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Sydney Film Festival - Day 15: The Day After

by Michael Collins

The last day of the film festival comes after the closing night film. Well yes Thank You for Smoking (I keep on wanting to say, Thank You for Not Smoking, but I guess thatís the point.) was shown on the last night, but there was an encore day with three extra films that came in late. Two of them had top quality pedigree with the Palm DíOr winner The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Robert Altmanís newy A Prairie Home Companion.

The three sessions sold out so it was certainly a worthwhile decision to add these last minute additions to the festival program.

Before we got to the big hitters for the day though came Boss Nova. It was a documentary about the style of music that has taken the worldís elevators and on-hold music recordings by storm.

Thatís a little unfair of this benign music and this documentary knows it. So it works to dispel our misconceptions of this music and tell the story of how this music came about.

Well itís not exactly a story of struggling artists kicking it against The Man here. This was the music that was the product of the middle class during a time of socio-economic stability. Doesnít sound that exciting really does it?

These comfortably well off people (at the time) made this comfortable music. Itís smooth, restrained and quiet. Weíre not talking rock ní roll or hip hop here.

The people behind the music have interesting stories to tell, and it is certainly good to learn more about this music that is usually set aside by most of us. The film itself though is nothing special, shot on video it doesnít look all that dazzling or illuminating. The archive footage is cool though as we see a world that is long gone.

Next up was Robert Altman reminding us why he is such a great director with A Prairie Home Companion. This film tells the story of an old time variety radio show that is performing its last show after getting the axe from the owners.

The movie is essentially a concert film with some extra bits that propel a story around the performers and their last show before the owners turn the theatre into a much needed car park.

A Prairie Home Companion Ė which is an actual radio show Ė shows of entertainment of a bygone era. This stuff here is very old school. It all has a Good Olí Boys feel about it - what with all the country music and weary old jokes - but it has a lot of charm.

As with all Altman films thereís a lot going on under the surface. Itís not much of a stretch to see the commentary of business belligerence taking over small pockets of culture.

This bitter political attack is done so charmingly though. You donít feel like youíve been beaten into submission and despair when receiving this message from Altman.

The same canít be said, however, for The Wind That Shakes the Barley. This is the Palme DíOr winner for 2006 and a worthy winner it is, but oh man, itís a depressing film.

Beautifully photographed, brilliantly written, compelling performances, there is no doubt this film deserves the accolades it has received.
Itís hard to give it justice, so letís just talk about my experience of the film.

There was a scene in this film that made me sweat. Iíve seen other films with similar situations, but no film has made me sweat. Such is the mastery of Loachís filmmaking.

This was quite a deflating way to end the festival. I left the film well down on the high that was left after Altmanís effort. The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a great film, but donít be suicidal when you go see this ok?

So that wrapped up the festival. It was a high note to finish with respect to quality, but definitely a low emotionally.

I was struck how accessible most of the films were that I saw. Sure there were a couple of films that were so left of field that they werenít even in the same ball park (Hello: Battle in Heaven and Mutual Appreciation!), but overall the films were very accessible.

Every time I went to the movie listings board out in the foyer of the State Theatre more and more films were listed as sold out. That again is a good sign for the festival and presumably approval from the punters for the new ticketing system. The festival was a great success.

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originally posted: 06/27/06 20:38:08
last updated: 07/14/06 04:47:47
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