THEATRE REVIEW: Heathers the Musical (Sydney Opera House, 2016)

Heathers: The Musical features a great score and talented cast but the flashy direction falters, making it too often vapid.

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“Freak, slut, loser, short bus,” sing the majority of teens in the opening number of Heathers: The Musical, a sharp dark comedy about the effects of teen bullying, suicide, and violence — set to a rock-pop score.

Based on Michael Lehmann’s 1988 film, Heathers: The Musical follows teenager Veronica Sawyer who joins the most popular and feared girl-clique at school: the “Heathers”. Dissatisfied with their selfishness and bullying, Veronica — influenced by the new (and slightly psychotic) boy at school, J.D. — becomes involved in a chain of homicides, which has her questioning the moral line between right and wrong.

While faithful to its source material, Heathers: The Musical lightens up the darkness of the film  – soaking it with bright coloured costumes, enhanced hair and make-up, and a fun upbeat score which contributes to the show’s contagious, sassy energy. Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy — the team behind Legally Blonde: The Musical — craft a catchy, brassy rock score with bubbly melodies and clever lyrics.

From its snappy number delivered by all three Heathers in “Candy Store”, to Veronica’s belted anthem in “Dead Girl Walking”, O’Keefe and Murphy’s music is an important driver of Veronica’s identity crisis: she oscillates between seeking vengeance and morality.

Read the rest of my review over at Seventh-Row.Com

FILM REVIEW: Captain Fantastic (2016)

This review was originally posted on ImpulseGamer.com

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Honesty is a rare feat in cinema, but Matt Ross finds it in Captain Fantastic, reflecting the progressiveness of its male protagonist – Ben, played by Viggo Mortensen, who has raised his children away from the civilisation of the city and within the primal, survivalist forest. It is the news of the death of their mother, which brings them towards the city, traveling by a bus nicknamed ‘Steve’ on a journey of self-discovery, growth and inner reflection.

The heart and humour of Captain Fantastic strikes familiar tonal grounds with dysfunctional-family comedy Little Miss Sunshine, in which Ross presents a family with unconventional relationships and family dynamics. The opening of the film pans over the tops of the treetops, before landing upon a child killing a deer as an “act of manhood” – a sudden, yet stark realisation of the unorthodox parenting method dictated by Ben deep in this forest. Instead, Ben honours his children’s intelligence, where a campfire sequence sees them reading novels like ‘Middlemarch’ and being asked to offer insightful analysis about the novels, climbing mountains and teaching them resilience and first-aid. But while a presentation of anomalous relationships to its audience, the film’s distinctiveness – such as their notable celebration of Noam Chomsky Day – is nevertheless able to offer an affecting tale through its wit and heart.

It is perhaps this nontraditional premise which provides the film a fresh perspective on the educational parental methods, suggesting there may be alternative pathways that we should not be so quick to judge. But Ben’s questioning of his own uncompromising methods concurrently sees a re-examination of a ‘proper’ family, where this conflict is exacerbated by a cleansing motif which sees Ben undergoing water cleansing by nature (waterfall) and mankind (shower). The disconnection from ‘real-life’ civilisation also creates an inherent tension between socially accepted norms and self-taught values, manifesting into emotional strains within the tight-knit family and beyond.

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Yet, the film ironically suffers from its conventional approach to its off-the-grid concept. It follows an oddly linear trajectory, where the main events of the film appear soundly familiar, such as when the grandparents of the children hold an intervention to claim custody of the children over Ben, or when the eldest son kisses a girl for the first time. There is a lack of surprises in the film, and it is this where the authenticity of the film is  sacrificed, further reinforced by Ross’ need to neatly bow-tie his story so that all characters are left satisfied with the outcomes. The film’s attempt to find a middle-ground for all parties involved feels out-of-character, especially for the notoriously stubborn Ben, whose values seem to change little throughout the film’s running time.

But while feeling slightly contrived, it is the performances and the ability to fuse sharp-wit into the script of the film which sees Captain Fantastic manage to remain poignant and compelling enough to root for Ben and his family.

