Douglas Sirk Box Set

February 14, 2011

Whilst the idea behind Valentine’s Day might be to me quite perplexing, the idea behind giving someone a gift loaded with sentiment and love is not. With that in mind, there are few things of such ilk that you can readily fit into a 21.5 by 15.5 by 5 box. Yet, somehow, the good people at Madman have managed it. At a combined 869 minutes of melodramatic bliss, the Douglas Sirk: King of Hollywood Melodrama box set is an object of just those dimensions and, whether you’re interested in buying a gift for your Valentine, yourself or anyone with even an ounce of good taste, then might I suggest that you buy this. Aside from making your heart swell and your lips curl themselves into an incredibly frequent wry smile, the only side effect will be your calling everyone “Darling” for a week or two in the interim which, in all honestly, is such a warm and endearing term that it ought only to work in one’s favour.

Of course, as is often the case with a director box set, there are one or two films that seem to be at slight tonal odds with the rest of the collection. However, for anyone who cares to take even a moment to reflect, these anomalies are only really bound by the confines of genre and narrative; their thematics and auteuristic world view more than consistent with their company. To this end, the Douglas Sirk: King of Hollywood Melodrama box set offers a gentle critique of American aspirations; all the way from early settlement to the at the time modern-day model of white, heteronormative, familial life. It suggests, rather boldly for its time, that defining one’s own aspirations against and attempting to achieve them within such relational societal constructs is anything but simple, anything but stark, and, never – even when the picture itself might be – black and white.

No Room for the Groom (1952)

A classic example of screw-ball comedy, No Room for the Groom sees Alvah Morrell (Tony Curtis) try desperately to consummate his too much trouble marriage to Lee Kingshead (Piper Laurie). A quality comedy that is short and to the point, No Room for the Groom plays with gender stereotypes and the pressures of marrying into a family when all you want is to be in love. Humourously acknowledging and explaining its own causal paradigm, “It’s called cause and effect”, and displaying just enough cynicism to rouse a giggle out of its audience, “marriage is keeping your mouth shut”, Sirk skillfully shows both parties in a marriage to be annoyingly and endearingly constricted by social pressure, “Should a girl have to tell a man when she wants to be kissed?” A fantasticly light-hearted start to an epic journey of melodramatic discovery.

All  I Desire (1953)

This is as close to perfect as film gets for lovers of romance. Barbara Stanwyck is simply sensational as Naomi Murdock, a woman who has left her family to fruitlessly pursue her personal dreams and to escape the scandal of an affair in a small town. One of many of Sirk’s films to show how deeply an individual can wrestle with their own complex emotions and conflicting desires, All I Desire a beautiful story that allows things to somehow work themselves out. It is also surprisingly progressive for its time, exploring the subjectivity rather than the guilt of a woman whose choices may not have always been entirely moral or selfless.

Magnificent Obsession (1954)

Helen Phillips (Jane Wyman) is model woman, wife, (step)mother, friend and professional. In fact, even when life is cruel to her, she remains poised, gracious and strong. Losing her eyesight she is lured into a love affair that she actively refused when she could see. Her ultimate lesson, and the lesson that her suitor Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) learns too, is that true enlightenment in such a dark world can only come from shutting off your expectations of others. When you are willing, even blindly so, to let others in and to behave towards them truly selflessly, only then will you find in yourself profound peace and happiness. A moving, heartwarming tale.

Taza, Son of Cochise (1954)

Although Taza, Son of Cochise is a generic diversion for Sirk (predominantly it is a western), it doesn’t fail to reiterate his concerns for familial obligation and the complexities of love. Taking things a psychoanalytic step further, Sirk explores ideas of totem and taboo within a tribal context as they pertain to the increasingly obtrusive All-American way of life. Stars Rock Hudson as Taza and Barbara Rush as Oona.

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

Probably Sirk’s most famous melodrama and the primary inspiration for Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven (2002), All That Heaven Allows is a remarkable film that uses colour and lighting to exemplarily create mood, silhouettes and shadows to express subtle subtext and overt reference to psychoanalysis (namely Freudian) to explain character motivation and action/inaction. Heavily critical of American upper class social decorum and the sort of repression such false exclusivity necessarily harbours, All That Heaven Allows is a stunning, deeply affecting and astute cinematic work.

