Saturday, 30 June 2012


Sony Pictures
Now Showing

Marketed as "the untold story" of Spider-man, Sony Pictures' reboot of the blue and red spandex-wearing web slinger is more a case of 'same old, same old', only with the names changed; not so much to protect the innocent but to perhaps trick the average movie-goer -- and ADHD-suffering youths -- into believing that The Amazing Spider-man is indeed brand spanking new.

But the basic Spider-man origin story -- adolescent Peter Parker has no parents, lives with his aunt and uncle; Peter gets bitten by radioactive spider imbuing him with arachnid-like superpowers; uncle is killed sending Peter on a crusade for justice -- not only remains intact here, it's labouriously retold for very little effect.

Of course, it does introduce us to the new Peter Parker, Brit actor Andrew Garfield (best known The Social Network). And to his credit, Garfield makes the role of the outsider teen with a good heart and strong mind his own.

Garfield's Peter is much more amusing, empathetic and, well, likeable than his predecessor, Tobey Maguire, who, in Sam Raimi's trilogy, gave Spider-man's alter ego a whiny quality. For Maguire's Parker, with great powers came an awful lot of whinging about having great responsibilities.

Good, too, is Emma Stone, who not only replaces Kirsten Dunst but plays an altogether different kind of love interest. Gwen Stacy, classmate of Peter Parker, is also his intellectual equal. Not for her a life on the stage like Dunst's Mary Jane, Gwen, whose IQ is as bright as Stone's screen presence, has her sights set on a career in science.

Too bad, then, that the film's writers (James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, who penned #2 and #3 in Raimi's Spidey trilogy, and Harry Potter scribe, Steve Kloves), and director, Marc Webb (whose only previous film was the delightful non-rom-com, (500) Days of Summer), don't give the actress a whole lot to do.

The same could be said of Rhys Ifans as Doctor Curt Connors. A geneticist with an interest in splicing human DNA with that of animals in an attempt to fight disease and possibly restore limbs (Connors is an amputee, missing most of his right arm), the good doctor becomes positively cold blooded when his experiments, given a helping hand (no pun intended) by Peter, suddenly yield unexpected results.

The appearance of The Lizard, Connors' reptilian alter ego with a severe case of 'roid rage, doesn't necessarily enervate proceedings but to the filmmakers' credit, a GCI-8-foot reptile is a more convincing foe than The Green Goblin, Willem Dafoe's villain from Spider-man (2002), who gave off a rather unfortunate Power Rangers vibe.

Indeed, the action in The Amazing Spider-man, particularly the requisite scenes of Spider-man swinging through the streets of New York, is far more realistic than those in the previous trilogy: he actually looks like a flesh and blood man. Admittedly, the film's action scenes overall are not the strong suit of Marc Webb; shot mostly in close-up and seemingly truncated (and the 3D is neither here nor there).

Webb's direction, however, is much stronger when his hero is on the ground, out of his spandex and opposite Gwen; Webb no doubt chosen to enhance the story's human element and not, as we all joked, because of his surname (although why they couldn't make the pair college freshmen instead of high schoolers, I don't know).

To say The Amazing Spider-man is better than Spider-man 3 is almost to damn it with faint praise, given that the third instalment in Raimi's trilogy was unequivocally the weakest of the three. But while this reboot may be somewhat less than amazing, it's not necessarily bad.

In a post-Avengers world, the bar for superhero films may have been raised and, here's hoping, will be even more so by Nolan's impending The Dark Knight Rises. The Amazing Spider-man may suffer for being stuck somewhere between the lightness of touch of the former and the darkness of the latter, but it shouldn't be punished unnecessarily for that.


Universal Pictures
Now Showing

Paddington, Winnie, Yogi. Loveable bears with varying degrees of mischievousness, but not once did they ever drop an 'f' bomb or take a hit from a bong. Say hello to Ted, the knee-high, soft plush bear come to life, and the titular character in animator Seth MacFarlane's feature directorial debut.

