Spling reviews My Octopus Teacher, Ben is Back and The Art of Fallism as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.
Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…
This week, we’re talking about a nature documentary, a coming-of-age drama and a political documentary.
Starting off with a documentary now on Netflix…
MY OCTOPUS TEACHER
A filmmaker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world.
Writer-Directors: Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed
– The documentary’s concept may seem bizarre at first but the treatment, sincerity and execution are emotive, fine-tuned and breathtaking.
– Craig Foster did his research but gleaned so much more about its intelligence, hunting, memory and defence mechanisms by locating its den and befriending it.
– Interspersing his interview footage with pure documentary moments of his daily visitations and moody cinematography, Foster’s soulful journey of healing intertwines with his obsessive discovery and kinship with the beautiful, intelligent and otherworldly creature.
– This emotional undercurrent keeps a dramatic tension to the documentary, especially after you’re made aware of the creature’s short lifespan.
– Through crisp visuals, never-before-seen nature footage, fascinating insights, heartfelt relationship and a much greater symbolic story of conservation at the core – it’s a touching and special film.
– While the title is a little clunky, some of the commentary is authentic to a fault and it serves as a low-key advert for the Sea Change project… these are minor inconveniences in the bigger picture.
– My Octopus Teacher has special significance for South Africans who share a coastline with the subject and deserves to be watched on the biggest screen possible for full immersion.
– This gentle yet stirring documentary offers a glimpse into another world with such rich insights you can’t help but be moved to positive change.
A near-perfect 9 on the splingometer!
Moving on to a drama on Showmax…
BEN IS BACK
A drug-addicted teenage boy shows up unexpectedly at his family’s home on Christmas Eve.
Writer-Director: Peter Hedges
Stars: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges and Courtney B. Vance
– Roberts is at a stage in her career where she’s gravitating to challenging performances of great substance.
– Her roles in Money Monster, Wonder, Secret in their Eyes and crossover into the TV series, Homecoming reinforce this notion.
– She’s playing opposite new kid on the block, Lucas Hedges, who is an up-and-coming star off the back of Manchester by the Sea, Boy Erased, Ladybird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
– He’s directed by his equally talented filmmaker father, who’s best known for About A Boy, Dan in Real Life and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, making this a personal project.
– While there may have been some skepticism, the natural connection works like a charm and the air of trust extends to Roberts.
– The story of a prodigal son trying to pick up the pieces has a natural tension as his mother believes the best and worst in him simultaneously.
– Exploring the tricky family dynamics, Ben is Back turns from an intense drama into a darker film as the young man tries to outrun and fix his past.
– Roberts and Hedges have a pure and believable chemistry, delivering performances that are powerful and stirring.
– The writing has a snappy feel, not far behind Manchester by the Sea for its dose of calm and sometimes cold reality.
– Ben is Back is a captivating and engaging film that works best when Roberts and Hedges share the screen.
– It’s a touching mother-son story that moves at a good pace and retains a surprising level of tension.
A solid 7 on the splingometer!
And finally a documentary now showing online as part of the Durban International Film Festival…
THE ART OF FALLISM
The Fallists want to end repression for everybody and revolutionize South Africa.
Directors: Aslaug Aarsæther, Gunnbjörg Gunnarsdóttir
– The student uprisings under the banner of #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall are addressed by participants in this political documentary.
– Using bookends of art and the artists who were inspired by these movements, the film embeds political commentary within the creative sphere.
– Visually-striking and carried forth by a pulsating soundtrack, it settles into a retrospective meditation on the awakening of the African soul and chronicle of the Fallist movement.
– Interviewing township boys, feminists and trans people, the documentary takes a unique perspective with an interest in progressive students and the sexual and social politics of the Must Fall protests.
– It successfully captures the anger and frustration of disillusioned youth turned activists who feel invisible and disenfranchised by the legacy of colonialism.
– Unfortunately, the messaging is scattershot, acknowledging contradictions and establishing the groundswell to the protests but never leading to definitive answers.
– Some of this confusion may have been caused by the outside perspective of the Scandanavian filmmakers and the choice to shoot almost entirely in English.
– The Art of Fallism grapples with some weighty and important themes and captures the zeitgeist but struggles to build a sturdy soapbox in the process.
– Addressing important issues relating to the pain of black people, disenfranchised youth and fighting for the future, it doesn’t tackle political party influences, alienates the concept of everyone, tags on the real achievements of the movement in the credits and would’ve been effective if they’d focussed on one subject or story as in Rehad Desai’s Everything Must Fall.
A satisfactory 6 on the splingometer!
So just to wrap up…
MY OCTOPUS TEACHER… spectacular cinematography, insightful commentary and overarching symbolic magnitude guide this heartfelt conservation story… A near-perfect 9!
BEN IS BACK… two powerful co-leads and sharp writing drives this intense, taut, thoughtful and touching coming-of-age drama… A solid 7!
THE ART OF FALLISM… while scattershot, this provocative political documentary gives voice to the pain and disillusionment of several youth movements… A satisfactory 6!
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