Sunday, 25 January 2015

Film Location Expedition: The Piano

A few months back I created a new feature which explored the cinematography and the score of select films, a feature I dubbed my "Visual & Sound Diary". In one particular entry I delved into the world of Jane Champion's Palme d'Or-winning The Piano. I attempted to recreate the incredible, distinctively eerie atmosphere by putting together the iconic images, a brief interlude describing its allure, its magic and a clip of the piano piece "The Heart Asks Pleasure First". On a recent trip to the scenic, wildly beautiful north island of New Zealand, I had the opportunity to visit the very places where Champion shot this transcendent film, the isolated, ghostly Karekare Beach and the sunlit spectacle Piha. 

You can view my Visual & Sound Diary entry on The Piano here.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Two Days, One Night

Minimalistic and realistic, the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are noted for what they are not. The Belgium film-making duo employ only the simplest cinematic tools; absent are the slow-motion shots, the montages, the music, extravagant set designs and ensemble casts. Their films are beautifully stripped-down, the features feel as though they are created of a single camera man and actor engaging in intimate shoots. A true film of the Dardenne brothers is recognised for its unrelenting patience and their latest feature Two Days, One Night, starring the effervescent Marion Cottilard, is no exception. True to form, the flick is based purely on real life challenges ranging from financial difficulties to mental illness, insecurity and self-doubt to the constant challenge of maintaining human connection. I cannot note Two Days, One Night for its cinematography nor its score - the film is shot most simplistically with handheld cameras and as for its score - well its non-existent. Even Cottilard appears bare-faced for the cameras, her raw performance all that is needed to win over this audience. What this feature essentially reveals is the sad but hopeful truth that individuals survive by everyday triumphs and the enduring contentment which it accompanies. 

Two Days, One Night chronicles three days in the life of a young Belgian mother, Sandra (Marion Cottilard) who works as a labourer in a solar-panel factory. After taking a prolonged leave of absence after suffering a nervous breakdown, Sandra's colleagues are given the option to each receive a ¢1,000 bonus if they agree to make Sandra redundant. In the following few days, Sandra is persuaded by her husband to take a trip to individually visit each of her colleagues in hopes of convincing them to forgo the bonus so that she may remain employed. The significant issue at hand is that Sandra progressively begins to doubt not only her chances but her entitlement to the position.  

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Force Majeure

"Compelling premise" is a phrase I use to describe many a film. In a competitive film industry, an interesting, provoking story arc is an invaluable selling point. Swedish flick, Force Majeure captivates and beguiles its audience like no film this year. Achingly uncomfortable, the feature incites unusual thought and discussion of the postmodern marital relationship and much like the Fincher's Gone Girl, it is laced with cynicism, spiked with realism and presented in a harrowing, perceptive glory. The film sustains beautifully with a dry, idiosyncratic humour, biting social commentary and dynamic, stylistic production and staging. This critique of Force Majeure will stand at an odd contrast from my last review on Testament of Youth where I insistently praised the traditional style of the film. Unlike the conventional vigour of Testament, Force Majeure profits continuously from its sheer originality, the perplexing, oddly confrontational tone of the film will twist through your mind and rest comfortably in its darkest corners. One question is guaranteed to linger on the lips of the audience as they exit the theatre- "what would you do?". 

Force Majeure, in its most literal sense, refers to an unavoidable incident, a "superior force", which is precisely the type of event which cleanly replaces the delicate balance of one swedish family with certain anarchy. When I refer to the "balance" of the family, I mean to cite its conceptual dynamics, more specifically the uneasy power play of its members. The film is no standard natural disaster flick. The disaster here wreaks ruin in the most unusual way. During a ski holiday in the French Alps, a family is enjoying a meal on a rooftop restaurant when they are graced with what initially appears to be nothing more than a natural spectacle, a small, "controlled" avalanche. But as the formidable mass of snow nears, panic rises and the dear father of the family, Tomas, reassuring his family only moments earlier, is nowhere to be seen. Reliable mother Ebba, clings desperately to her children and in many fruitless attempts, calls out persistently for her husband. But soon, the snow settles, the impending disaster never occurs, giving way to embarrassment and an ugly reality, as the sheepish father returns to the dining table and resumes his meal.