Looking for Eric
Opens September 24, 2009
Australian audiences may not quite feel like Looking For Eric, after Ken Loach’s stunt at the recent Melbourne Film Festival. The filmmaker unceremoniously withdrew his film after his request for all monies from the State of Israel be boycotted, was politely refused. The fracas made headlines around the world, and probably has done little to endear Loach to local cinemagoers.
That said, Looking For Eric is quite a thoughtful and affectionate look at football fanatics, which should resonate with impassioned film fans. It is a tale of two Erics, which sees down-and-out postman Eric Bishop (Steve Evets) fraught at the prospect of reconnecting with his ex-wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop), whom he literally left holding the baby some 20-odd years ago.
Woeful, Eric’s well-meaning mates perform a group therapy intervention and attempt some positive visualisation. Surprisingly, Eric – with a few of his stepson’s splifs – is able to conger himself a legendary life coach in the form of football superstar Eric Cantona. Together the Erics muse over the meaning of life and love, and help save the postman from himself.
The phantom Cantona is well executed by the wooden, French philosophic footballer. And Evet’s at turns dejected and effusive Eric nicely compliments this Gallic stoicism. Indeed Paul Laverty‘s screenplay is at its best when Eric is starry eyed with his idol or at the bottom of a pint with his mates. However the film is weakened by the gangster subplot (though it does make for an amusing climax) and by Loach’s curious decision to stray away the kitchen-sink and a real investigation of mental illness.
Instead, rather uncharacteristically, Loach forgoes realism for fable. Looking For Eric is a film that seems to ascribe to its protagonist’s philosophy about football; it’s an opportunity to get together with your mates and forget about your life for a couple of hours.
Released September 24, 2009
Billed as “Australia’s first Indigenous comedy”, there’s something amiable about this often funny film that mixes filthy humour with timely jabs at race-relations.
The absurd frizzy-haired and dope-smoking Charlie (Leon Burchill) joins his more sensible but equally doped up buddy Eddie (Luke Carroll) on his quest to return a precious rock to his family. Setting off on the 600km trip West from Perth to Kalgoolie in a boxy-old Ford, they quickly fill the car with smoke before picking up an Italian rock-wannabe, Vinnie, who looks a lot like Russell Brand but with a less ridiculous accent. From there, they’re off a road-movie adventure that also involves drag queen Reggie (or is that Regina?), prison, evil spiders and a demonic puppy.
The gags are hit and miss; frequently a zinger will be followed by awkward audience silence and the plot is merely an excuse to create mayhem. What come across most strongly is writer/director Richard J. Frankland’s genuine love for his characters, love for the land, respect for family and the importance of reconciliation. By conveying this message though comedy he cleverly makes his obvious intent more palatable.
Shot on location in Western Australia, little time is spent savouring the vast landscape, the screenplay instead jumping from one incident to another. While mostly adhering to some semblance of reality, it is weakened by an absurd sequence where our heroes are chased by a possessed dog with glowing blue eyes. Poorly assembled, it looks like its been pulled from an episode of The Goodies but with none of their comedic timing. A key moment with a persistent spider living in their car also misfires – problems that could have been easily solved simply with a quick rewrite and tighter editing.
These imperfections however, do not overly dampen a film admirable in theme and spirit, and merely just add to its goofball charm.
Sydney Underground Film Festival
Reviewed September 10-13, 2009.
The Sydney Underground Film Festival has an important role in Australia’s festival landscape; that of flying the flag for the cinematic avant-garde. Running for four days and featuring 122 films, including 11 features, the festival brings together a diverse selection of experimental and avant-garde films.
The festival kicked off in fine fashion with The Yes Men Fix the World, a funny and provocative comedy featuring the world’s most unique anti-capitalist activists, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno. The film perfectly set the tone for the festivals anti-corporate ethos; an ideology close to the heart of the festival’s curators Stefan Popescu and Katherine Berger.
A host of films at this year’s festival conformed to this ideology, but it was the American documentary, Blue Gold: World Water Wars, a film which prophetically documents the world’s deepening water crisis, which proved to be the most powerful and insightful.
The SUFF’s program was comprised of a virtually symmetrical division of Australian content and international. Of the 11 features, only two were Australian, and due to a tight schedule I was only able to see one. Chris Butler’s Life with Ashley, an intimate and realistic portrait of Butler’s younger sister’s adolescent yearnings, was a touch too close to the mundane for this particular critic, and coupled with poor production values, the film bordered on the unwatchable.
Most of the festival’s Australian selections were part of the experimental shorts genre, and although there were some undeniably evocative and challenging Aussie shorts such as Your Friendly Local Butcher, Kitty Green‘s Split and Ben Claremont’s poetically touching Eulogy, unfortunately it was the international content, both short and feature length, which provided most of the festival’s highlights.
Amidst a program almost exclusively made up of contemporary films it was actually John Waters’ quintessential underground classic, Pink Flamingos, which proved the highlight of the program. The scratch and sniff smell cards which accompanied the film added an extra touch of the grotesque to an already ludicrous film, and with the entire audience captivated by not only the happenings on screen, but also the smells permeating throughout the theatre, the atmosphere for this Saturday night screening was truly intoxicating.
With over 120 films screened, SUFF is quite an experience, and one made very much worthwhile, by the eclectic nature of the festival’s program. All the festival curators need to work on for next year is tightening up the program’s erratic and frustrating scheduling.