a boy and a horse and the long road through purgatory

Charlie Plummer is Charley in Lean on Pete. 

peteU.K. : 121 mins : R.T. 90% : CTC :        4/5  

After a support role in All the Money in the World, Charlie Plummer stars as fifteen year old Charley in a coming-of-age film, via a relationship with a horse named (in full) Lean on Pete.  Contrary, perhaps to expectation, writer/director, Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete (based on Willy Vlautin’s novel of the same name) is purely adult fare – tough and even brutal and reminiscent of the Robert Bresson film of a girl and a donkey, Au Hasard, Balthazar (1966), with almost the same degree of minimalism and grittiness of that most unsentimental of French film masters.

Charley’s life, in the lowly surrounds of Portland, Oregon, is a patchwork affair, with no mum around and a dad (Travis Fimmel) who is loving but unstable – boozing and shacking up with whichever girl friend he can nail.  Charley gets little time for playing football (or even school), especially when he’s offered the job of a paid assistant by Del, a race horse trainer (a charismatic Steve Buscemi) who sees horses only in terms of cash flow and tries every which way to make sure they win.

But Pete isn’t winning races any more and he’s living on borrowed time, until Charley feels a bond growing between them, in spite of Del and his attractive but world-hardened jockey, Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) telling him horses aren’t pets and not to get attached.  And, when Charley (who cannot ride) leads Pete, on foot, across the open plains, in a forlorn and ill-advised meander, Haigh shows the beauty of a landscape unblemished by human presence and gives Magnus Joenck the chance to kick in with some ravishing day and night-time cinematography.

Pete is no Balthazar but he serves the same narrative purpose – he’s a confidant for Charley’s inner thoughts; a litmus test for strangers’ depth of compassion and, ultimately, serves as a devastating emotional hook.  Charley himself suffers at the hands of the mean and selfish, being robbed of the little cash he’s saved, getting dirtier and more destitute and sinking lower into the detritus of America’s marginalised.

Charley’s plight could have been one of utter, downbeat misery.  But Haigh cannot fully embrace the austerity and cruelty of Bresson’s cinematic vision of the world.  Though not at all sentimental, he has a more optimistic eye and follows Charley’s setbacks with the promise of better times, just around the corner.pete2

Almost bereft of music, intimate and with naturalistic dialogue, Lean on Pete provides Plummer with a break-out role and (in an underplayed performance) he’s just terrific.  But be advised.  In a film that resists manipulation at every turn and, just by the sheer force of stone-cold veracity, both Charley and a horse named Pete will break your heart.

07.02.18.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Lean on Pete will screen at Somerville as part of the Lotterywest film programme in the Perth Festival, from Monday, February 19 to Sunday, February 25 and at Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, February 27 to Thursday, March 1 then March 03-04 at 8pm.  ECU is closed on March 2).

Congratulations to programme coordinator, Tom Vincent – the smashing season of Lotterywest Films continues at Somerville with the prestigious Palme d’Or winner at Cannes.  This is something so different, it will have you wondering what it’s all about.  Outrageous, shocking, provocative and brilliant, The Square is a film you’re not likely to forget.   ​​


wild, clever and bitingly funny but also confounding,  

this satirical look at the contemporary art world will rattle a few cages.

Terry Notary plays a gorilla, to the consternation of diners in The Square.

squareSWEDEN/GERMANY/FRANCE/DENMARK : 151 mins : CTC : 4.5/5

Writer/director, Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure (Perth Festival, 2015) examined personal responsibility for one’s decisions (especially when made under extreme pressure) and was a critical and popular success.  His new film, The Square (winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes) has the same concerns at its core but plays out on a much bigger canvass and mounts it as a satirical attack on the pretentious and often vacuous world of modern art.

Claes Bang is Christian, head curator of the art museum in Stockholm and he is preparing for a major exhibition in which the main installation is a four metre by four metre square, cut into the floor of the gallery and which plays its part in exploring the theme of responsibility, both to oneself and to others.

When Christian organises a gala dinner for hundreds of the museum’s patrons, it becomes a spectacularly bizarre event.  A Hulk-like man, posing as a gorilla, enters the dining room and stares at a girl, with his face just centimetres away from hers.  Holding this pose for what seems an eternity, Ostlund pushes audience patience to the limits of endurance.  Bemusement turns to fear.  The girl is pulled from the table by her hair, panic breaks out and her screams for help are answered by the men, who turn into a wild, bloodthirsty mob.

Just as he did in Force Majeur, Ostlund shows humans responding to primeval instincts.  In The Square he targets the pretence and evasion of the language applied to contemporary art which suggests that our behaviour is predominantly governed by reason.

While some of the set pieces in The Square, are disjointed and even bewildering (such as the pet gorilla in Anne’s apartment – a female journalist, played by Elizabeth Moss) and require the audience to interpret as they will, the production values have been pushed to great heights.  The set design is impeccable and the camera work is inventive but at nearly two and a half hours, the film is woefully long, with several sequences delivering, essentially, the same message.

