There's always a set of films that pique my interest even though I've heard so little about them. As it would happen, 2011's set consisted of Vera Farmiga's Higher Ground and 'erotic fairytale' Sleeping Beauty, which I saw within 24 hours of each other. While I didn't love them, they're still worth a few words...
Vera Farmiga has always been a favourite actress of mine, especially since she completely won me over with her work in Up in the Air. So naturally, when I heard that she was going to be directing her own little film, Higher Ground, I got pretty excited. My 'excitement lights' were dimmed as the year went on, especially as her film wasn't getting any closer to a release date. Upon seeing it, I can only but wonder whether the fact that it slipped under the radar was something that was right for it, or completely wrong for it. Let's divvy it up:
This is an important film. Why? It looks at a woman's connection with faith throughout her life. As far as I'm concerned, faith and religion aren't the most prominent themes in film. Especially ones that actually look at the connect and the disconnect between someone and their religion. Most of all, it is a fairly accurate portrayal of someone processing all of the emotions inside of them. This isn't the sort of film that usually makes the rounds - well, the American rounds, anyway. Like wine, I'm sure this will only get better as it ages. However...
It isn't a particularly exciting film. For all it's possible importance, there's little holding all the shining moments together. It rolls out like a typical 'chronicle' film, teetering on the edge of 'textbook American independent films 101', repeating itself and going on such strange routes that never get fully realised. Vera Farmiga often approaches subtlety, which is something that I genuinely enjoy in films, but in this film, that subtlety never builds up to anything more - something that I felt it needed. It is a bit of a flat experience for the most part, particularly as it some of the scenes are so brilliant on their own that they don't have the glue to stick them together.
However. The performances are all great. Especially Farmiga's, which was quite different to anything I've seen her do. Plus, she's a dab hand behind the camera, too. I can't wait to see her next effort.
What I got:
Another film filled with some good scenes but not enough glue was Sleeping Beauty. Nope, this isn't a Disney fairytale. In fact, this one takes former child star Emily Browning and pits her in one of those roles that will solidify her future as an adult in the world of film, as she plays Lucy, a young university student who is driven to prostitution. Okay, it isn't really prostitution. She just gets put to sleep and men can have their way with her while she's off in the land of nod. Like I was with Higher Ground, I'm divided over this one. However, the division is so split down the middle that I really can't make sense of my feelings towards it. It is kind of like my knee-jerk reaction to I Melt with You, which ended up turning itself into immense dislike. For now, here are my divided feelings on it:
It looks good. I'd go just about as far as saying that every shot looks like a work of art. Emily Browning's performance is fantastic, too. She was pretty alright in the otherwise terrible Sucker Punch, but she really went for it in this one. Also, I'm sure there was a great yarn in there under five layers of metaphoric pretentiousness. Which is why I kept my eyes on the screen for the entire time. Although, I do admit to switching off when one of Lucy's clients had this long story to tell that probably made sense to the movie but it was done in such a dull way that I just switched off. Which leads me to my next point...
It really is pretentious. Now you can lop my head off because apparently no-one can utter that word in cinematic context but I'm sorry, that's exactly what it is. I know that first-time director Julia Leigh means well, but she's made this film with the help of "How to Trick People Into Thinking Your Movie is Really Good By Making it Arty, Volumes 1, 2 & 3". She takes this weird minimalist, subtle approach that annoyed the heck out of me because it was like sitting in an ice box: all we get is grey grey grey, cold cold cold, but never anything to connect with. Especially as I'm sure the main crux of the story doesn't happen until the last twenty minutes of the film. Sometimes knowing less turns out to be more (such is the case with Shame), but here, if there was a little bit 'knowing' this might have been a lot more successful in being a portrait of a woman indulging in a weird path of life. Instead, it basically just displays everything I dislike about artsy films. If I had downed this with I Melt with You, all hell would have broken loose.
The jury is out: I really didn't like this film.
What I got: