The 2018 event raises the question of what does the State (the country’s?) best attended
movie event do now and what purpose, beyond pulling in enough money to meet the pay
roll, does it serve.
The matter was dramatised by my having four minutes to get from Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s
Ahlat Agaci / The Wild Pear Tree, a long, solemn, portentous Turkish drama from it’s
celebrity director in Chehovian mood, to Richard Kuipers presentation of Jen Wexler‘s
The Ranger, a standard issue slasher film with homicidal park ranger Jeremy Holm
chopping up punk kids in the menacing woods. It would be hard to find two people on the
planet, let alone in their audience, who would be at ease with both of those.
approach is the best way to go. It’s no fair swap however - as can be seen by the local films and movie journalism that result here. Meanwhile poor old Sydney Film Festival gets stick both for films that are obscure like Lav Diaz’ Filippino Ang panahon ng halimaw and for films that are too commercial, like the Japanese The Blood of Wolves but that’s their problem.
Considering the films on show in more detail, Ceylan’s Wild Pear Tree is ultimately three
hours plus of misery and indecisiveness wrapped around those literary clichés the shift to
adulthood and the young artist trapped in a crass society.
Recalling the subject matter of the director’s first film Kasaba / The Town, we get
swarthy Dogu Demirkol (debut) coming back from Çanakkale university to Car, his small
Anatolian town, to find his parents in debt, after school teacher father Murat Cemcir ’s
betting shop addiction, his mother and sister glumly watching TV soaps and storing the
food in the neighbour’s refrigerator when they can’t pay the elecricity bill. There is the
heavy handedly symbolic business of digging a dry well on the grandfather’s farm which
keeps on figuring in the thinks insets.
Demirkol’s ambitions as writer are a subject of indifference all round. He is praised by
the mayor and the the businessman he is referred to for sponsorship but it proves that they
are only interested in bankrolling tourist promotions related to local connection to the site
of the Gallippoli campaign and historic Troy. At one stage Demirkol takes refuge in a
wooden horse, left over from the Wolfgang Peterson movie.
Going off to Çanakkale for teacher examinations he hasn’t prepared, our hero spots
celebrity regional author Keskin in the book shop and in one of the film’s signature
tracking shot dialogues he follows the writer into the street and along the waterfront
finally annoying the man to the point where he tells him their conversation, a cry for the
stimulation the young man desperately seeks, has just been an annoyance delaying a hot
foot bath. The man says the same thing as Cemcir will later - life is more important than
A second long ambulatory dialogue has our hero find the pair of local Imans poaching
apples, exploitative Akin Aksu (co-script writer with the director and his wife) who
borrows gold without repayment and rings in the lead’s eighty year old former preacher
granddad to recite the service while he pursues other interests and his young colleague
Öner Erkan. Conversation turns on the literal truth of the Koran (“Can you run a tractor
without the manual?”) “The prophet said the ages will get worse and worse till
The specter of life in the country’s frozen North either in impoverished schools or as (one
shot) a soldier in the snow, menaces the young man. Demirkol finds on his return his self
published, books have become moldy stacks in the cellar and once they got dad’s
superannuation, the family turned him out. In a simplistic ending the father is the only
one to apreciate the book.
Sharp ‘scope scenic images locate the piece. Lots of shots of the backs of heads, insets of
the baby covered with ants, ropes suggestive of hanging, a glimpse of the name tree.
By contrast, The Ranger’s back story has the little girl retrieved from the meal Holm
prepares with his menacing Bowie knife and growing up to be pink haired Chloe Levine,
partner to a knife wielding dope pusher. The film is suitably gross with the leg-missing
amputee trying to figure how to drive his van or Levine, the bleeding needle punture
marks in her arm, being told they were going to “strip the city from your bones.”
Gun shots on the edits, country and western and disco on the track, crisp location
camerawork and a nice appearance of a timber wolf. This one is right for it’s target
Australian Benjamin Gilmour’s Jirga reaches us with the big sell, a cover story in the
Weekend Herald Magazine, a Sydney Film Festival premiere with the makers taking
twenty minutes to thank half the population before the screening and its back story about
going in cowboy-style to make the film when official channels backed off. In case there’s
anyone who still hasn’t heard, Gilmour and leading man Sam Smith shot in Pakistan
with an electronics store camera at genuine personal risk.
Only the hardest hearted commentator would knock it. Well I guess that’s where I come in.
