Sunday, August 16, 2015

My MIFF 2015

Well, that's that for another MIFF. I was a little more distracted than usual for this year's fest as I had some project work which took most of my time outside of the screenings. I added two to my mini pass's thirteen and left it at that (having gone up to twenty last year). Because things were happening in the real world that needed my attention I had to consider the festival a relief rather than a celebration. And this is the first MIFF since I started getting minipasses which hasn't given me a cold. Nice.


The Forbidden Room I discovered Guy Maddin at MIFF 2003 (a series of shorts) and it was love at first sight. Not everything has charmed but this powerhouse blew almost everything else off the stage. Maybe just not see it rising from a hangover due to one too many Mai Tais the night before with the ol' significant other ("I'm not ol' !")

The Duke of Burgundy showed that you could enjoy your favourite era without becoming a slave to it. Strickland breaks free, freer than he did with Berberian Sound Studio and that's saying something.

99 Homes gave us an update on the kind of voracious capitalist beloved of Oliver Stone or Martin Scorsese without any of the fetishising of either for the villanous capitalist at its centre.

Battles Without Honour and Humanity was a sumptuous restoration that offered a violent Yakuza history without an invitation to join the machismo on screen. No wonder Battle Royale was so good.

Hill of Freedom gave us another sly and gently deceptive comedy of manners based on the social difficulties of using an imported commonality to express difficult things.


Two Shots Fired. I liked this wandering fable of first world naivete but wanted a little less standoffish cool and a tinge more archness.

The Arabian Nights (three feature-length films) attempted much but allowed its plainer passages to venture outside the acceptable boring limits. Still want to see what Gomes does next but that's still because of Tabu rather than even the finer moments of this.

Angels of Revolution was a strong tableau-driven expose on revolutionary fervour, political naivete and the force of tradition which transcended its subject-appropriate low-profile narrative with great colour in several senses but it might have pushed the culture collision more fully and forcefully by focussing less on the more familiar westerners.

Teheran Taxi worked well, played nice at a non-rambling run time and delivered a strong message. The pity of it is that it seems intoxicated with its own worthiness. This one's on the blade of middle and high.

Lambert and Stamp would've been great if I had been able to make out what half of them were saying at the screening due to crappy audio (a session-based problem rather the film's as such) but managed to offer some insights into a well-worn story.

Dalmas A time capsule of new wave genre and generic new wave from the dawn of the Whitlam era is more fellow traveller than agitprop and, for all its quaint rough edges, remains a decent statement beyond its time of greatest impact.


The Nightmare demonstrated that documentaries that endeavour to understand phenomena need to find a point outside of that phenomenon or they'll look plain silly. This film followed its participants in rejecting the science that would have made it intriguing. It ended up ranting like a tramstop loony.

What I've noted in this the third year of Michelle Carey's tenure as artistic director has featured a more adventurous touch with selection. Yes, there's the usual hot-at-Cannes burble but there's also a greater confidence with cinema outside of the main feed. I was annoyed at the dominance of U.S. independent titles in her first festival program but had to concede that this might have been the pragmatic means of filling a first program: get what's easy and make it a feature. But the last two line ups have proved to be rich and diverse.

Booking is very easy with the website and the app but I wish that I could mass book via the wish list. This was a feature of a few festivals during the 2000s that has disappeared. Why? I used to love setting up all my sessions on the day they were released and then clicking on book these or buy these or whatever the terminology was and that happening. It was a small moment of super-villainous triumph; one click and I rule the next two weeks with the pieces of my plan falling effortlessly into place. Now you have to go to each title (which you can do from your wishlist) and book each one. Ah, well, doesn't take that much longer.

The move from the credit cards to the app was a good one. Before the cards the mini pass was a carboard card which you could add sessions to which were then punched on the card on a desk with a queue separate to the one at the cinema door. With the app you can, if you wish, still print your tickets out or even go to the box office and get that done for you but having an app on your phone with everything you need beats everything prior to it. If there are still people who line up to waste the staff's time by making their mind up when they're served (yes, that used to happen) I hope I never meet them.

The least faulty Android app since the introduction of them a few years back. It was ready before time and there were no strange display bugs or glitchy behaviour.There is still an issue with what can be done while logged in and logged out. Shouldn't I just be able to access every feature with a login?Why can't I access my wishlist from the app? Rating films takes a drill-down and some of the search functions could use a little attention. Nevertheless, using the app for its primary value as a ticket dispenser is flawless. The only time I had a problem with it was due to my phone thinking it had to log in to the ACMI wifi and kept throwing me out. So, not the app there.

Someone has worked out that if you budget enough for the preparation of the volunteers the savings come back in happy customers. My problem with MIFF staff in the past has not been with rudeness as much as cluelessness; people who implode into shortness of temper when encountering irregularity. This year I saw the bright young things of the Vollie brigade welcome everyone in with smiles that weren't stapled on to their faces and a patience I've never known as widespread throughout the festival. If there was a snooty waiter syndrome one among them at any of the venues I missed out on them. If someone strayed I saw polite firmness rather than caving in the face of punter-aggression or assumed superiority from previous years (should  point out there that I haven't seen any real upleasantness for a few years anyway).

What ad? Well, there was one and, finally, it wasn't a lame joke that we had to live through at every screening. I did get sick of the people getting so excited they turned into popcorn rapidly and the classy number plate one

I always wince when the only choice I have for a particular film is ACMI. The screen is big n wide. The sound is good. You'd think the seats were so well placed in rows as to leave too much room for the lizard creatures from Beta Grongo to stretch their hind pincers and push into the seats in front of them. I saw one guy actually stretch his extraterrestrial pins so far that his feet were rubbing their footpath filth over the headrest and arm of two seats in front of him. What the hell goes through the minds of people like this? So, I reluctantly went to ACMI for most of my screenings. Last year I avoided it completely, not a single session there. Can't always get what you want, though...

The Forum is always one of the joys of the Festival. Love the building and atmosphere and the club downstairs. It's a winner.

I'm glad the Treasury is now a venue for all its cruddy seating with the shifty cushions. I just wish they'd let me put a film night for the rest of the year there. I can but dream which is what I'll have to settle for.

I liked the experience of the Comedy but wouldn't want to make a habit of it. The sense that the seats were all squashed in was strong. While this didn't really affect me as I was in the front row for my only screening there (99 Homes) I would not like to be more toward the middle. Then again, they have a bar in the auditorium.

All up a cruisey business. Being strapped for extra leave this year, I'm not taking my usual post-MIFF week off. Well, I don't need it anyway as the work I was doing crammed up against the screenings left no time for filmy shenanigans anyway and, spending a lot of time without anyone else in the room meant that wasn't doing a lot (actually any) partying to make a recovery week necessary. So, it's off to work I return, having an easy Sunday eve not spent ironing shirts (did them a week ago).

ALSO ...
Having harped on this for most of these roundups for the past few years I can add a little something about queueing. Anyone who has read these o'er the years will know I like the front few rows. I learned a fair few years back that it didn't matter if was at the beginning of the line or at the freezing element-exposed end of it, I pretty much always get the seat I want, front and centre ... ish. Well, this is the first fest where I didn't wait in a queue once. This is easy for me as I live in a suburb that borders on the CBD where the venues are. I'm about fifteen minutes brisk winter stride from the furthest of the venues. So, I would turn up just after the main block had gone in while the first slides were running on screen. The one time this backfired was my first session. I had forgotten that the Kinos MIFF cinemas only have tiny front rows and capacities generally. So, I saw The Duke of Burgundy at a severe angle, idly checking for any anamorphosis in the compositions (well, you never know with Peter Strickland). The closest I came to queueing was getting to the end of the line for The Witch on Russell St but that was already moving when I joined it. (Then I had to dash ahead of the zombie-march exit for one of a few midnight Mai Tai meetings with the o- the autre significante.) That was a great result but I'll admit to missing the sense of event palpable from being in a long conga line for an eagerly awaited movie. Actually, bugger that, it's much better now.

Roll on August 2016!


 I showed a friend of mine the 1950s version of The Thing. She enjoyed it but had to get out: "what if they made movies like that now." She wasn't referring to the durable compulsion of the Christian Nyby classic but the kind of acting that was the norm at the time and the way the film played out in spare, essential scenes to its final tension. Well, they do. Since the concept of post-modernism landed arse-backwards into populist cinema in the '90s and people started making movies designed to be cult, the movies have never looked older. But then there's Guy Maddin.

Maddin started clanging about in his Winnipeg workshop in the '80s, well out of the range of the spotlight, fashioning a kind of cinema that is both fresh and very old. His silent short films like Heart of the World look like Eisenstein but play like Lynch and the refusal to hop on the tribute band wagon clear from the start. Maddin doesn't copy old movies he makes his own new. The acting was a mix of stagey early sound (and the sound itself decidedly early), irised scene transitions and vignetting in sets that looked like the ones in Murnau or Lang. The stories were a loopy mix of old manners and joltingly modern ones. They were impossible to categorise (they certainly weren't just retro) even as comedy or melodrama and finally we who followed him in fascination had to admit that here was that rarest of cinethings in the current climate: an auteur. Guy Maddin makes Guy Maddin films.

Well, he did or I thought he did until I saw Keyhole (most recent before this) a bizarre retelling of Ulysses' return to Ithaca told in jazz age dress and in the cleanest scope image you ever did see (ditto for the audio). It was bizarre because its cleanliness did not fit the odd dreamlike mashing of the mythical story. That was clearly intentional but the intention itself was silent. So, I came to this with a wince of trepidation, knowing that I want my favourite artists to keep developing but also want them to stay where I like them best.

Well, it didn't take a second through the warping slide show and protean hybrid clean and dirty  electronics of the music to know that I was in for something I'd like.

Story? Too many. Ok, a submarine crew is carrying a gelatinous explosive that is melting and must be kept under a certain depth to stop it melting too much and exploding. They are looking for their captain who has disappeared. Suddenly into this scene, a lumberjack comes in through an airlock, telling a tale of trying to save his ladylove who is being held captive in the cave of the local brigands. After a hilarious scene of strength and skill trials the woodsman is welcomed among them but his goal, the lovely Margot demands greater proofs of his loyalty starting the next night. As she and the robbers are sleeping she dreams she has amnesia and enters a night club as a flower girl and then strange Lydia Lunch style cabaret singer and on and on. But every one, every new tale (and they average a new one every few minutes or even seconds), the forgetful and murderous husband, the literally broken motorcycle girl, her doting doctor and his brother, as escaped criminal and the miller (and "pillow hugger" he works for) and the various dreams by new characters, a volcano and the hairs of a moustache (this list doesn't begin to cover it) ALL, every one I remembered to count, get resolved for the end for, as dreamlike as Maddin gets (i.e. in every film he does and deeply) he keeps a strong hand on narrative flow and there isn't a moment that isn't set in it's own part of the greater arc.

And Maddin the stylist never lets up. The music ranges from clear high resolution string sections to muffled Victrola records to acapella songs to '80s ballads so precise and perverse they sound like Sparks (Youtube them)*. Images of the characters warping as though viewed through water appear like underlay. New characters are given title cards with the character names and the actors who play them. The palette shifts rapidly between desaturated colour, Technicolorish boldness, deep greyscale, vaseline lensed obscurity. The home workshop look to props and sets continues from Maddin's own traditions. The acting looks silent or wrenched from the early talkies. The gang's all here. It feels comfortable but just that step more assured and restless. Keyhole was an interesting detour; he's much stronger on the path.

Also, we're getting a higher profile international cast this time, including Charlotte Rampling, Udo Kier, Mathieu Amalric and Geraldine Chaplin among many many others, often in multiple roles. I had worried about the high recognition casting back in the day of Isabella Rosselini in The Saddest Music in the World. No more need to worry now as then. He's come through with enough of what we liked on top and riches that we love in the middle. Might have to watch Keyhole again, now.

*Um, just found out that the Derriere Song is by Sparks.

MIFF Session #14: DALMAS

A beefy ex-cop barges through the early 70s underground scene in Melbourne, looking for clues to find a Mr Big and investigate Plastic Man who is seeding seedy acid into the realm of corruptable youth. His encounters take him to a philosophy-spouting ex-cop current junkie (nice turn by a young Max Gillies), into the fists and boots of his old colleagues on the narc squad and a crew he meets in psychedelic clubland who are making a film about the counter culture. Soon after this, the quite solid private eye in edge-land has worked with real muscles, despite the stiff dialogue.

Everyone flees to the country where they try to keep the film going as the director and crew and cast of the film we are watching pull at the strands of the conventional cinema it started with and draw out, by group agreement, any theme or method that anyone can think of. That's not my criticism, it's what happens on screen.

So, before the film is half its running time old we have moved from cop land to late 60s Godard territory (which by this film's production was populated by anyone but Godard) and are presented with a mishmash of recorded meetings, avant theatre, satire, reconstructed anecdotes, campfire chats, and anything else that the people we have seen in the kitchen can think up. That's really it. So, why did I find this constantly diverting and thoroughly enjoyable?

