Lines were quite literally around the block as the long weekend kicked off on this 58th Sydney Film Festival. A major entry on the Family Films program launched on this Saturday 11 June 2011, with The Great Bear getting festival goers up for a very early 9:45am. Due to a problem with the print of Sammy’s Adventures: The Secret Passage, The Great Bear replaced it for a second screening later in the day.
There were in fact 29 screenings taking place as part of the festival on the first Saturday, with a repeat screening of the divisive competition film Sleeping Beauty (reviewed below) and the Australian debut of Miranda July’s The Future at which the star/director appeared to discuss the film. Audiences were moved by Sundance Grand Jury Prize (US Documentary) winner How to Die in Oregon, and the Australian premiere of Jodie Foster’s The Beaver ushered the evening in before Japan’s Mutant Girls Squad freaked audiences out. As the heavens opened up over the city, the night ended at the State Theatre aptly enough with Icíar Bollaín’s Even the Rain.
There will be few films as divisive as Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty, about a young university student Lucy (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch) who is drawn into a secretive world of eroticism and intrigue. Taking a sleep-inducing drug, Lucy (known in her new life as Sara), she remains unconscious while elderly men have their way with her. High-class concierge Clara (Rachael Blake, TV’s Hawke) has a simple rule for her clients: no penetration. Leigh seems to have issued the same guidelines to her audience, challenging us with her emotionally distant meditation. Reminiscent of Catherine Breillat’s work, in particular Anatomy of Hell (although Breillat also has a film called Sleeping Beauty), and of course Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Consequently, despite being weighed down by some clunky dialogue and narrative choices, betraying Leigh’s novelist origins, the photography by Geoffrey Simpson (Romulus, My Father) is actually quite breathtaking. Yet while Leigh, much like Breillat before her, undoubtedly has a strong voice, it remains largely unclear as to what she is actually trying to say by the time the end credit creep around.
The Western once dominated the American film industry, and the decline of the genre speaks volumes about the shift of the American myth. The last few decades have been dominated by revisionist takes on the Old West, from Dances with Wolves, TV’s Deadwood and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy) takes us boldly where few have gone before, proving that not everything that happened in the West happened at high noon or the OK Corral. Taking a leaf out of Terrence Malick’s book, Reichardt’s long takes and Chris Blauvelt’s skilled cinematography dictates the pace of the journey, giving us an experiential view of this epic voyage. Showing the painful journey of a group of settlers heading West, ostensibly guided by frontiersman Meek (Bruce Greenwood, Super 8), frustrations mount as it becomes increasingly obvious that they are lost. Startlingly, Reichardt reminds us that the story of ordinary women (enduring extraordinary hardships) in this landscape has rarely been told on screen. Reichardt reunites with Wendy and Lucy star Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), she is joined by the equally gifted Shirley Henderson (who we last saw in SFF2010’s Life During Wartime) and Zoe Kazan (Revolutionary Road).
Meek’s Cutoff is now playing in limited release in Melbourne, with Brisbane screenings to follow on June 23, 2011.
With 2005’s Me and You and Everyone We Know, artist Miranda July skilfully treaded that very careful line of “hilarious performance-art film” and “hipster whimsy”. Compared largely to Todd Solondz’s Happiness in its frank depictions of adults, children and sexuality, July’s follow-up delves into the existential and metaphysical. As narrated by the cat Paw Paw (voiced by July), The Future tells the story of Sophie (July) and boyfriend Jason (Hamish Linklater, TV’s The New Adventures of Old Christine) who come to the conclusion that their lives are almost up when they decide to adopt Paw Paw, and take a month off from their routine to reassess their lives. As one would expect from July, perhaps the 21st century equivalent of Woody Allen, this is disarmingly funny, although the quirky exchanges and less-than-subtle jibes at YouTube culture will send those with a Fear of Hipsters (FoH) scurrying from the hills. Yet This does, after all, have a break-up sequence done via a dance in a full-body yellow latex suit. Yet for those of us of a certain age (the dreaded 30s), this speaks directly to the paralysing fear that causes one character to literally stop time. A life-affirming wake-up call that reminds us that getting older is not the end, it’s just “the middle of the beginning”.
The Future does not currently have an Australian release date.The Sydney Film Festival continues until June 19, 2011.
For more news and reviews from the Sydney Film Festival, check out our coverage of previous days of the 2011 event: