Sydney Film Festival 2011
* 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.
I've been doing this "blog" since 1997, probably before there
were such things as blogs.
This year I saw 48 films in 11 days and 12 nights. Plus I saw 2
Festival films (Sleeping
Beauty and Norwegian
Wood) at critic's previews prior to the festival. So I didn't
quite see as many films at the Festival as
usual, yet I seemed to be busier and had no time to write reviews until
the Festival had nearly ended. Sorry. But here they come now, and
they'll evolve over the next week or so and grow gradually as I have
time for reflection. So if the film you are looking for isn't reviewed
now, come back in a couple of days - it might be there then.
Sorry for any typos. I don't have spellchecker on Mozilla, and I
type these reviews really fast so I can get them down quickly. I
correct errors later, as I see them. Oh, and, as an author I
should say that all these reviews are copyright. You must not
use any part of them
without my permission.
This year, I'm nominating my 10 favourite films of the Festival.
In no order, they were:
A Letter to Elia
All That Heaven Allows
How to Die in Oregon
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
The Mill and the Cross
Opening Night: Wednesday 8
Hanna (Germany, UK,
USA. Dir: Joe Wright) 3/5
Strange and stylish thriller and chase movie from the director of Atonement,
of all things! But he's trying for more: a Grimm's fairytale
heroine is a trained assassin with ridiculously well-honed combat
skills but without the normal skill-set of a teenaged girl. Many
images are scattered about inbetween the breathless chase and fight
scenes, but somehow it doesn't gel. The music (Chemical Brothers) is a
great asset, but can't make up for a degree of incoherence, appalling
accents by Bana (Australian playing German), Ronan (Irish playing
German raised in Finland) and Blanchett (Australian playing US
Southerner) in the manner of a wicked stepmother. A car chase in
Bana outruns 3 cars and makest them crash is just ludicrous and
confusingly staged. Still, the nearly 2 hours flew, so I
had some fun
on the ride.
Thursday 9 June
A Letter to Elia (USA - Dir: Martin
This is right up my alley: film history as
revealed by a modern master. Really personal and emotinal look at the
work of a flawed artist. Superb scholarship and great emotional,
personal filmmaking. Couldn't be better!
Sickness (France, Germany,
Netherlands - Dir: Ulrich Kohler) 3/5
Intriguing, if long, essay on the malaise
that can creep over you in Africa. The first film of the festival to
feature hippopotamuses. It will not be the last!
Khodorovsky (Russia - Dir: Cyril Tuschi) 3/5
Another intriguing but overly long essay
on a Russian oligarch who is now in prison. I fell asleep for a few
minutes in the middle and I didn't feel I missed anything. Always
reliable test of a film that needs editing! But the film did have
a hipopotamus in it (continuing
the odd trend of the films of the first few days of the Festival to
The Guard (Ireland - Dir: John
Hilarious Irish farce from John Michael
McDonagh, the brother of Martin McDonagh,
the writer-director of In Bruges (2008)
and the short film Six
Shooter (2004) both of which played at the SFF in prior years.
Martin is also author of fabulous dark plays like The Pillowman, The
Lieutenant of Inshmore, and The Beauty Queen of
Leenane. Brother John Michael wrote the screenplay for
Heath Ledger's Ned Kelly, and wrote and directed The Second Death.
He has the same dark and profane sense of humour and exaggerated drama
as his brother has. The excellent cast includes the brilliant Brendon
Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong. They don't
Happy Happy (Norway - Dir: Anne
Fun: a kind of Norwegian The Ice Storm. It's a very original film whose
humour grows very much out of a sense of plce. Yes, it's also a "fish
out of water" comedy, but there's also a feeling that the environment
is having an effect on the sophisticated city couple as they succumb to
the charms of Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen) and the longings of Eirik (Joachim
Rafaelsen). The subplot involving the chldren swings from very
disturbing to ultimately touching. A great film from first-time
director Anne Sewitsky. Her technique of using a Greek chorus of
incongruously soul-singing Norwegian blonds is less successful in my
opinion, but I understand its function of defusing some of the darker
moments, and sort of holding your hand as she takes you through strange
territory. One of my favourite features of the festival, just outside
of my top 10.
