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Brisbane Film Festival Daily Diaries - all the BIFF news here
by Trevor Gensch

Interested in film but too bone lazy to actually go to the cinema? Never fear, allow me to guide you through the cultural minefield that is the Brisbane International Film Festival 2003!

BIFF Diary - Day 10 - 8 August 2003

Last day of the festival for me (boo hoo..), a family holiday drags me away from the darkened theatres to the sunny climes of Port Macquarie. After an mid-festival slump BIFF is returning serve with some fantastic entries to finish off my viewing schedule. Thursday had some great films (see yesterday's diary) and today had one great film and one reasonable film. Not the best way to finish up the festival but not too bad in my books.

I'll be writing up my faves and pet hates in the next day or two; for now there is today's diary and a quick roundup of my general festival impressions.

The Cuckoo
Russian film about two soliders (from opposite sides of the war) who end up being taken care off by a Laplander woman at the end of the Second World War. None of them can understand what each other is saying (leading to one of the soldiers thinking the other's name is "Get Lost"), but somehow they have to find a way to get along.

This is an incredibly funny and entertaining film. Even the scenes leading up to the events described above are very intentive and engaging.

You share the characters frustration as you are forced to read subtitles - you don't understand what they are saying as much as they don't understand each other. This allows you to quickly identify with their plights and get right into the film with the minimum of fuss.

Entertaining but muddled spanish thriller about a casino boss who collects "luck". He has the power to capture a person's luck for himself. He searches the world looking for survivors of plane crashes, unusual events or just plain "lucky" behaviour and invites the participants to try out the ultimate game of Russian Roulette. But a disgruntled former employer locates a particularly likely candidate ahead of the casino boss and plans to use him to extract his revenge on his former employer.

As I said, this film gets a bit confusing a times and perhaps a too little clever for its own good. Having said that it is quite entertaining and it woudl be interesting to see this one fare in a general release; methinks it wouldn't do too badly.

As an end to my festival it was a disappointment but on its own it is quite passable entertainment.

As a side note - I don't think the casino boss would ever come after me as I managed to miss my train by about 2 seconds - no luck with me that night!

BIFF Diary- Day 9 - 7 August 2003

Well, my festival is nearly at an end. I won't be partaking the delights of any movies on the Saturday and Sunday, meaning I had to compact down a 12 day schedule into 10 days! Haven't done too bad considering.

As I mentioned yesterday, today's viewing could almost be described as Phillip Seymour-Hoffman Day. Both Love Liza and Owning Mahony starring the versatile character actor.

First up was:

Love Liza
Wilson isn't coping well with the death of his wife; she committed suicide and he has no idea why she did. We enter Wilson's life as he is well on the way to spiralling downwards into a bottomless pit of depression. So where some may find alcohol a suitable companion on this journey Wilson instead turns to petrol sniffing.

On such a depressing premise you would think Love Liza would be a totally depressing experience - it isn't. Amongst the anguish are moments of dark comic genius that should be out of place but are not.

Certainly not a date movie but one that lovers of Hoffman or just those that wish to watch some beautiful acting can enjoy.

Owning Mahony
Based on a true story of a bank employee who embezzled $10.5 million to fund his gambling addiction; and also the story of the hungry casino that turned a blind eye to it.

This new feature from Richard Keietniowski (who directed one of my favourite films of all time Love and Death on Long Island is positively brimming with wit, intelligence and sassy style. Hoffman plays the corrupt title character, and really turns in a convincing performance - you believe that Hoffman is a bank teller with a lover for gambling rather than just an actor playing a part. John Hurt (who also starred in Kwietniowski's debut feature) plays a pivotal role here as the casino boss who suddenly becomes Mahony's best friend once he realises how much money he can make.

This one is a lot of fun - highly recommended. Hopefully this will get a local release as I am sure it will do well.

Both Love Liza and Owning Mahony have a further screening at the festival over the weekend.

Films on Day 10 (my last day of the festival - boo hoo...) - Betty Blowtorch, The Cuckoo and Intacto.

Top 10 at BIFF!
Audience votes play a big part in BIFF - film goers are encouraged to vote via the tear sheets for the shorts and films being shown.

Here is the first meaningful Top 10 listing of films that have played at BIFF - certainly some interesting ones made the Top 10.

