Ryan Cassata is a musician and trans rights activist who has gained a measure of fame through appearing on TV in the States. The documentary Songs for Alexis focuses on the then 18 year old Ryan’s relationship with Alexis and the barriers that remain for trans people to simply love who they wanna love.
At its heart, Songs for Alexis is very much a love story. We see the couple in a very good place and we see them have fairly hefty fallings out. We see the pain that a long distance relationship can bring, that I am sure many of us have experienced, as well as the joy of being reunited that is equally an aspect of that. We also see something that I for one, and no doubt many others, cannot imagine. The manner in which ignorance and transphobia can inhibit the simple acts of love and attempting to be with someone. Where even the law can work against these basic rights, allowing hate to survive and thrive when in reality that is what should be outlawed and railed against. The film has three great subjects – Ryan, his girlfriend Alexis and Ryan’s mum Francis. Ryan’s bubbly personality enables him to tell his personal story with a bunch of good humour. Alexis is the perfect foil too and seeing how they bounce off each other in their youtube videos is a reminder of what young love looks like. Francis in many ways forms the emotional core of the film. She sees her son at the highs and lows that life and love bring him and is possibly even affected by those more than Ryan is.
So much of the mainstream public discourse around transgender people centres on whether they are post or pre-op and the choices that are made in terms of the extent to which surgery or hormone treatment is undertaken. The result is that people are reduced to their physical makeup and this approach shows a fundamental misunderstanding of gender identity. It is refreshing then to see a documentary on this transgender man which is not obsessed at all with that aspect of his journey. Sure, it is mentioned what surgery Ryan has had, and his scars are at times plain to see. But these come about in an incidental way, in day to day conversation. Instead the focus is on Ryan’s relationship with Alexis, the barriers that crop up to that relationship, as well as his music and activism. The film shows that not every story about a transgendered person has to focus on one single aspect of who they are. A documentary story can have a trans person as its subject and be about love rather than medical procedures.
Songs for Alexis is a generally positive film, but it doesn’t shy away from the hate and discrimination that is still out there. There is a sobering simplicity to many of the best scenes in the film, that remind us all just how far we still have to go – witness for example Ryan and Alexis plotting their road-trip across the States based on LGBT laws, trying to avoid those with the more despicable restrictions. It is difficult for me to imagine what it must be like to have to take such things into account in day to day life.
Many documentaries don’t really feature a soundtrack as such, presumably not wishing to cloud their ‘truthfulness’ by distracting with music. Songs for Alexis however uses music better than a vast majority of documentaries. The songs are not just plonked throughout the film to show off Ryan’s skill or promote his music. They are key for the story being told and help to move the film along. His titular songs for his girlfriend are a distinctly personal way to communicate how he is feeling about his relationship at a particular point in time, providing a depth of feeling that words alone would not have delivered. As the tone and mood of the relationship and film change, so too do the songs, which is a great way for music to accompany story in a doco. It does not hurt either that Cassata is clearly a very talented singer-songwriter.
Verdict: Eighteen or so films in and I am pretty sure Songs for Alexis is my favourite of the festival so far. And if not, it’s in the top three. One man’s personal tale with lessons for all of us, it also reminds that all is still not yet ok for the treatment of transgender people in our society and that we should keep fighting until it is. Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
New Zealand is on a bit of a roll this year filmwise. What we Do in the Shadows (2014) was a fair comedy hit and Housebound (2014) has been hugely and rightfully popular wherever it has played. That latter film is one of at least three kiwi films on the CIFF program for 2014, another being the mild dramedy (well the comedy is pretty mild) Fantail (2013).
The film focuses on Tania and her younger brother Pi. Tania works the night shift at a local petrol station, to attempt to help fund their dream trip to Australia in an attempt to reconnect with their father. They also tend to their ailing mother who has severe diabetes and kidney issues. Relationships of Tina’s with her caring boss Rog and District Manager Dean, who makes plain his feelings for her very early on, are also focused on and evolve throughout the film. Often however Fantail just seems not to know what it is going to be – drama, comedy, thriller, romance. In the end it is a sort of combination of all of them, and also none of them. It feels like a flat experience, and despite some moments of tension during the night-shifts, there is no great drama.
