Brisbane 2013: Blue Ruin, Goltzius And The Pelican Company, and Antarctica: A Year On Ice
Posted on Thursday November 14, 2013, 12:53 by Sam Toy in Under The Radar
Despite it winning the FIPRESCI prize in Cannes this year, Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin was a complete surprise to me, a random choice based on the BIFF programme notes alone. And what a great surprise it turned out to be.
Dwight (Macon Blair) is living the life of a beach bum: eating out of bins, breaking into houses for a bath, stealing clothes to wear off of washing lines and sleeping in his car. A friendly visit from the police suddenly changes that though, when a concerned officer advises Dwight that “he” is going to be released. This flicks a switch in Dwight, who promptly makes a beeline directly for “him”, and improvises an ill-thought out, messy murder. That’s far from the end of it though, and for the next hour Saulnier shows just how short-sighted and poorly thought through Dwight’s crime of passion was, all the while damning both him and America’s often twin obsessions with violence and personal revenge.
Saulnier’s screenwriting is concise and sparse, his cinematography is excellent (its hues brought Memento back to to mind), and his direction and editing are tremendously economical: Blue Ruin never reveals a single detail in the film artificially, and is never less than riveting for it. To say any more might spoil things, but catch it wherever you can.
‘Arthouse filmmaker’ can sometimes be an unfair label, usually used as a by-word for ‘highbrow’, which in turn is often a byword for ‘stuffy’. Peter Greenaway, visual art historian and experimental filmmaker, may be the first two, but he’s anything but the third. The man has a wicked sense of humour, and it’s on fine display in Goltzius And The Pelican Company, a period comedy about censorship which focuses on a guy who essentially has desires to get rich as one of the first magnate publishers of porn; a Larry Flynt for the 17th Century, if you like.
That man is Dutch printer Hendrik Goltzius (Ramsay Nasr: the real life poet laureate of The Netherlands, fact fans), who in the year 1600 brings his theatre troupe to Alsace, where he convinces the somewhat lascivious Margrave (F. Murray Abraham) to buy him an expensive printing press. In exchange, Goltzius’ company will, over six nights, perform plays based on the sexual taboos of the Old Testament – all in the name of educating people’s morals, of course.
The Margrave greedily agrees, but in the days between the performances – Adam & Eve, Lott and his daughters, Samson and Delilah etc. – the usual political hypocricies and arguments about censorship (particularly dangerous for players in those days) rear their head, and behind the scenes naughtiness has life imitating art, sending the entire enterprise disastrously off the rails for all concerned (a bit like the making of a Ken Russell movie).
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover remains one of my all-time favourites (I pray weekly for Greenaway to make a companion piece reflecting the present government), but after being baffled by Prospero’s Books and The Pillow Book, I confess I tuned out for a while. Goltzius however, is a hoot. On the Greenaway Confuso-Meter, I’d say it comes in this side of Prospero and A Zed And Two Noughts. Although still presenting his now trademark art-installation-esque penchant for running two, three or four separate frames within the frame (and superimposing text across it for good measure), Goltzius is nonetheless reasonably easy to follow, with Abraham having a ball as the pervy civic leader who must poo in public (by decree of some ancient town law). If you’re at all inclined to Greenaway’s work, this is definitely one to try.
Anthony Powell has lived on Antarctica for ten years where, as a photographer and videographer, he’s contributed to making the likes of the exquisite Frozen Planet. In his own time, he’s wiled away the hours assembling footage and interviews to tell this equally interesting story – not about the wildlife, or the scientists who work there during the ‘summer’ months, but of the locals who live there all year round – and forged it into his own feature documentary, Antarctica: A Year On Ice.
Powell has done an excellent job of compiling many of the little hidden - and to the uninitiated, unconsidered - details of daily life on the frozen continent (like how bad a penguin sewer smells when trying to get all those cute shots), especially during the ‘winter’ months, after most of the population flies out. His primary area of expertise is time-lapse photography, and there’s a lot of it in A Year On Ice. To ask for more variety feels like nit-picking (especially given the rarity of the images being captured), but it would make this already solid DIY documentary that bit greater.