Despite having made only three feature films, Ray Lawrence is one of Australia’s most respected directors. Also a highly successful commercials director, Ray has chosen his feature projects judiciously, with all of his films navigating the slippery and often painful nature of human interaction.
His first film, Bliss, was nominated for a Palme D’Or at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, and went on to win multiple AFI awards. His second feature, Lantana, is one of the highest grossing Australian films ever made, winning critical and popular recognition including the AFI award for Best Film. His third film, Jindabyne, which starred Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney, was yet again hailed by critics, and premiered at Cannes in 2006.
Watch Lantana now at SBS On Demand.
What are your 5 favourite films at SBS On Demand?
There was a time when you could discover films for yourself, without all the hype and inevitable disappointment that goes along with it. Finding a personal gem is very satisfying. Maybe SBS have figured this out, because the choice is so varied and there’s little to go on, except for a brief synopsis, which I personally like. Or you can go with a recommendation by someone who knows what they are talking about…
1. Maryland (Disorder)
Director: Alice Winocour
Cast: Diane Kruger, Matthias Schoenaerts, Paul Hamy
French/Belgium thriller. Un Certain Regard 2015 Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone opposite Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night both at SBS On Demand and worth discovering). Schoenaerts plays a war-damaged soldier, moonlighting as a bodyguard for a wealthy family opposite Diane Kruger, a wonderful actor; unfortunately she is given little to do. It’s Schoenaerts who carries the film with a powerful interior performance. He is at the centre of the suspense which builds all through the film never letting you off the hook.
Alice Winocour, director/co-writer, has built a gripping film that doesn’t let go until the end. It’s here, at the end, in the editing room, where someone lost their courage? You tell me, judge for yourself. It’s good for discussion and definitely worth the journey.
Watch Maryland (Disorder) now at SBS On Demand.
2. Clouds of Sils Maria
Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz
Language: English, French, German
Six Cesar nominations. I have watched this a number of times. It’s a film that fascinates me. I’m drawn to every aspect of it, the cast, the way it’s made, the whole experience. But at the same time, I can’t quite figure out why it has such a strong pull on me? Like a lot of French films, maybe you just need to give yourself over to it – they do have their own special point of view.
I’ll watch almost anything that Juliette Binoche is in. She’s very reliable, making the most interesting and brave choices, both in material and performance. (See Hidden and Let the Sunshine In, both at SBS On Demand.) She embodies what I need from an actor – to be a creator in their own right and someone I can take risks with. For the most part she also manages to transcend her physical beauty, which is a curse that a lot of good actors just can’t escape. (As an aside, another actor that comes to mind that does this brilliantly is Charlize Theron, see Monster and Tully.)
Casting Kristen Stewart alongside Binoche was a brilliant choice on the part of the writer/director Olivier Assayas, who is totally at home and in control of the material and his landscape. He has a highly developed female gaze, which is evident in his other films and it plays really well here. Stewart too has the same indefinable allure as Binoche, always authentic, even in something like this, which is set in a world of wealth and privilege, making it difficult to be accessible to the audience – that is, if you work on the principle, which I do – that anyone getting out of a Porsche is going to be a disappointment.
Together, the two leads are as interesting as you can get, with a lot going on under the surface; they’re like two magnets pushing and pulling at one another. Chloe Grace Mortez, who has a supporting role, is also brilliant. Assayas has great taste and has made a wonderful film that won’t let you down, if séduire is your thing.
Watch Clouds of Sils Maria now at SBS On Demand.
3. The Conversation
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall
Can’t believe it didn’t get the Oscar. Anything I say about this would spoil it, except I think it’s flawless, one of my all-time favourites. If you love cinema and/or acting – Gene Hackman! You have to give it a go.
Watch The Conversation now at SBS On Demand.
4. The Red Balloon
Director: Albert Lamorisse
Cast: Pascal Lamorisse, Georges Sellier, Sabine Lamorisse
French. It’s only thirty-five minutes, it’s a true masterpiece. Any age group can watch it and get something out of it. I have seen it countless times with my kids and their kids, it’s always new. Awhile back Sight and Sound asked me to name my top five films. This was my number one – still is. The director Albert Lamorisse and his son, Pascal, have made magic together. The use of available light is wonderful, especially for that era, you’ll see what Paris really looked and felt like in 1956. See if you can figure out how they did the last scene, no CGI then.
Watch The Red Balloon now at SBS On Demand.
5. The Girl In The Book
Director: Marya Cohn
Cast: Emily Vancamp, Michael Nyqvist
This was a great discovery for me, found it while putting this list together. An interesting story, about men exerting their power and cheating women – nothing new there, but it’s a very intelligent and thoughtful film, written by the director Marya Cohn. Emily Vancamp gives a great performance opposite Michael Nyqvist, always good. You can feel the emotional baggage pulling on the characters every step of the way.
Watch The Girl In The Book now at SBS On Demand.
French film Harry He’s Here To Help won heaps of Cesars. Directed by Dominik Moll and co-written with Gilles Marchand, who also plays Harry (he is also a director). A fantastic actor always has something going on under the surface, especially in this. It’s an odd title, which undercuts the narrative with a creepy sense of humour. It’s a very original and totally unexpected thriller. Maybe like early Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water – sexual politics mixed with mayhem. I have watched it a few times over the years. Get comfortable first because you won’t stay that way long.
There’s so much good stuff…