Wednesday, 25 September 2013
Family. Everyone's got one and every one of them has skeletons. Just how deeply they're buried, and just how shocking they are when unearthed may vary on the personal reaction Richter scale from 'meh' to 'OH. MY. GOD'.
A paternity scandal may not rank all that highly from an outsider's perspective (certainly not one given to watching daytime television soap operas) but there's no denying that the secret at the heart of the Polley family -- earth shattering on one level -- makes for a fascinating tale and a documentary without a hint of soap.
Sarah Polley, a Canadian actress whom you're more likely to recognise by face than by name -- The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Go (1999), Dawn of the Dead (2004) -- has recently turned her attentions behind the camera as a director (2007's Away From Her which earned two Oscar nominations (Best Actress; Adapted Screenplay), and 2012's Take This Waltz), and, on her third outing, seems to have found the perfect subject.
Taking the adage 'write what you know' to heart, Polley has turned her directorial gaze on herself and her family: a seemingly typical middle class Canadian tribe. The mother, Diane, and father, Michael, hailing from a theatrical background and the siblings -- the eldest two from the mother's first marriage, the younger three from her second -- following less artistic pursuits (bar Sarah).
It's during a brief return to the stage in the late 1970s, out of town and away from her husband and then four children, that Diane is believed to not have only had an affair but conceived a child (Sarah). None of this is revealed to the family, including Michael, until later in life, when Diane has died from cancer and Sarah is an adult and working in Hollywood.
Through interviews with Michael, her siblings, and friends of her mother, and an almost seamless blend of recreations and actual home footage, Polley sifts through the haze of memory, real and fictional, to get to some kind of truth. For Stories We Tell is as much about memory and myth-making as it is secrets and lies, and Polley's softly-softly approach is never less than fascinating, always engaging and surprisingly affecting.
And although turning the camera on herself, Stories We Tell is by no means a Sarah Polley vanity piece; it's not about her 'celebrity', it's not even really about her reaction to the discoveries she makes even though that would have been completely understandable. It's about the family, and the Polley family could be anyone's, making Stories We Tell universal but no less intimate.
Friday, 13 September 2013
French filmmaker Michel Gondry's latest film, Mood Indigo, screened earlier this year at the Sydney Film Festival in an incarnation clocking in at 130 minutes. Somewhere between those June screenings and its Australian release this week, it was decided the film's running time should be reduced*.
And while I don't know what plotting and characters my have been cut from the film along with those 36 minutes, my first thought upon leaving the cinema (actually, during the film) was "thank god it's only 94 minutes!"
Based on a 1947 cult novel (L'Écume des Jours, then given the English title, Froth On A Daydream) by Boris Vian (and adapted here by Gondry), Mood Indigo is essentially the tale of ill-fated love between Colin (Romain Duris), an independently wealthy man, and Chloe (Audrey Tautou).
The two enjoy a whirlwind courtship before marrying, and it's whilst on their countryside honeymoon that Chloe is infected: a water lily takes root in her lung (although I thought it was a snowflake and that Chloe would turn cold toward her doting husband as a result). There is no cure -- Chloe will die -- but her death can be delayed by the medicinal use of other flowers.
Chloe's mounting medical (and florist) bills force the now melancholic Colin to do something he's never done before: seek employment, which he does in a factory where, if my understanding is correct, laser guns are forged from mounds of dirt through the heat generated by naked men laid atop them (?).
You can understand how Michel Gondry must have been drawn to the quirk and whimsy of the original story, and the opportunity it affords him to deploy his playful visual style. Colin lives in what looks like a disused cable car and his home boasts several inventions (a pianocktail; arachnid doorbells), as well as a pet mouse and a laconic ladies man and lawyer-turned-chef, Nicolas (The Intouchables' Omar Sy).
But there seems to be too much quirk, whimsy and style in Mood Indigo and not nearly enough heart. Doomed love is only affecting if we're invested in the lovers, but as pretty a couple as Duris and Tautou make, I couldn't care less about the fates of Colin and Chloe.
If I wanted to be literal -- and unkind -- I could suggest that the take away from Mood Indigo is that love will bleed you dry, emotionally and financially. I'm sure that's not the point of Gondry's film, nor of the two previous film adaptations (one French, one Japanese) -- or the opera -- all inspired by Vian's novel.
But for a more rewarding Gondry film about love's labours won and lost, I'd recommend revisiting Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004); a bitter sweet love story whose protagonists we care deeply about.
*This shorter version of the film will be releasing in all international territories outside of France, where the film has already opened.
Wednesday, 11 September 2013
Jasmine is feeling blue. Actually, she's a wreck. The New York high society wife (brought fully, and at times painfully to life by Cate Blanchett) has had her ivory tower and social status repossessed following her husband's imprisonment for illegal Wall Street wheelings and dealings, forcing her to flee west to San Francisco and the far more "homey" home of her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins).
Woody Allen's latest comedy (perhaps "dramedy" is more exact; it's not all laughs and even those there are skew dark) sees the veteran auteur return Stateside from another brief European sojourn (which produced the wonderful Midnight In Paris (2010) and the hit-and-miss To Rome With Love (2011)) to tell this tale of one woman's social and psychological undoing.
Blue Jasmine is as much about the global financial crisis as it is a reworking of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, and Blanchett's Jasmine (re: Blanche) is very much the centre of attention. A pill-popping, vodka-swilling ball of nerves, Jasmine clings desperately to the veneer of her New York sophistication even as she talks to herself, often in public, and lashes out at anyone who attempts to help or confront her.
It's a terrific character (whatever his faults, Woody gives good woman) and an equally terrific performance by Blanchett. The actress gets under Jasmine's Stoli-soaked skin, fully inhabiting this tragic yet abrasive heroine so much so that's is as painful to watch as it is enjoyable to behold. Even Brando's Stanley Kowalski would have been powerless in her presence (although Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay, as Ginger's boyfriend and ex-husband, respectively, dare to brave the storm head-on.).
Indeed, if there's a complaint to be made against the film -- and, sacrilege, Blanchett -- it's that no other character registers as strongly. Hawkins' put upon sister (both were adopted from different families, hence the lack of familial resemblance) makes the most of her screen time but Alec Baldwin, as the wrongdoing husband, and Michael Stuhlbarg and Peter Sarsgaard, the strangers whose kindness Jasmine may or may not rely upon, are given little to work with.
Blue Jasmine is all about Cate Blanchett; playing a 1 per cent-er fallen on hard times, she gives it 110 per cent.
Monday, 9 September 2013
Legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (All About My Mother, Volver, Talk To Her) is back with a kitsch and outrageously funny comedy set mostly on a plane.
The comedy follows a mixed group of travellers who find themselves in a life-threatening situation on board a plane flying to Mexico City. Their defencelessness in the face of danger provokes colourful confessionals that become the best way to escape from the idea of death.
Thanks to Transmission Films, we have 5 double passes to I'm So Excited! to give away. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed (@TheLennoXFiles) for your chance to win. Note: tix valid in Australia only.
I'm So Excited! is in cinemas September 19.