French director François Ozon, known for smart thrillers like Swimming Pool and In the House, slows things down with Frantz. Shortly after the First World War, a young Frenchman arrives in a small German town and ingratiates himself with the grieving family of a fallen German soldier. Frantz is grounded in the aftermath of the war – the hostilities have ceased, but the trauma and mistrust is there in every scene. But this is a romantic melodrama at its heart, and a beautiful one, full of forlorn gazing and scored with lavish strings. The mysterious Frenchman Adrien, played by Pierre Niney, is a syrupy romantic lead, but Anna, the fallen Frantz’s fiancée played by Paula Beer, is the real heart of the film. It’s richly shot in black and white, and occasionally, just occasionally, it fades into muted colour, which adds to the nostalgic romance.
Frantz is playing at Dendy Newtown and Palace Norton Street. Watch the trailer.
Land of Mine
Set further north, and a quarter of a century later, this is another post-war film but of an altogether different kind. The Second World War is over. Along the coast of Denmark, more than a million landmines have been buried in the beach. German POWs are tasked with removing them, one by one, by hand. Land of Mine follows a dozen of these soldiers, all of whom are teenage boys, as they spend months crawling on their hands and knees across the beach deactivating the live mines. Director Martin Zandvliet draws true horror out of the primal tension of defusing a bomb. When one is defused, there’s a million more. It’s nightmare-inducing. The film’s biggest success is the boys’ relationship with their sergeant and captor, the cruel, war-ravaged Rasmussen, who very gradually comes to sympathise with the hell they’re going through. Mirroring that relationship, the film is a German-Danish co-production, and there’s a genuine feeling of collective grief throughout.
Land of Mine is playing at Palace Verona and Norton Street, the Hayden Orpheum and Roseville cinemas. Watch the trailer.
This is the 10th film in the X-Men franchise, and the ninth featuring Hugh Jackman as the gruff, stoic Logan (aka Wolverine). The 10th installment isn't usually the best in any franchise, but this is something different. A decade in the future, a bedraggled and battle-scarred Logan is lying low and caring for a dying Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), when he's reluctantly drafted into caring for Laura, a pre-teen mutant and outlaw. What follows isn't a superhero film at all, more a brutally violent sci-fi road-trip thriller, somewhere between Children of Men and Mad Max. It also stands on its own two feet even if you didn’t know the convoluted backstory of the previous nine films. Forget the sequels, prequels and shared universes – this is just a great film. It's incredibly violent, but not in a way that suggests an adolescent trying to appear grown up. It's worth it just to see the graceful brutality of Hugh Jackman literally tearing henchmen to shreds.
Logan is showing at Randwick Ritz and select Event and Hoyts cinemas. Watch the trailer.
In Virginia, 1958, shortly after crossing state borders to get married, the aptly named Mildred and Richard Loving were arrested for entering into an illegal interracial marriage. This true story drove a landmark civil liberties case in the US Supreme Court, and is the basis for Loving, Jeff Nichols’ new film. It’s a courtroom drama but the main players stay away from the court as much as possible, leaving the legal fight to their inexperienced lawyer (a frankly weird and overacted performance from Nick Kroll). There’s no grandstanding, in their lives or in the filmmaking – it’s understated and unassuming. The Lovings are sweet and perfectly ordinary, and most importantly they’re completely believable, which makes their plight – being forced to move away from family, spending time in jail, and generally standing out a mile in a society that doesn’t welcome them – all the more affecting. The cast is a standout, with the distinction that the two key players in such a landmark case of American civil rights are Irish (Ruth Negga) and Australian (Joel Edgerton). That said, both nailed it.
Loving is playing at Dendy Opera Quays and Newtown, Hayden Orpheum, Randwick Ritz and Palace Norton Street. Watch the trailer.
They Live / The Fog
Two classics from director John Carpenter (The Thing, Halloween) are getting an outing at the Chauvel this month. The Fog, starring Jamie Lee Curtis, is an enjoyably moody ghoulish horror film about a small Californian town under attack from some nasty weather and a horde of ghosts. But it’s They Live that you shouldn’t miss. Homeless drifter John Nada (played by WWF wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper) discovers a pair of Ray Bans which when worn, allows him to see that the rich and powerful are in fact aliens slowly infiltrating our society and enslaving the human race, brainwashing us through subliminal messages in advertisements. Nada then goes on something of a rampage to blow the conspiracy apart with sheer brute force. Expect satire, excellent design (the revelation that all advertising billboards are just the word “Obey” is unforgettable) and a ludicrous five-minute punch up, adding up to a film that is far smarter than its ’80s action template lets on. The plot, a satire about commercialisation, income inequality and corporate dominance, is now more relevant than ever. Carpenter has since referred to it as “a documentary”.
The double bill of They Live and The Fog is playing at the Chauvel on April 28.