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Sydney Film Festival Diary Days 12 and 13
by Michael Collins

The festival came into the final stretch with the 12th and always difficult 13th day. It's around this time that you desperately hope that some gem will pop up to restore your faith in film to make up for all the torture - and that's exactly what happened.

DAY 12

Day 12 for me started with the Korean short MOTHER TONGUE. A touching little story of a Korean girl telling the story of how as a child she sent audio letters to her father who was living and working in Australia. It was interesting to see a moment captured in time like that - A moment in time where the participants can’t remember themselves.

We’ve had more than our fair share of Iranian films in the festival over the last few years. Often touching on feminist themes, one of those films included The Circle in last year’s festival. The Circle’s writer Kambuzia Partovi, returns with I’M TARENAH, 15 - a wonderful little piece of self-affirmation.

Tarenah’s a smart girl in school who lives with her grandmother whilst her widowed father is in jail. She becomes eventually engaged to Amir, a salesman recently returned from Germany who had been pestering her for a while. The engagement doesn’t last though and Amir goes back to Germany. Tarenah finds that she is pregnant and must face the decision of what to do with the baby.

A great performance from Tarenah Alidoosti was central to this involving story. I found myself being totally sucked in emotionally into this film. I was desperately hoping things would turn out ok for her and when something difficult happened you felt so sorry for her. I desperately hoped that film was going to have a happy ending.

That’s down to good writing and the good central performance.

The film also helped with the cultural fears that some people may have. In this film we see Iranian people eating cheeseburgers and listening to The Spice Girls.

It was also interesting to see how Tarenah was keeping her modesty. Even when in a scene when she is in her own home alone in bed or showing her father her new haircut she is not shown without her hijab on.

An excellent little film that is well worth tracking down.

George Clooney’s directorial debut, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND was next up. Penned by Charlie (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) Kaufman this was again a film that was blurring the lines of fiction and reality. Based on the book by TV producer Chuck Barris.

This was a hilarious film. The bizarre story is fantastic and entirely unbelievable - or is it? Clooney directs with imagination and the lead performance from Sam Rockwell is spot on. If you haven’t done so already, See. This. Movie. It’s a real treat.

Here’s some space where Ken Park was going to go.

It’s sad. The banning I mean. By the sounds of it I probably would have hated the film, but that’s hardly the point is it?

Day 13

Unlucky 13 for me. This was to prove a hard day. Four films. Three of which I didn’t like, but at least I was saved by the fourth.

On a rather daunting four film day, I wasn’t that confident of having that much of a good time. My fears were more or less confirmed.

First up was the rather worryingly titled MINIMALIST STORIES. More or less about small steps in approaching luck and being thankful and appreciative of the small things in life. It was a series of interlocking stories based around some villagers in Patagonia.

One is an old man looking for his long lost dog, another woman who goes on a game show, and a salesman who has a birthday to go to of the child of a woman that he has set his heart on.

A very still film, it had endearing characters and it was nice to see people finding so much delight in small things. At times amusing the film also made use of a setting that was couldn’t be more different for most cinema goers.

Before HUKKLE, there was short film directed by Kenneth Brannagh about a woman who goes on retreat at a camp where no-one is allowed to speak. She’s a real on the go business type, so she finds it hard to adapt to the zero talk policy of the camp. She meets up with a man who seems to be able to handle the silence very well indeed. Yet there is a very good reason for this as we find out in the end.

Hukkle was like a microscopic look at large things. It was like a nature documentary of people made by aliens.

I wasn’t sure if I’d like the images I was seeing in this film. I mean do I really need to see a close up of a pig’s testicles? So the filmmaker likes to go nuts with his zoom lenses. So what?

This film may well become a cult favourite like Baraka or Microcosmos, but it really tests your patience. A lot of time was evidently spent on sound design and cinematography. Just so we could be bored in explicit detail.

The next short warmed us up for things to come in the next feature with a modern one night stand story with a narrator describing the story as if it was like a fairy tale with a princess and a knight. And there was angst - of course there would be. It was French.

FRIDAY NIGHT told the story of a girl who prepared to move house. She gets caught in a traffic jam that goes on for far too long for all concerned including myself. Urged on by a how-about-we-we-try-and-be-nice-to-each-other-for-a-change message on the radio she allows a guy into her car so as to escape the chilly weather.

This film was an examination of the emotional impact of a one night stand. Try as we might we can’t quite put them out of our mind and keep them meaningless. The sex may be meaningless, but the reasons that they happen are all too meaningful.

There’s a lot going just beneath the surface. Yet you need to spend a lot of time trying to guess what the leads are really feeling. It was at times difficult to follow - there were imaginings and non-linear narratives going on and so you’re left wondering what really went on - physically and emotionally.

Thank goodness for the great ending to make up for a frustrating day. The SPANISH APARTMENT was vibrant, energetic and fun. Audrey Tatou of Amelie fame is in the film in only a minor role, yet the tone of Amelie does give you a good indication of what this film was like.

A French college boy goes to Barcelona for a year of study while leaving his girlfriend at home. He shares a house with up to eight other kids from all around Europe. He manages to have an affair, learn about girls, and of course learn something about himself.

Full of vivid characters, some outlandish and some all too real, The Spanish Apartment is thoroughly European and delightfully so. A real joy to watch, all the characters are either incredibly gorgeous, or funny and often both.

While many sessions sold out in the festival, this was one of the few that sold out both its sessions. It was to eventually win a festival prize and deservedly so.

Seeing a little gem like this is what film festival are all about.

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originally posted: 06/23/03 23:08:51
last updated: 12/30/03 09:56:15
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