While I was in Warsaw, one of the things I missed was the Narooma Kinema, and John’s satisfying programming. Since I returned I’ve been indulging myself in an ongoing private festival, often sharing the small theatre with only one or two other people. It seems from this collection that I don’t have much of an urge towards comedy, that in fact my taste is for the sombre and movies that reflect reality, that are based on true stories. That is when I’m not revisiting the classics of theatre and opera.
Circumstances are against the characters in the first four movies, which portray different kinds of oppression and different ways of dealing with it.
In “Hedda Gabler” the set is sparse, marking the disappointed hopes of Hedda when her husband looks like missing out on the job they pin their hopes on. Hedda behaves like a spoilt child: throwing flowers, making hurtful comments about Aunt Julie’s hat, a wilful adolescent woman, dissatisfied with her life and eager to upend everyone else’s. She betrays two friends, one of them three times: by encouraging him to drink, by destroying his manuscript, and by offering him the gun that kills him, expecting him to die a grand and noble death. The staging is overdramatic in places where it needs gravitas: when Judge demonstrates his power over Hedda by dribbling red liquid over her the effect is disconcertingly comical; and Hedda’s death throes when she shoots herself are far too twitchy in silhouette. For my money, Terence Rattigan’s “The deep blue sea” is a far more satisfying portrayal of a woman trapped in an unsatisfactory life.
I’m far more pleased with the low key acting in “I Daniel Blake”. Life’s given him a far harder hand to play than Hedda’s: he loses his wife and then his job, and has to deal with Kafkaesque bureaucracy to be given a pension. His occasional outburst are controlled and measured and none the less powerful: in the employment office waiting room he sees a young mother’s dilemma with compassion and takes what action he can to support her. When he’s knocked back after suffering the indignity of applying for jobs his health won’t let him take, he takes a stand with spray paint to make his demands before he’s lugged off to gaol. When poverty really takes hold, he retreats into isolation, emerging only to die on the way to his hearing. Through all this he remains dignified.
“Loving” presents a seemingly insoluble problem: a mixed-race couple is driven out of their home state by the race laws, under ban of returning for 25 years. Joel Edgerton plays the husband who just wants to be allowed to love his wife and his children: his submissiveness to the intransigence of the law rings very true. His wife is more proactive and finally their case goes to the Supreme Court and changes the American constitution. Beautiful, low-key acting again.
This true story of displacement, begins when 5 year old Saroo is separated from his brother and finds himself on a train that takes him alone across India to Kolkata. There he doesn’t speak the language and he has to fend for himself until he’s adopted by an Australian couple. The fairy tale life collapses when he’s at university, and he longs for home as he knew it in his childhood and for his beloved mother: he sets off on another journey to find his obscure village. The young Saroo is a delight, and India is beautifully portrayed, without drawing back from poverty and other sinister aspects. I’m glad I didn’t let my almost pathological dislike of Nicole Kidman keep me away from this movie.
A movie that is absolutely beautiful to look at, although the story is far from “beautiful”. Yet another attempt to deal with the aftermath of war: the loss of fiancé and son up against the horrors committed in the name of duty; and another doomed love affair.
I desperately want to see this opera, which I have never heard of – because of the costumes. A previous MetOpera Live took me behind the scenes into the wardrobe room. I wasn’t disappointed, and the opera itself satisfied me in a way that many operas don’t, with their ridiculous overwrought stories. Here, the plot worked as parable rather than melodrama. A nymph wants to be human so badly she is prepared to take the consequences if her lover discards her. The storyline keeps me interested; the singing is superb; and the stage sets (palace and woodland) are beautifully contrasted. The quirky thing about this opera is that muteness is the price the nymph pays for becoming human, a strange state for the main character in an opera.