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CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
Directed by Matt Ross
Produced by Monica Levinson, Jamie Patricof, Shivani Rawaf, Lynette Howell Taylor
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn

RATING out of 5

 

Talking about Slow Cinema: TURIN HORSE (Tarr, 2012)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Ira Jaffe’s Slow Movies (2014): ‘Introduction’ and Ch. 7 ‘Rebellion’s Limits’.

In a symposium in 2007 devoted to Béla Tarr’s cinema, David Bordwell stated that “we want a cinema that puts the brakes on, slows things down. What we have to start doing if we want to study film history and aesthetics of film history is to look at how different filmmakers are taking this path.” It is undeniable that in a world where technology is advancing faster than ever, the attention span of audiences is becoming shorter and shorter – films reflecting this trend. The cuts have become faster, action moving at a rapid pace, all to keep us on our feet constantly. It is thus important to examine dromology itself – the science of speed – where there social acceleration mirrors the capitalist economy’s assembly line, aiming to create rush of sensations, kinetic drive and an accessible aesthetic to the mainstream.

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But both Jaffe and Béla Tarr insist on the need to decelerate the speed of cinema, suggesting that it facilitates the investigation of major artistic and philosophical concerns. Tarr’s film Turin Horse aims to represent the ‘real’, drenching its aesthetic in a dreary black and white to reflect the utter bleakness of the events (or lack of) in the film. Not only visually, but also through minimal storytelling is this achieved – the ‘narrative’ of the film follows a father, daughter and a dying horse in an anti-genesis subversion of events towards an inevitable death. The height of the camera is constantly at eye-level, broodingly silent and inarticulate. It is here that the duration of the film is felt, whereby the use of 30 shots in the 150 minute running time echoes the continuity in real life – ensuring that the film is a real psychological process.

And yet, Tarr’s choice to challenge his audiences is no accident – he destroys his film world in the period of six long days – elongating the shots, with few cuts, almost-to-nothing action – to convey the depths of despair that come with the futility of escape. Here, Tarr emphasises the collapse of everything living, shown metaphorically through the dying tree on the hill, and the horse that “refuses to eat”. The total deterioration of living beings is depicted through the father and daughter’s unchanged routines and the slowness of their actions. The repeated event of the consumption of the steaming-hot potatoes is an occurrence which happens multiple times during the duration of the film – at times, shot from different perspectives, while still remaining stationary. It is here that Jaffe draws upon Tarr’s lack of an “affect-less manner” – where the two lone characters in the film lack expressive range and mobility. Assisted by a completed stripped back mise-en-scene, any type of elaborate or dynamic lighting and colour removes the possibility of personalising their characters – gravitating towards a stillness, a death.

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There is something akin of Tarr’s film to Beckett’s absurdist plays (see Waiting for Godot and Endgame), where the dread and inevitability of death is waiting to occur. There is a certain unbearableness to the experience of the film which is self-reflexively imposed on its audience through the film’s long duration – leaving time to contemplate and wrangle about the emptiness of life itself. It is also similar to Beckett that Tarr’s departure from the conventional artform is depicted, where his subversion of traditional structure and filmic techniques seeks to represent the real rhythms of life.

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A REFLECTION: Dead Ringers (Cronenberg, 1989)

Davis’ The Desiring Image interweaves an argument which seeks to broaden the category of queer cinema beyond classifiable gay cinema, and dislodge automatic relations within sex, gender and desire through cinematic form and structure. Notably describing the ‘first generation’ of New Queer Cinema, this view unfolds itself towards the view that desire should be an examination outside the norms of heteronormative cinema.

David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1989) echoes Davis’ advocation of Deleuzian theories of perception and desire, suggesting that Cronenberg resists gendered and sexual norms in the representation of desire. Instead, he becomes more interested in how desire transforms through the aesthetic and conceptual, shown through his exploration into the complexities which govern the connection between the brother twins, Eliot and Beverley. The breakdown of Beverley’s sibling link with Eliot, whereby the horroresque nightmare of Claire physically eating through the fleshy link between the twins, depicts a deconstruction of the binaries between the mind and body. The psychological mental state of Beverley deteriorates throughout the duration of the film, complicating the biological bond shared with Eliot – where their previous experiences

Here, Cronenberg expresses the non-singularity of identity, manifesting the brothers into twins to emphasise the shifting of individuality according to desire. This is depicted through the subtractive framing of the film, where the out-of-field shots obscures a wider frame, conveying the perceptual barriers which Cronenberg imposes upon his film. As Deleuze writes, the “subject” remains a fixture of social interpretation – where Cronenberg thus generates new structures of sexuality and desire by offering different perspectives upon a singular character. Consequently, by ignoring simplistic assumptions regarding identity, he suggests that humans do not have a “singular” identity, but rather that this reveals itself according to singular impulses.