Molly and Mobarak
Wildness - superb documentary
The Spanish Apartment - possibly because of its upbeat subject matter
Hop - great to see this little-publicised film proving so popular
Undead - I wasn't aware you were allowed to vote multiple times for the same film
Oasis - controversial subject matter striking a chord with festival patrons
Pure - this one has to get a local release!
Betty Blowtorch and Her Amazing True Life Adventures - looking foward to seeing this one tomorrow
Japanese Story
Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony

BIFF Diary- Day 8 - 6 August 2003

Well, it seems I spoke a tad too soon yesterday when I wondered where all the good films had gone - they were obviously hiding out on Day 7 of the festival. 3 choices, 3 excellent films. A good day!

It's a difficult one to describe, this Hungarian film, very difficult instead. No story to speak of (not that it matters), more interconnected scenes showing parts of landscapes, human nature and the world around us that you normally wouldn't see.

To give you an idea what this unique film has in store for you - a man sits on a bench outside his home with a pail of milk, he cannot seem to overcome a severe case of hiccups; his hiccups in turn have an effect on the bench he is sitting on, the ants, the beetles, even the very concrete supports that hold the bench to the ground. Nothing escapes the cameras eye.

At times you have to remember that this isn't a wildlife documentary; the unique views it offers you make it difficult at times - at one point we are treated to an incredible shot of a mole burrowing through the earth, only to be dug out by a farmer and fed to the neighbours dog.

The camera follows various villagers around and observes them in minute detail. The condensation on the side of a glass, cutting of vegetables for an evening meal. Just when you think the film is running out of ways to dazzle you it surprises you with yet another "how the heck did they do that" scene.

Hukkle is simply a breaktaking, dazzling, and at times, heartfelt film. It leaves the viewer thinking just a little differently about the world around them. If a film can have such a positive effect then it's OK in my books.

If you want to catch this film during the festival, its playing again on the 8 August. Check it out and change your world.

Raising Victor Vargas
An accomplished first feature from Peter Sollett, Raising Victor Vargas is an astonishing bit of film making - its at times frustrating but overall quite romantic as we follow the titular youth as he pursues avowed man-hater Melonie. Victor is a bit of a romeo so he has a hard battle ahead of him if he is to win her heart. Along the way he has to contend with his troublesome and old-fashioned grandmother, his fawning brother and annoying, meddlesome sister.

The film employs a wry humour and tongue-in-cheek attitude that works extremely well - few first time features can afford to be so smug and get away with it.

And first time actor Victor Rusuk has a big future ahead of him - boyish good looks backed up with an excellent performance make him the easy standout in this film.

Check it out - you'll love it. Its playing again on 9 August.

Noi Albinoi
Noi is a lonely, troubled teenager living in a remote Iceland village. There isn't much to do; his day consists of buying a bottle of malt at the local shop and then spending the day at the local bookstore. It certainly beats having to turn up for school, an institution he constantly plays truant from.

All this changes when he meets a girl, she works at the local store and he is captivated by her. Will she be enough to put him on the straight and narrow?

Noi Albinoi isn't just a story about a loner - its has a lot of funny moments as well. Despite its short running length, its still a very reflective study of the human condition. And I defy anyone not to feel kicked in the guts after the last ten minutes.

Noi Albinoi is playing again on the 9 August and I thoroughly recommend it.

Films on Day 9 (7 August) - this could be called Phillip Seymour-Hoffman Day, as both of my films on Day 8 have him in it - Love Liza and Owning Mahony.

BIFF Diary- Day 7 - 5 August 2003

I'll probably talk a bit about this in my wrap-up of the festival next week, but I wanted to mention it now. Does anyone else think this years BIFF really hasn't had many really good films on offer? A couple I saw mid-last week were probably the only ones that really stood out as being superb (The Bookstore, Hop and Pure), but a lot of the others have just been average or just plain awful.

It's probably not the fault of the festival itself; it can only screen films it can get or screen films that have actually been made, but surely there must be better ones out there?

Perhaps I am just remembering the past with rose-tinted glasses, but wasn't BIFF 2002 and 2001 better than this year?

Anyway, down to today's films:

Unknown Pleasures
A title that promises so much and delivers so little. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Evidently shot entirely on digital (and boy does it show in some places), the latest feature from Jia Zhang-ke (his excellent film Platform was screened at BIFF a few years back) is a film that smacks of self-indulgence and a lack of self-control.

Just because you can shoot lots of film cheaply on easily on digital doesn't mean you should. Its a big problem I have with many of these new generation film-makers utilising this new medium; they shoot and shoot and shoot and then forget to tell the editor to actually cut some of it down into a decent running length.

If watching five minute scenes of a guy riding his motorbike or watching five failed attempts to ride a bike up a hill (after which he gets to the top and smokes a cigarette) then Unknown Pleasures is for you. Otherwise look elsewhere.

It's playing again on the 8 August if you want to make your own mind up.

