Director: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Reicke, Emma Howard
Thomas P Cullinan’s 1966 novel The Beguiled was first adapted for the screen by Don Siegel in 1971 with Clint Eastwood in the lead (immediately preceding their collaboration on Dirty Harry) in a film which played up the story’s horror elements. Writer-director Sofia Coppola’s adaptation, for which she won best director at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is a different film. While also a trimmed down, streamlined version of Cullinan’s story, Coppola gives it a distinctively feminist perspective, aligning our point of view with the female characters.
1864, Virginia. It is three years into the American Civil War, the result of which is becoming clearer by the day. A young girl, Amy (Oona Laurence), finds a wounded Yankee soldier, Corp. John McBurney (Colin Farrell) in the woods and offers to take him back to Ms Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies for treatment. Continue reading
Director: Rolf de Heer
Starring: David Gulpilil, Peter Djigirr, Luke Ford
Charlie’s Country is the third collaboration between iconic Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil and director Rolf de Heer, after The Tracker and Ten Canoes. Together the three films form an informal trilogy, exploring the Indigenous experience at different points in Australia’s history. Charlie’s Country is the first of these films to be set in the present day and the most personal of the collaborations.
Charlie lives in a government controlled rural community in Arnhem Land. The first image we see in the film is a Liquor Act sign, declaring this to be an alcohol restricted community. While Charlie enjoys largely congenial relationships with the local white police, there is an undeniable tension simmering beneath the surface. He grows increasingly frustrated with the trying to live under the Intervention’s “white fella” rules. The white doctor tells Charlie that for the sake of his health he has to stop eating the white junk food, the only food available in town. But when Charlie goes hunting to catch his own food, “real food,” the white police confiscate his gun and fine him for recreational shooting. When he carves himself a spear, that too is confiscated as a dangerous weapon. In frustration, Charlie leaves the town to return to his country and live the old way, only to find that world no longer exists.
David Gulpilil’s performance as Charlie is the heart and soul of this film. It has been rightly earning critical praise around the world, including winning Best Actor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The actor delivers a captivating performance as a disenfranchised man, caught between two worlds, unable to exist in either. Gulpilil was a co-writer on the film and the character obviously draws heavily on his own life experience. The film was first formulated while Gulpilil was serving time in prison and subsequently in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.
Charlie’s Country explores the tension that occurs when one culture is imposed over another. Where Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah sought to shine a light without pointing a finger, Charlie’s Country is much more didactic. This film comes from a place of Indigenous frustration. In the colonialist world the film depicts, white influence is seen in the form of drugs, alcohol, guns, junk food and laws. While the first half of the film, set in Arnhem Land, is really engrossing, the second half, set in Darwin, is weaker and significantly less subtle in its exploration of these issues. A Darwin doctor asks if he can call Charlie by his first name because “I have difficulty pronouncing foreign names.” It’s a good line, but about as subtle as a sledgehammer.
A slow paced film – it feels longer than it is – Charlie’s Country is a pointed indictment of contemporary Australian Indigenous relations, highlighting the unworkable imbalance that exists between white law and Indigenous culture in the Northern Territory.
Review by Duncan McLean
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Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Robert Redford
It was once said that all a film needs for drama is two people having a conversation. Writer/director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) seeks to prove that one of those people is redundant in his second feature, All is Lost, the tale of an ageing man alone at sea.
Our man is on a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean when his yacht collides with a shipping container that has fallen off a cargo ship. With his communications and navigational equipment ruined and his vessel taking on water, the resourceful man finds himself fighting to survive and at the mercy of the ocean.
All is Lost is a minimalist film. There is no fat on it. The film starts at the moment that the Virginia Jean starts to take on water and it finishes at the moment that we discover his final fate. It is a film unburdened by context and backstory. We know very little about this character outside of his immediate circumstances. We don’t know why he is out there. We don’t know if he has a family or not. We don’t know if he is a good person or a bad person. We don’t even know his name. All we know is that he is a human being and he is fighting for his life. And you know what? That is enough. That is all we actually require to care about this man and become invested in his situation. In a time where every reality television contestant comes complete with a tragic backstory of a hurdle they’ve overcome, a relative with terminal illness or a child they’re hoping to inspire, all designed to manipulate the emotions of an audience and cynically tug at their heart strings, it is refreshing to see the way that Chandor trusts his audience. He trusts his audience to care without needing to over-emotionalise the situation.
As the film’s lone character – credited simply as ‘Our Man’ – Robert Redford is compelling to watch. With no other characters to talk to, he hardly speaks a word in the film. Chandor’s faith in the audience to work things out for themselves means he doesn’t resort to having the character talk to himself. Nor does he include a narration to explain what he is thinking and feeling. Instead it is up to Redford’s face and his actions to do the talking. Where a more insecure actor may have given into the temptation to overact, Redford maintains an incredible subtlety. Our man is stoic and unemotive, which makes those moments when his resolve does break all the more powerful. But despite this stoicism we can always see that his mind is working, that he has a plan. It is a masterful performance from a Hollywood legend which should see him in the mix come award season.
All is Lost screened out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival this year, with Redford receiving a standing ovation for his performance. It is the type of film that is more likely to make its presence felt at film festivals than at the box office. The nature of Chandor’s film means that it is a less commercially attractive prospect than last year’s lost at sea film – the equally brilliant Life of Pi – but it is a powerful piece of filmmaking which really sticks in your mind.
Rating – ★★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean