Fast food on filmDan Slevin
The store is owned by legendary Jiro Ono - 85 years old at the time David Gelb’s documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi was produced in 2010 - and his attention to detail and care for quality sets him apart from most restaurateurs in any genre. He’s been making sushi for a living for more than 70 years and the great foodies of the world make pilgrimages to his tiny location, to sit at one of the nine stools at the counter, hoping for a grandstand seat to watch the great man create.
Meanwhile, in the background, Jiro’s oldest son Yoshikazu quietly bides his time, waiting to inherit the business, wondering when his esteemed father will finally hand over the keys. And - for this reviewer - it’s the family dynamic that makes the film so interesting. As a mostly non-seafood - totally non-sushi - eating patron, I found the long slow-motion, lovingly crafted, shots of raw fish preparation and presentation to be the opposite of alluring - particularly when it came to octopus - but the portrait of an obsession and of a family either trapped or liberated by culture and expectation (take your pick) was never less than fascinating.
Caught in a different kind of trap, in The Deep Blue Sea Rachel Weisz plays Hester Collyer, a young woman in repressed post-war London, escaping from a passionless marriage into a loveless affair. Based on Terence Rattigan’s famous contemporary play, The Deep Blue Sea doesn’t open out much from the stage, a choice which ideally suits the material. Hester is confined - in fact all the characters are - and the tiny rooms of the boarding house where she lives only confirm her lack of choices.
Director Terence Davies made his name in the 1980s with Distant Voices, Still Lives which took an autobiographical look at working class Liverpool life during the same period and his understanding of the emotions and desires that boil away behind the net curtains of ordinary terraced houses remains undiminished. Weisz is excellent - I wonder whether the character was as frustrating to her contemporaries as she is to a modern audience. Tom Hiddleston (Loki in The Avengers) is her ex-fighter pilot boyfriend struggling with his own post-war ennui but the standout performance is by Simon Russell Beale as the cuckolded judge who still loves Hester but who simply cannot nudge his principles one bit in favour of anyone’s happiness.
Finnish film Letters to Father Jacob feels like a short film extended beyond its natural life, even though the running time is only 75 minutes. Kaarina Hazard is Leila, pardoned from her prison sentence (rather than paroled) to her own surprise. On release she is sent into the care of blind priest Jacob (Heikki Nousiainen) who fends for himself rather intrepidly in a falling down house in the woods. Leila’s job is to read his mail to him and transcribe his replies and he gets a lot of mail as his prayers provide considerable comfort to the suffering and questioning.
At first Leila thinks about taking advantage of this poor innocent but soon enough her conscience starts to reveal itself - around the time I started to drift off to sleep. Let me be clear, I don’t entirely blame the film for my slumbers. It sets out to tell a meaningful story of redemption in a careful, considered and thoughtful way. It is jolly slow though.
And after years of no prison redemption stories, two come along at once. 33 Postcards is an Australian-Chinese co-production about a Sydney prisoner (Guy Pearce) who receives a surprise visit from the Chinese orphan (Zhu Lin) he has been sponsoring for ten years. His surprise is no less than hers as she was expecting to meet a handsome park ranger with a happy family, but she soon bounces back and goes awol from her touring choir in order to build a relationship with the man she calls “father”.
Lin’s character Mei Mei is about sixteen years old and that appears to be the target age for the film, considering the broad-brush characterisations and the notable lack of cursing from any of the hardened crims behind the Long Bay bars. It’s nice to see Pearce in a lead role for a change and his work here seems to belong in a different class of film entirely. Also of note, 33 Postcards is co-written by Sydney-based New Zealander Martin Edmond whose screen credits include the NZ-Chinese story Illustrious Energy which was briefly re-released last year.