Letters in the Wind
There has been plenty of films that show life in boot camp (Schumacher's recent Tigerland a notable example) but few if any have the original slant that Letters in the Wind has.

A solider smuggles in a tape recorder that has on it the voice of his beloved back home; it helps him stave off homesickness and loneliness in this remote Tehran training camp. Despite his attempts to keep it secret it becomes very popular amongst his fellow trainees, a beautifully shot scene in the film shows the passage of the recorder as each man listens to one line from it and passes it on.

After winning a gruelling contest against his fellow comrades, the solider records messages for each of his friends, promising to phone each of their families and play the recording. In return he records the sounds of downtown Tehran; the bustling trade of the merchant shops, two Farsi women gossiping amongst themselves, and the general sound of life in the big city.

Letters in the Wind is a beautiful little film showing how these soliders cope with the harsh regime and conditions; the threat of war ever-present. Tenderly and beautifully shot by DOP Bayram Fazli, it almost bought a tear to the eye of this hardened film reviewer.

The meaning of the title becomes clear reasonably early in this classy, atmospheric French thriller. A French company is interested in obtaining European rights to the graphic and violent Anime content provided by a Tokyo-based company. Demonlover is one of their most popular titles, depicting rape, torture, violence and underage activity under the sanitised wrap of Anime drawings. Its a film that is set in our near future, a future where one of the last frontiers for multi-nationals wishing to capture a slice of the teenage market is to make bids for this type of material; it seems in the future the stakes are a lot higher and it takes much more to shock, and hence, sell product.

Double-cross precedes double-cross as competing companies try and outdo each other to get the glittering prize - you never really know who is working for who.

Demonlover delivers on all fronts for much of its running length; superb visuals, a thumping pervasive score and top notch performances from a cast that includes Connie Nielsen, Chloe Sevingny and Gina Gershon. But it goes off the rails in the last half hour or so and becomes increasingly difficult to follow and understand. Its almost surreal final act is puzzling and an unsatisfactory conclusion to a film that set up and promised so much right from the beginning.

Films for Day 8 (6 August) - Hukkle, Raising Victor Vargas, Noi Albinoi.

BIFF Diary- Day 6 - 4 August 2003

Bit of a change to the schedule today - a bit of weariness is starting to catch up with me so I didn't go and see my late night film - my snoring would probably have been a bit of a distraction!

Bravo to the Hoyts Regent Bar for ensuring they are open from lunchtime for every day of the festival - last year you had to literally bang on the roller shutter at 5.00pm to get them to arise from their lethargy. Always handy to have a place to relax between sessions or to use as a meeting place for friends joining you for certain screenings. 2 for 1 Hahn Premium beers help enormously also.

Down to today's films!

Foreigners Out!
Documentary about the extreme ruling party of Austria which has the bizarre idea for publicity of putting 10 refugees into a container in the main street and inviting the general public to choose which one gets deported each day, Big Brother style.

What started out as a curious piece of self-promotion for the ruling FPO Party turned into a turbulent and sometimes violent area where tempers flared and passions were inflamed.

Foreigners Out! perhaps has a few too many talking heads to make it a thoroughly absorbing documentary (there is only so much you can watch of lunatics shouting political slogans and the like at the organisers of this shameful public event) but it is an interesting look nonetheless of the very real effects a Big Brother-style show can have when given a practical application.

Early Spring
This one is the only film I am seeing as part of the Ozu retrospective at this years BIFF, and I probably just put it on my list of ones to see to fill up a gap one day rather than any real desire to actually see it.

I'm not a particular fan of Japanese cinema at all - and this one did nothing to change my cemented position. At its heart Early Spring is a reflective, contemplative piece; family and relationships are very much at its heart. It also touches upon the plight of the worker and the effects it has on the family unit.

Its way too long for the amount of material that is actually present in the film and it suffers as a result; duplication of many aspects presented pad it out beyond what it should have been. But it looks great and the performances are all quite good.

Friday Night
The film opens on a woman packing her house up in preparation for a move; she is starting a new life with a new boyfriend. But she doesn't seem really happy about it. Driving to her new house she gets caught in a Paris traffic snarl. She offers the warm comfort of her car to a passer-by, an offer he gratefully accepts. She is attracted to him; the movement of his hands, the glance of his neck. They leave the car and go and spend a passionate night in a hotel room, after which she kisses him gently and they part, never to meet again.

There really isn't much plot-wise to Friday Night, the interest this film holds is the innovative camera-work; the camera stays close to our characters, tenderly caressing their bodies as we watch these two new lovers explore each other. We almost feel like we are intruding on a very private moment, the camera gets in close to give the viewer random body parts moving against each other.

