The last few months of 2021 and the opening of 2022 – the festive season or summer in the southern hemisphere – marks the re-emergence of major film releases following the COVID outbreak. While all through 2021 there was a steady release of films, the big-budget blockbusters have been held back until late 2021. A small eclectic selection of these films are briefly reviewed here in this two-part series.
Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (2020, Poste Resante)
Featuring Natasa Stork, Viktor Bodó, Benett Vilmányi and Zsolt Nagy. Directed by Lili Horvát.
This Hungarian small-budget independent film by Lili Horvát (director/writer) is a drama, with a touch of psychological thriller. I watched it just before the summer season. Narrated through the selective thoughts of an obsessive middle-aged women, Marta (Natasha Stork). She’s a successful neurosurgeon working in the USA who has an intense but brief affair with Janos (Viktor Bodo) when they meet at a conference. Some months later Marta flies to her home country Hungary to meet Janos on the Charles Bridge, Budapest. He doesn’t show. Broken and bewildered she stays in Budapest and tracks him down. This muted-colour film (Cinematography by Róbert Maly) captures the slightly obsessive and stalk-ish mood of the narrative. Lili Horvát subverts the Hollywood trope of obsessive woman to tell it through her eyes. It’s mildly disturbing but strangely romantic, coming close to the obsession of Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
This film was released in September 2020 but because of COVID it had a slow release, not making it to Australia until a year later. A one minute video of the main actor Natasha Stork was shown just prior to the movie at my local cinema. She thanked the audience for supporting small independent films. Yes, she’s right, which is part of the reason it is included here. A slightly strange but intriguing film. It is more romantic than disturbing, but it is both. Definitely worth seeing.
Nitram (2021, Good Thing Productions / Wild Bunch International / Stan)
Featuring Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Essie Davis and Anthony LaPaglia. Written by Shaun Grant. Directed by Justin Kurzel.
This controversial Australian film by Justin Kurzel (director) provides an account of the mass murderer Martin Bryant in the months leading up to the 1996 mass shootings at Port Arthur, Tasmania. It is a dramatised account – based on real events and real people – but not a sequential true to life account (screenplay by Shaun Grant). Along with Florian Zeller’s The Father, these two 2021 films take difficult subjects and make beautiful, thoughtful films without layering them with moral discourse. They are portraits into the soul, and are my equal favourite films of 2021.
Nitram (Martin spelled backwards, but ‘nitram’ is also a nickname for an annoying youth in some European countries) follows the troubled and isolated world of Martin Bryant (played by Caleb Landry-Jones) in the year before he killed 35 people and injured many more at Port Arthur. It places him within a family trying to cope with his behavioural problems and under-developed mental and emotional capacities. And while nearly all the attention is on him, there is one powerful scene where it shows how easy it was for him, a deeply disturbed individual, to buy multiple high-powered weapons. Though the film doesn’t lecture, at the back of one’s mind is the nagging question: if he is the monster then who has been feeding him along the way? That is a question for the larger society.
The film was shot in 21 days on a low budget. The director Kurzel chose to film it in Victoria because of fear of reprisals and also not wanting to upset so many people who were and still are traumatised by the events of that day. Politicians and sanctimonious reviewers have criticised the film for being made. But this is an excellent film, both in terms of cinematic craft and in narrative. And it is not insensitive to the grief and trauma of the many people who suffered as a consequence of the Port Arthur massacre. It deserved its nomination for Best Film at Cannes Film festival (2021), and the lead actor Calen Landry-Jones deserved his win as Best Actor. But the whole cast is brilliant. A must see film.
Delicious (2021, Nord-Ouest Films / SND Groupe M6)
Featuring Grégory Gadebois, Isabelle Carré, Benjamin Lavernhe and Guillaume de Tonquédec. Written by Éric Besnard and Nicolas Boukhrief. Directed by Éric Besnard.
This French film by Eric Besnard (director) is a nice comfy film about the beginnings of restaurant food, on the eve of the French Revolution (1789). It’s not the first French film to pay homage to the aesthetic delights of fine cuisine. And while I think that is something the French in particular prize highly, and have several fine films around the subject, this film has the same, predictable elements. It’s okay, but there is nothing new in it. It’s as if the viewer is enticed into believing that the finesse and precision of fine food, the dedication to its preparation, is enough to suggest the film itself is elegantly made. No, it’s a very ordinary film.
Starring Grégory Gadebois (Chef) and Isabelle Carré (his admiring protégé and romantic interest) the pair find themselves outcast from the aristocracy that had previously embraced them. Boo! But slowly he builds himself a small stop-over inn, and ultimately turns it into a roadhouse restaurant for passing travellers – plebs and aristocrats alike. Cinematography (Jean-Marie Dreujou) is wonderful and lighting is well done and effective. The screenplay (Besnard and Nicolas Boukhrief) is less impressive. It’s a nice, feel-good film, but nothing special.
The Matrix Resurrections (2021, Village Roadshow Pictures / Venus Castina Productions)
Featuring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Jada Pinkett Smith. Written by Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon. Directed by Lana Wachowski.
This is the fourth film in The Matrix franchise, produced, co-written, and directed by Lana Wachowski, and is some 18 years after the third film. It’s another of the seasonal blockbuster films released following a COVID quiet period for cinemas. It is currently running at a loss but will likely break even once it is released to on-line streaming services.
Staring Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss in the lead roles – and without giving anything away – they re-emerge from the Matrix to kick ass. A large part of this film is a love letter to the earlier films, but especially the first film, with plenty of short snippets of those films included. And there’s some clever dialogue and twists and turns, and more humour than the earlier films. But it does get bogged down in characters explaining what happened in the past and how we got to the present situation – way too much. And it is so convoluted. Despite some sharp dialogue here and there, the script is awkward and jarring. The action on the other hand is great. Special effects are superb and stunts are top-notch. The last 15 to 20 minutes of the film is especially impressive.
While I found it clumsy, and weighted down in the middle as it was trying to get through the long back-story, I noted in the audience reactions in the cinema and among a couple of friends I have spoken to, that many of their favourite bits were the reminiscences to the first film (1999). It was familiar to them and they liked it. The technical aspects of the film are excellent (cinematography is singled out: Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll); whereas the narrative is laboured. But as an action-special effects film it is dazzling. Worth watching if you like the first Matrix film.