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“Hail”: not your usual visionary cinematic masterpiece

“Hail”: visionary cinema in an Australian accent; and about “Argo”

Playing in a small theatre at Nova in Carlton is a remarkable film, a love story, an epic of feeling and mood. But unlike the visionary efforts of the American Beasts of the Southern Wild, or the French Holy Motors, Hail is conducted entirely in broad Aussie accents.

It’s a little burning secret — even though it’s won the Age Critics Award at MIFF and the redoubtable Adrian Martin has written in The Monthly: “the year’s stand-out is a comet that seemed to shoot in from nowhere: Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Hail.”

Martin’s neat synopsis: “Daniel P Jones and Leanne Letch — playing characters based on themselves — are dogged by the usual raft of ‘underprivileged’ problems: unemployment, addiction, a criminal record, shady contacts. But their love for each other is fierce and absolute…”

The critics raved: VarietyMargaret (but not David) — read this as it’s short and includes the trailer if you prefer some exposure … Philipa HawkerAustralian Film ReviewSBS film review … Hollywood ReporterThe Vine.

Afterwards, turning to the woman beside me who had slipped in just before the film started, I have to ask, why did you come and what did you think of that?  She said, I heard it’s good, and it is , but it’s too long, too indulgent, too arty … the first bit was beautiful, the opening was very real. (The kind of conversation one would never think of prompting in a film like, say, Paranormal Activity 4.)

I took the ancient father-in-law; when I asked he said drily: Gentle, non-violent. He added, out of ten I give it zero, which is rather worse than David’s 2.5 stars. At least David allowed that the director Amiel Courtin-Wilson was, in Margaret’s words: “an artist and an important one in this country.”

So that’s the thing, the A-word. Hail is Art — it has all the mystery and beauty and penetrating power that so much video art aims for and so regularly fails to achieve. It is unsettling and memorable; it manages to combine the effect of a tone poem with a driving narrative. It is more Nan Goldin than Bill Henson. (The ancient F-i-L asked about a shot in a swimming pool,What was that? What it was was one of the many extraordinary visuals that pleat the film. It’s part of David Stratton’s complaint: “the second half of the film, where the camera goes completely out of control.” ) The poetic climax near the end has the intensity of a first viewing of 2001’s stargate sequence. But this is inner space, and Danny is a fringe-dweller, just another astronaut finding his balance on as the world spins.

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To Argo or not Argo

If you are wondering whether to see Ben Affleck’s Argo (a thriller about the rescue of six hostages in Iran in 1979), which has been mildly knocked by Buckmaster at Cinetology for not being true enough, and by Jake Wilson at the Age for not being farce enough, I say: Go.

The screen opens with the line: Based on a true story. As the great David Thomson says, “Based on a True Story, the title insists, always a warning of fraud.” Thomson wrote that of the current Nick Cave violence vehicle, Lawless. Hail is “based on the life and stories of Daniel P. Jones,” who plays the lead in the film, which is anything but straight realism. In the case of Argo, it’s at least superior Tinseltown. To quote Roger Ebert’s review of Argo, Hooray for Hollywood!

 

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