Sydney Film Festival 2012

* If you arrived here after a search, either scroll down to the film you were looking for, or search the text for the name of the film.

My 10 favourite films of the festival were:

Amour (by a mile, then in no real order)
Death of a Japanese Salesman
Caesar Must Die
The Last Emperor
The Sheltering Sky
Winter Nomads
Woody Allen: A Documentary
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Under African Skies
El Gusto.

This year I saw 46 Festival Films over the 12 days of the Festival, but for the first time ever I didn't go to the Opening Night film, and I had to miss one day of screenings, so given that, it's not a bad record. As ever, sorry for any typos.  I don't have spellchecker on Mozilla, and I type these reviews really fast so I can get them down quickly.  I correct errors later, as I see them.  Oh, and, as an author I should say that all these reviews are copyright. You must not use any part of them without my permission.

Hope all this is of some help to anyone out there who visits... At least it keeps it all straight for me...

Thursday 7 June

Death of a Japanese Salesman

(Japan. Dir: Mami Sunada. Rated 4.5/5)

How innovative for a documentary to be narrated by its dead subject, but in the voice of his daughter! This clever device allows liberties to be taken with the thoughts of its subject, but this is all done consistently and in good taste. There's a lot of innovation here, but what's also striking about this moving film is its clear vision. Sunada-san was a remarkable man, an honourable man, an extremely well-organised man, and though he refers to his unmarried daughter as disorganised, she has done him the greatest honour with this film.  It's a box office smash in Japan, and it deserves even more success.

Modest Reception
(Iran. Dir: Mani Haghigi. Rated 3.5/5)

Although a lot of the time it feels manipulative, Modest Reception is kind of like an Iranian Breaking Bad, in that it poses a moral dilemma, and then keeps ramping it up, until you question whole moral structure. Clever, important and beautifully shot, this is not an easily digested film, but will bear much thinking about. All ths actors are strikingly beautiful, even the ugly ones. Its picaresque aspects, and its religiosity, made me think of Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957), especially when the teacher tries to bury his baby daughter.

La Pirogue 
(France, Senegal, Germany. Dir: Moussa Touré. Rated 

They say you should never make a film set on water, but I'm so glad Moussa Touré did. It's a moving story about what motivates people to leave their communities & set out on a perilous journey to a better life. La Pirogue is very well-staged on a beautiful boat with a hair-raising storm sequence. This film and its imagery has stayed with me throughout the festival and  it seems to get better as I compare it to other, more  hyped films, many of which have disappointed.

Vivas Las Antipodas
(Netherlands, Germany, Argebtina, Chile. Dir: Victor Kossakovsky. Rated 3/5)

This film is often beautuiful, has an intriguing premise: why not connect and examine lands that are antipodean opposites (such as ). It also boasts a pair of shabby philosophers:  but the trouble is that it is too repetitive, and is plagued with an often dreadful and always too loud music score, to the extent that my hands were over my ears for some of the film!
Friday 8 June

Winter Nomads  
(Switzerland. Dir: Manuel von Sturler. Rated

Gorgeous documentary that both uplifted me and taught me something about the diversity of human pusuits. In a Film Festival where too many filmmakers have made films about themselves making films about a subject (such as The Virgin, the Copts and Me, among many others), this is a film where the filmmaker kept himself out of the frame and the plot, in circumstances of great inconvenience and discomfort.  Superb documentary filmmaking!

Just the Wind 
(Hungary, Germany, France. Dir: Bence Fliegauf. Rated: 2.5/5)

This is a fictional film that draws on a real story about violence against the Romany people in Hungary. We learn early on that several cases from 2008-9 are "currently" under investigation.

The film paints the picture well, though it takes a long time to wind up to the particular violence that we are expecting. Unfortunately, then it's predictable. Although the fate of the young boy protagonist is left up in the air, I suspect he got away by hiding in his lair. But we don't know, and feel unsatisfied after the long lead-up.

Caesar Must Die 
(Italy. Dir: Paolo Taviani, Vittotio Taviani. Rated: 4.5/5)

A great favourite of mine, still, now, when the Festival is nearly over. It involves the staging of Jullius Caesar in an Italian Prison, with some really hard case prisoners as the actors (and one professional - I'm still not exactly sure who it was). Really interesting in conception, structure and visually -- especially in the use of the prison grounds and cells and common areas as the setting.

It does raise questions as to how much was scripted, how much was improvised, how much was real and how much unreal, but I think looking too closely at these questions misses the point of the film, which is the redemptive power of art, and the ability of the classics to speak to us now -- all of us. A fascinating exercise and a really moving experience.

Play it Like Godard  2/5
(France, Belgium. Dir: Jonathan Zaccai. Rated: 2/5)

A one-joke film, whose only really fun part comes at the very end. The French title is JC Comme Jesus Christ. Didn't they think we would understand it in English?  I had to write a review in French for my French class, so, at the risk of being as pretentious as the protagonist of the film, JC, here it is, errors and all:

Play It Like Godard (JC Comme Jesus Christ)

Un des films au Festival du Film de Sydney, que je n’ai pas aimé, était Play It Like Godard (JC Comme Jesus Christ).

C’était une comedie, mais avec une seule blague. Le film raconte l’histoire d’un jeune garçon qui devient un directeur (JC, “comme Jesus Christ”), un genie cineaste alors qu’il est encore au lycée. Il a tous les problèmes d’un adolescent: les petites amies, les examens, les parents, mais (comme il ne cesse pas de nous le rappeler) il était le gagnant de la Palme’d’Or à quinze ans, et du César à seize ans.

C’est une idée excellent , mais le film n’a jamais capitalisé sur ce point. La meme blague se répete interminablement.

La meilleure partie du film vient à la fin, quand le vrai Jean-Luc Godard apparaît, assis sur un banc du parc, dos à la caméra. Il donne ses idées pour les films à JC. Zut alors! JC est un faux!

Under African Skies 
(USA. Dir: Joe Berlinger. Rated: 4.5/5)

The central argument of this film, a celebration of 25 years since Paul Simon's fabulous Graceland album, is one betwen Paul Simon and the ANC, most ably represented by Dali Tambo, who headed an organisation called "Artists Against Apartheid". The gracious Mr Tambo is the son of the prominet ANC head Oliver Tambo, and he was one of the most vocal critics of Paul Simon's cultrural-boycott-breaking visit to South Africa to record part of the Graceland album, and the subsequent Gracelan tour of the world by Simon and various African musicians, including some of the Graceland crew plus Hugh Nasakela and Miriam Makeba.

Simon proposes to Tambo that he tells his story and then Tambo should tell his.  Tambo wins the argument comprehensively, but he is a gracious vanquisher - quite the diplomat. Along the way we hear (for some, once again) the story of how the album came about, how Simon collaberated with the African musicians, and, most fascinatingly, we hear their stories. We hear from Harry Belafonte, who counselled Simon in how to go about doing the album in South Africa with the proper permission, and we hear that Simon disregarded that advice, preferring to argue that the artist is above politics.  In fact the analogy he uses about a teenager borrowing the family car betrays his shallow and selfish take on the issue. Simon may be a poet and a genius of music, but he's no philosopher, and he's politically ignorant. One story he tells about a South African recording engineer's assessment of one band of black musicians made me gasp at Simon's capacity to be gulled. Another story about some of African musicians on tour to NYC asking how they could get "permission" to visit Central Park brought tears to my eyes.

And of course there' s wonderful footage of the rehearsals for, and the performance of, the 25th anniversary concert itself, as well as footage from 25 years ago.

Director Joe Berlinger (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, 2004) gives us a balanced and inteligent documentary with some great new material, and some fabulous interviews (excepting Oprah and Whoopi Goldberg - are they supposed to be experts in music or are they just black celebrities?).  And in the end, the music speaks for itself.  You'll want to dig the album out and play it with a new appreciation for its crafting, and for the musicians behind the scenes.

Saturday 9 June

Before the Revolution  4/5
(Italy. Dir: Bernardo Bertolucci. Rated 4/5)

By way of introoduction (thank you SFF for having the retrospective films properly introduced) Jane Mills said:
The trademarks of Bernardo Bertolucci ("BB"), according to IMDB, are:
• frequent nude scenes
• long, complex camera movements
• non-linear time
• frequent references to classic movies (and popular culture)
• knowledge and love of cinema.
JM adds BB's love of the "poetry of cinema".  (He was a poet before he was a director). BB said: "cinema is the true poetic language".

The title of this film comes from Tallyrand: "He who has not lived in the years before the Revolution cannot know what the sweetness of living is". BB uses this ironically.

The cinematography is by Antonioni's DP on L'Avventura:
Other BB themes incude:
• visually expresssed anxiety
• Freudian fears and ambivalence
• Marxist theory and revolutionary thought.
• Use of space (cf Antonioni).

JM draws attention to a "tour de force" scene where Fabrizio and Gina go shopping. The dance scene, she also said was "amazing", and wondered about the influence of Visconti.
The music is also terribly important: BB was born in Parma, the birthplace of Verdi. Most of BB's films have Verdi's music. And the rest of the sountrack is ny Ennio Morricone.

JM answered the question: "Why a BB retrospective?" by saying:
• BB now 72 and in a wheelchair. His last film, You and Me was not well received. It is important to look at his contribution to cinema now
• As in Godard, his jump cutting makes you jumpy.
• He made Before the Revolution when he was 22. It was his 2nd film. He said he "needed to exorcise certain fears" and in the film the bourgeois Marxist has certain guilts and the fear of being sucked back into his bourgeois beginnings.

To set the film in context, JM said:
•1964, Italy, social realism was winding down but still influential. Films included Germi's Divorce, Italian Style, and De Sica's Marriage, Italian Style. The topic of Italian social customs was being broached.
• In France, we had The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and in Japan, Woman of the Dunes.
• In Australia, The Dancing Class (Tom Cowan) and I, The Aboriginal (Cecil Holmes).
• My Fair Lady
won the Oscar for Best Film and Sidney Poitier won the Best Actor Oscar.

The film takes place at Easter time in Parma.
My comments:
Before the Revolution is poetic, romantic, confusing, clever, and cerebral. It exemplifies everything that Bertolucci would explore later in his career. Some of the dialogue is brilliant, and memorable. For example, towards the end of the film, Aunt Gina, with whom our hero Fabrizio has had an affair, says: "I hate Verdi. He is everything we are not. I prefer Mozart".

The film ends on a sombre note, with Fabrizio giving up his communist ideal and conforming to society's expectations. Which was Berolucci's great fear.

Also, at last I see where Bill Henson got his inspiration for his "Paris Opera" series of photos.

The Spider's Strategem  4/5

(Italy. Dir: Bernardo Bertolucci. Rated 4/5)

Intro by Jane Mills:

After Before the Revolution, BB made a doco about petroleum, a couple of shorts, a film called Partner (very Godard influenced) and was involved in theatre.

The Spider's Strategem takes place both during and after the Revolution, and again is non-linear in structure. It comes from "The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero", Jorge Luis Borges novel.

In a 1936 review of Alfred Hitchcock’s "The Thirty-nine Steps", Borges wrote: “...from an absolutely dull adventure story – "The Thirty-nine Steps" by John Buchan – Hitchcock has made a good film. He has invented episodes, inserted wit and mischief where the original contained only heroism. He has thrown in delightfully unsentimental erotic relief, and a thoroughly charming [new] character...”

Like that film, this is not an adaptation of the Borges novel. BB invents, beyond the story, but he honours the spirit, if not the detail. It has the following characteristic BB aspects:
• refers to other films
• complex camera movements - long tracking shots.
• non-linerality
• references to painters and art movements, esp de Chirico and Magritte. Eg the dark bluish shots of the house replicate "The Empire of the Lights" by de Chirico.

The cinematographer was Vittorio Storaro, who, in his book Writing with Light,  said: "Bertolucci has always showed me paintings. When we were making The Spider's Stratagem he showed me some of Magritte's work".

JM quoted from Roger Ebert's 1970 review:

We learn all we need to know about the relationship between the father, the son, and the town, in one group of opening shots. The boy stops on "Via Athos Magnani" - -a street named for his father-- and then approaches the square where his father's statue stands. Bertolucci lines up the deep focus shot so that it begins with the son completely blocking out the statue. Then, as he walks through the square, the statue completely obscures the son.

• Storaro & BB use wide angles and long angles - despite the fact it's shot for TV.
• Opera is beautifully done, and the references to opera win out over the art references, says JM.
 Relativity between Marx and Freud: BB had just started psychoanalysis.
• In neo-realism, character and place define each other. Here, places define character.
• There's Brechtian distancing. BB wants us both to participate and reflect as an audience. That's a big risk, but he pulls it off.

Alain Miguet, from Before the Revolution, is here the boy in the sailor suit. He later became a member of Andy Warhol's Factory

My comments:
This is a much more "narrative" film than Before the Revolution, but the narrative is not linear. A young man returns to the town where his father had grown up. The father was an anti-fascist hero, but there is a mystery surrounding his death that still hasn't been solved. In trying to solve it, the young man (both father and son are played by the same actor, Guilio Brogi) is enmeshed in the spider's strategem. He also seems to become his father. This is one of the films in which the protagonist changes clothes with someone else, but in this case, it is actually 2 diferent people wearing 2 different sets of clothing - but they look the same.

