Originally posted 24th July 2007 on last.fm.
Here's the final batch of mini-reviews / notes from the 2007 Sydney Film Festival. First the worst - Don't Touch the Axe - a slow, boring, pretentious, try-hard French film. I lasted longer than it deserved before walking out because I couldn't believe that it wasn't going to get better and reward me for my patience; but people I spoke to later who went the distance want that part of their life back. Gerard Depardieu jnr (his parents call him Guillaume) has the distinctive facial features but none of the acting talent of his father; and hobbled (literally) through the film with a single pained expression on his face as he attempted to justify the absurd story he was trapped in. An unbelievable (in the literal sense) love affair between unsympathetic characters; I'm not sure I've ever seen a worse film, at least not with the same pretence of being worthy.
Luckily I didn't know much about Black Snake Moan, although the presence of Justin Timberlake in the cast didn't really give me much cause for optimism. However this is a surprising and powerful story; inspired and driven by the blues. If you get a chance to see this, do. If you can, avoid the trailer, which puts a misleading slant on the film, and destroys the surprise of one of the scenes with the greatest impact. It's also highly recommended to see it in a cinema with the best sound system possible. I'm no Blues fan, but the music makes this film, and I ended up buying the Soundtrack, in which Samuel L. Jackson demonstrates an impressive talent as a Blues musician.
My other unexpected highlight was Beaufort. I didn't have high hopes for the story of an Israeli army camp, and I only attended reluctantly. The press attaché of the Israeli consulate in Sydney had been invited to speak on behalf of the Consul General; and, demonstrating a woeful ignorance of his audience; launched into a political speech defending Israel's recent (2007) incursion into Lebanon. He was roundly heckled for his troubles; but most of the audience remained and were rewarded with an intensely powerful (again !) and tense personal story. Almost documentary like; the film focuses on the young commander of the Israeli military base - Beaufort - built on an old Crusader fort, and his relationship with his team. The commander had the challenging job of attempting to motivate his soldiers to defend the camp with their lives, given the knowledge that his government was contemplating abandoning the camp to give the peace process a chance. Politics was by definition present in the story but the film maker chose not to take a political position; instead focusing on the personal impact of the situation on the soldiers. In doing so, the audience was left with far greater sympathy for the plight of those soldiers than any propaganda piece (or ill-considered speech) could have done.
Danish film After The Wedding is a taut modern mainstream film that will certainly get wider release later in the year. Starring 'Maddie' (Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen) popular in Oz due to the SBS hit Unit One (and now a Bond star), the film follows the story of a Danish volunteer teaching working in India who is lured back to Denmark with the promise of funding for his orphanage. Highly recommended.
Finally, another episode in the Sounds on Screen series, Scott Walker - 30 Century Man, a bio-pic of former The Walker Brothers member Scott Walker. My knowledge of Walker came mainly through his covers of Jacques Brel songs; although I was also aware of his earlier fame, and vaguely that his later work was non-prolific and 'difficult'. This film covers the full range of his career and gives a great picture not only of the artist and his music, but also an insight into his motivations and extreme difficulty in concluding any artistic endeavours as he gets older. Other artists such as Jarvis Cocker, Radiohead, and importantly David Bowie (his involvement released much needed funding for the film) spoke of Walker's influence on their career. And the pig carcass slapping scene is not to be missed !