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The bold colours, lines and limited depths of field creates a sense of cinematic desire by suggesting that it an omnipresent immanence.

While Davis’ book acknowledges the misogynistic and homophobic problems of Cronenberg’s film, it chooses to focus on the way Cronenberg is able to pose complex questions about what desire is. By deterritotorialising the model of queer cinema from heterosexual or homosexual conceptions, Davis elevates Deleuze’s notion that sex, gender and desire must defamiliarise itself as mutable and as “open-ended forces”. This is depicted through the womb, which becomes the ultimate wreckage of the brothers’ sense of an ordered whole universe. The surgery conducted by Beverley further reinforces this, where the cuts from the tools to the close-up of the surgical assistant in a crimson red aesthetic, highlights the total degeneration of traditional desire as it debauches into the unbalanced mindset of the twins.

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Yet while Davis’ argument refutes the idea that New Queer Cinema should offer a narrow lens into LGBT stories, his advocation for New Queer Cinema in relation to Dead Ringers is an early generation of the term – whereby the development of this terminology has evolved into a movement coined by B. Ruby Rich to describe queer-themed independent filmmaking. Thus, whilst it is important to examine the way Cronenberg interrogates desire beyond the realms of a heterosexual relationship, it must be noted that Dead Ringers still exists within the realm of a heterosexual white male centric universe – bringing alight some problems which prevail under Davis’ desire to universalise the term of ‘queer cinema’ towards a broader spectrum of relationships.

A REFLECTION: Palindromes (2004, Solondz)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Gerald Sim, The Subject of Film and Race (2014): Introduction ‘What Is Critical Race Film Studies?’ and Chapter 3 ‘Post-Structuralism and the Neo-Marxian Subject’.

In Gerald Sim’s book, he begins his introduction with a primal question that is asked of cinema: “is it racist?”. It is a question which still plagues the Hollywood industry today – in a culture which sees white supremacy dictate the decisions of Studios, white-washing and perpetuating a lack of diversity in films. It is here that there lies an urgency for representation as an important discussion point that needs to be addressed. Critical race theory interrogates these matters, seeking to look beyond stereotypes and to study forms of representation. It has arisen through two streams of reactions: moralistic outrage and criticism, and a formal understanding of the underlying patterns of race as a construct.

Sim’s argument in regards to Todd Solondz’s Palindromes stems from a poststructuralist second generation critical race film theory outlook, which views racism as materially determined and utilised for economic interests. He stresses the need to pay attention to economic and class struggles, suggesting that gender, sexuality and race only follow from a capitalist history of materialism. This is shown in Palindromes, where the juxtaposition between the Victor and Sunshine families depict the classist differences in livelihood, positioning it as a forefront in contrast to the neutrality of race and ages of Aviva. As a result, Sims frames race in economic terms, highlighting that material conditions shapes humanity as beings, which leads to the idea of race being a social construct.

As a result, Sims suggests that Solondz’s Palindromes works as a challenge to the social constructs which are inclined to materialise race, gender and other identity markers. Instead, Solondz focuses on human identity, elevating the sameness of an individual in all circumstances, looking beyond the labels of race. It steers away from the white patriarchal viewpoint, portraying its protagonist through 8 different actors of race, gender, size and age. In this way, Solondz ensures that his film diverts itself in stereotypes, aiming to remain unaffected by the differences of race and gender. By diverting from this Hollywood conventional voice, Solondz suggests that the inner character of a person transcends the materialist labels of society. The neutralisation of these identity markers aligns with Adorno’s emphasis on the necessity to comprehend a person’s inner being – whereby the the character stasis in the film stresses Aviva as an unchanged person (despite changing actresses) – all driven by the same motivations and emotions from beginning to end.

