Sydney Film Festival 2011

* 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.

I've been doing this "blog" since 1997, probably before there were such things as blogs.

This year I saw 48 films in 11 days and 12 nights.  Plus I saw 2 Festival films (Sleeping Beauty and Norwegian Wood) at critic's previews prior to the festival. So I didn't quite see as many films at the Festival as usual, yet I seemed to be busier and had no time to write reviews until the Festival had nearly ended. Sorry.  But here they come now, and they'll evolve over the next week or so and grow gradually as I have time for reflection. So if the film you are looking for isn't reviewed now, come back in a couple of days - it might be there then.

Sorry for any typos.  I don't have spellchecker on Mozilla, and I type these reviews really fast so I can get them down quickly.  I correct errors later, as I see them.  Oh, and, as an author I should say that all these reviews are copyright. You must not use any part of them without my permission.

This year, I'm nominating my 10 favourite films of the Festival.  In no order, they were:

A Separation
A Letter to Elia
Silent Souls
All That Heaven Allows
How to Die in Oregon
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
The Mill and the Cross

Opening Night: Wednesday 8 June

Hanna (Germany, UK, USA. Dir: Joe Wright) 3/5
Strange and stylish thriller and chase movie from the director of Atonement, of all things!  But he's trying for more: a Grimm's fairytale where the heroine is a trained assassin with ridiculously well-honed combat skills but without the normal skill-set of a teenaged girl.  Many images are scattered about inbetween the breathless chase and fight scenes, but somehow it doesn't gel. The music (Chemical Brothers) is a great asset, but can't make up for a degree of incoherence, appalling accents by Bana (Australian playing German), Ronan (Irish playing German raised in Finland) and Blanchett (Australian playing US Southerner) in the manner of a wicked stepmother.  A car chase in which Bana outruns 3 cars and makest them crash is just ludicrous and confusingly staged.  Still,  the nearly 2 hours flew, so I had some fun on the ride.

Thursday 9 June

A Letter to Elia
(USA - Dir: Martin Scorsese)   5/5
This is right up my alley: film history as revealed by a modern master. Really personal and emotinal look at the work of a flawed artist. Superb scholarship and great emotional, personal filmmaking. Couldn't be better!

Sleeping Sickness   (France, Germany, Netherlands - Dir: Ulrich Kohler)   3/5
Intriguing, if long, essay on the malaise that can creep over you in Africa. The first film of the festival to feature hippopotamuses. It will not be the last!

(Russia - Dir: Cyril Tuschi)   3/5
Another intriguing but overly long essay on a Russian oligarch who is now in prison. I fell asleep for a few minutes in the middle and I didn't feel I missed anything.  Always a reliable test of a film that needs editing!  But the film did have a hipopotamus in it
(continuing the odd trend of the films of the first few days of the Festival to feature hippos!).

The Guard   
(Ireland - Dir: John Michael McDonagh)  4/5
Hilarious Irish farce from John Michael McDonagh, the brother of Martin
McDonagh, the writer-director of In Bruges (2008) and the short film Six Shooter (2004) both of which played at the SFF in prior years. Martin is also author of fabulous dark plays like The Pillowman, The Lieutenant of Inshmore, and The Beauty Queen of Leenane.  Brother John Michael wrote the screenplay for Heath Ledger's Ned Kelly, and wrote and directed The Second Death. He has the same dark and profane sense of humour and exaggerated drama as his brother has. The excellent cast includes the brilliant Brendon Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong.  They don't disappoint.

Friday 10 June

Happy Happy 
(Norway - Dir: Anne Sewitsky)  4/5
Fun: a kind of Norwegian The Ice Storm. It's a very original film whose humour grows very much out of a sense of plce. Yes, it's also a "fish out of water" comedy, but there's also a feeling that the environment is having an effect on the sophisticated city couple as they succumb to the charms of Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen) and the longings of Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen).  The subplot involving the chldren swings from very disturbing to ultimately touching. A great film from first-time director Anne Sewitsky. Her technique of using a Greek chorus of incongruously soul-singing Norwegian blonds is less successful in my opinion, but I understand its function of defusing some of the darker moments, and sort of holding your hand as she takes you through strange territory. One of my favourite features of the festival, just outside of my top 10.

Ain't in it for my Health 
(US - Dir: Jacob Hatley)    3/5
As a budding drummer myself, I was looking forward to this doco about Levon Helm, the amazing drummer for the Band. But I found it disappointing. Perhaps it was its time-slot in the early afternoon. Perhaps you needed to have dinner and some drinks before seeing this, but I found the fact and the coverage interesting, but the use of music poor and not evocative enough, only sporadically emotional. So not good enough - unlike the film from the same series - "American Masters" - on John Lennon: LennonNYC, which was more successful. See the review of that film, below.

(Greece - Dir: Athina Rachel Tsangari)   2/5
Puzzling: a film that's meant to be funny that isn't, a tribute to Monty Python that I didn't recognise, an Oedipal drama in modern Greece, and a lot of pretention.  Didn't like it at all. Maybe it's just me, but the director's Q & A only confused me more.  She seems to think she's a genius finding a new film grammar.  But she's no Truffaut - or even Godard. 

Pom Wonderful Presents:
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold   (USA Dir: Morgan Spurlock)  3/5
A competent and funny documentary, but I believe Spurlock chooses soft targets, like Michael Moore does. Sure, he commits himself to his subject, especially in the case of Super Size Me (2004). But in the end, especially in this film, it's more about him.  He tells us what we already know - though he does give us a lot more facts and figures. He presents it in an accessible and attractive way, and he takes us through the process. All of this he does well. but in the end, I feel as if I've had a fast-food meal, and it doesn't sustain me. Am I wrong to want more? He's a talented an intelligent guy...

Sleeping Beauty (Australia - Dir: Julia Leigh) 2/5
I disliked this film intensely when saw it at a preview before the Film Festival.   In short, I don't like being turned into a voyeur of an inept young woman who seriously needs help. The film is undeniably beautiful, but at the same time sordid. I felt it to be a manipulation for intellectual reasons.

The imagery in this film is sometimes ravishing, and the production design is certainly striking, but the visual style is often very flat and often over-bright, which tends to rob the film of nuance and emotion - appropriate stylistically, but symptomatic of the film's deficiencies too.  The film has similar concerns to Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (1999, based on the Arthur Schnitzler novella Traumnovelle, from the turn of the 20th century) and Ana Kokkinos' The Book of Revelation (2006). I loved Eyes Wide Shut (partly for its odd mix of fin de siècle sensibility and modern Manhatten life), but I hated
The Book of Revelation, for reasons similar to those I don't like Sleeping Beauty. At the end, I say to myself, yes, I see what you are trying to do, but why?  Why do you exploit people's bodies for your own end, and then lead nowhere.

And can I just point out: what girl would agree to, and who but a madman would posit, a contract that alows anything to be done to you "except penetration"?  Because that would include murder.  I just can't accept the premise.

Saturday 11 June

Magnificent Obsession  
(USA - Retrospective - Dir: Douglas Sirk) 4.5/5
Magnificent film, the showing of which was marred by some ridiculous hooting and hollering by the audience. Why these poeple bother to come to a film and then disrepect it, I will never know.  Don't they realise that they must go back to the mid-50s and watch from that standpoint. OK, I understand the urge to snicker when, say, a doctor lights up a cigarette. I snigger a bit occasionallly at something incongruous - often an ironic line from Rock Hudson, along the lines of "As far as I'm concerned, 'Art' is just a man's name" or similar.  But sniggering is one thing - howling with laughter is another. And when one does it, they all join in.  I want to scream "This is not a comedy!"  One day I will.

It's a shame that the Festival doesn't bother to have anyone introduce these films any more. A few years ago a curator would turn up and give a short introduction, and that would have set the scene and allowed those of us who want to give ourselves over to the melodrama to watch in our own world without getting upset at the inappropriate reactions of those who don't care.  Because this is such a striking, and ultimately tender film. From the stunning opening sequence on the lake, with a jet-boat speeding through the sleepy conventional lakeside community, to the almost prayer-like ending, I think this film deserves our attention, and respect.

