Monday, 18 January 2010

First Look: Directors as agents provocateur

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) celebrates the provocateur this February and March in its First Look program, bringing together three films from directorial agitators - a classic restoration and two new works direct from the international festival circuit.

The Time That Remains
Unclassified 18+
Elia Suleiman , 109 mins, France/Belgium/Italy, 2009, 35mm, , Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles. Source: Courtesy: Wild Bunch.

The Time That Remains (2009) from acclaimed director Elia Suleiman concludes an award-winning trilogy which started with Chronicle of a Disappearance (1996) and Divine Intervention (2002), on the Palestinian experience since 1948.

The Time That Remains is a semi-autobiographical family tale spanning four decades set in the picturesque streets of Nazareth, Israel. It combines the stories of Suleiman (playing himself) and that of his own father Faud (played by Saleh Bakri). We see Suleiman's father from his beginnings as a resistance fighter in Israel's 1948 War of Independence and a firebrand gun-maker, watching as he gradually ages and settles into post-war life. The film attempts to portray the daily life of those Palestinians who remained in their land and were branded 'Israeli-Arabs', a political term labelling Palestinians as a minority in their own homeland.

Suleiman adapted this screenplay from diaries his father wrote as he was dying and mother's letters to family members who were forced to leave the country. As Cameron Bailey of the Toronto International Film Festival notes, The Time That Remains is both "deeply local and fully international" and is political without losing the story to politics.

Although deeply personal and close to real life, Suleiman is darkly comical without being disrespectful. The contradiction between the hardships of Palestinian life and the deadpan humour is striking; however delicate and clever direction from Suleiman guides this film into comic territory causing several critics to draw comparisons with Buster Keaton. Even musically, the film is provocatively scored with the theme 'Staying Alive'.

As 'provocateur' Suleiman has repeatedly investigated the themes of war and love simultaneously in his filmography, across fiction and documentary, and this latest film is no exception.

The Time That Remains was nominated for the Golden Palm in the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and won Best Director and the ACCA Jury Prize at Argentina's Mar del Plata Film Festival where it also scored a nomination for Best Film. Suleiman's previous Divine Intervention won both the Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and was critically acclaimed across the globe.

"A wonderful fusion of the political and personal, the historical and the hysterical" Cameron Bailey, Toronto International Film Festival

"A gentle bittersweet film" The Hollywood Reporter

"A master stylist, Suleiman intersperses Keaton-style sight gags, tense scenes chronicling Israeli abuse, and intimate sequences of his family at home. A successful fusion of the political with the personal."

Dillinger is Dead
Unclassified 18+
Marco Ferreri, 90 mins, Italy, 1969, 35mm, Italian. Source: Janus Films. Courtesy: Roissy Films

Marco Ferreri's Dillinger is Dead (1969), regarded by many as his masterpiece, comes to ACMI newly restored yet rarely seen on screens outside Europe, and only released in the USA in 2009.

Dillinger is Dead is a bizarre day-in-the-life of Glauco (French cinema legend Michel Piccoli), an industrial designer and, at first, a seemingly normal man. The film follows the events at his home one evening, from ordinary rituals such as cooking and watching movies to his strained relationship with his wife, kinky mistress and the odd lengths he goes to in his efforts to break the relentless monotony of his life.

Glauco is trapped inside his mundane bourgeoise world, alienated and teetering on the edge.

That same evening he discovers a vintage revolver wrapped in a page from a 1934 newspaper with the headline "Dillinger is dead"; an account of the famous American gangster's death. He takes the gun apart, oils it, puts it back together and paints it red with white polka dots. He gives himself this peculiar 'task' as if only to break the boredom of the evening, as just another distraction from what is really bothering him. Glauco then repeatedly acts out his own suicide as if both trying to free himself of his demons and provide some excitement to his existence.

The events at the house get more absurd and this lasts until dawn, at which point Glauco drives to the coast where he takes a job as a chef on a yacht bound for Tahiti, bound for a new life.

Ferreri's curio is aptly described by one reviewer as "poised between the sinister and the absurd." Written and directed by Ferreri, it is intended as a social commentary on alienation and human dynamics in a modern world.

Although nominated for the Cannes Film Fesitval's prestigious Golden Palm in 1969, the film was only selectively screened around Europe, deemed controversial for its subject matter. Ferreri, who was already earning a reputation as an agent provocateur, followed up with sex and violence in the better-known romp La Grande Bouffe (1973), also starring Michel Piccoli, this time with Italian screen legend Marcello Mastroianni.

Also starring Rolling Stones paramour de jour, Anita Pallenberg, Dillinger is Dead is at once absurd, shocking and ripe for rediscovery.

Dillinger is Dead also rates as a super-stylised trip into late 60s Italian interior design heaven and is a must-see for designers.

"In Dillinger we see the full ripeness of Ferreri's poetics and aesthetics." Vertigo Magazine

Unclassified 18+
Bruno Dumont, 120 mins, France, 2009, 35mm, French with English subtitles. Courtesy: Pyramide International

Direct from the Toronto, New York and London Film Festivals, French provocateur Bruno Dumont returns to the screen with a staggeringly good film in Hadewijch (2009).

In one of 2009's best performances, newcomer Julie Sokolowski plays Céline/Hadewijch, a young woman transitioning into adulthood and grappling with notions of faith, mysticism and religious fundamentalism.

In what initially appears to be a portrait of a deeply religious young girl, intensely devoted to Christ and Christian values with the belief that God and love are one and the same, Dumont soon takes us into an exploration the wider ramifications of blind, ecstatic and single-minded faith.

After begging to be taken in as a novice in a convent, Céline is soon expelled by the Mother Superior who is alarmed by her extreme sacrifices and believes Céline would benefit from life experiences in the outside world. She soon befriends an Arab boy, Yassine, and with her impressionable nature and naiveté later travels to the Middle East with his Muslim fundamentalist brother, Nassir - a trip which has dire consequences.

As provocateur Dumont has never been afraid to explore extreme behaviour, whether through the analytical study of a homicide in L'Humanité (1999) - which earnt him three wins at Cannes that same year - or the dark side of sexual passion in Twentynine Palms (2003). Hadewijch is no exception in its exploration of human behaviour through religious extremism. As a student and teacher of philosophy, Dumont frequently writes and directs material ripe for debate and with this latest work presents a sincere theological inquiry.

Hadewijch won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, and like many of Dumont's previous films, has also brought praise to the novice and non-actors.

Audacious, gripping and sure to divide audiences, Hadewijch is contemporary European cinema at its finest.

"Consider this a must-see, both timely and personal" Time Out New York

"Exceptional" Scott Foundas, LA Times

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Further information

Claire Butler
Communications Coordinator
[direct phone] 61 3 8663 2415 [fax] 61 3 8663 2498 [mobile] 0434 603 654
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