Film reviews

A Lion Returns ***** MA

Like his previous feature film, Cedar Boys, writer-director Serhat Caradee’s A Lion Returns presents an incisive insight into being Arab in Australia.

In this latest film, Caradee explores what causes a young Muslim’s radicalisation and how it affects his family and community.

The “prologue” of the film comprises a dialogue between brothers Omar (Danny Elacci) and Jamal (Tyler De Nawi) Alamein, upon the latter’s surprise return from 18 months in Syria, fighting for ISIS. Sitting in the back seat of a car parked outside their parents’ home, Jamal begs his older brother to let him see their dying mother, even though their father Yusef (Taffy Hany) has disowned him.

Omar, a lecturer in Middle Eastern Society, initially refuses, accusing Jamal of having contributed to their mother’s illness through the worry and stress he has caused her. Yet, as the brothers heatedly discuss religion, politics and terrorism, Omar realises he had ignored signs of the emotional distress that drove teenage Jamal to embrace fundamentalist teachings. He relents.

Once they are out of the car, the brothers realise that smuggling Jamal in to see his mother is not going to be easy. The house is full of relatives, including Jamal’s wife (Jacqui Purvis) and child, who have come to pay their respects to matriarch Manal (Helen Chebatte). Like all members of the Alamein family, they are under surveillance. The more Jamal tries to explain his actions, the more agitated and conflicted he becomes, and we realise that his illicit return has not been enabled on solely compassionate grounds.

Caradee deftly manipulates the dramatic tension as he steers his film to its climax. Apart from being an analytical examination of fundamentalism and radicalisation, A Lion Returns is an enthralling and moving family drama. The performances are impeccable, as are all of the production values. Simon Koloadin’s cinematography is particularly notable, especially the shots through the tree-dappled windscreen of the car.

The subject matter of A Lion Returns is timely and informative. That he has produced such an impressive film with minimum resources confirms Caradee’s status as a filmmaker to watch out for.

In the Name of the Land **** M

This first feature film from photojournalist Edouard Bergeon was inspired by his own father’s life as a second-generation farmer in France. We meet Pierre Jarjeau (Guillaume Canet) in 1979, on his return from Wyoming to marry Claire (Veerle Baetens) and to buy the 500-acre farm, Les Grands Bois, from his father, Jacques (Rufus).

The latter is old school, both as a farmer and as a father, but Pierre is determined to do things his own way. Almost 20 years later, his son Thomas (Anthony Bajon) is studying engineering and working on the farm with Pierre. They clearly enjoy each other’s company. He and his younger sister Emma (Yona Kervern) and their friends appear to be spending a seemingly carefree summer on the farm.

However, the farm is in financial trouble. The price of goats has fallen and Pierre has been sweet-talked into borrowing yet more money to farm chickens through a co-op that has little regard for anything other than profit. Although other local farmers are in a similar situation, there is little camaraderie among them. Claire is back working as an accountant, but the bills keep mounting. Patriarch Jacques is as stern and unyielding as ever. The scene where Pierre almost asks him for help is particularly powerful.

The Jarjeau family’s predicament should resonate strongly with Australian audiences. Tough though the subject matter is, it is universally relevant and in urgent need of redress.

While In the Name of the Land is very much a study of generational change and of the relationships of men with their wives and children, it is also a vivid indictment of the ever-increasing influence that multi-national companies have upon departments of agriculture and banks. In the Name of the Land is also a breathtakingly beautiful visual homage to the land by cinematographer Eric Dumont.

Corpus Christi **** MA

While serving time in a juvenile detention centre for manslaughter, Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) has found God. However, his criminal record precludes him from pursuing his new-found vocation. En route to serve out his parole at a rural sawmill, he is mistaken for the priest sent to relieve the elderly incumbent, while the latter undergoes alcohol rehabilitation in the city.

Daniel proves to be a compassionate, innovative spiritual shepherd for the local flock, embodying core Christian values, yet very much a man of the people. By preaching empathy and forgiveness, he heals a troubled community, mediating between the families of six young people killed in a head-on collision, and the widow of the man blamed for the tragic accident.

Sadly, when Daniel’s past inevitably catches up with him, not everyone is so willing to forgive him, especially those in positions of power. Director Jan Komasa and writer Mateusz Pacewicz deftly depict the complexity of society and of the individuals in it: their capacity for love and their capacity for hate, brutality, greed and hypocrisy. Bielenia is outstanding as the charismatic Daniel, while Eliza Rycembel gives a similarly luminous performance as Marta, the troubled young girl who befriends him.

