Annette Willis previews her picks of the flicks at the 49th Sydney Film Festival
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Ghost World is Zwigoff’s feature debut. Some may remember Crumb, the wonderfully intimate documentary about the weird and surreal underground cartoonist Robert Keep on Truckin’ Crumb, which Zwigoff made in 1994. This time Zwigoff takes on Dan Clowe’s cult comic book, Ghost World, and looks at misfits and conformity in America.
It is the best American indie film I have seen in years and stars the very talented duo of Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson. Steve Buscemi is excellent too. Not to be missed, Ghost World opens the New Directors program at the Dendy Opera Quays, but will also be commercially released at the end of June.
Director: Kim Ki-duk
Bad Guy (Na-bbun-nam-ja) is South Korean avant-garde director Kim Ki-duk’s seventh film -“ not bad considering that his debut feature, Crocodile, appeared in 1996. Ki-duk has variously been a factory worker, a painter in Paris and an NCO in the Korean Marines. He considers himself a misfit and non-mainstream. All of these influences show in his work.
In Korea, his films are described as grotesque because they are often filled with destruction, rape and murder, which doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation. Bad Guy is a strange film but is also very compelling viewing. Within the context of a brothel and the underworld of gangsters and stand-over types, Ki-duk explores anger, awkwardness, non-conformity and sex as a way of understanding others.
The film is unsentimental and the violence stylised. It is probably a bit too long and convoluted at the end but it is perfectly clear why this film was so highly recommended by festival director Gayle Lake. Bad Guy is one of four Korean films in the festival and screens at the State Theatre in the first week of the festival.
Following the tradition established by Louis Malle’s Au Revoir, Les Enfants, which told the story of boys in an institution in Nazi-occupied France, comes eminent Hungarian director rp?Sopsits’ Abandoned (Torz? Like Malle’s film, Abandoned is autobiographical and is set in a home for boys in early 60s Hungary, fresh from the turmoil of the 1956 revolution. Sopsit also takes inspiration from Nietzsche’s Abandoned.
All the performances are powerful, especially nine-year-old Tamas Meszaros, who is luminous as Aron, the boy abandoned by his father. Peter Szatmari’s cinematography creates a Dickensian, moody feel for the film. Abandoned will have resonance for Australian audiences as the 1956 revolution prompted many to flee the oppressive regime in Hungary and settle in other countries, including Australia. This brilliant, unsentimental film has won awards at many international festivals and provides insight into a world long hidden from view. Abandoned screens at the State Theatre in the second week of the festival.
Director: Sergei Bodrov Jr
Bodrov Jr, the son of veteran Russian director Sergei Bodrov, is best known as an actor, primarily for his performance in the films Brother and Brother 2. Sisters (Siostry) is a take of sorts on the gangster-esque Brother films and it marks Bodrov Jr’s debut as a feature film director.
Sisters is the story of two half sisters, aged eight and 13, on the run from Russian Mafiosi types who want to kidnap and ransom the younger one. Fortunately, the older sister is in training to be a sniper in Chechnya. This is a rare Russian film, short at 85 minutes, part noir in its depiction of gritty St Petersburg with gangland chases and violence, but also part road movie comedy with Bollywood touches that sees the two girls bonding through belly dancing. The music alone is fabulous. Sisters screens at the State Theatre in the first week of the festival.
Director: Ann Hui
Manchurian-born veteran female Hong Kong director Ann Hui is probably best known for the 80s Vietnam Trilogy and for using women in creative roles in her film crews. July Rhapsody (Nan Ren Si Shi) is her latest feature. Interestingly, in Chinese the title translates to Man In His 40s. This is probably more related to the content of the film than its title in English.
July Rhapsody looks at the marriage between a high school teacher and his wife of 20 years, also his former high school sweetheart. Although only a small film in its scope, July Rhapsody is quietly powerful and well shot whilst still dealing with the bigger themes of love, loyalty and relationships. At the same time, Hui ensures non-Asian audiences gain insights into the importance of poetry to ordinary Chinese. Jacky Cheung (Dragon Time) and Anita Mui (Dance Of A Dream) are excellent as the husband and wife at the centre of the drama and it’s refreshing to see a film out of Hong Kong more in the vein of Wong Kar-Wai’s In The Mood For Love than the latest Jackie Chan kung fu kickfest. July Rhapsody screens at the State Theatre in the first week of the festival.
Director: Jarmo Lampela
A military plane flies over the rural town of ?nekoski in Finland and a sonic boom is heard by everyone. The River (Joki) is Finnish director Lampela’s second feature film and is delivered with confidence and empathy. Initially he wanted to call the film Feeling but decided on The River after hearing about a young woman who tried to drown herself and her baby. The film is built around six intersecting episodes which happen simultaneously over one hour on an autumn day. This is a small film which, if anything, is too short to do justice to all the characters but nevertheless is a good study of emotions and the moments of choice each of us are confronted with in our lives. There is also a gay character in the ensemble. The River screens at the State Theatre in the first week of the festival.