Author Archive: robertwmonk

Movie Review – November (2017)

My review of the deeply strange fairy tale/folk horror is over at Flickering Myth and below…

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Rainer Sarnet’s beautifully strange rumination on love and loss set against a pagan backdrop of fairy-tale and mythological themes is a compelling journey through an unsettling dream landscape. The intense black and white cinematography calls to mind the work of filmmakers as diverse as Bergman, Lynch and Carl Theodore Dreyer, but Sarnet’s film is completely of itself, and manages to create its own fully formulated world.

Set in a surreal version of 19th Century Estonia, local peasant workers survive hunger and the cold through a mixture of begging, borrowing and stealing. Sometimes, in order to cheat death or the Devil, they are even persuaded to give up their souls to the animistic kratts; odd work constructs made from scrap metal and animal bones. These proto-robotic creations bring a sense of dark humour to the film, ambling along and calling out in disembodied voice cantankerous instructions and bleak warnings. The film brings out this working life clearly and in explicit detail. It is as if the day to day concerns of keeping the village in order just happens to involve these jumbled up combinations of souls and objects.

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Cinematographer Mart Taniel handles these oddities in entrancing tone and style, with the detail informing the greater world in complex and bewildering beauty. The film places the viewer knee deep in the muck and the mire of the ancient forest village, perfectly bringing to life a place of intoxicating wonder. There is a profound tone of phantasmagoria working alongside the grotesque that makes the villagers reactions to life in the world complete and, in some sense, real and understandable.

Amidst this deeply strange backdrop is what at first sounds like a traditional folk tale. Liina (Rea Lest) is in love with local village worker Hans, who is in turn infatuated with a visiting German baroness. Liina is willing to go to any lengths to win her love, as is Hans, and the whole plot of unrequited love gets mixed up with the greater goings on of life, death and metaphysics. Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England also managed to create this mix of the workings of daily activity with magic and belief interacting in the foreground, and November shares that film’s trippy observation of dream reality from the bottom up.

Pagan philosophy and Christian theology both have sway in this world, as does the threat of the mysterious Plague, an ever-present force, able to take on different forms – at one point  appearing as a goat, fans of The Witch will be pleased  to see – and keeping the environment on constant edge. The presence of Dieter Laser (The Human Centipede) as the father of Hans’ crush is an archly amusing cue to genre and horror fans that not everything is to be taken at face value. Laser, for his part, plays the role with a wry remove, seemingly always on the verge on a raised eyebrow, but never distracting from the greater show of the dreamscape at large.

In terms of storytelling, Sarnet clearly takes cues from Expressionism, with a disorienting visual style of greater import than dialogue or structure of scene. This combined with the evocative music by Jacaszek and a distinct use of sound, makes the film as beguiling and enticing as any darkly furnished vision of both the up-close and personal, and the beyond.

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In the park, but not down

In the park I feel able to relax, to experience a calm and peaceful tranquility away from the pressures and demands of my desk. The park is a new place to me, being as I am a newcomer to Sydney, but I have found it and the surrounding area to be extremely welcoming and inspiring. 

Most days I will take a stroll around the parkland, stopping to notice the various plants, trees and brightly hued birds swooping around the foliage or pecking on the ground’s surface. I sometimes sit with notebook and pen, scribbling down new ideas for stories or poems. But I don’t force them out of my head-space. I am soon drawn back to my present area and the park, and can feel happy and content to be a small part of something much bigger than myself.

My own culture is a mixture of things, but the concept of parkland originated in Europe, as I did, so I suppose we have that in common. More than anything else though, the idea of an urban park is a place in the city that everyone can enjoy equally and respectfully. And that is certainly something to get behind, I think…

Signal Strength

If they move to a different

part of the flat

the signal strength

improves.

The download speeds

get better

and so does the

streaming.

Talking gets easier.

It also improves

when they move

away from the

mirror.

The Present Moment

He had written this
Poem
Many times before
The one about the
Present moment
And the memory fakes

The need to look through
Confusion
To see it for what it is
A chance
To do anything
Anything at all

MyFrenchFilmFestival online now

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MyFrenchFilmFestival is online now and features lots of interesting stuff from the Francophone world (ie, not only France but the whole French speaking world).

Here are a couple of my reviews over at Flickering Myth…

The superb psychological thriller Into the Forest

and the funny and uplifting Crash Test Aglae

It’s a pretty interesting idea to have a whole film festival exclusively online, and it probably points towards the future. Much as I love cinemas, I guess it’s pretty good to see new and original exclusives at home sometimes too…

 

MyFrenchFilmFestival is available across the world on multiple streaming platforms. For more information
visit the official site here.

