Seven days straight in a dark movie theatre can only mean one thing for Sydneysiders; the end of the first week of the Sydney Film Festival. Spread over four cinemas including the majestic State Theatre, this years festival has gathered together a wealth of cinematic pleasures. Here are a few of my highlights so far.
Things kicked off with the gala screening of the much-touted La Vie En Rose and for the most part Olivier Dahan’s epic retelling of the life of French chanteuse Edith Piaf lived up to the hype. The film was a tad too long and the modern editing techniques sometimes jarred with the unfolding story but the central performance from Marion Cottilard was spell binding.
The festival’s line up perfectly mixed mainstream enjoyment with esoteric eclecticism. Guy Maddin’s extraordinary Brand Upon the Brain combined surreal imagery, pitch-black humour and silent movie techniques to often-hilarious effect. Lukas Moodysson’s Container, however, took a similar approach but the random black and white imagery set to a narration by actress Jena Malone managed to bemuse most. The film provoked a multitude of reactions including a healthy amount of walkouts. On the flip side the likes of Lee Sang-il’s Hula Girls and Thomas Villum Jensen’s Clash of Egos provided laughs a plenty. There were also happy faces abound at the early morning screening of the sparkling restored print of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T. A revelation for anyone who has only seen the film on its rare black and white screenings on television; the film showed how poor the recent cinematic forays into the weird world of Dr Seus really were.
The documentary Danny Williams: A Walk Into The Sea told the story of one of the unsung heroes of Andy Warhols Factory. Featuring interviews with Billy Name, John Cale and the ever-irascible Paul Morrissey, the film included some amazing footage from the Velvet Underground performing at one of the infamous Exploding Plastic Inevitable nights. As a huge fan of the subject matter the film was enthralling and also added some incite into the recurring question of who actually directed some of the earlier Warhol films.
A revelation came in the form of two films by Icelandic director Ragnar Bragason, Children and Parents. Companion pieces inspired by Mike Leigh and featuring the same troupe of actors,;the films were a brutally honest look at life in the suburbs and follow the lives of some suitably dysfunctional families. Shocking outbursts of violence punctuate the films giving them an unnerving edge. Children in particular, is a highlight of the festival thus far.
British cinema was represented by two incredibly different but equally as enthralling films. Hallam Foe was a bizarre coming of age tale starring Jamie Bell as a peeping tom with a penchant for habiting high-level abodes. Bell was excellent as the titular character and it was certainly an unpredictable black comedy. There was nothing funny, however, about Paul Andrew Williams harrowing London to Brigton. Following a prostitute and a street kid on the run from a pimp, the film dares to delve into the seedy and unnerving world of child prostitution with unflinching daring. In fact the film only descends into cliché when the oft over glamorised cockney gangsters of the London underworld rear their ugly heads. The performances of the two leads are amazing in their honesty, in particular the young Georgia Groome is a face to watch in the future. This is a remarkable debut that pulls no punches and demands to be seen.
There were far too many more highlights to mention; Bella and Antonia also come highly recommended and it has to be said that so far the quality threshold has been very high indeed. Great news considering what we have to come next week. Thumbs up to new artistic director Clare Stewart and her crew. Check out www.cinephilia.net.au soon for full reviews of many of the films I have seen.