Snowpiercer

I must admit, before I walked into the Mercury Cinema, I had already seen the film that was showing that night. In fact, it’s one of my favourite films, and has been for a few years. Snowpiercer was released in 2014 to a limited audience in America and subsequently Australia (due to a belligerent Harvey Weinstein), but it is now on Netflix. It hosts an all-star cast, not the least of them John Hurt, Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Jamie Bell, and is an English-language Korean film.

The film utilises a well-worn concept in the 21st century – humanity accidentally destroys the Earth and the majority of itself, and the plot follows the few who survived, on a self-sustaining train that travels the planet and never stops.

Those who live on the train have formed a plutocratic society, the rich living in the first few carriages, dining on sushi, getting high and partying it up, while those at the foot of the train are subjugated to harsh laws, fed a pittance, and barely survive. Enter the film’s protagonist, Curtis, who wants to save his people and stage a rebellion. Chris Evans is almost unrecognisable as Curtis with his dark beard and a beanie, just about as far from Captain America as he could be, and it is one of his best roles to date.

Though with a simple, straightforward plot, Snowpiercer is dark, gritty, and its true accomplishment comes from its astoundingly harsh critique of the human race. The film’s dystopian future strikes close to home, and shows the god complex humanity exhibits over many different facets of our existence. Humans think they can solve global warming, not by using renewable energies or ceasing to emit greenhouse gases, but by dropping a chemical in the atmosphere to lower the Earth’s temperature. Instead they cause an instant global Ice Age and kill almost every living thing. The god complex is also exhibited by the creator of the train, who many refer to as ‘divine’. When Curtis finally reaches him, he finds a man half-mad and believing his own superiority, his own righteousness; so much so that he orchestrated the entire rebellion just to get Curtis to succeed him as the caretaker of the engine. Even Curtis has his own god complex, his own righteous belief that his rebellion, though not the first, deserves to be carried out and succeed.

The film also examines the very nature of humankind, and what we are willing to do to survive. The caretaker, for instance, uses children to replace parts of the engine that wear and break over time. The First Class citizens are happy to starve and murder the “Tail Sectioners” if it means they can party for one more night. Curtis is also not exempt from the flawed desire for survival, and he explains at the end of the film what he was willing to do when the food ran out when they first got on the train. It is this monologue that exemplifies why I feel Evans’ performance is so memorable, and is what makes Snowpiercer truly stand out from all the other dystopian futures embodied in pop culture.

Not only is Snowpiercer a study in humanity, but it is presented in such a realistic way that one can’t help but to wonder: Do we really deserve to survive on this Earth?

 

 


Words by Amelia Hughes.

Four stars.

Thanks to Mercury Cinema.

Hard Eight

Hard Eight, Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut feature film (which he wrote and directed), was recently shown at the Mercury Cinema as part of their Cinémathéque: Aesthetic Master collection. It stars John C. Reilley as John, a down-on-his-luck man who Sydney (Phillip Baker Hall), for some reason as yet unknown to the viewer, offers a cup of coffee and teaches him the tricks of his trade: gambling.

It might sound like one of those films where Sydney teaches his young disciple to count cards and shake the system for thousands and thousands of dollars before the climactic capture or fall, but it eschews this expectation. Hard Eight has a subtle plot, and focuses more on the ways the characters connect to one another. John looks to Sydney for approval and reassurance, as the man who gave him this new gift of life, and Sydney treats John as if he were his own son. It is not at first clear why Sydney cares so much for John, but it is eventually revealed that he is motivated by his own guilty past, and manipulates John’s life for the better as his own form of penance. As a result, when John falls in love with a casino waitress who also moonlights as a prostitute, Sydney is the one who John calls when things go south.

The film avoids the clichés that might be used to throw in some action or friction between the characters, such as when Sydney’s motives are revealed, and instead causes deeper character introspection without giving away all the answers to the audience. It only raises curiosity and interest in Sydney’s life before the film started, and what might happen once it has ended.

Anderson’s style of filming is unusual, particularly in a film with such ordinary themes, and this is what gives it its uniqueness. The camera often focuses not on the actors’ faces, where in any other film the audience is drawn to the emotions and micro-expressions that prove an actor’s worth, but on hands as they pick up a note and pause, or the back of a man as he walks away, so we have no idea what the character is thinking and we are left to our own deductions. This style suits the pace of the film, and Anderson’s use of a Steadicam means there are no quick changes between scenes or fast action shots.

It is a well written, well-developed film, particularly if you enjoy films for the characters rather than the plot. However, if you enjoy action and resolutions, Hard Eight is not for you.


Words by Amelia Hughes.

Three stars.

Thanks to Mercury Cinemas.

 

Amarcord

Amarcord (1973) is a semi-autobiographical film directed by the well-known Italian director, Federico Fellini. For one night only, it was played on the big screen at Mercury Cinema as part of their ‘Imagined Worlds: International Visions’ Cinémathéque film culture. Amarcord is hailed as one of Fellini’s best films, and is remembered for its warm nostalgia as it examines the rituals of daily life.

The film follows an adolescent boy, Titta, who grows up in a small village in 1930s Fascist Italy under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, and his ‘typical’ Italian family. Amarcord opens with a town celebration to welcome spring, burning a straw witch on a great bonfire to banish the cold winter. The film continues in a series of vignettes, with each scene having no direct correlation to the previous, weaving in and out of the lives of the characters over the space of a year. We do not always see resolutions in these small stories, such as when Titta’s father is arrested by the Fascists for not showing proper respect during a celebration in the town. He returns home upset and hurt, but this scene is used only to show the power of the Fascist government and its effect on the people, and holds no further repercussions for the characters. As a result of these randomly selected vignettes, near the end we see Titta’s mother succumbing to a quick illness and passing away, yet in the next we witness a wedding and the coming of spring once again, where the film concludes.

As such, this style of storytelling has no plot other than what is contained within each small vignette, and it can be hard to follow or become attached to the characters in the same way as we might in many modern films. Despite this, it retains familiar elements. There is quite a lot of toilet humour and inappropriate farting, which many in a modern audience can appreciate as a part of family or adolescent life, as well as blatant sexual jokes, which sometimes fall short. There is also liberal breaking of the fourth wall, with several characters looking to the camera in random scenes to extol the virtues of their wonderful town, speaking of their history or famous events, their monologue occasionally interrupted by someone farting.

Amarcord won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1975, and anyone with an interest in tales of culture, bildungsroman, or biographies would be sure to enjoy this.

 


Words by Amelia Hughes.

Thanks to Adelaide Cinémathéque: Mercury Cinema.