The 54th  Sydney Film Festival
8-24 June 2007*

Every year since 1997 I have posted on this website my thoughts about the films I have seen – as I see them – at each Sydney Film Festival.  Apparently I was blogging. But this year my reviews were supposed to go up at the end of the festival, and be more of a blurt than a blog. 

Unfortunately my Dad was seriously ill at the time of the festival and it threw my writing right out.  I still managed to see lots of films, and made notes.

What is below is based on the notes I made at the time I saw each film, so it is still my contemporaneous thinking, informed by discussions with people in and around row D in the stalls, and in the aisles and foyer.  Thanks to all of you, too, and see you next year.

It is a bit shorthand, but I'll try to work through it and edit it as soon as I can...

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

Oh, and these reviews are copyright. You must not use any part of them without my permission.

Opening Night - 8 June 2007

La Vie en Rose - France
A strange choice for opening night - isn't this the Sydney Film Festival, and aren't we about promoting an Australian film industry?  I know we are also about the best the world has to offer - but is this the best?  It's about a French icon, and that's part of the problem.  I'd already seen the film, in a critic's prevoiew, so this was my 2nd viewing.  I  liked the first hour, and the central towering performance, and of course the music, but the rest...    TBC

Sat 9 June 2007

Tasmanian Devil - Australia
Intro Simon Nasht - Errol  was an archive nightmare. Widow wouldn't give them last home movies. Prob because last girlfriend in it..
My notes..
British career?
Early WB films?. Dog? But overall a good homage

Q&A - He was a tragic figure but beautiful . He was interested in the process of a butterfly turning into a caterpillar.
How was it navigating a fraught estate. Patrice Wymore wasn't happy abt Bev Aadland was being interviewed. Permission for good-looking film clips denied which is why film clips look crappy. People make blanket claims on material. Warners, the Flynn Estate, Archive libraries.

Digital copy & projectionist not there. After l/2 hr told not rescreened ti llater. They called me (nice) but no alt screening works for me. Refund? Also free pass.

12.08 East of Bucharest
Santa costume not up to scratch
Fire crackers bang.
Phone in viewers
Was there a revolution in our town?
cross-examination, getting xmas trees.
Cf French Rev. It is as if the Romanians are jealous of it
One has tl'd  revoution one crn.p. The last night in the film.
'It was calm . Beautiful. Like my memory of the Revolution.

'I can't take it - you're used to it' - Manu
'Death never becomes routine -Mehdu'
A great subject beautifully written, filmed & acted. But a lovely joj of the web. It just had its longeurs. It ended a bit tedious.

Wed June 13

The Home Song Stories

103 mins, rating not yet available, opening in cinemas on 16 August 2007.
Fracture, 112 mins, rated M, opening in cinemas on 2 August 2007


(This is my review as  published in the August 2007 issue of The New South Wales Law Society Journal)

In my review of Romulus, My Father in the June 2007 NSW Law Society Journal, I mentioned the handful of Australian films that focus on the migrant experience. But art reflects life, and so in July we reviewed Lucky Miles, about refugees stranded in northern Australia, and in August we have The Home Song Stories.

This is the lightly fictionalised autobiography of Tony Ayres, the Australian writer/ director (Walking on Water, 2002, Sadness, 1999). Tony, who was born in Macau, is called Tom in the film. Tom is a Chinese-Australian man writing a script about his life. His script begins in 1964, with Tom as a small boy in Hong Kong, living with his mother, Rose, and older sister, May.

Although told from young Tom’s perspective, the story has at its centre the beautiful, glamorous and troubled Rose (played by the lovely Joan Chen), a nightclub singer and single mother, with a penchant for picking up new “uncles” for the children. As the film opens she has just hooked up with “Uncle” Bill, an Australian naval officer. Rose follows him to Melbourne and marries him, but a week later leaves him and takes the children to Sydney to see “Uncle” Wu. The next 7 years are years of drifting from one uncle to another, until in 1971 Rose decides her only option is to go back with the children to suburban Melbourne and Uncle Bill (now to be called “Daddy”).

The contrast between the early scenes in Hong Kong and the scenes in the Melbourne ‘burbs is stark. In one particularly memorable section of the film, Rose hangs out 5 exotic cheongsams on the Hills Hoist and then struts down the street in a vibrant blue one split high to the thigh, with matching parasol. She’s a knockout, but she’s also quite a shock to the locals. These two scenes paint a vivid picture of the culture clash described by the film.

The migrant family finds it hard to fit in. They all hate the Australian food. Tom’s Aussie playmates can be cruel, and the family finds it quite difficult living with Bill’s mother Norma (Kerry Walker, very funny) while Bill is away at sea. Rose is playful, and delightfully child-like at times, but often she goes too far, and Norma slings her disapproving looks. Finally Rose pushes her luck to breaking point and the family is out on the street again. None of Rose’s plans lasts long. She is restless and self-centred and her flightiness takes its toll on the children.

There are many twists and turns in the life of this little family. One involving young May is disturbing, and painful to observe. But I’m afraid the ordeal of watching one setback after another eventually wore me down. It is a hard thing to say of someone’s life story that it seemed indulgent and overlong, but that’s how it felt to me.

The film has been praised for its cinematography (by Nigel Bluck), and the wide screen format is used quite effectively. But choosing a muted colour palette of greens and browns for the scenes in the suburbs, broken only by Rose’s beautiful wardrobe in vibrant blue, black, orange and rose, makes the film seem murky. And deciding to film background scenes and subsidiary characters in soft focus – or even out-of-focus – makes for a blurry look overall. Despite this, the film has earned high praise on the international film festival circuit.

The Home Song Stories certainly portrays the clash of cultures very well, and Ayres and his team imbue the film with a great sense of time and place, with meticulous sumptuous production and costume design. Yet I found myself wanting more.

If a home-grown story like this is not your cup of tea, you might like to see Fracture, a thriller (which I have not yet seen) starring Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, 2006). When a meticulous structural engineer (Hopkins) discovers that his beautiful (much younger) wife is having an affair, he plans the perfect murder. Gosling plays the young and ambitious district attorney who prosecutes him.

The film is described by its makers as “a tense duel of intellect and strategy”. It was directed by Gregory Hoblit, who also made the fairly routine crime thriller Primal Fear (1996). Also in the cast is the ever-reliable David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck), so the cast alone makes it worth a look.

The 5000 Fingers of Dr T
Luscious words matched by luscious images. Some magic & some hilarious seqdences. A deliciously campy Hans Conreid has an unbelievable wardrobe & sings a song 'Dress me' to his male servants with amazing lyrlcs about peplums, lavender spats & tangerine snoods. The orchestra in the dungeon elicited spontaneous applause from the SFF.

Monday 11 June

Wig revealed!    Bryan Ferry soundtrack
Such venom in many of the words
'Don't fuck with the Feds. After 9/11 they took the leash  off.' "Why are you always so polite?' ..."Politeness was my mother's answer to chaos'
Abu Graib images made into homoerotic images. &nVs fla. The paperazzo now photographed (perp walk.
A very dense film. Does it pack in too many issues?

The Dead
Huston's last film.  Absolutely gorgeous!
'Better  pass boldly into that other world, in full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.
Last words- "The snow is falling all across Ireland (the universe.) on the living & the dead."

The Unpolished
Unpolished & uninteresting
Why spend 2hrs with them?
The short (Crossbow) was more articulate in a short time.

Tuesday June 12

Beautiful girls
handheld camera
Where is the church (abortion)?
Love the taking off of high heels. Shoe bags
Subtitles poorly translated - or intentional slang? .
Giving up on dreams despite all their hyped up lyrics.
'Antonia shines. She is you & she is me'

Hallam Foe
Great, but for the stepmother in black!

The Maltese Falcon - USA - Dir: John Huston (retrospective)
EddienCockrell of Variety.
Introing couple
Sun 17 4.15 at metro panel discussion
35mm print
Had been writlng at Warner Bros
Storyboard meticulously. Took seriously task of doing
Humphrey Bogart not 1st choice - George Raft
Geraldine  Fitzgerald for Mary Astor
Fatman & Little Guy atomic bombs named after the characters in this film.
Scene of SG giving Humphrey Bogart drink is his 1st ever day of acting
4ovdld adapting literary works.
Fascinated with male/female intep acting esp macho.

At end bars of lift across her face & she goes down.

John Huston Discussion - Eddie Cockrell, David Stratton & Clare Stewart
Last yr MOMA did a 75yr tribule to Dhole famlly, John, Walter & .son
Q Vhat relevance today?
DS A great storyteller, adapting stories of o.thers.
Mother a journalist travelled. Boxer in Mexican cavalry & loved horses.
EC He bore down - he focufed. Storyboarded, rehearsed, wrole, (when it was not the norm).
A natural innate understanding of relationship between people & camera. He made it look easy.
Choreography, claustrophobia, natural movement. DP Karl Freund.
Bogart almost owed his career to Huston (cf Huston.s caracter inTreasure of SM)
Red Badge of Courage shot on Huston's own ranch. Audie Mdrphy had done 6 films before.
Pictvre by Lillian Ross is one of best books on Bollywood of that era - abt making & unmaking of the film.
Huston not seen asnauteup  because he didn't have a consistent style. But he adapted his style to fit  Source material. He was also an experia'enter. 1st colour African Qveen. Then .Moby Dick  with colour washed out, then Moulin Rouge.
Wyler Capra Stevens & Huston all went WW2. Stevens & Capras films had messages & were heavier - not entertainment. Hvfton energised - jazzed! Can entertain.
Politically during Mccarthy era he left US & lived in Ireland
Has made more bad movies than most good directors eg Psychosis , Escape to Victory, the Kremlin Letter. Easily bored. DS story of Kremlin letter (came l.n a car to diregt & leftl.t to1st a.sslstant dir. Also EC says he just didn't care. CS says he ealpjrased life (eg Wl'ite Hunter  Black Heart)l
Strog d.el'tidnsl'ip with father,  even tho he mfved away (eg Treasore, thnl  Unf.orgiven).
When Hv.ton begins acting regularly for others he assvmes the mantle of Walter.
Married 5 times, .heavy drinker & smoker. Oldest dir nominated for best dir (79, Prizzi's Honour).
Recflecfions in a Golden Eye- originally released in yellow tint. Until audiences complained.
EC sas Reflections is so far ahead of its time that it ifstill ahead. He gambled & won taking thiags emlotionalltto & beyond the limit.
He cast extraordinarily well (DS). He said the trick is in the casting.
Hufton writing for actorf. He said directing is the process of rendering your writing.
Prizzis Honour - colourfutch.racters like Maltese Falcon. 2nd last film. Fvnny & startling. Fliefoff in  difft directions & shouldn't work but does.
The. Dead - the most impt thing that happened was that the port was passed.
EC- the perfect last film for a director about the musicality of language, the things we gather as we live whether we know it or not.
C.S  . Why screen it first? To show the end to give the context. A sweet beginning. Might screen it again.
Under the Volcano- extraordinary perf by Albert Finney. One of his best films of the period - avery ped fonal film  - he liv. D in Mexico.

A Walk in the Sea
Harold Stevenson says Its what's best about being human its what I like best about being alive.
Terrible pix good interview access not so good quns.

Times and Winds
gorgeous and poetic.  Lovely slow rhythms of nature.
.embroideryjlandscapes children..
'All men are like their fathers - they are mad.' (they are cranky).
 - Old woman. Donkeys mating. cnlljla . Lu..s .
. .uw l.., .jurn -, .n f... .ls...r ladiings abt nature...
Child doing all housework & minding baby & doing homework. Somethings gotta give!
God has entrusted us with these children.
Slurping father. Tracking shots.

