Friday, May 27, 2011


1983, New Zealand, directed by Merata Mita

A fascinating film both for its content - an account of protests against the 1981 South African rugby tour of New Zealand - and for its insights into the documentary form, Patu! retains an exceptional immediacy even thirty years on from the events. There's a shocking fury onscreen in many scenes, encapsulating anger at apartheid South Africa and, as the film progresses, at the New Zealand government, which seemed to be prepared to do more or less anything, including turning parts of the country into a fortress as well as sending police riot squads into action against their fellow citizens, to facilitate the tour. As such, the film provides a compelling insight into the sheer levels of force that a country needs to deploy to calm a restive population: the comparison with South Africa itself appears at every turn, duly underlined by the filmmakers.

Merata Mita, a key member of New Zealand's small film industry who sadly died in 2010, doesn't attempt to provide a two-sided account of the events: her film is designed as a corrective to the narrative peddled by the New Zealand government and much of the mainstream media, which tended to present the protesters as unpatriotic troublemakers and denied them a voice. She weaves together an extraordinary variety of on-the-fly footage to create a sense of the very real political and social stakes at the heart of the protests, with filmmakers like Roger Donaldson and Alun Bollinger contributing their skills as camera operators.

There are inevitable gaps in the documentary record, although Mita generally allows the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions rather than providing an over-arching narrative; that said, the use of sound effects that don't always seem to stem directly from the onscreen events certainly heightens the emotional impact of certain scenes. Much of the film is rough and ready, as befits the shooting conditions, but it has exceptional value as a historical record - an insight into the dynamics of protest almost from the beginning of the anti-tour movement, with some of those featured onscreen, like the roots/reggae band Herbs, remaining influential today.

The film is available for online viewing at the (excellent) NZ ON Screen site, which has a terrific collection of New Zealand television, short films, and some full-length features. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

2010, Thailand/UK/France/Germany/Spain/Netherlands, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

This was my first opportunity to see one of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's films on the big screen, and it's a stunning experience to be fully enveloped in his atmospheric world. His films are made very much to be projected on a large scale in the dark, the soundscapes and rhythms becoming that much more hypnotic when shorn of the distractions inevitable when watching on a television. That mesmeric quality seems to flow from one of his films to the next, each a kind of oasis from the sensual assault that is daily (urban) life. The city is a welcome absence here, with one character scornful of city life, although when Weerasthekul does film urban settings they seem shorn of the people and bustle one might expect.

As with the overall tone, there is a continuity of tropes throughout the director's work, with certain ideas cropping up over and over - car rides (all of his features feature an extended sequence shot from within a car if memory serves), medical matters, people in and out of their accustomed uniforms, folk tales reworked almost obsessively, and hovering behind everything the primeval power of the forest. That power isn't necessarily malign or alarming, though: the characters are perfectly comfortable with the idea of two different and interacting levels of reality, and there are flashes of humour as the two levels collide. Here the forest becomes a space of spiritual repose, as in the director's prior films Tropical Malady and Blissfully Yours, although it's not abstracted from the realities of Thai life - the location near borders with Thailand's neighbours is a source of insecurity for some even while it provides solace to others.

Weerasethakul's imagery is as striking as ever: there's a scene in the forest at dusk where the light creates the strange impression that everything is underwater, while other shots make use of bright swatches of colour, such as the saffron robes of a somewhat reluctant monk or the eye-popping hues in a temple. The characters are always placed with great care in the frame, too - the shot at the top reminds me of one in Tropical Malady (pictured in my entry on that film) where one character is right at the front of the frame while the main action happens behind him. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

2010, UK/US, directed by David Yates

Although I'm sure that the prospect of global profits played a major role - if not the determining role - in splitting the final Harry Potter book into two films, the result is actually a much improved product on the cinematic level, with the breathing space to slow the action down a little - not a small consideration where the plot requires the central characters to experience an extended period of soul-searching/retreat. The additional running time allows for at least some character development, too, rather than simply a recounting of J.K. Rowling's plot, while director of photography Eduardo Serra uses his colour palette to channel some of the grimmer spirit of films like Children of Men, lending this installment a much more obviously adult feel despite the wizardry, with several sequences - a scene on a beach near the conclusion - feeling appropriately bleak. Since the narrative would otherwise be one distressing event after another, there's a nice smattering of humour to leaven the tone. Rupert Grint is assigned most of the best lines, although a sequence where the parts of the central trio of friends are played by three older actors, including the usually fearsome David O'Hara, is very nicely played, each of the veterans catching the mannerisms of his or her younger counterpart quite acutely.


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Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States