It's by no means a voyeuristic film, it is difficult to make out what is going on in many of the scenes in the hotel for instance. It is though an erotic film that successfully portrays the moments of hedonistic pleasure between these two relative strangers quite beautifully.

Short on plot but big on substance. That's not a bad thing.

Films on Day 7 - Unknown Pleasures, Letters in the Wind, Demonlover and Turning Gate.

BIFF Diary- Day 5 - 3 August 2003

Nice quiet day today - only two films. Hard to believe we are at the halfway point of the festival already - time really does go quickly.

Had the honour of interviewing a couple of people who have films screening at BIFF - those interviews should appear next week.

The films I saw today:

Engrossing documentary about the work of two prominent Tasmanian wildlife photographers, Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis. While working largely independently of each other, their stories share surprising resonances and similarities. Both were immigrants escaping persecution in their home countries and both came to Tasmania and fell in love with its natural, unspoiled beauty. They were both heavily involved in campaigning against the various dam projects that carved great swathes of pipes and concrete monstrosities through this virgin landscape. And they both died doing what they loved, photographing the land and vistas around them.

Its only 48 minutes long, but what it packs into its short running length is a fitting tribute to these two great men, and instilled in an urban dweller like me a renewed appreciation of our beautiful land.

It's playing on ABC Television on the 24 August - I strongly recommend checking it out.

Painting with Light in a Dark World
This one isn't a feature, but the short that played with Wildness. It is about 26 minutes long and I felt it worthy a mention as it was so good. Peter Darren Moyle lived on the streets of inner-city Sydney for many years, living in rough digs in the darkened laneways of Kings Cross. What kept him sane was an interest in photography, and over the last 12 years he has captured the dark underbelly of Sydney like no other artist before. His work has come to the attention of the Sydney art community, and this documentary looks at the lead up to his first exhibition of his work. Peter certainly is a character, hardened by the life he has had to lead, but he retains an incredible spirit of optimism and hope.

I might even say I enjoyed this more than I did Wildness. But I won't.

Mildly retarded Korean boy Jong-Du meets mentally and physically retarded girl Gong-Ju She is forced to live in squalor and virtually ignored by her immediate family unless she is needed to give them continued access to their subsidised apartment.

She just happens to be the daughter of the man that Jong-Du killed in a vehicle accident three years earlier. What begins as a simple act of conciliation to the widow of the deceased changes to a tender love story with the handicapped Gong-Ju. His family doesn't understand it and won't. They just think it's another passing fad for the child-like Jong-Du. They don't want to see her hurt any more.

Its a confronting film to be sure - the question of whether handicapped people should be allowed the freedoms their more able bodies brothers are afforded is probed and prodded, and the answers aren't all good.

The film uses a great device to express her love for the playful Jong-Du; to show her affection she occasionally becomes "normal". Able bodied and perfectly adjusted she dances and sings with her new love, but once another person enters the frame and breaks the bond we see Gong-Ju as she truly is, a misshapen husk who can barely produce a coherent sentence.

Oasis does at times step beyond the audiences' comfort zone; an early attempted rape of the handicapped girl is seat-squirmingly uncomfortable - there were a few walkouts at this point. But if you can get beyond these scenes you are rewarded with what is surprisingly a tender and heartfelt romance. Just don't expect a happy Hollywood ending.

Films on Day 6 (4 August) of the festival: Foreigners Out!, Early Spring, Friday Night and The Funeral.

BIFF Diary- Day 4 - 2 August 2003

A personal gripe here - BIFF have got to get their story straight. Are the reserved areas for media/vips and priority seating or not? Getting two different answers from two different people didn't help yesterday.

Came in damn handy during the near-sold out session of The Spanish Apartment though.

Hopefully on Sunday we will get an indication of what the most popular films of the festival are so far. Its always interesting to see the early front runners and whether or not they slip back due to competition from films in the second week. Although I don't think todays fare is going to threaten that ranking too much... well perhaps one of them might....

The films today!

Divine Intervention
Any attempt to explain it would be pretty futile, as it often happens with these minimalist types of films.

I had a conversation with a friend about this one (he had seen it a day or two before). The conversation went something like this:

"There's hardly any talking in it"
"uh huh"
"It's one of those sorts of ones where the same scene repeats itself over and over"
"oh, uh huh"
"It's pretty political too"
"i see, hmm, uh huh"

So I wasn't sure whether I would be bored silly with this one or just given the chance to catch up on some sleep. All in all, Divine Intervention isn't that bad. It's not too long, which is good start. It does have some genuinely entertaining scenes. And the closest part where it comes to a narrative has the most incredible sequence involving a checkpoint, a daring escape plan and a red balloon with Gaddifi painted on the side.

