christopher funderburg

Every day, it seems like there's more and more being written about fewer films. The internet is an endless expanse of opinioneering, but every writer seems to be working from the same limited Rolodex.

You might not know it from the 100th article you'll see this week about Hollywood in the 70's or Quentin Taratino's exploitation cinema influences, but there's a whole universe of movies out there - every now and then The Pink Smoke will be recommending a pair of films that despite their virtues rarely seem to get dredged up from the bottomlessly shallow internet morass.


bruce beresford, 1978.

"The lucky ones only lose their toes!"

If you like: gritty heist films, true crime, Bryan Brown at his most despicable, an "insider's view" of high stakes security machinations.

Like almost all of the members of the Australian New Wave that emerged in the 70’s, Bruce Beresford’s reputation has atrophied in recent years. A large part of that is due to his most famous film being Driving Miss Daisy, a movie time and culture have been particularly unkind towards - throw in that the majority of his output after his big success (Silent Fall, Last Dance, Evelyn, Mao’s Last Dancer) isn’t even compelling enough to be underwhelming and what you have is an extremely interesting filmmaker on the verge of being unjustly disregarded.

People who know what they’re talking about generally acknowledge the brilliance of Breaker Morant and Tender Mercies, but there’s a case that those two films aren’t even his best work. Money Movers is an armored car heist film based on a series of real robberies and from the get-go it announces a particularly brutal and unpredictable story, one powered by the capriciousness and violence of true crime. Like the best artworks finding their basis in true stories, it takes careful note of the details - its aesthetic force comes from the surprises of authenticity and the way reality has a tendency to eschew cliche. It’s a film loaded with corruption and duplicity, betrayal and reversal, none of it contrived.

Released in 1978, the film failed at the box office just as most of the major Australian New Wave directors were either jumping ship to Hollywood or settling in to being regional phenomena; even when Beresford’s career was at its apex, Money Movers was more or less forgotten. The film is close to a total anomaly in his body of work: his thrillers are usually empty Hollywood nothings (Her Alibi, Double Jeopardy) and there’s almost no trace of the grime, powder-burns and dried blood of Money Movers in his other best films. It’s a movie begging to be rediscovered, a should-be classic that belongs in the pantheon of heist films.

bruce beresford, 1991.

If you like: jaw-dropping photography of gorgeous untamed Canadian wilderness, Michael Mann’s Last of the Mochicans, evangelization and apostolic ministry back-firing wildly, visions of the She-Manitou, the harrowing gauntlet.

Beresford’s spiritual adventure film about a Jesuit priest navigating the wilds of 17th century Quebec couldn’t be farther from Money Movers (and there’s almost no way to describe it without making it sound like a slog) but Black Robe is every bit as gripping as his true crime shotgun blast. An inexperienced priest travels with a group of Algonquin guides to a remote mission and while the story is about the uncertain resolution of their seemingly incompatible views of reality, God, and morality, there’s plenty of ambushes, shoot-outs, seductions and narrow escapes from horrific torture. If you want to see Sandrine Holt murder a man with a caribou hoof while he’s cumming, this is the movie for you.

If it’s remembered at all, the film usually gets lumped in with other “white man amongst the savages” films, a genre popular at the time with well-meaning liberals but one which now could not be held in lower esteem. But whatever hint of “noble savagery” there is in the material gets completely overwhelmed by August Schellenberg’s arresting, idiosyncratic performance as a dream seer and natural leader who has more reached a detente with nature than achieved harmony with it. Plus, it’s one of the few films you’ll find to portray the different native nationalities as distinct cultures with different traditions and motivations in relationship to the white settlers in their midsts - its sense of the Mohawk Iroquois is just as distinct as its sense of the French Jesuits.

Beyond that, its “white savior” ending is poignantly ironic - throughout, one of the more striking aspects of the film is the characterization of Lothaire Bluteau’s true believer missionary. Convinced of the glory of the afterlife and the certainty of God’s will, he’s unconcerned with life or death and there’s an intense interiority to his performance; he personifies the indifference to nature and man of the Catholic God. When he finally breaks down and offers a profound gesture of connection with Schellenberg, his first real act of empathy is misinterpreted as an insult and it’s utterly devastating - the priest finally connects with the concept of respecting another human being and in attempting to express it, he makes everyone furious. One of the film's central concerns is how it's literally impossible for these men to understand each other - and consequently how the priest’s commitment to conversion is utterly meaningless.

And that's what Black Robe is: a film about the relationship between two men blinkered by their belief in destiny and spiritual inevitability. It’s worth following their journey into the depths of the natural world and watching as they discover how fate will both defy and confirm their intransigent views of nature, humanity, God and each other. The Black Robe might not be a devil, but there might be a devil in the black robe.

~ MARCH 14, 2017 ~