9-23 June 2000
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Opening Night 9 June
Better than Sex (Australia - dir: Jonathan
At the movies, the anticipation of sex is always better than sex. This
something that the great film makers of the past understood only too
Alfred Hitchcock, Louis B Mayer and Darryl F Zanuck, among others, knew
that it was vital to keep the lovers apart until the last possible
This is a point Teplitsky has missed.
So we get sex, sex and more sex. This film is like an issue of Cleo:
"Great sex on the first date: Now what?" And the film is
as naive about real life as an issue of Cleo. Instead of
into life and love we get giggly asides about sexual preferences by
who appear from the two sides of the film's frame. Who are
people? It's as if Teplitsky really wanted to have the feel of the
best-friend in a Rob Reiner film - a kind of Rosie O'Donnell or Rob
himself. But he couldn't fit that in with the idea of the
(Catherine McClements as a bitch), so he settled for these asides.
How can we watch two sexy people having sex for a whole movie and not
any emotion or passion? Teplitsky's lucky - if it weren't for his great
lead actors Susie Porter & David Wenham there wouldn't be any
to stay put. Even Wenham and Porter find it hard to give us any real
here. There's only one moment in the film where they reached me - and
was when they both turned introspective and said nothing.
On the technical side: something funny's going on with the music for
film - apparently it is being scrapped and David Hirschfelder is going
do new music. It should improve things. As it is the music is
The film looks good enough, but I did notice the looping was pretty
We can do better than Better than Sex. It's a disposable film.
Saturday 10 June
The Legends of Rita (Germany - dir: Volker Schlondorff).
Relax, you're in the hands of a master. He knows how to cover a lot of
physically, philosophically, politically and emotionally, without
you for a second. This film's pacing, is superbly streamlined: plot,
and acting are all no-nonsense. Somehow, Schlondorff gives us the human
side of terrorism in the 70s, and shows us East German Communism in
without it seeming risible to our 21st century eyes. He shows us how it
might be possible to live a political life in practical terms, even
a way of life changes as rapidly as it did in the last quarter of the
century. When it's over you think: 'How did we cover so much ground so
Schlondorff also introduces us to 3 fabulous women: the women he cast
the main parts are unknowns, but what finds! what faces! Bibiane Beglau
as Rita is a chameleon who holds your interest in every scene for every
instant. A great start to the Festival proper.
Crazy - (The Netherlands - dir: Heddy Honigman). Score 4/5
What a great idea for a documentary on the emotions of soldiers on
duties in war zones - to use music to unlock emotions. The film makers
extraordinary insights through careful, uncompromising questioning -
gently done but relentless nevertheless ("But your hands are
Wonderfully chosen interview subjects are questioned to the point of
their true feelings about the horrors they have seen, and then the
lingers on their faces as they listen to music they have told us had
meaning for them during those hard times. This gives them, and us, the
to reflect on those things, and we fill in the details from what we can
see and hear.
The next-to-last image is that of the face of a soldier who had seemed
impassive about his experiences - to the point of surprising himself
his coolness. His face has no lines, no wrinkles, nothing to show the
of his experience. All that we see as he listens to U2's Sunday Bloody
is one tear trickle down his face. It is shatteringly eloquent.
As one of the men says: "Weird stuff, music".
The final scene shows us some women soldiers going off to former
. "Are you excited? " asks the supervising officer. "Its
hard to say goodbye." says the soldier. "Here's your writing paper
& a bible. OK?" the officer asks. " OK," she concludes.
"Have fun!" But we know this will change them forever. Powerfully
New Waterford Girl (Canada - dir: Allan Moyle) Score: 2/5
This film has some nice touches and an attractive star - Liane Balaban
a Winona Ryder lookalike. (Is she Bob's daughter?). But like the town
New Waterford itself there seems to be a pall over everything. The
really only comes to life when Andrew McCarthy and - to a lesser extent
- Tara Spencer Narin (as Lou) come on screen. There are too many ideas
don't quite meld at the end. For example, the appearance of "The Virgin
Mary" as a sign on the beach - wasn't that the weird guy whose father
sold the girls warm Port? And what about Lou's father and mother.
their story? What's Lou's story? Casting Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull)
as another boxer's wife is a nice touch, but where does it take us?
Scum (UK - dir: Allan Clarke). Retrospective
This is the slicker, more polished version of the original made-for-TV
This version is powerful, but it is difficult to appreciate just how
it must have been in 1977 when the original should have gone to air in
UK. So why aren't we seeing the original version? That's what
should be seeing.
The rape scene was added for the theatrical release. It must have been
in 1979, and it does make you realise how far we've come in 20 years.
for me, the factual basis is a worry. Corin Campbell-Hill , who
the film and took questions afterwards, swore blind the research was
meticulous. But with docu-drama like this, there's always a lingering
about the theatricality of it all.
Sunday 11 June
Mr Death (USA - dir:
Morris) Score: 4.5/5
Errol Morris is God. Well, he's a great documentary film maker, anyway.
His film The Thin Blue Line blew me away when it was first
And here we have another gem. He got me from the first shot. It's Fred
face in rear-view mirror. Wasn't this the way he began The Thin
Line? Morris is still employing unusual structure and unusual
to tell his story, and it is still effective. He uses closeups & a
camera at various angles. He uses different film stocks and other
to give us visual effects - fuzzy picture, TV-type picture etc. He
with the particular and then moves out to show us the bigger picture,
that we can see from what pathetic beginnings came the monstrous result.
Morris has an almost morbid fascination with the technical details of
punishment. His interview with Leuchter are accompanied by archival
such as Edison's Electrocuting an Elephant. But all of this is
in building the picture of a man masquerading as an expert in a field
has no experts. Morris shows us (but never tells us) that Leuchter is
He uses language and equipment to make his "science" sound plausible
- but even he admits at one point that he wasn't qualified to build a
injection machine. He tells us that because he fixed an electric chair,
he was asked to build a lethal injection machine. Then he was asked to
a gallows. Then a gas chamber. And so we see that is the authorities
are careless here.
Some of the visuals are quite stunning: we view Leuchter thru a cup of
upside-down, being stirred. Beautiful! And one of the last shots is of
in his electric chair, in negative. Most disturbing. I also love the
Morris treats the "documentary" footage of Leuchter shot by the
"cinematographer" employed by the sinister Zundel. He's an unqualified
historian using an incompetent camera operator to photograph the
research of an unqualified engineer. It speaks for itself. But what are
qualifications anyway. As Zundel says, in the film's best joke:
"Did Christ have a diploma in Christianity? Marx in Marxism? Hitler
in Nazism? ".
Morris's documentary succinctly answers those questions.
A Brief History of Errol Morris (UK - dir: Kevin
What a pleasure it is to revisit footage of Morris's previous films.
no surprise to learn that
before he made The Thin Blue Line Morris was a private
Morris has such succinct insight. He calls The Thin Blue Line a
noir' . He got Philip Glass to do the unforgettable music for that
and Glass says Errol's hard to work for because he was a musician. (He
a cello prodigy and gave it up).
This is a straightforward documentary, relying on very good material on
Morris from Morris himself, and good material from his films. A couple
other people (Werner Herzog and Tom Luddy, who were mentors in a way)
anecdotes, but Errol is his own best analyst. We see how open he is to
For example, his film Vernon, Florida was going to be a film
"Nub City" ( it was well-known in the insurance industry that
people would mutilate themselves to get insurance payouts). But once
realised that no one would talk about it (duh!) he made a completely
film about the same town!
We learn from Morris himself that what interests him is human
This is the common theme in all his films. To do this he need good
technique, and this, he says, needs good eye contact, which is vital to
communication . To help with this he invented a gadget called the
(he tells us his wife gave it this name because it combines the words
& "terror"). Interestingly, we don't heard from his wife otherwise.
Typical of Morris's blindingly concise insight is his comment on his
Mr Death: "It is intriguing to me that a guy obsessed with death
should find himself at the epicentre of death". Intriguing indeed.
Cremaster 2 (USA - dir: Matthew Barney). Score 4/5
An incredibly beautiful & elaborate construct based on what seem to
be wacky ideas but with good connections between them. Anyway, with a
this beautiful & well-executed, who cares? It's a monumental work.
the 2nd half of the film was completely marred by the interjections of
loony in the audience. So my score is an estimate.
Psy-warriors (UK- dir: Alan Clarke). Retrospective
Alan Clarke continues his exploration of man's inhumanity to man (or
Some excellent British actors (Anthony Bate, Colin Blakeley, Derrick
Julian Curry) and an excellent editor (Tariq Anwar) work on this
but ultimately tiresome argument about the techniques of interrogation,
torture (and recruitment and training) allegedly used by the British
and special forces. It is interesting that this screened the day after The
Legends of Rita about a 1970s terrorist. Ulrica Meinhoff is
at length. Too much proselytising for my liking, and again I'm
about the factual basis.
Tumbleweeds (USA - dir: Gavin O'Connor). Score 2/5
Two excellent central performances hold up this charming but
rehash of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Actually, Kimberly J
as Ava, the little girl, gets the acting honours here. Janet McTeer is
unrecognisable as Mary Jo, a southern belle who has charm and looks and
a fantastic daughter, but can't live without a man - any man.
It's a shame, then, that Mary Jo ends up with a man to depend on. Alice
didn't need that. Still, we have a script based on the screenwriter
Shelton's life, so we have to accept the facts I guess.
There's lots of charm, but not too much that really gets to you. Two
moments though: 1. the shock of the car theft and the subsequent scene
mother consoles daughter; and 2. when Ava's lip begins to tremble when
hears Dan's story.
Tuesday 13 June
La Signora di Tutti (Italy - dir: Max Ophuls, 1934)
According to the introduction (and my experience of Max Ophuls films),
did not favour linear plots - he made more a series of vignettes. His
was very musical -he had worked in opera. he was concerned with issues
time & love - the rhythm of life. he worked in melodrama - the word
comes from the Greek melos - music. Music & movement were
method. Truffaut said that rhythm was his predominant concern -the
of acting, or even of a walk. His films are like a waltz.
In La Signora di Tutti - 'Everybody's Lady' we see amazing
shots - without steadicam - this is 1934! The camera moves with
In an early scene it goes through 3 walls (her anteroom, her bedroom,
bathroom & back again) on discovering her attempted suicide. Time
out: the clock tells her: "Shame on you". In the waltz scene Ophuls
imbues it with extreme tenderness - all the more poignant given the
of Gabi's fate.
There are flashbacks within flashbacks in this film. It is confusing
at the same time utterly predictable. In the end the posters just stop
We have never seen the talent and appeal of Gaby Doriot the star, and
we know her story. She had no control over her life - her fate was
by her beauty the moment the film began.
The Diplomat (Australia - dir: Tom Zubrycki) Score 3/5
It takes a while to work out where things begin & end in this doco
23 of the 24 years of Jose Ramos Horta's exile are slid through in a
minutes. But once this initial confusion passes we realise the film
are going to concentrate on the time immediately before and after the
referendum. The complications and the tensions which surround this are
than enough for any documentary or audience and they are admirably
With this documentary I began to understand the complexities of the
issues in Timor and I gained new respect for Horta. In the end I was
of his standing ovation
Contact (UK - dir Allan Clarke) Retrospective
The script is based on a book by Tony Clarke (no relation). Shot with
long lenses and infrared light (just like in war.), this film is a move
to a much simpler style. There's a very spare script. There's huge
over the parked car in the last scene. Clarke held the scene long
to fool me.
Christine (UK - dir Allan Clarke) Retrospective
This is a film about drugs. The film is relentlessly tedious, but
so. This world of drugs is not at all glamorous. The scriptwriter,
Ellis, was just about an alcoholic and knew all about the numbness of
However, according to assistant director Corin Campbell Hill, who
the Allan Clarke films, they threw the script away, relying more on the
experience of a heroin addict who advised them. Although this is a
film, there is some humour. One sly drug joke I noticed was that
makes her rounds going from Keats Way to Coleridge Way. The reference
to opium is funny, but the reference to early death is poignant. (Corin
Campbell Hill confirmed that they made up those street names).
Having seen nearly all the Allan Clarke films in the retrospective, I
see what Campbell Hill meant when she said that the line goes from Contact
to Christine to Elephant. Each film is more and
down to the essential elements, until finally, at Elephant, it is just
bare idea and the communication of it.
Wednesday 14 June
Human Resources (France - dir: Laurent Cantet) Score: 5/5
This film seemed to me to encapsulate what is shaping up as the theme
the festival: Life is hard and complicated, but we must struggle on
continue living. but, this film tells us, life is still worth it - it
not easy to live but to give up on life is a far worse alternative.
are people everywhere who will help (and they all have their own
For example, in this film Alain, the young black man who helps our hero
in his protest had, unexpectedly, a life of his own - wife and
twin boys. he's not just a man with a ladder.
This film also has one of the most realistic portrayals in my memory of
a business - with the factory, the office, the executives and the
- and of a family and community. There's a great ensemble cast and
individual characterisation. There's also a great sense of place and
and in fact the film ends with this question : "Where's your place?"
Ratcatcher (UK - dir: Lynne Gregory) Score: 3.5/5
I found Ratcatcher just a bit much. It is stylish, clever &
There are mice, rats, lice & germs. There's rubbish everywhere
a garbage strike). The unending filth and depression was interrupted
by a mouse flying to the moon. That was was good - we needed more of
I was hoping that someone would go fishing in the canal and meet a
perch wearing the girl's spectacles. The young protagonist was just a
too impenetrable boy was too impenetrable. but at least we know that no
matter how bad life gets, there'll always be someone to comb out your
Buried Country (Australia - dir Andy Nehl) Score: 3.5/5
"Music is a great carrier of culture" said Kev Carmody, introducing
the film. This is a very important film because the archival footage
photos need to be seen, and might otherwise be lost. The music is
(and much of it is sweet and moving), as are the people. This film
us clearly how it is that country music appealed so strongly to these
Clinton Walker, the film's writer, explained in the Q & A that
country music is not just a 'redneck' heritage but a melange of
southern US, and European styles. It is quite amazing how prominent
Rogers' music is in the experience of the Aboriginal country singers -
are some of the early Aussie country stars. And it is shocking how
a role missions, prisons & alcohol play in the experience of these
They are truly part of the Stolen Generations. Jimmy Little sweetly
'The Shadow of the Boomerang as an introduction.
Made in Britain (UK- dir: Alan Clarke) Retrospective
This film was written David Leland, who had been commissioned by the
to write 4 films on education). Chris Menges (now a major features
worked on it . Much of the film was shot using Steadicam (Allan Clarke
seen Stephen Frears film Water). It's a tour de force
by the young Tim Roth, who has charm but is made very difficult to
The film doesn't tell you what to think about his character Trevor.
Campbell Hill said in her Q & A session that Clarke allows you to
about what it was that made Trevor this way. Campbell Hill described
film as "not completely hopeless, but it's pretty hopeless." I
think that's a bit harsh. The film ends with an admonishment by a
to discipline 'Most kids know that by your age,' he says.
Campbell Hill had told us that at the time the film was made there was
huge outcry about the state of education system in Thatcher's Britain.
we realise that what Trevor needs is a home. In one scene he looks
at a homewares display in a shop window, and in another he sinks down
a comfy chair in his case managers home, and repeatedly asks him about
on holidays (the implication is, "like a normal person). An
impressive and important film, preceding recent features like Romper
Stomper and American History X by a decade or more.
Thursday 15 June
Cosy Dens (Czechoslovakia - dir: Jan Hrebejk) Score: 5/5
A very funny, quite moving series of vignettes illustrating life in
in the year before the Russian invasion. There's a wonderful ensemble
and some very funny jokes. The inimitable Czech sense of fun (vividly
early Milos Forman) is the dominant thing here, but there is also a
sense of poignancy. All these elements combine with the beauty and
of Prague itself to create a very sweet film.
The Shakedown (USA - dir: William Wyler) Score: 4/5
This is the silent version of the film that was also William Wyler's
sound feature. There are charming performances by James Murray and
Kent and by Jack Hanlon as the kid, Clem. There's also amazingly mobile
camerawork and the interesting use of closeups with significant action
taking place in the background - once even seen through a mirror. Also
is unusual framing -heads were cut off deliberately in the fairground
which gave a dizzying effect There's plenty of good visual humour (for
the woman feeling sick on the Ferris wheel). Also there's an amazingly
fight - 4 almost-complete rounds shown just about in real time, and
blood & sweat & spit! On the emotional side, there are charming
and touching scenes between Dave (James Murray, our hero) & the boy
and Dave & Margie (Barbara Kent). Margie is beautifully lit &
bare arms are very sensuous. The sense of movement - not just in the
scenes but throughout the film is quite outstanding. The original live
performed by Jan Preston is both sensitive and fun in appropriate
The Lady of the House (India- dir: Rituparno Ghosh) Score
This film was a little more difficult than it should have been because
print was received damaged and so we had to watch a beta video version
which looked murky, stopped twice, and made it difficult to read the
However, it was worth persevering. Starting very slowly it unfolded to
us a moving portrait of a lovely lady living with tragedy. Very sad,
I presume it would look lovely if seen properly on film. Yes, I agree
it does recall Ray's The Music Room.
Friday 16 June
The Reckless Moment (USA - dir: Max Ophuls, 1949)
In his introduction, Peter Kemp reminded us of James Mason's poem about
Max Ophuls, which begins: A shot that does not call for tracks/ Is
for dear old Max....'
Although this film seems to have been wildly praised by Time Out (as
in the Festival program), I didn't find The Reckless Moment anywhere
as sublime as the other Ophuls films I've seen. Interesting enough,
and important enough to make me want to strangle the gigglers in the
and to want to cheer when one man called out "Shut up, you twits!"
Peter Kemp rightly described the film as about A Lady in a Jam. As
( Joan Bennett's family) meets film noir (James Mason's world). It is
about one of Max Ophuls' obsessions - the gap between the ideal of
and its realities. Joan Bennett seems to live an ideal life, in
middle-class post War America, by the seaside, with a beautiful family
a servant. But, we learn - and as James Mason tells her - she's in
We see bars and grilles in everything, from shadows to staircase
In one scene James Mason closes the (bars) folding doors on Joan in the
living room. Later he asks her: "Do you never get away from your
Joan can't make a move without being noticed and questioned - by her
by shopkeepers, by the townspeople.
Ophuls also shows us that it is not much of a step from a perfect world
to the underworld. In the first scene travels from the middle class
of Balboa to the underworld of bars, seedy characters and blackmailers.
But in that world, Joan is mistaken for an alcoholic (the bartender
her he's not open yet but quickly reassures her: 'only another 10
The family's father is absent, first in Philadelphia & then in
(he was also away during war). Joan looks after everyone (even the
But the way she deals with things tells us that she doesn't need her
at all. She is comfortable keeping secrets from the beginning - she
off to LA without telling anyone. She hides things from husband Tom.
writes him misleading letters. She's also a control freak ("no one
will find those letters" she states, with utter certainty. She'll see
I was particularly struck by the scene where she does her accounts to
where they can economise so she can raise money for the blackmailers.
analyses the cost of raising a family and running a house. It's
This isn't love, it's business. But what's the alternative? Can Joan
a new life with James Mason? But the possibility of love with him is
too. he even warns her not to fall for the illusion. He tells her:
make the mistake mother made" (of trying to turn him into a priest).
Joan is a strong woman though - she does manage to organise
the way she told her daughter she would And she cries only at last when
Mason tells her to leave him - and it's more of a cry of mourning and
than anything else. It's over. But even so she doesn't tell hem husband
when he rings. Most satisfactorily subversive.
Shadow Boxers (USA - dir: Katya Bankowsky) Score 2.5/5
Shadow Boxers is superficially appealing. It has a good rap
(though it is perhaps a little repetitive) and nice pictures (also
towards the repetitive though). So we had a good time. But what did we
That some women box, sure, and that one is very good. But only one.
once did anyone suggest that some of them mightn't be very good at it
that was Bob Aram who ought to know). Never was the topic of drugs in
raised - although there were a couple of women who made me suspicious.
however, the truly fabulous Lucia Rijker, the Dutch/ American Amazon).
a star! Surely she couldn't have used steroids to get that wonderful
strength. We'll never be able to ask that question though because the
won't even consider it. The film really became too hagiographic for me.
And what if Lucia had been less attractive & articulate & more
What sort of a movie would it have been?
Dora-heita (Japan - dir:Kon Icihawa) Score: 4/5
A rip-snorting Samurai action story dealing with many of the ideas we
the Japanese are obsessed with - honour, pride, how should a man live?
corruption, conformity, the role of the individual in society - but in
fresh way. The visuals are particularly beautiful, especially the
And in one impossible fight scene - even more opponents than Mifune had
to demolish in Yojimbo- there is a fabulous use of slow motion with
frames shown -stunning! The female character-was a formidable one &
rounded out the film nicely
Elephant (UK - dir Allan Clarke) Retrospective
Elephant is the most minimal film Allan Clarke ever did. It is hard to
anything less minimal. The producer was Danny (Trainspotting)
who was then Head of BBC TV Drama for Northern Ireland. Boyle &
became obsessed with the inadequate reporting of sectarian killings.
whole film was shot by steadicam. Elephant is the epitome of
- a gunman walks toward his victim & the steadicam follows. Over
over again. The neat thing is that you could never tell one side from
other and sometimes you couldn't even tell stalker from victim. l can't
imagine the people of Northern Ireland enjoying it much, but it
makes its point. Again and again.
Road (UK - dir Allan Clarke) Retrospective
Road was written in 1987 by Jim Cartwright who was unemployed
lived in the north of England. He wrote it first as a series of
and later made it into a play which was put on at the Royal Court.
Clarke was going to do it in the studio, and had finished building the
but was unhappy with them and decided it was all too theatrical. They
a colliery (Easington colliery near Durham) and shot it there, again
on steadicam. It is a totally mobile film, full of great and poetic
writing: "Why is the world so tough? It's like walking through meat
in high heels," says Jane Horrocks' character. Corin Campbell Hill
says such things wouldn't be made now. No one would commission it. Why
That's to do with a lack of experience in people in key positions, she
said in front of the young Sydney Film Festival audience. She also
something that I had noticed: that here's a lot of colour coding in the
sets (she called it subliminal art direction!). Superb television with
actors. Funny and brutal.
Saturday 17 June
Beau Travail (France - dir: Claire Denis) Score 4.5/5
This was the first film of the Festival which truly snuck up on me and
me over the head, making me fall completely in love. It's the kind of
in which you accept a film for all of its faults and forgive them
the total effect is stunning and beautiful.
Unfortunately, tragically, we had to see the film on beta tape, because
4 out of the 5 of reels didn't arrive. I can only imagine how
beautiful the African scenery would have been on film. It was so
a part of the film. Without that full-on beauty, some of the film
a little for us, because there was just scene after scene of unusual
stark beauty, and we weren't getting the necessary effect. Still, I
those longueurs when the film reached its shattering conclusion. And
final dance scene just knocked me out. These men, superb athletes,
bodies, training for what? A dance routine in a cheap disco? What
to a finely tuned athlete when the game is over? Is this France? Has
killed her own beautiful child/lover/friend? Did she do it out of
Sunday 18 June
Madame de... (France/ Italy - dir: Max Ophuls, 1953)
Peter Kemp told us in his introduction that the original English
of the title was originally The Earrings of Madame de..., and
he thought that had, for once, the real focus of the film. he also
that the film, which he described as "sublime" (I agree), illustrates
many of the things we associate with Max Ophuls: swirling camera
time, music, the question of impossible love. He also read to us what
said about the beauteous Danielle Darrieux. If only I had remembered
whole thing, because it was so beautiful - but he singled out "the
gentle carriage of her shoulder", and "her smile: the way her
smile makes us weep"...
I love this film. For me it is perfection. Some of the things I noticed
this time: the role of chance in the film. Madame de...'s Nanny is
telling the future in the cards. First the cards presaged an immediate
and they are always right. When the General sees off his lover she is
carriage No 13. Her fellow passengers wish her good luck as she is
off the boat, and she goes gambling. She bets on no 13 at roulette, and
loses. The General says he has no luck at billiards. Later, there's
card reading, predicting the return of a great love.
I also noted the background to the love triangle is war in Europe.
lots of talk of Napoleon and Waterloo. In one scene when the General
the Baron spar verbally, there is fencing taking place in the
I also noticed that, like Joan Bennett in The Reckless Moment,
de... can't stop lying, even to the man she loves.
The dialogue was highly polished - until each line sparkled like a
One of my favourite lines in a whole script of genius: the General says
to his wife "Our superficiality is only superficial". Its the
knowingness about human nature that I love.
One last point: the programme says that the diamond earrings change
19 times, but I could only count 18 transactions. What did I miss? I'll
have to see it again, and again...
Tosca (Australia - dir: Trevor Graham) Score 4.5/5
A fabulous documentary on a terrific subject. It unearths a great
and one about the arts that needs to be heard. It has great characters
a great plot and meta-plot. There's a good dramatic arc, with the
tensions of a truncated rehearsal period and the looming opening night,
two singers who have not played the roles before (one not in English,
not ever) and we have one almighty pivot point which happened by
with a lift.
Joan Carden, who was there for the Q & A (looking fabulous in red)
that the lift problem was the worst thing that had happened to her in
40 year career. We also heard that there was 2-camera coverage the
time & they shot something like 160 hours of film. Trevor Graham
tasked if there was ever another structure considered for the film. he
that there were lots, but really the structure revealed itself - in the
same was as in sculpting the figure gradually reveals itself Someone
asked him what I thought was a great question: what was the hunch that
him decide to pick the subject. Graham was a bit evasive on this one.
did say that there was a kind of an entrée, in that he was
to the people and thought they would be great to film. He also adored
music. But one got the feeling that someone else had the idea (maybe
Ian McPherson Lecture by Prof Tom O'Regan -
"The End of Cinema? The Return of Cinema?"
After attending the lecture I'm none the wiser. I found it to be a
lecture written in turgid language on a fuzzy topic. I think O'Regan's
can be summed up by quoting a commentator he quoted, who said words to
effect: We are encountering a cultural shift which will either leave
the same or change everything completely. Yeah, right...
Here are my notes, for what they are worth:
Cinema is almost unthinkable without censorship debates & questions
of representation. Cinema as we know it is coming to an end - and being
replaced by something else. The new millennium encouraged us to look at
differences between old media & new. "Motion picture film is being
replaced by video tape..." (quoting a statement by a commentator named
Abrahamson 50 years ago). The reality is a lot messier than that.
is in a state of flux. At the moment there is a kind of productive (I
the word, but it was quite good!)......
There are many divergent trajectories:
1 Digital - a film like Alex Proyas' Dark City changes
way films are made. It is almost all an imaginary world. There is just
day in the real world - a day at the beach - and even that had to be
altered because the weather on the day was overcast.
2. Large format cinema - Now part of planning of multiplex
The most pure form of cinema. Easier to make the audience lose itself
the cinema. This is because of the extent of sensory response (
vertigo, nausea eg).
He said online video screens is a valid alterative to film at film
(later said it was more of a 'supplement').
3 High Definition TV - the digital image is managing to achieve
quality of film. People seem to prefer high quality digital to HDTV.
4 Interactivity in the cinema - cinema might begin to resemble
game rather than a narrative. Alternative scenario films used only to
the province of arthouse cinema. The user collaborate with the maker to
create the product. You can overstate the position. George Lucas
the difference between games and storytelling. Video libraries have
always been pay per view. This might reduce patronage of cinema.
5. Cinema renewal thru the multiplex - Multiple screens
in the 1950s in Toronto - but it was an arthouse thing - it prolonged
seasons. Now they are different beasts. They have short seasons of
The French see multiplexes as evidence of US cultural imperialism. They
used to be holy picture-palaces, now they are profane. And people go in
big groups, wanting the movie to conform to their expectations and
their experience of being together.
6. Home based entertainment - Will an explosion in this lead
contraction of public entertainment? Perhaps the meaning of entering
own 4 walls will change (see Edgar Reiss). Will we long to escape by
7. Final section (sic)- between 1948-1972 income devoted to
going fell dramatically. Free to air TV was an anomaly, because people
pay for it.
8. Conclusion - older movie-goers can feel separate from the
forms & modes of cinema (eg 'all that talk during the movie').
screens are still prohibitively expensive. A commentator said: We are
a cultural shift which will either leave everything the same or change
This was the theme of his answer to many of the questions, including
Howes' question of the future of the role of the film reviewer in 5
time. Answer: Same as it is now - but later he said it would be even
important than it is now.
Away with Words (dir: Christopher Doyle) Score 2/5
Christopher Doyle in his introduction to the screening said "This is
a film about words... And the colour blue (but don't tell anyone)...and
the people I am close to". He said that one of the stars, Kevin
is his best friend and has never acted before. He has some talent.
The film itself looks good, but it also looks awfully like a Wong
film. Does Doyle only have one style? His personal style is very
indeed, and if his life resembles this autobiographical film, then he's
not long for this world. He ricochets from impenetrable to serious to
frivolous to offensive. So does the film. It ends with the words "Beer
is life." Hmmm.
In the Q& A afterwards, Doyle was asked: What is hard about being a
A: Cinematography is about being there & doing it on the day.
are about the packaging - before & after - convincing people (like
audience) they like the film.
Will he direct again? On the evidence of that statement, he may not.
it be a loss? Not on the evidence of this film. He ended his Q & A
by inviting Christa Hughes who plays an "entertainer" in his film,
to "entertain" us again, with a reworking of Rodgers &
"Favorite Things." It was undergraduate humour, irreverent to
no particular end, and not particularly original. Which, come to think
it, is how I'd sum up Away with Words.
See also the review below for the documentary Orientations:
Doyle: Stirred Not Shaken.
The Filth & the Fury (UK
- dir: Julien Temple) Score 3.5/5
The director, Julien Temple, introduced the film. He said it is an
to give the Sex Pistols centre-stage again to set the record straight.
it's a lot of fun to hear the band's music, and interesting to hear how
they view the past from today's standpoint, I really didn't learn much
didn't already know from the past, from other rock documentaries
the fabulous series Rock Family Trees) and from reading an
by Malcolm McLaren published last year in the New Yorker which was a
of revisionist history of the Sex Pistols. One thing that particularly
me was that he didn't really show the band members as they look today -
they were always backlit or hidden in some way. In the intro he said he
didn't want to make "yet another rockumentary" showing aging rock
stars talking. He's obviously serious about that, which is a shame
since that's what we want to see - what they look like now!
I should single out the soundtrack - by which I mean the sound
and editing - which was extraordinary - getting audible material from
archival concert footage must have been no mean feat. And the cartoons
other graphics were fun and interesting. The documentary also set the
nicely in a historical and social context. And Julien temple even got
film Johnny Rotten crying over Sid Vicious' death.
Monday 19 June
Seventeen Years (China/ Italy - dir: Zhang Yuan) Score 5/5
Here's another lovely film about the passing of time and the changes it
brings. My abiding memory of this film is of the changes which take
in Tao Lan's face. It is all fresh & bright & full of elfin
to begin with; then when she hurts her sister it looks like a
faun - not yet comprehending her crime. Then, on her release from
it looks bland & subdued -defeated. There are so many touches here
tell us volumes about what it must be like to be in prison for 17
"Yes captain," says Tao Lan to the prison officer who helps her
get home. "Don't call me Captain on the outside" says the Captain.
"Yes Captain," says Tao Lan.
The passing of time and the aging of the characters is brilliantly
I noticed the brightly coloured jumpers all the women wear in the early
scenes. They are replaced by subdued clothes & the khaki green
of the prison guards. Tao Lan wears a red jumper, with a pink top under
it in first scenes. Later, on her release from prison in dark clothes,
drops a pink lipstick, and looks quizzically at it. In the first prison
scenes, we don't see Tao Lan for quite a while. We just see the backs
the women's heads. All these women - what have they done? How long have
they been there.
Chinese cities are undergoing a metamorphosis these days. Even
Square is being redeveloped! Change has its costs. In this film, the
is dealt with directly. Tao Lan's home is demolished and replaced by a
block. Needless to say, she can't use that toilet. We also see
differences between the old home that is demolished and the new one.
old one was poor, but it had character. The new one is soulless. We can
see how the old home had a lovely old stove that was always on the
giving both warmth and a constant supply of sufficient hot water. The
hot water heater takes time to heat up.
Zhang Yuan also looks at the regimentation and paternalism of China.
is the endless drilling of the prisoners, not just physically but
This takes its toll not only on the prisoners, but also on the prison
A fellow is wandering about a square because he was ordered to take
. When they ask what he is doing he tells them: "Just obeying orders".
Later the Captain tells Tao Lan that she must go home. She has no
because she was rewarded by the State for good behaviour. "Do you know
what that means?" she asks.
But the most poignant moments take place in her new home. And they are
the moments we expect. When she takes a shower, Tao Lan's mother tells
"Lock yourself in" and we see the door close and hear the latch.
It's chilling. Tao Lan doesn't bother to wait for the hot water to heat
up as her mother advised. She's been in prison for 17 years - the water
was probably rarely hot, and there's no time for things like that in
She doesn't even dry her hair properly. Tao Lan's father also has also
abruptly adjust to her return, and it's deeply shocking for him. It
me of the vast extent of the Chinese memory - and the fact each
experience extends over several lifetimes. In one particularly touching
scene, Tao Lan's father wishes his wife would come back in a subsequent
life as a woman, so he could marry her again.
This is a beautiful, thoughtful and touching film. One of the best of
Orientations: Chris Doyle: Stirred Not Shaken (Australia
dir: Rick Farquharson) Score: 2/5
The director introduced the film and told us that it was two-and-a-half
years in the making. After watching this film and Doyle's debut feature
as director Away with Words (see earlier review), I'm not
it's worth spending that much time with Chris Doyle.
The film makers certainly didn't keep their objective distance from
the film is much too much like hero-worship. They even worship his
They felt they had to use - or at least show -Doyle's distinctive style
in their own cinematography. But it just looked like slavish copying
which Doyle says he hates - although he did do a shot-by-shot remake of
Psycho for Gus van Sandt!). The film makers also use Tony Rayns,
whom they describe as a critic and screenwriter, as a critical
on Doyle. But what they don't tell us is that Rayns was
on Doyle's first feature as director. Some slip! Important fact.
Christopher Doyle says he is a self-taught cinematographer, learning by
making mistakes. On the first documentary he tried to shoot (having
used a camera before) the interiors all turned out black, but all the
colours were very lush. He just had to work out how that happened.
impressive. However, as Wong Kar-wai reveals, Doyle once got so drunk
a shoot that they couldn't wake him up, and he had to be carried to the
set. That's not so impressive.
Doyle breaks all the rules of composition and lighting. He uses long
to cut out extraneous details. He uses available light sources. He says
that he problem with being at the cutting edge is this: how do you move
on? Indeed. I'd like to see him move on.
He explains Psycho as some kind of attempt to move on. It's a shot by
recreation, and he said he thought it would be interesting to work
a rigid framework, given that he normally works by improvisation. He
(tellingly) maybe I need that.
In the student Q & A session that was filmed, he absolutely savaged
a female student who had the temerity to say she was a fan of his, and
he like her to buy him a few drinks? In reply, he completely imposed
view of her thoughts and told her to go out make a film and not to copy
him. Even if - and I quote - "It might not be any good." There
was no such suggestion of copying, and it was downright insulting.
Chris Doyle also makes collages. They don't look too impressive. Film
Maya Asai identifies the fact that collage is a destructive art,
to the fact that Doyle may be self-destructive. That seems likely.
himself says elsewhere in the film that because he comes from the
he doesn't trust single images.
I must mention that there were 2 terrible spelling errors in the film's
intertitles: "Palmes d'Or" & Hong Kong "premier"
of a film. Dreadful! But perhaps to be expected in a film with two
subtitles in its name.
In the Q & A, Doyle said he thought language is culture so that's
he decided to study Chinese language. He also said he had a late
at around 28 when he was with a group of Chinese films. I don't think
adolescence has passed yet: he brought back the dreaded Christa Hughes
a reprise of her massacre of Rodgers & Hammersteins' "Favorite
Things." Let me outta here!
A Room for Romeo Brass (UK - dir: Shane Meadows) Score:
This film is autobiographical and immediately feels more honest than
director's debut feature Twentyfourseven (SFF 1998). But are
real duo of Shane Meadows and Paul Fraser black and white? Is one
I'd love to know.
As in Meadows' last film there's an over-reliance on popular music to
scenes. Is this still the under-confidence of inexperience, or is it
There are some bravura performances: Paddy Considine puts on a real
as Murrell, a character who's just a bit too weird to be believable,
is still very effective, particularly in the latter stages. Frank
as Joe (Romeo's dad), Andrew Shim as Romeo and Ben Marshall as Gavin
terrific, and well handled by the director. In one scene, Romeo fluffs
lines slightly and throws their timing off, but the director rightly
it in. It just looks like the kids are fumbling in their attempts to
up after a fight, in their making up scene which the director left in,
us a fumbling and tentative scene which is all the more poignant for
The scene in which James Higgins as Gavin's Dad gets on his knees and
to Murrell's hammer is one I'll never forget. Passive bravery! How
All in all the plot was - as before - a bit contrived, but it's getting
there. I liked it a lot.
Grass (Canada - dir: Ron Mann) Score 3/5
Very nicely done in terms of graphics and visuals and very good use of
archival footage. There was also an excellent survey of the legislative
history of cannabis and hemp control in the USA, but no real attempt to
cover medical position. The whole approach (especially the use of
and extremely loud music) is very lighthearted and not at all
which gives the viewer the impression that it is a lightweight film,
aimed at college audiences.
However, when you consider that the director told us that his aim was
to show that smoking marijuana was "a good thing" or harmless,
but to convince you that it is crazy to lock people up or give them a
record, you can see why he has taken the approach he has.
though, this sort of approach seems to have mislead a sympathetic
such as the Sydney Film Festival audience, and it seems unlikely to
any legislators about reform.
I was pleased to learn in the Q & A that director Ron Mann had done
about a year of research and couldn't back up several of the myths
marijuana control which had grown out of a fairly famous book on the
- such as claims about WR Hearst's involvement in banning hemp. And as
the myth that Dupont was behind the bans, he said that the development
plastic was not the reason that marijuana was banned in US.
Tuesday 20 June
Clouds of May (Turkey - dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan) Score 2.5/5
Another film which is largely about the passing of time and the coming
change. The father asks his son: "Why are you in such a rush? ....I've
waited 20 years. What's another 3 or 4 months?" The father also says
"I don't intend to die while all this is going on." But another
old man says "My wife died a month ago. I'm just killing time."
Was that dedication at the end to Chekhov? The whole film was very
but I didn't find it to have the emotional content, except in one brief
sequence which simply showed the parents in various day-to-day
There were beautiful faces and a lovely sylvan setting, but for me the
did not have enough to say.
Innocence (Australia - dir: Paul Cox) Score 4/5
Mark Patterson, the producer who introduced the film, told us that
Ebert said it was the best film at the Cannes Film Festival. He told us
that the film is about some things in our lives that never end.
The script is not at all naturalistic, but very poetic and
Much of it is quite lovely. Some of it is very hard for the actors to
There's lots of epigrammatic talk about memory and thoughts of the
For example, Andreas asks his daughter where thoughts of the past end
memory begins. It made me think of Max Ophuls.
The visuals back up this theme of the past and the present as a
Claire stands in front of a portrait of her younger self, even wearing
same clothes. She says to Andreas "I know I said I'd never see you
again, but I see you in front of me all the time". She sees her younger
self in the mirror. The housekeeper says of Andreas "He still thinks
it's yesterday". Claire asks Andreas "How long do you think we
can keep this going?" and he replies "Forever." Claire says
to Andreas:" I wish we had not met again. Everything would have come
to a natural conclusion." "Or an unnatural one," he replies.
The scenes of the past are particularly beautiful and well delineated,
I loved the performance of Charles Tingwell - so subtle, so natural, so
poignant. He didn't play "ill". Terry Norris as John, Claire's
husband, also reached me, and made me believe in him.
Now for the critical comments: Julia Blake's performance seemed to be
much in the realm of "Acting" (with a capital A). It was too mannered,
too fey. It wasn't true enough. And there were two scenes towards the
that didn't seem to fit. The first was the scene when Paul Cox appears
it didn't make sense, and was merely distracting. Then the following
by the river when Claire and Andreas talked about love and Claire says
never really loved you". Where did that come from? It didn't ring true
and it didn't flow from what went before it. In the Q & A we found
that the scene with Paul Cox had been cut from the film and put back in
many times, and finally Cox's young son convinced him to leave it in.
call, in an otherwise lovely and very adult film.
A Pornographic Affair (France
- dir: Frédéric Fonteyne) Score 4/5
For me, this film started out as being the film of the Festival. It
to be everything that Better than Sex was not. It stood back
showing sex. The red door closed in the hotel and we didn't see what
were doing. I thought it was a critique of movie sex. And then two
even talked about sex in the movies and I thought, great, some
treatment of the topic of love vs sex. But it turned out to be a tease.
Just like the film's title. (Which in fact has been a problem, because
France, some people didn't see to the film because of the title).
Because the only sex the film makers didn't show was the "pornographic"
sex. When it came to what the characters actually called "normal"
sex - they showed it. The young director, in the Q & A even had the
hide to saw that "they didn't show anything." But they showed
Nathalie Baye's naked back and breasts. They showed Sergi Lopez' naked
and flushed face. They showed Nathalie Baye on top and reaching orgasm.
They showed Sergi's pleasure underneath her. They showed intimacy. They
showed a lot.
And so the film lost faith with me. It promised to be intelligent
honest and copped out. Why did they use the fake interviewing
What was the purpose of the interview? Why did they both look so
in the interviews (Nathalie looked like some kind of tarty punk!)? None
of these points were addressed, but they needed to be.
Still, as the director said, the film is about invisible things - like
and the way love changes people. It also deals with the fascinating
that people who are in love often think they know everything about
lover -but they are wrong of course. In this case, the director
the two people both want it to stop while it is still good, so they can
have good memories, because, he said 'passion always ends badly'.
What sort of horrible world is this? Certainly not the world of the
film, Innocence, where love lasts forever and there are
chances. This was a truly fascinating juxtaposition of films.
Stylistically the film is wonderful. The performances are terrific, and
Nathalie Baye and Sergi Lopez (a total dish) make a great couple whose
difference you don't notice for a long time. It's a very static
which the director keeps visually very interesting. The secret
he revealed refreshingly, was simplicity: during the editing they tried
to make everything as simple as possible. That way we can concentrate
energies on observing the actors, and they give us such subtlety. The
when Sergi believes he has lost Natalie was outstanding, and I loved
scene early on when Sergi sits in his car after their first liaison,
everything outside is blurred, and he just sits there,
It speaks volumes.
The way the director photographs Paris is truly wonderful. He said that
the city was the third element of the film: a place where people can
and lose each other. He also said he wanted to make a film about love
he had a lot questions - and he still has a lot of questions. I'm not
I'm just a bit disappointed.
Wednesday 21 June
Farewell Home Sweet Home ( France - dir: Otar Iosseliani)
The nutty family in this film reminds me of the family in Frank Capra's
1938 film You Can't Take it with You. It's also a bit like a
Altman or (!) a Frederick Wiseman film. It's like Altman because there
several sets of characters whose lives intersect in various ways around
a couple of locales. It's like a Frederick Wiseman film because the
steps back, observes, and offers no commentary).
As with Cosy Dens (see review above), there's a wealth of
here which will repay repeated viewings. For example, there's a lovely
of a shop window hidden by what we see are soap suds, and the squeegee
that it is a shop selling lovely religious artefacts. In that shop, a
is doing detailed painting work on a Madonna. However, rather than
it, she seems to be painting a traditional blue Madonna black! Also,
owners of this lovely shop fight violently, but only after-hours!