There’s Always Tomorrow (1956)

The mesmerizing Barbara Stanwyck returns in There’s Always Tomorrow as the spirited Norma Miller Vale  who has chosen career over family. Still in love with Clifford Groves (Fred MacMurray) who is under appreciated and somewhat unfulfilled, the two attempt to bring their disparate lives together but soon learn that the confines of morality and the boundaries of their emotions can never allow for such a union. Easily the most heartbreaking film in the box, There’s Always Tomorrow leaves a stunning air of desperation, hope, inevitable resolve and disappointment in its wake: “Darling, if life were always an adventure it’d be exhausting.”

A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958)

The second generically anomalous work in the set, A Time to Love and a Time to Die is still a melodrama, but is set against the very real backdrop of post World War II Germany. Wistfully explicating how the past absolutely permeates the present, A Time to Love and a Time to Die is as much about ethical behaviour as it is morality; always suggesting that the two are in no way necessarily linked: “Murderers are never murderers twenty-four hours a day.” Ultimately, Sirk seems to posit that love and death – natural drives and inevitable occurrences in human life – present themselves in relation always to anOther.

The Tarnished Angels (1958)

Exploring both the limits of friendship and the product of loyalty, The Tarnished Angels examines the types of social contracts individuals enter into and what happens to those contracts at the hands of the passage of time. Suggesting love is built upon so much more than just emotion and desire, The Tarnished Angels is another fine example of Sirk’s ability to produce performances of great depth and dimensionality. Stars Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Jack Carson and Dorothy Malone.

Imitation of Life (1959)

Well, if the eight fantastic films that came before it didn’t win you over (who are you and how is your heart colder than mine?) then Imitation of Life most certainly will. A story loaded with issue and inference at every turn, Imitation of Life reveals a plethora of absurdities that constitute “life” through performativity. From the overt (literally acting) to the ideological (gender, family, class, race), Imitation of Life breaks down many of the ways in which life is constructed and the “roles” each individual assumes; sometimes out of necessity, and sometimes born of personal desire. Constructing life through the dot points that are “the great events of life” such as marriage and death, Sirk shows how we “measure” abstract notions such as “achievement”, “happiness”, “fulfillment” and “success”.

Though there is infinitely more to be said about Sirk and each of these films, the very best way to discover such sound, intelligent and genuinely marvelous films is to open up your own very beautiful box set and let the melodramatic bliss wash over you like so many emotions and so much of life itself. Not just a gift for Valentine’s Day, this is an absolute must-have for cinephiles and cine-lovers alike. Darling, do yourself a favour and let Douglas enlighten you.

Douglas Sirk: King of Hollywood Melodrama is released through Madman Entertainment.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.


December 24, 2010

Whilst I am not at all a member of the “target audience” for so-called contemporary “rom-coms” or “chick flicks”, I do have something of a soft spot for slightly strange French comedies and it is very much with that in mind that I wholeheartedly embraced Pascal Chaumeil’s Heartbreaker (L’arnacoeur, 2010).

The premise adheres to a standard rom-com paradigm whereby a beautiful, rich, young woman, Juliette Van Der Becq (Vanessa Paradis) is about to marry “the wrong man”; an equally rich and charming young man named Jonathan Alcott (played by This Life‘s Andrew Lincoln). Juliette’s father then hires our “heartbreaker” in question, Alex Lippi (Romain Duris) to put a stop to their impending nuptials. As you would expect, Lippi, who breaks up unseemly couples for a scant living with the aid of his sister and her husband, falls for sweet Juliette and a great, comic romance ensues. This all sounds decidedly standard, so why exactly did I take to this film when I so dislike other films of this ilk?

Well, that would be down to the “Frenchness” of it all. Firstly, our “wrong man” character is English and, as someone who can sort of lay claim to Englishness, I found the French dislike of this seemingly perfect, yet far too upper class, Oxbridge-humanitarian-toff-like man immensely amusing. Furthermore, Lippi’s “job” as a heartbreaker is so loaded with excessive cliché that it actually reaches the realms of self-reflexivity from time to time (an early scene involving white doves illustrates this beautifully). It is also the specific absurdities of the film that caught me pleasantly by surprise; the idea of eating Roquefort for breakfast and the incomprehensibly unkind yet still silly slapstick treatment of Juliette’s slutty best friend.

Finally, what’s best about this film is Romain Duris’ quality comic timing. Far better suited to intense, gritty roles in films such as Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De Battre Mon Coeur S’est Arrêté, 2005), Duris’ goofy smile is so wildly out-of-place here that it is almost impossible not to stifle at least a wee giggle if not a galant gaffaw every time he flashes his pearly whites.

Certainly not a film with too much intelligent subtext, Heartbreaker is a refreshingly funny rom-com that provides the kind of foolish entertainment any half-way decent comedy ought.

Heartbreaker is released in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day, Sunday December 26, through Hopscotch Films.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.


November 22, 2010

One could be forgiven for thinking, especially considering its title, that Monsters (2010) is a film full of the aforementioned, or even that it might belong, generically speaking, to action/adventure or horror/thriller. But aside from a little subtle metaphoring and the occasional ounce of social commentary, Monsters is, for the most part (IMHO) a straight-forward romance film.

Serving more as a backdrop than a narrative (in this sense the film is post-classical as it relies on characters rather than events for causal motivation), our two protagonists – newspaper photographer Andrew Kaulder (the adorable Scoot McNairy whose performance in 2007’s In Search of a Midnight Kiss remains one of the most honest I’ve seen in recent years) and Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) – must make a physical journey back to the US across the “Infected Zone”; an area that covers almost half of Mexico following the crash of a NASA probe carrying samples of recently discovered alien life forms from within Earth’s solar system.

From here the film follows a typical romantic arc as the emotional interaction and connection between our unlikely duo deepens in accordance with the progression of their physical journey. And whilst it may be true that the backdrop of South America speaks to social/racial issues these are merely indicated rather than fully explored in the film. Furthermore, Samantha’s repeated question, “Do you feel safe here?” has less to do with infection, quarantine, social, racial or political difference than it does their relationship. That is to say that Sam, who asks the question of Andrew more than once, feels unsafe because has entered a liminal space between being on her own (as she was in Mexico) and returning home to her supposedly contented life and fiancé.

But that’s not to say that this film isn’t interesting or engaging, on the contrary, it absolutely is. The landscape itself, set up to enhance the atmosphere and heighten tensions in their relationship is also curiously sublime, and here I’m referring to Jean-François Lyotard’s interpretation and analysis of the Kantian sublime (for more information see Lyotard’s excellent Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime.) For Lyotard there is something within the Kantian sublime that defies cognitive comprehension insofar as the aesthetics of the represented thing are able to produce an indescribable, incomprehensible feeling. This thought within itself is self-reflexively sublime for it is a simultaneously beautiful and terrifying realisation. Moreover, Lyotard finds something sublime in the feeling of suspension that such imagery can invoke; the incognisable explication of waiting for “it” to happen, whilst not knowing or being able to explain exactly what “it” is.

Whilst not all viewers will find the backdrop for Monsters so sublime themselves it is clear that this is how our protagonists experience their own setting and is, furthermore, why at the film’s end our couple are left so entirely devastated. Theoretically jumping from aesthetics to psychoanalysis now, their sublime experience is so intense and affecting that it is akin to the experience of one’s greatest desires, an experience that Lacan tells us results only in severe trauma and a break with the Real.

Returning somewhat abrasively to that Real, Sam and Andrew are thrust back into the world of consumerism, convenience and sustainability. Having seen alien life forms in the infected zone live because of their connection to the natural world (they “grow”, for want of a better word, on the side of trees) the Real world – destroyed as it may be – sees this motif quite literally outgrown and the “monsters” (we humans) draw on unsustainable sources such as electricity in order to continue to flourish.

Likely proving either strangely compelling or overly sentimental, Monsters is a film that will divide opinions dependent upon individual sensibilities. Well rendered if a little reliant upon emotive response, it is perhaps best described as a humanist film in the first instance.

Monsters is released in Australian cinemas on Thursday November 25 through Madman Entertainment.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

Wild Target

November 8, 2010

With so much bumbling idiocy, lined with sweet but never saccharine polite social decorum, Wild Target (2010) is a decidedly “English” film. And yet, it’s a remake of a 1993 French comedy thriller, Cible emouvante. Far from the most exciting, inventive or even engaging cinema to hit the big screen, Wild Target is more of an exercise in old school English witticism than it is a superior comedy heist thriller. But more than anything else, Wild Target is testament to the fascinating fact that the English can’t help but make films that express their national identity – even if that expression is outdated and dangerously nostalgic.

Firstly, our protagonist is Bill Nighy, a man whose entire career is built upon a cornerstone of stiff-upper-lip English gentlemanliness. He plays a refined assassin; from an upper-middle class family, as well-educated as he is well-mannered, suave, discreet and with just enough reserve to be charming, Victor Maynard is the type of assassin you’d want if someone put a price on your head. He is, of course, “the best” and, in line with true English stoicism, he never lets emotion or altruism get in the way. That is, until he is hired to take out a beautiful, sassy young woman who is, by her very name, the epitome of the English Rose. The kind of girl who’d steal your sandwich whilst applying lipstick, Rose (Emily Blunt) is savvy and charming as the OTT scamster damsel in distress. For a well rounded comedy trio add to the mix some poor bystander kid, Ferguson (Rupert Grint), who unwittingly gets himself involved in a car park shoot out and only sides with our two unlikely heroes after making a judgement based on 1) class and 2) decorum; “I’m going to give the gun to him [Maynard], he’s got a tie on. And I didn’t shoot him so he’s not as pissed off with me.” With a humorous and dysfunctional family unit of sorts in place, peppered with Maynard’s overprotective over-English Mother (Eileen Atkins), a few East End thugs working for another upper crust villainous sort (Rupert Everett), a second rate smart-arse assassin (Martin Freeman) and a red morris mini a la The Italian Job (1969), you have yourself the makings of an awfully English film indeed.

But best of all, in order to escape the madness and mayhem of central London where crime and killing are as common as the lower classes, they leave the magnificent backdrop of alleyways and art galleries in favour of the good old rolling hills that so wonderfully characterise the English countryside. Finding solace in Maynard’s family home and its surrounding greenery, the three almost immediately sit down to a traditional roast dinner, complete with yorkshire puds. With their pursuers temporarily thrown off track, Maynard sets about training Ferguson in the art of assassination and, in the meanwhile, attempts to tame the proverbial shrew who, as a representative of a younger generation and its values, is desperate to escape the old fashioned values and serene isolation of rural England to return to the bright lights and constant thrill of big city life.

But there’s something wrong with this vision of both England and the English. Dangerously nostalgic for a picture of Englishness that ought by now, to have been abandoned many moons ago, Wild Target is nostalgic for old-time manners but brings with it old-time prejudices. Set in the present day it seems grossly out of place for there to be cheap jokes leveled at a social confusion between good English breeding and latent homosexual tendencies. It is also seems out of place for our “heroes” to be shown driving away from the “East End” when they were never in it; the majority of the film being shot in Central or West London. Filled with an overwhelming whitewash of the upper-middle classes, Wild Target seems to have taken a leaf out of the Richard Curtis book of Imaginary White London.

Verging on annoying and offensive rom-com territory Wild Target is strangely saved by its mediocrity and Englishisms that though misguided are more often than not at  least a little endearing. Enough fun to sustain its run time but missing the mark when it comes to substance and intrigue, Wild Target is at once enjoyable and instantly forgettable.

