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Review: Sky

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Diane Kruger (Romy) and her husband Gilles Lelouchee (Richard) embark on an adventure to the USA to find meaning in their relationship through a holiday. In spite of their efforts to rekindle their love, a twist occurs leaving Romy guilt stricken and on the run. Director Fabienne Berthaud attempts to explore a journey of life through disjointed relationships,  illustrating how happiness stems from meaningless moments.

The First few scenes are quite slow and mundane. Romy and her French husband are having breakfast at a dinner after pulling up in a black sports car to take pictures of the landscape. He shows he has a proclivity to lash out when the waitress tells him that eggs can’t be served after 11am. The plot ebbs and flows, and it never really has the audience engrossed, as it lacks structure and cohesion.

It is in the pub that we really see how tumultuous the marriage is, and who Richard and Romy are as a couple. Romy is a sweet and insecure woman, while Richard is a rich degenerate. Richard is oblivious to his wife’s jealousy when he flirts with two American girls at the bar. The girls leave after he tells them “I love my wife but she just doesn’t want my dick anymore”. Richard walks to the room, still intoxicated, and forces himself upon his wife who then rejects him until she scrabbles free and grabs the nearest object and hits him in the head, knocking him unconscious. This may be the first time we see how Romy feels towards her life and husband but even still the director fails to capture Romy’s point of view until this moment.

Romy flees to a neighboring diner and hides while the police casually walk in. She finally confesses to a detective at a local station to alleviate her guilt, she soon learns that she is not a murderer and she moves on, looking forward to sever ties with her husband and her old alienating life. Romy seeks a ride to Las Vegas. The problems with the opening scene are apparent throughout the film, it continues to create a mixed message with a whirlwind of different characters.

Romy realizes what life is like outside her sheltered world she has to act as a prop for photos by being a bunny on the sidewalk with two Elvis impersonators, thanks to the help of her friend (Laurene Landon), who does a very good job in a supporting role. The director convinces the audience that Romy is content with leaving the lavish life behind, while she conveys otherwise. Romy seeks a bathroom to change out of her embarrassing outfit a man played by Norman Reedus (Diego) who mistakenly identifies her as a prostitute eventually courts her over to the bar. Here she portrays a fragile nice girl who tells Diego that she isn’t interested in love anymore she just doesn’t have time for it. Diego tells her that he only likes whores so he can’t be attached to anything. The film continues to show promise but the director fails to really capture the meaning of her journey and the supporting perspectives of the characters she meets.

Romy soon becomes in love with the idea of being free and continues her journey with Diego. Diego is a charming, mysterious softly spoken man who looks like he knows more then he leads on. She meets his family who are typical hicks from Texas. This touches on her past experiences, which she expresses with her new friend who she met while working in a run down diner off the freeway. Their relationship is the most tangible feature of this 100-minute escapade.

Sky is a good story of how love and a value can arise from something as simple as a hamburger. It also represents how the sky is a forever-changing environment. However, I feel the story wasn’t done justice, because of the lackluster beginning; it failed to show a variety of perspectives. Sky has a durable ending but I still feel it could have had more significance, had we knew more about the characters earlier.

Sky is out on DVD and various streaming services. 

 

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Culture

Before Where, Perhaps What?

Death of Poetry (Sian Davies)

 

 

In my favourite bookstore I was recently recommended two novels by Ben Lerner, a fairly young yet acclaimed novelist, and, to my surprise, poet. Both the protagonists of his novels were also poets; young men positively gaunt with the prospect that they had, somehow, managed to become poets and writers despite being positive they had no idea what that entailed. The novels contained short yet powerful nuggets of poetry intermingling with prose. It was my first interaction with poetry outside of the Beat Generation that, in my memory, I ever felt any sort of contemporary relevance with. The poems conjured a new world which still felt inherently truthful.

These novels set me to wonder, where did poetry go?

It turns out that the only thing more cliché than writing a terrible poem is to write about the declining state of “modern poetry”. In my research I blundered almost immediately into a 1991 essay by Dana Gioia, ‘Can Poetry Matter?’ that mourns the loss of poetry relevant to the general public. This article led me to more writing on the subject; ‘Is Verse a Dying Technique?” by Edmund Wilson, published in 1934,  and ‘Who Killed Poetry?’ by Joseph Epstein in 1988.

Plato argued in favour of banning poets from the Ancient Athens on the grounds that poets possessed no knowledge of truth. In 2013 Harper’s Magazine published Mark Edmundson’s critique, “Poetry Slam Or, The decline of American verse,” where he accused modern American poets of being “too hermetic even to overhear with anything like comprehension”.

So, what have poets done, or not done, to encourage such a wholesale attack the length and breadth of society? I actually happen, fortuitously, to be good friends with a man known for scribbling down the occasional poem. I invited Lewis, my friend, English teacher and part time poet, over to chat.

How, I asked, was our generation doing with the whole poetry shtick? In summary, he replied, we weren’t. “Our generation generally doesn’t really interact with poetry at all, unless you consider things like hip hop or the one Shakespeare play they read in high school.”

But, I countered, this may not be entirely our own fault. It may be, as our generation is overly fond of pointing out, the fault of those that came before us. Maybe the previous generation just wrote terrible poetry?

“Look, maybe poetry is crap and maybe poetry has nothing to offer. Maybe a lot of people are well within their rights to disregard it, but I don’t think it’s fair to make that assumption, because the majority of people these days are not initiated into how to do poetry.”

Perhaps one of the reasons that it is so easy to dismiss poetry is that it is hard. It is not something that comes naturally, as does reading a story, or listening to a song. It takes time, and studiousness, to reach any level of proper understanding. I had not gripped just how difficult poetry was, I think, until my poet friend said to me:

It is hard to define, to read, and most of all, immensely difficult to write.

“To write great poems takes a lifetime, you either need to be possessed by something that may be defined as genius or you need to develop that craft for years and years and years” he ventured. “Just because you can speak english and understand other people speaking english doesn’t mean you can understand poetry, doesn’t mean you can write poetry.”

Creative writing is currently being axed from the VCE curriculum, so it doesn’t look like things are going to improve in terms of giving poetry a wider audience in the future. But could poetry be made relevant again? Could the current protest movements springing up around the world have a use for this art form that has been used to challenge political ideas for the last century?

You look at poets like Milton, or Gill Scott Herron, these artists were all very relevant in their time… they were also very politically motivated people and that relevance that their art had to the world at large would have impacted upon their success. Whether or not that could really be achieved in this day and age is tricky, because …. you need something new, and something that might be considered abstract. It would be tricky for poets to become relevant today in such a way, because in order to say something loud and proud you would have to forgo the abstract quality that the academy currently demands… It has gone to the abstract, it has gone to the esoteric.”

But is it not more important to write poems that will mean something to someone, that are capable of translating human emotions and desires, rather than merely pursuing academic approval?

“As a poet, I have never made any apologies that my poems are about things,” he laughs. “And they’re not often terrible subtle… But I do feel that because of that, I do cop criticism from the academy.”

It all reminds me so much of wandering around a modern art exhibition, slightly befuddled, wondering when exactly the undoubtedly profound meaning of art was going to reveal itself to me? Was it all worth it? And for that matter was it even really art?

Ben Lerner, the poet responsible for my piquing my interest in this whole mess, wrote an article for The Guardian where he suggested a possible answer;

When we worry about the marginality of poetry, we are worrying also about the marginality of creativity in lives – ordered, as they are, by economic forces.

So perhaps when we worry about poetry, we are worrying about creativity and art as a whole. In an era of conservative governments slashing liberal arts funding, insidious marketing schemes made to look like genuine creativity, a world in which everybody seems to be shouting and few seem to be listening, why should we not be worried about the state of real, genuine, human creativity?

To help resolve my unending questions, I went and bothered Dr. Peter Groves, a senior lecturer in poetry and literature at Monash. When I asked if he knew where poetry had gone, he responded: It is happening in a corner somewhere. It’s not really visible.’

And does this make you fear that poetry will disappear? I asked.

‘I don’t think it’s going to, it’s just going to become a weird little minority interest. Which is strange because if you go back in time, it was the only game in town. Poetry was the only medium for anything.’

So why are people always so worried about the state of poetry?

“People like to worry about things… Poetry isn’t popular, it’s a simple as that. To make poetry popular again, it’s about making people want it. And how do you do that?

The discussion shifted to the problem with the abstract demands of the poetry elite (‘it’s sterile, and bound for nowhere…’). When I mentioned my poet friend’s statement about receiving criticism for his poems being about genuine things, Groves laughed and responded;

“It’s utterly insane. The whole history of human poetry… it’s about stuff. It’s a weird little cul-de-sac we’ve gotten ourselves into. There’s nowhere to go from here, like paintings in five shades of black.’

