Entering the final stretch of the 36th Hong Kong International Film Festival I was finally availed the opportunity to see Jeff Nichols' sophomore feature, which had received blanket rave reviews across the blogosphere and appeared on numerous best of 2011 lists. I also caught one of the most-talked about films of the Berlinale.
Day 11 (2 April)
Tabu (dir. Miguel Gomes, Portugal)
I had no prior knowledge of writer-director Miguel Gomes or his work going into this film, save for hearing that this was one of the most highly-praised yet divisive films of this year's Berlin International Film Festival. Apparently references are made to F.W. Murnau's film of the same name, but having not seen that film they were all but lost on me, save for the fact both films deal with the impact of colonial life and are split into two sections, entitled "Paradise" and "Paradise Lost" (although the segments are named the other way around in Gomes' film). The film is a portrait of an elderly dame, Aurora (Laura Soveral), living a hermit's lifestyle in her Lisbon apartment, with only her maid and a nosy neighbour aware of her existence. When she passes away, her two female acquaintances learn about her exotic and romantic life, living in the colonies of Africa and her torrid love affair with a young hunter. Frankly the magic of this film was somewhat lost on me, told through extended flashbacks with recounted dialogue, the film had a Wes Anderson-esque air of pastiche and whimsy that I'm not entirely sure was intentional. Much of it felt like "Steve Zissou's African Adventure" and only the plight of Aurora's underused pet crocodile held my interest.
Take Shelter (dir. Jeff Nichols, USA)
It seems that every self-respecting film critic and cineaste has already seen - and loved - Nichols' second feature. If I am completely honest, when it had its single screening at Fantastic Fest last September I had never heard of it and felt under no obligation to cram it into my schedule. The minute that screening finished, however, I realised my mistake and have spent the last 6 months+ hearing nothing but grade A praise for the film and for Michael Shannon's commanding lead performance. It was with no small degree of trepidation, therefore, that I finally sat down to watch the film this afternoon, expecting that after all the hype and high praise I would witness a solid, well put together yet low-key drama that would impress but inevitably fail to live up to its reputation. The great news is that Take Shelter is an excellent film. It is small, it is (for the most part) quiet, and it is somewhat low-key, but it nevertheless flexes muscles all too rarely seen in American indies of this scale. Shannon is every bit as impressive as I had heard, as the simple, non-communicative husband and father in a happy blue collar family, who is slowly crushed by his own insecurities and an unwieldy feeling of dread and apprehension for an impending tragedy that he is unable to adequately visualise or comprehend. Jessica Chastian continues to impress in everything and does a wonderful job of standing by her man when many other women would have fled for the hills, the church, the in-laws or anywhere but her howling, moaning hubby. It is Nichols' inventive direction, however, that is the biggest winner here, drawing his audience in slowly over the course of two hours, making them laugh, cry and recoil in terror, before delivering a finale that is as surprising as it is inevitable and quite sublime.
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