Undoubtedly the star of Fantail is Sophie Henderson as Tania. The entire film circles around the quiet stoicism and occasional charm of her character. You can sense the weariness of the character but also her determination not to give into that weariness. Likewise Henderson portrays the complicated interpersonal interactions that Tania has with people really well, guarded at times yet also wanting to connect and establish relationships of one form or another. The other performances are solid. Stephen Lovatt is likeable as Rog and Jarod Rawiri as regional manager Dean proves to be a pretty adept comedic performer.
Much of the film though is lacking in thematic focus. The theme of racial identity is under-explored, but when it is looked at, it provides for the most successful moments of the film. Light skinned Tania’s commitment to her Maori identity stands in stark contrast to the darker-skinned Dean’s suppression of his. These are interesting ideas in a society such as New Zealand’s and are issues that are also highly relevant to an Australian audience. It is a shame then that for whatever reason the film does not spend much time examining them. Lack of attention paid to various aspects of the film is a recurring issue actually. There is a mild love story between Tania and Dean that does not get the pay-off it should. Most tellingly of all though is the subplot of Pi when he goes away to work. We see snippets of his growing drug habit and petty crime, but little of the reasons behind it and the scale of the issue. Unfortunately these elements were required to be fleshed out more for the conclusion to the film to totally work in a satisfying manner. As it stands though, it just feels forced.
Verdict: There is some good stuff in Fantail. The occasional laughs are nice, the themes of identity explored are engaging (though they are definitely underexplored) and the central performance is thoughtful and heartfelt. It’s a shame then that so much of it feels too forced, resulting in a flat finale and a general feeling that the film is going the wrong way in the latter half. Schooner of Carlton Draught
The words Wim Wenders and documentary in the same sentence are enough to get many a film fan all worked up. Such is the case with me, hence The Salt of the Earth (2014), the German director’s profile of iconic photographer Sebastiao Salgado, was toward the top of my ‘must see’ list when the CIFF program was announced.
Excitement went from pretty high to bursting out of the cinema when the film kicked off with a Werner Herzog-esque voiceover from Wenders. The early focus of the film is rather philosophical. Or moreover, a discussion of the philosophical and sociological reflection that a single photo can lead to and how the artform functions as a form of “painting with light”. Whilst the film goes a number of different places, the very best parts focus on this idea. Wenders comes up with a creative way of delivering these reflections from Salgado. First showing the photo, then superimposing the photographer’s weathered face over the top as he talks about the image, where and when it was taken, as well as what it taught him about humanity.
Salgado’s son Juliano Ribeiro co-directed the film and unfortunately the elements of it that he is predominately responsible for, are a level below those that Wenders delivers. Which is not to say the personal journey of a son attempting to understand who the hell his dad, a man who was absent for huge amounts of his childhood, really was is unworthy of screen time. The issue is that these sections feel like they belong in a different film, not in this examination of the power of photography and one person’s body of work.
Some of the work that Salgado did in his career did not simply lead to a philosophical pondering, it led to a philosophical reckoning – both for the photographer himself and also the world more broadly. You can see why too, because the work presented in the film is some of the most beautiful and utterly confronting that I have ever seen. Salgado’s work in Africa, focused in on extensively in the film, are iconic images which truly shock. It is striking how these stills, when we are supposedly so used to confronting images that their impact is dulled, still cut through all that and communicate not just their obvious sadness, but also that they are solid proof of just how wrong the path the world has gone on is. All of these pictures also speak to the focus on people that characterise pretty much all of Salgado’s work, which is what got Wenders interested in the artist long before he intended on making a film of his life.
Wenders is one of those directors who can put something of his ‘auteur’ stamp on documentary material. It is not just the way in which he superimposes Salgado’s face with his images. He also flits the film back and forth between black & white, and colour – the former for when the film is reminiscing, the latter for sequences set in the present. The film is also a personal interrogation of the material on display by Wenders, his curiosity leading the film down interesting path after interesting path.