Ain't in it for my Health (US - Dir: Jacob
As a budding drummer myself, I was looking
forward to this doco about Levon Helm, the amazing drummer for the
Band. But I found it disappointing. Perhaps it was its time-slot in the
early afternoon. Perhaps you needed to have dinner and some drinks
before seeing this, but I found the fact and the coverage interesting,
but the use of music poor and not evocative enough, only sporadically
emotional. So not good enough - unlike the film from the same series -
"American Masters" - on John Lennon: LennonNYC, which
was more successful. See the review of that film, below.
Attenberg (Greece - Dir: Athina Rachel
Puzzling: a film that's meant to be funny that
isn't, a tribute to Monty Python that I didn't recognise, an Oedipal
drama in modern Greece, and a lot of pretention. Didn't like it
at all. Maybe it's just me, but the director's Q & A only confused
me more. She seems to think she's a genius finding a new film
grammar. But she's no Truffaut - or even Godard.
Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (USA
Dir: Morgan Spurlock)
A competent and funny documentary, but I
believe Spurlock chooses soft targets, like Michael Moore does.
Sure, he commits himself to his subject, especially in the case of Super Size Me
(2004). But in the end, especially in this film, it's more about
him. He tells us what we already know - though he does give us a
lot more facts and figures. He presents it in an accessible and
attractive way, and he takes us through the process. All of this he
does well. but in the end, I feel as if I've had a fast-food meal, and
it doesn't sustain me. Am I wrong to want more? He's a talented an
Beauty (Australia - Dir: Julia Leigh) 2/5
I disliked this film intensely when saw it at a preview before the Film
Festival. In short, I don't like
being turned into a voyeur of an inept young woman who seriously needs
help. The film is undeniably beautiful, but at the same time sordid. I
felt it to be a manipulation
for intellectual reasons.
The imagery in this film is sometimes ravishing, and the production
design is certainly striking, but the visual style is often very flat
and often over-bright, which tends to rob the film of nuance and
emotion - appropriate stylistically, but symptomatic of the film's
deficiencies too. The film has similar concerns to Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut
(1999, based on the Arthur Schnitzler novella Traumnovelle,
from the turn of the 20th century) and Ana Kokkinos' The Book of Revelation (2006).
I loved Eyes Wide
Shut (partly for its odd mix of fin de siècle sensibility
and modern Manhatten life), but I hated The Book of Revelation, for reasons similar to those I
don't like Sleeping
Beauty. At the end, I say to myself, yes, I see what you are
trying to do, but why? Why do you exploit people's bodies for
your own end, and then lead nowhere.
And can I just point out: what girl would agree to, and who but a
madman would posit, a contract that alows anything to be done to you
"except penetration"? Because that would include murder. I
just can't accept the premise.
Saturday 11 June
Magnificent Obsession (USA - Retrospective - Dir:
Douglas Sirk) 4.5/5
Magnificent film, the showing of which was
marred by some ridiculous hooting and hollering by the audience. Why
these poeple bother to come to a film and then disrepect it, I will
never know. Don't they realise that they must go back to the
mid-50s and watch from that standpoint. OK, I understand the urge to
snicker when, say, a doctor lights up a cigarette. I snigger a bit
occasionallly at something incongruous - often an ironic line from Rock
Hudson, along the lines of "As far as I'm concerned, 'Art' is just a
man's name" or
similar. But sniggering is one thing - howling with laughter is
another. And when one does it, they all join in. I want to scream
"This is not a comedy!" One day I will.
It's a shame that the Festival doesn't bother to have anyone introduce
these films any more. A few years ago a curator would turn up and give
a short introduction, and that would have set the scene and allowed
those of us who want to give ourselves over to the melodrama to watch
in our own world without getting upset at the inappropriate reactions
of those who don't care. Because this is such a striking, and
ultimately tender film. From the stunning opening sequence on the lake,
with a jet-boat speeding through the sleepy conventional lakeside
community, to the almost prayer-like ending, I think this film deserves
our attention, and respect.
Raymond (US - Dir: Phil Rosenthal) 4/5
I have never seen an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond,
but the program notes for this film intrigued me. I think the question
of whether comedy transfers well between languages and cultures is an
intriguing one, and should make for a good documentary. I was right.
This fascinating and hilarious film also manages to be very personal
and touching, as is the man himeself, Phil Rosenthal, director of the
film and creator and writer of Everybody Loves Raymond.
He came out with the film and did a very
charming Q&A with the audience, and I had the chance to talk to him
personally afterwards. He is a pure delight, as is this film.
(UK - Dir: Paddy
A brilliant feature film debut from the
favourite star of British director Shane Meadows. Comparable to the
harrowing but effective directorial feature debuts of Tim Roth (The War Zone,
1999, SFF 1999) and Gary Oldman (Nil By Mouth,
1997). Peter Mullen is extraordinary in a tough role. This film doesn't
flinch, and presents all its characters as rounded persons, with
conflicting impulses and motivations. On the topic of wife-beating, it
would be tempting to preach, or over-simplify, or take one side over
others (in a kind of Ken Loach manner). Writer-director Paddy Considine
resists the temptation: even his monsters are human, and I think the
casting of Eddie Marsan was crucial in achieving this. Olivia Colman,
too (as the Christian, Hannah) is simply breathtaking. And I love
a Christian who drinks! I thought this film was in my daytime
subscription, and lined up for 15 minutes to get in, only realising 5
minutes before that it was not. So I decided to buy an exoensive
extra ticket ($3.85 I think it was for administration fee over and
above the ticket price). But still, I'm really glad I didn't miss this
The Future (US - Dir: Miranda
This is no Me
and You and Everyone we Know (SFF).
It looks to me as if Miranda July has gone from being intriguing,
smart, original and funny, to a bit too self-absorbed. She even cast a
Miranda July look-alike (Hamish Linklater) as her partner. Still, any
Miranda July film will have plenty to enjoy. It's just not as profound
as the earlier film. And I found it harder to care for these people.
However, the film did have six
hippopotamuses in it (continuing the odd trend of the films of the
first few days of the festival to feature hippos!).
All That Heaven Allows (USA - Retrospective - Dir:
Douglas Sirk) 5/5
This was the top film of the
retrospective. I've seen it several times before (I have it on DVD
too), but it is so marvellous on the big screen. Slightly less
snickering from the audience this time. Perhaps a more serious crowd,
but we still would have benefited from an inroduction to the work of
Dougal Sirk from the curator - or somebody (I'm available!).
The film opens with a shot of a clocktower, high above a small town.
This shot was famously duplicated by Todd Haynes in Far From Heaven,
his modern variation on All That Heaven Allows
(2002). Various elements are repeated from Magnificent Obsession,
from the year before: the lush colour, the classical music, the
wonderful Agnes Moorehead in a supporting role. This film has
delightful surprises: such as its strong support for the sex lives of
the middle-aged! Being a tree-grower myself, I loved the scenes in
nurseries and all the discussion of trees, such as one line of Ron's
(Rock Hudson, so handsome and strong): "If you're impatient, you have
no business growing trees".
I also love the
immense symbolism of the
Wedgewood pot - found broken and missing pieces in Ron's old mill, then
lovingly restored by him for Cary, who then carelessly breaks it (most
out-of-character for her).
Obsession, this film has a strong philosophocal centre. One
exchange is fascinating in the light of today's obsessions:
Alita: "I guess all of us are looking for security these days". The
answer?: "To thine own self be true". And then there's Agnes
Moorehead's character who says to Cary: "You're lucky you've got
children. You don't have to fill your life with club-life and parties."
Not only is this line surprisingly frank for the time (we tend to
forget they had brains then), but it is also sad, pitiable, and at the
same time emblematic of the extreme rigidity of social convention at
that time and place. What a ridiculous waste of talent - and they know
it! This line is immediately followed by Cary's kids letting her down
by not turning up for the weekend as they'd promised, then finally
suggesting the family home be sold. In despair, she cries: "Don't
you see that the whole thing has been so terribly pointless".
