Sydney Film Festival 2011: Day 8

Cairo 678

SFF LogoRolling into home stretch of the 58th Sydney Film Festival, a modest 14 screenings were happening around Sydney today. Starting with the sold out Czech Republic film Surviving Life and going all the way through to Brazil’s Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, competition entries Cairo 678 and Norwegian Wood also made appearances on the bill today. Cairo 678‘s executive producer and star Bushra was also available for a Q & A at Event Cinemas on George Street, answering questions about the hard-hitting piece on sexual politics in Egypt. – Thursday June 16, 2011

Tabloid poster


From The Thin Blue Line through to The Fog of War, documentarian Errol Morris has consistently proven that truth is a fluid thing. In Tabloid, a flexible view of reality is tantamount to going with this bizarre fact-based tale. Based on the then-famous “Mormon sex in chains” case on the late 1970s, it follows the somewhat ‘so crazy it must be true’ story of Joyce McKinney, former Miss Wyoming, who became obsessed with the Mormon Kirk Anderson. When he left for London to continue his missionary work, McKinney follows him, allegedly kidnaps him and restrains him to a bed to have sex with him. Through interviews, archival footage and expert testimony, at least two distinct versions of the story are painted. McKinney is the ultimate unreliable witness, clearly living in her own version of reality, and it is possible that she could casually explain away murder.  As strange as it sounds, this is all just the beginning of the story, and the years that follow take McKinney’s saga in bizarre directions, from bondage dens to cloning.

The Reel Bits
Whether you believe any part of this well-documented story or not, it is undeniably entertaining, hilarious, baffling and intriguing all at once. We haven’t even told you about Booger.

Cairo 678 posterCairo 678

The 2011 Sydney Film Festival has given us a broad view of sexual politics around the world, with the disparity between the rights and roles of women and men apparent in a number of films. A Separation gave us a glimpse of the Irani situation, while Tyrannosaur (reviewed below) examined the very real and tragically still very hidden world of domestic abuse. The lives of three women, and a male police officer, intersect over the issue of sexual harassment in Egypt, where the admission of such is a great social taboo for women. Weaving a narrative structure that is reminiscent of Paul Haggis’ Crash, the film attempts to do for sexual harassment in Egypt what Crash did for racism in Los Angeles. If Cairo 678‘s politics are less than subtle at times, it is because the extremes of the Egyptian male culture it depicts demands it. The film is supported by three strong lead performances from Boshra, Nelly Karim and Nahed El Sebaï that avoid two-dimensionality and provide the contrasting opinions of women on the issues as well. While the film does try to wrap things up a little too neatly, the end message is no less powerful.

The Reel Bits
Another fascinating and fist-raising look at the gender divide in a culture not-so-far removed from our own. While some of the laws have changed in Egypt in the last few years, Cairo 678 demonstrates that the societal mores are where the deeper changes are needed.

Cairo 678 does not currently have a release date in Australia.

Tyrannosaur posterTyrannosaur

Actor Paddy Considine makes his feature directorial debut with the mindblowingly hard-hitting Tyrannosaur, making full use of his regular collaborators and acting troupe. Essentially a two-hander between hard-bastard Joseph (Peter Mullan, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows) and abused Christian op-shop owner Hannah (Olivia Coleman, Hot Fuzz), who meet when a distraught Joseph takes refuge in her shop. As their lives become inextricably bound together, their respective self-destructive cycles reveal aspects of themselves, of their dark pasts and what they are both capable of. The performances at the heart of the film are phenomenal, with Mullan pouring every line and wrinkle of experience on his face into Joseph, who is both a tragic figure and an “right cunt”, as he is fond of self-proclaiming. Audiences may be familiar with Coleman through her TV appearances in sketch-comedy shows That Mitchell and Webb Look and Peep Show, but her fine dramatic turn of a character smiling on the outside but almost completely destroyed in every other aspect is Award-worthy. Violent and sometimes difficult to watch, Tyrannosaur is wholly captivating.

The Reel Bits
As brutal as it is brilliant, the forceful and confronting drama signals the arrival of Paddy Considine as a filmmaker, commanding weighty performances and difficult subject matter with the skill of a seasoned pro.

Tyrannosaur does not currently have a release date in Australia. The distribution rights are owned by Madman.

Norwegian Wood posterNorwegian Wood

Based on the 1987 novel of the same name by beloved Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, in turn named for a song off The Beatles’ 1965 LP Rubber Soul, the nostalgic tale is of Toru Watanabe (Ken’ichi Matsuyama, Kamui) who recalls the troubled years he spent with the disturbed Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi, The Brothers Bloom), united by the common loss of Kizuki (Kengo Kora, Box! and the similarly themed Solanin), and torn between his love for her and the willing Midori (Kiko Mizuhara). An often flat retelling of the tragic love story is lost in translation in its trip from page to screen. Where Murakami’s novel was tied to the cathartic process of writing and its connections with memory, Tran Anh Hung (Scent of Green Papaya) opts for a straighter version of events. Devoid of Watanabe’s strong narrative voice, some questionable decisions are made by characters, and some of the supporting players – in particular the potentially hilarious Storm Trooper (Tokio Emoto, Outrage) – are sidelined. Yet it is a beautiful piece to look at, with Ping Bin Lee’s (New York, I Love You; In the Mood for Love) stunning cinematography shining in the distinctive Japanese seasons, and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood (There Will Be Blood) providing the score.

The Reel Bits
A visually arresting but emotionally flat adaptation of the Murakami novel, bolstered by capable performances from the leads. Yet is the great Murakami adaptation even possible?

Norwegian Wood is due for release in Australia in September, 2011 from Curious.

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: