Sunday, 29 March 2015

SUNNYLANDS NOIR: 2015 PALM SPRINGS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (January 2015)


 'CUT SNAKE' Australia 2014 



In Aussie-speak, if someone is ‘mad as a cut snake’ he's so ‘round the bend you don’t want to know. Here the someone is Jim aka ‘Pommie’ (Sullivan Stapleton) who after release from prison loses no time in tracking down an old mate, Merv ‘Sparra’ Farrell (Alex Russell).

The problem is, Farrell seems not all that happy to see him. It’s not exactly clear what Pommie wants of Farrell. Though the two did jail time together, Farrell's now settled and about to be married to Paula (Jessica De Goux), the daughter of a well-to-do Melbourne family. But Pommie is a threat to all that and in ways that you might not imagine.

Directed by Tony Ayres ‘Cut Snake’ is another stand-up example of how Australia continues to turn out some of the most real and compelling crime thrillers on the planet e.g. ‘Felony’, ‘Mystery Road’, ‘Snow Town’, ‘The Square’, ‘Wish You Were Here’ and the Academy Award-nominated ‘Animal Kingdom’.

Like the others, ‘Cut Snake’ is resolutely committed to its story and characters. Though the film’s set in 1974, there's no over-studied attempt to evoke the period. Direction and editing are straightforward, with visual flourishes thrown in only to lend attention (usually during moments of violence).

In contrast is ‘Cut Snake’s out-sized cast of rising stars - the doe-eyed, pretty boy Russell, the glowing De Gouw and the fearsomely physical Stapleton (who imposed himself in the same way on ‘Animal Kingdom)’. Pommie is a terrifying cinematic invention, a creature both blindly ferocious and emotionally exposed. 

Sullivan Stapleton is a mesmerizing actor with high-wattage star-power. Unfortunately his go-big-or-go-home plays in the muscle-movie ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ (2014) and the comedy-thriller 'Kill Me Three times' (2014) were to no one's' advantage, least of all his. However he's lined up to feature in a couple of hopeful-sounding US-produced crime/ action dramas and continues to star in the British television series, 'Strike Back'. 

Meantime, there's 'Cut Snake'. And even if Sullivan Stapleton's not around much any more, it shouldn't be the last of these audacious films. Noir down-under is bred in the bone and as long as a few shape-shifting actors like Guy Pearce and Ben Mendellson still come out to play in the Land of Wonder, everything should be fine.


Gary Deane


‘TO KILL A MAN’ aka ‘MATAR A UN HOMBRE' Chile 2014



Jorge (Daniel Candia) is a simple man, a maintenance worker at a forestry research station who wants only to keep to himself. But he and his family are being bullied by street thugs from the nearby projects. One evening Jorge gets badly roughed up and when his son Jorgito goes to confront his father’s tormenters, the gang’s leader, Kalule, shoots him. Kalule then self-inflicts a gunshot wound to make it look like self-defense but ends up going to jail for two years. When he gets out he begins to take his vengeance, including assaulting Jorge’s daughter. Jorge to this point has remained passive and the timidity eventually costs him his marriage. However, after police and local authorities fail to respond to the provocations and acts of violence, Jorge realizes he's come to a crossroad.

Though nominally a revenge drama, ‘To Kill a Man’ unfolds differently from what one might expect. Jorge is no Charles Bronson. He's slow to understand, to make decisions and to act. And even having done so, it’s not a given Jorge knows how to deal with what he's done nor the moral implications thereof. There's no signal moment of catharsis and release for Jorge or the audience, only increasing confusion and doubt as the film approaches its low-key conclusion.

Based on a true story, director and screenwriter Alejandro Fernadez Almendras has fashioned the film in a way that reflects how such a situation might play out in real life in which the aftershock of a vengeful act is as significant as the act itself. Jorge’s revenge happens not so much out of anger but of desperation, a sense of which that pervades the whole film. Jorge is a just a pawn in a game in which there is no victory – or if there is, it's hollow and short-lived.

While Alendras’ storytelling may seem opaque and undramatic, that’s the way he means it to be. His method is meditative and dogged and he sets out a straightforward mis-en-scene and middle-distance camera that weights everything equally in the interest of realism. 

No doubt amateur killers often do things in what may seem like agonizingly dragged-out and clumsy ways. But as will happen in noir, ‘To Kill a Man’ demonstrates how anyone can be trapped by decisions made and actions taken from which he or she may never escape.

‘To Kill a Man’ is available on Netflix.

Gary Deane




‘WILD TALES’ aka ‘RELATOS SALVAJES’ Argentina/ Spain 2014 


Dark and darker is the new black for film comedies these days, though a bona fide ‘noir comedy’ is a ball yet to be kicked through the goalposts. Film noir’s playingfield of despair, folly, desperation, obsession, lust, betrayal, and misfortune has long proven too potent a mix to tolerate deliberate and willful funniness. Though drollery and irony abound in modern noir (as they do everywhere), the noir comedy has remained an oxymoron - and a toxic one at that.

However Argentinian director Damian Szifron may have done the deed. His terrific 2015 Academy Award-nominated ‘Wild Tales’ is at once both deeply noir and darkly, fiercely comic. And no one suffers for it except the victims. 

‘Wild Tales’ is all about revenge served up both red hot and cool over six short stories in which:  a chance encounter on an airplane is not as random as it seems; a waitress recognizes  a man who once did her family harm; a driver on a remote highway provokes another only to regret it; a man whose car is impounded on parking charges refuses to accept them; another man must decide whether to cover up a crime committed by his son; a bride at her wedding reception has her suspicions about her new husband confirmed.

To say more would be to say too much and take away from what’s in store. But though the stories are short, none are slight. There’s enough going on in each to carry a full-length feature and unlike many portmanteau movies with contributions from different directors, ‘Wild Tales’ has no weak links. 

The stories are very different but Szifron’s exuberantly Latin approach to the telling is all of a piece. Though outrage and violence are everywhere and retribution turns to madness, the director diverts attention away from the horrific happenings to the absurdity and hilarity around them.

It’s a tight straddle but one that plays out beautifully. Cinematographer Javier Julia joyfully captures the chaos with a dexterous camera while Szifron calculates to the frame if and when he’ll allow the audience to see what’s coming or if it’s better to hold something back. Either way, the outcome is sure to be unnervingly macabre and alarmingly funny at the same time. 

Produced by Pedro Almodavar and starring among others, Ricardo Darin (‘The Secrets in Their Eyes’, ‘Carancho’ ‘El Aura’, ‘Nine Queens’), ‘Wild Tales’ is both wildly subversive and entertaining and is an impressive calling card for the young Argentinian director to hand to the world. 

('Wild Tales' got a repeat viewing on Valentine's Day at the 2015 Victoria (BC) International Film Festival where it won 'Best Film')

Gary Deane

DON MARTIN: SCREENWRITER IN THE SHADOWS

When queried on the whys and wherefores of film noir, the late Arthur Lyons, founder and patron saint of the Palm Springs Film Noir F...