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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas This Week

Head to the flicks to watch a folk-horror gem starring Noomi Rapace, a documentary about the Australian queen of honky tonk and a World War II-set drama.
By Sarah Ward
October 14, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
October 14, 2021
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Something delightful has been happening in cinemas in some parts of the country. After numerous periods spent empty during the pandemic, with projectors silent, theatres bare and the smell of popcorn fading, picture palaces in many Australian regions are back in business — including both big chains and smaller independent sites in Brisbane at present.

During COVID-19 lockdowns, no one was short on things to watch, of course. In fact, you probably feel like you've streamed every movie ever made, including new releasesStudio Ghibli's animated fare and Nicolas Cage-starring flicks. But, even if you've spent all your time of late glued to your small screen, we're betting you just can't wait to sit in a darkened room and soak up the splendour of the bigger version. Thankfully, plenty of new films are hitting cinemas so that you can do just that — and we've rounded up, watched and reviewed everything on offer this week.

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LAMB

Just over a decade ago, Noomi Rapace was The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, too. After starring in the first film adaptations of Steig Larsson's best-selling Millennium books, the Swedish actor then brought her penchant for simmering ferocity to Alien prequel Prometheus, and to movies as varied as erotic thriller Passion, crime drama The Drop and Australian-shot thriller Angel of Mine. But Lamb might be her best role yet, and best performance. A picture that puts her silent film era-esque features to stunning use, it stares into the soul of a woman not just yearning for her own modest slice of happiness, but willing to do whatever it takes to get it. It also places Rapace opposite a flock of sheep, and has her cradle a baby that straddles both species; however, this Icelandic blend of folk-horror thrills, relationship dramas and even deadpan comedy is as human as it is ovine.

At first, Lamb is all animal. Something rumbles in the movie's misty, mountainside farm setting, spooking the horses. In the sheep barn, where cinematographer Eli Arenson (Hospitality) swaps arresting landscape for a ewe's-eye view, the mood is tense and restless as well. Making his feature debut, filmmaker Valdimar Jóhannsson doesn't overplay his hand early. As entrancing as the movie's visuals prove in all their disquieting stillness, he keeps the film cautious about what's scaring the livestock. But Lamb's expert sound design offers a masterclass in evoking unease from its very first noise, and makes it plain that all that eeriness, anxiety and dripping distress has an unnerving — and tangible — source.

The farm belongs to Rapace's Maria and her partner Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason, A White, White Day), who've thrown themselves into its routines after losing a child. They're a couple that let their taciturn faces do the talking, including with each other, but neither hides their delight when one ewe gives birth to a hybrid they name Ada. Doting and beaming, they take the sheep-child into their home as their own. Its woolly mother stands staring and baa-ing outside their kitchen window, but they're both content in and fiercely protective of their newfound domestic happiness. When Ingvar's ex-pop star brother Pétur (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga) arrives unexpectedly, they don't even dream of hiding their new family idyll — even as he's initially shocked and hardly approving.

Enticing, surreal and starkly unsettling all at once, Lamb also benefits from exceptional animal performances — it won the Cannes Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize for Palm Dog, the prestigious event's awards for best canine acting — and its own savvy. It nabbed Un Certain Regard Prize of Originality at Cannes as well, but the movie's shrewdness isn't limited to its standout concept. Each patient shot that roves over the hillside, peeks through the fog, and soaks in the strain and pressure is just as astute. Each rustle, huff and jangle in the film's soundscape proves the same. Every aesthetic decision paints Lamb in unease and uncertainty, in fact, and lets its lingering gaze towards the steely Rapace, affecting Guðnason and their four-legged co-stars unleash an intense and absurdist pastoral symphony of dread and hope, bleakness and sweetness, and terror and love.

Read our full review.

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I'M WANITA

In Amy, Whitney: Can I Be Me, Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry and similar documentaries, audiences nabbed behind-the-scenes glimpses at music superstars. Via personal and candid footage not initially intended for mass consumption, viewers peeked behind the facade of celebrity — but I'm Wanita evokes the same feelings of intimacy and revelation by pointing its lens at a singer who isn't yet a household name. The self-described 'Australian queen of honky tonk', Wanita Bahtiyar hasn't given filmmaker Matthew Walker a treasure trove of archival materials to weave through his feature debut. Rather, the Tamworth local opens up her daily existence to his observational gaze. Following his 2015 short film about Wanita, Heart of the Queen, Walker spent five years capturing her life — and the resulting doco is as wily as its subject is unpredictable.  

I'm Wanita mightn't spring from a dream archive of existing footage, but it does dedicate its frames to a dream point of focus; its namesake is the type of subject documentarians surely pray they stumble across. Since becoming obsessed with Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn as a child, Wanita has chased music stardom. Her voice earned her ample attention from her teen years onwards, and her first album received rave reviews that she giddily quotes now; however, she's spent her adult life drinking, partying, and supplementing occasional gigs with sex work. Today, she's a legend in her own head, and also an erratic whirlwind. I'm Wanita charts her trip to Nashville to finally make the record she's always wanted, and yet it never paints her tale as a simplistic portrait of talent unrealised.

At home with her beleaguered Turkish husband, rustling up the cash for her big trip with fellow muso and her now-stressed manager Gleny Rae Virus, and in the studio she's always fantasised about, Wanita consistently dances to her own song. She spits out frank and pithy quotes that Walker splashes across the screen as text a little too often, too, but her determination to succeed (and her certainty about her talent) isn't matched by any skerrick of willingness to take a plain, breezy and direct route. It's to Walker's credit that he lets I'm Wanita follow its eponymous figure on that messy and meandering journey, rather than simmering down her story to fit a neat narrative. A Star Is Born, this isn't — even with a glorious closing number that could easily cap off a Hollywood melodrama.  

Indeed, this is a film about challenges, clashes, contradictions, and careening from highs to lows, with every flat note in Wanita's quest for fame and acclaim largely stemming from the woman herself. It's as rich and engaging a character study that a filmmaker could hope for, because there's simply so much to examine and interrogate (be it Wanita's complicated relationship with her mother and the impact it had on her own efforts with her now mostly estranged daughter, or her belief that alcohol improves her performance versus the reality of seeing her sauced in the studio). Crucially, this is a documentary about pluck, passion, self-belief and self-sabotage, and it steadfastly sees every extreme and everything in-between with clear eyes. In other words, it's the music doco equivalent of a country song, turning hopes and heartbreak into affecting art.

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WAITING FOR ANYA

Great intentions and great films don't always go hand in hand, with Waiting for Anya the latest example. The World War II-set drama treads a path that everything from Lore and The Book Thief to Jojo Rabbit and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit already have, exploring the conflict's impact upon young hearts and minds — and jumping, as those four other movies did, from the page to the screen. It contrasts the efforts of a French boy in Vichy France with those of Jewish children trying to stay alive, the former aiding the latter in his small village in the Pyrenees. It's a feature made with the utmost earnestness and sincerity, expectedly given the scenario. And yet, it also makes every obvious and easy choice, diluting any potential emotional impact by happily wallowing in Second World War-themed movie-of-the-week territory.

As adapted by writer/director Ben Cookson (Almost Married) and screenwriter Toby Torlesse (My Dad's Christmas Date) from a book by War Horse author Michael Morpurgo, Waiting for Anya doesn't waste any time in demonstrating its overt approach. In an early scene, shepherd Jo (Noah Schnapp, Stranger Things) tends to his flock when a bear comes a-lumbering. Soon, the Nazis will do the same. The bear couldn't be more heavy-handed a metaphor, especially in a movie that begins with Jewish man Benjamin (Frederick Schmidt, The Alienist) escaping the train to a concentration camp and secreting away his daughter Anya (debutant Dolma Raisson). In a movie that confronts the Holocaust from the outset, and also provides on-screen text explaining the historical situation, that initial animal attack can only play as needlessly blunt.

Jo and Benjamin meet because of that bear, however. And when the teen follows the stranger afterwards, he learns his story. Staying with his mother-in-law (Anjelica Huston, John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum), Benjamin is now doing exactly what the movie's moniker explains, all as other kids make their way to the same farm as a stopover before crossing the mountains to safety in Spain. Jo pledges to help, initially fetching food from the village, and hiding his actions from his mother (Elsa Zylberstein, Selfie) and grandfather (Jean Reno, Da 5 Bloods). But then the Germans arrive, making the situation far more precarious — even if one officer (Thomas Kretschmann, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels) shows uncharacteristic kindness towards Jo.

Yes, Waiting for Anya includes a friendly Nazi among its cliches, which is just one of its many poor decisions. Every character is so thinly written, they could fall over if a bear even looked their way or a stiff mountain breeze swelled up. The cast, all putting in passable performances at best, can't improve the material's sore lack of depth — or its inescapably clumsy dialogue. The choice to speak in accented English proves clunky as well, unsurprisingly, making the film feel like a relic from the 70s or 80s. And although the setting should look gorgeous and scenic, visually the sappy and overstated feature resembles one of the many fictional titles that pop up in other movies and TV shows, typically as parodies (aka the flicks listed on website Nestflix).

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If you're wondering what else is currently screening in cinemas — or has been lately — check out our rundown of new films released in Australia on June 10, June 17 and June 24; July 1, July 8, July 15, July 22 and July 29; August 5, August 12, August 19 and August 26; September 2, September 9, September 16, September 23 and September 30; and October 7.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as Lapsis, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Fast and Furious 9, Valerie Taylor: Playing with Sharks, In the Heights, Herself, Little Joe, Black Widow, The Sparks Brothers, Nine Days, Gunpowder Milkshake, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Old, Jungle Cruise, The Suicide Squad, Free Guy, Respect, The Night House, Candyman, Annette, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Streamline, Coming Home in the Dark, Pig, Big Deal, The Killing of Two Lovers, Nitram, Riders of Justice, The Alpinist and A Fire Inside.

Published on October 14, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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