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Sydney Film Festival Day 7
by Michael Collins

Day 7 gave us real life tragedy, not real life sex, and a few good real laughs.

Seen many shorts? Only one so far for me - KITTY. My unreliable memory from previous years told me that every feature had a short before it. There was a series of shorts compiled together for a few sessions , but wouldnít it be better to have them before the feature?

To rouse us from our sleep induced by Gerry we again turned up the excitement and tension in BUS 174.

It starts off as a seemingly small incident.

A street kid robs some bus passengers. Not good, but yíknow, not that big a deal that would concern a nation and be the subject of a internationally seen documentary film. Yet the bus hijacking ended up as a microcosm of serious problems in Argentina concerning poverty, street kids and the state of Argentinean prisons.

As with the earlier seen Stevie, this film delves deeply into the mind of the perpetrator that may usually be dismissed without a thought.

The tragic tale took a look at the appalling conditions of living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The doco tells of those lives just as much as the specific incident on June 12th 2000.

Having witnessed his motherís brutal death, Sandro do Nascimento grew up on the streets of Rio leading a brutal existence. His family and street problems escalated to witnessing a police massacre of street kids where he was injured. He then finds himself robbing the passengers on a bus. Instead of making his getaway heís trapped on the bus by police and so began a siege.

During the siege there is lack of planning and organisation, but in the end the police seem to have a handle on things until the end. The interest is built up on the relationship between Sandro and the hostages.

The story was enthralling, and there was an awful feeling of dread built up. Especially when you pick up on who was being interviewed after the seige and more tellingly who wasnít.

The story is heart-rending with victims on all sides. Perhaps the real perpetrator is a community that allows that sort of economic and social situation to escalate in the first place. Yes, trying to repair that problem is gargantuan and complicated task.

Itís funny at the festival. With so many films to see, you have forgotten why youíre seeing particular films and why you decided to skip others.

Before SEX IS COMEDY we got another short: HOW TO COPE WITH DEATH. An animated comedy from Ignacio Ferreras. So how do you cope with death? You kick its ass, thatís what. Scary skeletal flying Death creature and improbably flexible old woman team up to make an unlikely entertaining and hilarious four minutes.

Back to the serious stuff, where would a film festival be without some angst y French. And whe get it in bucket loads with some illuminating results.

With Catherine Breillatís previous films featuring disturbing and sexually graphic images that caused such consternation, it led to this this film watcher to wonder what itís like to make them and why you would want to make those kind of films in the first place. Sex Is Comedy goes some way to answering that question.

Not as confronting, but nevertheless just as revealing, insightful and strong. Sex Is Comedy showed what itís like for all those involved to film such difficult scenes. The seen in question being much like the sex scene from Fat Girl. Indeed, it features Roxane Mequidox - the same actress from that film.

This was Breillatís chance to respond to the world why she makes these kind of films with these sort of scenes. From whatís shown in Sex Is Comedy, it is by no means an easy process. It also shows that everything is not quite as it seems.

An interesting aspect of this film is that while showing the difficult process of doing a graphic sex scene - in the film a difficult sex scene is actually shown. Thereís some screwing round with reality going on here and it can give your mind quite a taxing time.

Mequidox is looking so emotionless at times, but at the end of the film she looks like heís gone through the emotional wringer. You really are left second guessing whatís real, whatís not and whatís gone on to achieve this film. Itís a fascinating display.

In PRESERVATION Jacqueline McKenzie played Daphne, a taxidermist living by herself in a big old house plying her trade during the 1890s. She puts in an ad in the paper for a border - preferably female.

So naturally enough, along came a man in the form of Jack Finsterer. Living by herself, working with dead animals, and looking as pale as a ghost, Daphne didnít have much choice but to take him in.

They eventually learn from each other their respective troubled pasts. For Daphne, itís her fatherís death. For him, itís the death of his wife. Lots of dead things, fears of ghosts abound, big house - it has all the hallmarks of a classic horror film! No body count unfortunately, but things are nicely creepy in an 1890s repressed sexuality kind of way.

Must give praise to the State Theatre ushers - they have an awful job. Some (yes, some) festival subscribers (otherwise known as We-think-weíre-Godís-gift-to-the-festival) think they should have everything laid out for them and donít like waiting. The way one particular usher dealt with a particularly intimidating subscriber - I think her name was Penny if I read the badge correctly - was admirable. She certainly treated the subscriber better that he deserved.

RAISING VICTOR VARGUS was an expansion of Eight Feet High and Rising - a short that garnered praise back in 2000 including at Cannes. Victor Vargus takes the same two leads - Victor Rasuk and Judy Marte - and characters and expands on their story. The actors were around 16 when Eight Feet was made and are now 18 or so for the feature length Vargus. The innocence of those two 16 year olds is carried through to this to this sweet and very funny film.

Victor is da man - just ask him Heís a Dominican kid living on the Lower East Side of NYC. An 18 year old keen on establishing his reputation, he goes on an attempt to court ĎJuicy Judy.í Judyís not particularly keen nor interested in Victorís charms, but he doesnít give up so easily as he realises that his feelings for Judy run deeper than even he expected.

Meanwhile Judy and Victorís respective friends become attracted to each other, and Judy and Victorís younger siblings also find an attraction for each other. Itís a veritable love fest going on here.

Also we shouldnít forget Victorís grandmother with whom he lives with. She casts a disapproving eye over her grandchildren with amusing - if not a little extreme - results.

This little charmer of a film was a real joy to watch. At times I was laughing so hard that I was crying. The largely improvised dialogue performed was excellent as were the performances. Especially the Vargus kids and their grandmother.

The tone in the film is mostly light, but there is an attempt to give it a serious turn and to me it didnít quite work. The set up just isnít quite there and the switch to a serious tone isnít executed quite strongly enough.

Yet this doesnít detract from what is essentially a romantic comedy that is well worth looking out for.

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originally posted: 06/15/03 22:43:23
last updated: 12/30/03 10:13:40
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