Posts Tagged ‘Willem Dafoe’

Director: Abel Ferrara

Writer: Maurizio Braucci

Country: France / Belgium / Italy

Runtime: 86 mins

A disappointing and confusing portrait of the late director

Pasolini begins with the controversial director viewing a scene from his as-yet-unreleased film The 120 Days of Sodom, in which some youths are subjected to sexual and mental torture by the fascist gang that has kidnapped them. It ends with Pasolini being murdered by a gang on a beach where he has taken a male prostitute. This symmetrical topping and tailing of the film with sex and violence is about the only structure to be found in this disappointing attempt to paint a picture of Pasolini through a kaleidoscopic view of the last day of his life.

Willem Dafoe is a compelling presence as Pasolini, demonstrating again that he deserves to be given more lead roles. However, the film never really gets to grips with the character of Pasolini or what he achieved, and is likely to be especially bewildering to a viewer who knows little or nothing about the man. During the course of his final day Pasolini meets friends, family, colleagues, an interviewer. There are also some fantasy scenes depicting parts of the story he is currently working on. However, none of this really amounts to very much. I lost track of who some of the people were (or possibly it was never made clear in the first place), and it didn’t help that some long passages of dialogue in Italian were not subtitled.

For some reason most of the characters are dimly lit in the interior scenes. When daylight is streaming through windows no attempt appears to have been made to light the faces of inward-facing characters. The same is true when the only light is the lamps in the room. Together with a somewhat desaturated colour this contributes to a slightly sombre atmosphere, and perhaps that is the point, but I’m not sure this really worked for me. Also, in the scene where Pasolini is interviewed, I found the camera movements quite distracting. They didn’t seem to serve any purpose. At one point, as Pasolini is speaking, the camera slowly pulls back from his face until he seems to be several feet away, but then we suddenly cut to an extreme close-up. Why?

I was really hoping to like this film, but I’m afraid I came away feeling quite dissatisfied.

Rating: 5/10

Pasolini was shown at the London Film Festival

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Australia 2011

Director: Daniel Nettheim

102 minutes

 

The landscape of the Australian outback has contributed to many cinematic gems, such as Walkabout, Wake in Fright, and the Mad Max series. Based on a novel by Julia Leigh, Daniel Nettheim’s The Hunter adds to this trove of fine Australian landscape movies, only this time we are not in the outback but the forests and mountains of Tasmania. The action starts, however, in a lounge at Paris Orly airport, where Willem Dafoe’s Martin, some kind of mercenary hunter, is being briefed by the representative of a shadowy biotech company. His task is to find and kill the last Tasmanian tiger, bring back vital samples of blood, tissue, and organs, but to dispose of the carcass so that it will never be found.

Arriving in Tasmania, Martin takes accommodation at the home of the Armstrong family. However, Jarrah Armstrong, a scientist and an environmental activist, has long been missing in the wilds. His wife, Lucy (Frances O’Connor), spends most of her time in bed, dosed up on all manner of medication that is brought in by the rather ambiguous figure of Jack (Sam Neill), who lives nearby. Martin’s initial interactions are with Lucy’s children, nicknamed “Sass” and “Bike” (Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock). Martin tells Jack and the children that he is a university researcher investigating the Tasmanian Devil.

At the local bar, Martin meets a group of loggers who make it clear that newcomers are not welcome. After his first day in the hills Martin discovers that his vehicle has been vandalised. Later, after Martin has managed to cure Lucy of her drug dependency, the loggers return to threaten the Armstrongs and their friends, who have been celebrating a ban on logging. Although Martin continues to pose as a university researcher, the young boy Bike seems to intuit that he is searching for the tiger. Bike gives him clues as to where the tiger might be which, after a while, Martin starts to take seriously. But why does Bike know where the tiger can be found?

The Hunter is possibly not a film for those who like their action fast: there are various scenes of Martin tracking carefully through the wilds, setting traps, waiting, and looking thoughtful. However, throughout the entire film there is always a palpable sense of underlying menace, and eventually this menace takes physical form. Dafoe is utterly convincing as Martin, the hunter. He looks suitably tough, a man who can handle himself when alone in the wild, but who can also stand up to human adversaries. Despite this, Martin also seems to be quite cultured. Early on we seem him luxuriating in a nice bath whilst listening to opera. When he arrives at the Armstrongs’ home, he is clearly perturbed at the filthy bathtub he is presented with, as well as the lack of hot water. He fixes the broken generator in order that he can get hot water and also power up his computer. The difficult task of mending the generator gives him the opportunity to bond a little with Bike, who rarely speaks. As he spends time with the Armstrongs, Martin’s character softens and becomes more likeable. We are left to wonder if he will find the tiger and, if so, whether he will really kill it. How will we feel about him if he does?

This is a very effective slow-burn thriller that also delivers an ecological message, but without ramming it down the audience’s throats. If you didn’t see it on release it is well worth searching out.

Rating: 8/10

 

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Mainstream movies about sex always raise questions as to whether they are titillating, pornographic, exploitative, or misogynistic, and with increasingly explicit scenes in recent movies those questions are even more salient. So, given Lars von Trier’s reputation as a provocateur it was with some trepidation that I approached Nymphomaniac. In the event, the story of Joe’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) sex addiction started out pretty grim and then proceeded to get worse. I wouldn’t dare to predict other viewers’ responses, but there was nothing here that struck me as particularly titillating.

Volume 1 begins when Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) discovers Joe, beaten up and lying in an alley. She won’t let him call an ambulance or the police, so he takes her home. There, she tells Seligman her life story. This begins with a teenage Joe (Stacy Martin) asking a young man, Jerôme (Shia La Beouf), if he would be willing to take her virginity, which he does. Not long afterwards, Joe and her friend B (Sophie Kennedy Clark) take a train journey, the sole purpose of which is to see who can have sex with the most male passengers before they reach their destination. Back in their home town, the two of them determine to have meaningless sex with as many men as possible, but never more than once with the same man. The joint venture eventually ends when B commits the sin of falling in love, but by now Joe is in the early grip of her sex addiction.

Seligman proves to be a surprisingly non-judgmental listener, as Joe’s unfolding story starts to include examples of the hurt she has caused to others. Indeed the cultured Seligman chips in at intervals, comparing the episodes from Joe’s life to examples from science, art, and literature.

There is no real ending to Volume 1, except to provide us with a kind of cliffhanger that leaves us wanting to see Volume 2. In the second film Joe continues to tell her story in flashback, whereby she pursues even more extreme erotic interactions to satisfy her sex addiction, with disturbing consequences.

I had somewhat mixed reactions to Nymphomaniac. At various points I did wonder if matters were getting just a little bit silly, but nonetheless I still found it quite compelling. Partly this was out of a desire to find out just where the story was going to go, especially as Volume 1 begins with Joe’s rescue. But also the film grabbed my attention because of the compelling performances by Gainsbourg and Skarsgård, as well as by Hollywood stars such as Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, and Uma Thurman. The latter in particular has a wonderful cameo as a wronged woman dragging her children round to Joe’s flat, where she insists on showing them “the whoring bed”.

I also was a little mystified about the criticism that Shia LaBeouf’s performance has received. To be sure, he wasn’t the standout performer here, but his much-derided accent was not as bad as I had been led to expect. Various reviewers have described his accent as the worst cockney accent since Dick Van Dyke. Maybe I just have a tin ear (though I am a Londoner and can “do” cockney), but LaBeouf’s accent struck me as rather impossible to place – if anything, it seemed a gentle combination of Irish and London. It certainly didn’t disrupt the film for me in any way.

As to where it all leads, there is a twist in the tale (of sorts), but to some extent it does seem to turn Nymphomaniac into a bit of a shaggy dog story. However, we are provided with some dark entertainment along the way.

Rating: 8/10