Exporting Raymond   (US - Dir: Phil Rosenthal)  4/5
I have never seen an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, but the program notes for this film intrigued me. I think the question of whether comedy transfers well between languages and cultures is an intriguing one, and should make for a good documentary. I was right. This fascinating and hilarious film also manages to be very personal and touching, as is the man himeself, Phil Rosenthal, director of the film and creator and writer of
Everybody Loves Raymond. He came out with the film and did a very charming Q&A with the audience, and I had the chance to talk to him personally afterwards. He is a pure delight, as is this film.

Tyrannosaur   (UK - Dir: Paddy Considine)   4/5
A brilliant feature film debut from the favourite star of British director Shane Meadows. Comparable to the harrowing but effective directorial feature debuts of Tim Roth (The War Zone, 1999, SFF 1999) and Gary Oldman (Nil By Mouth, 1997). Peter Mullen is extraordinary in a tough role. This film doesn't flinch, and presents all its characters as rounded persons, with conflicting impulses and motivations. On the topic of wife-beating, it would be tempting to preach, or over-simplify, or take one side over others (in a kind of Ken Loach manner). Writer-director Paddy Considine resists the temptation: even his monsters are human, and I think the casting of Eddie Marsan was crucial in achieving this. Olivia Colman, too (as the Christian, Hannah) is simply breathtaking.  And I love a Christian who drinks!  I thought this film was in my daytime subscription, and lined up for 15 minutes to get in, only realising 5 minutes before that  it was not. So I decided to buy an exoensive extra ticket ($3.85 I think it was for administration fee over and above the ticket price). But still, I'm really glad I didn't miss this one.

The Future 
(US - Dir: Miranda July)   3/5
This is no Me and You and Everyone we Know (SFF). It looks to me as if Miranda July has gone from being intriguing, smart, original and funny, to a bit too self-absorbed. She even cast a Miranda July look-alike (Hamish Linklater) as her partner. Still, any Miranda July film will have plenty to enjoy. It's just not as profound as the earlier film. And I found it harder to care for these people. However, the film did have six hippopotamuses in it (continuing the odd trend of the films of the first few days of the festival to feature hippos!).

Sunday 12 June

All That Heaven Allows 
(USA - Retrospective - Dir: Douglas Sirk)    5/5
This was the top film of the retrospective. I've seen it several times before (I have it on DVD too), but it is so marvellous on the big screen. Slightly less snickering from the audience this time. Perhaps a more serious crowd, but we still would have benefited from an inroduction to the work of Dougal Sirk from the curator - or somebody (I'm available!).

The film opens with a shot of a clocktower, high above a small town. This shot was famously duplicated by Todd Haynes in Far From Heaven, his modern variation on All That Heaven Allows (2002). Various elements are repeated from Magnificent Obsession, from the year before: the lush colour, the classical music, the wonderful Agnes Moorehead in a supporting role. This film has delightful surprises: such as its strong support for the sex lives of the middle-aged! Being a tree-grower myself, I loved the scenes in nurseries and all the discussion of trees, such as one line of Ron's (Rock Hudson, so handsome and strong): "If you're impatient, you have no business growing trees".

I also love the immense symbolism of the Wedgewood pot - found broken and missing pieces in Ron's old mill, then lovingly restored by him for Cary, who then carelessly breaks it (most out-of-character for her).

Like Magnificent Obsession, this film has a strong philosophocal centre. One exchange is fascinating in the light of today's obsessions:  Alita: "I guess all of us are looking for security these days". The answer?: "To thine own self be true".  And then there's Agnes Moorehead's character who says to Cary: "You're lucky you've got children. You don't have to fill your life with club-life and parties." Not only is this line surprisingly frank for the time (we tend to forget they had brains then), but it is also sad, pitiable, and at the same time emblematic of the extreme rigidity of social convention at that time and place. What a ridiculous waste of talent - and they know it! This line is immediately followed by Cary's kids letting her down by not turning up for the weekend as they'd promised, then finally suggesting the family home be sold.  In despair, she cries: "Don't you see that the whole thing has been so terribly pointless". Heartbreaking!

Top Floor Left Wing 
(France - Dir: Angelo Cianci)   4/5
A big surprise, and a really well-made film on a terrific subject. Another addition to my collection of Jihad-based comedies (Four Lions, The Infidel). This is another great feature film debut, with comedy mixed with drama, thriller conventions turned on their heads, social commentary thoughtfully presented in an incongruous way, and excellent action scenes handled with the aplomb of a veteran. A true delight and a perfect festival film.  This was the only film I managed to be late for. I had 15 mins to get from All That Heaven Allows at AGNSW to the State Theatre, and that film finished late. So I missed the crucial openig scene. But it's a mark of the strong story-telling of  screenwriter/director Cianci that I was able to catch up.

Lennon NYC  (USA - Dir: Michael Epstein)  4/5
This documentary covers some of the same ground we've seen before - inevitable, I guess given how much has been put on film about John Lennon. I'm thinking specifically of The US v John Lennon (David Leaf, John Scheinfeld, 2006). But something about the way it has been put together - and the use of some footage of Lennon's concerts for good causes that I hadn't seen before, plus nice interviews
with (and archival footage of) Yoko Ono and other luminaries - but above all the way that Lennon's music is used to illustrate the story, make this a very effective music documentary, and better than Ain't in it for my Health (see review above)

Tabloid  (USA - Dir: Errol Morris)  5/5
Errol Morris does it again. A perfect treatment of its lurid subject-matter. A story well-told and tantalisingly-revealed. And with the classic Errol Morris twist-in-the-tail - one that you can hardly believe. As usual, Morris gets very intimate one-on-one interviews, and asks the questions we all want to ask, but would probably be too embarassed to come right out with. He's blunt to perfection, and nails each issue.  Even the seemingly-sleazy tabloid journalist is interviewed to contribute exactly the right touches to this lurid story. Great use of tabloid graphics to underline each astinishing fact.  Morris docos make you feel exhilarated. And this time, I feel "spead-eagled" too!

Cedar Rapids 
(USA - Dir: Miguel Arteta)  3.5/5
A funny, if conventional, "sitcom" type comedy (not really feature-film material at all). But what elevates it is the cast: Ed Helms is a great comic talent along the lines of Steve Carrel. He's also a talented musician! John C Reilly is great as usual, but I loved Anne Heche, who outdoes herself as the predatory Joan. Interesting production design here, too, giving the film a kind of sit-com look, but also a real strip-mall and 3-star hotel effect, too. Quite fun, and an inventive script, which is kind of familiar – see Something Wild (Jonathan Demme, 1986), or After Hours (Martin Scorsese, 1985) – but has its own twists and turns, too, leading to the predictable happy ending.  Really this is a celebration of mediocracy, and middle American values, but with a nice subversive centre.  Director Arteta has previously made The Good Girl (2002) with Jennifer Aniston, and episodes of Six Feet Under, among other things. He has a sure comedic hand.

Monday  13 June

The Forgiveness of Blood 
(USA, Albania, Denmark, Italy - Dir: Joshua Marston)   3/5
An Albanian film made by an American director. A very interesting essay on a destructive cultural custom or law that can still ruin lives in Europe in the 21st century. It's extraordinary that it would be made by an American director (who clearly worked very closely with Albanian collaborators, such as co-writer Andamion Murataj). Marston's previous film, the excellent Maria Full of Grace (2004), was set in Columbia and then then the action transferred to American, which kind of makes more sense. This film seems more removed from most of our relaities, I guess, but is no less compelling for that. A curiosity, but I can't quite see the daring or the cutting edge for the purposes of the International Comptition.

Written on the Wind  
(USA  - Retrospective - Dir: Douglas Sirk)  4/5
Even more inappropriate laughter from the audience here, than in Magnificent Obsession! Certainly this is the most lurid of the Sirk films shown in this retrospective. But is that an excuse to laugh like it was Abbott and Costello? There was also some very bad background rumbling in the background to the theatre (AGNSW) that really disturbed the screening. Does no one care?

The film has a very similar opening to Magnificent Obsession: this time the speed boat has been replaced by a fast car. Rock Hudson's beind the wheel again. Other elements that this film has in common with the first 2 films in the retrospective: the most lush saturated reds and other colours in Russell Metty's cinematographer's palette, an obsession with screens (often placed between characters who have trouble communicating) and the gold-webbed mirror, which plays an even greater role here. Robert Stack is amazing as  a debauched heir to a fortune: he's so over-wrought, it seems he'll explode.  He's manic! Dorothy Malone is photgraphed fetishistically: all reds and pinks and pointy breasts. But this film doesn't start with classical music: it opens with a cheesy pop song sung by the Four Aces. More pop and jazz music features throughout, as befits the more tabloid nature of this film and its subject-matter.

This film is definitely over-the-top, but delightfully so. I love the ending: Dorothy Malone (as prodigal daughter Marylee) ends up dressed soberly, at her father's desk, clasping the gold oil-well desk ornament, and slumping desperately: she'll have to run the oil business.  Cue the theme song to Dallas, and start the TV series, please!

Imitation of Life
(USA - Retrospective - Dir: Douglas Sirk)   4/5
A slightly better-behaved audience here.  We begin, like Written on the Wind, with a pop song: this time from Earl Grant, sounding like Nat King Cole. The opening titles sequence is gorgeous - and quite different from the opening sequences of the other 4 retrospective films. Jewels drop from the top of the screen, setting the scene for the glamour to come, with lana Turner taking Broadway by storm (eventually), and going to Hollywood. In between is a vast story (from the novel by Fannie Hurst and made before as a film by John M Stahl in 1934 with Claudette Colbert), containing a lot of social criticism of race relations, social climbing, poverty, sexual harassment, the role of women in society, the role of man in society, and the life of working women of various kinds. Really a kind of epic, and some scenes still have the power to shock. Mahalia Jackson features, too, singing at a funeral.

Tuesday 14 June

(Russia - Dir:Alexander Zeldovich)   5/5
I loved this film. A really believable projection of the "close future" (as the Russian director put it). Stunning location shooting, millions of dollars right up there on the screen, amazing costumes, important concerns, visionary. Long, but absolutely a visual feast, and the
2hrs 40m flew by. Should win the international competition, but probably won't, because Separation is a more noble film, which I predict will undoubtedly win.... (and it did!).

Also, no hippopotamus in this film, but a hippodrome
(continuing, in a way, the odd trend of the films of the first few days of the festival to feature hippos!).

Amador (Spain - Dir: Fernando Léon de Aranoa) 3.5/5
Nice little film that in my opinion really doesn't belong in the International Competition. In what respect is it cutting edge? Merely because it deals with death in an unusual way? Actually, it is about inertia, which is a recuring theme throughout many films at this year's festival (The Future being one, Sleeping Beauty another, and Sleeping Sickness another). It's fascinating how these themes seem to proliferate.

Le Quattro Volte  (Italy, Germany, Switzerland - Dir: Michaelangelo Frammartino)  4/5
Now this is a proper Film Festival film.  About nothing, and yet everything. Totally stolen by a dog and a baby goat.

The Tree of Life  (USA Dir: Terrence Malick) 4/5
Brave attempt by the genius Malick to explain life, the universe and everything. It seems from my primitive and limited research that those who are religious or spiritual or artists loved it, and those that aren't did not like it, and have been mumbling about the Emperor's New Clothes. I'm in-between.  I liked the film, loved its aesthetics, thought the performances were very good, and loved the audacity. But I felt Kubrick had done at least some of it long ago, and better. And another film at the festival, Silent Souls, tackled some of the same issues in a far more modest way, and succeeded where Malick may have failed. On the other hand, Malick's whole film is about the profundity, presciousness and connectedness of life. So its ambition is much greater.

I have to say that as beautiful as the sequence about the creation of life might be, it was actually a bit boring. And I don't need to have a strong narrative line in the films I admire, as long as I can keep my brain ticking along with the images. Here I struggled a bit. Especially with the kind dinosaur - what was that about?  I also found some of the images about beauty of life a little banal - a little "audiovisual aid for the Catholic Mass" - something I'm only too familiar with!

But I think this film deserves multiple viewings. Like Kubrick's films, Malick's films often gain gravity with time and reflection. And I know that each image in this film has been artfully wrought - or captured from the ether, so this film is nothing if not deliberate.  It's actually time for me to revisit The New World - which I loved the first time. But I'll see The Tree of Life again when it comes out comercially at the end of the month, and update this review then.

Wednesday 15 June

How to Die in Oregon
(USA - Dir: Peter J Richardson)   5/5
The kind of film that can change the law...  Superb doco. 

(Argentina, Germany, Spain - Dir: Gustavo Taretto )   3.5/5
A promising film, that should have been better than it was. Clever ideas, cute leading actors, but somehow it  never "took off".  Relied on "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" done in karaoke at the end to supply the missing soul.

A Separation
(Iraq - Dir: Asghar Farhadi)   5/5
Fabulous serious clever film that had me eating my heart out all the way along. I predicted this would win the international competition - and it did. It had all the right elements.

The Mill and The Cross 
(Poland, Sweden - Dir: Lech Majewski)  5/5
The hits continue.  Another brilliant film.  What a day!

Thursday 16 June

Jiro Dreams of Sushi 
(USA - Dir: David Gelb)   5/5
Food and philosophy: perfection. Sorry I can't say the same for my in-theatre experience. My neighbour ate smelly fried food for the first half hour of this film. It was excruciatingly bad, and made me feel ill. How unfair with all that delicious sushi lusciously filmed on the screen.

I fell in love with master chef Jiro and his dedication to the task of making perfect sushi.  He is the embodiment of the Japanese concept of Shokunin Kishitsu (artisan's spirit). The idea is to be the best you can be at doing the same humble task, over and over again, and by doing it well, transcend the humility of the task to become an admired master.  But this takes more than practice.  It takes cunning, guile and ruthlessnes, too.  Rivetting!

Cairo 678 
(Egypt - Dir: Mohamed Diab)  4/5
Another beauty in Arabic. 3 women deal with sexual harrassment in Cairo, on the buses and elsewhere.  I love the 3 different perspectives, which helps show the complexity of the issues invloved. They actually argue amongst themselves, with the conservative one accusing one (only one? why?) of the other two women of attracting unwanted attention from men in the way she dresses and wears her hair. This helps ventilate the questions that the audience might be asking itself. There's also quite a different array of men from the usual Arabic suspects. Again, this really takes the film into the realm of the  contrmporary middle east in a way we don't always see. An important film, that's also satisfying and moving. Based on part on  a true story.

Silent Souls  
(Russia - Dir: Aleksei Fedorchenko)  5/5
I mentioned this above in the review of The Tree of Life.  It's everything that that film was not. Simple, and specific, but using that specificity to make a much wider point. One of my favourite films of the festival.  Strange and moving. A bit of an Aki Kaurismaki feel to it.

Norwegian Wood 
(Japan: - Dir: Tran Anh Hung)   2/5
I saw this film at a preview before the festival, and was bored rigid. If one more peson had sex outsife in the snow or in a puddle or in wet grass, I was going to scream. It's beautiful, sure, with beautiful people, but what a construct. Wouldn't this woman's problem be cured by a bit of personal lubricant? Really! The most interesting part of the film wa the way in which the ugly and ridiculous mens' fasjions of the 1960s actually look good on the young japanese men. I know that never happened anywhere else in the 60s!  Certainly not in Australia! It becomes a real fetish in this film. Oh and I was entranced by  Tetsuji Tamayama as the effete Nagasawa.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within 
(Brazil - Dir: José Padiha) 3/5
A silly but exciting film that was just what the Doctor ordered at this stage of the Festival. Quite a bit sillier than the director's first SFF offering: Bus 174 (SFF 2003).

Friday 17 June

The Good Life
(Denmark - Dir: Eva Mulrad)   3.5/5
Fascinating subjects for a doco, but the film itself seems to be missong something cricial. Perhaps it's the absence of the crucial main character in the story - the husband and father who caused all this difficulty.

Post Mortem  
(Chile, Mexico, Germany - Dir: Pablo Larrain)   3/5
A very murky and dark film, both in style and in substance.  Important, serious teatment of a serious subject, with endearing characters, and an ending that looms ominously over the whole film. But it's a hard film to love in the context of all the other films in the Festival. Seen separately, I'm sure it would be much easier to appreciate.

Project Nim 
(UK - Dir: James Marsh)   4.5/5
A conventional, but fascinating documentary on a topic that I vaguely knew of, but didn't realise the gravity that comes with the details. A must for all scientists and science students. And more evidence that psychology can be dangerous in the wrong hands! Director James Marsh made the compelling Man on Wire (2008). He tells a complicated story here very well, juggling all the main players and their roles very competently.

Animals Distract Me
(USA: Dir: Isabella Rossellini)   2/5
So does Isabella Rosselini! If only she'd spent more time on her mother's wardrobe, and less time on her dogs. Dog fanciers bore me.

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress  (Germany - Dir: Gereon Wetzel)  3/5
Not as good as it could have been - see Jiro Dreams of Sushi for a better food doco.  Maybe Ferran Adria's exhaustion was seeping into the film.  Actually, I think the story was told in the wrong order, starting with the six months the restaurant doesn't work (when they experiment) and then ending with the reveal of the food as it is presented in the 2nd six months. While that's logical in a way, it delays gratification so long, that we almost lose interest.

And why didn't the film mention that Adria has now closed up shop? Surely that's relevant, and it was announced long ago.

Saturday 18 June

Cave of Forgotten Dreams 
(USA, Dir: Werner Herzog) 4/5
Typical Werner Hertzog - in a good way.  A film in 3D that needs to be in 3D, despoite the annoying glasses and the vague headache I always get. Becasue these undulating cave walls, narrow passes and cramped conditions deserve to be seen in reality, and this is about as close to it as we, the audience will ever get. It is a real privilege to see these images, and it's vintage Herzog, even to the extent of going off at a tangent at the end with a bizarre tale of albino crocodiles being bred in an environment constructed from the waste water from nuclear reactors 20 kms away, and linking it to the rest of the film in a  postscript!

Take Shelter  (USA, Dir: Jeff Nichols) 4/5
A well-made psychological thriller, with a commanding central performance by Michael Shannon, but hardly the stuff of International Competition.

(Australia, Dir: Ivan Sen)  2/5
I have problems with this ultra-low-budget film. Despite some quirky and charming humour (mostly involving the charming Tanitia and her girlfriend), this is a bleak portrait of a town. The director, whose family comes from Toomelah, shows us a young boy corrupted by shiftless drug dealers, and suggests that it is unlikely that even education will save him. He shows a brutal murder, and told us later in the Q&A, that this film depends on perception: to some people, he said, it will be a depressing portrait of a way of life, and to others "it's just daily life".  Daily life involving the corruption of a child and a brutal murder?  What does that mean? Sen says it's not a political film, but he shows all that, plus several members of the stolen generations (actually Auntie Cindy is a lovely presence in the film). Dean Daley-Jones (Mad Bastards) shines as Big bad Bruce, but the rest of the cast is non-professional, and this hurts the film in my opinion.  Casting non-professionals is a very tricky process, and while 10-year-old Daniel Conners, as Daniel, is an interesting anti-hero, and manages to hold our attention, others do not. Sen's landscape is still beautiful to look at, though, what little there is of it.

Sunday 19 June
There's Always Tomorrow  
(USA - Retrospective - Dir: Douglas Sirk)   4.5/5
An incredibly tender film about husband and father in 1956.  Fred MacMurray is a hugely under-rated actor, and he's perfect here. Matched with Barbara Stanwyck, they make a luminous couple. And yet the point of the film is that they are not a couple and never can be. If that isn't a recipe for melodrama, I don't know what is. Marvellous! 

This film is in black & white (I'm not sure why, since it was released the same year as Written on the Wind - perhaps they ran out of budget for the year). Cinematographer Russell Metty is still working with Sirk, but this isn't as lush. Still it is moody and the same half-face shots from the colour films are deployed here too in sensitive moments of decision. There are also - as in the other Sirk films - screens separating the characters, one notably outside in the garden.

Jane Darwell (Ma, from The Grapes of Wrath - Ford 1939) is the maid, and there's a bit of a sub-plot going on here in that she has to fit her family committments around her job, and yet nobody else seems concerned. When Joan Bennett, as the mother, decides to help in the kitchen, it is completely perfunctory - only a symbolic effort that presumably makes her feel good, but doesn't really assist the maid!

Another interesting moment: at one point I think it was Barbara Stanwyck's character, Norma, but it could have been fred MacMurray's Cliff - he's sensitive enough - says: "Tonight, for a little while, time stood still." ("Blue Moon" plays on the soundtrack. That echoes the theme of The Future, by Miranda July, from this festival. Or rather, prefigures it. And Cliff, as a toy manufacturer, has produced a mechanical robot man, who marches symbolically throughout the film.

The film ends as a staunch endorsement of married life, with Cliff wistfully watching Norma's plane fly away (she's been strong enough to resist him) and this exchange, bittersweet, and ironic, follows:

Cliff: "You know m better than I know myself".
Marion: "I should, after a lifetime".

(UK - Dir: Asif Kapadia)   4.5/5
A terribly exciting film about a wonderful young man. Who knew all that was going on behind the scenes?  Great archival material - there must have been mountains of it, so congratulations to the filmmakers for choosing material so well and telling a compelling tale.

Boxing Gym 
(USA - Dir: Frederick Wiseman)  4/5
 A very good companion piece to Wiseman's La Danse - Le Ballet de l'Opera de Paris (2009) (SFF 2010). But not as rivetting. Much of it is fascinating, and hypnotic, and I love the way the editing
groups various similar activities together (bouncing on a tyre, jumping around the ring, skipping rope, sparring etc) and I love the way the camera will focus on one part of the body and then move up, after a long while, to reveal a body that does not seem to match the feet and legs (or voice versa). There are also some great coversations, and some incongruous ones, as people you wouldn't imagine as boxers discuss politics and philosophy, and so on. But it's just not as absolutely gorgeous as La Danse.

Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel  (USA - Dir: Alex Stapleton)   3.5/5
This doco would have scored higher, because it is funny, and informative, and balanced, with very good access to all sorts of people relevant to Corman's life and work, and with amazing footage of Jack Nicholson, who gets very emotional. But I am a big fan of Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood, which does the same sort of thing for "Ozploitation" films, but is sooo much more fun.

Closing Night film

(USA - Dir: Mike Mills)    2.5/5
Is it fair to review the 5th film after seeing 4 films before it in the one day? Maybe not, but here goes...

I didn't like it.  I know it is a wonderful subject
for a film, and it's a true-ish story, with very likeable actors. But the way it is told annoyed me. Soft, downplayed, pastel  colours, perhaps meant to signify hazy memory, just looked murky  and indistinct to me.  A fractured narrative is meant to be clever, but was for me just annoying. The editing is very jerky (between scenes it was positively jumpy) and that made me even more tired. I found no chemistry between Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurant. I found her accent indistinct at times (how ironic that there were subtitles for Toomelah, when our indigenous people were speaking perfectly understandable English with an Aussie accent, and yet none for Melanie's French mumbling (and by the way, I speak reasonable French)). And the biggest crime of all, the wonderful Christopher Plummer is so cut to pieces that he gets only one sustained acting scene in the whole film(when he explains how it was that he came to marry his wife and stay with her for so long). What a waste of talent!  Finally, I think that when a dog steals all the scenes in such a film, it means the director has made some bad choices.