It’s my big Italian film festival!


This is the time of the year when Australia really goes Italian; and by that I don’t mean we suck up more strands of spaghetti into our mouths and pile up the pizza, washed down with Sambuca, Aperol or Peroni beers. No, no, no, this is when the best Italian films of the previous year or so hit the big screens in the big cities, and we say benvenuto to the Italian Film Festival.


Like the other foreign language film festivals in Australia, which I cover regularly on this blog, the Italian festival has been growing in in popularity each year since its inception in 2000. Back then, it offered 16 features; this year, by my count, there are 38.

The festival has been running in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra for more than a week, and only just started in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, but carries over into the first half of October, when it starts in Hobart (details at bottom).

01_BOYS CRY -®Pepito Produzioni_sm

So far I have seen only one film,  BOYS CRY (La Terra Dell’Abbastanza), a gripping drama in which two young men played by Andrea Carpenzano (above, left) and Matteo Olivetti (right) are drawn into Rome’s criminal underworld and gang warfare. The more they get drawn in, the harder it is to get out.

I’m planning on going on a big binge of Italian cinema in coming days, and while there are other dramas I’d like to see, usually I go for the comedies. Here are some that look promising.


MY BIG GAY ITALIAN WEDDING (Puoi baciare lo sposo) – based on a hit play, this is described as a “chaotic, heart-warming trip to the altar” as a young man travels to his conservative hometown (where his conservative father is the mayor) to marry his big bear of a fiancé. Expect some disgruntled growling from the mayoral offices!


Put nonna in the freezer

PUT NONNA IN THE FREEZER (Metti La Nonna In Freezer).  When her grandmother dies, a young woman has to put her in the freezer, so to speak, to receive her nonna’s pension and make ends meet. Then a cop enters her life and “amidst ingenious deceptions, disguises and misunderstandings, the young woman’s scam will begin to melt like a frozen grandmother in the sun”.


Love and Bullets 2

LOVE & BULLETS (Ammore e Malavita) won the Best Film at the Italian Academy Awards and many other international awards. It’s described as a “hugely entertaining mafia musical” involving a family of schemers whose latest plan is jeopardised by true love.


  • Sydney: 11 Sept  – 7 Oct, Palace Norton Street, Palace Verona, Chauvel Cinemas, Palace Central
  • Canberra: 12 Sept – 7 Oct, Palace Electric Cinemas
  • Melbourne: 13 Sept – 7 Oct, Palace Cinema Como, Palace Westgarth, Palace Balwyn, Palace Brighton Bay, Kino Cinemas, The Astor Theatre
  • Brisbane: 19 Sept – 14 Oct, Palace Barracks, Palace Centro
  • Adelaide: 19 Sept – 14 Oct, Palace Nova Eastend, Palace Nova Prospect
  • Perth: 20 Sept – 10 Oct, Cinema Paradiso, Luna on SX
  • Hobart: 18 Oct – 24 Oct, The State Cinema

Let’s do the SLAFF!


Last night was the start of a special event, the Sydney Latin American Film Festival. What makes it special Let me quote from the “About” section of the SLAFF website:

We are a not for profit organisation and funds raised from tickets sales are injected into social justice, environmental and community development organisations in Latin America and Australia. Over the past 12 years, our Community Support Program has raised more than $120,000. We could not have done this without our numerous volunteers, supporters, collaborators and sponsors, whose passion for promoting Latin American cinema and culture has enriched many lives.”

The video clip below gives details of which projects in Bolivia and Chile will receive grants this year.

Learning another language, travelling to places where the language is spoken and experiencing the culture first-hand, or simply watching films and listening to music in that language, have certainly enriched my life, and this is why I am a great fan of foreign film festivals. A big thanks to all the people and organisations that make them happen.

Obviously, if you are not in Sydney, you might think this festival is of no use to you, but the program is a “best of” recent South American films that might inspire you if you are looking for something to watch in Spanish, particularly, or Portuguese.

There will be films from Chile, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Panama, Cuba, and Brazil. Great armchair travel! The trailers are up on the website.

Here are some that I am particularly looking forward to seeing. This Colombian one, which was in the running to be the country’s official entry as best foreign film for the next Oscars, looks intriguing. Does he know that she knows that he murdered her father?


I like the look of this one, not only for the Peruvian Andes scenery, but also for the insight into the retablo art form.


