The 47th Sydney Film Festival
9-23 June 2000

(These reviews are copyright. You must not use any part of them without my permission.)

* If you arrived here after a search, scroll down to the film you were looking for.

Opening Night 9 June

Better than Sex
(Australia - dir: Jonathan Teplitsky). Score: 2/5

At the movies, the anticipation of sex is always better than sex. This is something that the great film makers of the past understood only too well: 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 moment. 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 insights into life and love we get giggly asides about sexual preferences by people who appear from the two sides of the film's frame. Who are these people? It's as if Teplitsky really wanted to have the feel of the wise-cracking best-friend in a Rob Reiner film - a kind of Rosie O'Donnell or Rob Reiner himself. But he couldn't fit that in with the idea of the enemy-as-best-friend (Catherine McClements as a bitch), so he settled for these asides. They're just annoying.

How can we watch two sexy people having sex for a whole movie and not feel 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 reason to stay put. Even Wenham and Porter find it hard to give us any real feelings here. There's only one moment in the film where they reached me - and that was when they both turned introspective and said nothing.

On the technical side: something funny's going on with the music for the film - apparently it is being scrapped and David Hirschfelder is going to do new music. It should improve things. As it is the music is forgettable. The film looks good enough, but I did notice the looping was pretty awful in places.

We can do better than Better than Sex. It's a disposable film.

Saturday 10 June

The Legends of Rita
(Germany - dir: Volker Schlondorff). Score 4/5
Relax, you're in the hands of a master. He knows how to cover a lot of ground, physically, philosophically, politically and emotionally, without losing you for a second. This film's pacing, is superbly streamlined: plot, visuals 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 practice 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 when a way of life changes as rapidly as it did in the last quarter of the 20th century. When it's over you think: 'How did we cover so much ground so quickly?'

Schlondorff also introduces us to 3 fabulous women: the women he cast in 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 peacekeeping duties in war zones - to use music to unlock emotions. The film makers achieve extraordinary insights through careful, uncompromising questioning - always gently done but relentless nevertheless ("But your hands are sweating..."). Wonderfully chosen interview subjects are questioned to the point of disclosing their true feelings about the horrors they have seen, and then the camera lingers on their faces as they listen to music they have told us had special meaning for them during those hard times. This gives them, and us, the space 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 particularly impassive about his experiences - to the point of surprising himself with his coolness. His face has no lines, no wrinkles, nothing to show the ravages of his experience. All that we see as he listens to U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday 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 Yugoslavia . "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 emotional material.

New Waterford Girl (Canada - dir: Allan Moyle) Score: 2/5
This film has some nice touches and an attractive star - Liane Balaban is a Winona Ryder lookalike. (Is she Bob's daughter?). But like the town of New Waterford itself there seems to be a pall over everything. The screen 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 which 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. What's 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 drama. This version is powerful, but it is difficult to appreciate just how powerful it must have been in 1977 when the original should have gone to air in the UK. So why aren't we seeing the original version? That's what we should be seeing.

The rape scene was added for the theatrical release. It must have been shocking in 1979, and it does make you realise how far we've come in 20 years. But, for me, the factual basis is a worry. Corin Campbell-Hill , who introduced the film and took questions afterwards, swore blind the research was absolutely meticulous. But with docu-drama like this, there's always a lingering doubt about the theatricality of it all.

Sunday 11 June

Mr Death (USA - dir: Errol 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 released. And here we have another gem. He got me from the first shot. It's Fred Leuchter's face in rear-view mirror. Wasn't this the way he began The Thin Blue Line? Morris is still employing unusual structure and unusual visuals to tell his story, and it is still effective. He uses closeups & a tilting camera at various angles. He uses different film stocks and other techniques to give us visual effects - fuzzy picture, TV-type picture etc. He begins with the particular and then moves out to show us the bigger picture, so that we can see from what pathetic beginnings came the monstrous result.

Morris has an almost morbid fascination with the technical details of capital punishment. His interview with Leuchter are accompanied by archival footage such as Edison's Electrocuting an Elephant. But all of this is important in building the picture of a man masquerading as an expert in a field that has no experts. Morris shows us (but never tells us) that Leuchter is glib. 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 lethal 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 fix a gallows. Then a gas chamber. And so we see that is the authorities who are careless here.

Some of the visuals are quite stunning: we view Leuchter thru a cup of coffee upside-down, being stirred. Beautiful! And one of the last shots is of Leuchter in his electric chair, in negative. Most disturbing. I also love the way 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 unscientific 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 Macdonald) Score 3.5/5
What a pleasure it is to revisit footage of Morris's previous films. It's no surprise to learn that
before he made The Thin Blue Line Morris was a private detective! Morris has such succinct insight. He calls The Thin Blue Line a 'documentary noir' . He got Philip Glass to do the unforgettable music for that film, and Glass says Errol's hard to work for because he was a musician. (He was 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 of other people (Werner Herzog and Tom Luddy, who were mentors in a way) supply anecdotes, but Errol is his own best analyst. We see how open he is to change. For example, his film Vernon, Florida was going to be a film about "Nub City" ( it was well-known in the insurance industry that people would mutilate themselves to get insurance payouts). But once Morris realised that no one would talk about it (duh!) he made a completely different film about the same town!

