Brisbane 2013: The Past, Outrage Beyond and The Railway Man
Posted on Thursday November 14, 2013, 11:47 by Sam Toy in Under The Radar
The 2013 Brisbane International Film Festival is now underway. While the official opening night film was Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man, technically the festival started 48 hours earlier with what is becoming traditional ‘curtain raiser’ screenings, designed to give a representation of the BIFF programme’s diversity. Monday night’s tasters were Filth (about which I needn't to say more than I wholly agree with Damon Wise’s Empire review and that I particularly enjoyed Eddie Marsan’s magnificent supporting turn), and French drama The Past.
I’m a huge fan of A Separation (I would hope that, by now, that its air-tight screenplay is being taught to screenwriting students in film schools the world over), so catching Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up The Past was a no-brainer for me. As hoped, it was hugely rewarding. Another tightly-knotted family drama, this time set in and around the outer suburbs of Paris, where estranged husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) has returned from Tehran to grant his wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) a divorce. Ahmad has been gone for four years, and Marie is now on the verge of remarrying to Samir (Tahar Rahim). The divorce proceeds smoothly enough, until Ahmad accidentally stirs up a secret concerning Samir’s wife – who lies in a coma after attempting suicide some months ago – and sets off a chain reaction of revelations.
Once again, I was astounded by how masterful Farhadi is at giving all of his characters – even the kids (young Elyes Agouis deserves special mention as a very confused little boy in Samir’s son Fouad) – honest perspectives and motivations; every character has such terrific value. Likewise, every scene in the film links perfectly into the next, without the need for coincidence and without waste. Only towards the very end of the tale does the train begin to wobble. I can’t reveal it for spoilers, and it is by no means derails the film, but I left the cinema feeling slightly off-kilter. The Past also doesn’t have the heft of A Separation’s sociopolitical subtext, but to criticize it for that seems unfair: it’s like comparing apples with oranges or, to use the analogy that first popped into my head on the way home, Treme with The Wire.
When Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage played in Cannes 2010, I left the cinema underwhelmed. I therefore approached Outrage Beyond (Why not Beyond Outrage? No idea), with caution, but I’m now going to have to revisit the first film as soon as I can, such is the giant leap in quality (or perceived quality – maybe it was just me?) between the two films. Outrage Beyond is, in no uncertain terms, a stonking return to form.
The story picks up showing that the Sanno Yakuza syndicate has continued to build on its huge power base, to the point where they have now bumped off a senior political figure. This is a step too far for the police, who give slippery detective Kataoka license to stir the pot and shift the balance back away from them – and the cop has no shortage of dangerous ways to needle the precariously balanced organisation.
Amongst the gangsters, there are grumblings of younger members being promoted hastily and ‘unfairly’ simply because they bring in more money. At this early stage, it feels like Kitano will start doing what we waited the entire first film for him to do, and examine the Yakuza the way Johnnie To looked at the Triads with his superb Election films – dealing with tradition and the discipline of honour in changing times, and just who the real crooks are these post-financial crisis days. Unfortunately, that particular arc is never completely explored, but it nonetheless sets this sequel hurtling along.
Kataoka decides he can best set the cat among the pigeons by freeing betrayed Sanno lieutenant Otomo (Kitano) from jail, and encouraging him to join with his old enemy Kimura (the man whose face he slashed with a Stanley knife in the first film, and who later shivved him in prison for his trouble), that they may raise merry hell, and win back some territory and standing in the process. Thus begins a very complicated – and needless to say very bloody – path to revenge.
As he ages, Kitano only becomes more wonderfully unreadable as an actor, and Otomo might be the most badass onscreen senior citizen of the decade – and I include Machete and the cast of The Expendables as competition. Although Outrage Beyond ultimately doesn’t quite deliver on the potential of its first act set-up, there’s enough energy, bite and trademark Kitano gallows humour to have it sit firmly in the “better than the original” column.
Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man will hold some special curiosity for BIFF goers, as it was partly filmed in Queensland. It’s Teplitzky’s fourth feature as director, and he has achieved the difficult feat of breathing new life into a very well-worn genre: The Awards-Friendly War Drama. The film itself may be as straight, safe and buttoned-down as its lead character, but its story is valid, compelling and very worth watching.
So once again I’m in full agreement with Damo’s comments, particularly in regard to Jeremy Irvine’s astonishingly well-studied turn as the young Lomax. I hadn't noticed anything particularly stunning about him in War Horse (perhaps due to a thankless role amongst a sea of instantly recognisable veterans), but watching him perfectly capture every last one of Colin Firth’s nuances is something to behold, and I certainly hope he is rewarded for his efforts when awards season gets underway.