Sydney Film Festival; Seriously Fantastic Fun
8 more films to wrap up Sydney Film Festival 2011, which I enjoyed more than any of the festivals I have attended over the past few years.
The directorial debut of Paddy Considine, one of my favourite actors, features two other excellent performers from the same generation, Peter Mullan and Eddie Marsan. So it was a surprise to me that the standout performance in this hard-hitting film came from somebody with whom I was previously unfamiliar, Olivia Colman. The story is a grim one involving graphically presented domestic violence, and the audience is left considering the limits and appropriateness of forgiveness in extreme circumstances.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
I had been looking forward to this a great deal as a confirmed Werner Herzog fan and after some excellent reviews elsewhere. It was quite amusing to see the festival crowd uncomfortably putting on their 3D specs but the use of depth really pays off when the camera lingers on the amazing 30,000 tear old cave paintings that are the film’s raison d’etre. An interesting doco enlivened by some typical Herzog flourishes.
This kind-of-thriller about a family man who gets prophetic visions of horrible future events works well in its early stages with some effective horror movie stylings and a sense of dread. Basically a study of male impotent terror in the face of global forces (the GFC, climate change), the mental illness plot trajectory develops promisingly before being horribly undermined by a terribly ill-judged coda.
One of those lavish Chinese period melodramas, this is one of the less interesting examples of the genre that I have seen. The plot gets very tangled early on and never quite recovers, but the imposing performance of Wang Xue Qi as the baddie is never less than enjoyable.
There’s Always Tomorrow
On my film course, David Stratton occasionally gets grumpy about us laughing inappropriately at moments which, to a contemporary audience, would have been moments of high drama. After watching this admittedly hokey 1956 melodrama accompanied by the sound of constant chuckling at its earnestness, I see the bloke’s point. The noises off were a distraction from a handsome production that featured Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in well-written roles as former lovers that meet again later in life. The result is a typically Sirkian critique of marriage; the family unit is subversively depicted as suffocating and dull, but ultimately social stability is restored by personal sacrifices being made.
The petrol heads invaded the State Theatre for this doco, which made for a lively and unusual atmosphere. I have about as much interest in Formula 1 as I do in automated pool cleaners, but this brilliant doco does such an excellent job of telling its compelling story that I was utterly gripped throughout. Superb, and the “Rosebud” moment at the very end had me floored.
I’m not sure I exactly enjoyed this slow, meditative Western while it was unfolding, but the sudden ending really had me thinking about how much it had to say on an allegorical level. A conventional resolution would have had a reductive effect on the questions it raised about the nature of leadership and democracy.
It seemed appropriate to end the festival with a shamelessly hagiographic celebration of a great film maverick, the incomparable Roger Corman. Much is made of his influence over those who he mentored, who went on to become the great Hollywood generation of the 70s. Ironically, it was films by this generation such as Jaws and Star Wars that put an end to the drive-in culture that was Corman’s lifeblood and exiled him to the slightly sad world of straight-to-video.
I was also supposed to see Stake Land, but by this stage I was exhausted and just wanted to head home to remind myself what my children look like.
14 movies in total, then, and 2011 was a particularly good vintage for female actors (Jessica Chastain, Olivia Colman, Michelle Williams) and documentaries of both the conventional and unconventional sort (Senna, The Arbor).
The best film of the year? A tie between Tree of Life (for its ambition) and Senna (for its emotional impact).