Fred Schepisi – The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

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This film is a dramatisation of the real-life story of Jimmy Governor, the part-Aboriginal bushranger hanged for multiple murders in 1901. A powerful and confronting story of a black man’s revenge against an unjust and intolerant society, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith was one of the most significant films of the 1970s film renaissance in Australia. Schepisi’s second film (after his highly acclaimed debut with The Devil’s Playground [1976]), reveals a natural filmmaker who tackles this powerful, dramatic, controversial and historically sensitive subject with watertight restraint. Continue reading

Fred Schepisi – Empire Falls (2005)

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This two-part HBO miniseries is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Russo. Having long since sacrificed youthful ideals and values to remain in his New England hometown for the sake of his family, middle-aged Miles Roby (Ed Harris) finds his “secure” little world disintegrating when his wife, Janine (Helen Hunt), divorces him. Equally vexing is the emotional and financial pressure exerted by domineering town matriarch Francine Whiting (Joanne Woodward), who owns (among other things) the Empire Grill, the little diner that Ed has run for several years. As he reflects on what he considers to be a wasted life, Ed flashes back to memories of his curmudgeonly father, Max (Paul Newman, who also executive-produced the miniseries); his long-dead mother, Grace (Robin Wright Penn); his scapegrace brother, David (Aidan Quinn); his blossoming daughter “Tick” (Danielle Panabaker); and Francine’s late husband, C.B. Whiting (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Also tied in with Miles’ reminiscences is the spectacular saga of the rise and fall of Empire Falls, a once-prosperous mill town that has fallen into disrepair — as have the town’s once-rigid and inviolate social barriers. Despite the initial bleakness of Miles’ plight, and the revelation of innumerable family skeletons as the plot progresses, the story is ultimately both heartwarming and life-affirming. Continue reading

Fred Schepisi – Plenty (1985)

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PLENTY is an exploration of post World War II European society and its discontents, as symbolized by the shifting emotional and political alliances of one English woman. For Susan Traherne (Meryl Streep), nothing can match the heroism and excitement of her wartime involvement with the French Resistance; nor can any man match the young soldier with whom she had an affair. Back in England, her youthful optimism slowly fades as she experiments with a variety of political movements and a variety of men. Tracey Ullman costars as Susan’s constant companion, who lives life as a bohemian free spirit, uninhibited, but unable to stop Susan’s decline into depression and unabashed alienation. Ultimately, Susan settles into a marriage with an upper class diplomat that leads to disillusionment and, finally, madness. Meryl Streep gives an astonishing performance as the fiercely independent and emotionally overwrought woman, with command performances from a remarkable ensemble cast. Continue reading