FILM

Reviewed by
Tricia Youlden

Healing ★★★★ M

In Craig Monahan’s film, Healing, Don Hany plays Viktor Khadem, a convicted murderer, who has been sent to a low-security prison farm in Victoria to serve the last 18 months of a long sentence. Hany gives an outstanding performance, as does Hugo Weaving as prison officer Matt Perry.

When Khadem and young Paul (Xavier Samuel) arrive at the farm, dapper little bully Warren (Anthony Hayes) and his rather pathetic side-kick, Shane (Mark Leonard Winter), set out to teach them who is top dog within the prison community. Although this sounds a bit clichéd it is to the credit of the director and the actors that they take their characters well beyond the stereotypical.

With the encouragement of his boss (Tony Martin) and the expert assistance of Glynis (Jane Menelaus), Perry sets up a unique rehabilitation program whereby inmates care for injured birds, housed in an aviary constructed in the prison grounds. There, injured birds can be nursed until they are fit to be returned to the wild. Like his human and avian charges, “Mr Perry” is himself in need of healing, having lost a child to cancer.

Over the course of the film, various bonds and alliances are formed between officers, prisoners and birds. Although Healing is compassionate and cautiously optimistic, Monahan steers it clear of becoming overly sentimental. Above all, it is believable.

Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie’s many breathtaking shots of the birds add a very special dimension to Healing, which doubtless inspired David Hirschfelder’s beautiful musical score.

Wadjda ★★★★ PG

Waad Mohammed in Wadjda

Ostensibly a film about a 10-year-old girl who covets the green bike she has seen in the local bike shop, Wadjda is actually a remarkably concise depiction of the complex difficulties Saudi women face daily. Saudi Arabia is a patriarchal society where centuries of religious traditions are so heavily embedded that women can be denied a dignified existence.

Tomboy Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) attends a school in Riyadh where Ms Hussa (Ayd) and her female staff are doing their best to teach young girls how to behave modestly according to their conservative, narrow interpretation of the Koran. That Wadjda is already resisting this enforced conformity is neatly illustrated by the jeans and sneakers she wears. Not only does she listen to pop music, she also plays with her male neighbour Abdullah (Abdulrahman Al Gohani), who lets her ride his bike.

Because she almost died giving birth to Wadjda, her mother (Reem Abdullah) is now unable to provide her husband (Sultan Al Assaf) with a son and heir. Accordingly, he is under pressure from his mother to take a second wife, which seems ridiculous to Wadjda because he says that he is still in love with her mother. Despite the fact that one of her classmates has recently been married to a 20-year-old man, Wadjda finds it hard to believe that her father would similarly marry her off, as he jokingly threatens.

Wadjda also takes issue with the lack of courtesy and respect that her mother is shown by the uncouth man assigned to drive her and other teachers to work because women are not allowed to drive.

Wadjda’s naive optimism tends to get her into trouble as she tries to make sufficient money to buy the bike of her dreams but her indomitable spirit ultimately triumphs, encapsulating the basic message that film-maker Haifaa Al Mansour hopes to convey to the young women of Saudi Arabia. Inspired by her own experiences and those of her friends, Al Mansour has turned Ms Hussa’s dictum, “A woman’s voice is her nakedness”, on its head. Haifaa Al Mansour’s voice is her strength. Not only is she the first female Saudi film-maker, Wadjda is the first feature film to have been entirely shot in Saudi Arabia.

Half of the Yellow Sun ★★★★ M

On October 1, 1960, twins Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) are celebrating Nigeria’s independence from Great Britain. Daughters of a wealthy businessman, the twins have been educated in England. That evening, the haughty Kainene, about to follow in her father’s footsteps and take over the family business empire, falls in love with British journalist Richard Churchill (Joseph Mawle), whom she later marries. Olanna follows her heart to live with her “revolutionary lover”, Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a sociology lecturer at Nsukka University.

Neither relationship is without problems. Both sisters have to deal with betrayal from those they love. In addition, Olanna has to contend with outright hostility from Odenigbo’s mother (Onyeka Onwenu) who labels her a witch. All this is thrown into perspective, however, when they all have to flee for their lives as bitter civil war erupts over their Igbo people’s attempt to establish Biafra’s independence from Nigeria.

Director Biyi Bandele and editor Chris Gill intersperse the film with archival news reel footage that documents the events against which Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel is set. Andrew McAlpine’s detailed production design and John de Borman’s cinematography embrace the vibrant colours of the country and its people, somehow increasing the horror of the war scenes so realistically depicted. Music by Ben Onono and Paul Thomson unobtrusively complements the narrative throughout.

