Short Cuts: Explore the wider world of cinema
A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN ★★★★
(R) 116 minutes. Cinema Nova, opens Thursday
Part Rocky, part Midnight Express, and part Beau Travail, this adaptation of Billy Moore's best-selling memoir about his three years in some of Thailand's most infamous jails is a harshly immersive experience – it pummels you into a state of rapt attention, so that you begin to appreciate the close attention paid to the masses of male bodies, the intricate internal rhythms of jailhouses, and the combative fury of English actor Joe Cole. As Moore, a boxer and junkie living in Bangkok, he embodies both physical and psychological torment through a self-destructive rage and cruel selfishness. French director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire eschews explanatory dialogue, so that you have to figure out the dynamic of Billy's dormitory through the brutal violence and – when he gets on to the Muay Thai fighting team – the shared rituals. There are snatches of a respite with a transgender inmate, Fame (Pornchanok Mabklang), but the tenderness only accentuates the deprivation and bloodletting, which is amplified (literally in the case of one beating) by a cacophonous sound mix. Redemption has rarely been so remarkably depicted.
A Prayer Before Dawn pummels you into a state of rapt attention.
PALESTINIAN FILM FESTIVAL
palestinianfilmfestival.com.au. Cinema Nova, Wednesday October 4 to Sunday October 7
The transition from adolescence to adulthood is framed by fascinating, region-specific circumstances in the documentary What Walaa Wants (★★★½, 15+, 89 minutes). First seen as a 15-year-old in 2011, when her mother returns home to the West Bank city of Nablus after eight years in an Israeli jail for assisting a planned suicide bombing, Walaa is a gregarious teenager who blasts Usher from her bedroom and cheers excitedly while watching Arab Idol. She's not fiercely political, but the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is an ever-present element in her personal and public life: "No-one has offered more martyrs," her mother proudly says of their community. Walaa's family is opposed to her joining the Palestinian Authority's police force, but she perseveres, only to then struggle with the discipline embodied by her demanding female instructor. Canadian filmmaker Christy Garland charts Walaa's growth over six years, capturing domestic spaces and the lives they nourish that is contrasted with the parade ground displays and eventual field training. This is about more than a career choice.
SENIORS FILM FESTIVAL
acmi.net.au. Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Sunday October 7 to Friday October 12.
Alongside the recent cinema releases (Finding Your Feet) and retrospective picks (1955's Artists and Models with Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine), this program also provides a first look at new features such as Humour Me (★★★, 15+, 93 minutes). Writer/director Sam Hoffman's American independent debut is planted firmly in the Jewish-American comedy tradition, starting with a plateaued New York playwright, Nate Kroll (Jemaine Clement) whose day goes from bad to worse when his latest production is shelved and his wife takes their son and leaves him. He fetches up with father, the wise-cracking Bob (Elliott Gould), in a New Jersey retirement community, from where he begins a recovery that is predictable but nonetheless pleasing for its irascible family love, flipping of the generational qualities, and adept use of the female supporting cast. There's a touch of the just passed Neil Simon in the gently sarcastic humour that serves as emotional buoyancy, and the leads know how to work it.
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