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REVIEW: Ruin

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From its opening scenes, Ruin plunges the viewer into a world of violence and suffering with grim authenticity. Set in contemporary Cambodia, the film follows young friends, Sovanna and Phirun, who together find brief moments of mutual solace in otherwise brutal lives. Directors, Michael Cody and Amiel Courtin-Wilson, paint a harrowing picture of existence; Ruin imagines a world that is defined by misogyny, where the capacities for exploiting the poor and desperate appear relentless, and Sovenna and Phirun are forced to survive against desperate odds.

Sang Malen and Rous Mony deliver strong performances, often using gestures and movements to create their characters. This emphasis on performance is punctuated with a camera style that shifts from claustrophobic, hand-held shots of town and city streets and dank apartments with calm, almost-serene dreamlike images of the world beyond the city. Whether through the movements of water in the river or the slow dance of flames against the night, these sequences are poetic and haunting, in contrast to the air of imminent violence elsewhere. A powerful soundtrack that combines minimalist drones, tones and shimmering shapes, which add to the haunted atmosphere of the world, build upon the mood. At times these worlds seem to contrast too much, but the tension is carefully maintained throughout, adding to the movie’s style.

Ruin demands much of the audience, but it makes for necessary and ultimately rewarding viewing.

Ruin screens in one-off events in Melbourne (December 3) and Brisbane (December 4).

 
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REVIEW: Sand Storm

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Deep in the Negev desert in southern Israel, in a forlorn breeze-block Bedouin village where cultural and religious traditions have been adhered to for centuries, polygamy is widespread and women are assigned to prospective husbands in a deeply medieval manner. Suliman (Haitham Omari) is marrying his second wife. He returns home late on the afternoon of his wedding, leaving his daughter, Layla (Lamis Ammar) and wife Jalila (Ruba Blal-Asfour), to ready his wedding night bedroom themselves. Suliman’s marriage to the new younger wife throws a pall over the rest of the family.

When Layla falls for Anwar (Jalal Masrwa), a boy from another village whom she has met at her school, first wife Jalila becomes authoritarian and aggressive, taking out her frustrations and directing Layla not to see the boy any more lest shame be brought on their family. Tensions boil over when Anwar (Jalal Masrwa) comes to talk to Suliman face to face and declare his love for Layla, soon after Suliman declares that Layla has already been promised as a wife to another man in the village.

Quietly intense and never tipping over into overwrought drama, Sand Storm’s direction is deft and unobtrusive. The performances are uniformly great, and there’s a potent sense of place, closed in and claustrophobic, putting us in the head space of the central character, Layla. The lack of information and context is both a plus and a minus, depending on how you like to experience films. There is an otherworldliness to its opening minutes, where we’re presented with alien customs and stone-age attitudes towards women. Without voiceovers or opening crawls describing it, the audience is left to witness the ubiquity of these attitudes, and challenged to understand the complicity of all the individuals perpetuating them, both the men and the women.

 
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REVIEW: Golden Years

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Mainstream cinema is hardly bereft of films where groups of the disenfranchised decide to stick it to The Man. What it does tend to have very little of is films where these groups break past the age barrier of middle aged and beyond. Instead, films tend to dismiss the idea that OAPs have enough energy to stick anything to anyone. The Golden Years, directed by John Miller, is a British caper flick that tries to reset the balance and falls short of doing so.

 Bernard Hill (Lord Of The Rings) plays Arthur, a retiree living out his autumn years alongside his wife, Martha (Virginia McKenna). Upon losing his pension and access to free healthcare all in one day, Arthur decides to rob his local bank; an act that he manages to pull off accidently after getting cold feet. With the media and authorities on the lookout for a slick group of thieves, Arthur and Martha wind up using the preconceived notions about pensioners to rob further banks and use the proceeds to help pay off their friends’ debts.

Ostensibly a comedy, in the style of The Ealing Studios romps of yore, Miller and his co-writers make the mistake of trying to inject a heavy dose of Ken Loach social realism into the proceedings that never feel natural. The jokes are jarringly put to one side every time Arthur takes a moment to lament the plight of his generation. This is a gentle comedy with something to say, but it needs a lighter hand to mesh the two ideals. With an ensemble cast that includes Simon Callow, Una Stubbs, and Phil Davis, it’s great to see a variety of veteran actors doing what they do best. Another polish of the script and tighter editing, however, would elevate this to something a little more weighty.