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Brisbane International Film Festival 2004 - Daily Diaries

by Trevor Gensch

Check back in this thread regularly for your daily dose of Brisbane Film Festival news, reviews and gossip. Follow your intrepid reviewer as I attempt to see more films from obscure countries in 13 days than any other person on the planet. Thrill to my exploits as I devastate entire Brazilian plantations as I work my way through their countries coffee supplies! Gasp as I recount my close encounters with all types of film festival attendees and guests!

Information on sessions and ticket purchasing is available on the BIFF website. Book online - then you won't have to queue up for tickets! The site also has interesting essays related to our special guests and retrospectives at the festival - check them out - they're great!

Saturday 7 August 2004

I didn't want to say anything up to know in case I jinxed it, but this must be the first film festival for many years where there hasn't been an unfortunate cancellation of a film due to a print not arriving in time. In fact the only film that was cancelled, Phil the Alien was for reasons of music copyright, not slack postal services.

Congrats must go the BIFF team and the various postal services around the world for making this happen.

A great little collection of films today - it was great to see the crowds out at BIFF in force enjoying them.

First up was:

Kitchen Stories
It's the 1950s in Sweden, and the wonderful world of science rules. Finding better ways for housewives to use their kitchens is of paramount importance - the beginning of the film shows us a "guinea pig" performing common household duties whilst a team of researchers looks on, clipboards in hand.

After solving this problem, the scientists realise they know little of how the ordinary single man uses his domestic appliances. So they set up a small research project, enlisting the help of single men in a sleepy snow-logged town.

This research involves a scientist sitting in a tall chair in one corner of the room, recording the single man's movements in flow charts. The researcher may not interact at all with his subject, otherwise the results will be tainted.

But what happens when you break this all important rule? [[]Kitchen Stories looks at what happens when an unlikely friendship is forged between a scientist and his subject.

First and foremost, its an incredibly funny film, firmly rooted in the concept of observational comedy. Its wryly comic too ("you Swedes were observers during the war, and you are observers now!").

The performances from all are top-notch. They now how to handle the situations for maximum comedic effect.

This film was an absolute joy to watch and a great way to start the evening's viewing.

Tom White
Director Alkinos Tslimidos, whose previous feature Silent Partner was a previous BIFF favourite, has returned with a new feature starring that versatile actor, Colin Friels. Colin plays the titular character, a white-collar worker who seems to be experiencing a bit of a late mid-life crisis. After being told to take an extended "holiday" by his boss, he doesn't do what normal people do and go back to the wife and kids and relax and have a beer - he runs away from home.

And so begins Tom's adventures - meeting up with a lonely gay man, a paint sniffing youth, an old and bitter vagrant, and a sideshow attendant with a fixation for losers.

Colin Friels is a revelation as Tom - who would have thought he would have had such a bitter, resentful, but above all angry man inside of him? He tackles the role with a realism that I have never seen from this man - its impossible to take your eyes off the screen. His performance is all the more impressive when you consider he is in pretty much every scene of the film.

This one's going to get general release pretty soon and I urge you to check it out.

A Good Lawyers Wife
If this one had to be classified by the OFLC I am sure its DVD sleeve would proclaim in big, bold letters "Mainly concerned with sex". Because that is what you get with A Good Lawyers Wife, a film about adultery, passion and even sometimes, love.

To be honest I was ready to walk out of this one at the half way point - the sex scenes are pretty good and quite graphic, but that wasn't the reason - it was just quite boring and wasn't really going anywhere.

But a scene soon after changed that for me - it kept me glued to my seat for the remainder of the film. If you don't want to know what it is, skip the rest of the paragraph. The scene where a crazed young man throws a young child off a five storey building is a bit of cinema that will sit with me for a long time yet. And it isn't at all graphic - sure you see his blood-splattered head on the ground below at one point, sure you see him being thrown off the building. But what will stick in my mind is one line of dialogue "you aren't going to throw me are you mister?", delivered in such a way that only a child could - innocent, almost playful. He is then thrown, rag-doll like off the side of the building. This one scene, in all its brutality and shocking-ness, elevated the film from poor to above average for me. It still gives me chills sitting here thinking about it while I type this.