I noticed right at the start that the town is called Tara, and the opening shot has a castle in a cornfield that could be a reference to Gone With the Wind.  The father was killed during the final applause for the opera Rigoletto. This sounds like a reference to Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, where the murder is to take place during an orchestral concert. Later someone says he got the idea from Shakespeare (I think Macbeth).

The film plays like a feverish nightmare, and is very convoluted. In the end, (spoiler alert!) it seems that the father orchestrated his own assassination to keep the cause alive. But the final scene casts a magnificent ambiguity over the whole film: the son waits for the train to get out of town, but the tracks are overgrown, so that it appears he never actually arrived there at all.


Beasts of the Southern Wild (seen in preview)
(USA. Dir: Benh Zeitlin). Rated 2/5)

Contrary to almost everyone else in the world, I thought that this film screamed inauthenticity. It has a certain authenticity of place, and I know that the many of actors are non-professional locals. All this seems real, but there is an overlay to this film that seems utterly false to me.

What is the theme of this film? When faced with calamity (including the most ridiculous beasts put on film since (Attack of) The  Killer Shrews (Ray Kellogg, 1959) put dogs in shrew suits), what to do? Just act brave, be pugnacious and you will live to become a shrimp-eating alcoholic like everyone else in the wonderfully-named community: "The Bathtub"?

If not, and if you are sick, then leave hospital, die, and have your daughter put you out to sea in the very boat that you have just spent your last hours teaching the kid to earn her living in by fishing. What a waste of a car-shaped boat! What a waste of my intellectual energy!

A fantasy with pretentions of philosophical depths, I say this is another example of The Emperor's New Clothes. The little kid is good, but.

A Royal Affair (seen in preview)
(Denmark, Sweden, Czech Republic, Germany. Dir: Nikolaj Arcel. Rated 3.5/5)

A curious film in many ways: ravishing and atonishing - the unbelievable truth of this film dwarfs even the recent The King of Devil's Island from Norway- but the film makers insist it is all true. It's also a strange cross between historical melodrama (think MGM's Marie Antoinette with Norma Shearer from 1938, but with Mads Mikkelsen in the Tyrone Power part) and social-reform polemic. The actors do well with this curious melange, which is also quite long at 128 minutes (but then Marie Antoinette ran for 149 mins!).  Still, things keep moving, everything looks good, and yet the tone the film strikes is odd. You might recognise at least one of the actors in a smallish part from the Danish TV series The Killing.

A Royal Affair will be in cinemas in Australia from 21 June.

(Australia, Germany. Dir: Cate Shortland. Rated 2.5/5)

I'm afraid I could not connect with this film. It looks beautiful, but I think that might be part of the problem. The look of the film detracts from the ugliness of the story. I think I also found it very hard to believe the story. And I wondered why an Australian director with a great sense of Australian place (Somersault (2004, SFF 2004 & 2011, which I also didn't like very much) would be making a European film in Europe. Her partner, Tony Krawitz, has done the same thing with his film, Dead Europe (SFF 2012), which I also could not connect with.

But as with Rampart, there are signs of greatness in the final scene. When the china is shattered, I felt a welter of emotion. Was this what the director intended, that all the emotion should be bottled up until the end? If so, she succeeded, but it made for a very uncomfortable and confusing viewing experience. This film divided the SFF audience. Some loved it, some hated it, many were confused and unable to connect.

(USA. Dir: Oren Moverman. Rated 3/5)

This film is a bit of a surpise, coming as it does from Oren Moverman, the very talented director of The Messenger from 2009 (SFF 2010). That was a fabulous film, and this is something of a comedown. Both films starred Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster, but this one seems overly swayed by 2 sources: the story written and and script co-written by James Ellroy, and the genre crime/ dirty cop films of the 1970s (which I've been rewatching lately, and which strike you mostly as being directed with a surprisingly matter-of-fact and light touch).

Here it's all over-the-top, which was unexpected, given the delicacy of The Messenger. Ben Foster is unrecognisable as a disabled homeless person, and Robin Wright plays a woman inexplicably attracted to Woody. It's a wonder to me that people (especially his wives and daughter) put up with Woody for so long. His character is so self-destructive it's almost unvbelievable. 

The title Rampart, comes from the Rampart police headquarters police scandal of the 1990s in LA. But the film is so full of itself that this was not clear to a lot of the audience members that I poke to afterwards. That comtext is pretty vital in making sense of Woody's character's behaviour, and I think the film really fails to make that clear.

And the smoking!  All I could say at the end was "Thank God it's no longer the 90s".

But the film ends on a marvellous note, making you wish that delicacy had been more evident throughout the film. Woody and one of his daughters regard each other as she sits on the porch and he spies on her from the street. They recognise themselves in each other, and it is a more chilling moment that anything else in the film.

Sunday 10 June

Last Tango in Paris
(France, Italy. Dir: Bernardo Bertolucci. Rated 4/5)

Intro by Jane Mills:
This film is often joked about, but it is a serious film and actually shocking. It is earnest. According to BB, this is the first of his films that speaks of the present.

Contemporary reviews included:

Pauline Kael, Oct 28, 1972:

Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris was presented for the first time on the closing night of the New York Film Festival, October 14, 1972: that date should become a landmark in movie history comparable to May 29, 1913—the night Le Sacre du Printemps was first performed—in music history. There was no riot, and no one threw anything at the screen, but I think it’s fair to say that the audience was in a state of shock, because Last Tango in Paris has the same kind of hypnotic excitement as the Sacre, the same primitive force, and the same thrusting, jabbing eroticism.

JM says it was probably Francis Bacon who was responsible for the look of the film. BB, Vittorio Storaro and Marlon Brando all went to a Bacon show at the Grand Palais, and they have told us that his pictures are everywhere throughout the film.  BB is quoted, in the book "Moviemakers' Master Class: Private Lessons from the World's Foremost Directors", as saying:

I then took Marlon Brando to see the same exhibition, and I showed him the paint ings that you see at the start of the film, “Portrait of Lucian Freud”, and “Study for Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne”. I said to Marlon, “you see that painting? Well, I want you to re-create that same intense pain. That was virtually the only direc tion I gave him on the film.”

JM also thinks BB took influence from Isabel Rawsthorne, who was such a free spirit herself, for the character of Jeanne (Maria Schneider).

This is a film where the boundaries between painting and film blur. Vittorio Storaro revealed, in his book, "Writing with Light":

I realised I was using light in connection with the conscious side of the mise-en-scène and dark for the unconscious. By instinct and by feeling I was drawing a conflict between light and shadow. Bacon's paintings gave me the confirmation of an idea that Bertolucci and I had about the conflict between the warm artificial light in a northern city like Paris during wintertime and the natural winter light. We already had the idea, but then we saw the Bacon exhibition in Paris and it confirmed it. We change our metabolism in front of a painting or watching a film.

