54th Sydney Film Festival
8-24 June 2007*
Every year since 1997 I have posted on
this website my thoughts about the films I have seen – as I see them –
at each Sydney Film Festival. Apparently I was blogging. But this
year my reviews were supposed to go up at the end of the festival, and
of a blurt than a blog.
Unfortunately my Dad was seriously ill at the time of the festival and
it threw my writing right out. I still managed to see lots of
films, and made notes.
What is below is based on the notes I made
at the time I saw each film, so it is still my contemporaneous
thinking, informed by discussions with people in and around row D in
the stalls, and in the aisles and foyer. Thanks to all of you,
too, and see you next year.
It is a bit shorthand, but I'll try to work through it and edit it as
soon as I can...
* If you arrived here after a search, either scroll down to the film
looking for, or search the text for the name of the film.
Oh, and these reviews are copyright. You must not use any part of them
without my permission.
Night - 8 June 2007
La Vie en Rose - France
strange choice for opening night - isn't this the Sydney Film Festival,
and aren't we about promoting an Australian film industry? I know
we are also about the best the world has to offer - but is this the
best? It's about a French icon, and that's part of the
problem. I'd already seen the film, in a critic's prevoiew, so
this was my 2nd viewing. I liked the first hour, and the
central towering performance, and of course the music, but the
Sat 9 June 2007
Tasmanian Devil - Australia
Intro Simon Nasht -
Errol was an archive nightmare. Widow wouldn't give them last
home movies. Prob because last girlfriend in it..
Early WB films?. Dog? But overall a good homage
Q&A - He was a tragic figure but beautiful . He was interested in
the process of a butterfly turning into a caterpillar.
How was it navigating a fraught estate. Patrice Wymore wasn't happy abt
Bev Aadland was being interviewed. Permission for good-looking film
clips denied which is why film clips look crappy. People make blanket
claims on material. Warners, the Flynn Estate, Archive libraries.
& projectionist not there. After l/2 hr told not rescreened ti
llater. They called me (nice) but no alt screening works for me.
Refund? Also free pass.
12.08 East of Bucharest
costume not up to scratch
Fire crackers bang.
Phone in viewers
Was there a revolution in our town?
cross-examination, getting xmas trees.
Cf French Rev. It is as if the Romanians are jealous of it
One has tl'd revoution one crn.p. The last night in the film.
'It was calm . Beautiful. Like my memory of the Revolution.
take it - you're used to it' - Manu
'Death never becomes routine -Mehdu'
A great subject beautifully written, filmed & acted. But a lovely
joj of the web. It just had its longeurs. It ended a bit tedious.
Wed June 13
mins, rating not yet available, opening in cinemas on 16 August 2007.
Fracture, 112 mins, rated M,
opening in cinemas on 2 August 2007
By MICHELE ASPREY, Lawyer
(This is my review as published
in the August 2007 issue of The New South Wales Law Society
In my review of Romulus, My
Father in the June 2007 NSW
Law Society Journal, I mentioned the handful of Australian films
that focus on the migrant experience. But art reflects life, and so in
July we reviewed Lucky Miles,
about refugees stranded in northern Australia, and in August we have The Home Song Stories.
This is the lightly fictionalised autobiography of Tony Ayres, the
Australian writer/ director (Walking
on Water, 2002, Sadness,
1999). Tony, who was born in Macau, is called Tom in the film. Tom is a
Chinese-Australian man writing a script about his life. His script
begins in 1964, with Tom as a small boy in Hong Kong, living with his
mother, Rose, and older sister, May.
Although told from young Tom’s perspective, the story has at its centre
the beautiful, glamorous and troubled Rose (played by the lovely Joan
Chen), a nightclub singer and single mother, with a penchant for
picking up new “uncles” for the children. As the film opens she has
just hooked up with “Uncle” Bill, an Australian naval officer. Rose
follows him to Melbourne and marries him, but a week later leaves him
and takes the children to Sydney to see “Uncle” Wu. The next 7 years
are years of drifting from one uncle to another, until in 1971 Rose
decides her only option is to go back with the children to suburban
Melbourne and Uncle Bill (now to be called “Daddy”).
The contrast between the early scenes in Hong Kong and the scenes in
the Melbourne ‘burbs is stark. In one particularly memorable section of
the film, Rose hangs out 5 exotic cheongsams on the Hills Hoist and
then struts down the street in a vibrant blue one split high to the
thigh, with matching parasol. She’s a knockout, but she’s also quite a
shock to the locals. These two scenes paint a vivid picture of the
culture clash described by the film.
The migrant family finds it hard to fit in. They all hate the
Australian food. Tom’s Aussie playmates can be cruel, and the family
finds it quite difficult living with Bill’s mother Norma (Kerry Walker,
very funny) while Bill is away at sea. Rose is playful, and
delightfully child-like at times, but often she goes too far, and Norma
slings her disapproving looks. Finally Rose pushes her luck to breaking
point and the family is out on the street again. None of Rose’s plans
lasts long. She is restless and self-centred and her flightiness takes
its toll on the children.
There are many twists and turns in the life of this little family. One
involving young May is disturbing, and painful to observe. But I’m
afraid the ordeal of watching one setback after another eventually wore
me down. It is a hard thing to say of someone’s life story that it
seemed indulgent and overlong, but that’s how it felt to me.
The film has been praised for its cinematography (by Nigel Bluck), and
the wide screen format is used quite effectively. But choosing a muted
colour palette of greens and browns for the scenes in the suburbs,
broken only by Rose’s beautiful wardrobe in vibrant blue, black, orange
and rose, makes the film seem murky. And deciding to film background
scenes and subsidiary characters in soft focus – or even out-of-focus –
makes for a blurry look overall. Despite this, the film has earned high
praise on the international film festival circuit.
The Home Song Stories
certainly portrays the clash of cultures very well, and Ayres and his
team imbue the film with a great sense of time and place, with
meticulous sumptuous production and costume design. Yet I found myself
If a home-grown story like this is not your cup of tea, you might like
to see Fracture, a thriller
(which I have not yet seen) starring Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, 2006). When a
meticulous structural engineer (Hopkins) discovers that his beautiful
(much younger) wife is having an affair, he plans the perfect murder.
Gosling plays the young and ambitious district attorney who prosecutes
The film is described by its makers as “a tense duel of intellect and
strategy”. It was directed by Gregory Hoblit, who also made the fairly
routine crime thriller Primal Fear
(1996). Also in the cast is the ever-reliable David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck), so the
cast alone makes it worth a look.
The 5000 Fingers of Dr T
Luscious words matched by luscious images. Some magic & some
hilarious seqdences. A deliciously campy Hans Conreid has an
unbelievable wardrobe & sings a song 'Dress me' to his male
servants with amazing lyrlcs about peplums, lavender spats &
tangerine snoods. The orchestra in the dungeon elicited spontaneous
applause from the SFF.
Monday 11 June
Wig revealed! Bryan Ferry soundtrack
Such venom in many of the words
'Don't fuck with the Feds. After 9/11 they took the leash off.'
"Why are you always so polite?' ..."Politeness was my mother's answer
Abu Graib images made into homoerotic images. &nVs fla. The
paperazzo now photographed (perp walk.
A very dense film. Does it pack in too many issues?
Huston's last film. Absolutely gorgeous!
'Better pass boldly into that other world, in full glory of some
passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.
Last words- "The snow is falling all across Ireland (the universe.) on
the living & the dead."
Unpolished & uninteresting
Why spend 2hrs with them?
The short (Crossbow) was more articulate in a short time.
Tuesday June 12
Where is the church (abortion)?
Love the taking off of high heels. Shoe bags
Subtitles poorly translated - or intentional slang? .
Giving up on dreams despite all their hyped up lyrics.
'Antonia shines. She is you & she is me'
Great, but for the stepmother in black!
The Maltese Falcon - USA
- Dir: John Huston (retrospective)
EddienCockrell of Variety.