It's before my time for nostalgia (my yoof movement was punk, a few seemingly long years later) but it did remind me of some of the friends some of my older siblings attracted in the early 70s, fabulous furry and freakish dreamers who proposed anything from the influence of alien races on local politics to plans for building flying saucer engines, the resurrection of the lost arts of tarot, organic farming and whatever was frowned upon by the straight world. I liked these familiar people from my glimpse of them from the sidelines of my childhood and who later appeared abundantly in Peter Carey's stories and novels.

The too frigidly dated anti-Viet politics are almost entirely absent in preference for resistance to Hollywood film convention. It took me a few scenes but the time capsule value on screen here is far less the wearisome hippydom of Godard and Antonioni fetishists (the characters here are happy to distinguish themselves from the "middle class" hippies they see). This is less film in revolt. This is 1973; it's an apotheosis of the big gleaming optimism of the Whitlam years. We were out of Vietnam, the White Australia policy and weren't even official colonialists with the return of the admin to New Guinea's people. This is less Billy Jack than Man With a Movie Camera, life, love and movies are going DIY and BYO. Life is free if you want it.

Still, worthiness doesn't cut it for even five minutes of directionless lens-pointing. What's left is the character of the people in front of the camera. These are fresh faced folk, rambled minded but charming with it. Their endless fraying of the points and arguments are neither naive nor particularly profound and most of them, without the restlessly changing visuals. The moment of violence I was hoping for came pretty much when it needed to and the looping self-reflexive finale, while predictable felt welcome rather than trite. I was expecting to be exhausted by this one and feared I might walk out but I easily settled into it on its terms, knowing that the director would heed his own lessons for his more famous Pure Shit a few years later. So, I met this with the enjoyment that it was made to combat and can't think of a finer outcome for a film that deserves a continued screen life.

Friday, August 14, 2015

MIFF Session #13: THE WITCH

A family of religious zealots are thrown out of a community of religious zealots for being too ... zealous. As they are leaving with their goods and chattles we notice a pair of native Americans walking unresisted into the village. The pilgrim fathers therein are clearly pragmatic enough to trust the heathen locals to help them get by. It also clues us in to what we are about to receive.

The family stop at some lush scenery near a forest and a stream. In the time it takes to build a decent farmhouse out of local materials, eldest daughter Thomasin is playing hide and boo with the family's newest, Samuel. "Oh where am I? ... Boo!" which she has the patience to repeat until she opens her eyes to say boo and the bairn is gone, only a shaking shrub at the edge of the forest to bear witness to the abduction.

Then we get a brief sequence which tells us that we are not going to see a film where the witchcraft is all in the mind of the iggrant god-botherers but actually happening. So, this throws out the Blair Witch in corsets, Crucible and Black Sunday scenarios because nothing is quite behaving the way we expect. That keeps up.

We then follow the sinking fortunes of a family who are discovering the history of farming all over again and the disappearance of one of their own even serves as local legend of sorts (was it witch or wolf that did the deed?) which compounds their already nutso Christianity. Eldest boy Caleb is having to work out his own burgeoning sexual development by himself, gazing at his nubile sister with an intensity that he both enjoys and is deeply ashamed of. The parents have a number of conflicts left unresolved while the business of survival rolls on. But they are no readier to dissolve than the fears of the witch in the woods and will soon find explosive venting of their own.

That's not quite it but to say more of the events unfolding on screen would become exhausting for their sheer linearity. And linear it is. And this is where this film earns its points. This is far less the wild freedom vs constrained civilisation of The Woman than the grinding depth of Kes. Uh huh, this is the horror film that Ken Loach would make if make a horror film he would. As such, we bear the daily drudge of life the slow-as-corn-growing lane at the same time as we receive glimpses into what seems like a literal manifestation of a witch in the woods.

But is this waht we are seeing or the product of religious minds so extreme they were thrown out of sawdust breakfast central? Is the scene where Caleb's teenaged horniness finds fulfillment as blackly magic as it plays for us or something more private and personally explosive? But even this plays strangely with our expectations. We are given the strange comfort of seeing a monstrosity in pleasingly ghastly detail, draw our own conclusions from the incantations of the younger two children playing with the local ram, Black Phillip, and the appearance of the hare whose wrangler deserves all the grass that is edible for giving us such a projectible creature.

The Witch quite simply eats its cake and has it. We get the undeniable but it happens to people committed to denial, fighting the environment in a place where they do not belong. So, we get a horror movie that is short on scares but gigantic on unease and its causes which lie firmly in the familiar territory of the kind of belief that seeks to conquer at all costs, the kind of belief that can scarcely distinguish between childrens' songs, infernal chanting and the language of the psalms. I can hear Ken enviously grinding his teeth in the auditorium from here.

Liked it. Didn't love but like is a high score for a contemporary horror film in a field so bereft of them.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


It's easy to assume that the Russian revolution spread like electricity. It happened in Petersburg and the switch was thrown painting all ten time zones red. The proliferation took years as the agents of change went out in expeditionary teams to integrate the babel of local cultures with the rising Soviet force. This was harder the further away they went from the industrial and agrarian areas more familiar to them. This is the story of one such.

I say story but in effect that should read magic lantern show. After an introductory scene that serves to both tell us about the local resistance to the Soviet team and shake hands with the tableau approach that will make this film. We are then introduced to the team one by one as they are selected from the aspects of progress which will be used to lure the natives from their subsistence into the blinding light of the new. So, in addition to the cinegenic Polina we get a filmmaker, a doctor, a photographer, an industrial designer, a composer etc who head off to the wilds several time zones away to convert the people and vanquish their gods.

While not strictly non or anti narrative, Angels of Revolution takes its time to establish depth rather than sequence in its first half as we follow the team's recruitment and preparation. The sense of their mission being a non-returnable grows as we watch them training and playing like cosmonauts. Indeed, I was reminded more than once of Alexei German's sprawling Hard to be a God as the team set about bring the Inuit-like peoples into the modern world. We already know this will end well for them and here we witness why.

A sumptuous pallette, a great feeling for landscape and a strongly managed demonstration of the differences in culture either side of the divide, the bursting, assisted colour of the pre-Stalin Soviet world and the frosty primeval rites of the forest and lake peoples whose god-invested effigies might as well control the seasons and the yields of the land.

The home made hot air balloon is straight out of Andrei Rublev and there are many reminders of Dziga Vertov and Eisenstein all of which can only fail to win the Khanty and Nenet from their wooden magic. Only one thing might have done this and the sight of it dazzles with its elegant power: a film the team have made is projected on the smoke of a bonfire.

This is not an easy film to approach if your preferences run more to Dr Zhivago than Man With a Movie Camera. It is, nevertheless, made in the spirit of the thing it depicts, in ruminant recognition of its adventure and naivete. As such it is a fitting eulogy for the effort and a solid reminder of its built in disaster.


