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Bloodshot Heart

Australian, Australian New Wave Filmmakers, Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Bloodshot Heart is an Australian feature from first-time director Parish Malfitano, led on-screen by co-producer Richard James Allen (as Hans), Dina Panozzo (as Catherine, Hans’ mother) and Emily David (as Matilda). In this tale of mystery and obsession, middle-aged driving instructor, Hans, is stifled in love by his overprotective mother. He sees his escape plan in Matilda, a musician who arrives to rent a room in their apartment, and a blur of infatuation, eroticism and violence ensues.

Bloodshot Heart opens with Super 8 footage paired with a beautifully evocative score (Ola Turkiewicz). We’re obviously seeing Hans’ past, but was it real?

Throughout the film, the viewer revises and questions what they’ve just seen, and it’s that lingering sense of dread that makes this story of obsession and delusion so interesting.

Heavily influenced by Italian horror of the 1960s, the unusual mix of genre in Bloodshot Heart makes for a surprising cinematic journey and one that is quite rare for an Australian production. Ola Turkiewicz’s score is a highlight, especially when paired with Matt Perrott’s sound design. Both are given the time they deserve in colour-filled, dialogue-free moments, particularly in the film’s first half.

Not long into the piece, Matilda is introduced. She’s filling the apartment’s spare room, and Hans is fascinated from the outset. There’s more to their relationship – or is there?

Behind a closed door, Hans whispers, ‘please stay this time’ and the genre juts back into classic horror; with a hint of Hitchcock’s Psycho, it could be assumed that this is a story about a struggling Freudian duo. In a way it is, but the mother’s character never quite develops past the point of accessory. She’s not quite as devious as Malfitano initially sets up, but actively blocking the potential romantic match, so Hans has to think outside the box to win Matilda’s love. A cunning, violent plan is hatched, and it’s here that the film starts to gain momentum.

Bloodshot Heart is a gritty but fun celebration of film, made with obvious love and passion for the craft. What’s seen as disjointed for some may just add to the adventure for others, whilst the uneven performances can be passed for kookiness of characters. The viewer is left confused and disorientated, and perhaps that’s the best indicator that, overall, Malfitano has succeeded.

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The art of Incarceration

Australian, Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Aboriginal and Torres Strait people account for 3% of Australia’s general population and yet, make up 27% of the prison population. This is one of many sobering statistics brought to the foreground in The Art of Incarceration, a new documentary by filmmaker Alex Siddons.

As shocking as the facts on display are, the film is not simply something that can be dismissed as an act of virtue signalling by certain people on the political spectrum. Siddon is looking for solutions to address the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in prison.

Narrated by Jack Charles, a man who also had his brushes with the law, Art of Incarceration takes us on a potted history of atrocities that have occurred since white settlement began on this land. There is generational trauma that runs through modern-day Australia that’s impossible to ignore. The impact has seen a cultural dislocation for many Indigenous people. In Victoria, Siddon takes us to Fulham Correctional Centre, where Indigenous inmates have been given an opportunity to reaffirm their cultural identity and potentially find a way to start a path to a new life.

Led by Not-for-Profit organisation, The Torch, inmates have been partaking in an art program where they create works of art that provide spiritual healing and can be shared with members of the public. Siddon follows three people in particular: Troy, a former freelance photographer for ABC, now inside for violence; Christopher, who has been in and out of prison since the age of 12; and Robby, a former heavyweight champion who has been trying to turn his life around after four years in prison. For each of these men, art means something to them and offers a chance at redemption.

Siddon doesn’t focus on their crimes or why they did what they did. To do so would dehumanise them. They are shown to be people who have had opportunities or no opportunities. However, they are united by their culture, their heritage, their trauma and their addictions.

Outside of the trio, Siddon captures moments that wouldn’t be seen by a lot of Australians. When we talk of cultural disconnection and how it happens, there’s perhaps no better example in the film than when a young prisoner wanting to learn the didgeridoo, and the correctional centre not having the budget to provide, resolves to make one out of lolly sticks.

Siddon has put together a powerful film that highlights the atrocities found within the systems. However, he does so by showing that there are opportunities to help people that doesn’t involve turning a blind eye and throwing away the key.

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Strangeville

Australian, Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Strangeville re-appropriates the science-fiction genre to outback Australia, as strange supernatural forces infiltrate a quiet suburban town called ‘Stephenville’.

The impetus of the plot occurs on a misty night when a shiny UFO descends through the sky to a lonesome farmhouse, kidnapping 11-year-old Maisey, while her parents are zapped to their demise.

After three years, Maisey (Zarlia Chisholm) returns, having lost all of her memory. She joins a rag-tag group comprising of Bruce (David Cook), a hostile taxi driver hardened by the world around him, Miles (Vito Leo), a conspiracy theorist and alien abduction victim himself, and eventually Wendy (Brittany Bell), a waitress who fantasises of escaping her humdrum life, all of which become entangled in the mystery. They vow to unravel who or what is behind the mysterious happenings plaguing ‘Stephenville’.

The film is so self-aware of what it is trying to do, it would almost be labelled a parody if it were not so poorly made itself. Many basic filmmaking elements are shoddily unaddressed, making for a difficult and distracting viewing experience. For example, the quality of sound varies in volume from person to person, while the lighting is invariably over-exposed for exterior scenes, while interior scenes change in visibility despite being in the same location.

Not only this, there are moments of blatant continuity errors such as when Bruce engages in a fist-fight, but blood has already filled in his mouth before he is even punched. Not only this, the ensemble of characters feel lifted out of a comic book, with very limited and simplistic traits that serve to contrast with each other, but they rarely feel like real people. In particular, as Bruce is driving both Wendy and Miles, he says “Stephenville, more like…”, and just before he says the title of the movie, Bruce and Wendy give him intense stares warning him not to.

A potentially redeeming aspect to this film would be if it capitalised on Australian iconography, vernacular, or landscapes. However, many settings and characters appear westernised (an ice cream shop decorated with poppy primary colours, police officers with guns, and the politically corrupt ‘Mayor’), which really diminishes its niche appeal.

Strangeville is a misguided attempt at science-fiction parody, with a comedic approach that falls flat with its cheaply made production.

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Sanzaru

Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The past comes back to haunt everyone – figuratively and literally – in this modern gothic tale from director Xia Magnus.

Evelyn (Aina Dumlao) is a Filipina caretaker housed up in Texas, looking after Dena (Jayne Taini), an elderly woman caught in the throes of dementia. Dena’s mental health is deteriorating rapidly, and she spends her nights calling out for ‘Clem’, the name of her son (Justin Arnold) who has just moved back to his hometown. Clem, meanwhile, has his own problems, including PTSD and a penchant for self-harm. Finally, there’s Amos (Jon Viktor Corpuz), Evelyn’s nephew, living in his aunt’s place of work while his school decides whether to expel him for a violent incident.

There’s enough there to fill three kitchen sink dramas, but Sanzaru isn’t finished with us yet, as Dena’s complaints that she can hear voices in the walls of her home begin to have an effect on poor Evelyn. As her employer’s behaviour becomes more and more erratic, Evelyn starts to unravel a mystery involving Dena, Clem and his sister, Susan (Tomorrow Shea), while trying to shelter her nephew from the truth about her past.

Slap bang in the middle of nowhere Texas, Evelyn carries a dignity about her as she works for a family whose matriarch’s racism bubbles to the surface every time something goes missing around the house. Under Dena’s watch, people of colour are okay to wipe you clean after you’ve soiled yourself, but they’re all inherently thieves. As the put-upon caretaker, Dumlao carries the movie on her shoulders while we watch her trying to make sense of what’s happening around her.

Reminiscent of Mattie Do’s Chanthaly, Xia Magnus drip-feeds the narrative to his audience for a large part of the film, before dropping a resolution on them with the weight of a piano. It could be argued that for the weight behind its gut punch, the dénouement of Sanzaru could benefit from being allowed to marinate. Magnus has spent so long teasing us, that when the meaning behind his film’s title is revealed, Sanzaru goes into top gear and doesn’t look back. Considering the last third of the film involves a parakeet possessed by the spirit of Evelyn’s deceased mother, you need a little time to breathe.

With that said, Sanzaru is an effective psychological ghost story; one which will resonate with you long after you’ve seen it.

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Chasing Wonders

Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

The coming of age trope is unquestionably one of the most frequently visited in the history of cinema, investigated with often stunning beauty and authenticity in the works of filmmakers as varied as Francois Truffaut, Cameron Crowe, John Duigan, John Hughes and Richard Linklater. Some of that same poetry is certainly evident in the new drama Chasing Wonders, a winning tangle of British, Spanish and Australian influences that keeps the stakes small and recognisable while offering up visual images that are nothing less than gorgeous.

The result is a quiet, low key chamber piece occasionally ripped apart by violent emotion. The performances are strong, and the film also shines a light on the gifts of veteran Australian actress/screenwriter Judy Morris (Happy Feet, The Eye Of The Storm). And while attributed to the mysteriously credit-less Paul Meins, the film was essentially directed by Englishman Jim Loach (who worked in Australia previously on the brilliant Oranges And Sunshine), who left the project just before post-production, from whence it was eventually completed by its producers.

The film begins with the teenaged Savino (played with engaging warmth and energy by impressive newcomer Michael Crisafulli) visiting the Spanish home of his father. From there, we track back to the earlier childhood of Savino (played still by a much younger Crisafulli in a Boyhood-style move, with the film shot over a period of five years), who lives on a South Australian vineyard, where he constantly butts heads with his stern, angry, unsmiling father (veteran Spanish actor Antonio De La Torre rages with believable rancour), much to the consternation of his quietly caring mother (an excellent Paz Vega) and her parents (screen legends Edward James Olmos and Carmen Maura). Lightness comes from the beauty of his surroundings, along with his fun loving uncle (Quim Gutiérrez) and his Aussie girlfriend (Jessica Marais), but Savino’s life is one of constant battle.

Charming in a low-key, unadorned kind of way, Chasing Wonders belies the messiness of its production process to feel wholly coherent and seamless, and rates as another strong entry in the well-and-truly dog-eared coming of age genre.

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A Moment in the Sun

Australian, Documentary, Festival, Review, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

A Moment in the Sun tells a story of gritty determination about Dr. Ugur Ortabasi, an Australian immigrant from Turkey whose work in nuclear physics pioneered a solar-operated tandem bicycle. While his fame was ephemeral, his hard work and innovation for progressive climate action in the 1980s came at enormous personal cost in the face of a nation frenzied by coal-powered energy.

Ostensibly centred around the scientific engineering involved, the documentary effectively develops a dual purpose; firstly, as a gripping local sports story, but also as a poignant family reunion.

Ortabasi was described by his friends and colleagues as “crazy”, an “eccentric” and a “visionary”, yet even still, no one was prepared to witness the four-seater tandem bicycle win in the World Championship of Solar Vehicles in 1986. Ortabasi brought together volunteers from across the country who were both solar and fitness enthusiasts to participate with him in the race, with riders alternating shifts to ride the bike. This clunky bike could ride at incredible speeds on smooth roads, where the sun “was an extra rider”. However, on rough terrain, the affectionately named ‘Supernova’ would crash and require numerous repairs.

With a mix of archival footage, and animated vignettes, these moments offer an armchair ride to sporting triumph.

Pertinently though, the film is directed by the subject’s family, which instils a uniquely close insight into Ugur’s ferocious commitment to his craft. An emotional pique comes late whereby the bike has been gathering dust in a garage and is finally reunited with its creator after decades’ separation. Not only this, co-director Leslie Ortabasi (the subject’s son) provides personal accounts of his father’s resilience to overcome doubters during his own childhood. As Ugur founded the Solar Energy Research Centre at the University of Queensland, they both go back to the same location where a photo was taken of Ugur decades earlier opening the centre up, on what once was a dusty and abandoned land, to now a bustling metropolitan area.

Although Ugur was an unsung hero in advancing solar energy, and professionally ostracised, the tale of a single individual’s efforts to forge a clean energy future is both prescient and inspiring.

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Get the Hell Out

Festival, Film Festival, Horror, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

A wrong movie makes you suffer for 90 minutes. So says the opening scroll of Wang I-Fan’s Get the Hell Out. It’s a bold choice of words for a director to make at the start of his feature length debut, even if it is followed up by the numbing comparison that the wrong government can make you suffer for 4 years.

Politics runs deep in most horror films, particularly the zombie genre. White Zombie stoked white America’s fear of the unknown. Night of the Living Dead simmers with race relations. Hell, even the dreadful 2008 remake of Day of the Dead tackled war and vegetarianism (or something). So, setting the undead loose in parliament seems like a zombie’s worst nightmare: a no-brainer.

Hsiung (Megan Lai) is a young, dynamic politician trying to shut down a plant that’s pouring toxic waste into the water supply of her hometown. This cocktail of waste has led to a cluster of people contracting ‘idiot rabies’. However, seemingly only effecting the great unwashed, the Government’s policy appears to be “out of sight, out of mind”. That is until the Prime Minister contracts the aforementioned rabies and is soon chomping down on his party members during the middle of parliament. The Taiwan parliament has a reputation for breaking out into fights in the real world, so what’s a little bloodletting between friends, eh?

With the building on lockdown, Hsiung must fight her way out alongside dopey security guard turned junior MP, Wang (Bruce Ho), whose only strengths appear to be having a massive, gooey-eyed crush on our hero.

Get the Hell Out feels like Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs The World crashed horrifically into the computer game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The film is 90 minutes of unrelentless onscreen graphics and screaming. It doesn’t seem like a bad thing to begin with. When a film opens up with Hsiung going full on Zangief from Street Fighter 2 on a misogynistic journalist, you’re right to think that this going to be a juicy, well-cooked slab of pop culture. However, the sugar-coated adrenaline will have you rolling your eyes into the back of your head as you’re pummeled with re-enactments to memes you thought had died years ago.

It could be argued that this is a satirical stab at the way modern audiences consume their politics; in handy bite sized chunks filtered through a tiktok video, and that could be the director’s intent. However, scratch that neon veneer away and there is nothing else to get your teeth into. Sure, Get the Hell Out is only 100 minutes, but there’s always an option to let your film take some downtime and give your audience a chance to breathe. As it is, like a child dizzy on lemonade, the film goes so fast, it continually feels just out of reach of comprehension.

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Collective

Documentary, Festival, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Charting a recent scandal that gripped the nation of Romania, Collective is an intense documentary that unfolds much like a thriller, as it immerses us in the complexities of a tragedy and the subsequent legal recourse following the revelations of large-scale health-care fraud. Filmmaker Alexander Nanau painstakingly crafts a detailed saga that gives a voice to the numerous parties involved – the journalists, activists, as well as the victims and their advocates.

A timestamp of October 30, 2015 provides historical context. A fire breaks out during a concert in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest. We learn that 27 “youngsters” perish, while 180 are severely injured. An additional 37 burn victims die in the subsequent months from aggressive hospital bacterial infections.

There is universal outrage over the tragedy, especially focusing on the faulty fire exits at the venue. People take to the streets nationwide in protest as corruption and medical incompetency are exposed and railed against. This unrest leads to the resignation of the Prime Minister of Romania and the replacement of his Social Democratic Government.

The filmmaker plunges us into meetings and tribunals where grieving parents lament the tragic loss of their loved ones with heartrending testimonials. Fan footage from the concert, complete with pyrotechnics, is shown. The lead singer remarks, “Something is on fire here. That’s not part of the show,” before calling for a fire extinguisher. The ceiling turns into an inferno in a matter of seconds. The amateur video images are horrifying.

The filmmaker then takes us through the painstaking sleuthing process of gaining evidence to hold those accused of negligence responsible. We learn that at most of the country’s hospitals, the disinfectants used are so diluted that they were rendered ineffective. A major pharmaceutical company, Hexi Pharma, is implicated in the far-ranging corruption.

Refreshingly, there are no ‘talking heads’ style interviews to bog the action down. Narration is unnecessary next to these probing images. Rather, we tag along as the investigative journalists do their research. Cătălin Tolontan is the editor-in-chief of the sports daily Gazeta Sporturilor, and one of the main sleuths. He and his reporters heroically expose an “institutional lie at the state level, propagated through all communication channels.”

One survivor who has been horrifically scarred (including fingers rendered to stumps) is shown posing for photographs, and later attending an art exhibition’s opening.

“This story is so mind-blowing, I’m afraid we are going to look crazy,” laments one determined researcher. Journalist Tolontan asserts his main intention is to provide the public with sufficient “knowledge about the powers that shape our lives.”

There’s a dramatic turn of events involving the head of the pharmaceutical company under investigation for bribery and corruption. Eventually, his money laundering is estimated to be in the tens of millions. After the Minister for Health resigns, the new Minister promises transparency.

Alexander Nanau’s cinéma vérité style puts us almost in the shoes of the journalists, accompanying them throughout every step of their journey of discovery. We’re even privy to meetings within the Ministry for Health as the new Minister and his staff systematically try to find solutions to repair the gross incompetence and restore the nation’s faith in the medical system.

The press conferences, television appearances and the investigation itself is interspersed with scenes of the badly scarred woman adjusting to her injuries, such as trying out a robotic hand. Crucially, Collective never lets us forget the ongoing personal cost of this tragedy.

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Night Shift

Festival, Film Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Director/co-writer Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel, Gemma Bovery) shines a light on the role of the police in modern France with her new film, Night Shift. It starts promisingly, showing the same situations in the one day from the perspective of the three central characters (similar to the money exchange sequence from Tarantino’s Jackie Brown). This format teases out the personalities of each officer, revealing a tad more about them as the timeline repeats; one character appears out of focus in the background but is front and centre on the next pass, another is completely off screen except for his voice and is later shown at an adjoining table. Sadly, this style is only maintained for the first act, with the rest of the film reverting to a traditional narrative for the titular night shift duty.

The three leads, Virginie (Virginie Efira), Aristide (Omar Sy) and Erik (Grégory Gadebois) volunteer to escort an illegal immigrant from a Parisian detention centre to Charles de Gaulle airport to be flown back to Tajikistan. On the way to the airport, it’s discovered that the detainee, Tohirov (Payman Maadi) will most likely be tortured or killed on his return. The way the officers treat this information varies depending on their mindset, their attitude to the job and their personal baggage. Virginie is sympathetic, and her attempts to coax Tohirov to flee provide the most tense moments of the whole film. Aristide plays it cool, pretending not to care, driven by self-interest, only for his feelings for Virginie to sway him. Erik is assiduously by-the-book, ragingly dissatisfied with life and taken to sniffing alcohol as the next best option to falling off the wagon.

The theme of authority dealing with a moral wrong is pivotal in Night Shift. Whether characters from different frames of reference arrive at a commonly shared sense of humanity is the whole nub of the film. This positing reflects the way we are introduced to each officer – there’s an alternate viewpoint each time, before and during the ‘prisoner transfer’. In acting as the focal point for the police officers’ uncertainty, Maadi is fantastic. He says very little, almost nothing in French or English, as his face shifts from desperation, to mistrust, to utter panic. He’s the standout here.

For all the worthwhile exploration of guilt and morality, via people operating under pressure, this film doesn’t quite fulfil its remit. It lacks a bit of grunt and isn’t gripping enough for the circumstances. It’s not a bad film by any means but it could have been much more.

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Mandibles

Festival, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Mandibles is the latest film from French musician turned filmmaker, Quentin Dupieux (aka Mr. Oizo). It’s an odd film, veering between lovably surreal farce and nihilistic idiocy. The premise has our protagonists, Manu (Grégoire Ludig) and Jean-Gab (David Marsais), stumbling upon a grotesquely large fly in the boot of a car that they’ve stolen. This scuppers the completion of a possibly dodgy job they’re on, but these two will not be disheartened. Jean-Gab suggests training the huge fly, which he names Dominique, and putting it to work for them as a kind of thief drone – one that “doesn’t need batteries”.

The action takes place in a less than idyllic South of France where Manu and Jean-Gab lurch almost involuntarily from one ludicrous situation to another, all the while giving each other a nerdy hand-shake called ‘The Toro’. After some initial criminal tomfoolery, Manu is mistaken for someone else and invited to a country villa by some young women. Offer accepted, they take advantage of the free food and swimming pool, but Jean-Gab has Dominique’s well-being on his mind, as well as the money-making scheme. He continues to train the fly until Agnès, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, begins to suspect some funny business. Her character is a bit of a misstep. Agnès shouts when she speaks, supposedly due to a skiing accident, and though the others don’t make fun of her disability, it still feels as though the audience is encouraged to do so – an attempt at drawing cheap laughs when there’s already plenty of the bizarre to go around.

Dupieux has form with this kind of anarchic story-telling; the lead in Rubber is a sentient, killer tyre, Deerskin is about a murderously manipulative jacket and this film features a unicorn bike, diamond dentures and an ‘unfortunate’ dog, as well as the massive insect. On the face of it, Mandibles appears to be a high concept gimmick crowbarred into a goofy buddy comedy, but the themes of friendship and despair just manage to shine through the weirdness. There’s a nice sense of cyclical completion with opening and closing scenes taking place on the same desolate beach and a satisfying, if predictable final development with Dominique. Mandibles is mostly harmless, often senseless and occasionally amusing, and aside from Dupieux’s other works, there aren’t too many films like this.

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