Mary and The Witch’s Flower

My review of Mary and The Witch’s Flower, the first anime from Studio Ponoc, is over at Filmink and below…

mary

Mary, an imaginative and inquisitive young girl, is spending the last week of the summer break with her great aunt Charlotte at the village of Redmanor. Bored at home with no working TV set or friends of her own to play with, she tries to help out around the house, but constantly drops things due to her clumsiness. This boredom, plus anxiety over her self-image and red hair, brings out a multitude of worry and stress ahead of the new school year. After not immediately seeing eye to eye with local boy Peter, she meets his two cats Tib and Gib wandering through the misty woods. Following the cats directly leads to the discovery of a bunch of eerie fly-by-night flowers growing in the wild. She takes them home and before knowing too much about it, Mary and Tib are whisked away into the sky on a broomstick.

Eventually crashing into Endor college (no relation to the Forest Moon in Return of the JediStar Wars fans), a training camp for would-be witches and magic users, Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill) is immediately enrolled as a student on the strength of her impressive powers. Unbeknowst to headmistress Madam Mumblechook (voiced by Kate Winslet) and head scientist/mage Doctor Dee (voiced by Jim Broadbent), all of Mary’s magic comes directly from the fly-by-night flowers. With some quick thinking and a little deception, she manages to keep the unexpected untruth going for an entire day, impressing the college with not only her magic skills, but also her red hair, which is a sign of tremendous power. However, when the untruths begin to mount up, Mary indirectly puts her new friend Peter in danger. She begins to discover exactly what kind of experiments Doctor Dee is undertaking, and just why he and Madam Mumblechook are so obsessed with the so-called witch’s flower.

The first movie from Studio Ponoc, this new anime is directed by Hirmoasa Yonebayashi, an acclaimed graduate of the famous Studio Ghibli. Known for When Marnie Was There and Arriety. Released in both the original Japanese with English subtitles and a dubbed version featuring well-known actors, the film creates a spellbinding atmosphere of classic wonder with a lively script that zips along at a fast pace. While not veering off so far into the fantasy (there is only one non-human with a speaking part, the fox or dog-like Flanagan, the caretaker of the College’s broomstable) of Spirited Away style-surrealism, the world is exceptionally well-drawn and creates an energetic and transporting fairy tale.

Based on Mary Stewart’s children’s novel The Little Broomstick, the film takes rural England as its setting and conjures up the country landscape vividly. Drawing comparisons with Ghibli favourite Kiki’s Delivery Service as well as the Harry Potterseries of books and films, Mary and The Witch’s Flower can hold its head above the magic lava with the best of stories about young witches. With a powerful message of trusting animals and the natural world above and beyond science and technology – sometimes referred to as ‘magic’ – this is a delightful film that kids – and adults – of all ages will enjoy and remember fondly.

A Woman’s Life

My review of ‘A Woman’s Life’, an adaptation of de Maupassant’s Une Vie, is over at Flickering Myth and below…

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Life is never as good or as bad as one thinks, wrote Guy de Maupassant in his novel Une Vie, the source material for this sombre and touching film from Stéphane Brizé (The Measure of a ManMademoiselle Chambon).

Essentially this is a story of expectations. Jeanne (Judith Chema), the daughter of nobility in mid 19th-century France has led a sheltered existence for most of her early life. Days spent tending the garden and learning about the natural growth of things with her father the Baron Simon (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) fill the innocent convent school educated Jeanne with happy delight.

This life rapidly changes following a semi-arranged marriage to Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud), an unpleasant young man whose family are not as affluent as Jeanne’s. Emasculated by this fact, he takes every opportunity to stake whatever claims on authority he has – from pettily controlling the temperature of the farm house by restricting the use of fire wood, to far more sinister and abusive actions. The unsuitable young man forces himself upon the maid Rosalie (Nina Meurisse) and also conducts an affair with another member of the aristocracy Gilberte de Fouville (Clotilde Hesme). 

A woman's life 2

A melancholy tone thus descends upon Jeanne’s life. A young woman, once so innocent and in love with nature becomes progressively depressed and dejected by the cruel twists of the events that evolve around her. Her own motherhood offers little hope, merely bringing out the divisions between men and women even more clearly. Constantly brought down by the realities of life, the audience is left hoping for Jeanne to take decisive action. When this does not appear to be likely, the hope switches towards the future and the possibility for change.

