Sydney Film Festival 6 June to 17 June 2012 – My home for the next 12 days.

Lucky lucky me starts my Sydney Film Festival experience tonight – hot hot hot on the heels of Cannes, I have several of the Cannes line-up and winners to see, as well as a slew of other wonderful films. Of particular interest is the films Holy Motors (trailer featured above) and “Moonrise Kingdon” as they were “talk of the town” at Cannes and the premier of  Dead Europe, Tony Krawitz’ much anticipated adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas (The Slap) searing novel.

Here is my most humble line-up at this stage:

Friday Night I will be seeing Beasts of the Southern Wild – winner of the Caméra d’Or (best first feature) at Cannes 2012 and winner of The Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.

Winner of the US Dramatic Grand Jury Prize in Sundance and the Camera d’Or at Cannes, this striking and unforgettable feature-film debut is set in ‘The Bathtub’ – a defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world. Six-year-old Hushpuppy is devoted to her father, Wink, who frequently goes off on sprees, leaving Hushpuppy to fend for herself in an isolated compound filled with semi-wild animals. The community is a resilient and joyous one, but there is a sense of inevitable destruction. At school, Hushpuppy is taught about natural selection, global warming and the ecological shifts that have placed them in a perilous position. Things come to a head when Wink comes down with a debilitating illness, a massive storm hits, and the ice caps melt, releasing destructive prehistoric beasts who descend on The Bathtub. Little Hushpuppy has to find in herself the courage and heroism to survive the catastrophe and re-instil a sense of community. Fusing recent history and contemporary environmental concerns with a mythic quality, Beasts of the Southern Wilddefies easy classification or description, instead forging a new path that firmly establishes director Benh Zeitlin as a bright new cinematic talent.

Sunday night I have my hotter than hot ticket to grab my viewing of Amour, Michael Haneke’s  Palme d’Or winning film of 2012.

Amour arrives at SFF fresh from the Cannes Film Festival, where master Austrian director won his second Palme d’Or with this universally acclaimed drama. Haneke, who also won the Palme d’Or for his last film, The White Ribbon, and took Cannes prizes for Caché andThe Piano Teacher, has made some of the most influential – and disturbing – features of the last 25 years. His clinically analytical films, like Benny’s Video (SFF 1993) and Funny Games(SFF 1998, SFF 2008), have depicted a variety of societal problems. With Amour, he sensitively portrays old age. Amour follows Georges (legendary French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) who are cultivated, retired music teachers in their 80s. Their daughter (Isabelle Huppert, who also appears in Captive) is also a musician who lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne suffers an attack and, as a consequence, the couple’s bond of love is severely tested.

In a week I am going to see The Angels Share winner of the Prix du Jury (Jury Prize).

In his bittersweet comedy, which won the Jury Prize in Competition at Cannes, the great Ken Loach (Kes, SFF 1979; Sweet Sixteen, SFF 2004; The Wind that Shakes the Barley, SFF 2006; Looking for Eric, SFF 2009) turns his gaze on Robbie, a new father in trouble with the law. When he holds his newborn son for the first time, Robbie is determined that the boy will have a better life, one with opportunities. But Robbie must first sort out his life as a prison sentence looms. Given one more chance, and sentenced to community service, he meets Rhino, Albert and Mo, former criminals who also can’t find work. But, ironically, turning to drink changes their lives. Robbie, it turns out, has a rare gift – a great palate and a delicate nose for fine malt whisky. This newly discovered talent may well turn things around for him – but first, he faces a true test on a trip with the gang to the Scottish Highlands.

So, you can imagine I am RATHER chuffed that I was able to select three Cannes prize winners all those weeks ago when I purchased my tickets.

Other ceinema highlights for me are:

Whore’s Glory

This stylish and hard-headed look at the commodification of sex from Michael Glawogger, the multiple award-winning director of  Megacities and  Workingman’s Death (both of which screened at previous editions of SFF) explores the lives of prostitutes and their clients in three very different locations. First up, the neon lights and plate-glass windows of Bangkok brothel The Fish Tank, where the women take their seats and the customers pick their numbers. It’s a marked contrast to the narrow dark alleys of the red-light district in Faridpur, central Bangladesh, where the profession is passed from mother to daughter. The final destination is Reynosa, a town on the Mexican-US border, where sex and violence meet head-on. A rich colour scheme and a pumping soundtrack from the likes of P.J. Harvey and CocoRosie imbue Glawogger’s documentary with an uncomfortable yet compelling watchability.

Play it like Godard

He won the Palme d’Or at the age of 15, the César at 16. This year, he is trying to graduate from high school. The delightful and hilarious French comedy  Play It Like Godard concerns young J.C. (played by Vincent Lacoste of  The French Kissers and the forthcoming  Asterix & Obelix: God Save Britannia), a celebrated film auteur who deals with fame and fortune while negotiating a difficult adolescence. J.C. is described as ‘a mixture of Jean-Luc Godard and Justin Bieber’. Taking the form of a mockumentary, the film follows him as he battles with his concerned parents, tries to preserve his relationship with his girlfriend amidst stories of lurid affairs, and prepares for his difficult next film. And then, with a hip new rival director on the rise, the danger is that J.C. is simply passé.

Faust

Inspired by Goethe’s play, Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark) radically reinterprets the myth of Faust in this visually stunning film which won the Golden Lion at Venice. Sokurov’s Faust (Johannes Zeiler) is a doctor, a professor and a pioneering intellectual; we first meet him as he performs a post-mortem. Though driven by high ideals – he treats patients who cannot afford to pay him – his thoughts turn to baser matters when he first sets eyes on the beautifulMargarete. He turns to the Moneylender to help him in seducing her – and the price he is willing to pay is high. Filled with dialogue about life and death, good and evil and God and the Devil, along with sublime cinematography, Faust is a fitting finale to Sokurov’s ‘Men of Power’ tetralogy, following Moloch (Hitler), Taurus (Lenin) and The Sun (Hirohito).