Even so, The Square is provocative, challenging film-making and Ostlund is a powerful voice in world cinema, whose rare and legitimate artistic vision is something to celebrate.

phil. 19.12.17. .pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Square will screen at Somerville as part of the Lotterywest film programme in the Perth Festival, from Monday, January 15 to Sunday, January 21 and at Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, January 23 to Sunday, January 28 at 8pm).


A star politician burns the vol-au-vents

but the hidden truths are the real party-poopers.

Niceties turn to nastiness in Sally Potter’s black comedy, The Party.

partyU.K. : 71 mins :  R.T. 92% : B/W :  4/5

Black and white is a perfect fit for the decidedly unglamorous and biting satire, The Party, a British production, written and directed by Sally Potter and featuring a star-studded cast.

All the action of this (very stagey) film takes place within the walls of Janet’s house (Kristin Scott Thomas) where a small group of friends gather to celebrate her promotion to a shadow ministry position.  When the titular party begins to disintegrate into verbal and physical insults, touches of comedy turn black in a scenario that leans on the absurdist works of British playwright, Harold Pinter and of Edward Albee’s explosive, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Janet’s husband, Bill (Timothy Spall) stares silently and wide-eyed into space, his stereo turned up high as he drinks from a bottle of wine.  His almost catatonic state is not broken, even with the arrival of the guests – Tom (Cillian Murphy) who snorts cocaine in the lavatory and wears a gun in a body holster; April (Patricia Clarkson) a loud-mouthed cynic who constantly rebukes her partner, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) a self-proclaimed healer and practitioner of alternative medicine and Jinny (Emily Mortimer) who is in a relationship with Martha (Cherry Jones).  Only Marianne (Tom’s wife) is missing – and though her arrival is always promised, like Godot, she never turns up but she still plays an important part.

The Party hinges on several dramatic disclosures.  Janet is astonished when Jinny announces that she’s pregnant but it is Bill’s news that causes proceedings to spiral out of control. There’s a delicious mix of laughs and gasps as gentle jibes turn to cutting barbs and even blood is drawn.

Potter’s supremely well-crafted script is sprinkled with telling comments on love, infidelity and self-deception.  Janet asks, in despair, ‘Have I wasted my life on a mirage?’ And there are gloriously witty one-liners – ‘You’re a first-class lesbian and a second-rate thinker’.  Potter maintains control of the pace, moving fluidly (as does the camera) among the characters.  Kristin Scott Thomas seems to relish the meaty material and Patricia Clarkson is a stand-out as the acid-tongued April.

Although The Party may be even better suited to the stage, yet, at 71 minutes, it’s a bracing screen experience you won’t want to miss.

phil. 13.12.17.pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Party will screen at Somerville as part of the Lotterywest film programme in the Perth Festival, from Monday, January 1 to Sunday, January 7 and at Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, January 9 to Sunday, January 14 at 8pm).

Faces Places


Put a smile back on your face

with this photographic ode to joy.

Film Maker, Agnes Varda, teams with photographer JR on a film/photography road trip.

France  :  89 mins  : G : R.T. 100%  :  4.5/5

It seems a highly unlikely pairing.  But, octogenarian film maker, Agnes Varda, and photographer, JR, (younger by fifty years) found themselves to be kindred spirits when they began a joint artistic venture.  Taking to the back roads of France (in JR’s customised truck), they snapped people pictures and pasted gigantic enlargements on brick walls, buildings and many other unusual places.   The result – Faces Places, apart from winning a swag of awards, is one of the most affecting and rewarding films of the year.

Even though the diminutive Varda (her feet don’t touch the ground when she sits on a park bench) and the much taller and very hip JR (in dark shades and pork pie hat that seem like permanent fixtures) take the business of capturing images very seriously, they certainly share an infectious sense of fun. When people ask how they got together, JR replies, falsely but impishly, that they met on a dating site.

What unites them is their love of the ordinary people they meet in the street. Arriving at an old mining town, they are both struck with the courage and sacrifice of the families who have now all gone, except for one elderly lady.

faces2This doughty soul is visibly affected to see the miners’ pictures on the walls and moved to tears when she sees her own face pasted onto the front wall of her house.

Although much of Faces Places seems to be spontaneous, it belies the meticulous planning that has gone into every aspect.  If we don’t see the discarded bits that didn’t work (or the four camera men who do the filming) what we do see is the skilful way that images are matched with the shape they’re pasted onto.  A huge circular water tank on a steel tower is covered with images of swimming fish, because as Varda says ‘fish and water go together’.

Rounding a bend in the road, it’s astonishing to be confronted with an image of a child, twelve metres tall and grinning at you.  This is street art at its dramatic best and, even more wondrous are people’s reactions – laughter, awe and disbelief.

