Film Review: La Belle Epoque 

Hearteningly Humourous

by Joana Simmons

Revered French director François Truffaut once said: “The cinema is a perfect mix of truth and spectacle.” For the 31st Alliance Francaise French Film Festival (AF FFF) this year, this is proving true. The media night gave a rundown of a few of the 49 films in the program, highlighting that there are more socially charged themes, and the ever loved rom-coms are being given more of a farcical as well as meta, sci-fi twist. The feature for this evening was Nicolas Bedos’ La Belle Epoque, which received a seven minute standing ovation after the premier at Cannes Film Festival, and was an intriguing delight that had me on the warm and fuzzy edge of my seat from start to finish.

The film follows struggling cartoonist Victor (Daniel Auteuil, AF FFF19, Rémi, Nobody’s Boy), as his marriage, career and life is dissolving. His wife Marianne (Fanny Ardant, AF FFF16, Chic!) a psychoanalysis and lover of Freud who is as unhinged as her patients loathe him. As his life is unraveling, Victor meets Antione (Guillaume Canet, AF FFF19, Sink or Swim; and also starring in In the Name of the Land and directing We’ll End Up Together at this year’s Festival), the creative director of a company that recreates to the delightful detail any period in history for clients; whether it is to experience a time they wish they had been alive, or revisit a time and find redemption. Victor chooses to relive 1974, the time when he met Marianne. And so the film delightfully darts between the present day and the hazy 70’s, as through various ways, Victor finds meaning in this time, himself and his relationship.

The film is a splendid blend of cinematic suspension of disbelief, and the hilarity that is raw human existence, which was evident in the chuckles that hung over the audience. There is a complementary soundtrack in the classical and modern style, that suits both the ‘Frenchness’ of the film and the time periods. As viewers, we wish for the catharsis of time travel and resurgence of nostalgia, created by the delightful detail in the design and the way the plot weaves and follows the plight of the complex characters. 

La Belle Epoque is a whimsical and warm watch that offers lessons on love and life in equal measure.

Screening as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival at Palace Theatres and affiliate locations, in Melbourne from 11th March to 8th April. Details at http://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org/

 

Review: Amore e Morte

Reminiscent of a film noir

By Sebastian Purcell

Amore e Morte tells the story of a couples witness to a murder, fleeing their home and seeking refuge in a strange new place. While safe for a time until they are called back to the home land. He testifies while she records his tale as an expose. The musical is performed by the dynamic duo, Nikki Elli Souvertijs and Italian instrumentalist Riccardo Barone.

Barone’s music is complex, beautiful, emotional and soaring in equal parts. Most impressive is the entire 60 minutes performed without sheet music. In addition the performance of the Melodica while playing the piano together was worth viewing in its own right.

Souvertijs soars with a big clear Broadway voice, which is sometimes overwhelming in the smaller venue of the Butterfly Club. The softer notes in the show, resonates more on a dramatic and emotional level, however, overall there are too few of these moments. Because of this I felt as thought the show didn’t provide enough light and shade, especially given the tale it was trying to tell. That been said, Souvertjis clearly demonstrates that she is multi-dimensional conveying the story through both song, costume and minimalist acting that was reminiscent of a film noir.

Throughout the production a type writer is used as prop for Souvertjis’s character to write about the couples trials and tribulations, but it also serves as a wonderful accompaniment to the piano. The timing and use was creative and experimental, and one of the highlights of the show.

The production was smooth, lighting design simple but effective, and the sound was clear, but I did think that it might be too amplified for the venue. This is a no gloss, no glam production, and very befitting a story of love and loss.

Amore e Morte was performed at the Butterfly Club, Melbourne.

Review: Daddy

A candy coated concoction

By Bradley Storer

At the opening of Daddy last night, the audience entering the performance space were greeted with the sight of Wiradjuri artist Joel Bray, clad only into a pair fluorescent pink hot pants, reclining artfully on a fluffy cloud of fairy floss. This cheeky image slowly morphed through poses of contorted classical imagery alongside grotesque parodies of childish innocence, signalling the wide range of expression Bray would traverse in the next hour.

Mixing fairy tale, contemporary dance, and stylised but emotionally direct text, Daddy is a moving examination of existence at the intersections of queerness and blackness in modern Australia. The continual imagery of a hole needing to be filled operates on multiple levels – an empty stomach hungering for nourishment, an orifice looking for sexual fulfilment, the empty space left by an absent parent, as well as the pulsating wound at the heart of a people ripped apart by colonisation.

Bray is a charming and warm presence throughout, gracefully guiding the audience through tales of his own family and lived experience as a white-presenting Wiradjuri man. His un-amplified voice carries impressively in the intimate space of the State Theatre Rehearsal Room, and he ably manoeuvres audience members through several configurations throughout the room (audience participation is a large part of the performance, but in an entirely voluntary capacity). Bray’s lithe form and skilful dancing are utilised to both hilarious and chilling effect, whether peacocking in the confines of a gay club or contorting in convulsions of loss and pain.

