FILM REVIEW: HEART OF A LION (LEIJONASYDÄN)

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Heart Of A Lion (Leijonasydän) is a Finnish drama that asks the question, “Should you be ruled your head or by your heart?” It’s an age-old conflict and yet, this film manages to deal with this along with two sensitive and timely topics (racism and nationalism). Directed by Dome Karukoski, Heart Of A Lion is ultimately a provocative, suspenseful and engaging film that despite containing lots of gratuitous violence, exhibits real heart.

The start is quite ominous as the audience is introduced to the leader of the pack, Teppo Salminen (Peter Franzén). He’s the head of a group of neo-Nazi thugs who punish other races for being on welfare (even though they’re just as guilty of this) and for not being a racially pure Finnish person. Franzén shines as Salminen, who is one complicated and multi-faceted character.

One day Teppo meets a beautiful waitress, Sari (Laura Birn (Pearls and Pigs)). The two hit it off, go out and end up spending the night together. The next morning, however, Sari spots Teppo’s tattoos (including a swastika and The Finnish Coat Of Arms over his heart, which denotes nationalistic pride and is also where the film’s title comes from).

Sari throws Teppo out but the latter is hooked and gradually wins back her affections, only to discover that she has a son from a previous relationship. The child, Rhamadhani (Yusufa Sidibeh) has a father who is of African descent. This discovery will prove a shock to Teppo’s prejudices and will test his loyalties between his much-loved gang and his new-found girlfriend.

A criticism of this film is that Sari’s character is not fully described or realised. She falls pregnant with Teppo’s child and gets sick and is largely absent from the screen, as she is forced to remain in hospital. What transpires however, is a more in-depth analysis of Teppo and his psychotic and racist brother, Harri (Jasper Pääkkönen) who is running AWOL from the army. The leader’s gang follow a similar fate to Sari in that their motivations for being skinheads are not fully explored and in some scenes they appear to be violent just for the sake of it.

Over the course of the movie, Teppo goes through a kind of redemption. He evolves as a person and at times appears to outgrow his violent streak. But for every scene that shows him on the road to becoming a mature and caring father figure, there’s another one where he sits like a passenger and condones the explosive thuggery of his gang. It’s a strange dichotomy, one that is discomforting to watch but at the same time engaging, suspenseful and intriguing.

Heart Of A Lion does not contain too many surprises and at times it may even seem a little predictable. But even with these flaws, the film remains a rough diamond that shows a man’s love for his brothers in arms and his partner. It also shows how a man can change over time and become a “Dad”. Heart Of A Lion is a dark drama that doesn’t wallow too much in melancholy and instead celebrates a tough guy who is redeemed by lightness, love and sympathy.

 

Originally published on 25 June 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/06/25/film-review-heart-of-a-lion-leijonasydan-finland-sweden-2013/

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FILM REVIEW: YVES SAINT LAURENT

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The late, French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent will be the subject of two different biopics this year. The first is the eponymously-titled one from actor-turned-director, Jalil Lespert and is perhaps the most authentic film, as it had the full support of Saint Laurent’s lover and business partner. Pierre Bergé lent original outfits, designs, and sketches (not to mention his mansion) to the production. But this may have been at the expense of independence as this is not the edgy or gritty film that it could have been and only time will tell if Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent will fill this void.

This biopic is rather confusingly narrated by Guillaume Gallienne who is playing Saint Laurent’s lover, Bergé who takes us back in time to before they’d even met (and when Saint Laurent was designing outfits for his mother in Algeria). From there the young Saint Laurent would go work for and become the head creative director at Dior following the founder’s sudden death in 1957. Saint Laurent was a precocious man and he takes on but losses Dior’s top job in a wave of manic depression and bad publicity following controversial comments about the Algerian War of Independence.

Bergé who has by then met Saint Laurent offers a solution and that is for the latter to open up his own fashion house so that he can design and do what he likes. From there the legend is born. In this film, Pierre Niney stars as the lead character and does an excellent job of capturing Saint Laurent’s difficult, diva-like tantrums, his uncompromising personality and self-destructive nature. Niney also shares the same angular, physical traits as the fashion icon and he has the fragile, shy and delicate mannerisms down-pat. The scriptwriters also took quotes and extracts from articles to add a sense of realism to the voice of the piece.

