Review: “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is As Scattered As its Protagonist

A new Richard Linklater comedy starring Cate Blanchett as an agoraphobic misanthrope architect who runs away to the Arctic to attempt reconnecting with her own creativity sounds like a fantasy. While the end result definitely isn’t a nightmare, it is reminiscent of a listless and languid dream, one that you forget a few moments after you wake up.

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[North Bend Film Festival] ‘Extra Ordinary’ Weaves A Touching Tale About Grief and Ghosts

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who are you gonna call? Rosa’s Driving Service, at least in the world of Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman’s feature film debut, Extra Ordinary. Their first feature is a touching and hilarious tale about one woman trying to run from her paranormal gifts, one father trying to save his daughter and placate his dead wife, and one washed up rockstar who turns to the Devil for success.

Rosa (Maeve Higgins) is the daughter of a deceased ghost expert. She possesses gifts to commune with the dead, but chooses to avoid them, turning to her driving school instead. She passes her days educating people how to drive cars, her evenings eating yogurt, sitting on her exercise ball, and listening to messages of people begging for her ghost services. Yet, she has sworn off the paranormal ever since the death of father, bent on living a normal life sans ghosts. However, that all changes when she meets Martin Martin (Barry Ward), a father haunted by his dead wife who nags him even from beyond the grave.

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MUBI Review: ‘The Duke of Burgundy’ and the Theatrics of Love

This review is part of our coverage for MUBI’s August’ 19 slate.

Focalised through the slowly waning romantic affair between two women, director Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy (2014) is an intriguing examination of the theatrics of love. The film occupies an alternate plane of reality altogether — temporal markers are removed, only women exist, and all everyone ever does is attend lectures on butterflies or customise beds for those interested in S&M. Perhaps the almost surreal setting of Strickland’s film is a fitting match for the isolated romance at hand, which borders on consumingly solipsistic.⁠

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Jennifer Kent’s ‘The Nightingale’ Carefully Treads Through a Maze of Trauma

Editor’s note: this piece contains references to racial violence and sexual assault

Tasmania in 1825 was a British penal colony. England shipped its prisoners to its wilderness, a wilderness that they stole from Tasmania’s native population. England abused prisoners and Aboriginals alike, treating them like livestock. In Jennifer Kent’s second feature film, The Nightingale, she navigates the colonial atrocities performed by the British and creates a film that wishes to directly address the cruelty of past while also encouraging empathy for the victims of such violence.

Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is an Irish woman who has been on the island for seven years. She was first sent to prison, then purchased by Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin). Hawkins has taken a special liking to Clare, routinely assaulting her after he’s had something to drink. Despite her requests for freedom after her marriage and the birth of her daughter, Hawkins clings to her like a starved leech, sucking out whatever life Clare has left. This culminates in a horrific act of violence that leaves Clare alone and full of rage. She hires Aboriginal tracker, Billy (newcomer Baykali Ganambarr), to guide her through the wilderness to catch up the soldiers and enact her revenge. 

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‘Blinded By The Light’: On broken heroes and glory days

When I first mentioned to a friend a few years back that I harboured a deep, timeless love for Bruce Springsteen, her reaction was much the same as those of young Javed’s (Viviek Kalra) are in Gurinder Chadha’s 1980’s-set Blinded By The Light. “Springsteen?!” she sputtered, “isn’t he a bit, you know, old-fashioned?” In a similar fashion, most of Javed’s friends in Chadha’s chaste coming-of-ager scoff at the mention of Boss-worship and dismiss Springsteen as a relic of bygone times; a traditional rocker whose cassettes belong in their dads’ collections. For them, he surely has no place in an era now dominated by synths and colour clashes.

Javed’s family and friends alike wonder, what could a singer from New Jersey concerned with the falsehood of the American dream possibly have to say to a sixteen-year-old Pakistani boy from Luton? What those around Javed fail to realise, however, is that Javed is also a blue-collar poet — a master of detailing the monotony of living out your years in a small town, just like Springsteen. When we first meet Javed, it’s 1987 and Thatcher’s cuts have led to mass unemployment across Britain. Frustration festers in Luton, and he writes tirelessly in the hopes of reaching the kind of ‘promised land’ that The Boss spent song after song mythologizing on Darkness On The Edge of Town. While Javed retreats to his room to let his anguishes and dreams spill onto the page, his father (Kulvinder Ghir — often multi-faceted and wonderfully nuanced) reminds him that words won’t pay the bills, as the National Front storm the streets outside in what Springsteen would call a ‘death waltz.’

