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Film review

April 09, 2019

Peterloo

M*****

This epic film from writer/director Mike Leigh spans a particularly inglorious period in British history. The opening scene depicts the body-strewn battlefield immediately after the Duke of Wellington led the British army to victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.

A lone British bugler begins the long journey home to his family in Manchester. Leigh uses this soldier, Joseph (David Moorst) and his family to illustrate the increasing deprivations of the working class in the aftermath of Waterloo.

Wellington had been granted 750,000 pounds by Parliament but the working-class families to whom the traumatised soldiers return are becoming progressively poorer due to the Industrial Revolution and the corn laws, which benefit only the land owners.

Joseph’s father, Joshua (Pearce Quigley) and siblings work in a textile factory, while mother Nellie (Maxine Peake) sells her potato pies. There is no universal franchise and the class divide is widening daily. Magistrates show no compassion, handing down wildly disproportionate sentences.

Little wonder that there is a call for democratically elected parliamentary representation for the workers. As with any political movement, there are extremists among these reformers, a fact that parliamentarians and magistrates exploit to monger fear and suspicion of the working class. Some things never change.

A peaceful pro-democracy meeting is organised in Manchester. On 16 August, 1819, 60,000 “folk from all over” duly convene in St Peters Field, dressed in their Sunday best to hear famed orator Henry Hunt (Rory Kinnear) speak.

Despite initial misgivings, Nellie attends with her children and grandchildren. However, General Byng (Alastair Mackenzie), recently appointed commander of the northern districts, is more interested in horses than politics and absents himself from duty to attend a race meeting.

Contrary to his instructions that they should only seek to intervene should the crowd riot, the magistrates unleash the full force of the constabulary, the Hussars and drunken, sabre-wielding yeomanry upon the crowd gathered in St Peters Field.

Unable to escape, at least 15 people are killed and more than 600 injured. Journalists label it “The Massacre of Peterloo”.

With the assistance of historian Jacqueline Riding, Leigh presents an enthralling recreation of this definitive period in the history of democracy. Peterloo looks stunning. Cinematographer Dick Pope, production designer Suzie Davies and costume designer Jacqueline Durran appear to draw inspiration from artists such as Vermeer and Brueghel in the use of colour and composition.

Peterloo opens early next term on May 16 and is definitely not to be missed!

En guerre

TBA *****

Another film to raise one’s hackles is En guerre, screened at the recent French Film Festival. Although it is not yet scheduled for local release, it surely will be.

Stephane Brize directs this engrossing drama about the escalation of an industrial dispute into armed confrontation, a clear illustration of how a movement like les gilets jaunes can evolve.

Two years into a five-year wage freeze, agreement between Perrin Industries and the workers in one of the company’s factories, agreed to by the workers in good faith in order to grow the business and benefit the local region, Perrin announces the imminent closure of the factory. This is despite the company having made record profits, whereby shareholders have been paid more than the workers.

Led by Laurent (Vincent Lindon), the workers demonstrate, then strike and picket the factory. Their reasonable request to meet with the German CEO of the mother company is continually stonewalled. The French minister for industrial relations is reluctant to intervene, lest it should send a negative message to foreign investors. The High Court dismisses the workers’ request to rescind the closure of the factory.

After two months, the workers are arguing among themselves and their unions.Armed police are sent in to repel their attempts to meet with the upper echelons of management.

Neither the writing nor the direction pulls any punches. The screenplay highlights the arrogance, greed and power of such corporations over not only the workforce, but over the government. Profit, not people, is their mantra. Intense performances by all cast members sustain the dramatic tension right up to the shocking climax.

Everybody knows

MA****

The early scenes of this impeccably crafted film from writer-director Asghar Farhadi revolve around the return of Laura (Penelope Cruz) to the small Spanish village where she grew up. The occasion is her younger sister’s wedding. Laura is accompanied by her teenage daughter Irene (Carla Campra) and her young son Diego (Ivan Chavero), but her husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) remains in Argentina on business.

Although everybody knows that Laura and her childhood friend Paco (Javier Bardem), had once been very much in love, he is now happily married to teacher Bea (Barbara Lennie).

Laura’s daughter Irene is a risk-taking, vivacious livewire. When she retires to bed early during the wedding reception, everyone assumes that she has danced and drunk too much. Much later, her mother discovers her bed empty, but strewn with newspaper clippings about the kidnapping of a local child, killed when her parents went to the police rather than pay the ransom.

As friends and relatives argue about what should be done, smouldering resentments are reignited. Clearly, the past must be dealt with truthfully; if the ransom is to be raised in time to save Laura’s life.

Farhadi skilfully transitions the mood from joyous celebration to desperation. Cruz’s performance is particularly powerful, which is not to detract from those of Darin, Bardem and the entire ensemble, all of whom present utterly believable characterisations.

This thriller is mercifully devoid of guns and car chases. It is an emotional rollercoaster that engages throughout its 133 minutes. Shot by veteran cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine in and around the village of Torrelaguna, Everybody knows looks superb. Maria Clara Notari’s impeccable production design reeks of authenticity. Highly recommended.

Swimming with Men

M***

Aschlin Ditta’s screenplay for Swimming with Men was inspired by Dylan Williams’ 2010 documentary Men Who Swim, about a Swedish men’s synchronised swimming team. This gentle comedy stars Rob Brydon as Eric, an accountant who fears that his wife Heather (Jane Horrocks), a newly elected councillor, no longer needs him.

He seeks solace in swimming at the local pool, where he encounters a group of men who have formed a synchronised swimming team as their “protest against the meaningless of life”.

Impressed by his mathematical knowledge, the men invite him to become their eighth member. Although they have agreed to leave personal issues outside the pool and vice versa, individuals inevitably get to know one another and look out for one another. Luke (Rupert Graves) is a divorced real estate agent; Ted (Jim Carter) is a widower; Colin (Daniel Mays) is a builder who has given petty criminal Tom (Thomas Turgoose) a job. The other three remain relatively anonymous.

Having decided to enter the unofficial world men’s synchronised swimming championship in Milan, they enlist Susan (Charlotte Riley) as their trainer. What is particularly impressive and inspirational is that the eight actors perform all the synchronised swimming routines themselves. No mean feat as we clearly see, thanks to David Raedeker’s cinematography.

Although the narrative is a tad predictable, Brydon’s endearingly self-effacing comic skills, Oliver Parker’s assured direction and a great cast endow this film about a “broken, flawed, beautiful bunch of twats” with a huge amount of heart.

Dumbo

PG**

My two grand-daughters aged six and four enjoyed this film, describing it as “exciting” and “fun”. Miss Six especially liked how Milly (Nico Parker) liked doing science experiments. We all agreed that Dumbo, the baby elephant with big ears and big eyes is particularly appealing.

However, Tim Burton’s film is a curious beast, indeed.

Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from World War I minus an arm, only to learn that his wife has died and circus owner Max Medici (Danny de Vito) has sold most of his possessions including his trained horses. However, his children Milly and Joe (Finley Hobbins) are alive and well. Holt is put in charge of the elephants, which leads to his kids training baby Dumbo.

Their circus world is peopled with performers wearing their colourful costumes 24/7; nattily dressed, prosperous-looking Anglo-Saxon workers tilling soil in the fields wave happily to the circus train as it passes through the southern states of America.

The character development in Ehren Kruger’s screenplay is as erratic as the narrative. Medici transitions from mean and mercenary to warm and cuddly, although this may be because his ruined circus tent is replaced with a bigger, better model in next to no time, whether by magic or insurance is unclear.

With the entry of V.A.Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and his exotic, high-flying consort Colette Marchant (Eva Green), the scene changes. This gigantic wonder world is a bizarre creation of Orwellian dystopia from production designer Rick Heinrichs. It is gross, scary, and the uniformed personnel are disturbingly evocative of Nazi Germany. Only Alan Arkin’s cameo appearance and Danny Elfman’s score provide some distraction from the mania.

Animal liberationists and social historians will not enjoy this film. However, the children at the screening we attended seemed happy to suspend their disbelief.

The bottom line is that Dumbo is adorable and his mother is the archetypal protective mother.

Tricia Youlden is now a retired teacher

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© New South Wales Teachers Federation. All Rights Reserved.

Authorised by John Dixon, General Secretary
NSW Teachers Federation
23-33 Mary St. Surry Hills NSW 2010

Privacy Policy