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FILM REVIEWS
Anita Ryan 2003

The Crimes of Father Amaro 
(Mexico/Spain/Argentina/France, MA, 118mins)

The Crimes of Father Amaro, from Mexico, is touted as "one of the most controversial films ever made." Perhaps it is my liberal Australian upbringing, but I found it to be more of a subtly volatile love story with enough politics and passion to make it compelling. The delectable Gael Garcia Bernal who plays Father Amaro is another reason my eyes stayed glued to the screen - talk about eye candy!

When the newly ordained Father Amaro is sent to assist the aging Father Benito in Los Reyes, he is quickly submerged into a culture of evil money paying for good deeds, lust prevailing over loneliness, and love superseding celibacy. He has barely dusted off his Cossack before he is forced to defend his colleagues against scandal, unwittingly letting himself be drawn into the world of corruption, guerrilla warfare, and renegade priests. And then there is the issue of the devout 16-year-old Amelia, to whom he must resist a hopeless attraction.

When the time comes for the young priest to prove whether he is a man or a mouse, he chooses to be a priest. This entails charity, service and devotion, of course, but a modified version involving politics, greed, ambition and lust.

Ultimately, the only crime Father Amaro commits is giving up his religious and personal integrity for the promise of a better political position within the Church. But in my book, his actions are unforgivable considering the tragedy they lead to.

The Crimes of Father Amaro is rated MA, and is screening at the Bunbury International Film Festival until 2nd November.

The Magdalene Sisters 
(UK/Ireland, M, 119 mins)

The Magdalene Sisters is a highly dramatic film that deals with the shackles of pre-Vatican II Catholic guilt and psychological control. 

The Sisters of Magdalene Order was named after Mary Magdalene in tribute to her severe penitence to atone for her sins of the flesh. The nuns adopted her philosophy that atonement could only be achieved by working harder than human endurance would allow. They applied this ethic to an estimated 30,000 young women who had been sent to earn penitence working in the profit-making laundries run by the Order. 

This shocking drama is based on real events that took place in Ireland from the 1960's until as late as 1996. The fictional characters in the film were developed based on interviews with actual survivors of the laundries. Their stories have been worked into Director Peter Mullen's plot, which depicts the nuns as cruel money grabbers who worked the girls to the point of exhaustion in order to brainwash them into subservience. 

It is confronting and heart-breaking exercise to watch the main characters Margaret, Patricia/Rose, Bernadette and Crispina endure treatment they clearly do not deserve, but a feeling of triumph takes over as the girls transcend their evil environment in a fearless call to action: rebellion. 

I've got two words of advice: Take Tissues. Even if you have never experienced the psychological or physical cruelty such as that imposed by the nuns in this story, a tear of sympathy cannot be helped. 

The Magdalene Sisters is rated M, and is screening during the Bunbury International Film Festival until 2nd November.

The Man Without a Past 
(Finland/Germany/France, M, 97mins)

The Man Without a Past is a bittersweet, life-affirming comedy from Finland. The melancholic style of Director Aki Kaurismaki reverberates throughout the film, a study in the meaning of life on a micro level. It takes a little getting used to his wooden style and the ice-cold humour, but the wry portrayal of a man starting life again with a blank page is still captivating.

It is the story of a man who arrives in Helsinki and is set upon by thugs. Although he is pronounced dead by the medics who attend the scene, by some miracle he survives and wanders the streets with no absolutely no memory of his past or identity. 

With no idea of what he used to do for a living, he toys with the idea of becoming a rock-and-roll band manager, amongst other pursuits. Rebuilding his life from scratch, he acquires a dog named Hannibal, and finds love with a Salvation Army volunteer. One day the past inevitable catches up with him and he must now confront his future. 

The Man Without a Past took four prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival including the Grand Prix, Best Actress, Jury Award and get this, the 'Palm Dog' Award for best canine performance. I enjoyed that the story inspired questions within myself about what I would do in the same situation - I can only hope I would be as strong and innovative as the Man Without a Past. 

The Man Without a Past is rated M, and is screening in the Bunbury International Film Festival in October.

Russian Ark
(Russia/Germany, G, 96mins)

Russian Ark has no Editor in its credits because there was simply no editor. This groundbreaking film unfolds in a single, unedited 96-minute sequence, encompassing an extraordinary time-voyage through Russia's turbulent past. 

The mind boggles at the technology and logistics in producing this film, which only adds to the energy and pure artistry of the magic on-screen. Don't expect too much of a plot - instead, let yourself be carried away by the mastery of Director Alexander Sokurov as his Steadycam camera glides through the exquisite Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. 

Your guide in this tour is a contemporary filmmaker who has found himself in the 17th century after an accident. He begins chatting to a cynical 19th century French diplomat, who describes Russia as a theatre. He's not wrong, we see, as the two meander through a myriad of rooms crammed with Russian aristocracy, in and out of opulent galleries, ballrooms and corridors, and ultimately through three centuries of Russian history and European art. 

The shooting involved 2000 actors and extras, three live orchestras, months of rehearsals, and the closure and redecoration of the Hermitage Museum. It is an achievement of immense proportions, with the costumes, art and imagery enough to keep you mesmerised for the whole, unedited 96 minutes. 

Russian Ark is rated G, and is screening at the Bunbury International Film Festival until 2nd November.

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself 
(Denmark, UK, Sweden, France, MA, 111mins)

Despite the morbid sounding title, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself is a delightful movie that will have you laughing-out-loud in places. I'm pretty sure it's not the Scottish accent that makes the movie so funny - it's more the gritty, self-deprecating treatment of Wilbur's repeated suicide attempts that gets you. 

The audience become quickly acquainted with the main characters, enjoying the journey of watching a deep, satisfying bond develop between Wilbur, his older brother Harbour and Harbour's wife Alice as they work to restore a run-down second-hand bookstore. 

Although the issue that sends Wilbur chronically suicidal is never really resolved, the motivation he finds to live is enough to render the story believable and touching. For some, the story becomes somewhat predictable, but it doesn't matter - it provides for an emotionally satisfying heart-warming story of hope for the survivors.

This is Director Lone Scherfig's fourth feature film after her critically acclaimed Italian For Beginners was released in 2001. Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself was shot on location in Glasgow, Scotland and in film studios in Denmark. The fact the audience voted it one of the Top Five Films at the 2003 Sydney Film Festival is testament to the film's honest treatment of great human challenges. 

Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself is rated MA, and is screening during the Bunbury International Film Festival until 2nd November.

END

Reviews

This is fabulous writing. I do so enjoy reading quality pieces. Janne

 

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