Arthouse overdose

To get you in the mood for the Sydney Film Festival  (June 7 – 18), our arthouse distributors have just released two of their strongest films all year – on the very same day. Great timing!


In 1948 communism was outlawed in Chile forcing the poet Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), who was also then a popular left wing politician, into hiding. With his wife (Mercedes Moran) in tow, they slip from view into a succession of safe houses, closely pursued by a preening police inspector, Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael Garcia Bernal). He’s a dour, straight-laced and ambitious cop, who has staked his professional honour on being able to track down the nation’s most famous communist fugitive. Meanwhile Neruda, a cultured and hedonistic “swinger” takes ridiculous risks, and even appears to enjoy baiting his dogged pursuer.

As with Jackie, this is no ordinary bio-pic – and Pablo Larraín plays pretty loose with the historical record. The police inspector himself is a totally invented figure. But facts are mere trifles to the acclaimed Chilean auteur, who is more interested in playfully mixing up genres and shifting our allegiances all the time, always telling the story from oblique and tricky angles.

Neruda is a flawed hero – the sort of brilliant and idealistically driven politician we never get in this country. But the ridiculous cop is a sympathetic character too – a tragically conflicted soul haunted by his own limitations, but equally admiring of his prey’s mystique and power. The always-charismatic Bernal plays him wonderfully. He should team up with freewheeling directors like Larraín more often. MA15+ from May 25 ★★★★


 The Sense of An Ending

 The last time Charlotte Rambling and Jim Broadbent were together was the emotionally potent relationship drama 45 Years, they’re just as well-paired in the new film from The Lunchbox director, Rita Batra. Based on Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Sense of an Ending is a powerful story of a reclusive middle-aged man, Tony, who after an unexpected legacy in a will, has to face the uncomfortable truth about his first love and the devastating consequences of decisions made a lifetime ago.

In early flashbacks we have to rely on Tony’s very much unreliable memories from his student days of his girlfriend (Freya Mavor). In the present she’s played by Rambling – as hauntingly enigmatic as ever, and seemingly quite chilly toward Tony. The more we find out about what happened when they were both young and in love – the worse Tony’s actions appear. Here Broadbent’s performance is just fascinating to watch and he manages to be both sympathetic and something of a creep at the same time.

As in 45 Years, which also searched for elusive truths from a long ago love affair and a death, the story becomes more compelling as it gets darker. As we head towards the ending, we do sense it won’t be a happy one. M from May 25. ★★★★

Footnote: Sydney Film Festival 2017

Few readers of this column will need reminding that twelve days (and nights) of arthouse bliss start on June 7. Working out your own viewing program is always a pretty tricky business, and this year, with the addition of Randwick Ritz to the suburban venues (which already incude Dendy Newtown and Cremorne Orpheum) the screens are even more spread apart. But what to do about the inevitable clashes? As a rule of thumb, almost anything British, American, Northern European or Australian will be getting a release sometime in the next 12 months – so you’ll be able to see them in an inner west cinema later on – and at club prices. Anything Asian, Middle Eastern or African probably won’t.

A lot could be said about the cultural bias of our local arthouse cinemas, or maybe the inner west itself. But let’s not go there, right?

Reviews: Russell Edwards