Apart from the scene above, A Good Lawyers Wife is pretty average fare - scene after scene of naked bodies and so forth do little to elevate it beyond the level of a standard porn flick. It takes the scene described in the above paragraph to finally inject the film with a much needed sense of drama and tension. It makes it all the more real.

Friday 6 August 2004

Up to now I haven't included the Top 10 listing for BIFF - partly because I have been incredibly slack, but mostly because I feel the early polls are pretty useless in gauging what the true "best of fest" is - it really takes close to a week to sort itself out.

So, without further ado, here is the Top 10 films for BIFF so far:

1. Zatiucgu
2, The Corporation
3. The Story of the Weeping Camel
4. I'm Not Scared
5. Head On
6. Festival Express
7. The Wooden Camera
8. Witnesses
9. Donau, Duna, Dunaj, Dunav, Dunarea
10. Falling Angels

Another reason to is because for the first year for ages the films I have seen at the festival barely appear on the Top 10 list - in fact the only one I have seen out of all of them is I'm Not Scared.

I have a feeling though that some of the ones I saw later in the week (The Five Obstructions, Intimate Strangers) will end up on this list come the end of the fest... at least I hope so!

Today's only film was Somersault, the debut feature by Cate Shortland. It's a simple tale of a young woman searching for meaning, searching for identity in a confusing, sometimes alien world.

Running away from home after falling in lust with her mother's boyfriend, young Heidi escapes to the snowy ski resort at Jindabyne. Directionless at first, she starts to mould a life for herself and meets local worker Joe (played with intensity by Sam Worthington). They have a torrid relationship built totally upon sex, which doesn't seem to concern Heidi too much - she has found somebody who loves her.

While Somersault is gorgeously shot its a film that in the end has very little substance - it follows a well-beaten path trodden by so-called discovery films (notably by last year Rachel Ward mini-feature Martha's New Coat) without actually having its main character changed by her experiences. As a result it leaves a very shallow feel to the whole effort when the credits roll - the film is trying to say that she has changed but I saw no difference in her - she is still the wanton, promiscuous urchin she was when we joined her at the beginning of the film.

Go for the scenery, not the story.

Films on Saturday 7 August - Kitchen Stories, Tom White, A Good Lawyers Wife.

Thursday 5 August 2004

Ah, so that is where you were all hiding! This is more like it! The people were out in force tonight at BIFF - the Regent was packed to the rafters with film-goers. And no wonder, with some of the great offerings on this evening, such as a repeat screening of Buena Vida Delivery (see my review from earlier in the week), A Good Lawyers Wife, Morgiana and of course, the two films I saw today.

The Five Obstructions
There are a lot of things that can get Lars Von Trier excited, but one guaranteed to hit the spot is a mention of his favourite films ever, in fact the one he credits as drawing great inspiration for his own career from - the 1967 short film The Perfect Human by fellow countryman Jørgen Leth.

Fast-forward to 2001 and Von Trier has an ingenious idea - set five tasks for Jorgen, all related to him remaking his short proviso to the conditions, or obstructions, that Von Trier sets.

Some of these range from the easy (Jorgen stars in the short) to the seemingly insurmountable (each shot to be no more than 12 frames long, or shoot the film in the most inhospitable place imaginable).

This documentary follows the five obstructions set for Jorgen as he spends time over the following three years rising to the challenges set before him. Its a funny film, often laugh out loud funny, but at the same time its an interesting look at the film making process - just how can somebody reinvent their own work over and over?

We see the short film that inspired this journey in pieces throughout the film, but the short itself is unimportant (and pretentious bollocks into the bargain by the way). What we are seeing here is the struggle to bring Von Triers demands into reality.

