50 Countries Project #3: Farewell Johnny (South Africa)

A professor, rendered inexplicably catatonic, is placed in an asylum to recuperate. There, he encounters a range of characters who all seem to embody archetypes – among them, a ranting Hitleresque figure in military uniform, a sensitive one-armed painter and a young woman with arrested development – and, with tragic consequences, falls in love.

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50 Countries Project #2: Harvest: 3000 Years (Ethiopia)

The cinema of Sub-Saharan Africa is dominated by the continent’s Francophone west; a region that has benefited from a strong film culture and a long history of French institutional funding. Look across to the east and south (South Africa itself excluded), and the offerings become sparse to non-existent. And yet, the best African film I have seen emerges not from Mali or Senegal, but Ethiopia: Haile Gerima’s 1976 masterpiece Harvest: 3000 Years (Mirt Sost Shi Amit).

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50 Countries Project #1: When the Stars Meet the Sea (Madagascar)

In the child’s dreams, the sound of the tide transforms into one of stampeding hooves in a cattle pen; a memory of a formative trauma that has left him crippled. This is the first post-credits sequence of Raymond Rajaonarivelo’s When the Stars Meet the Sea (Quand les étoiles rencontrent la mer, 1996), an at-times uneven but often impressive film that marks my first encounter with the cinema of Madagascar.

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50 Countries Project: Seeking a truly international cinema

A still from Youssef Chahine’s 1959 Egyptian film Cairo Station.

Since my teenage years, I’ve had a passion for film – particularly those films emerging from outside the Hollywood mainstream. And yet, for all my declared interest in world cinema, my tastes have been fairly predictable in their own way. A cursory look at the country-of-origin column in my list of favourite films will show that I’m seeing a lot of work from Europe and North America, a little from Asia and scarcely anything from Africa or Latin America.

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The Essendon 34 and the Nuremberg defence

People who aren’t interested in sport may have only taken (at most) a passing interest in the Essendon supplements scandal that’s plagued the AFL for the last four years. If one is at all interested in philosophy, however, the recent judgement in Switzerland is worth taking a look at, as it has serious implications on how we think about criminal culpability, personal responsibility and power.

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Notes on humanism

Humanism seems to attract some reactionary connotations nowadays. This is not without good reason: it’s a term of self-identification that has been claimed by many on the right – from Andrew Bolt to anti-feminists in the blogosphere. The reason that this term may appeal to some of these people is the same reason that it is increasingly rejected by many on the left: that it reflects an (at best) apolitical denial of privilege or class, and a refusal to join the struggle of those who are denied these advantages.

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Film dialogues: Jan Švankmajer’s Faust


Written by Jan Svankmajer (from Marlowe, Grabbe and Goethe). Read by Andrew Sachs.

Scene 1: An actor’s dressing room. Seated in front of a mirror, wearing a false beard, costume and make-up, protagonist reads from a script.

Faust: Alas, philosophy I have explored,
as well as medicine and law;
add to these, regrettably,
my studies in theology.
Yet here I sit, a foolish bore,
no wiser than I was before.
No dog can live like this;
knowledge gained is far from bliss.
So I resolve my soul to free
through blackest magic and dark alchemy.

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Film review: Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Clouds of Sils Maria

The first thing you notice about Clouds of Sils Maria is that it looks different. There’s a sense of urgency here that’s not even close to being justified by the narrative – well, in the sense that there is a narrative; this being one of those rare, refreshing films for which it can be said, for decent stretches of its running time, “nothing happens” – and it’s an urgency that can be located most obviously in its transitions and in its occasional bouts of double exposure.

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Film review: Leviathan (2014)


For Young Earth Creationists, a passage in the Book of Job is sufficient proof that dinosaurs and humans co-existed: a 34-verse description of a mythical, Loch Nessque sea creature whose comparative strength demonstrates man’s weakness and vulnerability (and thus, by extension, necessary submission before God). Its function is that of many of the allegorical works comprising the Hebrew Old Testament: a reminder to the reader to “know their place”; a reminder carved into the ruins of the Tower of Babel and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Continue reading