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[Sydney Film Festival 2010] Film Review: Indonesia Calling

In Arts, Film Reviews, Sydney Film Festival 2010 on June 4, 2010 at 9:48 pm


Indonesia Calling: Joris Ivens in Australia (AUSTRALIA)

This is a documentary about a documentary. One of its many subjects is filmmaker Joris Ivens’ 1946 Indonesia Calling, a film about the Aussie trade union blockade of Dutch shipping, an act of support for the recently declared republic of Indonesia (up until then, the country had been a Dutch colony).

That film’s touchy political bent was not taken to kindly by the Dutch, who were still holding on to their imperialist past and were bitter about Ivens – also Dutch – who had resigned in protest as the Netherlands East Indies Film Commissioner. His leave in Australia during the time he made Calling, suggests director John Hughes, was also instrumental in creating Australia’s lively independent film culture.

At least, that’s the Cliffs Notes version, necessary if one is to take anything concrete away from this muddled, overly dry experience. The source material could be fascinating in less forlorn hands, but Hughes seems more interested in editorial tricks than telling a coherent story.

We get little sense of Ivans’ the filmmaker or Ivans’ the man, and the scattershot interviews and droning narration numbs. Unless you have personal ties to the story – which one feels the partisan audience at this opening screening did – you’re be better served diving into Ivens’ 50-odd filmography of political and social documentaries.

The film was preceded by a much more impressive short by Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann, The Lost Thing, an odd little CG-animated fairy tale narrated by Tim Minchin. [JB]

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[Sydney Film Festival 2010] Film Review: Two in the Wave

In Arts, Film Reviews, Sydney Film Festival 2010 on June 4, 2010 at 9:36 pm


Two in the Wave (FRANCE)

Godard and Truffaut – are there any other names in movies that inspire such reverence and passion? As the defining members of La Nouvelle Vague – the surge of form-changing films that emerged from France in early 1960s – their assuredness and inventiveness changed cinema and created a generation of cinephiles. For those devotees of the Paris Cinematheque, and for an generation to follow, films were not just “art” but a way of life.

In Two in the Wave, Emmanuel Laurent superbly mashes archival footage, movie clips and newsreels (Bernard Herrmann’s jaunty newsreel music from Citizen Kane even appears) and crafts a portrait of Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Trauffaut’s friendship, creative and personal, through to its final dissolution shortly after the release of the latter’s Day for Night in 1973. At that time, Godard – the more political and iconoclastic of the two – wrote his contemporary a critical letter attacking his lack of political nuance. This prompted a twenty page reply from the infuriated Truffaut. They would never meet again.

The film doesn’t delve into what happened next, the movement’s influence or Hollywood’s eventual film-brat response in the late sixties and early seventies, instead restraining itself to a study of the now mythical visionaries and their work, especially, the pivotal The 400 Blows and A bout de soufflé (Breathless).

One of the many ideological differences that would strain their relationship came from frequent collaborator, actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, who starred as Truffaut’s alter ego, Antoine Doinel, in Blows. With his significant influence, Laruent could have titled his film, “Three in the Wave,” to no lesser effect. [JB]

[Sydney Film Festival 2010] Film Review: Possessed

In Arts, Film Reviews, Sydney Film Festival 2010 on June 4, 2010 at 9:08 pm


Possessed (SOUTH KOREA)

Do we really need another movie with crazy religious mothers? Didn’t Piper Laurie’s loony from Carrie teach us anything?
Bo-Yeon Kim plays the offending matriarch in this case, mother of Hee-jin (Sang-Mi Nam) and the younger 14-year old So-jin (Shim Eun-Kyung), who’s gone missing. Rumour has it she’s possessed, something mum deals with an excessive amount of prayer. A matter of fact cop shows up, wanting to explain the case in a fast, non-supernatural manner, but the supposed-suicides keep rolling on and protagonist Hee-jin’s seems to be at the centre of it all. What gives?

This film– which is more thriller than horror – starts well but soon drowns in a muddle of overdone melodrama and clichéd suspense sequences (creepy hangings, levitating bodies and, “could there be a monster under the bed…?”). First-time director Yong-Joo Lee creates a disturbing atmosphere, but there’s little invention here, and the expositional flashbacks are too much “tell”, not enough “show.”

It’s also a pity that the film’s most amusing character, a mental guard who rants about evil spirits, is killed in the first 20 minutes, found in a sea of vomit by our intrepid detective.

Still, technical credits are impressive, and Lee does pull of a satisfying ending. The closest literal translation of the title is “Hell of the Non-Believers”, which gives you a good idea for what you in for. Generic, but decent K-horror. [JB]

[Sydney Film Festival 2010] Film Review: Howl

In Arts, Film Reviews, Sydney Film Festival 2010 on June 4, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Howl (USA)

James Franco may not be the most obvious choice to play poet Allen Ginsberg given his filmography, but he’s an inspired one. Sporting enough of a resemblance thanks to his dark hair and glasses, Franco is captivating, especially when reading excerpts from Ginsberg’s collection of poems, Howl.

These sequences are shot in black and white, and have an improvised, jazzy feel to them – not, one feels, by accident. Ginsberg’s poetry has a frank lyricism to it, and its stream of consciousness creativity is like the improv of a sensitive musician or dancer. “Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls…” and so it goes.

The overt sexuality of his writing was the subject of a 1957 “obscenity” trial brought against the poem’s domestic publisher, the manager of the City Lights Bookstore in San Fran, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. That farcical court-room drama is the throughline of the film, with the always great David Strathain as the prosecutor, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as the more articulate leader of the defence, and Jeff Daniels as one of the many academic witnesses called to testify. These scenes, drawn, unbelievably, from the court transcripts revolve around the issue of Ginsberg’s (implicit) homosexuality, censorship and the role of art and drew frequent chuckles from the packed State Theatre audience.

Otherwise, co-directors/writers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have us flipping between the aforementioned readings (accompanied by some quite brilliant and surreal animation), Franco’s take on Ginsberg’s interviews regarding on his life and his art, and dramatised sequences of his love affairs, especially, with life-long partner, Peter Orlovsky (Aaron Tveit). Like Ginsberg’s work, Howl, the film, is itself a poem; a muse on creativity, improvisation and freedom of expression. [JB]

NB – Producer Christine K Walker was on hand to introduce the film. She also features on the June 5 midday panel regarding Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime, which she also produced.