Mori returns to Seoul where he taught Japanese to get back with the girl he fell in love with then. We see her pick up his letter to her about this and then we see Mori as his voiceover reads the letter. He has found a guest house close to where he remembers her living and knocks on her door, leaving notes when it doesn't open. We see her reading the letter with an expression that tells us it isn't welcome. Meanwhile, Mori gets busy acquainting himself with the other guests and the girl at the local cafe and from an early point we see that the progress of his visit is delivered in reverse. Well, kind of. When his correspondent opened the letter the pages spilled out and she read them in the order she put the unnumbered pages together. So, the events sometimes play in the right order but mostly they're backwards.

Mori doesn't speak Korean and the Koreans he meets don't speak Japanese. The dialogue is almost entirely in the third language of English. This means that not only does Mori face commicating with a lack of precision but the Koreans have to speak like tourists in their home town. Even when the conversation is warm or intimate it must pass through this filter. No one is saying quite what they mean and, even if their English is fluent, what they say is constantly compromised.

Just as he did with information deficit in last year's wonderful Our Sun Hi, Sang-Soo Hong plays with the fullness and clarity of meaning in the speech of his conversants. A subtle warning might emerge as a pleasantry, a compliment patronising. Through all of this the characters work on saying what they mean but the cheaper shot of farcical misunderstanding is not on the menu.

Instead, we get a deceptively gentle meditation on the constant problems of communication which scrubs up beautifully as comedy. It's easy to lose sight of Mori's trouble with love but that is the thing that informs almost every frame. Hong continues his great trust in his actors by keeping most of the scenes single shots and the focal length medium and the angle a profile while never feeling stagey.

This was shown with the Claire Denis short Voila l'enchainement which also used static close shots to describe a couple's disintegration in dialogue and monologue. It made its point and continued to do so, growing weighty and oppressive very quickly. Its thirty minutes on screen felt like Hill of Freedom's sixty-six and the reverse is damningly as true. Long live Sang-Soo Hong!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

MIFF Session #10: THE NIGHTMARE: No credit refused

A disparate group of people ranging from twenties to forties in America and the UK describe their experiences with sleep paralysis. The accounts vary from a very simple but clearly haunting child's encounter with a tv news broadcast that didn't behave as it should to seeing aliens made of static peering over the narrator's crib. The format starts with to camera one-on-ones and, when necessary, branches out into effective cinematic realisations using an array of now familiar but still potent audio visual cues.

We follow the chain of accounts from the first experiences with these terrors through to their victims' discovery of the documented phenomenon of sleep paralysis and delve further into the nature of the condition and in some cases it's even more fearsome developments. The cast of interviewees is appealing and the sense of cinema extends to the notion of cultural feedback from horror cinema which, while diverting, is not investigated. Some fourth-wall breakage here and there adds stylistic texture and an arc of sorts is established. This is never less than enjoyable and engaging to watch and doesn't outstay its welcome at a tidy ninety minutes.

But there's a problem which starts early and doesn't go away. I and the documentarians have no problem believing that the accounts of the sufferers are accurate reports of their perceptions in this state. However, there are signs quite early on that we are not going to get any commentary from science or the medical profession as to the nature of the condition which would expand the account and render it even more fascinating.

Instead, we are given frequent testimony that the sufferers have gone to medicine only to be dismissed. Their own dismissal of science and the breadth of that dismissal across the cast lets the sense of investigation slowly and quietly collapse and soon enough the film itself assumes the ambience of ghost stories at a sleepover. When one of them mentions that one particularly powerful encounter with the monsters of his paralysis he was no longer an atheist. When another claims that she banished her demon by evoking Jesus' name the game is up. She goes on to attest that not only had she been scornful of the notion of marrying a Christian but that her time with the night terrors drove her into the arms of such an one.

After this, any further accounts start looking like actors' show reels for X-Files auditions. And is the notion that horror movie feedback is informing the accounts is the same thing that is giving this film its look and feel too obvious?

We end with a series of the sufferers refuting science with a babel of wishful thinking and it is like watching a group of mentally ill people swearing allegiance to their own delusions. Simply, this film can only be entertainment without the moderation of science and without taking its meds is left lost and pretty. As the banker in Bedlam cries by night: come all, come all, no credit refused.


A film director hangs up his megaphone and gets in a taxi only he installs some Black Magic cameras in the dash and drives around to see what happens. He picks up a few people - cab sharing is normal in Teheran - and listens to them muse and argue. One guy recognises him and gets a lift to deliver bootleg movies on dvd banned in Iran. This takes them to a film student who picks up some discs and advice from the director. Then he picks up his niece who complains that she boasted about him to the friends waiting for her at the party they're going to and starts filming him with a point and shoot while talking about "unscreenable" films and the type of thing you can put into films as prescribed by her teacher.

The acting is naturalistic but pushed a little and you might start thinking, "so what?" Anyone can do that. I didn't care who knew and who didn't out of the pickups in Under The Skin, why should I care about this? Well, there's a reason for the teenage girl being so interested in what constitutes an acceptable film. The director we see at the wheel and whose work is on the screen was banned from making films for twenty years in Iran. What he's doing is illegal and could send him to prison. He made two in the confines of his house arrest and now he is making another about the world on the streets, morality, hope and the almost constant theme of crime and punishment.

While this might come across as a tad precious and forced it's worth remembering that the stakes here are high enough to have prevented him from including a title and cast sequence: naming names could put those people in jail, too. So, this is a severe diatribe against political oppression made watchable through worthiness? Actually, it's a fun ride with a near constant stream of real humour that allows a lot of the sadness, anger and injustice visibility. The wife of the accident victim at the beginning calls to secure a copy of the iphone footage he shot of the victim's spoken will and testament, it's a record of him and it's a will, just in case. The niece's shooting finds a wedding scene in which a street waif pockets some fallen money. She asks him to return it, less for the rectitude of the act than the appearance of it in the film she is shooting. His neighbour shows him CC footage of an attack by muggers as much to suggest film ideas as to share witness. We are in cinema as well as a cinema.

What that means is that this is still worth doing, not just worthy. Whether it's projected or played online the power of the wish of cinema remains. That's as true for a Michael Bay blockbuster as it is for this, I suppose, but, for all its contrivance, for all the pleading that knowing of its production circumstances must do, this still feels better.

There's almost too much to say about this. I'll leave it here and continue the absorption, knowing it will still be playing here behind my eyes days hence.

Monday, August 10, 2015


A guy boogies at a club. The next morning is one of the hottest that year in his city, Buenos Aries, so he takes a dip in the pool and then does the mowing. It's a plug-in and he runs over the cord. In the shed he finds the tools to repair the cord but when putting the tin with assorted tools back he finds a pistol on the shelf behind it. He examines it in idle curiosity before going up to his room and shooting himself in the head and then stomach.

