TOUGH MES­SAGES

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Strat­ton

PROTEST the en­vi­ron­ment, be gen­er­ous to refugees and be ac­cept­ing of chil­dren hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties with their sex­u­al­ity: these are the themes of three films open­ing this week. To start with the one that will be most widely seen, Dr Seuss’ The Lorax is based on a story by Dr Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel, pub­lished in 1971. It was adapted into a short car­toon by Depatie-fre­leng the fol­low­ing year. The new ver­sion is an elab­o­rate, Cgi-an­i­mated af­fair, made by the team that pro­duced De­spi­ca­ble Me, in­clud­ing di­rec­tors Chris Re­naud and Kyle Balda.

The story un­folds in the en­closed town of Th­needville, a place of squeaky-clean sub­ur­ban streets and no nat­u­ral veg­e­ta­tion what­so­ever. The trees in Th­needville are plas­tic and both water and air come in plas­tic bot­tles — and the plas­tic is pro­duced by Mr O’hare (voiced by Rob Rig­gle), a big busi­ness en­tre­pre­neur whose mo­nop­o­lis­tic prac­tices have given him con­trol over the en­tire com­mu­nity.

For young Ted (Zac Efron), life has al­ways been like this, but a chance re­mark from Au­drey (Tay­lor Swift), a girl he very much likes, about want­ing to see a real tree gets him talk­ing to his grand­mother (Betty White), who ad­vises him to leave the town and seek out the Once-ler (Ed Helms), a her­mit who knows the his­tory of Th­needville. The Once-ler re­veals that, when he was a young man, he dis­cov­ered how the beau­ti­ful Truf­fula trees that once cov­ered the land­scape could be used to make prod­ucts he called Th­needs and that, de­spite the ob­jec­tions of The Lorax (Danny de Vito), a grumpy fel­low who acts as guardian and spokesper­son for the trees, he set about chop­ping them down — un­til there were none left. And with the destruc­tion of the trees, the an­i­mals were forced to flee also — and soon the land­scape is bereft of fauna: the cute Bar-ba-loots, the Swomee-swans and the Hum­ming-fish.

Geisel’s widow, Au­drey, one of the film’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers, has said The Lorax was her hus­band’s favourite among all the sto­ries he wrote and it’s cer­tainly a no-holds-barred as­sault on cor­po­rate greed and short-term think­ing, a fam­ily film that has the po­ten­tial to con­vert a whole gen­er­a­tion of kids to think­ing green. There’s lit­tle in the way of nu­ance here (the cli­mac­tic mu­si­cal num­ber de­mands: ‘‘ Let It Grow, As It Did So Long Ago’’), but as a bright, colour­ful and un­de­ni­ably en­ter­tain­ing an­i­mated ex­pe­ri­ence — screen­ing in 3D in many cine­mas — it’s se­duc­tively en­gag­ing. LE Havre, which won the FIPRESCI (In­ter­na­tional Film Crit­ics) prize in Cannes last year, is the sec­ond film made in France by Fin­nish di­rec­tor Aki Kau­ris­maki (af­ter La Vie de Bo­heme). A film about or­di­nary peo­ple who try to help an African boy who trav­elled il­le­gally to the port city in a ship’s con­tainer, it’s a hu­man­is­tic work and, like most of Kau­ris­maki’s films, de­lib­er­ately naive and out of time. Although the refugee ques­tion is a very con­tem­po­rary one, this is a film in which ev­ery­thing evokes the past: there are no mo­bile phones and the quaint Moderne bar, where the lead­ing char­ac­ter drinks, looks as though it might have been mod­ern in the 1930s. The film’s char­ac­ters — baker, gro­cer, bar­tender — all evoke an­other era.

This isn’t a crit­i­cism — far from it. There’s a sim­ple sweet­ness to all of Kau­ris­maki’s films that is en­tranc­ing; per­haps the de­lib­er­ate anachro­nisms aren’t as easy to spot for out­siders in his Fin­nish-based films, but here they’re plain to see.

The film’s hero is Mar­cel Marx (An­dre Wilms) who used to be a writer but now shines shoes for a liv­ing. He’s de­voted to his wife Ar­letty — the name is a ref­er­ence to the great French ac­tress of Les En­fants du Par­adis and other films of the 30s and 40s. Ar­letty (Kati Ou­ti­nen) cooks and cleans for her hus­band and is happy to do so; they have no chil­dren, but own a dog, Laika (‘‘Laika’’ ap­pears in al­most ev­ery Kau­ris­maki film and this is the fifth an­i­mal to bear the name). When Ar­letty is taken se­ri­ously ill and hos­pi­talised, Mar­cel’s world goes into a tail­spin; and then he en­coun­ters, and shel­ters, Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), a boy aged about 12, who is alone and who des­per­ately needs help — help Mar­cel gives him un­hesi­tat­ingly.

The other key char­ac­ter in the film is a po­lice in­spec­tor who is al­ways dressed in sym­bolic black and who’s played by the ex­cel­lent Jean-pierre Dar­roussin. In mi­nor roles you can glimpse Fran­cois Truf­faut’s An­toine Doinel, Jean-pierre Leaud, as the only nasty char­ac­ter, and com­edy di­rec­tor Pierre Etaix as a doc­tor. As with ev­ery Kau­ris­maki film, mu­sic is im­por­tant and in this case there’s a fund-rais­ing con­cert head­lined by Lit­tle Bob Pi­azza, who will only per­form if he’s rec­on­ciled with his wife.

Le Havre is a unique film ex­pe­ri­ence, not to be tack­led if re­al­ism is your thing. Kau­ris­maki prefers to de­pict the world as it should be, not as it is; his ap­proach is won­der­fully warm and most of his char­ac­ters rep­re­sent the best of hu­man­ity. The refugee prob­lem is real, we know, but for an hour and a half we can imag­ine, in this very spe­cial film, how, with a lit­tle kind­ness and con­sid­er­a­tion, it might not have to be like that. BY con­trast, Ce­line Sci­amma’s Tomboy takes place in a recog­nis­ably real and con­fronting world. 10-year-old Laure (Zoe Heran) moves with her heav­ily preg­nant mother (So­phie Cat­tani), her fa­ther (Mathieu Demy) and her lit­tle sis­ter (Malonn Le­vana) to a new town. Laure wears her hair cut short, dresses like a boy, and loves it when her dad lets her steer the car as he drives. The start of a new school term is still a cou­ple of weeks away, and Laure ner­vously goes out to meet some of the neigh­bour­hood kids, who mis­take her for a boy. She goes along with this, in­tro­duc­ing her­self as Mikael.

It’s fool­ish of her, and clearly she knows it. Sooner or later the truth will out. In the mean­time she’s able to swim and play soc­cer with the boys with­out wear­ing a top, and hang out with Lise (Jeanne Dis­son), a flir­ta­tious young­ster at­tracted to the new ‘‘ boy’’ in town.

This is po­ten­tially tricky ma­te­rial and the fact that the film clas­si­fi­ca­tion board has given the film ag rat­ing in­di­cates that Sci­amma has skil­fully avoided the pruri­ent. Yet the ques­tions re­main. We don’t know how Laure’s sex­ual lean­ings will even­tu­ally be re­solved, but it’s pretty clear that she’s in for a lot of heartache.

In the mean­time this small, very touch­ing and beau­ti­fully acted film ex­plores her world with ten­der­ness and sym­pa­thy.

When the last real tree is chopped down it spells the end for the an­i­mals in Dr Seuss’ The Lorax

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