“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?” “Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.” 

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy





Beau Heartbreaker - a Dinky-di Sweetheart

Amanda Collins

And my cousin Craig was as camp as a row of tents, and I was as thick as a brick so as I could help him bang his tent pegs in.
— Beau Heartbreaker

So sings Beau Heartbreaker on his eponymous album. If you haven't yet seen Beau live, you are missing out. Selina Jenkins is a brilliant singer-songwriter, and her alter ego Beau is simply one out of the box.

Beau is a simple country boy, singing and riffing on life in a beard, travel, and the dangers of knowing too much. His gentle demeanour lets Selina get away with plenty. As a dairy farmer, Beau has a particular take on the world, and his charm quickly has the audience on side. Selina is no slouch on the guitar, and has written songs that speak straight to the heart.

I was struck by Beau's physical resemblance to fellow MICF performer, Josh Earl, and privately mused as to whether they might be somehow related, one with more facial hair than the other?

A beaut pic borrowed from Beau's Facebook page - hope you don't mind, Beau...

A beaut pic borrowed from Beau's Facebook page - hope you don't mind, Beau...

Die-hard fans arrive in Beau's signature flannelette, but plenty more turn up in civvies, and he's such a gentleman, he greets them all with his laconic enthusiasm.

Beau is performing "for about two hundred bloody shows"* at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2015, and deserves to win even more awards than he has already. Selina's turn as Beau has won the 'Most Outstanding New Work' and 'Tour Ready' awards in the 2013 Short and Sweet Cabaret Festival, and has garnered five stars during a recent US tour.

Bookings would be advisable, with Beau's Facebook following building daily, his shows will certainly sell out. If you're a Facebooker, check him out, as his vlogs, Beau's Bits are sweet and funny. And once you've seen him, you'll even be reading his FB posts in. his. voice.

Beau Heartbreaker. I may be a little bit in love.

* it may be more like thirty shows, but I wouldn't want to to disabuse the darling man - Beau is at the Backstage Room at the Melbourne Town Hall, Tuesday to Saturday 7pm, and Sundays at 6pm.



Amanda Collins

There is one Strayed in the US phone book. One. Cheryl Strayed is the kind of woman who chooses her own surname when her marriage ends. She’s the kind of woman who leaves literary quotes in a trail journal along with her name. She’s the real-life subject of Reese Witherspoon’s film Wild, a movie so compelling, I had to go back and see it a second time.

Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl, who, in 1995, hiked the US Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) solo, covering over 1100miles (1770km) of desert and mountain terrain in the process. The film is based on Cheryl’s bestselling memoir.

I sat with two experienced hikers as I watched it for the first time, and together we appreciated (and sometimes chuckled at) the real challenges Strayed met – from a 65lb (29kg) backpack (water really does weigh so much!) to rattlesnakes. She faces heat, snow, thirst, fear, and pain – ‘Everything hurts, all the time’, she confesses in one of her occasional human encounters.

‘I was at the bottom point of my life’ commented Strayed recently. ‘I knew that I felt the best when I was in the wilderness, and I knew that solitude was what I needed’. She spent 94 days on the trail, mostly alone, yet this story isn’t told as a battle between a woman and the wild. In fact, much of the story is told in flashback and tiny snippets, as Strayed revisits the traumatic death of her mother, and the unravelling of her life as she succumbs to the intense grief of losing the woman who was her ‘centre’.

It’s not a typical story for a leading lady – not only is there plenty of sex and drugs in the flashbacks, there is, for the most part, no-one swooping in to rescue Strayed when things go awry. 