We learn from Morris himself that what interests him is human motivation;. This is the common theme in all his films. To do this he need good interviewing technique, and this, he says, needs good eye contact, which is vital to communication . To help with this he invented a gadget called the "Interrotron" (he tells us his wife gave it this name because it combines the words "interview" & "terror"). Interestingly, we don't heard from his wife otherwise.

Typical of Morris's blindingly concise insight is his comment on his film 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 film this beautiful & well-executed, who cares? It's a monumental work. Unfortunately, the 2nd half of the film was completely marred by the interjections of a 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 youth). Some excellent British actors (Anthony Bate, Colin Blakeley, Derrick O'Connor, Julian Curry) and an excellent editor (Tariq Anwar) work on this well-executed but ultimately tiresome argument about the techniques of interrogation, torture (and recruitment and training) allegedly used by the British army and special forces. It is interesting that this screened the day after The Legends of Rita about a 1970s terrorist. Ulrica Meinhoff is discussed at length. Too much proselytising for my liking, and again I'm concerned about the factual basis.

Tumbleweeds (USA - dir: Gavin O'Connor). Score 2/5
Two excellent central performances hold up this charming but forgettable rehash of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Actually, Kimberly J Brown as Ava, the little girl, gets the acting honours here. Janet McTeer is almost 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 Angela 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 special moments though: 1. the shock of the car theft and the subsequent scene when mother consoles daughter; and 2. when Ava's lip begins to tremble when she hears Dan's story.

Tuesday 13 June

La Signora di Tutti (Italy - dir: Max Ophuls, 1934) Retrospective

According to the introduction (and my experience of Max Ophuls films), Ophuls did not favour linear plots - he made more a series of vignettes. His work was very musical -he had worked in opera. he was concerned with issues of time & love - the rhythm of life. he worked in melodrama - the word comes from the Greek melos - music. Music & movement were his method. Truffaut said that rhythm was his predominant concern -the rhythm of acting, or even of a walk. His films are like a waltz.

In La Signora di Tutti - 'Everybody's Lady' we see amazing tracking shots - without steadicam - this is 1934! The camera moves with urgency. In an early scene it goes through 3 walls (her anteroom, her bedroom, her bathroom & back again) on discovering her attempted suicide. Time runs out: the clock tells her: "Shame on you". In the waltz scene Ophuls imbues it with extreme tenderness - all the more poignant given the cruelty of Gabi's fate.

There are flashbacks within flashbacks in this film. It is confusing and at the same time utterly predictable. In the end the posters just stop rolling. We have never seen the talent and appeal of Gaby Doriot the star, and yet we know her story. She had no control over her life - her fate was sealed 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 because 23 of the 24 years of Jose Ramos Horta's exile are slid through in a few minutes. But once this initial confusion passes we realise the film makers are going to concentrate on the time immediately before and after the UN-supervised referendum. The complications and the tensions which surround this are more than enough for any documentary or audience and they are admirably handled. With this documentary I began to understand the complexities of the political issues in Timor and I gained new respect for Horta. In the end I was part of his standing ovation

Contact (UK - dir Allan Clarke) Retrospective
The script is based on a book by Tony Clarke (no relation). Shot with very 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 tension over the parked car in the last scene. Clarke held the scene long enough to fool me.

Christine (UK - dir Allan Clarke) Retrospective
This is a film about drugs. The film is relentlessly tedious, but necessarily so. This world of drugs is not at all glamorous. The scriptwriter, Arthur Ellis, was just about an alcoholic and knew all about the numbness of drugs. However, according to assistant director Corin Campbell Hill, who introduced 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 relentless film, there is some humour. One sly drug joke I noticed was that Christine makes her rounds going from Keats Way to Coleridge Way. The reference there 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 can see what Campbell Hill meant when she said that the line goes from Contact to Christine to Elephant. Each film is more and more pared down to the essential elements, until finally, at Elephant, it is just the 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 of 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 is not easy to live but to give up on life is a far worse alternative. There are people everywhere who will help (and they all have their own stories). 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 beautiful 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 canteen - and of a family and community. There's a great ensemble cast and great individual characterisation. There's also a great sense of place and time, and in fact the film ends with this question : "Where's your place?" Indeed.

Ratcatcher (UK - dir: Lynne Gregory) Score: 3.5/5
I found Ratcatcher just a bit much. It is stylish, clever & relentless. There are mice, rats, lice & germs. There's rubbish everywhere (there's a garbage strike). The unending filth and depression was interrupted momentarily by a mouse flying to the moon. That was was good - we needed more of that. I was hoping that someone would go fishing in the canal and meet a talking perch wearing the girl's spectacles. The young protagonist was just a bit 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 nits.

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 and photos need to be seen, and might otherwise be lost. The music is important (and much of it is sweet and moving), as are the people. This film shows us clearly how it is that country music appealed so strongly to these Aborigines. Clinton Walker, the film's writer, explained in the Q & A that American country music is not just a 'redneck' heritage but a melange of African, southern US, and European styles. It is quite amazing how prominent Jimmy Rogers' music is in the experience of the Aboriginal country singers - as are some of the early Aussie country stars. And it is shocking how prominent a role missions, prisons & alcohol play in the experience of these people. They are truly part of the Stolen Generations. Jimmy Little sweetly sang '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 BBC to write 4 films on education). Chris Menges (now a major features director) worked on it . Much of the film was shot using Steadicam (Allan Clarke had seen Stephen Frears film Water). It's a tour de force performance by the young Tim Roth, who has charm but is made very difficult to like. The film doesn't tell you what to think about his character Trevor. Corin Campbell Hill said in her Q & A session that Clarke allows you to think about what it was that made Trevor this way. Campbell Hill described the 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 policeman 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 a huge outcry about the state of education system in Thatcher's Britain. But we realise that what Trevor needs is a home. In one scene he looks quizzically at a homewares display in a shop window, and in another he sinks down into a comfy chair in his case managers home, and repeatedly asks him about going 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 Prague in the year before the Russian invasion. There's a wonderful ensemble cast and some very funny jokes. The inimitable Czech sense of fun (vividly recalling early Milos Forman) is the dominant thing here, but there is also a keen sense of poignancy. All these elements combine with the beauty and charm 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 first sound feature. There are charming performances by James Murray and Barbara Kent and by Jack Hanlon as the kid, Clem. There's also amazingly mobile camerawork and the interesting use of closeups with significant action also taking place in the background - once even seen through a mirror. Also there is unusual framing -heads were cut off deliberately in the fairground scenes, which gave a dizzying effect There's plenty of good visual humour (for example, the woman feeling sick on the Ferris wheel). Also there's an amazingly real fight - 4 almost-complete rounds shown just about in real time, and with 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 & her bare arms are very sensuous. The sense of movement - not just in the fight scenes but throughout the film is quite outstanding. The original live score performed by Jan Preston is both sensitive and fun in appropriate proportions.

The Lady of the House (India- dir: Rituparno Ghosh) Score 3.5/5
This film was a little more difficult than it should have been because the print was received damaged and so we had to watch a beta video version instead, which looked murky, stopped twice, and made it difficult to read the subtitles. However, it was worth persevering. Starting very slowly it unfolded to gives us a moving portrait of a lovely lady living with tragedy. Very sad, and I presume it would look lovely if seen properly on film. Yes, I agree that it does recall Ray's The Music Room.

Friday 16 June

The Reckless Moment
(USA - dir: Max Ophuls, 1949) Retrospective
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 agony for dear old Max....'

Although this film seems to have been wildly praised by Time Out (as quoted in the Festival program), I didn't find The Reckless Moment anywhere as sublime as the other Ophuls films I've seen. Interesting enough, though, and important enough to make me want to strangle the gigglers in the audience, 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 melodrama ( Joan Bennett's family) meets film noir (James Mason's world). It is also about one of Max Ophuls' obsessions - the gap between the ideal of love, and its realities. Joan Bennett seems to live an ideal life, in affluent middle-class post War America, by the seaside, with a beautiful family and a servant. But, we learn - and as James Mason tells her - she's in prison. We see bars and grilles in everything, from shadows to staircase banisters. 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 family?'" Joan can't make a move without being noticed and questioned - by her family, 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 haven/heaven of Balboa to the underworld of bars, seedy characters and blackmailers. But in that world, Joan is mistaken for an alcoholic (the bartender warns her he's not open yet but quickly reassures her: 'only another 10 minutes...').

The family's father is absent, first in Philadelphia & then in Berlin (he was also away during war). Joan looks after everyone (even the maid). But the way she deals with things tells us that she doesn't need her husband at all. She is comfortable keeping secrets from the beginning - she goes off to LA without telling anyone. She hides things from husband Tom. She writes him misleading letters. She's also a control freak ("no one will find those letters" she states, with utter certainty. She'll see to it.).

I was particularly struck by the scene where she does her accounts to see where they can economise so she can raise money for the blackmailers. She analyses the cost of raising a family and running a house. It's expensive. This isn't love, it's business. But what's the alternative? Can Joan make a new life with James Mason? But the possibility of love with him is slim too. he even warns her not to fall for the illusion. He tells her: "Don't make the mistake mother made" (of trying to turn him into a priest).

