The Italian Film Festival is a travelling festival that this year will visit seven cities throughout Australia. Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to the media preview of the festival at Palace Electric Cinemas here in Canberra. Please note that awesome limoncello cocktails were served as part of the event and all statements that follow were influenced by that tastiness.
Travelling film festivals are a growing feature of the Australian cinema industry and this particular one has been doing its thing for 14 years now. The high profile of the Italian Film Festival is proven by the fact that basically all of the films on the extensive 27 film program are Australian Premieres. This is even more impressive considering the festival arrives on the calendar soon after the two heavyweight international film festivals in this country – Sydney and Melbourne.
As part of the preview, we were shown Honey dir by Valeria Golino. The film follows Irene an ‘angel of mercy’ who assists terminally ill people end their life. Jasmine Trinca is excellent in the main role, bringing to life the journey of a young woman who increasingly struggles with what it is she does. Along the way, she meets Carlo who accompanies her through much of the change she undergoes. Indeed it is the fact that Carlo is not terminally ill even though he is attempting to end his life that triggers much of the action and revelation of the film. I though Honey was a really interesting film, managing to avoid cliché where many a film would have succumbed. A fantastic soundtrack and central performance from Trinca did not hurt. The film also has an interesting attitude toward death, and therefore life, that informs everything that takes place.
In addition to Honey here are five more films to whet your appetite of what the festival has to offer. I will definitely be trying to get along to as many of these as I can during the Canberra leg of the festival.
- Roma dir by Federico Fellini – I’ve heard a lot about Fellini’s ode to Rome, but have never been lucky enough to see it. Now, as the closing night film of the festival, I will have the chance to see it on the big screen. Made in 1972, the film is episodic, covering a period of 40 years. Anything Fellini is worth seeing, especially on the big screen.
- A Five Star Life dir by Maria Sole Tognazzi – The film follows Irene, a hotel critic who travels the world living it up in luxury. This blissful, globe-trotting life begins to become a little more complicated though when personal troubles begin to impinge on her happy ignorance.
- A Perfect Family dir by Paolo Genovese – Christmas can definitely be the loneliest time of year. Leone knows this, which is why in an attempt to alleviate this he hires professional actors to play his family over the festive season. So basically, hopefully this will be like We’re the Millers… only not terrible in every single way.
- The Human Cargo dir by Daniele Vicari – This is one of those documentaries that makes you wonder how in the world you have never heard this story before (well at least I hadn’t). The film focuses on the 1991 events where 20,000 people stowed away on board a sugar cargo ship that docked in Italy. A truly incredible tale. Especially when in this country a boat rocking up to our shore with 50 people on board is front page news.
- There Will Come a Day dir by Giorgio Diritti – This is another film that stars Jasmine Trinca, along with Honey. In this film she plays August who leaves home and ventures to Brazil. Here she goes on a journey that is both physical and spiritual. Ending up perhaps not exactly where her mother would have liked.
Thanks to the Italian Film Festival I have a two double passes to give away. The passes are able to be used for a vast majority of the sessions, the only exceptions being a couple of special events. They are valid for any of the cities that the festival visits as it tours around Palace Cinemas all over the country. Check out the website www.italianfilmfestival.com.au to see where the festival is travelling and when. If you live in Australia and what to be put in the draw, then comment below and let me know. Entries will remain open til 5pm on Monday 30 September. I will chuck them in the post the next day and should reach you by the time the festival kicks off.
The Australian surf documentary Storm Surfers (2012) took out the Best Feature Doco category at the most recent AACTA Awards. It was also, I believe, the first Aussie doco to be filmed in 3D. Whilst I was unable to see the film in 3D, it was definitely one of the most visually arresting films that I have seen in quite some time.
The film starts off with a massive wipe-out to emphasise the rather dangerous nature of big wave surfing as a pursuit. From there, we meet the two surfers whose big wave odyssey the film follows. Both are Australian and in their younger days surfed on the pro-tour – Tom Carroll was the golden boy of the tour, winning two world titles and garnering big money sponsorship; whilst his mate Ross Clarke-Jones, also an incredible surfer, enjoyed the tour mainly for the partying. Unless you are in the (presumably vast) minority of my readers who are professional big-wave surfers, Storm Surfers will repeatedly boggle your mind. To me, it is insane that you can surf utterly huge waves, 75 kilometres from the coast. The fact that in this day and age, there are still top-secret surf breaks that people inside that world have never heard of. Other questions will arise for you too, like who in the world first thought it would be a good idea to combine jet skis and surfing? In addition to these kinds of facts and questions, the sheer beauty of much of the photography in the water is truly something to behold. Shots from inside barrels and attached to surf boards only add to the exhilaration. The success of these innovations is that they help convey the kinetic intensity and activity of what these people are undertaking. Indeed if the film was just a collection of images with this kind of beauty, it would still be well worth checking out.
