Sydney Film Festival 2018: Day 7

Wednesday 13th June 2018

Of Fathers and Sons, 2017, dir. Talal Derki (Syria, Lebanon, Germany, Qatar)

This was a really confronting film in many ways. Filmmaker Talal Derki went in to this film essentially duping an extremist Abu Osama, father of eight living in a remote village in Syria, into believing that he sympathised with his cause and this is why he wanted to film him and his family. What he actually filmed however, is not a sympathetic film but rather one that confronts its audience with the reality of this family’s life – both its inherent and sometimes terrifying violence, as well the ways in which it is not so much different from the rest of us.

There are a lot of truly uncomfortable scenes in this film, unsurprisingly. There are sequences in which the father, Abu Osama attempts to justify extremist violence and near indiscriminate murder and threaten violence against the women in his family over and over. But what emerges as the film goes on is that it is not necessarily about the father but about his children, two of the sons in particular, Osama, named for Osama bin Laden, and Ayman. These boys are relentlessly trying to gain their father’s approval and, in the most devastating and confronting sequences of the film, go off to camp to receive military training, essentially learning to perform acts of fundamentalist violence under terrifying circumstances, before they are even teenagers. This is compounded by the many scenes in the film in which we see the boys just being boys. It hits home a touch to see them playing in the streets, messing around at school, getting in trouble and laughing amongst themselves, making a makeshift pool and diving in and out all afternoon long. These are things we have all done I’m sure as children and is a reminder that no matter what else is going on around these boys, these are regular children who have essentially been thrust into a life of violence (especially sad when Ayman decides he would be much more interested in carrying on at school and learning more than going further with military training like his brother Osama). That, more than anything is painful to watch, the way the cycle of violence rolls over, leaving the innocence of these young boys in its wake.

A confronting film that I think is still really worth the watch. If for nothing else than to help understand how young men are following these paths.

Wajib, 2017, dir. Annemarie Lacier (Palestine, France, Germany)

I really liked this film. It follows Palestinian father and son Abu Shadi and Shadi who must hand deliver the invites to the wedding of their daughter and sister respectively in modern day Nazareth. It is another really nice parent/child story of the two trying to find common ground with each other after the son has moved away to Europe and on with his life, and the father has stayed the same, against the politically challenged situation of Palestinians living in what is now Israel.

This is a really well done film. The actors that play Shadi and Abu Shadi, Saleh and Mohammad Bakri, are real life father and son. This gives their relationship on screen a really palpable feeling, especially in moments of particular joy or tension. The story is structured really nicely, taking place over the course of the one day of them delivering the invitations. Naturally not everything goes smoothly and the interactions with the people they’re delivering to are often hilarious, the film ending up about as funny as it is dramatic. The politics of the film are played really subtly but in no way are they undervalued. The tension between the father and son and their differing feelings steadily builds through off hand comments until the proverbial shit hits the fan when Abu Shadi wants Shadi to take him to deliver an invitation to a Jewish man that Shadi believes spied and reported on them. The ensuing argument explores really complex issues and gives voice to the experiences of Palestinians in Israel without hitting the audience over the head.

A really fun but heartfelt film with the fantastically well played relationship, both of the characters and actors, as father and son, at its core. Definitely a film to keep an eye out for.

The Taste of Rice Flower, 2017, dir. Pengfei Song (China)

Another parent/child story in which they have to find a way back to each other but this time in a vastly different context. This film, set in China, is about a single mother Ye Nan, who has left her daughter, Nan Hang, in her small village with her grandfather, whilst she goes and earns money in Shanghai, only to return to her village and to a daughter who she barely knows and who barely knows her. The film sees them trying to rebuild their relationship and whilst it is often sweet and genuine, it is also very slow.

Inherent to this film is the clash or at least the comparison of modern and rural China and it is hugely interesting which also makes the fact that it is underdeveloped incredibly frustrating. The relationship between the mother and daughter is played really beautifully at times but the development of it is doesn’t always feel very natural, meaning as well that its resolution feels a little It is however, a stunning film with a really beautiful setting that is shot in a way that really makes it shine. It also has little dashes of humour that are a welcome surprise.

Overall, its a beautiful film but not always the most compelling one. I don’t like to say this about films very much because so much work goes into each and every piece of filmmaking but if you can see this film, awesome, if you can’t, you’re not missing too much.