Without a coherent Australian movie narrative tradition to draw on, we are being offered
films like this one and Lion, which we are told we should value for their good intentions.
Well, we all know about paving the road to hell.
Jirga is in many ways admirable. It’s setting in parched mountains and real Kabul streets,
has an unfamiliar and plausible look. Cameraman Gilmour covers himself with glory. I
can’t say the same about writer Gilmour who has left both his protagonist and the Afghans
he encounters short on defining detail.
Former soldier Smith is burdened by guilt over shooting an innocent house holder on a
military raid three years before. A combination of cajolery and dollar bills gets his
reluctant driver (what happens to him?) to drive Smith into the forbidden area. Of course
they encounter a Taliban road block and our hero falls into the hands of locals who chain
him to the wall and discuss ransom. This is actually the most interesting section of the
film as the opponents take on one another’s points of view even without being able to
communicate properly. The murderous fighters, who have just shot a couple of their
enemies outside the cave, feed our hero a tasty chicken stew when they get to know him.
They are as skeptical about his plan as any audience member who thinks about it.
The final section follows logically with some nice performances from the Afghan cast. One
of the film’s shortcomings is the convenient way bi-lingual locals keep on showing up.
The ingredients including Smith’s portrayal and the location photography are superior but
this soldier guilt trip is something that keeps on failing to fly in movies going as far back
as the Lubitch The Man I Killed of 1932, which recently got a do over as François Ozon’s
Unsurprisingly Ziad Doueiri’s Qadiat raqm 23 / The Insult was a highlight. I rated the
director’s The Attack / L’Attentat (2012) the most interesting film to reach us from the
Arab world since the death of Youssef Chahine and all the more remarkable for coming
from Lebanon’s limited industry.
Doueiri’s new film has a not so promising start where the volatile meeting of the
Christian Party, their Cedars flag fluttering in the display, is followed by an incident with
maintenance foreman Kamel El Basha in an argument with householder Adel Karam
So far so so with a structure echoing escalating incident movies like Jaromil Jires’ 1969
Zert / The Joke or particularly Farhadi’s Jodaeiye Nader az Simin/A Separation but,
against expectation, things pick up when the matter goes to court with angry Karam complaining about the inadequacy of legal remedies - “Deport him by post!”
Christian cause, while young Diamand Bou Abboud rates it as another attack on the rights
of the country’s displaced Palestinian immigrant population. The courts and the streets fill with both factions' supporters. The attorneys (who prove to be father and daughter) extend the matter into the litigants’ back stories and historical issues, bringing in A/V displays. Karam angrily unplugs his lawyer’s projector when his showing so distresses his aging father. This is strong stuff.
Judge Julia Kassar tries to keep a lid on the legal pyrotechnics warning “I don’t want to
have to wear a bullet proof vest.” Even the country’s president calls the litigants into his
office. Both men are suffering and realise the stupidity of the storm they are creating.
They find their own way of resolving the matter - not the film’s most satisfying passage.
The Insult is far from perfect. It’s not as strong as The Attack and it doesn’t have the
charm of Doueri’s immensely popular West Beirut. The women are implausibly
glamorous and the film-makers are too obviously struggling to keep a balance of
sympathy between the two leads. However, these are slight defects against the film’s
ability to lay out the country’s factional tensions and make them strong drama. It’s been
compared to Sidney Lumet’s work and that’s not unjust.
Doueiri sent in a rather winning video introduction.
Ariving without any indicators, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Une saison en France / A
Season in France is another of the heart on sleeve pieces which breed in festivals. The
temptation is to let it slip by. This would underestimate a piece which stands with
Philippe Lioret’s Welcome or Emanuele Crialese ‘s Terraferma at the top rank of the
many excellent films that treat the European migrant crisis.
|Saison en France - Bonnaire & Ebouaney|
He’s fled his native Africa with two children losing their mother on the way - brief vision of her appearing in his new home. He can’t hack his market loader job, smashing the
vegetables when the boss berates him. Ebouaney’s one time philosophy professor brother is living in an ordered shack by the Seine only to be burned by hoons we never see. The brothers’ conversation explains that there is no going back “on n’a plus patrie.”
Ebouaney’s one of the Asile applicants that the bureaucrats have benched waiting to be admitted to the area where decisions are communicated by lists on bulletin boards. One sets himself on fire there. Another makes a run for it outside the cafe where Ebouaney watches apprehensively.
Thrown out of meager flats where he can’t afford the rent, he moves his family in with
Polish migrant Bonnaire for nice scenes with the new blended family. The cops come
banging on the door looking for her, mentioning the penalties for sheltering illegal
immigrants. Ignoring the appeal paper work means that Eric’s family are now on the run.
The mix of argument, documentary and dramatic elements is pitch perfect. Film making
is unobtrusively exact.
Japan's Korô no chi / The Blood of Wolves proved to be a standard Yakuza piece with good
‘scope production, mainly notable for its ultra-violence - an opening finger chopping with
shoving pig crap down the victim’s throat, a detailed castration, dug up bodies, a severed
head in a urinal.
It’s 1988 and veteran cop Kôji Yakusho operates under the threat of a war between the
Kakomura-gumi and the Odani-gumi gangs. His new assistant is a recent graduate from
Hiroshima U. The kid is told he’ll be directing traffic for the rest of his life if he doesn’t
immediately provoke a fight with a slobby Yakuza in the pachinko parlor where the two
cops are talking. Calculated mayhem ensues.
Turns out the young man has been sent in by Internal Affairs to take down his boss who
operates outside any legal or ethical constraints. Despite this, the beatings, murders, bar
girls, informers, Rising Sun right wingers and unending macho are getting overheated
after the disappearance of a manager from one of the mob banks. The story arc is familiar and predictable. These incidents have already served Kinji Fukasaku’s 1973 Jingi naki tatakai/Battles Without Honor or Humanity though I must admit I didn't see the girl pharmacist’s revelation coming.
Star Kôji Yakusho has played the title role for a TV version of Miyamoto Musashi and
appeared in Shall We Dance and Silk. He makes an impression that would be more vivid
if we hadn’t already seen Ken Takakura and Beat Takeshi do these characters. Yôko Maki
(The Princess Blade, Tokyo Drift) is surprisingly credible as a bar mama-san who holds
her own in the world of violent, lecherous men.
While it’s professionally put together, The Blood of Wolves is too long and really too
conventional. It would be interesting to know just how it made its way into the festival
Contemporary Iranian cinema is a pretty much unique body of work. No caped crusaders
or singing sweethearts here. Whether it’s from the inclination of the makers or demands
from above, they rake over their society with a compulsive determination to reveal guilt.
Vahid Jalilvand’s second film, the Persian speaking Bedoun- E-Taikh, Bedoun-E - Emzais
/ No Date, No Signature on show here is characteristic.
Beginning at night in sharp monochrome which morphs into desaturated colour when the
tones are introduced, Dr. Amir Agha'ee side swipes a motor bike on which Navid Mohammadzadeh’s family is traveling at night. He examines their engaging eight-year-old son and tries to make things right with them as everyone calms down.
Particularly striking is the contrast of the modern, ordered hospital (where the women
wear hijabs) and the miserable life of Mohammadzadeh’s family, traveling on the motorbike whose shattered perspex shield identifies it in traffic. Their lives end in the barren cemetery plot at which the ceremony is conducted by a celebrant in plain clothes using a PA system.The father can only weep in the bare space between the concrete walls. The grim chicken processing plant belongs to that world. The accusing ending with the doctor's colleague is one of the things that shows authoritative film making.
|No Date, No Signature - Mohammadzadeh|
contemporary Iran and the film takes on an importance beyond its qualities as dramatic
By contrast Jesse Peretz' Juliet, Naked is a thoroughly likeable, thoroughly approachable movie. Producer Judd Apatow and novelist Nick Hornby are a perfect match and they have a superior cast and crew serving their needs.
In bleak Broadstairs, Kent, things are not all that well with Annie (Rose Byrne). After a
brief taste of the outside world at London University, she’s stuck with running her
father’s sea side museum where the major attraction is the pickled eye of a stranded
whale. Husband Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) is more interested in the chat room society
devoted to his one-time pop star idol Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) than he is to
producing babies. Also the spunky teacher trainee in his class is pondering his suggestion
that she should study “Antigone” to understand The Wire.
Through a plausible set of circumstances Annie gets to meet Crowe, now trailing
ex-wives and their children who resent never having met their siblings.
|Juliet Naked - Hawk, Byrne & O'Dowd|
Of the films viewed, American Animals was the one to have a movie-of-the-moment
energy. It is at once a heist film with the usual tension, action and ingenuity elements
mixed in with tries for new film form and comment.
