Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sydney Film Festival 2009 - Here we go again

It seems to come around faster every year; like everything else I guess. Suddenly it's the June long weekend and time for the Sydney Film Festival again. I've already seen 10 films without putting pen to paper (or mouse to pad, or whatever the 21st century equivalent will be*) so it's time to get scrawling.

First, the changes. The Film Festival has been reduced to 11 days from the previous fortnight, which I think is a good thing. Reasons given vary from the GFC to aligning with other festivals around the world - regardless, 11 days over 4 cinemas is plenty of time to absorb some great cinema from around the world without demanding too much of a sacrifice.

On the downside, the ticketing and website have both changed - and not in a good way. Replacing Ticketmaster with a hand made solution - apparently used by 'other festivals' has caused serious grief - and the re-jigged website to support this is several times less user-friendly than that of previous years. Added to that, the new system requires each ticket to be printed out on an A4 sheet after about 5 minutes of data entry - resulting in ridiculous queues at the box-office, which has been relocated to a bunker. I feel sorry for the staff having to deal with frustrated festival goers - some of whom can get pretty (unreasonably) stroppy.

On the upside though, the films have been better than ever and after 10 films I've yet to see a dud ! Hopefully there'll be no Not So Positive reviews this year ...

I missed the opening night 'Looking for Eric' - which hopefully I'll catch on local release, so my first film was the Chilean film La Nana - The Maid. This 2009 Sundance World Cinema Grand Jury prize winner is set in an upper-middle class Chilean family and focusses on the relationship between the family and their aging and increasingly bitter and erratic maid, Raquel, played by a Chilean television star Catalina Saavedra.

While the opening phase of the film was clever in exploring the middle class guilt that inhabits the complex relationship with live-in help, and there were plenty of gags as we watched Raquel undermine her 'helpers' - at a certain point in time, I was left thinking, 'sure - but what's the point'. That was answered for me in the delightful and unexpected final third of the film that really gave the film its meaning.

Afterwards we were treated to a better than usual Q and A session with director Sebastián Silva and actor Catalina Saavedra. Silva in particular charmed the audience with his frank discussion and admission that the story was 60-70% based on his family experience, as well as being a very common scenario in Latin America in general. Asked how the real-life Raquel has reacted to her on screen depiction he replied simply: 'She dyed her hair blonde, quit her job [after 20 years with the family] and got a boy-friend' !

A great start to the Festival.

*The twitterati have decided that fingers to keys is the new pen to paper. Obvious really !


Matthew said...

Nice review. Wish I was there. You know how much I love those deep low-production-value foreign films.

Duncan said...

Indeed. I reckon the next two films to be reviewed are more to your taste. In English and heaps of swearing.