Faces Places is a glorious antidote to the darker side of humanity seen on our tv screens almost every day.  That it should come from two disparate souls, with one, being a woman who still has such a zest for life while nearing the age of ninety, is a source of inspiration and a message of hope.

phil. 14.11.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Faces Places will screen at Somerville from Monday, November 27 to Sunday, December 3 and at Joondalup from Tuesday, December 5 to Sunday, December 10 at 8pm.)


Scent of the Festival – Damask Rose  (the colour of the heading PERTH FESTIVAL)

As part of the Museum of Water, Mahin Nowbakht donated a tiny bottle of rosewater distilled in Persia and shared her story of arrival in Western Australia. Inspired by this, we have chosen Damask Rose as the scent of Perth Festival 2018. Damask Rose will be found in the drinks and food from our restaurant and bar partners and wafting through our venues.


This is a very appealing Irish film which glosses over its more adult contents and finishes with an irresistibly rousing finale.  Any fans of the devilish Moriarty in Sherlock will savour the chance of seeing the fine actor, Andrew Scott, in a very different role but with the same charisma – he’s wonderful.

See you in the deckchairs in the dark, Phil. ​​

handsomean eye on crowd appeal incurs a reserved approach 

to this tale of coming-of-age and coming out

IRELAND : 95 mins : CTC :          3/5

Writer/director, John Butler, draws heavily on his own childhood memories but doesn’t dig too deeply in his tale of Ned and his tribulations at an Irish all-boys boarding school.

Arriving at his new school (in a relatively recent but unspecified year), Ned (Fionn O’Shea) has a sinking feeling in his stomach and views his new abode as little better than a jail.  Reserved and bookish, he has landed among school mates where rugby is not just a passion but almost a religion.

At the heart of Handsome Devil, is a search for a definition of masculinity.  Conor (Nicholas Galatzine) seems like the traditional stereotype.  He’s a muscled man of sport, also new to the school and welcomed as the superstar needed to win the school’s first rugby premiership in living memory.  However, Conor has one element that tends to blur the lines a little.  He and Ned develop a fondness for each other and it soon becomes apparent that both of them are gay.

While Conor’s homosexuality, as a hard-knocks rugby player, might seem surprising if not outrageous, Butler’s softly-softly approach makes it more implausible than anything else.  There is simply no on-screen evidence, apart from verbal affirmations, to suggest anything other than a strong bond of friendship between the two.

Almost inevitably, Butler provides us with two simplistic and diverse definitions of manliness.  Pascal (Moe Dunford) is the rugby coach and the very epitome of the macho male, not above voicing vitriolic remarks about men of a different sexual proclivity.  At the other end of the scale, Dan Sherry (Andrew Scott, Moriarty in Sherlock) is the decidedly non-athletic English teacher who is a closeted gay and whose final coming out provides an entertaining scene.

Scott has a wonderful dynamism on screen and his performance is the strongest in the film, overshadowing that of the fine newcomer, O’Shea, who himself, gives a sensitive and believably flesh and blood portrayal of Ned, with all his embarrassment and discomfort in finding his adult legs.

Handsome Devil is a gentle, charming and family-friendly film which is guaranteed to please.  The rousing finale, done in film a hundred times before, is played strictly by the numbers, even though skilfully handled.  As it usually does, it works well and will have most of the audience swelling with joy and excitement and leaving the theatre with little insight into the thornier issues of the film but with a warm glow in their hearts and a smile on their faces.

Phil.  18.02.17.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Handsome Devil will screen at Somerville from Monday, 27th February to Sunday, 5th March and at Joondalup from Tuesday, 7th March to Sunday, 12th March).



shopperterror and grief from an actress at the top of her game

FRANCE : 110mins :   CTC                               4/5

Director/writer, Olivier Assayas’ fascinating (but frustrating) Personal Shopper, feels like a compilation of several films – ghost story, murder-mystery and high society satire.  But at its core is a tour-de-force performance from Kristen Stewart as Maureen, a grieving sister, living in a sort of purgatory, that holds it all together.

Maureen’s job is to flit from her home city of Paris to London and elsewhere, to shop for clothes and accessories for wealthy clients, who haven’t the time to do it themselves.  But she’s in a state of expectancy that prevents her from moving on from the recent loss of Lewis, her twin brother, to a heart complaint, with which she is also afflicted.

Maureen is waiting for some sort of sign from her brother, which he promised to give, in the event of his death.  It sounds like a hopelessly loopy plot.  But several key elements work in its favour.  Maureen and Lewis enjoyed a (fairly commonly acknowledged) special bond experienced by twins but, in addition, both were considered to have psychic ability. But even Maureen, herself, disputes the notion of an afterlife.  Without the message being unequivocal she, like anyone else, would simply find it totally mystifying.