Sydney Film Festival 2018: Day 6

Tuesday 12th June 2018

The Distant Barking of Dogs, 2017, dir. Simon Lereng Wilmont (Denmark, Finland, Sweden)

This is another film in this year’s festival lineup that exposed me to something I didn’t really know anything about. It is a documentary about the lives on one small family, Alexandra and her grandson Oleg, living in East Ukraine near the border with Russia where armed conflict is raging. The film follows the family trying to live a normal life in this place that has been nearly abandoned because of the danger of missiles flying overhead and falling nearby.

Whilst I was aware of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, seeing it through the eyes of innocent bystanders, through children for whom this is both scary and just a part of their lives, and a grandmother fearing for the safety and the future of her grandson, was something else entirely. Every aspect of this family’s life is impacted by the conflict. What is normal for them are things that wouldn’t cross my mind as part of my daily life. The children are taught in school what to do and where to go if there is an invasion or a bomb hits the town, they play outside but are also keeping track of how close the gunfire is in case it becomes too close and they must run home. They bunk out in the basement when the bombing gets too close and too intense. Despite all this though, the heart of the film is the family. Oleg and his cousin Yarik maintain a close bond and get up to all the same shenanigans and hijinks that boys on the cusp of adolescence would normally. And then there is Alexandra, trying to maintain her family and raise Oleg after his mother is killed and then Yarik once his mother has also fled the warzone. Aesthetically it’s a little cold but its heart is so warm.

This film is a little bleak but it’s also moving in its depiction of how family remains even when there is little else. It was also an important showcase of what these people are going through in this part of the world. Would definitely recommend this one.

One Day, 2018, dir. Zsófia Szilágyi (Hungary)

This film would be a neat companion to Jason Reitman’s latest, Tully. One Day is, as it says on the tin, one day in the life of a middle-class Hungarian woman (Zsófia Szamosi) with three small children, two who have school and extracurriculars to attend, and a toddler that is ill, her sink is broken, she is about to lose significant shifts at her day job and on top of all of this, she has just discovered her husband has been cheating on her. There is no twists and turns in this plot, it is simply an invitation to try to understand just what it takes to be a working mother.

This film is, put simply, magnificent. If the set up for the plot sounded like a lot of shit piling on one woman, it is, but this is not unusual for any women I know (apart from hopefully the cheating partner) whether they have children or not. It’s really important I think to have a film showing that. It almost functions and flows like a thriller, something the director Zsófia Szilágyi discussed as developing through the process of making the film. It was not the intention, but seemed to reflect what this kind of woman’s life is actually like. It’s excellently shot, the framing constantly providing a sense of the stress and claustrophobia. Zsófia Szamosi is astonishing, conveying this constant sense of exhaustion and frustrating but also balancing that with the very evident love for her children.

I would highly recommend this film, with its somewhat bold depiction of motherhood that reminds us that it’s not sunshine and roses and adorable children. Sometimes it’s really hard and exhausting and I think it’s important to show that and remind women that they’re not alone if that’s how they’re feeling. It’s also just a real triumph of filmmaking. Keep your peepers peeled for this.

The Ancient Woods, 2017, Mindaugas Survila (Lithuania, Estonia, Germany)

Imagine a David Attenborough special but without David Attenborough. It’s blasphemy I know but imagine, rather than having someone explain what’s going on, you simply observe. That is what’s happening in this film. It’s the purest form of nature documentary, in which nature speaks for itself.

The director himself is a biologist and his care and respect for nature is clear in every frame and sound in this film, it’s palpable. Survila spent ten years gathering the footage for this film and it’s so detailed and delicate and well put together that it doesn’t matter how experimental the film is, it’s still just as interesting. The animals become like characters that are fascinating to watch, one particular that comes to mind is a pair of acorn collecting squirrels that were shot in such an interesting way and were almost playful and funny. It’s a very calming film, and almost becomes meditiative with nothing but the sounds of the forest and its inhabitants to guide you through the film. It’s a really beautiful experience.

Fair warning for anyone looking to watch this film to do it on enough sleep. I was a little exhausted this day and it was my third film that day so by a third of the way through it I was starting to feel myself becoming really tired. This is not a detriment to the film, it is just so calming to watch that it had lulled me into a really zen place, but given being already tired this was not necessarily helpful for me. I would definitely recommend seeing it if you can, it’s something completely different and absolutely beautiful but yes, get some sleep first. Or go if you just need to zone out and relax for a bit. Or if you really love animals. This is absolutely the film for you.

Matangi / Maya / M.I.A, 2018, Stephen Loveridge (UK, USA, Sri Lanka)

M.I.A was only vaguely familiar to me before I saw this, I remember one track of hers I think from when I was younger, Paper Planes, but I knew nothing about who she was, or what she had done. Thus this film was like a brand new story to me and a fascinating one at that.

The film, obviously, is about the rapper M.I.A or Matangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam, a Sri Lankan Tamil who immigrated with her family (minus her father who was a leader in the Tamil resistance back in Sri Lanka) to London when she was a small child. This could have easily become like any other pop star/musician documentary but M.I.A’s story required more that that. Loveridge supplements his documentary footage of Maya, living her more pop star life later on with footage that Maya herself took when she was younger and aspiring to be a documentary filmmaker. A significant part of this footage is from when she herself travelled back to Sri Lanka to document the war there and what living as a Tamil was like. We see footage of her family back home and her own testimonials about her experiences living there. This footage is woven throughout the film and serves as a strong context for her activism that we see later in her life as her platform grew. These segments are admittedly, far stronger than the documentary footage taken of her rather than by her. However in these we do see her passion as an artist and a human as well as an activist for her people’s struggles. We see her be dismissed because she is just a pop star, and more dangerously because she is a woman of colour, but she does not let this silence her. She is brazen and unapologetic. The film does not solely focus on her politics but also provides a picture of a woman out there living her life precisely as she wants to and it was admirable.

In the particular social and political context we are living in at the moment I think films like this are key. I know people get their knickers in a twist about pop stars and actors or whatever putting their two cents in about politics but lets not forget that art has always either reflected or challenged power. Artists have opinions and feelings same as everyone else but the difference is they have a platform to voice them in a constructive way. M.I.A shows us how this can be done, how to use a platform to speak openly about issues that everyone else is ignoring. It was admirable to watch.

Sydney Film Festival 2018: Day 5

Monday 11th June 2018

Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle, 2017, dir. Gustavo Salmerón (Spain)

This quirky film feels more home video than it does documentary. Centring on a Spanish woman, Julita, and her large family packing up their lives as they move out of a literal castle, this is an intimate portrait, plain and simple, of someone’s mother and grandmother.

Whilst there is a clear story to this film, one of a family coming together to help move a lifetime’s worth of junk (and then some for this woman is an insatiable hoarder), out of a castle when the family can no longer afford to live in it, this film’s real strength is in the fact that it largely plays out in delightful and moving vignettes. It’s more like a collection of glimpses into Julita’s life and personality, with her telling stories of her life, including the time the family adopted a monkey because she thought it was going to act like a little human, and detailing her plans for her funeral (there is naturally a dress rehearsal that gained an absolute roar of laughter in my screening), and generally showcasing all of the items she has managed to amass over her time. The film is made by Julita’s son Gustavo and his love for his mother is palpable throughout the film, which in turn gives a real and honest feeling and a sense of warmth that could only be achieved with that kind of love at its core. It’s incredibly funny and charming and reminded me of watching back my own family’s home videos from when I was younger. This isn’t just a comment on its subject matter but its style. It doesn’t feel super polished or entirely professional but I honestly think that aesthetic is key to the familial essence of the film.

I had been having a bit of a bad morning when I saw this and afterward I felt like I had been given a big cuddle. Julita often comments throughout the film that filming her would not make an interesting or worthwhile movie and in that she is very wrong. By the end of the film I wanted to thank Gustavo and Julita and their entire clan for welcoming audiences into their family because for an hour and a half the world seemed like a much better place.

Transit, 2018, dir. Christian Petzold (France, Germany)

This film is one with an interesting premise. That is, it is a story of WWII refugees set in contemporary Marseilles. Sounds a little bizarre when I put it like that but in practice it’s makes for really interesting viewing. The story is that of Georg (Franz Rogowski), a German WWII refugee fleeing France by impersonating a writer who has been granted passage to Mexico through Marseille. Whilst in Marseille, he meets and falls in love with a woman who, naturally, turns out to be the wife of the writer he is impersonating. Suffice to say, things get a little complicated from there.

The contemporary setting of the film is not directly addressed in any way nor is it overplayed, there aren’t smartphones or computers or anything like that. It is a much more subtle approach, the most obvious nod to it being so modern are the contemporary cars. Otherwise, it becomes steadily more clear as the film progresses and you begin to realise that certain things seem out of place if we’re dealing with the beginning of the occupation of France by the Nazis. For one thing the soldiers we can assume are meant to be German are dressed almost like modern SWAT teams with high powered assault weapons. Also once Georg reaches Marseille, the American embassy is guarded by American soldiers who are in modern American Army uniforms we’re used to seeing from films and news footage about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Once I finally realised the setting was modern I was immediately a touch confused. I wondered whether I had misinterpreted the narrative and we were not dealing with events of 1940 but a hypothetical version of events happening now. As the film went on however, it was apparent this was not the case. I can only assume that I was partly right perhaps and writer and director Christian Petzold was making some kind of point about the way that history can and does repeat itself, especially when you think about it in light of the refugee crises across the world at the moment but particularly in Europe. Aside from the setting, the film is really nicely shot and well acted, it is mostly just Rogowski doing any heavy lifting but he does it superbly. The story itself flows nicely though there is nothing particularly exciting or new about it. I did enjoy the voice over narration whose owner is fun though not surprising.

For me this film was interesting in its premise (I am after all writing a PhD on the relationship of film and history) but overall did not quite live up to itself. It felt like a fairly rudimentary story when it could have had a lot more punch to it. Definitely worth the watch but I doubt I’d ever seek it out again for anything other than an academic interest.



Sydney Film Festival 2018: Day 4

Sunday 10th June 2018

Three Identical Strangers, 2018, dir. Tim Wardle (USA)

This is an incredible film, I’m just going to say that from the outset. It is a documentary about triplets, separated at birth and adopted into three different families, who miraculously find each other after 19 years. It’s a remarkable story in and of itself but as the story unfolds through the doco, it becomes something entirely more compelling and almost beyond belief.

If anyone is at all familiar with the brilliant documentary Tickled (2016, David Farrier and Dylan Reeve), which if you aren’t I would highly recommend seeking it out, my immediately thought after seeing Three Identical Strangers is that these films would make an excellent double bill. Not necessarily because their subject matter is similar but because they are both documentaries that turn into thrillers in some ways, or at least have stories that end up in a completely different place to where you expect it to or even where you might guess. It’s impeccably paced and reveals its truth in enrapturing ways. It also demands something from the audience. It demands empathy, it demands you to consider our own ethics. In the interviews, similar to how Wik vs Queensland was done, the triplets speak directly to the audience whilst everyone else in the film speaks in the more traditional, to the interviewer way. These men need their story heard and the film does them justice.

It’s a compelling and emotional story that surprises and questions and leaves the audience with a lot to digest. It’s my favourite documentary and in my top three films overall of the film festival this year. Would very highly recommend getting to this one if you can.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, 2017, dir. Desiree Akhavan (USA)

Another great queer film from this year’s lineup, this is a film set in the 1990s, about 16 year old Cameron Post (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is forced to go to a gay conversion camp when she is discovered making out with another girl. Whilst in the camp, Cameron has to come to terms with her identity and finds friends that she can relate to far more than she had on the outside. It’s somewhat of a coming of age story, about learning to accept yourself and about the absurdity of people trying to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be and feel.

While this all sounds like a very heavy premise, the film is, for the most part, a comedy. It doesn’t at all shy away from the seriousness of its subject, something that despite being set in the 90s is still a very real threat for young queer people all over the place. Nonetheless, it is a very effective dark comedy that’s humour largely comes from the complete and utter absurdity of the notion of ‘gay conversion.’ The leader of the camp is described in the film as being like a Disney villain and it’s somewhat true, she is a caricature of the ugly ignorance of homophobic people. Moretz is charming and funny as well as bringing a real weight to the character who is learning to accept herself in this environment that is trying to tell her that who she is is wrong. Her closest friends in the film are played by Sasha Lane (American Honey, 2016) and Forrest Goodluck (The Revenant, 2015) who also both turn in great performances. Each of the young characters, even including one of the camp counsellors who is there because he himself was ‘cured,’ are given a lot of depth and nuance with their own stories of struggles accepting their identities and dealing with external and internalised homophobia.