And the result - Jorgen triumphs in all challenges. The ultimate irony of this film is it reveals more about the ego-maniac that is Von Trier than it does, despite Lars's initial aim to apply some "therapy and self help" to Jorgen.

Intimate Strangers
The second of the two Showcase Screenings during the festival this year, Intimate Strangers has the distinction of being the first foreign language BIFF Showcase film, a move that is a welcome touch of diversity to this popular part of the festival program.

This film is from the assured directorial hand of Patrick Leconte, the master film-maker responsible for other French classic such as Girl on a Bridge, The Widow of St Pierre]/i] and Man on a Train.

Intimate Strangers begins with a case of mistaken identity; distraught wife (Sandrine Bonnaire) seeks psychiatric help from mild-mannered William (Fabrice Luchini), not realising she has wandered into the wrong office and is pouring out her woes to a tax accountant.

Even after the mix-up is resolved, she continues to return to William; she feels comfortable talking to him. And despite the age difference, there is an undeniable attraction between them, leading to a great feeling throughout the film of "will they or won't they" (you'll have to catch the film on its general release to find out if they did!).

Add to the mix an underperforming husband with some strange ideas about marital harmony, a nosy secretary and a man with a fear of elevators, and you have Intimate Strangers, an assured, confident film that takes you firmly by the hand at the beginning of the film and refuses to let go until the credits roll.

Luchini is great as the accountant who finds himself in this unlikely position, and Bonnaire is also very good as the smouldering wife who just wants somebody to sort out her life for her.

As I said, this one gets a general release later this year, and I would check it out, its great!

Only one film for Friday - an Australian offering - Somersault.

Wednesday 4 August 2004

Refreshed after my day off from the festival, today I am back with a vengeance, devoting my time today to learning something about a film-maker I didn't even know existed before the festival program came out - James Benning.

James has been working in film since the 70s, producing his unique style of work that has entranced audiences all around the world.

James's work is observational - he sets a camera up and just starts filming - no edits, no special effects and for the most part minimal on-screen captions or dialogue. As James described it in the documentary Circling the Image he mourns the loss of the art of real film-making - he longs for the day where the camera merely acted as the observer, making the audience actually work to bring out the story from the images.

He isn't a great fan of narrative, but acknowledges that the human brain, even presented with the almost static images of his films needs to somehow apply a "plot" to what is going on - to help the brain make some sense of what is going on.

The documentary was filmed while James was making his latest film 13 Lakes, a feature showcasing 13 significant lakes in the USA and Alaska. Again, James just points his camera and shoots - no fancy camera moves or Hollywood style editing to be seen here.

But he doesn't just bang out a shot in 5 minutes and go back to his hotel room for a beer, James can spend days mapping out the local area, looking for the type of shot he feels typifies the area he is filming. The documentary spends some time at the Salton Sea, a massive flood plain that has been home to housing estates and resorts, but due to the nature of man's progress it has been flooded out numerous times this century. What remains are half submerged trailers in the mud, vast lakes with decrepit telegraph poles planted in them. James takes all this in before deciding on the iconic shot for his film.

Benning is a solitary man, but not a lonely man. He has a great passion for his work that might not be evident by looking at this sometimes pathetic figure, but the images he produces speak for themselves.

After the documentary I treated myself to one of his films Los, part of his trilogy of films that focuses on rural America. Los looks at Los Angeles and its surrounds. Its an interesting film because each of his shots last exactly 150 seconds.

The images Benning captures are sometimes staggering, and its hard not to believe that some of them are not staged - but apparently they all are "natural" shots that capture "life". Giant graders crawling slot up the side a hill, like soldier ants up a piece of bread; a local soccer match; mechanised beasts thundering away in the night; advertising billboards; tranquil lakes bordering on massive industrial estates and squads of riot police waiting for the call into action. These are just some of the incredible images that James has captured for this film.

The effect is simple, but absolutely mesmerising. It has to be experienced to fully appreciate the sublime effect it has. Describing it to you might make you scoff with derision about how such a thing could possibly be interesting. Before I saw Los I felt the same way.

