FILM

Reviewed by
Tricia Youlden

Tracks ★★★★ M

Based on Robyn Davidson’s book about the 2790km trek she made in 1977 from Alice Springs across the Gibson Desert to the Indian Ocean, Tracks stars Mia Wasikowska (pictured above) and the Australian landscape, which ensures that this film never becomes boring. American Adam Driver plays Rick Smolan, the National Geographic photographer who arranges funding for Robyn’s trek in exchange for being able to photograph her occasionally along the route. A supporting cast of dogs (two of whom play Diggity, Robyn’s beloved dog), camels and seasoned actors add to the charm of this quintessentially Australian film.

John Flaus is notable as Afghani camel farmer Sallay Mahomet, but it is Aboriginal elder Rolley Mintuma playing his own ancestor Mr Eddy, who inadvertently steals every scene in which he appears. Having volunteered to guide Robyn through sacred land that she otherwise could not cross, Eddy becomes her friend and mentor. Although he does not speak English and she understands only a smattering of his Pitjantjatjara language, he keeps up a running commentary on the features of the land through which they are passing, teaching her as they go.

Directed by John Curran, and shot by acclaimed cinematographer Mandy Walker on anamorphic 35mm film, Tracks presents a vast array of outback landscapes with the contours and colours that have inspired so many of our iconic painters. Whatever you teach, Tracks will make a great resource. It tells an amazing story, the characters are vividly portrayed and every frame is stunning.

Le Week-end ★★★★ M

From writer Hanif Kureishi and director Roger Michell, Le Week-end is a veritable gem of a film. Meg and Nick Borrows (Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent) arrive in Paris to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary and, hopefully, salvage their battered relationship. Nick is desperate to rekindle a spark of romance, mortally afraid that Meg may have picked their anniversary to dump him. Living beyond their means in a five-star hotel and dining in fancy restaurants only serves to exacerbate Nick’s feelings of
apprehension.

At this point they run into Morgan (an outrageously brilliant performance by Jeff Goldblum), who regards Nick as the genius mentor to whom he owes his considerable success.

Despite Nick’s reluctance, Meg insists that they accept Morgan’s invitation to a gathering at the luxurious apartment he shares with his young, pregnant wife. There, looking tres chic in a new dress, Meg is complimented for being “attuned to [her] own unhappiness”. Meanwhile, Nick establishes an unlikely bond over a joint with young Michael (Olly Alexander), Morgan’s son by a previous marriage. A little stoned and a little drunk, Nick subsequently delivers an impromptu speech which Michael rightly describes as “awesome”.

It would be extremely hard not to empathise with these prickly characters, so realistically are they portrayed by Duncan and Broadbent. I strongly urge you to spend Le Week-end in Paris with them and find out whether their marriage survives.

The Armstrong Lie ★★★ M

Alec Gibney’s original intention was to document a charismatic athlete’s triumphant return to cycling after beating cancer. Ideally, the film would culminate with Lance Armstrong winning the 2009 Tour de France. Instead, The Armstrong Lie (taking its name from the 2005 headline in the French daily paper L’Equipe) becomes a perplexing, intimate portrait of Lance Armstrong as well as an expose of the nature and extent of doping in professional cycling.

Armstrong was found guilty of doping by the American Anti-Doping Agency in August 2012 and banned from competitive cycling for life. In October 2012, he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the sport’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale. After years of denying that he had ever “doped”, Armstrong finally admitted in January 2013 to Oprah Winfrey on prime-time television that the doping charges levelled against him were indeed true.

Interviews with former friends, colleagues and himself show Armstrong to be totally driven by the desire to win and to undermine his critics. Like his former trainer Dr Michele Ferrari, Armstrong appears to have a very selective sense of morality. Yet this consummate liar is also a philanthropist and revered by many for his charity work. One wonders whether Armstrong will ever comprehend how he has disappointed his fans. Mind you, the crazy hordes who mob the Tour de France cyclists en route don’t appear to be particularly sensitive — especially to the cyclists’ safety.

