The fantastic Icelandic film Woman at War is over at Filmink and below. . .
A joyous and warm-hearted comedy drama taking on essential contemporary issues such as ecological activism, modern motherhood and community identities, Woman at War is a captivating examination of a bruised world in need of repair. Somehow managing to find optimism and positivity in a script focusing on climate change and societal chaos, the film has a fairy tale like quality about it; an effect only enhanced by a Nordic absurdity and surreal camera play.
Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), a woman in her forties, has declared war on the aluminium industry at work near her home town. An eco-warrior hell-bent on shutting down power supplies, she employs military style tactics and a steely determination. Putting everything at risk to curtail the damage being done to her Icelandic homeland and the world at large, she wages a one woman war to put a stop to the unrestricted threat of big business and manufacturing.
Halla’s endeavours lead to her fellow townsfolk wondering just who is behind the shocking power outages. Known only by her alias of ‘The Woman of the Mountain’, she goes from stealthy saboteur moves by night, to teaching local choir classes by day. Her cover is complete, and no one suspects a thing.
Aided by remote farmer Sveinbjörn (Jóhann Sigurðarson) – who may or may not be her cousin – she takes to the remote country, watching out for drones, helicopters and all the powers of the state as they focus their attention on what they believe to be an overseas terrorist threat.
But just as she is about to launch her biggest operation yet, a surprise letter arrives informing her that her four-year-old application to adopt an impoverished child has been successful.
Effectively forcing her to choose between her fight against unfettered capitalism and a lost little girl in need, Halla must show all of her courage to conquer a crisis on all fronts. She also needs to win the trust of her twin sister Asa, a yoga instructor (also played by Geirharðsdóttir) with her sights set on a meditative retreat in India.
Featuring a superb lead performance from Geirharðsdóttir, Woman at War is a startlingly original piece, mixing up Icelandic humour and weirdness with grave dilemmas currently being faced all over the world.
Erlingsson creates an attractive picture cinematically, showcasing the striking sights of Iceland’s countryside in a fashion that certainly won’t do their tourism industry any harm. He also decides on using a whimsical take for the film’s score by bringing the brass band and trio of traditional singers onto the screen, occasionally sharing a knowing glance or nod with Halla as she goes about her own personal business of saving the world. A strange and beautiful film, this is an Icelandic delight to savour.
My review of the haunting micro-budget indie Feral is over at FM and below…
An eye-opening study of a side of New York rarely shown on screen, Andrew Wonder’s Feral is a haunting story that forces a confrontation with the realities of homelessness.
With a subterranean, underworld setting echoing themes in films as diverse as feature documentary Dark Days (2o00) and recent Jordan Peele hit Us (2019), Feral is an examination of stark loneliness and the masks everyone wears to deal with reality. Bringing a focused gaze towards the dangers homeless people face every day, the film is at once unsettling and impossible to ignore.
These dangers are not limited to being out on the streets. Serious problems in the entire infrastructure of aiming to help homeless people are addressed with a fixed eye. The additional abuse problems that homeless women contend with – even when off the street – are displayed too. Whether as part of government bodies or religious charitable organisations, for homeless women there are always sexual predators looking to take advantage of the most vulnerable.
The film tells the story of Yazmine (powerfully played by Annapurna Sriram), a young woman living in the vast network of tunnels underneath Manhattan. Left on her own from the age of 16, following her mother’s deportation, Yazmine exists from day to day. Navigating her way through the underground tunnels of Manhattan, she emerges to attempt to find food and sustenance wherever and however she can.
The film never backs away from the harsh truths of what surviving on the streets means. For Yazmine, it sometimes involves picking up guys in order to get away from the freezing New York winter nights. A complex and moving scene shows her meeting up with a sensitive musician (Kevin Hoffman), and enjoying a drunkenly romantic evening as young New Yorkers. However, the great distance between their two internal worlds can’t be bridged.