A mostly handheld-shot work of dreamlike ambience, the story is partially told through remembered scenes and fractured interpretations of past events. Occasionally scenes, such as Jeanne and lost best friend Gilberte dancing around the garden in their Sunday best are played out more than once, heightening the intensity and Jeanne’s dwelling on previous happier times.

Music is used sparingly in the film, with just one piano piece from Oliver Baumont used throughout. Jeanne’s poetic narration segments are metaphoric diary entries, adding another layer of what is a film of despairing fragility. Finding emotional depth in long scenes with little action or no dialogue, Brizé’s film brings out markings of the anxiety and complex details of the everyday of Jeanne’s life. And it is unmistakably her life – for there is no other perspective on the actual events that have so damaged her and brought her into such despair. This experimental style of approach is a courageous one, telling a tale of personal tragedy with no other witness than the central player herself. A deeply expressive and thoughtful film.

Movie Review – House of Salem

Review of Brit crime/horror film is over at Flickering Myth and below…

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Writer/director James Crow (Curse of the Witching Tree) makes stylish use of genre mixing in this feature, with a blend of British crime thriller and supernatural horror keeping suspense up to the max with plenty of surprises in store. Calling to mind the 1970’s psychological thriller output of Hammer Films (films like Demons of the Mind and Fear in the Night (both 1972) or more recent examples of Brit Horror crime thrillers such as Kill List (2011) which meld different genre elements into a horror film, House of Salem delights in never really letting the audience know where it’s going. Both weird and unnerving, it succeeds in creating a disarming level of edgy terror.

Following the abduction of young Josh (Liam Kelly) by a group of big-city clown masked villains, the group soon finds out that their safe-house is not so safe. Receiving their demands for cash becomes the least of their concerns as it becomes apparent that the child is wanted for something completely different and far darker. A grim playfulness takes part in the situation and the location’s psyching out of the gang, with blood and shadows messing with their heads and disrupting the usual work-rate of a kidnapping job. All of this unsettling weirdness and well captured strange visions moves the story away from its crime thriller beginnings into strange horror.

The performances are notably good, with Jessica Arterton (the debut of the cousin of Gemma Arterton) interacting well with both Liam Kelly’s stolen kid and Leslie Mills’ bullying tough-guy boss. The sense of the gang stepping out of a Brit crime drama into something far darker adds a whole other level to the movie, and scenes of the group struggling to figure out exactly what is going on have a dreamy, surreal quality to them that works well.

The main criticism is that the film could have been edited of a few scenes just before the climactic ending – which although chilling is working with one too many ideas and a whole load of characters, some introduced without much background information or actual need. By the time that the majority of characters have been killed off and new ones have appeared, a little of the drama has been lost. However, at its best House of Salem is a creepy example of a devilish horror thriller mixed with Brit crime and home invasion genres, with a decent amount of scares and surprises thrown in.

In Praise of Daydreaming

I am waiting for a delivery of an item of technology that will make life easier. It will adapt our home’s existing telephone output and update it into something more suitable for a modem connection, thus allowing access to the Internet, or the World Wide Web as it was once known. The telephone output adapter will be packaged in various plastic materials that will not decompose for at least thirty thousand years, and possibly never.

Right now I am in that enviable position of being in the present – the Here and Now – and not needing to do much other than simply wait. As I am – I think – a sentient creature, I ruminate and write at the same time.

Much has been made recently of the psychological practise mindfulness and how it can help keep thoughts focused and mental energy more efficient. While I believe it is helpful to not dwell on thoughts, be they positive or negative, some proponents of the technique claim that for a mind to be functioning at its optimum it needs to be in the Here and Now and not daydreaming or wandering. I feel this does a disservice to mental strolls along imaginary pathways and lanes. I think the mind is capable of being both in the present and also able to let things free-up and lose itself down different routes.

In short, I’m a big fan of daydreaming.

I believe daydreaming reveals the different aspects of the mind and personality to the I, without the codified stern warnings and rebukes of the ego. It lets forces of the imagination out into the internal world, with the option of creative interpretations finding a space in the external world. Dreams and nightmares make us what we are. Keeping hold of a route to discover and rediscover the forces beyond and behind the everyday, as well as the universal themes and designs of what we call reality can only be a good thing in my opinion.

Now back to the wait… and the daydreaming.

Like an abandoned shopping trolley in the breeze

Like an abandoned shopping trolley in the breeze

He moves back and forth on the bench

Shuffling his notes around

Waiting to speak

The time doesn’t arrive

He moves back and forth on the bench