Top Floor Left Wing (France - Dir: Angelo
A big surprise, and a really well-made
film on a terrific subject. Another addition to my collection of
Jihad-based comedies (Four
Lions, The Infidel). This is
another great feature film debut, with comedy mixed with drama,
thriller conventions turned on their heads, social commentary
thoughtfully presented in an incongruous way, and excellent action
scenes handled with the aplomb of a veteran. A true delight and a
perfect festival film. This was the only film I managed to be
late for. I had 15 mins to get from All That Heaven Allows
at AGNSW to the State Theatre, and that film finished late. So I missed
the crucial openig scene. But it's a mark of the strong story-telling
of screenwriter/director Cianci that I was able to catch up.
Lennon NYC (USA - Dir:
Michael Epstein) 4/5
This documentary covers some of the same ground we've seen
before - inevitable, I guess given how much has been put on film about
John Lennon. I'm thinking specifically of The US v John Lennon
(David Leaf, John Scheinfeld, 2006). But something about the way it has
been put together - and the use of some footage of Lennon's concerts
for good causes that I hadn't seen before, plus nice interviews with
(and archival footage of) Yoko Ono and other luminaries - but above all
the way that Lennon's music is used to illustrate the story, make this
a very effective music documentary, and better than Ain't in it for my
Health (see review above)
Tabloid (USA - Dir:
Errol Morris) 5/5
Errol Morris does it again. A perfect treatment of its lurid
subject-matter. A story well-told and tantalisingly-revealed. And with
classic Errol Morris twist-in-the-tail - one that you can hardly
believe. As usual, Morris gets very intimate one-on-one interviews, and
asks the questions we all want to ask, but would probably be too
embarassed to come right out with. He's blunt to perfection, and nails
each issue. Even the seemingly-sleazy tabloid journalist is
interviewed to contribute exactly the right touches to this lurid
story. Great use of tabloid graphics to underline each astinishing
fact. Morris docos make you feel exhilarated. And this time, I
feel "spead-eagled" too!
Cedar Rapids (USA - Dir: Miguel Arteta) 3.5/5
A funny, if conventional, "sitcom" type comedy (not really
feature-film material at all). But what elevates it is the cast: Ed
Helms is a great comic talent along the lines of Steve Carrel. He's
also a talented musician! John C Reilly is great as usual, but I loved
Anne Heche, who outdoes herself as the predatory Joan. Interesting
production design here, too, giving the film a kind of sit-com look,
but also a real strip-mall and 3-star hotel effect, too. Quite fun, and
an inventive script, which is kind of familiar – see Something Wild (Jonathan Demme, 1986), or After Hours
(Martin Scorsese, 1985) – but has its own twists and turns, too,
to the predictable happy ending. Really this is a celebration of
mediocracy, and middle American values, but with a nice subversive
centre. Director Arteta has previously
made The Good Girl
(2002) with Jennifer Aniston, and episodes of Six Feet Under,
other things. He has a sure comedic hand.
Monday 13 June
The Forgiveness of Blood (USA, Albania,
Denmark, Italy - Dir: Joshua
An Albanian film made by an American
director. A very interesting essay on a destructive cultural custom or
law that can still ruin lives in Europe in the 21st century. It's
extraordinary that it would be made by an American director (who
clearly worked very closely with Albanian collaborators, such as
co-writer Andamion Murataj). Marston's previous film, the excellent Maria Full of Grace
(2004), was set in Columbia and then then the action transferred to
American, which kind of makes more sense. This film seems more removed
from most of our relaities, I guess, but is no less compelling for
that. A curiosity, but I can't quite see the daring or the cutting edge
for the purposes of the International Comptition.
Written on the Wind (USA - Retrospective -
Douglas Sirk) 4/5
Even more inappropriate laughter from the
audience here, than in Magnificent Obsession!