Totally Under Control **** M

Over the course of 2020, documentary maker Alex Gibney, with co-directors Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger, collated a wealth of archival material and covertly filmed interviews to document Donald Trump’s reckless refusal to deal appropriately with the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare workers, scientists, politicians, journalists and other key players go on record in this damning indictment of President Trump. Bob Woodward’s tapes reveal that Trump knew how serious this coronavirus was days after the first US case of COVID-19 was reported in Seattle on 20 January. Yet he deliberately ignored the scientific advice and sacked any official who spoke out. Throughout February, testing protocols were put on hold, allowing the virus to spread uncontrollably.

The 2016 Obama administration’s playbook for such a scenario was ignored, as were the findings of the 2019 Crimson Contagion simulation run by the US Department of Health and Human Services, whose head, Alex Azar, was dismissed. With the Global Health security team having been disbanded in 2018, a depleted Federal Emergency Management Agency was tasked with procuring urgently needed medical supplies. State governments were forced to compete with one another and with the federal government to buy highly overpriced drugs, in one instance paying $3000 per patient for a drug that cost $10 to manufacture.

Throughout the presidential election campaign, Trump ignored social distancing and mask-wearing in public, politicising such behaviour, even after contracting the virus himself.

Although the US death toll continues to grow exponentially, comprising 20 per cent of the total deaths in the world. Trump still vows that there will be no lockdown while he remains in the White House.

You can stream Totally Under Control on DOCPLAY, AppleTV, Google Play or Ritz at Home.

I Am Greta **** M

Nathan Grossman began surreptitiously filming Greta Thunberg in August 2018 when the 15-year-old girl began her school strike for climate in Stockholm leading up to the Swedish election. Even though the election result disappointed Greta and the young people who joined her, by then school students throughout the world were inspired to strike and demonstrate for climate change.

Initially fascinated by Greta from a cinematographer’s perspective, Grossman became friends with her family and began accompanying the teenager and her father as they travelled throughout Europe by train and electric car, but never by plane; the Thunbergs having modified their lifestyle in support of their daughter.

Grossman’s footage of Greta addressing rallies and meeting with politicians reveals the strength of her determination to convince adults to act responsibly. How perceptive is her observation that “All they want is to make it look as though they’re doing something, but they’re doing nothing”.

Contrary to Andrew Bolt’s infamous assertion that Greta is “a mentally ill Swedish child being exploited by her parents”, nothing could be further from the truth, as Grossman’s informal interviews attest.

Her parents Svante and Malena explain that, although they do have fears for their teenage daughter’s physical and emotional safety, they fear that the consequences of not being able to advocate for the climate would overwhelm her. Her vulnerability is particularly evident in the later days of the voyage from Plymouth to New York in an 18-metre racing yacht.

Yes, Greta has Asperger’s, but this actually drives her persistent advocacy for climate change. Her photographic memory, her fluency in French and English, and her often blunt way of expressing her feelings empower her to stand up and tell world leaders that they are stealing her generation’s future through their inaction.

As Greta says, everyone should have a bit of Asperger’s.

Apart from being an enthralling documentary per se, I Am Greta would make an invaluable educational resource for teachers, students and the wider community. If only Greta could address our State and Federal governments by Zoom!

Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt) *** M

School captain Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw) is a model student, seemingly popular with her peers and teachers alike. But she has a dilemma: how to ask rebellious Abbie (Zoe Terakes) to be her date to the school formal? Mum Erica (Marta Dusseldorp) is well-meaning and supportive but reacts quite hysterically to her daughter coming out as gay.

Cue the entrance of Tara (Julia Billington), Erica’s gay sister who had died before Ellie was born. After Ellie adjusts to her fairy godmother’s “existence”, she quite appreciates having a mentor and, with Erica as a mother, she definitely needs one!

Dusseldorp does a great job and makes the most of the material. As do all the cast: Rachel House in the role of lovely, down-to-earth Patty, Erica’s lesbian best friend; Billington as Tara, and of course, Hawkshaw as Ellie. Terakes is a stand-out as Abbie, while Bridie Connell as Miss Trimble is delightful.

The film looks pretty good, thanks to Jamie Cranney’s production design and Calum Stewart’s cinematography. However, the quality of the sound leaves much to be desired. David Chapman’s head-banging music regularly impinges on the dialogue. It is much too loud and detracts from the action rather than complementing it.

Tricia Youlden is a retired drama teacher