Joan is a strong woman though - she does manage to organise everything 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 relief 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 soundtrack (though it is perhaps a little repetitive) and nice pictures (also tending towards the repetitive though). So we had a good time. But what did we learn? That some women box, sure, and that one is very good. But only one. Only once did anyone suggest that some of them mightn't be very good at it (and that was Bob Aram who ought to know). Never was the topic of drugs in sport raised - although there were a couple of women who made me suspicious. Not, however, the truly fabulous Lucia Rijker, the Dutch/ American Amazon). What a star! Surely she couldn't have used steroids to get that wonderful upper-body strength. We'll never be able to ask that question though because the director won't even consider it. The film really became too hagiographic for me. And what if Lucia had been less attractive & articulate & more brutal. 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 know the Japanese are obsessed with - honour, pride, how should a man live? bureaucracy, corruption, conformity, the role of the individual in society - but in a fresh way. The visuals are particularly beautiful, especially the colour. 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 individual 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 imagine anything less minimal. The producer was Danny (Trainspotting) Boyle who was then Head of BBC TV Drama for Northern Ireland. Boyle & Clarke became obsessed with the inadequate reporting of sectarian killings. The whole film was shot by steadicam. Elephant is the epitome of repetition - a gunman walks toward his victim & the steadicam follows. Over and over again. The neat thing is that you could never tell one side from the 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 certainly 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 monologues, and later made it into a play which was put on at the Royal Court. Allan Clarke was going to do it in the studio, and had finished building the sets, but was unhappy with them and decided it was all too theatrical. They found a colliery (Easington colliery near Durham) and shot it there, again all on steadicam. It is a totally mobile film, full of great and poetic angry 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 not? That's to do with a lack of experience in people in key positions, she bravely said in front of the young Sydney Film Festival audience. She also confirmed 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 superb 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 hit me over the head, making me fall completely in love. It's the kind of love in which you accept a film for all of its faults and forgive them because 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 stunningly beautiful the African scenery would have been on film. It was so integral a part of the film. Without that full-on beauty, some of the film dragged a little for us, because there was just scene after scene of unusual and stark beauty, and we weren't getting the necessary effect. Still, I forgot those longueurs when the film reached its shattering conclusion. And the final dance scene just knocked me out. These men, superb athletes, divine bodies, training for what? A dance routine in a cheap disco? What happens to a finely tuned athlete when the game is over? Is this France? Has she killed her own beautiful child/lover/friend? Did she do it out of love/hatred/jealousy/pride? What's next?

Sunday 18 June

Madame de...
(France/ Italy - dir: Max Ophuls, 1953) Retrospective
Peter Kemp told us in his introduction that the original English translation of the title was originally The Earrings of Madame de..., and that he thought that had, for once, the real focus of the film. he also noted that the film, which he described as "sublime" (I agree), illustrates many of the things we associate with Max Ophuls: swirling camera movements, time, music, the question of impossible love. He also read to us what Ophuls said about the beauteous Danielle Darrieux. If only I had remembered the 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 always telling the future in the cards. First the cards presaged an immediate loss, and they are always right. When the General sees off his lover she is in carriage No 13. Her fellow passengers wish her good luck as she is getting 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 another card reading, predicting the return of a great love.

I also noted the background to the love triangle is war in Europe. There's lots of talk of Napoleon and Waterloo. In one scene when the General and the Baron spar verbally, there is fencing taking place in the background. I also noticed that, like Joan Bennett in The Reckless Moment, Madame de... can't stop lying, even to the man she loves.

The dialogue was highly polished - until each line sparkled like a diamond. 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 hands 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 story, and one about the arts that needs to be heard. It has great characters and a great plot and meta-plot. There's a good dramatic arc, with the natural tensions of a truncated rehearsal period and the looming opening night, two singers who have not played the roles before (one not in English, one not ever) and we have one almighty pivot point which happened by chance, with a lift.

Joan Carden, who was there for the Q & A (looking fabulous in red) said that the lift problem was the worst thing that had happened to her in her 40 year career. We also heard that there was 2-camera coverage the whole time & they shot something like 160 hours of film. Trevor Graham was tasked if there was ever another structure considered for the film. he said that there were lots, but really the structure revealed itself - in the same was as in sculpting the figure gradually reveals itself Someone else asked him what I thought was a great question: what was the hunch that made him decide to pick the subject. Graham was a bit evasive on this one. He did say that there was a kind of an entrée, in that he was introduced to the people and thought they would be great to film. He also adored the music. But one got the feeling that someone else had the idea (maybe the Commissioning Editor).

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 poorly-delivered lecture written in turgid language on a fuzzy topic. I think O'Regan's theme can be summed up by quoting a commentator he quoted, who said words to this effect: We are encountering a cultural shift which will either leave everything 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. Everything is in a state of flux. At the moment there is a kind of productive (I missed the word, but it was quite good!)......