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson (The Royal TenenbaumsFantastic Mr. FoxRushmore) creates uniqueworlds within his films, and the utterly charming Moonrise Kingdom is no exception. The opening film at Cannes this year, Moonrise Kingdom is set on an island off the coast of NewEngland in the summer of 1965. Sam (Jared Gilman), an industrious orphan who is frequently bullied, sees a kindred spirit in Suzy (Kara Hayward) and the two 12-year-olds fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. Various authorities try to hunt them down, including local sheriff Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), and Suzy’s parents (played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) are crazy with worry. Meanwhile, a violent storm is brewing off-shore – and the peaceful island community is turned upside down in every which way.

On The Road

Jack Kerouac’s legendary work is brought to the big screen with respect and verve by Walter Salles (Central StationThe Motorcycle Diaries). True to the groundbreaking novel, Salles’ film takes us on a sensual journey through America at a heady time. Just after his father’s death, Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), an aspiring New York writer, meets Dean Moriarty (a bravura performance by Garrett Hedlund), a devastatingly charming ex-con married to the very liberated and seductive Marylou (Kristen Stewart). Sal and Dean bond instantly. Determined not to get locked into a constricted life, the two friends cut their ties and take to the road with Marylou. Thirsting for freedom, they head off in search of the world, of other experiences and of themselves. Along the way, they encounter a band of fascinating outsiders; drink, smoke weed and take a lot of Benzedrine; have sex; discover great music; and pursue a new kind of literature. The sexually voracious and seemingly irresistible Moriarty provides the impetus for travelling, and it is his fantastical stories that provide the literary material. Also featuring fine supporting performances by Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge and Elisabeth Moss, On the Road is a stunning adaptation of a timeless classic.

Captive

Isabelle Huppert stars in a riveting drama from Brillante Mendoza about a group of people who are kidnapped by Islamic separatists in The Philippines. Twenty guests at a beachresort, many of them foreign tourists, are taken captive by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Islamic separatists fighting for the independence of Mindanao island, and taken deep into the mountain jungles where they are held for an extended time. French social worker Therese Bourgoine (Huppert) is among the victims, who are moved constantly in order to avoid the pursuing military forces who shoot indiscriminately at captors and captives alike. Basing his film on real events, Mendoza (Kinatay; Lola, SFF 2010; Foster Child, SFF 2008) takes us on a detailed and visceral journey, convincingly portraying the complex bonds that form both between the captives, and between them and their kidnappers.

Barbara

East Germany, 1980: A doctor is exiled to a country hospital as punishment for applying for an exit visa. As her lover from the West carefully plots her escape, Barbara (Nina Hoss) waits patiently and avoids friendships. She works as a pediatric surgeon under her new boss André, and while she is caring towards her patients – a young girl in particular – Barbara keeps a distance from her colleagues. She is constantly monitored by the state’s securityapparatus and is the subject of repeated humiliations. Barbara looks forward to her future and to her freedom, but André and a traumatised young patient slowly chip away at her defenses, and she starts to lose control. Christian Petzold (Dreileben: Beats Being Dead, SFF 2011) won the Best Director prize at the Berlinale for this subtle and precise look at the complex personal costs of life in a paranoid and repressive state.

Holy Motors

French filmmaker Leos Carax (The Night Is YoungLovers on the Bridge) took Cannes by storm last month with this cyclone of cinematic invention, receiving rapturous praise from critics and audiences alike and making a dark-horse charge at the Palme d’Or. Carax, whose previous feature was 1999’s Pola X, has let loose a pent-up explosion of ideas, colour and subversive weirdness. An intoxicating blend of science fiction, song and dance, romance and carnival-funhouse dada pranksterism, Holy Motors is confounding and dazzling in equal measure, earning comparisons to David Lynch, Lewis Carroll, Tron and Metropolis. With vaudevillian genius (and the help of elaborate costumes and makeup), French character actor Denis Lavant inhabits no less than 11 roles as he is driven about a digitally transformed fantasy Paris by his chauffer (the brilliant Edith Scob) in an odyssey that is both espionage and performance, and overtly a metaphor for our ever-changing online existences. Gorgeously shot by Caroline Champetier (Of Gods and Men), with an inspired supporting cast including Kylie Minogue and Eva Mendes, Holy Motors enchants with its stunning imagery, entertains like a cyberpunk cabaret act, and provokes with its howl of rage against our enslavement to technologyHollywood Reporter calls it ‘exhilarating, opaque, heartbreaking and completely bonkers.’

Dead Europe

Australia’s Tony Krawitz (JewboyThe Tall Man) directs the adaptation of The Slap author Christos Tsiolkas’ award-winning novel in this searing film about history, guilt and secrets. Ewen Leslie delivers a great performance as photographer Isaac, whose father’s death in suburban Sydney reveals the schism in his family and prompts a return to the ancestral homeland. On a trip to his parent’s village in Greece, he learns something of his father’s cursed history. At first he dismisses the revelation as superstitious nonsense, but over the course of his travels – from Greece to Paris to Budapest – Isaac is forced to confront the anti-Semitism of the past, the embedded bigotry in the bones of Europe and the nature of inherited guilt. It is on this fateful trip that Isaac will learn the truth of his family’s migration to Australia, their refusal to ever return to Greece, and the burden he continues to bear as a consequence of acts committed years before his birth. Krawitz sensitively depicts this clash of mythology and a very contemporary reality in this daring and enigmatic film populated by spirits and outcasts.

It’s gonna be “A Week”.

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