While Solondz’s film is tonally confusing through its indecision between comedy and gravitas, it is deliberately alienating – aiming to emphasise the universality of its thematic concerns through its changing actors. Solondz highlights the need to empower female sexual liberation and to not condemn it, interweaving this  message through the film. The use of different actresses steers away from any type of stereotypical representation of teenage pregnancy, suggesting its circumstances could happen to anyone. The stasis of the actors portraying one character is similarly reflected in the cyclical nature of the narrative – where the young girl who appears at the beginning of the film closes the film with the same mindset: “I want to have a baby“. Although Palindromes may seem tonally odd and resultantly, at times ridiculous, Solondz’s dedication to the portrayal of the authentic character of Aviva is admirably followed through to the very end.

Resource and Environmental Degradation: LESSONS OF DARKNESS (Herzog, 1992)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Nadia Bozac’s, The Cinematic Footprint (2012): ‘Introduction’ and Ch. 2 ‘Resource’.

In Lessons of Darkness, Herzog’s genre-bending strategies and unconventional approach to cinema separates his documentary from the conventional; merging – as Bozac writes – nonfiction and fiction, the real world with the imaginary, to capture a sense of truthfulness that is only obtainable when the bounds of representational accuracy are exceeded. By breaking down specific contextual barriers, Herzog encourages his documentary to invoke an extended exploration into war and resource conflict, and the horrific consequences of this on humans and the land.

By refusing to narrow itself down to the context of 1991 politics (but still exploiting the spectacle of Kuwait’s oil spills and burning wells), Herzog’s science fictional landscape situates it as a futuristic environmental war; the after-effects of what surface after humans have left, conflict has ended, and the environment has now been left degraded.

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Through the diegetic music, the operatic music dramatises the scale of furnaces and ironically conveys the “triumph” of human destruction at the consequence of wealth and greed. Herzog is also consciously abstract – through this science-fiction lens, he offers little to no context, alienating objects as an explanation for this post-apocalyptic reality. By blurring fiction with fact, Herzog self-consciously acknowledges the inability for documentary to truly represent objective fact; instead embracing its flaws through a fictionalised interpretation to uncover a larger and deeper truth.

To separate himself from other modern documentaries, Herzog avoids new media technology – which aim to create urgent, spectacular and “present-tense” liveness. Instead, he embraces the analog through shooting on a 16mm film camera, reducing many shots to single-shot shots. Here, he interrogates the scope that a single camera has to examine the wasted terrain and aftermaths of an oil war on its ecosystem – refuting the idea that multi-cameras are needed to properly capture authenticity.

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His desire for simplicity and rigidity afforded by the analog format means he relies on a stationary camera and minimal editing – avoiding any excess cuts, freeze-frames, zooms and studio shoots. Instead, he works with what Bozac calls a “vulturous patience”, shown through the use of slow pans and aerial helicopter shots, which work to let the havoc of the landscape speak for itself. This patience is accompanied by a loss of words – where the sonorous voiceover of Herzog is sparsely used to let the land speak for itself. Lessons of Darkness is void of any sort of political commentary, relinquishing it from skewed manipulation that film is subject to. But whilst the environment no longer depicts humanity living on it, the scars that impact the innocent are emphasised. The silent child in his mother’s arms, whose inability to speak after witnessing the murder of his father, epitomizes the hidden after-effects of warfare upon both its people and the land.

In addition, transforming the casualty of combat from the human being to the natural environment – Herzog reduces other human life forms to what Bozac describes as “nothing less than extraterrestrial beings”. With the final closing sequence in Lessons of Darkness featuring extinguished oil fires being indulgently reignited from the display of waste and wealth, this horrific representation of humanity’s greedy appetite for oil, and the delight in their palpable desperation for it has led to the burnt land and human misery. Herzog thus undermines the war by challenging the audiences to remember the power of such fires in burning, wasting and polluting the atmosphere. He suggests for a new mode of cinema to tackle such theoretical engagement; self-reflexively using the oil-reflection as cinema’s self-reflection – demanding a reevaluation about cinema’s dependency on war, and how war is dependent on the oil it fights for.

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The Avant-Garde Documentary: LEVIATHAN (Castaing-Taylor & Paravel, 2012)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Scott McDonald, Avant-Doc (2015): ‘Introduction’ and section on ‘Sensory Ethnography’.

Castaing-Taylor & Paravel’s Leviathan offers an affectual and physical experience through documentary style, but diverts from the conventional documentary through its experimental camera work and desire to depict raw reality. The Sensory Ethnography Lab formed by Castaing-Taylor, has had such a reputation for combining this avant-garde approach with an ethnographic consciousness – aiming to refute the “truth claim” of conventional documentaries, and instead armed with a purpose to “shake us out of our dogmatic…slumbers” by representing the sensory elements of cultures and complex, multifaceted experiences.

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In order to achieve this, both Castaing-Taylor and Paravel subvert dominant rules and regulations of filmmaking by elevating the importance of style over subject – immersing its audiences within its avant-garde aesthetic. As stated in the interview with McDonald, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel are much more “interested in the world” than the conforming to norms of cinematic or artistic convention. This is shown through the use of smaller DLSRs and tiny GoPro cameras handheld and attached to fishermen’s bodies, which visually and unusually convey the rocky, messy experiences on board – using different angles to submerge the audiences from the sea and onto the happenings of the ship. This, along with the colour palette of the film (yellow and red against the black of day and night), works to evocatively expose the experiences of the sea, summoning an abstract beauty to its nontraditional shot composition.

Interestingly, these unique perspectives enable the documentary to give equal weighting of animals/natural creatures to humans. This ontological favour subverts the chain of authority of human subjects otherwise seen in films and documentaries, where the fishermen of the ship are instead positioned as ‘The Other’. This is shown through the inaudible, muffling of the fishermen and the rare cut to a human subject. Such is depicted in the long take of a fisherman watching TV, where the stationary camera simply observes the human subject nonverbal like its other creatures – retracting from an interview-style which places humanity at the understanding and forefront of audience attention.

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Concurrently, the perceptual engagement of Leviathan is not only achieved through the shifts between subjective viewpoints (humans, fish, birds) – but concurrently through its intricate and wild sound design. It captures the details of this unsettling netherworld, from the nets, the winches, cutting tables – the acoustics of commercial fishing intentionally function in an imaginative and abstract manner to evoke the metaphysical and affectual sensations of this audiovisual documentary. By paying attention to these two aspects in all their complexities, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel have unearthed a strange but illuminating tone poem for its audiences.

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Disgust and Mise-en-Scène: THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER (1989, Greenaway)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Eugenie Brinkema, The Forms of the Affects (2014): ‘Preface: Ten Points to Begin’, Ch. 2 ‘Film Theory’s Absent Centre’, Ch. 6 ‘Disgust and the Cinema of Haut Goût’ and UNSW lecture conducted by Julian Murphet (8 April 2016).

A traditional definition on affect derives from its resistance of structure  – the conveyance of the visceral, immediate, and sensed. However, Brinkema’s polemic stresses the need to look beyond this interiority of feeling, and to turn to other forms of examination, such as the textures, form and technical aspects which amalgamate to create affect. The argument that the turn to affect corresponds with a turn away from detail, thus excludes the importance of aesthetics, structure and form of a film to generate affect – something that is heavily displayed through Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover elevates the high art of cooking, eating and choosing good food – gastronomy – not only serving as a vehicle to comment on consumerist greed and an allegory for Thatcherism, but concurrently works to emit aesthetic value. The formal language, themes and variations, of high gastronomy evoked through the mise-en-scène, function as a powerful tool to which film theory remains a metaphysical dominant term. This is shown through the red colour scheme of the dining room, expressed through the deep red costuming and set design, where the close-ups of aristocratic paintings, the lavish chandeliers and a harpsichord Baroque-like score by Michael Nyman exacerbate the excess of wealth and opulence of Albert’s restaurant.

