65th Sydney Film Festival - a wild mix of emotions

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The Blood Of Wolves

Sunday, 17 June, 8.45pm, Event Cinemas 9.

“Eating other animals is what humans do to survive.” It’s a line spat in the opening moments of this hardboiled gangster yarn, and it essentially sums up the entire sprawl of skullduggery and betrayal that oozes like foul sweat, stinks like blood, that gives this Japanese 80s-neo-noir the steel bollocks it demands. Set in Hiroshima, amidst the battles between yakuza clans and the law caught in the middle, it howls with retributive intent. 

Ôgami (Kôji Yakusho) is the no-nonsense detective who is out with a vengeance, determined to bring the gangsters to justice. He doesn’t beat about the bush, he beats the bush up, and then some. The rookie under his odious wing is Hoika (Tôri Matsuzaka), who likes to use the book properly, for applying routine procedure rather than using it as a weapon for extracting information. The two men become inexorably embroiled in the machinations of the underworld, as it becomes dangerously apparent that Ôgami has a few crucial dark skeletons in his closet.

At over two hours the movie has quite distinct halves, with much chaos and mayhem in the first, then seemingly settling down a little in the second, becoming subdued, even poignant, but the violence seethes, the wrath will bubble over soon enough, and there will be hell to pay. Based on a bestselling crime novel, Lone Wolf’s Blood, director Kazauya Shiraishi skillfully employs a dark sense of humour that writhes through the narrative, and pulls no punches with gritty, brutal combat. It’s like a cross between the dirty honour games of Beat Takeshi, with the carnage and charisma of Takashi Miike.


Ghost Stories

Extra Festival screening: Tuesday, 19 June, 9.30pm, Dendy Newtown.

Anthologies are always a mixed bag, both literally and figuratively. Writers and directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman have adapted their wildly successful UK stage show (which came to Sydney a few years back) into a nightmare combo; three tales with a wrap-around that holds them all snug as bugs in a rug. While there have been a bunch of anthologies out of the US in recent years, there hasn’t been a decent entry from Britain in yonks. Ghost Stories might not be brilliant, but it packs enough spooky ideas and twisty-twists into its hour-and-a-half that it’s well worth the ghost train ride.

Professor Goodman (Jeremy Dysan) is out to debunk anything that purports to be paranormal activity. He’s known for jumping onstage at psychic conventions and embarrassing everyone, which he then highlights on his exposé TV show. But after a respected academic invites him to debunk three real humdinger cases Goodman is soon floundering in the deep dark end of the bad dream pool.

Although I saw the Sydney stage production, I had forgotten most of the plot(s), until the very end of the movie, when it all comes together in nightmarish clarity. I’m glad, because it meant the frayed reveal was altogether more entertaining in a creepshow way. There are a couple of proper “Boo!”s, Martin Freeman is in terrific form (probably my favourite performance of his outside of The Office), and the wrap-around narrative rewards the viewer in many ways.  


One Day

Anna (Zsófia Szamosi) is a mother of three children, and husband to Szabolcs (Leó Füredi). Over one 24-hour period we see Anna do what millions of other middle-class women do, dealing the trials and tribulations of parenting. But what makes Anna’s situation especially trying is a reveal right at the start of the movie when family friend Gabi (Annamária Láng) arrives at the apartment to have a dialogue with Anna. The two women step out to a wine bar where Gabi tries to reassure Anna that she did not have an affair with husband, it was just a few silly texts. Anna is not impressed, but she listens to Gabi.

The movie’s narrative follows Anna as she weaves through the day’s tasks, arrangements, and classes, balancing her own part-time teaching with full-time motherhood, whilst the burden of her husband’s infidelity and lack of responsibility increasingly bears down on her into the wilderness of the nighttime. Anna is a pillar of strength, but even pillars crack under strain. It doesn’t help that the kitchen sink is broken. It adds insult to injury that she barely has enough time to even worry.

A brilliantly sustained central performance and great support from the child actors, One Day is the debut feature of Zsófia Szilágyi, and captures a docu-drama edge, with natural lighting, and unpretentious, but succinct editing. The thematic spine, the ironic blade of truth, that in order to survive the overwhelming pressures of adulthood one sometimes reverts, for better or for worse, to the shelter of childishness. An understated, affecting study of domesticity and humanity.



Director Kevin MacDonald is one of the great modern documentary filmmakers, from the brilliant, heart-stopping re-creations of Touching the Void through to the poignancy of his rasta biopic Marley, he pulls together the best elements to suit and enhance the subject matter. With his latest he has fashioned a documentary about the life and career of one of pop’s brightest flames, Whitney Houston, a teenage ghetto girl pushed hard by her industry-worn mother Cissy, held fast by her family ties, especially her two older brothers, held even closer by her confidante and secret lover Robyn, championed by the world (she holds a significant number of industry records), and ultimately brought down by the personal demons and drugs that overwhelmed her. It’s one of pop culture’s great tragedies.

Last year the SFF brought us an excellent doco that traced a very similar arc, Whitney: Can I Be Me, made by another top-notch investigative director, Nick Broomfield. It was so emotional, to quote the diva herself. Now, just one year later we are hit with another heartbreaking account of Whitney’s meteoric rise to fame (the extraordinary first album and its singles, the Superbowl performance, and, of course, The Bodygaurd) and her struggle beyond. Macdonald manages to prize a truly ugly truth that involves Dionne Warwick’s sister Dee Dee. It’s devastating. MacDonald had full access to family for this doco, and all are very candid about what went down backstage. Except for that dirty rat Bobby Brown, who refuses to discuss the hugely significant cocaine and crack use, claiming, inexplicably, that it was never an issue and shouldn’t be included in the doco. He was an arrogant douchebag then, he’s an asshole to the end.

Both Whitney documentaries make great companion pieces as very little footage overlaps (the rare grainy video footage of 14-year-old Whitney singing in front of the church choir being the only piece that comes to mind). Both docos tell the same tragic story, but with their own style and singular content. Whereas Broomfield’s uses a lot of never-before-seen footage from Whitney’s last successful tour, MacDonald’s has the endorsement of the surviving family, warts and all. Essential viewing, regardless of whether you listened to her music or not. 


For information and ticketing please visit the Sydney Film Festival website here.