Its when it is at its most surreal that this film works. Certainly not for everyone, but don't be dissuaded if you are interested in seeing it.

Not that you can anyway - its festival run is finished.

Sex is Comedy
French film by provocative director Catherine Breillat, conceived as a rebuttal to critics of her previous films such as Romance and Brief Crossing, both of which have been attacked as portraying sex to explicitly (even for French audiences!).

The action takes place on the set of a film about two reluctant teenage lovers. But the leading man is having self esteem issues and the leading lady can't stand to be in the same room as him. Shooting scenes on the beach in near freezing weather doesn't help matters. And then the artificial penis isn't big enough.

Billed primarily as a comedy, Breillat nevertheless takes her time to make her views quite plain on the issue at hand. Not as funny as it really should have been (although the artificial penis stuff which comprises the latter half of the film is hilarious), Sex is Comedy is an interesting film in the way is uses the events unfolding in the shooting of the fictitious film to parallel the events plaguing Brelliat in her own films.

Its playing again on the 9 August for those that wish to avail themselves of this repeat screening.

The Spanish Apartment
Anticipation was high for this one; audience favourite at the Sydney Film Festival, new film from Director Cedric Klapisch who had another BIFF favourite When the Cat's Away play at BIFF at few years back, and a good buzz about seemed to indicate that this one would be the one to watch.

So what's it like? While its good, I can't really see what all the fuss is about. Perhaps because it is an out and out comedy its an antidote to other more sombre festival fare. People need a laugh, and The Spanish Apartment delivers it.

The story is reasonably simple; promised a good government position by a family friend, a french youth spends a year in Spain to swat up on the language and local events to enable him to better start his new diplomatic-type job. He ends up sharing a multicultural house with 5 other people; British, Swedes, Germans etc. And from there is pretty much the mad-cap hi-jink adventures of these wacky funsters. Mistaken identity, chases, sex and illicit drugs; all in the day in the life of the spanish apartment.

It does have some quite funny scenes in it (the "boyfriend turns up for surprise visit" scenario gets a workout here, with a surprising twist) and it doesn't really outstay its welcome.

Its disposable cinema though, like chinese food - you'll have forgotten most of it by the next day but you are still hungry for more.

The Spanish Apartment gets another screening on the 7 August, which I am sure will be just as popular as this initial screening was.

Films on the block ready to dive into on Sunday 3 August - Wildeness, Oasis.

BIFF Diary- Day 3 - 1 August 2003

Friday crowds are always big - everyone seems to come out and see at least one film to show what a multicultural and refined movie buff they are. This years must-see film is the horror flick from Brisbane's Spierig Brothers - Undead. Testament to its popularity it sold out on the first day tickets went on sale, but I am sure I still saw Mrs Spierig outside the Regent Cinemas passing out freebies and pointing to the two unkempt unshaven twins standing in the corner shouting proudly "'dems my boys!!!".

The line to get into Undead snaked all the way down to the bottom of the Queen Street Mall. Wow. Just for fun I spent a productive few minutes wandering up and down the line asking whether I could cut in. When that went down like a lead balloon I put on my official BIFF regalia and started telling people that the print hadn't arrived and instead it was being replaced with a selection of Spierig home movies circa 1972. Who wants to watch zombie flesh eaters when you can watch two brothers fight over a rubber duckie in the bathtub?

Anyway, down to my busy schedule that was Day 3 of the festival.

Justin and his father Dieudonne are Congolese refugees, eking out a meagre existence living in French speaking Belgium. After a trivial incident with a television the father is captured by the police and deported and Justin encounters an old political activist, played by the cantankerous Jan Decleir. Together they hatch a cunning scheme to get Justin's father back from exile by using the titular method of the "hop". Let's just say it has a lot to do with taking a firm grip of the situation and not letting go.

This darkly observed comedy is one that tackles the now thorny issues of terrorism, but in a way that makes you sympathise with the plucky young Justin. His needs are simple, he just wants his father back.

Hop while being an interesting look at some potentially topical ideas, is a film essentially played to entertain rather than inform. The subtext is there if you want to dig but it can be enjoyed as it stands. It's playing again on the 4 August and I recommend those interested should check it out.

Blue Car
Meg is a smart teenager with a promising literary talent. Unable to communicate with her overworked mother, she veers between exasperation and affectionate concerned for her emotionally scarred sister Lily. Using poetry as a release, she comes to the attention of her high school English teacher, who encourages her to explore her inner feelings and develop her talent.

But are the intentions of her teacher 100% honourable? Can she continue to keep it together as her family further disintegrates around her?

Blue Car is a touching, moving, heartbreaking and tender film which doesn't sugar coat the hard facts of life; shit happens. That Meg is still able to smile at the end of the film, even after being reunited with her estranged father as they drive off to an uncertain future together is an indicator of this plucky young woman's courage.

Agnes Bruckner (who plays Meg) is a face that may be familiar to the keen eyed movie buff - she had a small role in Murder by Numbers and 2001's Glass House. Her performance in this film is nothing short of outstanding. With her lineup of films to be released in the near future Agnes Bruckner is a name to be remembered, she will do big things to be sure.

Blue Car gets another BIFF screening on the 2 August but it is also coming out in general release around September. Look out over the coming few days for my interview with the producer of the film, Peer J Oppenheimer.

Smokers Only
I knew my luck was not going to hold out, this one really didn't have any interest for me whatsoever. What reads well in the programme, a story of two teenagers and their strange romance in night-time Buenos Aires, sounded interesting enough.

But what it translates to on celluloid is a disjointed mishmash of barely connected scenes, little or no narrative, and characters speaking "script" rather than "speech".

Reni is a young girl, the leading singer of a rock band. She first meets Andres as he concludes his "business" with a client in the foyer of a 24 hour cash dispenser. Reni is intrigued, frightened even of the bold Reni. But he seems the perfect antidote for her restlessness so she joins him on the sidewalks of the city, soliciting business from passing cars. Fascination turns to grim realisation as it becomes apparent that prostitution is not what she was interested in, she just wants to be with Reni.

The film is a voyeuristic one, we are asked to share in Andre's lifestyle, and in time Reni's. We follow them on the path between self destruction and redemption.

As I said, this one really reads better than it really is. The only good thing is now I know that 50 eskimos built a giant lamp in Alaska. Don't ask.

The Principles of Lust
It seems to take a lot to disgust and shock and audience nowadays - gone are the days when mere sex or sexual activity would be enough to make a film "raunch", "gritty" and "confronting".

The Principles of Lust takes this idea and takes it two steps forward, instead of group sex we have hedonistic orgies, instead of a couple enjoying each other sexually we have to have the effects of rough sex during a woman's period. And instead of violence we have ten year olds in games of bare knuckle boxing with eager adults looking on and placing bets.

Wrapped around these scenes of excess is ostensibly a story of a blocked writer (Alec Newman) who meets and falls head over heels in lust with single mother Juliette (Sienna Guillory).

Thrown into the mix is anarchist Billy (Marc Warren) who seems hell bent on destroying himself and those around him.

This would be one of those sorts of films that would be classified "mainly concerned with sex", and it would be quite accurate in this case; a skeleton of a narrative is flimsily hung over the true meat - sex scene after sex scene after sex scene.

It does however have the singular honour of introducing a new phrase into the underbelly language "pulsating abdomen of malice". Try fitting that into polite dinner conversation.

The Principles of Lust is playing again on the 9 August, which is a shame really.

I don't think I have seen a more arresting series of images in the cinema this year; a ten year old boy preparing "medicine" (in reality a dose of heroin) for his mother who is lying passed out in her bedroom. After admonishing him for touching his mothers "medicine" she asks him whether he prepared it correctly. Its a sombre and poignant opening to a film that should not be judged on the basis of this opening scene alone.

This incredible film is about the courage embodied in the stocky frame of ten year old Paul (Harry Eden), determined to help his sick mother and care for his younger brother. But when local drug dealer and supplier (David Wenham in a very hardnosed mood) tells him her medicine is in fact heroin he makes it his responsibility to get her mum off the "gear".

The determination of this young lad and the demanding role asked of him is delivered in such a convincing and realistic way that this young lad seems more like 30 years old than his tender 10 suggests. He stands up to the supplier, nails shut his mothers room while she detoxes (standing outside while her addled mother screams at him and curses his very existence). All this is done with the steely look of determination to get his mom "better".

Every scene, every frame with this young lad in it further impresses. In fact all the major roles in this film are excellent.

Pure plays again on the 3 August. Check it out.

Update on Yellow Coat Man - he was in two of my films yesterday. I am now convinced he lives in Hoyts Regent Cinema 1 and only comes out to annoy the attendants. A suspicious pile of boxes in the corner near the fire escape confirmed my worst fears.

Films I am seeing on Day 4 (2/8) of the festival are: Divine Intervention, Sex is Comedy, The Spanish Apartment.

BIFF Diary- Day 2 - 31 July 2003

Ooops, the power that be at BIFF must have read yesterdays column. I had a bit of a whinge about the advertisements preceding each film. Today there were none. Thank god.