I have come in at the end of the James Benning Retrospective at BIFF so there are no more of his films on offer to check out - but please do if you get the opportunity again - you won't regret it.

Back to some films with hopefully a bit more movement in them tomorrow - Lars Von Trier and his Five Obstructions and the final BIFF showcase screening - Intimate Strangers.

Monday 2 August 2004

With BIFF well and truly into its second week it might be finally time to have a bit of fun with a list. Everyone loves a good list don't they?

So I present to you, the Brisbane International Film Festival Drinking Game!

1 drink if you hear Gary or Anne say "schedule change"
2 drinks if you spot Mustard Coat Man" entering a cinema for a screening
3 drinks if you are actually out the door before him at the end of the screening.
1 drink each time you hear the phrase "Intersellar 5555".
3 drinks if you see a French film with no exposed nipples
1 drink each time Gary says "I saw this at...."
1 drink each time you see the BIFF commercial
2 drinks each time you see the Mazda commercial
1 drink each time one of the attendants says "back again eh?"
1 drink for every volunteer propping themselves up against a wall
1 drink each time the front door of the Regent is blocked by people waiting in line at the box office

I saw three films today, the first of which is

Buena Vida Delivery
Mexican film about a lonely guy who plucks up the courage to ask the beautiful girl who works at the local petrol station out on a date. She then agrees to move in with him, and love blossoms.

Soon her family arrives on the doorstep, they have nowhere to stay and hoped they could stay with them for a few days before heading home.

Foolishly he agrees, for what is initially a few days, turns into a week, then a few weeks.... and then they turn his living room into a bakery!

A wryly comedic film, Buena Vida Delivery delivers good performances by all the principle cast and is a lot of fun to watch. The BIFF guide talks about the film making comment on the financial hardships of the Mexican people, but for those (like me) who couldn't really care about all that guff it can be enjoyed for the entertainment it is.

16 Years of Alcohol
The title of this one is a bit of a misnomer, as it really wasn't what I expected it to be, that is a story of a man's fight with alcohol addiction.

it was in fact about a man's fight to control the rage that is inside of him. Part of a small local gang, he spends his days roaming the streets of Edinburgh, fighting, stealing and beating. But even he realises that he can't go on like this forever. So when he meets the women that he thinks is "it", so begins the real battle between his old life and the one that beckons.

16 Years of Alcohol is a very lyrical film of this man's fight with his inner demons; much of the film is told in poetic voice-over, counterpointing his calm interior with his violent exterior.

Kevin McKidd (of Trainspotting fame) is very good as the conflicted thug, behind his brutish fists lies an intelligence that belies his "occupation". The voice-over technique employed works well too with McKidd lending it an almost ethereal, angelic-like quality.

Well worth a look.

Now, one that isn't not worth a look is

The Fifth Horseman is Fear
Piece of black and white 60s Czech nonsense about a Jewish Doctor who searches the streets of Prague for morphine for a man who has stumbled into his local apartment block.

Sounds good eh? It ain't. What that description translates to is lots of characters shouting at each for two hours, and all the while we are subjected to the frankly incomprehensible actions of the other tenants of the block. When we aren't on the block we follow the Doctor around as he gets drunk, engages in some talk with more people who shout, and imagines white trucks at the end of every street.

Absolute total nonsense. The short film proceeding it about a man escaping from a medieval torture chamber was far more engaging than this mess.

No films tomorrow, back on Wednesday with a look at some of the works of film-maker James Benning - a documentary Circling the Image and one of his latest films, Los.

Sunday 1 August 2004

It's a new month, but that doesn't stop the juggernaut that is BIFF thundering on into another day of festival madness.

After my mention yesterday of disappointing crowds over the past few days there seemed to be a few more people around on this afternoon as I sauntered through the foyer. I even had a few come up to me and say "Sorry Mr Gensch, won't happen again Mr Gensch. My mother died you see....". But their voices trailed off as they were met with my steely glare and penetrating gaze. I brushed them aside and headed straight for the caffeine trolley.

It never ceases to amaze me in the years I have been going to festivals how the good and bad films arrive in clumps; you will have a string of stinkers and then suddenly you get some absolutely fantastic ones that knock your socks off. My run started on Saturday with Prey for Rock N Roll and continued today with the first film on my schedule:

I'm Not Scared
A young boy stumbles across a mysterious hole in the ground whilst out playing with his mates in the sprawling, wheat covered fields of an unnamed village in Southern Italy.

In this hole appears to be the body of a young boy, who to his shock (and half the audiences I bet) bursts into life and stretches out his mud soaked hand in anguished hope.

Getting over his initial fear he befriends the young lad. But there are sinister forces at work, and as he becomes more involved with this child the level of danger increases.

What begins as a charming story of boyhood friendship and love takes a dramatic turn for the worse as the film progresses. I'm Not Scared handles all these changes in mood skillfully, and the characters that not only used in this film but inhabit its very being are incredible. From the cigarello chomping father to the local bully all the portrayals are a joy to watch, and its a great shame that the film actually ends.

Director Gabriele Salvatores (who is probably most famous for his film Mediterraneo has delivered an amazingly moving, thoughtful and masterful film that has something in it to appeal to all.

It's a shame its only playing once at BIFF because I wish you could all go and check it out - its that good.

Shout, Shouf, Habibi
The title (which translates to "Shush Shush Baby") is a film from the Netherlands that continues the tradition of zany, almost slapstick comedy that we are all familiar with.

The plot isn't particularly important, what is important is how to make the characters look increasingly silly before the final credits roll.

And that isn't a bad thing - films like Shouf, Shouf, Habibi work on that level because they don't pretend to be anything more than pure entertainment.

We are presented with but not forced to deal with the issues of the Moroccan community which now inhabits the Netherlands (didn't even know there was one until I saw the film - an avenue for some future research methinks). But that won't get in the way of a gag about a guy wandering down the main street in his leopard skin undies, no sir!

Sadly though (as far as I am concerned) its playing again on the 7th August. If you want a laugh check it out, but if you want a great film - rush down to the BIFF box office and batter on the wrought iron cage at the box office and demand they put on I'm Not Scared instead.

Films for the 2nd August - Buena Vida Delivery, 16 Days of Alcohol and The Fifth Horseman is Fear.

Saturday 31st July

MISSING - BIFF crowd, answers to the name of "where the hell is everyone?".

Wednesday to Thursday at BIFF, especially at the beginning of the festival is always a slow time - crowds building up to the big numbers that the Friday and weekend bring in.

So imagine my surprise on being at BIFF today seeing a few flicks to find it virtually deserted? Where the heck is everyone?

I am sure I saw BIFF Artistic Director Anne Démy-Geroe do a spectacular double-take as she entered a screening last night, shocked at the near empty cinema.

I am quite frankly surprised and very saddened to see the poor turnout so far - the program certainly doesn't lack anything that would keep the punters away, does it? I would be interested in your thoughts on the matter.

Anyway, I saw two films today, first of which is:

Tomorrow We Move
Recently widowed mother and her daughter move into ramshackle new apartment to start a new life. The daughter is working to a deadline, trying to finish off her erotic fiction commission. Problem is, she doesn't have a romantic bone in her body, let alone a sexy one.

So she's finding it difficult to get it finished. When her mother takes up piano teaching in the downstairs rooms its the final straw, she has to find her own space in which she can work.

And so begins what makes up the bulk of Tomorrow We Move, the "open house" and the parade of people that come to look at it, with a view to purchasing. This whimsical, wittily scripted French comedy is relatively light on plot, but packed to the rafters with charm and good natured feeling.

I can't believe I am saying this, but this is also a nice companion piece to last night's La Captive, in that it shares the same Director and leading lady. It also shows that Chantal Akerman can actually make a film worth watching.

