“Is he a bit of a weirdo?”
“No, I think he’s just earnest, like one of those sincere guys.”
People are saying “mate” and “no worries,” and somebody “has a lie down” – this must be Australia. This is the kind of indie cinema where every scene is shot from the coolest angle they can manage – not quite The Girl and the Spider-level, but I approve. Almost not worth keeping track of all the characters and their intersections (centering on Ray and Alice), but just when you think it’s gonna be about a platonic roadtrip, the second half goes to unexpected places with paranoid Under the Silver Lake vibes.
Chloe Lizotte in Cinema Scope:
Once Friends and Strangers ultimately reveals itself as an absurdist comedy, it retrospectively becomes clear that the film’s momentum has stemmed from its accumulation of seeming non-sequiturs.
Celia’s beloved grandma just died, but she’s got the new neighbors next door to play with, and the eternal hope that she’ll get a pet rabbit. Unfortunately the neighbors are communists, and it’s Australia in the 1950’s during a myxomatosis outbreak (I’ve had the Radiohead song’s bassline in my head all week), so she’s constantly being warned against rabbits and commies.
Rabidly anti-commie dad (Nicholas Eadie of pre-fame Nicole Kidman miniseries Vietnam) chooses sides, and buys her a rabbit if she won’t play with the neighbors anymore, tells her they’re bad people. Cruelty abounds: the other kids hurt her rabbit, dad gets the neighbor fired. Her family’s cop friend John (Bill Zappa of The Road Warrior) straight-up kidnaps the rabbit, and after it dies in quarantine, Celia becomes the Joker. She shoots John to death while seeing visions of storybook monsters (major Heavenly Creatures parallels) and gets away with it, then fortunately doesn’t kill his daughter while staging mock gallows executions.
Not so harmless:
Celia was Rebecca Smart, who debuted in Dusan Makavejev’s The Coca-Cola Kid. Turner later directed Sam Neill and pre-fame Russell Crowe, and remade Teorema starring Sandra Bernhard in the Stamp role(!!)
Pretty good unwinking found-footage ghost story, or, an Australian remake of Fire Walk With Me with a worse sound mix. Some Paranormal Activity stuff after Alice dies on a family lake trip then is spotted on camera afterwards. These appearances are twice explained away: first her brother was acting ghostly to get her exhumed, then the neighbor actually snuck into the house looking for the sextape Alice made with him. So partly it’s about a grieving family, partly about Alice’s secrets, and maybe there’s a real ghost. The director’s follow-up is a six-hour Netflix show called Clickbait.
“Homesdale will help you to face the truth.” It’s like a secret society summer camp, attended by a group of returning visitors and new guy Malfry. The new guy is upbraided for smoking during the treasure hunt – meanwhile Mr. Levy goes skeet shooting and kills an assistant, and a musician is beheaded in bed. Guess it’s supposed to be a dark/twist ending that Malfry, who never fit in, is a staff member when the next boatload of campers arrives. Pleasantly eccentric hourlong movie, a one-shot deal for most of the actors, though Kate Fitzpatrick appeared in a 1980’s superhero spoof and Richard Brennan produced Gillian Armstrong’s Starstruck.
Oops, we discussed this one but I never wrote anything down about it. Australian period lit adaptation with some lively bits. I completely cannot recognize the Judy Davis of Barton Fink and Naked Lunch (which I just rewatched) in this Judy Davis… both Judys are very good, they just might as well be different people. We very much recognized Sam Neill as her suitor in the latter half, but it’s the odd movie about a woman who chooses to stay unmarried so she can have a career. Along the way we get one of the most well-staged pillow fights since Zero for Conduct.
Linda comes to run an inherited old folks’ home after the death of her mum. Linda’s got a hot boy in town (John Jarratt, villain of Wolf Creek and its many sequels), the family doctor (Alex Scott of Romper Stomper) and a faithful employee who runs everything (Gerda Nicolson of The Devil’s Playground), so everything is green, but an old man dies in the tub, and someone has been sneaking around leaving the taps running and cutting the power, and Linda has flashbacks to her childhood unease with this place, while trying to make sense from her mom’s diary and the home’s patient records.
A family-secrets thriller with red herrings, people admonishing her not to dig into the past instead of helping makes them all seem suspicious. TV’s Jacki Kerin is very good in the lead role, but the night everyone above gets murdered and one of the patients turns out to be Linda’s insane long-lost aunt with her hammer-murderer son in tow, it’s going for Halloween but feels more Scooby Doo.
Appreciated the crazy angles and slow-mo screams after Linda stabs her aunt in the eye (this was shot by Gary Hansen, who died the same year) more than the crappy 1980’s synth music by Dead Can Dance collaborator and huge Richard Wagner fan Klaus Schulze. Cowritten by Michael Heath (My Grandpa Is a Vampire). Tony Williams has one other feature, the imdb description of which calls it “a story that doesn’t really go anywhere.”
Claire (Aisling Franciosi of a Gillian Anderson TV show and a Ken Loach movie) is a poor, doomed to a life of servitude for some past crime, then she has a very bad day when her husband and baby are murdered by soldiers and she is repeatedly raped. It’s a bleak movie, but at least it’s got… I don’t really know what it’s got besides the bleakness. Sometimes there are shots looking straight up at the sky through the trees, but this dwarfing of the action by towering nature only serves to make our heroine seem more trapped and insignificant. Plus, those shots didn’t hold up on the 4:3 DCP projection from my vantage at front of the theater – neither did the forest in general.
She teams up with “Billy,” an aboriginal with a similarly tormented past, to track and slay the soldiers (led by Sam Claflin of My Cousin Rachel), who continue to behave just horribly, betraying and murdering everyone along the way until the soldiers get to a major town and are welcomed by society, so our heroes must got on a final suicide mission to clean up. Harry Greenwood (son of Hugo Weaving) dies first, doesn’t make it to town, but Damon Herriman (I saw him playing Charles Manson yesterday) fights to the end. Kent’s followup to The Babadook, which was Ash’s final movie.
Part three of our True/False Makeup Weekend. A counselor works with imprisoned refugees, while outside, millions of small crabs are freely migrating across the island. It’s a metaphor, you see – an irresistible one, with the bright crabs giving the film more visual texture, something entrancingly alien to cut to between close-shot stories of human suffering.
The movie opens with an escape, a man scaling a fence then hurtling through the woods, a staged version of something we hear about which may not have even happened, since we learn that the authorities are being misleading on purpose. The counselor’s view is that she can’t be helpful from just a single conversation, and there’s no guarantee if or when she’ll get to visit with her patients again. The final scene shows her packing up to leave the island with her family, the whole endeavor possibly a failure.
Mouseover to migrate the crabs:
In an essential article, The Guardian says the filmmaker and counselor Poh Lin Lee are friends, that the film was made from multiple visits over four years, and that interviews conducted on the island were filmed in secret from the government.
Poh Lin uses a tableau of sand and small toy figures to help one woman process her trauma, poetically describing the grains of sand as mountains that have been reduced to their finest form, but mostly she just listens, and listens, and listens. She’s a willing sponge for their guilt, at one point moving over to sit next to and comfort the Syrian man who weeps as he remembers the various separations that have plagued his young life. It comes as no surprise to subsequently learn that Poh Lin is also in therapy.
So soon after Moonlight and Certain Women, another movie in three parts. In 1999, Zhao Tao (I Wish I Knew, A Touch of Sin) is friends with sharp-chinned coal miner Liangzi (Jingdong Liang, Tao’s Platform costar) and petulant boss Jinsheng. When the boss decides he wants to marry her, he pulls strings to stay close to her and gets his former friend fired.
2014: Liangzi has health problems and a family in another town, moves back to the city and sees Tao again. Her father dies, and her son Daole visits from Australia for the funeral but barely knows her.
2025: Daole enlists his university English teacher (Sylvia Chang, the boss in Office) to translate conversations with his dad, now a gun dealer, then to Katy’s chagrin, Daole starts sleeping with the teacher. He thinks about visiting his mom, decides not to. Back in China, Mom dances alone in the snow.
Neither man is willing to let Zhao make her own decision, both only desire to possess her. So in this sense Zhao’s sporadic weaving in and out of the narrative reveal both tradition and capitalism stifling femininity.