With the wine and the Canadian Club flowing as freely as the rain at Sydney’s Dendy Opera Quays last night, Possible Worlds – the 5th Canadian Film Festival – launched a selection of Canada’s finest cinematic treats for Australian viewers. As the festival’s artist director Matt Ravier (aka Matt Riviera) said at the launch, it is hard to believe it has been five years since he was met with blank stares when proposing the idea of a festival devoted exclusively to Canadian cinema.
The festival is running between August 2 and 8 at various locations around Sydney, including Dendy Newtown and the Opera Quays, along with Gleebooks, the Seymour Centre, Queen St Studio and the Embassy Centre. The program this year is particularly strong, and includes no less than 2 world premieres (Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Arctic Blast and the Margaret Atwood documentary In the Wake of the Flood) and 11 Australian premieres. We kicked our viewing off in an age-old festival tradition: the opening night double-header of Chloe and The Wild Hunt.
Chloe is the new film from director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Where the Truth Lies), and a remake of Anne Fontaine’s 2003’s French thriller Nathalie…. This fairly standard thriller begins with gynecologist Catherine (Julianne Moore), suspecting husband David (Liam Neeson, Batman Begins and Ponyo) of having an affair. After a seemingly chance encounter with escort Chloe (Amanda Seyfried, recently of TV’s Big Love), Catherine hires Chloe to approach her husband and test his fidelity. When Chloe returns with stories of a receptive David, Catherine continues to test him and is pulled deeper into Chloe’s web. Will this business transaction threaten to expose David’s dalliances with the fairer sex, or is Chloe up to something else?
It becomes fairly obvious moments into Chloe’s first report back to Catherine exactly where this predictable thriller is headed. Once again, Moore continues her contractual obligation to appear nude in every film, including a recent turn with Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right. While this, and Seyfried’s well-sculpted body finally cut loose from the Mormon shackles of Big Love, is great visual candy for audiences, there is little else in the way of substance to be found here. Egoyan, who was so good at intimate family drama in The Sweet Hereafter, seems to have become obsessed with (admittedly well-executed) scenes of the flesh since throwing a steamy threesome at audiences in Where the Truth Lies, involving Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon, no less! While sex and noir have alway gone hand-in-hand, the greats such as Hitchcock (and to a lesser extent, his disciple Brian De Palma) understood that the pure cinema of the thriller still had to give audiences just enough credibility to draw them completely in. Moore’s character is so completely unlikeable that she threatens to tip our care levels into oblong-shaped apathy. Ultimately, while Chloe has its moments, this is ultimately a predictable retread of Fatal Attraction, Single White Female and pretty much any other love-triangle thriller you’ve seen over the last few decades. Overall rating: ★★
By contrast, The Wild Hunt is all about creating a convincing world for its audience. Set in the realm of medieval reenactment, non-player Erik Magnusson (Rick Mabe of Possible Worlds’ The Trotksy) follows his girlfriend Lyn (Kaniehtiio Horn, also in festival screeners The Trotsky and Leslie, My Name is Evil) to the tournament where she is Valkyrie Princess Evelyn, a highly sought-after prize for various factions. Erik’s brother Bjorn (Mark Antony Krupa) has seemingly abandoned their ailing father to Erik, causing much of the angst between Lyn and Erik. Complicating matters is Bjorn’s refusal to break his Viking character while in the reenactment. So Erik must play by the rules to win his Princess back from the Shaman Murtagh (Trevor Hayes). Of course, that’s when things start to go awry…
The Wild Hunt won Best Canadian First Feature Film at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009, and it is certainly a strong debut for director Alexandre Franchi. One of the things that The Wild Hunt does very well is draw you into its world, much like the reenactments themselves. Although initially frustrating, and a mixture of comedy and madness as Erik tries to penetrate an established world, one soon finds themselves slipping easily into the medieval groove. For the most part, the film does not judge or mock the reenactment world, but rather lets it exist as is. A terrific cast of supporting characters, including Tamara Jurt as one of the referees, bring a much-needed sense of reality necessary for the film’s brutal conclusion. Sometime hilarious, often thrilling and outright frightening, The Wild Hunt will not be for all tastes, but paints a convincing world that is worth spending some time in. Overall rating: ★★★
Possible Worlds continues for the rest of the week, concluding with I Killed My Mother (which made its Australian debut at the Sydney Film Festival in June) on Sunday night. Thanks to the 12StepFC for the company, and congratulations to Matt Ravier (who took some time out to chat with us at the end) and crew on an excellent opening.