Verdict: When focusing on Salgado and the power of his work, this is an all-star film, as good and creative as documentaries get. The more personal aspects delivered are less universally fascinating. But they barely detract from this portrait of a portrait-taker, truth-shower and philosopher in the guise of photographer. Pint of Kilkenny
Ryan Reynolds is not a guy seen all that often on the festival circuit, however director Atom Egoyan’s Canadian thriller The Captive sees the former heartthrob on the CIFF program.
The film is rather a left of field choice for such a program really. It is the kind of thriller film that you see a few of each year, but generally in the multiplex rather than on an international film festival program. Which is not intended as a criticism because it is important to mix up as big a program as this, you can have too many European dramas you know. Nothing sets the scene of a thriller quite like snow, and there is plenty of that to go around in the film’s frigid Canadian surrounds. Reynolds plays a man whose daughter Cassandra went missing seven years ago, after he left her in his ute while he raced into a store. The event understandably leaves him wracked with guilt which is exacerbated by his wife’s inability to forgive his horrific mistake. This is not a thriller centred on a ‘whodunnit’ question ramping up the tension. Egoyan reveals the villain from the very start, shifting from a question of who took the girl, to will they get caught? Working the other side of things are two cops from a paedophilia busting unit, played by Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman. There is perhaps a sub-plot or set of characters too many in the film, as it is a little overextended. It is best when more narratively taut and the second half feels especially flabby. To be frank, much of The Captive is pretty stock standard thriller territory, though it is handled well and the topical nature of the disappearance (the young girl is eventually used to trick even younger girls into child pornography rings) feels relevant enough. The film is also attempting to tap into recent publicity of cases such as Josef Fritzl and similar cases in the States, though the result is to amp up the tension and stakes of the film, rather than to make any great statement on the nature of such crimes.
The start of the film is quite measured as all the thriller elements are dropped around as it builds to the big moments. The first of which, the stealing of Cassandra, is one of the best delivered, utterly chilling even though we don’t actually see the act take place. Nothing in the film matches this early snatching for a thriller highlight and the ending, which should be the tensest part, is let down by the film not building as it should to the climactic moment. The film starts fractured, flitting back and forth between the current day and the time when the young girl was stolen. Initially this is quite frustrating and seemingly unnecessary. But gradually the narrative gets into a steady back and forth rhythm, making it a lot easier to follow what is happening. Reflecting on The Captive, it is surprising that parts of the story do not play sillier than they do in practice. This is down to a number of assured elements, especially the slick cast. Scott Speedman was very impressive as the ‘cowboy detective’, showcasing the intensity that you would expect from a cop who sees the most heinous abuse on a daily basis. The scene of him being exposed to the type of material he will have to deal with in his new gig, is a really great piece of acing, delivered only using his face. Even Kevin Durand, as a preening moustache twisting villain with make up making him look far older than usual, does not come off as too unbelievable. He definitely threatens to overdo it at some points, but if he distracts you out of the world of the film, it is only briefly. The only technical aspect of the film that really lets it down is the soundtrack. Overly intrusive and generic, it is omnipresent and borderline ruins some of the film’s best moments. A soundtrack should compliment not distract, but unfortunately this one does the latter.
Verdict: The Captive is relatively mainstream thriller territory, making it a slightly strange but refreshing inclusion on a festival program. Coolly creepy and well acted, the film manages to overcome the dire and intrusive soundtrack to hit the mark. At times, the film is so chilling it cuts right to the bone. Stubby of Reschs
Viggo Mortensen is clearly a talented and intelligent dude. Just to reinforce the fact, he stars in Jauja (2014) his first Danish speaking role. The experimental film has hints of the western about it, as Mortensen plays a man against the elements, far from his home country.
The first aspect of Jauja that strikes you is literally its aspect – the film is projected in 4:3, with rounded edges reminiscent of the TV your grandparents used to own. Over the early period of the film, the next aspect you notice is another visual conceit. The camera does not move. Well at least for the first half of the film, even to the point of action occurring off-screen. This is actually utilised in a playful manner by director Lisandro Alonso. It emphasises the movement of the characters through the space of the frame and also focuses the eye on the interaction between character and landscape. The early parts of the film features incredibly expansive scenery, massive cliffs, the ocean, pastureland and rugged desert-like scapes so it is a delight to see how the characters move on these canvasses. The action is generally just two people talking, so much so that it feels like something you would see on the stage. Which makes for quite the contrast with these scenes taking place in such wide and expansive locales. During the second half of the film, the camera begins to move which is quite jarring after growing fond of the use of the static camera. Furthermore, it seems so unnecessary to move the camera a little, as happens regularly through the second half and it is hard to see what is gained by moving away from the stylistic conceit that had really set the film apart.
This review is all backwards to my normal structure, starting with the technical rather than a quick story breakdown. That speaks to the focus of the film, which is really not on narrative. Men wander the space of an expansive land that is clearly not their own. One the men’s daughter goes missing. He goes and looks for her. That is about it really. The minimalist plot and focus on the twisting, at times befuddling, slow journey along the road is reminiscent of arthouse filmmakers past. The Taviani Brothers were the ones that kept being suggested in my mind. The shooting grade, appearance of colour and similar men in uniform of Allonsanfan (1974) is definitely a kindred spirit to this film, even if there is a bit of a lighter touch in the older film. The glacial pace both helps and hurts the film. Through the early section, when the camera remains stationary and the imagery expansive, it allows more time to drink in all the detail. When the ‘chase’ sequence occurs though, it all feels too slow and too pointless. A more modern, obvious parallel that I was keen to avoid making, is with Terrence Malick. But that parallel is definitely a valid one. The two directors share a reflective sensibility that not many filmmakers have. A point of difference though is that Alonso occasionally employs a harsh kineticism that Malick would shy away from – Mortensen fiercely sheathing his sword just one example.
Verdict: At its best, Jauja reminds you how mesmerising and enjoyable slow-paced arthouse cinema can be. Unfortunately the film’s best only makes up around half of the film, leaving the rest to meander and confound in a less visually experimental but more tiresome space. Stubby of Reschs
As a youngster, I was obsessed with countries for some reason. Probably because I was (and remain) a massive nerdburger. I could be found reading entries in the encyclopaedias on random countries and memorising flags. People in my hometown still talk about my iconic year 2 project on Lesotho and the high octane year 3 sequel on Sao Tome and Principe (note: no one actually still talks about these projects). I have managed to suppress the nerdiest outlets of this past obsession, but the creation of a new country is something that still intrigues me.
Sadly our newest states, such as East Timor and South Sudan, are generally the result of decades of agitation countered by violent repression. We Come as Friends (2014) looks at the world’s newest country South Sudan and how it came to be. The film opens as director Hubert Sauper gets permission to enter the country in his midget plane that looks like something Werner Herzog would refuse to fly in. Early, the film succinctly establishes the main differences between South Sudan and the North. South Sudan is a Christian nation, generally aligned with America. Sudan is a Muslim nation, aligned with China. Much of the early running in the film is a really interesting look at the lingering effect that colonialism, predominately European, continues to exert on the continent. Also how the essentially arbitrary demarcation of the African continent into nations resulted in the disconnection of people from resources, the splitting of tribes and led to families warring with one another.
This Western imposition drove a meaningless wedge between people that was never there before. The need to fight for these meaningless borders or meaningless presidents was only exacerbated by the extreme militarisation that the Europeans also brought with them. It is here when the film is at its best. It does not feel like the film is only interested in this one single ‘thesis’. But it plays with a lot of direction. For some reason though, Sauper expands the film out in a really unstructured way. So it feels like you get lots of little snippets of info, but no broader view. A good example of this is the extended sequences late in the film examining the idiotic American missionaries that reside in Sudan. Sure, the parallel with colonialism is plain to see. But the point of this seems to be to generate some laughs at just how daft these missionaries are (not for their beliefs, but for their horrid cultural insensitivity). That is mildly enjoyable, but does not deserve to take up a 20 minute chunk of the film, which could have been used to further examine the true new colonialism in Sudan – American and Chinese oil interests – or to explain in detail why at the end of the film, South Sudan finds itself marching off to war once again. The end effect is that when the film at times feels it is attempting to make a wider point, such as about corruption, these ideas are never formulated fully.