The sound of knocking is heard; there’s an eerie chill in the air (the usual stock ingredients) but when a spectral figure appears, vomiting filmy ectoplasm from a gaping mouth, the effect is done with enough skill to make it truly scary.  Slowly, a degree of plausibility creeps in.  When an anonymous caller (Lewis?) starts an evasive game of twenty questions on her cell phone, it’s a clever use of technology to ramp up the tension, and Maureen’s anxiety free falls into desperation.

But what sustains the premise, more than anything, is the sheer power of Stewart’s performance.  When she is afraid, her eyes blaze with trepidation, her breath comes in gasps and she glances frantically from side to side, looking for unseen and unspeakable terrors.  The other cast members serve as support but this is Stewart’s film.  She’s in almost every frame and, at full throttle, as she is here, she could make the audience believe in not just one flying pig but a whole penful.

With its jarring tonal shifts, Personal Shopper is a distinctive film, to say the least.  But, in spite of its (apparent) paranormal elements (their ambiguity makes them even more intriguing), the film is really all about communication, with Stewart’s Maureen as its true spectre, searching for release.

The film’s ambiguity extends to its very end, when the audience may be unsure whether Maureen has found the answer she’s looking for or not.  But there’s nothing uncertain about Kristen Stewart’s performance or that it stakes a claim for her future greatness.  At her most distraught, her fear is almost palpable.  It’s enough to send a shiver up your spine.

Phil. 11.02.17. pbsailing@hotmail.com

(Personal Shopper will screen at Somerville from Monday, 20th February to Sunday, 26th February and at Joondalup from Tuesday, 28th February to Thursday, 2nd March and Saturday, 4th March to Sunday, 5th March at 8pm.)


Pablo Larrain takes poetic licence in pursuit of a poet in the dazzling and audacious NERUDA

CHILE/ARGENTINA/FRANCE/SPAIN : 107 mins :            4.5/5

nerudaChilean Director, Pablo Larrain has two films currently on release, both with the subject’s name as the title but, whereas Jackie is a fact-based portrait of Jackie Kennedy, in the days immediately following her husband’s assassination, Neruda never presumes to be a literal biopic.  Instead, it’s nothing less than a daring, provocative and scintillating mix of fact and fiction, spearheaded by two sensational performances.

Scriptwriter, Guillermo Calderon, while detailing the very real political oppression of the Chilean communist party in 1948, actually created the character of Oscar Peluchonneau, the Chief of Police (Gael Garcia Bernal) to pursue (by Presidential decree) the revered Chilean poet, but now outlawed communist senator, Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco).

While Neruda seems set to play as a stock cat and mouse thriller (with Bernal’s voice-over setting the scene and assisted with suitably dramatic music) it’s soon clear that the character of Peluchonneau (closer to the bumbling Clousseau of the Pink Panther series than to the intensity of a Sherlock Holmes) is simply an exceedingly clever device for Larrain and his scriptwriter to make some witty, incisive and wildly entertaining comments about the opulent nature of a poet’s soul compared to that of a (flat-footed) policeman.

In fact, it’s Peluchonneau himself who freely admits his fictionalised origin when, at his first appearance, he declares that “I came from a blank page.”  Larrain then gives frequent reminders that we are not watching real life, including the use of phoney back-projection in the scenes featuring moving vehicles.

So, the drama is very much of the mock type and the film, without sliding into outright comedy, is laced with impish humour.

Luis Gnecco is tremendous as the portly, life-loving, hot-blooded poet, while Gail Garcia Bernal is stunning as the pedestrian Peluchonneau, whose sense of self-importance (“I’m a fantastic cop”) is contradicted by an ingenuous grin and a constant state of mild bewilderment.

Skilled film-maker, Larrain, seems to be enjoying himself immensely, even taking a moment to put Peluchonneau on a motorbike, in a visual reference to Bernal’s star-making role in Salles’ Motorcycle Diaries (2004).

Amidst the fun, Neruda is deadly serious about its major theme – the value of the artist and the creative process (and its potential demise by falling into political disfavour).  At its most powerful, it can be both a source of inspiration and a voice for the disempowered – elements which made the real Neruda the darling of the Chilean public.  Even the hapless Peluchonneau finally acknowledges this and declares “I was made of paper but now I’m blood”.  It’s truly a moment of sublime realisation.neruda2

Phil.08.01.17. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Neruda will screen at Somerville from Monday, 16th to Sunday, 22nd January and at Joondalup from Tuesday, 24th to Sunday, 29th January at 8pm.)


dancenice to look at but fails to join the dots


Audiences should be sceptical of the overused claim that a film is ‘based on true events’.  In the case of first-time director and co-writer, Stephanie Di Giusto (along with Thomas Bidegain and Sarah Thiebaud) a liberal approach has been taken with the facts of Loie Fuller’s dance career, basing it on Giovanni Lista’s Loie Fuller:Danseuse de la Belle Epoque.