The French Film Festival ★★★★

Although you only have until next Sunday March 23 to catch this 25th French Film Festival it is well worth trying to get there. The Festival is screening at the Chauvel, Palace Verona, Palace Norton Street and the Hayden Orpheum. You can also catch a small selection of these fine films at the Palace Cinema in Byron Bay from April 24–28 if you miss it in the capital cities. See http://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org/Content/Programme/AF-FFF-2014-Sydney-Programme-Booklet.pdf for details.

Following is a précis of the most impressive of the films I previewed. The first two both star Emmanuelle Devos.

In Violette, Devos plays the novelist Violette Leduc. Even though her mentor, Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain), tells her that “you talk about female sexuality like no woman before you”, ongoing rejection by publishers reminds Violette of the personal rejection she has suffered at the hands of lovers and her mother (Catherine Hiegel), with whom she has a complex relationship. Although Violette can count as friends such luminaries as Jean Genet (“Sartre’s mad about me”) and parfumier Jacques Guerin (“I’m rich and I’m a bastard”), it is not until the last decades of her life that she finds peace within herself. Directed by Martin Provost and beautifully designed and shot, Violette illustrates how very difficult it still was for women writers to gain recognition even in the heady intellectual atmosphere of liberated Paris. Bravo, Violette!

In Le Temps de l’Aventure (Just a Sigh) Devos plays Alix, an actress who is not having a good day. She and her fellow actors haven’t been paid for the Calais show in which they are appearing. In Paris for an audition, she is broke, her mobile phone is dead and her partner is not answering his phone. After her audition (a lovely scene which encapsulates the uncertainty of the acting profession), Alix impulsively seeks out the Englishman (Gabriel Byrne), with whom she had locked eyes on the train from Calais. He is in town for the funeral of an old flame. A cross between Brief Encounter and Before Sunrise, Le Temps de l’Aventure has a majorly open ending, with three major plot strands left dangling. Yet it is eminently satisfying.

Directed by Eric Rochant, Mobius is a spy thriller about international corporate espionage and money-laundering. Essentially a sophisticated “sting” set up by undercover agent Lioubov (Jean Dujardin) to entrap Russian mogul Rostrovski (Tim Roth), it becomes more complicated when Lioubov himself succumbs to the charms of “honey trap” Alice (Cecile de France). It is fascinating, but so fast-paced that you really need to remain totally focused throughout.

Jappeloup tells the story of equestrian Pierre Durand, who gave up his law practice to concentrate on his show-jumping career, which culminated in him winning a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Directed by Christian Duguay, Jappeloup stars Guillaume Canet, who also wrote the script. Canet, Daniel Auteuil as his father and Marina Hands as his wife are, however, outshone by Lou de Laage’s portrayal of Raphaelle, the stablehand who has been with Jappeloup the colt, Durand’s favourite steed, since its birth. While the show-jumping sequences are awesome they do become a bit repetitive.

A scene from Les Reines du Ring (The Wrestling Queens)

In Jean-Marc Rudnicki’s comedy, Les Reines du Ring (The Wrestling Queens), Nathalie Baye, Marilou Berry, Audrey Fleurot and Isabelle Nanty play check-out chicks who form a wrestling team to help Rose (Berry) engage with the son she had as a teenager. Trained by a veteran wrestler (played by Andre Dussolier), they are contracted to take on an experienced troupe of lady wrestlers from Mexico. The carefully choreographed wrestling scenes are “fought” by the actual actors themselves.

Top of my “must see” list is Les Garcons et Guillaume, a Table! (Me, Myself and Mum) for which Guillaume Gallienne was recently awarded Cesar awards for best film, best actor, best first film, best adapted screenplay and best editing. Evidently it is a tour de force!

Then there’s Alceste a Bicyclette (Cycling with Moliere) starring Fabrice Luchini and directed by Philippe Le Guay, Quai d’Orsay directed by Bertrand Tavernier and starring Thierry Lhermitte and Belle et Sebastien for “children of all ages”.

A bientot !

Tricia Youlden teaches Drama at Willoughby GHS but started out as a French teacher, which explains her francophilia.