Sunday, 21 August 2011

Film Review - "Beginners" directed by Mike Mills (Sydney Film Festival)

Beginners (2011)           

This morning I went to the pre-screening of Mike Mills’ film “Beginners” at the Cremorne Orpheum cinema. It is a successful arthouse film, although ambiguous and overly sentimental at times, it is a refreshing break from the super predictable Hollywood films out at the moment.

Ewan McGregor narrates as 38-year-old Oliver, a man losing direction in life. He reflects on the recent death of his father, and earlier death of his mother, and finds that solace is found in close relationships. Christopher Plummer plays a commendable role as Oliver’s dying father, challenging our preconceptions of old age and illness. It is a movie about the healing process, and we follow Oliver through his memories, archival photos and conversations to understand his grievances.

McGregor’s narration is both introspective and sincere, his voiceover illuminates the vintage photographs on the screen and links them to greater issues in humanity- independence, sex, love, hatred, happiness and emotions. There is a melancholy mood to this whole movie but there are comic moments too, especially brought about by his companion dog, brought to life by a few subtitles interpreting its thoughts.

The female protagonist, Anna (played by Mélanie Laurent) is quite an eccentric character with a mysterious background. We don’t quite ever know her properly but that doesn’t mean she isn’t likeable- especially with her gorgeous smile and endearing accent. She ignites Oliver’s romantic side, he tells his father that he wouldn’t settle for anything less than a soul mate: “I wouldn’t settle for the giraffe, I’d wait for the lion.”

As the movie progresses, Oliver’s problems don’t resolve easily but develop and grow throughout the film. As his relationships strengthen we get deeper into Oliver’s emotions and memories and his grievances swell. By returning to the opening scenes later on in the film, we see how the grievance process can illuminate the present, and how present experiences can bring new light and meaning to the past.

The film dips into issues surrounding gay rights but as the film is primarily set in 2003 it doesn’t go too much into the details, outlining the significant figures like Harvey Milk and the various Californian action groups around the 1960s.   

This film doesn’t feature amazing cinematography or dramatic scenery; it is more a human film based on people’s behaviour and minute details. It’s something the French are usually really good at, digging deep into characters with mysterious backgrounds, but Beginners is certainly a competitor.

What I gained from the film was that dependence is not a weakness, in times of need we need people, although many claim to be a ‘lone wolf’, relationships are important to our wellbeing (even if they are with cute, emotional dogs.)

A good watch that requires concentration but reminds us to appreciate the intricacies of life.

Favourite quote: “Once you are REAL, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

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