Sydney Film Festival 2011: Day 7


As the 58th Sydney Film Festival reached the hump of the week, marking exactly a week since the Opening Night, audiences saw the next competition film, Cairo 678, debut in Australia. Despite an inauspicious start to the day with doctor-assisted death documentary How to Die in Oregon, second screenings of A Separation and The Tree of Life demonstrated the vitality in living. The evening saw repeat sold-out sessions of the intriguing The Mill and the Cross and Cedar Rapids, along with a very special Town Hall meeting as David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz celebrated 25 years of being on the air with a discussion on the films that divided them. The evening closed out with an appearance by Sydney Film Festival Official Competition Jury President Chen Kaige, as he presented his own film Sacrifice alongside his producer/wife Hong Chen. – Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Margaret Pomeranz and David StrattonFilms That Divide Us: 25 Years Of David & Margaret

For us film critics in Australia, the Wednesday night reviews from Australia’s two most respected commentators on film are what we aspire to. The disagreements between the reigning monarchs of film criticism have become legendary, although as David was quick to point out that they have agreed more often than they have disagreed. Setting the tone for the night, Margaret agreed to disagree with this point. As part of a celebration of 25 years on the air, the dynamic duo picked five films that have polarised them over the years. As two lucky viewers guessed, earning them a dinner with the pair, the films were Romper Stomper (which Stratton famously refused to review), Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls (David coming out as a surprise defender), Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and Nick Cassavetes The Notebook. Removed from the formal setting of their ABC studio, the two are hilarious as they explain their choices, send gentle barbs in each other’s direction and profess their love for all things cinematic. As a former Sydney Film Festival director, Stratton brought a plethora of stories to the table, as readers of his autobiography “I Peed on Fellini” will already know. We also got a sneak peek at their views on Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. It is fairly safe to say that these films may be the topic of their next anniversary talk.

The Reel Bits
What else is there to say but “Five stars from me”?

At the Movies screens in Australia on ABC1 every Wednesday night. An exhibition, Margaret and David: 25 Years Talking Movies, commences at Melbourne’s ACMI on August 17, 2011 and continues until January 1, 2012.

Sacrifice posterSacrifice

Chen Kaige won the Palme d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for several Academy Awards for his feature Farewell My Concubine, and has more recently followed up with the historical epic The Emperor and the Assassin and the intimate Together. Acknowledging his role as Jury President at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, Kaige joked that he was glad his film was not in competition, or else he would have to award it the top prize. Underlying this joke is the quiet confidence with which Kaige demonstrates his mastery of the moving image. Set during the Waring States period of Chinese history, it follows physician Chen Ying (Ge You) who is caught in the middle of the troubles between the ruling Zhao clan and General Tu Angu (Wang Xueqi, Reign of Assassins). When Tu uses the assassination of the duke as an excuse to massacre the Zhaos, Chen Ying’s own infant son and wife are killed by Tu, who believes them to be the last surviving Zhao baby. Chen raises the baby as his own, determined to exact his revenge on Tu. Unlike many revenge films in the growing Chinese historical drama genre, Sacrifice begins with an impetus of love, and it is this love between father and child that is sustained throughout the film. Shot on lavishly designed sets, including an entire city constructed for the shoot (and now being used for a reported 30 other productions), Kaige’s film is both epic and intimate and engaging on every level.

The Reel Bits
Filled with the blood and swordplay one would expect, but also beautiful costumes, sets and intimately elegant plotting, Sacrifice is a masterclass example of how to stage a historical epic.

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: