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Sydney Film Festival 2004 Diary Week 1

Cate Blanchett at Coffee and Cigarettes
by Michael Collins

Greeting a festival is an ominous feeling. It's going to be a long haul, but you do look forward to the experience. My festival experience was to start with someone else who went through a long hard road. What follows are random thoughts from the fest.

Short: GARDENING TIPS FOR HOUSE WIVES.
A treatise of dealing with the fear of the unknown – possibly. A lot of fear is self-created and self fulfilling. Ugly hand held video contributed to the film not looking real good. Some of the audience were laughing at things that were not funny - Are people overly keen to laugh to prove they’re in on the joke?
An old couple meet to find an intruder in the backyard. The homeless guy is first met with hostility, but the woman gradually becomes more caring and interested in his life. The film has some Blair Witch-style scary moments.

BUKOWSKI: BORN INTO THIS
The first feeling you get is that Bukowski is a pathetic drunk. He comes across as thoroughly unlikeable. He can’t be as romantic as he might appear in his poetry yet, paradoxically, Bukowski was still driven and vivid in his descriptions. He's still thoroughly unlikeable though. Once the film settles down it gets interesting with funny contradictions of him being a lazy drunk to someone who writes every day and posts letters and submissions to publishers. “Hatred will be perfect.”The film points out that the alcoholism was just a distortion. The movie gets past his façade of his alcoholism and finds the fascinating pathetic person beneath.

Bought some new hankies on the way to the theatre. I’ll need them as the flu is going around - there are people coughing already.

Short: GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD.
A movie about death. A boy discovers an old dead man. The boy continues to visit and takes the dead man on outings. It kind of turns into a Weekend At Bernies. And that’s not really a good thing.

The ending was nice though.

AATRA
It’s all in a name. A black and white film that spends a lot of its time not doing all that much in particular. The sound scape – lots of quiet and then really loud shocks (like trains) makes the film a jolting experience for an audience. I dunno about these minimalist story tellers. Seems kinda tedious this one. I was wondering if the film was meant to be funny. Tragedy and comedy are so close together. From a festival crowd (always eager to laugh) there doesn’t seem to be much laughter going on.

Two men who are petty enemies form a friendship of sorts when they both end up in wheelchairs. An accident brings two erstwhile enemies together for a joint quest. AATRA isn’t a laugh-a-minute and I lost interest in finding what happened to the two men about half way through the flick. Together they take an occasionally amusing, misadventure that takes them to bike races and trips abroad, but white subtitles on a white background don’t really help very much. And the ending made the film feel like a feature length short film.

THE WOODSMAN.
This film immediately strikes you with its great music. Kevin Bacon is looking his age – all haggard as a pedophile just released from jail. The film immediately feels gritty. It has a single ominous tone, but it has rock solid acting.

The Woodsman is tense and really gets in the mind of Bacon’s character. It is such good writing that, frankly, it just blew me away. The film is short – perhaps it could have done with a little more meat on the bones., but a well told short story is still a well told story. Good stuff.

Short: EVERYTHING GOES
Hugo Weaving and Abbie Cornish (one of the girls from Life Support) star in this fun story. Good to see Hollywood bigshot Weaving still doing little films like this one after his star-making Matrix and Lord of the Rings turns.

Weaving plays a man coming through a bitter split up. He decides to sell everything and puts in all on the front lawn. A couple turn up interested in buying a whole lot of his things, so they get to talking and end up staying for hours, with Weaving and Cornish starting to hit it off. The girl’s partner loses interest and falls in an alcohol-induced sleep while Weaving – with swing music playing – woos the girl. A nice fun little film.

FAR SIDE OF THE MOON (Le Face Cachée de la Lune)
A struggling thesis student writes for a PhD. Beautifully directed, Robert LeParge is – amongst other things – dealing with his mother’s death and how he fits into the world. His brother (played by LeParge as well) is the complete opposite.

The film is about exploring another side of life – looking for something else. Wonderfully realised, the film was a based on a play and has a very quirky French feel to it, being visually beautiful and superbly acted. It shows the narcissism of humans and struck me as funny and endearing, enjoyable and original. It is this sort of film that you go to a festival to see.

THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONISTS (De Fem Benspænd)
Lar Von Trier is a madman film maker. That’s what makes him so infuriating and interesting. His little challenge for a fellow filmmaker, Jørgen Leth, is delightfully wicked and produces fascinating results. The challenge is to remake the short film The Perfect Human (that Seth made back in 1967) five times with certain restrictions.

The first of the five obstructions is: The film must be set in Cuba, with no single shot more than 12 frames, and questions asked in the original film are to be answered.

The second obstruction is to set the in a miserable place (India), but not show it, and have the filmmaker eating a meal (a sumptuous meal in the slums of India). The second film, however, is deemed a failure by Von Trier after not fulfilling the conditions of the obstruction, so he commands that Leth make it again, or make a freestyle film. Leth decides to take the freestyle option - in Brussels. Obstruction 4 is to make a cartoon. Which in my opinion is the best film. The animation will be everybody’s favourite despite Von Trier's aim to make it a horrible film. The fifth obstruction is for Von Trier to make the film, but credit Leth as the director.

The film nicely provides insight into the creative process of film making and is a real test for Leth. Von Trier obviously wants to leave a mark on his friend. A great little experiment that was interesting to watch, this is my documentary pick of the fest thus far.

COFFEE AND CIGARETTES
Man, what a dream cast – could this film be any cooler? At the festival, the film was introduced by Cate Blanchett. It consists of a number of vignettes of people talking over coffee and cigarettes.

The first, made years ago, features Roberto Benigni and Stevie Wright. The manic Benigni trembles uncontrollably in a hilarious mix of caffeine high and cigarette craving.

Steve Buscemi turns up in another of the stories and is hilarious. 'Somewhere In California' has Iggy Pop and Tom Waits who quietly have a passive aggressive feud going with each other. Waits claims he’s a doctor. They both claim to be non-smokers and so choose to only have one smoke a piece - ‘since they’ve quit.’

Blanchett plays opposite herself, playing ‘herself’ and her cousin. This film amazes all the way through as it's not just great acting, it's great acting opposite a character who is the same actress.

RZA, GZA and Bill Murray feature at the end and help bring the film together beautifully while showing the post coffee and cigarettes world. Two old men talking about old times provides the epilogue. The film reminds me of Blue in the Face (which Jim Jarmusch is actually in).

ZELARY
Rhymes with celery. Beautiful looking and beautiful music. A story of a nurse (and hopeful doctor) escaping Nazi Germany by posing as a wife of a Czech farmer. It's romantic and amusing, showing what rural life in WWII era Czech was like. An epic story that displays the full gambit from joy to tragedy. This one might be a bit of a festival favourite.

Short: WE HAVE DECIDED NOT TO DIE
Great little short. Stark and dramatic. Formal looking – kinda has a German feel to it, although there is Asian-style music. Featuring a woman in a pool, a man jumping between two cars, another man jumping through a window. The doesn't have a narrative, but it was pretty cool nevertheless.

It’s funny how with some films you wonder why the 'sell out' sign is up so quickly and with others you wander why they haven’t sold well. Then you watch those unpopular festival films and you quickly discover the hard way why people haven’t turned up.

GOODBYE DRAGON INN
This film quickly feels like it drags on too long. Festival goers (who are usually rather forgivable about these things) start fidgeting in their seats almost immediately. Oh man, nothing is happening in this film.

It’s not 15 minutes into the film and people are starting to leave. Long drawn out shots that barely tell us anything. All this formal film making works well in shorts (as in the preceding short), but in this particular feature film it is all too hard. The film feels pretty painful. There are nice colours and shadows and stuff, but really this is so tedious. I left after half an hour. I just couldn’t handle it.

When I turn up at the Dendy Quays I note with interest that that West of the Tracks – the 8 hour epic from China – has in fact sold out. How will those people survive?

NOTHING
Survival was also on my mind with just getting into Nothing – the new film from director Vincenzo Natali (of Cube fame). My ticket hadn’t turned up, but a quick phone call thankfully cleared things up with festival staff.' Alexis' had just become the best person ever from the festival in my eyes.

ANTHEM
Systemically, this film has a weak start. Such an important subject, but the camera work lets things down. Amateur narration, but powerful and heartfelt. The film starts off as the refugee state. Powerful and at times difficult to watch.

DE-LOVELY
De-Lovely is brilliantly structured with the director talking to an old Cole Porter. The director and Porter talking is a useful device to show what’s on the mind of Porter.

The highlights of the film are the performances. 'Night and Day' sent tingles all over – it’s my favourite Porter song. This film is an absolute treat for Porter fans, like me. The performance of 'Love For Sale' was beautiful.

The occasional Wilde-esque wit carries the film even further. The film’s story is more about his relationship with his wife. It was an open marriage of sorts, but nevertheless one of love. Glamourous clothes as well. Natalie Cole’s performance was beautiful. This one's a good'un.


link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=1154
originally posted: 06/28/04 08:07:14
last updated: 06/30/04 19:50:00
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