It's playing again on the 2nd of August, well worth a look.

It's a shame that the highlight of the festival so far has been an english language film, in past years it's been a joy to discover these hidden gems from around the world, like last year's wonderful The Bookstore, and the quirky Canadian film waydowntown. So, the honour of best film of the fest so far goes to:

Prey for Rock N Roll
Gina Gershon plays a bi-sexual member of an all-girl rock band, struggling from one gig to the next and barely keeping their head above water financially. Being the lead singer of a band when you are pushing 40 doesn't help either.

This film is a warts and all look at her internal conflict of whether to give up and move on, or stick with the one thing in life she truly loves doing, playing in a punk band.

We also get to see in to the lives of the other members of the band, the drugged-out bass player and the music teacher by day/lead guitarist by night rock chick, dating the small but powerful drummer.

All the characterisations in this film are explored in an interesting, non-cliched way that makes a refreshing change. Its a digital film, and at times it shows, but Director Alex Steyermark and DOP Antonio Calvache for the most part deliver a beautifully crafted image that belies its digital origins.

Never outstaying its welcome, Prey for Rock n Roll is a great little rock and roll story, and despite its turn dark turn in the latter half of the script its still an enjoyable ride.

My films for the 1st August - I'm Not Scared, Shout Shouf Habibi and Goodbye Dragon Inn. Hopefully they will be able to track down those missing crowds!

Friday 30th July

I suppose every festival, wherever it is around the world, programs films that are just plain impossible to understand, or just downright boring. Film fests have to cater to differing tastes, genders, ethnic backgrounds and so forth, so its inevitable that some of the films shown mightn't be to everyones taste.

So why, oh why didn't someone warn me to stay away from La Captive this evening?

The catalogue entry is a bit of a double edged sword, it talks about this simple love story wrapped around the works of Proust. Well, one work to be precise, his story entitled "The Prisoner".

What that translates to is a rich playboy spending night on two hours of screen time staring wistfully at his object of desire, playing the occasional game of draughts or listening to music, and then capping the evening off with a good old dry root.

Exciting stuff to be sure. For me it was impossible to get involved at all. My usual ploy of enjoying the technical aspects such as sound or camerawork in case of emergency this time failed as the direction is insipid, the photography is flat and uninspired. Nothing to really engage the eye.

And the ending, oh the ending, not only could it not come quick enough but surely, surely it isn't supposed to deliver the emotional sucker-punch that this bunch of film-makers and a boring old French writer intended it? It's just so out of left field as to make it laughable. Oh well, I just musn't understand it all.

La Captive - only marginally more enjoyable than a dry root. Betcha I won't see that on any of the posters in my local cinema!

Films for the 31st July - Tomorrow We Move and Prey for Rock N Roll.

Thursday 29th July

Thursday has always been a good indicator of how busy it is going to get over the weekend at the festival; crowd numbers start getting progressively bigger as we head to the cattle-crush that is a weekend at BIFF. I noticed the crowds swelling as the day progressed and I saw my films for the day, ending in a big crowd for my evening film Casa de los Babys

Down to my films for today!

That Day
Livia feels the 28th December is going to be the luckiest day of her life, she is giddy with anticipation as she wakes up on that morning. Little does she know the events in store for her today.... but she is going to be happy anyway, she’s just that type of person.

You see, Livia is the heiress to a vast fortune, but she is a bit mentally unstable - her family ensures an around-the-clock vigil on her. But things go a bit awry when an escapee from the local asylum visits and starts piling up dead bodies in the dining room...

The Day is a surrealist French film presented in a cold, clinical detached manner that is darkly comic at every turn. It’s one of those sorts of films where character sprout script rather than speech, and mood is king.

Special mention must go to the superb camerawork employed throughout - the use of perspective is a notable highlight, as is the camera’s free flowing feel, beautifully executed in an incredible, almost balletic scene of a murderer pursuing his victim.

it’s playing again on the 5th August, and while I won’t give it a whole-hearted recommendation as a good film it will be of interest to those who appreciate the film-making process and enjoy the technical accomplishment of it all.