San Pietro & Let There Be Light (John Huston docos)
Were difficult to see in 70s. Prints in National Archives in Washington.
WW2 service - Huston & Stevens (was profoundly changed.)
Hustons war e.fp also informed all this.

When huston was asked if he was making anti-war movies he famously replied: 
"Well I should hope so. If I ever make a pro war movie you have my permission to shoot me."

Was Light pre-lit? Rehearsed? Ouershadowing this is the fact that now yo.u can't show coffins or injured! Govt .order.
Huston gotinterebted in post traumatic stress disorder & psychology. He worked on Freud with Sartre. He then worked with Monly Clift on Freud. Check!

Tuesday 12 June

Recent immigrants exploit their own people who immigrate illegally.
Bribery of labor agency.
Police raid.
Begins at the end: how can he end it?
Go lltKln 4.ddl ..?.Repeat lll.e 0nit.d93
The illegal immigrants' families are still trying to pay off their debts. The British Govt refuse to help them. Ai Quin goes hope 'one of the lucky ones'.
A fund set up to pay off the debtas of illegal immigrants otvktia's'

I Served the King of England
Chasing a train with a hotdog.
Beautiful girls in silk dresses...
Stamps from the home countries of exiled Jews.
15 yrs for 15mlllion
There comes a time when you judge yourself (using mirrors).
A terrific clown in the manner of Chaplin.

Soulful eyes and a bad script
This was such a disappointing film.  And, I felt, dishonest.  It seems that if you are a nice guy you can abandon a child and then magically reconnect with her 5 years later.  It will all be butterfly kites in the sky on the beach. It made me quite angry actually.

A boy's mother hides his father's death from him, but he knows.
'Lets l.ldpdtn l's some place warm'
Lovely recreation of 17thC  Edo.

True dialog.
Relationship changes in 1st scene on her face..
It would be good to have a person in the picture ...  for  a change
He was incorrigible. Could not complete & could not change.
So many times he could have had her - If he didn't lie. If he didn't ask her what time she was going to work. If he said  "I Love you".
True.  A relationship with the boring bits in.

Friday June 15

Away From Her, 110 mins, rated M, opening in cinemas on 4 October 2007


(This is my review as published in the October 2007 issue of The NSW Law Society Journal)

“She said, ‘Do you think it would be fun if we got married?’”
“And what did you say?”
“I shouted ‘yes’. I never wanted to be away from her. She had the spark of life”.

Screen legend Julie Christie stars as Fiona, the woman whose spark of life has begun to dim. Playing Grant, her husband, is Canadian national treasure Gordon Pinsent. The film is Away From Her, a beautiful chamber piece from first-time director, Sarah Polley.

Grant and Fiona have been married for 44 years. He’s a retired Professor of Norse literature, and she’s an elegant woman of Icelandic descent. They are both in their 60s, living a comfortable life in the country, reading to each other, cross-country skiing at dusk, and hosting the occasional dinner party. But things are beginning to unravel: Fiona has Alzheimer’s disease.

This could set the scene for a disease-of-the-week tele-movie, but nothing could be further from the truth. Based on a short story (The Bear Came over the Mountain) by renowned Canadian writer Alice Munro, this wise and wonderful film has much to say about love, sex, aging and the things we remember – and forget – as we go through life with another person. It’s remarkable that the film was written and directed by a 28-year-old actor.

Polley uses the wintry Canadian setting well. The layers of snow that smother the landscape become a metaphor for the gradual erasure of Fiona’s memory. It begins with the little things – she puts the frying pan in the fridge, forgets the word “wine”, and needs labels for her cupboards and drawers. But one day when out skiing she forgets where she is. This is serious.

Yet Away From Her is never predictable. Fiona is surprisingly accepting of the need to enter a nursing home. At first this appears to be out of consideration for Grant, but soon she seems to embrace the very oblivion that Grant fears for her. She forms an almost wifely attachment to another resident of the nursing home, Aubrey (Michael Murphy), and as Grant watches his wife tending to Aubrey’s needs, he is forced to revisit painful memories of his own infidelity to Fiona. When he voices his suspicion that Fiona is only pretending – that she is punishing him – we realise how deeply selfish Grant still is. More surprises follow, and through it all Polley deftly avoids the maudlin and the obvious, revealing some of the more bittersweet truths of life.

Polley has assembled a great supporting cast, with Olympia Dukakis stealing scenes as Aubrey’s sardonic wife, Kristen Thompson as a sympathetic nurse, and Michael Murphy giving an affecting performance as Aubrey – without ever uttering a word. Polley’s husband, David Wharnsby, has edited the film with a sure hand, guiding us through a fractured narrative which mirrors the splintering of Fiona’s memory.

As this is a Canadian film, it is almost compulsory to feature the songs of Neil Young. But their predictability does not diminish their effectiveness one iota. Before Fiona leaves home, she and Grant dance to Young’s song “Harvest Moon”, itself a fitting reflection on mature love. And the film ends with Young’s wonderful “Helpless,” sung by KD Lang. Somehow this vents the conflicting emotions the film has aroused, and brings us to a satisfying resolution, thus concluding an utterly assured work from a talented young director.

Friday 15 June

Rescue Dawn
Werner Herzog in the jungle with a true story. Amazing  jungle shooting.
Christian Bale brilllant & subtle & Steve Zahn less so. 'You can have the soul'.
How much is true? Ending not Ra Ra but true, surely.

One ofthe loveliest films of the festiual. Set in the Pere Lachaise Cemetary in Paris. The filmmaker is asked by an interviewee what the film is abt. She says "the importance of art in people's lives".
Everyone has a story - the singer, the benl, the comic strip
artist. Michel Petrucciano. Modigliani faces - his work & the young pianist - extreme closeup..& the Ingres works & Ingres girl.
Lovely music. Get the French talking about art & poetry!  Easy!

Temple of Dreams
Well-named. Tom Zubryski too close to the subjects.
The main guy is an egotist. He can't see the real issues.  The girls who help him can (esp the lawyer). Like Selma's school.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre - USA - Dir: John Huston (retrospective)
1st film he made after war.
War experience a sobering one.
He persuaded Warner Bros to let him film on location - unusual then.
Based on 1927 book - German. B. Traven. A book about him by Judy Stone. 'The Mystery of B. Traven' (aka Hal Croves).
Basic plot identical to Maltese Falcon - a small group of obsessed people search for a dream that is illusory.
Bogart was mostly a villain before Huston's Maltese Falcon changed him to a kind of antihero. Missed Best Film Oscar to Olivier's Hamlet.
Altman, Peckinpah lnfluenced by it.
John Huston appears early on as the man in the white suit
Gila monster. Allegory. Individual Wealthy vs Co-op.
It is framed as a series of moral questions - what would you do if...?
Bob Curtin: "You know, the worst ain't so bad when it finally happens. Not half as bad as you figure it'll be before it's happened."

African Queen
A major departure for Huston
1. 1st film in colour
2. 1st comedy
3. 1st outside Hollywood.
4. Probably disappointed. Death of his Father in 1950
5. McCarthy era
Producer Sam Speigel- SP Eagle (Horizon)
Book CS Forrester set in WW1. Wrote screenplay with UK film critic James Agee. Huston brought in Peter Viertel to help finish it. (White Hunter Black Heart is based on the true story of this). It's also recounted in Katharine Hepburn's book.
Huston horrified seeing the church in the film when he got to the set: "It doesn't have a spire!" He was informed that Methodist churches don't have spires. He said: "This one will".
Leeches were real!

Beauty in Trouble
Sydney Film Festival favourite director Jan Hrebejk scores again with a look at love sex marriage & kids in Europe. Lovely performances & interesting issues explored. Love or money? Preferably both! Especially with hunky older man Josef Abrham (Evzen Benes). (Also cf Gordon Pincent from Away from Her!)

Judge Roy Bean - USA - Dir: John Huston (retrospective)
I must have really enjoyed this.  I have the title and no other notes at all!
It was (believe it or not) the 1st time I'd seen it!

Wed June 20

Inland Empire,
172 mins, rating TBC, opening in cinemas on 21 June 2007.


[This is my review as published in the November 2007 issue of The NSW Law Society Journal]

Inland Empire is David Lynch’s latest film. Lynch is among the most European of the American directors working today, and with each film he becomes more enigmatic. If you saw Mulholland Dr (2001), you’ll know what I mean. But that was just a warm-up for the intricacies and tropes of Inland Empire.

Here, Lynch has abandoned any narrative through-line and instead presents a series of images and vignettes that lead us through the ‘Inland Empire’ of his heroine’s mind – and his own. Free association and travel through time and space replace more traditional film structure.

In this, Lynch resembles the great non-linear storytellers of European film. Watching Inland Empire recalls the surrealism of Luis Buñuel, the eerie and foreboding moods of the best of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films, and the relentlessness of Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr. Lynch, like Krzysztof Kieslowski in The Double Life of Veronique (1991), has lives merge into other lives, and suggests we may be matched in some way with a double or twin who shares our thoughts and dreams.

It is a long film (just under 3 hours) but I found it riveting for all of that time. It requires a willingness to surrender to Lynch’s mastery of the medium. Usually this is easy, because his films – until now – have mostly been luscious to look at: all those saturated blues and reds, the beautiful, tortured women such as Isabella Rossellini, Sherilyn Fenn, Naomi Watts, and all that lush, moody music.

The bad news is that Lynch has discovered digital video (but not the high-definition kind). The lushness of his previous films has been replaced by a murkier look. But of course ‘murky’ serves his aims very well. Nothing is perfectly clear in a Lynch film. The muddy look is deliberate, as is the lack of a traditional storyline. Lynch is going for a more impressionistic effect visually. In terms of the narrative, he has been quoted as saying ‘Life is very, very confusing, and so films should be allowed to be, too.’ Be prepared: Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway (1997) and Eraserhead (1977) are as straightforward as “how to” manuals compared to Inland Empire.

All that Lynch will say about the film is that it is about “A woman in trouble”. Lynch favourite Laura Dern has the role of a lifetime, playing actress Nikki Grace, but also several alter egos, including Sue, a character in a film-within-a film, with the Lynchian name On High in Blue Tomorrows, plus a foul mouthed abused woman, and possibly a prostitute.

As the film opens, Nikki, in her grand but rather funereal mansion, receives a visit from a neighbour, Lynch regular Grace Zabriskie. She tells Nikki that Nikki has already got the role in the film that she was hoping for, that the story is based on an old Polish folk tale, and that it will end in “brutal f****** murder”. Nikki then is transported into the future (tomorrow), to pre-production on the film.

During filming, Nikki falls into an affair with her co-star, the roguish Devon (Justin Theroux), just as her character in the film does. Filming is interrupted by a stranger we don’t see, but later we learn that this is Nikki, now trapped in the character of Sue in a house on the film set. So far so good.

But another part of the film is set in Poland, where another woman is in trouble. She watches TV – a sitcom about a family of rabbits dressed as humans. This part seems to have no discernible explanation, but is still weirdly compelling.

Throughout, Lynch explores his favourite issues. He’s one of the most interesting directors of, and writers about, women – especially women in Hollywood and the many ways they are used and abused there. Lynch’s imagery is sometimes mysterious and often terrifying. He’s a modern master of horror.

My advice? Treat it as a dream. Lie back, let the images wash over you, then talk about it at dinner afterwards. And don’t miss the credit sequence at the end. It’s almost the best part.

Sunday 24 June

The Man Who Would be King
- USA - Dir: John Huston (retrospective)
The contract.

'You have my permission to bugger off.'

'Can you ever forgive me for being so bleeding high & bloody mighty?'
'Yes I can, Danny & without let or hindrance'.

Caine is astonishingly good. Connery, Plummer & Jaffray too.

Beautiful print with the odd puzzling poor section. Played too loud.

The audience loved it - the theatre was packed, and they cheered!