It’s a film that simultaneously gives weight to and exposes the ridiculousness of its subject matter whilst dealing with young queer identity. It’s very funny but it has a lot to say. Would definitely recommend the watch if you get the chance.

Sydney Film Festival 2018: Day 3

Saturday 9th June 2018 

Wik vs Queensland, 2018, dir. Dean Gibson (Australia)

I don’t even know where to start with this film, I was so taken by it. The film documents perhaps the second most famous land rights battle in Australian history. After the Mabo decision in 1992 that recognised the Native Title of the Indigenous people of the Murray Islands, the first time this had happened in Australian history, the Wik people brought their case for the rights to their traditional land against the Queensland government. This documentary follows these events from the inception of the idea to take this case up, to the decision and its fallout.

For most Australians the Wik case will be familiar, either because we lived through it or because it is taught to us in school. What this film does however, is allow the story to be told by those who it directly effected and who were involved, namely it allows the space for Indigenous people themselves to tell this story from their perspective. This is really important. I learnt about Mabo and Wik at school (I’m too young to remember the Wik decision first hand) but I don’t think, when I was at school at least, we really got the sense of what it really meant to the Indigenous people. This film is very powerful in this way. Its interview style has the Indigenous interviewees directly addressing the audience, telling the stories of their experiences and feelings, their optimism when former Prime Minister Paul Keating invited Indigenous elders to the table to talk about the Native Title Act (1993) and getting their input, and then the crushing of that optimism when John Howard was elected, whose white conservativism set Indigenous policies on a backward track. It feels like an intensely personal film as well as being incredibly informative.

Wik vs Queensland is an really powerful film that I think should be seen by all Australians. It’s a piece that does what I think we need more of and that’s remind us that there is still a long way to go in Indigenous policy, rights, and relations. These people have a connection with this land that white Australia will never understand and it is our responsibility to respect that and to acknowledge that we benefit from the situation that has brought such harm to Indigenous culture and find ways to help make those amends.

Jirga, 2018, dir. Benjamin Gilmour (Australia)

This is an interesting film. Its story is that of Mike (Sam Smith, not that one), a former Australian soldier who returns to Afghanistan after having participated in a raid in which he shot an unarmed man, to try to make amends. The film follows his journey across Afghanistan, meeting a host of unusual, sweet, and occasionally scary characters, trying to avoid both the Taliban and ISIS, before confronting the family and community of the man he killed. He is ultimately judged by a Jirga, a traditional council of elders, who decide whether he should be forgiven or punished for his crime.

There are some strengths to this film. It is nicely shot and gives a view of Afghanistan that is not solely focused on conflict but rather shows some of the landscape and culture as well. It is also acknowledges some of the impact of the war on the innocent Afghan people, the driving event of this film of course being the death of an innocent man by a foreign soldier. It is a tight, economical film but that also was part of its weakness for me. There was, to me, a frustrating lack of context. I do have to acknowledge though that this is perhaps because I have strong feelings about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and especially Australian involvement in them. The film felt just far too simple.

Despite my political misgivings about the film, it is still interesting in terms of war and guilt as well as giving a different perspective on Afghanistan and its people and culture. Its not awful but I was not as impressed with it as I would have liked to have been.

Sydney Film Festival 2018: Day 2

Friday 8th June 2018

Entrepreneur, 2018, dir. Virpi Suutaru (Finland)

This documentary has a seemingly everyday subject matter. It follows two stories of entrepreneurship, two women developing a growing business producing, marketing, and selling a mince meat substitute, and a family that runs a travelling fun fair and sells meat products from a van which they drive all over the countryside. What emerges is a contrasting picture of both the rural and the city lives in modern Finland.

Despite the subject matter sounding none too exciting, this film is really engaging. It’s an intimate family portrait for the rural family and in the city context, a personal story of two friends trying to maintain their friendship through the strains of running a business that is growing perhaps more rapidly than they can handle. It’s incredibly funny at times and also occasionally moving. It’s an unusual aesthetic for a documentary, so much so that at times I forgot it was a doco and not just a gorgeous art piece about life in Finland. But in many ways, that is exactly what it is. The director often reminds us that these people have the same daily lives and struggles and dreams as everyone else.

It may not be for everyone but, in my opinion, it was a beautiful piece of cinema to watch and I really enjoyed the slice of life look at living in Finland (it looks very, very cold).