Like a Teddy Ruxpin doll implanted with a computer chip designed by MacFarlane -- or Satan, depending on your sensibilities -- Ted has a (dodgy) Bostonian accent, a penchant for pot and profanity, and a shared fear of storms with his thunder buddy and BFF, John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg).

Ted and John have been together since the bear was gifted to a young Johnny one Christmas, and the boy made a wish that his bear would come to life. And he did! Pseudo celebrity followed for Ted, but now he and the 30-something John share an apartment in Boston with John's girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis).

The pair have been dating for four years, and while Lori likes Ted, she also feels that the bear is holding John back; suspending his adolescence and preventing him from making an adult commitment to their future. It's time for Ted to get a place of his own.

It may be MacFarlane's first foray into live action, but your enjoyment of Ted will depend very much on your enjoyment of MacFarlane's well known sense of humour -- pop culture riffing and jokes to offend everyone -- as displayed in his television work, The Family Guy and American Dad. (The character of Ted very much has his antecedents in the former's Brian, the talking dog, and the latter's Roger, the alcoholic alien.)

And at 106 minutes, that humour may be stretched too its limit; Ted is essentially a series of two minutes skits -- Ted hosts a house full of hookers and one takes a dump on the floor; John and Ted play 'guess the check-out chicks white trash name' game -- loosely held in place by a semblance of plot: Ted's life of independence, and his run-in with a creepy stalker (Giovanni Ribisi) with a fat son and thing for 1980s pop starlet, Tiffany.

Still, there's plenty of laughs to be had in Ted, the highlight being a Bourne-like hotel room smack down between Ted and John. And Wahlberg, better known for his tough guy roles, is actually a pretty good sport and displays excellent comic chops. Equally impressive is the CGI, which renders Ted near life-like.

In what's been a lacklustre year for comedy thus far -- Carnage, Friends With Kids, and 21 Jump Street being the best of the bunch -- Ted gets the second half of 2012 off to a good start. He may not be everyone's cup of tea, and he's definitely not for kids, but he's loveable in his own dirtier-than-the average-bear kind of way.

Sunday, 24 June 2012


20th Century Fox Films
Now Showing

If the third time was the charm for the Ice Age franchise, than the fourth may well be poison. Not in box office terms, perhaps -- Ice Age 3 grossing $1 billion worldwide, and this follow-up sure to do at least half as well -- but the antics of the likeable if not loveable makeshift family at the heart of this series of films prove to be more exhaustive than exhilarating in Continental Drift.

It's the shifting of the Earth's tectonic plates -- inadvertently set in motion by Scrat, still in pursuit of that ever elusive acorn -- which sets in motion the adventures of Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano), Diego the sabre tooth tiger (Denis Leary), and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo).

When the ground starts a quaking, it also starts a breaking and the three, along with Sid's grandmother (Wanda Sykes), are set adrift at sea. They survive giant crabs and waterspouts, but their attempts to return to their loved ones is jeopardised by Captain Gutt (an unrecognisable Peter Dinklage), a pirate primate with a join-us-or-die attitude, and his motley crew of scurvy dogs, including 2IC, Shira (an uninspired Jennifer Lopez).

Meanwhile, Manny's partner, Ellie (Queen Latifah), and now teenage daughter, Peaches (Keke Palmer), are stuck on land with the ever-moving mountains driving them and the rest of the herd (an assortment of peacefully co-existing beasts) towards the ocean.

Continental Shift keeps coming back to Ellie and Peaches but this story line, about a girl mammoth coming of age, is about as thrilling as watching the ice caps melt. The Ice Age films may be all about family -- chosen as much as biological -- but I've never found Latifah's Ellie a convincing element in the series; her introduction in Ice Age 2, along with her possum brothers, also marking the franchise's low point. Until now.