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And yet concurrently the artificiality of the film works to distance the film from reality – something that Brinkema notes as a self-conscious display to bridge the representational and gastronomic concerns of the film. This is illustrated in one of the first sequences, where the camera pans across the green kitchen to reveal that the high singing the audiences assumed were be heard non-diegetically, is actually diegetic opera singing from one of the kitchen boys (Pup). Both the shocking and comical value of this operate to self-reflexively break down any preconception of Greenaway’s film as truthful to reality.

This inauthenticity is further conveyed in the overt colours, which separates spatial dimensions. The camera transitions between these locations with an elegance; horizontal linearity is delivered by means of an ever-restless tracking camera. Brinkema notes that the colour schemes (the dining room as red, the washroom as white, the kitchen as green etc.) constitute an independent structure, working autonomously to reveal the structure of the film, rather than operating as symbolism for the film’s meaning. This formal structuralist sphere is extended through the film’s repetition of days, location and activities. The cut to the days of the week, from Thursday to Tuesday, in addition to the order of the filmic shots (menu, arrival, dining, fucking, returning, departure, beating) highlight the strict arrangement of Greenaway’s film, giving him flexibility to seep in the negative affect of disgust through this mise-en-scène.

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Brinkema writes that disgust not only relies on its viscerality for affect, but simultaneously necessitates “active dissecting and analysing”. Greenaway showcases this by exposing the paradox of disgust – the way attraction and revulsion meld into each other. He elevates decay, suggesting it alluringly brings out pleasurable characteristics, represented most explicitly in the horrifyingly slow pan of Michael’s cannibalistic serving – which is garnished with delectable food displays. Gastronomy in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is thus portrayed to communicate the negative of good taste, and the heightened pleasures which derive from the specific forms of rotting and decay. Georgina’s dress, which changes colours according to the contrasting spatial locations, reinforces this – where the bleeding and blending of colours between frames highlights the slow decomposition of form, generates disgust.

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Consequently, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover demonstrates Brinkema’s reasoning of the need to return form (including mise-en-scène) to affect, indicating that aspects of a film’s construction cannot be separated from sensual experiences with film, as they are understood and conveyed through them.

 

A REFLECTION: Boarding Gate (2007, Assayas)

Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Steven Shaviro’s Post-Cinematic Affect (2010): ‘Introduction’ and ‘Boarding Gate’.

On the surface, Oliver Assayas’ Boarding Gate (2007) is not remarkable – it is riddled with  a thin plot and vague characters – two elements that can make the dismissal of the B-grade thriller easy. But looking beyond its encapsulation of conventional genre tropes (which can render it as lacking any sort of new commentary), sees an intriguing examination of its transnational backdrop. Stephen Shaviro’s insightful arguments, in his book ‘Post-Cinematic Affect’, attempts to justify Assayas’ choices, incorporating a critical evaluation of its postmodern landscape, and resultant capitalisation of cinematic affect.

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The world of Boarding Gate is never stable – it moves between countries, cities and spaces.

Affect, as defined by Shaviro is a primary and unconscious feeling, and differs from emotion, which is derivative and susceptible to be waned. This distinction becomes important when interrogating the “world of global capitalism” that is presented in Boarding Gate, where the profit-driven motives of a modern day society encourages immaterial transaction of products. In this environment that ensues a tactile ‘new world’ away from the roots of historical and cultural society, the paradox is that each location in the film have become “empty spaces”. This is shown through the sterile offices in the Paris scenes, where the juxtaposition of gritty construction worksites and factories, shatters any pre-conception of Paris as a romantic setting, as it is represented in classic movies, such as the An American in Paris, the Before Trilogy, Amelié, etc. Instead, Assayas suggests that the commodification of a modern landscape consequently manifests into a mise-en-scène depicted in Boarding Gate –  where the melding of “local” locations (Paris with Hong Kong) makes them virtually indistinguishable spaces – transforming the world into empty, spectacular displays of surface appearances.

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Visual space becomes a mere container for objects, metaphorically reflected through the empty and cold glass windows of a corporate office.

It is not only spatial uniqueness that is shattered, but Assayas also stresses that personal identity is under threat in this constant shifting world. The transnational flows of people, goods and money have led to the disposition of  individual identity – generating a sense of anonymity, which stems from a world where everything has become “interchangeable and exchangeable”. This is depicted through Sandra’s character, who must rid herself of her legal and social identity as she moves between countries, shown through the close-up of the cutting of her French credit card and passport. It is here that Shaviro draws the link between the personal and business, suggesting that the greases of commerce have penetrated into realm of the affective, such as immediate and unconscious feelings of spatial belonging and human trust.

