Monday, June 9, 2008

Sydney Film Festival 2008 - First Reviews

They've snuck the festival opening forward this year, holding it on a Wednesday rather than the usual Friday night. I'm a bit of a traditionalist though; and with other plans for Friday night I kicked off my 2008 film festival viewing Saturday morning at the un-godly hour of 10am at the State. My selfish appeals for rain were ignored, and it was a glorious Sydney winter's morning as we settled down to watch the opening film, Quiet Chaos.

Directed by Antonio Grimaldi, Quiet Chaos stars Nanni Moretti and is very consistent with his earlier work; particularly in the exploration of the theme of family grief from The Sun's Room, and the conversational style of Caro Diario (amongst others) which in fact came out in Italy while I was living there. An easily likable film, it follows the way the protagonist (Moretti, of course) copes with his wife's unexpected death and the impact (or lack thereof) it has on his daughter, while offering a broader observation on some of the absurdities of modern life. It's lightly told and mostly subtle, with the exception of a surprisingly graphic sex-scene that seemed out of place with the feel of the rest of the film. This will most certainly get a run in the art-house cinemas later this year and is well worth seeing (that horrible expression from my travel diaries pops up again !).

The film festival is slowly expanding geographically - later in the year a sub-section of the films will tour regional Australia; and even during the Sydney fortnight, the festival now claims two screens in the George St Greater Union complex and one in the Dendy at Opera Quays. Next stop on the filmic agenda was Andalucia, down among the homeboys in George St. I'd assumed from the title it was a Spanish film, but in fact was a French film, which told the story of an Algerian immigrant, Yacine, trying to straighten out his life in Paris. This film can be accurately described as 'typical film festival fare' - with many unexplained scenes and random plot evolutions it's not at at all to everyone's taste. However I really enjoyed it, both for it's original view on life on the peripheries (literally and figuratively) of Paris; interesting characters (many played by non-actors) and particularly the talents and expressive face of the lead, Samir Guesmi. The ending (and link to the title) was really taking the piss though !

To take advantage of the weather, and complete the trifecta of festival venues, next stop was the Dendy in the Toaster building next to Sydney's Opera House (via a couple of glasses of bubbly watching the sunset behind the Bridge at the Opera Bar - a terrible day). On our agenda was a Swedish film, chosen mostly for my companion who was keen for a chance to practice her language skills. It was an inspired choice - I haven't laughed so much in a film in ages (much to the displeasure of my 'alien' a.k.a hernia). Du Levande (You, The Living) is a delightful series of loosely connected vignettes set in a run-down area of Stockholm. Initially purely humorous (and with unexpected outbursts of song, accompanied by a brass band), the film moves into exploring darker themes of history, guilt and human misery, while never losing its light touch and original world view. The soundtrack, credited to Abba's Benny Anderson of all people, is also a delight.

Finally (for this review set) a Monday film (once again accompanied by holiday rain) that was both worthy and enjoyable. Son of a Lion is an Australian produced and directed film set and shot completely in the Pashtun areas of the North West Frontier of Pakistan. The story itself, of a sensitive and artistic son rebelling against his traditional father is far from an original one; however it's in the telling that this film is special. The filming was mostly surreptitious; while the film makers had the full support of the villagers who appear in the film, they could not get permission from the government and needed to be constantly aware of interference from soldiers and officialdom. Consequently, most of the filming was done on a hand-held camera often relying on natural lighting (unintentionally following some of the rules of the Dogma manifesto.) Despite those constraints the film is physically beautiful; and with a soundtrack of traditional musicians masterminded by former Go-Between Amanda Brown it also sounds fantastic.

At the screening itself, which was the Australian premiere, we were lucky enough to have the presence of the film-maker, Benjamin Gilmour, and producer, Carolyn Johnson, for a Q&A. Unlike many Q&As at the Film Festival, this one was brief, informative and contained (mostly) actual questions rather than the usual festival-goer showing off. Modest, yet justifiably proud of their work, Benjamin and Carolyn treated us to amusing anecdotes about the filming and some fascinating background covering the inspiration for the story, the contributions of the villagers to the plot evolution, and some of the issues regarding the filming of women in such a traditional area. The film-makers were visibly moved when a member of the local Pashtun community stood up and stated how much the film meant to him. All in all, a great experience.

IMDB Links:
Son of a Lion
You the Living (Du Levande)
Quiet Chaos (Caos Calmo)

1 comment:

Sean Carmody said...

Maybe one day I'll be able to get back into Festival attendance!