I have to have a bit of Brazilian Portuguese in the mix, and “trial by social media” is a very modern theme, so …



If you happen to be in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane or Melbourne between mid and late November, you will be able to catch some of the Cine Latino Film Festival at Palace Cinemas. I will post the program as soon as it is announced.

French film festival sets new record


The attendance figures from the Alliance Française French Film Festival in Australia have just been released, and once again a new record has been set. All up there were 184,713 attendances – a 5.8 per cent increase on the previous year – at the 50 films screened across 23 cinemas.

FrenchfingerThe festival was especially popular in Sydney, where attendances rose by 9 per cent to 57,427, helped in part by the opening of the Palace Central Park cinema complex near Central station. The figures for the other cities are not yet available.

The most popular film was the one that got the festival off to a rollicking start,  C’est La Vie.

It will be interesting to see if the Spanish Film Festival, which has only just ended, achieved similar growth. I suspect it will.



As one festival ends, so another begins: the German Film Festival is on from May 22 to June 10 in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, to be followed shortly afterwards by the Scandinavian Film Festival (July).

Romances languages will be back in focus with the Italian Film Festival (September) and Cine Latino Film Festival (November).

Images from Pixabay.

What went wrong for Portugal at Eurovision?

Well, well, well. Eurovision can be cruel. One year you win it, the next you come last in the final. On your home territory! This was Portugal’s experience at the Eurovision 2018 final in Lisbon on the weekend.

So, unlike Salvador Sobral‘s Amar Pelas Dois (Love For Two) which won in Kiev in 2017 despite being so old-fashioned and so untypical of Eurovision, the equally untypical  O Jardim (The Garden), sung by Cláudia Pascoal, turned out to be the wrong song in the wrong time. It got just 39 points. That said, I much prefer it to Israel’s winning entry, Netta’s Toy, a song that I never, ever want to hear again!

Here is Cláudia in action.

The backing singer in the video is the woman who wrote the song, Isaura Santos, and I would have liked her to have played a more prominent part in it. She’s an interesting performer. Check this out:

Was there better options for Portugal?

Did the Portuguese “music authorities” err in their selection process for Eurovision 2018? The Eurovision entry is chosen at the annual Festival da Canção (Festival of Song). Here O Jardim scored 22 points, but so did another song, Para Sorrir Eu Não Precisco De Nada (I don’t need anything to make me smile) by Catarina Miranda. The latter was the jury’s top pick, but O Jardim won the televoting, and that clinched it for Cláudia.

Would Catarina have done any better? One thing’s for sure, the Portuguese don’t seem to go in for lively dance tunes! This is the song that came third at the Festival da Canção.

Despite the result, I am sure the Portuguese enjoyed the attention and the honour of hosting the event. Have you been to Lisbon? It’s a great city, as I explain on my travel website in a piece to coincide with Eurovision – Lisbon’s in the limelight.

Maribel Verdú driven to drink in hilarious Spanish movie

nullHola amigos! The Spanish film festival is winding up in Australia (although Perth has three more days to go). I caught seven films in all on top of a busy working schedule, so me siento orgulloso de mi mismo – I am feeling pretty pleased with myself.

The film chosen as the opening night special The Tribe – La Tribu, (click here for info and trailer) proved every bit as fun as anticipated. It’s a great feel-good movie.

Here’s another that I highly recommend. It’s actually the Spanish remake of a film made in Chile in 2016 and was such a hit that a Mexican remake soon followed, and now Spain is getting in on the act, with the marvellous Maribel Verdú (pictured above, at right) playing the lead. (Read about all three versions here).

No Filter – Sin Rodeos

I haven’t found a subtitled trailer for this yet, but you’ll get the gist of it anyway. On IMDB (the Internet Movie Data Base) the film is listed as “Empowered”.

In the film Maribel Verdú has a whale of a time going from a as-meek-as-a-mouse downtrodden woman named Paz to a lioness who roars and lashes out with her claws: revenge proves to be very sweet and satisfying.

PotionMuch of Paz’s new-found courage is down to a mysterious potion that she is given by a shonky guru whose mysticism – and some prominent advertising – somehow lures her into his den. He warns her to take only a sip, but she downs it in one go. Will she need her stomach pumped? And will she lose all her strength after it has passed through her digestive system? Or is it really the potion that has such a radical effect? Maybe the mental strength has been in her head all along, just waiting for something to unleash it.