This film was produced by Reese Witherspoon’s and Bruna Papandrea’s production company, Pacific Standard, (which is fast garnering a reputation for producing stories about fascinating people – Gone Girl being another case in point). The script is written by Nick Hornby, and Cheryl Strayed was a strong presence in the creation of the film which spent only the shortest of times in pre-production.  Look out for ‘the real Cheryl’s’ daughter Bobbi as the younger Cheryl in the flashback sequences. As Bruna Papandrea commented, it was made with only a few voices involved in the production. But it’s easy to see that they were voices that worked well together. It can only be hoped that this is a new collaborative direction in filmmaking, as the creative energy certainly shows in the end result. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, it’s a film of glorious scenery, tantalising visual and audio glimpses, interwoven with sordid flashbacks.

Cheryl herself commented, on watching the movie, ‘’I never felt embarrassed ... even when I thought, ‘What was I thinking?’, I could recognise that we all make mistakes, and in so many ways.’’ This movie feels like a new direction in mainstream storytelling, one where forgiveness and compassion for the self becomes real, tangible and something to aspire to. I took my older teens to see it – and I am so pleased I did.

I wanted to say a word here about fear. There are plenty of moments where Cheryl experiences real fear in this film, and on reflection, I was surprised at how many of those moments were driven by humans rather than natural events. The respect she has for the wilderness is so evident in everything that she does, so that even in the most dire wild situation she encounters, we believe she will survive.

The soundtrack is a wonderful mishmash of the familiar and unfamiliar – song fragments bringing forth memories for Cheryl, interspersed with the sounds of the trail. There was barely a sound that didn’t add something to the story, from the drips into the pan at the cheap motel, to her mother's ‘hum’ haunting the air.

Reese is so gutsy in this film – no makeup, lugging that massive pack (affectionately nicknamed Monster) and taking on a role with far less dialogue than she is used to. But there is no ball named Wilson, nor is there a moment where we, the audience, wish she had taken a different turn. She is on an inspiring (if confronting) path from beginning to end, both story and performance-wise.

There is so much more to say about this story – so when you do go to see it, make sure you schedule in a cup of coffee with your film buddies afterwards. You’ll need it.

And let me know what you thought. 

Cheryl Strayed’s quotes come from these sources:

Cheryl, Reese and others discuss the film

Cheryl’s book

And the movie trailer

And Cheryl herself talking at TED in 2012

My Old Lady...

Amanda Collins

How many love letters can one city stand? Beaucoup, it would seem, if the city in question is Paris.
Written and directed by first time film director Israel Horowitz, My Old Lady is just that – Horowitz’s version of a love letter to the city he has written several times as a playwright.

My Old Lady is a complicated story about three very complicated people. Matthias Gold (played so very beautifully by Kevin Kline) has just inherited a Paris house – but little else - from his wealthy, estranged father. To his shock, it seems that the property is still inhabited – by Mme Mathilde Girard, a nonagenarian, and her daughter Chloé (Kristen Scott-Thomas, of course!). Under French law, this maison en vie âgée is the legitimate residence of Mme Girard until her death. In the meantime, the completely skint Matthias is expected to pay a living allowance of €2400 every month in order to maintain the agreement.

Maggie Smith is the most English of English actresses, and in this role she is Mme Girard, the 90-something semi-retired English teacher, which is smart casting. I felt as though the playwright was speaking through her when she said: “Englishness is so obvious, you have no choice”. Horowitz originally wrote My Old Lady as a play, and it has been performed in over 20 languages since its première. It has been thoroughly rewritten for film, and cast with such a depth – even a bit-part such as the Doctor (Horowitz!) was played by an actor-auteur Noémie Lvovsky, who created Camille Rewinds (2012). Some trivia for you – Lvovsky received a bijou as payment for her role in My Old Lady rather than a paycheck.

It is shot entirely in Paris, at a location called La Manufacture in Les Gobelins. (Run a mental line due south from Île Saint-Louis, stop around about half way to the Périphérique and you’re in the right neighbourhood.) As you would expect from a successful play, the script is complex and well thought through, and of course there are plenty of plot twists and turns. Happily, the film adaptation skilfully includes beautiful shots of the Paris location, both interiors and exteriors, without it becoming too much of a tourist’s visual checklist. I am a big fan of peeking over actor’s shoulders, and this was one of those films where I enjoyed the settings as well as the story.

