In telling the story of the Dalai Lama, or Kundun (‘The Presence’) as the Tibetans refer to him, Scorsese portrays a man of peace bound in a tight brotherhood of monks, whose life is devoted to the Buddhist ideal of compassion. With a nearly all-Tibetan cast, the story introduces the 14th Dalai Lama as a toddler and follows him into adulthood when he is forced to escape from Tibet after communist China invades and takes control of the country. Although the film is not a definitive biography, Scorsese has adapted parts of the Dalai Lama’s 1990 autobiography Freedom in Exile for the film. The cinematography is filled with unexpected movement and odd angles, dazzling costumes and realistic settings. Composed by Philip Glass, the musical score uses traditional Tibetan vocal and instrumental forms to give the film much of its authenticity and appeal.
Directed by Richard Donner
Warner Bros/20th Century Fox
This film tells the story of a medieval knight, Navarre, and his true love, Lady Isabeau. Navarre and Isabeau escaped two years ago from the clutches of the evil Bishop who lusted after Isabeau, but they have been cursed by him. Navarre is destined to be a wolf during the night while Isabeau transforms into a hawk by day. They can never be together in human form. After rescuing an escaped thief, Gaston (the Mouse), Navarre gets him to help them in their quest to kill the Bishop and break the spell. The film follows their journey and hardships en route to the Bishop while poignantly presenting their feelings of love and suffering. With the help of the recluse, Father Imperious (the Monk) they find the way to truly be together. Shots of the landscape, castles and cathedrals capture the expanse of their journey as well as the intensity of their feelings.
Lousy Little Sixpence (G)
Directed by Alec Morgan and Gerry Bostock
This important documentary tells the story of the history behind Australian government policy of separation of Aboriginal children from their parents. It combines stills, archival photographs and film with contemporary footage and studio interviews. This is an excellent film for studying the techniques of the political documentary.
The Never-ending Story(G)
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
This is a fantastical adventure story. Attacked by schoolboy bullies, twelve-year-old Bastian seeks refuge in an old bookstore. A lover of reading, he ‘borrows’ a special book and takes it to the school attic to read. Thrust into the world of imagination he discovers the magical world of Fantasia, with all its interesting creatures, landscapes and quirky characters. He becomes engrossed in the tale and ends up entering the story and battling to save Fantasia from the terrible force, the Nothing. As the film progresses it becomes clear that this is also a story about storytelling and reading. The Nothing symbolises the loss of children’s imagination and reading, and threatens to destroy all the magical, fictional stories, places and characters.
The Princess Bride(PG)
Directed by Rob Reiner
20th Century Fox
This is a classic fairytale full of fun, frolic, adventure and quirky characters. The film begins with a grandfather reading his grandson a bedtime fairy story. As he reads, the action comes alive and we are introduced to Buttercup, the beautiful Princess, who is kidnapped by the evil Prince Humperdinck. With occasional interpolations by the grandson as the story progresses, we watch as Westley, Buttercup’s childhood sweetheart in the guise of our hero Dread Pirate Roberts, attempts to rescue her. Along the way he meets up with an accomplished swordsman and a giant who join him on his quest and help him overcome such obstacles as scaling the Cliffs of Insanity. The film is fast-paced and humorous with none-too-subtle touches of parody.
Directed by Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson and Scott Marshall
Shrek is a big green ogre who lives alone in the woods, feared by all the people in the land of Duloc. When Lord Farquaad, the ruler of Duloc, exiles all the fairytale beings to the woods, Shrek loses his peaceful life. Lord Farquaad agrees to take the fairytale beings back under one condition: Shrek must find the beautiful young Princess Fiona, who will become Farquaad’s bride. Shrek begins his quest, accompanied by his new-found friend Donkey, and viewers watch as this irreverently funny parody of fairytale clichés unfolds and leads to the inevitable happy ending. The film’s computer animation and effective visual imagery and graphics are highlights and gained the film an Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2002. This film would link well to others that parody and explore the telling of fairytales such as The Princess Bride and The Never-ending Story. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?(PG)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Buena Vista Pictures
This film is a clever parody of the hard-boiled detective story with its stereotypical detective, villains, victims, red herrings and femmes fatales. Roger, a Toon (ie a cartoon character), is framed for murder and the only person that can help him is Eddy, a detective who hates Toons. The film uses groundbreaking interaction between live actors and animated characters to create a funny tale of crime and investigation. It is also a spoof on cartoons as it contains lots of witty references to classic animation and there are cameos by some of the best-known cartoon characters in cinema history. The filming techniques that allowed this integration of live and animated characters is worthy of study as well as the humorous, parodic elements.
Film Stage 5 Apollo 13 (PG)
Directed by Ron Howard
The film is based on the true story of Apollo 13. This 1970 moon-bound NASA mission developed severe technical trouble and had most of the world watching to see if astronauts Lovell, Haise and Swigert would survive. The film also focuses on the people on the ground who are determined to bring the men home safely. Even though most viewers know the film’s happy ending the pace and editing generate suspense and tension. The slower-paced shots of the stricken space ship are dramatically intercut with shots of the frantic ground crew. The special effects and shots from space are also striking. Like the film 13 Days, Apollo 13 is a clever adaptation of a true story that is interesting and remains topical more than 30 years later.
New World Pictures
Breaker Morant is a well-crafted classic Australian film set against the backdrop of the Boer War in South Africa. The structure of the film, which utilises flashbacks to the war scenes, effectively presents events clearly and concisely. The tight direction contrasts the measured response of the courtroom with the difficulty of acting honourably in battle. The stresses put upon the soldiers in the field are perceptively conveyed when contrasted with the sterility of the court scenes. This well-crafted film invites discussion of the injustice meted out to the defendants and the portrayal of different moral and ethical systems and situations.
Careful He Might Hear You(PG)
Directed by Carl Schultz
20th Century Fox
This film, set in 1930s Sydney and based on a novel by Sumner Locke Elliot, tells the story of a young boy named PS who is caught up in a conflict between two aunts who live on either side of Sydney Harbour. The story is told from the boy’s point of view; this narrative technique allows viewers to identify fully with PS as his aunts wage a bitter custody war over his happiness. This film about childhood and family relationships is complex and compelling and provides many opportunities for classroom discussion.