Ten Films to Watch for from the Sydney Film Festival

Ten highlights from the Sydney Film Festival that you should look out for on movie screens around the world.

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.

1. Norwegian Wood

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.


2. Sleeping Beauty

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.


3. Armadillo

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.


4. Le Quattro Volte

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.


5. Life in a Day

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.


6. Tucker & Dale vs Evil

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’.


7. The Trip

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.


8. Cairo 678

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.


9. Khodorkovsky

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.


10. The Turin Horse

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.





'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.