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The State Against Nelson Mandela and the Others

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In 1963 South Africa, seven men were charged and put on trial for over 200 counts of sabotage with the intent to ‘ferment violent revolution’. Their names were: Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Ahmed Kathrada, Denis Goldberg and future president of the country Nelson Mandela. The trial was condemned by a branch of the United Nations and led to international sanctions.

The documentary The State Against Mandela and the Others is well aware that for many this trial is perhaps most famous for being the one that put Mandela in prison for nearly 30 years. Describing the rest of the group as ‘the others’ in its own title, the film is a tongue in cheek dig at this public knowledge, whilst also clearing a pathway to understanding who these other men were.

Directors Nicolas Champeaux and Gilles Porte sit down with those who were accused, and still alive, to talk about their lives before they fought apartheid and their thoughts and feelings during the court case itself. Those no longer present are represented by family members, such as Winnie Mandela, who cast light on how the men’s actions reverberated through their wives and children. Their conversations are frank and often charming, with the men still possessing the same sharpness they displayed in court.

Rather than simply being a series of talking heads, however, The State Against Mandela and the Others uses the 256 hours of court recordings to tell the men’s story through animation. Through surprisingly clear audio, we hear every word, cough and gavel slam as the men come under the scrutiny of chief prosecutor, Dr Percy Yutar. Faced with the death penalty, the seven men used their time on trial to highlight their cause and it’s clearly frustrating for Yutar as they weave around the questions hurled at them.

Often surreal in its depictions of its ‘cast members’ – Yutar is portrayed as a giant Bela Lugosi type who glides into frame – the animation allows the men’s words to run loose into landscapes made up of shapes and patterns as well as more traditional means of depicting the story. It all becomes rather hypnotic and yet, manages to both bolster and distract from the words spoken.

A shortcoming of the film arrives in the condensing of the court audio. Whilst there’s perhaps no call to hear every single second of the trial, there is a thought at the back of the mind that Champeaux and Porte’s approach to the Rivonia trial could be best suited as a mini-series, allowing the story and its protagonists a chance to breathe. Instead of hurtling – understandably due to time constraints – to the end. This is a mild criticism perhaps that’s more a testament to what is happening on screen and the desire to know more.

With a heavy subject given a light touch via animation, The State Against Mandela and the Others is an interesting take on an important chapter in apartheid history.

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Through the Fire (Sauver ou périr)

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In Through the Fire, Frédéric Tellier expertly frames a story of personal sacrifice and professional courage. A powerfully moving examination of the kind of experiences those in the front-line of the emergency services have to contend with on a daily basis, the struggle of life as a firefighter is portrayed both realistically and humanely.

Franck (Pierre Niney) is a completely committed firefighter. His devotion towards his profession is matched by the love and duty of care he feels for his wife Cécile (Anaïs Demoustier) and their young children. Franck takes a stark view of the challenges involved in firefighting – his motto is ‘to save or perish’.

That belief in an absolute purpose is tested to the extreme when Frank suffers terrible burns to the face when called out with his team to a raging inferno. He somehow manages to survive, but the long and arduous road to recovery is one fraught with danger, both to himself, and to his familial relationships.

Both leads are excellent in this emotionally turbulent account of rebuilding after trauma. Franck appears with his face hidden by a mask of bandages and dressing for much of the film, yet Niney brilliantly portrays the internal pain and fear with subtlety and depth. Demoustier tells Cécile’s story beautifully, with the stress and worry forming cracks in a relationship that was once so grounded and stable.

The film sensitively looks at the big questions of life and meaning; our identities, our family, and perceptions of roles in life. It also shows how in extremis even the best of humanity can be put to the test. The biggest test of the audience, however, is how many will experience a teary eye or two…

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French filmmaker Eloise Lang (and collaborator Noémie Saglio) co-directed Harry Me! The Royal Bitch of Buckingham, a Borat-inspired hidden camera faux-doco that saw its boorish, aggressive and abusive star Camille Cottin carving her way through upper class English aristocracy in order to find and marry Prince Harry, or a similarly posh and wealthy man who could bridge the class divide for her and improve her station in life. Cottin and Lang have re-teamed on a more conventional, broader-aimed vehicle: a romantic comedy with a more US-oriented leaning (and also a remake of the Danish film All Inclusive).

