Wednesday, November 13, 2019

#2,508. Fatherland (2011)

Directed By: Nicolas Prividera

Starring: Felix Bruzzone, José Celestino Campusano, Lucía Cedrón

Tagline: "Argentina through the words of those who lay buried in Buenos Aires' famed La Recoleta Cemetery"

Trivia: Made its premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival

Written and directed by Nicolas Prividera, 2011’s Fatherland is a very unique documentary. Set primarily within the confines of the famed La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the film gives the dead one more chance to speak their piece while also casting a light on the politics and philosophies that divide individuals in life, only to fade away with the passage of time. 

Throughout Fatherland, Prividera invites a variety of people to read aloud from selected letters and writings of those who are now buried in La Recoleta (in most cases, these readings are carried out while the person is standing next to, or outside of, the author’s final resting place). The cemetery is quite old; it was founded by the Recoleta monks in 1822, and a large number of dignitaries, former Argentinian Presidents, military generals and even some revolutionaries have been buried there over the years. Evita Peron, wife of President Juan Peron and a well-respected humanitarian whose exploits were popularized on both stage and screen (Alan Parker’s 1996 musical Evita, starring Madonna in the title role, was based on Peron), is laid to rest in La Recoleta. Hers is obviously the most visited gravesite in the entire cemetery; over the course of Fatherland, a class touring Le Recoleta pauses there for a quick history lesson, and a group of elderly citizens sing a song praising the former first lady. Also buried in La Recoleta is Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, general and president who overthrew Evita’s husband in 1955 and forced him into exile (one of Fatherland’s most poignant moments comes late in the film, when an anonymous letter, written by a member of the group that kidnapped and executed Aramburu in 1970, is read aloud at the former leader’s graveside). 

Of course, the above examples are just scratching the surface; many letters and essays are read during Fatherland’s 100 minute runtime, some dating back to the middle of the 18th century, when Argentina was in the throes of revolution and civil war. We hear from both sides of these events, and it’s interesting to note that some of these former adversaries in life are now interred only a few hundred yards from each other. 

Even La Recoleta itself isn’t immune to the effects of time; in one of the film’s more noteworthy sequences, Prividera shows us several laborers repairing the cemetery (portions of La Recoleta are in terrible shape. There are walls with missing crypt covers, exposing the coffins within them to the elements, and some monuments have been broken or nearly obliterated). He then punctuates these images with a shot of the final resting place of David Allena, who was himself the caretaker of La Recoleta from 1881 to 1910. 

Along with being quite beautiful (Prividera often focuses his camera on the picturesque statues and mausoleums that adorn the cemetery), Fatherland is also thought-provoking. Many of the country’s leaders and finest thinkers were at one point willing to fight and kill for a cause or an ideology. Now, decades or even a century later, the concepts and philosophies that separated them have faded into obscurity, and are all but forgotten. 

But there’s more to Fatherland than a commentary on the futility of social and political conflict; the movie also gives voice to the dead. So often, a cemetery is seen as nothing more than a collection of headstones, a place where the dead lay silent. Fatherland reminds us that the deceased were once very much alive, and were as passionate about their beliefs as anyone living today. 

Unfortunately, Fatherland does run a bit too long; Prividera could have gotten these points across in half the time. Also, the readers who recite the various texts are often flat, doing so with little emotion, which occasionally made me lose interest in what they were saying. But even with its flaws, I found Fatherland to be one of the most intriguing documentaries I’ve seen in quite some time.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

#2,507. Next of Kin (1982) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Tony Williams

Starring: Jacki Kerin, John Jarratt, Alex Scott

Tag line: "There is something evil in this house"

Trivia: This film was one of many featured in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood where it was praised by Quentin Tarantino

A film that Quentin Tarantino once called “A horror movie unlike any other”, director Tony Williams’ 1982 Ozploitation horror/mystery Next of Kin is, indeed, an exceptionally unique motion picture. 

After the death of her mother, a distraught Linda (Jackie Kerin) begrudgingly returns home to become the manager of Monteclare, a retirement community that has been owned and operated by her family for years. 

After settling in, Linda reconnects with her old boyfriend Barney (John Jarratt) while also befriending Lance, an elderly resident played by Charles McCallum. But before long, her apprehension at taking over the family business will turn into an all-out paranoia! 

It all begins when one of the home’s occupants is found dead in a bathtub. While trying to figure out what happened to this poor soul, Linda starts digging into Monteclare’s rather shady past, and because of this finds herself being tormented by an unknown person (or persons). 

Linda is convinced that the local Doctor (played by Alex Scott) and the home’s longtime assistant manager Connie (Gerda Nicholson) are conspiring against her, attempting to drive her mad. But are they the true culprits, or is the turmoil at Monteclare being caused by someone else entirely? 

First and foremost, Next of Kin is a beautifully shot motion picture. Director Williams set out to style the movie like a European film, drawing particular inspiration from Bernardo Bertolucci (a key sequence was clearly influenced by a late moment from Last Tango in Paris). 
In addition, the movie’s cinematographer, Gary Hanson, borrowed several techniques made popular decades earlier by Alfred Hitchcock and a handful of others (a dream sequence features an effect much like one found in 1958’s Vertigo). 

Overhead tracking shots, Steadicams, and dolly shots pop up throughout Next of Kin, and often when you least expect them, adding to the overall experience. 

Performance-wise, the cast is strong, especially a young-looking John Jarratt (Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek) and Jackie Kerin herself, who is not only likable as Linda but also plays her as an incredibly strong-willed heroine. 
Director Williams said one of the reasons he made Next of Kin was because he had no interest in copying the American slashers that were popular at the time, in which female characters served mostly as victims. In this film, Williams not only gives us a female lead but one who proves time and again to be the movie's toughest character. Even during those moments when Linda thinks she’s losing her mind, she remains resolute (one night, the lights inexplicably go out at Monteclare. To ensure the residents are ok, Linda searches the rooms, and while doing so encounters things that make the audience leap out of their seat. Yet she takes each new discovery perfectly in stride). 

Linda does eventually lose her cool (when she is pushed to the brink of insanity), but even then proves that she’s not someone to be trifled with. 

As for its story, Next of Kin starts off as a mystery: what exactly is happening at Monteclare and how does it tie into the past? We find ourselves caught up in Linda’s search for answers, and because of the film’s energetic style I was fully invested in these early sequences. The opening half is undoubtedly a slow burn; there are creepy scenes scattered throughout, but at this point the horror hasn’t yet kicked into high gear. 

Our patience is rewarded, however, in the film's second half - particularly the last 30 minutes - when Next of Kin crosses into full-blown Ozploitation territory, and in a big, big way! The scares come fast and furious here, and things get absolutely crazy before the story reaches its climax. 

I would love to talk more about what happens in these late scenes, but I don’t dare; Next of Kin earns its surprises, and I have no intention of spoiling a single one of them. 

While I really enjoyed the opening mystery, I absolutely loved the end! I have a soft spot for movies that shock the hell out of me, and Next of Kin did so several times. It is a film I wholeheartedly recommend.