the centre of Houston’s universe – between herself, husband Bobby Brown, and best friend and possible lover Robyn Crawford – with diminishing returns, as we realise that Crawford isn’t going to appear on camera.
Her absence leaves a gap too thematically large for the many talking heads to fill; it’s kind of like a piece of journalism missing the most important source. There is a lot of footage from Houston’s final tour – seen for the first time – that certainly shows both the astonishing talent and the ravages of addiction, and there are often terribly sad revelations, such as the on-camera admission by Houston’s mother Cissy that she could not abide homosexuality on her daughter’s part. But Houston herself remains a weirdly remote, distant figure, which is a big problem for the subject of a feature doc.
The overwhelming feeling this film provokes is sadness, and not just because of the drugs and the brilliant life cut short. There isn’t any celebration here; like a lot of Bloomfield’s work, there is only casualty.
*** (out of five)
Like Land of Mine, François Ozon’s new film, Frantz, examines, among other things, the nature of vengeance, recrimination and forgiveness in the aftermath of a world war – this time, the first one. But whereas Land Of Mine is urgent, with a contemporary feel, Ozon’s film, reaching further back in time (essentially a century), chooses to celebrate its story’s sense of the past with formal construction, gentle pacing, and, for the most part, a monochromatic (black and white) palette. The images are often very, very striking; Ozon and his cinematographer Pascal Marti use strong contrast to achieve the blackest blacks, evident in the mourning clothes of the central family. And, occasionally, the film slips dreamily into a faded colour, like that of early colour photographs. It appears, for the first act at least, to be Art Cinema with a capital A and to be approached as such.
It’s partially a remake of an Ernst Lubitsch film from 1932, Broken Lullaby, itself based on a 1930 play by Maurice Rostand whose title I won’t mention, as it gives something away in the context of the present film. The material must have seemed pretty pungent at the time, when war wounds were still raw and distrust between France and Germany was still very much on the boil (now hopefully down to a simmer).
Anna (Paula Beer) is mourning her fiancé Frantz, who was killed fighting in France (the name is obviously loaded). She lives with Frantz’s parents in their small German town, and she dutifully visits Frantz’s grave. One day, she notices a young man (Pierre Niney, a man of big face) laying fresh flowers there – and not only does he turn out to be French (not a good thing to be in a small German town at this time) but he seems to have a mission, and it involves her.
The play and Lubitsch’s film ended one way; Ozon adds, essentially, a second half. He also completely shifts the point of view; the original material followed the young Frenchman, but this is Anna’s story. It’s intriguing, in a stately fashion, but cold; the material and its telling is resolutely tasteful and formal and almost completely lacking in passion. Ozon is still young, but for some reason he’s gone and made an old man’s film, that is very very pretty, with little to say. It feels, to a degree, like an exercise in style, made more to satisfy an urge of Ozon’s own rather than that of any contemporary audience. About halfway through act three, he references one of the most famous scenes from Casablanca (1942), and I realised what I’d been watching all along: a good ol’ fashioned war-flavoured romantic melodrama – and in black and white, no less.
PS: Hope you liked last Saturday’s review of MY BODYGUARD, published on April 1st. April Fool from Film Mafia!