Director Bart Layton had considered doing a factual film with staged material (think
America’s Most Wanted and its heirs and successors) but shifted the production into a
dramatisation in which the actual former college boy thieves appear commenting the
movie's version of their fourteen years earlier seven figure rare book robbery. The piece
has been compared to the Clint Eastwood The 15:17 to Paris and to Michael Haneke, to
which you could add Five Against the House.
Layton has gotten together rising star leads. We get Transylvania U (!) art student Barry
Keoghan (Killing of a Sacred Deer) recruiting fellow undergraduate Evan Peters
(Marvel’s Quicksilver), Jared Abrahamson (Sweet Virginia) and Blake Jenner (Edge of
Seventeen) joining his scheme to knock over the University Library where twelve million
dollars worth of books are protected by “one old lady” with keys to a glass case.
Their preparation is farcical, including running every heist movie they can find. They plot
events in the best Asphalt Jungle manner with plans on the wall and a tipped over toy
soldier to represent the librarian. There’s even an imaginary version of the proposed
crime where events go with balletic smoothness.
Layton planned on cutting shots of his actors into the briefing in Ocean’s Eleven but
Stephen Soderbergh wouldn’t go along, so they excerpted The Killing instead.
Soderbergh has since said he was sorry he turned them down. Layton now mutters that The Killing was a whole lot better movie anyway - correctly.
Of course the job unravels.
More important than the narrative development is the handling, including a scene run
backwards to a different opening, melting sidewise juxtapositions and the comments from
the now decade and a half older conspirators who occasionally contradict one another.
Layton both offers and withholds sympathy for his subjects but adds the victims of their
action which we don’t usually see.
The film is curiously free of comment on the notion of any twelve-million dollar volume
of bird drawings and its place in American culture though the makers are clearly aware of
it, using Audibon's flamingo (a thousand dollars to repro each page) as a visual motif and
doing a striking final credit sequence with the art work as title background. Real art
student robber Spencer Reinhard contributed his character’s paintings for the film.
This gets us into an even more curious element as we see the leads are motivated by a
jaded dissatisfaction with the comfortable suburban lives their parents have laid out for
them “to find out what would really happen in real life.” Failed jock Jenner turns on
Keoghan who claims to be drawn by the big pay day and says “Artists are supposed to
Then there’s Sara Colangelo’s The Kindergarten Teacher also on show, a close
adaptation of an Israeli/Argentinian film that we are unlikely to ever get to see. Maggie
Gyllenhaal has what passes in the U.S. mid-day movie for the ideal life. She is a
kindergarten teacher in a nice school. No blackboard jungles here (if the tinies say a bad
word they get a time out). She’s raised two teenagers in a comfortable house in a leafy
suburb. Husband of twenty years Michael Chernus is a bit heavy but he’s still interested
in getting it on. She’s even enrolled in Gael Garcia Bernal’s poetry evening class - what’s
he doing in this one?
However, things are sure to go pear-shaped by the logic that governs the independent
cinema’s depiction of the suburbs. Sure enough, the son is going out for marine training
(“kill people in the desert for oil!”) and the daughter won’t let mum stop her smoking a
joint now that it’s been legalised.
At this point Parker Sevak, one of Maggie’s little charges, starts delivering spontaneous
poetry. It’s a whole lot better than her own which is all about water sprites. The boy’s
proof reader uncle understandably finds Maggie a bit too touchy feely when she calls at
his job and when she finally meets the kid’s bar tending dad, he’s not interested in getting
into anything artsy like his own brother, who now corrects people’s spelling for a living.
|Kindergarted Teacher - Sevak & Gyllenhaal|
Doing her first feature, Colangelo gets value out of a modest indie budget. She used off the board methods like introducing Maggie to the kids in the picture as their real teacher which gave her problems when they got so involved in her activities they didn’t want to take nap times. Colangelo manages the film’s balancing act with some assurance showing that the kindergarten teacher is the one with the vision and understanding that the dad lacks. But he’s the one that’s grounded and she’s the wacko. Maggie has always been able to do sexy without pretty and when she mixes menacing in with that, she’s a force of nature
The audience in the State giggled through the first hour, possibly because this was all a
bit too close to home, and then went quiet when the film got assertive - or they got tired.
The comparison with American Animals is more interesting than most. It's striking to
again find a leads driven by a fear of being average. Is this an accident? Is everyone
suddenly reading "Crime and Punishment" or are these films telling us something about
Trump America that we can't yet see?
Visitor Pen-Ek Ratanaruang is one of the most established of Thailand’s film makers.
He’s worked with Christopher Doyle and Takashi Miike and his Monrak Transistor and
presentable Invisible Waves have had some circulation abroad. That last film has several
connections with his new Samui Song - including a Double Indemnity husband murder
and a pregnancy sub-plot. Its bloody fish tank anticipates the gore stained pottery wheel
in this film.
Samui Song is the first fiction feature the director has come up with in six years, and he
spent two of them editing it. American trained, he acknowledges his debt to Hitchcock.
There’s more of Dial M For Murder with the killing of spouse Stepane Sednaoui, than of
Strangers on a Train which he mentions.
Soap Opera star Laila Chermarn Boonyasak plays a soap opera star who gets fellow
smoker (“a social stigma before lung cancer”) David Asavanond to off husband potter
Sedanoui when the dastard turns her out for Vithaya Pansringarm the leader of his
Bondayakava Buddhist sect.
Suddenly there’s a time shift and a Thai Whale NGO is boating out to the remote
community of Koh Samui with a 35mm movie projector show, after which one of their
team attempts to rape a local. Rescued, the girl gets into a vigorous kiss with our heroine
now subject to plastic surgery and wants to take showers naked with her. We are denied
that, though we did get a protracted shot of Sedanoui masturbating.
Vengeful Asavanond shows up with the organs of his now deceased mother in a ziplock
bag, wanting the star to eat them, only for him to get repeatedly stabbed with a broken
bottle, and then mysteriously shot. The cult leader re-appears for what seems to be a
cynical conclusion pointing exploitation by the patriarchy.
This is all delivered at length in artificial, muted colour with the digital production values
that we might associate with the day time soap drama it references. The mix of
sensationalism and naiveté is not without some fascination. I wonder what its target
audience made of it all.
Pen-Ek Ratanaruang seems like a nice guy and he’s the visible tip of a lot of movie
activity. I wish I liked his Samui Song better.
We now have a documentary to add to the roll call of fiction mine disposal movies. Think
Small Back Room, Ten Seconds to Hell, No Man’s Land, The Hurt Locker or Under
sandet / Land of Mine. Sweden’s Hogir Hirori with Shinwar Kamal has assembled
material on “Crazy” Fakhir the Kurdish deminer Colonel who became obsessed with the
Afghan campaign to the point where he continued his work after one device had taken off
his left leg below the knee.
We are told more about the man and his work after an opening that sees him stiffly
dumping pot bombs by the road side after he has cut the wires off with a small pair of
pliers. He seems alarmingly indifferent to the hazard they represent.
Using videos made of him at work, watched and commented by his family, we trace his
career, coverage of his hospitalisation and fitting with a prosthetic which is so
uncomfortable that he has to take it off in the field. He tries on the protective suit that we
have seen used in The Hurt Locker and Soy Nero but continues only wearing his combat
fatigues. This makes him a marked man for al Qaeda.
Obama’s troop withdrawal led to the occupation of Mosul and, three years after it’s
recapture, the area is still full of hidden explosive devices. Against his urgings, a crowd
follows Fakhir at work and people beg the exhausted officer to check out the homes they
are afraid to re-occupy. The camera crew sharing his risk has to be continually warned
“Don’t come any closer. Don’t make us all die.”
That leaves only the subject matter to hold our attention. We have Fakhir saying that the
children dying from concealed explosives could be his children but we never know
whether he is a war junky or a humanitarian taking a calculated risk. The compelling
study of an individual under pressures that most people can’t imagine is missing. It’s a
great pity that this production gets only half way to being the great movie it might have
been but it does communicate a distaste for combat that destroys bodies and homes for
doubtful gains, that is no small merit.
Italy’s Alba Rowacher dominates Laura Bispuri’s Figlia mia / Daughter of Mine with her
first seen in the long ‘scope tracking with young Sara Casu though the Sardinian fair
ground crowd to reveal Alba, the blonde in the blue off the shoulder number doing one
of the cattle men in the background .
|Figlia Mia - Casu, Rowacher & Golino|
(marginalised in this female dominated piece). Alba wasn’t able to raise the child and
now she’s losing her farm, using the money Golino scrapes up to pay her debts instead to buy back her horses from Udo Keir who plans on shooting them.
The girl is drawn to animal loving, free spirit Alba, bringing her groceries and riding with
her in that nice shot of the tethered horse running alongside their truck.
Seeing it as “Greek Tragedy”, it’s Bispuri’s second time out with Rowacher and she lets
her devour the film to the neglect of other elements. This isn’t the most satisfactory.
Before screening his Phillippino Ang panahon ng halimaw/Season of the Devil the
delegates assured us “You don’t watch a Lav Diaz movie, you experience it”
I can see where they’re coming from after four hours (one of its maker’s shorter ventures)
of wide angle old format black and white minimally edited static shots, where the
characters stand about and sing or recite poetry in Tagalog while wearing masks. Slight
disturbances like overturning a bowl of food or cutting to the heavy’s harangue acquire
shock effect, in this somnolent atmosphere. It’s is not so much boring as tranquilising. If
there wasn’t the nagging feeling that this is time that could be better spent, it could be
quite absorbing. The "lalala" melody embeds itself in the mind.
The plot has concerned city types applaud politically aware poet Piolo Pascual but he
opposes his medico wife Shaina Magdayao going off to rural Bario Ginto - not
unreasonably. We’ve already seen a walking man clubbed down by motor bike riding
goons who leave a “Ako’y rebelde huwag tularan” sign (“I’m a rebel. Don’t imitate me”)
on the body.
When she sets up her clinic, Magdayao suffers all the humiliations of the singing soldiers
and the Janus faced overseer, complete with intimidation, rape and dope addiction, while
the shunned, yam-gathering woman victim and the ineffectual village head add a few
Director Diaz is being taken to their heart by the film festivals community who bracket
him with Bela Tarr and Bruno Dumont. I have that familiar reservation that, though the
Philippines have a bustling traditional film industry, we never get to see those but Brecht
in the Barrios has its way made smooth.
This one is shot in Malaysia presumably because it conflates it’s 1979 setting with the
Duterte regime and back references to movie star leaders, Marcos and Martial Law.
We get more fuzzy time logic with Christian Petzold’s Transit but going from one
film to the other makes a striking contrast. Petzold has levered himself into prominence
with the sub-titles set with a succession of accomplished German movies featuring the
statuesque (for want of a better word) Nina Hoss. He has acquired remarkable assurance. In the new film, angles are expertly chosen and the performers are choreographed around
the shots impeccably. His work holds attention in a way that Diaz can't approach and
would probably shun if he could.
|Transit - Rogowski & Petzold|
focusses on Franz Rogowski (Haneke's Happy End) who is trying to flee Paris as the
Germans advance. References are made to the Velodrome undeterred by the fact that the
traffic in the street is 2018 vehicles and we get line patterned security video. An errand delivering the mail to a fugitive writer finds the man evoked by the blood stained mop at his hotel. Smuggled to Marseilles in a house on a rail car (The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet anyone?), escaping the patrols and presenting himself at the American Embassy to hand in the writer’s MSS and papers, Rogowski is welcomed as the author himself by officials who have never seen him. This conveniently provides him with a berth on a ship with transit to Mexico. He keeps on bumping into Paula Beer, who mistakes him for her missing husband, and he also meets young black soccer fan Lilien Batman and his mother Maryam Zaree waiting for the boy’s now dead father.
Rogowski calls doctor Godehard Giese (glimpsed in The Book Thief) to treat the boy.
Other members of the fleeing Jewish community include dog minder lady Barbara Auer
(Nikolaikirche and still looking good) who has a nice scene being forced to beg a meal
from Rogowski. The narrator is revealed as sympathetic bar man Matthias Brandt.
This lot mill around until the plot reduces itself to a Casablanca rip-off and the Twenty
First Century Cruise Liner pulls out of Marseilles harbour. Every time we are getting
involved with the characters, another anachronism breaks the flow - modern US marine
sentries, Dawn of the Dead, reference to the C.I.A. This is presumably meant to give the
piece a wider resonance. It doesn’t, which is a pity because Transit is involving without
More identity theft in Aneesh Chaganty’s American Searching. It may seem trendy but
there’s really nothing new about it, with a history running from all those Ruskie
adaptations of Gogol’s 1842 “The Government Inspector” through To Be Or Not to Be
and Martin Guerre to current work like Leo Gabriadzae’s Unfriended & Nacho
Vigalondo’s Open Windows, Matthew Solomon’s Chatter and Cyril Morin’s Hacker’s
Game to work up an expanding list.