Somewhere along the line however, things may have been lost in translation. The film plods along during the second half amid the label’s successes (like the Mondrian dress). Saint Laurent also gets to know Andy Warhol in the swinging sixties and succumbs to alcohol and drug abuse in the seventies. The decadence of the couple’s mansion in Morocco adds to the sumptuous aesthetic of the film (along with all those designs and creations) and this beauty will appeal to fashionistas but may lack widespread appeal beyond that group and some Francophiles.

The film is gorgeous, the outfits are exquisite and the jazz score adds to the overall ambience and mood. But one can’t help but feel like this story is a little thin as some events are glossed over (like Saint Laurent and Bergé splitting up and the designers’ death in 2008). Yves Saint Laurent is a good film but it would have been better if it had been more like Coco Chanel’s story and structured on smaller segments of his life. As it is, this film exhibits the same beauty, style and elegance as its subject but audiences may be left wanting a little more substance.

 

Originally published on 23 June 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/06/23/film-review-yves-saint-laurent-france-2014/

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LIVE REVIEW: THE BEATLE BOYS @ STATE THEATRE (21.06.2014)

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It was fifty years ago today that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. Not quite, but it has been that long since The Beatles did their first and only tour of Australia. The tribute band, The Beatle Boys would recreate their 1964 set as well as play another full set of classics, favourites and some obscure songs at the State Theatre. It proved to be one fun night and respectful tribute to the Fab Four.

The first act went for just 35 minutes but this was how long a headline act would typically perform for in 1964. The concert started with video containing black and white archive footage from the Australian tour when Beatlemania was in full force. From there, The Beatle Boys (John Kater as Paul, Christopher Lee Frazer as John, Rodney Auld as George and Michael Brady as Ringo) launched into the chugging pop of “I Saw Her Standing There”.

The guys even sang with the same inflections as the Liverpudlian group. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” featured some great harmonising and this is something that would be repeated in “This Boy”. Frazer and Kater even cracked the same sorts of jokes between songs as John and Paul did and they really captured the essence and accents of The Beatles. “All My Loving” was sweet and Auld did a great job playing the guitar solo. The band also made good with some covers including the stomping blues of “Roll Over Beethoven”, the ballad, “Till There Was You” and the song the Liverpudlians typically closed their shows with, “Long Tall Sally”.

During the intermission the audience were treated to cuts from The Beatle Boys’ cd, The Inner Light. At the start of the second act, the “Elvis of New Zealand, Johnny Devlin” made an odd and unnecessary cameo (he appeared on stage but didn’t sing or play). The boys had changed costumes into some army-like suits to signal a departure away from the mop tops from before. The set that followed was longer but contained more of The Beatles’ bigger hits and this really won over the crowd as the audience got the chance to sing, dance and clap merrily at different points.

The rat-a-tat clapping in “Eight Days A Week” was a blast, as was the incendiary riff in “Day Tripper”. “Help!” was so pleading and vulnerable while “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” boasted some trippy, kaleidoscope visuals but it lost a little sparkle through the vox amps. The boys used backing tapes for this one as well as the piano and brass parts in “Penny Lane”, as they stuck to the line-up of just four musicians using The Beatles’ traditional instruments (guitar, bass and drums).

The greatest love song of all time, the George Harrison-penned, “Something” was nothing short of magnificient. Auld’s solo rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” also fared well. The same could not be said for the sloppy version of “Revolution”, which lacked the fuzzy guitars and punch of the original. But from there, the boys hit their stride and tightened their playing during favourites like “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Back In The U.S.S.R” and the encore, “Hey Jude”.

The Beatle Boys’ set at State Theatre was a strong one that covered at lot of ground from the Fab Four’s career. While comprehensive, it was by no means exhaustive with the most glaring omissions being “All You Need Is Love”, “Ticket To Ride”, “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Lady Madonna”, among others. The Beatle Boys had just two costume changes and only some videos and photos to accompany them and for the most part, let the songs shine and speak for themselves. This was a smart and humble move by a great covers band who showed us how much The Beatles music continues to live on in our hearts and minds. Yeah yeah yeah.

