Film re­views David Strat­ton on Wild Tales; Stephen Romei on Poltergeist

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - David Strat­ton

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.

Gemma Bovery,

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.