The opening scene of the film has Kevin Kline walking through inner city Paris, past a piece of graffiti in English “Today is the shadow of tomorrow”, which resonates through the story. One wonders whether this piece of graffiti was pure serendipity, or whether some (temporary) vandalism was necessary on the part of the filmmakers. Given the méchanceté (naughtiness) of the protagonists and the pervading air of liberties being taken, it’s easy to speculate…

Keep an eye out for Matthias’s real estate agent, Dominique Pinon – fans of French cinema will know him from so many works, including the perennial favourite Amélie. It transpires that he was also performing Shakespeare live in Paris during the filming period (Richard III). He also played Vriess in Alien: Resurrection, and is known for working with Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Audience members who choose to stay through to the end of the credits are rewarded with a tiny treat of a moment between Klein and Pinon.

Horowitz quoted Samuel Beckett, “A writer who explains his writing is like a snail explaining its shell,” during a recent discussion of this film, and I think he’s right to leave the explanations and analyses to others. There is plenty to inspire discussion in My Old Lady, so I can recommend seeing it with friends, and afterwards, opening a bottle of Côtes-du-Rhône and letting the conversation meander the streets of Paris.

However it ends, it's...Still Life

Amanda Collins

Still Life - a thought-provoking film

Still Life - a thought-provoking film

You've probably seen the tremendous Eddie Marsan before. He's Simon Pegg's car salesman buddy in The World's End. He's Inspector Lestrade in Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. He won a BAFTA for his role as Reg in Vera Drake. He's the kind of guy who crops up in lots of places, and afterwards, you go "I think I've seen him before". Well, this time, you'll most definitely remember him.

Eddie Marsan plays the very formal, very correct Mr May. He works for the council, in a role which is very much his vocation. From his spartan basement office, he manages the funerals and contacts the next of kin of the people who die alone in his borough. After more than two decades, he is made redundant, and we follow him through what is essentially his last case, seeking out next of kin for a neighbour he never met.

This is a film peopled as much by the dead as it is by the living. It's a film full of quirky characters, many of whom we never get to meet, only to hear about. There are some gorgeous cinematic tweaks, too, like the tiny moments when Mr May 'lets his hair down'. Uberto Pasolini has made such a lovely film, where the story is told through the sounds and sights as much as through the cast.

The soundtrack is gorgeous - sometimes letting the silences speak for themselves, sometimes just a sweet melody with variations, by Rachel Portman.

This is one of those films that will stay with you and have you re-think your humanity. My cine-buddy and I found ourselves recounting bits on the tram home - and then suddenly we were both in tears. 

This film has already won a slew of awards, including Best Actor at the 2014 Edinburgh Film Festival. I daresay there will be more. It's just. That. Good.

Death is the one thing nobody gets to avoid - and the dignity and gravitas that Eddie Marsan brings to Mr May show us just how death is meant to be approached, whether one is surrounded by loved ones or all alone and managed by council.

Go and see this wonderful film. Take your friends. And take plenty of tissues.




21 - with a great sidekick, every movie is better

Amanda Collins

Just home from seeing a fun Finnish movie - 21 ways to ruin a marriage (21 tapaa pilata avioliitto) at Palace Cinema Como.

Apart from being right out of my language depth (which was a fun trip in itself), the quirky story was enjoyably distracting.

The gorgeous Armi Toivanen

The gorgeous Armi Toivanen

The striking Armi Toivanen is Sanna, the academic who analyses marriages, filming and interviewing couples every year and developing a list of what it is that makes marriages fail. Her harsh methods make it hard for her to keep assistants, who find the whole sordid business depressing.
Her best buddy is Aino, Essi Hellén, a desperately single forensic pathologist who spends her life extracting predictions from the radio, cookery books, or whatever comes to hand. While I enjoyed the story of Sanna, I was equally distracted by Aino and her crazy, crazy life.

