FilmFest 2012: the stories so far
The weather here in Sydney has been unutterably dreadful for the last couple of weeks. Fortunately, it is also a good time for watching football at ungodly times of the night, as well as this:
Hooray for Sydney Filmfest!
It's been a strange experience this year, because none of my usual film-going companions have been able to make it - they have a sense of responsibility towards their families, it turns out - so I have been flying solo. That's fine, I often go to the movies on my own anyhow, but it has been frustrating not being able to discuss some ambiguities post-movie.
If you've caught any of these, get in touch!
So, what have I seen?
Shut Up and Play the Hits (Co-curated with Vivid and thus covered elsewhere)
Lore - Cate Shortland's historical drama follows a family led by a teenage girl through Germany at the end of WW2. The scenario is familiar from numerous other films, but the twist is that this is a German family steeped in Nazi philosophy. Lore herself must have been around 3 years old when Hitler came to power, and her bewilderment at Germany's collapse is clear, particularly when the family meet a resourceful Jewish lad who helps them out.
It's a compelling film with a superb central performance, but it is slightly marred by some arthouse cliches. The camera weaves through long grass as sunlight dapples the scene, a girl dances in slo-mo, arms aloft.
Dreams of a Life - I had high hopes for this British documentary that were only partially realised. The central story tells of an attractive, smart young woman called Joyce Carol Vincent who died in her London flat but wasn't reported missing for 3 years. The bulk of the film consists of interviews with former friends and lovers (the family declined to take part), many of whom become interesting characters in themselves. It's a fascinating, terribly sad tale, but it probably would have been better off with 30 minutes less running time.
There is a tremendous moment from Joyce's unlikely ex, Martin (nice but not handsome and not so smart), who provides a heartbreaking linguistic slippage;
"I wish she had called, because I would have helped her, because I love you."
I, Anna - This thriller is consistently interesting throughout, but the final revelations are rather deflating. Worth seeing though, as you would expect from a cast headed up by Charlotte Rampling, Gabriel Byrne and Eddie Marsan. I was also impressed with the way the Barbican area of London was shot, I've never seen my home city looking quite like that.
Tabu -A black-and-white, European pastiche of old movies shot in 4:3 ratio? Somebody's after a Best Picture Oscar.
Actually, this overlong piece is far too clever for its own good, and not an iota as entertaining as The Artist. The first half shows the death of a lonely elderly woman in Lisbon and the second an extended flashback to her heyday in colonial Africa, to no great end.
Final Whistle - I always end up seeing an Iranian film at the SFF, and this is perhaps the least remarkable. It's OK I guess, but I ended up sympathising more with the selfish husband rather than the moral wife, which I'm sure wasn't the intention.
Hara-Kiri; Death of a Samurai - After all of this bleak stuff, I was hoping for some scimitar-wielding 3D mayhem from this. But no. The melodramatic central section in which all of the most sympathetic characters die was, I think, the point at which I gave up entirely.
Putting my own emotional state to one side, the interesting premise is fairly well sustained until the perfunctory finale, but (this is a theme of the festival) it is definitely too long. There is also an utterly baffling plot elision that made me think I missed something, but I have nobody to check with.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - The best film I have seen this year.
A synopsis is inadequate to give an idea of this elusive and complex story. A group of officials accompany a pair of criminals through the hills of Anatolia at night, searching for the spot at which a murder victim was buried. It's a classic set-up but we gradually lose interest in the central plot and become far more engaged with the various men (this is a very male story) and their personal concerns.
This is the longest film I've seen, but it is perfectly judged and not a minute is wasted. It's a tragic tale, but it is extremely funny. And it is full of unexplained mysteries yet supremely satisfying.
2 films to go - I'll blog about them next week - but for now it's back to the sodden world outside.