Disobedience, 2017, dir. Sebastian Lelio (USA)

This story centres on Ronit (Rachel Weisz), who returns to the Orthodox Jewish community she was shunned from after her father dies. In doing so, she comes back in contact with the woman with which she shared an attraction, Esti (Rachel McAdams) who has stayed and now married their friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), a devout but compassionate man. Naturally, things go a bit haywire when the women find they still have feelings for each other. It is a story about love and grief, and what it’s like to reject a life and then walk back into it, as well as what it means to become trapped in a life.

This film is both personal and community driven and the tension between these two imperatives is incredibly well played out. It deals with some very intense issues but doesn’t weigh itself down too much (although there is one scene in which something very serious appears to me played down too much). Weisz and McAdams are in typically good form and play really nicely off each other, and Nivola also turns in a solid performance. It is quite bleak, there is not a lot of colour in the film really, aside from one magnificent scarf of Ronit’s. This is not a criticism though as it matches the tone of the film perfectly.

Its a film well worth the watch, its portrayal of grief and love are nicely and delicately handled. I wonder if perhaps I was expecting too much of this film, or if it felt just a touch more bland than all of its foreign counterparts that I had seen thus far in the festival but as much as I liked it, it didn’t pack quite the punch with me that almost all the other festival films I had (and have now) seen.

The Marriage, 2017, Blerta Zeqiri (Kosovo/Albania)

This was a good film to follow Disobedience as it deals almost entirely with the same sort of story, though in a vastly different context. Set in Kosovo where the impact of the war is still looming large, a couple, Anita and Bekim, are engaged to be married. With a fortnight left until they tie the knot, Bekim’s former lover Nol (of whom Anita has no knowledge) shows back up, confronting Bekim with feelings and a life he has clearly tried to forget.

The Marriage has a very similar tripartite character structure to Disobedience, with a heterosexual relationship suddenly challenged by the reintroduction of one party’s former same sex lover, both in contexts where homosexuality is shunned and disallowed. For me however, this one did the job a bit better. It is perhaps unfair to compare them but having seen them back to back, I find it difficult not to. They are both important stories to tell but this one felt a little more real and powerful. Bekim’s own internalised homophobia is interestingly but devastatingly played out and the role and impact of heteronormativity on all three main characters cannot be overstated. Not only this, but I found it really well made, the actor’s are all very good and it’s shot quite nicely. It’s also well written, with the interplay of the complex societal and historical issues woven so neatly into a really well brought to life story.

It’s another film that may not be for everyone, Disobedience may well be more accessible for some people. However, having the director there for a Q&A also made clear how important of a film this is. According to her, it is still nearly impossible to live in an openly gay relationship in Kosovo. The main characters are played by three of the most famous people in Kosovo who were clearly making a point choosing to star in the film and it was screened to rave reviews in the country. One can only hope the tides are turning in a more open, tolerant, and loving direction and it is stories and works of art like this that can only help to broaden people’s minds and ideas.

The Seen and Unseen, 2017, dir. Kamila Andini (Indonesia)

This was another really beautiful film from another part of the world I don’t think I had hitherto actually seen a film from. This film is about a young Indonesian girl dealing with the trauma of her twin brother’s sudden and severe illness. It is a picture of family and culture and grief that was wholeheartedly deserving of its place in this year’s official competition.

This film is not always an easy watch though. It was the last film of a four film day which didn’t do it a mass amount of favours. It doesn’t always make sense but I honestly think that works for it as grief and illness very rarely make sense themselves. It’s a fascinating concoction of scenes and vignettes as our young protagonist, Tantri, imagines herself and her brother playing together and the lines between reality and fantasy become blurred. The young actress, Thaly Titi Kasih, is astonishingly good in a powerfully embodied performance. She says quite little in the film and plays most of it out through her movement in some remarkable sequences, notably when she embodies the spirits of various animals including a chicken and a monkey. She is completely and utterly captivating.

It’s certainly more on the artsy end of the spectrum and thus may not be enjoyable for everyone but I definitely think its a film that commands respect.


