This year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film went to The Salesman, an understated Iranian drama about a couple in Tehran who are forced to move into a new apartment building when their old one collapses. By day, they're stars of a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. By night, they live inside their far-from-perfect apartment. We never meet the old tenant, but her messy personal life (and possessions) haunt the apartment. Nasty things happen. The Salesman is an interesting counterpoint to Aquarius − both revolve around crumbling apartment buildings and unseen threats, and both have a subtle backdrop of political tumult. Director Asghar Farhadi boycotted the Oscars ceremony over Trump’s immigration ban. Don’t let the political drama overshadow the most important thing about The Salesman, which is that it’s a brilliant film. (ACMI is also playing a selection of Farhadi’s older films, including the unmissable A Separation.)
The Salesman is playing at Nova and ACMI from March 9, at Pivotonian from March 16, at the Sun, the Classic and Cameo from March 23 and at Theatre Royal Castlemaine from Mar 30.
It owes more than a little to To Kill a Mockingbird, but this is a very Australian story. After a teenage girl is murdered in a remote Western Australian town, all suspicions fall on Aboriginal kid Jasper. Then he and a small group of plucky teens soon get in over their heads trying to exonerate him. It’s a period piece set against a backdrop of 1960s racism and retro nostalgia, and the gentle tone and twee teen performances sometimes overrule the heavy subject matter. But who says all Australian films have to be brutal realist slogs? It’s based on a novel by Craig Silvey, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The story has been previously adapted as a stage play, too − it’s on its way to becoming part of the Australian canon.
Jasper Jones is screening everywhere.
David Stratton: A Cinematic Life
A review of a film about a film reviewer might be a bit too meta for some, but bear with me. This 90-minute trawl through the life and opinions of one of Australia’s most important film critics is entertaining. David Stratton is a self-effacing, quiet subject, and he doesn’t let the film dwell too long on his own personal history. He emigrated from England in the ’60s, ran the Sydney Film Festival, and cleared the way for some of our best filmmakers. He also watched upwards of 20,000 films along the way. Most of this is a non-chronological look at his favourite Australian films, such as Jedda, Muriel’s Wedding, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Samson and Delilah, and Shine. Some Stratton didn’t like, and now he rightly acknowledges that he was wrong (how could you not like The Castle?). It’s a reminder of how great our industry can be.
David Stratton: A Cinematic Life is screening at Nova and Palace Cinemas from March 9.
UPDATE: The following two films are no longer screening in theatres.
At the start of Aquarius, retired rock critic Clara (played by Sonia Braga) holds up a vinyl copy of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy. “This is a message in a bottle,” she declares – the physical holds history in its fiber. Clara lives in a crumbling apartment building in Recife, Brazil. Her home has been in her family for generations, but it has recently become a “ghost building” − all the other tenants have sold to a construction company that plans to demolish. She's the last one holding on against the increasingly unscrupulous stand-over tactics of the developers. What follows is a beautiful character study and a subtly tense drama as the polite-yet-vicious new generation tries to oust the old. Political tensions have led to right-wing boycotts of this film in Brazil. Their loss.
The Piano Teacher
Wrapping up three weeks of films starring Isabelle Huppert at ACMI’s Cinematheque is The Piano Teacher. It’s dark, remote and sometimes a bit unpleasant, but it’s always riveting, and one of Austrian director Michael Haneke’s most accessible films. Erika (Huppert) has a volatile relationship with her mother, with whom she shares a bed, and a volatile relationship with her teenage piano students, which she regularly makes cry. By night she goes to peep shows and watches teenagers having sex at a drive-in theatre. Then she meets precocious and talented student Walter whose bullish attempts to charm her rattle the boundary between her standoffish facade and her masochistic sexual desires. It's hard to look away from Huppert. Like in Elle, one of last year’s best films, she crosses back and forth between unreliable and intimate, while always being captivating.
This article was updated 17 March