SEEN: Film

Jane Mills, Keith Gallasch, David Varga

Molokai: The Story of Father Damian

Jane Mills
A worthy biopic of a real-life Belgian priest (David Wenham) who defied his superiors and risked his life caring for lepers in a neglected colony in Hawaii in the 1870s. A beautiful location and an amazing array of acting talent including Peter O’Toole, Kris Kristofferson, Derek Jacobi, Sam Neill and Leo McKern fail to save this movie from tedium. It becomes a painfully slow race between Wenham and the prosthetics department as bits of his body swell, distort and flake off. The prosthetics win but nowhere soon enough.

Director Paul Cox, writer John Briley. Distributor Sharmill Films. Screening nationally.

A Fun Night Out with Severed Heads

Keith Gallasch
What is striking about Severed Heads’ videos of the 1980s is their visual and aural integrity. That and being well ahead of their time. The manic, tautly rhythmic recurrence of images (within and across the works) and the richly overlaid minimal sonic and musical structures fuse into a singular go-with-it or lose-your-grip ride for the viewer. And it still feels new. This is no grab bag of the makers’ favourite bits and pieces (too often encountered these days). There’s lots of fun (tempered by leering Mexican Day of the Dead skulls), occasional political jabs (CIA, Disney), pop culture plunderings (Max Headroom), lunatic performance art and Tom Ellard and Stephen Jones in concert (some seminal VJing via a homemade video synthesizer). The 1988 Big Car Retread grabbed me like no other. A classic. The projections are big and DVD-crisp. Ellard keeps an ear on the mix by the side of the screen. Ian Andrews’ program essay on the group is a must-read that tells you just who did it and how. Thanks to dLux media arts for screening a significant piece of cultural history where avant-garde and popular impulses successfully met for a while.

d>ART02, Sydney Film Festival, Dendy Opera Quays, June 17 & 19. Other d>ART02 events will be reviewed in RealTime 51.

Minority Report

Keith Gallasch
Minority Report is action picture (Tom Cruise leaping impossibly from car to perfectly rounded car as they speed vertical roads; Tom welded in to a new car on a production line), Twilight Zone spooky what-iffery (seer cops float in tanks of amniotic fluid forecasting murders yet to happen; other cops, like orchestra conductors, wave at screens to conjure murder sites), Blade Runner urban nightmare (including a gruesome eye operation to short circuit iris identification), arthouse (Janusz Kaminski’s enveloping blue-grey cinematography, Max von Sydow’s father figure and Colin Farrell’s edgy Christian DA), murder mystery and political thriller (who controls the data?). Texture this with visual gags, deft sci-fi techno touches in the everyday that yoke the present to a not too distant future, add a great overlay of relishable paranoia and you’ve got a terrific cinema experience—if you like this kind of many-headed beast and you can put aside the weakness of the whodunnit (just another case of American Oedipal irresolution). Unusually, Spielberg keeps his narrative taut and to the point and does some justice, better than most, to the strange vision of Philip K Dick on whose short story of the same name the film is based. KG

Director Steven Spielberg, writers Scott Frank, Jon Cohen. Distributor Twentieth Century Fox. Screening nationally.

Italian for Beginners

David Varga
Reading the Dogme 95 manifesto (http://cinetext.philo.at/reports/dogme_ct.html) evokes a retro-avant-garde nostalgia for that variant of cinematic ‘truth’ that suspectly trades itself above the pleasures of cinematic artifice. Lone Scherfig’s Italian for Beginners, the fifth film in the series, applies the stripped-bare technique of Dogme to triumph the preternatural over the natural, in a subtle and satisfying mix of melancholic pleasure, character based absurdism, ordinariness and desire.

Director Lone Scherfig. Distributor Palace Films. Screening nationally.

2002 Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films

David Varga
Safina Uberoi’s My Mother India (producer Penelope McDonald) won the CRC (Community Relations) Award and the annual Rouben Mamoulian Award. This beautifully crafted, intimate and idiosyncratic account of an intercultural marriage and moments of personal and political crisis was far and away the best film of a sometimes dispiriting day’s screenings made grimmer by a sound system fault. My Mother India was also in the Documentary Category and should have won that too, but the prize was taken by Troubled Waters, a 4 Corners-style account of how Australia’s territorial controls have transformed Indonesian fishermen into paupers and ‘people smugglers.’ There’s nothing remarkable about the production, but the persistence of the filmmakers, the audience’s growing identification with the fishermen and occasional images that sear (their boats burnt at sea or on remote Western Australian shores by Australian authorities) make this film a demanding emotional and political experience—a winner at the right moment (director/writer Ruth Balint; producer Jo-anne McGowan). The General Category was won by director, producer, writer and editor Husein for Beginnings, in which time is cinematically reversed to test our interpretation of the crime we think we’ve seen committed: a nice companion piece to Memento, dextrously done and furiously overwrought. The Fiction Over 15 Minutes Category was won by New Skin (director, writer, actor Anthony Hayes, poducer Matt Reeder), looking like an economy version of a full length movie about the damage an addict does to the relationship he needs. Impressive night-time cinematography, especially the play with colour, and some fine acting could not compensate for the slide towards melodrama given the tight timeframe. Director, producer and writer Sarah Watt’s Living With Happiness took out the Fiction Under 15 Minutes Category with a feelgood animation with a very slight message (“don’t panic”) but it does kickstart with some good fantasy disaster scenes springing from everyday anxieties.

The 2002 Yoram Gross Animation Award went to Dad’s Clock (director, writer Dik Jarman; producer Sarah Drofenik). Immaculately crafted figures (a man carved from wood, a bird made of precision metal parts) and set (a ribbed boat that unfolds into being) comprise a fantasy world that is juxtaposed metaphorically with the spare, naturalistic telling, by his son, of a father’s journey to death by cancer. The other animations were also excellent. Lee Whitmore’s superbly drawn Ada was my winner, a gentle evocation of old age observed by children as the sunlight through a window gradually colours a room, its inhabitants and our understanding of age. Anthony Lucas’ Holding Your Breath, although narratively awkward, creates an intense, dark, silhouetted industrial world from which a girl ventures out to an equally daunting stretch of nature and a relationship. KG

Sydney Film Festival, State Theatre, June 7

RealTime issue #50 Aug-Sept 2002 pg. 24

© Jane Mills & Keith Gallasch & David Varga; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2002