There may be a lot of action in this fourth film but there's very little to get excited about. That action, and the 3D, may engage the youngsters in the audience but the parents and other adults who are familiar with this world -- and who may have had their hopes raised by the impressive third outing, Dawn of the Dinosaurs -- are more likely to find the seafaring shenanigans of Continental Drift akin to an ice cold headache.

Note: There is a The Simpsons short film, The Longest Daycare, starring Maggie Simpson, screening ahead of Ice Age 4. If you are going along to see Continental Drift, then be sure and get there in time to catch it.

Saturday, 23 June 2012


Hopscotch Films
Now Showing

Blessed are the peacemakers. And the homemakers for that matter, who, in director Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now?, are one and the same.

In a remote village in Lebanon, where Muslims and Christians live side by side, and for the most part peacefully, the women folk work tirelessly to keep it that way; ensuring the men folk don't follow the lead of their city counterparts and go to war.

That means concerted efforts to hide all media reports about political events in other parts of the country and covering up any local infractions, be it letting livestock into the mosque or desecrating a statue of the Virgin Mary.

But when tensions begin to escalate, they decide the best way to extinguish the flames of hatred are by firing up their men's loins. The women pitch in to hire a travelling Russian "burlesque" troupe (who alight from a bus a la Priscilla, only less attractive), with the aim of keeping the men's blood from boiling over by diverting it to other parts of their bodies.

All of the village women's actions aren't necessarily condoned by either the Imam or the priest, but the two elder statesmen happily turn a blind eye in the name of peace.

Where Do We Go Now? is part comedy, part drama and part faux musical, often swinging wildly between the three and, much like the Christians and Muslims, not always successfully despite everyone's best efforts.

A tragedy which occurs in the second half will almost certainly obliterate the women's peace process if the men find out, is truly upsetting yet the mother chooses to put her grief on hold for the good of the village. Conversely, when violence seems almost inevitable, the women decide to drug the men with hash cookies, accompanied by a song (one of three in the film) which I've never heard sung in the MasterChef kitchen.

These elements may not always work seamlessly together, but Labaki, who plays the town beauty, the Christian shopkeeper, Amale, has invested her film -- and her characters -- with so much heart and good will that it seems almost churlish to complain.

Where Do We Go Now? won the audience award at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and you can understand why. Just like peace, I'd suggest you give the film a chance.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012


Pixar/Walt Disney Studios Films
Now Showing

It's taken 13 films, beginning with Toy Story in 1995, but Pixar have finally fashioned a film around a female protagonist: Princess Merida in Brave. But given that it took Disney -- a champion of female heroines in animation -- until 2009 to have a black leading lady (The Princess and the Frog), one can forgive Pixar's delayed embrace of sexual equality.

Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdondald) is the flame-haired first born and only daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), the former as permissive a parent as the latter is a disciplinarian. Duty dictates that Merida must one day marry the son of one of the neighbouring Scottish clans, and her mother is determined that Merida will be a true princess -- accomplished, well mannered, lady like -- when that day arrives.

And when it does, it is all too soon for Merida. With a nature as wild as her hair, the horse riding, arrow-shooting princess wishes to be the mistress of her own fate, a wish which is granted when she happens upon a witch's cottage in the woods; the old lady in-residence (wittler, not witch!) conjuring a potion to change Merida's mother's mind.

But the princess should have asked to see the fine print, for once administered the potion doesn't so much alter Elinor's mind as her body: the Queen is transformed into a bear, and if Merida doesn't reverse the spell within two days' time, Elinor will remain as such.

That is if her husband, a man who lost his leg to a grizzly (seen in the film's opening sequence; one of many in Brave which are quite dark in tone), and continues to bear a grudge, doesn't discover the interloper and put her to the sword.

Brave is essentially a film about mother-daughter relationships, as strained as they are loving. But in the princess-bear dynamic it plays somewhat like How To Train Your Dragon, with both beast and disapproving parent rolled into the one, and the Queen-as-bear providing most of the film's humour.

Merida's younger brothers, three pint-sized, red-haired mischief makers, also add laughs but which seem more in keeping with a DreamWorks film, while the Scottish-English voice cast, which includes Craig Ferguson and Julie Walters, though impressive is without distinction; even the usually raucous Connolly is kept in-check.

That the animation in Brave is beautiful is a given: the hills, forests and lochs both realistically rendered and storybook rich. The 3D, of course, is completely unnecessary.

And even if Pixar's foray into fairy tales and female empowerment isn't all that we hoped it would be, Brave still manages to be far, far and away superior to last year's soulless cash cow, Cars 2.


Roadshow Films
Now Showing

Sometimes you don't know what you don't know until you do. Case in point: Bob Marley. Of course I had heard of the musician and pride of Jamaica who, in the late 1960s through to the early '80s, brought reggae music to the world. But I didn't know all that much about him; the man beneath the dreadlocks, as it were.

It shames me to say that I only recognised a handful of Bob Marley songs -- Get Up, Stand Up, I Shot The Sheriff, No Woman, No Cry, and Is This Love? -- featured in the comprehensive and extensive (145 minutes!) documentary, Marley. Directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, 2006), the film covers the life of the musician from his poor, mixed-race beginnings (born in 1945) in a Jamaican village through to his international success on the world music stage, and his untimely death in 1981.

So much so was my ignorance of this man's life, I had assumed that Bob Marley, like so many musicians, actors, and artists who die young, did so tragically as a result of either drugs or a mad man's bullet (Marley was indeed shot in 1976 but that didn't kill him).

Bob Marley actually died of cancer, which is no less tragic (and least of all for befalling a 36-year-old) but for me, it was a revelation, as is most information in the doco divulged through interviews with Marley's family (wife, partners, children), former members of his band, The Wailers, and music industry types; all interspersed with interviews with the man himself, home movie footage, and his live performances.

A pot smoker (der!), a Rastafarian, politically neutral in Jamaica's heated political scene (though that didn't prevent him being shot in 1976, ironically just days before a concert for peace) and, despite being relatively shy, a womaniser who ultimately fathered 11 children, Marley lead a colourful though, by rock and roll standards, a rather controversy-free life.

That may leave Macdonald's doco open to accusations of hagiography, and admittedly Marley is an unabashed love letter to the man and musician. But what little grey there was in the man's life -- his infidelities, his almost competitive nature with his children -- is covered (though perhaps not salaciously enough for some tastes).

As both an introduction to, and celebration of the artist and the man, Marley is informative and engaging, and at the very least could introduce a new generation (young and old) to the music of Bob Marley.

Monday, 11 June 2012


If Joe Wright's 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was the so-called "muddy hem" version of Jane Austen, then Andrea Arnold's take on Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights could very well be called "down and dirty".

Not in a sexual sense -- there's very little in the way of eroticism -- but in the film's setting and exposure to the elements. Fully immersed in the cold, wind and rain of the Yorkshire moors, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that members of cast and crew came down with pneumonia (perhaps making it a perfect fit for this year's SFF weather).

Sadly, Arnold's strong evocation of place and the elements doesn't extend to the love story between Heathcliff and Cathy. First depicted as youths (by newcomers Soloman Glave and Shannon Beer, respectively), then as adults (James Howson and Kaya Scodelario), the relationship between the (white) farmer's daughter and the (black) boy adopted by Cathy's Christian father, never really ignites; Arnold preferring to focus on the tragic aspects of Bronte's novel (which I confess I've never read) rather than the romantic.

This may have been more effective (and affecting) had the director spent less time on the youthful leads and more time with the adults, when Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights to find Cathy unhappily married and with child.

Indeed, at 128 minutes Wuthering Heights is far too long: an epic novel it may well be, but like so many filmmakers today, Arnold confuses running time for importance and "epic-ness".

Still, one can admire Arnold's bravery in taking a much-loved literary classic and eschewing all of the expected staples of the period (bonnet) drama. The absence of a score is also a bold move, and the film is beautifully, though darkly shot by Robbie Ryan, and in 1.33:1 (perhaps to resemble a book?).