Wild Target is released in Australian cinemas Thursday November 11 through Icon.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

The Loved Ones

November 2, 2010

After having its release date pushed back several times and subsequently being withdrawn from this year’s AFI Award Screenings, The Loved Ones (2009), which premiered at MIFF in 2009, is finally getting its release in Australian cinemas. Assuredly worth the wait, The Loved Ones is simultaneously a relief and a pleasure as an Australian film that can honestly boast both an original script and a unique directorial vision. Taking my hat off to writer/director Sean Byrne, for whom this is a feature film debut, I’d like to talk a little about the role of performativity within the film and how it is so wonderfully amplified by an inspirational kitsch-horror aesthetic.

The film opens with Brent Mitchell (Xavier Samuel), a seemingly happy teen, driving along a highway with his father. At this point Brent fits the stereotype of a young, carefree, plaid-shirt wearing, country boy-next-door. But when an ill omen appears in front of them in the form of a blood-drenched young man, causing Brent to swerve suddenly and crash into a nearby tree, killing his father, there is a clear break with this idyllic presentation of reality and Brent undergoes a deeply Freudian experience of trauma. Blaming himself for his father’s death, and becoming increasingly distant from his own “loved ones”; a grief-stricken mother and a concerned girlfriend; some six month later Brent is displaying early signs of “emo” behaviour and from here we are introduced to a group of teenagers who each perform hyper-real stereotypes of misplaced teen angst and overzealous sexual desires.

In addition to “emo” protagonist Brent there is; goth Mia (Jessica McNamee), stoner Jamie (Richard Wilson), pretty, popular girl Holly (Victoria Thaine) and invisible wilting wallflower Lola (Robin McLeavy). Each teen carefully performs both their stereotype and their gender in order to establish their individual “role” and “function” in an environment where identification and semiotics are everything: high school. In order to judge, categorise and somewhat misguidedly “understand” one another it is acceptable for teens to almost over-perform these roles in order to establish a clear, unspoken order, and from that order derive a set of acceptable and unacceptable social codes. Once established, we see these codes at play in almost every scene as gender and type conversely allow and forbid the various social and sexual encounters that take place in the narrative film world.

Stoner Jamie is emo Brent’s best mate, acceptable within the established social code because 1) they are both gendered male and 2) they are both in roles that operate as counter to popular or mainstream teen stereotypes. Each of our male protagonists then performs his straight heteronormative sexuality by taking up with a performed female counterpart. Jamie, nervous and introverted (qualities becoming of our typical stoner friend) asks gorgeous goth Mia to the school dance. She accepts with little enthusiasm with confirms her goth stereotype through 1) nonchalance and indifference and 2) by taking up with a stoner who is an acceptable date for a goth as they, again, both occupy positions counter to the popular majority.

Due however to Brent’s transition from a happy-go-lucky boy-next-door type to outsider emo, we see two very different female gendered performances present themselves to him and, in lieu of their rivalry, a truly fascinating break down of these established social codes ensues. Brent already has a girlfriend: an attractive, fun-loving girl-next-door type. She is compassionate and caring and even though Brent’s recent emo behaviour has put a strain on their relationship it still functions because 1) she operates as a nurturer, intent on “saving” her wistful, broken partner and 2) because their relationship presumably pre-dates Brent’s performative change it can supposedly withstand it. But, unbeknownst to Holly, Lola has read Brent’s present emo performance as a coded opportunity to ask him to be her date for the school dance. Of course he declines, in a kind but dismissive way which one would ordinarily assume, from Lola’s performed wallflower exterior, would sadden and probably even humiliate her. But what no one could have predicted is that it would anger and provoke her own change in performativity. And when Lola’s shy violet facade fades, it reveals a terrifyingly promiscuous pink psycho-killer in its wake.

Abducting Brent and inflicting her pent-up psychotic desires upon him, Lola performs the stereotype she would rather embody: a perfectly pink prom queen. Outside of the coded grounds of high school, Lola is a “Princess” who gets whatever she wants; the spoilt, brattish embodiment of “Daddy’s little girl”. Dressing Brent in a tux she tries to force him to perform the available role of prom king to her queen, and failing thus his resistance is met with bloody violence.