All of these things are keys to this strange fable of admonishment. As we continue watching people pass things on rather than deal with them, regardless of consequence. When asked why he shot himself  Mariano tells the shrink what we all know already: no reason. When the doctor suggests some Rosarch testing Mariano tells him he did those after a previous incident and would just give the appropriate answers. His mother gathers the gun and the rest of the weapons but, as Mariano tells his brother at the burger joint, she needn't bother.

Meanwhile Mariano goes back to playing recorder in his early music quartet but the others wince at the wolf notes he's getting. He explains them away as a consequence of one of the bullets remaining in his body (though the xrays show nothing and the doctors aren't bothered to pursue it) and they let it slide in the hope that it will go away.

Mariano's brother has a kind of fling with the girl at the burger place who's forever breaking up with her boyfriend (who turns up on double dates as thought serving out his notice). There's a lot more of this and it seems like nothing is going to change until Susana, Mariano's mother, and ex-recorder quartet partner take a holiday from the apparent main characters and go to the beach. But they've picked up a divorcee friend of theirs (amid a lot of talk about mistaking cordless handsets for mobile phones). When the divorcee can't get into her intended beach house she goes to Susana's place and they are soon joined by The divorcee's ex and his new wife. And then we follow this trio as they find that no one wants them around.

The characters live in a world of partly desaturated colour and only minimally engage with us but they aren't drawn to go further or appear brighter. We are looking at a bourgeois lifestyle that has become so backed up with expecting the important things to be dealt with by assumption or appointment that they are at a loss to act for themselves when they must. The gun is discovered and rediscovered but never thrown out. If the difference between life and death is too hard...

Finally, after we've been taken out of the loop into another just as elastic we arrive at the promise of action but will do nothing to break a loop, it is covert and criminal. Roll credits.

I tried to settle into this as a kind of mumblecore piece and noted that it is one of those films that remind us of how much time and money and trouble films are to make. This isn't a home movie, the production values are high, the acting note-perfect and the look and feel authorial and uniform. When we are invited at several points to join it in a laugh we happily do so but are left lost and worried to find it get up and leave us again. It's only when we accept that it is not about laughs (though it does have a few very good ones) but the absurdity of a life spent in ignorance of how it came to be.

There was no clapping at the credits (a phenomenon I get but don't enjoy) but one guy hissed and was quietly congratulated for it. Maybe the movie worked, then.

Friday, August 7, 2015


The teeming black market in Hiroshima immediately post war. A demobbed Japanese soldier prevents the rape of a Japanese woman by an American soldier. Not far away two men have their arms sliced off in revenge for deeds we haven't witnessed. A drunk ex soldier in a kimono waves a military sword at anyone who comes near. He is shot. A series of freeze frames at the climax of these and other moments of brutality introduce us to the future of these men in the Yakuza to come and we see that post-war Japan is going to be a mix of recovery and gangs.

The still of the atom bomb mushroom cloud that began this film now feels as much like the birth of a savage life as much as the cataclysmic end of a massive war. All that squirming and bloodshed in the market resembles primordial pondlife coming to life. As urbane as we are going to get within minutes of this, as stylish the cars and suits, as pleasingly civilised the formality of the bonds between characters, we know we are also in for everything that those veils conceal, a delicate balance of loyalty and bloodthirsty self-interest. Which is pretty much what you get for the next ninety plus minutes.

Well, no, there is a lot more. From the early scene in which we see everyman figure Hirono bond with a Yakuza boss in a prison cell over the latter's extreme escape plans we know that for all the savagery we know is to come that we have a helmsman and that dialogue between these two. We get it and we need it; the curly deals and loyalty shifts are intentionally difficult to keep up with. When we get to the fifth or so freeze frame and headstone like title about the character's death accompanied by the blaring funeral motif we wonder how well we got to know the corpse of the moment.

But this is secondary to the touch points between Hirono and Tetsuya as they meet again at different points when fortunes have reset and they are variously on and off side of each other. Their dialogue might even nudge triteness were it not for the context of precarious life/death balance in which they live. In such a situation the way you shake hands can mean one or the other.

This film clearly influenced gangster cinema beyond its boundaries. Coming in the wake of The Godfather, it yet seems to have more direct descendants among the Scorseses, Tarantinos and Stones. There is a lot of its style in Goodfellas. But there's a big difference, there, as well. When we see the ultra violence on screen in this one it is without glamour, it is sudden, it hurts and it has consequences, the stakes are always high and the injury or death that follows a losing hand is repellent. Also missing from this and added to its American inheritors is the glamorisation of the wise guy. As psychotically grating as Joe Pesci's creations could be in Scorsese's films we could still welcome his presence as a centre of explosive power who could deliver a lot of guilty laughs. The laughs that come with violence here show the perps up rather than ride with them. We are not invited to join them. Their machismo is kept alien, scary, repugnant and distinct from manliness. It's impressive.

This screening featured a restored 35mm print of this classic and I'm glad I made the effort, having seen the film before (but only on a visually compromised copy) I saw it afresh and marvelled at its bold pallette, the understated power of its camera and editing and the Morricone-like score which stayed tough and stylish throughout. Director Kinji Fukasaku has intrigued and delighted us more recently with the strong and influential Battle Royale. Well, that didn't come from nowhere.


I got to this one late which is a pity as it meant I missed on something that is, for a few months at least, going to be very hard to catch up on. I came in somewhere towards the end of the first half hour. There was a tortoise race on a beach. Scheherezade from both previous volumes was being courted by a very pretty beach boy. After he declares his love she turns him down by informing him of how stupid he is and then gets courted by a dancing thief and a wind genie. Going to her father for advice she gets and accepts some unhelpful philosophy about living with it.

Then she tells another of her tales. This is done with titles rather than spoken narration and it is like no other tale we have had in the series so far.

First, we leave the sumptuous culture mash of old/new fantastic/realistic which characterised the more obvious fairy tale sequences and enter similar territory to the first volume's documentary style commentary on contemporary Portuguese life.

It's not quite as cut and dried as that but for almost the rest of the entire film we follow the lives of chaffinch fanciers, working class men who live in public housing and belie their macho exteriors with their expertise in catching and training chaffinches. They are training the birds to expand their distinctive three part song (whistle, trill and stroke) to enter them in the national chaffinch singing competition.

