When the Film Festival screening of Animal Kingdom finished, my companion and I turned to each other and realised that neither of us had breathed for the last five minutes. The tension that had been slowly building throughout the film had become almost unbearable and director David Michôd’s Shakespearean climax was no less than the rest of the film deserved.
Seventeen-year-old “J” (extraordinary newcomer James Frecheville) goes to live with his Gran and his Uncles when his Mum overdoses. The family are more than petty criminals but less than gangland royalty – bank robbers and thugs rather than black economy businessmen. Gran (Jacki Weaver) seems like a nice enough sort, though, and the family pulls together despite the constant pressure from the local fuzz.
I watch a lot of movies in this job and this week I’d like to start with a couple of important tips that will help keep your cinema-going experience in top shape. Firstly, ice cream. Avoid tubs of ice cream if possible because you have to look down every scoop to make sure you’re not scooping ice cream into your lap and every time you look down you miss something important on the screen. This is particularly important for subtitled films.
Secondly, when your local cinema schedules an arthouse film that hasn’t been previously programmed by the Film Festival, ask yourself why that might be before committing to a ticket. Case in point: Leaving (aka Partir) a modern day updating of the Lady Chatterley story starring Kristin Scott Thomas. She plays a well-off married woman named Suzanne who makes the tragic mistake of falling for the Spanish builder who is working on her house. In short order she realises that her marriage (though materially successful) is loveless, leaves her snobby surgeon husband (Yvan Attal) and the kids to shack up with her new lover (Sergi López) and tries to start a new life without all the bourgeois home comforts.
It seems to me that every French film that makes it to New Zealand is about the same thing: the clash of cultures between the well-off, culturally sophisticated but somehow not quite real, middle-class and the salt-of-the-earth working people, and the dangers of the two mixing. Sometimes those dangers play themselves out comedically (The Valet, Welcome to the Sticks), sometimes dramatically (Conversations with My Gardener) and sometimes tragically as we have here. And Leaving is tragic in more ways than one.