Certainly this is the most lurid of the Sirk films shown in this
retrospective. But is that an excuse to laugh like it was Abbott and
Costello? There was also some very bad background rumbling in the
background to the theatre (AGNSW) that really disturbed the screening.
Does no one care?
The film has a very similar opening to Magnificent Obsession:
this time the speed boat has been replaced by a fast car. Rock Hudson's
beind the wheel again. Other elements that this film has in common with
the first 2 films in the retrospective: the most lush saturated reds
and other colours in Russell Metty's cinematographer's palette, an
obsession with screens (often placed between characters who have
trouble communicating) and the gold-webbed mirror, which plays an even
greater role here. Robert Stack is amazing as a debauched heir to
a fortune: he's so over-wrought, it seems he'll explode. He's
manic! Dorothy Malone is photgraphed fetishistically: all reds and
pinks and pointy breasts. But this film doesn't start with classical
music: it opens with a cheesy pop song sung by the Four Aces. More pop
and jazz music features throughout, as befits the more tabloid nature
of this film and its subject-matter.
This film is definitely over-the-top, but delightfully so. I love the
ending: Dorothy Malone (as prodigal daughter Marylee) ends up dressed
soberly, at her father's desk, clasping the gold oil-well desk
ornament, and slumping desperately: she'll have to run the oil
business. Cue the theme song to Dallas, and
start the TV series, please!
Imitation of Life (USA - Retrospective - Dir:
Douglas Sirk) 4/5
A slightly better-behaved audience
here. We begin, like Written on the Wind,
with a pop song: this time from Earl Grant, sounding like Nat King
Cole. The opening titles sequence is gorgeous - and quite different
from the opening sequences of the other 4 retrospective films. Jewels
drop from the top of the screen, setting the scene for the glamour to
come, with lana Turner taking Broadway by storm (eventually), and going
to Hollywood. In between is a vast story (from the novel by Fannie
Hurst and made before as a film by John M Stahl in 1934 with Claudette
Colbert), containing a lot of social criticism of race relations,
social climbing, poverty, sexual harassment, the role of women in
society, the role of man in society, and the life of working women of
various kinds. Really a kind of epic, and some scenes still have the
power to shock. Mahalia Jackson features, too, singing at a funeral.
Target (Russia - Dir:Alexander
I loved this film. A really believable
projection of the "close future" (as the Russian director put it).
Stunning location shooting, millions of dollars right up there on the
screen, amazing costumes, important concerns, visionary. Long, but
absolutely a visual feast, and the 2hrs
40m flew by. Should win the
international competition, but probably won't, because Separation is a
more noble film, which I predict will undoubtedly win.... (and it
Also, no hippopotamus in this film, but a hippodrome (continuing,
in a way, the odd trend of the films of the first few days of the
festival to feature hippos!).
Amador (Spain - Dir: Fernando
Léon de Aranoa) 3.5/5
Nice little film that in my opinion really doesn't belong in the
International Competition. In what respect is it cutting edge? Merely
deals with death in an unusual way? Actually, it is about inertia,
which is a recuring theme throughout many films at this year's
Future being one, Sleeping Beauty
another, and Sleeping
Sickness another). It's fascinating how these themes seem to
Le Quattro Volte (Italy,
Germany, Switzerland - Dir: Michaelangelo Frammartino) 4/5
is a proper Film Festival film. About nothing, and yet
everything. Totally stolen by a dog and a baby goat.
The Tree of Life (USA
Dir: Terrence Malick) 4/5
Brave attempt by the genius Malick to explain life, the universe
and everything. It seems from my primitive and limited research that
those who are religious or spiritual or artists loved it, and those
that aren't did not like it, and have been mumbling about the
Emperor's New Clothes. I'm in-between. I liked the film, loved
its aesthetics, thought the performances were very good, and loved the
audacity. But I felt Kubrick had done at least some of it long ago, and
another film at the festival, Silent Souls,
tackled some of the same issues in a far more modest way, and succeeded
where Malick may have failed. On the other hand, Malick's whole film is
about the profundity, presciousness and connectedness of life. So its
ambition is much greater.
I have to say that as beautiful as the sequence about the creation of
life might be, it was actually a bit boring. And I don't need to have a
strong narrative line in the films I admire, as long as I can keep my
brain ticking along with the images. Here I struggled a bit. Especially
with the kind dinosaur - what was that
about? I also found some of the images about beauty of life a
little banal - a little "audiovisual aid for the Catholic Mass" -
something I'm only too familiar with!
But I think this film deserves multiple viewings. Like Kubrick's films,
Malick's films often gain gravity with time and reflection. And I know
that each image in this film has been artfully wrought - or captured
from the ether, so this film is nothing if not deliberate. It's
for me to revisit The
New World - which I loved the first time. But I'll see The Tree of Life again when it
comercially at the end of the month, and update this review then.
Wednesday 15 June
How to Die in Oregon (USA - Dir: Peter J
The kind of film that can change the
law... Superb doco.
Medianeras (Argentina, Germany, Spain -
Dir: Gustavo Taretto )
A promising film, that should have been
better than it was. Clever ideas, cute leading actors, but somehow
never "took off". Relied on "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" done
in karaoke at the end to supply the missing soul.
A Separation (Iraq - Dir:
Asghar Farhadi) 5/5
Fabulous serious clever film that had me
eating my heart out all the way along. I predicted this would win the
international competition - and it did. It had all the right elements.
The Mill and The Cross (Poland, Sweden -
Dir: Lech Majewski)
The hits continue. Another brilliant
film. What a day!
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (USA - Dir:
David Gelb) 5/5
Food and philosophy: perfection. Sorry I
can't say the same for my in-theatre experience. My neighbour ate
smelly fried food for the first half hour of this film. It was
excruciatingly bad, and made me feel ill. How unfair with all that
delicious sushi lusciously filmed on the screen.
I fell in love with master chef Jiro and his dedication to the task of
perfect sushi. He is the embodiment of the Japanese concept of
Shokunin Kishitsu (artisan's spirit). The idea is to be the best you
can be at doing the same humble task, over and over again, and by doing
it well, transcend the humility of the task to become an admired
master. But this takes more than practice. It takes
cunning, guile and ruthlessnes, too. Rivetting!
Cairo 678 (Egypt - Dir: Mohamed Diab) 4/5
Another beauty in Arabic. 3 women deal
with sexual harrassment in Cairo, on the buses and elsewhere. I
love the 3 different perspectives, which helps show the complexity of
the issues invloved. They actually argue amongst themselves, with the
conservative one accusing one (only one? why?) of the other two women
of attracting unwanted attention from men in the way she dresses and
wears her hair. This helps ventilate the questions that the audience
might be asking itself. There's also quite a different array of men
from the usual Arabic suspects. Again, this really takes the film into
the realm of the contrmporary middle east in a way we don't
always see. An important film, that's also satisfying and moving. Based
on part on a true story.
Silent Souls (Russia - Dir: Aleksei
I mentioned this above in the review of The Tree of Life. It's
everything that that film was not. Simple, and specific, but using that
specificity to make a much wider point. One of my favourite films of
the festival. Strange and moving. A bit of an Aki Kaurismaki feel
Norwegian Wood (Japan: - Dir: Tran
Anh Hung) 2/5
I saw this film at a preview before the festival, and was bored
rigid. If one more peson had sex outsife in the snow or in a puddle or
in wet grass, I was going to scream. It's beautiful, sure, with
beautiful people, but what a construct. Wouldn't this woman's problem
be cured by a bit of personal lubricant? Really! The most interesting
part of the film wa the way in which the ugly and ridiculous mens'
fasjions of the 1960s actually look good on the young japanese men. I
know that never happened
anywhere else in the 60s! Certainly not in Australia! It becomes
a real fetish in this film. Oh and I was entranced by Tetsuji
Tamayama as the effete Nagasawa.