Last Tango in Paris is not about love, nor procreation. But it was not banned in Australia. It paved the way for the more liberal attitudes of the 70s. But the film was attacked by feminists (including Mills) for the "rape" scene. Does sodomy mean rape? But now JM thinks Jeanne is more than just "dead meat", a victim.

When directing, BB when directing, called MS and MB by their real names - not the characters.

Jean-Paul Leaud plays a filmmaker, and it was thought that this was poking fun at the French New Wave, but BB said "I was poking fun at myself".

There are also references to Jean Vigo's L'Atalante, where a young married bride is tutored by an older man. And to An American in Paris, Singing in the Rain. And there's a scene in Rue Jules Verne.

The crew includes Agnes Varda doing French dialogue, and Catherine Breillat plays "Mouchette". BB was thrown off Once Upon a Time in America for putting in too many references to Western films in the script.

Roger Ebert said in one of his reviews, writing, of both Bergman's Cries and Whispers and BB's  Last Tango in Paris, that: "there is a land in the human soul that's beyond the rational -- beyond, even, words to describe it.

In the US, BB's Last Tango in Paris was nominated for a Best Director Oscar. Incredibly, in Europe it was banned, and in Italy it was considered obscene, and Bernardo Bertolucci was served with a four month prison sentence (suspended) and had his civil rights revoked for five years, depriving him of voting rights. Last Tango in Paris was only released in Italy in 1987!

My comments:
A revelation!  I had not seen this film before, being only 16 when it was released first. Then I had been put off by all the abusee that had been heaped on the film over the years: the notorious butter scene, Marlon Brando being so old and fat, and unlikeable as a character, the film being famous for its ugly costume design from the 70s, and the hatred of women - even the alleged rape scene - etc, etc.

So when I finally saw this film, luckily in the context of many of Bertoucci's other films, it was a revelation.

It's great!  It looks gorgeous - the clothes are back in fashion now, so everyone looks lovely. Even Marlon's polo-necked jumper and camel cachmere coat looks cool - how could people have ridiculed it? And Marlon looks great to me - he at about 35 and me at 56!

The opening music it is a surprise: so reminiscent of Scorsese's 1976 film Taxi Driver (music by Bernard Hermann). Also the way the camera glides down streets and corridors shows that Scorsese must have loved the film.

Yes, the sex is cruel, but it is totally consensual.  Marlon's character asks Maria's character if she is up for anything, and she says yes.  He asks her repeatedly.  The butter is not funny, it is normal.  The film is so free, and so original, that I was thrilled.  If you haven't seen it - see it! It's a milestone of cinema.  As Paul (Brando) says: "All the mysteries you're ever gonna know in life are right here in this apartment." And they are.

Beauty (seen in preview)
(South Africa, France. Dir: Oliver Hermanus. Rated 2.5/5)

The first Afrikaans-language film ever to screen at Cannes, this film is very intense. It's a close-up study of the effects of repressed desire on a man who already has problems that he's obviously kept to himself. He comes from a very macho society where men's feelings are not discussed, and where Rugby is virtually a religion (and it explores, quite subtlely the homo-erotic aspect of that. And it seems that this bubbles below the surface for more than just our hero. Then it boils over in an horrific scene of explicit violence. It's a daring film, but one that didn't quite convince me.  Extreme closeups signal "great acting", but I'm not so sure. Deon Lotz as Francois is pretty good, but I'm afraid I was underwhelmed by Charlie Keegan as Christian Roodt.

Beauty will be in cinemas in Australia from 2 August.

On The Road
(USA. Dir: Walter Salles. Rated 4/5)

A great adaptation of a fabulous but difficult book. Great job by Walter Salles. Long, but it held my attention.
Here's a snippet of my soon-to-be-published review for the NSW Law Society Journal. The 500-odd words in the middle have to be left out until the whole review is published:

Kerouac's book introduced the world to the “Beat” generation – the postwar kids who loved jazz, wrote poetry, took drugs, had casual sex, and hit the road. The word “Beat” here does not derive from “beatnik”. According to Kerouac, it signifies “beaten” – a generation that was used, worn down, and in search of life’s meaning. 

Kristin Stewart is luminous as Moriarty’s freethinking young wife, Marylou. The image of her sitting in the car wearing a striped t-shirt, with one foot up on the dashboard, stays in the mind as a symbol of youth and newfound freedom. Others in the cast that impress include an alarming Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee (in real life William Burroughs), a transformed Amy Adams as Jane, his drugged-out wife (in real life Burroughs’ wife Joan Vollmer), and an elegant Kirsten Dunst as Camille, another wife of Moriarty (in real life Carolyn Cassady).

As you can see from all these names, the book operates on two levels: as a tale of a fictional journey, and as a record of the adventures of the real members of the Beat generation. The film and its stars add a third layer. It’s complicated. But if you can keep a handle on characters, this film has many rewards, not the least being its music score.

An early scene in a  jazz joint is a case in point. Salles shoots impressionistically as Dean Moriarty dances with hedonistic abandon. Colours blend, the jazz is hot and the dancers are even hotter. Like the film, it doesn’t make a lot of narrative sense, but it is one hell of a ride.

I, Anna
(UK, Germany, France. Dir: Barnaby Southcombe. Rated 2.5/5)

A disappointment. Given the great cast: Charlotte Rampling, Gabriel Byrne, Eddie Marsan and Jodhi May among others, this should have been better.

It presents as a modern film noir, with a potentially great femme fatale in the shape of Southcombe's mother, Charlotte Rampling, but something's gone wrong, and the great potential seems wasted.  The film looks very noirish, but that's about it. It is very contrived, with clues thrown out all over the place and a lot of repetition. The director doesn't seem willing to trust his audience. And he drags it out. The film started at
5.10pm, and by 5.51pm I was thinking - "Get on with it!" The star power can only take your interest so far. By 6.07pm (I'd looked at my watch again) still nothing had happened. Then I wrote "Isn't this In the Cut?" But it's not.

Before this, director Barnaby Southcombe had only done TVseries, and I think that shows. For cinema, there needs to be a bond between the audience and the filmmakers, and the director needs to sustain interest for at least 90 minutes - some manage 120 minutes or more.  Here Southcombe couldn't manage 40 minutes. Shame.

(France, Austria. Dir: Michael Haneke. Rated 5/5)

My favourite film of the festival. This is a clear-eyed look at one of the great problems of our age (literally): ageing, incapacity and dementia. It also involves a couple who have been self-sufficient, ordered and cultured, devoted to each other and their work for many years, now having to fend for themselves even as their powers and faculties diminish.

Haneke, the maestro, never shows us too much. He never shows us what we do not need to see, and creates a universe in the elegant apartment in which the couple live, love and listen to music. This is another one of the films of the Festival in which the outside world is increasingly an unwanted intruder: this couple (played magnificently by French acting royalty: Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant) have their own values system, and the outside world, one feels, has no validity in their interior world, and no right to interfere. Apart from one short sequence where they go to a concert, and two dream sequences, we are kept  in the confines of the apartment, and even now, weeks later, I can still feel the texture of those rooms.