Other encounters show how the kindness of strangers can be misguided. This is the case with the elderly lady who invites Yazmine into her home and offers her food and drink and talks to her about her past in the city. The two dance together in a beautifully realised capturing of movement and feeling. The outcome of the lady’s best intentions is far less uplifting.
Ultimately Yazmine’s journey is a mysterious and lonely one. She is able to don different guises and play various roles as a key to survival; we are left with the impression that after performing for so long, surviving is the defining factor in who she is. It’s an incredible showcase for Annapurna Sriram, an actor bound to gain a lot of attention from this role.
Feral covers a complicated and serious issue. It’s clear that with a strong creative vision and a talented cast, films on a micro-budget can make a memorable impression.
Review of low-budget horror/crime film The Basement over at Flickering Myth and below…
Taking elements from crime and horror movies such as Silence of the Lambs, Hostel and Saw and putting them all together in a sickly grim stew, at first look The Basement doesn’t appear to be doing anything too original. Horror fans have seen a setup of character gets abducted by a lone nut and tortured in different ways countless times. However, with strong performances from its two leads and a collection of disturbingly entertaining scenes plus a strong resolution, the low-budget flick is worth sticking with.
Focusing on the interplay between imprisoned wealthy rock guitarist Craig (Cayleb Long) and serial killer Bill Anderson (Jackson Davis), most of the film is set in the basement of the title, where the two perform their bizarre psycho-therapy session.
The film has a good line in bleak humour, thanks to Long’s skill at bringing in different characters from his past and playing them out to Craig, who in turn is forced to perform the part of Bill. The ongoing session is alternately funny and tragic, with a few moments of close-up gross out torture.
The other sections of the film fare less well. Mischa Barton, the best known name in this film, is good as Kelly, but has less time to develop her role as the wife of the missing Craig. She does well with the scenes she is in, however, and is part of the wider story that elevates the film over a purely simplified shock and horror plot. Her scenes with best friend Bianca (Bailey Anne Borders) in the high luxury of her LA mansion are nicely put together and contrast well with the horrors that her partner is undergoing in the basement.
While the film is noticeably low-budget, it is put together professionally and features some good cinematography and edits. The pace mostly switches from extended scenes in the basement back to Kelly and Bianca trying to decide what to do next. Effective music and sound design also work in amping up the tension bit by bit.
Overall, given the pretty common start off for the movie, it turns out to be a surprisingly decent film. While baring some surface similarities with the M. Night Shyamalan movie Split, it turns out to be a very different beast, and is more in keeping with crime and suspense tales rather than anything more fantastical. What we have with The Basement is a horror designed to shock and surprise. It passes the test.
Review of post-global virus thriller What Still Remains is over at Flickering Myth and below…
Oh, the apocalypse. Edging ever closer it seems, and in the thriller What Still Remains it’s there in all its grim glory. Desolate mountaintops and lonely valleys are captured in fine detail, bringing home a real sense of fragile isolation in this post-global virus world. The hunt for edible food, while also avoiding the scarred zombie-like ‘berserkers’ proves to be a quest in itself for anyone attempting to live more than five minutes.
Amidst this backdrop recently bereaved of her family Anna (Lulu Antariksa), has to decide how much she can trust Peter (Colin O’Donaghue), a tough warrior type who promises her safe passage to his community across the wilds.
Both Anna and the audience soon have their doubts, not least when Peter proves to be just a little too trigger happy. But he seems a far better bet than the survivors marauding around at every turn. Plus, he has nicer hair.
But in all seriousness, this gets to the heart of this moralistically ambitious film. It asks the question ‘who’s the most human?’, the good looking ones who speak properly and have all the right survival equipment, or the ones who howl and whistle and wear animal masks?
The two leads play against each other well enough, and there is a palpable sense that something horrible is just around the corner. And being a post-apocalyptic landscape, that is an entirely reasonable guess.
Also without giving too much away, there is also a good link between survivalist communities and cult religions of the kind that would undoubtedly spring up in such a situation. In this community Mimi Rogers’ character provides some icy tension of life in a home constantly under threat from outsiders.
