Month: April, 2018

Sweet Country

sweetcountry“What chance has this country got?” So asks Sam Neill in the Sweet Country’s final moments.  Such is the film’s central theme as it examines Australia’s sordid racial past and brings its concerns into the present with a film that is as tragic as it is strikingly beautiful.

Set in the Northern Territory frontier in the 1920s, Sweet Country tells the story of an aboriginal farm-hand, Sam Kelly.  Working for a kind-hearted farmer Fred Smith (Sam Neill), he is “lent” to a neighbouring farmer who is new to the area and in need of an extra hand. Unfortunately, the neighbourly gesture goes sour when the new farmer proves to be an unhinged war veteran and Sam finds himself unwittingly complicit in a provoked act of deadly violence. As the local authority, Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) and his posse, set about hunting Sam down, Sweet Country takes the opportunity to play cute with a few western genre tropes; however it never loses sight of its charged racial commentary.

Director and cinematographer Warwick Thornton (Samson & Delilah) confidently struts a visual approach that avoids the temptation to use an emotive musical score.  Stylistically informed by the likes of Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James) and John Maclean (Slow West), Thornton’s camera slowly, but intently, prowls the landscape with a quiet tension that heightens a sense of dread. Thornton has done a stunning job at capturing Australia’s picturesque outback and pitted its beauty against the ugliness of the denizens who run amok within.  Such is the fine line Thornton treads, that it is perhaps inevitable a few missteps have been made where aesthetics have obstructed narrative concerns; a minor quibble.

Down-under stalwarts Bryan Brown and Sam Neill are typically good, and although they provide the film’s star pulling power, the real heavy lifting is provided by its aboriginal cast, specifically Hamilton Morris who superbly encapsulates Sam Kelly’s heart-breaking anguish, fear and frustration.

Sweet Country provides little in the way of relief to its oppressive tone, but this cautionary tale is skilfully told with a brutal eloquence and should really be considered mandatory viewing. 
See more of my NZME reviews here.


Lost in Paris


lostinparisDominique Abel and Fiona Gordon team up once again, opening a kitbag of acting, writing and directing talents that can best be described as an “acquired taste”. Their films feel like an unwieldy blend of Mr Bean and Wes Anderson minus the comic timing or genius, and Lost in Paris is no different, with a gratuitously quirky style that renders it insufferably twee. Despite wanting to be, The Grand Budapest Hotel this is not.

Fiona (Gordon), a librarian in a sleepy Canadian town, receives a distress letter from her elderly Parisian aunt (played by the great Emmanuelle Riva … really, what were you thinking?!). Fearful of being carted off to a retirement village, Aunt Martha does a runner moments prior to Fiona arriving. Much hilarity ensues. New to Paris, Fiona stumbles upon Dom (Abel), a vagrant who falls in love and pursues her, endlessly. Much hilarity continues.  The two continue to look for Aunt Martha and stumble their way through Parisian streets, graveyards, the Eiffel Tower etc; more hilarity etc.

If you can detect a slight hint of sarcasm in my commentary, you’d be right—there is no hilarity to be had here, that is, unless your taste in humour sits within the bounds of the farcically banal. If that’s your bag then fair enough, you’ll be all over this film like a cheap suit. Because here, the inane gags line up like lemmings.

In the film’s most questionable scene, Dom’s predatory behaviour finally abates and they find common ground that leads to possibly the most unintentionally awkward sex scene in cinematic history (ok, perhaps Tommy Wiseau’s The Room takes that honour … but this is close).  The scene appears to want its audience to gush over its deft use of the filmic artifice, and giggle at its alluring charm.  Nope, not even close.

Try as I might to find some redeeming quality to Lost in Paris, a noble allegory or subtext perhaps, all I found was an impenetrable wall of whimsy too difficult to pierce. So I gave up the fight and just drifted along for the ride—that didn’t help either.
See more of my NZME reviews here.