Wuthering Heights (Paramount-Transmission Films) will be released in Australia October 11.

Sunday, 10 June 2012


Icon Film Distribution
Now Showing

Jacky Bonnot (Michael Youn) loves to cook. Unfortunately for Jacky, the kitchens where he works aren't as passionate about the menu as he is, resulting in his regularly being fired from restaurants, cafes and the French equivalent of roadside truck stops.

Holding out for the right cooking job wouldn't be so bad if his partner, Beatrice (Raphaelle Agogue), wasn't expecting their first child, the birth of which will reduce them to a no-income household. So Jacky 'man's up', puts his culinary dreams on hold, and takes a job as a window painter at a nursing home.

Naturally, Jacky gravitates to the nursing home's kitchen where he attempts to enliven the menu for the residents, who are resistant at first to anything new but are slowly won over by the taste sensations being dished up.

As luck would have it, Alexandre Lagarde (Jean Reno), a Parisian celebrity chef with his own TV show and a three-hat restaurant, just happens to be a regular visitor to the nursing home, and upon tasting Jacky's food (a spin on one of Lagarde's own recipes; Jacky idolising the master chef), hires him on a trial basis.

Lagarde's restaurant is up for review from Paris's harshest food critics, and the chef needs something new to impress, both the critics and Stanislas Matter (Julien Boisselier), who owns the restaurant and can't wait for a loss of one of those hats: a demotion will enable Matter to fire Lagarde and hire the 'so hot right now' Brit chef, Cyril Boss (James Gerard), the kind of 'molecular gastronomer' who cooks with beakers and test tubes.

So ensues a mild comedy of misunderstandings and personality clashes, as Jacky attempts to hide his new, unpaid position from Beatrice, whilst simultaneously learning from and educating his idol in a bid to secure both their futures, with Reno and Youn making for an amiable odd couple.

The film's highlight is a comic set piece which sees Lagarde and Jacky go undercover, in Japanese drag, as diners in Cyril's restaurant. Culturally insensitive perhaps, but the sight of Reno and, particularly, Youn (in geisha guise), looking as though they've just come from the dress rehearsal of a community theatre's production of The Mikado, is hilarious.

More a dessert than a main course, Le Chef, directed by Daniel Cohen, is a puff pastry of a film that will neither sate nor spoil your appetite for French fare. It might not pass mustard in the MasterChef kitchen but for those in the mood for a ham and cheese croissant, Le Chef may just hit the spot.

Thursday, 7 June 2012


A stately period drama which, although touching on the traditions of the samurai, Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai (3D) is an almost 180 degree change of pace from Takashi Miike's previous feature, 13 Assassins (which played at SFF last year).

When retired samurai Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa) arrives at the house of his feudal lord requesting a ritual suicide (the Hara-kiri of the title), the lord (Koji Yakusho) recounts for him the tale of a young ronin who recently came to the house making a similar request.

The film then flashes back to explain how that young man, poor and newly-fathered, came to meet his death. That young man, Motome (Eita), also happens to be Hanshiro's son-in-law, and Hanshiro is seeking revenge for the wrong that has been dealt his family.

A tale of revenge, Hara-Kiri is also a study in the corruptive and corrosive power of rigid compliance to a way of life, in this instance the samurai code. Rather than turning Motome away with some money (which is what Motome had expected, having heard rumours of fake suicide requests having been met with a financial hand-out), the lord decides to make an example of the man, calling his bluff and enforcing the suicide.

Motome is forced to perform the ritual suicide without, shall we say, the appropriate hardware resulting in one of the most horrid scenes of the film year thus far (if not graphically, then certainly aurally). Seriously, I had my hands over my 3D glasses during this scene but I could still hear what was happening.

Thankfully, this scene occurs early in the first act, and Hara-Kiri proceeds as a period drama from then on, although the climax will sate those hankering for some samurai action.

It seems strange to me that Miike, a noted genre-hopper, would choose to shoot Hara-Kiri in 3D, the first such film to compete in official competition at Cannes (2011): 13 Assassins with its impressive action sequences seems like a more perfect fit for the medium.

A beautiful looking film is a beautiful looking film, in 2D or 3D, and Hara-Kiri (shot by Nobuyasu Kita) would lose nothing without those glasses. Admittedly, there is one scene where rain ever so gradually transforms into snow which almost justifies the use of the third dimension.

Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai (3D)(distributed by Icon Films) opens in Australia October 18.

Sunday, 3 June 2012


Hopscotch Films
Now Showing

Is an emotional affair really cheating? Really? That's one of the major questions posed by writer-director Sarah Polley in Take This Waltz, the actress-cum-filmmaker's emotionally authentic sophomore effort.

Margot (Michelle Williams) and Daniel (Luke Kerby) meet-cute at a colonial village, where the handsome stranger insists Margot participate in the re-creation whipping of an adulterer. They later meet again on the plane home to Toronto, and so easy and relaxed is their conversation, and so amused are they by each other, they share a cab from the airport to the city.

As luck (or fate) would have it, Margot and Daniel are neighbours, the struggling artist having moved into her street only recently. Ordinarily that would be taken as a sign -- or an open invitation -- for romance, that is, of course, if Margot wasn't married to Lou (Seth Rogen).

A good natured chef working on an all-chicken cookbook (It Tastes Like Chicken), Lou isn't a schlub, a brute or a villain in any way, so Margot's reasons for contemplating straying from the marital home, and bed, aren't quite as clear cut -- for her or the audience.

One of the strengths of Polley's film is its lack of judgememnt: no one is demonised or punished for their thoughts, feelings or actions. That may frustrate those who do feel that an emotional affair is just as adulterous as a sexual one, but life is messy, and the heart wants what the heart wants.

The key to the success of Take This Waltz is the performance of Michelle Williams. Her Margot is neither a shrew or bitch; she's completely empathetic whilst simultaneously frustrating with her indecision and inconsistency: despite her growing attraction to Daniel, Margot doesn't try too hard to avoid him or his company; agreeing to coffee, cocktails, and night swimming.

Her Margot may also be girlish and coy at times, but there's no hint of Marilyn Monroe; it's as different a characterization from Williams' Oscar-nominated role in My Week With Marilyn as it is from her stripped back turn in Blue Valentine (2009), a film which covers similar thematic and emotional territory to Waltz but in a completely different manner.

Good, too, is Seth Rogen. The comic actor doesn't necessarily stretch his dramatic wings here, but as the naively neglectful husband he presents a slightly more mature side yet with that trademark gravelly laugh intact. (Any overt comedy is left to comedienne, Sarah Silverman, as Lou's recovering-alcoholic older sister.)

If Luke Kirby's Daniel is less defined, given that he's essentially little more than an object of attraction and the agent for action and change, the actor still registers; as much for his aesthetic qualities as for his articulate playfulness.

All of this praise isn't to suggest that Take This Waltz is a perfect film. It's not. At 116 minutes, it's too long -- Margot's life-altering decision coming too late in the piece -- and there are several false endings which annoy. But ultimately, the pros far outweigh the cons for me.

I haven't seen Sarah Polley's directorial debut, 2007's Away From Her, but its story of a long-time married couple whose relationship is threatened by the loss of memory of the Alzheimer's-stricken wife (Julie Christie) would seem to bookend perfectly with Take This Waltz.

Young love, old love: will Polley's third outing behind the camera be concerned with middle-aged love? Who knows, but if the young writer-director brings the same emotional authenticity and attention to performance as she does to Take This Waltz, the results promise to be rewarding. Bitter-sweet but rewarding.


They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Francois (Deon Lotz) can't take his eyes off of Christian (Charlie Keegan). The son of a long time friend, Christian re-enters Francois's life at the wedding of the middle-aged timber merchant's eldest daughter, and unbeknownst to the handsome young man, sets his secret admirer on a self-destructive path.