The Dancer, with the adult Fuller (played by Soko, the indie musician turned actor) and her father in their late-nineteenth century North American backwoods home, is an unlikely start for a biopic of one of the originators of modern dance in the Belle Epoque and of elaborate stage production, involving back-projection of coloured lights and oversized costumes that became the major element of the performance.

When Loie, following the death of her father, moves to New York, the decision to pursue a career in theatre seems unexpected, marking a weakness of the script that regularly fails to underscore and link important developments with supportive material.

Though having the body strength necessary to support the daunting weight of her costumes, Soko makes an unconvincing Fuller, lacking the physical finesse, suggestive of dance and with impassive, stolid features that communicate little.

Melanie Thierry, as Gabrielle, who Fuller meets at Paris’ Folies Bergere and who becomes her personal attendant and lover, is a stand-out, playing her with composure and conviction.

However, by portraying the terminally ill Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) as Fuller’s patron and largely responsible for getting her career started, The Dancer inflicts injury to its subject – Fuller was a trailblazer and feminist, responsible for her own success with ingenuity and dogged determination, in spite of a plethora of objections on grounds ranging from the moral and ethical to the practical.

The arrival of Isadora Duncan (played by Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose) in the film raises further questions.  Here, she is portrayed as a scheming and manipulative protégé.  (If interested in the facts of either Fuller’s or Duncan’s profile, readers should consult the respective entries in Wikipedia.)

When Di Guisto presents Fuller’s famous Serpentine Dance (1891) The Dancer springs to life with some stunning, albeit fragmentary, sequences.  Unfortunately, the director betrays her own film making background in fashion and advertising, treating the fully-dramatised and choreographed piece as a series of video clips, aimed, perhaps, at the younger demographic, used to promotional productions for popular music.

Fuller has almost been forgotten today, whilst Duncan’s fame has endured (helped along, perhaps, by Reisz’s superb 1968 biopic, Isadora, starring an electrifying Vanessa Redgrave).  The Dancer may generate some interest in this great innovator who became the toast of Paris and the world of dance and neither is it hard to be seduced by the film’s lavish costumes and production design – but it could have been so much more.

Phil. 17.12.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Dancer will screen at Somerville from Monday, 9th to Sunday, 15th January and at Joondalup from Tuesday, 17th to Sunday, 22nd January at 8pm.)


patersonJim Jarmusch finds magic in the mundane

in one of the cleverest films of the year

U.S.A. : 118 mins : M                                        4/5

Unusually, writer/director, Jim Jarmusch, has two films out at the same time.  Gimme Danger (a documentary about Iggy Pop and the Stooges) is one, while the other is (the fictional) Paterson, a film that’s almost as far removed from the first as it’s possible to imagine.

Paterson was entered in competition at Cannes this year and has picked up many awards both for itself and its star, Adam Driver.

As if to confuse, Paterson, the titular character, lives in Paterson – the New Jersey town of the same name.  He’s a bus driver, with a wife named Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and a Bulldog, Marvin.  The film covers a week of his daily routine that’s about as repetitive as Bill Murray’s in Groundhog Day except for one peculiarity – he writes poetry.

Paterson carries a note book around with him and jots down lines about the mundane and the insignificant (lines which appear on-screen, in conjunction with his own voice-over) finding pearls of wisdom and/or joy.

But this is not as strange as it might appear, for the city of Paterson has a long and distinguished history of writers and Jarmusch sprinkles a wealth of references throughout the film – to Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Williams and others, most of which appear in still photos in the pub, under the amiable eye of the coloured manager, Doc (a warm and wonderful performance from Barry Shabaka).
Nothing dramatic happens (even a loaded gun proves to be harmless) and a gentle stream of droll humour flows through the film.  A great sight gag, involving Paterson’s dog, is cleverly recursive, making the several iterations even funnier when the source of the joke is disclosed.

Nothing disturbs the placid waters of Paterson’s life.  He is a picture of contentment and Adam Driver’s performance – implacable, deadpan and unrelentingly optimistic – is simply perfect.  He has an idyllic relationship with his wife, Laura, who is an obsessive creator – of fabric, cakes, wallpaper but (with Jarmusch making the point that most of us live largely colourless lives) works only in black and white.  If, at this stage, it begins to look as though the film is a long way from reality – it’s because it is.

Paterson, with impeccable precision, is as stylised, studied and deliberate a film as the great absurdist works of Roy Anderson (A Pigeon sat on the Branch, Reflecting on Existence, PIAF, 2016).  Jarmusch presents an exaggerated version of the drab, undramatic lives most of us lead but suggests that interest and even transcendence can be found in its minutiae – providing that we look hard enough.

Paterson is an acutely clever film, but only if you are on its wavelength.  If you expect high-speed action and drama, you won’t find it here.