Verdict: If you have a particular interest in the politics of Africa or Sudan in particular, then We Come as Friends is worth your time. I suspect it would not teach you anything you didn’t already know, but it might put some more personal stories on top of that knowledge. For everyone else though, the film is not comprehensive enough or enjoyable enough for me to really recommend you making the effort to see. Frustratingly scattershot, We Come as Friends could have definitely used some more directorial intervention to guide and shape the raw material. Schooner of Carlton Draught
Ari Folman wowed a lot of people with his first film Waltz with Bashir (2008). A mix of powerful personal narrative doco, war expose and animation was like not much seen before. As is always the case when a first time filmmaker makes something so incredibly personal, there is always a question of where exactly they will turn to next. The Congress (2013) is definitely not what we were expecting.
Folman has gone from documentary to a half animated, half live action sci-fi film about film hybrid. That is not a snappy description, because this is a film that defies easy pigeonholing at every turn. The film starts in a present day only slightly different to ours. Robin Wright is in negotiations for her ‘final role’ with the studio. A final role because the scanning of actors, recreating actual performances on a computer that we always hear rumoured about, exists in this present day. This first half of the film is one for the film about film nerds. It uses commentary about the current state of film, performance and the future of the film industry to shine a light on our current society and the flaws in its direction. The assumption made by the studios in the film is that people want to be young forever and that they want perfection in performances. When really the imperfections make the performance worth watching, just as imperfections and the variety they bring make life worth living. In that sense, though there are no space-ships or strange beings, The Congress is classic sci-fi in terms of the thematic approach.
The film then flips as it races forward 20 years and we get what is a more overt sci-fi experience in the animated second half. There is trippiness and obliqueness all of a sudden in the visual and narrative approach. It did threaten to lose me early in this period, but then it brings it all back around to the central themes of the film, escalating them to remind us that these things do repeat themselves. And also that cynical men attempting to make big dollars will generally have no bounds. Plus the cars have ace Back to the Future II (1989) style barcode numberplates. As exaggerated, psychedelic or theme heavy the film gets at times, it never comes at the expense of emotional depth. Some of the core, human relationships and major poignant moments of the film are really quite crushing and affecting.
Before the film, I was interested to see what kind of performances Folman would be able to elicit from his clearly talented cast. As a director, he has minimal experience in those areas, but whatever he did worked well. Harvey Keitel and especially Robin Wright deliver their best work for a long time. Keitel clearly relishes having a wordy, motormouth role he can sink his teeth into. Robin Wright though is a bit of a revelation. She has some incredible performances on her filmography, but this may be better than all of them. Playing herself, the mixture of fiction and fact in terms of scripting allow the film to make commentary on the place of women, especially ageing ones, in contemporary Hollywood. The performances are what makes all this possible though and I think the scene of Wright, Keitel and the scanning orb is probably the best scene of pure acting I have seen this year. In both halves, the film looks very pretty. The first is nicely shot and glossy, but never distractingly so. In the second, the animation is bright and reminiscent of classic Disney work, except for the enhanced performance capture that is reminiscent, though not the same, of Folman’s first film. The script, inspired by a novel, allows dense themes to be explored without ever feeling laboured. The dialogue is on point too, you could certainly imagine a studio exec making these same arguments for performer scanning today, that the head of the studio does in this film.
Verdict: The Congress pulls off the feat of being two entirely different films in one, yet still managing to function as a singular piece of art with a clear thematic thread. Folman surprised us by making this film, so I can’t wait to see what he shocks us with next. Though if it was another sci-fi film about film (best genre ever?), I would not be complaining. Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Whatever happened to the Large Hadron Collider? Huge news back in the day, it seemed to fall out of the public consciousness a little once it didn’t cause the end of the world. Thankfully though, the documentary Particle Fever (2013) exists to bring those of us not boffiny enough to have kept up to date with all the goings on, up to speed on all the particle mashing fun.
