Film

Invisible Films: The Five Best Films Not Coming To A Cinema Near You

We’re going out of the PR cycle of weekly theatrical releases to bring you five of the best films in world cinema that are unwatchable in Australian cinemas.

It’s a terrible fact of the film industry that the best of world cinema never makes it to most cinemas around the world — and will likely never reach Australian audiences.

While multiplexes are flooded with the licensed products of Marvel and Disney, there’s a whole universe of wonderful films you might want to watch if you were able to. The most interesting and challenging movies are out there – but in Australia, they’re not at the cinema.

Australia has long been a backwater in the global film industry, a fact which the digital revolution is yet to fully fix. Warner Bros’ Lego Movie was made in Sydney by effects and animation studio Animal Logic, only to be released here a full three months after its US debut. Totally unsurprisingly, it went on to be one of the biggest pirated films of 2014. This year, the arthouse hit Straight Outta Compton took more than a month to reach Australia after its US debut. In the increasingly franchise-dominated cinema market, there are many more films could have done well at the local box office if they were given a chance.

There are some legitimately great services that show what Australian film culture could be like with more adventurous curating from those in the industry. SBS On Demand slays Netflix in terms of the diversity of its catalogue; It currently has Kill Bill 1, truckloads of animated and martial arts films, the very dark American indie American Splendor, and Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s classic Fanny and Alexander. And ABC’s iView is always solid for doco junkies; right now, they have Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me viewable for free until November 23.

But I attended Locarno Film Festival earlier this year, a festival that unearths challenging and experimental fare, and was shocked at how few of the great films I saw there will find a home in Australian theatres. With this in mind, we’re going out of the PR cycle of weekly theatrical releases to bring you five of the best films in world cinema that are unwatchable in Australian cinemas. This isn’t an invitation to download; it’s an appeal to Australia film distributors: be daring! Give us something to adore at the cinema rather than just lycra-clad superheroes to shrug at! Or at least improve our streaming options so that the majority of our VOD providers don’t just regurgitate what’s already at the multiplex.

Entertainment 

dir. Rick Alverson, USA, 2015

The story of the world’s saddest, unfunniest comedian’s descent into madness, Entertainment really divided critics at Locarno. But maybe good films should provoke, rather than encourage consensus.

Australian-born US comic Gregg Turkington co-created the film around his own slimey, pathetic on-stage persona Neil Hamburger, who is nameless in this film. Turkington describes The Comedian as “a defeated person suffering from a lack of confidence”; I describe him as a total life failure, but the film is so deeply sad that I mean that affectionately.

By night, our anti-hero performs anti-comedy stand-up shows in prisons and half-empty divebars in the Californian desert. By late night, he leaves voicemails for his estranged adult daughter. And during the day, he goes on tourist bus trips of airplane graveyards and abandoned oilmines – the metaphor of American capitalism exhausting the earth is obvious, but in a good way.

His gigs and tourist ventures are punctuated by increasingly inexplicable dream sequences and encounters with strangers on the road – like a colour therapist who envelops The Comedian in red light, and a nameless down-and-outer in a public toilet, played by Michael Cera. These episodes devolve from reality in a way that reminded me very much of the sensory, abstract colour-fields of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love.

Entertainment is actually a Sundance Film, but it goes way beyond your usual indie archetypes. As director Rick Alverson said at Locarno, “There’s a lot in the movie that’s about the inevitability of the end of the American and European white male culture; the inevitable handing over of this tired culture to a new demographic that’s largely Hispanic”. It’s about decline – personal and political, micro and macro, together. It is devastating, and beautiful: a sad indictment of a society filled with alienated individuals trying and failing to connect with each other; and a very pure audio-visual cinematic experience that asks to be felt rather than intellectualised.

It also has one of the best trailers I’ve seen in ages, ironically featuring Black Night by Frank Sinatra (the entertainer of all entertainers).

Distribution status: No Australian distributor, currently unavailable on iTunes Australia.

Paradise

dir. Sina Ataeian Dena, Iran, 2015

When was the last time you saw a film that was shot illegally in a dictatorship?

The political and creative difficulties of life in Iran have resulted in some of the world’s most interesting films. One of the more recent, Paradise is the softly terrifying story of a fearful country, shot from the viewpoint of a 25-year-old woman trying to survive the brutality of authoritarianism. First-time director Sina Ataeian Dena has said Paradise is about the violence – both threatened and realised – of daily life. But in a sophisticated approach, that violence is implied and unseen: you think you’re in an arthouse drama, only to realise you’re in a very secretive thriller about the horror of living under despotism.