I’m an addict of National Theatre Live filmed performances. I can sit in the small theatre in Narooma Kinema, twenty kilometres from home, and for $25 I can watch superlative Shakespeare. And this production of “Twelfth night” is superlative, Shakespeare very much alive. The staging is triangular and clever – it manages to be a ship foundering at sea; a grand staircase for Malvolia’s appearance in yellow stockings, cross-gaitered; a room for Sir Toby and Sir Andrew to perpetrate their drunkenness; and a dark cell for the imprisonment of “mad” Malvolia. There are plenty of laughs, but there is also the darkness of the bullying Malvolia is subject to. Tamsin Greig makes me feel outraged at her treatment and to break into applause for her performance, something I never do at the movies.
“The innocents” is based on a true story from Poland. As the Russians move through they take the spoils of war. Breaking into a convent, they rape the nuns and leave a number of them pregnant. The mother superior is determined to keep the shame secret, but one of the nuns enlists the help of a French Red Cross nurse. The story traverses difficult terrain: the black and white of the winter landscape and the nun’s habits belies the complexity of the consequences that have to be faced as the nuns give birth, and as babies are left to die in the snow at the foot of a cross.
On a rainy June Tuesday, I create my own mini-film-festival. A morning viewing of the Australian movie “Don’t tell”; and in the afternoon “Denial”.
“Don’t tell” is the harrowing true story of a young girl sexually abused by a teacher at Toowoomba Anglican school. Years later she dares to accuse the school and take it to court: the outcome is recognition that her story is true and the resignation of Australia’s Governor General, Peter Hollingworth, who was Anglican archbishop at the time of her abuse. It’s not an easy movie to watch: while it focuses on the court case, Lyndal is subject to disturbing flashbacks, especially when the court moves to the school. It is confronting not only for Lyndal but for her parents who ignored her pleas not to be sent back to the school: for other abused students who have submerged their abuse; and for the school nurse who finally dares to name something disturbing she saw as the girls were showering. The closing scene is moving: Lyndal and her younger self sit companionably on haybales in the paddock as long-awaited rain begins to fall.
“Denial” is based on the true story of holocaust denier David Irving’s court case against Penguin books. It raises many pertinent questions in this age of alternative facts, as Penguin’s formidable legal team set out to prove that Irving knowingly perverted documents in his attempts to rehabilitate Hitler. The dilemma the team faces is demolishing Irving’s credibility without giving him airspace to pursue his cause. A visit to Auschwitz on a snowy winter’s day is the centrepiece of the movie.
Brett Whiteley is an Australian artist. The documentary begins with a Sotheby auction where one of his painting sells for $1.2million, a record for an Australian painting at the time. In the course of the documentary you hear his voice, see the splendid diversity of his art, watch recreations from childhood, and stand by with his wife as he destroys himself with drugs. His boyhood epiphany that he is an artist comes in church in Bathurst, when he finds a book of Van Gogh paintings someone has left on the floor. This moment is dramatically represented as his image and everything around him swirls into Van Gogh brush strokes and spirals. He is very quotable: “My libido is as present in my paintings as ultramarine”: “Artists are not nice people, but they make honey.” His art is immensely varied: the huge sequences of “Alchemy” and ” The American dream”; the serial killer series; the voluptuous bath room nudes; the Sydney harbour scenes; birds; and Nobel Prizewinner Patrick White as a headland. His wife hits the nail on the head when she says his attraction is his “blazing energy”.
For once the trailer is well worth watching.
My fourth visit to the movies in one week. Maybe I take my sleeping bag and camp out! This time it’s Opera from the Met in New York. I’m familiar with the voice-free music: I played my “La traviata” LP over and over as a girl, and everything is familiar except the story which I’d never even wondered about. The music no longer sounds quite so beautiful when I know it’s the accompaniment to a long dying. A large clock and a motionless man onstage all the time remind us of Violetta’s mortality. This production is stunning to look at in its starkness and curves: black, white, grey and red except in the carefree Act 2 when Violetta and don Alberto are deeply and playfully in love. Violetta is played by Sonya Yoncheva whose voice is superlative. Alberto is no actor, which spoils things a bit. His declarations of love are accompanied by a robotic stare into space.
I’m pleased with my viewing: not one movie I’m sorry I saw. Australian, French, French-Polish, English productions. No Hollywood. Thank you, John.