Looking at the news headlines consuming Australia right now, it’s easy to feel powerless and disheartened. And then you read about campaigns like #AuthorsforFiries and are recharged by the ability of creative endeavour to help heal hearts and make a real difference.
It’s in that spirit that we’ve curated a collection of ten of SBS On Demand’s finest films about artistic excellence.
Loving Vincent (2017)
Stunningly rendered in oil-painted rotoscope animation, this Oscar-nominated love letter to Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (voiced by Robert Gulaczyk) is dreamy. Referencing 130 of his paintings, it took seven years for directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman to painstakingly put together this remarkable tribute. The premise sees postmaster’s son Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) attempt to deliver van Gogh’s final missive to beloved brother Theo (Cezary Lukaszewicz). At its heart is the question: what drives a man to live and die through the brush? Watch out for Chris O’Dowd and Saoirse Ronan in painted form too.
Loving Vincent is available from Friday 17 January at 9.30pm at SBS On Demand:
Camille Claudel 1915 (2013)
While we’re on the subject of latter-day tragedy in an artist’s journey, Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche is magnificent in the role of the gifted French sculptor Camille Claudel in this sombre hymn from director Bruno Dumont. Crushed by cruel patriarchal forces that did not view her pioneering work as equally important to former lover Auguste Rodin, she was committed to a mental asylum at the insistence of devout brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent). Spending the last three decades of her life there, no longer permitted to carve beauty from stone, this is a cry for justice across the ages.
A Quiet Passion (2016)
Sometime New York mayoral candidate and Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon was an inspired choice to play seminal American poet Emily Dickinson in Sunset Song writer/director Terence Davies’ swift-witted and sublime celebration. Bringing her flinty steel and flickering fire to the role, Dickinson was largely unrecognised in her time, confined to her family’s rambling home. Stealing silence in the wee hours of the night to write, and leaning on the love of her sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle), this is a fitting monument to her tireless endeavour.
Monsieur Chocolat (2016)
Belle Époque Paris fell head over heels for black circus star Chocolat, AKA Rafael Padilla, a former slave indentured in Cuba. Recruited by struggling performer Georges Foottit (James Thiérrée), they forged the classic straight/silly double act. Played with abundant charisma by The Intouchables star Omar Sy, the pathway towards movie stardom via the Lumiere Brothers, like so many of the subjects on our list, unravelled like a big tent collapsing. Facing racial prejudice when he attempts to expand his repertoire, it’s a timely reminder of barriers that exist to this day.
Ernie Dingo is outstanding in the central role of leading man Robert Tudawali, the first Aboriginal actor to star in an Australian movie. While Charles Chauvel 1955 classic Jedda, nominated for the Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, is an important part of our cinematic history, its racial politics are also deeply complicated. Directed by Steve Jodrell, Tudawali is a powerful examination of these themes, tracing Tudawali’s incredible rise to fame, only to flame out far too soon.
Emmanuelle Devos is magnifique in the central role of hard-scrabbling French feminist writer and bisexual woman Violette Leduc in this inspired literary biopic from writer/director Martin Provost. Wearing herheart on her sleeve from post-WWII poverty to the startling success of raw memoir The Bastard, an all-consuming fire for philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (an also brilliant Sandrine Kiberlain) is at the heart of this movie. Celebrating female creativity and complexity in the face of social disdain and censorship, it’s electric.
Madeline’s Madeline (2018)
Helena Howard stuns in her debut role in Josephine Decker’s staggering psychological thriller of sorts, hung on the out-there world of New York’s experimental theatre scene. A young actress with big ambitions and also mental health challenges, director Evangeline (Molly Parker) sees brilliance in Madeline, but protective and increasingly frantic mum Regina (Miranda July) fears they’re pushing her too far. A visual and emotional feast, just what is real and what’s not is muddy, part of this compelling coming-of-ager’s bizarre appeal.
Saint Laurent (2014)
A film deeply in love with the art of fabric, writer/director Bertrand Bonello’s slinky, non-linear look at the man behind the house of Yves Saint Laurent is a tempestuous, tactile treat. Gaspard Ulliel’s magnetic in the central role of the Algerian-import fashion designer, as he prepares for the whirlwind of his celebrated 1976 show alongside protective partner in business and life Pierre Bergé (Jérémie Renier). Look out, too, for Louis Garrel as destructive distraction Jacques de Bascher.
Sonja: The White Swan (2018)
If you loved the chilly brutality of I, Tonya, you’ll dig the dirt of this behind-the-scenes biopic from director Anne Sewitsky. Norwegian figure skating pioneer and three-time Olympic champion-turned-movie star Sonja Henie (Ine Marie Wilmann) cut a dash on the ice and in front of Hollywood’s cameras, but also cut down her competitors. As with Harding, the ‘White Swan’ had to deal with an abusive family favouring fame at all costs, but her having the ear of Joseph Goebbels on the eve of WWII is also an eye-opener.
The Dancer (2016)
Biopics can easily fall foul of saccharine hagiography, but not so Stéphanie Di Giusto’s sumptuous rendering of choreographic genius and inventor Loïe Fuller. Played by French music star Soko, Fuller was a contemporary rival of much better known fellow American import Isadora Duncan (Lily-Rose Depp). This warts and all look at the ugliness behind their battle for supremacy may not be strictly true, but it is fascinating to see, with hunky Gaspard Ulliel along for the ride once more, this time playing a manipulative patron.