You might expect a filmmaker as arch and imaginative as Gomes to make something diverting of this. I did. But he resolutely keeps it over the shoulder as Scheherazade tells her silent tale in stops and starts. We meet particular contestants and learn quite a lot about trapping, keeping and training the birds. And, to be fair, we do hear a lot of stories about particular fanciers and their fortunes. There is a narrative capitulation. It feels slight but it involves a grave theme and once its few seconds of screen time passes we are almost done with only one gently amusing, if static, tale to tell.

That paragraph took less than a minute to think up and type out but I really am describing over an hour of screen time that feels like observing yeast rising. There is a break (and it feels clever) wherein a Chinese woman narrates her sorry tale of coming to Portugal and getting pregnant. We only hear her. What we see are scenes of a police strike that keep just the safe side of a massive riot. Then, when we get back to the chaffinch fanciers and their energy-draining competition (a golden-eared judge makes notes in a tent as the bird sings in a covered cage) of takes that only seem to get longer and less pointed.

There is an arc to this, as aforesaid, and its brevity and plainness leave a sense of anger at being the victim of a bathetic joke which clears a little as you recall that a screen experience like this leaves you with memories similar to those of raw experience as you pick through them and find patterns the same way. Gomes stated, in person, at the beginning of the first Volume that he can't just look at Portuguese economic straits and their effects without comment as he makes yet another whimsical movie (before he physically runs away from the task with his crew in pursuit).

I found, as I walked through the  5 degree night, feeling my mental numbness clear with the chill in the air, that this master of the real fantastical will never make another film like this, needed to make this one this way and I should really treasure its vitamins and minerals. Well, the massive chaffinch folk documentary bored me to the point to walking out (others were) but as my developing memory set it in its context and I could envisage without resentment what Gomes has done here: a little show and tell and a little show-off and smile. Ok, that'll do me. Should you see it? Yes, but if you are expecting six hours of high widescreen whimsy and magic go somewhere else: that's for other filmmakers (and this one in normal circumstances). When you see genies and beauteous maids of legend here you are seeing the same thing as the boring bits. This meal is good for you when it's salty and when it's bland.

"Dancing is like standing still, only faster."

Thursday, August 6, 2015

MIFF Session #5: 99 HOMES

An eviction has gone so badly that it's left blood and brains on the bathroom tiles. Through the busy uniforms of the after math comes a solidly built man smoking an e-cigarette and swearing down his phone. Ric Carver, Realtor, has just gone through one of the worse of these situations he engineers. When asked for a statement by one of the cops he pauses his phone machismo for a moment to say: "Officer, do you really think I could say anything that wouldn't add to the absurdity of this tragic situation?" And goes on his way. Another job done.

Across town at the courts a young construction worker, Dennis Nash is losing his house to the bank, his pleas for leniency no more effective than if he cleared his throat. Days later he meets Ric Carver, backed by the sheriff's officers and a gang of ragtags who are there to clear the house of everything that doesn't come with it. Dennis and his mother make increasingly futile arguments until Carver shuts them down and they comply, the uniforms following them into their rooms to supervise their panicked gathering of valuables. Then they're on the kerb as the gang moves in and clears the house. Next stop motel. The one they choose is peopled by fellow evictees. Welcome to the housing collapse. Dennis goes to Carver's office to confront one of the gang about the theft of his tradie's tools. Carver stops the violence before it gets too messy and offers Dennis a job.

From this point we back Dennis as he progresses from literal shit-shoveller to card carrying associate as Carver schools him in the ways of the housing market. It is dirty and scam heavy but it is lucrative. Dennis goes through Maslow's pyramid of drive reduction, getting work, the means to return to the house he lost and all the way up to self-actualisation. Well, that last bit is stymied. His seduction by Carver's streamlined evangel of self-service means that he is on track to corrupt himself so certainly that he might never emerge from its ethical fog. He needs a test. Like all life's tests it gets him before he's ready and cuts into his nerves.

This is an uncomfortable film. It's not uncomfortable in an anti-narrative dogmatic Godard way. It's uncomfortable because it lets us feel the voiding panic of unstoppable dispossession repeatedly. The fear, the anger, the nauseating drain of the power we like to think we have over our circumstances and the denial we assume we're above until it's us. This is what we are thinking after we rejoice at Dennis' every step up the ladder.

This is inner conflict and, as such, it's a tool in every screen writer's bag. The difference between it working and seeming like a tool is in application and the take-up of performance. Dennis, taking the devil's shilling near the beginning airs his assurance that the money he will earn will be tainted but also accepts Carver's pugilistic reduction to winners and losers because it sounds both rehearsed and the result of a hard centred methodical business nervous system. The pair's exchanges never feel like a Real Estate Bad Guy FAQ nor straight dogma, however home baked.

This would fail without the performance of the mighty Michael Shannon as Carver. Shannon has a big physicality. He looks like he has been hewn from mountain rock but his eyes glow bright and deadly and the effect is like seeing a statue with living sight. His voice is earth deep and can sound as though it's being held down by paramedics. The presence he establishes in performance feels like a controlled explosion. So, when he delivers some of the more violent thinking this role gives him, a conspiratorial smile relieves us as much as Dennis.

And Dennis wouldn't be as interesting as he is without Brit Andrew Garfield showing us such a transparent workmanlike pragmatism. Dennis is a builder. He knows his hammers, wood, plaster, electrics and plumbing and can look at some of the worst things he has to do as jobs first and sleeploss second. There is a kind of trampoline of relaxed muscularity Garfield maintains that catches each fall and spring and is impressive to watch, the more for its understatement against Shannon's maelstrom.

That's the other thing about this film that got me. It speaks of the violation of the American Dream through a proposed masculinity that also serves as it's Achilles heel. Regardless of where we stand on the notion of shows of machismo under fire we are unsettled to see it so rapidly deflate when it meets too much pressure and we wince when it stands with futility against that pressure. Dennis and Carver both represent a kind of survivalist masculinity as does all the other male heavy victim roll call we seen in the film. It's not manliness under attack but rather a failure of its self awareness.

Kudos, also to this film for refusing to sex up the power centre with the kind of sexy camera moves and pilates soundtrack that Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese made standard. Carver is not a folk hero, even a folk anti-hero. The rooms and sunshine he blusters through are the same for everyone without a virtuoso tracking shot or Rolling Stones-fuelled montage. The houses which form the centres of the many conflicts of this tale are solid and sheltering with or without him.

The women are marginalised in this testosterone fest but they are not without a voice. While there is a depiction of man-first conflict negotiation the women are frequently shown as perspicacious and adamant, it's just that they are most often seen physically in support of the men. This is a cultural observation on the part of the film rather than prescriptive order. When we see the sequences of cash-for-keys taking place it is the women who are seen the most settling, minus the barking show of the machismo, for the pragmatic solution, however regretfully. Also, can't leave this without mention of the always welcome Laura Dern as Dennis' mother who makes the most of her marginal role until it compresses with its necessity.

