Wednesday June 8th - Sunday June 19th
Of course, my favourite part of the Sydney Film Festival is the “Freak Me Out” section, now in its sixth year, and always wonderfully selected by guest programmer Richard Kuipers, a fellow horror, exploitation, and and arthouse-nightmare geek like myself. There are seven flicks in the FMO mini-program this year, one more than usual (Ben Wheatley’s hugely anticipated J.G. Ballard adaptation of mid-70s upper-class apocalypse High Rise).
The artful weird dream of Evolution from Gaspar Noe’s partner Lucile Hadzihalilovic looks to be a big-screen treat, as does the American Gothic of The Eyes of My Mother, a monochromatic descent into madness in the middle of nowhere. There’s the Frankenstein perversion of Patchwork where three women regain consciousness only to discover they’re each 1/3rd of a newly stitched together person. Dee Wallace stars in an Australian (the first time an Oz flick has appeared in the FMO program) yuletide spooker, Red Christmas, that promises much carnage, and finally, the Middle Eastern ghost tale of Under the Shadow, a kind of sand-blown J-Horror-style study of mounting dread.
I’m a great fan of the documentary format, and so I always look forward to the doc section of the SFF. This year there are several hot docs that have taken my fancy. From the Czech Republic comes a stylish, multi-narrative piece following four couples and their levels of intimacy, called Europe, She Loves. Jim Jarmusch’s love letter to Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Gimme Danger, ‘nuff said. Hotel Coolgardie is a rough and ready look at the trials and tribulations of two Scandinavian girls working in a small Aussie mining town pub. The Man from Mo’Wax covers the extraordinary career of James Lavelle, the prodigy who founded one of the most respected downtempo electronic labels of the 90s.
Alongside the documentaries are the biopics and docu-dramas that grab my attention. This year several have strongly appealed to me; Letters From War, a stunningly realised romance shot in black and white, based on the real letters of one of Portugal’s most celebrated writers. Down Under captures the intensely palpable threat of violence that was the Cronulla race riots via a black comedy (no pun intended) that will no doubt cause friction in the audiences. Goat, from the States, is a startling expose on the freshman antics and rites that besiege young college men.
Other dark-hued features that I’ve earmarked include the Greek Suntan, about a middle-aged doctor who becomes embroiled in the shenanigans of a bunch of carefree young tourists on a sun-kissed isle. From Italy, Suburra, a gangster epic that combines the usual; the Mafioso, the church, and the socio-political machinations and meddlesome machismo in between. The US indie, White Girl, follows a streetwise young uni student who inadvertently becomes a drug peddler, whilst her dealer boyfriend is doing time. The Polish hybrid, The Lure, is a romance-cum-horror-cum-musical about two vampiric mermaids, while the German Wild deals, rather transgressively, with a young woman’s unusual relationship with a wolf.
There are a bunch of restorations at the festival this year, and the standout for me has to be Ray Lawrence’s adaptation of Peter Carey’s searing and strange black comedy Bliss. This is the kind of production that would not get made anymore. Also of note is Rowan Woods’ slow-burn character study The Boys.
David Stratton is hosting a Martin Scorsese retrospectives of ten pictures (as Marty looks to call them), from 1973’s Mean Streets up to 2004’s The Aviator. The mini-program includes almost all my favourites: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas, and Casino. Shame he left out After Hours though. These are all essential viewing on the big screen.
Among the other festival events, the most notable, and certainly the one that has leaped out at me, is the free event, Down the Rabbit Hole: Virtual Reality at the Hub. A mini-program of immersive cinema put together by Mattieu Ravier in association with Jumpvate VR. This promises to be a eye-opening and mind-blowing introduction into the future of the cinema experience, or at least one avenue of it.