Either way, the leash comes off the results are hilarious. The film had the audience in stitches of laughter, and it’s much funnier than the trailer above suggests.

easelSome of the best scenes involve her and her insufferable pompous, pretentious painter/artist of a husband (a superb performance by Argentinian actor Rafael Spregelburd) who seems to be suffering a chronic case of the artist’s equivalent of writer’s block.
But Paz, too, proves a dab hand with the paint, and the scene where he finally gets his comeuppance is a treasure. Anyone who has ever been bemused or befuddled by modern art will be tickled pink with the outcome.

If you happen to be a cat lover (or are exasperated by cat lovers) you should also see this film – I’m not going to say any more.

Mysterious motives in Spanish pawn movie

The Chess Player

If you want to brush up on your Spanish, French and German languages – and possibly your chess skills too – then here is the film for you: El jugador de ajedrez (The Chess Player). I saw it at part of Australia’s 2018 Spanish Film Festival, which at the time of writing is still running in Adelaide, Brisbane (till May 13) and Perth (till May 16).

A female French journalist Marianne (played by Melina Matthews) barges in at a crucial moment in a championship game involving a handsome Spaniard Diego (Marc Clotet, above) and a not so handsome fat guy. Marianne is the not the only woman in the room but she is the only lady in red and stands out amid all the black, brown and grey and the wafts of cigarette smoke. She doesn’t know much about chess, but that’s journalism for you –  journalists are expected to quickly become experts in anything they are sent to cover; it requires rapid wit and intelligence, which is why I am one, haha. Luckily for Marianne there is another suave Spaniard, Javier (played by Alejo Sauras), on hand to explain to her the finer points of chess and the mind games involved.

Needless to say, the ugly fat guy loses and the beautiful people go out to celebrate over glasses of champagne. But which handsome Spaniard will woo the French femme? More mind games!

Then things get sinister, first with the Spanish Civil War, then World War Two and the Nazi occupation of Paris. This is your cue to watch the trailer…

Just when it seems there is no hope for Diego, suddenly the chessboard is back on the table, courtesy of Colonel Maier (Stefan Weinert), who likes chess and Anton Bruckner (“the greatest composer since Beethoven” – I am with him on that one) and has a sharp mind, making interesting observations on religion and society. Diego becomes his protégé. “I hope you understand my motives,” the Colonel says. Even though I am a very intelligent journalist, I hadn’t a clue what his motives were!


El jugador de ajedrez is not a perfect film by any means but it is a gripping wartime drama, covering the whole gamut of human emotions: love, hope, despair, desperation, betrayal, courage, strength, brutality and bullying – war is the ultimate form of bullying, is it not? Don’t be put off if you don’t know much about chess: the game is peripheral to the action. This is more about how humans can be used or sacrificed as pawns. And maybe even sometimes the pawns can come out on top.

Good vibes with maternal dance tribes at the Spanish Film Festival

The Spanish Film Festival has opened in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne (until May 6), and will start soon in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth (April 26 to mid-May), with Hobart to follow on May 3-9.

SFF2018 edited (5 of 14)

This is the 21st edition of the festival, and 25 films are on show. At first glance, this pales in comparison with the recent Alliance Française French Film Festival, which featured 50 films, but Spanish language enthusiasts in Australia still have the Cine Latino Film Festival to look forward to in November, when we will see a good selection of films from Latin America. All presented by good old Palace Cinemas. Mucho gracias, Palace.

I attended a press preview of the festival recently, with a feature film and some trailers, and the one that raised the most laughs – particularly among native speakers, the dialogue is very witty – was the film chosen to open the festival, La Tribu (The Tribe). It looks like a lot of fun. I couldn’t find a trailer with English subtitles, but basically, it is about a nasty corporate type who, after a bump on the head in an accident, returns to the family that he has long since shunned, to recuperate, mainly through the maternal tribe’s dance classes.

There are some nifty dance moves that the cast had to master.

There is a fun “the making of” clip too.

I’ll discuss other films in the festival in later posts, but in the meantime have a look at them on the Spanish Film Festival website.

Incidentally, one of the sponsors of the festival is the Torres winery, and I must say I really liked this one…

SFF2018 edited (10 of 14)

I will be quaffing more of it in sensible moderation between now and closing night.


Maître Gims is back, so is Vianney. Are you disturbed?

It’s been a while since I listened to French music so I thought I’d see what some of my favourite singers have been up to. The first name I typed in Google was the “Master” a.k.a. Maître Gims. My timing was fortuitous – he has just released this third album after three years. It’s called Ceinture Noire (“Black Belt”) and already it has topped the charts in France, Belgium and Switzerland.