It stars Cottin as a ne’er-do-well daughter and unrepentant party girl Rose who, along with her tightly-wound older sister Alice (Camille Chamoux) accompanies their mother Francoise (played by French star Miou-Miou, whose decades-long CV boasts collaborations with many of the French greats, from Louis Malle to Michel Gondry) on a tropical getaway to the idyllic Reunion island, in order to celebrate their mother’s birthday. There, the sisters decide to make the trip as positive an experience as possible for their newly divorced mother, whose ex-husband, we learn, has just announced to the sisters that he and his new paramour are expecting a child.

Deciding to keep this information on the down low, the sister’s set about trying to do their best to give their mother a holiday to remember. For Rose, it seems like a good idea to drunkenly ask fellow guest Thierry (Johan Heldenbergh), a man she’s just had a one-night fling with, to show her mother ‘a good time’ for an evening, by asking her to dance, buying her a drink and then making an excuse and leaving, presumably in an effort to boost her mother’s self-esteem. Things don’t go to plan and instead, a romance develops between Francoise and Thierry. Things get complicated quickly, as they often do in French romantic comedies and soon both sisters are trying to find a way to avoid their mother discovering that her new lover is her daughter’s old lover.

While very much in keeping with the operatic comedic pitch of Lang’s previous work, this is the kind of bright and shiny romantic farce that France is best known for (and usually get snapped up as remake fodder by US studios). It’s at times funny and silly though slightly tone deaf in the era of #metoo; ultimately, it’s eager to keep things enjoyably breezy and light.

Also screening at the Gold Coast Film Festival.

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At War (En Guerre)

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At War is an explosive account of the full extent workers are pushed to keep their jobs and lives together. Brizé and Lindon reunite after 2015’s The Measure of a Man, to explore similar territory of a proud working-class driven to take action by threats to their jobs and security.

Given the recent political events in France with the ‘gilet jaune’ (yellow vests) movement, any film covering sustained protest and civil unrest is bound to be viewed in light of contemporary news. This certainly does not harm Brizé’s vérité influenced film looking at a 1,100 strong workforce facing the prospect of redundancies following the forced shutdown of their factory. Despite personal financial loss and an uncertain future, the workers decide to fight the decision in any way they can.

Led by the fiercely committed Laurent Amédéo (Vincent Lindon), the group do their best to remain solid and strong in the face of hardships, in-fighting and corporate manoeuvring. The tension of the powder-keg situation is built up both by the excellent performances and through video footage and staged news reports.

The film expertly showcases how a group with a shared belief driven by a sense of injustice – it is continually pointed out that the factory was in fact performing well – will do anything when passionately fired up by what it perceives as malicious wrongdoing.

At certain points the main plot of the film feels overstretched, but it makes up for this with the pace picking up again in the final third. Frequently eye-catching and captivating when the emotional intensity really hits home, the film acts as a cri de coeur and rallying call for dispossessed working people everywhere. Examining the human cost of industrial and commercial upheaval, the film looks at people who are more than mere statistics or points on a spreadsheet’s profit margin.

The documentary style takes the audience straight to the heart of the action in a variety of locations, from the factory floor right up to an impassioned stand-off with the CEO of the factory’s ultimate owners. There is never any doubt that Laurent and his colleagues are being exploited by the profit-chasing company. The real question is how long they can continue to strike, and what will the fall-out be?

A provocative and powerful state of the nation address, At War delivers the stark message of a man and a movement that will not meekly step down.

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Waiting: The Van Duren Story

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Taking a night-in with bottles of wine and a newly discovered record as its jumping-off point, Waiting is a wonderfully positive and frequently amusing doco concentrating on the joys of music and friendship.

