I couldn’t help but remember these unnerving supernatural occurrences as I watched the odd, unnatural happenings in what is otherwise a normal family reunion in TOWER. A BRIGHT DAY.Read More
“Believing that plot and writing are connected is one of the mad beliefs of our culture”. Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel said this during a post-screening Q&A when asked about the difficulty of screenwriting what is essentially a plotless film.Read More
Dir. Samuel Maoz
The box step of the foxtrot moves the dancer so they end up in the same place they started with. Front step, together, right step, together, back step, together, left step, together and repeat. It is a simultaneous metaphor for the cyclical nature of war, the unyielding Israeli conflict, and an in-movie reference to the NATO alphabetic representation of the letter F. A soldier dances the foxtrot for his comrade as they both man a border gate along with two other soldiers. Like the dance, they are moving in the same routine and they are all bored to death. But this is not where it begins.
The film begins with a woman collapsing on the floor as she opens the door to her home. At first the camera focuses on her face and we don’t see why she’s reacting the way she does but the two Israeli soldiers in uniform who appear then make it clear that this is a message of death. Her son, one of the aforementioned group of soldiers, has been killed during his service. The way the camera looks at this scene - meticulous, attentive, unhurried - is evidence that this is a film guided by a director who understands visual storytelling. The camera faces the exact place of tension as if it’s a homing device directed towards dramatic heat.
This is a story of a grieving family and a group of stultified soldiers living through the endless Israeli conflict. From the opening scene, it leads us to believe that the story will progress in a particular way but as this three-part narrative unfolds, it comes with surprises large and small. While the subject matter sounds depressing there is intermittent liveliness throughout. There are dance interludes, absurd humour and even an animated sequence. It’s the kind of movie that keeps you paying attention from its sheer inventiveness and wit.
Like the steps of the foxtrot, this film is diagrammatic in its structure and visual language. You can trace an imaginary line or, as it turns out, a series of circles that links its thematic explorations, visual motifs and camera movements back to itself. When the family receive the news of their loved one’s death the camera draws a spiral around the room, moving as if it’s as disorientated by the news as the characters. Later, we see that the soldier’s quarters inside a shipping container is sinking on one side from the soft mud. Cinematographer Giora Bejach shoots a wide shot of this interior with the subjects leaning down on one side. Another line is drawn. Even the very ground they stand on can no longer hold itself.
The shot compositions aren’t the only elements you can draw lines with. There are visual references that circle back to itself. One of those motifs is a wandering camel. We see it first as it aimlessly walks through the border where the soldiers are and later play a key role in the plot’s development. It is both a dramatic catalyst, a punchline and, again, a metaphor for the film’s themes. If you’ve read some of my previous writing, you would know I don’t care much for metaphorical interpretations in films but the way director Samuel Maoz employs them here is so organic that it’s hard to separate them from the overall effectiveness of this brutally direct dark comedy. It exudes directorial confidence, is full of inventive formal approaches and certainly a cinematic gem worthy of attention. Even though it has the same rhythm and structure of a foxtrot, even when we end up at the same place by the end, it feels like something has changed.
This film is part of the 2018 Sydney Film Festival lineup on June 6-17.
Go to sff.org.au for more details.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Claire Foy, Juno Temple, Joshua Leonard and Jay Pharaoh
Shot entirely on an iPhone and all the freedoms and limitations that come with it, UNSANE delivers formal experimentations that elevate the is-she-or-isn’t-she genre to new heights. Here, the medium is the message. This nimble device, more mobile than conventional film cameras, become an extension of Soderbergh’s restless mind and wandering eye. He’s a director always in search for the new in this medium of cinema and the most fascinating thing about his movies is how he revises the idea of movies. Unlike other directors who cling to certain ideas about what film is or should be, Soderbergh is more interested in the could-be.
And what could be more fascinating than seeing something blown up on the big screen filmed with something I’m writing this very review in and quite possibly on the same device you’re reading this with. He sets up this film as a psychological thriller and embeds modern anxieties, most of which stems from the mobile phone, like the contortions of identity, the stripping away of agency and privacy as control. These anxieties are realised with relentless energy from Claire Foy who plays a woman who, against her will, is admitted into a mental facility. To add to her horror, the stalker who she has moved to a new city for is working there under a new name.
In today’s digital world, surveillance, whether we knowingly sign up for it or not, sits uneasily at the back of our minds. Most of us pour so much of our identities online that when an institution makes use of and take advantage of that, it feels like we are trapped. Mobile phones play a crucial part both within the story and behind the scenes and Soderbergh uses the vernacular of online visual content to simultaneously make what we’re looking at feel familiar as well as disturb us.
The perspective is skewed in wide shots making the scale between subjects uneven, giving a feeling of uneasiness while emphasising the imbalance of power. It’s the same kind of shot you see when you put your phone down on a table and record yourself or when being surreptitiously filmed. The close-ups are intrusive and direct. It’s not like a conventional cinematic closeup. It’s ugly and uncomfortable to look at. For a movie like this, it’s perfect and it works well for a ruthless performer like Claire Foy who can pull off the larger, more aggressive scenes but also pull off the micro-reactions - twitches and eye movements - to great effect.
Filming with a phone creates this effect of looking like a found footage movie but without actually being one. It doesn’t have to explain itself (who’s filming and holding the camera?) nor does it have to address rules to explain why the shot looks a certain way. It just is. The camera is somehow detached from what it is shooting but at the same time hold its own presence within it. The camera oscillates as character perspective and character surveillance. And that’s what mobile phones do. They broadcast our lives so that we feel we are given the freedom to express anything and everything but in exchange for the diminution of our private lives. Trapped and free all at once.