Samaritan Girl
Two Korean schoolgirls come up with an interesting way of raising the cash for a long-cherished trip to Europe - they decide to prostitute themselves, with one act as the others pimp.

Things are going well for these two young entrepreneurs until tragedy strikes, with the unfortunate death of one of them via a shocking accident. Rather than continue with their capitalist endeavour, the remaining girl decides to contact each of her friends dates and return the money. She thinks that will be the best way to preserve the honour of her friend.

But her father finds out what she has been doing after-school (mistakenly believing his daughter was the prostitute rather than the pimp), and decides to contact her former clients in his own unique way...

This is a film that at times is controversial just for the sake of being controversial Gratuitous scenes of people being bludgeoned with bits of masonry and trick dream sequences of father’s strangling their daughters are just some of the more gruesome elements employed.

It also lacks any sense of real narrative and cohesion; it veers from the almost fairy tale like quality of the two girls scoring their tricks to the dark tones of death and revenge that moodily inhabit the last two thirds of the film. You are never really sure just who the story is meant to be about, even to the extent that the remaining schoolgirl is noticeably absent from the middle portion of the film as we follow her agonised and tormented father tracking down her daughters apparent mis-deeds.

Korea yet again is portrayed as a bleak and uninviting place to live (similar to a previous BIFF offering from a few years back Peppermint Candy, with even the trips by father and daughter to the country-side shown as grey, barren and desolate. It ties in beautifully with the mood of the father, who is torn between his desire for revenge and the love for his daughter.

Samaritan Girl certainly isn’t an uplifting experience but it’s a journey that will make you ponder the complexity of life. It’s playing again on the 7th August if you want to check it out.

The Magic Gloves
Overweight taxi-driver Alejandro breaks up with his long-time girlfriend and is befriended by local thrash-metal musician Piranha and his wife Susana. Alejandro is offered the use of Piranha’s brother’s apartment while he finds somewhere new, and he slowly gets drawn into the madcap world of capitalism and greed. Piranha is an opportunist, and seizes upon an idea to sell “magic gloves”, hand warmers that he will make a killing with as the winter chill sets in to Argentina.

Even the above description doesn’t aptly do justice to the ramshackle offering from director Martin Rejtman. We are but 30 minutes from the end of the film and the gloves are nowhere to be seen in the plot; what we get instead is our hapless taxi-driver and his attempts to find a new love, Piranha’s brother returning from Canada with his porn-star buddies in tow, and Susana all the while trying to find out exactly why Alejandro’s girlfriend broke up with him.

It’s all a bit of a mess, but a happy, enjoyable mess to be sure. The characterisations are all well rounded and interesting, and the sly humour employed throughout is a joy to behold. The almost apathetic at times Alejandro is the anchor for the film, the events revolve around him for the majority of the film.

Give it a look - it’s playing again on the 31st of July - you could do far worse.

Casa des los Babys
A new film from John Sayles has us in South America with a large ensemble cast where a group of American women await anxiously news from the local authorities on when they can take home the babies they wish to adopt. Red tape and local resistance to “yanquis” stalls the whole procedure, so our mothers-to-be have little to do but sit around on sun-drenched beaches and bitch and whine about the locals, the hotel and each other.

Sayles has brought together an interesting and impressive female cast of American names - Darryl Hannah, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marcia Gay Harden and Lili Taylor are but a few of the stars that have worked for next to nothing to bring this heartfelt and engaging drama to our cinema screens.

If anything Casa des los Babys is too short; we only really begin to scratch the surface of the characters before the screen fades to black - indeed only two of the ladies receive their babies before the credits roll, leaving the rest an uncertain future as they continue to wage their private war in a country that doesn’t want them there.

