Tag: Elisabeth Moss

Top of the Lake: China Girl DVD review

topIt is the first question on everyone’s lips when enquiring about season two of any TV production; How does it compare to the first?  The exceptionally good True Detective, (which tonally shares a lot with the Top of the Lake) suffered the dreaded fate of the season-two-blues. Its initial overwhelming success seeming to shackle writer/director Nic Pizzolatto with unreasonable expectations and crippling time constraints for a follow-up of equal quality. 

Unfortunately, expectations tend to grow legs over time—as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Well, I’ve become very fond of Top of the Lake’s first season so was bound for disappointment.

Thankfully, my pessimism was unfounded because despite it lacking the narrative purpose and visual poetry of season one, Top of the Lake: China Girl is, for the most part, a solid production. This season is a lot more introspective in scope than the former and elects to explore the seedier internal wilderness of urban life and the devils within. Comprising of six episodes, it picks up five years after the devastating events that took place in New Zealand.

Having returned to Sydney where her estranged daughter lives, Detective Robin Griffen (Elizabeth Moss) uncovers a dark connection between the murder of a prostitute and her own troubled past. She reconnects with her daughter whom she had previously given up for adoption (the result of a teenage pregnancy—information we were privy to in season one).  In a wicked twist of fate, Robin begins to discover that her personal life and the case she is working on are intertwined. 

China Girl’s tenuous plot is tethered together through some deft writing that distracts you from the implausibility of it all. Writer/Director Jane Campion has a penchant for telling women-centric stories and here she successfully mixes an intimate personal drama with a wider story arch. Like a leaky sewer pipe China Girl drips with male sexual oppression and counterbalances this with a level of female rage appropriate to our current age of feminine resurgence. It is a white-hot example of Campion’s modus operandi, and is wonderful to behold her feminist approach to filmmaking. 

Visually, series two isn’t quite as indulgent as its predecessor and lacks its graceful purpose.  This is partly due to the location, but also a change in cinematographer, from Adam Arkapaw’s (who, coincidentally worked on True Detective season one) fawning New Zealand landscapes to Germain McMicking’s grittier urban Sydney.  The change in visual style is the first thing you’ll notice and China Girl feels a lot more cop-procedural than season one.

The DVD offers six short bonus features that explore behind the camera, its locations, interviews with Campion and her cohorts and other ephemera. Although they are interesting, they are too short to offer much depth.  The DVD set contains two discs with three episodes on each (optional subtitles included).  Each episode is encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 and uses a 1.78:1 screen ratio.

DVD hits shelves Thursday 27th June. 

See my reviews for Witchdoctor here.


The Square

thesquare“The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations” — such is the provocative statement written at the foot of an art exhibition at the centre of Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s (Force Majeure) film, The Square.

It is a film that drags you into its contemporary art landscape of self-indulgence and self-importance with a tour de force of satirical film-making that spits and fizzes with sardonic humour and ethical insight.

Stockholm’s newest art exhibition provides a space to observe and participate in its ideals, offering a further tableau of ethical exhibits that focus on human social behaviour.  All the while the film deftly shows the exhibition as a shining beacon of hypocrisy through the contrasting behaviour of its creators.  Christian, a hapless contemporary art curator played by Claes Bang is one such hypocrite, idealistic in rhetoric and yet cynical in his actions, he has a likeable earnest nature that belies the ignorance of his own self-importance.

The Square follows Christian as he makes a progression of poor choices. His verbal jousting with an American reporter, Anne, played superbly by the ever-reliable Elisabeth Moss offers some wonderfully crafted scenes of cringeworthy brilliance.  The two serve and volley semantics before giving way to an awkward physical exchange that unsurprisingly leads to Anne, Christian, and the exhibition unravelling.

Wonderfully dextrous humour gives way to some very probing investigations of human nature as lines are blurred between “art” and reality. The Square becomes at times almost unbearable to watch with some moments of squirm-inducing boundary pushing. An episode involving a human imitating an ape at a black-tie event is as intriguing as it is disturbing.

The film covers a lot of ethical ground being about sexual power, stereotypes, middle-class guilt and moral values.  But it handles these touchy subjects with the perfect balance of satire, insight and entertainment.  Deserved winner of the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Ruben Östlund appears to be at the peak of his powers and has directed a film that is hilarious, fiercely intelligent, and encourages a healthy amount of self-examination.

See my reviews for Witchdoctor here.