There are many divergent trajectories:
1 Digital - a film like Alex Proyas' Dark City changes the way films are made. It is almost all an imaginary world. There is just one day in the real world - a day at the beach - and even that had to be digitally altered because the weather on the day was overcast.
2. Large format cinema - Now part of planning of multiplex cinemas. The most pure form of cinema. Easier to make the audience lose itself in the cinema. This is because of the extent of sensory response ( eliciting vertigo, nausea eg).
He said online video screens is a valid alterative to film at film festivals (later said it was more of a 'supplement').
3 High Definition TV - the digital image is managing to achieve the quality of film. People seem to prefer high quality digital to HDTV.
4 Interactivity in the cinema - cinema might begin to resemble a game rather than a narrative. Alternative scenario films used only to be the province of arthouse cinema. The user collaborate with the maker to create the product. You can overstate the position. George Lucas recognises the difference between games and storytelling. Video libraries have actually always been pay per view. This might reduce patronage of cinema.
5. Cinema renewal thru the multiplex - Multiple screens appeared in the 1950s in Toronto - but it was an arthouse thing - it prolonged film seasons. Now they are different beasts. They have short seasons of blockbusters. 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 enhance their experience of being together.
6. Home based entertainment - Will an explosion in this lead to a contraction of public entertainment? Perhaps the meaning of entering our own 4 walls will change (see Edgar Reiss). Will we long to escape by going out?
7. Final section (sic)- between 1948-1972 income devoted to cinema going fell dramatically. Free to air TV was an anomaly, because people don't pay for it.
8. Conclusion - older movie-goers can feel separate from the new forms & modes of cinema (eg 'all that talk during the movie'). Digital screens are still prohibitively expensive. A commentator said: We are encountering a cultural shift which will either leave everything the same or change everything completely.
This was the theme of his answer to many of the questions, including Keith Howes' question of the future of the role of the film reviewer in 5 years time. Answer: Same as it is now - but later he said it would be even more 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 Sherlock, 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 Kar-wai film. Does Doyle only have one style? His personal style is very disturbing indeed, and if his life resembles this autobiographical film, then he's not long for this world. He ricochets from impenetrable to serious to utterly 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 director?
A: Cinematography is about being there & doing it on the day. Directors are about the packaging - before & after - convincing people (like this audience) they like the film.

Will he direct again? On the evidence of that statement, he may not. Will it be a loss? Not on the evidence of this film. He ended his Q & A session by inviting Christa Hughes who plays an "entertainer" in his film, to "entertain" us again, with a reworking of Rodgers & Hammersteins' "Favorite Things." It was undergraduate humour, irreverent to no particular end, and not particularly original. Which, come to think of it, is how I'd sum up Away with Words.

See also the review below for the documentary Orientations: Chris 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 attempt to give the Sex Pistols centre-stage again to set the record straight. While 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 I didn't already know from the past, from other rock documentaries (particularly the fabulous series Rock Family Trees) and from reading an article by Malcolm McLaren published last year in the New Yorker which was a kind of revisionist history of the Sex Pistols. One thing that particularly annoyed 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 really, 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 recording and editing - which was extraordinary - getting audible material from the archival concert footage must have been no mean feat. And the cartoons and other graphics were fun and interesting. The documentary also set the Pistols nicely in a historical and social context. And Julien temple even got on 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 place in Tao Lan's face. It is all fresh & bright & full of elfin mischief to begin with; then when she hurts her sister it looks like a frightened faun - not yet comprehending her crime. Then, on her release from prison it looks bland & subdued -defeated. There are so many touches here which tell us volumes about what it must be like to be in prison for 17 years: "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 portrayed. I noticed the brightly coloured jumpers all the women wear in the early scenes. They are replaced by subdued clothes & the khaki green uniforms 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, she 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 of 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 Tienanmin Square is being redeveloped! Change has its costs. In this film, the issue is dealt with directly. Tao Lan's home is demolished and replaced by a toilet block. Needless to say, she can't use that toilet. We also see countless differences between the old home that is demolished and the new one. The 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 boil, giving both warmth and a constant supply of sufficient hot water. The new hot water heater takes time to heat up.

Zhang Yuan also looks at the regimentation and paternalism of China. There is the endless drilling of the prisoners, not just physically but mentally. This takes its toll not only on the prisoners, but also on the prison officers. A fellow is wandering about a square because he was ordered to take holidays . 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 choice, 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 not the moments we expect. When she takes a shower, Tao Lan's mother tells her "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 prison. She doesn't even dry her hair properly. Tao Lan's father also has also to abruptly adjust to her return, and it's deeply shocking for him. It reminded me of the vast extent of the Chinese memory - and the fact each person's 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 the festival.

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 convinced it's worth spending that much time with Chris Doyle.