Perhaps the area where Storm Surfers succeeds most though is in bringing a ‘human’ side to the incredible power of the images onscreen. Tom and Ross are not young men, 51 and 47 respectively. And the film shows the impact that ageing is having on these two blokes, however young at heart they may be. Tom especially struggles with the physical and mental strains of throwing yourself headlong at waves that strike sheer terror into everyone else. His role as a diligent father only adds to the conflicts that surfing big waves bring to his perspective on life. With their pranks and manner of speaking, Tom and Ross are really just two teenagers that have never grown up. Which sounds terrible and makes them sound like two blokes it would be mind numbing to spend a 90 minute film with. But in reality, it makes these two men endearing, their fun loving pursuit of just doing what they feel like, is in a way strangely inspiring. As is their ability to break down the philosophy behind surfing and convey that to a wide audience. In addition, to dismiss them as just fun-loving guys is to do them a disservice. In addition to Tom’s aforementioned parenthood, in his younger days he jeopardised his chances of winning his third world title in 1985 by refusing to take part in the South African leg of the world tour, as a protest against that country’s apartheid policies. I guess it is this bringing to life of two complex men that separates the film from a traditional surf flick.
I really recommend this film, even if you do not have a particular interest in surfing (I don’t). For starters it looks incredible, but more than that, these two men and the lifestyle they represent are truly interesting. The film is also, in its own way, a look at how ageing affects people and the best way to approach that part of our lives.
Verdict Pint of Kilkenny
When I was in high school, I was forced to read Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, which was at that time the most boring book I had ever read. I’m the kind of guy who will persevere with a book, refusing to stop reading before the end, even if it takes me months and months of grind to get there. But I had to give up on Oscar and Lucinda. More recently I read Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang which is one of my favourite two Australian novels of all time, so who knows if my earlier Carey experience was based on my teenage mind not being ready for it, or the actual quality of the book.
Director Gillian Armstrong brought Oscar and Lucinda (1997) to the big screen, harnessing the talents of Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett along the way. It is an altogether eccentric film, predominately due to the tale it is telling, but thankfully I found it far more enjoyable than its source novel. However somewhat strangely, I felt the film did not inspire that many thoughts or ideas in me about what I thought of it and how to examine it. Which is not to say I do not like the film, it is just that usually I have far too many things to say about a film which I don’t think is the case here. More than that, I felt at a distance from the story the entire time, as though I was not able to access the real core of the narrative or get a foothold into what was going on. The rather absurd story focuses on the two titular characters and what happens when the paths of their lives eventually intertwine. The entire film is a character study of Fiennes’ Oscar and Blanchett’s Lucinda. The narrative takes a freewheeling approach to this study. It begins in the childhood and youth of the two. Sees Oscar’s eventual emigration to Australia and his meeting with Lucinda, brought together by a shared lust for gambling. When it veers into love story territory it just seems to work really quite well. Which is also true of the part that follows which sees Oscar go on quite the physical and metaphysical journey.
Probably the real joy of this film is its cast. Both the leads give terrific performances. Blanchett, in a quite early screen role, is fantastic as the young woman trying to find her way – a fish out of water who eventually grows to be extremely confident in her surroundings. Fiennes is very good at bringing the awkward, almost bumbling at times, Oscar to life. He utilises various tics and eccentricities into the performance but they never distract from it. The film looks incredible, taking advantage of the excellent cinematography to bring fantastic scenery from both Australia and Oscar’s native England to the screen. Thematically, the film sort of touches on a bunch of things without really engaging with any too deeply. Faith and the different kinds of Christianity are explored, as is greed, gambling, sex and the notion of responsibility in sexual relationships, but none of these dominate the film. Part of this may be because in some ways the narrative is a little unbalanced. Some plot points, Oscar’s excommunication from the Church a prime example, are basically overlooked when you feel they could be examined in much more detail.
Oscar and Lucinda is a bit of strange film. Definitely worth checking out for the lead performances, the quirky narrative may well endear itself to you. Though by the same token you may also find yourself rather frustrated by it.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs