Sunday, January 27, 2013

Films Watched 2013: #2

Vincere (2009)

We began our new film club season with Marco Bellochio's extravagantly melodramatic Vincere, the story of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini's secret lover, Ida Dalser, who bankrolled his rise to power and conceived a son for him only to be denied once he'd achieved that power. A heady mix of sexual desire and political unrest at first, recreating the rise of fascism with newsreel footage and on-screen Futurist slogans, the film gradually resolves into a compelling study of one woman's bloody-minded refusal to let go of what she believes is her right and her son's. It's hard to know, though, whether to admire her or despair at her near-suicidal delusion. Giovanna Mezzogiorno can't quite generate the sympathy required to make us really care what happens to Ida. She seems spurned by power as much as love, robbed of her chance to lord it over the nation, to see her son heir to a new imperial dynasty. Which isn't to take away from Mezzogiorno's powerful performance or Filippo Timi's marvellous bug-eyed intensity as Mussolini. But for all the near-operatic passion of the story, its heightened emotions, what really stands out is Bellochio's bravura direction, mixing painterly composition with experimental daring to great effect.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Films Watched 2013: #1

Animal Kingdom (2010)

Animal Kingdom is a tautly impressive crime drama, directed with unshowy power by David Michod and very well acted. Seventeen year-old J. (James Frecheville) has nowhere to go after the death of his mother but the home of his grandmother, Janine Cody (Jacki Weaver), the matriarch of one of Melbourne's top crime families. The Codys are at war with the Armed Robbery Squad who've taken to offing gang members vigilante-style. The man they really want, though, is Janine's eldest son Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), who responds to one of these killings by murdering two patrolmen in revenge. J. is implicated in this and is soon the target of the police, specifically Sgt Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce). What follows is an engrossing study of loyalty and ruthlessness, portraying the criminal world as a Darwinian eco-system of the strong and weak. Brought in for questioning J. is soon in a position where he can't trust the cops to protect him or his family not to kill him. Frecheville is impressive as the still centre of the film, Weaver icily chilling as Janine with Pearce quietly impressive as always. But it's Mendelsohn who steals the film, his Pope an unsettling presence not just for his unpredictable violence but also his predatory, passive-aggressive caring, belittling one minute, entrapping with fake intimacy the next, always probing for emotional weakness. It makes him one of recent cinemas more memorable and acutely-observed monsters.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Thinking Machine

Agnes Moorehead, The Magnificent Ambersons, 1941

What the camera does, and does uniquely, is to photograph thought. That’s my profoundest conviction in this business of moviemaking: the camera is not so much a lie-detector as a Geiger counter of mental energy. It registers something only vaguely detectable to the naked eye, registers it clear and strong. Every time an actor thinks, it goes right on the film.’
- Orson Welles to Peter Bogdanovich from This Is Orson Welles