The Beatle Boys’ Sydney set list (all songs originally written and performed by The Beatles unless otherwise noted):

1. I Saw Her Standing There
2. I Wanna Hold Your Hand
3. You Can’t Do That
4. All My Loving
5. She Loves You
6. Till There Was You (original written by Meredith Willson)
7. Roll Over Beethoven (original written by Chuck Berry)
8. Can’t Buy Me Love
9. This Boy
10. Twist & Shout (original written by Phil Medley & Bert Russell)
11. Long Tall Sally (original performed by Little Richard)

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12. Money (That’s What I Want) (original performed by Barrett Strong)
13. Love Me Do
14. From Me To You
15. Please Please Me
16. Eight Days A Week
17. I Should Have Known Better
18. Nowhere Man
19. The Word
20. I Feel Fine
21. Day Tripper
22. Help!
23. Penny Lane
24. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
25. Hello, Goodbye
26. Yellow Submarine
27. Something
28. Get Back
29. Come Together
30. Revolution
31. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
32. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
33. A Hard Day’s Night
34. Back In The U.S.S.R
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35. Hey Jude

 

Originally published on 22 June 2014 at the following website: http://lifemusicmedia.com/live-review-the-beatle-boys-state-theatre-sydney-june-21-2014/

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FILM REVIEW: THE GOLD SPINNERS

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Peedu Ojamaa once had the world’s greatest job. He was the founder and boss of the only commercial film studio in the Soviet Union at a time when the iron curtain ruled and there was a strictly planned economy. Advertisements were unnecessary as there was a shortage of goods due to government controls, but these same rules also specified that one per cent of a company’s budget had to be dedicated to advertising. This was like a licence to print gold and The Gold Spinners (Kullaketrajad) is an Estonian documentary that looks at this strange period in more detail.

The film is directed by Kiur Aarma (Disco and Atomic War) and draws together staged voice overs of Ojamaa as well talking head interviews with some of the directors from the period as well as a pop culture expert, a copywriter, and a model and singer who appeared in various commercials. Eesti Reklaamfilm studios were the brainchild of Peedu Ojamaa who had shown an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age when he asked for the discarded film negatives from the movie, Tarzan, and processed these into photographs, which he sold to his school friends.

From there, Ojamaa worked at the Evening Post as an on-scene reporter before being invited to cover a story on a film studio. When the Soviet Union granted a permit to make advertisements, Reklaamfilm studios was front and centre, as their ads used music, were more sharply edited and contained the things that people actually wanted to see. It didn’t matter if the products weren’t real or available for sale.

For a few seconds before film screenings, viewers were able to escape to the likes of: Paris, London, Finland, Italy or some other magical land. Another strange thing is that the Soviet governments over the years were paranoid about war secrets being released and checked things, but there were no rules or other censorship (like stopping nudity from being shown). The film ultimately reads like the perfect fodder for a segment or episode of The Gruen Planet.

The studio would make some 11,000 commercials and one of the directors even won a Bronze Lion award at Cannes. This documentary looks at capturing some of the more colourful advertisements- like one that was a “Thriller” music video parody, another featuring the Benny Hill theme, a commercial for motorcycles where an animation was used (as there was no bike) and one that even turned up in the film, Borat.

The Gold Spinners is an absurd, quirky and fun film. It could’ve been improved had a little more narrative been added to the story and context, but this is a minor quibble. Ultimately, this documentary is as bizarre as the creative work of the Soviet directors of the time and is easily the most upbeat set of newsreels and archive footage ever. Period.

 

Originally published on 19 June 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/06/19/sydney-film-festival-review-the-gold-spinners-kullaketrajad-estonia-2013/

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INTERVIEW: DIRECTOR, ADAM COOK ON A DOLL’S HOUSE

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Former Artistic Director of the State Theatre Company of South Australia, Adam Cook, will be adapting and directing Henrik Ibsen’s classic play A Doll’s House as part of the Seymour’s Reginald 2014 season and in collaboration with the independent theatre company, Sport for Jove. Natalie Salvo spoke to Adam about the production, which opens July 17th…

How would you sum up A Doll’s House in a few sentences?

The Helmers are all set to enjoy a prosperous new life together in their new home. Torvald has been promoted to a senior position at the bank and his wife Nora is thrilled. At last, they can put their financial troubles behind them. But their fragile happiness is shattered by the arrival of an unexpected visitor. As the lies that Nora has told, and the risks that she has taken to protect her husband are exposed, they’re forced to question just how perfect their marriage really is. Now, it seems, only a miracle will set them free.

Playwright, Henrik Ibsen is the most frequently performed dramatist in the world after Shakespeare. Do you have a favourite work of his?

I’ve always really loved his intensely focused chamber plays, like The Master Builder, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, and of course A Doll’s House. These are plays about big themes explored through boldly drawn characters.

