Reviewed by
Tricia Youlden

The Only Living Boy in New York
★★★★★ MA

Over the hand drawn pre-titles sequence, author Julian Stellars begins reading his latest novel. He introduces us to Thomas Webb (Callum Turner), a young man seeking direction in his life. Thomas’ urbane, handsome father Ethan (Pierce Brosnan) heads a successful publishing house. His highly strung mother Judith (Cynthia Nixon) is a former artist who self medicates with alcohol, pills and dinner parties. Thomas is in love with Mimi (Kiersey Clemons). Unfortunately, she already has a boyfriend. Like Thomas, Mimi aspires to a literary career. Unlike Thomas, she intends moving to Croatia to pursue it.

Thomas has moved out of his parents’ swish apartment in the Upper West Side to live in a small, dingy apartment on the Lower East. There, he is befriended by new neighbour, “an unmade bed of a man”, W.F. Gerald (the ubiquitous Jeff Bridges), who effortlessly assumes the role of mentor to Thomas. Unlike Ethan, who assessed his son’s writing as “serviceable”, W.F. considers the young man’s writing to have potential. He also offers sage advice about winning Mimi’s heart.

Then Thomas meets his father’s mistress, the beautiful Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), and his life is thrown into turmoil. Over the ensuing weeks, Thomas finally begins to comprehend the infinite complexity of human nature, love and relationships. As the back stories of the various characters unfold, he comes to appreciate the veracity of his mother Judith’s observation that “the farthest distance in the world is between how it is and how you thought it was going to be”. Indeed, where all the characters are by the epilogue, was not at all predicable at the beginning of the film. Writer Allan Loeb’s empathetic depiction of the young man’s emotional and intellectual coming of age is beautifully realised by director Marc Webb and his stellar cast.

The film is enhanced not only by the well-drawn, accessible characters but also by the variety of backgrounds that New York provides. Every location is real: the Webbs’ large, stylish apartment; the dingy, downtown studios where Thomas and W.F. live, the offices and bookshops, the bars and restaurants, the streets and alleys. Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh and David Gropman’s production team clearly relish bringing this New York to the screen, complemented as it is by Rob Simonsen’s eclectic musical soundtrack.

If The Only Living Boy in New York was really a book, it would be utterly “un-put-down-able”.

Loving Vincent
★★★★ M

A live action shoot was hand-painted frame by frame and then animated

Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman co-wrote the screenplay for this exquisite film with Jacek Dehnel. While the narrative is fascinating, the manner of its execution is breathtaking. The actors were cast because of their physical resemblance to the subjects of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, particularly the inhabitants of the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, where the painter died. The screenplay and direction were based upon scenes and characters depicted in 125 of the artist’s works. The footage from the live action shoot was then hand painted frame by frame by a team of painters, led by Piotr Dominiak. The resulting 65,000 oil paintings were then animated.

Central to the story is Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), son of postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd), who charges him with the duty of hand delivering the last letter that Vincent (Robert Gulaczyk) had written to his beloved brother Theo (Cezary Lukaszewicz). Upon learning from Vincent’s paint supplier, Pere Tanguy (John Sessions), that Theo had committed suicide six months after Vincent’s death, Armand becomes so intrigued that he begins to investigate.

This quest reveals much fascinating biographical detail about Vincent from childhood until his death at 28. In the guise of detective, Armand analyses the facts and finally pieces together what probably happened. In the process, the amateur sleuth retraces Vincent’s movements on the day of his death. He pursues several theories, based on interviews with the innkeeper’s daughter, Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson) and a boatman (Aidan Turner). However, it is only when he is finally able to speak with the painter’s friend, Dr Paul Gachet (Jerome Flynn), that Armand finally learns the truth.

Not only is Loving Vincent visually breathtaking but also an enthralling story with lots of twists and turns. Clint Mansell’s score is as lush as the thick oils on screen.

The Midwife
★★★★ PG

In this gentle film, writer-director Martin Provost explores what really matters in life. The central character, Claire (Catherine Frot), is the dedicated midwife of the title. Her life revolves around the small community maternity clinic in an outlying suburb of Paris, where she has worked for years. The clinic is being forced to close and Claire is under pressure to work at a large, profit-driven maternity complex, reliant more on technology than on the human touch.

On top of the upheaval in her professional life, Claire’s private world is further rocked by a phone call from her late father’s former mistress, Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve), who had abruptly disappeared from their lives 30 years previously. Now alone in the world, Beatrice has cancer and is belatedly seeking out solace and support from those who she now knows had mattered most to her.

Despite an initial reluctance to see this wild and wilful, but quintessentially charming woman who had deserted her, Claire’s compassionate nature wins out and she soon assumes the role of carer for the delinquent septuagenarian, who makes her living by gambling in illegal gaming rooms. Scenes of Deneuve playing the card game la Marseillaise with real gamblers are priceless.

While the relationship between the two women constitutes the central narrative of the film, Claire’s relationship with her son, Simon (Quentin Dolmaire), a medical student, is important and the effect of the life decisions that he and his partner make upon his mother’s life. As does her relationship with Paul (Olivier Gourmet), a long-distance truck driver, who has taken over his father’s plot in the community garden where Claire relaxes by growing vegetables. With his encouragement, Claire regains the joie de vivre that she had lost when Beatrice vanished all those years ago.

As well as being a celebration of the caring relationships people establish with those they love, The Midwife is a story of reconciliation and acceptance of our loved ones’ decisions. It also pays homage to midwives, les femmes sages, which literally translates as “the wise women”. Scenes shot with Frot seemingly delivering babies in an actual birthing unit graphically illustrate the invaluable role midwives play in the lives of babies and their parents. The stark reality of these scenes validates Frot’s portrayal of this invaluable profession, acknowledged all too rarely.

Thierry Francois’ realistic production design and Yves Cape’s discreet cinematography complement the sense of reality that Provost and his actors create.

Three Summers
★★★ M

Although Three Summers is ostensibly a comedy, writer-director Ben Elton nevertheless manages to address a wide variety of contemporary Australian social issues such as the treatment of Aboriginal people, refugees, women and children by the predominantly white, Anglo-Saxon patriarchy.

Over the course of three consecutive “Westival” music festivals (inspired by and using background footage from the long-running annual Fairbridge Music Festival) we observe the changes that occur in the lives of the various regular attendees over the period.

Central to the film is the Warrikins band, led by hard-drinking Irish musician Eamon (John Waters) and his fiddle-playing daughter Keevey (Rebecca Breeds), who consolidate their personal and professional relationship after the death of their wife and mother.

Keevey and theremin player Roland (Robert Sheehan) learn to tolerate one another’s choice of instrument and their relationship provides the romantic strand of the narrative.

Local radio presenter Queenie (Magda Szubanski) may change her hairstyle and the colour of her outfits, but her enthusiastic commentary never falters. Jack (Kelton Pell), Aboriginal elder and leader of an Indigenous dance troupe, achieves reconciliation with Morris-dancing pom Henry (Michael Caton), whose daughter Olivia (Caroline Brazier) and grand-daughter Ruby (Nichola Balestri) weather their own fractious relationship.

Although Peter Pritchard’s deft editing ensures that at no time does Elton’s screenplay linger too long on any one strand of the narrative, Elton’s succinct screenplay allows Deborah Mailman, Kate Box, Peter Rowsthorn and other members of the large supporting cast to present fully developed characterisations, rather than stereotypes. It is interesting to watch characters and relationships evolve over the three festivals.

It would be a mistake to dismiss Three Summers as being merely a feelgood, lightweight comedy. Shot by Katie Milwright and designed by Clayton Jauncey, the film looks as colourful and vibrant as the characters. The joie de vivre they present on screen surely reflects the camaraderie of a happy shoot.

Tricia Youlden teaches Drama at Willoughby Girls High School.