This is intelligent, rigorous, sensitive and important filmmaking. When the bird flies in, it's a shock, and then when it flies out again, it will make you cry as you realise it symbolises the soul.

Amour will open in Australia in late February 2013.

Monday 11 June

Woody Allen: A Documentary
(USA. Dir: Robert B Weide. Rated 4.5/5)

Weirdly, this doco was on TV before the SFF ended. This is very annoying, given we've paid good money to see it at the Festival. This is becoming a real problem with the SFF. So many of the chosen films get a commercial release very soon after the festival, and may (like Mabo, this year) are on TV very quickly too. I relish the opportunity to see them on the big screen, but there's a limit.

This is a very very good doco with superb access to Woody Allen and a great use of clips that make you want to see every film feature once more. Woody is very generous in showing the way he works, and there are great interviews with the usual suspects, but also some that aren't often seen, like some of his behind-the-scenes collaborators - like Letty Aronson, his long-time producer - and (who knew?) sister! You'll learn a lot if you see this, and you'll have a greater appreciation of what Woody is trying to do with his life and career.

Oh, and you'll laugh like a drain! One of the few feel-good movies of 2012's Festival.

(Portugal, Germany, Brazil, France. Dir: Miguel Gomes. Rated 2/5)

This promising and hyped movie was a disappointment. It started promisingly in a kind of mock-silent film style, if at times looking like a student production, and with an elaborate and poetic voiceover. Then there was the self-referential and amusing sight of an audience watching that film. Once the film moved to the present day, it was beautifully lit and shot - particularly a scene in a living room with a black maid ironing.  It was amusing to hear "Be My Baby" sung in Portuguese in a cinema. There seemed to be an older love affair - one of the recurring themes of the 2012 SFF. But as details mount up, the film seems to get more and more elaborate and yet less and less satisfying.  Still the pop elements spruced things up and there were even some elements of The Spider's Strategem in there, when an death is announced by the Rebels.

I guess the least satisfying thing about the film is the fact that it didn't have much to say overly about colonialism and rebellion in Africa, which was what I had been expecting.  This is similar to the criticism I have about the next film I saw... The Virgin, the Copts, and Me.

The Virgin, the Copts and Me
(UK. Dir: Kevin Macdonald. Rated 2.5/5)

Mostly, this is about "Me". But its quite funny and moving at the end.  Not much about Virgin apparitions or the Copts, though, so I felt mildly ripped off.

Why do so many young filmmakers feel entitled to make a film about them making a film?

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
(Turkey, Bosnia, HerzegovinaDir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Rated 4.5/5)

This is a superb film. But it doesn't move fast, so you need to be patient.  Believe me, that patience will be rewarded. But it is not a film to see when you are tired, and I saw it on the holiday Monday at 4pm, as the 4th of 5 films I saw that day, so I would like to see this again soon.

The film has a Shakespearean start: 3 men are talking and there's a terrble storm disturbing everyone: something's wrong in this world. Next a car appears; then a parade of cars. There's a Tarantinoesque coversation about buffalo yoghurt. After some more droll dialogue a phone rings - with the theme from Love Story!  It's a policeman's wife.  The conversation is somewhat fraught. Is the policeman hen-pecked? The detail is multiplying.

The gorgeous widescreen photography provides a delicious counterpoint to this minutiae of detail. Lightning lights up a face. These policemen are uneasy: they are out in the country, and some are scared. Eventually we realise that there is an accused man pointing out the scene of a crime, but he's not doing it very well. This coninues for a long time.

Those who love Turkish director
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, or his earlier film Climates  (SFF 2007), will know that one of the delights of this film is that what it seems to be about will not, in the end, be what it is actually about. You just need to sit tight.  This might be difficult for some during the autopsy, which has all of the graphic instructions and note-taking, and – most hair-raisingly – all of the sounds, but very little of the vision.  That's a clever touch, and it's a wonderful piece of cinema in itself.

The film ends with a profound, surprising and satisfying gesture of compassion, making it one of my favourite films of the Festival. I can't wait to see it again, preferably with someone who doesn't know what to expect.

(UK. Dir: Kevin Macdonald. Rated 3.5/5)

This comprehensive and competent documentary taught me a lot about Bob Marley that I didn't know. It looks good, and it has plenty of informative interviews and a liberal sprinkling of music throughout.  But for a bio-pic of a man that is so popular, and yet whose life is really quite little-known, this is surprisingly un-insightful. I came out of the film really still not understanding what Rastafarianism is and what attracted Marley to it. Given that it is such a mysterious religion, this seems a great omission in a film about Marley. Also, Bob's children appeared occasionally, but not all of them, and not often. Perhaps this betrays its origins as an "authorised" bio-pic, with Ziggy Marley and others close to Bob involved in its production.

Also, the music, whilst present throughout, did not produce the joyous reaction in me that it did in other music films in the SFF this year, such as Under African Skies (Paul Simon) or El Gusto (Algerian chaabi musicians), or even Sing Me the Songs that Say I Love You (Kate McGarrigle) or The Zen of Bennett. (Unfortunately I missed Searching for Sugar Man (Rodgriguez)).

There's something missing from Marley.  Could it be soul?

Wednesday 13 June

Dreams of a Life
(UK. Dir: Carol Morley. Rated 4.5)

An arresting story, reasonably well-told, this seems somewhat influenced by Errol Morris' Tabloid, but this film pales by comparison. It's really a TV film, not a cinema feature. But the film makers had good access to the relevant friends and colleagues, all of whom seem equally puzzled at the mysterious death of a beautiful, bubbly girl.

I think I worked it out. I think the problem was her allergy and a choking incident.  This is mentioned but not explored.  The film  seems more in love with the mystery than with finding the answer to it. Errol Morris would not make that mistake.

One interesting offshoot of this film, born of a tiny moment of Joyce caught on video - effectively used: it occurred to me that in the future, everyone will be caught on video a lot of the time, so no one's image will disappear from the face of the earth.

(Greece. Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos. Rated 1/5)

Just because you can make a film doesn't mean you should.

In my opinion, Alps is a load of rubbish almost as high as the Matterhorn. By way of illustration, this is how the leader of the
secret society in the film "explains" why that society is to be called "Alps":

    An Alp can replace any other mountain, but any other mountain cannot replace an Alp.

That is simply stupid. How does an Alp replace my local mountain, Mount Coolangatta?  Ridiculous.

Not only that, the film just looks bad: it seems out-of focus and the colours are dull. The images are often off-kilter and this makes it very tiring to watch. I reminded me a bit of the Australian film Sleeping Beauty, in that it is all very well to set up a strange fictional world to make a point, but that point needs to be made clear. I need to learn from the film, or at least feel something.  Here I felt nothing, apart from annoyance at the waste.

