61st Sydney Film Festival reviews in brief


I had the highest expectation from director Amiel Courtin-Wilson, as his debut feature, Hail, was one of my favourites from SFF2011. He’s sharing directorial duties with his producer from Hail, Michael Cody, and they’ve embarked on an Asian odyssey, telling the tale of two young fugitives in the desolate beauty of Cambodia. It’s an Australian production, but it’s by no mean an Australian story. In an admittedly perverse comparison, Ruin is an Asian True Romance, without the black comedy. Filled, once again, with the dreamlike visual splendour, at times impressionistic, and times abstract, that made Hail so mesmerising and memorable, but lacking the overt surrealism, and character fascination that made his debut so incredibly original. Ruin weaves like a rudderless canoe on a wild, dangerous river, then drifts into the tall reeds and is still as a crocodile waiting. I had difficulty grappling with feeling an real empathy for the two protagonists; even though Sovanna (Sang Malen)’s sex trade predicament is dire, she offers so little in terms of expression. But on a surface level Ruin was sumptuous. I loved the way it was filmed; the mood and rhythm, and the score was impressive, yet the movie’s narrative and characters left me feeling hollow and strangely irritated. I’d like to see Amiel tackling someone else’s screenplay.

Fish & Cat

Imagine if Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, and Andrei Tarkovsky were seated in a strange smelling off-road restaurant. What would the conversation be like? What photos would they pull from their wallets? What would they order from the menu? How long would the pauses be between topics? Iranian filmmaker Shahram Mokri, who shot A Separation, sets about creating a study on the fissures that burn the fabric of time, the pot-holes in conventional narrative are filled with reflective water, and Mokri’s characters find themselves drinking déjà vu. Shot in a single Steadicam take, this two-hour plus is like the ghost of Samuel Beckett haunting a journey through a circular space and time. It is, quite simply, an exasperating, existential nightmare.


Love Eternal

Based on a Japanese novel called In Love With the Dead, about an orphaned young man who believes himself unfit to play his part in human society, a man whose desire lies deep in the darkness of his soul where life does not breathe. Ian (Robert de Hoog) is a man with a troublesome fixation on the intimacy of death. He is a borderline necrophile, and a few women will become part of his lonely predilection, most importantly, the grieving Naomi (Pollyanna McIntosh). Irish director Brendan Muldowney, who made Savage, tackles delicate and darkly fascinating subject matter, but unfortunately this potentially powerful drama dissipates in the second half becoming less the perverse thriller it could have been, and more a quirky coming-of-age melodrama. A shame, then, as the performances are strong, but the dark artful intent is ultimately squandered.


Directors Danny Boyle and Jon S. Baird tackle the small screen with refreshing verve. With a tight-as-a-deadline teleplay by Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, two very funny writers responsible for the hilarious Four Lions movie and television’s Peepshow, this is a pilot to a new UK comedy-drama about life on the frontline for a London police force. Dealing with those making split-second decisions on the streets, to those deliberating behind the scenes in the offices higher up the ladder of the law. It’s a great ensemble cast, but the focus whizzes around new recruit Liz Garvey (charismatic Brit Marling), who finds the change from talking TED for Instagram to Metro Police’s Director of Communications comes with a its own tricky dealings. No yay or nay on whether a series will get the green light. 


In Order of Disappearance

I liked Zero Kelvin, nearly twenty years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed A Somewhat Gentle Man from several years ago, so I was very much looking forward to the new movie from Scandinavian director Hans Petter Moland. The always-reliable Skellan Skarsgard plays a Norwegian ski resort snowplough driver who finds his life turned upside down when drug dealers murder his young adult son. What follows is an uproarious comedy of manners/errors, as black as the midnight sun. The over-the-top violence only adds to the movie’s Coen Brothers-esque absurdity. The movie meanders in the second half, and by the time we reach the elaborate shoot-out finale the story has been stretched a bit far. Still, top marks for Pal Sverre Hagen’s drama queen villain, and great to see Bruno Ganz again. Original title, Kraftidioten, translates as “Bloody Fool”.

When Animals Dream

Marie (Sophie Suhls) lives in a small provincial Danish fishing village. She is an only child. Her mother is wheelchair bound, in a stupor. Her father administers a daily sedative, and Marie takes her for strolls down by the rugged ocean. But there is something swelling, not just the dark clouds and the ragged surf. There is something burgeoning deep within Marie. Puberty has come and gone, but her sexuality is on the rise, bristling like the dark hairs that have sprouted across the top of her breast. A lycanthropic coming-of-age thriller that can't decide whether it wants to bite like a horror movie, or howl like a provocative drama, so it perches in the corner growling. The establishing montage promised so much more than what it delivered in terms of atmosphere and a compelling story. Marie's hazy blood and fury bad dreams were about as intense as it got, but all too brief. Despite decent performances, the characters were all too familiar; the father and doctor in collusion, the wishy-washy romantic interest, the work bully. If only the mother and daughter relationship - and the movie's intriguing sub-plot - had been played more prominently, this movie might've been more of a contender. But, black comedy aside, this was no Ginger Snaps