Greg Carey and Wade Jackson couldn’t believe Memphis native Van Duren wasn’t better known on first hearing his unique voice and infectious power pop-rock. The melodious highs and catchy piano led hooks certainly seemed to announce a major music star. But nobody had ever heard of him or his music. After making a late-night promise to investigate further, the two vowed to document their search for the mysterious singer-songwriter.

Inevitably drawing comparison with the hit 2012 documentary film Searching for Sugar Man, which also detailed a quest to seek out an under-appreciated musician, Waiting is nevertheless its own unique story.

The decision – largely thought up by fellow writer and producer Jonathan Sequeira (Descent into the Maelstrom) – to push the two debut filmmakers to the front of the story is one that pays off in full. The two friends, both experienced music industry professionals, bring a camaraderie and sense of fun to the project that provides lightening of the mood when things potentially turn dark.

As the two point out, and as we learn throughout, Van Duren was tipped to be a major star in the late 1970s. Indeed, had it not been for a combination of poor management, financial naivete and the strange workings of promotional activity, he might well have been. He was even represented and produced by the former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog-Oldham, who shows up in the film recounting alcoholic misdemeanours, tax-havens and a somewhat random approach to star-making.

In his own words, “you can strike gold, or pick gold, even when you’re out to lunch”. And this expression for being out of one’s mind, sounds like a fairly accurate summation of much of the 1970s career planning on behalf of the singer.

Forming out of the ashes of Memphis cult-band Big Star, Van Duren released his widely tipped debut Are You Serious? in 1978. Despite sell out shows and rave reviews, his dysfunctional record label refused to release his follow up, which was completed in early 1980.

What was never in doubt was Van Duren’s essential talent and musical ability. When Carey and Jackson find out that he no longer owns the rights to his own music, they set about fininshing the film and returning the legal rights to him. The emotional consequences of this decision are beautifully played out.

As well as the fantastic soundtrack drawing on Van Duren’s rediscovered classic cuts, the film also has a great visual sense helped along by the wonderful graphic-novel like illustrations of key points in the tumultuous back story by Sydney artist Aidan Roberts.

Taking the audience on a voyage through seriously strange waters, including legendary rock stars, con-men, barroom legends and Scientologists, Waiting is an enticingly entertaining and insightful feature documentary. Recommended viewing for anyone in love with creativity and keeping the flame of musical inspiration burning and alive.

Van Duren is set to tour Australia in April.

Waiting – The Van Duren Story is also screening here:

Tuesday 9 April  – Blue Room Cinebar, Brisbane QLD

Wednesday 10 April – Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney NSW

Thursday 11 April – Cinema Nova, Melbourne VIC

Saturday 13 April – Presented by High Tide, Central Coast, NSW 
Tickets on sale and location revealed Thursday 28 February

Friday 26 April – The Gum Ball Festival, Dashville (Hunter Valley) NSW

Saturday 27 April – Bendigo Autumn Music Festival, Bendigo VIC


Thursday 18 April – The Curtin, Melbourne VIC *

Sunday 21 April – Boogie Festival, Tallarook VIC

Tuesday 23 April – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney NSW *

Thursday 25 April – Baroque Room, Katoomba NSW *

Friday 26 April – The Gum Ball Festival, Hunter Valley NSW

Sunday 28  April – Bendigo Autumn Music Festival, Bendigo VIC

*Headline shows

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A Man in a Hurry

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Alain (Fabrice Luchini) is a no-nonsense CEO of a large car manufacturer. He has what they call the gift of the gab, being able to rouse up a boardroom like no one else in the business. His career comes with a price including alienating co-workers and playing absent father to his daughter, Julia (Rebecca Marder). Suffering two large strokes in one day, Alain wakes up in hospital to discover that he’s forgotten how to use the French language. He knows exactly what he wants to say but can’t choose the right words to say it. He says some words backwards, replaces other words with similar sounding ones and will even greet a room with a cheery ‘Au revoir’.