It won the SFF jury prize.  I am ashamed.  Everyone I know hated it. The only thing I can say in its favour is that I didn't hate it as much as its Greek predecessor Attenburg (SFF 2011).

Oh, and - most aptly - the film ends with the pop song that I hate most in all the world: Popcorn

The King of Pigs
(South Korea. Dir: Yuen Sang-Ho. Rated 3/5)

This animated film is interesting, because I gather it was made on a shoestring, and out of love, and it is technically very accomplished. Some of the scenes are quite amazing: a sunset over Chul's shoulder was reminiscent of Antonioni, and the depiction of a concave mirror on a telegraph pole (the type motorists use to see round corners) was just fantastic, since it was a detail that was totally unnecessary, but still entrancing.

But the film was very badly subtitled, and this let it down a lot, especially when the lines appeared when the wrong person was talking. Weirdly, at one point the words "Thank you" was translated as "Thanks"!

A proportion of the audience walked out when a cat was stabbed; there was much worse to come!   But this is a serious film about the terrible social problem of bullying, so violence was to be expected.  The plot had some unexpected turns and the ending was genuinely shocking.

All in all I enjoyed this film more than I expected I would. Having said that, it's only 97 minutes long, but it felt much longer.

Thursday 14 June

The World Before Her 
(Canada. Dir: Nisha Puhuja. Rated 4/5)

A very interesting and engaging doco about two "courses" for women in India: the Miss India pageant, and Durga Vahini, the women's arm of the Hindu fundamentalist movement. What a contrast! Pf course, contrast is to be expected in a huge and fascinating country like India, but the filmmaker gets access to some very interesting people, and the contrast is quite disturbing at times, and gives the viewer much food for thought.

Preceded by the short film Unravel, which was one of the best short films of the Festival.A beautiful Indian woman talks about her work in recycling western clothes for thread and blankets in India. It's a huge industry, and she and her colleagues speculate amusingly about who might have worn the clothes, and why.  Why don't these clothes go to St Vincent de Paul? Why are they picked apart across the other side of the world?  It seems a crazy waste.

El Gusto
(France, Algeria, Ireland. Dir: Safinez Bousbia. Rated 4.5/5)

Really interesting musical film, covering a genre of music I knew little about, a little like a north African Buena Vista Social Club. Well-made and well-researched with a charming and talented cast, and with the fascinating political background as well. A little gem!

(France, Senegal. Dir: Alain Gomis. Rated 3.5/5)

A really fascinating Festival Film. For reasons that remain obscure, a man wakes up in his town in Africa knowing that he has been "chosen" to die today. He spends his last day, first meeting with his family and friends who describe his good and bad points in some detail in public. He then walks the streets of his town, and strangers and friends alike salute him and give him presents. It is fascinating to watch all these street scenes. There's a civic reception for him, but, ironically, he arrives late and most of the food and drink has been consumed.

The most wonderful part is when he visits his uncle to ask him if he will wash him in preparation for burial after he dies. The uncle calmly agrees, and shows him what will happen. The man, Satché, complains to him, saying: "I had no time to do anything [in his life]". The Uncle replies, sagely: "What were you trying to do. We never finish anything anyway."

The quiet gives way to lots of noise, people complaining, old people and little kids dancing: almost primitive and very interesting. Satché and companion decide to go back, and Satché's wife seems to be ignoring him, saying she's too busy. He does a chore that he's long neglected.  He plays with his children. His wife does the washing. Night approaches. He rests outside. The children grow up and visit him. He goes to bed with his wife.

This very simple film has suddenly become a profound and moving reflection of the human condition. It reminded of me of a story that a nun once told me of a aintly old fellow nun who was asked what she would do if she knew she would die
tomorrow. "Nothing" was her reply.

Miss Bala
(Mexico. Dir: Gerado Naranjo. Rated 3.5/5)

A film that begins with a young woman who's trying to enter a beauty contest turns into a big shoot-em-up crime thriller. The main set-piece of gunplay and mayhem is really well staged and shot. The director maintains our interest throughout, and introduces us to an extraordinary world, that even takes us into high-ranking political circles.  What could have been over-hyped nonsense is kept relatively real by clever filmmakers. BTW:  Bala means Bullet in Spanish.

Miss Bala will release in Sydney in 2013 through Transmission Films, on a date to be fixed.

Holy Motors
(France. Dir: Leos Carax. Rated 3/5)

A real Film Festival film. It would really have divided my fellow subscribers if it hadn't played outside the subscription (it was a last minute addition to the program). I'd have loved to hear the daytime subscribers talk about it. I'd have learned something, I'm sure. It divided audiences recently at Cannes Film Festival. It's important to have such films at the SFF, even if you don't like them.

It is weird, but fabulous to look at. Its episodic style means that it is easy enough to watch because if you don't like one sequence, another will be along any minute. Scenes stay in the mind, long after seeing it.

It's an interesting companion piece for David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis. I saw both two films in the same week. Both  feature a protagonist who rides around a big city in a stretch limo over the course of one day, for the full length of the film, interacting with other characters in a series of vignettes. But Carax's limos go home to their depot and talk - - kind of like in Pixar's Cars! It also has something in common with the Sydney Film Prize winner Alps, in that the plot involves people paid to play rles for other people (God knows why!) but the less said about that film, the better.

This quote may help in understanding the film:

History adds that before or after dying he found
himself in the presence of God and told Him:
“I who have been so many men in vain want to
be one and myself.”

The voice of the Lord answered from a
whirlwind: “Neither am I anyone; I have
dreamt the world as you dreamt your work,
my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my
dream are you, who like myself are many and
no one.”

Jorge Luis Borges - “Everything and Nothing”

Cosmopolis opened in Sydney on 2 August. Holy Motors opens on 23 August 2012

Friday 15 June

Bachelor Mountain 
China,. Dir: Yu Guangyi. Rated 2.5/5)

Feels much longer than its 95 minutes. An incredibly fastidious doco with amazing access to its subject, who is fascinating and cute and cuddly, but who needs a good shaking!  Nothing much happens, and it takes a long time.  This is truly a Festival film: you'd never see it at any other time, or under any other circumctances. I'm glad I saw it, but it was a feat of endurance.  All those tracking shots of him walking along snowy icy tracks. Sheesh!

Dead Europe

(USA, Canada. Dir: Lian Lunson. Rated 1/5)

Dead indeed!  Dreadful. Awful people doing awful things. No thank you!

(USA, Canada. Dir: Lian Lunson. Rated 4/5)

This is everything that I Anna wasn't. Great storytelling. Compelling performances. Moving. Satisfying. Real.

Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You
(USA, Canada. Dir: Lian Lunson. Rated 3/5)

A somewhat sanitised view of a life, but mainly a concert film with some fabulous performances.

Nice camerawork, and great general access, but exhibiting questionable taste in showing photos taken as Kate McGarrigle was dying. Teddy Thompson and Rufus Wainwright have the great voices. Martha's voice is uncannily like Kate's, but I don't think it's a great voice. A duet with Antony of Antony & the Johnsons is also amazing. At 109 minutes, the film feels a little long, and I think the filmmakers have included some lesser-quality material that should have been omitted.

At the screening, I asked the question: "The Elephant in the Room is Loudon Wainwright: why wasn't he in the film?"  The wimpy answer was that he "wasn't available". Yeah, right!  How could the film makers not even touch on the issue?

Saturday 16 June

La Luna
(Italy, USA. Dir: Bernardo Bertolucci. Rated 3/5)

This was probably the least satisfying film of the
Bertolucci retrospective, but still, it's Bertolucci, so it is always fascinating, even if flawed.  And with Jill Clayburgh singing Verdi's  A Masked Ball, Music by Ennio Morricone and cinematography by Vittorio Storaro, what's not to like?

Intro by Jane Mills:
After his first few films, many critics thought
Bernardo Bertolucci walked on water. 1900 was not a critiical or popular success – it was a paen to the Communist Party made by a devotee.  Bernardo Bertolucci explains La Luna this way: It is not about why the mother acts the way she does: it is a movie fascinated by the fact that she does in fact act that way.

In La Luna there's a new member of the
Bernardo Roberto Benigno. Also Alida Valli appears (she was in The Spider's Stratagem). Jill Clayburgh was cast, having just done An Unmarried Woman and was a feminist icon. But Liv Ullman had been his first choice.

In La Luna,
Bernardo Bertolucci's passion for psychoanalysis and opera take over. His first films had dealt with killing the father. This one (controversially) deals with sleeping with the mother. During the making of 1900 he took this Oedipal myth to the end by almost going blind! Here we get the middle part of the myth - Jocasta and the incest. Also, all of Bernardo Bertolucci's obsessions are here.

A little mirror  propped up on a mantle is a homage to "the mirror stage" of psychology, when a child looks in a mirror at about 3-6 months of age and sees what it recognises as itself - but it is real.

This is a bit of a soap opera, a Freudian case study, "and he's forcing them to copulate". He's also still fighting the class war. He says that the very loud Verdi at the end was ...... eating the bourgeois state.

When asked why he cast US actors in the lead roles he said: "I simply couldn't visualise an Italian Mam sleeping with her bambino."  (But on IMDB it says: "The Italian censorship authorities were so outraged by this film's storyline that they forbid the director to shoot the film in Italy with a local cast if the lead characters were Italian and as such the roles played by Jill Clayburgh and Matthew Barry had to be changed to be Americans." Hmmm, I wonder...
The moon is truly beautiful and omnipresent in this rambling romantic mess of a film. And there are so many images that simply stay in the mind - such as Jill Clayburgh carrying her baby son on a bike under the full moon. Oh yes - - Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) is in it in the early scenes.

The Last Emperor
Italy, China, UK. Dir: Bernardo Bertolucci. Rated 5/5)

An utterly stunning film, well worth seeing again and again. It rightly won 9 Oscars - and all the big ones.

Intro by Jane Mills:
Bernardo Bertolucci proposed 2 films to the Chinese Government: one was an adaptation of an André Malraux book: La Condition Humaine , about a failed Communist insurrection in Shanghai. Eisenstein also almost made a film about that.

During the filming of the Emperor's coronation scene, the British Queen wanted to go to the Forbidden City, but the Chinese government wouldn't interrupt filming so it didn't permit her visit.

Vittorio Storaro has the incredible knack of being able to film space so as to make it appear claustrophobic. For James Acheson, the costume designer, it was his first for Bertolucci, but he went on to design costumes for The Sheltering Sky and Little Buddha for  Bertolucci, as well as Restoration, and all 3 Spiderman movies.

For Jeremy Thomas it was the first time he prodused for Bernardo Bertolucci, but not the last: The Sheltering Sky and Little Buddha, Stealing Beauty and The Dreamers. He managed to raise independent funds, and also to bring in Columbia Pictures. Originally Thomas said: "This is less difficult than working with Hollywood studios". But later the issue of script approval became a nightmare for him.

In 1972, Nixon visited China, but Jane Mills thinks Bertolucci was building on a relationship between China and Italy that geos back to Marco Polo! China itself has personal significance for Bertolucci. He identified "China" with the illustrations in a children's book he had had. Bertolucci was never a Maoist. He was a Sinophile. That explains theis split from his "godfather" Godard.

After the Chinese authorities had read the script, they sent Bertolucci a telegram simply saying:
"Congratulations! Glad reading how Dragon transforms into Man".
Just mesmerising filmmaking, with a transformational music score.

Monsieur Lazhar  (seen in preview)
(Canada. Dir: Philippe Falardeau. Rated: 4/5)

A very touching and well-made story, set in Montreal, about a primary-school teacher who substitutes for a well-loved year-6 teacher, when she is suddenly taken out of the childrens’ lives in a way that I can’t reveal. The central performance is the key here. Fellag, as M Lazhar, is immaculate, and intriguing. Fellag is known for his one-man shows as a stand-up comedian and raconteur, and I gather this is something of a departure for him. But on this evidence, he’s a star, and an actor of impeccable presence and stillness.  The children offer superb support, and the whole thing is under the steady hand of director Philippe Falardeau. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.  Bring your hankies!

Here's a snippet of my soon-to-be-published review for the NSW Law Society Journal. The 400-odd words in the middle have to be left out until the whole review is published:

Monsieur Lazhar, a French Canadian film that won the audience favourite award at the Sydney Film Festival this year, tells the moving story of a class of 11- or 12-year-olds who find themselves (for reasons that should not be revealed) without their beloved teacher, and of the man who tries to fill her shoes. It unfolds over the course of a school year, beginning in wintry Montreal. The new teacher is Bachir Lazhar, a 55 year-old Algerian immigrant.


This is one of those films where the less you know about the plot before you see it, the better. It is enough to say that the issues the film raises – with the lightest of touches – include how to explain tragedy to a child, and the difficulty of being a caring and compassionate teacher today when many are paranoid about “inappropriate touching”. There’s also the raft of issues raised by Monsieur Lazhar’s personal history. It’s amazing that all of these questions can be explored in such a short and sweet film.

That’s probably the secret of Monsieur Lazhar. It’s a wise film that knows that life – even a very young life – can involve facing difficult problems, and we probably can’t deal with them all satisfactorily. This film asks the hard questions, then allows us space to consider what the answers might be. But in the end it is content to allow the possibility that some problems have no answers, and the best we can do is just to help each other heal.