Finally, there are the victims who evoke most of our pity, the children of the evicted families, the truly powerless. But are they? So much of the strain we see and feel has to do with their well-being and the final image is of a child who expresses everything we feel with barely a facial movement and no words at all. It feels, as it should, like a mule's kick.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Having established his blend of folktale with folks' tales in the first part, Gomes amps up the mix with a tighter weave and more compelling narrative. We follow the flight of a fugitive through open country as he is pursued by drones and mounted police but gets in a few legend-building encounters along the way. A beautifully staged trial takes place in an open amphitheatre with a case that unfolds from a simple confessed misdemenour to a massive series of crimes of opportunity in which the entire assembled public seems to be culpable. And, finally, a dog's eye view of the intertwined lives of the dispossessed in a huge council housing complex. If Volume 1 was a raw statement of the state of Gomes' native Portugal in the numbing wake of the GFC than Volume 2 is here to cleanse with comedy and anger with awareness.

Immediately, Gomes' use of the living landscape and the place of the people who tread it reminds us of the powers he showed in his magnificent Tabu. It is a novelist's rather than a painter's landscape, though, as we see the fugitive Simao Without Bowels interact with it as a wrongdoer, shelter seeker, patriarch and hostile agent. His own knotty, lived-in face is as much part of the land as the animals he encounters and the farming people he bullies but must rely upon. We don't just admire the scenery, we are part of it. Scheherezade's narration, continuing from the first volume, guides us through.

We are similarly drawn into the court case sequence that forms the middle section by a series of quick reveals that alert us to our own assumptions. These are too good to spoil but they lead on to the female judge finishing that opening through her side of a phone call in which she doles out some severe pragmatic advice to her daughter. The judge then turns to her curious court composed of casually dressed contemporary citizenry in masks. Gomes shoots this very conventionally, allowing us to see what we need to to follow the increasingly complex web of misdeeds that engendered those whose accounts precede them. This straightness of approach is necessary as before we know it we are not just listening to testimony from ordinary people but that of genies, cows, thieves who seem to have escaped from a Goya painting, and onward to greater and more fantastic as the backward flow of cause and effect seems to exonerate one miscreant by the gravity of the deed that compelled it. While at times this threatens to collapse into cuteness it is never allowed to as we understand how thin the divide between the farce and grim reality: the masks aren't there to conceal but reveal.

Finally, in the housing complex, we follow Dixie the poodle and her owners, an ageing couple who are ready with gossip and observation for any who can lend an ear. We hear and see the stories of a large range from their neighbours' lives, a quirk here, a tragedy there and more particoloured folly than you could fit into a Renaissance bookplate, and we see the amiable and blameless Dixie, beloved and loyal, handed between owners as their circumstances fail them and her. Dixie's final encounter with companionship is delivered with the same poker-faced sentimentality that coursed through Tabu and like that, it works wonders. We don't need to cry, the judge already told us why, and we don't. We're allowed a little sadness but, mostly, a frown of recognition.

As I followed this far more digestible volume in the trilogy I noted how much it had in common with what I like about the best of Bela Tarr's films, the sections of Satantango or Werckmeister Harmonies that wrested me from my cinema seat and cast me into the picture. I felt no more ashamed of remembering my frequent boredom with the first volume two nights before (it is subtitled The Restless One) than I was at some of the more interminable long takes Tarr commanded me to endure so I could experience everything. That is, what Gomes wants us to do here, experience everything. With reservations I'll say I'll try.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


British rock was better than the American original for a few reasons: it added elements of its own that broke its self-copying cycle and it was made by a crop of prole kids with explosive style. Everybody knows that but no one ever seems to mention the managers. In the U.S., apart from Colonel Tom Parker, the messers 10% kept in the background where their hands on the strings were invisible to the public. They were old stagers who knew the carny tricks and the phonebook and spent most of their time keeping their little rascals clean for the cameras. In the U.K. the managers were in the same age range as the bands, looked as good and had the same style. Just as the bands were adding chords to the regulation three in their rock music their minders were steering them with new style.

If Brian Epstein steered the Fabs into a clean showbiz look he was happy to let them turn their press conferences into Goonish comedy acts and left the song writing to the lads themselves. Andrew Loog Oldham ramped this up with his Rolling Stones, playing off The Beatles as though the two bands were deadly enemies, delinquents vs tailored suits.

Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp were different again. Yes, they were young. Chris's swinging London leading man looks were from the same genes as his real life leading man brother Terrence (now in his sixth decade as a screen star). Chris was into movies: the French New Wave was in full flight and spooring its influence over the channel. He even worked on them in the crew. He wanted to direct his own. Kit Lambert did, too, which is how they met, comparing notes on the Godards and Antonionis in the zeitgeist while knocking back tea and eggs and chips in the local caff. But Kit was different again. Unlike Cockney Chris, Kit Lambert was all Belgravia, Oxford and champagne from Champagne. His father was Constant Lambert, conductor and champion of British classical music. There is a moment in this documentary that will tell you a lot about him and the whole team: it's 1965 and, as his charges The Who are noisily setting up behind him, he is addressing the camera on a German tv program, giving a highly articulate account as to why British rock developed its unruly volume and innovative qualities and suggesting that most of its practitioners will bland out into flavourless conservatives. In. Perfect. German.

The Who and Lambert and Stamp were a gang of barely controlled particles of matter and antimatter. Unlike the Beatles, there was no balance. Unlike the Stones there was no particular drive into a groove or need to rival the Beatles. With their artschool composer and guitar hero smashing his Rickenbackers on stage and calling for the autodestruction of all of pop music at each show and the others around him doing the same, the Who didn't need any steering. That would only have ruined it.

I knew all that. I like the Who. As a kid in the seventies, wincing at most of the rock music around him and turning to the previous gen's stuff, I knew and loved their mix of doowop harmony and machine shop clashing and their songs that weren't always about love. (Go and Youtube The Kids Are Alright for proof.) What I didn't know and what this documentary brings forward to get beyond the normal slide show and talking heads is the one step further: Lambert and Stamp didn't just want to be filmmakers and saw the Who as a means of starting this their own way, they got to the point where it was either the music or the movies. They really could've been either. Think for a moment: If The Who had fizzled after the mooted movie and L&S shrugged and went on to their next feature film we would have had a Brit New Wave team to beat the band (so to speak). Win/win.

Unfortunately, the way these things work it would probably only have been lose/lose. Lambert took a very practical mentor role with Townshend, developing a career path the produced innovation like The Who Sellout album and Tommy. After Tommy and the band's rejection of Lambert's screenplay for the intended movie Lambert grew increasingly estranged from Townshend and the band, the music industry and Stamp, falling into addiction and dissolution, joining the casualties of the second great era of rock music.