Winner of the Queer Palm at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, I was highly anticipating Oliver Hermanus's second feature. But the South African film, spoken mostly in Afrikaans, was, for me, a disappointment.

At just 99 minutes there are far too many unnecessarily long takes which could be euphemistically described as 'meditative' or producing a slow burn, but which felt more like padding to me. Designed to put us in the mind of Francois, a man whose secret desires make him a voyeur, we see from his vantage point but we don't get inside the man's head.

And as solid as Lotz's performance is, as a man firmly entrenched in the closet but living a secret life very much on the down low, his actions, which arguably inevitable, ultimately turn Francois from a tragic victim of circumstance to an irredeemable villain.

All empathy for the man disappears when, three-quarters into the film, he finally transgresses; acting out on his attraction to Christian in the film's (and one of cinema 2012's) most shocking moments.

Beauty would make an excellent companion piece to the 2011 Michael Fassbender film, Shame; the two films concerned with men who are victims to their sexual natures. But where Fassbender's character had ready access to an "outlet" for his urges, Francois is considerably more limited, by culture, geography and himself.

That isolation should enforce the tragedy but Francois's actions undermine it. I was shaken by Beauty but I wasn't moved.

Beauty (distributed by Palace Films) opens in Australian cinemas August 2. Director Oliver Hermanus will be in conversation with Australian director Tomy Krawitz (Official Competition film, Dead Europe) at the SFF Hub @ Lower Town Hall on Monday June 11, 6pm-7.30pm .

Saturday, 2 June 2012


Miguel Gomes's film will draw easy comparison with The Artist -- shot in 1:1.37 ratio, in black and white, and virtually silent throughout its African-set second half -- but Tabu is a different cinematic creature entirely.

It's certainly not as light or easily enjoyable as Michel Hazanavicius's Oscar-winner: its pleasures reveal themselves over time and upon reflection, which is fitting for a film concerned with memory and past love.

Tabu, which is split into two parts, opens in modern day Lisbon where Pilar (Teresa Madruga), a middle-aged do-gooder whose Christmas holiday plans are thrown out when her Polish billet cancels her stay, becomes concerned with her elderly neighbour, Aurora (Laura Soveral).

A faded glamour puss with a gambling problem, Aurora seems to be losing her grasp on reality; fearing her live-in African carer, Santa (Isabel Munoz Cardoso), is poisoning her, and always asking after an absconding alligator and talk of Africa.

When Aurora dies, Pilar carries out her request to inform a man named Gian Luca Ventura (Henrique Espirito Santo), who, much to Pilar's surprise, not only exists but confirms that Aurora did indeed once live in Africa, and owned an alligator.

Upon this revelation, Tabu drifts back to the past, to the early 1960s and colonial Africa: an unnamed country but on the eve of the Portuguese colonial war, where Aurora (now played by Ana Moreira) and Ventura (Carloto Cotta) carry out a clandestine affair whilst Aurora is married and pregnant to another man.

This film's second half, titled Paradise and narrated by the elderly Ventura, removes the dialogue of the characters -- only using their voices when they sing; the young Ventura is a member of a pop band -- but keeps the surrounding sounds: animals, nature and music. Miguel's suggestion that memory is unreliable with minutiae if not the broader strokes.

A favourite at this year's Berlin Film Festival, it is hard to describe Tabu without doing it a disservice. Even I, while excited to see Tabu, tried to know as little as possible beforehand, and yet it still managed to be completely different to what I was expecting.

I'd suggest you just go in to Tabu open minded and simply go along with it. Its rewards may not be immediate -- and at almost two hours, a little testing -- but Gomes manages to make it nostalgic without being cloying, and like The Artist, much more than its gimmicky design would suggest.

Tabu screens June 10 and 11 at the Sydney Film Festival, and will be released in Australia (TBC) by Palace Films.