FILM

Reviewed by
Tricia Youlden

Slow West ★★★★ MA

Writer-director John Maclean’s first feature film, Slow West, is set in Colorado circa 1870. Although it was actually shot in New Zealand the locations serve convincingly, as do the actors who play the strange assortment of individuals seeking happiness, wealth or merely survival in this godforsaken landscape. Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a naive young Scottish aristocrat who has come to America in search of the woman he loves, Rose (Caren Pistorius). He blames himself for Rose and her father having had to flee Scotland. Ill-prepared for the violent culture and the harsh conditions, Jay has to toughen up physically and emotionally. Having accepted the guidance and protection offered by cheroot-chomping outlaw Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), he witnesses many of the horrors that the West has to offer: the slaughter of the land’s indigenous people, their burnt-out wigwams, the casual gunning-down of strangers. He quickly learns not to trust anyone. Throughout their trek, Jay and Silas are tailed by an outlaw gang led by Payne (Ben Mendelsohn sporting a truly amazing bearskin coat), who evidently has a major score to settle with Silas.

What everyone except Jay seems to know is that there is a major bounty posted for the capture of Rose and her father, dead or alive. By the time Silas and Jay are closing in on Rose, their unofficial entourage of bounty hunters has grown. Like Payne’s gang, suave “Angus the Clergyman” (Tony Croft) and “The Kid” (Michael Whalley) are hungry for the monetary reward and the fleeting notoriety it will bring. Maclean and cinematographer Robbie Ryan ensure that the majority of the story is told visually, but Maclean’s economical use of dialogue and voiceover does flesh out the characters’ backgrounds. Jay’s dreams reveal the background events to his quest.

In his screenplay, Maclean makes quite bleak observations about the human condition. However, he also insinuates sufficient wry humour into what we see and hear to keep us engaged throughout. Just as Werner (Andrew Robertt), the writer with whom Jay has an almost surreal encounter, is recording the “violent extermination of the aboriginal people”, Maclean is, to some extent, documenting the violent roots of what is now the most powerful country in the world. His film can also be seen as a clear comment on that country’s contemporary gun culture, engendered by the individual’s constitutional right to bear arms.

This admirable feature debut augurs well for Maclean’s career as a film-maker.

Madame Bovary ★★ M

Mia Wasikowska and Henry Lloyd-Hughes in Madame Bovary ... it all looks fabulous

Having read Flaubert’s novel, Madame Bovary, Gemma Bovery (see review above) comments, “Nothing happens, but at the same time it’s interesting”. Unfortunately, despite a stellar cast, picturesque locations, gorgeous costumes and exquisite jewellery, director Sophie Barthes makes her film of Flaubert’s melodramatic novel not very interesting at all. There is an apparent lack of direction in various aspects of the film. It is particularly evident in the curious mixture of accents used by the cast. While most actors appear to be using their native accents, Mia Wasikowska (as Emma) speaks with an American accent, her vowels lapsing into broad Australian from time to time. Her mispronunciations of “monsieur” as “monsewer” and “Rouen” as “Rowan” are particularly off-putting. While Rhys Ifans gives an engaging performance as Lheureux, the merchant who exploits Emma’s extravagance, there is no apparent uniformity of acting style amongst the cast.

Sad to say, Madame Bovary is as disappointing as Gemma Bovery is enjoyable.

Gemma Bovery ★★★★ M

Like Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel on which it is based, the screenplay for Gemma Bovery is a witty take on Flaubert’s classic novel Madame Bovary. Co-written by director Anne Fontaine and Pascale Bonitzer, the script neatly recounts the story of Gemma’s ill-fated love life and is crisply directed by Fontaine. Having quit his career as editor of academic theses for a Parisian publishing house, Martin Joubert (the inimitable Fabrice Luchini) has returned to Normandy to take over his father’s bakery. There, in the village where the great writer Gustave Flaubert lived and wrote, Martin has lived a peaceful and balanced life for the past seven years, with his wife Valerie (Isabelle Candelier), son Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein) and Gus the dog. When a young English couple, Gemma and Charlie Bovery (Gemma Arterton and Jason Flemyng), move into the house opposite the Jouberts’ home Martin is struck by the similarities between Gemma and Flaubert’s famous heroine, Emma Bovary.