Sun 17 4.15 at metro panel discussion
Had been writlng at Warner Bros
Storyboard meticulously. Took seriously task of doing
Humphrey Bogart not 1st choice - George Raft
Geraldine Fitzgerald for Mary Astor
Fatman & Little Guy atomic bombs named after the characters in this
Scene of SG giving Humphrey Bogart drink is his 1st ever day of acting
4ovdld adapting literary works.
Fascinated with male/female intep acting esp macho.
At end bars of lift across her face & she goes down.
John Huston Discussion - Eddie
Cockrell, David Stratton & Clare
Last yr MOMA did a 75yr tribule to Dhole famlly Anf.eli.la, John,
Walter & .son
Q Vhat relevance today?
DS A great storyteller, adapting stories of o.thers.
Mother a journalist travelled. Boxer in Mexican cavalry & loved
EC He bore down - he focufed. Storyboarded, rehearsed, wrole, (when it
was not the norm).
A natural innate understanding of relationship between people &
camera. He made it look easy.
Choreography, claustrophobia, natural movement. DP Karl Freund.
Bogart almost owed his career to Huston (cf Huston.s caracter
inTreasure of SM)
Red Badge of Courage shot on Huston's own ranch. Audie Mdrphy had done
6 films before.
Pictvre by Lillian Ross is one of best books on Bollywood of that era -
abt making & unmaking of the film.
Huston not seen asnauteup because he didn't have a consistent
style. But he adapted his style to fit Source material. He was
also an experia'enter. 1st colour African Qveen. Then .Moby Dick
with colour washed out, then Moulin Rouge.
Wyler Capra Stevens & Huston all went WW2. Stevens & Capras
films had messages & were heavier - not entertainment. Hvfton
energised - jazzed! Can entertain.
Politically during Mccarthy era he left US & lived in Ireland
Has made more bad movies than most good directors eg Psychosis , Escape
to Victory, the Kremlin Letter. Easily bored. DS story of Kremlin
letter (came l.n a car to diregt & leftl.t to1st a.sslstant dir.
Also EC says he just didn't care. CS says he ealpjrased life (eg Wl'ite
Hunter Black Heart)l
Strog d.el'tidnsl'ip with father, even tho he mfved away (eg
Treasore, thnl Unf.orgiven).
When Hv.ton begins acting regularly for others he assvmes the mantle of
Married 5 times, .heavy drinker & smoker. Oldest dir nominated for
best dir (79, Prizzi's Honour).
Recflecfions in a Golden Eye- originally released in yellow tint. Until
EC sas Reflections is so far ahead of its time that it ifstill ahead.
He gambled & won taking thiags emlotionalltto & beyond the
He cast extraordinarily well (DS). He said the trick is in the casting.
Hufton writing for actorf. He said directing is the process of
rendering your writing.
Prizzis Honour - colourfutch.racters like Maltese Falcon. 2nd last
film. Fvnny & startling. Fliefoff in difft directions &
shouldn't work but does.
The. Dead - the most impt thing that happened was that the port was
EC- the perfect last film for a director about the musicality of
language, the things we gather as we live whether we know it or not.
C.S . Why screen it first? To show the end to give the context. A
sweet beginning. Might screen it again.
Under the Volcano- extraordinary perf by Albert Finney. One of his best
films of the period - avery ped fonal film - he liv. D in Mexico.
A Walk in the Sea
Harold Stevenson says Its what's best about being human its what I like
best about being alive.
Terrible pix good interview access not so good quns.
Times and Winds
gorgeous and poetic. Lovely slow rhythms of nature.
'All men are like their fathers - they are mad.' (they are cranky).
- Old woman. Donkeys mating.
Child.eat cnlljla . Lu..s .
. .uw l.., .jurn - ..m..tm.., .n f... .ls...r ladiings abt nature...
Child doing all housework & minding baby & doing homework.
Somethings gotta give!
God has entrusted us with these children.
Slurping father. Tracking shots.
San Pietro & Let There Be
Light (John Huston docos)
Were difficult to see in 70s. Prints in National Archives in Washington.
WW2 service - Huston & Stevens (was profoundly changed.)