This documentary charts that side with the usual array of archive footage, contemporary interviews (including the legitimising presence of Townshend and Daltrey) but it allows us further access through a thorough examination of the role of management in this phenomenon. Its companion pieces are less The Kids Are Alright film from the seventies (impressionistic and enjoyable but very much a fan project) or the more comprehensive more recent Amazing Journey, than Andrew Oldham's book Stoned or the Areans documentary about Brian Epstein. The managers of the U.K. rock renovation were prey to the same forces that found the weakness in the youth and vanity of the musicians they drove, the hit parade of songs blaring above their choking and barfing on club floors or prescription pills in cold empty bathrooms. But if there is a grimness to Townshend joking about the lyrics to My Generation in his seventies or Stamp's warm and abrupt last word there is much to be gained by one of the best epigraphs I've seen on a rockumentary. I won't spoil that. It's worth seeing for yourself.

Screening notes: the Treasury theatre screening of this film was marred by a problem with the sound mix. The all important interview accounts were frequently obscured by the background music, as though we were hearing the rear channels in a 5.1 mix. I strained to understand a lot of what was being said. Well, I'll just lump it and get the blu-ray when it's out (it'll be a keeper).

Also, I almost got my holy grail seat. The session was sold out and the single chair behind me was empty. Ha! no boots in my back! But, no, the session was sold out and I had someone who not only sat so poorly as to ram his knees into the back of my seat but seemed to suffer from some nervous condition which compelled him to jiggle them rapidly every now and then. First, if you don't sit properly on a poorly designed cinema seat you will have back problems. Second, if you must force your knees into the seat in front of you to keep from sliding down on to the carpet, take your meds beforehand so they at least stay still. A couple of counter-shoves with my back and a look around stopped him, but still... Anyway...

Sunday, August 2, 2015

MIFF Session #2: Arabian Nights Vol. 1 The RESTLESS ONE

Portugal in hard times. We begin in the Viana shipyards, empty but for former workers  hanging around like ghosts as diembodied voices of the retrenched talk about their working lives, what their labour made and how little that seems to matter. A brief interlude in which the writer/director, Migueal Gomes, sits on a cold cafe table realising that the twin themes of the shipyard closure and the industrially proportioned local wasp plague don't quite gel. He flees with his crew in chase.

This is expectable from his previous feature Tabu which had much to say on his native Portugal's history as a coloniser and said it with great stylistic charm. But we are not here to smirk at quirk. Gomes wants the stories of the disaffected and disenfranchised to be heard, one after the other. Well, Godard already did that so the way to do it now is to place it against a kind of retelling of the Arabian Nights, a series of tales told by a woman to keep herself alive with the clever idea of leaving them unfinished to keep her potential despatcher at bay.

And that is what we get here. Anecdote after anecdote of productive lives weakened by economics and government austerity. The folk tales promised by the title do appear but it is in a kind of weave that forms frames for the more contemporary accounts. This blend of the fantastical and grim day-by-day doesn't always divert but the intention of giving the stories air and light is never less than sincere.

The problem is that almost all of these are told as tableaux, the focus is kept medium to wide, so that we are enduring rather than joining these folk in their hardship. I waited in my seat for the film to burst into the kind of cheeky panache Gomes showed in Tabu but each time it did, it fell back like a wave and tossed us into the surf again.

I struggled to maintain interest in this demanding show, falling into hypnogogic riffing every few minutes (not helped by the sonorous buzz coming from the guy in the row in front). Leaving the cinema, I was encased in a freezing rain which woke me up in seconds and, splashing my way home, I realised I had to rethink the resentment I had just been feeling while in front of this. I clung to the moments of flash, vowed to sympathise with the testimony of economic victims and frowned on planning to change my schedule, leaving the final two chapters for someone else. But, no, now I can't wait to see them. As droney as it got there yet was wonder.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


A young woman rides her bicycle through lush European countryside. She arrives at an impressively ancient manse and rings the bell. After a brief pause an older woman answers and says: "you're late." She leads her visitor into the study and forbids her to sit, commanding her instead to clean. Later, the maid presents herself in front of her mistress who is busily typing but pauses to tell her that she hasn't finished everything, there is still her underwear to wash by hand. This sequence ends in a way that disspells all notion of employment agreements and soon proves a ritual. The body of this film examines that ritual, the agreement at its centre and the effects upon it and the women of change and stress.

Writer/director Peter Strickland who gave us the extraordinary Berberian Sound Studio and (for the explorers among us) Katalin Varga now presents us with something we think we are going to comfortably predict. His devotion to the transgressive cinema or Europe's 1970s is delivered to us like a creamy Brandy Alexander in a vintage glass; as we clear the enigmatic lingering tableau and the unctuous Rome 72 song whispers and gleams we are treated to a series of beautiful motion into freeze frame and collage images that hint at what is to come. Even the font used for this credit sequence makes us feel warm and loved.

But Strickland is not a Tarrantino. His retrospective eye is less attracted to the cuteness of the past than its continued powerful utility. The look and feel of 70s Eurosploitation is strong and flavoursome but it also calls attention to what we are seeing without more distraction than this comfort will allow. Even the fact that the whole town seems populated by intense female entomologists, suggests a heightened level of control (it's also intentionally funny). Neither the lesbianism nor the bondage and discipline are offered to titilate or alienate. We are here to watch what happens in a closed system in much the same way that its characters observe their insects on slides and in display cases.

But if that were the sole point of this piece it would rapidly lose its puff. There is far more here being said about intimacy and boundary. This aligns it far more strongly with the severity of Persona, the spookiness of Three Women or the hard verbal pugilism of Butley than the playful confrontation of Vampyros Lesbos or Lizard in a Woman's Skin. We follow these women because their story compels us, even as it seems to be composed almost entirely of a single routine. At the final shot you will already feel the resonance and it will follow you home.

Katalin Varga gave us a revenge film that focused on the act's quandries rather than acknowledged them by regulation. Berberian Sound Studio invited us in to a man's complete absorption into something that disgusted him. The Duke of Burgundy shows a filmmaker whose strengths transcend his aesthetic festishes to allow him to make such things that both give succour and unsettle. Strickland's retro stylings aren't like Tarrantinos. Where QT comes on like a tribute band, Strickland is more like someone who loves old Merseybeat bands but floods it in electronica because it feels better that way. Strickland, the musician, has commissioned a beautiful score that while eclectic also feels bespoke. I'll be Googling Cat's Eyes after I sign off on this review. Yum!

Next, please, Mr S.