All in all, the film provides a disturbing enough look at what could be in store for a badly messed up Earth. But with too much of the weight of humanity – and the film itself – specifically being carried by the lead, it doesn’t really have enough to go truly viral.
My review of French comedy C’est La Vie is over at FilmInk and below…
The high stress, anxiety and emotion of planning a wedding reception is explored in this French comedy of manners.
Nakache and Toledano’s (The Intouchables, Samba) film follows experienced caterer Max (Jean-Pierre Bacri) as he attempts to throw a lavish wedding reception for Helena and Pierre in a grand 17th century chateau. He has delivered hundreds of wedding receptions in the past, all without a problem. What could possibly go wrong?
Pretty much everything as it turns out. Max and his team have been tasked with creating an event that is ‘sober, chic and elegant’. But we wouldn’t be left with much of a story if that was the outcome. Instead, farcical moments keep coming thick and fast, as we go from one pratfall to another. Max’s face displays a fixed grin at times, with the tension of the night threatening to explode at any moment.
He constantly instructs the staff to ‘adapt’, even when there are power outages and the only way to stave off guests’ hunger is with pastries and sparkling water.
Although the film is humorous by nature, with elements of slapstick tied in, it also has a sensitive humanitarian value at its heart. The stories of the players allow for a good measure of social realism to tincture the laughs, with Vincent Macaigne’s nervous-breakdown recovering teacher, Alban Ivanov’s clueless cook and Jean-Pierre Rouve’s lost photographer all played with heartfelt compassion.
A key feature of the film is that all the characters are largely sympathetic. Even when they are lashing out at each other, there’s always a perceivable reason why. So, when the party entertainer James (Gilles Lellouche) and Max’s assistant Adele (Eye Hadira) are sniping at each other in ever more comic and snarky tones, we always know why and appreciate the characters of both.
The element of reality keeps even the more absurd comic scenes firmly grounded, with subtly deployed scripting and cinematography offering the audience an insight into the characters’ inner lives. Dramatic internal struggles are touched upon and artfully hinted at, and we are left with a story of believable people with realistic concerns and aims.
Ultimately though, it’s a roaring good comedy which does far more for French film than it does for the wedding reception industry, which looks like bloody hard work. Still, c’est la vie…
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…
The following review of the documentary feature ‘Europe at Sea’ appears below and over at Flickering Myth.
Europe at Sea, an hour-long documentary film covering a wide range of issues all centred on the EU’s ability to cope with the various threats to its security, is a skillfully produced investigative feature.
Focusing on Federica Mogherini, the head of the EU Foreign and Security Policy as she formulates a global approach to world and European issues, the film mixes her personal responses to the job with insightful journalism on the ongoing issues of the day.
Mogherini is in effect the lead of this film, and her willingness to discuss and put across new ideas in the planning and development of security issues is the film’s most important comment. Her relative youth for such a high position is looked at, with her experience and ability being cited alongside the EU’s desire to bring fresh ideas into play for tackling new and unexpected concerns.
Produced by the film company Springshot, the documentary blends powerful cinematography with animated segments to present hard-hitting facts and information. A balanced and occasionally dryly humourous voice-over also helps to contextualise the quick delivery of information. Designed partly to take viewers away from dull political rhetoric and ill-informed tirades, Europe at Sea takes a close look at how Europe is able to combat the rapidly growing security and humanitarian challenges that are present both within and outside its borders.
The sobering and disquieting footage of the migrant crisis and its impact is one of the areas the film looks at in detail. Operation Sophia – named after a rescued Somali woman’s baby born on a German frigate and operating since 2015 – is followed closely as the camera crew were allowed exclusive access to their working schedule in the Southern Mediterranean Sea.
The film also examines the implications of Donald Trump’s America, the threat of North Korea and the confusion surrounding the UK’s Brexit vote. All of this is presented taking a methodical and balanced approach, making the most of both the powerful visuals and Mogherini’s practical and professional approach to showcase the essential work being done.