Hustons war e.fp also informed all this.
When huston was asked if he was making anti-war movies he famously
"Well I should hope so. If I ever make a pro war movie you have my
permission to shoot me."
Was Light pre-lit? Rehearsed? Ouershadowing this is the fact that now
yo.u can't show coffins or injured! Govt .order.
Huston gotinterebted in post traumatic stress disorder &
psychology. He worked on Freud with Sartre. He then worked with Monly
Clift on Freud. Check!
Tuesday 12 June
Recent immigrants exploit their own people who immigrate illegally.
Bribery of labor agency.
Begins at the end: how can he end it?
Go lltKln 4.ddl ..?.Repeat lll.e 0nit.d93
The illegal immigrants' families are still trying to pay off their
debts. The British Govt refuse to help them. Ai Quin goes hope
'one of the lucky ones'.
A fund set up to pay off the debtas of illegal immigrants otvktia's'
I Served the King of England
Chasing a train with a hotdog.
Beautiful girls in silk dresses...
Stamps from the home countries of exiled Jews.
15 yrs for 15mlllion
There comes a time when you judge yourself (using mirrors).
A terrific clown in the manner of Chaplin.
Soulful eyes and a bad script
This was such a disappointing
film. And, I felt, dishonest. It seems that if you are a
nice guy you can abandon a child and then magically reconnect with her
5 years later. It will all be butterfly kites in the sky on the
beach. It made me quite angry actually.
A boy's mother hides his father's death from him, but he knows.
'Lets l.ldpdtn l's some place warm'
Lovely recreation of 17thC Edo.
Relationship changes in 1st scene on her face..
It would be good to have a person in the picture ... for a
He was incorrigible. Could not complete & could not change.
So many times he could have had her - If he didn't lie. If he didn't
ask her what time she was going to work. If he said "I Love you".
True. A relationship with the boring bits in.
Friday June 15
Away From Her, 110 mins, rated
M, opening in cinemas on 4 October 2007
By MICHELE ASPREY, Lawyer
(This is my review as published in
the October 2007 issue of The NSW Law Society Journal)
“She said, ‘Do you think it would be fun if we got married?’”
“And what did you say?”
“I shouted ‘yes’. I never wanted to be away from her. She had the spark
Screen legend Julie Christie stars as Fiona, the woman whose spark of
life has begun to dim. Playing Grant, her husband, is Canadian national
treasure Gordon Pinsent. The film is Away
From Her, a beautiful chamber piece from first-time director,
Grant and Fiona have been married for 44 years. He’s a retired
Professor of Norse literature, and she’s an elegant woman of Icelandic
descent. They are both in their 60s, living a comfortable life in the
country, reading to each other, cross-country skiing at dusk, and
hosting the occasional dinner party. But things are beginning to
unravel: Fiona has Alzheimer’s disease.
This could set the scene for a disease-of-the-week tele-movie, but
nothing could be further from the truth. Based on a short story (The
Bear Came over the Mountain) by renowned Canadian writer Alice Munro,
this wise and wonderful film has much to say about love, sex, aging and
the things we remember – and forget – as we go through life with
another person. It’s remarkable that the film was written and directed
by a 28-year-old actor.
Polley uses the wintry Canadian setting well. The layers of snow that
smother the landscape become a metaphor for the gradual erasure of
Fiona’s memory. It begins with the little things – she puts the frying
pan in the fridge, forgets the word “wine”, and needs labels for her
cupboards and drawers. But one day when out skiing she forgets where
she is. This is serious.
Yet Away From Her is never
predictable. Fiona is surprisingly accepting of the need to enter a
nursing home. At first this appears to be out of consideration for
Grant, but soon she seems to embrace the very oblivion that Grant fears
for her. She forms an almost wifely attachment to another resident of
the nursing home, Aubrey (Michael Murphy), and as Grant watches his
wife tending to Aubrey’s needs, he is forced to revisit painful
memories of his own infidelity to Fiona. When he voices his suspicion
that Fiona is only pretending – that she is punishing him – we realise
how deeply selfish Grant still is. More surprises follow, and through
it all Polley deftly avoids the maudlin and the obvious, revealing some
of the more bittersweet truths of life.
