[5 July 2011]
Ten highlights from the Sydney Film Festival that you should look out for on movie screens around the world. These include a stunning adaptation of a classic Haruki Murakami novel, a film that’s kissing cousins with Restrepo and The Hurt Locker, and the latest from Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr among many other superb new film works.
Tran Anh Hung’s bold adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s novel has a visual elegance and sophistication not seen since Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love. A tremendously sad, assured film that immerses you in its emotional palette.
The controversial and much-discussed Australian film screening in competition, produced by Jane Campion and directed by novelist Julia Leigh. I admired its meticulous deliberation, and feel that much of the criticism towards it has missed the point. Regardless of how you feel about it afterwards, it’s an unforgettable movie-going experience.
This Danish documentary follows a group of soldiers on a war base in Afghanistan, following in the footsteps of Restrepo and The Hurt Locker; it’s still one of few films that has been willing to look at the war head-on, and is able to capture many aspects of a soldier’s life, from actual combat to soporific periods of half-distracted nothingness back at base. Pricklingly intense.
A highly original Italian film that distinguishes itself based on its very premise: it is an attempt to depict Pythagoras’ theory of the four ‘stages’ of life: human, animal, vegetable and mineral. Reaction to it was somewhat mixed among audiences, but the film’s wondrously long and languid scenes are worth the admission alone, and it has a sun-drenched feel of Southern Italy about it.
The first high-profile YouTube feature film promised not to be a letdown, and sure enough it delivered; taking on at different times the feel of a documentary, a one-day news report, and a Six Degrees of Separation project, Life in a Day pieces together all those submissions from that one day in human history. We get to see snippets of life from all different corners of the globe, but the film raises potentially more interesting questions about the metaphysics of film itself, how you edit and create one, especially with so many stories vying for space in the 90 minutes contained here.
The festival’s funniest film, this mocks horror conventions with more panache than Scream or Shaun of the Dead. After last year’s Winter’s Bone and its ‘hillbilly-noir’ niche, this Deliverance / Hills Have Eyes spoof is spearheaded by uproarious performances from Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine; it can perhaps be bestowed the moniker ‘hillbilly-rouge’.
I wasn’t a fan of Michael Winterbottom’s last film The Killer Inside Me, but here he has jumped on a comedy of quite a different note, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. I say comedy, but it has an infused sense of sadness amongst the humor as only the British can do, and the combined Northern English landscape and their culinary adventures make for a pretty spectacular backdrop.
Structured like an Arabic version of Paul Haggis’s Crash, this tackles the sexual harassment and repression of women in Egypt, and is boosted by strong performances from all three of its female leads, including Egyptian pop-star Bushra. Compared to A Separation, it is somewhat blunt and heavy-handed at getting its points across at times, but still worth seeing.
Cyril Tuschi’s documentary on the Russian billionaire-now-prisoner has been a word-of-mouth sensation both here and at Berlin. A bold and innovative depiction of Khodorkovsky’s ordeal, it has itself been subject to some suspect happenstances.
Rumored to be the swansong of Hungarian director Béla Tarr, this bleak film is a work of apocalyptic force. Structured like Waiting for Godot, a father and daughter have only each other and their horse as a storm rages furiously outside. Over five days, they repeat the same daily menial tasks, only to be subsumed in darkness at the film’s end. Shot in stark black-&-white, guided by a groaning dirge, over two hours long: for those wanting a proper Eastern European sensibility, this is for you.