The film makers certainly didn't keep their objective distance from him: the film is much too much like hero-worship. They even worship his faults! 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 (something 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 commentator on Doyle. But what they don't tell us is that Rayns was co-writer 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 never used a camera before) the interiors all turned out black, but all the exterior colours were very lush. He just had to work out how that happened. That's impressive. However, as Wong Kar-wai reveals, Doyle once got so drunk after 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 lenses 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 shot recreation, and he said he thought it would be interesting to work within a rigid framework, given that he normally works by improvisation. He said (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 would he like her to buy him a few drinks? In reply, he completely imposed his 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 director Maya Asai identifies the fact that collage is a destructive art, alluding to the fact that Doyle may be self-destructive. That seems likely. Doyle himself says elsewhere in the film that because he comes from the movies 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 why he decided to study Chinese language. He also said he had a late adolescence at around 28 when he was with a group of Chinese films. I don't think the adolescence has passed yet: he brought back the dreaded Christa Hughes for a reprise of her massacre of Rodgers & Hammersteins' "Favorite Things." Let me outta here!

A Room for Romeo Brass (UK - dir: Shane Meadows) Score: 4/5
This film is autobiographical and immediately feels more honest than the director's debut feature Twentyfourseven (SFF 1998). But are the real duo of Shane Meadows and Paul Fraser black and white? Is one crippled? I'd love to know.

As in Meadows' last film there's an over-reliance on popular music to punctuate scenes. Is this still the under-confidence of inexperience, or is it just youth?

There are some bravura performances: Paddy Considine puts on a real show as Murrell, a character who's just a bit too weird to be believable, but is still very effective, particularly in the latter stages. Frank Harper as Joe (Romeo's dad), Andrew Shim as Romeo and Ben Marshall as Gavin are terrific, and well handled by the director. In one scene, Romeo fluffs his lines slightly and throws their timing off, but the director rightly leaves it in. It just looks like the kids are fumbling in their attempts to make up after a fight, in their making up scene which the director left in, giving us a fumbling and tentative scene which is all the more poignant for it. The scene in which James Higgins as Gavin's Dad gets on his knees and submits to Murrell's hammer is one I'll never forget. Passive bravery! How astonishing! 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 nice 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 graphics and extremely loud music) is very lighthearted and not at all scientific, which gives the viewer the impression that it is a lightweight film, seemingly aimed at college audiences.

However, when you consider that the director told us that his aim was not 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 criminal record, you can see why he has taken the approach he has. Unfortunately, though, this sort of approach seems to have mislead a sympathetic audience such as the Sydney Film Festival audience, and it seems unlikely to convince 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 about marijuana control which had grown out of a fairly famous book on the subject - such as claims about WR Hearst's involvement in banning hemp. And as for the myth that Dupont was behind the bans, he said that the development of 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 of 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 Chekhovian, 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 settings. There were beautiful faces and a lovely sylvan setting, but for me the film 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 Roger 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 philosophical. Much of it is quite lovely. Some of it is very hard for the actors to deliver. There's lots of epigrammatic talk about memory and thoughts of the past. For example, Andreas asks his daughter where thoughts of the past end and memory begins. It made me think of Max Ophuls.

The visuals back up this theme of the past and the present as a continuum: Claire stands in front of a portrait of her younger self, even wearing the 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, stylistically.

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 too 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 end that didn't seem to fit. The first was the scene when Paul Cox appears -0 it didn't make sense, and was merely distracting. Then the following scene by the river when Claire and Andreas talked about love and Claire says "I 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 out 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. Bad 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 promised to be everything that Better than Sex was not. It stood back from showing sex. The red door closed in the hotel and we didn't see what they were doing. I thought it was a critique of movie sex. And then two lovers even talked about sex in the movies and I thought, great, some intelligent 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 in 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 torso 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 and honest and copped out. Why did they use the fake interviewing technique? What was the purpose of the interview? Why did they both look so strange 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 love, and the way love changes people. It also deals with the fascinating idea that people who are in love often think they know everything about their lover -but they are wrong of course. In this case, the director explained, 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 previous film, Innocence, where love lasts forever and there are second 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 age difference you don't notice for a long time. It's a very static scenario which the director keeps visually very interesting. The secret ingredient, he revealed refreshingly, was simplicity: during the editing they tried to make everything as simple as possible. That way we can concentrate our energies on observing the actors, and they give us such subtlety. The scenes when Sergi believes he has lost Natalie was outstanding, and I loved the scene early on when Sergi sits in his car after their first liaison, and everything outside is blurred, and he just sits there, thinking. 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 find and lose each other. He also said he wanted to make a film about love because he had a lot questions - and he still has a lot of questions. I'm not surprised. I'm just a bit disappointed.

Wednesday 21 June

Farewell Home Sweet Home
( France - dir: Otar Iosseliani) Score 4.5/5
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 Robert Altman or (!) a Frederick Wiseman film. It's like Altman because there are several sets of characters whose lives intersect in various ways around a couple of locales. It's like a Frederick Wiseman film because the director steps back, observes, and offers no commentary).

As with Cosy Dens (see review above), there's a wealth of detail here which will repay repeated viewings. For example, there's a lovely shot of a shop window hidden by what we see are soap suds, and the squeegee reveals that it is a shop selling lovely religious artefacts. In that shop, a woman is doing detailed painting work on a Madonna. However, rather than restoring it, she seems to be painting a traditional blue Madonna black! Also, the 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 rich, 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 detailed knowledge of arcane topics. The crooks can't operate guns, but a boy can. There are also many changes which take place during a 2-year prison term served by the family's son. An African woman who appeared to be under the thumb of her husband seems to have dumped him for a white husband (the religious shop man). The inefficient café run by a mother becomes a web-café run her son, maid sacked. A bird is returned to a cage - but the cage isn't closed. Some take off for the sea, others to the mountains (there's some gorgeous shots of what look like the Gorges of Verdon). Many changes take place - mostly reversals of your expectations. But it's by no means neat, or pat. It's charming, funny, and has a keen satirical eye. It is also absurdist 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 indie suspects. I didn't like this film too much - though there were plenty of funny moments (and some very unfunny ones). There's a forced style here, relying on a very quirky narration. My ears pricked up when the narrator/protagonist told his junkie girlfriend "Maybe living and dying are both the same thing": I thought I might have returned to Paul Cox territory. But I hadn't.

This film was guilty of glamorising heroin, I felt. After seeing Alan Clarke's Christine, which in 1987 had the guts to show us the needle actually entering the vein, every time the kids injected, I felt angry at heroin gear being portrayed as cool - as glamorous - an accessory! Probably I should be blaming the source material - the short stories of Denis Johnson, but I haven't read them. I don't think Canadian/New Zealander Alison Maclean (Crush, SFF, 1992) did a very good job of melding them all into a feature. It just didn't gel for me. So much seemed juvenile and some was just plain stupid - like a Cheech & Chong movie for 2000. Some was also offensive - the scenes in the Beverly Home, for example, where the patients were patronised and treated badly, without dignity. The film relies heavily on the star charm of Billy Crudup, but in the end I felt the material was 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 short films. There doesn't seem to have been much coherent reasoning for the choices 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 Hoskins), No 8, A Bird in the Hand (dir: Jude Law) & best of all No 10 Steal Away (dir: Charles McDougal).

American Psycho (USA - dir: Mary Harron) Score 3.5/5
This film is difficult. It's hard to review because it depends on so many outside things - it's hard to assess the film in its own right. If I did 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 it. And if you add to that that the film makers are, variously, women, gay and feminist, you have to look at the film through different eyes.

Christian Bale makes a great serial killer - he's pretty and ugly at the same time. The little boy from Empire of the Sun has grown up all sick and twisted. I loved all the New York-in-the-80s-&-early-90s detail. I loved the business card routine. All these vice presidents, all out to lunch. I laughed a lot, and squirmed a lot, and I feel a bit equivocal about the ending. When I worked out what was going on, and heard Patrick Bateman's last speech (check that name, Bateman), I recalled that President Jimmy Carter was famous for sinning in his heart.

The film begins beautifully with Christian Bale in the shower, doing his 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 "masque" as part of his beauty routine. He never seems to do any work. All he has in his office are toys and accessories. He clumsily hides his headphones when his secretary (played with beautiful humility and self loathing by the talented Chloe Sevigny) comes in. The very fakeness of his job makes 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 4.5/5
The Norwegian title is 1732 Hotten. (The town is called Hotten). 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 no means perfect though. It's also a shame that some of the clues in this murder mystery are a bit obvious, and that the goodies and baddies are fairly broadly 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 taking 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 results. But the violence is horrific. Does it exploit the violence? It's a line-ball decision. The director sets up a situation where there is the greatest possible justification for violence, and then shows us what can happen. And the final message as I see it is this: violence begets violence. If you use violence as a tool, no matter what the reason, then you are as bad as the worst of us. There is no redemption. There is no excuse. That's important.

A Conversation with Gregory Peck (USA - dir: Barbara Kopple) Score 3/5
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 says: "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 bit too much on the pregnancy of Peck's daughter, Cecilia Peck, who, with Linda Saffire & Barbara Kopple, produced the film. By the way, that fact is interesting in itself since (If my memory is correct) all three are daughters of very famous fathers (Gregory Peck, William Saffire & Arthur Kopple). 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 be a focus on the family, there needed to be more balance - we needed to know more about Peck's sons from his first amrriage - and Peck's first wife too.

The footage of Peck's one-man-show was excellent, though, because it showed us the man as he is today. Well-chosen film slips rounded out the story. A good effort that gave us a glimpse of the good man behind the great one.

Gigantic (Germany - dir: Sebastian Schipper) Score 3.5/5
"Friendships are like dreams they can be big - huge or absolutely gigantic," 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 over and over - at the instant before Floyd left town. In this scene, all 4 friends 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. They don't shoot up, the girl doesn't get raped. They do do dangerous things, though, and some bad things happen to them. But they all survive. Gigantic is a kind of German American Graffiti. Leaving home 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 the 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 ill-used. They have such an ability to focus on the big picture. It is quite awesome. The only problem is that having also seen Mr Death: the Rise and Fall of Fred A Leuchter Jr (dir:Errol Morris) at this festival, I'm not so 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 charming Iranian film about children. This film is really accomplished. Technically, it represents a quantum leap over the last Iranian film I saw. It treads a very fine line between the sweetly touching and the overly sentimental: its subject is a little blind boy. For me, it only veered across the line on two occasions - when slow motion was used to drag out significant moments. 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 suggest time passing and so much more about the nature of blindness, as we follow 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 children, the shot of the city of Teheran against its mountain backdrop established the contrast between city and country in a most eloquent way. There's plenty of imagery and symbolism. Hands, for example are particularly significant. 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 Mohammad how to work with wood, and the film ends with a shot of Mohammad's hand, glowing.

Much of nature takes on extra significance in this beautiful film. A bird cries - is it the voice of God? The fog comes in and seems to take Mohammad's granny. It envelopes Mohammad too. Is this the presence of God? A wild goose flies away. Dies it represent Mohammad's soul? Then the hand motif again. Mohammad's hand glows. Is he still alive? Or has he been sanctified? I prefer to think the latter, because I thought of the way that the blind Mohammad has earlier described his saintly granny's hand as white.

There's a strange connection between this film and the Christopher Doyle film Away with Words. Mohammad reads wheat and river stones and other natural things with his fingers and finds letters there. In Doyle's film, Doyle's alter-ego finds different meanings in the words for things around 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 what that means...leave it with me!

Lola Montes (France - dir: Max Ophuls, 1955) Retrospective
Peter Kemp's introduction told us that this was Max Ophuls' first film in colour and cinemascope, and also his last film. At the end of his life Ophuls was concerned with the cult of celebrity. He was disturbed by Judy Garland's attempted suicide and some of the events in Rita Hayworth's life. Kemp said that Ophuls described this as a film more about the effect Lola has on the 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. After the session, Peter Kemp also told us that Ophuls had a specific colour scheme for each part of Lola's life: brown for her time on the road with Liszt, blue for her ocean voyage & youth, white for her time with King Ludwig, and all the colours for the circus show.

All of Ophul's obsessions are her for those who are looking. As the film begins, a chandelier descends. It ascends and descends as different parts of Lola's life pass before our eyes. Lola herself is on a carousel, which rotates one way and another circle on the outside rotates in the opposite direction. So movement and circles dominate. The passing of time is also ever-present. A clock chimes as Liszt goes to leave as Lola sleeps. But the fascinating Lola wakes and fantasises about their next chance meeting 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 Lola's life in the circus tableau. Lola kisses the child who plays her as a girl : "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 possibly be the first product endorsement in cinema - certainly the first joke about product endorsement in cinema. During Lola's circus show a brand of cigars is mentioned (El Caballo Doro, I believe). The Ringmaster (perfectly played by Peter Ustinov) tells us: "Now on sale in this theatre." When the students revolt against King Ludwig's repressive regime, Lola asks him: "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 the King of Bavaria wants someone to paint Lola's portrait, talent doesn't get 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 brought 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 men over the age of 16.

For me, this is by no means the best of Ophuls' films. But having said that, a lesser piece by a consummate master of the art is still a deep pleasure. Perhaps if the role of Lola had not been played by the rather wooden Martine Carol, it would have been his masterpiece. She's just right for the circus 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, despite 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 more films today, so that I could end the Festival with it.

Ophuls' sensibilities are so in tune with Guy de Maupassant's that every camera move, every set, every aspect of art direction, all the lighting, and each member of the cast is in synch with the mood and the philosophy of the subject. It is a display of such virtuosity that one feels absolutely satisfied.

In his introduction, Peter Kemp told us that originally Max Ophuls wanted to appear in the introduction to this 3 part film, with Maupassant. However, 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 Ophuls' cinematographers on Le Plaisir who said that the reality which Ophuls gives us is so fragile that it cannot take a direct treatment. It must be treated specially - hence all the spiral staircases and tracking shots.

The first story concerns a man who wears a mask to make him appear young, and he goes out dancing every night to try to keep his illusion of youth 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 attend the First Communion of the madam's niece who lives in the countryside. This interruption to the routine of the town's men is hilariously disruptive. 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 grace, which takes place in the little country church. That beauty and grace is so overwhelming, so pervasive that it is carried by the prostitutes back on their journey to the cit. On the way it overflows and bursts out into 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 customers in torrents of joy and celebration. I love the way that the flowers stayed in Jean Gabin's hat after the girls leave.

The narrator describes the first story as being about Love & Deception (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 fall 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 threatens suicide, and jumps out of a window. In the end an observer sums up the artist's 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 Film Festival 2000.