Lynden Barber

Lynden Barber

Lynden Barber is a film and TV commentator of three decades standing and a screen studies teacher, with credits including reviewing for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and The Guardian, and artistic directorship of Sydney Film Festival. He has reviewed films for Limelight since 2007.


Articles by Lynden Barber

Film Review

Review: Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave)

Theatre and opera directors have been staging modern-dress productions of the classics for decades. Filmmakers were slow to follow, probably due to the naturalistic tendency so often assumed to be inherent to the medium. But since Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Julietand Richard Loncraine’s Richard III(set in the Fascist 1930s) perhaps that’s started to change. For his directorial film debut Ralph Fiennes has transposed the least often performed Shakespearean tragedy from Roman times to present-day Europe, a decision that mostly makes perfect sense. This is, after all, a story of a leader whose overweening pride alienates him from the people he is meant to serve – and there’s no shortage of current candidates for that description. Indeed modern resonances crop up everywhere you look, from the Iraq war (the scenes of ferocious urban combat) and the 1990s Balkan wars (helped by the film’s being shot in and around Belgrade) to the post-GFC civil disobedience seen recently in Greece and Spain. Fiennes, who previously played the title role in a celebrated London theatre, makes a suitably haughty and intense Coriolanus, while Vanessa Redgrave is in terrific form as the general’s influential mother.   Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per…

February 23, 2012
Film Review

Review: The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

Movies fêted amid the hothouse atmosphere of a film festival often disappoint when seen in the cooler environment of a commercial release. Not so with this glorious, black-and-white comic tribute to silent cinema. After dazzling viewers at Cannes last year, when it seemed to come straight out of nowhere, it turns out to be an inventive and deliriously entertaining charmer that instead of going for knowing send-up or ironic pastiche, expresses genuine love and appreciation for early Hollywood. French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius was previously known for OSS 117, a low-brow espionage spoof popular enough in France to produce a sequel, but The Artistmanages to be both broadly accessible and sophisticated in its understanding of cinema. It’s helped enormously by the freshness of its two stars, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, who respectively play silent matinee idol George Valentin, and Peppy Miller, the dancing flapper girl who adores him before a reversal of fortune sees them swapping places in the public’s affection (the theme of the talkies killing off the silent era fondly echoing the classic musical Singin’ In The Rain). There’s no dialogue, of course, but there is a gorgeous score – and a cute… Continue reading Get unlimited digital…

February 1, 2012
Film Review

Review: The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar; Antonio Banderas)

Like fellow Spaniard Luis Buñuel, Pedro Almodóvar has developed a sense of style so unique his films occupy an idiosyncratic genre all of their own. In his later films that invariably means campy, over-the-top plots played utterly straight amid an orgy of sumptuous design. On one level his latest, adapted from a novel by France’s Thierry Jonquet, is a luridly macabre melodrama with enough outlandish plot developments to fuel three separate movies. But on another level it offers up a fascinating meditation on beauty, sexual obsession and the putative male desire to mould, gaze upon and own the female body. It begins with a skin surgeon (Antonio Banderas) who keeps a beautiful woman (Elena Anaya) as a compliant prisoner in his palatial home. How she came to be there is a long shaggy dog story that unfolds with a farcically complicated series of twists and flashbacks. These include a scene where the surgeon’s half-brother arrives on his doorstep wearing a tiger costume as if this is perfectly normal behaviour. Georges Franju’s 1960 classic horror Eyes Without a Faceis an obvious touchstone but the new film is more ridiculous than horrific. Yet despite this – the Almodóvar paradox? – the result is oddly…Continue reading Get unlimited…

January 9, 2012
Film Review

Review: The Women on the Sixth Floor (Fabrice Luchini; Carmen Maura; Philippe Le Guay)

Sadly, comic acting is usually overlooked in film awards due to the prejudice that deems laughter to be worthy of suspicion. It’s a particular shame when you come across a performance as subtle and expertly judged down to the very last detail as the one given by France’s Fabrice Luchini in this expertly crafted upstairs-downstairs comedy set in 1962. Luchini, known locally for comedies such as Molièreand the recent Potiche, plays Jean-Louis, a grumpily middle-aged bourgeois gentleman who takes refuge from his souring wife (Sandrine Kiberlain) by getting to know the Spanish maids who inhabit the top floor of their upscale block. Here he discovers a world he previously had no idea existed, a warren of tiny rooms without even the benefit of running water. Yet, despite their deprivation, the women (including his new maid’s aunt, played by former Almodovar favourite Carmen Maura) display a spirit of cameraderie he finds life-affirming; the whinger starts to loosen up and discover a sense of joy in his life. Director and co-writer Philippe Le Guay deploys a gift for wry observation with a deftly understated approach that defuses the danger of triteness and makes the film a satisfying experience. Continue reading Get unlimited…

December 15, 2011
Film Review

Review: Birthday (Natalie Eleftheriadis, Kestie Morassi, James Harkness)

An endlessly meandering Australian drama set mostly inside a brothel during a single day, Birthdayhas its origins – rather too obviously – in a stage play by the film’s writer-director, James Harkness. An examination of love, sex and faith in a hard-bitten world, the film has a heart and a trio of fine performances from Natalie Eleftheriadis and the always highly watchable Kestie Morassi (Zarah Garde Wilson in Underbelly) as Emma and Lily, two sex worker friends, and Richard Wilson as Joey, a shy young man in crisis. But what seem to be good intentions are undone by slack pacing, a low octane bordering on non-existent narrative and a serious lack of dramatic juice that shows the writer hasn’t given nearly enough thought about how to effectively reconfigure his stage production for the big screen. In place of cause and effect interactions that advance the story we get a seemingly endless stream of intimate conversations, where characters tell each other how they feel rather than showing it through their actions. As much as I wanted to be moved by Eleftheriadis, who played the role on stage, there’s never the dramatic context needed to make her fine acting…Continue reading Get unlimited…

October 26, 2011
Film Review

Review: Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams)

There’s a case to be made that Woody Allen’s career has been grievously underrated in its autumnal stage, especially some of the films made in Europe such as Matchpointand Vicky Cristina Barcelona, both reviewed somewhat grudgingly. In future years Midnight in Pariswill bolster a more upbeat view of his later films. The story is certainly familiar Allen fare, its fantasy scenario in the spirit of The Purple Rose of Cairo. An artistically frustrated contemporary Hollywood screenwriter (Owen Wilson) is repeatedly spirited into the artistic bohemia of 1930s Paris during a visit to the city with his materialistic fiancee (Rachel McAdams). Offered lifts in a vintage limousine during his solo night walks, he hobnobs at elegant soirees with the likes of Cocteau, Picasso, Hemingway, Dali and Stein, and falls for a beautiful artist’s muse (Marion Cotillard). Even by Allen’s standards, the dialogue is consistently witty, the supporting performances full of delight – Adrien Brody’s Dali and Kathy Bates’s Stein are two of many. And adding depth to the comedy is a smart thematic idea: that golden ages are never golden to those living through them, who merely hanker to escape their own period too. Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from…

October 13, 2011
Film Review

Review: The Eye of the Storm (Geoffrey Rush; Judy Davis; John Gaden)

Patrick White’s intimidating literary reputation may have formed a barrier to his novels hitting the screen before now. But director Fred Schepisi, screenwriter Judy Morris and a dream cast headed by Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis and Charlotte Rampling have done such a magnificent job in bringing his 1973 The Eye of the Stormto the screen that it would be no surprise to see further White adaptations in its wake. In this brisk and handsomely mounted tragi-comedy Rampling (made up to look older than she is) plays eccentric and controlling matriarch Elizabeth Hunter, who mischievously holds court over her household – two nurses, a housekeeper (an overly fruity Helen Morse) and her just-arrived offspring, actor Sir Basil (Rush) and cash-challenged princess Dorothy (Davis). The siblings are more interested in their own inheritance and – in Basil’s case – sexual conquests than their mother’s deteriorating health, the ostensible reason for their sudden return from Europe. Parallels with King Lear(explicit) and Bergman’s Cries and Whispersare obvious, only here tart comedy takes precedence over tragedy. The leads make a meal of their roles in the best possible sense, while the director’s daughter, Alexandra Schepisi, makes a major impression as love-seeking…Continue reading Get unlimited digital access…

September 15, 2011
Film Review

Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Vivian Wu; Russell Wong; Wayne Wang)

Lifelong female friendship is the subject of this lush weepie, in which a pair of interlinked tales unfold in two timeframes: the 21st-century Shanghai of skyscrapers and business careers; and 19th-century Hunan province, a world of foot-binding and female subjugation. In the modern frame are Nina (Li Bingbing) and her Korean foster sister Sophia (Gianna Jun) – two laotongor soul sisters, bound together for life even when physically apart. In flashback unfolds the older story in which two equivalent laotong, Snow Flower and Lily, are played by the same actors. Parallel narratives can be tricky to pull off, but Snow Flower’s director Wayne Wang and co-screenwriter Ronald Bass had already mastered the form in their satisfying 1993 adaptation of Amy Tan’s novel, The Joy Luck Club.Here Bass returns, joined by two co-writers, though something has gone awry. Lisa See’s source novel was set entirely in the 19th century. In adding the modern framing story, the writers have added complication without the necessary dramatic clarity or emotional resonance. As a result, while the film is undeniably lovely to look at, it’s somewhat remote. We’re told there’s deep emotion on the screen, but it’s hard to feel it. Continue reading Get unlimited digital access…

August 23, 2011
Film Review

Review: The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet)

French animator Sylvain Chomet won a lot of fans with his resolutely charming The Triplets of Bellevilleeight years ago. His follow up is based on an unproduced, late 1950s script by the master French comedian and filmmaker Jacques Tati ( Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday; Jour de Fete). An aging French conjuror, finding himself out of step in the raucous new rock‘n’roll era, travels to the UK – initially London – in search of an audience. In a coastal Scotland village he befriends a teenage girl who believes his tricks are genuine magic and follows him to Edinburgh, where they share digs in a boarding house populated by fellow vaudevillians and undergo a series of adventures. The film is best thought of as a fond homage to Tati from a sympathetic admirer rather than a literal attempt at realising his intentions (the original script took place largely in Prague and, of course, Tati never worked in animation). In this it succeeds exquisitely, capturing the spirit and feel of Tati’s understated, silent-era-inspired comedy, with its digs at the modern world, yet reinterpreting in the light of the animator’s distinctively stylised vision. In a film bathed in visual felicities, Edinburgh has never looked lovelier….

August 8, 2011
Film Review

Review: Pina (Wim Wenders, Pina Bausch, Tanztheater Wuppertal)

In contrast to Hollywood’s fondness for ugly 3D cash-ins, Wim Wenders has approached the new medium as a chance to rethink cinema’s possibilities; using it to more effectively capture the pure physicality of dance, that most visceral of art forms.  The result is a glorious aesthetic breakthrough. This is less a film “about” Pina Bausch, the celebrated German choreographer, who died in 2009 after helping the director plan the project, than it is a film (in his words) “for” her. Instead of being handed facts that could be more readily imparted by a literary biography, we are immersed in her startling dance work (including a lengthy, breathtaking opening sequence devoted to The Rite of Spring) and invited to examine her philosophy and work methods via brief interviews with members of her Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.  No one tells us that Bausch was one of the greatest choreographers of recent times.  The director’s high-grade 3D cameras make this obvious,…Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per month Subscribe Already a subscriber? Log in

July 12, 2011
Film Review

Review: Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh, Emily Browning)

It’s easy to see why Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beautywas invited into the Cannes film festival’s prestigious official competition, a rare honour for a directorial debut. Understatedly strange, erotic, quietly surrealistic and slightly disturbing, it’s a striking film that immediately marks out its Australian writer-director as a confident new cinematic voice. The simple though often deliberately perplexing tale finds beautiful university student Lucy, played with magnificent self-possession by Emily Browning, taking on a part-time job where she allows herself to be drugged and sexually used by rich, elderly men for reasons that aren’t completely clear. In content and style terms the film is so unlike 99.99 percent of those released it’s tempting to call it boldly original, though Leigh’s ambiguous co-mingling of reality, the subconscious and sexual desire owes much to the dreamscapes of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shutand David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. The perverse female sexual parables of France’s Catherine Breillat (whose last film interestingly was also called Sleeping Beauty) are…Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per month Subscribe Already a subscriber? Log in

June 21, 2011
Film Review

Review: Mad Bastards (Brendan Fletcher, Dean Daley-Jones, Lucas Yeeda)

There’s a scene near the start of this Aboriginal drama when a muscly indigenous man gets into a vicious bar-room fight. For a moment it looks as if director and co-writer Brendan Fletcher’s debut feature is going to turn into an Australian answer to 1994 Kiwi hit Once Were Warriors– an unflinchingly powerful “social problem” picture focusing on the indigenous underclass. Actor Dean Daley-Jones even looks remarkably similar to that film’s male lead, Temuera Morrison, who played a Maori given to fits of domestic violence. But soon the energy levels relax and the film turns into a gentle road journey in which TJ (Daley-Jones) travels from Perth to the remote Kimberley to see his estranged son Bullet (Lucas Yeeda). In a parallel plot strand, Bullet is arrested for a petty crime and sent to a training camp where juveniles are taught traditional desert survival skills. The film suffers from its too-understated narrative instincts, which see the twin stories often drifting and allows tuneful song…Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per month Subscribe Already a subscriber? Log in

May 19, 2011