In many ways Wakanda is a Utopia. Enriched with a valuable resource called vibranium, they are able to build a technologically advanced society without needing to trade or seek aid from other countries. Isolated and hidden from the rest of the world (described as the actual El Dorado), this land and its people aren’t marked by trauma.Read More
There’s something comforting about the baffling. You know that feeling when a filmmaker takes a hard turn, a decision they make that jolts and makes you sit up, whether that’s by a decision to cut a scene in a particular way, or how they frame a face, or how they tiptoe out of realism and take a dip into something like magic.Read More
Director Lanthimos has fashioned himself his own cinematic universe. Each film has its own set of bizarre rules. His last film, the Lobster, involved people being turned into animals if they don't find a spouse.Read More
2017, Denis Villeneuve
4.5 out of 5 stars
Set in a hyper-manufactured future where authenticity is a scarce and precious resource, it is no surprise that every design element in this world seeks to either project or mimic the real. One person confesses they have never seen a tree in person before. When the movie first opens with a bird's eye view of California, any sign of a natural landscape is nowhere to be found. The city is a machine with no discernible purpose. Once the camera descends down into the domestic scale this problem of the real is still there.
When we look at a person we search for clues to tell us whether they are a Replicant or a human. We question their humanness and wonder whether our eyes are being deceived. When a person enters the frame we don't ask who they are but what they are.
At first it was difficult to form a human connection or feel empathy towards someone who we know isn't human, even if they were carefully designed to embody the essence of one. Only tiny serial numbers embedded into their biology would tell you that they are human-made. Or they look human until you realise they are slightly translucent. They are made of light and projection. Eventually these artificial surfaces collapse from the sheer weight of authenticity that these non-humans convey. In the words uttered by one of the Replicants: "we are more human than humans."
A buried box propels the mystery that sets off the plot but its stories of love that underpin the entire movie. Love stories with a science-fiction twist. It reminded me a lot of Spike Jonze's HER, another movie that asks how two people can love when one or both don't possess a body or soul.
One love scene in particular is one of the saddest and sweetest things I've seen this year. Watching the characters try to search and feel something close to love - something they were never made for - was intensely moving. Making great use of visual effects, for intimacy rather than spectacle, it conveys so much of what the film is questioning. The real, the imagined, the projected, the manufactured, the human and the human-like merge and coalesce into something sublime.
What is admirable about Villeneuve is that he never gets carried away with the concept. Like his previous film ARRIVAL, in my view one of the best science-fiction films made this decade, he never forgets the emotional core that anchors the ideas. The way story is crafted and arranged is always to serve the purpose of delivering insight into how humans behave, think and feel. To say more about this would give too much away. But at its close, and especially in the second viewing, I found the movie's pace and structure designed deliberately to culminate to a poignant conclusion.
Forget the allegories, forget the explanations, forget the interpretations. These are uninteresting because metaphors are boringRead More
An army of faces I barely remember. An agonising wait for rescue. A whirlwind of micro-narratives that bleed into each other until it paints a picture of war. War movies are most memorable when they are immersive. When the spectator is dropped in the middle of the action and the chaos envelopes the senses. This is what Nolan achieves in this film and more.
The opening sequence feels like being dropped with a parachute and left disoriented in the company of unknown soldiers. We get no introduction of each character. There isn't a protagonist in a traditional sense. In a way, we are the protagonist. The camera captures in the first-person. What we see is immediate and within reach. We follow the soldiers and we get to know them by simply watching them be.
Because of this, there is no time wasted for exposition or, consequently, for clunky explanatory dialogue. This is probably because Christopher Nolan's usual co-writer, his brother Jonathan Nolan, had nothing to do with the script (good riddance) and instead the script focuses on building tension and atmosphere through sounds and images. It's a classic example of show and don't tell.
What this generates is a series of intensely beautiful, intensely moving and intensely brutal moments. The emotional atmosphere flows like an unpredictable body of water, letting the drama unfold naturally and without the distracting presence of a screenwriter with their bothersome structures and perfectly packaged parcels of dialogue. That is not to say that this movie is pure chaos, there's still a structure but it is a more natural one.
This lack of artifice extends to the special effects. Nolan relies on practical effects with real objects that hold weight and real locations that imbue a sense of history. Everything just looks real. When the ships topple over, you feel its heaviness groan into your bones. When you watch the actors swim in an ocean of spilled oil, you feel it sticking to your skin and smell its stench. It is truly a big screen experience. I would encourage all who can to see this in 70mm. I cannot imagine the time-soaked cinematography would lend itself well to digital projection.
Finally, another reason to see this in the theatre is for the magnificent score by Nolan's usual collaborator, Hans Zimmer. The score seamlessly melds with the images and action that it becomes difficult to discern between which is music and which are the sounds of war. Zimmer composes an unrelenting symphony of war and destruction. I can't recall a scene that was not filled with sound - it's always there.
Dunkirk is Nolan's most direct expression of his skill as an image-maker. It isn't bogged down by anything unnecessary like plot twists and mind-bending tricks. It isn't dampened by eye-rolling monologues about how love transcends space and time. It communicates its grand themes by simple gestures: a soldier stripping off his uniform carrying his sorrows out to sea or a general looking into his binoculars and seeing home coming towards him.
Image courtesy of Warner Bros
"They do not deserve you", Diana's mother tells her before she leaves the maleless paradise island of Themyscira and embarks on a mission to destroy Ares the god of war out in the land of men where WWII is raging. She could be talking directly to us.Read More
Race defines, therefore race confines. The colour of our skin, unfortunately, is the assigned map one uses to navigate, or is navigated, or how others navigate themselves around you.Read More