Monsieur Lazhar will be in cinemas in Australia from 6 September.

Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry 
(USA, China. Dir: Alison Klayman. Rated 3/5)

A very interesting documentary about the artistic genius behind the Chinese Olympic Stadium known as the "Bird's Nest". The director seems a bit in thrall to this charismatic bear of a man, but there's no denying he's a powerhouse of formidable and clever ideas that he manages to turn into beautiful, clever art. He's flawed himself, and the filmmakers don't shy away from mentioning that. He's also very frank about it himself, if succinct. Not a world-beater in terms of style, but chockful of important information.

The Zen of Bennett
(USA. Dir: Unjoo Moon. Rated 3/5)

This film suffers a little because of the fact that it is produced by Bennett's son Danny Bennett, who also manages him, and the fact that Director Moon and Cinematographer Dion Beebe (her husband) seem to be pretty hand-in-glove with the Bennetts. So it can verge at times on the hagiography.

Tony Bennett is indeed fabulous, and this film showcases his recent Duets album, so it is really a promotional piece too.  The duets are marvellous, but they are a tell-tale sign of someone who needs revitalisation and whose voice is perhaps not quite what it was. This is the thing that no one dares raise, but I believe it is an issue. But the guy is such a great showman that he can disguise the fact. And of course he's a great storyteller. He has a story about just about everyone.Mitch Miller (his first producer) hated Duke Ellington and he hated jazz! Duke Ellington told Miller he had it the wrong way round "I make the music. You sell the records".

But it seems that as a result of being locked out of the big time by the older generation that ruled the roost when he and Rosemary Clooney were coming up in 1956, he's keen not to do the same thing to the younger generation. He seems genuinely impressed by their talent. He's also marvellous at putting a very nervous Amy Winehouse at ease - he asks her if she's influenced by Dinah Washington - and she was! Later, he's so sad that she died shortly after their sessions.

He seems very nervous about appearing old in a People Magazine interview, so there's definitely ego there. In a fascinating scene (marred by appalling camera movement) the filmmakers eavesdrop on a tense conversation with his sons. you can see he's a handful, but all this is very respectfully handled. Hints are dropped about problems with drugs and alcohol in the past, but nothing specific: again a missed opportunity, I think.

Amongst the other stories he tells is one of Fred Astaire listening to one of his recordings and announcing "You're it!" Another has Andy Warhol telling him to act on Tony's idea of doing a mosaic graffiti in Harlem. Andy said: "Do it. If you don't, it's just an idea." Reminded me of the Ai Wei Wei film. He's another one with many many ideas that he actually puts into practice.

So how good does Bennett think he is? Last story: Louis Armstrong was asked who was the greatest jazz singer ever. He replied: "What?  After Ella?"
[I have a long set of notes of the Q & A with Unjoo Moon and Dion Beebe, but it is too long to type here!]

Sunday 17 June

The Sheltering Sky 
(Italy, UK. Dir: Bernardo Bertolucci. Rated 4.5/5)

This is such a haunting film. It has such a feel to it that is hard to forget. The plot, the style of direction, the cinematography, the costumes, the performances, they're all of a piece. So the story runs off the rails. So what? It is completely mesmerising. Almost every shot is a work of art.
It was shot in Morocco, Algeria and Niger.  It's like a feverish dream, and it probably is.

I was thrilled to recognise a film from Christian Marclay's marvellous work of art "The Clock: Tunner and Kit are in bed together and suddenly wake up: "What time is it?" "It's after midday" "I don't remember anything!"

The narrator concludes:
"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless..."

That is what the film is all about. And it's very sad and very beautiful.

The Dreamers 
Italy, France, UK. Dir: Bernardo Bertolucci. Rated 4/5)

A real film lover's film, jam packed with filmic references, from the presence of Jean Pierre Léaud as himself, to the endless difficult cinematic quizes the threesome (another Bertolucci threesome!) set for each other. The film begins in 1968 with the barring of Henri Langlois from the cinematheque: "our very own cultural revolution". There's also a really good argument about the relative merits of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton (there's also a similar argument about the merits of Clapton vs Hendrix), and a recreation of the scene in Queen Christina where Greta Garbo (Christina) goes around a room memorising its contents so she can recreate a night love of love with John Gilbert that took place there. There's also a direct reference to Godard's Bande à Parte, and there are scores of other film references.

The Dreamers stars three very beautiful young people, notably Boardwalk Empire's Michael Pitt in an early role, and  Eva Green (from 2006's Casino Royale) in her first film role, and Louis Garrel as her twin brother. Lots of opportunity for incest and - another Bertolucci staple - exchanging and wearing each others' clothes.

They manage to remain cocooned within their comfortable bourgeois life (while pretending to be radical) until one evening the outside chaos literally bursts in through the window. Yet again Bertolucci looks at how it is easy to pretend to be a radical leftist, but you really have to live it in the end, just as in  the first film in the Bertolucci retrospective, Before the Revolution (1964). Full circle, nearly 40 years later!

Crazy Horse
(USA, France. Dir: Frederick Wiseman. Rated 4/5)

Frederick Wiseman is back doing what he does: hold a steady eye on a subject, without narration, and with only the choice of scene and editing to influence our viewpoint, and just show, show, show.

Here it is the Paris nightclub, The Crazy Horse, and is this ever an eye-opener in every sense of the word.

First, it is more than 2.5hrs long - and for me it was the last of over 40 films I saw at the SFF, and yet it held my attention.  I didn't look at my watch once!

Next, it looks gorgeous: the shows are colourful and inventive, the girls gorgeous, the bodies move in amazing ways and the camera captures all of this beautifully.

Finally, it made me want to see the show at The Crazy Horse - even knowing it is pricey and the alcohol is at extortionate prices. But the movie is so fascinating it dispels all that and makes you curious. The behind the scenes are completely fascinating, and particularly the meticulous approach of everyone involves. The standout is the costumière, Fifi, who is just perfect, and a real artist. I'd love to track her boutique down one day!

So all in all another great success from Wiseman. Not quite as compelling as the last one (Boxing Gym 2010, SFF 2011), but still more compelling than most docos.

Safety Not Guaranteed  (seen in preview)
(USA. Dir: Colin Trevorrow. Rated: 4/5)

The intriguing setup of this film is fulfilled amply by director Colin Trevorrow and his youngish cast, whom I’ve not seen before. The film comes from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, so they seem to know and understand comedy.  I found the film funny, charming, and inventive, and in Aubrey Plaza I think we have a great new comedienne. Mark Duplass is attractive, warm and convincing after a wonderful setup as a seriously weird guy, and Jake Johnson does a nice line in sleaze.  It’ll make you feel good, so go see it!

Safety Not Guaranteed will be in cinemas in Australia from 20 September.