What prompted you to adapt/work on A Doll’s House?

Damien Ryan, Artistic Director of Sport for Jove, the company for whom I am directing this production, invited me to choose a play that I would like to do at the Seymour Centre. We looked through the secondary school drama syllabus, wanting to choose a play that students were studying. We wanted to offer them an exciting production of the play, performed as it’s written. So it won’t be a re-write of the original play.

How will your production at the Seymour Centre differ from earlier adaptations of the show? Are you consciously trying to put a modern spin on this play?

I couldn’t yet predict how it will differ. I’ve seen some wonderful productions of the play. But I do know that our audiences will witness some brilliant acting and a riveting storyline. You don’t need to put a modern spin on a play whose concerns are timeless. The themes haven’t dated at all. We’re still facing the same problems, and I think we always will.

Do you have a favourite film or stage adaptation of A Doll’s House? If so, which one and why did you pick this particular one?

I don’t, actually, which is why I have written my own adaptation of the script. Each new production of a foreign-language classic needs a new translation of the text. The production will be set in its original period of the late 1800s, but the language will sound fresh and contemporary.

Journalist Michael Meyer once said that the play is not about women’s rights but rather, “The need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is and to strive to become that person.” Do you agree?

I do. It’s not just the story of a woman, it’s the story of a marriage, of flawed characters in a flawed relationship. Ibsen said that “self-realisation is our greatest task and highest happiness.” He’s right. He’d been accused of being a pessimist, and he was, in that he didn’t believe in the absoluteness of human ideals. But at the same time he was an optimist, believing totally in the ability of humanity’s ideals to grow and to develop.

The Seymour Centre website asks audiences whether Nora Helmer is a heroic feminist, rabid neurotic, or just a selfish runaway? What do you think, is she any of these or something completely different?

I don’t think there’s anything heroic about Nora, and she’s not meant to represent the emancipation for all womanhood. It’s a play about one woman’s awakening to the life-lie she’s been leading. She finds that she is somebody else, and that she wants something else. She’s full of doubts about her relationship with her husband and about her own identity. She doesn’t know what’s right or wrong. She is completely confused, and in order to find clarity, she makes a bold and shocking decision.

Why do you think audiences should come and see A Doll’s House?

It’s such an exciting and suspenseful story, full of ambiguity of character, secrets and surprises. Nora Helmer is a woman of such fascinating contradictions and I think audiences will find her very intriguing indeed.

Is there anything else you would like to tell the AU review’s readers about A Doll’s House?

Please book tickets and support a wonderful independent theatre company, Sport for Jove!

 

Originally published on 19 June 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/interviews/adam-cook-a-dolls-house-at-the-reginald-theatre

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FILM REVIEW: WATERMARK

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Humans need water. People are also made of water. And we affect water. The documentary, Watermark looks at the different experiences that society has with water, from celebration to pure science; from duress to progress and through spirituality and work, the many facets of this subject are covered by this ambitious project. But audiences will be left without their thirst for knowledge quenched because this film would work better if a greater depth were added to the storytelling.

The film is directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky, the team who were also behind the documentary, Manufactured Landscapes, which looked at the impacts of manufacturing and industry on the environment. The film and images are stunning with Burtynsky (a nature photographer) using the most powerful, luminescent and visceral shots that are actually the kind of thing that should be shown at an IMAX theatre. These are combined with lots of incidental music and atmospheric tones, meaning there is little context being offered and even less threading these different vignettes together. The result is something that is full of different moods but it is sometimes difficult to understand why we should care about the information that is being offered.

The opening scenes show Innocencia González Sanz, a local resident who has seen the once abundant Colorado River in Mexico deteriorate. It was one that had been full of fish and life but has completely dried up and now looks like a barren desert. The filmmakers then show a strange interview on a plane with Bill Nance whose responses are difficult to hear over the radio.

During this part, however, the directors do capture the Ogallala Aquifer, a water table that is being strained as more water is being used then can be replenished. The aerial shots are disarming but some more facts and research would’ve helped strengthen the message. Instead, the directors rely too much on talking heads with little information to verify these claims and even less drawing together all of the different elements.

Along the journey through water we learn about how scientists analyse ice structures to learn about the atmosphere, temperature and other aspects about the Earth’s climate from thousands of years ago. There is an interview with a Native American, Oscar Denis, who talks about the spiritual connection between humans and water. It’s a point that is further confirmed by the 30 million people who travel on a pilgrimage to bathe in the Ganges.