Phil. 18.12.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Paterson will screen at Somerville from Monday, 2nd to Sunday, 8th January and at Joondalup from Tuesday, 10th to Sunday, 15th January  at 8pm.)


turtleVisuals speak louder than words

JAPAN/FRANCE : 80 mins : PG : 4.5/5

Director, Michael Dudok De Wit, in his debut feature film, has created a rarity – an animated fable that hasn’t got a word of dialogue but is far from being silent.

The Red Turtle was made at Studio Ghibli, the distinguished production company responsible for such animated classics as Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001).

The spoken work aside, there is an exceptionally rich sound track and ravishing visuals, of water-colour pastels and delicate lines.  This modern fable has the feel of a timeless source and has been lovingly and painstakingly brought to the screen.

There are weighty issues at the core of this film and, even though the pictures are minimalist in style and the story is deceptively simple, this is not a film for children.

A sailor, shipwrecked in a terrible storm, gets washed up on the shore of an uninhabited tropical island.  Building a raft from bamboo, he attempts to leave but a huge red turtle prevents him.

‘What does the turtle want from him?’ is just one of the questions that will besiege the viewer.  Later, the man sees (and hears) a string quartet playing on the beach but, as he approaches, they disappear.  Were they real?  Is he dreaming?  But, before long, it’s realised that the answers are not to be found in the film and posing such questions misses the point.  Often, fables do not subscribe to logical narrative development and the open-endedness of The Red Turtle not only requires viewers to devise their own interpretation but is the very source of its wonder and power.

While the film’s pace is languorous, there is also great drama – the man falls into a deep crevasse and into the ocean and has to take a long, lung-bursting dive to freedom which will have you holding your own breath.

But, it is in its quiet moments that The Red Turtle can be the most rewarding, promoting speculation on such matters as our place in the ecology of the planet and what responsibilities we have as its caretakers.

The Red Turtle is an exquisite gem and unlike anything seen on our screens this year.

Phil. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Red Turtle will screen at Somerville from Monday, 26th December to Sunday, 1st January and at Joondalup from Tuesday 3rd January to Sunday, 8th January at 8pm.)


julietan engrossing display of Almodovar magic

SPAIN : 96 mins :  M                 4.5/5

With Julieta, his twentieth film and one which is typically female-centric, Spanish director/writer, Pedro Almodovar, returns to the form that saw him recognised as one of world cinema’s finest film makers.

Based on three short stories by Alice Munro (Chance, Soon and Silence) it has gained selection as the Spanish entry for Best Foreign Language Film in the upcoming Academy Awards.

Relocating Munro’s stories from Canada to Spain, Almodovar has created a masterful and complex network of grief and guilt, centred on the older Julieta (played by Emma Suarez) and her estranged adult daughter, Antia (Michelle Jenner) that begins with a chance meeting between Julieta and Beatriz, Antia’s childhood friend.

Julieta wants to tell Antia about the remorse she’s carried for all the things she couldn’t tell her when she was a child and, as she begins to write a detailed journal for her, Almodovar whisks us back thirty years, to the younger Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) and we find ourselves on a train, speeding through the night.

Immediately, Almodovar strikes an ominous tone, with music from Alberto Iglesia (that could well have been written by Bernard Hermann) and it’s as though we were watching a Hitchcock thriller.  An errant branch smacks against the window, increasing the sense of unease.  There is a tragic incident, in which an older man dies and Julieta feels at fault, as she shunned his earlier attempt to talk to her.  And so begins Julieta – this fascinating litany of grief and guilt, underscored by the ties of love and family.

Almodovar is such an assured film maker.  He switches from one time frame to the other and keeps all the characters in play with consummate ease.  His framing is bold, his direction is tight and there’s hardly any other film maker who assaults the eyes with such joyful colours – figures are framed in front of brilliant red and yellow walls; a bright, yellow omelette in a frying pan almost fills the screen; a tiny, bright red car snakes its way up a steep, labyrinthine mountain road.

In a cast that is uniformly strong, the film is dominated by Ugarte and Suarez who are both superb as the two Julietas.

But this is Almodovar’s film, complete with his characteristic, daring flourishes.  In a magical conjoining of the two Julietas, a towel, which Antia is using to dry the younger Julieta’s hair, is lifted, like a magician’s cape and the grief-stricken face of the older Julieta emerges.

In spite of its sober material, Almodovar’s skill makes Julieta a joy to watch (and it finishes on a note of hope). This is fine, intelligent film making which, although not in the top drawer, along with his masterpieces, All About my Mother (1999) and Talk to Her (2002) is still bracing and strong enough to elevate it above the pack.

Phil.  08.12.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(Julieta will screen at Somerville from Monday, 19th December to Saturday, 24th December and at Joondalup from Tuesday, 27th December to Sunday, 1st January).


rehersalparts are greater than the whole in this thespian drama

NEW ZEALAND : 102 mins : CTC              3/5

The Rehearsal is director, Alison MacLean’s adaptation of Booker Prize winning author, Eleanor Catton’s novel of the same name.  Starring is James Rolleston, who turned in a fine performance in PIAF’s 2015 film, The Dark Horse.