It is truly incredible how enormous the Large Hadron Collider is. Also a little ironic that the machine for studying the most mind-bendingly small particles known, or guessed, by humanity is the largest piece of machinery that we have ever built. As interesting as the size and scale of the undertaking is, Particle Fever is not about that, so the film quickly jumps along to the meaty science chatter. This is usually the bit where I switch off, not being at all a science head, through study or in terms of having much casual interest. But as with so many documentaries, the quality of talking heads is of utmost importance. In, amongst others, Monica Dunford, David Kaplan and Nima Arkani-Hamed, this film has warm personalities who are able to convey their undoubted scientific genius to chumps like me. Not a dumbed down, animated with pretty pictures ‘lite’ version of their theories and hopes for the outcomes of the Collider, but some of the actual awe-inspiring complexity of it all. It is also nice that for all their intelligence and estimations, no one really knows how the initial experiments will work, which makes their unfolding onscreen all the more tense. The film is best when keeping the presentation slick but simple. It falls into the trap of getting a little silly when attempting to counter the issue of representing sub-atomic collisions visually. It is something so hard to visualise that the best approach would have been to have us see the effect on the people in the room and have them explain it. Rather than trying to emphasise the momentous nature of the moment with images of Monet paintings and soaring classical music.
Generally documentaries try and tell you a huge story. Many docos on this subject would start with the history of physics and the long germination of the ideas currently being tested. But this film, whilst it weaves enough of that information in, focuses in on the now. As such, it is able to convey just what a huge idea all of this is and why you should care, at least for the 100 or so minutes that the film runs for. Plus even if it is not in your particular field of interest, there is still something in this momentous achievement that should be celebrated. When was the last time you saw the expertise of 100s of countries and billions upon billions of dollars, being geared toward an outcome with no immediate commercial or military outcome? The film gives a deep insight into a world that you may not be aware of. Here, the different fields of theoretical and experimental physics are explained and explored. The abstract vs the real. Being a hippy, my heart lies with the slightly artistic bent of theoretical physics, with its “beautiful ideas.” For a film about physics and the so-called ‘God particle’ it is refreshing that there is not an obsession with religion and the ramifications, if any, this research has with a Western conception of God. Some of the physicists share personal reflections on the research and its relation to that space, but it is never a focal point.
Verdict: It is hard for films about really complex scientific ideas to be both comprehensible to layman Arts graduates like myself, without dumbing down the soul of them. Particle Fever walks the line well and the crew of charismatic (!) and engaging physicists involved means it’s an enjoyable line as well. Pint of Kilkenny
The Canberra International Film Festival kicks off tomorrow. As Canberra is my (adopted) hometown, I will be covering the festival quite extensively this year, aiming to see somewhere in the region of 25 films. Am a little intimidated just writing that. Rather an epic undertaking. In any case, I thought I would bash out a quick preview of what I am looking forward to in this year’s festival. Read on below to see my top picks, broken up into a few vague thematic categories. Excuse the dot point format. A little late here and I need my beauty sleep if I am going to embark on this epic film adventure as of tomorrow.
Big name auteurs
CIFF has attracted films from some of the biggest name, festival style auteurs making films these days. There is the occasional Aussie premiere in there, but mainly these are films that have proven buzzworthy over the last year of festivals, especially at MIFF and SIFF from an Australian perspective.
- The festival kicks off tomorrow evening with the Australian premiere of David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars starring Julianne Moore. I’ve heard some positive things about Cronenberg’s latest and you have to give it to him, he always provokes a level of thought. Looks to do the same with this film, which appears to be a searing look at Hollywood.
- The Dardenne Bros are absolutely beloved and Two Days, One Night may be their most beloved film yet. The film features the always excellent Marion Cotillard as a factory worker begging her colleagues to allow her to return to work.
- If there is one festivaly name people on my twitter talk about more than any other, it is Xavier Dolan. I have never seen any of the Canadian upstart’s films so am really looking forward to Tom at the Farm. One of my most anticipated of the whole festival I think.
