The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992)

Last Days

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Stars: Lisa Harrow, Kerry Fox, Miranda Otto, Bruno Ganz, Bill Hunter

First viewing, via SBS on Demand

Twelve years before he acted out the last days of Adolf Hitler in Downfall, Bruno Ganz acted in The Last Days of Chez Nous. And now that low-hanging fruit is out of the way, let’s get on with the review…

In my Radiance review, I lamented the small percentage of women directors in the Australian film industry. Unbeknownst to me, this coincided with the announcement of a great new Screen Australia initiative, Gender Matters: Brilliant Stories and Brilliant Careers, to help fund more female-driven projects. The use of “Brilliant Careers” in the title reflects the continued relevance of Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career to Australian women’s stories on film, as well as Armstrong’s importance as the country’s first major female director. Ever since that film’s success launched her own brilliant career (not to mention Judy Davis’), Armstrong has alternated between local productions (Starstruck, High Tide) and Hollywood fare (Mrs Soffel, Little Women) and found success in both industries. The Last Days of Chez Nous is one of her key Australian works.

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Dad and Dave: On Our Selection (1995)

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Director: George Whaley

Stars: Leo McKern, Geoffrey Rush, Joan Sutherland, Noah Taylor, Ray Barrett, Barry Otto, Essie Davis, David Field

First viewing, via DVD

The characters of Dad, Dave, and the rest of the Rudd farming family date back over 100 years. Author Steele Rudd (aka Arthur Hoey Davis) began composing Dad and Dave’s adventures in the late 1800s, and the first 26 stories were collected into the book On Our Selection in 1899. Further adventures followed and the characters went on to appear in other mediums: there was a stage play in the 1910s; a silent film in 1920; a quartet of sound films directed by Ken G. Hall starting in 1932; and a radio series spanning from the late 1930s to early 1950s. While the characters haven’t figured in the cultural landscape too prominently in recent years, there’s no denying their place in popular culture: a large billboard for 1938’s Dad and Dave Goes to Town (which marked the film debut of Peter Finch) stands alongside similar commemorative billboards for Jedda, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Storm Boy, and Crocodile Dundee at Sydney’s Moore Park/Fox Studios entertainment precinct.

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George Whaley’s 1995 film Dad and Dave: On Our Selection revived the characters for late twentieth century audiences, and was designed to celebrate that year’s centenary of Australian cinema, as declared in the film’s end credits. The film adapts a number of Rudd’s stories and chronicles the exploits of the Rudd family and farm. Dad (Leo McKern) runs for state parliament against the slippery JP Riley (Barry Otto); Mother (Joan Sutherland) tends to house and home; oldest son Dave (Geoffrey Rush) falls in love, as does sister Kate (Essie Davis); and wayward son Dan (David Field) proves a miscreant, to name just a few story threads.

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Swimming Upstream (2003)

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Director: Russell Mulcahy

Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Jesse Spencer

First viewing, via DVD

A quarter of a century ago, Russell Mulcahy’s music video for ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ became the first ever screened on MTV. As a music video director, Mulcahy helped define the form and helmed many of the medium’s most iconic, bombastic clips, including Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ and a good portion of the Duran Duran catalogue. As a filmmaker, he’s best known for genre fare (action, sci-fi, horror), from Ozploitation gem Razorback and cult classic Highlander to recent episodes of TV’s Teen Wolf.

Suffice to say, when I think of Russell Mulcahy, I think of smoky visuals, dramatic backlighting and shafts of light, killer swine hating on humans, sword-fighting immortals decapitating each other, Christopher Lambert as a Scotsman, Sean Connery as an Egyptian, and Queen. A modest drama about sibling swimmers pressured into competition by an abusive, alcoholic father doesn’t spring to mind, but Mulcahy defies pigeonholing with Swimming Upstream.

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News Roundup July 2016

A roundup of classic films and catalogue titles currently in the news.

Picnic

Down Under Flix is all about spotlighting underappreciated, neglected, forgotten or obscure Australian films that flew under the radar or fell through the cracks. Picnic at Hanging Rock ain’t that film. Peter Weir’s 1975 mystery drama is one of the all-time great Australian features: a gorgeous, otherworldly, spooky, jarring, cryptic, unapologetically bizarre film beloved by most. Well, maybe not the late Bob Ellis.