Like his previous film Sunshine State, Sayles relies in improvisation to bring out the on-screen “action”, and again uses the “separate stories that never really join together” technique to provide the viewer with all the information they need to get the feel for the locale. It can be frustrating at times, but overall it works. In one unconnected story we see a 15 year old pregnant school-girl and her dealings with the “system”, and we also see a group of street-kids, living off the scraps of others and the kindness of strangers.

Performance-wise, Lili Taylor is a standout as a weary New-Yorker who seems only to want to raise a child so she can give it a better future than she had (her comment “if she doesn’t hate the sight of me by age 8, I figure I am ahead of the game” is typical of her and characterises her in an instant). Darryl Hannah is also good as a mother who has tried producing children the natural way but been tragically denied each time.

Today was its only screening at BIFF, but I would say by the Dendy logo that flashed up at the beginning of our screening it is destined for local release in the near future.

Only one film tomorrow - a bit of Proust in cinema format via the French film La Captive.

Wednesday 28th July

The first day of the festival is always an interesting one to experience - all the volunteers are still freshed-faced, smiles on their faces and actually seem to be enjoying themselves. The crowds are relatively small (they won't really start coming in until the weekend sessions) and the cues are easy to endure.

Oh, how that will change in the space of a few short days!

Bravo for the ticketing system again this year - my truckload of passes was easily found and printed out from the online system. Simple, painless and quick.

I only saw one film today, a Belgium/French co-production called Praying Mantis. It's title explains a lot about it, yet there are still some surprises in store.

A woman on a lonely stretch of French country road seduces a lonely traveller. She moves in with him and all seems blissful. But there is something strange about this woman. She won't consumate the relationship with the man, who is absolutely besotted with her. And she doesn't like bright light, and spends most of her time in the greenhouse adjacent to the house, tending to her flora.

For you see she is a praying mantis, and if she does go "all the way" with her partner she will have to devour him, literally! But she loves him, and can't bear the thought. So she goes in search of fresh meat to satiate her animal desires....

Praying Mantis is a quirky, yet very lyrical piece about the price of love and passion. Such potentially silly subject matter is handled deftly and it is rare you feel embarrassed watching this film.

It's by no means a masterpiece, but certainly quite watchable. Any deficiencies in the plot are made up for the titular character being naked and having sex for the majority of the film, so it isn't all that bad.

Films for the Thursday 29th July - The Day, Samaritan Girl, The Magic Gloves, Casa des los Babys. I'll have a report on the BIFF Fast Film comp which happened on Wednesday night for you soon.

Tuesday 27th July

Yes, the Brisbane International Film Festival 2004 is off and running - launched in a spectacular fashion with the Opening Night film - The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.

Star of the film and BIFF special guest Geoffrey Rush seemed quite at home amongst the flashing cameras, glasses of champagne and jiggling 60s chicks as he mingled with the film goers after the screening.

The general consensus seemed to be that this film was yet another Rush triumph, and one that must surely get him a nod for Best Actor next year.

Opening Night heralds in 13 days of film screenings, documentaries, seminars, interviews and even a classic silent film with full accompaniment at the City Hall. It surely is the highlight of any film-lovers year.

Check out the BIFF website for all the details - but get in quick - I'm told that some sessions are close to selling out (most notably the Metallica doco on the 8th August). So check out the website for details on the films playing and how to purchase your tickets

My own film schedule starts on Wednesday morning with a quirky Belgium film called Praying Mantis. Check back here tomorrow for a review and all the goss that is fit to print!

Don't forget to give the BIFF Fast Film competition a look - its playing on the 28th over at the South Bank Piazza. The Fast Film concept is simple - make a short film in 50 days using a "secret ingredient" that is revealed by the BIFF Team. This year it was "ladder", so expect a lot of... ladders to be in the films.

Fourteen finalists will be screened, with some great prizes up for grabs. It starts over at South Bank at 7.00pm, so get there early for the best seats!

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originally posted: 07/28/04 10:07:22
last updated: 04/07/05 13:17:42
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