Searching kicks off with video diary footage of the arrival of John Cho’s baby and the
death of its mother leaving him as a single dad losing touch with now teenage Michelle
La. Yes it’s Movie of the Week staple, the parent’s worst fear as Cho finds his daughter
has gone missing. Detective Debra Messing is on the case.
The attempt to make up an entire film from video screen material seems to have failed even with internet material, News transmissions and laptop communications. The makers
find themselves falling back on dramatic feature devices like cutting closer and using
their own background music.
Suspense and novelty are wiped out by a dumb ending.
The eight year wait for Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) to make a new film has concluded
with her new Leave No Trace which once again centers on a strong central performance
by a teenage girl and on people living on the fringe of American society.
Vietnam vet Ben Foster has been raising his teenage daughter Thomasin Harcourt
McKenzie hidden away in a National Park in Portland, Oregon. The most interesting part
of the film is their survivalist lifestyle - solar cooking wild mushrooms to save on
propane, rainwater collected for showers, eggshells around the edge of their cultivated
patch, implements hidden in a pit, concealment drills. Ben has a line in selling off his
Veteran’s Hospital meds to the street people.
It of course unravels when she is spotted and they are tracked by police dogs. They are
taken into custody and the suspicious social worker (“Have you ever been touched”) is
impressed by Foster’s home schooling and care but insists that the girl has to be
socialised and tells them they can’t live in a National Park, placing them in a house
owned by a sympathetic Xmas tree plantation farmer. Harcourt McKenzie learns to ride
the bike the social worker provides. It's “We don’t need those things” and Ben demands
“Pack your things”.
Riding the rails doesn’t work out so they travel coach and are nearly caught. They have to
convince a driver that they’re not up to anything suspicious before he’ll let them ride in
his truck. Going off road in Washington State has them huddling in fern shelters with
steam on their breath but - and here the piece loses traction - they stumble on a
community of dropped out veterans who are willing to take them in.
|Leave No Trace - McKenzie & Foster.|
than the mean urban environments and institutions. McKenzie ‘s return to find the
encyclopaedia she learned from sodden and grubby is telling. However the notion of an idealised drop out community is no more convincing here than the Trailer Park in Grapes of Wrath, the farm in Easy Rider (“They do their own thing in their own time”) or the model village in Major Barbara.
OK independent production values, with the performances and contrasted settings strong elements.
There aren’t too many films about movie editors. The exceptional documentary about
Walter Murch seems to have evaporated. That makes Alex Grigor’s comprehensive study
of Australia's internationally established Jill Bilcock, Dancing the Invisible even more significant.
This one steadily turns out to be a history of Oz production.
After following the traditional path of sixties Australians traveling Europe & India before
finding a footing in the TV boom, “this young blonde thing” Bilcock became part of the
local TV scene. The ambition of Fred Schepsi’s commercials from this period collected
here is impressive. The success of Baz Luhrman’s films made Bilcock an international
name and she clocked up an interesting body of work which isn’t over yet, alternating
Hollywood and Australia.
It’s impressive to see how much footage of her at work the team was able to assemble.
Also interesting to see her output change when she shifts from physical editing to the
Short films include Emily Avila’s local Fitting which is a model of its kind. The older
woman is fitted for a bra after her mastecomy with the assistance of the inexperienced
sales. Utmost delicacy in handling its sensitive subject and professional finish. Dev Patel
from Slumdog Millionaire contributed the professionally finished satire of Home
Shopping - stay at home wife employs all the items she’s bought from the home shopping
channel on the husband who launches into a “barren womb” harangue. David Oeo’s
Spanish Jaula simulates cell ‘phone coverage.
Cartoons selected from a couple thousand entries and hived off to a program in a less accessible venue were dominated by Picasso outlines giving birth to offspring with teeth. They did run to the new George Plimpton, Cop Dog the sixth of his “Guard Dog” series with the pooch checking airports looking for drugs, which was agreeably more of the same.
Of course what I saw is only a section of the material on show. On a different schedule I might have come to a different conclusion. If this lot was spread out over the year in a Cinematheque I would certainly have felt more charitably disposed towards it.
Well, it's Sydney Australia and you do the best with what's provided.