 Essi Hellén does a fantastic job of Aino, the eccentric best friend.

 Essi Hellén does a fantastic job of Aino, the eccentric best friend.

Talking about it afterwards with my moviegoing associate, we agreed that often a good buddy in a film can often be a lot more quirky than the main character, who, after all, has to get on with her life and follow a proper story arc. A supporting actress can be a different size from the norm, be more rude, often funnier than the main character, and can generally let go a little bit more. I'm thinking Judy Greer in 27 dresses, Tracey Ullman in I could Never be your Woman, and of course, Rosie O'Donnell in Sleepless in Seattle.

This is, of course, just a theory, developed over a glass of red wine, and confirmed during the drive home. If it is actually true, then that means that I'm the wacky sidekick in the movie of my own life. Makes a heap of sense. Go figure.

Anyway, the Scandinavian Film Festival is on at the moment at Palace Cinemas in Melbourne from 11-20 July. See you there!

Camille Claudel 1915

Amanda Collins

La Valse by Camille Claudel

There is no doubt, Camille Claudel was a gifted sculpter. As is often the case, with great talent comes some form of instability.
In Camille's case, Camille Claudel 1915 asks the question, was she really insane? 
Or was the world, and her family, so threatened by her genius, and her unconventionality, that they felt the only solution was to lock her away?

For more of a review on this intense film, head to MyFrenchLife.

Delicious days in Paris - book

Amanda Collins

When I first went to France, I carried a "Let's Go" guide - a huge bible of a thing, heavy, often innacurate, and woefully out of date by the time it was printed. It was perfectly possible to find (despite the guide's authoritative tone)  that the restaurant you had saved your pennies for no longer existed, that the hotel you thought you had booked had been converted into a brothel and that the street you thought you were staying on had been renamed.
These days, travellers surf the web to find the most up-to-the-minute places to eat, sleep and play.
Where, then, does this leave the travel book? We no longer need our paper guides it seems.

Delicious Days in Paris

Delicious Days in Paris

Delicious Days in Paris is part memoir, part travel guide. It takes you on an armchair exploration of Paris and surrounds, and frankly, made me want to book another airfare!
To read on, click away, intrepid traveller!


We'll always have Paris - Book

Amanda Collins

Jennifer Coburn is no stranger to writing and publishing, and her book is a sweet and gentle read.

Jennifer's book - a fun read for travellers

Jennifer's book - a fun read for travellers

Her travels with her daughter bring up plenty of great memories for me - but are evocative enough that if you haven't been there, you would certainly want to go after reading this.

MyFrenchLife has the rest of what I had to say about We'll Always have Paris

Homeland - the challenge of translation

Amanda Collins

homeland ticket.JPG

Né Quelque Part – Homeland - is Mohamed Hamidi’s first feature film starring Tewfik Jallab. It’s not the first time I’ve been struck by the challenges inherent in putting those words across the bottom of the screen.

Translating for the big screen is one of those rare skills that often goes completely unnoticed. When it's done well, it's subtle; a transparent veil which helps the outsider into the story. 

The story of Farid Hadji’s efforts to save the house his father built in Algeria – a country he has never set foot in – brings the complexity level of translation and subtitling up an extra notch. 

Not only is there the French-Arab idiom of Farid’s French family, there’s also the Algerian Arabic to translate. In the French version, of course, there are subtitles for the Arabic. But once the subtitles move to a third language, what is a subtitler to do? What Ian Burley (of the ubiquitous but almost invisible LVT) did is to meld everything into one stream of English.

