VIFF 2011 Reviews: Rolf Harris Paints his Dream, Play, No One Killed Jessica

Rolf Harris Paints his Dream. UK, 89 min.

Because I liked director Vikram Jayanti’s previous film, The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector, and because Rolf Harris regularly blew through Vancouver in the 1960s, I was expecting great things here — a touch of nostalgia, a scent of ambiguity. I should have known better: nostalgia, it has been said, is not what it used to be; and ambiguity is too slippery for a subject as extroverted and ingenuous as Rolf Harris. True, we get flash-backs to BBC variety shows of the 60s, with Harris bouncing about like a kangaroo. But the main theme is Harris’ series of four paintings of Titania falling in love with donkey-headed Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For each Titania, the eighty-year-old Harris chooses a British model or actress, well-known in the UK perhaps, but unfamiliar to Canadian audiences. The result is four striking paintings of four Titanias whose demeanours range from the imperious to the amorous. Who knew that Harris was so talented. The film includes cuts from the 1968 film featuring Judi Dench as Titania. There’s also a mass concert in Glastonbury in which the audience sings “Tie me kangaroo down, sport” to the tune of “Land of hope and glory”. There is no mention of Harris’ “two good amigos, Nick O’Tene and Al K. Hol”.

Summary: If you are old enough remember Rolf Harris, this will strike a chord.

Play. Sweden, 118 min.

Two hours of cringe as a gang of five immigrant black teens threaten and con a trio of Swedish kids with the intention of swiping their cell phones. Adding to our discomfort is the passiveness of the three victims, who play along with their aggressors through a sense of fair play combined with fear. Simple assertiveness (or the intervention of passers-by, who pass by) would have released them. As the teens move through Göteborg, director Ruben Östlund lets the drama play out in a sequence of one to five minute scenes shot in middle or long distance before a static camera. The resulting distance magnifies the audience’s feeling of helplessness. The implied racism in this film will not escape your attention. But does Östlund want us to abhor the criminality of black immigrants or the neutrality and passiveness of native Swedes?

Summary: Recommended, but not for the faint-hearted.

No One Killed Jessica. India, 137 min.

Oh, no. The intro credits tell us that this is based on a true story. Yes, well Cheez Whiz contains real cheese. The processed truth unfolds slowly (after all, the producers have allowed two and a quarter hours for the 90 minutes worth of content). When a spoiled rich kid shoots bar worker Jessica in the head for refusing to serve him a drink, the local plutocracy bribe and terrorize witnesses. When the trial (which takes six years!) finds the rich kid innocent, Jessica’s sister, Sabrina, is joined in the fight for justice by a popular television journalist. Together they expose and broadcast the corruption that led to the phoney verdict. All India is outraged. There is a mass candlelight vigil that goes on forever. The Supreme Court, always a pushover for candlelight vigils, orders a new trial. Shooter gets life.

Summary: Conventional characters in a conventional story, but some judicious editing would have turned this bloated film into something worth watching.

About aharmlessdrudge

Way back during the late Bronze age -- actually it was the 1950s -- all of us in high school had to take a vocational test to determine our interests and, supposedly, our future careers. I cannot remember the outcome, but I do recall one question that gave me pause. "If you were to win a Nobel prize, would it be in literature or in physics?" I hesitated over the question: although I enjoyed mathematics and science more than English class, I did have a couple of unfinished (and very bad) novels hidden away at home. I cannot remember what I chose back then, but the dilemma followed me to university, where I switched from mathematics to English and -- after a five-year stint in journalism -- back to mathematics. I recently retired as a professor of statistics. Retirement. What a good chance to revive my literary ambitions. I have finished a novel -- more about that in good time -- and a rubble of drafts of articles about mathematics and statistics is taking up space on my hard disk.
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