FILM

Tricia Youlden

Beauty and the Beast
★★ PG

Having thoroughly enjoyed Disney’s 2015 Cinderella directed by Kenneth Branagh, I was hoping that Beauty and the Beast would be of the same calibre. Sadly, despite the hype surrounding its release, it is not.

Directed by James Condon, this latest Disney production, filmed at Shepperton Studios in England, is tediously long, top-heavy with computer-generated special effects, and short on clarity of either narrative or characterisation.

This is not to say that Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Kevin Kline and Luke Evans do not endeavour to make the most of their roles. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos simply doesn’t give them much to work with.

This muddled adaptation bears minimal semblance to the classic French tale. French names and French accents blend uneasily with British and American voices.

While animated scenes with the enchanted teapot, cup, candelabra, clock and wardrobe are amusing and the extravagant opening and closing ballroom scenes are fabulous, the bulk of this film seems to serve merely as a vehicle for yet more computer-generated imagery.

The target audience is unclear. The special effects are far too scary for young children and I doubt that older children will stay focused throughout its more than two-hour length.

Loving
★★★★ PG

Richard Loving (a very blonde Joel Edgerton) is a man of few words. In a small rural community in Caroline County, Virginia, he lives a simple life. A bricklayer by trade, his leisure time is spent tuning up cars to race at the local drag strip. The fact that all his friends are black is inconsequential to him, even though some local white boys don’t look too happy about it.

When Richard and his pregnant girlfriend, Mildred (Ruth Negga), want to get married they are forbidden to do so under Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, because he is white and she is of African-American and Native American descent. Undeterred, they travel to Washington DC where they are married on June 2, 1958.

Shortly after their return, Mildred and Richard are arrested by Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas) for breaking the state law against miscegenation. Given a suspended gaol sentence on condition that they do not return together to Virginia for 25 years, the couple are effectively exiled to Washington, where they live with relatives.

As their family increases, Mildred becomes increasingly aware that growing up in the city is not the childhood that she and Richard want for their three children. At her aunt’s suggestion, she writes to the attorney-general, Robert F. Kennedy, who refers their case to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Guided by ACLU attorney Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll) and civil rights lawyer Philip Hirschkop (Jon Bass), both of whom provide their services pro bono, the Lovings and their children return to Virginia to appeal the original sentence.

As their case travels from the state court to the Supreme Court, Loving vs Virginia becomes a national news item, especially after the publication of an article entitled “The Crime of Being Married” in the prestigious magazine, Life. This article about their plight is accompanied by photojournalist Grey Villet’s (Michael Shannon) intimate black-and-white photos of the couple and their children at home.

Screenwriter-director Jeff Nichols has focused, not on the drama of the courtroom but upon the central couple and their determination to live together and raise their family where they choose. Nichols simply shows us how, despite continual threats and the initial misgivings of families and friends, the aptly-named Lovings’ unwavering love and determination gradually garners support for their cause.

Before the Supreme Court hearing of their case, Richard’s brief to his attorneys is straightforward: “Tell them I love my wife."

On June 12, 1967, the US Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision that all anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equality. Since then, June 12 has been annually celebrated as Loving Day.

Chad Keith’s production design resounds with black-and-white symbolism, which, far from looking contrived, looks completely natural. Cinematographer Adam Stone clearly relishes the opportunity to show us this story about people whose expressions throughout the film convey so much more than their sparse dialogue.

Loving is a powerful story, delicately told. It is truly a love story.

David Stratton — A Cinematic Life
★★★★ M

The famously odd couple, David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz in David Stratton - A Cinematic Life

David Stratton arrived in Australia in 1963 as a “ten-pound Pom”. Despite having originally planned to return to England after two years, he stayed and made this country his home.

Writer-director Sally Aitken’s entertaining documentary, David Stratton — A Cinematic Life, is rich in detail about its subject’s obsession with film, in particular his love affair with Australia and its films, which began with The Overlanders, which he saw in 1946. Incredibly, Stratton is able to produce from his extensive files the review that he, aged seven, had written of this film. Well over 25,000 films later, Stratton is still reviewing films.

Having decided not to return to England, Stratton served as director of the Sydney Film Festival from 1966 to 1983. For more than five decades he has aired his prodigious knowledge of film in print, on radio and television and in university lectures. He has received honorary doctorates from both the University of Sydney and Macquarie University; he is a Member of the Order of Australia and a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (France).

Although Stratton’s demeanour has sometimes been described as pompous, in this film he presents as a rather reserved, often self-effacing, gentle man. We glean some insight into his personality as he describes how and why he identified with young PS (Nicholas Gledhill) in Careful, He Might Hear You and with John Grant (Gary Bond), the young teacher in Wake in Fright.

Film and theatre writer Andrew Bovell says, “If you want to find out who we are, go back through our cinema.” Seeing so many significant moments from Australian films in under two hours is both an enlightening and intense experience. Editor Adrian Rostirolla skilfully interweaves Aitken’s interviews with Stratton with clips from 92 Australian films and interviews with 52 Australian film professionals, as well as his on-screen “other half” of almost 30 years, the inimitable Margaret Pomeranz. The resultant film is a deft balance of informed comment, humour and emotion.

While the journey that Aitken and her team take us on contains some confronting moments, it also includes many touching moments, not just in the film clips but also in the accompanying interviews, such as Jeanie Drynan’s comments upon her poignant performance in Muriel’s Wedding.

Actually, the word “endearing” springs to mind to describe most aspects of David Stratton — A Cinematic Life.

Berlin Syndrome
★★★ MA

Young Australian Clare (Teresa Palmer) has just arrived in Berlin. Travelling alone, she intends to photograph old East German (German Democratic Republic) buildings with a view to publishing a book.

The very first day, an apparently chance meeting with teacher Andi (Max Riemelt) sparks a reckless holiday romance. Having charmed Clare by taking her on a tour of the city, Andi has little trouble enticing her back to his curiously well-appointed apartment in an otherwise deserted, old apartment block.

It is only when Clare prepares to leave the morning following the sizzling sex of the previous night that she begins to comprehend the nature and extent of her dilemma. The industrial-strength locks and bolts on the door, the reinforced windows and the disappearance of the simcard from her phone indicate that Andi just might have kidnapped her.

Hence the title of this film. Subsequently, there is only one fleeting scene where Clare appears to feel any trust or affection towards her captor, and even then it is driven by her desperation to escape.

Shaun Grant’s screenplay is based upon Melanie Joosten’s novel, with additional material by director Cate Shortland. Although some attempt is made to explain Andi’s background in scenes with his father and at school, it merely highlights how contrived the plot is.

Despite the high quality of Germain McMicking’s cinematography, Melinda Doring’s production design and Bryony Marks’ score, Berlin Syndrome is simply too long to sustain any tension. This allows the audience ample time to query plot and character development.

Tricia Youlden teaches drama at Willoughby Girls High School.