It’s a double album with 40 tracks on it, among them a number of collaborations, including this track, La Même (“The Same”), with Vianney, which is the No. 1 song in France at the moment. It’s very catchy, and as the video below with the lyrics shows, there is a lot of clever word-play in it.

I didn’t know much about Vianney and while I think they make great collaborators (I love Vianney’s vocals in the chorus), the fact that they had teamed up together must have raised eyebrows, for they’re quite different in style: Maître Gims with his hip-hop background, Vianney the geeky troubador. Here’s his most successful single to date as a solo artist, Je m’en vais (“I’m leaving”), which made No.2 in France two years ago.

Le Parisien did a detailed interview with Maître Gims about his latest album, you can read it here. Maître Gims says Vianney is like Ed Sheeran, but with more “urban zest”. Ouch, Ed! Still, as the following track shows, Vianney can be cheerful and chirpy too, and it has a zesty African feel (Vianney was born in France, Maître Gims in the DR Congo).


The chorus of La Même is mostly Si je vous gêne, bah, c’est la même.

  •  gêner  = to embarrass, bother, disturb.
  • c’est la même implies it’s always the same thing (c’est toujours la même, nothing changes, so what’s new.
  • bah implies contempt, disdain, exasperation! 

Say Hola or G’Day to Amaru Pumac Kuntur

I was a little surprised to find out that a band from Peru called Amaru Pumac Kuntur will be playing at The Factory Theatre in Sydney tomorrow night. The venue is just down the road from my apartment, but I won’t be able to see the Peruvians because I have a date with Scottish rockers Big Country at the same venue on the same night.


Still, they will be playing in Australia and Indonesia up until the Byron Spirit Fest in Byron Bay on April 21.

So, who are Amaru Pumac Kuntur? A folk-rock combo from Cusco who won Peru’s Got Talent in 2013, that’s who! Since then they have added a female Australian vocalist by the name of Fire Mane to their line-up.

Over to YouTube now for more on the “messengers of the mountains”, as they have been described. Here’s a live performance in Cusco (Cuzco in Spanish)

And here band members Chakira Miranda and the Aussie Fire Mane herself explain what the Rainbow Snake Tour of Australia is all about.

Good luck to them on their Australian tour. Who knows, you or I may even get to see them live in Cusco one day.

Here’s one more video for luck. The scenery is certainly stunning.


Rollicking start to French Film Festival


Australia’s biggest foreign language cinematic celebration, the Alliance Française French Film Festival, is under way in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane, and will start soon in Perth, Adelaide and Hobart. There will also be screenings next month in Parramatta and Casula, in western parts of Sydney. All up, there are 50 films to choose from.

I was lucky enough to go to the opening night party in Sydney, at the National Art School, and as always there is a wonderful selection of French food and drink to go with it. I made a beeline for le fromage, purely for photographic purposes, you’ll understand.


The opening night film, C’est La Vie, was fantastic, one of those films in which even the extras have wonderful roles to play, and you get totally absorbed in the quirks and lives of all the major and minor characters. Originally titled Le Sens de la Fête, it was a wedding party film with a difference (the focus was on the caterers) and there were many moments when the audience was laughing out loud. It’s funny and witty, and I highly recommend it – see it if you can. Here is the trailer.

The film scored 10 nominations for the 2018 César Awards, including for best film, best director (Eric Tolédano and Olivier Nakache, who were also nominated for best original screenplay), best actor (Jean-Pierre Bacri), best supporting actors (Gilles Lellouche and Vincent Macaigne), best female newcomer (Eye Haïdara, who was superb in her role), best male newcomer (Benjamin Lavernhe) as well as best editing and best sound. However, it did not win in any category, which just goes to show how strong the competition must have been. C’est la vie, eh?

My favourite character in the film, though, was the lazy, hopeless philandering photographer Guy (played by Jean-Paul Rouve), who kept scoffing all the food instead of working. He reminded me of me! (We underpaid journalists and photographers need all the nourishment we can get.) Here’s another revealing photo I took from the opening night party.


Later his nerdy photographic apprentice taught him how to download dating apps on his phone, with hilarious consequences.

Don’t Miss BPM

The festival is in its 29th year, and last year had a record attendance of 174,500. The good news is that film that dominated the César Awards this year BPM (120 Battements Par  Minute) is included in it, as are other best film nominees Au revoir là-haut (See You Up There), Barbara and Petit Paysan (listed as Bloody Milk in the festival program. These films also scored notable César Awards – details here.