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Features, Film, News

Bite-sized Festival film samples

While it’s still a few months until the bulk of the Perth Festival kicks off, the Lotterywest Film season is about to commence. Wondering what to see? For your convenience, Mark Naglazas has put together a tasting plate of some of the morsels on offer in the first half of the Festival’s film program.

The Perth Festival outdoor film season has always been a balancing act. On the one hand there is the commitment to bringing local audiences a sampling of the best of international cinema (often hot off the European or North American festival circuit); on the other there’s the demand to fill the coffers, the necessity of supporting the summertime arts bonanza’s less lucrative offerings by padding the program with crowd-pleasers.

The first half of the 2018/19 line-up is no exception. There are new works from celebrated auteurs – such as Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, the follow-up to his critically acclaimed post-Holocaust drama Ida, and Iranian master Asghar Farhadi’s first Spanish foray with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem – leavened with enough feel-good flicks to make you forget you’re sitting in chairs that every summer keep chiropractors across the Western suburbs busy.

A woman and man look at each other against a soft focus cityscape.
Qualities from both sides of the ledger: ‘An Unexpected Love’ is the first cab off the rank for the Perth Festival film line-up.

Astutely, Perth Festival film programmer Tom Vincent is kicking off this year’s event with a comedy-romance from Argentina, An Unexpected Love, that boasts qualities drawn from both sides of the ledger.

It is about a pair of empty nesters (played by Mercedes Moran and Ricardo Darin) who, out of fear of impending boredom (as opposed to present-tense misery), mutually agree to dissolve their union.

Ana, the more restless of the two, immediately hooks up with an old flame before moving on to a creepy perfume salesman (getting comfortable, for this oddball Salvador Dali lookalike, means slipping out of his clothes while Ana is in the bathroom) and ultimately a work colleague; while her somewhat shy ex, Marcos, has an ill-fated first date with a sexually voracious alpha female dentist… that ends in an ambulance ride to the hospital.

The middle portion of An Unexpected Love is as breezy as you might expect from such a set-up – and, of course, it’s in keeping with the long Lotterywest Films tradition of beginning the season with something easy to digest, along with the wine and cheese.

However, it is bookended by several extended dialogue scenes that dig deep into the lows and highs of long-term relationships that push it out of familiar rom-com territory into a more challenging space, with Moran and Darin (well-known to local audiences for the classy 2009 romantic thriller The Secret in Their Eyes) giving lovely performances, infusing their characters with world-weariness and romantic and sexual yearning.

A line-up of middle aged men in bathers and swimming caps, at the edge of a swimming pool.
Refloating their soggy lives: men in various states of disarray take up synchronised swimming in ‘Sink or Swim’.

Also on the lighter side of the ledger is Gilles Lellouche’s star-laden French hit Sink or Swim, a Full Monty-ish comedy about a group of men in various states of disarray and despair, who set about refloating their soggy lives through the unlikeliest of means – synchronised swimming. The cast is headed by the wonderful Matthew Almaric and the pool is filled with some of France’s finest actors, so a few ripples of laughter, if not waves, are guaranteed.

Curiously, Sink or Swim is screening just months after an English-language version of the same story played during the recently ended British Film Festival (both, it seems, were inspired by the 2010 Swedish documentary Men Who Swim). Where next for the burgeoning sub-genre in which men in crisis pick themselves up through off-beat activities. Form a sewing circle? Catwalk modelling? The wackier the better.

A woman carries a painting under one arm, against a soft focus garden setting. She looks soulful.
‘One Last Deal’. Photo: Cata Portin.

Indeed, men in crisis is one of the major themes of the first half of this year’s program (Vincent will announce the rest of the line-up in coming months). In Arctic, by Brazilian video auteur Joe Penna, Mads Mikkelsen plays a researcher-explorer who fights for survival in a frozen wilderness; in One Last Deal (from Finland) an elderly art dealer on the verge or retirement makes one last attempt at making real money, and reconnecting with his estranged family, by selling what he believes to be a masterpiece; and in At Eternity’s Gate the American artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) brings us his portrait of tortured Dutch genius Vincent van Gogh (Venice Film Festival winner Willem Dafoe heads a splendid cast that also includes Mikkelsen, as well as Oscar Isaac).

While these Euro-American dramas are centred on the struggles of men, Shoplifters, from Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-Eda, is about an impoverished family who supplement their modest income by stealing stuff, diddling social security and, in the case of father Osamu’s sister-in-law, dressing up as a schoolgirl for sex shop voyeurs.

After a decade or more of celebrated films (several of which have played at Perth Festival) Kore-Eda won the Palm d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Make no mistake: Shoplifters will be slow and understated, as was his last film, After the Storm (2016), which rarely rose above the level of a whisper. But few filmmakers in any culture manage to so deftly tease out the delicate tissue that holds families together.

Black and white photo of two men in suits. One has his arms folded. Both gaze into the distance, not at the camera.
Pawel Pawlikowski’s ‘Cold War’ is the follow-up to his critically acclaimed post-Holocaust drama ‘Ida’.

Family is also the subject of the films of Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi. In films such as A Separation (2011) and The Salesman (2016), both of which played at previous Perth Festivals, Farhadi digs beneath the secrets and lies of the Iranian middle-classes, revealing that when it comes to marriage, family obligations and career, those living under an Islamic regime are not as far removed from us as you might imagine.

Set in a village on the outskirts of Madrid, Everybody Knows is about a woman named Laura (Penelope Cruz) who returns to native Spain with her two children and reconnects with her old flame, a winemaker played by Cruz’s real-life partner Javier Bardem. When Laura’s teenaged daughter goes missing it cracks open up a fissure in the extended family, exposing the long-suppressed history between the former lovers.

While Cruz gives the flashiest performance as the distraught mother, reviews suggest that it’s Bardem and, once again, Ricardo Darin (star of the opening film) who bare their souls in astonishing ways, sealing the male-centric first half of this year’s Lotterywest Films. Guys are in the spotlight this year but, in a world where male power is being challenged everywhere, nobody is making it easy for them.

Mark Naglazas

Lotterywest Films begins at UWA Somerville on November 26 and ECU Joondalup Pines on December 5. 

Pictured top is a still from Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s ‘Shoplifters’.

Mark Naglazas is the former film editor, chief film critic and an arts writer for The West Australian. He interviewed many of the world’s major stars and most significant filmmakers, covered international film festivals and hosted numerous movie and and arts events. He was also a long-time contributor to ABC radio. Mark now reviews films for 6PR, writes features for STM and is attempting his own screenplays. Mark loves nothing more than an old-school screwball comedy so his playground favourite activity is hanging upside down on the monkey bars.

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