These personal stories in Watermark are telling, even though there are many tangents along the way (for example: to the US Surfing Open, the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas, abalone farming in China and leather manufacture in Bangladesh). The film is ultimately incohesive and haphazard and attempts to tackle too much (at once it is a celebration of water while at other points it looks at how we are destroying this very thing). The stills are gorgeous and it would make an amazing photo book but the overall story is where things fall over and one can’t help but feel like the film’s message has been diluted by its own subject matter.

 

Originally published on 17 June 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/06/17/film-review-watermark-canada-2013/

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FILM REVIEWS: Le Bonheur (Happiness), L’une chante, l’autre pas (One Sings, the Other Doesn’t) & Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond)

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Agnès Varda is a director who has a nose for a good story and an eye for the sublime. The Grand Dame of French New Wave Cinema started her career as a stills photographer and it is clear that she has brought these skills to her feature films. Her movies are often quite sensual and visceral pieces where each frame is beautiful (even if it’s dark and ugly) and is often an exercise in colour, lighting and experimenting with different palates and hues. Her films will form part of a season at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and The AU Review will now look at three features that will be playing.

 

Le Bonheur (Happiness) was Varda’s first colour film and at the time she received criticism for using too many pastel colours. She hit back and said it was in keeping with the story. The audience is shown a young and happy couple with two young children having fun and long weekends away in the idyllic French countryside. But as with much of Varda’s work, all is not as it seems.

 

The husband, François Chevalier (Jean-Claude Drouot) meets an attractive telephone operator, Émilie Savignard (Marie-France Boyer) and stars cheating on his pretty and successful wife (Claire Drouot). This bizarre love triangle results in Chevalier wanting it all. He feels like he can still maintain an intense relationship towards his family as well as exploring his new-found passion and feelings for this other woman. At a time when divorce was still quite uncommon, this would’ve been a fairly controversial idea but Varda doesn’t hold anything back with her sad, beautiful and ultimately, disturbing story.

 

By comparison, L’une chante, l’autre pas (One Sings, the Other Doesn’t) shows far stronger female characters and this was no doubt influenced by Varda’s burgeoning interest in feminism and women’s liberation. This film sees two women meet, one is a teenager named Pauline who becomes “Apple” (Valérie Mairesse) who is having trouble with her family. The other is Suzanne Galibier (Thérèse Liotard) who has two young children. The latter has an abortion and loses her partner and this results in the pair losing touch only to meet at a pro-choice rally some ten years later where they vow to keep in touch again.

 

This film uses lots of music, some of it is clunky and some is biting and full of the same clever wit and observations that Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell’s songs often exhibit. The women keep up with each other’s struggles and successes over time in life and love. This is a story full of adventure plus smart and free-spirited female characters and gorgeous imagery (both in the people and the landscapes). It also shows the iron-clad strength of female friendship and its overall triumphs.

 

By contrast, Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) isn’t about friendships unless they are of the superficial kind. Here, a young woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) is found dead and through a series of flashbacks, vignettes/episodes and brief interviews we learn about the life she spent camping and loafing around the countryside. She is a wild and unwashed creature, smelly, chain-smoking and poor and yet she manages to touch many lives through different encounters. The film is provocative and thought-provoking, an uncompromising and visceral tale about a mystery that remains a puzzle. It is perhaps Varda’s best work as it continues to haunt audiences after the credits roll.

 

Agnès Varda was a vanguard. She tackled topics close to her own heart and subjects that differed from the norm. In doing so she created highly rewarding experiences in French cinema. Her films offer more to audiences than initially meets the eye and are mostly uncompromised, balanced and steady in their storytelling and visual representations of strong and complex ideas.

 

Originally published on 16 June 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/06/16/classic-film-reviews-three-films-by-agnes-varda-france-ahead-of-the-acmi-retrospective/

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FILM REVIEW: DIOR & I

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Dior & I could be renamed “Dior & Co.” or “Dior & Us”. The documentary film goes behind the scenes at the French fashion house as the new creative director for Dior Haute Couture, Raf Simons prepares his debut collection. After John Galliano was unceremoniously fired amid controversy (he’d made anti-Semitic comments at a Parisian café), the new designer was given just five weeks to create a collection that would normally take around five months to prepare. Luckily, Simons had a small army of dedicated, charming and funny assistants, designers and ateliers (seamstresses) who put in the hard yards.

