BEWARE OF THE LEOPARD

“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


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Wild

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:

http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/why-cheryl-strayed-went-wild/story-fnq2o7dd-1227197394827


Cheryl, Reese and others discuss the film
 

Cheryl’s book
 

And the movie trailer
 

And Cheryl herself talking at TED in 2012

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!