Sandra’s inability to maintain a stable identity is complicated by the manipulation of these emotions; her love for Lester is only used to his own benefit – illustrating the dire consequences of a fragmented capitalist world where human intimacy has evolved into a commercial transaction. Consequently, Shaviro highlights that in order to survive in this unpredictable context, one must reinvent oneself to be adaptable and flexible to changing conditions and threats.

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Through a out-of-focus final shot, Sandra blends into the background through her realisation of her lack of agency to enact change in a rapidly-consumerist world.

But where Shaviro asserts that the conclusion of Boarding Gate symbolises hope, through Sandra’s decision to not shoot Lester, I would argue that it is a pessimistic ending. After a 2-hour running time of chases, slow tension and dramatic events, this despondent ending instead represents the powerlessness of individuals to alter a world that has ultimately driven itself into a materialistic and irremediable state. Whether or not Sandra chooses to shoot Lester will not amend anything; this consumerist society will continue to cyclically perpetuate unscrupulous behaviour for economic interests.

 

FILM REVIEW: The Rover (2014, Michôd)

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“If you don’t learn to fight, your death’s gonna come right soon.”

Relentlessly bleak, The Rover‘s dystopian context bears no signs of optimism. Its desolate vastness is vividly represented by the post-apocalyptic Australian outback setting, and yet – it never fully explains its full background. Michôd’s ambiguous plot only outlines one certainty: the world is in disarray.

The Rover opens with Eric (Guy Pearce) – desert-tanned with buzzing flies around him – there is an immediate look in his eyes that strikes him as hopelessly lost. He lives a mechanical existence — one that encompasses the primal necessity of survival. We are then taken to a scene of 3 friends in a car, they crash their own car, steal Eric’s car and drive away. Pearce’s character chases after them, capturing one of the thieves’ brothers (Pattinson) – where they develop an uneasy bond throughout the journey. The length of the film never hints at the specific uniqueness of the car, but this significant plot device drives the film with increasing suspense and uncertainty.

Michôd’s examination into a world where crime and justice have completely collapsed, presents no explanation. Only focusing on the effects of these circumstances, Michôd presents a nihilistic outlook, deliberately pacing the film to reflect the endless torment induced by such ramifications. Its slow shots depicting the barren emptiness of the outback, assisted by its stunning cinematography, provides a unwavering uncertainty which permeates the film. The instantaneous and unexpected violence shocks in comparison to the relatively subdued tone which exacerbates underlying tenseness. Few words are spoken by the characters in the film, and it propels this overwhelming tension, which is supported brilliantly by creative decisions by Michôd. Antony Partos’ minimalist score is extremely effective – from its opening drones from the cello, it provides a powerful accompaniment to accentuate the ongoing uneasiness of the film.

Here, both Pearce and Pattinson are at the top of their game. Subtle, nuanced yet exceptional, their transformative performances render their characters with additional intrigue and interest. But it’s Pearce who leads the film – his dirt-ridden face, and face which displays unexplained emotions – adds to the layer of mixed feelings to these circumstances: pain, suffering, hopelessness, sentiment.

The contrast between Pearce’s and Pattinson’s characters is a fascinating exploration. An unlikely pair, Pearce’s character emits a certain ‘wise’ quality about the changing world, in which Pattinson’s “dim-witted” character cannot face. Michôd’s startling reminder of the innocence of Pattinson’s character is exuberantly blasted by Keri Hilson’s track in the most implausible scene — bringing yet a diverting tone, which is curiously comical. In fact, Michôd, once again, emphasises the devastating impacts of this broken world on humanity.

The Rover is an enthralling watch – its unanswerable questions intertwine with its unpredictability – ultimately ensuring the film’s deliberately paced unravelling remains acutely powerful.

THE ROVER
Directed by David Michôd
Produced by David Michôd, David Linde, Liz Watts
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson

RATING ½ out of 5