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Sydney Film Festival 2003 - The Second Weekend
by Michael Collins

The second weekend had a broad range of films to be experienced. From the old and dated to the brilliant and inspiring. It was also the time of watching one of the most manipulative films you will ever see.

Javier Bardem impressed everybody in Before Night Falls and he again impressed in MONDAYS IN THE SUN - itís just a matter of opinion if you actually like the character that Bardem so convincingly creates. Me? I hated the guy - and it ruined the film for me.

Bardemís portrayal of Carlo Santamaria was of a man who jokes and manipulates for his own end. I guess somewhere deep down his heart was in the right place, but to me he was thoroughly unlikeable.

Carlos is one of a number of men who have been laid off work and struggle to adapt to the new economy. The film is occasionally amusing, but ultimately this was a tragic tale. Itís like a Spanish Ken Loach film. At times touching and sad, yet Carlos prevented me from giving my complete sympathy.

Mondays In the Sun was playing and itís Saturday! Well hey, how zany is that? Thatís just the kind of crazy mixed up life on the edge people weíre dealing with here at the festival.

Continuing the craziness was the short DIALOG. It was a stop motion animation film that was made a few years back, screening here as part of the 50th festival. It was kind of a thing where there are these heads and they repeatedly eat each other. Thatís the best description I can give you - itís was freakiní weird.

Another retrospective screening was SHIVERS. No, not about the Nick Cave penned song as I had hoped, but in fact the life of a Polish boy during the Communism era. The boyís father was arrested, but the boyís a bit of a favourite of the Communist Party as heís so smart and is sent off to a Communist Youth Camp.

The film is over twenty years old now and felt very dated. The print was only in a 4:3 ratio and so it didnít have that much visual appeal, although the film makers clearly tried with the use of visual imagery of doves and the like.

The film pokes some holes in the Communist indoctrination process and so itís no surprise that it was banned. Now though, it just feels like an old eastern European film.

LITTLE DICKIE was a musical western - and a strange one at that.

It started with a horseman riding into a small town, head into a saloon and ordering bourbon - All typical western stuff. Then it gets a bit weird. A girl looking like a 21st century NYC native saunters in and orders a Manhattan. She asks what does she have to do to get a decent conversation and in reply the horseman sang a song about how heís got a small dick.

Yeah, I was kinda confused as well.

More French offerings were to be had with THE MAN ON THE TRAIN. I wasnít in the mood for it at all and had my mind on the next film. So Iím sorry, but I left this one early. Thus I didnít get to see what happened to the two men that met in a chemist - one of them being a criminal - in a French village. For the time I spent there I did pick up on the witty script that was drolly delivered with straight faces.

So I missed out on the ending (which was a bit of a talking point apparently) and made the Dendy Dash to get to the theatre in time to see AUTOFOCUS - The story of Bob ĎColonel Hoganí Crane. I was a big fan of Hoganís Heroes and I have long thought it was amusing how he had the reputation of being a bit of a ladies man - As many ladies as possible.

On film.

The biggest feeling from the film was Greg Kinnearís take on Bob Crane. My perception of Crane only comes from Hogan, yet I felt that Kinnear didnít do a very good Hogan. Kinnearís performance of a person in decline however was excellent - as are the supporting players. Especially good were Cheryl Lynn Bowers and Maria Bello who played Craneís two wives - one of which was the actress who played Hilda in the TV series.

Directed by Paul Schrader, the set pieces recreating Hoganís Heroís scene were hilarious. Especially funny were those involving Col. Klink and Sgt. Schultz.

Overall a nicely done film - it was done with style and restraint with a good story and fine performances. Itís one to look out for.

Sunday started with MASK. It was a funny little tale about guilt. A man puts on a mask to give a fun scare to his daughter. Problems start when he takes off the mask. Another one is underneath it. He takes that one off and there is another to replace it. Eventually and rather inexplicably he learns that it is to deal with guilt ('cause he can't show his face, see?) and that he has to ask forgiveness for all the wrong things that heís done. This was like one of those Amazing Stories or Twilight Zone stories - weird and funny.

I was getting a little sick of films where there are scenes where nothing happens. Would it be too much to ask for something to actually happen? THE BLESSING BELL takes far too long and far too laboriously to find out that a man has lost his job.

The man then goes on a series of misadventures that include witnessing a suicide, the smashing a plant over a guyís head, some bravery during a fire, talking to a murderer, getting hit by a car, talking to a man in a hospital, and the like.

It was meant to be funny but with my Festival Impatient-itis well and truly set in, I had long lost my tolerance of such time wasting.

Things got a little more interesting when it turns out that the man has some sort of I-can-see-dead-people ability and how he always seemed to be around when someone died. This becomes curious and interesting and then youíre into the film, but damn! It takes its sweet time to get there. I'm just completely over things like the lead guy not saying anything for the entire film. The way the film ended it could have been done in about half an hour.

A film that was done in less than half an hour was KITCHEN SINK. A rather nightmarish Eraserhead style story of a person - of sorts - found in the kitchen sink. Way creepy and often completely goddamn gross, they should have put it on the horror night.

We then moved on to one of the most exciting moments in the 20th century with the moon landing in FOR ALL MANKIND.

Yíknow it would be great it the US military could go back to wasting money on something like going to the moon and stuff. That was cool. One of John Kennedyís most memorable speeches was his pledge to get to the moon. What will be George W Bushís most memorable speech?

This film was awe-inspiring. To see some of the moon landing footage on the big screen was just fantastic. This great adventure , told so brilliantly, was thrilling and emotionally uplifting.

The 35th anniversary of the moon landing will be next year; they should do a re-release of this film in the theatres to celebrate it. This film was easily the biggest highlight of the festival so far.

All the docos Iíve seen so far have been really good.

Sending me crashing back to earth was OASIS. Jong-du is released from jail and heís an annoying little prick. Heís a shame to his family; heís unreliable, steals from this family and canít hold down a job.

He was in jail for involuntary manslaughter resulting from a car crash and he goes off to visit the family of the victim. There he meets up with a girl with a severe neuromuscular disorder.

Itís the exhausting story of thoroughly exploited people living in squalor - and I have never felt so dreadfully manipulated in my life.

The way that the characters are set up to be hated and then only much later have the truth revealed about them made me feel thoroughly exploited myself. It was almost a betrayal.

The leads are fantastic and the film gets interesting in its way how it shows what the neuromuscular disorder girl is thinking and hoping, but I just felt so tricked in this film that I left the film angry.

Into the home stretch now with some good films to look forward to.

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originally posted: 06/19/03 12:02:13
last updated: 12/30/03 09:59:00
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