Sydney Film Festival 2018: Day 1

Thursday 7th June 2018

No Date, No Signature, 2017, dir. Vahid Jalilvand (Iran)

This film is the story of a forensic pathologist, Dr Nariman (Amir Aghaee), in Iran who one night accidentally knocks a family off their bike. While there are no serious injuries, the young son gets a knock to the head. Not long after this, the same boy turns up dead to be autopsied. While his cause of death is determined to be nothing to do with the accident, our doctor can’t shake the guilt and the nagging thought that he may still be responsible. The film becomes a story of how to deal with the burden of responsibility.

This is not necessarily what I would call an enjoyable film. It’s not pleasant but that isn’t to say its bad. On the contrary, it is an exceptionally well made film. It is impeccably written with characters that fascinate and frustrate in equal measure but are never unempathetic. It is superbly acted primarily by Amir Aghaee and Navid Mohammadzadeh, the father of the child, who form an interesting dichotomy, as well as the doctor’s wife played by Hediyeh Tehrani, who is the film’s constant voice of reason. It’s also edited really nicely and the ending is among the most impactful I’ve seen in a while.

As is the way with the film festival, it exposed me to something I didn’t know much about. This whole film takes place somewhat within the context of the judicial system in Iran which I have almost no understanding or knowledge of, as well as the wider Iranian culture but I am determined to look into it and learn more about it. I always appreciate seeing a film that exposes me to a whole world I am unfamiliar with and showcases a culture or a place that we rarely see in mainstream cinema. Which is a real shame, especially when the products these cultures can produce are as exceptional as this film is.

The Line, 2017, dir. Peter Bebjak (Ukraine/Slovakia)

This is another film that made me want to immediately go out and learn more about the context. Set just before Slovakia joined the European Union, the film centres on the lucrative business of smuggling across the Slovak/Ukrainian border. Particularly, it revolves around one man and his family on the Slovak side who run the movement of cigarettes and people in Slovakia. It begins a little like a typical mob/crime/heist film with this man, Adam (Tomas Mastalir), a strapping head of a family dealing not just with planning movements of illegal products across the border and greasing the palms of the authorities but also the pregnancy and engagement of his eighteen-year-old daughter and a severe tension between his wife and mother who all live under the same roof. When his Ukrainian supplier starts wanting to transport narcotics and he refuses and a shipment goes magnificently wrong, naturally the proverbial shit hits the fan.

The film begins with a strong stride. There are elements of a Lock, Stock esque vibe, with a bumbling crew and a dark sense of humour. It is hugely entertaining, funny and very promising for about the first three quarters. The third act unfortunately lets its down. It feels perhaps simply as if it is maybe just a little too long and thus stretched out, or as if someone had realised they only had a day to finish the script. Where it had been perfectly crafted, it becomes sloppy and lacklustre. It almost makes up for its ending with the incredible cinematography. It really showcases the Slovak landscape with beautiful lingering shots of the dense forest and allows the actors the space to flex their muscles with some gorgeous close ups and long takes.

The last thirty minutes let it down but the first eighty are well worth the watch.

The Deminer, 2017, dir. Hogir Horiri and Shinwar Kamal (Sweden)

This documentary focuses on the career of a Kurdish who was a Colonel in the Iraqi army who worked tirelessly to find and disarm mines in Iraq. In an almost found footage style, the film plays out in footage of Colonel Fakhir’s time in the military. We watch as he puts his life on the line over and over for the safety of his fellow countrymen and women. At one point in the film, Fakhir justifies his love of his job by saying that if he fails at it, only he dies, but if he succeeds, he saves the lives of anyone that would be caught up in the explosion. It is the picture of a war hero and all that he sacrifices for the sake of others.

This film is incredibly tense and intense. Because we watch so much of it through the footage taken at the time, we are seeing Colonel Fakhir disarming mines in real time knowing it really happened but never knowing what’s coming, whether he’ll be successful or whether it will go fatally wrong. There are moments that are genuinely and utterly terrifying  but in many ways that’s important because its an important story to tell. Over the course of Fakhir’s career he became a target for Al-Qaeda and tried to reclaim the streets of Mosul from Islamic State. It viscerally shows us what life was and continues to be like for the citizens of Iraq. Toward the end of the film, Fakhir is demining houses, every day people’s homes that have been rigged to blow just because. It’s a stark reminder that this is not something most of us will ever have to be concerned about. Never in my life have I been concerned that my home might explode when I open the door.

A really powerful, and well put together film. Think The Hurt Locker if the main dude had actually given a shit about the people he was saving.