Polley has assembled a great supporting cast, with Olympia Dukakis
stealing scenes as Aubrey’s sardonic wife, Kristen Thompson as a
sympathetic nurse, and Michael Murphy giving an affecting performance
as Aubrey – without ever uttering a word. Polley’s husband, David
Wharnsby, has edited the film with a sure hand, guiding us through a
fractured narrative which mirrors the splintering of Fiona’s memory.
As this is a Canadian film, it is almost compulsory to feature the
songs of Neil Young. But their predictability does not diminish their
effectiveness one iota. Before Fiona leaves home, she and Grant dance
to Young’s song “Harvest Moon”, itself a fitting reflection on mature
love. And the film ends with Young’s wonderful “Helpless,” sung by KD
Lang. Somehow this vents the conflicting emotions the film has aroused,
and brings us to a satisfying resolution, thus concluding an utterly
assured work from a talented young director.
Friday 15 June
Werner Herzog in the jungle with a true story. Amazing
Christian Bale brilllant & subtle & Steve Zahn less so. 'You
can have the soul'.
How much is true? Ending not Ra Ra but true, surely.
One ofthe loveliest films of the festiual. Set in the Pere Lachaise
Cemetary in Paris. The filmmaker is asked by an interviewee what the
film is abt. She says "the importance of art in people's lives".
Everyone has a story - the singer, the benl, the comic strip artist.
Michel Petrucciano. Modigliani faces - his work & the young pianist
- extreme closeup..& the Ingres works & Ingres girl.
Lovely music. Get the French talking about art & poetry! Easy!
Temple of Dreams
Well-named. Tom Zubryski too close to the subjects.
The main guy is an egotist. He can't see the real issues. The
girls who help him can (esp the lawyer). Like Selma's school.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre - USA
- Dir: John Huston (retrospective)
1st film he made after war.
War experience a sobering one.
He persuaded Warner Bros to let him film on location - unusual then.
Based on 1927 book - German. B. Traven. A book about him by Judy Stone.
'The Mystery of B. Traven' (aka Hal Croves).
Basic plot identical to Maltese
Falcon - a small group of obsessed people search for a dream
that is illusory.
Bogart was mostly a villain before Huston's Maltese Falcon changed him to a
kind of antihero. Missed Best Film Oscar to Olivier's Hamlet.
Altman, Peckinpah lnfluenced by it.
John Huston appears early on as the man in the white suit
Gila monster. Allegory. Individual Wealthy vs Co-op.
It is framed as a series of moral questions - what would you do if...?
Bob Curtin: "You know, the worst ain't so bad when it finally happens.
Not half as bad as you figure it'll be before it's happened."
A major departure for Huston
1. 1st film in colour
2. 1st comedy
3. 1st outside Hollywood.
4. Probably disappointed. Death of his Father in 1950
5. McCarthy era
Producer Sam Speigel- SP Eagle (Horizon)
Book CS Forrester set in WW1. Wrote screenplay with UK film critic
James Agee. Huston brought in Peter Viertel to help finish it. (White Hunter Black Heart is based
on the true story of this). It's also recounted in Katharine Hepburn's
Huston horrified seeing the church in the film when he got to the set:
"It doesn't have a spire!" He was informed that Methodist churches
don't have spires. He said: "This one will".
Leeches were real!
Beauty in Trouble
Sydney Film Festival favourite director Jan Hrebejk scores again
with a look at love sex marriage & kids in Europe. Lovely
performances & interesting issues explored. Love or money?
Preferably both! Especially with hunky older man Josef Abrham (Evzen
Benes). (Also cf Gordon Pincent from Away
Judge Roy Bean - USA -
Dir: John Huston (retrospective)
I must have really enjoyed this. I have the title and no
other notes at all!
It was (believe it or not) the 1st time I'd seen it!
Wed June 20
Inland Empire, 172 mins, rating TBC, opening in
cinemas on 21 June 2007.