The main story line concerns Stanley (Rolleston) and his group of fellow acting students in their first year at a drama school in Auckland, New Zealand.  But a parallel sub-text, about a tennis coach, guilty of underage sex with a female student, is one of the many narrative strands that tend to dilute the film’s narrative focus.  Maclean and co-writer, Emily Perkins, took on a complex source and the result is a sprawling, uneven tale which was probably better suited to the extra space of the printed page.

There’s no doubting the impressive screen presence of Rolleston, who conveys Stanley’s lack of confidence with great conviction.  Kerry Fox is also outstanding as the exacting teacher, Hannah, in a role reminiscent of J.K.Simmons’ in last year’s Whiplash.  When she bullies Stanley into finding his feet (harbouring a hidden appreciation of his latent talent) he does so, in one of the strongest scenes of the film, when the young man produces an improvised portrayal of his father who is the complete opposite of himself and, in fact, is nothing less than intimidating.

Those who also shine are Ella Edward as Stanley’s girl friend, Isolde and Kieran Charnan, whose performance as the troubled William is so strong that his premature departure from the film releases some of its dramatic tension.

The Rehearsal is a film that can be appreciated for its many fine parts and while the film is a little too long, there is something of a redemptive and dramatic finale that is so confounding, it’s bound to have people in deep discussion.

Phil.  03.12.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Rehearsal will screen at Joondalup from Tuesday, 13th to Sunday, 18th December at 8pm.  NOTE: this film will not be screened at Somerville).


film1learning the adult ropes

U.S.A: 85 minutes :                       4/5

After last year’s bitter-sweet love story, Love is Strange, American director, Ira Sachs, returns with a second slice of New York life and makes some keen observations about another close relationship.  In Little Men, Jake and Tony are just thirteen years old but find that the transition to the adult world can be full of drama and emotion.

Moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn, to take up his recently-deceased father’s estate, Brian (Greg Kinnear) a struggling actor, together with his higher-earning wife, Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) and their teenage son, Jake (Theo Taplitz) find that their inherited property includes a rented seamstress’ shop on the ground floor.  According to the tenant, Leonor (Paulina Garcia) she had enjoyed a close relationship with Brian’s father, paying him just a peppercorn rent and was given assurance that she would continue her tenancy, once he had gone.  However, nothing was written in the will and, needing the extra money, Brian and his wife find themselves in the difficult situation of charging a much higher rent and the prospect of having to evict Leonor, if she cannot meet the cost.

But, to complicate matters, Leonor has a son, Tony (Michael Barbieri) of the same age as Jake and Brian and Kathy are delighted when Jake (who has aspirations of being an artist and who doesn’t make friends easily) strikes up an instant friendship with Tony and soon the two become inseparable.

Both boys are learning adult behaviour and, at their first meeting, Jake tells Tony that he’s supposed to say “I’m sorry for your loss” which is the expected, adult remark in such circumstances.  However, they soon realise that, apart from using the right words and gestures, being an adult means seeing the world with very different eyes.  And, perhaps most important of all, they begin to perceive the subject of money as the biggest game-changer, even threatening their close bond of friendship.

This is an intelligent and skilful production with Sachs and his co-writer, Mauricio Zacharias, treating the characters with respect and affection and doggedly avoiding cliché or stereotype.  For once the boys are not foul-mouthed delinquents but good-natured and entirely believable (thus far from perfect).  Both Taplitz and Barbieri are wonderful in the lead roles, giving natural performances and succeeding in delivering real emotional clout, with some scenes of genuine heart-break.

Both Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle are great in conveying the discomfort of dealing with Leonor (played with implacable austerity and a dash of impertinence by Garcia) and their concern for their son who is learning that the adult world is not only full of complexity but that the big people are just as capable of making mistakes as he is.

Little Men is a breath of fresh, cinematic air.  It could so easily have been just another hyperkinetic grab-bag of crass, juvenile humour but, instead, offers a compelling blend of warmth, empathy and insight in an experience the audience will almost certainly savour.

Phil. 16.11.16.

(Little Men will screen at Somerville at 8pm from Monday, 28th November to Sunday, 4th December and at Joondalup from Tuesday, 5th December to Sunday, 11th December.  Check the PIAF website for ticketing details).


film2extra-curricular activities of the unscrupulous kind

CZECH REPLUBLIC : 102 mins : M :                       4/5

The Teacher makes its premiere in Australia in the 2016/17 PIAF film programme.  Starring Zuzana Maurery as the teacher, Marie Drazdechova, it is based on true events in a Bratislava school in 1983 when the country was under Communist rule.  Director, Jan Hrebejk and writer, Petr Jarchovsky, have not only crafted a superb character study of a deluded and manipulative woman but have explored, in a wider context, the major themes of opportunism and moral courage.