Like Eddie Murphy in 1000 Words or Jim Carrey in Liar Liar, A Man in a Hurry follows an extremely formulaic narrative which sees him lose everything in order to regain everything. Unable to embrace his mother tongue like he used to, Alain struggles to keep his head above water in the cut throat world of car design. Conversely, his relationship with his daughter has a chance to blossom now that he’s vulnerable. And of course, there’s always time for another vaudevillian spoonerism.

It’s all so very breezy that it’s extremely easy to miss the moments of pathos that dot the linguistic landscape. Alain’s twisted tongue also comes with a patchy memory and the film makes moments of comedy – in which Alain learns about what kind of man he was – into something more poignant when he has to be reminded that his wife passed away. Later, an eloquent speech given by Alain is soon revealed to be nonsense in the ears of his audience. Sadly, these moments resonate, but they’re few and far between.

Confusingly, the film chooses to take a break from Alain every now and then so we can focus on his speech therapist, Jeanne (Leila Bekhti) and her search for her real mother. It’s an odd storyline that feels better suited to a completely different film and suggests wanting to give a little more backstory to one of the main characters in Alain’s life. However, once a further subplot about her romance with a hospital porter is tagged on, it starts to feel like we’re just padding out the screenplay.

That’s not say that as a final product, A Man in a Hurry is a bad film. Luchini is well known in France for his showmanship. Playing his wordplay completely straight adds a touch more depth to the comedy than he would have gurning and winking at the camera – hello Mr Carrey. Luchini plays his own straight man and it’s all for the benefit of the film.

Light, frothy and untaxing on the brain, A Man in a Hurry will make you wish you could speak French so you could really appreciate the wordplay without the aid of subtitles.

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The rape-revenge subgenre is, as its title incontrovertibly indicates, not for everyone, but that doesn’t mean this lurid and confronting corner of the genre ghetto doesn’t occasionally yield treasures. As evidence, take in debut writer/director Carolie Fargeat’s contribution, which sees Matilda Lutz’s sex kitten transform herself into a brutal and branded engine of retribution after being left for dead in the desert by her married boyfriend and his hunting buddies.

“Left in the desert” is playing it too coy – Lutz’s Jen is turfed off a cliff and left impaled like a bug on a tree branch, forcing her to painfully free herself before proceeding with the violent business at hand. Fargeat films her impalement and subsequent torturous escape in agonising, close-up detail – perhaps standing in for Jen’s earlier rape at the hands of the oafish Stan (Vincent Colombe), one of the few instances where the camera cuts away from violence and horror.

Every other incident of bodily violation is framed with crystal clarity, queasily constructing scenes of shocking brutality with meticulous, often beautiful precision. Cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert’s bright, eye-popping palette and strong, stark compositions reference the cinema du look of earlier French provocateurs Luc Besson and Leos Carax, while Jen’s hallucinatory sojourn in the desert as she tends her wounds with heated metal and a peyote anaesthetic before embarking on the inevitable roaring rampage sits alongside any number of Acid Westerns, such as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo.

Still, like all good survival horror films, Revenge keeps its focus firmly on the body and all the horrible things that can happen to it. Fargeat willfully and transgressively fetishises Lutz’s lithe form, her camera lingering on the curve of her buttocks and tanned tummy in the film’s opening sequences (is it still male gaze with a female director?), before the crucible of pain transforms her into a wholly different icon of feminine strength and rage: scarred, bronzed, armed to the teeth and hellbent on revenge. It’s territory that’s been mapped before – think about Sarah Connor’s transformation between The Terminator and Judgement Day or, better still, Mario Andreacchio’s 1986 Ozploitation schlocker Fair Game – but Fargeat’s brazen artfulness presents it in a different and far fresher context.

In terms of narrative, there are few surprises – films of this type tend to hit the same procedural beats, with little variation. However, what Revenge does have that sets it apart from the pack is a bottomless reserve of well-earned rage and the artistic temperance to channel it to best effect. It’s easy to imagine a sleazier, grimier, version of this film; however, Fargeat’s sheer authorial brio to shoot pain and torture and murder not just artfully but beautifully, means that Revenge packs more of an impact than any 10 random ‘straight-to-disc’ titillating terrors.