Not merely are their names alike but Gemma’s growing disenchantment with the “nouveau rustic” lifestyle is diagnosed by Martin as being Bovaryesque ennui. He becomes obsessed with preventing his pretty neighbour from heading down the same self-destructive path as Emma. Meanwhile, fascinated to learn that Charlie is a skilled furniture restorer and Gemma is a “whizz at tricksy painting and stuff “, ditzy Wizzy (Elsa Zylberstein) and her wealthy dolt of an English husband, Rankin (Pip Torrens), introduce them into the local social circle. The verbal sparring matches between these smug capitalists and grass roots socialist Martin are particularly entertaining, underpinned as they are by the ingrained antipathy between the French and English.

An aborted affair with young Herve de Bressigny (Niels Schneider) and a chance encounter with an old flame, Patrick (Mel Raido), further complicate Gemma’s life and exacerbate Martin’s fears.

Even though his character is essentially an interfering busybody, Luchini makes Martin’s obsessive concern endearing. Similarly, Arterton gives a very sympathetic portrayal of the romantically confused Gemma. In fact, Fontaine endeavours to bring out the endearing qualities of all her characters except the snobby Rankins and aristocratic Madame de Bressigny (a gloriously arch performance by Edith Scob). Gemma Bovery is a thoroughly delightful film. Great for a post-reports treat!

The Mafia Only Kills in Summer ★★★★ MA

From director Pierfrancesco Diliberto (aka “Pif”), comes this coming of age comedy set against the real story of the judiciary’s battle against the mafia in Sicily during the last three decades of the 20th century. From his conception onwards, Arturo’s life is affected by the rise to power of mafia boss, Toto Riina (Antonio Alveario). Although everyone adamantly denies it, the mafia rules every aspect of life in Palermo in 1970. Little wonder that Arturo’s first word is “mafia”. Even Brother Giacinto (Antonino Bruschetta) is in the pay of the mafia. Yet Arturo’s parents continue to reassure their anxious son with flippant comments like “It’s winter … the mafia only kills in summer”.

In the tradition of the Commedia dell’Arte, Pif satirises the adsurdity of the situation. But, although the acting style is comedic, the increasingly frequent insertion of archival footage of murder scenes and funerals is a grim reminder of how horrific the events of those years were for the people of Palermo. As a child, Arturo (Alex Bisconti) only has eyes for Flora (Ginevra Antona), daughter of a wealthy banker. His hero is Prime Minister Guiliano Andreotti, who impresses Arturo by his admission on television that he first told his wife that he loved her in a cemetery. Hence Arturo’s dogged determination to get Flora to meet him in a cemetery! As they get older, however, their lives are increasingly affected by the audacious bombings and shootings that result in the death of policemen and judges, many of whom Arturo has personally met. Arturo eventually achieves his dream of becoming a journalist despite his blundering manner.

By this stage in the film, Pif himself is playing Arturo in the broad style of the Commedia dell’Arte, which is a little disconcerting against Christiana Capotondi’s more realistic portrayal of the adult Flora. Young Bisconti’s performance definitely eclipses that of his director.

Despite its dark humour, The Mafia only Kills in Summer is a most chilling reminder of the evils of organised crime and corruption in high places. It is well worth a look.

Tricia Youlden teaches Drama at Willoughby GHS. She is looking forward to seeing The Emperor's New Clothes, a film by Michael Winterbottom and Russell Brand.

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A portrait of a German pacifist whose awakening to rising inhumanity in the early days of World War II spurs him to radical action, this is the true story of the attempted assassination of Hitler in 1939 by Georg Elser, a carpenter. Elser could have changed history and saved millions of lives — if only he had had 13 more minutes. With 13 minutes the bomb he had personally assembled would have torn apart Hitler and his henchmen. But this was not to be: Hitler escaped, with catastrophic results for Elser.

The film screened at the Berlin International Film Festival and opens in Sydney in limited cinemas on July 23. Confirmed cinemas are Palace Verona and Norton Street.

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