Monday 22 January 2018


Released this week to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death, I Am Heath Ledger uses hours of footage shot by the man himself, as well as interviews with some of his closest friends and family to tell us who he really was.

Produced with the blessing and involvement of his family, I Am Heath Ledger isn't a collection of recycled red carpet footage or ghastly countdown of his last 24 hours, but is in fact a well produced and very heartfelt look at what drove him as an actor and creator. It's perhaps not well known, but Heath Ledger liked to document his life via photographs and homemade videos - sometimes short films, sometimes conversations with friends and sometimes him just doing nothing. That footage is used here and helps paint an intimate portrait of who he really was behind closed doors.

Leaving home at 17 to go travelling around Australia, after finding acting work on television programme Roar, he soon made the leap to the US and stardom. As well as interviews with his family, there's also touching anecdotes from stars like Naomi Watts and Ben Mendelsohn telling stories about how after he found fame, Heath's home became a halfway house for numerous up and coming actors trying to replicate his success in LA. He was a generous spirit who didn't care for the pomposity of the Hollywood scene, and so he kept his old friends around him at all times and shared his good fortune.

It's apparent that with his leading man looks and debut role in a successful teen movie that Ledger was underestimated as an actor for far too long. This film is not a dissection of his entire career (his work in Australia is barely mentioned), however Heath Ledger is still an interesting case study of how to become a respected actor with career longevity by choosing projects carefully and opting to work with people you admire and respect. His agent recalls the time Heath was being talked about for the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, something he was quick to dismiss as something he knew he was not right for and what wasn't right for him. Instead he worked with talented directors like Ang Lee, one of the many voices here who praise his devotion to his work.

Among the revelations from the film is his interest/bordering on obsession with artists such as Nick Drake, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, all of whom died before their 30th birthday. The film does briefly ask questions about the manner of Ledger's death, but it isn't concerned with trying to find answers or indulge speculation.

Perhaps the most enjoyable element of this film is the use of his homemade footage and recordings. It's a revealing and ever expanding diary of footage that strips away any sense of Hollywood glamour or ego and shows a young man dealing with his celebrity status by finding the ridiculousness in his life. It's difficult to speculate where his career might have taken him in the last ten years, but he did seem to want to edge his way behind the camera at any given opportunity. Sure, this footage is rough around the edges and his intentions may have been for it to be for his eyes only, but there's a playfulness on show and even recurring motifs, like his spinning selfie shot that builds into something quite moving by the end of the film.

It could be easy to presume that this documentary, released on the tenth anniversary of his passing, is little more than a shoddily made, cynical cash in; but thankfully that isn't the case. What is most striking about the film is how many of his closest friends and family have come forward to talk about their admiration for him as an artist and as a man (the only real key voice missing is Michelle Williams, and her absence is understandable), and how it is able to tap into real emotion when using his self made footage to show us a side of him not always visible in his films. Extremely touching and at time heartbreaking, I Am Heath Ledger manages to avoid over-sentimentality to be a true celebration of who he was.


Extra features include more stories from family and friends and a trailer.

Saturday 20 January 2018


Now in cinemas and soon to be released via the Mubi streaming platform, Lover for a Day is the latest film by Philippe Garrel about a young woman’s love affair with her college tutor and the friendship she forms with his daughter of the same age.

Philippe Garrel's daughter Esther, recently seen in Call Me By Your Name, stars as heartbroken young woman Jeanne, moving back home to live with her father and his young lover after breaking up with her boyfriend. Her father's girlfriend, Ariane (Louise Chevilotte), is a woman confident about her sexuality and aware of the power she has to manipulate men into doing what she wants, whereas Jeanne is far more openly emotional and comparatively "girlish" in her behaviour. Through their friendship they explore their differing stories and approaches to love and heartbreak. As Ariane says to Esther upon their first meeting, "you'll get over it. We always do".

It may be set in present day, but this could have been made at any point in the last 50 years. Shot in black and white and with an adoring love of the hum of busy Parisian streets, it's an unashamed French New Wave throwback that confirms to stereotypical French attitudes towards age gap romances, but not to its detriment. Although it is easy to have presumptions about an older teacher pursuing one of his students, Lover for a Day attempts to balance this with Gilles' worries that his younger lover will inevitably make love to someone else. It's an attitude that may come off as somewhat creepy to audiences unfamiliar with this dynamic, although one would suspect that audiences wanting to see a black and white French romantic drama will be accustomed to this very, almost stereotypically, European stance.

There are disturbing hints of jealousy, such as Ariane's reaction to Gilles' arriving home from work and giving his daughter a kiss on the cheek before approaching her, and a dramatic confrontation between the three leads that reads as a father telling off his two disobedient daughters. Coupled with the casting of director Garrel's real life daughter Esther, this dysfunctional family set up is something that could be studied in textbooks.

The poster inaccurately sells this film as something sweepingly romantic or possibly erotic, but it is neither of those things. It is an exploration of sexuality and the contrasting differences between girlhood and womanhood in two women of the same age. Lover for a Day packs in a hell of a lot of relationship drama for its zippy 76 minutes running time, but thanks to the compelling performances of its two female leads it remains a bright and breezy offering that's well worth devoting your time to.


Saturday 13 January 2018


Based on Guy de Maupassant's novel and directed by Stephane Brize, A Woman's Life sees Judith Chelma's 19th Century noblewoman Jeanne spending many years dealing with a number of trials and hardships that befall her and her family.

There's a great anecdote that de Maupassant would often eat at the restaurant at the base of the Eiffel Tower, not because he liked it there, but rather because it was the one place in the city where he wouldn't have to look at the imposing structure he so despised. If true, that's an amusing story about a man with a clear sense of humour about life's many hills to climb. Which is why it's a shame that Une Vie (A Woman's Life), although pretty to look at with a fine attention to period detail, is such a dry, humourless affair. It's a bit like finding yourself trapped inside an elegant French armoire; it certainly looks nice, but it soon becomes stuffy and suffocating.

That's not to say there aren't elements of joy on show, but these invariably lead to deeper disappointments, often thanks to the antics of Jeanne's Viscount husband Julien (Swann Artaud). When his adulterous actions begin to have repercussions, the pressure is put on Jeanne to offer forgiveness, rather than on him to change. T here's a troubling, ominous darkness to be read that the literal translation from the original text, A Life, was instead interpreted as the more specific A Woman's Life. Yes, the main character as you would expect in this case is a woman, but there's an almost definitive aspect to it, as if to act as a warning that this is the best women could expect from marriage and motherhood. That perhaps may have been the case for many women in the 19th century, and for the most part the film operates as a traditional period drama that could have been made at any point in the last fifty years (shot in the boxy Academy ratio but with some abrupt editing choices that reveal its modernity), is able to deliver these themes in a way that will speak to a more gender role conscious audience fearful of such trappings.

At its best, A Woman's Life is a misery memoir that wouldn't be out of place alongside British social realism, except with period drama details. Jeanne's life of wealth and privilege should be enviable, but it's a life of love, passion and ultimately disappointment. It is a tale of immense hardship and tough times that the lead character is forced to endure, that only thanks to the performance of Chelma doesn't become too draining an experience.