Any Day Now ★★★★ M

When his neighbour is incarcerated for drug offences, compassionate drag queen Rudy (Alan Cumming) takes in her neglected Down’s Syndrome son, Marco (Isaac Leyva) — “He didn’t ask to be born to a junkie or to be born different”. With his attorney boyfriend, Paul (Garret Dillahunt), Rudy eventually gains legal custody of Marco. With decent food, special schooling and the loving care of his “two daddies” Marco flourishes.

This, however, is happening in California, 1979, where homophobia appears to be de rigueur. All too soon, Marco is withdrawn from Rudy and Paul’s care; it seems that the Justice Department would deem it preferable for a particularly vulnerable teenager to be returned to the care of the junkie prostitute mother who had neglected him, than for him to live with the gay couple whose parenting of Marco could not be faulted.

Determined to fight for custody of Marco, Rudy and Paul enlist the services of a feisty African American attorney who cynically reminds Paul that the first thing they learnt at law school was that there is no justice. Even so, they give it a shot.

Co-written by director Travis Fine and George Arthur Bloom, Any Day Now is much more than just a courtroom drama. Like The Dallas Buyers Club it highlights the lengths to which law enforcement agencies and the courts would go to discriminate against homosexuals. Any Day Now also features some great blues music. Alan Cummings has a beautiful voice and, in the film, Rudy is encouraged by Paul to actively pursue his singing career by sending off demo tapes — recorded on a Grundig reel-to-reel recorder, if I’m not mistaken.

Any Day Now will stay with you long after you’ve left the cinema.

Only Lovers Left Alive ★★★★ M

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston star in Jim Jarmusch’s latest cinematic gem, Only Lovers Left Alive, as Adam and Eve, a couple of vampires whose love affair has already spanned several centuries. Reliant on a regular blood supply, Eve is currently living in the shadows of exotic Tangiers where their dear friend and fellow zombie, Kit Marlowe (John Hurt), is her “dealer” and mentor.

Adam lives in a sprawling, dilapidated house in the deserted ruins of Detroit where young muso, Ian (Anton Yelchin), brings him blood direct from the blood bank. An avid collector of rare vintage guitars, Adam has set up an amazing studio where he creates mechanical contraptions and amazing rock music. The music composed for the film by Jozef van Wissem really rocks, so it is little wonder that Adam has acquired many fans despite his desire for anonymity. With Adam’s solitude thus threatened and his despair growing at the way we “zombies” continue to vandalise the earth and desecrate all things artistic, a worried Eve hastens to his side. Although international travel is not easy given her dietary requirements, Eve makes it to Detroit in time to calm her lover.

Just when harmony appears to have been restored, enter Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve’s younger sister. Given to excess in all things, Ava threatens not only their patience but their very existence. With their blood supply abruptly cut off all might be lost. Wasikowska is just lovely as out-of-control Ava but it is John Hurt’s Marlowe who lingers longest in my memory, especially his railing against the intellectual shortcomings of “that illiterate zombie”, Shakespeare, to whom authorship of Marlowe’s plays has been accredited.

The relationship between Swinton and Hiddleston is magnetic even when they are continents apart. Reunited as lovers, they smoulder. Just as the actors clearly relish their deliciously arch and humorous dialogue, Yorick Le Saux’s camera savours not only their anaemic beauty but the gloriously gloomy, gothic sets and costumes.

Tasty!

Tricia Youlden teaches drama at Willoughby Girls High School.

Win double passes for Chef

A famous chef is minced by an equally famous food critic named Ramsay (what an extraordinary coincidence), takes to Twitter for a blazing row with Ramsay which is inadvertently broadcast to thousands and flees the resulting social media circus and the world he knows … for what?

Find out by winning one of 15 double passes released to Education for Chef, out in cinemas on May 8. The indie has an all-star cast including Robert Downey Jr , Dustin Hoffman , Scarlett Johannsen, Sofia Vergara and Jon Favreau, who also directs the comedy.

Send your entry to journal@nswtf.org.au titled “Chef film free passes” or mail to Chef Film Free Passes, Education, NSW Teachers Federation, Locked Bag 3010 Darlinghurst 1300.
Entries close on April 22.

Entries must include name, Federation membership number, workplace name and phone number, mailing address and home phone number.