Local cinemas this week

Sweet Country

In the opening scene of Warwick Thornton’s provocative and powerful new film we gaze into dark water as a billy boils. Sugar is added, lots, while off camera a racially charged argument explodes into thudding ugly violence. Sweet country indeed, and the film arrives on our screens at an auspicious time, carefully calculated no doubt. It doesn’t so much contribute to the Australia Day date debate as lob bombs into it left and right and centre. It’s an impassioned, angry and didactic film, there’s no escaping its message that this country was built on land theft and racist violence. And Thornton thumps that home with a beautifully photographed (he’s easily this country’s best cinematographer) classic Western that is as stunning and stark as the country it’s set in. The story is simple: Black stockman Sam (Hamilton Morris) shoots a brutal white settler (Ewen Leslie) in self-defence, but in the 1920s in NT, there was no excuse for killing a white man. So Sam takes off with his wife into the bush. He can easily outsmart his white pursuers but we know what will happen to him, even though Thornton teases us, right through to a devastating climax. The court scene is unbearably tense, and there’s a surprising degree of nuance and context to the actions of his white characters too (Bryan Brown as the tortured cop on his trail in particular,  Sam Neill as a kind-hearted clergyman, Matt Day as the fair-minded magistrate). Even the racist who is shot is seen as a victim of historical forces way beyond his control – a classic case of WW1 PSD if ever there was one. “He’s bit crazy man, that fella,” says Sam. Well, the fact that that we’re even having a debate about that January 26 date means that in this “sweet” country – we all still are. MA15+ from Jan 25 at Palace Norton St, Dendy Newtown and elsewhere. ★★★

* Thanks to Transmission Films, we have 5 double in-season passes to give away to Sweet Country. Click here  for details

Faces Places

Pioneer of French New Wave cinema Agnes Varda (above right) is now 89 and suffering from failing eyesight, and most likely this lively and remarkable film (which was shortlisted for Best Doco at the Oscars) will be her last. Here she teams up with a scampish 33-years-old photographer and street artist who goes by the name of JR (left), and the pair set off on an road trip around the France tourists rarely see – its agricultural and industrial backwaters. They photograph workers and everyday townspeople and then paste huge printed out murals of them on the sides of buildings. We learn a bit about the lives and histories of their subjects – like the elderly retired miner living in a derelict town, a farmer who toils alone on a computerised tractor, the wives of dock workers at Le Havre, a philosophical goat farmer, some chemical factory workers and even a crusty toothless 70-year-old hippie who lives alone in a shack decorated with bottle tops…. All the while the JR and Agnes bicker and philosophise about art, life, mortality and the ephemeral nature of memory. It’s disarmingly charming and edited to look way more breezy and spontaneous than it could possible have been. Many of the installations must have been quite difficult – but the results are just astonishing to behold. The film is at its best as their conversations become more and more personal and ruminative, finally climaxing in a scene of quite extraordinary grace. G from Jan 25. Exclusive to Dendy Newtown ★★★

Reviews – Russell Edwards