- The epic (in length at least) Winter Sleep took out the Palm d’Or at Cannes this year which is a certain way to gain festival intrigue. With my jammed program, I am not sure I can make room for its 196 minute run time. Which is a bummer because I have heard wildly divergent opinions on this one and was hoping to make my own mind up.
- Catherine Breillat has long been one of cinema’s most talked about directors. Abuse of Weakness is a somewhat based on her real life tale of a conman and a film director.
Unfortunately not at my beloved Arc Cinema as it was last year, this selection of genre films is one of the definite strong points of this year’s program. I just wish it was a little bigger is all.
- Stellan Skarsgard in a snowbound killing spree. In Order of Disappearance sounds pretty ace.
- The Australian premiere of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a bit of a coup for CIFF as this Iranian feminist vampire film has understandably got people talking a fair bit. I am really keen to check this out. It may well be my most anticipated film of the fest.
- I avoided The Green Inferno at SUFF. My concerns about the cannibalistic Amazonian trope remain, but I think I will take the plunge on this one. Reviews have not been the best so far.
- Goal of the Dead – Zombies and football… say no more.
- Why Don’t You Play in Hell and Housebound are two of my favourite films of the year so far. Links to my reviews can be found toward the end of this preview.
My one real qualm with this year’s CIFF program is that it is not strong on Australian films for whatever reason. Personally though, I will fill that void with some of these smaller scale American productions that I have either heard a bunch about, or just been intrigued by whilst reading this year’s program.
- Appropriate Behaviour looks like it is all New York hipness seen through the prism of a bisexual Persian. Comedies are a little thin on the ground at CIFF, so here is hoping the scripting in this one is strong because it has a lot of promise.
- Ok so technically The Salvation is not an American film at all. I just wanted to talk about it because I am really excited to see it. Mads Mikkelsen stars in this Australian premiere as a Danish man trying to start a life in the American Wild West. A Mads Mikkelsen Western? Yes please.
- A lot of the films that I am really keen to see at CIFF are ones that have gotten mixed reviews from their earlier festival screenings. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her definitely fit into that. Plenty of admirers and many who were a little miffed at the whole approach. In any case, apparently the ‘Them’ version slated for wider release is not at all successful, so I will be keenly checking these two out.
- Listen Up Philip was a film that I could have caught at MIFF, but I sensed I would find it a little too pretentious. But various people, who’s opinions I really trust have been telling me I missed out. Luckily CIFF will give me the chance to rectify that.
I have a weird relationship with docos at festivals. For some reason, I am never all that excited to check them out when planning out my schedule. But so often after the fact, they are some of my highlights.
- I adore Wim Wenders and his dance documentary Pina (2011) was one of my favourite films of 2011. So I can’t wait to see this picturesque looking portrait of renowned Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado that Wenders co-directed with Salgado’s son.
- “Illmatic” by Nas is one of the absolute essential hip-hop albums of all time. Time is Illmatic takes a look at both the album’s creation and how it is now considered. Brutally, it clashes with the Wenders’ film above for its first screening. But hopefully I will be able to catch the second.
- Remember the Hadron Collider? I do. Never really understood it though. Hopefully Particle Fever educates me a little without being too complex about it all.
- How in the world is it that people with absolutely no scientific background continue to play a major role in guiding worldwide climate ‘debate’? I have no idea, but hopefully Merchants of Doubt will teach me a little of why.
- Songs For Alexis traces teenage Ryan’s dealing with normal teen issues magnified by his transition from female to male. The kind of story not told enough, but one that we will hopefully see more and more of.
Stuff I’ve already seen and know is ace:
From my visits to MIFF and SUFF, I’ve managed to see four films on the CIFF program. I won’t ramble too much, but click the title to go through to a full review.
- Human Capital is a Italian noir film that has gotten a whole lot of love. I liked it, but not as much as most.
- When Animals Dream is a slow, but worthwhile feminists vampire film out of Denmark.
- Why Don’t You Play in Hell was my favourite film at SUFF and is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
- Housebound from New Zealand is one of the best comedy-horror films I have seen in a long time.