The film’s title is actually taken from Christian Dior’s own autobiography where he examined himself as both a man and a style icon in detail. Passages from his memoir appear hear in voiceovers. Archive footage and photographs are also worked in seamlessly, meaning the film’s namesake is never too far away.

Dior passed away suddenly in 1957 but his legacy has endured. There are workers at Dior who still believe his ghost haunts the organisation. There is also one scene in this film where Simons visits the founder’s childhood home and reveals that he had started reading Dior’s biography. But he had to stop reading it because he felt intimidated. He needn’t have worried, because the final, 54-piece collection would ultimately be respectful to the past but with enough modern twists and ideas to maintain its current relevance.

Dior & I marks the directorial debut of Frédéric Tcheng who is no stranger to fashion documentaries. The director had previously produced and edited Valentino: The Last Emperor and wrote and co-directed, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. But if there’s any documentary that Dior & I closely resembles then it is The September Issue and not just because Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington make cameos. Like the latter, Dior & Igives us a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the fashion world and shows just how much painstaking work, thought, analysis, creativity and effort goes into haute couture.

Simons’ collection ultimately has pieces that use A and H lines and borrow from Dior’s famous, 1950s silhouettes. The pieces are feminine, romantic and youthful and a big part of this is thanks to the ateliers/craftspeople at Dior. Simons used an unconventional method in designing. He didn’t draw sketches and instead gave his employees 10-12 concepts and had them draw up some 150-200 ideas that were eventually whittled down. The film looks at the whole process from concept to catwalk and focuses heavily on the easy-going, Florence and the anxiety-ridden, Monique who head up two teams of ateliers as wells as Simons’ affable, long-time assistant and collaborator, Pieter Mulier.

At the outset of the film it was difficult to know whether Simons would be able to rise to the challenge of creative director and Dior & I captures this tension beautifully. Simons had the added time pressure and was an unexpected choice at Dior as he had come from ready-to-wear fashion and had built a reputation as a minimalist who helped revive the skinny, black suit for men. But the pressure and stresses captured in this film pay-off with a momentous and gorgeous show at the climax, as walls of a townhouse are decorated with flowers (just like Jeff Koon’s puppy sculpture which sits outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain) and lots of exquisite outfits are shown.

Tcheng’s documentary is ultimately a respectful homage to the Dior name and the colourful employees that work there. The film is as crisp and clean as the immaculate outfits that were shown and the film is full of care and pride for the creative process. The audience will get the sense that this collection was a labour of love by Raf Simons and his merry workers and the same can also be said for this subtle, clever and artistic documentary.

 

Originally published on 15 June 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/06/15/sydney-film-festival-review-dior-i-france-2014/

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FILM REVIEW: GABRIELLE

Gabrielle

 

The theme of two lovers kept apart from their families or individual circumstances is hardly anything new. But Gabrielle is a film that deals with another rarely discussed subject and one that is infrequently depicted in cinemas. It is the love lives of the disabled and this film shows this with dignity and for the most part, it handles things with a deft touch.

The film’s star is Gabrielle Marion-Rivard – who like the character she is portraying – has a rare neurodevelopmental disorder called Williams Syndrome. As a result, she has learning difficulties which prevent her from living the “normal” life we all take for granted. But her redeeming features are that she has a loveable personality, a talkative and effervescent spirit and a passion for music.

Gabrielle lives in a group home which offers her the appropriate level of care and structure for her disability. She also works in an office and is a member of the choir, Les Muses de Montreal, which is led by Remi (Vincent-Guillaume Otis). All of the choir members are disabled and they have a great show to look forward to as they will be joining Quebec singer, Robert Charlebois in concert in the summer.

Through the choir, Gabrielle meets and falls in love with Martin (Alexandre Landry) (his character’s impairment is not revealed in the film). As their relationship blossoms, Martin’s harsh and over-protective mother, (Marie Gignac) tries to stop the pair from seeing one another. Gabrielle’s mother (Isabelle Vincent) is largely absent but her doting sister, Sophie (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) is supportive of the romance and Gabrielle’s determined quests for independence (even though she has limitations).

This film has a big heart and it offers a sympathetic and dignified portrait of two young people who must deal with society’s prejudices as well as their own challenges to living independently. Marion-Rivard proves a captivating lead and is engaging as she portrays some very relatable and normal human urges like: the need for autonomy, control and independence over one’s life. It means the film is sweet, nuanced and tender and it uses a lot of musical numbers to uplift and reinforce the mood at various points.

