MIFF2010 Round Up: Week 1

I just realised I have 25 films booked. It makes me feel a little bit ill. Here we go…

The Wedding Party – Amanda Jane, opening night Thursday 22 July @ The Regent Theatre

http://www.melbournefilmfestival.com.au/films/view?film_id=103276

Lawdy this was such dreck. It feels as though the Australian industry just wants a Rom-Com. Perhaps I’m being generous, but I would even go so far as to say that they took this first time film-maker’s script and press-ganged it through a range of “development opportunities” to fit their agenda. The result was not the touted “love letter to Melbourne”, but rather a pale imitation of Hollywood pap: bloodless, sexist, bourgouis and bland. There was no heart in this film, no joy, no chutzpah. It did make me think of some of my favourite rom-coms and why I like them though, as bad things often do make you spontaneously consider what their opposite number might be. What I decided is that maybe Rom-Coms are really no good at all, but some of my favourites are: My Best Friend’s Wedding, Sleepless in Seattle, Bull Durham and Pretty in Pink.

Red Hill – Patrick Hughes, Friday 23 July @ The Forum

http://www.melbournefilmfestival.com.au/films/view?film_id=103279

Two new Australian releases, two genre films. Fortunately Red Hill locates itself in a genre that Australia has a bit more track record in: B Grade action. Red Hill, for mine, was an absolute cracker. Politicially moronic but undeniably satisfying, it is a Stolen-Gen revenge fantasy (albeit sprung from the White Man’s imagination of what that would be), a cross between Mad Max, Assault on Precinct 13, A Fistful of Dollars, Picnic at Hanging Rock and First Australians. It wears it’s references on its sleeve, very much in the tradition of Tarantino, and I believe almost as successfully. It has a mythical CGI puma in it- what’s not to love???

Ryan Kwanten is good, as the young cop who has lobbed up to Red Hill anticipating a quiet life for him and his fragile pregnant wife. But the show is stolen by  Tommy Lewis, as Jimmy- an homage to the “man with no name”- the black anti-hero at the centre of the film, whose tension and drama hinges on his every move and is really just a series of elaborate set-pieces to demonstrate the character’s superior stealth over his bumbling white quarry. Yeah, yeah, it’s two-dimensional.

And it’s always brilliant to see Gordon Farkas, I mean, Steve Bisley grace the silver screen. He cuts a swathe through this material, pitched perfectly to his natural swagger and brusqueness as it is.

Finally, it looks amazing- a great example of talented Australian technicians being put at the service of great material, bringing the high country of Victoria to visceral, creepy life, re-written as a lawless hinterland, teeming with grim menaces, lurking in the fog.

How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr Foster – Carlos Carcas, Norberto López Amado, and Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands – Peter Mettler, Saturday 24 July @ Greater Union

My review here at Screen Machine: http://www.screenmachine.tv/2010/07/25/miff-10-tetro-survival-of-the-dead-how-much-does-your-building-weigh-mr-foster-petropolis/

Videocracy – Erik Gandini, Sunday 25 July @ Greater Union

http://www.melbournefilmfestival.com.au/films/view?film_id=90251

A disturbing expose of the seamlessly institutionalised system of professional incest existing in contemporary Italian media and politics, a situation brought about by President and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s opportunistic exertion of his positions of power, and sickening “vision in gold” for Italian culture.

Most of the strength of Videocracy for me was its mesmerising use of the video medium to critique the medium (to daggily paraphrase Disposable Heroes of Hiphopracy). Utilizing strategies familiar to experimental video art, reappropriating and distorting clips of entirely mundane programs to illustrate it’s narrative. The effect is to push out some space for critical distance around a televisual aesthetic which is usually consumed in a stream, with no room for analysis or even digestion.  The film slowly unfolds around the self-constructed character Corona- a former production assistant, turned Papparazzo, turned reality star who engineered his own rise and fall and rise again supposedly in opposition to the mainstream media system, all the while enjoying it’s auspices. It’s completely sickening stuff and makes you take a second look at the grotesqueries of the Australian system. However, it is not the image of the supremely cynical, supremely arrogant Corona, shamelessly shaving his chest, or cleaning his penis in the shower in front of the camera which will stay with me (though it must be said, that will stay with me for a while); it is not the creepy, embalmed smile of Berlusconi himself, constantly referred to by Italians as a “just a fun-loving guy”; nor is it the apalling interview with TV executive Lele Mora, where he reveals his love for fascist mobile phone rings; it is the footage of the Veline-wannabes, dancing on stage in a mall, hoping for a shot at fame and fortune (and marriage to a rich footballer). As these young women writhe on stage, their awkwardness and desperation heightened by the slowed pace (only by a few beats), and the crowd of women, men and children unabashedly ogle them with a critical eye, a shudder goes down your spine. The subjects of this documentary constantly refer to the “happiness”, “enjoyment” and “desire” of the audience, of the people. The funny thing is, no-one in this film looks happy- audiences and fans look positively anaesthetised, contestants look strained and desperate,  hosts look like they are pinned in place and the celebrities- the ones supposedly at the top of the food chain- look not completely convincingly aloof- their anxiety only milimetres beneath the surface. Berlusconi looks as he always looks: smiling, blank, immaculately presented- a consistent, brittle and reflective surface that mirrors the hopes and dreams of the masses.

While there may be many counter-cultural activities happening within Italy (and certainly they have a long tradition of resistance), it does feel as though – if you take this film at face value- there is a mainstream acceptance of the toxic cultural situation that has emerged. I loved this film, but it did feel more like an opening shot than a definitive kill: an ex-pat italian trying to come to grips with what has happened to Italy in his long absence. Leaves open the question as to whether others will step into the space it leaves behind.

More to come…

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