The violence that then takes place, though I am sure many will crudely call it torture-porn, actually operates as a manifestation of misplaced and misrepresented teen angst and sexual desire as well as a subtle indicator for the breakdown of cohesive, functional familial structure – Lola’s relationship with her father, known disturbingly only as “Daddy”, being decidedly less than kosher. Not wanting to give too much away, the most interesting violent act Lola exacts is the attempt to home-labotomise her victim using a power drill. The required removal of Brent’s agency is demonstrative of the intense break-down of Lola’s performed fantasies and her failed need for an implicit co-performer.

With the pinkest of pinks you could possibly imagine (and probably pinker), Lola is a vision in satin, glitter and lip-gloss, which, set against the cruel and unforgiving mise-en-scene of rural depravity offers up a kitsch backdrop for the tremendous splashes of blood that homage a plethora of horror films from the ’70s and ’80s. In lieu of this, and as the only central teen character not shown to be sexually active, Lola’s excess in blood-spill make her an exemplary model for Barbara Creed’s “monstrous feminine” or Laura Mulvey’s “bearer of the bleeding wound”. A modern-day Carrie if you will, Lola abjectly performs and embodies the inverted object of the male gaze, she who  “can exist only in relation to castration and cannot transcend it.” (Laura Mulvey)

Intercutting between our stoner and goth couple getting it on whilst Princess tortures her victim, there is also an interesting juxtaposition of Freudian life and death drives whereby alternating actions intended towards creation and calm represent a terrifically twisted view of teen survival. Fantastically shot against devastating and pathetic surroundings of; a tackily decorated school gym, the unromantic, unmemorable car park setting for a sexual encounter and the disturbingly child-like bedroom of our femme fatal, right up to the final moments where the highway plays cyclical host to the horror at its very heart; The Loved Ones offers a fantastically kitsch aesthetic and is nothing but pure unadulterated entertainment from beginning to bloody end.

The Loved Ones is released in Australian cinemas on Thursday November 4 2010 through Madman Entertainment.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

Pensively exploring themes of fatalism and destiny and how they inform the construction of public and private memory, The City of Your Final Destination (2009) is a peculiar little gem of a film. With carefully constructed characters, each of whom elucidate a psychoanalytic reading of the film for their symbolic standing in the first instance, and with incredibly beautiful art direction which similes thematic function at every corner, The City of Your Final Destination straddles a fascinating line between the harsh and awkward reality of “the Real” and the enchantment of fantasy as it reflects upon how one individual’s personal historicity affects others.

Omar stands at the precipice of his academic career; the funding for his fellowship to write a biography of late Latin American writer Jules Gund pending as he awaits authorisation from Gund’s estate. When Gund’s family deny him authorisation, Omar is at a loss for what to do. Luckily, his fantastically tactless and uber pragmatic German girlfriend Deirdre is at hand to quite literally push him towards realising his dream; encouraging him to visit the Gund estate in Uruguay and plead his case to Jules Gund’s three executors. Once there, Omar discovers a great deal more than just the material for his thesis.

Protagonist Omar is a relational character, by which I mean that the particularities he is afforded operate in direct relation to other characters in the film. Most notable is his relationship with girlfriend Deirdre. The two function as a fascinating representation of a psychoanalytic rupture between fantasy and reality. Where Omar is fatalistic and romanticises life, Deirdre is the cold harsh voice of reality, constantly trying to return him to the established Order of things, always questioning his interpretation of events. This is illustrated early on when Omar loses a shoe to a gurgling mass of what he perceives to be quicksand, Deirdre promptly corrects him: “For you it’s quicksand, and for everyone else it’s a puddle. It’s like you have a subconscious desire to fail.” Following a sharp exchange that makes it increasingly clear the two cannot co-exist, Omar declares, “I have to be more independent. Like other people.” Even in his efforts to break free from the o’erbearing presence of the Real (Deirdre), Omar cannot function within the established Order and from here his journey becomes a symbolic re-entry into the world as a child.

Arriving in Uruguay and unable to communicate properly due to language barrier (language in Lacanian psychoanalysis being the way in which the child enters into the Symbolic Order), Omar must take the school bus with the local children to reach his proverbial final destination. The school bus, a vessel which transports subjects to their educational location, indicates the innocence and naiveté Omar is accompanied by on his journey in pursuit of academic knowledge. Moreover, his being surrounded by children – one of whom is notably related to Jules Gund: his granddaughter – indicates the elusive concept of the “future”; certain only insofar as it is inextricably linked to both the past and the present.

Upon reaching the Gund estate, Omar meets the gatekeepers to the historiography of Jules Gund: brother Adam (Anthony Hopkins), widow Caroline (Laura Linney) and mistress Arden (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The three represent Jules’ psyche; Arden, who is happy to grant Omar authorisation for the biography operates as Jules’ Id (the instictual drive); Caroline who sternly opposes it operates as the Super-ego (the conscience and moral voice) and Adam, who is willing to grant authorisation at a tradable price, operates as the ever-mediating Ego (a conscious effort at integrating the instincts of the Id with the prohibitive motivations of the Super-ego). Omar, our symbolic stand-in for fantasy, hopes to convince the three components of Jules’ psyche (physically manifested by their inhabiting of his beautiful overgrown and idyllic estate) that he will treat the subject matter with respect and sensitivity, but his efforts, at least at first, are futile.

When an accident places Omar in a coma, girlfriend Deirdre (and representative of the Real) journeys out to the estate for the sake of both Omar and his academic pursuit. Clashing violently with every aspect of Jules Gund’s psyche – unable to understand as Omar does the dialectical relationship between historical “truth” and historical “myth” – Deirdre is rendered impotent as Omar favours a blossoming romance with the key to Jules’ personal historicity, that is, the beautiful physical incarnation of his Id: Arden.

After separating himself from the Real (Deirdre) and choosing a life driven by fatalism and instinct (Arden), Omar replaces his previous persuit of what was presented as a dry, academic biography with a more intimate and personal account of Jules’ historicity; learning as much about the life and relationships Jules led as he already knows of the man’s literary output. Finally, the Super-ego (Caroline) leaves the psyche (the estate) which, in this Freudian paradigm, ends the neuroses and leaves a sound and peaceful subconscious (the film’s final resolution) in its wake.

With more poignant references and inferences than this review has the space to explore, The City of Your Final Destination is a rich tapestry of cultural studies and critical theory represented in engaging and affecting visuals. Its only let-down being some occasionally clunky dialogue (although I dare say this is most likely a deliberate and even Brechtian technique for reminding the viewer of the synthetic nature of the film); The City of Your Final Destination is an absolute sensory pleasure and a true cerebral treat.

The City of Your Final Destination is released in Australian cinemas on Thursday October 14 through Potential Films.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

Certified Copy

August 6, 2010

When there’s a new film showing by a director with so much cinematic clout as Abbas Kiarostami, expectations and preconceptions amongst all manner of cinemagoers is bound to be high if not completely off the charts. So, with a head and heart full of said anticipation, my MIFF session of Certified Copy (2010) was soon underway.

Only minutes in, the theoretical foundations for the film were heavily and self-consciously laid: the copy leads to the original which certifies its value. Fine. Certifying the authenticity of a work is paramount yet “It’d be stupid of us to ruin our lives for an ideal.” Thus commenced the intense, yet still somewhat empty, one and three-quarter hour romantic/painful exchange between lovers/strangers Elle (Juliette Binoche) and James (William Shimmer). Whether or not their relationship with one another is an “authentic original” or a mere “certified copy” of one is absolutely irrelevant as either way it is valuable and bears connection to the original. In this way Kiarostami seems to be saying that all human relationships are authentic, insofar as they bear connection to an original through their very existence. An interesting and provocative idea indeed, but not wildly complex. It is at this point where the film begins to fall apart. Having coffee, wine and incessant conversation, Certified Copy resembles a bad blind date and, what’s worse, wades into the realm of sedative cinema.

Formally the film is excellent; production values are high all round, it’s visually stunning and polished to a T. Still, there is not enough left to mystery, ambiguity, rendering the film somewhat one-dimensional and ultimately therefore, a little cold. A good film for all intents and purposes, and not at all without merit, Certified Copy is worth a look but it’s just not all that it ought to be.