I am happy to report that Yellow Coat Man is following me around the festival, I think he is stalking me. He was at both the sessions I was at today and even sat two seats from me in the second one. I am scared. Very, very scared.

Anyway, down to todays films.

The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin
As the title aptly illustrates, this is indeed a documentary. A documentary about Charlie Chaplin. For anyone who knows little or nothing about the great comic, this doco is a fantastic introduction to his life's work. It certainly doesn't shy away from covering his more sordid life from the late forties onwards either. Its all here, in its warts and all glory.

Plenty of clips from his catalogue of films are presented here, and we are treated to reminisces and thoughts by the likes of Martin Scorcese, Woody Allen and Marcel Marceau.

Incredibly engaging and never for a single moment boring in any way, The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin is one of those sorts of documentaries that presents its subject effortlessly and is a mesmerising document of his work. Thoroughly recommended. Its playing again on the 5 August so catch it while you can!

This is My Land
I'll come right out and say it, this is my first dud of the festival, and a surprising dud. The program guide fleshes out the story adequately, but it does not translate the same way on the big screen. Word of warning - if you miss the opening narration by the lead character in the first two minutes of the film don't even hope to understand the rest of it. And even if you did keep up, the narrative is so disjointed it lacks any form of structure or constant flow.

Is it a story about a husband with financial problems? Or a story about a local boy who left and came back a wealthy man to make good on his earlier desires? Or is it about the threat of industrialisation on a rural community of simple people? All these issues are touched on but never full expanded or explored. A disappointing film that promised so much more.

The subtitles are a hoot on this one too - a character implores another to attend an important social gathering by saying "you musn't attend, you musn't!" These sorts of hacked attempts at english are ever-present throughout the translation.

Films I am seeing on Day 3 (1/8) - Hop, Blue Car, Smokers Only, The Principles of Lust, Pure (a big day to be sure!)

BIFF Diary- Day 1 - 30 July 2003

There's something about being there at the festival, first session, first day, that is so essential for the dedicated film-goer. The air feels crisp, the attendants are all relatively healthy and have had plenty of sleep. All these things will of course be quite the reverse in a matter of days.

Day 1 of BIFF could probably be soundtracked by something suitably dramatic, like the 1812 Overture, for that is one of the tunes that sprung to mind as I saw the tidal wave of zimmer frames, walking sticks and bags of knitting as the over 55s descended on the free sessions being offered this year.

I felt overwhelmingly outnumbered as I settled in at 9.55am for my first film.

And yes, I saw my first of two sitings that day of the man I have come to know as "Yellow Coat Man". One, he is an annoying pest that seems to enjoy making the attendants life hell by pestering them all day with his inane babble, and two, he is the only person stupid enough to actually have ever bought (and wear) a mustard coloured jacket.

Anyway, the films I saw today:

The Bookstore
Charming Tunisian film about a bookstore owner who hires a charismatic young wanderer to help in the shop after the death of his father. This new employee brings a new chemistry into the mix; the bookstore owner is married to an ambitious (and very young and beautiful) aspiring singer and also lives with his mother, still mourning the death of her husband.

Its an interesting tale of non-conformity in a society which accepts nothing but stringent adherence to tradition. The wife is told she will bring shame on the household if she wishes to pursue her ambitions to sing, his mother shocks the neighbourhood by openly flirting with the new employee.

I was utterly entranced by this film, of particular note the cinematography is of a high quality, really capturing the feel of the location. And for a film that takes place pretty much exclusively within the confines of the dusty bookshop it is a credit to the Director that the frame always finds something new to look and marvel at.

This one is playing a couple of more times during BIFF, and I heartily recommend that you give it a look.

All the Real Girls
I loved Director David Gordon Green's debut feature George Washington (which screened at BIFF during 2001) but I couldn't really get into his new film All the Real Girls

On paper it seems like an enchanting and simple story idea, local gigolo falls in love with best mates sister, and this time its for real. Gordon Green doesn't play it for gawkish sentimentality, but instead tries to infuse a very real sense of place and feeling; his continued use of the stark decaying urban landscape is put to good effect as it was in his first feature.

But the dialogue, which was described in the program guide as natural and casual, to me came off as script generated and false. Rarely are the characters saying anything or acting in any way that is typical of teenagers; everything is done for dramatic effect rather than realism.

Gordon Green has always had a great eye for the best way to film a frame visually, but with All the Real Girls its his own script that lets him down. It might not be too kind to say this, but I spent most of the film trying to figure out whether the lead character was playing a guy with a mild retardation, or whether the actor himself was mildly retarded. I don't think any girl would fall for his weird patter and pick up lines. Perhaps they do things differently in the Deep South.

Now I just want to mention one thing before I sign off today. What the heck is BIFF thinking! I settle down to watch a film and up pops an ADVERTISEMENT! I mean, come on, an ADVERTISEMENT!! And judging by the advertisements so far I think it is a cunning contest constructed by BIFF where you have to nominate the silliest ad - perhaps they can vote on them also with little tear sheets. My vote so far goes to the god-awful San Remo pasta ad. It actually had people laughing out loud (in a bad way) during one screening.

Films on Day 2 - The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin, This is My Land

BIFF Diary- Day Minus 1 - 29 July 2003

Ah, the glitz and glamour of opening night. BIFF turned on the style tonight as the festival gears up again for the two biggest weeks on the Brisbane film calendar.

The red carpet was rolled out to usher in the special guests, cast and crew from the Opening Night film - Gettin' Square. Event organiser and local attention-seeker Damien Rossi seemed determined to exhaust Director Jonathan Teplitzky's post-movie thank you speech by having him answer all sorts of questions before even hitting the cinema foyer. Poor Jonathan.

Once he was let from Damien's grasp we were all allowed to proceed up to the cinema for the screening.

Bravo to BIFF for this year ensuring that both the short and feature are Australian. After last years effort (some dire American short) this year we have a Queensland made feature and and an Australian short.

The main feature, Gettin' Square, is definitely a movie cut from the same mold as other recent aussie caper films such as Dirty Deeds (not surprising as Channel 9 Films pitched in with some dosh for this one too). The plot itself is pretty standard fare, double dealings, crooked cops, gangster-lite thugs and ex-cons trying to stick to the straight and narrow (gettin' square).

Special mention must be made of David Wenham, playing an ex-con who just seems to land in problem after problem. Wenham plays him as a total loser, mullet haircut, daggy shirts, thongs and hitched-up blue shorts. He's also not all there really. Wenham plays him totally for laughs, and is a joy to watch.

Lead Sam Worthington (who can finally put behind him the ugly spectre of 2000's Bootmen) is the films lead, also trying to make an honest living but finding his past constantly catching up with him. The love interest introduced for him is a tad unconvincing (she is his brothers probation officer) and is easily the weakest part of the film.

Gettin' Square is an enjoyable enough flick, nothing particularly original or groundbreaking, but solid performances, great direction and a rocking soundtrack (go go go MGF!!!) won't leave too many people unsatisfied.

Oh yeah, gotta mention the short that played before the feature, Clutch, an absolutely charming story of a mechanic trying to keep the peace with his estranged partner and be a father to his young daughter also. The short is infused with a charming sense of whimsy and magic that was enchanting. And the closing line is a killer too. Well worth a look.

BIFF Diary- Day Minus 2 - 28 July 2003

Did you know that Catherine Hepburn was born 6 years before Titanic sank? Or is that five years before? This and more exciting questions were posed to a packed house at the second annual BIFF Trivia Night!

Trivia returned bigger and better this year with over 25 teams squeezing themselves into the Brisbane Powerhouse for some truly mind-boggling questions.

Bill McDonald from Channel 10 was our host for the evening as he ran through four rounds of questions, with some interesting bonus rounds like Six Degrees of Separation and Match the Year with the Director.

Now our team did pretty well last year (we came second), but this year the trivia freaks must have come out of hibernation early as we could only manage a paltry 4th! Some of those questions were hard! But some teams, such as the obviously movie-overdosed Red Hill Alliance were getting close to perfect scores, every round! We were lucky (?) enough to be seated next to the overall winners, probably the largest sighting of librarians ever seen in the wild

Our table kept amused when not winning by altering BIFF media photos to recreate scenes from Ken Park. And altering Brad Pitt movie titles after one question about soap and Fight Club. I am sure all of you have seen the classic movie, Legends of the Soap, and who can forget the gems such as Meet Joe Soap and that dark thriller SevenSoap?

To add insult to injury, the prize for best team name was obviously bought and paid for in advance. I mean how can a movie buff even consider giving the title to a team name that begins with twoallbeffpattiessaucelettucecheeseandpicklesonasesameseedbun? I mean, really!

With pasta by San Remo and alcohol by Ben the Barman (way to keep the bubbly flowing there Ben!) the night sailed along with nary a hitch...

...apart from that question about Katherine Hepburn of course...

Opening night tomorrow night! BIFF is upon us people!

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originally posted: 07/29/03 10:35:27
last updated: 12/31/03 14:32:19
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