In this film, nobody is what they appear to be. The poor appear as
the rich appear to be poor. The weak and clumsy appear to be strong and
capable, and the incapable (beggars, drunks) are capable, some with a
knowledge of arcane topics. The crooks can't operate guns, but a boy
There are also many changes which take place during a 2-year prison
served by the family's son. An African woman who appeared to be under
thumb of her husband seems to have dumped him for a white husband (the
shop man). The inefficient café run by a mother becomes a
run her son, maid sacked. A bird is returned to a cage - but the cage
closed. Some take off for the sea, others to the mountains (there's
gorgeous shots of what look like the Gorges of Verdon). Many changes
place - mostly reversals of your expectations. But it's by no means
or pat. It's charming, funny, and has a keen satirical eye. It is also
in a benign (and "Russian" (actually Georgian) way.
Jesus' Son (USA - dir: Alison Maclean) Score 2/5
The cast list in the opening credits tipped me off: here are the usual
suspects. I didn't like this film too much - though there were plenty
funny moments (and some very unfunny ones). There's a forced style
relying on a very quirky narration. My ears pricked up when the
told his junkie girlfriend "Maybe living and dying are both the same
thing": I thought I might have returned to Paul Cox territory. But
This film was guilty of glamorising heroin, I felt. After seeing Alan
Christine, which in 1987 had the guts to show us the needle
entering the vein, every time the kids injected, I felt angry at heroin
gear being portrayed as cool - as glamorous - an accessory! Probably I
be blaming the source material - the short stories of Denis Johnson,
I haven't read them. I don't think Canadian/New Zealander Alison
(Crush, SFF, 1992) did a very good job of melding them all into
feature. It just didn't gel for me. So much seemed juvenile and some
just plain stupid - like a Cheech & Chong movie for 2000. Some was
offensive - the scenes in the Beverly Home, for example, where the
were patronised and treated badly, without dignity. The film relies
on the star charm of Billy Crudup, but in the end I felt the material
unworthy of the considerable technical skills of Alison Maclean.
Tube Tales (UK - dir: various) Score 3/5
This is a collection of short stories too, collected by Time Out
magazine and given to various writers and directors to make into 10
films. There doesn't seem to have been much coherent reasoning for the
made, but that's no real matter. The pieces are of variable quality and
are all about the London Underground.
My favourites were: No 1, Mr Cool (dir: Amy Jenkins), No 3, Grasshopper
(dir: Menhaj Huda), No 4 My Father the Liar (dir: Bob
8, A Bird in the Hand (dir: Jude Law) & best of all No 10 Steal
Away (dir: Charles McDougal).
American Psycho (USA - dir:
Harron) Score 3.5/5
This film is difficult. It's hard to review because it depends on so
outside things - it's hard to assess the film in its own right. If I
that I'd say it was a flip and funny take on a very disturbing subject,
and it goes over the top early on, almost redeeming itself by the end.
However, if you add to that the fact that there was talk of banning the
book in this country, and that its initial publishers pulled out before
publishing it, a really dreadful film could have been made of
And if you add to that that the film makers are, variously, women, gay
feminist, you have to look at the film through different eyes.
Christian Bale makes a great serial killer - he's pretty and ugly at
same time. The little boy from Empire of the Sun has grown up
sick and twisted. I loved all the New York-in-the-80s-&-early-90s
I loved the business card routine. All these vice presidents, all out
lunch. I laughed a lot, and squirmed a lot, and I feel a bit equivocal
the ending. When I worked out what was going on, and heard Patrick
last speech (check that name, Bateman), I recalled that
Jimmy Carter was famous for sinning in his heart.
The film begins beautifully with Christian Bale in the shower, doing
beauty routine. How does this guy ever get to work, I thought, and this
should have tipped me off. The cluey imagery begins: he takes off a
as part of his beauty routine. He never seems to do any work. All he
in his office are toys and accessories. He clumsily hides his
when his secretary (played with beautiful humility and self loathing by
the talented Chloe Sevigny) comes in. The very fakeness of his job
you think: how much of this am I supposed to believe. Good question, as
it turns out.
I'm glad I didn't have dinner reservations anywhere that night.
Thursday 22 June
Bloody Angels (Norway - dir: Karin Julsrud) Score
The Norwegian title is 1732 Hotten. (The town is called
It's a shame that the English title is so damned obvious.
I liked this film. I liked its style, and I loved its message. It's by
means perfect though. It's also a shame that some of the clues in this
mystery are a bit obvious, and that the goodies and baddies are fairly
painted. The goodies hold cats. The baddies stick together ."They"
are everywhere: "They killed my cat", "They did it"
,"They killed my boy," says Andrea. "They" don't drink
Coke: "We prefer Butterfly here" says the victim's mother. The
priest says "None of my children did it....They are not my children".
Niklas says "They didn't kill that retard," and brings a dead
cat to school. The angels are everywhere too: "Maybe an angel did it",
"The angels are in an ugly mood right now", etc.
It's interesting that there's water everywhere too. Everybody's always
leaks and drinking springwater. It's an interesting counterpoint to the
bleak, cold, dry, snowy environment. The humour is dry as well.
This is a film about violence. It shows no actual violence - just the
But the violence is horrific. Does it exploit the violence? It's a
decision. The director sets up a situation where there is the greatest
justification for violence, and then shows us what can happen. And the
message as I see it is this: violence begets violence. If you use
as a tool, no matter what the reason, then you are as bad as the worst
us. There is no redemption. There is no excuse. That's important.
A Conversation with Gregory Peck (USA - dir: Barbara
A documentary with a great subject: a great actor and a good man. "He's
the best of us" someone famous said. Hear ,hear! I think Mary Badham
(Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird) speaks for all of us when she
"He is Atticus...I still call him Atticus". He's also got
a great sense of humour "Well as I always say" he remarks, "Too
late to back out now." I'm so glad he didn't.
There are a couple of problems with the film though. It concentrates a
too much on the pregnancy of Peck's daughter, Cecilia Peck, who, with
Saffire & Barbara Kopple, produced the film. By the way, that fact
interesting in itself since (If my memory is correct) all three are
of very famous fathers (Gregory Peck, William Saffire & Arthur
But while the pregancy is a useful hook to use to show us Peck's family
life, it does tend to dominate a bit. I also felt that if there was to
a focus on the family, there needed to be more balance - we needed to
more about Peck's sons from his first amrriage - and Peck's first wife
The footage of Peck's one-man-show was excellent, though, because it
us the man as he is today. Well-chosen film slips rounded out the
A good effort that gave us a glimpse of the good man behind the great
Gigantic (Germany - dir: Sebastian Schipper) Score 3.5/5
"Friendships are like dreams they can be big - huge or absolutely
says Floyd. Later he says "At the best part of the record the needle
should get stuck." What needle? I asked. But at the end of the film
the needle did get stuck at the best part, and the music played
and over - at the instant before Floyd left town. In this scene, all 4
lie on the grass, and look at the sky. It looks like the Beatles photos
(and indeed the film is set in Hamburg).
This is a nice simple film about 3 nice boys & a nice young girl.
don't shoot up, the girl doesn't get raped. They do do
things, though, and some bad things happen to them. But they all
Gigantic is a kind of German American Graffiti. Leaving
and friends is hard, but it's part of life.
Throne of Death (India - dir: Murali Nair) Score 2.5/5
Another simple film, this time telling a macabre tale about looking on
bright side of death (to quote Monty Python). A sad story, economically
told and funny in a black way. These people are so poor, and so
They have such an ability to focus on the big picture. It is quite
The only problem is that having also seen Mr Death: the Rise and
of Fred A Leuchter Jr (dir:Errol Morris) at this festival, I'm not
sure Krishnan's death was as peaceful as it appeared.
Friday 23 June
The Colour of Paradise (Iran - dir: Majid Majidi)
You'd be selling this film short if you described it as the obligatory
Iranian film about children. This film is really accomplished.
it represents a quantum leap over the last Iranian film I saw. It
a very fine line between the sweetly touching and the overly
its subject is a little blind boy. For me, it only veered across the
on two occasions - when slow motion was used to drag out significant
But mostly the feeling is sincerity rather than schmaltz
Early on we get the idea when we see the way the film makers edit to
time passing and so much more about the nature of blindness, as we
little Mohammad's diligent search for a baby bird and its nest. The use
of sound is striking, too - birds call everywhere, even in the city.
The film features some extraordinarily beautiful scenes: the faces of
the shot of the city of Teheran against its mountain backdrop
the contrast between city and country in a most eloquent way. There's
of imagery and symbolism. Hands, for example are particularly
There are the dummy hands in a shop window which presage the hands of a
woman serving tea. There are Mohammad's hands as he touches to "see",
and feels to read. There are the hands of the carpenter , which show
how to work with wood, and the film ends with a shot of Mohammad's
Much of nature takes on extra significance in this beautiful film. A
cries - is it the voice of God? The fog comes in and seems to take
granny. It envelopes Mohammad too. Is this the presence of God? A wild
flies away. Dies it represent Mohammad's soul? Then the hand motif
Mohammad's hand glows. Is he still alive? Or has he been sanctified? I
to think the latter, because I thought of the way that the blind
has earlier described his saintly granny's hand as white.
There's a strange connection between this film and the Christopher
film Away with Words. Mohammad reads wheat and river stones and
natural things with his fingers and finds letters there. In Doyle's
Doyle's alter-ego finds different meanings in the words for things
him. It's interesting that two such different film makers could explore
such a strange idea in two films in the same film festival. But as to
that means...leave it with me!
Lola Montes (France - dir: Max Ophuls, 1955)
Peter Kemp's introduction told us that this was Max Ophuls' first film
colour and cinemascope, and also his last film. At the end of his life
was concerned with the cult of celebrity. He was disturbed by Judy
attempted suicide and some of the events in Rita Hayworth's life. Kemp
that Ophuls described this as a film more about the effect Lola has on
men around her. Lola has to be a good actress because everything pivots
around her. Lola is like the earrings of Madame de... - a catalyst.
the session, Peter Kemp also told us that Ophuls had a specific colour
for each part of Lola's life: brown for her time on the road with
blue for her ocean voyage & youth, white for her time with King
and all the colours for the circus show.
All of Ophul's obsessions are her for those who are looking. As the
begins, a chandelier descends. It ascends and descends as different
of Lola's life pass before our eyes. Lola herself is on a carousel,
rotates one way and another circle on the outside rotates in the
direction. So movement and circles dominate. The passing of time is
ever-present. A clock chimes as Liszt goes to leave as Lola sleeps. But
the fascinating Lola wakes and fantasises about their next chance
She tells him: "Life is all coincidence" and seduces Lizst all
over again. As she does so, the church bell chimes.
We are about to go back in time. We see the prelude to this period of
life in the circus tableau. Lola kisses the child who plays her as a
: "Do you like the role?" "Oh yes," she replies, "I'd
like to play it all my life." "Quite right" says Lola.
There's much sardonic humour in the film too. There's what could
be the first product endorsement in cinema - certainly the first joke
product endorsement in cinema. During Lola's circus show a brand of
is mentioned (El Caballo Doro, I believe). The Ringmaster (perfectly
by Peter Ustinov) tells us: "Now on sale in this theatre." When
the students revolt against King Ludwig's repressive regime, Lola asks
"Is it a revolution?" The King tells her: "If it stops it's
a riot, if it doesn't it's a revolution". The administrator of the
circus is a clown.
In this film, everything is for sale, even talent, even a life. When
King of Bavaria wants someone to paint Lola's portrait, talent doesn't
the artist the job. The painters are judged by how long their paintings
take (the longest won). When the portrait is finally complete, it is
to the palace she has been given by the King. "It can't hang here",
Lola says, "that would look like advertising". Later the Ringmaster
says "Scandal is money. In America, unlimited money.". By the
end. Lola is in a cage, selling her kisses for a dollar a time to all
over the age of 16.
For me, this is by no means the best of Ophuls' films. But having said
a lesser piece by a consummate master of the art is still a deep
Perhaps if the role of Lola had not been played by the rather wooden
Carol, it would have been his masterpiece. She's just right for the
scenes though, as she just "goes through the motions" of her life.
Lola Montes is certainly a hugely detailed and layered work, and
it brings to mind the late works of other geniuses - like Kubrick's Eyes
Wide Shut (which regular readers of my reviews will know I love,
its flaws), and even Shakespeare's The Tempest.
Le Plaisir (France - dir: Max Ophuls, 1951) Retrospective
What a pleasure this film was! So much so that I chose not to see any
films today, so that I could end the Festival with it.
Ophuls' sensibilities are so in tune with Guy de Maupassant's that
camera move, every set, every aspect of art direction, all the
and each member of the cast is in synch with the mood and the
of the subject. It is a display of such virtuosity that one feels
In his introduction, Peter Kemp told us that originally Max Ophuls
to appear in the introduction to this 3 part film, with Maupassant.
the studio drew the line. Kemp also described the moment in a church in
the 2nd story which, he said, sums up Ophuls. Then he quoted one of
cinematographers on Le Plaisir who said that the reality which Ophuls
us is so fragile that it cannot take a direct treatment. It must be
specially - hence all the spiral staircases and tracking shots.
The first story concerns a man who wears a mask to make him appear
and he goes out dancing every night to try to keep his illusion of
going. He cries out at the end when he is left alone. "Solitude is
tragic." says one character (the doctor, I think) "Worse"
is the reply.
The second story involves the day that a brothel takes a day off to
the First Communion of the madam's niece who lives in the countryside.
interruption to the routine of the town's men is hilariously
First it is just the sailors who begin to fight, but then the gentlemen
begin bickering: "Boredom had made them bitter" says the narrator.
But this is also the story with a transcendent moment of beauty and
which takes place in the little country church. That beauty and grace
so overwhelming, so pervasive that it is carried by the prostitutes
on their journey to the cit. On the way it overflows and bursts out
a field of flowers, and then it is carried back into the "house,"
which is covered with garlands of flowers, and it flows over the
in torrents of joy and celebration. I love the way that the flowers
in Jean Gabin's hat after the girls leave.
The narrator describes the first story as being about Love &
(I think I got that right), the second about Love & Purity, and the
third about Love & Death. In the third story an artist and a model
in love. They are poor but happy, it seems. They eat sardines "Salmon's
for old age -youth's for sardines" says the model ( a gorgeous Simone
Simon). But when love cools the model won't go quietly away. She
suicide, and jumps out of a window. In the end an observer sums up the
plight in these exquisite words: "He found love fame and wealth. Isn't
that happiness? To which the narrator responds: "Happiness is no lark."
With these words of incisive delicacy, I end my report from the Sydney