Bray’s generosity of spirit nevertheless refuses to excuse the complicity of modern Australia in the decimation and erasure of Indigenous culture. The molten tirade he unleashes at the climax of the piece stings with cutting truth, particularly in light of continuing Aboriginal deaths in custody, shortened life expectancy and the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in prison populations.

Sitting in a space combining dance, theatre and storytelling, Daddy is absolutely delightful – a candy coated concoction disguising bitter truths, and whipped cream concealing the deep wounds of colonialism. An absolute must-see for this year’s Midsumma festival!

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd

Dates: 4 – 8 February

Time: 8pm Tuesday – Saturday, 2pm Saturday

Prices: $30 – $35

Bookings: artscentremelbourne.com.au, 1300 182 183, tickets@artscentremelbourne.com.au or at the box office.

Photography by Bryony Jackson

Film Review: The Peanut Butter Falcon

A feel good adventure film

By Narelle Wood

From the moment it starts, The Peanut Butter Falcon establishes itself as an adventure film, with one of the film’s protagonists, Zak, destined to take us on an interesting, and as it turns out heart-felt, journey.

Zak (Zak Gottsagen) has down syndrome, and with no family or anyone to take care of him, he finds himself living in a retirement home under the watchful eye of Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). After Zak escapes to pursue his dream of learning to wrestle, he meets Tyler (Shia Labeouf), who after some trouble, is trying to escape his life and start anew elsewhere. While Zak and Tyler start to make their way down to Florida, Eleanor is out searching for Zak, eager to return Zak to safety. As with any good adventure story there is a lot to keep Zak and Tyler on their toes; near misses by bandits and boats, some near drownings and some not so friendly gun fire.

While this is an adventure story, likened to a modern day tale of Huckleberry Finn, this is also a story of redemption. Tyler is grappling with his past, and some more recent choices, and it is Zak who quickly helps him get in touch with his more caring side. Eleanor is forced to face up to her part in keeping Zak in less than ideal accomodation; Zak is young, clever and determined to pursue his dreams. And as for Zak, he has an opportunity to learn his limitations and push past more than a few assumptions he has about himself.

Written and Directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, this film captures the way people are able to bring out the best in each other, and that family is sometimes the people you chose. The scenery is beautiful, and Nilson and Schwartz use the setting to their advantage making it an integral part of the adventure, providing refuge, as well as causing some trouble. Similar to the raft the duo travel on for much of the film, the story drifts along with purpose but at an easy pace; if anything everyone seems to come to grips with their personal struggles rather quickly and easily, but this does allow the space for some moments of action at the end of the film.

Labeouf and Johnson are great in their troublemaker and do-gooder roles, but Gottsagen is superb providing most of the films highlights and some laugh-out-loud moments. What’s particularly lovely about the film, is that it doesn’t shy away from exploring the difficulties someone with down syndrome experiences – it raises some significant questions about the way we treat people with disabilities – but the story is also about so much more than this one aspect of Zak’s character.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a feel good adventure story, and worth watching just to see the Peanut Butter Falcon come in to being.

Now playing in cinemas.

 

Review: Amazing Grace, New York New York

A dazzling, electrifying and vocal soaring production

By Sebastian Purcell

Amazing Grace New York, New York, directed by Karen Jemison, is the second iteration in succeeding to bring calisthenics and musical theatre together as one spectacular, dazzling, electrifying and vocal soaring production.

This is 90 minutes of pure Broadway hits masterfully performed by a tight on stage orchestra, led superbly by music director and orchestrator Jack Earle, while 41 of the top National, State and Royal South Street calisthenics title holders and top musical theatre performers sing and dance their hearts out.

While this played out more as a musical review than a cohesive show, everyone was given a number to shine in. Choreographers Jeanne Sorich, Lucinda Williams and Sue-Ellen Shook should be applauded for creating tight, visually appealing, energetic, vibrant routines that successfully incorporate jazz, tap, ballet, musical theatre and calisthenic routines.

Jemison’s costume designs are bold and pure quality. Each number has its own distinct costume, supporting the ravishing colour and movement on stage. A personal favourite of mine was the individual coloured dresses in Put on Your Sunday Clothes as everyone lined up resembling a wonderful rainbow.

The technical aspects of the show were smooth, the lighting design by Jason Bovaird  was clever, dynamic and slick, complementing each scene and supporting seamless transitions between numbers. Equally the sound design (Marcello Lo Ricco, Josh Mattiell) was crisp, clear and rich.

Nigel Huckle, Emily Langridge, Thomas McGuane, Alexis van Maanen and Stephanie Wall deliver standout performances and, in some instances, overshadow the rest of the cast with sublime vocals and emotionally connected performances. In particular stand out songs include Just Keep Moving the Line (Smash), A Musical (Something Rotten), One Perfect Moment (Bring It On), One (A Chorus Line), and She Used to be Mine (Waitress). The only critique is that I would have preferred the routine from You Walk with Me to be performed to She Used to be Mine for a simpler, softer, more emotional effect.

The strength, flexibility, coordination, and synchronicity from all the performers is remarkable and you can see the passion and enjoyment they each have for their craft. The encore performance of The Greatest Showman was a fitting end to what was a quality evening of entertainment.

Amazing Grace, New York New York plays at the National Theatre, St Kilda Jan 31 – February 2, 2020.

Review: David Suchet: Poirot and More – A Retrospective

Mystery-solving legend shares his life

By Owen James

We all love a good story – and David Suchet has plenty to tell, and knows just how to tell them. Revered for his twenty-four year stint playing Agatha Christie’s quirky sleuth Hercule Poirot, he admits that fortunate casting has graced him with a plethora of appetising roles in theatre, TV and film since, and given him a platform to share his passion for and wisdom of theatre and art to audiences such as ourselves.

Jane Hutcheon is his interviewer, the duo obviously following a carefully planned script and set of questions, but still sharing warm chemistry and a sense of friendship. Suchet is at ease in Hutcheon’s conversation, and their light-hearted banter makes these two and a half hours fly by. Hutcheon has genuine interest in every story Suchet has to tell, and clearly admires his enthusiasm for the arts and his distinguished career.

Suchet discusses how he found his way into the world of theatre and performing from an early age, and the influence his upbringing has had on his life. As he reminisces on early days at drama school and some of his first roles, the respect he has for his profession shines through every anecdote, and his healthy, positive outlook on life is catching. Those there to hear about days of Poirot straight from the horse’s mouth will not be disappointed – Suchet executes his due diligence in fan service with amusing stories from the set, and detailed explanations of how his most recognisable character traits came to be.

We are treated in the second act to short performances from Suchet – monologues and excerpts from classic texts. He also runs a fascinating Shakespeare masterclass in this latter half, exploring, at length, the command Shakespeare had over language and the direction contained within his carefully chosen words for those deciphering it. This is a mesmerising insight into an actor’s approach to dissecting text, and will be eagerly lapped up by any budding or established theatre-makers in the crowd.

David Suchet is a gift to the performing arts, and I could listen to his stories for hours. He returns to Melbourne for just one more evening on Thursday 13th Feb following other performances across Australia. A must-see for fans of Poirot or theatre-makers keen to hear his many pearls of wisdom.

Tickets: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2020/talks-and-ideas/david-suchet

Photography courtesy of Arts Centre Melbourne.

Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Traversing the pitfalls of love, deceit and pride 

By Rebecca Waese 

Shakespeare was celebrated joyfully last night in a Sevenfold Theatre Company production of Much Ado About Nothing in an inner-city backyard in Kingsville, Melbourne. First-time director Mitchell Wills led his youthful cast, hailing from Federation University, in an Australian-inspired Much Ado About Nothing that included well-crafted references to Melbourne suburbs and the Australian Open Tennis. It was a happy, accessible production with some moments of deep feeling and bawdy humour. For Shakespeare fans and, perhaps, VCE English students who are studying this play, this production of Much Ado offers an engaging way to experience the comedic adventures and misadventures of two couples, Hero and Claudio, and Beatrice and Benedick, who traverse the pitfalls of love, deceit, pride, and Don John’s cunning plots against Hero’s honour.

With some cuts to the original Shakespeare to condense the play to two hours, Wills includes modern references to make the story resonant with his audience, with messages arriving by iPhone and Don John vaping on top of the doghouse. There were many enjoyable interactions with the audience where audience members were winked at, called a drunkard or asked to record the notes from the trial led by a very funny and capable Watch duo, played by Fae O’Toole and Tess Walsh.

Other highlights include the strong performance of Benedick, played by Jesse Calvert, in his transformation from sharp-tongued bachelor to the love-struck, poetry-writing wooer of Beatrice, played by Petea Stark.  Benedick’s spying behind the laundry and Beatrice’s squeezing through the doggie door contributed enjoyable moments of physical comedy and a clever use of the backyard and surrounding space.

There were a few questionable interpretive choices involving the sheer likability of Claudio, (Tom Costigan) who might benefit from emphasizing the darker aspects of his fickle nature, and interest in appearances and in Hero’s inheritance as suggested in the subtext of the play. The level of campiness of Leonato, played by Joshua Strachan, was a little out of place at times and I believe Leonato’s strongest moments were in his more dramatic and grounded rejection of Hero. Perhaps Don John, the evil plotting villain, ought to remain estranged in the final dance and not mingle in the celebration with the revellers?

While rocking up to someone’s backyard for the evening involves some level of trepidation, the audience was given a warm welcome from Leonato, and invited to an intimate setting with paper lanterns, strings of lights and laundry hung artfully in hues of red, pink and blue. Costumes were coordinated and appealing and music added a convivial feeling to the relaxed night. While the level of professional experience of the ensemble is new and the company is in its debut season in the Melbourne theatre scene, there is certainly a place for this pleasurable outdoor Shakespearean production and its promising ensemble. 

Playing until the 26th January. Tickets available here