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Brazil
- Dir: José Padiha)
A silly but exciting film that was just
Doctor ordered at this stage of the Festival. Quite a bit sillier than
the director's first SFF offering: Bus 174 (SFF
The Good Life (Denmark - Dir: Eva Mulrad) 3.5/5
Fascinating subjects for a doco, but the
film itself seems to be missong something cricial. Perhaps it's the
absence of the crucial main character in the story - the husband and
father who caused all this difficulty.
Post Mortem (Chile, Mexico, Germany
- Dir: Pablo Larrain)
A very murky and dark film, both in style
and in substance. Important, serious teatment of a serious
subject, with endearing characters, and an ending that looms ominously
over the whole film. But it's a hard film to love in the context of
all the other films in the Festival. Seen separately, I'm sure it would
be much easier to appreciate.
Project Nim (UK - Dir: James Marsh) 4.5/5
A conventional, but fascinating
documentary on a topic that I vaguely knew of, but didn't realise the
gravity that comes with the details. A must for all scientists and
science students. And more evidence that psychology can be dangerous in
the wrong hands! Director James Marsh made the compelling Man on Wire
(2008). He tells a complicated story here very well, juggling all the
main players and their roles very competently.
Animals Distract Me (USA: Dir: Isabella
So does Isabella Rosselini! If only she'd
spent more time on her mother's wardrobe, and less time on her dogs.
Dog fanciers bore me.
El Bulli: Cooking in Progress (Germany
- Dir: Gereon Wetzel) 3/5
Not as good as it could have been - see Jiro Dreams of
Sushi for a better food doco.
Maybe Ferran Adria's exhaustion was seeping into the film.
Actually, I think the story was told in the wrong order, starting with
the six months the restaurant doesn't work (when they experiment) and
then ending with the reveal of the food as it is presented in the 2nd
six months. While that's logical in a way, it delays gratification so
long, that we almost lose interest.
didn't the film mention that Adria has now closed up shop? Surely
that's relevant, and it was announced long ago.
Saturday 18 June
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (USA, Dir:
Werner Herzog) 4/5
Typical Werner Hertzog - in a good
way. A film in 3D that needs to be in 3D, despoite the annoying
glasses and the vague headache I always get. Becasue these undulating
cave walls, narrow passes and cramped conditions deserve to be seen in
reality, and this is about as close to it as we, the audience will ever
get. It is a real privilege to see these images, and it's vintage
Herzog, even to the extent of going off at a tangent at the end with a
bizarre tale of albino crocodiles being bred in an environment
constructed from the waste water from nuclear reactors 20 kms away, and
linking it to the rest of the film in a postscript!
Shelter (USA, Dir: Jeff Nichols) 4/5
A well-made psychological thriller, with a
commanding central performance by Michael Shannon, but hardly the stuff
of International Competition.
Toolmelah (Australia, Dir: Ivan Sen) 2/5
I have problems with this ultra-low-budget
film. Despite some quirky and charming humour (mostly involving the
charming Tanitia and her girlfriend), this is a bleak portrait of a
town. The director, whose family comes from Toomelah, shows us a young
boy corrupted by shiftless drug dealers, and suggests that it is
unlikely that even education will save him. He shows a brutal murder,
and told us later in the Q&A, that this film depends on perception:
to some people, he said, it will be a depressing portrait of a way of
life, and to others "it's just daily life". Daily life involving
the corruption of a child and a brutal murder? What does that
mean? Sen says it's not a political film, but he shows all that, plus
several members of the stolen generations (actually Auntie Cindy is a
lovely presence in the film). Dean Daley-Jones (Mad Bastards)
Big bad Bruce, but the rest of the cast is non-professional, and this
hurts the film in my opinion. Casting non-professionals is a very
tricky process, and while 10-year-old Daniel Conners, as Daniel, is an
interesting anti-hero, and manages to hold our attention, others do
not. Sen's landscape is still beautiful to look at, though, what little
there is of it.
There's Always Tomorrow (USA
- Retrospective - Dir: Douglas Sirk) 4.5/5
An incredibly tender film about husband
and father in 1956. Fred MacMurray is a hugely under-rated actor,
and he's perfect here. Matched with Barbara Stanwyck, they make a
luminous couple. And yet the point of the film is that they are not a
couple and never can be. If that isn't a recipe for melodrama, I don't
know what is. Marvellous!
This film is in black & white (I'm not sure why, since it was
released the same year as Written on the Wind
- perhaps they ran out of budget for the year). Cinematographer Russell
Metty is still working with Sirk, but this isn't as lush. Still it is
moody and the same half-face shots from the colour films are deployed
here too in sensitive moments of decision. There are also - as in the
other Sirk films - screens separating the characters, one notably
outside in the garden.
Jane Darwell (Ma, from The Grapes of Wrath
- Ford 1939) is the maid, and there's a bit of a sub-plot going on here
in that she has to fit her family committments around her job, and yet
nobody else seems concerned. When Joan Bennett, as the mother, decides
to help in the kitchen, it is completely perfunctory - only a symbolic
effort that presumably makes her feel good, but doesn't really assist
Another interesting moment: at one point I think it was Barbara
Stanwyck's character, Norma, but it could have been fred MacMurray's
Cliff - he's sensitive enough - says: "Tonight, for a little while,
time stood still." ("Blue Moon" plays on the soundtrack. That echoes
the theme of The
Future, by Miranda July, from this festival. Or rather,
prefigures it. And Cliff, as a toy manufacturer, has produced a
mechanical robot man, who marches symbolically throughout the film.
The film ends as a staunch endorsement of married life, with Cliff
wistfully watching Norma's plane fly away (she's been strong enough to
resist him) and this exchange, bittersweet, and ironic, follows:
Cliff: "You know m better than I know myself".
Marion: "I should, after a lifetime".
Senna (UK - Dir: Asif Kapadia) 4.5/5
A terribly exciting film about a wonderful
young man. Who knew all that was going on behind the scenes?
Great archival material - there must have been mountains of it, so
congratulations to the filmmakers for choosing material so well and
telling a compelling tale.
Boxing Gym (USA - Dir: Frederick
A very good companion piece to
Danse - Le Ballet de l'Opera de Paris (2009) (SFF 2010). But not
as rivetting. Much of it is fascinating, and hypnotic, and I love the
way the editing groups
various similar activities together (bouncing on a tyre, jumping around
the ring, skipping rope, sparring etc) and I love the way the camera
will focus on one part of the body and then move up, after a long
while, to reveal a body that does not seem to match the feet and legs
(or voice versa). There are also some great coversations, and some
incongruous ones, as people you wouldn't imagine as boxers discuss
politics and philosophy, and so on. But it's just not as absolutely
gorgeous as La
World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (USA
- Dir: Alex Stapleton)
This doco would have scored higher,
because it is funny, and informative, and balanced, with very good
access to all sorts of people relevant to Corman's life and work, and
with amazing footage of Jack Nicholson, who gets very emotional. But I
am a big fan of Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood,
which does the same sort of thing for "Ozploitation" films, but is sooo
much more fun.
Beginners (USA - Dir: Mike
Is it fair to review the 5th film after
seeing 4 films before it in the one day? Maybe not, but here goes...
I didn't like it. I know it is a wonderful subject
for a film, and it's a true-ish story, with very likeable actors. But
the way it is told annoyed me. Soft, downplayed, pastel colours,
perhaps meant to signify hazy memory, just looked murky and
indistinct to me. A fractured narrative is meant to be clever,
but was for me just annoying. The editing is very jerky (between scenes
it was positively jumpy) and that made me even more tired. I found no
chemistry between Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurant. I found her accent
indistinct at times (how ironic that there were subtitles for Toomelah, when
our indigenous people were speaking perfectly understandable English
with an Aussie accent, and yet none for Melanie's French mumbling (and
by the way, I speak reasonable French)). And the biggest crime of all,
the wonderful Christopher Plummer is so cut to pieces that he gets only
one sustained acting scene in the whole film(when he explains how it
was that he came to marry his wife and stay with her for so long). What
a waste of talent! Finally, I think that when a dog steals all
the scenes in such a film, it means the director has made some bad