For movie goers who depend upon the subtitles, that’s a godsend. It’s a stream of language that leads us into the story without extra drama. But for those who listen to the French, well, it’s a mind-flip. I found myself double checking my brain, as Farid would say something in French, receive a reply in Arabic, and see all of it neatly translated and delivered in English text at the bottom of the screen. It is all the more complex as the majority of Algerians speak and understand French, so conversations on screen happen in two languages throughout the film.
I’ve only seen snippets of the Arabic-French subtitles (which of course were fundamental to the French print), but did enjoy the idea of Farid’s felonious cousin being called “Farid le roublard” (“Farid the dodger” in the English subtitles).

There are a lot of threads in this film, which was an Out of Competition Special Screening at Cannes in 2013. There’s the story of Farid, reluctantly heading to Algeria to - hopefully - save a house his father built for him. Add to that the criminal activities of his cousin of the same name, played by major drawcard Jamel Debbouze (the simple minded grocer from Amélie),  an uncertain relationship with French girlfriend Audrey, and the complexities of illegal immigration into France, and there’s a lot to juggle. I found more pleasure in peeking over Farid’s shoulder and enjoying the sparse beauty of his village and the craziness of the local Café Secteur, where an escaped animal provides almost as much entertainment as an overseas telephone call. The ruins he explores were lovely, and I agreed with Farid as he explained to Audrey over the phone, “C’est incroyable” (It’s incredible).

Farid learning about his Homeland   

Farid learning about his Homeland


Given the topicality of illegal immigration in Australia at the moment, I was waiting for a more in-depth exploration of this aspect of the film, but in the end, the director chose to use what drove the film along.

It's not a film I would see again, except perhaps to once again appreciate Ian Burley's hard - and almost invisible - subtitling work.

Sur le Quai

Amanda Collins

Quai D’Orsay – what a fun film!

I enjoyed Thierry Lhermitte’s suave uncle in Le Divorce – let’s face it, he was a rogue who bestowed $8,000 handbags on unsuspecting young Americans, but he did it so assuredly!

I like him even more in this great farce, where his filibustering and pomposity are of Olympian proportions:

A film where the 'where' is as interesting as the 'who'

A film where the 'where' is as interesting as the 'who'

Read more when you make the magic

On the first, the subsequent, and M. Depardieu.

Amanda Collins

Do you remember your first real French Film?  Mine was Les Fugitifs – the Francis Veber comedy, which was already a classic when my first year university lecturer decided we needed educating, back in the late 80s. Having learned my French at a country high school, and being 200km from any cinema that showed foreign films, I really had very little concept of modern French cinema culture. SBS was TV that happened to other families. I thought ‘zut’ was a rude word. 

In a darkened lecture theatre, all of that was about to change. Although I could barely keep up with the subtitles, let alone the dialogue, I realised that a new world was opening in front of me. I fell in love with Gerard Depardieu, I learned a few more effective swearwords (although I wasn’t brave enough to use them), and I discovered a visual language that told as much about its people as the spoken language I had been studying for 6 ½  years. 
If you get the chance, Les Fugitifs has stood the test of time and is worth a watch. The gentle clown Pierre Richard is Francois Pignon, a miserable failure as a bank robber, while Gerard Depardieu is an ex-con with a heart of gold. There are some gloriously 1980’s moments such as the arrival of hoodlums with boombox-on-shoulder, not to mention the fabulous hair and shoulder pads.  

Gerard Depardieu - par dieu! 

Gerard Depardieu - par dieu! 

The situations in Veber’s comedies are original and clever, and many of his films have been re-made for the American market. Richard Pryor’s star turn in The Toy (originally Le Jouet, 1976) grossed over 50 million at the box office in 1982, while 3 Men and a Baby (Trois Hommes et un Couffin) did three times that for Tom Selleck and director Leonard Nimoy (oui!) in 1987.   Veber is a prolific writer and director – and credits  include La Doublure (The Valet – in US pre-production) in 2006 and Dinner for Schmucks (Le Dîner des Cons) in 2010, and plenty of comic classics you may not have realised were his. It’s always fun to see what kind of scenario Veber will throw us in to.

The first one I saw stole my cinema heart.