‘Were you here for our previous Vice Chancellor? Vile little man. Well he must have friends in publishing become Melbourne University published some things of his called ‘poems’, and these were absurd. It had no content, no form, they were kind of brain farts like tweets from Donald Trump.

I came away from the interview feeling slightly better about the chances of poetry (and unable to get the imagery of a Trump brain fart out of my head). Peter had such a happy and joyous view of language and poetry that it was difficult not to feel a glimmer of hope;

Language is such an intimate possession… Children love to play with language. Some people grow up and they kind of lose that, but most people don’t. Poetry is about the play principle. Poetry as an art is about playing with language. There are deep persistent roots there that poetry appeals to…Poetry as a political force is incredibly powerful, and maybe that is how it will plug into consciousness. Maybe Trump could be good for poetry.

So in the end, I don’t know. I still don’t know where poetry is, or even what exactly it is.  Even in it’s own little corner, I think it poetry will prove to be resilient—at least I hope it will be. My own thoughts are apparently of little comfort here, so I found some from a much wiser soul for you instead;

“Thoughts” (from Pooh Bear’s House) – A.A.Milne.

 

I lay on my chest

And I thought it best

To pretend I was having a evening rest;

I lay on my tum

And I tried to hum

But nothing particular seemed to come

My face was flat

On the floor, and that

Is all very well for an acrobat;

But it doesn’t seem fair

To a Friendly Bear

To stiffen him out with a backet-chair.

And sort of squoze

Which grows and grows

Is not too nice for his poor old nose,

And sort of squch

Is much too much

For his neck and his mouth and his

ears and such.

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Culture

Review: The Salesman

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In the hands of a less measured, less disciplined director, The Salesman might have descended into an obtuse melodrama of primal human emotions. But with Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi at the helm, The Salesman is a thorough examination of a marriage at breaking point.

The film opens with still images of a production of Arthur Miller’s opus, Death of a Salesman, in which husband and wife Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) play Willy and Linda Loman. At first, the couple appear nothing like their characters – Emad is a popular schoolteacher, and Rana a spirited, intelligent actress.

A once secure relationship falters when Emad and Rana’s apartment block threatens to collapse. The inauspicious event results in their relocation to a flat owned by Babak (Babak Karimi), a fellow thespian. We soon find out his previous tenant was a “woman with many acquaintances.” One of those acquaintances, seeking the unknown tenant, enters the flat and injures Rana in the shower. She had left the door open, expecting Emad at any moment.

Rana sustains a wound to the head. After the incident, she retreats into her shell. Emad is infuriated; disempowered. In order to recapture his masculine pride, he embarks on a vigilante-style pursuit of her attacker: taking note of blood stains on the staircase and an abandoned pickup van. He eventually encounters the attacker in a prolonged showdown that couldn’t be more different than the pulpy Death Wish or the grandiose Gladiator.

Although The Salesman is no exercise in overcooked drama, that isn’t to say Farhadi’s film is devoid of suspense. Indeed, the final act of The Salesman is mired in it. Tension is a primary weapon in Farhadi’s expansive cinematic arsenal; manifested by his precise manipulation of character and understanding of the impulses that drive human thought and behaviour.

The widespread fascination with Farhadi’s work – from Fireworks Wednesday, to A Separation, to The Salesman – derives from his preoccupation with universal truths of domestic human existence: the rigid social and gender structures that prevail, the implosive nature of familial breakdown, and the struggle for individual expression amid overwhelming pressures.

In The Salesman, these themes are anchored in modern Iran, where Emad feels he must wreak vengeance, and Rana must not confide in anyone about the origins of her injury. The shaping of universal ideas by the Iranian context gives the The Salesman an important thematic and ideological precision.

It should come as no surprise that Farhadi has a Masters in Stage Direction, as much of the film is framed in dramatic terms: the overt metaphor of the decaying apartment block, the meticulous staging of action, and the parallel narrative of Death of a Salesman. Such use of the dramatic gives the film an immediate and emotional resonance that invigorates the core of The Salesman.

Ending with everything simultaneously said and unsaid, The Salesman is a towering work about the schisms of gender, of the stability that belies fragility.

The Salesman is in limited release. 

 

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Culture

Review: Frantz

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With Frantz, highly prolific writer-director François Ozon mines the stories of the Great War seemingly espousing there is still something