Lore (Ger-Aus-UK), 2012

The losers' version

The losers’ version

I going to have to watch director Cate Shortland’s other film (Somersault) after seeing her brilliant direction in this tale of what might happen to children of the SS just after the end of the war. To further confuse matters, it’s also a ‘coming of age’ story of Lore who finds herself discovering her sexuality whilst being responsible for getting her four younger siblings to Hamburg from the Black Forest.

Shortland uses extreme close ups of the environment to counterpoint the often disturbing images of collapse in post-War Germany as children embark on their ‘road trip’. The film shows the ‘ordinary’ German’s reactions to images of concentration camps (American actors) as the seek solace in denial. Of course Lore encounters a ‘Jew’ on her journey to, in true melodramatic tradition, confront her own prejudices.

Saskia Rosendahl is spellbinding in the lead; the performances throughout are as good as the direction (particular mention for the baby who’s woeful eyes follow his departing mother). The film’s shot in super 16mm, the grainy image gives a surreal quality, accentuated by the close ups, that befits a disturbing time.

Sleeping Beauty (Australia, 2011)

Not a fairy tale

In the movie previous to this, Emily Browning played Babydoll in Sucker Punch (US-Can, 2011) and is maybe in danger of being typecast as a vacant, sexy being (I don’t know whether that was her character in the film but name suggests as much). Glancing at the current issue of Elle I noticed that the feature on Alexa Chung called her ‘Britain’s premiere clotheshorse’; well, full marks for honesty I suppose but it’s another example of the dehumanisation of women that is symptomatic of the tide that’s pushing back the gains of the 1960s-70s feminists.

Lucy, played by Browning, is certainly dehumanised as we see her work as a waitress, a guinea pig for experiments and, mostly, as a prostitute. She’s a ‘working girl’ funding her studies, a method that no doubt will increase more with fees going up to £9k in the UK this year. She’s entirely vacuous, that’s not to say she’s stupid but, until the end, seems incapable of expressing any feeling. She’s like the postmodern beings that inhabit Cronenburg’s Crash (Can-UK, 1996) where sex has no meaning because the characters have lost contact with their humanity.

George Monbiot writes of how Ayn Rand’s psychotic philosophy is becoming increasingly influential in the UK: selfishness is the only good. That may sound absurd but then we hear the suggestion that the 50% tax rate for the rich should be abolished; the poor sods, how do they manage? I don’t understand why tax is a ‘burden’; it is a necessity. As we become increasingly defined by what we buy, or what labels we wear, we will lose our humanity; we should not forget that we are citizens not consumers.

Sleeping Beauty allows us to see Lucy subject herself to ever more bizarre encounters that culminate in featuring her body as a fetish for old men who can no longer ‘get it up’. They have lost their humanity, having drowned their wealth. All this is portrayed in an exceedingly distanced, and distinctly unerotic, fashion that demands hard work from the viewer. I thought it was making a good point but there are surely better ways of saying the same thing.

It was writer-director Julia Leigh’s first feature, she’s also a novelist. The film was made under the mentoring of Jane Campion.

Oranges and Sunshine (UK-Aus, 2010)

Too much of a story to tell?

What can you say about a film when you admire its message and dislike its way of telling? It’s both good and bad, I suppose. This terrific story about a social worker who discovers that 130000 children were deported illegally, with governments’ connivance, from Britain to Australia and attempts to reunite them with their… well, it always seems to be mothers, but they must have had dads too. Therein lies one of the problems: the lack of detail.

The film suggests that, as in The Magdalene Sisters (Ire-UK, 2002), that the children are the produce of ‘fallen women’ but I guess the destitute (as shown in the director’s dad’s Cathy Come Home, BBC, 1966) weren’t spared. There’s a great tale of class prejudice and exploitation here, the children were treated like slaves in Australia, but this is the story of Margaret Humphreys, the amazing woman who brought the injustice to light. Could you tell her tale and the political chicanery behind it? Possibly only via a documentary.

What we’re given is a blur of events; a massive sense of injustice; deep admiration for Humphreys and her long-suffering family. That’s a lot but, for me, it wasn’t enough. The deportations only ended in 1970, some of  the people involved will still be alive and they should be DONE for what they did.

District 9 (US-New Zealand, 2009)

The Fly meets Robocop

Genre films, particularly SF, are great for smuggling interesting messages into mainstream entertainment and premises don’t come much better than this where aliens arrive in a pathetic state and end up being corralled in a township in Johannesburg. The parallel with apartheid is clear, though it must be remembered that, for many cinemagoers, apartheid is history. The form of the film, as a mix of television documentary, TV news reports and omniscient (ie normal) filming, helps tell the tale with immediacy; though it wouldn’t stand up to an analysis of a  consistent narrative voice. But…

Genre films can degenerate into cliche, District 9 mines every narrative trope available, and the characters are deeply under-developed. So the last half of the film is a raging yawn; that said, it is 119th on the imdb and was a commercial hit. More worrying is its politics: whilst the idea of aliens being degenerate is a fascinating one, the apartheid parallel then becomes extremely worrying. Or maybe they’re not degenerates, we are not given enough detail to understand why they are scavengers and why they appear not to be able to operate their spaceship. Is their behaviour a result of how they are treated on Earth or were they a load of criminals dumped on Earth, similar to the way Britain used to send convicts to Australia? Ambiguity is fine but in offering an allegorical reading the film has a duty to be clearer in what it’s trying to say.

And the representations of the Nigerians…?! How is it okay to group the superstition-ridden gangsters as Nigerians?

This should have been a great film but the script’s far too weak.

The Piano (Aus-NZ-France, 1993)

On the edge of civilisation

The Piano was one of the most feted arthouse films of the 1990s and stands up well at the end of the noughties. Beautifully shot, fabulously performed, fantastic direction, gorgeous music, a feminist message plus much to debate about; there’s not much more you can want from a film.

It portrays the plight of middle class women in Victorian times through Ada’s repression (she doesn’t speak); her treatment by men; the ridiculous clothes women wear; Ada’s daughter’s betrayal of her. Two endings are also offered, further fueling debate about what a woman should do in a man’s world. After the feminist advances of the 1970s we seem to be going backwards into a mainstream acceptance of traditional ideas about what constitutes men’s and women’s work (and roles). Bourgeois ideology has absorbed ’70s feminism into the ‘girl power’ of the Spice Girls and Cheryl Cole can happily pose on the UK listing magazine, Radio Times, with her thighs apart (tastefully done of course). So the issues raised by The Piano probably need airing more than they did in ’93.

The representation of the Maoris as ‘uncivilised’ is problematic, mostly because of the dearth of representations of Maoris in cinema as a whole. However, if we consider them as a dramatic device to compare to the Englishmen’s behaviour it is acceptable.

If you haven’t seen the film; you need to.