But Gabrielle is not without its fair share of pitfalls. The film is set over a few days in the lead character’s life and these episodes (working, going to choir rehearsals, being at home, etc.) have a tendency of being long, tedious and repetitive. It means the story is not as tight as it could be and this results in it lacking strength overall. Another problem is that there are times when the sound is completely silenced. This has a jarring effect on the audience and serves no obvious purpose except to make viewers as agitated and frustrated as the characters at that particular moment.

Gabrielle is an endearing family drama that is led by a courageous, determined and stubborn young woman who deserves full credit for carrying the weight of the film on her small shoulders. The story is deliberately low-key and it is raw in its depiction of the conflict and challenges that befall disabled people. It should also be commended for its choice of subject matter and the affectionate depiction of the characters. But one can’t help but feel like an opportunity has been lost along the way and stopped this film from being the stirring and poignant character study it should be.

 

Originally published on 13 June 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/06/13/sydney-film-festival-review-gabrielle-canada-2013/

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FILM REVIEW: LES PLAGES D’AGNÈS (THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS)

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Agnès Varda – the Grand Dame of French New Wave Cinema – has lived one rich and vibrant life. And in Les plages d’Agnès (The Beaches of Agnès) this is captured perfectly. The film is a strange documentary that is helmed by the doyenne art house director and lovable eccentric, as she candidly takes us by the hand and walks us through her remarkable life that has been filled with love, laughter and loss.

Born Arlette Varda in Brussels, Belgium, she was raised as a French child due to her mother’s ancestry. She was the self-described “independent” middle child of five kids and the daughter of Eugène Jean Varda, an engineer whose family were originally refugees from Greece. She remembers that her childhood was spent with many vacations to the beach before the family moved to the seaside town of Setè during the Second World War. It was here that she developed an affinity with the water and a love of photography and the latter grew into an appreciation of film (even though at age 26 she admitted to having only seen ten full-length features).

La Pointe Courte would mark her directorial debut. It was a film that showed a couple’s marriage deteriorating whilst set in a seaside town. At age 80 Varda revisits the place and discovers that a street has been named in her honour. The self-deprecating star also finds out what the child actors are doing now. As the film continues, one can’t help but feel like Varda is curious and intrigued more by other people than her own life, and it should come as no surprise that her films use a combination of fictional and biographical (or documentary-style) elements, as she borrows stories and anecdotes from the people around her.

In Les plages d’Agnès, Varda uses a mostly chronological style to recount the events from her life, including the films she has made (like: Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cléo from 5 to 7) and Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond)). But this documentary is anything but linear and at times verges on the downright weird. She looks happy as she revisits old places and recreates old scenes alongside archival footage and photos as well as adding the odd digression and aside. Some of the stranger scenes are when she allows herself to be interviewed by the camera shy, Chris Marker whose voice has been masked and whose features are replaced by those of an animated cat.

These days Varda seems more at home as a visual artist, creating multimedia, art installations out of digital footage while coupling together videos and objects. These images can be quite striking at times and are often reminiscent of her early days as a photographer taking shots of Fidel Castro and in communist China. One pitfall of this film is that there is a lot of assumed knowledge by Varda and while new fans of hers may choose this film as a primer or introduction to her work, it is worthwhile to have more than just a passing interest to her filmography.

Over the years Varda has worked with and befriended lots of amazing celebrities and stars like musician, Jim Morrison; actors, Harrison Ford, Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve; and filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard. Varda would also share a long marriage with fellow director, Jacques Demy and would make a number of films dedicated to him, including, Jacquot de Nantes. Demy died from AIDs in 1990 and Varda is shown later in a mournful scene where she throws flowers underneath a large black and white portrait of her late husband.

Agnès Varda describes herself as: “Pleasantly plump and talkative” and in Les plages d’Agnès she invites us all to have a coffee and a chat with her. This effervescent and charismatic woman is engaging, entertaining and creative as she nostalgically recalls and visits some interesting points in her life. This poetic and whimsical visual memoir is both playful and heartfelt, weird and engrossing and is a great portrait and celebration of a vivacious bohemian and her even more colourful life.

 

Originally published on 10 June 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/06/10/film-review-les-plages-dagnes-the-beaches-of-agnes-france-2008/

Visit The Iris’ homepage at: http://iris.theaureview.com/

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