Film reviews David Stratton on Wild Tales; Stephen Romei on Poltergeist
Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes) (MA15+) Limited release Gemma Bovery (MA15+) Limited release Touch (MA15+) Limited release
Wis an anthology of six short cautionary tales about the ways in which the slings and arrows of contemporary society wear us down until we reach breaking point and seek revenge. Though the themes are universal, the film is specific in its setting — contemporary Argentina — and diverse. As in any anthology, some episodes are more successful than others; though the overall tone is comic, a couple of the episodes are really bitter in a grimly humorous sort of way.
When the film premiered last year at Cannes, the opening sequence, Pasternak, seemed particularly clever: one by one all the passengers and crew of an airliner in flight discover they have fallen foul of the same man, Pasternak. In the light of comparatively recent events, this black joke is liable to leave a sour taste in the mouth, but how could writer-director Damian Szifron have foreseen that real life might so rapidly echo fiction?
After some unusually attractive opening credits, set against images of wild animals (the writer-director’s name appears, significantly, alongside the image of a fox), episode two, The Rats, unfolds in a roadside cafe where a waitress finds herself serving the man who drove her father to suicide. Road to Hell is a hilarious look at the perils of road rage, as a smug Audi driver and the guy whose elderly vehicle is driving slowly in front of him on a narrow mountain road become embroiled in the mother of all disputes. In Bombita, a demolition engineer becomes increasingly angry when his car keeps getting towed away and he takes an intemperate revenge. The Bill is the most familiar segment with a plot used in two fairly recent films (one of them American drama Arbitrage): a wealthy man whose spoiled son was involved in a hit-and-run accident pays an employee to take the blame. Finally, in Til Death Us Do Part, a bride goes berserk when she discovers, at her wedding, that her groom has been unfaithful.
Apart from the fact each episode of the film turns on the theme of revenge, the six stories have nothing in common except for the fact they’re consummately produced and acted. Some of Argentina’s finest actors participate in these wild tales, among them Ricardo Darin, who plays the central character in the Bombita episode. The film was made as a co-production with the Spanish company belonging to Pedro Almodovar, and there are traces of Almodovar’s black humour to be found in Szifron’s film.
Everyone who sees this occasionally hilarious film will have their own favourite segment; for me the road rage sequence, which extracts every ounce of black humour from the all-toofamiliar situation in which a couple of macho guys, each one certain of his own moral rectitude, confront one another. Wild Tales is certainly funny; but it’s a humour that illuminates universal truths in the ways that things and people can drive us crazy — though hopefully not as crazy as the film’s fiery characters. Gustave Flaubert’s great novel, Madame Bovary, has been filmed many times and a new version, with Mia Wasikowska, is scheduled to open in July. In the meantime, French film
directed by Anne Fontaine, sets about reworking elements of the novel in a contemporary setting, with mixed results.
This somewhat precious movie unfolds in a village in Normandy, close to the setting of Flaubert’s novel. Martin (Fabrice Luchini), the local baker, is a Flaubert fan (food practitioners in France are nothing if not literate), and he’s intrigued when a British couple, the Boverys, Gemma (Gemma Arterton) and Charlie (Jason Flemying) move into a house nearby.
Martin is attracted to Gemma but he’s a married man, so is forced to observe her from afar. He becomes fearful that life will imitate art and that his new neighbour will make the same mistakes, and suffer the same fate, as her literary counterpart. Indeed, things seem to be moving in that direction when Martin concludes that Gemma is having an affair with Herve (Niels Schneider), a local aristocrat, and that her exlover, Patrick (Mel Raido) is still pursuing her.
For a while Fontaine’s film is diverting, as the ways in which the contemporary story are adjusted to parallel Flaubert become fitfully amusing. Arterton is delightful in the leading role, and she alone is probably the main reason to see the film. Luchini, on the other hand, is monotonous as the impotent admirer whose lovesick brooding quickly becomes tiresome. Fontaine has made an attractive film but seems uncertain about its mood, which wavers between drama, tragedy and comedy. The result is a shallow affair, though a last-minute nod to Tolstoy is an amusing conceit. After some film festival screenings last year, Australian film is finally obtaining a limited release in various capital cities and deserves a larger audience than it will probably attract. Writer-director Christopher Houghton’s film is a well made and rather creepy drama that withholds a good deal of information from the audience yet succeeds in its portrayal of a woman at the end of her tether.
Dawn (Leeanna Walsman) is first seen assaulting a man who, it seems, was trying to help her. Clearly unstable, she drives off into the South Australian hinterland with her young daughter, Steph (newcomer Onor Nottle) in tow. From the start it’s pretty clear that something’s not right. It seems fair to make the assumption that Dawn is attempting to escape from domestic violence, and this theory is confirmed by the fact a man named John (Matt Day) is on her trail and seems able to access credit card details to establish her whereabouts.
After a confrontation with a dodgy-looking cop, Dawn and Steph check into a seedy motel whose manager, Carl (Shane Connor), wins the Norman Bates award for nastiness and voyeurism. In an adjacent bar, Dawn becomes reacquainted with the cop, Nick (Greg Hatton), who can barely conceal his lustfulness. Before long, Dawn and Nick are involved in some destructive sexual activity, with Dawn on the alert in case Steph walks in on them.
Houghton is skilful at establishing a gradually increasing feeling of unease as elements in this story seem not to add up — and, yes, there’s a twist to the tale. It’s a bleak little story, but well made, with Walsman, especially, providing many layers and shades to Dawn’s often mysterious character. On a technical level the film is also impressive given that it was presumably made on a tiny budget. It’s worth seeking out.