Enabling Phenomenology

June 7, 2010

Shovelling the rubble at a construction site, a faceless man introduces his actions before himself; an important distinction that will return time and again during the most pointed moments of this week’s most beautiful Australian film release, Mademoiselle Chambon (2009). After the imagery of someone’s broken home have been adequately ingrained in our memories we are introduced to the protagonist family and their dynamic; Jean (Vincent Lindon) a practical, seemingly simplistic man at the head of the family; devoted wife and mother Anne-Marie (Aure Atika), whose lack of nuance is heavily pronounced; and their son, Jeremy, whose presence serves as a mere implicative causal motivator in the weakening and strengthening of their familial foundations; the film primarily concerned with problematising the traditionally stable notion of “home”.

When Jeremy asks his parents to help with his French homework it becomes painfully obvious that a matter of mere syntax is too academic for them and, more specifically, for his mother. Anne-Marie, unable to sufficiently distinguish between ‘who’ and ‘what’  is immediately, and perhaps a little harshly, presented as an ordinary woman whose needs, wants, curiosities never stray from the basic comforts of familial life. Apparently content although evidently limited by her menial job working a factory line it comes as no surprise that she is physically, and of course figuratively too, disabled by her work so early in the film. Her disablement concurrently contrasted with Mademoiselle Veronique Chambon’s (Sandrine Kiberlain) – Jeremy’s school teacher – whose sole purpose in life and whose motivational drive is only ever enablement: enabling others to learn, to grow, to progress.  

Anne-Marie’s back injury acts as the catalyst for the impending affair between Jean and shy beauty Veronique when he anomalously collects Jeremy from school. Almost immediately she puts upon him her own agenda, inviting him to speak to her class about his work as a builder on construction sites; again reinforcing the significance of enablement and progression, an invitation he unwittingly accepts. His interaction with the class is indeed the most revelatory conversation that takes place for the duration of the film, his answers key to understanding his later actions. Suggesting he renovates as well as builds houses, he allows an interpretation that the family unit can be remodelled just as bricks can be re-laid. But he is clearly conflicted: asserting that foundations must be a solid base upon which to build, a trade he says he learnt from his father, a nod to the patriarchal structure of the traditional ideal of the familial “home”. When a child poignantly, and painfully, asks, “Do you build a house for life?”, he answers with such bare honesty that an audience can’t help but feel her fall in love with him, “If you do it well, it lasts for life… It doesn’t always go according to plan.” Longevity is indeed aspirational though it is ultimately one’s actions that dictate future outcome.

Veronique initiates further contact openly admitting her life needs remodelling- specifically, a draughty window. And of course a window is a loaded point of entry, unlike a door it allows the outsider to view a certain level of interiority, and what’s more, the window in cinema is often theorised as an indicator for the screen, a point of entry which provides a phenomenological view to the film world and the characters’ lives therein. In so thoughtful and well-observed a character drama as this, it is clearly no coincidence and so, as he steps into her apartment to fix the window he simultaneously steps into her world, phenomenologically implicated in and affected by her existence thereafter. Later, as the film draws to a close, and in direct contrast to this moment that allows so much beauty, fluidity – music – flooding into his world, there is another crucial window. The final shot of the film focuses on an outside view to his life inside the familial “home”, signifying the end of the affair and of the embodied experience for both our protagonists onscreen and ourselves in the auditorium.

Measured and thoughtful in its assemblage, Mademoiselle Chambon gives of itself right up until the point where it must stop so that one’s heart aches but does not bleed in sympathy for its bold honesty and perfectly imperfect characters. Vincent Lindon, whose recent role in Pour Elle (Anything For Her, 2008) showcased his talents as a strong dramatic lead, here holds consistent and flawless reserve, always conveying so much more through his acting than his words. A film so impressively explicative of cinematic phenomenology ought to be experienced in a cinema where it may be as embodied in reception as it evidently was in production. Stunning.

Mademoiselle Chambon is released in Australian cinemas on June 10 2010 through Sharmill Films.