Sydney Film Festival 2010 round-up
I got to 8 movies this year, my choices determined by a combination of what I knew about the films/film-makers and prosaic scheduling considerations. Here are a few thoughts on the films I saw.
White Material (Claire Denis)
Sight and Sound claimed last year that Denis is currently the best director in the world, so it wasn’t surprising how powerful this was. The always interesting Isabelle Huppert plays a coffee farmer doggedly staying at her plantation in Africa despite increasing social breakdown that soon encroaches on the family itself. Excellent stuff, though I was baffled by the denouement.
Lourdes (Jessica Hausner)
Pilgrims visiting Lourdes in the vain hope of receiving a miraculous cure from debilitating illness doesn’t sound like a natural subject for comedy, but this deadpan satire pulls it off. The horrible corporatisation of religion is demonstrated without it distracting from the desperate, doomed hopefulness of the characters. The cast is very good, in particular lead actress Sylvie Testud who has one of those wonderful cinematic faces.
Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz)
I missed the end of this due to an over-run, which should really disqualify me from commenting. From what I saw, though, it was far inferior to Happiness, to which it is a kind of sequel.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (Mat Whitecross)
This biopic of Ian Dury was overly derivative of the masterpiece 24 Hour Party People, but rescued by outstanding performances from Olivia Williams, Naomie Harris, Bill Milner, and an ebullient Andy Serkis as the great man himself. Afterwards, we all wanted to know more about Chaz Jankel who seemingly brought all of the musicianship to the Blockheads but had to put up with a horrendous amount of bullshit to do so.
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (Serge Bromberg & Ruxandra Medrea)
A delight for film nerds, this documentary details the disastrous, aborted production of a movie that just may have become a masterpiece. Certainly the unearthed footage of star Romy Schneider playing around while the technicians experimented with various lighting effects is startling. Sadly an excess of money sent the project spiralling towards destruction, but I couldn’t suppress a snicker when we learned that the moment that finally induced a heart attack in Clouzot was when he was filming a Sapphic clinch between his two leading ladies.
The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom)
The kerfuffle about its allegedly misogynist violence rather coloured my expectations of this noir, and even though the killing of Jessica Alba’s character in particular is really gut-wrenching I felt it was justified, unlike in a lot of exploitation movies and so on that don’t get the media so excited. There is a lot to admire here, including Casey Affleck’s fine central performance and the use of music, but as the subjective description of events becomes increasing detached from “reality” the film loses its way.
I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino)
Swoon! I loooved this, a slow burning, sensual treat that reminded me a lot of In The Mood For Love. It’s one of those films in which you can taste the food, smell the fields and touch the skin; I found it really intoxicating. There’s also lots of fun for cinephiles spotting the references to classics by Visconti, Hitchcock and others.
Wasted On The Young (Ben C Lucas)
This was a strange experience because I’m acquainted with the director, so as I was being impressed I also had a little meta-narrative in my head consisting primarily of phrases like “Holy shit, I can’t believe Ben made this!” Anyway, I posted a full review on imdb for your pleasure (short version; very impressive).
Having written all that I realise what a great festival it was. Barely a dud movie amongst them, and a few real treats.