Our heroine, Hanieh, has a very simple objective: to transfer jobs. It’s the type of thing we would take for granted in Australia, but her efforts are met with indifference at best and hostility at worst. In the context of such fundamental disempowerment, small gestures take on the symbolic power of massive rebellion: Hanieh shaves her head, smokes in the bathroom with the air-conditioner on, spits over a balcony, hangs her head out of the bus window and looks back at Tehran upside-down.

Shot predominantly inside houses, taxis and buses to evade official attention, Paradise plays out like an observational documentary, but with the loose narrative structure of a feature film. We feel we’re snooping on a microcosm of a much larger, shadier Kafka-esque machine: Paradise leaps over the domestic smallness of its premise to show the existential dimensions of Hanieh’s yearnings, as well as those of a people who crave freedom.

Distribution status: No Australian distributor, currently unavailable on iTunes Australia.

Right Now, Wrong Then

dir. Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2015

The winner of Locarno Film Festival’s main competition, Right Now, Wrong Then is a (non-demented) romantic comedy that contemplates what might happen if we could meet that one person again as a stranger. It’s such a romantic premise — the second chance! – which Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo realises by dividing the film in half: in the first, a Korean director meets a young, lovely painter, gets drunk, falls in love with her, and royally fucks things up by not disclosing his unhappy marriage. The film then restarts in the second half, and we get to see if our protagonist can right his wrongs. There are only about seven scenes in each half: it’s a masterclass in barebones storytelling, with long takes alerting us to the tiniest differences in the two actors’ performances each time round.

Right Now, Wrong Then is thematically a bit like Groundhog Day or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: what would you do differently if you got a second chance to curb your tendency toward self-sabotaging idiocy? It’s also less about the “success” of a romance, than it is about the way you look back at it: either with fondness, or regret.

It’s bittersweet and hopeful and formally inventive; the kind of film I just feel happy about when I think of it. How many movies can you say that about?

Distribution status: No Australian distributor, currently unavailable on iTunes Australia. Playing Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival on November 21 and 25.

Schneider Vs. Bax

dir. Alex van Warmerdam, Netherlands, 2015

Every now and then you get a glimpse of what popular cinema could be like if it wasn’t quite so superhero-obsessed.

Schneider vs. Bax has a classic crime film set-up, but it’s teamed with a comedy of errors. We open in the uber-tasteful Scandinavian apartment of Tom, whose catalogue-pretty wife and two daughters bring in a cake and sing him ‘Happy Birthday’ in bed. He then gets a call from his boss: the twist being that his boss is a mob dude, and Tom is his hitman. We’re led to think that this is the film’s gimmick: an assassin with domestic duties, a good guy, a good husband, a good father, who’s just flat-out at work — and that work just happens to be shooting people. But every fifteen minutes, the cogs in Schneider vs. Bax turn a little tighter, another obstacle is introduced, and we’re confounded again.

The film is so funny, so dark, so tightly wound, and its level of craftsmanship so high, that it draws no line between entertainment and substance. Director and actor Alex van Warmerdam is a forensic dissector of the absurdity and illogic of human behaviour, but he innovates the crime genre by making painfully on-point observations about the nature of trauma and gender – and isn’t the male-dominated crime genre the perfect place to do that?

So farcical, so fucked-up, so like life, but so watchable, Schneider vs. Bax should be in every cinema everywhere: it could be the future of smart, mainstream filmmaking.

Distribution status: No Australian distributor, currently unavailable on iTunes Australia.

BONUS FILM: Haemoo

dir. Sung Bo Shim, South Korea, 2014

This one’s a bit of a cheat — you can get it on DVD and legally online — but one of the actual flat-out best titles that played film festivals this year isn’t getting a theatrical release.

Co-written and produced by Bong Joon-ho, the guy who made Snowpiercer, Haemoo is a high IQ, super-tense thriller from Korea about a people-smuggling mission gone wrong (sound relevant to Australian politics?) — with a super-creepy spiritual undercurrent. It’s unusual to see a genre film that is so entertaining but also so confronting: teeth-grindingly stressful but also amazingly gratifying; an action film that’s actually about something. Haemoo is also co-written and produced by Bong Joon-ho, the guy who made Snowpiercer.

Distribution status: It’s out on DVD, GooglePlay and iTunes.

 

Lauren Carroll Harris has been published in Guardian Australia, Metro, Meanjin, Documentary, Real Time Arts, Bright Wall/Dark Room, Senses of Cinema and Big Issue. She tweets from @LCarrollHarris