By MICHELE ASPREY, Lawyer
[This is my review as published in
the November 2007 issue of The NSW Law Society Journal]
Inland Empire is David Lynch’s
latest film. Lynch is among the most European of the American directors
working today, and with each film he becomes more enigmatic. If you saw
Mulholland Dr (2001), you’ll
know what I mean. But that was just a warm-up for the intricacies and
tropes of Inland Empire.
Here, Lynch has abandoned any narrative through-line and instead
presents a series of images and vignettes that lead us through the
‘Inland Empire’ of his heroine’s mind – and his own. Free association
and travel through time and space replace more traditional film
In this, Lynch resembles the great non-linear storytellers of European
film. Watching Inland Empire recalls the surrealism of Luis
Buñuel, the eerie and foreboding moods of the best of Andrei
Tarkovsky’s films, and the relentlessness of Hungarian filmmaker
Béla Tarr. Lynch, like Krzysztof Kieslowski in The Double Life of Veronique
(1991), has lives merge into other lives, and suggests we may be
matched in some way with a double or twin who shares our thoughts and
It is a long film (just under 3 hours) but I found it riveting for all
of that time. It requires a willingness to surrender to Lynch’s mastery
of the medium. Usually this is easy, because his films – until now –
have mostly been luscious to look at: all those saturated blues and
reds, the beautiful, tortured women such as Isabella Rossellini,
Sherilyn Fenn, Naomi Watts, and all that lush, moody music.
The bad news is that Lynch has discovered digital video (but not the
high-definition kind). The lushness of his previous films has been
replaced by a murkier look. But of course ‘murky’ serves his aims very
well. Nothing is perfectly clear in a Lynch film. The muddy look is
deliberate, as is the lack of a traditional storyline. Lynch is going
for a more impressionistic effect visually. In terms of the narrative,
he has been quoted as saying ‘Life is very, very confusing, and so
films should be allowed to be, too.’ Be prepared: Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway
(1997) and Eraserhead (1977)
are as straightforward as “how to” manuals compared to Inland Empire.
All that Lynch will say about the film is that it is about “A woman in
trouble”. Lynch favourite Laura Dern has the role of a lifetime,
playing actress Nikki Grace, but also several alter egos, including
Sue, a character in a film-within-a film, with the Lynchian name On High in Blue Tomorrows, plus a
foul mouthed abused woman, and possibly a prostitute.
As the film opens, Nikki, in her grand but rather funereal mansion,
receives a visit from a neighbour, Lynch regular Grace Zabriskie. She
tells Nikki that Nikki has already got the role in the film that she
was hoping for, that the story is based on an old Polish folk tale, and
that it will end in “brutal f****** murder”. Nikki then is transported
into the future (tomorrow), to pre-production on the film.
During filming, Nikki falls into an affair with her co-star, the
roguish Devon (Justin Theroux), just as her character in the film does.
Filming is interrupted by a stranger we don’t see, but later we learn
that this is Nikki, now trapped in the character of Sue in a house on
the film set. So far so good.
But another part of the film is set in Poland, where another woman is
in trouble. She watches TV – a sitcom about a family of rabbits dressed
as humans. This part seems to have no discernible explanation, but is
still weirdly compelling.
Throughout, Lynch explores his favourite issues. He’s one of the most
interesting directors of, and writers about, women – especially women
in Hollywood and the many ways they are used and abused there. Lynch’s
imagery is sometimes mysterious and often terrifying. He’s a modern
master of horror.
My advice? Treat it as a dream. Lie back, let the images wash over you,
then talk about it at dinner afterwards. And don’t miss the credit
sequence at the end. It’s almost the best part.
Sunday 24 June
Man Who Would be King -
USA - Dir: John Huston (retrospective)
'You have my permission to bugger off.'
'Can you ever forgive me for being so bleeding high & bloody
'Yes I can, Danny & without let or hindrance'.
Caine is astonishingly good. Connery, Plummer & Jaffray too.
Beautiful print with the odd puzzling poor section. Played too loud.
The audience loved it - the theatre was packed, and they cheered!