Fell (dir. Kasimir Burgess; 2014)


I’ve begun to observe a certain categorical and identifiable representation of masculinity in contemporary Australian cinema, one inherently constituted by genre on the one hand, and imaginings of landscape on the other: Which is to say, Australian cinema has always been engaged in interrogating or perpetuating the mythos of the self-realised ‘outback bloke’ — though it required a Canadian dramatist, Ted Kotcheff, to dismantle the archetype wholesale in Wake in Fright — but a recent influx of tiny Australian pastorals of epic interiors have reclaimed the archetype for renewed audience fascination, by subjecting this human avatar to the violence of the land he professes to emblematise.

There must be something iconic, unassailable and inexpressible — “primal”, growls Thomas (a.k.a. Chris Alcott), one of two central protagonists in Kasimir Burgess’s riveting and loss-haunted début feature, Fell — about a man’s attempts to carve a channel wide enough to accommodate him in the topography of the Australian landscape, because this is a narrative of provenance which we appear collective-bound to tell. Writer/director David Michôd has probably assumed the status as the proverbial poster boy for rehabilitating this once-shunned storytelling tradition in Australia, and certainly there’s something to be said about Michôd’s conviction that the conditions of a particular landscape will compel dramatic impetus in a story about men. In many ways, however, Michôd’s The Rover is schematic or obfuscating — low-stakes, emotionally — where Kasimir Burgess’s Fell is mute but stormy with meaning. Continue reading

Mommy (dir. Xavier Dolan; 2014)

Mommy #1

There are things wrong — both narratively and structurally — with twenty-five-year-old Québécois enfant terrible and writer/director, Xavier Dolan’s Cannes Jury Prize-winning melodrama, Mommy, and it isn’t insubstantial or injudicious or petty to catalogue them, but it would be myopic.

As I experienced the full kinetic, high-octane assault of Dolan’s revelrous, near impressionistically-orchestrated vision, I came to discern that no amount of measured and exacting critical evaluation would satisfactorily accommodate the sheer ambition, dramatic impact, emotional and psychological generosity, gorgeousness and raw feeling that this film engenders in its viewers. At the film’s conclusion, the audience I saw it with erupted into applause.

Mommy is therefore almost impossible to judge or reduce or synopsise to the sum of its parts, if only because it succeeds organically and intuitively as a singular vision of aesthetic energy and combustion — to encapsulate or abbreviate its affect, is to assume an injustice against it. This is a work which, albeit embracing of clumsy melodramatic convention and a storytelling high-concept which initially feels telescoped and contrived, reaffirms that maxim of artistic discovery: the shock of the new. Continue reading

Life Itself (dir. Steve James; 2014)

Life Itself #3

To write about Roger Ebert is to follow in the footprints — or rather the footfalls, as his legacy is even now still reverberating in the ears of every matinee-prowling punter, fanboy, cinematic autodidact or professional film journalist — of a more inimitable commentator, a fiercer advocate, and keener viewer of film-as-an-artwork of affect and expression than you might ever hope to countenance or encompass.

It’s been said innumerable times over so that it’s now beginning to assume the well-honed burnish of immediate cliché, but Ebert was the Voice of Movies. He lived to engage with them, he lived to evaluate and demystify them, he lived to cheerfully disdain those he hated, he lived to champion and venerate those he loved, but most significantly, Ebert lived to substantiate the claims and validity of film discourse and film reception and film criticism — never to trivialise or condescend to it.

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The Immigrant (dir. James Gray; 2013)

The Immigrant

The inaugural screening for my filmic fanboy dalliance at MIFF (the Melbourne International Film Festival) for 2014 was an evening première of writer/director James Gray’s The Immigrant — and, to invoke the timeworn clichè of all those nostalgists whom bloviate over pop.-culture, they just don’t make films like this anymore. They’d be right.

This is a film of a stately classicism and sedate formalism rarely seen outside of the Hollywood studio system romances of Elias Kazan, master of melodrama and monochromatic mood. You’d be hard pressed to disparage with or deviate from the Kazan associations when surmising Joaquin Phoenix’s brooding, elliptical and finally turbulent performance as Bruno Weiss, as there’s some suggestion of Brando in his penitent and dishevelled scramble for purity in the film’s climactic final scenes — albeit maybe A Place In the Sun-era Montgomery Clift, with his sweat-beaded brow and his convulsive retreat into guilt, would be more accurate.

However, there’s more to Gray’s vision here than mere cinematic mimicry or earnest homage, and the film blooms into something simultaneously familiar and strange through the startling, impeccable, emotionally-invested and invariably soulful performance of Marion Cotillard, who never flags in telegraphing to a hushed audience the moral erosion her character, Ewa Cybulska, feels she’s inflicted on herself and her dream for American providence. Continue reading