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Javed is a mirror of Springsteen in the late sixties and seventies — a disenfranchised, disillusioned young man, haunted by the images of poverty around him and terrified by the possibility of a future confined to the borders of a dying town. Where Springsteen observed and critiqued the needless violence of the Vietnam War and the American imperialism sold to the working-classes as patriotism, Javed laments on the steady rise of the National Front under a Conservative government that scapegoats the marginalised: the trade unionists, Muslims, and Pakistanis alike. Neither the sources of Springsteen’s nor Javed’s anger feel like remnants of the past — simply reminders of times that we have long since progressed from — particularly as Boris Johnson’s government edges further towards being hard right with each passing day. Javed and Bruce are one, along with anyone ignored and maligned by the powers at large. Blinded By The Light is at its best when it makes its social commentary its core focus, such as when ‘Jungleland’ — Springsteen’s epic study of his hometown and all its warts –—plays over the climax of an NF demonstration as Javed watches, while those he loves “wind up wounded, and not even dead.” The scene indeed resembles a street on fire, in parallel with Springsteen’s poor, post-war surroundings.

Where there are sharp addresses of socio-political barriers in Blinded By The Light, there are also insistences of great joy, and Chadha’s film is littered with more than enough moments of sweet-natured comedy to give it charm. Just as Chadha once positioned football as a salvation for Bend It Like Beckham’s Jess, here she presents Springsteen’s music as a balm for Javed. For every period of love, conflict, and heartache that Javed undergoes in his teenage years, Bruce is there. If it’s romantic passion that Javed is having his first taste of, then ‘Thunder Road’ is there to guide him. If the desire to escape the ills of his hometown is greater than ever, then Javed has ‘Born To Run’ ready to remind him that Springsteen, too, hailed from a place that would have ripped “the bones from his back,” had he not broke free. Bruce is omnipresent for Javed; a demigod whose work appears to have been written especially for this one lost boy.

Blinded By The Light often pedals an unabashed belief in the restorative power of music but is never naïve enough to suggest that it can totally heal the wounds left by the kind of racism, economic inequality, and familial tensions that Javed faces. Chadha knows, music — not even Springsteen’s transcendent lyricism — cannot solve everything. To find a voice that appears to have felt everything that you have, though, and that seems to have listened to your every thought is sometimes all the reassurance that one needs to remind themselves that escape doesn’t lie too far away. Bruce will be there until Javed, at least, walks in the sun.

Jewels Under the Kitchen Sink: ‘El Auge del Humano’ is a Radical Mood Piece

This piece is part of a series called Jewels Under the Kitchen Sink. Here we try to bring films that have been overlooked during their time, or were (despite their distinctive and timely nature) somehow forgotten, back onto the radar. It’s an attempt at reaching into the dusty niches of time and fishing some true gems out of there. We hope to pique your interest towards some of these films, so they can be reintroduced into today’s film discussion.

Some films just won’t leave your head after you have seen them. Recently confronted with the slightly overwhelming request, “Recommend me the most unforgettable film you have ever seen,” I was suddenly thinking about El auge del humano again. I didn’t give the recommendation, because the person asking probably wouldn’t have liked it and there are so many other unforgettable cinematic experiences. But, the instinctual jump obviously didn’t happen without reason, so my train of thought went from there. It’s rare that cinema is so distinct and led-on with such a pronounced confidence.

Writer/director Eduardo “Teddy” Williams was born in Argentina, tutored by Miguel Gomes during his studies and garnered attention with his short film Pude ver un puma, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. Starring frequent collaborator Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, who is known for his dazzling performance as Sean in Robin Campillo’s 120 BPM, the film tells the mysterious story of young men roaming a torn-down and empty world with a floating and dreamlike sensibility. While dystopias are a popular narrative framing device in short films, there has never been one that tells its story quite like this one. This fact announced the young director as a filmmaking voice to look out for.

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After several shorts, Williams finally put together his first feature film, a deeply mysterious study of both characters and their environments, seamlessly spanning three countries through small towns, jungles and video chats. El auge del humano finally premiered at Locarno in 2016 and won Williams a highly deserved Best First Feature Special Mention and the Golden Leopard in the Filmmakers of the Present section. While the film sparked very diverse reactions amongst critics, there was no denial that Williams’ craft was absolutely original. Continue reading “Jewels Under the Kitchen Sink: ‘El Auge del Humano’ is a Radical Mood Piece”

Fantasia 2019 Review: Terrifying Japanese Ghost Story ‘Stare’ Won’t Let You Look Away

First, the lights start to flicker. Then, you hear a quiet tinkling of bells. You turn to find the source of the noise and find a woman hiding in the shadows. Her face is covered with long, black hair and her hands are pressed together in front of her. As she gets closer, she looks up and reveals her unnaturally large eyes. This is the last thing you see before she claims your eyes. This is Shirai-san, the ghost of Otsuichi’s newest film, Stare, which premiered this year at Fantasia. 

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