On the first day with a new junior high school class, Mrs Drazdechova pulls out a notebook and asks the pupils to identify themselves and to state their parents’ occupations.  Far from being a harmless exercise in getting to know her charges, she is actually setting up the parents to call in some favours.

Director, Jan Hrebejk, suddenly takes us forward some months, to the same classroom – this time filled with the students’ parents.  They have been called together by the head teacher, to discuss their concerns about the way that the class teacher has used both parents and pupils to serve her own needs.

Skilfully jumping between the two time frames, Hrebejk builds tension and gradually reveals a litany of corruption, duplicity and emotional blackmail on a Machiavellian scale.  The teacher has got mothers (and even students) to do all sorts of jobs such as her shopping and cleaning and dads to do minor repairs but, of most concern, is that there is a direct correlation between the favours she is given and the grades their children get.

When one girl, Danka, a talented gymnast, is ridiculed in front of the class and who later collapses, matters come to a head.

Despite its seriousness, there’s a great deal of irony and humour in Drazdechova’s actions, for she seems oblivious of her own outrageousness.  The attractive Maurery is extraordinary as Drazdechova, playing her with a coy gleam in her eye and producing her feminine wiles of latent sexuality and helplessness with great skill.  She is a standout in a strong ensemble cast.

By including the parents and their reactions to signing a note of complaint, The Teacher broadens its concerns beyond this particular woman.  Some of them are afraid (Drazdechova is head of the local Communist party and in a position of considerable power) but when they accuse each other of disloyalty and drag skeletons from each others’ closets to justify their refusal to sign, they display defensive and self-advancement behaviour, similar to that of Drazdechova herself.  Hrebejk is saying that a little moral compromising is almost a universal, human feature and it’s just a matter of degree that makes it untenable.

Like Hrebejk’s earlier film, Divided we Fall (2000), which was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, The Teacher is a finely crafted production (which finishes with an inspired flourish) and may well emulate its predecessor’s success.  It will certainly keep audiences thinking and talking for days afterwards.

Phil. 18.11.16.  pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(The Teacher will screen at 8pm at Somerville from Monday, 5th to 11th December and at Joondalup from Tuesday, 29th November to 4th December. Check the PIAF website for details).


film3broken dreams and precious memories

JAPAN : 117 mins : CTC      4/5

After last year’s enchanting Our Little Sister, Japanese master director and writer, Horokazu Koreeda returns with After the Storm, another work of quiet, incisive observations, this time about the interpersonal tensions of a fractured family.  At its core are the aged and recently widowed matriarch, Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki) and her adult, wayward son, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe).

Ryota, once a successful novelist but now a hack detective, spies on separated couples in divorce cases and often squanders the little money he makes on gambling.  Both his mother and his ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki), are displeased at the way he neglects his eleven-year-old son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa).

Unlike much of Western cinema, Koreeda’s films are observational (rather than being driven by narrative) and develop slowly.  When Yoshiko, the wise matriarch, remarks that “A stew needs time for the flavours to sink in; so do people.” she could just as well be referring to the film itself, for Koreeda spends the first two thirds developing the major characters.  In the final third, a typhoon hits Tokyo, forcing them to take shelter under her roof.  The storm is both a plot device to bring them all together and a metaphor for the turmoil of feelings between them, which Koreeda handles with the gentlest touch and with voices that are barely raised.

Kirin Kiki is superb as Yoshiko, the anchor-point of the family, in a performance that is never less than believable.  While poring over a photo album, she reminisces about her recently lost partner, in a gentle mix of sadness and honest appraisal of his weaker points.  Hers was the dutiful marriage of the older generation, while the young Kyoko (Yoko), Ryota’s ex, is more dismissive of tradition and less tolerant.

Koreeda skilfully pairs the characters off, giving them opportunities to tell their secrets and regrets.  In a wondrous scene of male bonding, Ryota and his son, Shingo, slip out into the night and the typhoon.  These are highly intimate scenes, with Koreeda giving reminders of former relationships – Ryota makes a sexual pass at his ex-wife but, where there once was passion, now there is only a dying ember.

Hiroshi Abe is wonderful as Ryota, a man with honest intent but who is far from perfect.  When he remarks to his mother “I’m sorry I’m such a useless son” there is both an honesty and a deep sense of regret at thwarted ambitions.

When Koreeda’s trademark meal is prepared by the matriarch, it mirrors his own film-making.  It is lovingly prepared and nourishing, just as After the Storm has much to reward a patient audience.

Phil. 26.11.16. pbsailing@yahoo.com.au

(After the Storm will screen at Somerville from Monday, 12th December to Sunday, 18th December and at Joondalup from Tuesday, 20th December to Saturday, 24th December.  Note: no screenings on Christmas Day).