Anne Lambert, the iconic star of the film, is currently in the news campaigning alongside the National Trust of SA to protect one of the other iconic stars of the film, Martindale Hall.

Read more at Adelaide Now

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Radiance (1998)

R poster

Director: Rachel Perkins

Stars: Deborah Mailman, Rachel Maza, Trisha Morton-Thomas

First viewing, via SBS On Demand

According to research conducted by Screen Australia, women comprise on average 16% of working film directors in Australia, with 32% of producers and 23% of writers also women. It’s a disappointing statistic, and sadly consistent with overseas trends. It’s all the more frustrating given the impressive pool of female directing talent that Australia has produced, including, but by no means limited to, Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, Oscar and Lucinda), Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof, The Dressmaker), Sue Brooks (Japanese Story), Cate Shortland (Somersault), Shirley Barrett (Love Serenade), Ana Kokkinos (Head On, The Book of Revelation), Samantha Lang (The Monkey’s Mask), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), the late Sarah Watt (Look Both Ways), and Rachel Perkins, director of Bran NueDae and Radiance.

Radiance centres on three Indigenous sisters of different ages, fathers and temperaments reunited for their mother’s funeral. The sisters are an outwardly disparate trio: Mae (Trisha Morton-Thomas) looked after their mother during her final years, and is coarsened by the experience; Cressy (Rachel Maza) in an international opera star who seemingly abandoned her family to pursue her career; and newly pregnant youngest sister Nona (Deborah Mailman) is the most perky and naive of the three. Over the course of the film they rub each other the wrong way, air dirty laundry, and forge new connections. It is, after all, based on a play.

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Paradise Found (2003)

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Director: Mario Andreacchio

Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Natassja Kinski, Alun Armstrong, Chris Haywood, Nicholas Hope

Second viewing, via DVD

A broad ocker comedy. A gritty police procedural charting murky moral waters. A Shakespeare adaptation. A road movie about Indigenous youth. An art-house drama about intimacy issues. Given the variety of films covered on Down Under Flix thus far, it’s fairly clear that “Australian cinema” is a fluid, rubbery, malleable term that can encompass a range of different genres, styles and tones.

Paradise Found, a film about a French artist in Tahiti starring the guy from The Lost Boys and 24, is another Australian film, and a somewhat unlikely one. But this Paul Gauguin biopic has an Australian director, Mario Andreacchio; it features veteran Australian actors in supporting roles; it was filmed in Queensland as well as the Czech Republic; and it was funded by Australian as well as French, German and British financiers. And while we tend to associate such cinematic appropriations of other cultures and historical figures with Hollywood – by way of example, Anthony Quinn scored an Oscar for playing Gauguin in Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 Vincent van Gogh biopic Lust for Life – it’s also a typical instance of cinematic globalization in action.

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Human Touch (2004)

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Director: Paul Cox

Stars: Jacqueline McKenzie, Aaron Blabey, Chris Haywood

First viewing, via SBS On Demand

With the recent passing of director Paul Cox, it seemed appropriate to track down and commemorate one of his films on Down Under Flix. A brief caveat: prior to this week’s film, 2004’s Human Touch, I’d only seen two of Cox’s other works – the arch drama Man of Flowers (1983) and the low-fi period epic Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999) – and both long ago. Suffice to say, this is something I’ll be remedying over my time on this website, but in the meantime it leaves me an ill-informed tributary. For lovely, rounded tributes to the filmmaker, see here and here.

Human Touch stars Jacqueline McKenzie as Anna, the talented lead singer in a choir that’s raising money to visit China. Anna finds a fan in Edward (Chris Haywood), a wealthy gentleman with an open marriage and artistic bent who has dedicated himself to “women, love, and the arts”. Edward pays Anna to pose for some artful nude photographs, and the film traces the ripple effects this has on their respective relationships. In particular, Anna becomes distant from her partner David (Aaron Blabey) and resistant to his touch.

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